The Risks of Class Envy

Class envy is a huge threat to the poor and the needy.

Read to the end to understand my meaning. Often, the best thing we can do for the poor is to not simply help them today but to empower them to help themselves and seek to break the cycles of poverty.

I write of this from personal experience from living in poverty. Without going into too many details, I’ve lost almost everything I owned twice in a lifetime. The first time was after my parent’s divorce and a scandal involving my father. The second time was 13 years ago, a year after my husband and I started our own digital arts business. Our home and business burned on a Saturday night. Our kids were ages 5 and 7. That Sunday morning, we went to church in borrowed clothes and borrowed shoes, without a home or livelihood but with no idea where we would sleep that night or how we would provide for our children.

Add to that I’ve been on my own since age 18. I’ve spent time as a couch surfer because I had no home, I spent a month sleeping on the living room floor of a friend’s apartment because I had no home, and have gone hungry because the cupboards were bare and the refrigerator was empty.

So I discuss class envy from the perspective of someone who’s pulled herself out of poverty by her bootstraps – on more than one occasion.

I am thankful for many people who stepped up and helped us in many different ways. If I tried a lifetime, I couldn’t pay their generosity forward.

One of the greatest things they gave me was encouragement and confidence, as well as opportunities for our family to work ourselves out of messes. We rebuilt our home and business. When the economy went south in 2008, we kept the business going and scrambled every way we possibly could to get through it.

If we had wasted time and energy on class envy, we wouldn’t have had enough left over to find solutions. Every moment spent resenting those who have more, who drive a nicer car, or live in a nicer home is a moment that could have been better spent savoring what we do have and working to tend our own gardens.

Further, class envy makes us focus on what we don’t have instead of what we do have. Resentment and anger do not breed solutions for poverty. They merely exacerbate it. Victimology does nothing to help those who are victims. It merely perpetuates and worsens the cycles that put them there.

Finally, often those who have more than we do also give more than we do. Many do not share all they do with their time, talent, and treasure to help others.

One of the commandments was not to covet our neighbor’s goods. It makes sense and is one of the smartest strategies we can adopt in the war on poverty.


The World Through the Eye of the Needle

I am utterly flabbergasted.

Today, I saw a new exhibit at the Evansville Museum, Through the Eye of the Needle: Fabric of Survival. I knew it was coming and knew it was about World War II but knew nothing else. The exhibit is a collection of tapestries that walk you through a story of loss and survival through the eyes of a young girl in Poland in World War II. I won’t share their story because the exhibit itself tells you.

As I started the exhibit, looking at tapestries, I was drawn in after the first two tapestries. What was going to happen? How would things change? Who would live and how would those who did live survive?

Note – I don’t recommend seeing the video until after you see the exhibit. Let the tapestries tell their own story.

These tapestries combine the beauty of excellent crewel embroidery with a primitive talent better than Grandma Moses with a true story that is unimaginable in its pain and resilience. Her ability to capture the beauty of the surroundings of rural Poland in the midst of catastrophe gives them an incomparable power.

This is hands down the most important exhibit to come to Evansville in decades. I love art museums and have visited exhibits my whole life. I would rank the power of this one with seeing Rodin’s The Kiss at the Tate Gallery in London in 1987, the Monet series at the Art Institute in Chicago in 1990, and the Vatican Collection in St. Louis in 1998.

Why?

Some in our world have forgotten that we are all human and we must honor human dignity. This exhibit tells in artistic form the story of a slippery slope down the path of human cruelty. The slope, made slippery with human suffering, ends in concentration camps.

We must not forget what happens when human dignity pushed to the side for any reason.

This exhibit will stay with me for a long time.

If you live near Evansville. go see this exhibit. It’s a must see. It’s here till November 30.

 


Letting Go – A Cycle

Thirteen years ago, Richard and I left our kids with friends and went to our burned-out shell of a home to personally throw out the kids’ toys. Our home had burned, and we learned that the smoke from burning plastic during the fire could have adhered to their toys that we had thought would be saved.

We had a dumpster in our driveway, and we gritted our teeth as we threw out our kids’ favorite toys. We didn’t want them to see us throw out the toy kitchen, the Legos, and bins of toys I had so painstakingly found for them. Our kids, in kindergarten and second grade, didn’t know that that year, their Christmas toy replacements were paid for with our insurance claim.

