Charity begins

I really believe that Americans are some of the most generous people in the world.  I also believe that Americans are some of the most selfish people in the world.  And I most certainly include myself in these statements.  I know, it’s confusing.

As a whole, when a crisis occurs, as in the 9/11 tragedy, America pulled together.  We were united in our desire to help our neighbors, loved ones, friends, and strangers.  We willingly emptied our pockets and our hearts to help those who were so closely affected by the terrorist attacks on our nation.  It was a beautiful thing to watch perfect strangers reach out to each other in a way our nation has not done before.  Sometimes it was done through organizations like American Red Cross, but in many cases it was just one person offering a helping hand to another.  It was endearing and noble, and selfless.  It was charity in perfection.

Recently we received the first of many Christmas giving catalogs.  We like to support organizations that are helping to feed, clothe, and train people out of poverty.  I often have tears in my eyes and a huge lump in my throat as I look through these catalogs.  Not just because of the moving photos and heart-warming success stories, but because I look around my own house and see nothing but excess.   We’re not rich by any American standard.  We’re solidly middle-class.  We work hard for what we have, and we have more than we’ll ever need really.  And yet I often find myself using sentences like, “I need a new pair of shoes,” or “I need to get my hair colored,” or “I need some mums to plant in the yard for fall.”  Of course these really aren’t ‘needs’, just wants.  But in our American mindset these are often treated as needs.  As a whole, and yes, this is a very broad statement, we are a needy, selfish bunch of people who live in excess rather than necessity.

The reason I get teary eyed looking at these charity catalogs is because I see people who can truly live and thrive with the most meager and humble of possessions.  The gift of a single goat to a family in Guatemala can change their life monumentally.  It seems like such a trivial thing to us, and yet these are people who can build a business out of one animal.  They can feed their family.  They can help others.  It’s just a single goat, not world peace.  But that’s the key.  They don’t need world peace to make a difference.  And neither do we.  It just takes one person, doing something for someone else to make that difference.

I’m sure I don’t have to say it, but the holidays are fast approaching.  Kids are already starting to get those Christmas catalogs too.  The ones filled with toys and games and gadgets.  Already phrases like, “I need a cell phone,” or “I need a new PS3,” or “I need a new Macbook” are starting to fly around.  And the sad thing is, they really believe they ‘need’ these things too.  Just like I believe I need mums for the yard or another pair of shoes.

But what we really need is to develop a sense of charity.  We need to look around us and be more sensitive to the guy standing on the street corner holding a sign asking for help.  We need to realize that shelters in our community are filled with people who truly have no place to go.  That families are being torn apart by violence, drugs, alcohol, and abuses of other kinds.  These are our neighbors, our loved ones, our friends, and even strangers.  And sure, there are people out there who are playing the system.  There are genuine crooks, scammers, and bums who want to take advantage of the compassion of others.  And that’s okay.  Some day they’ll have to answer for their actions, whether it’s here or in eternity.  But we have to not worry about being ripped off.  We have to stop expecting the worst of people.  We need to train ourselves out of the mindset of “I need…” and start thinking more along the lines of “how can I help?”  It starts with us.  Not with Governments.  Not with foundations.  Not even with churches.  Just us.  If we want to change the world we have to start doing it ourselves.  Charity needs to begin in the heart.  It needs to begin now.


Reading is FUNdamental

Did you know that 50% of American adults are unable to read and comprehend an 8th grade level book? (1)

Or how about this: 46% of American adults cannot understand the label on their prescriptions. (2)  That’s a scary thought….

1/3 of all high school graduates will never read another book the rest of their life; and 42% of college graduates will never read another book after college. (3)

80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year. (3)

70% of American adults have not been in a bookstore within the last 5 years. (3)

57% of new books purchased are not read to completion. (3)

Of those people surveyed who do read, 53% read fiction, and 43% read non-fiction.   The most popular fiction category is mystery and suspense, which accounts for 19% of all fiction read.  (4)

This one was a shocker for me.  A successful fiction book only sells 5,000 copies, and a successful non-fiction book only sells 7,500 copies.  (5)

Each day in the U.S. people spend 4 hours watching television, 3 hours listening to the radio, and only 15 minutes reading magazine articles.  (6)

There are about 120,000 new books published each year, however of that number 70% of them never make a profit or even enough to cover their advance. (7)

The point I’m trying to make here is that most American’s do not read.  I find that so sad.  And not that I’m a great connoisseur of the written word myself, but merely the fact that we have allowed ourselves to become so uneducated.  For me, the biggest shocker was the statistic that points to America’s obsession with television.  I don’t know what year that statistic was generated, but I suspect the internet would rival at least the amount of time people spend listening to the radio.  Frankly, I fail to see the appeal in television.  We canceled our cable service about nine months ago, and I haven’t even for a second missed it – we didn’t watch it when we were paying for it either.  I find television to be frustrating – too many ridiculous commercials.

