Weary Wings

Monday, April 23, 2012

Cal's Prom and Blue Like Jazz

This past weekend Cal attended his Senior Prom. It kind of snuck up on me. Since he's moved out, it's harder to keep up with these kinds of events, but, even so, I did have advance warning. I guess I just didn't realize how I would feel when the day actually arrived.

 We tried to make plans to go down to see him the day of the prom and take some pictures. As you can imagine, he and his friends were difficult to nail down as far as where and when they would be for said pictures. It turned out that we didn't go and I had to settle for some texted photos of him in his tux. As soon as I saw them I was a mess.

 It seems like only yesterday that I was going to my own prom. Ironically, I went with Cal's dad. Reflecting on that I remembered that we had gone camping with his dad's grandparents the weekend of the prom and his dad drove me back the day of the event so we could go. If you know much about Cal's dad and I you know that it's been many years since we were together and our relationship has had it's fair share of negative moments. Nonetheless, that memory prompted me to tell him that if I hadn't said so at the time, it meant a lot to me that he drove me home to take me to prom.

 Not long after that prom Cal was born. I was 20 when he arrived and, again, it seems like only yesterday. Cal was a lot of fun as a kid. He was active and always eager to make new friends. He couldn't wait to be old enough to "go outside" and play with the other neighborhood kids. I can remember him asking me if he could "please go outside" when he was very little. As I looked at the pictures of him in his tux, I was thinking how quickly the time had passed. I was longing for more days of him playing in the yard, scrapping his knees and getting dirty.

 And then, I remembered my prom again. As I reminisced about how incredibly reckless I was then, I began to worry. Then I started texting him neurotically...

 Me: Have fun and be careful. And NO SEX!
 Cal: Ok mom.
 Me: I'm serious about the sex.
 Cal: I know mom and I know the consequences of that.
Me: Just making sure because you really cannot afford to get anyone pregnant.
 Cal: I know mom. I won't.
 Me: Ok, be safe.
 Cal: I will mom.
 Me: Do have fun. And Miss Nikki told me to tell you to "crump it out tonight."
 Cal: Haha. Ok, I will.

 Never mind that I realize that texting warnings to your 18 year old son is by no means stellar parenting. I get that. I guess I just wanted to say the things that I felt needed to be said knowing that he would have to make his own decisions about those things anyways. I prayed that he would be wise and safe and be a gentleman to the girls he was with. It was all I could do.

 What does all of this have to do with Blue Like Jazz? I'm getting to that, I promise.

 James and I went to see Blue Like Jazz the night it opened. I hadn't read the book but had read much about the book and have read other work of Donald Miller's. I am by no means an expert, just a fan with some thoughts on what I saw.

 The Story begins with young "Don" going off the a very liberal college after having had a crisis of his faith. He comes from a very traditional background and his experience within Christian culture leaves him somewhat unprepared for the life that awaits him at college. He goes to great lengths to hide his Christian roots in order to fit in, all the while, internally struggling with what he actually believes.

 In the end, Don winds up finding his faith again and begins to address some of what he sees as inconsistencies in the Church. He confesses those shortcomings to his fellow classmates and finds himself in a relationship with a God who can handle Don's growing pains.

 Obviously the movie deserves more than two short paragraphs, but, this post isn't just about the movie. I wholeheartedly recommend that you go see it for yourself.

 Anyhow, with this story fresh in my mind as I was sending my firstborn off to his Senior Prom, I started to think about the faith I've tried to teach my kids and how I hope it sustains them in the world. I prayed earnestly that my son would only make the best of choices at his prom, at parties, at school, outside of school. You get the picture.

 The thing is, as much as I want my kids to avoid the consequences I've had to live through, more than that, I want them to have a faith that can weather those consequences should they come. As I watched the character in Blue Like Jazz figure out that God could handle his questions and failures, my heart desired that same kind of relationship with Christ for my own kids. I want them to know that no matter what they do or what they go through, Jesus can handle it.

 I've come to believe that it isn't enough to teach my kids morality. It isn't enough to take them to church and ask them to take a purity vow. I sell them short when I present to them a god who won't walk with them through failure or even doubt of his existence. I leave them with nothing to hold on to if I can't tell them of Jesus, who saves sinners and LOVES them in spite of their performance.

 And I know this firsthand. He's loved me in spite of my performance. He's stood the test of time and walked through many doubts. Years ago, at that reckless prom of mine, Jesus was loving me and planning his dramatic rescue of me. As much as I want my kids to be "good kids", I want them to know the power of their own dramatic rescue. I want them to know in their very bones that Jesus saves.

