the intentionality of gentrification (+ an interview with Leroy Barber)

A few years ago, on the block behind us, a low-level developer purchased a quaint two-story yellow wooden house with a perfect-for-Miami-nights screened in front porch. She promptly removed the doors and welcomed the elements and critters of South Florida, creating an intentionally uninhabitable environment. Eventually the city condemned the once perfectly livable home, and approved a permit for demolition. I stood in front of the house last month, weeping as it was knocked to the ground.

house2 house3 house4

I’ve written previously about the mass evictions that took place last summer (and continue) on the main strip in our neighborhood. Over 200 units owned by a slumlord who intentionally let his buildings fall into disrepair once again prompted the city to deem them uninhabitable – “forcing” him to evict everyone living there. Each of those individuals now bear the unnecessary burden of an eviction on their record, and future landlords care little if it was their fault or (clearly) not.

Overwhelmingly, most landlords simply have a policy not to rent to folks who have been evicted. Application denied.

The same slumlord boarded a few of those buildings while people were still living in them. The tenants previously refused to leave because of the injustice of the situation – they were still paying rent after all – and because frankly they had no where else to go.

Another slumlord in our neighborhood has been raising the rent of his African-American tenants every one to three months for years. He refuses to let them sign leases, then charges an extra $100 a month for not having a lease. He only accepts cash as a from of payment and does not give tenants receipts for the rent paid. The Latino/a tenants are not subject to this same treatment.

It’s important to note, my neighborhood is quite small, encompassing only a 10×10 square block area.

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Two years ago, I was shocked by the intentionality with which my neighbors were being displaced. I have come to learn gentrification is always intentional.

I realize some of you may not be familiar with the term, and unfortunately even the definition offered by Wikipedia falls woefully short, but for the purposes here, I am defining gentrification as the intentional displacement of low-income residents due to government entities and developers catering to and prioritizing housing for and the quality of life of more affluent residents.

In his book How to Kill a City, Peter Moskowitz states, “In every gentrifying city – that is, in every city where there is a combination of new coffee shops and condos, hipsters, and families struggling to hang on – you can usually trace the start of that change not to a few pioneering citysteaders but to a combination of federal, local, and state policies that favor the creation of wealth over the creation of community. Usually the policies come in the form of deregulation and privatization of urban services: transportation, education, and especially housing. By the time the hipsters arrive, the political and economic forces that paved the way for them have been at work for years.”

In my recent Upside Down Podcast interview with Leroy Barber, he says developers receive their green light to begin investing in an under-resourced community from the government itself. Moskowitz obviously agrees. Both men have visited numerous US cities to uncover the causes of gentrification and to hear directly from people who have been displaced by those causes.

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The community services building in our neighborhood is owned by Miami-Dade County. Out of the large, open space built in the late 1970’s, services such as food stamps, energy assistance, and emergency food are offered from makeshift cubicles. On most evenings, it houses meetings where seventh and eighth generation Afro-Bahamians gather in dingy orange chairs around folding tables to discuss the future of their beloved community.

In 2015, the County put out a Request for Proposals “from experienced developers for a mixed-use development.”  This was the signal – one of many – from the government to developers and investors: Drop your dollars here. We are making a way for you.

The fundamental component only discussed behind closed doors and in hushed phone calls is what will become of the people currently inhabiting and utilizing those spaces? As one county employee here said, there is no plan for those people.

In a city where two-thirds of our low-income residents do not have adequate housing, our government has no plan for them. In making a way for developers, whoever is in the way will be displaced. This is not happenstance. It is personal. 

With local government and wealthy developers acting as accomplices, it is incredibly difficult to get in front of gentrification. Often, as Leroy explained, by the time sidewalks are installed and landscaping is “beautified,” ten-year plans are already in place to completely flip the neighborhood.

In other words, by the time the doors come off, it’s usually too late.

As a person of faith, I am compelled to ask where is the Church in all of this; the answers are uncomfortable. The Church has far too often been on the offending end of displacement. While I am ill-equipped to speak deeply on the subject, we only have to do a broad overview of the history of Christianity in our country (Although a much deeper look is necessary and the responsibility of any Christian.) to be reminded it was in the name of God that Native Americans were slaughtered and African-Americans enslaved. We, specifically white Christians, have a dark and deep history of being the oppressor and it continues today.

Many would argue the intention of white Christians is not to oppress our brothers and sisters of color, however, intentions matter little when our complacency in the face of systems of injustice and oppression and the effects of our behavior are completely out of line with Jesus.

When I asked Leroy about this, specifically why the Church in America is not doing more to prevent to displacement of people of color, he said at the end of the day, we still don’t see African-Americans as human, as actual people. I wish I could say everything I have seen and heard in the last two years of living among people of color invalidates his point of view, but I cannot.

How else do we explain tolerating policies and economics that permit people to be boarded up inside molding apartment buildings just blocks from our clean, safe, dry church buildings where we sit sipping gourmet coffee?

The American Church at large seems to be just as liable as the political system for it’s complicity in valuing the creation of wealth over the creation of community and it is costing our low income neighbors their lives. If we believe they deserve better, what are we doing about it?

If we are to resemble Jesus, we must listen to voices from the margins. We must acknowledge and repent of our complacency and contribution to their dehumanization. We must not settle for Americhristianity. We must not conform to the systems of this world – we must resist them and renew our minds with the transforming power of Jesus. Because the good, pleasing and perfect will of God is surely safe housing for all.

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I do not know what your individual context is – I am still learning mine – but as Leroy points out in our interview, we are unfortunately, for many, still in the awareness phase of gentrification and displacement of communities of color. As equally unfortunate, there are very few adequate resources on the topic, particularly from a Biblical worldview. Three I can recommend today are Peter Moskowitz’s book already mentioned, my interview with Leroy on the Upside Down Podcast, and D.L. Mayfield’s article “Church Planting and the Gospel of Gentrification” in recent issue of Sojourner’s magazine. I would also recommend listening to any interviews by Propaganda you can find on iTunes and listening to his new song “Gentrify.”

As I said in the closing of the podcast, you will not trip into this work of creating a more liveable planet – you will need to be intentional. But it is never too late to start. 

 

 

thoughts on housing, scarcity + roots

patio

This morning I sat on the driveway-turned-patio of our new house and tried to read a few Psalms. The Bahamian immigrants who settled the street over one hundred years ago originally named it Evangelist Street. As more and more Bahamians put down roots and homes and gardens here, they requested the city put in an actual road. The city declined, so they built the road themselves. Now here I sit, getting bitten by bugs and confused by the words of David.

Evangelist Street, now known as Charles Avenue, connects the affluent neighborhoods on the west and east of us. Red BMWs, white Mercedes, and black Maseratis speed down our block, from one stop sign to the next. I grow angrier with each passing car. I have noticed there are no speed limit signs on our street, five blocks long. I have noticed just around the corner, where the rich people live, there are speed bumps what feels like every twenty feet. I have noticed my disdain for the rich growing like the anger in my chest, racing like fancy cars down the street.

evangelist street

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We moved in last weekend and I am still not sure what to think of it. Wise people I trusted told me God knew we stood in solidarity with our neighbors in their struggle for safe housing, he needn’t put us through it ourselves. But then he did. (Of course we experienced a pasteled version of the struggle.)

We were told the house we lived in for the last year and a half and planned to buy was no longer available to us. We became the ones with not enough money and not enough power to obtain the house we’d made our home. We became the ones in need of safe housing. 

Despite Miami being one of the nation’s toughest housing markets, we quickly found a new place that was a great fit for our family. Large living space for meals and meetings, large yard for kids and dog, large garage-like room for building furniture. We signed a lease and put down a deposit because even though we have committed to living life among the poor, we are not poor ourselves and deposits are something we can do.

Weeks went by and the great fit house underwent renovations. Then one day they stopped. We learned through our housing advocate friends permits had not been applied for. The renovations would not be complete for our move in. Our move that was supposed to take place five days later.

We found another house. It was not great for a family of seven. But we could make it work for twelve months. It was rich in mangos and my kids are troopers and we could walk to the park when the space inside felt too small.

We were in the process of securing the house rich in mangos when my husband ran into our neighbor Seven. Seven was evicted in January. The slumlord who owns his building let it fall into disrepair, at which point the city condemned the building, forcing the slumlord to evict his tenants. This is known as a “constructive eviction,” meaning the cause was at the fault of the slumlord, but future landlords do not care about this. They see “eviction” on a potential tenant’s record and deny them housing.

The owner of the house rich in mangos does not run background checks or credit checks or any kind of check as long as you can produce the rent check. Seven was also in the process of securing the house rich in mangos.

This is the intersection of incarnational living and gentrification. Our family can pass a background check and a credit check and we can write a first, last and deposit check to secure safe housing. A lifetime of privilege allows for those things. While our housing options are severely limited due to our neighborhood choice and family size, Seven’s are nearly nonexistent.  

We passed on the house rich in mangos. Seven didn’t get it either. Now we live on Evangelist Street/Charles Avenue and Seven is between housing. I am tempted to think there is not enough housing for all but this is a lie.

The famous Ghandi quote about there being enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed is palpable here. It burns my nostrils and threatens to choke out hope. The vacant lots, fields as my neighbors call them, number over 200 in our small 10 square block neighborhood. Developers are sitting on them, waiting for the Bahamian descendants to be displaced completely so they can sell off to wealthier developers or build luxury condos only the richest of the rich can afford. While developers wait for this, our neighbors are forced to leave the streets built by their ancestors.

I sit in front of our new house and beg God to show me the Kingdom coming here.  I jot down thoughts about scarcity being a lie. I pray for Seven to find safe housing. I try to figure out what it looks like to put our roots down into people and not houses, relationships not places, eternity not temporary.

I have more questions than answers.

 

white privilege, prophetic resistance + the moment we find ourselves in

I regularly tell my kids their choices for communication with other human beings are to be kind or quiet.

Now you know why I’ve been quiet since January 20th.

I don’t have much in the way of complete thoughts or organized action steps or well researched plans. I have only this keen sense in the deepest part of my spirit that the marginalized will be the ones to lead us all to a more livable planet. It will not be us, white folks, to lead the resistance against the assault of the imago dei. The last are becoming first before our very eyes. Do you see them? Are you paying attention?

The prophet Isaiah tells us “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” As Lisa Sharon Harper says in The Very Good Gospel, Isaiah was referring to the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives, and the prisoners. They will repair and restore the ruins.

If we follow a brown-skinned Jesus, why would we not be willing to follow the brown and black-skinned image bearers among us?

source unknown

source unknown

To be very, very clear, this does not mean we sit back, kick up our heals and beg for pictures of puppies on Facebook. While I believe marginalized people will be and are our leaders, they are also targets of the American empire.

In the Executive Order Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, section Five allows for immigrants to be deported if they protest the atrocities being committed against them. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, those among us who have arguably been most brave and given up the most for their freedom will be deported for standing up for it.

As journalist Yonatan Zunger puts it in his article What Things “Going Wrong” Can Look Like, “Any protest, no matter how peaceful, will be declared a “riot” and a reason for sharply increased police presence, not just then, but going forward; we should expect to see a lot of very visible marching of cops through the streets, arrests of anyone for insubservience, and so on.”

This means we white citizens must be ready to put our bodies on the line for our brothers and sisters who cannot do so without risk of losing their lives. Those of us most at risk need those of us who aren’t. God wasn’t playing: we truly are our brothers and sisters keeper. Come for one of us, come for all of us. 

howtouseyourprivilege

Which brings me to this: not everyone’s actions will be the same. That is ok. There’s a part for everyone to play. It’s how God works. Writers, activists, lawyers, mothers, protestors, prophets, priests, taxi drivers, artists, fathers, NFL stars, teachers, and the rest. It will take all of us but know this: your part will not be handed to you. You will not trip into this movement of prophetic resistance.

You will have to do your own research, reading, listening, learning, engaging and following. You will have to show up when it’s hard and admit to not having answers. You will have to be humble. You will have to pray before you speak. You will have to get to the back of the line.

Many of us are asking What is happening? How did it come to this? If you’re asking those questions, you have the privilege of being surprised. (No judgement, I did too.) Our brothers and sisters of color have been experiencing similar atrocities for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Don’t believe me? Watch this. 

What does prophetic resistance look like for you? Maybe it looks like signing petitions or calling your representatives. Maybe it looks like joining a protest or feeding some attorneys. Maybe it looks like donating to the ACLU and to the smaller, local frontline agencies as well. It will take big acts of resistance – the Bree Newsomes among us – to scale the walls of white supremacy, and it will take the small foolish things that confuse the watching world. It will take baking cookies for our refugee neighbors and poems. It will take protests that shut down airports and walking our hijab wearing neighbor to the post office so she does not walk alone.

Never again is now friends. Speak the truth of the Bible to power even if your voice shakes. Walk in solidarity even if your knees buckle. Pay attention. Stay alert. And be ready to follow our brown-skinned Savior who laid down his life that we may all have life in abundance. Be ready to follow his lead.

following the light

This is our first true Christmas here and we are reaching for new traditions like a four-year old reaches for the star atop a tree. Last year our belongings, including Christmas stockings and chipped, hand-me-down decorations, were neatly tucked away in storage while we lived in someone else’s large and lizard infested farm-house. We did our best to celebrate joy coming down to the world but mostly it just felt like any other day.

This year we had a real tree. Juxtaposed with our annual jaunt to the tree farm where the kids and I traipsed through rows and rows of needly trees in the crisp November air, driving around the block to the Home Depot parking lot felt anticlimactic to say the least. There wasn’t the usual back and forth about which tree to get: fat or skinny, fir or pine or spruce, how tall is too tall. We just picked the first one we saw and all seven of us agreed.

But it was a real tree and we brought it home the day after Thanksgiving like we always do and William dropped down the dusty Rubbermaid containers from the attic and we began pulling out lights and ornaments and a Rudolph made of a small log and some twigs. It turns out most of the lights hadn’t survived the 1,100 mile migration south and several months in storage, but they would do.

I sweat as I wove strands of lights under and over the dry, prickly branches while the kids drank hot chocolate with their shirts off.

I thought about baby Jesus and man Jesus and wondered where is the thread that strings together this tree we are hanging ornaments on to the tree his divine yet wholly human frame hung on to die?

house

So Advent came and we celebrated Jesus’ coming and it all felt much too shallow and commercial, like it always does.

At the last minute on Christmas Day we decided to drive around and look at lights. We loaded the kids up in their pajamas, with hot chocolate for good measure, and headed toward a more affluent neighborhood.

There weren’t any lights. Any is my melancholy way of saying there weren’t as many lights as we were anticipating. There were a few houses with ropes of lights starting at the ground, coiling around the tropical trunks and climbing up the palm trees in their front yards. They were pretty, but they were still palm trees.

On one corner stood an impressive house with several large inflatable characters in the small patch of grass between their massive gate and the road. I think maybe there was a Snoopy, and probably a Santa.

We tried another row of streets known for their wealth a little closer to our house with no luck.

I mumbled something to my husband about heading back to the ‘hood to look for lights. I bet there are Christmas lights in the ghetto, I joked.

I turned left behind the failing elementary school, the one where bullets entered a classroom earlier this year, passed the simple playground tucked behind an old chain link fence and made our way to “the projects.”

And there they were. Lights. Bright white ones and colored ones. Flashing lights and dancing lights. There were people outside enjoying each other and there was not-too-loud music.

Of course the lights are here ,I thought, here on the margins, here with those facing homelessness, here where windows and families are broken by the weight of oppression and systemic injustice. Here, where Jesus would be if he were to walk among us today.

After all this time I’m still looking for Jesus among the wealthy and powerful, the rich and the clean, in all the wrong places. 

tree2

Scholars believe the Magi in Matthew’s telling of the Christmas story had likely heard the prophetic writings of Daniel and they ended up on King Herod’s doorstep just the same. They heard the coming glorious King had been born and they went to the Kingdom. Of course they did. The world had yet to see a subversive King like Jesus. A King who is really and also God, leaving Heaven to come down into our ghettos. The magi, like everyone else, had no category for Jesus as King.

