In Sickness and in Health

On a very hot, July day in 1983, I said, “I do” and equally significant, he said, “I do” as well.  We didn’t have a clue but we loved each other as best we knew how in that moment.  We were willing to put it all on the line and commit our lives to each other in this thing many call, holy matrimony.  Truth be told, I think  one of God’s plan  in marriage is to make us more holy.

Thirty-four years!!

Somebody recently asked me,”How’d you do it?”

My  response …”God’s grace.”

Roger and I are about as different as they make ’em.  Our backgrounds are similar in that we both grew up in pastor’s homes with a daily infusion of God’s word but other than that, we’re poles apart.

I worry about everything.  He worries about nothing.

I like pontoon boats. He likes speed boats.

I like to dress up. He’s a shorts and t-shirt kind of guy.

I love air conditioning in the summer.  He can go through an entire muggy, 90+ summer   and never once feel the need to press that A/C “on” button (as long as there’s a box fan around, of course!).

I’m emotional.  He’s analytical.

I always think about the right way something is supposed to be done.  He always thinks about the fastest, most economical way.

We’ve decided our  common ground is …our love for God, our kids and grands and the beach.

Truth is, the differences have been the very places God has used to make us more like Him …to shape us …to grow our hearts in patient love and grace.

When we said we’d stay together “in sickness and in health,”  I always thought sickness meant cancer, the flu, aches and pains, or major surgeries …physical sickness.  We’ve sure had our share of that; but little did I know that emotional sickness would  be the greater challenge.   Nobody tells you that.  Maybe nobody wants to tell you that.  Maybe everybody hopes it won’t happen.

This last year has proven to be a test of “in sickness and in health” for us.  Emotional brokenness laced with anxiety has caused a strain on every fiber of our marriage bond.  For that matter, it’s caused a strain on all of my close relationships at some level.  Some will recover.  Some …maybe not.

I hate that part of the equation.  It often feels my “weight” is tipping the scale to its maximum capacity.  It’s hard for both of us to work through the panic and anxiety waves that take over —  even on the best of days.

Roger has helped me through 4 Cesarean-section child births and two other major surgeries.  I’d take that any day over anxiety.  I’ve often said a broken arm or leg might be easier because it’s something you can actually see that has solutions formulated into 1,2,3 steps.  Emotional issues don’t wrap up quite as nicely.  There’s no perfect bandage.  No  one-size-fits-all cast.

Issues are deep and complicated and hard to unearth.  The layers seem endless at times and the waves seem to wash over the freshly cultivated soil where peace was recently planted.  Patience is stretched into thin spaces.

These words from my husband in an anniversary letter to me communicate it best …

“Happy Anniversary… Happy, in moments, but hard, in stretches.  Really hard.  The waves of anxiety have pounded the soft sand of your heart, threatening your beautiful beach.  And you have come to me with waves of sandy questions, desperate cries for reassurance.  You have brought them to me, trusting the one who smiled and said ‘in sickness and in health’ thirty-four years ago.”

Life isn’t always easy.  Marriage adds another dimension to that.  It has the potential to be the greatest gift in life and the toughest ground of testing all at the same time.  There will always be seasons in which one seems to outweigh the other as if both were on a seesaw in a constant effort to stay balanced.  Unlike the church aisle on a wedding day, the path isn’t always paved with petals.

Roger woke me up this anniversary morning with a large mug of hot coffee in one hand and his laptop in the other– with the song , “Still the One” by Orleans streaming through.  Love restores balance to the seesaw of  our lives.  It reminds me that we’ve been in this together since “way back when” and we’re staying in this together until who knows when!  It steadies the ship.  Loving through the waves each season might bring.  The happy and the hard ones.

He’s loved me through my rough patches.  I’ve loved him through his.

The more we cling to God, the closer it draws us to each other.  It always seems to work that way.

And somehow, by God’s grace, we’re “still the one” for each other. I’d choose my man all over again.  He’s one of the best things that has ever happened to me.  And maybe it’s as the song goes, “Changing, our love is going gold.”  In sickness — emotional or physical –or in health, God is forging something holy and good in the process and …It. Is. Good!

And to that one out there who feels like you’re weighing down the seesaw with your own weaknesses, I understand and I want you to know that God is sitting in the middle of it all.  His love is working something deeper within you than you can imagine.  He’s also shaping something  in those you love who are walking with you.  It’s a needed  part of their story that will develop  deeper compassion and patience and enduring love.

God’s love never fails.  What He started in you, He’ll see you through.  He often does His greatest work in our weakest places.  Don’t give up.

Racism and a Season of Repentance

 

Racism and a Season of Repentancealifegivingmoment.wordpress.com (1)We’ve reached half-time in the Lenten season and it’s time to go into the locker room and get the pep talk to finish well, right!  What were the words again? …Repent …Refresh … and in the words of the Anglican Rector, Rev. Geoffrey Hatley at the Ash Wednesday service“re-orient our life to Jesus Christ” …to focus on Him …to repent of our sins, “habits, and patterns that have led us astray” …to renew our faith …a coming back / returning to the Lord.”

