Caramel Corn and The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever

DSC_0496I interrupt all the heavy blogging to give you a peek into what’s happening in my kitchen and share 2 recipes that we’ve been gobbling up around here.

Y’all know I’m no food blogger, but I am a foodie who writes, so what the hay? Let’s pretend I’m a food blogger for the day. I’ll go back to the heavy stuff in a day or two. Or maybe tonight.

Because I sometimes must feed a small crowd at the drop of a hat, I’m always on the lookout for recipes that are easily doubled and use ingredients that I keep on hand at all times. And no, I don’t give a hill of beans about whether or not the recipe is healthy. I run our home on butter and sugar-Paula Deen style, you know? When the kids are happy, mama is happy and butter and sugar make us happy. So does guacamole, but that’s another post for another day.

Here are two of my all-time favorite after school snacks that will feed all your kids and the kids next door.

Because sharing is caring. Jesus said.

DSC_0504Crispy Caramel Corn

1 cup of sugar

1/2 cup of butter

1/2 cup of light {or dark} corn syrup

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp of vanilla extract

1/2 tsp of baking soda

16 cups of popped popcorn {2-3 bags of microwave popcorn}

Grease 2 shallow roasting pans {or cookie sheets with sides} and divide the popcorn between the pans. Set aside.

Stir together the first 5 ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat as soon as mixture boils and stir in the baking soda.

Pour caramel over the popcorn, covering evenly by spreading with a spatula.

Bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Let cool on a cooling rack and then break into small chunks.

Store in airtight container.

{adapted from the All New Southern Living Cookbook}

DSC_0621Best EVER Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour

1 1/4 tsp of baking soda

1 1/4 tsp of salt

2 sticks of butter at room temperature

1 tsp of vanilla extract

1 cup of granulated sugar

1 cup of brown sugar, packed

2 large eggs at room temperature

2 cups of semisweet chips {I use mini and regular}

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. {Rack position is important.} Line 4 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Stir together the first 3 ingredients and set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, vanilla, and both sugars on medium until light and fluffy. Takes about 3-5 minutes.

Add the eggs and mix until blended, about 1 minute. Eggs will not be fully incorporated. This is okay. Turn mixer to low and then add the dry ingredients, slowly, in thirds, beating until combined. While the mixer is running, pour in chocolate chips and mix for 1 minute.

Using a large ice cream scoop, dip the batter and place on the cookie sheets- 6 cookies per sheet, 2 inches apart. These cookies are nearly as big as your face. Winning.

Bake the cookies, one pan at a time for 15-18 minutes, turning the cookies at the midway point to make sure they cook evenly. Turning the cookie sheet is important. These cookies cook in 15 minutes in my oven, but you should begin keeping your eye on them at the 13 minute mark. They are done when they begin to turn golden brown around the edges but still light in the center. Think crispy outer rim and gooey center. Just watch them and adjust time accordingly.

Also, only cook 1 pan at a time. Trust me on this. It’s worth it in the end. Listen to a podcast or clean up the kitchen while you watch the oven. Store in an airtight container- these are still fabulous 3 days later…if you have any left!

{taken from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook- go buy it here. You’re welcome.}

 Now it’s your turn.

Whatcha cooking that you can share with us? I’m all ears and tummy.

If you’d like to help gift a book fair to Parker Middle school, you can donate here.

When It’s Time to Leave Your Church {a conversation about the wrong question}

DSC_0632DSC_0636On Sunday mornings, I usually say that Satan has descended upon our house because words fly carelessly and shoes are tossed around and babies cry when the hairbrush pulls through tangles and my stress hits the fan while we simply try to get everyone one block down the street to the little old library that is our church home.

Thad makes two trips from the house to the little old library to unload the things our church needs and then comes back to pick up his women folk who are skating on the edge of a break down. The boys take the high road and walk to church and I know for a fact that you couldn’t pack them into our petri dish on wheels to save your life. Who wants to ride in a car with five wild-eyed women on a Sunday?

Our sweet little church scurries around setting up coffee and setting up extra chairs. My six kids set up the floor mats for the children’s room while I unpack the toys. One friend prepares the weekly communion cups and wafers while another prepares to receive guests. Two men and one woman gather to pray for the service and Thad tunes the guitar for worship. The fifteen or so kids scarf down donuts and run wild and our precious college girl wrangles them with the loving kindness that drips from her pores.

And at 12:30, around our beat up farm table, we bow our heads and beg Jesus to send more laborers.

Because the harvest in our little neck of the woods is plentiful, but the workers are few.

