When It’s Okay to Say Thank You Instead of It’s All Jesus

DSC_1644DSC_1647I’m not a person who likes to talk on the phone.

Okay. That’s not really the truth. I loathe to talk on the phone. I have the ringer of my phone turned on never, ever, ever and if on the rare occasion that I do answer when you call, it’s because I’m holding the phone and I happen to see the screen light up.

I’m a person who is always trying to get 37 things done at one time so if I’m on the phone, I’m washing dishes and reading a cookbook and talking to the kids with my eyes and my hands and only partly listening to the person on the other end of the line. I have a hard time sitting down and being present in a conversation with someone I am not looking at.

My earliest memories of talking on the phone go back to seventh grade when my friend Beth would call on Friday nights, just as Full House was coming on, and breathe into my ear for at least an hour. She never had much to say and I obviously had nothing to say, but neither one of us could muster up the words to say goodbye and then hang up. Just thinking about the years I spent listening to other teenagers breathe into my ear still makes me feel all weird on the inside. {insert a shiver}

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine who is a talker on the phone-er called to ask if I my neighbors could use any of the extra boxes of cereal she had picked up at the grocery. My phone was on the counter and when I saw it blinking with her name, I answered because I knew why she was calling. She’s faithful to help us fill gaps. I picked up the phone and arranged a drop off time and before I could hang up, this friend launched into a whole other conversation that went something like this.

I just want you to know I see what you’re doing and I admire your stick-with-it-ness even when I know it’s hard. You are kind and generous and you may not know it today, but you are making a difference. You have a good heart and every time I read what you write I start crying and I am challenged to live differently. It’s okay to be tired and not want to feed those kids sometimes. Jesus loves you and I love you and I am so glad to know you. You inspire me and don’t you forget it.

Can I tell you how hard it was to keep hanging on to the phone and receive the things she was telling me? Can I tell you how much my heart ached under the weight of her kindness and the truth in her words? Can I tell you how my insides wanted to turn even more inward and deflect her encouragement onto Jesus because I live in my own skin and I know the depravity of my own soul? Can I tell you how the lump in my throat made it hard to respond to her? Can I tell you how I barely know her but I know, I really know, that Jesus moved her to call me to offer me more than boxes of cereal?

DSC_1648I spend a lot of time meeting with people. Sometimes for coffee, but more often for guacamole and chips. I might balk at a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee date, but I will leap for joy at the thought of an hour long conversation over guacamole and good chips.

When I meet with people, I’m reminded of two things, every time. One, we’re all the same, created in the image of God with a purpose that we usually cannot put our finger on.  And two, we’re all in dire need of the body of Christ to come alongside us and remind us of who we are in Christ while acknowledging our unique place in the body.

Recently, I sat with some precious women who deflected every encouraging word that was spoken to them with some variation of the  sentence: It’s all Jesus.

I love the way you sing. It’s all Jesus.

You’re such a good friend. You’re always quick to step in and serve. It’s all Jesus.

Thanks for that teaching on XYZ. Your words ministered to my soul. It’s all Jesus.

All I could think was Of course it’s all Jesus. Everything is all Jesus. We’re just trying to tell you that we recognize the Jesus in you and how He is making much of Himself through your unique gifts.

What I realized midway through the It’s All Jesus Monologues was that this entire table of women had somehow been conned into believing that if she received encouragement for any good that others saw in her life, she was stealing God’s glory and forgetting who deserved all the credit.

As if we lowly humans could actually ever steal a smidgen of God’s glory or forget from Whom all blessings flow.

I know that’s what these ladies were thinking because I used to recite my own version of the It’s All Jesus Monologues.

It was easier for me to just give a rote response and point to the heavens than it was to stand awkwardly before someone and try to receive their words knowing full well the condition of my heart.

It was also easier to pretend like my soul wasn’t longing for someone else to come alongside me and gently nudge me along to use the gifts I’d been given. It was easier to just keep on keeping on, silently wondering if my life was reflecting Jesus, than listen to someone tell me they could see His little light flickering inside of me.

Who was I to think that my life could actually reflect Jesus in ways that would bring others closer to Him while giving me deep, abiding joy?

And who was I to simply say thank you?

Which brings me back to that phone call.

DSC_1645When my friend called, she didn’t know that I was in the mudroom sorting odd cans of beans and tomatoes trying to make sense of the donated groceries and feeling like a big pile of nothing.

She didn’t know the kids were hanging from the ceiling or that I had 2 babies not wanting to nap or that I was struggling to keep on showing up in my neighborhood bearing pitchers of cool water.

She didn’t know that I was feeling lonely and unsure of how to hand off a ministry well.

She didn’t know that words were simmering below the surface unable to order themselves up and out.

She didn’t know that I was feeling like my small acts of service were just a drop in the ocean of vast hopelessness.

But Jesus did.

