FirePit Church

DSC_1356DSC_1354On Sunday afternoon, when the afternoon began to move towards the dinner hour, the Man stacked pallets in the fire pit in the backyard and set them ablaze. It was cool and just damp enough to want to be near the fire, but still warm enough for the kids from the neighborhood to choose the swings and the side yard basketball court.

I baked brownies and then cut them into small squares, trying to make them feed as many mouths as possible. I had already counted 19 children in the yard and we still had a hour to go before the kids were scheduled to arrive. Schedules mean nothing in my neighborhood and I’m learning that fliers with time stamps are just mere suggestions. I’m learning to be okay with this.

At a little past four, Audrey’s teacher pulled up in front of the house with a grin the size of Texas and rolled down her window to greet me.

“I’ve brought some things,” she said. “Extra plates, utensils, and some groceries. I also picked up some to-go boxes so the kids can take leftovers home to their families.”

It was my turn to grin and I tried my darnedest to meet the size of hers. “Thanks Marie. You’re the kindest,” I said. Those last words have become my default response to everyone who moves to love my neighbors. What else is there to say?

She pulled the car onto the side of the road to park and then followed me into the kitchen. We had bread to slice and dishes to wash and from the kitchen, we heard the kids from the neighborhood as they began to arrive.

“Mr. Thomas and Mrs. Sandra are here!!” Isaac, my rowdiest boy, hollered from the front porch all the way through to the back of the house. “She needs help getting the spaghetti out of the car!!!!”

“Well help her, man!” I called back. “We’re coming out!” Marie grabbed the pitchers of Kool-aid and I grabbed the bread and we met Thomas and Sandra on the side of the house.

And after a few introductions, we rounded up the kids and circled up around the fire. I counted 28 kids, 5 adults.

“Alright kids,” The Man began, “What’s been the best part of your week?”

“Today!”

“Friday!”

“Chilling wid my cousins!”

“Eating pizza!”

“Seeing my daddy!”

After a few long minutes, after each kid had said their name and age and their favorite thing, the Man broke in through the quiet snickering. “Anyone remember what we learned about Jesus last week? What did He do?” he asked.

And the one kid who is not the same kid he used to be, raised his hand and responded.

“He calmed the storm,” he said.

And when the Man grinned, Mr. Thomas turned to look me in the face and he said, “Amen. Now that’s church.”

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I’d be lying if I told you I love planting a church because I don’t love it, BUT I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world. It’s the hardest kind of work that forces you to strip your definition of church all the way down to its barest bones. What is church? What does church smell like, feel like, look like, taste like, sound like? What does it do and how does it do what it does? Who makes it up?

All of these questions coupled with every previous experience of church and every established church in our view, creates this heightened sense that the church I see Jesus planting isn’t enough.

Never in my thoughts about church have I once considered that 40 kids around a camp fire in my backyard would be the church that Jesus would build.

Bob Goff says a church is a vibrant community of people consisting of 2 or more, of varied backgrounds, gathering around Jesus.

I think he’s right.

And Thomas is right, too.

Jesus is building His church and man, oh man, are we vibrant.

We’re also a little spicy and some of us like to cuss a little and fight a little more.

But Jesus has called us a church and I’m slowly beginning to be okay with that.

 

{I share pictures over on Instagram of our Sunday night gatherings. I usually post 1-2 a weekend, so if you’d like to catch a glimpse of funky-weird church you can follow me over there.}

Live Small, Love Big 3

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If Necessary, Pat A Hiney

DSC_0308A year ago, someone I’d met online invited me to coffee. I thought we’d be having just some friendly, get to know one another conversation, but the conversation quickly morphed into a Jesus Never Asked You To Do All The Things You’re Doing and I’m Here To Help You Let Some Things Go pep talk.

It was weirdly awkward and freeing, all at the same time.

She was making her case and I was admittedly tired and before I knew it, I found myself all but standing in the chair at our local coffee shop yanking off my clothes in protest of the enemy’s plot to keep me busy. {Think Kill the Trash story but replace the word trash with Satan. That’d be about right.}

She kept right on hawking her story and I was buying every word she was selling.

How dare I get so busy with MOPS? What was I even thinking when I said I’d speak? My family needs me home. What kind of example am I setting for my kids? The Man can’t keep the kids alive for more than a day without me. Somebody else should worry about those boys across the street. I can write when the kids go to college. Maybe I should hire someone to help me clean the house. I’ve screwed my whole life and I’m taking the family down with me. Everything I want to do is killing the church plant- even the women’s Bible study.

