Surprised by Motherhood Giveaway Winners!

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Oh man.

I loved all your Surprised by Motherhood  responses.  Thank you all for entering.  I hope Lisa-Jo’s book makes you laugh and cry and want to hang on to every moment of motherhood.

Because really, we don’t want it to be over.

Most days, anyway.

The winners of the 5 books  are :

Martha P.

Peggy S.

Rachel Q.

Emily

Jenny W.

All winners have been notified by email and should receive their books next week!

And local mamas, I have a few more copies stashed in my purse for you.  When I see you in line at our fabulous Target Starbucks with your cart full of screaming children and you have that wild crazed look in your eye, I may just come over there and hand you a book of love.  So receive it.  And then pass it on to another mama.

{FYI- This book sold out on Amazon this week!  And then sold out again at CBD!  You can still get a copy at Lifeway or Barnes and Noble…I think.  So hurry!}

 

Surprised by Motherhood {In Which I Break My Fast to Make a Baby Announcement and Host a Giveaway!}

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On Sunday, I sat on a tarmac in Dallas waiting to head home.  I had the window seat so I leaned into the glass, soaking up the last few rays of Texas sun.  Tears rolled in a silent stream down my face and I let them roll, wanting to feel the ache of loss right alongside the swelling ache of joy.

My heart was full and empty and then full again as I let my mind wade into the next thing in this season of just doing the next thing. Thoughts came fast and furious, each one crashing into the next, all coming together in one word:

Motherhood.

I took the word and turned it over and over again in the palm of my hand, surprised by its weight.

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I have a confession to make.

I have a hard time wrapping my hands around this thing called motherhood.

I’ve been a mama for 12 years and 8 months and in those 12 years and 8 months, I’ve birthed 6 little people into this great big world.

(I had a baby every 18-22 months for 10 years, y’all.  Three c-sections and 3…well, you know.)

I can make a baby and I can birth a baby and I can change a diaper like nobody’s business.

I can survive on zero hours of sleep and 27 cups of coffee, while breastfeeding and wrangling 1 toddler and 2 preschoolers in the church while simultaneously passing out goldfish and picking up trash and counting out craft sticks for Sunday’s floorboard art decor.

(Seriously.  I did that.  Like for 3 years.  Except by the third year, there were 6 little people.)

I can handle diarrhea and vomit and snot, all at the same time, and not lose my head or my lunch.

I can do laundry like a boss and whip up frozen pizza like the Red Baron and fist bump boo-boos like a champ.

I can administer the Dobson method of reining in the strong-willed child while putting one into time-out and swatting another on the hiney with a wooden spoon.

I can homeschool and preschool and un-school and cry the ugly cry the whole time.

I can read 18 and half parenting books and still not know a darn thing about mothering or parenting or training up.

I can do the stuff and go through the motions of every single day and yet, not fully grasp the weight of glory that rests heavy on my mama shoulders.

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Today marks the beginning of a 15 month season of launching a Mothers of Preschoolers for my hometown.

Today is the day I pick up my pom-poms and become a cheerleader for the mamas in my place.

And today, the biggest mama cheerleader of us all releases her first book, Surprised by Motherhood.

Coincidence?

I don’t think so.  I think God is just awesome like that.

Lisa-Jo Baker has written the most beautiful book about motherhood.

It’s not a how-to or a guide-to or a this-is-how-the-pros-do-it book on motherhood.

It’s not a checklist of parental duties or a call to be more.

It’s simply her story, a love letter of sorts, to every mama who has ever struggled with becoming a mother.

It’s a battle cry to every mama who is drowning in the mundane moments of her days:  Keep going.  Jesus loves you and He is in the trenches with you.

It’s a reminder that we are fully woman and fully mother and that God is not asking us to trade in one crown for another.  We get to wear both.

It’s a quiet whisper to embrace every surprise that motherhood holds and give thanks that we get to do this.

Today, to help celebrate Lisa-Jo’s book release, I am giving away 5 copies of Surprised by Motherhood.  (And for those of you wondering, yes, I am breaking my blog fast for this book.  I think Jesus knows my heart.  {smile})

I’m giddy with excitement for her and for us.

To enter, leave me a comment on one way you’ve been surprised by motherhood!

Winners will be announced on Friday at 9am.

(Psst…Rocky Mount MOPS mamas…Surprised by Motherhood is going to our book club book this fall!)

Now, for those of you who need to be in the know on everything, here are some links to help you fall in love with Lisa-Jo and her book.

Surprised by Motherhood, the website page

Surprised by Motherhood, where you can get it

Lisa-Jo Baker, all about her 

Love a mama in Maubane, find out the how and the what

And for those of you who wanna cry here you go:

 

*And y’all I have missed you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! See you after Easter!

