Tuesday, October 18, 2016

How to Know What to Do

Yesterday, Ann Voskamp shared a conversation she had with her husband while he was driving the combine, harvesting soybeans. While he manhandled the combine's steering wheel, she told him about her struggle to know how to respond to the enormous humanitarian crisis in Haiti.

I leaned in and listened closely. When she asked, ”How do you know how to best invest your life? How do you know what’s wisest, and where’s wisest, and who’s neediest, and is any of this even the point?” she took the words I’ve been wrestling with for weeks now right out of my mouth. There they were, on the proverbial table, for deliberation.

I was so relieved to know someone else was struggling too. It's been a few weeks now since we were all holding our collective breath, wondering what kind of havoc Hurricane Matthew was going to wreak on the island. What happened in Haiti is old news to most people, especially compared to the blaring, relentless reality show that is the presidential election.

Like Ann, I feel the need to do something to help the people of Haiti. The question that keeps me from making a donation or applying to go on a work team is simple--

“Is that really what You want me to do?”

--yet so big that it seems risky to answer impulsively, without really weighing the options.

The reality is that, while I wait until I’m sure His answer is “YES!”, I’m secretly hoping He won’t really make me do something that would cost me that much--
that much time,
that much of my comfort,
that much money,
that much risk.

But Ann pointed out that, while she and I are dithering, people are dying. Her husband said, “Sometimes if you wait until you really know what you are doing — means you don’t really know God and what He can do.”

You may not be wrestling with your response to the people of Haiti, but perhaps you’re wrestling with what “something, anything” you could do for the people in your neighbors, for your city, for the good of humanity, if you could just get past yourself. You know people are dying, yet what you have to offer seems so insignificant. But it’s not, because

people are dying.
Here.
...and in Haiti.

And, as Ann so eloquently, but pointedly, put it, “Being with Christ as He goes to the lost and the least is always doing the right thing.

For me, this is not just about Haiti. This is about how I do life in my world, my neighborhood. I no longer want to be content with inaction because I’m more interested in protecting myself, my time, my resources, my energy. I want to live like I believe that “something” and “anything” is better than nothing. Because

People are dying.

What question are you wrestling with that's keeping you from doing "something, anything"?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Loving My Neighbor: Falling Free, part 2

Fall book launch season began last month, and every time I've turned around, it seemed someone else's story, now in book form, was being profiled on one of the blogs I follow. {I happen to follow writers, and writers endorse writers, so therein may lie some of the rub.} A small, uninvited thought began to niggle in my consciousness: what do you have to contribute to this noise? Why would anyone care about your story? And for a while, about five minutes, I believed it.
Then I reoriented my mind and decided that the amazing, wonderful thing about being human is that every single one of us has a unique story that is our life. As a writer, I try to capture with words what is happening in the current chapter of the story I'm living. I'm doing so because I live in a community, both physically and virtually, and I believe God has given me words to share that could impact someone else's life. 
My story, your story, every single person's story is worth sharing, even given the plethora, myriad, glut, proliferation already floating around the internet.
My last post profiled someone else's story. The story of Shannan Martin and her family and their move from an idyll wild to the wrong side of the tracks of a smallish town's inner city. I wrote about her book, Falling Free, in light of the mission of QPlace, an organization dedicated to equipping people enter into meaningful conversations about spiritual matters. 
When I wrote the piece, I had only read the initial chapters of Shannan's story. I had followed Shannan's blog for several years without really knowing the backstory to her current life. I picked up the book out of a desire to know more.
The more I found in those pages was way more than I expected. 
As I was drawn deeper into her story, I found myself equally enthralled and disturbed. As she recounted her story, I realized a similar theme in mine: I am very committed to my own security. I have lived my adult life believing Jesus' words about not considering myself better than others, about caring for the widows and orphans and the poor and needy. As I contemplated what Shannan shared, I realized that I'd never really sacrificed in order to put feet to what I said I believed. 
Yes, I believe I'm supposed to love my neighbor as I love myself. I just have a hard time seeing the little ones who press their noses to the glass sidelights of my front door--wanting to play with my dog and eat popsicles out of my freezer--as in need of my love.
Yes, I believe in caring for the widows and orphans. We support children through two ministries, and I have a hat with "James 1:27" embroidered on it for all to see. I went to Kenya so that I could see firsthand how micro-enterprise can lift widows out of abject poverty. I donate food every other month to assist local food banks and I served dinner to the poor at a mission in a neighboring town once. I've given time and funds to my church's annual Be Rich campaign and felt good about all the money raised to assist organizations "on the ground" doing vital work with the poor and the needy. 
But have I ever sacrificed my comfort for their betterment? Have I ever seen myself as poor and needy, just like them? 
No.
I've had lots to contemplate as I've read Shannan's words. Her tone is never condemning; she simply lets truth speak for itself and land its own punches. She never projects superiority or judgment. She simply admits to being unable to return to her old life after being blinded {"Our retinas burned for days." pg 50} by the light of reality.

Some of my reasoning, my excuses, really, for not getting my hands dirty was that I don't know how. I felt I was supposed to help them, save them, show them a better way. One of my favorite lines that let me know I wasn't alone in this false belief was this: "I was called not to pretend I could save them, but to love them, to simply be with them. They bore the very image of Christ Himself...His people needed neighbors and we could do that. He promised we could." 
I was both relieved and embarrassed and uncomfortable as I pondered those words. Shannan was saying that being a neighbor wasn't about being equipped. So where did I get the notion that I was exempt because I didn't know how? I knew the answer to that--I learned it in church. I am a Christian, therefore I know I'm supposed to take Jesus' message that He wants a relationship with anyone and everyone to anyone and everyone. In that commissioning, however, I missed the very important fact that I couldn't save them. But not pretend, love them as I love myself, and be with them? I knew I was not ill-equipped to do that. 
I started this post telling you about my momentary angst about whether or not my story matters. Reading Shannan's story showed me that it's not so much about what I do with the finer points of my story that matters, but what I share of myself that God wants to use to make a difference. First, in me, then in them. 
What that's going to look like will probably begin with choosing to see the opportunity in the daily doorbell ringing, and giving the popsicles in my freezer without any strings attached. And more. I will follow Shannan's lead and watch for God to show me what to do. Like she said, "New beginnings always start with seeking."  I encourage you to read Falling Free. The Martin's story could help you realize that you have your own story to live out loud and specific people He wants you to share it with.