Monday, September 18, 2017

For a woman I do not know by name

She brushed by me in the church foyer, then paused and turned back. My mind raced to fill in the gaps of a story I do not know. She was older, although I imagine her dance with a broken world has given her an excess of wrinkles in return for a few teeth. She looked weary, weighed down by her literal and, I imagine, emotional baggage. Souvenirs from a long, long journey, no doubt. I do not know, but I am guessing she was carrying all she owns on her back. I am quite positive she has no home, although even that I do not know for sure.

"Will you pray for me?" She mumbled in a way I nearly missed. In that moment, my soul surged. Connection. There is a space where two stories intersect, two souls pause to mingle together in a frantic, chaotic world. I don't know her story, but I imagine she does not experience much connection. Yet, in that moment she bravely asked for what she probably could not even name.

"Yes, I would love to! What is your name?" I touched her hand gently, perhaps a misstep in a moment that soon spiraled through my own fingertips before I could even grasp the threads. Panic crossed her face in a split millisecond, and before I could make sense of what was happening, she mumbled something more and dashed away into the crowd of people gathered at the entryway.

I am sad as I wonder where this sweet lady's journey has taken her to cause such fear at the mere thought of being known by name. In that moment as I watched her slip away, I was reminded of another woman who once slipped through a crowd, anonymously seeking wholeness.
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"A woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed” (from Mark 5).


I can only imagine the tortured life she had lived. Deemed unclean, unworthy of human connection or touch because of blood she could not stem. What must it feel like to be so ostracized? To be cast out and forgotten, to know that everyone around you finds your condition disgusting and communicable? She had spent every dime she owned seeking a cure for the bleeding, not realizing that her greatest need was actually a balm for her bleeding, anonymous soul. 

She slipped through the crowd and touched him, wanting to be healed but not known. I love that, in that moment, Jesus demonstrated a truth I continue to learn: Wholeness is only complete in knowing and being known. He pursued her, not content to leave her physically whole but anonymous and broken inside. He called her out, no doubt seeking connection with this one who was connection-barren.

"30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 'You see the people crowding against you,' his disciples answered, 'and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’' 32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, 'Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering'" (from Mark 5). 


Ah, the healing in being fully known and yet embraced! In my mind's eye, I see him cup her face tenderly, drawing her eyes to his as he speaks those words that were a balm for her wounded soul. Daughter...Daughter. To be named daughter, even as she is fully exposed! The truth of her disease was laid bare and touched by the One who was most pure and holy and good. He did not cringe or draw back like her religious community most likely had; he pressed in and pursued. He sought to know her, to give her connection and belonging in the place of anonymity, the disease she did not even know she had. And it was in being fully known that she was fully healed.
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I do not know the story, or even the name, of that dear woman I encountered yesterday. I did pray for her, even as she slipped away into the crowd still clinging to her anonymity. Mostly, I prayed that she would find healing in being fully known and fully loved. I pray that for myself, too. Because we all have moments when we want the healing without the knowing, don't we? We want to be whole, but we also want to remain anonymous, our souls shrouded by whatever mask we put on in any given moment. Oh, that we would put off our anonymous selves and pursue true wholeness in being named and known! For it is in the knowing that we will be whole.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Exile...a path to prosperity?

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (From Jeremiah 29). 


I listened to a sermon on this text last Sunday and have not been able to stop thinking about it since then. You see, less than a week ago I arrived in a city I have only visited three times before. The people, the culture, the weather (and wildfires!) are all foreign to me. But this city is now my home. In the last couple days, I have pondered what the Israelites must have been thinking when they heard these words. I feel like, in some very small way, I can relate to what they might have felt living in a new place with new people and a totally foreign culture. My (self-chosen) "exile" to a "foreign land" has given me a new appreciation for what God called the Israelites to.

When I am the outsider, the "foreigner," the newbie, my tendency is to automatically turn inward. I start to wonder what people are thinking of me and focus on all the ways I am unlike those around me. My compassion loses ground to anxiety and self-consciousness. I think about the Israelites, who were forced to leave their homes, their culture, their people. They had to enter life alongside people who looked, behaved, and desired differently than they. I gladly chose my path; they were forced into a foreign life they never asked for.

