Monday, August 12, 2013

My job

Every single night. That's how often we remind God that we really freaking need Him to work out each of their futures. They fold their tiny, chubby hands and pretend to close their eyes, carefully watching to make sure mine stay shut. And we pray. 

We pray to the God who knit them into wombs already knowing that we would be here. That we would be in this place; this unnatural, response-to-tragedy place where none of us truly want to have to be. 

I can do my part. I can hold them close for this time and love them hard and petition God on their behalf until I am hoarse; but working out their futures is not and never will be a task He gives me. He has never, ever asked me to determine their future steps. 

He hasn't asked me to stay awake late into the night, filling pages with "best case scenarios" and "plans A, B, C, and D" to keep little, tiny humans in families until they grow up and create families of their own. He hasn't asked me to pour over scientific journals and anything else the internet has to offer about mentally ill mothers successfully raising their children. He hasn't asked me to analyze every interaction with birth moms and grandmas and women I walk past on the street who maybe, just maybe, could have a role in this child's life, long-term. 

It's simply not my job. 

My job, then? My job is to believe Him for them. To teach them, in this short time we have together, that our God is One to be trusted. What we do here, in this unconventional family--what we do here is trust God to love us like He says He loves us. It's how we keep walking, how we keep following when the path is too foggy for our purposefully untrained eyes to navigate. 

The same prayer every night, aloud, and then a few million groaned ones throughout the day. 
Jesus, remember us. Work it out. Continue to work it out for us. We trust You. You are the only One for this job. 

And then all together, we say amen. We give our affirmation. Let it be, Lord. And we thank Him. Asante Yesu. Thank you, Jesus. Not because we can see it but because we believe You. We believe You hear us and we believe You're mindful of us. And so we keep on trusting. 

Asante Yesu. Because we trust You are working and need not save our thank you's until we can see it crystal clear. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The post in which I try to convince everyone to become Foster parents (sorry)

((proof that i'm not a 'blogger' by trade... tried to add pictures because apparently words alone are boring and in the process made the font tiny and certain paragraphs huge... let's just take that as a sign from Jesus about what He thinks is important enough to actually read :)))

I'm not so bad at reflecting... looking back on things that are no more and seeing things I learned, things I missed, things I want to do differently next time, or things that have shaped me in ways I will cherish forever. But freezing time for even a moment and looking at what's around me now and thinking about what God is teaching me now is much harder for me. I don't journal and even though I love the question that almost always comes up on coffee dates with friends, I am not often thinking about what God is doing and teaching and disciplining and stretching and giving right now.

So, let me just talk about my journey while my tracks in the dirt are fresh and the path ahead is still long and winding, with much more ground to be covered. So much left to learn! Though my experiences with foster care have been unconventional (to say the least), they have always involved being a temporary mama to a child who is in need of just that. Most often, I would have preferred the word ‘temporary’ to not exist as a descriptive adjective in our relationship; but it always has. And I am thankful all the same for the weeks, months, or years that these children have been in my hands, even if they are now just mine in heart.

I believe so strongly that it is our great opportunity and privilege to enter into the suffering of others. That's how God led me here, before I knew anything about foster care. A child finding themselves in need of a different roof over their head is a big deal. And the thing is, it’s a big deal for everybody. We can look on, or we can enter in with humility, utter dependence on God, and a willingness to do whatever we can, at whatever cost, to love all who are involved.

You guys, I know this as a daily reality so believe me when I say Satan is after these kids. He so deeply loves a child feeling forgotten, abandoned, neglected, unworthy, and thrown away. I believe God is so clear in scripture about His profound love for the fatherless, outcast, and abandoned on purpose. He makes it simply impossible to read Scripture and not see this unfathomable love for the forgotten. He is crazy about them. As I spend my days (and nights) with them, I see Him working tirelessly to reveal this love to them—He is so faithful in that, but the awesome thing is He invites us in.

If we know this deep love to be true and we know that Satan wants ownership of these kids’ hearts, can we enter into the battle and wrap these little (or big) ones up in that love? Can we get some flesh in the game and welcome these kids into our homes, into our families, for even a brief 24 hours of love? Can we not think about ourselves for a few minutes and just trust God to use silly, small us in the lives of these kids He cherishes? Can we trust Him to give us what we need and help us to love “as much as we love our biological kids”? Can we trust Him with the hearts of our other children who we are afraid of hurting in the process? Can we believe Him when He says He is always and will continue to work for our good, even as we take a break from working to create our own good for ourselves and our families? Can we stop planning and rationalizing and thinking as if we are working in our own power and walk into this with expectancy for how He promises to carry us?

