Archive for ‘social issues’

November 21, 2013

Well, Hello Again: Africa

photoMy travels on behalf of Feed The Children this week have taken Kevin and I back to the continent of Africa.

It’s been over a year since we last stood on this land.

It has been a year when our hearts have grown in courage– for all that a responsibility for such a time as this.

It has been a year when our minds have grown in compassion– for our shared partnership with our friends and co-laborers in these countries.

It has been a year when our knees have more met the ground in prayer– for all the injustices that seek to destroy the good that is possible.

As my jet legged feet took its first steps off the plane yesterday, I felt the enormity of all that this visit could mean wash over me.

We. Are. Here. Again.

My first words upon seeing the rolling hills and the sea of dark faces and the distinct smells were simply, “Wow. I’m glad to be home.” Yes, home.

There’s something about the continent of Africa that has always drawn me in, re-shaped my thinking and then set me on my way in new paths of service. I’ve always felt welcomed here in ways I haven’t in other places. I’ve always welcomed any opportunity to visit.

As I pondered all of these things on the plane, I found myself making a list of the previous visits. And as I penned the dates and countries seen on the previous 3 trips, I couldn’t help but notice that my life changed EVERY SINGLE TIME I set foot here.

After a 1998 visit, I came home disillusioned about the term “missionary” vowing I’d never be one. While an incredibly painful experience (because of Americans I met here, I must add), I ultimately believe it was the experience that set the direction of my path toward the pastorate– that thing I thought at the time that women couldn’t do.

After a 2003 visit, I came home inspired to not remember that my African brothers and sisters were a part of my larger human family. The atrocities of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda touched my heart in a profound way. How did this go on in my lifetime and I knew nothing about it?

After a 2012 visit, I came home with a changed heart about the possibilities and reality of who and what Feed The Children is and what it could be in the future. During our travels, I made what I feel is a life long friend– a friend would become a sweet sister in all the waiting awaiting me.

So, I have to wonder on this 2013 visit, what will shift in me as a result in being here? How will my heart go home? What amazing person will I met? How will my soul leap in understanding of what was previously unseen?

Only God knows the answers to such questions.

I hold on this, though: my heart must be open. My heart must be wide open to this place– its people, its smells, its food, its problems, its hopes, its worries, its gladness. And in doing so, this next chapter that I’m writing here will be another beautiful one. A beautiful one indeed!

June 14, 2013

The Year of Biblical Womanhood’s Gifts

Recently, I finished reading Rachel Held Evans’ second book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself.

I did not read this book because I think there is any such ideal of Biblical Womanhood as these folks claim. What a crock!

I did not read this book (as others have done) seeking to criticize Rachel’s theology. Leave her alone, mean ones.

I did not read this book to be enlightened that Proverbs 31 should be read differently than the Christian bookstore trinkets want to make it to be. I am a female pastor after all.

I read it because it seemed like an important cultural text within the religious circles in which I travel.

And then Rachel was on The View last November, so how I could I not read it?

As I quickly turned its pages, I was delightful surprised at the reasons why I enjoyed it so much.

The sub-story of this memoir is Rachel’s willingness to get out of her comfort zone and try new things– again and again and again.

She cooked Martha Stewart meals. She learned to sew (sort of). She visited an Amish community in Pennsylvania. She wore a different style of clothes. She celebrated Jewish holidays with her family. She studied passages of scripture she’d never thought much about before. She traveled to new countries.

I resonated with this aspect of the book because it has become so easy as I’m firmly grounded in my 30th decade of life to already be stuck in a life ruts as far as my daily habits are concerned.

We cook similar meals every night.

Kevin and I participate in the same weekend entertainment activities.

We clean (or lack thereof) our house in the same way each month.

But, in reading Year of Biblical Womanhood, I was challenged to start shaking things up a bit.

Cooking with a new recipe instead of making dinner from a box.

Going to see a play or visiting an art museum instead of just going to see a movie.

Cleaning the kitchen sink with vigor not dread.

