the time is now…..

 

The past few days have brought this strange numbness….like I don’t fit wherever I am.  Partially because I never do but it seems more intense lately. Finally I was reminded yesterday that I am in the “between first and third world” transition phase as I am leaving for Haiti in a few days. One would think I would sense when this is coming on because I have been doing this for almost 10 years but it always seems to creep up on me.

I was unloading the dishwasher and my RaceTrac cup caught my eye. I literally looked at it and said in my head, “I will miss you, RaceTrac cup.” WTH???  As I prepare to leave I subconsciously say good bye to ice and air conditioning and it takes me a little while to wean myself from all the conveniences. I am human too. I am not beyond getting my panties in a  wad when I have to clean out my bowl in the bunkhouse in Haiti with a paper towel and hand sanitizer for the hundredth time because water is too important to waste on such things.  I don’t count the days to no shower,  sweat to the point I carry a washcloth with me so my glasses don’t slide down my nose (don’t judge), and sliding on muddy rocks in a long skirt and cursing my “hiking boots” because they aren’t doing a dang thing for me in the middle of a downpour on top of a slippery foot path.  Crackers and canned chicken are not my faves (although Chick-fil-A sauce does wonders for most foods) and I also miss my comfortable car, legitimate roads, and my washing machine. But not enough to stay home. Never enough to stay home.

We are a society of comfort and conveniences. We thrive off quick and easy. But what about the rest of the world? The world where clean water is nonexistent and a pair of shoes is a luxury.

 

I know when we started to go to Haiti there was this lingering question in the minds of the people in the village which was very simple…..”WHY would she leave her comfort to come here?”  At first I had to figure that question out for myself. I wanted to be there for the right reasons and a motivation that is not centered around some philanthropic do-gooder mentality.  And here is my conclusion…..I go because I am called. We are ALL called to somewhere other than our own families and our own little circles. The other reason is a bit selfish but it is because the people in Haiti have something extraordinary that I lack and I just want to be around them because  of it.

Constantly people say to me, “We forget how blessed we are in America” and I always have this uneasy feeling like there was something inherently wrong with that statement. Yes we have drive thrus and electricity. We have faucets and milk in the fridge. But we also have meth and porn. We live very isolated lives from those around us because we need to keep up with the materialistic world we live in. We have free schools yet  most don’t appreciate them anyway. We have a lot of stuff but we remain unsettled most of the time because there is always something more to be attained or accomplished. We know a lot of people but often feel disconnected because of our busyness and  our own selfishness.

And then there is entitlement.  The feeling so many have that the government owes them something. Government assistance should lead to gratitude and humility but most of the time it only breeds dependence and arrogance.  Something needs to change here is the USA. We are not as “blessed” as we want to think we are. There is a huge need for change in our country.  Addiction, crime and sexual exploitation are taking over and most of us don’t even know it is happening.

Being “blessed” to me is doing life with people I love who have learned the value of hard work under the worst conditions. It means spending time together under an avocado tree talking about education and the need for rain so the crops will grow. It means watching children come to school after a 2 hour walk with no mud on their shoes and no victim mentality in their step.  Those are the moments that most bless me. I can deal with frizzy hair and unending mud all day long to get a piece of that.

What keeps us from answering the call? Fear. Comfort. Denial.

The time is now. We have so many opportunities all around us to be avenues of change but it does not happen in our sheltered little worlds and our consumer driven families.  It happens when we put the conveniences aside and embrace the uncomfortable…..what is gained is always greater in those times than what is lost. Relationships win over Netflix and Keurigs.

We were created to be in community. And not our mono ethnic cliques or hobby driven circles.  But the kind of community that stretches us. Makes us wrestle with our prejudices and our self seeking motives. Doing life with people who don’t make us look good to other people and who won’t feed into our egos.

Go answer the call.  Give til you have nothing left. You will come alive.

 

Darkness cannot destroy me….

I wanted to get a tattoo that said “WARRIOR” but I decided that it might seem a little too Gladiator or  Braveheart which was NOT what I was going for. In fact, my husband would testify that those are the best movies ever and I would safely say they are awful.

When it comes down to it, here is what I am working with:

I get angry.  I am determined. I am not content to sit and watch the darkness creep in.

I have a creed I live by that goes something like this:

I will fight with those who are in the battle of overcoming. I will walk with those committed to the cause of finding their own freedom. I will not engage with people who want me to work harder at their lives than they do.

