On Disappointment and the Thing I Want

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On July 8, I was a few days late.  But I shrugged my shoulders because what’s a few days?

On July 11, I was more than a few days late.  I shrugged my shoulders again because I’m one of those weird women who never ovulate on a cycle.  My body ovulates when it feels like it.

By the time I turned the calendar over to July 14, I was really, really late.  And I began to think about babies and my tubal of 2010 and how we’d managed to get pregnant with four of our children while on all sorts of birth control.

I also began cramping-like the stretching of the uterus kind of cramping- and feeling not so PMS-y.  I ran the whole gambit of feelings:  starving, craving salty things, waking up thirsty in the middle of the night, running to the potty every couple of hours.

And by July 16, after taking a whole box of pregnancy tests that all tested negative, and still no sign of my monthly, I let myself go there.

I ate bread and skipped the glass of red.  I cleaned out the mud room and painted the front door and rearranged the kitchen.  I jotted down the boy name that we never used for baby number six and I said it over and over again, each time letting myself imagine a baby.

On July 19, after the longest stretch I’ve ever had between my periods, I woke to disappointment colored in a deep shade of red.
I let myself sit with the disappointment for just a bit and then sat with my last baby over a plate of donuts.

And I let myself wade deep into the waters of What exactly do I want Jesus to do for me?

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On the morning after the disappointment, I woke to grey skies and chilly temperatures.  The house was cold and if I’d not been counting every day in the month of July, I might would have guessed that it was October.

I stood in a long, hot shower and thought not about the baby that never was; I thought about food.  I thought about the feel of dough between my fingers and the way it rolls soft and pliable under the weight of my palms.  I thought about pumpkin muffins and blueberry cobbler with cool curls of vanilla melted on top.  I imagined roasted chicken filled with garlic and lemon, black peppercorn cracked and strewn across the skin.

And I thought about the pantry in the mud room, the one stacked with cans and boxes and bags of beans.  I thought about the families who donated the food and the families who would be receiving the food and the hundred ways I could maximize the efforts of everyone involved.

I thought about how mac and cheese must get boring if you eat it four meals a week.  And I thought about how terrible it must taste if a neighbor had to make it with just water because milk and butter were a luxury one could not afford.

And as my thoughts ran down the road to things beyond my capabilities, I talked myself right back into right thinking and asked the only thing left to ask:  What exactly do I want Jesus to do in my neighborhood?

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This morning, I brew french press coffee and watch the water turn black.   The grinds move along the bottom of the glass.  Steam rises to the top and then runs in ribbons down the inside of the press and I wait for the coffee to steep.

This slow method of making coffee is not about the coffee as much as it about the waiting.

I no longer watch the clock as the coffee steeps.  I watch the grinds and water.  I’ve made it like this for weeks now, and I know when it’s ready.

Five minutes, or more, pass through my fingers and I don’t miss them.  The minutes are like a pause in between the things that I must do and the things I get to do and I like the time to breathe.

I pour coffee into a pretty mug and stir in the allotted amount of creamer before sitting at my desk.  I check email and catch up on a weekend’s worth of messages and texts.  Mothers of Preschoolers’ registrations need to be mailed.  A friend is dropping off groceries to feed my neighbors and I jot down notes in my journal of how I sense God moving this ministry forward.

I imagine Jesus sitting with me, right in the middle of my fleeting baby disappointment and growing neighborhood ministry, and I find great solace in the way He sits with me, waiting for me to speak honestly about what I desire for Him to do.

In the quiet, lonely of the morning, I feel my need well up from somewhere deep inside my soul.

And I stop the flow of words running around in my deep places and I lean into rest, my soul whispering one thing:

Make my small life count and make it count by making much of Yourself through it.

 

If you are local and would like to join me in figuring out this ministry that Jesus is bringing about in my neighborhood, I would love to hear from you! Project: Feed A Neighbor is set to officially launch in September.  And this is not something I have dreamed up- It is simply how I see Jesus moving and I believe He is inviting us to see Him show off!  You can comment below or message me personally. 

And our next newsletter is set to go out this week.  It’s a video- newsletter because sometimes I’d rather chat than write. If you’ve not yet signed up, you can do so here.

Be You, Only Braver {10 Ways to Live Brave}

DSC_1652All good things cast shadows.

That’s what Barbara Brown Taylor says, anyway.

And I imagine she’s right as the sun wakes up behind me, casting shadows all over my corner of the world.

I sip my morning cup of joe and I entertain the shadows that splay long and lean into the room. They grow smaller as the sun rises ever higher, the light pushing back the darkness.

I turn pages in my journal, running my fingers over the ripples in the marked paper and the word brave is found on nearly every page. I trace all the words. Brave is scrawled out next to fear and on top of doubt. Brave is written in red in the margins next to callings and tasks and invitations to go deeper.

