Monday, January 11, 2016

Now What? A Note on Small Beginnings

Several weeks ago I shared Yolanda's story here, then my Resolution for 2016, then how the Steven Avery case has impacted my thoughts about our criminal justice system. All three were the sort of difficult posts that make a writer assume the worst about how it'll be received, but you guys are different, and I was blown away by your responses. We are a people who knows how to care. We are born of selfishness and the easy road, it's true, but we're quick to recognize our own humanity, and that goes a long way.

I read every email and comment (I always do) and when Katie's note came in, I asked if I could share it. It felt particularly representative of many of you, along with myself.

"i don't want to simply like and share someone else's blog posts and let myself feel like i'm doing something and part of the movement because i nod in agreement. but i struggle so often to know where i can begin. my financial state means i am living in my parents house, in middle class, suburban america. but my heart just aches and aches to do more and be more and love more and better and more tangibly. and not be a part of the group that excludes. 

 i just don't know how to be thankful where i'm at and do the best i can without the frustration when it feels like the best i can do is write the check and hang the mittens on the tree. i want to make up a bed and simmer the soup. i so desperately want to. how do you know how and where to start? how can i learn to be content and thankful where i believe god has me for now, without being so content that i never discover how to keep moving forward and loving well. 

 i just feel stuck and lost and directionless and at the same time feel way too privileged and way too far removed from where jesus spends his time."

Unfortunately for Katie, I find myself asking similar questions. Aren't we all asking more than we were five years ago, or even one?

I don't feel equipped to offer profound answers, but I'll give you what I do have.

First, I don't think there's a certain amount of "caring" that qualifies as "enough". If there were a benchmark, knowing us, we'd strive and claw ourselves into a frenzy meeting it, then check the box and move on. It's between each of us and God. It begins again every day and never meets its end. He compels us, speaks to us, leads us. And yes, sometimes he leads us back to bed with a cup of tea. Maybe someone needs to open their door to you and offer sanctuary in your season of loss. We all take turns being poor and needy. That's one of the things that makes the kingdom of heaven here on earth so beautiful. But it will also require the laying down of ourselves for the sake of another. It will eventually look like spending what might already feel spent.

Second, I think the hardest work has to begin in our hearts. Perhaps the hand-wringing and book-reading is more important than we think. It's in the quiet that new life often grows, and though we're a people who value press conferences, national movements, and tightly run ships, the kingdom of God begins with a seed pressed into the mud.

A few days ago I watched Michelle Higgins' prophetic talk at Urbana15 and I urge you to do the same if racial reconciliation, justice, and the simple, profound love for each other is something you're desperate to learn about. We have the opportunity to stand with the marginalized and the pushed-around. We get to truly believe that #BlackLivesMatter, and it is our privilege to say it with those who live it every day.

Knowledge is a powerful seed, and we have to be hungry to learn

On that note, here's a stack of books I currently have under my roof, some of which I've read and others I'm either in the process of reading or hope to be soon. I can only tell you that separately and as a collective, they are being used by God to change the way I see folks around me and my place within the kingdom. They make my heart beat faster, and once that happens, well, change has already moved into the room.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle
Wanted: A Spiritual Pursuit Through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders by Chris Hoke
Red Letter Revolution by Shane Claiborne and Tony Compolo
Reading the Bible with the Damned by Bob Eckblad
The New Jim Crown by Michelle Alexander
The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence by Gary Haugen
Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Justice by Adam Benforado
Go Set A Watchman: A Novel by Harper Lee


The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne
A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne, Ph.D.
Educating All God's Children by Nicole Baker Fulgham

Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstraps America by Linda Tirado
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison by Nell Bernstein
City of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles 
Theirs is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America by Robert Lupton 
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee 

Acknowledging the tension is such a good place to start.  

Beyond this, we have to be open to God's leading. We have to be willing to notice. When he brings a neighbor our way, we can love them. When he brings an injustice to our path, we can take it up as our own. When he leads someone we've thought of as "other" to our door, we can open it and be ready to listen. We can teach our kids now instead of allowing them to figure it out later. We can simply be done pretending to not see what is right in front of us.

