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.



Wednesday, May 3, 2017

What We Keep of Childhood {& Last-Minute Mother's Day Ideas}


It's my earliest memory. My mom sat on the edge of the couch pushed up against a wall and I stood in front of her in my long, Laura Ingalls-style dress while she tied the bow in the back. There were hard floors and light poured through a door or window to my right. I have no idea why this particular moment lodged itself in the archives of my childhood. My mom says I was awfully young to remember it, but she wouldn't put it past me.

There are a handful of isolated snapshots from the years and homes that came after. I remember running down the halls of the brick ranch for the first time, the floor plan, the flowered brown couch, the time our neighbor boy Jimmy got stuck in the mud and it took several grown men, my dad included, to yank him out.

"A successful life is measured in successful days, and successful days are measured in successful moments. Successful moments hide in places where we don't think to look at first, but they are waiting there to be celebrated." - It's Okay About It by Lauren Casper

I remember moving to the farm, the way the upstairs walls would thicken with frost in the corners each winter and how it sometimes made the most sense to sleep down on the living room floor next to the wood stove. Summers meant gardening, canning, stacks of library books, push-up pops. I remember the annual trip to K-Mart to buy a few pairs of shorts, a few tank tops, and flip flops. And I remember asking my mom why her things were still in the bag. "Oh," she said casually, "I think I'm going to go ahead and return those. I don't really need them." I remember knowing she did need them, and the quiet tension of struggle and understanding hollowed a sacred place in my soul, bit by bit. We crafted slip 'n slides from the roll of plastic found in the eaves of the barn. We put a trash bin at the bottom of the tall slide and called it our swimming pool.

Along the way, my parents sacrificed for us in ways I'm only beginning to understand. School activities. Picture days. Extravagant bags of bing cherries and fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt because my mom knew I loved them. Perms to try to keep my large ears from poking through my thin, lank hair. Our one family vacation, where we drove from Ohio to California in a Pontiac Sunbird. Angel food birthday cakes with strawberries in June. Cheese and pickles in front of the tiny, black-and-white television. Michael W. Smith cassette tapes. Youth group trips. Hot breakfasts. Prom dresses. College. A wedding that wasn't, and eventually a three-tiered wedding cake and pots of lavender for each table.

It's equally thrilling and terrifying to imagine which moments in time will be carried by my kids into adulthood. Over the years, I've boiled down my role as a mom into five little words: Feel Safe and Feel Loved. If I can accomplish that, I can sleep at night.

But what I've learned from my own mom, from the first mamas of my kids, and from battling selfishness myself is that road to safety and love is paved with surrender, sacrifice, and relentless optimism.

Today, I'm feeling grateful for Nancy Louise, and for all of the women who have mothered me along the way.

~

I'm here for you with a few last minute Mother's Day gift ideas!
* I'm obsessed with these hand-cut paper silhouettes. (Nici's entire shop is SO RAD.)
* Find a cute, vintage mug and fill it with teabags, coffee beans, or a gift card to a coffee shop.
* A photo canvas makes such a special gift! We use Canvas People and they're running a 65% off sale right now.
* Flowers and plants always win! Stick one in a vintage colander to bump up the special factor.
* Books 4-Ever!!! It's Okay About It: Lessons from a Remarkable Five-Year-Old about Living Life Wide Open by Lauren Casper came out this week and it was such a sweet read on motherhood, adoption, special needs, and discovering the joy of being surprised.

PS - If you subscribe and receive my updates through your email (and I hope you do!) I accidentally got overly sentimental while writing this post and loaded it up with links to a bunch of posts from my archives. (Some are 9 years old!) I'm still not the best at this tech-trickery, but if you have trouble seeing all of the blue links, just click through the email and read it in your browser. And if it's totally not a problem at all, just forget I brought it up. ;)


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Fall Together - Group Discussion Guide & Videos



Earlier this morning I was sending my "official" bio to someone and realized it was time to delete the words "the new release" that preceded "Falling Free: Rescued From the Life I Always Wanted." I had to take a little moment. I counted the months on my fingers - seven months - and thought, nope. It's not really "new" anymore.

This "not new anymore" has become a running theme in my life these days. God is hard at work, reorienting me from the hustle of change to the steadiness of staying and putting down roots. This is where everything gets real, right? In the messy kitchens, the frantic commutes, that precarious hour before all of the kids are in bed?


