Jesus and the Stewardship of Self

Cross and Starfish

It’s tough to be good stewards of our time, our relationships, and our finite resources. I’ve been reflecting on this topic a lot lately, especially in light of the wonderful Rostered Leaders Wellness Retreat our Lower Susquehanna Synod hosted with support from Portico Benefits (our insurer), Thrivent Financial, and Lutheran World Relief.

We spent a wonderful two days at the Hershey Hotel with wonderful food, great collegiality, worship, Bible study, and time for yoga, meditation, and financial stewardship workshops. We were also treated to chair massages and a prayer labyrinth. Just having time to see colleagues from all parts of our synod and to treat ourselves to a lovely setting that most of us would never consider going otherwise was a lavish gift.

Even better, our keynote presenter, Dr. Mike Brown, explained healthy living through a heart healthy diet and exercise. His presentation was fun, engaging, and humorous. My husband and I have  been comparing labels ever since and are committed to being attentive to “what goes in our mouth and what we do with our feet.”

Here’s a link to the reflection I wrote this week on the Narrative Lectionary reading for February 8, 2014, posted on the Stewardship of Life Institute website. Seems our Lord Jesus Christ knew a lot about health and wellness and provides a wonderful model for stewardship of self. Thank you, Jesus!

Why Lights, Plumbing, & HVAC are “Sexy”


Once upon a time, when commiserating with a colleague about how much more difficult it is to raise funds to support the operating budget instead of designated projects, he looked at me with that all-wise, uber-experienced senior advancement professional gaze and said, “Lights, plumbing, HVAC, and salaries just aren’t sexy.”

“Well, duh. Now what am I supposed to do with that nugget of knowledge?” I remember thinking. Whatever in the world is one to do when faced with meeting a budget, a mission plan, or fund-raising goal that includes the basics of maintaining a structure and paying people do do certain tasks? Sure, there are plenty of academic articles, how-to guides, and collective wisdom gathered about this topic, but not a one of them changes the bottom line: People want to give to things that make a real difference.

In most folks’ reality, paying to keep the lights on, the toilets flushing, and the heating or air-conditioning pumping is just not connected to alleviating starvation, educating children, or sharing the gospel with a hurting world. Plus, if you’re a donor who is motivated by naming opportunities, having your little brass plaque on the new handicap-accessible restroom door or on the side of the enormous heat pump doesn’t carry the same cachet as adorning the new library door or funding a memorial garden.


Many donors also figure that salaries and benefits are not high priorities. Shouldn’t the regular offering or annual budget be sufficient to cover that? Why do we need to pay so much for those line items anyway? If you think about it, it makes some sense. I want to maximize my hard-earned giving dollars, too. I want them to be used responsibly and ethically and for the good of as many people as possible.

Although I still chafe a bit at connecting the notion of charitable giving with the idea of making it “sexy,” I understand what that fundraising professional was trying to get through my youthful idealistic head. You have to tell the story of why something or someone is worthy of support, and you must make a compelling argument for every last penny. Why does X, Y, or Z really matter?

For me, keeping the lights on, the plumbing in working order, and the staff paid a living wage are “sexy” because without a solid foundation the chances of long-term viability are pretty poor. HVAC may be a bit more negotiable depending on your locale, but the principle is the same. If you take care of the basics, you can do a lot more in the long run with your vision and mission. The unsung heroes and heroines in my mind are the folks who hear the stories, comprehend the need, understand the mission, and give where the need is greatest–even if that means their gift provides insurance for a staff member for one month so that he or she can be productive and effective without worry.

Alex Holyoake, cc

This means the bottom line, folks, is that we have to do an excellent job of making our case and telling our stories. Sloppy work, hastily constructed narratives, and sweeping assumptions won’t cut it. A story must be an irresistible one that draws us in. People want to give and make a difference. People are at the core generous; this I believe. It’s just that there are so many competing messages and claims out there, that we who lead and serve in faith-based and non-profit communities and programs have to find a way to stand out above the din of consumer culture and the busyness of daily life.

Tell your story. Tell it clearly and well. Keep it simple. Make sure you really believe in your cause and in why you’re doing what you are doing. And don’t forget to ask for what you need–even if it’s those precious dollars to fund the basics. Ask with expectation and without apology. If you do this well, and you’re on target, the results may surprise you–“sexy” or better yet, just plain good.

