Category Archives: Stretching ourselves

Mission Trips: Who benefits?

Off to NYC
Off to NYC

Off to Dominican Republic
Off to Dominican Republic

The last two days I have seen all three of my daughters off very early in the morning for mission trips associated with our church. Halle and Katie Ann are serving in NYC. Shelby is serving in the Dominican Republic, the first of her sisters to serve in a third world country. Among my many prayers for their trip and their efforts, one that you will NOT hear, is a prayer for their spiritual growth and maturity. Nor am I praying that they embrace their faith in a more personal way as result of this trip. Now before you say anything like “What-are you crazy?” Let me explain. My prayer is that they are salt and light in the darkness, a positive and gentle reminder of what is good in the world. IN other words, my prayer is that they come and do good to others, not the other way around. They are the missionaries, not the mission. Even Jesus said in John 10:10 “I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” His mission was for others to receive hope and help from Him! Again-NOT the other way around. Sure, right now you may be thinking “Judy is way over thinking this. It’s not that complicated.” Recently, a young enthusiastic Columbia medical student wrote an article about the “Narcissism of Global Volunteerism.” Her writing was very one-sided about her personal experience on a medical brigade volunteer trip to Africa. All in all it was a pretty negative article that seemed to recklessly deposit every global volunteer effort into the same pit of despair in which hers had sunk. Her thinking was that global volunteer efforts are completely narcissistic on the part of the volunteer(s), and furthermore, that it enabled entire cultures to remain oppressed and dependent on others for their daily sustenance, if not also, for their political structure. In particular, she slammed the wide use of social media, picture taking and subsequent posting, as a visual means of showcasing our good works for everyone to view and adore! While her article was entirely too ambitious in its attempts at lumping together all aspects of global volunteerism and all volunteer organizations, I did feel there was something to be learned from it. Indeed there is a grain of truth for us as volunteers both domestic and international, to be gleaned from her sometimes pompous thoughts. And so, on the eve of their departure to their respective mission trip destinations, I made this article required reading for all three of my girls. As I told them, “It begs the question, do we exploit the poor and impoverished for our own spiritual gain? Do we exploit their lot in life and their humble estate in order to elevate ourselves spiritually in the eyes of the world, our church, our friends and family? Is it through the inherent humility of the downtrodden that we seek out the “magic bullet” to practice humility for ourselves?” My girls had some eye-opening thoughts. They agreed that the author might be a little skewed in her narrow opinion of global volunteerism based solely on her own experiences. But they also agreed that the answer to some of those questions could indeed be “yes!” In the end, we had a round of prayer and I prayed for the girls to be exactly what I started this blog with-salt and light to those they come in contact with-NOT for the girls’ personal gain, even personal spiritual gain. I did not pray for them to become better more behaved daughters, or to necessarily enjoy every moment of every day they are there. Okay, you are exactly right reader: Spiritual growth is not something you can turn on and off with a power switch. You know the old adage applies here: “You can’t stop a train.” It’s highly unlikely that the girls will come out of this experience, and not grow spiritually. But let that be the work of our God, not our work. Ephesians 2:8 says “It is not by works we are saved, but by grace.” The same holds truth for spiritual growth. It happens NOT when we benefit personally from our acts of service, but rather when we are obedient to our God. I would submit if you are going on any mission trip as a “self-help” mission for either yourself or your child, then rethink your participation on that trip. And I would go so far as to say, if you don’t know the people in your own neighborhood by name, or if you have never so much as volunteered a single hour in the community where you live, then for Pete’s sake, get your priorities straight. Greet your neighbors with genuine interest. Have someone over to your home for dinner. Practice hospitality. Try making real life application of Romans 12:13 in your home! Join a local service project. Do these things first. Don’t expect a thing in return. Not so much as a friendly wave from the next door neighbor after delivering him those cookies! THEN, if you feel the conviction and the Holy Spirit’s tug to go on an overseas mission trip (or to the inner city of NYC), knock yourself out, and pray that you truly see people with Jesus filters. This is something you have heard a 1000 times in your life, and if you haven’t, allow me to be the first to introduce you to the concept: “It ain’t about us.” It’s never about us. Ever. Even if it is my precious girls who I love more than my own life. It’s not about them. And God help me, I’m trying to teach them that!

What breaks your heart?