I came home feeling like Jesus had an amazing plan for my life and all I needed to do was sit tight until the kids were grown.

So I cleaned the calendar of quite a few things and pulled up a piece of bench and stayed a good long while.

 DSC_0307Last night, I cried in the middle of Bible study. It was a clean cry, not the kind of cry I have in the shower when I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. But it was still a cry.

If you’ve spent any amount of time here, then you know my 2 biggest fears in this life are 1.) Dying of cancer at a young age and 2.) Missing my life because I’ve done all the wrong things.

Last night’s cry was related to fear number 2. As I poured out the heavy onto the women in my group, I confessed feeling like Jesus had promised us something that I was afraid my children may not get to see come to fruition. I unloaded my fears of running my race and missing my children along the way. I confessed the struggle to see God’s many blessings among the the hard days of plodding along the course He has marked.

Each woman spoke truth pointed at capturing my whole heart.

And not one of them accused me of spinning too many plates or doing things Jesus never asked me to do or running outside of my lane.

At the end of the evening, when everyone was packing up their things to head home, one of the women called to me.

“I’ve got some knives for you in the car. They’re to help you with all that cooking we’re going to be doing to serve your neighbors, ” she said. “I’ll see you Saturday at Feed A Neighbor.”

I beamed at her not because she’d bought me the nicest knives I’d ever owned or because she was going to lend me her services for a morning of meal prep.

I beamed because her gift to me said: I see the race that Jesus has called you to and I am going to run this leg of the race with you.

 

I tell you all of this to tell you this:

Don’t ever look at the race your friend is running and deem it too daunting for her.

Instead, look at her race and see it as the thing Jesus is using to make much of Himself in her life.

Go be a cool drink of water to her.

Slip in beside her and wipe the sweat from her brow.

Use a megaphone and yell truth into her ears so that she runs with confidence the race set before her.

And if necessary, pat her hiney and tell her to keep going.

 

This is how you love your neighbor well.

A Story and a Recipe

Two things I want you to know: Yesterday’s giveaway goes until Monday. Go enter if you haven’t. And The Root Collective is offering 30% off their Blue Striped Ballet Flat this weekend only, using the code 30OFFSHOE. If you order, could I kindly ask you to click through to their site through the button in my sidebar? Your purchase will help fight poverty in Guatemala and provide me a few pennies to help me keep the lights on here at the blog. Thanks so much.

Now, for a funny story about meat and the best taco recipe ever.

IMG_3176[1]On Tuesday, when the three smallest kiddos hit the hay for nap, I slipped out to the front porch to write. The largest patch of sunshine we’d seen all year greeted me as I sunk down on the steps and I was giddy with the prospect of having an hour and a half alone, on the porch, with the laptop and a glass of unsweet tea.

But in my neighborhood where foot traffic matches the traffic of cars and bicycles, I should have known I’d be lucky to get even five minutes of quiet.

I was three sentences in when, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a man on foot, crossing the street. He was beaming and calling to me.

“Gorgeous out, huh?” he said.

I nodded, not wanting to engage, but knowing full well he was coming right at me. I sighed and closed the laptop.

“It is. Just trying to get some writing done while the kids nap. It’s sorta my lunch break,” I answered back.

By now he had crossed the street and the sidewalk and had planted himself at the bottom of my steps in the edge of the sunlight with an outstretched arm.

“I’m Chris. I’ve met your husband before and I’ve seen your kids out here playing. You guys have a lot, don’t you? Lot of mouths to feed, I’m sure. I have 9 kids and 1 grandkid and 2 of my kids are in college and I know what it’s like to feed lots of mouths. IT’S EXPENSIVE,” he yelled, never catching his breath. “But I can help you with that.”

I bet you can, I thought to myself. What in the world?

“You guys like chicken? Steak? Pork tenderloin? Maybe you’re more of a shrimp family?” he asked. “If you have a freezer and five minutes I can hook you up, save you a little money. You see that truck over there?” he asked as he pointed across the street to the van parked on the other side of the street and around the corner.

“You mind if I go pull the truck around and show you what I’ve got?” he asked. He was gone before I could respond.

I sunk a little lower because in the bottom pit of tummy, I could feel the people pleasing, empathizing, don’t-want-to-say-no-to-anyone, part of me rising up and taking over every part of me.

