Day One: First Conversation

One conversation.  More listening than talking.  Engaging.  Asking questions.

Day one.

I spent the vast majority of the day at a rummage sale…which I love.  I see the MOPS rummage sale as a smaller version of Christmas.

I talked to someone and started with simple questions.  It turned into a very interesting thought provoking conversation about social justice and racial differences.  I would not have enjoyed learning from her and hearing her stories had I not made the effort.  Soon others were drawn into our conversation.

I was thinking about that scene from My Best Friend’s Wedding when Julianne intentionally takes Michael (her best friend who she also has feelings for) and his fiance Kimmy (who she is jealous) to a Karaoke bar after hearing about how much she hates them.  Michael and Julianne talk about Florence, Italy and all their memories there while Kimmy tries to find her way in the conversation…but is not welcomed.

We do that a lot.  We gravitate to who we know and the people lurking to the side…we don’t know how to bring them in.  Sometimes all it takes is a very simple question.  All I asked is:  “So do you like working at rummage sales?”

 

Advertisements

Happiness Project Revised…

I started a happiness project a few months ago with gusto.  I had all these superb ideas to implement in my everyday life.  I daresay it was my happiness project that helped me do creative things with my kids and foster my relationship with each of them in the month of March.

Then May came along which for the past two years is the month I am alone without the husband for two weeks.  I had every intention of focusing on my house in the month of the May and working on some projects while he is gone.

Too ambitious?  Yes.

I was reminded once again while he is away I can only do the bare minimum:  take care of the kids, spend time with the kids, do the cleaning that NEEDS to be done, and work on other projects if there is time leftover.   I think I have said, “I’m so tired!” at least a half dozen times every day…sorry for those who might have gotten sick of me complaining about my fatigue.

So the month of May is going to end in five hours and I have very little if anything to show for my May Happiness Project.

So I thought of a couple options:  1) Do the month of May in the month of June and bump everything back  2) Skip the month of May and move right next into June. 3) Drop this all project in its entirety and do something totally different.

Then I remembered 12/12/12.  I participated in a National Random Acts of Kindness Day.  It honestly was one of the best days.  I did 12 random acts of kindness in a day and my kids were involved in almost every single one.  I cannot tell you how it helped to intentionally think of others and less about myself.

Now it is 170 days later.  I spent a good part of the day today with someone I do not know very well, but greatly enjoyed conversing with.  This person comes from a similar background as me and we have many things in common.

Also today I saw someone who is different than me and I am sure I have less in common with.  I did not strike up a conversation with this person.  I did not even try.

It made me think of a speaker I heard recently who started her talk by saying, “You look at me and you will immediately judge me.”  Even though we claim we are not racist and do not have a prejudice bone in our body, our minds will go there.  We always judge.

We will always gravitate to the people we are more comfortable with.  We tell our children to befriend the odd one out or not to always sit by the same girl on the bus.  But do we?

My friends and I were talking about if someone visits our church and is from our denominational background and especially if they are a young family, people will flock to them.  We are hesitant (and myself included!) to talk to the person on the fringe, the homeless person, or the guy with purple hair.  I hate that.

So what does this have to do with the happiness project?  I thought instead of focusing on “bettering my life,” I want to focus on stepping outside of it.

My oldest does a “task of the month” where they spend a whole month working on one single task.  Some of the tasks were tying shoes, learning their address and phone number, and now it is writing neatly on a single lined paper.

I thought about creating my own task of the month that centers on something “others-centered” and outside of myself.  Honestly all the goals for each month for the Happiness Project was getting overwhelming.  My “to-do list” was exploding.

Throughout this process I am going to read a section of the Bible each day in hopes to finish the Bible in a year program.  Something else that fell to the wayside in the month of May.

I am going to try to blog a little bit every day or every few days.  Even if it is 2-3 sentences.  I am already at 700 words and am totally exhausted.  I cannot write these long drawn out posts every single day.  As I have read more blogs, this seems to be the new blogging trend. As a news writer, I have learned “less is more.”

