Wednesday, November 03, 2010

From the Heart of a Tree Hugger

In fourth grade, my reading class revolved around a program called Future Problem Solving, also known as FPS. For the next three years, my peers and I were challenged to come up with detailed solutions for major problems affecting the world. The first year our theme was the destruction of the rain forest. If by any chance you were also in FPS, I'm sorry if this post brings on an episode of PTSD.

Our little class of ten-year-olds was divided into groups of four. Within those groups we had to analyze the big problems - like deforestation - and come up with tons of problematic scenarios that fell under them. (Curtis, does this explain anything to you?) For example, the earth was going to run out of oxygen if the rainforests disappeared. Or, we could unknowingly destroy and eradicate a plant species that held the cure for cancer. I took this to mean that we were all going to die if I didn't do a good job at future problem solving. Then we had to write essays on the solutions to these problems. And it was timed. Whichever group showed most promise got to go to Austin for the real competition. (Oh goody!) The pressure to anticipate disaster, solve the world's most complex issues, and do this before the timer went off was ridiculously intense. Insane, really. I vividly remember students hyperventilating in class and myself planning how I could run home and escape it all. A fourth, fifth or sixth grader does not have the wisdom to see that the weight of the world does not actually rest on her shoulders.

FPS taught me two things - anxiety and tree hugging.

I developed a deep passion for the rainforest and endangered animals. My father, who was confounded that such an idealistic child could come from himself, didn't really want to hear all the "bull crap" I was learning about the rainforest. He smelled politics behind what we were learning and it made him gag. Anyway, I might be living in California in a redwood tree right now if it weren't for him tempering my passion for the trees.

There is a certain two mile stretch of road between my house and my kids' school that I drive at least four times a week. It's a beautiful drive that takes you over a big creek and through huge pine and oak trees. There's a horse farm, an alpaca farm, and several other nice properties that I enjoy looking at. This area is on a flood plain because of the creek, so it's very green and pretty. Well, because of people like me who drive down that road so often, the county is widening the road. Last week men were out chopping down the enormous trees. The smell of pine filled the car as we zoomed by. It was so heartbreaking. Every time I came and went, more trees were gone. Today I saw all of their stumps. I had to talk myself out of crying.

This is not the end of the world.

The trees don't have feelings.

You'll forget how pretty it used to be.

Why do you feel so much righteous indignation about trees?


Because I live in beautiful Suburbia. Things are so neat and clean here that I can be deceived into thinking that our worst problem is the loss of trees. I have the privilege of believing that my neighborhood's greatest injustice is that some people let their dogs poop on the sidewalk and don't clean it up. The biggest hardship in my kids' school life may be that their teacher goes on maternity leave. If these are the kinds of burdens I have, I need to look for someone with bigger burdens and help lighten their load.

On our date last week I told Curtis I was ready to go back to Guatemala. Among other things, I was discouraged about my sadness over the trees and I needed to get a reality check. For the next few days we got letters from each one of our
Compassion kids. I was reminded to get online and give to Compassion's Christmas gift fund. While I was doing that, I sent a message to each one of them through the web site. I thanked God for Stefanie's sweet smile, for her mother who has such high hopes for her, and for the amazing day we spent together in September. I thanked Him for Marlon in Honduras who is turning into a young man. His 13th birthday is this week. He told me he cares more about his education than about sports. I thanked God for sweet Putul in India whose translated letters I can barely understand. What different cultures we live in. What a privilege to be a part of her life in a way that was orchestrated by God. After about an hour of pouring my heart out to these children, my soul was restored. Technically, we are the ones giving them gifts, but what they give us is priceless.

If we engage with people outside of our bubbles, we get to stop crying over trees, dog poop, and teachers taking maternity leave. We can be rescued from our illusions. We can pour out, love sacrificially, live beyond ourselves, and get over ourselves. And I am first in line as one who needs to get over herself.