It was the shepherds – the lowly, dirty, smelly, outcast shepherds who the angel came to find. And it was they who had the humility to follow the light to the place where the coming glorious King had been born. I imagine the shepherds didn’t feel out-of-place in the manger/stable/cave where Jesus joined the world. And that was exactly the point. Had he showed up in a castle, the story would be an entirely different one. But He came to us on the margins, and is it any wonder we can still and always find him here? 

housing for all

housing_for_all

I attend a monthly community meeting. It use to be in a fancy building with glass walls with a clear view of new playground equipment and fake grass. The other half of the building is an upscale restaurant. The waiters wear all black as they serve people sitting at little round tables lining the sidewalk.

The first time I attended this particular meeting last spring, the council discussed a new ordinance preventing coconut trees from being planted near sidewalks. A coconut could fall on someone, you see. They can be dangerous. Some people sitting behind me in the glass room were not happy about this, they wanted to know if coconut trees already planted near their sidewalks would need to be removed.

That same week, there was a drive by on my street. The kids who live here couldn’t play outside because a bullet might land on them.

I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.

There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community.

Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.

A thing you should know about my neighborhood is: it is HIGHLY segregated. As in, a segregation wall still stands. It divides those the world labels the “haves” and the “have nots.” It divides socio-economically, racially, and in just about every other way you can imagine.

The people concerned about coconuts falling on their heads don’t have to worry about bullets.

Another thing you should know is: there is a housing crisis on this side of the wall. My neighbors will tell you there has been for some time, decades even. Developers buy up singe family homes and apartments – some in disrepair, some not – level them, and sit on the land. The vacant lots are referred to as “fields.” Many of them have been sitting empty for a dozen years. There are several on every street.

field

Currently, landlords are selling their apartment buildings by the block. They refuse to sign leases with their tenants so when the buildings sell, they evict with 15 days notice. Another common practice is to let the buildings run down to unsafe and uninhabitable, at which point the city steps in and condemns them, forcing the tenants to move out with little-to-no warning.

I am doubtful of my ability to communicate the severity of this situation to you in mere black and white, letters on a screen. You, Dear Reader, are likely unable to comprehend the fear and helplessness an eviction notice carries. That’s because 73% of white folks own a home, compared to 45% of black folks. Statistics do not exist for my neighborhood, but I need to look no further than my own block to know hundreds of people are living in buildings being sold right out from under them.

I cannot fully comprehend it either.

The housing crisis is not just that developers are sitting on empty lots OR that people are facing imminent homelessness and displacement with just a few weeks notice; the situation is exacerbated because there is literally no where for people to go. For every 100 extremely low-income renters in Miami, there are only 33 affordable units available.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.”

There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

Last month at the community meeting we didn’t talk about coconuts. We talked about housing. I would say the issue has finally reached a tipping point, but I suspect the conversation has ebbed and flowed over the years. I suspect those on the other side of the wall have always pushed down the voices of those on this side. I suppose, when men and women, grandmothers and mothers, fathers and sons asked those behind the microphones to do something, they have always been told to “wait.” But really, I don’t just suspect it, it’s fact.

The council responded to my neighbors who came to the meeting with lots of words. As I sat there in my seat I struggled to understand them. There was talk about zoning, and incentives for developers. FEMA and a special housing summit. The housing summit will happen at the end of January, they said.

I left the meeting in tears. I could not sleep. I said a lot of cuss words. I could not get the words of Martin Luther King, Jr out of my mind. I prayed. The problem with this paragraph is every single sentence begins with I.

but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

That was two weeks ago. Since then, the Lord gave one of our neighbors and mentors an idea, a method of direct action that involves setting up camp on these pieces of land. A prophetic act of protest against displacement and for the beauty of community when all are invited in. Starting today, we will physically stand alongside our neighbors as together we demand Housing for All.

So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

We have been meeting for months about the housing crisis, discussing which neighbors had been given eviction notices that week, wondering where they would go… I don’t think any of us really knew what could be done. There are so many powerful people playing this game of displacement. The city and county seem to be complacent at best and complicit at worst.

But we know we cannot sit idly by while our neighbors are treated unjustly, displaced at alarming rates, and the oldest neighborhood in Miami (some historians say all of Florida) becomes extinct. We cannot do nothing while the “haves” tell the “have nots” yet again, to wait.

The Lord has brought together attorneys, activists, government officials, neighbors, and police officers as we have planned in the last couple weeks. We are grateful and humbled our neighbors trust us to stand alongside them in their efforts to seek Housing for All.

There are several ways you can get involved and stand with us from afar:

FIRST, you can pray. As there will be protestors on the lots 24/7, we want to cover them in prayer 24/7. You can sign up to pray here.

SECOND, you can donate. We are in ongoing need of supplies such as fliers, signs, tents, water, snacks, etc. to make this happen well. You can give to our CRM Grove Team Fund here or through GoFundMe here. (Giving via CRM is tax-deductible, giving via GoFundMe is not but gets the funds to our team quicker.)

THIRD, you can spread the word on social media. Please follow and share on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The power of social media could allow our campaign to gain national media coverage with the help of people like you!

LASTLY, you can buy a Housing for All t-shirt! These are unisex small – XL shirts. $20 + $7 shipping. To purchase a shirt, please Paypal your money, size(s) and address to wallacemastiff@yahoo.com.

Please be praying for our neighbors. Some are ready to fight for their right to safe housing, and some are very very tired. As we have been researching the unjust housing practices in our neighborhood, we are deeply saddened for the way they have been treated for the last 100 years. Pray for God to move on their behalf, to make his love for them known, and for us to affirm the dignity he has placed in each of them.

[The quotes in this post are from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From a Birmingham jail. The letter is King’s response to the white clergy who call on him to “wait,” suggesting King should trust them to move the civil rights movement forward. You can read it in it’s entirety here.]

one year ::: here and everywhere

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
― Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Today is the one year anniversary of our family arriving in Miami, and if I had to say one thing about this first year, I would say it was a year that asked questions.

Where are you God?
How do I use my privilege?
Is one enough?
What is the goal?
What can we do?
What in the heck are we doing here?
Are we too late?

Over and over, I asked questions. Big questions, small questions, hard questions, flippant questions. 2015 was a year that answered, and I had grown comfortable with God responding in tangible ways. 2016 was uncanny in its contrast. It caught me by surprise and took my breath away. Transition and culture shock hooked up and threatened to take me down. PTSD crept in, then spilled out all over the place.

On day 365, here’s what I know: Jesus is here and God is everywhere. Here on streets where bullets fly. Here where our neighbors are displaced at alarming rates. Here where children raise themselves. Everywhere His image bearers reside. Everywhere His breath gives life. Everywhere Light shines. Everywhere Love wins. Everywhere.

At the end of this first year, I am sure of little else, but I am learning that here and everywhere is enough.

[If you’ve been following along, cheering us on, praying us up, and/or supporting us financially THANK YOU. Truly we could not be here were it not for the support of hundreds of people around the globe. The Kingdom of God is on display through this incredible tribe of people who have loved us well.]

hard

Being committed to the truth is easy to brag about when you can edit your words 572 times before hitting publish. But start recording your actual voice and have over 500 people listen to it in less than two weeks time? Well, then you start to feel just a tad bit insecure about the truth you’re tellin’.

And you start askin’, WHOSE truth is it I’m telling?

If I say it’s hard to live here (and I did, just listen) what does that communicate to the people who only know here? To the people whose families settled this land? To the people who have called it home for generations? What am I saying about them? Maybe nothing really, or maybe insinuating something I don’t quite understand. And that’s the problem, I’m not sure. 

Is it hard to live here? You know it is. Hard in ways I can’t explain and in ways I can. (HELLO parking spots designed for Playmobile cars at no less than $4 an hour.)

But what I neglected to say in 57 minutes and 29 seconds is this: It’s also beautiful. In ways I can’t explain and in ways I can.

hard

Blue + gold macaws nesting in my backyard.
Seeing Jesus in the eyes of the people I meet on the street.
Watching women speak up for themselves at city council meetings.
Teenagers gathering around my dining room table for card games and sundaes.

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I can easily get jammed up in my head, paralyzed into saying nothing of substance. Overthinking, avoiding, pretending not to have deep lingering thoughts in every nook and cranny of my mind… But that’d be a lie and I’ve committed to truth-tellin’, no matter the cost, no matter the cost.

So I keep on keepin’ on. Keep saying words, keep tap-tap-tapping the keyboard with my boney fingers, keep figuring out what I think in front of the whole-wide-world… And for what?

I suppose I really do believe we need each other. That we’re better together. That something about a triune God speaks to my need and your need and everybody’s need for community.

I suppose I’d rather ask for forgiveness than keep my mouth shut. I’d rather cut my teeth on the hard, gnawing conversations that come from honesty than swallow watered down junk, microwaved over and over and over again, served up by the Prince of Lies.

If we seek hard after the truth, we’ll discover sometimes the truth is hard. And divisive. And controversial. But always necessary. Always necessary. And on days like today, when the internet feels suffocating, let me remind us, Jesus knows the end from the beginning.

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Today Episode Two of the Upside Down Podcast goes live. We’re talking about Safety + Fear. I promise someday soon I’ll write about something else.

Safety, Hurricane Matthew, + the Upside Down Podcast

God tends to teach me lessons in gentle, albeit smack-in-the-face-humbling, sort of ways.

 

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You may’ve seen on social media, four of my closest-internet-friends and I have started a podcast. It came to be the way most magically mundane things do. Someone suggested it, half-jokingly I think, and we jumped on the idea one at a time, like a pile of kids on the floor.

I didn’t expect to actually join them. Words like “margin” and “busy” and “no extra time” were on the tip of my tongue. I expected to be their biggest cheerleader, but as the conversations continued, I found myself unable to say no. Spending time talking with these ladies is nothing short of life-giving. And life-giving is what I’m seeking these days.

Tonight we’re recording an episode on Safety + Fear. I have lots of thoughts on these topics, particularly as they relate to Christian excuses for not following the Jesus of the Bible. I know it’s a complex, highly emotional topic, and I look forward to engaging it with these women and our listeners in the coming weeks.

If you know where we live and how we got here, you know I have wrestled with safety and fear, and that my thoughts have evolved in the last four yeas. As we walk the road of downward mobility, I find the tension between solidarity and privilege harder and harder to navigate.

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You might’ve heard about a little storm, Hurricane Matthew, currently making its way toward Miami. Because of Matthew, we decided to head west for a couple days. To some, this obviously makes sense. A category four hurricane is headed your way, you have the ability to evacuate, you evacuate. But this is a privilege many of our neighbors do not have. They cannot provide their children with felt safety. They cannot shield them from Hurricane Matthew or the daily storms that pound marginalized communities around the world. The swells of systemic injustice, oppression, and generational poverty leave them in survival mode, a place where, as the name suggest, one cannot thrive, but merely stays alive.

We’re swimming in a pool at our Airbnb while our neighbors survive and it induces an anxiety in me my heart cannot hold.

Tonight my co-hosts and I will record an episode about Safety + Fear. And I’ll do it from the safety of the west coast of Florida, not my at-risk neighborhood. We’ll talk about a savior who told us to pick up our instruments of torture and follow Him. We’ll share experiences and they won’t all be the same and some of us will disagree. We hope to encourage. We hope to provoke thoughtful conversations. We hope to invite others into this upside down Kingdom where Jesus says stand in the margins with those the world has declared “unsafe.”

It’ll be messy and fun and hard and life-giving. And I hope you’ll follow along. Here’s a lovely little video that shares more of the heart behind the Upside Down Podcast.

You can subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes or listen directly from our beautiful website. You can follow us on Instagram and Facebook where we’d love to hear what upside down topics you’re mulling over. (Also leave some in the comments here!)

AND, we have a fun book basket giveaway going on over on Instagram this weekend! 

We’ve each picked a beloved book that uniquely expresses the truth of the Upside Down kingdom of God to give away to one lucky listener/bookworm! It’s like hitting the subversive Christian jackpot, you guys. Head over to Instagram to enter! book_giveaway

for the angsty one

For the Angsty One

Somewhere between Philando Castile and the shooting of an unarmed therapist lying on the ground with his hands up, I grew angsty. I used the word “despair” when discussing the state of our country. I was frustrated and lost. I laid in bed at night unable to sleep. I started emailing friends my own stupid white people questions. I desperately wanted to know what to “do.”

In the past, I have followed the guidance given me by people of color. The marching orders go something like this:

Step One: Sit down and listen.
Step Two: Educate yourself, yourself.
Step Three: Diversify your social circles.
Step Four: Acknowledge your own implicit bias and talk to other white people about racism, systemic injustice, mass incarceration, redlining, etc.

I fear this paragraph coming off as self-congratulatory. I have not arrived, but I have taken these steps seriously. I listen and attempt to educate myself, myself. I have friends of color, I live in an all black neighborhood – I see racial injustice every day. I acknowledge my implicit bias and family members have blocked me on Facebook for saying #blacklivesmatter… and yet, it does not feel like enough. Because it’s not.

The reason it’s not enough is partly because it’s actually just not enough, and partly because it’s not about me.

As it turns out, my desire to “fix” it (fix racism? systemic injustice? hundreds of years of oppression?) is central to my own privilege. I unknowingly made the “fixing” about me, and – NEWSFLASH – it’s not about me. At all.

In case you’re not seeing it – because, you know, privilege – the privilege I’m referring to is exactly what makes me think I can fix things to begin with. I’ve experienced hardship, but overall my position in society  – social networks, education, access to financial capital – has allowed me to bring forth changes when and where I’ve desired them. That’s privilege.

I got over myself and started asking God what my actual role is. I have one.  So do you. We all have a role to play in dismantling racial injustice at a macro-level AND at a micro-level. (Isaiah 58 anyone?)

And I have repeatedly found myself face-to-face with Jeremiah 29:1 – 7.
 
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

 

God tells the people to live their lives. “Do your thang! Build new houses and grow tomatoes and get some chickens! Get married and make more image bearers!  AND, seek the shalom of your city. Pray for your city and in it’s wholeness, you will find peace.

 

The Hebrew word for welfare is shalom. Shalom covers all aspects of peace and wholeness, manifested most clearly in times of persecution and trial. Lisa Sharon Harper, in her book The Very Good Gospel, says it like this;

 

“Shalom is the stuff of the Kingdom. It’s what the Kingdom of God looks like in context. It’s what citizenship in the Kingdom of God requires and what the Kingdom promises to those who choose God and God’s ways to peace.”

 

Practically speaking, what does this look like? This is where I get stuck. I’ve started and stopped writing this post several times. I want you to think me a credible source, but the truth is I don’t know. I’m still figuring out what it looks like for me – I sure as heck don’t know what it looks like for you.
But, us white church folk, we like formulas. Action steps. Meetings and checklists and committees and more meetings. But God says in Isaiah (58 again) he is sick of all our meetings. He says get out there and break chains.

 

I’m not a chain breaking expert; my God is. He is in the business of setting people free and for some crazy reason, his method is us. But here’s the thing – it’s messy. You’ll start and you’ll stop, jump on a bandwagon and fall off. You’ll make mistakes and say the wrong thing. You’ll make mistakes and say the wrong thing. Again. You’ll show up with answers and walk away with questions. Your heart will knit together with people you have but one thing in common – your humanity. And it will be the most glorious display of redemption and beauty you have ever experienced.

 

The list of injustices and wrongs to right is a mile long and we need not all be in the same lane. Maybe you heart bleeds for sex trafficking survivors or the homeless or addicted or mentally ill or the incarcerated or abandoned children or elderly or immigrants. They exist in your city. They do. And what you post about them on social media does not hold a candle to what you do or don’t do for them in your everyday life.

Are you pro-life? Great. What are you doing about that every day of the year that is not Election Day? Are you volunteering at a pregnancy crisis center? Are you resettling refugees? Are you a foster parent? Do you volunteer as a hospice worker? How are you not just being against abortion, but for the actual lives around you?

Do you know any public school teachers? Social workers? Principals? Judges? Who is the police commander overseeing your neighborhood? Who is your city council member? County commissioner? State representative? Do you know what they believe, how they conduct themselves, what their needs are?

For the Angsty One

I want a five step program, and I want to give one to you too. But that is not our God.

We muck all this up when oftentimes, I think it’s just really simple. Who around you is hurting? Who around you is oppressed? Who around you is being displaced? Who around you is dying in the streets? Who around you is neglected? Who around you is hungry? Who around you is homeless? Who around you is blind to injustice or oppression? Who around you is full of fear? Who around you is missing the fullness of Isaiah 58? Who around you is angsty and doesn’t know what to “do?” {raises hand}

Who?

