Monday, July 27, 2015

FAQ: But why do you have to actually live there?

Nearly five years ago, we were in the midst of renovating a house downtown. I was also pregnant with Caden, with Jayci smack-dab in the midst of her terrible twos. And so I decided we desperately needed to sign her up for "preschool” (ok daycare) a few days a week. We didn't know how long the moving process would take, but knew we wouldn't (hopefully) be in Marietta much longer, which is why we decided to find a preschool downtown, closer to our new home. Not knowing the area well yet, we simply found two preschools with good reputations and reviews. One of the two was a well-known Christian preschool, while the other was a secular one in a Montessori-ish style. Both fell inside a “nice” neighborhood about 15 minutes from our new house. We visited both preschools, explaining our situation and what we wanted to do downtown, and asked if they had any openings. The two schools offered us very different responses. At the Christian preschool, we were met with incredulity and alarm that we would be moving our child into such a “terrible” neighborhood. In fact, they asked us why we couldn't just drive in from a nicer area of the city, or perhaps remain in the suburbs. At the secular school, they offered us a full scholarship because they were so inspired and encouraged by the work we were doing. I will let you guess which school we chose.
We get this question surprisingly often, particularly from a certain set who are concerned for our safety:

But why do you have to actually LIVE there?

For about five years of doing ministry, we didn't actually live here. We found ourselves in the city several times a week, every single week during those years. Driving downtown for Bible studies, for “sidewalk Sunday school,” for church, for picking up the boys we mentored, for picnic lunches in the housing projects, and for Saturday afternoon games of kickball. We would spend a few hours a week in the car driving back and forth, and occasionally would bring the boys to our suburban neighborhood for the weekend. But every time we dropped the kiddos back off at their homes, every time we told them “we love you and care about you, and good luck with all this,” before driving back to our sweet little house on a quiet street where we got HOA letters regularly telling us we needed to cut the grass, something niggled at our hearts. We felt less than authentic, a disconnect somehow growing between our words and our actions. We said we cared about their education and their doctor appointments and their housing crisis (Atlanta was tearing down the projects during this time), but it was hard to tell if that was really true. After all, we always had the choice to leave (truthfully, we still have that choice, which of course is another post for another day).

So the annoying niggling at our hearts combined with a voracious appetite for reading all we could about community development and inner-city ministry, and we stumbled onto the work of CCDA (Christian Community Development Association). CCDA builds around the three R's, the first one being relocation (living where you minister). Which meant we were trying to accomplish the subsequent steps of reconciliation and redistribution while skipping the first one, a nearly impossible task.

I've written more about the idea of relocation before in my posts on Intentional Neighboring (part 1 and part 2), but here's a quick recap for anyone who missed it: “Living the gospel means desiring for your neighbor and your neighbor’s family that which you desire for yourself and your family” (Perkins). Only by joining a community do a community’s needs become your own. Living the gospel means sharing the suffering and pain of others, and relocation transforms “you, them, and theirs,” to “we, us, and ours.”

Because we live here, it matters to us that there is no nearby grocery store. The idea of a food desert takes on a whole new meaning when it personally affects shopping for and feeding my own family. It matters to us that the local school system is failing these kids, because it is failing our own kids too. When there are shootings, or gang outbreaks, or teenagers getting pregnant, we have “skin in the game” so-to-speak, and we know from experience that sometimes (unfortunately) we cannot move our hearts fully until we are affected personally. When we are not fighting “for” someone, but instead fighting alongside them, an important and discernible shift happens in both of our hearts. No longer do we have to carry the mantle (which we were never intended to carry) of “white savior” or someone who comes in from outside to fix everything; instead we lay claim to the far more gentle and true titles of neighbors and friends who care about one another in real and lasting ways.

