Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Journey So Far

I received my first call about a foster child today. Because we aren't yet through our home study we can't take a placement, but I am approved to babysit. My heart beat hard and fast as I went to meet the little guy. I sent a quick text to a prayer warrior friend that ended with "and so it begins..." She texted back, "Don't you mean and so it continues..."

The journey to opening our home to fostering has been a decade in the making. It was not a straightforward journey (the best stories generally aren't), but has instead been full of fits and starts. In retrospect I am beginning to see just how many relationships and experiences have been used to get to this place.

Before I delivered the triplets Ryland & I were asked if we wanted a tubal to be performed in the OR after my C-section. On the heels of infertility the idea of closing up my womb carried greater weight. We declined, having no idea I would have a near death encounter with heart failure within hours of that C-section. We couldn't have known that doctors would forbid me from further pregnancies because data (at the time) indicated I had a 50% chance of death with subsequent pregnancies. We didn't know I would be denied life insurance until I had a tubal. We just knew we were open to a larger family...not planning on it, just open.

We trudged through the exhausting, sleepless days of babies. As the trio neared their one year old birthday I was advised that my heart was healthy enough for surgery to perform a tubal ligation that would protect my heart and close my womb. God seemed to have closed the door.

As the babies became toddlers the thought of additional children became a distant memory...until another series of events opened our hearts and minds.

After long days of diapers, babble and messy faces my ministerial outlet was a Bible Study with girls from our local children's home. T was a 13 year old girl who had been in care for years. We talked for hours about her desire for a forever family, her hopes of higher education and maybe law school. She was tender with my children and I was able to imagine a family that included her.

Ryland & I attended a class for folks interested in foster care in 2007. While reviewing materials, we realized that our biological children took us outside the state requirements of number of children under three in a home. Meanwhile two other excellent families from church stepped up to the plate for T. She was placed with a friend of mine from Bible Study who had been her Kindergarten teacher years before when she was first taken into DFCS custody. It was not our time. T was not meant to be in our home, but instead to be used to open our minds to the idea of foster care.

The following month my husband's first cousin was orphaned suddenly at the age of 14. We discussed the possibility of him coming to live with us, but it was decided that my inlaws were the most logical choice. As our kids turned three, we became increasingly comfortable with the idea that our hands were FULL. The approval process was daunting, the training time requirements seemed impossible with a busy husband and small children. The door was closed again.

Through the next several years our hearts continued to be moved by the plight of vulnerable families, but our service took forms other than having kids in our home. A couple of years ago, through a private agency, I started babysitting and transporting foster children as a way to provide support for friends who were fostering in their homes. 

Through this process, we got an up-close glimpse of the challenges friends who are fostering face: integrating new children with the dynamics of their biological families, dealing with the issues children of trauma often bear, loving fiercely then letting go, being out of control of the decision making process regarding birth families, how to have date nights when you can't hire a sitter...The list goes on and on. 

The greater gift from these short babysitting stints was that our whole family was exposed to a half dozen great kids. We had play dates. We went on adventures. We realized these kids were not to be feared, but rather to be loved.

Two years ago my cousin called from New Mexico and asked if we would consider hosting his daughter for a few weeks of Southern Summer with our family. Although we had only met her once, we said yes. For three weeks we got a glimpse of life with an extra kiddo plopped into the mix. She visited again last Summer and we found our groove. Each time we returned her to her parents out West, knowing we wouldn't see her for at least another year, I considered that this was a small taste of fostering.

This Fall I went through a stereotypical midlife crisis of a 40 year old stay-at-home Mom whose kids spend 7+ hours away each day away from home.
What now? I am not the woman I was when I left the workforce (not entirely a bad thing). What do I do with my time, talents and resources now that children aren't demanding many of my daylight hours?
Was I to go back to work? Doing what? Should I pursue a graduate degree in social work?

Suddenly a message started coming through loud and clear. In Andy Stanley's Resolution sermon series listeners were challenged to prayerfully consider, 'What breaks your heart?"

In Henry Blackaby's classic Knowing and Doing the Will of God I heard a call to find where God is already at work and join Him there.

In Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years parents are urged to help their children live a story bigger than themselves. 

In You & Me Forever Francis & Lisa Chan assert that the best way to have a unified marriage is to have a common mission.

And in the epilogue of Bob Goff's Love Does he asks: 

What’s your next step? I don’t know for sure, because for everyone it’s different, but I bet it involves choosing something that already lights you up. Something you already think is beautiful or lasting and meaningful. Pick something you aren’t just able to do; instead, pick something you feel like you were made to do and then do lots of that."  -Bob Goff, Love Does

And what I LOVE about this is that other readers/believers/listeners may find a totally different call...or perhaps would be unmoved by these words altogether. 

After all this reading, dozens of relationships, years of prayer and tearful conversations the ultimate decision to move forward was prompted by a very simple moment in early February. Ryland & I had taken a quick overnight trip to a nearby resort to celebrate our 13th anniversary. As we were walking around the grounds enjoying an unseasonably sunny, warm day a giggling little girl cartwheeled past us on the lawn.

"I can't believe we are done with that age," my husband commented. 
"Do you think we really are?" I asked.

After years of uncertainty, we took the next step. We made a phone call. We attended a class. And even through the mounds of paperwork and the hours of training we are becoming more certain that this is the next Yes. This is the season. All of those other experiences were steps on the path to here.

I am under no illusions that this is easy, painless work...but this is life and messiness comes with the command to love. Heaven knows the last 11 years of parenting have taught me humility! I don't think it is an accident that when I could finally admit how clueless I feel about this parenting gig, God chose to add a few more heads in our beds.  

There are more questions than answers...and of course there is a healthy element of fear. We don't know for how long. We don't know where this is heading or what will happen next. We just know this is the next step for our family and are trusting the Lord with the rest. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Expecting

I've started this post a dozen times and countless different ways, but here's the bottom line:

We have an extra bedroom in our house with two unused beds.
I drive a Suburban with a couple of empty seats.
My husband & I have hearts that break over the crisis of foster care in our community. (We are the worst in the state of Georgia per capita for kids in care AND worst in the state in terms of the ratio of available foster families for the number of children in need of placement.)
We are knee deep in kid mode.
We have margin in our lives to share with others.

So, after years of conversation and prayer, mounds of paperwork and days of training we are entering the final stretch of our home study process to become foster parents. (And our kids are onboard "as long as it is not a baby.")

We have been told to expect placement of a child or two before the end of April!!

I have learned SO much through this process and have felt confirmation in my Spirit over and over again. I have been pondering so much in my heart and enjoying private time to really explore the commitment with my little family without a lot of outside input.

But, at this point I am like a very pregnant Mama ready to burst in anticipation (except I don't know the age, gender or number of additional kids in my home!) I am ready to talk about it.

Due to the sensitive and personal nature of these cases, I won't feel free to write once there are children in my home--it will no longer simply be my story then, it will be theirs.

So, I hope to use these next few weeks of waiting to record some of the stories of how God got us here. On the hard days and nights I don't want to forget how assured we feel of this call right now. We've been circling the pool for years with toes in the water. Now it is time for us to dive in.

It's been a long journey, but little by little God removed all the obstacles until the only thing that was holding us back from saying Yes was fear. In the last several weeks God has reminded us that He's never considered fear a good reason to avoid anything.

Like a hope-filled young bride, I want to record this chapter. God has really shown Himself to Ryland & me as we have considered this for NINE YEARS, but I can't fit a decade in a single post. So stay tuned.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

On Going & Gloves

The older I get the more I realize it is hard to wrap important things up into neat little blog posts. I think it is why I am writing more sporadically. There are BIG things happening in my heart and life--and I want to hold them well. I don't want to oversimplify for the sake of a post. Writing can be so one sided and the most important parts of life generally require conversations not monologues.

At the same time, I need to start recording some of these things for posterity, so hold on to your hats. ;) I hope in the next several days to be a bit more prolific. Today I am starting with Spring Break.

Our family travelled to the Dominican Republic last week as a part of a Young Life Expeditions Team. The purpose of the trip was to go and see what God is up to(and engage as a small part) in the DR. As a family, we were excited to return to the site of our first family mission trip experience four years ago and see how things had evolved.

