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.

when one word doesn’t feel like enough

 

I wish I could tell you I like words too much to pick just one. I’m pompous enough to think it, but it’s not entirely true.

The one word phenomenon is sweeping the internet. There are dozens of words I like, but none that seem a good fit for all of my life all the days of this year. I’m not anti the one word practice. I just have this growing feeling one word is not enough for 2017.

When one word doesn't feel like enough.Maybe every generation feels this way, has this hunch things are different now. That right now is a unique moment in history and we are about to encounter something unimaginable. Something that needs more than one word.

The post-election reductionist thinking to “trust God” or “pray” first led me down this path. Those are true and good things, but Jesus moved into the neighborhood to dwell among us. He came to know our bad news well decades before he ever started telling people to trust or pray.

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All the words rolling around in my mind need qualifiers.

When one word doesn't feel like enough.

Resistance is not enough for 2017. We need creative resistance. We need the writers and the painters and the dancers among us to lead. It is not enough to be against, we must actively be calling forth a more just, beautiful world and the creatives (which in our bones all of us are) to show us the way. 

Community is a lovely word, but for many it simply means finding more people who think and look and talk and act like us. It’s the way most humans work. But it’s not how the Kingdom is coming down. The upside down Kingdom is scandalously inclusive. Heaven’s gates swing wide. There are prophets and tax collectors and prostitutes and fisherman. Men, women and children. Black, brown, white and every shade in between. Scandalously inclusive community was Jesus’ idea and chasing hard after it will bring the Kingdom come more degrees of glory at a time than we can imagine.

When one word doesn't feel like enough.

We need hope. Oh how we need hope. Not just any hope will do in 2017. We need sweaty, gritty, dirt-beneath-our-nails hope. We need the kind of hope that leaves Heaven for the ghettos of our country and our own sinful hearts. We need audacious hope, rebellious hope, whimsical hope. 

I want to model the reckless kind of hope others call foolish. I want to be the first and most insubordinate when the least, last, lost and most marginalized are pushed farther outside the city gates. I want to be peculiar. I want to imagine a world that does not exist and work towards it with all the strange people I can bring along with me. I want to be among the odds ones, the ones who beyond reason, dream of the Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.

And I want to protestify. I want to earnestly stand against evil while bearing witness to the third way. I want to tear down metaphoric and physical walls keeping people out and with them build tables and housing for all. I want the courage to say to both the oppressed and the oppressor; All are welcome here. I want my life to be a visible objection to the exclusion of image bearers. I want the both/and of God and I call BS on the either/or of this world.

And I want to use words.

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? 

for the hope-stubborn

I guzzled my iced mostly-vanilla-creamer-coffee through a metal straw as we drove under the tropical tree canopy lining the streets that lead to the building where our church meets on Sunday morning. We were late, as usual, and in my mind I was debating whether a trip to the bathroom would be absolutely necessary before dropping my youngest off in her class.

I told my husband an idea I had for writing about hope, and stumbled upon the realization that my best writing happens on Sundays. I often sit in church, filing pages in my notebook with words indecipherable to most. Later that day or that week or that year, they join together into something that feels like truth.

Today – a Sunday – I’m home with a sick kiddo, drinking the same iced coffee concoction, watching Scooby Doo while our puppy snoozes on the couch beside me. I’m looking at my notebook, barely able to make out words I myself wrote just last week, and I realize, I need the same virtual fist bump I had sketched out for you.

Is it just me, or does the internet feel like an all out ASSAULT on the image of God right now?

Not long ago I read a definition of PTSD describing it as a result of “psychological assault.” That’s kinda how the internet feels doesn’t it? Even for those of us who have never been sexually assaulted, who are not people of color, or undocumented immigrants, or muslim…

Oddly enough, this is where hope comes in. Hope is not void of reality; it’s the opposite of that. The hope-stubborn anthem is born from our broken world and broken hearts. It is written between tears and during lament. It stems not from inattentiveness but from paying close attention to the One who said in this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.

If Jesus has overcome the world, I can hope. If he is both our origin and our destiny, as Pope Benedict said, we can hope. If Jesus said the gates of hell will not overcome his Church, then they won’t, no matter what it feels like down here on Earth. (or on the internet.)

I don’t know about you, but I get overwhelmed and discouraged. I read words from Christians who claim some lives matter more than others. Christians who are willing to get mouthy on the internet about black babies in their mother’s wombs but when those same babies end up in the school to prison pipeline, they become eerily silent. I read pure hate from people who claim to love the same Jesus I do, the one who came into our world a brown-skinned poor refugee – the same kind of person they want to deport or detain or shut out. I see my friends getting attacked for saying they fear for their (black and brown) children’s lives. They couldn’t possibly be accurate in interpreting their own narrative. They couldn’t possibly be correct about what it’s like to be a person of color in this country. Clearly, it’s not really that bad.

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Outside my window, I watch as police officers chase the same teenager they chased last week and the week before. I wonder when his name will become a hashtag. Later, the great-grandmother on the corner sits on my couch and tell us her rent is going up $400 – about $400 more than she has. And CPS and a couple police cars show up across the street. They wanna talk to a single mother doing the best she can to get her kids to school and from where I sit peering out the window, it seems fear tactics are the only way we know how to do things these days.

These are the moments when the gates of Hell seem to BULGE. When darkness feels 42 weeks pregnant and the birth of evil inevitable. When overwhelmedness sets in and dismay clouds my vision. I am tempted to think I am alone. I am tempted to think the world has gone to crap. I forget there are more with us.

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In 2 Kings there is a very real physical war underway. Both kingdoms are far from the Lord and lost in their sin. (Sound familiar?) During one battle, the king of Aram orders his army to surround the people of Israel so he can capture the prophet Elisha, who is ruining all his plans. Aram’s men go in under the cloak of night and surround the Israelites.

behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” So he (Elisha) answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.  And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.  2 Kings 6:15b – 17

Matthew Henry’s commentary on 2 Kings says, “The opening of our eyes will be the silencing of our fears. In the dark we are most apt to be frightened. The clearer sight we have of the sovereignty and power of heaven the less we shall fear the calamities of this earth.”

THAT is where our hope comes from. It comes from opening our eyes in the direction of Heaven. It comes from believing there are more of us, on Earth and in Heaven, living into the reality of Isaiah 58 than there are spewing hatred on the internet. There are more of us pushing back darkness and drawing swords of the Spirit on behalf of the oppressed. There are more of us breaking chains and guarding the fatherless with our shields of faith. There are more of us letting the Light shine through our broken places.

There are more of us.

“Fear not with that fear which has torment and amazement, for those that are with us, to protect us, are more than those that are against us, to destroy us—angels unspeakably more numerous—God infinitely more powerful.” – Matthew Henry’s Commentary on 2 Kings

We can be stubborn about hope friends. Not because we’re not paying attention, but exactly because we are.

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.

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.

ask me your stupid white people questions

I’ve had a post rattling around in my head for several weeks now. Was it when I was diagnosed with PTSD? Or when I got addicted to started using Voxer?

I’m not sure, but the post I was writing in my mind was about making my world smaller. About my need to cut out all the noise. I was going to tell you how I unsubscribed from all the emails, because really, I can’t afford to shop those sales anyway. And how I unfollowed almost every brand on Instagram for the very same reason. How I scaled back my Facebook feed by unfollowing (while still remaining friends with!) pretty much everyone. I unsubscribed from blogs that don’t pertain to justice or homeschooling because that’s all the energy and heart space I have time for these days. How I cut back on podcasts. How I just needed less noise because the needs around me – in my neighborhood and in my own home – were enough.

Then Alton Sterling. Filando Castile. The Dallas Five. And there was so. much. noise. The world felt like it just might implode from it all.

And I took advantage of my white privilege.

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I knew, as I typed those words, I was exercising white privilege. My friends of color cannot unfriend racial injustice – they live it in their everyday lives. As the mother of children of color and a white woman bearing witness to systemic injustice in my black neighborhood, I do too. The difference of course, is I can minimize it. I can choose to avoid folly on Facebook. I can unfriend and unfollow and block people whose hatred I don’t want to expose myself to.

That’s white privilege.

A day does not go by when I am not keenly aware of it. Of the fact that my voice gets more airplay then my neighbors, that because my family owns a vehicle, I’m “above” the other mothers on my block. For the love, I homeschool my kids. If homeschool doesn’t scream privilege, nothing does. I give many of my privileges up. But, I’m learning some are so inherent I cannot put them down no matter how hard I try.

I can’t change the color of my skin. Many days I wish I could. Many days I feel uncomfortable in my own skin. But that’s another post for another day.

//

I’ve thought a lot in the last week about how I’ve exercised my privilege online. And how I’ve added to the noise. I’ve thought about what can be “done” to unearth the systemic injustice in our country that runs so deep it infiltrates the very land we walk on. I’ve watched as white friends ask over and over what they can “do.” It often feels to me like nothing and everything can be done all at once, but this is what I can do:

I will continue to call out racial injustice for what it is (sin) as I see it, when I see it.
I will continue to love my neighbors and friends of color, both in person and online.
I will continue to listen when people of color share their stories and experiences with me.
I will continue to affirm them by declaring #blacklivesmatter.
I will continue to educate myself on the history of our nation and racial injustices around the world.
I will continue to teach my children about the imago Dei and the inherent value in every single human being because all were made in the image of God.
I will continue to seek justice in the daily lives of my neighbors.
I will continue to be with and not just for my friends of color.

But you know what else?

I will continue to ask stupid questions.
I will continue to piss people off.
I will continue to feel ostracized by both the white and black communities.
I will continue to be misunderstood.
I will continue to feel alone (at times).
I will continue to be called names which shall not be repeated here.

As phrases like “white ally” and “racial reconciliation” float around the blogosphere, I have to admit, I have yet to find an online space where white people can ask stupid questions.

I want to be a safe place for white people to ask stupid questions.

Ask me all your stupid white people questions.

Let me be really clear: I am not an expert on all things color or race or injustice. I am not a historical expert or expert of anything. But I’ve asked stupid questions – lots of them – and I’ve listened and I have been and continue to learn. I’ve seen racial injustice first hand. I’ve seen The New Jim Crow come to life in my neighborhood and I desperately want white people to join the fight against it. I don’t want to watch video after video on Facebook where my friends of color ask where white people are. I don’t want to read the heartbreaking words from my sisters who feel like we white folks don’t care about them. I don’t want to wake up tomorrow to another person’s name becoming a hashtag.

I know this small act won’t change the world, but I do believe it’s a prophetic demonstration. I do believe in being stubborn about hope. I do believe, no matter how dark the world is, that the Kingdom can actually come and God’s plan to bring it through His people is still being worked out. I am going to resist a hostile world which says justice and love and mercy and unity can’t be possible, that hoping and working for a better world because of Jesus is foolishness. I’m going to be stubborn about Love.

So ask me your stupid white people questions. I might not know the answer, I’ll probably send you some homework, and it’s likely I’ll quote the Bible. But I won’t judge you (at least not too much) and I genuinely want to come alongside you. My email is lindsy.wallace@gmail.com.

I would prefer you email me so we can have some back and forth dialogue where you feel free to ask your questions. You can leave your questions in the comments, although I can’t guarantee someone won’t leave a snarky response because, THE INTERNET, but I promise to delete any hateful remarks.

Be stubborn about Love today Friends.

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! 

cleaning up for God + a scandalously inclusive Savior

My four big kids are in VBS this week (can I get an Amen for VBS?!) and Monday morning they came filing into the living room. I looked them up and down, saying things like;

“That shirt has a hole in it, go change.”
“Your clothes don’t match. Keep the shorts or keep the shirt, but pick something that actually goes together.”
“Oh geez, you have dread locks growing in the back of your head! When was the last time you brushed your hair?! Have you been using conditioner? What is going on?”

I was cleaning my kids up to send them to church. But I wasn’t just cleaning them up to send them to church, I was cleaning them up to send them to the Church. To church people. God’s people. I was trying to make them presentable for the people of God.

blue

 

In the wake of Sunday’s deadly mass shooting, in the tidal wave that is our current presidential election, in the midst of my own family not being ok, it hit me – we Christians do this all the time. We try to clean up our act before coming to God. It’s no wonder then, when people outside the Church see this, they either follow suit into a life of fake smiles and Sunday morning “Fine’s,” or they realize they’ll never measure up and don’t even try.

This is not the freedom Jesus came for friends.

When Jesus called his disciples to follow him, there were no instructions to get it together first. None.

Jesus called Simon (Peter) and Andrew while they were fishing. He says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” I will make you – not go change your shirt you smell like fish, brush your raggedy hair, read this book on discipleship and then we’ll talk.

Follow me, and I will mold you and I will form you and I will grow you into the men I created you to be.

A few chapters later, Jesus, after cleansing a leper, healing a whole bunch of people, calming a storm and casting out some demons – but we’ll get to that in a minute – calls Matthew, the tax collector. (If there were a soundtrack to the Bible, I imagine some sketchy music playing as the camera pans to bring Matthew into frame. Can you hear it?)

Jesus sees Matthew and says, “Hey, come hang with me.” Tax collectors in that day were notoriously corrupt. They were thieves and swindlers who took advantage of those below them on the socio-economic ladder. They were also despised by the Jews, making Jesus’ pick of Matthew both scandalous and offensive.

Jesus didn’t seem to care too much what the religious people thought of his choice of friends. The very next thing he does is sit down with a whole bunch of tax collectors and sinners and eat with them. And back in the day, eating with people was a big deal.

//

We follow a Savior who is scandalously inclusive.

He touched lepers, shared meals with tax collectors, hung out with sinners, healed the demon possessed, played with children, loved immigrants and widows and the disabled.

That’s what I’d call a pretty eclectic social circle.

One thing Jesus teaches us is love never looks like judgement. It never does. Love never looks like creating margins, separating “us” from “them” or those “inside” from those “outside.” It never looks like the people of God deciding who gets to sit at the table of God because there is always room at the foot of the cross.

