"I'll Do It Myself" or not

"Why couldn't the Little Red Hen just share?" Victor asked me with a confused look on his face. I had just finished telling my favorite story- "The Little Red Hen"- to a small group of fifth and sixth graders. Victor's question took me by surprise. I had to think about.

Growing up I was taught that "The Little Red Hen" is a story about a hard working hen. It's about sharing in the work so you can share in the reward. It is about responsibility and initiative. The hen asks her companions, "Who will help me make the bread?" Their response is, "Not I." So she says over and over, "Alright, if you won't help, I'll do it myself." She does all the work herself and then, in a moment of sweet justice, reaps the benefits all by herself too. The story ends with her eating her bread alone in her home. Hey, if her companions weren't going to share in the work, then they don't get to share in the reward. It always made sense to me. Until Victor's question, "Why couldn't the Little Red Hen just share?"

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My Movie Montage

My roommate recently saved the last nine minutes of the movie "Honey" for me. As embarassing as it is, I cry every time I watch it. Jessica Alba is there with all her bad dialogue changing kids' live through dance. She walks away from the lucrative MTV deal to stand with the kids everyone else has given up on...As cheesy as it is, I can't get enough. I always want my life to be like those inspiring movies that make you cry and believe in the power of healing relationships and the possibility of transformed lives. I want my life to crescendo with the inspiring song and moment of turning in a teen's life or a neighborhood's history. However, the longer I am in this community development work, this ministry, this life- the more I see that its just not like that.

The movie montage doesn't show the 7am meetings with day laborers where the two main leaders don't get along. The inspiring montage leaves out the days I don't want to get out of bed or the nights I cry in agony and hopelessness. The movies don't show when we lose the keys to the closet or wait around for interns or bad talk the neighbors we are supposed to be serving. The movies might show snippets of real life- of the drama and tragedy and mundaneness- but its neatly edited and has nice music to go with the moment.

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I Found the Church- in my office

Often when I travel the groups I meet seem so exciting and effective. Usually I'm ready to abandon my work and move in with the Beudoins of Egypt or a rancho in Venezuela. In the moment I'm so sure that God can use me more effectively in those places. A classic case of "the grass is always greener."

The conclusion that I have come to is that I need to be faithful in the place God has put me. The pastor in the ranchos of Venezuela does not see his work as exciting as I do but he is faithful to the day to day ministry. Over the years he has brought change to his community. I believe the same is true of all of us who have committed ourselves to a place or a people. Fundamentally I believe that the world will be transformed by God's love if we show it in our corner of the world. But there are so many corners of the world I wish to be engaged with! Recently I feel like God has honored my decision to dig my heels in Costa Mesa and stay put.

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Wisdom of the Basics

In our community development ministry, Mika CDC ( www.mikacdc.com ) we spend a lot of time considering Jesus' summarization of the commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: love your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:30-31 As a neighborhood centric ministry we are constantly asking, "what's the best way to love our neighbors?" As we work with our partner churches to ask this question and then walk it out, it has occured to us that if every believer truly was proactive about loving their neighbor, then ministries like ours wouldn't need to exist. A major part of what we do is helping low income neighbors set up systems of care and support in their communities. The other part of what we do is helping the church to see their neighbors.

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Pack Light

When it comes to packing- whether for the day or a long trip, I seem to swing between two extremes: "take it just in case" and "pack light." At different times in my life I have been very well prepared and planned ahead. Then other times I am content to fly by the seat of my pants and make due with what I have. Now that I am walking more, it is definitely a "pack light" season.

My dad always says I would find my keys faster if my purse wasn't the size of a carry on bag. You just never know what you might need. It's good to be prepared- unless you have to carry the bag far. It is actually quite amazing what we don't need. I've unloaded half the contents of my purse, started leaving my laptop at the office, and suddenly don't need the books I lugged back and forth every day.

