Monday, September 26, 2016

"Success Stories"

The world these days feels heavy and forbidding, or perhaps just slightly depressing. We find ourselves forced to choose between two possibly equally terrible choices (but I'm Canadian and can't vote, so let's be clear that I am not making any political statements here). We discover we have no option but to move forward even when the innermost sanctum of our hearts urges us to play the ostrich and bury our heads in the sand.

We've been told that our ministry cannot be supported because 1-we don't "hard sell" the Gospel enough or have an ambitious and large enough growth strategy, and 2- we don't have consistent enough church attendance. And so we wonder if perhaps they are right, if maybe we are accomplishing nothing by the pouring out of our very lives. We catch eyes across the table, and wonder together if we truly are the kind of foolish we have been deemed by others who have been doing this longer and with more "success." Too soft, too full of grace without enough practicality and law. Not enough bars on our window and no security cameras making sure we know it all. Too naive, too gentle, too easy-going, too much of everything except all the right things.

And so, a new post on the blog. I won't call it a series, because I think we all know how those turn out for me (follow through is hard. Exhibit A: Whole30). But I'm posting here in what I can only hope is an act of prophetic imagination, a railing against all the world demands of us as a nonprofit and "ministry," against statistics and effectiveness and everything the empire deems "success." Instead, a celebration and acknowledgement of the still small voice we occasionally hear whisper "well done good and faithful servant," right in the midst of the smallest stories that may seem foolishness to the world but nevertheless ring true and holy in our ears. We are staking a claim, erecting an ebeenezer to remind ourself that our standards of success are rooted not in numbers but in love. In faithfulness, not effectiveness; in relationship rather than "saving" a single soul, because that is only the work of Christ. So here's to moving down the ladder and loving the least of these in fumbling imperfect ways every single day.

She yells to me from the fence beside our blackberries bushes, "hey Becca!"

"Hi Mikey," I wave back and smile wide, offering her some strawberries from the garden. "Oh no," she waves them off, "I just wanted you to know I'm going to Missouri for a while. That's where I'm from, and I'm going for a month to visit my family and I didn't want you and Adam to worry."

She is probably in her late 30s, and most often I wave to her while she sits on the street corner across the way, or when she asks to borrow a dollar for the bus or for some corner-store chicken. For a while, her pimp rented the house behind us, and I would watch black BMWs circle the block to pick her up and drop her back off at the crumbling front steps. She never waves to me on these circles, only later when she walks by, and I run down to offer a hug or a slice of leftover pizza (we always have lots of Little Caesars pizza around here). She asks if she can "hold a dollar," and I hand her whatever change and snacks we can scrounge up while the boys shake their heads and her and at my eagerness to offer her something.

I have a necklace to give her, a key engraved with the word hope. But somehow I lose it before I muster the courage to offer it into her hands. What will I say, I wonder: how will I explain the hope I wish her to hold in her heart, without sounding hokey or lame, or pushing her further away than she already floats by circumstance and the inevitably of life?

We met her at our first thanksgiving feast, when I held baby Amir and summoned my courage to invite the group on homeless men and women congregated by the corner store to come in for the golden turkey Adam brined to perfection, and the $200 pan of macaroni my parents brought from Whole Foods.

Since that night, and at every Thanksgiving feast, she stops by for the meal; and then occasionally for dinner or cookies in-between.

But we count it "success" when we stops by to tell us she's leaving for a month, even as we wish we could offer more. Because we will gladly take the mantel of being the ones she knows will care, those who might notice her absence. We don't understand her whole story, and can only hope one day we might have the privilege of listening in and holding it close to our hearts and to His. But until then, we will settle for being the ones she takes an extra loop around the block for, the ones she tells she is leaving because she knows we see her and we will notice when she is gone.

“God has not called me to success, but to faithfulness” -Mother Teresa

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Podcasts and Books and Docu-series, oh my.