Our team built this walkway in 2011--so much fun to return & see how it has held up over time.
Sunday - Thursday morning was spent in Jarabacoa at a Vida Joven (Young Life) camp called Pico Escondido. For 6 weeks each Summer this property is used to introduce Dominican teenagers to the person of Jesus through humor, relationship and adventure. Our work team participated in several projects which improved the property, provided additional security and increased capacity so even more students can come and hear.

The majority of the year, the camp is used as a retreat center by other organizations in the Dominican. Pico's reputation as one of the more excellent facilities of this type in the DR keeps it booked up and that income is used to keep the costs of camp very affordable for low income Dominican students (about $12USD per day).

There are a handful of year round paid employees, but work teams keep the ministry's cost low and allow visitors to develop a heart for the work the Lord is doing here through 'sweat equity.'

We reestablished a green house so cuttings from the existing landscaping could be propagated & used around camp.


The men participated in clean up efforts. 

K enjoyed being a part of the painting crew with students from UNC-Greensboro and USC.
On the 2nd and 3rd work days we sanded/refurbished 22 bed frames so 132 additional kids can hear about Jesus this Summer.


 

We got dirty, slept in bunkrooms according to gender, washed our metal dishes in buckets of water, got eaten up by hell bugs and smelled a bit ripe. There was hard work as well as periods of laughter and rest. We made new friends despite language barriers and it was good.



Thursday morning we loaded a van and travelled 2.5 hours to Puerta Plata for the home stay portion of our visit. For two nights 18 of us were welcomed into a 2 bedroom house with an enclosed back garage with hospitality so gracious that I felt convicted of how poorly I steward my own home.
In under 48 hours we served all over the city. By picking up trash in surrounding neighborhoods we were able to model service without an agenda. Being on those streets, looking into the eyes of curious onlookers we were able to 'see' the city and pray for the people there. The high school graduation rate is only 10%. Drugs, sex, gangs & poverty are rampant. The fields are ripe for hope to come and light up darkness.

After several bags of trash collection we went to a home for elderly people. All we did there was touch the residents, look in their faces and love on them. I couldn't help but laugh thinking about a post I read years ago making fun of a short term mission team offering "Hugs for Jesus" in Costa Rica--here we were! Yet, it was a powerful part of the vision setting--instilling compassion and love in our group for the residents of this city where ministry currently does not exist.
I took this Friday when the children were playing a game called "Hands" after lunch. What a beautiful rainbow.
I once read a quote that said "To love the world God loves, you must see the world God sees."

The church inside the school we visited. There was no destruction here, this is simply where they stopped building and decided this would have to do.
We spent Friday morning as guests in a local school. Our group was allowed in 8 different class rooms to present a 15 minute version of club. Our children were quite engaged. Our whole group was involved in the humorous games and skits that broke down walls to allow a Dominican staff person, Julia to present the person of Jesus in a relevant and meaningful way. It was awesome to consider if any of these students would some day sleep on the new beds at Pico Escondido. Would they walk the stone path from 4 years ago while talking to a Vida Joven leader about God's love for them?

We played in the school yard together before enjoying lunch with a few students and members of the faculty who are supporting the establishment of Vida Joven in their community.
No fancy sports equipment here. A stick and a crushed can were all that was needed for a schoolyard baseball game.
Later that day we went to a new church meeting behind a roll up door in a garage like unit to bring supplies and manpower for painting.


That night a few local students came to meet with us in the home and we recapped our trip. Clearly, our hearts had grown to love these people. We caught their vision for local ministry and left there with hearts inclined to pray for and commit to support their mission.

We spent our final day and night resting with air conditioning and hot water at a nearby beach. As I scratched my dozen bug bites and considered the expense, the discomfort and the work my heart pondered the big questions: Did this matter? Was it worth the work of bringing my children here? What was the point?

There are people on strong opinions on both sides of the short term missions discussion. (I hope to write about that at greater length later.) For us, the answer is a resounding YES.

