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. 

 

Let’s Not Forget

DSC_0907Yesterday, I sat beside the bed of my grandmother who is dying.

Every visit is the same.

For the first thirty minutes or so, I stand beside her and the tears roll quietly down my face. For thirty minutes they roll and and for thirty minutes I choke on every word I try to say in response to every word of love and affirmation she speaks. She’s trying to say all the things that need to be said and I’m trying to figure out how to do this walking another home gracefully.

My grandmother is a woman of many words. Even now, when her mouth is too dry to properly round out the sounds, she’s recalling memories from fifty years ago. Yesterday though, I interrupted the verbal struggle with one question.

Can I read you the bible, Grandot? I asked her.

She turned her face to mine and opened her eyes a little bigger. Yes. That would be wonderful. Whatever you choose will be fine. she said.

So I picked up the book of John and read straight through to chapter four, stopping only to tell her what I liked about each passage and why John had recorded each story. After an hour, she lifted her hand and spoke up.

I feel so guilty that I didn’t read the bible more. It’s never made sense to me until now. she said.

I reached out and touched her arm and replied.

Let’s don’t feel guilty about what we can’t change. It’s not too late. I’ll keep reading and you keep listening. I said. Every word you hear shows you more of Jesus.

I read for a good long while longer and later, while she napped I thought about she’s said.

And I also thought about what I’d said.

Quit the guilt. Accept what we can’t change. And keep pressing on towards Jesus.  

DSC_0908This morning, I got a phone call that felt like a sucker punch to the gut. It was the kind of two minute phone call that knocks the wind right out of your sails and puts you right on your behind, feeling all the big feelings. My face flushed with a thousand different emotions: anger, shame, hopelessness, betrayal, loss, sadness. I also had the emotional rage that comes with feeling deceived and being made a fool. How did I miss the signs? How did I not know? 

I hung up the phone and went back to drying my hair, rehashing the entire conversation, wondering where we’d gone wrong. I couldn’t believe I had missed the truth staring me straight in the face.

And confronted with the glaring truth, I knew I had two choices:

I could question the truth, make this about me and my feelings and walk away.

Or.

I could accept the truth, set aside my feelings and keep putting Jesus before my sister.  

DSC_0906After an hour of wrestling with my choices, as if I really had a choice at all, I made a phone call.

I rattled off the morning’s news to a quiet listener who felt as sucker punched as I knew she would. And then I paused long enough to exhale the truth I know deep down in my bones.

But you know what? I said. Our enemy wants us to buy the lie that she’s not worth fighting for. He wants to convince us that grace is a fool’s game played by people who want a license to sin. He wants to expose our love and call it weakness of character to love a sinner. He wants to convince us that sin is bigger than the blood of Jesus.   We know her and we know her hang-ups. And this is not who she is, no matter what lie I want to believe. And trust me, right now, I want to believe the lie because my flesh feels foolish and angry and hurt and deceived. But I ain’t buying it, friend. If our enemy can convince us that our feelings trump her life, he wins. And he ain’t winning on my watch. I said. We just have to figure out how to keep holding Jesus up to her until she sees Him above the fray.

I inhaled long and deep and waited for the grace-filled response I knew I’d get and then hung up.

And I thought about what I’d said and how all of my life is mirroring itself.

Quit the guilt. Accept the truth. Keep holding Jesus up.  

DSC_0910I hadn’t planned to slip in here and leave you some thoughts today. My life is in a season of simply doing next thing and doing the next thing isn’t writing right now.

But y’all, our enemy is out to steal and kill and destroy us. He is prowling around like a lion looking to devour the Church from the inside out. He’s picking us off, one by one, and Church, we’ve made His job easy.

We’ve divided and split ourselves so many times that we’re all walking around with gaping wounds, shrapnel still poking through our skin, the Gospel watered down to the point that we don’t believe that it holds any power.

We’ve turned our eyes inward, preserving self, never stopping to ask our brothers and sisters the hard questions for fear they’ll ask us the same hard things that will expose our sin or vulnerability or lack of belief.

We’ve bought the lie that says that sins of the flesh discount the resurrecting power of Jesus in a person’s life, ignoring the simple fact that as long as we have air in our lungs, our flesh and spirit war against one another and the battle is real.

We’ve convinced ourselves that some are beyond Jesus, that grace runs out for those who appear to abuse it.

We’ve chosen to believe that outward actions seal the fate of fellow believers and rather than engage the person acting out and hold Jesus before them, we cast them out as too far gone.

And friends, I’m sitting here at my picnic table in the yard telling you that nobody is too far gone. Every one of us is deceived by the same enemy and the ways in which our enemy deceives us aren’t always the ways in which he deceives others.