If we love by those standards the expectations are set and it simplifies life greatly.

I think of darkness in this way. You know that early morning fog that comes on you while you are driving on the interstate? At first it seems manageable but suddenly you realize you cannot see just feet in front of you? By the time you are in it that deep you don’t know what cars are around you and how long it will be before you get out of it because you are blinded by the fog.  You don’t know how you got there and you aren’t sure how long you will be stuck in it. That is how I see darkness.

When we walk in the light we can easily avoid dealing with the darkness most of the time. We can numb the reality of our own brokenness. We can shop, drink too much, watch tv, scroll through Facebook and never once think about our “stuff.” I know because I do it  too.

How can we give what we don’t have?

So if we are virtually unaware of our own issues of greed, selfishness, pride, lack of faith….we cannot possibly be available for anyone else in their time of need. Think about it- when you are going through something, do you call the person who lives in their own little box- insulated and protected with little insight? Of course not. You call the one who will get real and enter into that pain with you. I am not saying it is easy to do. It is so hard. It is exhausting. It is an opportunity to die to self which is almost impossible for us sometimes. But we are called to push through and dig deep and step into the pain alongside someone else.

I know how difficult it is. Last October I went to Haiti a week after the devastating hurricane. Crops and homes were completely destroyed. People were desperate for shelter and food. I was only there a brief time but what I saw changed me. I came home discouraged, undone. I went into a numb phase that I am barely pulling out of. I remember seeing my friend Courtney right after I got back and she told me she would pray that I could do the next thing.  At that point I was not even sure what that was. It took me a while to figure it out. I decided I did not want to go back to Haiti and have to face that kind of loss ever again. But I leave in a  few days and will have to face my fear of what I will see and how guilty I will feel that we have not done more. Everything in me says run and God says go. So it is a done deal.

When we say YES to God and  reach out to love people well, we make ourselves vulnerable….and then the potential to get hurt is pretty high. Ok let’s face it- pain is inevitable. We get our feelings hurt, we are misunderstood, and we are rejected. That is just reality. So who in their right mind would continue to try? It seems almost crazy to keep going back into the hurt and opening ourselves  up. But….there is a reason. And it’s an amazing reason. It is called fulfilling our PURPOSE. And it will make us come alive.

The “me” a few years ago would have taken about 5 seconds of being misunderstood and tapped out. Run as far away as possible and then be too hurt to put myself back out there.

The “me” now has a totally different understanding. I know without question that I do not serve man. If I did I would be crushed. Done. And the wall around my heart would get thicker and if anyone tried to look in to find me they would see me curled up in the corner. Meanwhile, I would justify why I got that way and begin to insulate my life more and more because that is what people in pain do- they run from anything else that will hurt them.

At least once a day someone asks me WHAT I do or WHY I do it. It really is simple. It is what the Bible calls us to do.
“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.” Proverbs 19:17

It is not my job to fix anything. God just says to show up and He is sufficient.

We recently took someone into our home, converted my office into a bedroom, threw a baby shower and made her a part of our family. After some time, she began to heap accusations on me that could not even possibly be true and the end of that arrangement came. How did I deal with that? People ask me all the time.  It is  like when Jesus hung on the cross and pronounced “It is finished.” We have to know with our boundaries in place when our role is finished and be ok with it. We cannot carry another person’s brokenness and when it gets to that point we have to lay it down. We can walk with them but  we cannot protect them from the demons that haunt them and their unwillingness to go deep and battle them.

I remind myself that I am not in the business of transforming people and change takes time.

We all want the story of the stripper who loves Jesus and never struggles again or the student who lives in poverty in the third world and makes it to law school. The reality is that those changes come over time, the obstacles are enormous, and learning an entirely new way of life is never easy.

I have watched women struggle and often return to their old ways. Back to the abusive boyfriends and back to the drugs.

I have watched children in Haiti excel in school one year and fail the next. I have seen healthy people get deathly ill with no explanation. I have seen parents pull their teenaged boys out of school to work the farm and we lose them forever.

Most people ask, “Isn’t that discouraging?” and the answer is a resounding YES but it is not an opportunity to quit. See….I am a fighter. A scrapper. I am not ok with injustice and I can’t tolerate people being victimized. I cannot sit and watch darkness take over even the smallest amount of light. The Jesus I serve calls me to be brave. In Creole it is Ou dwe brave- be brave. I live by those words.

