Monday, September 25, 2017

Making it Home


Not long ago, I sat on my back patio eating sloppy joes and watermelon with Cory, our kids, and four adult friends. Two are currently incarcerated at the county work release center in our neighborhood. One has been "on the outs" for almost three years. And one had just been released from prison a few days earlier. It was the first time I'd met him, and he was the one who worried me most.

We drew in under whatever shade our one janky umbrella offered, chewing the fat while we chewed on seconds. All the while, the newbie, kept awkwardly thanking me. I'll call him Joe. To my untrained eye, his demeanor would have seemed almost suspicious or over-the-top. But what I know now is that he's just terrified of his freedom. He's scared to death that he doesn't deserve to be out, doesn't deserve the company of people eager to love him, doesn't deserve a plateful of homemade sloppy joes and damn well doesn't deserve seconds.

For years, he has been told he is worthless. Scum.
He's been told enough that it slipped beneath his skin, his pores inked with shame and stamped with a DOC number. You are less than human. You don't get to have a name. 

After I repeated myself for the third time, "Joe, we're so happy you're here. It's our pleasure. I love cooking for you guys and I'm so glad you joined us." He went in for another plate.


The minute he stepped away, I asked the others if he was okay.

"Prison's no joke," Bobby replied. Jason nodded along, adding, "Prison sucks, but the scariest time of anyone's life is getting out of prison."

In the weeks that followed, we tracked closely with Joe as he navigated life without options and tried not to lose himself in despair. I passed him almost every morning as I walked the kids to school, those early weeks when the air turned unseasonably cool. He gave daily updates on his living situation, his desperate search for things like a bed and food, and his quest for employment.

We loaded him up with frozen pizzas and granola bars. We bought him minutes for his cell phone because probation requires an active number where you can be reached at any time. One morning he told me he could start at a factory the next morning, but he needed steel-toed boots. He stood smiling in the morning light wearing a coat that hung loosely around his torso in nylon shreds. I added "coat" to the list.

He couldn't find a decent place to live without a job.
Finding a job was hard without transportation.

He settled, for a while, on renting a sketchy apartment from our local slumlord for $800 per month. One bedroom. Squalid. Questionable heat and utilities. Of course, he didn't have money to pay for this place, so he entered the realm of modern-day indentured servitude, working a sub-minimum wage "job" for the slumlord in exchange for a place to live. Finding cash for food would have to wait. We have seen this hundreds of times.

It didn't take long for us to realize the crisis situation men and women who have served their time face upon their re-entry to society.

They often emerge with their self-worth only ankle-high. They're overwhelmed with responsibilities yet typically don't have the resources to set about achieving them. After living in a precarious yet tightly-woven community setting, they're suddenly aware of just how alone they are.

Maybe they're also fending off addiction. Maybe they're trying to break free of past relationships and realizing how impossible that will be, since probation keeps them tied to the community of their offense, not readily allowing the fresh start of a new city. They ache to rebuild trust with family and children but as they look out at the light of the world, what bounces back at them is the prevailing sense that we're all waiting for them to prove their unworthiness. You aren't better. You didn't learn.

Jesus tells us that caring for those in prison is caring for him (Matthew 25:36), and I'm here to tell you, the shackles endure far beyond the cinder-block and razor wire. It takes time to truly break free. It takes close companionship, an enduring commitment to walk together for as long as it takes.

Three years ago, Cory and I began to wake up to the immediate need for clean, affordable housing. It was something we hadn't considered until we journeyed into this phase of our life. (I wrote about it here.) Like most everything we've learned and continue to learn, it shifts the landscape of our hearts. It cannot be un-learned. It changes everything.

A few months ago, after returning to this conversation again and again in search of solutions, the Jail Ministry of Elkhart County bought a little fixer-upper in our neighborhood.

Cory has spent almost every spare moment down the street, scraping and painting, returning home many nights drenched in sweat from this early-Fall heatwave after our kids have long been asleep.

In just one week, a family of three will move in and call this place home. They are some of our favorite people, in our home and around our table often. Soon, we will be actual neighbors again. I can't describe for you how elated they are. The house is humble, but to them, it's a palace.

They'll live there for the next couple of years as they heal from the trauma and set-back of incarceration. They'll continue working hard at their jobs. They'll continue to sit with us at church. They'll continue to join us often for lunch.

But now, sometimes, we'll join them at their table.

My friend Bri McKoy writes in Come and Eat, “The table breaks down the walls of social class and backgrounds and race. We are all one at the table, human beings receiving the necessary act of eating a meal. We are all citizens with one another. No other act of coming together so powerfully proclaims this.”

I have tasted the truth of her words.

I asked Bri if she would be willing to help put together a list of items a well-stocked kitchen should have and she jumped at the chance. We had so much fun brainstorming. This will be a surprise to the family. In the past, they, and so many like them, have slowly chipped away at finding what they need, searching thrift stores each weekend for some forks, then a skillet, then a toaster.

This time, they will enter a kitchen that begs to be cooked in. As I told Bri, though the list is quite basic, to them it will feel positively lavish. After years of "staying" here or there, now they'll get to live in a home.

If you would like to purchase something for the kitchen, you can do so by clicking on this Amazon affiliate link. The item will be shipped directly to us (be sure to click "Cory Martin's registry address") and all kitchen items will stay with the house. (Meaning, once this family moves on, the kitchen will remained stocked for the next family.)

Right now, Cory is one block away, sweaty and paint-splattered, doing everything he can to have the house ready. Tomorrow, he'll drive from place to place picking up donated furniture. There's so much that has already been done and plenty to do, but we are so excited.

Thank you for partnering with us in giving the gift of home. Please continue to pray for our friend Joe, for the family getting ready to move into the Jail Ministry House, and for so many others who are trying to find their way. Look for them. Pay attention to their needs. Do whatever you can to show them you are a trusted ally, fiercely with them as they saw through the chains.

