Sunday, October 28, 2007

Stewardship Sunday

Today was Stewardship of Treasure Commitment Sunday at my parish. That's a long and fancy way of saying that they pass out the envelopes and ask everyone to write down a weekly or yearly pledge. Fr. Andrew gave an excellent homily addressed to the "5 groups of people in this congregation." The first group was those who have never given and have no intention of giving to the parish. And I had to sit there and listen to the message, knowing that I was part of that group. I wanted to stand up and yell, "I'd give, but my husband won't let me!"

It's so frustrating. I know God is aware of our family situation right now and I know that He wants me NOT to give. Truly, it's not that I care that the office clerk is going to tally up my envelopes for the year and shake her head and think, "Another family who gave nothing." What makes me so annoyed is that the church NEEDS my gift and I'm unable to do anything about it. Our parish is redoing the sanctuary starting tomorrow (there's a special Mass tonight and procession to move the Eucharist into its new spot in the school gym) and I can't be a part of it. They still need 7 million dollars to finish the reconstruction, but I can't give. Our community has hungry and needy that the parish cares for, but I can't participate. (Yes, I can donate spare goods -- which I have -- but the primary need is monetary. I worked for a nonprofit and frankly, unless you're Goodwill those material donations are more of a hindrance than a help. People like new things, many children's toys and equipment get recalled or are no longer usable, and the donations don't always exactly match the needs of the community. Money is really the best way to help.)

I don't want to be in the first group! I want to be in the last group, the group that tithes 10% every year and has only to readjust their pledge to accurately reflect any new income.

I had a strange conversation with my husband the other day. I'd found this site from one of the adoption blogs I'm following and had mentioned it with some excitement. "We wouldn't have to wait as long to find the money; we could start the adoption process next year!" My husband looked pained. "Isn't it need based? Because there's no way we'd qualify. We have too many assets."

"What do you mean, wouldn't qualify? Aren't we like, thousands of dollars in debt?"

"In my head we are." I must have looked poleaxed because he explained, "I sold stock to cover the debt. You know that."

This is the sort of thing that always made me nuts about economics and business when I had to take them in high school. I don't care what state the money exists in. I don't care if it's in a savings account, or it's stock, or it's cash under the mattress. There's only two kinds of money: assets and credit. We use our assets to make payments and our credit to purchase things that would take too long to save up for (a car, a house, etc.) Good financial stewardship means maintaining sufficient assets to make all required monthly credit payments and cover the expenses of living, while setting money aside for emergency savings, retirement, and significant future expenses (college, down payments on a house, etc.) Everything else is window dressing as far as I'm concerned.

If our assets were sufficient to cover our debt, it means we have no debt. We DO, of course, have house payments, car payments, insurance payments, school fees and a host of other expenses, but that's not the problem. My husband isn't saying that we can't give to charity or adopt a child until we own our own home. I misunderstood from his email that timing was an issue in this matter. Based on what I know now, I don't think it is. The stock has been sold already. We're not racking up interest payments on the debt anymore. So why can't we do a 1/2 and 1/2 sort of thing? How about we live frugally, pinching money wherever possible, then whatever we save, 1/2 goes into an account to offset the amount of the recent debt, and the rest gets put toward charity or adoption?

I don't know whether to bring this up to him. I'm really doing a VERY POOR job of humbling myself and waiting for God's time on this issue, but I'm just having such trouble justifying the delay. People need our help NOW and we can't even set a firm timetable for when we would be in a position to give. It's all this arbitrary, subjective point where we've put "enough" into a savings account. "They recommend you have an emergency fund equal to three months worth of expenses," says my husband. "How much would that be?" I asked.

The answer? Twice the current amount of our "debt."

I almost fell through the floor. How does the situation keep changing and our debt keep getting bigger and the wait keep getting longer?

"Well what about adoption?" I said. "Is that something we'd sell stock to cover, or would we save up for that?"

"I don't know," he admitted. "I guess we could sell stock."

I didn't ask the follow up question to that, which was, So, if we sell stock for an adoption, does our "debt" then increase by $30K? Is that ANOTHER threshold we have to meet before we can give money to charity?

Pray for me, please. It's all I can do right now to not shake the man. I'm succeeding in having these conversations with him rationally and calmly. I'm truly seeking to understand his point of view and accept his decisions.

But I'm really having a hard time.

Picture credit.

