The “What” Versus the “Why”

Let your “why” be the motivation to change the world with the “what”.

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Many people have asked about the connection between our faith and the mission to which we have been called. I think the best way is to decipher between the “what” we are doing and the “why” we are doing it; this distinction is crucial.

What we are doing (volunteer and service work) has nothing to do with our religion or even religion at all. Our goal is to serve others as they need it, to help where we can, to try to make their lives a little better, and to show them they are loved beyond their family, their hometown, etc by someone on the other side of the world. We want people to feel the love that we feel from our Lord.

With that being said, we are not seeking to change anyone’s religion, beliefs, traditions, or culture. All we want to do is show them we love them for the person they are today. We want our global brothers and sisters to feel and experience the love we have for them.

Now the “why” we are doing it is deeply rooted in our Christian faith. We believe that we have been called to show Christ’s love for ALL of His children, not for the purpose or sake of changing them, but just to love them. We believe that Christ has called us to this path because people around the world need to feel they are loved by people of different nations, cultures, and religions because God loves ALL His children, and our family can do this; show love to ALL people.

Casting Off Globally, the non-profit that Jeff and I started, has the hope and mission to help families find the opportunities to serve and volunteer together. Casting Off Globally (COG) is the bridge to the “what” but does not impact the “why”. Every family will have a different “why” for their desire to volunteer/serve others and COG wants to embrace that. We want to engage all families in volunteer service and welcome their “why” as a part of their specific story, not ours. Every “why” will be different, as it should be. Our differences are what makes this such a great opportunity for families across the spectrum to serve together and COG can be the key to opening their door to the “what”. We all have different reasons for wanting to serve and COG strives to embrace all of them to help families find their path to volunteer and service so they can make a difference in this world.

Our family’s “why” shaped the formation of COG, which is why we operate it with a Christian foundation, but that foundation cannot and will not get in the way of the “why” or the “what”. The primary goal of COG is to engage families in service and volunteer work together so we can make this world a little better, and whatever the “why” may be, we will work together as a global family to care for all our brothers and sisters.

Casting Off (post from 8/13/2017)

I think it was Rally Day at our church when I first remember hearing the story of Jesus telling his disciples that in order to truly follow him they would have to basically eschew everything they had ever known, cared for, sought after, or held dear. I recall our pastor remarking at the time at how scary that must have sounded. During a time when family meant survival Jesus was calling his disciples to abandon their family and friends. He told them to give away their possessions because no one who owned anything would follow because they would otherwise assess the values of their possessions lost and weigh them against the “value” of pursuing a life of faith. Frankly I couldn’t really blame them. How could Jesus ask them to give away so much? But, as our pastor continued, I realized the truth, though I remember reminding myself to come back to it a later date, essentially postponing the inevitable I guess.

The truth of course is simple, though not terribly easy to accept. What we “own” here is of little real value. They say that what you own eventually ends up owning you. Well, that I think was very true in my life. I sought riches, not of the biblical but of the commercial sense. I set goals for myself focused on material success. Taking a helicopter to work, owning houses in multiple seasonal locations, boats, cars, a sizable bank account. Funny thing is that when I set these goals I actually started to achieve them. Miraculously or not when I set my mind to it I was able to accomplish some great things. Great through the lens of my worldy self. I was still well short of my big targets of course but I had a large house, a boat, pool table, a bank account that could sustain me for several months, and the future looked bright.

But something in my goals was missing. I can’t put my finger on it but I think it was close to around the time my first child was nearing her due date. Sara and I talked more and more as the date was coming that we were missing religion and that we felt we should really reconsider our faiths and how we wanted to raise our daughter. We started looking at all sorts of religions: Taoism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, you name it we considered it. And then it happened, God came into my life for the first time that I, in hindsight, can remember. I didn’t realize it at first but now I know why I found an audio cd. Yes I was searching for books on religion so to be sure it was not total coincidence, but this particular book, this particular day, everything was right. The book was WhereGod was Born by Bruce Fieler. I started listening and quickly found myself completely hooked. Bruce Fieler was telling my story, except it wasn’t mine, it was of course his. But the circumstances were striking. He questioned his faith, like me. He had not really turned away from God as much as not really pursued a relationship with God, just like me. And just like me, he was looking to find his faith or at least to find out if something was missing in his life. And of course it was. God was there all along, waiting patiently. Like the prodigal son coming home, Bruce Fieler found his faith again, and I was starting to as well. Sara and I talked at length and I remember distinctly sitting in our kitchen one evening, explaining to her that I felt like this book had been a calling to me. I felt like a great hole in my life was being filled and that God was calling me home.

