Tuesday, April 25, 2017

When There is Still Hope

So I wrote these words originally in 2013. But I cannot think of anything I need this morning more than this reminder. That there is, in fact, still hope. Even on our darkest and most disappointing days. Hope wins (even though now the statistic would be zero-in-five-of-our-kiddos-has-never-been-arrested).

Maybe one of you needs this reminder today too: 

I tease his tiny fingers until they curl around mine, tracing the freckles dotting his upper lip and chin with my fingertips while his eyes flutter into sleep. And tears drip off my own chin unchecked. His sixteen-year-old momma watches Pitch Perfect in the other room, and this baby unhinges me into the conviction that it is all just too much.

Six years ago, we got to know 5 ten and eleven year olds. They fight and tease and wrestle like siblings, quick to argue and quicker to stand up for each other: growing up in the projects together will do that to you, I suppose, solidifying community and family in mysteriously beautiful and unexpected ways. We have watched these five lengthen from all-knobby-knees-and-gap-teeth into teenagers who look more adult than child. And of the five, three are not just teenagers enmeshed in high-school drama, but mom or dad. Only two are still in high school at all, and one of those two at an alternative school. There is only one of the group who has never been arrested. And the odds stack ever-higher against them.

I finish reading Grady Baby, and flip back to the front to see when it was published. 1999. I wonder, even before I can stop myself, how many of the babies from the book find themselves, fourteen years later, back at Grady to deliver their own babies.

Sometimes cynicism mounts; the weight and pressure building until it all feels hopeless, not to mention entirely-too-hard. If you’re not growing your ministry, if you don’t have measurable results, you’re dying. He smiles at me after telling me this, and I smile back bravely, sure he can see the waver beneath. Because I look at our “results” and I’m not sure we have anything we should tell potential donors. I can talk all day and climb up on my soapbox about stopping the cycle and helping the kids and fighting for their futures. But things in the trenches look different than they do from the air.
The window on the door has been shattered when we walk up to the neighborhood high school. After discussing whether we should just reach through and open the door ourselves, we buzz ourselves in and wait patiently for a reply. When we tell the lady in the front office we’d like to volunteer, she wrinkles her nose and look confused while rifling through files to see if they even have a volunteer form of some sort. No one has ever done this before she offers by way of explanation. So we file tardy slips and shuffle tenth grade files back to the ninth grade drawer, and pull folders out for kids who have moved or dropped out. And it’s not glamorous, and perhaps even a little futile. But we show up anyways.
Yesterday during play-time, Jayci managed to dump out every single solitary card game we own (which, by the way, is a very large number of card games), and mix them together into a giant mountain of cards that were impressively thoroughly shuffled together. I walked in to find her sheepish. She tells me she accidentally made a big mess. I contemplated just shoving them all back in the baskets as they are, pretending it never happened and just pulling out cards when we need them. Finally, I sigh loudly, and perhaps a little dramatically. I yell for Adam; together, the three of us sat cross-legged on Jayci’s floor for nearly two hours sorting out cards. Occasionally, Caden is distracted from the play kitchen where he cooks “hot gogs,” and runs over to mix up our piles a little, to all of our chagrin and loud protests.

Putting cards in the right boxes, shuffling file-folders into alphabetical order, feels both strangely satisfying and smacks of futility. Because some of these kids wont show up for school tomorrow. And chances are better-than-good that Caden or Jayci, or both of them in a show of mischievous solidarity, will dump out all the cards again. And I’m not sitting here writing because I have this all figured out. I certainly don’t have an answer, or some wisdom to share with you. I write because I need to process why-DO-we-keep-showing-up? To process why we keep shuffling and sorting and reaching down into the grittiness of it all.
Sun streams through the windows as I wipe tears from my cheek and chin and gently wrap him in a blanket, burrito-style, just like we did with Jayci and Caden. Then I join his momma in the other room to watch Pitch Perfect, and can’t help myself from singing along. I jiggle him a little until his blinks lengthen, long lashes resting on his cheek and wrinkles smoothing from his forehead. He relaxes into sleep and I hold him close, ignoring my mile-long-to-do-list. On the drive back to their house, she tells me about the “other white lady from church,” (not my church, I don’t know her as it turns out) who helps their family and bought her sister a car. Through tears, she tells me how when church-lady (her words, not mine) met her son, and realized she had decided to keep him instead of giving him up for adoption, she said: congratulations, you flushed his life down the toilet.

