What’s the Value in That?

Monday, I watched this 60-second documentary about dogs and went spiraling into an existential crisis of sorts.

It wasn’t the senior dogs that nearly had me in tears, though their sweet graying faces were touching. It was the moment the dogs were taken to an assisted living facility. “Most of these people are lonely,” says Kim Skarritt, the founder of Silver Muzzle, via voiceover as senior citizens pet dogs and smile broadly at the camera.

I’ve been struggling to find balance in my life as of late. Being a mother has a way of sucking up all the spare time in a day, making it difficult for a woman to pursue her personal goals and dreams. I’ve wanted to spend more time writing essays and stories of my own, but with a full-time job and a family to take care of, that can be a little dicey. Every hour I spend has to come from somewhere else, so I typically end up waiting until the end of the day (when I’m already drained). That means I’m either losing sleep or precious hours with my sweet husband, whose company I very much enjoy, but I keep on doing it because—dadgummit—writing is my great purpose in this life!

And then I watch that video and think about homeless animals and lonely senior citizens, both populations shoved to the margins, things we’d rather not think about. Then there is the current immigration crisis to consider, the one that is forcibly separating families at the border and sending children to detention centers. I can’t forget that there’s racial injustice everywhere or the fact that white people are falling down rabbit holes of hatred. On any given day, there are 428,000 children in foster care. The suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have drawn my attention to the fact that suicide is on the rise in the United States. In fact, it has risen nearly thirty percent since 1999. Oh, and opioid abuse has reached epidemic status.

I haven’t done a singlething to combat any of this suffering. But, hey, at least I wrote that short story I’ve been noodling on, right? Yay for me!

In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus tells his disciples that when the final judgment comes, “the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (Matt. 25:34-40).

There ain’t word one in there about the arts, folks. I was bored to tears, and you entertained me with your dazzling prose. Not even in The Message version.

That is what it means to be about the Father’s business, I think. That’s what I should be doing. People young and old give up and die every day because they think no one cares about them. I could reach out and tell them otherwise. People everywhere are in need of food and clean water, access to better education and childcare. I could help them get it. People are strangers, even to their neighbors, and social isolation is crippling us emotionally. I could shut this laptop and walk down my street. What is an essay—even one that’s well-crafted—in the face of all that? If I throw the last 5,000 words I’ve written into the abyss, what would it change? Probably nothing. I tell you what—sometimes writing feels as pointless to me as chopping decorative pillows.

However, writers are fond of defending their craft as absolutely necessary to the human condition. Ernest Hemmingway said it requires one to “sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” From someone who cut language pretty close to the bone, that’s a bit melodramatic. Neil Gaiman said, “Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing day nothing else matters.” Really, Neil? Nothing else? According to Maya Angelou, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I can think of a few.

Books are friends, portals into the soul, journeys taken on magic carpets, a way of saying what cannot be said any other way. Yeah, we like to pile on and puff it up for looks. Phillip Pullman believes that, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” And I’ll stop with that, because I can get behind this sentiment—even if it was said by a self-proclaimed “religious atheist.”

Hell, even the fact I can sit here and kvetch about all this on my Mac from the comfort of my middle-class home (with Solomon Burke on my record player for goodness sake) requires me to admit the staggering amount of white privilege I enjoy—yet another issue in need of a solution.

So, yes, it’s safe to say that I’m questioning a great deal about my “passion” as of late. Writing to inform, to persuade, and to educate—I’m feeling pretty okay about that—but beyond those goals (none of which I would dare label as “noble”) I’m of two minds. Can I continue to spend time writing in a world where my cat has it better than a lot of people? Can I, in good conscience, spend hours working on an essay when I could be helping ESL students better express themselves?

Nathalie Sarraute said “the act of writing is a kind of catharsis, a liberation.” Those are two words a lot of people don’t know the meaning of, much less could ever hope to experience. And what are catharsis and liberation worth when there are millions of people struggling to keep it together or feed a family on a few bucks a day? I don’t think there’s much catharsis to be had in a box of Kraft Mac & Cheese, but I could be wrong.

Finally, dear reader (and if you’ve managed to hang on this long, I salute you), all this navel-gazing is not meant to heap hot coals on your head. My judgment extends no further than the rather roomy confines of my own flesh and bone. This uncertainty is mine and no one else’s, and this post is only a marker for those who, like me, are finding their way.

Small Change, Big Difference

I was honored to share the story of Liberty Baptist Church, a small congregation in Fulton, Kentucky, in the June 2014 issue of In Touch magazine. This amazing group of generous people gave enough money to send ten Messengers in Ticuna (a language spoken only by people groups in the Amazon) into the mission field. And their gift has yielded tremendous results in the lives of people they may never meet this side of heaven.

Remember, if you want, you can subscribe to In Touch magazine for free. You can also read our articles online, and if you do, please leave us comments there. We love hearing readers’ thoughts on each and every article we post!

 

 

 

In My Shoes

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.

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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?

Leaving on a Jet Plane….Sort Of

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.**

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Eight Days and Counting

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.

You can read about their mission.

You can learn about their 100% Model. Yes, all your money goes to building wells. All the overhead costs, salaries, and other little evils are covered by private donors.

You can even read their latest annual report. They have a four star rating AIP rating, which is pretty amazing.

The founder and CEO even has a great talk on YouTube if you have 40 minutes to spare.

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.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

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!

Water > Grumpy Cat

Anyone who knows me is well aware of the love I have for Grumpy Cat.

If you aren’t aware of this amazing feline comedic gem, I highly suggest you click on over to her website or check out the many hilarious photos featuring her at Know Your Meme. I also highly suggest her YouTube page.

Grumpy Cat combines two of my favorite things in the entire world—cats and sarcasm. Granted, the sweet little kitty who is less than a year old is actually a very pleasant thing, but that doesn’t stop people from using her frowny face for their own comedic efforts. Three of my favorites in recent weeks have been….

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I also take daily delight in her Twitter feed. Well, at least one of the many parodies…

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That’s why when I saw a picture of this this week, I nearly had an aneurism, seizure, and ice cream headache all at once.

Yes, friends and neighbors, it’s a Grumpy Cat Hat. It’s made out of fleece. It’s handmade. It has lined ear flaps. And it’s only $26.50 in this Etsy Store. My life would be so much better if I possessed one of these amazing creations to keep my head warm in the coming months. Without doubt, it would generate questions everywhere I go and would serve as a boffo conversation starter. When wearing it, I could say, “Why yes, this is a Grumpy Cat Hat. I am indeed cooler than you because I own said item. Neener neener neener.” My smugness would know no bounds.

However, right after I posted it to my Facebook page, I realized that as happy as this little gewgaw might make me, that $26.50 could help someone in a developing country gain access to an endless, life changing supply of fresh water. That’s why I’ve donated my 35th birthday, which will take place on April 21st, to Charity:Water and have set up a campaign page there where people can make donations in lieu of giving me presents, cash, or other things that I can go without this year.

You can visit my page (and make a donation, ye scurvy dog!!) by clicking HERE.

My goal is to raise at least $1,000 this year in order to help 50 people. With access to clean water, they won’t die of preventable diseases. What’s more, they’ll have a chance to truly live because the time spent going back and forth to whatever sources are available can instead be spent starting a business, going to school, or caring for their families.

If you want to help me out, I’d love a donation of whatever you can spare. I know times are tight (and likely getting tighter), but it’s hard for me to say no to someone who’s is going without something I can draw a limitless of from the tap in my kitchen. And giving it to them is certainly a good thing.

Even Grumpy Cat has to agree with that.