Raising Money as an Act of Faith

Mike and I are currently, as we say, in a season of raising support. This means we (mostly Mike at this point) contact people we either know or who have been referred to us by current ministry partners, asking them to contribute to our ministry. “Ministry partners” are those who commit to pray and to give financially to our mission work with Cru. To continue as full-time missionaries, we must not only have a consistent amount of incoming financial support; we also need to increase the amount of monthly giving we currently receive.

Almost 5 years ago, we lowered our salary due to a shortfall in the donations we were receiving. That decision kept our Cru staff account in a healthy range, but we now earned less money than we did prior to having children. But God sustained us, as He does. And since last October, we’ve seen significant amounts of new financial support committed. Mike has worked consistently on our ministry partner development, pursuing new supporters and increases in monthly giving.

Just this month, we are bumping our salary back up! I have not felt deprived during this season, and transforming into a one-car family over 6 years ago definitely reduced our expenses.

black and white calendar

So we’re thankful. Thankful, sure, for extra salary as a missionary family. And thankful for how the Lord constantly provides.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to raise money for your salary by asking others to contribute? Not just for a week-long mission trip or a summer of serving others, but for decades?

In a nutshell, it’s a wild ride demanding we act on our faith. After I returned from Romania as a 23-year old, I didn’t anticipate continuing to serve with Cru–at least, not for the foreseeable future. I looked for a job at the end of 1997 and early 1998, without the help of the Internet. I substitute taught; I worked for 2 weeks at a children’s science museum in Alabama. (That’s a whole ‘nother story.) Then I decided to return to full-time ministry; I wanted to invest my  life, and Cru was what I knew.

After completing a summer of staff training, I got back on the support-raising trail. I’d had to raise funds to cover my year of ministry in Romania, but that goal was short-term (just one year) and much lower. Now, I needed to ask people to commit indefinitely to joining my ministry partner team. This was much more difficult.

But it happened quickly, within just a few months. Then I reported to my ministry assignment at Mississippi State University. I had actually exceeded my monthly goal by $50.

It lasted only a brief time, though. Within a few months, I had lost a big portion of my support. One individual, who’d committed $60 in monthly giving, donated one month–then nothing. When I called to check with him, he replied that he didn’t realize the extent of the financial commitment he’d made and could no longer give.

red phone

Another family, who’d offered to give $90 each month, contributed one month. I contacted them, too, to be sure they had the necessary paperwork–only to hear the husband declare, “We’re doing the best we can!” and then hang up the phone.

Yet another couple, for whom I’d worked briefly during high school, committed to a $50 per month donation. They gave one month, skipped the next, then gave one more month. I remember contacting them about whether they wanted to continue, but I don’t remember the conversation. They didn’t make any more donations.

A different couple committed an amount that finished my monthly goal–and they gave it in a large lump sum to cover the entire year. “Come back and see us next year,” they said. I called them when I returned to my hometown a year later, and they informed me they’d decided to give toward other needs instead. That dropped me down another $72 per month.

There were others, too, who gave a bit, then stopped within a few months. Or who told me later that they’d only intended to commit for a year. Within one year of reporting to my assignment–by the fall of 1999–I began receiving short paychecks. I had my bottom wisdom teeth extracted at the end of 1999 (the only time I’ve been under anesthesia), and hadn’t even come close to reaching my insurance deductible. That $900 expense cut into savings at the same time I was receiving 2-digit paychecks.

During the spring of 2000, I remember getting a $24 paycheck and discovered I had $19 in my Cru staff account. I’d paid off my used car, didn’t have school loans, and had few expenses. Still, I dragged my wet laundry back from the washing machines in the apartment complex, draping it over kitchen chairs and open cabinet doors to dry. I saved several dollars a month that way.

laundry between buildings.jpg

Eighteen years later, I continue to serve with Cru. How did I come back from all that? I raised support. And raised more support, and raised more support. And as I stepped out in faith to do the work God had given me to do, He was faithful to provide.

I pray that God will make me as faithful to Him as He is to me. 