Jail Ministry House Kitchen Wish List
(Update! In less than one hour after posting this blog, the list has been entirely fulfilled. YOU GUYS ARE AMAZING! I can't even begin to thank you enough. We are going to regroup later today and add some more to the list. Feel free to check back this evening!)

Thanks also to those who have donated their time and services, including:
Moyer Electric
Miller Brother Builders
Baldwin Paint and Decorating
Goshen Floor Mart



Come and Eat by Bri McKoy


** If you have trouble with shipping info once you're in Amazon (some have had trouble, others not) feel free to email me at shannandmartin @ gmail.com and I'll give you the shipping address directly!

(*Because I'm using an affiliate link, I receive a very small commission from Amazon, which will go toward our Sunday Lunch fund.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Crisis Fatigue and the Bread We Have


Friday night my family drove to Indianapolis to visit Cory's brother and his family. We always stay up way too late when we're with them because there's so much to cram into so few hours. Somewhere around 9 pm, when we were just warming up, my sister-in-law Lori mentioned Charlottesville in conversation. For the next thirty seconds I sat, half-listening and half-peering into my brain in a mad scramble to fit the pieces together. I was completely confused, "Wait. What happened in Charlottesville?"

(I am well aware that my privilege is showing here. You might be aghast at what I just admitted. I'm just here to tell the truth.)

I knew the incident was recent. I knew it was horrific. I knew it was related to white supremacy and racism. I just couldn't, for half a minute, pin down the specific details in a sea of similar injustices. They had all sort of muddied together.

The next day, we drove from Indy to Ohio to visit my parents. My parents and several of my extended family have been plagued with serious medical emergencies recently. Surgery after surgery, hospital stay after hospital stay. Calvin, my own guy, is right there in the middle of it with his own health-related instability. All of it has weighed heavily on us, in the unique way things can be felt from such a distance. The journey from the mind to the heart can be a winding road. We can see the flames and appreciate their power, but unless we're within its reach, it's almost impossible to feel the heat.


We arrived late Saturday night and my mom began filling me in on the latest family health crisis, this time with my oldest nephew. My dad sat just through my line of vision, behind my mom in the next room. Listening to her but watching him I was overcome again by a strange, vague feeling, "Wait a minute, didn't he just have a scare? Isn't he the one we've been worried about?"

Twice in two days, the details of a significant event were momentarily out of reach. They filtered back fairly quickly, but the fact that it wasn't instantaneous freaked me out both times. I imagined vines of early-onset memory loss infiltrating my gray matter. I blamed myself for not being present enough, emotionally or physically. I decided I'm too selfish. I'm not a good listener. I'm not well-qualified at caring.

The truth is, I am a human. The onslaught of drama, crisis, sadness, and disaster is seemingly endless these days. We can care about something - deeply, even, but the very next day, fresh outrage takes center stage. It's a lot to hold and too much to carry.

I spent Sunday watching Irma's destruction from the sunny comfort of my childhood home. I took a nap in a hammock. I ate a steak from the grill.  I sat near an opened window and paged through three magazines. I played with the kids. I listened to the news and thought of friends running from Irma's wake and the multitudes stuck in shelters (or worse) because they don't have the means to leave.

I also spent part of the day worried about Texas, wondering how it feels to suffer such loss while most of the country has already turned its attention elsewhere.

The cognitive whiplash is real.



What's the answer?

That's what I keep asking myself. I've visited a few stores in the last week and most of them ask if I'd like to donate money to Harvey victims. Tomorrow, they'll probably change the script to Irma. Monday we remembered 9/11. Last week my neighbors braced themselves against more discouraging immigration news. This morning I drove a friend to court and waited with her on the cliff-edge of yet another technicality.

Filtering down into the cracks we have all our regular turmoil. The splits and breaks of everyday life. Illness, fractured relationships, financial burden, bullies at school, addiction, and a house that can't stay clean.

People talk about compassion fatigue and I'll be honest, it bugs me. We are not allowed to grow weary of helping. True compassion is conditioned to go the distance. But I understand that the world is throwing a lot at us. We are crisis fatigued, with good reason. We have to find a way to hold these continual opportunities to care for each other more meaningfully.

I'm discovering that for me, outrage or even empathy is not enough. Clicking and swiping online isn't, either. I have to have skin in the game. When trouble isn't close enough to see or smell or touch, when it's not possible to heave a portion of the burden onto my own shoulder, I have to find a different way to sacrifice. When "helping" doesn't cost me something, my commitment usually doesn't endure.


For the past week as I've thought and prayed and wrung my hands, God repeatedly brought one of my favorite Bible stories to mind.

In the book of John, Jesus is surrounded by hordes of hungry people. His disciples, with their inborn mentalities of scarcity and panic fully intact, start freaking out. "Do something!"

Jesus looks back and them and says, with what I imagine would be the sort of cool nonchalance that grates us when we're trying to communicate alarm, "How much bread do you have?"

He could have solved the problem in infinite ways. He could have invented Little Caesars $5 Hot 'n Ready on the spot. But he loved his disciples enough to encourage their investment. He knew if the miracle was going to stick, it had to cost them something.

God looked at me and asked the same. "How much bread do you have, Shannan?"

I was like, "Um...not much, if I'm being honest."

He asked again, "Look harder. Think outside the bank account. How much bread do you have?"

And that's when I remembered the plates.


Listen, I have not been able to stop buying plates for theoretical plate walls. I look for them constantly. I keep finding beautiful ones. I bring them home. It is but one of my ministries and the many stacks throughout my basement are the fruit it bears. I don't know what to do or how to stop. I've let myself think it's a problem, but last week, it started to seem like a solution.

Thursday, September 14 at 9pm Eastern time, I'm opening up an auction for plate collections over on my Facebook page. All proceeds (minus shipping costs) will go directly to Legacy Collective, an organization Cory and I wholeheartedly support each month. (The earnings from the auction will be in addition to our regular contribution.) They are doing everything they can to ease the burden of their Texan neighbors and have also opened up donations for those affected by Irma.

