when hope feels risky

On Saturday mornings I prayer walk through the neighborhood with our teammate Kristin. Usually one of the kids tags along. If it’s Glory I end up carrying her, making a mental note that she’s not quite ready to walk so far. Usually our dog recognizes we’re going for a walk and insists on tagging along. So we head out at 7:30, before the Miami heat and humidity make the outside unbearable.

There are many ways to prayer walk, but for me it consists of asking God all the questions I don’t have answers to. Sometimes I pray out loud as I pass people or places I have some meaningful knowledge of (a friend’s house, the churches, etc.), but mostly I beg for eyes to see where God is on the move in the Grove and how we are to come alongside him. I ask questions, and I try to clear my mind enough to hear the still small voice.

One Saturday earlier this month I found myself walking alone. Kristin was out of town and I crept out the door before being spotted by a child begging to go but still wearing only underwear.

I walked down a “hot” street and notice a duplex had been knocked down. I drive down this street several times a week – it intersects with ours a couple blocks up from this particular corner – and had not noticed any signs of pending demolition. One of the men who sits on this corner daily was already out. I don’t know his name, but he is the only man on this corner in a wheelchair and is therefor easily recognizable.

I point to the now empty lot and ask what happened. “They demolished it,” he responds matter of factly. “Yeah, I know,” I say, remembering he does not see me as one of us, as the insider I wish and sometimes pretend to be. “Do you know why?” I try again. “That’s just what happens around here,” he tells me. His tone is harsh and I accept that he does not want to chat with the weird white lady out walking the streets alone at 7:30 in the morning. He is not interested in small talk about the extermination of his neighborhood, his culture, his community, his very livelihood.

I stand on the sidewalk looking at the excavator with a bit of disbelief.  Then I too remember, that’s just what happens around here.

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This morning Kristin and I walked down Day Avenue, a heavily gentrified street where eleven duplexes housing original Grove residents have hung on by a thread. Several months ago the tenants began receiving eviction notices, a telltale sign the owner acquired a demo permit.

As we approached the property a couple walked up behind us and noticed as we did, the buildings are now nearly leveled. “It’s about time,” the man said as they held hands and continued down the sidewalk. I am tempted to judge them but remind myself they likely weren’t in a genuine relationship with anyone who lived in those duplexes.

Kristin and I stand amidst the rubble that once housed eighty or so people and wonder out loud, Does it now more closely resemble a graveyard or a war zone? To stand here most assuredly feels like a kind of death. A loss of life in our community. My chest feels tight and it is hard to breath. The three remaining walls simulate tombs, a reminder of what was but is no longer.

This is also certainly a battle field. Our community is under attack and we are each, by way of proximity, engaging in spiritual combat. There is a war going on, both in flesh and blood, in policies and in lack of enforcement, against the image bearers living here. There is a fight to transform housing from a basic human right to a commodity to be won by the highest bidder.

Of course, in war there is loss of life, and the rubble under our feet is a reminder of the cultural carnage. The neighbors who are no longer neighbors. It is both graveyard and war zone.

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Earlier this month I had the privilege of attending the Christian Community Development Association National Conference. One of the plenary session speakers, Gregory Lee, said that those on the front lines see how big the problems are and we know they’re too big for us. It was also said from the main stage (by Erna Hackett) that hope feels really risky right now. I have spent the better part of October trying to reconcile these two truths with the realities of our neighborhood, with an eye for the unseen and the eternal.

The beauties of moving into the neighborhood as Jesus did and seeking to live in solidarity with our neighbors are beyond number, but the side effects are also numerous. As we stand shoulder to shoulder on the front lines we are face-to-face with the immense challenges, systemic injustices and oppressive systems designed to hold our neighbors down and push them away.

Occasionally, those same stinging darts graze us and we ourselves are wounded in the fight. We grasp for hope, but if we’re honest, hope feels far off and risky. We are tempted to believe, as my cranky, wheelchair bound neighbor, this is just what happens around here.

The problems are too big for us, it’s true. The dominos of gentrification are falling so fast we regularly verbalize thoughts our team has pondered internally for months: What if? When? How much longer?