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Re-purposed Soap: From Nothing to Something

The plastic grocery bag of Ivory soap crumbles had lain in the cabinet under our bathroom sink for close to a year. Periodically, I would wonder what I could do with those bits, left over from a Cub Scout soap-carving activity. After the boys of Garfield’s Scout den had practiced on these bars of soap (Ivory is evidently best for soap-carving), they were more prepared to earn their Whittling Chip, which would afford them the privilege of owning and carrying a pocket knife.

And I was afforded the bag of soap flakes and flecks. I wanted them, don’t get me wrong. My frugal, use-it-up, reduce/reuse/recycle bent wanted to rise to the challenge of re-purposing the remains of the soap bars. But I was at a loss.

soap bubble

Finally, I did what all wannabe crafters do when seeking helpful household hints:  I searched on Pinterest. And I discovered this post, which details the process of transforming soap scraps into “new” soap.

The steps are easy to follow, plus the soap was already mostly grated. It didn’t take much elbow grease to get the pieces melded together and deposited into a muffin tin to “set”:

soap scraps in tin

There’s another soap carving planned for another den of Scouts this spring, which my husband will lead. I hope to be the recipient of those leftovers, because I’d like to try this once again. Next time, I might add a little more water when mixing the scraps. Incidentally, if you wonder about germs on the soap, the crumbles get microwaved on high with a small amount of water to make them easier to squish into new bars. I figure the heat killed any lingering baddies.

Here’s the end result, after a few days of setting:  4″muffins” of soap. Although they look more crumbly than I expected, they hold together better than they might appear.

soap on a plate

One “new” cake of soap has already been used in the shower:  so far, so good. They aren’t pretty enough to give as gifts, I suppose, but I think of these soaps as gifts even so. Go with me here…

As a follower of Jesus and His Word, I believe God the Creator spoke the whole universe into existence. There was nothing–and then there was something. Lots of something. He formed this world for His glory, and we get to enjoy it, too. It all belongs to Him, and He graciously allows us to delight in it.

God made something out of nothing and then gave it to us as a gift. These soap crumbs seemed like nothing, and a different Cub Scout leader might have tossed them in the trash (not the Lees!). To be able to form something useful and purposeful out of seemingly nothing feels like a gift to me. And it connects me more with the heart of our Creator and Savior.

 

Grace and Truth at the Soccer Field

I pulled the back of my t-shirt higher up my neck, hoping to prevent sunburn as I faced away from the sun. We were at our first soccer game of the day; Garfield’s team–coached by Mike–had so far held the opposing team to zero. But they faced a tough challenge.

Our boys have always played with the YMCA, which emphasizes participation and learning over competition. Our boys love to win, of course. Mike and I love that we don’t have to travel out of town for games.

This past Saturday, the family members of both teams set up our chairs and water bottles on the same side of the field. Nobody wanted to face into the sun. Our cheering for our own children’s teams got all jumbled together. That is, except for the two teen girls (big sisters of the players, perhaps) who evidently had experience playing soccer and loudly commented on the strategy of Garfield’s team. To each other, to parents of that team. Not only was their knowledge of the sport evident, their low opinion of the Lions’ strategy was evident, too.

mic on stand

As the two girls commented freely on “the coach’s strategy” while critiquing the team against which their little brothers played, one of them yelled, “The stupid coach keeps telling them to kick the ball out.” Loudly. Loudly enough that, sitting 8 or 10 people down the line from her, I heard it.

Stupid coach? 

My heart started to thud, and I wondered if I should talk to her after the game. I wondered if I wanted to, if it were the right and appropriate thing to do.

In the meantime, I cheered my heart out for those 2nd and 3rd grade Lions. They lost, and I kept cheering for them as they came off the field. As I cheered, I’d also been formulating a rough draft of what I might say to the teenager who’d screamed out the “stupid coach” comment.

red and white crane

I considered how I might approach her and be honest while remaining calm. Standing my ground and holding her accountable while also being gentle and respectful. In other words, speaking the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

I felt my hands shake a bit as I stuffed our chairs into their pouches. Many of the fans had left at this point. But not the 2 teen girls. I walked over to them, asking the brunette if I could speak to her for just a minute.

Me? she asked. I nodded, smiled, told her my name.

