Raise Her Ransom

Many of us at On the Willows are involved with, or big fans of, an anti-trafficking organization called Agape International Missions (AIM). If you’ve never heard of it before, you can find out more on their informative website.

This Father’s Day, AIM is running a campaign called Raise Her Ransom, calling on men around the country and the world to stand up against sex trafficking, and to raise money to support the tremendous efforts AIM does in bringing restoration to rescued victims.

Now, you might be scratching your head, wondering why we’re talking about this on a blog for women by women. Well, we feel so strongly about this cause (that is asking men to stand up and protect young women) that we’re asking you to read the article below, and pass it on to your husbands, boyfriends, and fathers. Maybe even consider giving to AIM on behalf of your husband or dad for Father’s Day.

The article linked below is by Clayton Butler (fiance to OTW contributor, Emily Inouye!), the US Director of Trafficking Prevention for AIM, who spent several years in Cambodia in the trenches working toward a sustainable solution to this terrible injustice of modern-day slavery. It’s a great read. We encourage you to take a look, and get involved this Father’s Day.

Reflecting the Father Article by Clayton Butler

Sincerely,

Lyndsay Wilkin, Editor (on behalf of the On the Willows Team)

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Writing in Public

I recently read Virginia Lee Burton’s classic children’s book Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel to my daughters. For those whose lives aren’t steeped in children’s literature, it’s the story of Mike Mulligan and — you guessed it — his steam shovel, named Mary Anne. And here’s the thing about Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne:

When people used to stop

and watch them,

Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne

used to dig a little faster

and a little better.

The fact that Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne dig faster and better when they’re being watched is a central plot point; when they have to dig the basement of Popperville’s new town hall in just one day, it’s their growing audience that spurs them on to complete the job that “would take at least a hundred men at least a week to dig.”

On the one hand, this is a nice message about community support and involvement. The town council shows up, and the fire department, and the local elementary school, and then the switchboard operator calls the next town over, and the WHOLE TOWN turns out to watch Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne dig.

On the other hand, that Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne were so influenced by spectators made me a little…uncomfortable. What message is this book sending my children? I wondered. That your performance should depend on how many people are noticing? Whatever happened to being self-motivated? To doing your best regardless of whether anybody sees? To “Dance as if nobody’s watching?”

It  bothered me, because it’s completely opposed to the advice I’ve been given about writing.

I’ve been writing a personal blog for about a year now, about life and motherhood — mostly my life and motherhood in Vermont. For anybody who might think that I just dash off these blog posts in one sitting and hit “Publish,” I’m very flattered, but nothing could be further from the truth. I love writing, and because I love writing, I want to honor it by writing well. With a few exceptions, I typically have written whatever post you’re reading at least one month prior to when it shows up on the blog. I write it in pieces, whenever I have a quiet block of time, and then I revisit it obsessively to edit.

Because this process is something I enjoy and want to get better at, I also occasionally read books about writing.  A couple of the best — and I’m not unique in thinking this — have been Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. And Anne Lamott and Stephen King and their compatriots all say the same thing: Don’t worry about whether your work ever gets published. Publishing won’t solve all your problems, and may even create MORE problems for you. Write for YOU, because you love to write and need to write.

That seems like such good advice. If I’m constantly looking over my shoulder when I write, trying to please some imaginary audience or turn out material that’s “publishable,” my writing probably won’t be very honest or genuine or enjoyable. Even Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne didn’t sit around waiting for an audience before they started digging; they got started, and then the audience came.

But still… When people used to stop and watch them, Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne used to dig a little faster and a little better.

Here’s where Anne Lamott and Stephen King’s advice breaks down: Writing is an act of communication. Most people write because they feel like they have something to say. And if you have something to say, talking to yourself starts to feel kind of sad and weird after a while. The fact is that the best way to communicate to the most number of people is to get your writing published.

This isn’t just about writing, of course. This is about the tension between doing whatEVER you love for its own sake, versus wanting external validation for that thing.

It’s no different with anything that people work hard to become good at. If you love baking, you usually don’t sit around eating all those pastries by yourself. If you make art or do research or know how to help people fix things (or themselves), there comes a point at which it would be unnatural not to share those things with the broader public. Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne loved to dig and were good at it, but they didn’t just dig holes in their own backyard — they dug for other people AND (gasp!) FOR MONEY.

Another way of saying this: Our gifts are meant to be shared. Sharing the things we love doing and are good at is how we each make an imprint on the world, no matter how small. If you’re spiritually inclined, sharing your gifts is one way you worship.

The hard truth of this: There are a lot of very gifted people out there, and relatively narrow opportunities for gift-sharing. You could spend all of your time trying to share your gift (trying to get published, get a gallery show, open your business, etc.) at the expense of actually doing what you love. And that’s just as silly as keeping your gift all to yourself.

