Tuesday, May 28, 2013

So long, kitchen table

We hauled the old kitchen table out to the curb the other day.

My wife found another table she liked at a yard sale. The old one was battered and beat up, so it had to go. We called a charity group to pick it up. I was in a hurry to go somewhere. My wife had errands to run, too. So we left it there. No moment of silence. No fond farewell. When we came home that afternoon, it was gone.

I felt a pang of sadness when I thought about it later. That old table deserved a better send-off than we gave it.

It wasn’t an antique or a fine work of craftsmanship, just a pine table from a low-end furniture store. But it was the center of our home for nearly 30 years. It’s where we got to know each other, where we talked, argued and made up. The first time our infant son laughed out loud, he was watching an empty pop bottle roll across the tabletop (he thought that was hilarious for some reason). The kids spent countless hours wriggling around underneath it as toddlers — and countless hours doing school projects atop it. My parents, both gone now, rocked their grandchildren to sleep beside it.

How many meals did we eat together around that table? How many prayers did we pray?

“Things don’t matter; people do,” was the motto of Martha Myers, the late, great missionary physician who spent her life — and ultimately gave it — serving the people of Yemen. For her, things had significance only if they could be used to help the needy. She had little interest in personal possessions for their own sake.

Martha was right. Things don’t matter. But things do have meaning, if we use them for people. That’s the difference between selfishly accumulating stuff and blessing others with it.

A missionary in Africa broke one of his sandals recently. What to do? “I did what I have always done,” he wrote. “I went to what I considered a nice store, sought out a pair of sandals that I thought would be serviceable and purchased them for $24. An astronomical price for the Africans, I am sure. But I am an American. When things break we don’t fix them; we throw them away. My new sandals broke two days later. I asked a local friend what he would do.

“‘Fix them,’ he replied. Apparently there are men all over town who repair shoes for a living. He took my old sandals home. The next morning he brought them back, having sewn the sole of my favorite sandal to the upper part. Amazing! They still work. They feel great. Cost: $1. I had them fix my new sandals as well for the same price.”

The missionary also brought a new soccer ball with him from America, but it wouldn’t hold air.

“I went and bought another ball. The Africans with whom I was playing asked if they could have my broken ball. ‘Why?’ I asked.

“‘Because we can sell it,’ they replied. They were able to get $4 for it. Apparently one of the boys from the area took some glue and inserted it into the hole and plugged the leak. Who knows how long it will stay inflated, but some kid and I are each $2 richer!

“What have I learned? God is teaching me how to be a better steward of what He has given me. Can what I am about to throw away be repaired or used again in some other way? In America, when something breaks, you replace it. In Africa, we are learning to see things differently — and even find the value in something that looks ‘broken.’”

I wish I had done that with our good old kitchen table.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Five tips for grads


It’s graduation season, when bright young students must endure one final, mind-numbing lecture before collecting their degrees: the commencement address.

This speech seldom contains advice you can actually use. The speaker often receives a generous check for his or her remarks, but dares not utter anything that might offend someone for fear of being protested, “disinvited” or blacklisted from future graduation ceremonies.

Not being a celebrity, a politician or a rich donor, I have little chance of ever being invited to deliver a commencement address, much less disinvited. But I’ll share a few practical tips for you grads anyway, at no charge:

1. If you need to move back home for a while — or delay moving out — it’s OK. Millions of others share your plight. But make your bed and help with the dishes. And offer to pay rent, whether it’s asked for or not.

2. Don’t check your text messages during job interviews. Trust me on this one.

3. If you’re graduating with significant student loan debt (2011 grads walked the aisle owing an average of nearly $27,000), pay it off before you incur more debt. Don’t start your adult life in bondage to creditors. It will set a pattern you might never escape. Stay available to God. As long you are servicing debt, you won’t be fully available to serve Him.

4. The job market still stinks. You’ve probably heard about that. The unemployment rate for older teens and post-college 20-somethings hovers around 16 percent and tops 25 percent if you include young adults who have given up looking for work or are underemployed part-timers. Don’t lose hope while waiting for your dream job. Any honest work is honorable work in God’s economy. He will open the right doors in His time if you follow Him. In the meantime, learn everything He wants to teach you where you are.

5. The research about Millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000, says you want to experience the wider world up close — to see it, touch it, interact with it. OK, now is your opportunity to do that, unfettered by the family and school commitments of the past or the major adult responsibilities you will face in the future. Go out there and find a place to serve God and others for a year or two, or more, regardless of whether it specifically contributes to your career path.

“One of the characteristics of Millennial life has become the image of the traveler,” observes David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, which has exhaustively studied Millennials and their relationship to spiritual life. “They want to wander the world, both in real life and in digital ways. They want to feel untethered. There is a trend among young adults of delaying the pressures of adult life as long as possible; they want to embrace a lifestyle of risk, exploration and unscripted moments. …

“This transience stands in contrast to the staid, predictable, and often overprotective experience that most churches seem to offer. The gap is simple: Millennials are a generation that craves spontaneity, participation, adventure and clan-like relationships, but what they often find in churches are featureless programs and moralistic content. Leaders who hope to alter the spiritual journeys of today’s Millennials need to embrace something of a ‘reverse mentoring’ mindset, allowing the next generation to help lead alongside established leaders. … Millennials are more willing to be challenged than most church leaders are willing to challenge them.”

If you recognize something of yourself in that generational profile, embrace it — even if Mom, Dad and your own internal clock are desperately urging you to get a job and settle down. But don’t wander for the sake of wandering. Wander with a purpose: God’s purpose.

He might lead you to the ends of the earth to proclaim His love to people who have never heard the name of Jesus. He might lead you to serve within walking distance of the street or the church where you grew up. He might lead you to do both.

Follow Him. Those two words are the best graduation advice you will ever hear.

(To investigate the global possibilities of “wandering with a purpose,” visit http://going.imb.org/)