Posted in Faith, Family

“How Can We Help?” How You Can Help Vulnerable Children and Families, Today and Every Day

 

“…the call to be involved in creating justice for the poor is just as essential and non-negotiable within the spiritual life as is Jesus’s commandment to pray and keep our private lives in order.”
Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing: A Search for Christian Spirituality

“Jesus, friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks yours”
Casting Crowns

“‘God, why don’t you do something?’  He said, ‘I did, I created you.'”
Matthew West

“What can we do?  I feel so helpless…”

The text came from my husband as I was sitting in the shade of a green, breezy park, watching our own kids swing and run and jump and play, not a care in the world.

The pictures and video and audio of the cries of immigrant and refugee children being separated from their parents at the US border as part of immigration protocol shook us all to our core.

Regardless of our feelings about immigration and the politics at play in this situation, something about seeing all of this happening IN OUR OWN COUNTRY, ON OUR OWN SOIL, for some of us IN OUR OWN COMMUNITIES, has hit home like nothing we’ve seen before.

The reality is that this is nothing new under the sun.  Children and families face trauma in our own country and around the world every day, having to walk through things in this fallen and broken world for which the children of God were never intended.

But SEEING IT AT HOME, live and in living color, has stirred us- and that, my friends, is SOMETHING.

Make no mistake, my people, God is moving here.  He is ALWAYS moving, if only we know where to look, and right now we need only to look into our own hearts and the hearts of those around us to see His power at work, shaking our foundations and calling us to more.

The reason we feel the ache in our very souls for the vulnerable is because it’s woven into our DNA. We were made in the image of a Father for whom the needs of His children are paramount.  This call to action in our hearts, that “What can we do?” feeling, that represents the very BEST of the nature God created in us.

The fact is that there ARE things we can do- there is SO MUCH we can do for needy children and families, if only we know where to look.

There are organizations all across our country and around the world that are addressing the needs of the most vulnerable among God’s children every single day.  Some are focused on needs like the ones we are currently seeing in the national news, providing for and advocating for immigrants and refugees, both here and abroad.  Others are fighting modern day slavery and human trafficking. Some are working on job creation and food insecurity, others are serving homeless youth, orphans, and foster care.

We can harness the power of this moment, the call to action we feel in our heart, not only to take action in this situation, but to inform ourselves about ways we can KEEP taking action and CONTINUE providing for and advocating and for vulnerable children and families at home and around the world every single day.

I’m beyond blessed to have friends and family who are SHOWER UPPERS, boots-on-the-ground, plugged-in kind of people who are involved in serving every day. So I reached out on Facebook and asked my people to provide me with a list of organizations they know of that are serving vulnerable children and families so that I could pass the info on to others who are feeling the urgency of the moment.

This list is unedited, I didn’t make any decisions about what to include and what to leave out because this isn’t about what I feel is valuable and important.  God knit each of us together uniquely, with a calling on our hearts different from everyone else’s, knowing that TOGETHER we create His vision for wholeness and justice in our world.   His call on your heart to serve is different than mine

This list also isn’t by any means complete or exhaustive, it was compiled on the fly and in response to an urgent need so my crowd-sourcing time was limited. If you know of a resource organization you’d like to share, leave it in the comments.  My only guideline is that this post is focusing on serving vulnerable children and families, so any suggestions should fit under that umbrella somehow.

And my directive for you as you read this list is as follows:

  1. Find one way to give of your time.  Some of these organizations may not be local for you, but I’ll bet you could find one if you Googled.
  2. Find at least one organization to share with others.  Either post about them on social media, text message the link to someone you think might be interested
  3. Find one to donate to- even $5.  If EVERYONE gave $5 to one of these organizations, how  much more POWER would they have to affect change and serve these babies and families?

Also, as always, do your homework.  You can use Charity Navigator or a similar “charity checker” website to find out more about how these organizations use your dollars, ask around, comb the websites, and, of course, pray.


Your Shopping Dollars.  There are hundreds of companies here in the US and abroad who are harnessing the power of commerce to create economic opportunity in vulnerable communities around the world, creating stability and jobs so that families don’t have to make the hard choices.  Here are links to a couple of directories where you can find all sorts of wonderful places to use your dollars to make the lives of families across the world better:

https://www.stillbeingmolly.com/fair-trade-usa-made-ethical-brands-list-directory/

https://therootcollective.com/pages/the-ethical-list

https://shopbeautifuluprising.com/

Adorned in Grace Bridal and Formalwear Shops sell new and gently used wedding gowns, formals, petticoats, veils, and accessories. All proceeds are used to promote awareness and prevention of sex trafficking as well as crisis prevention for trafficked victims.
http://www.adornedingrace.org/



Become a Foster Family OR respite care provider for Foster Families
–  A quick internet search for “YOUR CITY foster care” or “YOUR COUNTY foster care respite”  should point you in the right direction.  It varies by state, city, and county the exact place you’ll need to look, but a search should do the trick

International Justice Mission. IJM’s mission is to protect the poor from violence by rescuing victims, bringing the criminals to justice, restoring survivors to safety and strength, and helping local law enforcement build a safe future that lasts. IJM partners with local authorities to rescue victims of violence, bring criminals to justice, restore survivors, and strengthen justice systems. We combat slavery, sex trafficking, property grabbing, police abuse of power and sexual violence in nearly 20 communities throughout Africa, Latin America and South and Southeast Asia. Our vision is to rescue thousands, protect millions and prove that justice for the poor is possible.
https://ijm.org

Preemptive Love Coalition. We’re a coalition stretching across Iraq, Syria, the United States, and beyond, working together to unmake violence and create the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible. We meet families on the frontlines of conflict, providing them lifesaving food, water, and medical care. We give them what they need to hold on and hold out. We create jobs for those victimized by ISIS. We provide small business grants, tools, and coaching so they can start again and so their families can flourish.
https://preemptivelove.org

Together Rising. Whether it’s pulling children out of the sea outside the refugee camps in Greece, helping abandoned kids on the streets in Indianapolis, establishing the first opioid recovery home for pregnant teens in New Hampshire, building a maternal health wing in Port-au-Prince, providing a single mother access to breast cancer treatment, or keeping a foster family’s heat on in Texas — Together Rising identifies what is breaking the hearts of our givers as they look around their world and their community, and then we connect our givers’ generosity with the people and organizations who are effectively addressing that critical need. Here is how they have been addressing the issue of families separated at the border.
https://togetherrising.org

RAICES. The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families and refugees in Central and South Texas. RAICES is the largest immigration non-profit in Texas with offices in Austin, Corpus, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio.
https://actionnetwork.org/groups/raices-refugee-and-immigrant-center-for-education-and-legal-services

Catholic Charities offers a wide variety of support and assistance for children and families in need around the world,  including advocacy outreach, and provides immigration information and legal translation help. Many refugee/immigrants identify as Catholic so they often reach out to Catholic Charities for help.
https://www.catholiccharitiesoregon.org/offices-programs/

World Concern is a Christian global relief and development agency extending opportunity and hope to people facing extreme poverty.
https://worldconcern.org/

Mennonite Central Committee is a global, nonprofit organization that strives to share God’s love and compassion for all through relief, development and peace.
https://mcc.org/

IRCO: Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization.  IRCO’s mission is to promote the integration of refugees, immigrants and the community at large into a self-sufficient, healthy and inclusive multi-ethnic society. Founded in 1976 by refugees for refugees, IRCO has over 40 years of history and experience working with Portland’s refugee and immigrant community.
https://irco.org

Carry the Future. Be a force for action and hope and join our international community of volunteers as we unite to bring humanitarian aid in the form of child carriers, baby beds and survival items to refugee families.
https://carrythefuture.org

Southwest Key. Southwest Key is committed to keeping kids out of institutions and home with their families, in their communities. We do this through three areas of programming: youth justice alternatives, immigrant children’s shelters, and education. Southwest Key also seeks to create opportunities for families to become self-sufficient by offering programming in adult education, community building and workforce development. The inspiring kids and families we work with are seeking the American dream—equality, education, and a healthier quality of life. At Southwest Key, we simply open the doors to opportunity so they can achieve these dreams.
https://swkey.org