There are known sins that come to mind  — easily  identified– and then there are some that come at you out of nowhere …barreling in  like a line-backer …hitting you in the chest full-force …when you didn’t even see him coming.  With your chest caved in, the heaving begins …and Godly sorrow fills the deep well.  Let it do its work, I say.  But it can’t stop there.  There has to be a repentance…and  lamenting ...and a response.

As Ann Voskamp reminded me in her Lenten devotional

“Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”

Acts 3:19 (NAS)

Yet this one is heavier.  It’s not my sin alone– but the sins of my people.  Agonizing.  Long-term. Painful. Far-reaching.   Racism.

How do you breathe in enough grace to cover this multitude of sins we have committed.  Some may say that we’ve asked for forgiveness and reconciliation enough …that it’s time to move on and yet who’s to say when  it’s enough  forgiveness and reconciliation when the problem has spanned over 100 years!  How can you begin to repair the horrendous injustices done to our African-American brothers and sisters (and other people groups as well) when  the problem has become so woven into the fabric of our lives that it seems the only answer would be a severe ripping of threads stitched deeply in our thinking.

I’ve watched Selma, 12 Years a Slave, and The Help and I can hardly bear the images and yet I must!  I have to look.  I cannot continue to stay in my own little world and  ignore what has been the reality for so many  …for so long.

To say,  “It’s water under the bridge” seems so shallow when that bridge is stained with the blood of Grandmas and Grandpas, Moms and Dads and innocent boys and girls just longing to be able to drink from the same water fountain of equality.   Bloody Sunday  they called it.  And how on God’s green earth does that line up in any way, shape or form with what we call,  the “Lord’s Day”!  Selma, Alabama — not a 3rd world country …just a few counties south of  my current hometown.  Too close to home!  Too close to ignore!

But the pain and injustice go much further back in history.  Our history.  Slavery — especially in the south. Words that come to mind …inhumane …horrific …bigoted!  The land of the free and the home of the brave?  …Justice for all?

We may not have been the one to raise the whip on the slaves back in the 1800’s  but not raising a finger to help bring justice today might be just as great a crime!  

Back to repentance …

Is there a place to ask forgiveness not only for my own sins but the sins of my people before me?  How can we can continue to stay in our little white bubble and say it isn’t our issue?  My heart has been pierced …the bubble burst!  I. Am. So. Sorry!  No time limit can be placed on the deep healing that needs to happen when the wounds cut so deep!

God forgive me!  Forgive US.  I repent of staying blissfully ignorant far too long!  I repent of not looking into the deeper roots of injustice while personally enjoying the shade of freedom.  God have mercy on us all!

And lead us not into temptation today to continue any wrong — perpetuating any  racist attitude.  Let us truly love one another –African-American, White, Hispanic, Asian, Islander, European, Middle-Eastern …

And let us not repeat history with our friends across the border …made in the image of God …beautiful …loved …needed in our lives!  Let us build bridges instead of walls!  Let us not trap ourselves in our own prejudices within our gated communities!   Left to ourselves, we’ll come to ruin.  Viruses easily spread in the incubator of isolated groups.  Let it not be so on either side.

With Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I have a dream as well …that churches and organizations would display a  beautiful array of diversity in age, race, financial status, and background.  Let us break down the barriers that so often divide us  and keep us from experiencing the beauty in  diversity.

“I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

(from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom , August 28, 1963)

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Our little granddaughter, Haddie with her buddy, A.J., at Westside Community Church

Even so, Lord Jesus Come!  May it be so!

And if you’re looking for some tangible ways to make adjustments, here are some ideas:

  • Make real friendships with people of a different race or background. Eat together. Watch movies together. Pray together. Worship together. Exercise together. Listen to their stories.  Be a part of their family.  Laugh and cry together.  Do life together.   And above all, LOVE each other deeply.
  • Get involved in groups and activities where you are in the minority and do a lot of LISTENING.  One of my favorite things to share with people about my life here includes the phrase, “…and I’m the only white girl in the group!” 🙂
Here's a PLUG for our "Can't Stop. Won't Stop." exercise group that meets every Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Oscar Mason Library with Shaquila Willie as our inspiring, amazing instructor! See here story HERE
Here’s a PLUG for our “Can’t Stop. Won’t Stop.” exercise group that meets every Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Oscar Mason Library with Shaquila Willie as our inspiring, amazing instructor! See here story HERE.
  • Visit churches or events hosted by those of a different race/culture than your own.  There is so much beauty and wonder in  diversity.  Don’t wait until heaven to enjoy it.  The music and expressions are a part of God’s image that you won’t want to miss!
  • As much as you can,  find yourself more in the mix of cultures than isolating in your own little group.

God has beautifully woven a multi-cultural mix in our home church, Westside Community Church–(formerly 100x Church) here in Huntsville, AL.  We’ve intentionally prayed for it and made huge investments in the process relationally as well as in our leadership team.  We’re still learning and have many more miles to travel in the process but  thank God, it’s becoming a beautiful mix.   Here’s a Sunday morning message that might stir some more thoughts in the process …and it just so happens to be by a favorite teacher of mine–our Missions pastor  …my husband, Roger Martin. 🙂

You can watch the entire series entitled,  “Culture Wars” and more HERE.

