Sunday, December 4, 2016

Persevering Mom

My girls went to a birthday party last night. It was held in a tiny starter church and the theme was Finding Dory, which they showed on a "big screen" (aka the screen for worship music lyrics). They asked the girls to dress in pajamas and bring sleeping bags and teddy bears. Oh the excitement!

Party hours were 4 PM to 7 PM, during which pizza, cake, ice cream and a snack table were available. Apparently, Mary had some of each because at exactly one in the morning she vomited big time and it was 2:30 before I got to sleep.

The sick ones always sleep in the king bed with me just in case they need assistance again in the middle of the night. I didn't know if this was a virus or a junk food hangover. Hubby set an alarm and slept elsewhere, waking us up at 6:50 as he got ready for church and spoke loudly in the hallway with Paul about the awesome Penn State football game.

Imagine my irritation.

I feel like a zombie and have to clean the house ahead of the daycare week, wash a bunch of linen plus the regular daily loads, and you're waking me and our sick daughter up because of football?

I got up, helped everyone but Mary get ready for church and later got the computer set up to listen to the live sermon broadcast. We watched that, while I observed to see if Mary could hold down sips of water.

The whole time I'm feeling like I'd just studied all night long for an 8 AM final exam. They don't tell you in college that much of your first 18 years parenting a child will mimic that feeling, except for a few summer months when viruses slow down.

Of course it isn't just the viruses. You'll stand in the kitchen and by the washer and dryer for much of the next 18 years, come rain or shine, sickness and in health, especially if you homeschool. The floor will need sweeping and the carpet a vacuuming when you're not by the washer, dryer, dishwasher or stove.

Relentless is the only word that covers it and yet moms don't quit. We persevere with some super human strength I am grateful for, but will never understand. Even us older moms. Even grandmas who are moms to their grandchildren. If we're bedridden, we find a way to mother and delegate from the bed.

Sometimes while sweeping the same floor hours later we feel like Cinderella, who works herself to exhaustion while the evil stepmother and stepsisters live active lives, well-rested and vibrant, always looking forward to something. Other people live life, it seems, while we enable their pursuits. We give things up day after day. The feeling of being passed by, of being unimportant, can be so strong sometimes.

Our Heavenly Father sees us and is well pleased. We work for Him and he says this is good work and I bank my life on that. The servant is blessed in the kingdom of God. The last shall be first. All the more reason to press on without complaining, rejoicing in the growth and beauty in our children's hearts and minds. Sometimes when they're being selfish it seems like we're going backwards, but persevere and trust. Together with the Lord, we're not just cleaning messes, but building a legacy.




Saturday, December 3, 2016

Crucial Situation for Compassion in India

They asked us not to mention this on social media for most of this year, but now that negotiations have failed, I can share that Compassion International's program in India is in jeopardy, affecting our long-time correspondent child, Divya, now age 13 and vulnerable as a teen in her society. Compassion now encourages sponsors to share the situation with friends on social media, asking friends to do the same.

Leadership changed in India early in the year, giving the government more control over which charity groups can work in the country. They put a block on Compassion's funds many months ago, but some Compassion Development Centers were able to keep operating until now.

Personally I can say if we lose contact with Divya, it will be devastating for us, as well as for her family of four. We have written her since she was eight years old and she feels like part of our family.

On Dec. 6, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives will hear testimony from Compassion about the situation with the Indian government. Please use the link below and five minutes of your time to write your local congressperson. The letter is written for you and putting in your zip code, electronically signing, and hitting submit sends the letter to your local congressperson. You can change the wording if you don't sponsor a child in India by just deleting a sentence about that and writing that you are concerned about Compassion's predicament in India. 130,000 of India's poorest children will be affected if Compassion has to shut down services in a country they have helped for decades under many different Indian governments. The statement and links below were penned by Compassion:

Today I will be short and to the point. I need your help. Compassion needs your help. Children in India and their families need your help.

To get the background on why we need your help, please read this post from the Compassion Blog.

Here's a quick snippet from that post,

"...as of today, many of our remaining partners in India have run out of funds entirely and don't have the benefit of our financial support and resources for their ongoing child development efforts.

We have been working closely with the Indian and U.S. governments and have respectfully complied with all requests from the Indian government. Additionally, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on our behalf with a key official in India. However, the restriction on our funds remains in place.

