Go Live Small

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Can I take about five minutes of your time, back up my entire dump truck of junk, and dump it on you?

Good.

I was hoping you’d say that.

Right this minute, there are nine children in this house.

One of them is only six weeks old, bless his little heart, and he has acid reflux. He is only mine 47 hours a week, but y’all, all those little thoughts about me wanting another little chunk of love are gone. Forever. Never coming back.

Another one is my 15 month old niece. She’s teething and has the full on booger thing happening this week. And Jesus help me, she has tears.  Alligator tears. All day. And no napping.

The other seven kids are pretty easy. Except that they run in and out all day and I now have seven houseflies in the house. They also talk. And whine. And eat all the livelong day.

Then there are four other kids outside. They are not mine and I am not responsible for them, but y’all they are still at mi casa. Tearing up my miniscule patch of grass and dragging out all the toys and broken down pieces of everything under the sun and they LEAVE THEIR SNACK TRASH IN MY YARD.

Help me Jesus.

It is also hot as Hades out there and the cups of water requests are doing me in. They’re doing me in y’all.  Actually, I’m done. Like all the way.

This is the state of my world today. And yesterday and probably tomorrow. I’m praying not tomorrow.

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And then there’s the whole other world outside of my street and I can’t escape the feeling that I’m supposed to do something that I’m not yet doing.

Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know and sometimes the not knowing is nice.

Ignorance is bliss. Especially when you learn or see or hear things that you wish you hadn’t.

Because once you know, you can’t not know. You know?

It seems to me that for the last two weeks, the world has been on standby waiting for the other shoe to drop or for Jesus to come back and save us from ourselves.

This world is a vile place and we humans do vile and unspeakable things to one another. And sometimes the righting what is wrong in this world feels too big and too hard and too costly. And to be honest, we feel small and insignificant, like our tiny offerings of peace on earth and good will towards men won’t be enough.

So we hide out and hole up and delve into mindless television or poorly written novels. We eat cartons of ice cream and watch the news waiting for someone to do something. We waste time scrolling social media and reading what folks are saying about the state of the world that we can’t touch and we climb into bed exhausted with all the knowing of the things we wished we didn’t.

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On Tuesday, when the last of the babies had left my nest for the night, I made a quick run to the grocery store. I don’t normally make runs to the store mid-week, but we were out of all the have to haves, so I went.

When I gathered myself into the car and pulled out of the drive, I realized that the half-dozen kids still kicking up dust in my front yard would probably be there when I got back.

Unloading groceries in front of children who have little to no food in their pantries is always awkward, but it happens nearly every week.  And after two years of navigating all shades of awkward here,  I still don’t know how to handle the unloading the car deal.

I was gone for less than an hour and when I returned, the crowd in the yard had grown by three. And as always, I felt my throat tighten with insecurity and the deep rooted feeling that this is all wrong.

I sighed as the kids clamored around the sacks of groceries and I tried to shew them off, not wanting them to see what I’d been able to buy. But the kids were relentless and the smallest one, the one with the curly lashes and big eyes, wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“Let me at ‘em,” he’d said. “I can carry all of them.”

I handed him the tub of ice cream and the bag of sugar and then watched him drag them across the dirt and into the house.  The other kids grabbed a sack and just like Little Man, they carried them into the house.

I followed in behind them to put the groceries away and after a few minutes alone, I realized that Little Man was standing in the office watching me work.

“What’s up?” I asked him.

“When you gonna give me some of that ice cream I drug up in here?” he asked.  He was grinning.

I smiled and sent him outside with the others and then set about scooping fifteen cones of ice cream.

And I relished in the idea that fifteen ice cream cones would bring a smidgen of order to the chaos in my little world.

DSC_0530My house has been quiet now for an hour, the time it’s taken me to tap out this sloppy post, and honestly, I don’t even know where I’m trying to go with all these words.  I hadn’t thought I’d write this week in light of the whole world falling to pieces, but the writing helps me process all the levels of crazy going on around me.

And I thought maybe my crazy making here could help you, too.