He knew the exact state of my heart and my life and He prompted Sheryl to love me by speaking words of encouragement to the heart of who He has made me to be and what He has called me to do.

And sure, I could have cut her off mid-stride and said Sheryl, it’s all Jesus, but I didn’t.

I just let the tears roll on down my face and let her say everything she felt let to say and when she was done, I didn’t say much at all.

Except for two words:

Thank you.

Which is all any of us really need to say when Jesus sends someone to remind us of who we are and what we’re meant to do.

*This is a post in a four month series I’m calling The Hospitality Project. The month of May is devoted to Preparing The Heart. And part of preparing to receive others is being able to fully receive who we are in Christ with a humble thank you.

Imagine Sunday Night, Won’t You?

DSC_1592DSC_1574DSC_1560I want you to let the following scene play around in your head for a while:

It’s 5pm on Sunday night and the flies and gnats and mosquitoes are gnawing on every inch of your exposed skin. Around you, forty children are piled up on the deck and in camp chairs and on benches around the fire pit and on top of the tree house and on the hammock. Half the children you see are scarcely clothed; the other half are completely clothed in last season’s appropriate attire. Babies have snot running down their noses. Toddlers have pooped their pants. Two seven year old kids make inappropriate comments about one adult’s breasts and then have a fist fight over a chair.  Two teen moms pass their newborns and take selfies, over and over again. The air is thick with body odor and hours old poop and of all the kids you see, only a handful look engaged or slightly happy. No one is listening to the five minute story being shared about Jesus because their tummies are grumbling with an entire day’s worth of hunger.

At 5:30, after all the story telling and praying, you help wrangle all 40 children to the front yard for dinner. The kids fall over one another, tripping all the way to the front of the line where they grab a plate and sheepishly load their plates with BBQ chicken and pasta salad and watermelon. One girl, about the age of six, can’t make words so she simply nods her head at the things she’d like to eat. They kids guzzle 8 gallons of lemonade and eat 60 cupcakes and manage to use 90 paper plates and 98 cups and 2 rolls of paper towels. The meal is mass chaos and the children are half-standing and half-sitting and everyone of them is wild-eyed, calling out one another for trying to eat all the food. Babies cry and are carried by four year old siblings and toddlers look lost in the fray. Teen moms flirt with the one twenty-something man who is father to triplets and the conversation spilling from their mouths as they vie for his attention is shocking.

At 7, after rounds of corn hole and games of basketball and endless games of tag and hide and seek, the now 52 children are sent home for the evening. They walk home in a pack, chasing one another down the middle of the road, slapping each other in the back of the head and cussing a blue streak because they think you can’t hear them now. One straggler still sits on the picnic table because he doesn’t want to go home and for a moment, you find yourself really looking this one kid in the face and you’re struck with the way your heart feels in your chest. You sit down and you have a one-on-one conversation with the kid with the chubby cheeks and he smiles at you and you smile at him and for a second, you see the image of Jesus in his shiny face.

You’ve just lived my every Sunday night.

DSC_1582DSC_1562DSC_1552On Sunday nights, we feed the kids from our neighborhood and share a story about Jesus around a fire. Some of you know this because you’ve seen the pictures I’ve posted on Instagram. I don’t often blog about these meals here, but I do share snippets of story and a picture over on Instagram every Sunday night because I like the way the pictures say all the things I cannot process or set right in my heart.

But as I’ve been letting Jesus search all the recesses of my heart, our Sunday night meals have served as the means by which Jesus is shedding some light on some things.

When I tell you that every single Sunday night, no matter how many volunteers we have at our disposal, is extreme chaos bordering on the edge of rioting, I mean this with every inch of me. You’d have to live it to believe it. There is food everywhere and kids licking everything and so much mean-spirited hollering you’d think we have rival gangs right here on Avent street infiltrating the second grade. I have seen more booty crack on Sunday nights than I want to see in my entire lifetime and the snot, well, I can’t even go there. Every fiber of my DNA coded with Type A tendencies rare back in full on high alert mode on Sunday nights just trying to just go with the flow of disorganization.

But here’s the deal:

Jesus has been reminding me that I am showing up to the chaos every Sunday night because I believe despite all the dysfunction, He is working in our midst to change lives.

And He’s right.

If I didn’t believe this, I’d quit. It’s too hard to feed and wrangle stinky kids who just wanna make a mess of my yard. It’s costly and time consuming. It’s heart wrenching and soul exhausting. The chaos makes me hyper aware of my own sin. And who wants to keep doing something that makes our sin jump up and bite us in our own hiney? Not me, that’s who.

But this is what radical hospitality is and this is how we are to live it.

We’re to keep showing up and entering in and believing that Jesus is using our showing up to change lives.

Because Jesus is changing lives-particularly mine.