Seek their welfare. Ask the Lord to break our chains. And together we will find peace.

expectations

It became apparent: I wasn’t falling asleep anytime soon. My first attempt to soothe insomnia: Trader Joe’s Chocolate Fudge Chip Ice Cream and Shannan Martin‘s new book Falling Free. Shannan’s words are hardly the type to put me to sleep, but a balm for my weary soul, with a side of ice cream, seemed like a good place to start.

 

As the clock ticked toward the midnight hour, I decided to move on to phase two: melatonin and an uninterrupted hot shower. I stepped over a smug cockroach in the hallway, who scurried into the closet before I could scoop him up in a wad of toilet paper. Cockroaches in our walls help us stand in solidarity with our neighbors, I told myself phlegmatically. I reached into the shower to start the water, knowing it would take a good 6-8 minutes to actually be hot. This phenomenon is still a mystery to me, given the 100+ degree heat index. Shouldn’t the water already be hot? The sound of running water woke my husband who appeared in the bathroom asking why I was taking a shower at midnight. As I explained my desire for a long, hot, uninterrupted shower, I felt myself growing slightly annoyed by his intrusion.

 

My shower routine is intentional and efficient, and if you asked and I was being honest, I’d tell you my whole life is that way, because that’s what I want to people to think of me. First, I co-wash my hair (that’s wash it with conditioner, for those unfamiliar), then I let the conditioner sit while I brush my teeth, shave, wash my body, rinse conditioner, wash my face, and put in round two of conditioner which I leave in, if you must know. It’s strategic. Purposeful. Smart. It goes the way I want it to.

 

As I washed my hair, I thought about something Father Greg Boyle said at the Global Homeboy Network earlier this month. He said burnout does not exist. His theory is the feeling of burnout stems from having expectations of others and, when those expectations go unmet, we internalize that unmetness and take the person’s actions or inaction personally. Then, often, we do more stuff to try to change them.

 

I like this theory, and not only because I think Father G is one of the twenty-four elders. It tracks with what I’m learning from my counselors and research and reading and life about controlling other humans and being responsible to people and not for them.

 

But practically speaking, I’m not sure how it rolls out. I mean, it sounds great for a Jesuit priest working with ex-convicts but for a wife? A mom? No expectations? As in zero?

 

//

 

Somewhere between lathering and rinsing my Trader Joe’s Tea Tree body wash (Yes, there’s a theme), I heard the bathroom door open and assumed it was our ridiculously cute and equally delinquent (foster) dog who can open all our fancy French door knobs that turn upward in the wrong direction; but instead I saw my tiniest human. She stood outside the shower half asleep in a sagging diaper, her usual two fingers planted firmly in her mouth. She doesn’t talk but is not silent, making unrecognizable noises the way only half-asleep children and rabid frogs do.

 

To my surprise, I am not frustrated by this interruption.

 

//

 

I lay in bed, my doctor’s words swirling around in my head. “Sleep is the first thing to go,” she told me, two years ago as I sat in her cold, small exam room, surrounded by my four young children. They were doing their best to stay focused on coloring sheets and beat up Golden Books likely covered in germs from the 1980’s, which is to say, they were bouncing off the walls.

 

When you’re anxious, sleep is the first thing to go. When anxiety builds like the tower of Babble, desperate to see what God is up to, sleep is the first thing to go. When the very air itself is sucked from your lungs and you long to hear from the One who spoke the world into being with His breath, sleep is the first thing to go. When literal walls are crumbling on houses just blocks away and the cockroaches are no longer a token in solidarity but a threat to families staying together, sleep is the first thing to go.

 

So I release my expectation to sleep.
 
//

 

In July we spent a week in Lovejoy, Georgia with a hundred like-minded folks from InnerChange and Dr. John Perkins. It was an intimate gathering, providing ample opportunity to listen and learn from Dr. Perkins and our other speakers. I sat around cafeteria style tables, listening to my friends and co-workers ask him questions about living through the civil rights movement, about today’s racial tensions, about #alllivesmatter. He was always gracious but never soft with his answers.

And his preaching. Oh, his preaching. It is otherworldly.

On his last morning, he talked about three different roads in the Bible:

The road to Emmaus.
The road to Damascus.
And the road to Jericho.

One of my kids lost their mind on the way home from Georgia. Honestly, I don’t blame them. After a month long road trip, over 12 hours of driving that day alone, within a few hours of home… they lost it.

In an effort to spare the others, I pulled over on the side of I-95, pulled this kid out of the van and headed for the ditch. In all the ways this kid struggles, they struggled there, in the ditch on the side of the highway. Semi’s 30 feet away were no competition for my kid’s lungs. These are the lungs of a survivor. The lungs of a child whose voice went unheard for years. But here, on the side of the highway, they will not be outdone by semi-trucks, or the threat of alligators.

This child’s screaming causes my heart to pound, my blood pressure to rise, my stomach to knot. Sometimes I hear them screaming when I lay in bed at night not sleeping and when I actually shower alone. Even when there is no screaming, I hear screaming. I suppose I have come to expect it.

//

I did not expect to be on the side of the highway. I expected to be an hour closer to home. My expectations and lack of sleep and countless hours inside a minivan brought me to the brink of my sanity. Simply put, I broke.

In my breaking, I joined the screaming child on my hip, flips flops now long gone in the knee high south Florida brush.  I screamed at God. I wanted to know why I listened to Dr. Perkins preach for seven full days about roads and yet, there I was, standing in a ditch.

I’ve never really thought before about who my child(ren) screams at. Often they scream at me, but really, I’m only a reminder of the primal void they feel. Of the lack and the rejection. Of their unmet expectations.

I’m coming to terms with the fact that I cannot save any of them – my children, my husband, my neighbors – from their past, from their present, from the future. It was never my job.

Our choice always is the same: save the world or savor it. And I vote for savoring it. And, just because everything is about something else, if you savor the world, somehow — go figure — it’s getting saved. – Father Greg Boyle

 

the ministry of words

My friend Danielle and I had vastly different childhoods. She grew up trying to please God, I wanted nothing to do with him. But somehow, a few decades later, we ended up in nearly the same space  – living on the margins of society with our families.

As of yesterday, her first book has been published – Assimilate or Go Home, Notes From a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith, is a collection of poetic essays from her decade long journey of working with and living among refugees.

Assimilate or Go Home

I cried when I got Danielle’s email asking if I would be on the launch team for Assimilate or Go Home. It might’ve had something to do with the fact that I was at an airport, which for me is equal or worse to being on life support in the ICU. I’m certain death is eminent.

I digress.

Danielle outlined a few prompts for us to choose from, should we write a post about her book. Of course that’s the point of a launch team, but she’s very unassuming and modest, this one.

No problem. Write a post inspired by a book I’m sure to love? That I can do.

But you guys, I have tried for the last week and I just cannot do it. I have two shitty first drafts, as Anne Lammott would say.. One prompt “the ministry of…” and the other “I use to want to change the world but…” are both things I can write on. Both things I have half written draft posts on, but for the life of me I can’t bring them home.

Last night I realized why.

How do you use words in support of someone else’s words, when words are clearly the gift God has given that person to impact your life and others? When each time you read theirs you sit in awe that there are other humans with similar lives and thoughts and passions and people seeing the world and walking through it in much the same way you are, writing all the way?

Danielle writes often about unrecognized ministries, like the ministry of playing video games with awkward adolescent boys. The ministry of bringing takeout food to people whose baby is very sick. The ministry of picking up empty chip wrappers at the park. The ministry of sending hilarious and inspirational text messages. The ministry of making an excellent cup of coffee.

Hers is baking cake. But hers is also words.

Danielle’s words comfort me like few others do. Her ability to see the world as Jesus does, from a place I believe he would have resided, and put it into achingly beautiful words is a precious gift. It is an unrecognized ministry, but I hope it won’t be unrecognized for long. (And truly, you’ve probably read her writing online before, but isn’t paper fun and better?)

Assimilate of Go Home is now available from My Target (aka Amazon) and can be yours for less than $9. People, WHAT, $9?! If $9 is too steep for you at the moment, I’ll be giving a copy away today over on Instagram.

Thank you Danielle, for your ministry of baking cakes and writing words. For your willingness to cut out a piece of your heart and put it into the pages of a book for all of us to see. Thank you for sharing your own doubts, your own fears, your own brokenness. Thank you for loving your neighbors well, honoring their stories, and inspiring me to do the same. You are moving the Kingdom and writing us all home.

Summer Reads

Today is the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere, which means most of you are now feeling the heat we’ve been feeling down here since, oh, last summer. As temperatures and humidity rise, I hope your schedule is slowing down. We’re preparing to spend a few weeks visiting family and friends up north and these are the books I’m packing in my bag.

(I’ve already read Follow Me to Freedom, and am halfway through a few others, but no, I likely won’t make it through all of these. I just like to have choices.)

Follow Me to Freedom, Shane Claiborne and John M. Perkins
This book is a must read for anyone wanting to lead others to Freedom.

As some point, especially as Christians, we say with Paul, ‘To live is Christ, to die is gain…’ If we die, so what? We believe in resurrection. We’ll dance on injustice till they kill us… Then we’ll dance on streets of gold. Many Christians live in such fear that it’s as if they don’t really, I mean really, believe in resurrection. – Shane Claiborne

Daring Greatly, Brene Brown
I gotta be honest, I can’t get into Brene’s writing. I love her quotables, I love her in soundbites, I love her interviews, but her books are not my jam. I’ve skimmed the first six chapters and just can’t, so I’m gonna try to go deep on Chapter 7, Wholehearted Parenting and call it a day.

Turn My Mourning into Dancing, Henri Nouwen
“Solace without platitudes,” I am about halfway through this and really enjoying it. This book has been on our shelves for years and this is my first time cracking it open. As ironic as it sounds, I am thoroughly enjoying this book.

Evangelical ≠ Republican… or Democrat, Lisa Sharon Harper
This is the book I currently cannot put down. Since meeting Lisa earlier this month and having the true pleasure of hearing her speak, I have been tracking down everything she has written and taught. The list is long and this just happened to be the first book that arrived from the library. This book was published in 2008, but incredibly relevant to 2016. I am fascinated by the history of evangelicalism she shares in this book. (I’m looking forward to adding her newest book, The Very Good Gospel, to my early fall reading list.)

“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”, Beverly Daniel Tatum, PH.DBeverly Tatum seeks to answer the question, “Is this (cafeteria) self-segregation a problem we should try to fix, or a coping strategy we should support? Using real-life examples and the latest research, Tatum presents strong evidence that straight talk about our racial identities-whatever they may be-is essential if we are serious about facilitating communication across racial and ethnic divides. We have waited far too long to begin our conversations about race. This remarkable book, infused with great wisdom and humanity, has already helped hundreds of thousands of readers figure out where to start.”

“Jesus for President”, Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw
Because #electionprobs.

The Whole Brain Child, Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.
This is another that has been on our bookshelf for a couple years. I have a hard time with parenting books. I’ve read a LOT of them over the years, and most seem either completely unrealistic or too much rainbows and unicorns. The Whole Brain Child is one I continually hear recommended and summer seems like a good time to give it a try.

Jesus and the Disinherited, Howard Thurman
This book has been referenced in about a dozen other books I’ve read in the last year and is credited with “shaping the civil rights movement and changing our nation’s history forever” so definitely a summer read.

Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott
I might not make it to this one, but I figure it would be nice to throw it in for a few laughs.

Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen
I started reading this one last fall because I was disappointed in our home school curriculum’s telling of American history and the lack of representation and acknowledgement of people of color in the timeline of American history at all. At the time, I read along with what our curriculum was teaching to ensure I was passing on truth to my kids. I hope to read it from cover to cover this summer. This is another fascinating book I’m thankful to have come across. I was completely uninterested in American history in high school. Now I know why. (HINT: It was a whitewashed lie.)

What are you reading this summer? Let me know in the comments! 

goals

goals

So many things I knew a year or two ago I no longer know. I am far less sure of almost all areas of life but I am most assuredly sure of Life itself. I have seen and heard and experienced things I cannot unsee, unhear or unexperience. They are now forever a part of who I am, having molded me into the woman God created, and continues to create, me to be.

There’s a lot of talk among friends and coworkers about the words we use to describe those we work with. We all agree labels for people are not the way to go, but words are the currency humans use to communicate, so how do we do that in a way that is dignifying, not dehumanizing?

The danger of some words is they imply our goal is to change that particular attribute about a person.

For example, we work with “the poor”.

It has only recently struck me that in saying we work with “the poor”, we could possibly, albeit unintentionally, be communicating there is something wrong with “the poor” that needs fixing. We could be communicating we are working to change the fact that they are “poor,” and because of our cultural context and American idealism, I fear this communication gap may be taking place.

Wordsmithing, maybe, but hang with me.

I think this is important because it stems from and feeds into our “we can fix you” white middle-class culture. (If you aren’t part of that culture, you’ve surely seen it in action. If you need to see it again in parody form, White Savior Barbie is there for you.)

Last weekend I spoke at a fundraiser for one of my coworkers and afterwards was approached by a man who wanted to “brainstorm” solutions for some of the needs mentioned during our presentation. A year or two ago I would have welcomed his thoughts. Now I know the slow work of God is not mine to control. And I know men like this know very little to nothing about my neighbor’s actual lives and it takes a Holy Spirit size dose of humility to enter into these brainstorm session as an outsider.

Ideas started flying, all in the vein of “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” ideology. I tried my best to explain the challenges my neighbors face when, applying for a job for example. Each time this man suggested something else, equally as unattainable as his last suggestion.

The problem with this kind of “improve your situation by your own efforts” thinking is, it’s not a universal truth. Contrary to what my personal upbringing taught me, all opportunities are not created equal.

The opportunities afforded me as a 15-year-old – a stable home and family life, parents with business connections, transportation and expendable time to transport their teenage daughter to and from work – landed me my first job, which led to a solid string of employment, until I chose to become a stay-at-home mom. The opportunities afforded my neighbors at 15 years of age – a traumatic home and family life, impoverished living conditions, neglectful and abusive parents which often leads to self medicating, promiscuity and teenage pregnancy – are incomparable. Expecting teenagers from these drastically different backgrounds to end up in the same place, without longstanding and intentional prayer and relationship, is insane.

Most of us think the goal of introducing the poor, whether overseas or in America, to Jesus is synonymous with climbing the economic ladder.

Friends, that is not the goal.

Knowing Jesus is not correspondent to having wealth, or even to not being poor. I think most of the world gets this, but as Americans, particularly my brand of American, we tend to forget.

The goal, with any human being made in the image of God (NEWS FLASH: That’s all of them.) is to empower and encourage our neighbors to be the men and women God created them to be.

The goal is to call forth the imago Dei in them. To invite them to look into the face of Jesus and ask, What do you think about me? The goal, is to walk alongside them, until the wheels fall off, reminding them every day, that He who began a good work in them is going to bring it to completion, one glorious day.

Our goal is to remind them God delighted in them all along.

They may or may not move into a higher economic bracket.

And the rest of us need to be ok with that.

subversive Jesus [a book review + giveaway]

I find myself encountering an increasing number of folks unfamiliar with our work, requiring me to put our lives into a thirty-second elevator pitch.

After an apparently not-so-great attempt, a new acquaintance, seeking clarification, asked, “So what is your primary focus, meeting needs or sharing the Gospel?”

To which I responded, “Yes.”

subversivejesus2

If Tattoos on the Heart is the “who” and “why” of incarnational ministry, Subversive Jesus, by Craig Greenfield, is the “what” and “where.” (And y’all know how I feel about Tattoos on the Heart.)

Subversive Jesus is the story of Craig and his wife Nay’s experiment in putting the most counter-cultural teachings of Jesus into practice. When Jesus said invite the poor for a meal, they welcomed homeless friends, local crack addicts, and women from the street corner over for dinner. When Jesus proclaimed freedom for the captive, they organized Pirates of Justice flash mobs to protest cruise ship exploitation. (Yes, what that said.)

Here’s what I really, really want you to hear me say about this book:

It is an anthem for those of us living and loving on the margins.
It is a gentle invitation to those of us still trying to figure it all out.

