The Value of Simple Obedience

Early last spring, I inadvertently learned of some unsettling, sad news:  A woman I’d met once and long admired had reached the end of her battle with cancer and was moving into hospice that weekend. She would leave behind her husband and their 6 children, all of whom had been adopted.

I read this announcement on Facebook, posted by a mutual friend, and experienced this news like a punch to the gut. I’d never seen, spoken with, or kept in touch in any way with Cathy after our one and only meeting. She wouldn’t have remembered me, not from our one interaction in the summer of 2000 in Chicago.

Back then, Cathy–a single white woman–had embarked on the journey of foster parenting. She had adopted an African-American little girl and was fostering another, going on to adopt three children while single and then three more once she married. I just happened to be along for the ride in this conversation that summer, 18 years ago, tagging along with other people who actually knew Cathy. Then I never crossed paths with her again.

hanging baskets

But her life, her love, left an indelible mark. I spent the rest of my 20’s and almost all of my 30’s envisioning myself as a some-day foster mother, an adoptive mother, primarily because of Cathy’s example–one she never knew she set for me.

Cathy didn’t approach me with a challenge to love the poor or serve the needy. She just lived her life in obedience to God, to the invitation to be part of His work that He’d extended to her.

About five years ago, I gave this dream of fostering, adopting, or both back to Jesus. Those means of caring for children are not part of my life and probably won’t ever be. But Cathy’s influence wasn’t for naught. Over the years, I’ve attempted to serve children in need through supporting orphan ministry in Russia and Moldova; by supporting a child through Compassion International; by purchasing (along with my former women’s service group) over 1000 diapers for a local rescue mission. Taking God up on His invitation to be part of His work to care for those in need. Like Cathy did.

grateful heart

I read the story of Joseph recently, in the book of Genesis. Some of his many brothers wanted to kill him, but Reuben convinced the others not to kill Joseph. Instead, he suggested they place Joseph in a big pit and leave him. Reuben planned to return and rescue his brother, but before he could, the others sold Joseph into slavery. He ended up in Egypt, where later he played a significant role in saving many lives–including those of his brothers.

Had Reuben not persuaded his siblings to leave Joseph alive, Joseph wouldn’t have been in place for the life-saving work God had planned for him. In some ways, this hinged on Reuben’s obedience–on his simply obeying in a complicated, dysfunctional situation. Like Cathy did. 

baby feet with hearts

Today, at church, our body welcomed a handful of individuals into new leadership roles. Before they officially took on those responsibilities, other members spoke in support of these folks. One of the women beginning  her role as deaconess today–a friend of friend–has faced mind-bending tragedy in her life, part of which involves the loss of her husband due to disease. The member sharing about this woman’s qualifications for deaconess spoke some powerful words, so striking that I wrote them down on the bulletin:  He stated that she possessed “strength full of mercy, forged in the fires of pain and loss.”

How did she get there? To this merciful strength after disaster and grief? I haven’t asked her, but I think I know–obedience. I think she must have regularly–perhaps daily–made a choice to trust God more than she could feel, more than she could see, and to keep doing that, over and over and over.

Simple obedience that adds up over time. 

Obedience can preach a sermon, save a life, change the course of history. Let us never discount the value of simple obedience.

“Never doubt that God uses small things for all eternity.”–Jennie Allen

 

Advertisements

Serving, Volunteering, and Meeting My Own Needs

I’m finished with volunteering. I uttered those words about a year and a half ago to more than one friend (okay, I think it was just 2). I had devoted so many hours to planning for and leading the Cub Scout den for my younger son. I wanted more freedom in my time, in my schedule, to help and serve whenever the opportunity arose–instead of in some formal, official volunteer capacity.

bag of plastic eggs
Plastic eggs the boys and I stuffed for an Easter egg hunt/outreach at Cru headquarters in March.

Such as…when a Cru colleague who lived out of town needed help one weekend cleaning up the condo she owned and rented out in Orlando, to prep it for the next tenant. I relished watching the boys pitch in with competency and confidence as we scrubbed and vacuumed and swept that day.

