“Where you lead us, we will follow” – Jars of Clay
This is my final post reflecting on what I learned from the Justice Conference last month. So far I have talked about the definition of biblical justice, the oppression of women, the responsibility we have to fight that injustice, and how all the amazing presenters at the Justice Conference suggest we practically engage justice.
The stories I heard and wisdom imparted were overwhelming, but I was able to develop the following list of take-aways:
- Focus on my relationship with God through prayer and reading the Bible, making sure I continue to keep my spiritual reservoir full so everything I do is grounded in God’s word.
- “Doing justice” is about being in relationship with people, seeing them the way Jesus sees them, not as the world labels them.
- Be creative and think outside the box when it comes to justice. I can live justice and love others right in my own community.
- Understand my own spiritual gifts, passions and talents to determine how I, as the person God created me to be, can best serve others.
- Listen to what other people in my life are saying about my gifts and compare it to what I’m hearing from God to affirm my calling.
- Step outside my comfort zone for the good of others. Take risks when serving others. Especially when those risks mean getting to know people for who they are.
- Maintain a holistic balance between educating myself on issues (learning), sharing my story, faith, and ideas (speaking), and serving others in love (doing).
So what does this mean for Rich and me, self-declared introverts and homebodies? How do we build relationships with others, particularly the vulnerable, and love and serve them in ways which respect their humanity and encourage them to thrive?
This is when I let out a big sigh. At first it seemed like too much, but Rich and I were so inspired by everything we heard at the Justice Conference that we spent the entire car ride home discussing what implications these ideas have on our life. Rich was very specific regarding what moved him the most – everything that had to do with children and animals. He truly cares about the most vulnerable and the defenseless. I also have a soft place in my heart for children, as well as for women who are being oppressed and/or enslaved.
Our ultimate goal is to incorporate justice and love into our life in an intentional and practical way. We especially want everything we do to be more in line with our beliefs as followers of Jesus Christ. So once we returned home, Rich and I began developing strategies and focused on things we could do immediately. Unfortunately, much of it revolves around finances, so first things first; we are working diligently to become debt free as soon as possible.
Other immediate actions include becoming better stewards of our resources, and donating more money to charities such as Preemptive Love Coalition, which provides heart surgeries to children in Iraq. We are also looking to simplify our life more by learning how to plan meals, supporting fair trade, and buying locally. Soon we will start looking to plug into a spiritual community so we can grow with other Christians, and build relationships by engaging with local neighbors. Lastly, we are pursuing adoption. In my mind, this is the most important part of this entire thing. Not only will this allow us to follow God’s command to take care of the orphan, and follow through on what I felt God called me to years ago, but we will finally be able to build our family after nine years of infertility.
Below is the extensive list of action items we will be working towards which demonstrates how justice can be interwoven into all aspects of every day life. I’ve also included a short synopsis to better explain each area’s connection to our goal:
Spiritual: Our relationship with Jesus should be the number one priority in our life so we have the focus, strength, hope and faith to live out our calling. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13.
- Pray, read Bible and Common Prayer book together before going to bed
- Visit churches to find one focused on building a spiritual community, as well as local and global outreach
- Once we find a spiritual community, begin tithing faithfully
- Informal Bible study with friends
- Consider fasting and retreat for spiritual renewal
- Be in prayer regarding our individual callings
Family: After God, our marriage and family unit is most important. We will work to preserve and grow our marital bond, then build our family through the means God calls us to.
- Maintain weekly date night
- Continue to work on positive, affirming communication with one another
- Spend more time with immediate family, including parents, siblings, nieces and nephews
- Research adoption options (foster/domestic/international) with goal of beginning home study process in early 2014
- Pray for our future children, that God will lead us to one another in His time
Finances: God has provided us with financial blessings that we, unfortunately, have not been good stewards of. If we want to be generous in giving, both time and money, than we need to have more financial resources available.
- Review household budget together weekly
- Plan food each week so we don’t buy anything we won’t eat
- Establish a budget for charitable donations and choose justice-oriented organizations to support (Preemptive Love Coalition; One Day's Wages; Kiva, International Justice Mission, etc.)
- Pay off all credit cards using debt snowball process
- Pay for all items/bills in cash
- Cut up all credit cards
- Utilize “blow money” account so we don’t overspend on recreational items
Service: A major aspect of justice is serving others, especially the vulnerable and poor. There are several ways to do that, but we are most interested in joining a spiritual community that makes service one of their core missions. We especially want to build relationships with those in need.