Here’s what I know, in a list form because the baby is beginning to stir and I have no time to wrap this up with a bow:

1.) The whole world is falling to pieces.  It truly is.

2.) God is not asking us to put it all back together, just like it was before the Fall.

3.) God is asking us, His little image bearers, to live in this world in such a way that when the broken down, the hurt, the angry, the forgotten, the mistreated, the unloved, come face to face with us, they want the Jesus who dwells within us.

4.) Because Jesus is the only HOPE we have and He has already overcome the world.

5.) Go live small, right where you are because your place and your people need the HOPE living in you.

And nap time is over…pray I don’t cry?

I love y’all. I really do.

 

In Which I Humbly Go There

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My world is a small one.

It’s made up of a few streets, one elementary school, one yard with patchy landscaping and lots of litter, a Wal-Mart, a Piggly Wiggly, one coffee shop, and a few fists full of in real life people.

I rarely drive more than fifteen minutes to go anywhere.  I’m committed to my place and what my place has to offer, so except for the quarterly Stitch Fix box, paid for by you fine folks, and the occasional Ebay win, I get everything I need right here.  I make three trips a year to the big city and when I do, I feel like my insides are climbing the wall.  The stuff crammed in-between more stuff and all the twinkly lights, wrecks all the things that Jesus has been doing with my heart pertaining to my love of pretty things.  So I avoid the big city.

I just choose to be satisfied here.  In Rocky Mount.  On Avent street.  And always in Christ.

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If I’m honest with you, my life has become so small that I rarely look above the fray that isn’t zip coded in 27804.

When I tell you that I’m all in here, I mean I am so far in that I forget there is a big ol’ world out there dealing with big ol’ world things.  I feel a smidgen of shame as I write that.  The Man and I chose our seminary because of its big world appeal.  The multi-ethnic body, the different denominations, the abundance of expressions of worship, the diversity in professors and languages and skin colors intrigued us and woke us up to our creative God.

But we’ve been out of school for nearly three years now, and for nearly three years we’ve been saying yes to this small world.  We’ve been waking up and putting on blinders and seeing Avent Street and Rocky Mount and Nash County.  We’ve been hunkering down and going to school on our people and our place.  We’ve wrestled with racism and poverty and good ol’ boy theology as they pertained to our city and along the way, I’ve lost the desire to change the whole world.

Who can entertain changing the whole world when the groaning on one’s own street is loud enough to make one’s head spin?

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When the Man came home early tonight, I slipped out the door to pick up our weekly $5 pizzas from Little Caesars.  We always get four: two cheese, one sausage, and one pepperoni and we usually get two meals from the four pizza deal.  Every Thursday, this is our dinner plan.

I love Thursdays.

The yard was full, as usual, and all the kids were streaked in something that could only be a mixture of dirt and sweat.  I counted the number of kids and came up with eleven:  eight white kids and three black kids.

Usually, we have about ten white kids and five black kids.  This is just how it is here on my street.  The poor white kids outnumber the poor black kids and the distinction between the two groups of kids, other than skin color, is scarcely worth mentioning.

But I am mentioning it because, well, the whole world is talking about race and race is a big deal in my place.

And to not mention race would be negligent because everything I do or say or think or write is framed within the context of my understanding of the racial tension in my city.

Sadly, my understanding amounts to not much more than a hill of beans and a stack of books with statistics and and laws and injustices that I can’t wrap my mind around.

The fact that I can’t wrap my mind around all the things I see and read and feel bothers me to no end.   My lack of understanding causes me to feel like an uncaring, unloving, apathetic white woman living in the ghetto pretending to get what’s what out here in poor man’s land.

For days now, I’ve been unable to find my words in regards to what is happening to all over God’s green earth.  I’ve shrugged off my address and my daily happenings and my heart for my city because I’m a white, evangelical woman, married to a church planting, grace preaching man, with a slew of kids who have chosen to live in the ‘hood.  No one forced us into this life but Jesus and everybody knows that Jesus forces Himself on no one.