Thanks Rachel, for the many gifts you gave the world in The Year of Biblical Womanhood.

For me, it’s the gift of a gentle nudge to get off the couch and do something new!

June 13, 2013

Same Love– what the church needs to know

Macklemore has been one of the most played new voices on the hip hop scene this season, especially as millions have fallen in love with his hit, “Thrift Shop.”

And can I say, I’m in love with the social advocacy flavor of his entire body of work, The Heist. Macklamore is not your average rapper putting out more of the same. He’s redefining his industry. He’s challenging the norm.

Consider these words of the song, “Same Love.”

When I was in the 3rd grade
I thought that I was gay
Cause I could draw, my uncle was
And I kept my room straight
I told my mom, tears rushing down my face
She’s like, “Ben you’ve loved girls since before pre-K”
Trippin’, yeah, I guess she had a point, didn’t she
A bunch of stereotypes all in my head
I remember doing the math like
“Yeah, I’m good in little league”

A pre-conceived idea of what it all meant
For those who like the same sex had the characteristics
The right-wing conservatives think its a decision
And you can be cured with some treatment and religion
Man-made, rewiring of a pre-disposition
Playing God
Ahh nah, here we go
America the brave
Still fears what we don’t know
And God loves all His children
And somehow forgotten
But we paraphrase a book written
3,500 hundred years ago
I don’t know

And I can’t change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
And I can’t change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
My love, my love, my love
She keeps me warm [x4]

If I was gay
I would think hip-hop hates me
Have you read the YouTube comments lately
“Man that’s gay”
Gets dropped on the daily
We’ve become so numb to what we’re sayin’
Our culture founded from oppression
Yeah, we don’t have acceptance for ’em
Call each other faggots
Behind the keys of a message board
A word rooted in hate
Yet our genre still ignores it
Gay is synonymous with the lesser
It’s the same hate that’s caused wars from religion
Gender to skin color
Complexion of your pigment
The same fight that lead people to walk-outs and sit-ins

Human rights for everybody
There is no difference
Live on! And be yourself!

When I was in church
They taught me something else
If you preach hate at the service
Those words aren’t anointed
And that Holy Water
That you soak in
Has been poisoned
When everyone else
Is more comfortable
Remaining voiceless
Rather than fighting for humans
That have had their rights stolen
I might not be the same
But that’s not important
No freedom ’til we’re equal
Damn right I support it

We press play
Don’t press pause
Progress, march on!
With a veil over our eyes
We turn our back on the cause
‘Till the day
That my uncles can be united by law
Kids are walkin’ around the hallway
Plagued by pain in their heart
A world so hateful
Someone would rather die
Than be who they are
And a certificate on paper
Isn’t gonna solve it all
But it’s a damn good place to start
No law’s gonna change us
We have to change us
Whatever god you believe in
We come from the same one
Strip away the fear
Underneath it’s all the same love
About time that we raised up

Love is patient, love is kind
Love is patient (not cryin’ on Sundays)
Love is kind (not crying on Sundays) [x5]

Sure, some of you might not be in hip hop at all. Some of you might be offended by the confrontational tone in the lyrics (and I agree, some of the words are harsh). But regardless, the message is a powerful one.

Macklemore calls out people of hate (including those within his own community) for what how they are putting dogma over love when it comes to LGTBQ folk.

He speaks a message that resonates with the millions who purchase his music. He speaks a message that my high school and college aged friends are thankful to hear (finally someone speaking their language!)

He speaks a message I believe of “calling out” when it comes to the church in American today. He calls gay rights a civil rights issue. He says it is time to change.

And I agree with Macklemore.

It’s an especially important message on weeks like this when large Baptist bodies like those Southern Baptists— who are up to their same hateful tricks again condemn the Boy Scouts (of all people!) for their acceptance of men in their programs regardless of who they love.

“Wake up, church!” is the theme I believe Macklemore is giving us in these lyrics.

Wake up and love your neighbor– all of them.