Friday, October 26, 2007

There but for the grace of God...

We tried to go see the Titanic exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science last weekend. It didn't quite work out. I checked online and they had plenty of spaces left for several shows in the afternoon, but by the time we got there it was all sold out.

No biggie. We saw the dinosaurs and browsed the planetarium (they had some cool stuff, including a very Total Recall recreation of the surface of Mars and a table with moving rings that simulated orbits) saw the mummies (my favorite) and marveled at the dioramas in the Wildlife Exhibits.

One of the wildlife rooms was also the waiting area for the next Titanic exhibition, and they had devoted a wall to the impact the Titanic (and other ships of that sort) had on the Denver area. Between the mines, the railroads and the open west, thousands of immigrants had reason to buy passage across the Atlantic and come here to make a new life for themselves. The museum had a picture of a family (or two) standing in front of a couple tents pitched in the snow on a mountain slope, hard-faced men and plain-faced women dressed in dark, drab clothes. One woman had a baby in her arms wrapped up in a blanket and a younger child at her feet.

I found the photo online and this explanation by historian Eric Margolis:

In an interview with Emma Zanetell, an eighty-nine-year-old woman who lived at Forbes, I learned a different meaning from this photograph. "That's my tent," she exclaimed, "I'm there sick in bed." The story emerged that, a day or two before the picture was made, she had given birth to twins who died. Her husband and relatives had gone to Trinidad to bury the babies, leaving the tent colony undefended. While they were gone, the militia tore down the tents and burned them. Two soldiers came into Emma's tent; one told her to get up so they could set fire to her tent. Too sick to move, she overheard the other soldier threaten to kill his companion if he harmed her.

I stared at that picture for a good five minutes, wondering to myself how -- HOW -- these people made life work in that kind of situation. I moved to Denver in May and it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Everything was in boxes. I knew no one. I had to look up grocery stores on the internet and map my way around. I got lost every time I tried to go anywhere. My son was a miserable, emotional mess, missing his friends and needing my attention every second. I had a house wrecked with packing paper and cardboard, nothing in its right place and no respite from caring for my two kids (new to me, as I'd always lived near family.)

Compared to the settlers in 1890, my move was a breeze.

The poster went on to talk about the labor strikes and the ease with which mine bosses found scabs to work for minimum pay in hazardous conditions. The US sent soldiers to clear out strikers on several occasions, and sometimes wives and children got caught in the crossfire.

It makes me marvel at the strength and resilience of the human condition. These people left their homeland for opportunity, spent all they had crossing the ocean and then begged or borrowed their way out west only to be used like slaves and discarded like cattle.

I can imagine my reaction in that situation. Bitter, violent complaining at all hours of the day. Whining, fussing, pouting, sulking. Lying in bed while the kids cry and climb all over me. Cursing God. Crying.

Not them. No time for that. They were too buy fighting to stay alive, improve their working conditions, educate their children and ensure that everyone in America had access to real freedoms and opportunities. They scrimped and suffered and soldiered on. And they won. They built our country.

It brings home to me, yet again, the spoiled, self-centered nature of my existence. I can hardly even imagine how I'd survive that sort of life, though I pray that with God's grace and the motivation of necessity, I could do it. I'd probably still do a lot of complaining, though. I really don't like the cold.

I wonder if would be courageous in fighting for my husband's right to an 8-hour day, or if I'd keep my head down because work meant food and we didn't dare risk what little we had. What if fighting meant his life, or my life, or the lives of our children? Would I be generous with our meager possessions? If a friend's husband died in the mines, would I invite her into my home and share everything I had, or would I think to myself: I just don't have enough right now. I can't help her.

My blessings are not just monetary or material. Nor have the freedoms we enjoy in this country always been a part of our society. Even now, much of the manual labor done in America is done by people with no rights, little pay, no medical care and no job security.

Would I be courageous if, instead of this free, prosperous country, I lived in Afghanistan? There are women there whose lives are so miserable that they'd rather set themselves on fire. Or in Indonesia, where Christians are persecuted and political prisoners routinely disappear? Or Pakistan, or Liberia, or anywhere else that women are only considered more valuable than sheep because sheep can't bear sons to carry on the family name? Or if, instead of shopping at Wal-Mart and watching my children play with Disney toys, we lived in China where they were actually making them in unsafe conditions?

