A Christmas Story, Revisited

imageIt’s time for some truth telling this morning and thanks to my rockstar of a brother, I can do just that.

My laptop died a slow, painful death about two weeks ago, just about the time our beloved Suburban’s windshield decided to crack for no apparent reason, right before Thad had to leave for California for four long days and right after my tooth couldn’t decide if a root canal could wait until after Christmas.

But my brother is the jack of I-Can-Fix-Everything-and-If-I-Can’t-I-Can-Locate-You-A-Replacement-For-Free and so thanks to his prowess, this mama is sitting in front of a refurbished desktop {that is unable to play Minecraft} and I LOVE it. Can I get an Amen?

But back to that truth telling, shall we?

Just kidding.

I’m sharing a story from a few years ago until I can process all the things simmering in my heart.

It’s a good one. And one that will hopefully put a smile on your face. I’m smiling now as I relive it.



DSC_1071At 5:37 tonight, I whipped up a sausage and egg casserole and flipped french toast into the griddle, 24 pieces, to be exact.

At 6:02, I told the Man that I would be leaving for the night, that Starbucks was calling my name, my real name, not mama or mom or Murray.

And at 6:37, I was standing at the Starbucks counter in our local Target, ordering a pour over decaf.  I found a table in the corner at the back of the galley and unpacked my bag, giddy at the thought of being the only person there.  I logged on and opened 16 tabs and then quietly logged into Spotify, scrolling through my playlist until I landed on Phil Wickham.  He’s been my Christmas white kitty, purring on my lap while I write, setting the tone for my words, the backdrop for my magic.

My words are magic, right? {grin}

When the mojo started flowing, meaning I had 16 words strung together in one sentence, something caught my eye and made me look up.  She was in green and gold and I smiled in her direction, trying not to make eye contact.  She slid carefully into a chair, two tables in front of me, her cane resting next to the table, her back to me and I studied the back of her head without realizing the detail I was recording in my mind.

Her hair was white, turned under, just below her ears.  And that was when I noticed the gold jingle bells hanging from her drooping lobes.  I caught myself smiling at those bells, losing my thoughts somewhere in 1989.

Her husband hobbled over with one little red cup and he wore suspenders and plaid.  His hair was dark, his face looking much younger than his wife’s and he was all smiles.  I watched him turn and hobble back to the counter to retrieve his own little red cup and then I watched him hobble all the way back to the table.

I tried to read my screen and form my thoughts, but those darn little bells kept swaying a few feet away and I was locked into those old people.  They spoke a few words to each other and when she dug around in her slick gold purse and came out with a flip phone, I went back to my keyboard.

I quietly chuckled thinking she must only use her phone to keep the time,

Until she made a call,

To Paul Rogers Contrell III, her grandson.

And then, at 7:25 things went from funny to YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME.

I turned up the volume to Phil and I buried my face in August’s journal and all I could hear was Mrs. Jingle Bells yelling into her flip phone.  She yakked about her knee and Billy’s legs and the Marines.  She yakked about biology and organic chemistry and college.  She hemmed and hawed about making a visit and all the reasons she wanted to make it to wherever she was going before the holidays.  Her husband Mr. Suspenders, belly laughed at every word she spoke which only spurred her on to more greatness and a part of me just curled up and died at that table in my pretend Starbucks.

At about 7:50, I literally laid my head on the cover of my journal and closed my eyes, rebuking the devil at table 3.  Only the devil would invade my writing space at my vacant Target Starbucks wearing jingle bells and using a flip phone.

I rubbed my forehead with my left hand and watched the computer battery blink to life with few minutes remaining and I unfurled my fists onto the table.

Jesus and I have spent 3 years going round and round this place and so I open my fists, giving up my words and giving Him space to write a better story.

And He does.

At 7:55. Mrs. Jingle Bells tucks away her phone and stands to slip her arms into her jacket and sees me in the corner of the galley, my chin on the table.  She erupts into laughter and walks over to me, apologizing all the way.

“I didn’t know you were back here!” she says. “I’m so sorry I was so loud.  We’re leaving for our Bible study.”

I smile at her, giving her space to keep talking.

She spills her heart all over my table and she speaks of her church and legalism and how grace swooped into to save her from the pit of hell and then she says something I will never forget.

“But you already know about grace.  I see Jesus written across your forehead.  You are one saved by grace,” she says.

And I, with my laptop open, my journal scrawled with the anguish of August, nod my head.

“Yes I am,” I tell her, shame creeping up the back of my neck.  “I am saved by grace, through Jesus alone.”

“I knew it just by looking at you,” she says as she walks away.  “You know grace.”

