Place Settings: Ensuring there’s room

Found a 12- person dining room table on Craigslist for $100, plus 6 chairs to add to our 4 existing chairs (which were also free) for an additional $35.

Score.

So our $135 dinette set seats my family of five very comfortably, except that we all cram onto one end of the table each night at dinner, leaving five chairs totally lonely and empty at the other end. Sometimes I swear I see a tumbleweed scoot across that side of the table.  It’s… deserted. (But not always!!)

We bought the World’s Largest Socially Acceptable Dinner Table so that we could invite lots and lots of people into our home. I heard a sermon three years ago by a friend who said they “always have room for one more,” in a theoretical sense, I assumed.

But it stuck with me and so when we moved from our condo, Giant Table was first on my list of things to purchase. And when we bought the chairs and recovered them (for 20 bucks!) I scrawled prayers and blessings and scriptures on the bottom of each seat for every person who would ever sit in them. (Even the people who disagree with me politically. Even the people who disagree with me spiritually, socially, and physically — i.e. the people who refuse to eat my amazing homemade pies because of “concerns about sugar”– a concept that is increasingly foreign to me. Just Kidding. I get it. And admire it. I’ll be no-sugar again one day. ;))

My heart was that everyone would always be welcome here. Is that hard? Oh. My. Goodness. Yes. ‘Specially this November. Ell.Oh.Ell.

But that’s the Table Christ asks us to set. Not just at Christmas. Because that’s the Table He set for us. Everybody’s welcome to share in His Supper of Redemption. (even the people who need Redeeming. #mindblown Which is all of us #mindblownagain).

There’s no “clean up before you show up.”

It’s just, “Show Up; I made you really good food and anticipated your arrival, as proven by my abundance of place settings, and I’d love nothing more than to sit by you just as you are right this minute.”

And it’s hard for me to read books and blogs and magazine articles about this New (slash, original) Christianity where we identify with the suffering and hurting, because I think… is this hip now? Whew!  Because we were poor. POOR. And you know how lots of church people treated us? Like we needed to look better, cleaner, fancier, so we could be like them! It’s just not true. We don’t need churches full of people who look just like us. So I’m glad it’s posh to be friendly to the underdog. That one was a long time coming. But it’s kind of annoying.

Yes let’s give to the poor and the oppressed, by golly, let’s do it until we have nothing left to give. And then let’s do it a little bit more. But let it be lovingly, rooted in… tender care for the sake of the person… not judgement — which is oddly kind of intrinsic in the nature of giving (we don’t give to people who seem to not be in need)–  so we can feel good about our giving.

Can we give in a way that brings hope and shines a light on the identity of the person we are caring for? As they are right this minute? Not in an attempt to get everyone up to our standards? Like… (I’m guilty of this) … when we see someone who lacks something… we find the thing they’re lacking and then we give it to them. Like, that levels some sort of playing field. Like… now they’re fixed. It’s just not true. I’ve gained more in sloughing off my material stuff than I have in acquiring any amount of stuff. Yet we see people lacking STUFF and we remedy them buy giving them STUFF. That doesn’t make people whole.

So let’s stop doing that.

Because the people we care for (all of humanity)…. already look like Jesus… because they’re made in His Image. Our job, ?am I wrong?, is to call out the parts that look like Him. To speak Truth over souls who are lost. To untangle deception and confusion and lack. Not to bandage pain with the list of “what it takes to make a person whole: socks and food and a job and toys for kids.” And I think we’ll find the people we *think* need “charity,” are quite different than the people to whom we dish out charity out to. (as if charity were something to be “dished.” bah).

What if instead we assumed everyone was on a journey toward Christlikeness and so we loved everyone up and spoke Truth to everyone and encouraged everyone and listened to everyone and created relationships where everyone could share their pain and then we could lead them to the One Who Heals Our Pain. And we went out of our way to build relationships with people who are not like us… and with people who ARE like us. Instead of thinking, you lack things that I have; allow me to help you acquire things like mine; goodbye.

And yes oh my goodness yes, we have to fill real needs. That’s first on the list! If a person is hungry or in need of water or clothes or whatever. Yes duh do that first. But let’s stop stopping there. Let’s stop with “oh you need a job you need food you need shelter let’s get you fixed up and set up so you look like you will function…ready, go!” Instead… what if we started with our hearts. What if we started with relationship. Looking into people’s eyes (not just those who “look poor”). My point is. We are all broken. Let’s get to the business of loving everyone. Poor or not.

