Wednesday, October 31, 2012

31 Days of Going: Wrap Up and a Giveaway

It's day 31, friends. We did it.

The funny thing is, I find myself feeling strangely unrelieved. I think it's because I know I'm not done talking here. We'll be revisiting these topics. You've been warned.

I am, however, busting to talk about different things, silly things, delicious things. I'm also excited to take a few nights off, and that starts pronto. I'll be lazing on the couch with CMB and Howard the housecat (People, we got a stinking cat. Anyone who's known me for long is now laughing hysterically.) My fingers shall not strike the keyboard tonight. Come to Mama, guacomole, Don Draper, and sweatpants.

Big, mad thanks to all of you for letting me think and process out loud and for talking with me like you were here in my living room.

You have encouraged me that there's hope for this planet and for my little neighborhood. You've been the very best company.

I'm more excited than ever to Go and then to just keep Going. We've been given much love, so we have much love to give.

true love wins necklace

As a token of my affection and a reminder of everything we know to be true, I'll be sending one lucky duck this Lisa Leonard necklace.

To enter, just leave me a comment telling me something you've learned, something on your heart, something funny or sad. I'm easy.

gold wildflower necklace
In the meantime, Lisa Leonard is offering this new Wildflower Necklace at nearly 60% off! Regular value - $48. Today? $22. Click here to order one for your pretty self or as a Christmas gift.

Edit: Just checked (Thurs. a.m.) and the necklace is still on sale! 


Fierce love to you today, Party People. You make this ride so dang fun.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Open Table


"Our used clothes show up but we never do." - Jon Katov

Over these past months, I've grown desperate to find solutions out of poverty that actually work. I'm happy to distribute band-aids to my friends, but they need something more, something lasting.

Last night we went to a meeting that has me feeling like God's power is as big as He says it is.

I sat in the meeting thinking about all I've read about poverty, all I learned from my time working with him, but I never truly cared about it until I had real-life friends choked by its grip.

This? Rings true. It's all maddening and convoluted. How do we help? How should we help? Because at the end of the day, there they still are, often with small kids in tow. They have Pop Tarts and cable TV, but they can't get a job. There are huge gaps between what they have and what they need. They need a future. They need hope. Affirmation.

I can't tell you how many times I've driven home in near-despair, feeling certain that all of this is a waste of time. I couldn't walk away. Didn't want to. I just wanted a solution.

I may have found it in The Open Table and its founder, Jon Katov.
"The poor need our intellectual and social capital. Not our used blue jeans and giant cans of spaghettios." - Jon Katov
I mean, the guy's quirky. A little loose-cannonish. I love that. He started talking and I started frantically digging around in my bag for a scrap of paper to scrawl out his brilliance.

The Open Table model surrounds a person living in poverty with 10-12 people like you and me, people who will walk with him or her for an entire year, sharing the load, guiding her toward actual help, like a job and a budget, personal responsibility, a safe place to live.

I'm way, way intrigued.

But beyond that, tell me, why do we hesitate to go to the poor? Are we afraid that we'll be held responsible? After all, it can't be our burden if we don't even know who they are.

Man, if only that were true. So since it's already on us, we might as well get to know them, fall in love with them, see for ourselves how funny and bright they are.

They are the reward.


Monday, October 29, 2012

How to Hug a Girl



The first time I grabbed Robert and hugged him we were in our old kitchen and it felt super awkward. He clearly didn't know how to react and I wasn't even sure why I did it, except that I was mysteriously starting to love him like one of my own, and that's just how we roll. We hug our kids.

Not long after, I told him I loved him and he got a little twitchy. "Thanks but I never say that to anyone. Ever." Fine by me. But it wouldn't be the last time I said it or the last time he just smiled in return.

A couple years later, we talk through the staticky jail video phone. Sometimes we all look gray. Sometimes green. Sometimes we can't see anything at all and he defaults to banging the receiver against the cinder-block wall. (Wonder why those phones don't work?)

I search his eyes every time for what's there. Is he okay? Is he in good spirits? Discouraged? Tired? Is he getting enough to eat? Reading his Bible? Keeping his temper in check? Does he miss his boys? His girl? Does he miss us? Give me a smile, Robert. I need to see those teeth. We're right here. We're out here loving you every day, praying for you, every day, thinking about you all the time. We're waiting. Not ever leaving. God's got a plan. Please believe. Please believe. I'm scared for you, too. I'll be back soon. I love you I love you I love you and the screen goes black.

He says it back now, all the time. He writes it in on yellow legal paper alongside kid-drawn hearts and loopy smiley faces.

It took going to hell, but he let us love him and he let himself love us.

I wonder sometimes if we would have ever gotten to this place without all the mess and the heartache and the jail. 

I've never hugged my friend Becky. We've talked, laughed, we've texted 'til our fingers bled. We've argued. We've cried. We've raised our voices at each other.

We haven't hugged once.

When I'm feeling extra brave and the moment is prime, I might squeeze her arm, just below her elbow. Like trust, hugs have to be earned sometimes.

I'm fighting to figure out how to show this girl that I'm staying. I drive and pay and do what I can to shine up her self-image.

Then days like today happen. I get short with her and tell her she's wrong. I condemn her for cussing the lady out. It never helps, Becky. You're burning bridges. I sigh, feeling well within my right.

Hours later I realize that I would have done the same thing if I were her. If what I knew was what she knows, I'd have cussed her out, too.

I say I don't judge, then go ahead and do it anyway, only I don't call it judging. I call it a "reality check" or "the truth". Something smart and middle-class.

Over and over again I realize that while we're essentially the same, our life experiences are very different.  Over and over again I'm faced with the opportunity to see how far I haven't come.

I wave a white flag in 189 characters. I'm sorry.

She doesn't text back. She makes me wait when it gets like this and I can't say I blame her.

This is the shove and drag. This is real life, the fragile roots of tenuous friendship. This is the learning of love; the inching closer to that elusive hug.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Silver/Gold



We never stop being amazed by the way God gives us people, wherever we go. Today we turned this page once again, feeling loved and held together in the pew and on the monkey bars.

It felt indulgent to hope that our kids could be smitten with the neighbor kids like they were before.

Why do I doubt? Why?

When will I stop believe I'm telling God something He doesn't already know when I talk to Him about what we need?

Thy mystery of His love unravels another length and I'm left standing with my mouth hinged open over the way He holds us so well. Every one of us.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Little Flower



Like almost every girl I know, I'm prone to getting sucked into the vortex of "not enough" now and then, especially when it comes to parenting. I wake up tired and feel bad that I'm not a morning person. I pour cereal and feel bad that every day isn't waffle day. We run behind and don't have time to walk to school, so I drive. In my socks. Feeling bad that I'm the mom waving to the principal with bedhead.

My house gets cluttered. I'm lazy about the dishes and the floors. I don't enjoy playing pretend like I did thirty years ago. I don't struggle with cooking, I struggle with worrying that I spend too much time cooking.


I get frustrated at naptime, frustrated at homework time, frustrated at bedtime.


Then house falls quiet and I stew about every failure, vowing to do better, then failing again.