I sometimes think it would be easier not to hope. To resign ourselves to the erosion of the Grove. To plan ahead for something else, somewhere else. To stop fighting.

But we cannot – as much as my flesh would like to – we cannot not hope because we’ve drank the same kool-aid as the Samaritan woman. We’ve tasted the water that gives eternal life and we know the one the prophet Isaiah spoke about when he said, “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not extinguish, till He leads justice to victory. In His name the nations will put their hope.

We put our hope in Jesus, exactly because because we know this work is too big for us. We put our hope in Jesus, because he is the hope of the world. We put our hope in Jesus, because he knows intimately what it is to be marginalized and mistreated. We put our hope in Jesus, even when, especially when, it feels risky. 

9 self care encouragements for such a time as this

self care for such a time as this

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know the ludicrousness that is our country and the gut wrenching realities many in our world are living. Puerto Rico. The Dreamers. Collin Kaepernick. Las Vegas. Health care. The California wild fires. And the commentary our president offers every day on Twitter.

For those of us with PTSD, anxiety, depression, or the like, these are hard times. Even if you don’t struggle with an actual mental health diagnosis, life can feel overwhelming. Whether it’s the needs of your family or the refugee crisis, your finances or the genocide of the Rohingya, your sick dog or North Korean nuclear weapons, we are all in some stress right now.

Not long after being diagnosed with PTSD, I met with a counselor friend of mine and he explained the importance of taking care of myself preemptively. He used an analogy of glass of water that I found helpful in visualizing my stress levels and need for self/soul care.

He said the water in the glass represents the stress in my life. When I implement the things below, the water level lowers. When I don’t, the level hovers near the top. A traumatic or stressful event is the equivalent of a pitcher emptying itself into my glass. If I have not been caring for myself well, and my glass is already full, it will overflow. If I have been keeping my stress levels low, my glass can receive the extra water (stress) without spilling out all over the place. Make sense?

At first glance the list below may seem overwhelming. I get it. Why not commit to one thing this week, add another the next week, another the next and so on? I don’t implement each of these steps perfectly all the time, but the more of them I do, the better I feel.

Counseling.

Get theeself to counseling AT ANY COST. Literally, charge that session if you need to. It’s worth the interest. I cannot stress this enough. If you have trauma in your background, an EMDR therapist is best.

Evaluate your schedule with a friend with a radar for stress.

Ask someone you trust to take a look at your schedule with you, specifically examining for stressful activities or just too many activities period. Honestly reflect on each commitment you have and ask yourself, Is it stressful. Is it necessary? Will someone die if you stop doing it? Can you take a break? The goal here is to eliminate stressful activities as much as possible and to create white space in your schedule.

Exercise.

I know, I know. You’re busy. See #2. Also, that body, mind, soul connection is real. If you can exercise at the same time every day, even better.

Daily alone/quiet/God time.

When we take the things out of our schedule that cause us stress, we can replace them with things that really matter, really protect our mental and emotional health, and connect us with God. If quiet time is new or difficult for you, start with just five minutes a day and increase from there.

Commit to the thing that gives you life.

What makes you feel alive? Commit to doing that thing at least twice a week, three times if you can swing it. This is especially important for parents and caretakers. It’s easy to lose myself in the roles I fulfill and forget what actually fulfills me. The Lord planned the days for me, not the other way around.

Unplug.

We were not made to hold all the hurts of the world, and in this digital hyper-connected age we live in, we have access to all the hurts all the time. It’s not good. Maybe you need to give up Facebook, implement analogue weekends, or take a longer period of time away from the internet?

Get enough sleep.

Even if you don’t thrive on routine, having a plan for getting enough sleep is critical for most of us if we’re going to make it happen. Rhythms and rituals help us follow through with our best intentions. Set a timer for when you want your bedtime routine to begin. Light a candle, make a cup of tea, use a special lotion or oil, read a good book and commit to lights out at the optimum time for you. This one is critical for me. When the shit hits the fan, I am not capable of responding with grace and patience on not enough sleep.

Plan ahead so there are options.

