On Deliverance

imageOn Thursday, after a full day of babies and neighbors and a throw together dinner, the older girls and I slipped out to Target for a hairdryer, coffee, rice cakes and shampoo. I splurged on two vanilla bean frappuccinos and one skinny iced caramel macchiato because I had a coupon and a gift card and because I’m down to only four more summers with my oldest before she leaves my nest. We piddled around for an hour, slurping our drinks and eyeballing the clearance shelves, before heading back to the house sometime after eight o’clock.

Thad met us at the door just like he always does and I caught the whiff of something I recognized as familiar but not home. I searched his face from the edge of the front porch, trying to read what I already knew. We had a guest.

With bags in tow, the girls and I crossed the threshold to see the mere shadow of a woman sitting at our table. We’d not seen her in six months. She was in a tank top and sweat pants and I could count every knob on every bone in her arms and on her back. I stooped to hug her hello, feeling the full weight of bones, sinew, and flesh in no more than ninety pounds.

I pulled up a chair to ask her the questions I already knew the answers to. No, I’m not okay. Yes, I’ve been using. Yes, I’ve been doing all kinds of things to get the drugs. I miss my kids. If I don’t get this right this time I’m going to die. I need to get out of this place. I want to get to Portland where my husband is and I’m willing to hitchhike all the way there. You know all those times I’ve been in jail and I’ve read my Bible and got right with the Lord. I know Jesus has saved me but I can’t quit and I ain’t ready to go back to jail. No, I haven’t used since Monday. Yes, I’d love something to eat. But nothing heavy. My stomach’s been acting up on me. I can’t keep doing this. I’m going to die and I am okay with that. If it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go and anything is better than this mess. 

I rose from the table to hide out in the kitchen long enough to prepare a some salad greens and grilled chicken. And then I asked myself the questions I already knew the answers to. Yes, she can stay here. I can flip the corner bed in no time. I can get her clothes washed while I fix the bed. I don’t get to say no. No is not an option. No, she’s not dangerous. We’ll check her bags to make sure she’s clean. I don’t want her to die in my house. It’s only one night. Tomorrow we’ll put her on a bus to Portland.  I don’t get to know the purpose of all of this. I don’t know what I’m doing. We can’t make her stay. We can’t fix this.

I served her the salad with four kinds of dressing and wheat thins and noticed she chose the french. She talked a mile a minute for an hour before posing the question I knew was coming: Could I stay here tonight or could you help me get to Portland?

Thad and I both nodded yes to both requests.

You can stay the night and we’ll get you on the first bus to Portland.

DSC_1176This morning, as I struggle to find the words to write here, I’m overwhelmed with the simple complexity of following Jesus’. It’s simple in that we do what Jesus commands and He commands us to love our neighbors. But it’s complex in that we’re not given directions on how to love them. We’re not given one loophole or one out or one except those neighbors. Jesus doesn’t give us a how-to manual of things to do and not to do and a long list of troubleshooting options.

Jesus doesn’t even command that we all demonstrate love in the same ways. He just commands that we love.

Last Thursday, when faced with a friend who needed a place to stay and a bus ride out of town, we wrestled with the second part of loving our neighbor. Giving her a place to stay was an absolute yes because Jesus commands that we house the poor wanderer. But intentionally putting this girl on a bus headed to Oregon to live in a tent with her husband at The Grotto was harder. What if something happened to her on the way there? What if she started using again? What if her husband was gone by the time she arrived? The what ifs were daunting.

Thad and I spent hours talking with our friend late into the night. We know her. We are certain of her salvation in Jesus. She knows the Bible. It’s written on her heart and she recalls it easily. We also know the thorn in her flesh is heroin. We know heroin has eaten her up and spit her back out a fractured woman in need of the kind of deliverance we cannot give her.

And we know that a sovereign God, who holds her life in His hands, has the power to deliver her straight out of the hell she has made for herself and right into his presence. 

The outcome is not ours and we don’t get to know God’s purpose in any of it. We don’t even get to pray selfish prayers or manipulate circumstances to give people what we believe to be their best shot in life.

We simply get to love our neighbors and steward our time with them well. We get to feed their aching tummies and quench their parched tongues. We get to sit with them in the hard parts of life and give them safe places to lay their heads. We get to visit them behind bars and in mental wards and rehab centers. We get to speak truth into their lives and point them to Jesus.

But we don’t get to choose how God delivers them.

And that’s the beautiful, heart breaking truth.

To Widen the Eye and Stretch the Heart

imageAs much as I feel inept in giving you guys a list of books to read in regards to loving the marginalized, quite a few of you have asked me to give you a list of recommendations.

