Friday, March 29, 2013

The Heaviness of Good Friday

Jayci’s Craisins scatter unceremoniously across the floor. I contemplate simply scooping them back into her bowl, but their stickiness has managed to attract every hair and dirt particle and dust bunny in a three foot radius; and believe me when I say that it has been a minute since I vacuumed last. I cringe as Caden runs towards me with his lips outstretched for a kiss. I attempt to snuggle him without getting too near his swollen pink eye or runny nose.

Heaviness in the broken overshadows my weariness in the mundane this week. I suppose if any week deserves heavy, this would be a good choice.

A cadence of brokenness undergirds all their stories. A haunting melody that sings of darkness and hurting and death. I try to hear and love without breaking. To simply listen as they casually mention their dad’s alcoholism. Or she sits twisting her hair while declaring, “as long as he doesn’t black my eye, it doesn’t matter.” Or laughingly, he requests we fill up at the Chevron because his dad doesn’t come home until 2am most nights; rather, he sits on a broken plastic stool in the Citgo, dropping coins into the slot machine like tiny pieces of hope that might finally get him a win.
I enfold the dread-locked boy who knocks on our door late to ask if we’ve seen his cousin who ran away from school and still hasn’t come home. I barely hold back soul-shaking sobs when she cries that she was violated at school. I carry the guilt when he goes back to jail in handcuffs, still wearing defiance like a cloak.

I am driving back into the city and dark clouds envelop the skyline. Rain shrouds Atlanta in deep fuzzy gray. I’ve dropped the kids off at Nana’s for the weekend, and I’m just getting back on the highway, trying not to despair at the darkness ahead of me. Just overhead, I notice a miniscule pocket of light, a tiny break in the heavy blanket of clouds.

Thousands of years ago marks a day swathed in darkness, and a body racked by pain. Real pain and real darkness. Broken by thorns and vinegar in a wound. And sometimes we still live in the darkness, in the remembering that we needed blood to cover all this sin.

I keep driving, windshield wipers swatting at sporadic drops. I am waiting for the deluge that never comes. Suddenly I notice the skyline shines pink. Dark clouds still cloak their silhouettes, but the buildings themselves shimmer and dance in glittery pink and orange light. Puzzled, I twist in my seat, and realize that tiny patch of light has broke open behind me. The light can no longer be contained, no matter how dark and heavy the clouds hang over the city.

The veil tore, the earth shattered, and heaven was moved.

Sunday is coming.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Learning by Serving

While I was in the shower this morning, I realized I hadnt posted anything on here all week. And then I thought to myself: thank goodness it's Thursday and I can just re-post something and call it a day :-)

But seriously, it is a good reminder for my heart of why we are doing this crazy life, and how our journey began. This post is from shortly after we got back from our first trip to camp.

Learning by Serving

Since we got back from Camp Grace, I've been going downtown a couple times a week and helping out with several of the ministries that brought kids up to camp. I'm sharing this fact not to "toot my own horn" so to speak, but to tell you a little bit about how blessed I've been through serving. The Lord continually teaches me, stretches me, and blesses me with overflowing joy each time I go serve in the projects and share love with some deserving kids.

I am struck each time I drive downtown by the poverty that surrounds me. Boarded-over windows, barbed wire, broken-down cars and trash litter and line the streets. When we pull up to Herndon Homes (the largest project in Atlanta) it looks nicer than I expected, it is not until Jeremy points out the drug dealers on the corner and the "dime bags" that once held crack all over the ground that I realize I've entered a whole different world, one I've never before experienced or imagined.

My heart breaks with fear and pain as I watch two year olds waddle around in nothing more than a diaper, drinking grape soda from a can, mindless of the minefield of broken glass that his little feet navigate fearlessly.

At children's church this Sunday, a beautiful young girl asks me to pray for her mom - when I ask for details she says she can't tell in front of so many people - when i ask if she wants to whisper in my ear, she nods vigorously before informing me that her mom's in jail and she has been separated from her brothers and sisters and is living with her aunt. Tears well in her eyes (and mine) as I do the only thing I know how to: pray earnestly that the Lord will show us a way out, and that he will rescue her from her circumstances.

Later, a polite and helpful young man who often helps us with our ministry reveals that he has been suspended for misbehaving in school. His mom adds that he has threatened to re-open a DFCS case on her, and he protests strongly when his mother says she's trying to get his father to pay child support (he argues that his father shouldn't be to blame)

I cannot help but wonder how any of these kids can be expected to rise above their circumstances . . .we are quick to label them lazy and "bad" from the comfort of our four bedroom homes with big yards and full fridges - but how will they know a different way to live unless WE show them. They desperately need to know that they're worth it, that they deserve more than they have been dealt, and that their heavenly Father cares infinitely more about them than their earthly fathers seem to . . .