Isn't it fascinating, then, what direction they are given? It is not to huddle up and cling to their own culture, ideals, or laws. It is not to choose thankfulness and abstain from whining about every little aspect of life that differs from what they are used to. It is not even an admonishment to be kind or convert those of a different faith and culture to their own with appealing rhetoric. No, instead it is a clear calling to intimately knit their lives into this place that was to be their new home. They were to plant roots, build ties with foreign people, and intentionally pursue the welfare of those who lived in this place that felt so far from home. They were to choose compassion, friendship, and purposefulness over anxiety, separation, or dismissal.

I have been reflecting on this calling placed on the Israelite nation in exile as I walk down foreign sidewalks, greet people who likely think differently than I do, and find myself longing for "easy" or "normal." Where it would be simpler to hide, I want to pursue. When it would feel better to feed my anxiety, I want to choose compassion for others. Where it feels more natural to uphold my way of thinking as the best way, I want to listen and learn. When I find myself feeling like an outsider, I want to remember that Jesus was a pursuer of the fringe-dwellers and start looking around for who else might feel weird or uncomfortable. 

I want to remember that exile may be a place but it doesn't have to be a way of life. So this week, I am asking what it looks like to "seek the peace and prosperity" of this city that is now my home. Even in moments where I crave the familiarity of all I left behind, I want to choose instead to pray blessings and shalom over these people and this place. After all, "if it prospers, you too will prosper" (Jeremiah 29:7).    

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Luxury of Ignorance

There is an image I can't get out of my head, a depiction of how African slaves were stacked on ships to be transported and sold in places far from their homeland. There were maybe eight shelves, no more than 18 inches between each, with naked bodies lined up flat on their backs filling every available nook and cranny. They say that 23 hours of each day was spent laying on these shelves, in human waste, and only one hour of each day were they allowed on the deck of the ship to be washed off and the dead bodies thrown overboard.

I try to imagine the stories of the men and women and children who were herded like cattle aboard these ships. I wonder about the agony faced by their mothers, fathers, children who were torn from their arms, never to be reunited again. Can you imagine a world so dark where it seems more appealing to throw yourself to blood-hungry sharks than to continue on in your physical body? Except, you can't escape to the sea because shackles crush your throat and bruise your limbs?

Someone pointed out that we like to shelter our children from the gruesome realities of a history we perpetuated. Heck, forget the kids! We don't even like to face the horror ourselves.  Oh, that we have the privilege of sheltering our minds and children! I weep to think of the children who had no such luxury, who instead lived the brutal reality. Today, we skim the tortuous truth and choose to highlight just a few of the "bright spots," the victorious, courageous men and women who boldly and creatively found their freedom [don't get me wrong...these accounts deserve to be highlighted as well! Just not at the expense of telling the truth about inflicted horror].

I just read an article about how some former slave plantations are starting to discuss the truth of what happened there, beyond the wealth accumulation, stately homes, and beautifully manicured landscape. Honestly, this only makes me cringe. The year is 2017, and we are only just now starting to talk about the truth of what happened more than a century, even 150 years ago?!? Apparently we find comfort in avoiding the truth.

Sometimes, it is hard to know how to move forward toward justice and reconciliation. I wonder if it doesn't start with truth-telling. With exposing ourselves and our children and our communities to the history of a brutality inflicted upon one race by another. When images and stories horrify us, to press in instead of cringing and turning away. How else do we understand the current tensions we seek to repair?

As I move forward, I am seeking--choosing--to press in. To see and hear and imagine all the horror of the past as I also strive to be a good listener to the present. I will continue to revisit a history that was excluded from the classrooms and textbooks from which I was taught. I am imprinting images like the one I described above on my brain, so that I can share with those who come after me the truth so deliberately excluded from many classrooms and textbooks. The truth, after all, is what gives birth to freedom. The question is, will we listen?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Choosing presence and lament


We pulled up alongside a beautiful, brick church, and I tried to imagine the scene of bloody chaos that played out there only a couple of decades ago. We walk inside and sit down in pews, showered by the sunlight pouring in through majestic stained glass windows. Some of those windows, blown to smithereens only a couple of decades ago. I look up at the screen, and there they are. Four beautiful, little girls whose lives were snuffed out by hatred and evil...a hatred and evil so many were at least complicit to, if not active perpetrators.



