Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Feedn My Starving Children

Last night was my first time volunteering to pack food for an international feeding program called, Feed My Starving Children (History - Statement of beliefs). It will not be my last. I was so impressed by this organization. Compassionate, innovative, connected, organized, humble and faith centered without being faith imposing.

COLLABORATIONS: FMSC packs and delivers vitamin and protein rich meals for starving (not hungry, starving) children around the world (including North Korea). They have collaborated with General Mills, Cargill, Pillsbury on the food production end, thousands of volunteers on the packing end, and hundreds of missionaries in 60 nations on the delivery end to make this happen. I would say they have collaborated with God as well.

PRODUCT: In each pack of food is rice, dried soy, dried veggies, and a chicken flavored, vitamin rich powder. When cooked together, it makes a balanced and highly nutritious vegetarian meal that even tastes pretty good. The food is durable and has a shelf life of nearly 3 years, though it gets eaten before that shelf life expires. A meal is one cup of this mix (with water added and cooked, of course). One cup of food for a person starving is actually excessive at first, until the body adjusts back to feeding on food rather than feeding on itself.

STORY: One story told in the orietnation nearly brought me to tears. An 8 year old boy in one of their new sites weighed 19 pounds when FMSC children arrived (My son weighed half that AT BIRTH). He was obviously near death by starvation. They had a photo of him that just hurt to see. After 6 months of eating their nutrition rich food, he weighed 73 pounds. The photo of him at 6 months was stunning. He gained over 50 pounds in 6 months and neared normal weight for an 8 year old.

VOLUNTEERING: This was a family affair for us. My immediate family, mother, sister, neices, step-sister, her daughters, and one of their boyfriends all got together to volunteer. What fun. It took just under two hours to get an overview of the program, get trained on how to pack the food properly, and then to pack the food and clean up. There were a total of over 50 volunteers that night. We packed nearly 10,000 meals in that short time. We packed enough food to feed 26 children for one year. Essentially, we played a role in saving 26 lives last night.

After we had completed our shift, my daughter said, "How cool was that?" My daughter and son are now scheming ways to raise money for FMSC. A mere 17 cents buys one meal.

WORK: The work is easy and children can do it. There are meaningful roles for people who are confined to a wheelchair.

OTHER: The dissertation I am writing for my doctoral studies is on adolescent civic engagement. There were many adolescent volunteers of the 50 volunteers there. It was so encouraging to see. This kind of service is so powerful and meaningful. I wonder if there is some sort of way to measure the nutrition for the soul that is received by those who volunteer in a similar way that there is a way to measure the nutrition of the food itself. hmmmmmm

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Confessions of Emerging Adulthood

There used to be a time, so I’ve heard, when you knew that you were done being an adolescent and your adult life began. It was clear. You knew it. Everyone else knew it. The unsure, awkward, and “stormy” days were in the rear view mirror and you could kick back, confidently resting in the security of adulthood. Back in those days you knew what life had for you, knew it would be tough, but the pathway was clear. There were trades to be learned, manufacturing jobs to be had, farms to inherit, families to manage. There was a certain time when you’d buy a car, a house, and dream of a boat, but probably not get one. The scripts for becoming an adult were few and they were easy to read. There was certainty. Those were different times.

For me the transition to adulthood was supposed to transpire either during college or upon college graduation. It would be clear and I would know when it happened. I’m not sure what I was expecting to experience that would dub me “adult,” but I was just sure it was going to happen. Maybe I was expecting a brief rite of passage ceremony where I perform some task and then the adult community recognizes me as one of them. Perhaps I was looking for a celebration in my honor ending with some official and expert adult issuing me a certificate of adulthood. Maybe I was looking for some physical manifestation wherein just by looking at me I was recognized and respected as an adult.

None of these happened. When I graduated from college, I received my diploma, walked off the stage and felt the weight of a completely unknown future. It was the last act where I knew my lines. It was all ad lib from that point on. No one was providing the script anymore and I needed some lines. Where were those easy scripts? What were my next lines? At that moment, it had finally occurred to me that I should be planning something, or maybe should have already planned something…but what?

