Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Creative Confidence (guest post from Meg at Pure and Simple)

As October draws to a close (what?! how is that even possible?), I'm excited to share one last guest post with y'all (I mean, not last-guest-post-ever. Because you guys have sent me so many awesome posts, I'm sure I'll share more occasionally. Send me ideas anytime). 

Anyways, today's post is from Meg over at Pure and Simple. I love her words, their blog, and especially their 31-day series this year on Finding your Creative Confidence. Creativity and confidence sometimes seem mutually exclusive, and I'm just not sure that's how it should work. I've loved following along with their series this month, so be sure to check it out too! Oh and be sure also to make Meg feel welcome and leave her a comment or two.

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Our team has been writing for 31 days about Finding Your Creative Confidence. This series (and really, our blog) were born out of a line we kept hearing over and over from our girlfriends: “I’m not creative” – a line often accompanied by things like, “I could never do that” and “She’s just ___-ier than I am.” So for the month of October, we've set out to prove that whether you believe it or not, you are creative--and we've been boosting our creative confidence a little more each day.
p&s team
A couple of years ago, I would never have characterized myself as creative.

Creative people were good at specific skills. They sewed their own clothes. Their living room decor was pulled together. They wrote poetry and planned good parties. Creativity was for other people, and that was kind of fine with me.

Then, a couple of years ago, I started reading blogs – and by default, I started reading a lot of tutorials, DIY ideas, recipes, and lots of well-written words. Suddenly, I felt surrounded by creative people.

As I read these bloggers' stories, I started to realize that amidst all of their mysterious creativity was a quiet courage. Instead of saying, “I can’t do that,” they were trying things. Cautiously, I started following their lead. In small, simple steps – I tried things too. My confidence grew and I got to know myself better. I started to discover things that filled me up. And sometimes I failed. Which sometimes was hilarious.
Many of us approach the subject of creativity with hesitation. We lay aside the Truth that we have all been made in the image of the Creator--born with the desire and ability to make good things out of mess. This creativity is grace--a grace we simultaneously receive and then withhold from ourselves. We give way too much attention to the small voices inside that say “I can’t” and “I’m not creative." The more we listen to these internal words, the more we start to believe them as truth. And in turn, they start to impact our willingness to take risks.

And there is a risk in trying something new. No one knows this better than me, a self-proclaimed mishap extraordinaire--I added a quarter-cup of salt to a batch of homemade salsa two years ago, my sewing maxim is "Measure once, cut twice," and I can make a lively mess with a blender full of hot liquid. And yet, I wouldn't trade all my mistakes for the goodness I've gained from trying.

This week, give yourself permission to try one new thing. Maybe for you, that one new thing is to change the internal soundtrack you've been listening to. Tell yourself "I am creative." This doesn't mean you have art hanging in a gallery, your home may be as untidy as mine, and it doesn't mean you can pen great sonnets on a whim (honestly, can anyone?)...

But it does mean you are listening to the right voice.

You are creative. And it's as pure and simple as that.

Interested in finding more about your creativity? Click here to take the Creative Personality quiz!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

For when you've fallen off the bandwagon

I am weary. And I fear I have said those words, and been in this place, far too many times before. Enough times that I already know what you will say, what your responses will be, what I need to do, and grace-especially-for-me.
But I know all of this already, and I'm actually extending grace to myself right now. Right here. By allowing myself to admit defeat. To give up when I need to give up, rather than simply putting my head down and trying harder. Because I haven't found myself unable to write for 31 days straight for a lack of things to say. I have about 17 half-finished, just-started, lightly-organized posts sitting here and there. And I cannot find five minutes alone to pee, let alone thirty or forty-five minutes alone to create/think/write anything at all.

This whole momma-to-two-small-children thing? It's hard. And busy. And honestly a little bit soul-sucking; particularly for this introvert who writes-to-process, yet finds herself both always and never alone. Entangled in the kind of lonely that feels dangerous rather than lovely. Because there exists an alone I treasure. An alone that involves a quiet house and a cup of coffee, candles lit and book open. This, my friends, is not the kind of alone we find in abundance around here.

So I'm not angry at myself for not writing for 31 days. I don't have much of a problem admitting that kind of defeat. Rather, I am frustrated at a lack of space to listen. A lack of time to hear. A chronic busyness that trickles into every single piece of my life. Until I find myself so busy hurrying to do good things that I forget to actually be a good person and neighbor.

Loving ourselves, our families, our friends, our neighbors. This is hard and holy work. And it means a consciously brave act of setting my feet on the floor each morning wrapped in the prayer and resolve to allow myself to simply be.