In foster care, it is so much about trusting Him to do what He wants to do in the lives of these kids (again, even for 24 fleeting hours) and letting you play a part even just by reading bedtime stories and wiping sticky hands. It's remembering constantly how deeply He cares for these kids and trusting Him to reveal that to them and to not relent in working for their good. It means trusting Him even when things don't go the way you would have hoped or thought best and continuing to pray for the children all the more when they are out of your hands/view and in someone else's. It’s saying yes to things that are likely to hurt and reminding Jesus that He needs to be so thick in this or you simply can’t walk it. 

I know that many, many godly people are of the mindset that some people are called to this and some are called to that and there are clear distinctions and it’s awesome that I am called to this and not that and it’s awesome that they are called to that and not this. Sure. I get that, sort of. But I think we are missing an important part of our relationship with God when we make our minds up prematurely about what He has or hasn’t called us to. Though it might look different for everyone, He has clearly called every single one of us to love and everyday I believe we can be asking Him who. He will not tire of our eagerness to see who He wants us to see.

In foster care, you will have hurting children (even if they are unable to verbalize the hurt, it is surely there) under your roof and you will be given the unique privilege to put your hands on them as you pray and petition on their behalf. You will be entering into the battle, undoubtedly. You will be fighting right alongside your God and with the indestructible armor that He has already won. You will forget yourself and you will have to remember Him. Your stomach will be filled with the anxious butterflies that they might not even know to have before court dates, family visits, and other life events. You will feel their heart pain and it will hurt, but doesn’t every one need that—someone to weep with them? You will pray earnestly for them and their families, often with tears, and God will so delight in hearing and answering those prayers that might have never been prayed. You will find yourselves loving their moms or dads or grandmas or siblings and that will probably be the Holy Spirit sweetly teaching you that we all need Jesus just the same.

I won’t play with statistics because I just don’t even know them off-hand, but I do know that there is a need. A real need. There is a always, always, always an opportunity for people who love Jesus to enter into the suffering of others and to allow themselves to be used however the heck God wants. As long as we live on earth, we will never lack these opportunities to enter in. When I lived in Atlanta and had thoughts of staying for more than a few months, I started the process of being registered as a foster parent. If Fulton County DFCS was willing and eager to let me join them in caring for these kids, as a 25 year old single student who had 3 roommates and would be keeping the child in a closet-turned-bedroom, I’d say there is a great need. 

I encourage everyone to pray about it… but maybe not in the “am I supposed to do foster care?” kind of way, though there's nothing wrong with that. Maybe in a “Here I am. Here is my home. Here is my time. Here is my heart. Here is the family you’ve given me. Use us as You see fit. We are here for You. Take what little we have and use it for Your glory.” And then listen. It’s not foster care for everyone; of course I realize that. But it’s something

Prayer: there is so much power in this! it blesses me (and our babies) so much when visitors who come to Neema House pray over the children, their families, their futures. Contact me and I will so so gladly match you with a child who would so greatly appreciate your prayers. Think about how you who have children pray for them and commit to pray the same way for a child who has no one to pray those bold prayers for them.

Supporting someone who is doing it: here is an awesome way to get some beautiful art AND support a girl who is fostering. I'm also willing to bet your pastor knows who in the church is involved with foster care and maybe they'd love a fresh meal when they bring home a new child, just like new moms home from the hospital love!

Learn more:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Even there

It's quickly becoming a favorite place of mine though I've only spent 6-8 hours there in total. Honestly, my first minutes inside were full of timidity and nervous observation. As the gate was slowly unlocked, pushing willful escape artists out of the way, it was as if we were being welcomed into a cage full of lions. My eyes were busy scanning the scene, never lingering too long to avoid being surprised by an unexpected encounter.

 The noises greet you before you even cross the muddy path that brings them into sight. Screams, groans, bickering, singing, laughing, conversation, crying. This is Kenya's one and only mental institution--the "civil" women's ward.

 Wangare* meets you at the gate and squeezes you so tightly you feel like your organs will come out of your mouth. Not just upon greeting, but every few minutes. Sneak attacks from behind are her favorite, and maybe mine too. Her laughter echoes through the stale walls and urine soaked floors. She proudly buries my entire arm in the pit of her own and drags me throughout the whole ward, introducing me as "rafiki yangu" (my friend). I am blown away by the honor of her introduction. I strangely miss her in the hours I am at home, surrounded by people who respect my personal space.

 Alice* repeats the same few sentences repeatedly, sharing her desire to become a US citizen. She follows too closely for my comfort and sees a way-too-small opening on the bench as a an eager invitation to sit. After a few minutes, I lose feeling in my left leg and run out of graceful responses to her repetitious mutterings. Her husband visits her daily and I would say she is the best dressed women in the ward thanks to his faithful efforts. She treats him poorly when he comes but he keeps on coming back. This kind of love baffles me.

