Thursday, February 21


Last week I was thankful that we could eat.  I was hungry.  But it wasn't for lack of food.  We had plenty to sustain us though much of it was in a potential rather than prepared state. Some if it was easy: there was shredded bbq beef and rolls for lunch, peanut butter and jelly, hot dogs and bread dough, frozen pizza.  There were snacks such as peanut butter and crackers, cheese, apples, carrots, popcorn.  With a tiny effort we could have black beans and rice, raviolis, salsa and quesadillas, salad, soup and stew with meat.  There were still two kinds of frozen chicken and vegetables too.  There was oatmeal and eggs and bacon for breakfast.  If we ran out of bread, I could bake more.  We had clean water.  We even had milk.

Looking at this list, isn't it enough to last a week?  I saw it all, but it was as if no one else did.  They were staring into the cupboard, into the fridge bemoaning that the shelves were relatively empty because other than what I listed, there were only a few random things besides. I think in their minds they called it scarcity and they became a little afraid.  Their only starvation was from lack of choices.

Before I wrote it down on paper I even found myself wishing for more too.  I found myself saving food so the kids could have enough to choose from.  I optimized what we had, making homemade tortilla chips and even granola bars with that cereal no one would eat.  I baked them Valentine's treats. I could have baked so much more.

In any other week I would have gone to the store to get more bananas, more applesauce, more bread.  But not this one.  Not when you're not spending more than you have. There was food here.  And it was actually much of what they would normally wish for.  Of course they eat their favorite things first when it's all new from the store, piled up on shelves like it's a priceless collection.  As he carries in groceries one son usually remarks, "Now I can feast!"  He's my pickiest.  By week's end there is less, but there isn't nothing.  I think that without a full refrigerator or a bursting cupboard to accent it all they feel confined to the food choices they would have made anyway.

No one likes to feel confined.  Hedged in and boundaried.

I'm reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers.  It's a remarkable work of narrative non-fiction that paints life in a Mumbai slum, high rise hotels just on the perimeter, potential so close and yet so unreachable.  They do what they can with what they have, sorting trash to sell to recyclers and in the slum they are doing well enough.  I can't wrap my mind around that sentence. (I've been to India and walked through it all.)  The thing that's absent in this book is want of food.  In this work poverty and hunger are not synonymous.  Poverty and corruption are.  And corruption takes away choices.

In my Lenten endeavor to grow a little closer to poverty my discipline to "go without" might be off.  I need to lean more into "can't have" or "cheated out of."  I'm not sure how to do that. Willingly.

I'm reading John.  The remarks about food and water in this book are plentiful not just in occurrence but in symbol. Turning water into wine (six huge pots to pass around at the end of the wedding).  Drinking at the Samaritan well (but offering living water to keep her from thirsting ever again).  Feeding the multitudes (it was just fish and bread, but twelve baskets full of leftovers).  And in the middle of all this epicurian excess Jesus says, "I don't need any of it.  I'm not hungry for that.  My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me."  Jesus points to all the wine, all the water, all the fish and bread and says it's not what's most important.  It doesn't make us rich or poor.  It doesn't add to our everlasting life.  What matters is doing the will of God.

In my Lenten season, I'm trying to shrug off the superfluous and take up generosity.  I'm asking to be led into what is most important.  This is the fast that I choose:  to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke.  To share bread with the hungry... (Is. 58)  It's all there together.  One just might lead me to the other.

I'm reading A Place at the Table.  The lillies beautiful. The grass thriving. Why do we worry?  "Don't reduce your life to the pursuit of food and drink; don't let your mind be filled with anxiety.  People of the world who don't know God pursue these things, but you have a Father caring for you, a Father who knows all your needs.  Since you don't need to worry -- about security and safety, about food and clothing -- then pursue God's kingdom first and foremost, and these other things will come to you as well." (Lu. 12:2-31).
We busy ourselves with worry not about daily sustenance but most often about status. We do not fear that we will not have enough to eat -- for most of us this is a non-issue.  But we worry and fret over having the right clothes, driving the right car, and living in the right part of town."      -- Chris Seay
But Asha wanted to be a politician, not a low-paid Kindergarten teacher.  To achieve this goal, she thought she'd have to shed her slum ways as she'd shed her village ones. It was a second kind of migration -- of class.          -- Katharine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers.
It's the same in India as it was in Israel as it is here. We have what we need, not always what we want.    Here I am in 21st Century Colorado in this moment thinking I'm driven hardest into poverty when I go without food.  Thinking when I don't have it in abundance then I am poor.  But poverty clings more to position than provision.  Rising up out of poverty is to rise to a new position.  It's to broaden our choices; to move the boundaries.  It's to step in willingly into an unfinished work.

