Monday, January 16, 2017

First Name Basis


"Something that makes Martin famous is when he said one day 'I'm going to turn this world upside down.' He did do what he said."

This is the opening line of Ruby's biography about Martin Luther King, Jr., one crafted last year over months of intense learning about his life and legacy. From her telling, he used to play pranks on people when he was a child. He took piano lessons. He became "a good speaker". He was kind. A pastor. "He worked for peace."

"So, how did Martin help inspire others? Well, he inspired a lot of people. He inspired his church and his family. He even inspired white people."

Even.

He even inspired people like me, people like the young author's mom and dad.

When a third-grader finds the word "even" necessary, we have found ourselves staring at a gaping wound. We have found ourselves with bloody hands.

~

Sometimes I'm asked how we came to adopt our four children and I laugh. "We didn't know we had to choose a country!" I say of our first adoption. "We didn't care where our child came from."

This is true, and I'm not sure whether or not I should be embarrassed. Thirteen years ago, I was a  different person, alive and well under the protection of my uniform, tidy bubble. I had a few Asian friends, a few black friends, one friend who told me as we folded jeans into crisp thirds for the denim wall, "When I was adopted, my parents didn't know if I was Hispanic or Native American, so they gave me a name for both."

Ill-prepared as we were, our babies found their way to us, scarred by loss, tender and tough. They were wiser than I. Braver than I. We loved them immediately, protected them fiercely. But we didn't yet know about 2014. We didn't know the ways it would rock us, or how each successive year would only get more difficult. We believed our love was enough, but how could it be? Is it really love when it's veiled in willful ignorance? Is it really love when it only costs us small things, like laying old dreams to rest and thirty thousand dollars cash?
 
~

Men started dying.
Boys started dying.

They reminded me of the young man fused to the inside wall of my heart, the one who had lived in my basement and called me "mom" from a crackling landline, then at Subway on his first day home, then a thousand times since. He was the one who made it impossible to wave away the true state of things, all muscle and height banging around in my kitchen, wrecking up my pans, ruining my soul for the way things used to be.



He was the one who whispered that one brutal night, "I honestly don't know how I let this happen." He wasn't referring to his time spent in jail, but to his dad and I sitting there by his bed with wet cheeks and weary hearts. What lapse in judgment had caused him to make room for us? His adoption had cost him things. He'd had to let some old dreams die, this I know. But he'd also had to open himself up to a new direction of growth. Nothing feels more impossible than real love, it seems, not when the cheap stuff sits there in its pretty bottle, sanitized and safe.

~

One of my favorite high school teachers used to say, "Perception is real to the perceiver." I scribbled it into my notebook, but I didn't claim to understand. To me, there existed no line between reality and perception. I had been indoctrinated to "truth", both intentionally and by the sheer inertia of the life which chose me.

Then, the world only existed within the frame of my experience. Everything else was peripheral. I defined the issues. I derided immigrants who did not know "our" language. I was taught one narrative, force-fed a casserole of political conservatism and boot-straps theology with just enough cheese to make it difficult to distinguish one from another. I was taught there were good guys and bad guys, and I was good. I was right. Only today did I learn that the revered President Reagan himself  actively opposed the work of MLK and resisted voting for a national holiday in his name. How could I have known, after generations of status quo? Who would have dared confront the complexity of this fact?

I didn't even have to be color blind.
Being just plain blind worked fine.

~

Of course, the men and the boys, they had always been dying.
But we can't know what we don't see.

I'm not proud that I didn't reach a solid awareness of the trouble continually dealt to people of color until I had a front row seat. This is far too great a burden for any child to bear, never mind that the "child" is legally a man, never mind that he's a willing teacher.

The thing about waking up is that our eyes were conditioned for dimly lit places. It will be uncomfortable, maybe forever. It will be unpopular, maybe forever. But it will move inside, this awakening, at the speed of biology. Cells dividing, truth conquering lies, taking up space, overcoming what must die in its place.

~

We spent hours driving soggy, foggy highways today. I know better than to read while the van is moving, yet I couldn't look away.

I have come to understand that my views don't necessarily fit well within the puzzle of my place. It's impossible to ignore.

Sometime last year, I made the conscious decision to begin listening to and learning from People of Color and others pushed out of the white, privileged, mostly-evangelical bubble where I spent most of life and where, in many ways, I remain. Twitter makes this particularly easy, and I urge you to start following folks who espouse views which stretch you. Today, as most days, my feed was wholly woke. I read about action and protest. I read tweet after tweet of MLK's quotes. I considered again the difference between praying for justice and fighting for it.

Facebook was an entirely different situation. There, folks were largely interested in, well, everything else. Food, work, television, exercise, bullet journaling, kids, rants, pets. Typical Facebook fare. I get it. Life is still life, and even I started my day by publicly musing on the weather.

