Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dinner for Six

Kelly Chripczuk guest-posts reflective Y thoughts below on work, play, and social responsibility.  Kelly is a pastor to many, mother of four, and a blogger (A Field of Wild Flowers). 

It started in a moment of frustration as so many things do when I find myself home alone with four young children during the “witching hour” of 4 to 5 pm.  I was buzzing around the house tossing cereal in front of the twins in their highchairs and ferrying snacks to the older two who were camped-out in front of the TV while also trying to make dinner. 

Chop, chop, chop, . . . scrape go onions into the pan.  Grab another handful of cheerios for the babies.  Turn, and chop, chop, chop, . . . scrape go carrots.  Then the call from the front room, “Can we have some more snack . . . and some juice, please?” 

Something snapped in me as I marched out, two glasses of watered-down juice in hand.  I proclaimed, with a slight edge to my voice, “Someday you guys are going to cook dinner and I’m going to sit and watch TV while you do all the work.”  I was half-teasing, half- exasperated and didn’t expect my kids to turn with wide-eyed looks and exclaim, “Really?  Can we?”

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We just recently finished reading the book, Farmer Boy, with our kids.  It tells the story of one year in the life of Almanzo, an eight year old boy who lives in the early 1800s.  It was a slow book, mostly full of long, tedious descriptions of farm equipment, chores and food, but my kids loved it.  When I asked what they liked best they both said, “The corn part.” 

The book tells of a night, very late in the spring, where the farm experiences unexpectedly low temperatures.  The father wakes the whole family, from the oldest to the youngest, to try to save the corn crop from a killing frost.  Almanzo, along with his brother and sisters, stumbles out of bed and into the cold, dark night.  They pump barrels of water and ride to the corn fields.  Each member of the household runs continually through the fields, filling a small bucket with water and pouring a little on every young plant.  If they can wet the corn before the sun hits it, the crop will be saved. 

As we read Farmer Boy I was struck by the significant role children used to play in their families.  Almanzo works along-side his parents in nearly every task and his help matters.  No one would argue that it’s a good thing that we’ve left the days when children dropped out of school to help on the family farm.  But I wonder if many modern kids aren’t missing something crucial to the development of a healthy sense of responsibility and self-esteem.  Is it possible that deeper than their desire to be waited on hand and foot, my children also have the desire to be part of a loving, grace-filled community where their contributions are needed and valued? 

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Since reading Farmer Boy I’ve started giving my kids more jobs to do around the house.  I asked them both to empty the dishwasher the other day and a few minutes later I found my son sitting on the counter-top next to a teetering stack of dishes.  The whole stack slid into motion just as I rushed across the room to catch them.  Sure, there are more messes and many things go slower and end up being more work than if I just did them myself, but the look of pride on my six-year-old’s face as she makes her own sandwich or serves up a bowl of cereal for her brother makes it worth it. 

I want to give my kids a chance to be part of something bigger than themselves, but this often starts with letting them be part of the little things of life.  I want them to know that their willingness to contribute and pitch-in when and where they can (or even if they think they can’t) is worth something.  I’m hoping that this attitude is something they’ll carry with them as their awareness of the needs in the world, as well as their ability to meet them, increases. 

Places like the Y and other social organizations do a great job giving back to and supporting their communities.  It’s often through organizations like these that kids get their first exposure to the ways individuals and communities can impact the world around them.  As individuals involved in the lives of young children, we also have unlimited opportunities to invite children into little acts of service that can help them grow in awareness of the value of their lives.    

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So that’s how it came to be that my 4 and 6 year-old children will be cooking dinner at least one night this summer.  It won’t be a Martha Stewart-esque moment of culinary delight.  Instead it’s likely to be peanut-butter crackers served on paper plates on a sticky table.  But however it turns out, we’ll let it be enough and enjoy the sense of pride and accomplishment they get from  putting what they have to offer onto the table. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Resolving the Health Care Crisis

Few things stir up emotion and opinion like the recent health care debate. The line in the sand has been drawn and there is little toeing the line. Many people are either outraged or inspired and both can't wait until November. What's seemingly lost in all of the statistical sword fighting and op ed warfare is the fact that we have great control in resolving significant pieces of the health care crisis. We can change this, starting now.