It’s both. Beautifully, gracefully, affirmingly, Yes.
(And for the record, we are most certainly, still trying to figure it all out.)

My personal experience with books in this genre is they are often peppered with judgement and condemnation, leaving many of us feeling as if our lives are “less than” or “not relevant” to the upside-down Kingdom Jesus speaks of. Subversive Jesus is not that book. Craig is loving in his reminder that “Jesus is wildly and prophetically subversive, because beyond our affluent comfortable suburbs, all is not right.”

subversive_jesus

He recognizes that “from place to place, even Christian to Christian, a radical welcome (i.e. hospitality) will look different” as he encourages us to “widen our embrace.”

Craig explores the idea that Jesus’ teachings represented not just a ticket to heaven but a subversive plan for heaven to come here on earth and gives practical suggestions for how we can overlap our lives with those on the margins, without having to move into the slums. (Although for some of us, that is the subversive plan for our lives.)

Craig is not soft on his belief (which is also mine) that “as Jesus showed us, healing and transformation flow out of relationship – not the delivery of services.”

Yet, he gives room for each of us to discover what this can look like in our own lives, giving us stories and scriptures as we “search for the deepest inclination of our heart and follow it to where it meets the suffering of the world.”

What is the deepest inclination of your heart Friend? Follow it, and there you will find our subversive Jesus, turning the world upside down with radical hospitality, eroding the margins and closing the gap between charity and community, and inviting you to join him.

There, as Mother Teresa says, you will find your own Calcutta.

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I’m excited to give a copy of Subversive Jesus to one of YOU.
The giveaway will run until 12:00am EST Friday, May 13th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

(If you don’t win, I hope you’ll purchase Craig’s book. It’s important to note all author profits will go to support the work of Alongsiders in reaching out to the world’s most vulnerable children. Learn more about Alongsiders here.)

*I did receive a copy of this book for review, but the content of this post are my 100% authentic unbiased reflections. Ok, slightly biased because Craig is my people.

one is enough

Most days, my life is relatively quiet. Ok, actually, I have five kids. My days are never quiet. Most days, my life is relatively simple, straight-forward. I wake up, run or read or write, school my kids, do laundry, walk to the library, watch a bunch of kids ride bikes, read a book, drink some tea, and go to bed. (There’s a lot of preparing and eating food in there too.)

oneisenough3

Other days however, the sheer volume of people and needs in our neighborhood bring me to my knees. Days when there are more people than I can count. Days when culture shock rings deafening in my ears. Days when Satan pounces and tries to steal the meaning of it all.

Days when I hear his “Did God really say… ?” lies.

Did God really say he would use you here? Do you really think you can make a difference? Can’t you see the darkness? Really, all these people and only a few of you? Nah, there’s not much you can do around here…

And I start to believe it. I start to question what we’re actually accomplishing and how it will ever amount to anything and what difference will it make in a sea of poverty and oppression and injustice?

///

In Luke chapter 15, Jesus tells three parables back to back to back. You’re likely familiar with all three: the story of the lost sheep, the story of the lost coin, and lastly, the one that prompts visions of felt boards, the “Parable of the Lost Son.”

There are obvious take-aways from this triad; something was lost, it was found, there was a celebration. As I studied these passages I couldn’t help but notice what often isn’t preached: the one that is enough.

We’ve heard about repentance and the lost coming home. We’ve heard about the faithful Father, but we aren’t often encouraged that the one is enough.

The one is enough to go after.
The one is enough to search for.
The one is enough to celebrate.

Luke 15:1 says, “a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently.”  He was speaking to the outcast and marginalized, the ones who had been told they were unworthy and unlovely. Jesus shared this message of the one being enough with the one’s society had deemed “not enough.

Jesus spoke a message of enough over them because He was on a mission to do whatever it took to bring the one home. He put on flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood for the one. He wanted them to know the search for the one is warranted because of their immense value to Him.

The never stopping, never giving up, always and forever love of Jesus will move heaven and earth for the one.

///

Maybe you need to hear that you, Dear One, are enough. His unstoppable love flows all the way to your broken heart and offers healing. He is seeking your wholeness and will stop at nothing to reveal it to you.

Maybe you’re living in a place busting at the seams with need. Maybe you’re surrounded by the very people Jesus spoke to in these stories, only problem, you ain’t Jesus. You are finite. Your love has boundaries. Your body grows weak and your heart is approaching its limit.

Good news: one is enough.

The one he’s placed in front of you? That one is enough. No need to save the masses friend, that was never your job. That is Jesus’ thing. Your thing is the one.

Go after the one.
Do whatever it takes to bring the one Home.
Throw down for the one.

Because one is enough.

 

gray

Cars raced down the street last night as our kids and their friends ran through the neighbor’s yard, dodging a myriad of rusty vehicles, wielding sticks as swords and pretending to be pirate warrior beasts, or something like that.

Six months ago we made our 1,100 mile descent; left home for home. Driving away from my parent’s house as the sunlight spilled onto the rolling bluegrass, I stopped to wipe tears from my glasses and snap a few photos, sobbing for the first thirty miles or so.

The skyline brought every memory from adult life into focus.

 

I could feel the hot and humid summer air hitting my 19-year-old face, whipping my hair around as my sister and I drove over the Ohio River for our illustrious lifeguard jobs.

I could see the crisp autumn leaves crushed beneath our tires as my husband and I rode our bikes down the streets, newly engaged, free of responsibility that would soon come.

It was a life-flashing-before-my-eyes kind of experience, not because I was loosing my life, but choosing to give it away. I realize the sound of that can hum towards prideful, and truth be told there’s a hint of it there, but mostly it’s something I white knuckled over to Jesus with each passing mile.

People often ask, “Do you like Miami?” and I’m more unsure of how to answer than anything else I’m unsure of, which is quite a lot things.

///

I turned thirty-five in January, two days after finally moving into our house. I had plans to write a witty “Thoughts on Thirty-five” post; instead I ugly cried in public about a dog and overflowing toilets and a defunct washing machine and missing boxes and culture shock. I didn’t like much of anything that day, or many days following that one.

One thing I would’ve written in that post about turning thirty-five is, I’m coming to find out very little in this life is black or white, right or wrong, good or bad. 

There’s simply a lot of gray. The lines of life are blurrier than most of us are comfortable with. We can’t pinpoint a God who speaks oceans into being and breathes life into the dust of our lives. We can’t nail down Love that buys back his prostitute wife or nails his son to a cross.

We can’t corner Light that shines on streets where bullets fly, we simply can’t. 

So we do our best to rhyme with the majestic vastness of God, as Father G says, and it can’t be defined by mere words.

Do I like it here? I suppose I do, in a gray sort of way. One thing I am sure of, God is here, in these blurrier-than-we-are-comfortable-with-spaces, carrying exactly what we hand him with each passing mile.

///

slow work

/// This the the third post in our LBF:Book Club series on Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Father Greg Boyle. See posts one and two here and here. ///

slow_wait

“How do you know when to move on?” My friend asks about one of our neighbors, only half expecting an answer, letting the question float into the steamy Miami atmosphere. It lodges in my heart, jagged and sideways, not sitting quite right.

Teilhard de Chardin wrote that we must “trust in the slow work of God.” Ours is a God who waits. Who are we not to?

It takes what it takes for the great turnaround. Wait for it.

I’ve come to realize I thought I was done with waiting. Our six-year international adoption is complete. Our sons were freed from foster care and are now legally ours. We made it to Miami. Seven years of waiting for monstrous life changes; over.

Only now, I find myself waiting for life change in others. This waiting rubs against my humanity, much in the same way my own waiting did. Waiting isn’t a posture of the human heart capable of muscle memory.

My friend’s question is valid, I suppose, when we think of our finite time and resources. When we consider successful outcomes and potential returns on investment.

But, I’m coming to realize, it takes what it takes. For healing. For wholeness. For the great turnaround. And when we wander into the jurisdiction of God, we’re reminded of the slow work of God, and our only response: to wait for it.

//

I think waiting and hoping are two sides of the same coin. One doesn’t wait without hope, and there is no hoping without the slow work of waiting.

When you’ve chosen to stand where Satan threatens to steal the meaning of it all, the challenge then is to make meaning of it, even in the midst of waiting. To live in the already-not-yet of the Kingdom is to hope when hope feels futile from within and looks foolish from outside. It is a slow, often misunderstood, work.

Like Pedro, my hope can only come from being intoxicated by the dream that light is better than darkness. And when we are drunk on light, we encounter a God who waits. For us. For our neighbors. For the whole broken world.

It takes what it takes.

Wait for it.

What we ought to believe.

Not much in my life makes sense outside of God. Certainly, a place like Homeboy Industries is all folly and bad business unless the core of the endeavor seeks to imitate the kind of God one ought to believe in. In the end, I am helpless to explain why anyone would accompany those on the margins were it not for some anchored belief that the Ground of all Being thought this was a good idea. – Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart

Before we lived here, I didn’t understand this quote.

tats2

 

I first read Tattoos on the Heart last summer. We were in the thick of packing up our earthly belongings to move across the country. We used adjectives like “at-risk” and “under resourced” and “poor” to describe the neighborhood we were joining.

That was before we lived here.

Now, I agree with Father Boyle; not much in my life makes sense outside of God.

We left our hometown with five little people and nowhere to land.
We live on a street where bullets fly. 
I home school my 23-year-old neighbor.

It’s all foolish and poor financial planning to live on the gifts of others. It’s reckless choose this neighborhood. It’s absurd to be stubborn about hope.

Unless.

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Unless the core of it all is to imitate the God we ought to believe in.

But can I let you in on a little secret? Sometimes it’d be easier not to believe.

This God says we’re standing in the right place if we’re with the poor. With those who mourn. The hungry and thirsty. He says if we are persecuted and lied about and pushed around; we’re in the right place.

There’s not a one of those things the world can make sense of. Stand with the poor? Move into someone’s broken heart? Join the parched and the weary? You’ll know you’re with me when you’re lied about? Pushed around? Really Jesus?

Really.

The God we ought to believe in, He hasn’t so much promised the things this world counts as important. Or wise. Our even just a decent enough idea. Imitating Him is swimming upstream the whole dang way.

That bit about being helpless to explain these choices? I get that part now too.

tats3 tats5

 

Last summer, one of my friends who lives among the marginalized in London told me this is her favorite quote from the book.

I secretly thought maybe she was a little cruel. Like somehow she had been a mean girl in high school and hid it really well as an adult, or maybe my judge of character had started to slip.

Yes, yes, in some Church circles choosing to stand with the marginalized is sexy business. Until you do it. Until it isn’t.

tats6

 

I was recently interviewed for a podcast and, of course, the host asked me about safety in our neighborhood. I gave the standard Christian answer, you probably know the one, something about the center of God’s will being the safest place to be.

Here’s the thing: I have lots of thoughts on the topics of safety and wisdom and privilege and laying down our lives, but at the end of the day, I’m helpless to explain it outside of God thinking this is a good idea.

Helpless.

///

Are you reading along with us? What quote(s) impacted you? Was there a homie’s story that brought you to tears or made you laugh out loud? Leave your words in the comments OR meet us tonight on Facebook at 8:30pm EST. If you’re a blogger, you can link up your own post below as well.

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When souls shake.

I sat in church when I got the text: several shots fired outside our house. Then another text. And another. Everyone ok. No one hit. The house shook. The house shook. I never thought about gunshots shaking a house. I imagined they could shake a soul but I no longer imagine it. The images of violence in our nation are no longer part of my imagination. Because I chose it. We chose it. And I wonder, why, again, did we chose this? Here where bullets fly on streets as children play? Our children and our children because, remember, there are no other people’s children.

when_souls_shake

It’s enough to shake your soul.

I sat in church when I got the text, not for a sermon, no, for Joseph and his amazing technicolor coat. My big boys sandwiched me, eyes open wide as the lights dim low.

///

I closed my eyes, drew back the curtain
To see for certain what I thought I knew
Far far away, someone was weeping
But the world was sleeping
Any dream will do

///

I tried to enjoy it. Tried to be present. I tried not to think about the fact that for the first time since moving here, I didn’t want to go home.

///

I wore my coat, with golden lining
Bright colors shining, wonderful and new
And in the east, the dawn was breaking
And the world was waking
Any dream will do

///

The concession stand ran out of pizza two people too soon. We inhaled our Cheetos and candy bars before the lights laid low again, and all I could think was how my husband said he “laid low” with our three kids at home when he saw the muzzle flash. What the hell is muzzle flash?

We slipped back into our seats for Act II of Joseph’s story.

///

A crash of drums, a flash of light
My golden coat flew out of sight
The colors faded into darkness
I was left alone

///

The lump in my throat grew as we approached the corner where the shots were fired just a couple of hours earlier. I expected it to look different from when we left. It didn’t.

Two neighbors stood outside, their porcelain smiles bright across ebony skin, a light in the dark evening sky. A couple of kids rode croggy on a bike.

I sent the big boys off for jammies and teeth brushing. My husband gave me a brief rundown of the night’s events. “What kind of gun shakes a house?” I ask, not because I don’t already know the answer, but because I don’t want to know it.

///

May I return to the beginning
The light is dimming, and the dream is too
The world and I, we are still waiting
Still hesitating
Any dream will do

///

The crashing waves of violence-prayer-violence-prayer-violence-prayer are as familiar to our team as the waves of the Atlantic. The push and pull of Light and darkness is ever-present here. A couple of years ago, as a battle raged on the streets and in the heavenlies, one of our neighbors smashed his semi-automatic with a sledgehammer on the sidewalk. An outward expression of inward heart change.

It is in prophetic moments like that one my hope to dream is renewed. After all, it was God himself who said Light would shine out of darkness. 

And when you dare to dream, you bear witness to the Light.
When you dare to dream, families are made whole.
When you dare to dream, weapons are laid low.

And when weapons are laid laid low at the foot of the cross, that majestic and scandalous place where the last are first, where the poor inherit the Kingdom and where boundless compassion swallows our fear? That’s when the shalom of Heaven touches Earth and the Kingdom come is here and now. That’s when the beatitudes break through like the scorching Miami sun.

When we dare to dream that the God of the Bible really is who He says He is and actually is already doing what He says He will do, our souls shake for an altogether different reason. We get to participate in Kingdom work we would never even be able to see otherwise.

Courage is our nature in Christ friends, may we not allow fear to stand in the way of walking in it. 


 

tatts_onthe_heart

If you’d like to explore this idea of boundless compassion, I invite you to join me in the first ever Light Breaks Forth Book Club! Starting next month, we will be walking through Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, written by Father Greg Boyle. Father Boyle has lived among gang members in LA for over twenty years, showing them the boundless compassion of Christ. This book is one I continually come back to in my quest for loving others unconditionally and with joy. All the details can be found here and the book is on SALE on Amazon for less than ten bucks!!! I hope you’ll join us!

 


 

 

 

Privilege and Education

My neighbor called today and asked if I would home school her. She’s 23.

privilege and education

Sometimes my privilege smacks me upside the head. Today is one of those days.

Alisha** dropped out of high school in the tenth grade. I don’t know what all has happened between now and then. I’m guessing a lifetime. Now, as a mom of four, she wants to get her GED and I have the privilege of coming alongside her.

You may have seen on Facebook or Instagram, I’m working on a post about homeschooling. It’s woven into my DNA, this deep desire to encourage – particularly women and, more specifically, women who are also moms. My plan was to write a witty little post, busting some myths with the end goal of encouraging women who desire to home school but don’t think they have what it takes. 

I quickly realized how heated the conversation of schooling is, how rapidly and violently it will boil over if left unattended. I took a deep breath, a few days, and came to realize I can’t write that post without first writing this one.

privilege and education foodtruck privilege and education

Anyone who has the choice of where and how to educate their children is making that choice out of extreme privilege. I’m going to bet, if you are actually making that decision and it’s not being made for you based on citizenship, cultural identity, ethnicity, religion, income, or gender, you don’t take it lightly. You are researching and praying and visiting schools and talking to teachers and administrators and other parents. You’re making educated, albeit privileged, decisions about the education of your kids. And you should.

I refuse to argue over the best schooling method. Frankly, I don’t care if you unschool, home school, public school, private school, world school or if you agree with Classical, Charlotte Mason or Montessori methods of schooling. What I care about is encouraging you where you are AND lifting our eyes to the fact that most mamas in this world don’t have the choice of where and how to school their kids, if they have the privilege of schooling them at all.