May 22, 2013

Five Things You Can Do for the People of Oklahoma

We’ve all been glued to our tvs the last 24 hours, watching the coverage of the devastating tornado that destroyed the town of Moore, OK and surrounding areas.

When it first hit, I watched with careful attention– maybe even closer than most because I was in Washington DC and Kevin was in Oklahoma City. Fear ran through my head about the worst case scenarios . . . But thank goodness, Kevin and his work colleagues at Feed The Children headquarters were ok on the opposite side of the city from where it touched down. Nothing but high winds came their way.

But some families weren’t so lucky. My heart breaks for them. I wrote this prayer last night as a response.

(And on a lighter note one of my favorite things about the OKC community the Warren Theater in Moore is now gone too– leveled in the path of destruction. Super sad for our Fridays date nights).

So in moments like these we all ask ourselves the question of what can I do?

It’s so easy to get sucked into the despair because of the 24 hour news cycles– thinking that images of destruction are all that there is. But, there’s another way. Get involved. I have five suggestions.

1. Donate goods
Especially if you live in the Oklahoma City area, Feed The Children is asking for these products: diapers, canned goods, non-perishable food and snack items, water and sports drinks.

Donations are accepted at these locations around the city-
Feed The Children McCormick Distribution Center, 29 N. McCormick
First Baptist Church, 1201 N. Robinson
KOCO-TV, 1300 East Britton Road
Faith Church, I-40 and Portland
TLC Garden Center, 105 West Memorial Road in Edmond
Continental Resources, 20 N. Broadway Downtown OKC
Bob Moore Parking Lot, 412 W. Reno Downtown OKC

2. Donate money.
Feed The Children has made it easy for you to donate. You can either go to their webpage by clicking here to make any size of a donation OR you can text DISASTER to 80888 to make a $10 donation.

Sure, there are a lot of organizations asking for donations right now, but Feed The Children is the ONLY large non-profit that is based out of Oklahoma City– FTC has warehouses, trucks and staff on the ground, ready to go! Literally in their own backyard, neighbors helping neighbors is what is happening NOW. Plus, the fabulous Kevin Hagan is leading the charge. You can trust him. I wouldn’t have married him if you couldn’t).

3. Pray.
Sure, it almost sounds clique doesn’t it? We throw around words like “prayer” as if we are talking about going to sleep or eat or wash our face at night. “Oh, we need to pray for those people” or we say, “Our prayers are with the people of Oklahoma right now.” But do we stop to actually pray? Do we stop to actually consider what it feels like to be a person whose livelihood has been destroyed? Do we consider their grief, their confusion, or their anger? There’s so much to say, then, isn’t there? So, go ahead, do some talking to God on behalf of the people of Oklahoma right now.

4. Don’t say stupid things in the name of God.
It’s a good rule when people are in crisis, when natural disasters hit, when terrible things happen in our world, it is not best to pull out the words of judgment. It’s good to extend a compassionate arm and sit in the ashes with them. Furthermore, God does not cause tornadoes. Let me repeat, God does not cause tornadoes. Religious leaders like John Piper and Pat Robertson have said stupid things today about the people of Oklahoma and I know they are not the only ones. As people of faith, let’s stop the insanity.

5. Consider donating your time in the future.
Ask your church or community group about planning a disaster relief trip to the city months from now.
Join a disaster relief team at your church or in your city– prepare now by going to training.
Consider what natural connections you have in your community to Oklahoma City (friends, business associates, corporations) Ask them how you can be of help long after the cameras are gone.

The people of Oklahoma thank you.

May 6, 2013

We All Have Pain

The juxtaposition of my life these past couple days has been interesting—attending a Christian conference discussing orphan ministries and global poverty in a well-to-do suburb of Nashville, TN to now being among kids in poverty in rural villages in Guatemala assisting with feeding programs with the staff of Feed The Children.

There’s still much to process. But for now, this is what is coming together in my mind:

One of the best experiences of the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit for me was the breakout session I attended called, “Straight Talk from Adult Adoptees.”