It makes me very, very aware of how lucky I am. But in all honesty, it also scares me. Because the dichotomy between the torment and misery that exists in this world and my joy-filled life is as great as the chasm between heaven and hell. And I wonder...if God has said "To those whom more is given, more will be expected" (Luke 12: 48) what does He expect of me in light of all my blessings?

Picture credit

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Red Robin's Siren Song

I cheated on Friday. We went out to Red Robin for lunch. No reason. In fact, many reasons NOT to go: I had food at home, my husband had brought a lunch to his office, and my kid was recovering from a stomach bug. But it was fun to have lunch together on the spur of the moment, and it was a nice family outing.

But as soon as I saw the picture of the Whiskey BBQ Burger, I was a goner. I tried to talk myself into a nice salad, a garden burger, and a cup of soup, but no go. I really really really wanted that burger.

And you know what? There was no one to stop me. No one to say, "But Tienne, you've committed yourself to eating only vegetarian meals when you eat out." Or, "Isn't it bad enough that you're eating out when you have food at home? Are you really going to compound it by ordering a meal that harms the earth, exploits farm workers and exacerbates the global food crisis?" My conscience did say all these things, but I squashed it and looked at the picture again. Everyone around me was eating their burgers. My son was getting a cheeseburger. My husband was getting a turkey burger with avocado and goat cheese. My daughter was sleeping, so she's exempt, but the point is, I was alone and surrounded by temptation.

So I fell. And man, was it a tasty burger. I'm beating myself up about it, now, of course. I know better. It's not like I just forgot about my pledge to forgo meat when dining out. It's not like I was at a party where they only served hot dogs and brats. It's not like someone took me out to a steakhouse to celebrate their promotion and there weren't any vegetarian options on the menu. I deliberately tossed aside my values and embraced the pleasure of the moment, for no other reason than that I wanted to.

Everyone sins, of course. This website chronicles my journey because that's what I'm on. I don't have mastery over this by any stretch of the imagination. What saddens me most, though, is how easy it was to ignore my convictions. There's no accountability in my efforts to take the poor with me. Except for this website, which is faceless and (let's be honest here) only as transparent I as choose it to be, no one would know if I lived perfectly according to the philosophies I espouse or if I turned my back on every single one of them.

Well, God would know. And I believe my pricking conscience is His way of letting me know that he knows, and that I ought to know better. But in the moment of temptation itself, I can too easily ignore His voice.

It drives home to me the importance of community and fellowship. I learned in college how easy it is to sink to the lowest common denominator, and how proud and happy those denominators are when you join them. Pursuing virtue leaves you mostly alone, mocked at best and often accused of being judgmental, closed minded, or intolerant, of forcing your beliefs on others or considering yourself superior.

It's just SO EASY to give in to consumerism and indulgence. From TV commercials to billboards to advertisements in newspapers and magazines, our entire society is aimed at getting us to buy something we don't need. There's always a sale on somewhere, always a special discount if you buy more (Get one in each color! Stock up and save! Buy in bulk for maximum value!), always a drink special to go with that appetizer that looks so appetizing. And did you save room for dessert? When we do gather the willpower to resist the thousands of suggestions around us, too often our companions look at us askance, or make us feel as though we're making a statement about them and their decisions.

My parents came to visit a couple weekends ago. While they were here, my mother insisted on taking me to the grocery store because she wasn't happy with the state of my fridge. I'd just been shopping and had plenty of food, but I didn't have a few things she considered staples, like raspberries, yogurt, and bottled water. When I reminded her that we were trying to live simply, she got hostile. "Who are you trying to beat, Tienne? People starving in wooden huts? Because you'll never match them, no matter how austere you make your life."

It was hard to get her to understand that this isn't a competition. The point of taking the poor with me is not to live in abject poverty, starving myself and my family because there are people in the world who don't have basic needs. The point is to turn a hard eye on my spending and ask myself, "Do I really need this?"

One of the main challenges is that my eye is so skewed. To me, it feels like a huge sacrifice to go out to eat and NOT get the whiskey BBQ burger with onion crisps and cheddar cheese. Never mind that an entire menu of delicious options has just been presented to me, any one of which would amply satisfy my hunger and serve as an indulgence. Then to increase the challenge, those closest to me (like my mother) often hinder rather than help my efforts. As hard as it is to ignore the siren song of advertising, it is even harder to ignore the well-meaning but misguided pressure of friends and family.