Another facet to our decision to move downtown was rooted in our desire for community. We had simply never seen anyone who lived in community and solidarity the way we experienced among the people in the housing projects in Atlanta. They watched out for each other's kids, they shared meals, shared space, shared everything. If it wasn't for the poverty and violence that lingered as surely as the smell of grease and smoke of various kinds, the whole thing would have been frankly idyllic. When someone got evicted, their neighbor took them in, regardless of how few extra square feet they had to spare. Apartments overflowed as people shared what they had in ways that reminded me of, and pointed me towards Jesus time and time again. Vague embarrassment and unease blossomed in my deepest places when we went home to our two extra empty bedrooms and the formal dining room we ate in perhaps once every two or three weeks. Three bathrooms and four bedrooms suddenly seemed downright wasteful, rather than simply the framework of a starter-house on the stepping stones of the American Dream.

This all leans, of course, more complicated than it sounds. Because no matter how often I check my heart and motivations, and no matter how quickly I repent of my belief that I can fix or save anything, they creep insidiously back in. Cultural barriers stand in opposition to the kind of friendships I dream of, and I will always be the one who chose this life, rather than the one who simply needed a place that accepted my section 8 voucher. We have the resources to drive to the closest grocery store for our food, and to send our kids to a nearby charter school.

And please don't hear me saying that you cannot serve or love folks in the city without living here. We did ministry for years that involved driving downtown weekly, and building very real relationships with people in ways that deepened our faith and stretched us in so many ways. I just think that without finding ourselves smack-dab in the center of a community of people who look nothing like us, we would miss out on so much of the Kingdom. On reciprocal relationships, where our neighbors bring us big boxes of diapers in Walmart bags and snuff out their joints before climbing the front steps to deliver them. On laughing around the table over whether or not we should eat our chickens, and what Adam should garden next. On neighbor after neighbor returning our little runaway dog tucked under an arm with a laugh while I apologize profusely. And every single time that these connections deepen and grow, we find ourselves staring at the Kingdom of God lived out in real life. Because God promises that the Kingdom is for all nations and all tongues, and we will mostly be surrounded by people who don't look exactly like us. Jesus came with a heart tuned to the poor and marginalized, and the longer we stand arm-in-arm with those closest to Jesus' heart, the more we understand the ways of this upside down Kingdom and the servant King who leads it.

More FAQ posts, for anyone who is interested:
-School Choices in an Urban Neighborhood (part 1 and part 2)
-Do you ever just want to move back to the suburbs?
-Aren't you afraid?
-What about adoption?
-How do you budget for food?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Weekend Reading List

I have unfortunately been spending some extra time in courthouses and trying to navigate jail mail and visitation without appearing too clueless (I am), so I've been reading and thinking through some things about prison/jail/sentencing etc over the last few weeks. I just finished reading Chasing the Scream, which takes a look at the War on Drugs. It was fascinating, whether or not I agreed completely with all the conclusions ultimately drawn. 
A few more articles that caught my eye surrounding prison and pipelines and systems and actual humans caught in the middle of it all: 
A Lament for Sandra Bland and For Me - Red Letter Christians
Born Suspect - Sojourners
Also, did anyone see that Obama visited a federal prison, making him the first ever president to do so? (side note: this seems unbelievable to me, how have no presidents ever visited a federal prison before now?

President Barack Obama Visits El Reno Federal Correctional Ins...
President Barack Obama became the first president to visit a federal prison on Thursday, touring the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma.
I also just started reading Go Set a Watchman, and really loved my friend Megan's thoughts on Why You Should Still Read Go Set a Watchman over at Sarah Bessey's blog. I can think of few things more complicated than racial reconciliation and attitudes surrounded these issues, so I think complications raised by this book only make the whole thing more real.  

A few more good reads:
What if Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong?
I, Racist
The Rule of Life  - DL Mayfield
Tell Me What To Do - Austin Channing

And this music video from Gungor: I love it.
Light - Official Music Video
Introducing our homemade video of "Light." With moments from Lucie's birth and love sent from all around the world the night before her second heart surgery.
Posted by Gungor 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Night Terrors

Last night the lightening just begins its flickering, with echoes of distant thunder rolls following, when I tuck the kids into bed. Adam's fifth day out of town, on his third week gone this summer, and I wearily heave myself into my bed hoping against hope that both kids might miraculously stay in their beds for once. Minutes later, rain pours over the eaves and my eyes flutter closed just in time for the pitter patter of steps and a tremulous mommy? I roll over, and Jayci explains she looked out the window and saw two of our chickens stuck outside of the coop in the thunderstorm. They'll be fine, I assure her. We even call daddy to confirm. But thirty minutes and much sobbing later, I sigh and we pull on our rain coats and boots as lightening flashes and rain pounds the ground.