We pull up to a red light, and I fight back my own tears, laying my hand on her arm. You know that’s not true right? I ask her. She shrugs. And I remind her that God doesn’t make mistakes. That despite the odds, and although raising her son will not be easy, THERE IS STILL HOPE. Because I have to believe that is true. I have to. Or else I might as well stop showing up. I have to believe that Jesus cares far more about us standing in the right place than He does about us being right. He would rather me stand with this precious young momma than stand and accuse her. Because I have to believe that the shame of this deep-seeded-belief, that her own life is worth-less, is exactly what led her to stare down the barrel of a life she declared again and again she didn't want for herself, and pull the trigger. To sleep with him, to have a baby, to step right into the cycle she has fought against for sixteen years.

And so we measure our success not with statistics or growth charts, but with love. And we hold our ground, refusing to be moved by what the world tells us we should be doing. Even when we trip over disappointment and set-backs, we regain our footing in the sure and ever-present promise of hope in Jesus. Because the darkness will not win, and success neither belongs to us nor can be measured by us anyways. Don’t we follow and chase after a God who delights in turning things on their head anyways? Where the first are last, and to find your life you lose it? We hold our ground, standing in solidarity with our neighbors, in an unexpected and beautiful kinship with those around us.

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe we should care more about outcomes and statistics and RESULTS. There are certainly not any grant-givers or funders breaking down our door to offer us money for our “one-in-five-of-our-kiddos-has-never-been-arrested.” But I am holding-fast, nevertheless, to my belief in the slow work of a patient God who doesn’t give up on us. Who watches and waits for the prodigal to return, and then lifts His robes and runs to him when he takes the first steps towards home. We will believe in our kiddos until they believe in themselves. And in the solidarity and kinship of linking ourselves to them forever, regardless of decisions or outcomes, we open ourselves up to hurt and disappointment. But we also open ourselves to the beautiful heartbeat of hope and to the realization and we belong to each other. And we can finally believe the words of Jeremiah when he says “In this place of which you say it is a waste . . . there will be heard again the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness . . . the voices of those who sing.”

Monday, April 17, 2017

An Easter Prayer of Confession

Dearest heavenly Father,

Even as we celebrate your risen Son this very morning, our hearts are already turning to forgetfulness and doubt. We stare with widened eyes into an empty tomb, and yet we choose death over the resurrection life you offer us. The angel asked the women at the tomb on that first Easter morning, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” And so we ask our own hearts the same question. We confess that we are searching for life in places that only offer death. We cling to our selfish ways, to our idols and strongholds, holding tight to our sins even as we stumble beneath their great weight.

We confess that it all seems too heavy, too much to bear. The weight of the world, of the hurt, and the pain, and the sickness, and the loss. We stumble beneath all we have piled high on our own shoulders; and yet the only thing you have asked us to carry is our cross. You urge us gently to leave our sins in their tomb; and we ignore your beckonings. Paul's words are familiar to us: because we too do the very things we don’t want to do. We speak harshly, when a gentle word is required. We judge, we compare, we covet, we slander, we idolize.
 And even still, you sent your beloved Son to die for us. To sweat drops of blood and defeat death so we might share in His communion with the Father. To tenderly take our hearts in his hands and cover us in his grace, calling us righteous, even when we are decidedly not. We confess that we are unworthy of your forgiveness, and we thank you Lord that today we don't have to be worthy, because Jesus was.