Across town lives my friend with four boys under the age of 4. All three of her baby daddies are incarcerated. She doesn't "live" anywhere, she just stays. (I've learned to phrase it that way, "Where does he stay? Who does she stay with? They all just stay.)


She doesn't drive, so they're just home, wherever home happens to be that week. They watch the big screen and no one sounds real happy about any of it, but she's keeping them fed, keeping them clothed.  


She doesn't work because she doesn't have a sitter, but she keeps forgetting this detail. She calls to tell me that so-and-so is hiring "really bad" and I want to take her to fill out the application, but what about those boys? There's no reliable help around her. We both know it.


She is the reason I can't stay home every day and tend to my own shorties. God made us belong to each other. Living worlds apart can't cut it anymore. I look at her and know that she really is everywhere, and so are her boys. "She", whoever she is, doesn't have a fraction of what I have, but she's charged with the very same tasks. She wakes up at odd intervals to mix bottles. She potty trains. She does what she can. It's so overwhelming that I'm tempted to let myself off the hook.


I'm not sure how she feels when the house is quiet, if she feels like she's not enough.  I suppose she's got bigger fish to fry. She's worried about her little brother who was just hauled off to jail. She knows it's getting colder and the gas still isn't on. She's worried about paternity, complicated paperwork, and the fact that most people treat her like trash.


Her way might look different, but she loves her children just you and I do. She tries in all the ways she was taught.


Still, their ground is shaky while mine is firm. I'll never understand a world that puts her there and me here. It isn't fair. It seems like I got lucky and she got screwed.


But in the mixed-up ways of Christ, maybe I've got it backwards. 


"Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all their achievements." - James 1:9-11
I have so much to learn.  

 

Friday, October 26, 2012

How A Family Goes Together (and a recipe)



I have some really good news about Going: It leaves plenty of room for lolling around, you just have to go looking for it, and you have to snap it up when you find it.

I used to think the best definition of Going was just "being present". You know, just keep my eyes open, keep my heart willing. Live my life as authentically as possible, with the understanding that God could always come along and mess up my plans.

Well, He messed them up. And now I see things a little differently. It requires more action than I used to think. Of course we wait on the Lord, but there's stuff to do while we wait. We don't need to pray over every little thing that comes our way. 9 times out of 10, we know what's right. (Hint: It's usually the thing we're trying to talk ourselves out of.)

I used to worry that my family might suffer for all of our new Going. Life is crazy enough around here. We're already spread thin. These are my people - the ones entrusted to me, sleeping in sheets that I washed, eating my vegetable soup. They come first.

And they do.

But I've learned that it's okay for my kids to spend a little too long driving around in the van, now and then. It's good for them, for all of us, when we squeeze another chair or two around the table. They're unfazed by going to the jail. They see nothing out of the ordinary about the tiny house so saturated with tar and nicotine that you can taste it in the air.

There's no choosing. We just stir everyone together.

And we still have days like today, spent kneading dough and glazing muffins, drinking Big K root beer and watching reruns of Muppet Babies and Inspector Gadget before bedtime.

Tomorrow, we'll eat breakfast extra-slow and hole up together, the same as we've always been, as simple and wild as we'll always be.

**

Make these tomorrow. Just make them, okay?

Pop Up Pancakes (originally found here)

1 cup milk
1 cup flour
6 eggs
1/4 cup melted butter
dash of salt

Mix all ingredients and divide among 2 muffin pans (24 muffins). (The batter level in each tin will be quite low.) Bake for 13-15 minutes at 400 degrees. Be sure to keep the oven light on because watching them puff up is high Saturday morning entertainment.

Top with fruit, syrup, and maybe a flurry of powdered sugar.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

New Church


From the very beginning, we've felt that God would call us to a new church once we moved. On one hand, we loved the idea of worshiping in our community. On the other hand, we'd been at our church for most of our married life. It was our home. We were connected and loved, we respected our pastors and felt excited about the direction of the church.

We tried to tell ourselves that maybe we needed to let church be the same for a while; maybe our kids would benefit from something staying certain. The drive wasn't that far.

But it was clear to us - this was a package deal. It didn't make sense to us to live in one place and worship in another. We want to serve our community alongside a church family. We want "people" - close-by people. We have done it before, but it's harder for us to live connected, in close community, when there are too many miles between us.

I dreaded the thought of church shopping. It didn't help that there are about eighteen thousand churches in Goshen. We aren't particularly committed to a particular denomination.  We don't really have friends living over here to make recommendations.

We started to think hard about what means the most to us in a church. Aside from sound, Biblical teaching, what do we value most? Are we looking for a large church with plenty of opportunities to get involved? Do we want a vibrant kids' program? Top-notch communicators? A certain style of worship? Lots of young families with kids?

From the start, we knew it was likely that we would be happiest in a smaller church with some traditional elements.

That's pretty much all we had.

A few weeks ago, on a whim, we visited the church just two blocks down. The building is old, but not old enough to be cool. The congregation was a sea of white curls. Worship was a keyboard and two ladies with microphones; one of the songs we sang was one I hadn't heard in over twenty years. The pastor was soft-spoken, unassuming, not hip at all; yet he shared truth with conviction and wisdom. He spoke about sharing the Good News with the neighborhood - our neighborhood.

I relaxed into the hard-backed pew, wishing I could read Cory's mind, trying to decode his thoughts through the pressure of his hand around mine.

Through the hymn, through the Lord's prayer, my heart beat steady - Little is Much. This humble church with its retirees and potluck suppers, it might be just what we need. It might need us back.

It didn't make sense on paper, but not much of our life does anymore.

So this is where we've landed.

(We've never felt younger.)

How did you know that you'd found your church home? Is there a particular thing that tops your list? I'm way intrigued.


Trade


Every chance they get these days, my kids are climbing trees. It hurts a little. I get caught between the thrill of seeing them do what kids do best and the pang of knowing we took away all their trees.

Dramatic, I know.

But man, I always wanted that life for them, bare-toed and dirty, memorizing the dips and ruts of the acreage, staying out 'til last light. I wanted them to have what I had. It was impossible to imagine anything different.

It's hard to reconcile my hazy hope with reality, because the truth is, they never climbed our old trees and they seem to be doing just fine in town.

We make our plans, you know? Sometimes, (usually?) we get them wrong.

I always thought a desire of my heart was reading under a shade tree while my kiddos roamed the land and waded in the ditches, when really, the desire of my heart was for my kids to know their worth and be Love.

Thank God those things are portable.

And thank God for friends with good climbing trees.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Ragamuffin Gospel and The Whole of Grace


I started reading The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning late last night and it is killing me. (Dad, I know you don't like it when I say something is killing me, but it is. So to speak.) I'm only two chapters in and find myself wanting to stew over it for hours and days.

How do we ever wrap our minds fully around the bigness of God's grace? I've come a long way in recent years, but my fingertips just brush the edges.

I'm the girl who was told the right thing and mostly toed the line. How does a girl like me accept that all He wants is me?

I'm the girl who was told the right thing and snapped my eyes shut to the truth, arrogant and foolish, blazing a trail of regret and pretending to believe that I'm too free a thinker to mess with following orders. How does a girl like me grasp that His fierce love trumps the rules?

