When Things Run A Muck {Thoughts on Hospitality, Kinship, and Jesus}

DSC_0429Once in a while, I have a two-day spell where I’m the walking dead.

I’m moving and getting the stuff done, but look me straight in the face and you’d swear there’s nothing back there behind my big brown eyes except waves of tears. I wash dishes and cry. I fold laundry and cry. I stand in the shower and I cry. I write and I cry. I watch Frozen and I cry. I walk around Target with a cup of coffee and I keep my head down so the tears won’t pool and roll. I drive out to the middle of nowhere where I can play music so loud the cows stop their grazing to take a gander at the noise coming from the white Suburban parked on the side of the road and I cry. At night, I crawl into bed early and when sleep doesn’t come, I cry some more. 

{Raise your hand if you, too, are a binge crier. Yes. I see you. And you, too. Thank you. Lord, bless us.}

Thad used to follow me around the house and ask me the same question a thousand different ways: What’s wrong? Now, he just muddles through and picks up my slack and waits for me to open up.

Almost always, these two-day excursions into the pit of endless tears come because my body has laid itself down and refused to get up. The tears are just my soul’s response to the weariness of its body. 

But sometimes, these tear-stained days are more that just exhaustion.

Sometimes, tears flow because soul work is happening. 

DSC_0427When I began The Hospitality Project, I guess you could say I had a hypothesis about how this whole thing would end. Or maybe I just had a certain hope for what would happen if I entertained strangers and said yes to every knock on the door. 

I thought that if I opened up my heart to hold the people Jesus sent me, prepared my home to receive them, fed them around my table, and then moved to serve them beyond the table, there would be rainbows and sunshine and something like sweet community. I thought the us and them would become a we. I thought my heart would stretch and burst out of glorious love for every person up and down my street.

I thought that if I developed a rhythm of living that naturally included others, my living would become more life-giving to me and to my neighbors.

I thought that if practicing radical hospitality became my soul’s bent, my body would not whither under the strain of the sheer weight of it. 

But by the middle of July, after weeks and weeks of people coming and going, I began to feel that I had missed something. 

Where was the kinship- the us and them that had become a we

Wasn’t kinship the outcome of three years and six months of small movements towards my neighbors?

Wasn’t hospitality how you get to kinship?DSC_0428

Three weeks ago, on a Monday, I had a house full of teen-aged girls being girls. 

On Mondays, a few girls from the neighborhood come for something chocolate and something fun. Usually the fun means a whole lot of chatter. I’m not good at teen-aged girl stuff, y’all. Loud foolishness and shrieking girls are not my thing. I like the quiet obedience of napping toddlers. But on Mondays, I open the house for a few hours of noise.

Almost always, after the girls have gone home, I wonder what in the world I’m doing here. I lament my inability to connect and I lament the scars each girl bears and I wallow in the hopelessness of it all. 

The chasm between us is deep and wide.

But on this particular Monday, something happened that caused something to break loose in me. 

I was on one side of the room trying to figure out a way to usher the girls on home when the girl we’ve known since the day we moved in began to unload the dump truck of her life all over the floor. She was on an ottoman in front of the window and the light was streaking in behind her, casting her whole body in a soft glow. Her elbows were resting on her knees, her small frame bent forward, her mouth making words that I had long stopped hearing because my heart was stuck trying to absorb the very essence of her.

And all I could do was stare at her and try to put my finger on exactly what I was feeling. 

Delight.

I was delighting in her very presence. 

I was seeing her exactly how Jesus sees her.

And I was reminded that Jesus sees me exactly the same way. 

Which brings me back to that two-day bender.

DSC_0431On Sunday, after I’d dried out, Thad and I drove down to Chicos and grabbed our favorite table by the river. He asked leading questions that got me to thinking about hospitality and church and community and how we continue to dig in deep in our neighborhood. Every question he asked only led to more questions until I got around to sharing about how I felt that Monday my heart felt delight in my neighbor.

And it was in the sharing of that story that I realized where this experiment in hospitality had run a muck. 

Hospitality isn’t what you offer.

It’s who you offer. 

I had made hospitality something I offered to my neighbors when Jesus was simply asking me to offer myself.

This was Jesus’s model of ministry.

He came to this earth, linking his identity to ours- becoming our next of kin- that we might come to know him as Savior. 

Jesus came that he might have kinship with us so that when the time came to show us the way home, we would recognize him as the Way. 

Jesus came and wherever He was, He was all in. He delighted in the mere presence of every person who reclined with Him at the table or crossed His path. He entered into lowly places, erasing all man made lines of division and offering grace.

Jesus came and offered himself.

And we are to do likewise. 

We are to humble ourselves and become one with another in such a way that we delight in the mere presence of the image of God looking back at us. We are to enter into the lowliest places in this world and link our identity with those the world chooses to throw away and offer the hope of Jesus that lives in us. 

Hospitality is looking at your neighbor and calling them your kin.

And then walking with them all the way home. 

On Marriage

DSC_0446You know you’ve reached the pinnacle of marriage and parenting when your oldest is old enough and responsible enough to babysit for a few hours while you and your main squeeze sneak out for a late dinner. 

We’re there, people. We. Are. There. {can you hear me cheering?}

There’s a great little Mexican place with outdoor seating overlooking the Tar River that has become our little getaway. It’s only a few miles from our house and although the food isn’t fabulous, we like the privacy of the deck upstairs, particularly the table under the tree. If we close one of our eyes and squint really hard, we can almost pretend we’re somewhere other than home. It’s a glorious retreat. 