The Florence Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit legal service organization providing free legal services to men, women, and unaccompanied children in immigration custody in Arizona. Although the government assists indigent criminal defendants and civil litigants through public defenders and legal aid attorneys, it does not provide attorneys for people in immigration removal proceedings. As a result, an estimated 86 percent of the detained people go unrepresented due to poverty. The Florence Project strives to address this inequity both locally and nationally through direct service, partnerships with the community, and advocacy and outreach efforts.
https://firrp.org

KIND: Kids in Need of Defense. KIND staff and our pro bono attorney partners at law firms, corporations, and law schools nationwide represent unaccompanied immigrant and refugee children in their deportation proceedings. Together, we ensure that no child stands in court alone.
https://supportkind.org

The Women’s Refugee Commission improves the lives and protects the rights of women, children and youth displaced by conflict and crisis. We research their needs, identify solutions and advocate for programs and policies to strengthen their resilience and drive change in humanitarian practice. Since our founding in 1989, we have been a leading expert on the needs of refugee women and children, and the policies that can protect and empower them.
https://womensrefugeecommission.org

Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) lives the call of welcome by supporting refugees, immigrants, and the communities that embrace them as they walk together in The Episcopal Church’s movement to create loving, liberating, and life-giving relationships rooted in compassion. EMM’s desire to honor the inherent value of human connection brings communities together to love their neighbors as themselves.
https://episcopalmigrationministries.org

Safe Families for Children hosts vulnerable children and creates extended family–like supports for desperate families through a community of devoted volunteers who are motivated by compassion to keep children safe and families intact.

The three objectives of Safe Families for Children are:

  1. Keep children safe during a family crisis such as homelessness, hospitalization, or domestic violence in an effort to prevent child abuse and/or neglect.
  2. Support, and stabilize families in crisis by surrounding them with caring, compassionate community.
  3. Reunite families and reduce the number of children entering the child welfare system.

https://safe-families.org/

We Belong Together aims to mobilize women in support of common sense immigration policies that will keep families together and empower women. Immigration reform is rarely thought of as a women’s issue, but in fact it is central to the fight for women’s equality. Millions of immigrant women who are part of the fabric of our communities, workplaces, and schools are blocked from achieving their full potential because of a broken immigration system. They perform essential jobs, like taking care of our children and our aging parents, and are central to family and community well-being.
https://webelongtogether.org

Feedmore. Central Virginia’s core hunger relief organization.
https://feedmore.org

Communities in Schools. Working directly in 2,300 schools in 25 states and the District of Columbia, Communities In Schools builds relationships that empower students to stay in school and succeed in life.  Our school-based staff partner with teachers to identify challenges students face in class or at home and coordinate with community partners to bring outside resources inside schools. From immediate needs like food or clothing to more complex ones like counseling or emotional support, we do whatever it takes to help students succeed.
https://communitiesinschools.org

YWCA. YWCA USA is on a mission to eliminate racism, empower women, stand up for social justice, help families, and strengthen communities. We are one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the nation, serving over 2 million women, girls, and their families.
https://ywca.org

#HashtagLunchbag is a humanity service movement dedicated to empowering and inspiring humanity to reap the benefits of giving through the use of social media. We create and use bagged lunches, complete with love messages, as a vessel to spread this love and share our experiences to inspire others.
https://hashtaglunchbag.org

 

Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities. The Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities works with schools, businesses, and communities to achieve success by addressing prejudices, in all forms, in order to improve academic achievement, increase workplace productivity, and enhance local trust.
https://inclusiveva.org

CASA: Court Appointed Special Advocates.  CASA/GAL volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in inappropriate group or foster homes. Volunteers stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. For many abused children, their CASA/GAL volunteer will be the one constant adult presence in their lives.
https://www.casaforchildren.org

No Kid Hungry. When you become part of No Kid Hungry, you’re joining a movement of teachers, chefs, community leaders, parents, lawmakers and CEOs with a shared belief: no kid in America should go hungry.
https://nokidhungry.org