I don’t have much relief to offer when it comes to this tension between doing what we love and wanting to share those things with the public. But that’s okay; not all tension is bad, or needs to be relieved. Also (I never thought I’d say this), in many ways this is the genius of the internet: I can easily publish my writing online, and some people will read it — even if it’s just my friends and family — and offer comments and feedback. I write because I love it, and because I need to write to rid my head of the pressure of  unexpressed thoughts, but it’s those comments and feedback that keep me going, that tell me I’m not just shouting into a void.

Nevertheless, I keep the end of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel in mind as a cautionary tale. With their enormous audience, Mike and Mary Anne DO accomplish what nobody thought they could: they dig the Popperville town hall basement in just one day. But they’re digging so well and so fast that they forget one crucial thing: they forget to leave a way out for themselves.

Virginia Lee Burton creates a charming ending out of Mike Mulligan’s critical error; Mike and Mary Anne stay in the basement. Mary Anne is converted into the furnace for the new town hall, and Mike serves as janitor.  They live out their days in the town hall basement, surrounded by the grateful citizens of Popperville. It’s a happy ending.

After all, this is a children’s book.

But I take away a darker meaning; the ending of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel reminds me that it’s possible to become so engrossed in our work, so caught up in our audience’s validation, that we forget to leave a way out. I love to write, I want to share my writing, and I don’t think that it’s wrong to live in the tension between doing something for yourself and also desiring an audience. But neither of those things is my whole life. Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne taught me that it’s important to always leave a way out, an exit up into the fresh air of the rest of our lives. I don’t want to be trapped in a basement of my own design, no matter how well or how quickly I dug it.

Posted in Art, Culture & Media, Theology & Philosophy, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Thanks, Guys!

I love letters. There is something special about receiving and sending an old fashioned, hand written, snail mail piece of paper, tenderly and considerately crafted. Maybe because technology has become our quick and primary form of communicating, or maybe it’s that letters innately hold some different value, but I get far more joy from reaching my hand into the mailbox than opening up my email. With that said, I think the thoughtfulness and special quality of letter form is the best way to write what I want to express to all of you: gratitude. This isn’t exactly on a tangible piece of paper, or in the mail, but hopefully my thoughts of thankfulness to you will be adequately received in this letter. So here it goes…

Dear Friends and Family,

Thank you.

For what, you ask?

For being you. For doing all the little things you don’t realize you do that have far more impact than initially understood. Thank you for loving your kids, for loving your church, for serving your church, for being faithful to your families. Thank you for working hard, for sharing your hearts, for seeking to grow, and seeking to love and be loved.

And thank you, most of all, for being a part of the Church; for calling yourself a member of probably the largest “organization” in the world. It is through your commitment to Christ and his heaven-bound but earth-grounded family that I have come to a fuller understanding of community, of love, and most importantly, the character and goodness of my heavenly Father.

Some of you are probably familiar with my recent family history. My sister, Lyndsay, has written on a couple occasions of the hardships that we faced. In less than a year, our dad went to prison as an innocent man, and Lyndsay found herself with the grave and life changing news that she was a cancer patient, at age 26. Looking back, the whole thing seems kind of ridiculous. How could so much happen to one little familial unit at one time? And while I couldn’t necessarily say that I am thankful, per se, that those things happened, I am so grateful for what happened in the midst of them.

I saw all of you, the Body of Christ, act in a way that astounded me. I was away at an internship while most of this happened, but I heard the stories, and I witnessed the goodness. I saw countless friends and family members gather daily in a courtroom for weeks to support my dad. I saw people give their time and money to feed us meals, to provide us with family vacations, support my dad financially in prison, and drive at length, just to visit and give him a day’s worth of company and encouragement. I participated with dozens of other people as we crowded behind my dad on a stage as he shared a tearful and unfinished testimony at church over several services.

I heard of all the people that visited my sister in the hospital, who loved her and loved my family and prayed for us and with us.

And even miles and miles away in the middle of nowhere, I was the recipient of all this goodness. Friends there and friends from home enabled me to come home and be with my family in a great time of need, no charge to me.

I wouldn’t say that this time in my family’s life was easy for me. But my frustrations and confusion and pain were trivial and mitigated in the light of the beauty I saw in the Church being the Church. You were the face of love, the face of joy and selflessness, the face of the seemingly abstract goodness of God’s nature that can be so hard to pinpoint or understand.

Many of you reading this might not know about all this that happened and you might not have taken part directly in this love fest my family experienced. So why am I thanking you? Because you are a part of the Church, the Body of Christ. You are a part of my greater kingdom family, the kind of family that transcends time and circumstance and earthly dwelling and location. Every day, you do things that contribute to the DNA of the Church that caused others within to act on behalf of my family. Every day, though we often focus more on our shortcomings, you obey Christ, you are faithful and obedient in some way. Every day, you serve and love and give and live out the Gospel. You love the people near you. You serve and support your family and friends. Every day, you are the hands and feet of Christ, the extension of his will and his love. Every day, you “pay it forward” in a sense.