When Your Morning Pages Tell You More Than You Want to Know

DSC_1629Sometimes I write morning pages. Morning pages are pages of free flow writing, done first thing in the morning before your ego has a chance to tell you not to write those thoughts down.

I write these morning pages in spurts. When life is making no sense or I can’t quite put my finger on the thing that is nagging at my soul. Or sometimes I’ll write them to see if my subconscious {the Holy Spirit} forms the words on the page before my ego overrides whatever is trying to come out. These pages reflect my realest, truest self. Both the best parts of me and the ugliest parts of me ink out onto the paper in such a way that if I thought I’d die tomorrow, I’d save my journals and burn the morning pages.

Morning pages are not for the faint of heart, y’all, but they are for the broken of heart.

Writing these pages is like agreeing with Jesus that yes, apart from Him there is nothing good in me. They make space for the deepest sins of my heart to spill out in a way that I cannot pretend they don’t reside in me. In the earliest parts of the morning, I am forced to stare my humanity in the face. I am forced to name my fears and failures and shortcomings. My ego is set so low that reckoning with myself is most pure and true.

But writing these morning pages is also the way I come to terms with how loved I am by Jesus. My deepest longings and the gifts I desire to use come to the surface. Small things that make my heart skip a beat flow onto the paper like water skimming over stones, light and shimmery. I find that things I once considered insignificant, land on the paper like whispers of great pleasure from Jesus. I’m reminded He is pleased to see me relishing in the good things of this world. And I’m also reminded that I’ve been set apart to run a specific race marked exactly for me. That’s a big deal.

DSC_1623This morning, after I filled three pages with misspelled words and incomplete thoughts, I thumbed my way back through nearly a journal full of pages looking for a theme or a recurring thought, some thread tied to the rock in the bottom of my heart. And this excerpt from one day last week sums up the overriding theme of every word bleeding through all the paper:

I want to be free and needy and broken with other people and able to rest and say NO and have fun with my family and enjoy life right now and enjoy life tomorrow and spend long hours around my table laughing until my sides ache and I want to really love my neighbors and welcome them into my whole life and eat good food and treat my body with love and I want to sleep when I need to sleep and pick flowers out of the backyard relish in the faithfulness of Jesus and in His goodness and mercy and soak up grace and I want to tell the story of that kind of living.

And all this is telling me one thing:

My soul is longing for something other that what my life is producing.

Does this mean I want out of my life? Nope. Not at all.

But it does mean that Jesus is trying to tell me something about the way I’m living my life.

And I’m listening up, y’all.

I am listening up because if my soul is longing for something other than what my life is producing, then large chunks of my heart are closed up.

If there are parts of my heart all closed up, then I am unable to live a life of hospitality.

Hospitality begins with a whole heart so filled up with Jesus it can’t help but overflow onto others.

And that’s the goal y’all:

A whole heart so filled up with Jesus it can’t help but open itself up to welcome all that come near.

*This is a post in a four month series I’m calling The Hospitality Project. The month of May is devoted to Preparing The Heart. Hope you’ll join in. Maybe wake early tomorrow and begin your own journey into Morning Pages? Let me know if you do!

First Thoughts Heard Before

DSC_1530Eleven days ago, when I woke to write my first post in this series of hospitality posts, I had high hopes for 30 days of quiet thinking and slow walks downtown with nothing but my camera. I imagined long hours of porch swinging and picnic table sitting and book reading. I had thoughts for early to bed times and earlier to rise times with sweet, pet your white kitty and listen to Rich Mullins by candlelight while reading my bible times.

I had even planned to spend many hours writing through this process of giving Jesus space to prepare my heart to allow others in.

But all I’ve done for the past eleven days is cry the ugly cry and slam cabinet doors and wrestle through the everyday injustices I see around me. I’ve moved all the furniture upstairs and down and cleaned until I’ve gotten a raw patch on my right index finger. I’ve not been able to sleep worth a darn nor wake up any earlier than usual. Instead of reading, I’ve given myself over to chatting at the sky while the tears leak out of the corners of my eyes.

The last eleven days have been ugly, friends. Super ugly, actually, and my heart pure aches from all the stretching.imageYesterday over plates of fresh eggs scrambled in butter and English muffins slathered in homemade blueberry jam, our tiny little church gathered round the farm table and told the truth about one other.

We do this at least twice a week, over a meal, and there is always lots of good natured ribbing and coming clean. We don’t plan to sit around the table and dump the junk but when broken people break bread together, confession just comes. So I confessed to my people that I have issues and because they know me, no one was surprised.  As I stabbed at the slivers of strawberries on my plate, these people spoke scripture over me and called my plate spinning what it is and my tummy literally turned over under the weight of all the truth I was trying to digest.

Truth is necessary, but it stings, even when the people who tell the truth love you. I guess you could say truth and love just go together.