Jesus has that new position waiting freely in hand.  It is given without our scavenger efforts to get it.  The food, yes, it will come.  The needs, of course, will be met.  But when we are looking with the eyes of Jesus at the world waiting to be made right do we ever get so excited about doing that work that we simply can't eat?  He raises us up so that we can see. In the end, engaging in the fast makes me full.

{Giving out of Poverty.  Lent 2013}

Saturday, February 16

The First Gift

During Lent there will be three paychecks.

Yesterday was payday number one and yesterday I wrote our first check made out to no one (yet) for the amount we are giving away.  I set it on the dinner table and we all looked at it.  We prayed our Lenten prayer with it in our presence.

The check on the table is more milk, more bananas, more bread.  It's the frozen yogurt I would have treated them too.  It's the lunch we would have grabbed on our way back from our field trip; Chip's lunches with the set-up team on TNL nights. That check is the new pants I'm pretty sure I can't wait too much longer to get for my growing son.  It's the socks that the store was out of.  That check is the excess heat that I'm now turning down when I leave the house.  It's the miscellaneous stuff I toss on the credit card during the month .  It's the Kindle books for only 1.99, the Redbox movies, the good deals that came to my inbox.  It's the coffee mentoring meetings in which I bring my own tea from home.  It's the lunch with my husband using a cafe gift card from Christmas instead of that romantic Valentine's dinner out.

But it's also 19,217 Rupees.  The poverty level in India is 29Rs a day, 22Rs in rural areas.  But 30Rs a day doesn't make you any less poor.  And there are a bunch of people who have less.  I have 19,217Rs sitting on my table.  That's about nine months of basic utilities for an apartment (electricity, gas, water and trash).   It's 1600 bottles of water.  It's two years of college at Delhi University.  It is more than three and a half times the average monthly income.  

I can't wait to find out whose storyline will be impacted, changed, by this gift.  Maybe it will send a few women to beauty school to get out of the slum.  Maybe it will go to a hospital, a daycare center, an ashram.  I wish I could already know so my children could think of them when they are wishing they could buy the Star Wars game or the hands free microphone headset or the ice cream.   It's only the first week. I won't fool myself into thinking they'll stop making requests.

Today as I made dinner with leftovers from yesterday my youngest asked me, "Mom, are we writing another check for dinner?"   I smiled at his very big heart.  Not yet.  Soon.

{Giving Out of Poverty.  Lent 2013}

Wednesday, February 13

If You Give a Girl a Crisis

If you give a girl a $57 crisis...
she just might get angry and feel entitled to live without going through it.
If she gets angry and feels entitled she won't like it and she just might examine her heart.
If she examines her heart she'll find that the crisis really was an invitation to seek the God who led her there.
If she seeks God for a resolution to her crisis she'll lay at his feet the $57 she doesn't have.
If she lays the $57 at his feet she just might sense that he'll take care of that.
She'll re-balance her checkbook just to see.
When she re-balances her checkbook she'll find that she was roughly $50 off.
In her favor.
And after she finds that she's $50 off in her favor
she'll breathe a little easier and pretty much call it 'crisis averted.'

But that would be foolish because everything is always intertwined and connected and touching over and over like small boys wrestling when the work is done. There's more, stretched out and ever lasting more.

She'll find a reimbursement check on her counter for $13 for something she forgot she'd submitted.
When she picks up the check she's happy that she's now ahead by $5 but the check reminds her that she wrote another check to a friend to cover a field trip, but the friend actually wants cash instead of a check.  The field trip is tomorrow and the bank is closed.
When she turns to tack the check to the refrigerator she sees that her oldest's book of bus passes is empty and she needs $1 a day to get him home.  She feels frustrated and her happiness goes away.
When she feels frustrated she problem solves, rips up the check her friend doesn't want and borrows $4 cash from her other great kid to go with the $20 she'll withdraw from the ATM to equal the check's amount.
She goes to the ATM.
When she goes to the ATM she sees that she'll need gas for the field trip and she feels defeated.

