Steward Them Well

imageimageI dropped my first baby off at high school this morning and as I drove away, my insides broke wide open and ran down my face. The tears came out of nowhere, really. I’d been fine at home and fine on the way to the school and fine when she climbed out the car. But the second she shut the door I surprised myself with a full on break down that continues even now.

All summer long, Thad and I have looked at each other and said the same thing: Our family is changing. We’re not ready.

Because we’re really not ready. We’ve got 47 irons in the fire and a fall calendar full of good stuff and a family with so many moving parts and attitudes and varying hormonal levels we feel like we’re on a roller coaster of emotional whiplash.

But hot dang, y’all, life is so beautiful right now. And because it’s beautiful right now, I thought I’d share a few things  we’re doing to try and steward these days well.

imageimageWeekly Family Meeting

On Sunday nights, we have pizza before we rectangle up around our farm table for a forty-five minute check-in and devo led by Thad. Right now, we’re teaching on each of our family’s values and giving the kids practical ways to live out each value. We usually share a high and a low from the previous week, something coming up that we’re fearful of, and go over the family calendar. Inevitably, someone will tattle on someone else, a fight will ensue and threats will be made. But for the most part, it’s a roaring good time and a time for us to be intentional about knowing one another

More Love Notes

More notes of encouragement tucked in lunch boxes and backpacks. More post-it notes on mirrors and on door frames. More words of affirmation spoken over each child. More text messages. More intentional words, written and spoken by ALL of us to ALL of us, period.

Intentional One on One Time

As the kids have gotten older, we’ve realized that they need more one on one time with me and Thad. Each kid has a buddy in their age group and we’ve spent the bulk of our parenting years, parenting them in tandem. We’re focusing on each child as an individual with unique wants, desires, and needs. Is this time consuming? Heck yeah it is, but as our kids have formed interests, we’re finding that when we engage each child in their interest, we’re enjoying the time with each kid more. Audrey has become my kitchen sidekick and Ainsley is my laundry buddy. Elli is my Taco Bell date.

imageNo TV or Devices Monday-Thursday

I know. Buzz kill, huh? In order to savor the short hours we have in the morning and in the afternoon, we’ve found it necessary to kill the tv and all devices on school days. They’re distracting, noisy, and one more thing to argue about.

Chores

Confession time: I stink at making the kids do chores. My default is to hand out chores to the kids who are easy going, people pleasers or least likely to give me lip. This means that my bookends rarely get handed a chore and the middle four are beginning to rightly rise up in protest. Each kid has about five daily chores that help the house to run smoothly and then there are a few chores that the overachievers can do to earn some money.

imageFamily Calendar Planning

Because we practice intentional neighboring and we’re planting a church, our house is one big revolving door. The eight of us are rarely in the house, alone, together. As the kids have gotten older, we’ve begun to ask their permission before we agree to host some things. We agree to things as a family and then work together to host. When the neighborhood kids show up or a lady from the jail needs a place to sleep, we do a quick pow-wow to determine what we’re willing to say yes to and what we need to say no to. This is hard, but it’s been necessary for our family of six introverts and two extroverts to live well.

Also, Thad and I have agreed to not accept speaking engagements at the same time, in the same month. Last fall, we both had out of state speaking engagements and local speaking engagements in the months of October and November. Because we both work full-time jobs, the time necessary in the evening to prepare for each event almost killed our family. This year, his schedule is booked and I’m the one with a cleaner calendar. Thank you Jesus.

Scheduled Work Time

As I mentioned above, Thad and I work full time and do church planting, writing, speaking and community things in our extra time. This means the lines between home and work are blurred, 100% of the time. Thad and I recently scheduled a date night to figure out a way to calendar our ministry hours in chunks of time so that we have margin for Sabbath, family and fun. We stink at this, but we’re committed to working our plan. I’ll let you know how this goes.

imageEarlier Rise Times and Earlier To Bed Times

This one is self explanatory. We all rise within the same hour each day and we all go to bed during an hour and half window at night.

More Family Inclusive Service

We’ve already adopted a family service model, but we’ve recently felt the need to include our kids in more of the day to day ministry that happens in our neighborhood. Like the Pad-A-Palooza or running school supplies down the street. We desire for our kids to see every minute of their day as an opportunity to bring the kingdom near and our kids are more capable of serving than we give them credit for.

Will we fail this year? Yep.

Will we have to tweak some of our goals? Absolutely.

Will our family buck the system, say a few cuss words, and have hair pulling fights? Heck yeah.

But I’m believing that in a year our family will love Jesus and each other and our neighbors more than we do today.

Talk to me. How are you guys planning to nail it this fall?

{also, if you’re wondering how to host your own Pad-A-Palooza, check back tomorrow for easy tips, what we learned, and how to partner with your local schools best. I’m putting together a landing page just for you.}

Yes We Did!

imageI have to confess to you that my faith is even smaller than a mustard seed.

Couple that teeny tiny faith with a get-stuff-done-right-now, hardheaded, put-up-your-dukes sorta personality and what you have is a frustrated-at-the-state-of-a-broken-world-ticking-time-bomb-getting-stuff-done-at-an-alarming-rate woman giving God a hand because she thinks the slow way of Jesus is just too dang slow. Jesus forgive me.

I have been this woman in every place God has ever put me, Jesus help me and everybody around me.