So in the month of June I want to have a conversation with someone every single day and do more listening than talking.  I want to do less telling my own stories and more engaging in what is important to them.  When I am given opportunities to step outside my comfort zone and talk to someone “different” I will seize it.  I am hoping this experiment will help me appreciate the different backgrounds of the people I encounter in my everyday life.

Philadelphia and back again…

I have been taking a short hiatus from Everyday Mom.  For the past week I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Philadelphia along with fifteen other people.  Our task was simple:  to learn about community development from church planters while participating in a camp for 10-14 year olds at By Grace Alone Church.  This is not just an activity driven camp.  This camp is called Business Boot Camp and the kids learn about entrapeneurship, employment, risk-taking, teamwork, and more.  It was amazing to be a part of it!

It’s part of a project my church started called the Salem/Philly Connect.  Basically we sent a team to inner city Philly to learn about community outreach.  In 2012, the Philly church will send a team to us here in Oregon.  You can read more about how this project got started, why we felt God calling us to do it, how it is totally different than your average church mission trip, and how it impacted our lives.

We hope to do a few fundraisers throughout the year to send some of our new Philly friends to Oregon next summer to help us with summer outreach projects.  Stay tuned.

Now I am getting ready to leave on a much needed vacation.  Everyday Mom may be a little quiet until I return.

 

Serving is a partnership

Over Christmas Break, I volunteered at a local elementary school where all children can receive a free lunch.  My children came along. We helped with Christmas crafts and set up games for the families to play during the lunch hour.

There were many moms of all differing ages with children.  We did not have volunteer shirts or name tags so I realized some of the moms thought I was there for the same purpose as them–getting a free lunch for my family (when in a way I was–my kids got a meal too).  One mom tried to make conversation with me and asked if I enrolled my preschooler in Head Start or got on food stamps.   I was very self-conscious.  What if this mom found out I send my kids to a Lutheran school and I stay at home full-time because we can afford it?  Would she still want to talk to me?

One of the other volunteers got out a box of Christmas gifts.  I forewarned my children they might not get a gift.  We were there to serve and we would let the other children pick first.  That same mom who tried to make conversation with me took my oldest daughter by the hand and said, “Here, why don’t you pick out a gift?”  My daughter glanced at me and I nodded.  It was OK.

Serving is a two-way relationship.  Last summer I wrote a news story about a youth group from New Mexico.  Most of them live in the third poorest county in the United States.  A group from a middle class suburban church here in Oregon did a mission trip to this area in New Mexico, formed relationships with the church, and invited the youth group to come to Oregon and serve in their church’s summer day camp.  A partnership was established.

Often times we see the lower class as needy, useless, helpless, or without gifts.  Yet many have willing hearts to serve.  If we can lay aside our self-conscious feelings, racism, or judgements we can form a beautiful friendships.  Our church is implementing this “mission partnership” with an inner city church in Philadelphia.  I am thrilled to be a part of it and how God is going to use each of us in the process.

Prodigal Girl

I’ve been on a short blogging hiatus lately due to do various reason such as vacation catch up, other writing projects, and other demands.  There is great stuff coming in the next few weeks.  I have been working on this manuscript (and it’s QUITE LONG) the past few weeks.  I hope you enjoy my testimonial and find rest and peace on this wintery Sunday.

 A teardrop falls from up in the heavens
Drowning the sorrow of angels on high
For the least of the helpless, the hopeless, the loveless
My Jesus, His children, He holds in His eyes

– Jars of Clay (HE)

“Amy, put your name on the board.”

My heart pounded and I broke into a sweat.  I approached the looming green chalkboard which by that point had ten or so names scribbled across it in all various sizes. Mrs. L, my first grade teacher, was not having a good day. With shaky hands, I wrote my name in a small printed format.  My lips were quivering, but I was strong enough not to cry at school.  The thought that kept permeating through my brain was that my perfect track record of not getting my name on the board was broken.