And in the pages of my journal, I see what this wise woman knows:

All good things {calling, purpose, invitations to go deeper still}, do indeed cast shadows {fear, doubt, restlessness}.
I smile as I flip the pages of two years worth of living, and I push back the shadows as they become thin slivers around my feet.

I’m sharing 10 Ways to Live Brave over at Rebekah’s beautiful place.  Join me over there?

On Not Being Hip or Cool

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Before I tell you what I really want to tell you, I need to tell you something you may not know.

I’m not hip or cool or relevant or glamorous.  I know.  Shocking, huh?

I was told to wear a LBD (little black dress) to a late afternoon photo shoot (as in today, like 4 hours ago) so I  slipped into a LBMD (little black maxi dress) and threw on a denim jacket, just to feel more like myself.

And then, because I’m not hip or cool or relevant or glamorous, I chose my set of giving keys to wear around my neck, a leather cuff, some strappy sandals and I called it a day.

When I arrived at said photo shoot, I came face to face with a score of very hip, very cool, very relevant, and very glamorous women in perfect LBD’s.  Jewels sparkled.  Faces glowed. Pops of red shocked my senses.

To top off the audacious hippiness of the photo shoot, each woman had a story, equally as stunning as her glorious appearance.

And I stood there, in my LBMD and denim jacket, in all of my small splendor, and I told my story:

Um, I write stories and mother a tribe of children and pass out snacks to the neighborhood kids, and I’m a part of a church plant that meets at Baskerville Elementary.  And I don’t even wear dresses. 

I posed, rather awkwardly, with the ten beauties and then drove home to my plain ol’ life of yoga pants and t-shirts.

I told the Man all about the afternoon and how I felt like a loser and a dork and how I had wanted to disappear through the floor of the Imperial Center.

And he laughed with me because he knows me and because this being made smaller and smaller and smaller is part of the deal of this life in Jesus.  And he knows we’re all in to this getting small business.

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I tell you this because as I’ve sat down to write this post, a post in which I tell you all the ways I write, I’ve felt like a loser and a dork and a woman unconcerned with honing her craft.

I’ve struggled to answer 4 short questions about the hows and whys of this blog and in so doing, I’ve uncovered some things about myself that I’m still sitting with.

A sweet friend, Karrilee invited me to this discovery through a thing called a blog hop.  A blog hop is where one blogger answers a series of questions and then introduces her readers to 3 of her favorite bloggers. At first I was reluctant, but Karrilee is such a sweetie and I’m such a hate-to-say-no sort of person, I told her yes.  And I’m glad I did.  She’s a treasure trove of encouragement in this wild and often lonely world of internet and you know what?  Her encouragement to participate has helped me to have some hard conversations with myself this week.  Win-win!

Let’s get to it!

1.  Why do I write what I do?  

I write in real time, meaning I write as life unfolds, never quite tying stories up in red bows.  I write the story of God in my place and among my people and I write how my heart is shifted in the day to day learning how to live as a white, middle class woman, in a predominately African American, poverty stricken neighborhood.  I write about the Church and to the Church as I preach the Gospel to myself.  I’m not sure why I write these things.  I never set out to write about white privilege or poverty or racism or the Church, but I write only what I live and this is the life I am living.  I also don’t write to evoke change or rally a cause, but I am aware that the things I choose to write often bring about change and give voice to a cause.  That is all Jesus, not me.

2.  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’ve laughed at this question because truthfully, I don’t even know what genre my writing falls into.  Obviously, I write non-fiction, but I write in such a way that my writing could fall into a number of sub-genres.  I will answer it as simply non-fiction and it is different because it is God’s story as lived through my life and the lives of the people who live in Rocky Mount, NC.

3.  What am I writing or working on?

I am working on resting.  I am working at establishing sacred rhythms in my life so that my work, all of it, springs up from the well that is Jesus.  I am working on living my life in such a way that I delight in the work set before me, be it child rearing, leading women, planting a church, or writing.  I desire to work from my rest and I desire to write only the story unfolding before me, not hustling for words or platform or audience.

And lately I’m realizing that I love to lead as much as I like to write.  I don’t know what to make of this so I’m sitting with it.

I’ve just written my very first article for The High Calling that will be published next week.  No hustling over here, just an invitation and the invitation made the writing all the sweeter.  I’ve also got a guest post scheduled to go out next week, as well.  I have to be honest and tell you that I am not writing a hold-in-your-hands book right now.  But I am quietly doing all the things necessary to write a book, should God ever give me the nod to go ahead and write one.  I am praying about writing an ebook. (would you read it??)

I have recently begun a newsletter, called avent*ure, which is becoming more video log, than actual newsletter.  I like it.  A lot.

