The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

It was genius. No question about that. So much so that millions of people–thousands of whom previously thought ALS was plural for everyone*–have been pouring buckets of ice water on their heads grinning like they were the winning Super Bowl coach.

Zero overheard. Zero advertising dollars. One hundred million in donations. And world-wide awareness by a base so diverse that it includes Dave Ramsey, Matt Damon, and, probably, you.

They didn’t peddle the need. They didn’t peddle their vision. They didn’t make a movie that put us all in tears. They didn’t even make it as simple as pushing a button to give.

Instead, They came up with a mildly cruel form of torture. Then they encouraged friends to torture each other. And people loved it. Evidently.

Despite the nay-sayers and the water-wasting Sheriffs, I’ll just be honest. I wish I thought of it.

Think about it…$100 million dollars. How many muffins would you have to sell to raise that? How many silent auctions would you need to hold? How many garage sales raise like one one millionth of that number? It was pure genius.

By contrast, a few months ago, I was driving to church and I saw a handful of ladies sitting behind a table on a sunny lawn. It was a terrible location for a sale of any kind and their sign didn’t do much to paint a compelling picture. It was a pity stop, but I bought a watery cup of powdered lemonade. I asked the ladies what they were raising money for and they said this was part of an effort to teach their kids to work. I bought another cup of lemonade and a brownie because I believed in their goal. Still, I would be surprised if my $2 went far toward them recouping their costs of lemonade powder and brownie mix. A noble effort, But not pure genius.

Sometimes, even “hard work” gets us no where. A lot of good ideas go bust. And a lot of genius ideas produce mediocre results.

In fact, did you know that that they ALS Association also did the ice bucket challenge last year? Me neither. And it wasn’t like ALS actually originated the idea–I guess there’s some controversy over that–but the point is, it didn’t really work.

And then, it did. Beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

So… they tried to trademark the idea. Which you can’t really do, but it is possible to trademark a phrase and they tried. According to their statement, they wanted to prevent “unscrupulous charities” for taking “their idea.” But perhaps it sunk into them that they hay day for ice buckets is going to be over soon and, anyway, their fair-weather fan base didn’t seem to appreciate their attempts. Regardless, they have withdrawn their trademark applications and Americans are free to freeze their brains for any cause they choose.

With all due respect to ALS and without grudging their fundraising success, there are some other great causes out there including Remember, which adopted its own twist on the ice bucket challenge. Remember supports persecuted Christians around the world and the whole cold-water-over-the-head thing seemed appropriate keeping in mind some of the Chinese Christians we met who started taking cold showers and sleeping on the hard floor after their conversions so they could start training for inevitable prison stays. I’m sure cold showers and floor sleeping would appeal to many ice bucketeers, but, alas, they are harder to video tape.

Personally, after spending seven or so weeks in remote corners of South East Asia during rainy season, I’m thinking it might be appropriate to do a mud bucket challenge. Or a mud soccer game challenge. Or just a mud sink challenge (it is just what it sounds like). Hmmm…I’ll keep chewing on it. Surely at some point I’ll come up with something.

In the meantime, if you light upon the next fundraising stroke of genius, will you call me first? I’ll give you all the credit, I promise. It doesn’t even have to be a $100 million dollar idea. I’d be content with like, millions, less than that. It just has to work. And you’d have the fun of joy of knowing you lit upon the second most genius fundraising scheme in all of history.

See, no pressure. I’m easy to please.

For this next fundraising challenge, I nominate Paul Walker, Daniel Bostic, and Amber Sommerville.


*ALS: yes, southerners are known to use phrases like ya’ll. Some people find it necessary to pluralize their plurals with “all y’all.” Some people shorten it to “yalls” or just “alls.” And some people just can’t spell.

Hurting Deeply

Well, if you’ve noticed me walking with a slight limp, here’s the story: I was carrying in my groceries when my shoe got caught on the top of baby gate (doggie boundary dividing my living room from the kitchen). My arms were too full to even soften the fall, so one second I was quickly trying to unload the hot car, and the next second I was sprawled flat on the kitchen floor surrounded by lunch meat, five different kinds of cheese, peaches, and a pear tree.

Julie Ann felt bad for me in my pitiful state and came over to lick my face while I surveyed the damage to my knees and tried to untangle my feet from the gate.