In Matthew 25, God talks about the sheep and the goats. All week I have been telling God, “I don’t to be a goat!” This is what Jesus says to the goats (those who did not give to those in need):

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

YIKES!!

So here is the good news…..

There is hope! The Ashleys, the Ambers, the Veronicas. The Willems, the Vilias, the Jelins. God working in the moments when no one is looking. God providing when it all seems hopeless.  The decision to go to school in Haiti when they have not eaten for a day or two. The choice to not darken the door of a strip club and allow men to be abusive to make a few bucks.

As long as there is darkness, we will be called to it.

John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

We have the light. Light in a lit room is not needed.  Face your own brokenness. Dig deep.  You will come alive. And God will give you opportunities to love people and you will never be the same.

 

My address at Zoe’s Journey graduation

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To all the recovering addicts:

We are here tonight to honor all the graduates and also encourage those who are on their way to graduation. Addiction has taken almost everything from you but by the grace of God you are sitting here tonight. Most of you should not even be alive. You have fought hard to get where you are and the fight is far from over. Every day is a battle- I know because you tell me. The struggle to learn to live sober seems virtually impossible some days and far from worth it on others. You are some of the strongest women I have ever met. You have fought in the face of adversity for most of your lives. Most of you did not have an easy life prior to becoming an addict….but you know you cannot stay the victim of your circumstances. You need recovery and we need you to stay clean.

I have told many of you that the world needs you sober. Often I get blank stares. Why would the world need me, you ask. Because your life matters. You are capable of helping someone else change her life because of your sobriety. Look around this room…..who do you see who is affected by you being sober? And are those same people just as affected when you are using? Addiction does not affect just you. It impacts all of us. And most deeply it changes your children.

As I see each of you fight every day to stay clean, it makes me stronger. I have found a deeper part of me by knowing you. You challenge me to keep it real, be on my toes, and realize that my brokenness is just as messed up as yours. I need Jesus just like you. I need to surrender just like you. I need to stay humble just like you. And I need you just as much as you need me. I cannot imagine my life without you. Thank you for being you. Keep fighting. Don’t give in to the enemy of addiction. You have everything to lose. This life is fleeting. Go be awesome. Go impact the world for good. Go love those you have hurt. Make peace with your enemies. Be light.

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To the friends and family of the graduates from Zoes Journey:

I am sure if we added up the hurt in this room it would be overwhelming. Disappointment, frustration, regret, fear, hurt, etc. I can imagine that there are very deep wounds. But what I can tell you is this….today is one more step in the direction of a healthy, productive life for these women. They have worked so hard to get where they are. Some have fallen hard and picked up and carried on. Some have really found themselves through this journey. Others are still seeking but I see great progress.

I know your pain from the past is real but i hope that after tonight you will either start or continue to forgive. Your loved ones need you. You can ask any one of these women- I am all about boundaries….I fully believe that you should use them when you need to…..but to the one sitting here who can’t let the past go and is holding onto the hurt. Maybe today is when you lay it down and move on…..and then you will be able to give second chances and make peace. I pray that for you.

To the family and friends who are here today….you are a testimony to me of your commitment to one or more of these beautiful women. I know their hearts grieve for what you have been through as a result of their actions. They share that part of their heart freely because it is a burden they have carried for a very long time. But you are here today. Maybe fully engaged or maybe as a skeptic. Not knowing if this time it is for good. All I can say is that the one in your life who you are here to support needs you. Needs to hear you say “well done.” Needs you to listen and not judge. Needs you to be present even when you want to be in denial. I pray that there are many years ahead of healthy memories. I pray that you will allow God to mend the broken places. I pray that tonight you can hug your loved one and tell her how proud you are of her. Her recovery has been really difficult. It has meant so much change so fast. She needs you desperately now more than ever. Thank you for being here for her. I know how much she appreciates it.

Maybe you are graduating and your family isn’t here because they could not make it. Call them up and thank them for being there for you. Then some of you don’t have family who is supportive because they have their own issues or the road has been too hard. For you that is where God brings people into your life to be that family. He brings friends, mentors, sponsors, and then people like us sitting here who just want to walk beside you. With no strings attached. No agenda. Just to love you. Because love is an action and love does.