New, old-news, or somewhere in between, I'm still hearing from many of you about the ways God is using Falling Free to reorient you. I love it so much. Over the long months I spent writing, carefully laying our life on the page, inevitably blowing the whole thing to bits, then starting over, I thought about you. I thought of myself, down the long lane on County Road 3. I thought about freedom and the weird ways it found me.

I wanted to clear a path for you. To watch that happening is like Spring and Summer together, tulips and Fudge pops and the slap of flip flops in the rain. I prayed that I wouldn't be caught up in the "success" of the book, but that I would trust that it would fall into the exactly-right hands. Your hands.

And it did. And it will.


Here's a sampling of the emails I've recently received:

"Normally I'll tear through a book like yours in two days, three days tops.  Yours is not a two day-er.  It is a read, put down, pray, process, write, pick-up again...Your voice. Your style. Your words. The message is jam-packed with the Holy Spirit." - AW

"A book has not impacted me this strongly since I read Radical by David Platt." - LH

"Your honesty and courage in declaring unpopular truth are remarkable in a world where approval addiction is epidemic (speaking form personal experience!). Shannan, thank you for being a kind, encouraging voice." - SG

And a personal favorite:

"I am currently reading your book. A friend gave it to a friend who gave it to me." - SH

It makes me especially giddy to hear about people reading this together with their friends, their family, their church community, their book club. This book was made for long-winded discussions and a healthy amount of debate. I want us to be seeking people, willing to take a risk, to be wrong, to consider a different view.




To make this easier, I wrote a brand new discussion guide. It's everything you've grown to expect from me - stripped down, wordy, and with an abundance of question marks. I wrote this as if I were there with you in the room, because in so many ways, I am.


I also filmed a series of videos kicking off each chapter. But here's what you need to know up front: I intentionally did this with my lack of expertise positioned right under the spotlight. I went full-ordinary, friends. For me, it's the only way. Cory was my assistant/videographer/editor/clock-watcher. There were no teleprompter, no pre-written statements, no props. I didn't dress up for you. My roots were in that sorrowful, grown-out, late-Winter phase. The kids upstairs, bribed to stay quiet while I sat there in my messy kitchen not feeling like any kind of a pro but loving every minute.

One video was filmed on a Saturday, after taking a walk with my family. I'm wearing a hat because not needing to shower and shine myself up is Sabbath for me. I filmed another video with no make-up and with extra-wonky hair, because I wanted you to see me the way my everyday friends and neighbors see me. The most intuitive among you will notice I haven't quite perfected the art of a pleasing freeze-frame face...I have no words for this. Bless my heart.

All I want is to meet you right where you are, from right where I am. We're all somewhere near this shaky place of questions, doubts, and thrilling hunches. But I promise you, this is how it's supposed to be. We are never more perfectly positioned to serve the Kingdom than when we understand that we do not have all of the answers. We need to be needy, and if we can do that together? Well, even better.

You can find the discussion guide and videos right here

They're completely free, so spread the word. (I'll be sharing some additional fun stuff over on Instagram, like the chance to have me Skype in to one of your groups. Be sure to follow along over there, too.)


Here's what I'm suggesting: gather up the most odd-ball group of people you can imagine. (You will grow so much as you wrestle together!) Insist on sweatpants and snacks. Write it down. Then courageously commit to holding your life with open hands. Try not to worry if you feel the ground beneath you start to shift. That's where it really gets good.

Fall with me!


If you don't have a book yet, you can find one for less than $10 at most online retailers. Find it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or Lifeway.

Also, a fun group of gals are hosting a virtual book club over on Instagram and they'd love to have you if you're not plugged in elsewhere. Find the details here.

 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Intentional Act of Eastering Together

Easter Sunday, like every other Sunday, our pastor passed the microphone around our small sanctuary to anyone who'd like to share. She asked us, "What difference did God make in your life last week?" We're often slow to get started, but it only takes that one brave soul to go first. Sometimes I nudge Cory to get things started. Now and then I raise my hand first.

Last week, it was Charles. He told us about a letter he had finally written to his Grandma, how he had stuffed a few Polaroids of himself into the envelope, and then promptly lost it somewhere between his home and the post office. "Two days later, she called to tell me how much she loved the letter I sent her, said it was exactly what she's been needing to hear from me, and she really liked the pictures." He paused. "So, God made a difference by allowing some kind soul to find my letter lying on the ground and drop it into the mail box for me."