But lately, living in the midst of need that is so vast, so overwhelming, and so endless it knocks the wind right out of you, I’ve found myself with the tiniest faith of my life. And to be brutally honest with you, I’ve been tempted to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the suffocating need around me. I’ve been tempted to believe the absolute truth that the poor will always be with us, while buying the lie that that truth gives me a pass on having to love the poor.  I’ve been tempted to buy the lie that big box non-profits have a monopoly on God’s money. And I’ve been tempted to believe that my online voice here is one more clanging cymbal in an online symphony of noise begging for one slice of bread when it would take manna raining down from heaven to feed my neighbors.

I have doubted that the King of the world is a very good king and I have doubted that He has enough resources in His kingdom to lavish His children with every good and needful thing.

But last week, when I sat around a table and heard a chorus of believers saying We don’t have the resources necessary to meet the needs of our girls. God took my smaller than a mustard seed faith and blew fresh belief into all my doubting. He took the overwhelming need of our middle school girls and used it to stir up enough anger at the injustice of it all to remind me that the need had gone unmet because we had failed to simply ask.

So I asked.

I swallowed down the thought that my asking would sound like a clanging cymbal and I asked. I shut out the thought that some would challenge the need or call it unnecessary and I asked. I laid down the thought that I was exploiting my neighbors by sharing their lack and I asked. And I asked for the bare minimum that I thought would supply our need for one school, for one school year.

And guess what?

God gave and gave and gave.

He used 132 women from 20+ states to lavish our 170 girls with more than 26,000 maxi-pads. 

He rained down enough pads from heaven to pad 5 schools on the wrong side of the tracks for an entire school year.

He took my laughable request for 3,000 pads and said Here’s 26,00. Let me know if you need some more. And by the way, because you made the need known and then asked for others to meet it,  my girls in Texas and Arkansas and Iowa and Oklahoma and South Carolina are getting their needs met, too. We’re gonna pad America, one Amazon shipment at a time. Isn’t this the most fun ever?

Once again,  I am sitting over here at Target crying into my iced coffee at the audacious love of God that He would delight in making Himself known to us by way of a house full of maxi-pads. To think that when I’m old and gray, this will be the story I choose to tell my grandkids when I tell the story of how God grew my teeny tiny faith into something wild and free and mountain moveable. This is hilariously funny to me. 

I cannot find the words to thank you for your zealous desire to love on the girls in my city. You have lavished our public schools with tangible grace that conveys the message that God sees and knows and wildly loves and I am forever grateful for your local and long distance partnership with the kingdom work happening here.

And lastly, I cannot thank you enough for unknowningly standing in the gap between me and Jesus this week. Every note you penned, every message you typed, every text message you sent and every visit you made, was like a love letter from Jesus to me. Your lavish love and kindness have been tangible reminders to me that Jesus sees me and knows me and intimately loves my wandering heart enough to keep running after it.

Because I cannot write over a hundred thank you notes, I had a local gal, named Tina* handletter a downloadable printable for you that reads Help Is On The Way.  About thirty of you spoke this word to me this past week so it seemed fitting to have it handlettered for you all. Print it on cardstock, frame it and then tattoo that truth on your heart. You can download it here—-> Help is on the way_pdf 

imageHelp was on the way and it was the Jesus in YOU.

I love you guys. You are the fresh wind the Holy Spirit constantly uses to blow fresh faith into my dry bones. So. What are we going to do next?

xoxo,

Me

*You can find Tina on Instagram here!

Pad-A-Palooza: Oh HECK YES We Can!

PadpaloozaI have the great honor of feeling like I’m in a never-ending game of One of These Is Not Like the Others every time I sit around the table at any of our public school shindigs.

Yesterday was one of those shindigs.

It was a meet the principal/ Parent Advisory Council/ brainstorm for the fall sort of shindig and y’all, of all the things I get to do at our middle school, serving on the PAC is hands down my favorite. I love our team. I love the things we do. I love the common thread of Christ between us. I love getting to dream up ways to serve our students.

But y’all, sometimes I feel like the overachieving Jesus girl who thinks that phrases like we can’t or not enough money or that’s not going to work are simply invitations to do it anyway.

I never drive over to any of our schools feeling like I work for The Man or The Man’s System that has about 87 million yards of red tape to cut through before stuff can get done. I drive over with my large Diet Coke feeling like a free agent of THE God- Man ready to say Oh Yes We Can! and We Can Do That Yesterday! I know God can get stuff done. He owns all the cattle on a thousand hills and He can sell them off to pay for whatever His kids at His public schools need. I know that where government funds end or government red tape tangles, God steps in with a superabundance of resources and a note that says There’s more where that came from

{And I swear to you, I’m over here, writing at my Target Starbucks, crying like a baby at the truth of that. I embarrass myself. Sheesh.}

Where we see the impossible, God sees easy. Where we see endless need, God sees endless opportunity. Where we see red tape and rules and lack of funding, God sees loopholes.

And where we see broken, God sees hope breaking through.

But back to yesterday’s meeting.

We were sitting around, reviewing last year’s successes {book fair- thank you!, donated uniforms, school supplies’ drive, coat drive} when things began to shift towards things that we needed funding for, the main thing being feminine products to distribute to girls in need.

After a lengthy conversation about the lack of funding and the scarcity in which girls were given products, I had a YES WE CAN! moment.