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To the church at large: 

The moms in this room who are graduating need you. And they need you to love them and not judge them. Maybe they don’t have it “all together” and they yell too much or they aren’t “pulling their weight with the PTO”. Maybe they bring their kids to school in the same uniform shirt 3 days in a row and never make it to parent nights with all you “good mommies.”

Well, maybe just maybe those moms you were just judging need someone to show them. Someone to model parenting for them. Someone to be compassionate and understanding.

We take for granted that we have cars. Most moms don’t and the bus stops running at 5:15. No bus to go to the open house.

We take for granted that we have washing machines. Without cars, most moms have to load up the kids and the laundry and get on the bus. Oh that’s right….the bus does not run after 5:15 so she will walk to the laundromat.

We take for granted that adults in our lives did not introduce us to drugs as children. Most addicts I know were giving drugs at a very young age.  Usually starting at the age of 12. If you don’t believe me, I have many women who can tell you their stories.

We take for granted that we can get jobs. When someone gives a kid a joint at 12, grades probably start to slip so by high school they are dropouts. Ever tried to get a job with a 9th grade education?

When a child gets into cocaine at 14 because it is all over the house, she will probably be a full blown addict by 15 and start to steal to support the habit. Ever tried to get a house or apartment to rent with drug charges?

Many moms like the ones sitting in this room are scared to reach out to you. They feel that their mess is worse than yours. But they need your support. They want someone to share their victories with  (first place of their own, first legitimate driver’s license, first month clean). And to share their heartbreaks (bad news at court, relationship problems, not getting to see their children).

Why is it our nature to judge and reject? Because to have compassion might require something of us. It might make us tender and make us feel….and God will call us to rise up and be THE CHURCH.

A little girl explained to me recently that she worries that her mommy won’t have enough money to take care of them and they will go to foster care. Her eyes widened as I explained to her the early church  in the book of Acts. They sold all their possessions to give to those in need. In that moment, I think she got it. My dining room table could be gone next week to help them pay their rent.

But when are WE going to get it? That our lives are not our own and that there is a desperately dying world out there crying out for help? You might not hear their cries because they are not chatting in the carline (because they don’t have a car) or sitting next to you at Outback (most of them cannot afford it).  Or darkening the door of your churches (they have been led to believe that your sin is much cleaner than theirs and they would not be welcome in your pew or your gym).

We can’t do it all but we can do something. At any season of life and at any level of our own maturity we can make a meal, listen to a discouraged mom, or drive a mom to an appointment so she can get to work on time. We can all do that.

We fear what we don’t know….and we don’t know because we don’t want to.

If we are really honest, we want to shy away from poverty, brokenness, addiction, and prostitution because it is ugly and it messes up our day. It requires us to take our eyes off our dirty clothes piles and our need for order in our lives and forces us to go deep. Who wakes up one day and wishes that upon themselves? Well, if I am reading Jesus the right way….we all should.

We are a generation who has something to offer and it was not intended to be only poured out on our own offspring. We were given this nurturing ability to share it.  To pass it on. To break the cycle of abuse and neglect.

The day we decide to invest our lives in someone else’s  two lives will change and I promise that the first one to change will be yours.

Moms, it is time…..

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As moms, we need each other.

We need each other when our kids are sitting quietly eating their ice cream while we talk to the insurance company for the 20th time in a day. We also need each other when our kids are running the aisles at Marshall’s farting and burping, calling each other butt faces. Either way….we need each other.

Today I watched a phenomenon….a mom giving birth to kittens. A feral mom we picked up last night and delivered her litter this morning. Hmmmm…..talk about not being ready for the delivery. I hadn’t even named her and she had now blessed my favorite blanket with afterbirth. That experience will bond a human and a cat very quickly. I have witnessed my share of kitty births but today’s was a huge awakening for me.

The mama kitty ( who my 5th grade vet techs named Amber)  had her first baby under my bed while I was in the other room drinking my morning coffee this morning. She did not pick the cozy nest I had made for her and she certainly was not deterred by the wads of dust bunnies in her newly made birthing center. As I dragged her out from under the bed with placentas and umbilical cords still hanging on, there was a kitten in a sack that she had not opened.  The kitten was struggling to breathe on his own but Amber was not tending to him. I broke open the sack, called my fellow doula, Kim, and rubbed it vigorously to try to revive him. Meanwhile, Amber was not eating the placentas or licking the other babies the way I know she was supposed to. My other new found doula friend, Mary Lucia, proceeded to suction one of the babies’ mouths because Amber was not able to keep up with the eating, nursing, licking, and birthing. No judgement here- I just pushed mine out and it did not require I eat something that looks like someone’s liver….and do it 4 times. Ewwwww…..