We all live in the fullness of our broken humanity and we belong to each other-

In the struggle to believe or keep believing,

In the struggle to slay every addiction,

In the struggle to keep from wandering,

In the struggle to stay married,

In the struggle to come clean and sober,

In the struggle to call sin what it is and quit wallowing in it,

In the struggle to believe that grace covers a multitude,

In the struggle to see Jesus.

And it’s our job to love our people through every bit of hell on earth by walking so closely to them that they can reach out and touch the Jesus we’re holding in front of them.

Jesus is the hope of the world and He chooses to make Himself known in the lives of broken down people, fighting all sorts of battles.

Let’s not forget it.

When You’re Done with Hospitality

imageYesterday morning, before a three hour afternoon of summer planning with five people and our nine children and a two hour dinner with thirty people in my house, I made the coffee and helped unload the trailer at the church with more people. I then made a mad dash across the railroad tracks to pick up people for service and upon returning, I had a moment of brazen humanity in the middle of the children’s ministry room.

“I don’t like people today,” I said to a friend. “I don’t want anyone else to talk to me or touch me or sit in my personal space. I don’t want to hear one more hardship or one more need or have one more person ask me for anything. I’m a dead woman walking. Look at me. I haven’t been alone for five minutes in three weeks and I have absolutely nothing else to say or one more thing to give.”

She looked at me, sorta wild-eyed and I couldn’t blame her. What could she say to the pastor’s wife, with three tables in the front yard, whose entire life’s message is Love Your Neighbor? 

But I meant every word of what I’d said and every word that I hadn’t been brave enough to say.

I. Was. Done.

Sharing the rest of the story over at Grace Table. Join me there?

A Case for Guilt or A Case Against Shame?

DSC_0534A few years ago, a group of us were gathered in our home- for small group or for worship or for feeding our neighbors, I can’t rightly remember- and in the course of conversation about grace and shame, one of our friends spoke up and shut down the conversation with a handful of words:

What are you talking about? I think guilt is one of the greatest motivators of all time. he said with a grin across his face. People who feel guilty change their behaviors and do what they’re supposed to do.

The rest of the group, which was made up of old believers and new believers and and not-quite-yet-believers, clamped their mouths shut and literally shrank down into their chairs. The jovial, life-giving conversation that had once filled the room ceased the minute he opened his mouth. Faced with an attentive audience, he continued to build his case for guilt, each word louder than the one before it, each claim backed up with straight out of the Bible truth, taken straight out of context.

Good ol’ fashioned guilt coupled with the a hefty dose of scripture delivered by an ordained, seminary trained pastor in a small, house church was enough to make every one of us squirm in our seats under the weight of Satan’s best tool:

Shame.

In a handful of minutes, in a room where we had worked to foster a place of vulnerability, this guy had come into our home and used his size (he was a super tall guy), his biblical knowledge and his pastoral training to effectively send our people into hiding. Oh, the room was still full. But everyone’s heart was tucked somewhere deep inside their chests.

If he uttered the words love or grace or forgiveness, I cannot remember.

All I remember is what it felt like to be at the mercy of a man who seemed to delight in reminding me of my guilt.

And it felt terrible- not because guilt is a bad thing, because it’s not. Guilt helps me acknowledge my need for Jesus.

It felt terrible because he had used guilt to try and shame me into forgetting that I was loved by Jesus no matter what I had done.

He had used guilt to shame me into feeling alone and isolated in my sin. He had used guilt to shame me into feeling judged by Jesus and by others. He had used guilt to reorient my focus from Jesus and onto my sin and Satan took that friend’s moment of soapbox glory to whisper his best lie right into my closed up heart:  See? You are not worthy to be loved.

DSC_0529Brene’ Brown defines shame this way:

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.

I think shame is our enemy’s tool of choice. It’s pretty much the one emotion he can heap on us that will isolate us from others and from God. Shame keeps us so inwardly focused, wallowing in our own feelings of unworthiness, that we no longer desire to be a part of any community, particularly the Christian community. We may continue to show up in community, but our hearts and souls are so far removed from true relationships with others and with God, that we are little more than shells of the people God intends for us to be.

Shame is the silent killer in the Church.

For some of us, the shame we carry around causes us to withdraw from others and hide out. We never open up in small group. Our prayer requests are never personal, always about our brother’s uncle’s left foot. We decline invitations to serve or be a part of the group. Shame causes us to hunker down and hide in hopes that we can preserve self.

For others of us, shame propels us into people pleasing and over commitment. We are happy with whatever, whenever while seething on the inside. We over-perform, serving in the nursery and teaching classes and hosting everything under the sun. Shame causes us to perform for acceptance and praise in hopes that we can prove our worth.

And still for others of us, shame moves us to lash out or use power over others we deem less than ourselves. We use our biblical prowess to beat others down and puff ourselves us. We hold authority over people and use truth like a bazooka in order to guilt them into righteous behavior. We tell our story of conversion not to proclaim the Jesus who rescued out of the pits, but to remind people of how we do not sin. Shame causes us to become self-righteous in hopes that by our good living, Jesus will love us.

