On Being Rich

Once upon a time, I thought I hated rich people.

After college, I spent a year as an urban missionary.  It was an incredible experience, and one that I wouldn’t trade for anything.  But seeing the hopelessness and despair of poverty every day made me quick to resent anyone I thought of as “rich.”  The happy teenagers from white suburban churches whose week spent on work crews was more hindrance than help for those of us who soldiered on when they went home.  The well-dressed adults lining white suburban pews who smiled at our photos and applauded our carefully selected stories before writing another check.

And then my missionary year ended.  And I went home to my white suburban life.  I struggled with giving money to my white suburban church, and for a while I didn’t—sending it instead back to the ministry where I had spent my missionary year.  But gradually, a new realization was dawning.  I had been that happy teenager.  And I was becoming that well-dressed adult.

Compared to most of the people in the world (and many people in my own community), I am rich.  And chances are you are too.

And so the challenge stands.

Do good.  Be rich in good works.  Be generous and willing to share.

(1 Timothy 6: 18)

Maybe this means putting our charitable contributions on direct debit so we don’t forget to write a check.

Maybe it means carrying around an extra $20 bill and looking for a way to make someone else’s day a little easier.

Maybe it means clearing the stuff out of that extra bedroom and opening our homes to a child in foster care.  Or a college student.  Or a lonely grandma.

Maybe it means painting a picture.  Or cooking a meal.  Or fixing a car.  Or writing a letter.

Maybe it means making eye contact when others rush by.  Listening when others dismiss.  Allowing our hearts to be broken and our stereotypes to be replaced with faces.

Embrace the challenge.  Wrestle with the specifics.  Take the risks.  Bumble through, or soar through—it doesn’t matter.

Just do good.

Be rich in good works.

Be generous and willing to share.

Throwback Thursday: Why so many photos?

(I originally wrote this about 4 years ago after a houseguest– once upon a time, I had those!– commented on the sheer number of photos in my home.)

They smile and gaze and beckon me from frames—large and small, simple and ornate.  Some hang on the wall, others are perched atop tables, dressers, any flat surface.  They are taped to my refrigerator, tacked to the bulletin board.  Why so many photos?  The question gives me pause.  I’ve never stopped to think about it, really.  I guess I am a collector… a collector of faces, of beautiful things, of happy moments frozen in time.

There are the grainy black-and-white ones that remind me where I’ve come from… a boy in fuzzy slippers reveling in the joy of a lit Christmas tree, a tiny girl shading her eyes from the sun, maturity and consternation on her face.  There are the squarish ones from childhood, captioned in mom’s loopy handwriting.  Two little girls in matching outfits, blond hair curled precisely.  Two little girls in undershirts, frizzy hair wild from humidity and frenzied play.  There is the photo in the small heart-shaped frame, capturing my sister, still cloaked in the innocence of childhood, right where I left her when I went off to college.  There’s that snapshot of my parents—smiling, still very much in love—on their twenty-fifth anniversary trip to Ireland.  Family photos capture our idea of ‘family’ as it evolves through the years.  Sometimes there are two kids, sometimes three or four.  Sometimes I can look at our eyes and tell that we belong together, sometimes I have to look a little bit deeper.  My eyes linger on those family photos for a bit, the moment pregnant with nostalgia or maybe melancholy.  I wonder whatever happened to…

Family is different now, as a grown up, but it is also the same.  Family is looking at our profile shot on my sister’s wedding day and admitting that I was genuinely happy, though I thought I might be reduced to a weeping mess on the floor.  Family is holding a tiny squirming mass in the NICU and wondering how I could love someone so much.  Family is seeing six of us sprawled on New Brunswick grass and wondering how we ever got along without the littlest one—in his fuzzy bear suit and green plaid shirt, to make us smile.  Family is taping up one more photo, a tiny girl with big brown eyes, and loving her, missing her, before we’ve even met.

C’s eyes stare out at me, laughing.  I love those eyes, that smile.  I love when he crawls up into my lap and reminds me that words aren’t the only way to communicate.  B is there too… first a snuggly baby, then a skinny kid with one eye squinted shut, now a none-too-communicative adolescent.  Where has the time gone?  There’s an empty space next to I’s picture on the refrigerator, but not for long.  I’m counting down the days until I can fill that space with a photo of his baby sister—long-awaited and loved from the start.

