Pulling Weeds: Being Thankful for Real Community

Guest blogging today is Sarah May. Sarah writes about seeing happiness in the most unlikely of situations and how we can bring that happiness to grieving people.
Sarah is a 20-something trying to navigate the world with a little help from Jesus and little bit of sarcasm. For more from Sarah visit http://www.mycompletemayhem.net.

I Hope They’re Weeds

IMG_8765Killing weeds is never fun. It may be cathartic if you’ve had a rough day, but no one jumps at the chance to weed the garden. It’s just not pleasant. I recently found myself cleaning the yard and killing weeds with my trusty bottle of Round Up and like most mindless task, I found myself thinking about life while I sprayed roundup on what I hope were weeds.

Cancer’s New Normal

You see, the weeds in my yard are two and half years old. I know this because that’s how long it’s been since our yard received some serious love. The weeds were symbolic of our lives going through cancer and then grief. When you enter the world of life with cancer, your new normal does not involve yard work, or home repairs. It involves clinics, hospital stays, trying to not fall behind at work, and chick-fil-a more than once a week.
After a year and half of our new life with cancer, we lost our new normal life and entered the world of grief. Grief exhaustion from the past year and half collided, and the energy to do anything outside of the normal means of living was just to overwhelming. For every weed, a new emotion.
When we first entered the world of cancer, people were quick to help without us asking. Food was delivered; a group showed up to finish some home projects and clean the yard. We were and are thankful for this. It helped make the transition easier. Then the rain fell and the garden grew. Yard work was never anywhere near the top of the to do list.

Smiling in Grief

Grief is terribly isolating. However, if you go the other side of the world, you will find a group of women who smile the biggest smiles you have ever seen. These women are either widows or they were left by their husbands. Due to the culture and the legal marriage age of 15, they have limited skills to earn a living and mouths to feed. These women have banded together and are supported by the community. They learn job skills as they go through life together. Not because it’s fun or church organized. They have to. To put food on the table and educate their children in hopes of a better future one day.
If you are ever blessed to meet a group of these women, I hope they rip your heart out in the best of ways. I have met these women, and they are full of more life and love for the Lord than anyone I have ever met. In meeting them all, I wanted to do was cry with an overwhelming emotion I cannot explain, but I couldn’t cry because a short 4’5″ woman with missing teeth grabbed me by the arm singing with the biggest smile on her face. Soon after, I found myself in the dancing circle singing and dancing.
I couldn’t cry; they were just too happy and I didn’t want to rob them of this joy. These women in this community, who had nothing, were so very happy. This is where happiness is in its purist form. Living life and supporting one another because it’s what they must do to live. It wasn’t about a monthly to do at the church or a biannual event. It wasn’t a way to feel like they had served the Lord and filled up their Jesus tank.

Good Deeds vs Good Neighbors

My family has been on the receiving end of these church groups and good deed quota filling events. But here I am, killing those same weeds. While my yard has been cleaned up and repairs fixed, those weeds grew back, because cancer and grief aren’t a one-time thing. They are a lifetime thing. While everyone is quick to help once or twice, few are willing to walk this path; for those few who have we are so very thankful.

While my dad was sick and in the months following his passing a neighbor would push his lawn mower down the street to our house and cut our grass. He wouldn’t ask or say “Call if you need anything.” He just did. Friends that call and say “I’m a minute from your house and coming to visit”–Those are God’s people. The small group of people whom I would call my parents’ true friends, who showed up to clean and organize our garage without motive or invite. And this tiny group, even though my Dad no longer gets to join them on their Friday night Mexican dinners, still always invites my mom.

I am often asked “Hey, how’s your mom?”. I have decided I will no longer answer this question. I am not my mom, and I cannot tell you how she is doing. If you want to know, call her, message her, stop by the house and find out for yourself.

I once had a fortune cookie tell me “Joy shared is doubled, sorrow shared is halved.” This cannot be more true.
This phase of life has taught me to help other without asking and to listen when a friend needs to talk. I can’t fix the world, or anything any one else is going through. But I can listen.

In short, if you find yourself wanting to share God’s love with someone in need,  please do, but be prepared to pull up the weeds when they regrow.