In Which I Lay Down the Blog {and other happenings…}

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Today marks the first day of Lent.

And all week, I’ve been sitting on some fence in my mind, trying to figure out what I’d be willing to lay down for 40 days.

Let’s be honest, 40 days is a long time.

I’ve toyed with giving up social media time or deleting all the apps from my phone or giving up books.

But yesterday, while I mixed batter for cupcakes, I stood at the kitchen counter and knew whatever I chose to give up would have to be the thing that threatened to rule my heart.

So last night, while the house slept and the Man read a book, I ran through the things that fill my life and sifted them like sand through my fingers.

And I didn’t like what was left in my palm.

It caused me momentary angst to find my art, this blog, left in my hand.

And I resisted the urge to wrap my fingers around it, naming off every reason why I couldn’t or shouldn’t or wouldn’t lay it down.

Surely, Jesus wouldn’t ask me to give Him my blog?  

But in the deepest, softest  parts of my heart, this truth welled up inside:

My art is the one thing that poses the biggest threat to my relationship with Jesus.

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So for Lent, I’ll pick up my brave and lay down the blog, like I did in October,
I’ll get quiet and live wholeheartedly in my real life and do real life things,
And I’ll have coffee with Jesus, most every morning.

I’ll give Him space to search my heart and cut away the parts that displease Him.

And in 40 days, I’ll tell you what this time away has cost me,
Or what it has given me.

If you’ve not yet chosen something to lay at the feet of Jesus during this season of Lent, I encourage you to lay down something other than Starbucks or Diet Coke.

Lay down something that tears your heart a little.
And trust Jesus to be enough.

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While I’m away, could you pray for me?

I’ve got some things going on this month that I’d not intended to tell you until they were over, but I’m feeling like a sitting duck here on Avent, so I’m just gonna tell you.

On March 7-8:  I’ll be away, writing.  Not writing words to read, but words to speak.  And I’m not a speaker.  Please pray that the Lord would order my thoughts and give me clarity.  And of course, some words.

During the month of March, I will be filling in the gaps for our Rocky Mount area MOPS group steering team.  We’re due to launch a brand new group in Fall of 2014.  If you are local and have a heart for the moms in our city, you can hear me talk about MOPS here. Don’t laugh and please don’t share it.  I prefer for it be lost in youtube space forever.  And if you have a minute, please pray that God would build His team for this work.

On March 28, I’ll be away speaking the words I plan to write on March 8.  I’m a breakout speaker for a Jennie Allen mini-conference in Dallas at my home church there and y’all this is a small thing, but I get blotchy even when I think about it.  So please pray that Jesus will speak for me and I’ll just stand there and not cry.  I’m speaking on Place and for the past few months, this theme has really been coming out in my writing.  So just pray.  That’s all.

Thank you for standing in my gap and praying when I have no words left to pray.  And if there is something you’d like for me to pray for you about, please let me know.

I think I may just have some extra time this month.

On Living The In-Between {While Keeping One Toe In The Dream}

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Long after the kids have crawled into bed, we talk shop.

Not shop as in his 7-5 and my 6:40-5:30, but shop as in the church.

He’s reading Center Church and I’m dreaming MOPS and there’s this street we live on called Avent, that most days, eats our lunch.

So we don’t talk shop often.

We live shop.

And this living shop suffocates us if we give it much room to lean in too tightly.

But tonight, the sleet pounds outside on the pavement and we’re huddled up inside, leaving the space between the talking and the living shop just a sliver.

So we stick our toes into that sliver and we sit a spell.

“What are you thinking?” I ask him.  It’s our question for each other when silence hangs in the air, the unspoken words not yet tied together.

He looks up from his book.  ”The church,” he says.

I wish I hadn’t asked as soon as he says it.

“What about the church?” I ask, sticking my whole foot into that sliver of space.

He shrugs his shoulders.   “The whosoever wills and the whosoever want tos,” he said.  ”I’m  wondering if we’re just a church full of whosoever want tos.   You know, the ones who come to everything, but take nothing and run with it.  The want-tos.  Are we that kind of church?”

I sigh from my place on the couch,  his words hanging heavy in the room.  I shrug my shoulders with him.

He’s not looking for an answer so I let his words hang there.

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I watch him as he chews on the end of his reading glasses and I memorize the side of his face, the way his eyes crinkle in the corners, even when he’s not smiling.

He’s lost in his book and I’m lost in dreaming and for the moment, I pick up the number of years that have passed between us.

I like to think of us at 19, when the whole world seemed wide open and Rocky Mount was just my hometown.  We were wild and reckless and foolish.  And we were crazy in love with the idea of being in love.  Time would fly into the night sky and sit right alongside the stars while we sat on the steps of Grey dorm stealing tomorrow’s minutes.  We would laugh into the darkness and talk marriage and babies and ministry and all things Baptist.