Jesus saves some of us out of our muck and mire, and some of us He saves in it. Some people have a Saul/Paul conversion experience. Others don’t. Frankly, that’s God’s business. And His business can be slow

Here’s something I’ve learned about God’s slow work: changed behavior comes from a changed heart. When Jesus walked the earth he was always always always concerned about a person’s heart.

How are hearts changed? By love. When people who have never belonged and never fit in, people who have been pushed outside, told to clean up, sober up, thin up, and straighten up experience the never stopping never giving up love of God – hearts are changed.

Friends, behavior modification is not freedom. It’s not what Jesus died for. He came to set us free from sin and shame and Church, we have got to stop shaming each other with this idea that we must clean up before coming to God. We must lead the charge because there are millions of people watching us live lives veiled in “fine,” hell-bent on pretending everything is ok.

It starts with us.

Please hear me: It is ok, to not be ok.

What need do we have for a Savior if we are all fine? Jesus came to heal the sick and we have got to own up to the fact that it is us. We are sick, we need a Savior and we need each other. And we do not have to clean ourselves up first.

You do not have to wear the right clothes to come to Jesus.
You don’t have to brush your hair.
You don’t have to know enough about the Bible.
You don’t have to quit smoking.
You don’t have to be “good.”
You don’t have to stop cussing.
You don’t have to volunteer for every dang thing your church does.
You don’t have to get straight.
You don’t have to stop drinking.
You don’t have to be ok.

Just come. Come and follow Him. Trust Him to take care of the rest. Because He will.

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.

///

’til the wheels fall off

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

til the wheels fall off 1

Mother Teresa says it like this: If we have no peace, it’s because we have forgotten we belong to each other. I think it safe to say, most the world, Christians included, have indeed forgotten we belong to each other.

We draw lines, build fences, pray for hedges and shrink our circles. We stay in our Christian bubbles and keep our kids there with us. We read about war and famine and bombings and ISIS and through up a prayer for “those people.”

A quick scroll through my Facebook feed is all I need to glimpse a world of people who have forgotten we belong to each other.

The one possible exception to this relational norm is marriage. You may be thinking marriage is different from other relationships we have, and it’s true, it is. Biblical marriage is a covenant, or promise, between three people: two spouses, one God.

On our wedding day we boldly proclaim:

I take you Fellow Sinner,
to be my partner in life,
to have and to cuddle,
from this day to forever,
for good and for hard,
for consistent paychecks
and for overdrawn bank accounts,
in cancer wings and in CrossFit gyms,
to love and to cherish-ish,
till death takes us apart.
We belong to each other.

Basically, I am in your corner ’til the wheels fall off. 

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But I wonder, what would happen if we declared this to one another? If we spoke it over those we’ve labeled as “other“?

I’m not suggesting we lower the relational bar for marriage, but I am asking us to explore what it would look like to make a similar commitment to our fellow human beings. Because, as Father G says, kinship is what happens when we live like we belong to each other.

You stand with the least likely to succeed until success is succeeded by something more valuable: kinship. – Father G, Tattoos on the Heart

What would happen if we show up for people when they can’t show up for themselves? If we “see in homies what they don’t see in themselves… until they do.”

Jesus is very clear on his most important mandates to us as his followers:

Love God.
Love people.

He doesn’t leave room for debate here. The disciples can’t argue what Jesus means by “love.” (Possibly the way we “love” when he turns water into wine? What do you think guys?)

Jesus spells it out clearly: love people, as yourself.

 

John Piper describes the second commandment as seeming, “to demand that I tear the skin off my body and wrap it around another person so that I feel that I am that other person; and all the longings that I have for my own safety and health and success and happiness I now feel for that other person as though he were me.”

 

Intense right?

 

I think it was meant to be. When we truly love another as we long ourselves, we come face-to-face with God in them and God in us and the walls of hostility and oppression and injustice crumble. The veil is torn and the Kingdom comes just a little bit closer to earth.

 

Can we commit to being people who are for our fellow humans? Can we stand in awe, instead of against or apathetic to, each others burdens? Can we commit to call forth the best in each other, to speak of the imago Dei in them, of God in them, despite how far below the ills of this world it is buried?

 

Can we remember we belong to each other?

 

I take you Fellow Sinner,
to be my kin in this life,
to belong to each,
from this day to forever,
for joy and for lament,
for when you show up
and when you don’t,
for when I sin against you
and you sin against me,
for smiles and hurt feelings,
for apologies and forgiveness…
’til the wheels fall off.

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? What themes from the book have lodged themselves in your heart? Leave your words in the comments OR meet us tonight on Facebook at 8:30pm EST.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 


 

 

 

LBF Book Club ::: Tattoos on the Heart

Back in December I had this crazy idea to start an online book club. The next week we painted an entire house, moved cross-culturally, attempted to organize all earthly possessions for seven people, and jumped head first into living among and loving our neighbors.

So it’s March, and the book club is coming alive!

book club_tattoos_on_the_heart

I’m excited to launch the LBF book club as an extension of this online space AND as a way of joining together with YOU, as we seek to move closer to the heart of God.

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion is the first book we’ll unpack together, and one of the most incredible pieces of art I’ve had the privilege of reading. The author, Father Greg Boyle, has an extraordinary gift of communicating the universal human experience through themes of redemption, shame, compassion, success and love that knows no bounds.

I promise you – no matter who you are, where you are – this book will touch you deeply and teach you things about yourself you don’t even know you need to learn.

Right now, Tattoos on the Heart is on SALE on Amazon for only $9.40! (And now it’s dropped to $9.25!!!) Don’t wait, head over and purchase your copy now! You might be a loyal library patron, as am I, but trust me when I say, you want to own a copy of this book.

DEETS: To make it easy for you to participate, the “club” part of the book club will take place in three places:

First, Right here! Each Monday in April I’ll share thoughts from the chapters we’ve read in the previous week and you can join in the conversation in the comments. For you writer types, there will also be a link up for you to share a post from your own space!

Second, Join the Light Breaks Forth Book Club Facebook Group! Monday evenings at 8:30 pm EST we’ll “meet” to discuss the book. From the comfort of your own home (and pajamas), you can sip your favorite beverage while we dig into the themes of the book and how they are shaping us. If Monday evenings aren’t good for you, feel free to join in any way – Facebook is loose like that and allows for communication anytime night or day, which in this case is awesome.

Third, I’ll be using the hashtag #lbfbookclub on Instagram to share pieces of how the book is impacting me throughout the week.

SCHEDULE: We will discuss chapters one and two on April 4th, chapters three and four on April 11th, chapters five – seven on April 18th, and chapters eight and nine on April 25th.

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Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
~ Isaiah 58:6-8

This verse is the riverbank against which all my writing flows. The books chosen for the book club will focus on moving these commands forward in our own lives. I hope you’ll join me!

Questions? Plan on joining? Have you read Tattoos on the Heart? Wanna read it again? Let me know in the comments! 

TBT: If Jesus Showed Up at Your Door

In honor of Leap Day and my spiritual Birthday, I’m reposting my testimony and story of coming to Jesus. Enjoy!

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As a kid my family attended Catholic church once or twice a year. In elementary school, I remember going a bit more often but still not having ears to hear what was being taught. By the time I was in high school, I identified myself as a full-blown atheist.

As my senior year came to an end, I started dating a guy who, up to that point, I considered my best friend. Fast forward a year or so and we were living together in Orlando attending college. To me this seemed perfectly normal. To Then Boyfriend’s mom, it was really, really unfortunate.

(COMPLETE ASIDE – Kristen Armstrong refers to Lance Armstrong as her “Was-band” and I think that’s genius. I, unfortunately, cannot come up with anything as catchy for my then boyfriend. Alas…)

Unfortunately, Then Boyfriend’s mom didn’t feel like she could communicate her feelings or beliefs to us. You see, Then Boyfriend’s family were Believers, and his mama knew we were not on a healthy path. (Poor woman, I can only imagine now as a mama myself sending my boys off to live with a tattooed, spunky 19-year-old who made not-so-modest wardrobe choices.)

On September 11, 2001, we were riding to school listening to Howard Stern. (You guys, I can’t make this stuff up. This use to be my life.) They were talking about a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center towers and I thought it was all a joke, because, HOWARD STERN.

All over the campus, televisions were tuned to the news. I sat on the floor with my classmates as we watched the second plane crash and the horror of what I thought was a joke became reality.

That day was a game changer for me and my beliefs.

I wrestled with good and evil and why and all the questions but I had a trust I had never experienced before. I trusted that the God I had heard about but didn’t actually know, was BIG enough to redeem the people piloting those planes. Not just that He was big enough to heal the pain of those effected by the tragedy; BIG enough to redeem the people who CAUSED it.

Friends, I can’t explain it. It really doesn’t make any sense. I didn’t think He was enough when my parents got divorced. I didn’t think He was enough any of the five times we moved during my childhood and I struggled to leave friends and make new ones. I didn’t think He was enough when my heart was broken at the tender (and hellacious) age of fifteen. I didn’t think He was enough when I struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts as a sixteen year old.

But on that day, I knew He was enough for all the thousands of people around the world who were hurting. And suddenly He became enough for me too.

Now I am a really, really slow learner. My salvation moment was not radical. I didn’t immediately turn off the Howard Stern, move out of our apartment, and join a bible study. It took Y E A R S for my heart to follow Jesus.

We stayed in Florida, cohabitating and whatnot for another year or so. We moved to Louisville after graduation and started going to Then Boyfriend’s family’s church from time to time.

For the first time in my life, I had ears to hear the Gospel.

I know this sounds straight crazy to some of you, but I had no idea I was living in sin. I mean, we’re all sinful, but I was choosing to live it daily. Here’s the thing – if you aren’t a Believer, you probably aren’t Googling “What does the Bible say about cohabitation?” Right?

{A NOTE TO MY SINGLE LADIES – If you are feeling any shame right now stop it. Jesus despises shame and joyfully died so you do not have to carry that weight. (Hebrews 12:1 – 3) He also died so you can be set free from your sin. It’s ain’t easy Sisters, to walk away from that relationship and that person and that life but it is possible. Jesus has so much for you and shame isn’t on the list.}

One Sunday morning in the spring of 2003, I decided it was time to accept the altar call and explain that I believed. I am sinful. He is perfect. He was sent to make a way for me to approach the Father. Because of Him the Father sees me as righteous. I was ready to be baptized and make a public proclamation of my belief.

And I would have the next week, if it weren’t for one minor thing. When the church staff entered my information into their computer system, another name popped up with the same address. Then Boyfriend had been baptized by this church years ago, and therefore was considered a “member”. I knew we were on their mailing list, I think from time-to-time they sent us tithe envelopes…

The next thing I know I’m on the phone with an older gentleman (I’m using the word gentleman graciously) from the church. I remember two things from that conversation; the statement that I was “being used for sex”, and the question, “What would you do if Jesus came to your door today?”

Can I just say that as a one week old Baby Believer I was crushed? Crushed. I called Then Boyfriend who was furious. The next few weeks are a blur. We met with his parents. We met with the pastor of a different church. We were counseled about living with a closet full of Twinkies and not eating them. (What in the world?) Ultimately, we were told we were living in sin and had two choices: end our relationship or get married.

Ya’ll know how this story ends, but at the time I was distraught over this decision. I was 22 and had been in this relationship for well over three years. We lived together for most of that time. We shared everything: material possessions, bank account, dog. You name it, it was “ours” – not mine or his. Apart from the covenantal agreement, it was like we were married.

And that’s exactly the problem: there was no covenantal agreement. And for the first time in my life, I had to look at God’s Word and ask “Do I believe what this book says? And if I do, what does that mean for my life?”

The details after this point are not nearly as important as my answer. My answer was “Yes. Yes I believe it, yes I want to follow it.”

My answer was also “Yes, I want to get married.” Turns out Then Boyfriend came to a different conclusion… I’m hesitant to share too much of his story here. I will say it was a time of questioning for him as well.  As best I know, it resulted in Then Boyfriend saying “No.” and walking away from his faith.

I spent the next year struggling with how good I had to be to be baptized. I still get heated about the way that situation was handled and thank God I don’t remember the name of the “gentleman” who called me to ask what I would say to Jesus if he showed up on my doorstep.

As I said, I’m a really slow learner and the Lord is oh so gracious in His dealings with me.

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Unfortunately/fortunately this portion of my life took place before smart phones and social media so there is no digital documentation BUT, this is how I feel about sharing my testimony with you. If we were sharing over a cup of hot tea, I would be making this face.

Because of the length of the relationship and how intertwined our lives were, I decided to get  out of town to explore my new identity as a person and in Christ. I took my ’78 VW Westfalia to Chicago and slept on a friends couch for months. It was my first time to be single in my adult life.

It was weird and wild and freeing to realize God loved me in my sin. I didn’t have to get right to come to God because He came to me. In the muck and the mire, He rescued me.

I was right because of what Jesus did on the cross. There was no way to earn it. I would never be good enough by my own works. Never. And I didn’t have to be.

Friends, I want you to hear this, if you are waiting to get right before coming to Lord stop. that. junk. right now.  Repent of your pride and turn to Him. He knows we are a jacked up people. He sent His son to save us anyway because HE LOVES US. Just as we are. He hates our sin, yes, but He loves us.

He is for us. He wants to set us free. Free from our sin and our shame and our pride and our messy, messy hearts. He is for us y’all.

He would never show up at our door to condemn. Never. There is no condemnation at the foot of the cross. And there is always room. Room for jacked up sinners from every tribe and tongue and nation ready to say “More. More of you and Less of me. Jesus let it be so.”

If He knocked on my door or your door today, His message would be the same as it was two thousand years ago. I am here for you. I love you. I made you in my image. You are mine. Rest in me. Be free in me.

{Oh, and about a year after being asked what I would do if Jesus knocked at my door, I walked back into that same church and was baptized. Apparently my rebellion runs deep.}

followership-31-days

If Jesus Showed Up at Your Door was the seventh post in a 31 day study on followership. View the rest of the study here.

