Thursday, May 29, 2014

Summer Reading and Picture-Taking

A sure-fire sign of summer around here: the constant stream of kids swinging on the tire swing or playing cards on the front porch, moving inside around the table when the temperature tips the scale. Also, so many books being read (mostly by me, but also Jayci), and jobs starting and camp forms scatter across the counter-space.

Since I clearly haven't even had a moment alone since "summer break" began (I don't see why it's called a "break" necessarily); I have no words to share, but have instead compiled some links to good reads and such across the interwebs. Also, if you havent already watched it, be sure to listen to Ashton's thoughts on education and race and prejudice from last week's blog. Seriously, everyone needs to hear his insight.

First off, for those who equate summer and reading (like me!) here's a few of my favorite summer-reading-guides, recommendations I've already used to pick books a few times since school let out.
Rachel's Summer Reading Spectacular
5 Book Summer Reading Guide

A few more good reads:
Guilt is good (Christina Cleveland)
God made me a people gatherer (IF: Gathering)

We've found jobs (thanks to Accent Decor and Stewart Center) for a couple of the neighborhood kids, and my phone is now literally ringing off the hook with kids and adults and older brothers and cousins who are all desperately looking for jobs. And I hate that I cannot find spaces for every single one of them to work, because I really think one of the biggest problems in our neighborhood is the lack of opportunities for our young people to work . . . although I'm no expert. Jobs key to staying out of trouble.
There's some really bad news for black graduates
Why do Millennials not understand racism?
The White Tourists' Burden 
Used Garbage Homeless Shelters

Also, I just finished The Rosie Project: A Noveland Parnassus on Wheels, both of which I really loved and were super-cheap on Kindle last week when I bought them!

That's it for today folks, anything else I should be reading?

Friday, May 23, 2014

In his own words: Ashton's thoughts

The world brims with voices clamoring for our attention. And unfortunately, most of the loudest voices come from those in power. The ones who have the margin to write, the platform to speak from, and the computer to pen words with before sending them into the world. We originally put together this video for our mentor training, thinking it would be helpful for our mentors to get a perspective on the schools and neighborhood that formed a context for our kiddos lives. But once I heard Ashton's thoughts, I said: people need to hear this. Ashton shrugged and I asked if I could share his voice with y'all, assuring him of course that you are kind and would treat him with respect and love. I realize the video runs nearly ten minutes, which infringes dangerously on the time and space of a culture and lives that brims supremely busy, but let me reiterate: you need to hear this.

**Ashton is one of my very favorite people in the whole entire world, practically family. So in responding to him, let's follow my mom's favorite rule: if you can't say something nice, say nothing. I always want to leave room for discussion and I post many-many-articles and things that involve voices I don't always agree with. That said, remember Ashton is a human-being. Thanks. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Presence in Absence

We pull up to the soccer field approximately twenty-seven minutes late. Jayci wears a rumpled t-shirt in Carolina blue, because her official jersey has officially vanished into the depths of either our minivan or perhaps the laundry pile. I knock my fresh cup of coffee, and then try to catch it, resulting in a sprinkling of coffee all over my purse and shoes and even the book my friend Hannah sent me: Christ in the Chaos: How the Gospel Changes Motherhood. It lays stained and drying on my dash, and I cant help but smile at the irony or whatever-you-call-it. The struggle is real: I explain to the other soccer moms with a shrug, shooing Jayci onto the field, and distracting Caden so he doesn’t follow. The day brims full and I am weary by its end. Actually, most days land at tired; I’m not sure if this is the result of a busy life or if it’s just what happens when you parent a two and five year old for all-of-the-hours.
Some days, I look in the mirror and feel certain the list of things I hate both begins and ends with myself. I will celebrate my thirtieth birthday this year, and as my birth-date approaches, the scale creeps upward in suspicious increments. After all, nothing has changed in my eating habits except perhaps a metabolism that also finds itself exhausted.

Here’s the real deep-down thing: I KNOW the truth, that the mirror mostly tells lies. I know, and even believe, that I am more than how I look, more than my appearance. I know, too, how motherhood matters; that even the most mundane moments can make the profoundest impact. The problem is not that I am unsure where to fall on the work-at-home, stay-at-home, work-outside-the-home spectrum. I don’t question whether it’s enough to just be a mom, but whether I am actually enough for the task. I don’t buy into the books or the blogs or media or what everything around me says I need to be or should be. And yet, I still have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not good enough, that perhaps I’m not quite cut out for this motherhood thing.

I am no longer my high-school-self, and perhaps I know healthier habits. But sometimes I feel bulimic again: stubbornly unwilling to be nourished by the very things God intends to sustain me. Words that bring peace and life slip in one ear and out the other; while off-handed comments burn deep in my soul, solid-proof that I can never measure up.