Somehow, this looms far harder to accomplish than it sounds. Because more often than not, I am not so much bravely setting my feet on the ground as I am startling awake to the silent five year old staring at me from beside my bed, or the two year old wailing from his crib that he HAS POOPS.

And even when I have the wherewithal to accomplish this rising from bed with my attitude properly aligned, I find myself quickly crumbling into survival mode again with demands for snacks and breakfast simultaneously, wrestling into school clothes and out the door, knocks and requests for rides-because-we-missed-the-bus, and traffic. Always the traffic.

So the problem, the frustration, becomes how to honor the person God has made me to be (an introvert who desperately needs both rest and alone-time), in the midst of the life and season I have been called into right now (mom to two young children doing inner-city ministry).

Because to-heck with 31days, or writing here at all, if it becomes anything but life-giving. But while it gives life for me to write, I need to find my way here (or to my journal, or wherever I am writing).

I have no answers. No solutions, obviously. Just prayers and hopes. I am open, of course, to suggestions, with the recognition that our lives and our ministry tend to be overwhelmed by crisis-upon-crisis. And saying no and making space looms far harder and more complicated than it appears. Rising earlier? Would be a wonderful idea if I could get in bed before midnight some nights. Perhaps y'all have some magical formula for living without sleep? That might help. 

"Creativity without rest, and creation without renewal, leads to an exhaustion of our inner resources."  - Newell, The Book of Creation

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Stop Fighting, Start Listening (guest post from Mallory)

I realize that I've been sharing a lot of guest posts here lately.

This is for a few different reasons: 1 - I am having trouble posting every day. The last few weeks have felt especially crazy, because of getting the flu and babysitting Amir and work photoshoots and Anteater championships. This picture, in fact, represents a pretty accurate depiction of my days/life around here lately. Sigh. If you look closely you can see all my dirty laundry. Let's just pretend you can't.
But also 2 - So many wonderful friends have sent me so many beautiful and vulnerable and heart-felt posts, I am honored to have the privilege of sharing them here in this space.

One of those friends is sweet Mallory. She shares her story and heart with vulnerability and honesty, and I hope you will all make sure she feels welcome and loved well (just like you always do for me!
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Hey, y’all! My name is Mallory, but you can call me Mal. I want to say thank you to Becca for allowing me to share a piece of my heart with you here on her blog. This morning, when I woke up and saw the email from her, God spoke straight to me regarding something that happened just last night and how it applies to my walk with Him and I knew I needed to write about it for this post. I’ll try to be as condense as possible, but I am a little wordy, so my apologies in advance. :-)

Sometimes, my family feels like the poster child for dysfunction. I’m 21 years old, and have a 24-year-old sister named Chelsea and a 25-year-old sister named Holly. My mom, Sheri, has raised us on her own for what feels like my entire life, as my dad, Keith, passed away two days after my 7th birthday. We grew up in the church, until they kicked me out when I was 14, but I don’t think you could ever call us Christians. Chelsea suffers from severe mental illness that impacts every member of this family to this day, including her 3-year-old son Blake, and all four of us, my mom, both my sisters, and I, have dealt with depression to some extent for years.

I didn’t grow up having relationships with my sisters. If anything, I grew up believing they were the exact opposite of who I wanted to be. I have spent my whole life worried about becoming another “burden” on my mom’s lap. I thought I had to be strong because she had her own problems, Chelsea, Holly, and so much else to deal with that I genuinely did not want to make life harder. Every single day, I aimed to be the one “bright spot” in her life, the one person who was always there to remind her she was an incredible mom when my sisters didn’t treat her well. I stopped confiding anything hard in her, because I was more worried about her own feelings than my own.

Things started to change, though, when I became a Christian through a series of very God-ordained events in April 2012. To say my family isn’t a fan of me being a Christian would be an understatement. It took me a while, however, to realize how my role changed in my family as I learned how to give more and more of myself over to Christ. Eventually, I realized that the expectations we both had placed on me were for a role that only Jesus is meant to fill. This all boiled up into us breaking into a major fight on Wednesday, and then spending two hours on her bed late last night talking, me finally telling her all the things I’d kept hidden for so long. At the end of that talk, I walked away feeling like my mom had actually listened to me for the first time.

She and I are so much alike, you see. We both want to be right. ALL. THE. TIME. We spend so much time in arguments thinking about the next thing we’re going to say that we never take time to understand where the other one is coming from. We’re incredibly emotional and sensitive and take things as an attack on ourselves when they aren’t meant to be. It’s not hard to see how all of these shared traits and a lack of communication led to distance and strain. Those two hours last night were spent with each of us fighting to get the other one to understand how we felt. It was a perfect mirror of the last few years; we spent so much time and energy fighting to be right and to feel vindicated that we never stepped back and truly listened to the other’s heart.