Or when a friend needed help packing up her family’s home to move from Orlando to another Florida city. I spent a few hours one Saturday morning emptying closets and bedrooms and loading kitchen items into the moving van (and came home with lots of dishes she no longer wanted, which we use daily). Or when we have frequent opportunities to make a meal for a family with a new baby.

pink polka dot cup

I just wanted to be a helper of others, without any title or specific role. Hence, quitting “volunteer work.” In February 2017, I handed over the Cub Scout role to my husband, who continues leading Garfield’s den. My schedule now held more blank space, and now I could say “yes” to more. Saying “yes” to some opportunities necessarily means saying “no” to others–life can be mutually exclusive that way sometimes.

I found myself even wanting to do actual “volunteer” work once in a while, and more than the quilt tops I sew that become sleeping bags for homeless individuals. (I currently have 4 of those waiting to be hemmed and mailed.) I have a need to help meet needs, and I believe God designed me that way.

So, last November, after hearing a woman at our church discuss her service with a faith-based non-profit called Jobs Partnership, I went home, found their site, and sent a message. I wanted to explore the possibility of assisting with their programs, geared toward helping unemployed (or under-employed) people gain “soft” skills to become more marketable.

watercolors from website

I knew I wouldn’t have the availability to serve as a coach, a months-long commitment involving meeting at least weekly. But I checked lots of boxes on the online form to indicate interest in helping in other ways. Right after the new year, I spoke with Beverly, one of their coordinators. And we put me on the calendar to speak on April 24 to the Jobs Partnership participants on the topic, “Communications.”

That was last week, and I just want to say–It was so much fun! Truly, I feel a part of me comes alive when I get to do public speaking, especially if it’s rooted in the message of God’s Word. {When I wrote a letter to myself on my birthday this year, I told myself to do what makes me come alive–so I’m doing it!} We discussed speaking the truth in love, being good listeners, being slow to anger. In the presentation, I included several personal stories of successes and failures in communication in various work roles.

garden spot

Such as one particular day I arrived at the school in my hometown where I’d been substitute teaching after returning home from Romania…I didn’t have a full-time job; I was young and single, living at my parents’ home. So I grabbed hold of every subbing opportunity I could find in order to make a little money.

On this day, I’d come to sub for a teacher heading to a conference. He had requested me as a sub through another person, instead of face to face or over the phone, which is how I always got requests for sub positions. I had eagerly written this job down on my calendar. Only, when I arrived, I discovered a different sub arranging worksheets for the day with the teacher before he left for his conference. He didn’t realize I’d gotten the message, or didn’t realize I’d planned to be there. I don’t know how the wires got crossed, but they did. I stayed calm, though, disappointed as I was. I knew I could risk other jobs at this school if I acted less than professional in this situation. So I listened, showed understanding, and went home. Then I prayed and cried about it.

pinecone heart

The Jobs Partnership students stayed engaged throughout our discussion; one woman even approached me afterward to talk about editing and proofreading. I left with my cup overflowing. In a few days, I’ll serve with Jobs Partnership again–this time, working on interview practice.

Because helping meet a need meets a need in me.

 

2018: New Year, New Goals

2017 is now in the books, and I’m ready for a fresh new start. This past year held many triumphs for me:  I made a Power Point presentation for the first time! I know, hard to believe. The first one of these I ever created was for the talk I gave this past summer at my sister’s church about the Luo Pad project.

I also explored some caves with the boys’ Cub Scout pack this past spring, on a camp-out at Hog Island recreation area in Withlacoochee state forest. That was a first for me, too.

roller skates

2017 also held hurts and loss:  My beloved Papa died on Valentine’s Day last year. And yet another dream I held for myself came to naught when I had to close the Women of Vision/women’s stewardship group I’d previously launched.