In my deepest, most quiet places, I stumble into the fear that perhaps I have somehow lost myself in this journey. That I do not, and cannot, know who I am or why I am here. I send Adam a link to this video and ask him to watch it, but it turns out I am not really sure what I want to be free to do and be and pursue. I hold onto snippets of myself, of my passions, my gifts, my burdens. And I try to piece them together into something meaningful, but I keep losing the thread and my children steal my needle and then I cannot find where I left off, or I’m missing pieces because the passion just up and vanished somehow. The void feels not full but silent and vastly empty. And so I sit, holding a piecemeal life that I cannot get to add up.

I realize this probably sounds far worse than I intend. Because all the uncertainty lingers beneath the surface of a life I enjoy, of children I love, of ministry I care deeply about. But I cannot help but wonder if the so-called-mommy-wars, if the depression, if the kids in our neighborhood joining gangs and getting pregnant in droves; perhaps in tracing their roots, we arrive at the same seed: a quiet underlying fear that maybe we are not enough.

Those who parent differently, or exercise more, or write more beautifully, threaten us mostly because of our own deep-seeded uncertainty. Because we see, perhaps, feeding children organic vegetables for every meal as mostly an attempt to point out the hot dogs we microwaved in desperation earlier. Her five a.m. run or prompt ten o’clock bedtime seem intended to point out the number of times I hit snooze every morning because I go to bed entirely too late.

But what if that, in fact, is not their intention? What if, instead, we looked at the world through the lens of everyone just doing our best to make sense of our lives in what can invariably be a dark world? For the mom who works full-time and the one who home-schools, the PTA president and the teenager raising her younger siblings; things are complex and mostly we are all too busy worried about navigating our own lives to care too much about how you are living yours. Sure, this might not ALWAYS be true, or even feasible; but certainly it will save us all a lot of headache and self-contempt if we can grasp the fact that we all stumble through the dark sometimes.

Because I’m learning in this season of absence, of questions, and of dark, that dark and light or faith and doubt don’t always have to oppose each other. That even an absence points to His presence. That insecurity and inabilities all draw me closer to the heart of a Father than envelopes and holds close, even in my very unawareness of His closeness.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Blue Skies over Atlanta: 365 and good reads

Just popping in with some of my favorite reads from around the web, and some peeks into our days around here at the Stanley Clan. Yes, we are back in our neighborhood, and we are ok and even had one of the hard-conversations (and we are still standing, yay!) Without further ado, more pictures and links than you'll know what to do with. Oh and happy Monday!
What My Mother Taught Me (Shauna Niequist via Rachel Held Evans)

"Focusing on groceries alone will never solve deep-rooted problems, he said. “Food is important, but what’s more important is the issue of employment. We can’t create a sustainable society when we are just feeding folks. People want to feed the hungry but don’t want to ask why they are hungry.” - Stranded in Atlanta's Food Deserts

Why Girls in Nigeria Should Matter to you #bringbackourgirls (Rage Against the Minivan)

An Invitation to Live Quietly - Micha Boyett

The Ministry of Watching Sparrows Fall to the Ground - DL Mayfield

Missional Living: Prayerfully Attentive in your Neighborhood

Donald Sterling: Facade, Fiction, and Forgiveness

Those People (Scary Mommy)

70% of black high-school dropouts born in 1975 have been to prison 

Better than a light and safer than a known way - Livesay 

Friday, May 9, 2014

"This is for all the Anteater Fans"

I've already told you all about Five8Football. About how beautiful it is and how proud I am of Adam for making it happen. And also about how sometimes it just all gets too hard. We had the championship game followed by a cookout this past weekend, and the whole thing was glorious -- from weather to winners to the eating of every last hot dog and hamburger our fabulous City Group cooked (granted, Caden alone ate 3 of them)

I think it really says something about a team when I literally cannot get a picture without at least one boy with his hands in his pants. Seriously. This is the Metropolitan Boom, and they beat the Anteaters in the final game to bring home the giant championship trophy. Because Adam's motto is go big or go home
And here are the Anteaters post-game, minus the few who left immediately because: we lost
It was a beautiful afternoon and evening in a string of perfect sunshine-days, and we ate all-of-the-hotdogs-and-hamburgers, along with plenty of fruit punch and even sweet potato fries, because classy picnic fare basically defines us. Also, because other people brought the food. On that note, big shout-outs and thank-you's to Renovation Church and Blueprint Church for supplying food for SO many hungry teenage boys (no small task). 

Also to Accent Decor and the Mark A Jardina Foundation for generous contributions of supplies, jerseys, score-keeping-things and other football-related needs which I dont even know about, because I just take the pictures.
Side note: I like shadows and early-evening sunshine. 
Caden looks entirely like a big boy and not a baby here. Which is probably why he spent an entire twenty minutes sobbing that I wouldn't let him play football with the boys. 
When these boys won, they kept insisting it was "for all the Anteater fans," I think for proving the Anteaters could be beat. I kept telling that I was actually cheering for all-of-the-teams, because I love all-of-my-boys, no matter what team they are on. Obviously. But they still wanted to make sure everyone knew, so I'm doing my part to let y'all know. You are welcome.
So thank you again to everyone who loved and supported and watched and cheered and coached and refereed, and helped made Five8Football a reality. We love y'all!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

FAQ: Do you ever want to just move back to the suburbs?