It was a humbling moment in time.

And…It was funny the effect that simple spill had on my emotions. I was tempted to let my spirits crash right along with me. I could almost see all of my troubles lying in the heap of meat, cheese, and peaches.

And frankly, I have it pretty good.

I thought of the girl I had seen earlier that day parked in an empty corner of a parking lot crying her eyes out. I thought of another friend I had dinner with who is in serious physical and financial trouble. Another friend whose kids are struggling. Another who may lose her house. One who recently lost his job. One whose husband is dying. The list goes on.

I care. I even hurt for the girl in the parking lot whom I don’t know. Maybe she was crying because she broke a nail or woke up with a zit. But, hey, I know what it’s like to be ambushed by a baby gate and find yourself suddenly flat on your face  surrounded by all your troubles and being licked by a dog. It isn’t always the circumstance itself that hurts. The circumstance just reminds you once again that life hurts.

I know a lot of hurting people. Hurting deeply. And I feel powerless to help. I’d fix it for them if I could, but I can’t. I can’t bail everyone out of their financial problems. I can’t make people get along. I can’t heal their bodies.

I can’t fix it. I can’t fix it for myself and I certainly can’t fix it for others. I often even feel like my attempts at words of encouragement are kind of like an iceberg lettuce salad. Just filling space.

It sounds trite to try to give someone a recipe for happiness–even if I had one. If they choose, they can accurately point out that I have never been in their shoes. I don’t understand. Not really.

God provided for hurting people the best friend we could ever ask for. He listens. He cares. But unlike us, He never says, “If I could fix it for you, I would.”

Instead, He often says, “I could fix it for you, but I won’t.”

Even that hurts.

But it’s the truth.

And, in hindsight, I’m grateful to the people who spoke the truth to me when they knew I was hurting. They listened. They sometimes even cried with me. But they spoke the truth.

And the truth was this: humility, gratefulness, and joy are three of a kind. They like to hang together. When I am proud or self-centered, I won’t have joy. I won’t be happy. End of story.

I need humility. I need gratefulness. I need to see beyond myself and focus on what really matters. It won’t fix the circumstances but it will go a long way toward lifting my spirits and changing my outlook. It can turn me into an energy giver instead of a leech.

I make no effort to compare my troubles with the grave challenges some of my friends face. As I said, I have it pretty good. But as I learn to bear the burdens of my friends, I need to learn to listen, to love, but to speak the truth.

Sometimes, when I splat, it is time to stop and be humbled. Sometimes it is time to reflect and be grateful. Sometimes, it is time to move the baby gate (it is probably a bad idea to try to carry arm loads of loose groceries over an obstacle in flip flops).

And sometimes, when I’m hurting deeply, you might need to be the one to encourage me to do one or more of those things.

And no matter what I tell you or what excuses I give, be a true friend and tell me the truth.

Everything else is just iceberg lettuce.

Ten Years Ago, Today

He was big, strong, and angry. And for whatever reason, he was chasing me. Chasing us, actually. I held one of my nephews in my arms and tried to keep from stumbling along the uneven ground while herding two more toward the safety that I hoped we would find somewhere in the trees ahead.

But I couldn’t shake him. I could hear the heavy falling of his footsteps right behind me, scaring me on. I clutched Silas tightly and put my head down to try to avoid a low hanging limb. Then all went black.

I woke up exhausted. The pounding of footsteps had been replaced with the soft pounding of my heart as it sunk in that the man was gone, my nephews were safe, and it was still a good 20 minutes or so before I needed to get out of bed to start my day.

As I lay in the dark, I remembered an observation Curtis had recently made—“Why do we talk about dreams coming true like it’s a good thing? When was the last time you had a dream that you hoped would come true?”

None came to mind.

Most of my dreams—that I remember anyway—have just enough real life in them that it takes me a minute or two after I wake up to convince myself that they didn’t happen. But when I do, my thought is always—Oh, good!

But we still talk about dreams. Chasing them. Following them. Believing in them.

Taken on the authority of Cinderella (the first movie I ever saw)—a dream is a wish your heart makes. Or perhaps, what we really mean, that your mind makes up.

But, I used to believe in them. Sort of.

Ten years ago today I said goodbye to my parents and boarded a one-way flight for Charleston. I had no cell phone then. In fact, I didn’t have a lot of stuff period. What I took with me was in the two suitcases that were free to check.

