Friday, March 06, 2009

Giving Away Time & Talents...

Several weeks ago I had the fortune to attend a women's retreat. The late registration fee was hefty--out of our league--so I went "on scholarship," allowed to pay what I thought reasonable. If you have read any posts of my companion site, Maddening Mom Fusings, (AKA "MadMomFuse"), then you know that I am a woman who struggles to control my temper. I am a mom who makes daily intentional efforts to bury the long roots of my past, where anger and rage reside. I am the granddaughter of a woman who was not made of mothering mettle, knew it, and demonstrated thus to her children so that they clearly understood that aspect of her, as well. So, about five days before the women's retreat I spent some valuable moments on my knees at the altar, and cried hot, old, salty tears. As I entered the women's retreat weekend, I felt, in many ways, that my work had been done. Burying the bitter, gnarled root had never seemed to last for long; big roots have a way of resurfacing with time. This time, though, I worked in prayer to dig the weeds & deep growth out & throw everything very far away. Not wanting to pass along the generational curse to my children, I see this as some of my most important Life business.

After a soul-satisfying concert on the same Sunday afternoon, I felt lighter, and more peaceful, capable, and healed. What might the Lord have new to give me over the weekend? A friend of mine had encouraged me to attend, stating that she thought I might have something to bring to the other women--something to offer others. Little did either of us know...

As the 2 1/2 days passed I learned that my friend had strong instincts about my attendance which I did not understand in the moment. I went to Maryland expecting to get something, but found myself instantly called to give something, instead.

It started Friday night when I was introduced to someone new to me, a Deaf woman who had come on the retreat with our mutual friend who knows conversational sign, but is not an interpreter. Once it was revealed that I had once-upon-a-time graduated with honors from a sign language interpreting and Deaf studies program I was roped into the next day's duty. Apparently, there had been a little prayer team negotiating with God about my attendance (well, they prayed for an interpreter, anyway!), before anyone knew I was registered; before anyone knew that I knew ASL!

I soaked that evening, with other ladies I barely knew, and some I was about to know better, in the 110 degree waters of a hot tub. Four of us changed out of wet clothes into our jammies and spent a couple hours sharing our lives with each other in a cozy-chair circle before praying for one another well into the wee hours. Some prayer requests were pretty big; my needs seemed comparatively insignificant. I saw myself being called to be available for others.

In addition, someone shared my CD in a small group, so two tracks of my music ministered to almost a dozen women without my having been invited along as part of the music ministry team. I gave away a CD without collecting revenue and felt really good about that.

The next morning, and for the next 18 hours or so, I alternated with another unexpected sign language interpreter at the retreat in clarifying messages, interpreting songs, and bringing Christ's love to the guest who'd come anticipating that she'd "hear" from the Lord that weekend. With the help of our hands, she did. Because I allowed myself to be available, she was touched with a full understanding of the purpose of our time together, and received some specific messages that affected her deeply and personally.

I resented this "job" almost as soon as I was called to it, since it is difficult to hear for myself whatever I interpret for a client, but I quickly opened my heart to the Father's call for me to DO, and BE, and not try so hard to GET. I gave myself away on that weekend, and benefitted greatly as a result. The talk and presentation didn't seem to fit me, anyway, and so I know that I was on that retreat not to get away from anything, or even to glean any deep spiritual message for myself, necessarily, other than this: Willingly Serve.

My children and I were active in a homeschooling co-op in the Fall. I taught ASL to students from age 5 to 17 in a sort of one-room-schoolhouse. The little ones enjoyed learning a special manual code, while the oldest struggled to get more language training from the class. I found the setting very uneven and frustrating. Although I was given suggestions for how to differentiate the instruction to fit the kids, in perhaps two stage-separated groups, I struggled against the material, and its use of my time (in preparation & delivery). When the Spring came and our classroom environment necessarily changed, I could not adjust my concepts of expectations against the children's performance and come up happy, so my kids & I pulled out of co-op.

But, one student, (our oldest), was specifically in co-op to attain high school language credits. My leaving the group meant her losing out; I had kind of pulled the rug out from underneath her. At first I was upset that so much was expected from my instruction (though we had certainly discussed this throughout the Fall). I couldn't see how I would be able to certify her as ASL I-literate given the chaotic course I had offered. If anyone in that class retained ten signs, I am delighted. But, I am dealing with a self-motivated high-schooler already passing college-level courses. I underestimated my ability to finish her requirements, and her ability to work hard for them.

So, I decided, given what had happened at the retreat, that I could give a little more of my time away. The gal's mom agreed to pick up food & drink for me each time we met, and we set up times to get together, review Fall's work, and assess where to go next. By letting go of my own expectation of my time, skills and abilities, and embracing an opportunity to help someone, as I feel called, I think we'll have a good several weeks together getting her ready for college.

Sometimes you just have to give it away for free (or close to it!). In both of these instances, I feel strongly that the need and my abilities met on a just plane.

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Matthew 10:39 (c) New International Version

I cannot help but consider this story, about withholding gifts from others...
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet.
Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God."

Acts 5:1-4 (c) NIV

p.s. This was written very late at night, and in rereading it I can see glaring errors in verb fact, they're pretty atrocious. Given my recent post on grammar, they are, in fact, humbling & even a bit shameful, eh? But I recently heard from a friend that he's purposely choosing the imperfect in his life to fight against his perfectionist tendencies. I think I'll blog about that tomorrow night--it's such an awesome topic!

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