Shame is the tool that the enemy uses to divide and conquer us.

Shame is how he makes healthy churches sick because shame challenges the very Gospel that binds us together.

If we do not believe that we are fallible human beings worthy of love, despite who we are and what we have done, how can we proclaim a Jesus who was LOVE made flesh, sent to earth to die as ransom for all our sins by a God who so LOVED this world that He would send His only Son to die?

Simply put, we can’t. 

The health of the Church depends on our ability to conquer shame.

This is the third post in a series called Healthy Church.

You can catch the first post here and the second post here.

My Two Cents on a City Divided

imageFor the last six weeks, I’ve led an online book club discussion on the book Educating All God’s Children. The book was written by Nicole Baker Fulgham, a seasoned teacher, former vice president of faith community relations at Teach For America and current president and founder of The Expectations Project, a national organization that mobilizes people of faith to support public education reform. Recently, the author was named to the list of “50 Women to Watch: Those Most Shaping the Church and Culture” by Christianity Today.

Seventy women, from all different walks of life, participated in the book club. And for six weeks, we had hard conversations around education, race, the achievement gap, poverty and lack of funding for our low performing schools.

We also had hard conversations where we confessed our own prejudices towards the poor and the marginalized and their seemingly lack of involvement in their children’s schools. We shared the personal struggles of continuing to keep showing up and pouring out when our efforts seemed like drops in the bucket called Hopelessness. We confessed our weariness at the task of seeking the welfare of our cities by serving the least among us and still feeling like the city we were serving was working against us. We complained about the lack of funds, the lack of resources and the crumbling buildings our children called schools.

And we lamented our own selfish desire to do right by our own children.

We lamented the desire to fight to get them into better public schools, to hell with the poor schools. We lamented the fact that by working two extra jobs we could afford to skip the whole public school fiasco and pay for private school. We lamented the truth that we could downsize and stay home and homeschool.

And we lamented the choices set before us because we had choices.

As a group of women in the full throes of trying to improve public education for the families in our communities, we came awake to the truth that not everyone has choices about where and how their children are schooled. We realized that families patching together two and three part time jobs to put food on the table could not be involved in their kids’ education. We came to understand generational poverty and homelessness and survivalist thinking and how these facts of life negatively impact a child’s ability to learn- not because the child is without ability, but because the child is without the means by which to tap into that ability.

And we came to understand that as a people after the heart of Jesus, we could not make a choice to do right by our own children if our good did our neighbors harm.

School2015On Tuesday morning, I woke to a house full of spring breaking children and a to-do list a mile long. But at a little before noon, I got a message that rocked me to the core.

The Nash County Commissioners are moving forward with a “compromise” to avoid an official split of the existing NRMS system along the county line. Their compromise will require that Edgecombe students in the system, grades K-8, only attend the schools located in Edgecombe county. They will likely then reallocate all of the Nash students into Nash County located schools, meaning your children will be moved to new schools.

The main point of contention right now has to do with Rocky Mount High. If the county line split becomes official, Edgecombe students who aren’t in high school now will have to go to high schools in Edgecombe County and there are no high schools in that part of the city. Naturally, if the line split becomes official, the impact on neighborhoods on the Edgecombe side will be considerable. No family will want to move into these Rocky Mount neighborhoods if their children can’t attend a high school in Rocky Mount.

Generally speaking, Nash County residents do not want their children attending schools on the Edgecombe side. Nash County believes, but won’t say publicly, that removing Edgecombe county students will make the schools in their county more attractive to families.

For two solid days, I’ve been wrestling with what this means for our family. We’ve invested four years of our life in a community filled with people on the margins. We have become well acquainted with their sorrows, their joys, their struggles. We have given two years to our neighborhood schools. We’ve taken stock of the old, dingy buildings, the lack of resources, the never enough rolls of toilet paper in the bathrooms. We’ve noticed the weight rooms in need of equipment and the few numbers of kids who actually try out for sports. We’ve seen the lack of parental involvement and the huge need for mentors.

And we’ve wondered why the schools on our side of the tracks are nearly 100% black and poor and riddled with at risk kids living in hotels and on couches.

Faced with the truth that our children may attend different schools next year, I’ve been tempted to be fearful about what will happen to the children we leave behind. I’ve been tempted to dig into the history of our city’s educational system and pluck from its archives the problems that have created our mess today. I’ve even been tempted to storm the Nash County Commissioners meeting on Monday and shake my fist and curse them for withholding tax dollars and new buildings and picking a fight with a county that cannot sustain the full responsibility of educating its poor children because of the immense poverty that consumes its citizens-

Citizens that just so happen to live on the wrong side of the tracks in our great city of Rocky Mount.

