When Shoes are the Way to My Heart

As my new friends and I stepped into the subway car, I felt almost dizzy from our afternoon of drinking in the fashion, style, and funky-ness of New York City. On this afternoon off–early in our summer of inner-city ministry as college students–we’d browsed through upscale retro clothing stores I’d only ever seen in the pages of Seventeen magazine.

I hadn’t bought anything on that excursion, but I remember thinking that I wanted to go back and pick up something. Some item that would impart to me the sense of funky flair that breathed NEW YORK CITY.

Then I saw the little girl sprawled across her mother’s lap on one of the subway seats. Both of them looked exhausted, but what I noticed more were the girl’s shoes:  white patent leather dressy shoes with little buckles and big black scuff marks. I wondered how much her little feet must hurt, how many blisters she must have, especially since she wasn’t wearing socks.

My temporary materialistic insanity wafted right out the open subway door. My daydreams of a cool old-but-new outfit from a cool Manhattan shop seemed inconsequential in the face of…well, real life. Real, hard-working, struggling people and their real, exhausted children with sore feet.

It was the shoes. They got to me.

They aren’t the only shoes that have gotten to me.

The boys and I study 6 artists each school year, and this year we studied works by Rembrandt (among others). One of his pieces we appreciated was The Return of the Prodigal Son. 

Rembrandt_Prodigal-medium
The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Rembrandt. From the Jean and Alexander Heard Library at Vanderbilt University.

We also study 6 composers each year (although last year we studied hymns), and one of those has been Tchaikovsky. In May, we attended a performance of Swan Lake, a ballet composed by Tchaikovsky. At the church where we saw this ballet, we noticed a giant print of Rembrandt’s prodigal son rendition hanging on a wall.

This all probably makes us sound more cultured than we are. We occasionally reprimand our boys about fart jokes at the dinner table, and when they ask permission to wear flip-flops to church, I respond, “Sure! As long as your toenails are clean!”

So…the shoes. Shabby, broken-down, used up. I weep even now when I look at them. Broken-down shoes reflective of this broken-down soul. 

Because I feel broken, stumbling my way toward Jesus, limping along, leaning heavily on what John Piper would call “the cross-shaped crutch of Christ.” 

One of our pastors preached on the story of the prodigal son (from Luke 15) this past Sunday. The image of Rembrandt’s kneeling prodigal came to mind as I listened…the self-indulgent wild child who’d essentially declared he wished his father dead so he could obtain the inheritance early. The father, though, who put together the portion of this son’s inheritance and released him to go and squander his wealth…he was the one who then abandoned decorum and ran–ran–to greet the returning son.

He threw his arms around his son, and he kissed him. Before there was repentance or any apology, the father kissed the son. The son who shuffled and stumbled home in rags and shambles met the love of his father in the arms of his father. Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners. 

A few years ago, we studied the artist James Tissot. He also produced a rendering of the prodigal son’s return.

james tissot return of the prodigal son
The Return of the Prodigal Son, James Tissot. In the public domain.

Tissot depicts the father leaning and reaching and moving toward the wayward son. The villagers may scoff and tsk tsk, but there’s the father, welcoming him home. And the Father welcomes us.

Oh, how I cry in church these days. How can I not? Empty, needy, clinging to the solid rock of Christ for dear life, I show up to be with the Lord but have nothing to offer. No words, hardly any focus or attention. I kneel by the bed at home to pray then stand up and pace the room.

Yet He still welcomes, reaches, and gives the kiss. Right now, I can’t do much more than receive. And He has so much to give.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Little Risk Brings Sweet Reward

A certain Ukrainian proverb goes something like this:  He who doesn’t risk, doesn’t drink champagne. In English, we’d probably say Nothing ventured, nothing gained. 

Either way, the point seems clear…If we take no risks, we’ll have no reason to celebrate.

champagne

Which is why I listed Write + submit, submit, submit! as one of my 2018 goals. Every time I offer something I’ve written for publication–whether for a paying market or not–I’m risking rejection. I recently started some additional work with Cru, and it involves writing (and being edited by other people). I’m still rounding the learning curve in both these new roles, so I make mistakes. Of course. 

I took a risk in raising my hand to volunteer for this ministry work, just as I take a risk in submitting my writing.

The risk pays off, even if only in experience gained. But sometimes the risk results in other gains, too.

mug and magazine

Woman’s World magazine published a little blurb I wrote in their “Circle of Kindness” feature; you can read it in the June 11 issue (see it up there?). I’ve often written stories about kindness, and this one tells of a good deed performed as a service to me. I’ve sent at least 7 stories to the “Circle of Kindness” feature; now I get to see one of them in print.

The other little present in the photo? A gift from the Distinguished Young Women of Mobile County scholarship program I judged (along with 4 other individuals) this past weekend in Alabama.