Mainly, because that’s all we knew to talk about .

We dreamed big and audacious things, hoping that Jesus would find a way to make Himself known in our midst and through our lives, never giving thought to the in-between times, those times filled with babies and bills and unfilled longing.

We never considered that the bulk of our lives would be spent in the in-between.

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This morning, the wind whips in sideways, scattering last night’s snowy mixture across the deck and I make coffee.

The sunlight glistens from the eaves that hang from the back side of the house and I stand in the light it casts across the floor.  It’s warm against my wool socks.

The babies sleep late and the Man and I soak up some minutes alone.  It’s a half-snow day and he’s not due at the office for a few more hours.

He eats toast and reads Galatians while I catch up on email.  We grin at one another from our ends of the table, relishing in the in-between moment,

Until the phone rings at a little before 8.

“Hey- can you chat about MOPS?” she asks.  ”I watched the video.  I’m all in.”

And for the briefest of moments, I stick one toe into this sliver of a dream and give thanks for a whosoever will.

And then I resume my place at the end of our table, and live the in-between.

 

*Some of you have asked about the pictures I post here- On Sunday afternoons, while the kids escape to the yard, I drive over the railroad tracks and poke around for something that catches my eye.  And I’ve learned that if I go looking for something pretty, pretty usually makes an appearance.  I use a Nikon D3100 that I really don’t know how to use, but I’m learning.  If you get a chance, you should drive downtown.  You might find it refreshingly beautiful.

Choose {Five Minute Friday}

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I walk the house round and round while the babies nap and I wipe the sweat from my palms down the front of my jeans.

I steal minutes, here and there, and pen words in chicken scratch and I watch the clock.

The day drags.

And I’ve got nothing.

 

I serve pound cake with whipped cream while the women make small talk and pin on name tags and at 7:03, I open in prayer.

Women with nothing understand the art of prayer and I pray, using no pretty words.

I don’t even know how to pray pretty.

We work through God’s Story and take notes during the video and in the middle of the video, I decide to trash the rest of my plans for our time together.

And I go rogue.

Completely off topic.

I do everything but close the book.

To my surprise, I find my voice right there in the middle of the choir room.

And I smile,

Not because I think I’ve found my voice, my something…

I smile because I think God just swooped in and whispered to me:

Who’s writing this story?  Me or you?  You choose.

5-minute-friday-1Happy Friday Y’all!  I’m linking up with Lisa-Jo and her Five Minute Friday clan again this Friday and as always, I’m writing in real time, giving you guys an honest peek into my patched up heart and messy life.  It’s been a while. I had forgotten how much I love this community of writers!   And I thank you now, for a heaping spoon of grace. (and this post took me 7 minutes, plus 3 to upload a pic.  for real.)

If you have thirty minutes, pop on over and meet some of the other writers.  You’ll be glad you did.

In Which I Leave It Unfinished

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On Saturday, before the Man and I left the house to celebrate every special occasion we’d failed to celebrate in the last 2 years, I opened up a sweet little note card my kids had found in the mailbox.

I love snail mail.

It’s my love language.

And my cracked up heart swelled with joy at the promise of kind words,

Until I read the ten scrawled out lines.

And then I realized that the snail mail was to inform me that a friendship had indeed ended and that all forms of contact were to be put on hold.

I had been un-friended in most every sense of the word.

Somewhere between the house and the restaurant, I decided that the nail polish and glass on the front porch failed to hurt my heart as much as that note in the mail.

And I felt myself curl inward, wilting under the feelings of shame and insecurity and loss.

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On Tuesday, when the babies were supposed to be napping and I was supposed to be composed and put together on one end of the phone, I found myself, with a crying baby on one hip, a toddler crying at my feet, and seven other children running like wild ones throughout the house, trying to cradle the phone next to my ear.

I made small talk while she chatted away about my porch and sunlight and the interview and the photo shoot.  My heart pounded, keeping time with the fourteen feet pounding the hardwood, and I stared at myself in the mirror, never dropping the conversation.

“Sure.  Eleven o’clock next Friday is great.  The sun should be pretty then,” I said into the phone as if I know anything about photography and lighting.  ”See you then.”

And before I could put the phone down, it rang again.

I heard kids in the background and I exhaled, giving my house room to breathe.

“It’s fine, really.  My house is as noisy as yours,” I told her.  ”So tell me what I need to know.”

I listened to her give me the schedule of the weekend and we talked flights and meal plans and things I would need.

“Would you need a table or maybe a stool?  Or what about power point?” she asked.  ”I can print out handouts or you could do table discussions.  Whatever you want to do is fine.”

