Bear Witness

DSC_0897The things I want to tell you seem insignificant and so very small in the grand scheme of all that’s going on in the world, but because I’ve all been planted in small town America for a purpose that I cannot fathom, I will write down the revelation happening here. {psst… we’ve ALL been planted somewhere for purposes we cannot fathom.}

I will write it down because words defy the enemy who would love to paralyze us with news of the calamity he is orchestrating half-way around the globe in order to distract us from our purposes right where we are. I will write it down because the Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood that we might know that words turn the world upside down.

And I will write because in writing, I bear witness to the nearness of Jesus in a broken world full of sorrows.

imageLast Monday, as my small world reeled with the Sunday night loss of our house guest, words I’d written a month prior hit the internet while my heart warred against the shame I felt at the idea that we had somehow failed her. I relived the previous night’s front porch altercation and the hard words that had spewed from her mouth. I replayed the manner in which she had set her mind to run and then I replayed the audacity in which she picked up her chains and ran.  And I beat the air with two fists when I got the call that she’d been picked up and issued another orange jump suit only to cry over the kitchen sink at the thought of her sitting completely surrounded with people and yet utterly alone in a jail cell.

On the Tuesday following the loss, when Thad came home for a quick lunch, we sat across the table from one another and gave into the weight that had settled onto our shoulders. We couldn’t name the weight right off, having never felt something quite so heavy, but as our words failed to come, the Word returned to us:

Jesus, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Surely our griefs He bore, and our sorrows He carried.

And the nearness of Jesus was so thick we could hardly breathe.

DSC_0869Yesterday, in the hours after church and before small group, Thad slipped into his three-buck Chucks and 1997 Abercrombie hat and made his way around the neighborhood knocking on doors and inviting the kids to our neighborhood basketball camp next week. His goal was to hit all the usual homes and talk to all the usual neighbors and do a quick catch up before giving his sales pitch. But as he rounded the first corner, headed to the house with the seven kids who have been fixtures in our lives for four years, he saw the front door padlocked shut and papers posted. Their home had been vacated, with no trace of the family anywhere. And as Thad made his rounds, this same scene played itself out three more times, at three more houses bringing the sum total of families displaced or evicted in a month’s time to four.

That’s twelve kids and six adults. Gone.

I saw him coming up the street with his shoulders slumped forward, his head downcast and I knew the story before he even opened his mouth. I’d already noticed the absence of children roaming the neighborhood and piling up on the picnic tables and his countenance said everything I knew was whirling around in his head: I should have visited more often. I should have picked up on the crisis sooner. I should have known eviction was on the horizon and I should have moved to help. I should have done more.

Standing on the front steps, as shame cast its long shadow across our porch, I sidestepped it to feel the weight of grief and loss and sorrow in the only patch of light found there and the Word returned again:

Jesus, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Surely our griefs He bore, and our sorrows He carried.

And again, the nearness of Jesus filled the space between grief and sorrow.

imageI could write the story of the world until my fingers bled.

I could tell you about the domestic dispute across the street because baby number three is on the way and money is tight. I could tell you about the kids’ around the corner witnessing a shooting at their dad’s house and how their dad held the gun and pulled the trigger. I could tell you about the house four doors down pushing heroin and how the needles get caught in the sidewalk cracks and picked up by good neighbors trying to keep things clean. I could tell you about the friends who’ve recently confessed to drug addiction and are now miles away at treatment centers. I could tell you about my deaf neighbor whose blood pressure skyrocketed too fast to prevent a stroke and how she spends her days wheelchair bound, half her body paralyzed. I could tell you about the urban missionaries’ public schooled teenaged daughters who are heartbreakingly lost somewhere between the marginalized and the privileged, the biblical scholars and the plain talk Gospel livers and how their parents struggle with loss and gain for the sake of the Gospel.

Sorrow and grief flow mingled together, without ceasing. Where sorrow peaks, grief settles deep down in the bones. Where grief subsides, sorrow rises. Amid the greatest joys, there is never a moment when sorrow and grief fail to swell in the soul and cascade over the body like waves of longing for something more than this busted up world.

And right here, in the crushing waves of life’s grief and sorrow, is the place where Jesus stands.

This is where He holds all the broken things until they are put back together.

This is where He weeps for the world He came to save.

And this is where He is beckoning us to join Him.

To know Jesus is to become a person of sorrows, well acquainted with grief.

