Thoughts on Double-Timing It

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Two days before Christmas, I did this to my car. It was completely my fault, and adding insult to injury (actually, my injury was only a bruised leg and a stiff shoulder), I was ticketed for not yielding right of way. And we had to pay for the damage repair. And we lost our good driver “bonus” that came each January. I beat myself up for days.

And yet, it would have been far worse if I hadn’t seen the car coming and slammed on my brakes. But it was not enough and I can still hear the doomsday sound of screeching tires and the crunch of two automobiles colliding. Like an idiot, I tried to tell the officer that the car’s driver must have been speeding because the two lanes I was crossing during rush hour were completely clear. He begged to differ. It was my bad, and I made Christmas not so merry for a few people.

For the two weeks of Christmas holiday, I drove a loaner that made me feel like I was doing laps in a go-kart. I swear my back end had to be four inches from the ground, but it was actually a nice compact car that was easy to park and opened a wide swath of space in our garage. I was practicing gratefulness, but I wasn’t sad to say goodbye to the rental when the body repair shop called to tell me my Kia Sorento was ready.

“You’ll never know you had an accident,” they said with great confidence, which is exactly what I wanted to hear. Let’s wipe this from our memory, shall we? The car looked just as I had remembered, and I felt a little emotional as I climbed behind the wheel. At this point, I should tell you that I’m not a car person. I don’t get new car fever, and I don’t trade in my car on any regular basis. This was my first new car in almost a decade and I aim to keep this one until the wheels fall off. I’m actually envious of the people who call Car Talk and when asked how many miles are on the car answer well above the hundred thousand mark.

I drove my car out of the parking lot of the repair shop and onto the main street, where I eased into the left turn lane and clicked on my signal. And at that moment, I knew that my Sorento and I – however long we will be together – were probably never going to wipe the accident from our memory. The clicking of my turn signal was in double time, like a nervous woman incessantly tapping her long fingernails. I turned it off and then on again, and still, she tapped in fast motion. I checked the right turn signal, and the slow, rhythmic sound was a soothing contrast to the impatient clicking of the leftie.

I could have turned the car around and demanded they fix the hyperactive turn signal, but I didn’t. I realized the irony and the lesson immediately. Nope, the Sorento and I were going to endure her flaw because I need to be reminded of something every time I turn left: there exists in me a problem with speed. I thrive on going fast -everything from walking to talking. In Ghana, as I spoke to groups of our families in the Rising Village program, Isaac, our Ghana director, was constantly giving me a signal to slow down my rapid speech – palms down, pressing lower and lower. “Slow down, please Lisa,” he would say with that ever-present smile.

Yes, Lisa, please slow down. I avoid the grocery store during the mornings because that’s when all the slow people shop, and there is nothing that makes me lose my religion like getting behind someone who shuffles through the aisles as if they have never stepped foot inside that store. Here’s another sad fact: sometimes I count down how long it takes me to get dressed in the morning and I’m not making that up. If I can get dressed in 40 seconds I’m doing good. My goal is 30. It’s a game, really, because nothing in my life demands that level of speed. I can’t really explain it, and I should probably seek therapy for it, but the turn signal is cheaper. It’s double-time click has been a reminder that I shot out into the lane to make that left turn because, once again, I was in a big, fat hurry. Every time I turn left, it’s like a chant: Too fast, too fast, too fast, too fast. 

I drive like a granny now, and it’s not because I made some resolution to “slow down in 2015.” It’s because I want to keep that Sorento and call in a radio car show and boast that my Kia has 145,000 miles on it, and here’s this little noise it’s been making…” And also, because I can look back and list quite a few other mishaps that occurred because I was too impatient to slow down, or just wait patiently. I still find myself tempted to play “beat the clock” while getting dressed or doing a dozen other daily tasks, but now I’m paying attention to my need for speed and intentionally slowing things down. And if I need a poignant reminder, I can always slowly walk to my car, get in, drive the speed limit, and make a bunch of left turns.

 

In Praise of Dumb Phones

I’ve been thinking about cell phones over the past week. Specifically, smart phones. For 12 year olds. It all started when our youngest and I were sitting at the dining room table working on jewelry to help raise money for the school in Africa. Suddenly, her nose got red and I saw tears in her eyes. She hates to cry in front of me, so she leaned her head back to try to keep the tears from sliding down her cheeks.

Me: Are you crying?

12 Year Old: Some kids at school are making fun of me.

(I thought I could guess where this conversation was headed, but I was wrong).

I put down what I was working on and looked in her eyes.