"When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer."     - Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

Ten years ago I wasn't even close to understanding grace, because I didn't fully understand my moral poverty. I was still trapped in the lie that I was "pretty good". I was a Good Girl, so mired in trying that I eventually gave up and didn't even bother to worry about it. I was a Good Girl, derailed. I'm still her.

So, God sweeps in. He makes his crazy-mad Love known to me in a million different ways and rescues me from both my self-righteousness and my depravity.

"God not only loves me as I am, but also knows me as I am. Because of this I don't need to apply spiritual cosmetics to make myself presentable to Him. I can accept ownership of my poverty and powerlessness and neediness."     - Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

Without that salvation, without the big messes and all the grace, I might not see myself in Robert's eyes. I might not know for sure that Beth and I are mostly the same.

My knees go weak at the thought of everything I might have missed and all that waits, the years of surprise and pain and hard-won love.

It starts with Grace, so that's where I want to start. And end. I want to offer grace. I want to get better at accepting it.

I don't want to completely understand it - it dazzles me in its simplicity and wonder, part-mystery and wholly mine.

It can't be parsed or weighed, but it feels worthy of my daydreams; because everything I am, every place that I go, every failure and all the lost sleep is wrapped in grace and handed to me as a gift. That changes things.

"We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer...My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it." - Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

Monday, October 22, 2012

When Helping Seems Impossible


So, here's where I hit the wall. It happens every time and I'm actually surprised that it took 22 days. I feel like I'm up running on the wheel. I'm repeating myself. I might sound like I have answers when really I'm just fumbling around in the dark with a megaphone.

These new parts of my life are equal parts fulfilling and exasperating. All of those things I said are true. They were true today from the hours of 10-1. There's no where I would have rather been, but I left drained of words, emptied out, desperate for solutions that might work.

The person I used to be thought poverty was black and white. Get a job. Work harder. Buck the heck up already. What I thought was a straight line is actually a midnight corn maze with trap doors and really high stakes.

What do you say to the girl with no high school diploma, no driver's license, two felony convictions, four young children, no home, no skills, no tangible support? Do you tell her to go get a job? Do you really say it's that simple?

It's hard sometimes not to secretly give up just a little. I'm tempted to pretend to help, believing all the while that "help" doesn't live here. I'm tempted to set the bar really low. Maybe even kick it down and let it fall to the floor. Maybe then - maybe - we can say we found a shard of success.

But the real truth is, she was made for more than this. I'm not sure how to help her get there, but I can stay close until things start to make sense.

I don't know how to do this. The books help, but at the end of the day, they're not there with us in the van.

This system was set up to fail. It was never meant to fix anything. It doesn't know how to care. You and I? We were created to care. Maybe that's all we need to aim for.

Tonight, I'm full of questions, but I'm all right. This is every thing I am, this is my life. The stuff I've yammered about for 22 days straight never leaves my thoughts. It presses down and pushes me around. But it's not the only thing or even the main thing. There's so much more. My house is a happy mess. There's a painted tea-box-turned-ocean-liner drying on the counter. My eyelids have been seized by overzealous, misguided wrinkle cream. We're flipping between the debate and the Cardinals when what I really want is Mad Men. I'm tired and scattered. I'm thanking the high heavens that the kids went to bed tonight with minimal grievances.

Sammy Kershaw has topped my play list for the past few days and I think he just might hold part of the secret, the way he croons so smooth about the hard parts of life. I'm inspired to do the same, minus all the whiskey and bar-burning.

So, tomorrow they're calling for morning thunderstorms and afternoon sun. What could be better than that? I hope wherever you are, you get a little bit of both, too. Grab your rain boots and your shades. Let's rock this mixed-up world.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Who She Is


The first time he told me about her he said she was "mean". I couldn't meet her, because she wouldn't be nice. She was mean to everyone. It's just the way she is.

The first time I met her she looked at me just a little. She let me into her space and asked no questions, but the air in the room shifted and I caught it - the girl wasn't mean. She was wounded.

If you line her life up with mine, they might meet in the middle, but just barely. There's no overlap. It should never make sense that we're friends.

But we are anyway.

In just a few months, we've moved up her list and she's moved up ours. We help each other in different ways: I run her all around creation; she puts life into perspective for me and cracks me straight up.

We wedge ourselves into the tiny house for the party with all her confusing, mish-mashed family and somehow, despite the fact that it doesn't make an ounce of sense, it feels like a foregone conclusion. It seems like maybe this was the way life was always supposed to be lived.

We were meant to be family. We're so very different, yet here we are, huddled up together, looking for the very same things, finding some of them through each other.

Let me tell you, she's everywhere. She's at the CVS and in the pick-up line. She's giving you her change. She's pushing a stroller down the street. She's avoiding eye-contact, but if you come her way, she won't back up. She has few resources and a laundry list of grudges. Maybe she has a few tattoos and there's a good chance she's got smoker's breath. She has pain that rages down below sea level; she's got her reasons. She's been mistreated and abandoned by almost everyone. You can't even imagine, but just wait, she'll tell you all about it.

This girl? She can start to save you, if you let her. But you've got to go find her first.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

To Keep Us Going



I never stop being amazed by how this little railroad neighborhood has become home to us. There's something to knowing we're right where we're supposed to be. Our home is a place we want to be, a place that holds us close together. I always knew we'd be fine here, but I just couldn't have guessed that this would end up being a missing link, in many ways. Life is still pretty wonky, but I'm grateful for the way God brought us here and then immediately made this place ours.

The entire house is sleeping right now, plus smoochy-face Avery. I'm heading up soon, too. It just seems like the right thing to do.

But I'll leave you with two blog posts that hit me right in the gut. So, so good.

So Long Self Check Out 

Raise Them in the 'Hood

Nighty-O, People. You're all my favorite.

xo
FPFG

Friday, October 19, 2012

I Skipped J Crew And Lived to Tell


So, we sold our farmhouse.

Haha! I'm cracking myself up here. Who's sick of me talking about selling the dang farm?? (raises both hands) Well, I'm sorry. I really am. The problem is, that's sort of the best starting point for all of this. The "inciting incident", if you will.

As you are all painfully aware, we sold for two main reasons.
1) We had more than we needed and believed that there were bigger things we could do with our $ than pay a mortgage.
2) We felt called out of our hide-away.

Things got confusing for a while, when we had to spend so much time stressing over details for a brand new house. (That was never in our plan. N to the E to the VER.)

But now we're settled in. We're happy as a bowlful of clams in our little home with the ridiculously lower mortgage.

The first week here, we cozied right up to Dave (I told you we were still friends - mostly) and reorganized our finances on the iconic monthly budget spreadsheet. We made new commitments and we made them quickly, because I knew that if we waited, we would learn to love our freed-up cash. And not in the good way.

So, now we can do more with what we have, support people and ministries we believe in, help others Go. From the start, it felt really right.

But I'll be honest, a month in? It's cramping my style a tiny bit.

I will now say the brattiest thing I've ever said out loud: For most of my adult life, I have been able to pretty much have the stuff I wanted. I never wanted anything too big or flashy. But I'm finding that I'm woefully out of practice when it comes to telling myself no.

I whine sometimes. I want to go to shopping, man.