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.

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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. 

 

Advent Debriefing

It’s January, and the latter part of January at that. I’m not sure how this happened but time is consistent that way, always forging ahead whether we’re ready or not.

I know it’s January, but my head is struggling with this concept. I feel like a hurdler who came out of the starting block all wrong and knocks down each hurdle due to an unfortunate misstart to the race. I blame it on Advent.

My Advent experience of 2015 was polar opposite 2014. In 2014, I clung to God like a child whose parents were about to leave town for a long getaway; intent on holding Him close and struggling in disbelief that He’ll actually come back.

I read my Bible and Advent devotional as if my life depended on it, because in many ways, my life actually did depend on it. The scriptures and words surrounding them were like a balm to my chapped soul.

I was often awakened in the middle of the night, unsure of events on the other side of the world where my husband battled evils both seen and unseen as we fought to bring our daughter home.

I would slide out of bed onto my knees over the vent in our bedroom, heat blasting up into my pant legs and drying out my throat, put in my earbuds, turn on the Steffany Gretzinger Pandora station and cry out to God in a Romans 8:26 kinda way. Hoping for what I couldn’t see, persevering oh-so-eagerly, trusting for the Spirit to intercede.

To say Advent 2014 was a sweet time would be to tie a neat little Christian bow on six years of confusion and suffering. It wasn’t sweet. It was one of the hardest months of my life. It wasn’t sweet, but it was right in the only way an upside-down God works his Kingdom come here on Earth.

I remember putting clothes into my daughter’s drawers on a particularly despairing day. Or maybe they all felt despairing; looking back I’m not sure. As I was folding up tiny pants and shirts, organizing shoes I had only dreamed of her wearing, I challenged Him. Do not make me take these out of here. I am putting these clothes in drawers by faith, and I need you to do what you said. I need you to bring her home.

As clear as day He told me again, as He’d done over and over for months, I am making a way.

That day Advent became real to me in a way it had never been before. With tears streaming down my face, a mug of hot tea gone cold in my hand, Advent became real. I’d been a Christian for over 10 years but in that moment, that Heaven breaking through moment, I believed in my marrow: He is actually coming back.

The birth of our Savior and his first sweet sleep in a feeding trough is a beautiful story, but it is only half the story. The story behind the story is that he is coming back. And on that frigid December day, surrounded by my daughter’s clothes, I actually believed it.

An Advent Reflection

This Advent I read maybe four days of devotional and didn’t crack my bible after that. I read zero biblical materials to my kids (outside of our homeschool curriculum) and let them watch way too much TV, including A Christmas Story which started the proliferation of the “F” word in our house.

When I was prompted by the Spirit, or the neighbor’s delirious rooster, to wake at 3am, I didn’t get on my knees in prayer, I pulled out my phone and scrolled Pinterest.

It felt long and dark and drab, despite our relocation from gray midwest winters to sunny Florida’s southern-most tip. I was surrounded by palm trees but I might as well been weighted down under a heavy blanket of snow. It was hard to breath.

But you know what? Jesus still came. And he’s still coming. His intrinsicness as God has nothing to do with me and my desire for His word or faithfulness in prayer or commitment to devotionals or whether or not I read my kids the Jesus Storybook Bible before breakfast or let them eat chocolate instead.

Jesus came because it was God’s plan for our weary world, not because I earned him. And He’s coming back because that is God’s design to restore the ruins of the fall, not because I’m wooing him with my prayers.

I’m thankful God is just as much himself in the long, distant seasons as He is in the near and dear ones.

He still comes. Regardless of our response to waiting and unknown and difficulty, He still loves us enough to put on skin and move into our neighborhood. Which is exactly what Advent is all about.

2015 Top Ten

[If you read along often, I’d be so grateful if you’d spare five minutes (or less) to take my first ever reader survey! And since prizes are fun, one of you who completes the survey will win a copy of Just Mercy, one of my favorite books from 2015! Survey open until NYE at midnight.]

I don’t often look at my blog stats. I just don’t find them terribly helpful. I know that’s not the “right” way to build a platform but, whatever man, that’s not really my goal here.

It was interesting (and a bit surprising!) to take a look at my top ten posts from the last year. I love that three of the top ten are from guest writers and two of the ten are from my Things Christians Probably Shouldn’t Say series.

At the beginning of 2015, I shared what I intended to write about this year and, as it turns out, I actually wrote about half of those things. The Lord laid other topics on my heart and those turned out to be some of my most popular posts.

Funny how that happens.

2015 Top Ten

Thank you for showing up here and sharing your stories with me. It’s an honor to have you reading my words and a privilege I don’t take lightly.

Speaking of privilege…


1. My White Privilege

I have no idea what my brothers and sisters of color endured for hundreds of years. I have no idea the atrocities my ancestors committed against them. I have no idea the history of African-Americans and the weight of oppression they have been forced to operate under because I didn’t have to know it. I have been able to live 34 years of life without having any idea of it.


 2. Adoption is Good, But It’s Not Best

Kids from hard places join families because of tragedy. It is a tragedy that they need a “new” family. And I never ever for a single millisecond want our kids to think that their deep deep deep loss is our gain.

I want them to know my heart breaks for them, that if I could have written the ending to their story, it would not have ended with us. That might make you squirm, but I can tell you that’s not how they would have written the ending either.


 3. Dear Foster and Adoptive Mamas:
Let’s Take a Real Rest

Jesus was misunderstood because of the way he and his disciples did life.

Let that sink in for a moment. Jesus is teaching his disciples in a counter-cultural way. They aren’t fasting when others are fasting, they aren’t praying like others are praying, they are different and weird and other religious teachers are watching the way Jesus raises up his disciples and they. don’t. get. it. He’s misunderstood and they question him. Can you relate?

“So, you don’t spank them? Have you tried spanking them?”
“Oh, so they sleep in bed with you?”
“He can have just one more cookie right? It’s just a little sugar.”
“You can leave her in childcare. Won’t she be fine? She knows you’re coming back doesn’t she?”
“Is he still having nightmares? ALL kids have nightmares. That’s normal.”
“You talk to their birth mom? Aren’t you afraid she’ll try to come get them?”

Jesus KNOWS what this feels like friends.


4. Your foster care fears are real.
Do it anyway.

And yes, after you work to love them, you might love them too much. But you know what? It’s not about you. And those kids you are so afraid of loving too much, well, they’re dying inside for someone to love them like that. And then you might lose them too soon. To a clean-for-the-moment birth parent… or a long-lost relative… or the system…

Or, you might see redemption and healing and beauty from ashes right before your eyes. You might see that the people sitting across from you in family court need Jesus just as much as you do and you need Him just as much as they do. You might be witness to the redefining of family and count yourself one of them. 

Or they might become yours. But that’s messy too.


5. God have mercy on ISIS.

Do you see that prayer is not a last resort or second-rate battleground?! Prayer is not for those who are too far away to do SomeThing, prayer is the thing. 

We have the power to push back darkness. Prayer is more powerful than dropping a bomb or drawing a gun – because it sets people free. 


6. I Was Wrong About Foster Care

The day before our boys came to live with us I attended Created for Care, a retreat/conference for adoptive moms. I was speaking with a woman whose family had been praying about starting the journey of adopting from Ethiopia. She asked me a question I could tell had been on her mind for some time. She asked me how I answer people who want to know why we are adopting from Africa and not “here”. Here being in the US.
I gave my wise Christian answer [SARCASM] “We prayed about it and feel like God has our children in Africa…” and then I told her the need is greater there. Kids in the US have roofs over their heads, clothes on their backs and food in their tummies. Their parents are not dying of AIDS at alarming rates and they are not dying themselves of dirty water. Simple. The need is greater. I. Spoke. Those. Words.
Friends, I was wrong.
Hear me. I. WAS. WRONG.

7. Things Christians Probably Shouldn’t Say: All Lives Matter

But as a Christian, the fact that our country is based on the foundation that some lives matter more than others is not one I can just let go or forget about or pretend does not exist.


8. Things Christians Probably Shouldn’t Say: All That Matters is That It’s Healthy

But listen: it’s still not what I would choose. Because it is dang hard. The goodness of our lives doesn’t come from the fact that we’re blessed with desirable circumstances; it comes from living in relationship with a God who can transform anything into goodness, anything into beauty.


9. A Come to Jesus Meeting on 21st Century Racism from your “Black Friend”

And privilege does something to you. it makes you blind to systematic injustices all around you because you did not experience it. 

Privilege makes people racist.


10. Is That Really Helpful? Considerations for Aspiring Allies

Don’t ask a PoC to do your work for you. So, about those “Do you have any suggestions?” messages in your Black friend’s inbox…

Black folks have had suggestions for generations, many of which have fallen on deaf ears among even well-meaning White people. The struggle for equal rights predates all of us now, and at this time we’re neck-deep in scholarship, history, and narrative on the matter. Classes have been taught on this stuff since before I knew my ABCs. If you’ve missed the message, it’s your job to play catch-up.


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.

weary_world4

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…

weary_world5

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.)

God have mercy on ISIS.

I sit here in our temporary apartment listening to the wind usher in waves from the expanse of the sea. The ocean reminds me how vast the world really is. I can’t shake Ann Voskamp’s words about the place on the other side – northern Africa – “the place where the heart of God bleeds up through the earth” she says. But all too often, the blood of men, women and children made in the image of God soaks down into the soil of that continent. We don’t hear much about them over here, unless we make special effort, unless our ears are tuned to hear their cries…

mercy_for_ISIS

The chief Hebrew term (apparently there are many) behind the word mercy is “hesed,” which is integrally tied to God’s covenant love. Mercy and love are intertwined because mercy is the tangible outworking of his love.

Do our fears outweigh our call to mercy?

I keep asking myself this question as I read about our elected officials barring Syrian refugees and Christians blasting the internet with sentiments that our borders should be closed. Perhaps they have forgotten, as my friend Lindsay so eloquently puts it, that our Savior became a Middle-Eastern refugee when his earthly parents fled to Egypt, because Herod was slaughtering infants in his homeland?

Are our fears heavier on our hearts than extending the lovingkindness of our God to others? Is maintaining our Western facade of safety more valuable than extending the tangible love and compassion of our Savior to those who don’t know it or him?

“Mercy is the quality in God that directs him to forge a relationship with people who absolutely do not deserve to be in relationship with him. Mercy is manifested in God’s activity on behalf of his people to free them from slavery; it is neither theory nor principle.” –  BibleStudyTools.com

That’s us Church! From nothing to something, from rejected to accepted, from unloved to Beloved, from orphans to adopted, from slaves to free.

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I walked past a muted television this morning. President Obama was standing at a podium and the text scrolling across the screen made mention of his “anti-ISIS efforts.”  I don’t know much about military power or ground troops, but I do know we aren’t battling only against flesh and blood. I know we are fighting against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Friends, call me crazy, but this is good news BECAUSE we know the One who sits on the throne FAR ABOVE every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given, not only in this age but also in the one to come. Everything is under the feet of Jesus, Ephesians 1 says so. Jesus, who is sitting at the right hand of the Father. The Father, who spoke the wind and waves into being.

Do you see that prayer is not a last resort or second-rate battleground?! Prayer is not for those who are too far away to do SomeThing, prayer is the thing. 

We have the power to push back darkness. Prayer is more powerful than dropping a bomb or drawing a gun – because it sets people free. 

How do we mirror the God who saved us to those who persecute us? We pray for them. We refuse to allow them to divide us. We get on our knees and we go to war. We bury our heads in our Bibles and we read over and over and over of His great love for the lost and the hurting and the foreigner.

I fear oversimplifying this subject. I’ve never lived in a city where persecution of this magnitude has taken place. I don’t know anyone who has been killed by ISIS. I am not an expert on these matters. I only read about them on the internet. What I know is this: Christ died for me while I was still his enemy.

And I know the only superpower strong enough to disarm those who persecute us is the One who came to die for them. Lord, help us not forget, you died for them too.

These terrorists are enemies of God. They inflict terror and pain and unimaginable horror. BUT there is no sin bigger than the blood Jesus spilled on the cross. And according to scripture, they are no more his enemy than I was. Thank God his lovingkindness extends all the way to sinners, murderers, adulterers and liers.

It’s oh-so-easy to forget, when we read his Holy Spirit-inspired words of rejoicing in suffering, not loosing heart, freedom, preaching and praying – that the man who wrote more of the New Testament than anyone else was a former terrorist. We all know this right? Saul of Tarsus, Enemy of God. Killer of Christians.

Who is the Saul of ISIS?

What kind of ushering in of the gospel would come from Saul of ISIS transforming to Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ?! Oh Church, may we long to see it. May we be praying for these men who are covered in scales of unbelievable evil to regain sight for their Maker.

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Members of ISIS make good-bye videos for their families prior to leaving to join the terrorist group. They explain their desires for their funeral, belongings, family members, etc. They say goodbye. Forever. They are no longer living for things of this world. They are dead men walking.

Sound familiar? Oh right, our beloved Paul was a redeemed zealot.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
– Galatians 2:20

and again in Acts 20:22 – 24:

“And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, bound in my spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there, except that in town after town the Holy Spirit testifies to me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me. But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.”

My Facebook feed begs the question, What are we zealous for Christians? Are we willing to lay down our lives for what we believe? Most of us won’t have to, but many of us aren’t even willing to get uncomfortable for it.

Are we willing to open our arms to the foreigner and the refugee? Are we willing to extend the same grace and mercy and love that has been extended to us? Are we willing to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, take in the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick and captive?

Does their terror warrant justice? Absolutely. Does God in his great mercy have the power to bestow salvation instead? All citizens of Heaven sing the praises of it.

May we be as dedicated to flooding the world with the love and grace and mercy of Jesus as the Islamic State is to flooding it with bullets and bomb shrapnel. They are zealous for their cause; are we zealous for ours?