 Mary's* sweet demeanor meets me at the gate every time. She has more love in her frail 80 pound body than anyone I've met. Her story will cut your heart into pieces and yet she is the first to tell you that she does not doubt God and His power. She speaks so sweetly of her God and I love Him all the more. Though she was granted permission to be discharged months ago, Kenyan hospitals require you to stay until you can pay your bill in full. It is a practice synonymous with prison. She tells me she is fasting and as much as I respect her faith, I beg her to eat. Her bones protrude and her gait is weak. I tell her she needs to remain physically strong so she can care for the children who wait expectantly for her. She nods with brimming tears. I ache to erase her pain. I stand in awe of her resilient faith in the same God I call my own.

 Sarah* talks to me about the mzungu ("white person") she knows, assuming if we are both white, we obviously must know each other. I listen for a few moments as she skips sentence breaks and talks without end and then intervene to tell her to eat the food she has collected before it gets cold. I just need a small break from her incessant talk and maybe if her mouth is full my ears can have a rest. Just as her mouth is filled, she breaks into singing the Kenyan national anthem. Some women stand in respect and other just look on.

 The one I feared the most is now a friend, as I have learned the key to her heart: food. She is nonverbal, very stout, and wears only a medical gown which barely covers her front and hangs open in the back. She seems unable to recognize when her stomach is full, so roams around to each person who is eating, demanding they give her some of their portion. The wise ones have learned to quickly fulfill her request so as to avoid an altercation. She has been abandoned again and again and again until she reached adulthood and no one knew where else take her. If for no other reason, I want Jesus to hurry up and come back just for her sake.

This beautiful woman doesn't respond when I ask her name, but she yells loudly that God will come. I nod my head and grab her hand, telling her that He is already here. We both look around and say it aloud. "He is here. (Mungu ni hapa.)"

I have to believe it, though I feel my own doubt creep in as my eyes scan the scene once again. But yes, even (or most especially!) in a cage full of urine soaked and wandering women -- He is here. Women. Women who have moms and dads and childhood memories and brothers and sisters and husbands and CHILDREN and gardens and market vendors who know their name and how many kgs of flour they will buy this week and homes they wake up to sweep. This cage is filled with moms and daughters and wives, not wild animals as I had once believed.

 You can see the kindness in Jane's* eyes the second you meet her. She remains quiet, except to warn me when I am about to sit down on a bench that is covered in human, adult excrement. Though she does not join any of our conversations, I watch her and her love for others amazes me. She gently scoots down the bench to sit next to a severely ill woman who is unable to feed herself. Jane has learned that the woman just needs help getting the food into her mouth, where she is then able to push the food down her throat with her index finger. Before Jane even takes a bite of her own food, her heart beats for the others around her.

 The one most precious in my heart is the one who brought me here. She puts her limp, sedated arm around me and says "I am bad". Together we lift her chin and force her eyes to meet ours. "You are not bad." "Do you hear?" "You are not bad." "Jesus is here and He says you are not bad. You are His child." "Do you hear?" As if speaking to a child, I will her to believe me. I will not tell a lie. I also will not allow a lie to be spoken without calling out against it. Satan will not be the loudest voice echoing through this place. Not in the ears of my friend. He will not reign here. She asks to come home with me every single time we visit. I ache to say yes, but know that she needs just a little more time to adjust to the medication and be reviewed.

I cannot blame her for even one millisecond for wanting to leave. At the same time, I am encouraged to no end by the work God is doing when I see the precious friends she has made in just one week here. They are sisters. The most beautiful sisters who seem to not even imagine withholding love from someone who is different. I hide tears behind my sunglasses at the sight of their love for one another.

 I love so deeply the God who chooses to be present in places as seemingly hopeless as this overflowing prison. He pulls us out of the miry pit and even when we still feel neck-deep in the muck, He is there with us. I just love that God. I love the Jesus who tells us as He walks this pain-ridden earth that these women that fill this cage are absolutely precious to Him, a king. Giving our whole lives to them is not a waste, it is worship.

 A personal pet peeve of mine is the constant asking God to come and join us as we worship Him. Though I don't know that the invitation does any harm, can we just believe assuredly enough to skip right to THANKING HIM for being here? And if we have to invite Him even into our churches, what about the places where darkness is tangibly thick? Can we trust Him to be there or is it our duty to unlock the gate, push back the ones trying to break loose, and give Him a place on the bench?

 Is the God who lifts my head and goes before me the same God who has the same fond affections for these seemingly forgotten women, sisters, and mothers? I ask Him the whole way home. I so need Him to be and the next time I go, I ask Him to show me Himself so clearly because my eyes are new at this stuff. The recognizing Him in hurt and pain and injustice is something I am just beginning to learn. I need him to pick up my eyeballs and place them in front of His sweetness every single day here.