That fall, as we tossed out most of our belongings, I hesitated to throw out my cookbook collection. I had spent a lifetime collecting my favorite cookbooks and had carefully marked them with notes. The books that were left were scorched and smoked. I hoped the smell would one day go away, so I put them in an air tight tub with fabric softener sheets. Maybe with time the smell would go away.

A few times over the next 13 years, I opened that tub, hoping the smell would be gone. It didn’t happen. Each time, the smell brought back all those bad memories.

Now, my kids are in college, and we’re reorganizing our empty nest. We’re making room for the next chapter in our lives.

Yesterday, I re-discovered the tub of charred cookbooks. They still smelled. In 13 years, I’ve never once been able to look at my notes or retrieve a favorite recipe. It was time.

Our son, who was 5 years old at the time of the fire and had just started kindergarten, was helping us move and re-arrange furniture. The tub was too heavy for me to lift to throw out.

I went with him to the trash can. As soon as I saw those old recipes, I knew I couldn’t watch.  “Throw them out,” I told him.

“Do you want to go through them?” He asked.

“Just get rid of them,” I said as I went back inside.

The little boy I helped a lifetime ago in the biggest loss of our lives was now helping me.

I thought of the other things in our lives that are broken that we sometimes hold onto. We hope they will change, and we wrap them up tightly in our hearts. The pain returns when we remember those packages.

Sometimes, we have to simply purge those charred remains in our hearts to make room for the joy in our present, in our now.


Beyond Thorns in the Flesh

When Paul writes about thorns in the flesh, I think his reference is an understatement. A thorn in the flesh is an annoyance.

Sometimes it feels like a knife in the heart. It could be a silent sorrow of a stabbing you’ve endured for 40 years. Or it could be the new and improved, 21st century rocker knife which rocks back and forth, slicing and dicing your feelings with each stroke. Like Paul, I asked God to remove them, but it didn’t happen.

The good in my life outweighs those thorns in the flesh – or the knives. Most of the time that’s what I focus on and talk about.

The thorns are still there. We sometimes forget the thorn is there and then something shifts and it hurts all over again. The pain gets easier with time. At first, it felt like a twisting of that knife in the heart, or a punch in the gut that would reduce me to tears. Now it fills me with a sadness as I long for what might have been but isn’t.

As I dealt with that thorn in the flesh yesterday, it was now an ache. I prayed for God to help me handle it, and Psalm 27 came to me – “the Lord is my light and my salvation.”

Then I turned on K-Love radio – my car radio and I have a special relationship. When I need it most, I can turn it on and the song that is playing matches perfectly what I need to hear. I was hurting too much to know what the song was that was playing, but basically, it was that Jesus shed His blood for me, and He loves me no matter what.

I knew as the song played that I was not alone, and I do have a light and a salvation that will carry me through the valleys of the shadows of despair.

Those thorns in the flesh are what opened my own heart to compassion for others. They help me see pain in others, even when they don’t discuss it , and my thorns help me help and inspire other people.

Like Paul said of his own thorns in the flesh – when I am weak, I am strong.  The things that should break us – but don’t – are the things that God uses for our greatest strengths.


Praying Parents

Parenting doesn’t stop with the diapers. Or the swim lessons, the piano lessons, and the homework.

Frankly, I enjoy my empty nest and relish my kids writing their own stories. Both are in college. The only regret I have about raising my kids is that I didn’t enjoy the moment more. Even so, Richard and I resolved before having them to make them our priority and do the best we kid in raising them.

For 20 years, that has been our priority. Now, we are marking our own new paths while they venture on their own.

But we still have an important job. Each morning we are able starts with a mission – to head to daily Mass to pray for our kids. I imagine for the rest of our lives, so long as we are able to get there and there is an early morning Mass, that’s where we’ll be.  Walking in together, that time in Mass, worshiping together and commending our kids to the care and influence of all the saints and angels under heaven, we start each day. And with that commendation, we can move forward for the day.

And I realize in the circle of life, we’re beginning a new round in that circle. For 25 years, since Richard’s mother met me, she has prayed for me at daily Mass just as she prayed for her sons and grandchildren. She continues today.

