A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Category: practical (page 1 of 9)

Ways to Keep Your Giving from Hurting, Part II

Missed the first post? Grab it here.

4. We are not the heroes. Give to organizations that empower and employ local workers, and who utilize the local economy.

Sending shoes or clothes or food, for example, to impoverished countries—in my experience–can simply be sending in what could be purchased there, without the Western manpower and shipping expenses. (My family and I still load Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes at Christmastime; those are different to me.) Supporting local farmers and businesses helps those working hard in their own nations.

Organizations with local workers help in the constant interpretation of situations around them, so Westerners don’t make them worse. Employing local workers also tend to encourage Westerners to “work themselves out of a job” a bit. It presents authority figures from a culture’s own people, rather than encouraging a colonialist mentality. And it develops and cultivates vision in national workers who are so much more naturally equipped to help their own people. I love organizations working diligently to “entrust these things to faithful men” (2 Timothy 2:2).

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Ways to Help your Giving Keep from Hurting the Poor, Part I

The stories happened more often than I’d like to admit, and echoed a truth a friend had told me within my first few months of moving to Africa. “The longer I’m here, the more I realize just how hard it is to help without hurting.”

I’ve heard heartrending stories of boxes of early reading books collecting dust. Sewing machines gone into disrepair, sitting idle for years. Business owners possessing the equipment they need, but selling their goods for less than the goods cost, for lack of basic business training. Adoption funding such widespread corruption that an entire nation must close nearly entirely its adoption doors.

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A Mountain of [Surprising] Reasons to Get Our Kids Outdoors this Summer (…and Maybe Follow Them)

In all honesty, with my house still lined with cardboard moving boxes, camping was not at the top of my priority. When my dad burst into a rendition of a song entitled (I kid you not) “We’re Going Camping Now!”, I admit to replying with a chipper, “Whether we like it or not!” I could barely find underwear for everyone. I’d been in some form of transitional housing for the last year. Let’s go sleep in a tent without a shower!

But as we wove through the mountains, I had to admit that maybe it was good this was blacked out on the calendar. How long had it been since I’d been able to tell everyday life “Stop. For right now, just stop”?

My sheepishness reached its hilt the next day when my kids’ skin was glittering and shivering as they picked their way through the river, counting rainbow trout and daring each other to duck beneath the current. Their courage and confidence mounted before my eyes. The spikes of pine behind them were stunning; the rock formations solid and timeless.

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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: (Relatively) Painless Ideas to Help Kids Share Their Faith

New to this series? For the thoughts behind it, start here.

It was yesterday, walking to a train, that we met her—I’ll call her Gretchen. Conversation unfolded among us in the blistering sunshine. We were all drawn in by the details of her home country; the stories of her life there. At thirty, Gretchen is pretty and successful. She vacations around the world.

Perhaps that’s why I was intrigued by both my daughter and my son after disembarking the train, when she’d warmly wished us well and waved to us out the window. Completely separately, they asked me if we could pray for her, that she’d know Jesus, too.

I could tell you this is because I’m some kind of fantastic parent, but if anything, I hope you’ve picked up through this blog that I’m muscling my way through this parenting thing like anything else. (I’m sure perfect parenting is on the next blog over from mine.)

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I, Robot: 6 Ways to Preserve the Humanity around You

When I was young, my dad regularly mortified me at restaurants throughout the Midwest. We’d be at Hardee’s, say. And he insisted in calling the waitress—there behind the counter, awaiting my straightforward order for a chili dog—by the name on her plastic nametag. As if she were another old friend, of which he had innumerable others not just in our small town, but a substantial radius around it. She would inevitably smile beneath that brown visor. At twelve, I simply wanted to crawl beneath a Formica table next to the French fry fragments and Rorschach blots of dried ketchup and wait out my dad’s exuberant friendliness.

Nowadays–you saw this one coming: I’m the one using the Starbucks barista’s name.

Maybe my dad primed me for one of my perennial takeaways from Africa: greeting everyone, even before you, say, ask where the olives are at the supermarket. There’s even a greeting, I learned, for people you pass on the road. (When I use it, yes—I’m the one now drawing a grin from a stranger. All they need is a visor. Or a nametag.)