Fast forward and now I am back at it, I guess. I feel like God called me home and brought me in. God comforted me and reminded me how wonderful life with God is. God let me become comfortable in his grace to see how I would respond. But I also think this was a time of preparation. God needed me to have some time with my faith, to strengthen it and to realize that it was a part of me that I needed. If God had asked me to cast off my material wealth and to forego those goals I had set so long ago and pursued with such vigor I might have turned away from God. My faith was still in its infancy. I needed time, practice, and belief that the faith I was pursuing was strong enough. So this September day, when our pastor told me to cast everything I knew aside, I got it. I knew what God was saying, though at the time I wasn’t ready to admit it. But like a catchy tune that sticks in your brain that you can’t seem to forget this thought kept coming back. It kept creeping in when I most wanted it gone. It made me question myself, my goals, my image of self worth. And then it reared it’s head with an authoritative thump when Sara brought to my attention the thought of traveling the country and serving.

Casting off is no easy thing, but once you hear God ask you to do it, it’s awfully hard not to, right? There is nothing that I could possibly own anymore that could compare to the feeling that I get when I feel the call of God to act out his will in this world. It is a sensation of love that is utterly overwhelming, sustaining, and empowering. I have never bought anything that could create the same sensation nor wanted anything more. And at the same time I have never felt so anxious about it. My brain is telling me this is a terrible idea. It’s unsafe, it is too risky, I am being absentminded of my long term benefit. But then my heart steps in and reminds my head that God hears all, sees all, and knows all. If I just put my faith in God that which is meant for me will occur. I cannot be sure it will resemble anything I ever imagined in store for me. Frankly I kind of hope it isn’t. Who needs to take a helicopter to get to work anyway? I am not suggesting that because I haven’t hit those goals that I am giving up and looking for an excuse in God. Rather, I am owning up to the fact that those were never good goals at the start. They would never sustain me in the long run and ultimately would have left me in constant want for more. I have never felt so full as when I turned myself to God. I now believe I never will.

Today, our pastor told us the story of Jesus walking on water. At least, that’s how I always remembered it. “See, kids, Jesus must have been divine because he could walk on water”. This time I heard it from Peter’s perspective. Jesus, appearing almost as a ghost wades through the stormy seas, a beacon of hope and serenity for a group of terrified fishermen who were drifting farther and farther from shore. Farther from home, farther from peace, farther from what they needed. Jesus approaches and tells them to not be afraid, all will be fine. Peter calls out to Jesus and asks, and in my interpretation maybe even begs him, if it is you lord call me out of the boat. Well of course Jesus does just that and in that very instant Peter leaves the boat. The part that gets overlooked often is that initially Peter is walking on water too! He is not divine but his faith has carried him over the danger of the deep and tumultuous seas. And then he feels the wind and turbulence and he begins to doubt and immediately starts to sink. But rather than drown and give up he calls out to Jesus, again begging, for his hand to save him. Jesus lifts Peter to safety and with, again in my interpretation a bit of a joking admonishment says to him, “ye of little faith….”

Lord, I am Peter. I am calling to you and asking you to call me from the boat. Take me from safety and that which I am told is comfort and security. Lead me into the stormy seas where only your peace, your serenity, and your grace can be found. I know my faith will be tested and I know I will doubt at some point along the path, but I have enough faith to know too that if I take that plunge you will be there to reach out your hand to lift me up again. I put my life and my love in your hands, Lord, for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.

Godstrong (post from 7/29/17)

A few years ago yellow wristbands adorned the young and old alike reminding them to “Livestrong”. A product of a media effort to prop up a now defamed sportsman who was unceremoniously dethroned during his sole act of contrition while speaking to Oprah. While the story behind the meteoric rise to fame and subsequent fall are well known, the subtext is what I find so interesting. Lance Armstrong was by many measures heroic and if not for some poor choices by way of augmenting reality, would go down as an American legend. But in my mind the real story is the pervasiveness of human frailty and the reality that Livestrong ultimately failed because it was rooted in human weakness, not God strength.