After my house had emptied and the coffee mugs had been put away, I crawled onto the bed next to Thad and we talked over all the things I’ve been feeling for weeks and all the words that were spoken over breakfast. We laughed because laughter was the only way to cut through the thick of the moment, but there were also long moments of quiet. The long moments were not painful as much as they were just tangible. I know that makes no sense, but I don’t really know any other way to say it. The long moments between the words and the laughter were just felt.  Warm and heavy.

DSC_1546Tonight, as soon as the babies flew my little coop, we loaded ourselves into the car and drove over the railroad tracks, over to the middle school. We were early for an EOG meeting and a quick band performance and so Thad and I picked up the conversation right where we left off yesterday, right there on the bleachers.

“What are the things that are most necessary in your life,” he asked me.

“I guess the answer is you and the kids, right?” I asked. “Maybe writing. Maintaining our house. The neighborhood stuff and the church. MOPS.”

“Those things, even us, are related to what you do. They’re attached to tasks,” he said. “Try again.”

“You’re getting all Sunday School on me,” I said. “You already know the answer and you’re just waiting on me to figure out what you’re getting at so I guess it’s Jesus. The answer is Jesus.”

“And you,” he said. “You don’t care for yourself well and you’re at a place in your life that you have to go deeper because your outward reach is going further. You cannot not care for yourself anymore. So yes. The answer is Jesus and then you.”

The school band cranked up and the littlest girls climbed over and under our legs and I leaned into Thad to soak up his mere presence. He was right and because of all the “hospitality” we’ve been partaking in {you can laugh} my heart was soft enough to receive his words. {God thought up everything, friends. Absolutely everything.}

“I know,” I said. “I’ve known it since March and I just admitted it in April. I’m trying to do better. Giving up the two babies I watch everyday is my first step in coming undone a little.”

We watched our second girl play her clarinet and we watched the small crowd watching with us and I sighed quite contented with the smallness of the circle that we’ve been drawing over and over again. 

DSC_1102I’m at Dunkin’ Donuts tonight, trying to wrap up my thoughts for you before they close. This no internet in the house for the next four months is making blogging a challenge and I guess that’s part of this coming undone stuff. {The no television stuff is also sort of rotten, not because I miss it, but because I’m never learned to parent my children on rainy days without PBS Kids. But I digress.}

As I let my mind rest on the last eleven days, I want you to know this one thing that I’m still trying to nudge from my head to my soul:

If I say I love my neighbors, then I must learn to love myself, better.

Plain and simple.

 {And as always, there is no red bow tonight. We’re all a work in progress and for some reason unknown to me, I think that Jesus desires for me to write through the journey, not afterwards. If you’re new here, I hope that’s okay with you.}

 *This is the second post in a four month series called The Hospitality Project. This month is all about Preparing the Heart.

The Hospitality Project

DSC_1540The morning breaks in gray clouds and drizzle and I stare into a cup of black coffee, itching to turn on Good Morning America. Coffee with vanilla creamer and Robin Roberts at 7:01 is my normal, everyday routine. The kids I care for play on the floor while Josiah and I catch up on last night’s travesties via the morning news. It’s what we do while he waits for the bus and I like the familiarity that this routine provides.

But today there is only black coffee and conversation and things are strangely awkward. Josiah stares at me and I stare at him and the two babies stacking blocks just stack blocks. I grin, unsure of what to say to my boy whom I birthed nearly 11 years ago. He grins back and gives me the sideways eye. We buy time for a good 20 minutes before he walks over to hug me goodbye.

“So, no cable until September, huh?” he asks. “It’s going to be boring a summer.”

“Yeah. No cable. Or internet. Just us and the air we’re sucking,” I say, laughing. “It’s gonna be an adventure. Fun, even.”

I watch him leave the house and I wonder, though, What if my heart is totally unchanged come September? What if this is just one more hamster wheel I’ve jumped on?

DSC_1539For the last eight weeks, I’ve been trying to put my finger on the root cause of all the emotions bumping around in my heart and erupting all over my family. I’ve looked at my calendar and looked at my neighborhood and looked at our family budget. I’ve made lists of things I have to do, things I want to do, and things Jesus wants me to do. I’ve also made lists of things that I don’t want to do, things I don’t have to do, and things I’ve felt Jesus asking me to give up. I’ve drawn Venn diagrams and filled them in and drawn lines through the things that overlap with nothing else and I’ve let myself begin to let those things go.

I’ve spent time listening to my people and spent time at my picnic tables in the front yard listening to my neighborhood and I’ve spent time listening to the still quiet voice of Jesus asking me to just trust Him and do the hard things anyway.

On Wednesday night, we had dinner with some dear friends who listened to Thad and I unload all the heart junk and at the end of the unloading, one of them asked one question: Do you want to do this?

