Hunger We Can Help Fill {Stooping Low}

The “crowd” is small. But, disappointment in the turnout is quickly replaced with a reminder of the ripples. It doesn’t take a boulder to ripple the water; it takes a pebble. And while the room is mostly empty, perhaps there’s a pebble in the audience who desires change, who feels called to this purpose.

She says the pastor is unavailable to share about the community garden, so a gentleman she’s affectionately nicknamed Gardner Bob will share. As he walks forward, I place my hand to my heart in an “oh, isn’t he sweet” way. He is just what you imagine…older, white-haired, dusty from garden work.

And so very wise.

Gardner Bob tells us the story of the gardens.

His church purchased an apartment building that later had to be torn down.  Because the fill dirt over the former building basement wasn’t packed properly, rebuilding or paving the land wasn’t an option. The land stood empty until the pastor planted a few tomato plants, and the idea of a community garden was born.

Not just any community garden, but a garden for those in need.

Every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday at 3:00 pm, Bob places the fruits of his labor in the stand at the garden’s entrance, and the vegetables are free for the taking. Bob says they don’t police who takes what. He trusts that whomever comes gathers only what he or she needs.

And if you’re wondering how Gardner Bob cares for two large gardens that produce over 7,000 pounds of food each year all by himself, get this..

The garden is planted, picked, watered, and weeded by inmates from the local correctional center.

Awesome, huh? Gardner Bob isn’t just offering valuable vegetables to those who need them, but he’s also providing spiritual food as he works alongside inmates each week, listening to their stories, offering them a meal, and loving them well.

Bob tells us of his conversations with the inmates as they plant and pick. Their thankfulness for hamburgers and chips during the lunch break. Their stories of mistakes made and punishment applied. He reminds us the “criminals” who come to complete community service hours at the gardens are human beings, made in God’s image.  I can tell he enjoys his time with them. He says, “I treat them as if they are from any other job agency.”

Bob sums his gardens up in one sentence:  “We wanted to produce food, but I think there’s another hunger we can help fill.”

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As I listened to Bob speak, I think of all the seed planting and fruit producing language in the Bible. Of the parables and the reaping and sowing. But, when I sit down to write, all I can see is Gardner Bob quietly serving and sacrificing each day to give food to those in need and to love those who are down and out.

Bob is past retirement age. He could be sitting on his porch, watching the sunset, and sipping sweet tea. But Bob bends over day after day, stooping low to pick vegetables and love others.

Isn’t that just like Jesus? Who stoops low to love an outcast. Who eats with tax collectors and sinners. Who loves and serves the least of these. Who plants seeds of love and hope in all who meet him.

And Bob doesn’t stoop because he’s above and they’re below. He stoops because that’s where he can serve. That’s where the fruit is. That’s where he can love. That’s what Jesus did. And perhaps we are most like Jesus when we stoop.

I pray I always take the time to notice. To bend down and give a helping hand. To bend down and listen and to love . I am not sure what to do with what I heard from Gardener Bob last night. But, I pray God leads me to a life of stooping.

 

Psalm 113: 4-8

The Lord is exalted over all the nations,

   his glory above the heavens.

Who is like the Lord our God,

   the One who sits enthroned on high,

who stoops down to look

   on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust

   and lifts the needy from the ash heap;

 he seats them with princes,

   with the princes of his people.

 

{Thanks to Stacy DeCicco, the United Way, and the Mountaineer Food Bank for introducing to me Gardener Bob and giving me the privilege of seeing The Starfish Throwers. May we all be Difference Makers!}

The Couple Who Helped Me See Him { And I Thought It Was Random}

We step into the muggy interior with mismatched tables and eclectic chairs with customers to match.  A (seemingly) random stop for lunch as we travel home.

The hostess ushers us to the back, and we squeeze around the corner table about two feet from an older couple.

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I always notice older couples. Perhaps it’s because I know they have a story to tell.  I smile as I see them holding hands or sharing a meal. What a gift to be nearing the end of life but still have a spouse, a companion walking alongside you. It seems rare to me. Maybe that’s why I notice.

I eavesdrop as I look at my menu. She’s in her (late?) 70s, reading “today in history” aloud from an app on her smartphone. The great London fire ended today, and do you know that it ended the Black Plague?

How? He asked.

It killed all the rats and things spreading the disease I think, she said.

They order and look toward us, making eye contact. They ask us where we are from and we ask the same. They’ve moved to a smaller town in West Virginia to avoid the traffic of their larger hometown in Virginia. They’re in town to see the bird banding at Dolly Sods. They love this restaurant.

She sipped tea. He wore the napkin as a bib along with a large med alert bracelet. As we turned back to our food and they back to theirs I hear him ask…where do we live? She repeats the town and state.  Patiently, kindly, as if for the first time.

She repeats the day in  history. She repeats what he ordered for lunch.  Later, he’d ask us again where we lived, and we’d repeat too.

