Monday, August 16, 2010

How To Be Rich

Generosity… I think it’s a characteristic we’d all like to be known by. Yet, going from a lifestyle of giving nothing away to giving something away can sometimes be a big leap. We have to hurdle such obstacles as trusting the organization or person we are giving to. We hear so much about abuse and mismanagement, it can make a person justifiably leery. Or, we get blocked by the discouragement that our gifts, whatever they might be, would be too small or insignificant to make any real difference. Another high wall to climb is our own financial situation. How can we give to others when we are barely paying our own bills or are buried in interest rates and debt? Still, we see generosity as noble and honorable, and definitely something that “rich people” should practice.

You’re right, rich people should definitely practice generosity. Did you know that you are rich? Go ahead, see for yourself. Click on this link to find out how your income compares with the rest of the world. Global Rich List Surprised? Are you in the top 5% or higher? Phenomenal perspective, isn’t it? So, how does your personal generosity (the way you give of your time, talent, and resources) reflect your wealthy position in the world?

Now before you start getting nervous, I have no intention of making anyone feel guilty. Rather, I believe one of the biggest reasons people don’t give more often to more worthy causes is simply that they don’t know where to begin. I have seen first-hand how hard it can be to volunteer at a local shelter or even the library. I have personally called local non-profit agencies and left multiple messages letting them know I had a group of people willing to come and give their time for whatever they needed, only to have my phone calls go unreturned. It can make you feel like they might not really need your help after all. So, what’s a person to do? Push hard, look deeper, and cut through that red tape!

For as many organizations that unknowingly make it difficult to participate in their cause, there are just as many making it easy. At Great Lakes, we encourage our Growth Groups to organize their own service projects and we’ve seen amazing results! Everything from care packages to soldiers, to Easter baskets for local families in need, to simple food drives. Just this weekend I had the opportunity to participate in one of the most fun service projects yet. A few of our women's groups pulled together to have ourselves a party. We called it “Ladies Night: A Benefit for Care Net” where we chose to support a local organization, hoping to raise funds and supplies they need to help support women experiencing unplanned pregnancies. Here is the story we shared at the party as a part of learning more about this great program…

All it took was one Evite, one planning meeting with my friends Eden & AnnaLisa, and a little initiative, and we had all we needed. We just did what women do best, socialize, eat great food and have some drinks and somehow, with less than 30 of us, we were able to raise roughly $2,000 worth of supplies and cash to hand directly to Care Net and their Earn While You Learn program.

These women generously gave everything from cribs and bassinets, to diapers and baby wash, to brand new clothes and gently used hand-me-downs. More than that, we were all inspired and many of the women have expressed even greater desire and creativity for ways we can do more! Amazing!

We know one thing for certain… it is easier to give when we know what we have received. The pursuit of “more” is an elusive mirage, and the reality is that we very likely have all we need.

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. – 1 Timothy 6:17-18

With that perspective, I dare you to invest yourself in just one of thousands of worthy causes. Why don’t you spend your coffee money this week on a new CD that could result in lowering the global poverty rate?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Taking A Day Off

We just got back from a wonderful 10 day vacation home to Seattle. It was great to spend time with friends and family, it didn’t rain even once, and Claire did relatively well on the long flights. I did not check my work email at all for the duration of the trip. Some of you might think, “Of course not! You were on vacation!” The rest of you can identify what a huge accomplishment this really was for me. It was the first time in 5 years that I have taken a trip of any kind without checking in for work. It felt amazing!

Before we left, Pastor Dave had been covering a series of talks on Sundays at Great Lakes Church on The 10 Commandments. It was not the "Summer Bummer" it might sound like, each week was surprisingly relevant and applicable. Especially the week he talked about the fourth commandment, reminding us about keeping the Sabbath. In other words…


Ok, maybe when God sent these commands to Moses he did not use all caps and an exclamation point. Or, maybe we should read all of them with exclamation points. Either way, I paraphrase that way because it’s the one commandment that makes me reply to God (in my head, of course) and say, “Aw, that’s sweet. Thank you for thinking of me, but that’s not necessary.”
Anyone else?
Just me?

Now, imagine if I replied to the other commandments the same way…
God: Thou shall have no other gods before me.
Michelle: Aw, that’s sweet.
God: Thou shalt not murder.
Michelle: Thanks for thinking of me, but that’s not necessary.
See the problem? When God speaks, it is not meant to be sweet. Though he is loving, I should not respond to the things that are important to Him as though it’s a Hallmark greeting card. But, I just can’t help it when it comes to this idea of taking a day off.

In a typical American work week, most people put in approximately 40 hours and take two days off… If you read that last statement and said, “Yeah right, my boss has me working 60 hours and I rarely get a day off!” you might have boundary issues, which is your problem and not your bosses. If you are your own boss, then you might have boundary issues, which is just one of your many problems, and mine. But, even if you are neither of the above, you still might find it very difficult to observe this seemingly optional commandment.