Me: Honey, why are other kids making fun of you?

12 Year Old: Because I don’t have a cell phone or an iPad. (The irony of this conversation and what we were working on at that moment was not lost on me.)

Me: Excuse me?

12 Year Old: It makes me sad.

Me: They’re making fun of you?

12 Year Old: And it’s annoying.

I shook my head because, honestly, I was confused.

Me: You actually have friends who are making fun of you because you don’t have a cell phone or an iPad?

I realized that I was a few steps behind in this conversation because tears were now streaming down her face and I was still trying to wrap my mind around what she had told me. When I was in sixth grade I was also made fun of at school, but it was because I wore gaucho pants with red Converse tennis shoes almost every day. Although that sounds comical, it hurt terribly when I realized kids were laughing behind my back, and so I don’t ever ignore the “making fun of me” conversation. But really, this one made no sense. Here was my beautiful, friendly, social, stylish daughter telling me that she was being teased because she didn’t own a cell phone or an iPad. Apparently kids bring these devices to school and flash them around like, oh, I don’t know…status symbols. In sixth grade.

Forgive me if I seem behind the times. We thought we were indulging our older kids when they were 13 and 14 and we bought a flip phone (with no texting capability) for them to share. And they weren’t allowed to take it to school. What has happened in nine years? So now, my kid is out of step because she isn’t carrying around a device on which she can access the Internet 24 hours a day. I know I sound like my mother, but I don’t care. After empathizing with my daughter’s feelings, I firmly explained to her why she was not going to get a smart phone for a few years. In the course of our conversation about all the “whys”, I told her this: Grownups have enough trouble behaving themselves on social media. I don’t expect that adolescent kids do any better.

There is something about social media sites that makes some people feel like they can say things and express opinions that should never be uttered in a face-to-face conversation. I’ve watched people slam other people in the comments on Facebook with an ugliness that makes me cringe. And I’ve seen exchanges (arguments) escalate until the original person who posted had to step in and ask that everyone please stop the conversation because they had not intended such ugliness to be splattered all over their page. This really isn’t intended to be a rant on Facebook behavior (although some might argue it’s time), but instead, a plea.

I have been a parent long enough to know better than to question, judge, or hand out opinions on anyone else’s parenting. I didn’t birth or adopt your kid, so it’s not my place to get into the business of how you raise your kid. But here is what I would ask: If you choose to get your 12-year-old a smart phone or a nifty tablet device, kindly inform your child that not all children have one. Let your child know that there are cruel parents out there depriving their kids of these necessities, and that instead of making fun of these poor souls, they should treat them nicely. Ask your child not to wave their electronics in the deprived children’s faces and then inquire of them why they do not own cool things. These deprived children are not going to take up the parent’s rally cry for no smart phones or tablets. Although my daughter seemed pretty okay with our logical reasons why she will not get a smart phone or tablet for a few years, I doubt she gathered her school friends around the next day and gave an eloquent, stirring speech about cyber-bullying and bad behavior on Facebook. I’m sure she didn’t inform them how much it costs for the data plan or that her parents would like to wait until she’s older before they have to endure her face buried in a screen at the dinner table every evening. She’s probably still slinking around the playground and hallways, avoiding the question, “Why don’t you have one of these?”

I’m chained to my smart phone, as is my husband and our oldest daughter. And it will be that way from now on because it appears these devices aren’t going anywhere. We can’t live without them, so why rush our children into this bondage as well? So I’m letting it be known that I will happily trot to the phone store this fall when our daughter starts middle school and buy her the dumbest phone on the market. I’m gathering she’ll be one of the very few at her school brandishing one of these terrible sliders or flips, so I’m preparing her for this and hoping the middle-schoolers don’t give her too much grief. Parents, if our kids end up in school together, thanks for giving your child a heads-up that not all kids with dumb phones are dumb. Just deprived.

Follow the Clothes, Part One

I’ve been wanting to write about clothes for a while, but it’s come to the surface thanks to Friday mornings and Tuesday nights.

On Fridays, I work at my church’s Caring Center, which is a ministry that distributes donated clothing to people who are in need.

On Tuesdays, I go to a book study where some friends and I talk about the excess in our lives (food, possessions, media…clothes) and how we can fight against our Western culture’s message that we always need more. This week we talked about clothes and we were given the simple – albeit painful – assignment of counting the clothes in our closet. Ugh. I shall not expose the number, but I will tell you that after completing the assignment, I immediately began a purge session which resulted in four bags of clothing that I will take to the Caring Center on Friday. Great, right? Yes, mostly. But it’s complicated.

