Saturday, September 21, 2013

No Guarantees

When I was growing up, I was of the opinion that Romans 8:28 (which says that all things work together for good for those who know God and are called according to His purpose) meant God would fix up my mix-ups, and life would feel good.

I was wrong!

I was also of the opinion that if I obeyed my mommy and daddy, told the truth, didn't smoke, chew, or play with girls who do, then life would feel good.

I was wrong!

For a long time, I thought that if I did what the "experts" said was right, with my money, and my time, and I followed the Golden Rule, and I worked hard, life would feel good.

I was wrong!

Unfortunately, Romans 8:28 doesn't mean that God will fix up my mix-ups and make life feel good. Romans 8:28 has proven, in my experience, to mean that life doesn't always feel good, but God is always good, and I can always trust Him.

For many years, my bad theology didn't really do me any harm. Each bad experience I had in life could pretty much be directly tied to my own stupid choices, and (based on my interpretation of Romans 8:28) God fixed up my mix-ups and made life feel pretty good. Then, quite suddenly, on a very normal day in November, life ceased to feel good. My precious, and much anticipated baby, was dead. I was four months pregnant with a baby I desperately wanted. And I was doing everything right; getting enough sleep, eating right, avoiding alcohol and cigarettes, trying to exercise. I was doing everything right. But my baby still died.

Then, four months later, my sister died. I didn't even get to say goodbye.

And, when I got home from my sister's funeral, my "big" boss was waiting to talk to me; we were being transferred.

Life suddenly felt really, really bad. And I couldn't see anything that I had done wrong. My interpretation of Romans 8:28 was obviously very incorrect. My understanding of God's character was shaken, to the core.

In the years since my heartbreaking, life-shattering experience, I have come to learn what I was looking for in my bad interpretation. I wanted a guarantee, that if I lived right, life would feel good, nothing bad would happen, and I'd have what I wanted. My bad interpretation was based on bad theology. God wasn't created in my image; I was created in His. He is the One who writes the rules, and those rules don't include any promises or guarantees that life will always feel good. 

Instead, what God promises is to be with me through the times in life that are the hardest. And that is very precious indeed.

Actually, the promise never to leave us or forsake us is a distinctly "Christian" concept. Other religions base support and fellowship on performance, and if you don't perform, you get what you deserve. We've begun to think like that in our culture, as well, and in grieves me. Instead of acknowledging that we're all broken and hurting, and extending God's love to each other, we've begun to look down our noses at others who suffer, because we know they must have done something to deserve it. The really scary part is, sometimes I am the one who thinks that way?!

God promises never to leave me or forsake me. He doesn't promise to make life feel good. He doesn't promise life will never be difficult, or that bad things won't happen, or that I'll be rich or beautiful or famous, even if I do everything He commands, just the way He commands it. In this life, there are no guarantees. There just aren't. But if I've learned anything through the struggles and pain and suffering I've experienced, it is that God is good, and I can trust Him, even when nothing makes sense.

I don't pretend to be able to explain why bad things happen to good people, or why children starve to death in Africa, or whether God sends people who have never heard about Him to Hell. I don't know. I don't understand God. But what I do know, and what I've experienced over and over and over again is that God is good and I can trust Him. Does that mean I always like what He does?  NO!!  Not at all. Do I always understand why suffering happens? Absolutely not. Have I struggled with God's decision to allow my youngest children to suffer so greatly at such young ages? You better believe it. But, when I lay my head on my pillow at night, I rest comfortably, knowing that my God will never leave me or forsake me. I look forward to hugging my sister again, introducing her to the nieces and nephews she has never met, and holding my precious Hannah and my sweet Kinza Noelle. I look forward to a big hug from my precious Savior, and He will wipe all my tears away.

Life is oh so hard, but God is so good.

And that is a guarantee.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

For love or money

I read an article about how the SEC is considering a rule that would require companies to publish the difference between how much the CEO makes and the average pay of the average employee. It appears, from the article, that at least part of the motivation is to shame companies into either paying CEOs less or average employees more. 

We all know, of course, that the only way to get rich is to get paid lots of money. And the only reason people don't have enough money is because they don't get paid enough. 

Oh. Wait. That isn't true. 

In the book The Millionaire Next Door, the authors compare people who have money with those who look like they do. And what they found was interesting; it didn't matter how much you made. It mattered how much you spent. And people who had money spent more wisely than people who didn't, even if they earned the same six-figure income. 