 Today the muddy, soiled ground where overmedicated women lay was recognized as undoubtedly holy ground. I saw Him everywhere. He was in the patient doctor (one of TWENTY FIVE mental health specialists in a nation of over 43 million people) who spoke lovingly to the hundreds of women in her care. He was with and shining so brightly from precious Mary who keeps on believing He is working for her good, even now. He was in my sweet friend who shared the precious fruits and soda we brought her with the sisters she has found here. He spoke through Margaret* as she took a weeping woman in her arms and assured her over and over again that this pain will not last forever. He is in Wangare's* laugh and tight squeezes.He is all up in the laughter that just doesn't quite make sense in the conditions these women live in. He is there -- where women and moms and daughters and sisters endure. Though most of the country, their own families included, have given up on or forgotten them, God is there and He is crazy about them and He is not going anywhere. That kind of love leaves me breathless.
"Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you." Psalm 139:7-12
"Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end." Matthew 28:20
He will never leave or forsake His people. Even there, He is

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Fight

I still don't really "get" it. I can't explain it to others who ask and I will be the first to admit to anyone that it doesn't make much sense to me. I have found a place on both sides of the fence at one time or another--the one which asks hard questions and believes the worst about the One who set it into motion and the one which asks hard questions and clings to the Truth, as is and as will be.

 I am always wondering when and how we are supposed to fight and simultaneously trust God's sovereignty. Sometimes the two seem mutually exclusive in my mind. Some days I wonder why the heck we put ourselves through chemotherapy if we trust Jesus and His good, pleasing, and perfect will. Other days I am knocking down doors and busting through road blocks because surely, this cannot be what God wanted.

I think I've been waiting to talk about this because I keep thinking that maybe next week I will grasp it a little bit better, or at least not swing so rapidly on the pendulum. It's true that nearly every time I open my Bible, The One Who Remains The Same changes, reworks, or expands my view on things that the day before I thought I might just have figured out. This conversation below is the one we have the most frequently. And most certainly, I will read another scripture tomorrow that tweaks what I understood to be true today, just a bit. The awesome thing is He never stops teaching and that HE Himself never changes -- so for that reason, I am writing.

In EMT school, after weeks of CPR training and testing, we were presented with the odds of CPR actually bringing people back to life. While difficult to measure, the statistics are surprisingly low--below 7% is a good guess. Some say as low as 1%. 

It was 12:15am and I was just getting ready to have my intern papers signed so I could leave--midnight had finally come. Now I was headed home to sleep for several hours before going back to school. The machines started beeping and the small, but sure, nurse began to shout out orders until the closest doctor arrived. A finger landed on me to begin chest compressions. It should have come as no surprise that standing over a real, warm, bare-chested human and putting my weight into the pursuit of pumping her body with blood, a job that intricately designed organs were meant for, would be quite different from my experiences with a plastic dummy. 

This woman beneath me, the one absorbing the forceful heart thrust I was delivering every second, was real and so was her daughter who was waiting outside the door. Forty two minutes later, her heart had shown no interest in re-programming and beginning again. The doctor called the time of death and I stepped down from the stool, my arms seemingly frozen in the position they'd held for those long, but fast-as-lightning, minutes. 

As I finally drove home from the ER, I was able to talk to a friend in a different time zone who was still awake. She asked me if I felt bad that the lady had still died. For some reason, I didn't really. Giving up a fight is always hard, but such solace comes when you can say with certainty that you did all you could. My role that night was small. As I physically begged this nameless woman's heart to kick back into gear, others worked furiously to provide adequate oxygen and intravenous epinephrine and atropine to give this woman her best chance of coming back to life.

Instead of going to class the next day, I went to get a massage in hopes of being able to use my upper body again someday. I have never been so sore in my entire life. I really did wonder if my shoulders would be stuck like this forever -- if I would always look like I was gripping reins while riding a horse. The pain felt good though, in a weird way. Even my body was crying out that "we tried, dadgumit, we tried."  Better than me, the doctor and nurses who didn't give up on a pulseless human for 42 minutes, knew the odds of bringing someone back to life. This was not their first cold body to cover--not their first tearful daughter to encounter with news she was praying against. But they fought. We fought hard. And then we trusted. Maybe the trusting should have preceded the fighting, but in the end, I know it was there.

We see it often in Scripture, the call to fight. "Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless." "Seek justice for the oppressed." "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves." Act, speak, seek, defend, stand, love -- we have a role in this fight, those words (and so many more!) are our proof. We are all called to a fight, all the while knowing true justice is not something we will see on this earth right now.

I am so results-focused. Quantifying successful loving has been a struggle for me since I started following Him. I want to win. I want to make a difference. I don't want to waste a second. I want my chest beating to bring life back and we want our banging on the doors of brothels to put little girls back into families and to reacquaint them with their innocence. We want our tears and our petitions and our time and our sacrifices to be rewarded with success. I do, at least. 

