This week, I will be attending Catalyst Conference for the first time. I’m really excited to be able to get to know a few new people and to put some faces with folks I’ve only “met” via email. Today, we received an interesting email from one of the event’s sponsors, Toms Shoes, asking us to tell them in 200 words or fewer why we would like to go on a Toms giving trip–where they distribute their shoes (free of charge) to kids who are in need.
I thought, “Hey, a writing challenge! Let’s go for it!” It was fun to consider the issue from a new angle—from the bottom up as it were. My entry read as follows:
I am a woman with size 11 feet, so finding shoes can be a bit of a struggle. Stores usually stock only one pair that will fit my tootsies, and another gal who’s in the same predicament I am often beats me to them. Either that, or they’re wide width. The problem? My feet are narrow. So, like Goldilocks, I’m on a perpetual hunt for something that fits “just right.”
My frustration, however, is of little consequence compared to what children around the world face. Their shoelessness is not a mild inconvenience, a lack of trendy, comfortable kicks. They’re fighting a battle against disease, and that’s a struggle we can spare them with a few strips of canvas and latex.
I would love to participate in a giving trip, to wash the feet of God’s beautiful creations and watch their faces light up. As they wiggle their toes inside those new shoes—ones that fit and will last—they’ll realize they’re one step closer to a better quality of life. They’ll know that they matter to me and, more importantly, to God. Having size 11 clodhoppers hardly matters in the face of something as grand as that.
I’ve had a lot of little things go wrong this week. Our health insurance was impacted by Obamacare (more on that later), and my car broke down on the way home today. However, when I think about the fact that I have a car to break and the money to fix it again, it makes me much less angry about it. Even in my problems, I am blessed.
What about you all? Has something reminded you to be more grateful lately? What are you thankful for?
I just received my first update from charity:water since the fundraising phase of my project began. The $1,000 we collected has now been sent to Ethiopia along with that collected by other projects, and the work will soon begin on the well.
I’m pretty sure all the wonderful, amazing, benevolent, swanky, hip, funky-fresh-for-the-nineties folks who donated will be getting these updates, but I also want to share them here so everyone can see that this charity works in a tangible way. In a year or so, we’ll actually have the GPS coordinates where the well can be found as well as pictures of it and the people it has blessed. I don’t know about you, but I’m stoked!
**FYI, if you click on the images, they are easier to read.**
Okay, I’m not a procrastinator. I’m detail oriented. I have three calendars to keep track of work, home, and school. But somehow, I misread my account information over at charity:water. YIKES! I thought I had until a week before my birthday to raise the $1,000 I was hoping to donate, but I actually only have a few days. Eight to be exact. So I need some help if I’m going to meet my goal!
The first thing you need to do is watch this:
Then you need to check into charity:water to see just how amazingly legit they are.
Finally, you need to head on over to my donation page, which is here, and give whatever you can to help build a well in Tigray, Ethiopia.
In about eighteen months, everyone who donates to my birthday project will get an email with GPS coordinates showing where the well was built as and photos from the construction project.
Tigray is in the northernmost region of Ethiopia and is home to 4,316,988 people, only 54% of which have access to clean drinking water. According to the CSA, “31.6% of the inhabitants fall into the lowest wealth quintile; adult literacy for men is 67.5% and for women 33.7%; and the regional infant mortality rate is 67 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, which less than the nationwide average of 77; at least half of these deaths occurred in the infants’ first month of life.” You can see some gorgeous shots of the country and its people here.
I’m really looking forward to seeing where the money goes, so much so that I wish I could raise the entire $1,000 by myself. But alas and alack, I am but one humble person who works for a non-profit organization. 🙂 That means I need all the help I can get. $5 to $500–every bit of it makes a difference. As of right now, I’m just shy of the halfway mark.
I’d be happy to do something painful or embarrassing if I knew it would help. I’ll gladly take suggestions!
I don’t usually go in for resolutions, but this year, I felt prompted to have a goal for 2013. The word that sums it up is Intentional, which means “done with purpose.” All too often, life gets busy and in the way of the things I mean to do or to say. I end up missing so much because I’m fighting to keep up. My goal for this year is to slow down, to observe rather than glance over the people, events, and moments in my life. I’m going to follow the advice of Henry David Thoreau and “Simplify.”