Our community is having an outbreak of teen suicides. One of them has been in the news for the last month. Another happened this weekend. Suburban kids may have everything they need physically, but their souls still need Christ's unfailing love. Even in the prettiest neighborhoods, children are being victimized by people they should be able to trust. Spouses are married to addicts and abusers and are hanging on by a thread. Do we take the time to see? To go deeper than casual talk with those we meet? Do we give the woman who intimidates us because she's skinnier in her skinny jeans a chance to be real? Because her perfect appearance doesn't exclude her from suffering.

We need to engage with people outside our bubbles. We need to pray,
give and go. And those of us in the burbs need to let the bubble burst about where we live. There are ministry opportunities all around us. Give us eyes to see past the trees, Lord.

53 comments:

tacy said...

very well-said!!

Kristin said...

I love this part ...

"If we engage with people outside of our bubbles, we get to stop crying over trees, dog poop, and teachers taking maternity leave. We can be rescued from our illusions. We can pour out, love sacrificially, live beyond ourselves, and get over ourselves. And I am first in line as one who needs to get over herself."

Seriously, well said. Thanks for sharing.

Marc and Charity said...

I love this post for many reasons!! I was in FPS too, stress!!! Also reminds me of Isaiah 58. A few yrs ago I was really struggling and way to consumed w/ myself. God led me to that passage and I particularly love verses 6-8...our world opens up when we are not so consumed w/ self.

Love you girl!

Marilyn in Mississippi said...

Words to describe this post....deep and wide! You've dug deep and gone out in a wide circle! So right that if we "engage with people outside our bubble" we can see more of what really matters in life. Mainly that life is vain except for God!

Very,very well said today Amanda!

Marilyn...in Mississippi

Megan said...

Thank you. My husband and I recently moved to Houston, and I have had frequent pity partys over many things which seem so petty now. Thanks for making me see outside of the box, even when I don't want to.

Shelli said...

Wow! Very challenging, very true.

Becky Kiser said...

such a good reminder. thanks for sharing this!

jamie b said...

Amen! God must be speaking directly to me. I read the following post just the other day on the same note:

http://jenwilkin.blogspot.com/2010/11/plea-to-mission-minded.html

Megan said...

Yes Lord, and Amen!!

Siesta OC said...

Hallelujah Amanda!!!!

Michele said...

True, Amanda. I actually had a similar experience when I visited Houston for the SSMTC.

I was looking for a recycling bin for my empty water bottle. I ended up asking one of the ladies at the main table. She said they go in the trash because there is no recycling progam there. I'm pretty sure I froze for a few seconds in disbelief.

I was shocked as I thought about all the recyclable materials that a city the size of Houston must generate, all going in to landfills or the ocean. I wanted to run down to the mayor's office and get them to fix it right then.

There are many things we cannot fix, but you are so right in noting that there are many things and people around us that we can positively influence with the love of Christ.

Marla Taviano said...

I love this. Thank you. God showed me these truths in an object lesson just yesterday. We had to use $ I'd been saving (for something really special) to fix our van. I was feeling so sorry for myself (still am, darn it). Then I found out that a friend in Cambodia had his tuk-tuk stolen. His entire livelihood with no way to replace it. Perspective. God provided the $ for the new tuk-tuk (praise him!). He provided for our van too--just not how this selfish girl would've preferred.

Bobbie said...

You have a wonderful way with words! Thanks for sharing your tho'ts-you always make me think!

~S~ said...

Fantastic post! I am very challenged by it. Thanks for opening my eyes and heart today.

Kristen said...

had a conversation with N about this today. all i was seeing was our situation - not what i want it to be. i need to get over myself, realize how blessed i am, and look beyond my little bubble.

bethany said...

You put this beautifully. It is hard so often to see beyond the trials in our lives-there are so, so many people suffering and yes, even the skinny girl suffers, though I am quite jealous of her skinniness :)

Laura said...

Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

~kay said...