But 2018 is still wide-open, unclaimed territory, and I relish that. Looking toward the new year, I’ve set a few goals for myself–ones that are specific and targeted (although some are more measurable than others). I didn’t list everything that is a priority that I’m already doing, that’s already part of my normal rhythm, such as exercise, reading good books, or carving out time to be with friends. I tried to list what I might need to be reminded to keep at the forefront. Check it out…

balloons on train track

2018 GOALS:  

  1. Continue on the journey of being faithfully frugal. Remember that book I read that inspired me so?  I’m captivated by the idea of living intentionally this way. One way we’re implementing this in January is by cancelling Netflix. Well, for a month, anyway…I’d like to do away with it for longer, but we’ll start with a month. Our subscription price increases by $1 per month in 2018, so we’ll save about $11 monthly by refraining from being Netflix consumers. And it cost $11 to ship the final 2 quilt tops I sewed for 2017, so that savings is meaningful.
  2. Use my middle-of-the-day down time for quiet times with Jesus on weekdays. I struggle to get up early to start the day with the Lord, and not just because I’m a night person. I sometimes feel more sad in the mornings than at any other time of day, and for a while I found myself feeling some kind of barrier in connecting with the Lord in the morning that I don’t feel at other times. I’d been having my quiet times at night, but for the last week or so of school before Christmas, I used our after-lunch down time (when the boys usually listen to an audio book) to get alone with the Lord. And those times were truly rich. I plan to continue this new practice.

shoes and flowers

3.  Write + submit, submit, submit! Notice my goal is not “get published.” I have little control over that–although by not submitting anything ever, I’m guaranteed not to get anything published. I have a few irons in the fire–meaning I’ve submitted several pieces I’m awaiting a response for–and I know most of those submissions will be rejected. That’s just how it goes. Getting a story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul this year has spurred me on, and I want to continue attempting to put my work out there. Plus, if I get paying gigs this way, I’d like to use at least a portion of that money for extra giving, which absolutely motivates me.

4.  Raise $300 in 2018 (apart from our regular giving) to give to gospel-centered needs. At the end of December, I used some of the money from a recent thredUP cash-out–from selling excess hand-me-down clothing beyond what I needed for the second time–for a mom in need. Not sure yet where I’ll find $300, but that’s the reason it’s a goal, right?

5.  Continue teaching the boys from a spirit of trusting that the work is accomplished NOT by my might or power but by God’s Spirit. Zephaniah 4:6 pierced my heart recently, and I’ve sort of paraphrased the verse here. If I attempt teaching my sons as though it all depends on my best efforts and my good planning and my hard work, I’ll be frustrated and despondent when the fruit I see doesn’t reflect the labor I put in. But if I teach them trusting God’s Spirit to be at work in them, causing the knowledge to take root and develop over time, I can relax–and enjoy the process (and my children) more, not depending on my children’s academic growth to fund my sense of accomplishment.

6.  Continue parenting  with the trust that Christ is the source of my unshakable peace–not good days or nice circumstances. You probably noticed the idolatry I mentioned above (being tempted to draw a sense of validation from my children’s school success since I am their primary teacher), and there’s more to address within goal #6, too. Most days simply don’t flow smoothly from Point A to Point B, and if I depend on circumstances feeling peaceful in order to find the good in my life, I’ll end up disappointed and angry. In this world, we will have trouble; but in Him, I can take heart, because He is my peace.

allison in front of azaleas

7.  Create more Wear It Well Wednesday blog posts. See? Another targeted, specific, doable goal. Look for more of these posts coming soon!

What are your new goals for 2018? I’m also contemplating learning to play the ukulele this year–we have one that Mike’s brother gave to our boys. But I didn’t list it as a goal because I’m just not sure yet. We’ll see! There’s a whole year to fill, so maybe I’ll go for it after all!

How Much Should I Give? vs. How Much Should I Keep?: Growing Toward Faithfully Frugal

I have supper in the Crock pot right now:  split pea soup. I am finally–FINALLY–using up the remainder of a bag of dried split peas we bought at a bulk store long ago. As in, almost two years ago. I know, I know…those peas are old.

boys on rocks in stream

But I have set my course to fix meals from the freezer and pantry, using up what we have and stewarding well what’s already been purchased (or, in some cases, given). Instead of allowing those split peas to languish for another year, I’m putting them to use.

