Friday, January 27, 2012

head case



Just who are the needy, anyway?   Where do I find them?   Will they come to me, or do I have to go looking?  Are material things sufficient?  Must I always share the gospel?  What if that’s not my gift?  What if I’m not naturally a generous person?  Do I give only when have something to share?  What if I give so much of my own resources that I’m left with an inadequate supply?  What if my efforts don’t really make a measurable difference?   How much can one kind deed really accomplish anyway?  What if the one to whom I reach out rejects me?  Spurns me?  Tries to harm me?  Tries to harm my kids?  Sees that I’m making it about me?  Recognizes my arroganceGod already knows my motivations are a mixed bag, right?  What if I’m really just enabling?  What if I overlook a real need in order to avoid enabling?  What if I run all out of “nice before the need is filled?  Is there anyone to whom I shouldn’t extend a hand? Am I to be generous to everyone?  Is PRAYING for the poor enoughWhen is it my turn to be on the receiving end? Do I get a reprieve?  When do I get a reprieve?  {What kind of Christian would need a reprieve, anyway?}   How much do I have to give?  How much do I have to give up?  How often?  What really counts?

2 better than 1          Satisfied by Love           Blessed Beyond Measure 
     Jennifer Sikora          Faith Filled Food for Moms      Karen Dawkins  

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Test


One of the best parts of teaching, for me, is the privilege of building relationships with students who bring all kinds of life experiences into the classroom with them. 

*  Eighteen-year-olds, fresh out of high school, some wishing to be at a four-year university instead of the community college, others not quite sure where they’re headed.

*  Twenty- and thirty-somethings, returning after a few years of work or military service with a little life under their belt, as well as hopes of bettering career options. 

*  Recently single moms, forced back into the workplace and in desperate need of further education. 

*   First-generation college students who are their parents’ hope and pride. 

Many of the students I teach are prepared, hungry for the opportunity to finally demonstrate their capability, ready to shine.  Some struggle with a range of challenges: procrastination; learning disabilities; runaway children; drug addiction; homelessness. 

I can’t say I’ve seen it all, but sometimes it feels like I’m getting pretty close.

Until this student entered my classroom for the first time.

I’d seen him buzzing around campus in his motorized chair; heard his computer “talking” for him; watched his assistant help him with his books, his jacket, his sippy-cup of milk.

But on that day, I found myself face to face with this person whose unique set of needs would call for internal resources I’d not yet had to draw from.  I didn’t know what would be required of me, but I suspected that my usual repertoire of teaching strategies would need some updating. 

My encounter plunged me right smack dab into the middle of a test.  A test of my organization, my communication skills, my teaching ability.  More important—a test of my character.  My patience.  My generosity. 

Not a written test.  Real-life.  Real-time.  Right now.

Maybe the anxiety didn’t show on my face, but it was impossible to miss in my gut. 

Did I have the skills to teach him what he needed to know?  Would I be able to see him as God’s beloved created handiwork?  And could I manage to communicate his immeasurable worth, even while maintaining the standards of my academic discipline?

He wanted to pass the course. I wanted to know if I had what it would take to pass the test.

I wasn’t convinced that I did.


2 better than 1          Satisfied by Love           Blessed Beyond Measure 
     Jennifer Sikora          Faith Filled Food for Moms      Karen Dawkins  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Discriminating Generosity


So I’ve done a little exploring about potential reasons for the wisdom writer’s redundancy in Proverbs 31:20.  About why he might have thought it important to say that the wife of noble character extends a helping hand and opens her arms. 

But did you notice?  That’s not the only time it happens.

He also describes her taking these actions both with the needy and the poor, which begs the question yet again:  Why?  Why would he repeat himself not once, but twice?

-------------------------------------------------------

Maybe it’s just me, but when I visualize the types of people I feel “called” to be generous towards, I only see a few folks.  Maybe an acquaintance who is out of a job (through no fault of his own, of course); or a someone who’s been on the receiving end of unkindness (as long as she did nothing to deserve it); or people who are sick (with a disease they didn’t contract through unwise choices).