 

Desire and Longing and Home

imageThe story I want to tell you is not mine to write and yet, to write my story is to write hers. We’re knit together, she and I, not by blood or by marriage but by Jesus who makes families from nothing but willing hearts.

My family is stretching and all the stretching is painful.

Placing one twin bed with one beloved quilt at the end of a noisy hall with the two windows and the small sitting area was a small, simple act of faith a year ago. An outward expression of the inward work happening in the heart of our family.

Last month, that act of faith became an act of obedience.

The twin bed got new sheets and new pillows and a new throw. New towels filled the bathroom and a fan filled the corner where the sun pools on the floor. Totes full of belongings from a past life filled the one good closet and hours of stories from that past life filled every waking minute. The fridge brimmed with new favorite foods and small bottles of Mountain Dew.

A house once buzzing with normal, messy life morphed into a house swarming with not-so-normal, messier life.

Mornings became a juggling act of people coming and going. Mid-days became a blur of pick-ups and drop-offs and surprise pop-in visits by public servants. Meal preparation became something other than the usual humdrum-let’s-make-do sort of meal preparation and blossomed into something unmanageable and quite Martha Stewart-ish.  Quiet evenings became prime time for late night counseling and truth telling, swallowing up any sliver of solitude that ever existed.

guest room_GT

And if ever a body did sigh, mine did.

If a soul ever longed for what used to be or a heart ever broke for propelling itself into an abyss of unknowns, mine did.

I woke every morning, grappling with the day ahead of me while looking for some semblance of normalcy. I checked off my to-do list and hugged my kids with more intentionality. I cleaned with a ferocity, trying to find a new rhythm in an old task. Books once held in my lap became books listened to over sinks full of dishes and piles of laundry. Loud conversations with my kids turned into quiet whispers in stolen moments of togetherness. Words of affirmation and belonging and thankfulness rolled off my tongue as the mother in me felt the overwhelming need to speak love over my children, reminding them that they still had all of me. I slipped into the fold of my husband’s arms whenever I could do so without being seen. Time spent lingering on the porch turned into smoke break counseling sessions. Old thoughts about poverty and homelessness and custody and jail time dissipated as real life played itself out under my roof.

And every minute of every day, every thing I looked at, every task I completed, and every person that gathered around my table only served to reflect back to me a deeper longing for home.

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

On Vulnerability and Loss

DSC_0946I write to the rhythm of a dribbling basketball and one lawnmower and the chattering of squirrels that have the audacity to taunt me from the edge of my picnic table. This writing thing is forced today. It’s laborious. And I feel timed by the kids who are waiting to do the next thing and the house guest who has interviews and meetings and a need to talk a circle around things I cannot wrap my head around.  

Life is running off the rails and I’m flat driving the engine to everywhere everybody thinks we need to go next, literally. My Petri dish on wheels is the vehicle of choice and the only pockets of time not spent on the road taking someone somewhere, are spent over the sink or at the cutting board. The only upside to the time over the sink and at the cutting board is that I have listened to three audio books in the last two weeks. The downside is my brain is exploding and I have no white space to poke around in my heart and translate everything in my brain.

DSC_0949In two short weeks, I’ve listened to a letter written to a black son by his black father about being black in America. Mind blown, heart broken.

I’ve been called up off the floor, audio-book-style, and pushed into even more vulnerability and more discomfort and more self-awareness so that I can keep on, keeping on in my every day, fall on my face life. Because evidently, having an ongoing, four year vulnerability hangover isn’t enough.

And I’ve been given the words to call my writer’s block what it is: Fear. Which I already knew, but there’s something quite hiney kicking about hearing an author tell you that aloud while you’re chopping cucumbers so as to avoid typing words.

Every time I get to chopping or scrubbing or mixing something or other, I turn around to see my house guest leaning against the pantry, in full on awe of the madness happening in front of her. And nearly every one of her incidences of leaning against the pantry has coincided with a booming voice in the background saying something like Get back in the arena! Kill his body. I was filled with shame. Take his body. Bada$$es are those who get back up off the floor and embrace their vulnerability wholeheartedly.

You get the picture.

DSC_0931I can only imagine what our house guest thinks about me, if she even thinks about me. She’s a cutie with a great figure and I’m a frumpy old lady who listens to weird audio books and has dishpan hands. Seriously. I know I’m forever telling you how living among the marginalized is like holding up a mirror in front of my face, but never in a million years would I have imagined what it would feel like to have that mirror living in my house. I can’t escape the vulnerability I feel and for weeks, I have been unable to express it. I feel naked in my own house and naked when I go to the Wal-Mart. And I don’t do naked, people.

