Not the cape & mask kind

Friday afternoon Tyler and Becky made each other the same promise I’ve had most couples repeat at the marriage altar: “…whether you are healthy, sick, or even bedfast.”  

The next morning Sam died.  My neighbor was 65 but had been dying for seven years.  A welder by trade, he also served as a pastor for 31 years in various places.  Then he fell from a roof and suffered major head trauma.  The injury and necessary medications left him physically and mentally disabled.  He could speak but not hold a conversation; he could shuffle along to the car sometimes, but not get up and walk on his own.  

Instead of letting him waste away in a nursing home, Hannah tenderly cared for him at home.  By herself.  Weak as he was, her husband still towered over her.  She fed him, bathed him, dressed him, cared for the house and grounds, took him to the doctor.  She did it all.

Without complaint.  No pity party.    

“…or even bedfast.”  A couple of years ago I told her, “You’re one of my heroes, Hannah.”  No cape and mask could substitute for the love-in-practice of tenderly caring for a mate who can no longer care for you, no longer love you, no longer protect you, no longer provide for you, no longer keep you warm on cold nights, no longer take care of himself.  

You’re still my hero, Hannah.  You stayed, you served, you glorified God.  Well done.

Daddy’s Wallet

When Chelsea Clinton recently got married somebody wrote out a very large check.  Initial speculation put the soiree’s price tag between $3 and $5 million but it looks like it came in at a modest $2 million.  I guess the checkwriter was the former president.  He said his only jobs were to walk his daughter down the aisle, and “pay the bills”.  I guess he can swing it.  But should he? 
Last week I read a letter from a hapless father to one of those advice columns in the newspaper.  For their daughter, his ex-wife and her second husband were planning a very expensive wedding.  Dad was on disability due to a work accident and wondered if he was still responsible to pay for half of a wedding in which he had no say and which he could not afford.

The columnists assured him that he was not obligated to pay more than he could.  Then they gave some blanket advice to engaged couples: We strongly urge young couples to help pay for their own weddings and stop bankrupting their parents for one day’s festivities.
1 day?  Part of 1 day.  The ceremony may last 20-30 minutes, the reception 2 hours.  Add some minutes here and there and let’s call it 4 hours.  At an average US cost of $27,000 (not counting the ring or the honeymoon) that’s $6700 an hour.  If the groom’s parents take the initiative, costs are sometimes divided between both sets of parents.  But it’s still a chunk of change–and you’re in my prayers if God blessed you with all daughters!  
I’m with the columnists–but my beef goes beyond weddings.  For some time its been prevailing doctrine that parents are morally responsible to pay for extravagant weddings, pricey college tuitions, and anything else their kids want that a friend’s parents buy her.  Parents fall in line as if this is holy writ direct from Mt. Sinai.  If they fail, they sin.
Trying to be good parents, moms go back to work, dads take a second job, maybe remortgage the house, or raid retirement accounts or take out loans.  The really desperate put some more on a credit card that’s not yet maxed out.  And the children?  Most have no clue the enormous sacrifices their parents are making.  That’s OK.  Sympathy’s not the point; financial savvy is.  Parents who liberally fund their children’s wish lists for 22 years inadvertently handicap them.  The studies all say that in general the twenty-something crowd is woefully ignorant about money; “financially illiterate” one said.  That’s to be expected when Mom and Dad have always picked up the tab.  It’s like taking the pitches at home plate instead of handing the bat to your children so they can learn to swing themselves.  

No student who’s paying half of his way through school is going to party away his freshman year.  In fact, he’s probably too busy with his part time job.  The student with some financial skin in the game is both motivated and appreciative for his education in a way that his friend whose daddy’s got it covered, isn’t.  Same with the bride who’s been given a wedding budget.  Besides how to plan a wedding, she’s learning money management.  “Oh boy, this requires decisions: if I do one thing, I can’t do another.  If I get the swans and white doves, I can’t invite Cindy and Bryan or my two cousins.” 
On the matter of college, parents get defensive, “My kids could never afford to go without my help.”  All three of mine did.  They weren’t the first or last to do so.  Many, many more have paid a part of the costs.  There are scholarships, grants, summer jobs, jobs while in school, options to attend a jr. college or less expensive school, loans and the military.  For many years, people without money who wanted to attend college, FOUND A WAY to go.
When the time came for our children’s weddings, we set a figure we thought we could afford and said, “This is how much we can give you.  If you spend more, it’s your own responsibility.”  They made some very frugal choices.  Not quite a Bride’s magazine splash, but very nice and special nonetheless.  On the first day of their honeymoons, they were just as married as they would have been with $20,000 weddings.