If you want to bid, you'll need to follow me here and check back this Thursday night. (Auctions will only be available to bidders within the continental US and you must have a PayPal account. I'm so sorry, International homies!)

This is a pretty small thing, but me + the post office = certain doom. Organization and the packaging of breakables is not squarely in my skill set. This will cost me a little something. But I believe in colorful, quirky plate walls for all. (Better Homes and Gardens and Country Living both just featured them. They are timelessly classic and look cool without even trying!)


Whether you join me or not, I'm calling all of us to take a look around every day, all the time. When we find pain, sorrow, or brokenness, let's make it our problem.

Let's inject beauty and hope and watch the world mend.

Your neighbor,
Shannan/FPFG ;)



::  Check out these fun plate wall images!


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Proximity > Politics


Last night, somewhere around eleven o'clock, Cory and I paused the show we were watching. I don't remember why. It might have had something to do with a snack. Maybe one of the kids needed a drink. Maybe the extra little one sleeping upstairs was thrashing around as she does sometimes, screaming, "No! No! Stop it!" in her sleep. Take your pick.

I checked my phone before we resumed, me at one end of the couch and Cory at the other, my feet resting on his lap. Before I knew it, we were ankle-deep in our newest favorite argument. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's either about trash day or an existential crisis. These discussions flame as quickly as they dampen. The truth is, I love fiery debates. (A friend of mine recently asked me what my Enneagram number is. I don't know much about this business at all, but I know I'm an 8. When I told her she smiled. "Ah, 8's build intimacy through anger." Zing! I now take the blame for all these "heated talks.")

Cliff's Notes version: Cory says Christians probably shouldn't be political at all, though this isn't what comes naturally to him. He says it's a distraction from the real brokenness we face. I say it has to be both. It's people and systems. Oppressed people might not feel our withness if we aren't actively fighting the broken, unjust systems that grind their faces in the dirt. It has to be both.

Right?

"Mmmmm, I don't know," he responds, much too calm for my liking. "I think if we would fix this at a heart level, if we would truly stand with the people Jesus stood with, change would come."

In all fairness, the man spent over a decade in federal politics. He saw enough grandstanding and empty promises, whiplash-inducing election cycles and power-grabbing to earn himself a lifetime supply of Congressional skepticism.

In some ways, I see his point. But it sounds eerily similar to all the Christians I've known who claw for an excuse to stay fresh and keep their world tidy. Also, isn't it more than a little too optimistic?

~

Last week after Sunday lunch, a man came by and asked if he could mow our lawn for $20. "I noticed your yard looks different from your neighbors yards." (This is the most diplomatic way of saying, "Y'all, CUT YOUR GRASS!" I have ever had the pleasure of hearing.) It was awkward, just sitting there on the patio while a near-stranger in baggy jeans pushed our mower around, but we have learned a few things along the way. Dignity often requires discomfort.

Fifteen minutes after he went on his way, a different man approached us. He had some steaks in his freezer, some really good meat, would we want to buy it for twenty bucks? We recognized him from the pawn shop, where he waves to passersby now and then for minimum wage. He said his dad had just died, and he was trying to get to the funeral.

I spent time with a kiddo who had just watched his mom get beaten bloody. "She lost her purse, her glasses, and one shoe." He said without expression.

I sat with a mom who pushed an envelop across the table, asking if I could help her understand why her middle schooler was being called in on deliquency charges after he'd worked all year to live by the letter of the law. There was no case number. No explanation. Just a command to show up at court in a couple of weeks. But first, she'll need to make sure she can get the day off at her minimum wage job. First, she'll need to find someone who can give her a ride. Various white people, smartly dressed, keep telling her her boys are "trouble." It is patently untrue, but she keeps lapsing into believing them. Just last week she took them for their annual physicals and the pediatrician looked one of the boys in the eye, in front of his mother, and said, "You're a mess. I don't know how your mom does it." For context, this is the boy who brought me a candy bar tonight just because and hugged me for the very first time. When his brother asked why he gave it to me he said, "I just can't stand to see people suffer!" He's the one who helped me pick blackberries. He's the one who found a plastic rosary on the street and asked Cory to pray with him, his mama isn't feeling well tonight. "Be with all of the people who don't have as much as we do," he prayed.

This weekend, at a birthday party for one of Ruby's friends, I met a guy who explained in detail why he served eight months in jail and spent over twenty thousand dollars in order to avoid prison after getting caught selling two hundred dollars worth of drugs. His bail alone cost him nearly ten grand he didn't have. His mom mortgaged her house to pay for an attorney so that he could be around to care for his family. Across the shelter, his wife smoothed their daughter's hair and smiled often. She'd made her niece's cupcakes, they all take care of each other. Like family. When we left, the friend's mom thanked me, "This was the first year we let her invite friends but Ruby is the only one who came."

All of this, in the span of just a few days.

Tonight, minutes before I sat down to write this, Cory's phone rang. Am I allowed a small exaggeration, to say our phones almost never stop ringing? Can I go ahead and say it that way, since that's how it feels? (Can I also tell you that as I typed the last sentence a text popped up, "I really need to talk to you," and that this sometimes overwhelms me to my core?) Tonight, Cory's call was a friend fresh out of prison. His bike had a flat tire. He was stuck at the grocery store one town over with his whole life stuffed into a backpack and two trash bags, on his way to stay with another former inmate who understood his position. Could he please come and give him a ride?

Cory mouthed the words to me, "Can I go get him?" Of course. Of course. Go.

And that's the precise moment some understanding clicked into place. My husband is right, or at least for the most part.

Twitter is a constant hotbed of controversy and outrage and I slurp it up like a spicy bowl of pho. I find intimacy in anger, along with taco memes and literature, apparently. The past year has been a rush of information, uncovering the layers both over and under the broken systems of race, education, immigration, poverty, and incarceration. Our words and our thoughts don't cost us nearly enough.

As a follower of the weird way of Jesus, I am uniquely and specifically called to fight for the things God cares about. I am invited to believe my neighbors deserve the same life I think I'm entitled to, then do whatever I can to let it be so.