Okay, so I’m exaggerating.  But not as much as I wish I were.

Sadly, my prejudice—something I cleverly refer to as “discernment”—is nothing new to God.  I like reaching out to a select group of poor people.  The ones that don’t threaten me.  Or my reputation.  In fact, I strongly prefer service opportunities that make me look better.

I’m guessing He doesn’t much appreciate that about me.

Because when I imagine what the wisdom writer had in mind when he penned the words “poor” and “needy,” the vision isn’t so palatable.

Let’s see:  synonyms for “needy” include afflicted, humble, lowly, and weak.  And the word “poor” includes anyone who is in want, subject to oppression and abuse, needing help and deliverance from his or her troubles, and/or in a lower socioeconomic class.   These may not be folks who are going to pull themselves up by the bootstraps any time soon.  Which means I may need to be generous on more than one occasion.   Maybe I’ll teach them to fish, or maybe not.  But I’ll probably be sharing bait for quite awhile.  It’s not going to look so good on the resume. 

The generosity God calls us to isn’t just for the poor people who are pretty.

In fact, the folks our friend in Proverbs serves are just the opposite.  The word “wretched” might come to mind.  It does in the Hebrew lexicon.   Worthless.  Base.  Despicable.  Inadequate.  Inferior.  Shameful.  Vile.

Most of the time, I’d prefer to serve only those who meet my snobby little list of criterion.  But God’s brand of generosity doesn’t operate in response to such qualifications.

When it comes to my own needs, I’m thankful He doesn’t discriminate.

Will I extend the same generosity when I encounter poverty in those around me?

He certainly hopes so.


2 better than 1          Satisfied by Love           Blessed Beyond Measure 
     Jennifer Sikora          Faith Filled Food for Moms      Karen Dawkins  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Teacher Talk

It may make you cringe, but I’m putting on my English teacher hat tonight.  I apologize in advance.  

Every time I read Proverbs 30.21, I resist scribbling “rep” (the abbreviation for “repetitive”) in the margin.  Because, in case you haven’t noticed, there’s a little redundancy going on:

She opens her arms to the poor and
extends her hands to the needy.

Is it really necessary to say virtually the same thing two times in a row?  And in the very same sentence?

To my students, I would say, “of course not.”

But this isn’t just any sentence.  It’s composed by the wisdom writer.  Maybe it’s worth looking into.

Here’s an interesting fact:  although some translations use them interchangeably, the Hebrew words for “extends” and “opens” are actually two different verbs.  (Yes, I’m still wearing my teacher hat.)

The first, “paras,” means to spread out, to stretch, to break in pieces, to be scattered.  According to the lexicon at blueletterbible.org, this word conveys the idea of being broken apart or dispersed.  Like when a child in the lunchroom forgets his sandwich, and his buddy tears his own PBJ in half to share.

The second verb, “shalach,” has a bit of a different flavor.  This word means to send away, to let go, to stretch out, or to extend—maybe even to shoot forth, like the branches on a tree.  Like when a family decides to sponsor a child in an underdeveloped country by sending a monetary gift each month. 

With “paras,” the gift doesn’t have to travel very far.  Maybe because the need presents itself, up close and personal, so that there’s the chance for interaction, conversation, connection.

With “shalach,” there’s the sense that the gift begins in one spot but extends to another.  Maybe because the giver searches for a need and decides to send resources to a more distant location.  Perhaps the giver stays where he is.  Or he might accompany the resources, immerse himself in the new location.

 Could these ideas be the product of my overly active analytical tendencies?  Absolutely.

But what if they are not?

What if the wisdom writer actually has a reason for the redundancy?

What if he knows we discover some needs when they show up at our doorstep.  Or walking past our workspace.   Or at the end of the exit ramp, holding a sign.   We didn’t call them; they called us.   Our job is to respond.