This man and I had made eye contact and we had shared a patch of sunlight and I had listened to his story.

In other words, we had entered into a relationship. I was stuck. He was going to peddle his meat and I was going to buy it. I knew it. He knew it. Jesus knew it.  Dang it all to heck.

He pulled that clankity van with the red, white and blue logo right up in front of the house and flung open the back end with all the flourish of a skilled salesman who is well acquainted with idiots who cannot say no. And at the sound of the van, all the kids who were awake came out to view the ruckus.

I stood at the edge of the porch and watched this man drag out 6 boxes of steak, 6 boxes of chicken, 6 boxes of seafood, and 6 boxes of pork. He opened the lid of each and every one of those 6 boxes and stacked them on the porch. The boxes covered half the real estate. It was audacious.

“Mrs. Thad’s Lady, when you’re done, could I speak with you? I got something I want to tell you and it’s good.”

I looked up to see an old neighbor grinning from ear to ear, her tattoos smiling right along with her face, every inch of her exposed in the heat of our March sun. I wondered how long she’d been standing there, what was she going to tell me, this person with no filter known to man and what was she thinking about the gross display of meat on the porch.

“Ma’am, you go right ahead and talk to her. I have all day,” the meat man said. I bet you do, I thought to myself for the second time in an hour.

I turned to my friend and she unloaded the dump truck of everything I thought she would right there in front of Jesus and the kids and the meat man and all things awkward took a turn for the worse.

So I did what Mrs. Thad’s Lady does when things are no longer in her pay grade.

“That’s so good and I just know Thad would love to hear all about it! He’ll be home all day on Saturday and you can come on back by then” I said to her. {Booyah.}

She grinned and I grinned and the when I turned to face the meat man, his eyes had welled up with tears.

Oh Lawd. He’s about to use the Jesus card and I’m gonna buy everything on my porch.

“Ma’am, what do y’all do out here? That was beautiful. You know I’m a Christian and I’m gonna hook y’all up today. I’m gonna throw in a case of burgers and give you the military discount. And I’m even gonna lock you in at a special price so from here on out, you get hooked up” he said. He beamed. Like the sun.

“We feed our neighbors sometimes,” I said.

“Well then, you’re gonna need some meat,” he said. “You mind if I give you a hug?”

 DSC_1397In honor of the 50 pounds of meat that I currently have stocked in my freezer, I’m going to share my go-to recipe for Tacos Al Pastor.  Al Pastor means in the style of the shepherd, but in Mexico, these tacos are made from pork. And as of this morning, I have enough pork in my freezer to fix this meal once a week for the next 12 weeks. Woot.

{And trust me, y’all. These are muy delicioso! If I ever invite you for dinner, I will serve you these tacos with black beans and rice and fresh guacamole.}

Make ‘em tonight or tomorrow. Your family will sing your praises.

And if you ever need a meat hook-up, I might know a man.

Tacos Al Pastor
Yields 6
Best Pork Tacos Ever
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Ingredients
  1. 1- 1lb pork tenderloin cut into 1/2 cubes
  2. 8oz can of pineapple tidbits in juice,drained
  3. 1 medium onion chopped
  4. 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro
  5. 1 tbsp of cumin
  6. 1 tbsp of Mexican chili powder or Chipotle chili pepper
  7. 1 tsp of pepper
  8. 1 tsp minced garlic
  9. 3/4 tsp salt
  10. 1 tbsp of oil for cooking
Instructions
  1. Combine pork and next 8 ingredients in a large zip-top freezer bag and let marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  2. Cook in oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, stirring often, about 10 minutes until done.
Notes
  1. Serve with flour or corn tortillas, sliced radishes, sliced avocado, lettuce, sour cream and salsa.
  2. Pair with black beans and rice.
  3. Repeat as often as necessary to satisfy your craving.
Adapted from from Maria Corbalan: owner of Taco Express in Austin
Adapted from from Maria Corbalan: owner of Taco Express in Austin
Lori Harris http://loriharris.me/

Lay Your Kingdom Down {and a giveaway}

This is the final post in a 5 part series titled How To Love Your Neighbors Well. You can read post 1 here, post 2 here, post 3 here, and post 4 here. Thank you for sticking with me and asking the hard questions.

DSC_0534Friends, my hubby and I are what Jen Hatmaker refers to as lifers- people who have belonged to the Church since we were in the womb. Not only have we been warming her pews since 1977, we have been serving fellow pew warmers since 1997 in various paid positions in various denominations.

