Suzy & Spice

a pinch of this, a dash of that

Archive for the ‘volunteering’ Category

Saving the world is not just for liberals

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley on February 28, 2010

Here’s a mostly balanced op-ed piece from Nicholas D. Kristof of The New York Times. I say “mostly balanced” because I don’t think we should blame the Vatican’s “hostility to condoms” for the growth of AIDS. That’s just my opinion.

Learning from the sin of Sodom

For most of the last century, save-the-worlders were primarily Democrats and liberals. In contrast, many Republicans and religious conservatives denounced government aid programs, with Senator Jesse Helms calling them “money down a rat hole.”

Over the last decade, however, that divide has dissolved, in ways that many Americans haven’t noticed or appreciated. Evangelicals have become the new internationalists, pushing successfully for new American programs against AIDS and malaria and doing superb work on issues from human trafficking in India to mass rape in Congo.

A pop quiz: What’s the largest U.S.-based international relief and development organization?

It’s not Save the Children, and it’s not CARE — both terrific secular organizations. Rather, it’s World Vision, a Seattle-based Christian organization (with strong evangelical roots) whose budget has roughly tripled over the last decade.

World Vision now has 40,000 staff members in nearly 100 countries. That’s more staff members than CARE, Save the Children and the worldwide operations of the U.S. Agency for International Development — combined.

A growing number of conservative Christians are explicitly and self-critically acknowledging that to be “pro-life” must mean more than opposing abortion. The head of World Vision in the United States, Richard Stearns, begins his fascinating book, “The Hole in Our Gospel,” with an account of a visit a decade ago to Uganda, where he met a 13-year-old AIDS orphan who was raising his younger brothers by himself.

“What sickened me most was this question: where was the Church?” he writes. “Where were the followers of Jesus Christ in the midst of perhaps the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time? Surely the Church should have been caring for these ‘orphans and widows in their distress.’ (James 1:27). [Read the entire verse here.] Shouldn’t the pulpits across America have flamed with exhortations to rush to the front lines of compassion?

“How have we missed it so tragically, when even rock stars and Hollywood actors seem to understand?”

Mr. Stearns argues that evangelicals were often so focused on sexual morality and a personal relationship with God that they ignored the needy. He writes laceratingly about “a Church that had the wealth to build great sanctuaries but lacked the will to build schools, hospitals, and clinics.”

In one striking passage, Mr. Stearns quotes the prophet Ezekiel as saying that the great sin of the people of Sodom wasn’t so much that they were promiscuous or gay as that they were “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49.) [Read the entire verse here.]

Hmm. Imagine if sodomy laws could be used to punish the stingy, unconcerned rich!

The American view of evangelicals is still shaped by preening television blowhards and hypocrites who seem obsessed with gays and fetuses. One study cited in the book found that even among churchgoers ages 16 to 29, the descriptions most associated with Christianity were “antihomosexual,” “judgmental,” “too involved in politics,” and “hypocritical.”

Some conservative Christians reinforced the worst view of themselves by inspiring Ugandan homophobes who backed a bill that would punish gays with life imprisonment or execution. Ditto for the Vatican, whose hostility to condoms contributes to the AIDS epidemic. But there’s more to the picture: I’ve also seen many Catholic nuns and priests heroically caring for AIDS patients — even quietly handing out condoms.

One of the most inspiring figures I’ve met while covering Congo’s brutal civil war is a determined Polish nun in the terrifying hinterland, feeding orphans, standing up to drunken soldiers and comforting survivors — all in a war zone. I came back and decided: I want to grow up and become a Polish nun.

Some Americans assume that religious groups offer aid to entice converts. That’s incorrect. Today, groups like World Vision ban the use of aid to lure anyone into a religious conversation.

Some liberals are pushing to end the longtime practice (it’s a myth that this started with President George W. Bush) of channeling American aid through faith-based organizations. That change would be a catastrophe. In Haiti, more than half of food distributions go through religious groups like World Vision that have indispensible networks on the ground. We mustn’t make Haitians the casualties in our cultural wars.

A root problem is a liberal snobbishness toward faith-based organizations. Those doing the sneering typically give away far less money than evangelicals. They’re also less likely to spend vacations volunteering at, say, a school or a clinic in Rwanda.