Here are the facts:

  1. There are 283 kids enrolled at Parker Middle for the fall of 2016.
  2. A little more than half are female. (estimate)
  3. When a girl is in need, she is given two or three maxi-pads to get her through her period. {what the what?}
  4. Two or three pads ain’t enough. {All the mamas say amen.}
  5. The school nurse is supplying these pads and she’s paying for them. {again, what the what?}
  6. God created girls. He gave us a period. He owns the world in which we steward. There is no scarcity in God’s economy.
  7. We are to be agents of shalom, bringing peace where there is chaos, and believe you me, a school full of hormonal girls on their periods with a scarcity of maxi-pads is a recipe for mass chaos.
  8. If each of us bought 2 packages of maxi-pads for Parker Middle, we could partner with Jesus in affirming the dignity of His creation.

And here’s the plan:

I think God is inviting us to show up and make much of Him at Parker Middle. He’s inviting us to remember what it’s like to be a middle school girl on her period. It was terrible. The fear of leaking all over your pants or having cramps and not being able to go home were real fears. Now imagine that you’re a girl with zero resources to buy maxi-pads. Imagine you wake up to your period, catch the bus with your underwear layered with toilet paper until you can see the school nurse to get a pad. Now imagine you’re given three pads to get you through until the next day. Sorta strikes fear in you all over again, doesn’t it?

But the good news is that we can eliminate this fear for a school full of girls.

I’m inviting you to use your Amazon Prime or Target.com and order some maxi-pads. It’s easy and it’s chump change to most of us. I’m believing that we can donate 3,000 maxi-pads to Parker Middle by the first day of school on August 29. The UPS man comes by my house every day and I’d love to make him have to stop everyday next week. I’d love to fill up 2 closets at Parker with so many pads it’s obscene.

If you’re in- and I know you are- you can send your donations to mi casa at 554 Avent Street Rocky Mount, NC 27804. And if you’re game to share this post with your friends, I’d so appreciate it. Any brand will do, but just maxi-pads. No tampons. These girls are 6th-8th graders.

Y’all are the BEST.

xoxo-

me

That Time We Thought We Had Assimilated

DSC_0158Fourteen years ago, the hubs packed us up and moved us to the mountains of NC. We moved in September, just as the leaves were beginning to change and just as baby number 2 was beginning to round out my  body.

Before you begin to have blissful thoughts of falling leaves and long turns on the Blue Ridge Parkway, let me assure you that our move was more moving on down than moving on up.

We unloaded our U-Haul into a three bedroom apartment in section 8 housing that reeked of stale cigarettes and ramps and body odor. We had wall-to-wall tile and no central air. The kitchen cabinets stuck. It was dark and dingy and super cold at night. Because the apartments were built into the side of a mountain, our neighbors could look down into our apartment whenever they saw fit to take a peek.

Which was quite often, to tell you the truth.

Our complex was built on an old fairground where legend has it, witches stirred up all kinds of spirits and practiced  divination before being burned alive. Our neighbors saw ghosts and heard spirits and wrestled with demons we knew nothing of. Some demons had names like alcoholism, incest, mental illness, and severe depression. Other demons had no names.

At 24 years of age, I’d never given much thought to evil spirits or real demonic activity or the depravity of man so overcome with the desires of the flesh that they were consuming him from the outside in. But three months into life at 67 Fairground Avenue made me a believer in all things that go bump in the night and in the middle of the day.

DSC_0030We’d moved to Spruce Pine to plant churches and to pastor the small church within the apartment complex in which we were living. We adopted the principle of relocation before we even knew that it was an actual thing and I must tell you that the only thing we mastered that year was relocating into the neighborhood. We ate ramps with milk, and shuttled neighbors to and from the local Wal-Mart and spent hours at the laundromat. We held church services and prayer services in the community building where my job was to corral the twenty or so wild children at the table in the back of the building and do what we affectionately called The Sunday Train Wreck. I’ll let your imagination run wild for a bit, but trust me, whatever is in your head is not nearly as bad as it really was. 

We also did your normal, run of the mill, love your neighbor events. 

I baked cakes by the dozens and served coffee like it was my job. I babysat. We hosted movie nights with cookies and hot chocolate. We held clothing drives from the truckloads of clothing dropped off at the complex by churches not on the mountain and I kid you not, at one of the distribution sites, we had a table devoted to women’s undergarments complete with lacy thongs, garter belts, and sexy bustiers. It was a riot. I die now just thinking about it.  In my zeal for disciple making, I even started a bible study in my apartment and served a weekly, carb-loaded lunch to a half-dozen women with out of control diabetes. They couldn’t read or even acquire the book, but heck, I was passionate and they liked cheese, so we all faked it.

And because it was 2002, I also spent a great deal of time just answering phone calls to the tune of 30 an hour. When a certain neighbor was manic she’d call and ask me one thing:

If I smoke a cigarette with my beer, am I gonna die?

She was concerned about the carbonation mixing poorly with the smoke. She’d call and call and call and I’d tell her the same thing over and over again:

No, Regina. You’re not gonna die. Today. Please stop calling.

I think back on the madness of those phone calls and I think that if I had to do it all over again, I’d have invited Regina over for dinner, followed by three packs of cigs and a case of beer, and we’d have done a test run together.

I smile at the thought of it. I think it would have been fun. I think Regina would have laughed.

And I think she’d have gone home, smoked a cigarette with a beer, and called me in the morning.

And I think I’d have woken up and realized that simply being present in relationship with my neighbors was exactly what Jesus was inviting me to do.