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For about a year, I have greatly reduced the amount of clothing I purchase – to the tune of only about three pieces each season of new, purchased clothing (including shoes). Don’t you dare be a bit impressed because before I went on this clothes-buying sabbatical, I had accumulated a ridiculously large wardrobe. Ridiculously. Large. So I had room to purge. But honestly, my purging this week was really just trimming the fat. It was mostly the rejects that I stuffed into the bags – old t-shirts, some ragged jeans that don’t fit, boots that have seen better days. Some of these items will go on the racks at the Clothing Center. And the rest?

At the Caring Center, we have some large bins where we put clothes destined for bigger donation centers like Salvation Army and Goodwill. These are the clothes that we just can’t offer to our wonderful clients. They’re torn, hopelessly out of date (Polyester suit anyone?), or blotched with stains that can’t be removed. When I see these filled bins, I wish there was another option. Here’s what you probably don’t know (I didn’t):

When you put your clothes in bags to carry to the big donation centers, you’re assuming that your items will be passed on to someone in need in your community. But everyone else is stuffing their clothing into bags too, and so the donation centers are absolutely inundated. Most of what they receive they don’t keep. A large Salvation Army donation processing center (which has smaller feeder locations) can process an average of five tons of outcast clothing every single day of the year. Only a tiny fraction of these end up at the donation store and upon their arrival have about one month to sell before they are pulled. And here is where it gets interesting. Those unwanted clothes (twice rejected) along with other items that never make the store in the first place, are pushed into a compressor that squeezes out neat cubes of secondhand clothing that weigh a half of ton each. Then those cubes are stacked high. One main distribution center for Salvation Army builds a wall made of 18 tons, or 36 bales of unwanted clothing every three days. And that’s just one location in one city. Use your imagination to picture how walls of cast-off clothing are being built in donation centers across the country.

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From there, where do these cubes travel? In case you didn’t know it, there are over a thousand textile processors that recycle clothes in a variety of ways. They come to the rescue of the donation centers like Goodwill and Salvation Army and take the junk off their hands and pay, oh, maybe three cents a pound. Yes, the waters of charity and tax write-offs get a little murky here, but don’t think about that. We’ll just continue our story. According to New York Times reporter George Packer, in his classic piece: “How Susie Bayer’s T-Shirt Ended Up on Yusuf Mama’s Back”, at many textile recycling companies, there are four export classifications: “Premium” goes to Asia and Latin America; Africa A (the clothes that have lost some brightness) goes to the better-off African countries like Kenya; Africa B (clothes with a stain or small hole) goes to the continent’s disaster areas such as DRC or Angola. Oh, and then there’s the Wiper Rag classification where they transform our clothing into cleaning cloths. To sell. After the clothes have been designated, they travel…again. Most of them go here:

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Packer writes,

If you’ve ever left a bag of clothes outside the Salvation Army or given to a local church drive, chances are that you’ve dressed an African.

Trade vendors wait at airports to sort through our stuff so they can haul it to local markets and make a buck. And what’s so bad about that? Nothing, until you begin to peel back the layers.Yes, people in the Global South are able to purchase our used clothing cheaper in the market than they would from say, a local textile manufacturer or a local seamstress. The local textile manufacturing industry in Africa is on life-support. In Ghana, there were over 20 textile firms that employed more than 25,000 people in the last two decades. Now the country has only four textile factories employing less than 3,000 Ghanaians. Is there a cause and effect going on here? Honestly, I don’t know, but I have a guess. And although local seamstresses make a decent living stitching the beautiful wax fabric dresses, skirts, and shirts that are still popular traditional clothing, they are always competing with the second-hand market vendors. If you could buy your little girl a pair of cheap studded jeans and a t-shirt that says “Flirt” on it for a fraction of the cost of a traditional wax fabric dress, maybe you’d take that option.

Children across the continent wear our cast-offs. While these clothes may be a good deal for struggling families in developing countries in the short-run, this is not a viable solution for the long-term economy of a continent. Developing countries need to have a healthy textile manufacturing industry to employ people and lower the cost of goods – not a steady stream of our cheap giveaway clothes hauled over in bales to sell at the local market. Most of the time, Africans assume the clothing was sold in the first place. When they hear it was given away, they bristle and wonder why they are having to pay for it.