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!

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.

Things Christians Probably Shouldn’t Say: All Lives Matter

{the DISCLAIMER I didn’t think was necessary: I am specifically referring to using “All Lives Matter” as a rebuttal and combative response to a movement -” Black Lives Matter”- that requires and deserves attention and action rather than a silencing, all-encompassing and hollow catchphrase. Shout out to @shannon_boothman for articulating it so well.}

I’d be a terrible current events reporter. The Black Lives Matter movement has been around since 2013, and people have been responding with “All Lives Matter” since the beginning. Why write about it now? Well, because people keep saying it.

I don’t feel qualified – theologically, culturally, or academically – to write this post, but, D.H. Lawrence said, “Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.”

So here I am.

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First, a brief history lesson.

#BlackLivesMatter began in 2013 after Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted for his crime.

Alicia Garza, one of the founding women of the Black Lives Matter movement, describes it this way, “Black Lives Matter is a broad umbrella for social justice campaigns to eradicate poverty and unemployment, overhaul the public education and health care systems, reduce the prison population and end racial profiling.”

And, in case you’ve been living under a rock, Black Lives Matter has BLOWN UP.

In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, some white folks have responded with Well, All Lives Matter, and while this statement comes across as a unifying and honorable one, it’s actually quite the opposite. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Second, some current events:*

Even when income and credit risk are equal, African-Americans are up to 34% more likely to receive higher‐rate and subprime loans with a prepayment penalty than are their similarly situated white counterparts.

While African-Americans constitute 13.1% of the nation’s population, they make up nearly 40% of the prison population.

African-Americans represent 12% of the total population of drug users, but 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those in state prison for a drug offense.

African-Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months).

in 2012, a black man was killed by a security officer every 28 hours.

These statistics, effectively say, “Black lives do not matter.”

Earlier this week the Ferguson Commission issued their final report stating; “What we are pointing out is that the data suggests, time and again, that our institutions and existing systems are not equal, and that this has racial repercussions,” the report continues. “Black people in the region feel those repercussions when it comes to law enforcement, the justice system, housing, health, education, and income.” (Emphasis mine.)

I could list statistics and facts and figures that outline the systemic racism in our country for. days. but instead, why don’t you go read The New Jim Crow and learn it for yourself?

If I weren’t a Jesus follower, and heck, even as one, it’s tempting to respond to “All Lives Matter”  with something like this…

Things Christians Probably SHouldn't Say: All Lives Matter

Or say, that’s just stupid, and move on.

But as a Christian, the fact that our country is based on the foundation that some lives matter more than others is not one I can just let go or forget about or pretend does not exist.

According to Paul, who wrote more of the New Testament than anyone else, we are to let our love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. We’re supposed to love one another with brotherly affection. (Romans 12:9-10) We can’t do that if we pretend the struggles and fears and experiences of our Brothers and Sisters do not exist.

What, on the surface, “All Lives Matter” attempts to communicate – that is, we all matter, we all have value, we are all of the same race, all human, all the same color on the inside – actually accomplishes the opposite. Instead of bringing ALL lives together, “All Lives Matter” is, in essence, attempting to erase the experience of the black community. In saying all lives matter, you are choosing to ignore the lives that are not being valued now.

Paul goes on to say we are to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Not argue with, not discredit, not silence, not ignore: rejoice and weep. In fact, Paul says these are the marks of a true Christian.

When any one member of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer. As a whole, we’ve lost the art of weeping with others. We’ve become so uncomfortable with being uncomfortable, we don’t even know how to say, “I don’t get it, I’ve never lived it, but I will sit here with you and I will weep with you because you are my Family.” Maybe we’re unable to enter in, because we spend so much time avoiding pain and suffering, but as fellow heirs with Christ, that’s part of the deal. (Romans 8:17)

In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul speaks of the unity of the body of Christ.  “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Emphasis mine.)

Here’s the question rolling around in my head:

Is “All Lives Matter” a unifying statement?

Friends, unity is not everyone looking and acting the same, unity is pouring ourselves out for one another in Acts of Love. Unity is living like Jesus, loving like Jesus, and serving like Jesus – because unity is a product of Jesus’ work on the cross. There is unity to be found, on earth as it is in heaven, but it will not be found in erasing, ignoring, or demeaning the experiences of others.

We all came to the Good News the same way – regardless of our age, sex, color, economic status – our belonging in the family of God was blood-bought and we have a Kingdom-Ushering responsibility to do more than side-step the reality of our Brothers and Sisters because locking arms with them is too hard or too risky or too far outside our comfort zones.

Do all lives matter? Of course they do, but that reality is not playing out in our world. In the face of superficial unity, we need to let our love be genuine and hold fast to what is good. We need to declare Black Lives Matter.

How are you bearing with your Brothers and Sisters of color? Are you weeping with those who weep? [A simple first step may be to push back when you read or hear someone declare All Lives Matter.] 

*Stats can be found here and here.

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September R E A D S

A funny thing happens when you give up social media for a month, you have time to read words actually worth reading. And, you begin craving substance instead of empty calories.

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These are the five books on my bedside table this month:

I haven’t started United by Trillia Newbell yet but I am looking forward to exploring the topic of “reflecting the beauty of the last day this day” with a female author of color. With this book, Trillia begs the question “…our churches remain separate but equal. In a time of great progress, why does the church remain relatively unmoved?” #inquiringmindswanttoknow

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin was referenced in The New Jim Crow, and was the title of the book’s last paragraph. I haven’t started it yet but, according to Amazon, “It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism.” The New York Times described it as “sermon, ultimatum, confession, deposition, testament, and chronicle…all presented in searing, brilliant prose.” #sold

I mentioned Bird by Bird by Anne Lammott last month. If you enjoy writing or reading or honesty or humor or words, then you should read it. If you don’t enjoy those things, Why are you here? See, you should read it.

Tattoos on the Heart by Father Gregory Boyle has been on my To Read list for a long, long time. Thanks to this online bookclub, I finally bumped it to the top, and am left wondering “Dog, what the hell took you so long to read this damn book?” There’s something about a Catholic Priest who cusses like a gangbanger and loves them like his sons that leaves my heart smiling. This book paints a beautiful picture tags breathtaking graffiti, of what it looks like to be the hands and feet of Jesus among the hurting and the lost. Father Greg’s stories are poetry mixed with expletives. He explores the humanness of shame and compassion and community in a unique and profound way. It’s a MUST read friends.

I emailed my seminary friend a couple weeks ago asking for a book that explores theological and biblical history on race, what reconciliation looked like in the bible, etc., etc. His response was: I’m not sure such a book exists. But he did point me to One New Man by Jarvis Williams, which, according to Amazon, “aims to liberate individual Christians and churches from their bondage to racist ideologies, from a secular model of race relations, and from their disdain toward different races that arise from both the impact of their respective cultures and from the universal impact of sin.” Sign. Me. Up.

What are you reading this month? Have you read any of these? Are there other similar topics or authors I should check out? Share with me!

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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?

Your Foster Care Fears Are Real. Do it anyway.

National Foster Care Month is coming to an end and, if there’s one wish or prayer I have for this time, it’s that just one of you would say Yes to becoming a foster parent.

My personality is such that I want so. badly. for people to get it. I want others to feel the weight of it and be moved to action. I want to see people living out their convictions and passions and ferocious love for their neighbors… But I can’t make any of those things happen.

That’s the Holy Spirit’s work and I’d make a really crappy Holy Spirit. 

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One sentiment I heard over and over last weekend at the #trenchesretreat was that women waited months, even years, before saying Yes to God’s call on their lives to become foster parents. And the thing that kept women from their Yes was fear.

Fear of what family and friends would say, fear of entering into the system, fear for their first kids… And when we really got down into the deep places of our hearts, fear of giving up comfort and laying down our lives for someone else. Someone we don’t yet know and might not like. Someone we might love too much and loose too soon.

Since I’m not the Holy Spirit and can’t drum up conviction in your heart, these are just honest words from someone who’s been there and thought that. This is just my “Me too”, to you who feels God tugging on your heart for the kids in your own town. If you and I sat down for your drink of choice and my hot tea, I’d look you in the eyes and say:

I know.

I know your fears. You are right. People will not just think you are crazy, they will say it to your face. You’ll have to put your big girl panties on and do it anyway. Jesus’ people thought he was crazy too. You’re in good company.

And the system, oh it’s broken friend. So terribly, unfathomably, achingly broken. Social workers are overworked and underpaid. They are often attempting to balance caseloads even Superman would drop. Some are uneducated, ill-equipped and crass. Others are trying their damnedest to stay afloat and sinking nonetheless. The good ones don’t stick around very long and the pace of it all makes a snail look like an Olympic Sprinter. The system is broken, I nod in agreement with you, BUT (and this but makes all the difference) God is sovereign. 

He is there in the darkest and driest places. He is there in the broken and the mess of it all. Our broken world is most evident in the destruction of families and the heartbreak of little ones, I feel sure of it. But He is there. He doesn’t always stop the storm but He promises to get drenched with us.

And your first kids. <long tearful pause>

Yes, you are choosing a life for them they didn’t choose for themselves. Yes, you are opening up their world when everyone else says to keep them innocent and naive. Yes, your first kids will struggle and you will wonder what have you done. You will wonder if it’s all worth it. If you made a mistake. If you can ever get back the family you had before you said Yes.

I’m in that question with you. I take comfort in the words of mamas who’ve gone before me and I cry tears of relief when adults who were foster siblings look me in the eye and tell me they are so glad their parents did what they did. That they too want to become foster parents. That is was hard but it was worth it. And I pray and long for the day when my first kids say those same words to me.

And that thing about giving up comfort and laying down our lives for someone else? It is the absolute hardest thing you will ever do. You can’t even fathom how hard it will be. I can speak those words to you (as others spoke them to me) and they might as well be Japanese. You can’t imagine it.

Because after all, marriage is a mirror but motherhood is a magnifying glass. And I would add that mothering another mother’s child is a magnifying glass with laser like focus on your own sinful heart. It shines right onto the blurry sin you didn’t even know was in there. There is ugly in your heart that stays hidden until the moment someone else’s child looses their junk for the 47th time in a 12 hour day and when it comes out you are embarrassed and shocked and ashamed to acknowledge: it was in there all along.

Funny thing about foster care is, you jump into an intimate relationship with a total stranger and expect to love them. But that’s not how love works. Love is work. Before you get married there’s a period of time where you date, court, explore, inquire, fall in love. Work towards love. With foster care there’s no time for that. Even when having biological kids there’s a nine month courtship in the womb. So yeah, you might not like them. They’ll probably be hard. You’ll probably be hard for them. But love is a verb.

And yes, after you work to love them, you might love them too much. But you know what? It’s not about you. And those kids you are so afraid of loving too much, well, they’re dying inside for someone to love them like that. And then you might lose them too soon. To a clean-for-the-moment birth parent… or a long-lost relative… or the system…

Or, you might see redemption and healing and beauty from ashes right before your eyes. You might see that the people sitting across from you in family court need Jesus just as much as you do and you need Him just as much as they do. You might be witness to the redefining of family and count yourself one of them. 

Or they might become yours. But that’s messy too.

Friend, even though this foster care thing is damn hard, it’s likely the Holiest work you’ll ever do. It’s where you’ll come face-to-face and knees-to-floor with Jesus. It’s where you’ll see light shine in darkness like you’ve never experienced it but that can never extinguish it.

And if God is calling you to it, you can’t say no. Not just because He says if you love Him you’ll obey Him, although He does say that. But also because you will miss out on exactly the life He has for you if you do.

Yes, it will look crazy and different and weird. Yes, it will be hard and weary and beat-your-head-against-the-wall frustrating. Yes, it’s risky and dangerous. But there is a joy and intimacy that only comes when you are in the center of His will. It’s the thin place where you discover the wonder of living wild and free with your Savior at the wheel.

You would be shocked to know what happens to children in your own neighborhood. It’s the kinda stuff you can’t unknow. Once you know it, there’s no going back to ignorant bliss. There’s only Yes to God and forward on His path for your life, laying down your plans and your comfort and your fear of man at. the. Cross. where there is always room for just one more.

If God is calling you to foster care, say yes. And now. Don’t wait until life slows down or your kids are older or your house is bigger or fill-in-the-blank. You’ll miss out on so much if you wait. And the need is so very right now real.

Ultimate Identity

[This post is based on a devotional I was honored to lead over the weekend at the #trenchesretreat for adoptive/foster moms. While it was written with that specific group in mind, I trust everyone can gain something from examining their ultimate identity.]

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A couple of weeks ago my tribe and I went on a Costco run. It was a sunny Saturday, a day I would normally reserve for hiking in the woods and playing in the sprinkler but we ended up at Costco nonetheless. As my little people were toppling out of my mini-van, the woman parked next to us walked up and began unloading her groceries.

“Are they all yours?” she asked. I gave a fake smile and answered with a simple ‘Yes”, preparing myself for what she might ask next. She inquired about the kid’s ages and then she looked me straight in the eye and said, “Mom, you’re doing awesome.”

I got a little embarrassed and maybe even a bit teary as she went on to tell me a few more times just how “awesome” I was. I thanked her and pushed my cart full of kiddos into the store where I was met by an older couple in one of the very first aisles. The man smiled and said, “You have a beautiful family.”

I almost asked a kid to pinch me except we’re generally trying to discourage that sorta thing.

I was feeling pretty good about myself as we turned the corner into the frozen food section. Since it was Saturday, the samples were out in full effect. As my kids darted ahead to check out the goodies at the end of the aisle, a crotchety old man in a wheelchair shouted something about how it would be a good idea if one of my kids got out of the middle of the aisle and outta his way.

I was mortified. And pissed. And I started wondering if the woman in the parking lot and the older couple a few aisles back were angels and if this man was demonic…

So I did what normal people do, I prayed that if anything demonic was in Costco it would leave. now. (Later the crotchety old man in the wheelchair walked toward us in the parking lot, smiling from ear to ear and joked with the kids. But that’s another post for another day.)