Several years ago I read one of the books that has helped form and shape my life. In one chapter of A Million Miles in a Thousand Years author Donald Miller shares about a friend whose daughter was struggling with rebellion in her adolescence.

“He thought about the story his daughter was living and the role she was playing inside that story. He realized he hadn't provided a better role for his daughter. He hadn't mapped out a story for his family. And so his daughter had chosen another story, a story in which she was wanted, even if she was only being used. In the absence of a family story, she'd chosen a story in which there was risk and adventure, rebellion and independence.”
Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life    

Ryland & I have long loved travel and service, hoping to make it part of our family's story...but this quote solidified our desire to build a bigger story for our children. Clearly, this has to be about more than a week or two a year--but we committed to try and intentionally build in these 'out of the cul de sac' experiences as a part of our parenting strategy. "Giving up" vacation time to get a little uncomfortable and allow God to expand our worlds has blessed us and changed us. We are reminded whether you are a child of 10 years old, a trained specialist in a different line of work or a middle aged Southern housewife GOD CAN USE YOU in meaningful ways.

On Friday morning God drove this message home to my heart when local staff person, Julia asked casually "Do you still have your work gloves from camp?" I handed one over--a brown, non-descript, medium priced glove we had picked up one week prior at our local tractor supply company.

One hour later my eyes welled with tears as she used it to explain to the Dominican students how our lives are like those gloves. We try to fill them with many things...money, substances, good deeds, popularity, etc...but each of those things are lacking. None of them fill out the glove the way it was intended. In Spanish Julia asked, "What was this glove made for?"

"Mano!" they replied. She dramatically placed her hand inside the glove and wiggled all the fingers and the children applauded and cheered. In Spanish she summed it up. The glove was designed to be filled by a hand. Our hearts and lives were designed to be filled by our God.

"He came that we may have life and have it to the full." John 10:10

I thought of Donald Miller and his encouragement to find and fully live out our stories. I thought of how alive I feel in this season because God is showing me that midlife is a fantastic time to serve him with vigor. God-ordained ministry fills us with purpose. Purpose is invigorating.
 
And today, my purpose is to share with you and to encourage you to step out in some small way to *see* people you may have missed before in a way that reminds you of their humanity and our common need for love, grace & the Lord.

I am just a brown glove...no more 'special' or holier than you. I'd been home from an incredible weeklong experience less than 24 hours when I was apologizing to a friend for acting like a jerk. But the glorious thing about our God is that He can use brown gloves and mouthy women.

Let's let God fill our glove. Let him use us. Like that work glove it often means different assignments. Some are uncomfortable and make you feel ill equipped. Few are glamorous and many 'small jobs' leave you scratching you head wondering if it is merely busy work.

Those brown gloves sanded, carried, gardened and proclaimed the Gospel last week because they were available. Today the hands that wore them are typing encouragement before grocery shopping, tax preparation and putting away four loads of laundry. This is real life...mundane, necessary work that occasionally offers a glimpse of the extraordinary and eternal.

Some tasks are more exhilarating than others, but all can be done to His glory as part of His plan. May we be available, flexible and open to our assignments each day.



Thursday, March 05, 2015

Lessons from the Wall

Back in January the trio & I were able to visit my college roommate, Daree, who recently relocated to the beach. She is nestled in an absolutely gorgeous spot on the Gulf Coast of Florida with a breathtaking view. I told her upon arrival that my goal was to see every sunrise and sunset while I was there. She loved the idea and joined me in accomplishing it.
Sunsets were mostly viewed from the sandy beach, but early morning sunrises were frequently observed over a warm cup of coffee from a certain snuggly window seat on the second floor of her home. 

We talked a lot about the promise of daily sunrises and sunsets--there was certainly symbolism to the end of 2014 and the beginning of a new year, but we spoke more about the reminder sunrises and sunsets are that we serve a God of order. He made this world with such creativity and beauty. No matter what each day has brought, the sun will go down to end it and we know the next day will bring a sunrise and a chance at a fresh start.