When I woke up this morning and saw the email from Becca, thoughts came flooding into my head. I thought about what a draining fight last night was. I remembered how a dear friend of mine who had listened to me after the fight with my mom on Wednesday told me that the expectations my mom had put on me to make her life okay and her getting mad at the fact that I couldn’t were simply her fighting God reaching His hand down into her life. But mostly, I knew that I couldn’t be mad at my mom, because I was in her shoes not too long ago at all, and I know exactly what it feels like to be absolutely terrified of the one thing people you love tell you will heal you.

Between August 2009 and September 2010, I faced nine surgeries and five different medical problems that, by the standards of every one of my doctors, should have killed me. Since I didn’t have a church at the time, the only connections I had with Christians were nurses, hospital chaplains, and bloggers who tried so hard to get me to lean into God in the midst of the indescribable pain I was facing. I couldn’t see it at the time, but looking back, I now know that God was using all of those surgeries, hospital stays and scares, and people to try and open my eyes to what had been waiting for me. With every late night stuck awake with nothing but my own thoughts, with every conversation with a well-meaning stranger, God was whispering into my soul, “Child, I am waiting for you. I love you more than you know. You are worth more to Me than you could ever imagine.” I heard it…but I didn’t listen. I didn’t listen because I couldn’t believe it. I still couldn’t understand that a God that loved me would let me be suffering so greatly. So I fought. I fought to prove to myself and to the world that I didn’t need God. I didn’t need anyone to take care of me. I would be fine.

In November 2010, I completely and utterly broke. I realized that God didn’t torture me; God saved me from multiple encounters with death. And I knew there had to be a God taking care of me because at that point, I knew that I wasn’t taking care of me. I begged Him to show me that there was a reason for all of what I’d been through, to prove to me that I was wrong about Him. I was making demands of Him as if I was actually the one in control.

I didn’t believe it would happen, though. After the way I’d been treated by my hometown church and spending my entire life feeling totally abandoned, soon enough, I was back to being convinced that I was on my own. Then, in February 2011, I met a band from Nashville called The Vespers (check them out!), and told my life story to one of the members. He, Bruno, was the first person I’d ever told every detail to, and he was also the first person to tell me that my story, my testimony, could change people. I knew God was telling me that day, “This is just a glimpse of what I have planned.” But I ignored it, and Him, because I was still too ashamed to tell the world of all the ways that I’d failed. I fought to make everyone think that I was fine, that I was as good at handling my life as I appeared to be.

Over the next 14 months from that initial meeting with the band, people I’d known for varying lengths of time started coming out of every direction to tell me how knowing me had affected and helped them. I also formed real, solid relationships with Bruno and his band mates, and eventually, I could no longer ignore the fact that the reason I admired them so strongly was because they shined the light, love, and security that I’d searched for my entire life, and the one place they got that light, love, and security from was Jesus.

In April 2012, I was in Nashville with them celebrating the release of their second CD, and on Thursday the 5th, Bruno and his brother/band mate, Taylor, took me to this worship service for young people called Sanctuary. I walked into the church thinking I was going to get to hang out with two of my best friends and listen to some good music; less than four hours later, I left a Christian, having been baptized into God’s family surrounded by 600+ people I’d never met but somehow felt like I’d known for my entire life. God chased me down in that church. As strangers prayed over me and my family, I broke down sobbing and knew that I couldn’t fight it anymore. I couldn’t ignore the calls of love. I couldn’t pretend that I didn’t need God or that God didn’t want me. By getting baptized that night, it felt like I made a promise to myself and to God that I wasn’t going to fight anymore. I was done, and I was His.

It was hands down the weirdest night of my life, but also the best decision I have ever made. In the year and a half since that crazy, God-breathed night, I have felt God speak to me many times about many things, and I used to be the one who thought that people who said God spoke to them were nuts. I have found a church family that accepted me from day one and has walked with me through a very hard year since. I have grown in my passion for my faith and knowing Jesus despite many obstacles. And now, I’m just a little over a month away from returning to Nashville and the first church that ever felt like home.

Just like my mom and I couldn’t truly listen to each other when we were focused on ourselves and fighting to be right and to be heard, I couldn’t listen to God when I was fighting His pursuit of my heart. It was when I stopped fighting and started listening to the Lord that all the dark spots in my life didn’t seem so dark anymore. It was then that He started changing every aspect of my life, right down to the very core of who I see myself as. It was then that I started not only loving Him, but loving myself. Being right can be great for our egos, but being safe is what is great for our souls. And nothing of this world can offer the safety that we so desperately seek.