And she never once made an excuse for his memory or lack of. She simply continued patiently and kindly repeating…we are staying here tonight. We plan to see the bird banding tomorrow.  We are about to eat pizza…

I continue to slip a glance here and there toward their table. I watch her cut his food. I listen to their steady conversation, and my eyes fill with tears. I wonder at my tears – at why I find the couple a mix of heartwarming and heartbreaking. I find myself wanting to tag along to the bird banding. Wanting to help them – even though it seems they need no help.

They’ll be driving across the country to California to see their grandchildren this month. The wife says it’ll be slow going as she’s the only driver.

My friend says God has prompted her to pay their bill. (Side note: I can’t tell you how much I learn about Jesus by living life alongside her).  I love that she’s thought of this. I am giddy waiting for their reaction – like a kid on Christmas morning.

When it’s time for them to leave, the waitress says, “your check has been paid” then points to my friend and says, “by this young lady.” We didn’t expect the waitress to reveal who paid for it, just that it had been paid. But, what a gift….

The older lady says, “I’m speechless…perhaps in 57 years of marriage I’ve earned a free meal, but I’ve only seen this happen in the movies.”

My friend says, ”Well, we’ve been blessed watching how you love and care for one another, so we wanted to bless you in return.’

She thanks us over and over. And she explains that we’ve paid her bill to her husband a few times. And they leave slowly with huge smiles.

Sometimes our women’s ministry team will ask one another, “where did you see Jesus today?”  And on this day, I can easily answer because I paused enough to soak in life, to be still, to enjoy, and to notice.

I saw Him in the way a wife cared for her husband. I saw Him in the generosity of my friend. I heard in the perspective of a woman who had lived many years – too many years to let Alzheimers slow her or her husband down. I saw Him in the food placed before me when I know so many starve to death every day. I saw Him in the smiles of my kiddos as they sat across the table from me sharing stories and insights. I saw Him in the restaurant owner as she gave grace to two new employees who were struggling to keep up with their tables.

Where have you seen Jesus today? Because if you stop and look, stop and breath, stop and listen…he’s there. Every where. Look for him today.

When You’re Fresh Out of Amazing {We Can’t Do It All}

Dishes in the sink, scuff marks on the floor, bed unmade. General clutter. Mail, books, the jewelry I wore yesterday. Bills need paid. Dinner needs cooked. Laundry awaits. One child is home; one is waiting on me. A text alerts me that a client needs help. I sit my overloaded backpack on the floor, knowing I’ll have to finish working later – much later.

I am overwhelmed. I don’t voice it. Never voice it. Because I will conquer this feeling, this house, this clutter, this to-do list.  I will not fail. I will navigate becoming a single mom in superstar ways, leaving everyone to wonder, “how does she do it?”

I will.

Deep breath.

Lord, give me strength. Give me anything.  I don’t know how to do this.

I cook and sorta clean. Laundry in. Hugs given. I listen with one ear as I mentally recount my to-dos. They know I am not all there. They sense it, and I hate it.

Lord, I want to do this well. I really do. But, I have no idea how.

I am fresh out of amazing.

I know it deep down; I write it in my journal…Lord, I am failing here. I look like super single mom on the outside, but I am losing me on the inside. I am frazzled and forgetful.

That moment was almost a year ago. I still feel it some days, but it’s the exception not the rule.

Have you felt that way? As if you’re fresh out of amazing? Those are the words of Stacey Thacker and the title of her new book: Fresh Out of Amazing.  These are among the moments in the book that spoke to me…

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You are so very tired of being the one is strong and dependable and brave (11). Yes, I was. Yes, I am

God has indeed met me in my mess, but my fixer-upper heart needed a complete remodel. My foundation had cracked under the weight of other people’s expectations, my walls were covered with to-do lists, and my wiring was outdated by the idea that I was responsible for everything (26/27)  Did I write this? How does she know?

He desires our maturity more than just our maintenance (27). I spent two full years in maintenance mode. Running on the treadmill of life. Going nowhere. Just keeping up.

Growing up others would describe me as dependable, teacher’s pet, obedient, and conscientious (35). My childhood and high school friends need not chime in;) After all, my senior class voted me Teacher’s Pet and Most Likely to Succeed. Enough said.

Our sense of responsibility can and should lead us to care. But doing is optional. Besides, we can only do so much (36).  I still fight the “doing” urge. But I know this to be true. Very true. All missions aren’t mine. I care. Really. But I don’t have to do.  

A woman stretched thin has a temper to match. Responsibility can cause me to be overwhelmed to the point that I become pretty hard to live with… (37) I tell everyone within a room or two of my voice all the things I am doing all by myself. I tell I have had it. I mean had it.

Ugh.  I can see myself in the kitchen. Cooking. Washing dishes. One child is on her phone at the table – two feet from me. The other child is in the living room. And I blow a gasket. You can SEE I need help. Why aren’t you helping? I secretly wonder…do they not love me? Do they not see how hard I am trying to do this well? Or. Maybe.  Mom had juggled so long without help – without asking for help – that they had no idea I might want help.