In my panic, I was frustrated with Amber that she was not doing what “all the other kitty moms were doing.” Didn’t she take childbirth classes? Didn’t she know it’s unacceptable to give birth under a dusty bed? Didn’t she know that neglecting the sick baby and not give it a chance was inexcusable?

Well, Amber came from a home of cat hoarders and lived outside in a neighborhood for a long time before a sweet lady decided to feed her and care for her until she found a home. Amber did not have a place to relax until 5:00 yesterday. She probably was plain tired of running from coyotes and male cats trying to hit her up and giving birth to these babies just felt like one more exhausting task. So after she had them all she curled up on the bookshelf and fell asleep. She needed a nap and she needed me to put them on her to nurse because she wasn’t ready for that part quite yet.

And in the 24 hours we have had her, she screeched all last night when she could not see me so I slept on the floor beside her so she felt safe. Since the babies have been born, when I reach out to pet her she puts her paw on top of my hand and falls asleep- she can rest knowing someone is there. She has needy moments of wanting her belly rubbed and head scratched, while my other cats were all too busy being moms to want attention for themselves. She still wants to be held and loved so she knows it is going to be ok.

How many moms do you know like Amber? Maybe they don’t have it “all together” and they yell too much or they aren’t “pulling their weight with the PTO”. Maybe they bring their kids to school in the same uniform shirt 3 days in a row and never make it to parent nights with all you “good mommies.”

Well, maybe just maybe those moms you were just judging need someone to show them. Someone to model parenting for them. Someone to be compassionate and understanding.

We take for granted that we have cars. Most moms don’t and the bus stops running at 5:15. No bus to go to the open house.

We take for granted that we have washing machines. Without cars, most moms have to load up the kids and the laundry and get on the bus. Oh that’s right….the bus does not run after 5:15 so she will walk to the laundromat.

We take for granted that our parents did not introduce us to drugs as children. Most addicts I know were giving drugs BY THEIR PARENTS.  Usually starting at the age of 12. If you don’t believe me, I have many women who can tell you their stories.

We take for granted that we can get jobs. When a mom gives a kid a joint at 12, grades probably start to slip so by high school they are dropouts. Ever tried to get a job with a 9th grade education?

When a child gets into her mom’s cocaine supply at 14 because they are dealers and it is all over the house, she will probably be a full blown addict by 15 and start to steal to support the habit. Ever tried to get a house or apartment to rent with drug charges?

Many moms, like my cat Amber, are children themselves. Desperate for attention and acceptance. They want someone to share their victories with  (first place of their own, first legitimate driver’s license, first month clean). And to share their heartbreaks (bad news at court, relationship problems, not getting to see their children).

Why is it our nature to judge and reject? Because to have compassion might require something of us. It might make us tender and make us feel….and God will call us to rise up and be THE CHURCH.

A little girl explained to me recently that she worries that her mommy won’t have enough money to take care of them and they will go to foster care. Her eyes widened as I explained to her the early church  in the book of Acts. They sold all their possessions to give to those in need. In that moment, I think she got it. My dining room table could be gone next week to help them pay their rent.

But when are WE going to get it? That our lives are not our own and that there is a desperately dying world out there crying out for help? You might not hear their cries because they are not chatting in the carline (because they don’t have a car) or sitting next to you at Outback (most of them have never eaten at a restaurant where the menu is not on the wall).  Or darkening the door of your churches (they have been led to believe that your sin is much cleaner than theirs and they would not be welcome in your pew or your gym). Or at the gym  or Target (no explanation needed).

We can’t do it all but we can do something. At any season of life and at any level of our own maturity we can make a meal, listen to a discouraged mom, or drive a mom to an appointment so she can get to work on time. We can all do that.

We fear what we don’t know….and we don’t know because we don’t want to.

If we are really honest, we want to shy away from poverty, brokenness, addicition, and prostitution because it is ugly and it messes up our day. It requires us to take our eyes off our dirty clothes piles and our need for order in our lives and forces us to go deep. Who wakes up one day and wishes that upon themselves? Well, if I am reading Jesus the right way….we all should.