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It’s an unfair business filled with some shady business dealings on the back end, and the people who shop the secondhand goods at the market are paying money they barely have for clothes that we were content to throw out. Something about it reminds me that the world can be a very unjust place for those with few resources and a lack of options. So how can one person like me possibly make a difference in a sea of 2.5 billion pounds of donated clothing? I can’t. But I can make a difference in my own sea of clothing. I’ve listed a few good options for places you might consider taking your cast-off clothing. For now, I think it’s good for you and I to at least think about where our unwanted clothing will most likely end up.

Is there something we can do about this on the front end? I’ll give you a hint what’s coming in the next post with this shocking statistic: Americans spent roughly $340 billion on clothing last year – about 25 percent of the global market. I’ve purged. And I still have a closet full of clothes – most of which I have purchased “on sale.” This just might be the problem.

Where to Donate:

Dress for Success

FBC Caring Center (Tulsa)

Souls4Souls

John 3:16 Mission (Tulsa)

Before the Madness Begins

Three days before Halloween someone in our neighborhood put up their Christmas lights, which was far more frightening than any ghoul or goblin that roamed the streets on October 31st. And a few weeks after Halloween we went to a department store to buy Kyle some “business casual” pants and were accosted by snowflake streamers and serenaded by Let it Snow. Is there anything else that needs to be said about how we should gear down our holiday madness? It seems that around this time of year there are countless articles, posts, news reports, and regular folks like me lamenting about how we have taken this too far.

So, in the spirit of it all, I’m going add to the word count and write about gearing down for the holidays because every year I need to hear it. I get swept up in all the hype and over-the-top expectations. I actually believe that: I should send out the most creative Christmas card (with the perfect family photo); I should have Christmas décor in every room and it should different and better than last year; I should buy gifts that make people weep and shout for joy; I should make it the best Christmas ever for every single person in my family – and perhaps in my extended family. One year, I even bought Christmas bedding from top to bottom for the out-of-town family that was coming in so that they would be literally wrapped up in holiday while they were nestled all snug in their beds. Nothing wrong with any of these things, but I’ve determined for myself that I can’t – and shouldn’t – do them all.

Everyone who dares to snarl at how over-marketed and under-enjoyed the holidays have become runs the risks of being branded a Scrooge. So be it. I’ve wasted a lot of time, money, and energy turning what should be a beautiful celebration into a stressful production. I’ve had too many holidays that left me with the feeling that I had completely missed the point. Since I’m trying to learn what it means to live simply, think of this post as a conversation. Tell me what you’re doing to simplify the holidays. And quid pro quo – I’ll go ahead and give you my list:

  • At the very top of my list is this: I am going to enjoy Thanksgiving all weekend, so don’t expect me to join in any Christmas hype before Monday, November 26. I want to spend the weekend being grateful for what I have. I don’t do that nearly enough during the year, and so when there is holiday that is specifically designed for that purpose, I’m taking it.
  • I will carefully choose my social engagements this holiday season. I do not have to attend every holiday gathering. All the parties, open houses, dinners and white elephant exchanges will go on without me. I have a few will-not-miss events that I have chosen carefully. I want these to add to the spirit of the season, not drain it out of me.
  •  My kids will not get piles of presents they did not ask for. Each of them will be given a list of a) one thing they want, b) one thing they need c) one thing they will give. This last one involves a $50 handout from us that they are then required to give to the charity of their choice. If that little list sounds unfair, I can only tell you that after almost 23 years of parenting I’ve learned that it is not my job to make my children happy, but to teach them – as best I can – how to take their eyes off themselves so that they can learn how to be happy. Besides, they have grandparents. They’ll be fine.
  • I will do my best not to join in the crazy holiday shopping. Last year I wrote about how to shop differently and I’m going to do my best to carry forward with that. It’s not always easy. I tend to procrastinate (a fabulous way to complicate your life, by the way) and find myself at the Big Box getting a last-minute generic gift. If you see me there, don’t judge; just know that I did, indeed, procrastinate which took me on an unfortunate detour. It’s a journey folks. We learn as we go.

Before the madness begins, I hope tomorrow is a quiet day of reflecting on all that we have been given and then lifting up our lists with a humble prayer of gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Keep Calm and Consider the Birds

A few months after my mother died, a mama bird made a nest in the floodlights of our back patio. While we sat in the cool spring air and reminisced about Mom, shedding tears and laughing over joyful memories, we watched this bird calmly build her nest, rest on her eggs, then swoop out and back to feed the new babies. It was a beautiful reminder that life goes on, but it was also an opportunity to have a close seat for bird-watching. I’m not usually enthralled with birds, but in the midst of our grieving, it was therapeutic. Since then, I haven’t really thought much about birds until I started on a recent journey of de-cluttering.