Amanda,
You hit the proverbial nail on the head. I work as a high school counselor and within the past 3 years, I have seen a rise in despondent teens. I am not talking about bummed out every now and then, but clearly many cases where the students see no hope.
In one of my trainings, the psychologist talked about how teens have been brought up with easy fixes. If they wanted something or even needed it, then it was given immediately. There was no having to work through a little discomfort. So when they don't have their needs/wants responded to immedaitely, they don't know how to cope. Their toolbox of coping mechanisms is empty.
I often think of that as I notice of myself getting disgruntled when the line at Starbucks is a tad too long or I am car #5 in at the red light.

Thanks for sharing your observations and heart!

Darla said...

Very well said!

Two of my good friends are Reagan Williams and Kristy Parrot. They are quite a bit older than you but their parents were on staff at FBC and they went to school there. I love hearing their PTSD stories!

I know this isn't the place to tell you this ... guess I should go over to the LP website, but I LOVED last nights lesson. We recently started a Sunday School department at Tallowood called "Reflection" ... and our "theme" verse is 2 Corinthians 3:18 and so I loved hearing your moms take on it. Plus, totally unrelated ... I loved what your mom had on!

Kim said...

I love reading your posts. I don't life in suburbia, but I can appreciate the things you write. As I casually was scrolling down and reading, my heart leaped in anguish about the teen suicides! I cannot tell you how many people we know, know of or have prayed about that have committed suicide recently. It used to be a "once-in-awhile" news matter. Rare occasions. But now it is almost weekly that we are hearing of suicide matters. Some in the 40's or 50's. Some have been in their teens or early 20's.

I and some of my bible study women have been praying about this for a long time. It is way too often.

Lord, have mercy and may we look like Jesus to those who so desperately need to see Him.

Thanks Amanda.

Holly said...

Amen!! a wonderful forest for the trees exhortation!

Our Noah came home from youth group a few weeks ago saying, I want to go to Guatemala next summer with the youth. "I have never seen the poor, mom. I do not know their suffering. I want to know them and help." And let me tell you, as a Mama who prayed a Hannah prayer for her son (we never thought I could have children), I thought, "Well, now 'Samuel,' you go." I have prayed for all of my children to be missionaries. But for some reason, our Noah has a special place in my heart, because I set him apart from before he was conceived. It makes my Mama heart so thankful to see our children walking in the truth.

I know your parents are thankful for YOU in the same exact way, Amanda.

Maryellen said...

This is a great post Amanda.
I think we all can relate.
Our "thing" may not be trees but you can believe it is something.
I constantly have to "bring myself back" when I start to stress over things that won't mean a thing in time.

Thanks for the reminder

Me said...

Hi Amanda,

I work for Compassion International. Today we had chapel and watched a video that challenged us to engage in an effort to end extreme global poverty. We were challenged to share the video with several people, and when I read your latest post, I decided to pass it along to you. I hope you enjoy it. :-)You can find the video clip here: http://bit.ly/b9vdX4 .

Ashley

www.ashley-mays.com

Karen Campbell said...

I need to get over myself too. I think about my problems too much and it doesn't allow me to see the beauty in life or it hinders me from reaching out to others.Thanks for sharing. Your writing is always amazing!

Emily :) said...

Amanda, thank you so much for this post. I feel like you and I have very similar personalities and I really struggle with the feeling that the weight of the world is on my shoulders. And on the other hand, I also realize I get upset over very silly, not important in the big scheme of things kind of way.

If I could be selfish I would really appreciate your prayers. I don't live in the suburbs. I live in a neighborhood that is still incredibly better than most people in the world. But we live in the pastorioum of our church in a neighborhood of working (and unfortunately many out of work) people. It's a neighborhood high in drug abuse. It's a neighborhood where kids come to play at my house barefoot and we take them home well after dark to houses where nobody cared if they came home or not. You are absolutely right about the kids who have it all materially, but are still missing the most important thing spiritually. But, it is very difficult to minister to broken families and uncared for children. Our house is one of the nicest in the neighborhood and I often feel like people assume we think we are better than them. Anyway, I constantly struggle with knowing that this is our mission field and yet longing for a neighborhood where I can trust my neighbors enough to let my kids go over to play or that we would have young couples in healthy relationships that we could become friends with. I don't like that my heart longs for those things.