Vulnerability has been a theme of my life over the last ten years, but things have been ramped up a notch in the last few years. Church planting from your kitchen table will do that to you. You prepare the house, set the table and provide a feast. You host a meeting and serve the pound cake that sank in the middle.  You provide pastoral counseling over coffee served in your favorite chipped mugs. You light the candles and pave the way to authenticity by going first. You invite others to make themselves at home in your house in hopes that the hospitality shared will be the medium by which the Holy Spirit does a work. You live with great anticipation of what God is up to, knowing that every person who crosses your threshold is an invitation to something bigger than your small existence.

DSC_0959The last four years have taught me that half of all the people that share my table for any length of time will eventually walk out of our church and out of my life. Some will leave because we {the church} care too much. Others will leave because we {the church] appear to not care enough. A great portion will leave because we {my family} have failed to meet an expectation for relationship. And a small portion will leave simply because leaving is what they do.

Loss is loss, of course, but loss is seemingly magnified when the sum of the relationship is tied to the very rhythm of life happening in your home.

And lately, all the losses seem more palpable. All the flinging doors and meals stretched out over three tables has me thinking about all the faces we’ve seen around here. Maybe it’s because we’re anticipating another loss. Maybe it’s because the radical hospitality we’re demonstrating is the kind that casts a shadow on everything fighting for the light. Or maybe it’s because the streak of vulnerability I’m currently living through is throwing flares my way, reminding me that nothing stays the same and that at any moment, the other person can walk away and there’s not a darn thing I can do about it.

The battle to keep wholeheartedly opening the front door and inviting others in to our most vulnerable place on this earth is nothing short of front-line combat.

But it’s a battle that’s already been won and the keys to the kingdom being built around my table and under my roof have already been handed to me.

And today, that’s enough.

Glory hallelujah.

Our New Normal

imageI’ve lost the last eighteen days of my life along with the words necessary to string together a literary picture for you that can adequately give you a peek into our new normal.

But let me just tell you that our new normal is anything but normal.

While the rest of America is floating it up at the pool or hot dogging it out in the backyard, we’re over here surviving the last four days of school and trying to figure out how to ease into fun when the people who make up our days are trying to simply make it to the end of the month with two nickels left over. I will never get used to living in this tension. Holidays and summer breaks and vacation days from school promise a healthy dose of the kind of reality I wish I knew nothing of.

imageMost of you know we had a woman from our church move in last month. I have written about it here and shared bits over here. She’s been in our home for eighteen days and for the last eighteen days, we’ve navigated job interviews and court dates and child visitation. We’ve also navigated the awkwardness that comes from having a single, 34 year old female living here. I feel like a sister wife who shares everything but her husband. <—- And I ain’t about to ever do that. Our house has been one big revolving door of people coming and going and my sole purpose in life has been reduced to making space for the Holy Spirit to show up and do His thing while providing the food and drink that nourishes nine lives. I’ve loved these eighteen days, but I have lost myself in them. And the part of me I miss most of all is the writer part.

imageThe kids are morphing into big people and these big people are beginning to make big decisions on their own. Friendships are changing, hobbies are becoming passions and our kids are becoming quite confident in their own skin. They’re saying no to things they once said yes to. They’re choosing not to associate with kids who cuss like sailors and dress in nothing and sleep around <—Which is a whole lot of  kids. They’re making the kind of decisions every parent wants their kids to make. They’re keeping their noses clean and sticking to their values. Except that we live among the marginalized and WITH the marginalized and we’re planting a church right here on the edge of society where everything is sketchy. Where neighboring once was popsicle easy and friendships with neighbors encouraged, things are now hard as heck. We are now standing in the thick of being parents first and church planters second, knowing that our role in the neighborhood does not trump being parents to our kids. Intentional neighboring has taken on a whole different flavor and we can’t figure out what the flavor is.

imageThad’s been whittling down his honey-do list in preparation for a mission’s team coming the first week of July. The neighborhood basketball court is complete except for the addition of one goal, netting and a couple of benches that the team will build when they get here. Everything we get done around here takes a village and we are so grateful for every donation given and every hand lent.

