Monday, October 9, 2017

Look Down

Yesterday after church, we scrapped our usual plans (lunch at our place with whomever decides to join us) and headed North to one of our favorite escapes, New Buffalo Beach. We listened to '80's music the whole way there, windows down, sun streaming in.

The past two months have been pure hustle. I still don't remember much of August, but I know that on September first I passed the baton to Cory and he took off running. This is one of the gifts of our marriage, this willing partnership and our easy teamwork. But it comes at a cost.

So yesterday was all ours. We packed lunch in the cooler and the kids read books (and napped!) for the 70 minute drive. There were other people with the same idea, but not too many. They sat in beach chairs, soaking up the sun even as our world tilts further from its rays.

A few loony kids actually played in the water. (Hey, Ruby! Hey, Silas!)I hitched my cropped jeans up and waded with Calvin, in search of my beloved sea glass. As I'm prone to do, I tried to manage my expectations by saying I would be happy with just one piece. (It wasn't true.)

We slow-poked up the shoreline and back down, our eyes not on the water, not on the sky, not necessarily even on each other, but on the ground beneath our feet.

Calvin plunged his hand into the shallow surf and pulled out a handful of gravel and sand, fishing out a worn-smooth stone, bottle green, hazy from its journey. "You have to tell your eyes to only look for green," he said.

I tried, but my brown eyes kept finding brown glass.
Ruby only found white.
It was almost as if our eyes really were trained to search for different things.

In the end, we had a small handful of treasures.

For all my talk about paying attention to the sky, the clouds, and the moon in the morning, I learn just as much from looking down. This was easier to remember when my kids were young and and making eye contact meant bending low. Life keeps moving, changing.

Is it possible to see the world as wide but feel it as small?

My obsession with finding sea glass grew around the time I began to find kinship with friends who live banged up by their own journey through life. It's no surprise that after years of hoping, I finally located the place where it's sure to be found. I am learning how to train my eyes. Now, there's no beach I'd rather walk.

People say the sand isn't as good there. It's not as smooth, not as pretty. The crowds flock to better, tidier, more comfortable beaches.

Fine with me.

Because I know that hidden in the rocks are gleaming gems. You know they're ready when their edges are worn smooth. Your eye finds them by the surprising way they reflect the light.

They are worth the search. They're worth the grit.
They are worth it.

Look down.
Scoop them up.
Carry them home.

"Listen to me, all who hope for deliverance - all who seek the Lord! Consider the rock from which you were cut, the quarry from which you were mined." - Isaiah 51:1


Precious Memories in a wavering soprano. Inter-generational hugs. The scratch of ink on Work Release paperwork. Grill smoke. Shorts in October. Madonna's "Borderline". Turkey, spinach and cream cheese. Bell peppers. Honey bees. Seagulls. Wave-splashed jeans. Rock ledges. Blue skies. Holding hands. Zanzibar chocolate on a (stale) sugar cone. Smoked ribs. Walnut hauling. Fiery evening sky. Mom and dad on the line. Sunday.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Choosing to Hear

I told her I would be there around nine.

"Don't even worry about it," she said. "I'll be here. Don't rush."

It was a few minutes after 9:30 when we settled into the corner table with coffee cups and after 1:00 when we finally stood up to leave. At some point, the coffee shop had emptied out and I smelled chocolate chips baking. Not long after, it filled again with people huddling in clusters with bowls of soup. My stomach wasn't even growling.

Ray crossed my mind a time or two. I run into him often - downtown, at church, in my dining room. But not today.

She's a new friend, and the lucky recipient of all my angst. She speaks my language. She understands. So I bare it all, a rush of questions and commentary. When we finally wrenched ourselves away from the pressing conversation, I had a tension headache creeping up from my jaw. My shoulders ached. This happens now and then, almost always when I'm neck deep in words, almost always when I'm enjoying the sweet relief of meaningful conversation.

It's confusing, the way my body interprets relief as stress.

For the rest of the afternoon, I reminded myself that though we lingered much longer than planned, it was time well spent. Vital, even, though I couldn't articulate why. I searched the sky and scanned the perimeter of my afternoon, this Paying Attention project not far from my mind.

It is possible to search too hard. Only day two, and nothing jumped out at me.