Education should not be a special advantage granted only to some, but in our broken world this basic human right is not extended to MANY. 124 million children and adolescents have never started school or have dropped out in the last few years. That’s 1 in 10 children worldwide not in school. Around 30 million out-of-school children of primary school age live in sub-Saharan Africa and 10 million in South and West Asia.*

53% of the world’s out-of-school children are girls and 2/3 of the illiterate people in the world are women. Worldwide 780 million adults and 103 million young people (ages 15–24) are illiterate.

According to Compassion International, one of the biggest contributors to global poverty is lack of access to education. Just imagine the barriers illiteracy and lack of education add to the life of a person already living on the margins. Jobs are not likely. You are dependent on the government, if aid even exists in your country, and your chances of malnutrition increase. Your chances of contracting HIV/AIDS increase 75 percent. Your chances of being trafficked increase – you are one of the most vulnerable people on the planet.*

And these effects not only consume you, they consume your future children as well. A child who is born to an educated mother is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of five.

Such a strong correlation has been seen between education and contracting HIV/AIDS that education is considered a “social vaccine” for girls in avoiding HIV.*

Friends, let us not get caught up in the division and diversion of conversations about the best way to educate a child when millions of children are not being given the basic human right of education.

I am not saying don’t be wise. I am saying the arguments over the best way to educate our children are divisive and create a diversion from the millions of children who are not being educated at all.

I spent a week at a training in LA  last month and a bit of time learning how to tell stories well. Stories that invite you, the reader, into another persons reality. I learned stories do a much better job than facts at engaging areas of your brain that release dopamine, make it easier for you to remember the story, experience the same emotions as the people in the story itself and even allow you to translate the story into your own idea.

privilege and education

Here’s the problem: Our stories are sacred. I cannot tell you the tapestry of my neighbor’s life, the circumstances that engulfed her as a teenager and forced her to drop out of high school… Her story is not mine to share, no matter what it does for your dopamine.

But, I do know this: While there are other people’s stories, there are no other people’s children. Let’s not waste anymore time dividing, let’s lock arms and encourage one another to do the best we can, to keep our eyes on Jesus, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:28-31, ESV

Take a moment to reflect on this passage and how it effects your views on education for children in your own backyard and around the world.

The witty little post busting some home school myths with the end goal of encouraging those of you who desire to home school but don’t think you have what it takes is coming atcha Monday.

**Alisha’s name was changed to protect her privacy.
*Statistics can be found here, here, here, here.

God, where are you?

Three. The number of shootings in our neighborhood in the last month.

Three. The number of students inside the school room pierced by a stray bullet.

Three. The number of middle school girls I spend time with on Thursday evenings.

Three. The number of times I run each week, giving me ample opportunity to wonder and question and grow soreness in my aging knees.

Questions whirl in my head like a tornado. Doubts creep in like the ants feasting on our dining room floor. Feelings of overwhelmedness hang on me like a tired three-year old.

Three.

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I don’t have a word for this year. Or God didn’t give me one. However you want to see it. I didn’t write down a single goal. I haven’t resolved to eat better or get more sleep or brush my teeth before bed. I’m not sure those things will ever actually happen, so why write them down year after year?

I am on a journey though, looking for God in all the places. I’ve spent plenty of breaths not looking for him at all, or assuming my plans are his without consulting him. It’s an empty, regrettable way to live.

Sometimes darkness feels so pervasive. Every street. Every school. Every system. But the Word says God fills the heavens and the earth; there are no secret places! He is in our desperate pleadings, our broken marriages, our jacked up relationships, our addictions, our poverty, our foster care system, our nation’s bulging jails. His presence is in each and every dark and unseen place on this broken and beautiful planet.

I want to know what He’s up to in those places.

I want to see the beauty in the faces of the dozens of kids on our block. I want to hear the life in my neighbor’s voice as he greets me in the morning. I want to look with awe at the blue and gold macaws that perch in the tree across the street. I want us all to stand together in the tension of great need and our great God.

God4 God3 God2

My prayer has become “God, show me where you are at work so I can join you there.”

Where are you at work in my marriage?
Where are you at work in my kids lives?
In my neighborhood?
In my extended family?
In this persons life? And that person’s life? And their life?
In my heart?
In the foster care system?
In our justice system?
Reconciling racial tensions in our country?
Among the members of ISIS?
In the Church?

He has dominion over it all friends, but it is so terribly easy to get caught up in thinking we’ve been abandoned, or that sin is just too dark, or that injustice far too systemic, or that addiction has gone on way too long. Those are lies from the pit of hell.

He is here, and maybe, maybe our hopelessness over such situations stems from realizing our striving won’t do the job. Our best efforts don’t yield the return on investment we were hoping for. I’ve come to realize my own method of operating is surmising I might do BIG things for God; instead of letting Him be God and me just do the next good thing He’s put in front of me to do.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
– Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV

He’s here. He’s at work. Praise His name, darkness is not dark to Him. And, praise His name, He is God and I am not.

I want to join him there, in those places where He is already working. It’s a simple question really. There’s nothing profound about seeking God in the midst of our lives and the world around us. It’s just that most of my life I haven’t done it.

///

People ask me regularly what they can do in their own context. I interpret that question to mean: How do I love the poor/lonely/outcast/marginalized while staying where I am?

My answer is two-part: First, are you sure God wants you to stay where you are? Really sure? And second, Ask God where He is working and join Him there. In the words of David Platt, you don’t have to start a new organization, or write a book, or start a blog. Just make disciples.

David_Platt

It’s really that simple friends. We muck it all up but we don’t need to. Love God. Love one another. That’s the what.

The how is between you and God. And it’s one hundred percent dependent on the where of God. How you love others well will depend solely on where God is already at work in their lives.

So let’s ask Him. 

 

Birthdays and Neighbors

I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror, the one I don’t usually have time to stop and look into. My sun-kissed shoulders reminded me we’re in Miami. Sometimes I forget. A few days ago I walked outside from an overly air-conditioned Starbucks, bracing myself for winter only to be met by luke-warm 70 degree air. Oh, right, I thought to myself.

 

We celebrated our oldest’s birthday last weekend. Each year I am reminded by how intrinsically wrong it is that I wasn’t there on his actual birth day and how intrinsically wrong it is that the one who birthed him isn’t here on this day. It’s the tension we hold in this broken and beautiful world. 

We’d only been in our house for 11 days when his birthday rolled around and we had three extra kids for the week while their parents were out-of-town so a “party” wasn’t really planned or necessary.

We fell in love with our house because, not only is it the perfect size and layout for our family, it’s also locationally dreamy. As we walked outside with our cooler and circus on wheels, I lost count at 14 kids on our short block. It felt wrong to walk past them with a cake and a cooler full of ice cream but I knew we didn’t have enough for everyone.

Our son had asked to invite one of the boys across the street but we weren’t sure how to do that without inviting the whole block. I felt conflicted – invite them all and pray for a fish and loaves experience, or invite no one and keep our birthday goods to ourselves?

birthdays_and_neighbors

By the time William unchained the bikes/scooters/skateboards, there were only a few kids left in front of our house. So I asked them if they were allowed to go to the park alone. One nodded yes with a bit of hesitation. Another ran into the street and shouted across, asking for and receiving permission.

So we were off toward the park; eleven kids, a cake and a cooler full of ice cream.

I sat the cake down on the picnic table, as far away from the bird poop as I could. We slid eight candles into the icing but the wind only let us light one. We sang Happy Birthday, our neighbors unsure of whose birthday it actually was and passed out cake and ice cream as fast as we could.

Screaming children are a trauma trigger for me. I tried to block out the little one across the park, crying his brains out on a bench while his dad played basketball. I tried not to think about what need he had that wasn’t being met in that moment and all the other moments leading up to this one. I tried not to judge his father for choosing to play ball over consoling his boy. I tried not to imagine how long he could scream for.

Most of the kids gulped down their cake and quickly moved on to the playground. The birthday boy lingered at the table a bit longer for an extra slice. I was just sitting down for a bowl of rocky road when he interrupted my first bite, “This is better than I was expecting.” I was a bit taken back by how observant he was. How did he know his cake came from a box this year? Before I could inquire he added, “I didn’t know our neighbors would be here. I’m glad they’re here.”

I second-guessed myself all evening and I’m sure we did a dozen things wrong. It was just three neighbors. It was just cake and ice cream. It was just a birthday party at the park. But it was the beginning and I’m glad we’re here.

a weary world rejoices [when bullets fly]

When bullets fly, suddenly everything you said about safety being an illusion becomes a mirage you actually want to see. Just tell me what I need to take to hallucinate safety. Cloak my family in that illusion, please-and-thank-you, because I don’t much care for the sight of police cars and caution tape.

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We spent our last year in Louisville “raising support” – meeting with potential financial and prayer partners. With the help of a Powerpoint presentation, we shared our family’s back story, the history of our Miami neighborhood, statistics about poverty and people unreached by the Good News.

As a picture of an AK-47 flashed on the screen, we narrated a shooting that took place last summer. “It’s not a particularly violent neighborhood” we would say, “there is some targeted violence…” (As if bullets contain some sort of global positioning system) “toward people involved in things they shouldn’t be.” (As if somehow being involved in those things makes a bullet intended for those people acceptable.)

Our aim was to calm the nerves of loved ones, to somehow communicate that even though we think safety is an illusion, we’ll be “safe” there, in that neighborhood with “targeted” violence…

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I was warned about culture shock; no one told me it would be this hard to b r e a t h.

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When bullets fly you wonder, Do I really have the power to push back darkness? The spiritually correct way of saying this is: you “question the call.”

But what I’m really questioning is, Do I even want to? Do I want to be light in the dark when streetlights are overpowered by strobing red and blue on every corner?

Do I want to?

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Counting the cost is no one time event. It’s a minute-by-minute decision to choose the margins over the mainstream, the center of God’s will over the illusion of safety, dependence on Him over a steady paycheck.

When the water stops running and groceries are hard to come by and you can’t read the street signs and you find a lizard in your hair you ask…

Do I really even want to be in the center of His will if it’s on the margins of society?

It’s tempting to think plumbing problems and internetlessness and driving miles for groceries and lizards in the bathtub are things that make you a “real missionary.”

I’ve seen the looks on faces as people struggle to understand a missionary on domestic soil. But there is no such thing as a “real missionary” because Jesus didn’t distinguish between Jerusalem,  Judea, Samaria, or the ends of the Earth.

And frankly, anywhere bullets fly on streets where children play, that is the end.

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My friend Liz says this Advent is basically saying, “I’m going to be more stubborn about hope than you. I’m going to be more stubborn about possibility than you. I just am.”

The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices…

How in the world does a weary world rejoice? I’ve been asking myself all week, or all month, or all year. I’m not sure how long…

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But I am, I am, stubbornly believing Christmas is the shadow of a reality that’s on it’s way.

I’m rejoicing not only because Jesus came once on a scandalous night in Bethlehem, but because HE IS COMING BACK.

And when he does His sword will stop bullets.
His justice and mercy will drown out darkness.
His tattoo will read “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
Oppressive leaders will get on their knees.
Those on the margins will be welcomed in.
The weary, the tatted, the bruised, the poor, the hopeless and those at the end – He’ll wipe their tears and put death to death.

That is t h r i l l i n g Good News. It is the hope-giving, rejoice-worthy reality I’m setting my weary soul down on.

And it’s big enough for the whole weary world.

(I came across the below video after having written the first draft of this post. It made me feel right at home and I think it might do the same for you. I dare you to get through it without tears.)

#dothebravethingscared

I want to tell you everything is hard. Except that’s a lie. And it’s also comparatively, an incredibly privileged statement. Hard like fleeing from ISIS? Hard like being a sex slave? Hard like watching my children starve?

No.

Instead I will tell you everything feels harder here in Miami. Heavy, like morning fog that just won’t lift. Harder in subtle I-can’t-understand-what-you’re-saying ways. In I-can’t-go-anywhere-without-GPS ways. In why-is-parking-so-damn-expensive ways.

#dothebravethingscared

I try to focus on the good things, they are a’plenty after all. But my thoughts quickly drift to a wasteland of unknowns…

 

Where will we live at the end of this month?
Will our home loan fall through? (It did.)
What if it doesn’t fall through and we actually buy a house?
What does our future look like?
Is our van going to die soon?
How are we going to afford Christmas presents?
Will we adopt again?
Can we get a dog? (We did.)
What color will our bedroom be?
What if William doesn’t like the same colors I do?

 

 
Suddenly I am sure of ZERO things.

 

Friends, I want you to know I’m scared. I want you to know it because I’ve vowed to be a truth-teller in this space, but I also want you to know it because there is power in our “me toos.”

 

Maybe you can relate?

 

I’m scared of having a mortgage.
I’m scared of the permanency of buying a house in an at-risk neighborhood.
I’m scared for my family’s safety.
I’m scared God won’t provide.
I’m scared God won’t provide the way I want him to.
I’m scared the kids in our neighborhood will negatively influence my young kids.
I’m scared my husband won’t like the colors I picked for our house.
I’m scared our neighborhood will gentrify.
I’m scared our friends will move to Ethiopia.
I’m scared the moms in our neighborhood will find me unrelatable because I have the privilege of homeschooling. And a hundred other privileges they don’t have…

 

Most “brave” things people point to in my past haven’t felt brave at all – most times I felt scared. I just did brave things scared.

 

I suppose there are some truly brave people out there, but I think most brave people are a lot like me… They just do the brave thing scared. And that’s ok.

 

Maybe your brave thing is flying across the ocean to bring a child into your family. Or maybe it’s walking across the room to embrace the one you’ve already been given.

 

Maybe your brave thing is moving across the ocean to love people who don’t look like you. Or maybe it’s walking across the street to love your neighbor.

 

Maybe your brave thing is being single beyond the age you expected to be. Or maybe it’s loving your lost husband.

 

Maybe your brave thing is showing up every. day. to the life God’s given you when it’s not the story you would’ve written.

 

Whatever your brave thing is today – I am standing with you – trusting the fog will lift for us all, to reveal a vast sisterhood choosing to #dothebravethingscared and pouring out our “me toos” on the altar of solidarity.

 

What is your brave thing? Let’s cheer each other on in the comments, remember there is power in our “me toos.”

When God Says No

Miami’s tree game is on point.

Good parents say no.

Good parents say no.

Good parents say no. Good parents say no.

And my kids are in. heaven. They have been climbing all the trees since we arrived on Halloween.

Good parents say no.

While we wait for the Lord to show us some permanent housing, we’re graciously being hosted on a working fruit farm. Basically, if it weren’t for the fact that they have to eat, I could go from sunrise to sunset and never see my children. They are enamored with the land, the trees, the fruit, the coconuts (also, fruit? Uhm…) and the neighbor’s dogs. They have never had this much land or freedom, and likely never will again.

Earlier this week, one of them shared that an unnamed Brother climbed a tree all the way up to the roof. And then got onto said roof to walk around, you know, 25 feet above the ground.

Good parents say no.

When I explained to Brother that climbing on the roof was not allowed (which we had previously discussed, because BOYS) he was D E V A S T A T E D and could not comprehend, why in the world of fruit farms, I would deny him such a basic human right as playing on the roof.

Commence weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

I tried explaining that his life is more important than fun. That safety holds a higher priority than breaking limbs. Let’s just say… he didn’t see it that way.

I told him No, and he didn’t get it. His little brain couldn’t comprehend it.

But that’s what good parents do. Good parents say No. Because good parents know more about life than their children do. Good parents know what is good for their children and what will bring them harm.

Good parents say No, and God is a good Father, so sometimes He says No to his children too.

Sometimes there’s something we want – in my case, a house – and He says No because He knows better. But we don’t always see eye to eye with the Almighty, so we do some weeping and gnashing of our own. We stomp our feet and cross our arms and shake our fists at the Heavens.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN NO? That doesn’t make any sense! Have you thought about this? Have you considered that? What exactly are you doing up there anyway?

Matt Chandler has said we have no right to shake our fist at the Heavens, and while I love almost everything that comes out of his mouth, I don’t think this is a situation of “rights.” I think it’s about relationship. And in my realest, rawest relationships, I sometimes shake my fist. I sometimes stomp my feet. I sometimes cross my arms (and ok, roll my eyes) and I let the real emotions flow out unhindered.