3 Ways to Raise Generous Kids

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 4.15.32 PMA generous spirit is the linkup topic this week on Live Free Thursday. It’s a topic near to my heart, and one I’ve written on often. So here, just in time for thinking about being generous during the holiday season. Or any time.

Raising Generous Kids

When we took our three kids on a mission trip twelve years ago, I didn’t expect to become an expert on raising kids who serve generously. Seriously—at that point I was concentrating on raising kids who survived our family’s particular brand of insanity.

Through the wonder of watching our kids’ compassion and courage blossom while holding the hand of an abandoned orphan 6500 miles from our home, I learned. Raising generous kids—generous with both time and resources—is a goal most Christian parents have. But it’s an art whose technique not many understand.

Art is complex—but here are three ways, mindsets really, that will help parents in their goal.

Start Small

You don’t have to travel to China right away. (But hey, if you like a challenge, go for it. You won’t be sorry.) You don’t have to commit to one thing for the next five years. Dip the toes in the water. Find a couple small things you can manage quickly. Let the adrenaline from that move you toward bigger ideas. There are websites that offer suggestions for small projects you can even do at home. Through that, you may find something that releases a passion in your family, and you’ll want to find a bigger project. Don’t let the idea that you have to tackle world hunger overwhelm you and keep you from finding one thing you can do, right now.

Empower Your Kids

Currently, at least 75 percent of young people will leave the church when they leave china 8home. One of the major reasons for this heartbreaking attrition is their feeling that church is irrelevant to and out of touch with their daily lives. As well, young people cite a feeling that older generations prefer to condescend to them and refuse them meaningful service until they’re “ready.” For a generation bent on making a difference, this is understandably frustrating.

What would happen if, instead, we taught kids from the time they could walk that they were the hands and feet to make the church relevant? That the ends of the earth weren’t as far away or impossible to impact as they thought?

I’ve not yet read the Scripture that said children had to wait and watch until they’re old enough to “handle” using their gifts. In fact, several passages relate how God did use children who had been trained to listen to Him.

Find a cause your family can all get exited about and pursue that mission together. Trust them with meaningful work, not busyness to keep them occupied. Let them decide what you’re going to do together. Let them own the work, and give them credit. Take their lead. You will be joyfully surprised.

Be What You Want To See

Parents get kids who resemble them—in more ways than hair and eye color. If you want generous kids, be a generous person. Bottom line. Dropping kids off at a service project for children’s church or a mission trip for the youth group will not magically convert them to eager servers. Kids willingly go along with programs, but they watch, and imitate, you.

If you model a lifestyle that is too busy to volunteer at that community event, go with them on that mission trip, or visit a lonely person, your kids will compartmentalize service as “something adults do when they have time. Which is never.”

Model a way of life where generosity and service happen as a natural part of who you are. Make it something you’ll stop everything to do. Let them see you willing to do without something so you can give to someone else. Talk about that choice.

As my daughter recently said, “You never taught us that serving was a “thing” you had to do as Christians. You showed us it was a way of thinking and observing the world, 24/7.”

Be the generous person you want to see in your kids.

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Websites to try:

http://penniesoftime.com

http://www.pinterest.com/startasnowball/kids-in-action

https://www.volunteermatch.org

http://www.handsonnetwork.org

http://www.bigheartedfamilies.org

http://www.crafthope.com 

http://www.pinterest.com/jimari/causes-i-love

Books to read:

When More Is not Enough: How to Stop Giving Your Kids What They Want and Give Them What They Need

Don’t Forget to Pack the Kids: Short-Term Missions for Your Whole Family

Teach Me to Serve: 99 Ways Preschoolers can learn to serve and bless others, Kristen Summers

Small Things with Great Love: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor, Margot Starbuck

Growing Grateful Kids: Teaching Them to Appreciate an Extraordinary God in Ordinary Places, Susie Larson

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, Jen Hatmaker

It’s Your Party and I’ll Come if I Want To

I am a party failure. True story. In this month of talking about community, I’ve got to come clean. I cannot throw a party. Other than unicorn/princess/Harry Potter themed birthday parties that have long since seen their day. My baby is almost twenty. She is not so into letting me plan gift bags with glitter tattoos and a rainbow cake anymore. But at those kinds of parties—I was a boss. Just so you know.
 
But now? Friends, neighbors, coworkers—all those people you want to have over and just kick back and have fun around the backyard fire? Fail. I have them, and no one comes.
 

