Archive for February, 2011

Our Amish-style Barn Raisings

February 28th, 2011

First published in Shane Claiborne’s Conspire Magazine

My husband and I have explored the idea of communal living with some of our Christian friends, but, for various reasons, we have chosen for the moment to live the conventional American way in our own small hovel with our three children.  However, we actively seek to live in community with our church and our close friends and our neighborhood.  Three years ago, we took one more step toward “bearing one another’s burdens” and “having all things in common” with our spiritual family.  We organized some modern-day barn raisings.

Our group of friends range in age from 20’s to 40’s and we are all owners of “gracefully aging” homes that need love and maintenance. I thought it was inefficient, not to mention boring and joyless, for us all to be working separately on our own house projects when we could accomplish so much more, and have so much more fun, working as a group.  So we took a page from the Amish and instituted a barn-raising day.  Here’s what we do:

Five families meet every other month at one family’s house.
The host family chooses the project and assembles the supplies for completing that project.
The contributing families take care of all the food for the day.
The host family explains the project or posts a list of multiple projects to be tackled.
Childcare is shared or rotated.  Older children help with childcare or projects and younger children play.
All families contribute whatever tools they own to prevent renting equipment.
Only four of the five families are needed to proceed on a project, so scheduling a work date is not so difficult.

    Some of the projects we have cooperated on include removing a gargantuan basement furnace, clearing debris from a disastrous ice storm, demolishing a decrepit shed (the teen boys liked that one),house painting, landscaping, washing siding, repairing gutters, installing lights and outlets, patching drywall, and insulating under a house.

    When a single-mom friend moved into a fixer-upper, she was overwhelmed by the work that had to be completed by a move-in deadline. Our barn-raising group quickly agreed to donate one of our work days. We removed nails, sanded, and stained all her floors. Since we have five families in our group, we realized if we do one project every other month, that leaves room to donate one project a year

    Our idea has been so successful that other people want to join us or they express envy of our group, but we can only include 5-6 families if we intend to complete one project a year for each family.  So I’m working to facilitate the formation of some other groups from within our church.  These groups need to include people from outside our church, though.  Our friends include both Christians and non-Christians, so our group does, too.  This is a cooperative, mutually beneficial way for us to share lives. We all finally look forward to house projects. Our barn raisings allow us to share food, conversation, sweat, and love.

    For of those to whom much is given, much is required.

    February 22nd, 2011

    First published in Paducah Life November 29, 2010

    Friends and families find meaningful ways to celebrate the giving part of Christmas.

    A Christmas snowball began rolling several years ago in churches, and it may soon become a benevolent avalanche in Christendom. Many Christians have decided to mutiny against the materialism of the season and to give instead to people who actually need something. These cultural rebels want to reflect the true spirit of the season by focusing their resources on the poor or oppressed instead of the comfortable and powerful. This is not simply charitable giving: it involves actually living simply. These gift-givers don’t just add charitable contributions to their already lengthy gift list; they actually reduce the number of gifts they buy and receive in order to give more money and time to worthy causes.

    The momentum of this snowball is evidenced by the popularity of the viral video “The Advent Conspiracy,” which can be viewed on YouTube. This simple, arresting video illustrates how the world’s clean water problem could be solved with a fraction of the money people spend yearly on Christmas. Hundreds of churches have shown this video since 2008. As a result, millions of dollars have been donated to dig wells in developing countries.

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    Last year, Sara Darling introduced this video to her church, the Family of God at Reidland. Sara and her husband, Mike, associate minister at the church, had been practicing this kind of benevolent giving for years. At first they contributed to Heifer International, which they had heard of while they were students at Abilene Christian University. They bought a flock of chickens for a family overseas because they wanted to give something that would “keep on giving” and allow the family to help support itself.

    Since then they have given to World Vision, Kiva (a microlending organization), Tom’s Shoes, and Starfish Orphan Ministries. “For us, it’s another way to live out the call of Jesus on our lives,” explains Sara. “We look for ways to participate in helping others and at the same time reduce our consumerism. We don’t need more stuff.” This year, in addition to donating to Starfish, the Darlings will buy their Christmas gifts from parents wishing to adopt who are selling merchandise to raise money for their adoptions.