This certainly doesn't indicate racism.

But it might indicate a lack of awareness.
It might be a flashing sign that we have not widened our circle enough. As we begin to look hard at hard things, as we begin to know new perspectives, it becomes impossible not to care.

I felt, perhaps for the first time, that if people don't care about today, then they don't care about my family. Admittedly, this isn't fair. It would be dangerous to conflate our social media commentary with the full contents of our heart. I care about many things on which I don't publicly comment. More importantly, I care about people affected by a wide variety of things of which I am not and never will be personally affected.

But I am just barely tasting the difficulty of raising children to value all of humanity in a world that, for example, does not see the point in celebrating a man who helped shaped the narrative of two of my kids, three of my nephews, all of my grandkids, and countless friends and neighbors. It's hard to hear that this is not reason enough to miss school, that the parade was canceled this year, and oh, what a drag that the mail isn't running. What an impossible inconvenience. 

It's hard to not to feel frustrated.

It's doubly hard to acknowledge that this is not a single lick about me. I cannot be the reason I or you care. There are millions of other reasons, we simply need to know them, and then to love them.

Here I am, at the tail-end of this dripping wet holiday, just barely beginning to consider the ripples of Dr. King from my safely removed vantage point. Meanwhile, my daughter is on a first name basis with this man whose tide she was swept into at the tender age of nine.

The wonderful news is, it is not too late to make some noise. We can choose, as Dr. Martin Luther King wrote, to root out injustice by "a strong, persistent and determined action."  Unpopular as it may be, you can be the one to apply some pressure to your apathetic school system or your ranting Uncle Phil. You can task yourself with learning more, teaching your kids more, in the hopes that next year, you'll feel this day a bit differently.

(Can you feel those cells quietly dividing even now?)

Scrolling through my social media accounts today left me with a pang in my gut, not because I'm mad at everyone, not because I think myself any better, but because it's impossible not to wonder how much undue damage I inflicted over the years with the weight of my own silence.

I have so much to repent of and so much to learn.

But if I know one tiny little thing, it's that I have a voice, and though it's wobbly and uncertain, it wields real power. I can only pray that at the end of my long life here on earth, I'm hoarse from shouting on behalf of whomever is found at the short of of power and dignity.

"I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice..." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

"So now you know how Martin helped our country today. So now you can tell someone else how Martin helped our country." - Ruby River Martin (age 9), The Life of Martin

//

If you're looking for a great place to start, listen to this podcast. It's long, but so very worth it. (I don't listen to many podcasts, but I've listened to this one twice already. It's meaty.)

:: A few additional resources on racial justice off the top of my head:
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

:: On my stack to read next:
Trouble I've Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew G. I. Hart
The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Right Can Be Made Wrong by Lisa Sharon Harper


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Slightly Wavy

Ruby has been begging me to straighten her hair for the past nine days.

I've done what I can to hold her off, given her all the logical reasons, plied her for a while with stretching it out using row upon row of hair elastics, pulling her curls just a bit further down each day.

Yesterday, my stall tactics finally ran dry.

It doesn't matter how often I admire her curls. I've learned the hard way that it's counter-intuitive to tell her I wish I had them for myself. She likes them just fine. Sometimes, she just wants to try something new.

So we sat down after dinner last evening with our supplies and I cranked the heat level on my straightener as high as it would go. "Better go clean up the kitchen, boys. We're busy over here." I stretched like a cat, cracked my knuckles one by one, and got to work.

Section. Detangle. Moisturize.

The heat wiped her curls out flat, at least half-way down. The ends were another story. They wanted to hold on. They put up a fight. When it was said and done, they knew who they were. And here we are, a full head of slightly wavy hair.

But it's change enough. It'll do.

~

I've done the normal amount of thinking about the new year in recent weeks. Like clockwork, I've decided to redecorate my house, give away all of our unused/unnecessary junk, buy new make-up and wrinkle cream, try a capsule wardrobe, reduce my sugar intake, and spend more time moving and/or reading. One or the other. Depends on the day.

I've gone so far as to pull up the living room rug with no after-plan in place.

It's 2017, and with every dawning of every new age, I crave blank surfaces and white space and I decide the best way to achieve both is by redesigning my heart and soul. It works on paper but less so in practice. All I'm really doing is transforming physical clutter into mental and emotional static. Wouldn't I be happier if my house was more organized? Wouldn't it be inspiring to revamp...something?

And at the end of the day, I already know the truth. Inspiration is only meaningful if it's enduring. Happiness can really only be felt in the presence of  a bucket or two of sadness and longing. Without the contrast, happiness becomes one more layer of white noise. Its very own shade of gray.