With all my heart, I believe a person who wants to love their neighbor and do justice will be given opportunity. God won't let us miss the chance. He knows we need it more than the person we think of as being on the receiving end.

I'm hopeful this will be the year we all take one step forward in areas we may have once believed did not belong to us.

Can you imagine how different 2017 would look if in 2016 we each just took one small step?


*Amazon affiliate links used


  1. This is just what my little soul needed to hear, and the resources that I have been longing for. I believe Katie took my thoughts and made them into words. (Thanks, Katie!) I have read Tattoos on the Heart, and I am in the middle of Just Mercy. They have both educated me and urged me to move further into the margins. Thank you for doing your thing and encouraging us to keep taking small steps. (And as much as I roll my eyes at grammar police because writing is hard. Whatever. Your 2nd to last sentence says "hear" instead of "year". I am totally fine with it like that, and it didn't take away from the post. I just know some bloggers would like to know so they can correct it. Sorry. That is so annoying of me)

  2. You know, another book that I would encourage you to read and maybe recommend is "The Warmth of Other Suns" by Isabel Wilkerson. It's a highly readable account of The Great Migration in America, and as far as I am concerned, it should be required reading for every high school student. (This is me, speaking as a librarian). It touches, with a subtle hand, on how so many of the ghettos, poverty issues, and racial tensions of 20th and 21st century America took root, and gives it all historical import through the lives of three African-Americans who were part of the Great Migration. Please, please read it. It will definitely inform you.

    Also, I saw Bryan Stevenson speak at the Public Library Association Conference in Indy, back in 2014. He's absolutely amazing and inspiring.

    1. I'm all over this (new to me) title. Thank you for the suggestion!

    2. Love this suggestion, I've never read anything like that! Thank you!

    3. I just put this on hold at the library! THANKS for the suggestion!

    4. Will look for it! I'm always asking the question of how, because I believe the what next us in the how.

  3. Thanks so much to you & Katie for giving voice to this yearning we all have to "get it" and to love like He loved, without any pretense or airs or striving for acknowledgement or accolades. Some books my husband and/or I have read that have been powerful and helpful are ones by Soong-Chan Rah (The Next Evangelicalism, Many Colors) as well as Divided By Faith by Emerson & Smith. I'll add your selections to our list. I'm so glad you are a writer and a sharer. The world needs you.

  4. Also, we attended Bryan Loritts's KAINOS conference in Memphis last spring, and it was amazing. Not sure if they're doing another one this year, but it's worth going if they are.


    Last weeks sermon.

    1. Start where you are. Exodus 3:11-12
    2. Use what you have.
    3. So what you can. Exodus 4:10-11

    1. Pretty sweet little outline. We don't have to over-complicate it!
      Thank you.

  6. "With all my heart, I believe a person who wants to love their neighbor and do justice will be given opportunity." Thank you for saying this because I believe this too. But I forget.

    When we don't live next door in a literal sense to people "on the margins," being proactive can feel contrived. In November, I took the steps to volunteer at the Dream Center here in our county. I took my daughter with me. I can't change her heart or her middle-classeness. But I've vowed that my kids won't ever be able to tell me that they simply "didn't know." Last night I was able to share about the Dream Center's mission with my church. I also work part-time as the communications gal for a local nonprofit. I'm reading some of those books. {Tattoos on the Heart turned me inside out.} Still, it doesn't feel like enough because I'm not in the trenches. I've realized I may never actually be in the trenches. But I needed the reminder that if my heart beats ever stronger for justice, God will open doors. I read the books, I take the baby steps, I spread the word. But it's God's work. Thank you for reminding me that He's the faithful one!

  7. Ha! Apparently I was signed in as my old "Scooper" alter ego. : )

  8. I feel like I could have basically written Katie's email - thank you for sharing it with us, along with your heart.

  9. This was such a necessary post. It's so easy to get wrapped up in the angst of not doing enough of what seems like enough; and so easy to forget that that's so not the point. We're just coming out of a season of pretty radical hospitality/living and now in a new city, feel so much loss and almost regression because the tangible proof of our commitment is gone and we don't know how to get it back, here in this new place. What I love about these words (and others' comments) is the reminder that things ARE being done on a small, unglamorous scale even when it feels like they're not... and the unseen really is where the Kingdom of Heaven takes root. Thanks for writing, friend!