Fellowship is trucking right along and Jesus is adding families at a steady pace. When needs emerge, our body rallies to meet the needs. When souls are broken, our body employs the slow way of Jesus and moves to be with. When captives are not free, our body joins them in captivity until freedom rings. We are not hip or sexy or cool. We are the free in Christ who live our lives to set others free.

imageI don’t know what our summer holds or how often I’ll find the quiet time necessary to write here. Life is full, but not busy. It’s upside-down, but not chaotic. It’s deeply personal, but not mine.

And y’all, I may be entering a season of living that lends itself to a story that is not mine to tell.

Only Jesus knows.

Until then, you may just find me happy as a clam and cooped up in the kitchen making yet another meal for my ever growing table of people.

Which is sorta awesome.

Things I Learned in May

DSC_0938Hello people.
It’s the last day of May and I thought I’d share a little list of all the things I’ve learned this month. Mainly because I’ve spent the last month micro-blogging my life over on Instagram and neglected to share much of anything over here. And partly because Instagram is one beautiful stream of Glory Hallelujahs and it takes up all of my time. <—- I tell the truth.
So, without further ado, let me copy and paste for you the little diddy I preface every one of these posts with:

It’s time for me  to recap all of the little things I’ve picked up along the way and organize them into a concise, brilliantly executed post that is balanced with a heaping spoonful of humor and a dash of spice. {sike}

Sometimes, I sprinkle in a pinch of something brainy just to make y’all think I’m bookish and scholarly and altogether smart.

But not today.

Today’s post is pure nonsense and whimsy and all things that amount to nothing but a hill of beans…

Except for maybe a handful of things.

Okay. Except for maybe two hands full of things.

I can’t help it. I’m a whole lot of  heavy. You can talk to Jesus about that.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

{and thank you Emily Freeman for hosting this link-up. you are the quietest little firecracker in all of the internet.}

DSC_0939Some things need no prayer before responding with a YES.

When the opportunity to feed someone or clothe someone or care for the sick or visit an inmate or quench a thirst or provide a home for the homeless or care for the orphan or invite a stranger in, you don’t pray about it. You just do it.

For those of us entrenched in needs-based work or ministry of any kind, social media can be suffocating.

A few months ago, I realized that social media, particularly Facebook, was draining me. It wasn’t that I was spending too much time scrolling or being inundated with negativity. It was the simple realization that social media opened me up to seeing the needs of thousands of people that I couldn’t do anything about. God placed me in Rocky Mount, NC, in a neighborhood bursting at the seams with need, in a church with needs and within a family with needs. I am one person tasked with loving one place and one people. Not the entire internet.

Audio Books!!!!!!!!!!!!

Y’all. I know I’m late to the party, but I can read 365 NON-FICTION  books a year if I just listen to them while I do dishes and laundry. {Does that put our dirty little piles into perspective for you?} I need to mention here that I cannot listen to fiction. I tried a hour of The Kitchen House and y’all, I’m straight telling you that all the different characters spoken in different voices by the same woman was killing me slowly. It was also creepy. So give me all your recommendations. I’m all ears. Literally.

DSC_0942Home is found in Jesus.

Anything we create here on this earth is just the means by which the Holy Spirit cultivates a longing for Jesus.

You can take a train from Rocky Mount to Charlotte, NC for $48.50.

Five hours alone on a train headed to She Speaks? Yes please. You going?

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a work of art. 

I wrote a post a few weeks ago that raised a lot of eyebrows. {For those of you newbies here, I need to let you know that I write a lot of posts that raise eyebrows.} Because we are engrossed in urban ministry and the minority in our community and in our schools, I’m a permanent student of my neighborhood. This book answered so many of the questions I posed in my last eyebrow-raising post. Invite Jesus to let the words of this man open your spiritual eyes to see the world from his perspective and then commit to finish this book.

Two women in the kitchen and in the laundry room is always better than one.

Yes, the dance is awkward.

Yes, the underwear situation is weird.

But glory hallelujah for the help.

Yes, Scared

imageThere have only been a few invitations in my life that I instinctively knew in the very second I said yes to them, my world would tilt on its axis and never be the same again.

All of them have happened in the last four years, except for one. The first invitation I accepted was the night I sat next to Thad at a Baptist Student Union sock hop in 1996 and told him I was going to be breaking up with my long time boyfriend over Thanksgiving. I told him that because a few weeks prior to the sock hop, Jesus had informed me that I was going to marry Thad. But that’s another story for another day. Aren’t you glad?