When I graduated from college, I did not feel like an adult, but I felt like I needed to act like one. At the same time, I had no clue what that meant. It was like needing to speak Russian – NOW. I could make sounds, maybe even accidently utter an interpretable word, but in no way was I speaking the language. It was the same with being a genuine and competent adult. There was nothing about me that registered as a genuine or competent adult. I did not know anything about the adult world, and now I was thrust into it because the adolescent world had had enough of me. There were no more contexts prescribed for me. I’d read through all my lines.

I had friends who seemed to know what it meant to be an adult. They were confident, groomed, and ready to join in. They fit into their business suits, had jobs lined up, were engaged to be married, and knew they would live in Dallas or Nashville or New York. They knew things. Important things. Important things like what their next step was, how they would pay for things and what they would be doing at 10:00 tomorrow morning. And if they did not know these things, they were very convincing that they did know them. So convincing that I believed them. Well, I believed that they believed them. Their confidence and apparent clarity about their entrance into the adult world did not resonate with me. How could they knew these things? I just went through the same college experiences that they did and I had nothing that gave me any sense of confidence.

Maybe I didn’t like their version of adulthood. No, there was an appeal to it. I guess it’s not that I didn’t like their version, but rather I did not believe their version. No, that’s not it either. I believed their version. It was not their version of adulthood I was skeptical about. It was worse than that, and more personal. I did not believe they belonged inside their own version of adulthood. I thought they were frauds. They would wear adult clothes and repeat things they heard adults say. They would produce facial expressions of the adult kind, like they were thoughtful or deep or knowing of something when I knew they just trying to get accepted. I’d seen them in the college dorm being complete idiots. I could not imagine that they had grown up so quickly. Maturity was certainly not the cause of their adultish behaviors. No, the only explanation was that they were liars. That was no other way to interpret them.

The problem with my interpretation of these frauds is that all thoughts and behaviors are in some way autobiographical. If I could create a story about these friends who had entered the adult world with some sort of measure of success, and the story framed them as frauds and liars, it would buy me some more time to avoid entering that world myself. I could extend my justification for having this huge burden of ambiguity in my life. They last thing I wanted to be was a fraud.

But here was the catch. Even though I thought that they were frauds, there was something enticing about their stories. I wanted to believe them. I hated my skepticism and cynicism. I longed for the confidence and certainty they had. Their adolescent ambiguity seemed to have been resolved. I wanted that. At least I thought I did. The way I wanted my story to go was that the ambiguity of adolescence would evaporate upon hitting the hot sun of adulthood and then life was clear. Easy? No. But clear. I wanted what they claimed to have. I wanted the illusion to be true and then to get in on the illusion.

The story did not go that way for me. The ambiguity of who I was or where I fit in this world didn’t get cleared up when I graduated from college. No, not only did it remain with me, it grew. And it grew teeth. The tricks it played on me were no longer humorous and harmless pranks; now they hurt. The story of my relationship with ambiguity took a strong turn after college.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Death and Stories

I've never believed in the oft spoken "they come in 3's" when it comes to people dying. When Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson all died recently, people started talking of people dying in 3's. The tragic murder of Steve McNair makes 4 in a week.

Death does not discriminate. It does not come in prepackaged numbers. It does not obey people's observations of it, nor does it conform itself to the beliefs people have about it. Death will not be contained, put off, or determined. Besides the fact that we all will experience it, little is and can be known about it.

Whether it is a death at a commonly accepted time (Ed McMahon), a death somewhat premature from disease (Farrah Fawcett), a death shrouded in mystery (Michael Jackson), or a death by murder born of jealousy and love/hate (Steve McNair), the finality is the same. It is over. The stories are not done being written or told. In fact, there will be a surge in stories written and told after death, but the autobiographer is gone. The story-maker is done making stories.

Also gone is the unique storehouse of history contained only within the mind and heart of the dead. There are more stories that died with the person than will even be told or written about the person.

Tell your stories. Write ytour stories. Perform your stories. Paint your stories. Sing your stories. Your story matters. Your story is a thread in the web of stories floating through life and culture. Parents, children friends, community, and culture in general deserves to hear your stories. Don't be selfish with them - let them fly.