In the session, a packed room, three adults and one older teen led a panel discussion about growing into maturity from their experiences as adopted children.

Feelings such as “I hated my birth parents or birth country for abandoning me” to “I always knew my birth parents loved me, until they got a divorce . . . “ to “I never really understood why my birth parents would give me up” were shared openly.

But, then the discussion got complicated. We quickly learned there would be no “one sized fits all” answers or even the luxury that “being adopted” would be the defining experience of the panelists’ lives.

One of the adult adoptees shared how her trust issues were complicated by the fact that she learned her adoptive father only agreed to her adoption to save his marriage—which indeed didn’t happen as they divorced six months after her placement with family. She talked about her mother’s complicated re-marriage processes and then shared about the recent death of her adopted mom. All experiences of great loss . . .

But before our minds in the audience could single out her experience as “oh so bad” this adult adoptee stopped us saying directly to us: “Everybody in their life has pain. I have friends who have been through great losses too—deep woundedness that follows them as mine does me. . . . It just so happens that mine is more understandable than some with the label of adoption.”

It was a light bulb moment for me.

She spoke the truth: everybody has deep pain. Everybody is wounded. It’s not an adoption issue. It’s a human issue.

Being adopted and coming to turns with the abandonment part of it is just one of the ways that deep pain of this broken world can find a person early in life.

Pain is pain. Grief is grief. Loss is loss. And it is something we all understand, the more honest we become with our own story. Experiencing pain is a part of what it means to be human. Experiencing pain is part of what connects us to other human beings.

photoFast forward to this morning as I spent the day with the Feed The Children staff in Guatemala and several other guests at one of our feeding centers in rural Guatemala. As we visited with the kids, played games like hitting the piñata in search for candy, read stories to them, and then of course served a meal (rice with some chicken mixed in, cucumbers and radish salad, and tortillas), I couldn’t help but think about these kids’ pain.

I thought about the pain these kids may not have words to speak of right now, but pain that will follow them because of the kind of livelihood they were born into.

For, these were kids who came to the center in tattered clothing, dirty faces and shoes that didn’t seem to fit right.

These were kids who starred often at us “white people” with the cameras taking pictures of the festivities with the look of “Wow, what a nice life you have!”

These were kids who have walked to walk miles to school, many of whom depend on the donated shoes from TOMS (one of Feed The Children’s partners) in order to get there safely.

These were kids with great needs, more than I can mention in this post (though of course thanks to the generosity of FTC contributors and sponsors many of these needs are getting met).

They know pain.

Though I did not grow up in a home that struggled to provide me with basic life necessities, I can identify with them. I can identify with their loss, even if it may not be to the degree that their loss is to them.

For at the end of the day, we all just want to be loved. We all just want to know that someone cares about us in particular. We all want not to worry about where our next meal will come from or that we’ll have clean clothes to put on the next day. We want to feel secure in a family system, orphaned or not.

And I believe that when we all get to the point in our lives when we see our stories as broken, as in need, and most of all full of pain of one kind or another—we are given a great gift.

We’re given the ability to more honestly look into the eyes of our brothers and sisters in humanity, knowing we’re from the same family. All of us. Because of this, we need each other more than we ever thought.

May 3, 2013

Join the Movement: Caring for Orphans

Who is the church called to care for?

Who is the church asked to speak for?

Who is the church told to lift up?

For those of us who believe in the mission of the church, each of us has our favorite answers to these questions.

Many say the church is called in mission to the poor or the widows, or the sick.

Many say the church is called to speak for those without a voice.

Many church is called to pray for those who are often left out or ignored in remote places of our local communities and around the world.

But, I’m learning this week that there are a growing number of Christians and Christian churches who answer these questions by specifically by saying: “God calls us to care for, to speak up, and to lift up the orphans.”