Let me preface this post with a disclaimer: Most of these books are by white authors. The irony is not lost on me. But if a white guy can break down my white-shaped heart into something pliable for God to use in a marginalized community, I’m all about it. 

These are not how-to books as much as they are books that widen the eye and stretch the soul. Some make the case for moving into the neighborhood while others simply move the neighborhood into your periphery. A few books are memoir-esque in the sense that they are written to tell a story of ones life while others are more ethnographic, meaning they tell an account of a particular subculture in society. Not all of these books are written from a Christian or biblical perspective but all of them contain truth and all truth is God’s truth. Amen and amen.

I am not going to give you a brief synopsis of each book. I am going to simply list them and ask you to trust me. Each of these books are books I repeatedly return to for encouragement, for information, and for truth. If you’re willing to follow Jesus into the margins and partner with Him in righting the wrongs in this world, you need to know what you’re getting yourself into before you get there. Your new neighbors will want you to know some things about how to love them best. {And right this minute, I’m about to employ something I’ve learned on a kid neighbor from down the street who is currently screaming profanity in my side yard. I learned this thing from the Bible and it has three letters and begins with the letter R and ends with a D. Just kidding. But I want to.}

I’m listing these in order of how I think they should be read. The ones with a star are the books I’d read if you only read about five books a year.

Hope these help to make sense of the work the Holy Spirit is  doing in your life. Because believe you me, if you’re asking for books on how to love the marginalized, Jesus is chasing you down and you should prepare for a life reckoning.

Don’t ask me how I know.

*Interrupted Jen Hatmaker

*The Irresistible Revolution  Shane Claiborne

*Tattoos on the Heart Father Gregory Boyle

*Let Justice Roll Down Dr. John M. Perkins

Dirty Faith David Z. Nowell

*Subversive Jesus Craig Greenfield

Radical Hospitality Lonni Collins Pratt

When Helping Hurts Steve Corbett and Brian Finkert

Take This Bread Sara Miles

*Between the World and Me Ta’Nehisi Coates { I loved the audio book!}

*Evicted Matthew Desmond

Just Mercy Bryan Stevenson

In this Country We Love Diane Guerrero

Generous Justice Tim Keller

The Name of God is Mercy Pope Francis

Educating All God’s Children Nicole Baker Fulgham

The New Jim Crow Michelle Alexander

Brown Girl Dreaming Jacqueline Woodson

You got one to add? Throw it at me!

I love doing life in this community.

You enrich my life more than you know.

xo

What It Looks Like To Be Loved

DSC_1218Months ago, when we slurped Sonic slushes around a table at Sonic while the kids played,  he asked for a list of things we needed to have done around the house and the yard to make loving our neighbors a little easier. 

Thad and I sat there with blank expressions and mentioned our one project that was nearly funded: The Basketball Court.

I mean besides the court. he said. Like other stuff you want done.

Again, Thad and I sat there with blank expressions.

Um, maybe some more rocks under the picnic tables? I sheepishly asked.

He stared back at us with his little notebook of notes and said something like this:

We’re coming to help you love your neighbors. We want to serve you. We want to do things for your family that you haven’t been able to afford to do or haven’t had the time to do. We’ll run a basketball camp and backyard bible club for your neighbors in the evening, but we’re coming to wash your feet. And you need to receive it and come up with some more projects.

Thad and I drove home in our petri dish on wheels and swapped a dozen ideas about what exactly washing our feet really meant. And if I’m honest with you, we both had our doubts.

Would their coming create more work than we could handle? Would their coming break our bank? Would they start things we wouldn’t be able to finish? Would our neighbors receive them? Would we be good deeded to death and left feeling like we owed a debt we could never repay? <—That last one was the real kicker, if I’m honest with you.

Seriously. We were full of doubt and angsty about the whole trip. {and we told them so after they arrived. we couldn’t help it. we’re truth tellers.}

Until they arrived.

And then we let out one long, drawn out, exhausted sigh and released our home and our yard to twenty-two of the best people God ever did make.

