Wednesday, June 25, 2014

God's Money Box

We have always been a cash kind of family. I think being in debt is absolutely horrid from a freedom standpoint, and until my car accident several years ago and the unending medical bills and collection agencies that followed, we had never carried a credit card balance that could not be paid off each month.

We have also always been a church going family. The Wednesday and Sunday night kind--and the ones that make regular money offerings. When my oldest child was very young, I heard a radio show one morning on my way to work that recommended making 'giving money at church' as tangible to children as possible. As soon as they are old enough, give them a quarter to put in the offering plate as it passes by. Make sure every family member does this. When the child is old enough to understand money amounts, then increase that to a dollar. Then five dollars, etc. At some point, encourage them to give their own money, and not just hand over the parent's money. The point of this is to help them understand early on that giving is individual and tangible.

This made sense to me, because I was so used to writing out a check, and many times that was in my own adult class, so my kids would really have no way of knowing that I was even giving anything, much less that they could be giving as well. 

Several years later, we had moved to another state, far away from family, but still going to church, and still living paycheck to paycheck. Money was much tighter than it had ever been, but we were still credit card debt free. This was the first time that the boys became more aware of what 'payday' meant, as in 'no, we can't go get more cheese until payday', and 'I know those shorts are a little tight, but they will work fine until payday'. They were still putting money in the offering plate, but it was not really a tangible concept for them. They had no clue what the money was going for, or that the bulk of what we were giving was still in check form. And when my youngest asked one day why we could not just keep those few dollars and go to Sonic after church instead of waiting for payday, I decided that I needed to be more proactive in their training.

Enter God's Money Box.

It is not really a box. It is more of a tupperware container without a top. It was quickly made by taping a sheet of paper around the outside and writing in a crayon 'God's Money', and was meant to be temporary until I could get something cuter. And box-like.

That was eight years ago...and we still have the same container.

Anyway, it very quickly brought giving and sacrifice to life for my boys. Every payday, I would go to the bank and withdraw some money for the week, mainly for incidentals and cash type purchases. The boys knew that if the cash was gone, then there would be no 'extras' for a while. As soon as we got home from the bank, one of them would take $10 and put it in God's Money Box. We would put spare change in there throughout the week. Maybe an extra dollar every now and then.

Slowly but surely, the money began to add up. We left God's Money Box out on the kitchen counter, so that the boys could see it every day. They learned that this money was not theirs to use for fun stuff, or even food.  We did not 'borrow' from it to go buy cheese or shorts and pay it back later. It was to bless other people. We did not really have a plan for what we wanted to do with the money when we started using it, but we began to look for ways to give that were out of the box, so to speak.

Our first use was to buy a children's museum membership for a great family that loved museums, but just could not swing the fee that year.

We emptied God's Money Box for a family stranded in our town because their medical appointment had run into the next day and they did not have money for a hotel or food.

When people have fund raisers for their personal causes/benefits, we empty it out again. Yes, it is a little strange at times to give amounts like $76.81, but the recipients do not seem to mind.

When there is a canned food drive at school or church, we cash that money in and head to the nearest dollar store for macaroni and canned chili with pop tops.

Massages, or flowers, or frivolous happies for church nursery workers.

There have been so many fun stories that are now part of our larger family story due to what we are learning from God's Money Box.  Things like--

--a little money over time can become bigger money

--large or small amounts can mean a huge deal to people, in need of 'stuff' or encouragement

--we need to be proactive in wanting to serve. If we did not have this system in place, then we would not have access to the money when it could best be used. We still live paycheck to paycheck, but God does not want us to use that as an excuse to hold onto the little we have left over each month.

Ultimately, it is a reminder that this life is not about us, or for us only. Money can become a crutch and a snare, for people who have little and for people who have plenty. Giving and generosity come easy and naturally for some people. Not so much for my boys. Not yet, anyway.

But they are learning. And God's Money Box sure is helping.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Like Battery Acid to the Soul

In the midst of trying to clean out some stuff/papers/cabinets, I found a piece of paper covered in my handwriting. I have no clear recollection of even writing it, but since the paper I wrote on is dated December 2013, then I know it was somewhere around that time. About six months ago, I guess. As I was looking over it to see if it needed to go in the trash bag or in yet another drawer unofficially called 'to be dealt with another time', I thought, "Hey, this is pretty good." If it had not obviously been my handwriting, then I do not think I would even have recognized it.

It was written in my church's prayer room one Sunday morning after the worship service, in that hour I have down time while my youngest is in Sunday School (or whatever it is officially called now). It ends in the middle of a sentence (just like in An Imperial Affliction--google it if you need to), which just means that time ran out and I had to pick up my kid. I thought about finishing out the story before posting this, but figured I would never get around to it, and that last paragraph is worthy of its own post anyway.

All of this set up to say--I think this is good, God inspired stuff, and not because of anything I wrote or thought up on my own.