Sunday afternoon as I washed up the last dishes from our Easter lunch, the sheer level of my gratitude hit me straight in the tear ducts. There have been Easters where I held every symbol close to my chest, suddenly absorbing meaning from stories that were worn down over the years through uncertain repetition. I have wept through each consecutive church service during Lent. I've surrendered sweets and staying up late. I have prayed for understanding and felt the quiet thrum of awe when those prayers were answered. There had never been an Easter bunny for me, but there had also never been a smudge of ash on my skin or a liturgy of lament. There had never been a congregation so frail that even trying to pretend otherwise would be utterly pointless.

It shouldn't surprise me that my soul is at home in this bruised and beaten body. We could pass the mic and never stop passing it, each one taking our turn, peeling back the story like petals on a rose. We are bitter, angry, grieved, addicted, lonely, stubborn, weary, and often cynical. But we have our reasons. We know what it means to search for hope as though our actual life depends on it. Through this sharing, we are somehow fortified, God's trick math showing up once again, abundance arriving at the back door of surrender.

I spent a good chunk of Easter weekend in the kitchen. We had taken a spontaneous turn with the mic the previous week and offered anyone without a place to go on Easter Sunday a seat at our table. I thought we would have our usual gang. I wasn't prepared for hands to fly up across the sanctuary. And I wasn't prepared for one of the many grandmas to draw in inches from my face after service and press a twenty dollar bill into my palm. "I can't do the things you're doing anymore, but I wanted to help." (I cannot type her words today without tears.)

We changed the venue. Ruby helped mix an industrial-sized pan of hash brown potatoes and I conquered my first (and second) ham. I baked pies and knew it didn't matter when one of the crusts fell in under its own weight.

Late Saturday night, I contemplated the dress hanging in my closet since October with the tags still attached. If there was ever a day that warrants a special dress, it might be Easter. But I thought of my friends from the Work Release center two streets over who would slide into the pew a few minutes late wearing the same jeans they wear to their factory jobs and knew I'd be there waiting in my own Easter jeans.

I'm guessing God has the kind of spiritual X-ray vision that sees past our attempts to polish ourselves up or pretend we're harder than we are. I delighted in seeing Ruby twirling in her dress and in Silas, decked out for the most important day of the church calendar in athletic shorts with five lanyards draped around his neck. It's safe to assume God doesn't have big opinions on this. But kinship is an interesting friend. It draws us together and changes our lens. God keeps showing me His goodness in the faces of my neighbors and the ways they mean it when they say they love me just as I am. It makes me want to keep offering the same back to them. It makes me want to sit in solidarity with them, to really be with them, not out of pity or some off-brand of Christian service, but because I recognize how badly I need them to be with me.

Lunch was as weird and wonderful as I had hoped, a hodge podge of twenty-five loners and lovers, the drifters and the deeply misunderstood. Lisa helped me glaze the ham. Josh asked for the recipe for the potatoes. Becca put Stephanie at ease. Jesse swung the kids around by their arms until one of them legitimately thought he might puke. Cory held the brand new baby. And as Brian zipped out the door to meet his work release curfew, he locked eyes with me, kissing the tips of his fingers like an Italian chef. No big surprise, we all love pie. 

 

I'm becoming more convinced that this is how God moves among us. This is how His kingdom comes down to meet us, not so much through the grand gesture but in quietly compelling our hearts toward togetherness. We chop broccoli. We look each other in the eye. We hold out our breaking hearts with shaking hands, choosing hope over history.

We keep our eyes fixed at ground level, paying attention to what might have been lost along the way, and carrying it home.



 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Weekending


Yesterday I spent a few important hours drinking tea and eating delicious frozen pizza and holding a chunky, scrumptious toddler while the bigger kids ran through the kitchen now and then, costumed and squealing. We don't see each other enough as we should, given our proximity, so we filled in the gaps since our last chat and sometimes we just sighed together.

My sense of normalcy continues to slip away.


I find it harder and harder to not venture into the rogue alleyways of my brain, where I have no easy answers and where I'm prone to lapsing into judgment then circling back around to confession, a long winding loop. I cannot help it any longer. I won't bear the lie that each of us is just fine the way we are. I know for sure I'm not. I'd rather not pretend otherwise. There's deep soulwork here waiting to be excavated. I want to wake up tomorrow a little closer to the character of God.

It sounds so good, in theory. So Christian.
In practice, it costs me things I'm not sure I want to pay.

What does God want from us? I can't say for sure, but I can promise you, He has some things in mind. Grace is free, I know this well. I'm faced with it daily. But transformation doesn't happen in a vacuum. It implies an altered state, something like a chemical reaction or the burn of a white-hot flame. If we want to change, it will cost us.

