I didn’t mean to publish that last post

Well, actually I did.  Just not quite when it got published.

I wrote it, scheduled it to be published, then had some more thoughts and wanted to revise it, tried to change it back to not being scheduled, and apparently did something wrong because it got published anyway.

Oh well.

When I was in middle school, my friends and I noticed one of our friends wore the same Teva sandals every day during the first several weeks of school.  So we dared her to wear them every day for the entire school year.  And she did.  Except one day when there was more than a foot of snow on the ground and she wore close toed shoes instead – and we all agreed that this was a reasonable exception.

There was no point to why she wore those shoes every day.  It was random.  It was fun.  It was silly.

That’s not how I view my 2014 resolution.

After I wrote the post but before it got published, I talked with a friend about my resolution to not buy any material possessions for a year.  He asked some questions about what I meant by it and what my motivation was behind doing it, and “this is an incredibly laudable goal, but beware being too legalistic about it.”

And interesting and – I think – valid comment/observation to make.

Because – as an example – one thing I have struggled with is the fact that I’ll be going to Uganda in less than two months (eep! that soon? I still need lots of support!) and while there we will have the opportunity to shop in local markets.  This is a chance to support local businesses and artisans – some that are part of the microfinancing projects that Musana does, and some that are in similar situations aside from Musana.

And contributing to that economy in a positive, healthy way is more important than a one-year challenge to myself to not purchase any possessions.  As long as I’m not buying hundreds of dollars worth of stuff.

I guess he just reminded me to remember my motivations behind why I was interested in doing this in the first place – differentiating between wants and needs, learning to be happy with what I have instead of always wanting more, valuing what I have and taking better care of it, living with less, and being mindful of ethical manufacturing.

Because if on January 1, 2015 I go on a huge shopping spree and buy loads of stuff that I’ve just been postponing all of this year, I think that cuts into some of the value of what I was trying to accomplish this year.  Because ultimately I’d like to make some long-term changes to how I view and value stuff – not limited just to 2014.

So maybe I’ll buy a few things this year.  After very careful, thoughtful consideration.  (But a new TV will not be one of them.)

That’s what I wish I had added before my last post was published.

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My secret resolution: The Compact

In 2013 I made a new year’s resolution: to make a different mini resolution for myself each month.  I’m bad at keeping resolutions, but I really like to challenge myself so I keep making them (new year or otherwise).  I excitedly told people about this because I thought I had FINALLY figured out a good system for me.

And I still broke it.

I started out good for the first two months.  But then I didn’t really care any more.  So I forgot about it and stopped.

My problem with resolutions seems to stem from telling people about them.  You would think it would provide a sense of accountability, but for some reason it doesn’t.  Maybe because we all expect to break our new year’s resolutions, so we don’t hold each other to them.

So this year I made a resolution and I told no one.  But I did tell a friend that if I kept it through my birthday, I’d reveal it – logicing that if I can make it through a quarter of the year I probably have a decent chance of making it through the whole year.  Since birthday candles have gone and I’m still going strong three months in, here it is:

I resolved to not buy anything in 2014.

Wait, let me clarify…

I resolved to not purchase any material possessions in 2014 – to only spend money on bills, groceries/food, and experiences.

The ultimate purpose is to spend a year in reflection of consumerism and materialism.  To think about needs versus wants.  To appreciate what I have without the constant thought of more stuff.  To become aware of waste and thoughtlessness.  And to remind myself how many items are produced in third world countries by people in terrible working conditions.  It’s tough because I admit that there’s a little “high” that I get by obtaining something new, even if it’s just a pair of socks.

I was inspired by The Compact, a challenge where members chose to buy no new possessions for one year with exceptions for undergarments and health and safety items.  Otherwise, everything is purchased used or not at all.  I decided to, as much as possible, go for the not-at-all part with the “used” clause only as a backup.

Early on, I decided on two exceptions: gifts (I bought a book for my grandma, and some linens for a baby shower) and a pair of running shoes (with three half marathons in one year, this could probably be considered a health and safety item).  I made one more exception when a friend published a book, and I wanted to purchase it in support of her.

How have things been so far?  Surprisingly, it’s not that difficult.

Yet.

But.. well.. things are breaking or getting really old/close to broken.  Among them: lights, my mattress, my swimsuit, and my computer (groan).  I fully expect some of these - or others - to fully give out by the end of the year.  And it’ll be uncomfortable, but that’s kind of the point of a fast, right?  To examine our reliance on something?