Last Thursday, in the middle of making sixty meatballs and a tomato tart, I got a text message from our co-pastor’s wife that read:

Thomas says she’s not staying here. We are packing her up now.

Without thinking, I responded with:

OK. She can stay with us. We want her.

And then I made a phone call that went something like this:

So. Thomas says she cannot stay where she is and I sorta invited her to stay with us. She can stay upstairs at the end of the hall on the twin bed we prepared last year just in case someone needed it.

I paused, waiting for Thad to lose his mind, but instead what I heard was this:

OK. We’ll figure it out.

Thirty minutes later, she was here.

Company came thirty minutes after that and amid moving totes and church supplies crowding the upstairs makeshift bedroom, three men and two women unloaded and reloaded two different areas, carving out room to hold one more and her belongings. Our house guest moved her things into her upstairs space while I called out an apology to her  about the lack of privacy at the end of the hall and the lack of sheets on the bed.

From my safe place in the kitchen, as I burned the meatballs and over-cooked the pasta, I wondered what we had just done. 

And from that safe place, I felt our whole earth tilt to hold the kingdom of Jesus that comes when things are upside-down.

imageThis morning over coffee, we made bigger talk than yesterday and yesterday’s talk was bigger than the day before that. Things were awkward and weird but not as awkward and weird as they were on Saturday and I count that as progress. I folded laundry onto the coffee table while she applied for jobs and in the quiet minutes between tapping words into fields and Thad’s underwear piling up, we talked about what I write and what we should have for dinner and how hot we made the salsa yesterday. 

We talked about a whole lot of nothing and a whole lot of everything and all the talking was good.

At a quarter of 11, she left the house for an afternoon of busyness with a friend of mine who knows the key to recovery looks an awful lot like constructive busyness and Jesus-centered conversation with a person who knows the long road to healing.

I am grateful for the time to breathe, alone.

And I’ll be grateful when she comes home.

imageThere are a thousand things I want to tell you and a thousand more things I want to ponder in my heart, knowing the whole point of this house guest situation is to do a work in me. Every yes to Jesus is an invitation to unearth another layer of our souls that needs some gentle tilling and I know this full well.

The other thing I know full well is that when Jesus invites us to something, His invitation always looks like an invitation to say yes to something unknown. 

We don’t get the game plan or the necessary skills or the method to cure whatever madness we think we might see over the ledge. We don’t get to see five years into the future to know whether or not our yes makes a difference. We don’t get to pick and choose what doors we’ll open should we say yes to some unknown proposition. We don’t get to study up before being pre-approved for the task because in Christ, we’re already pre-approved.

Jesus simply presents us with a scenario -something taken straight out of scripture no less, something like feeding the hungry or clothing the naked or giving shelter to the homeless or taking up our cross – and we get the choice to be either scared and obedient or comfortable and disobedient.

It’s really that simple and that complicated.

When Jesus invites us to say yes to something, He’s inviting us to trust Him more intimately. He’s inviting us to allow Him into the deepest recesses of our hearts that He might excavate those things that hinder our becoming more like Him. Jesus is inviting us to deeper levels of obedience in order that we present a more credible witness of the Church to the world we live in.

Jesus is inviting us to bring His kingdom here on earth,

One scared yes at a time.

A Confession of Reconciliation

imageAfter another morning out in the never ending drizzle that is apparently the new norm for North Carolina and one trip to the library with two children who feel like the only books in the entire library that speak to them have either SpongeBob Squarepants or Blue’s Clues in the title, I found myself seated at a table between two women who are just like me and nothing like me at all.

We made polite small talk about our families and our jobs. We talked CCDA and Dr. John Perkins and shame. We talked generational sin and strongholds and need. We talked about blank pages and freedom and launching new works with nothing but a gut feeling that the Holy Spirit is inviting you to something bigger than yourself. And then we went there.

It was unavoidable, really.

We were sharing a table, sharing the same heart about a mom’s ministry and trying to share a building and in all the sharing, I felt like we were talking a big circle around the elephant in the room.

So I went there and said something like this:

We have to create space for moms to come together and feel safe saying hard things. We have to cultivate a culture of love for one another where we’re willing to go the distance with one another, even if toes are stepped on and feelings get hurt. We have to share the table in each others’ homes. We have to hear different perspectives, from different walks of life.  And we have to be diverse. In all ways. We. Have. To. Be. Diverse. I just don’t know how we do it and do it well.

