Yes, Scared

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

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

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

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

Without thinking, I responded with:

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

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

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

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

OK. We’ll figure it out.

Thirty minutes later, she was here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am grateful for the time to breathe, alone.

And I’ll be grateful when she comes home.

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

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

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

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

It’s really that simple and that complicated.

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

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

One scared yes at a time.

A Confession of Reconciliation

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

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

It was unavoidable, really.

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

So I went there and said something like this:

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

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

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

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

imageBecause that was the truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I get scared.

I just do.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

So. Your Kid Wants To Be An Urban Missionary.

DSC_0925So.

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

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

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

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

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

If this is you, this post is for you.

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

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

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

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

But can I tell you something?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If it’s broken, we want to fix it.

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

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

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

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

This is what is means to be an urban missionary.

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

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

5 Things That Make Me Go Hmmmm…

imageLet me preface this entire post with a few words.

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

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

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

So guess what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT.

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

imageWhere are the men?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Late Night Confessions From A Reluctant Urban Missionary

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

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

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

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

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

You’re welcome. 

 

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