Driving home from the grocery store, racing to beat the end-of-day bell at the elementary school, I passed a woman swinging wildly on a make-shift porch swing right up near the busy street. I've seen her there before. But today, her shirt was made entirely of sequins. Her smile was so wide, I noticed she didn't have teeth. She pushed off against the scrubby ground, the grass long worn away, and kicked her feet into the air like a school girl.

The train whistle blew. July's sun sank into my skin under an October sky.

Later, just as we were forming ground beef into patties and grating garlic for oven fries, the doorbell rang. Another friend, unexpectedly at our door. It wasn't Ray. It wasn't a neighbor. It wasn't anyone who needed anything from us.

He stood at the island and we chatted for a while, then he followed Cory out to the grill. Just before I snapped their picture, I heard words like, "sanctification" and "discipleship". They know the same people. They care about the same things. They were equally concerned by the news that Ray had been arrested the previous night; both sick to death of this story, where people trying to find their way out of the dark keep getting shoved back in, often unfairly.

Jesus says, "Pay close attention to what you hear" (Mark 4:24) For the past year or two, I've done this with fierce determination. I've leaned in, scooted closer, listened closely to the crickets chirping under a cloudy morning sky and my kids coughing up in their beds. I have fought to learn from people I resisted seeing as teachers. I have kept time to the lyric of oppression. I've pulled up a chair to hard stories around me and let my words be few. I've passed the mic. I've sat in the way-back, quietly listening

This is the way of Jesus, I am sure of it. Listening isn't meant for just a season. I want to memorize the song of my one long life and hear Jesus in its tune.

But somewhere along the way, over the past five years, I have learned to tell my stories only here through my fingers, not so much with my voice. Somehow, I have come to believe the "drama" infusing our every day, the pain and the tension and maybe even the funny stuff, isn't fit for conversation. I have watched people grow wary, annoyed, bored. I have noticed the way they stopped asking questions. I have learned to endure small talk.

It was well after the sun had set that the pieces fit. Listening is a two-way street. Jesus interacted with his world by paying close attention to what he heard, yes. But he also had things to say. And though his words weren't always as happy and light as folks may have wanted, they were necessary. They were true. They were real.

Tomorrow will likely tell another story, but maybe today you won't find God in what you hear. Maybe you'll find him in who chooses to hear you, right when you need it most.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Ministry of Paying Attention

I've stopped scrolling the news first thing in the morning.

It's no noble thing. It's not because I wanted to stop. Left to my whims, I open my mouth at the end of the spigot and nearly drown from the outrage. I love knowing what's going on in the world. I love throwing my anchor into the sea of controversy and claiming ground somewhere just below the surface.

The problem isn't that I don't like a steady stream of turmoil or that it isn't good for my soul.
The problem is that I like it too much. (And it isn't good for my soul.)

This morning I brushed my teeth, signed permission slips, passed out meds and admired Silas and Ruby, both decked out in new Wal-Mart pants. We walked to school unaware of the trouble brought with this new day. I turned myself around for the walk back home, just like I always do.

I was almost home before I realized I hadn't taken a picture, as I normally do. I hadn't heard God in the train or seen him in the broken glass I'd just stepped over. Nothing had caught my eye or my attention.

It rattled me, because it's happening more often these days.

Back home, I read about Las Vegas. My capacity for true empathy was tender as a hummingbird. What does it meant to keep on caring from afar, pinging concern South, then West, back again, never stopping, never breathing? What should it look like? How can it possibly be real? Why does it matter when the hurricanes keep coming, addiction keeps dragging folks under, and privileged men sit in windowsills aiming assault rifles at strangers?

I fear I'm reaching a breaking point in bearing and digesting sadness and loss.
And then there's the matter of my everyday, ordinary life, thick with court dates, phone calls, unpaid bills, insurance adjusters, medications, reading logs, notes from the principal, and garbage bags filled with other lives and stacked in my garage.

I texted a friend over the weekend, "I keep realizing over and over and over that it never ends and it never gets easier. And in some ways I'm so mad. And in some ways I'm so grateful and relieved. AND THAT IS WEIRD. I simultaneously want to run far away from home and never leave its walls. What are we supposed to do? Because all I do is fantasize about vacations I never take."

What are we supposed to do?

I don't think the answer is another "thing". It's painfully clear that I'm at capacity. I've been given all I need - every single thing. I can receive that as truth, or I can try to strong-arm God into more, like I used to.

The only "more" I need is Him.
Christ already alive in me. The only hope I need. (Colossians 2:27)

The question is, can I let it be true?