4.  How does my writing process work?

I stand over the sink, wash dishes, and mull over a thought.  Sometimes, I stand over the laundry, fold it, and mull over a thought.  Then, when it’s my turn to play on the computer, I write.  Usually, I write in full on noise and chaos and crying children.  I write a few sentences, make PBJ sandwiches, write a few more sentences, edit them, and them wipe a child’s hiney.  There is no magic happening over here on Avent Street.  I journal, read 3-4 books a week, and write in snatches of time.  Based upon my mad writing skills, I’m sure y’all are surprised. {wink and grin}

And now, to introduce you guys to 3 lovely ladies.  I love them like crazy and I love the way they love Jesus.  I think I’m supposed to shower them with all sorts of flowery words, but this post is capping out at 1500 words, which means 90% of you are no longer even here, so I’ll let them introduce themselves!

Jesika Knight

10494347_10102890466344121_5976905349805824000_o (1)I’m a wife, mommy of 3, photographer, blogger and Safe Families host. I started my blog after we adopted our oldest while expecting our second because friends and family had so many questions and it was just easier to update via blog. In time, things evolved and now the majority of my posts are about our experiences working with Safe Families for Children. Walking alongside families in crisis has changed me in every way. My heart breaks and fills with hope all at the same time when I hear the stories of people right in our own city who are struggling with unfathomable things. It’s murky water, but I’m grateful to walk in.  I blog here.

 

Casey Chappell

casey ChappelI’m Casey. I’m super outgoing, I’m a crafter, a foodie and a lover of culture! I live in Fort Worth Texas and Have been married 10 years to an Incredible husband who is a high school teacher and a Ph.D student. I’m the oldest sister of 15 siblings/spouses, a mom of 7 children, Asher and a child we miscarried who is in heaven, and Zoe and Jack who are grafted into our family through domestic open adoption, & Ezra and Evie who are adopted from the DRC. And Abel who is our handsome Hawaiian who is gifted with Down syndrome. I love documenting our lives, treasuring traditions, and soaking up togetherness as much as possible. A lot of times that means saying No to a lot of good things (including blogging as often as I’d like), not being the friend I want to be to a lot of people, and being shown daily how much I’m dependent upon God for anything good to be cultivated within me. So while my life isn’t easy and definitely one I never saw coming, it’s a life that I love!!  You can find me here.

 Lyli Dunbar

lyli dunbarLyli Dunbar enjoys road trips with her husband, connecting with women through Bible study, and reading way too many books.  She writes about life lessons and faith at 3dlessons4life.com.   A disciple, wife, educator, and mentor, Lyli is just a girl working to keep the faith day by day.

 ”I thank my God every time I remember you… being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”  (Philippians 1:3&6 NIV).

Blogging @ http://3dlessons4life.com (Home to “Thought-Provoking Thursday” Linkup Community)

Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/3dlessons4life

Blog’s Facebook Page:  http://www.facebook.com/3dLessons4LifeBlog

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Social Media Manager for Missional Women (http://bit.ly/1lDTLhy)

Contributor @ Start Marriage Right (http://www.startmarriageright.com/author/lyli-dunbar/)

All the Good Things

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On Sunday, after a forty-eight hour Sabbath, I shuck corn on the front porch while the flies nibble at the lost kernels and the mosquitoes nibble at the backs of my legs.  It’s steamy and slow work and I relish it for the hour it takes.

Two men on bicycles pedal past the house. They smile at me, the preacher’s lady in a long, black dress bent over a card table stacked with corn to shuck, and I wave hello.  I’m ridiculous looking, to be sure, and I don’t even care.

It’s freeing to be ridiculous.

And I like living free.

 

Late at night, we sneak out to the movies to hold hands on the back row and whisper in the dark.  The oldest girl is on the cusp of her teenage years and for a Coke and a bag of sour gummy worms, she’ll give us two hours of hand holding.

So we take the two hours and try to stretch them into three.

We talk about the way the sands of parenting are shifting beneath us and how with each shift, we breathe in an ounce more of freedom.  And with each breath of freedom, we’re stirred more into slow and savory living.

We ask one another all the hard things and we ponder life like we know how it’s lived right.  We banter back and forth, the not-really-knowing how to live leaking out from the edges of all our talk, grace sopping up all the leaking.

Small town life is birthing us into different people and we right like the new people we are becoming.

There is slow talking and miles to rock and stacks of books to devour and we’re getting good at all three.  We’re spending more time chatting and less time doing and the questions that rise to the surface of all the chatting are ones that demand pause before giving an answer.

And the pausing is new for us.

Gone are the pressures to build and move forward and do more.   I like to think we’re being made new, but maybe we’re just old and tired.   I’m not sure and I’m learning to like that answer: I’m not sure.

It’s ridiculous and weirdly freeing, too.

 

The church we’ve planted is becoming real somehow, not so much like the work I’ve once viewed it to be.  It’s becoming a live, breathing organism that I get to watch grow and move and become more like Jesus.

The watching is fun.  It’s easy.

And the watching is evidence that I’m not doing a darn thing to make anything happen.  I’m being me and letting God be God and wow, y’all, the yoke is indeed easy and the burden indeed light.

