Sunday, January 31, 2016

Hosanna - Ecuador, Day 1

"Be the church you long for." I've said it a hundred times.

I've typed that sequence of letters on a tiny phone keyboard, I've written it into the pages of my manuscript. I've papered the walls of my church-broken heart with its words, willing them to stick by force of repetition, up and down, side to side, be the church you long for, Shannan. 

Maybe I'm not always sure what it is I long for.


Calvin and I were the first off the bus this morning. The service had begun, the block walls of the building holding worship like hands hold water.

"Go, go!" Our in-country trip leader shooed us in.




Beautiful girls lined up on both sides, around Ruby's age, their long hair pulled back from their features, eyes shining, skirts swishing. They held out long-stemmed Ecuadorian roses while music spilled from behind them, Hosanna! Hosanna! erasing any space between us.

We'd heard about the preacher on the drive over, a man who had once raged at his family. A drunk who, on one bleak night, scared his young daughter straight to the open doors of the church down the street. "I knew a church could help me. I knew a church meant hope." Today, that man stood in a gold sweater, older now, clapping and singing along. "Hosanna!" I picked him out in an instant, because just as God's power and goodness know no limits in the face of desperation, the gratitude of the redeemed cannot be contained. I thought of my friends back home, the ones in rehab and the ones on the run. And all I could hear was Hosanna.

A little girl walked over, wedging into the pew between me and Brianne. She smiled shyly at first, two tidy rows of baby teeth, her jacket zipped up to her chin. Plucking the rose from my lap, she grinned. "Roja?" I asked. "Si!" She pointed to the leaves then, giggling, "verde!"

And so it began. She welcomed me to her table there on the front-row pew. I scooted my chair in.

We held sweaty hands and spoke only in colors.
She raised her arms. I scooped her up.

Too soon, it was time for me to say goodbye and head off to my first home visit.
Why was I even surprised when the translator told me it was her home - Zulema's home - we were to visit?

"Lindos! Lindos!" she said of every flower we passed, keying into my love language and quick to share it. We held hands the whole way home, past brick walls studded with shards of broken glass, past graffiti and a dozen stray dogs. 





Turning the corner, we entered a small, forgotten courtyard. "Papi!" Her father greeted us at the door, smiling, holding back the lindo rose-patterned curtain that serves as the door to their dirt-floored, one-room home, on loan from Zulema's grandma, shared between Zulema, her parents, and two siblings; the size of one of my bathrooms back in Indiana.

"Our home is humble, but our door is always open," her father spoke softly. His hopes are many - for a steady job, a better home, an improvement of his family's condition. For his three children, he hopes they one day become "professionals".

With tremendous pride, he pulled a file folder from a cramped shelf bearing the letters received from Zulema's Compassion sponsor. He pointed to the brightly-colored comforter still encased in plastic, curiously hanging as if a decoration on the muddy wall - a prized gift from the sponsors. "She has shoes. An education. They help us."

Zulema's parents do not attend church, so we invited them. Before it was time to go, I prayed for his wishes along with my own - that we would remember one another as family, that they would feel God's pleasure and love for them, that we would never lose our taste for daily bread or our faith that it would find us.

I told them how special their daughter is and how grateful I am to have spent time with her. I hugged her hard and walked away from her home, my left hand lonely.

It's Sunday, and I have a better idea of the church I long for.

I want a church of broken people who shimmer with the glow of redemption.
I want a boiled-down, universal language of commonality, a singular thread.
I want an invitation to dance badly and hug strangers.
I want a humble house of God with a curtain for a door, flung over the jamb, covered in roses.

I want a haven, a never-gives-up hope.

But if I really want those things, I have to first be willing to be them.

We have the opportunity to live as though we believe all lives are equally sacred. We get to be part of this. As a Compassion sponsor for over ten years, this gift has never been more clearer than today, squeezed into the home of folks on the far edge of the margins.

Today, I'm asking you to pray for Zulema's parents, who are on a path toward God's goodness, whether they fully realize it or not.

I'm also asking you to release a child from poverty in Jesus' name by sponsoring a child through Compassion. 