When I returned home, Daree decided to keep up the tradition because, truly, is there anything more representative of God's sovereignty and faithfulness than to watch Him gloriously begin a new day?
A couple of times a week I get a morning or afternoon text with no words, just a photo like one of these:
I try to snap a few of my own Georgia sunrises and sunsets and send them in return, even though mine are frequently obstructed by power lines and buildings--unlike her unspoiled beach perspective. It has become a sweet way of acknowledging that we are thinking of each other. 

We caught up by phone recently and one of the first things she reported was that construction was well underway on the empty lot next to her home. She lamented a particular wall being erected and how she felt certain it was going to obstruct the view from her favorite window seat perch.

This view from that place has been such a blessing as she sat each morning and waited for the Lord to show up in her quiet time and in the sunrise. This daily ritual and reminder of God's faithfulness and love suddenly felt temporary.

Ironically, what her neighbor views as progress, feels entirely different to my friend. The same window that once brought such joy threatened to foster bitterness as a man made wall began to obstruct her God-made view.

God, of course, will continue to show up. Each day will begin and end, but the view from her particular place--the visual, undeniable reminder-- will be obstructed. There is nothing she can do about it. When tempted to sulk she saw an opportunity to model gratefulness to her teenaged girls instead. She chose to focus on the blessing as long as the construction would allow.

She continued to rise every morning to see what she could. Then last week, she sent me this. 

The wall is complete. The view from her snuggly place has been blocked.

I have been studying both Nehemiah & Joshua this month. Both of these men's stories have a lot to do with walls. Nehemiah's life work was to construct a wall. Joshua's well known for dramatically bringing a wall down.

When Daree sent this photo to me, I started to think about the 'walls' in my own life. Places where God has told me to get busy--even when others have not been enthusiastically cheering me on. Seasons in which 'progress' disrupted my comfort. Walls I have cursed because of the change they have brought to my plans.

But, Lord, this view was great. I was comfortable and cozy. I was grateful. I was giving You the glory. I was seeking you. Why did you allow this thing to come mess it all up? I don't get it.

When she set her mind and heart on gratefulness, Daree realized this was just one window. Instead of focusing on what was lost, she thought of all God continued to provide.

She realized she had a choice: She could stay in 'her spot' and stare at that wall with bitterness or move to recapture it.

Once she had tasted the sweetness of that perspective she was willing to climb higher to regain it. First it was to a upper stairwell and ultimately outside and up on her rooftop perch.


Now when I get her morning photo texts I don't imagine my friend groggily curled up on a cushion. No, now I picture her wide awake with wind blowing through her hair, blood pumping from climbing a few flights of stairs and staring at the coming day with a satisfied smile.

And I am sure looking out from the window seat view (at a wall instead of a gulf view) will speak to her for years to come.

Get up. Be bold. Risk your comfort. Move. 
His plans for your life, this world, this day are worth it.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

When a "Great Day" Isn't Enough

On a recent morning drive to school I asked the children what I could pray for them that day. I wish I could say this is a daily practice, but I do like to ask every once in a while to gauge their heart attitude and remind them that even when they are away they are on my mind/heart. Because they are typically developing tweens I got three versions of "I dunno. Nothing really."

Grasping at another way to ask the question I said, "Well, what if God were in our car this morning. What would you ask him?"

Not missing a beat P replied, "How did YOU get in here?"

After a chorus of giggles I tried again. "Seriously, if God were in our car. What do you think He would hope for you today? What would He say?"

K replied perkily, "He'd tell us He hoped we had a great day."

The overthinker in me gulped. Is this what I am teaching my children? That God's desire for them is just a great day? Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course, but, wow, there is SO MUCH MORE God wants for their lives and mine. Frankly, some of it doesn't mean every day will be "great."

Yes, I overanalyze. Welcome to my exhausting brain. Realizing my audience is not quite finished with 4th grade, I toned down my internal dialogue.

"I think He would say that and more. I think He would say He hoped you had a day of remembering He was with you, listening for Him in your heart, being grateful and looking for opportunities to love people."

As I drove away I couldn't help but think about the types of prayers I pray with my children and the message they send. We bless our food. We pray at the start and end of many days. We pray when we are struggling with something...but truth be told the 'script' of those prayers is still pretty simple. "Thank you for this...help us with that."

I want our relationships with Him to be real not rote.