Ridiculous thinking?  Yep.

Freeing?  Absolutely.

 

The kids, the six little people who bring about the hardest parts of my sanctification, are a dirty, noisy lot.  They are in a season of sprinkler showers and pool baths and no hair washing for days.

It’s glorious.

They eat popsicles for lunch and dinner and every meal in-between and I have killed three trees worth of paper plates this month alone.  Two have celebrated birthdays and one more will celebrate hers in August and time is a fast moving train-

Too fast on rare days and not fast enough every other, but fast nonetheless.  I’m trying to enjoy the ride, soak up the minutes and love these people to death,  but if I’m honest with you, I don’t want the train to slow down.

I don’t want it to speed up, but I’m content with the pace of child rearing.

And I look to the day when the Man and I can have nothing and pack it all in a Winnebago.

{YES!!!}

 

On the porch yesterday, I asked the Man what he most desired in life.  He was reading and I was looking at him, only pretending to look at a book.

He took off his glasses and closed his book and he paused before answering me.

I smiled when he finally spoke.

“Me, too,” I said.

And my heart burst on the inside because his answer was the same as mine.

 

At it’s core, to rest is to give thanks for the present and to trust that,                                                                                                                             as the future becomes the present, God will supply what we need. ~ Sally Breedlove

DSC_0002And the winner of the Sabbath Book Bundle is… Denise Lindgren. {And Josiah drew your name!} I’ll drop them in the mail on Wednesday! Thank you for all who took the time to comment your thoughts about Sabbath.  I loved reading them all.

 

 

 

In Which I Consider Finishing With Gusto {A Giveaway}

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In the early morning hours, before the steam rises off the asphalt, I find myself considering rest.

I consider rest because in this season of life  I am becoming well-acquainted with my own flesh and its utter depravity. Emotions run the gambit from sheer joy to the pits of despair and I battle depression as it’s breathing down my neck.  Fear creeps up my spine in the late night hours and when fatigue has set in, my feelings lie to me about the state of my soul and the state of my being.

And when fatigue plagues me, the climb out of the pit is daunting.  My flesh wars against the climb and compassion towards my own body, the very thing created in the image of God, is hard to muster up.

Shouldn’t I kill the flesh?

Shouldn’t I cut off all the broken pieces and lay down in my imperfections until I am at the end of me and at the beginning of Jesus?

And the only answer I can rest my soul on is this:

There is no end of me and beginning of Jesus.  We are one.

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In the seeing and tasting of my depravity, my flesh serves only to push further and further into Jesus.

And in Him, I consider my life and the months unfolding before me and I give time, this sitting on the porch early in the morning , for Jesus to sift my days like wheat.

I rock miles while I’m sifted and after weeks have passed, I am left with two palms full of what I believe to be His best.

I finger the things in my hands and I sigh heavy with each push of my feet, the chair sighing along with me.

This life I’ve been given weighs heavy with responsibility and heavy with purpose and I wonder how I can ever live this life well.

How does one live a life teeming with God’s best, overflowing with zealous kingdom work, filled with intentional pouring out, well?

How does one do all the things God has purposed for them without losing their soul and their strength?

And as the heat rises from the asphalt, I hear one word pulsing in my ears:

Sabbath.

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This evening, while the Man is away, I mark things off my to-do list and the work left to do does not tear at my flesh.

I toss in an extra load of laundry and swish the toilet.  I send MOPS email and respond to messages and I plan ahead into next week.

The kids have frozen pizza and homemade milkshakes for dinner and I let them eat on the floor in the family room, in front of a movie.  And as they cackle with laughter, I snuff out the guilt that flickers up from my belly.

I settle into my corner of the room and I count the hours until my very first Sabbath.

Sixty hours.

And I exhale, only to inhale the promise of rest.

Sabbath.

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In this season I am drawn to Sabbath.  The word rolls off my tongue more than any other word and my soul leaps at the thought of it-

Not because I’m good and right and long to obey,

But because the Sabbath was made for me.

It’s a gift.

And I’ve never received it.

I’ve spent many weeks doing soul business, making space to clear the calendar and stop the madness, and I’ve come to the place where I believe that the things that still remain are God’s purpose for me.

I have sat many an hour at the feet of Jesus asking Him to help me do everything and love everyone and fall deeper into Him.

If you are a subscriber to our community newsletter, avent*ure, then you are privy to the goings on in my soul.  This idea of Sabbath has been leaning into me with Shelly Miller’s Sabbath Society and only pressed into me further over the last six weeks as I’ve read a stack of books and participated in (in)courage’s Bloom book study of Jean Fleming’s Pursue the Intentional Life.

If I long to run my race with zeal and finish it with gusto, then I must receive the gift of Sabbath,

For it is from rest that I am able to run well.