I smiled into the phone while I spoon fed the toddler who wouldn’t feed herself and answered, “Sarah, I have no idea.  I’ve never done this before.  I can’t breathe.  Seriously.”

We talked on and she spoke words of life to me.

And as I listened to her encourage my soul, I stared at my reflection in the dining room mirror.

What are these people thinking?  

Who am I and why now and why this place?

And then I put first things first and realized that this mama couldn’t possibly drop ten pounds in ten days.

But she was going to try her darnedest.

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Right this minute, the older kids play kickball in the side yard while the babies nap and I sip tea.

I’m new to this tea drinking business, but I’m transported somewhere across the ocean to a place called Downton when I drink it.

And some afternoons I just need to pretend that I’m somewhere else.

Today is one of those days.

I’ve only written a few posts in the last few weeks and it’s not for lack of things to say.

It’s for sheer lack of being able to process this speeding train that is my life.

This train is railed on rickety tracks wrapped tightly around the curve of a mountain and I cannot see where I’m headed.  But it’s going somewhere, really fast.

And it seems to have sped up, just as I’ve learned to embrace the slow, steady pace of my little town.

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In the mornings, I fill pages with every thought that comes to my mind and in the afternoons I unravel the threads of my life, trying to make sense of the ugly and the beautiful.

Restless?

No, not restless.

I’m in the sweetest spot of my life right now.

And this sweet spot scares me like nothing I’ve ever felt before.

I am afraid of my life and I am most afraid of its best parts.

I am filled with purpose, but when I consider my purpose, my ounce of brave runs for cover.

I am scared of what my purpose may cost me:  Another relationship?  Slashed tires?  A brick through my window?  Critique?  Regular bouts of fear and dread and insecurity?  Time with my family?  Leading with my limp exposed for all the world to see?

I fear myself and my own motives and my busted up heart.

But I think what I fear the most is being used of God in my place.

 

My tea is lukewarm now and kids whirl in and out of my space, the outdoors too cool for kickball at 3:00 in the afternoon.

And that steady drum of fear subsides, just a little, with the laughter that fills the house…

 

At a few minutes past 3:30 today, while I was wrapping up this post before the babies woke from nap, my phone began to ding every few seconds.  I ignored the first few, hastily tapping out words, and then I noticed the screen light up with a Facebook comment about this post I wrote on our Rocky Mount IF: Gathering.  I smiled at her kind words and then noticed that she was commenting on a post that I did not make.

And so I logged off and planned to come back here and wrap this post up for you.

But I think I’ll let it stand as is, unfinished, and let what God is doing in place surprise us both.

 

{I sincerely thank Lisa-Jo Baker for tweeting my post on Monday and then sticking my Jacked post in her sidebar.  As a result of this tweet,

IF:Gathering found my post.  Words fail me.  So I humbly offer a thank you because this story is not mine.  I just get the blessing of writing it.  Thank you.}

 

 

In Which We Don’t Kill The Trash

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When the Man and I were babies and in the middle of our first church planting gig, we lived in the mountains of North Carolina.  We set up house in the projects and got our first taste of poverty.

We learned about generational sin and incest and mental illness and witchcraft and drug abuse and good ol’ boy theology.

And trust me, nobody wants to learn anything about good ol’ boy theology.  (It ain’t no good, in case you’re wondering.)

But one story from Spruce Pine stands out in my mind today and in light of today’s happenings, the Man and I have roared with laughter at the thought of it.  The story is one our ministry leader used to tell and I’ll tell you now, because sometimes it’s good to laugh.

And sometimes, it’s good to remember these sorts of things because they remind us of the war we’re fighting.

Because we’re at war, whether we live like it or not.

And so I tell you the story, just like our ministry leader told it, and I hope it stays with you.

Well, when he finally became a believer, after years and years of praying for him, I thought our church needed to hear his story.  So, I invited Jack to tell the church about how God had saved him.  He was all cleaned up when he showed up at the theater.  He had his bible and his pants were clean and he was excited to sit up there on the stage and tell his story.  I set him on a stool and then let him get at it, you know, telling his guts and everything.  He talked and talked and talked and the church was getting excited.  Jack was confessing his sins and talking about his drug abuse and about the evil found down in the hollers of them mountains and then all of a sudden Jack had his bible up in the air, yelling about the devil and drug dealers and how we should just “Kill the Trash!”

It was crazy and I sat there looking at this brand new Jesus follower and looking at my excited church and all I could hear was him saying, “Kill the Trash!’.  And I thought that maybe Jack and I should have rehearsed what he was going to say.

And after that, I never let someone share their story.

-Randy, Jesus follower,church planting guru, pastor, father of 3, trash loving man

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I find myself fumbling around here tonight, unsure of what to say.

