Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sleeping and Reading

You might not know this about me, but I'm what you might like to call an extremely picky sleeper. As in, I am not someone who can fall asleep anytime or anywhere. Except for rarely, I never fall asleep in the car, or watching a movie. Nope, I need my bed. Preferably dark and mostly quiet, but not too quiet because I like a little background/white noise. Adam has to tuck my feet in nice and tight, and I always sleep on my tummy with my arms underneath me and my head facing to the right. I mean other than all that, I'm totally flexible.

All of that to say, I've been having trouble sleeping ever since this new little bump keeps getting in my way. Which contributes to the double-team of exhaustion and nausea which shows no sign of abating, even though I'm now 16 weeks along and baby is the size of a dill pickle.
Anyways, I should probably try and find some essential oils to help me sleep and make me less-nauseous since they seemed to work so well for Caden's now-non-existent night terrors. By the way, for those of you who have asked, we used the "Peace and Calming" one from Young Living (in a diffuser), simply because that is the one a sweet friend sent us to try.
I spent a lot of time this past week putting together a Blurb book for my 365-project from 2014 (you can see our 2012 one here if you'd like). I love-love-love putting these together and especially having them in my hands, particularly because nothing clenches my heart like seeing the progression of our kids throughout the course of a year. Now, of course, I feel sad that I havent been doing it this year. In fact, I'm pretty sure my camera has come out a grand total of four times in 2015 (thanks mostly to the aforementioned nausea/exhaustion). Anyways, I'm trying to think of a fun way to document my kids (and our lives) this year without committing to something I cannot follow through on with the current state-of-our-lives. Any ideas?
I realize this has turned into a random mish-mash of a post, but I wanted to quickly share a few things I've read and/or watched and loved over the past few weeks.

On the Screen:
St. Vincent - my neighbor recommended this and I watched it by myself while Adam took the boys to a Hawks game. I alternately laughed and cried, which makes for a good movie in my opinion.
100 Foot Journey - Adam and I both loved this one.

The kids have been loving Big Hero 6 (I swear it makes me cry everytime, I blame pregnancy hormones), and we took them to see Annie at the dollar theater. Now everytime I tell them to clean their rooms, they loudly sing It's a Hard-knock Life.

Blacklist is back after a two-month break, and I love it. We've also been watching Blue Bloods, and Fixer Upper on HGTV. Because our tastes are varied.

On the Page:
I just finished, and highly recommend, Wanted: A Spiritual Pursuit Through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders. Loved it.

I am also reading Finding Church by Wayne Jacobsen, and even got to meet him and chat about God and church this past weekend, which was a real treat.

On the Internet:
It wouldn't be a link-y post for me if I didnt share at least one thing my girl Shannan wrote. Sorry, not sorry. This one I loved: Praise for Heaviness.

40 Ideas for Lent - from Rachel Held Evans.

We had a doozy-of-a-night with one of our boys last night, and when I came home I read this post on Hope from my friend (and hero) Amy. Just what I needed, for realz.

Also, I just told you about how I wished I was doing 365 again this year, and then I found this photographer's 365 project and now I'm even MORE wistful about the whole thing.

Finally, it's black history month and I always really appreciate Kristen's advice/insight at Rage Against the Minivan. She has a post I bookmarked that I thought y'all might like to see too: Best Children's Books for Black History Month.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Lent and Seeds and Ropes

Last Wednesday was the first day of Lent. And I really wanted to feel something. To find myself moved deeply by the pull to the cross, the reminder of our dust-ness. I hoped perhaps the right words or music might remind me of the places I’ve been, and also where I’m going. That maybe anticipating the cross would move my heart to the right place.

But what could I even give up for Lent? It’s not like I’m drinking coffee or diet coke or alcohol. And my stomach refuses to indulge in chocolate, or cheese dip, or any food at all really. I’ll wake up early, I thought, give up sleeping in while Adam wrestles the children into school clothes, packs their lunches, and herds them out the door. But on the second day of Lent, I roll back over, squeeze my eyes shut tight, and slip back to sleep.
I’m mostly tired. Possibly not just physically (because of all-the-sleeping-in). I’m tired of laundry and dishes and bickering children. Of to-do lists that dont get done, things that slip through the cracks. I’m tired of politics and facebook and pettiness and reading books I dont like. I’m tired of boys getting arrested and girls getting pregnant. Something about sharing due dates with neighborhood girls makes me somehow feel, not the impossibility of their young-ness, but more my own advanced age: no wonder I’m so tired.