I am excited every time I get to go downtown and spend time with these kids, knowing that in them I encounter the Lord, who became the poor and hurting as He died on the cross. . . Never before has my faith felt as vibrant and real as it does when i am serving these kids.

"The Lord of Hosts says this: "Render true justice. Show faithful love and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the stranger or the poor. . ." Zachariah 7:9-10a

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Weekend Links

Some of my dear friends are getting married today. It is raining and thundering and cold and still, somehow, the perfect day for them to begin their journey as husband and wife. I'm sitting on the couch drinking tea and reading and thinking about how I can take good pictures for them in the rain without ruining my camera; which is, undoubtedly, my most expensive possession.
All of this is completely besides the point, my apologies. I realized the other day that some of my favorite posts are the ones by Sarah and Kristen where they share links and things they have been reading every week. I love finding new blogs, books, and authors. So I thought I'd share some of my favorite posts from the past week or so, in hopes that maybe you all will stumble onto something you love too.

To my Daughters/On Being Pretty from A Deeper Church

The Hardest Boy to Love at Flower Patch Farmgirl

And then the Conference Uninvited me to Speak by Jen Hatmaker

After Steubenville: 25 Things our Sons Need to Know About Manhood from Ann Voskamp

One Simple Captivating Song at Study in Brown

Come Weary by Addie Zierman

 I shared a few weeks back a list of the books I've read in 2013 so far. I also just finished The 12 Tribes of Hattie, which was not my favorite book ever, but was kind of sadly reminiscent of some of the families we know and love. I'm currently reading Sparkly Green Earrings. I love it as much as I love Melanie's blog, which means I couldn't stop laughing loudly while Adam and I were on a Barnes and Noble date this week (which everyone knows are the best dates for the biggest hipsters and/or the old people who maybe cant stay awake for a movie after dinner).
 This is what Caden does these days when you tell him to smile for the camera. Adorable and slightly creepy.
 Also, I'm fairly obsessed with this song right now - I can't stop listening to it. Especially this version. Love.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Throwback Thursday: The Beginning

Adam suggested the other day that I start doing "Throwback Thursday" posts every week, where I re-post old blogs from the very beginning of the journey that led us to where we are today in inner-city ministry. Since I haven't posted anything all week, and I have strangely been finding myself at a loss for words the last couple days/weeks, I decided that Adam was onto something good. . .

So I looked back through my oldest posts on the blog, and the whole thing really began with our time at Camp Grace (which I knew, although the truth is that the beginning was much farther back. God had already been working in our hearts when we pulled up to camp that summer so many years ago).

Originally posted in July of 2007. 

Camp Grace

I've been putting this post off for a while because I'm not sure where to begin and what to tell you about our time here at Camp Grace this summer.

It honestly has been a humbling and life-changing experience spending a month with these kids. First of all, let me give you a little background on what Camp Grace is. Four years ago, it began with a day camp which bussed inner city kids out of Atlanta each day -- now it's an overnight camp in Cleveland, GA where kids from the poorest areas of the city come for a week to play basketball, volleyball, swim, fish, hike, cook, do arts and crafts, play lots of fun games and learn a lot about the Lord. Basically, the goals of the camp are to love the kids, introduce them to the ideas of Christianity and the person of Christ, and to offer them a joyful and exciting break from the poverty, crime and other stresses they experience on a continual basis in their day-to-day life. Throughout the year, Vision Atlanta raises money so that the kids only pay $30 for a week of camp. Groups like Kellar Williams, and individuals from churches etc (like my parents) sponsor the other $360 dollars it takes to send them here for the week.

Most of the kids who come bring only one or two changes of clothes. Some dont have toothpaste, soap or bedding. Many of them exhibit a hardness when they first get there that tends to wear down over the course of the week. Those who fight the hardest and curse the most tend to be the ones most heartbroken to leave. I wish I could do a better job describing how precious it is to be a part of that moment when they grin and run into a hug, especially when earlier in the week they are determined to be tough and prove that they dont need anyone . . .

These kids have stories that will make you cringe, stories of ministry leaders shaking roaches off their clothing to pack them for camp, of entire cabins of girls not knowing who their fathers are, of gang activity and daily violence . . . their stories break my heart, and cause me to examine my faith.