So many moms out there never had a mom and if they did she sucked really bad. We are a generation of moms who have something to offer and it was not intended to be only poured out on our own offspring. We were given this nurturing ability to share it.  To pass it on. To break the cycle of abuse and neglect.

The day we decide to invest our lives in someone else’s  two lives will change and I promise that the first one to change will be yours.

Weary from the Battle

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Writing has been too difficult lately. How much do I tell? I am a transparent person but lately I have wanted to hide….hide from myself, hard truths, life, and everyone else. Why? Disappointment, shame, depression, fear. Some days the weight has felt unbearable like shackles around my ankles and others it has lifted like the early morning fog. Some days I have gone between the two extremes all day long depending on the circumstances. To say that it has been confusing and exhausting would not begin to define this state of struggle. Even as I write this, I want to quit. Walk away from the computer and yell, “F*** you!” But I need to push through for me and for you. For me to work on healing and for you to know you are not alone.

We have raised our children the best we know how. Mistakes along the way. Never believing that a formula would produce godly children- I think we have been pretty realistic and held our children loosely knowing God’s plan is ultimate…..but deep down we thought our children would be leaders in their faith and stand for righteousness no matter the cost. It has not happened.  Nothing prepared us for the struggles of watching our teenagers waver and fall. Curfews, apps to know where they are, becoming semi-professional investigators, and regular confrontations has left me tired. Tired from the worry. The unknown. And tired from the self-condemnation that I don’t trust God enough to know that each of my children must walk out this journey and find his own faith.

I am a self-blamer every time. Did we make a mistake with their schooling? Their friend choices? Were we too sheltering? Not enough? Did we bombard them with faith so now they resent it? As my mind reels from this self-talk insanity, I just want to go to sleep. And when I put my head on the pillow sleep hardly ever comes. I toss and turn, get up, lay down….the ritual of my nights. And when I sleep I often have those anxiety dreams where I am watching someone’s child and go out to lunch forgetting that he is asleep in the crib. I wake up believing the voice in my head that says I am not a good enough mom to be trusted with someone’s child. Not the brightest way to start the day, I guess,  but it happens.

Every day I get the privilege to take medication to my friend who is dying. She was an addict for 35 years and cannot keep the morphine or anxiety medications in her house so I take them every day to her. Because of her lifestyle, she did not raise any of her children. Living on the streets, doing drugs and prostituting did not make her a suitable mom. Oh- except the one that she had after her father impregnated her when she was 12 years old who was automatically adopted by a relative.  She has never even seen that child. She was sold  for sex to support her parents’  drug habit starting at five years old while they gave her cocaine and heroin to numb her pain. When her parents were having sex with her, she developed multiple personality disorder because the emotional trauma was so intense she had to leave her own body. Today she told me she is just too tired to keep fighting and she knows death is imminent. We cried together and then I went home to unload my groceries. Somehow the sadness does not leave me when I walk out the door. I grieve what was stolen from her by selfish, sick people but I know she has faith in Christ and she knows that she will see Jesus face to face soon. I do take rest in knowing this but I also cry heavy tears for the life she did not have.

Relationships. They are so hard. Family ones, friend ones, ministry ones….none are easy……and not because I am perfect and no one else is. Because I am imperfect and struggle with being a good friend. Lately I have not had much to invest. My hollowness has given me the sense that I don’t have much to give away. Everywhere I look I see parents who are not struggling like I am…people not burdened by the depravity of the world and carrying that weight…..peers who seem to be able to maintain friendships for decades…women who have the best dads while I have none…..and I wonder what is wrong with me. Why is life so hard for me? Am I jealous? No, just confused. Trying to figure out why I can’t turn off my emotions and my heart ache for the world’s suffering. Sometimes I just want to be able to go to the gym for a few hours with my personal trainer, eat at Crispers, go shopping, get a weekly pedicure while someone else cleans my house and picks up my kids…..because it seems to be working for A LOT of people. I wish that shoe fit me.

Churches and nonprofits are full of imperfect people and some of them are desperately broken. I don’t know why this catches me off guard sometimes because I know it is true….but it creeps up on me and it feels like a punch right to the face. Pastors (not mine) who are not fully disclosing of the truth and sit in their private quarters untouched by human brokenness…..ministry leaders who fall, remain unrepentant and take others down with them. Meanwhile, others are left to clean up the big, sloppy mess. Blows my mind.