~

I spoke with my editor for almost an hour recently. We kicked the can back and forth across state lines and cell signals. What do I want to say next? I think she's grown used to my wild ideas and the neurotic way I insist on sharing all of them, even and especially when they're still misshapen and scattered. They're spring-loaded snakes in a can, and just knowing they're in there makes me anxious to tear off the lid. Let's get this over with. Go ahead and scream.

Conversation was light and laced with enough honesty to keep me trusting and engaged. Toward the end, my voice cracked just shy of actual blubbering. "No matter what I write next, I just want it to be necessary. Not to everyone, but to someone."

This has come to matter deeply to me, particularly over the past year.
But "necessary" takes different shapes, because I take different shapes. And you do, too.

It feels less and less necessary to boss you or myself around, (though I guess I still reserve the right and am not making promises.) I'm equally less and more sure about the stuff that keeps me up at night. I've almost cleanly lost the ability to believe I have any power over change here at all. At the the same time, I'm more committed than ever to risk being wrong.

I'm not as inclined to detail the lives burning bright and burning to the ground around me. More often, as you know, I end up talking about the way my heart and eyes and skin have blistered from my nearness. It's all sort of normal now, this low and beautiful place where we have slowly settled in. But I wonder, do I say enough about the good stuff happening? Do I see it clearly enough? Am I still letting it change me by the day?

Two Sundays ago we straggled down the alley to church, faces freezing, feet dodging slushy puddles and broken glass.  I've come to learn over the past two years that there is always something waiting for me there, something unexpected, something I need. I think this thing is called hope, and I believe it grows from the seed of endurance.

Nearing the end of the service, our pastor blessed the communion. She called on the ushers to begin releasing us row by row, but before she was even done speaking, one of Cory's friends from jail broke protocol, rushing front to be the first in line. I whispered to Cory, giggling, "Gage isn't playing." Then my eyes filled with tears.

Heading into a fresh year, I suppose Gage is my mentor. He's showing me the way, and I'm honored to follow.

Lead me to the cup. The cross. Lead me to more of Christ. Less of me.

I want to be made new.


Along the way I've come up with a few other things I'd like to tweak. I can't help myself.

* I'm not buying more books until I shorten the stack growing precariously atop my cabinet. It's a safety hazard at this point, and there's plenty of good stuff waiting. I won't buy more. I won't buy more. (Unless it's an emergency.) ;)

* Last spring I recognized my tendency to do certain things just so I could say I did them. I was keeping score with myself, sweating blood trying to win an invisible game where I was my only opponent. This is nothing new. Nor is it a surprise to me that I reacted by swinging wide in the opposite direction. One thing lost in the process was the list of books I read. I needed one less thing to track. But I regret this now. I miss having an account of the friends I spent time with when the house was quiet. I'm keeping track again, but in my personal journal (something I added into my life exactly one year ago). I'm sure I'll keep sharing these "friends" along the way, but I'll be reading because it's life to me, not because I'm trying to best last year's score.

* I'm going analog whenever possible, and this includes, of course, cooking from my beloved, cumbersome recipe binders whenever possible.

*I'm making (another) concerted effort to not speak sarcastically to my kids. THIS IS VERY HARD. Here's why. Me: "Cory, Keisha and Hans-David will be here today around 2."  Calvin: (directly in ear-shot) "Mom, are Keisha and Hans-David coming today?" I can't. I CAN'T. I field this line of questioning no less than 38 times a day, and bear in mind that my kids are all in school from 8-3. They know things, but pretend they don't. They cannot wrap their pliable brains around the idea of commenting on something rather than pretending they are in the dark. But where I usually get extra irritable and say something like, "What did I just say, Calvin?" I'm trying to simply say, "Yes." In the scheme of things, along with being much nicer and a better model for my kids, it's actually easier.

Meanwhile, I'm still just Shannan, currently obsessed with a morning cup of black tea and a slice of sourdough bread, toasted, lightly buttered, and with a skimming of Aldi's Premium Fruit Spread (raspberry).

I would still pick a sad movie over one that makes me laugh.

I still prefer late nights to mornings.

I still spend too much time in my head.

But maybe I'll be just a bit softer, just a bit more present, just a bit more at peace. I pray I'm the one running toward communion and community, and I also hope I manage to straighten up my messy closet and get to bed earlier.

I don't need to become Shannan two-point-oh, but maybe Shannan 1.1.
Shannan, slightly wavy.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Expecting

Somewhere around 1991 my mom loaded a K-Mart shopping cart with Christmas gifts for me, my brother, and my sister. She wasn't a shopper and Amazon was just a rain forest, so it strikes me now what a sacrifice it was for her to do that each December. I don't know what was in the cart, because I wasn't there. But I remember hearing her tell my dad how embarrassed she'd been when she had to walk away from the cart and leave the store empty-handed. Maybe she forgot her check book. Or maybe the total was higher than what she thought it would be. Whatever the reason, she fixed it. She went back the next day and retraced her steps, filling the dang cart for the second time.

