Irresponsible Husband/Parent? (Leaving to Kenya)

Am I being an irresponsible parent/husband by leaving my family for two weeks and putting myself at risk in Africa?

In a little over a week, our team will be on our way Kenya.  During that time, Peggy will be both disciplinarian and comforter to Luke and Bella.  That's precious time I'll never get back with Peggy, but even more so with the kids, who seem to change and grow from week to week.  During that time, any sense of safety or security I offer will be missing.

So I don't argue that this trip is a huge sacrifice for Peggy and the kids.  I understand why some question my choice to go to Kenya in light of my responsibilities at home.

Despite how it might seem, our (Peg's and mine) decision for me to go to Kenya was not involve balancing values.  The fact that going there means leaving here doesn't mean that I value what/who is "there" more than my loved ones at home.  The choice to serve in Africa and my responsibilities as a husband/father stem from the same value: honoring the Lord.  Matthew 10:37-38 teaches us that, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me."  I do both to the utmost of my abilities because I believe Jesus expects no less of me.

Even more, in the long run, serving in Africa ADDS rather than DETRACTS from my responsibilities as a husband and father.  Whatever security I may provide by my physical presence doesn't come close to the security our Shepherd. (Psalm 23:4) Any bits of wisdom or discipline I may impose on my children (either during those two weeks or over a lifetime) won't have the eternal consequences of pointing them toward true wisdom and our ultimate duty: to love and honor God. (Ecc 12:13-14, Prov 9:10, Col 3:17)

In the end, what I pray my children will understand is how much I love them and that my going to Africa is not in spite of that love but at least partly because of that love.  The greatest legacy I can leave my children is that anything of value comes from our Lord.  Anything I offer is fleeting and unreliable.  I pray they'll remember this trip as an example of how we're to respond to God's love and following Him.  I believe that when Jesus admonished us to leave our loved ones to follow Him, he wasn't depriving them of us.  Rather, He was teaching us to lead them to Him.

End the Blame Cycle

Has anyone else noticed how quick our reflexes are when it comes to blaming others?  Even as we sense that we're about to be blamed for something, a survival instinct seems to kick in as we prepare to deflect blame, which often means redirecting toward someone else.  Recently at work, someone stated unashamedly that, "someone has to be thrown under the bus."  Even in such a "dog eat dog" environment, that statement caught me off guard.  It's not so much that it doesn't happen; it's just not often stated that explicitly.

Think back to our childhood when we've been caught doing wrong.  "He started it!"  (I've never quite understood the reasoning behind that justification.)  If there's any solace, it's in knowing that we've reacted this way since the very beginning of Creation.  In Genesis 3:12, when confronted by God, Adam's defense was, "She made me!"  And, in case that wasn't a strong enough defense, "And You, God, gave her to me!"  Or Aaron, when confronted by Moses after making the golden calf, answers, "You know how these people can be....And besides, who knew where you were?"  (Ex 32:22)

As Christians, this is one of the areas where we're called to be different.  Here are a few things to considering as we fight the instinct to blame another:
  1. Reflect God's Mercy: When the finger pointing is obvious and directed at you, that's a perfect opportunity to reflect God's mercy.  Everyone watching expects you to either fight back or blame someone else.  Rather, we're called to, "maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears."  (1Pe 2:12)
  2. Avoid Relativism: Subconsciously, when we blame someone else, we're playing with the scales of justice.  Early in our youth, we develop the mistaken idea that those who started "it" or those who did worse are the ones who should be blamed.  That thought process implies that those who "only respond" or have less culpability shouldn't need to answer at all.  Christians, remember that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  (Rom 3:23)  As a result, we're not better or worse than the next person.
  3. Trust in the Lord: Trials tend to magnify our true character.  Do we respond to accusations by shifting blame for our own preservation?  Or do we, "Trust in the LORD and do what is right!"  (Psalm 37:3) (Psalm 37 offers wonderful insight on how the godly ought to wait patiently on the Lord.)
  4. Take Responsibility: Blaming often turns into a vicious cycle.  Thankfully, one person accepting responsibility for their contribution can put an end to the chain reaction.
In the end, though we may be tempted to the immediate gratification from blaming, we're called, "In speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, [to] show yourself an example of those who believe."  (1 Ti 4:12)

Valley's Goodwill Mission

Several weeks ago, a member of the church brought to our attention a Goodwill fundraising program.  If we committed to filling a certain, minimum number of bins, Goodwill would pay us for each bin.  It sounded simple enough, until we saw the size of each bin.  It takes about 15 yard-sized trash bags to fill each bin.  On top of that, large furniture, television and computers would count toward that total.