 

To celebrate this gift of Sabbath and to invite you into the fullness of life in Christ, I am giving away the books I have read over the last eight weeks to one lucky reader:

Pursue the Intentional Life, Jean Fleming

Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor

An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor

Finding Spiritual Whitespace, Bonnie Gray

To enter, leave me a comment pertaining to Sabbath.  Do you receive the gift?  Do you need to receive it?

Winners will be announced on Monday, July 7.

Because These Thoughts Never Leave My Mind

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Most of you know that the Man and I are 2 years into a church plant.

We have no staff,  no local board of directors.

We live in the constant state of seeing growth, seeing loss, and then seeing more growth.

And just when we think we’re turning a corner, we see more loss.

It’s a whipping, in every sense of the word.

And in recent months, I’ve not written much about church planting.

I’ve not written about it because as my audience has grown, the Lord has seen fit to grow it here, in my place.

For those of you who don’t know, most of you faithful readers live here in Rocky Mount.  We stand in line together at Target and rub shoulders at Wal-Mart and share cups of pour over coffee at Milton & Miles.  We see each other at the YMCA and at JCPenney and at El Tap.  And for some of you, we sit next to one another at the gathering we’ve named Fellowship Bible Church Rocky Mount.

I know you’re my readers because you tell me, in those quiet words of yours, and so this place of mine no longer feels like my place.

It feels like our place.

And when I consider it to be our place, I find that words are harder to come by.  There is a risk and an unspoken commitment to honor you in my words, and that makes it hard to write about this church planting business.

But when I consider the birth of this blog, I cannot deny that I chose to write to a specific group of people with the intent of keeping these loved ones abreast of all the happenings here in Rocky Mount.  My readers lived in Dallas, TX and all attended one church, none of them knowing anything about Rocky Mount.

And I was free to write the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Tonight, that freedom no longer exists and I wrestle with words, wondering how my words will land and to whom they will land upon.

I am tongue-tied, wondering where God’s story begins and where the enemy lies in wait and my words hang somewhere in the balance.

To write or not to write?  That is the question.

And really, that is always the question.

The enemy is always waiting to spin my words into things I never meant to say and push me into spaces of quiet.

So, do I write the whole truth and nothing but the truth, or do I curl up next to silence and let my silence speak words of wonder and speculation?

I’m not sure.

I’ve not yet learned how to dance this dance of truth and real life, story of God and thwart of enemy.

But I do know that this writing is my art and that this is the way that Christ comes out in me.

And if I know this to be true, I’m absolutely certain that the enemy has his scope on my back, conjuring up all kinds of lies to make me not tell you the truth.

Y’all, I’m not going out like that.

I’m going to tell the whole story, one part truth-one part grace, and let God figure out how you receive it.  And so I tell you:

We’ve had 2 families leave our church in one week, both leaving in the span of 48 hours of one another.

I’ve cried and been angry and spent the days of this week living somewhere outside of my skin, unable to make sense of their leavings.

Small churches have only big leavings and we’re left shell shocked and stunned,

Circling the pool of We’re-Not-Enough.

And that pool we circle tells the truth.

We’re not enough, but Christ is.

I wallow in this truth, knowing it is Christ alone who builds His church,

And I, in my smallness, have the honor of writing His story.

So receive my words as you so choose for I’ve wrestled them out, over five long days, and I spin them here for Christ to use them as He sees fit.

And I pray that when we rub shoulders at Wal-Mart, you ask not about my church, but only about the Christ who builds His church.

 

And I ask for grace here:

I share this post from the archives because I’ve got a writing deadline and my fingers are itching to tell this story again.  Not because I think you need to hear it, but because I need to hear it. Most of you know I live in the Bible Belt where we count notches on our individual church  belts with baptisms and t-shirts and number of buildings. And there is a murmur in my heart that I cannot quite put words to, nor can I sleep at night for the rabbits trying to run down this trail.  This week, I’ve heard 2 terms tossed about in reference to our local churches and their implication is this:  We have a corner market on Jesus and He has made us the spiritual leaders in this city.  

For more days than I want to count, I have scratched out every word that has come to my mind in reference to this corner market theology.  

And I’ve not had one good word to write.

So I give you what I have and all I have is Jesus.

And Jesus is handing us a towel and a basin and a cross,

Not a program or a t-shirt or a notch in our belt.

All the Books

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Because it’s summer and because I have things to write that I just cannot seem to write, I thought I’d squander an evening and give you all the books I have on my nightstand.

And all the books in the kitchen.

And in the basket beside my favorite chair.

And there might be one next to the sink in the bathroom because I read when I dry my hair. Or maybe there are two.  I’m not telling.

But I digress.

Here’s what I’ve got stacked everywhere.