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When You're Weary

By the end of the week I am so tired. Today I am weary- beyond tired- soul weary. I trudged up the stairs to welcome my new neighbor to our building. He barely cracked the door and stuck out his head, eyes bloodshot from smoking out.

“I wanted to invite you to a bbq, to welcome you to the building.”

He stares at his feet, still blocking the doorway for all he’s worth. I switch to Spanish.

“Bienvenido. Vamos a compartir el domingo en el jardin, si quieren venir y conocer a los vecinos.”


“ok well, bienvenido.”

Weary. Conversations that should be cheery, are weary. I haul myself back down the stairs.

Are my days just too full? Is that why I am so worn out by Friday? Or is my soul heavy from more than busyness? I think back over the conversations of the day:

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Why Do We Value Efficiency?

I walked to work this morning.  I pledged to make some changes once gas hit $4 a gallon.  In my city it is $4.50 per gallon.  It was past time to make some changes.

 It took me 10 minutes to walk to work.  I wonder why I didn't start sooner.  Walking gives such a different perspective than driving.  I walk out of the neighborhood a different route than I drive out so I got to greet neighbors I don't normally pass in the morning.  As I walked I made mental notes of things for our Neighborhood Action Committee to address.  I noticed the gate that needed repairing at the end of the street and peeped some new graffitti. I prayed for neighbors as I passed their buildings.  Again, I wondered why I hadn't walked every day.  Our offices are so close to the neighborhood.

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A Successful Pet Mission

During the first year that I moved into the Shalimar neighborhood of Costa Mesa, I bought a dog- a big dog- Layla. She is supposedly a husky, shepherd mix. Layla has been instrumental in my connecting with the neighbors. I swear more people know her than know me.

I was reminded of this last Sunday when Layla ran away- again. She never goes too far, but she is very social (like her mom) and can't be kept pent up for too long. I was enjoying the sunny Sunday afternoon with all the doors and windows opened and then I realized that Layla had crawled under the fence.

I was off down the street on foot yelling out her name. Pretty soon a kid on his skateboard came to help. Then a mom and her toddler (who especially loves Layla) headed down the alley to look for her. My neighbors heard my cries (for Layla) and came to my aid.

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Neighbor to Neighbor

I spent the morning with a pastor who shared how he wants to get his people to take a first step out of themselves.  He was commenting how hard it is for us to engage with strangers, even with acquaintances.  We are all so stuck in our routines and worlds.  My pastor friend noted that there seems to be a block between smiling at the coffee guy and taking the next step to engagin in a conversation.

I spent the afternoon with a woman who wanted someone next to her as she hurdled over this same block- the block between greeting and engagement.   This friend had called me to say that one of our neighbors had her children removed from the home.  My friend went on to express her sympathy for the family and the urge she felt to reach out to them.  "I don't know her really, only be sight," she said, "but it just seems that as neighbors we should reach out to her."  "I'm nervous though, what if she thinks I'm trying to pry or is offended?"  I understood my friend's anxiety.  It is hard to enter someone else's pain, especially when you don't know them.  "I will go with you," I said.  "Then you won't be afraid." 

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Plexiglas Relationships

My friends always tease me because everywhere we go, I run into someone I know. However, I never expected to run into someone I know in the Orange County jail.

It is my first time visiting someone in jail. I am struck by all the people there: dads and sons, girlfriends and boyfriends, husbands and wives, babies and daddies, mothers and sons- so many people separated by pain, by sin, and by Plexiglas. Getting in is a fairly smooth security process. I pass through to a stark, white, lonely hallway at the end of which there is a line.

As I take my place, I see one of my neighbors. She is at the front of the line holding an infant to her shoulder. We greet each other briefly and she moves ahead, presumably to visit her son. I have not seen her son around the neighborhood in a long time. Now I know why.

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I love our world- the sights, noises, and flavors of it all. I've found the best way for me to make a difference globally is to be rooted and engaged in my community. Every day is 1 more adventure in loving God and loving my neighbor.