DLMayfieldOne of my favorite writers, D.L. Mayfield, is releasing a book into the world today, friends.

It’s exactly the kind of book I wish I had read fourteen years ago before we made crazy trying to force feed the Gospel to an entire complex of unsuspecting neighbors who simply wanted to be our legitimate friends. It’s also exactly the sort of book I wish I had read five years ago before moving onto Avent Street and trying so dang hard to once again, but gentler this time and minus the lingerie table, force feed the Gospel to unsuspecting neighbors who simply wanted to be our friends.

I cannot count all the ways I have failed my neighbors by trying to give them a thousand things I thought they needed and denying them the one thing they were asking for: Friendship. But hear me when I tell you that I have failed and I have failed, miserably.

And in my failing, Jesus has saved me from myself.

Assimilate or Go Home is the story of one woman’s beautiful coming undone. It is her personal struggle to move from trying to convert the world to Christ to simply loving the world because she has been, and is continually being, converted. D.L. humbly lets us into the raw, honest parts of her story, where her evangelical upbringing and her present day walk with Jesus rub up against one another and challenge all that she knows about God, the world and herself. This book is her invitation to lay down all that we think we know about Christianity and follow Jesus into the margins, where everything is upside down and bursting with the kingdom that Jesus was always talking about; the kingdom where the Good News is actually good news to the people living there.

Maybe you’re looking for a gentle companion on your journey towards downward mobility or maybe you’re looking for a guide into upside-down kingdom living. Maybe you’re just not sure about what it means to truly be Christ follower and live among the marginalized.

Or maybe you’re like me and just plain tired of trying to save the whole world by knocking on doors and hosting clothing drives. Maybe you know there’s more to this Christianity thing that what you’ve been taught to believe.

Wherever you find yourself today, may you find yourself holy curious about what it means to really love Jesus and others.

Let’s Quit

image

Raise your hand if you’re looking headlong into fall feeling so overwhelmed with all that you’ve got on the calendar you’re itching to run away and hide.

You can’t see me, but I’ve got both hands in the air and both of my feet.

I’m the walking dead.

The first clue that maybe I’d allowed things to get revved up one too many notches was last week when I got an actual bill from the Nash County Health department for four immunizations and just about lost my mind. In an effort to not create a war here on issues related to health care, insurance or immunizations, I will just tell you that after spending approximately 14K on insurance every year, I was none too pleased to receive a bill for $221.34 for state mandated immunizations.

Actually, I was livid. I was so angry I could have spit nails or called down fire from heaven to smite Aetna and the health department and the powers that be that have caused the health insurance debacle in America.

I felt victimized and taken advantage of. I felt shame for delaying immunizations for our youngest two. I felt fury for the injustice of it all.

And then I felt stupid for feeling all the feelings because I knew all the feelings were misplaced.

I’ve known myself long enough to know that by the time I lose my mind, my whole life has already gone off the rails. Fatigue has set in and taken over. The to-do list is so long I can’t even remember what I’m doing next. We’re eating crap food all the time and I’m drinking eight cans of Diet Coke during the day. I’m short with the kids and harboring resentment that no one is helping with the chores. I put off grown-up things like calling the insurance company or driving by the bank or going by the school to pick up laptops. I can’t sleep or when I do, I don’t want to get up in the morning. I also shamefully stop doing things that fill me up and bring me joy in lieu of wearing a martyr’s crown of I Do Everything Around Here And Every One In This House Is Lazy.

True story, people. This is the downward spiral of Lori Harris and it plays itself out about every nine months.

This morning, I woke to find myself at the bottom of the spiral I created for myself, ready to quit everything. Particularly cleaning the bathroom that was spotless on Thursday and now looks like six children missed the bowl all weekend. {Seriously? How do girls miss the toilet?}

But I can’t quit everything, you know? The law would get called on me and my children would be forced to live with grandparents. And I ain’t finna* try to go to jail. Trust me. I hear it’s not a vacation. {*Finna means fixing to, which is southern for getting ready to. You’re welcome.}

So because I can’t quit everything, here’s what I am going to quit.

Today, I QUIT:

Apologizing for having a messy house. We live here and this is how we live. I can’t help it.

Cleaning like a lunatic every time I get a text that reads:  Are you home? I’m going to drop by in an hour.

Saying yes to people who only need me when they need my yes.

Speeding. {sike, nah.}

Doing the laundry by myself.

Making my kids wait to talk to me.

Working before worshiping.

Rearranging the house. {sike. that’s a fib.}

Playing the shame tape.

Putting others before my kids.

Reading books on my iPhone. Can’t do it. Won’t do it. I’m too old.

Calling myself an introvert but not giving myself permission to behave like an introvert.

Switching from rap to HIS radio in the Chick-Fil-A drive-thru. {y’all know you do it, too.}

Holding people hostage for being human.

Being my family’s housekeeping martyr. That’s a sad way to live.

Filling gaps because there are always going to be gaps and God did not create me to be THE gap filler.

Not dating Thad once a week.

Working seven full days and lying to myself about observing the Sabbath when this or that is over.

Switching from car-thumping homeboy country to car-thumping rap when I pull up beside a neighbor. {y’all know I do it.}

Feeling the need to network locally or online. That’s a life killer.

Taking full responsibility when relationships fail. It’s always takes two. Always.

Wearing black everyday.

Not caring for my physical body. I’m getting old and it’s breaking down.