But the thing is, I don't think He really promises us quantifiable results or measurable success. At least not the kind I seek. He tells us to fight, undoubtedly. To stand with, to defend, to speak, to act... But He doesn't tell us this will end slavery or get the number of orphans in this world down to zero.  I don't think we're supposed to be so concerned with that, honestly.

I'm also starting to think He also doesn't always promise us the good, peaceful kind of sore that lingers to remind us we did all that we could do. If it comes, let me see it as a sweet, kind gift. If it doesn't come and I begin to demand it, maybe this has become far too much about me. Maybe He wants us to linger for a bit in that anxious "put me in the game, coach!" place of constant seeking and surrendering, offering (way too obnoxiously, perhaps) to be used if He will let us.

There are the things He doesn't promise us...and lots of times the sting is big. But the things He DOES promise us are good. So good. He tells us He will be with us. He tells us He will be Himself for us. He tells us that if we fight,then [our] light will rise in the darkness, and [our] night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide [us] always; he will satisfy [our] needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen [our] frame. [We] will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail."And if that's not enough, He tells us He is coming back for us and none of this crap that called us to a fight will even be worth comparing or remembering.

There are days I convince myself I am fighting alone. Many days, unfortunately. I ask Him why the little girl who always ran home from school to show me her A's is now the same girl who was pulled out of school and is being sold for sex instead. I ask Him why that boy has to confirm the scoffs of the "I told you so"ers and find himself back in jail, when it's impossible not to see he is the greatest victim. I ask Him why no one who has any kind of power seems to give a damn that orphans are being oppressed, right before our eyes. I ask Him why the lady who drops her handicapped sister off on the street every morning to beg for money is rolling in wealth while her sister is pushed lower to the ground every day. I ask Him why all of this medical knowledge, all of this gifting is reserved for the sick who are rich, while body bags are overflowing in the slums.

I have so many questions. I know He cares; I know I only care because He cares; so I cling to what I know of who He is and join the fight. The results are His, my only obligation is jumping in and trusting that He is good.
"The truth is we may never fully understand why God allows the suffering that devastates our lives. We may never find the right answers to how we'll dig ourselves out. There may not be any silver lining---especially not in the ways we'd like. But we don't need answers as much as we need God's presence in and through the suffering itself. Explanations, I've learned, are often a substitute for trust. For a believer, God's chief concern in your suffering is to be with you and be himself for you. And, in the end, we discover this really is enough." --Tullian Tchividjian

Monday, February 25, 2013

Living in Africa doesn't make you an awesome person

As a general rule, I've mostly found that people think you're an "awesome person" if you live in Africa. Especially if you live in the bush and poop in holes and sleep on thin mattresses and take baths in buckets... in the name of Jesus. Even more if you hang out with sick people or orphans or the poorest of poor. It makes me cringe from the inside out when this is put onto me (it's fine on the others, I even put it onto them along with everyone else) because I know what goes on in my heart and there is so so much that isn't awesome... but it probably doesn't show up very clearly in the pictures where I am snuggled up with brown orphans.

It was an act meant for good, without a doubt, but it watered the young seeds of some pretty ugly things in my heart. I think I was in 9th grade. I was a regular at church and Sunday School and Bible Studies for social reasons. It was fun and I loved the people and I was a generally nice person, so no one really looked twice in question of whether or not I 'belonged' there. It worked.

I will never forget it -- the Sunday School teacher came over and picked up my thick, colorful "Teen Study Bible" and held it up in front of the entire class. She said something along the lines of THIS type of Bible being the kind we should all have. THIS type of Bible was covered in stickers and doodlings (a result of extreme boredom and easy access to stickers during a Bible Study...). THIS type of Bible had wrinkled pages (a result of everything I touch being ruined within minutes... Homework, school books, etc just ask any teacher I ever had). THIS type of Bible had stains and rips and tears and unbound pages (again, I am mess. Lord only knows yogurt, rain, juice had soaked into the pages and by that point the mold was unhindered). THIS type of Bible was highlighted (because for the first couple of years of church, camp, Sunday school, etc I followed the rules and highlighted stuff they told me to highlight). THIS type of Bible was clearly and visibly well loved and we should all have Bibles that look like THIS.

My face flushed red--a common occurrence--but it was boiling hot in this instance because I was scared to death that she would ask my favorite verse, what I was learning in my non-existent "quiet time", or worse, a Bible trivia question to prove my alleged faithfulness to the Word of God. That would surely shut this party down. I knew the second she grabbed my Bible from my lap that this was now a lie I would have to work to defend. I was doing things right. I was someone who the others in my class should learn from. If she only knew...