I couldn't guess at what she hoped for when it came to being the mom at Christmas, but her expectations were somehow always exceeded. There weren't lists of meaningful family traditions, but I remember feeling like I was lit from within at Christmastime. I felt extra tucked-in. Safe. Warm. It was the best of everything.


It's 10:13 pm and I'm blogging at night, as if it's 2009 and my three babies are tucked into their single-occupancy rooms in the creaky upstairs of our farmhouse. The train wails and a fiddle weeps from the speaker hidden above our kitchen cabinets. I'm right here, in 2016, where not even an hour ago, I sat at the kitchen table trying to jam mismatched puzzle pieces together while worrying I'd already ruined Christmas.

I want my kids to somehow experience that intangible feeling that something special is underway. I'm desperate for it and I hate it. I fight the shine even as I fork over money for new books, a tulle skirt, a telescope, a complicated electrical outlet system with its own remote control.

I tell myself we'll lounge around and eat like kings, or maybe like the judges on Master Chef. I categorize a three-columned grocery list and burn a three-wick candle. I bake things. I buy a new puzzle. I play Yahtzee with an eight-year old and pretend it's not frustrating at all.

Last night I dreamed (again, again, again) that I was back in college and had nonchalantly skipped the entire semester, only to come to my senses as finals week approached. Was it too late to drop every class? And would I still have to pay for the credits? I woke up sweating bullets. All week long, I've known what I was up to with my big ideas and my faux-pine scented air. I'm no stranger to the calamity of Shannan Martin, who busies herself crafting unrealistic expectations in an attempt to combat the sinking feeling that most days she's pretty unremarkable.

~

Earlier tonight we did our third Advent reading of the season. It was about the name of Jesus, and what it means. We tried talking about Emmanuel, but apparently it was a bit too soon after three rounds of Mad Libs because Ruby and Silas couldn't stop laughing about moldy bears clapping their belly buttons together.

We all know it's important that God came as Jesus to be with us, but I honestly wish I had just been with my kids in all their inconvenient exuberance. I noticed Ruby's cheeks swallowing up her full moon eyes, her mouth wide, like a child who doesn't know unnecessary pain. But this was a serious moment we were trying to have, and I forced myself not to let go.

Now I'm left wondering if Jesus wouldn't have felt most near if we had just closed the book and giggled together until our vision blurred.

As I sit here, Cory is downtown in the dark with his camera, trying to nail a shot of something having to do with Christmas lights and rain puddles. Before he walked out he asked me what I was going to write about. "I don't know, meth, depression, and white supremacy?" I joked.

These have been hot topics in our house this week as I wrap gifts and daydream about whisking heavy cream into flour for cranberry scones.

People I love are burning alive, and my cheeks are on fire.

But I am with them in this dirt. They are with me.
This life is a gift I'll never deserve.
And sometimes rain at Christmas is a relief.


Tomorrow morning (Christmas Eve) we'll open a few gifts. We'll turn off our phones and thank God for the surprises he dealt us, especially each other. Calvin bought Ruby a whole bag of oranges just for herself and Cory's gifts both came from Goodwill. There's sausage thawing for gravy and a pineapple ready for slicing. Dinner will be homemade Korean food, in honor of our oldest Korean who will be playing his violin at the Christmas Eve service.

We will grab our fresh start with glad hearts and both hands. At some point, we'll drag it face-first through the crumbs beneath the table. We will need the Savior who came for us and doesn't stop.

Emmanuel.

God is with us, even when we run.
God is with us, even when we fight.
God is with us, even when we are tired.
God is with us, even when we are sad.
God is with us, even when we can't get a grip.

God is with us, even when our streets swallow us whole.
God is with us, even when people say we don't matter.

God is with us, even when we are sort of sad for the family we lost along the way.
God is with us, even when we sit in seg at the county jail.
God is with us, even when we are strung out and picking at our skin.
God is with us, even when it seems too quiet to believe.

God is with us, even when the house is a wreck.
God is with us, even when the marriage is a wreck.

God pierced the earth with purity and humility and now, we don't have to keep clawing for something better. We don't have to do anything alone. We stretch out our arms, reaching for fistfuls of grace while wearing shoes caked with mud.

We are here, but he is here, too.

God is with us.

I can't wait for tomorrow.


Friday, December 9, 2016

The Gift Your Family Might Not Know it Needs

Yesterday, in passing, someone referred to next weekend as being one week before Christmas and I almost spit out my tea. Like most of life these days, it feels entirely impossible yet close enough to touch. 