Money is not the most important factor in life. It just isn't. Yes, it "makes the world go 'round" and it is difficult to survive in our world without money. But how much you have isn't nearly as important as what you do with it. 

Herman Cain's father is a great example of that. A hard working man, he held down three jobs so he could support his family. But he didn't live paycheck-to-paycheck. He saved enough money to buy his family a home. And, both of his children received a college education. When you consider this took place during the racially segregated period in our history, where such an accomplishment wasn't aided by any "equal opportunity" or civil rights laws, then it becomes even more remarkable. 

My own grandfather left his father's farm with little more than the clothes on his back, and he saved enough money to live comfortably for over twenty years after he retired. He literally paid cash for the home he had built when my dad was in high school. He did what he could, when he could, and waited until he could do more instead of going into debt.  And he was a logger. He made his money cutting trees. He was never the big-wig in the logging company, either. He was just a regular Joe, working, making average pay, and spending less than he made. 

We seem to think that money, especially lots of money, will solve all the problems in the world. But it doesn't. Everyone knows the famous quote by J.D. Rockefeller about how much money was enough. The answer is telling..."just a little bit more." People with millions aren't necessarily happier than those with next to nothing. Some aspects of life are definitely easier. But that doesn't make people happy. 

My other grandfather, who was cheated out of two fortunes (by shady bankers who stole thousands because he trusted) worked hard his whole life. When he retired, he didn't have much, but he and my grandmother were very happy. He always said "Happiness and contentment are a state of mind, nurtured by a heart full of concern for others." And he lived by his belief. My grandfather was a very content man, and his heart was full of genuine concern for others. 

Instead of trying to shame CEOs for making so much money, what we really need to do is educate people on wise financial management (think Dave Ramsey) and get people to think about others instead of just them selves. 

Friday, September 06, 2013

Things My Mother Never Had to Say

My mother had girls - three of them. And she only had three girls, not eight. So, my adventures in parenting have been different from hers. This has, on more than one occasion, provided great comic relief. Yesterday's story is particularly entertaining.

As the mother of eight children, and two boys, cleaning is a full-time job. As quickly as possible, I begin to enlist help, from anyone who can move. The latest recruit for sweeping is my six-year old son. He doesn't enjoy sweeping nearly as much as he enjoys climbing on his fort. But, it is an essential skill for anyone to learn, and he is plenty old enough to start perfecting his technique.

In the process of supervising my son, I was chatting with my mother on the phone. Of course, the conversation was interrupted by breaking up fights, giving directions, and correcting behavior. It was the later that gave my mom so much entertainment; I told my son to take the broom off the table.

Having raised three girls, who somehow knew brooms don't belong on the table, she found it completely hilarious that my son didn't understand that simple concept. And once she started laughing, of course, it wasn't hard to keep that theme going. Shortly after my six year old removed the broom from the table, but before he'd finished his job of sweeping, my two year old was walking stomping through the dust pile! More peals of laughter rang in my ear, as my mother enjoyed the antics of her grandchildren, albeit at a distance. 

Her joy was contagious, so before long, both of us were laughing as we remembered her parenting adventures with me (let's just say I wasn't the easiest child to raise) and comparing them to my own adventures in parenting. Obviously, with the addition of five more children, my life is a bit crazier than hers was, and she wasn't taking little ones to therapy multiple times a week like I used to, but the biggest difference, by far, is having boys. Raising boys really is different than raising girls, in spite of what the social scientists engineers  experts will say. And, as much as the world discounts the value of girls, I sure love mine! Without the help of my older girls, life with my youngest would have secured me a nicely padded room with a cozy white jacket that buckled in the back.

Children are a blessing, and can be an amazing source of entertainment, especially if you can laugh at their antics instead of crying, or figure out how to do both.

The Cost of Convenience

Because we have several children, and I don't like clutter, I take things to the local thrift store. 


The thrift store I prefer to donate to is a branch of the local homeless shelter, so anything that will benefit the men at the men's emergency shelter, or anything that will help the women and children at the women's emergency shelter or participants in their residential treatment program goes to those programs. And, what they can't use or sell in the thrift store goes over to help clothes children in third-world countries. Plus, the thrift store gives job opportunities to people who are in their residential programs, and generates revenue to help fund the multiple community programs they sponsor. Not only that, but they address issues on a spiritual level, which I believe is an important component of any truly successful program.