Last night, after I’d fed the kids a throw together meal, we locked up the house and parked ourselves under that tree at Chicos. 

We chatted about church and work and writing and the kids. Everything always leads back to the kids, doesn’t it? 

And then we dug into talking about marriage. 

Last week, two of you messaged me privately and asked if I’d share how Thad and I have made our marriage work for 15 years. 

What have been our biggest mistakes? Greatest failures? Glorious successes? Do-Overs? Regrets? What have we learned about making marriage work? How have we managed to stick things out when things have hit the fan? Could we sum up marital success in just a few words?

I could write a book on all the things we’ve gotten wrong in marriage. 

But I won’t.

I’ll just give you the short story of us. 

DSC_0459

DSC_0460We married my senior year of college and Thad served as a youth pastor making less than the janitor who cleaned his office. I taught preschool with my college degree. And on our first anniversary, we had our first ultrasound of our firstborn. She was born 18 months after we got married. Nine months later we were pregnant with baby number 2. I was elated about the baby and Thad was happy to be growing his youth ministry. We were two ships passing in the night.

And in those first three years of marriage, I can’t remember one meal we ate together in our first home. All I remember is being lonely.

Before baby number two arrived, Thad felt called to the mountains of North Carolina to work with a church planting agency. Because I felt called to be Thad’s wife, I packed up our belongings and followed him all the way to Spruce Pine where we lived among the people he felt led to reach. We lived in the same government housing complex where our people and our church were housed and I worked to make our apartment a home. On Sundays, we attended the sending church, held church services at our plant, and then traveled down the mountain in the afternoon to aid in the start up of a third plant. I led the kids’ ministries at two plants while lugging my two babies up and down the mountain, everyone eating from their laps and napping in the car. 

And when that ministry ended* and we were forced to live with my mom before heading to seminary, I could barely look at Thad. I blamed him for everything. 

While we lived with my mom, we found out baby number three was on the way. A four month visit turned into 18 months while we waited for seminary housing to open. Thad worked a construction job, filled the pulpits of area churches on Sundays, and I taught preschool again. After a few months, Thad was hired at a local Methodist church to serve as youth pastor for however long we were in Rocky Mount. Baby number three arrived soon after we arrived at St. Paul, giving us three children, 2 and under. When our son was born, all I could do was cry for the loss and gain of everything. 

And by the time we loaded up the U-Haul to drive to Dallas, we were a fractured family of five on the brink of going under. We just didn’t know it. I think none of us really know how bad things are until we’re past the bad. And none of us really know what a good marriage is until we’ve lived the good. Such is life.DSC_0455

DSC_0451DSC_0449We arrived in Dallas with no jobs and an apartment of 878 square feet. We bunked the kids up in a triple-decker bunk bed made especially small for our three babies. Thad quickly took a job with UPS working from 11pm-4am and a job with University Laundry working 12-6pm. He attended seminary classes in the mornings and took 2, two hour naps a day. I taught preschool downtown at the First Baptist Church and my babies went with me. In our second year of this kind of living, we got news that baby number 4 was coming. I was over the moon. He was the first baby we’d conceived intentionally and we knew we’d name him Isaac for the sheer fact that his conception was laughable given the conditions we were living. 

I need to back up and tell you that by the time we became pregnant with Isaac, we had found a church home and we had begun to heal, individually. I was involved in MOPS and seeing grace lived out and Thad was involved with men from DTS and from our church who were authentic and humble and broken. Together, we had joined a small group from Fellowship. Starving people go looking for bread and the people we were getting to know at Fellowship were generous with their bread. We ate our fill of everything they had to offer.DSC_0453

DSC_0458DSC_0450Shortly after Isaac was born, Thad was hired as the Children’s pastor at Fellowship. We were thrilled and for the first time in our marriage, we were beginning to taste the sweetest parts of marriage. I felt needed and wanted and Thad felt respected. Our kids were thriving. We loved our church family. We had like-minded friends with children and like-minded friends with no children who loved our kids. Life was sweet. Marriage was sweeter. 

We added babies five and six in three more years, giving us six babies under nine years of age. And if we had not closed down the baby making factory, I’m sure we’d have two or three more. Some days, I wish we had not closed up shop. 

I often think that Jesus used our seven years in Dallas to redeem what the locusts had spent 5 years eating. I will forever be grateful for our time there. Dallas feels most home to me because it is where Jesus stole my heart and saved my family. 

DSC_0457After four years at Fellowship, Thad began to pray that Jesus would burden us with a people and a place that needed the Gospel of grace. And Jesus answered his prayers with Rocky Mount. 

And once again, I packed up our house and followed Thad across the country. Except that this time was different. Our marriage was thriving and solid and we were living as one. We were a team and we were learning that what God had called us to, He had also called our children. We were a force to be reckoned with, a spicy clan of people with all sorts of abilities and personalities and drives in life, all sent with one purpose: Live out grace in Rocky Mount. 

We unloaded our U-Haul into a hundred year old house and worked our fingers to the bone making this house our next home. Thad took another job in the construction industry and worked to plant a church. I remembered that I love to write and learned that I love photography and leading women. We host everything under the sun and I make guacamole twice a week. We’ve dabbled in gardening and various other things trying to find ways into the hearts of our neighbors. We feed our neighbors and make plans for our yard based on what’s best for our neighborhood. I’ve chartered our city’s first MOPS group to give away the bread I’ve been given. Thad meets with men to invite them to authentic living and courageous leading and to grace through Jesus. Our kids love public school and the Nae-Nae and Afros. I love Thad and he loves me and we love that we can date again.