She was referring to something entirely different, but I’ve let that question rest in the front of my mind because I think the entirety of the last 4 years of my life could be summed up into one statement:

Jesus asked me  to do __________ and I didn’t want to do it but I did it anyway and I’m so grateful I did. {You, too?}

Today is no different.

I’m saying YES to four months of hard things because Jesus has asked me to and He has asked me to because He loves me and He desires for me to live an abundant life.

And I’m going to invite you to say yes, too.

The Hospitality Project2Today marks the beginning of something I’m calling The Hospitality Project.

Creative, huh?

The Hospitality Project is a four month experiment of implementing spiritual practices that will create space for me to be able to receive others with a heart that is open enough to hold them.

Because I like order, I’ve arranged the next few months with specific areas of intentionality. They will unfold as follows:

May: Prepare the Heart

June: Prepare the Home

July: Prepare the Table

August: Prepare the Basin

I plan to blog my way through this venture, giving you guys the plan for each month, the first of each month. I’ll likely only post one weekly journal-like update each week to let you know how this project is stretching me. I encourage you to pick and choose some of these practices and invite Jesus to wake your heart up to the world around you.

Now, the plan for May.

 

May: Prepare the Heart

Because all of hospitality is an overflow from a heart that is loved by God and others, I must make some shifts in my everyday living to make space for some heart work by stripping away some things that clutter up my heart and replacing them with practices that produce life. The following in the loose plan:

*Cut cable television and internet at the house

*Limit social media to no more than an hour a day- including email correspondence

*Stop baby sitting 2 of the children I currently provide care for full-time

*Implement a Daniel Fast

*Spend 1 hour walking outside in quiet solitude

*Read the Bible for story {planning to read The Message}

*Pray often and intentionally

*Look at my children and talk with them, as individuals and not as a tribe

*Have lots of sex {I know. TMI. But sex produces vulnerability and closeness and vulnerability and closeness produce an open heart.}

 

I wish I could tell you that I have a huge hope for May, but I don’t. My hands are wide open to receive whatever Jesus wants to give me with the time I am giving back to Him.

If you are planning to join me in this venture, let me know!  I’d love for you to tag anything you post online with #TheHospitalityProject so that I can find you online easier. I’m only gonna have an hour a day online and a hashtag will simplify things for me! It will also help me to be intentional about what I choose to read online.

I love that you are here. Your words encourage me and your stories inspire me to live a better one.  I plan to read every word you guys share, but over the next few months, I’ll be slow to respond here and on social media. Thank you for bearing with me!

xoxo~

me

A Guest Post by Courtney Cassada

 I met this lady over on Instagram and then followed her gorgeous  pictures over to her blog. Courtney Cassada is a beautiful soul and this post was her generous offering to our monthly #LiveSmallLoveBig link up. If you’d like to read more from Courtney, you can find her here.

And friend, all the link ups last week were gorgeous pieces. I’ve shared them on social media this week, but if you missed them, you can scroll to the bottom of this post and catch up.  I love the hearts behind every one of these writers.

cassada1

love

 
nearly 4 years ago, that word took on a different meaning in this heart of mine.i became the mom to a broken little boy that hadn’t known what a mom was for the first 4 years of his life. i opened my arms and heart wide, i smiled big and answered all the questions. i had no idea where this road was taking us – he and i – but i knew God had put us together so we were walking forward, moment by moment.{on the floor of the airport in ethiopia. telling him “i love you” in his language. we only had touch and facial expressions to share…and i wanted to SPEAK words to his heart so badly.}
 
my heart has been bruised, hurt and abused by the brokenness that has poured out of this little boy. and his heart has been bruised, hurt and abused by the brokenness that has poured out of my heart. i was not prepared for any of it. i just wasn’t. and i haven’t responded well all the time. we’ve hurt each other so many times, sometimes on purpose, and sometimes just because we’re so entwined in each other that our sin pours out and it’s effects are far-reaching.
cassada 2
 
he is so quick to forgive. i try to be quick to ask for that forgiveness.
we aren’t perfect at any of it, and i think we’ve both learned we can’t do this in our own strength. we keep going to the only One that can help us. we pray together. we talk about who God is and how much He loves us no matter what. sometimes we look at each other with lies in our eyes, but looking to God always proves true. so that’s where we go.
 
we are still waiting with hope that he will trust us one day. that his need to take care of himself and his anxiety in the world around him will fade away, and he will let us take care of him.
 
the tension in our relationship is as much my heart not trusting as it is his heart not trusting. when i say that i love this little boy, it’s not the hallmark-valentines-day kind of love. i love this little boy through all my sin, through all his brokenness and only because God is with us every step of the way. it’s a messy, hard, beautiful, strong love that i believe with ALL my heart will be fully redeemed one day. and, until then, i will not stop loving him no matter what our moments look like.
 
many say that lincoln is “lucky” to be in our family. but the real truth is that, because of this amazing little boy, every member of our family has grown and changed and seen who God REALLY is and who we really are and how much we all need Jesus every moment of every day. and what a BIG and DEEP thing LOVE truly is.