I don’t answer because I know she can’t hear me.  She’s not wearing her hearing aids.

And as she walks away, I lay my head back on the table and I wallow in my own shame for just a minute~

For shame has no place where Jesus lives.

And Jesus lives in me, and I unwrap His gift of grace.

Again and again and again.

A Different Guest List

GraceTableGuestListA few years ago, I got a wild hair to throw a Christmas party.

A rather big party, to be exact. My husband thought I had lost my mind. My kids thought I had lost my mind. But I was a woman on a mission with plans that could not be thwarted.

After a come to Jesus meeting with my precious family about the whole Christmas party thing, my people did the only thing they could do: They made popcorn and pulled up a seat to watch their mama actually lose her mind.

I ordered invitations. I mailed the invitations. I cleaned the house. I cooked the food.  I made ten pounds of fudge, one hundred molasses spiced cookies, one hundred chocolate shortbread cookies, caramel corn, marinated olives, fruit trays, veggie trays, and ten pounds of little smoked sausages swimming in bbq sauce. I even ordered a spiral sliced ham and made a couple hundred rolls. I mixed up apple cider and made a hot chocolate bar.

On the day of the party, I  lit the candles and made the tablescapes and at a few minutes before 7, the first guests arrived. For the next three hours, our home was filled with people. The food was eaten. Drinks were spilled. Children cried. Grownups laughed. One little boy ate all the cherry tomatoes while standing over the tray of vegetables.

After the last guests pulled out of the drive and the last candle had pooled into a smear of wax, my dear man turned to me and asked one question.

So, how do you think it went?

I shrugged before answering.

Something was missing. I just can’t put my finger on what that something is right now.

It took me three months of thinking about that Christmas party before the answer came to me.

I had invited all the wrong people.

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

Smoking and Drinking and How Hope is the Real Answer

DSC_0177DSC_0195Twelve years ago, the hubs packed us up and moved us to the mountains of NC. We moved in September, just as the leaves were beginning to change and  just as baby number 2 was beginning to round out my  body.

Before you begin to have blissful thoughts of falling leaves and long turns on the Blue Ridge Parkway, let me assure you that our move was more moving on down than moving on up.

We unloaded our U-Haul into a three bedroom apartment in section 8 housing that reeked of stale cigarettes and ramps. We had wall-to-wall tile and no central air. It was dark and dingy and  super cold at night. Because the apartments were built into the side of a mountain, our neighbors could look down into our apartment whenever they saw fit to take a peek.

Which was quite often, to tell you the truth.

Our complex was built on an old fairground where legend has it, there were witch burnings in the early 19th century and all kinds of conjuring up of spirits and divination. Our neighbors saw ghosts and heard spirits and wrestled with demons we knew nothing of. Some demons had  names like alcoholism, incest, mental illness, and severe depression. Other demons had no names other than angels of darkness.

At 24 years of age, I’d never given much thought to evil spirits or real demonic activity or the depravity of man overcome with the desires of the flesh consuming him from the outside in. But three months into life at 67 Fairground Avenue made me a believer in all things that go bump in the night and in the middle of the day.

We’d moved to Spruce Pine to plant churches and to pastor the small church within the apartment complex in which we were living. We adopted the principle of relocation before we even knew that it was an actual thing. We moved into the neighborhood, ate ramps with milk, and shuttled neighbors to and from the local Wal-Mart. We held church services and prayer services and waded into intentional neighboring. I baked cakes by the dozens and served coffee like it was my job.

I also spent a great deal of time just answering phone calls to the tune of 30 an hour. When a certain neighbor was manic she’d call and ask me one thing:

If I smoke a cigarette with my beer, am I gonna die?

She was concerned about the carbonation mixing poorly with the smoke. She’d call and call and call and I’d tell her the same thing over and over again:

No, Regina. You’re not gonna die. Today. Please stop calling.

I think back on the madness of those phone calls and I think that if I had to do it all over again, I’d have invited Regina over for dinner, followed by three packs of cigs and a case of beer and we’d have done a test run together.

I smile at the thought of it. I think it would have been fun. And I think Regina would have laughed.

DSC_0176For reasons unknown to me, I thought about our time in Spruce Pine this morning while my hands were in the sink. I thought about the way we rubbed shoulders with people our world deems evil or mentally ill or damaged beyond repair. I thought about the way our neighbors had been systematically corralled into housing that the locals called the badlands, where people were shut away and left to fend for themselves in a sea of other people fighting the same demons.

As if the poor can chase away poverty or alcoholics can chase away alcoholism or bi-polar individuals can chase away the depression or the mania or the demon possessed can be freed from the bondage of never-ending torment by other tormented neighbors.