My sins perhaps weren't the kind that necessitated being added to the email prayer list (Sally is drinking, I think. John smelled like pot he is smoking pot. Amanda is probably anorexic. Sam is sleeping with his girlfriend, I'm pretty sure. Tommy loves the new Eminem CD, etc), but they were a plenty. The hidden kind are so often even more destructive than the exposed but what I was learning is that hiding sins and highlighting your Bible was all it really took.

I'm using this example because I have experienced how detrimental it is to keep your sin and struggles in the dark. To remain quiet, letting people keep on thinking that you are an "awesome person". I can recall precisely where I was when I first heard this truth come out of my CD player in downtown Athens :
“The best thing that could ever happen to you is that your sin would be literally exposed in the five-o’-clock news.  Your deepest, darkest, most embarrassing sin.  The one you work the hardest to hide, would be broadcast on the five-o’-clock news.  Best thing that would ever happen to you… Because I am so weary, I am so tired of having to hide my sin from people.  Of deceiving people about who I really am–I’m tired of it!” (Derek Webb)
I literally felt nauseous at the thought of my sinful heart bare naked before the world. It left me speechless. It even gave me nightmares. Holy crap, that would RUIN ME. Why? The answer scared me even more. I was letting people think I had things together and was living right because I could usually be counted on as a designated driver, kept my Bible on my nightstand, drug myself out of bed for church (most) Sundays, tried to be nice to strangers and smiled a lot.

I remember exactly where I sat as I heard my pastor in Athens say the words of Paul (in his own way that I don't recall) "a sinner, of whom I am the worst." What?! It stopped me in my tracks. I think it was my first Sunday at my new church in my new city. It was the most beautiful gospel message that I came to hear every Sunday. It was a message I desperately needed to hear every Sunday. It was a message I needed to preach to myself daily. If it was okay for my pastor to need Jesus this much, it was okay for me.

It changed absolutely everything for me. I am not sure it was truly the first time I heard it (from a pulpit or a church leader) or if it was just the first time God opened my ears to receive it. But it rocked me. So hard. For good. I don't know what I was or wasn't before, but now that I was beginning to see and hear and learn that being a Christian means quite the opposite of what I had previously thought -- I knew I was in this time around. He had me. I wanted to follow this guy who actually WANTS the people who don't (and will never quite) have their shit together, for lack of better words.

Anyway, if you think someone is awesome (for reasons other than NOT being awesome, but because of God's sweet grace) but you can't name the sins they struggle with then you probably need to get to know them better. Please, get to know me better than to think I am awesome. ((I know this is a laughable statement to my close family and friends who are well aware that I am anything but...yack it up, people.)) Get to know Katie Davis or even Mother (freakin? seemed right) Theresa better than to think they, as a single unit, are awesome. And if you want people to think you're awesome, you're certainly not alone. Talk to Jesus about that (it's a conversation we have often because being seen as an awesome person doesn't sound so bad sometimes).

I'm just saying maybe we need to start looking up to the people who straight up suck at most of the things Jesus asks us to do. The ones who bear fruit because they ABIDE not because they're good at what they do. The ones who actually, truly, deeply, wildly need His grace, they don't just know how to talk about it.

Some of these people are in Africa, no doubt. But a whole ton of them are getting a different kind of dirty in a different kind of war zone. Maybe there's is less glamorous to their facebook friends, but it's every bit as beautiful.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A God who is able

There is a reluctance, if I'm honest, to allow myself to dream for them; but don't earnest, shut-eyed prayers always lead to open-eyed dreaming? I have not found another way.

It was my turn to run the call and the seasoned paramedics snickered as we bumped along Cascade Road and arrived at our patient. He was a "frequent flier" as they call patients who too often find themselves hitching a ride to the Grady ER in the back of our ambulances. He had called 911 himself. He was high on cocaine and despite the paramedics eye rolls, he was telling us in his most serious tone that he was ready for this to be his last hit. He wanted to quit.

She shifted in her seat and looked me in the eyes, saying she was ready for a new life. She was tired of depending on her body to keep a roof over her family's head; her family that consists of children and their children. Her daughters scoffed in the seats behind us, two babies sitting on their laps. The next strip club we passed, one called out "Oh look! They're hiring! Hey mom, have you changed your mind yet?" They didn't believe her. Why should I?

Bundled up in a blanket she made with all of her spare time, she tells me about how she will live by the ocean with her sister and spend her days freelance writing. When her disability checks start coming in, life will be so different. She has been living in shelters for years now, but month after month shares visions of where she would like to be in just a few more weeks. Seeing her sit on the same bed week after week sends a tinge of pain as I realize her dreams are not coming true as quickly as she would like.

His voice was muffled as we sat separated by a wall of smudged plexiglass. I leaned hard into the phone receiver and willed my ears to make something of his hushed mumblings. Though I missed bits and pieces, his message was clear : he was falsely accused. Another man should be wearing this orange jumpsuit, not him. Isn't that what everyone says when courts are threatening to remove them from society to pay penance for a wrongful act?
I wasn't sure.