When she sees that she needs gas, she asks not one, but two friends, if she can carpool with them.
When she asks her friends they both say, "no."
When they both say no, she gets an email from another much newer friend, one that she doesn't know well, one that might not share her worldview, one that simply needs someone to take her daughter to the field trip.
When she gets the email she may or may not close it and think she can't even get her own kids there let alone someone else's kid.
When she closes the email she might find that it won't leave her alone.
If it doesn't leave her alone, she knows it's a nudge.
In this season of her life, when she gets a nudge she follows it.
Because it won't leave her alone she opens it again.
She says, "yes" to the new friend and trusts that gas will just find its way to her tank.
When she trusts that gas will just show up so she can help a friend she learns a little about what it means to give out of her poverty.

When she fills her tank with gas her account is, again, $50 in the hole + the $4 she owes her great kid.
When her account is $50 in the hole she prays that God will take care of it and leaves her -$50 (actually  -$54) with him.
She takes her friend's daughter on the field trip.  They have a good time.
When she takes her friend's daughter on the field trip, her friend gives her $20 to share in the expenses for the gas.  She chokes back the gratitude.
When she's at the field trip the coordinator hands her back $3 because it wasn't as expensive as she thought and she gives this to her great kid so now she only owes him $1.
And later that night a friend who owed her $9 for a book she'd bought paid her back $10.
And another friend paid her back another $20.
And she finds $10 in her purse that she'd been looking for for a month.  No joke.
And since she had gas she went to pick up her oldest son from school instead of getting him bus passes so she paid her great kid back his other dollar.
And the girl decided to stop worrying and to trust God for her needs because she's now convinced that he's paying attention.  Which is exactly what she invited him to do when she said she'd give away 25% of her income during Lent.

{Giving out of Poverty. Lent 2013}

Monday, February 11

Staying in the Moment

I'm spending some time this season in the book of John with some women who've become great friends.  Years ago I made some notes about John's writing style: his use of symbolism and theme, his little details that say volumes, his absence of self.  The fact that he isn't present (much) makes me look for him all the more.  And not for that young and prideful disciple asking to sit at Jesus' right hand, but the aged and experienced elder reflecting back on those days when everything of God swept over him and those moments upon moments of kairos and awe.

There's this little story in the first chapter of John that captivates me: Meeting friends for the first time, asking good questions, giving invitations.  It's a story of fulfilled anticipation.  Two disciples of John the Baptist, Andrew and, I've deduced, John himself accept their new teacher's invitation to come and see.  The next five words pour out all of the fulfillment of their time together: "And they came and saw."  This speaks a spiritual totality that can't be put into words.  It was finished  right then and there for Andrew and John.  They knew. They believed. They stayed.  And the simplest detail  comes from John at this point where he notes down for us the time of day as if to say: This day will remain in my memory forever.  This is when my life changed.

I've had those moments so many times.  Years ago when I was engaged to my husband I made him an over-sized card for Valentine's day designed with several dates on the front.  He received it and he asked me what all of the dates were, smiling because he knew a few of them. This was our first date, the first night you kissed me.  This was the first time you said, "I love you."  And the first time I said it to you.  And many more life-changing moments and conversations we had had.  I had marked the days and the moments when I could see my life moving in a new direction.  John does the same thing here.  I am warmed to think of this old man looking back with such fondness as if to say, "This was the day and the very hour when I knew my savior loved me."  Forever branding himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved as if he still stood in awe of it after all these years.  

Today marks another of those moments.  Four years ago today, we received a phone call that changed our lives forever.  My husband, away at a pastor's conference, was on the other end of the line when I picked up and he immediately breathed out, "I got it."  I knew precisely what he meant but I made him say it again to elongate the moment.  I got it meant that he had been asked to come to our current church to serve as their core teaching pastor.  Our years of waiting were over. 

I remember the darkness of the night outside lit up by our kitchen light and those bright blue turquoise kitchen walls.  I remember the cold, bumpy feel of the tile as I slid down the wall to rest on the floor, gazing out that darkened window as if I expected fireworks to go off in the night.  I remember his pause, his shaky laugh, our several exclamations, each one timidly expressed, repressed for years within our chests:
"He heard us!"  
"This is the day!" 

Grateful the children were already in bed I asked a flood of questions as I listened to his retelling of his conversation with the elders and who exactly had voiced the invitation and how that had mattered.  And we used the words "redeemed" and "not for nothing" and "we get to."  I marked that sacred moment with a poem that night, one I'd been saving for months for the very time when it seemed that heaven's ears had at last responded with heaven's hands and said, "Here you go.  Enjoy."  That night God sat back and laughed with us in our joy and came out from behind his long darkened door and held his arms open wide and said, "I never forgot you.  Not for one day."  And I gathered myself into him and wept.  I knew.  I believed. 