If I proclaim to be a Christian, yet do not serve and love the forgotten (the "least of these") then what will have to say for myself when i stand before my Savior one day? If I take what the Bible says seriously, than I cannot know about what these kids are facing and do nothing to help them . . .
So now I am back at home, in my three bedroom house with two cars, a puppy, lots of clothes and friends . . . and it becomes easier to ignore the poverty and violence than to make the effort to go serve - especially because serving now means getting out of my comfortable chair in my cozy home and going into a world that's dangerous and unknown . . . but I cannot allow myself not to go because I cannot help but think that the dangerous, unknown world of these kids is exactly where Jesus would be.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

This is how we throw a banquet

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A quick run-down of how we throw a "banquet" here at Blueprint 58 . . . 
First, we give in to the neighborhood boys' relentless begging for a basketball team, despite little-to-no actually knowledge of basketball.

We quickly realize we have far too many boys for one team. So now we have three teams. We recruit coaches and pat ourselves on the back for having so many wonderful friends and neighbors who are willing to help out.
Then we have multiple games on multiple nights of the week for many weeks in a row.  I make sandwiches and cupcakes, we cheer, and I coax boys back onto the team who have quit it anger over losing by more then twenty points. We carpool and practice and help condition and finally make it to the last game of the season.

We say to ourselves "hey we should have dinner with the boys to celebrate them like we did for football." And then realize we have three teams and nearly thirty boys, plus nine coaches . . . Meaning the casual backyard barbeque and awards around the firepit we did for football season might not work as well in this situation.

So we decide to have a proper banquet instead. And use the neighborhood community center, so the boys can invite their parents. We make invitations and buy food and wonder how many kids and/or siblings might show up. We panic a little, and then recruit more friends to make cheesy casserole and to help serve so that the teenage boys dont eat entire casseroles by themselves.

Again, we pat ourselves on the back for having such wonderful friends who help pull off our madness.
We estimate our "banquet" might have anywhere from forty to one hundred attendees. So we make more casseroles, have my sister and mother-in-law make lots of cookies and cupcakes, and buy balloons to adorn the tables. We forget coaches' thank-you gifts at home, but do remember to ask the fabulous Megan to bring her camera and some fun photo props. Boys help put disposable cameras on each table and tie balloons to Jayci's wooden blocks to put in the center of tables. Adam makes sure his mustache looks particularly ridiculous, and we declare ourselves ready.
We eat from a plethora of casseroles (Doritos casserole being the boys' favorite, obviously). Coaches give out awards for "most hustle" and for "most heart." We celebrate our boys in our usual loud and boisterous and hopelessly disorganized fashion. But we have fun doing it. And I think they had fun too. And that's really all that matters right?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Why sunshine is good for the soul

I think I've shared with y'all before that I struggle with depression. And sometimes grey skies day after day through winter and past, cold winds, biting rain . . . it all makes everything feel grey. Like the grey is somehow seeping into my very soul.

But then last weekend, we grabbed some dear friends and headed for a quick trip out of the city. Because sometimes we just need a breather, ya know? It was fun and refreshing, if not particularly relaxing with four children aged five and younger. But the sunshine and semi-warm temperatures and swinging in the hammock with my squirmy little kiddos, even though it only lasted a minute, was like a soothing cup of tea for my heart.

And then we took Caden to the cardiologist and the doctor took a good look at my sweet Caden's heart and told us what we already know: it looks beautiful. He continues to be our fiesty little miracle, and although the doctor also gave us a nice long list of concerns and things we may need to watch out for . . . he said he sees none of them in his heart yet, and that he had the best possible surgical outcome based on his defect and repair.

And then there is a day like yesterday. Suddenly everything feels brighter, more hopeful. Our neighborhood comes alive in warm weather, people line the streets and wave and shout greetings to each other. Children line up for the swings, and pile up at the bottom of the slide. Taking Jayci and Caden to the playground is an exhausting exercise in chasing them in two different directions while pushing seven neighborhood children on the swings. The basketball court is full, and Adam plays football with the boys.  They tromp back to our front porch with blades of grass stuck in their hair and mud stains on their knees.
And even the dust dances like magic in the warm sun.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Heart Conditions

I am making dinner for Sabo, hoping that warm cheesy casserole might remind the prodigal how much we love him, as stubbornly as he refuses to believe it. And tomorrow morning we bring Caden to the cardiologist; a thrill of nervous anxiety runs through me at the thought. The water boils and I dump in noodles, distractedly shredding cheese and periodically slicing a piece to pop in my mouth. And as I cook, I ponder the hearts of my boys. I can’t shake the singular image burned in my mind of Caden’s heart beating tenaciously and tenuously beneath a crinkly layer of plastic.