If a resolution is not reached soon, we will no longer be able to fund the child development centers operating in India. The ripple effect would not only impact the lives of more than 130,000 babies, children and young adults but also the lives of their family members and their communities."

There are two ways that we are asking people to take action.
Contact your Congressperson
Raise awareness on social media

Will you take five minutes out of your day to contact your representative and ask friends and family to do the same? On Dec. 6, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives will hear testimony from Compassion about the situation with the Indian government so the timing of this is urgent.


Lastly, when you share about this situation, we are asking everyone to please be sensitive to all parties. Any questions about what to say or not say, do not hesitate to email me or ask in our Facebook group.

As always, thank you for acting on behalf of children in poverty!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Food Pantries and America's Poor

I've participated in canned food drives since my childhood, but it's only in the past year my eyes have been opened regarding food-insecure households. There's a better way to help then donating expired or nearly-expired cans--the undesirables from your pantry.

Before I give recommendations, let me explain what a "food pantry" is. It's an inspiring story worth reading.

John Arnold van Hengel (1923-2005) is the “Father of Food Banking.” In 1967 van Hengel, a grass roots activist and entrepreneur, founded the world’s first food bank in Phoenix, Arizona. His efforts were blessed, as you will read in the following history, from Feeding America's website:

"For 35 years, Feeding America has responded to the hunger crisis in America by providing food to people in need through a nationwide network of food banks.

The concept of food banking was developed by John van Hengel in Phoenix, AZ in the late 1960s. Van Hengel, a retired businessman, had been volunteering at a soup kitchen trying to find food to serve the hungry. One day, he met a desperate mother who regularly rummaged through grocery store garbage bins to find food for her children. She suggested that there should be a place where, instead of being thrown out, discarded food could be stored for people to pick up—similar to the way “banks” store money for future use. With that, an industry was born.

Van Hengel established St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix, AZ as the nation’s first food bank. In its initial year, van Hengel and his team of volunteers distributed 275,000 pounds of food to people in need. Word of the food bank’s success quickly spread, and states began to take note. By 1977, food banks had been established in 18 cities across the country.

As the number of food banks began to increase, van Hengel created a national organization for food banks and in 1979 he established Second Harvest, which was later called America’s Second Harvest the Nation’s Food Bank Network. In 2008, the network changed its name to Feeding America to better reflect the mission of the organization.

Today, Feeding America is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization—a powerful and efficient network of 200 food banks across the country. As food insecurity rates hold steady at the highest levels ever, the Feeding America network of food banks has risen to meet the need. We feed 46 million people at risk of hunger, including 12 million children and 7 million seniors. Learn more about how we get food to people in need in our "How We Work" section. Support Feeding America and help solve hunger. Donate. Volunteer. Advocate. Educate.


It's far more efficient and sustainable for private citizens like Van Hengel to bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots, than for our government to do so. Millions of single mothers would be hard pressed without the nation's food stamp program, but if we--especially Christians--could innovate a way to help needy families through a non-profit organization, the country would be stronger both spiritually and financially. Families could be holistically assisted using a model similar to the highly successful programs Compassion International runs.

Mental health issues, for example, are common among the poor and without donated medical services many are never helped. The nation's Medicaid program is a blessing but very few doctors and dentists and therapists take the insurance, and eye glasses are not covered, leaving many children suffering poor vision through their school years. (FYI: Walmart Vision Centers allow you to donate discarded eye glasses).

A better medical solution would be a non-profit organization of doctors who donate a day per week or month seeing needy patients for free. Understandably, younger doctors are paying back hefty student loans, but older, established, or retired doctors would be ideal for such a program.

With innovation and dedication wealth can be shared voluntarily, blessing both the givers and receivers. Tax-payers are not blessed to give, correct?

Over the past year we've needed to visit our local food pantry several times, so I'm very grateful for Mr. Van Hengel's dedication and innovation. All it takes for some payday-to-payday families to become food-insecure is a major car repair or paying for those eye glasses Johnny broke in the latest bike crash or wrestling match. Sometimes, it's simply that essential toiletries or replacement clothes compete for food money. Every fiscal month has enough trouble of its own.

Local businesses, such as Starbucks and Panera, use Feeding American to distribute food they would otherwise throw away. A visit to many local food pantries includes fresh, delicious Panera bread--from a restaurant the poor could never frequent. 

Meats nearing their sell-by date are discounted by grocery stores, and if they still aren't sold, they are frozen and distributed to the nearest Food Bank (one of 200 across the country). Each food bank serves many surrounding areas, distributing the bounty as needed.