*March 7th marks the anniversary of the Civil Rights event in Selma, Alabama known as  “Bloody Sunday”.  Consider taking some time to reflect and respond as the Holy Spirit may lead.

The Calling to the Back of the Bus {Revisited}

We’ve been celebrating Black History Month now for –well …almost a whole month!  I’m late to the party and sadly, I’ve been late both in “real-time” and in  too much of my “life-time”.  God is changing that.  He is changing me!  I’m still learning but I believe there has been movement in the right direction — the direction straight to the heart of God.   I just sat through another enormously impacting conference sponsored by the community development organization,  The CornerStone Initiative …”Better Together”.  I’m still in deep process.  My head is swimming and my heart is  still stretching.  It’s hard to know where to even begin the conversation again so I’m pulling up one from the archives and revisiting what the Holy Spirit spoke back then.  How far have we come since then?  How far have I come since then?

…So this giving of your  money and possessions thing seems pretty clear but a “moment” began happening for me as a shift took place in my mind from possessions to positions …a “what if” kind of moment.

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Rosa Parks (Photo: Public Domain)

Follow me for a minute on this shift to …the moment .  I remembered the story of Rosa Parks–this hero of a woman — who, back in the day of such strong racial prejudice and abuse, stood her ground and refused to go to the back of the bus for the sake of a white passenger whom the bus driver deemed more worthy of a seat at the front of the bus.  Her courage made history for African-American people everywhere that day and  I am still so proud of this woman’s courage in the face of such opposition but the thought occurred to me…

What if someone  who was sitting in the place of  “privilege”  at the front of the bus  had “chosen” to give up their “position” and go to the back of the bus, making it possible for  someone  under-privileged , mistreated  and devalued   the opportunity  to move to the front ?

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Then a flood of other thoughts from my favorite Book came to mind…

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”

 More words like…

“Freely you have received, freely give”

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mark 9:35 (NIV)

It seems that whole “least is greatest” and “the first shall be last” is more like a revolving door to me.

There was a theme here that was becoming imprinted deeper and deeper on my heart.  I’ve been given so much in the way of material blessings, spiritual blessings, family and friends who love me deeply and on and on.  (Reminds me of another truth…to whom much is given , much is required. )  What if I make choices every day to “move to the back of the bus” in a sense, so that others who are under-resourced, poor, demeaned, de-valued, abandoned and alone might have the opportunity to “move to the front of the bus” ?  You know– take the lower spot so others can rise to the top kind of thing.  Funny thing is, it doesn’t have to be a measured distance or amount– it’s just that….

 if the...” willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

2 Corinthians 8:12-15 (NIV)

Amounts are never the issue…it’s willingness of heart. Doing something rather than nothing at all  seems to matter.  

I’m not exactly sure how this might look on a daily basis for each of us.  It’s not any amount or action dictated by others necessarily.  That’s the beauty … and the pain of it all… it’s a decision I have to make in my heart .  It’s sometimes easier if someone just tells me what to do, I respond in some safe fashion,  and then I feel all warm and fuzzy inside — my “generosity” box checked for the day, week or even year !   But when I’ve got to look into my own heart and see some areas I could make a difference — make  different choices about purchases , positions, etc. — that takes some soul-searching and who wants to go there on a regular basis 🙂 .

Not surprising,  giving of our possessions seems easier — more tangible — giving of our position — much harder.  

These are questions I would never in a million years try to answer for you  …just ask you to re-think the obvious “climbing the ladder” scenario of our culture.  We might have to step on pride and security and safety and significance and comfort — OUCH !

Maybe it will mean moving to a different state …or a different  kind of neighborhood–choosing to be okay with a not-so-great school system …taking a  position at work with less hours or less pay so more hours can be spent helping others …hiring someone who desperately needs some income instead of hiring that highly acclaimed professional.  That paint job might not look quite as  good on your door as you had hoped, but the confidence it painted on them will look Designer – phenomenal !

And what about letting someone else take the lead on something when you know think you could do a much better job.  After all, allowing others to grow in their gifts can be risky and messy and sometimes you feel it’s just easier to do it yourself and save the time and hassle of it all !

I guess it’s the whole attitude I want to have more of … taking the bottom rung so others can move to the top for a change — encouraging others to move forward and experience their dreams even if I have to switch positions or hold my current place in line for a bit longer.  After all, haven’t I been at the front of the bus long enough?? and isn’t moving back really moving forward in God’s kingdom thinking ?  Wasn’t it Jesus Himself who moved to the back of  the universe , planet Earth, so we could move up with Him to His kingdom and share in all the  royal  family benefits !? Now there’s a great Model to look at  …

 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross …”

(Hebrews 12:2 NIV)

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8:9

What might your “back of the bus” decision look like this week?  I’d LOVE to hear your life-giving choices .  Who knows?… maybe we’ll make a difference — one back seat at a time.

So go ahead — let’s go to that vulnerable place in our soul  and soak in the words of this song  by Matthew West – “My Own Little World” and start asking God where He might have us “sit” today.