DSC_0639DSC_0646Last weekend, at my last ever MOPS retreat, the new leadership team was asked to share their story of Jesus and their story into MOPS leadership. We were in a circle with cups of coffee and bare feet and boxes of tissues and as each woman shared her story, we all cried and laughed when nearly half the group said:

Well, I’m here because Lori told me that Jesus told her I was supposed to serve. 

Because it was true. I had asked each of them to serve because I absolutely felt that Jesus had a place in our MOPS ministry with their name on it.

And as I sat there in the circle, I couldn’t help but feel my face flame with the audacity of how I went about building that team. Who was I to invite them into MOPS and play the Jesus card in the process of asking?

I cringed as each woman shared the same story until I felt the sweet whisper of the Holy Spirit:

See. Look what we did. You heard me right and you invited. They said yes to the adventure.

And I let the tears roll because I had prayed for laborers and Jesus had sent them and together, our MOPS team had ushered in the kingdom of Jesus by planting a new work.

imageI hesitate to answer the question How do I know if I’m supposed to leave one church for another? but I spend countless hours answering that very question, asked in a thousand different ways. The question masquerades itself in discontentment, lack of purpose, unfulfilled longing to belong to something bigger than oneself, or idleness. Sometimes the question waltzes into the room looking like temporary help to a permanent problem such as showing up to feed some hungry kids once a month, knowing full well there will be hungry kids every day forever.

And sometimes the question comes out exactly like a statement:

I know Jesus is inviting me to something uncomfortable and I do not want to leave what I know, but what I know is leaving me longing for more of Jesus.

And the only answer I can give you is this:

While you are posturing yourself at the feet of Jesus begging for more of Him, somewhere out in our great, big world, is a person posturing himself right beside you at the feet of Jesus, begging Jesus to send laborers into their field of mission.

And the answer to both prayers may be YOU, leaving what you know to give yourself away to the harvest that is plentiful.

If we can ever begin to look at our churches as our places of sending, leaving would not be the question we ask. 

The question would simply be Where?

 

Someone is praying for you.

Maybe by name…because Jesus told them to.

Just say yes to the adventure. You’ll be grateful you did.

This is the next post in a series titled Ask Lori. You can catch the other posts here, here, here, here and here.

The Place Where Hospitality Lives

LORIHARRIS_createdGTOn Mondays, when the smallest kids go down for a nap, I whip up something gooey and chocolate and stick paper straws into mason jars filled with lemonade.

Around here, Mondays mean that a handful of teenaged girls from the neighborhood are coming for a few hours of girl talk and all around foolishness and I am the resident mama managing the chaos. Sometimes, Jesus smiles upon me and sends a college girl to help me out on Mondays, but for the most part, it’s just little ol’ me.

I must tell you that although I have two teenaged daughters, teenage foolishness and conversation is not my jam. A house full of people who smell funny and act funny and look funny give me the willies. And when the peals of laughter reach a certain decibel, my eyes cross and I have to fight the urge to want to lose it. Lame, huh? I know.

But, hey, we’re all in process and so on Mondays, I put on my big girl panties and take a deep breath and fling open the front door, right at 2pm…and I wait…because no one is ever, ever on time.

And I use those few extra minutes to give Jesus my nub of a heart.

Jesus help me to see these girls as your beloved children. Help me to be patient and kind and loving. Help me to know what to say when their stories make my head roll and my heart ache. And help me to want to enter in and stay.

Join me at Grace Table?

Also, if you missed out on the fun yesterday, here’s the link!

You Wanna Do Something FUN?

DSC_0014DSC_1684I serve on our local middle school’s Parent Advisory Council.  There are eight of us and once a month we sit around a table in the library and dream up ways to build community and serve our public school by loving the staff and the students.

This team has made my heart sing, mainly because the team is made up of Jesus followers. Isn’t that just sweet?

Last month, as we were discussing the needs of the students, the top three needs always being school supplies, food and uniforms, it was brought to our attention that our school would not be hosting a book fair this year.

Because our school is a neighborhood school made up of so many students that live at or quite below the poverty level, the company that normally sets up a book fair doesn’t sell enough books at our school to make it worth their while to set up shop. 

For those of you who don’t know it, schools depend on these book fairs to stock classrooms with the free books they earn from the sale of books at the fair.

This may look like a lose-lose situation for our school.

But I think it could look like a winning opportunity for our community to show up and make much of Jesus by gifting a book fair to our school.

What if we donated enough money to purchase books to set up a FREE book fair at Parker Middle?

What if instead of selling books to the handful of kids who can actually afford them, we set up racks of books and let each student come and choose one to take home?

How AWESOME could that be?