When our time on  earth has ended, our prayers will continue.

 


5 Questions to Ask Before Helping a Non-Profit

“Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” – Anne Frank

People are good at heart, but when we reach out to help others, in addition to helping them, we must carefully discern how and when to help other people.

Most people may be good at heart, but a few who work with a few nonprofits are not. That fact marked my life in ways I wish it had not; one of my family members who raised funds for a charity stole those funds and went to jail because of it. As a result, people who thought they were helping poor children were swindled, as was the charity involved.

With that personal experience, I am extremely careful with nonprofit fundraisers and donations. I only support causes and organizations I fully agree with, that I believe are being good stewards of the time, talents, and treasure they are given.

Sometimes, a charity’s fundraiser may become a popular fad, and others jump on the bandwagon without first asking these questions.

Please, please ask these questions before helping any charitable organization:

  1. What does the organization believe? Do their mission and vision statements, as well as foundational beliefs, agree with your own? Often, this is not an issue. But what if the organization you are supporting works in ways that are directly opposed to your core beliefs? The good news is there are enough charities out there that you can find others for the same cause whose core beliefs more closely reflect your own.
  2. Who manages the money and how? Determine what percentage of the funds generate go into administrative costs and also how much goes into direct services. How frugal are they? Charity Navigator and other sources can help you determine this.
  3. Where does their line item spending go? How much goes into direct services in your local area? Be sure to evaluate this one on a yearly basis with national organizations – some great causes streamline by cutting services to area communities. Does the organization have accounting and audit reviews in place to ensure money is properly spent and documented?
  4. How do they manage their fundraisers? This again goes into the accounting. Fundraisers must be carefully managed from a financial standpoint because they offer the greatest temptation to that small group of volunteers who have sticky fingers.
  5. What are the organization’s short term and long term goals? Have they developed short and long term plans so that when you donate to help them, you have a good feeling that the charity will still be here in 1, 5, or 10 years?

Most of us want to help those in need. I think that’s a basic human response to suffering. It feels good to know we did something to help solve someone else’s problem.

However, don’t just jump on the fundraiser bandwagon because everyone else is helping a worthy cause. Make your help deliberate and intentional, so that you know the help  you give is used in the most effective way possible. That will feel even better.


Help and Hope

At least once a week, someone crosses my path in horrific circumstances. Sometimes, I can help them. Sometimes, I cannot, but I give them referrals to organizations and groups who can.

Though I may not be able to directly help them out of their circumstance, I work to give them what I can – hope.

I have often walked in their shoes.

  • I have been betrayed by some who should have loved me most and should have defended me from harm.
  • I have lost everything in my world twice in a lifetime.
  • I have struggled as a young person, couch-surfing from one friend’s house to another’s.
  • I have knelt in church on a Sunday morning, in borrowed clothes, with my husband and children, the morning after our home and business burned and we had no idea how we would survive.

The most powerful help we can give those in dire straits is wrapped in a package of hope and tied with a bow of encouragement.

Sometimes, short term help comes bundled in a straight-jacket of discouragement:

  • You can’t fix this.
  • You can’t solve this.
  • You are incapable of doing anything to improve your situation.
  • We will save you from yourself. And you will do what we tell you to do.

In the long run, the short term help given to nurture dependence becomes as much of a burden as the original problem.

I believe these people are sent across my path precisely because I can give them hope. I tell them I have lost everything, been desperate, and not known how I would survive. But with some help, I worked through those issues.

Then I add to my pep talk – “I have faith in you. I know you can work through these problems. Use the help you can find, and work your way through this one step at a time. There may be setbacks. Don’t let them stop you.” They are added to my prayer list.

We never know how our message of hope empowers others. This spring, I spoke with one man in a lose-lose situation with no way out. I had no idea what the resolution of his problems would be.

Several weeks later, he came to me and told me the afternoon of our talk, his burdens had gotten too heavy, and he was ready to end it. Our conversation convinced him to try a little longer.

His path is not easy, but he continues to work through his problems. Each month, his load is a little lighter.

In the Hunger Games, President Snow said, “Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective.”

As a caution to those who offer hope to others…Snow continued…”A lot of hope is dangerous. Spark is fine, as long as it’s contained.”