 

How Not To Run Scared

DSC_0102When we first moved to Rocky Mount, we had to do quite a lot of work to the house we moved into. There were evenings, after I put the kids to bed, that I would drive across town and sneak into the house to either paint or clean or unpack boxes. Sometimes Thad and I would go together, but usually we’d take turns, leaving one at home with the kids and one to drive over to the house on Avent, after dark, where it was super scary and super dangerous.

Or so we thought.

I’m embarrassed to tell you now the method I used to get myself in the house on those nights I had to work. But it went something like this:

*Pull up right in front of the house, under a streetlight if possible.

*Wait in the locked car until I could get my bearings on my surroundings. Check all mirrors. Turn around in my seat and look directly out my back window. Check all mirrors again.

*Pray while placing my keys in-between my fingers on my right hand  so that I could stab an assailant in the eyeballs and then rip his eye sockets out with the keys if I were attacked running the 50 feet to the front door. {Thank you Oprah.}

*Check all mirrors. Open the car door. Run like the wind while holding my purse close to my chest. Slam my body into the front door. Jab the key in. Open the door. Slam it. Lock it. Turn on every light in the house.

*Thank Jesus.

*Clean, paint, etc while checking all windows and doors every few minutes so as not to be burglarized.

*Repeat in reverse order when time to leave.

I can only imagine what you’re thinking and it’s okay. I’ve thought all the same things. Lori’s an idiot. She could have gotten herself killed or raped or mugged.

And I might could have…If there had been rapists and murderers and robbers prowling around my house, but the only thing I ever saw prowling around my house late at night were stray cats and the occasional loose dog.

 DSC_0094Three years have passed since those 5 months of late night work sessions in our home and now that I know my neighbors, I know how foolishly unfounded my fears were. I’ve never asked them, but I wonder if any of my neighbors ever stood in the windows of their homes and laughed at the white woman running scared in the dark. {Man, I’m sure I looked like a lunatic.}

Fear made me not only look like an idiot, but it also laid quite a few bricks between me and the people who would become my neighbors.  Fear kept me tethered to me and my house and my children and my way of thinking and living. Fear kept me in bondage to the lie that nothing good comes from this side of the tracks.

Fear kept me so keyed up on the inside I had no space to let anyone in. And that’s exactly why Satan uses this tactic.

If he can keep us afraid of our neighbors, he can steal the abundant life Jesus desires to give us.

And I am a strong believer that abundant life is found when we love our neighbors.

The world would love to convince us that evil lurks around every corner and lives in every person we don’t know.

But Jesus tells us a different story.

He tells us that just around that unknown corner is a chance to see the world like He sees it. He tells us that every person that crosses our path is a person made in His image. He tells us that every day is an invitation to wake up and know Him more wildly and free.

And sometimes that invitation to wild living looks just like a knock on a neighbor’s door.

Scary? Yes.

Dangerous? Maybe.

But I’d rather be standing scared on the threshold of my neighbor’s house anticipating an encounter with Jesus than running scared from nothing at all.Live Small, Love Big 3

 

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When Jesus Asks You To Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

DSC_1491DSC_1495Can I tell you something?

I have a feeling that I’m getting ready to bite off way more than I can chew.

In just a few days, I’m about to overhaul life as my family currently knows it and thrust us head first into whole other living. I’m kinda scared, sorta anxious. A little bit excited about the butterflies in my tummy. But mainly scared.

Last night, after popping 8 chewy melatonin gummies {don’t freak out, that’s only 12mg}, I tossed and turned and stared at the wall feeling like an idiot. What am I thinking? How exactly did I land upon this life overhaul? Did Jesus really plant this little seed or am I just making crazy for my family? What’s the point? It’s gonna fail because I’m gonna quit because the truth is I don’t really like people and everyone will know and I’ll secretly feel relieved.

All of that and then some played in my head until at least 2am when I eventually passed out due to exhaustion.

 At 5:45, when I rolled out of bed, my first thought was Dang. I do not want to get up.  And my second thought was I like people. What is wrong with me?

This is the story of my life, at least right now, anyway.

There is a non-stop tape playing over and over again in my head challenging everything I think I know about what it means to love people.

And everything I think I know about loving people is attached to doing. I love my family so I do the laundry and I cook the food and I clean the house and I do the shopping and I do the homework. I love my church so I clean the house and make the coffee and take the meals and help out with making people feel wanted and needed. I love my neighbors so I feed them and play with them {ok, not really. I let them play.} and see to it that they have clothes to wear to school and rides to work.

All the doing is important. It’s necessary even. But I know me. I’m an expert plate spinner and I can do all the things without a smidgen of love.

And this is the nagging truth keeping me up at night. 