Photo: Julian Povey, donorstibet, and Alex Holyoake, Creative Commons. Thanks!

Not-So-Retail Therapy

Most folks who know me well are aware that I do not take much pleasure in shopping–especially the kind of retail shopping that involves plunking down major cash outlays for transitory and often cheaply made consumer goods. In short, I just about have to be dragged to a shopping mall.

That said, I can understand how shopping can be classed as “retail therapy.” There’s the thrill finding that seemingly perfect item to fill a need, or more likely, a want in a person’s life. I’ve been there and done that and have come to find the outcome severely lacking.

Now I practice “not-so-retail” therapy. Let me explain. As a member of The Compact, I avoid buying new items that contribute to an ever-growing waste stream and violate principles of justice and equity that I hold important.

My latest “not-so-retail” therapy sessions involved Goodwill, Staples, and Dollar Tree. Here’s the story.

I’ve been looking for a basic black wool winter coat since moving back north of the Mason/Dixon line (great match for clergy clothes), so I stopped in at my local Goodwill to check out what might be available. Sure enough I found a gorgeous classic style from a New York custom tailor for $12. Awesome! Then I found a pair of black Ann Taylor dress pants that fit perfectly for $4. Nice! Finally, I found a name brand long mock turtle sweater/dress that is perfect for tights or skinny jeans and boots for $3. Score! To make it even better, the nice lady at the cash register took an additional $2 off  the price of the pants because they were missing a button. Wow!

So for $17 I got three wonderful articles of clothing that are useful, in great condition, and didn’t put anything new into the consumer stream. Plus, these items helped me to get closer to my black/white and shots of bright color basic wardrobe that I’ve been aiming for as clothes wear out. My deal is that when three things come in three things go out, so three summer shirts went bye-bye.

A few days later, after considerable research (assisted by my more tech-savvy spouse), I headed over to Staples armed with a 20% off coupon to purchase a new projector for the congregation I serve. I came out with a fine model that has everything we need along with a set of nice speakers (40% off) for a total ticket of considerably under $500. Being a good steward of the congregation’s money is important. Could I have found one used? Possibly. In this case, I decided to make the purchase new to balance value, need, and time constraints.

Finally, the lure of The Dollar Tree next to Staples was too much to resist, and $13 and change later I emerged with 10 cans of Muir Glen organic diced tomatoes, two jars of an upstate New York regional pasta sauce (great ingredient list), and a box of organic peanut butter chip granola bars. I couldn’t have been happier had you set me loose in Macy’s the day after Thanksgiving with a $1000 gift card.

You probably understand the search for a good value on the projector, but you may be shaking your head and wondering how I can get so excited about dollar store diced tomatoes and secondhand clothing. It is, after all, counter to everything our culture tries to sell us about what it means to be a consumer. That’s the point. I no longer need to be told, sold, or “guilted” into consuming beyond my needs.

As part of a culture that takes way more than its share of the world’s resources, I feel a responsibility to weigh each purchase carefully. I prefer to buy local or regional brands (often dumped at dollar or outlet stores) to avoid supporting agri-giants. I buy used clothing whenever possible and try to avoid big box stores in favor of locally owned businesses.

It’s a constant effort to be an un-consumer in a consumer culture, and I fail miserably from time to time. But I believe it is the effort and thought that count. If all of us would simply begin to weigh our purchases more carefully in terms of justice, environmental impact, and impact on the local economy and our neighbors, I think we’d see a huge difference. At least that’s my hope, prayer, and dream. In the meantime, I’m content to engage in not-so-retail therapy whenever I must consume. Sure is a lot easier on the bank account, too!

How about you? What are your tips for being a more thoughtful consumer? Do you engage in no-so-retail therapy, too?

Photos by sylar_major,  informiorium, TAKA@P.P.R.S., and TownePost Network. Thanks!

Quality Time in Target

Shopping is not one of my favorite activities. In fact, I normally loathe it. Today, however, I went shopping, and it wasn’t so bad because it involved spending quality time with my 18-year-old daughter while she shopped for college.

We started out with a stop by her favorite fast food restaurant (Taco Bell) for seven layer burritos and cheesy potatoes. As fast food goes one could do a lot worse. Then we hit the big red bulls eye (a.k.a. Target). She had money to spend thanks to generous relatives and friends who sent her graduation presents, so there was no pressure on the “Bank of Mom.” That definitely took the financial edge off of the trip.