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On Racism, Social Justice, and Compassion

Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution:  I’ve read this book twice and I’ll read it again.  And this one quote plays over and over again in my mind:  ”Welcome to the irresistible revolution, and new and ancient way of life that is so attractive, who would settle for anything else?  Welcome to the revolution of little people, guerrilla peacemakers, and dancing prophets, the revolution that loves and laughs.  The revolution begins inside each of us, and through little acts of love, it will take over the world. Let us begin to be Christians again.  Jesus, give us the courage.”  Warning:  Don’t read it if you want to stay the same.

Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart:  Short essays about kinship and redemption and abounding compassion.  No life is less valuable than any other life and this book is a cry to wake up to God’s unconditional love.  I love this book.  You will laugh and cry.

Patricia Raybon, My First White Friend:  This book is one woman’s story of how she came to love white people by learning to love herself, and her blackness, first. Couldn’t put this one down.  A must read for anyone who wants to explore the hard road from hatred to forgiveness and ultimately love.

Trevor Hudson, A Mile in My Shoes:  Beautiful book written to help us experience 3 important components of pilgrimage.  Hudson developed this 8 day program to enable young South Africans to think about the meaning of their faith in light of the harsh realities of their nation.  Could be read in a small group setting.

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow:  I’m going to be honest and tell you that this book is one hard read. I’ve picked it up and put it back down again more than once.  BUT, it is eye opening enough that I keep coming back to it.  Hard read, full of things my feeble mind cannot understand nor absorb as certain truth, but I’m committed to loving my place and understanding my people, so I’ll stick it out no matter how long it takes me.

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For Your Soul

Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World:  I cannot find the words to honor this work of art because it is pure art for the soul.  It is nothing less than sacramental and beckons me to slow down and savor the gift of life.  So beautiful.

Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church: I actually read this one before An Altar and I felt like she was writing my story.  Leaving Church is painfully honest and magnificently redemptive.  I cried and nodded my head with her for I have lived most of her words over the last few years.  Raw and gorgeous.

Christine Caine, Undaunted:  Do you need a kick in the pants? Are you floundering around somewhere in the bottom of your life, searching for meaning and purpose? Then this one is for you.  Part memoir, part call to action, all parts making much of Jesus.

Micha Boyette, Found:  This book left me longing for a sabbatical.  A call to taste and see that the Lord is good by opening the door to a life of prayer.  Full of longing and full of hope fulfilled.

Lisa-Jo Baker, Surprised by Motherhood: I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t read books on mothering.  But because I love this woman, I read her’s.  A breath of fresh air to this mama of 6 who loves to remember that God made her woman first, wife second, and mama third.  Lovely read for all mamas, no matter what the stage. ( And our MOPS read this fall!)

Jean Fleming, Pursue the Intentional Life:  My word.  I don’t know how I’ve been a believer for nearly 30 years and not read Jean Fleming until this summer.  This book is like a peeking into the journal of a woman who has run her race well.  Short, wisdom packed chapters that are written to turn the heart to Jesus.

Kristen Welsh, Rhinestone Jesus:  Because I’m tired of living the safe, Jesus-following life.

Janet Balcombe, Take a Walk on the Wild Side: A raw, beautiful memoir of a woman who hit rock bottom and found Jesus there waiting.  Janet is a brave one, y’all. And her story honors Jesus. Love it.

Elizabeth Elliot, A Chance to Die: A favorite of mine that I return to again and again. The story of Amy Carmichael and I am laid low each time I read this book.

Gene Getz, Building Up One Another:  A story of legacy and grace written by the founder of Fellowship Bible Church Dallas.  A great read for anyone who is interested in knowing about the legacy and heritage of Fellowship Bible churches.

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On Writing

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird:  Anne is a spicy one, y’all, and I love her for it.  This book is a wealth of helpful and hilarious writing advice.  I love this woman and her fabulous hair.

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art:  Language alert.  For real.  But this short book is jam packed with all sorts of nuggets of wisdom for anyone trying to push through creative blocks and win the war of art.  And it is a war.  I’m in the middle of one right now.

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Great Fiction

Liane Moriarty, What Alice Forgot:  Love the way this book is written!  Not going to give too much away, but it’s a great pool side read.  Or hair drying read.  Whichever suits your fancy.

Ann Hood, The Obituary Writer: Full of loss and longing and grief.  Deeply moving.

Therese Anne Fowler, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald :  Love The Great Gatsby? Read this.  Favorite novel I’ve read in the last 2 years.

 

Your turn.

Whatcha reading this summer?

Release {Five Minute Friday}

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And when my world sleeps, Jesus whispers,

This life you think is ordinary and plain and secular is anything but ordinary and plain and secular.
For the whole world is mine and I am about things you cannot see.
Who are you to say what is sacred and what is secular?
It is all sacred.
And all you have is Me.
So take off your shoes and make your altar right where you stand.

But even as I hear Him, my whole body cries out for structure and four-wall church and programmed love and service and disciple making.  The tradition of church runs like fire through me and although my soul is being taught differently, my body is bent towards what it knows and it knows church.