That’s why my heart breaks for my mom and all the other non-believers in my life. I don’t know if these people that I love more than I could ever put into words will ever come to know Christ. I don’t make the plans here, but I do what I can. And what I can do is pray for them, and for my place in their lives. I pray to show them Jesus when my humanity wants to react in anger. I pray for the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts.

And what I also can do is to trust in my love for the Lord more than my love for them. No matter how many complaints I get from them about my passion for my God, I won’t stop talking because I never want to go back to where I was before. I want to tell anyone and everyone who will listen how I know that God really is exactly who He says He is, how I have been redeemed by the King of the Universe. I hope that if I keep talking, people will see God’s power and grace in my life. I want to show everyone that if they just stop fighting, God will redeem every inch of their lives, just like He did with me.

I promise you, I know what it feels like to look at parts of your life and think that they are just beyond repair. Maybe it’s just you who’s told you that, maybe voices from the outside have told you it and you believed it. But I am here to tell you that when you stop fighting to keep a death grip on all the pieces of your life that are just falling apart, that is exactly when God will come in and start turning all of your brokenness back into the whole creation He intended you to be. He will restore you to the place of righteousness that you deserve as a child of the King, a place you were given when Jesus went to the cross. It won’t be easy; it’s been painful and hard and a real struggle for me, but I can tell you that is worth it. God has the whole picture, we don’t, so if you trust Him enough to let go of the fight for control and follow His lead, He will bring you to the mountaintop. And it will be greater than anything you could imagine.
Thank-you Mallory for sharing your heart here and reminding us to listen well. Be sure to visit and follow Mal on Twitter and her blog

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Be Still (Guest Post by Lori Harris)

Today's guest here at the Stanley Clan is one of my most-favorite new blogs. Not that her blog is new, necessarily, but it's new-to-me. Discovering Lori, and connecting with her, has been such a treat, especially because I always feels such a connection with other mommas raising their babies in the hood. As it turns out, it's not that easy to find soul-sisters who completely understand what we do here. Lori is one of those soul-sisters for me: she gets it. So I am honored to share her (beautiful and thoughtful and wonderfully written) words with y'all today. Be sure to visit and follow her blog and facebook page. And make sure to leave a comment and make her feel welcome!
I greet the hush of morning with stillness of body and I breathe.

Steam from my mug swirls round my face and I breathe it in, again and again, my whole body wanting to remember how to sit at the feet of Jesus.

I slow the rhythm of my breathing and I close my eyes to remember a small table on Tate Street and the quiet rush of Spirit.

And in this space of hush, I listen for His familiar call,

Be Still.

In the middle of October, clouds stretch out across the sky like pulled cotton and I stand in the yard looking for a sliver of sunshine.

My youngest boy stands in the tire swing and then shimmies up into the tree and he grins at me, real proud like.

I grin too, as I move to stand in the small patch of sunlight between the trees and I soak it up, starved for light.

And there in the yard, in that sliver of sunlight, I stand still enough to feel a small flame lick within me and I kindle it,

By simply being still.

I should probably tell you that this is all new for me, this being still and listening.

I’m a plate spinner, a try-harder, do better kind of girl. I love to make stuff happen and I’ve been making stuff happen for more years that I can count.

That is, until I couldn’t keep making stuff happen.

Four years ago, I entered a season of life that I now call The Great Wrecking. I call it The Great Wrecking because I began to break down from the inside out.

I simply stopped being able to hold myself together. It was a quick spiral into exhaustion and a dip into depression and an invitation to let God have His way with me.

But I’m a fighter and so I pulled up my big girl panties and did what I thought God wanted me to do: I got myself together.

And then I broke into even more pieces, creating this cycle of wrecking.

I don’t like this dying to self business, so here we are, four years later and God is still wooing and I’m still clawing the ground, trying to hang onto me.

And the most beautiful thing of all is that I’m losing my grip on me and setting my eyes on Christ.

A few weeks ago, in response to God’s movement in my life, I entered a 31 day focus of simply being because I long for my soul to remember what it’s like to sit at the feet of Jesus.

I’m practicing the art of being still and quiet, both in body and in soul.

I’m listening without feeling the burden to produce an outward response.

I’m receiving without guilt.

And in my hushing, my listening, my just being, I am giving God space to mercifully wreck my pretty little, try-harder, do-good life,

One more time.

Now it’s your turn.

How do you make space to listen to God’s voice? Is He inviting you to your own personal wrecking?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Champions

Yesterday, this happened.