I was a good, follow-the-rules type girl.  There were instants I should have gotten in trouble, but the teachers let it slide because of my well behaved reputation.  In kindergarten I called a boy “stupid” after he scribbled on my new white shirt with a crayon.  He got in trouble, but I did not.  When he proceeded to tell the teacher I called him “stupid,” she interrupted him.  She told him to sit down and be quiet.  Because the teachers seemed to favor me, I posed a threat.  Until the day I got my name on the board.Me as a child playing with my youger brother

Then I felt like everyone else.

All I did was pass a newspaper clipping to Sam, the boy who sat behind me.  We had to find numbers in a newspaper and we were helping one another.  I really did not think it deserved my name going up on the board.  Especially because I was helping somebody.  I was determined to not get my name on the board ever again.

"I was a good, follow-the-rules type girl."

I maintained my “good girl” image well into junior high. Because I still followed all the rules, I never found myself in any large degree of trouble.  Sometimes I liked the attention of being the good girl who can get into trouble when she wants to.  I remember sitting in my first detention.  The teacher smirked and said, “What are you doing in here?”

“I got a detention.  I’m supposed to be in here,” I answered.

 He laughed, “Well, ok.”  It was almost like he did not believe me.  Detention was a two afternoon sentence.  But he waived the second day for me.

 Back in those days getting in trouble was talking out of turn or being late to class.  The “really bad kids” fought occasionally on the playground or used profanity.  Smoking, drinking, having sex with multiple partners, drug use, or theft might have happened.  It was not talked about in junior high and it was not normal in my world.  In the comforts of my Christian school all those things were “bad” and we swore we would never do them.  The peer pressure talks were in full force.  We watched anti-drug movies and were told to save sex for marriage.  I had no desire to experiment or rebel from the high moral system I was taught at home, school, and church.

 I believed the secret to living for Jesus was following all the rules.  If God set these standards for living, why would I step outside of them?  Would I not find despair if I chose another way?  Even though my faith matured significantly after junior high, I continued this pattern of thinking

  As high school students mature, they are more open about their lifestyles and their choices.  By senior year I realized it was not just the kids that dressed in black and showed up to class high on drugs that were experimenting.  It was the cheerleaders, the honor roll students, and the popular cliques as well.  It was some of the friends I used to ride bikes with in junior high school.

I sat by one of the most popular guys in art class.  He was very chatty and spent the whole forty-five minutes talking about partying and all the crazy things he did while he was drunk.  His parents allowed him and his friends to drink in a supervised setting.  This was not a deadbeat kid who is barely passing high school.  No, this kid was a church going, Bible believing charming guy.  He was adored by teachers, the girls loved him, and he was an A student.  As he shared about his exciting life, most of the kids sat and listened intently.  It was almost like the sophomores were taking notes.  One of my friends admitted she was trying to get into his crowd as if she was seeking to join an exclusive club.

 There were many others like him.  Part of me was jealous.  Obviously I was not on the invite list to these smashing parties. They seemed to be having more fun than what I was having.  If I really was living for Jesus and my social life centered around youth group, church, mission trips, Bible Study, and church drama team, why I was depressed?  My “fun” seemed embarrassingly silly compared to partying.  I should be happy and they should be miserable.  More so they should get what they deserve—despair.  Whereas I should get recognition.

But I was not getting any recognition.  The teachers saw me as a face in the crowd.  No one at school outside of the six people I hung out with me knew me.  I always had friends and never walked the halls alone, but I was constantly lonely.

Sometimes I wondered if I filled this empty void inside of myself with youth group, mission trips, and Christian music instead of drinking, sex, or drugs.  During my senior year I was selected to be the devotions leader for a Spring Break mission trip.  No surprise there.  I had that role for years.  When I saw one of the other leaders chosen was a popular athletic jock from my high school, I almost felt like saying, “Get out of here.  This is MY territory.  This is my place to shine.  You don’t belong here.”