I’ve been spurred on by a short little e-book I recently read…Faithfully Frugal:  Spend Less, Give More, Live More, by Kari Patterson.  You can find it at Amazon, which is where I bought it.

I’m so inspired by this book. The author delves into the teachings of Scripture in regards to our relationships to money and how we view it–and the Christian’s purpose of frugality:  Christian circles think of building wealth SO THAT we can be generous. But God says to be generous SO THAT you can build wealth. More and more, I find myself convinced that the way to store up treasure in heaven is to give it away on earth, to “give both mites,” as the author writes, referring to the poor widow in the New Testament who threw her final remaining coins into the Temple offering and was pointed out as an example by Jesus for her wholehearted giving.

money planted in dirt

Patterson doesn’t imply that we give away all our possessions or take a vow of poverty or allow our children to starve by “giving both mites.” She explains that our giving, when we give God our whole hearts and entrust all our money to him, can move from religious obligation to relational opportunity. We push the entire pile of our money over to the Lord, allowing him to call the shots and viewing it as HIS money. And this is worship.

“The joy is found when we give both mites,” she declares. She writes that our goal should not be MORE money–acquired by scoring a deal or saving a dime, getting all the stuff we want as long as we get it at a cheap price. Our goal, as Christ followers, is generosity.

open hands with money

“Our enemy,” Patterson states, “is not debt, high prices, inflation, or a recession. Our enemy is greed…” With her words, she compares the concepts of foolishly frugal and faithfully frugal, and she references the Biblical parable of the rich fool. From Luke chapter 12:

16 And he [Jesus] told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

The person Christ calls “fool” in this story likely scrimped and saved and worked hard in order to amass such an amount of earthly wealth. But his end-goal was for the here and now, seeking gains for self. Faithfully frugal, conversely, seeks gains in eternity, for others and not for self.

My heart for living simply and frugally has been refreshed; I’m renewed in a desire to ask of the Lord:  How much should I keep? instead of How much should I give? 

presents

Now cue the cooking from the already-bought foodstuffs in the pantry, trying to be faithful with what we have in order to free up more resources for giving. Patterson gives enormously helpful practical advice in her book, too, regarding taking steps like this.

So instead of buying boneless, skinless chicken breasts at the store last week (which I find so much easier to use), I bought 2 whole chickens. I cooked one in the Crock pot and had Mike pick the meat from the bones. I frankly find that process disgusting, but he truly doesn’t mind and even wanted to do it. Then I took the “frame” (the foodie word for the bones/carcass), dunked it back into the Crock pot–which, by the way, is getting quite the work out–and made bone broth with it. I now have plenty of nearly free broth for use in dishes from chili mac & cheese to chicken pot pie (made last night) to the soup I’m making today.

There’s a deeper sense of purpose, a heightened awareness of the sacred nature of serving, when I labor long in the kitchen knowing I’m nourishing my family and increasing our capacity for generosity, too.

One question Patterson poses to her readers on the journey of becoming more faithfully frugal:  What one non-essential item could you go without this year? How might you answer?

“Giving is the only antidote to materialism.”–Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle 

 

Diapers to the Rescue

If you’re like me, sometimes when you read of or hear about a non-profit organization or outreach, you make your way online to peruse the charity’s website. To find out what they do, what needs they seek to address, whom they target. Then I click on the “donate” or “get involved” or “ways you can help” tab to find out what items might be on the organization’s wish list. Don’t you do that, too? No? Maybe it’s just me.

On the wish lists of many charities that serve families in crisis, you’ll find “diapers” prominently listed–and typically the larger sizes of diapers.