And I’ve been tempted to buy the lie that the kids I’ve grown to love at Parker Middle and Baskerville Elementary are no longer my concern come the of Fall 2016.

Out of sight. Out of mind. Out of my pocketbook.

Right?

And therein lies the rub, y’all.

Jesus’ command to love my neighbors as myself doesn’t end at whatever line the powers that be draw on some map.

And God’s desire for me to seek the welfare of my city doesn’t end at the edge of the city that falls on the wrong side of the tracks.

DSC_0173If Jesus has strategically placed my family into the city of Rocky Mount and commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves, aren’t my neighbors still across those railroad tracks?

If Jesus has invited my family to seek the welfare of the city of Rocky Mount and pray to Jesus on its behalf that it might prosper, isn’t my city still across the railroad tracks?

If Jesus is about the good of my people and my place, no matter the cost to me, aren’t my people and my place still across the railroad tracks?

If Nash county and Edgecombe county get together and make some written agreement that certain kids will attend certain schools and certain dollars will be spent in certain ways, what does Jesus require of me and my family?

Does His commandment get rewritten to not include some people who have been man-ually written out of my life?

Or does His commandment stand, no matter what man says?

imageIn the last few days, I’ve written a thousand words over my kitchen sink and I’ve said a million more to Thad. I was invited into this conversation over the counties’ looming decisions about where dollars and lines are going to go because our family has intentionally chosen to place our kids in two, failing Edgecombe county schools where they are the 1% of everything.

I think I was invited into the conversation in hopes that our story of loving the marginalized would be compelling enough to send the powers that be back to the drawing boards to rethink their plan. And honestly, when I agreed to share my thoughts, I sincerely hoped the weight my words may carry would be enough to change the rolling tide of change.

But y’all, the power to change the city of Rocky Mount does not lie in the hands of any elected official.

It lies in the hands of Jesus and He has given each of us that bear the name of little Christ the keys to the kingdom He is building right here.

If we’re willing to count the cost of carrying them.

What man decides or decrees or declares, does not exempt us from loving our neighbors nor does it exempt us from spending our one life on behalf of the city that God has strategically placed us into.

Jesus is working a plan that we cannot see. His spirit is actively pursuing our neighbors. And we have been invited to play a part in the great story of redemption that He is writing in our city.

The choice is ours.

Following Jesus into the margins of Rocky Mount may get harder for us. Serving the least of these in our city may cost us more. Figuring out how to seek and find and redeem the most vulnerable in our city may require more of us. It may require a move across the railroad tracks. It may require a 20 minute drive into Tarboro to mentor the kids who live 2 miles from us. It may require us shopping locally, across the tracks, and giving up some things we love so that our neighbors prosper.

As followers of Jesus, our marching orders do not change because man decides to seek the welfare of a few and forsake the rest. We don’t get a pass because legislation changes or laws get made or lines get redrawn.

We simply get invited to trust that Jesus is working a plan we cannot see and believe that the cost of loving our neighbors and seeking the welfare of our city leads to the kind of abundant life we long for.

What She’s Doing Now: Kim Freeman

ashabelle2It’s my greatest joy to introduce you guys to a dear friend of mine who is doing a whole lot of good in this world. I met Kim Freeman many years ago at Fellowship Dallas where our husbands both served on staff. But I didn’t grow to really know Kim until an ocean separated us and I became the weeping blogger. (If you’ve been around here from the beginning, then you know what I’m talking about.) Kim and her husband, Jon are rearing five kiddos in Georgia, sorta living in the in-between time and as we all know, the in-between time is beautifully hard. But I’ll let Kim tell you about that and about the business she is running to bring hope to at-risk women and their families living in New Delhi.

Kim is this month’s What She’s Doing Now featured guest because her One Thing, Right Now is changing an entire community of women, one AshaBelle purchase at a time.

And through Friday, Kim is giving you guys 25% off any purchase using the code GIVEGRACE.

Kim Freeman1I recently lamented to a friend that I never know how much to say when I write our family newsletters and how I truly hate the process of doing them as we have been sending them out for years as we have changed cities, states and continents. Her advice– say it all. I’m not sure Lori wants me to say it all… well actually, she probably does, but I’m still processing, so here’s a slice of me being as real as I can be right now about a project I’m a part of that is dear to my heart.

I’ll start at the beginning. We moved to New Delhi over five years ago. And because it’s part of my story and I’m owning it, I’ll tell you that I went kicking and screaming. Not on the outside, of course, because that’s not what good Christian women do. No, I kept my hot mess of a heart hidden to most underneath a veneer of outward submission. But inside I was full of fear, anxiety, anger and resentment. During our seminary days I had told God anything, but when it came down to it, my anything had some exclusions. India apparently was one of them.