And we love that Jesus lets us partner with Him here. 

And all of this brings me back to your questions about how we make our marriage work.

DSC_0456We have made our marriage work because we both love Jesus and we have never considered divorce as an option.

If you asked Thad to name our number one marriage mistake, he’d take full blame and tell you he chose ministry over family. On a bad day, I’d let you believe that he was the only one to blame. But marriage is made up of two broken people who have to learn to serve one another and while Thad was out building his kingdom at the local church, I was making tally marks on the bathroom wall of all his wrongs towards me. Not once did I bend to serve him out of love for him or Jesus. Everything I did was to save face and meet an obligation. 

In the early years of our marriage, we lived like grace was earned and both of us worked overtime to earn our fair share. We  lived in the hamster wheel of performance, churning out good things with little to no love and zero grace towards anyone. 

Especially one another. 

One cannot give what they have not yet received and until we moved to Dallas, I dare say that we had ever experienced the fullness of grace through Jesus. We had salvation, but had not yet allowed ourselves to bask in the grace we also had been given. We lived under the law, trying to earn our salvation through good deeds and flourishing ministries, denying ourselves and one another the gift of grace. Unbeknownst to us, when we married, we simply added a heavier yoke around  necks that were heavy laden with rules and regulations that neither one of us could ever completely adhere to. 

And without grace through Jesus, a marriage may last for fifty years, but it won’t flourish they way God designed it to.

Marriage flourishes when two broken people live in the grace they’ve been given by Jesus and choose one another, over and over again. 

And y’all, no matter the day, I choose Thad. 

 

Today’s post is the first of it’s kind where you asked, and I answered.

I’m calling these sorts of posts Ask Lori. How creative is that? 

*This ministry ended when we no longer felt the ministry was being run above board. When we raised concerns, we were fired and  given 4 days to get out of town. Ten years later, the man who ran the organization confessed and apologized. God is good. 

Jesus and Wine and All Your Questions

DSC_0392Let me preface this post with this statement:

It  is summer and because I am a mother, finding a smidgen of time to sit down and write even a pile of chicken scratch is like trying to squash those little red bugs we call no-see-ums at the picnic table: It ain’t happening, people. 

Also, if I’m honest with you, The Hospitality Project has done me in. I’m sick of thinking about food and people and what I should jar up and give away and how Jesus knows I’m no good at living an open life and how I wonder why in the world He won’t let me just be holed up and hid out from everyone but myself. I told Thad, after he’d spent the evening following me around the house talking me to death, that he was never, ever going to retire. I love the man with every last bit of my gnarly heart, but seriously, y’all, I’m beginning to think more and more about monasteries and red barns and far, far away places with just me and Jesus.

Okay.

That last part isn’t the whole truth. I love Jesus but I also love tacos. So maybe the truer truth would be a far away place with me and Jesus and tacos. And maybe a stack of books and coffee. Or wine. Jesus likes wine. And from what I’ve learned about hospitality from the book of Luke, when Jesus walked around in skin He LOVED some wine. {wink, wink} He also loved a good party, but that’s another story for another day. 

DSC_0433On Tuesday, in the midst of a writing and wrestling slump, I did what all good bloggers do: I polled Facebook. I asked you guys what I should write on until I can get my bearings around this living open stuff and much to my surprise, you dear people gave me a pile of responses.

Mind you, none of these responses included things like recipes or photo home tours, but you responded and for that I am grateful. You dug deep and asked about marriage and child rearing and how I balance ministry and family. You asked about spiritual disciplines and listening to Jesus. You wanted me to respond on the Planned Parenthood videos and how this organization affects my neighbors. You wanted me to consider how we rear our children in light of what is happening in the world. And some of you wanted to know my neighbors more intimately. 

For two days, I’ve wrestled about which topic to touch on first- as if any of your topics could be skimmed over enough to satisfy your inquiry- and I’m going to begin with marriage first. 

But not until Monday.

I need the weekend to pray it through.

I also need the weekend to talk it through with Thad.

We’re an open book, bent on telling the story of us authentically so that Jesus shines through all our cracks, but we also desire to tell the story Jesus wants us to tell. 

So meet me back here on Monday.

And come with pockets full of grace.

xoxo

All Good Things

DSC_0350I’ve been meaning to write and I have, sort of.

I’ve written five thousand words while standing over the sink and five thousand more while driving around in the middle of nowhere and at least a couple thousand more while shelling peas.

I’m writing, alright. Just not here.

But today is a new day and today finds me in the front room-the family room turned dining room-staring out the big windows that open up to the street while my fingers try to find the rhythm they know so well. I often think if I could just let my fingers say all the words they want to say I’d have a best seller on my hands. That may be all I have, but man alive I think it would be fun to write without thinking and publish.all.the.words.

I die now at the thought. So does Thad. And everyone else I know. {sorry to ruin your day people, but today will not be the day I publish all the words.}

DSC_0279DSC_0298We spent a week in the mountains of NC two weeks ago doing a whole lot of nothing. We hiked some, scoured every thrift store in Boone, ate a pound of heirloom tomatoes and a pound of mozzarella cheese and watched our Scotties grow. There is something about being in the mountains that gives my soul permission to breathe in ways that my regular life doesn’t allow. When Thad and I dream about running away somewhere, the mountains call us home.

As you can imagine, after eight days of deep breathing and slow living, reentry into my regular life felt a whole lot like being thrown headfirst into a whirlygig. The first sign that reentry was going to be brutal was the exact minute we pulled onto our street and realized our neighbors were literally running behind our car, trying to beat us to the house. Don’t get me wrong, I love these little kids. I do. But unpacking a Suburban with six kids is already hard enough. Add four more to the mix and well, let your imagination run away with itself. Trust me. Whatever you are thinking, it was worse. Add extreme heat and humidity at like 500% and there you go: Funky smelling chaos.