The things I think I’m supposed to say are a repeat of last week’s things, even down to the knock on the door and the baby who opened the door while her mama was fourteen minutes into her once a month nap.

And nobody wants a repeat,

Unless the repeat is to serve as a reminder to keep running.

And yesterday, I must have needed a reminder, because when my dear baby flung opened the door and yelled into my bedroom that some lady was here to see me, AGAIN, I groaned out loud.  And then flung my legs over the side of the bed and dragged myself to the front room.  I was in no hurry.  I knew the kids were already making her right at home.

She met me and before I said a word, she rambled out the longest sentence known to man: “Hey, I need something but it won’t cost you any food or money or a ride to the store or anything like that I just need your internet to set up my brand new Xbox 1 that we bought for Phat’s birthday with our tax money and then when we set it up I won’t need internet anymore because the games are already in the Xbox and I just need your internet for a little while do you have wi-fi I promise I won’t be here long.”

I gave her the password and then laid on the couch.  She never stopped talking and I never stopped praying, “Jesus.  Help me.”

She stayed more than 2 hours.  (and let me be clear- I love this girl,  just not during my nap time.)

We ate popcorn for dinner at 7:30.

At 8, we dressed the kids in pajamas and snuggled up to watch The Hobbit.   And then at 11, the Man and I curled up on the couch to talk shop.  We talked with our hands and forgot to whisper and for the first time in a long time, we were chasing the same dream for our place.  We didn’t crawl into bed until nearly 1.

And we slept like babies, forgetting this race we’re called to run is right through a war zone.

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This morning, we woke to broken glass and urine and nail polish splashed all over our porch.  Litter was strewn across the yard and down the sidewalk, all the way down to our neighbor’s house.

The law came and scratched out notes and took our stories and knocked on doors.

And this afternoon, I swept glass and scraped nail polish from the front porch and all the while, one phrase played over and over in my head:

Kill the trash!

I thought of Jack on that stool and the way those 3 words served as his battle cry to his place:  Kill the trash!

And I thought about how quickly those same words could roll off my tongue.

It’s much easier to kill the trash, or at least try and drive it out,  than it is to keep going back and being Jesus to a pair of boys who make me so mad I snatch a knot in their corn rows.

It’s much easier to take up arms and plant cameras from every limb in our old oak tree than it is to sit on the porch and engage them face to face.

It’s much easier to pack up and move out and give the ‘hood the finger than it is to humbly bend low and have the boys watch me clean up their urine from my steps.

But we’re called to die, y’all, in every sense of the word.

And we’re called to love the unlovely.

For we’re not at war with people and places and things that go bump in the night.

We’re at war against the most evil forces of wickedness in the heavens.

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So we dig in our heels and plant flowers in the yard and we stock up on Kool-aid.

We open up the blinds and invite the neighborhood to come and sit on the swing.

And we stake a claim on this patch of earth,

For spring is coming,

And Aslan is on the move.

 

On Being Jacked and All the Things I’m Not

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On Monday, when the house was still in disarray with the things of IF and the kids were circling the kitchen waiting on lunch, the smallest one yelled from the front door, “Mama, some lady is here!”

I sighed, too tired to see straight, too word weary to come up with more words.  I wiped my hands down the front of my jeans and made my way to the front door, my small one still holding the door wide open like I’d told her not to do.  I saw her on the other side of the door frame, her posture bent in defeat, her hands stuffed deep into her coat pockets.  I sighed again, mentally taking stock of my pantry, figuring out what we could spare.

“Hey there,” I said. “What’s going on this morning?”  The kids wound around my legs.  She smiled into my warm house.  ”You wanna come in for a bit?”

She nodded and I shuffled the kids about, making space for her.  Cigarette smoke and kerosene filled my lungs and my throbbing head pounded a little harder.   Lord, really?

My neighbor pulled up a chair and I sat caddy corner from her, a mere twenty inches between the two of us.  She leaned in close, “Hey, you might wanna make them kids leave the room.  I gotta tell you something they ain’t got no business hearing.”

My oldest girl’s eyes met mine as she gathered up the tribe plus three  and I caught her smiling at me.  She’s an old soul, y’all and she’s getting this inner city stuff.  I have to remind myself that this education here on Avent is part of the sacrifice and part of the gift.

We waited until the kids were wrangled and then she looked at me, her own eyes wide open at the thought of what she wanted to tell me. I leaned into her space, my head propped up on my fist, inviting her to speak her mind.

And I listened to her,

For an hour and a little more.