 But does not Jesus say the opposite.  Is it not Jesus who steps outside and embrace the weak, the broken, and the sinners?  Did he not call out to Zaccheus?  (Luke 19:1-10) Converse with the woman at the well? (John 14:1-23)  Embrace the little children on his lap? (Matthew 19:14)  Did he not correct the “rule followers” and call them out on their merciless thinking? (Luke 10:25-37)

I did not get it back then.  I did not understand that Christianity is not a lifestyle, but a relationship.  In my first year of college I slumped into a cycle of panic and anxiety that bred depression.  I needed people in my life, but my constant panic and emotions drove them away.  I was no longer living at home and my high school friends were scattered all over the place.  Because of changes in church membership, I no longer had a home church.  It was like every inch of security was ripped out right under me.  I was falling apart quickly.  I could not continue on this downward spiral

I promised my roommates and my family I would go to the free counseling center on campus before I did anything irresponsible.  After several counseling sessions I knelt in the corner on my dorm room with a notebook and I wrote the following:

January 22, 1996

Dear Lord,

 Maybe it is time I cracked down and started talking to you…you know one of my number one faults this year has been trying to do everything on my own.  And you know I have found it doesn’t work.  So I just want to come to you in this noisy dorm room and tell you how much I love you.  And how much I need you in my life.  Or I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it through.  Can you help me?

 

I believe that God answered, “Yes.”

Tim Keller in his book Prodigal God says the following:

 “Elder brothers [those who follow all the moral standards] inability to handle suffering arises from the fact that their moral observation is result oriented.  The good life is lived not for delight in good deeds themselves, but as calculated way to control their environment.” (50)

When we continue this path, we find ourselves struggling to forgive those who wrong us.  We pursue judgement instead of grace.  We adhere to racism and classism versus understanding.  We are without love.  (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

Once I sought the Lord on that cold January afternoon, I began to pray to him on a regular basis.  Slowly I began to pray for other people’s needs as they were put on my heart.  I realized we are all a bunch of prodigal sons and daughters in need of Jesus.  Not because we kept every single rule and showed up to church every Sunday morning.  God loves us because of Jesus Christ. (John 3:16)  He gave us more than what we ever deserved or could ever imagine.

He will not let your foot slip--he who watches over you will not slumber - Psalm 121:2a

Social Justice Mom: How not to be consumed by fear

On Thursdays for the month of December I have been doing a blog series on social justice and how we as moms can have compassion for the poor and less fortunate.  Last week my friend Sammy who lives in an urban neighborhood in Michigan shared about being accidentally intentional in her community.  This week Sammy is sharing again about fear. 

Fear or how not to be consumed by it

Last Friday night, just after midnight, I was lying in my bed. As I settled down for a great sleep, I heard 7 loud gunshots right outside my front window.

Then there was silence.

Seconds later, I heard the slap of shoes as someone ran down the sidewalk, jumped into a waiting vehicle and drove off.

My husband and I were discussing what had just happened and whether or not we should call the police.  Suddenly my Dad, who was visiting for the weekend, popped his head out of the guest room and asked, “Was that gunfire?”

Um, yes.

Of all the questions and comments we get about where we live, it is safe to say that the majority center around safety: Is it safe? Isn’t it dangerous? Are your kids safe? What about gangs? Couldn’t you be hurt or your stuff be stolen?

The answers are easy for me to say, but harder for others to accept. Is it safe? Is it dangerous? Listen, living is dangerous. There is harm and bad things that happen in every area, in every city, and every suburb. If you think there is a place to live where there is no danger, you are deluding yourself. That being said, I wouldn’t  have my kids in a place where I feared for their lives during every waking moment or couldn’t let them play outside by themselves. But I know they are safe here.