Now let’s hit the fast-forward button through a ton of tears, challenges and as slew of spiritual attacks and now, I look at the past five years in a way I never expected that I would. We have relocated back to the US recently, and even though I’m still raw and spinning, I look back at our time in India with a sort of gratefulness and peace that can only be attributed to the fact that God has held onto me, even when I didn’t know I was falling. And fall I did. Plenty of times. We all did. Because friends, life is hard everywhere. And tends to feel harder when you are thousands of miles away from familiar and it’s 115 degrees outside and your power just went out for the afternoon.

But this is not a story of falling, it’s a story of hope.

And we could all use a bit of hope these days, no?

ashabelle1So, for almost three years I stayed busy in my apartment in Delhi, adding children to our family and making a home the best I could. We found community with others at our church; I made friends with our vegetable guy and bought fresh okra off a cart in front of my house every day; I walked a few feet outside my door and had my nails done for $10; I cooked mostly from scratch and spent half a day making a meal, the other half was devoted to pest control and raising children. I lived a very small life in a gigantic city.

All the while Jon was out doing things and dreaming about the impact an influential church in Delhi could have for the kingdom and how business people could use their marketplace skills in exciting ways to be a light in a dark world. Then he went out and started a business while I wrote things and wondered what in the world God had in mind when he sent me to India. What was my place in this story he was writing? Because from my point of view it looked like I was permanently going to be stuck in survival mode for the next ten years or however long God had us in India.

Things had begun to shift in my heart, but India was still difficult for me in many ways. In early 2014 we were approached by our pastor in Delhi at the time to help put some business strategies for the income-generation project for women living in poverty that our Delhi church was doing. The project had been going on since 2006, but in order to grow, it needed to move in a new direction. I thought this was a great idea, but had no plans to be closely involved as there were already local leaders in place. Until one fine, toasty day in April when things changed. The two women that were leading the project called back-to-back to tell Jon they would no longer be able to be part of the project. The choice was now to either scrap the entire thing or someone else would have to take over. And that, my friends, is how I became the director of what I would later rename AshaBelle, because in Hindi, Asha (pronounced like Sasha without the “S”) and Belle means beautiful—a beautiful hope.

ashabelle4What AshaBelle does is we employ women from a local slum called Zakhira. The options for uneducated, impoverished women are few. These women have no voice, so they are often abused by employers, underpaid and overworked. Or they have to find a way to make ends meet by any methods they can. It is an extremely difficult life when you literally live day-to-day in a house that is usually smaller than most American bathrooms without access to a toilet that isn’t outside the neighborhood and across the railroad tracks.

Our artisans are hired and trained to create handmade jewelry and knitwear. I have a team of wonderful Indian ladies who lead the charge and offer mentoring, care, training and direction. We have been blessed with a manager that has a heart for helping the women grow not only in their job skills, but in their spiritual lives and has acted as much like a counselor as a production manager.

I am an English Lit person by degree and in no way savvy in the ways of marketing and selling products—in many ways I feel unqualified almost daily. I have always, however found great joy in designing and creating things, sharing stories and in empowering other women. So in many ways I can see how my past passions have prepared me for a present I could have never made up. Like never.

ashabelle3Our dream is to grow AshaBelle so we can make a larger impact in Zakhira. We support the efforts of the local church there that also provide medical assistance, adult literacy and scholarships for kids to attend school.  And eventually we would love to be able to build proper toilets (can you imagine!) and provide childcare so our artisans can be confident their little ones are well cared for in their absence. These are big dreams that require more than we are able to do at the moment, but we know God is able to do these things and more.

This space here is all about loving your neighbors and being available to whatever God has for you. And I’m now even more convinced “our neighbor” is not only the lady directly next door, she’s also the one crying at night in a slum in New Delhi because her kids are hungry. Or in Africa. Or South America. And while we can’t help everyone, we can make small choices with our purchases every day that will have greater impacts than we can imagine in bringing hope and life and courage to women who have never known those things.

So that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. That and the 11 month old who still sleeps in our room. What about you? What passions has God given you that have surprised you in whatever season or stage of life you find yourself in now?

 

kim1Kim W Freeman is the wearer of many hats: a wife to Jon, mother of five, editor of IndiaAanya, writer and reluctant entrepreneur. She  has a heart to see women grow in their faith and do life together in authentic community. Her perfect day would include cinnamon cappuccino, scones, rainy weather, aloo parathas and an inspiring conversation. When she’s not wiping noses, she haphazardly blogs over at her own place about life as a late bloomer. She currently resides in North Georgia with her husband and five little darlings. You can find her on Facebook here, over at AshaBelle here,  Instagram here, and regularly contributing here.

*all photos property of Kim and AshaBelle

Deeply Rooted

DSC_0874Whenever I drive through Greensboro, North Carolina, I make a stop at Tate St. Coffee Shop for a cafe’ mocha.