We chose this life and we have staked our claim on this patch of asphalt and jacked up sidewalk.  We bleed Avent and Grace and we gladly do so.  But to bleed for Ferguson or our family in Iraq or for the injustices shown to every mentally ill person that has ever contemplated ending their life, is a whole other world and a whole other story that I have no idea how to engage.

Jesus has planted my feet and my heart at 554 Avent and the whole other world seems just that: a whole other world.

I have no leg to stand on or soapbox to preach from because out here in no man’s land, where no one has access to the internet or television or newspapers, the only thing people care about is their unpaid light bill or grumbling belly.

So I am moved to suspending time and internet and the nightly news to feed empty tummies and give rides to the store and chat on the front porch.

I am moved to swinging little boys on the horse swing from the big oak and passing out Kool-Aid and Little Debbies to the half dozen extra kids piled into my yard.

I am moved to braiding lengths of hair and bandaging boo-boos and laughing over the newest slang.

I am moved to dreaming big dreams with the people in my city who long to see Jesus eradicate poverty and racism and the segregated 11 o’clock hour of worship.

But mostly, I am moved to replicate the small acts of Jesus as the great big world outside of Rocky Mount fights a battle I have no idea how to fight.

And late at night, when the rest of my place sleeps, I troll social media and catch up on the rest of the world and I fall on my face and confess my ignorance and my small world view and my lack of fight for the rest of the world.

And I beg Jesus to move His people to fill the gaps that I can’t even imagine.

And I tremble as I ask Him to come quickly.

DSC_0095This is my humble, small minded offering to the community of other writers committed to #GoingThere with Deidra Riggs.  Deidra says that going there is messy and ugly and everyone’s toes get trampled on in the process.  But she says it is necessary for the body of Christ and in the fullness of Christ, I agree with her.  But tonight, in the fullness of my white, middle class skin, I wonder.  I pray my words here are received as they have been given, for I am but a work in progress and I fail more than I succeed.  Please respond gracefully.

And Deidra- thank you for calling the church to be the Church.  You inspire and teach and call me into different living.

On Opening A Can of Worms and Asking the Hard Questions

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I watch the rain pound the front yard into puddles and I talk myself through the circles of things I need to do and have to do and want to do.

And I wonder how all the things I need to do and have to do and want to do, meld themselves into something like a meaningful, purposeful life.

They do, of course, but in the thick of it I find myself on the porch, after dark, watching the water in the yard rise to pond-like proportions and I ask myself the hard questions.

I don’t like the hard questions any more than I like the pond in my front yard, but the hard questions keep me looking to Jesus and that’s a good thing.

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Last week, at some hour after late, the boys from across the street came and apologized for all the nasty things they’d done to our house and our yard over the last year.  They unloaded the dump truck of offenses and made things right and then told the whole truth about why they’d come to make amends: They have a court date at the end of the month and they’re scared.  They’re afraid of going to jupee and being away from their mama. They’re afraid of ruining their already messed up life and being away from each other.

The Man and I forgave them and I apologized for loving them mean and we both came back into the house wondering what the heck had just happened on the porch.

And tonight, after a week’s worth of days with jupee-bound boys in my yard, I’m asking myself What the heck am I doing letting these boys back into my life?

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On Saturday, I made coffee and moved chairs around and then welcomed a house full of women into my home for a MOPS meeting.  We unloaded the ugly parts of our souls, handled business, and then stayed late to encourage one another to run our races well.

This MOPS deal is stretching us and growing us and waking up all sorts of things in our hearts.  We’re on the brink of laying down our preferences for the good of the whole, but this laying down of our wants is no easy task. It’s painful and gut wrenching.

No one wants to come and die, but this MOPS and the Jesus who has called us to it, beckons us to do just that:

Lay down and die.

I’ve not slept well since I told Jesus yes to MOPS.  And for those of you wondering, that makes nearly 16 months.

I’m tired.  And alive.  All at the same time.

But the hard question putting down roots in my soul is this:  Why must MOPS come at such a high cost?