Loving addicts and strippers is always life changing because I learn so much about myself from people who have overcome so much. But it can also be disappointing, lonely, and heartbreaking.  Having an 18 year old come into our home, we adopt her like a daughter, and months later she returns to the drugs, stripping and abusive relationships that she was escaping when she came to us in the first place.  Other women who have worked so hard to get sober find themselves relapsing and losing their children to the child welfare system forever. The addiction is greater than any other love and I have to see it, accept it, and continue to pray for a breakthrough that can only come from a life of surrender.

Somehow in this huge, sticky, messy life there is hope. Why? Because God is still good and I am still loved by Him. Even when I am untrusting, arrogant, self-dependent, and live like He never existed at all.  Some days there is only a speck of hope in me because I cannot look past my failures, disappointments and the hard road in front of me. In those moments I am trying to turn to prayer and devotion to my Creator instead of giving into the voices in my head screaming, “You are not enough.” I don’t do that most of the time but I have hope that I will get better and that I will once again find that peace that passes understanding that I once knew.

I am praying that Light will break through my hurting heart and my grieving spirit. I know the beauty of God’s light and I talk about it all the time. It just seems lately that the world is darker and my light is dimmer. I am praying for a breakthrough.

We have so much to learn….Part One

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It has been a while since I have literally written anything, but the longing never leaves…..every day feels like I am living a blog post- a life of learning lessons from my own experiences and those around me that change me forever. I think the last month I have been taking in so many experiences I have not even known where to start. Today I figured I needed to start somewhere…..

I come across like I am confident and fearless but in certain areas I am a HUGE scaredy cat. For example, I don’t think I would be good with tools so I never, ever use them. I have never even used a hammer to drive a nail to hang a picture. I have also never painted a wall. I know it makes me sound like I am just a spoiled wife because my husband does all these things and does them well so why do I need to? I admit I am relieved I don’t have to do it but the bottom line is that I don’t think I would be good at it so I don’t even try. I also don’t touch finances for us personally or for the nonprofit- ok….I will be honest. I DID try that and my own husband fired me. For that one, I am grateful I tried and failed horribly because it was my worst nightmare but for a few days after my termination I did feel like a failure and I don’t handle that feeling well. Fortunately, the stakes were not too high on that one.

Going a little deeper, I fear being alone, not having a place to live, and not being able to provide for my family. I fear my friends in Haiti going hungry because I did not do enough. I fear my children not knowing how much I love and adore them because I feel like I can never say it enough. I fear a life cut short by heart disease that runs in my family. I fear living a life that does not matter. My biggest fear is that something would happen to my husband- the most powerful voice and presence in my life. I fear…..the list goes on…….I don’t think about them all the time but when I go to the places in me that make my chest hurt and my breath shorten- it is these.

With all these thoughts, voices and fears swimming in my overactive mind (and not the good kind of active that can remember how to do algebra and geometry to be able to help my kids with their homework), I am always exposed to courage around me that makes me stand up and say, “YES! THAT! That is what I am talking about!!” Then I leave changed. Encouraged. Blessed.

I love to learn. It reminds me I have a long way to go on an exciting journey.

And here is what that has looked like to me the last month….

Churches are scary for people who feel like they do not measure up. And churches have only reinforced this for many. I talked to someone who is in her thirties who remembers distinctly being a little girl and not having a dress to wear because she was poor and told she could not come to church in anything less. She was taught that being poor meant she was excluded- from the one place that should have embraced her. This memory is so real it is like it happened yesterday.

Whenever I bring visitors to church who don’t know how to “act right” and who maybe talk too loud, ask too many questions, or are too fidgety, I can feel the stares. I sense the judgement. I feel the question being asked, “Why are you letting that person interrupt my hour of worship?” The reason….because Jesus called the church to be the church and the church will never be the power hour at 10:30 AM on a Sunday. The church will always be a group of people loving others to the point of sacrifice and above all else loving a Jesus who first loved them. How quickly we let church be a place of convenience where we let our own comfort win. That will never be a win for Jesus.