I'm not touching the chicken though, I tell her.

No offense mommy, but it kind of makes me think you're a scaredy cat that you're afraid of chickens, she replies.

We dash through the rain and Jayci safely deposits the admittedly sad hen back into the shelter of her coop. After toweling off and climbing back into respective beds, I check the clock (11:24pm), as loud thunder cracks and Jayci and Caden dash to my bed.

Later, both kids lay tucked quiet in their cozy yellow bunk beds. The thunder rolls distant grumbles, and rain falls gentle instead of harsh. I am startled awake at 1:30am (and again at 3:45 if we're keeping count) by the kind of shriek from Caden that can only mean he has not been awakened by a scary dream; but rather is still trapped in the mire of one. I roll awkwardly out of bed, and try to rush to get him before he wakes up Jayci. My waddling, however, is not fast enough, and basically the night is a wash of not sleeping and Caden flailing and Jayci complaining and by the time the sun peeks over the horizon, I am done.

I yell at Jayci and Caden more this morning than I have perhaps in all nearly-seven-years of parenthood combined. And then spend a few hours berating myself, before collapsing exhausted back into bed while the kids watch strings of television shows that I at least hope might be considered semi-educational.

The pure physicality of this pregnancy has kept me mostly out of my head. Dealing with contractions and nausea and aches and pains has meant strings of days with plodding, but little space for reflection. Some really hard stuff that I'm still not sure how to talk about, and processing it all while my husband is out of town has meant many hormone-filled tear-fests which mostly involve me feeling oh-so-sorry for myself. I count down the days until the kids go back to school. And it's like a punch to the gut every time I see another mom post on social media about how much they cant stand thinking about their kids going back to school, and how much they will miss spending all this quality time together.

The tape begins: If only I was more like that mom. My poor children. I'm not cut out for this whole motherhood thing obviously. What am I thinking adding a third child to the mix? 

Loneliness sits heavy over my shoulders, and anxiousness creeps into all my cracked places. I realize I'm still working in the job I started ten years ago, just until I figure out what I want to do with my life. And I feel lost somehow in the midst of living exactly the life I want, and wondering how to get out of it.

I keep trying to remember that I'm hormonal, and I'm tired, and I'm very-very pregnant and taking care of two small children solo. I keep trying to give myself grace, and stumbling into comparison instead. I hear on repeat the familiar echo that I am not enough. I want to be one who stand certain of who God created her to be, and who can rest in the ways that God has gifted and formed her. I want to teach my children to love boldly and live secure in their identities. But I'm not sure I'm doing that, currently, because I cant seem to swallow that truth for my own life.

I realize this post leans self-indulgent, perhaps, and maybe a little worrisome. But what, I wonder, does it look like to be honest about where we are? About how shaky the ground feels sometimes, how much we need to be held by a Savior who says I know to all our deepest fears.

When Caden has a night terror, I hold him close to my chest, even as he kicks against me and screams that he wants his mommy. His heart gallops and mine follows suit. We both cry, and I walk the dark hall, willing him to find his way out of whatever terror grips him.

My own fear wraps tight around me, and I push against the Savior who holds me close, even as I cry out for Him. I kick and flail and forget that I am already safe. The world I've imagined feels more real than what is true. I want to relax safe in the arms of a Father who loves and holds me close as our hearts beat in tandem. But the moment of relaxing is a mystery, for Caden and for me. There's no rhyme or reason. No trick that works every time to pull from fear to peace, no song or prayer or soothing or simply leaving alone.