I’m attending the Christian Alliance of Orphans Summit Conference in Nashville, TN as a representative for Feed The Children exploring what relationship with this Christian Alliance might look like in the future. And here with folks who deeply care about the church’s mission going forth in care of children who have been abandoned, malnourished, or without the basic life essentials to achieve their greatest potential, I’ve had some shocking revelations.

It has been shocking to see how many folks are here in the middle of the week (organizers say it’s the largest turn out ever in its history). Starting only with 45 folks sitting around shared tables only 9 years ago and now more than 2,000 . . .

It has been shocking to learn about how many churches around the country host “Orphan Sundays” each year– in an effort to spread the message about the plight of orphans around the globe. Big mega churches, medium-sized churches and tiny ones alike . . .

It has been shocking to see such passionate conversation between all sorts of church folk around the exhibit hall asking such questions as “What more can we do to raise awareness about these children who need us to care for them?” Folks from all corners of the spectrum of theological camps, conservative, liberal, you name it. ..

And it is good to be shocked. It is good to see so many folks in James 1:27 t-shirts (the adoption theme verse). It is good to see so many interracial families and families full of kids with special needs and families putting action to their faith instead of words only.

It is good to be learning in community.

It is good to be so proud of the organization I know best, Feed The Children– a group that has been working since 1979 around the globe to bring attention to children in poverty including orphans.

If you are interested in joining the movement: click here to learn more.

April 30, 2013

Times are Changing, Get on Board

Times are changing . . .

Yesterday it was all the news US media outlets: Jason Collins came out. Saying in a Sports illustrated article: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.” Collins, who currently plays for the Washington Wizards made history yesterday becoming the first openly gay athlete in a major American team sport.

If you’ve followed the story over the last couple of hours, you know that such national figures from Kobe Bryant to Bill Clinton, President Obama and Michelle Obama weighed in to support the courage of this athlete sharing his truth with the world.

While naysayers of course have judged, the response has been overwhelming positive.

This comes in addition to the news that Brittany Griner, a recent Baylor University stand-out (one of my favorite women’s players to watch in years) and number one pick in the WNBA draft recently told Sport illustrated that she is gay also.

When I heard this news, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for what this meant for countless other gay young men like himself. I felt gratitude to watch history of American sports change before my eyes.

I felt gratitude on behalf of the churches who are working toward being more welcoming and affirming each day– like the church I was most recently pastored.

I felt gratitude for his courage– speaking his truth, a truth that will polarize him to many, but is still the truth of his life.

I think if yesterday showed us anything it is that times have changed and it is time for the rest of us closeted gay and lesbian allies to get on board and come out too.

It’s just not acceptable anymore to look down on someone for who they choose to love, who they want to marry or who they want to share a home with.

It’s just not acceptable even more for the “gay movement” to be seen as a movement– for it is a part of the fabric of what it means to be a human being for some which can not be changed.

It’s just not acceptable any more to be quiet or to hide your support for your gay and lesbian friends– for soon, and I believe in my lifetime, it will grow to be non-issue for most and American laws will reflect such.

If you don’t agree with the choices others make in their private lives, it just not acceptable to be mean, condescending or isolationist toward those who have made different choices than you.

If you are as excited about these movements as I am– join me in thanking, encouraging and praying for the Jason Collins’ of this world. There will be hard days still ahead for him. There will be hate mail. For Jason, there probably will be difficult interactions with other players or rude fans.

But, I can imagine that Jason Collins would not change a thing about what he said in the article. Why? Because it is was his truth. And he had to share it.

Didn’t Jesus say that it is the truth that will set us all free?

All of this makes me think of my favorite Marianne Williamson quote about truth-telling: “We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Times are changing in America. Folks like Jason Collins and Britney Griner are speaking their truth. Are we on board with sharing more of ours too?

April 26, 2013

Peace Through Friendship

I love independent theaters. I love films that may or may not get press or bring filmmakers lots of money, but present a message through their art medium that make you think. I love films that stir up conversation long after the credits roll.