If secular liberals can give up some of their snootiness, and if evangelicals can retire some of their sanctimony, then we all might succeed together in making greater progress against common enemies of humanity, like illiteracy, human trafficking and maternal mortality.

Advertisements

Posted in God, religion, volunteering | Leave a Comment »

Fighting Crohn’s disease

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley on February 20, 2010

Anyone who has read this blog in the past couple of years knows that Crohn’s disease has been a major part of my 12-year marriage to Bruce (he was diagnosed in December 1998, just before our first anniversary). (Click “Crohn’s disease” in the category cloud at left to read some of the archived posts.)

Bruce has had three flare-ups in the past 11 years, the most recent of which started three years ago and lingers still.

Crohn’s has taken Bruce’s job, a lot of our money and a good deal of our energy (I never thought I would be this tired at 47!).

With a disease like Crohn’s, you feel helpless much of the time. Its cause is a mystery, its cure nonexistent. Today.

Tomorrow, we will find a cure.

Today, we are working toward that cure, not as scientists but as advocates – for education, awareness and research.

Because, in some things, we are not helpless. We have choices. We can decide.

I have decided to fight.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I made myself a goal for 2010. This year, I’ve committed to helping bring to Arkansas a chapter of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America.

The nearest CCFA chapters are in Dallas, Tulsa, St. Louis, Nashville and New Orleans. A little too far to drive, if you ask me.

CCFA is dedicated to finding a cure for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and “to improve the quality of life of children and adults affected by these diseases.” Read more about CCFA’s mission here.

It is one thing when your 39-year-old husband is diagnosed with such a devastating disease. It is another when your cousin’s 10-year-old son is given the same diagnosis.

Ten percent of the more than 1 million Crohn’s sufferers in the United States are children, including my young cousin, Spencer. He was diagnosed last summer. He’s 11 now, and his little brain has had a lot to absorb in the past several months.

Spencer has probably done more research on Crohn’s than many adults have. He’s super-smart and ultra-aware. He knows stuff that an 11-year-old boy shouldn’t have to know about himself and his body. Not yet.

But maybe Spencer will be the guy to find the cure someday.

Meanwhile, he’s part of the movement to bring a CCFA chapter to Arkansas.

On Saturday, May 15, at 5 p.m., we will walk for Crohn’s and colitis. Read more here about the Little Rock Take Steps Walk. It will be a casual stroll (less than a mile) in a family-friendly, festival-type atmosphere.

To join Team Taylor Trotters (Taylor is the maiden name of Spencer’s mom, her sister and me) or to donate, click here. Our team goal is $5,000. Every donation of $5, $10 or more will help us reach our goal.

To all of my cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, sibling, future sibling-in-law and friends around Arkansas: April or I will be contacting you to walk with us, but feel free to post a comment below (or click the above link and join) if you’re ready to get on board now! (And if you are a designer, we need help with a T-shirt design. We’ll have Team Taylor T-shirts, but we haven’t gotten that far yet. We’ve been busy working on tomorrow’s Walk kickoff party in Little Rock.)

2010 is the year that Arkansas will establish its very own chapter of CCFA. Be a part of it!

Today.

Posted in Crohn's disease, family, health, volunteering | 7 Comments »

The good Earth

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley on April 19, 2009

The Certified Arkansas Farmers Market (Sixth & Main streets in North Little Rock’s Argenta neighboorhood) opened yesterday for the 2009 season. I really hated to miss it, but Bruce and I went to Batesville for the annual Scottish festival at Lyon College (more on that later). But I’m so excited that it’s finally open! Saturday, April 25, is Basket-A-Month pickup day, so I can’t wait for the fresh eggs, milk, cheese, pasta, STRAWBERRIES and other goodies that will be in the basket. Maybe I’ll make strawberry cake or muffins next weekend!

Come on down Saturday for fresh, Arkansas-grown produce, dairy, beefalo, honey, homemade pasta and much more. Support your local farmer. Maybe you’ll see us there. Bruce and I will be volunteering during the basket pickup.

After that, walk down to Riverfront Park for the Arkansas Earth Day Festival. The festival is on the North Little Rock side of the river between the Main Street and Broadway bridges. Maybe you’ll see me there. I’ll be volunteering at the Basket-A-Month booth.

The festival is on the 25th, although Earth Day is Wednesday, April 22. Poke around the official Earth Day site and find out little ways you can make a difference. Support your local planet.