Yup, that's right: the Anteaters won the championship. As their excitement level shot through the roof, one might have thought more than three teams competed in the league. Or that the team they beat in order to win, might not have been the same team they defeated three times prior.
 
My point is this: when I really listen to these boys, I discover that they desperately long for a piece of something worthwhile. To be on the team. To belong. Because even the roughest boys, the ones who are nothing but "bad-news," whose instagram feeds mainly feature guns and drugs. Even those boys showed up faithfully for every single practice. They shake hands after the game, wolf down cookies, and take turns praying it out. Even though we shouldn't play popcorn with Jesus.


One of the boys wears a neon trucker hat emblazoned with curse words. He bought it only, he insists, because it came in Anteater Pink. 

Back in the neighborhood, they gather together to put their hands in and yell ANTEATERS one more time. In the middle of the street, they laugh and dance and smack each other on the chest. Because the power of belonging, it staggers.
So congratulations to our Anteaters. And thank-you all for being a part, for contributing to belonging. And listening to what our boys really need. What we all need.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Listening to your kids: A few of our favorites

We've been working (a little bit more than usual at least) to really LISTEN to our children this month. And while we haven't yet had our camping trip or craft-time, we've been taking more time for walks and games and reading stories together. Along that vein, I thought I'd share a few of our favorite "tools" for spending time with, and listening to our kids.

 (Although the truth is that anything or nothing can work. Simply time together, and not fancy books or games - that's the key, as we're discovering). 
Favorite Game: Sleeping Queens. We have some awesome friends in Iraq who sent us this game two years ago or so. It's still holding strong as Jayci's favorite game of all time. I will say that it was written by a seven year old, and some of the rules feel like that. For example, you can put a queen to sleep with a sleeping potion or stop your queen from being put to sleep with a wand. You cannot have both the cat queen and dog queen because they will fight like cats and dogs, and if you pick up the rose queen you automatically get to pick up another queen. The litany of "rules" was a little overwhelming at first, but once we got the hang of it, Sleeping Queens quickly became a family favorite!

Conversation book: Q and A a Day for Kids: A Three-Year Journal. If we're honest, there's absolutely no way that we will remember to ask a question and record our answers every single day for three years straight. Y'all know us. However, this book continues to be a great little tool to pick up and ask Jayci (or the kiddos!) some questions, whenever we remember. I try to keep things low-pressure, low-expectation around here. It works for us. Plus, I keep thinking how fun it will be to compare answers to the same questions over the years, provided we don't lose the book.

Absolute favorite bedtime (or anytime) story-book: The Jesus Storybook Bible. We have been reading this to Jayci ever since she was an infant. In fact, Adam used to read the stories out loud to Jayci while I nursed her before she went to sleep. Tear. Also, who has that kind of time/energy these days? Not me. Confession: we fight a little bit over which one of us has to put Jayci to bed. And when Adam does it, he falls asleep with her every single time. We are crazy like that. Another confession: we do still read Jayci at least one story every single night, not always from the Bible though. 

Learning-to-read tool: BOB Books: Sight Words. I picked these up at Costco a couple weeks ago, and Jayci LOVES reading them to us. It's painfully slow-going (particularly during said-dreaded-bedtime), but she is getting better and it really is a joy to watch her discovering how to read! These are easy to follow, and she's been picking up on them well . . . Proud mama, sorry. Another tip: We "pay" (a very little amount) one of the fourth grade boys in our neighborhood to read these (and other simple books) to Jayci. That way, he gets some remedial reading work in (she helps him sound out the words sometimes), but doesn't feel embarrassed about having to read "baby" books. Double-win. 
How about y'all, what are your favorite books/activities/games to spend time with and listen to your kids? I love new suggestions!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Worth Listening: Links

I know, I know. It's been a few days since I posted here. This week was killer, as it turns out. I ended up watching one of our sweet girls' little ones so she could go to school.

And so my week looked a whole lot like this:
While I realize this is utterly and painfully adorable, I am exhausted. And convinced that every single mother of three children is a super-hero. No exceptions. 

Anyways, I'm pooped. And my children are smitten. According to Jayci: "I just can't stop loving him."

All that to say, I'm going to bed early tonight. And yes, sadly, 11pm is early for me.