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On Sunday, I went food shopping at our local  Wal-Mart and true to Wal-Mart and the culture in which I live, the place was abuzz with Spanish speaking migrant workers.

I intentionally shop on Sundays because I know they’ll be there and they remind me of home.

But this Sunday, as I made my way from the parking lot into the store, I stopped and took stock of the people lining the wall outside and I let myself have all the feelings and thoughts that I’ve shoved down into the deep crevices of my heart.

I let myself go there and by Sunday evening I was wishing I hadn’t.  Nobody living in my county, where tobacco and corn and soybeans and peanuts still try and pay the bills, would really want to open the whole can of worms by asking the hard questions about the plight of our migrant workers.

Especially if the nobody asking comes from a long line of farmers and has no concrete facts on the matter.

But I have opened the can of worms and the only question that keeps crawling around is this: Is Jesus asking me to really go there and engage this community that keeps our economy rocking right along or am I to leave it well enough alone?

(Don’t answer that y’all, unless you can answer kindly and with grace.)

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And on Monday, after a weekend of birthday partying and little to no sleep, we committed our oldest three children to public school.

We’d spent the weekend talking through all the things that go with the public school and we weighed them against the offer we’d been given of free private school tuition.  We’d prayed through the free tuition and the feeling in our gut that Jesus was asking us to trust Him with our children by letting them attend the local public school.  We discussed the diverse population of children and the private school and how we’d be the 1% at the public school and how our heart was set on diversity.  We talked around the being all in and the commitment to our neighbors and the mightiness of Jesus.

But on Monday, even after doing the deed, I couldn’t help but ask myself What if we’re wrong?

 

This morning, I wake to clear skies and a muddy yard and more questions than I have answers.

But I make coffee and give Jesus space to direct my steps.

And I do the next thing.

 

Our next community v-log will go out on Monday of next week.  If you’d like to join the avent*ure community you can do so here.

If You Build It, They May Not Come {Why Avent?}

DSC_0288DSC_0280At a few minutes after 9pm, after the wild ones have hit the sack, the Man and I leap head first into the How was your day? conversation.

He wears his reading glasses and I wear dust and fatigue and we both wear looks of mischief.  The longer we’re married the more looks of up to no good we seem to wear.  We’re in a good spot and the move from needy children into the launching-little-birds phase of parenting is good for us.  We’re relishing new found freedom and longtime love and we’re happy-

Over the moon happy.

We’re midstream the blah blah blah’s when someone knocks at the front door and it’s late, even for our neighborhood. He pulls himself up from the chair and closes the door behind him.  I scroll Facebook looking for my friends while he meets our neighbors on the stoop.

And I sigh, full.

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DSC_0525We’ve been in full-time ministry since we were in college.

That makes nearly 20 years.

To say we know church would be an understatement because we have bled church work eight times longer than we have not.

We moved to Avent Street with the sole purpose of planting a house church in an under reached neighborhood full of marginalized people who desperately needed Jesus served alongside a hot meal and a break from their life.

It was intentional and thought out and strategic-

Purposeful.

We moved our little white family full of redheads onto Avent Street and set up house. We hung a tire swing from the big oak tree and sunk about 1.5K into a treehouse/swingset/slide combo for the backyard.  We bought a porch swing and a rocking chair and potted geraniums to line the front steps. We planted shrubbery and swept the front walk.

Because if you build it, they will come.

Because if you come in to save the day, you will indeed save it.

Or so we thought.

Within six months, we were holding church in our living room. I spent every Saturday, for an entire year, cleaning my house and cooking food and cutting our construction paper Noah’s arks so that we could get our church on here on Avent.  (I also yelled at my kids and cussed the Man and cried at God, but that’s another post for another day.)

Because if you build it and cook it and clean it, surely Jesus will choose to make a grand appearance and people will get saved.

Right?

We passed out loaves of bread and held movie nights on the lawn and played nice in the neighborhood sandbox.  We gave out turkeys at Thanksgiving.  We passed out diapers and dollar bills.