This step applies specifically to those of us living in traumatic environments. How will you stay safe? How will you keep your kids safe? When will you call the police? Can you trust the police? What friend or neighbor can you call to help? Do you have a prayer team you can text for prayer in the moment? What can you do to diffuse the situation? Where is the safest place in your house? Where is the closest psychiatric hospital?

Again, I realize these questions don’t apply to most people’s situations, but if they apply to you, I invite you to think through them, write them down, and talk with a trusted friend or counselor about them.*

Accept the invitation to deal with past trauma.

If you are dealing with secondary trauma or anxiety, there may be an invitation for you to deal with past trauma. Why are you triggered by a certain situation? If triggered is not a word you’re familiar with, think about how your body feels in XYZ situation. Does your heart begin to pound? Do you feel short of breath? Are your hands shaky? Are you unable to think rationally? Do you feel out of control? If so, there may be unaddressed trauma in your past. The present is an invitation to face it head on, with the help of a qualified counselor.

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I’m typically not a fan of listicle type posts, but given the time on our world clock, I thought these self care encouragements might be helpful to those of us alive right now.

If you have others I’d love to hear them in the comments!

 

 

*If you are in a abusive relationship call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

autism scares me

It was a “dog day of summer” and NPR was pumping through the speakers of my sky blue minivan. Michael Brown was shot and killed just a couple weeks earlier, and the fractured race relations of our country were coming into light for many previously in the dark. I drove the tree-lined streets of my midwestern town as I listened to a woman speak of the fear she held for her son – a black, autistic teenager. She was being interviewed at a seminar designed to teach kids on the autism spectrum and their parents how to interact with police.

I passed the two-story, red brick apartment building where my sons lived for a short time with their birth mother. I thought of their stories of lights not working and the refrigerator being bare. I thought about how they were a short five blocks from our home, how we possibly passed them on walks or played at the same park without even realizing it. I thought about how the color of their skin would affect every interaction they have with authority figures, particularly the police, as they grew.

In 2014, my black and brown sons were three and four but I knew police officers (and I think we can safely assume everyone else) overestimate the age of black felony-suspected children by close to five years. I felt sympathy for the mother whose voice filled my ears.

///

He had been gone for about fifteen minutes, twenty tops. He left something in the condo – a ball, his goggles – I don’t remember what. It’s not until I see my husband walking back to the pool alone I realize something is wrong.

There are moments in motherhood when I hesitate – something in my gut forces a pause. This was not one of those moments. My son asked to go back to the condo to locate his forgotten something-or-other, and I said yes.

“Where’s Malachi?” I shout across the pool. “I thought he was with you,” is the response that floats back over the water. It takes a few more sentences to explain, but I knew immediately: Malachi was missing.

This is another motherhood moment, the one where fear strikes your heart like an ice pick and your insides go hollow. One of my children is missing.

I quickly usher the other kids out of the pool and send them inside with my brother and sister. I run around to the front of our condo building: the eleventh of thirteen completely identical buildings. Of course he got lost. Of course he couldn’t remember which one was ours.

“Have you seen a little boy, he’s wearing swimming trunks and a white towel around his neck?”
“Is he black?”
“Yes.”
“Yeah, he was up around building nine.”

I run to building nine and shout his name several times. I ask a women walking by if she has seen a little boy and she tells me no. William is shouting his name. Malachi is nowhere to be found. My phone has 1% battery left. I tell William we need to call condo security.

//

I am back in my van on that stifling summer day of 2014. I hear the words of those mothers in my head, “It’s my worst nightmare,” she says. “I have the issue with him not understanding, possibly, a command to put your hands up or to get on the ground. So, yes, it’s scary.”

The 2017 me has watched black teenagers chased through the streets by police, complete with helicopters and police dogs, with my own eyes. The 2017 me is no longer in the dark. The 2017 me is the mother of a black, autistic little boy who looks five years older than he actually is. A little boy who will often not make eye contact, who may not process a command the first time it is given, who may flee instead of freeze or fight.

The 2017 me is terrified to call unarmed security officers to help locate my lost son. 

//

I have friends and online acquaintances who have written beautiful words about autism and their appreciation for it. Autism has made them better mothers, they say. Autism has given them gifts, they say.

