Is Boredom All Bad?

"I'm bored."

If you're a parent, a grandparent, a caregiver or a babysitter, you hear that phrase. A lot. I hear it most frequently from my youngest, Rowan, whom we describe around here as a man of action. He wants entertainment, excitement, drama and fun – and he wants it all. The. Time. This is a child who can spend all day visiting the park, the children's museum and Red Robin for dinner and then inquire, as we step over the threshold of our home, "What are we doing next?"

I used to make at least a halfhearted attempt to engage Rowan every time he cried, "What can I do next?" Often I felt guilty for doing laundry, or vacuuming or even cooking instead of focusing 100 percent of my attention on him. And I certainly resented his constant demands. But over time I came to realize two things: one, the more you give Rowan, the more he will take. And two, boredom is not necessarily bad.

In her book Not So Fast, Ann Kroeker writes about the hidden value of boredom. Too often as parents and caregivers, she notes, we rush to fill the empty spaces in our children's days with more activities – play dates, trips to the zoo, dance lessons, soccer practice, violin lessons. We worry that if their days aren't jam-packed, they won't keep up with their peers.

And I would add that if you're like me, perhaps we worry, too, that a kid with time on his hands reflects poorly on the parent.

But in filling our kids' days, Kroeker says, we brush past an essential piece of their childhood: the space and time to explore, to create.

"The speed of creativity is slow," she writes.


I admit, I had my doubts when I first read Kroeker's thoughts. "If I don't come up with fun things for Rowan to do, he'll just end up driving me completely insane with his nagging," I figured. Not only did I worry that this strategy would make me a bad parent, I also fretted that it would be damaging to my kids.

I was wrong.

I'm not going to tell you Rowan doesn't regularly announce that he's bored or inquire, "What are we going to do next?" But I will say that when given the opportunity, and when gently encouraged, he will find something to do. And that "something" won't be sitting on the couch dazed out in front of Camp Lazlo or SpongeBob.


Just recently Rowan spent 45 minutes in the backyard gathering acorns from beneath the oak tree. He filled an entire Tupperware container to the brim with acorns (note: as a mom you must be willing to relinquish vast quantities of Tupperware to the backyard for outdoor creativity to thrive) and then positioned the container on the patio table.

"Look! Look!" he announced, bounding in the back door. "Jumpy has enough food for the whole winter!" Granted, my favorite Tupperware is now iced over with 3,500 acorns for Jumpy the Squirrel to indulge in all winter long. But, Rowan had engaged in a unique, creative activity – and one that originated with him.

On another afternoon earlier this fall, I glanced out the sun room window to see Rowan splayed on the dirt under the withered tomato plants. I'm not exactly sure what he was doing (I hope not dismembering insects, but one never knows), but I do know he was so engaged in the activity, he didn't even notice when I crept up behind him to snap a few photos.


Don't get me wrong. I'm not neglecting my kids or refusing to engage them in any activities. But I am making a concerted effort to leave them some space to get creative on their own. More often than not, after the flurry of complaints has waned, I'll catch my youngest engaged in something far more interesting than I would have suggested myself.

::

Care to read Not So Fast? Click here. And visit Ann Kroeker at her website, too, where she has plenty of other tips for slowing down in this frenzied world.

P.S. Did you notice the praying mantis on the fence in the first picture? The kids spotted her – maybe because they had some free time on their hands?!


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The Frosting Spreader

I watch them through a slit in the blinds, window dripping rivulets of condensation. They chase him across the frozen yard, whizzing snow balls past his head, whooping and screaming in late afternoon dusk. They toss snow like confetti onto fleece hats, pack it hard and stack it into blocks. A sled blurs red flash past the window.

A genuine smile, rare these days, brightens his flushed cheeks. The boys try to stuff snow down the back of his pants and they hoot and holler with laughter.


It hits me hard – that although it looks the same as always, it’s not. That it will never be the same. That she does not see this delight and will not ever again. That her absence is forever.

I realize all at once that although this scene will change from year to year as they grow into new and different people, that fact – her glaring absence – will always stay the same.

She will always be gone.

I marvel, in gratitude and regret, that one quiet, humble woman could leave a void so wide and long and deep.

Downstairs the kitchen is dark. The tea kettle sits silent on the back burner, pans tucked into cupboards, wooden spoons and metal spatulas poised in the pitcher by the stove. Pizza boxes and paper plates heap the trashcan. The oven is off. Potholders sit untouched in drawers.