I share that story because it illustrates that the world tells us two things about ourselves as adoptive/foster moms: either we are put on a pedestal as awesome and amazing and heroic and oh-I-could-never-do-what-you-do OR we’re shamed. We’re crazy. We’re ruining our bio kids and our marriages and our families.

But what does God say about us? Who are we in Christ?

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Our ultimate identity is not as a mom. Our ultimate identity is not as a mom.

And if not as mom, then definitely not as an adoptive mom or a foster mom or a special needs mom or a homeschooling mom or whatever other kind of moms there are.  <—— These are labels from the world. Some of them we have even self-imposed on ourselves. I’m guilty of proudly wearing a few of them as badges of honor.

We DO have roles. And obviously our roles have been given to us by God BUT they will be ill-fitting until we are confident of who we are IN CHRIST.

John Piper says it this way: As a Christian you cannot talk about your identity without talking about the action of God on you, the relationship of God with you, and the purpose of God for you.

And Peter says it like this:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9

CHOSEN RACE

Our identity is in our chosenness. God chose you. Why? Because you’re awesome? Because of some good thing you did? No. Because he got a cute referral picture of you? Nope. We were chosen and we had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Ladies, we should stand in awe of the fact that we are chosen by God. 

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ROYAL PRIESTHOOD

We are the King’s own priests.

This is an important biblical idea: the idea that every believer is a priest.

Martin Luther thought that “this word priest should become as common as the word Christian” because all Christians are priests.

“When Luther referred to the priesthood of all believers, he was maintaining that the plowboy and the milkmaid could do priestly work. In fact, their plowing and milking was priestly work. So there is no hierarchy where the priesthood was a “vocation” and milking the cow was not. Both were tasks that God called his followers to do, each according to their gifts.” – Art Lindsley, Ph.D.

The implication of this for us is that our entire lives are priestly work and therefore an act of worship. All of it. Washing dishes is worship. Going to therapy is worship. Wiping butts is worship.

AND, as part of the royal priesthood, we are always in God’s presence. There is no neutral zone as one chosen by God as His royal priesthood. No neutral zone in what your role is in the Kingdom and no neutral zone in where you are in relation to God. Always His Priest and always in His presence. 

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HOLY NATION

We know from Revelation that Jesus purchased (PAST TENSE) for God people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation by conquering sin and death. This is the already/not yet tension of the Bible. We are already the HOLY NATION. We are already set apart. Existing for God.

And one day we will come together with people from every tribe and tongue and people and earthly nation. And we won’t take any of our earthly labels with us. Our eternal role is as His Holy Nation, set apart for God.

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PEOPLE FOR HIS OWN POSSESSION

Jesus bought you sister.

It was bloody and gruesome and costly and horrific and because of it, YOU are the Lord’s inheritance.

You are the one He desires to spend eternity with. Have you ever thought about that? God wants to spend eternity with YOU?! 

Exodus 19:5 says we are his “treasured possession”. You are His treasured one. You are not just a wife or a mom or a crazy woman with too many kids, you are treasured by the Creator of the universe and He has chosen to spend eternity with Y O U.

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Which of these truths are you not living in the freedom of?
What does it look like to live in the fullness of your identity in Christ?
Not how to be a better mom or a more productive mom or a more therapeutic mom…
How can you live in the fullness of your identity in Christ?

#trenchesretreat photog Sharon Miles Photography

Pushing Back the Lies

Over the weekend I had the honor and privilege of serving the women of our church through an IF:Table.

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As we sat around beautiful flowers, candles and burlap and devoured our delicious food, we talked about relationships and one question we discussed has been rolling around my mind for days.

What is one thing that keeps you from being truly authentic with others?

There were many answers from the ladies around my table. Some similar themes and some not. As I shared my answer I thought about last weeks post about vulnerability and realized, in order to really practice what I preach, I have to push back the lie Satan’s throwing at me in this area of true authenticity.

The thing that keeps me from being truly authentic with others?
The lie that I’m too much.

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I’ve grown to hate the question “How are you?” because it’s an unpurposefully loaded one. Because my honest response is “How much time do you have?” Because the truth of how I am just feels like too much. To answer that I’m ok, or fine, or good is really not the truth. There’s nothing authentic about it. And to answer honestly, that at times every area of my life feels out of control and oh, by the way, how are you? Well, that just doesn’t feel quite like doing things justice either.

To say one of my kids ongoing health problems are a constant underlying ache in my heart is just the tip of the iceberg. What you see above the water doesn’t look so bad. A quick, easy-ish answer. But it’s the frozen tundra under the surface that feels too big and too cold and too serious and too much to actually share out loud.

So for the most part I don’t. I say I’m fine or ok or good and hope no one probes too much lest the iceberg melt and turn into a gushing waterfall of all the things.

Ugh.

So I’ve decided that vulnerability really does beget vulnerability. I’ve decided to push back the lie that I’m too much. I’ve decided the next time someone asks how I am to answer authentically. In whatever way it looks in that moment. Because maybe in my moment of authenticity, they’ll be inclined to reciprocate.

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What is the lie you’re believing?

Is Satan feeding you the same BS he’s feeding me? Is he telling you your struggles and your fears, your family and your season are too much?

Or maybe Satan is telling you you aren’t enough? Is he telling you you should be doing what so and so is doing or you should be better at this or that? Is he telling you you can’t possibly be enough?

It’s time we called the accuser’s bluff friends. It’s time we pushed back the darkness he’s spewing at us. It’s time you told him where to go with his lies. 

So if you’re ready, share the lie you’re ready to rebuke here. Let’s do this thing together. Type it out and the lie weakens. Speak it out loud and it will lose its power over you.

I’m not talking name it and claim it. I’m talking name it and nail it to the cross. Because Jesus already did.

Most Satisfied

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I’m terrible at writing thank you’s. Horrible. It’s common for family and friends to ask, “Did you get that card/gift/thing I sent you?” Oh, yep, yep I did but I suck at writing thank you notes.

I secretly hope people don’t notice. Or that they’ll somehow know I’m thankful. I mean, I’m a pretty grateful person right so surely they know. Osmosis? Something?

But you know who does notice my lack of thankfulness? Jesus.

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”
And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
– Luke 17:11-19, NIV

Jesus acknowledges the praise and faith of the Samaritan who threw himself at Jesus’ feet in thanksgiving, but he also notices that the other nine men he cleansed did not return to praise him.

He notices our lack of praise and thanksgiving. Ouch. So there’s some work to do there BUT I think he also gives us praise and thanksgiving as weapons against discontentment.

I have a kiddo who is rarely ever content. Everything else is always better. Nothing is ever good enough. You know how much good it does me to tell him to “just be content”? Zero good. I don’t think we adults can just “be content” either, we have to actually be thankful for what we’ve been given.

Sometimes what we’ve been given is material. God clothed the lilies of the fields and He clothes us too. It’s ok to be thankful for a new skirt.

Sometimes what we’ve been given is physical. God cleansed the lepers and He still heals today. Praise Him for your redeemed health.

But sometimes, all those material and physical things have been stripped away. Sometimes we’re left with nothing in this world. We’re physically actually naked or we’re emotionally naked. Either way, Habakkuk has this to say:

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.
– Habakkuk 3:17-19, NIV

The moral of Habakkuk’s story: Praise Him anyway. Take your heart and eyes off your lack, and focus on the cross. There is always thanksgiving and praise to be found there. And, as the One who saved our souls, Jesus is worthy of it no matter our earthly circumstances.

God doesn’t just want us to praise Him for the sake of Him being praised, although John Piper is onto something, God IS most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him; God cares ABOUT us. He knows that when our hearts are set on Him, we are truly most satisfied. And as our loving Father, He wants us to experience THAT.

Friends, nothing we have or desire now will last. None of us will open our eyes in eternity with thoughts of bigger houses, nicer cars or more clothes. We’ll be fully consumed with our Savior. We will fail in this life to be fully consumed with Him. We’re fallen and easily distracted by shiny things, but we can follow Habakkuk and be joyful in Him now.

However that looks for you (Pinterest and Ann Voskamp are helpful here.), we can fight discontentment with praise and thanksgiving until the day it comes naturally to our eternal bodies.

Dear Foster and Adoptive Mamas: Let’s Take a Real Rest

It’s 6 am and my alarm goes off. Since the sun set, there’s been one night terror, lots of coughing, and the regular 3:30am call for a “drinky” and potty and some late night/early morning chattyness.

I gently lift a little arm off my neck, roll over and hit snooze. An hour later I carefully slide my tired body out of bed (as to not wake the sleeping toddler), put on my tiny-finger-smudged glasses, and tip-toe to the kitchen. I fill my water bottle (because coffee gives me the jitters and that must be part of the fall) and head down the hall. As the floors creak I pray my little people sleep for just thirty minutes longer. I need time with my Jesus before I can love them well.

Bedtime was rough last night, as it often is with kids from hard places. Going to bed is full of unknowns that still haunt them years later. I’m tired. Exhausted really. I love this life but, forthelove, can a woman just get 8 straight hours of sleep!?

I slump into my favorite chair and crack open my Bible. Then I hear it, a stream of urine coming oh-so-close to hitting the bathroom floor and tiny footsteps running toward me. I point to the legos strewn about the living room and bury my head in the pages of this ancient book.

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I hear more footsteps, and toilets, and the refrigerator door opening and closing. And before I can read the scriptures or let them read me, before I can write a full sentence in my journal or get on my knees before Him, they’re starving. And cold. And someone peed in their bed and needs help starting the washing machine. And the dog needs out and someone else spilled a cup of milk and our day has begun whether I like it or not.

As a mom, I know prioritizing time with Jesus is important. But I also live in the day-to-day reality of a large family and life not going as planned.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
– Matthew 11:28-30, The Message

God gave this passage to me a few months ago and, I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to do with it.

Am I tired? Uh, yes.
Worn out? Are you kidding?
Burned out on the should-do’s of life? Yep.

But Lord, what does it look like to take a real rest?

Come to me.
Get away with me.
I’ll show you.
Walk with me.
Work with me.
Watch how I do it.
Learn from me.
Stick with me.

Do you see a theme here? It’s not about me and what I need to do, it’s about Jesus. We were made to be near Him. Every other role we have graciously been given will be ill-fitting until we are near our Savior.

Ya know what I’ve been noticing about Him? Even Jesus got away from the mess of it all. The gospels record nearly a dozen times Jesus retreated to be alone with the Father. And I’m in tears as I learn how closely Jesus identifies with us and our experiences as moms.

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While it was still night, way before dawn, he got up and went out to a secluded spot and prayed. Simon and those with him went looking for him.
They found him and said, “Everybody’s looking for you.”
– Mark 1:35, The Message

Does this make you laugh out loud?! Way before dawn Jesus rose to pray in a secluded spot because, forthelove, those disciples were a needy bunch! I’m guessing Jesus had a disciple or two who woke up at 6am no matter what their bedtime and he needed to get up early if he wanted some alone time. (Sidenote: Was Jesus an introvert? #introvertsunite)

When those needy disciples woke up, what’d they do? Sit quietly in their beds? Read books until their leader gave them directions? Pray for the day ahead? Nope. They went looking for him. What are you doing? Don’t you know everyone’s looking for you? Don’t you know we need you? Like, Right. Now. Weneedyouweneedyouweneedyou.

Sisters here’s the thing: He knew, he did. He knew how needy they were and how they hung on him for their very survival. But he also knew in order to breathe life into them, he needed life from his Father first.

So he prioritized it. Lost sleep for it. Made a way for it to happen even when everything and everyone around was clamoring for his attention.

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 The apostles then rendezvoused with Jesus and reported on all that they had done and taught. Jesus said, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.” For there was constant coming and going. They didn’t even have time to eat.
– Mark 6:31, The Message

Sound familiar? Constant coming and going? No time to eat?

A couple years ago our family was invited to an adoption banquet. I sat next to the host’s wife and just as my delicious Italian meal was placed in front of me, I was asked to stand and introduce our family and share our story. If you know our story, you know it has been completely orchestrated by God, but He didn’t exactly write an abridged version.

After sharing I sat down, my hot meal now cold and the sweet woman sitting next to me said, “I remember your season of mothering. You can either make lunch, eat lunch, or clean up lunch but you can’t do all three.”

She knew I likely hadn’t eaten that day, and Jesus knows those days too.

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He left the next day for open country. But the crowds went looking and, when they found him, clung to him so he couldn’t go on. He told them, “Don’t you realize that there are yet other villages where I have to tell the Message of God’s kingdom, that this is the work God sent me to do?” Meanwhile he continued preaching in the meeting places of Galilee.
– Luke 4:42, The message

Here they go again, looking for Jesus. Do you ever feel like CROWDS of people are looking for you in your own home? You lock the door to the bathroom to actually go to the bathroom alone, or maybe eat a little chocolate or, heaven forbid, take a shower, and it feels like CROWDS of people come searching for you?

“When they found him, (they) clung to him so he couldn’t go on.That clingy toddler who just won’t let go of your pants/shirt/necklace? Jesus knows the feeling.

You just need to get on with the dishes or the laundry or make dinner because apparently your children are starving savages who haven’t eaten in days but there is a small human who has clung to you like an infant monkey and will turn into a screaming hyena if put down for even five seconds.

Jesus gets it.

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Yet He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.
– Luke 5:15, HCSB

You hear that ladies? O F T E N.

Jesus often withdrew to deserted places and prayed. He secluded himself on purpose. He went into places uninhabited by man but fully inhabited by the Father. He submitted himself to God’s presence because it was in His presence that Jesus found fuel and perseverance for the mission God had laid out before Him.

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During those days He went out to the mountain to pray and spent all night in prayer to God. When daylight came, He summoned His disciples, and He chose 12 of them.
– Luke 6:12, ESV 

The “those days” this passage refers to are days of Jesus being questioned by people who didn’t understand him.