As I shared my heart, the women leaned into the table and went there with me. They asked hard questions and pressed into things I’d not considered. We discussed our target audience and curriculum and empowerment. We discussed team dynamics and how to add diversity to the team and somewhere in this part of the conversation, I started confessing all my fears about intentionally crossing racial bounds in our city.

I confessed my fears of getting things wrong and sticking my foot in my mouth. I confessed my fear of doing the messy work of racial reconciliation while doing the messy work of launching a brand new work at the same time, the success of both things contingent on all of us continuing to believe that Jesus is bigger than the mess we’re committed to muddle through. I confessed my fear of being ill-equipped and being uncertain of how far Jesus was going to stretch me or the team He was building.  I confessed my fear of knowing that this ministry would likely be the hardest thing any of us had ever been invited to and I confessed my fear of failing.

I also confessed that I had told Jesus yes to City Moms Fellowship before I had read the whole invitation, completely missing the fine print at the bottom that read: Racial reconciliation is the main thing here. City Moms Fellowship is simply the means by which I am going to do this work.

imageBecause that was the truth.

It was the truth I’d been dancing around. The one thing I’d not wanted to admit to anyone, not even myself.

I’d wanted racial reconciliation to be a component of City Moms Fellowship, not the main thing.

But all afternoon, as I’ve been wringing my hands and sighing all sorts of heavy sighs, I’ve had to entertain the idea that City Moms Fellowship is absolutely a ministry of reconciliation. It’s all about reconciling women to God and to one another.

When I read our mission statement through the lens of reconciliation, I see it.

When I read our core values through the lens of reconciliation, I see it.

But when I put the word racial in front of reconciliation, I start getting heart palpitations. Things get all conflicted and angsty. Things get the realest kind of real.

And I get scared.

I just do.

The word racial adds a whole other dimension to this reconciliation business. It means we’re going to be serious about going there. It means we’re going to say words like White and Black and be scared in the process. (Don’t laugh. It’s hard in the south, y’all.) It means we’re going to have hard conversations. It means we’re going to have to pray continually for a spirit of humility and of courage. It means we’re going to have to continually posture ourselves to listen more than we speak. It means we’re going to have to bring to light the prejudices hidden in our hearts. It means we’re going to have to let the words of John 17 do their work in our souls so that our little place in the world sees a beautiful picture of the bride of Christ.

Racial reconciliation means that we are committed to being active participants in bringing healing and restoration in our city so that Jesus is glorified and the Church is a credible witness to the world.

Our pursuit of diversity is good and right. Noble, even.

But diversity for diversity’s sake is not the chief end.

Glorifying Jesus and presenting the Church to the world as as whole, healthy, reconciled body is.

 

And that, my friends, is enough weighty truth to strike a healthy dose of holy fear right up in this mama.

It’s also enough to light a fire in my belly to get to work.

So. Your Kid Wants To Be An Urban Missionary.

DSC_0925So.

The baby, that you have prayed for since before they were born, has just casually mentioned that he or she wants to be an urban missionary among the marginalized.

Maybe you’re sitting at a coffee shop, stirring cream into your cup of joe and out of nowhere, your child drops inner-city ministry into your cup of quiet.

Maybe you’re in the car driving down 635 at breakneck speed when your phone rings and you answer because your baby is expecting a baby and you think this could be the call. But it’s not. It’s the call that says your baby is moving her babies into a tiny apartment on the wrong side of the tracks because she just can’t shake the feeling that the wrong side is somehow right to Jesus.

Or maybe your professional son is climbing up the corporate ladder faster than you can blink your eye and you’ve grown accustomed to the lifestyle his lifestyle has afforded your entire family. Maybe it’s over Thanksgiving when he confesses that it’s no longer enough to simply write a check to a charity. He’s started voluteering at the YMCA and thinks his skill set could be put to better use at the center. He also thinks he could do greater good by living in the neighborhood where the boys live. All you hear is hood.

You’re afraid and confused and fearful. You’re seeing your hopes and dreams for your child circle the drain. The questions you have aren’t easily answered. No one you know has done what your kids are about to do. Isn’t missions for overseas ventures? Home missions? In the city? No way.

If this is you, this post is for you.

DSC_0926From one mom to another, let me just tell you how much you’ve nailed this mothering thing. Here’s the evidence:

Your kid has heard Jesus speak and he or she has responded in obedience.