If we don't want to change, we need to look long and hard out our window and ask ourselves why.

In the end, it usually feels more comfortable to stay the same, pat each other on the backs. We're fine the way we are.

Right?

It's easier to run off to Target, or maybe to pour another glass of wine, or scroll Instagram for the seventeenth time or scoop another serving of chicken potpie into our favorite bowl. It's easier to take a nap. Eat half a sleeve of thin mints. Obsess about our bodies. Spend our time worrying about things that were only intended to improve the lives of the privileged.

I'm sorry to be such a downer, especially on a Saturday. There's been plenty of good news around here, too. The Christmas cactus is in full bloom, our favorite four-year old is here for a couple of nights, Silas keeps busting out in spontaneous prayer, Ruby won the Craftsmanship award at school, I've been making a lot of soup, Calvin went grocery shopping with me yesterday, and Cory is everything. It's the good stuff with the hard stuff. The whole two bucket thing, and I'm honored I get to live every bit of it. Soup has its own theology, you know? Sunshine and warm laundry are hope enough to burst a sturdy heart, on the right day.

I just have to wonder, what would it look like if we grew wary of comfort? What if we committed to be transformed? What if we cared even less about stuff and more about our neighbor?

I asked those questions out loud yesterday, and my friend asked her own. We stared down our own complicity and munched on discarded apple slices.

It felt good, to just say the truth out loud.

So, I'm just putting this out there - if you find yourselves asking weird or unpopular questions, I'm here for you. You can't scare me away. You can only make me feel more like a soul and less like a body and honestly, that's right where I want to be right now.

Here are a few good reads for your weekend and a wish that it would be spring in your heart.

::  This renewed my vows with wanting to cram as many people into my home as possible.

::  I desperately wish more people would get comfortable talking about pain and addiction.

:: We love spur-of-the-moment adventuring and Ashley's trip to Casey, IL is calling our name!

:: It took me a very long time to begin to understand the prayer of lament. This is piercing.

:: I just made my first-ever batch of Rice Krispie Treats (say what?!) and they're LEMON! (scroll to the end of the post)

:: We're road-tripping with friends later in the week, and I'm deeply committed to providing treats.

:: But please don't worry, because we'll also be eating lots of vegetables.

:: This month-long series on understanding immigration issues and our response is a gift in these confusing times. I'm grateful for those willing to educate us. Now is the time to learn!

:: My friend Lisa-Jo Baker's new book, Never Unfriended: The Secret to Finding & Keeping Lasting Friendships, releases in just a few days! She is the perfect person to write this book, and I can't wait to dig in. You can grab your copy now for less than ten bucks and be one of the first to read.

::  Friends, Cory was monkeying around on PhotoShop and showed me this creepy, post-apocalyptic cow pic, laughing. I immediately knew it needed to be shared with you. If this doesn't make your weekend, what will?


Moo.

- Flower Patch Farmgirl
(Oh yes, it's still deep within me. I blame the cow.)



Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Raising Kids Near Pain


On Monday a letter arrived bearing all the tell-tale signs: Jail Mail. My favorite. There was the nondescript legal-sized envelope, the blue lettering, the stamp across the front which always reads like a warning. This time, it wasn't addressed to Cory or I. It was addressed to Calvin.

Inside, a thin sheet of white, unlined paper folded into thirds with a full-color sketch of the solar system and a greeting written with a flimsy, nearly unusable jailhouse pen. Calvin beamed when he read it. I tear up just thinking about it.


Back when we first knew we would be selling our cozy farm house and moving to a disadvantaged neighborhood in a nearby city, we were pummeled with doubts, criticisms, and wary looks of skepticism. By far, the most common question was, "What about your kids?"

We swatted at the words as if they were flies, as if we could shoo them away without menace or attack. But they always circled back, buzzing in our ear, blending into a new soundtrack of worry and mystery. A few times, we were bit, but the pain was never enough to keep us down, and here we are. The skeptics have long given up. I'm guessing they see that we're all okay. It's clear that the threat of danger was only imagined and besides, we never listened anyway. Some have become more supportive over time. Others have realized it's more fun to chalk it up to foolishness and smirk from a distance.

Me? I wonder with increasing frequency how all of this will play out in the future lives of my kids, and even in me. That's what time will do for you. It'll strip away the sheen of adventure, that hard glint of adventure. The unfamiliar road map in your hands will eventually be ground into your heart as your feet hit the same earth, again and again.