 

Photo creditwikipedia.org  –with their description–“Photograph of Rosa Parks with Dr. Martin Luther King jr. (ca. 1955) Mrs. Rosa Parks altered the negro progress in Montgomery, Alabama, 1955, by the bus boycott she began. National Archives record ID: 306-PSD-65-1882 (Box 93).”  Public Domain

The End of the World …and More

A theme captivating many movie-watchers over the years –The End of the World Is Coming !  My husband and I found ourselves eating popcorn to such a movie last week and if nothing else,  it brought up some thought-provoking  conversation.

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The radio announcer broke through all regularly scheduled programming to announce that all hope for help was gone.  The earth would be destroyed in 3 short weeks.  Stunned silence.  Blank stares.

The following scenes depicted a story line that I think might be typical in real life of how many would respond to such news of impending doom …Keeping busy with “business as usual”  …throwing all moral judgment  out the window …escaping reality  …looting …riots …panic …suicide …getting with those you love …or finding God.  

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Then came the question that begged an answer, “What would WE do in that scenario?”  and Roger and I found ourselves in a different story line that went something like this …

Knowing that we both are securely in the hands of Jesus for now and eternity, we had no fear for ourselves or for our family who are walking  with us on that same road with Jesus.  We knew we would be together forever.  Our concern was for those who still have yet to invite Jesus into their lives and receive His grace and forgiveness.  We would want to take them all by the hand and show them the way home to the Father while there was still time.

As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it. For God says,

“At just the right time, I heard you.
    On the day of salvation, I helped you.”

Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 6:1-2 (NLT)

Jesus replied, “My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going.  Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.”

John 12:35-36 (NLT)

I didn’t want anyone  to experience horrific doom that never ends.  They will be punished with eternal destruction,  forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power.” from 2 Thessalonians 1. But Being forever separated from God would be the most terrifying of all.  I wouldn’t want that for anyone!

But after all of the above conversation, a strange sense of  calm came over me that I didn’t expect.

For me …

If the end of the world was imminent, there would be NO FEAR …about what  other people might think of me because …who really cares? The next eyes I’d look into  would be Jesus’  — not the glare of others.

There would be NO FEAR of death.  Let’s face it,  we’re all going to die but in Jesus, my life is forever etched in His hands  through His death on the cross!

Diabetes, cancer, heart disease …would all be a thing of the past.

Decisions would be easy to make. Time would be short.  Doing only what really, really matters would …well… really matter!

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Whew!  Deep thoughts!  …not over yet!

Ironically — while enjoying my cup of hot, delicious  pour over coffee in my quiet space the next morning — Jesus shed some light on the box office hit topic as well…

THE END OF THE WORLD IS COMING SOON. 

(from I Peter 4)

This conversation is clearly NOT OVER and  I’m pretty sure the Holy Spirit is up to something!

…Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.  Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. (I Peter 4:7-9)

Continuing on …

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.

Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you.

Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies.

Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen. (I Peter 4:10-11 )

And here’s what I’ll call my “movie review” to all of this…

If you’re still looking for your way home, this is my attempt to hold out my hand to you and invite you to join me as I walk with Jesus …because He is The Way!  Now is the time!  Jesus is always listening and available.  Call now! He already knows your name–you just need to call on His.

If you’re already on the road to heaven …

  • Pray!
  • Love deeply!  
  • Share your stuff with others!  
  • Use your gifts well!  

“Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ.
All glory and power to Him forever and ever!  Amen !”

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 *Scripture quotations are from the New Living Translation

We’re Always “Better Together”

I love God.  I love people.  I love connecting the two.

I believe life is always “better together”.  Since the beginning of creation, God saw that it was very good for Adam  to have Eve.  There’s no shame in needing others.  It’s the way we were created.

For a few years now I’ve been very closely connected to a non-profit organization, The CornerStone Initiative.  I love the heart behind this organization so much so that I humbly serve on their team.  The mission of CornerStone is simple, yet far-reaching …

The CornerStone Initiative is an asset-based Christian community development organization committed to empowering individuals and communities for restoration and transformation through collaboration for education, employment, and enrichment.

CornerStone’s mission is to offer relational support and resources for residents to effect revitalization of neighborhoods based on Christian values of justice, compassion, equality, and peace.

The thing is — we could begin programs and initiatives all by ourselves and try to make a dent in the social justice here in our city– but why would we?  Why would we do all that by ourselves when we have a city full of people who not only want to make a dent but want to rebuild the whole!  We have a city full of very talented, gifted, financially blessed, big-hearted individuals who really want to make some difference in this world…but may not know exactly how or where to start.

What if … we connected all of our “islands”  and  all worked together for the good of the poor?

What if … we worked together to do what Isaiah talks about and rebuild the broken walls in our neighborhoods?

 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Isaiah 58:12 (NIV)

What if …we all worked together to help others find  sustainable income?

What if …we all worked together to support good education for those who don’t have the same privileges we might have grown up with?

What if …we all worked together to listen and build relationships with people of all social income and economic levels to bring dignity to all?

What if …instead of just “going in to help here and there” we stayed in relationship with others of diverse backgrounds and race?

Seem overwhelming?  I have GOOD NEWS ! 

The CornerStone Initiative is hosting an amazing ONE-DAY event to give tangible hands and feet to this thing we call, loving the poor and marginalized and doing the real life stuff of collaborating for healthy community development in our neighborhoods …

C4 – CornerStone Conference for Community Compassion:  BETTER TOGETHER and you can REGISTER HERE .  