I do not feel this way about autism. 

I am afraid of losing my son. To autism. To medications that numb his personality. To one of the other diagnosis that trails behind his name and his person. To a fidgety police officer who takes his cognitive delays as non-compliance. I am not a better mother because of autism. I am scared.

//

I turn the corner around building ten and see my brother walking towards me, nodding. They found him. He is safe.

Out of breath, I climb the steps to the porch and see him standing there, eyes wide, towel still draped around his shoulders. “Are you ok?” I ask. He nods. “Were you scared?” He nods. “I’m sorry,” I say, “that was my fault. All the buildings look the same, I should not have sent you back by yourself.” “I got confused,” he says. “Of course you did buddy, of course you did.”

//

The complexity of who this little person is – male, black, autistic, image bearer, adopted, bi-racial – and the intersectionality of these identities, is heavy. There is no bow that ties them neatly in the midst of a fallen world. There is only doing the best we can and prayer. But the honest truth is, some days it does not feel like enough.

Some days the weight is heavier than I think I can bear. Some days the air feels thicker-than-August-in-Miami thick and the judging eyes penetrate my flesh. Some days prayers feel unanswered. Some days are hard. Not all days are this way, of course, but some of them are.

Maybe some day I will write my own beautiful words about autism.

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Images via

thoughts on housing, scarcity + roots

patio

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

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

evangelist street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have more questions than answers.

 

oreos + doing the best we can

moon

He asked for two Oreos.

I knew better, but in a cowardly Hail Mary, I reached into the half eaten package and pulled them out. Internally wincing, I said a silent prayer. Crumbs fell to the floor as I placed them in his hands. The others each got two. Two by two by two by two by two, I held my breath, hoping just this once, things could be “normal.”

They weren’t. Or maybe they were. It’s been so long since our days were strung together with something other than fits of rage and gusts of feelings too big for his growing frame. His once chubby arms now nearly overpower mine. This is the moment in time every mother of a dysregulated child dreads. It is the moment when therapists start to talk about “making plans” for keeping everyone safe. The bone-crushing downside to these plans is there is no felt safety for the one who lacks it most.

{This is the kind of thing sensible people don’t write on the internet.
This is the kind of thing I don’t know how to process otherwise.}

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When I was a little girl I would pick scabs off my wounds. I knew better and I winced as the newly formed skin broke loose from the flesh beneath and blood ran down my leg. Being laid bare before the sun and moon and stars exposes what civil people suggest we keep behind close doors. But maybe there is something cathartic about getting our insides out into the open air.

I think this is the inner turmoil of everyone who embraces both their creativity and their humanity; which is to say they embrace who they were made to be.

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I gave him two Oreos and it is nights like this one that end in fits of rage over things like making a bed or using walking feet. (instead of running ones) For the sake of the other kids we have taken to carrying the raging child out to our mini-van for a ride. Secondary trauma always lingers around the corner.

I think all parents second guess their every move, but there is a unique questioning that comes when you are parenting a child who has previously been parented by someone else and the wounds left by that someone else are so primal and so deep that they have now wounded your own soul and the souls of everyone in your household. There is a heavy weight, a special kind of guilt, the enemy seeks to heap on our souls. 

We become convinced we’re just screwing them all up.

Once in the van I put our blue Honda Odyssey into reverse and begin praying for Jesus to take the literal and figurative wheel. We have three radio stations programmed: NPR, Christian radio and 80’s. Since more talking would only serve to split my brain right down the middle and I’m not a fan of 80’s music, I opt for Christian radio. It is horrible. Occasionally there is a Lauren Daigle song and I know God loves me, but mostly it’s just really bad.

We drive under rows and rows of banyan trees as I fumble prayers, occasionally singing along because I don’t know why. The trees are magnificent and calming.

In my head I prepare a script of what I would say to a police officer who wants to know more about our situation. I check to make sure I have my wallet with extra business cards for the psychiatrist and pray that, should I need to prove the invisible special needs that have vomited us out into the night, the doctor will pick up his cell phone and verify my words.