I know God has something to show me, and I don’t want to miss it. I want to serve where He wills it and to be fully present in the moments He has handcrafted for my sanctification and, more importantly, His glory. That’s why I chose Micah 6:8 as my Bible verse. It reminds me that God isn’t complicated, and serving Him shouldn’t be either. It says:
“He has told you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
The last five years have been rough financially, spiritually, physically, and professionally. Pretty much anything negative that could happen (short of death) did. But I’m on the other side of it now, and I am not the same person I was then. I know what it is to feel lost and helpless, like a boat without a rudder that drifts from one place to another with only the fickle wind for company. But I had something that many people don’t–a family to love and encourage me. And now that I’m on the other side of that long, dark valley, I understand why God had me walk through it.
I now know what it feels like and, more than anything, I want to be for others what my family was to me. That’s why I pledged my birthday to charity:water this year and began supporting my first child through Compassion International. His name is Edmond, and he lives in Burkina Faso–a country I couldn’t have pointed out on a map before this year. I received my first letter from him last week, complete with an artistic scribbling that could either be a seashell or a diagram from Dante’s Inferno, I can’t quite tell.
He also asked me a question—“Do you love children?”
I held that letter, written in both English and French, in my hand, and realized that he had asked me a very intentional question. Do I? Do I love children? Do I love them the way Christ loves them?
The answer five years ago would have been a very non-committal “yes.” I did in the general sense, but now, something is changed within me. I want to provide justice and kindness for children. I look at Edmond and Paromika (the little girl my husband sponsors) and I think about what life must be like for them. I think about how much I have been blessed with. I don’t want to give because I feel guilty or pushed into it for legalistic reasons. I want to share for the simple joy of it, to know that in some small way I am intentionally giving to someone who’s life will be improved by a few dollars…or a few words I write on a blog. It is one way I can do justice, love kindness and, above all, walk humbly with my God.
Imagine my surprise Thursday morning when I looked in my inbox and saw that I had not one, but two donations to my charity:water project, Aqua Jade! I saw the two were for the same amount and from the same person, so I figured there must be a glitch in the notification system. However, when I logged on later, I saw that the person had, in fact, donated twice. Now, this may still prove to be a clerical error, and that’s just fine with me. I’m still stunned by her generosity.
Why? Because I have no idea who “Shawnee M” is. Literally no clue at all. And she gave me $100—my biggest donation yet.
She and I could pass one another on the street, offer to hold the door for each other, or even have a moment of polite conversation while waiting in line and never know that we are connected in one of the most intimate and wonderful ways possible—love and kindness.
This is the second donation I’ve gotten from someone I have no way to thank. Like Blanche DuBois, I’m “depending on the kindness of strangers” for this little attempt at helping others because there’s no way I can come up with that kind of scratch on my own. (I work for a non-profit for goodness sake.) And two people have already stepped up, one of them doing more than double what I did for the cause. She helped not one but four people gain access to clean drinking water by giving to someone who can never repay her for her kindness.
Shawnee M—whoever you are—know that you blessed me in a way you can never imagine. I can only give so much. But if my campaign and my story can get just a few wonderful people like you to help out, we can change the lives of an entire village full of people in Ethiopia. These are people who will never know the prosperity we enjoy every single day. It’s a privilege to serve them alongside you.
A project like this compels a person to see the world in new ways. What could easily be taken for granted are cause for introspection, a reason to question the “why” of things. Honestly, I don’t buy bottled water. Not because I’m against it for ecological reasons (though that thought has crossed my mind) but because, at home and at work, I have access to clean, cold, filtered water any time I want. I put it in cups or my wicked cool Marvel aluminum bottle that I got on sale for $2.50 at the Disney Store. (Yeah, I’m grown. What about it?)
So it’s only natural that I can glide on by the wall of water bottles at the local grocery store every time I run in there. (I don’t know about you, but if I don’t need something, I’m not wasting the time it takes to walk down the aisle.) Today though, still thinking about that $100, I took a look at the endless supply of bottles and thought about just how blessed I am.
I counted fifteen brands. Spring, drinking, purified, and even fluoridated. Flavored, flat, and sparkling. It comes in plastic bottles, ones made of glass, and even aluminum cans. It’s topped with everything from sport lids to screw-on tops. Man, we are truly spoiled for choice.
And this is something about which I must rant.