KaBOOM! is the national non-profit dedicated to bringing balanced and active play into the daily lives of all kids, particularly those growing up in poverty in America.
https://kaboom.org

Reach Out and Read is a nonprofit organization that gives young children a foundation for success by incorporating books into pediatric care and encouraging families to read aloud together.
https://reachoutandread.org

Faithful Friends is a community-based mentoring program in Portland, OR, that provides children support and stability through relationships that encourage personal growth and inspire hope. The program matches volunteer individuals, couples and families with children ages 6 through 9 for mentoring relationships. The mentor/mentee matches meet 3-4 times each month for at least one year.
https://faithfulfriendspdx.org

Big Brothers Big Sisters.  As the nation’s largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring network, Big Brothers Big Sisters makes meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers (“Bigs”) and children (“littles”), ages 6 through young adulthood, in communities across the country.
http://www.bbbs.org

Saving Grace Maternity Home (I am blessed enough to get to serve as a volunteer and on the board here). Saving Grace Maternity Home is a residential home experience in Hillsboro, OR, for single young homeless women in an unplanned or crisis pregnancy, between the ages of 13-25. We welcome women of all cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds who currently live in the state of Oregon. We have the capacity to assist and house up to four women full time and there are two beds for temporary short-term stays.
https://savinggracematernityhome.org

Union Gospel Mission’s LifeChange for Women and Their Children provides a safe, healing home for women and women with children to transform their lives.  If you are struggling with abuse, addiction or homelessness, we can help. LifeChange is a safe environment to heal from past traumas and to learn how to break free of destructive choices. LifeChange is not a clinical treatment “program” or a series of steps. It is an intentional Christian community where people help and support each other to break cycles of addiction, abuse and homelessness and live a transformed and abundant life in Jesus.
https://ugmportland.org/help-for-women/

True Colors Fund. Up to 40% of the 1.6 million youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ.  Communities and youth homelessness service providers want to be safe and welcoming for LGBTQ youth, but often don’t have the knowledge or resources to do so – creating barriers for these youth to get the support they need. The True Colors Fund fills that space by offering free training and resources on how to meet the needs of LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness. We also advocate in government and media to help ensure critical funding and services for all youth, and create opportunities for youth who have experienced homelessness to be key leaders in the effort to end the problem.
https://truecolorsfund.org

Door to Grace.  At Door to Grace, we are bringing safe and loving family to sexually exploited children in the Portland, OR, area.
https://www.doortograce.org/

Posted in Faith

Nine Rules for Learning to Pray (Because Chris Pratt Told Us To)

Y’all. Chris Pratt.

Have you heard about this?  That man stood up on the stage at the MTV Movie and TV Awards last week and basically took everyone to church, Peter Quill style.

He had “nine rules for living” to pass along that included bits about pooping at a party and giving a dog medicine, but ALSO included a promise that God is real, a reminder that we all have immortal souls, a declaration that none of us are perfect but there is grace for us that was paid for with someone else’s blood (I KNOW, RIGHT?!?!), and a directive to LEARN TO PRAY.

You can watch that speech here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EihqXHqxri0

Or just read the nine “rules” here: https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/18/entertainment/chris-pratt-mtv-movie-tv-awards-speech/index.html

But. You guys. ACTUAL STAR LORD has told us that God is real and we should learn to pray.

But, like, how?  He told us it’s easy, and he’s exactly right.  But, we humans are very good at taking easy, breezy, beautiful things and making them way over-complicated and bogged down with our own baggage and issues and nonsense.

Whether we’ve never actually prayed before, used to pray and have gotten away from it, or pray all the time every single day, we could all use a back-to-basics moment to help us step into this challenge handed to us straight from Jurassic World by Owen himself.