I thought about how only the hope of Jesus can chase away demons and how Hope always has to move in.

I thought about that little apartment at the bottom of the hill where the phone never stopped ringing and shame rest its heavy arms across our threshold. I thought about the heaviness of poverty and the hopelessness of feeling forgotten. I thought about the sea of faces we called neighbors and the oppressive air breathed in round their tables. I thought about the way stewed ramps bite the back of your throat and how cool milk chases the burn.

I thought about how wide life lived on the margins felt.

And I thought about how that thin sliver of life outside the margins seemed to hardly ever touch the edge of where we lived.

DSC_0174imageTwo Sundays ago, on the first Sunday of her new life, I told our new friend I’d love to have her over for dinner. She was fresh out of jail, fresh into Jesus and brand new to our little church.

I’d love to have you over for dinner next week. What would you like to eat? I asked.

Without skipping a beat, she said lasagna.

And then she said I can’t believe I just told you that. But I love lasagna. I really love lasagna.

I grinned like a maniac and grabbed her arm and told her I was thrilled she told me what she really wanted to eat.

She grinned back and then grabbed my arm. Thank you.

On Wednesday, I’ll light candles and pull out the pretty dishes and I’ll serve Stouffer’s lasagna with a salad because we have company coming.

And our company has requested Stouffer’s lasagna.

We’ll gather round the table as needy people in need of Jesus and grace and never-ending forgiveness. We’ll blur that line between the more broken and less broken and we’ll be broken together, all the same.

We’ll empty one another of all that holds us captive and we’ll be truth tellers, returning one another to our truest selves.

We’ll bring hope to the table and we’ll laugh at the days to come.

And I imagine we’ll begin to re-imagine our world with more hope-full people living in the margins.


Hope thrives in the margins.

And y’all, we have to be willing to take it there.

5 Marks of a Good Neighbor

DSC_0167DSC_0159Neighboring is the simplest, hardest thing Jesus has ever commanded us to do.

It really is.

It’s dang hard because neighboring forces us to take a good look at the condition of our heart. Engaging our neighbors shines a big fat light into who we really are. It wakes up sleeping prejudices. It brings to the surface any ungodly thought we have towards a particular type of person.

Neighboring reminds us we’re human. And fallible. And super sinful.

But good neighboring is also the simplest, best thing ever because it’s the one thing that has the potential to give us the best life ever.

It’s simple because neighboring happens in the natural rhythm of life. It’s not the extra something you pencil in on the calendar.

It’s what you do as you do what has to be done.

DSC_0157And it’s the best thing ever because neighboring meets our base level, human need for meaningful connections with other people. It fills up our love tank and gives us purpose in our places. It brings the Great Commandment right on home to our welcome mat.

Good neighboring creates space for kingdom work to take place- both personally and in our neighborhoods.

We grow in intimacy with God. We pray more. We wrestle with hard, heart things. We become more like Christ as we become well acquainted with our neighbors.

And our neighborhoods are strengthened. Our neighbors take pride in our communities. Our schools flourish. Crime goes down. Neighbors care for neighbors. Joy rests on our shoulders and shows up round our tables. Hope springs up in every crack.

Good neighboring is God’s plan for how we reconcile our places to Him- for OUR good and His glory.

And after four years of neighboring, here’s what I know.

DSC_01661.) Good neighbors are present.

We open our blinds. We sit on our front porches. We move the hammock to the front yard. We leave open the side gate to the backyard. We make ourselves visible. Instead of driving to the lake to run, we run in our neighborhood. Instead of eating dinner in the backyard at the picnic table, we move the picnic table to the front yard and eat there. We put up a basketball goal in the cul-de-sac. We show up and we make ourselves known.

2.) Good neighbors see, hear, and know.

As we begin to be more present in our neighborhoods, we begin to notice things that we might not have noticed before. We notice who works, when. We notice homes that are in disrepair. We notice yards that need trimming. We notice the one kid from down the street who is wearing the same shirt four days in a row. We begin to listen to the things our neighbors aren’t saying and all the things they are. We pay attention when the friends of our children can’t take their eyes off the basket of oranges on the counter. The more time we spend being in present in our communities, the more we see and hear and began to know our neighbors. We begin to listen to their groaning and see their plight in life and we begin to have compassion for them.
When our neighbors have faces and names and stories and the image of God boldly woven into their DNA, we begin to see them like Jesus sees them.