These are not strictly political issues.
These systems form the rubble around us no matter who is in office.

Sign petitions and retweet popular columnists if you want to. Get out the vote. Show up at meetings with a holy fire in your gut. Burst into tears after yet another fruitless meeting, then go back in for more.

Just remember, my friends are selling frozen steaks for cash.

My friends' days are numbered. If they don't find a place to live and a job, they'll go back to jail.

My friends have grown used to being ignored because they suffer bad teeth, DIY tattoos, and the stains of generational poverty.

My friends have learned to let others talk for them, even and especially when those "others" seek to harm them.

My friends hope the phone will buzz with an invitation to be included in almost anything.

My friend lost a purse, eyeglasses, and one shoe, and their pre-schooler lived to tell.

My friends have grown nearsighted in their search for Jesus. They do it alone, at close range, because no one else wants to stand in their line of vision and be the real Jesus, who existed in and for and because of community. No one wants to be near enough to see that same Jesus reflected in them - we can't bear the humility required.

It's almost midnight, and I honestly think Cory would just like more people to field these calls. He knows what an honor it is. He goes because he wants to. He can. (And sometimes, he can't.) Our friend circle primarily consists of hard-life people drained from trying to prove themselves to the power class dangling the carrot. We're protective of them, because they are among the greatest treasures we've ever known.

But we are also vastly outnumbered.

As for all of our competing political inclinations, whatever. My thoughts and opinions are many, but until we get this settled, I really don't care.

We answer only to Jesus, and we are missing the mark.
We are not getting low enough.
The fall will cost us dearly, and that is exactly the point.

Do you want to know what will begin to truly change this devastating world? Living as a neighbor, wherever you happen to be.

Take a look around and search for the hidden corners you'd rather avoid. Listen to different people. Dare to believe your life isn't half as chaotic as it's supposed to be.

May our words and our ideologies be few.
May we end this race good and sweaty for the sake of the kingdom right in our midst.


//

Jesus Untangled by Keith Giles is one of the books that really got us talking after hearing about it on a podcast. I haven't read it yet, but I'm eager to.
I Twitter-met Michelle Ferrigno Warren, the author of The Power of Proximity, earlier today and bought her new book immediately. She speaks my language. 
Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne is another one on my list. (I have loved several of his other books.)
Falling Free is the book I wrote, which recounts our fall from political jobs, comfort, and safe faith to everything I shared tonight.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Extreme Summering, Roadkill Edition



This has been a Summer of extremes, and as such, I'm not quite sure where to begin.

One minute it was May and we were making our plans. Then I fell into a rabbit hole of terror wherein my life revolved around taking Calvin and Ruby (she's playing the cello!) to and from orchestra practice across town at different times of the day, navigating the maddening Labyrinth of Emotional Dysregulation the city of Goshen has become. (And that was before the fair started...)

Throw in two conferences, my birthday (or, my "unbirthday," as it was,) a vacation, and Calvin's illness doing it's typical summertime ramp-up, and you might expect to find me hiding in a corner somewhere under a therapeutic weighted blanket.

But, no. I'm just here, sitting on my bed in my pajamas at 1:03 pm on a Saturday, writing my first blog post in almost two months.

Oh, how far I have fallen. I remember thinking it was so weird when bloggers would take the summer off, and even weirder when they would warn their readers that they were taking a break. I was all, What's the big deal? and What's so hard about blogging in the summer?

Ho, ho, ho! (That's my sardonic laugh.)
Now I know. Now I know what it's like when life just completely takes over and priorities shift a little bit. Now I'm fielding comments where people are asking if I'm still alive, and if I plan to ever blog again. Now I'm thinking about re-entry.

The hard truth is that my kids return to school in less than two weeks. From the marrow of my skinny bones, I do not understand how we possibly lived eight weeks. I have loved every inch of them. Work and rest, sadness and hope, laughter and sticky marshmallows and interrupted plans.

We've found a groove around here, and it's not always easy and it's not always fun. But it's growth and it's goodness and I'll take it. I will miss this time and I'll miss these kids.

But also? I HAVE A BOOK TO WRITE.
So, I mean, it's TIME for me to miss them. If you know what I mean.

This is a whole 'nother story, and I'm not sure what all to say about it, so I'll do what I am wont to do in times like these, and illustrate it with an exceedingly strange, seemingly unrelated story.

Last week, I spent 4 days speaking to a group of pastors in Ohio. I have stewed and sweated and prayed about this since December. It was intimidating, okay? Throw into the mix the fact that I distinctly knew I was supposed to share my feelings about church on my closing night. To a roomful of seasoned, long-haul pastors. Who did God think I was??? 

It went really well. I love speaking. I love the feeling of the Holy Spirit rushing through me until I'm ready to fall off of the stage by the end. It's emotionally exhausting and epically humbling and I love it.

After my last session Thursday night, I decided to drive the four hours home when I was done, rather than waiting until Friday morning. It made sense for a lot of reasons, and I'm a night owl. Simple enough, right?

Here's what ended up happening.

Try though I did to avoid the toll road option on my map, I ended up on it. (Don't ask.) Feeling like there was no other option at that point, I grabbed my ticket and drove. Within fifteen minutes I was suffering a mild panic attack of unknown origins. I keep getting more and more squeamish about the toll road as I get older. I DON'T UNDERSTAND IT, EITHER. Whatever. I tried to be brave. I prayed. I used some positive self-talk. But semi trucks were passing me on both sides (major speeding ticket anxiety has also thrust me into granny-driving territory of late,) construction cones and lights and those really narrow lanes were everywhere and I couldn't escape the sense that something terrible was about to happen.

I finally called Cory and he found me an alternative route. But my map didn't like his route and re-routed the re-route. I turned around, a ball of jitters somewhere around midnight, out in the middle of no where, vaguely aware that I was Michael Scott in the flesh, driving straight into a pond because my map told me to, but fundamentally incapable of doing anything else.