At the close of this Sabbath, here at the center of the world, I'm asking you to believe with me that we are messengers of hope and recipients of wild grace when we dare to be the church we long for, opening our eyes wide to the church already at work around us in every Zulema, every Papi, every child extending a long-stemmed rose.


http://compassion.com/shannan

Follow along with Ashley from Under the Sycamore.
Follow along with Ruth from Gracelaced.
Follow the hashtag #compassionbloggers on Instagram.

*Most images courtesy of @mikevarel

Friday, January 29, 2016

Around Town


I wrote a piece for (in)courage today about the one thing I'm doing this year that's making all the difference. I'm not going to mention what "said thing" is here, for fear that you're tired of me yammering about it.

What can I say? The muse has called to me and she's wearing snow boots and yoga pants!
(How's that for a hint??)

Just trust me, there's plenty more to be said on this.


"I never really noticed the early morning clouds until this year. I never thought about the positioning of the moon just before daybreak, or the way I’m comforted by smoke curling out of thin, silver chimneys.

In order to love my neighbors more, I first had to know them.

And often, the surest way to know someone is to share their place, to choose it for yourself and feel the quiet ways it sets roots to your restlessness."

You can read the rest, including a story about one of my favorite neighbors, right here.


{Tiny babies!!!}

I also recently got to chat with Jacey from The Influence Podcast about life, and particularly, what it looks like right now to be a more intentional neighbor. I've been on a few podcasts lately, but I love the way different things come out in each one.
Have a listen!

We made it to Friday, Party People.

I plan to celebrate by packing for tomorrow's trip to Ecuador and make green curry for dinner with authentic Kaffir lime leaves. The man at the Asian market pulled them out of his freezer with a flourish then asked with furrowed brow, "Do these really help?"

Stay tuned.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Limits of Escape

On January 6, 2009, over seven years ago, I showed up at this unfamiliar place on the internet, entirely alone, and started typing. That's a long time and a lot of words - 1,666 posts, to be exact, but for the past year I've been telling people I've been blogging for eight years. Woo hoo! I'm younger than I thought!

We're legit friends at this point, you and me. Blogging has made me a more open person. I've felt the exquisite beauty of truly beginning to live outside the shadows. It's made me reconcile certain things within me and wrestle with who I really am. If there's one thing I can promise, it's that the "me" you get here is the complete Shannan. It might even be the realer me, because I'm never more aware of the beating of my truest heart than when I'm sitting here with bedhead, tapping these keys.

(It sounds like I'm bidding farewell to blogging. I'm euologizing myself, and I don't know why! I'm not going anywhere. Just feeling a little nostalgic.)

The past couple of weeks have been a major downer.
Let me be more clear - the past couple of weeks I have been a major downer.


It's all so boring, especially when I happen to be a work-from-home, introverted woman with a bent for self-analysis. I'm sorta sick of myself.

I could blame a lot of things, and trust me, I've tried. We've had house guests (the kind the move all of their stuff in, wrinkle their noses at what I cook for dinner, then move all of their stuff back out a few weeks later. Times three.) We've had a short kid who has been struggling in ways that make me very tired. I've watched from close range while someone I love slips back down the drain of addiction and I've feared for her life. I've had doubts about church. Doubts about God. Doubts about the whole trajectory of my life and major doubts about my new phone, which autocorrects "Calvin" to my boss's email address from nine years ago and won't let me just be me, dangit.

 



The problem with these scapegoats is that they aren't really anything new.

So I tried convincing myself I was just feeling the pressure of writing a book and all the associated anxieties. I said I'd worked too frantically for too many days and just needed to completely decompress.

I took to wearing many layers of gray-grayish-black comfy knits, gave myself permission to work slow, and inadvertantly created a situation where I became unable to categorize what "work" even was. I spiraled into the mind-numbing terror of endless, meaningless busy work, where every day ended with the realization that I'd accomplished exactly nothing. I dreamed my eye tooth crumbled from my mouth by the root while I was out on a speaking tour and woke up stiff with worry over how it would be fixed.

I became a closet cynic for a short while. No one met my expectation, most of all me. The glass was three-quarters empty and everyone was in my way. I dreamed I was in prison with Cory, only it looked like a coal mine. I kept trying to hide behind him while a chipper psychopath threatened to cut off our pinkie fingers for no good reason. I woke up at 5 am, wiggled both pinkies, and curled myself around Cory.