A few things coveted but remaining unpurchased: a FitBit, a stick blender, some additional silverware, new towels, GoLite’s Madrone pants (I have the capris and they’re AMAZING), and a radio so I can listen to NPR at home.  Plus the “broken” list above.  Still, though, all things that I can survive without.

So that’s the no-longer-secret resolution.  One quarter of the way through.  And now I’ve told the whole internet.  Will it be my undoing?  I sure hope not.  I’m definitely learning more about needs versus wants, and appreciating every single thing that I have.

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Missions Dilemma

A few years ago, I realized that there is a BIG problem with the way that westerners do missions.  And because of it, I almost didn’t submit an application to be part of the Musana trip.  I could write a whole blog post about it, but let me just sum up:

  • Believing we have to transfer our whole culture onto another culture rather than just the gospel (think how we made women dress “modestly” according to our standards)
  • Doing things that they could do for themselves (other cultures know how to build buildings too, and taking that work away from local laborers – usually done by people with limited construction experience)
  • Going with a mindset of “fixing” people/culture rather than building relationships and learning from each other (as though we have it all together and know how to solve the world’s problems…)
  • Not teaching others to stand on their own – and even go and create disciples themselves – but creating situations of dependency (think parenting: the ultimate goal should be that the children become self-sufficient adults contributing to society)
  • Doing short-term projects that don’t bring long-term change to broken situations but just result in good feelings for the people that went on the trip

You can imagine the relief and joy that I felt upon learning that my church has the exact same concerns and mindset with how to approach missions!  That’s just one of many, many, many things my team talked about this weekend during our planning retreat – aided by the Missions Dilemma series by Steve Saint (a lifelong missionary whose father was killed by the very people they were trying to serve).

Our team is going to Musana to help with the VBS (Vacation Bible School) program.  This summer-camp-esque, creative-and-hands-on, outside-the-classroom learning is not a concept that they have in Uganda – but they like it and are interested in it!  And they may want to take the concept outside of Musana to the local village to offer a program there for their children.

Like everything Musana does and every way that my church partners with them, the ultimate goal is self-sufficiency.  This is the third year that we (as in, a team from my church) has done VBS there.  The first year was us leading, last year was us partnering with the staff there to do it together.  This year, the idea is for us to do the overall planning but the Ugandans do the majority of the implementation.  So, for example, at the games station we may have one of our leaders help lead the first group that comes through but then have the Musana staff run the next four groups that come through.

As we broke into groups to do our planning this weekend, there was one station that was different though: the Bible story.  As I sat in that group helping figure out supplies and activities that might be needed, I learned that for the most part in Uganda no one teaches Bible stories except pastors (and that is generally done in a traditional sermon-type method – less interesting for children).  What’s more, they may not currently have a pastor at Musana right now as I believe he left for some schooling.

In other words, no one to teach the Bible stories at VBS.  This may be the only break-out station where we are still going to be running it.

And they asked me to do it.

I’ll admit, sitting in the planning session I was racking my brain trying to figure out how I could teach someone how to tell Bible stories to children.  It really is a skill that takes some practice, and was worried if it could really be done in just a one meeting once we arrived.  It would have been easier to just do it myself.  And now it looks like that is what may occur.  We honestly won’t know until we get there.

While easier to tell stories myself than teach someone how to do it, it doesn’t mean that I don’t still get nervous EVERY SINGLE TIME before I go onstage.  And now I’ll be doing twenty-five story-tellings in five days?  Yipes!  That’s more than I do in a whole year!  And while I’ve observationally learned enough child psychology and sociology over the years to tell a story to 100 American kids at a time, how will it culturally be different with 100 Ugandan kids (via a translator, no less)?

But what’s scariest to me is that it’s not just children that’ll be listening.  Their teachers and other staff and adults will be there as well.  In other words, the very people we hope in the future will take things like VBS and telling Bible stories to their local communities.

I feel the weighty responsibility of missions and the importance of culturally-sensitive, locally-empowering missions.  What if they see me tell the story of the ten lepers, and decide that it’s something that they are incapable of doing themselves?  That teaching – or, as I like to think of it, story-telling – is something that can only be done by pastors and white Americans?

My problem with over-thinking things is haunting me once again.  I have a fear that my missions work at Musana will be incompetent.  That I will hurt instead of help.  I know that the only way I can get over this is to give it over to God.  To trust that the being that created the universe can also use me as a mouthpiece.