Eventually the screaming stops. Words begin to form. I turn down the radio. We discuss a plan. There is more screaming. He is not ready. I turn the radio back up. We ride this cycle round and round like a scrambler at the state fair. It is jarring and unpleasant and everything in me screams GET OFF THE RIDE.

At some point later we try again. This time he is ready. We come up with a plan for what will happen when we reenter the house. He will use words. He will complete tasks. He will take his medicine. He will go to bed.

Sometimes we get inside and the plan falls apart. Sometimes we repeat our drive a few times. But usually the plan works. He crawls into bed and I sit at the end, both of us exhausted in every way. A really bad Christian radio song runs through my mind and I realize, most of us are just doing the best we can. 

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.

//

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.

Safety, Hurricane Matthew, + the Upside Down Podcast

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Time I Had Margaritas with Father G

SO THIS HAPPENED.

G copy

If you’ve been around here long, like since last week, you know Father Greg Boyle is one of my favorite humans. No doubt I quote him nearly as often as the Bible and my very last post circled around his theory on burn out and expectations.

I have known for a couple years Father G and I have a mutual friend, Nate. Nate has shared stories about G with me and knows of my fondness for him. This past week at the Christian Community Development Association National Conference in Los Angeles, Nate made the mistake of telling me he and his wife had dinner plans with Father G.

I channeled my inner four-year old and begged to tag along. I was teasing, sort of. Nate explained they had already invited a family member and this was really more of an intimate gathering among friends. Nate is possibly the most invitational man on the planet, so I knew his kind no meant it really was a small gathering of friends.

Oh well.

The next afternoon I saw Jenny, Nate’s wife, as I was walking through the halls of the Westin. After chatting a bit she mentioned she was waiting to go to dinner. I teased that I tried to invite myself along but it didn’t work. She smiled and said, “Come!” Her brother decided he wanted to attend a breakout session on immigration, which meant I could go to dinner in his stead. 

I’m certain there were angels and dancing right there in the hallway.

//

We met Father G, who I will henceforth refer to as G – ’cause we’re now on a first name basis, at Homeboy just before 5 o’clock. If you’ve never been to Homeboy Industries, imagine a large, bright, two-story building crawling with homeboys and homegirls of every size, shape, and color. There are kids of homies. There are homies in wheelchairs. There are huge windows and glass walls. We walked in and were greeted by a homie sitting right inside the door, like an angel sitting at the city gates.

Slam

He introduced himself as Slam and asked if we were with InnerChange. I’m still not sure how he knew. Nate and Jenny started chatting with him, one thing led to another, and it turns out they know about 50 of the same people. We invite Slam back to the conference with us, and to join us later that night for s’mores at one of our LA coworkers house. Nate and Slam exchange numbers and we commit to seeing each other later.

G1

My friends introduce me to G and his “baby Jesuit” Marcos.

We head out the door to walk to our dinner location. The homies are gathered outside. It’s quitting time, and on a Friday night no less, but they are still hanging out. Each homie greets G with a hug and an, “I love you, Pop.” They share a brief update. Where they’ve been, what they’re up to, when they’ll see him next. There’s an older, sun-faded, dark blue mini-van parked up the street. A couple little boys hop out with their dad. They look to be about six and eight. All three hug G. “Mi hijo!” he says to them. Apparently they had just eaten barbecue and one of the boys accidentally wipes his face on G’s shirt during their embrace. His dad tries to wipe it off with a napkin but it’s no use. G just laughs.

He tells every homie he loves them.

It’s this first 100 or so yards of our walk I begin to realize, he just is exactly who he is. In the book, the interviews, speeches, documentary. That man is the real man. Just exactly who he is.

We walk a few blocks to a Mexican market of sorts. G greets everyone – the hostess, our waiter, other waiters – with a hug and kiss on the cheek. He asks for a table in the back room and we take our seats. He invites me to sit next to him.

G3

My friends tell G about the Light Breaks Forth Book Club, and how I give his book away to as many people as I can. I told him about our plans to start a woodworking business in our neighborhood, to offer job training and employment to our neighbors, to which he replied, “Yeah, I think that’ll work.”