We’ve been youth pastors, children’s pastors, music leaders, preaching pastors, teaching pastors, goldfish servers, trash picker-uppers, craft makers, Bible study leaders, meal servers, counselors, church planters, worship guide makers, secretaries, MOPS coordinators, curriculum writers, baby rockers, facility directors, and resident food closet/food pantry/distributor of random things.

We’ve also been Baptist, non-denominational, Methodist, and Bible.  And for a few months in college, we visited the  charismatics under the cover of night, but at the end of the day, the Baptist in us wouldn’t let us commit to the happy clappy Jesus things. It had something to do with the dancing that went on at the prayer sessions. Or that’s the story we tell.

But here’s the thing. As much as we love the Church and all her people and the mash-up of her various expressions and every one of the glorious benefits that come with warming her pews { i.e.: coffee and doughnuts and free childcare and scrapbooking classes and the all-about-me women’s ministry things and the outsourcing of parenting through the teenage years} the Man and I know that abundant life isn’t lived out under a steeple.

Abundant life is lived out when we, the Church, leave our steeple and all it’s glorious programming and live among the people who need the Jesus who chose to dwell among us.

Really. It’s that simple.

We’ve spent years and years creating systems of programs and building bigger buildings and filling calendars with so many activities that we’ve left no room for life outside the walls of our churches.

And I’m going to go somewhere that will hurt some feelings, but know that is not my intent. {Remember, I have been Church Girl and Christian Culture Guru, and Jesus Girl, Lover of All the Programs; I have been all things Christian to all Christians so that some may stay Super, Serving Christians. Do you hear me? } Not only have we spent years and years creating systems within our church walls, we’ve erected entire kingdoms to hold all of our Christian-ness so that we no longer come into contact with the world around us. We’ve created private schools and sports leagues and business niches that we are committed to frequent because they are Christian. We’ve moved into neighborhoods and encouraged our Christian friends to move into every home on the street so that our kids are reared in safe, Jesus- filled pockets of our cities. We’ve  served the same few Christian based organizations and we’ve taken the same mission trips to Haiti or Mexico or Poor City, America and we’ve felt good about our goodness and we have celebrated the blessings of Jesus upon our growing kingdoms.

And we have forgotten that the only kingdom that matters looks nothing like the safe kingdoms we have built.

The kingdom of Jesus comes small like a mustard seed and it grows up wild and free among piles of trash and empty beer bottles and broken down houses. It springs up like fresh water in dire places and spreads like good news among a people who’ve long awaited a measure of hope. It thrives right up next to hard to love people who live hard to understand lives. 

 Jesus’ kingdom invades the best laid plans we’ve ever scratched out in the dirt, calling us to lay them down and join Him in building the only kingdom that lasts.

And Jesus has given us every tool we need to join Him.

We are a people saved by grace, filled with the Holy Spirit, armed with the written word of God, tasked by Jesus to love our neighbors, and given a body of people to do life with called the Church.

We just have to gather as a body  and then scatter like seed.

The kingdom of Jesus comes when the Church gathers to scatter.

When we spend more time scattering than we do huddling up,  we have time to simply live in ways that invite Jesus to build His kingdom through us.

And kingdom building starts with loving Jesus and loving our neighbors.

 DSC_1398Because I love you and I desire for us to be the best Church we can be, I’m giving away some of my most favorite things to help us as we consider what it means to let our kingdoms crumble for the sake of the Gospel. You can enter to win by leaving a comment below. You can comment anything- even it steps on my toes- Jesus has trampled all over me since we moved to Rocky Mount, so my little pigs can handle it. I just ask that we remain respectful of one another. We belong to each other and we belong to Jesus. 

Winner announced on Monday, March 23.

A Thin Line

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“They’re having a party,” the youngest boy says in a rushed, breathy voice.  “And we’re invited.  It starts at 8:00.  Like right on the dot of 8:00.”

I’m cleaning the kitchen when he makes the announcement and I’m  in no mood for a late night party in the cul-de-sac.  My arms are elbow deep in the sink and the counter is twelve inches deep in dishes.

“Are you sure it’s a party?” I ask him.  “For what?  It’s a Tuesday night.”

“Graduation!!!” he says.  “I think somebody graduated from school.”

I sigh into the sink after he’s run back out the front door, but even in the sighing I know where I’ll spend my evening.