DSC_1489A year ago, almost to the date of last week’s post about my  kitchen blow up, I wrote a post about margins and boundaries and rights. I had exploded over dinner about how I felt pressed in from all sides. The neighbors were constantly in the yard and on the porch and needing things from me. The front door was in perpetual motion and my insides were in perpetual unrest and I knew that Jesus was asking me to enlarge the territory of my house and my yard to hold the people who were coming.

And I was mad.

I was mad because Jesus had already asked us to move somewhere that I did not want to go to live around people I did not want to live around and now He had the audacity to ask me to give these people my yard and my home.

I remember banging out every word of that post to you guys and I also remember writing a short post script at the bottom in italics. It read:

Some of you will read this post and feel the need to kindly direct me to all sorts of books on boundaries and margins.  And even though I thank you now,  I  want to let you know that I am keenly aware of the need for both boundaries and margins.  And I am even more keenly aware of how ugly my heart truly is and how much Jesus longs to lead me into deeper waters so that I may know Him more in the sufferings of His people here on Avent.  So I ask you to let Jesus have His way here in my heart and refrain from encouraging me to put up boundaries.  I think He’s asking me to trust Him with my whole life.  The whole thing, not just certain hours of it.

You guys were more than gracious to me and you gave me space. You gave me space and I gave my neighbors my yard and my house.

And last year, Jesus began to move me to compassion in ways that I have not experienced before. He illuminated the hunger down the street and the poverty four doors down and the hopelessness of the single moms working patched up jobs trying to make ends meet. And He began to birth in me ways I could meet those needs. Feed A Neighbor and our Crock Pot Meals classes and Sunday night dinners on the front lawn were born from months and months of allowing Jesus to have His yard and His house back. Even our community garden was birthed from this simple act of obedience.

But last week, after all the truth telling in the kitchen, I immediately felt a check in my spirit that Jesus was calling me deeper still. He was asking me to do more than neighbor well; He was asking me to enlarge my heart to hold them.

And at Starbucks, after I’d confessed my sins to the whole internet world, Jesus began to unfold His plan for loving well and guess what He named it?

He named it Hospitality.

Go figure, right?

 

After Friday’s Live Small, Love Big link up, this little patch of internet will go quiet until May 1 as I make preparations for our full on lifestyle change that also begins on May 1. And you guys will be invited right along with us.

Jesus is jacking my pretty little world up again and this time, He’s going straight for all the parts of my heart I’ve yet to hand over. 

On Hard Things

blowing rock 1I’m knee deep in a seven day funk.

No wait, maybe it’s been longer than seven days.

Maybe my funk really began when I had that good cry in the middle of my MOPS Bible study for no apparent reason except that when I started yammering about what following Jesus costs you, it hit me like a ton of bricks that Jesus was serious about everything He said.

But I don’t think that revelation in the middle of Hebrews is the source of my funk, it’s just when I think things sorta hit the fan in my heart.

If you know me at all, you know I often overshare. Get me alone and put coffee between us and I will start unloading the dump truck called TooMuchInformation. I’m good at it. It’s like my talent, my gift that no one wants me to use. I can talk you under the table while simultaneously throwing myself under the bus. While you’re slinking down in your chair, I’m spilling my guts, talking a blue streak, hoping that every word I share gets me one inch closer to what is wrong with my heart until you holler at me to put a sock in it.

{I know. I’m not a good coffee date. I’m sorry.}

But I digress.

Tonight, in the throes of getting a clean-out-the-fridge dinner on the table, Thad met me in the kitchen and the rest of my heart hit the fan by way of me using my gift.

And this is the story of how things went down, or up, depending upon how you see it.

blowing rock 2“How was your day? You good?” he asks me while bagging up the two bags of garbage and one sack of recyclables. I’m slamming refried beans onto the counter and flinging tinfoil at the trash can only to watch it hit the floor.

“Like that,” I say pointing to the ball of tinfoil next to the trash can. “Just like that balled up piece of trash. I’m tired and irritated and frustrated and I cannot fix what is wrong. Heck, I don’t even know what is wrong I just know something ain’t right.” I slam one more bowl onto the counter.

He says nothing and leans back into the counter. I take his body language as permission to keep on keeping on and I do.

“It’s like I’m angry and I’ve not had a minute to breathe in 11 hours and I want to write and I need to write to meet a deadline that is today for Pete’s sake, and if I could just quit it all, I would. I’d quit it right now. All of it. Even the garden.”

He raises his eyebrows at me because we both know the only gardening I’m gonna be doing is picking and I’d never quit the garden. “Why do you think you’re feeling this way? What’s got you so mad?” he asks me.

“It’s who I am!” I scream. “It’s in my DNA. I’m a Brown and Browns get angry but we get stuff done. How long have you known me, man?” I’m straight irrational and he’s cool like butter and the cooler he appears the hotter I get.