Here are a few reasons I find it hard to take a day off:
1. I love my job!
It’s really true. Right now, I work for Great Lakes Church and love everything I get to be a part of. To top that, I haven’t had a job I didn’t love in a very long time. I have been lucky to work with great teams for great causes with great results. What’s not to love? So, since I love my job so much, it is hard to actually want day off. I have always been unbalanced in this area of work & play and always wanted more time to just relax, but I’ve never made it a priority. This could also be because, for the most part, since I’ve loved my jobs, I’ve found it energizing to be productive and helpful.

2. Being a part-time employee + a full-time wife and mother are tricky to balance.
Practically speaking, I do work part-time from home and do not have a set day off. Desiring to focus the majority of my attention on Claire, I try to get work done while she is sleeping or otherwise occupied. This means that, for the most part, I do a few hours of work each day, some days I get even a few more in and work still spills into the next day and the day after that. This leads me to feel guilty thinking of taking an entire day off, not checking emails, not planning, etc. since the time I am able to work around my little girl already feels so limited.

3. Most moms don’t get a day off from motherhood.
The other practical thing to consider is that my home and family is also my full-time job. I have to confess that while Dave was speaking on this topic at Great Lakes, I was sitting next to a friend of mine who is also a mother. I leaned over and rhetorically asked her, “Could everyone not make a mess, or use dishes on my Sabbath? Could Claire make her own bottles and change her own diapers on that day?” Snarky, I know. But, I don’t think I’m alone in sincerely wondering how it’s possible to take an entire day each week to rest from the demands of parenthood.

The idea of a day of rest is definitely the root of some tension in the Peterson home. You see, Tony has always been very good at this one. I remember the first year I knew him, I tried to give him a call at work to wish him a Happy Birthday. No answer, no big deal. Only to find out the next day that he always takes a day off for his birthday. I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. I asked him if he had any special traditions, like going to a theme park or hanging with his family for that day… Nope. Even if he stayed in his pajamas and played video games all by himself, he was not going to work on his birthday. I, on the other hand, once attempted to make it into work even though I had just been in a car accident and needed to be at the hospital while they used 14 stitches to mend the cuts from my face hitting the windshield of my car. (That's a story for another day, folks) So, you see, we have very different approaches to what warrants a day off of work.

As much as it annoys me, Tony’s idea is much closer to God’s than mine. Would you believe he never checks his email and rarely even answers his cell phone on Mondays, his one day off? He is quite strict. He sleeps in, snuggles with his girls, watches movies, plays video games, reads a book, goes to the zoo, takes a long drive, and eats meals with friends. He does whatever he wants to do except work. In general, I haven’t felt like I needed much “me time”. And that, right there, is the lie.

“Me time” is not what the Sabbath is about. The Sabbath is about taking time to rest, refocus and reconnect in my relationship with God, acknowledge my need and dependence on Him, and thank Him for His faithfulness to me. Observing a Sabbath would help me remember that, even if there were more hours in a day or days in a week, I still could not get it all done. I need to remember that God is the provider of my needs and the needs of those who might be depending on me. It is ok and even acceptable to say “no” once in a while. As a wise person once said to me, “Sometimes you need to say ‘no’ to good things so that you can say ‘yes’ to great things”. One of the greatest things I can say yes to is putting time into my relationship with God, who is simply not impressed by how much I might accomplish in a day.

So, while I work that out, I have developed a new habit. I call it “Sabbath Moments”, but since saying that out loud sounds super cheesy to me, you can call it whatever you want.

You see, I know that Claire will need me throughout the day, that I will have meetings with people I serve with, that I will check my email, and return voice mails all day long. Since I can’t see a way around any of these things, I am now in the habit of purposefully getting up out of bed long before Claire wakes up and my day officially begins. Lately she’ll sleep until 7:30am or even 8:00am. I know that if I get up at 6:30am, I can make myself some coffee and sit and read in the quietest moments my home will be all day. I know that I meet Jesus there, whether I choose to read the Bible or browse the Pottery Barn Catalog (although, I have made it a rule not to pick up my phone or open the laptop). It’s quiet, I can hear my own voice in my head and I always hope to hear the voice of the Lord. The mornings that I actually do this, I am that much more thrilled when Claire wakes up and I feel extra excited to see her! On a good week, I can make it happen 4 out of the 7 mornings. This also means that I go nuts trying to straighten up the house and the kitchen when she goes to sleep the night before, in anticipation of a peaceful early morning.

Another Sabbath Moment I get to enjoy now and then is at a coffee shop by myself. I just work it out with Tony when a good time for me to take off will be and then I go and sit for a couple of hours by myself! I realize for some of you, the idea of reading a book sounds much more like work than rest. But, for me, it is the essence of peace.

Thankfully, because Tony is so strict about his day off, I am usually forced to get out of the house and have some fun with him, whether it's a trip to Ikea or a breakfast date. He takes family time seriously, and his approach really keeps me in check.

I’m curious how you’ve found to take time to stop working and rest? Have you?

So, coming off of 10 days of rest, I’ll share with you some of the pictures of our time in Seattle. Enjoy!

PS Claire had a lot of firsts while we were gone…
1st time meeting her relatives (except for her great-aunt Nancy who stopped by our place in Wisconsin in May)
1st time Riding the Ducks
1st time clapping her hands together (Thank you Joshua Davies)
1st time eating foods that were not pureed (We tried bread & rice noodles, and we liked them!)