He was misunderstood because of the way he and his disciples did life.

Let that sink in for a moment. Jesus is teaching his disciples in a counter-cultural way. They aren’t fasting when others are fasting, they aren’t praying like others are praying, they are different and weird and other religious teachers are watching the way Jesus raises up his disciples and they. don’t. get. it. He’s misunderstood and they question him. Can you relate?

“So, you don’t spank them? Have you tried spanking them?”
“Oh, so they sleep in bed with you?”
“He can have just one more cookie right? It’s just a little sugar.”
“You can leave her in childcare. Won’t she be fine? She knows you’re coming back doesn’t she?”
“Is he still having nightmares? ALL kids have nightmares. That’s normal.”
“You talk to their birth mom? Aren’t you afraid she’ll try to come get them?”

Jesus KNOWS what this feels like friends.

Jesus identifies with us as moms! I dare say, he uniquely identifies with us as moms of kids from hard places.

He was isolated, misunderstood, constantly giving, giving, giving. He once fed 5,000 people and forthelove, it feels like we feed the same people 5,000 times a day doesn’t it? They were hanging on his clothes. He has twelve dysfunctional, needy people relying on him for everything.

They talked back, they doubted, they questioned, they betrayed. And He kept on loving and teaching and healing and praying and RAISING them because they were his twelve. He chose them. Oh sisters, He gets our lives. He gets it!

And he got away to be with the Lord so he could keep doing all the things well.

But I can’t get away like that, I’m not Jesus.

No, you’re not Jesus, but if Jesus, fully-God/fully-man, needed time away with the Father how much more do you need it Dear Sister?

I understand your reluctance. Some of you have medically fragile children. Some of you have more kids than your husband has fingers. Some of you have children with insecure attachments. Some of you have ticking time bombs under your roof and the slightest disruption to their lives will set off a war. But, there will never be a “good” time to step away from your family.

Rest is risky. Not because of all of those things, although those are legitimate concerns to pray through. Rest is risky because it pries our fingers off our families and holds them in open hands.

Rest is risky because it is acknowledging there is Someone else is control. That your husband can handle it. That your church family will step in. That you can ask for help.

Rest is risky because it’s letting God be God and admitting we are not. It’s risky because it’s refusing to feel guilty about sitting before our Father and just b e i n g.

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Galatians 5:1 says “it is for freedom Christ has set us free.” We can walk in the freedom of rest because we have been set free from the oppression and slavery of thinking we have to have it all together. Free from thinking we are the ones keeping our family on the rails.

We are free to rest because Christ has freed us from ourselves. And free people free people. Sister, if you are a hot mess, your family will be too. And Christ paid too dang much for your freedom for you to be a hot mess.

 Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.

He WILL breathe life into our weary souls if we’ll just get away with Him. I don’t know what it looks like to take a real rest, I’m still learning, but I trust Him to meet me where I am and show me. I know that as an adoptive mom, self-care has to be preventative care and not emergency mama-went-coo-coo-care.

We need Jesus and we need each other if we are to do this brutal and beautiful work of healing little hearts well. We cannot give life if we are empty and lifeless ourselves.

If you are empty, come and let Jesus breathe life back into your weary soul. Join me later this month at Together in the Trenches, a retreat designed for weary foster and adoptive moms. Sleep in a bed by yourself, eat chocolate and let other women walk alongside and pray for you.

Together in the Trenches is not an adoption conference. It is truly a retreat with your heart in mind. Would you prayerfully consider joining us? There are fewer than FIFTY spots left and we would love to see YOU there.

Make it a priority Mama. Jesus did it and so should you.

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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.” 

Walking with Jesus When Sunday’s Come and Gone

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty uncomfortable with Lent. I want to be one of those deeply faithful women who cries hot tears at every reading of the crucifixion story. But I’m not. The thought of Jesus dying on the cross for my sins is beyond my comprehension. My brain doesn’t know what to do with it.

I absolutely believe I need a Savior, I do have five kids after all, but I’d really prefer to hang out in the Sunday morning space. Where we sing loud songs and nod amen and eat chocolate. The Friday through Saturday night reality makes me squirm a little.* He did that for me? Really? It’s so violent. So cruel. An innocent man slain? Is there justice in that?

Sunday came as they say, and we do indeed worship a RISEN Savior. 

But maybe you shouted out “He is risen indeed!” yet it still feels like Friday. Maybe you woke up Sunday and nothing changed.

Your marriage is still a wreck.
Your job is still miserable.
Your child is still running.
Your finances still crumbling.
Your diagnoses remains.

If Sunday is the day we’re all waiting on, then why doesn’t it feel any different from that dark curtains-torn-in-two-earth-shaking-rock-splitting day when an innocent man hung on a tree to change the trajectory of the world?

Maybe you know Jesus concurred sin and death but the stench of sin and death seem to permeate every last hair in your nostril. You can’t escape it and you don’t know what day it is anyway but you know this life sure doesn’t feel resurrected.

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One of my favorite stories from Jesus’ life is in Luke, immediately following the resurrection.

Two of the apostles are walking to Emmaus after being told by several women who had visited the empty tomb that it was, in fact, empty. They were walking and talking, confused by what the women had said.

Suddenly another man is walking with them, and it’s Jesus, only the men “were kept from recognizing him.” He asked what they were discussing and they, a bit shocked by his lack of knowledge of current events, explained Jesus had been put to death and they had really hoped he was their redeemer, their deliverer, but he died three days ago and now some women are telling a crazy story of seeing a vision of angels who said he was alive but their friends went to check it out and the tomb is empty but Jesus isn’t there…

Jesus calls them a couple of names, then schools them on “all the scriptures concerning himself.” We don’t get a play-by-play of their conversation, but we later learn their hearts were on fire as he shared the scriptures with them.

It was getting late as they arrived in Emmaus so they invited Jesus to stay with them and he did. He sat down to share a meal and, upon breaking the bread and blessing it, their eyes were opened and they recognized him.

Here’s what I L O V E about this story: Jesus is with them the whole time. While they are on their journey feeling confused, alone and scared, He is right there.

Friends, hear this: God is still with you. In fact, Jesus says He sent the Holy Spirit to be our Advocate before the Father, our Helper, our Counselor, our Teacher, our Reminder. He is always with us.

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In the midst of wrecked marriages, miserable jobs, running children, crumbling finances and failing bodies. He’s right there, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Even when it feels like all hope is lost, you can hope because hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

Friends, the goal is not to cram our heads full of more knowledge about Jesus. Our call is to walk alongside Jesus. 

When we walk alongside Him, our hearts will be on fire. Our circumstances may not change. Your journey may not be seven miles, it might be seventy years, but He is there the whole way. 

Your Sunday IS coming. No more tears, no more pain, no more suffering. No more busted marriages. No more cancer. No more orphans. It is coming.

Today we can walk with the Spirit, tuning our ears to him, looking for him in the mundane meal-planning-bread-breaking-thanks-giving-everyday details of our life. Because He is already here.

But… The Cross

I assumed a lot of things when I hit publish last week.

I assumed my “Family Day” post would be read by my regular readers, the couple hundred of you who show up here a few times each week.

I assumed those reading would know a bit about me, my family, the journey God has us on.

That you would know how deeply I love each of my kids.

That I’m just an imperfect mom, working out grace and mercy and how to love people like Jesus loved them.

That my heart bleeds for the lonely, the hurting, the lost and the marginalized, particularly of the women and child variety.

Turns out, I was wrong. Last I checked, that little post is one of the most popular I’ve ever written. Since I wasn’t expecting a couple thousand new readers, I didn’t flush out what I meant by adoption being good, but not best.

So this is the disclosure I didn’t give. 

I’m a mom. To kids who came from my womb and to kids who did not. I’ve attempted, sometimes well and sometimes not-so-well, to walk with my kids from hard places – as they process their trauma and their loss and their deep hurts and their big feelings.

To a certain extent, I’m a prisoner of my own experience. I can’t write from any other perspective than my own.

I don’t have a seminary degree, I just love Jesus. I’m not an expert at anything, I just share my testimony. I’m not out to get millions of followers, I just want people to get how very close to the heart of God those on the margins are.

So when I said adoption is good but it’s not best, I was speaking from that place, from within my own context. But I also believe it’s actually true.

I know, trust me I know, each adoption situation is as unique as each child. No two stories are the same because no two children are the same. Some have said it’s unfair to make a sweeping statement because I don’t know every situation. They’re right, I don’t.

What I do know is adoption is a result of tragedy and immense loss. No child comes to need adoption because of a healthy or happy situation. It is tragic for a mother to not raise her child. As a biological mother of two children, I can only imagine the loss a women must feel when this happens, whether by choice, circumstances or force.

It’s easy as believers to skip over the hard stuff in order to feel comfortable and say things like ‘she was always supposed to be my daughter’. That’s an easier space to be in. But if I don’t recognize and acknowledge the massive amounts of loss that both me and my daughter have experienced then we are ignoring a huge piece of who we are. Adoption is beautiful and a clear picture of the gospel BUT so so so much loss has to happen for adoption to happen. It would not be wise of us to just acknowledge one piece of the process or, in my opinion, there won’t be a chance for true healing. – Megan Burns, Adoptee and Adoptive Mom

In Genesis God creates a man and a woman and tells them to reproduce. I’m no bible scholar, but what I deduct, is that is His model for family. And, since I believe God is the sovereign creator of the universe and the Bible to be His word, I believe his model is best.

Adoption in my life means a family, a support system, a future, believing in dreams that can be lived out, and true redemption. In my circumstances, adoption was a life saver. It gave me redemption and a chance to do more than just survive, I had a chance to live. For me it was the best alternative, the only alternative, but that is the key. Adoption is an alternative, not the original design or intent for the family. It is the alternative for children who have experienced brokenness or who were born out of it, to have redemption. It is also the way for many couples struggling with infertility to have redemption of parenthood. For the woman with an unexpected pregnancy to have an alternative and better life for their child. For the victims of abuse it is healing and redemption. Adoption is a beautiful and amazing alternative, but it was never the best way. Even in our wickedness, Jesus still gave us a way out, a way for redemption, a way for true healing, true life, a way to Him. We know this, because of His work on the cross. – Shabana Sparks, Adoptee

 

I have always (as an adoptee) sorta cringed when people, especially in the church, say things like ‘this was ALWAYS gods plan’ in regards to adoption. Even when I didn’t truly know the lord in an intimate relationship type of way I knew that wasn’t true. Gods plan was for me to be raised by my birth parents. Gods plan was for my daughter to be raised by the woman who carried her for 9 months and birthed her…in her country with a familiar language and sounds and people. THAT was gods plan. When that couldn’t happen in both situations for different reasons then adoption took place. And adoption was good because it was of Him. His plan became adoption when His original plan wasn’t possible. – Megan Burns, Adoptee and Adoptive Mom

I know what you’re thinking, “But Jesus was adopted. Moses. Esther…” Yes, they were, among others.

This is where things get tricky right? Is God’s plan for family His design in the garden: man + woman = reproduce? I believe, Yes. Did God know that’s not how things would go down? I think obviously, He did.

So did God want my child to suffer? No. Did God send that suffering? No. Did He allow it to happen? Yes. Nothing comes to us that does not pass through His hands.

In a perfect world there would be no adoption, no infertility, no abuse, no evil. But we do not live in a perfect world. We live in a world that is full of imperfect people who make decisions for a variety of reasons, and must live with the consequences. For the children born into these circumstances that are not ideal or safe, there is this second chance: Adoption. – Shabana Sparks, Adoptee

This is the breakdown as a Mama. This is how I know it’s good but not best. This is where my understanding of God gets fuzzy because I don’t know how to explain to my children that He allowed them to suffer and that that suffering eventually led them away from their First Family and into ours.

personally, for me, i’m coming to a place where “adoption” is a both/and and i think we, in the western culture and values, have a hard time with ideas and beliefs and people who entail both/and. we can be both grateful that we are adopted and feel connected and believe that we have “a life” AND at the same time, not be grateful for the circumstances that happened to have been adopted. i often think many APs (adoptive parents) and adopted persons can’t name or articulate that. we either have to be all grateful (because of what we might appear to be or hold inside if we aren’t) or angry. both can exist together. sometimes i think people lean to much on figuring out whether adoption is a good or bad thing. i fully agree with you, it CAN be beauty that rises out of ashes/redemptive if all those involve let the adoption “process” take them to good and healing and restorative places. – Carissa Woodwyk, Adoptee

And here is where I get where so many of you are coming from, it’s the both/and Carissa speaks of. Is adoption best for a child without a family? Yes. Is adoption best for the 100,000 legal orphans in our foster care system? Yes. Adoption is best for each of those children because their current situation is not loving or safe. Their circumstances are such that a new family is necessary. Permanent families are better than the street or an institution, I think we can all agree.

But, what I have learned from my own experiences and the experiences of others who I have walked this road with, is that First Families are the absolute best. The ultimate best. The in-a-perfect-world-where-there-is-no-sin best.

I know, we don’t live there.

As one reader explained, “My son was born brain-damaged because of the poor choices of his seventeen year old mother and came into the care of the state because of worse choices. Pretty much anyone would believe that being adopted is his best shot, his best hope. And I believe with all my heart that he is God’s best for my family. But wouldn’t the greatest thing of all be that his mother made better choices, that she was married and stable and loving? That her own parents had shown her what love acts like? No, it isn’t realistic, but that’s not what this post is about to me. It’s about acknowledging loss. Every adopted child, by definition, has lost. Even those brought to happy homes from birth will someday deal with that loss. Accepting our children means excepting that loss.”

Acknowledging loss is what last weeks post was about. What we can’t afford to miss, as adoptive parents and as Believers, is that adoption is good but it’s redemptive in nature because something needed redeeming. Something was broken and therefore needed to be made right, namely a family was broken. Sin entered the family design in Genesis and God, in His infinite wisdom, in His omniscience, had already set in motion the adoption of us through His son Jesus and the model of adoption for children who need it.