“Fasten your seat belt,” the flight attendant growled at me. But when I turned from the window and he saw the tears in my eyes, his voice softened considerably. “You ok?” I nodded, but I was too choked up to speak. Life would change for me that day. That was about all I knew.

I remember when Curtis interviewed me and he asked me about what I wanted to do with my life, I told him I would probably work 3-5 years. But when he asked me specifically what I wanted to do I thought about and responded, almost like it came from someone else, “the next right thing.”

I believed this was the next right thing.

Ten years ago today, I was given a new office and a new extension. I was put in charge of the computer “system” at the Bostic Law Firm (compliments of my prior boss who mistakenly told Curtis that I was a computer genius). Ten years ago, I was trained the way Curtis still trains people—give them a list and tell them to go do it. Figure it out. Sink or swim. I still have that initial “to do” list. On it are the words—“correct deficiencies in computer system and maintain/improve.” I still can’t cross that off.

Ten years ago tonight, my new church was vandalized and burned. Our pastorless congregation would meet in the fellowship hall for more than a year after that as we saved money to renovate. But the people at CHBC were kind and welcoming and it wasn’t long before Charleston would feel like home…plus 100% humidity.

Ten years ago, I had a dream that I was trying to strategically weave into a plan.

I wanted to work in the legal field long enough to feel like the time, energy, and money I had invested in law school was worthwhile; but still get married young enough to have ten kids—maybe twelve. Then, as a family, we would win the world for Christ. That was the dream, more or less.

The “plan” part came in because I knew that dreams alone don’t generally turn out the way you want them to…if at all. I didn’t trust my dream to Walt Disney or some mythical fairy godmother.

At the same time, it couldn’t be entirely a plan, because there were pieces of it I couldn’t control. Some things you just can’t make happen. But you can hope that God gave you a dream because it’s part of His plan.

Ten years ago, it seemed like my dream was coming true.

But it didn’t.

I’ve lived ten very good, very full years in Charleston. No complaints. It’s hard to measure exactly what ten years does to you. I have less courage now, but more confidence. Less drive, but more knowledge and skill. Less frugality, but more resourcefulness. Less stubbornness, more flexibility. Less passion, more maturity. Some things are even harder to measure in years… do I have more or less patience than I did then? I don’t know. More or less compassion? I’m not sure.

One thing is for sure, though, it didn’t turn out quite like I dreamed it would. Consequently, I find myself giving dreams mixed reviews. There is part of me that wants to say, Dreams? Bah, Humbug.

Dreams are fiction.

The fact is that true dreams—what we have when we sleep—are usually a lot of painful torture minus the happy ending. Conversely, the stereotypical “American Dream” is the happy endings minus the painful torture.

And the life the God plans for us is neither. It’s to walk humbly with our God. It’s to be conformed to His image. It’s every day grace. It’s the next right thing.

I’ve thought of a lot of happy endings for God, and so far, He hasn’t been interested in any of them. Because He is more interested in His glory. More desirous of seeing me passionate about the gospel. More inclined to drive me to do the next right thing.

As John Piper reminds us, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Not ourselves. Not our dreams. Not our plans. In Him.

It is foolish for me to conclude that my plan is the best when I lack the ability to execute the plan. It is a waste for me to assume that my dreams should provide the direction for my life when my imagination is so small that I can’t even think God’s thoughts after Him.

In the shallowness of our human nature, we long to see our story unfold by building to a climax, then resolve with twist of predictable surprise. All is well that ends well—and we can shut the book with a satisfied sigh because everything happened the way that it should have in the end.

But God, as the author, may review our outlines, may consider our dreams, but in the end will scrap our work of fiction and glorify Himself with His own work of faith.  “I got this.  Do the next right thing.”

Ten years from now and ten thousand years from now, out dreams will probably be no more than a distant memory. But if we walk in faith we will still be able to close the book in satisfaction. That was a good story. I didn’t see it coming, but everything happened the way it should have in the end.

Shoveling Coal

You gotta love the gym. Where else can you be updated on all the evils in the world all at once? TVs everywhere on every channel can give you updates from 6 points of view simultaneously. War in Israel. Chaos in Iraq. Mess in Washington. Mayhem in Detroit. Ebola in Liberia. Actors killing themselves.