Jesus teaches me to remember, there’s room for every single person at this table. I’m not the host of this shindig. I didn’t buy this Supper Table. Jesus did. And it wasn’t a Craigslist find. He bought it With His Blood (whoa #preach) And so HOW dare I judge whomever He invites to sit there?? (Spoiler alert: that’d be everyone — EVEN those church people who tried to shine us up so we could look like them).

We all have a place setting at the Table. And it’s my job as a follower of Christ to learn to hear the stories of ALL of those seated around me and LOVE THEM for who they are, and love them for who Christ is making them to be, and to encourage them in that way  — knowing that I AM SO messed up! And Christ invites me *anyway.* And after hearing their stories, it’s my job to share His Story.

 

Dinner at the Mission

Had dinner at the Gospel Mission last night.

Our hometown Mission is doing something I love: bringing a measure of dignity to those they serve. Our Mission’s cafeteria functions like a restaurant. Pretty tables, nice lighting, a choice of two entrées, several desserts, and wait staff and host.

Bringing dignity to people we serve means we see the humanity in everyone and therefore, the Jesus. Brings value to the life around us.

BUT! There’s more to be done! Serving at the Mission is fun. Fulfilling. I get to go home feeling #blessed. But it’s not deep enough.

Last night we were served ourselves at the Mission. We didn’t serve anyone else. We only had dinner there. Like real patrons. Kids and I waited in line with everyone else. Put our name on the list, and sat when we were called. And here’s what was different.

When I serve at the Mission or ANYWHERE, really, whether it’s the park or the hospital or VBS, there’s a level of respect I’m given. I’m the server, you are the served. I am the one dishing out, you are the one accepting. I have the power, you are at my mercy.

No Bueno. Yuck. I’ve always always hated that. You just can’t get real that way.

The remedy: knock it off. Ditch the treats. When I was in line at the Mission, I was one of “them.” I hate that word. I was not the one with the power. I was on the ground floor with everyone else. I was just normal. As far as anyone knew, I couldn’t make rent and my boyfriend was long gone.

But the fake respect was gone. The fake acting, smiling, congeniality, loyalty, eggshells were gone. And those things don’t exist in high doses in real life service anyway but they are there. There’s always an element of fake best-behavior. And I’ve always hated it.

This way, we visited with each other as equals. Because spoiler: we are equals (sheesh). People talked to me about how my kids looked hungry. How they used to drive their kids around until they were asleep. How they used to take them to McDonalds.

When I was doing the Park ministry, bringing food and having a picnic with a small group of people, it eventually erupted into a programmed Feeding Frenzy Program. At that point, when we were feeding 250 people twice a week and I was wondering what on earth I was doing, a lady named Danielle told me “this is nice what you’re doing; I see what you’re doing. It’s nice, but if you really wanted to know us, don’t bring us anything, just have a coffee with us and ask us our story.”

To which my brain responded “Oh hell no.” because that!? Would be terrifying.

And it stung like a thousand bees because I knew she was true. And scary because when we do that, we have to get real. When we can’t hide behind a bag of treats, we have to see that the people we are talking to are normal. Made in Jesus image. Just fine. Maybe even GASP we could share OUR  burdens. (now I’m just talking jibberish). No but really. I’ll know if I have a real relationship with someone because I spill my guts. The marriage stuff, the money stuff, the kid stuff, the past stuff, the fear stuff. I’ll spill that when I’m in a real friendship. Did I ever do that with anyone I’ve had a servant relationship with? HECK NO.

Then I have to ask… are those really relationships worth having? If they’re not even real? There’s two options. Stop serving. Or start serving like Jesus did. Hands open, heart open, in your face, wanting relationship. For real.

How my four year old and his homies are paying tuition for a year of schooling in Haiti

By selling cookies.

Lots and lots of cookies.

Like I’ve said before, we have time on our hands because we ditched our Entertainment Budget. Turns out we have more fun when left to our own vices and with Uncle Benny out of the picture.

For instance, we hear about things like Unforgotten Project at church and instead of heading straight to lunch at a restaurant or zipping off to the movie theater, we go home and think. A lot. Haha. Sounds boring but what happens is this: my kids have quietness in which to ask questions. A lot of questions. So many questions.