For twelve months, we did everything we knew to do to reach our neighborhood.

And nothing sparkly or magical or strobe-lighty happened.  We only made three ticks on the baptism chart and we would have made zero ticks on the Sunday School attendance chart if we had had Sunday School.

For twelve months, I chunked cans of beans at the Man and screamed that we had ruined our life.  I was convinced that Jesus was punishing us for having prideful hearts and impure motives.  Nothing was working and I was tired.

And when I got tired, I gave up.

And after all those months of crazy making, I finally heard Jesus whisper, “I was wondering how long it would take you to quit.  You ready to do this My way? The easy and light way?”

And with my face on the floor of my hundred year old kitchen, I sobbed a broken yes.

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DSC_0003It’s been a year since that episode on the floor of my kitchen.  It’s been a year since the Man and I sat at opposite ends of our farm table and pushed all that we knew about church into the center of the table and just quit.

And it’s been a year since Jesus called us out of the doing and into abundant living.

We moved onto Avent Street to plant a church among a people lost without Jesus.

But Jesus moved us onto Avent to plant a desire within us for only Him.

And so we simply live here.

Right on Avent.

And we try and love our neighbors as we love ourselves…kinda like we do over at Baskerville.

And on sparkly, magical, strobe-lighty days, our neighbors see Jesus in our living.

 

This is the third post in a three part series titled, We Are Fellowship.  I thank you for hanging in here until the end. You guys are troopers!

 

Why Baskerville? {On How Jesus Doesn’t Need My Defense}

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DSC_0542If God chooses the foolish things to shame the wise, then this may be the reason that we are at Baskerville Elementary.

Because it is foolish to plant a church in an impoverished neighborhood.

It’s even more foolish to plant a church in an impoverished neighborhood that is 99% black when the church doing the planting  is 99% crazy white.

But to rev up the foolish factor and cast it into a whole other level of making no good sense, then consider that this church plant, in the 99% black community by the 99% crazy white church, is being planted in the dirty south.

We’re talking full blown crazy making.

I know you’re either shaking your head or chuckling over your bowl of grits and that’s okay.  Shake or chuckle. I don’t care. I’ve done both, usually at the same time. And on a good day, I let a river of tears rolls right down my face while I laugh and shake my head.

But the truth is this:  Of all the doors in Rocky Mount, the only door that God opened to our church was at Baskerville Elementary.  The only one.

And then there is this:  All the kids in our neighborhood attend Baskerville Elementary.  Including our kids. (More on this later…another don’t want to write it kinda post.)

I know God has a sense of humor because my life is a comedy written in His own pen.

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DSC_0162DSC_0163FBRM Serve Sunday July 2014-3DSC_0595At 9:30, every Sunday morning, I load the 2003 Chevy Suburban with six wild ones dressed in all variations of Sunday best, none of which include a dress or a monogram, and we roll right over the railroad tracks into no man’s land.

I use the term no man’s land loosely because there are obviously men in the land, but the land is not prime real estate. It’s not even sub par real estate.  It’s just rows and rows of shotgun houses with metal bars at the windows. It’s Section 8 housing and Payday Loans.  It’s KFC and Roses.  It’s neighborhood stores and pink flamingos and broken down cars with tinted windows and shiny rims.  It’s four schools and one childcare center and more church buildings than I can count.

It’s the kind of land no man clings to in his American dream.

But it is where God has rolled out the welcome mat and the place where we’ve staked our claim.  It’s the place where we’re all in.  And it’s the place where we’re made foolish to shame the wise…the wise, more often than not, being ourselves.

DSC_0543DSC_0467DSC_0463DSC_0317DSC_0599I could write a small book on all the ways Jesus came close to the least of these.  I could spin a week’s worth of words devoted only to imploring us to love the poor, to serve others, to lay down our lives so that others may live.  And initially, that was my intent.  Last week, I had planned to take my small stack of notes on why we are who we are and turn the notes into something worth considering.