Welcome home.

DSC_0345DSC_0357I managed to keep a smile on my face and a pep in my step for a good five days- all the way to last Wednesday, actually- before the long shadow of exhaustion started laying itself out over my body. On Thursday, I sat in the shadow thinking if I wallowed in it for just a bit, it would draw itself up and leave me alone. But on Friday morning, when the alarm went off I closed my eyes, made a list of every thing I would not do and counted the hours backwards from 6pm.

Twelve hours until Sabbath. 

I rolled out of bed and showered and drank a cup of coffee splashed with my usual vanilla creamer and then noticed my phone was blinking with a message:

Picking up food at 8:30. Let me know what you think you’ll need.

I closed my eyes again. Food Bank pick-up. What do we need? Where am I going to store it? I still have half a bushel of peas to shell. What if I can’t make a meal for the neighbors with what she picks up? I am so tired.

At 9:45, my dear friend pulled up in front of the house and all of my kids and her one studly manchild unloaded enough groceries to fill my dining room table and every counter in my kitchen.

DSC_0397DSC_0396I need to break in here and tell you how this food pick-up deal goes down. My friend Julie gets a call that her “order” is ready. She drives over to the food bank to pick up everything from fresh eggs to cheese to gallons of juice to boxes of granola bars. There is always fresh fruit and vegetables that need to be eaten immediately or chopped/sliced and stuck into the freezer. And when I say immediately, I mean you only have about an hour before all the frozen things begin to drip through the cardboard boxes and that one container of leaky yogurt decides to just let its contents go. I hesitate to tell you the kind of fever that I manage to work up on pick-up days for fear you think I’m an over the top control freak weirdo, but who cares? On food pick up days, this girl goes into full-on frantic slicing and dicing and tossing and repackaging and organizing. Adrenaline courses through my veins and sweat beads upon my brow and curse words {yes. curse words.} get rolled around in my head. I also scream at my kids for digging around in the boxes and knocking sugar to the floor. Food pick-up days are not my finest hours.

So on Friday, at 10 am, I found my bone tired body staring at leaky yogurt containers and slashed open bags of coffee and so many bell peppers that needed to be diced and packaged for freezing, that I cried. I stood over the cutting board and let the tears roll and I tried to be grateful for the bounty that would take the financial edge off our neighborhood meals. I asked myself What Would Ann Do? and then I cried some more. At sometime after 2, after 75% of the groceries had either been tossed or preserved, I curled up on the couch and let that shadow of exhaustion swallow me whole.

When Thad came home, I told him I was done with everything. All of it- just done. I told him that since we’d moved to Rocky Mount, my body had been trying to give up its ghost and by golly, today was the day I was going to let it happen.

And at 4pm, I started a 62 hour Sabbath.

DSC_0411DSC_0362In this summer of hospitality, I am feeling my humanity like never before. Life is brimming with good things and as life brims with good things, my flesh does what flesh is meant to do:

It rises up to catch all the goodness spilling over.

Our church plant is busting at the seams with people who feel called by Jesus to join our plant and the work we feel called to do in Rocky Mount. Our people genuinely like one another.

Our neighborhood is feeling like community and our door is ever revolving.

Our kids are happy, exuberant kids who love their neighbors and their school.

We’re finding like-minded believers to partner with in community transformation.

Thad loves his day job and we’re grateful he gets to make a good living while still having time to plant a church.

And y’all, a literary agent called a few weeks ago and offered to be my agent when I’m ready to write a book.

Life is good.

And so very full.

I tell you all of this because I am a blogger and this is what we do: We tell people things.

I also tell you all of this because all good things cast shadows, friends, and I’m learning that the best things in life only cast mightier ones.

Shadows remind me that I’m human. Finite. Just a breath.

And I think that’s the whole point.

If all good things never cast a shadow, I’d likely forget Who is holding the sun.

The State of Things Today

imageIn less then 24 hours, we’ll be on the road headed west to Banner Elk, NC for a week of doing nothing.

To say I’m stoked would be an understatement.

To say I’m giddy with the sheer thought of being with my people, and only my people, for 8 whole days would be a gross understatement.

And to say that my weary soul is already weeping with the greatest joy known to man because it knows about the porch chair rocking that will commence in 36 hours would be the absolute grossest understatement.

So I won’t say any of that.

I’ll just give you this.image(a big selfie of a rested me. yes, it’s an old selfie. i can’t give you a fresh off the presses rested selfie today. i’m not rested.)

Anyhoo, I wanted to let you know this little patch of internet will be a patch of chirping crickets until July 13.

“But what about The Hospitality Project?,” some of you may be asking. “What about July? What about Preparing the Table?”

Well, let me calm your runaway horses and assure you that The Hospitality Project will carry right along and the month of July will still be devoted to learning how to Prepare the Table to receive others.

But more than learning about how to prepare the table, I’ll be inviting people to the table. Nearly everyday.

Let me tell you how and why.

Prepare the Table 2The table is where we learn to connect and belong to one another. It’s where we drop our guards and nourish our bodies and remember that we are all needy, in the same ways. Memories are made around the table. At the table, our senses heighten to absorb smells and tastes, forever connecting feelings of warmth and belonging to certain foods, certain tables and certain people.

