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Charity Begins At Home

alec vanderboom

My little sister needs prayers this week as she searches for her first "real" job after grad school ends in June. Emily spent three years in the peace corps in rural Ghana. She lived without running water, without electricity and had to climb on her thatch hut roof to get cell-phone reception strong enough to call home. From her reports, finding a new job sounds far more intimidating than life in Africa.

Emily wants to find a "do good" job in the social justice field. She could hardly share half my genes if she was thinking about a career in Hedgefund Managment. All the same, it's getting harder and harder to talk to her about our shared interest in saving the world. Her talk consists of NGOs, eccumencialism, non-profits, and "productive plannning."

My whole life has sort of shrunk and expanded in one burst. My whole "plan" right now is:

Step One: Discern God's will

Step Two: Do it

I think my sister would probably agree with that approach, since she's right now in the midst of "what job does God want me to have?"

For me, however, God's will isn't some abstract thing "out there" for me to discover. God's will is sort of in my face all the time. I know what I'm supposed to be doing. The challenge is to do it, consistently, which means ALL THE TIME, without complaining! In otherwords, God is in the details.

For me, the details, is where charity starts to hurt. It's one thing to "volunteer" to read to an economically deprived child once a week, or send protest letters demanding that Congress not cut the food stamps funding, or carry a recycled mug into Starbucks. That's benevolence, or "giving out of your excess."

It's Charity-- "giving of what you need" to turn your life upside, give up "free-time", give up letter writing and Starbucks trips in order to have a bunch of new souls in a short time. . .then give your only bike pump to the neighborhood kids who don't have a Dad at home and then watch your husband walk to work for a week after his bike gets a flat tire. . . and then feed pancakes on your day of rest to another neighborhood kid who is having a hard time. I've written before that I served as a child advocate for four years in Appalachia. It wasn't until I was fumming after my husband spent yet another Sunday patching up the bikes for kids with missing Dads that I realized, my "child advocacy" work before my marriage was never that hard. Child Advocacy was a job that let me off to recover on the weekends. Now there are no more lazy, pajama-wearing, paper reading, coffee drinking, art film gazing weekends.

Then there's charity at home with our own kids. Hanging out with your own little ones is sometimes easy, breezy, lemon squeezy. And sometimes it's truly hard.

Last night, I actually "quit." I didn't know who I was handing my notice too. God, I guess. I knew at 4:30 AM that I was finished. Maria needed a night feeding at 3:30 AM and nothing could lull her back to sleep. I was so, so tired. Then, I started to the math caculations. I've been nursing Maria for eleven months and pregnant for nine months. That means my last full night's sleep was back in September 2006. 2006!!!

I got so upset that I handed "party girl" to her father, climbed out of bed and walked out the front door of the house. I stood on the "welcome" mat and tried to take some deep breaths.

Thankfully, our "Welcome Pope Benedict" montage was still on my front door. So I gazed into our Pope's eyes and muttered this prayer: "You said that Christ is our Hope, Papa and I believe you, but not sleeping and not having money for groceries and worring about our rent spike next month, makes being a Mother very, very hard!" Our Pope waved happily at me. I thought about his mother and how she must have had sleepless nights like this with her happy baby Joseph. She dealt with them gracefully on top of dealing with the incredible stress of the Natzis and two World Wars. I said a prayer to her for help, and that was enough to get me to head back into bed.

My husband let us skip Daily Mass this morning, so I caught up a little on sleep. Headed out the door to partake in Ben & Jerry's free ice-cream day, I saw the Pope Benedict pictures again. "Charity begins at home, in the little domestic church," Pope Benedict recently told us. It's a hard, hard deal to love the Lord BEYOND your strength somedays. But it feels good to never worry about being "unemployed" or directionless in how to do deeds of charity ever again.