I think God’s ok with that. I think He can handle that. I even think He welcomes it. Because He’s a good Father, always on the lookout for teaching moments. Besides, He knows that junk is in my heart, what’s the point in tidying it up for Him?

When someone we love gets a No from God, the natural human response is: Surely something better is just around the corner! 

To which I say, Eh, maybe.

Maybe you didn’t get that job because a better one is coming.
Maybe that relationship ended because a better one is on the way.
Maybe that medication didn’t work because a miracle is coming down the pike.

But maybe not.

Maybe the answer is No and something “better” – by our finite worldly standards – isn’t around the corner. Maybe the answer is No because God is a good Father and He knows what we need and what we don’t and He can see eternity and we can see none of it in comparison and maybe, when God said in Isaiah that His ways are higher than ours, that’s actually what He meant.

His ways are higher, His thoughts are greater. Does that make them better? Yes. Does that make the No easier to swallow? Eh, sometimes. 

sidewalks

sidewalks

Our Louisville neighborhood was the most diverse in the city. People from 80 nations made their way to our long blocks and tree-lined streets.

It wasn’t unusual to see women in traditional Somali dresses walking down the sidewalk with laundry, bags of groceries, or even a coffee table on their head.

Our neighbors catty corner across the street celebrated many marriages in their yard, complete with Vietnamese decorations and fireworks. Red and white streamers with flecks of gold confetti littering their yard the next morning.

There were groups of teenagers – sometimes two, sometimes ten – who walked down the middle of the street, as if the sidewalks didn’t exist. They looked odd – and too old – for navy blue pants and uniform red polos. I imagine they didn’t like wearing such clothes. I wouldn’t.

If I’m being honest, their not-walking-on-the-sidewalk bothered me.

Why walk down the middle of the street? Can’t they see we have sidewalks? The street is for c-a-r-s.

I surmised maybe they didn’t have sidewalks where they came from… That’s what it means to give someone the benefit of the doubt, right?

One afternoon, a group of them were particularly loud, and I feared they would wake my sleeping babe, so I scowled at them out the window. Most of them scowled back and shouted words I couldn’t understand but interpreted just fine. One of them kicked over our garbage can, just in case anything was lost in translation.

After they passed, one boy came back. He picked up the garbage can, shot me a smile, and ran to catch up with the group.

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Once we ate lunch at a Mexican joint in a different part of town. We didn’t eat out much, and I don’t remember why, on that particular day, we stopped for Mexican. There were no tables inside large enough to seat our family so we pushed together a few wire patio tables with matching chairs outside on the sidewalk.

Our waitress was nice. Slow, but nice. I think all waitresses seem slow to moms of five small children who are near death by starvation. Glory spilled water on her shirt so I let her take it off. After all, we were sitting outside and it was warm. Early summer I think.

We cut the boys off on chips and salsa so they killed time by catching beetles on the sidewalk. They knew the type of beetle. They had read it in a book about bugs. It had a green iridescent shell. I don’t know it’s name.

“Do the sidewalks in Miami look like this?”
“Like what?”
“Like this, with cracks and weeds. All broken.”
“Oh. I don’t know, why?”
“Because it reminds me of where I use to live. I don’t like sidewalks that are cracked and broken.”

At the age of seven he’s already been told the sidewalks we walk on reveal something about us. He assumes if the sidewalks in your neighborhood are cracked and broken, you must be too. He knows people treat you differently if your sidewalk is jacked and the weeds are growing through. He knows appearances really do matter and his is not the right one to have. He knows sidewalks are concrete mirrors.

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It’s amusing how landlords and listing agents try to hide the fact that a particular house is in an at-risk neighborhood.

A stones throw away from… someplace better.
Walking distance to… someplace better.
Near… someplace better.

Before arriving in Miami, I would occasionally come across a house online close to our price range and family size and send the link to friends already in the neighborhood. They would respond with something like “too expensive” or “too small”, but usually it was “that street is gentrifying…”

Once I found what seemed like a good fit, but the listing didn’t include an address. A good sign, I thought, another way of hiding the location of the house. I texted a picture to my friend to see if she recognized it. She didn’t.

Her only response, “There are sidewalks. Our neighborhood doesn’t have sidewalks.”

Six Books for the Justice Seeker in Your Life (Also, you.)

You guys, it’s DECEMBER. What in the what. How did this happen? Is it the 80 degree weather and palm trees, or is everyone feeling dumbstruck by December?

(Don’t hate because of the aforementioned weather and palm trees. There are also snakes and crazy drivers and everything is hard here. Really, everything. But that’s another post for another day.)

So BOOKS!

Christmas is my favorite time to stock up on great reads! I have some seriously generous people in my life, and the one gift I never feel guilty about receiving is a good book.

Here are a few of my favorites from 2015:

 

And a quote from each, because quotes are fun.

“The only response to our immeasurable loss is God’s immeasurable love.”
Marcia Owens

“I don’t want my kids safe and comfortable. I want them BRAVE. I don’t want to teach them to see danger under every rock, avoiding anything hard or not guaranteed or risky. They are going to encounter a very broken world soon, and if they aren’t prepared to wade into difficult territory and contend for the kingdom against obstacles and tragedies and hardships, they are going to be terrible disciples.

I don’t want to be the reason my kids choose safety over courage. I hope I never hear them say, “Mom will freak out,” or “My parents will never agree to this.” May my fear not bind their purpose here. Scared moms raise scared kids. Brave moms raise brave kids. Real disciples raise real disciples.”
Jen Hatmaker

“If we are going to be faithful witnesses to the message and mission of Jesus in vulnerable neighborhoods, we must expand our current paradigm of gospel-centered ministry to make certain that it puts the millions of people surviving on the fringes of our world at the center of our concern, because the margins are at the center of God’s concern.
Noel Castellanos

“Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”
Gregory Boyle

“Ours is a God who waits. Who are we not to?”
Gregory Boyle

“The fate of millions of people—indeed the future of the black community itself—may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society.”
Michelle Alexander

“The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It’s when mercy is least expected that it’s most potent—strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering. It has the power to heal the psychic harm and injuries that lead to aggression and violence, abuse of power, mass incarceration.”
Bryan Stevenson

Full disclosure y’all: these are affiliate links. That means when you click over to Amazon and buy a book, a small portion of your purchase goes toward our ministry in inner-city Miami. Gracias!!!

And so we go.

“The Lord said to Abram:
Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house and
go to the land that I’m going to show you.”
Genesis 12:1, emphasis mine

So Abram went… and so we go.

Each week my husband and I alternate attending our daughter’s class with her at church. Yesterday I joined a small group of two and three year olds in tiny wooden chairs to eat raisins and recap last weeks story. After recounting a surprising number of facts about the tower of babel, we sat criss-cross-applesauce in a circle on the floor. While my friend of over a decade opened up God’s word, there was the occasional rolling around on the rug, taking off shoes and chatter about owies and boo-boos, yet somehow she made it through the story of God sending Abram out.

 We acted out a fun little poem that depicts in four lines God sending Abram:

Time to go,
You must leave the place you know.
Abram traveled with his kin,
To the place he’d soon live in.

In an effort to encourage my daughter to participate, I stood up and tapped my wrist, where a watch would be if I wore one. It’s time to go! the class shouted in their small but boisterous voices. You must leave the place you know, they trail off, pointing out ahead with their chubby fingers. We march round the room, pretending to be Abram and his kin, to the place he’d soon live in, we say, making an a-frame roof with our hands.

The kid’s lesson revolved around moving – have you ever moved? How did it feel? What did Abram take with him?

While my friend discussed these things with the little people, God was teaching me a different lesson. Abram and his family moved, yes, but my head and heart were fixated on the fact that not only was God sending them away from what they knew, He was sending them to a yet-to-be-revealed land. God knew where he was sending them – He’d known from the beginning of time – but Abram? Abram had no clue. 

I don’t really have to imagine what Abram’s conversations were like with his friends and family as he prepared for this move; I have experienced my own version in the past few weeks. As our departure for Miami draws near, I’ve explained dozens of times that Yes, we are leaving for Miami on Thursday but no, we do not (yet) have a home.

People are concerned and confused – a diagnosis of crazy implied in their well-meaning follow-up questions. Where will you stay? What will you do with your stuff? How will that work with five kids? My answers are a hazy shade of Genesis 12:1. God said it’s time to go, and to be patient in housing. He knows what we need, he’s brought us this far, he will not leave us homeless now…

I’m not arrogant enough to think God’s specific blessing for Abram transcends to my individual family, but you know all those stars in the heavens Abraham couldn’t count? Well, those starts are us Friend; me and you and our families.

The offspring Abraham couldn’t count and no doubt couldn’t wrap his mind around, the offspring that included Isaac and Jacob and Jesse and the God-Man, roll out all the way to us. We are those countless stars in the sky, set in the expanse of the heavens to give light to a dark world. Our job isn’t much different today than the assignment given to those physical stars all those thousands of years ago. 

And the God who hung them, well, He is faithful to fulfill his promises. He’s done it already and he’s still doing it in the not yet, in the land he is going to show us.

So Abram went… and so we go. 

If you’re the praying type, would you pray for us to be faithful in patience as we wait for the Lord to show us the home he has already set aside for our family? Thanks friends!

On Labels for People

I’ve long admired writers who can sit down, write a post, and hit publish. Like, they write out their actual thoughts and feelings and let the world read them in real-time. I’ll probably edit this post about ten times if/before I publish it.

But I hope not. I want to grow in my ability to trust my own words. To trust my thoughts for being an authentic part of me I unashamedly share with the world because I believe in words and I believe in myself.

We’ll see.

labels_for_people

We are likely moving two weeks from today. Across the country. Into an at-risk neighborhood.

Which leads me to the first reason I’m having a hard time getting my thoughts out at the moment: labels. For people. Why? Why do I feel the need to tell you we are moving into an “at-risk” neighborhood to live among “the poor” and work with “broken” families?

The unfortunate truth is because those labels can sound sexy. Brave. Admirable. I want you to think those things about me. This is all subconscious, of course. But it’s there nevertheless.

I would never introduce myself that way to my new neighbors. Hello, I’m Lindsy and we’ve moved into this at-risk neighborhood to live with you poor people and work with your broken family. Wanna come over for lunch?

Can you imagine?

So why do I feel comfortable saying those things to you? To my friends? To our Partners? I’m still processing this, but I think, in part, it’s because we humans like to hang out with people like us. When we refer to a neighborhood as “at-risk”, it’s because we haven’t moved into it. When we refer to a woman as “vulnerable”, it’s because we haven’t become her friend. When we refer to a child as an “orphan”, it’s because we haven’t taken the time/money/sweat/tears to know their name.

When we’re with people who are like us – in color, economic status, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, etc. – we don’t even have to consider how our words might affect those not like us.

My head is a swirl with thoughts on why we as humans feel the need to classify other humans. I can make the argument we were all created in the imago dei, I know in my heart this to be true, but the words “orphan” and “vulnerable” and “at-risk” still come out of my mouth. And they create an unbreachable chasm between “us” and “them”.

There’s no bow to tie neatly on this topic. I don’t have answers. I just know the more I learn about God and people, the more I just want to love people, not because it’s sexy or brave or bold, because we were all made in the image of the same God and we’re not projects – not any one of us – we are Image Bearers.

Have you considered the way we use labels to describe people not like us? What thoughts do you have on why we do this?

You Are Better [When Stories Collide]

Last week I had an unusual, life-changing experience. It was like the Holy Spirit had taken over my body and I was not responding out of my own consciousness. Does that sound weird? Well, it was.

I’ve struggled with whether or not to share it here, if so how, in what way, can I do so respectfully? In many ways, this story feels deeply personal. But, as a new pastor friend said to me earlier this week, story is our currency. And I believe that. I believe our stories have value because God writes them and uses them. Revelation 12:11 says “They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony”

Our stories are the currency God uses to connect us to one another and to push back the lie that our experiences don’t matter. Friends, they matter. My story, your story, our collective stories – matter. So very much, they matter. When we give testimony to who God is and what He is doing in our lives, we are defeating the evil one and his lies, Revelations says so.

Stories have I N C R E D I B L E power. Here is part of mine.

Your Story Matters
My life changed on this bench last Tuesday.


I was sitting in the neighborhood coffee shop where I work a couple mornings a week. My “work time” was coming to a close and I began putting away my laptop, packing up my planner, journal…  I noticed a young woman come into the shop, marching like a soldier on a mission. Her face was twisted with anger. rage. sadness. deep, deep, deep hurt.
 

I took one last sip of my now cold peach white tea. I heard a woman’s voice grow louder and her language, spicier. I decided not to look, I didn’t want to draw attention or embarrass those involved.

The other coffee shop patrons were sitting around tables, sipping coffee, enjoying the beginning of crisp air and scarves, once-but-no-longer oblivious to the activity.

It hits me, as brokenness forces its way out of her mouth – I know more about the situation than I realized. I know Her. Acquaintancely. We’ve met a couple times. I’ve admired her hair and strong and brave and daring demeanor.

She looks so much different wearing anger. rage. sadness. + deep, deep, deep hurt. 

In this moment, her strong and brave and daring are hemorrhaging over the table on which she now stands and gushing out onto the floor. You could cut the awkward, and the pain, with a knife.

I never knew, what I would do in the face of someone else’s violent pain. It’s not a place I’ve often visited. But something inside me was longing, is longing, for more for Her. For her story to end differently than this.

So I grabbed her arm. EXACTLY what a sane person would do when an almost complete stranger is in a fit of range. Except NOT AT ALL what a sane person would do.

I suggest we take a walk. She does not want to take a walk. She does not want to go outside. She does not want to be nice. She screams at me. You don’t have to be nice, I say, but let’s go outside anyway.

You story matters.

There are more words. Hers, hot and hurting. Mine, involuntary, but intentional. I feel like I am having an out-of-body experience, flying above the alley where we now stand.

I won’t let them treat me like this she says, and I agree, without knowing what “this” even is. No, you shouldn’t. Take it out on me, I say, not really knowing what “it” is either. Y E L L at me.

Our faces are inches apart and I realize, she might hit me. Like, really hit me. I decide I am ok with that.

“Don’t do anything you will regret,” I say, but I know those words come too late.

<More words.>

I wish I could remember her name. I wish I were better at remembering names.

I call Her Babe. That’s weird. It’s what I call my husband, which I would tell Her if our circumstances were different. If she weren’t screaming and cussing at me on the sidewalk. But if that weren’t the case, I would’ve stopped to ask her name.

At this point, I don’t know why. Why am I standing here on this sidewalk with this hurting stranger? Why do I so fundamentally, down in my innermost parts, want to stand with her?

The strategy of Jesus is not centered in taking the right stand on issues, but rather in standing in the right place – with the outcasts and those relegated to the margins. – Father Greg Boyle

I watch her speed away and my eyes grow wet. I sit down on the green bench and pray. I pray for Her whose name I cannot remember to know the love of her Maker. I ask Him to wrap His arms around Her and melt her with His love.

And then I sit there, on the green bench, for a while, unsure of what just happened or why or what to do next. I sit there unsure of What in the hell I was thinking?

Your story matters.

If we could rewind, back to when I “hugged” her and together we walked slowly out the door, like two clumsy dancers, stories colliding, I would tell her:

You are better than this. I know I don’t know you, but I don’t have to – I know this – You are better because you were made in the image of God. You Are Better. Because of Him, you.are.better. And you are not defined by this moment. This moment is not your story. Your darkest hour, your worst moment, it does not define you. That is not your story. Your story was set in motion before time and your name, the one I can’t remember, was given to you before the womb of the woman who carried you even began to swell. And, SisterStrangerFriend, your story is not over yet. It does not end here, on this sidewalk, on this cool fall day.

I know all that now. Because my story crashed into Her’s. And the next time I encounter the soul of another whose story is being conquered instead of conquering, I will know what to say.

Because of Her, I will name the good thing, the better thing – the God thing – about them. The dark moment does not have to be their story either. They are better. You are better. Because He is better.

Before the green bench, I didn’t have words for this inherent, down-in-my-marrow feeling that everyone should know they are better than their weakest moment because they were made in the image of an unshakeable, all-powerful, Holy God.