One of the coolest things that I learned in college did not occur in the classroom. It was in a small Bible Study class, and the topic was about the different names of God. It is not as evident now in English versions of the Bible, but in the original languages, the names of God and the mentions of Him were much more specific. In many places, when the people came to understand something about God in a new way, they would call Him a new name, to reflect that new understanding. Anyway, it is a pretty fascinating topic to study, and adds much depth and understanding to scripture.

It seems that two of the most common names that some people in the know love/claim are Jehovah Jireh, which means "God My Provider" and Jehovah Rapha, "God My Healer"--great names, and so powerful and true about God's nature and character. In fact, right now I am writing this out on the white spaces of my church's weekly prayer list--a trifold brochure that currently has 267 listings for specific health issues. My son has been on the list for two years now. I get the desire and need to pray for healing of health concerns. However, I learned something really cool a few years ago, probably from a Beth Moore study (which is where I learn so much nowadays).

The first mention of Jehovah Rapha is in Exodus 15:26. The backstory is that Moses had just led the Isrealites from Egypt. They have crossed the Red Sea (a very cool story/miracle in itself) and Moses tells them it is time to keep going. After three days with no water, they finally come to a place named Marah that had water, but they could not drink the water because it was so bitter. Then, the people became bitter as well. God performed a miracle by making the water safe to drink. Scripture then has God saying this in verse 26:

And He said, If hearing thou wilt hear the voice of Jehovah thy God, and wilt do what is right in His eyes, and wilt hearken to His commandments, and wilt keep all His statutes, all the disease that I have put on the Egyptians, I will not put upon thee, because I am Jehovah thy healer.  

Or, in another version:

God said, “If you listen, listen obediently to how God tells you to live in his presence, obeying his commandments and keeping all his laws, then I won’t strike you with all the diseases that I inflicted on the Egyptians; I am God your healer.”

I guess the English version 'healer' made so much sense that I had not felt the need to look up its meaning more in depth--I mean, it was talking about diseases, after all. I never knew the original translation for healer at the end of that verse meant "the healer of all my troubles". God called Himself Jehovah Rapha, and although He was/is definitely a healer of physical diseases, it originated as a term to show He was also the healer of bitterness.


Jehovah Rapha was not first introduced to help with blood pressure issues, severed spines or cancer.  He was the one to heal bitterness (and by extension, brokenness, anger, disappointment, confusion, etc). How many people need to experience this kind of healing?

My church prayer list does not even have a category for this. There is a generic heading called Protection/Guidance/Personal, but this week that only contains ten listings, and all of them are missionary/military related. I guess that bitterness issues would be classified as the 'unspoken requests' in the prayer meetings I grew up with. This is by no means limited to my church. I am sure if enough people requested prayer for this, then bitterness would have its own category on the page or in the prayer meetings. I do not think that many people know or acknowledge their need for healing in this way enough.

One of the most powerful 'prayer meetings' I ever attended was right after I got married.  We were visiting a new church, and a young woman started her prayer by telling God how ticked off she was at Him that her freshly stocked freezer had broken that day and how she had gone home after work to hundreds of dollars worth of now ruined food. I mean, she was really

Monday, June 16, 2014

Wisdom--Out of the Mouths of Babes(ish)

This past school year, I taught a small class in my home. Every week about ten high school kids would get together for a couple of hours to talk about world history, literature and the Bible. One of my favorite things to do was read through the written assignments they turned in each week. On the last day of class I was doing a mad rush through all of the things that I needed to get back to them before we finished for the year, and I came across this paper written by one of my students--one that loves to write and has a unique grasp on language (and the appropriate use of high-falutin' words).  Somehow I had completely missed it earlier, and I am not even sure what the particular assignment was for that week, so I read it quickly, made a few comments at the end, and handed it back to him before their great escape out the door to freedom for the summer.

I recently asked him if he would be OK with me posting his words here. He graciously agreed. I keep saying that I am going to write the whole 'where is God when bad things happen' piece from my perspective, but I keep putting it off because I don't want to 'get it wrong' or presume to speak for God. Maybe that is just my excuse for being lazy. However, I love this perspective, and thought you might as well.

It wasn't that he didn't know what to do;  it's that he merely didn't do it. Every day, his life was the habitual practice of smiling, of hiding behind seemingly good spirits and wearing a mask so people would assume that he had it all together. It was easy, too. Having lived his entire life as the son of a pastor, it was easy for him to fake what he felt and easier, too, to deny it. Now, it wasn't that he was bad in the stereotypical, rebel-against-the-Christian-life way;  he merely wasn't active in his faith.  Sure, he was a Christian, and sure, he did his best to not sin;  however, his relationship with God had, as far as he could tell, evaporated. That, then, was the problem.

It seems sickening that the relief should have come from the tragedy of another. It was January. Things were normal, even to the strictest way possible. He was, at the time, at his grandparents' house when the news came. Of all the things in life to disrupt the normality of things, the announcement that one's good friend has recently been diagnosed with cancer is amongst the top of the list. Such it was, then, that when he, only twelve, heard the news, he was grieved; not like the simple oh-I-hope-he-gets-better kind of grieved, but more like the deeply felt, heart grasping fear and wonder and all those things that come with the announcement that one's good friend has recently been diagnosed with cancer. Such a thing is cancer, that when it enters one's life personally, one only then understands the reverence with which we should welcome life. No one truly understands this so much, though, as he who actually has the cancer. Still, though, the boy wondered. Still, though, he thought; and still, though, he prayed.