Right this minute, I’m imagining something like Oprah when she gave everyone in her audience a car except that we’d be giving away books.

And you get a book! And you get a book! And YOU get a book!

Doesn’t that make you smile?

It makes me totally cheese.

If you’d like to donate to GIFT a book fair to Parker Middle, you can do so below. I’ve set up a fundraiser through Pure Charity and Fellowship Rocky Mount to insure that the funds get to Parker in one above-board, lump sum.

You can track the progress of our fund raiser in the sidebar of the blog and you know me, once the books have been purchased and the book fair set up, I’ll document the whole event in pictures here.

If you feel led to share our fundraiser, please do. If we go over our goal, all funds will be used to purchase books for the classrooms and the library. {And our librarian is FABULOUS. I think she’d love the chance to make some much needed purchases.}

Can’t wait to see what Jesus does with our small gifts!!

7 Ways to Love Your Local Public School

DSC_0364DSC_0325I don’t know about you but I bake in the fall. I know it’s not really fall, but I’m pretending that it’s a crisp 71 degrees out and that pumpkins and funky little gourds line my porch. Back to school time trips my inner seasonal trigger and friends,  the fall trigger has been tripped. 

In the last 3 days, I’ve baked 4 batches of molasses-ginger cookies, 4 batches of chocolate chip cookies and one pound cake. I licked the bowl all 9 times and then got on the scale every morning this week and wondered why the number just hasn’t budged. Oh well. I’m good at other stuff.

Because schools all over the country are in full swing again and because we’re knee deep in school chatter over here on the blog, I thought I’d take a break from all the cookie making and weight gaining and hard conversations that wake up all sorts of emotions among us and give us some practical ways that we can love our local public schools.

Part of loving our neighbors like we love ourselves is showing up and filling in the gaps in our local communities. By choosing to be active participants in our local public schools, even if we do not have children that attend those schools, we get to climb down off the hill and shine our lights directly into places that need our Light the most.  We also get to lift up the arms of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are fighting the good fight from the front of the classroom. 

And here’s the good news: Loving our local public schools has the potential to radically change our world for Jesus. And it’s FUN. 

So let’s get at it!

DSC_0280

DSC_02871.) Draw a circle around the school closest to your home or your church. 

If you live twenty minutes from your local school but your church is a few streets over from a school, grab your small group and commit to own that school. Draw a circle around that school and stake your claim on it. Jesus lives in you and you have the authority to fly a big ol’ Jesus flag over that building. And then PRAY like you know Jesus is going to open up the heavens and redeem every broken thing in that school. Because He can. Believe it. 

2.) Become your principal’s greatest asset.

Be available. Be committed. Be respectful of his position and then posture yourself accordingly and wash his feet. Your principal is your ticket into the school. And he desires for you to be there. But not with your own agenda. Listen to what he deems as the biggest needs he has and then do all that is within you to meet those needs. 

3.) Love the entire staff.

Public schools are run by administrative staff, teachers, coaches, cafeteria staff and janitors. Love the entire staff by organizing an early morning breakfast to feed everyone. Drop it off with a note of appreciation. Drop off Chick-Fil-A trays at lunch. Give 2 hours a week to organize closets, make copies, give bathroom breaks. Buy school supplies and furnish the teachers with enough pencils to make it through the year. Get a local business to donate gift cards for free coffee. Remember Teacher Appreciation week and do something awesome. Your goal is to communicate that you see each person as a valuable asset to the greater community in which you live because love does.  Lift a head. Breathe life. Give love.  

4.) Tutor or mentor the students.

The number one need at our local schools is mentoring. Second is food. Commit to give yourself away to 1 student a year. That means you show up with your whole life and welcome that student in. You tutor. Your inspire. You observe that student and listen to everything he or she is not saying. You make it your mission to love in such a way that your student feels safe in your presence. You get to know their parents.You take them out for frozen yogurt and over for dinner into your home.  Your goal is to love so well that your one year commitment becomes a lifetime of relationship. This is how we usher in the kingdom of Jesus. 

5.)Support your school’s athletic program. 

Leave work an hour early, swing on by the gym and cheer the home team on to victory. Buy a hot dog and a blow pop while you’re there. Sport a school tee-shirt. Drag a cooler of Gatorade onto the field with a crate of Little Debbie’s and rally the team at practice. Get clearance from the principal and throw a tailgate party before a football game and invite the players and their families to come for brats and root beer. Invite every person in your church to fill the entire football stadium at Homecoming and wave pennants and wear your school’s colors. Cheer  with wild abandon. Puff up your students with pride for where they come from and your community will reap the dividends in years to come. Your students will give back what  they have been given.