Only one Person can help when I am at that breaking point…Jesus. (41) Truth. Just plain truth.

Martha was busy but she didn’t have to be burdened…She was set free to be who God made her to be. She could still be a servant like Martha, but she could first be filled up like Mary. (45)

Stacey’s insight into the Mary/Martha story changed my perspective. I have always thought…I am so like Martha. And that’s horrible.  But, sisters, you can be like Martha – it’s NOT BAD.  It’s lovely to be hospitable. To serve. But only from a place of filling.  Of movement toward him first. Love this!

If none of this “way too busy” talk resonates with you, there’s also other ways you might be fresh out of amazing….

She’s Amazing and I’m Not: The curse of comparison is fueled by our insecurity and our fear that will never measure up.

I Feel Like My Dreams Have Died: Jesus does beautiful work in our broken places.

Liar, Liar Pants on Fire: Those lies that “dwell and reproduce” within us. Be aware of the lies you believe.

When You’ve Lost Your Song in the Valley of Bitterness: Stacey shares the day she lost her daddy.  When you’ve lost a daddy too, your eyes just don’t move across the page; they swell with tears.  You know this pain too.  I will confess I recognized more of myself than I wanted to in this chapter.

Part 2 of the book is an invitation to wrestle…to watch and wait…to write it down…to worship…to take mercy. To Jesus. And ultimately, Stacey asks us to “grab your Bible and get to know the Great Big God who desires to revive your heart.”  The best advice ever.

You should know…I received an “review” copy of Fresh of Out Amazing from the author a few months ago.  When you’re a blogger, you often get early copies in exchange for a post and social media shares. But, I’ll be honest. I don’t always do either. If I don’t think my people should waste time on the book, then I won’t share it. But, this book? It resonates. And I think you’ll love it.

** Visit Stacey here to get some freebies!

He Wastes Nothing {A Full Circle Moment}

I walk in the empty room, and it feels like I live there.  For a moment I see the room as it was…Tweety Bird comforter. Bugs Bunny poster.  I see friends sitting on my bed and in my chair. My word processor on the desk. Robe on the closet hook.

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Twenty-two years since I called this room my home. Since I eagerly opened packages from my momma addressed to Sarah Bailey, 2411 Lyon Tower, West Virginia University, Morgantown.

And it seems so much the same.  Like I’m 18, not 40.

[Side note: Have you done this? Gone back to a place that defined your life? It’s like time stops, right?]

I turn back from the window and my daughter stands in the door – 2411 just visible over her head. And this feeling comes over me.  I wish I could give voice to the moment, but words feel so inadequate.

Joy, I think.  But there’s peace too.  It’s this nanosecond in which I feel God deep in my bones say…I see you.  I waste nothing.  Just look at her!  I have created this moment.

I met Hannah’s dad on this floor. One floor up or down. Another dorm. I’d (probably) never have met him. We didn’t share a major or classes. Different states, different interests  But we did share a floor, a common room with only one TV, and my word processor.

And regardless of how life looks like now, I look at my beautiful, ambitious Hannah standing in the doorway where her dad stood day after day, and I know: this is full circle, friends. This is…she couldn’t possibly be standing there without a sovereign God who loves me and her dad and her.  All of us.

He wastes nothing.  I know in the moments of anger and hurt, it seems He wastes. I know in the seasons of rejection and loneliness, it seems God has left the building. I know in THIS MOMENT, you do not understand. Me either.

But God.

He knows, He sees, He allows, He works. He really does.

And I am overwhelmed and thankful that He gave me this unexpected gift. This glimpse of his work, His plan. This nanosecond of joy and peace.  Truly, it was a moment of spontaneous healing that I can’t articulate.

I wanted to jump and down and say…it was worth it!  All of the ick and hurt were soooo worth it because LOOK AT HER! Look at what God brought through the young couple in Lyon Tower.  Even if we messed it all up later…just look at her.  [insert all the heart and party emoticons right here!]

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And as I walk back down four flights of stairs, I think of Hebrews 11. It’s the Bible’s Hall of Faith.  It was by faith that Joseph…that Moses…that Abraham…that Isaac…that Sarah and on and on.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going… (11:8)

It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed that God would keep his promise. And so a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead (11:11-12)

It was by faith that Moses, when he grew up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. (11:25-26)

The heroes of our faith…going to a foreign land without even knowing his destination , believing she could give birth at 90 years old because God said so, and leaving a life of luxury for oppression.

They did big big things for God. Showed remarkable faith in the following. And guess what?

All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. (11:39)

Friends, they didn’t see all of God’s promises fulfilled or get all he had promised this side of heaven.

And so it is with us. Most of our hurt, pain, sacrifice, and suffering won’t be made whole, explained, or understood this side of heaven. We won’t receive all the promises while still here on earth.