Posted in environment, food, inspiration, nature, reaching out, volunteering | 2 Comments »

Out with the old, in with the new

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley on October 18, 2008

I left my extremely stressful job last week and started a new one Monday. I don’t have a lot of time for detail this morning (groceries to buy, lawn to mow, fall flowers to plant, football to watch, etc.) but did want to update those of you who still check my blog occasionally.

I don’t want to disparage my former employer, so I won’t mention the name, but just let me say that my new company is a breath of fresh air. Or maybe I should say I can actually breathe at my new job – and take lunch breaks, and go home after eight hours. I loved the people I worked with at the other place, and the new job is somewhat a career switch (going from publishing to investments), but the new company is an extremely efficient, well-organized place to work. They seem to know what they’re doing.

The main thing is that I want to serve people by helping them with their finances (and I want to work at a place that doesn’t cause me insomnia).

I have been a volunteer with Crown Financial Ministries for the past few years, and that’s a little different from what the investment firm does, and yet the same. It all boils down to being good stewards of what God has entrusted to us.

So here’s to my new employer and 40-hour weeks!

Posted in debt-proof living, God, money, volunteering, work | 6 Comments »

Give

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley on September 18, 2008

Jimmy Pritchett, the homeless coordinator for the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock, wore this shirt Saturday at the Homeless Outreach Event, which he co-chaired.

Pretty much sums it up for me.

I believe I’m required to let you know that this photo is technically the property of Central Arkansas Newspapers. I took it on my own but later decided to write a story for the papers I edit, so, because we used it in two of the three papers I’m responsible for, my employer now owns the rights to the picture.

Posted in inspiration, reaching out, volunteering | Leave a Comment »

Homeless

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley on September 9, 2008

Our community is holding a Homeless Outreach Event this weekend. Click here to find out how you can help. And join us Saturday under the Broadway Bridge in Little Rock.

And if you want to look at being poor in a way you haven’t looked at it before, click here. When you’re finished, maybe it will make you pause the next time you’re tempted to think “we” are very different from “them.”

Posted in frugal living, inspiration, reaching out, volunteering | Leave a Comment »

Hawk

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley on March 1, 2008

I’ve been meaning to introduce you to Sharon’s blog. She started it last week.

The rest of us write about silly stuff sometimes, but it appears that Sharon plans to use her platform as a way to call us to action. At least that’s how she has started out.

I’m sure she will write about light topics, too, but for now, in these beginning days of her blog, we get to see what a tender heart she has for those who don’t have homes, don’t have parents, don’t seem to have hope.

We serve a God of hope, and Sharon is tireless in her efforts to make sure the “less than” know that they are fiercely loved by their Creator. She is an advocate for the voiceless, faceless people we pass by every day in our busyness, sometimes without a thought to how we might make a difference in their lives.

Sharon is an educator with a servant’s heart. Let’s let her teach us.

Posted in friends, inspiration, volunteering | Leave a Comment »

Your money counts

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley on February 19, 2008

The way you handle your day-to-day cash speaks volumes about your money personality. So says this article from bankrate.com. And I agree.

I watch our financial accounts pretty closely. Not in an insecure way (although I’m sure some would argue that point) but in a way that says, “I don’t want this to get out of hand like I’ve seen happen with other people.” I’m a volunteer budget coach with Crown Financial Ministries. I’ve seen all kinds of money behavior, rationalizations and states of denial.

And I read lots and lots of articles on personal finance, debt, the evils of credit cards, you name it.

Being in denial will not help your situation, no matter how bad it is. In my reading, in my conversations with people in debt, and sometimes even in my own situation, I have found that not knowing is worse than knowing – even when the bottom line is lower than you had imagined.

I used to update our Quicken accounts almost daily. But with the busyness of life, that has fallen to the bottom of the priority list lately. And it is uncomfortable knowing the backlog is getting out of hand. When I finally get back to it, the updating can seem overwhelming. So I do what any normal person would do: I procrastinate even more.

But it doesn’t go away just because I ignore it. So when I buckle down and get the records current, it is so freeing. I feel almost euphoric, even when our balances are close to zero! At least I know where we stand.