6.) Support the arts. 

Donate gently used instruments. Supply a class with reeds for the year. Buy a ticket to a show. Design a set for a play. Give music lessons after school for free. Sew costumes. Donate funds to send kids to band camp. Give your school the tools they need to encourage the next generation to make art. We have been made in the image of God with a command to co-create alongside Him. Come alongside your school and see to it that your students have the tools they need to make art with their life. 

7.) Use your small life to keep your local public school always before the redeemed of Christ. 

Use your voice to speak to the needs you see. Invite others to serve with you. Include your neighbors in your plans to go to the basketball game on Friday night. Ask others to give their resources and their time. Be the quiet beating drum of love for the least of these in your community. You never know who will hear and be moved to follow you into your school. 

Welcome to the irresistible revolution, a 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 of 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.

Shane Claiborne

Public School, Justice, and What We Should Do

School2015DSC_0604Yesterday, as I watched my four oldest kids walk down the street to their bus stops, the nagging sensation that something is off about this whole school thing reared its ugly head again. 

The house was wide awake at five and by six, we were all gathered around the breakfast table. The older kids quizzed Isaac about his bus number and his classroom number and his teacher’s name. He rattled off his responses like they’d taught him and when Audrey asked him what number 131 looked like, he responded with It’s long and yellow. It’s a bus. Duh. We died.

After a good long while of laughing at Isaac, Thad had the kids name things they wanted him to pray about. Josiah wanted his teacher to be kind. The girls wanted the kids in their classes to be respectful. Isaac had two requests: 1) Pray I don’t miss mama and cry. 2) Pray that no one puts me in a choke hold while I’m minding my own business. Again, we died.

But he was serious and we all knew it. The neighborhood kids had been schooling him all summer long on all the things to expect when you go to school. Things like don’t eat the pink pears. Mind your own business. Keep your head down and your mouth shut. Don’t snitch. If you wear a hoodie you won’t have to tuck in your uniform shirt. Mandarin chicken is the best thing in the cafeteria. Stay away from so and so and you’ll be straight. Say yes ma’am and no ma’am.

Coupled with three years of living in our neighborhood and getting an education via the school of hard knocks, Isaac had been gearing up for his first year of public school for longer than anyone else in the family. And based upon everything he had learned, his biggest fear was possibly getting put in a choke hold, in his classroom, with Won and Shon and Josiah somewhere in the next building unable to come to his rescue.

Thad prayed and we all assured Isaac he was going to be just fine because no one was going to be able to resist his red hair. Or his freckles or his perfectly round face or his infectious laughter or his mad dancing abilities or his compassionate heart. We also knew he could defend himself. {Don’t judge. Our environment warrants teaching these sorts of things.}

I watched the clock all day waiting for his bus to arrive at 4pm. When I heard his bus pull up on the corner, I stood on the porch and waited until I could read his face. He was beaming. I snapped pictures with every step he took until his feet hit the porch and he began to unload.

Mama, the girls kept rubbing my hair. It was awesome. And these kids had never seen freckles or red hair and they loved them. One boy said he wanted my freckles. Can you believe they have never seen freckles? Why not? Lots of people have freckles. School was awesome except for this one kid who was smaller than me and told me he wanted to knock me out. I just told him he couldn’t do it. And I had pizza sticks for lunch and wait for it…CHOCOLATE MILK! My teacher loves me and thinks I can read really good. I missed you but I didn’t cry. And school is so long. I was starving.

 I hugged his red head before fixing him a snack.

And then I stood over the kitchen sink and gave myself permission to let every question I have concerning our public schools bubble up to the surface of my heart and spill on over.

DSC_0614DSC_0611This morning, I recall some words I wrote a few months ago after someone had spoken quite directly to me about our decision to put our kids in public school. Their words rattled my cage because at the heart of them was this one thought: You are a fool and you may think you’ve made the right decision today, but your kids are going to pay dearly for it later in life. You will regret this decision.

But the reality is that we no longer question whether or not to public school our children. We’ve chosen public school because Jesus has asked us to trust Him with our children in this matter. And we do.

Jesus has used our family’s involvement in public school to draw us into closer relationship with the people we have been called to love. He has used public school to school us in compassion and draw us into a deeper understanding of the plight of our neighbors who have no choice about where they live or how their children are educated. Public school has opened our eyes to social injustice. Public school has opened doors into the homes of our neighbors that were closed two years ago. It has enlarged our territory and our hearts.

Public school has been the medium Jesus has used to align our lives more closely with those who find themselves on the margins of life.

But public school is no longer the singular question up in the air. It has only given way to twenty other questions.