Weariness seeps in all the cracks and I fall asleep at 7:35pm, as Caden grabs my hand and requests I lay beside him. Light from the hallway spills through the cracked door and I can hear the music Ashton plays loud through his headphones pulsing too. My eyes flutter closed and Caden cups his hands around my cheeks. Mommy pray? he asks. I murmur words about the cold and our warmth, of gratitude for our family, and hopes for the boys. We both lay in the quiet and I try to remember how He can hear even the heart behind my words. The deep-buried dreams, the things I hope for, but fear might never come to pass.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

But I am weary, my heart responds to His word. And I don't even know what I’m trying to reap at this point. The line marches past us to the streets, crowding the prisons and free clinics. If even he cannot escape I whisper with tears slipping down my cheeks, then what are we doing here?

I don't know a lot about sowing and reaping. Farming and tilling swells beyond the scope of my knowledge. I look at our garden, dormant and gray with winter, and my heart feels the same way. I am reminded of Adam telling me he gardens because it reminds him to plant seeds and then wait for God to make it grow. Meanwhile, he faithfully waters and weeds. He tills and kneels in the dirt every day. He protects delicate seedlings from the chickens and overzealous children alike. It all helps him understand that he is an active participant in the process, but he cannot ultimately force a seed to grow.

Jayci knocks gently on the door, and I start awake before tiptoeing out of Caden’s room to continue my bedtime rounds. Jayci plays with my hair and rubs my back, and she says her own bedtime prayers. I admit defeat, climbing into my own bed as the clock barely slips past 9pm. I lay quiet with my eyes shut, strangely unable to get comfortable because my new tiny bump makes sleeping on my stomach impossible.

I set my alarm to wake up early, so I can spend time with Jesus and make good on my Lent promises. I snuggle under the covers, and hear a whisper to my heart: at the end of your rope, what are you clinging to that is not Me? I open my eyes and switch on the light, pulling out my notebook to jot down the question. I dont actually know, I think, even as I feel my fingers clenched tight around things I hope might help: my own abilities, Adam, routines, right answers?

I shut my notebook and turn off the light, and I still dont have any answers. But I do know I want to spend this season answering the question whispered in my heart. To pry fingers and fists open from all the things they grip, until I find myself holding onto only the One who holds it all.

Those of us who wish to draw near to God should not be surprised when our vision goes cloudy for this is a sure sign that we are approaching the opaque splendor of God. – Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Intentional Neighboring: Part 1

When we started doing inner-city work nearly nine years ago, we had no idea where we would end up. In fact, it's possible we might have run in the opposite direction if you had told us we would find ourselves living in the heart of Atlanta and taking in teenage boys, because terrifying. But the Lord has been gracious to lead us step-by-step on this journey. He has been gentle in revealing hard truths, and persistent in pulling us towards Himself. Four years ago when we bought this house, the neighborhood looked very different than it does today. These days, we don't get asked nearly as often if we're afraid, or why we would ever choose to live here. Gentrification creeps in, and we cannot help but wrestle through our own role in that. As the landscape of the city changes, and more and more Christians find themselves willing to move in and desiring to be good neighbors, we wanted to help facilitate a space to talk about what in the world that even means. By no means are we experts, or do we even consider ourselves "teachers" of this class (which is really not even a class, more like a supper club for which Adam cooks food and tells jokes). 

I have had a few requests to see some of our notes from the first month's dinner, in which we talked about intentional neighboring and what it means to be a good neighbor. Our next dinner is coming up this Sunday evening (the 22nd), if anyone is interested in attending (even if you missed the first one), feel free to shoot me an email and let me know (and I'll pass along details such as addresses and times). 

We started our time out by talking a little bit about what we mean by "intentional neighboring," because sometimes strange Christian-y language/buzz-words make things far more complicated than they really need to be. Basically when we talk about intentional neighboring, we mean living your life with purpose and consideration towards taking seriously Jesus' command to "love your neighbor as yourself." This, of course, leans far more complex and simple and crazy than it sounds. Because then we need to figure out what that actually looks like, what makes a good neighbor, how to live that out etc.   
via Dignity Serves
There's a movement and book that started in Colorado called The Art of Neighboring, and I shared with the group a little bit about them, mostly because I was fascinated by their beginnings. Here's the story: a group of local pastors asked the mayor of Arvada, CO how they could help. He told them that the city's social ills — the elderly shut-ins, troubled teens, struggling single moms, out-of-work dads, run-down homes, neglected children and pets and yards, and everything else that fell through the cracks — could all be helped if only people would be good neighbors. The pastors said they were a little embarrassed to hear the mayor basically tell them to do what Jesus asked us to: they said,"sometimes we forget our neighbor is our neighbor."