I keep defaulting to that shiny place where there's always extra, always enough. An impromptu road trip to Ikea? Sign me up. Old Navy is 40% off store-wide? Let me grab my keys. A new antiques store? Screeeeeeeeeech!

The savings account was plump and rosy-cheeked. Our old beaters with their constant ailments were but a fleeting annoyance. Even when we started to consciously simplify a few years ago, we always knew there was some level of safety net.

Things are different now.

So while I knew all along that our choices were sort of backwards and strange, it's a whole 'nother thing to live them. It's harder than I would have hoped, to process living more sacrificially. It hurts to confront my gimmes.

We just got back from a few days in Ohio and I didn't make the short haul down I-75 to the J Crew Outlet. Why? Because window shopping through their glass = torture to me.

I did do some thrifting, though. I found a winter coat for Calvin for $3.49 and two dresses for Ruby for next Spring for $1.99 each. I ask myself, why just one year ago did I think $20 for a coat was a steal? Why did I ever pay $14.99 for a little girl's sundress?

I'm reminded all over again that we really can live with less.

I'm not shutting down the commercial machine, here. As sure as I'm shuffling around in high-water pajama pants, I'll live to see another frivolous retail cardi. But for now, we keep leaning into the change. Seeing it all here in print makes my face feel a little hot. I'll have to find a new hobby, I guess. Big whoop.

It's push and pull, the feeling of wanting something I don't really need then finding myself still alive and kicking after I say No.

I'm not gonna lie, I hope I get better at it.

I'll keep you posted.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Things That Never Change When You Go


It was one of those days where the air feels so right, falling so lightly that you forget it's even there, that it's even necessary. The sky streaked over us, blue; sun filtering down through walnut leaves, warming everything with an extra shot of gold. 

I never notice walnut leaves until they turn. Each October, they surprise like it's the very first time.

Calvin raced his scooter down the hill, Ruby hung upside down from the monkey bars, Silas played in the dirt.

I kept an eye on them and an ear to the middle schoolers causing a ruckus over by the swings, hurling walnuts while they laughed. 

I walked in small circles, my eyes to the ground. When the gold was just right, I'd stoop and grab it up, a little family of the happiest yellow.

She moved in slowly. I let her pretend that she was being nonchalant. 

"What are you doing with those?"

"Picking some to take home."

"Why?"

"Because they're beautiful! Aren't they?"

"I don't know. What are you gonna do with them?"

"Put them in a vase."

"Why?"

"Because they make me happy."

Her eyebrows stitched together. She thought I was crazy, but she couldn't walk away.

She lingered, getting braver by the minute, asking a lot but offering just a little. 

The sun tilted, my kids argued. It was time to go. 

We said goodbye and walked across the street to our home, the one we've been waiting for, the one that I thought might change me forever with its crumbled sidewalks and cussing teenagers.

I used to wonder how I would survive the loss of my acreage, my rad barn, my picket fences, the vegetable garden, flower patches, my own forest of shade trees. My soul learned to breathe on that farm, every season waking me up to something new. 

I wasn't convinced there'd be enough pretty in the city.

I plunked my fistful of leaves into a bottle and hoped that the girl at the park saw something new. Maybe it was crazy, or maybe beauty really was all around. Maybe you could bend low for it and carry it with you home.

**

PS - This post? I loved every little thing about it. 
"we should use our strength to bloom in any season."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Why We Public School


I think I've mentioned that Cory and I were particularly sickening in our early days of dating. We were smitten. We couldn't even help it. We never fought, we always held hands, I once famously told his mom that his breath never smelled bad.

But the rainbows faded and the unicorns lost their charm one dark night around March, 1998. I was in Ohio, he was Indiana, both of us held a phone to our ear. It was on this unholy day that he dropped a bomb: He wanted me to homeschool our future children.

I wigged.

I cried.

I didn't want to, couldn't possibly. I would. not. do it.

In the span of one long distance phone call (not free, I might add), our armor was officially chinked.

Of course we survived.

Well, we survived in the short-term, then called our wedding off with two weeks to go, then took turns crying our eyes out for the next six months, then got married in six more months.

We survived.

The home school question was tabled for seven years, only to emerge with the arrival of our first child. It was back on the radar and my mind hadn't changed. I had no interest.

But...I was also sort of intrigued. For one thing, it seemed like lots of the best Moms did it.

I liked the theoretical idea of teaching my children myself. (I was pretty sure I could get on board with the practical applications.) I trust me. I know me. I dreamed about classic literature and Erlenmeyer flasks. I imagined art gallery day-trips and world history, alive and breathing. I suspected that my kids would be the super smartest. (I denied the very existence of math. It was my dream world and I made the rules.)

I knew lots of kids who were homeschooled. Fine, I knew a few. But they were all intelligent, charming, and witty.  (None of them wore jumpers, fyi.)

I asked around, read some blogs, toyed with the thought.

My children grew. As they became more and more like little humans, tiny fears sprang up around me, nipping at my ankles. There was probably no way in heck that I could send my babies off to public school at the practically-infant age of 5 or 6. They would learn naughty things on the school bus and their text books would tell them bold-faced lies. I fell deeply in love with the idea of keeping them far, far away from all things bad.

A strange thing started happening though, when homeschoolers began saying things to me like, "Oh, I wouldn't homeschool if I lived in your district." Or, "They'll be fine since they're in the ____ school system."

So I tabled the issue again, basking in the perks of living in "the best" school system around. It was a massive relief, since I really, truly never wanted to take that plunge.

A year or so later, we put our house on the market and I told God I would do it, but I wasn't switching schools.

But He made it clear that we would be switching schools, so I slowly, hesitantly started getting on board.

Before we knew what was happening, our life and our hearts and large chunks of our soul turned inside out. Everything changed. We rubbed our eyes and saw it clearly - we had a calling to Go. Like, really. Go. Put shoes on, go where hurting people are, be their friends. It was the Mother of all epiphanies.

Suddenly, the very thought of homeschooling no longer made sense to us. I still liked it in the sense that I loathed reading logs and tabulating minutes and signing forms and remembering (or forgetting) that Wednesday was show-and-tell. But it no longer made sense that we would be called into the heart of the world around us but keep our kids at home.

The life we had lived up to that point started pinching our toes. We'd grown weary of a Christian culture that kept to itself and feared the lost. We wanted the heck out. We wanted out because God had called us out, and if He called two of us, He called all five of us. There was no minimum height requirement for his purpose.

Let me make it very clear that this is our heart and what God has spoken to us. We have many friends who homeschool with great success and enthusiasm; friends I trust deeply and without reservation. Friends I respect and love. They homeschool for all kinds of reasons and what's best for them and their families is unique to them and God's plan for them. I trust that the Creator of the chihuahua and the chimp can be Lord of both the PTO and the CHA.

Of course doubts wormed in. People warned us about gangs, drug dealers, low test scores, and teachers who might not love Jesus. They worried that we were throwing our kids to the wolves, so every now and then, I heard a quiet howling.