The kids have one week of school left, but all week I've been ahead of myself. I'm ready to bust out the puzzle and hunker down. I'm so ready to eat random dips with my friends at strange hours and stay up late with Cory. (Friends, we have hopped on the Poldark wagon and *I have heard* there is trouble coming, but I can't walk away. We're springing for season 2 the minute Christmas break starts. Don't try to stop us.)

For now, I'm slowly adding Christmasy touches to our home and we're enjoying what I hope will be a new tradition for our family - sharing our home and our table with someone each Friday during Advent. We're all waiting with expectation and it's even better to wait together. With a plate of tacos.

All the while, life is still life. The neighbor boys pile into our living room every morning and some afternoons. Three nights ago as I was running out the door for a PTO meeting, two brothers showed up at the door - one crying, one sulking. I was in a bit of a rush and no one was really talking, but I eventually gathered up the loose ends of their angst. Not knowing what else to do and because their ears were bright and freezing, I cupped each of their faces in my XL hands, looked them in the eye, called them by name, and said, "I love you." I told them to get along. Be good to each other. "Friends will come and go, but the two of you are best friends for life." They sniffled and avoided eye contact and didn't say a word in return. Then we headed into the bitterly cold night and walked our separate ways. It felt like maybe the most important three minutes of my entire week.

When I tell you my neighbors have changed my life forever, I know it sounds a bit trite. But I grew up in a tiny corner where both walls were white, along with the floor and ceiling. My childhood was simple. It was bright and beautiful. But it did not allow me to see or understand the breadth of human existence. I had one Asian friend. My cousin wanted and received a black baby doll for Christmas one year and it disarmed us. It was a topic of conversation, not because we were "racist", but because it simply did not fit the script. That was not our world, or so we thought. People of color existed, somewhere far removed from us. Without intending it to happen, I learned to see them not as bad or less than, but as "other".

I will never begrudge the tiny towns sprinkled across our country which lack diversity. It doesn't, in itself, mean anything about the good people who live in them. It simply means that is where they live. If that happens to be you, please remember it was also me, not long ago. Wherever we are planted, we're called to love people and make God's light known. 

But I wish my library had been stocked with books featuring people who didn't reflect my own life. I wish my white teachers would have at least talked about different experiences. I wish my white pastors would have refused to hang pictures on the walls of a white Jesus with light brown hair. I wish I hadn't casually, quietly been taught that "people like me" were the center of the Universe, and everyone else was somewhere at the periphery. 

I wish I had learned the beauty of God's diverse kingdom from birth, in a way that was meaningful.

Life is a crash course now, and I'm playing catch-up. My bland diet has left me starving for the essential nutrients of a well-lived life and faith. 

Maybe you feel like I do. Or maybe you honestly don't, but you sort of wish you would. Changing courses starts with just a single degree of rotation. Most of you are not called to change communities (though some of you are,) or adopt a child of a different ethnicity. But there are small things we can do that have big impact on our lives and particularly on the lives of our kids. 

Here's one: Buy your kids books that feature people of color. Let your gift to them be the understanding that the world is much richer than they imagine. 

As a mom of multi-cultural kids, this has become imperative and life-giving for my family. As they grow, I become more keenly aware of how important representation is for them. But even if my kids were Caucasian, like me, there would be tremendous value in a personal library that honors a wider scope of personal history and experience. 

I've put together a list of the books my kids are receiving from us this Christmas (shh!) along with a list of favorites we already have on hand.


Song of the Trees by Mildred D. Taylor

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Dear Juno by Soyung Pak

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

Ichiro by Ryan Inzana

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba


These are favorites from our personal stash. I scour thrift stores for new additions.

Additional favorites:
Brown Girl Dreaming
Esperanza Rising

(Also, check this out: 1000 Black Girl Books Resource Guide )


I would love for you to list your favorites in the comments. We're always on the hunt for new favorites! You can also pass this list along to your public library and request a more diverse selection if you find it lacking.

Also, next week I'll be sending out a Super Scoop newsletter, sharing some of my favorite things this season. Make sure you're on the list to receive it!


*All links are Amazon affiliate links. 


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Ministry of Giving a Rip at Christmastime


Two nights ago I sat curled up on a friend's couch, listening as she talked about feeling a little sad right now.

"It's Christmas," I said. "It's the season for sadness."

She laughed knowingly. "Yeah. I reminded myself I felt this way last year, too."

It wasn't always this way for me, or not precisely. But time keeps on turning. We learn things. We grow. And like my second grader trying his best to focus and "grow a bigger brain" just two blocks away, learning is never without a cost.