The kitchen sleeps a quiet mourning without her bustling presence.

The kids have tired of igloo-building and snowball fights and have squeezed rosy-cheeked on the couch in front of Sponge Bob. Papa rests behind the closed bedroom door, recovering from the grandkids’ snowy onslaught.

I open the front door to icy blast and hop in socks between slushy driveway puddles to retrieve lone soaked mitten and flung hat.

And that’s when I spot it stuck upright next to the shovel in the snow bank. Her cake frosting spreader. Noah used it to chip and smooth ice blocks stacked into snow fort igloo. She would have approved of that, the cake frosting spreader in the snow.


I leave it there, smooth metal in ice, and hop across cold concrete into warm light.


“Come, O house of Jacob,
Let us walk in the light of the Lord.”(Isaiah 2:5)
I admit, I wasn't in church yesterday to hear the reading (Isaiah 2:1-5) and the sermon, but when I read it last night, just home from Thanksgiving in Minnesota, I remembered the frosting spreader and thought about grief and hope as it relates to this passage. 


Linking up with L.L. today, too!
On In Around button

Photo: Papa and the grandkids, courtesy of Cary Johnson.

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Crock Pots

Last week my coworkers raised more than $750 for the local Food Bank with a few crock pots of soup, some crackers and bread.

Steaming crock pots lined tables in the meeting room; ladles were poised, crackers ready for crumbling. Pumpkin, chicken wild rice, lentil curry, chicken noodle, chili, spinach, white bean – bubbling vats of warm goodness, rich scents seasoning bland office air.

The people came from offices and cubicles – engineers, producers, graphic designers, fundraisers, marketers, radio announcers, techies, camera operators, sound technicians. They came, opened their wallets, pulled out five dollars and filled their bowls.

They laughed. Shared stories. Exchanged recipes. Enjoyed a brief respite in a busy day.

Last week my coworkers came together in community to support the community. They came together in generosity and kindness. Last week my coworkers came bearing small change…for big change.

An updated repost from last November I'm happy to say this event has become an annual tradition at my workplace.

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Thanksgiving Blessing

May the LORD bless you
and keep you;
may the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
may the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.
Numbers 6: 24-26

Thanksgiving blessings to you and yours.
Grateful for you...

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Boot Camp Conversion

I can’t walk. Or climb stairs. Or bend to pick a shred of lint off the carpet. Or apply deodorant without groaning audibly.

Don’t be alarmed. I brought this misery upon myself.

Last Saturday morning I enrolled in my first-ever session of Boot Camp. The name, of course, should have been the first hint, but I figured I could handle it. I’m a runner right? How hard can “Boot Camp” be?

Yeah. Pretty hard. Epecially when the instructor is the son of Satan. Seriously. Combine medicine ball thrusts, squats, lunges, jump roping, running, push-ups and the plank with suicide sprints, bicep curls with resistance bands and “burpees” (don’t ask), and then – if you’re me – when it’s all over return home and paint your entire bedroom. Not just a touch-up job, mind you – I painted the entire bedroom, on a ladder, with a roller…after Boot Camp.

Suffice to say, simply singing the hymns in church on Sunday morning made my abdominals sear. I’ve been less sore after completing a 26-mile marathon.

So what, you're wondering, does this have to do with faith? Click over to Ginny's place to find out...

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A Walk of Thanksgiving

It looks like an ordinary story: a walk in the woods on a late autumn day.



But behind these ordinary pictures is an extraordinary story – a story of family. A story of courage. Hope. Perseverance. Joy. Faith. And love.


The road was a long one for Janice, more than five years. She suffered more than any of us realized, but it was always hard to tell because she exuded joy and gratitude every day. She gave us all so much more than she took.

So you see, what looks like an ordinary walk in the woods was really much more. These pictures tell a story of gratitude, blessings and joy.

This is a walk of thanksgiving.



A repost from last November, in memory of Janice. Always thankful for her.


tuesdays unwrapped at cats

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No-Regrets Spending

Noah is saving money for the ocean. He set up a store in his room where he displays drawings of sea creatures and palm trees on a low table. A clean milk jug sits beside the table, into which he slips coins and dollar bills from his sold artwork. 