And all the while, my insides rolled over with each word I heard and I begged Jesus to give me a word to speak to her.  I swallowed the things my flesh longed to say and beat back all sorts of angry things I longed to lay on her:  Are you kidding me? You want your kid back in the same house with your husband who abused her?  You can’t afford a baby.  You don’t have a job. You’re jacked up on all sorts of things and you won’t get help.  You knew what he was doing to her and you chose to be silent.

I heard my kids in the next room over and the microwave beeped letting me know that  lunch was ready, but she was on a roll.  I couldn’t just shew her out the front door.  So I let her keep talking.

I dug in, my elbows square on the table, and I plastered a smile on my face.  And I was fuming on the inside.

I did not sign up for this.  She’s beyond help.  It’s hopeless out here on Avent.  No, the whole dang world is hopeless and broken and I’m not cut out for this.  I can’t help her and even if I could, I really don’t want to help her.  She’s not worthy of my help or my can of beans or $20 for rent.  She’s not even aware that I’m up to my eyeballs in my kids and other people’s kids and below average homeschooling and 98 broken branches and pinwheels and mason jars and that I’m TIRED beyond words.  

And somewhere between her word dump and my anger stuff, I found her hand on my arm.  I looked at her fingernails, the way every other one was polka dotted in white on pink.  Her hands looked small, child-like, not worn and aged,  like her face.

I heard nothing coming out of her mouth.

I only felt her hand on my arm.

I don’t know what to say or do to help you and Jade,” I said.  ”Your life is a mess and I’m a mess and this whole world is jacked up.  And I’m sorry that life is so hard.”

“You opened your door for me,” she said.  ”If I hadn’t come in here, I would have gone and done what I usually do.  You know what I do, right?”

I nodded her way and then saw her to the door.

“Thank you for letting me just talk,” she said.  ”Nobody just lets me talk.”

“You can talk to Jesus, all the time.  Even when you’re walking down the street,” I said.  ”He sees you and He hears you and He loves you better than me.”

She walked down the steps, out onto the sidewalk.  ”Yeah, I know,” she said.  ”But I can touch you.”

I smiled her way and watched as she shuffled away.

And all I could muster was one question, Jesus, what are you doing here in me?

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For the entire month of January, I struggled to find my words.  I tossed my lack of words up to the work of IF and the stress of snow days and the hurt of families leaving our church.

I  filled up 7 days prior to IF with beautiful guest posts and 1 day with an IF recap and today, as my family has run back and forth from the bathroom, I’ve tapped out words that I’ve trashed.

I struggle with who I am and who you think I am and how the two come together in the story I choose to write.

I fight to keep my blinders on and to do the next thing, not expecting anything more than the thing I can see.  Or the thing I can’t see.

And when we’re together, either online or in real life, I fight the urge to run and hide, fearful of how I’ll disappoint you.

(Because I will disappoint you.   Trust me.  Ask my second born Audrey about her epic birthday cake or my girl, Jessica, who just had a baby and I forgot to bring her the meal I signed up to deliver her, or the families who left our church because I didn’t meet their needs. I’m getting really good at disappointing people.)

Some of you have asked me all sorts of nonsense, like “Do you speak at events?” or “Could you meet with me and help me figure out how to love the poor?” or “What do you think about the race issues in our city?” or “What should my family do to love Rocky Mount better?’.

Y’all, the answer to all the above questions is the same:  ”I don’t know, but let me sit on that for a while and I’ll get back with you.”

And then I sit on your questions and never get back to you because I have no idea what you want me to say.

I do know this:  I’m no speaker or advocate on eradicating poverty or expert on racial reconciliation or cheerleader for our city.

I’m just a jacked up mama who happens to live on Avent street because her Jesus loving husband wanted to plant a church in the City on the Rise.  I’m not special or brave or amazing (Really?  Amazing is a stretch.).

This writing I do here does not make me any different than you.

It just makes YOU aware of me and the God who is writing this story I never asked to live.

So I encourage you to drop your bar of me way down into the dirt and let me be wholly me.

You’ll like me better in real life if I start out in a puddle of mud.  {smile and wink}

And the story from this past Monday- It’s the whole truth.

All of it.

I tell you because to not would give you some illusion that I have this life here figured out.

And I don’t have it figured out.

I’m just doing the next thing.

IF Gathering: Rocky Mount {On How I’d Rather Not Tell You}

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When I first heard Jennie share about the IF:Gathering in Austin, I told the Man I was willing to pay any amount of money to get a ticket.

He only smiled and nodded at me and I grinned back at him, knowing full well I was going to be in Austin on February 7 and 8.

When the tickets sold out in 42 minutes flat, I just shrugged my shoulders, and thought to myself, “Well, I’ll fly to Dallas and watch the simulcast with my home church.”

And in the quiet of that morning spent around the table covered with school books and pencils, I heard quite clearly, “You don’t live there anymore.  You live in Rocky Mount.”