I know the words now.

resetting

Eight. That’s the number of times I have scrubbed our toilets in the last two and a half weeks. No doubt a world record in this house.

Trusting God and resetting my prayers.

We have two toilets which means I have scrubbed 16 toilets in barely as many days. The first dozen or so times, I prayed as I scrubbed, “Lord, please let these people buy our house. Let this be the last time I have to clean this house. My feet hurt. I’m exhausted. I don’t know how many more times we can do this. Please just let these people be The. People.”

But, they weren’t. And in addition to wanting to gouge my eyes out with a toilet bowl brush, I began to feel a tug from the Lord, reminding me of what I’ve sensed all along – I have no need to be anxious about the houses on either end of this 1,000 mile move. He’s got it. He’ll send a buyer to us when He determines we are ready for Miami and He’ll open up the perfect house for our family there – on His hand-picked street, with hand-picked neighbors – when we need it.

The funny thing about tension is, sometimes you have to lean into it to feel secure. It’s exactly the tension in a slackline that allows you to move from point A to point B. That’s a lesson I’ve been avoiding for the last month or so. Which, by the way, avoiding lessons from God is a laughable endeavor. Kinda like when my three year old “hides” by covering her eyes with her hands…

Yeah Lord, I know you’ve been telling me all along not to worry about this, but that feels a little weird, a little arrogant, a little like I wouldn’t have anything else to do but, I don’t know, TRUST IN YOU. So, I’ma go ahead and pray like you haven’t told me to cool it all along and act like a maniac everytime we have a showing. If you could just hurry up and bring The Buyers already, that would fit in with my We’re Moving in October timeline, MK?

I’m often tricked into thinking confirmation from the Lord will come in the way of His timing matching up perfectly with mine. The Lord will have gotten my Google Calendar invite and respond with “Yes, Child, I will be there because you have impeccable planning and timing skills.”

But often, He doesn’t. And actually, that has happened zero times.

What does it look like to lean into the tension of trusting God in the midst of the unknown? You guys, I’m still figuring that out. I’m still trying to reset my expectations, reset my prayers, and reset my everyday-living-life to reflect my trust in Him. It started at the toilets. Instead of praying for This and Now and what I think my preferences are, my prayers are more along the lines of, Lord, help me trust fully in your goodness and your timing. Help me lean into the tension of trusting you, knowing you know what I want and what my family needs. Help me enjoy this season, these days, these people and this city. Amen.

Thoughts on coming undone + going well.

I share my pillow with a tiny human. LIT RA LY. She has been waking between the morning hours of 4 and 5, of which I previously did not know existed. Since her internal alarm clock has been hijacked, I have the misfortune of explaining we are not getting out of bed until the sun comes up because, CHILD, IT IS STILL NIGHT TIME.

Laying in your own bed unable to sleep is a cruel form of torture.

I blame this recent insomnia on our current familial condition: Undone. Sarah Bessey wrote a little ol’ fashioned blog post about moving and memory making and ordinary life beginning again once you get settled into a new place. It was lovely.

And so distant from my reality.

Physically speaking, our house is completely undone. Most of our belongings have been sold or stored, what’s left has been pushed aside so every inch of this place can be wiped clean (which is a tragic misunderstanding, 100-year-old houses are never “clean”, they’re just less dusty.) painted, then rearranged and staged just so. 

It all feels undone, because, it is. As I write there are mop buckets and paint cans assaulting my kitchen. Our kids beds have been in the center of their room for nearly a week, which apparently they are not keen on because I have been waking up to four Matrix style pods surrounding my bed each morning. (Ulterior sleep deprived reality. Which of those pills will make my kid sleep until 7?)

There’s a ladder in the hallway and I have been informed we will not be refilling the gas tank for our grill, as if my culinary ineptitude needed the additional challenge. It’s not like I grilled three times a week, IT’S FINE. My hammock has been taken down [SIGH], because as of this morning, our porch looks like this:

Thoughts on coming undone + going well.

We moved into this house with one blond-haired, green-eyed toddler and are leaving it with an entire tribe. We arrived amidst relational ash and are leaving with gladness we made it out alive. And married. We’ve suffered through cancer and death and three failed adoptions. We’ve celebrated birth and life and grafting-in (times three) and loss and miraculous movements of God. Habakkuk was so right, the Lord is doing a work I never would have believed if someone told me about it. I also wouldn’t have signed up for it.

If you stood before me five and a half years ago, and laid out what our time here would hold, I would have laughed in your face. And then ran for the hills.

I was so naive, so selfish. So still trying to figure it all out without a clue where to begin.

Maturity happened here. We’ve come undone over and over and over again. We’ve been broken and broken in. We’ve become well versed in apologetics and apologies. We’ve fought for and surrendered to grace. We’re slowly becoming fluent in the language of mercy.

This current phase = not my favorite. BUT, I recognize that in order to appreciate ordinary everyday living life, you have to get a little undone first.

Coming undone shows us what really matters – who really matters – and how to love them best in the midst of the unknown and confusion and chaos and transition. How to get to where we’re going, our back together self, well.

How do we get there well?

Thoughts on coming undone + going well.

Thoughts on coming undone + going well.

Laughing + silly faces required.

I’m all angsty about this next season, moving into a new culture and new context and new home. When I’m not negotiating with a three-year old at the 4am hour, I often find myself lying in bed awake anyhow, dreaming and praying and Pinning and wondering about our new home, our new season of life. What will it look like to be undone and put back together in a very different place surrounded by very different people? I’m starting to suspect that maybe, they aren’t that different from us after all.

I think we all want the same things, to love and be loved in the midst of the unknown and confusion and chaos and transition and undoing. We all want to appreciate ordinary everyday living life, and get where we’re going, well.

Face-to-Face with Jehovah-Jireh

Late that day he said to them, “Let’s go across to the other side.” They took him in the boat as he was. Other boats came along. A huge storm came up. Waves poured into the boat, threatening to sink it. And Jesus was in the stern, head on a pillow, sleeping! They roused him, saying, “Teacher, is it nothing to you that we’re going down?”

Awake now, he told the wind to pipe down and said to the sea, “Quiet! Settle down!” The wind ran out of breath; the sea became smooth as glass. Jesus reprimanded the disciples: “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?”

They were in absolute awe, staggered. “Who is this, anyway?” they asked. “Wind and sea at his beck and call!” – Mark 4:35-41, The Message

When we encounter “storms” in life, our tendency is to wonder where we went wrong. When did we get out of step with the Lord? Where did we misinterpret Him? But in this story, Mark is clear: Jesus said to the disciples, “Let’s go across to the other side.” It was his idea. Jesus planned their journey across the lake, knowing full well the storm that lay ahead.

There’s a lesson in this for the American Church, where the prosperity gospel and our consumeristic-play-it-safe-insurance-laden culture threatens to blind us to Jesus’ upside down Kingdom. Numerous sermons have been preached on Jesus’ action of sending the disciples, and by extension us, into the storm. The old adage “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” is annihilated by this story, among many others. Clearly He does. Would we need a Savior otherwise?

But those things are not what struck me about this passage when our friend and pastor preached from it earlier this summer.

What struck me then and sticks with me now is this: Jesus will get us where he wants us to go. It might not be the route we’d have chosen, or in the timeframe we’d planned for, but if Jesus has called us to a place, he will get us there.

As we continue to share what the Lord has called us to in Miami, I am staking my claim there.

We currently have 78% of our budget being given by ongoing supporters, and with single gifts consistently receive above 90% each month which means… WE”RE MOVING!!! (As soon as our house sells. Lift that up if you feel led.)

We are still in need of several more ongoing supporters to be 100% funded and, to be completely honest, we are not sure where the remaining amount will come from!

At times we are terrified. (Still.) Likely not in the same way as the disciples, after all they feared for their lives! But mentally and emotionally we struggle to keep our heads above water. “Where’s it gonna come from Lord?” is a regular prayer of my heart.

At times it is exhilarating (still), much in the same way as flying. I’ve never been on a small boat in the middle of a hurricane, but I have been on an airplane. I feel immeasurably small above the clouds, looking down on the vastness of creation. I also feel a tinge of fear. It’s a sense of… This is incredible, but I’m scared. If this goes bad for me, I’m probably going to die.

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Flying brings me face-to-face with the majesty of God. Awe‑inspiring, while at the same time imposing on my humanity; forcing me to rely completely on the Lord.

We feel much the same way about this final stage of raising support. We are face-to-face with Jehovah-Jireh. He is awe-inspiring and imposing on our humanness, our inability to do this thing on our own.  He is calling us to rely completely on him. Thankfully, and unlike the disciples in that sinking boat, we have the entire New Testament, as well as God’s testimony in our lives, as a reminder of who God is. He is our Provider. Promise Keeper. Deliverance Supplier. Grace Giver. Mercy Extender. Unfailing Lover. Blessed Controller. Unchangeable in Character. Unlimited in Power.

I suppose we could have continued to share our plans for raising the remaining $1,552 we need each month to be fully funded. That would have satisfied my fleshly “we got this” attitude. It would have suppressed my “what will our supporters think if we don’t have a strategic plan?” fears. But, there’s no way to bring God glory when we’re trying to take it for ourselves. And we don’t want to take part in anything that isn’t pointing to Him. (Not to mention, when you commit to being a Truth-Teller, you don’t get to just tell the easy parts.)

What brings God the most glory is being honest about where we are. We are 37,000 feet above Earth, relying solely on Him to help us land this thing. We are 78% of the way across the lake, trusting in the Lord to get us to the other side. 

But here’s the good news I preach to myself each day: God is going to take us where He wants us to go! There is nothing between Louisville and Miami that can keep God from completing what He started in our family. Nothing. The same is true for you, wherever He is taking you.

We know He will make a way; He never calls us to something and bails 78% of the way there. God is going to accomplish His agenda, not ours. Our agenda was to be in Miami by now. His agenda is to teach us a lesson about trusting Him when we can’t see over the waves.

So we continue to share, in faith. We pack boxes, in faith. We put our house on the market, in faith. We look for rental homes, in faith. We plan the kid’s new school year, in faith. We cast our cares on Him because He cares for us. (1 Peter 5:7)

And, with holy expectancy, we ask Him to land us safely in West Coconut Grove.

Where is God taking you? Are you in your own boat of faith, learning to fully rely on the only One who can get us all to the other side?

An August Manifesto

How’s your August friends?! Can you believe 2015 is 2/3’s of the way over? How did this happen? Where did it go? Have I been in a coma?

I bid farewell to the boot/cast on my no-longer-broken foot! All the praise hands. Can I just tell you, I had a really really crappy attitude about having a broken foot. I tried reminding myself there are far worse injuries to have. I made efforts to meditate on all the days of good health I’ve experience. No avail to my crappy attitude. Having a broken foot just sucks. Being on crutches just sucks. It’s as if our whole bodies are connected or something. Mindbodyspiritwhat?

I enjoyed my annual haircut last week. Coco Channel says a woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life so, stand by. It’s about to get crazy up in here.

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We’ve decided to sell our house when we head to Miami. We have been purging, packing, and cleaning on repeat around here. I am eternally confused by how much stuff we manage to accumulate while simultaneously attempting to live “simply.” How does one fail so miserably at such a straight-forward task? Where does all this junk come from? And if we have this much, how much crap do people who aren’t trying to live minimally have? These are things I ponder in between praying my kids don’t injure each other unsupervised in the backyard while I scrub my never-before-cleaned cabinets with a tooth-brush.

William and I have discussed scrapping it all and starting over with some serious restrictions on what we allow in our Miami home. I glare at the boxes in my living room with contempt. It’s like they are mocking me. “Go ahead, throw us away and “minimize.” Sure. You can do it. Ha! Right. Let’s see you try. Come on. Do it.”

Also, “cleaning + staging” with five kids = a joke. I don’t even know what to say to our realtor. Passing out glasses of wine at showings seems like the only plausible solution. “These people have five kids. Here’s a glass of Cab.”

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My August has been social media free.

Maybe it’s my ascending age, but I’m beginning to recognize my energy a sacred resource. While renewable in the sense we do have tomorrow (usually), our energy, as it relates to our time in the present moment, is very much non-renewable. Once it’s gone, it ain’t comin’ back.

I’m evaluating my energy drains, holding them up to the direction God is leading me and what He is calling me into. When my priority is hearing from God, the static of social media becomes just that – an unhealthy distraction blocking view of the clear picture, at times a diversion even, moving us in an entirely different direction than we were intended to go.

I’ve begun asking myself, Does _______ move me/my husband/my family forward into God’s plan?

This is different for each person. What is life-giving for me is almost certainly not life-giving for you and vice versa. And that’s ok.

This is where we women get things all out of whack. We often look sideways for the answers to what we should be doing, and instead of considering where God is leading us and what draws us near to Him, we notice other people are posting on their blog five times a week or taking their kids on life-altering field trips or flying around the world or getting married or not getting married or making babies or adopting babies or saving babies… The list of what we could or should do is literally never-ending. Not only does it feed our fear of not measuring up (to WHAT?! by the way?), it causes us to judge and shame our sisters for doing life differently than we do it.

This is so backwards. This is so wrong. If we are not for each other, then forthelove, who is going to point us north when we lose our compass?

Here’s where I’ve landed: I trust the Spirit to be working in your life just as I hope and expect you trust He is working in mine. It won’t look the same. It can’t. If you have more than one child you know this – you do not love them all equally, you love them all uniquely. Because they are unique. Individuals made up of likes and fears and longings and hurts and desires and sins. And so are we as adults. God has so many good and gracious gifts he wants to bestow upon us but they will be different because we are different.

Have you ever considered that God might actually give us permission to not care about certain things during certain seasons of our lives? I hadn’t really, until my counselor pointed it out. It’s fabulously freeing permission to have. (Which bytheway, everyone should have a counselor. Note that friends. Everyone.)

I’m not playing around with this one. I’ve started asking God to help me forget the things not intended for me in this season. Maybe I’m losing it but I think I might actually be onto something. The storing and retrieval of information has never been my strong suit anyway, so let’s just go ahead and sanctify my days of chemically enhanced memory loss by using them for good mkay Lord? Whatever is not meant for me in this season, take it away.

S E G U E

I finally decided to pay my unconscionable library fine and got a little over zealous with my new accessibility TO FREE BOOKS. Somewhere along the way, I’ve become one of those people who reads a dozen books at once. I have no explanation for it and don’t completely understand it myself.

I do know I simply cannot read The New Jim Crow, without a little Bird by Bird mixed in to lighten the mood. I know that is some white privilege and I accept it. I have only two words about The New Jim Crow: read it.

And as for Bird by Bird, I have literally laughed so hard I’ve cried. It’s hilarious and smooth and instructive.

I’ve just finished Celebration of Discipline. It’s a classic I managed to unintentionally avoid for 11 years of Spirit filled life. I have dog-eared, underlined and starred at least 50% of this enchanting book. It’s truly a piece of art and obviously a labor of love and intention. What I’m sayin’ is, you should read it asap.

And my newest addition is Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love, which is available for pre-order now, and in print next Tuesday. I’ve mentioned my initial impression of Jen here and fell deeply in love with her when I read this book.

To know Jen is to love her, and if you know and love her you know she is incredibly generous with her readers. As her birthday/book release gift to us, she is giving away free tickets to the Women of Faith event right here in Louisville this weekend! The tickets are available through tomorrow only if you have (or do it now) pre-ordered For the Love. Here’s the link to get yo’ free tix. Old White Ladies aren’t really my thing, but FREE is my love language so I’m going out on a limb here.

Speaking of limbs, (What? I don’t know, just go with it.) I am seriously lacking in the meal planning/grocery shopping/food prep/cooking division of domesticity. I don’t require much variety so when I find a recipe I like, I’m completely content to eat it several times a week. My family? Not so much.

Case in point, these uh-mazing zucchini fritters with chili lime mayo.

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Do you have zucchini coming out your ears? THIS my friends is what they were meant for. Seriously. These fritters are so yummy they don’t require anything else to make a meal. (except that delish chili lime mayo of course) Just eat all the fritters all the time. I made them three times last week. And one of my sweet children calls them “Freds” (as if he wasn’t endearing enough) so I have to keep making them.