And then we have classes or groups of people who have not been programmed to be churchy and shallow, and we don’t know what to do with their honesty and brokenness….so we put on a DVD and give the one-word answers in the workbook so we don’t have to really confront the demons who haunt so many of us. We stay safe and contained in the script that was written by an author who had no idea what that group would be facing and therefore, remains irrelevant to most of the people in the room. When we take prayer requests, we don’t REALLY want to know how we can pray for the people in our groups because that makes us WAY too uncomfortable so we pray for our aunts, cousins, and distant relatives and their ailments, which are important prayers but not in place of our own struggles that need to be shared.

But I also learned this…..God can use me to break the cycle of churchy people looking down on outsiders and he can use you. We can ask the questions that may take the person more than two minutes to answer and listen patiently while she shares. And then we can follow up day after day and week after week so people learn that they are not momentary projects to make us  feel good about ourselves. That is where Jesus becomes real to them. That is where the Holy Spirit grows us and gives us the words we need when we have no idea what to say. THAT is the church.

I learned this month that I was afforded the opportunity to attend a prestigious university but many never had the chance to finish middle school. Lazy? Unmotivated? Not at all. Childhood abuse, homelessness, endless moves in foster care, parental neglect- all contributing to the end of the road of education for MANY. “Go back to school! Get your GED!” That is what everyone has to say. I say….”Are you ready to go back to an institution that failed you? Are you confident enough to face the vocabulary and math equations that you never understood the first time? Do you fear being teased and mocked for the being the “new student” when you had to do that 4 or 5 times a year as a child because the foster care system failed you horribly and could never stabilize your placement?” From there, I say….”We will do this when you are ready, not when everyone else thinks you SHOULD be ready.” Most people want to throw judgement around about someone’s level of education without a thought as to how it can be done with the past that is still only a memory away and those memories are beyond painful.

“Why are so many people who are homeless obese?” How many would say that it is because they are lazy? Probably the majority of Americans would reach this conclusion. A friend recently told me, “A honey bun is a whole lot cheaper than a salad.” I get it. Many cannot afford fresh fruits and vegetables, much less the GMO free spinach or the cage free chicken. Think about it.

What about the way people dress? Maybe the shirt is too short and the stomach hangs out because the free clothes closet at the shelter had 3 shirts to pick from and they were all too small. But anything is better than nothing. Maybe the person never had a mom to explain “modesty” and what is “appropriate.” People are quick to say, “She knows she looks like a slut!” I talked to my friend whose family had spent decades owning strip clubs and she told me that she never was taught another way. She was doing what she knew. Maybe, just maybe….if we stopped pointing fingers and saying “modest is hottest” to people who do not even know the definition of “modest” and took the time to shop with them and teach them how cute clothes can be without our bodies hanging out- the problem would get better.

While we post pictures of our perfect trees with the ornaments appropriately spaced, our Christmas cards in the field with the chalkboard MERRY CHRISTMAS and the red wagon, and the presents perfectly wrapped and nestled around the tree, there are so many who have nothing. Absolutely nothing to share with their families but love. We are quick to say, “But love is enough!” That is, until it is us who can’t exchange a gift or make a cookie because even the Betty Crocker mixes take a stick of butter that is more than we can afford.

You say, “There are programs for people like that!” Yes, there are programs for children whose parents are in jail. Yes, there are plenty of programs for children in foster care. But what about the mom who works two jobs and has nothing left after the rent? Nothing for her….except the people who profess Christ and decide to live it out and give less gifts to their overindulged children to give someone else  gifts to put under the tree. Oh, that’s right….they don’t have a tree. Or ornaments. “But they have each other.” Have you tried explaining that to a six year old?

As God continues to reveal to me, I will continue to write. If I am too bold and too mouthy, then I am doing what I am called to do. I feel I have been called to live what I talk about and bring others along with me. Sometimes kicking and screaming but as God does the drawing of people, I never worry. He is raising up an army to be Jesus to a dark and broken world. As we sit in our comfortable churches hanging with the same exact people every single week and snickering at the ones who don’t know all the “rules” yet, we are not the church. We are a failure for the kingdom. As we decorate our homes and our trees and ignore the least of these, we are again a failure for the kingdom. As we judge others for how much school they have, how they dress or what kind of job they can get and we never help them fill out an application when they are illiterate or take them to AA so they can stay sober, we are a failure to the kingdom.

We have to stop failing and start loving. It is what we are called to do. It breathes life into our very bodies and makes the light of Jesus shine in the dark places where most are scared to ever go.