Of all the bottles on the shelf, which were arranged in order of price, Voss took the grand prize for cost. Two glass bottles of water for $5.00 (at a savings of $.50 mind you!) Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure it tastes great…you know, like water. And the bottle is quite well designed. It’s clean and simple, like something out of Tron. And, to Voss’ credit, they do have a foundation that supplies clean water to countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
But there’s something in me, call it common sense, that just can’t fathom paying $2.50 for a bottle of water. Even if it is, in their words, “taken from a virgin aquifer that… has been shielded for centuries under ice and rock in the untouched wilderness of Central Norway.” It sounds like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, not a bottle full of hydrogen and oxygen.
The money someone spends on eight bottles of this stuff could buy a lifetime of clean water for a person in need. Eight bottles is…counting on fingers….168.8 fluid ounces. A gallon is only 128. So for $20 you get less than a gallon and a half of water. Foundation or not, that’s ridiculous, Norway. You have some lovely fjords and were the birthplace of both Edward Munch and Henrik Ibsen. The Vikings were pretty awesome, too, as is the Nobel Prize.
A-ha wasn’t bad either. In fact, if I were an evil overlord bent on destruction, I would spare your frigid nation only because of “Take On Me.” But you can keep your snooty water.
According to howstuffworks.com, “There are 326 million trillion gallons of water on our planet,” only a fraction of which we can drink. But it’s more than enough to support all living things.
If you’re like me, you have an endless supply of it in your house to drink, cook with, and bathe in. It keeps your lawn green and your car clean. You play and swim in it. And the only time you even think about it is when it stops working. However, there are billions (yes BILLIONS) of people around the world who don’t have easy access to it and die because they are forced to drink from unsafe sources. According to the World Health Organization, “90% of the 30,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are children under five years old.”
90% = 27,000 children who won’t get a chance to live full lives because they can’t get to something that God created in abundance.
In my mind, that’s inexcusable.
God has blessed us with amazing resources, and we should be putting them to use to help. Isaiah 41:17-18 says, “The poor and needy seek water, but there is none. Their tongues fail for thirst. I, the Lord, will hear them. I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will open rivers in desolate heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.”
It’s up to us, His people, to be the tools He uses to open those rivers in desolate places and free fountains hidden in the valley. He’s placed it there, and it only takes a little work for us to bless others with fresh water (and to be blessed ourselves in the process).
I discovered all these facts when I read an article by Craig Borlase on his website. In it, he profiles Scott Harrison, founder and CEO of charity:water. He was a believer who walked away from God for a time but came back to faith. He is now using his talents to bring about positive change. As a photojournalist, “he saw in the stagnant ponds and arduous, dangerous journeys lugging dirty H20 back to the most basic of homes, an issue that was right at the heart of so much suffering: water. Fix that, he realized, and life is almost instantly transformed.”
2012 was an amazing year for me, one in which I was blessed in so many ways. I have an wonderful family who loves and supports me as well as a kind and godly husband who has cared for me for thirteen years. I go to work every day at a job I love and come home to a beautiful house we just purchased. I have an amazing church family and friends. However, I realize that God didn’t give me these good things just so I could keep them to myself.
One of the ways I want to do this is by donating my birthday to charity:water. I’ve had a lot of awesome birthdays, so it seems only fitting that on my 35th, I help children so they can celebrate beyond their 5th.
Basically, rather than people sending me gifts or cards, taking me out for meals, or spending money on something I don’t really need, I’m asking them to donate that cash to my water campaign. (Though wishing me happy birthday on Facebook is still okay. It’s free after all.) 🙂
$20 is enough to help one person gain access to fresh water, and it will change his or her life in ways you never dreamed possible. I’ve already made my donation, and I’m going to keep studying Scripture and blogging about the issue until my birthday on April 21, 2013. If you can, please consider donating….or better yet, start a project of your own!
“And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”—Matthew 10:42
If you’re interested in donating, starting a project of your own, or telling me about your own experiences with this charity or others that are near and dear to your heart, I would love to hear about it. Share your stories and ideas in the comments section below!
The July issue of In Touch Magazine hit homes last week, and I was blessed and honored beyond all measure to be one of the feature pieces! You can read the article online and leave comments by visiting here, read it via the pages posted below, or (best of all) sign up here to get In Touch Magazine sent to you free of charge every month!
For this one, I explore the methods of evangelism practiced by the ancient Celtic Christians and how we might be able to apply them (and enjoy the same success they did) today. I hope you enjoy. Please leave comments and let me know if you are already using any of the techniques discussed and what your results were. I’m interested in seeing how it works in different communities.
