Camels and the eye of a needle

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  Matthew 19-21-24

 

Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions and give to the poor.  Jesus said it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  I ignore this, thinking it doesn’t apply to me, because I’m not rich.  Right?

But then I look around my house. It’s pretty large and we are only a family of 4.  It’s stuffed with all our stuff: I have nearly as many books as the library closest to us.  My husband has enough tools to stock the local Home Depot (practically).  My daughter has 4 American Girl dolls (ridiculous, I know).  My son has practically every John Deere or Thomas and Friends toy ever made.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

We are never hungry (despite the number of times my children come to me claiming that they are “starving”).  In fact, we probably throw out more food than families in some countries get in a week.  We have two cars, two lawnmowers, a giant wooden play structure in the backyard, and a completely obscene number of shoes.  Let’s face it, we are rich.

You may remember in the last couple of years hearing a lot about the “99%” and how, supposedly, the majority of the United States is just “regular folks” who have to deal with the mistakes of the 1% (the “rich folks”).  I’m not about to start a conversation about all that, except to say: shut up.  So, yes, I am squarely in the 99% in the United States.  But if you look at the world, I’m way up in the 1%.  In fact, virtually all Americans are.  So we’re rich: you, me, your next door neighbor.  Rich.

So, now back to that whole “it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven” thing.  I recently read a fantastic book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker.  (It is so good. You should read it.  But only if you are willing to take a hard look at your life, because she will make you.  And you’ll hate her for it.  But then you’ll love her.)  There is one section where Jen talks about an incident with her children and fish fillets for dinner and finding them thrown away because of a lack of ketchup for dipping.  Oh I have been there.  Anyway, she talks about this as a moment of realization for just how much her kids have, just how easy they have it.  She says, “How can we extract our children from this filthy engine where indulgence and ignorance and ungratefulness and waste are standard protocol?”  She then goes on to describe weeping for her children “who will battle American complacency and overindulgence for the rest of their lives.”

And that whole section just got me.  Because, you know what?  They are learning these behaviors from me.  I’m the one who loads up the grocery cart every week, with much more than we could possibly eat, and then lets leftovers rot in the back of the refrigerator.  I’m the one who has taught them to expect a mound of presents for Christmas, Birthdays, Easter, Valentine’s Day and every other tiny holiday that we could possibly celebrate. (For more on holiday insanity, read this excellent article.)  My children weren’t born overindulged and entitled, I MADE THEM THAT WAY.

But now that my eyes are being opened to this craziness, how do I change it?  How do I convince my parents and in laws and sisters that my kids don’t need so many gifts at Christmas time?  How do I set limits on myself when my tendency is to give them everything they’ve ever wanted because I want to “show them how much I love them.”  How do we possible transform from a family of get’ers to a family of givers?

Oh, Lord, please show me the way because right now I’m having a hard time picturing a way out of the status quo.  Teach me, Lord, because we’re camels who desperately want to make it through the eye of that needle.

Things to teach my daughter and my son

Like everyone else, I have been watching the Steubenville rape trial this week.  I am overwhelmed by all the thoughts brought up by this case, all the things I want to teach my kids.  There is so much to say, and it is so difficult.  Before I start to process, I think this article provides a good outline of the events and all the many things that went wrong.

The rape of the unnamed 16 year old in this case just brings me to tears.  The way she was treated was horrendous.  And I’m not just talking about the abusers, I’m talking about her peers who forwarded text messages and posted pictures on Facebook. I’m brokenhearted for her, that this happened to her and, even before it happened, that she was in the position that she was at the party.  Her rape is inexcusable, there is never an excuse that would make rape okay.  But I weep at the mental picture of someone’s baby girl incapacitated like she apparently was the night of the rape.

I’ve read some online commentary asking where the parents were and why these kids were even able to be at parties like this, participating in behavior like this.  It seems like a valid question and it is easy to heap blame at the feet of the parents.  But I remember being a teen.  And I remember the many questionable decisions I made, the activities I participated in that my parents wouldn’t have approved of.  Sometimes even the most involved parents are fooled by their children.  I know I fooled my parents.  And besides that, I’m not sure the parents need any more blame than what they are likely already placing on themselves.

My heart is also broken for the boys who committed the rape.  Not because I think it excusable and not because I think they should escape punishment for their actions.  But because it is unbelievably sad how bad decisions can ruin your life.  And those boys have ruined their lives.  Besides the incarceration they now face, they will also be registering as sex offenders for their entire lives.  This night of stupidity has ruined their lives.  Now I don’t know, maybe this is just the one they got caught for, maybe they had perpetrated this kind of violence on other girls.  Certainly they acted with a sense of entitlement that night.  Or maybe they were just boys who egged each other on, like toddlers trying to see how high they can jump.  That’s the problem with teens, sometimes they make decisions like toddlers but with bodies like adults.  Again, they deserve their punishment, but it is still so sad.

So I can’t help but think of my own children.  I have a daughter and a son and really my feelings about this are the same for both of them.  

  • I want them to know that they are not entitled to anything.  You may be a football star, that does not mean people owe you their favors.  You may be super intelligent, that does not mean your teachers owe you a good grade.  You may be beautiful, that does not mean people owe you anything.  I want you to earn the respect of the people around you, and that means treating yourself and other people with respect.
  • I want them both to know that their bodies are precious.  And because of this, they should treat their bodies like they are precious.  This means not filling them with mass quantities of alcohol and other substances.  This means not using them to sleep around with whoever comes along.  That means not driving at unsafe speeds.  That means not filling them with worthless junk food.
  • I want them to know that other people are precious too.  Yes, my children are my precious babies.  They always will be.  But that girl my son takes out on his first date? She is someone’s precious baby too.  The boy my daughter has a crush on?  He’s precious too.  We should all be treating each other like precious treasures…because that is what we all are.
  • I want them to know that one tiny decision can have life-long impact.  I want them to think.  I want them to stop and consider what their decisions might mean.  This is too much to ask, I know.  But I hope if I talk to them about it all the time, they might remember my voice when it counts.
  • I want them to be courageous, to stand up for what is right and not to be swayed by the voices of their peers. I don’t want them to forward the text or “like” the facebook post just because all their friends do.  I want them to be that voice that speaks up and says, “wait, this isn’t right.”
  • I want them to know that I love them.  Always have, always will.  NO MATTER WHAT.