3.) Good neighbors choose to be with.
Neighboring is a marathon sport. Lives don’t change overnight and neither do communities. The first time I realized this was when a girl from 2 streets over came by for a visit. I had nine children at home with me at the time and the house was in utter chaos. I think we might have had 2 cats then, too. Anyway, Valarie had numerous drug addictions and a pimp and one little girl who had been taken from her and placed in foster care. I never knew when she was going to drop by or how long she was going to stay when she came. She dropped by one afternoon in the middle of the chaos and stayed the entire afternoon. And y’all, she never stopped talking. For over three hours, I sat next to her at the table, and listened to her talk a circle around truth. I remember being keenly aware that I could not give her anything but the ministry of my presensce at the table. And that my presence was exactly what was needed.
Good neighboring means that we choose to be with our people, no matter the cost because Jesus came to be with us. It means that we enter into the mess next door because the Hope of Jesus lives within us and we desire to bring hope where hope has not yet shown up. And it means we do it over and over and over again. Jesus is in the business of taking long walks with us and we should be in the same business.

4.) Good neighbors seek the welfare of our people and our places.
If I had known that Jesus was going to light a fire within me to right the wrongs in the city of Rocky Mount, I would have never moved here. Five years ago, I could not have cared less about poverty or racism or social injustice or our failing public schools because those things had no faces attached to them. But as I began to put down roots and get to know my neighbors, I found myself longing to understand the things that affected them and ultimately our entire city.
Good neighboring means that we seek the welfare of our neighbors because we deem their lives as equally as important as ours.
For us, this meant enrolling our kids in two failing, public schools. Our children are the only white children in either school. They are the 1% that can afford uniforms, school supplies, and lunch. They are our door into those schools. They are our skin in the game. And because we have skin in the game, we spend our lives improving the conditions at the two schools our neighbors’ children also attend.
For you, seeking the welfare of your people and place could mean choosing to shop locally. Or maybe it’s volunteering at your neighborhood school. Maybe it’s learning spanish.
Seek the welfare of your place. It’s where you’ll also find your own good.


5.) Good neighbors act compassionately and love well.
Good neighbors act compassionately and love well.
If we choose to be present in our neighborhoods and see and hear and know our neighbors, by being present with them, over time, we will grow in compassion and love towards them.
Compassion and love are the byproducts of neighboring well.
If Jesus lives in us, and we believe He does, then we have to expect that He is growing us from the inside out. Growth in Christ means that we grow in compassion and love towards our neighbors.
And this growth means that we will grow as good neighbors.

I say this all the time, but the more I say it, the more I know it’s true:

Our best life happens when we live in close community with those closest to us. 

Pinky promise, y’all. 

I’m living the best, most abundant life ever. 



To Live {Small and Quiet} Is Christ


My neighbor brought me eight pounds of bananas just ripe enough to bake into banana bread. She works at the local Piggly Wiggly and cuts meat for eight hours a day, but today, as she was leaving work, she realized the overripe bananas had been marked down.

She bought all they had.

I was halfway dressed- a black tank, jeans, undergarments hanging out everywhere- when Isaac called to me from the other side of the bathroom door.

Somebody’s here!!! It’s a girl!!!!

I grumbled under my breath at the inconvenience of the whole thing. I’d spent the day cleaning blue marker from my favorite chair and cleaning out the fridge and moving furniture and catching up on laundry and quite frankly, I was tired from a weekend spent saying all the words. 

I’d spend the last 48 hours feeling every inch of my smallness from every inch of my being and the thought of someone dropping by was just rubbing my smallness raw. 

 I have nothing to give, I told Jesus, I’m tired and empty and too raw to give something else away. 

Isaac had left the front door open and my niece was standing in the doorway strangling the kitten. Between the doorjamb and the niece strangling the kitten, I could see plainly the woman standing on my porch. I recognized her immediately.

Hey! What’s up? I asked her. 

You got any use for a whole bunch of bananas? I bought them for nothing and I thought maybe you’d wanna bake some banana bread or something. Maybe for church or something like that? 

I stood in the doorway with my bra peeking out from beneath my tank and my hair looking a hot mess and I grinned like someone had just written me a check for a million dollars.

I’d LOVE some bananas!! I said. We love banana bread. Did you know you can freeze bananas in their skin and they’ll hold their consistency? You should freeze them.

She grinned back and gave me the once over. She raised her eyebrows but said nothing.

Her daughter handed me a bag. 

All these ‘nanas were like ten cent. Make us some ‘nana bread. 

I grinned again.

Sure thing. I’ll bake some tomorrow, I told her. I’ll bring a loaf by your house.

imageimageMost of you know that I spent the weekend in Dallas with the people I call home. I was invited to speak on brave hospitality for a one day women’s retreat. I had said yes to this one day retreat back in March when I had wanted to say no because I was in the full throes of a season of saying yes to hard things.