And so I remain in the mystery. I try to work out how to relax into the arms of a Savior and trust His plans for me, and for the ones I love the most. But all the while, I know He holds me and He loves me, and for today and for tomorrow that will be enough. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

For the Smallest Stanley

Dear Little One -

In just five short weeks, we will get to see you for real. Not on an ultrasound, or through feet stuck hard in my side, but in an actual little bundle that cries and eats and has a certain color of eyes and hair. This feels unbelievable, both because I cannot imagine keeping you contained inside of me for five more weeks, and because I cannot fathom how quickly these nine months have passed. You certainly haven’t made things easy on me this pregnancy, buddy. Not that I blame you; after all, you had to do something to get my attention in the busy chaos of life around here. But these months of nausea and contractions and not-sleeping have made me focus more on resting when I need to rest. On taking care of myself and your big brother and sister, even if it means shutting our front door and asking the neighborhood kiddos to come back later.

Speaking of your big brother and sister, I am so excited for you to meet them. Caden will make you laugh, for sure. Our little minion, he loves bananas and jokes, along with every single sport. He’s silly and funny and quite crazy, while still remaining astonishingly shy around everyone besides family. Jayci cannot wait to take care of you, and not just because she adores being in charge of people (she does). Every night she whispers how much she loves you to my belly, and prays that you will grow big and strong and come out soon. Caden also leans in for a kiss, only to exclaim that you kicked him in the head, which I dont doubt.

We settled on a name for you a few weeks ago, and thought to keep it a secret until your arrival; except we told your big brother and sister, forgetting that nothing stays secret with them. And so now people know, and we can start calling you by name: Isaiah Andrew.

Isaiah has long been a favorite for me, the book of the Bible that inspires and changes me on every reading. Remind me when you get bigger, and I’ll tell you the story of how I claimed Isaiah 58:11 as my life verse in high school. And then how I learned about context, and about the rest of Isaiah 58 as God expanded our hearts for the neighborhood and folks we live and love these days.

I think of your namesake, of Isaiah the prophet. And I cant help but think that maybe we need more prophetic and poetic voices in today’s world. Ones that neither fear rebuke nor seek fame, but who faithfully proclaim the Truth and point people to Jesus in creative and imaginative ways. I pray you will always find yourself able to resist the simple narrative. That you will find yourself able to push past the noise of social media and headlines and even the religious chatter of the day, in order to find the still small voice that speaks Truth and whispers in your ear: this is the way, walk in it.

In Hebrew the meaning of the name Isaiah is: The Lord is generous; Salvation of the Lord; God's helper. I pray whispered prayers over you every day that you will remember the Truths of your namesake. That the Lord's generosity will always be on your lips and knit into your heart. That His salvation will cover you, and that you might live your life poured out to Him.

My instinct is to shield you from the hard stuff, to make sure you never get hurt, that you never fall or tumble. But the places we live and love in have taught us that the hard stuff often means the best stuff. That beauty snakes through even the darkest corners, and that we cant quite separate joy from pain. So instead I pray that you might be the kind of man who gets hurt and then lets God heal. Who chooses to follow a Jesus who does not lead you down the easy path or up the ladder of success. That instead you will move towards the hurting and the margins, and find there the surprising beauty of life unexpected: the adventure of following Jesus even, or especially, when it’s not easy.

You daddy and I aren’t perfect, you should go ahead and know that up front. Although honestly it probably wont take you long to figure that out. Just yesterday, I found myself in tears because I just needed to be alone and your brother and sister apparently have no intentions of ever allowing that. And then once they were finally both asleep, you started your nightly workout routine, tumbling and kicking and lodging yourself under my ribs while simultaneously pressing on my bladder. I’m learning that motherhood often means choosing the harder things in ways that stretch and mold me. But it also means recognizing the ways I fall short, and the places I cannot fill. And I pray that my frailty will point you to His strength. That you will come to recognize the face of the Father as one who loves you more completely and deeply than Adam and I ever can. That we will do the very best that we can, but that ultimately the greatest gift we can give you lies in surrendering you to His care.