Lord, remind our hearts this Easter morning that resurrection is here. We want to live in the reality that you have defeated all the darkness. When we doubt, like Thomas, you enter through all our locked doors and invite us to touch the very places you were broken for us. You invite us to put our hands into your wounds, right into holes - the broken holy places that prove not your death but your victory over it. So we pray that this Easter, and every day from here on out, we will live in the freedom you offer us. We praise you because you have defeated death, and because you extend to us the holy and undeserved privilege of living resurrection life forever.


When you were dead in your sins… God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. - Colossians 2:13-14

Monday, April 10, 2017

When we went to the beach and the world is crazy

I'm going to be honest with you all right now. I'm not sure what I'm doing with this blog these days. I mean, does anyone read blogs anymore? Does anyone write blogs anymore? We are having a bit of an existential crisis, me and the blog.

I do, however, understand that my family (hi grandma!) and also possibly our supporters check the blog regularly. So my apologies for the lapse, though I can't promise it won't happen again.
Last week was spring break, and we went to the beach. How boring and normal, and decidedly not-blog-worthy. After all, nearly the entirety of Atlanta also apparently went to this same beach last week. One day, in fact, we found ourselves sitting on the beach next to a couple who happened to have graduated from the same high school as we did. What a weirdly small world.

We managed to hit our family stride in the second half of the glorious week at the beach. In fact, I think there was one entire day when our older two children didn't even fight. A minor miracle, at the very least. If you must know, though, Isaiah was entirely too clingy all week. I still might unabashedly call this our best family vacation yet. I managed to read four books (I highly recommend this one, please read it immediately); however, I'm not sure if I've mentioned that speed reading is my best life-skill.

The very last day of vacation, our children rode their bikes without complaining for over seven miles. Isaiah napped quietly in the trailer behind Adam's bike and the wind lapped quietly at our heels while the sun poured over onto our shoulders. We spent a few hours at the beach, and then I read on the screened porch while Isaiah napped and we ate dinner and played cards together with nary an unkind word.

The same day we danced on the beach and rode bikes in the sun, Trump ordered an airstrike on Syria in response to the chemical attacks. My dailySkimm the next morning told me about terrorist attacks in Oslo. And today I read about another elementary school shooting, and attacks on Palm Sunday services in Egypt. And it all feels too much, right? Like too heavy a burden to carry alongside twirling daughters and a son who clasps your legs and sobs to be help when all you want to do is read just one more chapter of your book.
I am weighed by the guilt of enjoying the privilege of a trip to the beach. I can't figure out the best way to find my footing in either place of outrage or ignorant bliss, and it turns out that in-between is a lonely place to live. How can I be a mother who delights in the joy of my own children, while also holding space for the reality of how deeply suffering enfolds so many other children all over the globe? How do we parent and live from a place of rootedness in peace and joy, without simply turning a blind eye to the darkest corners of our world and neighborhoods?

Palm Sunday is past, Christ's triumphant entry to shouts of Hosanna and waving branches have only led us ever-closer to the cross. To the dark reality of death and loss, and to a grave that stayed silent for longer than we hoped. This week of anticipation feels fraught with a chasm between the privilege of space I don't take for granted, and the weight of a world that spins ever-closer to something darker than I can bear.
Thousands of years ago marks a day swathed in darkness, and a body racked by pain. Real pain and real darkness. Broken by thorns and vinegar in a wound. And sometimes we still live in this darkness, in the remembering that we needed blood to cover all this sin. But I also remember and hold close, this week especially, the hope that rings like a tolling bell in the not-too-distant future. Because yes the death of Good Friday looms ominous with darkness, but we do not live without hope. Because we know that resurrection is coming, and that the one who defeats all the darkness doesn't tell Thomas, when he doubts, to touch his wholeness but his brokenness. To put his hands into wounds, right into holes - the broken holy places that prove not his death but his victory over it. So we put our hands into the wounds, elbow deep in the blood and pain, because we know the brokenness will be redeemed. Life will be restored. We know that Sunday is coming. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Saving My Life, Just a Little

The nest of fish was crisp under a coarse snow of salt and smelled so simple and good I thought it might save my life. Just a little. Just for that moment. -The Paris Wife