I could sit at the end of my driveway and never cease to sing their praises. SouthCoast Community Church came all the way from Maine to pour themselves out for the good of our family, the good of our neighborhood and to make Jesus’ name great in our little city. They worked in the rain and in the stifling heat. They worked in the morning and in the evening. They prepped and served meals. They hung privacy fence. They put together basketball goals. They ran conduit under the ground and installed 4 outside lights around the court. They made our deck more user friendly. They shoveled mulch. And shoveled mulch. And shoveled mulch. They put in a firepit. They dismantled our old play set, took it to a neighbor and put it back together again. They put together a new, industrial quality play set. They trimmed trees and dug up underbrush. They unloaded rocks under our picnic tables. They even pulled up every acorn that every squirrel has ever buried in our yard. That’s at least a million. They sanded and repainted the windows downstairs. <—- Catch your jaw. I know. I almost cried.  They taught basketball clinics and bible stories. They gave out hugs and slapped backs and spent their words in ways that lifted the faces of our neighbors.

But more than anything, they moved into our house for one whole week and loved us to pieces with their mere presence. Jesus basically moved into our house and fed us, body and soul. And we are forever grateful to have been loved so lavishly by His bride.

Last week, I shared more about how this trip happened here and I shared pictures here. And since Friday, given the state of our world, I’ve debated on the timing of sharing this post full of pictures.

I decided to share them today because light pushes back the dark and love always wins.

May these images inspire you to push back the dark in your small corner of the world.

I’ve uploaded so many pictures your heads might roll, so brace yourselves. I couldn’t not share them. {happy sigh}

Yard reveal is at the end. {yippee!}

DSC_1166DSC_1175DSC_1115DSC_1134DSC_1053DSC_1072DSC_1074DSC_1068DSC_1089DSC_1098DSC_0015DSC_1048DSC_1037DSC_1032DSC_1076DSC_1082DSC_1054DSC_0012DSC_0011DSC_1216DSC_1109DSC_1111DSC_1078DSC_1135DSC_1144DSC_1163DSC_1158DSC_1103DSC_1093DSC_1114DSC_1161DSC_1204DSC_1212DSC_1210DSC_1219DSC_1200DSC_0001DSC_0003DSC_1081DSC_1079DSC_1179DSC_1199DSC_1206DSC_1168DSC_1187DSC_1100DSC_1104DSC_1108DSC_1147DSC_1189DSC_1222DSC_1231DSC_1229DSC_1149Drum Roll Please!

DSC_0038 DSC_0037 DSC_0036 DSC_0035 DSC_0034 DSC_0032 DSC_0030 DSC_0028 DSC_0026I know you’re wondering where all the before pictures are.

But there are none. The yard has been the armpit of the Harris casa for nearly 5 years. I’d rather die nekked somewhere in public than show the whole world how awful it was.  Use your imagination. =)

Bear Witness

DSC_0897The things I want to tell you seem insignificant and so very small in the grand scheme of all that’s going on in the world, but because I’ve all been planted in small town America for a purpose that I cannot fathom, I will write down the revelation happening here. {psst… we’ve ALL been planted somewhere for purposes we cannot fathom.}

I will write it down because words defy the enemy who would love to paralyze us with news of the calamity he is orchestrating half-way around the globe in order to distract us from our purposes right where we are. I will write it down because the Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood that we might know that words turn the world upside down.

And I will write because in writing, I bear witness to the nearness of Jesus in a broken world full of sorrows.

imageLast Monday, as my small world reeled with the Sunday night loss of our house guest, words I’d written a month prior hit the internet while my heart warred against the shame I felt at the idea that we had somehow failed her. I relived the previous night’s front porch altercation and the hard words that had spewed from her mouth. I replayed the manner in which she had set her mind to run and then I replayed the audacity in which she picked up her chains and ran.  And I beat the air with two fists when I got the call that she’d been picked up and issued another orange jump suit only to cry over the kitchen sink at the thought of her sitting completely surrounded with people and yet utterly alone in a jail cell.

On the Tuesday following the loss, when Thad came home for a quick lunch, we sat across the table from one another and gave into the weight that had settled onto our shoulders. We couldn’t name the weight right off, having never felt something quite so heavy, but as our words failed to come, the Word returned to us:

Jesus, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Surely our griefs He bore, and our sorrows He carried.

And the nearness of Jesus was so thick we could hardly breathe.

DSC_0869Yesterday, in the hours after church and before small group, Thad slipped into his three-buck Chucks and 1997 Abercrombie hat and made his way around the neighborhood knocking on doors and inviting the kids to our neighborhood basketball camp next week. His goal was to hit all the usual homes and talk to all the usual neighbors and do a quick catch up before giving his sales pitch. But as he rounded the first corner, headed to the house with the seven kids who have been fixtures in our lives for four years, he saw the front door padlocked shut and papers posted. Their home had been vacated, with no trace of the family anywhere. And as Thad made his rounds, this same scene played itself out three more times, at three more houses bringing the sum total of families displaced or evicted in a month’s time to four.