And we have nothing distracting us from answering said questions. So it goes like this: Kids: why don’t we pay for these kids to go to school?

Us: Idk, why not?

Kids: Because we have no money.

Us: Ah! You’ve got to work to earn money! What can you do? Is there anything you know how to make!?

Kids: COOKIES!

Us: YES!! And we can sell those cookies at an incredibly inflated mark up! And use the money to pay for your friends’ schooling. Shall we?

Kids: Yes we shall.

And so I send a text to six friends, asking if their kids want to help. Everyone brings an ingredient. And we get to the business of healing the world. One small corner at a time.

Those playmates bring cookies to their grandmas, who are doubled over with joy at the sight of their kids serving someone else. And they buy said cookies for outrageous prices.

It’s not about the cookies.

And then my mama friends see that they’re making a difference, so they bring said cookies to work! And more people get inspired. And my husband bring a sign up sheet to his macho work friends. And they’re on board. And in less than 24 hours, we have made two dozen cookies and raised $70 for our friends in Haiti. Dollars that will pay for education which means there’s an end in sight. This is not a funnel of aid. These are dollars that purchase freedom from need.

And that’s how we change the world, one boogery cookie at a time.

Small and silly? Not to my kids. And not to the kids in Haiti who get to go to school. And not to the moms of the kids in Haiti who for a year can worry a little less. And not to this mom, who watches my kids interacting with the world, and seeing, and noticing, and feeling, and responding. And changing.

 

Miss Mabel and Haitian Education

My kids, at 5, 4, and 2, are too young, I’ve been informed, to go on a Missions Trip.

Ell. Oh. Ell.

First I gotta say, I use the term “missions trip” pretty loosely. That term carries lots of connotations depending on who you talk to. I’m not interested in my kids going to a foreign country for a week and loving people under the condition that they start thinking and acting like they do. It’s just not my cup of tea.

I am, however, interested in gently and quietly stepping into another culture and learning from people who are different than I am and allowing my kids to serve others but also be served. Humbly. I’m interested in getting dirty and asking questions and risking my bank account and learning from other moms across the globe and sharing some pain and finding some healing. Together. And I am interested in sharing the Hope I have because I HAVE been through some stuff and I DO have a relationship with The One who Heals no matter your culture or history. He is Jewish. For the record. Not white. And certainly not rich. (Except that He owns everything. But he was also born in a barn and buried in a borrowed grave. He’s so counter everything! I love Him! 🙂 ).

So they’re simple minded, these kiddos of mine, eating the same sandwich every day and happily content coloring and glittering pictures for friends’ birthdays. They ask, on average, 4856 questions a day. And they laugh non stop. They carry on conversations with strangers in the grocery store and compliment backpackers on their dred locks. Yeah, they definitely know nothing about happiness or joy or learning or how to assimilate.. (Which would get most of us off to a great start on our missions trips!) pfff.

Better to stifle them until they are twelve and then teach them — if they’re even interested by that point–  to be socially loving and accepting “the right way.”

Yeah Right!!! My kiddos *are* little missionaries. Heck my kiddos are big missionaries. Miss Mabel even said so.

Ohhh Miss Mabel! By the time we met Sweet Miss Mabel, she was running our church food pantry. Every single day. She’d run all over town in her gold minivan picking up donations of bread, milk, eggs, fresh produce, and anything else you can think of. Then she’d pass it out to people as they needed, making sure no one in our community was hungry. That’s a big job.

And she didn’t cringe as she let my kids “help” her. She didn’t follow them around fixing everything they did and sighing at the extra work. No. they’d bring their little boxes of pasta roni and their little dried beans and Miss Mabel would stop everything to be with them. She’d shuffle them to the back room and let them painstakingly unload and sort groceries. My 3 and 4 year old! They’d pick out food from a box of donations and she’d coach them as they found the rightful spot on the shelf. She always took time for my kids, making sure they got to serve even if it meant slowing down big time. She never told them they were doing anything wrong.

In fact, quite the opposite! She told them they were missionaries.

And even though it wasn’t perfect, she saw the relationship with them first. She saw the sparkle in their eyes that, if stifled, would never return. She saw that they, too, could look like Jesus and that Jesus in fact commanded that the little children be allowed to be with him and what was He always doing? Serving, talking, listening, praying, walking, fishing, synagoguing, or otherwise kicking it with people. For shame if our kids aren’t allowed to do the same things.