And then a wild turkey flew into my windshield. Or maybe an eagle or a chicken. A goose? It was white. Lots of feathers. It sounded like a sack of flour falling on my windshield - startling, but leaving no trace. A second later, I wasn't sure if it even happened. I had no witnesses.

I then realized the map was taking me back to the toll-road. So I cried.

I drove an additional thirty minutes out of my way, then Cory patiently told me to go back to the route he gave me. "Ignore your map!"

I had to pee. I was so hungry. I was tired.

I turned around, back into the pitch-darkness of sinister back roads, map be danged. I drove straight into a gaze of raccoons, hitting one, which seemed to yelp up from my driver side door area.

My life had gone from the thrill of accomplishing a major task and feeling quite good about it, to a real-time Edgar Allen Poe poem. I was certain every car following me was about to intentionally rear-end me then do something unspeakable, out there in the middle of no where.

((WHAT IN THE ACTUAL WORLD, SHANNAN?))

This went on for hours untold. On the one hand, I knew I was being irrational and way out of character. On the other hand, I drove over a large roadkill of unknown origin and I believed (you guys, I really believed) I had lost my mind. "That was the night Shannan went South. That was when we knew something had snapped."

I was honestly too tired to drive, but it felt ominously dangerous to pull over anywhere.
I queued up the recent episode of "Up and Vanished" to take my mind off things. IT DIDN'T HELP.

I obsessed about my life. I decided to quit writing all together, nevermind that I love it and need it and am under an actual contract to do the opposite of quitting. I decided to leave social media, nevermind that I feel no pressure from it 99% of the time and I thoroughly enjoy it. I decided to never speak publicly again, and especially not to pastors, even though it was deeply satisfying work and they were more encouraging that I could have imagined.

In the end, I made it home just a slim two hours behind schedule, at 3:30 a.m., though not before hitting an overweight groundhog. A few miles from home, a pack of wild youths emerged from the shadows, quite drunk, and one of them almost ran straight into my path. I swerved to keep from hitting him, and they all screamed for me to come back. I have no idea why.



Yesterday, I did laundry. Got groceries. Went to the library. Washed sheets and swept floors. I watered my flowers and read a magazine on the patio. I stayed very close to my people and my place.

My summer has been two solid months of intensity, boomeranging into the delicious liesure that happens best on this particular plot of earth. It has filled me straight up.

I don't know what to make of Thursday night or why I'm telling you any of it, other than the fact that it's strangely funny to me now and entirely surreal.

Just this morning Silas woke me up from a dream where I was driving down a highway with a herd of stampeding elephants. (Thank you, Silas!)

Here's my best Dream Doctor guess - I have work to do, and it feels a little scary right now. (It also feels pretty needy and dramatic to refer to writing a book as "scary," but I killed three wild animals in one night without even trying. This world is much bigger than me and I control very little of it.)

My excuses are almost long gone. I have work to do, and it's crunch time. I don't know exactly where I'm going with all of it yet. I'm driving in the dark. I'm afraid to fly up the road at seventy miles an hour. My van has a terrible suspension system and one door that doesn't shut all the way. I feel unequipped, small, and a little tired.

The glitter is settling on Summer, 2017. I have to keep reminding myself there's still plenty of time to enjoy the patio, pick blueberries off the vines, can pickles, wear flip flops, take bike rides, and eat ice cream. But between all those perks of the season, I'll be head-down, laser focused, beating back the lies Satan tries to whisper when he senses our weakness.

I'll be doing the work, working up quite an emotional and spiritual sweat, because what's the point of living life in the dark? Right now, I'm choosing to trust that the Lord will see all of this to completion, and that I can just ignore the map and drive, arriving exhausted but alive in the end.

Whatever you're facing, I'd love to be near you in spirit.
Whatever you're tackling, just remember, wherever you're standing is the land of the living. You can be sure of God's goodness there.

xo,
Shannan

PS - I have grand intentions of sharing some of my truly true, real-life summer favorites with you soon. (When I do these posts, I'm never promoting anything other than what I'm really loving, so expect some randoms!) In the meantime, have you susbscribed to my Super Scoop? It's a personal email from me to you, where I share things I don't share anywhere else. In my next email, I'm sending out a fun surprise. :)

You can also always find me on my fave, Instagram, as well as Facebook and Twitter.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Weekending


{Before}
{and there is no After}

Every year, I forget how the last day of school goes down.
They wake up spastic and funky, in a hurry, yet still asking for two waffles at 7:32 when they knew we're leaving at 7:33.

It's field day.
It's movie day.
It's help the teacher pack up her room day.

It's everything.

Every year, minutes before they arrive home at the end of the day, I wish I had done some Fun Mom sort of thing, maybe strung up a few streamers or rigged up an End of School paper plate banner. Something.

But I haven't and I didn't, so I committed to plan B, meeting them right at the door with whoops and hollers.

Only when I fling the door open, they are standing there sobbing.
Indeed, they have walked the three blocks home together, utterly bereft.
They cannot control their breathing.
They miss everyone.
They hate everything.
They want me to rub their backs then jerk away like true, emotional basket cases when I do.
Summer is the worst.

It's not that I can't relate. I cried myself into a low-grade asthma attack at the end of second grade, and I'm not even an asthmatic. My teacher was moving away, leaving our school forever without her perm and her perma-press knits. Dang, was she beautiful. She gave us each a photocopied form letter with only our name hand-written at the beginning and end. The last line had something to do with her great love for me because, "Shannan, you are YOU!" For years to come, if I wanted to make myself cry, I would pull it out and read it.

(Sometimes girls want to make ourselves cry.)
(It's our party, etc...)


So summer break is upon us, even though it's still chilly outside and we keep forgetting to plant our zinnias. We're making our plans, even if they're futile.
This is the promise of hope.

I'll be stocking up on toilet paper, cereal, and Spaghettios.
I'll pray for decent watermelons and we'll collect junk for a new sculpture.
I'll pretend we're going to make chalk pain and then we'll accidentally watch too much TV instead.