Trying to not take a nap when I wanna nap.

Not opening the mail.

Not owning what I believe with no apologies.

Explaining why I do what I do or live where I live or school like I school or write what I write.

Being afraid of man.

You hear that?

It’s Jesus clapping.

Monday’s are for quitting stuff, people.

What are you going to quit today?

Fearless

imageA year ago, I got an anonymous piece of mail.

It was a book about all the evils of Common Core and the indoctrination of America’s children by Obama and honestly, it rocked my quiet, little world on a Saturday morning.

It wasn’t because it was the first time I had ever received this sort of package, because it wasn’t.  But this time, instead of just being overwhelmed with shame, I remember standing in the shower with hands shaking. I remember  questioning every decision my family had made in the few years prior to choosing public school. I remember feeling nauseous and lightheaded and embarrassed. I remember feeling violated and condemned by someone I didn’t even know. And then, in a crushing moment of reality, I felt violated and condemned by the truth that I probably did know the person who sent it. But who?

I lost half a day wondering about who sent the book, why they sent it and whether their intent was for my good or for my harm. I considered that their intent was to do me good; to arm me with the truth as they saw it in hopes that I would change my mind about our schooling choices. I lost half a day talking with Jesus about things we’d already agreed to, like school and our neighborhood and our church. I lost half a day trying to make black and white things that Jesus has intentionally left gray.

And I lost half a day trying to wrap my head around the simple fact that our good intentions towards one another have the potential to thwart the work of the Holy Spirit in one another.

When we, as followers of Jesus, choose to impose our personal convictions upon other followers of Jesus, we take the amazing grace that covers all our individual convictions and we tax it, making our convictions look like the law we’ve all been set free from.

Instead of hearing one another and recognizing the work of a good, good Father in each other, we let fear creep in and do the talking for us. When we see that our friends and family are treading the road less traveled, the one that runs across the railroad tracks or right in front of the Title I public school or out to the Parks and Rec field or out to the county jail, we rush in with the urgent need to rescue or redirect or rebuke.

And sometimes, in our fear of the unknown, we cast our brothers and sisters out of the family.imageWe see their different paths as rejection of the norm or an abandonment of the safe fold of the church. We fear for their children. We fear for their lives. We fear their different choices demonstrate a condemnation of our choices. We fear that the different path will change the relationship or that we’ll be challenged to also travel the narrow road into scary places. We even fear that they’ve turned from the Jesus we know and turned towards some liberal, human rights activist, Peace Corps version of Jesus.

But I believe that on our worst day, we fear that our fear will be unfounded.

We fear that our friends and family will start living in such wild abandon for the things of Jesus that their zeal will shine a light into the fearlessness that is following Christ.

We fear that we’ll wake up and realize that all that we’ve been conditioned to fear or turn from is just the smoke screen keeping us from abundant life.

We fear we’ll find ourselves looking headlong into a hazy horizon of unknowns, trying our darnedest to hold onto what we see but walking towards all that we can’t.

We fear that the same Holy Spirit whose been whispering words of reckless living to our friends will start whispering the same sort of nonsense in our ears.

We fear we’ll eventually start listening and obeying and welcoming something like The Great Wrecking into our lives.

And we fear truly walking in freedom because freedom in Christ isn’t free.

Y’all, I used to believe that apathy was the biggest killer in the American Church. I used to believe our churches were full of lukewarm people warming pews and writing tithe checks.

Now I’m not so sure.

I’m beginning to believe that fear is our chief enemy.

Fear of the world cripples us and turns us inward.

Fear of man keeps us doing what keeps man happy with us, even if it means denying Christ in order to keep peace with our church or small group or family.

That’s a hard thing in swallow because I don’t believe any of us would say we intentionally strike fear in one another to force assimilation. But if we were to take a good look at ourselves and really consider our base level fears and our personal convictions, I think maybe we’d realize how often we use our words to try and speak over the things our brothers and sisters in Christ say they are hearing from the Holy Spirit when those things are contrary to what we believe is right or best or most safe. I think we’d be surprised to hear how often we discourage one another from running our races simply because the race seems scary or counter-Christian-culture.

In our desire to preserve the purity of the Gospel and the purity of our families and the purity of our churches, over time, we’ve created a culture among us that has its own code of conduct that keeps us safe.

And y’all, our man made code of conduct is thwarting the audacious, radical, upside-down kingdom building, life giving up, FEARLESS conduct that is demanded of Jesus-followers.

Nobody wants to live under the law, especially the law we write and impose upon one another. 

When we impose man-made rules to keep us safe from the world, we teach a theology of fear to that same world who is watching us.

When we condemn one another for standing on the wrong side of all the gray areas, we model a god who cares more about behavior than relationship.

When we hold up a standard of living based upon what we see happening in our big, scary world, we puff ourselves up and deceive ourselves into believing that we alone can save.

When we hold one another to personal convictions or use fear as a weapon to modify the behaviors of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we nullify the Gospel because in Jesus, grace abounds and fear is conquered.

And grace changes everything.

PSST: The subscriber winners of the 3 Boxes of FUN are Lana Smith, Addie Talley and Heather Schlender!!! 

Dollar Bill

DSC_1489We went to the Dollar Tree last night right after the bottom fell out and then closed back up again.