How do we respond when a friend writes or calls to talk excitedly about the new flat screen TV they've just bought? Or when our newly engaged relative waggles her ring-finger proudly? Or the woman sitting next to us in church has a pair of the most beautiful open-toed pumps we've ever seen? When those around us are focusing on the fad of the moment, it's all the more difficult to keep our eyes and our interest on what truly matters.

Now Christmas approaches, the beautiful holy-day when we commemorate God's greatest gift to us: Himself, made flesh to dwell among us. But likely the only place we'll hear anything about that is at Mass. The rest of the time our senses will be bombarded with the dreaded countdown -- Only 17 shopping days left till Christmas! -- along with more incarnations of Santa than any sane person can stand. Katerina Ivanovna has a great post on this at Civilization of Love that contains some excellent suggestions for simplifying the season.

In the meantime, I'm working on a system to strengthen my resolve and enable me to turn away from temptation when it presents itself. I find it easier to give extra than to sacrifice something I want, so I need to counter these petty indulgences by giving something up. In return for eating that burger at Red Robin on Friday, I ordered nothing but a drink when we went to the bar to watch the Michigan game on Saturday. That was hard, let me tell you. Especially when my husband got his lunch and offered me a bite (which he never does under normal circumstances! I think he felt bad for me.) And because my mom spent so much on us while she was here, I'm trying to cut my weekly grocery budget to $50 for the next month.

It's supposed to have a bit of a punitive effect. Hopefully, next time I'm tempted I'll think about what I'll have to give up if I indulge myself, and will have the courage and conviction to order the soup and salad instead.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Monday's Gospel

Reflections on Scripture:

There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read it?" He said in reply, 'You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." He replied to him, "You have answered correctly; do this and you will live."

But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, 'Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.' Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers' victim?" He answered, "The one who treated him with mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
Luke, 10 25-37
I was struck, first of all, by the order of God's commandment. Love God first, with all your soul, being, mind and strength. Then love your neighbor as yourself. As a child, I struggled with understanding why God would ask first that we love Him, when there are so many people in need in the world. Surely, as many agnostics and atheists claim, the service of others is the highest form of giving, the most noble exercise of our human faculties. And the parable of the Good Samaritan seems to underscore this. Isn't the point that if I'm on my way to church and happen across an accident, I should skip Mass and tend to the victims of the crash? Or if I have limited funds, aren't they better spent feeding the homeless than contributing to the fund my opulent Catholic cathedral has set up to clean and maintain its mosaics?

Well, yes. And no.

Now that I have children of my own, I understand a bit more the love God has for us, and His desire that we form a relationship with Him. I think about how I would feel if my son grew up, became a priest and went to Kenya, but we were estranged. He would be doing exactly what I want, living according to the values I'm trying to instill in him, and serving the world in the way I most desire. Yet how can it make me happy for him to do all this and shut me entirely out of his life? I would be proud of him, of course, and very, very happy if he found fulfillment in his vocation. But it would be an empty sort of feeling because I couldn't share in it with him.

God must feel the same way when we put anything else before our relationship with him. Yes, we are called to both love God and serve one another, but first and foremost we must love God. We have to be sure that the rituals and requirements of our faith don't prevent us from doing God's will. That's the point of the parable, where the Levite and priest allowed the strict regulations governing ritual washing to keep them from tending to the man in need. But that doesn't mean we're meant to disregard our obligation to put God first. So yes, if I'm on my way to Mass and see an accident, I should stop and help. And then I should give up my lunch, or my football game, so I can attend a later Mass. If my cathedral, which is the house of God, is in need of repair, then I should forgo buying a new coffee table to help repair it. Then I will have money both for God's house and for the homeless.

The second part of Jesus' commandment resonates with me the most powerfully: love your neighbor as yourself. Every time I think about that, I'm amazed again by the level of love God's asking of us. Not just be nice to people, or refrain from hurting them, but LOVE them. Love them in the same way you love yourself.

I love myself pretty darn much, gotta tell you. I buy myself things for no other reason than just to make me happy. I'm concerned with my health, I surround myself with friends and comfort and beauty. I make sure to give myself as much sleep as I need (though my kids sometimes thwart this effort.) I take myself on vacations to the mountains and drink wine at every opportunity. I foster my relationship with God often throughout the day. This is how much I'm supposed to love others. I'm supposed to be as consumed with their health, comfort, salvation and happiness as I am with my own. That's a really, really big love God asks of us.

