Friday, February 26, 2010

Service Contract

Let me start by saying, please disagree with anything I'm about to say, or tell me if you have some new insight. I'm begging to be wrong.

I attend a missional church, a group of Jesus-lovers who want to make an impact on their immediate community by acts of love and service. It is a right and honorable thing, and is rooted deeply in scripture.

Our church leaders were wrought with real conviction to start this church, and their heart is for the poor, the downcast, the neglected, the widow, the orphan, the 'least of these'. And I am in total agreement. Yes, yes, yes.

Everyone in my small group (a subset of our church) , then, has decided to volunteer for an organization that meets the needs of individuals and families who are struggling with terminal cancer or AIDS, and who don't have a support community in place already. My husband and I went through a weekend training, with videos that showed real people giving testimony to the vital help and friendship their caring volunteer partner provided when they had no one else to turn to. Examples of help included taking the person to and from doctor appointments, providing home cooked meals, and occasionally, some light housework. The general goal is to lighten the burden of someone in desperate need.

Why, then, has my old crappy minivan been sputtering to a halt between sculpted lion heads to a nearly-million dollar property to go clean someone's bathrooms and dust their wine glasses? How did helping those in need turn into being 'the help'? I don't know how I got here, dusting chandeliers and praying to God I won't break something that I'll have to mortgage my house to replace. And the terminally ill patient and family? Nowhere to be found. No real connection* has been made in nearly four months. Even if what I was doing felt meaningless in the face of what the family was struggling through, I felt I needed to at least get a "thank you" every now and then to know that it mattered to them, that it was helping in some way.

So, I went through all the thoughts I could think: I know that this family had to go through the same approval process as everyone else, and they were in fact approved by the organization. I know that it is probably easing their minds to have a clean house. I mulled over 1 Peter 4:9, "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling." And Philippians 2:14, "Do everything without complaining or arguing." So I pressed on, but inside I continued to grumble in my spirit. I got angry, frustrated, and even a little indignant.

So I went to the scriptures to justify my irritation, give validity to my cause, like an idiot.

I read in Luke 17, about when Jesus healed the ten lepers. Only one came back to thank him, and Jesus says, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" I identified myself with Jesus, performing great acts for thankless return. But then I got puffed up. Awesome, what else you got, God? And I started to read the rest of the chapter. Well, right before the ten lepers, Jesus just finished telling a quick story about servitude. Wah, wah. My bubble deflated. "So you also," Jesus says in v10, "When you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'" Oh, right. Yeah. I'm NOT Jesus healing lepers, here. I am... the servant, doing what Jesus asked me to do. Serve.

So, while I may have opened a can of worms last night in my small group by exposing my true feelings on the matter (and finding that many felt the same), I continue to seek a servant's heart. I know that service isn't about me and my fulfillment. But I also don't want to do trivial pseudo-service so I can 'check the box' in my spiritual walk. And I definitely don't want to do something that I'm not passionate about. It just doesn't make sense to.

I'm seeking the Lord. Praying for guidance. I want to do what He wants me to do. Something I can commit to in my heart. Something more than, as George Patterson put it recently, "trying to shove the camel through the eye of the needle."

In the meantime I'll wear my rubber cleaning gloves and press on. (I've committed to serve in this organization for one year.) And I'll pray. A lot.

*Afterthought: I've had many people start to question the organization, thinking I had never met the client. I guess I should clarify 'no real connection'. I have met and spoken with both the client and spouse. They're legit. It just isn't the mutually enriching relationship that the training videos exemplified. Please look for my comments below for more info.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


It's really tough when someone you know gets struck by tragedy.

But then life goes on. We get distracted. When you have hundreds of thousands of media stimuli daily and life happens, it's easy to let things get pushed down on the list. Like an email inbox loaded with spam -- we tend to forget the important message that has scrolled off the page.

My friend Jim is dying.

He has an aggressive, malignant, inoperable brain tumor. Stage IV Glioblastoma Multiforme. But more importantly, Jim has a wife and three children (2, 4, and 7). He was diagnosed in November, when he felt general fatigue and dizziness. Without treatment, Jim would have been dead by now. But they are fighting every day with anything that's left to do.

I had let Jim slip from my prayers.



Life. Numbness. Distraction.

Then I saw him on Sunday at a Superbowl party. And I apologized to him profusely (instead of lying and telling him that I had been praying) and told him I would take up his burden in prayer. Every day.

If we stand close enough to someone when they get hit by a ton of bricks, we can take some of the hit. Jim may literally feel like he's been hit by bricks, and his family is dealing with this on a minute by minute scale. I just happened to catch one of the bricks by proximity on Sunday, and I'm walking around with the bruise. Even in these last two days of prayer for him, I feel wasted, worn out, sad, physically ill, angry, hopeful, depressed.

I'm wrestling with the idea that our God is the SAME GOD who delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, who sent his son to live out our death for our sins, and raised him to life. The same God who protects, heals, transforms. He created the universe and everything in it. He could heal Jim. But he also takes away. Sometimes, he chooses not to heal. And His name should still be praised. There's the struggle.

I can't imagine three months of this, and trying to deal with the potential loss, and explaining it to the children who are too young to understand, and the one that isn't too young. I can't imagine what his wife, also my friend, must be going through and what her daily life must be like right now.

I'm just so sad for them. I'm trying to be hopeful. But mostly I'm just sad.

I've taped his name to a prominent place in my house so I'll be reminded to pray. I'm going to move it around, so I don't get used to it in one place. I feel like I should do this for so many things: Haiti, poverty, my uncle's dad, my friend's grandmother, slave trafficking, my friend's mother-in-law, the peace of Jerusalem, my husband's brothers, orphans, my children, their teachers, etc etc, and the list is too too too long.

I can't tape up everyone's name -- It'd start to look a little bizarre to the outside world. "The Crazy Post-It Lady." That's what they'd call me. But when I start to push away the distractions in the controlled space of my home, the few things I allow to stay in my inbox will mean more, command more attention, and will move me repeatedly -- to prayer, to work, to action.

I praise God that I have never been struck with tragedy. My burdens are light. But that's why I can help carry someone else's. I have the arm room. I need to try not to fill it with stupid things. I'll be able to carry more. Praise His Name.

"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." Job 1:21