Before long, you'll have trouble remembering the long gravel lane and the rusty mailbox at its end. Months will pass before you stop to consider the upstairs bedroom with the train wallpaper, the one you hadn't had time to fill. Back then, in that old life, there were entire rooms that sat stuffy and needless. There was always plenty, then. Always excess. There were vacations every year, trips to Old Navy for the heck of it, new lamps and lavish, futile gardens. There were rows of strawberries so thick you stopped trying to keep up. You wiped juice from your chin with your shirt sleeve with no concern for the stain. Why did we so rarely walked back to the row of pines? What did the kitchen smell like? How exactly did we spend our lives? The answers are long gone. You'll never know.

I used to imagine my kids growing up with calloused feet and tender hearts. I guess I was half right, but not for the reasons I assumed. I thought tenderness was the result of careful vigilance. Keeping my little buddies as protected from the world as possible was my goal. I day-dreamed in fences. I willed their brown eyes to stay pure, shining light to the darkness without absorbing the remnants. I was nervous about the start of Kindergarten in our highly ranked school, nervous about the big, bad school bus, nervous that if they ever saw someone sneaking a cigarette out behind the garage they'd take up the habit and never look back. (In the scheme of all I'd seen of life, which wasn't much, cigarettes remained one of my primal fears - a sure sign pointing to a life lived in the wrong direction.)

What I didn't realize is that enduring tenderness of heart, the kind kids can carry with them as they grow, the sort of tenderness that yields empathy, solidarity, and kinship comes from marinating in places where God's presence is vital and his power is sure.

This doesn't require a move to the city, a new job, a new school, or new neighbors fresh from jail. It demands attentiveness. Humility. Grit. We have a say in what our kids are exposed to, and how. We can choose to toughen-up our faith (and theirs) while the stakes are still low, giving them glimpses of God's kingdom here on earth, in all its busted-up beauty. The question is, do we want it badly enough? Do we believe the cross is worth it?

Two days ago, I ran a quick errand with my sick little Silas. We drove past the row of houses that were leveled earlier in the week, past the empty store-fronts and the sad looking homes that remained, sucked dry of color and life. "Why did God invent drugs" he asked.

I'm still surprisingly unprepared for these questions, but I drew in a breath and we did our best to hash it out. I offered the necessary back-story, about Adam and Eve and what God intended for the world. We talked about the sin we're all steeped in, and how Jesus is our only escape.

Those answers have always been easily within reach. They're true and necessary, the foundation of the thing. But the longer we're knotted up with broken, beating hearts around us, the more familiar we become with the rest of the story.

So we talked about that, too.

"Sin opened the door to sadness and loneliness. When we don't know the love of God and when we don't feel loved by the people nearest us, it makes our hearts and even our bodies hurt. And when we feel that kind of pain, when we believe we are not lovable, we reach for the wrong things to try to feel better."

He nodded along slowly.

"This is why it's so important to invite people over to our house for lunch. We want our friends to feel our love, because that's also how they can start to feel God's love. Then they won't feel so lonely..."

He finished my thought, "And then we won't be lonely, too."

{2014}

As our kids get older and more aware, I'm struck by the different kind of normal their childhood is providing them. What will they embrace? What will they reject? When they look back on all of this, will it feel like a massive rip-off? Would they cash it in for clothes that weren't bought second-hand or fancier vacations? More privacy? Less commotion? Will they grow weary of hearing about our squeaky budget and race to high-paying jobs and gated communities? Will they join the dominant culture in despising the poor? Will they climb the ladder, puffing up in superiority over those buckling under heavy loads? Will they forget their inborn smallness and believe what they have is theirs to keep? Will they take up smoking, or worse?

I hope not, but I don't know. If I'm learning anything here, it's that I wasn't charged with guaranteeing anyone's future or scrubbing clean their sins.

All I can offer is the best I know of life, the celebration of suffering along with the abiding hope of joy. We need not fear brokenness. We can choose to gravitate toward the unfamiliar, then stick around until it feels like home. We can leave our front door easy on its hinges and choose the comfort of a family forged of misfits. We can identify ourselves as the misfittiest among them.

Calvin is twelve now, in all of its glory.  He's not in my space quite like he used to be. He isn't as cuddly. He asks harder questions. His brown eyes still shine, but with complexity. It's uncomfortable to watch him navigate friendship, status, belief, privilege, and responsibility. I didn't know how much I would strain to steer his ship. I didn't know how wobbly my faith would be.