You are so right that we have to be willing to get over ourselves. I would really appreciate prayers!

Hollie said...

Great post. The suburbs would benefit from transparency like yours b/c, as you mentioned, there's a need for Christ here in the midst of the manicured lawns, too. Regaining proper perspective on the bigger picture (and identifying the real problems) always seems to make me more effective at living and loving well right where I am. Thanks for your thoughts!

Jennifer Mayo said...

Thanks Amanda! I have been planning to look into a volunteer opportunity since last week after I felt strongly led to after my Bible Study last week - your mom's Fruit of the Spirit Bible Study. I read your post and then quickly sent an email to the contact person for my area Meal on Wheels. Thank you for letting God use you to remind me to stop being so busy with my life!
Also, I am a huge Christian fiction reader and I always enjoy when you talk about a good book you've read. I am reading the Mark of the Lion series right and next on my nightstand is Her Daughter's Dream (or is it Hope!) Have you read any of the Thoene's books? If not, you would love them. Amazing historical Christian fiction.

Kelly @ Love Well said...

I love your heart, Amanda.

debra said...

amen.

Brooke said...

Wow ... I did FPS too. I remember the rainforest problem, and another one about the ozone layer. All the talk of CFC's ... like if we used hair spray (which I used a LOT of in 4th and 5th grade), we would totally destroy the earth. :)

Isn't it fantastic how an "easy" monthly payment for a Compassion kid can be so life-changing? We got a letter from our oldest (17) this week. "I am glad that I am part of your family. I love you so much." I am completely humbled.

Debbie said...

So, so true. This was such a great post. I not so long ago realized that while God is still orchestrating my "calling," my ministry, right now, is in the everyday. I am living by Esther 4:14.

Katie said...

Amanda,

God recently allowed me to stumble upon your blog and it has been a real blessing to me. Thank you!

This post was very timely and after I got done reading it I got to thinking about what I could do today to apply principally what you wrote about, and I started to think (as a stay at home mom of 3 age 4 and under) about what I had to offer people and started feeling bad for myself feeling so limited in what I can do in this stage of life and thought "what do I have to offer?" and God brought this song to mind...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsp-WuZR40g&feature=related

Truly, all I genuinely have to offer people is Christ. God used your post to bring me to that conclusion this morning. Thank you!

God bless!

tiggerdaisy said...

Great post! We really do need to get over ourselves and move on to being "radical" for God.

About the trees though...I do hate it when cement and asphalt replaces God's creation. It is beautiful beyond imagination and when man destroys it to make things more convenient...well, I tend to tear up myself. :)

Prayers and blessings,
Rebecca

Charity said...

Have you had a chance to read Max Lucado's new book? If not.. pick it up. It will reconfirm your post over and over again... he calls the bubbles a protective show but the same concept.

Thanks for the post.

misty said...

Absolutely beautiful post! Exactly where God is taking my heart right now! I am right behind (or in front of) you in the line get over myself. It is my heart's cry right now. Thank you for such meaningful words.

Stacy said...

Amanda, I love to read your blog...you are so real and honest. And, you are a really good writer. I think you need to follow in your mom's footsteps and write a book!!

At any rate, I needed a good reminder today to look outside my own bubble!

Take care,
Stacy
(Ohio)

Allison said...

Ok- the first part of your post had be about peeing in my pants laughing...I still think about FPS all of the time. Rainforest and Poverty...I think we were supposed to eradicate poverty by 2012. We were 10 years old. Thiking about it now sounds crazy. I wonder if that program still exists.

Heather said...

You have a heart of gold, I am so blessed to call you friend.

Missy said...

I love this post for more than one reason.

Mommy Dot Com said...

This past summer we did an outreach at our church ,opening the churh gym on Friday nights for children in the community. I jumped in the church van to find kids and came across a bunch of kids who live in a motel just a couple blocks from our church! Never even knew they were there. I guess you can say God helped me to see past the trees.

These children face homelessness daily, have lice and bed bug issues (don't want to know how many times my children and I have caught lice so far from this outreach). Our church has done as much as we can to help them. For the 1st time in my life I felt the feeling of being poured out like a drink offering. The needs were overwhelming but we just learned to do the best we could, addressing each need by faith.