I thought about one of my favorite parenting truths: Children are far more influenced by what is CAUGHT than what is TAUGHT. What are they catching from my prayers? A sweet God who bids them off to school with a sing-songy "have a great day?" How is a 'great day' even defined? Pleasant? Easy? Worry free?

My children are growing in body, mind, emotion...I want to make sure there are opportunities for their faith to be growing too. The point for me was that if I want my children to trust a mighty, big, powerful God I ought to step it up a notch in terms of the conversations we are having with Him through prayer. My children aren't preschoolers anymore and my prayers shouldn't be either. So, we are easing out of the shallow end in our prayers. Asking Him for bigger things. Risking more, requiring more faith.

I am writing this down for accountability to myself. God, please help my children see you as so much bigger than a sweet Grandpa whose only desire for my children is a pleasant, worry-free day. That is a great foundation--a nice place to start--but spur us on, Lord, to so much more.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Out of the Cul de Sac

In a recent post I mentioned  the circuitous, 'broken road' God has used to guide to various ministries in the last 10-15 years. Someone reached out and asked me to elaborate. Although this is a bit longer than usual, I did want to record this for future reference...as a reminder to myself (and anyone else who could use it) that our God wastes nothing, especially our perceived failures and inadequacies.

In 2002, impacted by the unplanned pregnancies of two people close to me--one who chose to abort and one who chose to parent as an unwed Mama--I volunteered with a crisis pregnancy center in Charlottesville, Virginia. The training and subsequent encounters with clients opened my eyes to the complexity of the issues facing young, often impoverished, women. 

Some I counseled elected to carry their children to term. Others did not. This ministry was pro-life and we were trained to represent Jesus to these women regardless of their choices. We spoke with truth and love about the sanctity of life--and offered small group Bible study support for those who terminated, as they dealt with the emotional consequences of that choice. I learned a lot about compassion, grace and that life is multi-layered and a lot more complicated than most of us care to admit.

It was compelling work until I received my own infertility diagnosis. Frankly, having these women weep and fret over unplanned/unwanted pregnancy when I couldn't conceive was brutal. They weren't ready--emotionally, financially, circumstantially. I felt that Ryland & I were. It didn't seem fair. God's economy surely didn't work like mine. Feeling much like the Prodigal's frustrated older brother, I realized that perhaps it was no longer my season. I wasn't mature enough to represent the grace of God to this women at that point in my life. My heart was simply too tender to love them and not make it about me. A couple of months before we moved to Georgia, I stepped away from the ministry. 

As much as I felt like a failure walking away, my heart knew it was the right thing to do at the time. It is so interesting, looking back at how God was setting me up for His next step. During my hiatus God used different experiences to turn my heart to how to support vulnerable, ill equipped Mamas and their children.

We moved to Georgia and within weeks of our arrival a co-worker took me to visit a local home for foster children. One brief lunch time visit and I was hooked! I have spent the last decade serving as a board member, Bible Study leader, and various volunteer roles. As my own children have aged, the schedule of after school time with the group home kids has been harder to maintain.

I have loved dozens of 'system' kids through the years, growing particularly close to 6-8 that I remain in contact with to this day. I am watching them start to have their own children...praying the cycles of poverty and abuse don't repeat themselves.

This is the social issue that breaks my heart. When I am immersed in this work, I feel alive. Even when it exhausts me, it is the best kind of tired. This middle aged lady is finding her ministry groove one God placed twist and turn at a time.

One of the more surprising things I have observed over the years of working with foster kids is that NO MATTER how terrible the circumstances and stories these kids have been rescued from, they feel an unbelievable pull to return to their Mamas. Many of their mothers are addicts or mentally unstable and these 'kids' want to rescue, protect and return even when their Moms haven't necessarily done any of those things for them. The instinctual pull of family is astounding. Watching this story unfold time and time again has left an indelible mark on my heart. 

Last Fall I was at a foster advocacy meeting when I heard someone speak of a new ministry designed to serve the parents who the court system is hoping to reunify with their children. The idea is to give these parents supportive Christian mentors to walk through life with instead of simply returning to their old haunts when times are tough. This is it, I thought...a way to impact generations by digging in deep and loving hard on one family.