But sometimes, we get a glimpse.  A brief look through the peephole into God’s redemptive work. Into a God working all things together for good. Into the just God who promises that one day He will return, make all things new, and set all things right.

Yesterday, I looked through the peephole of 2411 – a nondescript room on a college campus – and I saw Him at work, felt his peace, and knew His joy.  And I know for sure that He’s a good, good Father holding me in His hands, loving me, redeeming my story, one day at a time.

I won’t see entire plan or know all the answers this side of heaven.  But that’s ok. That’s what faith is.

He Turns the Mess Into a Message After All {for ALL of Us}

I am reading Psalm 139 when I pause and look up.  There’s this moment – one I can’t adequately describe  – when I know: I love each and every one of these women.  Like…really love them.  

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I want to sit beside each woman in the room and read this Psalm to her.  Look in her in the eye and make sure she believes it – deep, deep down.

Before emotion overtakes me, I continue speaking. Except, I am not really speaking at all. I always have a plan and notes; I glance at them intermittently. But, I never really know what the Spirit will bring.

We close with selfies…it is part of His message. (This is my selfie with Tyla Boyd who led worship. She’s amazing!  You should look her up and buy a Forever Redeemed t-shirt!)

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I walk to my seat, remove my earpiece, and sit down. I feel this mix of joy from the gift of sharing his Word with these women. And of burden for each tear shed and head bowed.

Tyla closes us with Jesus Loves Me and those words sink deep into my soul…yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.  The Bible tells me so.  It’s my niece Chloe’s favorite song, which makes it all the better:)

We pray and dismiss.

And then they come. One by one.  Hurting and broken. Stories of divorce and shame and loneliness.

“I am going through a divorce.”

“ I’m rarely in pictures because of my appearance.”

“ I apologize over and over for myself.  You spoke directly to my heart. “

I pray with one woman immediately as her anguish is tangible.

One gal takes my picture…”I plan to look at it when I think I am not good enough, and I want to give up,” she says.

I give a long hug to a woman who silently cried the entire time.  I don’t know the source of her tears, only that her life is hard.

“I plan to quit mentioning that I am divorced. I want to stop apologizing for being me.”

“I’ve been divorced for 10 years. God does bring blessing, but I am lonely a lot.”  Tears slip down her cheeks.

Later I get a message from a woman, mother of four, who ran late because of her kiddos’ schedules. Went to the wrong church. Almost gave up and went home. But decided to come anyway.  She’s thankful because God had a word waiting just for her.

And another very young woman who feels she’s not pretty anymore. So very critical of her appearance (and she is so pretty!)  She’s decided to repeat Psalm 139 to herself in the mirror.  To claim it and believe it.

Women of ALL ages – hurting, lonely.  Feeling less than.

I bite my lip, overwhelmed by the brokenness in this world.

Friends, we may all look like we have it together, but we do not.  That woman that just popped into your mind? The one you SWEAR has it all together? SHE DOES NOT. I promise. And even if she does – maybe she’s Miss Perfect 2016 – it does not matter. Her story is not your story.  Walk in his path for YOU, not for her.

And I tell you all of this because…

I lost Sarah a long time ago, beginning in about 2007 – almost 10 years ago. Pieces within me broke as life rammed me from so many sides. This girl I knew so well slipping away…

I’ve hardly known myself for the past three years especially.

But, as I stood on a stage Tuesday in Tennessee, I found her. There she was – so unexpectedly. I wasn’t delivering a message to those in front of me; I was talking to myself. Every single word. I felt like “me” again. The same but different – in a good way.

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And as I greeted sweet woman after sweet woman afterward, I knew…all that stuff you’ve read about how God will take a mess and make a message (I’ve always laughed at that)…how He will redeem the broken and wastes nothing (I always WANTED to believe that)…

IT IS TRUE.  I promise it’s true.  Yes, it took almost 10 years…so God might not be in a big hurry…but HE REDEEMS.

I am not sure what you’re walking through today, friend. But, that girl who used to be you? She’s still in there.  Sure, He’s refined and chipped away at her character and beliefs.  But, the little girl whom he crafted in your mother’s womb? Whom he fearfully and wonderfully made? The heart of her is still in there.

I pray you find her, embrace her, love her, and live out exactly what He made her to do.

Meanwhile…I am celebrating my spunky, Husky-jeans-wearing, third-grade self who just got pink and blue glasses with her initials in the corner.  I really like her! And I am so glad she’s back.

(And it is always sweet to make new friends! )

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Accepting Me {God Doesn’t Make Mistakes}

She smiles while waiting on customers and flipping pupusas. My friend speaks to her in Spanish; her face lights up as she rapidly replies. I’ve heard her speak English, but I jump in with my limited Spanish. She’d delighted to speak her native tongue.

We learn her name is Rebecca. We ask if we can take her picture…not wanting to forget her or this moment. She replies (in Spanish), “Of course, I am very beautiful!”