You might think that you are one insignificant person who doesn’t really make a difference. But each one of you is a member of something. Each one of you contributes to this greater something that was responsible for the strengthening and encouraging of my family, and continues to be so in different ways. You are the hugs, the hands to hold, the listening ears, the encouraging words.

I recently read a book about a guy and his journey as a celibate homosexual Christian. One of the issues he brought up was his desire for deep, intimate and meaningful relationships with people and his simultaneous loneliness. He talks about how we think that all we need is God and we’re set, which is true, but that God can fill those places of loneliness with humanity, and more specifically, the Church. He can be all we need through our family around us. This struck a chord within me as I reflected on the reality of the truth of that statement. There was no escape route in the midst of the turmoil my family faced. There was no visible restoration. My dad wasn’t let off the hook and my sister didn’t experience immediate supernatural healing. There was only you, and Christ’s love manifested through you.

Thank you, for all you have done and all you do. Thank you for what you did for my family, for what you did before that, for what you do now, and for what is yet to be seen. Thank you for being who you were created to be.

~Lana

photo via.

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Jesus + Nothing = Everything

I am a part of a book club for moms that focuses on reading books that are non-fiction (sigh). Our books are not always well-received in our group. We have read books on parenting which we find difficult. Some of us are laid back parents, some of us have children that thrive under structure, and we even have a mom who has children that were adopted older, so a parenting book that works for one doesn’t always work for the other. And just like parenting, marriages are different as well. We are all constantly at different places in our marriages – none better than the other, just different. Some of us are over-the-top conservative, and others think the word “submission” is an actual cuss word.

So in our moms club of awesomeness, where we do life, pray for each other, love each other unconditionally and speak truthfully always, we have decided the best books to read are the books that are about the foundation of us: books about Jesus.

This last round we read Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian.

THIS. BROKE. OUR. BRAINS.

I don’t want to give away the whole book but his main theme is: the Gospel that saves you in the beginning is the same Gospel that saves you at the end of your life. The TRUTHS about God’s unfathomable grace are always true, but as a society, we add to our salvation. So it’s Jesus+ moralism or Jesus+ legalism. We are constantly adding things to our faith to make us better Christians, but that negates the cross.

This idea of abundant grace isn’t new, and isn’t even really Tullian’s idea (it’s Jesus’). Tim Keller talks about it as well. But I had never seen it paired directly with our actions like this. This book made me realize how often we try and fix ourselves . . . which is ridiculous. I mean, really? First, I can’t fix myself – only God can. Second, Jesus takes me just the way I am, every day, not just on the day I got saved. And third, what changed? Why was I good enough when I first got saved, but then if I do not perform, do I lose my salvation?

He also talks a lot about the restlessness we feel and the need to fill the “voids” in our lives, which is when we start adding things. Tullian says things like:

“Because Jesus was strong for me, I was free to be weak.”

“The Gospel liberates us to be okay with not being okay.”

“It’s not your old life you want back; it’s your idols you want back, and I love you too much to give them back to you. ”

No one in our group said this book was “okay” or “terrible” (which is a first for us). Everyone said this book was really affecting them in a deep way. The things it talks about are so contrary to many things that are preached to us from the pulpit on Sundays that it is hard to wrap your brain around the very simple concepts. It’s a re-training of ourselves. Often one of the girls would say, “Okay, but what does that look like? How do I do what he is asking of me?” And the really annoying answer was always: you don’t, Jesus does.

This book helped me BE a better Christian to others by realizing that my “walk” with God has nothing to do with me being a better Christian than others, because the truth is, we are all the same. We are all sinners. I had always heard “the ground is level at the cross.” But now I really understand it.

I would give this book five out of five stars (its one flaw being that it is REALLY repetitive, like most Christian books).

Give this book a try! And let me know what you think!

Photo via.

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Whole Wheat Waffles

I love making and eating a special breakfast over the weekend. It usually consists of an omelet, but I recently found a recipe from the American Diabetes Association for whole wheat waffles. I made a few minor changes mentioned below. 

ingredients:

  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 Tbsp Splenda
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup 2%  milk
  • 2 Tbsp unsweetened apple sauce (in place of oil)
  • Nonstick cooking spray

directions:

Combine dry ingredients, mix and set aside. Combine wet ingredients and add to dry ingredients, mixing completely.

Coat waffle iron with nonstick cooking spray and allow to heat thoroughly.

Add one cup batter to waffle iron and cook until done.

Serve with maple syrup and butter or as desired.

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