That was something that the young twelve-year-old was not in the practicing of doing. Praying, reading the Bible, actively pursuing God--or pursuing Him at all--these were not things that he did.  As I've mentioned, though, he was a Christian. However, if someone releases a prisoner from prison, the prisoner can either live life as a free man or mope about as though he were still imprisoned. So it is with Christianity. When God sets us free, we are free indeed; but all too often, we either fail to realize it or simply fail to care. So it was with the boy. He was saved, but he wasn't actively living out his faith. His life had no prayer or spiritual growth in it at all; and prayer is to a Christian as air is to a human. A Christian should no sooner not pray than a human should any sooner not breathe.  Nevertheless, the boy failed to realized this. His life, then, was empty.

However, when his good friend was diagnosed with cancer, it gave him reason that was good enough, he felt, to pray. So began again his prayer life. Soon, he was praying every day. A daily devotion with God became common practice. He began to actively live out his life for Christ.

Why anyone gets cancer is a question that many people have tried to answer. I believe that some of their answers are correct, and that other answers aren't so much. Why the boy's good friend got cancer, I cannot say. Perhaps it was for the friend's own spiritual growth, perhaps it was for the growth of their family relationship. Whatever the purpose, I am without doubt that it was for a reason. And, in the grand scheme of things, maybe, just maybe, the boy's friend's cancer might have saved the young twelve-year-old's faith, because up to that point, the boy felt like he had no reason to pray, and prayer is a vital part of any Christian's life. The boy does not nullify the treachery and the devastation of his friend's cancer. He merely admits that without his friend's cancer, his faith would certainly not be as strong as it is today.

Thank you, Cade, for those beautiful words of wisdom.

(2019 update -- Cade in currently in college and planning on going to medical school to become a Pediatric Oncologist. How cool is that?)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Fault in Our Culture

Over two years ago, when we were newbies in the Cancer Club, I posted about some of the good resources that I had discovered. One of them included the book The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. This is what I wrote then--

The Fault in Our Stars, written by John Green--I suppose this would be labeled as Young Adult fiction, and I would never have bought it if we were not in this place. The main characters of the book meet at a teen cancer support group, so it takes a coming of age story in a new direction. The main guy, Gus, has the same type of cancer as Harrison (osteosarcoma), and is fourteen months NEC (no evidence of cancer).  It is not a feel good book, per se, and is not the kind of book that would be found at Bible Book Stores. The kids have cancer, and kids with cancer are sick and vomity and some of them die. Plus, they are teenagers, so that tends to take the story in places that too many YA fiction books go to nowadays (think Juno-esque). But, for some reason, it was good to for me to read. Not for my mom, or husband, or even Harrison to read, though. Not yet. Maybe when he is about five or six years NEC. 

The book had just recently been released at that time. Yesterday the movie version was released in theaters nationwide. Through good timing and circumstances, I was able to see the first showing of the day. I was prepared with my full box of Kleenex and post-movie chocolate. I knew it would be a sob fest, and it was. I knew it was something for me to watch alone, and I was.

So, what did I think?

I was impressed with how true to the book it was. Almost all of the dialogue and situations were from the book. The characters were strong and believable. I was not sure the character of Gus would be done well, but the actor (Ansel Elgort -- is that not a great name?) did a very good job. The adult characters were more one dimensional, which is understandable given the movie is not about them directly, and this is where the book did a much better job of showing how the situations that the teens found themselves living in affected the parents. That being said, it was the few parts of the movie with the parent scenes that affected me the most. You know, like rushing into a room with the kid yells because you don't know if it is a normal 'I need you to see something' yell, or if there will be body fluids involved. Cancer Club stuff. But again, just like when I read the book, it was therapeutic.  Maybe not for my mom, or husband, but for me.

Because it is Hollywood, the movie placed a significant focus on the romance/language part of the relationships between the main characters. In a PG-13 way. I am not surprised, but this still makes me sad. In the book, the physical relationship was more implied than described, and the mom in me liked this. This is not the case with the movie, and my heart was sad at the number of young people who will be seeing this movie and have their hearts captivated by a story of love and friendship and validation that will stay in their imaginations, in large part because of the physical images of intimacy portrayed.  Call me old fashioned or prudish, but I am still a firm believer that sex is for marriage only, even for cancer kids and folks that will not make it to marriage. But I digress....

I liked the book. I liked the movie. I hate cancer. I also hate cultural norms that devalue goodness and truth.

And speaking of goodness and truth--what goodness and truth can be found in cancer (or anything else horrific, for that matter)?  That post is coming soon...

My used Kleenex and remaining chocolate stash after the movie.

Disclaimer:  I am not recommending this book or this movie for anyone other than me. This may not be for you. And if you have children who may be reading/watching it, you should definitely be informed (not just for this, but for any book/movie). It will affect their hearts.  You can read a review of The Fault in Our Stars here.