What about gangs? Gunshot? Having stuff stolen? Scary people? Well in some ways, those are the realities of where we live. Yep, we hear gunshots, there are fights in the street, and we have to call the police. One summer evening, the kids and I were eating dinner when we watched someone run through our backyard. Moments later we watched as armed SWAT team members and dogs followed him through our yard. The man was running away from a gun bust and decided to use our backyard as part of his escape. He was apprehended two houses over. Later, the police stopped by asking me to keep my eyes open for a “dangerous item” that the criminal may have dropped in our backyard.

In our town, the majority of violence is not random. This is not the gang wars of the 1990s where innocent people are caught in the cross-fire of major gang wars. Violence is drug or revenge-related. Almost every time.

Do we have stuff stolen from us? Yes, sometimes as the result of our own actions, sometimes not. Leaving the cars unlocked can result in them being rifled through, but to their dismay, there isn’t much of value in a mom’s mini-van.  We’ve had bikes and lawnmowers stolen. We’ve had our garage broken into. So have our neighbors. Although we call the police and file a report, there is little they can do in such circumstances.

How in the world do I sleep at night? With all these scary things, how can I have any sense of peace and safety and security?

I have a three part answer for that.

Part 1 comes from the confession of my denomination, the Christian Reformed Church. The Heidelberg Catechism is set up as a series of questions and answers that walk through the aspects of living life in Christ.  Q & A 1 state:

What is my only comfort in life and in death?

That I am not my own, but belong— body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

I belong to a loving and God who knows me and watches over me. And because he is faithful, I am obedient, especially when it means I live in a place where I have to depend on him for comfort and peace.

Part 2. Lest you think that I am somehow immune to fear, know that in fact I am prone to anxiety. I have to work very to control my thoughts and keep them from running to things that are fearful. But 3 years ago, when I was struggling deeply with my fear, with what was happening around me, with the rumors of horrible things that I heard everywhere, God gave me this passage from Isaiah.

This is what the LORD says to me with his strong hand upon me warning me not to follow the way of this people:

12 “Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy;  do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it.  13 The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.

-Isaiah 8:11-13

God calls us to live differently. Our choices, when made within his will, do not make sense to the world around us. And the world around us is scared and fearful. God tells me not to follow their way of thinking, to remember that God who is in his holy place is the one who is holy, he is the one that we are to fear. remembering that is God’s world and he is clearly in control keeps me from spiraling into fear.

Finally, Part 3. I take great comfort in my own actions. Scripture is clear that those who live according to God’s will are free. Although I am not bound to follow laws for the sake of my salvation, I follow them because  they lead me to live a more Godly life. Because I do not participate or are involved in drugs or revenge or violence or illicit relationships, I am also free from the natural consequences of such behavior. There is no one seeking to harm or take revenge upon me.

But you also need to know that we live safely: we lock our doors at night. I don’t let strange people I don’t know into my house, especially if Eric isn’t home. We work hard to know our neighbors, to be friendly to others who live in our neighborhood, and do our best to help if there is a need. And we have some basic rules: don’t give money to people who come to the door asking for it. If they say they are hungry, offer food. Buy things from kids who come to the door selling stuff for fundraisers. Whether it is a candy bar or a small vial of knock-off perfume, being generous with kids helps them in their efforts and builds your good-will.

Fear is a sneaky thing. If you give it a foothold, it isn’t long before it takes up residence in your heart, guiding your actions and reactions.

I can live where I live without fear because I believe in a God who is bigger than even my greatest fear.

The Social Justice Mom: Accidentally Intentional

The following was written by Samantha Beuker.  She is a mother of three and in the process of adopting two children from Africa.  She is a stay-at-home mom and homeschools her kids.  She blogs at the The Unexpected Life

It is with a humble-sort-of-pride that I tell you that I live in an urban part of my medium-sized Midwest town. My neighbors are black and white, single, married, living together, unemployed, living off the state, two-income earners. There are stay-at-home moms and latch key kids. Grandmas raising grandkids and homes that have been in families for 2 or 3 generations.  The houses are all about 100 years old—some beautifully maintained, others newly refurbished, others dilapidated and worn down.