That’s twelve kids and six adults. Gone.

I saw him coming up the street with his shoulders slumped forward, his head downcast and I knew the story before he even opened his mouth. I’d already noticed the absence of children roaming the neighborhood and piling up on the picnic tables and his countenance said everything I knew was whirling around in his head: I should have visited more often. I should have picked up on the crisis sooner. I should have known eviction was on the horizon and I should have moved to help. I should have done more.

Standing on the front steps, as shame cast its long shadow across our porch, I sidestepped it to feel the weight of grief and loss and sorrow in the only patch of light found there and the Word returned again:

Jesus, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Surely our griefs He bore, and our sorrows He carried.

And again, the nearness of Jesus filled the space between grief and sorrow.

imageI could write the story of the world until my fingers bled.

I could tell you about the domestic dispute across the street because baby number three is on the way and money is tight. I could tell you about the kids’ around the corner witnessing a shooting at their dad’s house and how their dad held the gun and pulled the trigger. I could tell you about the house four doors down pushing heroin and how the needles get caught in the sidewalk cracks and picked up by good neighbors trying to keep things clean. I could tell you about the friends who’ve recently confessed to drug addiction and are now miles away at treatment centers. I could tell you about my deaf neighbor whose blood pressure skyrocketed too fast to prevent a stroke and how she spends her days wheelchair bound, half her body paralyzed. I could tell you about the urban missionaries’ public schooled teenaged daughters who are heartbreakingly lost somewhere between the marginalized and the privileged, the biblical scholars and the plain talk Gospel livers and how their parents struggle with loss and gain for the sake of the Gospel.

Sorrow and grief flow mingled together, without ceasing. Where sorrow peaks, grief settles deep down in the bones. Where grief subsides, sorrow rises. Amid the greatest joys, there is never a moment when sorrow and grief fail to swell in the soul and cascade over the body like waves of longing for something more than this busted up world.

And right here, in the crushing waves of life’s grief and sorrow, is the place where Jesus stands.

This is where He holds all the broken things until they are put back together.

This is where He weeps for the world He came to save.

And this is where He is beckoning us to join Him.

To know Jesus is to become a person of sorrows, well acquainted with grief.

 

Desire and Longing and Home

imageThe story I want to tell you is not mine to write and yet, to write my story is to write hers. We’re knit together, she and I, not by blood or by marriage but by Jesus who makes families from nothing but willing hearts.

My family is stretching and all the stretching is painful.

Placing one twin bed with one beloved quilt at the end of a noisy hall with the two windows and the small sitting area was a small, simple act of faith a year ago. An outward expression of the inward work happening in the heart of our family.

Last month, that act of faith became an act of obedience.

The twin bed got new sheets and new pillows and a new throw. New towels filled the bathroom and a fan filled the corner where the sun pools on the floor. Totes full of belongings from a past life filled the one good closet and hours of stories from that past life filled every waking minute. The fridge brimmed with new favorite foods and small bottles of Mountain Dew.

A house once buzzing with normal, messy life morphed into a house swarming with not-so-normal, messier life.

Mornings became a juggling act of people coming and going. Mid-days became a blur of pick-ups and drop-offs and surprise pop-in visits by public servants. Meal preparation became something other than the usual humdrum-let’s-make-do sort of meal preparation and blossomed into something unmanageable and quite Martha Stewart-ish.  Quiet evenings became prime time for late night counseling and truth telling, swallowing up any sliver of solitude that ever existed.

guest room_GT

And if ever a body did sigh, mine did.

If a soul ever longed for what used to be or a heart ever broke for propelling itself into an abyss of unknowns, mine did.

I woke every morning, grappling with the day ahead of me while looking for some semblance of normalcy. I checked off my to-do list and hugged my kids with more intentionality. I cleaned with a ferocity, trying to find a new rhythm in an old task. Books once held in my lap became books listened to over sinks full of dishes and piles of laundry. Loud conversations with my kids turned into quiet whispers in stolen moments of togetherness. Words of affirmation and belonging and thankfulness rolled off my tongue as the mother in me felt the overwhelming need to speak love over my children, reminding them that they still had all of me. I slipped into the fold of my husband’s arms whenever I could do so without being seen. Time spent lingering on the porch turned into smoke break counseling sessions. Old thoughts about poverty and homelessness and custody and jail time dissipated as real life played itself out under my roof.

And every minute of every day, every thing I looked at, every task I completed, and every person that gathered around my table only served to reflect back to me a deeper longing for home.

 
Join me at Grace Table for the rest of the story?