Finally, I'm always humbled by the fact that even though the scholar knew the law extremely well (so well as to encapsulate it in one perfect, brief, commandment) he had no idea what the law was really about. Jesus told him all he had to do was to act in accordance with his beliefs "Go and do this and you will live." and immediately he "seeks to justify himself." In other words, to find a loophole or exemption that wouldn't require him to actually change his lifestyle or interactions.

I identify so strongly with him. Aren't I sitting here, asking God for guidance, and then making excuses whenever He prompts me?

God is always calling us to better ourselves, to sacrifice more, pray more, serve more. What are the excuses we're making? I've been meaning for weeks now to make a trip to my local nursing home and see if they need volunteers. And what's been running through my mind? I don't know where a nursing home is (as though I couldn't look in the book and find one.) I don't want to take my 4-year old until he learns how to behave better (as though I couldn't go when he's at Montessori.) I don't want my daughter to catch an illness (as though the elderly have more germs than the kids in the cry room at Mass!) Isn't there always an excuse not to do something? Isn't there always a way we can justify our inaction or our sins?

Nike doesn't have a bad answer to this: Just do it.

3 Things My Parents Did Right

Jen at Et Tu? has posted a blogging challenge that has been inspiring me this past week: to post three things my parents did right in raising me. I had trouble getting started, until I thought about the ways in which they've helped me onto my current path. Suddenly the answers I should write became clear.

1. They taught me to be grateful for fresh, healthy food.
My mom grew up on a farm and my father grew up poor, so between the two of them they have always appreciated wholesome food. We had two different vegetables with every meal and were taught from the start to be thankful for the food on our plates. My mom never bought us junk food. Never. I remember whining in the store for Lucky Charms and going home with Raisin Bran. Dessert was more often than not some bread with honey or a piece of fruit. Now that I'm dedicated to living simply, I find that I have a good background for preparing my family simple, healthy meals from scratch. My recipes for ricotta, mayonnaise, yogurt and applesauce come right from my mother, as does everything I know about gardening. Obviously, I still want wine and salami and creme brulee, but I am nonetheless satisfied with a nutritious, humble meal.

2. They denied me things I wanted but provided everything I needed.
My parents only became wealthy once I graduated high school and my father's business began turning a real profit. While I was growing up, we lived in a modest three-bedroom townhouse near the train tracks in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the Chicago area. My parents had chosen it for the schools (education is perhaps THE most important thing to my dad) and I recall how it seemed that every kid in my third grade class had a cornsilk Cabbage Patch kid while I was stuck with Suzy, the yarn-haired Cabbage Patch doll I'd received at Christmas the year before. I simply had to learn to appreciate what I had and stop yearning for new things all the time. It was an important lesson for me to learn at a young age, and I thank them wholeheartedly for instilling it in me.

3. They moved our family to Indonesia.
When my father's pharmaceutical company sent him to Indonesia in 1982, my mother, sister and I went with him. Those two and a half years were instrumental in developing my love for the poor and opening my eyes to the dichotomy between my blessings and their needs. In Indonesia we were part of the expatriate community, so my playmates were mostly British. My sister and I went to an international school, taught in English by white teachers and Indonesian teachers aides. Our mansion had a gated entrance and a pool, a chauffeur, night watchman, maid and cook, all of whom were all Indonesian. And across the street from us was a slum, where people lived in plastic shacks. The entire experience was eye-opening for me: living in a foreign country where I didn't speak the language taught me to respect the difficulties faced by immigrants, seeing the depths of poverty contrasted with comfort and luxury taught me how lucky I am and how little separates us from the fate of the poor, and experiencing the unique aspects of Indonesian culture gave me an appreciation for the many different nations that make up our world. The experience has never left me.

There are, of course, many many other things my parents did right. Even at my most cynical I could probably list a dozen or more. These, though, are the ones I appreciate the most.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Ambition and Kairos

I had an interesting conversation with my mom a few days ago. I sent her this link from Et Tu, Jen?'s Weekly Favorites and while discussing it we broached the subject of feminine ambition.