I stopped making my bed.
I let a $10 coupon expire because the ten-minute drive felt insurmountable.
I threw out my back.

"You need balance." "You need margin." "You need to rest." 
"Your family needs a break."

Those are phrases commonly said to me, and I finally conceded they were right.

So, I read lots of books and drank lots of tea.
I didn't go anywhere.

Without meaning to, I nurtured myself into a low-grade, situational depression.

I saw it with sudden clarity in the shower - the most productive think tank known to man or at least to me.  I depend on the bang and clutter of community and the warp-speed of the everyday. I pulled on jeans, raged at my lifeless hair, made the bed, and re-entered the world around me. I drove to Target and bought $13 eye cream. I played "art class" with Silas, and let him teach me how to paint.

(print by katygirl)




 

I don't know how or when I'll ever be able to truly accept that my life feels best when it's cranking past capacity.

Last night, Calvin trudged upstairs around 8:30 like he does almost every night, seething with the injustice of a ten-year old who doesn't get to choose his own bedtime. "Goodnight. Enjoy your 'relaxing time'." (He actually did the air quotes, because daaaang, going to bed makes him grumpy.)

He wasn't two stairs up before I saw headlights pulling into the drive.

Just when the Littles end their day, our biggest kid shows up. It happens all the time. And though it sometimes makes me feel like <insert every exasperated emoji here>, I looked at him for thirty minutes last night in full-blown amazement. He nailed his evaluation at work. He bought a janky sword (a real sword!) for ten bucks and brought it in to show us. He's kissed dating goodbye. (For like a minute.) He's kind and handsome and good and maddening and so, so lovable. Just like the little ones up in their beds.


This is my life, and it really does look weird if I step outside it.

So I guess I'll just stay wedged inside. I'm at my best when I'm all-in, finding breaks and rest as they come without trying to manufacture them on my own or believing I'm entitled to anything at all. This is my tension, and it pulls me from every side. I need it.






Today marks blog post #1,667 and as a child of the evangelical 80's, I'm relived that I've steered this ship past the dreaded 666 marker. But more than that, I'm grateful I can still come here and lay my thoughts down, brick by brick. The road is turning out to be more winding than I thought, but I'm not a fan of straight lines after all.

And you know what? I didn't know that about myself seven years ago.


*Here's what life looked like 7 years ago!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Gratitude Isn’t An Action. It’s A Cure.

Last summer I had the opportunity to sit at a picnic table while the sun set behind us and talk for hours to my new friend, Kristen Welch. It was immediately evident that the two of us share a lot in common and our chat was one of the bright spots of a very soulful summer for me. Kristen's book Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World releases today, and I knew right away I wanted to share it with you. I've invited her here today to tell us, in her own words, about her journey as a mom who cares boundlessly and with depth for the world around her. It's my privilege to welcome her into our FPFG neighborhood today.

***

“We need to find a place to serve.” I whispered these words to my husband five days after Christmas. He nodded his head. He could hear the kids arguing and nit-picking upstairs too. Ah, Christmas break. Presents had been worn, plugged in, and played with, and a dose of perspective was next on the list. Twenty-four hours later, we sat on a blue tarp in inner-city Houston with a bunch of kids at a Sidewalk Sunday School event. It was so cold it didn’t take long for children we didn’t know to crawl into our laps and lean close for warmth. My husband passed out the extra sweatshirts and throw blanket we keep in the car. My kids scattered in the crowd and found new friends to keep warm with.
Pastor Scott, the faithful man who drives his colorful truck to low-income apartment complexes nearly every day of the week started his lesson in Psalm 23 as he told the children to sit still, listen closely, and cup their opened hands in their laps for the blessing they were about to receive. I looked over at my youngest daughter sitting in between girls she had just met. I got a lump in my throat when I saw her little hands cupped, waiting for her blessing. I’m pretty sure she was hoping to catch the small toys and candy that Pastor Scott always brings, just like the rest of the kids. And I couldn’t blame her really. But then she leaned over and whispered, “If I catch anything, I’m going to give it away to the other kids,” and I wanted to shout, “Yes!” Looking around at her peers without shoes and coats, she could see her hands were already full. I wasn’t reminding and prodding and nagging her to be grateful—she knew she already had everything she needed. Nothing makes us more grateful than perspective. Nothing. I think it’s the key to loosening the chains of entitlement in our culture.