The espresso is rich and so dark it leaves a smear of ground coffee beans in the bottom of the cup. The chocolate is heavy and just bittersweet enough to make you add one tsp of sugar. The milk is steamed to perfection, creating the perfect swirl of espresso, chocolate and milk. I can taste it now. Every cup is just like the last one, even if the last cup was a year ago.

For four years, while I lived in Greensboro, I worked a part time job to support my Tate St. coffee habit. I’d roll out of bed in my yoga pants and rush by the coffee shop before class. In the afternoons, I’d pack my bag full of books and head over to Tate St. to nab the corner table next to the back wall. I’d stay there long enough that I smelled like coffee beans when I left. In the evenings, after a full day of people and classes and work, I’d stop by for a baked handpie and a plain coffee with a shot of non-fat milk and two pink packets and I’d sit at a table alone with Oswald Chambers and my bible.

Unless you’re a local or a college student, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Tate St. It’s a hole in the wall of a beautiful, crumbly old building that is so tiny, you literally stand or sit shoulder to shoulder inside the shop. It’s dark and probably dingy if you’re into looking for grit, but it’s oddly inviting and homey and warm. The baristas are a ramshackle bunch of tatted up, pierced up, caffeinated twenty-somethings who sling drinks faster than the line moves and the line is a group of tenured professors and liberals and Baptists and druggies and monogrammed sorority chics. Art covers the walls and the tables and the chairs. It hangs from the ceilings like chandeliers.

Tate St. Coffee is a landmark in Greensboro. It is planted into the landscape of the city and it flourishes among the colleges it serves. Its hours of operation match the life happening right outside its doors. Aesthetically, the shop mimics the liberal arts community that fills its tables. Newspapers and journals and every piece of paper stapled to every surface in and around the shop speak life and family and community involvement back into the very community that Tate St. is committed to serve. This business knows its customer base, its surrounding neighborhoods and the area’s natural rhythms of living.

Tate St. Coffee is a stable, integral part of a particular community in downtown Greensboro that seeks to serve the people it has been planted among and love the city that gives them life.

And because of their commitment to their community, this girl right here has an entire chapter of her life written on coffee stained paper that smells like Jesus.

DSC_0876We serve a magnificently creative God whose entire mission on this earth is about redeeming and reconciling a broken world to Himself. All of creation points to a Creator whose creativity knows no bounds. No other place on this earth is exactly like another place. No other people group is just like another people group. The way God chooses to make Himself known in Syria is not necessarily how God is going to choose to make Himself known in Nebraska.

The spirit of God is active and moving in and around us, in our own unique places and in our own unique churches.

After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the disciples took the Gospel to unique places and planted churches that were Gospel centered and reflective of the people that lived there. Communities of people that were already in relationship with one another now gathered together to grow in Christ. The church emerged because the Gospel was shared among a people who were already committed to belonging to one another and to the place that they lived.

The church grew and flourished because the church was wholly committed to Jesus and to the people and to the place in which He had planted it.

The church looked and smelled and sounded just like the people and the place it was located. Its worship reflected its people. The church’s rhythm for gathering together and breaking bread and studying God’s word was uniquely designed to fit the natural rhythm of their everyday life. Decisions were made together so that everyone benefited. Creation was cultivated. Hungry people were fed. Naked people were clothed. Widows and orphans were cared for. The church was intrinsically involved in making sure the city flourished and grew and that its people were holistically well cared for.

The church flourished because the church was deeply rooted in the place that Jesus had planted it and its sole focus was redeeming and reconciling its small, front yard world to Jesus.

DSC_0878If I can be honest with you, I believe that as our world has gotten bigger and bigger, the church’s impact in the world has gotten smaller and smaller.

We forget that Jesus has strategically planted our churches in particular places among particular people groups and that we have a responsibility to redeem and reconcile those people and those places.

We don’t read the Great Commandment and consider for one minute that Jesus might actually be commanding us to love our literal neighbors because our world has gotten so big that the word neighbor means everyone on planet earth.

Our churches no longer reflect the communities they stand in. They reflect the people that attend them.

Our churches no longer consider the welfare of the communities around them as equally as important as the community within them.

Our churches no longer holistically care for the people outside the church building because those outside the building are not seen as part of the greater family.

Our churches are no longer well planted trees in the landscapes of our cities. They are seedlings with shallow roots so as to be easily blown into a better neighborhood or onto a cheaper piece of property or tossed about by whatever the elusive other church deems is the best way to grow a church.

Somewhere along the way, we have lost The Way.

We have forgotten that the body of Christ is the present day manifestation of Christ and that it is in these local communities of believers where Christ is made known to specific people and places.

We have forgotten that to be Christ means to be in the very small, very specific world that He has placed us into.

And we have forgotten that to be in the world He has placed us into means that we must commit to be rooted deep enough and long enough that we produce fruit.

Healthy churches are deeply rooted churches, committed to the welfare of the place they have been planted and the people they have been placed among because their sole purpose is to redeem and reconcile their community to Jesus.