I share my home, my walls, with babies from all over… from Camden, Baltimore, Honduras and the Dominican Republic (and even some from Frederick).  Their beautiful faces sometimes haunt my dreams and, in my waking moments, remind me that hope and generosity matter, and that my world needs to be bigger than what I find inside these walls.

I’m standing on the porch of the yellow house, surrounded by the faces of the ones I’ve come to love like family.  I’m laughing with two little ones in this place where I am fully alive.  I’m donning a huge sombrero, perched atop a pony painted to look like a zebra.  I’m climbing on top of a huge cow statue, squeezing into a bread oven, and realizing that time and distance don’t matter when you are a true friend.  Why so many photos?  Not because I need them, but because I want them.  Because they remind me of where I’ve come from, who I am, and what I want my life to be about.

Why I’m Ambivalent About Halloween

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Halloween is fast approaching and I figure this is as good a time as any to share my unresolvedness about this so-called holiday.  So, without further ado…

Why I’m Not a Fan of Halloween:

It’s scary.  My daughter already knows that life is not all peaches and cream.  She’s lived scary.  Werewolves and vampires don’t help the healing process.

There are no meaningful traditions.  I love the cornbread-cooking and parade-watching and piñata-bashing of Thanksgiving.  The tree-trimming and candle-lighting and carol-singing of Christmas.  Creating traditions with my daughter has been a healing experience for both of us.  These rituals, these moments of shared experience, mark the passage of time in our life together.  Halloween holds none of that for us.

Everyone is looking at you.  Whether your costume is simple or extravagant, someone will notice and comment on it.  And this has the potential to go terribly awry for us.

It comes right in between my birthday and my daughter’s.  That’s a lot of celebrating in the course of one week.  Too much celebrating exhausts and overwhelms both of us.  And the truth is, I feel like our lives deserve more celebration than a random night reserved for dressing up and begging for candy.

Why I’m Not Anti-Halloween:

I don’t think it’s wrong or immoral or anti-Christian to dress up and beg for candy.

Choosing the perfect costume can be fun.  Maybe you’ll decorate a jack-o-lantern shirt together (my own minimalist nod to Halloween last year) and it will be a good bonding experience.

It’s a chance to talk to about values, beliefs and “how we do things in our family.”  As a parent, I believe in honest, age-appropriate conversation instead of covering my daughter’s eyes or burying my head in sand.  Halloween is ripe for conversations about materialism, violence and sexuality (and, I suppose, nutrition).  I want my daughter to know it’s ok to talk about these things with me.

Everybody’s doing it.  I know this is probably a terrible reason to take a kid trick-or-treating, but I’m very aware of how different my daughter feels every day of her life.  Though I want her to be principled, resilient and willing to stand up and stand out when necessary, I also really want her to be happy.  And I know that swapping stories of costumes and candy with her first-grade friends will make her feel happy.  And normal.  And that matters to me too.

And so I procrastinate.  And grumble.  And write blog posts about my ambivalence.

What are your thoughts on Halloween?

This too is joy

“These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”  ~John 15:11

I’ve never been accused of being an optimist.

I remember someone asking me before I began my journey to adoption whether I was happy with my life.  It is a legit question, I think.  It is a hard question for me, though.  There are plenty of things that I pursue… intellectual challenge, emotional intimacy, meaningful work.  Feeling happy has never really made the cut.  It’s not that I’m unhappy.  It’s just that doing the smart things, the right things, the meaningful things don’t always make me feel a certain way (and when they do make me feel a certain way, I am more likely to call it content or fulfilled than happy).

And yet this business of joy is right there in the midst of abiding in John 15.

It’s weird to think of joy as a choice.  I remember lighting the joy candle on my advent wreath last year as I shed tears for the little ones lost in Newtown.  I thought about not lighting it.  It seemed too hard, almost a betrayal.  Had I left enough space for the sadness?  But as those mamas and daddies and teachers and friends in Connecticut kept breathing, kept pressing forward, kept telling stories and rebuilding classrooms and moving toward healing, I knew that the joy candle was right.