Rowan, not to be outdone, has launched his own cause – he’s saving money to save the rain forest. He empties out his money jar and, holding a mass of crumpled ones in his hand, insists that we donate all his money, every penny, “to the jungle.”

Both boys beg for extra chores – emptying the recycling, sweeping the sun room floor, Windexing windows and mirrors – in order to earn money beyond their weekly allowance. They put it all toward their causes.

I find myself trying to convince them to save a bit for themselves. “Are you sure you want to give it all away?” I ask Rowan. “Don’t you think you might want to buy something for yourself?”

It’s true. I try to dissuade my children from generous giving.

I learn a lot about giving from Noah and Rowan. Not only do they give generously, they also give enthusiastically and willingly. As it says in 2 Corinthians, Noah and Rowan don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. They give cheerfully.

Not so with me, at least not always.

I’m grateful for my friend and our small group leader, Nicole. She makes sure our group does at least two service projects every year. If it weren’t for Nicole, I suspect I wouldn’t serve at all. In fact, more often than not, when it comes time to do the project I’ve committed to, I drag my feet and moan and groan as I walk out the door.

Recently Rowan and I distributed food with other members of our small group at the Center for People in Need here in Lincoln. It was a life-changing experience, but honestly, I hadn’t wanted to go. Not one bit. I dragged myself out the door and drove to the Center with a pit of dread in my stomach. And the only reason I went at all was because I’d already committed to it.

In the end I had no regrets. In fact, as Rowan and I exited the parking lot of the Center, we were both downright joyful, and we vowed to volunteer there again.

That’s what I am beginning to realize about giving: I never regret it in the end. Compare that to how often I regret a material purchase, whether it’s a new purse or a set of table lamps. I don’t get that no-regrets feeling when I fritter my time away either – sitting at the computer for hours on end or watching House Hunters and Property Virgins on HGTV.

It seems God prefers a certain kind of spending – the kind that impacts someone other than myself. The kind that feels good and doesn't leave me with regrets.

My kids get that. And now they are teaching me.

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Fall with the Fancy Camera

"Take it home this afternoon, practice with it a bit so you get used to using it," the graphic designer suggested.

Don't mind if I do.

Who could resist the opportunity to use the fancy, $1,000 camera on loan from work? Fingers twitching, I couldn't wait to take it for a spin in the backyard, where nature flaunted her last hurrah before descent of grey.

Scarlet lanterns cling to apple tree.


Copper oat grass bows in majesty.



Fountain grass crimped like '80s hair.



Clematis autumn spider flair.



Boys scrape knees, stretch limbs, climb high.





Summer light bids us goodbye.


Sorry for the weak poetry. I accidently rhymed the first two lines and then sort of felt compelled to keep going. This is why my specialty is non-fiction, not poetry. 

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The Grocery Store

I hold up two fingers for the ones who don’t speak my language, repeating again and again, “Two from the table, take two, take two please.” When I don’t announce it they ask, “How many?” and I answer, smiling, “You can take two – one bread, one sweet…or if you want, two breads or two sweets.” Most seem happy with this declaration of two.

The line snakes around the room, down the hallway and out the door. For nearly two and a half hours they keep coming – elderly couples shuffling with canes; families with two, three, five kids; disabled men limping; Hispanics, Middle Easterners, Russians, African-Americans, Caucasians. They wear flowing, floor-length gowns and head coverings; cardigans buttoned tight and sturdy shoes; faded Army jackets; business slacks and skirts; platform heels. One line splits into two like a stream, and they file by on both sides of the tables, pushing grocery carts, taking eagerly what we have already rejected.

Where does all the food come from, I wonder, glancing at cases stacked high, cardboard boxes, a forklift maneuvering a crate of grapefruit.

Then I notice the black stamps, past use-by dates – yesterday, the day before. Food discarded, deemed not good enough.

Rowan and I man the bread and sweets table, mounding loaves of honey wheat, Kaiser rolls, croissants and bagels, towering stacks of donuts, pies, cookies and cakes.

I watch a mother waver as her three kids, eyes on glazed donuts and frosted cupcakes, beg for treats, a pleading high-pitch chorus. Holding two loaves of bread, she puts one back, picks up the largest box of donuts and places it in the bottom of her cart. When we meet each other's eyes I smile. I've waged, and lost, that grocery store battle, too ... although I've never had to put one item back to select another. I've never had to make that choice.