The idea was simple and inspiring, you can overcome anything if you choose to be strong and courageous. Lance Armstrong of course had beaten cancer to achieve glory in cycling. Others used that example to achieve their own various levels of success and endurance. But where Lance failed is where God succeeds. Livestrong was a success because of the exploits of someone all too human. Capable of pride, greed, dishonesty and ultimately (hopefully) remorse. God’s strength is so much more powerful because God has no pride, greed, or inherent failing conditions. God does not and cannot fail, humans can.

So it is that when someone is Godstrong, they approach life in a way that is truly inspiring and powerful. The process of choosing to cast off your way of life and risk everything you “own” is frightening. I’ll admit a daily dose of misgivings and fear as we approach d-day, as it were. When you do things one way for 40 years, as in my case, suddenly changing course is not really ingrained in the human psyche. I have found to this point that no amount of human strength is sufficient. I cannot reason my way through this and most of my emotions are pointed away from this endeavor, not towards it. The times that I find myself truly excited and ready to go are when I sit calmly, breath deeply, and ask God for strength. I find comfort and resolve when I do this and this sense of peace is what I see every day in Sara. Just like lifting weights or training for a marathon Godstrong comes from practice and repetition. Sara is a pro at this constantly reminding herself, and me, that God is there for us. This doesn’t mean that she assumes that our path will be easy or laid out with confetti and roses. Instead she believes that God will provide for us what we need and that what we need may not look like what we want. That’s the trick, what we have been conditioned to want and see as good is really just that which makes us feel safe and comfortable. That does not make it bad by any stretch, but comfortable does not always challenge you to be better. Just like exercising, the only way to improve your body is through some modicum of pain. Godstrong requires challenging ourselves, sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally, and almost always mentally. I appreciate the message of Livestrong but part of the failure of that concept was that there was no challenge inherently there. Think of it from this perspective, Livestrong is a call to essentially survive and do your best. What exactly is the challenge there? Which members of the target audience didn’t want to live? Who is actively trying to fail? Godstrong on there converse compels you to do things out of the ordinary. Put yourself in harms way to help others doesn’t sound as appealing in a television advertisement as believe in yourself and overcome adversity. God asks you to encounter adversity, embrace it, and if you don’t have it in your life now then go find it and face it head on and to believe that you don’t need to be the one to overcome it on your own but rather to channel the grace of God.

I am not strong enough to face these challenges on my own. No amount of self encouragement or belief will permit me to accomplish those things that I am called to do. But that’s the point, I don’t need to be. God asks us all to be a reflection of God’s grace on Earth. God doesn’t ask us to be God but rather reflect God’s good will and love. If you think of this reflection in terms of a mirror you get the perfect analogy. A mirror is fragile and finite. They can get fogged up easily, can be scratched and chipped. But despite those weaknesses a mirror, even when broken and shattered, can still reflect that image. God’s strength is there for us in all times of our life, when we feel perfect and when we feel broken. We don’t need to carry this weight ourselves, we just need to reflect God’s strength and love and the way will be found, the doors will open, and the grace of God will flow.

Open Doors (Post from 6/16/17)

“I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my work and haave not denied my name.” (Revelation 3:8)

For a while now we did not have our first service opportunity for August and September 2018, however leave it to God to open another door as a way to show us that He is in charge and He is in control. We can try to find opportunities ourselves, but without His help we will continue to find nothing. This is exactly what has happened for us. We have been trying and trying to get something set for our first service project to no avail. But when He was ready for us to have something set, it happened. A wonderful friend of ours, Chris, was able to help secure a service opportunity in a small rural town in Germany. We will be working with the local church doing various tasks, including English lessons, working on cleaning up the church, helping with the Vacation Bible School, and whatever else the community and the church may need. We will be at their disposal. What is even more wonderful is that they are working on getting the kids into the schools there, so they will be starting school with the rest of the kids in the community (how wonderful!!).