Then, anticipating she might accuse me of simply being upset that my son’s team had lost, I started out this way:  I know every game has to have a winner and a loser. I’m so proud of our team and how they played, even though they lost. (Voice is quavering a bit, because it’s so important to me to get this right. Not to blow it by letting emotion take the reins.)

But…I continued…I heard you yell out “stupid coach.” Like most coaches, my husband volunteers his time to come out to practice, to attend the games. I’m not an expert on soccer, and you are free to have whatever opinions you want to have about our team and our coach. But I don’t think what you showed is the spirit we want to show to the players on the field. It’s taking it too far, in my opinion.

When I read Peaceful Parenting in January, I noted that the author recommends always endeavoring to speak in a calm voice, even when upset, because it helps everybody to remain calm. I put that into practice, very intentionally, in speaking with this girl at the field.

woman with glasses

She stayed quiet, looking at me with an expression that broadcast “I’m embarrassed but trying very hard not to show it, because I must look cool at all times.” I’m sure I wore that look as a teen many times.

I finished with this:  I know I said inappropriate things as a teenager, and I’m thankful for the times people called me out on it–because it taught me that words have consequences  (I’d really planned ahead to use that phrase). I just think what you said today was taking it too far, in my opinion.

With eyebrow cocked, she said OK, and I smiled and nodded and returned to my family and our mountain of stuff to load in the van.

I felt victorious for the rest of the day. Hard things are worthy things, I read in a book called The Homeschooling Housewife. I didn’t shirk a hard task, and I showed restraint. I endeavored to confront (in a non-confrontational way) with grace. To speak the truth in love. 

 

Spring Cleaning for Heart and Soul

I read once that it’s easier to simplify than to organize, so when I approach spring cleaning, that’s my plan. Thus, I’ve been ridding myself of a few things lately. Take a gander at this whatnot (a piece of furniture whose name my boys and I learned reading one of the Little House on the Prairie books). I bought it while shopping with a friend at an antique fair back in 2003. Here’s how it looked before the spring clean of 2018…

dirty whatnot

And then after…Can you  count how many things I eliminated from these shelves?

clean whatnot

Along with extraneous things from what was always intended to be a nature shelf, I’ve gotten rid of other items, too. A former Cru colleague, battling cancer, has been eliminating cosmetics with risky chemicals from her make-up bag. As I’ve kept up with her story online, I’ve gotten inspired and, last week, tossed two lipsticks containing an artificial preservative that I decided I’d rather avoid.

In March, our boys each lost a tooth. As they grow, the necessary replaces the outdated.

But clutter on our shelves–or other things that hang around even when we don’t need them any longer–isn’t the only mess that makes life messy. I often find I need to clean out my thoughts, to purge ways of thinking or things upon which I might dwell, in order to bring clarity. In order to clean up the space.

blurry window

Comparison of myself to other women, to other mothers, or of my children to other children…

Jealousy of another woman’s success when it’s the exact kind of success I want for myself…

Irritation that may arise from taking things personally that were never meant to be personal…

Carrying around the burden of regret or condemnation from a long-ago mistake, one that I know is forgiven…

And yet, as 2 Corinthians 5:17 assures me, I am always, always a new creation in Christ. And Romans 8:1–Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Operating out of some need to prove myself… 

A few years ago, when both Woodrow and Garfield participated in the same Cub Scout pack–before Woodrow graduated to Boy Scouts–all 4 of us attended a Scout fundraiser together. During this particular shift selling coupon cards in front of a grocery store, the leaders (myself included) had asked the older Scouts to step aside and allow the younger ones to get practice approaching people in order to make sales.

Woodrow was one of those older boys who’d been sidelined during this one-hour shift; his turn would come later. He wasn’t thrilled about waiting, but he cooperated. As he sat off to the side, an older man walked out of the grocery store and looked upon our Scouts and our table and heard the cheerful cries from the boys, begging him to buy from them.

boys at dawn

Instead of purchasing a camp card, he elected to make a donation. He dug in his wallet to give each boy a one-dollar bill. He waved one over to Woodrow, who hesitated to retrieve it. After all, he was following our instructions to wait his turn at the fundraising. But this man didn’t know that–he looked at me, somewhat appalled that Woodrow wouldn’t jump up and grab the dollar with gratitude. I felt embarrassed and hurriedly ushered Woodrow to accept the dollar from the man.