Can you imagine your 11-year-old child, in her Sunday-best, chatting with friends in the bathroom lounge? I can almost hear their gleeful banter, their childlike joy in a place that is supposed to be safe. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." The year was 1963, and if ever there was a need for a safe haven, a place for the weary and burdened, it was that day.

We walked down the stairs, turning the corner that would place us exactly where those four little girls chatted gayly. Suddenly, my ears pounded and my chest shook with imagination.

BOOM!!!

The beautiful building crumbled, and innocent life was snuffed out. The weary and burdened were terrorized and murdered in what should have been their place of rest. Four little girls, snatched from their mothers and fathers and dear little friends. I watch as mothers, decades later, still weep with the pain of it all.


(The memorial marking the exact place where the bomb was placed and went off.)

All this evil, hatred, terrorism...because one race decided they were superior to another.

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I am feeling a little lost today, and I can't rid myself of the images and evil brutality of a history (and ongoing narrative) I walked through this weekend. And truthfully, I don't want to escape. I want to sit in this lament and brokenness and anger and pain, because the reality that I CAN escape is a privilege many do not have. I am on the "right" side of history, and I despise that I belong to a race that has brutalized other people for decades, centuries, millennia. Today I want to step out of this shell in which I live. I want to disown my own people and our role in a history we don't even teach or own up to or acknowledge. 

But here's the thing...I can't shed my white skin. And I can't distance myself, because to do so, again, is privilege. Conviction has gripped my heart in an iron fist, because I listened to a man of another race look in the eye a man with white skin and say, "You can't give up on [those who look like you and perpetuate attitudes of racism and white privilege]. Because there are things you can say to [them] that [they] cannot hear from me." I wept. I wept because I know my tendency. I know how I have separated myself from those of my race, religion, community who just don't get it. I think, "They will never understand, so why even try to engage them in dialogue?!" And I distance myself.

White privilege.

There are people who cannot distance themselves from racism, evil rhetoric, a ghastly history, and a continued narrative that says one race is superior (more worthy of opportunity, education, safe living spaces, just courtrooms, life) over another. Because this is their LIFE.

So today? Today I will sit in this lament. I will feel the anger and pain and sadness in every corner of my body and soul. I will continue to read books and watch documentaries about a history and narrative it would be far too easy to not see, hear, feel (because we have made it easy to not know). I will choose to speak up and speak out for those we have deliberately forgotten, ignored, and terrorized. And I will remain. I will remain in conversations and relationship with people who look like me but do not think like me. As much as I want to purposefully separate myself, I will not...for those who CANNOT.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Let me tell you a story...


I rose early that day, eager to sink my toes in sand and water because I knew I had only a few more days to do so. The sun was low on the horizon, but already its warmth was beaming down and kissing the sand. I walked slowly, sifting with my toes through the piles of shells deposited on the beach the night before. I was looking for sand dollars, a hot commodity with my little friends still sleeping back at the condo. It may seem a silly prayer, but I asked God to help me find a sand dollar to take back to them. I walked and sifted for close to an hour, not finding what I was looking for. Suddenly, I felt a whisper tickle my soul. Look closer.

I stopped, kneeling down and using my hands to sift more thoroughly through the sand. When I looked more closely, I saw that there were hundreds of baby sand dollars dotting the sand, mixed in with broken shells and ocean debris. I had been looking for a big sand dollar, not pausing to even notice the piles under my toes that held a bounty of what I had prayed for. I smiled and started collecting some to take back to my little friends, knowing that this treasure would make them squeal with delight. My heart was delighted too, and I felt the nudge of a reminder: God delights in providing for me. The provision just might not come in the form I was looking for or expecting.

I am two months away from embarking on what feels like the scariest and most exciting journey of my life. Most days it doesn't feel real. Most days, I waver between worry over details, sadness about this change that will take me away from all I know and love, and a sense of wonder that God would allow me to take part in bringing restoration to this world. 

This morning I listened to these words and felt a resonance in my heart: "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (James 4:13-14). A flood of memories from the last five years rushed over me, and I felt a swelling in my heart and tears welling in my eyes.