On Vulnerability and Loss

DSC_0946I write to the rhythm of a dribbling basketball and one lawnmower and the chattering of squirrels that have the audacity to taunt me from the edge of my picnic table. This writing thing is forced today. It’s laborious. And I feel timed by the kids who are waiting to do the next thing and the house guest who has interviews and meetings and a need to talk a circle around things I cannot wrap my head around.  

Life is running off the rails and I’m flat driving the engine to everywhere everybody thinks we need to go next, literally. My Petri dish on wheels is the vehicle of choice and the only pockets of time not spent on the road taking someone somewhere, are spent over the sink or at the cutting board. The only upside to the time over the sink and at the cutting board is that I have listened to three audio books in the last two weeks. The downside is my brain is exploding and I have no white space to poke around in my heart and translate everything in my brain.

DSC_0949In two short weeks, I’ve listened to a letter written to a black son by his black father about being black in America. Mind blown, heart broken.

I’ve been called up off the floor, audio-book-style, and pushed into even more vulnerability and more discomfort and more self-awareness so that I can keep on, keeping on in my every day, fall on my face life. Because evidently, having an ongoing, four year vulnerability hangover isn’t enough.

And I’ve been given the words to call my writer’s block what it is: Fear. Which I already knew, but there’s something quite hiney kicking about hearing an author tell you that aloud while you’re chopping cucumbers so as to avoid typing words.

Every time I get to chopping or scrubbing or mixing something or other, I turn around to see my house guest leaning against the pantry, in full on awe of the madness happening in front of her. And nearly every one of her incidences of leaning against the pantry has coincided with a booming voice in the background saying something like Get back in the arena! Kill his body. I was filled with shame. Take his body. Bada$$es are those who get back up off the floor and embrace their vulnerability wholeheartedly.

You get the picture.

DSC_0931I can only imagine what our house guest thinks about me, if she even thinks about me. She’s a cutie with a great figure and I’m a frumpy old lady who listens to weird audio books and has dishpan hands. Seriously. I know I’m forever telling you how living among the marginalized is like holding up a mirror in front of my face, but never in a million years would I have imagined what it would feel like to have that mirror living in my house. I can’t escape the vulnerability I feel and for weeks, I have been unable to express it. I feel naked in my own house and naked when I go to the Wal-Mart. And I don’t do naked, people.

Vulnerability has been a theme of my life over the last ten years, but things have been ramped up a notch in the last few years. Church planting from your kitchen table will do that to you. You prepare the house, set the table and provide a feast. You host a meeting and serve the pound cake that sank in the middle.  You provide pastoral counseling over coffee served in your favorite chipped mugs. You light the candles and pave the way to authenticity by going first. You invite others to make themselves at home in your house in hopes that the hospitality shared will be the medium by which the Holy Spirit does a work. You live with great anticipation of what God is up to, knowing that every person who crosses your threshold is an invitation to something bigger than your small existence.

DSC_0959The last four years have taught me that half of all the people that share my table for any length of time will eventually walk out of our church and out of my life. Some will leave because we {the church} care too much. Others will leave because we {the church] appear to not care enough. A great portion will leave because we {my family} have failed to meet an expectation for relationship. And a small portion will leave simply because leaving is what they do.

Loss is loss, of course, but loss is seemingly magnified when the sum of the relationship is tied to the very rhythm of life happening in your home.

And lately, all the losses seem more palpable. All the flinging doors and meals stretched out over three tables has me thinking about all the faces we’ve seen around here. Maybe it’s because we’re anticipating another loss. Maybe it’s because the radical hospitality we’re demonstrating is the kind that casts a shadow on everything fighting for the light. Or maybe it’s because the streak of vulnerability I’m currently living through is throwing flares my way, reminding me that nothing stays the same and that at any moment, the other person can walk away and there’s not a darn thing I can do about it.

The battle to keep wholeheartedly opening the front door and inviting others in to our most vulnerable place on this earth is nothing short of front-line combat.

But it’s a battle that’s already been won and the keys to the kingdom being built around my table and under my roof have already been handed to me.

And today, that’s enough.

Glory hallelujah.

Our New Normal

imageI’ve lost the last eighteen days of my life along with the words necessary to string together a literary picture for you that can adequately give you a peek into our new normal.

But let me just tell you that our new normal is anything but normal.