She’s smiles hugely and poses for her photo.

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It’s just one moment in time. A sweet, older lady proclaiming her beauty, happy to smile for the camera.

But, the moment is profound for me.

It’s God saying…this is what I have been telling you for a few months, Sarah. And you aren’t listening, so I sent an angel – in the flesh – to you in person. (And a HONDURAN angel at that! God is so awesome:)

Here’s the truth – you won’t find me in pictures. I take tons of pictures of my kiddos and my niece. I love pictures. But, I am ALWAYS behind the camera. And if I let you take my picture,  it’s a high-angled selfie that omits my body and camouflages my double chin.

And when my sister INSISTED on a family picture at the beach, I hid in the back.

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Because that’s what I do: avoid pictures or hide in the back.

Of course, you’re onto me, right? You know my photo avoidance has little to do with a photograph and everything to do with shame and insecurity and failure.

Half-marathon. Huge weight loss. Divorce. All the weight is back plus a few bonus pounds. And I do not want that failure  – those choices – that image to be recorded for everyone to see.  (I know  – I see people every day in person…as if they don’t see the real me;)

So, here I am.  My highest weight ever. Preparing to meet with a publisher. Preparing to speak at a church girls night out.  Praying over messages and outlines and ideas, asking God to bring me just the right words- just what his girls need to hear.

And so He speaks – over a period of weeks. He doesn’t give a message that I am interested in sharing. In fact, I look up and ask him, “why do I get the hard ones? The ones where I have to do the work and admit my faults? Can’t I just speak the words?” (I know. This is dumb. No one wants to hear the words from someone perfect who is not living what she’s sharing. But still. Man. I am SURE there’s something ELSE to say.)

But, God reveals his message in small pieces for weeks – even if I am mostly unaware. Until that moment comes when I look up, and say, “I see what you’re doing.”

Just so happens (actually, nothing ever just so happens in my world!) I am leading my ministry team through I Want God by Lisa Whittle and this week’s’ chapter? I Want God More Than Popularity. And these words…which I’ve never noticed in my previous readings…jump off the page: He knows we will have to consider our image above everything else and that will extinguish passion flames and truth-telling and free speech. (101)

See what happens when one is preoccupied with image? Or appearance? It’s serious when we let anything hold us back from passionately sharing Him. I know this to be true.

Then, I see this post shared again and again on Facebook.  I remember ignoring it a few years ago. (I’ve always been an “ignorance is bliss” kinda gal).  I click on it.  So You’re Feeling Too Fat to be Photographed.  I read these words…Life doesn’t wait until you “get thin” enough to capture it. Life is happening… it is happening right now and the only moment we are guaranteed is the one we are living….you’re feeling too fat to be photographed? OK… but you’re the only one who notices. The rest of us are too caught up in loving you.

Can we agree on this? It’s true, right? Y’all don’t read my words and think…she’s fat. In fact, that sounds ridiculous. And I am NOT living life to the fullest as I sit and wait on the magical day when I will look exactly as I always dreamed. I am actually wasting days and gifts.

And then God sends Rebecca. Smile engulfing her face as she unabashedly says,  “Yes! Take my photo! I am very beautiful!”

I want to weep. Or scream “I hear you!” Because as I watch Rebecca I know…

I DO NOT live out of who He says I am. I live from the cultural standard.  I’ve known this for awhile, but refused to acknowledge it. To give it to God – or even ask His opinion. I keep waiting for “the moment.”

You know “the moment,” right? The one where you say…I will do _____ when I get through ______. Or when I am ________.   I will write a book when I lose 100 pounds, and I am not too embarrassed to promote it. I will invite more friends over when my I have time to redo my kitchen or mow the lawn. I will go back on the diet after I get through this busy summer.

I will do this when I get through that.

The problem is…there’s always another this and that. They never cease.

And I spend day after day, reading his Word. Writing what He places in my heart. Serving and loving and living…and never acknowledging the elephant in the room…the feeling that I feel less than. I feel life is on hold until I lose the weight.

An attitude and way of life that looks at my Creator and says…You made a mistake. Sure, you gave me certain gifts, but I can’t use them because you made me bigger than all the other writers and speakers.

And while I know I have free will and I don’t believe God ever intended for me to gain this much weight, the truth is…he doesn’t want me to stand on the sidelines while I deal with the consequences of my own poor choices. He wants me in the game. He has plans for me. Fat or skinny. And I am letting fears and others’ opinions paralyze me. Make me inactive.

He wants me to be like Rebecca.  Yes, you can take my picture because this is ME right now in my journey. And I am accepting and loving who God has made me in this season. And thankfully he’s not finished with me yet, but for right now, I am THIS girl.

And she loves Jesus and his people more than anything. No amount of weight should or will keep her from sharing Him.