My kids have started praying for Aleppo. Over the weekend Cory and I decided to share Ann Voskamp's post with them. In keeping with most of our lives, it wasn't a particularly tender moment. I was listening from the kitchen while I mashed avocados into guacamole, but I noticed the way the usual rumble of our home's waking hours was hushed. And the questions began pouring in.
"Dear Bana & the Kids in Aleppo…

When we heard that you’re eating grass, and garbage… that there’s only a few days left till your starvation… while we were all swollen with how much turkey and cranberry and pumpkin pie we ate this past weekend — we all needed to come find you and look you in the eye.

When you, Bana, you tweeted to the world what you’re seeing through your little seven-year-old eyes, and we read what you typed: “Last message – under heavy bombardments now, can’t be alive anymore. When we die, keep talking for 200,000 still inside,” we hardly breathed and we needed to hold out our hands to you.

The anger of this world cannot and will not make us deaf to the cries of our children..." (excerpt from Ann's post)

 abc news

I worried maybe it was too much, lingering on the popular belief that kids should be protected against this sort of thing, that it's not fair to burden them. But the skinny tree is crammed in the corner of our tiny living room and soon it will have presents underneath. It's so hard for kids to wrap their minds around suffering, especially during Christmas, but quite honestly, I know no other way to show them the full story - the Herod that led to the manger that meant our Savior was born humbly so we could see the beauty that grows from low places.

They are children. I don't expect too much from them when it took me 35 years to begin to understand. But when God called my family to the compassion of suffering with our neighbor, he called all of us. We refuse to look away.

I covered the guacamole with plastic wrap, grabbed the chips, and eyed Cory across the room. As always, we created a "big" moment in the midst of our chaos without leaving enough room to tidy up the edges. Parenting, at least for us, is an exercise in begging God to fill in the cracks. Shoes-coats-last minute bathroom visits - and we were in the van.

"Does anyone want to pray for Aleppo?"

Calvin did.

Here's the thing - I struggle when people talk about how "beautiful" so-and-so's prayer was. Call me immature. Say I'm missing something. I'm sure both are true. I happen to not have the gift of poetic prayer, and I've learned to not pretend otherwise. They all count, even the ones breathed through gritted teeth. Even and perhaps especially the desperate ones strung with cuss words from our friends at the county jail, who have learned to speak the language of pain.

All that aside, Calvin's prayer made me weepy. It was beautiful.

"Help the people bombing Aleppo to change their ways."

My eleven year old somehow understood that in the end, it's the only miracle that will help.
Image result for aleppo children
save the children

My house smells like pine, I'm sipping orange-spiced tea, and I'm offering you the gift of sorrow for our friends and neighbors, our brothers and sisters and mothers in Aleppo. They are not so different from you and I. They cook dinner, laugh, and cuddle up. For generations they have built a future just to watch it crumble around and upon them in a picture of apocalyptic hell on earth.

It is Tuesday, December 6th in Aleppo. This very moment they are kissing their kids' cheeks and praying for tomorrow. They're tending to what needs done and asking for a miracle. They are as full of life and dreams as we are, as hopeful and creative, every bit as funny. They like their toast a certain way and their coffee black, or heaped with cream. They remember the feel of wool on their skin. They remember a time when they weren't starving and scared, and when their children didn't look like this.


Some say this isn't our problem. It's too impossible. The stakes are too high, or too confusing. It's Christmas, after all, and we can't bear more darkness just now.

But I know we are different.

Five long/short years ago, we stood against injustice by trying to fund a well so an impoverished village could have clean water. We watched water run through our homes and looked hard at the ways we took it for granted. We forced ourselves to face their pain. And though it looked impossible on paper for our tiny community to accomplish this huge goal, we were not deterred. We stepped out in obedience, not knowing how long it would take or if if would ever even be "successful" (in the ways the world defines success.) 

When we exceeded the goal ($12,000!) in less than two months, I was slackjawed. Speechless. These are the kinds of things that return lonely hearts to their homes and restore souls. This is Jesus brought low to the earth, small and unlikely, to save us.

So, here I am, today, not asking for a dime.
I'm just asking us to care.

For some of us, caring might mean sending some cash along the way. But for many of us, it will be much bigger than money. It will mean risking our reputations and sacrificing our common sense. It will mean bearing a burden we'd rather ignore. It will mean hauling around a bucket of sadness while we shop for presents, bake cookies, and wait. The most important sacrifice is the one that is hardest to make, and I am asking you - begging you - to define with me that *thing* holding us back from loving these precious neighbors, then tossing it on the altar and watching it burn.
“You don’t feel the siege biting until it’s gone too far. Then the market shelves are free of everything. You see no bread, no milk, no rice. We’re eating two small meals a day now and soon it will have to be one. But you know what scares me even more than hunger? The international silence. No one has helped us. We are alone.” Washington Post article from December 3, 2016

Ann has helped create a website full of important calls to action. Please read through it and act in whatever way God is calling. Please, please share. Rally your families and your people. Print the ornaments off and pass them out at church or the coffee shop. Take a picture of you and your people holding a DIY #WithAleppo sign and tag it on social media. Above all, pray. This is not an invitation to a miserable Christmas, it's an invitation to a meaningful Christmas, where we carry out our beloved traditions while fighting for the life we say we value.