Start praying now, folks.

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Scary thoughts around a fire pit

When I was in elementary school, I went to a Christian summer camp.  One evening during the all-camp gathering, they asked us to bow our heads and close our eyes while our counselors stood around the perimeter of the room.  “Keep your eyes closed!  No peeking,” the speaker said.  

click for sourceShe started to talk about what it meant to have a relationship with Christ.  I had decided to follow Jesus a long time ago, so I already knew this.  “Please keep your eyes closed,” was said again.  “If anyone wants to know more about having a relationship with Christ, get up and go stand by your counselor.”

Curiosity overwhelmed me.  Who had come to a Christian camp without being a Christian?  My eyes squeezed shut, I listened intently as there were scuffles around the room.  None near me; sounded like all the campers from my cabin were staying seated.   My head firmly down, I opened one eye and peered at the carpet, checking my peripheral vision for movement I might be able to identify.  Nothing.  But I could see the girl across from me, head up and looking around, with her hands over her mouth in astonishment.  Clearly she doesn’t follow directions, I thought.

As those campers and counselors headed for the doors, the speaker spoke again.  “Now, if there is anyone here interested in baptism, go stand by your counselor.”

My eyes popped open and I launched from my seat – not because I was particularly interested in baptism, but because I hoped to catch a glimpse of those still exiting the room.  I strained my neck, looking at the backs of the heads that were still departing, trying to see if I could identify anyone.  I could not; they were all unknown to me.

Though my inquisitive nosiness had been foiled, I figured I may as well learn some more about baptism now that I had joined the crowd gathering at the fringes of the room.  As we walked out, I spoke to one of the other girls from my cabin.  “I was baptized as a baby.  I don’t know if that counts,” I said.  She said it was the same for her as several dozen of us settled in around a fire pit.

click for source

I don’t remember the specifics of what the counselors said that night.  I know they said that baptism is an outward, public demonstration of our decision to follow Christ, to be obedient to God to matter what, and to live a life fully-committed to God.

I also remember the gravity with which they spoke about baptism.  The seriousness, the solemnity, the significance.  As though baptism was the very biggest decision you’d ever make in your whole life.  And the more they spoke, the more I felt like a weight was pressing on my shoulders.  

Adult-me believes that baptism is a great thing.  But what child-me heard that night was that being baptized was the same thing as committing to becoming a nun or a full-time missionary or some other vocational decision to follow Christ.  I don’t begrudge them; I think they were ultimately encouraging us to not take the decision lightly.  But honestly, as a child, it was frightening to hear.

And I started to panic.  

I had already decided to follow Christ.  I understood my need for a savior and the concept of substitutionary atonement – at least as much as a child-mind could.  And I believed in being obedient to God.  Sure, sometimes it was hard – like when I had to do what my parents said even though I didn’t want to – but I figured that was balanced out by the easier things – making sure I didn’t murder someone (I figured I had that one in the bag).

But next to that campfire, I thought more deeply about what it meant to be obedient and committed to God.  It was one thing to do my best to keep a list of rules from the Bible, but what if I felt that God was specifically calling ME to do something?  What if it was something really hard and really scary?  

And what was the hardest and scariest possible thing that I could imagine God calling me to do as I sat at that fire pit?  

Be a missionary in Africa.

Going to a place I didn’t know, far away from people I knew, in a culture I didn’t know, eating food I wasn’t familiar with, surrounded by languages I didn’t speak, living in what I pictured as hot and dirty conditions with lions, trying to tell people about a God I still didn’t completely understand.

Seriously, how is that not scary for a kid to think about?

All throughout my childhood, when I heard people talk about following God or being obedient to him, I always thoughts, “Okay, I can do that – as long as it doesn’t mean I have to go to Africa.”  Going to Africa as a missionary was the most terrifying prospect I could picture might be required if you were a Christian.

I left that fire pit wide-eyed and spoke to the girl I had walked down with from my cabin.  “Um, I hope that my baptism as a baby counted.  Because I don’t want to do that.”  She nodded, just as wide-eyed.  

Years later when the opportunity presented itself, I did get baptized.  And they did not immediately hand me a scary plane ticket to Africa when I climbed out of the pool.  But if they had, I would have been okay with it.