Shelby

We have lots and lots of beggars, if you will, who frequent the main intersections along the highway frontage road near our house. Usually I try to keep a few bucks handy, and if traffic lights and timing allow, I’ll hand it out the window, as I pass by, to the waiting hand on the other side. One day my daughter Shelby and I were sitting at the red light when I said out loud, mostly to myself, “I have no money on me.” I glanced over at Shelby (then 16 years old) who without saying a word, was quietly rummaging through her own wallet, and promptly withdrew $5 of her meager babysitting earnings. I told her that she didn’t have to give that much, but she shrugged her shoulders and gladly passed it over to me. I think her heart was breaking for that guy who asked for money. And if mine wasn’t before we stopped at the traffic light, it certainly was now. Shelby’s generosity and compassion did not require an application, a questionnaire or any prior knowledge of that man’s life situation. Her heart took over, and she acted on it. That’s what a broken heart does. It acts. Maybe that doesn’t always happen by giving money. It could be time, food, talents, coffee, smiles, hugs, or just your availability. But I hope first of all that your heart breaks for something, for someone! And second of all, I hope when it does, you act on it. Sometimes my heart breaks for a friend who is going through a tough time with their child (lots of empathy going on here) and I am compelled to send them a note of encouragement, reminding than that God is their provider and their safety net. Sometimes my heart breaks for teenagers (a lot of the time) who seem to be bent on a path of destruction and often seem to think that a relationship with a boyfriend or a girlfriend is going to solve all of their problems, when really what they crave is a relationship with a parent who takes the time to help them navigate these impressionable years with love and accountability. Sometimes I just look into the faces of students when I am substitute teaching in school or when teaching a college class, and my heart breaks for all the stories in that room to which I am not privy. Sometimes the only way I can “act” on that heartbreak is to treat them with respect and offer them a reassuring smile. Sometimes my heart breaks when I see that same woman at that same intersection with that same sign asking for help. She’s about my age. But she’s much taller. Her hair always seems dirty, and her face always seems to be lined with worry. That face stays with me in my mind’s eye long after I pass by. My heart breaks when I read about young girls abducted into sexual slavery, taken By force from their homes and their mothers. My heart breaks when I visit the nursing home on a local mission with my church, and elderly faces stare up at you with gratitude for taking only 3 hours out of an entire month to listen to their stories. Incredible stories of loss, love, joy, war, heroism, and hard work! Yet they are grateful to me-for what? For taking 2 or 3 measly hours away from the hustle and bustle of my comfy life to visit with them. My heart breaks. If your heart never breaks, you should ask yourself one simple question. “Why not?” Not always, but sometimes this invincible heart is facilitated by one or two overriding factors. The first is “I’m too busy with my own life, to have a broken heart over someone else’s!” And secondly, we pass judgement quickly, and abruptly then bypass our hearts all together. We often act as judge and jury over someone’s life even when we often know very little about them. But when we do, the judgement is pronounced and no mercy is forth given. Common statements to this effect might include, “He asked for that!” “She had it coming!” Regardless of the reason, when our heart fails to break, we fail to act. And regardless of the reasons-in that moment-no one-not anybody is more undeserving than we are of a hot meal, a warm bed, fresh water, protection, a listening ear, hope, inspiration, or help. Being a good steward of our money and our time, while having compassion and generosity for others can indeed coexist. We build big beautiful houses, and then use them only for ourselves. We drive cars that cost as much as a small house, and yet are unwilling to part with either our money OR our time for those less fortunate. Well, perhaps-unless we know a LOT about them and their life situation! There’s more than enough hurt in this world to go around. There is no shortage of opportunities to lend a hand or a dollar. The only way I know how to deal with a broken heart is to help mend someone else’s. Try emptying your mind of all of your preconceived notions about who is and who is not deserving. Free yourself of the self-imposed restrictions hindering you from meeting someone’s need. The end result could be life changing for someone, maybe even you.

Lost at sea! A story about what we will for ourselves vs. what God wills for us!

I read this new article and found it quite hilarious.  This family decided they want to leave the “ole” USA and live on an undeveloped tiny island where they might escape religious interference from their government.  Unfortunately, en route to that island of religious isolation (I mean refuge) they were lost at sea.  And who rescued them?  Yeap, that’s right the “ole” American government came to their rescue, saved them from terrifying peril and possible death-the same government which they apparently detest and were trying to vacate!  This story is replete with spiritual metaphors.  For one, this family was not only “lost” in a physical sense at sea, but seemingly lost spiritually in a sea of self righteousness and misunderstanding about what God really and truly wills for their lives.   Since when does the bible call for us as Christians to be isolationists?  It should be noted, I don’t know what religion this family adheres to; the article doesn’t specify.  But let’s just use this story wildly applicable to us as Christ followers to glean a few lessons.   Okay, maybe you aren’t doing something so drastic as putting yourself and your family on a boat and setting sail for a deserted island (what the heck was their plan for survival upon arrival?  Okay that’s beside the point. Let’s stay on task here.)-but we often isolate our Christian selves in other ways.  We hand pick our churches to suit our demographic needs. We hand pick our schools, social circles, social activities, maybe even our jobs using criteria that puts a perceived wall of “protection” around us and our children; I believe we orchestrate our lives sometimes in a way that God never intended.  I am not suggesting that you move across town and live next door to thugs or become a missionary in Africa (unless of course you feel called to do so), but I am suggesting that sometimes we create a padded world for ourselves (and our kids) that keeps us from having to be well-uncomfortable on so many levels. Confession: I live in a gated neighborhood. Well, I do. I have noticed that many of the folks who live in my neighborhood moved here for reasons similar to this family who thought living on a deserted island would give them religious utopia.  People in my neighborhood sometimes believe the gate is a mighty fortress between them and the “undesirables.”  But really it’s not. It’s all a facade.    In Matthew 28:19 Jesus commands us to take the gospel to ALL the world. We can’t do that on our manufactured spiritual islands. We can’t do it tucked away in my gated neighborhood. We can’t.  Jesus wants us to serve others (Galatians 5:13) and to love others ((Luke 10:27) We have to place ourselves intentionally and without apology in the path that leads us and our families to loving and serving others And I don’t mean only those who are “easy” to serve; I mean the ones who we may perceive as “undesirables.”  We should be serving people in our closest circles yes-but also people who look and think completely different from us.  Like this wayward family, we set our sails and chart our course for a place that WE decide is where we need to be without first asking God, “What do You want for me God and where do You want me to be?”  