An African friend explained that she believes it even prevents crime. When you make a relational contact with someone, even briefly, it simply…humanizes them. As in a quote I read long ago, hatred ends when you can see yourself in the eyes of another.

I am reminded of this in the words of the communal prayer, Brother, I greet the Christ in you. And this is what I’m chewing on today: how, in an increasingly automated world, we can acknowledge God’s image in people around us in simple ways.

My home culture is full of delightful doodads like ATM’s and self-checkouts. But as efficiency rises in importance—uh, a quality falling admittedly below my expectations in Africa—the relational element shrinks, out of necessity. People can become means to an end, not unlike machines. When they don’t produce in the expected manner and timeframe, there’s more opportunity for irritation.

Once, sitting at Arby’s and admittedly shoveling people into what I deemed their appropriate mental categories, I was convicted by a quote of C.S. Lewis:

The dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare… It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal… it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.  (The Weight of Glory, 1949, emphasis added)

Obviously there’s a place for us to be task-oriented. But today, just in case you’re not the use-the-waitress’-name type: A few practical ideas to preserve the human in the imago Dei around us.

  1. Lean in.

    Someone once gave me good, simple advice about panhandlers: look them in the eyes, even if you don’t plan to give. When someone’s in pain, I can find myself in the mental equivalent of rolling up my windows and locking my doors—not just in self-protection, but simply because I don’t know what to do. Taking any form of responsibility is simply overwhelming. One of my takeaways from the Good Samaritan: He didn’t step around the guy in front of him. In Isaiah 58, God pleads, Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? No, I’m not suggesting we be the savior of the world. Africa, for one, is overwhelming if every problem is mine. In a sea of broken people, I try to see what fits within 1 Peter 5: Shepherd the flock of God that is among you. Who’s among me? Let’s start there.

  2. See people for their stories rather than their role toward us.

    Remember the impossibility that your kindergarten teacher actually went home and had a life outside of your elementary school? From the checker in Wal-Mart to the janitor at the mall, we empower people when we imagine and honor the context they’re coming from. A friend once wisely counseled me to see my mom not just as my mom, but as a woman. Somehow, this clicked in me. What are her hopes and desires outside of what I want, outside of her and I?

  3. See people for more than their labels—and let them wiggle outside of the labels we’ve stuck on.

    Labels can either be tools to understand or tools to maintain distance, right? From personality tests, to race and culture, to besetting sins—labels are only helpful so far as they help us to more accurately comprehend and compassionately respond. Be consistently hungry for stereotype-busters, even within the labels people use to define themselves.

  4. Hear the message tucked inside the words.

    This was advice given to my husband and I before we were married: In an argument, try to hear what the person’s saying rather than how they’re saying it. Ever been in a disagreement with someone who was kind enough to hear the real questions you were asking, rather than just the (irritated, misspoken, inflamed) way you actually said it? It’s a game-changer.

  5. Call rather than text or email. Visit rather than call.

    Presence matters! God’s Word became flesh and lived among us. Take time to relate with an extra degree of face-to-face time. This is especially with potentially negative information.

  6. Respect their “no’s”.

    If people are more than what they do for us, we can receive and cheer on their reasonably healthy boundaries, even if we don’t understand them. Without being overbearing, I can even dignify people and their own needs by encouraging them to set boundaries despite what I want. For us here in Africa, this meant that we declined offers for people to work at our home on Sundays, even if it meant a level of inconvenience for us. (Some of our African friends find it hard to take a Sabbath, because it’s a chance to earn much-needed money.) As Peter Scazzero suggests in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, it’s all too easy to become “human doings” rather than “human beings.” Communicate dignity by celebrating boundaries in others—and even yourself.

 

Like this post? You might like

“Not My Problem”

Secular to Sacred: Truth from Surprising Sources

Love Says No: How Boundaries Express True Care

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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: Fun Ways to Study God’s Word (with FREE printables)

Missed the other posts in this series? Check out these on Prayer, Meditation and Contemplation, Simplicity, Solitude, Service, and Fasting.

 

Okay, so if it’s not obvious—problem numero uno may be getting our kids to study anything, right?

Maybe.