 A long time ago I was faced with some big decisions about my children. I remember feeling the weight of that and feeling like I was deciding their fate or even the course of human history. With this pressure on me as I drove one afternoon the Holy Spirit spoke clearly to me and said,"No matter what you decide, you do not have the power to change my plans for your children." It took my breath away to hear those words and I was flooded with relief. I knew then that God had a plan for my kids and that He would use me in that plan, but, ultimately, the plan was His. I've rested in that many times since. I do now instead of obsessing over what might have happened at Cal's prom. I hope you can rest in that too.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Taking Care of the Poor

Growing up I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. They adored me and did their best to spoil me rotten. My grandfather was a trucker and I can remember riding in his truck watching the road pass by through the little window by my feet. My grandmother loved researching her genealogy and some days after school she would take me to the Mormon library where I did my homework and she researched. And every night they took me out to eat. Mostly at Denny's, which I hate to this day.

They also took me to church. We attended a small Pentecostal church where I learned of a Jesus who loved me and I believed it with my whole heart even if it did take a long time for me to live it with my life. My grandparents are responsible for the seeds that were planted so long ago and because they loved me so much, I could believe in a God who was said to have loved me even more. I owe a debt of gratitude to them for introducing me to my Savior.

They did teach me other things as well though. Lessons that were subtle but very real. They taught me that Christians were Republican. They taught me that I should be suspicious of people who didn't look like me. They taught me that people on welfare were lazy and taking advantage of the government. My grandmother even once told me that Martin Luther King Jr. was a communist. I didn't know what that meant but I did know that it was very bad.

Even as young as I was I had a hard time reconciling the different messages they were sending me. I sang "Jesus Loves the Little Children", "red and yellow, black and white." I heard stories of a God who loved the poor and took care of them. I knew my grandparents loved God, but I was growing to think that the way God loved was different from the way they loved.

Nevertheless, I had some deeply rooted beliefs about what was acceptable for my life. Church, being patriotic, loving your family, those things were all good. Interracial dating (or worse, marriage), getting pregnant outside of marriage, being on welfare, well, those things were bad, to say the least. It was clear what was expected of me. The problem was, I had a hard time caring about those things.

In eighth grade I started dating a boy who was Filipino. Of course I didn't tell my grandfather this because I knew he wouldn't approve. One day though, he saw us walking hand in hand down the street. He called me a couple of days later and said,"Kimberly,I saw who you were with." I hated disappointing him but I also didn't believe he was right. Besides, at least I wasn't pregnant and on welfare. Right?

Fast forward a few years. My grandparents had both passed away but I still felt their disappointment when I did get pregnant, not once, but twice. I consoled myself with the fact that I had two very white babies and knew that if my grandparents had been alive, they would have accepted my children. And, I wasn't on welfare, that is if you didn't count the Medicaid that paid for the birth of my children.

Here's the thing though, as a 22 year old with two kids and no education I didn't have many options. I was working two jobs and unable to make ends meet. I barely saw my children whom I loved deeply and as my friends were busy earning their degrees and getting their adult lives in order, I was doing nothing and getting nowhere. So, I decided to go to school. In order to do that, I went on welfare. I was ashamed but again consoled by the things people said to me,"We don't mind people like you using welfare. That's what it's there for." Oh, so for me welfare was acceptable. For people not like me, it was not.

I worked hard to earn my associates degree at the local community college. I was surrounded by a diverse group of women who were using welfare to do the same thing. Get an education. We were commended for our efforts and I excelled. Around this time I also started going back to church. I was ready to make Christ the Lord of my life. However, I found myself lying to the people I worshiped with. I didn't want them to know I was on welfare. I had been taught that they wouldn't approve. From the conversations I heard and the ways that I was encouraged to vote, I was convinced that was the truth.

As I approached the end of my courses for my Associates degree, I began to realize that I needed to go further in my education in order to put myself in a better position to provide for my children. The problem was, I had signed a "Welfare to Work" contract (as mandated by the Welfare Reform laws) that only allowed me to go to school for 24 months. When my welfare worker asked me what I was doing to find a job at the end of that I told him that I understood my time was up but I planned to transfer to the university and earn my Bachelors degree. I told him I knew that meant I would lose welfare benefits and I was prepared to deal with that. His response was that he would see what he could do. And he did. He sent me a letter that said,"in your case we have decided to follow the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law and approve your case for continued education at the university level." I was thrilled, but, in the back of my mind I once again heard the message,"we don't mind when people like you use welfare."

I excelled in my upper level course work and enjoyed every minute of it. Between my welfare benefits and scholarships and grants, we were also in a pretty good place financially. My little family didn't look like it was on welfare. Of course I did have to use my food stamps at the grocery store and each time I went I prayed that nobody from church would see me there paying for my groceries with them. I had started to confide in some of the people I went to church with and got the same message," But you're using it for the right reasons" I was often told. That didn't sit well with me though. I didn't feel any different from the other women I knew who needed welfare. I also wasn't surrounded by that same diverse group of women who had also worked hard at the community college. Very few of us were granted permission to go on.