Now the questions are:

*Why do we have schools that are 99% black and below poverty level?

*Why do we have other schools that are mostly white and way above poverty level?

*Why do we have entire schools understaffed and under resourced?

*Why do some schools have booster clubs and funds to pay for referees and other schools with zero funds to pay for toilet paper?

*Are neighborhood schools a good idea if you can fill entire classrooms with homeless children?

*Are neighborhood schools a good idea if the neighborhoods that fill those schools are riddled with crime, gang activity, drugs, utter poverty, and an overall sense of hopelessness?

*Is it even possible to staff these sorts of schools with enough qualified staff to make a tangible difference or are the teachers being set up to fail because the needs of the students are greater than the number of resources available?

*Where are the Christians in our public schools?

And the list goes on and on because the at the end of day, the question isn’t really about why we’ve chosen public school over private or home schooling. Choosing public school has only paved the way to ask all of the questions that get lost in the shuffle of schooling choices- the questions that no one really wants to admit exist because to ask them is to commit oneself to finding out the answers.

And I dare say that the constant debate about how believers should school their  kids is just a distraction of the enemy to keep us from the real issues that break the heart of Jesus.

Injustice breaks the heart of Jesus and I am here to tell you that our public schools bleed injustice.

And as Christ followers, we have a responsibility to do justice.

 

Over the next few days {or weeks}, I’ll be returning to this conversation about public school as I keep slugging through your questions in our series called Ask Lori. You guys have asked some tough questions and with each post I write, you guys send in more questions. If you’re new here, you can catch the other posts in the series here, here, here, and here.

So, Do I Have to Move In?

DSC_0545DSC_0546The kids have recently picked up double Dutch from the neighbors down the street.

I wish you could see them.

Because when I say picked it up, I mean they’ve tied 4 jump ropes together to make 2 super long ropes and spent countless hours getting hit in the head by the turning ropes. They’ve not yet managed to actually double Dutch, but it’s not been for lack of trying.

Last week, I sat on the porch with my Sonic Diet Coke and watched them for over an hour. Nine kids were lined up waiting their turn, two were turning ropes and one was getting tangled in the middle. This went on and on for most of the afternoon and the only thing that ever jumped were the kids in line waiting their turn to get tangled.

It was painfully fun to watch. But only for an hour.

DSC_0539DSC_0532On Sunday, I watched as Thad ripped out ruled paper from one composition notebook and made a stack of flyers inviting the neighbors to dinner. I’d mistakenly thrown out his printed flyers earlier in the week so he was forced to make do:

Five o’clock. Nacho Bar. Little Debbie’s. Harris House. Everyone is invited.

The flyers were atrocious and barely legible, but they got the job done. {and yes, we had the crappy cheese from the can on our nachos and it was delicious.}

At 3:30, Thad grabbed a few kids and made his rounds, knocking on doors and shaking hands and checking in. He wouldn’t probably tell you this, but I think the weekly flyer delivery is his favorite hour of the week. The neighbors get to share juicy gossip with “the preacher” and call it a prayer request and he gets to actually pray with people. Since we’re in the Bible Belt, believers and non-believers alike will indulge a man of the cloth if he gets a hankering to pray. {and no, Thad doesn’t call himself “the preacher” but in our neighborhood, anyone who talks about Jesus is either a pastor, apostle, preacher or deacon.}

But last week, as Thad was making his rounds, it wasn’t gossip that got his attention, it was a woman’s reference to the kids and their double Dutch.

I was just talking to a co-worker about how we used to double Dutch when we was young and how it had been 25 years since we done it and then I come home and what do I see? Yo’ kids and them other kids double Dutching in the street. Made me smile. Them’s was some good times. I’mma come out there and show them how to do it one of these days.

When Thad told me what she’s said I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. That double Dutch business was going to open a door to a new level of relationship. Who’d have thunk it?

DSC_0549DSC_0531I’m embarrassed to tell you that when we moved to Avent, I sincerely thought that if we showed up, they would come. They being everyone that was not us. Arrogant, huh? And self-righteous. And me-centric. And In-the-Church-Box-Thinking. And white-savior-ish.

We moved in and no one came except for the three kids around the corner because I was the only mama home during the day. And they came because I had food and children who would play for hours.

We spent one whole year trying to figure out how to simply meet our neighborsso we could invite them to our church. Everything, and I mean everything, we tried failed miserably. We passed out loaves of bread. We had cookouts at local parks. We knocked on doors and became the blessing that gave itself away – otherwise known as the biggest FAIL in all my years of being a follower of Jesus. 