I love you my sweet little Isaiah Andrew, and I cannot wait to meet you. For now, keep resting and growing and kicking and squirming. The Lord knits you together in Christ and for Christ, and I am merely blessed to be a part of the process.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Summer and the Sea

“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean, in a drop.” - Rumi
Every once in a while, I suppose, it might be good for us to get away from the city and spend some time with just the four (ok nearly five) of us. Thanks to my always-generous parents, we were able to spend a week in a hotel room in Florida this week. They reminded us if they had gotten us anything bigger than one room, we would have immediately invited some of the boys to join us (guilty as charged). Not that we dont love bringing the boys to Florida. We do, every time. It's just that we are also realizing, for the sake of our own kid's hearts, they sometimes need our undivided attention. 
And that, I hope, is what they got this week. Particularly because the single room also meant us all going to bed at a shockingly early hour. In fact, I only finished one book (also shocking). 

I also re-discovered that not only are my children quite exhausting, but they are also majorly delightful. Hilarious and adorable and mostly well-mannered. 
And so I apologize for the picture overload, but I cannot help it: my kids are irresistible. I mean, Caden has quite possibly turned into the cutest three year old of all time.
And Jayci might have her days of sass and all-of-the-fighting, but she is also absolutely beautiful both inside and out. Stubborn and determined and smart and sweet, all wrapped up with pretty blond hair and steel-blue eyes. Sigh.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

For The Bestest Daddy

 Looking back on pictures of when we first brought Jayci home from the hospital, it mostly feels like we were just babies ourselves. How could we have known what we were doing? The truth is, in many (or most) ways we didn't. Luckily, you were a natural from the very first minute. Dubbed the "baby whisperer" and "swaddle master," you took to fatherhood from the very start. Watching the way you love Jayci, and the ways you have grown into your role as father in big and small steps every day, has only grown my respect and admiration and love for you. You have taught and continue to teach Jayci the ways she deserves to be cherished by a man, and how she needs to be delighted in and loved deeply and with gentleness. And you also teach her it's ok to make mistakes, to take risks, to be silly, and not to take herself so seriously. You are absolutely the best dad for Jayci, and it's amazing to see the ways you were made perfectly to be her father.
 When we went from one child to two, parenthood was a whole new ball-game. Throw in Caden's unexpected heart defect and those first few days and weeks after his birth were a make-or-break moment for us in our marriage, and for our family. Luckily, you have never been anything less than a rock. A super-dad who handles everything thrown at you with grace and skill (it's borderline maddening how good you are everything really). Those days besides Caden's hospital bed, and the nights we cried together and prayed together, they are cemented in my mind as a beautiful and poignant picture of the ways that Jesus carried us and held us every step of the way. He still holds us, and this is the real reason you are such an amazing father - because you rely on Christ every single day and He works in and through you to draw our entire family closer to Him as a result.
I love the way you father Caden. How you are always teaching him about how to be the kind of man who isn't afraid to ask for help. Who takes care of those around him, both practically and by noticing their needs and desires and making sure every person feels included and loved. You show him in small and big ways how he can pursue Christ as the head of our household without ever wielding your authority in anything but servitude. Caden's sense of humor always reminds me of you, the way you disarm and win people over immediately by making them laugh. I hope our children learn this gift from you. And I especially hope that they might follow in your footsteps as a protector and provider, and a man after God's heart. 
You are the kind of dad everyone wishes they had. The perfect mixture of patience and silliness, of kindness and wisdom, of playful tickle-fights and snuggles on the couch. You teach our kids (not to mention all the kiddos) about fairness and about fun, and especially about what it means to be a man who loves and follows Jesus every single day.

I just wanted to take a minute today and make sure you knew how grateful we are for who you are. We have all-the-jokes around here about you being "the pioneer woman," and about all the ways you are good at everything. But the truth is that this little urban-homestead we have here runs a whole lot less smoothly without you. Together, we parent our children well, and that is only because you are such an anchor, even when you are at your silliest. Thank you for the ways you love all of us, and for the ways that you allow yourself to learn and grow throughout the process.