It is a great way to donate.


They aren't open late. They close at 7pm some nights, and 6pm on others. They aren't open at all on Sundays. I totally understand their decisions. And, I respect them. But, it isn't always convenient for me to get over to their donation center (which is just a couple of miles from my house) with my donations. Most of the time, I collect items in my garage (which is too small to hold our twelve-passenger van) until I have enough to make it worthwhile to take things. The problem is, the bags of clutter that I've removed from my house clutter up my garage. I don't like it. And, with a large family, a little bit of clutter multiplies, quickly. 

So, recently, instead of waiting until the other thrift store was open, I loaded up the bags that were registering on my clutter-meter and headed to a nationally branded thrift store. They were open after 8pm when it was convenient for me to drop stuff off. And it was incredibly convenient. 

Now don't get me wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with donating to any of the well-known thrift stores, whether they are nationwide chains or little local businesses. You don't have to feel guilty if the thrift store you donate to doesn't benefit the homeless or destitute because (unless it is a private thrift store) it definitely benefits someone who is in need. And several give jobs to people who wouldn't otherwise be able to get a job. It is great to donate to any thrift store anywhere.


I chose to donate to a place that gives people jobs instead of supporting an organization that changes lives for eternity. And I did it for convenience. 

Then, as I thought about convenience, I began to think of all the things we've lost in our pursuit of convenience. The Pixar movie "Cars" deals with one aspect; to save a little bit of time, interstates bypass the small towns that were once "the jewels of Route 66." Cell phones make communication more convenient. Washing machines make keeping clothes more convenient. Electric or gas dryers make getting clothes dry more convenient (though nothing has made keeping clothes clean or dry convenient). Convenience foods have changed the way America eats, in more ways than one. 

Gone are the days when women gathered together to make quilts, families gathered together to bring in and put up the harvest, or raising a barn was a community event. Instead, we fly through our days with our cell-phones-turned-pocket-planners directing us to the next activity, rushing from work to take our kids to soccer or ballet or gymnastics, grabbing food on the run as we try to fit in everything that defines a successful American family. And it is all "convenient."

So, I have to ask the question.

Is it really? 

Is it really more convenient to rush through life, ending each day exhausted? Is it really more convenient for the office to have access to you twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week? Is it really more convenient to grab pre-fab food, when you consider the health issues that more and more experts are saying connect back to what we eat? Is it really?

I don't know. It certainly makes my life easier to wash huge loads of laundry in my front-loading washing machine. If I had to go back to an old wringer-washer, or even worse, washing by hand, one day a week would not be enough! If I had to cart water from the well, I wouldn't be able to get anything else done. The river is only a couple of miles away, but it would definitely interfere with my day if I had to lug buckets back and forth, especially to wash clothes.

We've made some major changes in our diet, basically eliminating convenience. And it has been hard. More than one day has found me preparing food or cleaning up afterwards, literally all day long. I can no longer buy much of anything at the grocery store that doesn't require hours or days of advanced preparation. It is, much of the time, a pain. But, the benefits have been well worth the sacrifices (unless you ask my teenage children - they completely disagree) and we are reaping rewards every day.

My dryer broke at the beginning of the summer. So I put up a clothes line in my back yard. It isn't more convenient to go hang clothes in the back yard instead of throwing them in the dryer. Until it comes time to fold everything. And the smell; the smell of line-dried clothes is wonderful. Plus the added benefit of the sun helping whiten my whites. It does take longer. It isn't as convenient. But, I'm saving money, which is always a good thing. And, it is a community-building experience. Several of us can hang wet clothes out together, and several of us can take dry clothes down and fold them. All the while, little ones who are too young to help can play and laugh with us in the grass. It isn't faster or easier, but the rewards are tremendous.

Our automatic dishwasher broke a few years ago and our kids all voted not to replace it! Instead of spending time washing dishes to put in the dish washer, we simply wash them and dry them and put them away. A regular assembly line makes quick work of everything, on most days. Sometimes it is a pain, but not enough of a pain to warrant us spending money to buy a new dishwasher.

Over all, I really don't think convenience is worth the cost. It is a price I am not willing to pay, especially when it doesn't really save time or money or energy anyway.