 

http://normantranscript.com/headlines/x1084952531/Family-survives-being-lost-at-sea

Change: Better or Bad?

Schierwaldenrath Bahnhof Schierwaldenrath, DE
Schierwaldenrath Bahnhof
Schierwaldenrath, DE

 

Here we go....
Here we go….

I told my husband nearly 19 years ago, that I would follow him to the ends of the earth. I never thought that involved Texas. You know how you say things when you are young and in love and all that?  Okay, okay…I said it. So that’s that! Short story: We just returned from a 4 year tour overseas. We lived in a beautiful area of rural Germany (not much of Germany isn’t rural) surrounded by wonderful neighbors, bike riding paths and running trails, cafes, and well-just a short 4 hour drive to Paris-(France, not Texas) Not to mention, we lived on the borders of Holland and Belgium. The Rhine and Mosel River valleys, Brussels, Amsterdam, and many other beautiful places were simply, a day outing.  Cobblestone and castles were icons in a place where-incredibly-history, in all its glory seemed eerily and beautifully frozen in time. Then my husband retired from the Air Force. He took another job based in Houston, and here we are.  I was devastated to leave Europe. 

When we lived in Germany, I used to get so put out with some of my American counterparts who complained constantly about cultural differences between the states and Europe. “No 24 hour shops, the roads are too narrow, the people here are so different, they don’t speak English” (most of them do actually), and the list went on and on. It was so very frustrating to hear such rhetoric when it was plain to see that one was enveloped by such incredible surroundings, diverse cultures, historical sites, and just plain jaw dropping beauty. My response was “This is not America. So it is not going to look like or act like America. These people are not Americans. They have different styles, demeanor, and YES, a different language. You are not trading in your American citizenship if you stop for a minute and enjoy your time here. Embrace it and open up your heart to the people here. Quit complaining! Enjoy the rare privilege of living and learning in diverse and fascinating cultures.”  Sometimes  you could get through to the “complainer.”  Other times, the wall of resistance was too tough.  What was their problem? Well, simply put, they were filtering their experiences through the wrong lenses. They compared everything to what they knew-in this case, their own country and its culture. They had no adventure lens, no curiosity meter, no ability or desire to stretch themselves outside of their emotional and material comfort zone. The result: their time was not as exciting as it could have been; their sense of adventure was null because they were always wishing they were back in the states; and their joy meter was pegged at an all new low! 

Wait! I think I just described myself. Since arriving in Texas on August 1, I have  constantly compared my new place to the old place: noise level, restaurants, schools, people, dance studios, men, women, drivers, sticker prices, dogs, cats-you get the picture-just about everything… I am no longer the antithesis of that close minded American that frustrated the daylights out of me in Europe. I have effectively become that person. Even my husband, whose patience has been stellar, finally spit out the proverbial statement, “Judy you aren’t in Europe.”  

There are so many horrible situations that so many people are suffering daily:  serious illnesses, lost loved ones, unemployment, estranged family members, betrayal, all things that make my recent transition pale in comparison.  I wholeheartedly embrace this truth. But we all know, when our attitude is poor and our hearts are broken, we cannot expect that we are doing all the work that our Creator has for us to do. We can’t be loving our families, serving others, and making positive impacts on our communities when we are immersed in the pit of self pity and whining about circumstances that cannot be changed. 

Answer: Change out those lenses.  I have to put on my adventure specs, get out there and get off my tuff, act like a grown up, and be who God created me to be-Right here. Right now. In Houston. And when I do, I am pretty sure everything’s going to be all right.