So for the most recent project undertaken by my women’s group (before my family headed out to Colorado), we raised funds to purchase diapers for Orlando Union Rescue Mission.

baby room with changing table

We collectively provided over 1000 diapers, in larger sizes, some specifically for nighttime use. All were disposable diapers (even though I used cloth diapers for my boys and remain a proponent of this option). The reality of living in crisis means not often having a washing machine available, which rules out the usefulness of cloth diapers. Living in Colorado this summer reminded me of the convenience of having one’s own washer and dryer. Our apartment complex housed a couple of laundry rooms, but many, many times–after walking down the steps and around the corner, holding tightly to my quarters–I found the washers all in use. Back upstairs with my laundry basket I went. (We just got home tonight, by the way, so it’s back to using my own laundry room again!)

I managed this less-than-convenient situation for a couple of months this summer. But if I’d had to take a load of my cloth diapers to a laundromat every other day all those years ago–instead of simply opening the doors of our laundry closet in the townhouse where we lived when the boys were little–I’d have given up on cloth diapers.

baby-cloth-clothing-color-41165

So…our donations to Orlando Union Rescue Mission, per their request and for very good reasons, consisted of disposable diapers.

But why diapers, you might ask? This article gives an insightful, thorough explanation of the reality of “diaper need,” and why providing them to families in survival mode is critical. I could explain it here, but the article mentioned above does a much better job.

It’s fulfilling to know that, with something as simple as diapers, a handful of other women and I could pitch in to help fulfill a wish–and meet some pretty big needs.

Looking to support families with diapers in your area? Check out the National Diaper Bank Network for locations near you. 

Running for Her Freedom

On Saturday, my family participated in a 5K race here in Fort Collins, Colorado–all 4 of us. Mike and the boys ran; I volunteered to pass out cups of water to the runners and walkers.

Here we are, after the race, and after Garfield received the trophy for finishing 1st in his age division with a time of 23:57. {I wore leggings with my shorts because it was 64 degrees when we left our apartment a little after 6 AM.}

aruna 5k
Aruna 5K, July, Fort Collins.

Garfield also ran a 5K on Father’s Day this summer (which you can tell if you look closely at the shirt he’s wearing in this photo). This kid blows me away! He genuinely loves to run. He’s found something at which he excels, and I want to keep providing him opportunities to pursue it. We’ve discussed having him join a kids’ running club when we get home to Orlando. I want to take care, though, that we don’t inadvertently squelch the fun in the name of competition.

I ran for a few years back in my 20’s (plus that 5K I did on Easter weekend with the boys this year–only so I could give Garfield the chance to run. He’d asked to run a race, and I didn’t think he should do it by himself, at least not on his first try). I ran multiple 5K races, plus two 10Ks as well back in the day. But my best time for a 5K was 27:29, a far cry from Garfield’s best time (so far) of under 24 minutes.

run for the angels 5K
5K with the boys, April in Orlando. Yes, it’s that same one-leg-behind-the-other pose. And I promise I’m not grimacing, although it appears that way. Garfield (he’s the younger brother) ran this one in 27:04; his Father’s Day 5K time was 25:58. 

Back in the peak of my running days, I lost a toenail and also learned at a doctor’s appointment that my pulse had gotten down to only 49 beats per minute. I ran for discipline, exercise, and to enjoy pursuing–and reaching–a fitness goal. I liked what it did for me, but I did not particularly enjoy the act of running.

Garfield, however, does. He runs for delight. He finished the race this weekend and told me he was going to get back to training on Monday. And even though Woodrow does a fine job himself–his race time today was just a hair over 30 minutes; plus he beat Mike by a few seconds, which had been his goal at the outset, to “whoop” his father, as he put it–nobody in our family has a hope of keeping up with the littlest member of our family.

This makes me so happy for my child, I almost cry thinking about it. It makes me so proud of him, but more so, it thrills me to see Garfield developing into his own unique person.

And this particular race gave us more than an opportunity to get up early and run. The Aruna 5K races take place to raise funds in order to help free women from human trafficking in India through the Aruna Project. Aruna 5K events take place all over the country–and you can even organize one yourself.