In the hardest possible way, this too was joy.

Happiness might be leaving work at work.

Joy is desperately pleading with Jesus to hold the little ones I love when I cannot—to be their daily bread, their safe place.  And choosing to trust that he will.

Happiness might be parenting a cheerful, compliant child.

Joy is learning to helplessly depend on Jesus in the journey toward redemptive parenting—binding up, again and again, deep soul wounds that have nothing to do with me.

Happiness might be avoiding the fear that is supposed to be driven out by Perfect Love.

Joy is holding onto Jesus with hands rubbed raw from scrubbing, with thoughts scattered not from too much multi-tasking, but from too much worry that something bad will surely happen if I let my guard down.  And then looking into another mama’s frantic eyes and saying, “I know.”

My friends, this too is joy.

Guest Post: Called by the King and Carried to His Table

(This guest post is written by my beautiful sister.  She is one of the wisest and most compassionate people that I know.  She lives life and loves Jesus honestly.)

His name is Mephibosheth.  Please don’t let his crazy name dissuade you from reading his story.  Since it’s a lengthy one (the name, not the story), I’ll take some poetic license by abbreviating his name to M and summarizing his story with my own words.  (To check out his account for yourself, check out 1 Samuel chapter 9).

M happened to have a disability.  But in the time and place M lived, there was no “people first language”- he was a cripple- this was, for those in his time, his defining characteristic.  He was weak.  He was an outcast.  He was to be pitied.  Being a beggar was his livelihood.  He was likely mocked.  His contemporaries thought his own sin had caused him to deserve his plight in life (though in reality his caregiver dropped him as an infant while running for their lives from a king, a king who in the “kill or be killed” setting of M’s story had every right to do M in.  You see, M was a grandson of the king’s sworn enemy- and therefore could easily be seen as a threat to the throne).  I digress…

One day M was summoned by the king to his courts.  M had every reason to be terrified. Would the king humiliate him- a court jester for some sort of royal banquet perhaps? Even worse?  Did the king harbor a grudge against M’s grandpa and seek revenge on an easy target?  What could someone as powerful and majestic as the king possibly want with a nobody like M?

M likely considered hiding- but where could he go on two lame feet?  In order to go far, he had to be carried, and anyone willing to do so wouldn’t be willing to face the king’s wrath if caught as an accomplice to M’s refusal to obey orders.  And so M hobbled and limped to the palace.  The dead weight of his limp legs scraping the palace floor as he drug his weak body toward the king was nothing compared to the weight of his heart.  Years of hopelessness now came to a head in what he hoped would not be his execution.

Genuflecting would not suffice for a scrappy nobody like M- he groveled and prostrated himself low in the king’s presence.  He dared not look him in the eye.  And then, the moment M dreaded- the king cleared his throat to address his subject:

“M?  M!  Don’t be afraid.  Lift your eyes up, son.   Let me have a good look at you.  Wow- You look like your Dad (we were best friends back in the day).  I made him a promise long ago and have been out in active pursuit of someone in his famiy line to make good on my word.  How glad I am to see you! Won’t you come and join me for lunch?  Not just today, M.  Every day.  I want to share all of my meals with you.  Enough groveling- you are not a servant, you are a friend- no!  More than a friend- you are my family.”

My favorite story to read to my kids is The Jesus Storybook Bible  Its cover displays the truth “Every story whispers His Name”- reminding us that each story- even those obscure ones hidden in the dusty pages of the Old Testament- hints at and points to a Bigger Story.  A Jesus story.  And so it is with the story of M. 

I see a lot of myself in M.  And the king (King David in the account, subsequently)?  He’s God.  Crippled by my own sin, I am unworthy in the Presence of a Holy God.  While I was far from Him, He was in active pursuit of Me, longing for a relationship with me.  He doesn’t hold my sins against me or give me the punishment I fear (and, frankly deserve). In my brokeness and shame He carries me to His table and wants to share a meal with me.  Not once. Every.  Single. Day.  For the rest of my life. 