    The four doctors who comprise Total Life Care in Lone Oak will also be helping adoptive parents this year by contributing to Starfish Orphan Ministries. Like Sara, they already had enough “stuff.” Rheanel Tolar says, “Each year we would all spend time running around looking for something for the other doctors in the practice, a scarf or whatever, that they might not want or even be able to use.” So three years ago, Tolar and the other three, Karen Bannister, Lee Meals, and Jennifer Nelson, began giving the money they would have spent on each other to Starfish, and they plan to continue this tradition. “It’s a lot nicer, makes us feel better,” explains Tolar. “It takes the focus off the rat race.”

    Julie McIntosh of Broadway Educational personally hates the commercialization of Christmas and did not want to contribute to it at her business. Her own family keeps the holiday simple, sharing meals together, but buying no presents except for the children. “I think the holiday season has gotten away from the whole meaning of Christmas.” So McIntosh proposed to her employees that they skip the traditional office exchange. Now she asks her employees what charity they want her to contribute to each year and she has given to many causes: Starfish, Animal Rescue, World Vision, The Autism Society. Her employees, in turn, bring canned goods for Paducah Cooperative Ministries. Like the other Paducahans mentioned above, Julie believes that “we all have plenty; we’ve been blessed. We don’t need any more stuff.”

    Go. Seek. Love. Buy.

    February 22nd, 2011

    Published in Paducah Life November 29, 2010

    So you want to reduce your Christmas spending this year, but you still can’t get out of buying several gifts. Your office is holding the obligatory gift exchange that keeps the mall scarf kiosk in business, or you just want to give your parents something thoughtful this time and avoid another space-gobbling appliance. What can you do to redeem this Christmas consumerism? I have a proposal for you: buy merchandise from adoptive parents.

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    Most people know that it can cost quite a bit to adopt a child, but most people don’t realize how expensive it is. The average cost of an international adoption is between $30,000-$40,000. Domestic adoptions can be just as much with attorney’s fees, medical expenses for the birth mother, agency costs, etc. Because of this expense, many families who are adopting create crafts or clothing or other types of merchandise to raise funds for their adoption.

    Mike and Sara Darling of Paducah are adopting a son from Ethiopia, so several months ago, Mike bought Sara a necklace that has an Africa-shaped pendant inscribed with the words “Expecting From Africa.” This jewelry was created by adoptive parents, so the Darlings not only celebrated their own pending adoption, but helped facilitate the adoption of another child. Sara feels strongly that she and Mike buy merchandise that promotes social justice and upholds fair trade ideals. “The Bible says in James that ‘pure and faultless religion is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.’ Not every person can adopt, but everyone can help support orphans.”

    So the Darlings, who write a blog about their upcoming adoption, have posted a link to another blog that lists all the families selling items. To find these items, go to Sara’s blog and click on “Shopping with a Purpose” at the top.

    Be prepared to fall in love! These items for sale are beautiful, creative, and touch the hearts of the shopper. Choose from jewelry, hair accessories, clothes, coffee and mugs, bags, wreaths, cookbooks, Christmas cards, scripture painted on canvas, aprons, metalwork, and on and on. Even the blogs that publicize the merchandise are colorful and interesting.

    Philip and Sara Matheny of Benton have good friends from college who created one of these websites. These friends designed a t-shirt that says “Go. Seek. Love.” to help fund their adoption several years ago. After they had adopted their child, they didn’t want to shut down their fund-raising website, so they decided to keep it up and let other adopting couples receive the proceeds from the sales of the t-shirts. The Mathenys, who plan to adopt a special needs child from Burkina Faso, will receive the proceeds during the months of November and December of this year. Anyone who orders from goseeklove.com during those months will contribute to the Matheny’s expenses.

    This convenient, online shopping gives three times over: once to the recipient of the gift, once to the adopting family, and once to the child being adopted. Finally, Christmas shopping itself can actually be done in the spirit of Christmas!

    Because of Love

    February 22nd, 2011

    Published In Paducah Life

    November 29, 2010

    Millions of African orphans. What will you do?