While the rest of America is floating it up at the pool or hot dogging it out in the backyard, we’re over here surviving the last four days of school and trying to figure out how to ease into fun when the people who make up our days are trying to simply make it to the end of the month with two nickels left over. I will never get used to living in this tension. Holidays and summer breaks and vacation days from school promise a healthy dose of the kind of reality I wish I knew nothing of.

imageMost of you know we had a woman from our church move in last month. I have written about it here and shared bits over here. She’s been in our home for eighteen days and for the last eighteen days, we’ve navigated job interviews and court dates and child visitation. We’ve also navigated the awkwardness that comes from having a single, 34 year old female living here. I feel like a sister wife who shares everything but her husband. <—- And I ain’t about to ever do that. Our house has been one big revolving door of people coming and going and my sole purpose in life has been reduced to making space for the Holy Spirit to show up and do His thing while providing the food and drink that nourishes nine lives. I’ve loved these eighteen days, but I have lost myself in them. And the part of me I miss most of all is the writer part.

imageThe kids are morphing into big people and these big people are beginning to make big decisions on their own. Friendships are changing, hobbies are becoming passions and our kids are becoming quite confident in their own skin. They’re saying no to things they once said yes to. They’re choosing not to associate with kids who cuss like sailors and dress in nothing and sleep around <—Which is a whole lot of  kids. They’re making the kind of decisions every parent wants their kids to make. They’re keeping their noses clean and sticking to their values. Except that we live among the marginalized and WITH the marginalized and we’re planting a church right here on the edge of society where everything is sketchy. Where neighboring once was popsicle easy and friendships with neighbors encouraged, things are now hard as heck. We are now standing in the thick of being parents first and church planters second, knowing that our role in the neighborhood does not trump being parents to our kids. Intentional neighboring has taken on a whole different flavor and we can’t figure out what the flavor is.

imageThad’s been whittling down his honey-do list in preparation for a mission’s team coming the first week of July. The neighborhood basketball court is complete except for the addition of one goal, netting and a couple of benches that the team will build when they get here. Everything we get done around here takes a village and we are so grateful for every donation given and every hand lent.

Fellowship is trucking right along and Jesus is adding families at a steady pace. When needs emerge, our body rallies to meet the needs. When souls are broken, our body employs the slow way of Jesus and moves to be with. When captives are not free, our body joins them in captivity until freedom rings. We are not hip or sexy or cool. We are the free in Christ who live our lives to set others free.

imageI don’t know what our summer holds or how often I’ll find the quiet time necessary to write here. Life is full, but not busy. It’s upside-down, but not chaotic. It’s deeply personal, but not mine.

And y’all, I may be entering a season of living that lends itself to a story that is not mine to tell.

Only Jesus knows.

Until then, you may just find me happy as a clam and cooped up in the kitchen making yet another meal for my ever growing table of people.

Which is sorta awesome.

Things I Learned in May

DSC_0938Hello people.
It’s the last day of May and I thought I’d share a little list of all the things I’ve learned this month. Mainly because I’ve spent the last month micro-blogging my life over on Instagram and neglected to share much of anything over here. And partly because Instagram is one beautiful stream of Glory Hallelujahs and it takes up all of my time. <—- I tell the truth.
So, without further ado, let me copy and paste for you the little diddy I preface every one of these posts with:

It’s time for me  to recap all of the little things I’ve picked up along the way and organize them into a concise, brilliantly executed post that is balanced with a heaping spoonful of humor and a dash of spice. {sike}

Sometimes, I sprinkle in a pinch of something brainy just to make y’all think I’m bookish and scholarly and altogether smart.

But not today.

Today’s post is pure nonsense and whimsy and all things that amount to nothing but a hill of beans…

Except for maybe a handful of things.

Okay. Except for maybe two hands full of things.

I can’t help it. I’m a whole lot of  heavy. You can talk to Jesus about that.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

{and thank you Emily Freeman for hosting this link-up. you are the quietest little firecracker in all of the internet.}

DSC_0939Some things need no prayer before responding with a YES.

When the opportunity to feed someone or clothe someone or care for the sick or visit an inmate or quench a thirst or provide a home for the homeless or care for the orphan or invite a stranger in, you don’t pray about it. You just do it.

For those of us entrenched in needs-based work or ministry of any kind, social media can be suffocating.

A few months ago, I realized that social media, particularly Facebook, was draining me. It wasn’t that I was spending too much time scrolling or being inundated with negativity. It was the simple realization that social media opened me up to seeing the needs of thousands of people that I couldn’t do anything about. God placed me in Rocky Mount, NC, in a neighborhood bursting at the seams with need, in a church with needs and within a family with needs. I am one person tasked with loving one place and one people. Not the entire internet.

Audio Books!!!!!!!!!!!!

Y’all. I know I’m late to the party, but I can read 365 NON-FICTION  books a year if I just listen to them while I do dishes and laundry. {Does that put our dirty little piles into perspective for you?} I need to mention here that I cannot listen to fiction. I tried a hour of The Kitchen House and y’all, I’m straight telling you that all the different characters spoken in different voices by the same woman was killing me slowly. It was also creepy. So give me all your recommendations. I’m all ears. Literally.

DSC_0942Home is found in Jesus.

Anything we create here on this earth is just the means by which the Holy Spirit cultivates a longing for Jesus.

You can take a train from Rocky Mount to Charlotte, NC for $48.50.

Five hours alone on a train headed to She Speaks? Yes please. You going?

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a work of art. 

I wrote a post a few weeks ago that raised a lot of eyebrows. {For those of you newbies here, I need to let you know that I write a lot of posts that raise eyebrows.} Because we are engrossed in urban ministry and the minority in our community and in our schools, I’m a permanent student of my neighborhood. This book answered so many of the questions I posed in my last eyebrow-raising post. Invite Jesus to let the words of this man open your spiritual eyes to see the world from his perspective and then commit to finish this book.

Two women in the kitchen and in the laundry room is always better than one.

Yes, the dance is awkward.

Yes, the underwear situation is weird.

But glory hallelujah for the help.

Yes, Scared

imageThere have only been a few invitations in my life that I instinctively knew in the very second I said yes to them, my world would tilt on its axis and never be the same again.

All of them have happened in the last four years, except for one. The first invitation I accepted was the night I sat next to Thad at a Baptist Student Union sock hop in 1996 and told him I was going to be breaking up with my long time boyfriend over Thanksgiving. I told him that because a few weeks prior to the sock hop, Jesus had informed me that I was going to marry Thad. But that’s another story for another day. Aren’t you glad?

Last Thursday, in the middle of making sixty meatballs and a tomato tart, I got a text message from our co-pastor’s wife that read:

Thomas says she’s not staying here. We are packing her up now.

Without thinking, I responded with:

OK. She can stay with us. We want her.

And then I made a phone call that went something like this:

So. Thomas says she cannot stay where she is and I sorta invited her to stay with us. She can stay upstairs at the end of the hall on the twin bed we prepared last year just in case someone needed it.

I paused, waiting for Thad to lose his mind, but instead what I heard was this:

OK. We’ll figure it out.

Thirty minutes later, she was here.

Company came thirty minutes after that and amid moving totes and church supplies crowding the upstairs makeshift bedroom, three men and two women unloaded and reloaded two different areas, carving out room to hold one more and her belongings. Our house guest moved her things into her upstairs space while I called out an apology to her  about the lack of privacy at the end of the hall and the lack of sheets on the bed.

From my safe place in the kitchen, as I burned the meatballs and over-cooked the pasta, I wondered what we had just done. 

And from that safe place, I felt our whole earth tilt to hold the kingdom of Jesus that comes when things are upside-down.

imageThis morning over coffee, we made bigger talk than yesterday and yesterday’s talk was bigger than the day before that. Things were awkward and weird but not as awkward and weird as they were on Saturday and I count that as progress. I folded laundry onto the coffee table while she applied for jobs and in the quiet minutes between tapping words into fields and Thad’s underwear piling up, we talked about what I write and what we should have for dinner and how hot we made the salsa yesterday. 

We talked about a whole lot of nothing and a whole lot of everything and all the talking was good.

At a quarter of 11, she left the house for an afternoon of busyness with a friend of mine who knows the key to recovery looks an awful lot like constructive busyness and Jesus-centered conversation with a person who knows the long road to healing.

I am grateful for the time to breathe, alone.

And I’ll be grateful when she comes home.

imageThere are a thousand things I want to tell you and a thousand more things I want to ponder in my heart, knowing the whole point of this house guest situation is to do a work in me. Every yes to Jesus is an invitation to unearth another layer of our souls that needs some gentle tilling and I know this full well.

The other thing I know full well is that when Jesus invites us to something, His invitation always looks like an invitation to say yes to something unknown. 

We don’t get the game plan or the necessary skills or the method to cure whatever madness we think we might see over the ledge. We don’t get to see five years into the future to know whether or not our yes makes a difference. We don’t get to pick and choose what doors we’ll open should we say yes to some unknown proposition. We don’t get to study up before being pre-approved for the task because in Christ, we’re already pre-approved.