Last year I was taken by the way of Jesus, here on earth. True, he was God. He had resources we plainly don't have. But he was also here to show us how to illuminate the world with God's love, reflecting light just like the moon, our steady morning companion.

The life of Jesus tracks a sensory-rich narrative. We read in Luke of burning incense, chanting crowds, angel voices booming. Dusty roads, mangy shepherds, and a young girl, "obviously pregnant." Heaven came down as a baby with dimpled hands and a dark swirl of hair and soon, men were tracking the night sky, wide wake with wanting.

He grew. He was drawn to the wildest ones, those most likely to be written off as unfit, unworthy, needing a lesson or ten on the ways of blending in with the religious culture surrounding them.

The world looked at John the Baptist and saw crazed, insane, disgusting, and disrespectful. Jesus saw a worthy protest, choosing him as his line in the Galilean dust. His "official" ministry was beginning, each domino pitching into the next; scandal, story, mundane, and miracle. It was John who plunged Jesus' head into the water, upsetting authority and the cultural code. This is no mistake.

What follows is sensory overload on repeat.

"As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, 'You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.'" (Mark 1:10-11)

He saw.
He heard.
He lived as one dearly loved.

Jesus came to us as us, a man with eyes, ears, a mouth, a nose, fingerprints and hair follicles. He cried. He feasted. He walked until his feet ached. He reached back after a long day and squeezed the tension from his own tanned neck. He got goose bumps. He took naps. He felt alone sometimes, because he felt alive.

He experienced the world around him by simply paying attention. He's asking the same of us.

So, that's how I'm spending my October and I'd like to take you along with me. I don't have a schedule. I'm not making a particular commitment. I'm not beginning on October first. I don't know where this will take me, if anywhere. I only know I'm up for the journey.

I want more of God, and he's already here, crammed into this quadrant of city blocks I rarely leave. He's here in the faces and the stories, but the only way I'll be changed is if I hush up and listen. I don't want to be numb. I don't want to settle for blending in.


Windows open. Breeze stirring the curtains. Leaves mostly green, just a few rustling brown on the sidewalks. Sunlight holds the last of the hot pink roses. Pine-Sol drifts from the bathroom, just scrubbed. Pears ripen in the bowl. One street away, a siren peels by.

This is Monday and I am very much alive.

*My hope is to write these then post them the following day. My hope is also to keep them brief, but we'll just have to wait and see about that.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Again, With Feeling

"She tried to escape the pain, but sometimes it's all that's real. There's no excuse for living pain-free. That's the deal." -  Trampled by Turtles, New Orleans

Yesterday marked one of the lamest attempts Cory and I have ever made at going on a date.
It was a catastrophic blend of miscommunication, false assumptions, unrealistic expectations, and Taco Bell.

Cory had texted me while I was in the kitchen sometime late in the morning, my hair hanging wet as I rolled out pie crust, chopped peppers for soup, and shredded zucchini for muffins. Our friends Jasmine and Jose just had their first baby and I had fretted over what to feed them. The longer I'm in this chapter of life, the more my palate changes. Things are just simpler here, or at least they should be.

"Do you want to grab lunch?" the text read.

We had spent a good part of the previous day scrutinizing our squeaky budget, making tweaks, and wondering all over again why there is always, always too much month at the end of our money. I assumed he knew something I didn't know. Maybe he'd found a mistake and corrected it. Maybe he'd been reimbursed for something at work. Maybe he just decided we needed an hour together and knew it wouldn't break us.

I was happy with any of the above, but mostly, I just really wanted a burrito.

I said yes.

Eating out was a luxury in my childhood, usually saved for Sundays. My Dad was a sucker for a good buffet. (I hold the word "good" loosely here.) I learned to navigate the Ponderosa hot bar like a medalist. I served up school cafeteria-grade "nachos" from the Rax buffet and called myself blessed.

Aside from a tiny pizza joint, our one-light town was dry in terms of booze and partially hydrogenated grease. But our church was twenty miles away in a larger city. We tasted the fruits of its industry when we were able. I doused crispy fish fillets in malt vinegar at Long John Silver's. We visited the food court at the mall. Once, we ventured into an actual "sit down and order from a menu" Mexican restaurant, I believe it was to celebrate a milestone as my mom struggled her way through nursing school with three young children, but before we had even ordered, spots drifted into her line of vision and we left in a rush. A migraine. I remember feeling guilty for being mad.