If you offer others too much hope and empower them to solve their own problems, there will be some who are threatened by your message. They may try to snuff your message. Ignore them.

Be the light in the darkness, the candle in the wind, and together we can raise the spirits of more people than we will ever realize. Never underestimate the power of faith.


6 Leadership Lessons in Guardians of the Galaxy and The Body of Christ

Guardians of the Galaxy has to be my favorite movie of the year. It’s not just because I like superheroes.

I love the messy world with imperfect heroes who work together and save everyone. Why do they succeed, despite the odds against them? They aren’t the perfect story book heroes. Nevertheless, they are a textbook example of effective teamwork. The most effective teams I have worked with share these characteristics.

  1. Divergent Backgrounds. When leaders make the mistake of assembling a team of like-minded people from the same circumstances, it makes sense in the short term because there is minimal conflict. Over time, these teams become stale, boring, and lose their edge. However, stronger teams are built from people from different backgrounds. They bring unique strengths, perspectives, and friends to the table. With nonprofits, this is particularly essential as each person from a different background bring potential volunteers from an entirely different circle. The wider the range of experiences in our circle, the more opportunities we have for creative solutions to unexpected problems.
  2. Difficult Past Challenges. Heartbreak, loss, and personal tragedies could have defined different guardians. They lost families and cultures, were tortured, were abused, and were used. Some would have been broken by these losses. But the Guardians work to overcome their pasts. Parts of their past come back to haunt them at times.
  3. Unique Abilities. The Guardians discover when they work together, the whole is stronger than their individual parts. Everyone, from the small racoon to the wooden Groot, can use those unique talents to solve problems. Some would underestimate their individual potential to help the team.
  4. Humor. We get by with a little help from our friends, and that’s a whole lot easier when we can laugh at ourselves.
  5. A Focus Towards the Future. Despite those past losses, the Guardians help each other keep a focus towards the future. As they help each other do that, the destructive potential of their toxic pasts diminishers.
  6. Self Sacrifice. Initially, Groot is a simple tree who can’t even talk. At the end, he’s the one who can save everyone else. He cares about the Guardians and willingly gives of himself to save everyone else.

Each of these things don’t just describe an effective team or why Guardians of the Galaxy save the day at the end of the team. They also describe the body of Christ and the real world in which I live.

The real world isn’t a place of perfect families and people that perfectly fit into neat boxes that are easily categorized. Instead, our world is often a mess of flawed, broken people in circumstances we cannot fathom.

With Jesus Christ, they and we are reminded of that flicker of light in each of us such that when we learn to use our talents and respect the talents of others around us, great things happen.

Jesus ate with thieves and spoke with prostitutes. When Pharisees tried to force him into their convenient little boxes, he turned their world on end. He didn’t let them stop him from serving others and teaching those around him. He teaches us today.

And when we let Him, He helps us work together as the Body of Christ, still making incredible things happen that transform the world.

And if we happen to laugh along the way with a great romp of a film like Guardians of the Galaxy, so much the better.

 

 


When Someone Who Should Love You Doesn’t

If we lived in a perfect land of unicorns leaping and feeding on marshmallows, we might have a best of all possible worlds where every child is born wanted, respected and loved.

Sadly, our world is different from that.

There are ways to survive and later to thrive, despite the lack of love from someone who should know better.

Even without realizing it, if you grow up with someone who should love you and doesn’t, you may go through the stages of grief:

  • Denial. This can take the form of pretending the world is perfect. It can also take the form of compartmentalizing. Sometimes the only way to survive the trauma of being unloved is to mentally or physically escape. This can take both constructive and destructive forms. It can also take the form of constant trying and attempting to be good enough or noble enough for that person to love you – and to let that person or those persons ignore all your personal boundaries.
  • Anger. If we deny the source of our grief, it is easy for it to come across as anger, sometimes in the form of displaced aggression.
  • Bargaining. This is an especially toxic stage for the person who tries for years if not decades to be good enough or to sacrifice enough to be loved. The risk is we can sacrifice ourselves and our souls into a toxic state where we have no personal boundaries. Another risk here is we learn a pattern of behavior and response that we may repeat with other people because this is what we grew up doing.
  • Depression. It is easy to internalize feelings of rejection and blame ourselves. Sometimes those who don’t love us will reinforce this by blaming us.

