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. ;)


  1. Can I get some input from you on Compassion International? I was doing a little research on sponsor-a-child charities the other day, and I kept running into articles saying, essentially, that that model is kind of frowned on these days, that they tend to alienate the sponsored child from their community because because of jealousy, and my charitable dollars would be better spent investing in whole-community focused projects. It was just enough to make me question whether or not I was doing the best thing. Any thoughts?

    1. I'm so glad you asked! Having visited Ecuador last winter and seen it for myself, I was beyond impressed. Not a single red flag. I can only speak for Compassion, but they target the most at-risk kids in the neighborhood, even if that means those kids do not have sponsors. I didn't witness or hear about anyone being ostracized. I suppose that doesn't mean it never happens, because it happens here in my own neighborhood, to some degree. But through Compassion, particularly through the hope the personal relationship extends, children are literally lifted out of poverty. They go to college. They receive valuable job training. Sponsorship changes the course for the entire family, often. Whole-community projects generally don't have that power. We sponsor 3 kiddos currently and I hope to add more, one day. It's so meaningful to watch them grow and encourage them along the way. I am an advocate for life! Thank you for your heart here. It's so important to ask these questions.

  2. I am so grateful for this analogy. It is meeting me right where I have been struggling. Thank you!

  3. Oh, friend. I sure love you. SO much of this struck me in the best spots. thank you for putting so much of my heart into words I can never seem to find. "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."

  4. Well those were just the best 24 hours and could only have been better if 1-it was longer and 2-I didn't end it with a stomach bug :-( We love you guys and your family and the ways our lives have intersected. Grateful for you my friend!

  5. Again, you got me with this one. My husband and I are continuing to find ourselves in situations that ask us to give more than we want to. And it doesn't feel so fun all the time, and I feel tired even thinking about it. Your blog stokes the embers and rinds me what true life is, what true love is. Thank you for putting heart to paper and sharing it with us.

    1. For some reason, your comment kind of undid me. Thank you, sister. I'm right here with you.

  6. Oh boy...New to this blogging, just wrote a reply only to lose's too important to leave it alone, so here's to perseverance!
    I'm really enjoying your book, Shannon, that my sis just gave me for my birthday! Which led to your blog and the realization that we have many connections..many friends and family that are Bethel alumni as well as the fact that both of our husbands were at the Crossing together! Michael taught art at the time and I helped him put on a HUGE art event showcasing the student's talents...Cory helped me with some PR for this :-)
    But the compelling reason for this post (second attempt) is the letter I sent out just last week to friends, family and co workers. Several years ago, I, along with eleven others, followed our pastors, John and Ramona Wilson off to Nairobi to spend 18 days visiting needy children living on top of garbage dumps. We did children's outreach, had evening revivals standing on uneven scaffolding singing our hearts out in Swahili...for Jesus. These kids and their Love for Jesus undid us. So did the fact that in order for them to give their best to feed us, they went without...this was eight years ago. We decided to not drop our meds and gifts off and just return to our normalcy, but we pooled our spending money (did we really need to bring home a carved giraffe) and brought to light a new ministry called
    This is a copy of the letter I sent to my people last week...
    Outlook for Android
    Happy Thanksgiving! I wanted to share a huge need with you that I have personally experienced. When I went to Africa, our team put together a ministry based on the needs we saw. Kids were not being fed like they should because they were so short on money. We put together an organization where all of the money given is used for the kids. We have a friend in Africa who's a banker and is able to handle the finances. There's no overhead...We have been able to help kids with meds, clothing and food. Also, we've been able to send some to boarding school after their grade school, buy sewing machines, cows, seeds, etc. All in order to provide education and self sufficiency. The godly people who run the two orphanages we support are truly saints.
    We just took 9 more kiddos to support...complete with heart wrenching bios, which I've attached. For $40/month, you can support one of these sweeties and truly change the direction of their life...meeting their physical needs, but also emotional and spiritual. Michael and I have supported two kiddos since the beginning of this which I had personally spent time with in Africa :-) The COOLEST part is that we have American missionaries over there watching out for these kids, several couples from our Radiant church that travel there yearly to personally bless them with gifts, and field trips to parks complete with ice cream! I cannot say enough about how life changing this ministry is! I would support all 9 of these new kids if we could afford it...but we're called to be a I'm letting you share the joy!
    If you want to participate, please let me know ASAP because these kids need support now! Compassion For Africa is the name we gave our organization and they are able to take the 40 bucks out of your account monthly.
    Thank you for considering this huge need...
    Love and peace,
    Luann and Michael Burlingame

  7. Shannan, your book messed with me. Actually the Holy Spirit used it to move me. I've been living the life I never wanted. I never wanted to sit at home with three little ones and focus so much time on things like meal planning and home decorations. I grow up as a missionary kid caring about orphans and hurting people. Your book reminded me of that. So, after reading I made a small change but a huge leap. Instead of taking food outside to the young homeless man who does our yard work we INVITED HIM IN. The next day he shared lunch and supper with us. He was a pleasure to be with and I like to hope that our home brings him comfort and a taste of the Lord's goodness. Thank you for your words!

  8. oh shannan....this is so good. thanks for touching my heart this morning. i adore you & how the spirit is using you in the lives of SO MANY, me included!

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