For me, every time there is just a little bit of doubt or anxiety about this service project, He opens another door and continues to show us that this IS our path and this IS what we are supposed to be doing. He continues to light the path that we are supposed to be on, which is a very comforting feeling. He shows us that He is in control and that He is there, always, to care for us, to help us, and to guide us. He is our rock and our stronghold.

In You, O LORD, I have taken refuge; Let me never be ashamed; In Your righteousness deliver me. Incline Your ear to me, rescue me quickly; Be to me a rock of strength, A stronghold to save me. For You are my rock and my fortress; For Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me. (Psalms 31:1-3)

Modern Day Abram and Sarai (post from 3/27/17)

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1) Abram took his wife Sarai and His brother’s son, Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Harah; and they set forth to go the land of Canaan. (Genesis 12:5).

A couple weeks ago our new pastor (who knew nothing of our plans) preached on this passage from Genesis. Jeff sitting the choir loft and myself sitting in the pews at church, we couldn’t help but lock eyes almost instantly; enormous smiles appeared on both of us which turned into silent chuckles and for me even tears of just complete shock and joy and fear and every other emotion you could imagine. I was so taken back by the sermon and I can remember feeling like this was another one of God’s messages to us that this is what we are supposed to be doing; we were on the right path and we just need to trust Him.

Now I will give you some context for how we came to this decision…It was sometime last year, early summer 2017 that one of my high school teachers posted something on Facebook that sparked a conversation between Jeff and I. Mr. Allen had posted that as he was approaching retirement he wanted to buy an old bus, paint it “hippie style” and take 50 kids or so around the USA for a year, stopping at all the historical sites around the country. I can remember thinking how amazing this would be, so I brought this up to Jeff, really just as a conversation, not really with any intention of doing this. However the more we talked about how neat this would be for us, we decided that we could totally do this! We are just renting our house, so we decided that we could sell one of the cars and most of our belongings, buy an RV and tour the USA while homeschooling the children. Well, this conversation continued for about a week or so, but then we started talking some more about this and we agreed that if we were going to do this, we needed to think bigger. We both felt called to not just travel and explore, but to serve others. This conversation continued and before we knew what was happening, it quickly became a call from God (or call it open doors, whatever you’d prefer) to serve others around the world; people from totally different cultures and worlds would be more impactful for us and for the children. Thus started the conversation about traveling abroad and serving those most in need. Initially we started to look at volunteer organizations around the world that would accept children, but what we found was quite discouraging, most places wouldn’t allow the children to participate in the volunteer work and most of these organizations were “voluntourism” (basically a vacation where you can do some volunteering). Voluntouring was NOT what we were being called to do. We were beginning to think that maybe this was not what we were supposed to do…but just when God closes one door He opens a new one. We found a book at the library, Wide Open World by John Marshall that was about his family’s experience doing volunteer work around the world. After reading this book, we found opportunities to volunteer in rural Thailand teaching English with an organization called Volunthai and a Presbyterian orphanage in northeastern India on the border of Nepal called The Good Shepherd Argricultural Farm. Both of these opportunities were discussed in the book and when we contacted them they were more than welcoming to us, even the children. As time continued to go on we realized that there are few, if any, organizations out there to help families wanting to do volunteer work around the world find opportunities, thus began Casting Off Globally (COG), our non-profit organization which has the purpose of linking families with organizations around the world that would accept the help of families with children. We have been very blessed to have the support of our interim pastor and now our current pastor, as well as a few friends that have been able to connect us with churches and communities around the world who continue to open their doors to us.

God’s call is very much alive and real. As long as we continue to be open to hearing His word, He continues to lead us down this path; He is planning this for us and leading us to the unknown. We have found so much joy and faith in trusting His call and letting go of the idea of being in control. We do not know where this will lead. We do not known what will happen while we are away for year living amongst the poor, the lonely, the destitute, but we are confident that He will guide us and that He will keep us in His loving arms. We do not know what will happen when we come back; will we go back to same life we have now, will we do something completely different, will we do this again? There are so many questions for which we don’t have answers, but then I am sure Abram and Sarai had questions, doubts, and fears too. Yet they followed God’s call and He provided for them, just as He will provide for us, if we trust and have faith in Him.