When I was really little, my parents felt called to become missionaries in a small Latin American country and they embarked on this strange little custom which the missions world calls (or used to call) deputation. Basically, they drove around from church to church all over the Northeast and told people about their plans and asked these same people to pray for them and also sponsor them financially. [Editor/daughter’s note: My mother clarifies what they actually did below in the comments. Please read, to set the record straight.]
This practice has quite a bit of precedent among missionaries, and even some precedent in the Bible, but, having done it myself as an adult, it certainly does have an awkward feel to it–maybe particularly for Westerners who have been taught the value of self-sufficiency from the womb practically. And ironically.
Paul says (and I cite him because he’s not the only person who’s said this and sheepishly, I think he’s probably right) that people in “full-time Christian ministry” develop this mentality that says, If it’s free, it’s for me! He quite frequently points out my highly attuned “free-dar.”
Well, look. I’ve had an entire life to hone it. When my parents were on deputation (and subsequently furlough–extended Stateside trips to report back to their supporters and let them know how things were going and, presumably indirectly, how their money was being spent), I had no idea they were asking people for anything. I was a small child. Money meant nothing to me. But there was this lady with the ladybugs.
The Ladybug Lady had ladybugs everywhere. Not real ones, although I don’t know–I suppose she may have had those, too. So much red! So many black polka dots! She pulled out a basket of toys for me and TheBro (who was even littler) to play with, and I immediately gravitated toward a “stuffed animal” ladybug toy. She was slightly larger than a Beanie Baby, and there was absolutely nothing soft about her. She wasn’t made with plush, and she was stuffed so full she was entirely unsqueezable. But I really really liked her–probably it was her sweet little smile. I wanted this ladybug toy.
Not only was I too young to realise what my parents were doing at this lady’s house, but I was also too young to realise that except under very specialised circumstances, it is, in this culture, inappropriate to just ask for things. Except that I must have realised it on some level, because I did not ask for that ladybug toy. I distinctly remember thinking that if I played with that toy enough, if I carried it around, if I placed strategic comments about how much I liked this ladybug, every so often, that nice Ladybug Lady–for she did indeed seem very nice–would give it to me.
I’m not proud of this, but I am kind of fascinated by it, and it’s impossible not to think about it at least a little bit when I’m having a hard time asking for some assistance of whatever variety. Right now I’m discovering that wedding registries are awkward. Are they supposed to be awkward? Is this the one time it’s supposed to be socially acceptable to ask people for stuff? And if so, why do I feel more awkard about this than I did about the ladybug, or even about the support-raising I did when I went to London?
Maybe part of it is that Paul and I were not planning on having a registry at all. He has a pretty tiny house, and I’m moving into it, and if anything, we have an “unregistry” (in my case, called eBay)–we are trying to get rid of stuff, not acquire more. But, you know, there’s always some generous friend who insists on buying a gift, registry or no, and it makes more sense for them to have some kind of idea what you might like–even if you don’t actually want anything–rather than having them shoot in the dark, as it may happen.
Paul is reflooring the kitchen, and we’re planning to paint all the walls downstairs, and there are shelves and cabinets and things we need to put up to increase our storage space, so we decided if anyone asked us what we wanted, we’d tell them, Home Depot gift cards. And then, just in case someone can’t stomach the idea of a gift card, either, I put about 30 items on amazon’s universal gift registry (universal in that you can list any item from any online retailer on it–it’s pretty cool).
Easy enough. But now I can’t figure out how to disseminate this information. First of all, our ostensibly simple wedding has become a little bit complicated (more on that in another post, probably), so, over the course of the next six months there will be a total of three–count them, three–receptions. It would be one thing if there was one event and you could put a subtle notice about gift registries in the invites along with the “would you like chicken or beef” reception RSVP card. But we can’t really–or not exactly. And it seems kind of awkward to accost random family or other guests and say, “So, if you’re wondering about a registry–we actually don’t want anything, but if you absolutely must, Home Depot gift cards are a good option, or one of the thirty items you see listed here.”
Someone cynical might suggest that my posting about this on a blog is kind of like walking around and saying how much I like this ladybug. I don’t think it is. I would like to think I’m just doing it because it’s something I’ve been thinking about all day and I kind of wanted to get your take on the whole asking/giving charity thing. How do you feel about it? How do you feel if and when you do . . . either one (ask or give)? But . . . even the best of us have mixed motives. I’m not the best of us, and although I’m not aware of ulterior manipulative planning, it’s possible it’s still there. I’m not even sure, myself. That’s comforting, isn’t it?