Saturday night, Wayne and I finally had a minute to settle down, and we chose to spend it curled up with the “kittehs in teh city” to watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Wayne had seen it in bits and pieces but never from start to finish, which meant that he, for all intents and purposes, was really watching it for the first time. I, on the other hand, well-versed in all things Christmas and cinematic, was doing so for roughly the thirty-bijillionth time.
For those of you who don’t know my family, we heavily pepper our conversations with movie quotes. In one sitting, we might lob lines from Ghostbusters, The King and I, El Dorado, The Princess Bride, The Usual Suspects, White Christmas, Flaming Star, Major League, and Jaws back and forth so rapidly that those who don’t watch what the variety of films we do might think we’re speaking in a foreign language. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m an auditory learner who absorbs knowledge via listening and discussion (a big plus for me in college!) who can remember most of a movie’s dialogue after two or three viewings.
Okay, back to It’s a Wonderful Life. I probably watch it three or four times every Christmas season, which makes for at least one hundred viewings. Each time, a bell rings and an angel gets some wings, George offers to lasso the moon, people jump in a swimming pool because it’s there, George is thwarted each and every time he tries to escape Bedford Falls, and George and Mary share that awesome kiss over the telephone. However, for the first time, I finally noticed that this classic feel-good film actually contains some fascinating socioeconomic and cultural elements.
Perhaps it’s the continued presence of the Occupy Wall Street protestors in the news or my own changing political outlook that caused me to take note of George Bailey and Mr. Potter as more than allegorical devices. I may never know. However, I though it interesting enough to point out a few key scenes for consideration.
Scene #1–“Peter Bailey was not a businessman”
This is the scene in which George Bailey stands up for his father’s ideals and makes a statement for the working class, thus losing his chance to go to college and forever dooming himself to a life doing the exact thing he feared–counting his pennies and stretching every one until Lincoln screamed for mercy.
Potter represents the faceless institution, the bank that loans money based on a person’s value on paper and the rate of return they’re bound to generate. It’s so easy to hate him as he sits in his Attila the Hun wheelchair in a stern black hat with glasses perched, hawk-like, on his nose. He is the epitome of every man or woman whoever denied a loan or hit us with an extra transaction fee we really preferred not to pay. His stance is, “If we just loan money out, people will come to expect it and not work for or value the things they have.” And everyone, on cue, is supposed to say, “That evil, maniacal bastard! How dare he say that about Ernie the taxicab driver! Why that’s the same fella who picked George up when his father had had a stroke, the nice guy who will serenade George and Mary on their impromptu honeymoon!” (Yes, all the exclamation points are necessary. Righteous indignation and all that.)
You (and George) say that because we know Ernie. Potter doesn’t; to him, he’s a social security number and a credit score. George then gives the great counterargument that the rabble he’s talking about “do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community” and that it isn’t “too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath.” They’re better citizens because they have something to be proud of, something they’re working to own while they’re enjoying it. Treat a human being like a human being, and he’ll respond as such. It’s a noble argument to be sure, one that I think held water in the 1940s when this film was released.
I don’t know if any of you have grandparents and parents like mine; they hate buying things on credit and/or taking charity. “What we get, we earn,” my dad used to say when I was a kid. “If you can’t afford it, you don’t need it.” That was bred into them as children, and they in turn bred it into me. (By the way, I’m still not thrifty enough by their standards. I’m like a goldfish and enjoy owning and staring at shiny things too much.)
This made me think of the Fannie Mae/Freddy Mac debacle of the last few years, the idea that everyone “deserves” a house. I loathe, and I mean loathe, the word “deserve.” There’s an feeling of entitlement to it that just galls me. Do you want a roof over your head? Very well. Choose one within your means, save up some for a down payment, and then go get that loan for the rest. Work, pay it off, take care of it. It’s yours, and you’re earning it. However, the incredible interest only loans and relaxed loan standards helped to create this horrid economic pit of despair we’re in now. (See! Movie reference! I can’t help it!) The difference between the people of Bedford Falls, each of which George Bailey knows personally and who work hard for their lifestyles, and folks today is the decline of individual work ethic/responsibility as well as the structure of our communities.
It’s easy to blame Potter and call him all sorts of rude names in the simplistic snow globe that is this film and try to transpose the same feelings onto bankers in real life, but that doesn’t wash. They’re businesspeople who are responsible to other, bigger businesspeople for their own livelihoods and mortgage payments. They don’t know each person they loan money to–they can’t. They sometimes have to say no because a person doesn’t look to be good investment in order to protect the money for those people who are. Those who are currently protesting via Occupy Wall Street fail to realize this simple fact; money can’t simply be flung around. It must be created, grown, invested, protected, and used wisely if it is to maintain its value in our culture. We can’t simply give it away and make people who have more of it “pay their fair share” to those who generate nothing and add nothing to the overall economic pot. It really doesn’t grow on trees.