And church, the way my body knows it, fills all my gaping holes and feels good.  It is the come and sit and savor and sing, always searching for ways to love better, within the safe walls, with the safe people,

And I long for that church with all that is within my broken body.

But Jesus is stirring around in the dead parts of me, blowing His Spirit through my gaping holes, inviting me to release myself of the four wall church altar I have built.

And this morning, I hear Him, again.

And again, I take off my shoes, bending ever lower for my mind cannot comprehend what is stretched out before me.

 

5-minute-friday-1As always, I am joining the gracious Five Minute Friday community with Lisa-Jo Baker, who is ever an encouragement to this weary mama. This week’s prompt is Release and I wrote for 8 minutes, taking my journal’s chicken scratch, and ordering it to fit the prompt.  Church is something I think about quite often.  Partly because I’ve spent my entire life in one, but mainly because we’ve planted a church with holes so big that Jesus is the only one who can fill us.

 

In Which We Show Up For Sparkler Parties

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“They’re having a party,” the youngest boy says in a rushed, breathy voice.  ”And we’re invited.  It starts at 8.  Like right on the dot of 8.”

I’m cleaning the kitchen when he makes the announcement and I’m  in no mood for a late night party in the cul-de-sac.  My arms are elbow deep in the sink and the counter is 12 inches deep in dishes.

“Are you sure it’s a party?” I ask him.  ”For what?  It’s a Tuesday night.”

“Graduation!!!” he says.  ”I think somebody graduated from school.”

I sigh into the sink after he’s run back out the front door, but even in the sighing I know where I’ll spend my evening.

And so, at a few minutes after that 8 on the dot,  I find myself in the cul-de-sac with 12 children and only 15 sparklers.

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After dinner, when the sky is still ribboned in shades of pink, we stand in the cul-de-sac at the end of Avent circle and watch the kids wave sparklers with our neighbors.

The Man makes small talk with the kids’ mama and I make small talk with the oldest girl.  The girl holds the lighter and she is busy doling out the sparklers, lighting each one as she passes them around.

The boys are in the middle of the road, tossing a Nerf football, and the air is so thick I can scarcely breathe.  It’s stale, hot air, the kind ripe for rain with no rain in sight and the mosquitoes swarm in their own sort of heat.  I feel dirty standing on bits of broken glass and cigarette butts out here in no man’s land, but the kids are howling in laughter so I pull up a piece of sidewalk and stay.

“I can’t feed them in the summer anymore,” I hear her say to the Man.  The mama is talking, and from my piece of sidewalk, I can hear every word.  ”They’re getting older and I just can’t do it.”

I shuffle my feet and busy myself with my baby and I sigh another heavy sigh.   The awkward, need things conversations still make me feel queasy and inadequate and uncomfortable so I retreat to some place inside myself, etching across my mind the things I hear and see and smell.

Well, we can’t feed them all summer either, I think to myself.  I’ve already fed them 2 meals this week.

I swat mosquitoes and watch the Man enter into the places I’ve not yet learned to go.  He’s good at compassion and kind words and all the things I’m not.

After long, hard minutes pass and the sparklers are spent, the mama and the Man run out of words.

And I gather my babies and run home, my heart spent.

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It’s been only 36 hours since the sparkler party.

And only 35 hours since the Man and I sat at opposite ends of the table and considered the summer hunger issue in our neighborhood.

The need is huge and bigger than us.

And we’re convinced that the best way to love our neighbors is not by assigning them to case workers or inviting them to the local church food pantry.

We believe that the best way to love our neighbors is to be the Church.

And the Church shows up at the sparkler parties.

She calls people by name and she sits on rickety porches and she looks hard and long into worn out faces.

She picks up 2 gallons of milk not because someone has asked her for milk, but because she is so in tune to the rise and fall of the needs around her, she knows it is needed.

She crosses thresholds and takes note of what is absent and she makes it her mission to help her neighbor make a house a home.

She denies herself one extra pair of shoes so that her neighbor simply has shoes.

She pays a boy to cut her grass because he needs a job, not because she needs the grass cut.

She fills a backpack with school supplies and then tutors that same kid every week because the kid needs the relationship more than the school supplies.

She runs the blocks around her house instead of driving to the YMCA because she must train her eyes to see what Jesus sees and the only way to train eyes to keep seeing and seeing and seeing.

And she lays down her life so that her neighbors may live.

 

And to update you on the hungry family:

I’m not sure which one of us said that we should just put it on social media and invite others to help with some bags of groceries, but 34 hours after the sparkler party, I updated my status with this:*

I’m sorry for being so obnoxious today, but there are 2 families in our neighborhood that are having a hard time feeding their kids this summer. We’ve got snacks galore, but if you are local and can help us feed a couple of families, please let me know. I’m thinking both families need lunch and breakfast things that the kids could prep on their own. Both families have electricity on a regular basis and have working kitchens (meaning they have pots, pans, etc.). You could fill 2 bags at Aldi for around $25.
And you know what would sweeten the deal? If you and your family drop by these 2 homes and make a face to face connection when you make the delivery.
YOU can do it, and I can help.
And I’d LOVE to help you love on some sweet people.