Food and drink are the language of the heart and the table is where we speak the language. It’s where Jesus demonstrated His love for us and commanded us to remember Him, the greatest Love ever known, each time we break bread and pass the cup.

Sharing a meal is how Jesus chose to model the way for loving our neighbors. It was His method of disciple making. It was His way of opening Himself up to others and drawing them into new living. It was how He ushered in His kingdom.

And it’s how my family will bring His kingdom here on Avent.

During the month of July, my family will be flinging wide open our doors to our neighbors, to the Target lady who makes my Iced Coffee at Starbucks (true story), to the Jehovah’s Witnesses across the street, to the folks in my church, to the family around the corner we’ve yet to meet. We’ll be hosting breakfast and lunch and dinners on the fly. We’ll be sharing meals and giving away fresh vegetables from the garden and offering our table’s bounty to every person who crosses our threshold.

But mostly, we will work to make a space that provides shelter from the world and a place of belonging to those who know no belonging.

And we’ll eat and drink of every good thing because this is how Jesus lived out His mission.

 

Here are some things you can expect from this blog this month:

* Pictures and stories of our meals around the table {with permission from my guests]

* Recipes and meal plans that work

* How I see Jesus building His kingdom right where I live

* Encouragement to prepare your own table

 

*Although this blog will be quiet, you can find me on Instagram and my blog FB page. My personal FB page is getting more and more quiet as the world continues to be the world and Jesus continues to unearth parts of my heart that go against the grain of the majority of those in my newsfeed. I’m finding a strong desire to keep on running my race and trust Jesus to hold the world. We are an unthreatened people, friends. Let’s quit fighting a fight that’s already been won and instead, live small and love big. Love that you guys are here. You encourage my heart and spur on my soul. And for those of you doing your own Hospitality Project- I love hearing your stories! If you want a quick response to your message, might I suggest Voxer? I’m a speed Voxer. =) You can find me at lharri6442.

When Alignment Throws Everything Off

DSC_0278I flipped the dining room and the family room this week.

As in, the dining room is now where the family room used to be and the family room is now where the dining room used to be.

I moved everything but the fireplace and I rehung every picture, basket, and random thing I’ve ever  hung on the walls in both rooms. I even managed to rustle up some pictures of the Last Harris Baby and get her preciousness framed and on the wall. Sad it’s taken five years to get her a place on the wall, huh?

I don’t know about you, but when my life feels out of sorts and things are beyond my control, I do one of two things: I move the house around or I bang around in the kitchen. Sometimes, I do both. At the same time.

And if I’m honest with you, life is feeling out of sorts right now. Not out of sorts in a bad way. Just out of sorts.

Last week as Thad and I were wrestling with an issue, I looked at him and said, “I’m not who I used to be, but some days, I’m not so sure I know exactly who I am. I mean, I know who I am in Jesus, but I don’t think I know this new person He is making me to be. I don’t know what to do with her or her gifts. And I especially don’t know what to do with who other people say she is or what they say she is called to do. I wanna sneak away to a monastery so I can think. Alone.”

He just looked at me over the rim of his reading glasses and mumbled a response that let me know he was hearing the words coming out of my mouth but had no answer for them.

I think he had no idea what to do with the monastery bit.

DSC_0273Last summer, after years and years of homeschooling our wild tribe of people, we felt Jesus moving us to put our children in public school. Our decision to homeschool the first few kids was made because it was easier to keep the family in a workable schedule while Thad was in seminary. After moving to Rocky Mount, we continued to homeschool because we felt we needed time to assimilate into a new life. Thad was working a full-time job in a field that was new to him. We were planting a church in our home. I was providing full-time care for 3 children in our home, trying to grapple with a call to write, and wading into intentional neighboring.

Life was full and new and FULL.

So we homeschooled again to maintain the fullness of life and in all of the fullness of life, we felt Jesus asking us to trust Him with our children by placing them in public school. Jesus had called us to live on Avent, among the people here, and He was inviting us to be all in. He was inviting us to taste and see His goodness in a new way. He was inviting us to deeper community with a new people that we might know Him more intimately.

After a few months of wrestling, we simply told Jesus yes. No questions asked.

In the fall of 2014, we bought our kids the standard gear and put them on two different buses going to two different schools. I cried when I watched them walk down the street to their bus stops and then came back inside and wrote this post and prayer.

And then I got up and washed a load of laundry.

DSC_0271I tell you all of this because as I’ve spent the last eight weeks making space for hospitality by preparing my heart to receive others, I’ve spent quite a bit of time sitting with feelings that stem from not quite knowing how to walk around in the new person I am becoming. As I’ve grown in Christ, some shifts have been immediately recognizable. But other shifts in my heart have come so slow and steady over time, that I am often surprised by my new heart’s response to things-

Which brings me back to why I opened the whole conversation about public school in the first place.

When we told Jesus yes to public school, we thought we were simply saying yes to being good neighbors. We had no idea that saying yes to public school meant that we were saying yes to every single thing Jesus would put before us while our children were in those schools.

And we had no idea that every yes would only tether us more to the new life Jesus was giving us.

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

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

For me personally, it’s been in this alignment with my neighbors that I’ve fallen in love with Jesus.

But this alignment with my neighbors has also been the thing that has thrown the life I used to know and love all out of whack. It’s messed with all the pretty delusions I have about Christianity and what it means to follow Jesus. It’s widened the chasm between how I used to live and how much more I know about how Jesus desires for me to live. It has snatched the ignorance I once clung to and replaced it with a heavy burden for those whom I love.

And this is why I don’t quite know what to do in this new skin I’m wearing except to keep trusting Jesus to finish what He has begun in me.