I cannot stress this enough - people will think you're nuts. They might be annoyed. They might talk smack that you dare to try to "ruin" their Christmas. But we were not born to live among the "international silence." Most of the world seems to be okay with leaving an entire city alone and bleeding - we are not among them.


Our bread feels painfully small right now. There is simply not enough of it and we're too far away. But in the face of need, Jesus faced his disciples, looked them in the eye, and said, "You do it."

They dared to believe he meant it. They suspended their judgment long enough to trust that for some crazy reason, he wanted to work through all they lacked. They handed it over and the Savior of the world made a way.

With Aleppo and with so much love,
Shannan (& Co.)

Here's the website, one more time.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Two Kinds of Buckets


Exactly one week ago, our friends Becca & Adam packed up their family in Atlanta and drove into the night to hang out with us for 24 decadent, wonky hours. They showed up on Tuesday around lunchtime while I was upstairs "handling" the crime scene that is the kids' bathroom then, as an expression of my gratitude, I immediately whisked Becca away to Kroger. She also obliged when I asked her to keep me company for the approximately 6.33333 hours it took me to make a humble pot of soup for dinner.What I'm trying to tell you is, visit at your peril and/or boredom.

Later, the kids watched Tom & Jerry in the basement, and us adults managed to stay awake until almost midnight as a demonstration of our eternal youthfulness and vigor. (It helped that we had a crockpot full of strange and delicious dip consisting of sausage, cream cheese, and Rotel melted together.)

We spent most of our time commiserating about loving people with complicated lives and how the mess so easily bleeds onto us. On paper, it seems like it wouldn't be worth it. We unanimously agreed that life used to be simpler, not to mention quieter. But they hold the secret in their hearts and in their bones - life was meant to be lived near the margins. The magic is never far from the mess.

We parted ways reluctantly and headed off to celebrate the season of thankfulness with our respective families. I spent much of Thanksgiving day alternating between bites of peanut butter pie, sad thoughts about my locked up friends, and bites of sugar cream pie.

One day later, I was leveled over the destruction and suffering in Aleppo, Syria. The thought of families being torn apart and children facing imminent starvation weighed on me as I tried to enjoy the day with my own healthy, happy, safe, and overfed family. The thing about love is that it's often inconvenient. Love, in its purest form, is lived without regard for what it might cost us.

Now, the tree is mostly up and I burned the Harvest Spice candle down just in time to replace it with a piney one. Christmas is  in the air, and I'm still feeling some type of way. 

At the risk of repeating myself for the 7th straight December, this time of year throws my emotional equilibrium out of whack. I wrote about this way back in 2010. Silas was home for his first Christmas, we had recently met a small community of homeless people who were skewing our worldview against everything we thought we knew, we were knee-deep in Radical, and we had no earthly clue that it was only the beginning. The door was cracked open just a smidge to the burn of the world. We found ourselves wondering if maybe by choosing to walk toward the hurt rather than away from it, our own weary hearts would somehow be healed.

~

When I was a kid growing up in the country, I remember my dad teaching us that the best way to carry something heavy is to carry something equally heavy in the other hand. From personal experience, this applies to buckets of water, oversized suitcases, grocery bags filled with cans of Spaghettios, concrete blocks, and dense emotions.

Decades later, I remain a distracted and forgetful student of balance. Gratitude and sorrow aren't, as I once believed, mutually exclusive. They actually pair quite well together, one in each hand.

It can be easy to get caught up in focusing on my own comfort. Or even to ebb into the dark seas of sadness, staring too long at grief and disunity. The trick is to keep filling the other bucket. And the only way that's possible is Emmanuel, who comes to be with us, who offers the hope of salvation, who calls us to drive our ego, our pride, and our common sense into the dirt as we love each other more. The world says, "Save yourself first!" The Gospel tells of a narrower way where life is found through death, and where gratitude and sorrow twist into an enduring cord of hope.

In her book Accidental Saints, Nadia Bolz-Weber talks about the importance of keeping Herod in Christmas. Though the tidy version initially feels nicer with its sugar rushes and cheery lights, we can opt to stop dumbing it down and acknowledge the suffering Jesus came to redeem. This is the only way to celebrate Christ's birth with authenticity.

The finest gift we bring is our willingness to stare pain in the face while carols hold the beat. Aleppo, Standing Rock, addiction, chaos, strife, abuse, grief, the attack that occurred on an Ohio college campus while I wrote this blog post - In his name, all oppression shall cease. Today, while our computers light up with flash deals and Amazon magically spirits new stuff to our front doors, we can fill the other bucket, surrendering what we think is "ours", and releasing it back into the kingdom.