A couple of days later over pizza for dinner, we decided to memorize Psalm 23. We started with the first verse and repeated it over and over. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” I asked the kids, “Do you know what this means?” My 13 year old son talked about sheep and a shepherd’s job. And my youngest added that sheep were dumb. I explained that “I shall not want” means we have everything we need and we should be content with what we have. My oldest teen daughter was getting irritated with the slow and babyish way we were memorizing, but nobody calls the baby of the family a baby without a fight. Long story short, in less than five minutes two out of three of my children were either crying or screaming on the way to their rooms. “Well, that went well,” I told my husband. I felt so defeated trying to teach my kids about contentment with so much discontentment in the room. It turns out the better lesson was about to be learned. My youngest returned after some time in her room and offered an unprompted heartfelt apology—the kind that gets your attention because you know it’s the real deal. My teen daughter and I texted for a while, and she did the same. She also asked me about the bag of clothes a friend of mine had dropped off. They were very nice hand-me-downs she passed down from her daughter. I was tempted to not give them to her (petty, yes, but I was still looking for the lesson here). “I want you to be content with what you have, honey,” I said, as I handed her the sack. An hour later, she brought it down to me—full. “I filled it with my own clothes for us to pass on to someone else. I am grateful, Mom.”

FullSizeRender 2
I thought of the words to the Twenty-third Psalm and knew they’d found their mark without my “help.” When entitlement’s poison begins to infect our hearts, gratitude is the antidote. Gratitude isn't an action. It's a cure. We aren’t born feeling grateful; rather, when we are born, we quickly begin to feel entitled to our parents’ care. Gratitude is learned. I think the key to raising grateful kids is maintaining gratitude. (I need help too. How often have I given thanks to God or someone else and then turned around and complained or asked for more with the next breath?) Creating a routine filled with consistent opportunity for gratitude helps us maintain it. And it can be as simple as writing down what we are thankful for each day. Maintaining gratitude is challenging because our situations, circumstances, and emotions change like the weather. But God is always the same. He never changes. If nothing else, that unshakable promise—that God never wavers in His promises to us even when we stumble along in our obedience to Him—is something to be thankful for each and every day.   

-excerpt from Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World: How One Family Learned That Saying No Can Lead To Life's Ultimate Yes
 

Kristen Welch blogs at wearethatfamily.com where she shares about parenting, marriage and inspirational encouragement. Her family founded Mercy House, a non-profit that empowers impoverished and oppressed women around the world. Kristen is an author and her newest book Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World releases today. Kristen Welch Blog: We are THAT family Non-Profit: Mercy House Join the Club: Fair Trade Friday



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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Driving Down a Different Street

If you were to drive down my street today you'd probably think it looks just like streets you've been down before. Some of you might recognize it as a glimpse of home - the neighborhood from your childhood, or the one your kids will look back on one day.

You might notice the way the houses change as you drive south, some almost caving in on themselves, marked by decades of unremarkability until what's left is the wish that you'd just look away.

Maybe you would notice the trees, their limbs reaching up like a legacy, like life and growth and promise.

You could count the trash and broken bottles, wondering how many bags they would fill. Maybe I'll come back later and tidy up, you might say.

It's a bit cold right now, but time your visit around 3 pm and you'd hear the laughter of children.
There's a good chance you'd smell dinner cooking, see smoke praying up from silver chimneys.

Your eye could be drawn to the porches with defunct appliances growing rusty in wait.
Or you'd latch on to my neighbor's front stoop, meticulously scrubbed with a bucket of soapy water almost every day.


No matter what you took away from your visit to my neighborhood, it would be true.
But there's just no way you could carry it all with you. So you can drive through, I hope you do, but please understand there's so much more. I'm just starting to understand the fullness of its rhythms. I find it increasingly difficult to talk about the truthful beauty and depth of my place. I'm not sure I've earned the right, and besides, every story is just a fraction of the whole.

On January 30th, I'll board a plane to Ecuador along with Ashley and Ruth. We'll be traveling with Compassion International as writers, sharing the mission of their work to release children from poverty in Jesus' name.

My family has sponsored children through Compassion for almost a decade. A few months ago we received an updated photo of John Freddy, our first Compassion child, and we all sat and stared at it a while. Somewhere over the past year, he seems to have made that leap from little boy to young man.