Yet I didn’t need to feel embarrassed (or ashamed of my son or his behavior). The man didn’t understand our fundraising plan, and any judgment he may have made about my son was formed without having sufficient information. But still, I let that judgment (perceived or not) prompt me to nudge my child into something I’d just asked him to wait to do until the next hour.

What did I have to prove? To this man or anybody else? Nothing. 

robot

Giving my thoughts over to jealousy or annoyance or comparison reminds me of the game of Tic Tac Toe…nobody ever wins. (Unless you play with a toddler.)

But I find I must do something with those thoughts. So:  I confess them to the Lord. I talk to Jesus about what I want, and what feels as though it’s missing, and what I’ve used to try and fill those spaces. With clutter. 

I want things to go my way, and I want life to feel good, and I want to be understood. And when I feel anxious or irascible or defeated because I don’t experience what I want, I talk to the Lord–usually on my knees and usually gripping my holding crossI clean house. 

And I discover that the “simplify instead of organize” adage holds true for my thought life, too. I sometimes waste much energy attempting to organize those thoughts, when, really, I’m in need of simplifying. Just like with those baby teeth my boys lost–those teeth that had to make way for something new–the necessary replaces the outdated.

 

 

 

 

When Hospitality Gets Messy

My family and I walked into our house to find a mound of damp, sandy beach towels–our own–piled on the kitchen floor, near the laundry closet. The closet doors were open, and the ironing board took up the kitchen floor space not covered with brightly-colored dirty towels.

sweet home bouquet

We hadn’t just returned from a trip to the beach–rather, we’d just gotten home from visiting Mississippi (and attending the finals of a scholarship program with which I volunteered for many years). The family staying at our house, one we still hadn’t met at this point, had left the towels tossed on the floor–which surprised me, particularly since I’d let them know we’d be returning home that night.

I had chosen “hospitality” as my word of the year that year. I felt weak in the area of hospitality, and if you’d asked me to explain that, I’d have said I didn’t love going to the effort of having extra people over for dinner. So, for that year, I aimed to be more intentional with hospitality and to do so in ways that would stretch me.

welcome to our home sign

Months earlier, I’d read in our Cru online newsletter that a family (formerly connected to Cru) would be returning  from overseas and needed to find a place to stay for about a week. This family of 4 needed to be housed in our part of town so as to be close to a family member at a nursing home. The specific dates they needed temporary, free shelter–for 8 days, according to the online ad–coincided with the dates our family would be out of town. Brilliant. We could open our home, help meet a need, and not be too crowded in our townhouse while 4 extra people lived there.

I began corresponding with the wife, who’d submitted the ad, and later learned that my husband had met her years before, although they weren’t friends. We worked out the details:  where I’d leave a house key, pool entry key, etc. I would make sure clean sheets covered the beds as we left.

However, not long before their house stay was to begin, I wrote the mom to confirm. Finally I got word that their stay was going to be longer by 3 days, the dates would be different than first stated, and they would overlap us for some time. Surprised she didn’t ask if this would be OK, I adjusted. We set up an air mattress in our bedroom for the boys, while the 2 teen daughters slept in the boys’ room and the mom and dad took the guest room/home office.

basket with books

The dirty towels left on the floor weren’t the only reason I mumbled to my husband that this family was treating our home like a hotel. They also left a bag of trash in the hall, along with a sack of clothing, on the early morning they left. I kept the clothes for several months, wondering if they’d ask me to mail them somewhere, before finally delivering them to Goodwill. They left dirty sheets on the beds, along with a note that thanked us for letting them “crash at our pad.”

This wasn’t my first foray into letting strangers stay in our home while we were out of town. Years before, while pregnant for the first time, I read another ad in the Cru newsletter requesting short-term housing for a family visiting for a wedding. The contact person, a Cru staff woman, sought housing for this family in our neighborhood, and Mike and I planned to be gone (again for the scholarship program–this time I was judging) over that weekend.