But in the meantime, I’ll keep moving furniture and saying yes to everything Jesus invites me to.

His invitations rarely disappoint.

Do Justice. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly. { Thoughts on Racism and My Place}

DSC_0232I’ve spent the better part of my day running errands around town in a car that needs some AC work. It’s been a scorching 100 degree day that has felt more like Dallas than Rocky Mount and under my breath, I’ve cursed the company that couldn’t diagnose our AC needs three weeks ago.

“They’re AC and radiator experts,” I’ve thought to myself all afternoon.”Three days in the shop and $200 later and still no remedy to the heat.  What the heck?”

And on top of all of the heat and sweat pooling in every imaginable part of my body, I’ve been fighting the urge to run from the very thing Jesus is waking His people up to.

If you know me apart from this online space, you know I’m bent to run from all things controversial. I’m made from things that encourage shrugging off uncomfortable conversations and shirking  from responsibility and ignoring hard truth in lieu of make-believe peace keeping.

In my flesh, this is who I am and who I like to be.

Five years ago, when my Jesus-loving husband felt led to pray for a people and a place, I used to stand at the sink and believe that we’d found our people and place in Texas. I’d ignore his prayers over dinner and sling suds in the sink while smiling at him when he asked if I felt a particular nudge from Jesus towards a people and a place.

“I think Jesus is sending us home,” he’d say. “I think it’s Rocky Mount,” he’d clarify.

I’d smile sweetly, knowing he’d lost his mind. Surely Jesus wouldn’t send us home. “A prophet has no honor in her hometown,” I’d think to myself knowing full well I had the gift 0f prophecy. Surely not home.

But sure enough, as forever as the sunsets are in Texas, Jesus sent us home the same year Thad began to pray for a people and a place.

I screamed and cried and laid myself  prostrate on the floor of my kitchen and begged to not go home. “I’ll curl up and die there,” I’d cry. “I’ll become a shadow of the person I’ve become and all the things Jesus has opened my eyes to will become a distant past. I will turn inward and grow silent and assimilate back into the culture that made me and I will forget that Jesus has called me out of my making into a life that does justice, loves mercy and walks humbly with Him.”

And today, as I drove from Target to Sam’s and to Wal-Mart, all I could feel was the pounding in my heart to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before you here in this space.

My bent is to hide out until the powers and voices that be have spoken. My bent is to be steadfast and quiet and reflective and submissive to those who have gone before me- be them right or wrong.

But Jesus has called me home.

And friends, I cannot be quiet or reflective or choose to hide until the storm passes because Jesus has willed the last year’s events into being and He is calling us to wake up.

Whether we want to own it or not, racism lives not only in Florida or Ferguson or New York or McKinney  or Charleston but right here in Rocky Mount.

It does.

Racism exists right here where we live.

DSC_0238When we have predominately black schools in our district with no funds to pay referees and 99% of black children in 8 of our schools receiving free breakfast and lunch everyday, something is not right.

When we have entire pockets of African Americans in our city living in substandard housing and paying astronomical electric bills and living paycheck to paycheck while working two jobs, something is not right.

When I scroll Facebook and read update after update of people’s disgust of our citizens “misusing” EBT dollars and driving too nice of vehicles, something is not quite right.

When most of our churches are segregated and mainstream ministry is seen as whites serving under resourced blacks, we’ve lost all semblance of Jesus’ model of the Church.

When we feel the need to reject the truth that there are stark differences in our skin colors and speak only to the truth of oneness in Christ, we ignore the fact that it was in God’s creative design to make us all shades of colors.

When we negate the sufferings of those living in the margins by drawing attention to the self-righteousness of our thinking, we have mistreated the children of God and served ourselves a lie.

Friends, we have been commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves and we cannot love our friends of color when we are in a full on stance of defense.

We cannot claim the name of Jesus and disclaim the plight of our brothers and sisters who live lives in different skin.

We cannot claim the blessings of Jesus and ignore the hardships of our neighbors six blocks away.

We cannot praise Jesus with whole hearts and fail to weep with those who suffer injustices we’ll never experience.

We cannot condemn those who choose to carry the poverty we’ve never known and lift our own chins higher because our skin color says we’ll never walk the way of those we choose to condemn.

We cannot say that racism does not live here when we’ve never walked a mile in the shoes of our black brothers and sisters.

And we cannot say with our lips that we follow Jesus and choose to ignore the cries of our city with our ears.

We cannot preach one thing and walk another for if we do so, we make Jesus out to be a liar. And He is no liar.

DSC_0233Tonight, as I hole up in my corner of the house, I cannot help but think on every black face in my neighborhood. I cannot help but recall their stories in my head and hear their hurt in my heart and feel their angst in my bones.

I think on race and poverty and injustice more in one day than most people think on any one of these things in a year.

Do I like it?

Not one bit.

I wish I were ignorant to all three.

I wish Jesus had left me to serve the Church in Dallas, Texas in full ministry bliss.

But He didn’t.

Jesus invited me- just like He’s inviting you- to wake up to this new {old} thing He is doing among us.

He is inviting us to be reconciled to one another.

He is inviting us to enter into relationship with one another, shamelessly and humbly, confessing our sins, one to another.

He is inviting us to do justice- to set right the things on earth that aren’t right.

He is inviting us to love mercy- to demonstrate compassion and seek understanding of one’s lot in life.

He is inviting us to walk humbly with Him- to lay down all that we think we are in order to pick up who we are in Jesus.

And He’s calling us to live this out in how we choose to love each other through the manifestation of racism.

