Friday, February 17, 2012

Choosing to see. Choosing to sacrifice.

Sacrifice. Can we, as Christians, find true satisfaction in life without sacrifice? I don’t think so. The entire foundation of our beliefs are based on the life of Jesus, who not only sacrificed his day-to-day living but eventually His life.

I’m learning this is so true as a mother. The more that I am willing to sacrifice my time, my dreams, my desires for myself and instead pour that same amount of energy into raising my girls and leading them to Jesus, the more fulfilled I feel as a mom. And I am deeply persuaded (as Paul Tripp says) that I will not regret this when my children are grown.

But it’s difficult.

It’s difficult because when I put them to bed I would much rather spend an hour or two doing things that I enjoy (pick 1 of my 234 hobbies and work on it :-) instead of washing the dishes that are in the sink, folding the laundry I didn’t get to during the day or even going to bed early to get the sleep I will so desperately need tomorrow.

It’s difficult because voices are in my head. “You deserve time for you, Kelley! You’ve been working all day, you need a break” or “You can’t forget about your own needs” or “Pamper yourself! You can’t forget to pamper yourself!”

A lot of these voices come from my culture.

There is some truth to the fact that if we neglect our physical and mental wellbeing we will not be able to minister to others as effectively. That is why I am sacrificing the most productive time of day for me, three times a week, and exercising with a group of ladies at the YMCA. As much as I love being with other ladies and sweating (and seeing my life flash before my eyes) I am continuing to do so because I know, I know that a mama who is in shape physically will be a better mom. I will feel better and I will have more energy and I will be modeling for my girls how to be healthy.

But we must not let the truth of neglecting our physical and mental wellbeing become an excuse for indulging ourselves. Or a reason to live in a state of self-pity. Or allowing it to lead us to sacrifice the best for the good.

Protecting my physical and mental health does not mean that I need hours to myself everyday. That is a very American mentality. The average mom in other countries doesn’t even know what it feels like to sit back and think “so, what shall I do now?” because her day is already planned out for her. It consists of finding food and water for her family that may or may not survive the coming weeks. No, she’s not worried about getting “me” time or pampering herself. She’s focused on mere survival.

And really that’s the thing about being American. We have so much to sacrifice. There is so much good to let go of, in order to find the best. We can oh-so-easily create a world for ourselves that is almost 100% comfortable and entertaining. We can oh-so-easily focus our minds on nothing but ourselves and our families.

I am working on a project. A very large project that is going to take up a lot of my “free time” (ha). Half of my time consumed in this project requires me to read about other countries. It just so happens that right now I am reading books about Uganda. I began my 3rd book about Uganda last night in the past month. It is called Slave Girl and it is a testimony about a girl from northern Uganda who was kidnapped by the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army…if you’ve never heard of it I encourage you to look it up!) and survived years of torture under the army. I have only made it through the forwards, preface and introduction and you know what phrase I keep reading over and over?

 "Don’t ignore."

"We can’t ignore." 

"This really and truly is going on, we can’t ignore it."

Why did those individuals find it so necessary to plead with us not to ignore the suffering of others that we will encounter in the pages of this book?

Because they know. They know their audience will be mainly American. They know we are so good at ignoring. We sacrifice the well-being of others for our comfortable lifestyle. We sacrifice the time that we could be using to reach out to others, whether that be people in our neighborhood, our church, our city, our country or overseas. They know…we cope with difficult truths by ignoring. And so we sacrifice not only what is best for others but what is best for us as well.

I remember in one of K.P. Yohannan’s books he poses the questions (this is paraphrased, remember) “if you stepped outside your front door and found a child curled up on your door step who was obviously dying, would you step over her and continue on your way?” The reality is that no, we wouldn’t. We would scoop her up and rush her off to get the medical attention that she needs. We have the means to help her and with the immediate need in front of our eyes (where we can’t possibly ignore it) we will do what we have to do. But because we don’t have little girls dying on our doorstep we don’t have to sacrifice anything for them. Even though there are little girls curled up and dying on the ground. They just aren’t on my doorstep.

I hear more voices. “We can’t help everybody”. True. “We can only do so much”. True. But why, then, do we not do so much? If we can’t help everybody why don’t we help those that we can? Why don’t we go to the next starfish and throw that one in the ocean?

Because we don’t want to sacrifice. We don’t want to sacrifice our time. We don’t want to sacrifice our dreams. We don’t want to sacrifice our comfort. We simply don’t want to sacrifice.

We don’t want to sacrifice and what we don’t see is that we actually suffer because of it. Christians in third-world countries see it. I was flabbergasted when I remember reading in Richard Wurmbrand’s books that the persecuted church prays for us. Yes, they pray for us! Because they see how shallow our faith remains as we live in affluence and comfort and they yearn for us to experience the spiritual depth that they do.