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    What do you do when you learn there are 147 million orphans worldwide, 5 million in Ethiopia alone? For seven Paducah area couples, the answer was to adopt one — or two! These seven couples — Jody and Shannon Stivers, Todd and Amy Brady, Steve and Cassie Moore, Kenneth and Stacie Beckner, Mike and Sara Darling, Brent and Sarah Housman and Scott and Julie McKeel — all chose to adopt for remarkably similar reasons, and all chose to adopt from Ethiopia. Amazingly, most of these couples did not know the others at the time, or if they were acquainted, they did not know about their adoption plans. Now they have formed an African Adoption Fellowship group welcoming anyone adopting from the African continent.

    The Stivers family already had four children when they decided they wanted to “serve God and do something bigger than ourselves.” They chose Ethiopia because they wanted a boy. The waiting list is shorter for boys in Ethiopia and the orphan situation is desperate there. They requested an older child because, as Shannon says, “God led us to do that; it was a great fit with our existing family.” Four-year-old A.J. arrived this spring. Even though the Stivers family goes to First Baptist, where Todd Brady is the pastor, they did not know the Bradys were also adopting from Ethiopia.

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    The Brady family planned to adopt for years because they see it as a way to live out the gospel. They chose Ethiopia because it was the country that allowed the quickest adoptions. Benjamin arrived this spring right after he turned one. His mother died after giving birth to him. The Bradys were given the opportunity to meet the father, and Todd says, “We immediately accepted. We wanted to tell him the gospel if he hadn’t heard it.” The father is a believer, and the Bradys had an emotional time of prayer with him as they promised to love and care for his child.

    The Moores had been praying about adoption for years when they moved to Paducah, where Steve became the worship pastor at First Baptist. Cassie had developed a passion for Africa as a teen and became a lawyer in hopes of bringing about social justice. Steve was not as positive about adoption as Cassie; he kept thinking of adoption as “a back-up plan.” His defenses fell quickly when he saw all the adoptive families at church. They decided on Ethiopia as well and will soon travel overseas to bring home twin boys. “I have two picture frames on my desk with John 14:18 between them: ‘I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.’ I keep clinging to this promise for my boys.”

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    The Beckners, like many of these parents, had no fertility problems. They just felt God had called them to adopt because “children in the world need a home and we want a family,” Stacie explains. They had applied to adopt from China, but the wait is so long there that they applied to Ethiopia. Cullen arrived at their Marion home in 2009.

    Sara Darling believes that God led them to Ethiopia. “We saw that leading because of specific things: we fit the parameters for Ethiopia best, there was a great need there because of so many orphans, and it was an easier country to work with.” Mike adds, “But we didn’t choose Ethiopia because it was easier. We decided to approach it in faith. The farther we got into the process, the clearer it became that Ethiopia was the right place.”

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    The Housmans “always had a heart for adoption.” They have three children already and are now waiting on a girl from Ethiopia. Like other area families, they don’t expect the color difference to create any problems. “The color difference may be an issue for some people, but we hope that once they get to know our daughter, they see her as a person, not a color.” Shannon Stivers summed up the feelings of these parents by declaring, “This is what the kingdom of God is going to look like.”

    So what do we do about all those orphans in Africa? Not everyone can adopt, but everyone can find a way to help. Philip and Sara Matheny of Benton are adopting a special needs child from Burkina Faso. Philip frequently flies as part of his job, so to help increase awareness of the orphan problem and encourage people to take action, Philip wears what the Mathenys call his “airport shirt” when he’s traveling.

    The front depicts Africa with the words Because of Love. The back of the shirt says, 147 million orphans. What will you do?

    Intractable People

    February 17th, 2011

    I get so frustrated with people who follow all the rules all the time and can’t see any reasons to make exceptions or accommodations in certain circumstances. I’m actually a very compliant rule-follower, but we live in real life, not in orderly little scenarios. My mother’s friend was diagnosed with colon cancer 3/4 of the way through her last semester of college. She had an A average in each class, but had to miss the remaining classes for treatments. Most of the teachers just went ahead and gave her the A she had earned so far, but one teacher made her come back the next semester to finish out the assignments she had missed.

    People like that teacher need to be bridge inspectors and nothing else. Okay, okay, maybe they can design nuclear reactors and car safety restraints and skyscrapers. But they don’t need to be teachers or Department of Motor Vehicles clerks or adoption agency workers. Which leads me to my current frustration.