 And you know what?  In 24 hours, this is what I got:

You guys, the CHURCH showed up.  Red Oak Baptist brought 10 bags of groceries and Lindsay Lee and Jeremy Mason delivered them with Thad.

And you keep showing up.  So stay tuned…#ProjectFeedANeighbor is coming to a Rocky Mount near you. {smile}

I love getting to live this life.  And I love getting to live it with you.

*(I’m 99% sure it was me, but he’s about 75% sure it was his idea.  I don’t know.  You decide:  Me, the woman who uses social media like a boss, or the Man whose wife set up his FB account for him.? )

On Being Human

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On Friday morning, before the weekend unfolded itself into fun, good things, I stood in the laundry room over a basket of laundry and sobbed until I could not breathe.  Mounds of laundry were strewn all around me and the simple task of laundry was daunting.

The Man came home from work and found me in a heap along with the laundry and I told him all the big, nasty things I was feeling.  He listened and said little.   When I’m breaking up on the outside, fewer words demonstrate greater love and after 18 years of knowing me, he’s learned the art of fewer words.

He left me to the laundry and emptied the house of our little people and the quiet swallowed me for hours.

I cleaned and dusted and folded the laundry and I breathed in and breathed out and then breathed in some more.  And I cried rivers of tears and it was good to cry.

On Saturday, after I woke to a MOPS meeting with a roomful of beautiful women, I crawled under a heavy quilt and let the tears roll some more.

For 12 hours, I let myself be fully human and I let God be fully God.

And on Monday, as the sun came up behind the houses on Avent street, my gaze was lifted up, once again.

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I spent the summer before my sophmore year of college working at a church camp.  I was on the kitchen crew which meant I served and cleaned up after 3 meals a day for 6 days a week, for 10 weeks.  It was exhausting work that left me smelling like bacon and eggs and french fries most all day, every day.

When I wasn’t in the kitchen cleaning or serving, I was on the beach, sunning and drinking Diet Coke. I lost 12 pounds that summer which left me tipping the scales at about 98 lbs.

By the time I went back to college, I was a waif of a girl with brown skin and a tired body.

But I was also a girl with a deepening walk with Jesus because I was living in a body that had me utterly dependent on Him.

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I’ve had at least a half a dozen moments in my life with Jesus where my body just laid itself down and refused to get up.

Four of these moments have occurred in the last 24 months.  Not surprising given the pressure cooker life I live here.

I used to beat myself up when my body quit moving.  I’d spend days checking my heart and laying on my face wondering why I was such a worm of a human being. I’d wonder why I was so weak and tired and angry.  I’d stare at the floor imagining that Satan was trampling all over me and having a hay day with my sinful, prideful heart.

In my depressed, tired state, I would convince myself that the fatigue and rivers of tears were the result of an impure heart and that Jesus had taken me out of the race.

Literally.

But in the last year, particularly in the last 6 months, I’ve learned that sometimes, the tired, achy, crawl in the bed and cry seasons are just the response of my broken, human body living in this broken, physical world.

When my body falls to the floor in a heap of sobs, it is not always a result of hidden sin or deep seeded pride.  Sometimes, it’s because my shoulders simply cannot carry one more burden or my arms, one more baby.

When my brain can’t make sentences, it’s not always because I’m self-absorbed and uncaring.  Sometimes, it’s because my brain is muddled with the mystery of God and the depravity of man and I can’t make sense of anything.

When my feet can’t tread across the street one more time, it’s not always because I don’t love well.  Sometimes it’s because I do love well and I am simply giving the Holy Spirit space to do His work.

When my heart is broken, it’s not always because a  dream has curled up and  died.  Sometimes, it’s because the dream I see before me is the dream I never knew I wanted.  But the invitation stands and I know Jesus is calling me deeper and my heart is simply broken up because I know I am loved.

In the thick of this life, I am learning, all over again, that I belong to Jesus, both flesh and spirit, fully His.  

He does not value one over the other, not does He kill one part to bring life to another.  All parts of me are His and all parts are valued and loved and cared for by Him and He  leads me into greener pastures to rest.

And then back onto the narrow, rocky road to keep running, my gaze always being lifted higher.

 

These thoughts come from months of laying on my face seeking Jesus, weeks of journaling and the last few days in Jean Fleming’s book Pursue the Intentional Life.  You are invited to join me as we delve into this book as a part of (in)courage’s Bloom summer book club.  It’s not too late.  And it’s life changing.

I’m also linking with the ever gracious Kelli Woodford for her Unforced Rhythms. This is my first time linking with her!