Party Fail

I once threw a surprise birthday party. And No. One. Came. Do you know what it’s like to sit around with a big tub of sour cream and onion dip and and pretend to your spouse (the birthday-ee) that no, there was just a good sale so you bought that industrial-sized cheetos bag for only the two of you? I cannot even remember how I explained the Happy Birthday banner. Whatever, people. It’s been over 25 years; I think we’ve moved on.
 
But it’s not just me. See, I googled it this morning. There are pages of stories of people who have thrown parties to which no one came. Advice columns. Blogs. Humor essays. Ugly crying in latte essays. All over the world, people throw parties and no one comes. I thought it was just me.
 
In fact, it’s endemic.
 
No one RSVP’s anymore because everyone is just planning to wait until the day to see if they feel like it or not. 


Guilty as charged. 
 
And the reality is, on the day, more often than not inertia sets in. No matter how much you think you should go or you know you’d enjoy it, the pull of not changing the status quo is too great. We don’t go. We find better things to do. We find nothing to do, which is often what we need after a hard day/week/year. 
 
I am one of these people. I know of what I speak.
 
But while I talk about how important it is to create community, I have to be honest, too. I am a community creating failure. And I know it’s not just me. Lots of us are feeling the same way. How do we create a community in the midst of a culture that won’t commit, needs downtime like we need oxygen, and considers relationships as disposable as hitting the “unfriend”button on facebook? How do we not just quit when no one shows up to our lives?
 
I don’t know. If I did, I wouldn’t be a party fail. But I have found some interesting tips. I am terrible at most of the things experts say to do, so there is that. Maybe some of these ideas will stick. But honestly, I don’t know.
 

Timing Is Everything

In her blog, Conrinna Gordon-Barnes writes, “In my experience, there’s an optimal time frame between too lengthy notice and too short notice. Experiment and find what works for the people you want to invite.” In other words, my method of inviting people to come to an event in approximately ten minutes probably isn’t the best modus operandi. Figure out what the magic window is for your people. They’ll still cancel or not RSVP, but you’ve set yourself up for a better chance.
 

Personal Touch

I hate rejection. I hate leaving people out. So I don’t invite people personally. I make blanket invitations. Those almost never work, according to professionals (and according to all those would-be party throwers crying into their drink of choice whose blogs I read). With a blanket invite, people feel free, almost empowered, to not show up. Someone else will. It wasn’t meant for me anyway. I’ll come next time. Here’s a big hurdle for me. I need to do better.
 

Make ‘Em Pay

Not literally. But most experts tell us that having some kind of stake in the commitment makes people keep their word. If someone commits to bringing the flaming pumpkin dessert, he or she is not as likely to flake out on you at the last minute because the ex-boyfriend is back in town and maybe they’ll get back together. That’s good news for you and for the dessert bringer.
 
This is hard for me, because I prefer low key, casual, come and go. If you can you can, if you can’t, no worries. But more often than not, can’t is what happens.
 
I don’t know the answer. I really don’t.
 

But I know this. I need to be a better committer if I want this elusive thing called community.  . Maybe that’s the real answer. Maybe it’s not learning how to throw a better shindig or understanding the exact equation for maximum attendance. Maybe it’s as simple as being a committed friend. Being what I want to see. Because like I said, I am so one of the guilty people.

 
And the truth is, sometimes, we need to be. Sometimes, we do need to take some stuff off our schedule and say no. But sometimes? I think we overdo that.
 

The late Chuck Colson writes, “The basic building blocks of society simply erode without commitment. Any sensible society must address this problem by educating people that commitment is the very essence of human relationships. When we refuse to commit, we miss out on one of the great joys of life. When we obsess over ourselves, we lose the meaning of life, which is to know and serve God and love and serve our neighbors.”

 
If I want to be a better community-maker, I need to serve.  .Not hors-d’oeurvres. People. I need to be the commitment I want to see. Oh, that’s scary. And uncomfortable. And opening myself up right now to anyone who reads this and says, “Hmm. I can guilt her into whatever I want at this point.”
 

But scary is sometimes the best thing we need to move forward.

Do you have any answers for community building? Anything that’s worked for you? Any failure stories you’d like to share (so I don’t feel so alone)? Start the conversation below!