It's an irony now, to have a pantry with plenty and the skills and desire to make it into something beautiful, yet to feel so relieved at the thought of food "grown" in economy-sized tin cans.

Taco Bell, in my humble opinion, is better than a whole lot of things. It's certainly better than nothing. But when we arrived the lobby was full of folks waiting. They sat alone and in pairs, shaking paper cups of ice and caffeine, taking sips, tapping their nails on the tables, looking around in confusion. In a roomful of hungry people, there seemed to be no food.

We left.
We argued in the parking lot.
We went our separate ways.


Earlier this morning I filled out an online community survey asking me how I define "good health," and how I know when I'm not living it. I probably should've answered, "When a mismanaged taco joint breaks me."

I don't want to list out all the stresses presently hurtling our way right now. Too stressful. But I knew the situation was dire when I woke up yesterday still halfway inside a dream where two people I love were dying, the Simon and Garfunkel line, "Hello darkness, my old friend..." playing on a loop in the background.

Times are tough and my little corner of the world feels pretty wild these days.
People keep breaking my heart and I pass the hurt along, an empty platter.

I drove away from Taco Bell fuming. I was mad about money. Mad about marriage. Mad about a friend of ours, who despite having every possible resource for success at his disposal, despite being such a bright spot in our life for the past year, succumbed to his demons in a matter of weeks after his release from jail. "That sure didn't take long," I'd told Cory. "That's exactly what I said," he replied, our words mirror images of a safety net knit from cynicism.

Sometimes our bodies can't muster the empathy required. We can't drum up the appropriate expression of grief and lament. It's easier to be sarcastic and pretend to move on.

Addiction is the scariest thing I know, hands down. It's scarier than Calvin's illness or the medical bills. It's scarier than being wrong. It's scarier than vulnerability. It's scarier than the prophets and the terrifying truth they sling. It's far scarier than writing a book or baking a pie.

I don't understand addiction.

Or do I?

I crossed the street and pulled into the Wendy's drive-thru. "One Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe, one Value french fry..." I wavered. What I really wanted was a Dr. Pepper. It had been so long. It might be poison, but I deserved it and a little wouldn't hurt. I could already feel it bubbling down my throat, an effervescent sugar rush seeping into my sore spots. A reward for enduring the discomfort of being human.

I drove aimlessly for a while, then parked. I stared out the window, my fingers salty and slick. I enjoyed that burger, saving the best bit for last. I took a few sips.

The air around me was restless, 94 degrees with leaves on the sidewalk.
Come September, we start praying for decay.

I listened to the sounds of the life that is mine. I noticed the contrast.
I drove home, finished a couple of projects, and welcomed Ruby and Silas at 3.

I baked peach dumplings.
I plunged my bare feet into a plastic sled filled with ice cold water, a makeshift spa created by Silas because he loves me. We sat there for an hour reading in the shade, glasses of ice water sweating on the patio table. It was bliss. Serenity. Comfort. (Why, then, did the urge to grab my phone keep pulling at me?)

What I have is exactly enough.
This is enough.
This is enough.

In this moment, whichever one it happens to be, there is feeling. There is truth. There is pain sometimes, yes, but hope is always waiting for us to reach out and grab it. Darkness won't swallow me if I don't lay down and die. It has never been my friend.

By 9pm, the house cleared and the kids were in bed.
I found a paper cup half-full of watery Dr. Pepper, walked it outside, and dumped it into one of the mums. Maybe it would take the edge off this Indian summer.

This is life. We fall. We hide behind humor. We give way to skepticism, fearing belief will find us a fraud. We want. We fill ourselves wrongly. We numb. We dodge. We deflect.

We get back up. We reach for help. We feel. We see. We know.

We believe.

Even when we thought we were done.


September is National Recovery Month. I wholeheartedly recommend Coming Clean by Seth Haines. It's a gripping, lyrical account of heartbreak, doubt, discovery, and healing. It's written for each of us caught in the cycle of facing disappointment and trying to trade our pain rather than just learning to hold it for as long as it takes.

This book is a hopeful brother in the trenches for many of our friends in jail and it lives on the stack by my nightstand. Seth has also created some audio readings to give you a glimpse. (You need to catch his drawl so you can read his book rightly.) Find them here

*Amazon affiliate link

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 @ 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.


"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.