I had an epiphany last night. I know, most of you are thinking "Oh great. Vanessa had some flash of brilliance. . . She finally realized what JJ Abrams keeps in all his mystery boxes." (Those of you that are JJ Abrams fans, you know what I'm talking about. To the rest of you, it's too lengthy of an explanation to undertake here. It would require years of pointless, mindless, cult-fiction that isn't really pertinent to this discussion, and you would just be annoyed with me for wasting those precious hours of your life.)
Anyway, I digress. I had an epiphany. A HUGE one! As most of you know, Dave and I are just a few short weeks from our trip to Kenya. As part of the preparation for that trip, we were tasked with a number of things--one of which was to read this book. The premise of the book is about effective and not-so-effective ways of helping those in need. It has been a really eye-opening dissertation into the way most Americans try to help those that they perceive as "needy" or "impoverished". (As a side note: if you have ever experienced that tug on your heart to help those in need, I would really recommend this book as a resource). So, being the good little "rule follower" that I am, I have been dutifully reading the book.
I have to admit, it has been really helpful to me as I battle the range of emotions that accompany a trip of this magnitude. I have been able to work through some of the struggles that I have with modern medicine in a primitive setting. I have known, for some time, that the full extent of the resources I have in America will just not be available in such a remote setting. I have spent the last 6 months reconciling in my mind exactly what it is that I will be able to do there. Here in the states, I have all kinds of expensive equipment, high-dollar medicines, and additional doctors of varying specialties at my fingertips. There: I will have a battery operated retinoscope, a plastic eye chart (and hopefully a wall to tape it to), some lenses, 1,700 pair of glasses, and whatever knowledge of medicine I have managed to cram into my little brain over the past 20 years. No fancy retinal scanners, no hoity toity topography machines, no laser technology, no slit lamp, no Wills Eye manual, no Google, and certainly no surgical suites complete with highly specialized and skilled surgeons.
So, that's all well and good. But, what was this epiphany, you may ask?
To answer this, some back story is relevant here. About a month ago, Dave and I set out on a new process of teaching our kids to be more responsible, less entitled, and more self sufficient. I have done several posts on this subject that you can read about here, here, and here.
As I was reading last night, I came across a section that talked about a church that had been volunteering at a homeless shelter. Once a month they would purchase food, prepare a meal, serve it to the shelter residents and even clean up afterward. Now, reading this I thought "Yep, that's pretty much what Jesus instructed us to do, right?" If your brother is hungry, feed him. If he is naked, give him clothes. Also, it occurred to me that Jesus was pretty specific about the first shall be last, the last shall be first, and of course the whole part about washing His disciples feet is pretty big too. Acts of service and humility, right? Isn't that what we have been taught in Sunday School for decades?
Well . . . after all these years, it seems that most of those lessons were given a bit out of context. What this church (the one helping in the homeless shelter) came to realize is that the full act of serving was really robbing most of these residents of their dignity, self-worth, and pride of a job well done. The act of serving was actually harming the very people they were trying to help!
What?!? How can this be? But, Lord, their intentions were pure! I don't understand! You have commanded us to serve, haven't you? I mean there's that whole verse in Matthew "And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the
least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'" . . . Isn't that what you have instructed us to do--to serve "the least of these"?
That's when it hit me! This is exactly where God has been taking me this last year. I don't have to go to the continent of Africa to fulfill his commandments. (Well, okay, I guess the whole "Go ye into all the world and teach the Gospel part is kind of saying that). But, I can fulfill his command in the confines of my own home as well. Teaching my kids to clean up after themselves (rather than doing it for them), instructing them in meal preparation (instead of just serving them), and helping them learn the valuable lessons associated with working hard at something and sometimes failing (but sometimes succeeding, too) has been good for them.
I have been amazed this week to see the looks on their little faces as they have presented their "masterpieces". (December brought the addition of once-a-week meal prep for each of my kids' new life to rid them of the entitlements.) They were excited to have a voice in the menu and have worked more joyfully and purposefully than I have ever seen them work in all of their short little lives. The meals were really delicious, too. Really. Not like in the okay-it's-edible-and-I-don't-want-to-ruin-my-child's-self esteem-so-I-will-eat-it-with-a-smile-on-my-face-good. I mean, REALLY good! If I hadn't actually watched them both make their meals, I would have sworn that a fully-trained and experienced chef had prepared them.
So, that was the beginning of my epiphany last night. It has continued to morph into even broader revelations for me this morning as I have contemplated this post. I spent some time listening to one of my favorite (and most convicting) songs. It is a song called "Face of Christ" by Chris Rice. Every time I hear it, I am reminded that the God of the Universe is BIG. I mean, HUGE, big. He's also benevolent, confusing, exponentially frustrating, and an eternal mystery to me. It is good for me to be regularly reminded of the message found in the words of this song:
See you had no choice which day you would be born
Or the color of your skin, or what planet you’d be on
Would your mind be strong, would your eyes be blue or brown
Whether daddy would be rich, or if momma stuck around at all
So if you find yourself in a better place
You can’t look down on the frown on the other guy’s face
You gotta stoop down low, look him square in the eye
And get a funny feeling, ‘cause you might be dealing ...
I get a funny feeling, I just might be dealing
With the face of Christ
This book is teaching me that the definition of "poverty" is broader than just not having money, food, shelter, etc. It is a mental state. It is not having the belief that you can do something. It is believing instead that it isn't even worth trying, because you are just going to fail anyway. It is that "the-world-is-out-to-get-the-little-man,-and-I-am-the-little-man" way of thinking.
Yes, I am eternally grateful to The God of the Universe for taking pity on me and deciding to bless me by allowing me to be born into a family with two parents, into a community that was safe and taught me about Jesus, and into a country that grants women equal rights and equal protections. I will forever be thankful, that most of all, I was raised in an environment that yelled from the sidelines "Vanessa, you can do it! You can do anything you decide you want to do!" I know, the odds of me ever ending up on the Olympic ski team were pretty much nil, but that's not what I heard from my parents, teachers, and friends. I had a whole cheer squad around me and that has made all the difference in my life.
However, "to whom much is given, much is required" is the flip side. So, it is a constant struggle for me to figure out how to help (now, without actually hurting the one I am trying to help), who to help, and in what ways God desires me to help. I have been challenged this year to continually seek out new opportunities to serve THE divine CREATOR. Does that mean giving money? Yes. Does that mean giving of my time? Yes. Does that mean sitting down and looking someone "square in the eye"? Yes. Most of all, does that mean being a constant cheerleader to my kids, my husband, and everyone else that I come in contact with? Yes. Even if it goes against my "natural grain". (I've never been a very good cheerleader, but that doesn't mean I lack the ability to learn how to do it. After all, we have established that I was raised in an environment that allowed me to do anything I set my mind to.) I mean, really, it's the least I can do, right?
In this whole process, I am finding that the greatest mission field is actually my own home. It is gearing up to be an exciting ride. I am elated, tentative, terrified, ill-equipped, and at times speechless along this ever-winding road. Somehow, God continues to grant me the energy to keep going. To quote the philosophical and wise words of Dori, from Finding Nemo: I am going to "Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming".