When They Reunite

We heard her before we saw her, a high squeal echoing across the parking lot. It is a universal motherhood truth that if you go any length of time without seeing your child, they will insist on rapidly growing during that period. It’s just a guarantee. The 5 weeks they spent apart turned her little guy into a big boy and she could not believe it!

My favorite thing to do when we bring one of our little house guests back to their family at the end of a hosting is to watch their expression. How does a young mind process the roller coaster they’ve just been on?  Leaving everything they’ve known to be normal and comfortable, settling in to our home’s routine not totally understanding where their parent is or what happens next and then finally being reunited with their parents is a lot. The reactions have been varied.

Sometimes a little one’s reaction to our saying goodbye can make walking away very difficult. But when this little cutie cuddled up into his Mommy’s neck and closed his eyes and smiled so big, we knew what we’ve always known. These little loves that come into our home are not meant to stay forever. They belong somewhere. He belongs with his Mommy. We love them hard and let them go. We let them go, but we never stop loving them.

We have spent four years practicing the art of loving well and letting go. Learning the differences between charity and servanthood. Figuring out what it means to walk alongside someone in their time of need instead of assuming we have a quick fix to solve their problems. Mostly we’ve learned how much we don’t know.

When you start serving people in crisis you do a lot of wondering why they don’t just dig themselves out of the hole they are in. As much as you try not to judge, you have all the opinions and all these ideas about how to solve their problems. “Just dig,” you say. That’s what you would do, right?

After some time, you learn that the tools you always had access to, and the training you just assumed everyone had on how to use said tools are not guarantees for everyone else. You assumed we all were born with the same set of tools: including that shovel. So dig. Dig yourself out. But you were wrong. Not only does this momma not have a shovel to dig….she’s never even seen a functioning shovel. So she doesn’t know HOW to dig. You can tell her until you’re blue in the face that she just needs to dig herself out but it’s not going to change anything.

I refuse to do that now. I’ve found it a lot more effective to hush my mouth and listen. When I listen, I learn that it’s nearly impossible to dig yourself out when all you have are your hands and it continues to pour rain so the ground stays wet. And there is no one around to help you up when you slip in the mud. Instead of saying “just dig” I’ve learned to show someone what a functional shovel looks like and tell them that if they need help digging, I’m here. I’ve learned that, instead of being all talk, it’s a lot more effective to just get in there and get a little muddy.

Today we said goodbye. And we don’t know what our little houseguest’s future holds. But we will love him and love his Mommy and walk alongside them as they learn and grow. And make no mistake about it, it will be messy. We will get muddy. But Jesus isn’t scared of a little mess. So I won’t be either.

 

Thinking

Hi friends. I’m still here. And there is a lot I’ve been wanting to say. Especially to the Christians. Especially about how social justice should be a natural extension of serving Christ. Especially about how loving our neighbor should take priority over political preference. Recently though, I’ve been doing a lot more listening and a lot less talking.  While I think bold, prophetic voices who will proclaim truth are needed (and I refuse to be someone afraid to say hard things) it has been important for me to be slow to speak and quick to listen. Now, what I don’t want to do is be complicit in all the wrong by keeping silent. But what I also don’t want to do is just add to all the noise, noise, noise going on right now. It’s a delicate balance. But I’m still here. And I’ve  spent a lot of time thinking.

I’ve been thinking about the little house guest in our home. He is cute y’all. His happy brown eyes and deep dimples are the most joy inducing things I’ve seen in awhile. Strangers stop and notice him. And I hear a lot of “Oh he’s the sweetest thing.”

And I wonder what the magic age is when a black boy stops being the sweetest thing and starts being intimidating. I wonder this for him and I wonder this for my own son. How old will they be when society stops looking with adoration and starts being afraid?

I spend hours on the phone with the warrior mother of the toddler we tuck in at night. She is college educated and hardworking and has never had to get clean because she’s never been not sober. She is the opposite of the assumptions we make about homelessness. She calls at night and bares her soul in words. You would think her being homeless is the scariest thing about her life. But her biggest fear is not homelessness. No. She knows she will work her way out of that. She is afraid of what will happen to her son when he is no longer a child.  That is something she can’t escape. A home won’t allow her to escape it. A career won’t allow her to escape it. Her son growing up to be respectful,  to work hard, make eye contact and obey the laws won’t change it.  Some day someone will decide he’s not safe because he is large in stature and dark in skin. They just will. My own husband is living proof of this.

And I’ve been thinking about how many people, in the climate we are in today, would clutch their purses or look suspiciously at Jesus Christ himself if he walked in the flesh with his brown Israeli skin and dark eyes in the United States today.

I have no point to make. I have no solution to offer. I just wanted to say that I’m still here. And I’ve spent a lot of time thinking.

My Word for 2017

For the past few years instead of making a New Year’s Resolution I have chosen a word. That word sticks with me throughout the year and is something I hold on to when I’m doing life. For example, 2016 I chose the word joy. I had no idea what I was getting myself into with that word. It was a hard word to live by. But probably the most important for all that 2016 brought.

In the beginning of 2016, we had a baby in our home who was not our own. Her Mommy was homeless and unstable. Navigating all the crisis that came along with that hosting was chaotic, but we did so joyfully. When they were successfully reunited, no longer dealing with homelessness, our hearts were so happy. We chose joy.

My parents, sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew all came to Texas. We all slept under the same roof, we took lots of pictures and did lots of things. We shared meals and worshiped together at church. So many precious moments on that visit. It was so easy to choose joy.

In April, we experienced a first. The first time our family of 5 all had the flu at the same time. We were in pajamas with blankets all over the floor and it was all about the Kleenex and Netflix. A hailstorm quite literally ripped through our roof. I will never forget the way the kids screamed at the windows shattering or the way I pushed them into the closet not fully understanding what was going on. Church family came to the rescue, risking our flu germs to board up windows and tarp holes in the roof. Although we were overwhelmed, we were reminded that God has placed some of the most incredible people in our lives. So we chose joy.

We spent two months hotel-living while the house was being repaired and that was a low point. There was a lot of eating out and taking walks to keep from getting stir crazy and a lot of “please-for-the-love-of-everything-go-to-sleep-already” with the kids. Getting a call during our time there that my father was in the hospital felt a whole lot like getting kicked while I was down. It was ugly. I planned to spend another summer in Florida and tried to wrap my brain around what was happening. I’d like to say that I reached out to my support system and refocused and got my junk together. But mostly I cried a lot and introverted. I did a lot of writing and deleting, I did a lot of giving God a piece of my mind in the car alone with the windows rolled up. But when I did all the shouting and bore my ugly heart and was still met with undeserved grace, I was reminded to choose joy. And that’s what I did.

When dad got poor news from the doctor, when dear friends heard the diagnosis of cancer for the first time or lost people they loved dearly, when there was a messy house and piled up laundry and 504 meetings and “Mom nobody at school likes me.” When the days were too long and the nights were too short it was always, always about choosing joy. Sometimes right in the middle of ugly, painful sadness.

By no means did choosing joy mean living in denial. It meant living in confidence. Confidence that God knew what He was doing even when it didn’t make a lick of sense to me.

When there were highs- like the kids coming home with great report cards or our church starting a clothing closet to minister to the community  or the same dear friend diagnosed with cancer successfully completing radiation or family time at the North Pole Express in Grapevine, or the way Jordyn’s face lit up Christmas morning- the joy that came naturally was not taken for granted. I’d venture to say it was even more sweet.

On the rollercoaster ride that was 2016, I chose joy and the joy of the Lord was my strength.

For 2017- I am choosing a word that is literally tattooed across my wrist.

Hope.

I will admit that a lot of my time has been spent preparing for the worst case scenario. Maybe I have forgotten to hope for the best. Okay, not maybe. Perhaps in the process of learning to choose joy in hard things, I have lost sight of holding on to hope that it won’t always be the worst case scenario over and over. In my life, I have become so busy bracing for what will come next that I have stopped hoping. I don’t want to go into 2017 bracing for impact. I want to hope for a good year. It’s been about survival since March of 2015 and I haven’t been able to dig myself out of that. I’m ready to now.

cfh2bhjuyaaimftSo I will hope. I will look forward to the days that lay ahead for myself and my  family instead of trying so hard to make sure we are ready for every bump in the road…I mean, we’ll still wear our seat belts and everything, but maybe I can just start to enjoy the ride a little more. Maybe I’ll look out the window on our road trips and notice something beautiful. Maybe I will spend the ride in hopeful anticipation of our destination instead of spending the entire time trying to prepare myself for what will happen and how we will handle it if the car breaks down, so to speak.

In 2017, I will hope unswervingly.

What word will you choose?

Merry Christmas!

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Merry Christmas from our family to yours! We have been busy, busy, busy- decking the halls and fa-la-la-la-la-ing. We Christmas so hard around here that we are allowed to use it as a verb. Yes, we love Christmasing. This season has been full of moments where I have laughed so hard I’ve cried- but I’ve also had moments when I cried so hard I had to just laugh. I have learned (and am still learning) that deep, deep joy can coexist with grief or sadness. I am grateful for that hard lesson.

Friends, whether your days have been merry & bright or you’ve been white knuckling it through the entire season (for me, if I’m being honest, it’s been a little of both), I pray that you know that you have value. That you are loved. That there is always, always a reason for hope. Hope in the baby in a manger who caused angels to sing. Hope in the teacher who shared radical truths about loving others as yourself and about how absolutely nothing could ever separate you from His love. And, if all of that fails to bring you solace because of whatever 2016 brought you, I pray you will hope in a man laying down his life so that death, in turn, would lose it’s sting. Hope in the promise of heaven. A promise that one day, no matter how hard things are now, He will wipe every tear from our eyes.

This Christmas, I just want you to know that it’s okay if that’s where you’re at. If that’s the only peace you can find. If the songs and the gifts and the twinkling lights just aren’t doing it for you. If everyone else’s holiday cheer is only serving to make you feel isolated because of your pain. If this Christmas finds you angry. Or sad. Or broken. There is grace for you, friends. If this Christmas finds you feeling a little like a misfit, be encouraged. It is my suspicion that God has a special place in his heart for the misfit. My guess is, it was no accident that Jesus was welcomed into the world so humbly, surrounded by stinky animals and socially awkward shepherds. God was telling us something so very important. The kingdom of heaven is so beautifully upside down, the last being first, the ones once sowing in tears reaping in joy. All are welcome. You are welcome. So there is hope. I pray you will know that hope this Christmas. I pray that hope will carry you through to the next season of your life. Merry Christmas, friends.

(NO)More silence.

Do you remember the horrible video that was trending on the internet showing the aftermath of Philando Castile’s death?  The week all of that happened, was the week that I started to feel alone. Because I couldn’t quit crying over a traffic stop turned murder.

I started reminding Kevin to be safe on the road and checking to make sure he made it to work. I started looking at my son and trying to imagine him as a man that the world would look at differently than I do. But the statuses I read on Facebook, many from people we know and love, didn’t reflect that same kind of upset. Instead, these were the general (and frequently repeated) ideas that I saw:

  • The media just creates racism to separate us. Don’t feed into it and it will go away.
  • Philando Castile probably didn’t have a permit to carry.
  • IF he did in fact have a permit, he probably did something stupid like move abruptly or reach for it.
  • Philando Castile was wanted for a robbery and if you don’t commit crimes, you have nothing to worry about.

Fast forward to present day.

The DA announces that charges will be filed against the officer. After reviewing the full dash cam video, he refutes every single assumption made about Philando Castile. He did have a permit. He did inform the officer correctly. He did keep a calm voice and made no abrupt movements. He was profiled by the officer, pulled over for having a wide set nose which the officer claimed matched a suspect in a robbery. He was NOT involved in a robbery. He was just black.

And guess what? My Facebook feed is silent. The total opposite of the day that video went viral. Make no mistake about it- had the investigation revealed Philando reached for a gun or threatened the officer or was involved in a robbery, my feed would have blown up with comments. It’s happened before.

As long as you believe racism isn’t “a thing” anymore
As long as you are silent when implicit bias happens
As long as you believe that there aren’t people of color who are suffering or that it’s not your job to care or that if people would comply we wouldn’t have problems
NOTHING will change.

Can media coverage inflame things? Sure. But you guys- actual real people are sharing their stories. Real life discrimination is happening and you aren’t listening. Mostly because you aren’t even stopping to ask.

And so for now, there is a large community of people who will continue to imply with actions or words (or maybe with lack of action and silence) one strong belief- that black bodies are dangerous.