I started a new book club this past month, and the first book we read together was The Paris Wife (the writing was exquisite, but I didn't love the book overall - mostly because of the ending -FYI). Anyways, we ate yummy food and talked about television debuts and our teenage boys and new houses, and it gave me life.
One of our family goals this year was to host more dinners that gathered together people we love and admire, and we had our second dinner this weekend. We are always more blessed by the giving than I think anyone else might be by the receiving. And our dinner this weekend, watching my husband love with his gifts of fabulous cooking and watching my children show hospitality to their new friends, gave me life.

I was thinking about life-giving this morning, and realized it has been forever since I shared links and books and told y'all what's saving my life these days (just a little, just for this moment).

My friend Katie told me I needed to listen to the Audible version of Tattoos on the Heart, and if I could only pick one thing that's saving my life right now it would be this. I feel so encouraged and filled up to remember the ways we can trust in the "slow work of God." I am moved to hear stories that sound familiar and make me laugh and cry at the work we are doing and the ways we are broken and healed by it all over and over again. Ps - in case you need more convincing to get this book via audible, Father G reads the book and does voices for all the homies. Just saying.

“Find the real world, give it endlessly away, grow rich flinging gold to all who ask." - Rumi
Books I'm currently reading: 
The Door Keeper (the Kindle version is only $5!)
ps: Falling Free for Kindle is only $1.99, if you've been waiting to read it, now is your chance!

More (Required) Reading: 
My friend DL Mayfield's entire Lent series (trust me), but especially this guest post from my friend Sarah on marrying an undocumented immigrant. 

Sarah wrote about quitting drinking with grace and beauty and it moved my heart and made me think about some things that could use a little thinking through.  

When Shannan writes about her life in her neighborhood, I listen. Not just because she's one of my favorite humans, but because her words move and encourage me to no end with their beauty and pain and familiarity all mixed up together.
Finally, Adam and I (along with our kids) have been watching the second season of the Great British Baking Show which is now available on Netflix (yay!)

We have also been watching Poldark, thanks to a recommendation from a good friend and one of this month's dinner guests. Season One quite possibly was one of my favorite things I've seen in a very long time. 

What about you? What's saving your life right now, just a little?

Monday, March 6, 2017

Lament from the Wilderness

This past Wednesday, our sweet little church had an Ash Wednesday service and asked me to write a prayer of lament to share. This is what I felt pressed into my heart, and rubbed in ashes on my forehead. Ashes which Isaiah couldnt stop pointing at, and Jayci asked to also have pressed into her own precious forehead. I am grateful for the reminders of the ways that the Lord is with us even in the wilderness, and the ways He can handle our questions and hurts with the gentlest of grace to our hearts. 

How Long Oh Lord?

How long will you hide your face from us, Oh Lord?
We are weary and the world seems gone mad. Our neighbors across all the nations cry with hunger and thirst unsatisfied. Wars and rumours and rumblings of pain fill our ears, while politicians offer unsatisfactory answers to our grief and fears, and our anxieties multiply within us. We try to catch our pain with words, or tears leaked salty from blinking eyes.
We are lonely and tired, we are isolated and angry. We want to hear your voice, Lord, to feel your nearness; but it seems at every turn all we find is silence. Silence covered by a relentless news cycle, silence marked mainly by all the noise. I find myself afraid of what lies ahead for our immigrant friends, what might heal these broken streets, a broken community, what future our children are growing up into. Our newsfeeds flicker with calamity and complaints, evidences of the ways we have forgotten that we belong to each other. We have allowed our neighbors to become strangers, and refused to allow the stranger to become neighbor.
Ashes wiped dirty across my forehead, a reminder to myself that I have come from dust, and to dust I will return. A reminder of the way Jesus lived in desert dust for 40 days, the way your people wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. We need your nearness now more than ever, as we enter into this season of lent. Of ashes and dust and wilderness wandering on the path to the cross. We prepare ourselves for death, and for resurrection. Allowing ourselves in this moment to live differently, to start with the death and the emptying and live backwards to the birth and forwards to the resurrection simultaneously.