Though I hadn't really thought too much about it, I immediately said that I wasn't ambitious. I did well in school because I was expected to and because I liked being in the honors classes with my friends. It didn't hurt that I liked to read, so at least English, History, French and Religion were interesting and fairly easy for me. Still, I didn't work as hard as I could have (especially in college) and I performed up to the standards other people set for me rather than aiming for greatness in myself. Once I graduated, I cared only that my job be in the nonprofit sector where I could do some good; I had little interest in climbing the corporate ladder and even within the organizations where I worked, I never sought to gain management or leadership positions.

"I mean really, the only thing I've ever cared about is serving God. "

Immediately my mom replied, "Well, that's more than most people aim for."

I shrugged. "I don't know. Isn't it just the minimum expected of us as Christians?" And we moved on to other things.

But I've thought about the conversation more since then and come to realize that I am highly ambitious. Deeply, thoroughly, loftily ambitious. Serving God is an ambition, perhaps one of the most difficult and exhausting goals that exist in this world. And it's something I've always aspired to, even when I've fallen pathetically short. Which I have. Often.

If my primary ambition then is to serve God, and if I am serving Him in humility and obedience, then why do I allow myself to feel small because I'm not out there doing something for the world? Am I sure that what I want is really what God wants from me?

For years now I've felt that I failed God, that I gave up on my dreams of serving the poor in Africa because of weakness and selfishness. I wanted to get married. And so that's what I did. Had I possessed ambition or strength of will, I would have trusted God and followed Him instead of grabbing at the best man I could find and working on him until he proposed (after I'd booked the hall and Church, btw.)

It's true that I didn't follow my plan to live in Africa and work with the poor. That doesn't mean I'm not serving God. It doesn't mean I've given up on my dreams. The manner in which I serve God may be different than I had originally planned, but I am no less His.

Nor have my ambitions been compromised. I still want nothing less than to dedicate my entire self to Him. Wherever He wants me to go, I'll go. Whatever He wants me to do, I'll do. Even when I don't want to do it. Even when the very thought of it makes me cry.

My husband sent me a beautiful, bittersweet email the other day. He had to sell some stock to cover our debt, and discovered it's twice the amount we'd feared it was. He proposed setting up a separate account into which we could dump any money we saved by spending less on groceries, giving up eating out, canceling our cable, etc., etc. until we'd paid off the debt. At that point, he pledged, he'd be much more open to giving to charity.

Part of me rejoiced. A plan! Wonderful! A committment to really saving money! Tremendous! A promise to be charitable! Praise God!

Then I did some calculations. Years. That's what we're talking here. YEARS of limiting our grocery bills, living without new clothes or furniture, scrimping as much as possible in hopes of paying down this debt. The scrimping I can handle. We've always lived simply. But years to go before I can give anything to help the hungry? I was thinking a year at the most, just to get us back on our feet from the move and give my husband some time to reflect on the many blessings we have to share with others. When I decided to stop pressuring my husband to give to charity and instead focus all my efforts on paying down our debt, I certainly wasn't thinking years...

What annoys me so much is that we haven't accumulated this debt with any sort of excessive living. This is the result of adhering to our values. Had my husband taken a job with a big defense firm in Chicago when he graduated law school, he would have made four times the salary he got at the small, consumer rights firm at which he did take a position. Even his salary now is half what it would be if he practiced corporate law instead of consumer law. Part of me is wondering what God's up to. We're in this debt because we were trying to do the right thing, and because of this debt we can't give any money to charity and we can't adopt a child from Kazakhstan and we can't afford wine which God quite CLEARLY wants us to consume great quantities of. (Wedding Feast at Cana anyone? Last Supper? Drinking wine is practically a commandment!)

It took me a while to calm my soul and see that I'm trying to over-control things again. There are things I desperately want to do, like adopt a child and send money to Africa. I want to do these things NOW. But God is saying no. I don't know why. I don't know if it's temporary, or if it's something I'm never meant to have and never meant to do. Only God knows that.

My response now must be to wait on Kairos -- His time. If God wills that I go to Africa someday (and I pray He does) then it will happen when HE wants it to, in the appointed time that He decides. If it is God's will that we expand our family through adoption, then that, too, will happen when the time is right. If it is God's will that we give generously to those in need, then I must wait for the opportunity He will provide.

I've been angry that the things I'm reaching for remain so firmly out of my reach. I try a ladder and it's knocked away from me. I ask for help and am met with indifference. But all my stretching won't get me somewhere God doesn't want me to be. When things don't come together despite my best attempts, I need to stop, back away, and turn to God.

I'm listening, Lord. Show me what You want me to do.

Picture credit.