I knew that as soon as I said yes I was going to wring my hands and cry rivers of tears and rue the day of my yes.

I cried from the time I left Raleigh-Durham on Thursday until yesterday evening when my mama dropped off dinner.

My eyes are still swollen and my nose is still tinged pink. 

For 24 hours, I said {who knows what} to a group of precious women that I love as much as I love myself and for 24 hours I smiled and answered questions and let the tears roll. I offered up my small fishes and crusty loaves of bread and I entered into the full smallness of myself and I knew straight away that my life on Avent street was the best life ever. 

I knew that my soul was not made for airplane rides or long stints of too much talking or trying to convince other people to live small and quiet. I knew that maybe I wasn’t made for writing dozens of books or speaking at so many one day retreats that I had no time left over to answer my front door. 

By the time my plane lifted off the ground at Love Field headed home, even as the tears wrecked my body, I knew that to live wholeheartedly on Avent street was to live fully in Jesus. 

I knew that no matter the voices speaking into my small, quiet life, the only voice that mattered was the still, small, quiet voice of Jesus. I knew that my hard yes to Avent street was a hard, heartbreaking no to everything not Avent. I knew that good things often distract from the best things.

And I knew that the best things never look all that good from the outside looking in. 

To live is Jesus.

To die is gain.

But to live dying to all the things that capture the surface of the heart is to live in that sliver of life that is so abundant that it takes your very breath away. 

imageThe kids are out of school tomorrow. It’s Veteran’s Day.

It’s also Wednesday and I have a book proposal to muddle through. 

But before the sun sets too high in the sky, I’ll bake three loaves of banana bread.

And I’ll walk it seven doors down, over broken glass and patchy sidewalk and I’ll probably grin at the smallness of it all. 

For to me, to live {small and quiet} is Christ.

And to die {small and quiet} is gain.

Let Them Eat Cake!

DSC_0149DSC_0146I only have a handful of recipes that I return to over and over again.

This is one of them.

One year, I made this cake six times. I made it for MOPS. I made it for small group. I taste-tested it on a family I invited over for dinner. I gave two away: one to a new mom and one to my father-in-law. And I made one just for us.

Because life is lending itself to too many good things right now, I found myself rummaging around in the cabinets to bake.

You can bet your bottom dollar that if I’m baking or organizing, my life is about to fall off the edge of crazy.

I’m there, people. I have so much to do and think about and prepare for, I am comfort-fooding.

Which is actually a good thing for you because I’m sharing the recipe for my all-time favorite cake.

I  figure if I’m about to pack on the pounds, I should share the love.

Also, people like you better if  you’re fluffy. It’s like a ministry to them. Sorta like not having a clean house.

DSC_0150 Chocolate Pumpkin Cake {with spiced cream cheese icing!}

Cake recipe:

1 1/2 cups of flour

2/3 cups of cocoa

2 tsp of baking powder

1 tsp of baking soda

1/2 tsp of salt

1/2 buttermilk

1 cup of canned pumpkin

2 tsp of vanilla extract

1 cup of brown sugar- light or dark

1 cup of granulated  sugar

1 1/2 sticks of butter

3 large eggs, plus one yolk

{tip: If you don’t have buttermilk, no worries. Just put one tablespoon of lemon juice in a 1 cup measure and then fill with enough milk to equal one cup. Stir, then let rest for 5 minutes. For this recipe, use half a cup.}

Heat oven to 375. Line the bottoms of 2- 8 inch cake pans with parchment paper and lightly butter.

Sift the cocoa, the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. {don’t skip the sifting.}

Stir the buttermilk, pumpkin, and the vanilla together in a bowl and set aside.

Beat the sugars and the butter using a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one yolk at a time on low. While on low, alternate mixing in the flour and pumpkin mixtures until fully incorporated.

Pour the batter into pans and bake for about 35 minutes or until done in the center. Test with a toothpick. Allow to cool completely before icing.

DSC_0151Icing recipe

6 ounces of softened cream cheese

1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar

2 1/4 tsp of cocoa

1/4 tsp of cinnamon

3/4 tsp of vanilla

1 1/2 cups of heavy cream

3/4 cups of powdered sugar


Beat the cream cheese on medium high until fluffy. Add 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, 2 1/4 tsp of cocoa, 1/4 tsp of cinnamon and 3/4 tsp of vanilla and beat on low until well combined.

In a separate bowl, beat 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream with 3/4 cups of powdered sugar until you get soft peaks.

Gently fold the  whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture until well mixed.

Use 1 cup of icing in-between the layers and then use the remaining on the rest of the cake.

Chill for 30 minutes.


Invite your neighbors over for dessert and coffee and share a your now most favorite cake of all time.