I hold great respect for the work Compassion does and making this trip with them is an honor, one I don't take lightly. It's difficult to imagine how this might all shake down, how I'll feel when I stand in the home of our newest sponsored child and imagine watching him grow over a span of years to come. I'm not sure what layers will be added to this journey with my ten-year old in tow, he, an international traveler at the age of four months old.

It's impossible to know if walking foreign soil will crank the spigot on my words, saturated from the inside out with the urge to take note, write it down, memorize this moment in front of me. Maybe my soul will fall hushed. Either way, I hope I'll remember North 5th Street.

If you were to drive down my street, it would be naive and unfair of me to ask you not to notice our scars, but there's the park under the canopy of walnut trees and the teenager who drives smaller neighbors to school when it's dark outside and cold. There's the shy woman next door who sometimes delivers a pile of tamales then retreats back to where she feels safest. There's the revolving-door rental, now a permanent home with its trim freshly painted a bright, happy blue. There are the cracks. And then there are the flowers growing up between them.

My prayer is that I'll share the stories of Compassion Ecuador - the lives and homes, the streets as we drive through - with great dignity and care. I hope to be a good neighbor while I'm there.

I would love for you to follow along.

While in Ecuador, I'll be blogging here daily. Calvin has plans to commandeer the laptop and share from his perspective a time or two. Just show up, however you get here, and we'll talk like we do. I'll also be sharing smaller bites on Instagram and Facebook and I'm excited to share from my teammates' perspectives as well. If you'd like to follow the trip in whole, you can easily do that on the Compassion Bloggers Ecuador '16 page.

Friends, thank you for traveling with me.
It's such a privilege to pour my heart straight out to yours.

~

PS - Thank you so much for the support on my book release! You guys made last Wednesday so much fun. Several of you have asked how to subscribe to my Super Scoop newsletter when you've already subscribed to receiving my posts in your inbox. If this is you, the fix is easy! Just scroll to the very bottom of one of my emailed blog posts and click on "Manage Preferences". I haven't sent a newsletter yet, so you haven't missed a thing! If you haven't subscribed at all, you can do so by clicking right here or over on my sidebar.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Cozy Minimalist

It's no secret that I'm afflicted with the perpetual urge to change things up around my house. Every couple of months, I switch out artwork and throw pillows. I've even been known to change out the curtains.

I love the fact that my cozy little home is a constantly evolving reflection of constantly evolving us. It's almost never totally clean. Many days, it doesn't even pass for tidy. As Cory reminds me often, "We live here!" Turns out living is imperfect and messy. And our home follows suit.

I'm a novice decorator. I don't know many rules, and those I do know, I break.
I believe in using what I've got, thrifting for gold, and most of all, creating a space that makes me happy.

Our homes are such a great canvas for the creativity that oozes out of each of us (whether we admit it or not!)

Along the way, The Nester has been one of my trusty guides. I've written about her often, because I'm inspired by her often. She bangs the drum, "It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful" and I believe her. 


Nester is offering two online classes right now, Cozy Minimalist and Cozy Minimalist Mom. If you're anything like I am, you're going to love them.

I don't promote things like this often, but I jumped at the chance to be an affiliate for this because I know my people and I know what we dig. Nester isn't going to tell you to go out and buy more stuff, she's going to take you by the hand and breathe life into what you already have. She won't try to strong-arm you into her style, she'll help you find your own. And best of all, she'll do all of this affordably. This sister gets the concept of budgeting and stewardship. She's lived in big homes, small home, and lots of rentals. She's quirky and fun and we're safe in her hands!



"If you are living in an overwhelmed house but underwhelmed with your options to change it, you’ve come to the right place." - Nester

January is always such a great tie to declutter and reassess. I'm excited to keep learning and I'm hoping some of you will join me.

Find all the details about the Cozy Minimalist online workshop as well as the Cozy Minimalist Mom workshop and register right here.

Registration is only open for five more days, so if you don't want to wait until Spring, now's your chance!

Happy cozying, party people!
You're my faves.