For me one such film I recently watched in the documentary called Gatekeepers. While nominated for an Oscar, winning a Cinema for Peace honor and getting rave reviews from the critics, I’d never heard of it until I was browsing the options for a movie night.

I read the description: “A documentary featuring interviews with all surviving former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency whose activities and membership are closely held state secrets” and was immediately intrigued.

Maybe this just sounds to you like a nerdy way to spend a night out (and I fully admit here my nerdy status), but in actuality my interested piqued from the fact I spent 10 days in Israel alongside a Inman, a Rabbi, and evangelical pastor in 2011.

It was a trip that brought my mind and spirit to the center of the crisis of the Middle East in ways that just don’t leave your heart when you return home.

We called our trip a “delegation of peace.” And though it is usually every pastor’s dream to take a tour to the Holy Land at some juncture in their ministry (and I was one of them)– this was not your normal journey to the Holy Land.

We traveled to intentionally together to explore the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis in the eyes of one another. We wanted to explore the sights important to each of our religious traditions, as children of Abraham, with an openness to learn without our natural biases. We sought to meet with peacemakers on the ground on both sides. And, we wanted our congregations/ places of worship to grow in friendship with one another when we returned home.

Throughout the journey, I came to believe there is no better way to see Israel and the Palestinian territories than with an Rabbi and Iman by your side.

For the Holy Land is more than about the life and work of Jesus, as many Christians bulldoze their way into the country in big tour buses– it’s the center of history our friends in the Jewish and Islamic tradition as well, meant to be respected and honored.

Now, I can’t imagine going back to Israel any other way or a conversation about the region without consideration for the perspective of both Israel and their Palestinian neighbors.

I loved that Gatekeepers took me back to this place of learning and reflection on the complexity of history, politics and ideology that shapes the current state of affairs in Israel today.

I appreciated that Gatekeepers showed the humanity– both the good and not so good– of the Shin Bet, Israel’s security agency. Sometimes the best decisions that could have been made at the time occurred– and sadly innocent people died anyway. Sometimes poor choices in security cost hundreds their lives (and livelihood). Sometimes top Shin Bet official wept for lives lost and also wished for a better way of relationships between neighbors (as much as they were/ are labeled the “bad guys”).

I appreciated the commentary on religious leadership within the region– highlighting the crucial role such leaders play in persuading the hearts and minds of people, for good or evil.

I appreciated the fact that the film ended without a political message of either pro or against Palestinian statehood and/ or a new Middle East peace agreement BUT with the statement that peace will come through friendship. It’s not the message I expected– to be pro greater military occupation or even different new political leaders. But, simply friendship. Peace through friendship.

Go out and see Gatekeepers with a friend! You’ll be glad you did.

By the way, our group blogged our way through the journey, if you are interested in more specific reflections check out our trip website hosted by George Mason University).

April 22, 2013

Feeling Out of Sorts

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be out of step or out of sorts with the rest of your community.

Maybe it is because the tragedies of last week in Boston and in Waco, TX still lay heavy on so many of our hearts. Though the news cycle will soon move on– for these folks in the throes of grief the journey will be a long one.

Maybe it is because for me personally, this “Sabbatical” has gone on longer than I would have liked. And I’m thinking these days a lot about what it means to be “useful.” I often feel like I’m just not.

Maybe it is because I’ve recently journeyed with friends through the abuse of workplace authority, church doctrines that hurt instead of providing hope, and endless days of feeling life is simply not going to get better anytime soon. Heavy stuff for sure.

I tried to pull together some of my thoughts on all of this last week in piece that the Associated Baptist Press ran called, “Out of Season.” In it, I stayed close to the “feeling out of sort” feeling that happens often in community life, in particular in churches. It’s Easter and we’re not joyful. It’s Christmas and we don’t feel like giving gifts. It’s Good Friday and we feel like shouting with happiness. How do we relate to one another then? I think such is a discussion that we have to keep having in our faith communities.