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Also, we are privileged beyond words to have these amazing speakers …

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I have to tell you, I absolutely love listening to people who have paved the way before us and have been serving in the glorious mess of it all before I even had any of this on my radar (as my husband says!).  I desperately need these voices in my life for my own good as well as for the good of others God may put in my path.

We at CornerStone  are incredibly blessed to have John Perkins join us this year.  This man has lived it out for longer than many of us have been alive and I have this longing to learn from His wisdom and long walk with Jesus.  To whet your appetite for a sample of what we’ll hear at the conference … Listen to his voice in the video below as he leans in to the gospel message of Jesus Christ for reconciliation …restoration …relationships for justice for all  …and take the next step to link arms with others for the sake of the whole gospel!  Because as God would have it– we truly are … Better Together!

{E-mail readers– you may have to click on the blog site to view the video.}

If you or your church or organization would like to go a step further and invest in something of lasting benefit … consider becoming a  sponsor for this event, by clicking  here –or contact my good friend, Debbi Akers @ debbi.akers@cornerstone-al.org 

Help is on the Way !!

I need help !  I’m getting a clearer sense that the word for this season is “listen” and when you really need help, you really need to listen.

Listening to Jesus …

 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Matthew 22:37-39  (NIV)

I’ve been loving God and loving others and trying to walk that out in real-life with real people  but I have to admit, sometimes it all gets messy and lines gets blurry and I’m not always sure what is the best way to help  my community.  

Listening to God’s wisdom …

Get wisdom.  Get understanding … (See the book of Proverbs !)

Wisdom says listening to those who have walked this path longer than I have makes good sense  and thankfully, my friends at The Cornerstone Initiative are providing a great opportunity for me to do just that …sit and listen to those who have been on this journey of walking with the poor , the under-resourced, the marginalized, the vulnerable.    They are calling the event — “Cornerstone Conference for Community Compassion {C4} …Beyond Relief”.

Listen as they describe the upcoming event …

“Often programs addressing poverty center around “betterment” – free food, free clothing, free utility or rent assistance.  Yet, could it be that we are actually enabling poverty and creating entitlement and dependency?

“Beyond Relief” will provide opportunities to listen, learn, share, vision, and collaborate for actions yielding long-term solutions for economic, educational, social, and /or spiritual poverty according to Christ’s relational model, so all parties give and receive as we work together for positive social change.”

Here are the speakers we’re planning to listen to …

Robert Lupton – C4 Keynote Speaker –  He is the author of several  best-seller books, including “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It)” and “Compassion, Justice, and the Christian  Life: Rethinking Ministry to the  Poor”.

 Dr. Brian Fikkert – Co-author of When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself”

Noel Castellanos – CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, Noel teaches the importance of long-term commitment to personal relationships for effecting significant social change in under-resourced communities.

Kevin Singleton – Founder of Elevate New York, Kevin inspires inner-city youth in the Bronx Title 1 Schools to make positive differences in their homes, schools, and communities.

Patty Lowe – Executive Director of The CornerStone Initiative in Huntsville and pioneer of “Front Porch, Neighborhood, and Collaboration Conversations”, Patty highlights “listening” as the key to all relationships and the basis of community development.  By vocation she is a missional educator; by avocation she is an “encourager” for the marginalized, the vulnerable, and those needing realization of the unique God-given gifts he or she has to offer.

If  you want to come listen with me — join us February 25th here in the  city we call home — Huntsville, Alabama!  I’ve included all the links below to get you on your way to registration… and beyond 🙂 

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Conference Information and Registration:   http://www.cornerstone-al.com/home/index.php/conference/conference-info

 

Perspective — When Your Friend is Homeless

She wandered into our lives over a year ago …asking for work .  If I could draw a picture, I would draw a  very thin woman — average height —  with sandy blonde hair ,  a contagious  smile  and   sparkling blue eyes.

“Do you have any work I can do ?  I’m hungry.  I just need $4.00.  I’ll do anything — wash windows, clean your bathroom, rake leaves, cut the grass.  ”

She rarely just asks for money — although, there’s the occasional, “Do you have  50 cents so I can buy a  cigarette?”   Most often, the plea is attached to a willingness to do honest  work because she says that makes her feel better about herself .

We’ve let her rake and clean and paint — honest work — trying hard to preserve her personal dignity and worth as best we know how.

The question is often asked, “But what do “they” do with the money they earn ? ”  and I’m wondering if the question that should burn deeper  is , “But what do we do with the money we earn?”

There are some who tell me there’s no hope …”you’ll only change maybe one out of  a hundred”,  they say .  They tell me it’s a  cycle in and out of jail or rehab — cleaning up and fattening up for 3 months or so — then back on the streets again.

Both fear of the “what if” or knowledge of the “what is” can paralyze.  Love frees both to walk.  Reputations come and go  …loving someone home to Jesus lasts forever.  It gets messy .  I get anxious.  Jesus urges me to press through all of that.   I pray for discernment and the Holy Spirit’s minute-by-minute guidance …and try to keep walking.