And speaking of feeding my people, we’re about to launch a strict-beyond-reason allergy elimination diet with one of my sweet girls. Poor thing has got some serious food sensitivities we just cannot get a handle on. For the next four weeks she will not have any gluten, yeast, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, sugar, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, or citrus fruits. What will she eat you ask? People, I DO NOT KNOW. If you can’t find me I’ll be rocking in the corner, likely unresponsive.

How is your August? Whatcha doing, reading, listening to, eating? Tell me all your things.

*This post contains affiliate links. Learn what that means here.

#smalltogetheristhenewbig

I love community. You could say we were made for it, this whole big human group of us. And I love this online space where we can connect with people on the other side of town, in the next state and even across the world. People who we feel down in our marrow were cut from the same cloth, but who, if it weren’t for the internet, we never would have encountered.

We’re stronger together and the internet allows our togetherness to be BIG. We can lock arms with one another and say “Let’s do this thing”, becoming part of something BIGGER than ourselves. And it’s awesome.

Friends, consider this your invitation to be part of our BIG thing. To lock arms with us. Because, #smalltogetheristhenewbig.

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You might’ve heard, we’re heading to inner-city Miami with InnerCHANGE, a Christian order among the poor. InnerCHANGE communities of missionaries live in marginalized neighborhoods around the world – places most people want to avoid or ignore.

The Lord has taught us many things in the last eight years, the overarching theme being this – orphans do not exist in a vacuum. And if we want to combat the orphan crisis in a holistic and Godly way, we must enter into and seek solutions for the tragedies creating orphans and vulnerable children in our own backyard and around the world.

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And YOU can join us!

In order to focus completely on family preservation, we will be fully supported by people just like you. People who get it. People who believe in a holistic model of ministry. People who believe children deserve to grow up healthy and carefree and as part of a family. People who have seen Jesus do amazing things.

We’re asking you to commit to giving $10 a month for the sake of advancing Gods Kingdom in Miami. Could you give up a couple lattes or an album on iTunes or a tank top from Target?

Sometimes it’s hard to feel like our small thing is enough to make a difference right? So we don’t offer it. We tuck it away until it can be a big thing on its own.

But here’s what we’re learning about Kingdom Economics: God takes all of our small things together and makes them BIG.

He takes the two coins we have and calls them Enough. He honors our hearts and our obedience and our seemingly small steps of faith. Because, #smalltogetheristhenewbig… but God’s been doing it all along. If our God can take two fish and five loaves of bread and feed thousands, He can also take your Hamilton’s and make Himself known in inner-city Miami.

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But there’s more! When you support us financially you are not just sending us to Miami; you are very much joining us. You’re making family preservation happen in a neighborhood where healthy intact families are few and far between.

You are saying you won’t stand by while another generation of at-risk kids sell drugs and sling guns. You’re saying you won’t be silent while teenage girls become statistics, raising kids as single moms who have never even seen healthy family. Whose kids are destined, the system says, to become single moms themselves. You’re saying “Not on my watch” will Image Bearers grow up in oppressive poverty in our own country without hearing of the healing redemptive power of Jesus.

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You’re acknowledging that through Him, you CAN do something. That God can and will use your small thing to do BIG amazing miraculous things. Satan wants you to believe the lie that your small thing isn’t enough. But our God is the God of the mustard seed, the God David trusted to slay a giant with a stone, the God who used an empty jar of oil to make food for days, the God who sent a tiny baby into the world to save it.

Our God delights in small things.

Will you take your small thing and join us and dozens of others in advancing the Kingdom in inner-city Miami? Join the #smalltogetheristhenewbigmovement here.

(If God lays a dollar amount other than $10 on your heart, please go with that. Because, duh, He’s God.)

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On sagging pants + sideways hats

Several months ago, not long after sharing our big news with the kids, our oldest walked up to me with his pants hanging down past his bottom, Ninja Turtle undees in full view.

“Mom, can I wear my pants like this?”

“Buddy, I don’t really want to see your underwear but as long as you love Jesus, you can wear your pants however you want.”

<excited perplexed look crosses his face as he turns his hat sideways>

“Mom, can I wear my hat like this?”

“Sure bud.”

“You know people who dress like this? Do they love Jesus?”

Just a couple of weeks earlier we watched My Hope with Billy Graham. I asked if he remembered hearing Lecrae’s testimony, how he use to be a thug but now he knows Jesus and tells other people about Jesus.

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He remembered.

“Hey Mom! Maybe I can tell people who dress like this about Jesus!”

“That’s a great idea buddy!”

<cue the tears>

One of the most common questions we get about moving into an at-risk neighborhood is “What about the kids?”

What will it be like for them? How will they be affected? What about our boys whose life before us so closely resembled the lives of our neighbors? Will they take to the streets screaming “My people!”?

I don’t know. I didn’t know. They could. We have our prayed-over-and-somewhat-scripted answer: We know moving into an at-risk neighborhood will require us to VERY intentionally parent our kids. We know it will not be easy but we believe it worth it to show them God loves the least of these and they are worth risking our comfort.

But what God showed me through a short conversation about sagging pants and sideways hats is He is going to USE my children in ways I can’t even begin to imagine. He’s going to use them to reach people I could never reach.

He’s going to give them influence over their peers I will never have. Kids in our neighborhood with sagging pants and sideways hats will hear about Lecrae and Jesus because of our kids.

This doing-ministry-as-a-family-thing is not just about risking our comfort for the sake of Jesus’ name in the Grove, I’m learning, it’s also about Jesus showing up in our family and showing us how great his plans are for our kids and the way he plans to show up in their lives too.

We knew he would.

This has always been about doing ministry as a family, but to see glimpses of what that will look like is such a sweet gift. God assured my heart that day and has reminded me many days since, “Lindsy, they are mine. I’ve got them. What about the kids? I’ve got bigger and better plans for them than you could ever imagine.” 

I want to introduce you to my new friend

Last night I stayed up late for the first time in quite a while. It’s only March ya know, so my resolution to Rise Early is still hanging on, if only by her fingernails.

I planned to write a post for International Women’s Day and, while my heart was to sit at the keyboard and bleed, instead I found myself jumping around the internet encountering organization after organization working in many different ways to better the lives of women around the world.

Lord willing, the post on IWD is coming your way in the next couple days. But the Lord used one organization, specifically its Founder, to bring me to tears, rock me to the core, and keep me from falling asleep and well, I want you to feel that too. It’s loving, really.

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Clothe Your Neighbor as Yourself is a nonprofit clothing brand built on the promise that for every item you purchase, they provide clothing to someone in need… with 100% of the profit.

That last bit, about 100% profit, caught my eye. Really? We’ve all heard of 10% give back or $7 for every item purchased but 1 0 0 per-cent? Really? So I spent some time on their website, which isn’t hard to do with its captivating photography and sharp and simple design.

The story of CYNY began when founder James Barnett chose to become homeless and live on the streets for two years as a response to the humility of Jesus and a desire to understand poverty. So this James guy and I were friends as soon as I read that. Watching the video below made us BFF’s, he just doesn’t know it yet.

It’s a little long in comparison to other videos you might come across today, or for how much time you have right this minute but, I challenge you to watch. I promise it will not be minutes wasted.

Our Story with Founder James Barnett from Clothe Your Neighbor as Yourself on Vimeo.

“Jesus says to invite the poor into our homes but we’re afraid they’re going to steal our stuff so we point them to a shelter. Jesus says to feed the hungry but we dangle some loose change outside of our window because we’re too afraid to have them over for dinner and become friends. Jesus said the world will know you’re christians by our love, not our ability to come up with alternatives or point people to something that looks more like the church than we do.” – James Barnett, Founder Clothe Your Neighbor as Yourself

Peeling Back the Layers

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When William and I had been married for just under a year, his appendix ruptured. After spending 25 hours in the ER on a gurney next to a drunk homeless man who urinated all over himself, they finally operated on my very sick husband.

I remember sitting there in that little cube with the curtain between us and our smelly neighbor and thinking, “So this is how they treat people without health insurance…” Now I have no way of really knowing if William sat in excruciating pain for 25 hours because he was uninsured or not, but I sure did wonder.

Every eighteen months for the past six years we’ve had to visit the local United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office to update our fingerprints for our adoption. (‘Cause fingerprints expire didn’t ya know? <SARCASM>.)

The USCIS office is located downtown in a huge government building. The kind you have to unload your pockets and show an ID for. On the sixth floor behind fancy glass doors is a nice sized waiting room where I have always been the only (obviously) American needing help.

The men working there have always been kind and helpful, asking questions about our family and making small talk as they roll my ringers over the new technology. But I have witnessed them repeatedly treat everyone else much differently. Harshly. Loudly. As if they are less-than, not worthy of the same respect and dignity I receive each time I’m there.

This has bothered me. On several occasion it’s bothered me so much that I have filled out their little Comment Cards telling them so.

And then I’ve taken the elevator down six floors, walked outside into my dominant culture and gotten on with my day. Another fingerprint update done.

Intentionally moving downward is a strange thing. We’re at the very starting line of this journey, peeling away the layers of comfort. The first layer comes off pretty easy, it’s like that first layer of skin after a bad sunburn, you can just dust it off.

The second car. Private health insurance. (We do still have health insurance. Not repeating the Appendix Experience thank you.) My Influence Network Membership. (Ok, that last one did hurt a little.)

The first layer is the excess. The things you have but you don’t really need. Easy to let go of. You can get along without them just fine.

But then you start removing the next layer. And the peeks into how “they” live become more frequent and the privilege of your own demographic starts to fade away as the You and the They begin, ever so slowly, to intertwine.

Our family has medicaid right now as we are in-between full-time employment and being full-time missionaries. About a month ago I visited the medicaid office to submit some paperwork for one of our kids. The clerk pulled up our family file on her computer screen and asked which child the paperwork was for. I answered and she responded, “Well I was just asking because you have so many kids.” Oh. Right.

When I interviewed my friend Alaina for this post about white women raising black girls, she said a black woman can’t go out in leggings and boots with her hair undone because everyone will assume (READ: treat her as if) she is on welfare.

I finished up my business at the medicaid office and walked outside with the memory of my conversation with Alaina buzzing in my mind. As I stepped through the pot-hole-laden parking lot I thought to myself, THIS. This is what she meant. This is that feeling she feels all. the. time. 

I and them slowly becoming intertwined.

We’re fully past the first layer of comforts now. Going deeper one comfort at a time. Some days it’s not easy. Some days I miss my full refrigerator and my coffee shop splurges. I wonder how much can I give up to live this life the Lord has called me to.

But some days it’s thrilling. Like a treasure hunt. What can I give up today to get closer to the mission field? What can I do without to get closer to the prize?

One thing I know for sure, as I peel back the layers of comfort, I realize just how much I was relying on them to, well, make me comfortable. And without them I have a choice. I can find other worldly comforts to take their place, or I can lean further-deeper-harder into my One True Comforter.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. – 2 Corinthians 1:3

Linking up with Chantel.

Downward, Party of Seven

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Jen Hatmakers revised and expanded version of Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity could not have come at a better time. In less than three weeks, my husband will leave his job at a mega church and raise support for our family to move into an at-risk neighborhood in Miami. Basically, he’ll be unemployed while we fundraise our tails off and wait for God to provide financial support for our family of s e v e n.

I probably don’t need to mention it’s both terrifying and exhilarating to leap from our mountain of self reliance into the hands of a sovereign-yet-risk-taking and radical God.

We RSVP’d for seven to the Journey of Downward Mobility. We’re moving to the “wrong” side of the tracks, or actually, the segregation wall that. still. stands.

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Dividing Wall (1)When given the opportunity to read Jen (& Brandon’s) account of asking God to “raise up in me a holy passion”, I jumped at it. {Quick side note – Jen quotes John Hayes and his book Sub-merge as one of her Heavy Influences. John is the founder of our mission organization InnerChange and has overseen our team in Miami for the last five years. He’s had dinner at our house so Jen and I are practically BFF’s. #7DegreesofSeparationfromJenHatmaker.}

If you aren’t familiar, Jen was a writer and speaker of all things Christian and women, her husband a pastor over spiritual development in a booming Texas church. Jesus wrecked their comfortable Christianity which led them to follow Him onto a whole new stage. Brandon quit his pastor job with no leads on next steps. Jesus beat Jen over the head with His love and grace and truth and Interrupted is the transparent, convicting, relatable journey towards the life He’s called them to live.

Here’s the thing: it’s also the life Jesus is calling you and I to live. The location may be different but the direction is the same: downward.

“We stand at the intersection of extreme privilege and extreme poverty, and we have a question to answer: Do I care? Am I willing to take the Bible at face value and concur that God is obsessed with social justice?”

That’s the question friends, and each of us will answer it. We can choose to answer now, or we can wait until the day we stand before Jesus as Judge and King. Jen points out that in Matthew 25, Jesus builds his case for kingdom priorities and, as the disciples gauge what counted and what didn’t, Jesus hits them with this grand finale: “It will only matter if you are a sheep or a goat. The blessed and the lost will be separated based on one principle: the care of the oppressed. The end.”

If you aren’t familiar, Matthew 25 is the parable of the sheep being separated from the goats, the King (Jesus) then taking the sheep to their inheritance. He tells the sheep they fed him when he was hungry, gave him something to drink when he was thirsty, invited him in when he was a stranger, gave him clothes when he had none, and visited him in prison.

Jesus says the righteous will ask, “When did we do these things?”, their memories apparently fuzzy to such life changing service and the King replies, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brother and sisters of mine, you did for me.” As Jen says, “Jesus threw all His weight behind those at the very bottom of the pile. His highest rank on behalf of the lowest class.”

I could quote Jen until the rapture, which feels quite close actually, but this is the crux of the book. The epitome of our lives as Jesus followers. Without answering this question, we cannot go where Jesus wants us to go. We must pause here. We have to wrestle, offer up our own prayers for holy passion, and spend quality time on our knees. If we don’t, the whole thing is wasted.

Friends, I share in Jen’s honest words – downward mobility is hard. I’m standing only at the beginning of this journey and concur “It will hurt and people will probably criticize it and you might cry.” Jen and I both have.

But we need not go into this thing blind. We might not have all the answers but “we can follow Jesus to every dark, scary, broken place He just insists on going, determined to heal and restore people, because He is a good Savior and we can trust Him.”

In the City, For the CIty is a section of the book that spoke straight into my bones. Jen talks simply and boldly about living on mission where we are. It’s not revolutionary, as she teases out, but missional living will transform your faith journey. “Discipleship was never simply about learning: it was constructed on living.”

So what does living in the city, for the city look like? For our family, it looks like selling half our stuff, moving into an at-risk neighborhood, becoming minorities (well, 4 of us), and loving people with the goal of preserving vulnerable families and introducing them to Jesus. I admit that sounds vague and half-formed. There are details we’re unsure of. I can relate to Brandon when he says, “the journey was not only about something new but also about being willing to go, even before we knew where we were going.” (Emphasis mine.) Or for us, exactly what we’ll be doing.

As she promised, Jen’s a gentle guide and reminded me there’s no magic to living on mission. You don’t even have to move, you can do it right where you are. It will look different for each of us but the mission is the same. “Speak the language of the people you’re sent to; that’s pretty much it. When you can, conform innocently, value what they value, enjoy what they enjoy, go where they might go, think as they might think. Connect with them on their terms, not yours. Decode the love language of the tribe around you and speak it. It’s not rocket science. Win them over to you and you’ll have the best chance to win them over to Christ.”

So the question, let’s boldly answer it together, as a generation who is ready for a holy passion, ready to get our hands dirty and ours hearts exposed for the good of the Gospel and the sake of our cities. Jesus is obsessed with social justice and the world around us is crying out for it. He’s already working in the cities, let’s join Him there. We are His plan to share His good news with His Beloved.

“Serving people is not heaven’s requirement,
only a response to heaven’s mercy.”
– Jen Hatmaker

I’ll let Jen tell you in her own words what she hopes for Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity to give you.

Did I mention I love this book? I do and I’m quite sure you will as well. Interrupted
is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Tyndale House Publishers.

If you’d like a visible reminder of this holy passion, Jen’s friend Emily Lex painted this downloadable watercolor for Interrupted.

water-color-1

I’m linking up with Jen today but she’s apparently sleeping in, or getting her five kids ready for school, or working up some amazing DIY project from repurposed bricks. Link to come. HERE.

*This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase a book from one of the links, a small % of money will go into our adoption fund. Gracias. Read more about what that means here.