9 Rules for Learning to Pray

9 Rules for Learning How to Pray

  1.  It’s easy–  Andy Dwyer said it, you guys, and there was no lie in him.  If you can talk, you can think, you can feel, then you can pray- and do it WELL.
  2. There is no wrong way–  This is not like learning to deadlift at the gym.  You’re not going to get your form wrong and pull a hamstring that injures you, God, and the entire universe. The only way to get praying WRONG is not to even try.
  3. God is HERE for you and your prayers.  God isn’t butthurt that you haven’t prayed in awhile.  He’s not going to give you the side eye like, “Well, it’s ABOUT TIME you showed up.” He’s not too busy. God is not subject to the confines of time, space, and human pettiness. This Father is all grace, all love, all patience, and all about His children- aka you and me.
  4. Start with your heart- If you don’t know what to say, just talk to God about what you’ve been thinking and feeling lately.  Feeling lonely? Feeling grateful for something? Did someone or something hurt your feelings?  Are you really excited about something happening soon?  Are you worried?  Angry? confused? down and not sure why? Tell God about it.
  5. Bring your faith struggles–  Maybe you’re not quite sure as Emmet Brickowski is that God is real.  Possibly you’ve felt abandoned by Him in the past. Could be that you’ve experienced hurt, rejection, or betrayal at the hands of Christians and the church.   TELL GOD ABOUT IT! That is actually POWERFUL prayer material, God knows how real the struggles are for us and wants to help us find our way through it.
  6. You can ask Him for help–  “Lord, teach us to pray.” It’s in the Bible. Twice. In Matthew 11 and Luke 6. The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. We can ask the same thing.  And you know what? God knows how to communicate better than we do, He’s strong where we are weak, He can reach down when we can’t reach up.  Say, “Dad, I want to get to know you better.  Will you teach me?” What Father wouldn’t jump at the chance?
  7. I am Groot- Still don’t know what to say?  Can’t find the words to express all of the thoughts and feels?  God’s got it covered. Romans 8:26 says, “…we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.”  The Holy Spirit is Rocket to our Groot.  He knows what we mean, He can translate, He can respond.  If all we can muster is “I am groot…”  Rocket understands.  If words fail, pray anyway.
  8. God does not condemn– God won’t say anything to you that will make you feel bad about yourself, that’s not how He operates.  He will lead you to do better through convincing you of your value, not by condemning you for your shortcomings.  If you start to hear a voice telling you you’re bad, you’re worthless, you’ve messed up too badly- THAT!  IS! NOT! GOD! Tell that voice to sit down and be SILENT! Your Father’s voice is love, anything else is not of Him.
  9. Never stop learning to pray–  We were designed for connection to God.  Our immortal souls CRAVE it, and every single day we can get better at drawing near to Him- and our lives will be better because of it. The more we talk to Him, learn about Him, cling to Him, the stronger we will get.  Life won’t ever be perfect or easy, we live in a fallen kingdom and Jesus assured us that trouble is to be expected. (John 16:33)  But he also overcame the world, and aligning our hearts with that world-overcoming power is something we can get better at every single day.

So have a chat with God today- I would not want to make Star Lord angry, would you?  Sit back, relax, and give it a try.  And then do it again tomorrow.  And keep doing it.

Oh, and as for the dilemma of pooping at a party…there is also such a thing as pocket sized Poo-Pourri.  You’re welcome.

Posted in Faith, Five Minute Friday

#FMF: Learning to Fly (aka Write)

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve done Five Minute Friday!  Here’s the link to this week’s link-up:

http://fiveminutefriday.com/2018/06/07/fmf-link-up-fly/


“I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings.”

-Tom Petty

 

What do you suppose it’s actually like for baby birds when they are learning to fly?  When they take those first hops on the branch or in the nest, preparing to spread their wings and take to the sky like their mama bird?

Do you think instinct kicks in and they just follow where nature leads or do you think, as movies would have us believe, that there can be a bit of trepidation involved?  I mean, do birds have personalities and some are braver than others?  Who knows?

For us humans, learning to fly is petrifying.  I’m using flying as a metaphor here, flight representing whatever we want to learn.  We want people to teach us to fly, convince us we should fly, remind us of our flighworthiness. And sometimes we have those people. When I was becoming a teacher, I had a whole slew of mentor teachers, advisors, and professors walking me through the process and cheering me on.

Now, learning to be a writer at 40?  Not so much.  I am completely on my own. And as such, I have felt ill-equipped for this. I have figured everyone else who learns to fly must have some kind of an inside track. They must have, like, studied writing in college. Or have done it professionally.  Or have folks around them who write who are like, “Yes, you should totally do this, let me give you a leg up.”