We pulled out our toolbox of church tools and we used every one of them and nothing happened except that we got tired, angry, cynical, and more tired.

So we quit trying and started living.

Which is why the double Dutch conversation made me laugh.

We didn’t do anything to try and win our neighbor over.

We just sent our kids out to play.

And Jesus chose that play to build a bridge.

DSC_0536Because we intentionally neighbor in an under resourced community {some would call this ministry, we call it living.}, Thad and I are often asked this question:

I feel led to serve in your community. Do I have to live there?

Thad always answers, Of course not. Live where you want to live. while I simultaneously respond with Yes. Right next door.

And both of us are right.

You can serve our community, or a community like ours, but if you want to see a neighborhood transformed by the power of the Gospel, then yes, you need to move in.

You can offer your services and tutor a handful of children after school one day a week. You can collect uniforms and school supplies and pass them out. You can write a check to pay for more cans of nacho cheese {read my lips: keep sending checks.}. You can pick up trash and plant shrubbery, You can lay a concrete pad under the basketball goal so the kids don’t have to play in a dust bowl. You can purchase a vacant house and renovate it so the neighborhood has a place to gather that belongs to the whole community. You can donate toys and adopt families at Christmas. You can bring your lawnmower and go from yard to yard cutting the yards of people who have no lawnmowers.

You can do a lot of things to serve a community like ours if service is your goal.

But if loving like Jesus is your goal, then service takes a backseat to intentional relationship building and transformation of a community.

Whenever Jesus was met with a need, he met the need within the context of a relationship, the goal always being life transformation.

This is why we live in our neighborhood.

We have strategically placed ourselves within this community because we believe that more than our service done in the name of Jesus, our neighbors need the Jesus who can transform their life.

We choose endless hours of porch swinging over 2 hours of yard mowing.

We choose meals around the table over passing out loaves of bread.

We choose a bonfire and roasted marshmallows in the backyard every weekend in the fall over a huge Halloween bash once a year.

We choose a neighborhood Christmas party over anonymously wrapped gifts passed out door to door.

We choose cooking classes that include food over random sacks of Ramen noodles and mac n cheese.

We choose relationship over service because you can serve without loving but you cannot love without serving.

We choose double Dutch in the street over one week sports camps.

Jesus entered into relationship with those he came to serve.

And we are to do likewise.

So I guess the question that should be asked is not Do I have to move in?

The question is actually Am I offering my service or am I willing to offer a neighborhood Jesus with my life?

 

This is the fourth post in a series I am calling Ask Lori. You can catch the others here, here and here.

It’s Simply Tuesday

DSC_0278It’s no secret that I struggle with spinning more plates than is humanly possible. I have six kids and a hubby who need to eat and wear clean clothes, but I also have this bent towards performance.

Man, I do not like to write that. But it’s the truth. I am bent to perform.

Maybe it’s a first born thing or a Bible Belt upbringing or just my plain old flesh, but put me in a position where stuff needs to get done and I will rise to the occasion. Actually, I will more than rise to the occasion. I will take whatever is handed to me, raise it to a whole other level, and dance while getting it done.

Y’all, I kid you not. I will dance.

When we lived in Dallas, my husband worked a couple of jobs and went to seminary and my bent towards performance served me well. I had to get stuff done because I was the only one there to get it done. I juggled babies and worked full time and served in my local MOPS group and got us to small group and to church and managed to make three more babies in four years. Even as I write this, I’m getting teary-eyed. I was so tired. My kids were so small and I was so busy. I lived life like it was a sprint to the finish line with the winner being the person who carried the longest list of things accomplished all the way there.

But in the midst of all the doing, there was a constant undercurrent of unrest- that maybe I was missing the whole point of life.

Most of you know our story so I won’t go into all the nitty-gritty of our move to Rocky Mount, but in a nutshell I think Jesus simply rescued me from myself. He delivered me from a life spinning so full of good things that I had no time and no need for Him and the world He died to save. Jesus swooped in and scooped me up and planted me in Slow Town, North Carolina and then let me flounder around for a whole year, trying to figure out how to make my plates spin in my new place.

And when the plates hit the fan and crashed to the ground, Jesus swept them into a pile and picked me up.

Because Jesus loves me and He desires the very heart of me- not what my body can produce. Jesus desires my soul to be quiet and still enough to commune with Him in my everyday, extraordinary life. He desires for me to usher in His kingdom, right where I am, in the small moments of the life He is giving me. Because it’s in these small moments that my soul can rest assured that it is lovingly held in the hands of a great big God.

Our souls aren’t meant to carry the world.

Our souls are meant to carry the Jesus holding the world.