I’ve read my bible; I know how God feels about adoption. I know Jesus and Moses and Esther were adopted. But even Jesus experienced loss by leaving his Father God, moving into a new culture and feeling the most extreme abandonment in the history of the world when his Father left him on the Cross. Jesus identifies with the loss our adopted children face. He knew it first hand. Oh what a comfort I pray that is to my children some day.

In some ways, I hate to have sparked controversy. Adoption being “good” or “best” is not the Main Thing. The Main Thing is to love God and love our neighbors and to be out in the world making disciples already.

I’m blessed to be surrounded by adult adoptees in real life and online who have these hard conversations with me, call me out when they disagree and check my theology to make sure it’s not whack. I can think of no better way to end this post than by sharing a few more of their thoughts. My hope and prayer is that this conversation continues around our tables and over coffee and in adoption support groups around the world, for the good of our kids and to the glory of God.

What I’m finding as I continue to explore my story is that there is a need for separation between the “circumstances” and the “emotion” that the act of adoption brings to each person in the triad. It’s too messy to gather into a nice little box.

Is the “circumstance” of my personal story known? No. Is the circumstance of why I needed to be adopted good? I don’t know. Was being adopted into a new family a good experience? It was to the best of my adoptive parent’s abilities. Would it have been better for me to stay in my birth country? I can’t say because I don’t know enough to be sure of that. Am I at peace with and happy where I am in my story as a result of my “circumstances”? For the most part, but it will continue to be a constant work in progress as I leave my heart open to what God is showing me through it.

Then there’s the “emotion” that arises from thinking about my circumstances which seems more concrete. It’s sadness for the little girl who I was and what was lost. It’s wonderment for my birth family. There was a time when I felt great resentment and anger. There is the “why?” and the heartache for parts of my life that I will never have access to. There is peace and joy in God using my circumstances to help others. Emotion within processing my adoption has come from looking into and working through the circumstances.

So, yes, the circumstances are varied, the emotions are varied, but who can ever put a definitive label on whether adoption is “good” or “best” as a generality? I don’t know that we can, but I think we must leave space where each person in the triad can come to their own conclusion within their own story rather than try to nail it down for everyone. – Tara Bradford, Adoptee and Adoptive Mom

 

because the brokenness of our world impacts ALL of us, circumstances fracture and break (so do people). but…the cross. the cross says that all things can be made new/redeemed. and the “process” of adoption can be a part of that picture. – Carissa Woodwyk, Adoptee

 

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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

Fearing God Instead of Man

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You know those people who say they only write for themselves? They don’t care if anyone reads their blog, they’re just typing away for the fun of it? I think those people are full of crap. If you write and hit publish onto the WORLD WIDE web, you want people to read it. Maybe it’s for your mom, or maybe you’re blogging anonymously (doesn’t that sound so alluring???) but, if you’re writing online, you want your words to be read. That is not bad. It’s fine and can be very good.

(If you’re writing in your journal, carry on with your I-don’t-care-if-anyone-but-my-cat-reads-this Bad Self.)

So I now say to you Good Reader – This post is for me. As in, I’m writing it down to be sure of what my heart thinks, to convince my brain to hurry up and catch on, and so that I can come back to it later when my brain gets forgetful. Truly, I’m writing this for me.

I’m also writing it for you. Because this “topic/struggle/issue” of fear is popping up in too many places. Too many people are living in fear of things not worthy of it. Only God is worthy of our fear but we’re giving it away to things far more peddly and temporal and just plain stupid.

I give you Exhibit A: Last week someone unfriended me. On Facebook. Where life matters.

In my defense, this is an actual person I actually know (Yes, IRL) who has even been to my house. This person unfriended me over a difference of opinion. And it bothered me. I couldn’t shake it off. I didn’t lose sleep, but I may have caught myself a few times  constructing a What-if-I-see-them-in-public response to their in-my-head comment about said opinion.

And fear crept in. Not just any fear, but the worst kind, fear of man.

Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you. Therefore, we may boldly say:

The Lord is my helper;

I will not be afraid.

What can man do to me?

He will never leave me or forsake me. Even on Facebook.


All our fret and worry is caused by calculating without God. – Oswald Chambers


The heart of fear is a lack of trusting God’s sovereignty over my life, circumstances and/or future.

What can man do to me?

The world knows what man can do to us friends. Man can behead us. Is there anything worse? Is there any fear more fearful than to be abducted from your home and brutally murdered? Maybe the fear of your children being beheaded? That one is real in our world too.

Maybe you’re like me and your life feels too-far-removed to truly feel those fears. Your fears are more of the Facebook variety. Or maybe you’re one of my Sisters living in a country where Boko Haram is burning churches and ravaging your neighbor’s homes. Being persecuted for your faith is real and tangible and you can smell the smoke of it.

I think the prescription for fearing God instead of man is the same for us all.

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Spend more time with God than man.

One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. – Psalm 27:4 NIV

King David is dealing with the Philistines on the border of Israel who are continually coming after him, and his son has now raped his daughter, led a rebellion against him and disposed him of his throne. Most of us would say King David has some legitimate fears.

But his ultimate request is to be in the presence of the Lord. To fellowship with God. He’s not referring to omnipresence, whereby God is everywhere all the time. He’s referring to special presence – when God reveals himself in such a way that His glory is made visible. (Thank you Matt Chandler.)

When God’s glory is visible, fear of man is extinguished. The literal fire may burn down our churches and homes, but the spiritual flames are put out and the arsonist is drowned in the presence of the Lord.

How can we be fearful of the creation when we are with the Creator?

(While you’re with Him, speak your fears out loud. Two things can happen – You’ll leave your fears at the foot of the cross where they belong and you can tell Satan where to go with his lies. As a believer you have the right and authority to show him the door.)

Spend more time reading God’s Word than man’s.

This one hurts a bit. How many blogs do I read each day? Instagram captions? Status updates? Tweets? Emails? Texts?

If I compare the number of God’s words I read each day to man’s, my faith looks almost nonexistent.

(Christian books can also fall into this category. They are good for teaching and equipping but they are not the inherent word of God and should never replace our time in the Word.)

There are practical ways to address this friends. It starts with repenting. Lament over your adulteress ways and recommit to Him and His words FIRST and MORE. (And accountability never hurts.)

Spend more time meditating on what God thinks about you than what man thinks about you.

God has so much to say about us friends! We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession! (1 Peter 2:9) We are citizens of Heaven! (Philippians 3:20) We are a new creation! Ministers of Reconciliation! His Ambassadors! (2 Corinthians 5:19-20) We are His adopted sons and daughters! (Ephesians 1:5) We are kept safe from the evil one! (1 John 5:18)

AND He did not give us a spirit of fear! He gave us boldness, love and sound judgement. (2 Timothy 1:7)

There are dozens and dozens and dozens of passages of scripture about what God thinks of His chosen people. Find the ones that speak to you and tattoo them on your arm if you have to. (That was not a joke. Really, tattoo them on your arm. All the cool kids are doing it.)

If this is struggle for you, let me remind you of the words of Paul, words the 21 undoubtedly knew:

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 ESV

Take EVERY thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.In the words of Bianca Olthoff, arm-bar that junk, MMA style. This is not a passive pursuit of good and lovely thoughts. This is a battle, an all out war, over your mind and heart.

Friends, take your thoughts of fear outside and put a bullet in them. God did not give us a Spirit of fear. These thoughts are not from Him. They are from our enemy and he’s prowling around like a lion attempting to devour us.

We do not have time to be polite with our enemy. He is taking out our brothers and sisters around the world and he is slowly numbing us out of our own lives with shiny things and no more than 140 characters. Satan is taking the heads of our Brothers and Sisters and we are worried about the lighting in our Instagram pictures and how we’ll fund the missing pieces for our spring capsule wardrobe.

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Let us be strong and courageous in the face of our fears, foolish and real, because our hope is not in this world but in a world to come. Because our faith is not in ourselves but in the One who bought us at a price. Because our God is far more dangerous than our enemies. Because our dangerous God is with us and for us. And if God is with us, then now is not the time to care about what people think.

21 Martyrs

Milad Makeen Zaky
Abanub Ayad Atiya
Maged Solaiman Shehata
Yusuf Shukry Yunan
Kirollos Shokry Fawzy
Bishoy Astafanus Kamel
Somaily Astafanus Kamel
Malak Ibrahim Sinweet
Tawadros Yusuf Tawadros
Girgis Milad Sinweet
Mina Fayez Aziz
Hany Abdelmesih Salib*
Bishoy Adel Khalaf
Samuel Alham Wilson
Worker from Awr village
Ezat Bishri Naseef
Loqa Nagaty
Gaber Munir Adly
Esam Badir Samir
Malak Farag Abram
Sameh Salah Faruq

*Abdelmesih means slave of the Messiah. What a beautiful and challenging reminder that we find true freedom in being a slave to Christ, even unto death.

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For the first time in almost five years, words have been hard to come by for this space. The past couple months have felt every ounce of transitional. I can hear birds chirping outside my window but the occasional snowflake still falls. Flowers start to bud but the skies are still grey, hiding the bright, defining Spring-is-here rays of the sun. It’s as if one season has come to an end but the next hasn’t started yet.

I haven’t been able to write any typical January/New Year posts – words of the year, goals, plans, dreams – because I feel like the Lord is stripping away MY words and MY goals and MY plans and MY dreams and asking me to find my identity IN Jesus alone.

“What is thriving in one season may be dead branches in another. Saw ‘em off, burn into ashes, and spread on the roots to nourish new growth.” Kimberly Todd, Velvet Ashes

I’m learning that sawing off dead branches is painful, burning them stings, but spreading the ashes to nourish new growth is beautiful and makes way for hope.

So here I am. Again. Learning to be molded by my Maker into who He wants me to be.

As I figure out what this looks like, how it plays out practically, I’ve thought a lot about this space. Struggled with it even. Questioned my influence and role and responsibility. The Lord is doing a new thing in me, and this space will has to reflect that.

The why won’t change, the why will always be the same, but He is refining it, making my why sharper and purer.

Words are the tool He’s given me and I want to use them to bless people. Challenge them and change their lives. But I don’t want to write for me, for my glory. I don’t want any of this to be about me. In all honesty, I struggle even having my picture at the top of your screen. I want to serve the Lord and take my name out of it. I want to be on the front lines, with my pen drawn and my hands open, ready to wring myself out for His name alone.

So that means the what will change. What you’ll find here will be slightly different than what you’ve found in the past. My prayer is that it will be more of Jesus and less of me. More of His courage in me and less of my striving and good works. As the Lord calls me to be courageous in the real-everyday-life places and the Holy-Ground-internet places, I want to choose things that will last over things that are temporary. I want to live a life marked by abundance and courage and one that looks fundamentally different because I have been marked by Jesus.

Won’t you join me?

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I Want Out + The Rest of the Story

This post could have also been titled “I Hate December” or “Is it Over Yet?” or “Jesus Would Not Be Down With This”.

Before you write me off as a scrooge let me say, I love this time of year. Or, at least I use to. First, there’s the very real and hard of journeying the Thanksgiving-through-Christmas-January-Birthdays timeframe with a child from a hard place. (If you have no idea of what I’m speaking, Jen Hatmaker can edumacate you.) 

It’s just plain hard and every year I block it from memory and then every year it happens again and because of said blocking, I’m completely unprepared. Alas, maybe next year?

There’s also this feeling I have in my gut that Jesus would not be down with the cultural Christmas we are suffocating under. Our Christmas celebrations are so backwards and opposite of the way Jesus did things.

His birth, life and death were very much about denying Himself on our behalf and so nothing at all about indulging in the temporary. Jesus was always looking to the eternal. He was God, I get it, so that made things a bit easier I suppose. But our way, the tinsel and the trinkets, feels crushing.

And yet, we are stuck here until He returns. 

THAT is where I want to focus. The birth of our Savior and his first sweet sleep in a feeding trough is only half the story. If God came to us as a man and nothing more, all we would have is empathy. Empathy doesn’t save. If Jesus died on the cross for our sins and nothing more, all we would have is a hero. Heroes don’t grant eternal salvation. The story behind the story is that HE IS COMING BACK!

Christmas is a shadow of a reality that’s on it’s way. He stepped into time and space to be with us. YES. And He is still Emmanuel. His Spirit is with us BUT one day He will come back and make right all that is wrong. He will dwell with us again, wiping away every tear, conquering death and pain. He will make ALL THINGS new.

All the things. The things pummeling our media and the things we don’t hear about because that only happens “over there” to those people. The things driving us to hug our little people tighter at night and to weep for the vulnerable with no one to tuck them in. The things we cannot get out of our minds and the things on which we simply cannot dwell because the tears come on too hot and too quick.

He will make ALL those THINGS new.

Jesus came once on a scandalous night in Bethlehem, as a tender babe born in flesh to human parents. But when he comes back His army will be behind Him and His sword will be drawn. His tattoo will read “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”

Oh friends, doesn’t that excite you?! Doesn’t that good news give you HOPE? There’s something magical about newborn babies and divinity stepping into flesh is a beautiful, humbling image. But that’s not the whole story. The God-Man Jesus was the bravest man who ever lived and He’s returning with His army for us.

I don’t know about you, but the world I see is CRYING OUT for a Savior who is a Soldier, ready to fight against the injustice and the pain. Ready to take His sword to the nations who are rebelling against Him. The reality playing out in front of me moans for a Warrior who IS Lord of Lord and King of Kings. 

I’m not advocating against celebrating His birth. But the way we Americans do it is a bit like giving a vegan a steak on their birthday. It goes against everything they stand for.

You don’t have to throw out your tree or trash your stockings; celebration is good. But instead of stressing on finding just the right piece of plastic or just the right sweater, let’s shift our focus to the undeniable and unavoidable reality that He is coming back!

May you experience the one-of-a-kind glory and peace of Jesus this Christmas and every day until He returns!

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Merry Christmas from the Wallaces!