But beautiful things started to happen once we were settled in. We discovered that we had inadvertently landed in the school with the highest poverty level in the area. The former (now retired) principal talked to us about what it means to be in a high poverty school. Here's a sampling: 1) No one cares what kind of shoes your kids wear because many of them have never owned a new pair of shoes. 2) Everyone eats for free, because 96% qualify. 3) Homework is handled differently, because most kids are from lower-class working families with little time to assist in the evenings. 4) The majority of kids do not speak English as their first language, and most of their parents speak very little English at all.

“You know, for these students, I just think wow, what a wonderful place to be at, where you can get to know each other just as people. That’s the situation here. They get to know each other for who they are, and not the color of their skin or where they come from. After that, they can go anywhere in the world and be comfortable, and I just think that’s such an important thing.”  - Don Jantzi, former Principal, as quoted in Goshen News

Mr. Jantzi told us how lucky our kids were to be there. We believed him from the start.

Does this plan require more prayer or faith on our behalf? Well, no. It seems like it might, but it doesn't, really. We just have to trust in different ways. The God who holds us holds them, too. He holds them when they're two blocks down the street, eating lunch for free and picking up Spanish on the side. He holds them while Siley and I are doing jail duty or sharing McNuggets with the girl with the tattooed neck and her four little boys.

He holds them now like He's always held them before. We just have to believe it.

If I have learned one thing over the recent years, it's that God is a mover and shaker. I'm not committing to forever here. I won't draw a hard line. I'm not saying our way is the only way or even the best way.

I'm saying that for us, it feels really safe to get a little risky.

And I'm saying it because many of you have assumed that I'm a homeschooler. (Dude, if you saw me helping with homework? You totally wouldn't have to ask.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Heavy Influencers** - Going Edition


Just a song won't heal a bleeding wound
Church wake up, you're sleeping in an empty tomb
Church arise!
Arise and shine, shake yourself from the dust
God is calling us to Go
-Leeland While We Sing    
 Back in the drears of January, I felt a certain pull to spend more time reading. I assumed it was just because I missed sticking my nose in a good book, but it turns out, God had a whole lot of things to say to me.

I've talked here and there about most of these books/resources, but it makes sense to consolidate them here, as part of 31 Days of Going.

These are the voices that reeled me in and made me believe harder. They kept me company when it seemed like no one around "got" us. They challenged me to get the flipping lead out and move.

So, if you're feeling your pulse quicken a little, if life is throwing you curve-balls and you know things are about to get crazy up in here, if you ache for a broad stroke of wild in your life, pull up a chair. And bring a highlighter.

I will now attempt to list them in chronological order, because that's just one more kind of crazy that I am. (Click each link for more information or to buy. I linked to old-school formats, but all are available in the newfangled formats as well.)

Brave -Nichole Nordeman (the sound track of my life)
Radical - David Platt
Crazy Love - Francis Chan
The Gutter - Craig Gross
Kisses From Katie - Katie Davis
Leeland -  The Great Awakening
The Irresistible Revolution -Shane Claiborne
Sacrilege - Hugh Halter
The Barefoot Church - Brandon Hatmaker
Anything - Jennie Allen
Interrupted - Jen Hatmaker

Honorable Mention:
A Framework for Understanding Poverty - Ruby K. Payne
When Helping Hurts - Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert
Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage - Kathryn Edin, Maria J. Kefalas (One of the most fascinating books I've ever read.) 

Blog Edition:
Sit a Spell
Seventy Piggies
The Stanley Clan
Amy Sullivan
Natotela Africa (my baby sis)

Lifetime Achievement Award:
Bible - New Living Translation


* Most links are Amazon Affiliate links
** I borrow the phrase "heavy influencers" from my pretend BFF, the zany, whip-smart Jen Hatmaker (see above). I'm sure she won't mind.

Monday, October 15, 2012

When Going Almost Breaks Us - An Adoption Story


Silas likes to pretend to be a baby sometimes. His brother always liked it, too. I know this is normal toddler behavior, but I've always suspected that for the two of them, it's more than that.

You couldn't have convinced me, before all of these brown babies came into my life, that a tiny baby could really know what he missed. But there was the time Calvin was 9 months old and the cartoon cut to kids in Korea, a whole schoolyard of them laughing and playing. He froze. Then he bawled his eyes out. He knew. I swept him up and our hearts broke together, for two different reasons. That's when my mind changed. That's when I knew for sure that the heart knows what it wants. That's when adoption became more than my path to a family.

Then there's his little brother, the one who changed everything we knew all over again, the one who pushes back at life, all wiry limbs and almond eyes bigger than forever.

He's four now, and he's got some things to say. He tells us he loves us all the time. He calls everyone "Mrs. Doohiggy" and laughs like he invented four-year old humor. He talks trash. He gives me permission to do stuff all dang day because he has a monstrous Boss complex. "Oh sure, you can put those dishes away." "Yes, you may check your email." "Okay, you can make some lunch!"

A few weeks ago he curled up on my lap like a monkey baby and lapsed into that really safe baby world, his wide eyes wider, the weight of his body a gift in my hands. I'll play baby with him anytime.

This time, the baby started talking.

S: I was born in my Kria (Korea).
Me: Yes, you were.
S: You get me there wis Daddy. We go up in the airplane.
Me: Yep. Did you like the airplane?
S: No. I cried.
Me: Why did you cry?
S: Because I was sad.
Me: Why were you sad? (super curious at this point)
S: Because I didn't want that mommy.
Me: You didn't want what mommy?
S: (points to me) That one.
Me: What mommy did you want?
S: Foster mommy.

He wasn't sad when he said it. He was just telling the truth. I kissed his neck and sniffed his head and the baby was gone. He smiled and raced off to the toyroom, Charles wedged under one arm.

We have talked to him about Korea. We've talked about foster mommy. We've talked about the airplane and that he cried on it. We have never, ever, talked about why he cried on the plane. We've never come close to talking about how desperate he was for the life he knew, or how his world ended for a while when we showed up.

We knew his heart was broken. We know it's mapped with scars. We did not know his little-kid brain was capable of remembering a feeling that showed up 3 years back.

This might be one more way that healing comes down, to him and to us. God never wastes pain.

But I talk about Going and all the ways it can weigh us down, make us jittery or sad, and none of it will ever come close to the kind of Going that buttons your coat, ties your shoes, and sends you across an ocean, or a river.

The amount of collective faith required in adoption sends me staggering, and most of it isn't even mine.

They would never have chosen this. But there was so much more to the story than what they could see. So they came and let us love them and sooner or later, they loved us back. They chose us back.

Maybe it's in the brown eyes looking up at me every day that I find this urge to reach up and grab onto something Brave. Because despite all the ways they have lost, my babies will understand how God redeems. Their worldview and the scope of their belief will leave mine in the dust. They'll never think for a second that the neighbors they should love share their language, their skin-tone, the same hunk of dirt.

For them, it will be rooted in their soul: a good thing isn't always an easy thing. Sometimes, just what we need, that one thing that will define us, hold us, carry us into the all the rest, is born from a heart wide-split and questions that won't be answered.

If they and all the others like them can Go, so can we.

In Wait


This Sunday was every single thing that I needed, from church by impromptu candlelight to lunchtime chimichangas, to a three hour nap (oh yes I did), to a walk to the park.