Please don’t get me wrong, having wealth does not make us any less spiritual. I know that. But when we grow up with wealth being the norm, it makes it very, very difficult to see the world as it is. With wealth and comfort being the norm and having the ability/power to choose our own destiny we inadvertently limit the opportunities God has to work and amaze us with his power and glory. We also miss opportunity after opportunity for Him to work through us and minister to others.

We walk out our front door step and feel normal, since all of our neighbors have nice houses with electricity and running water. We can feel normal getting into our air conditioned vehicles because everybody around us does the same. I simply don't think about the fact that right now, as I turn on my kitchen sink to wash some dishes that there is a malnourished, blind child who spends all day, everyday, retrieving buckets of water for other people in order to feed herself. If this child were in front of me I would naturally do all in my power to fill her needs. Even if it meant sacrifice on my part.

If we want to have an accurate picture of the world we have to choose to see it as it is. It has to be a choice on our part to step outside the common, American mentality and try to grasp what life is like for others around the world. It takes time and effort, two things of which we rarely have any extra of. It would mean sacrificing something on our part just to see.

I am convinced that if we do this, we will want to sacrifice. I am deeply persuaded (thanks Mr. Tripp, I love saying that) that if living outside of ourselves becomes the norm then the natural outflow will result in blessing others and finding blessings ourselves.

This project of mine may become a lifelong project, I don’t know. But if it doesn’t I keep telling myself that I must make it a lifelong habit to read about everyday life in other countries. It makes ignoring so much harder to do.

Thank you for letting me step up on a soap box. I will now step down…now that I feel even more convicted after proof-reading the above and remembering how much I struggle with all of this.

On a more encouraging note, it looks like The African Children's Choir will be coming to town in a little over a week! If only I can find a place for them to perform a concert. It is more difficult than one might think to find a building that will allow these beautiful Ugandan cuties to perform! I’m hoping to hear from a school today. If they say no that will be my third strike.

But the good news is that most likely, the team made up of 16 Ugandan children and their 9 chaperones may come to town even if they can’t perform, as they need a place to stay. And Karis and I are ecstatic at that prospect! Both of us talk about it throughout the day. And it encourages me that hopefully, my 6-year old will have an acurate understanding of the world and how other cultures live. I pray that as she grows she will have a keen understanding that her life of privilege is not the norm. I also pray that she won’t live her life wanting the norm. Of course I’m the mom and slightly biased, but so far it seems as if we are on the right track.

My desire for this post was simply to ponder, more than anything. But if you made it to the end and you have opinions or insight, please feel free to speak your mind in the comment section! I usually don’t leave comments myself but will try to do so in this post if others would like to dialogue about the above.

If you need a good book to read to help expand your view of the world, read Kisses from Katie or The Price of Stones…those will help :-) 

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Poor Lady on 153

On our way home from Chattanooga today I glanced over to see a lady who has my pity. I feel so very, very sorry for her. At first she didn't have my pity because...well, I felt a bit of disgust towards her.

Jonathan and I ceased having a conversation as our eyes glanced at her car while we passed (I am pretty sure my mouth was agape). I couldn't find the words to sum up what I was feeling but let me tell you, I am very proud to be married to a man who summed up what he saw in one word.

"Weird." (said he)

It wasn't the lady we were staring at, but instead her bumper sticker. This is what it said.
As I said I did not feel much pity for her at first. My immediate emotions probably bordered on anger. It didn't help that I had just finished a lovely day thinking (no less than a handful of times) about how much I enjoy the 8-month old that stays attached to my hip.

I thought about it while sitting in the waiting room at T.C. Thompson (don't worry, just a repeat hearing test). All I had to say was "jump jump" and Tessa would passionately jump like a Mexican jumping bean on my lap for 20 seconds straight. This child cracks me up. Thank you, Lord...Thank you.

I thought about it after I threw my coffee cup away at Target. On a whim I waved to it and said bye bye, just to see what Tessa would do. After a huge grin she dutifully waved bye bye and babbled "bah bah bah bah." It was so cute it made me wish I had more coffee cups that needed throwing away.

I thought about it this weekend when Karis nominated herself mediator during two different conversations where Jonathan and I were teasing each other (they weren't arguments...promise.) The first time she spoke with authority was to Jonathan and said "dad, listen to your wife." I guess later she felt like she needed to even things out and take his side while she informed me "mom, dad does NOT do that much stuff" (I was teasing him about his spending habits before we got married :-) 

Yes, these are my treasures.