We have many  conversations around our kitchen island or on our front porch or in our living room as we offer a plate of food or something cold to drink on these hot southern days.  Along with  many  others — neighbors, friends, and family –we offer clothes, necessities ...we offer friendship.

We listen to stories of abuse and rejection and loss and I can’t hold back the tears wondering how anyone could survive her story.  Her birth certificate may give an accurate age according to years  but her face tells time in a whole different way …worn, tired, lonely, heavy.  And yet I see the most beautiful blue eyes and a smile seep through her worn face that brightens any room  …changing the view into someone beautiful …someone who deserves to be loved and valued.

Turns out she loves music and playing the piano and the guitar.  With childlike giddiness, she says, “Let’s go inside and play the piano and sing!”  …and we do just that …me and my homeless friend sitting together  at the piano singing “Amazing Grace” as grace flows down on both of us …both in need of that same grace and both homeless … waiting on our “real home” that’s not of this world.

Her knock on the door one afternoon was of desperation .  She wanted to come in and play the piano or guitar .  Our house was full that day and at first, it seemed a bit of an interruption .  Her persistence melted my heart and we invited her to come on in.  She came in– only to play our little  guitar for a brief few  minutes — much like a 5 year old would do.   It was just what she needed, she said …” to calm her nerves”.

I desperately wanted to take her under my wings and bring her in and give her a home that’s loving and secure …one  she’s always  longed for and dreamed about  but I wondered if walls could hold her …if my normal would fit the largeness of her life …if my borders would  seem claustrophobic for the life of open sky she’s used to.

When she  shows up on our doorstep for a visit, it’s as if a long-lost family member has come home and we welcome her back in every time   — never letting go of her in between the here …or there.  There are hugs, laughter, sometimes   music and almost always eating  together.  There are usually more  stories shared that have marked her life and our’s …ending  with  her famous response —  “Bless your heart”.  But I’ll never forget her words  as she was leaving  one day recently … she turned and said, “Thank you for being my friend.”

Nights later I had a dream.  It was simple, but full of excitement.  I was In heaven saying hello to others I knew  when across the room   a  very thin woman — average height —  with sandy blonde hair  , a contagious  smile  and   sparkling blue eyes turned  around and smiled mischievously. I was so excited …and  shocked !  There she was — my homeless friend !  …an angel all along !

Needless to say, my perspective has changed since that dream !

 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.    

Hebrews 13:2 (NIV)

Sometimes You Just Have to Cry It All Out

There are days and there are weeks — and there are days that seem like weeks.  Stories told one by one that fill the tank of one’s soul.  I love the stories — I live in the stories.  My heart stretches with the story and grows with  new understanding … new compassion .

Some stories bring  so much  joy,  filling  the spaces of your soul until it bubbles all up inside and all you can do is laugh.

When  I hear  our grandbaby laugh out loud  just because she realized she was standing up without holding on, my heart gets joy-full and it  bubbles right  up, spilling over with laughter too.

As I talk through Skype  on our computer  to another  grandbaby far away and she  asks me to read a story to her or make  her blueberry pancakes — but be sure to let her pour the syrup — a big, huge place in my heart fills to the brim with love and it spills right over into deep “Nana happiness” !

Oh and  the other grandbaby — almost 2 — when he  calls me by name  and leans  as close as he can to the computer screen just to give his Nana long-distance kisses  while Skyping — I fill up and melt right over the top like chocolate syrup over warm brownies !

But what happens to your heart when you hear other stories  …stories of a single mother walking more than an hour  just to get her children  to their well-baby check up …just because she “would do anything for her children”! …or stories of another mama with  a heart as big as Texas,    loving on others without a mama in view …and that single parent who  tells his story of desperation to find resources while  trying his best to be a good daddy to his boys, 2 with special needs …  or the call from my hometown telling of a fire — one didn’t survive; the rest of us  struggle  to survive the grief .  And when you break bread together one day  with a homeless friend — happy to have found shelter nearby — only to find him unconscious and needing shelter in a hospital  a few days later …  the heart begins to fill with a different  kind of emotion.

Guilt. Overwhelmed.  Deep sadness.  Ache. Pain.

And sometimes you just have to cry it all out.  

The heart and soul fill up with a mixture of love and grief and anxiety and pain and when all that stirs together in your soul, it just wells up in tears as the body bubbles up all that can’t be fixed or controlled …all the injustices , the things that aren’t fair, and the things that you feel no one should ever have to experience.

You pour out your heart like water before the Lord! You cry out to Him and to those closest to you.  You agonize in your soul over your actions and your responses to the needs.  You look to others  to come alongside and pray Heaven down on these stories and you engage in the  community and cling to them through the mess that has bubbled over all around .

You hold each other  as she  prays that God will breathe life into your friend whose body lays unresponsive and you hold on to the words of  this song the Holy Spirit whispered to her   …

Jesus, I feel You near me 

Your hands giving life to my body 

Your spirit healing life to me 

Holding my heart in sweet security

(“Hands” by The Benjamin Gate)

And then …the miraculous happens and  light seems to break through.

And God whispers life on the walk  up the mountain…

And the little one spontaneously throws her hand up  as if in worship to our Father Who holds the universe in place…

And a little child  leads us into truth and a pure heart of worship!