They linger, waiting to see if a rare treasure – a frosted cake, a Boston cream pie – will emerge from the cardboard boxes. A woman slowly removes her jacket, folds it neatly over the handle of her shopping cart, smoothes the wrinkles. She's stalling. The supervisor urges her to make her selection and move along.

Rowan knows when he pulls something good from the crates. “Now this is what I’m talking about!” he shouts, outstretched arms holding a glazed Bundt cake festooned with rainbow sprinkles. The people in line chuckle, but before I can even set it on the table the woman on my right reaches out, asks quietly, “Can I have that?” And I answer yes, placing it in her hands.

Most times when Rowan carries over a treasure – Paul Deen butterscotch brownies, cupcakes frosted scarlet and sapphire, squished only a little bit – I quickly place it on the table. I don’t want to have to choose who gets the prize.

When I spot one lady select two breads and one sweet, I look the other way. I don’t tell her no, just two total. I don't hold up two fingers. I don’t ask that she put one back, even though I am supposed to because I am the treat police.

I don’t want to say no, even though it’s not fair to the others. When another woman two back in line points this out, I smile weakly, shrug a little, palms up. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m new. This is my first night.” She smiles at me, picks up a plastic container of chocolate-glazed donuts and moves on.

Late that night when all is dark and quiet and the house sleeps, I toss and turn restless, pushing back images of serpentine lines, grocery carts, tired faces, pleading kids.

I think about brown eyes, long lashes, small hands on dented cupcake containers. 

I think about mumbled thank-yous and downcast eyes.

I think about wilted lettuce and the expired bread, bruised apples and brown pears.

And as I stare wide-eyed at lunar silver, I think about tomorrow’s breakfast table in the house across town, day-old donuts passed around.

They accept with gratitude that which I deem not nearly good enough.

::

If you live in Lincoln, please consider volunteering a couple hours at The Center for People in Need. Click here to learn more.

 


holy experience


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The Vampire Chronicles

I used to want to be a vampire.

Really, I did. I'm not kidding. I had such a deep fear of death, I wished I were a vampire who would live forever – even if that meant I'd have to skulk around, steer clear of garlic and sip blood.

I'm exaggerating only slightly. The truth is, I was terrified of dying. I couldn't fathom not living. I couldn't imagine the fact that I would cease to exist while the world continued to unfurl around my lifeless body.

This was before I believed in God, of course, so I couldn't rely on Christ's promise of resurrection and eternal life. All that lay before me at the time was a finite period of life on Earth. And then nothing.

I went to a lot of wakes as a kid. I can't say the experience was traumatizing; riveting yes, but not traumatizing. Most of the deceased were old, after all, and most were distant relatives – great uncles or aunts, second or third cousins.

I'd respectfully make my way toward the open casket set beneath grandiose sprays of gladiola and lily, lower myself onto the padded kneeler and pray. My prayers were quick, routine – hurriedly mumbled so I would have time to absorb the body through slit eyes. I fought the desire to touch the peachy, waxy hands, but I wondered what that dead flesh might feel like.

Many years later as a mother, I was constantly presented with backyard deaths and the questions related to them.

"What's that, Mommy?" my toddler, Noah, would ask, pointing at the desiccated cricket, stiff legs upright on the patio paver. "Oh. That? That's just a cricket. He's a bit past his prime," I'd tell my son, nodding and gently ushering him past, kicking the dead cricket under a shrub when Noah wasn't looking.

I referred to all dead things – dead flowers, dead plants, dead insects, dead animals – as "past their prime."

I finally stopped using the euphemism when Noah pointedly asked, "Mommy? Are you past your prime?"

Slowly, as I've come to believe in and know God, my paralyzing fear of death has eased. I no longer lie in bed each night, gnawing my cuticles and obsessing over dying. I no longer panic over every mysterious pain, convinced that it's incurable elbow or ankle cancer. I no longer use euphemisms to talk about death with my children, but instead explain it as clearly and matter-of-factly as I can, always reminding them about God's promise of Heaven and eternal life.

I don’t think very many of us ever get over the fear of death entirely. There’s so much we don’t know about it, so much we can’t know – the mystery alone is frightening. But I’m grateful for the comfort I find in God now. He has liberated me from the chains of death.

His promise of eternal life beats a vampire’s existence any day.

“Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath…But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” (Psalm 39: 4-7)


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Radical giving

We made another trip to Hobby Lobby on Saturday. Noah wanted to buy a Christmas wreath to hang on his bedroom door, so we swung by to see what they had in stock. Noah had $9 in his pocket – allowance money saved from weeks of emptying the dishwasher, sweeping the floor and making his bed.

Rowan, once he got wind of the wreath plan, wanted one, too. I explained that we were there because Noah was spending his own money, not mine, and that I wasn’t going to buy a decoration for Rowan.

This declaration did not go over well.

“I’ve got a plan,” Noah suddenly announced to his brother. “You can have whatever money is left over from what I spend on the wreath, that way you’ll be able to buy a decoration, too.”

Rowan was happy, and I was even happier that he had ceased whining. Plus I was pleased with Noah’s generosity, the fact that he was willing to share a few of his hard-earned dollars with his younger brother.

The plan went awry when we realized Christmas wreaths – even fake plasticy ones with faux berries and dusty holly – don’t come cheap. After much mulling Noah finally settled on one for $9.99. I loaned him one dollar from this week’s allowance.

The problem, of course, was that Noah didn’t have any spare money left to share with Rowan.

Rowan freaked when he heard the news, and in the end I forked over $2 for an Ice Age coloring book for him. We all left Hobby Lobby happy.

After yesterday’s reading (Matthew 6: 19-24) and Pastor Greg’s sermon, though, I thought about that Hobby Lobby incident again and how it reflected my own giving.

Don’t I give the same way Noah did? Don’t I feel good about it; don’t I praise myself for my generosity, when in fact I am giving God what’s left over?

Once my personal needs are satiated – I’ve dined with friends or bought a new book at Barnes and Noble or a bedside lamp at Target – I take what’s remaining from the personal money allotted to me each month and give it to charity. Instead of taking say half, or even a quarter, of my personal spending money on the first of the month and tuck it into what I call my “God envelope,” I take what’s left in my wallet on the 30th or 31st.

And I pat myself on the back for this. I feel good. Charitable. Worthy.

When I launched the Shop-Not Project on September 1, the whole point was to limit my personal spending and take the money saved to support a Compassion child at the end of the year. I spend a lot less each month now that I don’t buy clothes, shoes, purses or jewelry, but I still spend. Some months I spend $40, some months $50 or even $60 of the $100 monthly allotment – and then the remainder I move into the God envelope.

Don’t I have that backwards?

Noah’s intention to share what was left over from his allowance with his younger brother was good. Clearly his attitude could have been much more selfish – a “too bad for you it’s my money” attitude. Similarly, the fact that I have consciously not spent every last dime of my monthly allotment each month in order to save it for the God envelope is a good intention.

But it could be better.

I could put God and his suffering people first. Before my Barnes and Noble purchase. Before my dinner, wine and molten lava cake with friends. Before whatever else I might deem necessary.

Consider what C.S. Lewis has to say about giving:


I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures exclude them.

That’s radical giving. That’s real giving, giving from the heart first.

And that’s what God wants from me.

Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.
Matthew 6:21

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Scarf Not

I lost my favorite blue scarf, the super-soft turquoise one with the delicate fringe that my mom gave me last year. I wear it weekly. I’d brought it with me to ward off Minnesota’s fall chill when we were up there in September, and I haven’t seen it since.

Last week while I was out shopping for my mom’s birthday present I saw the same scarf at Target. It’s not expensive – just $12.99. But I couldn’t buy it – I’d ruled out the purchase of accessories during the Shop-Not year. As I fingered the smooth fabric I thought about cheating; it wasn’t my fault I’d lost my favorite scarf, after all. I hadn’t made any rules about replacing lost items. But I walked away from the rack.

On Sunday Brad took the kids to the park for a couple hours so I could work on some writing projects. When they walked back in the door two hours later, I heard Brad behind me as I sat at the computer. “Hey. I bought myself a new scarf while we were out, but I thought you could borrow it if you wanted.” I turned around. He had the turquoise scarf looped around his neck.

Best husband ever!

[And if you're wondering, I didn't complain about losing my scarf or walking by the one at Target just so he'd buy it for me – I swear!]

It doesn’t look quite right on him, we decided. A bit too feminine. It’s wrapped around my neck right now, the soft cotton cozy against my skin.

I may borrow it from time to time.

Read more of the Shop-Not Chronicles here. For an overview of the project, click here.