For the past few decades I’ve been mastering the art of complicating my life with far too much of everything. It reached a climax a little over a year ago. I had been in a free-fall descent into the insanity of busyness, accumulation, and worry and I hit bottom the week before we left for our three-week tour of China and South Korea. It was perfect timing. It helps to step into another crazy world when your own is crashing in on you. So now I am attempting to de-clutter. It’s not just my possessions. I’m also de-cluttering my commitments, my eating habits, my parenting, and my relationships. Last week I wrote my monthly column about  this for Mia magazine, which you can read here (yet another shameless plug). I’m working through this simplicity business so if you’re curious about how I plan to de-clutter these areas of my life, you might bookmark  Mia Magazine Online. I’ll be posting about it each month. And no, I’m not ditching friends or leaving my daughter to parent herself. But I have allowed junk to accumulate in my schedule, on my plate, and in the way I do relationships and parenting, so it’s time to clean it out and carry it to the curb.

In this journey toward simplicity, I’m thinking about the birds Jesus speaks of in Matthew 6 as he delivers the most amazing sermon on the side of a mountain. I like to read this passage from The Message translation because the language seems to correlate well with the setting.

If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than the birds.

I know exactly zero people who live this out, including me. If I could calculate how much mental energy I have expended on food and clothes (and accessories), I would crawl shamefully into the nearest hole. Careless in the care of God? Not me. Free and unfettered? Don’t think so. And it’s not just food and clothes. Insert house, cars, vacations, finances, reputation, career. But life doesn’t work like that, we pragmatists say. People must give attention to making a living, putting food on the table, caring for our homes, looking our best, building a career. This is true, but we don’t just give attention to these things. We’re prone to obsess over them, depend on them, and I’ve done it for so long that I don’t know a good alternative way to live. And when I read radical words like “careless”, “free”, and “unfettered,” I tend to wave it off as Jesus going way overboard in order to make a point. But I’m guessing that Jesus didn’t say things he didn’t mean, and every translation of this sermon has him repeating the same message: calm down.

I’m working on it. It helps to read these words every morning to remind myself that a life of simplicity frees me to see things a little more clearly. And maybe if I toss out some of the clutter in my line of vision, I might be able to do a little bird-watching.

Shameless Plug: The Mia Column

I used to edit a print magazine, Mia. For three years, my publishing partners and I birthed a “baby” every three months and then proudly toted that baby around, holding her up and asking people to read her. Lots of people shared in our pride and joy, and they subscribed to the magazine. But the print publishing business is tough even if you have an excellent product, and so after 11 issues we decided to fold the print and transition to online. It took quite a while for us to take the plunge into online publishing, but I’m so glad we did. Mia online is excellent. I can say that objectively because I am no longer the editor, but instead just a lowly columnist – which I love. Finally, I get to write and let someone else worry about editing and typos. Well, mostly. I must keep in mind that a good editor doesn’t like to find any. If you find a typo or poor grammar in this post, ignore. My editing skills might be growing rusty. Excuses, excuses.

My column is called “Simply Being” and you can find it here. Selfishly, I’m writing it because I need to learn more about what it means to live simply. My life has been chaotic and cluttered through most of my adulthood. I am always looking for the next project to start, the next thing to buy, and the next activity to scribble in the calendar boxes. I find new and creative ways to multi-task while simultaneously longing for focus. I desperately want and need simplicity. But even simplifying can get overwhelming. A trip to the bookstore afforded me the opportunity to see how many books have been written on this subject. A sampling: Organized Simplicity, Radical Simplicity, The Laws of Simplicity (there are laws?), Choosing Simplicity, Abundant SimplicityInside Out Simplicity, Voluntary Simplicity, The Simplicity Survival Handbook. Really? A book on surviving simplicity? This gives me pause.

The last thing I want to do is make simplicity a project, a task, or a quest. I would like for simplicity to emanate organically from a soul that is settled. I’m not there yet. Not even close. My soul is so often on the hunt for significance, meaning, comfort, pleasure. But I wonder – what if I already have everything I need? What if simplicity is only a matter of embracing the beauty of what I have been given, where I am at this moment, what is straight in front of me instead of what is out there?

I’m nagged by these words: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)  Maybe it’s time for me to stop putting my cultural spin on what Jesus meant.

So I’m inviting you to join me on the journey of simply being. It’s going to look different for you than it will for me, but I think we can learn from one another. I’ll post a follow-up blog post each time my monthly column in Mia is published. And yes, I’m putting that on my calendar.