Turns out, that’s not true.  As I’ve slowly made my way into communities of other writers, I’ve discovered that just about all of them feel as ill-equipped as I do. Each of them is also battling bouts of cluelessness and doubt- even after they’ve actually been published, even those who seem to me like they must be experts and have it all together.

It seems like having no idea what you’re doing is almost a prerequisite for becoming a writer. So if that’s you, jump right in. Learn to fly.

I leave you with this quote from my devotional this morning, Priscilla Shirer’s “Awaken”:

“If you’re sure you’re out of options, if you’re certain that the supplies on hand are nothing compared to the resources He’s made available to someone else, chances are you’ve not taken a second look at what’s already at your disposal.  Ask the Lord to open your spiritual eyes to see how much raw material He’s provided for you to utilize in fulfilling His purposes for this moment. Don’t discount the little things. They can become blessed things if you look at them through the lens of divine possibility.”

Posted in Faith, Favorites

Turns out, Becoming a Writer is a Bit Like Training for a Marathon…

I’ve never been much of a runner. I do it occasionally, but it has never really captured me.

Writing has.  My whole life, I’ve enjoyed it.  I did fairly well in my writing courses in high school and college (when I decided to try, that is) and the ability to express myself “on paper” has served me well in both my personal and professional life.

A few years ago, I started this blog. I had no idea what I was doing and I’ve been writing here in fits and spurts, going around and around about whether or not this was actually what I wanted and WAS CALLED TO be doing with my time.

A couple of months ago, I decided to stop messing around and get serious.  I don’t know if it was God finally releasing me or me finally releasing myself, but I finally decided to stop casually dating writing on the sly and stand up in front of my friends and family and IN THE SIGHT OF GOD make a commitment to it.

So I did.  And the journey began. And I was in no way prepared for how hard it would be.

Man.

And it’s not even the writing that’s the hard part.  Nope, it’s all the other sh…STUFF that comes up and makes me want to spend some days hiding in my closet with a blankie, tea, and my Bible.

If you want to avoid dealing with your own issues, do NOT become a writer. Or do anything else brave and stretchy. Because your sh…STUFF is going to come up and you’re going to have to deal with it.

Like I said, I’ve never been much of a runner- power walking is more my jam (and I do love to power walk). But I have friends who are BFF’s with running and when they talk about stepping up their game from casual morning jaunts to something like a marathon or a Ragnar relay, they describe experiencing something similar to what I’m discovering while becoming a writer.

Moving from casual running to training for longer distances means that little things are going to have a bigger impact. That ankle that starts bugging you toward the end of the third mile of your Saturday morning 5k?  That’s gonna be a much bigger deal when you’ve got 23.2 more miles left to go.  Having trouble sleeping at night? That fatigue is a huge issue when you’re running the distances required to train for a marathon. And you’re definitely going to have to start fueling your body better, those empty calories are no longer going to cut it.

When we stay in the shallow end of the pool, stick to quick morning jogs, or write casually for funsies, we can get by with our brokenness.  Those little things that fester just below the surface can stay under the radar and for the most part, we can pretend they’re not there. But when we do the BIG and the BRAVE and the DIFFICULT, when we stretch ourselves and reach for bigger and greater things, all of a sudden those things rear their ugly heads and REQUIRE that we deal with them, otherwise they’re going to stop us dead in our tracks.

That ankle? For me that’s the comparison trap, I’m terrible about comparing myself to other people (and I ALWAYS end up finding myself lacking).  The sleep issues?  That’s self-criticism. I can be SUPER hard on myself and when it comes to writing, that can be absolutely crippling.  The diet and empty calories?  That’s me needing to be careful about how I spend my time, energy, and attention. If it doesn’t build me up, nourish me, and make me stronger, it’s gots ta go.  Buh-bye.

And it’s hard work. Hard, HARD work. And often times, it’s painful and unpleasant. and it can take a long time, much longer than we would like.