That depends, do you mean besides at least once every single day? 

The last few weeks have been nothing short of a doozy. I get to a point on a fairly-close-to-weekly-basis where I think: this is it, I’m done. Adam, on the other hand, plods through even the roughest times with particular patience and grace that I can only hope might somehow rub off on me. Two become one right? But this week, Adam tucked himself into bed at 8pm one night. This is unheard of in the history of our marriage, so I knew things might be getting pretty close to crisis-mode. Inner-city ministry is not for the faint of heart, particularly when you’re surrounding yourself with always-hungry and often-grouchy teenagers who have been enmeshed in poverty for years upon years upon generations.
So with Adam reaching his DONE point, we locked our door, skipped out on church and pancake breakfast and the particular circus that Sunday mornings entail, and high-tailed it to his parents empty house in the suburbs (they’re at the beach, lucky them). While nothing including my children can be called relaxing necessarily, we did enjoy a Sunday afternoon surrounded by a particular brand of quiet that I don’t think we have experienced in a long time.

I lay on the screened-in-porch curled in a square of sun as it stretches slowly from one end of the rocking-couch to the other. Wrapped in the warmth of drowsy, the kids watch Frozen inside, and I alternately read chapters from Beautiful Ruins and close my eyes, ensconced in the Sunday afternoon sounds of the suburbs: mostly lawnmowers and birds chirping, peppered with an occasional dog barking.

Sunday night, we head to a dear friends’ house for dinner. It would just be nice, we tell them, for us to watch at least one life changed for Jesus. One kid who makes it out, whose heart blossoms transformed. Just one, for crying out loud, it doesn’t seem too much to ask.

Sometimes we feel more like vending machines or taxi drivers than dispensers of grace. We plod through the motions of intentional neighbors; dreaming, if not of the suburbs, than at least of moving to Africa or Indonesia. Because things here in America are too complicated, poverty entangles. And people judge the American poor just lazy, deserving. And sometimes, on a bad day, perhaps we agree.

Last spring break, Zack and I went to the holocaust museum in Washington, D.C. He actually, shockingly, had no idea about the holocaust, and so we walked through slow while throngs of people flowed around us. I was determined for him to be moved. Changed, just as I had been last time I stood before the piles of shoes and hair. Instead, I found myself lingering before a display I hadn’t noticed during my last visit. Canisters, unearthed from concentration camps, stuffed with sketches and poetry created surreptitiously by the inmates, then buried beneath ash and dirt. How, I wonder, could you create such beauty in the midst of such unimaginable suffering and pain? And why? Why the hell does a drawing or poem matter when all around you bodies pile and death calls loud?

But I have to believe it does.

I have to believe in the value of unearthing beauty even, or maybe especially, in the midst of unimaginable pain and loss. Of creating things that give life or that speak to the heart. Of finding the beauty in the most broken places and people. And so we chisel a life and our stories from a block that looks for everything like a lost cause, an immovable obstacle instead of a masterpiece. But we keep chiseling: slowly and carefully uncovering the beauty that already existed within.
But as I chisel, I grapple. We wrestle through the tension of holding onto hope without letting it become expectation. Of letting our hopes blossom and grow, without crafting expectations for changed lives or success, whatever that means. And somehow in this grappling, we stumble into the very grace we need to keep going. To believe that unearthing the Kingdom matters, regardless of how ugly and painful our surroundings get.

And so, when the boys drop out of school faster than we can even have conversations with them about it; when gangs beckon and girls offer their bodies and everything all feels entirely too broken: all I can do is remember there is beauty in the broken, waiting to be unearthed. I watch our boys play football against a backdrop of scarred land and abandoned buildings. And I find grace in the splendor of framing a different picture. One in which I have no answers or solutions. But I do have hope.
Sometimes, lately, I read some of my favorite friends words (particularly the ones who do life in neighborhoods like ours), and I find myself reading through teary eyes because I cannot figure out how they are so hopeful. I wonder if I will ever write, or live, hopeful again. Or if day-in-and-day-out, I will speak hard truths and paint hyper-realistic pictures of the way life looks for our kiddos. And I know that we need truth-tellers and those who paint with brush strokes of realism. People must know about the death tolls that rise. About neighbors who prostitute girls and teenagers who take their lives and poverty that entangles.

But I want desperately to live as one who scribbles hope. Who paints light and writes verses that remind of Truth and life. To create because I know that God has not forgotten His people. The Liberator will come. And until He does, we keep creating and finding beauty in broken places. Because it matters every single time.

So to actually answer your question, of course sometimes we think of giving it all up for something easier. Something that requires less of us. But we wont. Because as long as God has us where we are, we keep learning the glorious truth that finding beauty in brokenness means we get beauty too. When we choose to love and forgive and extend grace, we find Jesus. Not in ourselves or in our own goodness, but in those around us. In the darkest alleys and hardest hearts, we encounter Him. We just have to remember to look. To dig and slosh through the nasty and dirty until we find the poetry scribbled and long-since-buried. His Kingdom come.


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