As you might have noticed, I’ve added a Bookshelf to my blog – it’s in the right hand column just past my Blogroll.  As I’ve already said, I’m not a great reader.  For me it goes in spurts.  If I find a good book I can’t put it down.  If I find a bad book I won’t ever pick it back up again.  I am primarily a fiction reader – I adore brain candy.  I prefer two types of fiction: mystery and suspense, and Christian romance – more specifically, Amish romance.  I’m a huge sucker for Beverly Lewis and have read all of her books.  In the mystery and suspense category my three favorite authors are Agatha Christie (specifically, Hercule Poiroit and Miss. Marple mysteries), Tim Downs (I can’t get enough of the Bug Man novels), and Patricia Cornwall, although Ms. Cornwall tends to get a bit potty mouthed for my taste at times.  I’ve had to stop reading more than one of her books because the language just got too graphic for me.

But as you might notice from my Bookshelf, it’s not just fiction on the list.  I am also reading Crazy Love, Radical (by David Platt – not the Saul Olinsky book), and Lies Women Believe.  So far, these have turned out to be excellent Christian living and devotional books.  The first two take a fresh look at authentic Christianity; well fresh isn’t quite the right word as the truth they’re touting are actually old – first century kinda truths, but far beyond the bounds and comforts of our modern day Christianity.  And Lies Women Believe has been a profound read into the mind and heart of the very deception and Deceiver who seeks to destroy Christian women everywhere.  I think I’m going to be using this as one of my fall Bible study books for my ladies group.

But enough about me, what about you?  Are you a reader?  If so, what kinds of books do  you like?  Do you have a favorite author or series you just can’t put down?  If you’re not a reader, why is that?  I’m terribly curious.

(1) Jonathan Kozal, Illiterate America  (2) American Medical Association  (3) The Jenkins Group Inc. & Para Publishing  (4) Publishers Weekly  (5) The Author’s Guild  (6) Veronis, Suhler and Associates  (7) Bookwire & Jenkins Group Inc.

Sore, sore, and more sore…

Did I mention that I’m sore?  If not, I want to let you know that I’m really sore.  My back is killing me.  My legs are tired.  Even my stomach muscles hurt.  Why, you ask?  Simply put, I’m out of shape, over weight, and doing manual labor is a killer!

Last night was the first evening (of many to come) for us to spend out at the land working.  We had to mow.  The grass and weeds were waist deep in most parts of the pasture, and we’ve only got push mowers.  **Let me just mention here how very important it is for us to get a riding lawn mower ASAP!**  We didn’t mow much.  Just enough to get the sheep pen set up.  Friday morning, Sam and I head down to Savannah to pick up our first two dairy lambs.  Fortunately, they’re just lambs, so they won’t need a ton of space right now, so we’ll have time to continue to mow down the fenced pasture and move them around a bit each day so they can eat new forage.  I’m really excited about their arrival, but not so excited about all the work that will go into it.

One of the things that saddened me as I worked last night was the amount of trash strung out in this pasture.  Not just weeds, but odd bits of wood, broken branches from trees that were never cleared out, plastic bags, old cardboard boxes, broken watering buckets, even some old tires and scrap metal.  It’s like someone has been using this area as a personal dumping ground.  I know that there were horses and goats on this property before, and as I was picking up all the trash and debris it made me wonder what kind of life those animals had, trying to negotiate around all the crap in the field in order to eat.  That’s certainly one thing that I know our animals won’t have to contend with – I’m not a big fan of the ever-growing trash pile.  Especially not when it’s in the middle of a pasture.  I suspect we’ll be havin’ a bonfire before too much longer!

Even though I’m sore as a well digger, I’m excited about this new farming adventure we’ve embarked upon.  Being good stewards of the land is an important Biblical value to me.  Helping to teach people how to live a better life through their food is also paramount.  Enjoying the company of the animals is a bonus.  But finding a way to make a genuine difference in this world is priceless.  I hope you’ll join us!