The day before we headed out of town, the contact person came to look over the house. She told me that, instead of 2 couples and a baby (which I thought were the ones visiting our home), there was a couple, a mom with her baby, and a single man. Hmmm…How was I going to make this set-up work in our 3-bedroom townhouse that, at the time, contained only 2 beds?

black and white throw

I scrounged extra sheets and set-up our pull-out sofa, not the most comfortable option. Everything was ready as Mike and I left town. Our only requests for this group were not to wear outdoor shoes inside, not to smoke inside, and not to use the master bathroom (there were 2 other options). When we returned from the weekend, we discovered a battered box of slightly crumbly candles left as a thank-you gift–and the toilet paper roll from the master bathroom removed.

I suppose they’d run out of t.p. and, instead of going to the store down the street, they’d simply removed the roll from the bathroom they weren’t using. I’d have rather they kept the candles and sprung for a four-pack of toilet paper instead.

In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks to His followers about taking in strangers–and how performing this act of service is, in essence, serving Him. I wanted to serve Him. 

blue and yellow doors

I got over the dirty towels and missing toilet paper, and later we housed a mom who needed a place to stay (on her own) for 13 nights. Ellen (not her real name) spent the days with her family at home but needed a place to sleep for that time period. She was the most grateful house guest we’ve ever hosted. We’d first met Ellen when our church sponsored some families from the school where we held services. When Ellen contacted our pastor for help, it seemed natural for us to open our (not well-decorated) door to her.

And this is what I learned..Hospitality is more than entertaining people, more than hosting in a beautifully-appointed home. Hospitality is offering a welcome place of shelter–for a meal or for a week–to one who might need some nourishing. 

I hope when I meet Jesus face to face, He says, “Hey, I noticed you took in those strangers! Well-done, you. And don’t worry; I have plenty of toilet paper here.” 

 

 

 

Suffering and Redemption: The Lumberjack’s View

Last year, I stumbled across this quote by the poet Rumi:  “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” I cried when I read those words.

Also last year (thanks to a Facebook friend), I read an article about a tree–yes, a tree–that grows near Pike’s Peak. This 2000-year-old bristlecone pine has survived centuries of storms and fires and possesses “a long-suffering beauty that can come only from the beauty of suffering long.”

I wept when I read about that tree, too. Wounds and suffering, light and beauty–how intertwined they all are. 

ruins

The topic of suffering surfaces frequently in Christian circles:  the reluctance in our American culture to embrace it; the redemptive powers of it. One of the pastors at our church preached about it earlier this month and shared this illustration:  A bird, soaring through a wooded forest, lands in a tree and begins to build her nest. Along comes a lumberjack, sympathetic to this bird, and knocks against the tree until the bird flies away. He knows the trees in this forest have been marked for cutting, and he doesn’t want the bird to make her home in a tree that will soon be destroyed.

She flies to another tree in the same forest, and the lumberjack follows her, again banging on the tree trunk until she abandons that one, too. Over and over, the tenacious lumberjack disrupts the nest-building of the tenacious bird–until she flies out of the forest to find a better, safer home for herself and her yet-to-be-hatched babies.

And yet the bird didn’t have the lumberjack’s insight; she only knew what she felt–the aggravation that the lumberjack’s harassment caused. But his interference in her life protected her, provided for her.

old chalkboard

When every tree in this life is coming down, God wants to use that suffering to drive us to make our home in Him. In some form or fashion, we all have our own stories of suffering. And I benefit from reading the stories of others who’ve walked their own paths of wounding and found redemption it. Sometimes it simply helps to know others have asked the same questions, or wrestled with the same despair, or nursed the same broken hearts.

Here are some of those stories that have encouraged and challenged me.