Linking up with Emily...because this unexpected gift was delicious to unwrap!

tuesdays unwrapped at cats

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Shoebox Treasure


Carrying their Nike and FootJoy boxes tucked under their arms as we whoosh through the double doors and into Dollar Tree, they break into a run and fan out through the aisles, tossing items willy-nilly into boxes – super balls and candy canes, glo-sticks and coloring books, magic markers and spinning tops.

“How about this?” Rowan suggests, waving a neon-orange plastic water pistol. I steer him away from the toy weapons, reminding him that we are aiming for non-violent gifts.

“This?” he yells, rounding the corner with a plastic sword twice his size held above his head like he’s the Dollar Tree Shogun.

“Really, honey? What about that giant sword is not a weapon? Can you possibly find anything else in this store of six million toys that does not represent warfare? And besides...does it look like that sword could fit into a shoebox?”

They spend over an hour traipsing up and down the cluttered aisles of Dollar Tree. Rowan selects a roll of stickers, then replaces it with a dinosaur-shaped flashlight, then changes his mind yet again when he spots the matchbox cars.

"I bet he's never seen those before," announces Noah, pointing to brightly colored mechanical pencils, then plucking the package off the hook and placing it in his shoebox.


I do my best to honor their selections, even the things I think are dumb, items I would never choose, like the mooing cow key chain Rowan can’t resist.

“Please, Mommy, please – he’ll think it’s so cool. He’s probably never even seen a cow before and this one is a key chain, too!” he implores.

I nod yes, squelching the urge to fill the boxes with practical things, things a child who has absolutely nothing might need, like socks and pens, toothbrushes and combs. I control my controlling tendencies and insist on only two items – a pad of white paper and a package of pens – for each, and then let the boys fill the boxes to the brim with whatever they choose.




The project goes south when we get back home and I suggest the boys write notes and draw pictures to include with the gifts. They’re not interested now that the fun part – the toy selection is over – they want to move on. Drawing and writing notes is “boring,” Noah complains, sighing heavily when I insist.

They change their tune, though, as we watch a video online about Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child. Noah turns away from the computer screen as boys and girls run barefoot across rocky, dirt roads, brightly wrapped boxes in their hands; as they lift lids and pull out yo-yos and crayons, socks and tee shirts, grinning at their treasures. Rowan, riveted, can’t tear his eyes from the video.

The sight of such unbridled joy over so very little is almost too much to bear.

::

If you're not familiar with Operation Christmas Child, watch this short video to learn how one young girl from Bosnia was impacted forever. This is a great project to do with kids – and it's not too late...churches and organizations are still accepting packed shoeboxes through next week. If you are in Lincoln, you can drop your shoebox off at First Evangelical Free Church on 84th Street until Sunday, November 21. 

Or visit Samaritan's Purse for more details on Operation Christmas Child.

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Why Shop-Not?

Richard Stearns’ book The Hole in Our Gospel burned a hole in my heart. I read it last winter, and when I flipped the last page, I turned back to the first and started it again from the beginning. It was that good.

I wrote a series of posts on the book, but when I was done, it didn’t feel like enough. I just couldn’t get the statistics out of my head:

• More than 26,500 children died yesterday of preventable causes related to their poverty, and it will happen again today, and tomorrow and the day after that.

 
• Almost 10 million children will be dead in a year from preventable causes related to poverty.

 
• More than 1 billion people live on less than a dollar a day.

 
For a long time I’ve had an internal vision of God and His work – I’ve been primarily concerned with how He works in my life, for me. I’ve been fixated on myself: Is my faith strong enough? Do I believe? Why do I doubt? Do I love God in my heart?

It’s been all about me.

Richard Stearns turned that internal focus inside out.

...I'm over at Amy Sullivan's place today, writing about my year-long Shop-Not Project. Amy writes with an honest heart about her family's journey toward gracious giving. I love her spirit, her ideas and her way with words. I've learned a lot from reading Amy, and you will, too...guaranteed.


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Spend Less, Savor More

It used to be that I aimed for quantity over quality in my gift-giving – the more gifts I bought someone, the better. One gift never seemed to be enough; it looked paltry, insignificant. No matter how much I had spent, one gift looked like I hadn't spent enough.

Back then, it was all about appearance. A gift bag stuffed with three or four fancily wrapped trinkets gussied up in ribbons and bows looked more substantial than a single wrapped box.