They are not pets.

And don't get me wrong, I love animals. I'm the weirdo you see helping earthworms cross the sidewalk. I have risked my life in order to rescue (out of traffic) dogs, cats, turtles, squirrels, baby birds, name it. The only living things I can manage to destroy without feeling guilt are mosquitoes, roaches and fleas (I don't think I've swatted flies more than 5 times in my life). I love pets. I had so many pets growing up that my poor siblings who still live at home try hard not to resent me for it because when they ask my parents for a pet the standard reply is "sorry, Kelley got 'em all."  I tried to make up for it this Fall by letting Courtney get a fish while she stayed with us for a month. Unfortunately, Jasper passed onto fishy heaven the day before Courtney was supposed to take him home. I didn't cry, but Karis did (she is her mothers daughter).

Hopefully you get my point. I am not a cat hater. The one thing I do not like about cats is that they kill other creatures. And they do it for fun. And they do it with pride.

Besides that, I like cats.

But you can't put cats and children in the same category. Even IF children could be classified as pets, it would be like saying "Rollerskates NOT Cars." I'm happy you like your rollerskates but please, don't insult my Ferrari ( van). There is no comparison. 

So this bumper sticker really got my thinking. A lot. And since I had just downed a really large coffee and the caffeine put my brain in hyper-drive I have been contemplating this all evening. It made me think....

Why DO we have kids? Why do we, as Americans, have kids? Why do we, as Christians, have kids? Why did I have kids? 
And the more I thought about it the more I realized how revealing that bumper sticker was. Because I think that culturally, we have kids for us. Kids have become what you "do" after you've graduated from college, married and then invested 10-15 years in a career. After you've established that you can be successful in the business world it is then a good time to have a kid. Or two. Or 1.8.

I see it in the young couple's eyes who are gleefully skipping around target with the scanner/gun/thingie as they pick out new baby "stuff" to add to their home. Or after they bring their wrinkly bundle home and take 1,234 pictures to post on facebook and read all of the well-wishes and "she is beautiful" comments. 

I see it in the mother's eyes as she pridefully announces all the latest academic accomplishments of her school-age child (she may even put a bumper sticker on her car). 

I see it in the father's eyes who live vicariously through his son's sporting events. Pride when games are won, anger and frustration when they are lost.

There is nothing wrong (in and of themselves) in the scenarios above (it is natural and good to be proud of our children for certain accomplishments) but I think it shows how the norm for our culture is to have kids to fulfill certain desires that we have. 

And that is probably why we are quick to categorize our not-so-newborn-ish child into the "terrible two's" category.

And then our school-age child as "strong willed".

And our teenagers as "rebellious". 

It is natural for us to love the fun/easy moments and distress in the difficult moments of parenting. But, unfortunately, we have so turned parenting into something about US that culturally, this is what defines us as parents.

So yeah, if kids are about us, then why not choose cats instead of kids? 

I mean, if you prefer to come home to a dirty litter box instead of this....

that is your choice! 

And if you prefer being given dead birds on your front porch instead of this....

that is your choice as well! 

(Note: I just received this note tonight. In our home we like to "out love" each other by saying "I love you the 50th-most". The appropriate reply would be "I love you the 51-most." I asked Karis what number that was that she wrote and she said "nine hundred and eighty four most."

As a disclaimer, I need to admit that my reasons for having children weren't/aren't always for non-selfish reasons. I have had a lot of self-serving reasons to have kids and still struggle to make parenting about me. About my desires, my dreams, my wants. But when I do that I insult my girls and their Creator. I put them in an incredibly small box that fits into what I want out of them instead of the amazing plan that our Maker has for them. And when I do that, we all pay. And if I don't somehow (by God's grace) raise them in His love (not my own) then society will one day pay as well.

Which makes me think of our dear lady on highway 153. I wonder when she will realize that it is a good thing some of us have chosen children over cats? Will it be before she finds herself in a nursing home? (I am assuming her cats won't be up to the task of caring for her).

If she does find herself in a nursing home being cared for by the children of those who didn't choose cats, will she see the difference between 1) those who were raised by parents who used their kids to satisfy their own desires and 2) those who raise their kids to love the God of this universe? 

And a challenge to me...if it is MY girls who end up caring for her, will she be glad that I chose kids?

I hope so. 

Anyway, our last stop before heading home today was at Target. I was excited to find a snuggly pair of what we call "footy pajamas" on clearance for $2.50 for Tessa. I honestly didn't even notice what was on the front (hey, they were soft, the right size and cheap!) 
I couldn't hold back a laugh when I pulled them out of the bag tonight....

A rather symbolic pair of pj's, if I do say so myself.