  1. Ruined:  A Memoir, by Ruth Everhart. Raped by a stranger at a Christian college, Ruth Everhart essentially loses her faith. She questions God, wrestles with shame, and ultimately experiences both freedom and a renewal in her fellowship with Christ. I appreciated how honestly and vulnerably she exposed her struggles.
  2. Every Falling Star:  The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea, by Sungju Lee. Aimed at a young adult audience, this book is a young man’s “pain into power” story. His endurance and resiliency are astonishing.
  3. Hope Heals:  A True Story of Overwhelming Loss and an Overcoming Love, by Katherine and Jay Wolf. Katherine, young wife and mother, suffers a debilitating stroke that shatters many of her dreams and changes her family’s life. This husband and wife team tell their story with all the raw edges left unhemmed, and their faith in the midst of such trials is humbling.

vintage books

4.  Called for Life:  How Loving our Neighbor Led us into the Heart of the Ebola Epidemic, by Kent and Amber Brantly. Kent Brantly served as a missionary doctor in Liberia, along with his wife and children. After the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and Liberia, his family–despite precautions and protections–was personally impacted by the disease. This book deals both with suffering and with watching a loved one suffer, all the while seeking God’s grace and a perspective of faith.

5. The Bite of the Mango, by Mariatu Kamara. After rebels attack her rural village, Mariatu Kamara stumbles alone trying to survive. She begs on the streets, lives in a refugee camp, and bravely puts together the pieces of her broken life. Mariatu now speaks as an advocate on behalf of child victims of war.

broken windows

6. From Depths We Rise:  A Journey of Beauty, by Sarah Rodriguez. I don’t think I’d have made the same choices as the author makes in this story, but she gives us a powerful example of clinging to God’s promises as she faces one ordeal after another:  loss of a loved one, illness, fearing for her child’s life. Her book–and her little family–truly tells a tale of God’s bringing beauty from ashes.

7.  Walk to Beautiful:  The Power of Love and a Homeless Kid who Found the Way, Jimmy Wayne. Country music fans surely knew of Jimmy Wayne’s story long before I did, but after reading a short interview of him in a magazine–about his work to support children in foster care–I felt drawn to this singer/songwriter’s life story. He endures a mostly wretched childhood, but–loved by an older couple who take him in–he discovers purpose and hope and a vision for his future. Now Jimmy Wayne’s efforts on behalf of foster kids (and those aging out of foster care) are fueled by his own redemption experience.

God is writing a story with all our lives, and–as my best friend Lynn frequently declares–He is in the business of redemption.

Do Everything in Love–How?

One phrase I frequently use around our house with my children is this:  Do everything in love. It comes from 1 Corinthians 16:14. A couple weeks ago, I wrote it on a piece of paper (well, on the back of a piece of paper that had printing on one side–we like to reduce, reuse, recycle around here). Then I taped it to the side of a kitchen cabinet, where it remains visible throughout our days (and supper times, too). It’s very basic, and Woodrow–the artist of our family–would have produced something much more creative. But it gets the point across.

lamp in pine tree

So if a constant refrain in the instructions I give my children is Do everything in love, how do I give them a framework of what that actually is? What do I mean by Do everything in love?

I decided we needed to dig deeper into this, so I brought my Bible to the supper table one night–I have a captive audience there, so it seemed an appropriate time.

First, I surfaced the topic of doing everything in love. I asked why they think I give them this instruction, and why this is a high value in our family. From there, we could reflect on the verse from which this command comes. As a family, we could remember that we want to hold to this instruction because it originates in God’s Word to us.

vintage keys

After asking how we know what love is, we read Romans 5:8…But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is ultimately our frame of reference for love:  Jesus Christ surrendered His life for us, and the Father sent His own Son to die as part of His great rescue plan.

So how do we live out that kind of love–a love that puts others before ourselves? For this part of the discussion, we flipped over to 1 Corinthians 13–the oft-quoted Scripture at wedding ceremonies for generations.

ice cream cones

We read…Love is patient; love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. And so on. We also discussed the words in this chapter that remind us we can perform great feats and have deep knowledge (or even give all we possess to the poor) but still not have love at the root of our motives. The boys cottoned to the idea that we are simply making noise if we exercise great faith or great abilities without love. They tried out some of that “clanging cymbals” and “resounding  gong” racket the apostle Paul mentioned at the beginning of the chapter.

Now I hope that, as we continue to remind each other to do everything in love–and to confess to each other when we don’t–we’ll grasp what doing love truly involves.