Sunday, April 13, 2014

50 Things I've Learned While Living In Dallas

1. I like living in the country
2. Chick-fil-a is the best-run fast food restaurant I've ever been too.
3. I thoroughly enjoy administrative and organizational jobs
4. You can live small after having children.
5. I like green ice cream. Green tea. Pistachio. My favs. 
6. Pick a mechanic you trust and then always, always take your car only to him.
7. If you don't know how to fix cars, don't buy a really old used car.
8. Austin rocks. Best city in Texas.
9. You can find community in a big church.
10. Don't bother insuring a very old car outside of the minimum required. Not worth it.
11. There are communities of refugees in most American cities. You just have to find them.
12. Dallas is not a good city in which to have to rely on public transportation, unless you work downtown.
13. Blue Bell ice cream is the best ice cream... ever.

14. How to pay for a baby: Save up all of your deductible, no matter how high, and then a couple extra thousand.
15. In fact, when comparing salaries for possible jobs, subtract your deductible, because it's very possible you'll pay it out every year.
16. Mediterranean food is the most vege packed and delicious type of cuisine that Isaac and I can agree on.
17. It pays to stick it through the hard stages at a job. You may end up loving it... and there's more upward mobility than you realize.
18. Suffering and difficulty is normative. I should not be surprised by or resentful of it.
19. If you get in a wreck, always have your car towed to the mechanic you trust, not to the closest spot.
20. Never go to the emergency room unless you are dying.
21. On a high deductible plan, even standard doctors visits and regular immunizations are expensive. 
22. The teens of wealthy families are just as broken, if not more, than those of the poor.
23. An authentic community takes time, sacrifice, commitment, and work. It's worth it.
24. Marriages can go from functioning well to disaster very quickly. PS - not speaking of my own marriage!
25. People change. It's incredible to watch. But then, some people don't change.
26. Vietnamese food rocks. Tip - everyone loves pho, but a grilled pork bahn mi is the real winner.
27. Mums are the most ridiculous high school prom tradition ever.
28. Turning 30 isn't bad at all.
29. I love and resonate with Philip Yancey, Larry Crabb, and Tim Keller.
30. Suffering is normative. The key is how we respond to the suffering we all encounter.
31. The evangelical world is still pretty uncomfortable with working moms and stay-at-home dads.
32. Having kids changes a marriage.
33. Dallas is a city of suburbs, which sucks at first glance. In the middle of the burbs and strip malls are communities from around the world. You just have to look.
34. Tacos are not what you grew up with at Taco Bell. Tacos for breakfast, tacos with lime and onion and cilantro, tacos with all sorts of hipster toppings... tacos are where it's at.
35. It is not impolite in Dallas to bluntly ask people for funding and to ask them again... and again.
36. Green tea leaves are best on the second and third brewing.
37. Most things I worry about in my kids are stages. It will pass.
38. In every stage, engage with the struggles your kid is having.
39. If you are uncomfortable with something, it is YOUR responsibility to engage it towards change. You cannot wait and hope for others to realize your discomfort and come to you about it. This is true in work, marriage, and community.
40. Lots of people actually are very interested in faith and would like to discuss it.
41.Always call your insurance immediately after being in a wreck and before leaving the scene. Do not assume the other person will own responsibility, even if they say they will.
42. Pay the ticket. It's more expensive to pay for going to court to fight a ticket than it is just to pay it.
43. Texas has no income tax. This is amazing and wonderful and genius.
44. Birth is hard, yes, but recovery from birth is longer and messy and sometimes equally traumatic
45. Be daring. Sometimes you might regret it, but sometimes you might love it (like when I chopped off all my hair and got a pixie cut)
46.  Cynicism may be cool, but it doesn't help the problems.
47. My role in this life, my vocation, my calling, is to participate with the rest of the Church in God's mission in the world, calling all things back to Himself.
48. Urgent care centers like Carenow are probably the way to go when uninsured or on a high deductible plan.
49. Teenagers are just as cutting to adults as they are to each other. Be the adult and don't take it personally.
50. Yes, people really do care that much about their guns.