Meaningless. Completely meaningless.

I’ve recently started reading the book of Ecclesiastes.  It’s depressing.  It’s hard to understand.  It’s very philosophical.  Solomon says things like:

“Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.” (Eccl. 1:8)

Boy, isn’t that the truth.  It seems like we’re always on the hunt to know more, to do more, to see more, to hear more, to attain more.  More, more, more, more, more.  That’s the motto of our American life.

As I read through the first couple of chapters of the book, I got the impression that Solomon; in his quest for ultimate wisdom; conducted a controlled experiment in life.  In many scholarly circles, Solomon is known as the half-hearted king.  Meaning, that when he began his reign, he was serving the Lord God; however by the end he’d become a victim of his lifestyle.  He’d amassed great wealth, power, women, and notoriety.  Despite all he had gained (at least by the world’s standards), in the end, he sums it all up by saying, this life seems so pointless – that all his searching for wisdom and madness and folly (outside of the Lord) was pointless (Eccl. 1:17 paraphrased). In his search for pleasure Solomon found none that was lasting.  He concluded that laughter fades.  Accomplishments are forgotten.  People disappoint.  Life is hard.  Inheritances will be squandered by those who never worked for them.   Justice is thwarted.  Good people suffer greatly, and evil people prosper.  Fairness is relative.  Our bodies will fail.   And on it goes.

You see, the essence of the book is that a life lived outside of Christ is pointless.  Period.  There can be no joy without the acknowledgement and acceptance of Jesus Christ and what He did for us on the cross.  Oh, we can be happy.  We can feel contented.  We can even be ecstatic over things.  But joy isn’t an emotion, it’s a state of being; and that state of being only comes when we’re truly at peace.

Solomon concludes his sad book with this beautiful and poetic proclamation:

“Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.”  Remember him before the light of the sun, moon, and stars is dim to your old eyes, and rain clouds continually darken your sky. Remember him before your legs—the guards of your house—start to tremble; and before your shoulders—the strong men—stoop. Remember him before your teeth—your few remaining servants—stop grinding; and before your eyes—the women looking through the windows—see dimly.

Remember him before the door to life’s opportunities is closed and the sound of work fades. Now you rise at the first chirping of the birds, but then all their sounds will grow faint.

Remember him before you become fearful of falling and worry about danger in the streets; before your hair turns white like an almond tree in bloom, and you drag along without energy like a dying grasshopper, and the caperberry no longer inspires sexual desire. Remember him before you near the grave, your everlasting home, when the mourners will weep at your funeral.

Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well.  For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”  Eccl. 12:1-7

Serve the Lord now my dear friends.  Serve Him whole-heartedly – neither turning to the right nor the left.   Take hold of wise King Solomon’s advice and serve Him before it’s too late.  Jesus promises to fill your life with immeasurable joy if you’ll let him; and life will no longer be meaningless.

FRESH the movie

This morning as we’re getting ready for church, Sam comes bounding up the stairs nearly giddy with excitement over a new movie that’s coming out this spring called FRESH (<—–CLICK on the name to see the official website and to watch the trailers).  The movie is a happier spin-off of Food, Inc., and after watching the previews I’m so excited for it to come out.

In the past eighteen months, both Sam and I have radically changed our way of thinking in regard to the food we eat and grow.  When we moved to Georgia in 2008 we began vegetable gardening as a way to fill Sam’s sleddog void, and for something for me to do during my days at home.  With our first plateful of truly vine-ripened tomatoes back in 2008 we were hooked, and decided we wanted to try and grow all our own fresh produce.  That began a three-year plan to become completely vegetable and fruit self-sufficient.

However, in the last year or so, we’ve become increasingly and alarmingly aware of the dangers of the rest of the foods we regularly consume.  Things like “healthy” eggs, skim and 1% milk, “trans-free” margarine, “diet” sodas and “vitamin water” mix-ins, “whole wheat” pastas and breads, “low-fat” fruited yogurts and ice creams, etc.  As we began reading labels and considering how chemically, sugar, sodium, and MSG packed our diets had become (even in the foods we’ve been led to believe were healthy for us) we began to understand our various health ailments – things like slow weight loss (and in most cases weight gain), heart palpitations, kidney problems, muscle aches, migraines, water retention and bloating, and a variety of other issues I won’t bore you with.  Suffice it to say, that Food, Inc. opened our minds and eyes to what we should have seen all along, and yet didn’t because it has been elaborately veiled from us by those who stand to make the most money off of what we’re eating.