In my senior year of college I decided to do my project on the Welfare Reform laws and how they had affected the women and children who needed welfare. It was a huge step outside of the thinking I had been taught as a child. I was finding myself more and more convinced that our country was doing very little to actually help the poor and what's worse is that the Church was doing even less. Add to that the fact that it was within the church that I was hearing the most complaints about the welfare system and the lazy people who use it. The conception was that large amounts of taxpayer money was going to take care of people who wouldn't take care of themselves. Rarely did anyone consider that some of those people couldn't take care of themselves. Always the blame fell on the poor.

As I researched my project and grew in my faith I felt that the thinking of most of the Christians I was in contact with was inconsistent with Scripture. I read in the Bible that it was our job to take care of the poor, I never saw a place in God's Words where we were called to blame them for being poor. In fact Jesus himself said that there would always be the poor among us. If that's the case, then our job of taking care of them is never finished. And as Christians I felt that we shouldn't be complaining about "all" the money the government spent on welfare. It seemed to me that we should have been paying that gladly and looking for ways to do more.

I also found that only about five percent of the Federal budget goes to support welfare programs that take care of poor people. (Here's a link for more explanation on that http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif ) That's only five dollars for every one hundred dollars we are taxed. It's a few cups of Starbucks that we spend to assist the needy in our country. As Christians we should be happy to give that money up and we should be clamoring to find ways to do more and spend more to care for those less fortunate. It should shame the church that our government even needs to have a welfare program because we are the ones called by God to provide for the needy in our midst.

Another complaint I hear is that there are so many people taking advantage of the system. Not "people like me", the other kind, you know. Here's the thing, nobody's getting rich off the welfare system and while there are those who are looking for loopholes (there always are) the numbers are so staggeringly low that it wouldn't affect the welfare system if we could weed them out altogether. Of course I don't want people to take advantage of the system but it isn't a get rich quick scheme and just because a person is trapped in the cycle of generational poverty doesn't mean they are doing anything wrong. When God calls us to help the poor He doesn't tell us to qualify how or why they're poor. It's His job to deal with people's hearts and change their situations. It's our job to be His hands and feet in the meantime.

I know, I know, in II Thessalonians it says that if you don't work you don't eat. I get it. That instruction was written specifically to men who were not providing for their families. Men who were taking advantage of the church. That's not what's happening in our country. First of all, the church is mostly relying on the government to do its job and second of all the vast majority of welfare recipients are women and children. You want to decrease the welfare expense in our country? We should start by actually prosecuting all the men who are not supporting their children making it necessary for these women and children to be on welfare. And then, Church, let's do our job, take care of the poor.

In all fairness I have been involved with some churches over the last few years that make a genuine effort to do that. I applaud that. My gripe, though, is with the Christians I hear complaining about the welfare system as if most of their individual paycheck is going to support people they don't feel are deserving of the help. As I said above, a VERY small portion of your paycheck is going towards actually taking care of the poor. As far as whether or not they deserve it, that's not our call. According to the Gospel, none of us deserve the riches we gain in Christ. We are poor, blind and naked standing before our Savior and He set the example by clothing us and feeding us. And then he tells us to do the same for others.

I have to tell you, this blog was hard for me to write because I know what some of you will say. I felt that way when I graduated from college and invited people I went to church with for a celebration at my apartment afterwards. Instead of proudly displaying the project I had worked so hard on I hid it in my room. I was afraid of what my fellow Christians would think. I am still afraid. But I'm not afraid for me anymore. I'm afraid for the body of Christ, specifically the Christians in America, because one day we will have to stand before Jesus and explain why we were so busy judging the poor instead of doing what we were called to do to help them. We'll have to answer for the fact that we even needed the government to take a few dollars from our paychecks in the first place not to mention that we complained about handing over those pitiful dollars when we should have been giving so much more.

And let me be clear. This is not a political post. I know God fearing Christians all along the political spectrum. Both major political parties contributed to the welfare system we have in place now. This is not about how you should vote. It is simply about the attitude that many Christians have regarding the money that is spent taking care of the poor. If we are to reflect the heart of Christ the only issue we should have is how we can help them more.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Some letters are tougher than others.

So, as you all know, I've been using my blog to write letters to people in my life who have made an impact or found a place in my heart. There are many of these letter floating around in my head to so, so many people. I am sure that when I am finished with this project I will continue to think of people I should have written to and am certain that there's no way I'll be able to express myself to every person who has impacted my life. If you're reading them, know that this is just a sample of what's in my heart. I am overwhelmed with the words I want to say to those I love. I fear that I will never be able to say enough.