Sister, what’s holding you back? What moment are you waiting on? Why do you run from the camera – or why do you think you need to be front and center? What’s holding you back from being who he made YOU to be? Why do you compare yourself to other girls? Do you think God made a mistake when he made you tall? Fat? Skinny? Lanky? Awkward? Smart? Big nosed? Did he really mess up?

I don’t think so. In fact, his word has much to say about you and me, friend.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. Psalm 139:14

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me Psalm 139:16

Please don’t life keep passing you by. It’s time to move forward in His promises, sure of His love, confident in His grace and mercy, filled with His hope.  Don’t let another day pass. Be strong and courageous for the Lord your God is with your wherever you go!

Nothing is Too Trivial or Mundane {He’s Preparing You}

She prays, “Senor Jesus, thank you for the life of Hannah. And for the value she’s brought to us.”

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My friend whispers the translation in my ear, but I know “gracias por la vida” and tears slowly drip as I realize that this little girl living in a small barrio in Honduras is thankful for my daughter. That she was born. That one day when she was seven she decided to enroll in a ballet class. And that when money got tight, and I was unable to keep her in dance, a lady named Dee Ann decided to keep her there.

All those decisions. Those seemingly unimportant, daily offerings.  A generous lady, Hannah’s hours of ballet. My rides to and from class. Miss Allison and Miss Michele teaching and correcting. So normal and unexciting. Long hours, hard work, no instant gratification.

Until…God calls Hannah to Honduras and combines it with it her love of dance. And He calls a woman and her family to the mission field in 2011 and then introduces me to this woman (Brittany) in 2012.

That would lead to a friendship.  That would lead to a conversation during lunch at a retreat in 2015. That would lead Hannah to Jardin de Gracia to teach ballet. (With many more “that’s” in between.:)

The orchestration of our week in Honduras could not be accomplished by us. There’s absolutely no way. The road began for Hannah almost 10 years ago. The road for me almost five.

But He knew.

He saw a group of tutu-ed girls prancing around a tile floor in a building tucked into a poor barrio thousands of miles away. And He began sewing, creating a tapestry called my life, Hannah’s life, and – best of all – their lives….Gina, Naomi, Angelina, Suany…He is writing their stories too. And His composition included Hannah alongside them, even if for one chapter.

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And I do not know why I am amazed at His knowing.  I know he knows, but when I step back and trace the threads He’s woven into the tapestry of my life – of Hannah’s life  – I still stand in awe.

I stand in awe of His work in our hearts as we lived life alongside the Fosters for a week. I stand humbled by Hannah’s role in the stories of these sweet little girls.  Because, friends, this is really about them. About Gina and her mom, praying for ballet – something they could not afford. About Angie leaping across the floor, confidently and proudly. About the laugher as they danced and hugged and about the fervency with which they spoke prayers of thankfulness.

The ballet class served to remind each of them that they are loved.  They are free. They are enough. Their efforts are appreciated and applauded.  There is hope. And so much more.

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And for their moms…a true gift.

Moms, we all know there’s nothing quite like watching our kiddo dance across the stage, hit the homerun, kick the goal, achieve an A, receive the award. Aren’t you so stinking proud when you sit in the crowd and watch your child? Don’t you want him or her to find “the thing” she’s good at and pursue it? Isn’t that why we sign them up, drive them all over the country, and sit at games and competitions for hours upon hours?

All of the time and money…it’s to help our kids find something that makes their hearts soar – to use their skills and gifts – to develop them into team players and disciplined young men and women.

We want our kiddos to be happy, to express themselves, and to feel they’re gifted.

And so do they – the Honduran moms and dads who show up to the final day of ballet class for the “recital,” taking a seat with phones in hand for recording and picture taking. Fixing hair into buns and helping with tights. Smiles beaming. Hearts swelling with pride. They’re no different from us, wanting the absolute best for their children.

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I could go on and on…it was such an enlightening, awesome week. But, if I could leave you with a few things that might sound trite or overstated, but I KNOW to be true…

Don’t stop praying for that thing you’ve been trusting Him for. It’s not too trivial. I know many who think the time and money invested in ballet class is a waste – that poor children in third-world countries praying for a ballet class seems frivolous. Sigh. If He’s laid it on your heart, keep praying. See how He works.

Notice His work. Take a moment each day, each week to see how He’s writing your story. Don’t believe the paths you’re crossing and roads you’re taking are just big coincidences.  They’re not. His work takes time. This moment came from 10 years (or more) of preparation.  Persevere. Your moment is coming.

This is not about us. Hannah and I learned so much this week. Yes, God changed us. But, we didn’t go to be changed.  We went for these little gals and to love and support the long-term missionaries who give of themselves everyday. And I pray you hear my heart – that’s not some kind of false humility.  Yes, it seems like Hannah did this big awesome thing, but truly, God did this big awesome thing in and through her because He called her and she answered. And while I could not be prouder of the young lady Hannah is becoming, I know it’s Him and that the calling and answering looks different for everyone.

