Entitlement & Fundraising

This morning, a young man knocked on my door asking for pop cans and bottles to raise money for his youth group trip. We don’t have any cans or bottles right now, but I asked about his youth group and his trip anyway. I would have been happy to invest in a youth group that wanted to go and minister in spirit and in aid to the Port au Prince victims of January’s devastating earthquake.

But when the words “Cedar Point” came out of his mouth, I think my disbelieving expression scared him because I hadn’t even gotten the words, “I’m sorry, I don’t have any empties” out of my mouth and he was off the porch and running.

Am I the only one who thinks Christian teenagers shouldn’t just be given money to take a fun trip? If he hadn’t disappeared so quickly, I probably would have invited him to do some yard work in exchange for the money. That would have been more than fair, in my opinion. But to just give money to a kid I don’t know so he can go on a vacation? Nah. I don’t think so. What entitles him to my money? If I wanted to gift it to him, that would be another matter entirely.

What entitles a kid to my money?

I’m not opposed to asking for money. Don’t mistake me on this. Again, I’d have rejoiced to help them buy a goat for a third world family. But Cedar Point? No, you have to earn that.

I struggle with feeling that way, to be honest. My inner voice is debating me even now. She says:

  • When you were a kid, Sar (and even as an adult), others have helped you to do fun things that you wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. (This, of course, is true! However, the people who have been generous to me have always been church, family, or friends. I never went to someone’s door asking for money for a fun trip. I did raise missions money by empties, but again–not the same.)
  • A youth group needs to do fun things together for the sake of building relationships. (Absolutely! But allow their church members to invest in their relationships. They know, far better, the needs of their own teenagers. Don’t they? And also, they would know whether this youth group has pursued fun trip after fun trip, or whether they’ve just returned from Haiti and now want to have fun. They may very well be deserving of a free trip; but I wouldn’t know them enough to decide, would I?)
  • You’re such a tightwad. (That’s right. I am. I’m allowed to be. Have you seen the economy? Don’t mistake an unwillingness to send someone on vacation for a lack of generosity. If it’s that important to him to make this trip, he’ll find a way to earn the money. )

Cripe. I’m sorry. I just really don’t agree with this. It ranks right up there with television ministries asking for donations.

The organizations and ministries I have given to have almost always been those that haven’t asked for money for their own benefit. Compassion, for example, or Blood: Water Mission.

What do you guys think? Would you have given the kid some money? I may have…if I’d known him. But even now, I’m looking at a photo of my Compassion boy, who just turned eight years old, and I’m wondering when the last time he took a fun trip was?

Sigh. Sometimes I really wish I had lived during some other period in history.

Affirmation

It happens seldom but it must be acknowledged. I will be speaking with someone, and I will be consumed with the feeling that she is waiting for me to affirm her value and purpose.  Maybe it is provoked by something she says; maybe it is the look in her eyes; maybe it is totally imagined on my part.

Today, as she spoke of her children and averted her eyes from my gaze, I had this incredible desire to embrace her and tell her how strong and beautiful she was, and how proud of her I was. And that’s crazy, right? Why would she care if I was proud of her? We haven’t spoken in fifteen years.

But I think it’s just part of who I am. I have always had moments like this–though, never when I would suspect them! When I read The Five Love Languages and learned that I was a “Words of Affirmation” gal, I suddenly understood myself, my needs, my frustrations, my relationships. I often forget, though, that I don’t just receive love through affirmation; I also show love through affirmation. So it makes sense that I would be filled with the desire to affirm others.

I think, though, there are two separate things here. It is one thing for me to desire to affirm another person; it is quite another thing to feel as if that person is looking to me for affirmation. As evidenced by this blog, I am still learning to differentiate between the two. And I am still learning how to be a “Words of Affirmation” gal without being a complete dork. Usually, I feel too awkward to say what I’m thinking or feeling, so I opt for writing it in a note or card.

So why am I sharing all of this? Because I want to say three things to all of you…

  1. If you are looking at me, sending out a “say something to affirm or validate my worth” vibe, and I miss it…consider saying, “hey–batman, you missed the signal.” It might help me to recognize it, in which case–I might be better prepared to respond in the future.
  2. If you receive a letter or a card from me, accept it for what it is: my love for you.
  3. Feel free to reciprocate as you feel led.

That is all, friends. Goodnight (yes…I’m just now going to bed…sometime after 4am…don’t judge me; I’m an insomniac.)

Pax Domini!
Semmie

Why Toilet Paper?

Jennifer asks the question on her blog.

This is a story.

She was thirteen years old, struggling as all girls do to make sense of her life and her own self. Her world was crumbling. Her grandfather–the only father figure she had ever known–had died; her siblings were growing up and moving out; her mother had moved them to a new city; her new school was as warm and welcoming as communism; and her new church was hokey. H-O-K-E-Y. Depression settled first upon her with the silence and wonder of October’s first snow, then buried her with the fury and drift of February.

She felt utterly alone, utterly isolated, utterly forgotten.

Her journal was her only solace. Day after day, she inked her frozen prayers on the pages, determined to cling to her faith rather than abandon it. She asked God to show her why He had brought her to this place. She asked Him why she existed at all. She asked Him where her father was and why he didn’t love her. She asked Him if there was anything beautiful or worthy of love in this life He had given her.

One Saturday evening, the girl sat in her bathroom shaving her legs–more for the privacy than for the need to shave. She wasn’t paying attention, really. Her thoughts were on Michelle, a girl at school who seemed to loathe her with incredible determination. The girl didn’t blame her. She pretty much loathed herself the same.