Ok guys, I realize no one actually reads my posts these days, particularly the ones involving links and recommendations. But it's impossible for me to stop, because when I find something I love, I feel like it's not enough for me to text a couple people and tell them: listen to _____ asap, or watch _____ immediately. All that to say, sorry not sorry. And here's some of my favorite things I've been reading/watching/listening to lately.
First off, if I've said it once, I'll say it a million times -- preorder my girl Shannan's book today. Even my friend Father Boyle recommends it, which is basically the highest praise I can imagine.

Adam and I just finished watching the docs-series Last Chance U on Netflix. You guys, I cannot think of something else I watched recently that made me so happy/sad/entertained all at once. Granted, all the players at this community college reminded me exactly of every single one of our boys, and I want to be Ms. Wagner forever. Also, we watched and loved Stranger Things, but I'm assuming all of you already know about that one!

Malcom Gladwell has a new(-ish) podcast called Revisionist History. Right after I listened to an episode called Carlos Doesn't Remember, I immediately texted some of my favorite folks and told them to listen asap. So consider this your text from me -- listen to this episode. I also loved the recent episode of On Being (always one of my favs), with Ruby Sales (the episode is called Where Does it Hurt?)

As far as books go, I have been reading like crazy lately. Consider it my healthy(-ish) form of escapism from life when its too insane (read: always). Anyways, I've read a few that I loved and wanted to pass along those recommendations to you. I started off by reading Jesmyn Ward's memoir, Men We Reaped, and I loved it so much that I immediately ordered all her other books from the library and read them all in quick succession. They were amazing, although her memoir voice is still my favorite. I think her words are beautiful and inspiring and hard and necessary and important. Highly recommend.

Finally, I sent an email newsletter with an update (well, as much of an update as we have) on Lee and also the latest details on Caden. If you're interested, you can sign up here (also, we have a meeting with the surgeon on Wednesday to discuss details and timeline and all the risks etc, would love you guys to cover that time in prayer).

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Confession and Assurance

Last week, the sweet church plant where we have been attending the last few months in our neighborhood asked if I would write and read a prayer of confession. I agreed, of course, because I always do; then panicked about trying to write something worthy of being read aloud in church, even in front of just a small group of folks. Nevertheless, I said what was laid on my heart, and I thought maybe someone else might need to hear this as much as I needed to write it.

I am always praying for each of you, and grateful for all the ways you point me to Jesus.
Merciful Father, we confess that again and again we fail to remember who you are, and
therefore who we are. We try to earn your love with our broken notions of obedience and
sacrifice, rather than resting in the truth of who you have made us to be and the things you
require of us.

You call us to love as you love, to seek justice, mercy and truth in a world and community in
desperate need of you. Instead, we turn away from those in need and remain silent in the face
of injustice. We clutter our hearts with the trappings of the world, filling our lives with all the
things we think we need apart from you. We refuse to abandon the American dream, failing to
realize that you are calling us instead into your upside-down Kingdom where the first will be last
and you gain your life by losing it. We pray this morning that this Kingdom will come even here
and now. We ask that the truth of our belovedness will always spill over from our hearts onto the
hurting world around us.
We have developed cases of spiritual amnesia, forgetting the very forgiveness you tell us to
remember with the breaking of your body and the shedding of your blood. Help us in this space
to recall in our hearts the things we have forgotten. To remember the depths of your grace and
the cleansing waters of your forgiveness. And I pray that having washed, we may know the joy
of living in right relationship with you, our loving Father who always forgives because of Your
faithfulness and not because of anything we have done or can ever do to deserve it.

Remind us here of your brokenness for our wholeness, for the blood you poured out to cleanse
our sins and make us new. Remind us that we are never too far away from you to decide to
draw nearer today. We offer you what we can today, all the pieces of ourselves we try to hide or
think aren't good enough. Forgive us for not trusting you more deeply, and thank you for the
ways your love makes us new.
Lets hear this word of assurance from God’s trustworthy word:

Without the shedding of Blood there is no forgiveness of sins. - Hebrews 9:22
But thanks be to God that we read this in Ephesians 1, In him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of his grace. - Ephesians 1:7

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