I leave you, then, with a few things I've enjoyed and mulled-over and been moved by this week:
The day we may have seen a man die
Jerry Springer Scones: A Love Story
LA Times honors Sister Brenner
Why I'm raising my Christian boys to be feminists
Why Davion is our concern
When She Looks Like Jesus
From my blog - a favorite (and hardest-to-write) post from the past few weeks: On the Front Lines

And I also leave you with this (because, melt).baby photography at The Stanley ClanAs a side note, this picture of Caden being sweet to Amir especially warms my heart because Caden has been having more than a little trouble at school and at church with not-tackling-other-children. I blame the Anteaters (particularly Zack and Adam), for excessively teaching him the joys of tackling and wrestling and being a boy. But I need to make it stop! Help!

Friday, October 18, 2013

On the Front Lines

I’m not even sure how my life ended up here: sitting in a free clinic with a teenage girl who waits to get tested for AIDs. It feels surreal, if I’m completely honest. We sit side-by-side for hours, waiting to get called back. Periodically one of us will walk over to ask a question of the receptionist in hushed tones. Tears slip silently down her face to drip off her chin, and I reach over to pull her into a hug. I have no words, and perhaps she doesn’t need any. Because what could I tell her that she doesn’t already know? Wiping tears, she rests her head in my lap. I absently stroke her hair until her breathing slows, and eventually evens into sleep. My leg cramps a little, and I shift uncomfortably, but don’t move. I watch the doors open and close to let people into the small waiting room. A tiny Hispanic girl runs up to me and waves dramatically, grinning widely, before her mother pulls her to a chair nearby. Older men topped with bedraggled dreadlocks shuffle through slowly. Young moms push strollers, and teenage girls in groups of two or three collapse in giggles over hairstyles and text messages. A white family huddles quietly in one corner, while the father paces laps around the small room. From behind me, a small boy laughs and pulls my hair, and I turn to smile at him with vague chiding as I gingerly pull my ponytail from his hands.
She stirs next to me, and I resume stroking her hair until she tucks her legs up under her and slips back into slumber. Maybe this will be it. I lean into hope: the turning point. Rock bottom. The place where she says enough-is-enough, and turns toward Jesus. The point I would have reached at least seventeen crises ago. But crises slant in different light here, and I look around at wide-eyed unwillingness to see. A numbness that looks a whole lot like the ravages of war. Call it the war on drugs, gang-wars, a war on poverty, or simply the battle against the principalities of darkness. Whatever you call it, the damage is staggering and the civilian causalities mount.

And in the midst of it all, we begin to feel a lot like medics on the front lines. Staunching the bleeding here, before running to assist with another casualty over there. Amputating and bandaging and suturing and praying not to lose more lives. Crisis pile on crisis, and suddenly we barely have the time to breathe, let alone ask ourselves where in the world all these bullets are coming from in the first place. I weary from dragging bodies to safety, only to find them back on the front lines. I long for peace.

Last week, in conversation with someone from our neighborhood and church, I mentioned the name of one of the boys on our football team. Surprise wrote itself across his face: oh he’s bad news; I can’t believe he is on your team.

Yup, we know, we said. As a matter of fact, I love the bad-news-boys the most (don’t tell any of our other boys). Because where else should I want them to be if not on our team?

And so I sit on that tired maroon bench with her head resting in my lap for hours, and think about the bad-news-boys. The war-torn victims, and the perpetrators of violence. I think of the half-dead, the no-longer-fighting, the walking wounded, the barely breathing.

And I recognize that we all have a choice: will we pass them by? We can lift our robes and move furtively to the other side of the road, far from the stench of the body broken and bruised and naked. He’s probably already dead anyways, and to touch him will mean making our own hands unclean.

Sure, we carry the oil and the wine, the very tools needed to administer to his wounds. But we need those for other things, for other people, for our work, for ministry, for emergencies.

Or we can choose, with scandalous grace and uncommon valor, to kneel in the dust. To anoint the broken head with oil, and cleanse wounds with wine. To empty our pockets. To pick up our enemies and lay them gently on our own donkey.

Because isn’t that exactly what Christ has done for us? While we were still enemies, he gently tended our wounds and carried us to safety. With our own Savior’s voice ringing in our ears, we gaze at our neighbors until we can finally see them clearly: the teenage girl who might have AIDS, the boy with sagging pants and glazed eyes, the homeless man huddled under the overpass. Go and do likewise.