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Cheers to a sacred advent friends! May we throw off the weight of this world and rest in the reality of a baby coming down from the heavens to battle for everlasting love.

I’ll be posting a couple more times before the end of the year (including the announcement of the winners of The Best Adoption Giveaway of All Time!) but will sign off early next week as I look forward to loving on these people and praising and celebrating my Savior.

{Photography courtesy of the lovely and talented Hayley Moss Photography.}

Getting to the Root

Last week I was researching thinking about researching essential oils, specifically oils that will help me sleep and feel less anxious and worried. My first inclination was to ask the Facebook what has worked for others.

 

I was forming a status in my mind when I realized I have a lot of other “issues” I wanted feedback on as well… How do other people avoid doughnuts or ice cream or doughnuts? (Yes I said doughnuts twice. I have a serious doughnut weakness ok?) How do other people remain content with their wardrobe? Does everyone scroll through their Instagram feed just one. more. time. before starting their devotional in the morning? Do other moms stay up W A Y too late watching New Girl?

 

How do I solve all these things about me I know are unhealthy? What kind of behavior modification do I need? Where’s the checklist that will make me eat healthy, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and be a content Varsity Christian?

 

Then it hit me, or rather, He hit me – I don’t need to fix these problems because they aren’t just problems to fix. They are heart issues. There is no behavior modification on the planet that will get to the root of my problems, because the root of the problems is my heart.

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On my own, and even with the world’s help, I can clean up these problems. I can make better decisions about what I eat. I can set aside time in my schedule to exercise. I can delete the Instagram app from my phone and pick up a few new items for my wardrobe. I could do these things for a while but the root of the problem, my heart, would remain unchanged. Temporarily, things would look and feel better. On the outside the tree would be trim and tidy, but at the root, my heart would be as unhealthy as ever.

 

And after a while, all of those unhealthy choices would reappear or manifest themselves in other ways because, while I can manage on my own for a bit, only Jesus can change my heart.

 

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. – Jesus, Matthew 11:28-30 The Message

YES! That is what I want! That’s what I’m craving and what doughnuts and social media and new clothes will never provide. Unforced rhythms of grace. I have no earthly idea of what that looks like friends, but I’m fairly certain it doesn’t involve ice cream or Instagram.

 

Jesus says if we keep company with him we will learn how to live free and light. If we watch how He does it, we will recover our life. 

 

Perhaps it does look a little like healthy boundaries and accountability and maybe even a checklist or two. But more than that, it’s turning to the One who made my heart and walking with Him. Trusting Him with my daughter when eating a doughnut is easier. Trusting him with our finances when disappearing into the internet feels {temporarily} better. Trusting him with my fears when buying a new shirt is more fun.

 

So I’m learning. I’m learning that pruning branches will never affect the roots. That filling up on the junk this world offers will never cultivate a healthy heart. I need Jesus. You need Jesus. We need Jesus. And I’m thankful that this Advent season provides opportunity to long for Him in a fresh, real way.

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Things Christians Probably Shouldn’t Say: “I’m/We’re/My kids are colorblind.”

I truly hope this short series on race has only begun or contributed to the conversations that will continue in your homes and communities and churches forever and ever amen. If you’re just joining us, you can read the first three posts (including two thought-provoking interviews) here and here and here.

As I said in the opening postI know very-little-to-nothing about race. Being the adoptive parent of children of color does not make me an expert. In fact, it provokes far more questions than I have answers for.

Before diving into this conversation, there was one thing I did know: the remark that “I’m/We’re/My kids are colorblind.” never set well with me. Now I know why.

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Before I share what I’ve learned these last few months, let me first say, this post is for all of us.

Unless you grew up on an island where all people are treated equally and live together in perfect harmony without judgement of sex or color or education or physical beauty or anything else, then this is for you.  (If you did grow up on such an island, please let me know, I’d like to visit.)

My focus is on God’s Word because I believe that’s where it should be, but logically, if you are colorblind how can you celebrate other cultures? Or for that matter, your own culture?

If you don’t see color, race or ethnicity, how can you delight in ways unfamiliar to you? How can you revel in the unique creativity with which we were all made? How can you enjoy the rich heritage of a foreign land if you don’t see it?

What I’m arguing is, you do see it, and when you say you don’t see color, what you really mean is, “I’m not racist.”

Not being racist is a good place to start, but it’s not where God wants us to stay. Our sin tells us to hang out with people like us, our Savior says pursue all nations for the glory of God. (Paraphrase from Mr. Curtis Woods.)

Friends, this idea that we are colorblind is not biblical because God LOVES color.

This is important: if God loves color, we cannot pretend it doesn’t exist. Our Bibles and our cultural reality are screaming this. Jesus has been modeling it from the moment he met the woman at the well. (The first cross-cultural evangelical encounter from Acts 1) The movement from Judea to Samaria demanded the early Christians cross longstanding ethnic, religious, and cultural boundaries. And we must follow.

We have the ability and the authority to change culture, to cross those same longstanding ethnic, religious, and cultural boundaries. I’m not suggesting it will be easy. It most certainly will not be. 

But, as my friend TC said yesterday, we have a responsibility as Christians to be changers and influencers. To live in the freedom of the Third Race given to us as the body of Jesus.

“The bible does not begin with the creation of a special race of people. When the first human is introduced into the story he is simply called adam, which means ‘humankind.’ …Adam and Eve are not Hebrews or Egyptians or Canaanites. It is incorrect for the White Church to view them as White or for the Black Church to view them as Black. Their ‘race’ is not identifiable. They became the mother and father of all people.” – J. Daniel Hays, From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race

In Revelation 5, the Elders declared to Jesus the Lamb, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Emphasis mine.)

This conversation is holy ground. Let’s take off our shoes, shed our pride, and enter it as Learners. Wiling to be wrong, willing to be challenged, willing to forgive and seek forgiveness. The blood of Jesus has already crossed the chasm that exists between us. Crossing it ourselves is necessary if the church of Jesus Christ on Earth is to ever look like it does in Heaven.

{ Resources for the Road }

A Beautiful Design sermon series form the Village Church. Sermons 1 & 2 are particularly helpful in unpacking the imago dei.

From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race from J. Daniel Hays

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race from Beverly Tatum

The Souls of Black Folk from W.E.B. Du Bois

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Revelation 9

Race, The Gospel, Raising Black {+ White} Kids & The Imago Dei

Remember on Tuesday when I promised a grace-filled, gospel centered take on race and raising kids of all colors from my church-planting pastor friend TC? Well here it is! I’m so excited to be sharing his insight with all of you, I can hardly decide which quotes to share on social media! <nerd alert>

 

Before you start scrolling, I suggest you head back to read Let’s Talk About Race, and my little disclaimer about knowing nothing about it, AND especially read yesterday’s post, What White Women Raising Black Girls Should Know.

I’m not going to share anything as good as TC is so here you go! (Ugh, sorry for the weird formatting. WordPress is smarter than I am.)

How do you as a black man handle white privilege or the idea that it doesn’t exit?
People with privilege don’t necessarily understand others don’t have the same privilege. Some people are just blind to reality and this becomes their way of getting out of talking about it.

 

There is real racism. If you’re a white American you could live your whole life without meaningfully engaging African American culture. It’s not the same on the other side. African Americans can’t get good jobs, go to school, etc. without meaningfully engaging white culture. If African Americans want to live any kind of prosperous life we have to engage white culture and understand something about the way white culture works. There’s no way as an African American you can live your whole life without understanding white culture, if you want to thrive. White people can choose to sidestep African American culture their entire lives without having to engage it in the same way we must engage white culture.

 

How do we white parents need to be aware of how other people view our black boys?
African American boys are viewed as not being smart and they will have to strive to be the best to prove that they are intelligent. If you’re going to make it as an African American man, you have to strive to be the best if you’re going to make it on a large scale. And if something comes up stolen, you will get blamed more often.

 

 

When it comes to raising kids from other races, as adoptive parents we are taught some “best practices” – engage same ethnicity mentors for our kids, ensure they have diverse friends, churches, neighborhoods, etc. What advice do you have for families who do not live in a diverse area and, because of job or other reasons, can’t move into a diverse area?
If you adopt a child you need to make sacrifices to get into diverse environments. It’s healthy for your biological kids as well, they need to understand and respect other cultures.

 

How do we do this in a way that is not offensive?
Pray for a genuine heart. Don’t have a messiah complex. As Christians, we need to be praying about the race issues of our hearts. Because of the fall, because of our sin, we all have a tendency to elevate our race above another race. We have to submit all of that to the Gospel.

 

We all come to the cross equally. Ask yourself, “Is my race more important to me than my new race in Christ?” Dig into the heart issues. If you don’t agree it’s important for your kids to be around others who look like them, then ask yourself, “Why isn’t it important for all my kids to be around black people?”

 

It’s a gospel issue. If you feel called to adopt from another race, it’s important not to give them a homogenous culture. Every race is under the new race in Christ but that doesn’t mean we don’t value race, as long as we put the Gospel first.

 

Adopted kids who are black need to know there are black doctors or they will get their perception of their race from the media – where the balance is unfair, where being black is bad and everybody white is good. If they see that on the media and their neighborhood is white, they won’t see positive black role models. You need to engage in communities where minority role models is a reality.

 

There is a place where you start thinking, “I’m black and everybody I see who is of importance is white and everybody I see in trouble is black.” and you start to devalue your own race thinking, “I’m not as good.” but the balance is we’re all in need of Jesus. We’re all equal. All made in the image of God. Because of the sinfullness of man we’re all wicked but we can make much of Jesus instead of ourselves.

TCquote

What is African American culture and how do we create an appreciation for it within our kids?
Jay-Z is not African American culture. African American culture is multi-faceted. We have to be very careful with that. We lump everybody into one category and it’s not that easy. Kids need to know their ethnicity is not inferior or superior to another.

 

These best practices seem to not even begin to scratch the surface of preparing our Black boys for the real world. What would you add?
It has to be a love of your heart. A predominantly white church could hire a black pastor because your neighborhood has changed, but it has to be the heart of the whole congregation. You have to actually care and desire to understand black culture, black hair, and your kids need to see you valuing their heritage. If that black mentor is a token, that’s a problem; it has to effect your heart. 

 

What don’t we know as white parents?
You have to recognize society does not look at minorities the same. Statistics show that. Ferguson shows that. There are conversations African American parents have to have with their children that whites don’t have to have – how to interact with police – to expect the police to think you are aggressive, to only respond with “Yes sir, no sir.”

 

When your sons start dating, as parents there are some very hard conversations you’re going to have to have with your son. You don’t want to raise kids who are skeptical of white people. There are white and black people with issues. An advantage you have is you are white, so they already see you as not being suspicious of them.

 

Statistics show blacks are pulled over 31% more than whites so we need to talk about this. They’re going to be seen as doing something wrong so you have to prepare them for how to handle that. They will have to live as though they’re not going to be given the benefit of the doubt. ‘Cause there’s a good chance they won’t. You’ll have to help your sons guard against bitterness and be careful not to present ultimates. ALL white families are not bad – there are good people and bad people of every race.

 

What should we be teaching ALL of our kids about Ferguson?
Teach the Gospel and they will learn there’s a fallenness to our world. God created the world to be a certain way but it’s not the way it was created to be. We have a responsibility as Christians to be changers and influencers. Racial tension exists because the world is fallen. Because we live in a fallen world there’s racism, racial profiling, abuse of power, and hatred of races that are not our own. The Gospel speaks to that because it teaches the imago dei and the depravity of man.

 

When you look at your race as inferior to somebody else’s you lose the imago dei. If you look at your race as superior, then you lose the fallenness of all people. If you fully understand fallenness, you recognize we’re all sinners in need of grace.

 

If the gospel has affected our hearts it should allow us to weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. It should allow us to do that with other races. We should at least be willing to do that when someone’s child is killed.

 

African Americans need to see more of our white evangelical brothers and sisters standing against these issues. Weep with somebody. Feel what they feel. Practice Romans 12:9-21.

 

How old should our kids be when we begin these conversations?
Every parent needs to gauge their heart. Ask yourself, “Am I really concerned about my child or do I not want to believe racism is real or not that important?” Your kids are already dealing with race – they know what color they are. Explain, in an age appropriate way, that sin has affected our world and caused us to have hate towards one another and that includes people who have different ethnicities. It’s a sin just as disobeying your parents is a sin.

 

Any final thoughts?
We can’t paint any group of people with a broad brush. All people are in danger of being ethnocentric. Both racism and ethnocentricity get us away from the gospel. We’re all both made in the image of God and depraved.
TC
TC was born and raised in Terre Haute, IN. Growing up TC was raised Jewish, by his
Jewish mother. He attended the synagogue until around age 12. Occasionally, he would attend a baptist church with his grandmother on his father’s side. The Lord saved TC at the age of 22.TC attended St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church and served as an pastoral assistant there for four years, after he answered his call to the ministry in 2005. Pastor Terry M. Clark was his pastor and mentor there.TC attended and graduated from Indiana State University with a bachelor’s degree in Criminology. There at ISU he met and married his college sweetheart Christel, who graduated from there with a bachelor’s in Social Studies Education.In 2009, TC and Christel relocated to Louisville, KY for him to pursue theological studies at Southern Seminary. While in Louisville, the Lord gave TC a vision and desire to plant a church in the city’s west-end, and a heart to reach the urban/inner-city context with the Gospel.TC completed an urban church planting internship with the Rebuild Network in partnership with NAMB, that is based out of Atlanta, under the leadership of Dhati Lewis.
From 2011- 2013, he attended Antioch Church and was coached in church planting by lead pastor, Todd Robertson.In 2013, Antioch sent TC to plant New Breed Church in Louisville’s west-end. New Breed Church officially launched January 19, 2014. TC is currently serving there as lead pastor.TC and Christel just added a new addition to their family, Trinity Camille – born this past September!
You can follow TC on Twitter and learn more about New Breed Church here.