And so, at a few minutes after that 8:00 on the dot,  I find myself in the cul-de-sac with twelve children and only fifteen sparklers.

 

I’m over at Grace Table today. Join me there for the rest of the story?

When Home Shifts

DSC_1299DSC_1296Last weekend, the Man and I took a walk downtown with two-thirds of the kids. The air still had a bite to it, but the sun was out and so before dinner, we took off for the railroad tracks.

The kids ran along ahead of us and I took pictures of every patch of pretty my eyes could see. A lot of our downtown is boarded up and broken down, but I’m drawn to discover it and run my hands over every stretch of brick and mortar and glass. The Man and I made small talk and dreamed about the buildings we strolled past, peering into dirty glass windows and imagining what could be. The kids climbed stairs and jumped off everything that crumbled and sunlight bounced off every shiny thing looking so much like hope it took my breath away.

Hope does that, you know? It takes your breath away.

Way back, when we first moved to Avent, rows of questions used to line themselves up in my mind and then order themselves in such a way that would always lead to one thought:

How did we get here?

The answer was, and still is, Jesus. Of course, Jesus got us here. But under that layer of truth was always the surface-y layer that longed to poke holes in all the hows and whats and whys of the things that rumbled around in our hearts.

But last weekend, when hope broke through all the holes my eyes could see, I realized that the question in my mind was no longer How did we get here? but How do we live well here?

 DSC_1304DSC_1300When my life feels like it’s being sifted through my fingers, I usually clean or rearrange or redecorate.

It’s cathartic.

But this week, because the sun was shining and the temps reached into the 70s, I painted.

I painted all the white things a brighter shade of white and although I’ve not flung one color on one wall, I’m eyeballing 3 different shades of turquoise. {The Man is holding his breath.}

I know. Turquoise. It’s a jump from my usual natural color palette, but when we moved in on Avent, my head was in a different space. I was thinking clean, predictable lines with little to no color. I was thinking home-church plant filled with predictable people with predictable mannerisms and comfortable social boundaries. I was thinking matching mugs for coffee and matching plates for miniature tacos and clean, neat eating from everyone involved. Think: Pretty People, Pretty Church. {I die a little as I confess this to you.}

I was never thinking 46 pairs of hands from 46 random children touching every surface of my house. I was never thinking 46 pairs of feet trampling all over every rug, grinding in dirt and mud and grass. I never once considered that the people spending the most time in my house might be random neighborhood children who would mess up every clean, neat line I had so carefully drawn in every room of my home.

Seriously.

When we moved in, I was still wearing the apron from my youth that read: Clean, Neat, Matchy-Matchy House = Hospitality. And my house and heart reflected that thinking.

Three years and some 100+ random people later, I’m learning that hospitality is good and right and true when the people on the receiving end feel like they’ve been welcomed home.

And my definition of home is shifting to hold the home Jesus is giving me that I might steward it well.

xo~

me

 

On the Porch: Shannon Evans: We, A Great Parade

Hello there friends~ Shannon Evans is joining us today! I loved her offering at last month’s Live Small, Love Big link-up so I invited her to share her post here. I really love every word Shannon writes. She makes me laugh and nod my head right along with her. So do what you do best and welcome her!
 
I boarded that airplane to Indonesia with visions of mass revival among street kids, of orphans knowing love and worth for the first time, of a life of excitement and adventure and a me that was somehow more than I had ever been back at home.
 Indonesia set 3 035 copyBut it’s funny… wherever you run in the world, when you get there, you’re still just you.  And days are still just days and every once in awhile you get one that takes your breath away, but for the most part they’re full of all the mundane of life that you were convinced you could bypass if you simply chose adventure.


So you do things like language school and grocery store and too brief conversations and you wonder where you went wrong, why it’s all so small, so insignificant.

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I went into depression there for awhile, as our adoption process sputtered along and there were no orphans to visit and every possibility just seemed too hard and the resounding conclusion was that I am not enough.

But I read His Word on those rainy afternoons that dragged and dawdled, and I read that He said to bring Him the loaves, bring Him the fishes, and I read that it was enough for thousands.  It was more than enough.