- Continue serving youth group through end of June
- Once we find a church, plug in to ministries and service opportunities
- Look into volunteer projects with local non-profits
- Attend Trichotillomania Learning Center conference in April and begin process of becoming an advocate for people with Trich, through networking, volunteering, and hopefully presentations, blogs, etc.
- Research possibility of short term mission trip in 2014; Connect with organizations we support for opportunities to serve
- Support friends who are going on mission trips through donations and prayer
Sustainable Living/Simple Living/Stewardship: We have a house full of “stuff” and waste too much food each week. God has provided the resources of the earth for all people, so we want to be more intentional in our use of them when others are suffering and still in need.
- Donate clothes to Rescue Mission
- Sell items (computer, DVDs, CD) that we no longer need to hold on to and use money for donations or paying off debt
- Buy electronic versions of music, movies, and books to keep from having more “stuff” in the house
- Research humane meat options (organic, free range, etc.)
- Eat less meat – only two meals per week – and consider vegetarianism
- Buy fair trade items, including quarterly shipments from “Trade as One”
Physical/Emotional Health: It is very hard to love and take care of others when you’re not taking care of yourself first. Maintaining good health provides energy for living life to the fullest. Also, our body is a gift from God and requires the same stewardship as our finances, the earth and other resources.
- At least 7-8 hours of sleep each night
- Gym or exercise at least 3x per week
- More walks in the park together (it's when Rich and I have our my fruitful conversations)
- Healthier eating plans (entrée salads!)
Personal/Professional Goals: Living the life God is calling you to helps provide purpose and meaning. It’s important to do due diligence and work towards personal and professional goals. God puts certain joys and passions on our heart so we can use them to glorify His name and show His love to everyone we encounter.
- Establish my voice as a writer, through my blog and working on my first book. My focus is sharing my story and encouraging people, women especially, to learn about their value in Christ.
- Complete the Storyline book by Donald Miller to determine how to live our best story.
- Pursue seminary (see education)
Social: Part of loving others means building trusting, lasting relationships with friends. Often, the people we have the biggest influence on are those we see on a regular basis.
- Plan get-togethers with friends, especially people who we haven’t seen in a while
- Make more phone calls, send more emails, write more hand written notes
- Let people know how much we appreciate them
- Offer our help to friends when needs arise
- I would love to have a monthly or quarterly "breaking of bread" with friends
Education: Pursuing professional and educational endeavors provide us with opportunities to live out our passions and calling. I’ve been called to seminary, but feel God is making me wait for the right timing.
- Begin researching Master of Divinity programs with the hope of attending seminary in the next few years. Particularly interested in Northeastern Seminary's program on Social Justice.
- Rich to finish up IT Management degree at Syracuse University, providing him with the skills and education he needs to further his career
- Finish the 9 (!) justice-oriented books I picked up at the Justice Conference, including “Pursuing Justice” by Ken Wytsma
- First, get through “Love Does” by Bob Goff, one of the best books about how to truly LOVE people unconditionally. It will be the next book I write about on The Bookshelf.
I know this all seems very ambitious; However, we made sure to break the list down by things we can get to immediately (donating to charities, buying fair trade) and other things that may take more time (adopting a child, finding a church). The key was to give our goals realistic time frames to keep us from becoming paralyzed and more likely to revert back to old habits of passivity.
Due to our life circumstances, we are not in a position to up and move across the world to live among the poor. And honestly, it’s not what either of us feel called to do at this moment in time. By focusing on getting out of debt, and becoming financially stable, we hope to be able to be more liberal and generous with our financial blessings. This will not only help us follow our call to give to others and serve those in our local community, it will also help us support global justice organizations that are doing amazing things around the world. Personally, I also feel the call to share my story and encourage others to share theirs. That is one reason we are seeking out a church that is focused on building authentic relationships both inside and outside the church.
I’m excited about this new road ahead where living justice becomes the catalyst for everything Rich and I do, and we can follow Jesus as He has called us to, by loving and serving others.
I’ll leave you with this song by Jars of Clay, “We Will Follow,” which has become an anthem in our household. It represents our desire to follow Jesus. It is one of the best worship songs I have ever heard. Each time I listen to it, I am reminded that none of this is about me, it’s all about Jesus. To Him I will surrender in faith, and to Him I will give all the glory, now and forever, Amen.