... My awesome church is running a series of Advent devotionals (I know, it's not Advent yet, but they are writing and preaching in advance of Advent to give us something to think about as we head into the season) based on the Advent Conspiracy themes: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All.

Today I'm writing on Southwood's blog about how I changed my gift-giving philosophy. Please visit to read about my "spend less" approach...and read other posts about the Advent Conspiracy themes there, too!

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Off Again, On Again

So...dramatic drum roll please...I've decided to turn comments back on again.

[Pause here for refrain of "I told you so's."]

Okay, so here's the deal. Frankly, it was lonely! I felt like I was writing for no one (even though my site meter told me that wasn't true). I'd hit publish and then feel like, "Hellooooooo? Is there anyone there?!" I missed the community.

On the positive side, it was a lovely respite. I spent far less time on the computer during the four weeks I had the comments turned off. And I did receive several emails and had in-depth email conversations with quite a few lovely blogger friends. But I missed the quick touches, the "Hey, yeah, I've been there," the "I hear you," the "I didn't know anyone else felt that way, too."

Come to find out, those quickie comments do constitute connection. Sure it's a little slap-dash. Sure it's a bit hit or miss. But over days and weeks, that flow of comments back and forth between blogs and bloggers creates a conversation of sorts.

It seems perhaps everyone else already knows this. Leave it to me to experiment the hard way to figure it all out.

I don't regret it though. Like I said, it was a respite. And there's something to be said for an empty in-box.

So here's the disclaimer -- you knew it was coming, didn't you? I love visiting with you and reading all the good stuff you have to say on your blogs, but I can't guarantee I'll be by as often as I'd like. I'm going to put some strict limitations on myself, establish some boundaries, so to speak. As one blogger noted in an email to me: as a Christian you know how to discipline yourself.

You would think...

In my case self-discipline requires Rules, so here's what I've come up with so far:

1. No blogging during work-day hours [a no-brainer].

2. No blogging in the morning before the kids go to school. Haven't I burned enough bagels while distractedly tapping on the keyboard?

3. No blogging when the kids are home from school or after I get home from work. Again...we wonder why the rice is always sticky.

4. Browsing blogs/commenting 30-45 minutes three weekday nights and, if I'm willing to get up early, before 8 a.m. Saturday mornings.

So what do you think of my Rules? Too rigid? Not rigid enough? Talk to me! I want to hear from you! Really, I do!

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The Man on the Corner

I saw them as I turned into the SuperSaver parking lot, one on each corner. One man held a cardboard sign; I didn’t catch all the words, but glimpsed “homeless” and “food.” The other man had a dirty backpack at his feet, his pea-green military jacket rumpled and worn.

Inside the store, as I grabbed a cart and pushed it past the mountains of Romaine, piles of red and yellow peppers, shiny apples and succulent pears, it hit me: I should buy something to eat for those men.

I tried to dismiss the idea. “They’ll probably be gone by the time I’m done,” I reasoned. “What would I say? It would be awkward,” I thought. “Would I have to get out of my car? Would it be dangerous?” I wondered. “What if they tried to talk to me?” I worried. I didn’t want to have a conversation. I didn’t want to interact.

I wheeled my car through the deli, past glass cases of honey ham and roast beef, gargantuan slabs of meat on a bed of fresh lettuce. I walked past the cold meats and cheeses – hundreds of packages of smoked turkey, Oscar Meyer bologna, Swiss cheese, cheddar, provolone, Monterey Jack.

But how do you dismiss the thought entirely, the thought of giving food to someone without?

How do you go about your business, piling your cart high with Cheez-Its and Teddy Grahams, gallons of milk and creamer for coffee, plastic bags bulging with Granny Smith apples? You simply can’t say no, once you’ve entertained the possibility of yes. You  simply can’t say no to someone who asks for food. Such a basic request: “Please, could you give me something to eat?”

Believe me, I tried. I tried to reason my way out of it. But honestly, the guilt alone would have killed me. I just couldn’t concoct a good enough reason to say no, a reason I could live with.

So I placed two pre-wrapped ham and cheese sandwiches into my cart and wheeled toward the bakery department. When I saw the individually packaged slices of yellow cake with chocolate frosting, complete with a tiny fork attached to the top of the plastic container, I had to say yes. How long might it have been since these men enjoyed cake – moist, buttery cake with melt-in-your-mouth icing? I placed two containers of cake in my cart, too.