Questions to ask yourself:

Is my church committed to the community we have been placed into? Do most of our congregants drive in from locations further than 10 miles? How many people have left our church for another church in the last year? Does my church have plans to build a bigger building in another location further away?

This post is the first in a loosely crafted series called Healthy Church.

 

Our Greatest Contribution

DSC_0817After a long day on Saturday, Thad and I made a split second decision and took the kids out for Mexican. They’re a pretty cheap date when you consider that three of them always order just a plate of fries, one always orders a bowl of queso, and one always orders a side of rice and a side of beans. Combine those inexpensive nutritional choices with the free chips and salsa and bam, we’ve got dinner out on a dime. And no dirty dishes for me.

We’d been seated against the wall downstairs for only a few minutes when I saw an older couple a few tables over staring at us. I tried to pay no attention, but after a short while, the woman got up and made her way towards us at the same time the waitress walked over to take our order. Things went from weird to awkward to uncomfortably heavy and before we realized what was happening, we were knee deep into church talk.

I remember when y’all got married. Where are you guys now? You know we got a new pastor and he’s preaching his heart out. But we’re losing people. Quite a few actually and we don’t why they’re leaving. I mean, he’s preaching the straight Bible and people are walking out the back door.

Thad listened to her for a few more minutes and I watched his shoulders drop as I connected all the dots between us. She worked the nursery in our first church. She’d rocked our first two babies. That’s why she was staring at us.

I sat at the table and like Thad, my shoulders dropped.

In less than six hours, with three different people at three different churches, I’d been on the receiving end of the exact same conversation:

People are leaving our church and we have no idea why.

All the young families were here one Sunday and the next, they were just gone.

We don’t know what we did to cause them to leave.

It feels like a divorce with no closure.

They were a part of our family and now they just aren’t.

I lost my entire small group. In one week.

We are heartsick.

After she left, Thad and I sat across the table from each other and talked a circle around the big questions everyone was dancing around, but no one was asking:
What does it look like for the Church to bear with one another in love?

What does it look like for the Church to do the hard work of conflict resolution?

What does it look like for the Church to be longsuffering?

What does it look like for the Church to choose others over self?

What does it look like for the Church to covenant with one another to live together in harmony in order to make much of Jesus where He has planted them?

What does it look like for the Church to commit themselves to one another…for life?

What does it look like for the Church to commit to live in and serve her communityfor life
DSC_0821
Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to talk with some ladies about good neighboring. We talked about how loving our neighbors grows us in our individual relationships with Jesus while improving the entire community around us. We chatted about how hard it is to love the people who just so happen to live next door to us and how the struggle to be in relationship with them shines a big light into all the crappy places in our hearts. We confessed our inability to resolve conflict and walk the long mile with people who are suffering and spend time, over time getting to know our neighbors.

And we shared the heart struggle to simply love our neighbors like Jesus loves us because we don’t know what that kind of love looks like.DSC_0819On Sunday night, our church’s small group gathered in my house for dinner and a book study. We’re going through a book about the body of Christ and how it can’t be what Jesus intends for it to be unless we, the people making up the body, mature in our interpersonal relationships.

We were all answering questions and asking questions when someone spoke up and said something so profound we all just sorta sat there.

Our church’s greatest contribution to our city isn’t going to be in how we serve it. Our church’s greatest contribution to our city is going to be the family we offer it.

DSC_0392Over the next few weeks, I’m going to blog through a loosely crafted series on what healthy churches look like. I use the term “loosely crafted” because each post will be a stand alone post within a series of posts that will roll out as I get each one written.

And for those of you wondering why all the writing about what makes a church healthy especially when the whole world is going to hell in a hand basket, let me remind you that:

The welfare of our cities depends on the health of our churches,

The welfare of our schools depends on the health of our churches,

The welfare of our neighborhoods depends on the health of our churches,

The welfare of our neighbors depends on the health of our churches.

And although we don’t want to admit it, the welfare of our own families depends on the health of our churches.

We can’t give away what we don’t have, y’all, and the world needs a healthy family to be adopted into.

A Little Diddy

imageI’ve spent a week at my office in the yard, reworking a talk for a speaking engagement tomorrow.

If you know me at all, you know I have about 5 things I’m uber passionate about: Neighboring, Public School, Loving the Marginalized, Social Justice, and Grace.

All of these things make me cry the ugly cry and because I’m speaking on one of these things tomorrow, I’ve basically cried all week long.

I’ve cried because our public schools are broken and sometimes I feel like they are working against all that we are doing in our neighborhood.

I’ve cried because one neighbor is making the poorest choices of her life and there is not one dang thing I can do about it.

I’ve cried because everyday is three steps forward and five steps back and sometimes I get tired.

I’ve cried because the chasm between grace and legalism is just wide enough for captives to stay in bondage to rule following and behavior modification.