The storm had left the sky in pinky colors swirled together like ribbons of taffy amid clouds that looked like grey cotton candy. And maybe it was the color of the sky or the thought of being holed up in the house for the rest of the evening that prompted the kids to ask for a trip to buy candy for a late night movie. Or maybe it was the weight of a fist full of dollar bills in their pockets that was just too much to carry. I don’t even know. I just know that as the sky threatened to break open again, I loaded up the car and begrudgingly made the trip across town to satisfy their whim.

I know we looked bedraggled and wild-eyed as we made our way through the store because people stopped and stared. The boys had on crusty tees from an afternoon of basketball, the babies had unkempt hair because I’m good at other stuff and the older girls were giggling like hyenas on the prowl. Seriously. We were a sight for every kind of eyes. We’re used to the stares of others because, let’s face it, it’s not everyday you see a wild pack of animals standing in the candy aisle at the Dollar Tree hollering Dollar bill, dollar bill, bruh!

Fortunately for me, I have officially hit the stage of parenthood that allows me certain liberties in public. Like leaving my kids on one aisle under the care of 15 year old Elli and sneaking off to anywhere in the store that they are not. Which is exactly what I did last night. I gave Elli the knowing eye and then wandered off to check out all that the Dollar Tree has to offer.

And let me just tell you: The Dollar Tree has A LOT to offer, bruh.

I wandered up and down every aisle, taking in the laundry detergents, organic canned tomatoes, Scott-ish toilet paper, margarita glasses. I picked up lunchbox plastic ware and a whole package of those little bags you can serve popcorn. I scanned the aisle with the nabs and the cookies and the bags of chips, mentally comparing the number of ounces per dollar. And before I knew it, I found myself in the frozen food section eyeballing hotdogs, processed cheeses, and popsicles.

I must have stopped in front of the cases and just stood there, slack-jawed for a good long while, because a large man pushing a cart said, Ma’am, could I just reach in there and grab some cheese real quick?

I snapped back to reality and apologized before stepping aside and taking note of his cart.

Individual frozen chicken breasts, one frozen strip steak, one package of lunch meat, a few cans of vegetables, one small jar of peanut butter and while I was trying to wrap my head around what I was seeing, that package of cheese hit the cart.

He caught my eye and grinned and I sheepishly grinned back at him, my face flush with shame. A dollar goes further here on some stuff, don’t it? he asked. This chicken is tough but it ain’t bad.

I couldn’t respond. I was too embarrassed to speak so I nodded and walked away with my basket full of non-essentials. He couldn’t read my mind. He couldn’t know we were in here blowing a fist full of dollars on crap candy to rot our teeth, could he? He wasn’t standing in the front of the store when we walked in with an overzealous desire to get a whole lot of something for nothing, was he?

I made my way back up the middle of the store and back to the candy aisle to find my kids wrapping up their selections and counting out their bills to cover their purchases. I quietly ushered them into the only line still open at 8:30 at night.

And I painfully tried not to take stock of each person and their sparse cart of essentials.

DSC_0532I know some of you reading this are thinking:  What’s the big deal? Who are you to assume anything about what someone is putting in their cart? Maybe the chicken is a great deal. If your kids want to spend their money on candy at The Dollar Tree, let them! It’s their money. Maybe you’re self-righteousness is a plank in your eye causing you to see things not as they are. Maybe you’re really just a narcissit who has an inflated sense of who you are? 

Maybe you’re right. Maybe I am making a mountain of shame out of a mole hill of innocent fun and genuine bargain shopping. Or maybe I am indeed forever marred by my inability to shake lose the sense of entitlement that rises up in my heart when I forget that in Christ, there is no them vs. me.

But maybe the heat that crept into my face was the kind of soul conviction that comes when the Holy Spirit blows the truth you know right into your face.

Maybe the fresh wind of truth opened my eyes to rightly see my neighbor. Maybe the frayed shoes and the limp and holey pants were part of the narrative that I was to wholly see and not the sum of an assumption made. Maybe Jesus chose that moment in front of the frozen foods to shine a big light on the disparities in my own walk and talk. Maybe I have truly forgotten what privilege looks like on this side of the tracks.

Who knows? I just know that there is a mystery to this following Jesus gig.

You never arrive or figure it out or get to cast off your sin nature in order to love better.

You just keep muddling through and messing up and being humbled in unlikely places in the most unlikely ways.

And you receive the prick of the Holy Spirit in your soul as the grace of Jesus lovingly poured out on you and you whisper a broken Thank You.

Truth

DSC_0076On Monday, when the house was still in disarray with the things of the weekend 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 pants 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 cool house.  “You wanna come in for a bit?”

She nodded and I shuffled the kids about, making space for her.  Cigarette smoke and sweat 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 your daughter,” 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?

DSC_0050For the last few months, I’ve struggled to find my words.  I’ve tossed my lack of words up to personal growth and newfound convictions that put me at odds with my local community and the complications that come with writing the hard truth of life with the hard is living in my house.

I’m just plain struggling with who I am and who you think I am {when you ask for a phone call or a coffee date} and how the two come together in the story I choose to write.

I’m fighting to keep my blinders on and to do the next thing, not expecting anything more than the things I can see and the things 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. You’ll be disappointed that I walk a wide margin of gray and may not share your same convictions. You’ll be disappointed that I’m super passionate about public school to the degree that I pray families into our schools. You’ll be disappointed that I believe the church should continue to get smaller so that kingdom can get bigger. You’ll be disappointed that I believe that our pursuit of diversity should be paramount to our pursuit of what’s best for our family-because I believe diversity is God’s best for our families.