It's not even day one, so I'm not making promises. But I'm ready. For sleeping in! For books! For sea-glass hunting and milkshakes!

My comedy crush Melanie Dale says it all so well. I cackled in my bed reading her post this morning.

:: This Summer Will Be Different by Melanie Dale
"This summer I’m going to be Fun Mom. You know the one. She surprises her kids with trips to the movies and never minds holding everyone’s bags while they do the water slides at Six Flags. For bonus fun in the afternoons, she pulls out the old school Snoopy Snow Cone machine and her arm never gets tired cranking and cranking minuscule piles of shredded ice out of that thing."



Here are some other fun/interesting/gripping reads from my week:

::  I've carried his story with me for weeks.

::  I don't think anyone feels comfortable meeting someone in their grief. This might help.

::  I'm always trying to balance the artistic expression of social media with just living my life, no audience necessary. I loved this.

::  We all understand that Anthropologie is basically straight-crazy, right? But they have overpriced eye candy ON LOCK and this behind-the-scenes catalog shoot was so fun to read!

:: Ever wonder what it would be like to live in generational, American poverty? Read this.

::  This is the perfect antidote to the large-scale tomfoolery happening in this world.

::  I dare you to not watch this 1,000 times.

::  My friend Jerusalem Greer released a stunning book and I was among the first to read it! At Home in this Life: Finding Peace at the Crossroads of Unraveled Dreams and Beautiful Surprises is a hopeful liturgy of endurance. It's the perfect summer read.

PS - Our teacher gifts were a jar of homemade jam (blueberry rhubarb or pineapple rhubarb,) a loaf of sourdough bread from Aldi, and a small bag of local coffee beans, along with a note. Each gift was around $6! You can find the "recipe" over at my Instagram account.

Happy Memorial Day weekend, Homies!
Invite someone lonely over for a cookout.

xo
Shannan


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Really Loving Anne (with an E)

Two nights ago, despite the fact that the air outside was the pitch-perfect shade of Spring, we opted to hunker down inside. Neighborhood living demands this sometimes, and we're learning to listen. I baked strawberry shortcake and we queued up the new Netflix series, "Anne With an E."

I began blogging almost ten years ago. From the gates, there were a few things I caught onto, here in this online subculture. Everyone was gaga about drinking coffee (and wine,) a surprising number of people were runners, and quoting lines from Anne of Green Gables served as a sly litmus test for friendship compatibility.

Not surprisingly, I failed at all three. I couldn't order a specialty coffee drink if my life depended on it, all wine smells the same to me (bad,) and the only things I knew about Anne were that she had red hair, was quirky and bookish, and tossed around the phrase "kindred spirit."

When Ruby and I attended the high school performance of the play last year, she spent the two hours utterly transfixed while I spent them spackling the holes in my Anne deficiency with newfound context. Anne was an orphan. She was adopted by an older brother/sister duo, and she had a classic love/hate romantic interest named Gilbert. I still had a lot of catching up to do.

Netflix's "Anne with an E" stopped me in my tracks just a few moments in. I wasn't in full-journalistic mode (yet,) so I'm paraphrasing here, but she says something along the lines of, "I have never had cause to belong to someone."

This is the language of my heart, this desperate longing to be known, to be chosen, to be seen and valued. This is the unspoken pulse shuffling down my streets. It knocks at my door. It rattles in its cell. It calls me up after dark and during the most inconvenient hours of my workday. I know this pain, mostly secondhand. I could pluck its voice from a crowd.

Anne had my attention.

We continued watching, Calvin and Ruby rapt on either side of me. Through flashbacks of abuse, gut-wrenching sobs, tension tight as a cello's bow, I was grateful for a family-friendly show that didn't dodge the realities of trauma. I was beginning to understand the appeal, and surprised I'd never known the depth of the story.

Later I learned about the ire the adaptation is drawing, Anne's loyal fans in full despair that the show has taken a darker turn than the original. I'm in no position to draw comparisons or critique the remake. All I can tell you is that I exhaled. Finally. My heart, its resting state always at least half on-edge for the lonely and the suffering, snapped awake with hope. I felt a certain kinship with the droves of women who have held this story to their chests. Maybe we were kindred spirits all along, and I just hadn't known.

I took notes as we rode along in the horse-drawn wagon with Anne and Matthew, their hopefulness electric for different reasons. Anne imagines a future whose luck has finally turned. She's about to cash in on every injustice the world has dealt her. At last, she is wanted. Someone came for her. She will be loved. "Home," she sighs. "What a wonderful word."


This is what we come for, right? This is why we're here, to watch this lush Canadian unfolding of a wholesome, newborn family, before our tender eyes.

We want it, but only from a safe distance.

Why? Why does our compassion for the orphan, the poor, the difficult, the cast-out, so often meets its capacity before we've crossed over from hypothetical to real-life messy? How can we root for Anne, cry real tears for her, love her with our whole hearts, dream about sharing her with our daughters one day, yet be so disinclined to invite her into our actual homes?

I know so many Annes with an E.
We all do.

This morning I drove an Anne to a church food pantry downtown. I stood awkwardly at the periphery, twitchy-skinned from my nearness to her need. I watched as she was kindly told she could take two items from each bin - two boxes of off-brand spaghetti, two cans of tuna, two boxes of rice, two cans of peas. She moved haltingly, hesitant to accept all that was offered. She made eye contact, thanked the older woman profusely, attempted small talk. I watched and waited, trying not to feel too much.

I know an Anne who gets four hours of free time every week, but has no where to spend it. "You're the only sober people I know," she told me once, shrugging her shoulders.

I know an Anne who is sixty-five years old, and needs the occasional comfort of chaos like she needs blood pressure meds and air.

I know Annes with no teeth who smile anyway. I know Annes with tattooed necks and shredded confidence. I know Annes desperate for affordable housing, desperate for a job, desperate for someone to understand who they have been and love them anyway.