Or hoard the whole thing and eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

You’re welcome.

If Being Noble is Right, Then I Wanna Be Wrong

DSC_0119DSC_0081Last Monday, after a hard day of writing and catching up on laundry, one of our favorite school teachers from last year stopped by for an unexpected visit. She’d been to the mountains over the weekend and wanted to share a half bushel of Pink Ladies with us. The whole house was a wreck and the 4pm hour is not our finest hour, if  you know what I mean. But I let her in and hugged her neck and then offered her the only chair in the family room not covered in clean laundry or dirty underwear.

I truly don’t think she even noticed the filth but I need you to know that a part of me died on the inside.

We spent a few minutes catching up before I asked her about her school year. She looked tired, but she’s battling the kind of cancer you treat and then just live with, so I thought maybe the fatigue around her eyes was due to her latest treatment.

This is the hardest year of my whole career. I think it may be my last. Oh, I don’t know. I’ve never seen kids this undisciplined in my whole life. And they’re so far behind I don’t know if I can catch them up. Even with the tutoring and the home visits. I have no leverage. When the kids move around every few months and food is sparse and they come to school wearing the same one shirt and one pair of pants, every day and they never get washed, I can’t expect them to want to focus in and learn how to write a sensible paragraph. They’re hungry and they no idea where they’re going to sleep at night. The conditions at our school get worse and worse every year.

She paused a minute to gather her thoughts before getting to the crux of her frustration.

I don’t know what to do but I know we can’t just quit these kids. We can’t lump them all together in a few schools and keep biding time until they’re old enough to drop out. These children are part of the human race and somebody has to take responsibility for them. They’re babies for Pete’s sake!

She stayed an hour more and I’ve thought for one whole week what to think about what she said.

I know she’s right. And I know because we have skin in the game. We have our children in her school and we feed those same kids on Sunday nights and mentor those same boys and drop off firewood at their homes. We spend our lives on behalf of those kids.

But it’s not enough.

Because the 99% of children in those 11 schools have collective needs that far outweigh what a small handful of people can supply. Even if we can feed them, clothe them, stock them full of school supplies, and tutor them after school for an hour, it’s not enough.

Meeting their basic needs is not enough, but it is a start.

These kids are members of the human race and we can’t just look the other way and do nothing.

DSC_0117DSC_0087Having lived on Avent street for four years now, the bible stories I have tucked away in my heart are beginning  to take on new meaning. The stories haven’t changed but the lens in which I read them is changing. Lately, I’ve been re-reading the story of the good Samaritan.

My first thoughts on the story have always been on that poor guy on the side of the road:

Poor guy. Just minding his own business and Wham! He’s beaten, robbed and left for dead.

My next thoughts, after the ones on the poor guy, have always been on those two religious leaders who were too busy or uncaring to even notice the guy on the side of the road:

Got to get to church. Got to get to church. Got to get to church. What jerks!

The parable is one I’m so familiar with I’ve never given a lot of thought to the actual good Samaritan except that he showed mercy to the man on the side of the road and that it was his mercy that made him a good neighbor.

But lately, as I’ve been fleshing out what makes a good neighbor different than simply being a neighbor, I’ve come to the realization that good neighbors are moved to the kind of compassion that goes against everything society and religion tells them is acceptable.

Good neighbors move to action because there is a need.

The good Samaritan was a good neighbor because he saw the man, he heard his groaning, and immediately did what he could do to alleviate the suffering.

Without asking the man what he’d done to put himself in that awful predicament.

Without checking to make sure the man was his social responsibility.

Without checking his vitals and referring him to an organization receiving tax dollars to fund his care.

Without waiting to vote someone into office who can handle the robber issues and solve the whole mess.

Without wasting time talking with his friends about the best way to go about providing the help.

Without considering the cost to himself or his family.

He simply  moved into action because the man was in need- because he was a fellow human being.

DSC_0109DSC_0067Over the weekend, I was told that my calling {whatever that means} was noble.

Dangerous, but noble.

Misinformed, but noble.

Hopeless, but noble.

Not my responsibility, but noble.

Above my pay grade, but noble.

That maybe I should rethink the whole neighboring plan and schooling plan and  fixing our city plan- as if I have a plan.

And all I could think was that if being a good neighbor means that I’m living a dangerously misinformed, hopeless, socially irresponsible life, then that’s how I want to live.

And I wanna live it with gusto with a whole lot of other crazy people.

Because the alternative is to do exactly what those noble, self-righteous religious leaders did.

Which was a whole lot of nothing.