And then there are some letters, like the one I just finished writing, that probably should remain private.

You see, as I alluded to in an earlier post, I've made some huge mistakes in my life. I've made some choices that hurt people immensely and ended some relationships that were quite valuable to me, although I may not have known it at the time. This letter was to one such person.

As I wrote I began to feel that the words I was writing might be only for her eyes. I may not even send it, I am still praying about that. But, if I do, it will remain between her and I.

Here's why.

I don't want to capitalize on the hurt I've caused someone in any way. I found that what I had to say revealed some insights I've had into my character and although I praise God for what he's done in me, getting accolades for that at the expense of someone's privacy, and maybe even their heart, diminishes what I am trying to communicate. That's a revelation for me. I tend to be so open about who I am and what I'm going through that I often over share about my own life. I do believe God can use that but I am seeing now that I must be careful that I am not also sharing details of someone else's life in the process. It is a delicate balance to say the least.

For now, as to this particular letter, I will say this. I was once a friend who should not have been trusted. I pray that is not true of me now. I was once a friend who traded loyalty for temporary acceptance. I hope that I have changed. I used to be no kind of friend at all. When people said, keep your friends close but your enemies closer, I was both. I was someone they either should have kept very close, or detached from altogether. I was Judas. For thirty pieces of silver I betrayed my very best friend, sometimes for even less.

I read through the scene in John 13 today where Jesus washes the disciples feet. It seems from reading the passage that Judas was still present at the table when this took place. We have no reason to believe that Jesus wouldn't have washed his feet along with the others. In just the next few verses he reveals that someone there would betray him. Someone he had served.

So often I have read this passage in the past to mean that I should be serving my brothers and sisters in Christ. That I should be serving those I am disciplining and investing in. It is the example Jesus sets for us in scripture. Serve one another. But, what about those who are not (or not yet) our brothers and sisters? What about those outside our circle, those who are lost and broken and yes, those who are untrustworthy, just a moment away from betraying us?

It seems Jesus would have us serve them too. And we would hope that our love and service to those who might hurt us would change their hearts and turn them towards us. Yet, we see that this was not the case for Jesus and Judas. Judas would go on to betray the very one who served him. Furthermore, Judas would be unable to see that Jesus had wanted to clean him and instead of redemption and reconciliation, Judas would choose destruction. And while Jesus poured water over Judas' dirty and calloused feet, Jesus knew that. And served him anyway.

I've been Judas. To Jesus and to some of the people He has put in my life. And, nonetheless, Jesus has loved me, and served me, and put others in my life to pour out His love on me. I've experienced redemption and renewal in a way that I didn't deserve. Even though I've carelessly tossed aside relationships that Jesus meant for good in my life, He continues to surround me with people who long to love and serve me in the way that He served. I am constantly reminded of how much He loves me by the fact that He refuses to let me live this life without loving relationships no matter how bad I am at being in those relationships.

On the flip side, I've also been hurt. I've experienced the pain of betrayal. Most of us have. As a result, I've read all the books on boundaries and how to "teach" people how to treat me. These things are helpful and I agree that we have to be careful with who we let close to us and especially our children. But, at the same time, I'm wondering, what does this look like if I am in fact called to serve those around me, yes, including those who might betray me? How do I reconcile my instinct to protect myself while loving like Jesus, washing the very feet of the man who would hand Him over to the very people who wanted Him dead? And Jesus did this, knowing that Judas would not accept His love. Where does that leave us?

As someone who's been loved at times when I least deserved it, I long to press on and love anyway, fiercely and unconditionally. As someone who's been hurt, I feel the need to build walls and set strict standards regarding those who can get in. It's a conflict that I must work out with the Holy Spirit if I am to do the will of the One who loves me best, most, even to death. When I read of Jesus washing the disciples feet, not just Judas, but all these men who would deny Him in His darkest hour, I am convinced that I must find a way to love and serve, even when it means I might get hurt.

It all goes back to trust, trust in God. Do I trust Him with my heart? Do I trust Him to repair what's broken when I am wounded by those He's called me to love and serve? Do I trust Him to put in me a love for them much like the love He's put in others for me? Will I knowingly pour out onto those who might not accept what I have to offer, just as Judas turned away from the love of a Savior who came to save him.

I would say that I don't trust like that yet. But, I want to. I will pray that as I move through my relationships I will give all I have, not expecting anything in return other than the opportunity to be like Christ. To love without condition. To serve my betrayers, whomever they may be.

As for my letter, pray for me. I haven't decided whether or not to send it yet. I don't want to open old wounds just so I can share my heart. That would be selfish. I want to be led by the Holy Spirit and send it if I come to believe that the words I've written were meant to heal through the love of Jesus.