I closed down the day with an already-dear friend, she under the ugly blue blanket, me under the thrift-store granny squares. We sipped tea and talked life and books and how waiting is so much harder than going, sometimes. Because for one thing, waiting just hurts our human-ness. It puts a limp in our move-maker. It feels slow and weak. Misunderstood and sometimes silly.

And that's not even the hardest part. The hardest part is knowing what we know - that there's a reason for the streched-out stretch out. What waits on the other side? Will we possibly be ready?

I thought my post tonight would be a doozy; long and involved, the kind that bangs around for months before I'm ready to give it shape on the page, the kind that makes me nervous.

But it's late and I'm tired.

Going big got bumped for real life, the quiet kind, the one happening right this moment.

Tonight, the most important Going meant staying mostly still and giggling like hyenas.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

My Wish for You

My friend Amy.

I made it home. Be honest, you were worried about me after I wrote this yesterday.

I promise, I'm okay. I get nervous sometimes to say that I get nervous or shy because it somehow wigs people out a little bit. I don't say those things very often. So then when I do say them? Wiggy.

This is what we call a vicious cycle. Or maybe a Catch-22. Whatev.

Now you know, I get nervous and shy sometimes. I'm a regular girl. That's all. A very sketchy part of me likes feeling all out of sorts. It brings different junk up to my surface, junk that probably needs a little attention.

But here's the other part of my time away: I got to hang out with some really rad people.


I also slept stretched out on a King size bed. And who was upgraded to the 11th floor suite? This girl. (Not only that, it was the handicap-accessible suite. The bathroom vanity hit me right at mid-thigh and that's no joking matter.) I ate many desserts. I wore actual outfits.

I learned a lot about bloggy things, like branding. This incredibly savvy and cool lady made me think long and hard about what I really want my blog to say for me. I thought about it for most of the 5 hour drive home. And I'm not even close to done.

One of the things she said was, "What emotion do you want your readers to feel?" (Loved that Q.)

My answer? Easy.

I want you to feel Brave. Capital B.

Not arrogant or braggy or self-involved. Not "Hear me roar!". Just regular ol' vulnerable, earth-moving, soul-shaking Brave. Brave in Christ. Brave in purpose. Brave like, who the heck cares if no one gets me.

I don't think all of that can be contained in a logo, but maybe I'm wrong. It's too soon to say.

Just know that I love you Brave.

Also, let's pretend this fits somewhere into my 31 Days theme even thought it clearly doesn't.

Oh, wait... Go be Brave!

There.

haha

Friday, October 12, 2012

Step Into the Small


I send an SOS text to Cory, "I feel shy and weird here", because it's true, I do.

This conference stuff, it weirds me out a little. It sets me off-kilter. I don't like fighting for space in a conversation. I don't want to work the room. I don't know the language. My phone isn't even smart.

I really like talking with you, lovelies. I like thinking in print. That's pretty much the sum total of all I know about this blogging gig.

But there's a purpose in being cast out from where I'm so easy in my skin. There's beauty in balancing my universe a little; of feeling the lightness of anonymity and the power of listening instead of talking. 

Through all of the recent change, all of the going, all of the shifting around of my insides, I feel a sure push away from comfortable and into the unknown. I can't shake the feeling that God likes me uneasy in my boots. He holds me tighter when my knees get wobbly.

Everything about Him tells me less is more, but can I really trust that?

Can you?

Can we trust that in our smallness He's made greater? Can we comprehend that He picks us because and not in spite of it? Can we believe that in these feelings of great dorkiness we will find ourselves in Him?

I'm ready to rest in the magnitude of small.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hear Them


Today I'll drive 3 hours South to Influence and Cory will have one of the busiest days of his career. All day today and until 9 a.m. tomorrow, he'll be running a phone-a-thon for The Crossing Educational Center at a local radio station.

Throughout the day, students will be live on-air, sharing their heartbreak along with their redemption. You can't imagine how some of the teenagers in your community - wherever that might be - are living right now.

I'd love it if you would tune in and hear their hearts. Anyone from anywhere can listen via the website. So cheer them on from all those miles away. Pray for them. If you hear that whisper, sponsor one and help provide for them a chance that they believed was long-gone. Write them cards with stickers on the envelopes. (They try to act like they're too big for that stuff, but we all know better.)

Listen to them. And know that these kids are everywhere. They're waiting just outside your door.

Please go find them.
  
Crossing Vision: Transforming lives through education by focusing on the heart and mind.

Crossing Mission:  Helping struggling individuals become transformed, fulfilled and contributing members of society through faith-based education and caring relationships.
Phone-A-Thon hotline: 888-737-4273

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Where it Really Started


I believe that God puts people in all our lives that He wants us to be in relationship with. He wants more than our casserole or our free babysitting. He wants us to fall in love with them.

Fortunately for all of us, the path to falling in love is often paved with the ordinary. For us, it was plain white rice with soy sauce and Ramen noodles. Birthday dinners and work boots. It was an empty bed in our big house. A ride to school. An enthusiastic cheering section for backyard acrobatics.

There were things these kids needed and, wouldn't you know it, we were able to help. But love seeps past the edges of the tangible things that bring us together. It filters through them. It's what our hands are left holding when the meal is over and the lights are out.

Our two big kids are both 18 now. They say they're grown. But just like my Mama probably didn't believe it of me, I refuse to believe it of them. They're still babies. They need things. There's a heap of stuff they still don't understand. They walk through life and it's all up-hill, often by choice.

Remembering back to the days I met them, I couldn't have imagined what would come next. I never dreamed that I'd still be cooking them food and kissing their babies' cheeks.

I had no idea that I would fall in love with them and call them my own. I was just having them over for dinner back then. No big deal.

Here's the thing: When I say God brought them into our life, it did require a little of our own movement. He wasn't blindingly obvious. We had plenty of outs and we had people reminding us that we were free to skip it.

God just nudged us over that way a little. He didn't push. We didn't receive "A Word From The Lord". Cory had started working at a school filled with teenagers who needed some people in their corner, so we took one out to dinner and invited another one in.

At the time, we were waiting for our house to sell, waiting to find out where we would move, waiting to see what our real ministry would be. We could have called it a season of rest, but we just weren't in the mood to rest and it seemed like there might be a better use of our time. So we actively pursued some people. We tracked them down and rested when we could.

And yes, of course it was all God. He was the one worming into our heads. It could only have been Him whispering for us to go there. But we never had that clear sign. So we made a choice to act in a way that we knew He would not find fault. We did the doing and trusted that He would keep being his same bad, sovereign self through whatever happened next.

The irony is that now, here we are, in our new community, and these big kids are what keep us busiest. These big kids that we thought were sort of there to keep us occupied until the main thing happened ended up being the main thing.

So I wonder what life would look like now if we had just stayed quiet and waited for what God was shouting about. What if we had opted out of His tiny whisper? How many times have we sat waiting, and what (who) do we lack now as a result?

I should know by now that Jesus is the King Supreme of backwards.

I should know that His faintest whisper sometimes brings the loudest change.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Out There


Our discussion has been on my mind all the livelong day.

Thank you so much for thoughtfully, honestly weighing in. Thanks for holding a frame up to so much of what's in my heart.

