We Can't Stop at Band-Aids

I woke up from a nap to four missed calls from my neighbor.

I called back right away, never expecting to hear her voice come through the speaker saying, “I just got evicted.”

My mind raced for solutions to a problem much larger than I am, and then came back to the starting line when she asked, “Do you have any trash bags to put our stuff in?”

That One Time I Accused My Husband of Never Helping Me While He Was Helping Me

I took our kids to the grocery store last week after school.

One child - who shall remain nameless – whined incessantly up and down every single aisle. I almost set her on the Clearance rack next to all of the weirdly flavored jars of jelly that will eventually end up in landfills and walked away.

With blood, sweat, and only a few tears of my own, I managed to get our bags of groceries into the car, as well as our children.

On the way home, the Whiny One Who Shall Not Be Named was given orders to remain silent – lest her words be used against her in all future decisions on the writing of our family’s will.

And it worked – mostly because there was a bribe for cheese crackers included. At least, it worked until she started screaming that she had to go potty.

When You Don’t Know the Moral Of the Story

“Do you have any advice to give me as I write about living in an inner city neighborhood?" I asked one of our mentors.

He went over important precautions, and then he ended with this: “Most of the time, writers want to know the moral of the story. But when you live in a distressed neighborhood, things will happen and you won’t be able to explain why. And that’s okay.”

I was impressed by his ability to capture the dilemma of what it’s like to digest your life in real time on the Internet.

Token White Girl

I could easily reword my Christian testimony to reflect the number of interactions I had with people of minority races before the age of 22:

“I lived in an all-white Christian home, attended a mostly white Christian school, and went to a predominantly white Christian church.”

In specific regards to African Americans, what I knew were things I was taught in history books or saw in the movies. To me, they were like mystical creatures who manifested themselves into three categories: historical figures from the Civil Rights movement, NBA players, and Tyler Perry’s Madea.

Why I’ll Never Write About Safe Parenting

Our daughter spent the first ten months of her life in Guatemala where car seats simply were not a thing.

She sat on my lap in crowed vans and refurbished school buses, speeding through our city's cobbled streets and careening around winding mountain roads.

Our move back to the States and her transition to the laws of car seats was, shall I say, rough. There were times it took both my husband and I to wrangle her into her seat and buckle her in. There were times she would push the chest clip far below the recommended armpit height, and wriggled her arms above the straps. And there were times, during the long battle it took to get her to accept her car seat, we gave up and let her ride with her pits out. We chose our sanity over her safety.

Leave Your Heart Open, Just Not Your Garage

We asked them for advice.

Years ago they lived in a similar neighborhood in Kalamazoo, and they remembered the times their parents called asking, "So, how's Beruit?"

In what could have become hours of conversation had to be boiled down to a few minutes walking out of the sanctuary. With big smiles they answered my question, "Don't get too attached to your earthly possessions."

Two weeks later, we are out a bike and a new lawn mower. 

The Carpet Guy Won't Work in Our Neighborhood

"You ain't brought your mama here yet, have you?" Johnny asked with a slight smirk.

My mama lives on the other side of Lake Michigan but no, she hasn't been to our new house yet. Johnny grew up a couple blocks down the street, so he wasn't naive to the crime maps we scoured in our free time for months before we bought the place. 

"By the way," our contractor joined the conversation, "The guy I usually hire to do carpet won't work in this neighborhood." Another smirk. "But Home Depot and Menards will."

Journeys That Transform

On that first journey, Mauricio had worn the dress shoes that I had given him, because he was told that they would make him look less like an immigrant. 

The only problem was that within the first hour of a four day journey, his feet were covered in painful blisters!  On this second journey, those same shoes hung from his backpack the entire time as we sojourned together as brothers and companions on the Way. He had walked in my shoes, and I was now walking in his, trekking northward in solidarity with all those who make this pilgrimage to escape violence and poverty, and to bring life and sustenance to their families and loved ones. 

The arc of my life had taken me to an immigrant neighborhood, to a shelter for refugees, to a food distribution for recent arrivals, to a tiny room in a flat filled with immigrant families. Inasmuch as a privileged gringo could do, I had walked for many years in the shoes of my sisters and brothers. They had become family and taught me more than I could ever imagine about what it meant to be human, and what it meant to be a follower of the forsaken Christ. We could never abandon one another. We discovered that we were related and that made all the difference. 

Won't You Be My {Honest} Neighbor?

Being neighborly means not only loving someone just the way they are, but also presenting ourselves just the way we are.

And this type of authenticity goes much deeper than how tidy we keep our homes or how often we burn the pizza. It’s beyond how many times per week I choose to wear yoga pants instead of pants with a zipper, or how often I forgo mascara.