A decade ago, I had plans. I had dreams and ideas about what the future would hold and where I would go. None of my plans have been brought to fulfillment. None of them. If I have learned anything in my life, it is that life is a mist. For me, that makes this journey all the more meaningful. Life is a mist, and yet God has allowed me to experience valleys where divine faithfulness has tended to my heart. God has allowed me to experience the intimacy of deep, abiding community. God has allowed me to experience the joy of living into who I was made to be. I am so humbled.

I have shared about an unlikely friendship that God wove together last year. I met a young mom through my work with Safe Families and we have spent many, many hours together in the last year. Grocery shopping, haircut getting, dinner eating, and errand running became an avenue for friendship. Several weeks ago, we sat at a table licking ice cream when she said, "So, are you moving?" She had heard through the grapevine before I had a chance to tell her myself, and my heart did that familiar shudder/twinge as I answered affirmatively and watched her face fall. I was struck by how far we have come, that both our hearts would ache with the separation of a cross-country move. I will miss her, and I tear up to think that I could have missed this. In all my well-laid plans, I never could have dreamed I would have such a friendship. I am so humbled. 

This week, I sold my house and most of my possessions. Every time I felt the urge to cling to something, I was reminded...it's just a thing. Life is a mist, and all these things will fade away. I pray I never lose that perspective. Even as I have opened my hands and released all I have built up around me, God has provided in the most generous, miraculous ways. And I think about those baby sand dollars, how God delights to give us what we do not even know we need. 

This next season, I want to be about stopping and sifting through the sand. I want to recognize on a daily basis that life is a mist, and yet God allows us to take part in experiencing and initiating the restoration of all things. Had I stubbornly continued to traipse all over the beach in pursuit of a big sand dollar, I probably would have missed the baby sand dollars that brought big smiles and childlike joy to a little girl later that morning. Had Jesus not interrupted my carefully laid plans a decade ago, slowly ruining me for the ordinary, I probably would not be embarking on this journey of a lifetime. I pray I never stop following Jesus into the unknown. Because even in the midst of the ocean debris that can be this life, a journey following Jesus is like mining for baby sand dollars. And I never want to stop looking for baby sand dollars.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

When it feels like the light becomes night all around us...

I have been packing boxes lately, and also packing memories away into the recesses of my heart. Some of the most profound moments I have experienced in this house have been the recognition of my own humanity. I have been humbled here, faced with the cracks that incise my heart. I would rather not reveal my brokenness, but sometimes it bubbles up and cannot be hidden.

There were the instances when I charged ahead and pursued my own dreams and fantasies, claiming divine calling but mostly just wanting to do what I wanted to do.

There were the moments when hot anger bubbled up and trembled to the tips of my fingers, escaping only in sharp words but escalating far beyond in my head.

There were the selfish nights, ignoring little souls who needed tending but choosing to beg for sleep to come instead.

There were days of lingering in laziness instead of following the murmurs of "Follow me."

The heavy weight of conviction settled in on one disastrous night. We had both lashed out, battling with our wills and our words and not wanting to back down. She fell asleep, but my "victory" was short lived. I was reminded of a time when I was running and stopped for a swig of water, only to choke and gasp as the cold liquid filled my lungs instead of my stomach. That's how I felt that night as I sat alone, the wind knocked out of me by the weight of my selfishness and anger. I was the adult, but I had acted like a petulant adolescent. The brokenness ricocheted, and I cried heavy tears under the heavy blanket of conviction.
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Last night, I sat mesmerized by the news. Pure evil roamed unleashed on the unsuspecting streets of London, and brokenness reigned. For eight minutes that I'm sure felt like the longest eternity, fear consumed and choked. Despair bled out and claimed lives like they were but a breath to be snuffed out aimlessly. Eight minutes, and our souls scream out, "Where is the justice? Where is the shalom? Where is the redemption and restoration of all things evil and broken?"

I catalog memories of standing toe to toe with my own brokenness inside the four walls of this house, and I wonder sometimes if the cracks are too many to justify repair. But. There is a deep battle cry that surges from within, that rises up and rushes forth. That says, "Where, O Death, is your sting? Where is your victory?" (from 1 Corinthians 15). When the evil and hate that threaten to consume this world (my own brokenness alongside) say together, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," there is this knowing that gains strength in my heart and responds with even more force.
"Even the darkness is not dark to you" (from Psalm 139)
The darkness will never overcome You, and because I am forever hidden in You, it will not overcome me either.