Health care experts fear a dramatic increase in health care costs if nothing is done to mitigate America’s obesity crisis. A recent study projects that 42% of Americans may end up obese by 2030 (with 11% being severely obese). These figures could result in billions of new health care expenses. (Hellmich, Nanci, "Obesity Could Affect 42% of Americans by 2030", USA TODAY, 5/8/12).

This is old news; we know this. Seven years ago, Dr. Raphael Levey spoke at a health care summit and said, "A relatively small percentage of the population consumes the vast majority of the health-care budget for diseases that are very well known and by and large behavioral. Even as far back as when I was in medical school (Harvard, 1955) many articles demonstrated that 80% of the health-care budget was consumed by five behavioral issues." We know the issues: too much stress, smoking, and drinking; too little exercise and nutritionally rich foods. (Deutschman, Alan, "Change or Die," Fast Company, May 2005). Why is there such a wide action gap between knowing the issues and doing something about them?

We've known for decades that behavioral issues and lifestyle choices drive obesity and the associated diseases. Yet, we face statistical forecasts showing that almost half of our country may be obese in the not-too-distant future. Where is the disconnect?  It's because fear doesn't motivate.

About 1.3 million heart patients have angioplasties and another 600,000 have bypass surgeries every year at a cost of approximately $30 billion. These are often short-term solutions to difficulties experienced by heart disease patients. Many return for additional surgeries and, according to reports, 90% of these patients have failed to switch to healthier lifestyles. However, a unique therapy approach has reversed these morbid statistics. What was the method? Doctors reframed the fear of dying into the joy of living. Patients found for themselves the joys in playing with their grandchildren in the park and the motivation swelled. A deeper meaning had to be found. And, as it was, the patients embraced hope and worked toward living rather than trying to escape death. (Deutschman, Alan, "Change or Die," Fast Company, May 2005).

Steve Denning reported on the ten happiest and the ten most hated jobs (Forbes, 9/12/11). Interestingly, the jobs with the better compensation and higher social statuses did not translate to increased happiness. (The happiest jobs included Clergy, Firefighters, and Physical Therapists. The most hated jobs included Director of Information Technology, Director of Sales and Marketing, and Product Manager). Denning states that the fundamental aspect of our careers, and our lives, is that they're meaningful. He states that the person living the life must be engaged by it and the work must be worthwhile. Again, fear doesn't motivate. The fear of not having enough, of a lack of provision, and of economic instability doesn't carry the sustainable drive that the joy of doing meaningful work fosters.

In a recent interview, author Ann Voskamp talks about the intense days of running a household of 8 while writing her best-selling book, One Thousand Gifts. (Olasky, Marvin, "The Write Way," World, 7/14/12) She said that she would write after the children were in bed from about 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. and then find a few hours of sleep for herself. Her husband, a farmer, was doing his work while also home schooling all of the children and doing many of the household chores. She said that when she felt that she couldn't continue that pace, her husband would encourage by reminding her that they believed this was God's chosen path for them. And they'd go on another day. Fear screamed for surrender, but didn't motivate. In fact, fear faded in the light of meaningful, purposeful work as they believed in a Greater Story.

The health care debate is loud. The trump card of fear is routinely played by those hoping to scare the opposition into folding. Maybe it's time we leave the playing table and step away from the game because we know that fear doesn't motivate. Instead, let's propose a platform of purpose. Let's promote change by encouraging others to embrace the joy of living, find comfort in community, and seek life transformation. 

To a significant extent, we can control health care costs by caring for ourselves and others well. Deep happiness can be found in our careers by engaging in meaningful work and serving others. And we can persevere by finding purpose beyond ourselves and pointing others to the same.