The heartbreak of the world around us won't wait for the party to end. The heartbreak is the very reason we sing.


Here are a few of the organizations* Cory and I enthusiastically support:

Compassion International
Legacy Collective
Mocha Club  
Owens family (with Africa Inland Mission)
The Good Story
The Mentoring Project
Tiny Hands International

*Another way to fill the bucket is to look around your actual life and find people who need help. Think single moms, struggling families, older folks falling through the cracks, friends in jail who pay through the nose for basic needs like shampoo, Q-tips and sports bras...This kind of giving is not tax deductible, but Jesus says it counts, too. ;)


Friday, November 25, 2016

Bright Friday

Yesterday my sister wrangled all of us out of our Thanksgiving-day stasis for a family picture. She's prone to this sort of thing. Meanwhile, I'm prone to feeling like I'd rather not fix my hair, I'd rather not move away from the wood-burning stove or the book in my hands. It's windy outside. The ground is soggy, et cetera. I'd rather not.

But she's right about this just like she's right about a lot of things, and I want to get better at looking past how I feel in up at the surface and fixing my eyes on the long view. This is just one more example of how I tend to trade the eternal for the temporary, or miss out on moments with real value because, well, I like my cozy pants.

I threw on some earrings to make up for the rest and the wind whipped them around as I walked to the edge of my parents' acreage. Voila. A time capsule woven of years and surprises. A freeze-frame of gifts we would never have had the guts to ask for. I could tell you family stories that would singe your heart and I'm certain you could burn me back. We have lived full lives, haven't we? And aren't they all forged from flames?

I don't have to convince you we're strong or faithful, because mostly, we aren't. But we hold on to each other when the chips are down. We shake our heads at what an unlikely group we really are, and then we eat more pie. Together.

We usually stay home in Indiana for Thanksgiving to huddle up with the people drawn into the misshapen circle of our family. On one hand, I can hardly bear the thought that life pulled us out of our routine this year. On the other hand, we desperately needed the slow motion, the giggling kids, the zero responsibilities unless you count the Brussels sprout salad and minor clean-up duties. I spent most of the day lulling myself into a pre-meal coma through sheer inertia, so I don't really want to talk about the full spread my mom made for dinner, or my commitment to trying all of the desserts.

Along the way, I prayed for friends by name who sit in windowless cells, who run the streets, who run the scams, who run toward pain because, like the song says, sometimes that's all that's real.

The lesson for me here, again and again and dangit, will I ever really learn? is that sometimes I get to invite my people, all of us misfits who need to know we belong, around my table. But other times, I just don't. (I always think the easiest one is the one I'm not doing.) I like being served as much as the next girl, but what keeps me warm in the winter is the lie that I make other lives better. That quiet pride still creeps up around me, so God benches me for a minute while he governs creation and transmits his mercy in humbling ways. Rather than gulping left-over regret straight from the gravy boat, I'll be thankful instead.

Because through God's famous trick math, I am always exactly enough, particularly when I'm busy screwing stuff up.

Happy Day After Thanksgiving, homies.


~

Weekend Links: Mini Edition

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::  I wrote at (in)courage today about the intentional practice of hospitality my family is building into our December. Join me? "Every Friday this season, my family will be intentionally seeking ways to come together so that our hearts might remember the heart of Emmanuel."

::  This Confession For the Church written from the soul by Rebekah Lyons has been circulating for a while, but I just found it. And it's beautiful.

::  Dads Behind Bars Hold Their Kids for the First Time {and we all sob.}

~

I haven't been a Black Friday shopper since I went once in Junior High with my Aunt Wendelin and was so tired and overwhelmed that I almost puked. TMI??

BUT...I can appreciate some crazy-loco deals from the handful of retailers I love to support! 

::  Amazon is offering $10 off a book order of $25 of more using the code HOLIDAYBOOK. Basically, two books for fifteen bucks! For a girl who keeps a "books" line item in our squeaky-tight budget, this means something. If you haven't already ordered your copy of my new release, Falling Free, now would be the time! I also suggest Kris Camealy's Come, Lord Jesus - a 25-day Advent devotional (the one I'll be using this year) and to round out your order, one of our favorite wintry kids books, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.

::  Canvas People is offering 85% off all canvases. I have ordered many canvases when they drop the prices like this and I love them. You can't find a more personal, high-impact gift.

::  Tea Collection is offering loads of adorable, global-minded, high-quality kids wear for under $15!

::  FashionABLE is offering 20% off their ethical leather goods, handcrafted jewelry, and and hand-woven scarves along with free shipping with the code HOLLYJOLLY


*Affiliate links used.