  10. Sometimes the small step is right next door. My neighbor rang my doorbell this morning as I prepped to teach Bible study. She asked if I would watch her sick baby for a few minutes while she ran to the store for meds. She didn't want to get him out because it was SO cold. My mouth told her absolutely, but I am not gonna lie and say that for a split second I didn't feel "interrupted". (I mean really, I WAS doing Bible Study! :-) It passed quickly and for the next 30 minutes I got to rock that sweet baby boy and recite words of life over him. He certainly didn't understand, but I KNOW that scripture has never been called out over him. It was the most productive and powerful 30 minutes of my day...probably my week!

    1. Loved this story - it's the story of my life!
      I usually react to these "surprises" exactly how you did, and, like you, they always end up being some of the moments I'm most grateful for. So grateful God keeps using is in spite of ourselves. I can't believe he puts up with us! :)

  11. I am reserving some of the books from the library this minute!

    Another one to add to your list is just coming out: The Justice Calling by Bethany Hoang (IJM) and Kristen Johnson (Western Seminary). It explores the spiritual practices and disciplines needed for you to be able to be a person of justice and compassion for the long haul.

  12. I think Katie's question is the question of many suburban, middle class Americans. I live in one of the wealthiest counties in Texas, and it's hard to remember there is suffering and need right here. One suggestion I would make us to find a local agency (food pantry, woman's shelter etc) and give of your time. While you are there treat the clients with respect. You will be surprised how many people volunteer who don't do this.

  13. How about "lives matter" no matter the color. If you listen to only what the media state's and don't do your own fact checking you will usually get a dishonest and distorted view about most stories. Take for instance Johnathan Butler at missouri university screaming about racism, oppression and white privledge yet he comes from a multi million dollar family. They are making way more than anyone I know of regardless of the color in my community.yet we jump on the hate whitey middle class and all it represents because we are told we need to feel guilty. Frankly I am tired of hearing those overused words it's the new in thing ..... I've seen racism against all colors yes even against the "Whitey people"and it's all disgusting. But until we have an honest dialouge about how all lives matter and realize that most stories are distorting facts for an agenda and even the progress church folks have bought into it nothing is going to change. I realize this goes against most of your commenters and I'm sure I'll get the usually comments that i need to have my eyes open to the truth.... All I know is we live in a fallen world and Jesus came for us all and this side of heaven things will never be right. Doesn't mean we shouldn't try to love like Jesus but it does mean that all lives matter not just one color.

    1. Yes! This. Thank you for this perspective which closely parallels mine. All lives matter.

  14. LOVE LOVE LOVE the video. I went to Urbana in 2011 and it was life-changing! I would love to go back. Shared the video as well. So encouraging and enlightening and tough at the same time.

  15. Listened to your interview on the mom mission field podcast and had to pass it on to my pastor. We are a church plant downtown Phoenix and find ourselves trying to not only articulate what we hope to be in that place but how to do it. Keep sharing what is laid on your heart! You have given me much to ponder over the years.

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  17. the other day i prayed on my way to "the city" that god would show me something today. a bit later he did. i was driving on a busy street and there was a man with a cardboard sign that TRULY HUNGRY. i knew that was it. but it was a busy street. and he wasn't near an intersection. and i kept going. i rationalized that i was late and that it wasn't safe to get out there and blah blah blah. i laid down to sleep that night and i said to craig "i saw a homeless man today and i didn't help." he said "like what do you mean?" i said "i saw him. i knew i should go back and i didn't. i can't get it out of my mind." he was slightly confused. and i went to sleep sad that i hadn't responded the way jesus wanted. and that is a bummer but it's a constant lesson in listening and acting on what God speaks to our heart. i know this is just one tiny thing but it's all the little things together that make up big changes in our lives and how we respond to what's happening around us. at least i think so...