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.