Some of you have asked me all sorts of nonsense, like “Could you come speak at my thing?” 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 always, after I give you that pat answer, I sit on your questions and never get back to you because I have no idea what you want me to say or sometimes, I just plain know that what I want to say is not going to endear you to me.

But here’s what I know:  I’m no speaker or advocate on eradicating poverty or expert on racial reconciliation or cheerleader for our city. I’m no graceful wordsmith who can make bitter things go down a little easier.

I’m just a 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 a martyr. But I do love my life and I sincerely believe that God’s best for us is not always what we think it is.

So when I tell you that to love people best you must live among them, I mean it with every inch of my being.

And y’all, I won’t try and sell you anything less, no matter how many times you tell me you’ll do anything but move into the neighborhood.

Be obedient with your everything and Jesus will give you the everything you never knew you wanted.

Maybe your first act of obedience will be opening your front door. Maybe it will be exactly the kind of divine interruption like I got on Monday.

And maybe, just maybe, you’ll begin to see the kingdom coming right where Jesus has planted you, right in your neighborhood.

Don’t Blink

DSC_0153Y’all.

It’s the Monday after the best vacation of our life and the second Monday after my first ever writing conference and I’m sitting at the end of the biggest table the Harris family has ever owned. We didn’t actually buy it, of course, we took our seven foot table, turned it upside down, figured out how it was made, unscrewed the top from the base and then flipped the base right-side up. After two trips to Lowe’s and four hours of jimmy rigging the entire thing, we have a ten foot table that can comfortably seat twelve.

And because I’m the luckiest gal in the entire world, at 7:30 this morning, when my youngest brother dropped off his two kids, he took one look at our table and said something like this:

Yeah. This afternoon, I’m going to bring my tools by and fix this for you. Were you planning on sanding and staining this thing in the house? It looks good, but you’re going to need to do something about that wood putty and maybe even consider leaving the tiny gaps between the boards instead of trying to fill them in. But don’t worry. I’ll be here after lunch and we’ll fix it. 

Friends, let this be a lesson to you. If you’re not a carpenter but you have one in your family, do yourself a favor and give your people a chance to receive a blessing from the Lord by using their gifts to bless you. Seriously. If I know Michael, and I know Michael, he’s sitting over in his office drawing up a blueprint to fix our table {that we didn’t even know wasn’t up to snuff} and he’s beside himself with glee at the thought of saving the day. Truly. He’s rejoicing in our mess and giving thanks to Jesus for the opportunity to use his gifts {ahem, his tools} to once again, bless another one of God’s children who don’t know what a round sandpaper thingy is. This table thing is blessing everybody and we haven’t even eaten a meal at it. Hallelujah.

Anywhoo, ten days ago I went to a writing conference called She Speaks. It was on my bucket list of things to do and I’m glad I went, not because I learned the inside scoop of this writing business, but because it was the kick in the pants I needed to keep writing the hard stuff. I came away from the conference no longer wishing I was a Food blogger or a DIY blogger or an Encourager of Hearts blogger. I came away grateful that God made me a Writer of Hard Stuff blogger. And I came away knowing that my blog needs a makeover and that in order to write, I will need to get up at 4am and do the hard work of writing. {I also met some online friends in real life and they were like a hug from Jesus.}

DSC_0156{Notice Isaac’s smile in the above picture. It’s a new one where he sucks his cheeks in and tries to look svelte. It’s not working for him but he’s committed to it}

Thad and the wild ones picked me up from the conference center on the last day of She Speaks and we drove to little cabin in the woods where we were fortunate to spend eight days, lavishing one another with love and good deeds. That’s not entirely the truth. We spent eight days in a cabin in the woods, but there was no lavishing anyone of anything but noise. We did the usual fun things and added one spectacular hoorah called canoeing. Canoeing was the best fun ever:DSC_0126DSC_0133DSC_0134Except for this…which carried on for a full hour…in a cove…where everyone on the lake could hear…DSC_0139We did the Mast General Store and the kids bought penny candy for $8 a pound. We hiked and the kids ran up the mountain and left me in the dust. We went antiquing and the girls begged for a trip to Old Navy. We ate lunch at a gas station so we could rub shoulders with the locals and promptly left there with the runs. Literally. We drove up to Spruce Pine where we first wet our feet in church planting and I bought Tupperware from the 70s. We circled mountains and listened to country music and for the first time in five years, we did not have one conversation about the woes of church planting. We simply relished in the joys of it.imageimageDSC_0190{The theme of the last three pictures is Easy on the Eyes or WOW! Look at that Beard!}

We read on the back porch and on the sectional sofa and in the bed and when we weren’t reading, we watched the convention. We watched the DNC in its entirety because we watched the RNC in its entirety and honestly, to watch one without watching the other while trying to form any kind of opinion about the state of our Union is just not smart. BUT to watch them both in their entirety and then casually post any sort of opinion at all on Facebook might be the dumbest thing you could do all year. Don’t ask me how I know. And for you inquiring minds who want to try and guess who we’re voting for, here’s the big news:

We’re voting for Jesus because He’s already won everything. Plus, we don’t play any kind of game unless we’re certain we can win.