Perhaps He’s teaching you something right now because He knows in 10 years He will use that skill – that experience – that refinement  – for the kingdom.  Friends, He often uses our everyday for His glory, to bring His kingdom to earth. I pray you keep on, keeping on, knowing He is always at work. Each day, each decision, each commitment could make a difference for Him. May His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

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She Blazed a Trail {And We Should Too}

I wonder how she heard the news.

You are an equal in the eyes of the law.

She was educated at an academy  – the best a girl could hope for.  She didn’t work – what woman did? And she fell in love with Henry, a fighter for freedom.  On their honeymoon, she and Henry travelled to an antislavery convention in London.  And she made a new friend, Lucretia.

Her life changed because of Henry and Lucretia. She no longer thought afternoon tea was the highlight of the day.  The oppressed needed a voice.  She gave birth seven times, but grew restless with being at home.  She wanted to be a voice for those who had no voice in a time when that was anything but popular or cool.

So, she and Lucretia joined forces and organized a convention for women –  a place for them to gather and discuss rights and oppression. And while Lucretia – and her new friend, Susan – had many issues on their mind, one issue was particularly dear to her heart:  voting.

She thought women should be allowed to vote.

Meanwhile, the war raged as North fought South; a war often dividing reformers.

But, she and her friends refused to give up, holding meeting after meeting. Writing resolution after resolution – amendment after amendment.  Forming group after group. Persevering in the face of opposition and criticism from every side.

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And then…1869. She and her friends, Lucretia and Susan, founded the National Woman Suffrage Association.  Eventually, this group would secure the 19th Amendment  to the Constitution of the United States of America.  

Women could vote.

I don’t agree with everything Elizabeth did.  She disliked organized religion as she struggled to reconcile equality with the church’s mandates and oppression.

But, still. Today, I can vote.

Because women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton came before me.

And someday, I pray women and girls say….I can __________ because of the amazing women who came before me back in 2016.  The women who loved Jesus in a way that we had never known or seen.  The women who opened arms to us when everyone else looked at us with disdain.

I pray that’s who we are, friends. Woman who fight for other women. For girls. For the oppressed and marginalized and lonely.  Women who champion, applaud, and cheerlead other women.

What we do matters. Our voting. Our mothering. Our teaching. Our loving. Our serving. Our sharing. All of it. May we live everyday knowing this day matters.

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On Election Day in 1920, millions of American women exercised their right to vote for the first time. It took activists and reformers nearly 100 years to win that right, and the campaign was not easy…But on August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was finally ratified, enfranchising all American women and declaring for the first time that they, like men, deserve all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. (history.com)

And today, we voted too!

(My kiddos think they’re hilarious as you can tell;)

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For the Single Mom {on Mom’s Day}

I see you. I see you cooking and cleaning.  Carpooling and crafting.  You’re wiping tears and cleaning knees. The need never seems to end.  A break isn’t coming.

And it’s not like you need a break – exactly. You love your kiddos. You’d spend every waking minute with them if you could. They’re great kids.

But, sometimes, it’s nice to have help. It’s nice for someone to acknowledge that you’re doing this alone. Sure, friends help. Maybe they even go with Dad once a week or every other weekend. And maybe there is no dad at all { I really am sorry.}

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Still, the burden of providing and parenting rests squarely on your shoulders.  They come to you with all the questions...can I date? Does this dress look nice? Is my hair ugly? Am I overweight? Can I run track?

They come to you with the tears. I wasn’t chosen this time, Mom. I didn’t make the cut. She was making fun of me today. Why are there starving kids in the world? Where is God in this?  

They come to you for homework help. For car rides. For decision making. For affirmation. For confirmation. For love. For understanding. For all of it.

Sometimes you want to say…I don’t know, little one. I don’t know what’s best. Decisions are best made in tandem when two different people can bring strengths and weaknesses to create one solid team.

Could you text dad every time? Maybe. But it’s not really feasible. You can’t ask your friend or mom every time either. You’re the one. You’re the one who answers the questions, wipes the tears, encourages the hearts, helps with the homework.

And that’s ok – you “took them to raise.” But, sometimes, you’d just like for someone to say…I see you. I see you getting up early, working hard, sacrificing much. I see how exhausting this life can be. I know you love them deeply, but this work is hard.  I believe you want the very best for them.  I understand that this was not the plan. 

Today, friend, I want to tell you: I see you.  I feel you in my heart.

This single mom road is challenging. But, it’s ever so rewarding.

And, best of all, it teaches you that you are not alone. In the earliest of mornings when the silent house creaks and bedroom fan whirls. He is there. During the late nights when you toss and turn and the weight of “I am responsible for them” hits. He is there.

He is with you. He is with them. He is a God of redemption and love. This may not have been his plan, but He is in control.  You are not a statistic or a failure. There is no label that fits you except daughter of the King.

I pray today that you walk in that, friend.