It hurts me to type that sentence out. But you can’t tell me it’s not true.

For as long as white women clutch their purses when my husband walks by them, it’s true. For as long as he is watched in stores, it’s true. When he gets pulled over for forgetting to use his turn signal in a turn lane and the officer wants to look in his vehicle with a flashlight and asks why he’s in the area (not expecting he would actually live here) it’s true. When the doctor is sharing the importance that he stay on top of his asthma but feels the need to strongly emphasize that asthma causes death in “inner city people” it’s true. (We live in the suburbs-but whatever.) When guests at his place of business are (unpleasantly) surprised that he’s the one who runs the building, it’s true.

And he just deals. He lets go of the anger and prays for peace over and over again. He rises above. But I resent that he has to do that.

I resent that Kevin is a father, that he nurtures babies in crisis that are not his own, that he provides well for us financially and loves Jesus and works hard and loves to sing along to Journey or Prince and studies spelling words with the kids no matter how tired he is- but to people who don’t know him-he’s reduced to being just a black body. And that underlying belief is there- that black bodies are dangerous to people. So they will fear him or be suspicious of him or assume to know something about him.

And what hurts most is that if you DO know him, you might view him as the exception to your rules. Rules that you may not even admit out loud that you’ve made. Rules you may not even realize you’ve made.

Maybe the media does make things worse. But maybe just because you don’t personally know people who are being discriminated against because of the color of their skin, it doesn’t mean racism is being made up out of thin air because someone wants attention or is playing the victim or is causing division. I got permission from my husband to talk about him today. But I know lots of other stories from lots of other people. Some of those stories much, much worse than anything my husband has experienced. Not media stories…real living and breathing people. And it doesn’t go away just because you ignore it or refuse to acknowledge it. Silence makes us complicit. So I will stop being silent.

Bryson’s 8th Birthday Letter

Oh Bryson. How did this happen?! You’re so big now!

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I can’t even stand it! In one week you’ll be an 8-year-old and you are growing at a rate that far exceeds my ability to memorize every moment. But I wish I could. Because every moment with you is a gift. You are a gift, bud. Here are some things I want to make sure I don’t forget about your almost 8-year-old self:

-Fridays are your favorite day of the week. Mostly because of your love for video games. You aren’t allowed to play video games on school nights. But on “Fun Fridays” as we’ve begun to call them, we pick up a fun treat on the way home for school and then you get to turn on your Xbox and have at it! It makes you so happy. You’re very gracious about explaining how to play when Mommy grabs a controller and you are good at sharing the games with your sisters, too. You’ve even beat Daddy a couple times! And not even because he let you! You’re just getting really good!

-You like to protect people. Your big sister has come home from school a few times this year feeling frustrated. When you hear that someone has hurt Layla’s feelings, it is unacceptable to you. You say encouraging things to her and then every. single. time. you tell her you want to talk to the people giving her trouble. She gets flustered and says “Bryson, relax, I’ve got  this!” and you say “I’m your brother. I’m not going to let anyone hurt you. You tell me if they don’t stop and I’m going to talk to them, Layla!” You are gentle with Jordyn because you recognize she is smaller than you. You use your quiet happy voice when we are taking care of babies. When we cross the street you put your hand on my back and say you’re “keeping an eye” on me.  It comes naturally to you to look after others. That makes my heart so full. The world needs more compassion and compassion just flows out of you. I pray that trait will strengthen and grow the older you get.

-You are brave. When I was your age, I would get nervous when I had to talk to adults.  Daddy was the same way. But not you. The other day at Target you realized someone dropped an ID card on the floor. I told you we should turn it in. You said “I’ll take care of it!” and then walked right up to the woman working in the pharmacy and said “Excuse me, ma’am. I found this card on the floor. Someone lost it. May I give it to you?” and she chuckled at such grown up words coming out of such a little boy. I admire your confidence.

-You are bright. Sometimes you tell me about stories in the Bible that I had no idea you had even read. You come home from school and complete your homework with ease. You race through your work because it all seems to click so well and we are constantly reminding you to slow down when your brain works faster than your pencil. You are learning so much and starting to have your own ideas and thoughts. Never stop sharing them with me. I love listening to you.

-You are still my baby. And I’m thankful for that. You still love hugs and kisses. You aren’t yet awkward about showing affection in front of your friends. I know that won’t last forever, so I am savoring it. A couple of months ago I told you that when you were a baby there was a song that would put you to sleep if I rocked you and sang it quietly. So now, at bedtime, you’ll occasionally ask me if I can sing it to you again. I kneel down at your bed and you grab my hand and put it on your head. I pet your hair and sing you the same song I sang all those years ago. Without fail your eyes get heavy and your arms go limp. If I look hard enough, I can still see the little baby boy I rocked in my arms in the sleepy face of the great big boy that you’ve become. I treasure that.

-You have big dreams. You don’t just say you want to be a Pastor when you grow up. You talk about how your church will have a Lego center for the kids to build anything they want. And there will be a wrestling center close by so that you can still find time to be a pro-wrestler on the side. And if someone needs a place to stay, they can sleep at your church. And you will feed them. And no one will be allowed to say mean things to each other. Those are awesome dreams to have, sweetheart.

Bryson, I love you. But I also like you so, so much. Of course as your Mommy I’m proud of your achievements, but that pride dims in comparison to what I feel when I think about your character and who you are becoming as a person. I pray that more than being bright or successful or safe in your life choices that you will be brave. That you will do bold things without fear. That you will continue to stand up for what is right. That you will always remember that you are so richly blessed so that you may richly bless others in return. That you will love and serve others even when it comes at a high cost. And listen, I realize I’m asking you to live a sacrificial life when as your Mommy my gut instinct is to want to beg God to give you all the things and make your life easy and safe. But the narrow way is better, bud. Trust me on this one. And I promise you’ll never walk it alone. I will never stop being overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to walk with you. Daddy and I love you so much, Bryson. Happy Birthday!

Another 1st day of school!

Tomorrow I will drop a 1st grader, 2nd grader and 3rd grader off for their first day of school. That doesn’t even make sense to my heart. In my heart they are babies. Just little, tiny babies. Every season of their lives I find that there are things that get dramatically easier (they all wipe their own bottoms, y’all! That is a serious Mom win!) and other things that get more complicated and difficult.

The questions used to be “Is she nursing long enough?” “Is it normal that he isn’t fully potty trained?” “When will I be able to pee alone?!!!” and now it’s “How can I make sure they are kind?” “How do I effectively build their confidence without causing them to be self-centered?” “What if kids bully them….or what if THEY bully someone else?!”

It’s never ending. And so I beg God to help me reflect Him in my role as a mother. And I ask Him to do so much more than just protecting them…I ask Him to make them brave, to help them do the right thing even if it’s hard or unpopular, to show them how to value character above achievement.

The kids and I had a conversation this week that went something like this:

“You guys are going into 3rd, 2nd and 1st grade! And that’s crazy to me because I remember being that age! When I was in 2nd grade there was a girl in my class that didn’t fit in very well..and I don’t know her whole story but I know that she got teased a lot. I wasn’t teasing her, so I figured I was doing the right thing. One night there was a school event and Grandma noticed that the little girl was by herself. And since Grandma is my Mom, she did what a good Mommy should do and told me that if there is someone who needs a friend, I should try to be that friend. Even if my peers thought it was weird. And I’m so happy Grandma did that. Because now that I’m a grown up I understand that being silent when someone is being picked on or left out isn’t the right thing to do. God asks us to be helpers. Grandma was able to teach me to pay attention to those around me and to notice if they are hurting. That doesn’t come naturally to us-by nature we are selfish. But we can try really hard to keep our eyes open and trust God to show us if someone could use a little help. ”

And then the kids shared story after story of times they noticed someone was sad and offered comfort, times someone was being teased and they spoke up, times someone needed a friend and so they tried to be that friend. And we spent even more time talking about ways we could look for opportunities in our lives to help instead of hurt. I walked away from that conversation so impressed with the character God is helping to build in Layla, Bryson and Jordyn.

I share all of that to say that for every question I have about motherhood, for every fear I have about who my children will become-nothing that has happened or will happen in my sweet kiddos’ lives surprises God-and He’s got all of it. He more than makes up for all of my insufficiency and I can trust Him to do the work on my children’s hearts that I can’t do myself. I can go to Him with all of my questions and worries and He will not ignore me. Because he’s a parent, too….He gets it.