I cant wait to see how our newest chapter will unfold as the third Stanley baby joins our clan in just a few short weeks. We've already decided perhaps he will be our craziest one yet, since he kicks me and turns somersaults in my belly on a fairly-constant basis. You always joke that he's a "little Adam," to which I roll my eyes and laughingly joke about how I'm going to need Jesus's help with that one (which is obviously true). But also, if we can raise our boys to be anything like the husband, father, and man that you are every single day - I will consider our work as parents a success. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

10 Things

1. Two weeks ago, Adam took 50 kids to Missouri for KAA. The kids and I were at home by our lonesome, particularly because Adam had brought most of the neighborhood kids with him. Thankfully, our next-door neighbors took care of the chickens, or they may not have made it. The kids and I survived by the skin of our teeth, mostly with lots of pool time and park visits. 
2. Here's a few of the biggest boys at camp, oh my heart. I was really sad not to be there with them, and I guess Caden heard me complain a time-or-two that they wouldn't let me go along because I was pregnant. One night as I was tucking them into their new bunk beds, Caden said, a little tearfully, "mommy, are Jayci and I pregnant people and that's why we couldn't go to camp this time?
3. Speaking of new bunk beds, Jayci and Caden have moved into their new shared room. There was a little bit of a learning curve in figuring out how to fall asleep in a shared room (which unfortunately I bore the brunt of while daddy was at camp), but they're old pros at this point. I just finished hanging a gallery wall (without Adam! this is unheard of for me to accomplish things by myself), pictures coming soon. 
4. Adam was only home for four days before leaving again on a contract-work trip to Dallas. In those four days, we managed to host a cookout/playoff game in the backyard night to celebrate a few of the boys graduating high school. After I took this picture, approximately twelve more boys and a few girlfriends showed up. Which meant my heart was full, and that all the food and four pitchers of lemonade were gone in no time.
5. I dont know about anyone else, but I can tell first thing in the morning whether or not my kids are going to have a good day or a bad one. Some mornings they are cheerful and all "yes ma'am" when I tell them only one show, and other mornings there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and plenty of fights. The interesting thing is that the beginnings of the day tend to trickle all the way through and they will either play great and behave wonderfully all-day-long, or the exact opposite of that. Now if I only could figure out the secret to either A) procuring more good days or B) turning around a bad day. 
6. I am realizing that this pregnancy is in the home-stretch (kind of). Tomorrow, I will be 32 weeks pregnant, which is just insane - 8 more weeks seems both impossibly long and way-too-short. We have started kinda-sorta working on the nursery. By which I mean Adam went in the attic and dragged down boxes for me to sort through and try to find all the baby things. This, of course, only makes me realize that our lack of organization on the front-end really just makes life that much harder. For example, being completely unable to find a stitch of baby clothing smaller than size 6 months. Maybe I'll have a really big baby and that wont be a problem . . .
7. We are still loving all our blackberries, blueberries, and now rasberries from the garden. One of my most beloved techniques for buying myself 20 minutes is to tell the kids to go pick all the ripe berries for me. Also, a few times a day, the kids yell to people walking by the berries to help yourselves to berries! As a matter of fact, our garden continues to be a source of community-building and encouragement. I'm trying to convince Adam to write some posts here with his greatest gardening tips, wouldn't you guys love that?
8. Our neighborhood park (right behind our house) is still one of our favorites. Although I tend to leave exhausted because all of the kiddos want all of the pushes on the swings and for me to watch them do all-of-the-things. 
 9. My parents' pool has also been a life-saver so far this summer. Yesterday, we brought one of our favorites over to swim and Jayci spent much time bossing him around and "teaching him how to swim underwater." Said teaching mostly involved him watching HER swim underwater ad nauseum. Thankfully, he's known her for approximately four years and has learned the art of indulgence. All of this made me realize we need to teach Caden how to swim, and Jayci learned from the wonderful "learning to swim" counselors at Camp Grace. Meaning I have no idea how to teach another human being how to swim (something I'm not exactly awesome at myself).
10. On days/evenings when it's not too hot, we spend lots of time on our backyard tire swing, which for sure is the best (nearly free!) Christmas present we ever gave the kids. Our neighborhood is ripe with abandoned tires, as it turns out. Anyways, Adam is planning on putting together a little tutorial on how he made the best-tire-swing-ever. I am always telling Adam he would make such a wonderful lifestyle blogger. Except he couldnt share pictures of his outfits because it typically involves one of his four pink Anteaters shirts with athletic shorts, or possibly with his quick-dry shorts (which are actually zip-off pants because he could not be more fashionable). 


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