But after days of wrestling with all the why’s of Baskerville, I feel this deep seeded desire to be quiet, to let Jesus smile at all the unanswered questions of Why Baskerville?

I have no desire to stake our claim in the Bible Belt or jockey for position alongside the Big Four in our city.

Gone is the need to state the reasons why we drive right into the government sanctioned ‘hood in Edgecombe county and pick up trash or play pick up basketball.

The fight I once had for proving right Jesus’ model of drawing others unto Himself is just gone.

I have only Jesus and the new life He is birthing in this calloused, good girl heart of mine.

This is His story here and we, Fellowship Bible Church Rocky Mount, are simply a body of believers heaven bent on doing what Jesus has asked us to do:

Love your neighbor as yourself.

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This is the second post in a three part series titled We Are Fellowship and I hesitate when writing anything about our church.  God is mysterious and most every time I think I have Him figured out, He spins my world off center. 

And I’ve wrestled a million words about Baskerville down to nearly nothing,

Because Jesus needs no words to make Himself known.

And I think He does such a marvelous job of glorifying Himself without my help.  Don’t you?

Later this week, I will answer the question Why Avent Street? and conclude this series, We Are FellowshipYou can read the first post in this short series here.

Tomorrow

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Late at night, when sleep is hard to come by, I punch the pillow and imagine the hour.

I know it’s well after midnight because the moonlight is slanting in through the blinds, just like it does after midnight. I try and not watch the slant of light, but I can’t help it.  The slice of light holds my mine captive while my soul musters up the strength to beat back all the lies that come to life after dark.

Be not afraid. 

I hear these three words and I say them to myself, moving my lips in the dark. 

Be not afraid.

I watch the slant of light thin as my chest heaves under the weight of heaviness that I can’t put words around.  Unable to breathe, I slip out of bed and walk the house.  I check on six dreaming children and listen to their breathing.  It’s slow and rhythmic. The lights upstairs have been left on by mistake and I switch them out.  One street lamp pours into the hallway, casting shadows on the walls and floorboards and I run my hand along the shadows.  Light and dark live in the same space and I live in their midst.

And I am afraid.

Not of the dark, but of the light.

All good things cast shadows and at some time after 2am, I stand full length in the shadows of a handful of good things.  I stand for long minutes, choosing shadows over the light I’ve not yet fully seen or wholly touched or adequately imagined.

I find cold comfort in the fear, the doubt, the not-enough-ness, for we’ve spent years becoming well-acquainted.  And the light, it dances and sways and stretches into places I don’t quite know yet and it ripens things in me I’m not yet ready to let bloom.  Why bloom when the cool shadows beckon me to come and sit a while?

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I slip down the stairs, back between the sheets, back to where the sliver of moonlight is no more, and I stare at the ceiling.

And the thrum of my heart pounds ever so quietly.

For I know the Light and He is not safe.

But He is good.

And he is calling to me,

Be not afraid.

Tomorrow, I whisper into the dark,

Tomorrow, I’ll not be afraid.

 This is my humble offering to Lisha’s beautiful community. Swing on by…you’ll be so glad you did.

*On Wednesday, I will post the second post in my short series, We Are Fellowship.  And I’m having a hard time finding my words.  Last week’s post and this week’s post are not my most favorite things to write. I truly did not sleep last night for fear of writing the hard things.  I write in story and the posts that call me to write from a this is what I know to be true place are very hard for me to write.  If you have a minute, could you pray I find my words laced with grace and truth and that Jesus would simply write His story here?    The more I write and the more Jesus calls me into me into brighter edges of light, the more aware I am of the weight of the words I choose to write.  This new found edge of light frightens me and I am a beggar in need of grace and the prayers of the saints.  I humbly thank you.

We Are Fellowship {part 1}

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I set out to order this post in list form, neat and concise, straight to the point.

The problem with that is that I don’t think in lists.  I think in long winded sentences that use the word and more than is really necessary.

And then there’s this other thing:  I don’t really want to write this post.  I feel ill-equipped and altogether worm-ish when I slip on my church planter’s cap.