I have only recently been called upon to volunteer but I am already learning so much. The first 'assignment' I had was to drive C and her baby to the pediatrician for a check up. I cleared my calendar one day while the children were in school to allow unrushed time--but alas, life happened. As I was on the way to pick up C & her baby I received a call about an appointment change for one of my own children. The doctor had unexpectedly been summoned out of town so I needed to get my son in within two hours or be postponed a week. I arrived at C's apartment, started loading the car seat and explained to her that my schedule had imploded. Then I laughed. "We will work it out one way or the other."

I was embarrassed. This was my first go at being a "mentor." I was supposed to have it together, right? Instead I was running late, in a kid-dirty car and having to adjust my schedule unexpectedly. As I was mentally calculating how to pull off everything that needed to happen, while still giving C my best she tilted her head to the side, looked at me and said, "It's cool to know someone who can laugh when it all turns out different than you thought. My old friends just throw in the towel when things get complicated and go back to using (drugs)."

I laughed again at the irony. I really wanted to glorify God by being an example to C. and He chose to humble me from the outset instead. The lesson God had for her was not in my perfection--far from it. The lesson was in my acceptance of and attitude around imperfection. 

A couple of months ago I was paired with my own mentee, but I think of her as a new friend. She has been sober over a year and is an amazing young woman up against some tough odds. Frankly, I am already learning a lot more from her than she is from me...about tenacity, faith, hard work and rising to the occasion. We recently had a situation where I really wanted to lighten her load, but circumstances again disrupted the plan. I showed up and waited outside her job as planned, but she couldn't get off work. I drove away feeling like my afternoon had been wasted and she texted that she was blown away at how valued she felt. "I can't believe you care about me enough to just sit in the parking lot for two hours."

Apparently that time wasn't wasted at all. It was an investment.

Presence, not perfection...it is really all people are really longing for.

Tonight I attended my first monthly support group meeting with these addicts in recovery fighting hard to rebuild their lives and regain custody of their children. I felt like I was in an episode of "which of these does not look like the others." Many of the women wore visible, outward signs of their challenging pasts. I was the outlier but they didn't make me feel different. I was greeted warmly and treated like one of the group. I sat around a table of a dozen women smack in the middle of accepting God's grace and making new choices every day to dig out of the holes old sin (and difficult backgrounds) got them in. As we talked about parenting, the differences subsided. We were women, mothers, daughters with much in common at the heart level.

It was so raw, so real and so refreshingly good for my soul.

God takes me out of my comfortable bubble to reinforce a truth that transcends all people. Show up, with love, humility and a willingness to serve with a flexible attitude. Remember that He is not looking for our perfection, He is looking for our obedience. God isn't seeking a picturesque performance, He is chasing our hearts.

Sunday at church my friend Ashley spoke about her experience with missions and ministry using the phrase "get out of your cul de sac." It has rolled around in my heart and mind for the last couple of days.

This world tells us to work hard so we can protect, insulate and move to suburbs, gated communities, safer ground...but, ya'll, this is NOT the Gospel. Jesus' ministry was gritty, vulnerable, raw, unpredictable, riddled with 'interruptions' and life upon life.

I feel torn between my life of airbags, insurance, security systems and private school and most of the places the Lord calls me to show up and serve. I am aware of the tension. I ask God if it is hypocrisy.

Frankly, it is often easier for me to go on short term missions to the local Soup Kitchen than it is for me to love other Moms in carline. Most days I'd rather stay windows up, seat warmers on, reading that get out and connect. I can enter in and bow out of that other world...sometimes the real gritty work is loving people who look and act more like me. God wants me to love them both because He does.

The women at my meeting tonight wore their issues on their sleeve, because once you hit rock bottom there is no hiding anymore. I was reminded that all the insulating, fluffing and dressing up some of the rest of us do to our lives is actually keeping us isolated not just from 'the dangerous world' but from the beauty of true community and love.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

These Two


Daddy Daughter Dance 2015


I think they like each other.


Her sweet Daddy melts me. 
Be still my heart.