Will we be known as a people who did justice, loved mercy, and walked humbly?

Or will be known as a people who ignored the calling of Jesus to love our neighbors as ourselves?

My Unicorn and The Hospitality Project

DSC_0261I’ve got three kids bent over Minecraft legos and three kids bent over a game of Memory and one kid still in the bed. The one in the bed is nearing fourteen and still just as skinny as a string bean. A strikingly gorgeous string bean, of course, but still a bean.

I’m sitting in the corner of my favorite room, in my favorite chair, with my favorite sparkling water in a can on the table beside me and I’m staring into all this life happening right in front of me feeling quite like I may spill all of my own beans right here on this screen.

That’s what some bloggers do, you know? We spill the beans. We over-share. We start talking and don’t know when to stop. We unearth the good, the bad and the ugly and we write it out in hopes that someone will raise their hand and scream ME TOO!

imageYesterday, I found myself on the front porch, alone in the heat, and I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that something about my whole hospitality project was running off course. It was the 17th day of June, the 17th day of Preparing the Home, the 4th day of not hosting company in my home at 6:40 am, and the 3rd day of feeling like all I wanted to do was prepare my home for my family.

And no one else.

I’d ordered a rug for the front room to replace the rug ruined from 3 and a half years of too many feet trampling upon it and I was sitting out there on the porch trying to decide if I should hang navy buffalo check drapes in the same room with the new rug. I’ve wanted navy buffalo check drapes since 2008 and with the heat pouring in through the thin panes of window, I was in full on justification phase of the buffalo check drapes purchase.

We need them. They’ll keep the heat out and the cool in. My windows have been naked since 2012. I like them. I want more privacy. I’m embarrassed that I’ve had naked windows since we moved in. Jesus wants me to have them. They’re like a reward for living in a house with ugly windows. Jesus loves me and He wants to give me the desires of my heart and my desires are for navy buffalo check drapes.

Seriously, y’all. I’ve been thinking about these drapes since 2008, but thinking about these drapes has gone to a whole. ‘nother. level.  since June 1 when I gave myself permission to prepare my home to receive my neighbors.

My rationale: Navy buffalo check drapes will make my home cozy thus making my neighbors want to linger over Styrofoam cups of Kool-Aid and Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies. And if my neighbors linger over Kool-Aid and Little Debbies, then they will come to follow Jesus and those drapes will have served their purpose.

Booyah.

I’m telling you people, The Hospitality Project has run off into the ditch at break-neck speed.

I have lost track of all things godly and equated drapes with people coming to Jesus over Little Debbies. My head has clearly rolled off in the ditch next to The Hospitality Project and my heart is running away with its idols under both arms.

And those idols?

My house. My windows. My new rug. My porch with the potted flowers. My picnic tables with the potted plants. My crappy backyard with the crappy back porch and the crappy fence.

Wait. There’s more.

My image of a clean house. My image of the perfect American backyard. My image of perfect neighbors and perfect meals shared over my picnic tables. My image of perfectly prepared food. My image of drinks shared on the front porch with old friends and new friends who love each other. My image of a perfect family.

There’s still more, but I’ll spare you.

Because here’s the deal: June has kicked me in the hiney.

Time spent thinking about preparing my home to receive others has simply illuminated the ugly truth that I care more about the way my home looks and feels and smells than I do about lowering its bar of entry low enough to welcome every person who comes into my home.

Knowing that hospitality is the overflow of a heart so full of Jesus that it can’t help but spill over onto others is one thing. Living that sort of hospitality is a whole other thing.

Living it means that all things are secondary to Jesus and people.

Living it means that you can hang drapes and buy rugs and pot flowers until you’re blue in the face as long as your heart is empty enough to hold Jesus and the people He sends your way.

And my heart is holding a whole lot of my house and some drapes, y’all.

Some navy buffalo check drapes to be exact.

Your turn. What is your heart holding today? I need someone to scream ME TOO!

*This is the second post in the second month of The Hospitality Project. This month is all about preparing the home. Preparing the home to receive others is good and right, it just can’t trump the heart preparation.

The Heat of the Harris Casa and Shining Like the Sun

DSC_0265I hosted my first ever Noonday Trunk show last night on the hottest day of the year. {I also failed to take even one picture. Bummer.}

For some of you, the temperature outside makes little to no difference on the temperature inside your home. But for those of us who live in homes built before 1925, with the original windows still intact, soaring temperatures outside mean soaring temperatures inside.

So at 5:45, after a full 48 hours of the AC never clicking off, my house was a toasty 82 degrees.

Luckily for the eight of us,  it was still 103 outside so my house still felt cool-ish.  We also had peach Bellinis on ice. And goat cheese stuffed dates wrapped in bacon and a succotash salad with ribbons of basil and bites of avocado which kept our mouths distracted enough to not feel the heat.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself as I sit in the dark daring the sun to rise and burn my house to the ground.

But I digress. I didn’t pop in here to tell you all about the heat. I popped in here to tell you about Noonday.

DSC_0262I first heard about Noonday in 2012 when the company was just barely a company. I was on the edge of looking differently at poverty and my neighbors and I was hyper-aware of anything that brought awareness to vulnerable people groups AND gave voice to the stories of their  lives.

Noonday did both and went one step further.

Noonday not only told the story of vulnerable people groups and their art, they partnered with global artisans and empowered them to grow their businesses by creating a marketplace for them to sell their products.

I could write you a thousand words on all the ways Noonday loves our global neighbors but I won’t. I’ll just encourage you to click here and check out the simple flow chart of how this company functions to the glory of Jesus and to the dignity of others. They way Noonday serves and loves others inspires and challenges me to love my own neighbors better.