Miss Mabel knew that Jesus did one of his biggest miracles with the help of a little boy and a basket of fish and bread! What if Jesus’ friends would have been successful in keeping the little boy away? Be lots of hungry people and an empty couple of chapters in our Bibles.

So I for one am over it. Done with red tape. We can offer what we do have, and that’s some lunch. Er… dessert. Kiddos are doing their OWN missions trip.

We are baking cookies and selling them and the money goes to the Unforgotten Project. It’s a project near and dear to our hearts, founded by a friend a few years ago. This project works to provide SUSTAINABLE aid to the people of Lastic, Haiti, focusing on education among other real needs like water security. One day, the people of Lastic won’t need Unforgotten Project because they will be self sufficient — the sign of a real good nonprofit with the people of Lastic, not the nonprofit, at the center.

So last time we did this, we got about a dozen four year olds together and baked up a storm. Probably made 200 cookies. And raised $245! Enough to send TWO KIDS TO SCHOOL FOR A YEAR.

My kids are too little to live missionally? Take that, nay sayers!!

This year, we are doing it again. Bigger. More cookies. More chocolate chips. More four year olds. More two year olds. More boogers. But still in our quiet little kitchen where we don’t need a permission slip or a passport or a high five.

Because my kids aren’t going to change the world. They already did for two little kids in Haiti. Not just that, but they roped in a dozen other families who are now aware of Unforgotten Project and the great work it is doing.

And so in the memory of Miss Mabel and with the power of the Christ who fed 5,000 families with the only thing a little boy had to offer — some lunch — we’ll bake these cookies until we have no more clean clothes 🙂 And pray that they will be used for far more than we could ask or imagine.

 

Groceries: The Final Frontier

I have a love hate relationship with groceries. I love to eat them.

But I hate to secure them. I hate to cook them. I hate to plan for them. I hate to store them. I hate to pack them in from the car. I hate to count how much they cost. I hate to wash them, soak them, open them, clean them, bake them.

Eh.

And I hate that they are the last thing standing between me and my fully funded Roth/paid off Mortgage/Retirement at 45. Or whatever that dream was again.

But they taste so good.

When we paid off $100,000 in debt in two years, we did it by controlling each category of our lives at once, like a ring master jaunting around a circus with a 15 foot whip demanding the submission of hungry lions and bears that would threaten to devour him with one wrong move. SNAP!

Not really. I’m not a circus person. Creation care/ animal rights and all of that.

But we ARE pissed about money (I’m learning it’s more of a pissed-at-the-culture, actually) and we have been for some time now. Pissed in a Crack That Whip sort of way. We like to make our money do exactly what we want it to do, all of the time, in every single corner of our lives. We like to scream at it and boss it around. And we don’t take no sass.

When we were dumping debt, we ate beans and rice and rice and beans until our house smelled like Azteca. (yum).

But then we got FREE!!! And when you get FREEE sometimes you forget how you got that way.

Enter the $200 a week grocery budget. (YIKES mama!) Because we are an affluent family of five living in the suburbs with a six figure income and zero debt except the loan we have on the house, we deserve an $800/month grocery bill right!?!?

Ha. Ha. Ha. No.

What we do deserve is to walk in freedom, which means spending whatever the heck we want on food.

And I want to spend less. Like. $440/month less.

This isn’t my first Food Rodeo. The beans and rice schtick was one blip on the Food Graph for me. Since I’m pretty globally minded, I spend a lot of time thinking about how everyone else is eating, and more importantly, surviving. We spend more than an average amount of time questioning what we eat and why we eat it and how other people all over the globe are getting along with their food choices — their own or choices that are made by their circumstances. And why on earth we think we are entitled to stuff our faces (and throw so much away) when other people starve.

This is what keeps me up at night.

And it’s pretty depressing. Always. The $200 a week budget is pretty new…. and it came out of me being lazy. I like to go out to eat and I like to buy things already at least partly cooked. Because in this season of my life, I’ve allowed myself to think cooking is hard and time consuming. LOL. It’s not.  I used to LOVE cooking. But I lie to myself and choose convenience over work.

And I feel guilty about $200 a week. Ugh so guilty. Starving people in China, for starters. But there’s more to it than that. I’ll type that later.