I finished my own shopping, weaving up and down the aisles, piling my cart higher with loaves of wheat bread, Edy’s cookie dough ice cream, cans of Progresso soup and black beans and artichoke hearts.

I looked at what I’d chosen for the men: a decent-sized sandwich on a white Kaiser roll and a generous slice of cake. I worried it wasn’t healthy enough, so I wove my way back to the produce department to the pyramid of Honey Crisp apples. I chose one for each, polishing dull skins against my jacket so they shone golden.

Groceries packed into the back of the mini-van, two plastic bags next to me on the front seat, I drove toward the parking lot exit.

The men were gone.

“Great, that’s just great. Now what am I going to do with this?” I thought. Truthfully, not only was I disappointed I couldn’t offer food to the men, I also regretted that my good deed, my honorable intentions, would go undone.

I turned the van around, headed toward the other exit on the off-chance that the men had moved to the corner of 48th Street. 

And that’s when I saw him.

The man with the cardboard sign was gone, but the one with the tired Army jacket was there, standing on the center island, backpack still at his feet. I drove toward him, rolled down my car window, handed him the yellow plastic bag, handles tied into a knot.

“Thank you and God bless,” the man said, smiling and looking me in the eye.

“God bless you, too, sir,” I said. And then I made a right turn toward home.

 

“Do to others as you would like them to do to you.” (Luke 6:31).

A reflection based on Luke 6:20-31.



holy experience

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Service Learning

It wasn't much: a couple bottles of Windex. A few rags. Some elbow grease.

It wasn't digging wells in sub-Saharan Africa or feeding the destitute on the streets of New Delhi. Or erecting shelters in Haiti.

It was simply two hours spent cleaning windows, tables and chairs, floors and woodwork at a soup kitchen in Lincoln.

I used to think a little bit wasn't nearly enough. If I couldn't do something monumental - like embark on a mission trip to Honduras or Tanzania or dedicate several hours a week to serving the underprivileged in town - then I shouldn't bother with any service at all.

"What's the point?" I'd think. "What difference does it make, an hour here, an hour there? I'm not actually changing anything."

So I did nothing.

...I'm writing about community service over at the Lincoln Journal Star this month. Meet me there to read how I changed my tune about serving... Click here.

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Planting

The dirt is concrete, clods like boulders and dust silty, but we dig anyway, moving Earth for life.

Four inches deep the sharp spade scrapes. Grit beneath fingernails, hands leeched of moisture, cracked dry, I pull back the dirt so he can drop another in, root down, pointy end toward the sky. The bulb is creamy smooth, like a lump of hard butter. Papery skins slip loose and skitter away in October wind.



 I want to plant them in a perfect pattern. I have concentric circles in mind – first crimson, then yellow, then purple, repeating in smaller rings toward the center on the box. I crave Victorian order. But the boys, they mix my three neat piles into one heap, and I can’t distinguish red bulbs from yellow and yellow from purple, so we plant them willy-nilly in meandering, weaving rows.

I’m not irritated. I know she would prefer it that way. Never preoccupied with perfection, for her the process itself was more than enough.

“Good night, sleep tight,” we tell the bulbs as we drop them into cool, dark ground. “Here’s your cozy blanket,” the boys laugh, cascading dirt into holes and burying life yet unbloomed in cold tombs.


We plant seventy tulip bulbs, cover each tender nub with dirt crumbled smooth between our fingers. The boys talk excitedly about the sign we’ll make come spring – Haukebo’s Garden it will say, something wood or metal so it will last.

I purposefully chose a box I can see from my kitchen window, so as frigid February winds blow and ground ices shut, I can keep my eyes on sleeping bulbs as my hands are buried in hot suds. As the Plains winds ebb and the ground thaws, I will glimpse shoots burst from dank earth. And as spring rain falls and robins pull worms from loamy soil, I will celebrate life – and we will celebrate her – in buttery, brilliant petals.

When we are done, my palm bruised from pressing spade into hard dirt, the boys run off and I sit for a minute, leaning back against sun-baked earth. The beech tree drops a golden blanket onto dirt patted smooth. I brush brown from my knees and tilt my face toward still-warm sun.


 

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All material and photographs copyrighted Michelle DeRusha 2012

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