The Aruna race here in Fort Collins this weekend was led by a Cru staff couple who wanted to open this opportunity up to Cru folks while out here for our U.S. staff conference. Hundreds and hundreds of Cru staff and their families ran or walked in this race, living out our faith:  All people are created as valuable, made in the image of God, and therefore caring for them (and their freedom) is vital.

Asian little girl happy with water bubble

Helping free women from sex slavery, having an outdoor experience as a family, and seeing my boys run their best:  All this fits into the dreams I had for our family before our sons were even born. Serving together, exercising together (I didn’t run today–but we’ve taken lots of bike rides and hikes this summer, too), being out in nature together…it does this mama’s heart good.

 

Happy Half-Birthday to Me

Today, July 10, is my half birthday:  halfway between age 43 and 44. Sometimes I still pause and catch myself thinking, “Oh, yeah. That’s right–I’m 43!” I see some wrinkles around my eyes and then remind myself, “It’s OK–I AM 43, after all.”

I don’t actually celebrate half birthdays, but I did get some cheerful news this past weekend that almost seemed like a half-birthday present.

easter egg candy in dish

Several years ago, when the boys and I attended a weekly afternoon program with our home-school co-op, I coached a few P.E. classes. For my work, I got paid a modest amount. During the last semester of P.E. coaching, I actually took on a total of 3 (instead of one or 2) P.E. classes, since the other home-school mom serving as a coach was experiencing difficulties with her pregnancy.

During that semester, I made extra–more than I had anticipated. Which was a thrill, because I’d been saving those funds–one dollar per student per week–for a special need. With the unexpected extra money from taking on Hannah’s P.E. classes added to what I earned from my regular classes, I was able to reach a goal sooner:  that of funding an orphan’s release from institutional living in Moldova.

lock on bridge

Moldova, listed as the poorest nation in eastern Europe, sits next door to Romania, where I lived for a year after college. Romanian is also one of Moldova’s national languages. Since Moldova abuts the eastern border of Romania, and I lived all the way across the country, I never visited Moldova. But in the past few years, I’ve read much about this small, formerly Communist nation. When I volunteered for a season with the ministry Samaritan Village (helping in a resale boutique called Transitions that supports the ministry), we watched a documentary as part of our training. From this film, called Nefarious:  Merchant of Souls, we learned that Moldova is sometimes referred to as the “engine of the sex slave trade.” Teenagers aging out of the orphan system have often been prey to those who would buy and sell them.

bike and rider

In the midst of this, a ministry called Sweet Sleep aimed to serve orphans–being part of God’s work to place the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6). They worked with churches in Moldova to train believers in foster care and facilitate the transition of these orphans from institutions to families, whether as adopted children or as foster children (Many children relegated to life in Moldovan orphanages have a living parent. The reasons for this are complex and complicated and far beyond what I could describe here). Sweet Sleep’s focus on partnering with Moldovans who already love and follow Christ appealed to me. Plus, I felt the urgency inherent in orphan care in Moldova, as the country made plans to close most of their orphanages.

Here’s where the good news comes in:  I received a newsletter from Sweet Sleep this past weekend, detailing how–after 14 years of serving in Moldova–they’ve reached their goal there. Most of Moldova’s orphanages have closed, the focus in Moldova for orphan care has shifted to indigenous adoption and foster care (instead of orphanages), and the program developed by their partners (Baptist Union of Moldova and church partners in the U.S) is up and running. I explained to my sons that missionaries seek to work themselves out of a job, and that’s what’s happened here. Moldovan families are caring for needy Moldovan children; more children are growing up in families instead of in state-run institutions. And I got to play a part in that. 

love boards

One of my dreams is to polish up my Romanian skills and go visit Moldova–experiencing its culture, history, people, and beauty for myself one day. No matter a country’s woes, there’s always something magnificent to enjoy in each and every place. But even if my visit to Moldova never materializes, the good news from Sweet Sleep was still a great half-birthday gift.