Other times, we have to go looking.   Maybe next door, or across the border, or around the world.  Because some needs won’t be known unless someone cares enough to seek them out.

To respond, we’ll probably have to extend ourselves a bit, send our resources elsewhere, possibly leave our comfort zone for a few minutes, a few days, or longer.

Even in the English, the two verbs have different connotations.  It's one thing to extend your hands, but openings your arms is another thing altogether.  Both actions convey generosity, yet they look and feel very different.

So I'm wondering:  how do these ideas strike you?  I’d love to know.  And I promise not to correct your grammar if you leave a comment. J


2 better than 1          Satisfied by Love           Blessed Beyond Measure 
     Jennifer Sikora          Faith Filled Food for Moms      Karen Dawkins  

Monday, January 23, 2012

Easy on the Eyes

Surely I’m not the only one who shares this sentiment:  I have a fierce affection for Target stores.  I’d like to claim that it’s their healthy produce, or the crisp red and white color scheme, or the convenience to my house.  And I do like those features. 

But here’s the real draw:  it’s the winning combination of fresh apples and trendy accessories.  This is the one destination where my alleged grocery runs can involve browsing cute cardigans and hip home decor.   The place is just plain easy on the eyes.

But here’s something else [*sigh*]:  my love affair doesn’t do much for my heart’s desire to nurture generosity.  Nope.  If I’m honest, I have to admit that my little jaunts to the big, red bullseye have exactly the opposite effect.  They infect me with the ever-dreaded “want” malady.  If you’re not familiar with this ailment, you should know that its cousin is “envy,” and it commonly masquerade as “need”—especially in the heated moment when that cool pair of earrings is staring me down. 

Must I go on?  I think not.

I make this confession, because I’m beginning to recognize a nasty little lie I’ve been housing in my heart:  I may say I want to pursue a life of generosity.  I may even believe I want to.  But as long as I’m feeding my tendency to want, I probably need to question whether I’m all the way, 100% committed to this thing called generosity.

There.  I said it.  And it hurt a little bit.

So, what now?  Maybe God is prompting me to relinquish my Target excursions like an alcoholic gives up trips to the liquor store.  I’m open to that possibility. 

But as I try to discern what all this means for me, I must also recognize my twisted attraction to all things legalistic.  After all, if I stop making trips to my favorite store, I can pat myself on the back and feel really, really good about myself.  Probably not quite what God has in mind.

Plus, there’s always the Garnet Hill catalog, or amazon.com, or . . . . the possibilities are endless.

No, I think this realization has less to do with some kind of embargo and more to do with awareness. 

Awareness of how so many things I encounter with my eyes
end up high-jacking my heart.

What’s the remedy?  I’m still working on that one.  For starters, though, I think I’ll skip the window-shopping and let my eyes linger on these truths.

Do not be shaped by this world;
instead
be changed within by a new way of thinking. . . .

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So here's what I want you to do, God helping you:
Take your everyday, ordinary life—
your sleeping,
eating,
going-to-work,
and walking-around life—
and place it before God as an offering.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.
Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture
that you fit into it without even thinking.
Instead,
fix your attention on God.
You'll be changed
from the inside out.
Readily recognize what he wants from you,
and quickly respond to it.
Unlike the culture around you,
always dragging you down to its level of immaturity,
God brings the best out of you,
develops well-formed maturity
in you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The only source of light for the body is the eye.
If you look at people and want to help them,
you will be full of light.
If you open your eyes wide
in wonder
and belief,
your body fills up with light.
If you live squinty-eyed
in greed
and distrust,
your body is a dank cellar.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Your heart will be where your treasure is.


Any observations come to mind for you?  I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that I can use all the help I can get.  So . . . . do share!  J

For some additional feasting for the eyes and heart, don't forget to take a gander at some of these other wonderful blogs about the Proverbs 31 woman.

     Jennifer Sikora          Faith Filled Food for Moms      Karen Dawkins