*All images are from Nester's home. I die.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Falling Free - Rescued From the Life I Always Wanted

So, here's a post I've been meaning to write for weeks. My post-holiday brain is processing it as IMPOSSIBLE. Problem is, my October brain basically sang the same tune and I didn't have crack bark or heart-pummeling Christmas hymns to blame back then.

But it's a new year, the house has cleared out, there's a fluffy coating of snow outside my window, and Emmanuel is just as with us as he was last month. It feels like the right time to launch my best, most epic freak-out.

Dearly beloveds, the "book" I've been talking about for the past year, with all of its "air quotes" undertones and its elusive, intangible, radness, is officially REAL.

It has a title, a swoony green cover, and my name on the front. (Not to mention the name of a little friend of mine OH MY WORD!)

Falling Free is my story of losing the exact life I'd been taught to want, the one I thought I had mostly achieved through my own chutzpah, pluck, and maybe a little God-enhanced luck.

It's my story of realizing how quietly yet catastrophically I'd flipped the Gospel in order to continue living in the pretty place of security and comfort I'd created for myself, where I didn't really live as though I needed Jesus in the details of my life, but was happy to have him all the same.

Falling Free: Rescued From the Life I Always Wanted is the very drumbeat of my soul, that in God's eternal kingdom where down is actually up, His more for us often looks like less.

I sat and wrote it all down, the pain, the relief, the rescue and the freedom. I pleaded for the courage to tell the truth about finding the life I was created for in the rubble of the one that had kindly been dismantled, beam by beam. It turns out, we weren't made to want what the world craves.

This is my back-alley redemption story,  and we continue to grow and fail. We over-complicate and default to pride. We commit the most cringe-worthy faux pas in the history of ever while standing in our kitchen trying so hard (too hard!) to "love" our neighbor. (< spoiler alert) But when we run hard toward the pain around us, we discover more of the foolish love of God, who owed us none of these unexpected gifts, but gave them anyway.

I believe in the sunniest place of my heart that this is a story each of us shares, whether we recognize it or not. Maybe we aren't as smart or capable as we think. Maybe rather than climbing and gaining and battening down the hatches, we should simply let go and tumble down to where life comes close to careening off the rails.

Imperfectly written, soaked in prayer like the hundreds of Earl Grey tea bags that fueled this work, my truest hope is that these words will glorify Him alone, and that somehow, you will be pointed toward the beauty of surrendering for his glory. The nearness to Christ in low places is so worth the fall.

{Me, hard-core editing in bed, with poor posture and a sick, sad little Siley the week before Christmas.}

And now I will type the weirdest sentence of my life so far: You can pre-order your copy of Falling Free: Rescued From the Life I Always Wanted on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iBooks. You don't pay until it's released (Sept. 2016) and sometimes pre-orders arrive a bit early. As my friend Emily says, "It's like giving your future self a gift!"

I'll be putting together a monthly insider-scoop email, complete with fun surprises (as in, some REALLLLLLLY cool stuff) and things I might feel more comfortable sharing within the circle of trust with My Truest People. (Coming from the girl who publicly extols Taco Bell in the face of organic kale "desserts" sprinkled with chia seeds, the implications of this should be both clear and noteworthy.)

To subscribe (you can choose to receive just my Super Scoop email or the email and my blog posts directly in your inbox) just type in your email address, click "Subscribe" (here in this post or on my sidebar) and Voila! We're official homies for life.

I've said it a million times and I'll go hoarse repeating myself: I owe so much of the grace along this journey to you, my faithful reader-friends. You cannot know how much I value you - your wisdom, your encouragement, your weirdness.

Thank you so much. I know this book is meant to please an audience of One, but I won't hate it at all if you love it a little, too.

Much love and bottomless salsa forever,
Shannan



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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

Also:

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?

 

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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Why Making a Murderer is More Important than Church

It's normal for us to be up most nights until midnight, but when 1:00 am rolled around, we were legitimately concerned. At 2:00 am we swore we'd make it up for church in the morning, no matter what. At 3:00 am, we fell into bed pretending we hadn't been lying to ourselves for hours.

For two nights running we had tucked the kids in at the stroke of their somewhat loose "bedtimes" in order to jump headlong into hours of despair, the kind that clings to your soul like a stain, the kind that makes you dream about strangers and thank God, finally, for defense attorneys. If it sounds like an odd thing to choose or look forward to, it's only because you haven't watched the Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer yet. In the show, Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man, was imprisoned for a rape he did not commit (DNA evidence freed him after 18 years of incarceration) and soon after his release, was arrested for a subsequent murder of another local woman. The show primarily follows his trial for the murder, which many believe he did not commit and for which he unswervingly maintains his innocence.