Good Morning, America! It’s another day in our broken, messed up world.

You can turn off the TV, but you can’t turn off the problems. They are there.

So…what is there to do? What to do but put your head phones in and run. Run.

I can’t fix the Middle East. I can’t fix poverty. I can’t fix drugs and depression. I feel like I should do something, but what? And what would matter anyway?

Despite trying to shut it out, I can’t help but keep asking myself those questions while I’m running. Yep, I’m watching six TVs playing six different channels, I’m listening to something else on my headphones, and at the same time, I’m trying to solve the world’s problems in my head. It’s little wonder I’m exhausted before I even break a sweat.

This morning, my phone was playing Kisses from Katie, the recent story about of young lady who is trying to “do something.” She moved to Uganda after high school where she has adopted 13 children and helps provide for 600 more through a non-profit organization called Amazima.

I have a lot of respect for Katie Davis and what she is doing to show the love of Christ in a destitute corner of the world. However, although she is investing her whole heart into the lives of needy orphans, she too confesses that she feels some days like she is trying to empty the ocean with an eye dropper. Every little drop takes resources, but it is just a little drop in a sea of sickness and poverty. Even with her every effort, the world doesn’t look much different in the grand scheme of things.

Katie opined that God didn’t create more people in the world than He provided for. And that’s true. Her conclusion was that those with more should share with those with less. And we should.

But I don’t think that’s the whole answer.   How many billions of dollars in aid has the US poured into remote parts of the world and what do we have to show for it? We can pump billions of dollars into the Middle East and Africa—as we have done—and it will still be a mess. In addition to giving nationally, we can give individually. But it’s kind of like dropping 8,000 meals on a mountain hiding 40,000 refugees…a good thing; but how long can you go on 1/5 of a meal?  

Katie has also worked to help Ugandans “help themselves” which is a good thing, but I noticed that, like many organizations, Amazima primarily derives its support from people who are in the US or by selling handmade jewelry to people in the US.

Stick with me here; I’m trying to solve the worlds’ problems and it takes a little time to explain.

We can’t all quit our jobs and move to Uganda. Because if we did, we would simply be one of the far too many starving Africans. We could all quit our jobs, move to Africa, and try to find work there, but that seems a little silly seeing as we had jobs here that we are probably better trained for and adapted to than what we might find in a village in Buziika. Not only would we all need Amazima, but there wouldn’t be an Amazima because there would be no one to give.

So the end result of that plan to fix the world has everyone starving. Cross that one off the list.

So, what to do about the world’s problems?

I’m convinced of a few things: We should stand with Israel. We should fight against radical Islam. We should try to help the sick and feed the poor. But frankly, more than anything, I believe that we should live ordinary lives. Go to work. Take care of our families. Shovel coal.

Hear me on this.

What the world needs is not another leader. Not a movement. Not an aura of peace. What the world needs is healthy families working hard and providing for themselves and others.   At the end of the day, that is what works. That is what stamps out poverty. That is what cures AIDS. That is what diffuses conflict. That is what would solve most of the policy debate in Washington.

If people around the world understood the concepts of family and hard work, it would go a long way toward solving the evils in the world. Of course, those are both biblical concepts, so most of the world is going to try to find a more modern way to achieve a peaceful, prosperous existence. But they won’t.

Some of us may travel to distant countries. Some of us may start organizations. Some of us may be leaders. But most of us will do the most good by showing the world that family and industry work— husbands and wives who love each other providing for their own and then a bit extra—create the most successful nations.

That means, for some of us, the most important thing we can do is to shovel coal. Go to work. Be productive. Come home. Take care of the people God has placed in our lives. It isn’t glamourous. It’s not exciting. It wouldn’t be a good plot for an Indiana Jones movie. And apparently, it isn’t good fodder for the morning news.

Don’t be ashamed to enjoy what the blessing of God and hard work have given you.  Share what you have. Give till it hurts. But enjoy the fruit of your labor.

Some of us have an eye dropper. Some of us have a coal shovel. If you have one, don’t rip on the person who has the other; cheer them on. We may not win over the rest of the world, but we can keep from becoming them only one way—working to provide for ourselves and our families and just a little bit more.