One of the first things we do in our Crown counseling is encourage the counselees to write down every penny they spend for the next 30 days. Every penny. That requires keeping a little notebook (or a piece of paper) with them at all times. It is a nuisance at first, but it can make a huge difference. One woman I counseled came to our second session with the news that this practice had been revolutionary. “I was skeptical when you told me to do it, but I was amazed at how much I was spending without even realizing it. The little things do add up.”

Yes, it is amazing. When you see it on paper – in black (or red or blue or green) and white, it can be sobering. When you write it down, you are less likely to spend it the next time. My guilty pleasure is a Route 44 diet Coke or a cherry limeade from Sonic – with tax, nearly two bucks. For a while, I was buying one nearly every day. When I started writing it in a notebook, even though I didn’t have to show the notebook to my husband (he wasn’t in the Crown small group with me), I started driving to Sonic less often. It can be embarrassing, but financially empowering, to open your eyes to the areas where you are simply wasting money. It’s not like a diet Coke is good for me, other than as a “comfort food” that lasts only as long as it takes to drink it. Not a lasting treasure.

One Crown seminar leader I know still tracks every penny every day. This is someone who is not in debt. I’ve never asked him whether he keeps this up because 1) he feels a responsibility to practice what he preaches, 2) he thinks he will slip up and fall into debt if he doesn’t or 3) he is anal-retentive. The answer may be some combination of the three. Nevertheless, Dave has demonstrated that keeping tabs on his spending is a big key to financial freedom.

Contrary to what a lot of people believe, it’s not the amount of money you earn, it’s the amount you spend that determines whether you are in financial bondage or freedom. People who make tens – even hundreds – of thousands of dollars a year can be just as in-deep-doodoo as those of us with much lower salaries. And many “poor” people experience a freedom that some “rich” folks can only dream of.

Crown seminar instructors are not millionaires. In fact, I don’t know any Crownies who are. Crown co-founder Howard Dayton, who stepped down as CEO a few months ago, didn’t take a paycheck as the ministry’s leader. He isn’t “in it for the money,” as they say. His aim is to lead people to fullness in Christ through understanding the importance of putting their treasures in the right place.

The way to do that is to focus on what’s truly important in life, and it isn’t our money. Money is a tool for right living, not the key to happiness. Many people misquote the Bible, thinking it says money is the root of all evil. The verse actually says the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. The love of it, not the money itself. 1 Timothy 6:10

How we handle it is the thing. How we abuse it, misuse it, misunderstand its purpose and deny our situation is how we get into trouble.

Proverbs 22:7 is my favorite memory verse from the Crown Life Group Study: “Just as the rich rule the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender.” I have thought about getting it printed on my checks as a reminder.

Because we all need reminders.

Visit Crown.org to find:
Information about a Life Group Study.
A Money Map coach (budget coach) – online or in person.
Calculators for getting a handle on your finances.
Financial forms, pamphlets and articles.

By the way, can you guess my money personality? Tell me yours.

Posted in family, frugal living, inspiration, money, volunteering | 2 Comments »

ShareFest

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley on October 31, 2007

ShareFest boy

My church participated in ShareFest over the weekend. I took photos and wrote an article for the church newsletter, focusing mostly on the fact that the adults weren’t the only ones working hard. Lots of kiddos showed up and got busy cleaning out the flowerbeds and the classrooms of the neighboring elementary school — work that wore the adults out.

The little boy in the picture belongs to a family I’ve known since his parents were newlyweds. Here is an excerpt from the newsletter article (with names changed at the parents’ request):

“Three-year-old Eric could be seen helping his dad, Tim, rake leaves in a flowerbed. Tim and his wife, Sarah, have taught their children to volunteer since they were tiny. Even before there was an Eric, there was a big sister, Annie, now 7, and her parents took her along on days when their community group gathered for its monthly service projects – picking up trash at Burns Park or visiting the elderly at a nursing home, for instance.”

What that says to me is that helping others is important to this young couple, so much so that they want to leave the legacy of volunteerism to their children. And they realize the importance of starting these lessons early, when the children don’t know any other way. Tim and Sarah are two of the young parents at my church who have gotten it right.

There are many others, and I am so proud to be a part of this group of pilgrims. I see them every Sunday morning, but also during the week, reaching out in so many ways.

When I get lazy and self-centered, it helps to remember these faces.

Posted in inspiration, volunteering | Leave a Comment »