 Here’s the rub.  I am proud.  Often times I resent being carried to the table.  I want to hide my brokenness- I’m embarrassed and awkward.   I want to be put together and make myself at least semi-presentable before I dare darken His door.  But he sees right past my rags (even my righteousness is like filthy rags in comparison to His holiness) and my feeble attempts at self-reliance and carries me to His table to chat with Him.    I am so grateful that My King does not roll His eyes with impatience and say, “Ugh, I guess I have to lift your dead weight again”.  No!  His strength is made perfect in my weakness and He scoops me up with the affection a Daddy has for his little girl.  He calls me not a servant, but a friend- forever family even.  Often I am tempted to slink away from the table to clear the dishes– I’m more comfortable doing things for my King than just sitting in His presence.  I attempt on some subconscious level to earn my keep.  He gently and lovingly pulls me back to the table, drawing me to Himself with chords of kindness.   Enduring Word commentaries poignantly says, “The King’s honor does not immediately take away all our weakness and lameness, but it gives us a favor and standing that overcomes its sting and changes the way we think about ourselves.”  I love this.     

How grateful I am to be called by the King and carried to His table.  If you see me, a recovering performance addict scrambling to “do more” in my own strength, I give you permission to gently remind me that I need to just sit and embrace being loved by the King.  The dishes can wait.  Relationship with the King cannot.

Room Enough

There is room enough for all of us tonight.

Here at the table, here on our knees.

We are young and old, artists and analysts, visionaries and pragmatists.

We are thinkers and feelers, introverts and extroverts, happy-clappy and not so much.

We are hopeful and disillusioned, in various stages of hurt and healing.

Our stories are full of heartbreak and triumph, the stuff of life.

We are a hot mess, this is true.

Some of us have loved Jesus since we were little kids.

Some of us have lived hard and have the scars to show for it.

Our voices matter.  There is room enough.

We gather around.

We’ve spent too much time making the way narrow.  Drawing lines to keep ourselves safe, to keep others out.

But here, tonight, there is room enough.

Enough body broken.  Enough blood spilled.

Enough grace to go around.

Just enough.

Throwback Thursday: A Communion Mishap

(A wee post from about three years ago.  This is what happens in church when I’m not listening intently for blog post material!)

I spilled my communion juice yesterday.  The blood of Christ spilled, literally or figuratively (depending on your particular theological persuasion), on the linoleum floor of the family life center.

How could this happen, you ask, so I give you, without further delay, my argument for passing (not transporting) the elements. 

I love my church and I get that they’re trying to go for the “come when you feel led” approach, but somehow that approach got a bit twisted in my mind yesterday.  This is how it went down in my head (true story)…

“Ok, communion time… how did I let myself get hemmed in on both sides?  Oh, I know, it’s the curse of arriving at the scheduled service time.  We punctual folk always end up in the middle of the row.  I should know better.”

“Alright, they’re getting up to go, I should feel led now, so that I don’t have to vault over them when I get back to the row with my bread and juice.  Which communion line looks fastest?”

By this time, I’ve hesitated and lost.  Once I’ve finally chosen left over right and front over back, people are streaming out of their seats and I somehow end up at the end of the longest line.  Ahead of me, throngs of the righteous (including the folks sitting on both ends of my row).  Behind me, only the guy who preached today and the guy who introduced him.  Seriously.  As I grab the bread and juice, and start to walk away, my brain kicks into overdrive.

“Calm down, don’t panic.  Let’s think through the options.  I could go for the conspicuous.  Take the elements to the altar… there’s plenty of room there.  Or I could go for the discreet.  Just hang out in the back of the room and partake while standing.  There’s no way I’m getting back to my seat.  On one end, I’d have to clear multiple floor obstacles including a newborn in a carrier.  On the other, I’d have to push past a gentleman so deep in meditation that his head is touching the chair in front of him.”

Somehow, lost in these ruminations, the tiny plastic cup slips from my hand and crashes to the ground.  My friend runs for a paper towel and I have to double back for communion reinforcements.  This time I choose back left and luckily no one else is in line.  I make my way back to my row and lock eyes with the teenage son of the deep meditator.  Sensing my panic, he jabs his dad in the ribs, jolting him upright just enough for me to dash back to the safety of my seat.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m genuinely thankful for the body and blood of Christ.  It’s just the distribution that gets me.  Carry-out is overrated.  Next time, I’ll take delivery (please!).