    Wayne and I want to adopt two girls in an orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. When our friends Mike and Sara Darling visited the orphanage last month, Sara was smitten with two beautiful little girls who may be hard to place because they are older, maybe 9 years old. As soon as I read her blog post, I wanted those girls. When I told Sara, she was thrilled to know we wanted to adopt them and she gave us the contact information for the orphanage. After we contacted the orphanage director, we called an adoption agency that works with that orphanage to see what steps we needed to take next to adopt those girls. Right away, the adoption agency was reluctant to help us because we weren’t doing it “the right way.” Apparently, you’re not supposed to want any particular child and try to adopt that one;  instead, you’re supposed to follow all the correct procedures and take the child you’re assigned. But my concern was that these two girls were cleared for adoption and were waiting (and growing older in the orphanage), but no one was rushing to sign up for them. So I’m saying “give them to me” and the adoption agency is saying, “even though you want them, even though they’re available, we aren’t going to help you because you’re doing it backwards and not following the rules.”

    So after two days of phone conversations where I’m trying to get them to see that my motives are good and that this is the best thing for those girls, they concluded the conversation with “We’ve decided that we will not work with you.” So how did those rules protect or benefit those girls? Who exactly wins here? Satan is the only winner I see. I pray, and ask you to pray with me, that he only wins this little battle, not the whole fight.

    God is the country in which I live

    February 4th, 2011

    I am an American and I am a Kentuckian, but these identifiers are peripheral to who I really am.  I might just as well be an Argentinian or a Scandanavian.  To paraphrase Eugene Peterson, the master paraphraser himself, God is the country in which I live.  This is where I reside and this is who I am.  I love this place and I will never leave.  I can never go anywhere without being at home.

    I vote and I am registered with a political party so that I can participate in local elections, but I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat, nor a supporter of any other party.  The beliefs of the different political parties don’t reflect my spiritual beliefs; none of them comes close to having a corner on Jesus.  He was too complex to be represented by any of our political groups.  Whenever I try to line up my Christian values with a specific party, it’s just an exercise in frustration, because God is the country in which I live.

    Sometimes, those of us who have lived in this country a long time don’t even think to mention God anymore.  He’s just part of the landscape. When something is so ubiquitous, we begin to think everyone can see it, and we don’t point it out anymore.  We should know better:  don’t we all overlook brilliant sunsets all the time?  Several times a month, I will suddenly realize there’s a spectacular sunset coloring the very air magenta or apricot or orchid.  I will go dashing through the house hollering for everyone to come look at it and then I’ll run out into the yard to soak it in (my kids always tell people that I stand in the middle of the road and jump up and down, but that’s only for the really dazzling sunsets).  If I don’t call attention to the sunset, it just fades into the background, part of the landscape we take for granted.

    In my family, I’m the sunset sentinel, always aware of the sunset and keeping watch for it.  I wish we could be as aware of God, always watching for what He’s doing and excited to tell each other about it.  I think we are sometimes like the book of Esther, where God is never mentioned, but His presence is pervasive and interwoven into the fabric of their lives. God is the country in which they live.  God’s presence is pervasive in our lives, also, but we often don’t mention Him.  Somehow we absorbed the idea that openly talking about God is too personal, or self-righteous and showy, or religiously pushy.  But I want to hear what God is doing in people’s lives.  I want people to tell me about their answered prayers. And  I need people to remind me of His glorious and dazzling presence.

    I’m glad to live in America and love to sing “America, the Beautiful.”  I really like Kentucky and tear up on “My Old Kentucky Home.”  But God is the country in which I really live, so “How Can I Keep From Singing [His] Praise”?  “This is my story, this is my song:  praising my Savior all the day long.”

    February 1st, 2011

    I did not dread the winter this year

    The cold and dying, the dark,

    The stark, the bare, the skeletons out the window.

    I did not recoil from the aloneness,

    The low sun, the slow,

    The interior, the shutting down.

    The low, cold beams shoot straight into the heart of the house,

    Illuminate the silent interior and the dust glitter.

    My bright colors are clarified.

    So, too, my quiet dirt and scars.

    I sit in the light to see them.

    The beams of light turn the corner of the house.

    Darkness crawls in from the east.

    The evening lengthens.

    The quiet deepens.

    The shrouding snowfall snuffs the sound,

    Insulates and isolates us from the out there.