Neighboring Jesus’ Way

DSC_0867As I sit to write this post, four kids from the neighborhood shoot hoops in the driveway, two small girls have a picnic on the sidewalk, and four kids roast marshmallows in the backyard. Three girls have just left styrofoam cups of water on my desk, the picnic table in the front yard while they hurry off to the corner market for more Takis. They lick the hot seasoning from the chips before munching down the acutal chip and when there’s a crowd, the Takis go fast.

I’m working towards a deadline, but the kids are oblivious to my fingers furiously pecking keys.

Can I get some water?  

You got any more marshmallows?

The basketball needs some more air. You think you can ask Mr. Thad to pump it up for us?  

Can we pick up all the sticks in the yard and burn them on the fire? {YES!}

My inner nature is screaming for three hours of quiet with no little people writing their own version ofIf You Give A Mouse A Cookie into my very life. This kind of loud, in your face neighboring presses into my self-centered heart and messes with my self-righteousness. 

I like neighboring when neighboring is neatly scheduled into my life. I like the kind of neighboring that costs me nothing more than a wave and a smile. I like neighboring when it happens with people just like me, on days that I have penciled in on my calendar with distinct beginning and ending times. Basically, I like neighboring on my terms- when I’ve thought out the plan and executed it in ways that showcase my strengths, like hosting a dinner party.

But that kind of neighboring is not what Jesus had in mind when He commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

When Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors, He was asking us to re-imagine our families ties. He was asking us to widen our circle to include those closest to us, literally.

I’m sharing the rest of the story over at Joy’s place. Follow me there?

{Joy is a gift, people. We share the same heart.}


DSC_0826I saw him when he crossed the sidewalk.

I was dipping soup into bowls and trying to convince the kids to add a dollop of sour cream when I noticed his unfamiliar face. He had on a baseball cap and a sleeveless tee and he was carrying a small box. I watched him as he made a beeline towards Thad and then I watched the two of them walk towards the Suburban. The two of them opened the back end of the truck and then walked back to the front of the truck. They did this a few times before closing up the truck and having a good laugh.

I watched them shake hands and then I watched the man walk two doors down and back into the prettiest little yellow house on our street.

I didn’t even know he lived there with the woman and the two boys.

DSC_0805Last Sunday night, as the temps dropped into the low 70s and the sun dropped down behind our neighbor’s barn covered in dead ivy, the kids began to fill the yard like they do every other week. They came in small packs of threes and fours. Except for the one boy who comes early and stays way late so he can take home plates of food to his mama’s aunt’s uncle in Atlanta- he came alone and super early.

Right at 5pm, our church came with arms laden with pans of brownies and bags of ice. The college kids who bring the whole party showed up at 5:30 and by 5:45, nearly the whole pot of soup and ham had been devoured. By 6pm, the picnic tables had been cleared out and the horse swing was in full on swing.

It’s not unusual for a pile of kids to be playing basketball while another pile of kids are jumping rope while still another pile run like hooligans around the house. It’s not unusual for the grownups to sit back and let the college kids take things to a whole other level of fun while we polish off the leftovers. It’s also not unusual to see a few new faces wander into the yard to find out what’s going on.

But it is unusual to have a new face come bearing a gift.

DSC_0803Long after the kids had gone home and the last bit of soup had been slurped from the last bowl, I asked Thad about the man with the box from the prettiest little yellow house two doors down.

He laughed and sorta shrugged his shoulders.

Well, I met him a few weeks ago when I was making my rounds. He mentioned being new to the area and then said he was needing some work. We talked about his skill set and then I told that he should apply to work for Freedom. All I did was put in a word for him and he got the job. He loves his job and he thanked me for the referral.

Oh, and he noticed we had a taillight out so he bought one and installed it for us.

I washed the dishes while Thad scooped ice into his glass and told me the rest of story.

And just like a man, he acted like the whole story was no big deal. Like the neighbor fixing the taillight for us was just an everyday thing around here.

But I stood over that sink and knew that we had turned a corner here.

One broken taillight had moved us from the neighbors who serve to the neighbors who were served.

And for the first time in all the days we’ve spent living here, I got a glimpse of what kingdom mutuality looks like. I got to see what this being with others looks like- What it looks like to be one with my neighbors, where the mutual exchange of resources passes back and forth depending upon immediate needs.

We had turned a corner and I knew there was no going back.

Jesus was building His kingdom here and He was writing us {all of us} into the story.

DSC_0801I think in ten years, when half my kids are grown and gone and my neighbors have changed a half dozen more times, I’ll look back and recall these days at the picnic tables in the front yard as the days that I could taste the goodness of Jesus like honey on my lips.