But you know what?  It’s good. And it’s important. And it’s even holy and sacred. We are stronger- MUCH stronger- for having dealt with that ankle and battled back against the comparison trap.

And for me, it’s all underscored by a pressing, frantic, desperate NEED! FOR! GOD!  The One who created me, redeems me, loves me unconditionally, knit me together in the womb, knows my every anxious thought, The One from whom NOTHING is hidden- even the things I’ve been trying to hide from myself.  Anything that deepens my need for Him, causes me to seek Him, allows Him to reveal more of Himself, His nature, and His truth to me is never a bad thing.

Like an aspiring marathoner, I have goals.  Mine isn’t a finish line with a time attached, mine looks more like a book, maybe, and definitely the chance to write and speak to women and moms about our worth, our identity, our strength, and the need to FIGHT FOR OUR LIVES against the lies that Satan tries to sell us.  I’m working every day toward those goals.

But even if I meet my own personal Heartbreak Hill in mile 20 of my race and don’t cross the finish line, I will be so much stronger and better for having done the work.  Guts, grit, and grace are refining me, drawing me nearer to God- and it’s worth it. It’s worth every single time I curl up under the blankets and cry, “I CAN’T DO THIS!” and then do it anyway. It’s worth every time I blast “Not Today, Satan” by KB in my headphones to shout down the lies.  It’s worth fixing this bum ankle and getting my daily nutrition right.

If you can relate to this post, then let me know. Because I want to be praying for you and cheering for you. Praising God and you for the courage you have to take your marathon journey, to do the brave and stretchy thing- the thing that brings up all your sh…stuff and makes you deal with it.

You are a warrior. I am a warrior. And goshdarnit, I AM a Writer.

 

Posted in Faith

When God Prunes Good Things

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 (KJV)

Spring has (FINALLY!!!) sprung here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  Trees are leafing out, flowers are blooming, people are sneezing, and we’ve all begun sprucing up our yards.  This year,  Jeff and I decided it was time to stop messin’ around and hired a crew to come in and basically lay waste to our front yard.  The weeds were pulled, the grass was edged, the shrubs were trimmed.  But also, some stuff that we  (or the previous owners) had planted on purpose got ripped out as well, things we didn’t like, that were hard to keep up, looked messy, even things we were just kind of “meh” about.  Right now, our front yard looks neat, but a little barren as it waits for whatever we’re going to do next- and frankly, we haven’t even gotten that far yet. We’re gonna plant stuff, that’s about all we know.

As I watched this process unfold over the course of a few hours on a rainy Friday morning, it jogged something in my mind, a memory of what the past year of my life has looked like.  It was almost exactly a year ago that God began a process in me that looked an awful lot like what was happening in our yard that morning- and left the landscape of my life looking very similar to how our yard looked after the workers left: stripped down, a little empty, and awaiting new planting.

Over the course of the past year, God has gone on a pruning spree.  People, places, spaces, relationships, endeavors: Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone.  And it’s not just the weeds we are talking about here, we are talking about stuff I had planted in my life on purpose- even and especially stuff HE had planted- stuff I had cultivated, nurtured, watered, and grown in a way that probably made the plants in my front yard exceedingly jealous.

And unlike the workers in our front yard, I did not get to tell God what to take out.  As a matter of fact, He went for some things that I very much wanted to keep- and I fought Him tooth and nail as He took them out, digging in my heels, clinging until my knuckles were white, probably making quite the scene in the process.

I’ve prayed on multiple occasions over the years that God would do in my life the work that Jesus describes in John 15:2:

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunesa so that it will be even more fruitful.”   

But when I pictured God doing the work of pruning, I pictured withered branches, failing bushes, toxic weeds, dead weight. And I envisioned it feeling good, like having burdens lifted or split ends trimmed off. I didn’t imagine Him cutting off vines that still had lush leaves, ripping out shrubs I had planted and tended and even loved. And I didn’t picture it hurting so much.

I didn’t picture Him pruning GOOD things, and yet He did.  They were things that had been life-giving, iron-sharpening, and had changed me for the better in their season.

I have grieved for the things He pruned, I have experienced anger and even betrayal as they’ve been taken, and I have struggled mightily as some toxic weeds like resentment and bitterness have tried to take root in the empty spaces they left behind.