After four hundred years of God's silence with his people, John had to feel the same kinds of things in that 10th hour.  God does love.  God does hear.  God even comes down to change our circumstance.  What I mark on this day in February is a complete and utter assurance that God is love.  If I ever seem to forget, or sense that it's unimportant or feel defeated, today always comes around to remind me that he loves me, that he loves my husband, that he hears the most urgent cries of despair even if they've been going on for years, that he really does have good things in hand for just the time we're ready to receive them. 

His love is now so deeply ingrained in me from that moment four years ago, dark night on the floor of my rented kitchen, that I will never be afraid to risk, to hand everything back to him, to do the hard things, to look a little crazy.  He said: come and see even when you walk through darkness to do so.  I came.  I saw. I stayed.

Thursday, February 7

Failing Lent Before it Begins

The disappointing news pounced on me after the hundredth time the six-year-old son failed to listen, failed to keep his hands to himself, failed to stop asking the question that had elicited a "no."  So, when it pounced I smacked it back hard, in no mood for any more obstinance.

However, as I recoiled into the phone held to my ear I smacked my husband, on the other end, in the process.

The disappointing news was really an honest mistake?  Error?   What do you call it when one intends to follow through on a task in a timely fashion only to find out the timeline moved underneath him and now you both were out several hundred dollars?

Unfortunate?  Irritating?  Intolerable?

Or do you call it an invitation to the feet of God?  The very invitation you've been asking him to deliver.

[I chose the former to my great shame.]

Do you mumble under your breath that now you won't be able to put gas in the car?

Or do you whisper a prayer of thanks for the chance to see something good and strong and new arise from your lips and your life?

[repeat above]

This year's Lenten fast, only the second of my life, will test me.  I inherited from my mother the wonderful gift of being able to make money come out of a rock.  I did not, however, inherit its counterpart known as humble generosity.  I try.  But it's not second nature quite yet.   Detachment is something else to move toward: holding things more loosely so I can give them freely.  This sweet spot we live in, it can't last forever.  I must be able to hold everything out and say, "Do what you will.  It's yours."

This season I determined that walking a bit closer to the edge of poverty just might be the place I was being pushed to.  I committed.  I didn't just commit myself though, I committed my family.  For forty days we were going to live on 75% of our income and give away the rest.  Give it away.  25% of our income to friends in India who know where to alleviate someone's poverty.  That would be the rewarding part.  Living on 75%, that would be the lengthening.

We are a family of five on a single income.  And not just any income -- we live on tithes. The gravity of this is not lost on me.  We manage this love gift with a lean red pen.  Having opted out of social security years ago we diligently save for retirement.  We set a chunk of money aside for everything each month:  insurance, the mortgage, sewer bills, vacation, Christmas, taxes and all the rest.  We don't waste.  We've learned how not to want.  How was I going to give so much?

But the point wasn't to know how to do it.  The point was just to do it and wait on God to show me the way. 

Still I prepared.  I crunched the numbers.  I figured out how to save on food: cooking once and eating twice.  I took our February paycheck to pay off our credit card in order to enter Lent debt free.  This meant that we began our Lenten practice of living closer to poverty two weeks early because after I mailed that big fat payment I had $95 left to spare for two weeks:  gas for the cars + a field trip + classes for the boys + stamps to mail off our tax packet + more milk and bananas = not enough already.

And today my partner in life called and said the timeline shifted and a withdrawal couldn't be stopped and a matching gift to our retirement would have to wait another month.  And I flipped through the check register in my head and knew that we'd now begin Lent in the hole.  I was angry because it had not been according to my plan.  Humility, generosity and detachment stood on the other side of a vast chasm carved there by my own self love, out of my reach.  Lent was going to push me hard toward God.

Here is what Lent is not:
Lent is not a chance for us to show God what great brilliance and resolve we have.
Lent is not planned so heavily that no room is left to see God move.
Lent is not maneuvered on our own power and skill.
Lent is not refusing to trust when our margin gets squeezed.
Lent is not NOT falling at the feet of God -- at his invitation, to our great challenge.

What have I really given up if I've planned out my scarcity ahead of time and provided for it too?  I'm doing my own giving and my own taking away.  I'm playing the role of God.

Here it is seven days out from the start and I've already tripped over myself on my way to look for God.

The good news is, there's a lot of room for growth.  Amen.

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”  Luke 21:1-4

{Giving Out of Poverty.  Lent 2013}

Wednesday, February 6

It's like when you get a new journal.

Open up to the first page and tremble at the importance of the first inked words.