I've thought a lot about this.

I've texted friends and emailed colleagues. I showed up five minutes late to a coffee date yesterday then got caught up in conversation with a different friend while grabbing my Earl Grey from the window. "I'm so sorry!" I told my date. "We were talking about Making A Murderer." She understood, because she'd sat with us in a circle of chairs at our Bible study Monday evening, where discussion was repeatedly derailed by Steven Avery commentary. We didn't mean for it to happen, but someone suggested we read from Hebrews 1 and it only took one line, "You love justice and hate evil." (v 9) 

Coming off my general Christmas disillusionment, coupled with reading The New Jim Crow and all that happened after that, the show felt strangely, vitally important. We sat glued to the screen, taking necessary mental health breaks to mindlessly scroll Instagram between episodes, our snack plan slowly devolving each night from hot tea and fruit to Cheez-Its and hard cider. 

The show isn't gory or terrifying. It's basically an extended Dateline Mystery, minus the Keith Morrison voice-overs. With each hour, it was increasingly hard to ignore the fist of poverty closed around the Avery family. They were despised and rejected by almost everyone. They were regarded as sub-human and as deserving of whatever trouble came their way.

The mom, Dolores Avery, was particularly difficult to watch. Lined by years and trauma, her face told the rest of the story, the most meaningful parts, but also the parts that made me want to shut it all down and pretend I hadn't seen her standing in her cramped kitchen in a fruit-patterned smock, frying dinner for her lost-soul family who somehow manage to survive in spite of everything else.

I'm sure they're not perfect. Casting judgment on those who aren't already under the microscope is damaging business, and I'm not interested. These are real people, ravaged by a system that is slow to offer justice to the poor. To quote Steve, "Poor people lose all the time."

This is true. And if it took a Netflix documentary for more people to see the craters in the system or even to recognize their own brokenness, well, God has moved in far weirder ways. 

I don't know if Steven Avery did it or not.

But I do know that many of us keep asking the question, "What can I do?" about things like inequality and lives lived at the boot-end of justice. The world is crying out for a better way, and it will require much of us. But "much" often starts quite small. We can watch this show, walking toward pain when we'd rather turn around and look into our middle-class lives, largely untainted or untested by outside forces. We can lean in to the reality that the poor and under-educated are fed the scraps of what privileged folks like us rightly believe we're entitled to. My family, and particularly Cory, sees this played out on a loop, but Making A Murderer makes it available to the masses. It's not at all the same as watching a friend go down in real time, but compassion begins with leaning our own humanity against another's. Ten hours of screen-time has a way of making the humanity of the Avery family searingly accessible.

I'm not here to talk about the ways our criminal justice system gets things right. The burden of proof falls heavy on them. Of course they do many things well, but what about the rest of the time? What can be done about people who don't know their rights? People unable to afford an attorney? Young men pleading guilty on the advice of an overworked, underpaid public defender whom they met for the first time moments before the hearing? What about that glaring remnant who views the poor as disposable, and preys upon their vulnerability? What will it take to believe this is our problem?

I guarantee, you'll want to turn it off. You'll think it's too much. You'll cuss at your television. You'll inch closer to whomever shares the couch with you. You'll distract yourself with unwise snack combinations. You'll tell yourself your tender heart can't bear the contact burns.You'll skip church the next morning.

It's worthy of all of this, to be saddled with just a sliver of the pain and confusion facing people across our zipcodes.

We're commanded by God to take up the cause for marginalized people, but we cannot care about what we do not know about. In a society that largely values its churches as me-centric, staying up too late to witness the tenuous inner-workings of an entire family on the margins is guaranteed to propel you more towards the good news of Jesus, who spoke their names at his death and who rose up to reclaim them as his own, than church often does.

If you are a pray-er, continue to pray.
If you are a dreamer, continue to dream.
If you are a hoper, please, help the rest of us to hope with you.

But no matter who you are, find a way to do an actual thing. 
Even if it begins with something as small as turning on your television.
  

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