Somehow I know that Sabo’s heart beats tenuously beneath a rent-open chest too. That no matter what corner he stands on, no matter how often he runs away from home, straight into the arms of a life rife with danger and drugs and money and meaningless sex and friends shot in the back of the head. No matter how many dark alleys he finds himself in, how many layers of plastic and brick he erects to keep us out and protect his heart. No matter what, God continues to graciously allow me to glimpse the truth that his heart still beats. That his chest might be open, and major surgery might be required . . . but he is still alive, and the Savior never gives up on Saviour. And so neither will we.

The ironic thing about this whole never giving up thing is that we aren’t very good at it. Both Adam and I, we are notorious giver-uppers. On workout plans and diets and cutting-out-sugar and paleo and keeping our car clean and sticking to a budget. I succumb easily to obstacles and temptation alike, perhaps precisely why I see myself as if in a mirror when I stare into Sabo’s eyes. Why I recognize my own prodigal, my own torn open heart, my own poverty, my inability to control and protect myself from the world that hurts. Take Lent: this year, I didn’t give anything up because I have failed a million times to follow through with Lent in the past, so I figure it is safer not to even try.

But isn’t Lent really about following Jesus to the cross? The thought bounces through my mind as I pluck a noodle from the boiling water and blow on it briefly before popping it in my mouth to see if it’s done. My mouth scalds, and the noodle’s still too gritty.

I think of the cross and the life that brought Jesus to hang there. Of how He went intentionally to the very places everyone else avoided. To a well in Samaria, a place people normally took the long way around, to meet a woman. And I think of the places we go the long way around to avoid. The corners where I always get yelled at, the streets I know will be crowded with tables and games of cards and dice, the gas stations where I inevitably get asked for money,
But Jesus goes straight to the places we avoid. And we meet Him when we follow Sabo into his hideout and cup his face to remind him that this life will never satisfy. We step over broken beer bottles and crumpled Sprite cans and condom wrappers and chicken bones to remind that Christ offers living water for the thirsty sinner who fills water jugs with what will only leave us thirsting for more. And the truth is that I lug my own water jugs, even as I gesture for Sabo to lay his down. I carry my broken cisterns of fear and anxiety and insecurity and I think how glad I am that I don’t have to carry his jugs of anger and drugs and who-knows-what-else. But we both still drag our water jugs, filling and refilling and drinking lies of the perfect-mother-I-will-never-be and the powerful-rich-drug-dealer-who-needs-no-one-ever.

And Jesus beckons us both alike to shatter our jugs, to lie still and drink deep of living water. To allow our hearts to be torn open so He can give us a new one.

I layer just-al-dente noodles with cheese, and ladle sauce on top, sprinkling on more mozzarella for good measure. And I surrender not one but two boys, and their heart conditions, to a Father who loves far more deeply and fully than I can even imagine. I trust that He is doing His delicate and careful work on their hearts, and on mine. Healing and re-wiring, strengthening and widening, and softening that which was once hard. And sometimes it means leaving them in the boiling water just a little bit longer.

But I remind myself as I drive up to the apartment, disposable tin-foil casserole dish in hand, that sometimes letting go looks differently than I think it should. That even as I sat helpless and surrendered by Caden’s bedside in the CICU, I never stopped praying over him or whispering truth into his little ears about how loved he was, how glad we were to have him. And so I do the same for this one: I hug him tight and whisper how much I love him in his ear, while a cigarette perches behind the other one. He mumbles names I cant decipher for his friends, and I tell them how glad I am to meet them. One rolls back over, burrowing under a faded camouflage blanket, and the other one winks at me from beneath an unruly bleached-blonde fro.

I will somehow both surrender my boys to Jesus, while continuing to pursue them into the hardest places I can imagine. To cardiologist appointments and apartment complexes that make my heart-beat quicken. Because I am desperate for them, and for me, to encounter the Christ who heals hearts. The One who offers living water that quenches our insatiable thirst, and will not leave us parched for dope or for money or for acceptance or anything other thing. Because that’s the kind of encounter that will leave Sabo and I standing hand-in-hand, the shards of our broken cisterns around our feet.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Seven Years Ago Today

Seven years ago today, I became Mrs. Stanley. Since then, everything and nothing has changed.
From our wedding day, through the birth of two beautiful, perfect (and oh-so-high-maitenance) children, the "adoption" of a whole neighborhood of kids, all the ups and downs, the funny faces, the tears, and yet  more funny faces . . . you are still my favorite. Love you lots. Happy anniversary my dear!

(from today at the lake. See? nothing has changed)


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