Thinking Generously of Our Neighbors {Even When They Don't Deserve It}

The fastest way to make an enemy is a sinful, cynical mind.

A cynically minded person will jump to conclusions and assume the worst possible motive for whatever it was the other person said or did. These cynical thoughts become snarky comments that tumble out of our mouths and start a fire that spreads rapidly. Our words all too often poison the minds of others in our way of getting them “on our side.”

An Antidote for an Introvert

Even simple words are powerful. They can be cheap as we’ve seen in the recent news. But they can also be priceless. Healing. Affirming. Remembering. And everyone wants to be included. To be recognized. To be noticed.

Not All My Neighbors Like Me

Loving my introverted husband has taught me how to love my introverted neighbors. When meeting a new neighbor, I have to be careful to not come on too strong. I try to read their subtle body language and verbal cues, and not take offense when someone doesn’t react with the same enthusiasm I bring to the table. I need to know what’s happening inside an introvert’s head when I say “open house” or “party”.

Privileged {Coming Face to Face with My Hidden Sin of Favoritism}

Before that evening I would have said, without hesitation, “I love being the hands and feet of Jesus, and I love loving His people.” But for the first time in a long time, I was pushed to engage with His people that weren’t my people. Sure, I think I can be great at loving my friends and being kind and compassionate with people who are like me, but when confronted with people who made me feel uncomfortable, my compassionate, privileged self became entitled and superior.

Being confronted with your own ugliness—staring at your flesh in a spiritual mirror— is physically painful. I didn’t like the woman who showed up that night. I liked who I thought I was. But that person was shaped by theories and ideas, not by truly living out the hard things that make us human.

This experience pushed me out of my comfort zone—out from behind my books and Bibles and blog—it pushed me to actually see and interact with God’s people. And in this pushing I came face to face with my own worldly preferences, my favoritism toward people closer to my own social status.

Stretching in the Gap

It was a rare moment; I had the house all to myself.

I was on my knees, feeling overwhelmed, praying to God for each of my three daughters by name.

Who can weather these times?  How can I effectively parent my children so they grow to fear God, love others and be the gift they are?  I lay my tear strung questions and bleeding heart before the Lord.

In the midst of my overwhelming emotions and questions, I sensed the Lord urging me on: “keep stretching in the gap”.

Mommy Missions

I don’t rub shoulders with too many unbelievers.

But God showed me that just because this was true, didn’t mean that I was somehow in the wrong place, had built my life in a way contrary to His will, or couldn’t be used to impact a hurting world in need of Him.

He laid on my heart that for each person who rings me up at the grocery store or Hobby Lobby, I can offer something in return: I can offer to pray for him or her.

And that’s it. Or is it?

Uncomfortable: A Story About an Introvert in Youth Ministry

But that’s kind of the beautiful thing about following God. He puts you in places where you’re 100% uncomfortable and out of place to show the greatness of who He is. Did I want to be in a job where I’d be forced to stand and share in front of people every week? No. Does God seem even more awesome because I’m allowing Him to work through my weakness? Yes.

Uniquely Equipped

What if families were intended for more? What if our families were meant to be a subset of the church, with open doors meant to serve and care for those in need? To be honest I'm not entirely comfortable with these questions, these thoughts. I am a definite introvert, and my home and family are my safe places.

But then I look into those giggling brown eyes, and I see the answers. I see that the Lord intended big, restorative things for family. Families are meant to bring healing and redemption. Family exists, just like the rest of creation, to point others to El Roi, the God who sees, to echo the redemption and restoration of the cross.

I see this every time that beautiful, now two-year-old boy smiles easily into the face of someone he doesn't know or confidently waves goodbye to us knowing we'll be back. I see that by offering nothing more than our family, and Christ within us, this boy was given a chance, a new beginning.

Seeing Glory in the Grind

The big picture is this: we are raising the next generation. Mommas, we are raising the next generation.

This is huge. And the days in which we live? It is an all-out battle for the minds of our children.

The world will offer confusion. We must teach truth.

The world will push for selfishness. We have to teach servanthood.

The world will tell them what they must do to be loved. Our children need to know they are loved by the One who paints the sunsets.

The Road I'm Taking

Eventually I moseyed down the path of realization that I was giving myself the “I'm Just Average” message. BAM! It was like being hit by a bus.

All those times I thought I was somehow being humble by not being passionate about things, or I believed I was being loving and kind by agreeing with someone to avoid conflict, it all just came down to me not having any self-confidence in who I was. The fear of failing at something crippled me. Not trying too hard was my mantra, and if something didn’t work out: “Well I didn’t really try my hardest, so I’m not too disappointed.”