Her children are proof that she has not been attentive to their needs in a way that a mother must in order for little bodies to grow and thrive. The neighbors throw a hand in the air saying it is a tragedy that she was physically able to give birth to life. The nurse who examines the weak bodies sighs with anger and says she would love to give their mother a piece of her mind. The neglect is undeniable; no excuses of ignorance seem justified. She doesn't have much to say for herself.

The evidence is laid out before him and onlookers are quick to remind "once a street boy, always a street boy." He cannot be trusted and anyone who (ever) believed otherwise was just being foolish. He admits, finally, to the destruction he has caused and promises he won't let them down again. He begs forgiveness, it is granted, and the scene repeats itself just days later. His birth family has disowned him and his foster family is encouraged by others to do the same, being told that they have given it their best shot. Isn't there a time when it's appropriate to accept defeat? To throw in the towel?

These are just a few examples, but I think we run into these people every day. Hopefully more than running into them, we seek them out. Sometimes it hurts to dream for people when not many others are. When "wisdom" tells us they don't deserve our dreams, dreaming on says that we see them (or are straining to see them) as Jesus does. They need this. We need this.

We believe with the cracked out man because he needs someone to believe with him that even this can be overcome and we happen to know a God who can do big things like that without batting an eye.

We believe with the friend whose children called her bluff from the backseat because she needs someone to believe with her and we happen to know a God who can do big things like that without batting an eye.

We believe with the lady who dreams of a beautiful, less-dependent life outside of a women's shelter because she needs someone to believe with her and we happen to know a God who can do big things without batting an eye.

We believe with the huge man in orange whom I barely know-- not that he is innocent, who really cares?--but that this is not the end of his story, because he needs someone to believe with him and we happen to know a God who can do big things like that without batting an eye.

We believe with the woman who has truly sucked as a mother, but it doesn't have to be that way forever, because she needs someone to believe with her and we happen to know a God who can do big things like that without batting an eye.

We believe with the weary foster mom as she struggles through uncharted territory, as only few are brave enough to walk this path by choice, because she needs someone to believe with her and we happen to know a God who can do big things without batting an eye.

We don't have to believe with them because it is a safe bet or because the odds are in their favor or because they've proved themselves trustworthy or because they really seem to "want it". We can do all of that without Jesus--it is not so bold to walk a tightrope that is lying on the ground.

We can believe with them because of all that they are not. All that we are not. All that HE is is certainly enough for us to enter into their dreams.

Y'all. It's supposed to be us sitting beside the cracked out man as his body seeks to ruin him if he does not go back to the substance it has come to depend on. We are the ones who are Holy Spirit empowered to believe with someone who has only known one way of life that things can be different--that God is able. Is this not our own story of redemption?

When we're not all that impressed with what God can do, it shows.

It shows when I join the "encouragers" who pat her on the back and say she gave it her best shot, time to send him back to the streets because he has had about 7 trillion chances. It shows when I stare too long at the statistics on men who are released from prison actually staying out and living productive lives in society and throw some distinguishing water on the fiery dream that wishes things to be different, at least for him. It shows when I deceitfully nod my head and pat her on the back as she dreams of a different life, but cannot help but glare hopelessly at the seemingly permanent impression her body has made in the third bed on the second row of the shelter. It shows when I succumb to what I do not know about this man, accepting what has already been decided about him based on how many times a week he shares this same desire, only to be picked up again and dropped off at the ER for a repeat of the week before. It shows when the first time I hear she has gone back to what she knew, my frustration overcomes me and I deem her as a "lost cause" until she truly wants to change. It shows when I join them in anger (that seems so so warranted when innocent children are involved) and bash her further into the ground instead of seeing the tiny seedling of hope that might just sprout if nourished.

It can be a lonely place, the place that sits before Jesus and first believes He is able and then waits to see just how able He is. Sometimes the crowd is heavy in the beginning and usually it dwindles, maybe to the point of standing alone before Jesus, petitioning Him on behalf of someone that everyone else has given up on. They will disappoint. And if you're like me, you will disappoint yourself even more frequently than they disappoint you. But this is a blessed place. I want to find myself here more often. I want Him to increase my faith in Him so I can stand with them with complete and utter confidence that my God is the one who can move the ginormous mountain in front of them. They need us whose eyes have looked on Him, tasted His goodness, and been transformed into His likeness to believe with them that He is able. If we can't believe it, how can they?

"Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen." --Ephesians 3:20-21

Monday, January 21, 2013


They come in and out of the room and ask question after question and I repeat, for what seems like the 3 trillionth time, what little I know of his last six months and twenty three days on earth. I unload the broken pieces I know of his story and we work together to fill in the gaps. I catch myself saying words like "usually" when describing his habits and then realize I have only known him for two days--what do I know of his usually? I remind the doctors and nurses and nutritionists who probe me again and again that we are still nearly strangers.