Because the point I want to make is this: This week our budget is $65 a week! And then every week after that it will be in the $90 a week ballpark. That’s less than a buck a meal or thereabouts per person. Ish. Since we have five-ish people here (some are quite small so I’m really counting them as fractional-people. HA!). And there’s room for coffee and maple syrup and cream for my coffee. Yum.

And that’s not bad at all.

The Food Stamp Challenge, where you see what it’s like to eat using food stamps on the  amount the government provides, allows for approximately $25 per person per week (between $1-$1.25 per meal). For us that would be $125/week. Ish.

Sigh I remember the day our Real Life Grocery budget inched up to $125 a week. (It had been at 80). Rejoicing! I could finally afford to buy Oreos once a week.

So we did the Food Stamp Challenge, several times on accident, since our budget was already set at or below that mark. And once on purpose, when I felt guilty for having the $200 budget. And now we are at it again, but from a different angle. From a more pissed angle, if you will. Because this time, I want to fully fund my roth every year AND pay off Mort AND do it on one income, AND we are getting closer and closer to 40, AND our kids want to play sports AND we like to fix up our house AND our kids are growing and so it’s kind of like Now or Never.

The Dollar A Day guys, whom you can watch on Netflix, bring to light some of the challenges the rest of the world faces with food economics. It’s really really hard (slash impossible) to live on one dollar a day, but millions of people do it. So if they can do $1 a day, I am making myself do THREE TIMES that amount. Even that feels guilty. But because while sometimes as a family we challenge ourselves for the sake of gaining empathy for others, this exercise is more of a once for all change I’m making for the rest of our lives. I fully intend on doing the dollar a day challenge for week or two or a month, probably when my kids are older, so we can learn something.

My greatest fear is raising entitled brats.

But for now, we are making a final life change choice that is sustainable long term. Because we’ve done it before. I just got distracted by #RotisserieChickens and #Alfredo. And OREOS!

So for this week so far, I’ve been back in the kitchen cracking that whip. Limiting the meat big time and amping up the plant protiens — quinoa, rice and beans, and hitting the Amazing Egg pretty good. Taco bar, homemade broccoli cheddar soup, homemade bread, homemade graham crackers! (we have littles!), lots of carrots and celery and egglplant and zucchini (yum) and bellas.  And salads out my ears. Yes…. it’s good to be back in the kitchen.

Just like all of this Freedom stuff, there’re secret bonuses to be gained along the way. Yeah we are putting an additional $440 bucks a month into my Roth (Woot Woot!! Which doesn’t translate to stock piling riches for myself. It translates into being free at a younger age to spend money and time making the world a better place in completely my own way. When we don’t have to work a 9-5, because we are only spending $12k a year on survival, and our Roths can support that, then we get to spend time and money loving people and feeding them and talking with them and learning from them) but I’m cooking with my kids. We are eating PLANTS. (Almost time to plant our own garden again… and chickens will be laying this summer.) But we are gaining SO MUCH MORE JOY than what we had with the $200 budget!

It’s fun to eat out and it’s easy to bake some Costco Alfredo. But it’s CRAZY FULFILLING to get up at 4 and bake bread for your kids. And it makes my house smell AWESOME. It’s amazing to stand in my kitchen and help my babies wash and cut veggies. And it’s filling to eat all these plants. I feel like I’m learning to be a slightly better human, from a Creation Care standpoint. (Not because I think the Bible says we can’t eat meat. haha no. But because there’s a LOT that goes into our food before we get it in our bellies, from mistreatment of farm workers, slave labor, animal abuse, altering of ecosystems, pollution at large, etc. As a family we are learning to take care of this world, and that’s hard. But we are trying.)  And from a physical angle I don’t feel as tired and gross anymore because… no processed food (even though we typically don’t hit that very hard anyway…. unless we have $200/week to spend… ugh).

Wahoo. I consider this corner of the budget #conquered.

 

PS please don’t assume I’m judging people who spend $1000 a month on groceries. Or whatever. I just choose differently. We are all learning our own stuff. Enjoy your Costco Alfredo and cheesecakes. I’m enjoying my homemade super healthy CHUNKY MONKEY SMOOTHIES every single night at $.15 a pop. HAHA. And we can all hold hands and sing together on Sunday. 🙂 I just won’t have to go to work on Monday. 🙂