The girl hardly felt the razor slice through her skin, leaving a small pool of blood on her leg. She reached for the toilet paper, pulling several sheets from the roll and pressing it to her leg. As the crimson soaked through the toilet paper, the girl saw the design for the first time. How bizarre, she thought, to create toilet paper with such a design that nobody would ever take notice of or appreciate. And why would they? It was toilet paper, after all. The most common, crass invention, purposed only for disgusting things.

The girl was perplexed by it. She stole a spare roll of the Quilted Northern from below the sink and returned to her bedroom. Pulling out her secret stash of colored pens, she began to color in the design. Little circle by little circle, flower by flower, the toilet paper flourished out of its roll and into hands that would cherish it and ink its beauty.

As she did, she spoke to the toilet paper. “Even you are beautiful to one who will love you and give color to your design.” It was in her own voice that she heard God’s answer to her own feelings of commonness and unusefulness. Perhaps all she had ever needed was to know that there was a plan–that she, being who and where and what she was, was exactly as God desired her to be. Perhaps all she needed now was to allow Him to bring the color back into her life.

And He did.

The toilet paper has stayed with me for these many years. It will follow me to my grave, I’m sure. What began with colored pens and a search for purpose, grew into letters, poetry, songs, essays, bookmarks. It takes time and care. Have you ever tried writing on or coloring toilet paper? I dare you  not to rip it. I dare you not to let your ink bleed through it.

Take your time. Do and say the things that need doing and saying. Be careful, be intentional, and love your toilet paper.

What’s In A Name?

There was a time when this title would have spurred an intense theological discussion. Not today! Today I ask you…where have all the good names gone?

I’ve been walking at the cemetery. I love walking among the grave markers, wondering what stories, what secrets, what sins were buried there. I love the stillness and gravity of death, the reminder that we are mortal and our days are fleeting. If ever you need motivation to do something “more” with your life, take a walk in a cemetery. I said the other night (and it is true!) that one of my friends captures the stories in a cemetery with photography far better than I could, using words. Take a moment and peruse her work.

But today, my heart is enamored with names. One of the things I love about walking in the cemetery is the inspiration of seeing unusual or outdated names. This is a great resource for writers, by the way. Yesterday, I saw the following names:

  • Augusta
  • Wilburn
  • Ivey
  • Tolbert
  • Quincy
  • Clive
  • Henrietta

It blew my mind! These are great names. My name, by comparison, seems boring. Don’t get me wrong, I love my name! But these are awesome names. I cannot begin to tell you how dreadfully I want to begin a letter, “My dear friend, Tolbert.”

How about you? What do you love about the cemetery? And what are some of your favorite, outdated or unusual names? And don’t forget to check out Gayle’s photography…now I’ve told you twice. Trust me. Clicky.

Pax Domini!

Semmie.

Church & Needs, part IIb

Even though I believe we could discuss Emotional Needs exclusively on this blog and still not touch on every aspect of it, I’d like to add just a few more thoughts before moving on to some other topics of importance in relation to modern Christianity.

In yesterday’s blog, I used specific and–I think–obvious examples (abuse, broken families, sexuality, addictions, et cet.) of where individuals in the Church are crying out for something more than Christian jargon. Why are these such big problems in our culture? Why have they so affected individuals and the Church? And how can we address the problem if we don’t understand it?

The connection that I wanted to make yesterday, and sort of glossed over, is that these issues can drastically distort one’s image of himself. I think I finally started to understand my own Emotional Needs several years ago when I dreamed that I was trapped in one of those Fun Houses at the circus. There were mirrors everywhere I looked, each one distorting my image. One showed me that I was fatherless; one, that I was not beautiful; one, that I had nothing to say; one, that I was worthless; another, that I was to blame. On and on, the mirrors screamed at me, and after years (in my dream) of looking at these distorted images, I realized that I no longer knew what I actually looked like. Thank heavens it was only a dream! Still, it clearly illustrated my twisted sense of self and my dire need for someone (for anyone!) to look at me and see something of worth!

In my case, it wasn’t enough to just believe that I was created in God’s image. I needed the Body of Christ. I needed those individuals who spoke words of hope and truth about who I was; those who listened enough to see past my defenses and understand how tragically I have loved my father; those who saw God’s handiwork in me and reaffirmed my place in the Kingdom.

See, we are all in process. I don’t say that as an excuse for sin or justification for not being accountable; I say it because it’s true. We are all in process. If God is finished working on you, you had better check to make sure you still have a pulse. If you are living, if you are breathing, then you are in the process of being recreated in His image.

On a dvd, speaking of her song, I Then Shall Live, Gloria Gaither (one of my only modern heroes!) talks about surrounding ourselves with people who call us to be greater. It’s so important that we find that balance where we can accept another exactly as he is, but also see the gifts, the seeds of life and purpose that God has planted in him, and call him to something greater. And I think it is that acceptance that allows us to see greater things in another.

When you garden, you don’t tear a grapevine out of the ground because it has bad fruit. You choose to love your grapevine. You prune it, changing the flow of nutrients and life, so that the fruit on the vine is full and sweet. But it starts with choosing to love your plant, with committing to another year (or two…or three…or four…I mean, really…have you ever tried to grow grapes?) of tending and pruning and singing to your grapes.

So what do you say? How can we change the culture of modern Christianity to address the garbled images we have of ourselves and others? Who are the people in your life that need encouragement, affirmation, words of life and hope, a calling to something greater? And if this is not the Church’s responsibility…whose is it?

Pax Domini.