Here's where I've landed: Going is sacrifice. It's surrender. Beyond that, it's anything He wants it to be.

When we go, we are letting go of our plan, our idea, our money, or our time. We're pulled from comfort into the unknown.

Today I talked with a friend who moved from the city to the country. I talked with a friend who began leading a small group of girls from her church. I talked with a friend who adopted a child.

They're all going.

Going hinges on faith. Faith grows when we find ourselves exposed and see that we're covered. Exposure comes from putting ourselves out there (and there's no such thing as small exposure.)

Last year I was hunkered down in our rental house, waiting. I didn't understand the quiet. I didn't want it. Like many of you mentioned, God was busy making room in my heart for this season. Going meant searching and learning. I read a ton of books and had dreams and nightmares about what might happen next.

But there had to be more. Not because I felt guilty. Not because I wanted some good works to brag about.


I hear you loud and clear about waiting and tides and seasons and all of that. I'm right there with you. What I can't see past is that we're commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. We're commanded to care for the poor, the orphans, the widows, the hungry, the lonely, the sick, the sad.

So maybe our season is a quiet one, but our hearts should be His, and He didn't live with the shades drawn, brewing tea for one in his pajama pants. He never checked out of the world around Him. He didn't take a sabbatical from people.

I can't even imagine what it would look like to love other people as much as I love myself, my husband, my littles. I'm no good at it. I'm not.

Left to my own devices, I'd pick up a blanket and a book and call it a day.

Left to my own devices, I'd budget our money and keep as much for myself as possible. I would schedule my time around me and my little family and call it "putting them first", even though that's not what was asked of me.

Left to my own devices, I wouldn't bother myself with complicated tragedies like 3rd world hunger or 10 year-olds abandoned by their Mamas because it's the only possible hope for survival.

I hope you already knew this, but my instincts about how to live life are often not biblical or noble or anything other than selfish.

The nagging burn for surrender grows. I fight it. And fight it.

God proves more tenacious than I, and slow as molasses, He shows me glimpses of the world He sees. He compels me to care more about them, about you, about anyone other than myself.

Of course He wants rest for me. He wants joy for me. I daresay He wants salsa for me. But He also wants me to know the beauty of redemption and the simple relief of carrying something around other than myself. That's how much He loves me.

So when I'm in a fleeting season of peace, I'd better find someone to love. Because the world is bleeding for just a little of what I've got. A little of what you've got.

We have to take it out there.



Monday, October 8, 2012

You Tell Me

One of the places my family has gone over the past year is to a small group. It's a mix of people from different churches (of which we all still attend). Some we knew going in, some we have gotten to know. On Monday evenings we come together with all our wild kids and eat really well. The kids are then blessedly whisked off with a sitter and we circle up. We are a bunch of slam-dunk cooks (thank you, Pinterest!), but the circle is the real reason we go.

It's no accident that right now we're knee deep in Acts.  It's getting crazy up in there. People are being stricken by flesh-eating worms, angels are punching prisoners in the ribs, Saul is being Paul...

We come together flawed and ordinary, with past experiences that try to taint our truth. We don't see eye-to-eye on everything. Let me say that again: We don't see eye-to-eye on everything.


[Unflattering photo alert! This is me clearly putting the smack-down on Cory over a "minor" disagreement.] 

But we feel God moving among us, funneling us into some type of a mysterious shared purpose. The suspense is almost killing us.

But in the meantime, we wrestle (figuratively), read (literally), and chew (both). We cheer one another on. It's an amazing thing. I won't call it a "house church" because 1) it's not in a house and 2) I've said in the past that house churches are weird.

But as with everything else, the joke is on me. Because these people have become my family and house or not, isn't that what church is?

Tonight we were privileged to pray for our brother Jon, leaving for Nepal and India later this week with Tiny Hands International. He's doing the Big G Going and I can't wait to hear all about the way God moves and THI continues in their mission to rescue victims of human trafficking. 

Here's one thing we got stuck on for a while: Does God ever have us exactly, precisely where He needs us? Or is there always more Going to be done? (Remember, Going as I use it does not always refer to physically going to a different location.)

Of course, presumably, wherever we happen to be right now is somewhere God sent us. But is that ever the end, even temporarily? Does God look at someone and say, "Hey, you! In the strange stripes-with-plaid combo! You're good for a while. Huddle up with your family and stay inside. Keep doing what you're doing and I'll let you know if I ever need you to be concerned with something else." ??

I think I've already made it fairly clear where I fall on this discussion right now, but God continues to grow me up and show me that I'm wrong more often than I'm right (except for with regards to the discussion happening up there in the photo) I'd love to hear your thoughts. Are we ever "there", or is there always somewhere else we need to "go"?

Discuss.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

One Hazard of Going


 Going can make you really tired, man. It's the actual miles and the hours, but it's more than that. It's things you can't reach out and touch, things that twist up your thoughts and scatter your sleep.

Cory and I talk about this more and more. It has become a real challenge to find balance and I'm left wondering if "balance" even exists in this world. Some nights all I want to do is cozy up on the couch and read something mindless, but then I remember that it's my turn to write back and I do that instead.

I could use a night out with my husband, a night out with my girls, a night where I sleep for many hours in a row. But we're regular people with jobs and children and this stacked on top of a tower that was already pretty tall. It would feel really weird to skip a jail visit for a quiet hour in an antique store. It's not a decision made begrudgingly. It's where our hearts live now.

But I can feel life squeezing in a little tighter. I feel myself stretching thinner. This road is fulfilling and brings so much joy. But good grief, it makes me sluggish.

It would be nice to hope that their lives would settle down a bit, so mine could follow suit. But that's not happening any time soon and even if it did, there's someone else waiting in the wings.

My soul-sister Becca stole the words right out of my mouth:

"...there is also the undeniable fact that in our type of ministry there are a lot of crises. A lot. And every need seems urgent. He is going to jail. She is fourteen and pregnant and has nowhere to go. Their electricity is off. He is suspended again. They are hungry because there is no food at home. Poverty leaves little margin, and we try to stand in the gap for them. But we need to figure out how to create more sustainable solutions, how to love our neighbor without destroying ourselves." - Becca Stanley

That's something I'm working on right now, loving them without destroying me. Or us. 

I understand the simple truth of "you have to take care of yourself in order to take care of others", but I have used that as my ticket to sitting on my duff in the past and I'm just pretty over that mentality now. I trust that there's a solution and that maybe the solution is for me to continue to allow my soul to grow. Maybe there's still just too much Me fighting for its place in a life that was never supposed to belong to mine. (Matthew 10:39)

I guess I don't have an easy answer tonight. This stuff is simple, but it's really kind of complicated, at least at the beginning.

So we sort it out while we go and fight for some of that elusive margin on the way.


{If you're feeling anything like me, check out Becca's 31 Days series on Margin. I've got high hopes that she'll figure this out for all of us! ha. She's a beautiful writer and a dreamy photographer and she might understand about Robert more than anyone else next to Cory.}


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Urban American Poverty


We can talk about going here or going there and it's true, we need to go. We need to go to actual places with real zip codes. We need to cross the threshold then the street and stand in the middle of somewhere entirely different than where we sit right now.