I have grown here. I have been reminded, time and time again, of my broken humanity. But the cracks in this chipped and fallen vessel have only reminded me of the Potter who uses broken things to restore ALL things. It seems contradictory, doesn't it? That God uses the broken to restore the broken, the incomplete to bring shalom--completion--to all things? Wholeness. Restoration. Utter peace. There is mystery, and today I rest in the beauty of this mystery. Because evil? It never gets the final word.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

My Next Journey, Part 2: Community Building

She was timid when I met her, obviously worn down from the darkness she had walked through. She was new to town, alone and without housing, support, or hope. She was expecting her third child, and she told me she planned to walk to the hospital when it was time to deliver her baby. She was prepared to fight for her little family, and I immediately noticed how deeply she loved her children. Over the next several months, I connected with her and started walking alongside her in establishing a home and new life for her family. Over the next year, she would become a friend. We are from two different worlds, but she changed me, and our worlds started to meld together in unlikely friendship.
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In my 3 1/2 years with Safe Families, I have met a lot of single moms in crisis. I have scrambled to assemble resources, to place kiddos with host families, to help patch together families deeply affected by poverty, homelessness, and mental illness. But in the last year, a question has weighed heavily on my heart. How do we help families long term? How do we do more than just temporarily patch together families facing hardships? How do we love and pursue these precious souls once we get them through the initial crisis? Poverty is, of course, a hugely complex and multifaceted issue that requires an equally complex and multifaceted solution. However, I began to see a piece of the puzzle emerge:

Community. Relationship.

We all face crises over the course of a lifetime. Hardship is an inevitable part of life in a broken world. How do we respond in the midst of the challenges of life that arise? I know that for me, I would never survive without the community God has given me. A family that loves me, friends who have opened their homes and lives to me, a church community where I can know and be known. God created us for relationship with one another, and we need community.

Many people in our world do not have community, though. In the past several years, I have watched how this lack affects families and generations of families. I have also had a front row seat to the beautiful journey that unfolds when someone chooses to enter into the messiness of relationship with someone who has never experienced the love of Jesus in community.

It is hard. It is costly. It is exhausting. It is demanding.

But it is also transforming. And it is necessary to seeing brokenness restored.

As I have processed all this and watched it play out in my own friendships with women through Safe Families, I have developed a desire to learn how to create places where marginalized people can experience safe community. To learn from those who are practicing the art of moving into poverty-ridden neighborhoods and loving hard. I have been so convicted by how insulated my life can be, and I want to practice throwing the door wide open and stepping into the hard, costly, exhausting, demanding, yet transformative ministry of relationship-building.
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There are so many incredible pieces to this story, ways God has moved and provided and directed. I have shared with you the hard of it all, but there has also been so much good on this journey. I would not be walking this out if I wasn't assured beyond the shadows of all my doubts that this is where God is leading me. So. I'm jumping off a cliff and following Jesus into the unknown, with the full assurance that I never walk alone and this really is what God is calling me to in this next season of life.

At the end of this summer, I will be leaving my hometown and family and all I've ever known to venture out West. I have the opportunity to learn from some folks who are doing these things--missional, incarnational living and community building for those marginalized by society and church culture. Yes, it is hard (as I have shared previously). But I am also excited and ready to learn and use God-given gifts and passions. I am being intentionally vague in this online space, but I would love to share more over a cup of coffee if you are interested in knowing more specific details.
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My sweet friend and her three babies have changed me. Just this week, I stopped by to drop off some diapers and was greeted by the delighted squeal of her little boy and a toothy grin from the baby, now crawling all over the place. I have learned so much from this friend, about persistence in the face of hardship, joy in pain, and the simplicity of just being together. I wonder where both of us would be had we never met. I don't know where this journey will take me, but I think about her each step of the way. I pray that men and women like her will find hope and healing in loving community and relationship with a God who loves them more than they will ever know. I pray that God will continue to shape and transform my heart and life as I learn from the beautiful people who enter it.