The assistant city manager also told them "from the city's perspective, there's not a lot of difference between the way Christians and non-Christians neighbor."

This, of course, seems like a problem. We should be identified by our love, and if not for our neighbors, then who?

If we're being totally honest, a lot of the work of "being intentional" in knowing and caring for our neighbors is actually easier in our neighborhood than it was in the suburbs. There are always people outside, and no one is afraid to stop by or ask questions or show up unannounced. We know our neighbors simply by virtue of the fact that we see them often and cross paths easily. Loving them, of course, carries some complexity because of differing cultures and backgrounds and an increased need for intentionality in serving and truly befriending. I say this to point out that I dont think loving our neighbors intentionally is relegated to the inner-city. So if you live in the suburbs or a quiet farmhouse (lucky), then maybe spend some time praying about how you can love and serve your neighbors the way Christ intends.

Information on the 3 R's (from CCDA - Christian Community Development Association)

Relocation: The importance of relocating to communities in need. Like Jesus who traveled from one community to the next to spread the gospel and lay the seeds of community in new lands, “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 one’s own. Living the gospel means sharing the suffering and pain of others, and relocation transforms “you, them, and theirs,” to “we, us, and ours.” “Effective ministries plant and build communities of believers that have a personal stake in the development of their neighbors” (Perkins).

“If programs and services are done for a community, rather than with and by the people of the community,” argues Perkins, “these programs do not help the people of the community develop. They simply continue the mentality of dependency that the welfare state has created in so many of our urban centers and that suppresses the dignity of the people there. In Christian community development, we want to empower people to take responsibility for their lives and to have the consciousness of their own dignity and worth that comes from being able to have such control. In order to do so, we need to give responsibility for programs at least in part to them.”

Reconciliation: The reconciliation of people to God, and the reconciliation of neighbor to neighbor. Through the gospel this process requires breaking down every racial, ethnic, or economic barrier to opportunity, such that as Christians people can come together to solve the problems of their shared community.

Redistribution: The importance of economic development and the redistribution of resources. But this commitment does not mean the heavy hand of government taking from one member of a community to give to another. It requires, rather, “bringing our lives, our skills, our educations, and our resources and putting them to work to empower people in a community of need. [This] is redistribution and it helps people to break out of the cycle of poverty.”

*Most of the practical literature we have read (or could find) from CCDA regarding the 3R's was a good-many-years-old. Some of it felt a little bit outdated, in that they talk a lot about how hard it can be to get people to move into "at-risk" neighborhoods (the relocation piece). I think that there has been, more recently, a bit of a shift back to the cities. And more of a willingness, for young Christians in particular, to live in neighborhoods that perhaps might have been seen as less-desirable some years ago. Although perhaps that viewpoint on my part is skewed by the circles we are now a part of. Our church is for the city and encourages people to move into the city, and they are responding eagerly. Which is wonderful, but raises different (and maybe more complex) questions about what that actually looks like. How to first, do no harm. How to honor your existing neighbors while perhaps dreaming of "improvements" for the neighborhood. How to love like Christ, for real. And how to avoid simply clustering (as is easiest) with the other people moving into these neighborhoods who look a whole lot like yourself. None of this is easy, and I sure wish CCDA folks would write some more stuff about this so I can figure out best practices, though Adam keeps telling me to do it myself! 
I realize this is already pretty lengthy, sorry about that. Also, sorry we didn't get to share the delicious enchiladas Adam made, plus chips and cheese dip (obviously, always).

What questions do you still have? What should we explore further together (or avoid, perhaps)?

Books for further reading and study (if you're like me and always want extra credit)
Restoring At-Risk Communities (edited by John Perkins)
Theirs Is the Kingdom - Bob Lupton

Go to the people
Live among them
Learn from them
Love them
Start with what they know
Build on what they have
But of the best leaders
When their task is done

The people will remark
"We have done it ourselves."

[Ancient Chinese Proverb]

Friday, February 13, 2015

Adventures in Costa Rica

Here is the story of our week in Costa Rica, mostly just in pictures. Mostly because I'm too nauseous to form sentences. It turns out that my 14th week of pregnancy might be my worst one yet.