“Ok. You’re mad and you say you want to quit stuff. But I don’t think that’s really true, is it?” he asks, still leaning into the counter. I want to swipe him with a dish rag. “I don’t think you want to quit any of this stuff.”

I unload another load and as I talk myself under the bus, the truth slips right through my lips.

“Every time Jesus invites me to do hard things, He pushes up another layer of ugly hiding out in my heart and today, I just don’t want to do the hard things because the hard things cost me everything. And all that ugly that keeps being excavated- it forces me to deal with how crappy I really am on the inside,” I say.

He smiles at me from the sink. “And you don’t like to feel like you’re not good, do you? You want to ignore the state of your humanity and pretend like you’re not like the rest of us.”

I grin at him. “Yep. Something like that.”

 

After dinner tonight, I slipped out to drive the 23 miles to our closest Starbucks. I didn’t mind the drive, really. Car time is thinking time and for months, my soul has been craving thinking time.

I thought about all the words I spewed all over Thad and the slow, compassionate way he received them.

But mostly I thought about what he said to me, about how I didn’t really want to quit everything and move away.

He’s right, you know.

I don’t want to quit everything.

I just want to skip the heart things on the way to the hard things.

And I guess that’s the whole point Jesus has trying to make while I’ve been wallowing in this funk for the last few weeks.

These hard things He’s called me to are just that: Hard things.

He’s simply after my heart.

 

For all you new readers, WELCOME! Since you’re new here, I need to let you in on a little secret: I don’t usually write shareable, Man, She Knows What She’s Talking About sorts of posts. I write messy posts, in real time, that rarely get tied up with a neat red bow- because life has no red bows this side of heaven. We’re all in process. Hope that’s okay.                     So glad you’re here.

Let’s Eat!

But the Son of Man came eating and drinking. It’s not complicated. True, it’s not always easy–it involves people invading your space or going to places where you don’t feel comfortable. But it’s not complicated. –Tim ChesterIMG_3379[1]DSC_1434

DSC_1437DSC_1460On Sunday, while we guzzled coffee and polished off the breakfast casserole, our itty bitty church got down to garden business and we chose what we wanted to plant and how we wanted to plant it and chatted about ways we could work together to involve our community.

I wish I could have captured the buzz that reverberated in our home when we talked the garden. There was such an energy around our table that I swear I think my heart vibrated under the weight of it all. It was glorious, really.  Too glorious to capture.

DSC_1461DSC_1464DSC_1450Last night, we spent the first two hours of our evening walking our triangle shaped plot of garden with our experienced gardener only to pony up an extra $15 to purchase an additional plot. I thought our watermelons and cantaloupe and peanuts and pumpkins and lettuce and carrots and beans and corn and cucumbers and peppers and squash and zucchini and tomatoes and broccoli and peas needed some extra space to let their leaves just roll on out.

I know. We’re overachievers. Our experienced gardener friend said, “No peanuts, Lori. I ain’t getting into no peanuts.” So instead, I’m aiming for collards come the fall. And maybe some beets and turnips and parsnips and leeks. Time, and our gardener, will tell.

 As we plodded through the dirt, I couldn’t help but look at Thad in his holey jeans and muddy boots and ponder how all the things of the last few years have led us to a community garden.

We don’t garden. We do church work.

{I also don’t sweat, but that’s another story for another day.}

I ran through our skills sets and the years of seminary training and this church we’re planting and I couldn’t help but think Why a garden? That’s not in our wheel house of things we can do.

And for a moment, I even let my mind consider the location of our home and our the logistics of getting the neighborhood kids to the actual garden and came up with so much angst about the whole thing I had to take those thoughts captive and go back to what I know.

And this is what I know:

I know that Jesus has set us in this place, among this specific group of people, and He has invited us to push back the darkness and bring His kingdom right here.

DSC_1451DSC_1454DSC_1466DSC_1465This morning, as I sift everything through my fingers – the church, the neighborhood, the garden, the Sunday evening meals around the picnic tables, the crock pot classes – all I hold in my hand is a whole lot of small things that by themselves, seem like small potatoes.

But deep down, I know that lots of small things, done one on top of the other, over time, push back the darkness.

I guess you could say we’re pushing back the darkness by way of food…

Sorta like Jesus did.

{And on that truth, I say, Let’s eat!}

“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking , and you say, “Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”   Luke 7:34

How are you living to push back the darkness, right where you are?

 

 

Psst…If you’re still with me, I’m letting you in on a little secret. I’m working on a 4 month long project for the months of May-August. Could you pray that I’m able to flesh out all the moving components and order my thoughts? I’ll fill you in on the details when I’m able…Which reminds me, I believe I’m 2 months behind in sending out our community newsletter. I may need to do that. You can sign up to receive HomeFries over in the sidebar. I’ll try to send out our next one before next  week.

xo~

me