Monday, April 7, 2014

On the impersonal nature of charitable giving in the USA

I really struggle with the way we give in the USA.

We give a lot. Statistically, we are a very charitable country, and that's great. We give to a lot of things. We provide tax write-offs to continue to build a culture of philanthropy. That's great. But...

It struck me over Christmas. There were all these commercials and blogs and feel-good stories about people giving instead of getting, and we all have our hearts warmed by the ability to do something special for really needy people. But... I also felt a little cynical. There were some needs I knew of this Christmas that were really personal and I thought how much those on the receiving end were grateful for the gift, but would much rather simply have not needed it. The giving can feel a little like taking advantage of hardship in order to get a one-time feel-good high without managing to make a long-term difference.

It struck me in Chicago. I remember people from my company going to host an event at an orphanage. Externally it was such a good thing. We put on activities for the kids, it really sweet, and it's really great that instead of just hoarding corporate profits, this money was being spent on kids in need, right?

And yet. How much was for the good of those kids and how much was actually so that WE could get the warm fuzzies of a beautiful party and delighted children and pat ourselves on the back for doing a good thing, and then never see those kids again. Did they actually benefit from our fancy party? Or did it just increase the distance between us and them? Why is so much of our giving to the poor so impersonal?

A study I did recently was emphasizing thankfulness over discontentment. The action point was to go and serve someplace with people in true need, like a soup kitchen, and then to spend some time really pondering those people and your life. The intent obviously being that you come away struck with how much you really have and how petty your discontentment is. True, you might. But in the process you increase the distance between them, the really broken, the really needy, and you, who are in contrast really fine. Us. Them.

Our church did this thing where everyone was given a small amount of cash and challenged to consider how God would have them use it.  Awesome. I was struck, though, in reading through the stories of how the money was used, that the vast majority of people gave their money to a big charity. This tells me that most people don't know of a personal need that they could meet, so their best bet is to give to a charity that has great marketing and gives their donors warm fuzzies. The fact that we buy houses in neighborhoods with people all like us means we isolate ourselves from being in close relationship to greater need and brokenness.... or just plain diversity.

I worked with refugees in Dallas until we moved up to McKinney. It was wonderful. But it was amazing to see how much we want to give... clothes... food.... gifts... money. But not really personal relationships. That's too hard. We want to GIVE. Not get involved personally. And yet at a symposium of all the organizations working with refugees in DFW, a panel of refugees that have been here for a long time now said that what is truly needed in the refugee community is just friendship. Long-term, invested friendship. 

We had someone we talked to this year tell us that they have decided not to give to anything they don't know about personally because only when they really know the people are they able to engage emotionally and really be "cheerful givers". Well, there's that. But it could also be that your giving is really for yourself, so that you feel good, rather than simply in obedience. 

Jen Hatmaker hit it on the nose when she spoke at the IF:Gathering and talked about being totally convicted by the needs in the world and thinking that my word, they were going to have to move to Africa if they were really going to obey God's call to go to the least of these. And through all of that angst, they had a widower next door to them who was totally dysfunctional and thus the butt of neighborhood jokes. The needs next door are sometimes invisible to us, because sometimes really giving is slow, daily work that involves friendship and time and isn't particularly gratifying.

There was some time during our life here in Dallas when we couldn't pay our bills and were reeling from car repairs and baby bills, and realizing our own need was really convicting. People gave to us, and that was SO humbling and beautiful. But. You know what the best and most empowering gifts were that year? A man I know in Wichita contacted me with advice about car insurance. I got a promotion at work. Some people online gave me guidance about handling medical bills and paying out over time.

None of that feels like "giving", but they met more needs than one-time gifts could, lasted over time, and gave me the ability to handle our finances and life with confidence and personal investment instead of just passively receiving. If you teach a man to fish...