I don’t “just” stay at home

Dear friend with the innocent expression,

I do not “just” stay at home. I’m sure you didn’t intend to be offensive when you made that statement. I’m sure you didn’t realize how it would sound. But here’s the thing: I made the choice to stay at home.

I spent years in college and then graduate school and earned an education that makes me well qualified for the profession I care about. I spent time working in that profession, gaining experience and knowledge that equipped me to provide excellent service to the people who entered the building where I worked. I left my profession and someday, when the time is right for my family, I will likely return. But let me repeat: I chose to stay at home with my kids.

I want you to know, my life is not easy and there are many days when I question my decision. Days when I long to interact with adults, when I fondly remember the days when people treated me with respect and looked to me as a kind of expert. I remember a time when other adults didn’t treat me as though I were somehow less because I don’t have a “job.” A time when no one questioned whether I got bored during the day.

And those aren’t the only reasons staying at home was a difficult choice. My kids require 100% at all times. I don’t get sick days. There is no vacation. And often the people I work with don’t really appreciate all I do for them.

But I don’t regret it. In fact, I love my job. And I am all too aware that these days are fleeting. Next year my baby goes to school and it will be the first time in nearly 8 years that I won’t have a child with me 24 hours a day. I’ll be honest, I’m nervous about that. What will my days be like? It’s a new chapter in my life and I really don’t know how it will unfold. Maybe this will be when I go back to “real work.” But I find that hard to imagine: who would pick my kids up after school, help them with homework, laugh and be silly with them? They will be grown so soon. So I have sacrificed the career I could have had. But I don’t regret it for one minute. It’s not “just” staying at home. It’s caring for the most precious gifts I have. And I love it.IMG_1042

International Women’s Day

On election night last fall my children and I were driving home together.  I was listening to election returns on NPR and took the opportunity to talk about elections with my kids.  My daughter, Helen, had just turned 6 and my son, Patrick, was 3 1/2.  Patrick made some comment about what it means to be a President. I explained a few things about it and then said, “and someday you could be President, Patrick, if that’s what you want to do.  You too, Helen.”

It was quiet in the back seat for a while so I assumed we were just about done talking about elections and politics.  Then Helen piped up, in an incredulous tone, “Girls can be Presidents?”

It is no exaggeration to say that this question nearly broke my heart.  I had tears in my eyes when I told her that, yes, girls can be Presidents and that if that is her dream I would support her 100%.

So that’s what I’m thinking about on this International Women’s Day.  It’s true that women in the United States have it pretty good, that significant strides toward equality have been made.  But obviously the battle has not been completely won, if a six year old still has to ask if “girls can be Presidents.”

I want to move my focus, though.  Yes, I think there are still things to be done in the United States.  But those things pale in comparison to the things that need to be done in other parts of the world.  According to the United Nations, 50% of worldwide sexual assaults are committed against women under 16; 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not a crime; 70% of women worldwide report having experienced some kind of violence in their lifetime. (See more here.)  Violence against women is a real problem.I think there are many good reasons to fight to end violence against women.  But here’s the top reason: violence against women grieves the Lord.  

Isaiah 10:1-2 “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!”

 

Can you imagine what God thinks when He sees the things we do to one another?  Can you imagine how He feels when He sees one of His image bearers raped, molested, beaten, or maimed?  Can you imagine how He is grieved over the one who does the violence?  

So, I said at the beginning that this blog would be about combining faith and action.  In moments like these, I hardly know where to begin.  What can I possibly do that would make a difference when the problem is so large? I don’t know.  But the most important thing you can do is pray and in those prayers, pray that God would open your eyes to the things you can do.  Pray that you would be aware of the women in your own community who are trapped in difficult or dangerous situations.  Pray that you would be able to use your resources in ways that don’t add to the problems (this means being aware of modern day slavery and considering how the things you buy are produced before you buy them).  Pray that God would be glorified in whatever you do.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Ephesians 2:10

On Combining Faith and Action

Here’s the thing: I’m not always very good at putting feet to the things I believe.  I was thinking about that the other day.  You see, I recently finished a book that was so convicting it nearly sent me to the floor in grief.  Everything I read in that book, or nearly everything, was so true to my life and highlighted so many things I need to change.  

The name of the book isn’t important right now, I’m sure that will come at another time.  What is important is that it isn’t the first time I’ve felt that kind of conviction, and it surely won’t be the last.  Do you know what I often do with that kind of conviction?  I think about it.  I stew it over for a few days…sometimes longer.  And then I let it fade away.  Why?  Because I’m pretty settled with my life.  Because, while not perfect, the way things are in my life right now are pretty good and I hate to mess with that. Because, honestly, it’s easier not to deal with the areas of my life that need changing.

But that’s not the girl I want to be. So that’s what this will be:  a place to think through and respond to the things I read or hear about.  A place to be honest about areas of my life that need changing.  And a place to talk about how I’m going to go about changing things.  Because James says “Faith without works is dead.”  And I don’t want a dead faith, I want a living, changing, evolving faith…because my understanding is constantly evolving.  And I am growing.