The words echo and we long for peace, while praying for reinforcements. For more hands on the front lines: loving, praying, rescuing, bandaging, and dragging to safety. For those who are willing to adopt, to mentor, to counsel, to teach, to care for the windows and orphans. To stroke heads lain in laps. To give up their donkeys. To hammer swords into plowshares. To fight for the Kingdom to come on Earth, until the day it does.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Listening between the lines (guest post by Sarah Quezada)

I'm honored and excited today to have my friend Sarah Quezada guest posting here at the Stanley Clan. Sarah and I both live and love our neighbors in South Atlanta, and her beautiful little family is an encouragement to us. Not to mention that she's pretty awesome at speaking Truth, and loving others, and making me laugh (all very important things). Sarah blogs at A Life With Subtitles where she tells her story of living out a cross-cultural marriage, trying to raise a bilingual daughter, navigating the tricky immigration system, and celebrating beautiful life in urban communities. Y'all make her welcome here, and be sure to visit her blog too.
Listening has never been as simple as the words.

One of my favorite things about college and singlehood was analyzing boy-communications with my girlfriends. There were forwarded emails… What do you think he meant by that? Replayed voicemail messages… See how he paused right there? And my favorite… Reenact it for us!

We were basically a drama troupe of awkward boy-girl interactions. It was amazing.

But one thing we knew, whether totally true or exaggerated, was that the words were only one piece of the communication puzzle and the rest had to be unearthed. We needed to read between the lines.

After all, haven’t we all heard that statistic that gives a heavy majority of communication to body language anyway? Listening has never been as simple as the words.

My husband speaks English as his second language. His English is superb, but every now and then I rely on my translation filter. It understands what he meant rather than exactly what he said.

For example, I know “he has four years” is not a description of prison time but a direct translation from Spanish to English meaning “he’s four years old.” Or one time, while hanging picture frames, he handed me three nails and a hammer with the instructions, “Go kill yourself.” Hmmm… I’m going to assume you mean, “Knock yourself out!”

I read between the lines. I know what he meant. All those years of analyzing boy-words has proven useful.

Sometimes (not always) I extend this grace when we are fighting. When the words are flying, hot and fast and furious. Even in my anger, I know he came to battle armed with a second language.

When he may say something that feels extraordinarily hurtful, I side with benefit of the doubt. I’m going to assume you didn’t really mean what you just said and blow right past it.

I wonder occasionally how much this practiced habit of grace in conversation has benefited our marriage. I also wonder what could come if I incorporated this filter in all of my listening.

I was recently challenged to “trust the best” of others. This charge has stuck with me.

What if, in listening, I didn’t search the words for the hurt I already feel? What if I wasn’t looking for ways to be offended… maybe not intentionally, but a bad habit practiced too often?

Perhaps instead, I could choose to focus on the heart I already know that loves me and wants good things for me and our relationship. Even if what is currently being said is truly hurtful, perhaps I can extend grace and give greater weight to what I already know is true of the heart of the speaker.

How would this shift in my listening affect my relationships? What if, instead of only words, I listened to the heart, to our history, to the truth I know about you?

I should add a caveat that I’m not referring to abusive or unhealthy relationships where we should ignore what’s really happening. I’m talking about an extra dollop of grace extended to our loved ones when words fail to convey our true intent.

After all, listening has never been as simple as the words.

What about you? Are you a generally graceful listener? Or do you struggle to trust the best even in those you love?
Find Sarah on Twitter, Facebook, and at her blog (A Life with Subtitles).

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Listen: Meditate

Meditating today on Isaiah 58 (which is why, as it turns out, we called ourselves Blueprint 58).Atlanta skyline from Summerour studioIf you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
Isaiah 58:12
via
-Isaiah 58:9-12

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Words that have shaped us

It's no secret that I like to read. I always have, so it's not surprising to me that books have been a tool that God has used to shape my heart and to inform and guide our journey. Of course the only book that really has the power to is His Word, but there have certainly been some specific books along the journey that have challenged my beliefs, stretched my faith, convicted me, and taught me.

So I thought I should share with y'all some of the voices (in book-form) that we have listened to, and been changed by (especially in the way we do our lives and missions, and in what we believe about race and poverty).
In particular, we began this foray into missions, and particularly inner-city missions, nearly seven years ago on our first wedding anniversary (while on a cruise). We read the book The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical (by Shane Claiborne). His words echoed the questions we had already been posing in our own hearts and lives. What if we really believed the Gospel? Shouldn't our lives look differently? We searched and asked and decided that we DO actually believe the Gospel, and now our lives actually DO look dramatically different than they used to, and than most Christians' lives look.
My favorite book that I've read (maybe ever, but particularly as related to our lives and inner-city ministry) is Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle. I just feel like Father G (as I like to call him) has such a beautiful heart for the folks he ministers to and lives life with. The ideas he builds on reflect a kinship with those around him, rather than a "savior-complex," which really appeals to me and feels like a reflection of our Father's heart.