Sure, if we give to, say, a program that provides gifts for children of single parents, that's great. But if you're a single parent family, you will be more powerfully spoken to if people that you KNOW are talking to you, helping you, and celebrating with on the holidays. Relationship.

I'm not saying that giving is bad. Far from it. I am saying, though, that we need to think hard about whether we are giving for ourselves, or if we are giving out of obedience to God. I am saying that we need to think about a lifestyle of giving that combines love, relationship, and finances, rather than giving impersonally. I am saying that we should be so involved in our community that we know the needs and are meeting them.... in whatever way we can.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Things I Will Miss

Off the top of my head, with full awareness that this list will change.

- Spring (in Dallas)
- Fall (in Chicago - already miss it!)
- Blue Bell ice cream
- Yelp
- Fast internet
- with prime free 2-day shipping
- biking and walking trails
- church in my native language
- cheese and yogurt, especially Cabot sharp white cheddar
- Chick-fil-a (with play places!)
- small group community with a shared value on authenticity
- CareNow
- Mediterranean, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese and Mexican food.
- Netflix

Things I will not miss?

- Most fast food joints
- medical bills
- car insurance
- American evangelical politics
- middle-class cultural expectations
- car culture
- the mommy bubble

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Adventure Around the Corner

Today we worked out our international banking, took passport photos for the last stage of visa details, and brought home the Walmart ship-to-store suitcases that we ordered.

There are boxes all over, and things in small piles. It's getting a bit stressful.

We heard that our future co-workers just got their visas, which means ours might be coming soon. This is what we want, but when we heard it we looked at each other with panic in our eyes because there is so much to do.

It feels like things are about to get real. This whole packing-everything-you-own-and-taking-two-small-children-across-the-world thing is a little big crazy.

As I work on all of these details, I have moments when I remember. Arriving in Indonesia is one of my very first memories, if not THE first memory. It was hot and humid. We were in a line, I assume for customs. It was unfamiliar, I was grumpy after the international flight. I remember waking up that night in a guesthouse. Everything was dark and yet I was wide awake and hungry. Mom and Dad fed us airplane cracker packets.

I don't remember life before those moments, but my parents were actually married for six years before they moved to Indonesia. How odd is it that to our kids, the nearly nine years of marriage and six years in Dallas and another six in Chicago will be.... meaningless? It will be pre-history to them. This move we are making here will likely be... their lives.

My first years in Indonesia were spent in Western Indonesia, before we moved to Papua. I remember our little house with a metal post fence and a man named JoJo who functioned as a night watchman. I went to an Indonesian pre-school where we wore uniforms and I got away with a lot because I was a bossy oldest child and likely the teachers were afraid to tell me no. I learned Indonesian instinctively, and I remember knowing things my parents didn't. I learned songs that today I sing as lullaby's to my kids. We took rickshaws to get around.

We slept on beds with long pillows and just sheets. I learned to enjoy sleeping on the tile floor when it was hot. My mom started to learn to cook some Indonesian things. She adapted Indonesian rice porridge to American tastes by cooking it with cinnamon and sweetened condensed milk instead of salt and peanuts. I made it this morning for Judah.

How much of this move will be like going back to the place I grew up? Will this be home? Will it be home to my children? Will it ever be home to my husband?

These questions are in my head, but I am not carrying them heavily. There is no end to the angsty wrestling with "home" and stability in a TCK's life. Instead I just go because of calling and vocation and love and service. How it feels, how relationships are built, and if it ever feels like home, well... that will pan out.

I will treat it all as a grand adventure. For me. For us. For our kiddos. We are getting on an airplane with two small people, our fellow passengers will hate us, our first few days in the middle of jet lag will be insanity, and then we will begin a new daily life in the tropics of Java.

I smile as I picture it in my head. What an adventure. I am excited. I and scared. But mostly excited.