Through this outreach our family was really blessed by a certain child. Her parents went homeless so the child needed to come to stay w/ us. This child is amazing. She's 13 and my word she has a heart for God. She has put a fire in my children by her example. God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith - for sure.

I am so thankful that God graced me w/ a peek into His heartbeat. His heart is for these children. When we treat them well, we are treating Him well.

What you shared reminded me of where I'm at in life currently. Thought I'd share back!

Liz*** said...

Amen!! This post is just more confirmation on a few things the Lord is showing me right now...like completely life- altering things. Thanks for sharing!! Isaiah 58:6-11.

thegypsymama said...

Standing. Applauding. Loving your tree-hugging heart.

RosyRose said...

Agree Agree Agree~ Selah!
It's perspective right?
Well said!

Roan said...

Just want to say that I am a fellow Future Problem Solving alumni too! Our team went to the STATE competition! Can you imagine the excitement?

I can't even remember what problem we solved! :)

I just stumbled on your blog.....I have enjoyed getting to know you.

I had the baby bangs too---5 times.

Have a great weekend.

Donita said...

Thanks Amanda.
I needed to hear that. Both because I can get distracted by the non-consequential and because I can be discouraged by seeing people around me do "important" things...like sell their possessions, go to Africa, write books, suffer illness, etc.

Jenilee Fleetwood said...

Lovely post...a call to action!

Shelli Littleton said...

Amen, and amen! I spent this last weekend at our church kids' lock-in. My husband and I are leaders of the puppet ministry ... getting our group of kids ready to go on mission to teach other kids in surrounding neighborhoods and schools about Jesus through puppets. I didn't want to go to that lock-in ... I'd have to sleep on a blow-up mattress away from my home and not be able to take a shower the next day till noon. But what a glorious night/event it was! Working with that group of kids is glorious ... and I thank God for continually taking me out of my comfort zone.

Shellie Paparazzo said...

I'm so glad this turned out to be about more than being a tree hugger. I come from a long line of hunters, farmers, and....dare I say it...loggers. I grew up in a logging community. That community wouldn't even exist without logging and believe me they want to replace the trees that get cut down, too. If they don't, they'll be out of a job. So needless to say, I'm with your dad about this political nonsense making me gag, but I absolutely love your wonderful heart!

Little Steps Of Faith said...

Between you and your mom's posts...I am lucky I have enough tears to cry! WOW.

Your post reminded me of " The Giving Tree"- I love that book, and lately I've felt like that tree, and as much as I want to reach and give...is as much as I feel like I've got nothing left. I'm in a season, clearly, its forced me to break away from some things, like twitter, to get my mind not thinking so much...I'm mentally and emotionally tired.
As you know, I had to stop giving to Compassion, otherwise be thrown out of the house, I'm praying for a way out, the flesh and the spirit are in constant fight.
I'll be at DS next month, and thank God He made a way.
Turning 30 thursday...its all just a lot right now. I know you see this, and you pray, so please don't stop okay:)

xoxo
ang

katiegfromtennessee said...

Wow, yeah, I agree Amanda, I want to see outside the bubble. I want to live in such a way to make a measurable difference for crying out loud! This post hit home with me too.

Susy said...

Thanks Amanda!! I feel the dog poop pain but you're right. If that's my biggest complaint of my neighborhood...thanks for the challenge to be Christ to all!

Lindsee said...

This post stepped on my fat toes. What a great word!

Ashley said...

I just discovered your blog, so I'm catching up ;) This is great stuff. Sometimes when I hear a tragic story I say to myself, "I could have lived my whole life without knowing that." And almost without fail I hear in my spirit, "you don't have permission not to know." He is showing me that it is ME that is supposed to reach out and love people...it's MY job, and I can't let my queasy stomach or shaky hands stop me. Jesus didn't.

And...I'm a terrible Compassion sponsor! I need to get online and send a note (I didn't even know it could be done online).