We've received quality food mixed with some clearly rotten food--things that would have sickened us, if we dared eat them. Nevertheless, my children never had to really wonder if there's something for dinner. There was always something I could throw together, thanks to the food pantry.

So, how can you help? Give money to Feeding America, not food, when you can. For every $1 donated, 11 meals can be distributed (including soup kitchens) because Feeding America has amazing buying power. They make your ten dollars stretch far further by working with off-brand food companies and local farmers, allowing needy families to receive fresher foods that don't make them feel worthless and discarded. Believe me, expired food cans given as gifts make the receivers feel crushed. Their thin clinging to hope is dashed when they're given the message they already suspected...that they don't matter.

If you're spearheading a donation effort ask for money or staples like peanut butter, jelly, tuna, dried or canned beans, oil, condiments, and other alternative protein sources, etc. Needy families have to make meat stretch so they can always use alternate protein sources. Toiletries are expensive and always needed too.

The actual money you spent on that generic peanut butter at Walmart would go further than the one jar of peanut butter, however. This is crucial to share with the people you are soliciting help from.

Another blessing would be to donate your time toward cooking classes through your local food pantry so families can learn how to use bagged dry beans and rice to maximize their nutrition. Sometimes they're given donated meats they may not choose to buy themselves, or know how to prepare, such as chicken sausage or roasts. 

Whatever you do, don't forget your local food pantry this holiday season. You may even be able to sponsor a local child for Christmas through your pantry. Food pantries do more than just provide food, depending on who is running the local efforts. When we visited the local pantry in October after a $200 essential car repair, they asked each of our children what they wanted for Christmas. Local people in our community pick ages and genders to help bless with new merchandise. The giving is anonymous so children are not embarrassed by anyone personally knowing their situation. Anonymous giving is a unique blessing because accepting help is excruciatingly hard, and yet parents have to make practical decisions that bless their children, rather than constantly working to preserve their own pride. Love is like that sometimes.

Local people helping local people is the best model for spreading the love of Christ. Needy people fit in with the crowd pretty well, often wearing decent, even designer clothes from local thrift stores. You can go to church with or stand behind a food-insecure family in your community and not even know it.

And if you are aware, don't begrudge them that Netflix subscription, okay? Books and cheap movies at home are often the only entertainment low-income people have. Everyone needs to be distracted from their problems for a time. Vehicle gas always has to be figured into entertainment costs, too, and internet service?  It's essential for keeping on top of job offerings.

The reasons people become food insecure vary wildly, but underemployment is common. Some, like me, are desperately clinging to an ideal--that of raising and pouring heart and mind into my own children so they can be lights to the world--valuable, capable contributors...life-changers even, for a hurting world desperate for sustainable solutions to both spiritual and practical problems. 

My reasons for accepting help (and not working) will undoubtedly be judged, but my heart is and has always been soft for children--my own first, and then all others. Someone has got to pour into the nation's children. Jesus is our first and eternal hope. Children are our second hope, but their spiritual and emotional needs are often put last in our culture. Sometimes well-meaning parents pour into their kids financially, forgetting that a child's spiritual and emotional needs are easily crowded out because kids can't always tell us where their lives are lacking. A supportive extended family helps safeguard many children, but not all children have that.

"Children are resilient", people like to quote.

Not so much, really. 

Proverbs 22:9 Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.

Acts 20:35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Eight Years

Eight long years.

That's how long my 58-year-old husband has been underemployed. Anyone over fifty years old who loses a job faces an uphill battle. Sometimes, these people end up working a few part-time jobs to make ends meet--never again obtaining full-time work. They're overworked, under-paid, with no paid vacation, holidays, or sick time, precious little leisure time, and little to no money going into retirement accounts. What's more, their Social Security will ultimately be reduced by the underemployment, because your disbursement is mostly based on what you earn in the final years.

In all this time, I have persevered, believing my role is clearly defined by the Lord. My children and the home are my primary work. What's more, I believe marriage is for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, no matter how hard those predicaments are. If my husband suddenly became brain-injured, I wouldn't be looking for another husband.

Just more grace.

Our children are growing, needing more and more food, so last April I started babysitting. Still, we were barely making it to the next payday, despite visiting the local food pantry once a month.

Suddenly, change teased from the horizon.

My husband got a first and second interview for a very good job and I began to hope, feeling that surely now the Lord would bless us. Eight years is long enough to endure priceless lessons in humility, gratitude, and reliance on God.