He cries incessantly in the crowded waiting room and women look at me with eyes that will me to please, for everyone's remaining sanity, find a way to make the baby in my arms be quiet. Though our skin tells that I didn't birth him, they look to me as if I am the only one in the room with the ability to calm him. As he squirms and writhes in discomfort, I want to tell them that they are welcome to give it their best shot, because he doesn't yet know me from any of them.

I hold his abrupt entry into my life against him at times, sometimes wanting to cry back at him during especially public or drawn out meltdowns that "this isn't too fun for me either, kid." I get so frustrated with 10 little pounds of pure innocence when I want to get more than 45 minutes of sleep at a time. I question if this is really where I'm "called" to be if I have such a crappy attitude about it a good bit of the time. And then I go to the dark place of imagining Katie Davis, not only being super excited at the chance to love a sick baby all throughout the night, but also sharing her faith with the nurses and doctors and other patients in the ward (instead of the negative attitude and complaints of their negligence). Comparison kills.

All this to say, I am learning lately that there is nowhere I can go where I will need His grace any less. I seek out those places, in search of the "perfect fit" or "my calling" thinking that because of the way He made me, I certainly ought to need Him less there. Why haven't I landed in that place yet? I sigh and think "Man. I really thought I would be pretty good at loving sick kids. Guess I was wrong again.... Back to the drawing board."

Sometimes I just get tired of needing Him so damn much. Good Lord, can we not take off the training wheels yet?! I am familiar with this... I signed up for this! Why can't I fly solo here yet? Is it ever coming?! If not, am I in the wrong place? Why am I not more joyful in this moment? Why isn't this natural and beautiful and lovely and effortless and "like breathing" yet?

Because I am believing a lie.

I think I first heard it from Oprah when I was in High school and had more interest in what she said than what Jesus says. I even wrote it on one of my binders, I think. "Your true passion should feel like breathing; it's that natural." I think I've been looking for this dreamy place all along and to be honest, I have come up short every time--usually settling for the closest thing I can find and being annoyed that I can't just be naturally good (and independent) at anything.

I am coming to see there is no such place. Sure there is a place where my precise strengths and passions can combine to maximize the glory He receives as I live out life here on earth. These places exist for all of us, I know they do. We were not created each with different gifts and cares and loves to operate outside of the Body, to the benefit of the world (or ourselves, of course).

But where I've been so deceived is my thinking that these places will be natural and lovely and beautiful and effortless and maybe even easy. I believe Oprah a little too much and then get angry with myself when I am face to face with the seemingly ugly fact that nothing "good" I do will ever feel as effortless as breathing. Nothing "good" in me will ever be anything but that which He has done. Like Paul, "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out." I just can't.

Guilt floods in about how I am failing Him by sucking so bad at loving people -- the people I have chosen to love, based on where I felt His nudges. The truth is I want to depend more on my strengths than on His grace. It feels safer there.

I promise that I love my life and the places He has me (((not even joking, this sentence was interrupted by the dreadful sound of projectile vomit being shot through the mesh walls of Isaac's pack n' play bed.... His only bed, now covered in vomit at the early hour of 11:36pm))). Haha, but really I do. There is a lot of hard (cue teeny tiny boy being waken from sleep vomiting the 7 different medicines he had to take tonight plus 2 whole bottles of Pediasure through both nose and mouth--did I mention he's malnourished and really really needs that food his body keeps rejecting? And those meds he can't keep down are supposed to be the ones fighting off all of the stuff that has been attacking his body for the past 7 months?), so I don't love it in the blissful skipping through fields way -- but I love it in the "holy crap. How in the world do I have the honor of being a part of the story God is writing for this boy He loves?" way.

All I'm saying is I don't think I have to turn in my resignation letter just because I literally have to pray the words "Jesus, help me not to hate this baby when he wakes me up in 30 minutes. And then again 45 later. And then again." as I lay my head on the pillow at night. I need that. He knows it better than anyone.

You don't have to question your entire marriage when you have to pray the words "God, please give me the grace to not punch this guy in the face tonight." We don't have to quit our jobs and search for something better just because we literally can't get through an hour without crying out "Lord, help me not to spit in my boss's face when he critiques my work for the 50th time today."

I'm famously bad at making up examples (which you know if we've ever had a conversation), but you get my point. Needing grace--being absolutely desperate for Him, having nothing of our own going for us is a beautiful place to be. It doesn't mean we are in the wrong place--it might just mean we're exactly where He wants us. I need to write that on my arm. It's good to need Him this much. It assaults my flesh in the best way.

"But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." --2 Corinthians 12:9