Inspired by Betty Londergan's What Gives 365 and the Bible (not necessarily in that order!), I'm giving away $250 a week in 2011.

This is where I'm recording that journey, and I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Let the Worshippers Arise

It's the start of a long weekend here in Canada. We have a couple of European exchange students living with us right now, and one of them asked me why Monday is a holiday. I realized that it's basically a weekend for having summer fun. As far as I know, this holiday Monday isn't commemorating anything -- it's just giving people a break. She thought it was unusual to give people a holiday for no reason.

For my family, this weekend will likely be a highlight of our summer -- one that we've been looking forward to since last year. We're heading to Kingdom Bound, a Christian music festival held at an amusement and water park in upstate New York. It will be the first time that all 6 of us (plus our two visitors) will have been together in more than a month. The weather forecast looks promising. We're planning to ride roller coasters and water slides, do some camping and enjoy a fantastic lineup of concerts.

For me though, the highlight is always the worship. There's a tent set aside for that very purpose, and it's literally a little taste of heaven for me to spend longer in there than the standard Sunday morning half hour, basking in the music.

Today's the fifth Friday of the month, and here at Just Giving It, I use those Fridays for gifts -- unexpected, no-other-reason gifts, kind of like this Monday's holiday. This time around the gift is somewhat retroactive, as it went towards helping another family get to Kingdom Bound too. A bit self serving perhaps, as we're excited to hang out with them. But the main reason I bought their tickets is that the mom is a true and fervent worshipper, and I felt strongly that she would benefit from the gift of worship this weekend. What better gift than to give someone time with God?

I'm curious which songs will imprint themselves into my memory and spirit this weekend -- there are always a couple. One such song from a previous year is called Let the Worshippers Arise. This week, we're helping that to happen and I'm grateful for the opportunity to worship alongside my friend for a few days, knowing that we'll be doing it together forever someday.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Famine in the Horn of Africa

With more than 11 million people in need of food aid and medical supplies in Somalia and Ethiopia, this week's donation is a no-brainer for me. 

There are three criteria for a famine to be declared by the United Nations:
  • At least 20 per cent of households must face extreme food shortages with limited ability to cope.
  • More than 30 per cent of the population must be suffering from acute malnutriton.
  • Two adults or four children dying of hunger each day for every group of 10,000 people.
This is what happens when a devastating drought is combined with war, neglect and skyrocketing food prices.

Donations are only "trickling in" so far, and to be honest, I get it. Look at that list: at least two of the four issues (war and neglect) seem preventable. And doesn't it seem as though the Horn of Africa is always hungry or at war or both? I just finished reading the memoir of a Somali woman yesterday (Nomad -- have a look!) and continue to be perplexed by the complexities created when religions and cultures clash.

But here we are again, giving in spite of misgivings. Because the people most directly affected by famine -- children, women, the vulnerable -- are definitely not those responsible for war or neglect. Or food prices. Or rainfall for that matter.

As a mom, I can't imagine the horror of not being able to feed my children. (I shudder to admit what I fed them just today.) And having lived through a brief heat wave with no air conditioning this week, I would be the first to admit to having utterly neglected my garden. I haven't visited Somalia, but I've been to Ethiopia and other places in that region. I've walked through dusty fields and talked to frustrated farmers there. I know that World Vision has long been at work in the Horn and is highly skilled in humanitarian emergency situations.

So even though getting the aid dollars through is an enormous challenge, and even though I might have to give again and again, I'm willing to contribute. The money is going to famine relief through World Vision and I applaud the Canadian government for matching my donation. (Although admittedly, when Bev Oda announces a match, does she perhaps really mean they won't match it? Hmmm...have to call my friends at Kairos on that one...)

(Thanks to the CBC website for the photos.)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Selfless Sabbatical

In case you've lost track, the third week of the month is dedicated to supporting inspiring individuals. Usually the money has gone to a single person, but today it's going to a family. These friends are doing something that I have long wanted to do -- one of the few things in my life that I wonder if I will look back on and regret not having done. They are taking a leave of absence from their jobs, pulling their three daughters out of school, and heading away.

Where would you go and what would you do? For me, it's a toss up. Villa in Italy? Ecotourism in Costa Rica? Working with kids in Eastern Africa? Paris? Turkey? Some combination of all of that and more, as I try to cram way too much into a short time as is my habit? In my friends' case, they found a small school on a small island in the Philippines and they're heading there to live and work for a year. 

Their odyssey officially begins in a few short weeks, but it really began long ago as they prayed and saved and planned. Nailing down the details has become a part-time job in itself.

They're pretty low key people, and generous. They've been modestly but faithfully raising money, not to cover their own expenses but to support the work of the school. Although I'm keen to contribute in that way, my hope is that this week's donation will be used for them -- to buy something that will be a treat, and/or will make their trip a little easier, and/or will remind them of how much they are loved and admired as they head off on this life-changing adventure.