Every prayer you have prayed on their behalf is being answered. Jesus has captured their heart and moved them to obedience. Your child’s heart is soft and pliable and their spirit and flesh is willing to follow Jesus into the margins. 

Years of  prayers have been answered, just maybe not in the ways you had hoped. You prayed for an easier to understand following of Jesus for them. You prayed foreign missions for them. Or Mercy Ships. You prayed seminary and vocational pastoral ministry. You prayed para-church organizations. You prayed youth groups and small groups and Sundays at the growing church in the suburbs, the one near your future grandkids’ school.

But can I tell you something?

Jesus is up to something new in our generation and He has invited your child to join Him.

Jesus is waking up our generation to the mission field that is our country’s inner city. His spirit is moving all over our great land, shining a light into our darkest alleys and grungiest city blocks. Our eyes are being opened to the vast number of churches that line our streets and yet have no street cred in our communities. We are being awakened to the truth that the Gospel was preached by a man who moved into the neighborhood long before the first church was ever planted. And we are following Him into the neighborhood.

We have cast aside a culture of Christianity that has built for itself a kingdom that is irrelevant to a world in need of more good neighbors who seek the welfare of the people and place that God has placed them into. We have not forsaken the church. We have become a people who gather together in our communities, for our communities because we believe that when the Gospel is lived out in word and deed, the Church will emerge. 

DSC_0932As our generation has moved into the neighborhood and become acquainted with the plight of our neighbors the American Dream we once aspired to has tarnished. We’ve downsized and taken lesser paying jobs in order to be more present in our actual communities. We’ve given up the 2.5 kids for a house full of children who may never belong to us in name.We’ve looked at our stuff and our stuff has become the means by which our neighbors have what they need.  Celebrations have become less about celebrating us and more about bringing the community together to celebrate, period. Our homes are more than dwelling places for our families. They are community centers and churches and counseling rooms and triage centers  and day cares. And our tables are where we break the bread and pass the wine and share the grace we’ve been given. 

Because we desire to be wholeheartedly devoted to Jesus and to our communities, we look for ways to be a part of the systems and organizations already in place. We run for city council and head up our public school PTA. We serve the homeless shelter and we go into the jail. We tutor at risk kids on school grounds, during school hours. We prepare back packs for hungry kids and let the school disperse them. We use our gifts and abilities and resources to build up the community in which we live. If a low-income school can’t afford a book fair, we make a book fair happen for them. If kids need a basketball coach, we volunteer.

We don’t reinvent the wheel. We jump on the wheel and help turn it.

As Jesus has prepared our hearts to hold the cities He’s placed us into, He’s adjusted our eyesight to see our people and our place like He does. He’s  removed the scales that keep us an us and them a them. And He’s made us a beautiful we. We look at our neighbors as family members before they come to faith in Christ. Homogeneity has been thrown out the window in pursuit of diversity because we believe that we get a fuller picture of the image of God when we immerse ourselves in a kaleidoscope of ethnicity. No longer do we believe that we alone have a corner market on Christianity or anything else for that matter.

Our worlds have been turned upside down for a kingdom already on its head.

If it’s broken, we want to fix it.

If it’s wrong, we want to make it right.

If it’s unjust, we want to make it just.

If someone is lost, we want to help them get found.

Right where they are, on a Monday afternoon at a picnic table in the front yard.

This is what is means to be an urban missionary.

Give your kid four years in the city and they’ll be able to answer all your questions and pose another hundred you’ve never even considered.

Meet me back here on Wednesday to get part 2. I’ll give you some tips on how to engage your urban missionary.

5 Things That Make Me Go Hmmmm…

imageLet me preface this entire post with a few words.

I’m about to drop a hefty dose of thoughts on you guys. Things that are making me go hmmm right now. Things that are clogging up the writing process. Things that are aggravating me to the point of distraction. Things that I cannot unload onto anyone in my real life because my real life people are too precious and kind.<—– I’ll you guys determine how I describe you. I’ll give you a hint: Words cannot contain your awesomeness and neither can the internet.

The only person in my real life who might can handle my junk is maybe Thad. Thad’s precious and kind but he’s learned how to tune me out and still look like he’s listening. I actually did unload a pile of junk on him last night and he behaved quite pastorally. <—-Yes, I made up that word and you can use it for a dollar.