And so I pray that today, we will be reminded that though we are tired, heartbroken, yearning for more, settling for less, afraid, rejected, addicted, lonely, or doubting; no matter who or what we are, we find hope together in the promise that You are the one who formed the very dust of the earth and our bodies alike, and that you love us desperately and offer grace to us all.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Consider this my Voxer message

You know that thing when you haven’t talked to a friend in a really long time, and then it takes you even longer to connect because you know you need a good long uninterrupted stretch where you can talk on the phone? That’s how I feel about my blog right now. Like I never have enough time to do a catch-up justice, so I just never call. So instead, let's pretend this is a boxer message, which is a much less intimidating way to catch-up, particularly for introverts who avoid phone calls at all costs.

2017 guys. Somehow it seems like a whole other world than the one we left behind just over a month ago. Somehow it’s already February, and somehow the cherry blossoms are trying to push out of their winter slumber oh-so-early, like the whole earth is in a rush.
I decided to do another 365 project again this year, and I told Adam that over 50% of my pictures are just our kids playing in the backyard. Because our world is big and small, wide and ever-closer-to-home. We are doing our best to live out big things like peacemaking and bridge-building, reconciliation and faith; but to do it in decidedly small ways, right on our street, with our neighbors and each other (this is much harder than it sounds).

Yesterday, we were lucky enough to get a tour of the pediatric heart research facilities at CHOA, where Caden had his surgery just a few months ago. Caden, in fact, required much assurance that we were just looking, that no one was going to give him medicine or poke/prod/slice him. On our tour, we saw a 3D printer working to print heart valves to put inside children. We saw the work they are doing to study the hearts of rats, beating in quick tiny pulses. They explained the ways they are studying ever-smaller pieces of the heart, the ways they break everything down to individual cells, in order to find solutions for the whole hearts of kids.

And this, of course, is exactly what we have to do. Raise our voices for things that matter, while every single day breaking everything down to its smallest parts. Loving our family, loving our neighbors, spending time on the tire swing with folks who look nothing like ourselves. Sharing meals across tables, reading less BuzzFeed and more books.

This year I also officially went on staff at Blueprint 58 (our nonprofit). This feels embarrassingly like non-news. I mean I have been a part of things all along, I have never not had my life and our home and family entwined profoundly and inextricably from the “work” our nonprofit is doing in the community. But we decided in 2017 that sometimes “wise choices” and health insurance and raising more support are actually just another way of labeling disobedience to our calling, another word for fear. And this year seems like as good a time as any to choose obedience, to choose courage, to step out in faith.

If you want to know more about what I’m doing at Blueprint, and the ways we are trying to grow this year, PLEASE send me an email or message or phone call. I would love to chat about it more, particularly over chips and cheese dip and diet coke or margaritas, please and thank-you.

All of this to say that we are still here, still living in our community and family in the most faithful ways we know. Listening to the voices we trust on all the (potentially scary) things that are happening in the world, both big and small. We are making ourselves lower and less, in order to figure out how to make bigger changes in the community and world we are rooted in. We are committed to justice and to peace, to life and laughter, and having all-the-people over for dinner (get on our invite list!).

So there's my Voxer message/update, now it's your turn! Feel free to leave me a long, rambling message about what's going on your life (ps - want to actually connect on Voxer? yes please!) Or you can just comment or email me, I'd love to connect. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Though (Because) it is fleeting

Today is the day. When the next four years begins. When Trump becomes president.