For the past 12 years, my husband and I have chosen to live life and do ministry in the urban area our church is centered in. Because of that one simple choice, our lives have taken a different path than we could have ever imagined.

My journey into Intentional Urban Living began as an accident. It happened because I had two kittens.

My husband, Eric, and I had just celebrated our first anniversary and landed our “grown-up” jobs: he in health care, me as a staff member of our inner-city, urban church. To celebrate, we adopted two precious kittens. And our landlord gave us our notice to move out.

With great anticipation we started house hunting. We had decided to stay in the general area: I worked about 3 miles away from our apartment. Besides we liked the area, it was generally safe, the houses had character, and it was very family-friendly.  It reminded us of the areas that we had grown up in: secure, two-parent, enclaves where the troubles of the world happened far from our front yards.

Upon hearing word that we were house-hunting, a member of our church told us of a house he owned that he was looking to sell. It was two blocks from our church. And that was the only thing going for it.

It had been neglected for a number of years before our friend bought it. His plan was to make it a rental.  On our first drive-by, my husband took one look at the peeling siding, the caving in garage, the weedy garden and said, “No way.”

Our church and neighborhood used to be a white, Dutch-immigrant community. But in the midst of the racial turmoil of the 60s & 70s, the neighborhood transitioned into housing for black families. By & large the white families fled to the suburbs.  The neighborhood went into decline. Many of the houses became rentals and weren’t  kept up to high standards. When we started to consider living there, the neighborhood was mixed between three races (white, black, & Hispanic} and was considerably lower-class and unstable. Houses that had been well kept for years stood empty and neglected or were beat up and then abandoned. There was no way we belonged in a place like that.

But God persisted. The idea of living two blocks from my work and our church was enticing. Through the ministry of our church, people were beginning to know both my husband and me. Our head pastor and a few other member families lived in the neighborhood and had raised their families there. They shared with us the reality of living in a racially diverse and economically depressed area.

We decided the house, which had been refurbished to our specifications, was a great starter house. We said that after a year or two, we would buy a larger house in a safer neighborhood. But before that could happen, that neighborhood became our home.

We knew our neighbors and they knew us. As I walked to and from work, I developed relationships with men and women, black and white and brown, young and old. My world was colorful, vibrant, and secure. We learned what was safe and what was unsafe behavior. And during out 7 years in that house, we never experienced a major theft. Why? I am sure it was because we were known, we were friendly, we were part of a community of people who looked out for each other.

Our mission in that neighborhood was simple: to be a stable, solid, and available presence in an unstable place. But while we lived there, we learned that it wasn’t that the community needed us, but that we needed to be a part of that community. I had to let go of the notion that I knew everything, had an answer for every problem, and realize that I had much to learn. It was with great joy that we received much from the neighbors who we had assumed had so little. Even if they didn’t have something to offer us that was worth money to the world, we learned and received love, compassion, and sometimes homemade tacos!

In our little house, we experienced a life we had never before considered. Our next door neighbors were a family of Guatemalans, some in our country legally, some not, some with great English, some with no English. Across the street lived Grandma Reid was raising her grandkids and introduced us to sweet potato pie. Ms. Maddie lived on the corner and kept a pristine house and yard. Rebecca, down the street, was raising 4 kids on her own after her husband was sentenced to serve time. Living in our neighborhood forced me to confront every single one of my stereotypes and preconceived ideas on race, class, family, and living.

It wasn’t always easy. It is hard to face your racist tendencies, to look into injustice that you didn’t cause but that you perpetuate. It is not easy to defend difficult living to family members. They hear your complaints, but can’t understand the context, nor why such barriers even need to be broken. To them, the solution is simple: buy up, move out; your misery is your own fault.

Living in an urban setting has changed our lives, our hearts, and our faith. And I don’t think we would live our lives in any other way.