Normally, if I have to go to a place like Target I am armed with a list and the dedication to be in and out as fast as possible. Today, we spent well over an hour meandering the aisles comparing towels, paring knives, and ice trays. We looked at lights, fans, pillows, and all manner of dorm-related goodies. Best of all? We talked. I would have walked under the halogens inhaling the dyes and scent of plastic all day long to have this kind of quality time with her.

I am keenly aware that every moment is now a precious one. My spouse and I took her earlier this week for her college orientation. This is real, and it is happening in a little less than two months. It seems like just yesterday that she was a toddler. It surely wasn’t so long ago that she sat on Cinderella’s throne at Disney World and glowered for the camera. Wasn’t it just last week she secured her driver’s license? Senior year of high school? Where did THAT go?

Now she’s talking about classes and foreign exchange programs and internships. I see a new confidence in her words, growing maturity in her actions, and excitement about the future. These are good things, and I am so happy for her.

Yep, I’ll take my quality time in Target, watching old episodes of Dr. Who, or walking the dogs with her. Time flies when you’re having fun–and it flies when you see your child growing up, too. I hope that I can be a good steward of the remaining time we have left this summer and that I can then gracefully release her to her future with  prayers, hugs, and care packages.

What are you doing to take advantage of precious moments with the ones you love? Don’t let time pass ya’ll by now, you hear!

Photos by Matt Callow and Sharron Blezard used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Choosing and Crafting the Future

We are creating the future today! It is hard to imagine what doesn’t yet exist. But the choices we make today will define future generations. We get to decide if we want to be part of blessing future generations. Our behaviors today impact the future of the environment, our health, our church communities, and our families.

We decide if we help to create a future of love, hope, and compassion or a future of hatred, fear, and judgment.

Bonnie Cassida wrote these words as part of today’s d365 Journey to the Cross e-devotion, and they really hit home with me. How often do we pause and consider that we are co-creators of the future, for good or for ill?

Our actions and choices matter; they matter a great deal. Whether we realize or acknowledge it, we are connected to one another. The choices of previous generations have affected where we are today, and likewise the paths we choose will have an impact on our sons and daughters and even on their sons and daughters.

Whatever blessings we enjoy today are often the harvest of seeds planted by others. I think of how my parents made sacrifices so that I could take advantage of opportunities in high school and college. I have heard my mother talk about how her older siblings sacrificed so that the younger children in her large family could have what they needed. Today, my spouse and I make choices with an eye toward providing for the needs of our children.

We try to consider not only our children but the children of other parents around the world. Our purchasing decisions affect other people we may never know. How we treat the land, water, and air may have a profound impact on future generations. This reality is both a great responsibility and an amazing privilege.

We, you and I, must decide whether we will create something of beauty and hope, or whether we will squander our inheritance and ignore the needs of our sisters and brothers. The choice is ours, left to us by our gracious and loving Creator. It is a great trust. What shall we do? How shall we steward this gift?


40/40/40 Challenge Day 12 Update

I’m more than 25% of the way through this Lenten challenge, and so far it has been easy to decide which relationships to honor, possessions to release, and thankgivings to offer. I suspect this could be habit forming.

Honoring Relationships

Today, I want to honor and show appreciation for my friend and walking buddy Dianne from Sheyenne. Sometimes in life you meet someone and it just clicks; you feel comfortable talking and sharing with that person, and you enjoy his or her company. Dianne and I logged many miles around town and up the hill past the cemetary. She’s one of the hardest working people I know, makes the best German Chocolate brownie bars, and can whip up a hot dish or soup in a flash. She donates time to almost every community event, and she has a tender heart and great sense of humor. She loves her family, nurtures her faith, and enjoys life. What more could one ask from a friend? Sure do miss those walks, Dianne!

Giving Possessions

Today I cleaned out my jewelry box. It was a pretty easy task because I don’t have much jewelry to start with, but I did pare it down to only the essentials and those few items of sentimental value. If it hadn’t been our of the box in six months — bye, bye!


I am thankful to be able to exercise. Sometimes it seems like a huge pain and mighty inconvenience, but I am grateful to have limbs that can move and stretch, a heart that supports such activity, and the time to do so. Some days I walk, some days I ride the Airdyne, and some days I do yoga. I need to get back to the YWCA, use that membership more regularly, and be a better steward both of my health and our financial investment. Always something to strive toward, eh?

Photo by alonis used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!