Though discouraged, we knew the Valley family had come through before.  Even if we could collect enough to fill just 15 bins, that's still several hundred dollars for the trip. 

This morning, the truck showed up.  After a tour of the room where the donations had been stored, they estimated about 10 bins worth of items.  Not bad....but then people started pulling up with cars, vans and trucks full of donations.  Before long, it was obvious the 18 bins they'd brought in the truck wouldn't be enough.  Another truck was needed and with it, they brought another 15 bins...."just to be safe."  By the end of the day, 32 bins had been filled.  We, including the Goodwill representatives, marveled at how the items seemed to have multiplied.  What initially appeared to be barely 10 bins had more than tripled.

One of the early objectives for the team has been making sure we're not just a bunch of individuals traveling across the world with our personal agendas.  We view this trip as an extension of Valley's mission...we go as ambassadors of Valley.  

The thrill we felt at the end of the day was so much more than just realizing how much money we'd raised with our "junk."  In filling 32 bins, our church family had affirmed that they're "all in."  In filling those bins just months after donating for a yard sale, our church family was telling us that we're not going alone.  The money raised would not only help to pay for the trip, but it would also pay children's bibles at the church in Kenya, toys/crafts for the children's games/gathering we'll be hosting, and supplies for the schools.  In filling those bins, Valley had affirmed that those things are important to them.

Valley family: Thank you for encouraging and inspiring us with your big, AWESOME hearts.  As Pastor Mike H. would say, your loving response has been CRAZY!!

Leading & Following: Well Done

Whether we accept it or not, we're all born to be leaders.  That role is defined not by our will or intent, but by those who choose to follow us.  Besides the traditional positions of leadership (father, manager, pastor, etc.), we may have "followers" who are family members, coworkers, or even casual acquaintances.

The point is, we may not always know when we're being watched and followed.  So to be safe, we should be deliberate in our actions to ensure we're not leading people astray.  My hope, my faith is perfectly expressed in the words of "Well Done,"
If people walk with me, talk with me, looking for truth
They're gonna find out soon
If they're following me, then they're gonna follow You
So let my life speak loud and clear
Lord, I wanna hear
Well done, well done
("Well Done," Written by: Moriah Peters, Chad Cates, Jason Walker)

As if it isn't enough that we're responsible for our own actions, Scripture reminds us again and again that we are also responsible for those we affect...positively or negatively.

As a Christian, we can all talk about our purpose of making disciples, living righteously and obediently, love God and our neighbors....  In the end, we can summarize all of that with one simple goal -- to hear our Lord say to us, "Well done."

Enjoy the song:

Packing List for Africa

I've made my packing list.  Since I probably won't be able to run to the store if I forget anything, I figured I'd better be prepared.  I'm an Excel kind of guys so I started typing on a spreadsheet.  Sixty six rows later...I'm wondering how much it'll cost for an extra suitcase.  In all seriousness, I look at the list and marvel at what I believe I need.  What's the worst that happens if I don't have all the electronics (iphone, kindle, cables, chargers, adapters, etc. etc.).

So I asked myself:
  • What would I really really regret if I somehow forgot it?  Phone
  • What would other really really regret if I somehow forgot it?  Deodorant
  • What do I hope I'll never need to use?  Immodium AD
  • What do I need for our primary purpose(s) there?  Us
I had some fun making the list and writing the blog.  At the same time, it did help me to realize how easily our 'niceties' become 'necessities.'  Rather than packing for what I "need" and using the space leftover for gifts and games, shouldn't it be the reverse?