Simply TuesdayToday is release day for Emily P. Freeman‘s new book Simply Tuesday: Small Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World. 
I had the privilege of snagging an advance copy a few months ago and I could not out this book down. Emily speaks the language I long to sing and she speaks it in such a way that my soul tunes in to listen. Her voice hushes the hurry and invites the soul to wake up to the wonder of the ordinary. Because it’s in the ordinary where we find Jesus.

“When I think of where to find ‘the kingdom of God in our midst,’ Tuesday comes to mind. This is the day of the week housing the regular, the ordinary, the plain, and the small.” - Simply Tuesday

 I invite you to order a copy of Simply Tuesday here.

Or if you need some more convincing, you can subscribe to catch Emily’s video series here.

And because I battle with performance every day of my life, I’m giving away another copy of Simply Tuesday. To enter, tell me how your soul needs your life to slow down in the comments. Winner will be announced on Friday before noon.

 

On Abortion, Planned Parenthood, and My Neighborhood

DSC_0513A few weeks ago, one reader posed the question How does Planned Parenthood and the things happening with the abortion industry affect the people living in your neighborhood?

I have to be honest and tell you that as soon as I saw the question pop up on my screen my heart jumped into my throat. I immediately counted the other questions and dismissed hers. At least her question was last, I told myself. Maybe I can skip it and no one will notice. Man, I do not want to go there.

And while I’m being honest, my thoughts also went straight to these sorts of things as well: Based on the high volume of babies we’re popping out over here, I dare say anyone is using birth control or seeking out abortion clinics. Hardly anyone has access to a car to even get to a clinic. Heck, no one can even keep their WIC papers up to date because of the far drive over to the office. Abortion or health care? I don’t think so. And besides that, the girls here desire to have children. Babies equal status, respect and loose ties to a man. Babies mean that these girls have someone who will love them forever. But if statistics are correct, then some of them are aborting babies in-between the ones they are birthing. I wonder which ones of my neighbors are aborting babies?

At the end of the day, the question I felt more inclined to answer wasn’t Why do my neighbors have abortions? or Where do they have abortions? or Do my neighbors even use agencies like Planned Parenthood for women’s health issues?, it was more along the lines of  If I love my neighbors, shouldn’t I be in such close kinship with them that my own mama instincts kick into high gear and recognize another mother in need? Why don’t I know about their abortions?

Because at the heart of things, the real issue isn’t about the number of abortions happening on my watch. The real issue is whether or not I have loved my neighbors like Jesus loves me.

Without Love, abortion becomes the only option.

DSC_0514Before we go on, I think I should mention a few things.

Abortion is horrific whether the body parts are sold or placed into the garbage. Abortion is wrong, plain and simple. And I feel no need to spend time discussing the specifics of abortion or trying to incite a riot against the world for being the world.

I also feel no need to spend time trying to encourage followers of Jesus to take up arms and keel over backwards trying to shut down the likes of Planned Parenthood {although, wouldn’t that be nice?}. The killing of babies is a justice issue and as Christ followers we are commanded to do justice. But we are also commanded to love our neighbors like Jesus loves us and sometimes, I think we can get so wrapped up in fighting for justice in the grander schemes of life that we forget to actually see the people around us. Justice is not just trying to set right the big things of this world. It is also focusing in on the immediate faces in front of us and setting right the small things.

And here’s one more thing: Jesus needs no defense, nor do our beliefs, even as they pertain to the sanctity of life.

We’ll never convince the world that life happens at conception nor will we convince the world that in God’s economy, none of us have any rights, most especially women carrying unborn babies. Only Jesus can convince a stubborn heart that life is precious.

Don’t mishear me: I think our outrage over abortion is right and good.

But I also think that to be outraged over abortion means that as followers of Jesus, we must also be just as outraged over our own disobedience to bring the love of Jesus to a hurting world.

What would our world look like if believers in Jesus became followers of Jesus?

Because following Jesus means more than just writing a check, knocking on a door, passing out a tract or inviting someone to church.

It also means more than just getting angry when lost people do what lost people do.

Following Jesus is less about presenting the Gospel and defending it and more about loving the least of these, right where they are.

DSC_0516I’m a pro-life mama of 6 who lives on the wrong side of the tracks because Jesus invited her to follow Him there- where grace abounds among the weeds and the broken glass and the mamas who make babies to feel loved by someone.  Where the upside-down kingdom grows small and fierce because it’s planted in the everyday mundane movements towards intimacy with people who know not Love. Where statistics have names and faces and homes and souls. Where loud voices are ignored because the gaping holes in the heart trump all hearing.