 
So I did the only thing I could think of to do and it wasn’t loaves, it wasn’t fishes, it was breadcrumbs and fish bones but it was all I had.  I started a ballet class for little girls in my neighborhood.  With no qualifications, little dance instruction, an email of tips from my graceful sister-in-law, and a lot of YouTube videos, I taught those tiny dancers.  And wedged between my self-conscious tongue and third position, something happened.  I fell in love with Fridays and so did they.  We fell in love with each other’s presence, with each other’s gift of time and space and laughter, the way we held our hands just so and the way I faked knowing the right words.
 

Someone donated ballet shoes and their chins lifted a bit higher after that, especially the ones with the missing toes.  They leapt and twirled and knew they were just as beautiful, just as powerful as the Chinese girls at the real studio down the road.  And for the last few months of living in Indonesia, I had finally found my home.

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That was almost four years ago and it seems like I should be able to check that lesson off my ever growing list of things-to-be-learned, but it still catches me from time to time at all the wrong moments.  I am not enough.  I can’t.  I couldn’t do it perfectly.  Someone else could do it better.   Someone else IS doing it better.  But I forget that all He ever asked of me was for that flimsy basket in my hands, the one whose contents seem only enough to nourish me… and maybe my little family. The one whose contents were meant to be broken and dispersed and flung wide over the hillside to fill empty stomachs.  The basket whose contents could be made enough, if put in the right hands.

Not long ago a friend who suffers from debilitating anxiety asked me to go to an appointment with her, where she would have to talk about things that she knew would make her pulse race and her hands go clammy.  She needed an advocate and my first thought was I can’t do that, I can’t be that. I’m not the best one to go.  I thought of all the reasons I was needed at home (I wasn’t) and all the other people who would be better at it (they wouldn’t), until I realized that this was ridiculous and I had a fish on my hands that was about to start stinking if I didn’t get rid of it soon.  So we went (twice, actually) and she was empowered and she felt powerful and I did nothing and she did everything – SHE DID IT.  And it was small and it was trivial and it wasn’t even worth writing about except that I was reminded that looks can be deceiving, and maybe when I enter into That Which Is Next all that will really matter was the small and the trivial.  Because loaves and fishes and my heart and my yes were all He ever really wanted anyway.

 

agreatparade(1)Shannon Evans is a Protestant missionary turned Catholic convert who lived to tell the tale.  Shannon is a mom of two boys (through adoption and biology), wife of a musician, and an unabashed lover of humanity.  She stays up way too late blogging at We, A Great Parade.

The Nothing We Can Do

1 way to Love Well Part 4This is the 4th post in a 5 part series on How to Love Your Neighbors Well.

You can read post 1 here, post 2 here, and post 3 here.

Two weeks ago, some ladies from the neighborhood and my new friend {an answer to a 3 year prayer sorta friend, mind you- don’t evah, evah, evah  give up!}  spent the morning slicing and dicing and bagging up some freezer meals.

It was the once a month, Saturday morning, food-prep-frenzy-with-our-neighbors-day we call Feed A Neighbor where we make crock pot meals for the freezer. The whole morning is a frenzy.  And I love every minute of it.

On this particular Saturday, we peeled potatoes and browned beef while my friend stood over the sink, washing every dish we dirtied.

“Girl, you need some utensils!” she had called out from over the sink. It was her first experience in the food frenzy and I could tell we had worn her down. “Like some decent knives and spatulas and some bigger stirring spoons. And more than one sauce pan. If we’re gonna do this once a month, we gotta remedy this. And before next month.”

I had laughed because my mama says the same thing every time she gets in my kitchen and I had laughed because my brain doesn’t think well-stocked kitchen. It thinks make-do because who wants knives sharp enough to slice through bone when I can have books? {And trust me on this. I cut at least one finger every day. I’m not trying to lose a finger.}

“Well Sandra, Jesus says if you see a need it’s your responsibility to try and meet it,” I had called back to her. “And since you’re now responsible to meet our needs, I only like spatulas with the ends that don’t slide off and we could use some extra measuring cups. And maybe a couple of larger mixing bowls.”

My neighbors had joined in, naming all the extravagant things we need to stock the kitchen, and we were in hysterics by the time we were done.

And it felt good to laugh.

 IMG_0427[1]But I didn’t slip in here to tell you about Feed A Neighbor or about my sparse kitchen because no matter what these 60 year old ladies think about my kitchen, I like my one spatula and my one sauce pan. {Really y’all, don’t send me kitchen tools in the mail. I love you, but I have no space for them….Unless one of you wants to write a letter to some Extreme Kitchen Makeover show, then by all means, do that. Jesus said. He did.}

I’m slipping in here to tell you what happened after the frenzy of food prep.