Because the truth is, our kids will naturally study whatever they’re interested in. My eleven-year-old, for example has wanted to be a zoologist ever since he knew what one was. It’s why I’m lugging back from Africa no less than three animal encyclopedias; why I know the name of nearly every bird perching in our yard. Any teacher will let you know that kids are self-driven to study whatever they’ve got the bug for. (This is a key concept in this series!)

If our disciplines for God don’t lead to joy…we need to take a serious look at them.

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Guest post: God of My Heartbreak: Teaching Teens to Pray

Of the many nuggets I’ve gleaned from my father-in-law, perhaps one I am most grateful for is his response to my husband’s teen years.

A lot of people find merit in Mark Twain’s quip: When a boy turns 13, put him in a barrel and feed him through a knot hole. When he turns 16, plug up the hole.

But my father-in-law wasn’t one of them. Those tornadic years of my not-yet-husband’s were a signal to pull out the outdoor gear, summit as many of Colorado’s fourteeners as they could knock out, and tack on some decent kayaking, cycling, and snow caving along the way. My father-in-law saw the rippling strength of the teen years as a chance to explore manhood together.

teaching teens to pray

As people have forecast heartbreak for these years of parenting—and I realize my portion will come—my husband and I loved our six years of youth ministry. It was a little like working with wet cement, these textured, gravelly years of becoming. We could hold gut-level conversations about real, heartrending issues. Our faith offers unmatched answers to the question marks looming in the teen mind: unfathomable meaning and purpose for their lives, far beyond themselves.

On many of the Wednesdays of 2017, I’ll be helping my friend Barbara Rainey, on everthinehome.com. We’re exploring what she calls “prayer lessons”: ideas to pray for ourselves, our most critical relationships, our communities. This week’s post, God of My Heartbreak: Teaching Teens to Pray, offers ideas to come alongside teens in prayer.

I hope it encourages you today, wherever this finds you.

 

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Guest post: 30 Activities for Kids in March

Has your family started the spring break countdown? We want to make our time with kids intentional. But where to start? Over on EverThineHome.com, I’ve got 30 ideas to try this month. Hop on over and check ’em out!

Happy almost-Spring! (And BTW–if you like this, you might love the Relationships page, full of tons of ideas.)

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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: Simple Ideas to Teach Fasting

I’m posting this in part for families who’d like to fast for Lent. A few believe Protestants shouldn’t; but Matt Chandler offers this perspective–so it’s your call! At any time of year, I feel families can benefit. Here’s why.   -Janel

fasting for families spiritual discipline

Yeah, I bet you were wondering what I was going to write in this one. (I was, too.)

It’s hard enough for adults to get the idea behind fasting, I think. But I like how John Piper phrases it: Fasting is about demonstrating a hunger for God. It’s like saying, God, I want you this much. Remember how man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God? Fasting—much like its sister discipline, simplicity–is like putting down the bag of Cheetos in our lives that mutes our soul’s shouting to be filled. (My refugee students could likely out-fast me any day, simply because they’ve lived life without being constantly satiated.) Kids aren’t likely to understand this easily, so let’s put it this way.

 

What it is

THE KEY: Fasting is a sweet offering to God of choosing against something we really like for a little while, so we can be satisfied by Him rather than all the pleasures in our lives.

God made those pleasures as good gifts! But He never means them to get more important than Him. Fasting helps us step away from them a bit, to spend time thinking of Him and praying more.

We keep it quiet, because fasting isn’t about making us look all spiritual. It’s about our private walk with Him, like a special secret between the two of us.

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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: Fairly Painless Ideas to Teach Kids Service

Catch earlier posts here on Solitude, Prayer, Meditation and Contemplation, and Simplicity. Find initial concepts for this important series here.

Part of what I love about living in Africa: opportunities for my kids to serve are everywhere. As in, next door. I admit to being concerned about this when we landed in the U.S. six months ago. How was I going to draw a dotted line for my kids from compassion in Uganda to compassion in Colorado?

Awesome thing is, there are opportunities to serve–in really fun ways–in every zip code, from Salvation Army bell-ringers, to running a booth at the Fall Festival for the community, to the military family across the street whose dad’s deployed. Serving transforms our homes into aircraft carriers as its members are nurtured, then launched into the community.

The question often becomes how much we push our kids

into what they don’t want to do.

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