Entering into the darkness….

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We spend a lot of our lives thriving for “success.”  We brag about successful children. Successful husbands. Successful businesses. But what is success really?

Many Americans have sold out to the idea of “success” as looking a certain way on the outside, regardless of how it looks on the inside. Monetary and superficial standards dictate where someone or something falls on our “success continuum.”

Successful=========================Unsuccessful                pretty, rich, follows social rules            unattractive, poor, outsider

We gravitate toward the successful and try to emulate them for many reasons. To make ourselves look better by association. To gain something. To feel acceptable.

What if we were drawn less to the powerful and more to the powerless? Isn’t that what Jesus did?

We like to watch shows that depict darkness- don’t all the Disney movies have some sort of dark side? What about CSI? Batman? Very few forms of entertainment lack a good/evil theme. And we pay to see it. But then we look at Scripture and realize that God calls us to live in a way that shines a light in the REAL darkness and what do we do? Flip on the TV, grab a bag of chips, and watch another episode of Criminal Minds.

I challenge you with this idea……you will find more “success” in the seemingly “unsuccessful” than anywhere in the Fortune 500s or the beautiful people on Wall Street.

But first we have to define “success” in a true and authentic way.  I believe that where we have gone wrong is to think that “success” is ever really achieved. In the world of ministry where seemingly spiritual people enter into the lives of people who have been broken by drugs and domestic violence, we count them a success when we can parade them around cleaned up, oh-so-spiritual and what appears to be a life void of problems. That is not success- that is a lie. Life is messy and every day brings challenges and temptations. I know it does for me and for the mom who has years of prostitution, drugs, and domestic violence.

If we judge people as acceptable when they “get it all together” we give them no room to fall. As a result, they prop themselves up to please us and not themselves or they lie to us so that the image we have of them is not shattered and they have to face FAILURE. I have seen many churches parade around their new Christian as some kind of poster child of spiritual perfection- like a before and after that leaves no room for failure.  At times, the church has prostituted people the way pimps do on the streets.

The reason I know? I struggle with it. I want to believe if I offer and addict or a stripper or a foster child a beautiful home, a family, and a stable life that they will fall down in gratitude and realize what they had been missing all their lives. Unfortunately that does not happen. Why? Because change is slow and difficult.

So what do I think the answer is?

I have learned to cherish the small wins. The daily victories.

In the past 3 days, two people who were both in my life for different reasons went back to a way of life that is familiar- drug use, abuse, and all that comes with that lifestyle. Am I discouraged? No. Am I hopeful?Yes. Is it well with my soul? Absolutely. Why? Because I know that a person’s choices are not a reflection of how “good” I was at loving that person. I know people go back to what they know until they are ready. And I definitely know that a childhood full of egregious abuse causes a person to struggle to cope with life’s challenges.

In the last three days,  I have also met with women who are being reunited with their children after really hard work, dedication, and grit when it all seemed impossible. They live day to day knowing that life is fragile and temptati
on is real. I know to embrace them during their victories and embrace them during their struggles.  I cannot have a barometer of “success” and “failure” because all of us face daily doses of both…..at least if we are honest with ourselves and others.

DSC_1317To say I am proud of the overcomers is an understatement. To say I deeply love the ones who have fallen is more than the truth.

Love does.

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.