My life is mashed up alongside people you’d probably call the poor, the broken, the downtrodden. I no longer call them by the name of their circumstance, but I used to, so I imagine you do too. Our neighborhood is predominately black with a few Hispanics and a few whites. The street I live on is pretty okay looking. Yards are neat, cars rest on four tires and it’s quiet at night. I love my neighborhood. And I’m trying to love my neighbors well.

We’ve lived here nearly four years and I could fill up a 50 gallon bucket with all the things we’ve learned about poverty and racism and how NOT to reach the lost with the hope of the Gospel. {Please no one ask me all the wrong ways to love people. I’d die of humiliation to tell you.}

But what we’ve learned, above all else, is that no one gives a rip about what we believe about Jesus unless we take the time to sit across the table from them and listen.

We can pick up trash in the neighborhood in our Fellowship Serves t-shirts and no one will care if the people wearing the shirts never pause to engage in a conversation about the weather or local happenings or the latest sale on Bass sausage at Piggly Wiggly.

We can knock on doors and pass out free loaves of bread taped with bible verses about Jesus being the bread of life and no one will ask one darn thing about Jesus because although the bread was nice, a meal across the table with a neighbor who will engage in a conversation feeds both the tummy and the soul. 

We can clothe every kid in three square miles in new school uniforms and yet never see those same children to ask them about how school is going because our charity is absent from our presence. Clothes don’t embody Jesus. People do.

We can live in a neighborhood, host weekly dinners around front yard picnic tables and tell a story about Jesus to fifty children and no one will leave our yard being transformed by the Gospel unless one person takes the time to sit across from one of those children and demonstrate the love of Christ by their presence.

We can build churches and para-church organizations and non-profits and put them on a hill as beacons of light and no one will climb that hill because the climb is just too daunting a task and the risk of rejection too high. We who are light must be the light at street level where the people who desperately need it can simply cross the street and bask in it. On our front porch.

We can spend our days hell bent on keeping hell at bay and lose the good fight right next door.

And I humbly dare to say that the world’s greatest issue is not in lost people killing babies.

Our greatest issue is found in the redeemed of Christ not following Christ into the dark and choosing to burn like all of heaven depends on how well we love our neighbors.

If we could ever become doers of the Word and not hearers only, we’d keep hell at bay and win every little good fight that makes its way into our neighborhoods.

Even when the good fight is against abortion.

This is the third post in a series I’m calling Ask Lori. You can read the first post here and the second post here.

Because You Asked: How Do I Love the Poor?

DSC_1344Last week, I wrote a post that struck a nerve with a few of you. I know it did because the emails came pouring in faster than I could respond.

And you guys all asked one question:  How do I love the poor without making them feel poor?

I’ve let this one question roll around in my head for days trying to come up with how to do this, thinking that the answer must be stuffed somewhere deep inside of me just waiting to be drawn out and have words wrapped around it.

But for all these days, I’ve had my life spun around and dumped upside down and it’s been in this cacophony of activity, the mixed up comings and goings of people, that I’ve felt Jesus whisper to me:

This is how you love the poor. You bend and swallow your wants and then you bend some more.

Every time my front door flung open or my phone dinged with one more request or someone stepped all over my best laid plans, scripture sprung up from the deepest parts of my well and over and over again, Jesus said to me:

This is how you love the poor. You show up and say yes and enter into.

Every time I stood over the sink with suds up to my elbows and my shoulders drooping under the weight of life that is too heavy, Jesus met me there.

This is how you love the poor. You carry their load with them.

So I’m going to give you an answer to your question and it’s not going to be the answer you were hoping to have plopped down in your inbox.

To love the poor without making them feel poor, you have to know the poor well enough to call them your neighbor.

And friends, my literal neighbors just so happen to be the poor.

DSC_0235

You need to know that Thad and I didn’t move into our neighborhood in order to rub shoulders with the poor and the marginalized or to be the 10% in our neighborhood.

We didn’t move here to  stock groceries for people in need or to clothe the barefoot or to provide free babysitting.

We didn’t move here to become a collection site or a distribution center or a filler of every gap imaginable.

We moved here with the lofty goal of planting a church among a people whom we believe to be a forgotten people group, the poor.

And somewhere in the midst of planting a church and simply making a life here on Avent, Jesus began to wake up the parts of us that we’d let sleep for far too long.

What we’ve learned is this: The only thing Jesus has called us to do is to love Him above all else and to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

And our neighbors are the poor.

So when you ask How do I love the poor without making them feel like the poor? the only response I have for you is to become their neighbors.

Literally, friends.

Make the poor your neighbors.

And how you go about doing that is between you and Jesus.