The challenge in maintaining relationships with toxic people who do not love us is that we will put ourselves into a self-imposed circle of hell, repeating cycles of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. It is easy to mistrust good people and attribute bad motives that aren’t there but are in our past.

  • Acceptance. This step can take a lifetime to reach. It’s when we realize this person does not love us and never did. Once we realize that, we can accept it. The time may come when we have to completely remove ourselves from toxic circumstances for our own self-preservation. There is no unwritten law that we must accept a lifetime of ridicule and insults. We deserve better. You deserve better. I deserve better. If we spend too much time on a self-destructive hamster wheel of the cycles listed above, it’s easy to get so consumed that we lack the time or energy to discover or cultivate positive relationships with people who will love us unconditionally.

The beauty of acceptance, or this final step, is that it’s possible to see how God took the pain and loss and found ways to bring other people in our lives to fill that gap. As Corrie ten Boom said, there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.

With acceptance comes the ability to move forward and rediscover joy. When we reach that stage, it may even progress to where we feel compassion for those who cannot love unconditionally.

When you have faced – and accepted – the sorrow of not being loved by those who should, you will better be able to reach out in empathy to others in the same situation. You will recognize others who have had to create themselves despite a missing, foundational puzzle piece. I especially find myself called to encourage young people. The skills I learned as a mom – to fix the scraped knee and wipe away tears, or help a child learn to laugh despite a tough situation – will be put to use for a lifetime.

Aeschylus described how we can recover from searing, soul-shattering pain (translated from ancient Greek):

“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

His grace is not awful. It is sufficient. As the pain drips from our hearts, a drop at a time, it is replaced with a wisdom and understanding.

And then, those who were unloved can love others.


Heroic Dads

As we cleaned and reorganized this spring, preparing for an empty nest, I found an essay Nick wrote a few years ago, where Nick explained why his dad is his hero.

My children are now grown. Richard’s integrity is the biggest force in the formation of their character. I grew up without a good father role model and see the difference in my own kids’ hearts. His confidence in and devotion to our kids gives them something I never had. Nick’s words are the most fitting tribute I can make this Father’s Day.

Nick’s essay:

My Heroic Dad

My Dad is my hero for many reasons. When I was little, he played Thomas the Train with me and helped me set up train tracks all over the floor. Then we ran toy trains and had a lot of fun. Now that I am older, I see the other things he does. His hard work, his character, and his ability to put his family first are a few of the things I can learn from him. Even though he is not perfect and admits when he makes mistakes, my dad fills the role of hero extremely well as a man’s man.

Dad works hard running his own business. When he has work for clients, he sometimes works late on deadlines and does without sleep. But he never complains that he is tired. He works just as hard with chores, working until the job is completely done. When I get tired while doing yard work, he always keeps going. Dad is always there to take over if I get tired hand-sawing a limb, even though I know that he is as tired as I am.

Another thing heroic about Dad is his overall character. In a word, nice describes Dad. He is friendly to everyone and listens to people. Although we can all lose our tempers, it seems like dad never gets angry. He controls it very well. I know I can trust my dad because he is honest and keeps his word.

Family is always his first priority. Even if he’s on a tight deadline with his job, caring for his family is Dad’s primary objective. If I’m ever having trouble learning a song on guitar, I can just ask him for help. On the outside, he is a white-haired old man who is almost eligible for the senior discount at stores. But on the inside, he is a little kid who wants to play guitar and make many jokes. This is Dad. Also, if Mom is ever talking on TV or the radio, Dad goes out of his way to get up early in the morning, and watch or listen to her. In addition, he usually doesn’t buy anything for himself because he spends his money on his family, church, business, and friends.

One of my favorite memories is when Dad took me to Louisville so we could go to a Jeff Beck concert, our favorite guitarist. Dad introduced me to Jeff Beck so I would discover other types of music besides heavy metal. He introduced me to jazz from the 1920’s to the 1960’s and the Mississippi Delta blues. Listening to it at the concert is the best music I have ever heard.

In conclusion, a hero or man’s man has many admirable qualities. Dad’s qualities that stand out are his strong work ethic, strong character, and family focus. With the way he lives his life, he shows me the type of person I want to be as I become an adult – a hero.


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