I’ve cried because the marginalized just want to be seen and heard and known and sometimes I’m just too busy to see and hear and know.

I’ve cried because shame has crept into my heart and fought to keep mercy and truth and love out.

I’ve cried because I had to put together a slide show of all the pictures from our neighborhood meals and I have felt the compassionate heart of Jesus in the process.

And I have cried because no matter how I feel about everything, Jesus is working a plan I cannot see and His plan is good.

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{Imagine a slow fade of that song at the last picture. I’m not tech savvy.}

The Long and Short of It. Lately, Anyway.

imageIsaac is at the table finishing up math homework and for the life of me, I can’t help him. So I don’t.  I’m over here with my left foot in a boot the size of small toddler trying not to swear at the thought of walking across the room again. Imagine doing the laundry and cooking dinner and picking up the house while dragging around a toddler that is sitting on your foot and hanging onto your leg. That’s what this boot feels like. It feels like dead weight. And I guess it’s my prize for trying to do my body good by running. My trainer-soul sister Suzanne thinks that while my foot is wearing it’s prize, we’re going to lift weights and do squats and something called crunches. {insert the wild-eyed emoji here.}

DSC_0030Thad’s picked back up the habit of walking the neighborhood after dinner now that the time has changed and I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t hating having to sit this season out. I love our neighborhood in the spring. The trees bloom white and pink against the blue sky like crinkled up bits of tissue glued to paper and I forget to see the strings of power lines that sway low in-between every inch of skyline. The neighborhood is changing and we can feel it in our bones as good as we can see it with our eyes. Yesterday’s preteens have morphed into teens who’d rather walk the street and smoke weed than go to school or come play ball in the yard. As a group, it feels like they’re slipping beyond our grasp. But on the rare occasion we catch one of our teens alone, we’re reminded that we don’t get to decide how this whole thing plays out or who we still get to hope for. No one is too far gone and as of today, Jesus is still in the business of wooing hearts.

DSC_1489Heroin is eating our people here and the only reason I know is because our church serves our local jail and it seems that everyone going in and coming out has had their hands on it. We’ve lost three women to heroin in the last few weeks and right now, one more is in the hospital having overdosed last week. We’re up to our necks in heroin and I’ve never laid eyes on it. On Sunday, we found ourselves on the receiving end of some news no neighborhood wants to here: Heroin is for sale three streets over. It makes the drive-by shooting three doors down, three weeks ago make a little more sense and it makes the burden of living in this broken world a little more purpose-full. Heroin is just the symptom of a life lived in dependence of something other than Jesus and as much as we don’t like to admit it, we’ve all spent time trying to live independent of Jesus. And for some of us, that time was yesterday.

DSC_0006Lately, I’ve been micro-blogging a load of thoughts about the Church. In the short time I’ve been in Rocky Mount, I can count on one hand the number of churches that no longer exist and on the other, the number of churches that have split right down the middle. We swap members faster than we can keep up and y’all, in a small town, that means a lot of us have belonged to a lot of different bodies…including me. Meaning we’re constantly in the full throes of all the emotions of divorce and remarriage and blended families that only produce more divorces. Meaning we’re not altogether healthy. Meaning that what the self wants trumps what is best for the family. Meaning the saved are staying saved but getting sicker and the lost are just plain getting lost-er. Meaning the whole world watching us has no idea why they’d want to belong to a family that isn’t permanent or at least aiming to be that way. And if you live anywhere in America, you’re likely nodding your head because my city is not unique in this phenomenon. The American Church is not well, but I fear we think that the church across the greener grass is.  {preaching to myself, y’all.}

DSC_0802I’ve also been thinking on leadership. I know what you’re thinking and you’re right. I need to acquire a hobby that gives my brain time to think about unicorns and rainbows, but I tried that and all I got was a bum foot. Maybe it’s been the campaign season or just the presidential debates that’s got my wheels turning, but I think it’s more the state of the Church that’s got me thinking about what makes a leader great. Anyone can be appointed to leadership, but not everyone can lead. And not everyone who can lead, is a leader that others want to follow. But the main thread of thought that’s been tying itself around every other thought has been this: A self-righteous person who knows not grace, cannot lead with a heart like Jesus because self-righteousness preserves self above all else. But a humble person who has tasted grace, cannot lead with any other heart than one like Jesus because grace compels a person to lay their life down on behalf of everyone else.  And man oh man, have I been asking Jesus to search my heart.  {again. preaching to myself}

It’s getting late now and I don’t know why I’ve told you any of this. Except for the fact that my head simply cannot hold every thought up there and I find it quite cathartic to tell you these things.

Maybe you’ll think I need a sabbatical or a therapist and you’ll be right.

I need both.

I also need a housekeeper.

But hey, aren’t you glad I didn’t write about public school again? {insert the swoony eyes emoji}