My brain is stuffed with so many thoughts that I cannot move on to the next thing which just so happens to be a speaking thing on Friday night. <—-Read freaking out.

So guess what?

I’m going to unload everything here and pray you don’t all unsubscribe or give me the side eye at Target if you’re a precious local. If you’re afraid you might not like me at the end of this post, please read it. There is freedom is knowing the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

And I like telling the whole truth. It keeps me humble.

imageIt bothers me that there is no safe place for this white girl to have an honest conversation about the way she has observed our black community treat our black people.

I use the word our because I’m living a narrative in the South that is not squaring up with the narrative I read everywhere. I cannot figure out the double standard. There seems to be a different code of conduct for how blacks can treat one another and how whites can treat blacks. Four years living in a community that I grew up observing and I still can’t figure it out. Do I ask awkward questions to my local black friends who will speak my language and likely not throw white fragility or white privilege at me? Or do I join yet another online racial reconciliation group full of white people talking about black people? Hmmmm…

If I  commit to substitute teach this upcoming school year, I will lose my right to advocate for our schools, particularly if advocating for our schools mean that teachers {coaches} need to go.

Here’s the rub: Our schools need substitute teachers. Because of the extreme low-performing students and the discipline issues, substitutes don’t like to sub in my kids’ schools.

BUT.

If I work for the school system, I cannot write about it, advocate for it or spend time volunteering. What does God require? Do justice or write about it so others can do it? Hmmm….

imageWhere are the men?

This is an honest question. Where are the men in our churches? Where are the men who lead in their homes and lead in their marriages and lead in our churches? Where are the men who are willing to be discipled so they can disciple? Where are the men who ask hard questions and read to grow and challenge our systems? Where are the men who are willing to forsake the corner office for a lunch hour spent mentoring fatherless boys? Where are the men?

Planting a church among the marginalized is the hardest work ever and planting a church among the marginalized while you live and school and work among the marginalized is even harder.

The marginalized are transient. They are here today and gone tomorrow. They are heavy laden with burdens they need help carrying. Church growth is one step forward and ten steps back. Need outweighs resources. Men are absent. Women have children. Crisis abounds. Personal preferences try to trump church health. Poverty creeps in at every turn and hopelessness is always one small step away. And with every word I type here, the truth resonates within me: Jesus is planting His church and I am to be faithful and obedient and humble to the point that I see the hard as the gift. How do I do that and live in my tired flesh? Hmmmm…

Anger is an ever present emotion that I have to confess and release to Jesus or wield for good.

I’m angry about poverty. I’m angry about senseless crime. I’m angry that the kids we’ve poured 4 years into are living the exact stereotype that I write to change. I’m angry that the Church is apathetic. I’m angry that the Church is so passionate about learning truth, they have no time to implement it. I’m angry that some schools fail while others prosper and the ones who prosper and more often than not, private, Christian and white. I’m angry that churches compete with one another to the degree that ones loss is another’s gain. I’m angry that social media appears to have produced more words about Jesus than movement towards Jesus. <—– Every word here? True. Anger is either the catalyst for change or the root of bitterness. And social justice issues that are ever present among the marginalized only crank up the anger factor. The rub? How do I harness the righteous anger and wield it for good while confessing the anger that leads to sin?  Hmmmm….

I’ll quit at the top 5 and while I’m quitting, I’ll ask you for grace in the process of sorting all this out. And I’ll also ask you to pray before commenting. Race is a tricky subject and while you guys know my voice, you don’t know one another’s voices. Tread lightly and graciously, please.

Late Night Confessions From A Reluctant Urban Missionary

imageConfessions from a Reluctant Urban Missionary Who Specializes in Neighborhood Gang Activity:

You know you’ve fully assimilated into your neighborhood when your gut tells you that something is awry and you get in your car and follow the kids from down the street all the way to Sweet Jimmy’s to make sure no one gets jumped on your watch.

 Another tell tell sign that you’ve become one with your neighbors is the sudden and guttural urge you have to walk into Sweet Jimmy’s in your 3 inch wedges and yank the 16 year old neighborhood baby bully out by his toes and then threaten to run over his baby toes with your car if he so much as tries to intimidate your across-the-street-adopted-into-your-family boys.

 Also, you may or may not pay a visit to your two-doors-down-neighbors and encourage them to get all urban cowboy in the street if said bully is found knocking on the door of your boys.

 And you may or may not do all of this in Jesus name.

You’re welcome.