We talk about skid row and Georgetown University’s move towards reparations. He asks Nate and Jenny about their kids, about Guatemala, about life. There were no tweetable quotes or mind-blowing ideologies; just an ordinary dinner among ordinary friends.

The Time I Met Father G

I thought I was playing it cool, but I’m making this bug-eyed “I can’t believe this!” face in every photo, so, apparently not.

G4

We walk back to Homeboy and G stopped about a block away. He says something in Spanish and I recognize only one word – dios. He marveled at the activity on the second floor. It was packed with people. Through the floor to ceiling windows we watch as silhouettes move about above us. “I just love seeing that.” G says. He explains the group is an AA meeting. “Everybody who’s nobody.”

G7

We cross the street, G tells us they inherited the AA group from a church who kicked them out.

Homies stand around outside, smoking, laughing, putting my tattoos to shame. We’re greeted by a homie named Adrian. Adrian is wearing a plain white t-shirt and the broadest shoulders I’ve ever seen on a human. G introduces him as his hero.

I’ve read dozens if not hundreds of G’s stories about homies. Those stories have touched my life in innumerable ways. But that night, standing in the shadows of everybody who’s nobody, I got to hear a homie tell a story about G.

Adrian told us about his first meeting with G, how G asked if he wanted a job. Adrian answered affirmatively. G went on to ask if he would do anything for him and he said yes, of course he would. G said, “I want you to get rid of that tattoo on your face.” Adrian said he agreed, but tells us he was thinking “No way,” along with a few expletives. Adrian’s plan was to play G.

G stands up and invites Adrian to follow him to the hallway. He explains there are about 1,000 people on the wait list to have tattoos removed, but since Adrian is his favorite, G bumped him to the front of the list. Adrian had his first removal session right. then.

Our small group erupts into laughter.

We ask Adrian what he’s up to now and he recounts finishing the Homeboy Industries program, going back to school and working at Volunteers of America. Then he says, “And yesterday I got an acceptance email from Harvard.”

HARVARD.

Adrian’s smile spreads broad as his shoulders across his face.

I’m sure I had a look of surprise on my own face; I think we all did. All of us expect G. Adrian pulls his cell phone out of his pocket and shows G the email. G nods and says, “I told you you were my hero.”

And that’s exactly who G is. Just a man loving people into their destiny. 

The Time I Met Father G

S’mores with the InnerChange crew and Slam. He’s hard to notice.

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

 

rain

It was a humid Thursday and we were running late, as we do. I walk-jogged across the parking lot, one of my littles trailing behind. We rushed into the small room where we weekly come to talk about things no child should. There is the stereotypical couch, and big squishy chairs. Floral patterns mix with fake flowers to create an early 90’s feel.

“How was the week?’ is the question that inevitably breaks through the pleasantries. I mumble some version of the same thing I’ve mumbled for weeks. It was bad. The flavor of bad slightly different than the week before and the week before that one… “Bad” days blurring together.

//

I’ve been longing for rain lately but couldn’t put my finger on why. Now that “summer” is here (was it ever not?), it rains every afternoon. The first downpour freeing from my subconscious that I completely disagree with Alanis Morissette – rain isn’t the only time I’m happy; it gives me permission not to be.

Rain gives us permission to admit we’re not ok.

The cycle of rain-evaporation-rain-evaporation conspire together to pour out the cleansing we so desperately need. Evaporation takes place so slowly, so tenderly, we forget it even occurs. We fail to remember that, in order for the rain to fall, water first has to leave Earth and enter the clouds. The soil sucked dry and our souls parched. Dust flying in our eyes and the stench of injustice, trauma, oppression, and pain burning our nostrils. Uncomfortable in our own skin, as it withers from dehydration; it’s in the dry dessert we begin to thirst.

Then, rain. Washed. Cleansed. Permission to admit we aren’t ok. Permission to admit that we, like the woman at the well, need living water. The showers wash away the muck and mire that sticks to our hearts and souls; a side affect of living in the world.

People argue over whether or not it rained on Earth before Noah’s flood. Either way, God sent  rain to wash the land clean. His heart was broken by the evil He saw. He grieved. His solution was to start over, with water that fell from the sky.

I think maybe that’s why I like rain so much.