Somewhere along the line my heart and my mind changed.  I realized that there are plenty of challenges we have to face in life – regardless of whether or not one is in Africa.  And that following God will not always be easy, but that he loves us and will always be with us – whether in Africa or Colorado.  And that as long as God was with me, everything would be okay.  It would be better than okay; it would be an adventure.

Only sixty-nine days now until I go to Africa

musana-collage-1

Psst!  And I could use all the help I can get with financial support!  :o) 

* * * * *

Postscript: My dad e-mailed me a link to this hilarious song that I had completely forgotten about, Please Don’t Send Me To Africa!

 

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Florence’s story

We had our first team meeting this week for our Musana trip.  I feel so humbled to have been chosen and be among these great people!  I look forward to getting to know them more over the next few months.

Dana – one of our co-leaders who worked as an intern at Musana – told us a story about their women’s project that I found pretty amazing.

The women’s project there employs local women in making jewelry and sewing textile products, but another thing they do is small business loans.  The women can submit proposals for their business ideas.  Their peers choose who should get the $300 loan.  After the business has started and the loan is repaid, they choose the next recipient.  I was so excited to hear about this model of peers supporting each other in this process!  What a great way to get community investment and support!

Florence was a widow who lived in the slums.  They asked what she knew how to do and she said, “I can make bricks.”  With a loan, she started a brick-making business!  Musana even bought some bricks from her when they needed to build a new building.

This is only one story of the amazing things God is doing through Musana.

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Secretary Tales, issue #2

My coworkers crack me up sometimes.  I need a place to start sharing these stories. 

J asked me to schedule a 90-minute meeting for him with M and L. I checked their calendars and found a time that worked and asked where he’d like to meet.  “M’s office– no, wait!  L’s office!”

“Uh, I guess that’ll motivate you guys do what you need to do and not dawdle.”  L’s office measures in at a whopping 65 square feet.  “Seriously?  You want me to put that as the location?”

“Yeah! Let’s do it!”  Why not?  So out the invite went.

On the heels of the invite came an e-mail to the three of us from J: “We finish this policy or no one leaves the room.”

I replied all: “I’ll start poking tortillas under the door if four or more hours have elapsed.”

L replies all: “Given the opportunity for tortillas, How about a five hour meeting?”

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The Dam Run

(That’s not profanity.  That’s its name.  I have the shirt to prove it.)

I imagine there are two types of athletes at the Olympics: those that go in with the knowledge and mindset that they are serious contenders for getting medals, and those that are just amazed – “Holey moley, I’m competing at the Olympics!!” (like this girl from East Timor that was in last place at the women’s marathon, but was getting the loudest cheers from the crowd just for being there).

If the Pikes Peak Ascent is my personal Olympics, That Dam Run was my Olympic trials – judging if I’d be worthy to participate.

I had trained hard for my December half marathon in an attempt to qualify, but ended up three minutes shy of the needed time.  This race was my last chance.  To say I was nervous is an UNDERSTATEMENT.  Every time someone asked about my race, I asked them to pray for me.

Ascent or bust.

When the gun went off and I headed across the line, I immediately felt like stopping, like my goal was too impossible and my body couldn’t do it.  But a mile in, I fell into a rhythm and I felt good.  Too good.  I wondered if my pace was too slow.  I never run with a watch, but I pulled my iPod out of my pocket as I passed the four-mile marker and was astonished to see it read 40 minutes – much better than the 44 minute minimum I needed at that point!  I guess lots of people were praying!

When I got to mile 10 Lynn joined me to help coax me the through the final, hardest stretch of any race.  She had been planning to “channel Jillian Michaels” to push me to find my last reserves of strength and make my necessary time, but as she said she didn’t need to.  I was feeling so good and running so well – far better than I had during any other previous half marathon!  Wow, how many people were praying?

One hundred feet from the finish line I finally saw a clock and my time.  I needed to take three minutes off my previous race time in order to qualify for Pikes.  Instead, I took ten minutes off.  After eleven months of hard and often discouraging training I had earned the honor of joining thousands of others racing up one of Colorado’s most famous mountains.  I crossed the finish line and immediately fell to my knees in prayers of gratitude.

After my last race I barely had the strength to walk; my friends helped carry me to the car.  But this time my legs still had plenty of strength to stand up, accept my finisher’s medal, and pose for a photo.

tdr

In five months I’ll stand among a crowd of excited people – some gunning for winning their division or even the race, and some just like me just thrilled to be there and excited to head for the 14,115-foot summit.

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