I remember smiling at the sheer truth of God’s whisper and the audacity of His stirring in my spirit-

For I had only a bag of nothing to offer this place-

And God was asking me to give Him space to make something from nothing.

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I should have had an inkling that God was up to something bigger than me when my family room filled with the likes of twenty women, all gathered round Ann’s One Thousand Gifts,

But I didn’t.

In January of last year, I was still reeling with the death of my life’s dream, feeling altogether punished by God for loving His church more than I actually loved Him and I’d been journaling my way through a whole year’s worth of my soul’s junk.   We were twelve months into a floundering church plant and one month into losing four families and I was a wreck.   I was missing home and missing who I thought I used to be and stumbling over rock after rock, trying to find my footing here in my new-old place.  Out of desperation, I sent out a blanket invitation all over Rocky Mount for women to join me in counting One Thousand Gifts.  I prayed for a handful while hoping for three.

And then God, who is all merciful and all good and all loving, chose to fill my house with women from all over our city.

I sat before those women and I wept.

I wept for my broken heart and I wept because I knew God loved me enough to ruin me.

For six weeks, we muddled our way through counting gifts and when it was over,  I carried on about my life, pining away for things that were no longer mine.

And like some Israelite,  I longed to return to the life I knew full well while God stood before me, lighting the way into a place I had no desire to go.

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In August of last year, as I geared up to launch a Fall study on Jen Hatmaker’s 7, I found myself unable to sleep.  I ceased being able to go through the motions of everyday life, too tired to function or find purpose in this life I’d been given.

And then in September, I fractured my wrist and my whole world stopped.

I tapped out a few lines here at my online address and then logged off.  For nearly six weeks, I got really quiet and really still.

And somewhere between September and November, I found myself here,

In Rocky Mount, North Carolina,

And I surrendered my life to Jesus and to this place,

Wholeheartedly.

I just didn’t know that when I fully surrendered to this place, that God would ask me to do things that were far beyond my scope of comfort and ability.

I had no idea that He would use my very weakness as the means by which He would glorify Himself.

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On Wednesday of last week, I sat at the end of our table and cried rivers of tears as I folded paper into pinwheels.  I checked division problems and changed diapers and baked chicken nuggets, and never stopped wiping tears.

I skipped hours of sleep to cut and paste name tags and I wrung my hands instead of praying.

On Friday, I went through the motions of the day before heading out the door to meet my people at our local IF Gathering.  I loved on  my kids, rolled mascara onto my lashes, wiped crumbs, and gave the Man instructions on how to keep the kids alive while I was away.

At 3:00, I welcomed my people and I smiled at the sight of their faces.

And at 3:04, I wept.

For God is good-

And oh, how He loves me.

 

I know you guys would love a play by play of our Rocky Mount If:Gathering.

I know you long to know how we pulled it off, how many women showed up, how God made Himself known in my place, but I am so overcome with the work He has done in my life, that I cannot even begin to tell you how He is moving among my people here.

And to be honest, I’d rather not try to tell you.

I’d rather give God so much space to magnify Himself here in Rocky Mount that my words pale in comparison to the sheer glory of His stride across our city.

IF God is Real {Then Walls Can and Will Come Down: Sharifa Stevens}

The first time I ever laid eyes on Sharifa Stevens she wasn’t even a Stevens.  She was a Hayle.

And she was singing at our church.

I can’t even recall the words she sang or the way the band sounded, but I do recall the way my heart swelled in my chest and the tears that rolled down my face.    But I do remember her smile and the way she made much of Jesus.

A few weeks ago, I put my big girl panties on and messaged Sharifa about writing a little post here.  She graciously agreed and made my whole day.  If I were really brave, I would have asked her to upload a couple of videos of her singing something fabulous, but alas, my brave is still small.   (Because, really y’all, she can SANG and her face is always covered in a smile as big as Texas.)

So I give you Jesus, by way of Sharifa’s words, and I encourage you to imagine her speaking them with a smile on her face.

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After these things I looked, and here was an enormous crowd that no one could count, made up of persons from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb dressed in long white robes, and with palm branches in their hands. They were shouting out in a loud voice,

Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!””

Revelation 7:9-10 (NET)

 In eternity we’ll all sing together, but here and now? Um…awkward.

Coca Cola Superbowl commercials are more of a reflection of Revelation 7:9-10 than most of our churches these days. Coke ads, yall. Daily and faithfully, we’re bringing bricks to our churches, our friendships, our jobs and oh yes, social media, to reinforce a wall that Jesus came to demolish. We sing The Churchs One Foundation with our lips, while our hands are sticky with the mortar of comfort mixed with tradition and suspicion.