I know so many Annes who fold in on themselves, dreaming up a new narrative because the real one scorched their long-term memory and they're scared to death of remembering. Their lake of shining waters is an income tax return, a debt finally paid, the baby growing in their uterus despite everyone saying they aren't ready, they'll never be ready, they won't do right by that baby.

They wrap themselves in name-brand shirts and pretend to be kings. They choose new names because the one they were given has never been enough, never served them well.

The Annes I love lash out with their words sometimes, but we don't applaud their resilience. We don't admire their quick wit or commend their courage. We call them crazy, not whimsical. They're disrespectful, not "sassy."

"You can't make up a family. Only kin is kin," Marilla Cuthbert tells Anne upon her mistaken arrival. Anne already knows better. We all know better. We know how this story will end, and we cheer from under our Target throws, under our mortgaged roofs. Our hand hovers salty over the popcorn bowl and we smile. We watch Anne's family unfold, transfixed. Marilla has no idea! we think. She's so wrong!

But is she?

Is she wrong enough that we will prove it?

I think we will. The biggest change is often measures in fractions, in blinks. It's long in the making and I'm encouraged. I read your emails and hear your stories. "What do we do?"  you ask. "Where do we start?"

We start right here, wherever our feet are standing. We start right now.
We swallow Anne's raw backstory and begin to understand we can do that for anyone. We walk toward her discomfort, admitting along the way that maybe we ourselves are not "fine" after all. Not by a mile.

And then it gets even better.

Because if our hearts can ache for a literary heroine with wounds that reach the depths of despair, we can bleed for the heroes living just past our line of vision. If we can wait with anticipation for Marilla to come around to authentic love and unconditional acceptance, we can find those in our midst lacking both and offer them with open hands.

I'm only on the first episode, but my hunch is that this is no ordinary orphan tale, where Anne is the spit-shined project and the scales lurch off-center. I'm guessing the Cuthberts bear a burden of gratitude equal to Anne's, in it for the long haul, love unending. I know this in living color.

If we think God is above tending to our souls through the glare of our TV screens, we are underestimating him. He will do whatever it takes, the earth, the air, the streaming and electric all firmly beneath his feet.

He wants nothing more than to bless us, and he tells us how it will all go down. Poor, needy, sad, and humble. We will be blessed. Hungry, angsting, lavishing mercy. We will be blessed. Pure of heart. Dissatisfied with status quo. Exhausting our bodies for the sake of peace. We will be blessed.

We will be blessed as we learn to love those he loves.
We will be blessed as we trade our treasures and pay attention to what (and who) makes us cry.

It's in us, I know it is. You can't convince me otherwise.

All that's left to do is find our unsuspecting Anne out in her howling wilderness and choose it all, the tension, the practiced defenses, the inconveniences, the knotted roots, the mud, and the rain that sweeps it away.

"What is your name?" we will ask.
"What does it matter?" she'll counter.

This will be our moment, the one where we cross over, climbing into the drama and heartbreak playing out in real time on the soil that grounds us. This will be the beginning of a very long story, an epic tale, where we simply stay until Anne stops asking, where our circle widens, and where we're all so much better for it in the end.


"Family was meant to live on a loop, a hazy beginning with no end in sight, the pulsing bass line that God's kingdom on earth is alive. Right here." - Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Teaching Our Sons to Walk


There are few things that suck the joy from my soul more than talking on the phone. As an introvert in the cyber age, I find calls taxing, senseless even.

But I always take Robert's calls.

When his name popped up last week, I grabbed it. I was standing in the bathroom covering my dark circles, about to head out and tackle a couple of errands.

"Mom? Can I borrow twenty dollars?"

These calls are not outside the norm, but his heavy breathing was. I could tell he was running.

"I'm at my probation meeting and I left my money in my other pants. I'll hit you back later today. I promise. I got it. Can you please help?"

Of course I could.

"I'm almost there. I gotta hurry. My PO's gonna kill me if I take too long."

~

An hour earlier I had gone looking for my Bible and couldn't find it. I searched all of the usual places. Nightstand? Coffee table? My purse? No, no, no. I ran outside to the van, remembering my hands had been full the night before after Bible study. I had grabbed the empty soup pot, the giant bag of paper goods, and my purse, leaving the Bible on the middle console.

Now, it wasn't there.

I ran inside and called Cory to see if he had borrowed it. No, he didn't have it either.

It hit me that my Bible, with its cover split along the seams, held together by strips of tape, filled with notes and underlines and the picture of my friend out there somewhere strung out and chasing death, had been stolen.

Moving to the city hasn't cured us of leaving our doors unlocked, not even after having several things nabbed overnight - a power tool, a jar of change, a Red Robin gift card we were saving for a rainy day. The drill was the most expensive loss and in each case, it was easy to assume the taker needed whatever it was more than we did. We hardly gave it a second thought.

But my Bible? That one was both easier to swallow, and much, much harder.

~

I was still getting ready when he burst through the door, panting. He bent over at the waist to catch his breath, having run a mile from the courthouse to our front door - his front door, where he knows he never has to knock. He yelled back outside, "You can come in!" then looked at me and shrugged, "I guess he doesn't want to." I still have no idea who was out there, but it's not unusual for him to show up with extras.

We talked for a second about his meeting with his Probation Officer while he clutched the waistband of his baggy, black shorts so they wouldn't fall down around his ankles. Silently, I questioned his choice of attire for this meeting where he already knew he was in hot water. He could have at least tried, I judged.

He was upbeat that day, as usual. But lately, I've noticed a thin layer of paranoia skimming the surface of his mundane, and he's never been one to borrow trouble. It used to worry me, the way he seemed almost oblivious to this world he's very much in, whether he acknowledges it or not. There was the time he laughed it off when he was pulled over five times in one weekend for having a tail light out. He was proud of himself for willingly sitting on the curb while his car was searched without a cause or a warrant.

Last week, after complimenting my hair (just like Silas, he notices these things and I love him for it) he brought up a few stories that had been in the news. He talked politics, which almost never happens. He flexed his hands, open and shut, counting the years since he's been caught up in the system, "I've passed every drug test. I've done everything they want me to do. I just want to live."