Maybe you know what I mean when I say worm-ish.  I hope not, but this ain’t heaven so you most likely do.

But I digress.

This post is the one that has been played out in my mind a hundred times or more and I’ve just not wanted to do the hard work of pushing the words out.  But in recent months, it’s become quite clear that you guys have a lot of questions about our church/ministry/life on Avent Street.

Some questions have come by way of email.  Some have come while we stand together in line at Target.  Others have some via text, voxer, or phone call.  Some have even come by a knock on the front door and a confession that we’re just being checked out. I love these methods for gathering information.  They make my soul leap for joy.

But there is another method for gathering information that is gaining some traction and, in all honesty, it just gripes my hiney.  This method is what I like to call the third party method.  It goes something like this:

A brave soul visits our church, shakes our hands and kisses our babies.  He or she smiles as big as sunshine and says all the right things.  But instead of sticking around to ask all the right questions, he or she skips on down to another church in town and in a lapse of better judgment, asks that pastor all the wrong questions.   Questions like these: What the heck do they think they’re doing in that neighborhood?  Do they even have a vision or a mission or a purpose?   You think they’ll make it?  They’re not mainline, are they? 

(It’s Small Town Bible Belt, NC, y’all, and you can bet your bottom dollar that church news travels faster than molasses in July.)

In order to help clear up some confusion about what the heck we think we’re doing, I thought I’d take some time and tell you the story of Fellowship Bible Church Rocky Mount.

Today’s post  is the first in a series of posts I’m calling  We Are Fellowship.

Shall we begin?

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Fellowship Bible Church Rocky Mount was never the dream.

Rocky Mount was the dream and in December of 2011, the Man and I packed up the U-Haul and our six children and drove from Dallas to Rocky Mount in the span of 36 hours.

We unloaded the U-Haul into an old home in a less than desirable neighborhood and the Man got to work doing what he knows best: making disciples.

In January of 2012, he and one other man began to study the Bible together each week and gradually the two became three. When the group grew to four, they multiplied.  After three months, one person came to Christ and was baptized in a horse trough out by the Tar River.  The baptism was the first gathering of the men and their families and in April of that same year, we began to gather in our home on Avent. We had no money for a building and the money we did receive went immediately back into our community. The house was easy and it made ministry simple.  We gathered and we served.  For free.

As our gathering grew, the intent was to multiply by launching another house church in another neighborhood. We even tried it.  But this is the Bible Belt and the house church model just didn’t fly.  So in the fall of 2012, we combined both homes and committed to plant one church.

After much prayer, we felt led to reach back to the legacy of the Fellowship Bible Church we were a part of in Dallas and we became Fellowship Bible Church Rocky Mount.  (You can read more about our legacy here or by reading the book Building Up One Another by Gene Getz, the founder of Fellowship Bible Churches all over the US.)

In January 2013, we moved our church to the local YMCA where we continued to grow and shrink and then grow some more.  This is the rhythm of church planting and we are learning to keep moving even as the rhythm ebbs and flows.

In June 2014, we moved once again.

This time to Baskerville Elementary.

 

Hope you’ll join me next week for part 2: Why Baskerville?

And just a little housekeeping…I’ve said some hard things here and I’d like to encourage us to keep our comments about these things constructive. No glorifying of the worm or banner waving to hush the folks who use poor judgment. Keep it nice and Jesus honoring here, remembering always that He died for the Church, no matter how she looks.

 

I’m at The High Calling Y’all!

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Good morning, you beautiful people, you.

I’m over at The High Calling today and you’re invited to join me there.

I’m writing about work as drudgery and you guys were a huge help to me as I struggled to find my voice in this story.  I don’t know why I struggle to find my voice when I guest post, but I do. (And right now, I’m working on another guest post for a mama we all know and LOVE, so if you have a second, send up a Help her, Jesus! or two.)

Anyhooooo…Thank you for being my people and for showing up and praying me through all of my writing endeavors.  You make running this race pure JOY.  And thank you to Deidra Riggs for giving me a chance and to Laura Boggess for taking my story and making it beautiful.  You ladies are a gift to me.