In the meantime, as I sort through my own life, all I know is that grief takes time. Life transitions take time. Sometimes as hard as we try, we just aren’t going to be in the emotional or spiritual place as everyone else. Thank goodness then for grace that finds us even on days when we are simply “out of sorts.”

April 18, 2013

“We Just Want to Feel Useful”

But I can’t seem to get these boys we met in Africa out of my mind because as many of you know, some of the greatest gems of experiences take time to sink in . . .527942_10151229673304809_539706810_n

One of my favorite experiences of the Kenya trip Kevin and I took last year was the time spent with the young men of the Hardy House– a group of 20s and 30s something young men with special needs. They’d lived in the FTC orphanage in Nairobi since childhood but who had aged out of the system with nowhere else to go. (Thus, the “Hardy House” was created for them to live in for the rest of their life).

Over the course of two days, we shared a dinner with them. We slept in their guest room. We woke up watching the cartoon “Fat Albert” on their tv and laughing with them.

When it came time for us to leave, the Hardy Boys became serious: “Could you take us back with you to America? . . . Could you find us work there? We just want to do something . . . We want to feel useful.”

While the “take us back to America with you” part was expected (for those of you who’ve traveled overseas in the developing world know that this is a common request made by folks desperate for a way out of poverty), the “we just want to do something . . . we want to be useful” part surprised me. Because before us sat young men who were blind, deaf, and full of mental and physical challenges of all kinds.

I wondered in the moment: “How did they know that they weren’t useful? Weren’t they satisfied to be in a safe and loving place with folks watching out for them for the rest of their lives?”

The thing is in Kenya, like other developing countries, with few resources to go around for even the able-bodied citizens, the citizens with physical or mental challenges of any kind are naturally tossed to the side. They are sent away to the alleys. They are hidden in the back rooms of homes. They aren’t acknowledged as full family members. They are not sent to school with an individual education plan, as children in America with the same challenges are. Deep sigh.

And, therefore if young men like the Hardy boys make it into adulthood in a place like Kenya (thanks to the quality of the Feed The Children staff and programs), there’s no social services to offer them a non-discriminatory hiring or then accommodations on the job. They simply don’t get to work.

But they said to us: “We just want to work . . . We want to be useful.” They’re still hoping for a better life.

And I don’t think my Kenyan friends are alone in their longings.

All of us hold a deep desire to be useful– to do something that matters to someone, to contribute so that when we die we’ve made our mark.

As much as we told the Hardy boys that we loved them and that their concern for us was useful, it didn’t seem to satisfy them.

I believe we can’t muster up usefulness for another. A person has to feel it. A person has to live it. Whether it comes from a job completed with our hands or from a relationship where we know our presence matters to another person– usefulness is something we crave. We crave it so much that many of us will often go to the extremes to create it:

We’ll butt our way into a position on the steering committees at work or the PTA at our kid’s school or on a neighborhood board with meetings we hate– just to say we’re doing something of value in our free time.

We’ll not say no when a friend asks a favor– just to have proof of our importance to him or her.

We’ll fill up our weekends with family and social events of all kinds– just to feel like our presence matters to those we claim as our own.

It’s not that “usefulness” is a wrong desire or that our Creator doesn’t long for us to use our gifts in meaningful ways, but sometimes those of us with every opportunity in the world take our work to the extreme. We don’t stop. We never pause to consider our motivation for going and doing and doing some more. We forget that there are those in this world who want to be seen and heard and validated for doing something AND we’ve got the gifts to help them.

As I keep the Hardy boys and their joy (I mean aren’t their smiles in the picture above precious?), their hope, and their desire to find useful work in dear places of my heart, I hope that a way might be made through Feed The Children in the future for them to “do” more. I hope that my resources and the resources of others like you might be funneled toward their needs.

But, I also hope that God will stop me when I get busy doing “useful” projects which were never my business to be a part of in the first place. I hope that will have more loving eyes to see those who need to feel useful to me and I to them.

I hope that you and I can continue this conversation about usefulness because I’d really love to hear what you have to say too.

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