Thinking of their trip reminds me that this life is not a dress rehearsal. We don't get a 'do over.' As they look back on this experience many years from now with a whole range of emotions, I can't imagine that regret will be one of them. They're another example of people who are living abundantly. As a parent, friend and fellow traveller, I'm inspired by their picture on my fridge and look forward to tales of what they're learning even as they teach others. Bon voyage!

Friday, July 8, 2011

MS and General Messiness

As I sit down to write this, things feel complicated today. It's a day for me to tie up some blogging loose ends, but a bunch of other ones are unravelling at the same time. Life is messy like that. So in the spirit of transparency and accountability, here we go:

1. A long time ago, I wrote about my friend Liz asking me to donate money on her behalf to a cause "that supports industrious girls." At the time, my suggestion was Grameen Foundation's program with mothers and children. Unfortunately I did not hear anything back from that organization, so did not direct the funds there. In the meantime, I've learned about Little Women for Little Women. It's girls in BC raising money for women and girls in Afghanistan -- check them out! I'll be suggesting that Liz direct her money there instead.

2. Similarly, I'm having trouble tracking down the Winnipeg construction company that I wrote about a few weeks back. I think it may simply be a case of the contact person having retired, so I'm going to keep trying and will keep you posted. Not an encouraging start to my foray into getting guidance from Charity Intelligence Canada, but I'm still impressed enough to persevere.

3. Another piece by CIC well worth looking at is their study of cancer research fundraising in Canada. Some of you may have seen this article this week about the Canadian Cancer Society -- yet another example of questionable ratios between fundraising and programming for a large charity. It's made me jittery of big fundraising machines, and made at least one of my friends quesiton whether she'll continue canvassing on their behalf after many years of doing so. The story broke just one day after I was chatting with a different friend about two related things: how social service charities seem to be under much tighter public scrutiny than other kinds of non-profits such as hospitals or universities when it comes to their overhead spending, and how her relative with MS has actually stopped supporting the work of the MS Society out of frustration -- I don't know the details. Hmmm...head spinning...segue to my next point.

4. Another story broke last week about funding for MS clinical trials in Canada -- so-called 'liberation therapy." For the last 7 years, our family has been involved in supporting the work of the MS Society, primarily through a 75km bike ride in Niagara. We have had the largest team. Two of our kids have been the youngest riders, completing the full ride at just 8 years old. My husband has been a top fundraiser and has travelled to other rides throughout North America, including riding 180 miles in Texas last year. We have a junior team of kids and a senior team for the rest of us. It's been a big deal.

This year, our kids' summer schedule will not allowd for sufficient training time to prepare for the ride, and one of them needs to be driven to camp on that day, so unfortunately they will not be participating and therefore neither will I. My husband has passed the team captain reins on to a colleague, but he is still actively involved and riding, both in Niagara and Banff. He's hoping to pass the $10,000 mark again and to ride in Cape Cod next summer. So because this is local week here at Just Giving It, and because I'm not doing much fundraising myself for a change, I thought it would be fitting for this week's donation to go to Team Eramosa.

And it will. But strangely, I'm feeling somewhat reluctant. A bit nervous perhaps that I don't have full information, and that if I did, I might not give. What story is going to break next? If I had access to the details of their books, would I be as impressed?

At the same time I feel compelled to continue to give. Why? I think it's partly because I want to be supportive of my friend Anne, my daughter's friend's mom, my friend's brother, of my former neighbour growing up, and the many others I know, mostly women, who are struggling with MS. It still seems that giving money is one way to do that, even if too much of it goes to 'back office' work -- how else to channel it if not through the MS Society? I think it's also partly because I understand that it costs money to raise money, and I don't want to use cynicism as an excuse not to give. It's partly because this ride has become a big part of our family's story and I'm very proud of those I know who do it. And I think it's also because I have a sense that I need to be faithful in and to this giving journey -- to give even when I don't fully understand it or don't have all the information.

I hope that's not the same thing as being irresponsible. But as I said, life's messy like that.

A friend commented this week, "When you know better, you do better." I'm not sure that's always true, but for now, I'm going with what I know rather than with what I fear. I know that MS is a terrible disease, and it takes money to fight it. I hope you'll join me in doing that -- you can sponsor my beloved by clicking here. And do join in the conversation too. What are you thinking (and doing) about all of this?

PS -- $72.50 of our donation to an entrepreneur through Kiva has already been paid back into our account, ready to be reinvested. Now that's the kind of unfinished business that I love to be able to write about!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Aging Well

Have you ever thought about how important it is to finish well?

When you're on the 'home stretch,' it would be easy to coast. To let up. To drift off track.To fade out.

This week's donation is going to someone who is flat out refusing to do any of these things. Forrest is 80 years old. Having recently nursed his wife through the ravages of dementia, he could now, understandably, be resting -- catching his breath and enjoying life in the Annapolis Valley. Instead, Forrest has actively participated in Habitat for Humanity builds in Malaysia and Ethiopia. Having done one measly day of such a build in Ontario, I know what kind of energy that takes -- even at half his age. As Forrest prepares to return to Ethiopia this summer, it is my honour to pay tribute to this godly man who is making a deliberate choice to finish well. Could he die doing this? Yes. But, as his family has discussed, there are far worse things.