But IF God is real, then walls of separation within our churches must come down. If we’re following Jesus, He’s marching us around the walls of hostility and urging us to tear them down. The gospel is punctuated by unity in diversity and love. Look in the book of Acts; God rocked the worlds of Paul and Peter with a constant refrain of, “those who were formerly far off have been brought near because of Christ Jesus.” Not just close to God, mind you, but close enough to one another that Peter could smell the chitterlings. Awkward. And God-ordained.

IF God is bringing us near to Him and to each other, it’s time to put down the bricks.

Allow me to share a story. One Sunday, my bestie and I walked into a Dallas church where I was invited to sing. We had never been before, but I adored the worship pastor and his wife, and didn’t hesitate to accept their invitation.

(Here’s my bestie, the gorgeous redhead, and me)

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As we crossed the threshold, my throat dried up and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I searched the sanctuary for my friends’ faces, but my eyes consistently landed on people scowling at me. SCOWLING. No one greeted us. The more polite people averted their eyes as I attempted to connect with them.

The church had two other people of color, of about 500. Most members were over 65. I struggled. “Is this because I’m black? Is it my afro? Is it because I’m a stranger? Am I being too sensitive?” My internal doubts found voice in my friend who said, “We can leave, you know. You don’t have to sit through this. They’re looking daggers at you. Or…we could just kick their asses.”

I took a seat at the very front, to keep my eyes on the Cross, and so no one but my bestie could see my eyes well up with tears.

The service was lovely. The kind-eyed pastor had a heart to match, and he warmly invited me to sing His Eye Is on the Sparrow.

 I forced myself to lock my gaze on those who scowled at me, reluctantly singing the truth over them as I encouraged myself:

 Jesus is my portion

A constant friend is He

His eye is on the sparrow

and I know He watches me

 Something strange and wonderful happened through the course of the song. You know the passage from Ephesians 2:

 “For [Jesus] is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed.

 On stage, in the midst of worship, I saw the destruction of a hostile wall. It tumbled down faster than Jericho in the wake of corporate praise. Those who previously scowled at me had the softest, most attentive eyes. Not because I’m such a fabulous singer, but because Jesus is true to His word. Jesus kills hostility and destroys walls.

 After service, my bestie and I held hands nervously as members began approaching me. Smiles filled their faces and they took my hand and pulled me into hugs, offering encouragement and stories of mothers and sisters who sang His Eye Is on the Sparrow over them.

I was floored. My friend was relieved that she wouldn’t have to judo-chop our way out.

IF God is real, then walls can and will come down.

But it takes willingness from us all.

Willingness to show up and stay—which was all I could muster after crossing the threshold. My heart was full of suspicion and anger even as I sang, and somehow God still used my paltry offering. Thankfully, though, it didn’t end with me.

The very people who scowled at me were also conduits of God’s great grace towards me. They were willing to be open to the Holy Spirit, they were malleable, and they threw away their bricks in order to embrace me. That grace is irresistible and transformative.

And my bestie. She was willing to be a friend, to stand with me in uncomfortable circumstances. Her hand in mine (and her pugilistic tendencies, not gonna lie) helped me to be brave. Never underestimate the power of friendship to be used of God to change hearts and history (Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, Jesus and the disciples, Paul and Silas…kinda influential).

We have a better bridge to unity than a mere soft drink. God’s heart is to reconcile us to himself and to each other. If we follow Jesus, we are devoted to building bridges and destroying dividing walls. Why wait until the scenes in Revelation are fulfilled if we already know God’s desire for our community? What are we waiting for?

Are you willing?

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Willing Ways

IF God is reconciling, we ought to imitate Him by building bridges in our own communities.

Here are some suggestions:

Two things will always, always cause relationships to bud and blossom: Shared meals and shared worship. Communion with saints of all sorts will lead to friendship and a more beautiful, robust Body. Be the one who invites.

Be open to new friendships (not the cheesy “missional” ones, but the beautiful, deep, honest, vulnerable and equal type) with people who live outside on the fringes of your “normal.”

Read up on history, economics, culture.

Invite friends to your church and try to view the experience from the eyes of a new person: what’s welcoming? Who’s welcomed? Who’s not?

Remember Jesus’ words in John 17 as he supped with his beloved disciples right before his crucifixion:

“The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one—I in them and you in me—that they may be completely one, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me.

Our motivation to bridge racial divides isn’t mere political correctness. Our motivation is that the world would look at our communities and know the love of God and the veracity of Jesus.

 

sharifa familySharifa Stevens, a Bronx native living in Dallas, TX, earned a BA from Columbia University in New York and a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary. She freelances, sings, and prefers to spend her time giggling, noshing or traveling. Sharifa is married to Jonathan. They have two sons.