Because I’m finding that it’s often in the what happens after that I get to see what Jesus is really inviting me to.

The thing I do, whether it be hot dogs in the yard or become the temporary neighborhood laundry mat gig or head up the food prep Saturday, is simply the vehicle Jesus uses to take me where He wants me to go.

And where He wants me to go is always past the surface level of need and straight to the heart.

 Flowers 4After the other ladies had bagged up their meals and gone home, one mama stuck around to wait on her laundry to dry. She had brought 2 trash bags of laundry to wash and dry while we prepared meals and I knew based on the sizes of those bags, she wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

It was nearly 1, past our normal lunch time and my kids had descended upon the kitchen like buzzards on a gut wagon. {You can than the Man for that one.} They were pulling things out the refrigerator and the pantry and so I offered our neighbor a bowl of leftovers.

She accepted and pulled up a chair.

I took a long time reheating the food, trying to withdraw into myself long enough to muster up something more to offer her, frustrated that I had to offer more.

Long minutes passed between us, long enough for the kids to have cleared the table before I ever sat down her. She sat next to me, picking at her home made macaroni and cheese while I went straight in for the hard things of her heart.

We talked a circle around the baby and the baby’s daddy and her living situation and the things that tied the three together. She cried and I listened. I probed deeper and she withdrew. She backtracked and I asked her to tow the line, calling her out to own the things she needed to own.

We went no where fast and when I saw her baby daddy’s truck pull up outside the house, I retreated to the kitchen, feeling the wind being knocked out of me.

It’s like this all the livelong day:  Three steps forward and four steps back and the more I run towards my neighbor, the more she runs the other way.

And it’s in the kitchen, with the scraps of our lunch still on the counter, that Jesus says Stop chasing her and lift her to Me.

 This morning, as we continue the conversation of loving our neighbors well, I’m struck with the truth that apart from Jesus we can do nothing to love our neighbors.

Oh, we can serve them, but apart from Jesus we cannot love them.

And sometimes, the most loving thing we can do is nothing…

Except lift them up to Jesus.

And we all know that that ain’t nothing.

5 Things To Ask Yourself Before You Donate

This is the 3rd post in a 5 part series on How To Love Your Neighbors Well.

You can catch post one here and post two here. Thank you for sticking this out with me and for asking hard things.  We don’t know what we don’t know and this series is my attempt to snatch the bliss that’s often wrapped up in our ignorance of poverty. I’m writing from my own place of learning and living and loving others better. So grace in the process?

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If you could see my mud room, you’d nearly die from all the donations we have piled up.

No, I take that back.

If you actually saw my mudroom, I would surely die.

There are linens stacked to the ceiling and a cardboard box full of pillows and the odds and ends of numerous pantries in paper sacks lining the walls. I have coats and mittens and extra hats and random jugs of apple cider. I’ve even got Ziploc bags of dried pinto beans in a cracked plastic bin.

It’s full to overflowing. I can hardly walk through there.

And here’s the thing: Donations are fabulous and we are thankful.

For most of them.

But some of the things scattered about the mud room were acquired through a particular method that I fondly refer to as Drop and Runs.

Drop and Runs are donations that we never saw coming. 

And these sorts of donations have made me ask myself two questions: 1) Why would someone donate that? and 2)What the heck is it?

And because I’ve been asking myself these 2 questions, I thought I’d give  you beautiful people 5 questions to ask yourself before you donate.

{P.S. For the love of Jesus and your neighbors, if you have to drop something and run, please don’t donate it.}

 5 Things to ask yourself before you donate1.) If I found myself in need, would I love to receive _______?

Would I really want 16 cat sweaters? Or the top of the line espresso maker that’s missing all the bells and whistles? Or the 3-tiered silk bed-skirt custom made for a king-sized mattress? Probably not.

My pastor used to tell the story of receiving the gift of a Cadillac from one of his congregants. He loved that car. Until it needed to be repaired and he couldn’t scrape up enough funds to pay for the repairs on his gift. Consider the extra costs associated with whatever you’re willing to donate. Can your recipient afford your gift in the long run?

2.)If I could sell _________ at a garage sale, would I still be donating it?

If your donations pile is filled with items you couldn’t possibly sell at a garage sale, then you shouldn’t donate. The end.

3.) Is my donation sacrificial?