He showed Cory his birthday card as soon as he arrived home from work later that evening. Here's what I had forgotten: just as there is no natural light inside the jail, just as there is no fresh air (ever,) there is very little color. Beige uniforms, gray walls, gray floors, gray dinners on gray trays.

Crayons, markers, and colored pencils and inks are banned. So in order to make a full-color greeting card, an inmate has to launch an expensive and complicated process involving candy wrappers, overpriced jail deodorant, and hours of meticulous scraping and depositing. There is no room for error. And it will cost them.

Have I ever cared that much?

I grabbed the card again, held it closer, studied it with blurred vision. "Thank you for being our friend," it read. 

Sometimes, life plays to my basest worries. Aren't we all doing the best we can, sweeping all the pieces of life into one pile and calling it good? I cannot pretend to read the future, but I have been handed the gift of living very near the poor and overlooked, and I'm passing it onto my kids. The box is obviously recycled, the corners softened and worn. The bow is wonky. The paper is torn.

But open it up, sweet boy.
What you find inside will change you.


"We're often asked if our unconventional life puts our kids at risk. Do they suffer for it? Are they safe? At times, we settle for the easy answers. Yes, of course they're safe. They don't suffer. They're never at risk.

The longer truth is, risk swirls around us, sinister and unseen. Suffering tails us daily, not because we live in a particular neighborhood or welcome hard lives to our table, but because we are broken humans in a fallen world." - Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted (still just $1.99 on Kindle

~

My friend Emily P. Freeman wrote a beautiful piece on what it feels like when our kids grow up. "It feels like torn lace, like smoke, like wedding mints melting on your tongue." Read it here.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Weekending


It's been a weird couple of weeks.

All I know is, I had a really fun* visitor, then it was Cory's birthday, then Calvin's, then Silas got sick for a week and started saying things like, "Mama, sometimes when my body starts to get hot I feel really...angry." And, "Is there a tube inside our body for, like, food and water and stuff?" (Yes.) "Well, my main question is, is the tube made of plastic? Or glass?"

What I'm trying to say is, the weeks have been a blur of the best of everything. On Tuesday afternoon I deferred all responsibilities, watched Zootopia with Si, then we both took a nap. In the middle of the day. With lots of cuddling in between, no unnecessary hygiene, no constricting fabrics, and I can't even remember, but I'm guessing I found a way to not even cook dinner. (Sick days are kind of awesome when you're not even sick.)

I also did lots of reading. Want a teaser? You got it.

"We don't want to be part of something ordinary; we want to be part of something special. Being a part of God's kingdom just doesn't feel exciting and sexy enough. The day-to-day reality of being with God in our work, in our home life, and our community lacks the power, the transcendence, the specialness we crave. We long for the validation of our importance."

Or if you're in a hurry, "The Tower of Babel is in our hearts."
OUCHHHHHH.

I'm struck speechless by The Way of the Dragon or The Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus' Path of Power in a Church that has Abandoned It by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel. Cory read it first and couldn't stop yammering about it, so I got my own copy and it's a good thing, because I don't want to share this one.

Here are a few other things that grabbed me this week:

::  We need more honest words about mental health. Depression feels like, "...knowing a fire is burning but never feeling warm."

:: This post by Alia Joy took my breath away. Especially this, "food has no morality. It is not good or bad and the consumption of food does not make you good or bad.  It doesn’t make up the value of someone. It simply is."

:: Dream job!!

:: Silas keeps fighting me for this lotion (and I also love the soap.) **shannanmartin20 for 20% off through the end of March AND 10% of sales go to the Elkhart Co. Jail Ministry!**

:: Duran Duran + Joy Williams = GET IN MY EARS.

:: Consider these tacos queued the heck UP.

:: Is your church doing any short-term missions trips this spring or summer? Read this.

::  We need more words about things like choosing childlessness (and less churches with "family" in their name, but that's another post for another day.)

::  I watched this with Calvin.

::  And this with Calvin and Ruby. (We have massive feelings about the oppression of North Koreans around here.)

:: Okay, that got intense for a minute. But I promise you, this is such a sweet note to end on. (I should know, we got to see them live last weekend for Cory's birthday!)

And because I love you, and because I know you'll care, here's a pic of Siley's plate at our trip last weekend to Golden Corral (Calvin's bday pick.)


Happy weekend, homies.
Onion ring dreams (this was his second plate of onion rings, by the way) for all.

Yours,
Shannan

* "Fun" is defined by being super chill, enjoying thrift stores, eating enthusiastically, keeping an open mind about movies, staying up too late, and talking until you go half-hoarse. Go have some.