I can see it now. When I’m 48, each time I eat taco soup or smear honey mustard on a roll or cut a pan of brownies into eighteen squares instead of the standard fifteen, I’ll remember the way Jesus saved me from myself every time I served a plate of food to my neighbors and then joined them at the table.

Maybe when I’m older and these years are far enough away that I can’t tease them apart in my mind, I’ll look back on this time here on Avent street and know that living slow enough to take long walks with people is the best way to live.

I’ll remember the day the taillight got changed and how I was dipping taco soup into styrofoam bowls and that memory will be somewhere in the stack of memorial stones that say Jesus is faithful.

I’ll turn over in my mind that time my hands were in the sudsy water and my heart felt the weight of kinship with my neighbors for the very first time.

And I’ll remember that it was there, over the sink, that I knew why Jesus had to dwell with us to love us best.

The State of My Heart. Today, Anyway.

DSC_0546It’s been a whole week of front yard office writing and dark closet crying except for the three times I’ve had a full on break down in front of Thad.

Yesterday he came home for a quick lunch and I plopped down at my end of the table with my mug of soup and the tears rolled like waves.

I can’t help it. From where I sit, all I see is the taut, thin line between me and my neighbors that I thought was erased- but it’s still there.

And I can’t help but pray the line holds.

I’ve written nearly 10,000 words in four days and the more I write, the more depravity rears its ugly head. I can’t beat it back with keystrokes or good neighboring or faking it til I think I’ve made it. With every word that hits the screen or gets scrawled out in marker, I am only more aware of the deep sorrow of the world.

I have spent hours and hours at my picnic table, books stacked high as my head and tried not to watch the couple from across the street have knock down screaming fights in their mama’s front yard. I’ve not let my eyes meet theirs for fear that I’ll be invited into the mess. I’ve taken countless walks around my block, trying to find a scrap of something not offensive to all my senses. And I’ve all but run up empty.

My boys from across the street have grown 2 feet in six months and their stature now towers over my own two boys. The gap is widening between the four of them. They share the same grade in school, but there are more than 2 years of life between them now. And when you’re 13, two years is a whole lot of life. They’ve stopped looking me square in the face and the mama in me is reading all the words not on the wall just yet.

Neighbors are hungry and their roofs leak with every drop of rain and smell of kerosene is already beginning to follow them into the room. Dollars run out before the month does and the gaps between paydays are enough to put a family down and where I live, the work is never ending and the laborers are few.

Here, the chasm between the believers in Jesus and the followers of Jesus is ever widening. You can see it in how many gather together and how few actually scatter to be where Jesus is, outside the church walls.

And today, I can find no blame. I have spent a week in hiding.

How does Jesus write the story of redemption in a place where weeping continues long after the morning has come? 

My head knows how, of course, but my heart keeps forgetting the way.

Because my heart just doesn’t want to stretch to hold more of the stuff only heaven can heal.

DSC_0653This week I have longed for the ignorance that used to keep me feeling good about myself. I have pined for that 33 year old me with a house full of babies and nothing but the big, blue skies stretched out across the big open wide. I have let my mind lead my heart all the way into wishing I could back to when life seemed to make sense, where every next step was decided by the powers that be, where my hard work led to open doors and more opportunities to climb further up the ladder to a comfortable, safe life.

I have wanted to be a Jesus believer and a contented gatherer.

This week I have wanted obscurity and Starbucks and a few more dollars at the end of the month. I have wanted a privacy fence eight feet tall and a paved driveway with no holes and a rug in my family room that doesn’t shed seagrass all over my house. I have wished for new shoes and a reason to wear something other than holey jeans and one of my three black shirts. I have dreamed of one job for Thad- one with regular hours and a ministry line item in the budget to pay for ministry expenses.

I have longed for clear cut lines between living and loving and serving.

Every inch of my humanity has longed for those lines.

Lines lie and tell me that I’m okay.

And this week, I’ve just wanted to think I’m okay.

DSC_0478The last few weeks have caused me to hold up a mirror and take many good, hard looks at myself.

I’m in a season of hard writing and all the junk that has been unearthed in this process has revealed some things about myself that I don’t like to admit.

Like all the stuff I just dumped on you.

I can say I like the blurred lines between myself and my neighbors and my church, but in the fullness of my humanity, I have to tell you that I wrestle to lay down the lines that threaten to splice up and divide and erect walls of so-called rights and unearned privilege in my heart.

Lines communicate But by grace, I would be like you. and that is a lie.

I am like my neighbors, in every hidden way possible.

It is but grace that Jesus has died to save any of us.

And Jesus died not to draw lines in the sand or build walls between Himself and us.

He died to draw a circle ever-widening to hold all that might come begging for grace.

Like me.