And honestly, I love the art this company brings to my world.

Each piece curated by Noonday is handmade in one of 13 countries with resources that are found in their backyard. Some pieces take as many as 40 hours to complete and each piece tells a story.

A joy-filled, life-giving story.

I’m sharing all of this with you because I sincerely believe that as Jesus-followers, we should care about where and how we spend our dollars.

Do our spent dollars lift the heads of others or do they keep someone in bondage?

Do our spent dollars perpetuate a selfish consumerism mentality or do our spent dollars propel another person into a life of 3 meals a day?

Isaiah 58:10 says this:

“If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”

I want to shine like the noonday.

How about you?

HUGE thank you to Emily Sexton for being such a great ambassador and for enduring the heat of the Harris casa. If you’d like to support Noonday by making a purchase that will lift the head of someone today, click this link. Look for my name in the Trunk Show field. It will be there for the next few days. Also, LOTS of items are on sale right now so grab them before they sale out. Each piece is a work of art that will quickly become your favorite.

Here’s a short video if you’d like more info on Noonday.

 

On Being More Family and Less Charity

DSC_0105On Sunday night, right as the sun had begun to fall behind the big oak tree and cast the whole street in a burnt orange glow, I stood out on the sidewalk and looked into our yard at the people filling its tables.  I did a quick mental head count, lumping family units together and the new kids together and the usual kids together.  I then did another mental head count, lumping the evening’s volunteers together.

Something felt off, but I shrugged the feeling away.

I watched as the kids devoured over a hundred hotdogs with chili and relish and I snapped pictures of the ones willing to pose for the camera. I spent time in the dust bowl we call the basketball court and got so caught up in the ferocity of the game that I forgot I was supposed to be capturing the slam dunks in pixels for kids who know I’ll share their skills via social media. They think if I post enough pictures they’ll be discovered, especially the one with the face that loves my camera. I smile now at the thought of that.

At a little past 6, after the sun had finished dropping behind the big oak tree, the girls climbed into the back of a trailer for a hayless hay ride around the neighborhood and left the boys behind. The red tractor pulling a trailer in the middle of the city is a hilarity all on its own, but the kids love it and my brother loves any excuse to drive through town on his favorite toy. Thirty minutes later, the boys hopped on for their turn around the block and I found myself standing on the sidewalk again, trying to swallow down the feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

I stood there on that sidewalk for a good long while, chewing my bottom lip and squinting my left eye and staring back  into the yard, taking stock of the happenings and the people and the dust from the basketball court.

Something was definitely off.

And I knew exactly what is was.

Tonight’s meal looked more like a program being run by white volunteers than a family meal being shared among neighbors.

This was not good. My gut was telling me so.

And so were some of the faces of my neighbors.

I knew where we had we gone wrong, but I wasn’t sure how we were going to remedy this situation.

DSC_0149I’m often asked why we moved to Avent Street or why we don’t just live somewhere else and simply drive in a few times a week and do ministry.

I always respond with the same answer, something like Jesus told us to live here. I also smile rather sheepishly and change the subject because I know to expound on the answer is to open a whole can of worms that just wind up slithering between me and to whomever I’m talking.

Because here’s the thing, if we don’t choose to live among the marginalized and wholeheartedly choose to identify with poor, calling them our people, our family,  then our service is nothing more than charity ringing like a clanging cymbal.

Unless we move in and prepare a place of welcome on a level playing field, then what we offer feels like a handout and a not a hand out in friendship.

Unless we choose to embrace the slow way of Jesus and stay a good long time in a place, our presence will be untrustworthy to our neighbors.

When Jesus chose to push His Gospel forward on Avent Street, He invited us to join Him here that this place might have a tangible, everyday representation of Himself. He meant for the people here to be able to see Him, touch Him, hear Him. He meant for my neighbors to experience the safety of His presence, the joy found round the His table on a Sunday night, the HOPE of salvation found in His Gospel and He meant for us to be His little Christs here that they may know Him.

Which is why we started the Sunday night meals in the first place.

We wanted to invite our neighbors to taste and see Jesus with people that already love them and call them friend.

 DSC_0100Sunday night’s sidewalk epiphany has had me thinking through all sorts of things this week. It’s had me thinking how white I really am and how not white my neighbors really are. It’s had me thinking through my resources and asking myself how we mobilize our neighbors to serve the meal rather than depend on non-neighbors to serve and clean up.

But it’s also had me thinking through the post I wrote last week for Grace Table and how Jesus’ plan for advancing the Gospel is so simple.

We’ve complicated things and institutionalized so much of life that we’ve squashed the natural rhythms of disciple making that Jesus put into place.

Even this go and live among a people group business is something we’ve put into the box labeled Only For Foreign Missionaries.

But it’s not just for foreign missionaries, is it?

It’s for every one of us.

Every one of us is invited to live so intentionally, right where we are, that our people might come to know Jesus.

And some of us are invited to go and live intentionally in a new place that those people might know Jesus, too.

 

*In case you were wondering about our Sunday night crowd of volunteers, let me assure you that they are rockstars. Seriously. We prayed for workers and Jesus has seen fit to send 36 people. Every person who has served on a Sunday night has loved well, served well, and been a JOY. Thad and I just haven’t been able to come up with a plan of action to accommodate the help while preserving the community feel of the meal. And in the process, Jesus has opened our eyes to some things we’d not considered.  If you’re willing, could you pray that we are wise with volunteers and harmless as doves with our neighbors? Thanks friends.