Now, swing by here and quiet the chirping crickets.

Please?

And come on back by here tomorrow- I’m answering the question I’m asked more than any other and I’m also sharing about 37 pictures.

But Grace

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In the early evening hours, doors slam and women scream at their men and young girls chatter blue streaks into their trac phones while marking time across their yards.  Dogs, chained in the backyard a few street numbers down, howl to be fed and watered and touched.  The boys who cuss like sailors sit atop their mama’s jeep and kick the back window with their feet.  They curse at one another and at everyone who looks their way.

The Man and I  sit on the porch and watch them, awestruck with their profane skills.

Cars thump loud and baby daddies push curly haired children in umbrella strollers up the sidewalk to the Piggly Wiggly.  Sweat runs down their brown faces and we call to the ones we know, checking in on the mamas and the state of all the pantries.  Talk is small but it’s still talk and we take it for all it’s worth.

A little before dark, Chris comes across the street and she gives us the daily neighborhood gossip.  Today, she’s called CPS and DSS and Rocky Mount Animal Control and the police.  And she’s given the boys with the foul mouths the finger.  Twice.  She sits up late at night to watch the street and her flowers and she’s worked too hard to have the $@*%heads mess it up.

“I ain’t putting up with this $@*%! she says.

We listen to her knowing this is dangerous ground, this Us vs. Them talk.  And we nod because we agree with the some of what she says and we nod because she’s quite humorous.

But we’ve been called to love and the deepest parts of us swell ripe with the grace of Jesus, so we speak softly, giving names to the kids she speaks of.

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It’s been more than two weeks since the kids from around the corner came to play and more than three weeks since the little people I’ve never met came to play.

And I worry about the kids and their mamas and their bellies.  Most especially the kids I’ve never met.

Our street is a bustling whirl of noise and activity and life, be it ugly or beautiful.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and in the heart of Jesus and these eyes are learning to see like Jesus.

I think our neighborhood is beautiful.

Yesterday, before the sun hung heavy and hot, I moved the Come and Play flag to the tree out by the driveway and then we waited by the front door for the kids to come and play.

And no one came.

I paired the older four kids up and sent them out to rustle up the neighborhood for some fun.

And still, no one came.

It’s been nearly 14 days since we’ve seen Nickie or Hailey or Hunter or Sierra or Fat Cat or Kevon or Juan or Shawn or Tienasia or Brittany.

I baked cupcakes today, hoping someone would walk down our street and come sit on our swing.

And I’ve sat on my porch and watched quiet nothingness swallow up my street, wondering what we’ve failed to do or show or say to our neighbors.

And late in the day, while my kids hang from every piece of furniture in the house, I let the grace of Jesus swell up ripe in my own soul and I preach the gospel to myself.

But Jesus- He alone saves.

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Tonight as the sky erupts into dark clouds and angry rain, I slip into heels and smear on lipstick, and drive alongside fields of tobacco to the better part of town.

It’s a girls’ get together and the drive across town does my soul good.

I blare music loud enough to make my chest rattle and I lose myself in the quiet space amid the noise.  Deep cries out to Deep and from the pit of my soul, tears brim to the surface.

Jesus sifts through the muddled thoughts raging in my mind, casting out those things that still spring up from good, moral thinking and He sets upright those thoughts that make no worldly sense.

Courage prickles on the edges of my skin and I recall things Jesus said to me a year ago:

I have gone before you and the more you allow me to stir up your heart, the wider the chasm between your life on Avent  and your life as if belongs solely to Me.  You do not know it all, but I did not bring you this far for you to become like your place, to think like your place, to look like your place.

Stand firm.  Live differently.  Love greater.

BE NOT AFRAID. 

And I let the tears roll down my face as Jesus whispers mighty things into my tattered, fearful heart and I let my soul swell with grace upon grace upon grace.

Do not call to mind the former things, Or ponder things of the past.  Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it?  I will make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43: 18-19

 

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.