I was trying to find a poem to post, someone wiser than me who spoke truth and life straight to my soul. And I found only this:
“Resistance is the protest of those who hope, and hope is the feast of those who resist.” (Jurgen Moltman)

For me, this day at least, resistance means taking middle school girls from my neighborhood to see Hidden Figures. It means praying with my daughter and together opening our eyes to the hurting around us on both sides of every issue. It means always standing for truth and goodness, for welcoming the stranger even as leaders build walls to keep them out. It means actively working against greed; and it means moving down the ladder as often as we can, gently placing our feet alongside those we love who don’t look like us. Because the Jesus we love always works mightily in the soil of oppression and fear, moving His people towards justice and peace in ways unseen and powerful, right there on the margins and at the bottom. Because we do not fear the powers and principalities of this world, but rest in the knowledge that the one who holds all our futures will sustain and carry us through even the most frightening political climates and careers. We will choose not to despair, to believe God has lost control or the world is going to “hell in a hand basket,” but to actively remember the ways that God’s people are fighting for what is good and true. We will believe in goodness and in what is right, and we will march towards it no matter what happens today.

I remember today, as I flick off the news, that the days are fleeting. I only have to look at my children to understand how quickly four years can pass. I know too that in the midst of long nights rocking babies who won't sleep, this time-warp seems difficult to fathom. And when we lose sight of the long arc of the universe, we can forget our role to be bridge builders and ones who stand always in the gap. We will do our best today and tonight and tomorrow and the next day to bend the arc towards justice, even a little. To resist the empire and stand for love, always love.

A week or two ago (I can't know exactly because like I said, time moves quickly), Atlanta was threatened with an ice storm. Like good southerners, we bought out all the bread and milk from the store. Instead of a few inches of snow, however, we only ended up with a world encased in a fragile layer of ice. Not enough ice to last under the warmth of the sun, not enough to stop dripping and soaking Caden’s boots straight through, not enough to skate on or stick your tongue to tiny icicles; just enough to glitter for a moment, showcasing the beauty and encapsulating all the sun in brilliance for a few hours one morning. Quickly though, the boys stripped off their heavy coats to shoot hoops in the backyard, and the little ones dropped their gloves into mud puddles left behind as the ice reversed its way back through the states of matter.

Time will always fly, I suppose, and it will provide brilliant moments of light and glitter, followed by mud puddles and cold drizzle. Whatever the next four years brings, we will hold fast to the beautiful pieces and always stand rooted for the causes of justice and hope, even when the ice melts and the glitter fades.
Love and hope and resistance always, 

Monday, January 2, 2017

When the Christmas Cactus Needs a Little Light

We took down all our Christmas decorations today. Ashton was appalled that we were doing it so soon, even as we pointed out the droopy Christmas tree limbs showering the carpet with brown needles. Adam took the Christmas cactus off the mantle, and when I went to lay blessedly on the bed for a few minutes, I noticed he had put it on the windowsill where it could soak in the light. Because even on a cold and gray first day of 2017, we all night to find a little light to help us grow. To perk up our tired branches and breath life into the parts that seem dead. This year, I'm determined to find the light and park myself in front of it. To soak in the presence and words of the Lord who offers light and life to even the parts of myself that I am uncertain can live again.

I took a picture 324 out of 365 days in 2016, mostly with my actual camera and not just my phone. Admittedly, I might have cheated a time or two and used pictures from a different day, because whatever man.
But my goal for 2017 is less perfect pictures. More grain and blur and all-the-mess because life leans chaotic rather than perfect, and I'd rather capture it exactly as it is rather than how I think it should be. A wise friend reminded me via email today that Jesus isn't waiting for me to be better; that He is quite content with me right now. So my goal for my photo-a-day project in 2017 is just to capture the right-now. The way things really are, sometimes too dark, often blurry and out-of-focus; but somehow beautiful nevertheless.

Ashton also told me today that I should write every day this year. That he thinks I should write a book, and that my goal this year should be to write a page a day. I laughed, while Adam nudged me in agreement. So perhaps this year I'll make my writing goal the same as my photo-a-day goal. To write even when things seem hopelessly dark and tearful. To put words on the page that capture life exactly how it is, rather than how I think it should be. Because I don't always (or rarely) know best anyways, and sometimes a Christmas cactus grows less in a pretty mantle display than perched on a windowsill where no one but me will ever see it.


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