And now that I’ve wasted fifteen minutes of your life, let me leave you with a few nuggets of truth:

  1. You cannot cram a year’s worth of Sabbath rest into a week of vacation.
  2. Build a bigger table in anticipation of practicing radical hospitality. If you build it, Jesus will fill it.
  3. If you’re accustomed to running your household and your husband wants to take the lead in planning your family vacay, let him do it. Give your hubs free reign to manage every detail of your one vacation a year. Let him plan it, pay for it, and execute it. Be a joyful participant in what he plans and keep your daggum mouth shut if he does things differently than how you’d do them. Take your daily budget for fun and don’t freak out about the money you’re spending. Buy the ice cream cone. Splurge on the t-shirt. Say YES and thank you. It’s taken me 15 years to learn this, friends. But the delight on my guy’s face this week is evidence that submission is good.
  4. I may keep the household running, but I don’t run our home.

And one more thing:

I’m sending out a newsletter this week! For those of you unfamiliar with our newsletter, it’s the nitty gritty of what’s happening around our house, writing updates and other fun stuff. I’m hosting a giveaway this month for email subscribers, so if you want in, sign up here.

xoxo

On Deliverance

imageOn Thursday, after a full day of babies and neighbors and a throw together dinner, the older girls and I slipped out to Target for a hairdryer, coffee, rice cakes and shampoo. I splurged on two vanilla bean frappuccinos and one skinny iced caramel macchiato because I had a coupon and a gift card and because I’m down to only four more summers with my oldest before she leaves my nest. We piddled around for an hour, slurping our drinks and eyeballing the clearance shelves, before heading back to the house sometime after eight o’clock.

Thad met us at the door just like he always does and I caught the whiff of something I recognized as familiar but not home. I searched his face from the edge of the front porch, trying to read what I already knew. We had a guest.

With bags in tow, the girls and I crossed the threshold to see the mere shadow of a woman sitting at our table. We’d not seen her in six months. She was in a tank top and sweat pants and I could count every knob on every bone in her arms and on her back. I stooped to hug her hello, feeling the full weight of bones, sinew, and flesh in no more than ninety pounds.

I pulled up a chair to ask her the questions I already knew the answers to. No, I’m not okay. Yes, I’ve been using. Yes, I’ve been doing all kinds of things to get the drugs. I miss my kids. If I don’t get this right this time I’m going to die. I need to get out of this place. I want to get to Portland where my husband is and I’m willing to hitchhike all the way there. You know all those times I’ve been in jail and I’ve read my Bible and got right with the Lord. I know Jesus has saved me but I can’t quit and I ain’t ready to go back to jail. No, I haven’t used since Monday. Yes, I’d love something to eat. But nothing heavy. My stomach’s been acting up on me. I can’t keep doing this. I’m going to die and I am okay with that. If it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go and anything is better than this mess. 

I rose from the table to hide out in the kitchen long enough to prepare a some salad greens and grilled chicken. And then I asked myself the questions I already knew the answers to. Yes, she can stay here. I can flip the corner bed in no time. I can get her clothes washed while I fix the bed. I don’t get to say no. No is not an option. No, she’s not dangerous. We’ll check her bags to make sure she’s clean. I don’t want her to die in my house. It’s only one night. Tomorrow we’ll put her on a bus to Portland.  I don’t get to know the purpose of all of this. I don’t know what I’m doing. We can’t make her stay. We can’t fix this.

I served her the salad with four kinds of dressing and wheat thins and noticed she chose the french. She talked a mile a minute for an hour before posing the question I knew was coming: Could I stay here tonight or could you help me get to Portland?

Thad and I both nodded yes to both requests.

You can stay the night and we’ll get you on the first bus to Portland.

DSC_1176This morning, as I struggle to find the words to write here, I’m overwhelmed with the simple complexity of following Jesus’. It’s simple in that we do what Jesus commands and He commands us to love our neighbors. But it’s complex in that we’re not given directions on how to love them. We’re not given one loophole or one out or one except those neighbors. Jesus doesn’t give us a how-to manual of things to do and not to do and a long list of troubleshooting options.

Jesus doesn’t even command that we all demonstrate love in the same ways. He just commands that we love.

Last Thursday, when faced with a friend who needed a place to stay and a bus ride out of town, we wrestled with the second part of loving our neighbor. Giving her a place to stay was an absolute yes because Jesus commands that we house the poor wanderer. But intentionally putting this girl on a bus headed to Oregon to live in a tent with her husband at The Grotto was harder. What if something happened to her on the way there? What if she started using again? What if her husband was gone by the time she arrived? The what ifs were daunting.

Thad and I spent hours talking with our friend late into the night. We know her. We are certain of her salvation in Jesus. She knows the Bible. It’s written on her heart and she recalls it easily. We also know the thorn in her flesh is heroin. We know heroin has eaten her up and spit her back out a fractured woman in need of the kind of deliverance we cannot give her.

And we know that a sovereign God, who holds her life in His hands, has the power to deliver her straight out of the hell she has made for herself and right into his presence. 

The outcome is not ours and we don’t get to know God’s purpose in any of it. We don’t even get to pray selfish prayers or manipulate circumstances to give people what we believe to be their best shot in life.

We simply get to love our neighbors and steward our time with them well. We get to feed their aching tummies and quench their parched tongues. We get to sit with them in the hard parts of life and give them safe places to lay their heads. We get to visit them behind bars and in mental wards and rehab centers. We get to speak truth into their lives and point them to Jesus.

But we don’t get to choose how God delivers them.

And that’s the beautiful, heart breaking truth.