Jesus simply presents us with a scenario -something taken straight out of scripture no less, something like feeding the hungry or clothing the naked or giving shelter to the homeless or taking up our cross – and we get the choice to be either scared and obedient or comfortable and disobedient.

It’s really that simple and that complicated.

When Jesus invites us to say yes to something, He’s inviting us to trust Him more intimately. He’s inviting us to allow Him into the deepest recesses of our hearts that He might excavate those things that hinder our becoming more like Him. Jesus is inviting us to deeper levels of obedience in order that we present a more credible witness of the Church to the world we live in.

Jesus is inviting us to bring His kingdom here on earth,

One scared yes at a time.

A Confession of Reconciliation

imageAfter another morning out in the never ending drizzle that is apparently the new norm for North Carolina and one trip to the library with two children who feel like the only books in the entire library that speak to them have either SpongeBob Squarepants or Blue’s Clues in the title, I found myself seated at a table between two women who are just like me and nothing like me at all.

We made polite small talk about our families and our jobs. We talked CCDA and Dr. John Perkins and shame. We talked generational sin and strongholds and need. We talked about blank pages and freedom and launching new works with nothing but a gut feeling that the Holy Spirit is inviting you to something bigger than yourself. And then we went there.

It was unavoidable, really.

We were sharing a table, sharing the same heart about a mom’s ministry and trying to share a building and in all the sharing, I felt like we were talking a big circle around the elephant in the room.

So I went there and said something like this:

We have to create space for moms to come together and feel safe saying hard things. We have to cultivate a culture of love for one another where we’re willing to go the distance with one another, even if toes are stepped on and feelings get hurt. We have to share the table in each others’ homes. We have to hear different perspectives, from different walks of life.  And we have to be diverse. In all ways. We. Have. To. Be. Diverse. I just don’t know how we do it and do it well.

As I shared my heart, the women leaned into the table and went there with me. They asked hard questions and pressed into things I’d not considered. We discussed our target audience and curriculum and empowerment. We discussed team dynamics and how to add diversity to the team and somewhere in this part of the conversation, I started confessing all my fears about intentionally crossing racial bounds in our city.

I confessed my fears of getting things wrong and sticking my foot in my mouth. I confessed my fear of doing the messy work of racial reconciliation while doing the messy work of launching a brand new work at the same time, the success of both things contingent on all of us continuing to believe that Jesus is bigger than the mess we’re committed to muddle through. I confessed my fear of being ill-equipped and being uncertain of how far Jesus was going to stretch me or the team He was building.  I confessed my fear of knowing that this ministry would likely be the hardest thing any of us had ever been invited to and I confessed my fear of failing.

I also confessed that I had told Jesus yes to City Moms Fellowship before I had read the whole invitation, completely missing the fine print at the bottom that read: Racial reconciliation is the main thing here. City Moms Fellowship is simply the means by which I am going to do this work.

imageBecause that was the truth.

It was the truth I’d been dancing around. The one thing I’d not wanted to admit to anyone, not even myself.

I’d wanted racial reconciliation to be a component of City Moms Fellowship, not the main thing.

But all afternoon, as I’ve been wringing my hands and sighing all sorts of heavy sighs, I’ve had to entertain the idea that City Moms Fellowship is absolutely a ministry of reconciliation. It’s all about reconciling women to God and to one another.

When I read our mission statement through the lens of reconciliation, I see it.

When I read our core values through the lens of reconciliation, I see it.

But when I put the word racial in front of reconciliation, I start getting heart palpitations. Things get all conflicted and angsty. Things get the realest kind of real.

And I get scared.

I just do.

The word racial adds a whole other dimension to this reconciliation business. It means we’re going to be serious about going there. It means we’re going to say words like White and Black and be scared in the process. (Don’t laugh. It’s hard in the south, y’all.) It means we’re going to have hard conversations. It means we’re going to have to pray continually for a spirit of humility and of courage. It means we’re going to have to continually posture ourselves to listen more than we speak. It means we’re going to have to bring to light the prejudices hidden in our hearts. It means we’re going to have to let the words of John 17 do their work in our souls so that our little place in the world sees a beautiful picture of the bride of Christ.

Racial reconciliation means that we are committed to being active participants in bringing healing and restoration in our city so that Jesus is glorified and the Church is a credible witness to the world.

Our pursuit of diversity is good and right. Noble, even.

But diversity for diversity’s sake is not the chief end.

Glorifying Jesus and presenting the Church to the world as as whole, healthy, reconciled body is.

 

And that, my friends, is enough weighty truth to strike a healthy dose of holy fear right up in this mama.

It’s also enough to light a fire in my belly to get to work.