Then he kissed my cheek like he always does, drew a sharp breath for the run back, and blew out the door. Ten seconds later, he bolted back in, guzzled a glass of water from the tap, and was gone again.

~

I grabbed my purse moments later and headed out to the van, wondering if I would drive past him and his friend, wondering how fast they ran. I wished I had thought it through and given them a ride.

My purse felt heavier than usual and I peeked inside. Right at the top of the stack of granola bars, chapsticks, earbuds, and old grocery lists sat my Bible. I still have no idea how I missed it when I had checked earlier.

Just as I hopped into the driver's seat, an unfamilier Jeep with rusted wheel wells pulled up behind me, blocking my path. A stranger approached me, her face set and serious. I rolled my window down.

"Ma'am, are you missing anything from your van?"

I glanced behind me, thought about my Bible. How did she know? It took me a second to reconcile reality. Wait, no one took it. It's right here. 

"Nope," I smiled. "Why?"

"Well, we drove by a couple of minutes ago and saw some very suspicious activity outside your house."

I immediately knew where the conversation was going, but let her continue.

"Two guys were acting very suspicious." She paused, waiting for me to react. Leaning in closer, she lowered her voice, drawing out the next nine syllables. "They were African American."

I swallowed hard, held eye contact. "Yes," I said. "That was my son."

~

If she'd been seated on a ten-speed, her back-pedaling would have set her five miles North in no time flat. She apologized profusely, backing away from my van, ashen.

"They seemed fidgety" she stammered. "They were running."

"Right. They were late for a meeting." I hated myself for offering an explanation. I hated her for stopping. I hated the world, every shaded corner, every block where the truth has been twisted in knots.

Still, I knew her intentions weren't harmful.

I asked if she was a neighbor. I'd never seen her before, and there aren't many I don't at least recognize. I thought maybe she'd slipped under my radar, that she was actively involved here enough to at least think she knew the comings and goings of this place.

No. She was just passing through.

Over and over, she tripped on her own explanations, stopping mid-sentence to weigh each word. All I could think was, "Lady, I get it."

I have been her before, to some degree. This is how insidious racism has become. It has colored the air we breathe. It hangs in the air between the best of us. And I am not immune. But it didn't stop my cheeks from burning. It didn't stop me from forming a long string of words I wanted so badly to level at her. It didn't stop me from sitting there silently, far more graciously than my son deserved, defaulting to the avoidance of conflict and knowing full well that there was nothing I could do to shame her into greater awareness.

For the rest of the day and the days that followed, questions spun on a loop. Would she have circled the block to warn me if Robert and his friend had been white? More middle class looking? Would she have bothered to stop if my house was a little rougher around the edges, like so many of the houses in my neighborhood?

The truth became unavoidable. The guys caught their attention because they were two black men with rippling biceps, locs in their hair, and sagging pants. They dared to run into a pristine, middle-class looking home, then run back out. They didn't fit the frame. They didn't fit her ideal of "safe". They didn't fit me.

My heart couldn't help but take it further.

What would have happened if she had called the police? They'd have seen two men fitting her description running through the streets. What would Robert have done? He has always complied in the past, even when he knew he hadn't done anything wrong. But he was already late to his probation meeting, that day. His neck was already on the line. He was almost there. His PO would help him explain. That's the logic I imagined him constructing. What if he'd kept on running?

My heart stopped cold. What if?

I'm not sure running is safe for a black man anymore, or even a black boy. I'm not so sure it ever was. Yesterday a neighbor sat on my front steps reading a comic book while he waited for me. Just as I pulled up, an officer crept by, coasting more than driving.

I nodded toward the cruiser, "What's going on up there?"

"I don't know," he shrugged. "He keeps driving by, looking at me."

~

Later that day, Robert stopped by, just as he had promised. "Mom?" he asked, "what do you think the neighbors think of me?"

He had no clue about the confrontation with the woman in the Jeep. In four years, he has never asked a question like this.

I told him the truth. He's a grown man raising boys of his own. He needed to know.

"It don't surprise me," he shook his head and laughed. Sometimes, in an unfair world, laughter carries the frequency of pain. Some boys learn it's their safest response. "It's like all the sudden, I'm noticing the way people look at me."

My son is under the thumb of an oppressive, messed-up system because of a mistake he made over five years ago. I will go to my grave believing I wouldn't have been punished in the same way for the same crime. But he still has two years to go. And he'd better be perfect between now and then, because people are watching. They're watching his hair, and his clothes. They're watching him drive. They're watching his skin. They're watching him run.

~

A year ago, I set out to pay closer attention to my world. At first, I thought I was just walking my kids to school. But those trips up my street and back down turned into a condensed sort of weekday church, and then they turned me inside-out. Rooted in my unique place, I noticed the boy on the bike, and the one walking around in the middle of the day when he should have been in school. My heart grew heavier, quieter, fiercer. I began to care about different things, read different books, listen in a different way.

I watched as my oldest son became anxious, always teetering on the razor-thin line between proving everyone wrong and breaking under the weight of the pressure.

I listened as my two youngest sons unpacked sad stories of schoolyard bullies, one of them believing along the way that he is "ugly" and "looks funny," the other growing quieter every day.

I thought I might write all of this down, for me, for Robert, for the lady in the Jeep. For you. I thought I might draw parallels to the all-familiar headlines flashing across our screens, each of us choosing sides before the last word loops back to the first.

Instead, I picked up this book and devoured it in two days. I fell into the story, only in my version, Khalil was six foot four and calls me Mom. And in my version, Starr was a young man with tired eyes, code-switching between the world he's always known and the one that exists between these four walls.

A few days later, Jordan Edwards was murdered, and it felt like deja vu.

So, here I am, writing this down, believing all of it matters.
We can waste our time if we want to, trying to decide if Robert is Khalil, or if he's Jordan.

The truth is, he's neither.
The truth is, he's both.

He's my beloved son who makes me proud every day.
He can run into my house whenever he wants to.

He never has to knock.