Surely, right? It must finally be our time.

Despite fasting and relentless praying, they chose someone else.

I was so devastated, you know? I have another family member desperately searching for full-time work after fifty, and I feel her pain keenly. She's been searching for over three years, going on many interviews, working very hard to prepare each time. And still nothing. They always choose someone else.

How do you keep hope alive? How do you keep on keeping on, searching for work and fetching expired cans and rotten lettuce and stinky potatoes from the food pantry, without completely losing it? How do you smile for the children and quote uplifting scriptures? (We are not hungry. Do not gift us...just let me share my path and how I attempt to navigate it for His glory...okay?)

The truth is, the Christian life is like this. Couples pray for babies and remain barren. Sick and mentally-challenged people pray for healing that never comes. Workers pray for jobs that don't materialize. Pastors pray for a large flock...one that never arrives.

Some no answers are temporary, and some for a lifetime.

That's not to say that prayer is a waste of time. Prayer--communing with the Holy Spirit--reminds us of His power and our humble state. Communing with the Spirit is a gift in and of itself.

Jesus didn't die to become our bottled Genie. The Bible tells us that God gives his children good gifts, but a fat bank account isn't necessarily a good gift. We are what we focus on and most of us focus on material needs. We spend a lot of time acquiring and planning to acquire, because to have nothing or not enough seems inconceivable.

When we focus on the material, we'll never have enough.

But when we focus on spiritual gifts? We find a goldmine within our own souls.

I have a choice. I can adjust my gaze, either squarely on my self and my perceived lack, or on Him and his spiritual brilliance and abundance.

The fleshly me sometimes exits the grocery store wishing for a different husband. One who can provide all the food we want, handily. The highest quality available, no less. These are fleeting thoughts that I hold captive quickly, having decided a long time ago that I wouldn't hold my husband accountable for my happiness. Happiness--or joy, rather--is between me and my God, not between me and my husband. My husband has his own battle for joy, and yours does too. We can't add to that burden.

Life, and marriage, are unspeakably hard. Life has always been hard, for every generation, at every historical point. The reasons it's hard may change over time, but no human ever had an easy life.

In the past people died often and young from disease; loss was commonplace for everyone. In the past people depended on good weather for an adequate harvest, and going hungry or eating only the same couple foods over and over was expected at times. War and injustice have ravaged hearts and lands for generations.

Adam and Eve are the only humans who had it easy....until they got cocky and wanted more. Gratitude is the cure for a perceived lack.

But it's not enough to give thanks for your home and family, for your food and clothes. That's shallow gratitude. To feel really full, give thanks for Him. Give thanks for who you are in Christ Jesus.

Take time to dwell there, in His presence. He is your prize. He is the gift. He is the answer. He is the yes you were waiting for. Wrap yourself in His eternal promises. Be quieted by His love.

Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Empowered

When you are down, what's it really about?

Satan.

He is either accusing you...

Revelation 12:10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.

Zechariah 3:1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.

...or enticing you to serve yourself. 

Luke 4:13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

When you succumb to temptation (to Satan) and you end up serving yourself, he's telling you how rotten you are, and how you better just give up this Christian thing you've got going on, because you're no good at it.

What is the message of the Gospel? What is the message of Grace? I can tell you what it's not, first of all. It's not about condemnation. It's not about dis-empowering you.

What the Gospel does is empower. 

As Christians, we have incredible power in this world. Satan is defeated every time we worship God, every time we share God, every time we love one another, every time we surrender our will to God. Satan loses every time we say thank you to God, for his never-ending grace.

The answer to our shortcomings is not despair. It's not shame. It's not agreeing with Satan that we're no good at Christianity.

The answer to our sin is...

Thank you. Thank you for Your blood, Jesus, that covers me now and forevermore.

Thank you is a loaded uttering here. It means we know that without God, we are nothing. We can do nothing. It is a surrendering of our will, of our desires, and a heartfelt wish that God would give us his eyes, his will, going forward. Thank you means we understand our position before our God. It means we love Him first and foremost, and we're willing to follow Him anywhere.

Such simple words...thank you...but so powerful too...so beautiful.

The last thing Satan wants is for you to say thank you for the Cross. Because in that uttering, you have crushed the enemy.

Nothing can separate us from our God. Nothing can dis-empower us as His heirs.

Romans 8:35-39 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For Your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.