Here’s the thing: children have no idea what it costs their parents to provide all that they provide.  Even once a daughter is 18 and bound for college, nothing’s changed because Mom and dad are still picking up the tab for most or all of her expenses.  If he’s in college or just out, many young people are still living at home off their parents largess.  They don’t pay rent (a mistake, I think), pay utilities, buy food, stock a kitchen with utensils and small appliances, don’t have to buy furniture…  If they didn’t pay for college, and still aren’t paying for most of their living expenses, how will they learn what living really costs, managing income and outgo?  Are they ready for marriage like they think?  The financial learning curve might be stalled.
Parents can help by starting young.  Limit what you buy little children, and as they grow require them to buy some of what they want.  I advise engaged couples, “If you have children buy them less than you can afford.”  Buying them too much stuff turns them into little materialists instead of disciples.  Who then grow up with a sense of entitlement instead of a sense of servanthood.  Go ahead, buy them some of what they want.  But some, they should buy (with allowance money, odd jobs pay, birthday money, etc.), and some, nobody should buy.  If you want to help them get a car, go ahead.  Help them.  College?  Help them.  Weddings?  Give them a budget.  
I don’t think it is moral to help our kids more than we can.  It’s certainly not moral to help them more than we should.  Requiring them to pay for some things themselves will get them started to seeing the world as it is, not the world mom’s and dad’s generosity pretends that it is.

I think Gratz would approve

Parking on Orange I walked down the alley and crossed King St.  Opening the Literacy Council door I stepped inside and looked around.  “Can I help you?” a woman in the other room asked as she peered around the corner.

“Yes,” I replied, handing her a business card.  “I’d like to know how the people of our church can help others learn how to read.”  Her mouth dropped open, “Oh that’s so wonderful!”

“Several months ago we buried a longtime church member who didn’t know how to read until he was well into adulthood.  He was very bright and had been able to fool his boss for a long time.”
“That’s very common,” she explained.  “People who can’t read often have very good memories and get by with them.”
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for our church for 15 years; helping people learn to read.  Kinda slow at getting around to it,” I admitted.  “Do I understand that you train the volunteers?”

“That’s right.  And we provide the materials.  Sometime it’s one-on-one, sometimes as a small group.  Sometimes it’s for a relatively brief time.  We have a lot of people who are functionally illiterate.  That is, they can read some words, but not a prescription on a medicine bottle.  Or something on a job application.  We have people who want to learn to read well enough for citizenship.  Or to get their driver’s licenses.  Or for a job.  We have people who want to learn how to read just so they can read the Bible.”
I thought of how Wycliffe Bible translators have seen entire cultures transformed.  Yes, because of the Scriptures, but first they reduce unwritten languages to writing, and then teach how people how to read their own languages.  Who can walk according to the Scriptures if they don’t know what the Scriptures say?  What possibilities!
I wondered, “Would there be people in our community that we could work with, or would it all be done in Lancaster?”

“Oh no, we have people from all over.  There are people many different places waiting for someone to help them.  But there might be some whom people would have to come here to the city to help.”

“Hmm.  Actually, we’re a rural church but a growing number of our people have bought houses in the city–including our youth pastor.  Maybe some of them would be interested in helping those in the city.”  I was getting more and more enthused.  So was she.

“Pastor Rohrer…, is that right?  The woman who handles this just left for vacation a few minutes ago and will be gone all next week.  Is it ok to wait and have her call you when she gets back?”

“That would be fine.  I’ll wait to hear from her.”

“Oh pastor, you have no idea what a blessing this is; it’s like an answer to prayer!” 
I read a book about every five days.  Plus the daily newspaper, a couple of magazines, and articles on the internet.  How radically different my life would be if reading terrorized me instead of filled me with joy: the Bible would have nothing to say to me, I’d know nothing of other cultures, and I’d know only the opinions of those I surrounded myself with.   
So, …let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:16.  I’ll let you know more when I do.  But I think Gratz would approve.