But places don't need love or hope or a box of granola bars. People do.

One of the places we have found ourselves going is straight into the heart of Midwestern Urban America poverty. It's not the kind with distended tummies and unclean drinking water. It's the kind with black market food stamps and liters of flat drugstore cola. They live life differently than I do. They talk differently, think differently, dress differently, smell differently. It has nothing to do with race. It has only to do with all they've ever known; crippling poverty of money, of resources, of hope. There's a fundamental belief that this is it. It won't ever get better, it can't. So don't bother thinking it might and don't be stupid enough to waste your time trying.

Two years ago a boy came along and he seemed like an isolated thing in our life. We bought him work boots and sent him home with Tupperware bowls of soup. We helped him write out a budget and the most important line item was his smokes.

It was all jacked up. But he was young and it was all he had ever known. It didn't seem quite like the end of the world.

The chain reacted and now there are more. They're almost everywhere and they live in a way that I used to judge. It seemed so dang simple - get a job already.

I thought I had their solution without knowing one single thing about them or their culture or the issues they face. What embarrasses me even more is that I didn't see that as a problem. It never mattered enough to dig deeper, so I didn't bother picking up the shovel.

Now we're here and they're a real part of our life. We see them several times a week, talk to them every day. I'm learning as I go and I'm sure I'll have plenty to share in the coming days (contain your zeal) but here's the main thing for today: I never thought I could go there. I assumed they wouldn't want me. I didn't know how I'd ever act around them and I knew I didn't speak their language. I worried about what they would think of me. I was scared to death that they would see me as someone coming to fix them or point out their badness.

What I never considered was that I would start to love them. And maybe, they would start to kinda love me back a little, in their own strange way.

Love has a way of blending people. It stirs us together. It makes us notice each other's awesomeness, and suddenly, she makes me laugh without warning and she sends me a text that has me tearing up over the way she frets about me.

Some nights, I want to be unmixed. Some days, I think they're crazy and they might thing I'm mean.

It's those days when I know for sure that it's going to be alright.

I know that now, we're family.



Friday, October 5, 2012

Jailbird


The officer behind the desk today is the friendly guy. (There's only one.) It's as good a sign as you can hope for at jail. He asks Silas about Charles and laughs over my ancient Old Navy flats with their secret metal arch supports as he runs them through the machine again.

I pick up the receiver and there she is, her face as lovely as ever. She's there in her "reds" since she's a model citizen, so she stands in front of the video camera, twirls. Her cheeks flush as she tells me about her extra privileges; her, shining red in a wide sea of beige.

She swears like a sailor then says she went to a prayer meeting last night. The church ladies put their hands on her forehead and prayed for her headache. It didn't go away.

I hardly know this girl.

Her letters land in my box, tiny hearts floating above the "i"s and "j"s. We've mutually concluded that it must have been God who led me to her front stoop just 10 days before her world stopped turning.

I'd walked out that night excited about everything I saw in her in the small span of 30 minutes. It was enough. I gave her my number as I walked out the door. I watched her punch it in knowing she'd probably never call me.

We had no idea what was coming.

So here I am, her only friend. Her only visitor in almost two months. I'm the only return address and the only cash on her books for envelopes and a sports bra. She's got no one who can help. No one else sitting on the other side of the monitor.

Here's the understatement of the century: I never thought I'd see the inside of a jail.

My only frame of reference was some kind of ridiculous 1980's movie. Or maybe Shawshank Redemption. I saw myself walking down a cinder-block hall, tattooed men reaching through the bars, howling, leering. Spitting? Maybe.

Uh yeah, I watched too much TV in my younger years. (Also, single toothpicks are not whittled down from a giant oak tree, as Woody the Woodpecker would have me believe. You're welcome.)

So jail isn't what I imagined. It's just a big room full of telephones with screens. There's also a bank of vending machines that turn my smallest child into a frothing maniac. 

It's not as scary as I imagined. But it's every bit as lonely. It's maxed out with hurting people; kids without Dad or Mommy, women scrapping for less than what they deserve, men with tattooed necks whose blue eyes cast darkness like a line.

I hurt for my friends living on the inside. I miss 'em. Every week, they send me back out to the world with a smile and I'm so thankful, all the time, every day, that God gave them to me.

It seems futile to try to fix their kind of problems, so I just tell her she's smart and beautiful. I tell him that the God who made the world and him can handle a plea deal. I talk in the present tense and nudge them to dream a little about what comes next.

It never feels like enough.

It always feels a little unfair that they fill me up while I'm there.

It's exhausting and I fight the lie that I don't have time.

Because the truth is, none of it is haphazard. I fell into them for a reason.

So I go.



Thursday, October 4, 2012

31 Days: Going Doesn't Mean What You Think


I used to assume that Going meant being a missionary, and everyone knows, true missionaries live in Sierra Leone or Papa New Guinea.

But God poured His sweet mercy out on this feeble soul, making me a girl who mostly loathed camping. Hallelujah. He wouldn't send a non-camper off to the Mission Field.

I started to read a bunch of verses about Going, and being sent. It made me sweaty. It seemed like the words were for everyone, not just Paul or the Disciples or my sister.

Here's the thing, I like it when I ask my kids to do something and they do it. It's a window into their little soul. I like that they trust my authority and understand (even if they don't appreciate) that I'm the boss of them. They believe in the deep that I want the very best for them, and that I know how to help them get there.

I don't ask them to do something crazy as a test, then yell "cut!" at the last possible second. There are real reasons behind my asking. There's a plan in place and they probably had no hand in its design.

So sometimes Going means traveling. It might mean moving to the other side of the tracks.

But maybe it means taking lasagna in a tin-foil pan to the guy across the street. Maybe it's making friends with the girl who's as mean as a snake. Maybe it's the PTO. Maybe it's an idea so hair-brained that you hesitate to say it out loud.

Maybe it's art. A child you didn't grow. A pay cut. Heck, maybe it's a raise.

The Going seems to know no limits, because the architect of everything spins the universe on his index finger with his eyes closed and one hand behind His back.

He invented crazy. He's the original forward-thinker. He reasons in reverse.

So stop trying to make sense of it. Go already.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

31 Days: Sing Like You Mean It


"God will do what He's going to do and I just need to be willing to journey through it." - Lisa Leonard

Maybe the largest part of the Going struggle is relinquishing control. We've heard all of the analogies and cliches, we've belted it out with Carrie, "Jesus take the wheeeeeeeeeeel!"

Sometimes we mean it.

But most of the time it's just hard to do. We trust His plan, in theory, but we can't see it. We're left here with schedules and bills and kids who won't nap. There's spaghetti to boil and peppers to chop. The laundry won't walk itself upstairs.

So sometimes, we derail an adventure and settle for life. We don't say we won't go. We wouldn't dare. We just say we're busy. We're already underwater. There's simply no room.

And all the while, He wants nothing but our willingness.

We say it's His foot on the gas, but we'd rather not talk about ours jamming the brake.

The good news is, He'll do what He needs to do... no matter what. He laughs at the brakes.

The bad news is, He'll do what He needs to do... even if it means doing it without us.