And my soul — it begins to well up with hallelujahs to the One Who knows each name by heart and sees the pain , the hurt, the injustice, the deepest needs, the anxieties, and  those without the love of a mother or father.  The heart has stretched and the stretching hurts.  But He says we are made for this moment …these stories …this healing.  The safety of my bubble was really an illusion after all.  We are all part of this story — the really-good-news-story !  There is hope !  There is Life !  There is Truth ! Jesus paved the Way with His own life — spilling His blood out for us and the tomb filling up with Life 3 days later — the Song of the Redeemed !

We hold hands in our living room and pray to the Father in Heaven .  He is close to the brokenhearted and knows well what it’s like to be homeless and mistreated and misunderstood.  His mercies are new every day and His compassion never runs out.  I know He’s working and some day my faith will be clearly seen as His Kingdom in  Heaven is poured out on earth.

And when you feel you’ve cried it all out and the soul feels empty, God fills the space with what we need most — His presence !  He will fill us with joy in His presence and show us the path of life  ! (Psalm 16:11)

We’ll find our song through the tears.

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.  Psalm 126:5

And my soul wells up …with hallelujahs !

And my soul wells up with hallelujahs

Oh praise Him all His mighty works
There is no language where you can’t be heard
Your song goes out to all the earth
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah 

 Hallelujahs 

(by Kathy Troccoli)

Would you read another great story ?  …tears … worship :      http://www.kissesfromkatie.blogspot.ca/2012/11/i-watch-tears-roll-down-her-cheeks-and.html

A Walk with the Homeless

Simple plan …take a walk to the local “feed and seed store” for some fresh apple cider — less than a mile of sidewalk but all of eternity in motion.

Just barely out of the driveway and down the first street I pray a simple prayer — “Holy Spirit, fill me…”  — a kind of prayer that also  covers protection and guidance as well in case this little walk gets interesting.

Crossed the bridge.  Passed the projects.

In the distance, I saw a man and a woman with a grocery cart loaded with empty soda cans-now-turned-income-possibility.  Signs pointed to their “less” as an indication  of their “home”.  As I walk closer,   I throw out a —

“Hi !  How are you?”

“I’m blessed,”  he says.

I stop.  “I’m blessed too ! What a great perspective!”, while inside I wondered how he could feel so “blessed” in his “condition.”

But the simple words, “I’m blessed” led to a much longer conversation as the Holy Spirit seemed to whisper to look at this person as if he were Jesus walking down the street.  There was light in his eyes and I knew he was not of this world.  Oh ,  he wasn’t really  Jesus but as he spoke there was something about him and  I knew I had much to learn from him.

Homeless.  Happy.  Blessed.  Not tied to this world.  Content.  Owned little.  Possessed eternity.  Free.  Lived by the daily bread.   Open. Honest.  Realistic.  Eyes open to see the spiritual.  Heart open to all who would engage.

The usual, “where do you live” question didn’t get answered with “such and such a street or subdivision  …you know, the brown house with the green shutters?”  Instead, there was pointing in the direction of a bridge and mention of a camp — a community not made with wood and stone but tents and blankets — a subdivision alright — a division and distinction between what is deemed lower and upper in value and class … of people.

Ironically, this homeless man did look very much like my own flesh and blood brother — the blue-eyed one with the smile as broad as his shoulders.  The more I looked at this blue-eyed  homeless man  in front of me, the more I thought of my own flesh and blood  brother and what if he had ended up homeless.  How would people respond to him on the busy street corner near the bridges of shelter they called ” home”?  Would he be ignored? Laughed at? Assumed an  addict? Judged that  surely it  was his own fault he was in the condition he was in? Would anyone stop to encourage him or feed him or even consider hugging him the way family would? Would people be afraid to touch him at all for fear of disease  or repulsed by the smell?

The eyes — they were smiling blue!  Was it possible that the Holy Spirit allowed me to see the resemblance of my own brother in this homeless man so I would see him through the eyes of family love — God’s family love?  Had God let me borrow His eyes for just a brief moment so I could really see? And was it coincidental that another friend of mine, while having  a conversation with a homeless man just two days earlier,  couldn’t get away from an unsettling thought that he looked just like one of her family members as well?

Family — 2 of my brothers, Dan and the blue-eyed one — Paul, with me and my mom (that would be my husband ducking in the background 😉 (2010)

While washing dishes (so many spiritual insights  come at the sink – moments of life 🙂 ,  that verse washed up   in my mind…

Love your neighbor as yourself.’    Mark 12:30-31

And I thought through the rinsing … “yourself” — my own flesh and blood!  If I love my neighbor as myself — wouldn’t that make this homeless man   my own brother or sister or myself– my flesh and blood.  Isn’t  flesh and blood really all the same?  The address doesn’t change what I’m made of.

Ahhh!!!  Another verse just made sense to me in a whole new way…

Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?       Isaiah 58:7 (NIV)

I had never noticed this before.  Pardon me while I ponder this thought but is the Holy Spirit revealing to us that we are to always look at others as if they were our own brothers and sisters?