We stayed in this house on 60acres of land, and spent a good portion of our first day exploring. We even found this giant tree, and horses grazing nearby. Adam was determined to forage for food and managed to find grapefruits and (very sour) oranges, and even a tiny pineapple. 
On the afternoon of the first day, we decided to trek to Rio Celeste on the recommendation of two separate folks who said it was the most beautiful thing they had ever seen. We forgot our maps at home (of course), and didnt have GPS, but figured how hard could it be to follow the vague directions from the German fellow at the German bakery in town? So we found ourselves on a very long and windy (and unpaved, very rocky and slightly ridiculous) road through the mountains. Luckily (sarcasm), we arrived at the beginning of a one hour hike to the waterfall about thirty minutes after they closed it for the day (apparently so you dont get lost in the jungle in the dark and then have to find your way back down windy rocky mountain roads without a single street light or road sign).
 We did, however, manage to find a part of the river we could see without an hour hike, and the water was indeed very blue and quite beautiful.
Plus, the views from the windy road back down the mountain weren't bad either. 

The next day, slightly discouraged from our failed trip the day before, we headed to the beach for my favorite part of the trip (mostly involving relaxing in the sunshine with a good view and a good book). 
After two days at the beach, it was back to the jungle for more adventuring and rainstorms and foraging for fruit. Adam was obsessed with the bananas the groundskeeper gave him, and Caleb was determined to get a coconut. 
 We trekked across the hanging bridges, laughing about how all of our boys would certainly refuse to cross them under any circumstances.
 We even managed to sneak behind a guide and he helped us find this strawberry poison dart frog. Don't worry, he said, you would have to eat three of them to die. Duly noted.
 And finally, we saw these creatures everywhere and were very excited and hopeful they might be some sort of monkey-species. Until said guide told us they were basically raccoons, which is not nearly as exotic and exciting as monkeys.
On our last day, we checked out of the house and then hiked up a volcano, before heading to the airport for our 2am flight home. 
Adam was quite at home in the jungle, in his element some might say. From the guide we met earlier, he picked up a loud and slightly annoying monkey-call. Which he used incessantly: out the car window, while we were hiking, off our back patio. I grew very irritated with him, until it worked and we actually managed to find a monkey in the middle of nowhere on the side of the volcano. 
Did I mention we had to cross an even-more-boot-legged suspension bridge in order to make said trek up the volcano. We were the only ones on this hike this day, mostly because we like adventure (well the rest of the group likes adventure, and I like them), and because we were avoiding tourist-y things at all costs. Which meant food at local sodas and roadside stands, always. Which added to the windy bumpy roads didnt do my nausea any favors. 
All that to say, if you're looking for fun adventure and beautiful scenery, I would highly recommend a trip to Costa Rica. We stayed in Nuevo Arenal, and the beach we went to was called Playa Carilla (so pretty!)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Circles of Life


We spent the last week in Costa Rica with some good friends of ours, celebrating our thirtieth birthdays and their 10th anniversary. It was amazing and adventure-filled, and also a nice break from the craziness of our lives (although it was really just more craziness of a different variety). More to come on our trip at some point, probably (I did, after all, take plenty of pictures).

Upon our arrival home, we found that in our absence a new neighbor had been born. One whom we were all quite excited to meet (my children were frighteningly enthusiastic about little man). Another neighbor died, one who had been married to his wife for 58 years and together they provided foster-care for over 70 kids. Two other neighbors lost jobs, one of whom was in the process of trying to move from renting their home to buying it. And then the day after we arrived home, following 36 hours sans sleep, our travel companions found out that their first home (which they still own and rent to friends in the neighborhood) had caught on fire and will most likely be a total loss. Circles of life, ebbs and flows that catch us up and sweep left and right with little regard for poverty lines or skin color. We remember the ways we belong to one another in mourning and in laughter and delight over new life.

Also, little Benjamin looks a little skeptical of Jayci. What he doesnt know, apparently, is the one he should be skeptical of is actually Caden. Always.

My suitcase is strewn wide across the room and laundry quickly piles under the weight of vacationing and unpacking. So for now, a few quick links of some interesting reads from around the internet while I was gone:
-Looking forward to reading and following along with this story.
-Not sure I could love this house tour any more. Swoon.
-One of my favorite writers on what love looks like at 2:07am
-A sweet friend sent us some essential oils to try and help with Caden's night terrors. I'm not saying anything either way because I'm very-much-not-an-expert, but I will say that Caden hasnt had a night terror since. . .
-You all know how much I adore Humans of New York. In particular, I love-love their latest posts and fundraisers for an at-risk school in Brooklyn. I also, however, felt compelled and drawn to this response from my friend Abby.
-I'm excited about this series on loving our neighbors over at (in)courage.
-Ok, I realize I love everything my friend Shannan writes, but I especially love when she writes about her biggest boy and systems of poverty, because she still manages to make it beautiful. Not to mention it feels familiar and close-to-my-heart. 

RSA Shorts: Dr BrenĂ© Brown, “Blame” from Gobblynne on Vimeo.

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