The bottom line for us is, we’re taking control.  We’re fighting back.  No longer are we content to sit back and just shrug our shoulders in defeat.  God created this brilliant ball of green-space just for us, His creation.  And, not only did he entrust us with this magnificent rock, but He even gave us a manual for living, eating, and caring for it (we like to call it the Bible).  So we will rake and hoe the soil.  We will plant seeds and trees and care for them.  We will harvest and preserve and pickle until our fingers are green and wrinkled.  We will grow our own rabbits, chickens, and beef, and we will eat it all.  We will hunt more.  We will make our own butter, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, clotted cream, and other dairy products.  We will grow our own grains and we will grind them and make our own breads and cakes.  And we are going to become beekeepers as well.   And we will do it all (or as much as possible) without hormones, steroids, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and in God’s timing, not our own.   We have determined to live our life as stewards of God’s creation, not manipulators of it.  I hope you’ll consider joining the revolution too.

The old dog can still learn a few new tricks…

Today I submitted my application to Kennesaw State University. I’m nervous – really nervous. I’ve been checking out their website for over a year now. Waiting, watching, praying, thinking. I’ve himmed and hawed around for 14 months, debating – should I, shouldn’t I – I can do it, no I can’t. I’ve chewed down a few nails in the process too. This is a big decision. And one that could demand a great deal of my time and energy for the next couple of years. It may even mean giving up my beloved Tuesday morning Bible study group. Oh, it’s not a job application if that’s what you’re thinking. It was my application to become a full time student at the University.

Yep, you read it right. My enrollment application. At 33 years old, I want to go back to college as a full time student. See why I’m nervous?! The thought of spending my day surrounded by twenty-two thousand 18-22 year olds, fresh out of high school and full of youthful vim and vigor scares the pants right off of me. But, at 33 years old, I’ve realized that a girl just isn’t going to get ahead in life without some kind of education. My worst fear is that something will happen to Sam – he’ll die, or be disabled, or lose his job, or a dozen other horrible possibilities, and he will no longer be able to bring home the bacon. In that situation, it will be my job to take up the reigns for this family, and on my current earning potential, there won’t be any bacon involved!

I will freely admit, I’ve gotten comfortable in my housefrau lifestyle. It’s Biblical, and I like Biblical. I really do like being a kept woman. You can call me old-fashioned if you like, I don’t mind. I do adore the June Cleaver look! But every day when I wake up at 8:00 a.m. and see the final push of folks rushing off to work I have a slight pang of regret. I think to myself, “I should be one of them. I need to be a productive member of society. I need to be a contributing member of this household…” Plus, I just miss having cash in my pocket all the time!

But it’s tough being in the working world when you’re uneducated. Sure, I’ve got some college under my belt and a whole lotta years of experience in different fields. I’ve been very successful in my previous jobs, but I was never on a career path. Because of my lack of education I was limited in where and what I could do. And frankly, I didn’t want to be a bank teller or new account representative or a retail store manager or a florist or a data entry clerk for the rest of my life. I want something more, something better, something inspiring. I want to do something I love, not just something I’m good at.

Do you know that in all my years of working my fingers to the bone, the most I’ve ever been able to earn is just over $31k a year. How sad is that? No wonder most families have to have multiple incomes just to survive. On that kind of pay, if I were the only provider in our family we wouldn’t even be able to survive for two months where we are right now.

At 18 I entered college wide eyed and fresh faced. I didn’t have a clue about life, about money, about responsibility, about working hard…really about anything. And yet I thought I had it all figured out. I was not a good steward of the time and resources that were available to me and I decided I didn’t need an education in order to be successful. After just three academically pathetic semesters, I left school to pursue my dreams of wealth and power – on my own at minimum wage no less. Wish I’d been smart enough to knuckle under and do what I needed to do all those years ago when I had the chance.

Now, fifteen years later I’m going to enter college for the second time, only this time I’m a little more world-wise and job-weary; and I’m going to get it done and do it right. This time, I don’t care about being the popular one or the life of the party. I’m not looking for a husband or a good time. I’m on a mission. A mission to better myself, so I can in turn better my family.

Pray for me…I may have just lost my marbles!