There’s another verse that is coming to life for me …

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’  Matthew 25:40

“Brothers of mine”??  Did Jesus just call the least of these His “brothers”?  And I can’t get away from this thought … that homeless man was a brother of mine!  God wanted me to see him as my own flesh and blood and love him in the same way.  We had a  family reunion right on the street corner — hugs and all!

I offered more soda cans — what I had on hand — to stay connected in conversation and story and allow our lives to intersect a little longer.

I walked on to my destination knowing God had already met me on the walk and my destination wasn’t nearly as important as the journey to get there.

Everybody has a story.  Some have homes to share them in.  Some have streets to pound it out on.

Real life is heard in the story and the story is tragically  incomplete if we don’t hear it from many different people  coming  from many different backgrounds.

Wherever you may find yourself–the street, the coffee shop, the living room, the store —  listen for the story …the story your “brother or sister”  is trying to share with you — and love them in their story as much as you love your own.

And the blessing of that homeless man and woman — my brother and sister —  poured out on me that day.

I’m blessed !

From Broken to Bling

When the mission is  “to inspire, train, and connect Christians who seek to bear witness to the kingdom of God by reclaiming and restoring under-resourced communities” , you can only imagine what might happen at one of their conferences !  Christian Community Development Association — (CCDA) — a long title with a huge vision for “wholistically restored communities with Christians fully engaged in the process of transformation.”   Fully engaged Christians was exactly what (who) I experienced there !

I’ve decided that this has been my favorite conference so far (and I’ve been to quite a few) for one simple reason — the people !  … “fully engaged Christians”  who  were all about “reclaiming and restoring under-resourced  communities ” with the power and passion of Jesus Christ using  all the gifts He gives to love others in meaningful  relationships.  We had all left home to attend and yet we all felt very much “at home” with each other…family.

There wasn’t a single hero in the crowd — yet  everyone a hero in their own way.  Phrases  like– “intentionally moving into a neighborhood”, “reconciliation”, “redemption”, “act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with our God”– were commonly overheard in conversation.

In the process of 3 days, several people and their “missional ministries” became very dear to my heart.  Sometimes conversations with others happen in a way that just plain seem orchestrated by God.  I had several of those “moments” and just had to share out of that overflow!

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A lot of things get broken and people are no exception to the breaking. Breaking can take on many forms but we all know what it looks like when something is “broken”.  It’s not healthy …it doesn’t work like it’s supposed to …or it doesn’t look like it’s supposed to …it needs  fixing  or it’ll eventually be thrown out.  We all are  broken in some way but sometimes whole neighborhoods get broken … badly broken.  Sometimes it’s bad choices — sometimes lack of resources — sometimes it’s a lack of good role models — sometimes it just seems like there’s no other option.

I met a couple of amazing young women–Nikki and Heather– who happen to love the broken and with God’s help, are seeking to offer ongoing relationships with those in broken neighborhoods — along with offering better options !  They’re living  with and living out the call of Jesus to “preach GOOD NEWS” — to rescue – to restore – to rebuild – to offer true hope.

Urban Hope
Urban Hope

Nikki shared this with me … “New Life BLING was an answer to a community question of generating income for personal needs as well as needs of the whole family, such as paying bills. Giving young people an opportunity for employment through the vehicle or entrepreneurship AND an alternative to some of the ways of the “street” that teens were feeling pulled into.   One of the most popular creations is “Urban Hope.” Urban Hope charms are made from broken safe glass from busted out bus stops—each charm is a visual display redemption and restoration.”

I’d love for you to meet them so I’m sharing their story with you and, with their permission, some info from their blog site.   I’ll let their words speak for themselves .

Meet  “New Life BLING”…

Handmade by girls and mama’s on Chicago’s westside, BLING brings beauty from the chaos. Within the BLING program, girls as young as age 8 learn to create and sell their own jewelry. Middle Schoolers are taught life and business skills through the small group setting which allows them to develop their jewelry skills, but also develop their character. Two teens were hired as apprentices and acquired many vocational skills key to finding and keeping employment. Mommas meet one morning a week where they are taught a lesson and then challenged to innovate. This time also serves as a time to mutually support one another. Check out our blog at  www.newlifebling.blogspot.com  to read the stories.

Girls used these beautiful beads to learn basic earring skills.
We love color! Bold and beautiful! A 14 year old, her nine year old sister, and 11 year old brother made these memory wire bracelets–it was a family affair!
Stars with an edge! A fourth-grader made these earrings!
Double stranded bracelets made by a very special woman who then proceeded to teach eight other women who then taught their girls.

NewLifeBling’s Shop

Beauty from the Heart of the City.  Born in 2009, BLING is a youth-ran jewelry business that seeks to empower, encourage, and educate young women through the vehicle of entrepreneurship.
“Behold, I make all things new!” This bracelet serves as a reminder of this.
New Life Bracelets
Black, White, and Silver

 Isaiah 61:1

  The Spirit of  the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,
Isaiah 61:3
and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil  of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.
…binding up the broken …wrapping in beauty …displaying God’s splendor !
I LOVE the heart and mission of these women!   Check out their blog site posted above or check them out on Etsy  @
You can be a part of all this wild and  crazy story of grace and do some life-giving Christmas shopping all at the same time 🙂 !