33 Under 33

“Meet the millennials. They are 33 and younger. They are all on Twitter. And they are bringing innovation to the wide-ranging work of the kingdom. Behold, they are doing a new thing.”

The cover story of Christianity Today features 33 young people that it claimed have “picked up the baton” and are leading today’s church. It is a diverse group in every respect. There are singers, bloggers, theologians, advisors, teachers, and you name it all else. One has prayed with President Obama; one was elected as a state representative while a teenager.

My name was not among them. I guess because I am not on Twitter.

But there was a name and picture that I recognized. In fact, I remember her as a skinny junior higher preaching to sparse classroom on national policy she didn’t know much about. We were both involved in the same home school debate league in California many eons ago. Long before Twitter.

Her oldest brother and his debate partner handily delivered to me and my debate partner our first loss and would later go on to win the national championship in Washington D.C; beating out her next older brother and his partner in the final round. And so it was, that she apparently had a whip-cracking mom and came from a good gene pool.   Shoot, they probably invented Twitter.

Anyway, in the years that have gone by since then, she has matured into a gorgeous woman who is a mover and a shaker in the pro-Life movement, sometimes posing as an underage unwed mother and consequently exposing some of the evils of Planned Parenthood. You should follow her on Twitter.

I read each story with interest. The article intimated the world has changed and young people are uniquely suited to effectively seize opportunities the changes have created. “The Millennials.”

There was a comment on the online version that was something to the affect of… “Where is the article about 60 over 60? What about those of us who have been faithful longer…” At first, it seemed like sour grapes to me. But maybe he was right to encourage a balanced perspective. It isn’t all about youth and technology. Any anyway, perhaps it is premature to call a 17-year old state rep a “church leader.”

Now, entering my “Jesus year” as the article called the ripe old age of 33, I’m just old enough to remember life before computers and cell phones. When we got our first computer, it was a big event. And our first computer game was a “P” maneuvering the black screen obstacle course of = [ and – with increasing speed. You had to not only navigate with the up and down arrows, but also periodically hit the space bar to jump over a moving 0 that threatened to snuff out the life of “P.” Not X-Box exactly, but it could probably hold its own against Angry Birds.

When I was a teenager, my family had one e-mail address. When Erin went to college, Dad got her a purse-filling cell phone brick because of her commute. There was no reception along much of the commute. And there was no such thing as Twitter.

On the other hand, I’m just young enough to have sort of “grown up” with Microsoft—typing my book reports into Word, designing newsletters in Publisher, and creating spreadsheets in Excel. I transitioned from DOS to Windows like a duck to water and loved doing research on the internet instead of the tedious card catalogs at the library (even if you did have to put up with the screeching noise of a computer connected to the World Wide Web). I was considered fairly computer literate. Until Twitter, I guess.

As an aside, sometimes people do still ask me for tech help. I was babysitting a few months back a four-old brought me his ipad that he was watching a movie on. Thrusting it into my hands, he said, “How do I get it in HD?” Hey, at least he didn’t ask me why I wasn’t on Twitter.

Being roughly the same age as this impressive lineup of Christian leaders made me ask myself a lot of questions. What did they do that thrust them into the forefront? Am I doing everything I could be and should be doing for the kingdom? Is it just God’s sovereignty that some of us will be considered leaders while some of us will pass through our lives on this planet earnestly but quietly? Is it possible to be salt and light in such a way that our names aren’t known and our faces aren’t seen, but God is pleased nonetheless? Will these people stay faithful? What will this list look like in 30 years? And, of course, why am I not on Twitter?

As I have pondered this feature many times, I have found myself both grateful for and challenged by these examples. And for every one that was featured, there are thousands of others that have not “bowed the knee to Baal.” Simple people navigating through the hurts of a broken and sick world still singing the praises of our Savior. Moms raising another generation of warriors. Dads holding down the fort and perhaps sometimes, drawing a line in the sand and saying “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

And God, in His sovereignty will pick some of those faithful followers and give them audiences before kings; have them face giants; or put them in high places. A Lila Rose will take on a Planned Parenthood. Amazing.

Meet the millennials. They are all under 33. They are all bringing innovation to the wide-ranging work of the kingdom. They are all still under construction. They all still need the wisdom of mature Christians who were around before the age of technology and who can see past “diverse opportunities” to cling to absolute truths and faithful obedience.

And they are not all on Twitter.