It’s easy to hate those who have more than we do, to envy them and their wealth. They become as faceless to us as we do to them. They’re not all evil, and the “people on the pavement” (as Edwin Arlington Robinson called us) aren’t all innocent victims of circumstance. The truth is never as simple, as black and white you might say, as a film would have us believe.
Scene #2–“We can get through this thing all right”
This is a pretty humbling scene, the stock market crash on the level of the everyman. Many a person likely took advantage of their fellow man as Potter did, offering substantially less for something than it was worth but offering a chance at relative security in a totally insecure time. George, ever the altruistic creature, puts his own money up, loaning it to tide folks over until the situation settles–something unheard of in today’s world.
The interesting dichotomy here is the amounts people are requesting. The one gentleman isinsistent on getting his $242 or whatever it is while others are willing to live on less than $20. The money they’re borrowing is from George’s honeymoon (and I’m guessing housekeeping setup) fund. They have $2,000 in their pockets while other folks’ entire accounts are a tenth of that. It demonstrates the wealth of the average client in the Building and Loan compared to that of Potter’s bank. (Look at the difference in the two offices and the set decoration if you need another stunning example. I love how directors can use scenery to tell the tale as well as the actors can.) George is by no means poor, but he’s nowhere near as wealthy as Potter. And the people he’s trying to help are so far down the socioeconomic ladder that they are beyond the old man’s notice.
I like the sense of community that is established in this scene as well as the miniature economics lesson that George gives the hoi polloi. He’s right; banks don’t just sit there full of money. Our money, which is insured by entities like the FDIC, is used to make loans, to generate even more wealth that should be put back into the institution. It should work that way, but the bigger the bank (and the more foolish the loans they make), the less likely this is to work out. However, any community is only as good as the sum of its parts. The only reason a place like the Building and Loan works is because people continue to pay their debts on time and in full. Allowances can be made from time to time, but not for everyone and not constantly. Otherwise, the entire house of cards collapses in on itself. It all comes back to the point I made before….individual responsibility is what provides for prosperity, not an institution or a government. If each person takes care of him/herself it becomes possible for them all to also look out for one another. We should be doing the same right now rather than make brainless and unreasonable demands on our government (which stands even less of a chance of doing something well than a large bank does).
Scene #3–“You’re worth more dead than alive”
This is a hard scene to watch, George grovelling in that tiny chair looking up at the blackhearted man who only means to cast him out in the snow to ruin and destruction rather than help him. Normally very well put together, George looks disheveled here–hair unkempt, suit rumpled, hands roaming aimlessly in hopes of finding an answer (or the illusive $8,000) in one of his coat’s many pockets. In short, he looks much more like the people who have come to rely on him than ever before and is treated as such by Potter who wastes no time in heaping derision on his head.
The most interesting aspect of this scene is the quip about going to the riff-raff for help. If you watch this film looking at ancillary characters, it gets rather interesting. There are African Americans in this film, most notably the woman named Annie who worked for the Bailey family, as well as immigrants like Mr. Martini–the literal embodiment of the American dream. Black or white, rich or poor, male or female–all walks of life are represented in the final scene of the film, pulling money from pockets, jars, piggy banks, and even sending it in via telegram. Even the people there to arrest George get caught up in the general good will of the moment, donate money, and sing along with the townsfolk!
On the contrary, every time you see Potter, everyone around him is very well-heeled and stoic as well as very male and very white. Me thinketh Frank Capra was making a political statement with this fact as race and creed are never mentioned in this film. After all, George is the shining example of WASPhood (that’s White Anglo Saxon Protestant), but he values the company of someone like Mr. Martini over that of Sam “Hee Haw” Wainwright and even (albeit sarcastically) offers Annie a chair at the dinner table when he and his father are talking. This group embodies the principle of Matthew 22:34-40:
But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.’
For a film first released in 1946, I think It’s a Wonderful Life contains an interesting outlook on both social and economic issues. Like them, we should be prepared to live within our means and to make the most of what we earn. Like them, we should be concerned about and care for one another, but it should be done on a community level rather than by a ponderous and hopelessly inefficient government. When we can do these things and live according to the commandments Christ gave us, only then will we all have both dollars and sense.