I had no plans to write today. Most of what I feel about Mom’s Day is in this post. But, God said…there’s a single mom out there, Sarah. And she needs encouragement. So, to the one for whom God nudged me…Happy Mother’s Day. You are seen and you are loved.

Your work matters.  Your children matter. YOU matter.

Your kids will never forget this season. They may not know or understand right now, but someday, they’ll know: My mom was a superstar! My mom is a daughter of the Most High God, and I am honored to call her Mine.

When We Don’t Know the Story {Food Pantries and Job Loss}

I’m waiting in line.  She doesn’t understand his heckling.  She is paying with food stamps, and the guy behind her has seen her panhandling at a busy intersection. I’ve seen her too.  She’s not buying anything “healthy,” but neither am I.  

“Oh, you make the big money over by the bridge,” he says.

“Not really,” she says. “We get by.”

“Get a job!” he replies – ever so sarcastically.

I can’t hear what she’s saying, but her head is bowed. I observe her a bit longer and wonder if she’s mentally ill.  Her lack of understanding and inability to engage with simple activities suggests she might be.

I know some of her money goes to alcohol.  An addiction no different than me buying chips when I am overweight.

The struggle in my heart and the judgement from the line is tangible.  There’s so much anger directed at her.  I want to ask them…do you really want her life? Begging on a corner? No family to speak of? No home?

And I know what they’ll say – something about their  -my – taxpayer dollars supporting her habits.  I get it. I really do. But, when I look at the angry mob behind the downtrodden woman, I can’t muster any vehemence.  I am just sad.

Because I think of a blog I read yesterday. It lurks in my head all day – all evening – this morning. The post centers on how we assume things about others – often wrongly.  I have a friend who calls it writing stories.

We write a story in our head about what we see.  We think we know because we’ve gathered “evidence” by observing. When in reality, we don’t know. At all.

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This line sticks with me: “There isn’t anyone you can’t love once you’ve heard their story.”

I wonder what her story is…

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She comes to ask my class for help with a fundraising project.  One day, a few hours, raising money for about 15 local food pantries.  I look at my students.  I doubt any of them have visited a food pantry. It’s so far away from their experience.

She tells of a call she received recently.  A man requesting food for his family.  She asks his address so she can connect him with the closest food pantry; he gives an address in a nice neighborhood. Confused, she asks more questions. He has a good job. His wife has a degree and a better job.  They have two young children.

The American dream by anyone’s standard.  Nice home in a nice neighborhood. Degrees, jobs, kids.

But, his wife lost her job, and (long story) there is an issue with her unemployment benefits. They’ve eaten all the food in their home. Now, they’re behind on their mortgage and car payment and in a place where buying food isn’t possible.

The man chokes up as he asks for help. He doesn’t know the correct term for food stamps (it’s called SNAP in my state).  He’s donated at food pantries, but never used one.  One life change – a job loss – has taken them from American dream to food pantry.

And that could me – or you – too.  One “secure” job – lost.

The agency connects him to the nearest food pantry. His voice cracks as he asks if his kids must go with him. They do not. He’s relieved. He didn’t want them there.

And as I listen to this story, tears fill my eyes. I think of my friends – friends who bought gifts for my children on that first Christmas after my separation.  Who used miles to send me to Honduras. Who moved me twice. Who unpacked my kitchen and cleaned. Really, they’ve served me in too many ways to list. {And I am beyond grateful.}

But, one job loss. And before you say it, they followed the Dave Ramsey plan. No debt! Savings of three months salary. They did it RIGHT. But when no new job comes and months pass…the house must be sold. The cars too. Life changes dramatically. And it’s hard.  It’s their home  – their neighborhood. So much bigger than just “stuff.” It’s the life they built.

Without family and friends, they might need a food pantry someday too.

None of us are that far removed from need. Truly.

I share with my students how important this fundraiser is – how necessary the food pantries are – how they really aren’t immune to sudden changes in their parents jobs or this country’s economy.

After all….“There isn’t anyone you can’t love once you’ve heard their story.”

Why am I telling you this? I am not completely sure.  God began moving the words from my heart to the page, and I let Him.

All I do know is that…the next time someone with a Michael Kors purse is paying with food stamps, instead of allowing the anger to permeate your person, consider that perhaps she had wealth at one time, and because of job loss, she’s fallen on hard times.

Better yet, learn her story. Do for one what you wish you could do for many (Andy Stanley said that first:)

And, yes. I know this is a bigger, multifaceted issue than I present here. I watch the debates. I vote. I read newspapers online. But in this moment, I am removing all that to love one. To hear one.

Because, friends. Standing back in anger – complaining on Facebook – saying mean things to the person  – none of that looks like the Jesus of the Bible.

He walked up to the woman at the well. He called Zacchaeus down from the tree. He had dinner with the tax collectors.

Why?

Love. No one will know we are Christ followers by our love unless we love.

“There isn’t anyone you can’t love once you’ve heard their story.”