And some books that have shaped, in more practical and specific ways, how we look at our neighborhoods and how we do ministry:




Any books you think I've missed? What should I be reading that I haven't? I always love getting new reading material!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Taking Time to Listen

Although I am, most certainly (hopefully), on the mend; I still don't feel one hundred percent well. That said, I took a little time to lay on my bed this weekend while both kids were (miraculously!) quiet in their respective rooms (whether or not they actually slept means remarkably little to me at this point).
With the windows flung open to the crisp notes of fall lingering in the breeze, I can't sleep for all the noise. Instead I lay still, eyes closed, listening to the sounds of my neighborhood.

The distant call of the train looms louder, bell clanging, blowing its horn again and again. Cars ride past, lingering on the corner and blasting their music. I feel the beat reverberate the window panes, and try to ignore the lyrics.

Three doors down, the rooster crows. I'm not sure who said the rooster crows to mark the dawn, because this ones crows to mark many different occasions throughout the day. His voice carries on the wind, over the clucking and occasional wing-flapping from our own coop. From a few houses down in the other direction, the excited yipping of a new litter of pitbull puppies provide a background track for our busy corner.

A group of men huddle around their card table set-up in the street, calling out occasional greetings and/or curses depending on how their game progresses. A momma walks by with her gaggle of children following on noisy bikes and on foot, her sharp words snapping them back to the safety of the sidewalk as a car zooms past.

Birds chirp and the wind rustles leaves blushed with the first hints of autumn, cheeks flushed in dipping temperatures. Someone wheels a shopping cart down the street, loud metallic bumping and scraping over every pot-hole and pebble. I cant resist peeking through the blinds to see if the shopping-cart driver is Milton, who we haven't seen in a while and Adam worries about. It is not him, and I lay back on the bed, eyes closing to the sound of a truck-reversing and some sort of electric tools starting up loudly on the house they slowly tear down across the street.

A basketball bounces on the pavement, peppered by the sounds of laughter and teasing. I sit up, waiting for the inevitable squeaky swing of our front gate, before the pouring and pounding of Nikes up the cracked concrete stairs next to my window. When I hear it, I hop out of bed and slide socks on the hardwoods to stop the inevitable knocking and yelling and Maverick barking and Caden crying: WANNA SEE DA BOYS!!! I fling open the door victoriously just as they raise their hands to knock, while simultaneously whisper-yelling at Maverick to be quiet.  I send them away but not without snacks and cups of water, and stern admonishments that I better not find any trash on our front porch. They laugh a little, and point at the broken metal chair, pieces of a white wicker chair that has been slowly picked apart, and various and sundry disarray of dirty cushions. Not to mention that Caden recently drew with marker all over the ledge: we haven't yet tested to see if it was with permanent or washable red. Regardless, I got you Becca, Decorey assures me. 

It's all so normal, the sounds of our neighborhood. But I am reminded of the words of St Teresa of Avila: "the Lord walks among the pots and pans." And I know that the very ordinary sounds of an ordinary corner are the sounds of a sacred space where Christ dwells. And I am reminded of how our hands have been anointed to do this holy service of handing out water to kids, and brushing tangles from hair, and listening. 

Caden cries, and Jayci yells the baby boy is crying! from her room. And so I abandon plans to lay back down, and instead pull Caden from his crib to rest on my shoulder. I get a snack for Jayci, and open the door to more knocking from small children who have just moved in a few houses down. And I listen as my living room fills quickly with the noises of stories and laughter and block-building and fighting over toys and constant requests for snacks. 

The Lord walks among the pots and pans, I remind myself again while I fill more cups of water for more thirsty children. 


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Hearing the Kingdom

Today was one of those banner days. The kind where the sun shines and the skies are blue, and kiddos (mostly) behave themselves, and the neighbors show up in droves. We play kickball and I smile at the teams, a mixture of new neighborhood friends, counselors from camp, and kids we have known since before they were born. The little kids watch littler siblings, teenage boys gather in clumps, and couple friends come from across the street and from forty-five minutes away. Mentors and friends and communities and neighbors and the Body of Christ come alive in a messy, beautiful way that defies explanation. Where we eat hot dogs topped with Varsity-style chili, share roasted marshmallows and melty chocolate drips down cheeks. The boys throw footballs in the street, while the kids gather pebbles in buckets and chase each other around the yard. Caden follows "his friend Jay" across the playground, and Dee-Dee clasps hands with Jayci while grinning wide to show me how she lost a tooth, even though she has never heard of the tooth fairy.

It is loud and chaotic and I don't barely have time for sitting, but I peek through my lens to see
and attune my ears to hear. Because the Kingdom of God, it moves in this place; and if we listen closely enough, we will hear it. 

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