Am I forgoing the $20 I could make at a consignment sale so that a needy mom is blessed with a couple of super nice sleepers? Could I share from my stock pile of Buy One, Get One Free instead of bagging up the back of the pantry cans of Spam? Could I give away the set of bunk beds I don’t need instead of selling them on Craig’s List for $100?

I know it’s not fun, but whatever you give should cost you something.

4.) How will my donation make someone feel?

Will my wool coat feel like love when my elderly neighbor wears it to walk to the store? Will my grandma’s old dishes make a mom serving Hamburger Helper feel like her table is welcoming and pretty? Will the single dad down the street feel a little more dignity using my old push mower rather than continuing to swing his weed whacker back and forth across the grass? {Don’t ask me how I know about that one. It was a weekly thing to behold.}

Whatever you choose to donate should lift a person’s head. It should make a person feel like the most special person alive. It should be so awesomely what they need, that they ask you how you knew! And you’ll jump with glee and say JESUS told me!

5.) Does my donation come with strings attached?

 If I donate my most favorite coat, am I only willing to give it to someone who is asking questions about Jesus? If I buy the mom down the street a new pair of shoes, am I going to expect a return on my investment by way of her hiney next to mine at church on Sunday? Am I only willing to donate my best things to someone who already loves Jesus and will pay it forward?

Or am I willing to give my best because I am simply called to love my neighbor?

 Hope you’ll come back on Monday for part 4 of this series.

Thoughts On A Mattress

DSC_0907On the day that our neighborhood has an open house for scores of people to traipse up and down our muddy sidewalks and peer into the empty homes, my neighbor decides to toss a mattress onto her lawn.

Nothing screams WELCOME to the NEIGHBORHOOD more than an 87 year old mattress on the front lawn.

Big trash pick-up is only 48 hours away, but what the hay? Why not toss it early? Company’s not coming.

{sigh}

It’s not the mattress that bothers me, really. {At least I don’t think it is.}

It’s the fear that someone who has their eye on the cute little yellow house down the street will stand on that cute little porch and stare out across our somewhat cute little street and see that 87 year old mattress and immediately, in their subconscious, begin to make up a story about that mattress and all the people who have ever laid upon it.

Do you feel me?

Anyone who wants to live in that cute little house will have to imagine themselves in that home and today, that dirty, soaking wet mattress will be the backdrop to whatever story they are conjuring up in their head.

Sweet tea on the porch in a nice wicker rocker? {Don’t mind the mattress.}

Pick-up games of football with the kids in the front yard?  {What mattress?}

Rows of zinnias and marigolds and black-eyed susans along the walkway? {They make the mattress look nice.}

They can’t imagine a story in that home without the mattress on the front lawn any more than they can imagine away the plastic film taped to the front door of the house sitting in the same patch of Avent street as the mattress. Nor can they pretend that the shutters aren’t hanging all wonky or the plastic flowers aren’t really plastic or the drapes in the windows aren’t actually blankets nailed to the walls above the broken windows.

Because here’s the deal: No one’s dream home includes a nice, up close and personal view of poverty.

Views like that sorta mess with things like wicker furniture and flowers and sweet tea on the front porch and property value.

And views like that mess with those things because it’s the things of life, be them broken or whole, that say something about the persons who belong to those things. {Be it morally wrong or right, we know this to be true.}

And broken things equal broken people and ain’t nobody got time for broken people with broken things.{especially me}

So we hole up and hide out.

Because to choose to live across the street from it- the poverty and the brokenness and the dirty mattress on the lawn- would mean that we are not simply saying yes to a house.

We are saying yes to Jesus and the people who live in those homes.

And to say yes to Jesus is to lay down the comfort of the American dream to pick up the task of being a rebuilder of walls, and a restorer of homes.

 …..

Once a month, poverty eats my lunch. Yesterday, poverty ate me for lunch and dinner. And this has been my prayer for the last 48 hours. I’m sharing it with you because so many of you are in your own trenches, in your own places. And I stand with you, in solidarity, as a people who desire to be known as rebuilders of walls and restorers of homes.

Jesus~

Posture my heart to consider You in all things. Incline my ears to hear You. Open my eyes to see You. Give me shoulders strong to bear what You’d have me bear that I may know You more in the bearing. Lift high my  arms that I  may glorify You in all things and put praise in my mouth that I may rejoice in the life set before me. And set my confidence ablaze in only You- this work in my city is not my own and I cannot do it apart from You.

Amen