As a high school student, I competed in this program (called Young Woman of the Year back then) and earned enough to pay for 2 semesters of college. I’ve judged programs in Florida and Georgia and invested thousands of hours volunteering for this program over many years in Florida. Although I no longer serve any particular program, I always appreciate an opportunity to judge.

There was a bit of risk involved with this, too. Months ago, feeling that I needed to unearth more outlets for myself (apart from serving my family and serving with Cru), I contacted a volunteer with the Distinguished Young Women program in my hometown. I asked her if she would mention me as a potential judge if she interacted with volunteers from other programs in need of judges (so far I haven’t been able to judge in my hometown).

That request could have come to naught, but she did pass my name along, and, in March, I received a phone call asking me to judge in early June this year. If you’re reading this Ms. Audra, thank you! 

If we take steps of faith in obedience to God’s leading, that’s the victory. Obedience in itself is a blessing. This weekend, God heaped on a few extra blessings, too. Now I’m off to celebrate–not with champagne but with herbal tea in my new Distinguished Young Women mug.

Cheers!

 

 

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. 

Our Frugal Fast From Netflix

In January, I persuaded my husband to commit to a Netflix fast for one month:  from January 13 to February 13. Our subscription payment came due on the 13th of each month, which determined the dates of our fast.

We don’t have cable/satellite/dish and haven’t since 2004. If I had my preference, we wouldn’t own a TV. But since we do (and I don’t think it’s all bad), I want us to consider how we use it–and how much money we spend on it.

black and white 2 boys in flowers

Our family possesses one TV–only one–and we’ve never had a TV in our bedroom, save for a few weeks during our first year of marriage, before we sold a small extra TV Mike owned when we got married. We limit screen time for the boys; they have a budget of 4 half-hour shows from which they can choose during the week.

Most weekends, they watch no TV–and they don’t own or use tablets, iPads, cell phones, or the like. Although Woodrow has learned to use my phone to take photos, mostly of the fish he and Garfield catch…Once in a while, we allow them an extra half-hour show on a weekend afternoon. Or even a movie, such as the one we watched on Mother’s Day evening.

We have an Amazon Prime membership, and with that comes access to Prime Video:  movies and TV shows we can watch at no extra charge. During our Netflix fast–which, incidentally, stretched from one month to a total of 4–the boys used Prime Video to view Popular Mechanics for KidsWild Kratts, and Thunderbirds Are Go. And the Mother’s Day movie? The Nut Job, also accessed via Prime Video.

board cinema

As we neared February 13, and the end of our one-month Netflix fast, we easily decided to extend it for another month. Then another, and another. May 13 approached, and I understood that my husband hadn’t committed to an indefinite departure from Netflix. So, that day, Mike reinstated our membership (for streaming videos only, the only Netflix subscription we’ve had).

For those 4 months without this service, we saved over $40 in a painless way. And I have to say, I didn’t miss the extra TV options. It actually felt freeing. A couple of times during this season, Mike and I found a movie on Hoopla (a free service provided by our library for e-books, audio books, movies, and TV shows). This gave us extra entertainment choices, all for free.

colorful guitars

Entertainment deserves a category in our budget, but a small (and sparsely funded) one, I think. For now–this month, at least–Netflix gets a spot in that budget. While we have it, we’ll enjoy it. Going without it for a time makes us more appreciative of it now. Just yesterday, the boys (gratefully) watched an episode of Magic School Bus that they’ve gone without for months.

Have you embarked on a “frugal fast” from anything in particular lately? Did you save for a special goal–or simply to spend less on luxuries?

Wear It Well Wednesday: Little Black Dress

Typically, my WIWW posts celebrate hand-me-downs as the guests of honor. Today, though–because I’ve kind of run out of cast-off outfits to showcase on the blog–I’m sharing about an outfit that I actually DID purchase.

The black dress I’m wearing in this photo still fits the bill, though, because I bought it secondhand at a local store (“resale emporium”) called D’Echoes. I’ve also sold some items in the past at this particular shop. They carry a range of more high-end designer pieces, as well as funky retro stuff that’s actually old. This dress falls into the “funky retro” category, at $20.

little black dress

It came home to live in my closet back when Woodrow was 1–which means I’ve had it 11 years. The skirt is pleated, and there’s a cute little bow on the side. This is how I do LBD.

I’m also wearing the heels I purchased last summer in Colorado for $8 at a thrift store. My jewelry:  bracelet–gift from the husband; necklace–gift from my sister; watch–last year’s anniversary gift, also from Mike (of course, nobody else buys me wedding anniversary gifts). 

I notice now how much the shoes show off my tan line (such as it is) that ends at the ankles. Last year, Woodrow looked down at my bare feet in the pool where we were swimming that day and declared, “Your feet are glowing!” Yep, they’re pretty pale.

black dress hands
Aiming for “elegant hands” here

I’ve worn this dress to judge a scholarship program, to church, to an evening  wedding…and I plan to continue getting my $20 worth out of it.

*For more info on how I spend almost nothing on clothes, check out this post of mine. 

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.

 

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.