But God is always good, no exceptions. Through this season, He has taught me some new things about the times when He’s moving in ways I don’t understand.

  • Just because it hurts doesn’t mean it’s bad.  Because the pruning didn’t feel like I expected it to, it was quite awhile before I recognized God’s hand in what was happening.  As a matter of fact, there were times when I wondered where the heck God was as the landscape of my life was being uprooted in painful ways.  But God is everywhere at all times and just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it isn’t holy and blessed.
  • Just because things were pruned doesn’t mean they were bad.  Sometimes God prunes things because they weren’t good and we just couldn’t see it.  But even the most life-giving things can have an expiration date in our lives, a point when it’s time for them to give way to what’s next.  We don’t have to let the pruning cast a shadow on the graces of seasons past, what was good in our lives will always have been good, even after its time in our life is over.
  • Just because they’ve been pruned doesn’t necessarily mean they’re gone for good.  Some things are gone for good or will remain permanently as a shadow of what they once were.  But some things God trims so they could grow back better, fuller, and healthier.  Some things need to be gone for awhile but will sprout up again when their season in our lives return.  God can redeem, restore, and revive anything so I’m keeping a door open in my heart for these good things, maybe they will have their time again.

Unlike our yard, which still awaits us getting off our rear ends and planting new things, the empty spaces in my life are beginning to be filled in. Some new things are starting to sprout, some existing things are starting to expand into the empty spaces, all good and beautiful growth that was enabled by the painful pruning season. But some of the landscape is still blank, and much like our yard, it looks and feels little barren as it waits for whatever He’s going to do next. I feel like I’m only seeing a small piece of what He has planned, but my trust muscles were also strengthened through this pruning. I don’t know what He’s got planned, all I know is that He’s going to plant stuff and it’s going to be beautiful.


If this post resonated with you, check out this episode of Annie F. Down’s “That Sounds Fun” podcast featuring Tauren Wells, one of my current favorite musical artists.  In it, Tauren uses the term “divine expiration” to describe the end of the season of things in our lives  I can’t recommend it enough.

Posted in Faith

Nobody Can Take Your Crown, Daughter of the King

It happens to all of us at some time or another.

Something that somebody says or does makes us feel pretty lousy about ourselves

Sometimes it’s unintentional, it could be that they unwittingly touched a nerve that triggered our insecurities

And sometimes it is intentional.  When the enemy gets in people’s ears, whispering lies  that they are “less than,” they may try to soothe the ache by putting us down to make themselves feel like they are better than someone.

But the common theme is the same:  In that moment, the image of God in us gets obscured. Someone doesn’t acknowledge the Imago Dei in us, we lose sight of it in ourselves, and our crown feels like it slips a little.

But the thing about God’s truth is that it is ALWAYS true.

NOTHING changes our status as Daughters of the King.  Nobody can take it from us, not even ourselves.

Just because someone else doesn’t recognize it doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Just because WE don’t recognize it doesn’t mean it’s not true.

THIS is the truth that is waiting for us when we align our hearts with His and see ourselves and others through a Kingdom lens:

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.

1 John 3:1

So when you feel that crown starting to slip, run as fast as you can to your Father the King. Whether it’s coming from someone else or just your own insecurities that are making you feel “less than,” lay it at His feet and let Him flood you with His truth.

You are both created and called by your Father in Heaven, a chosen daughter of the King.  Your worth is in Him and He is worth more than everything.

You were crowned by the King of Kings, so NOBODY can take your crown.

Posted in Faith

Easter and “The Meantime”

Easter has come and gone.  This is the week after Easter and we are rejoicing in all the of the joy and promise and hope that the resurrection brings.

But last weekend…those hours between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday…

Every year, I find myself thinking about what those days and hours must have been like for Jesus’s people as they walked that journey with him.  His friends, the 12 Disciples, his followers, his family, HIS MOTHER (oh, sweet Mary)…what must that have been like?

For us, we know that what they were experiencing was just a wait.  It was “the meantime,” it wasn’t the end.

But to them, it probably felt EXACTLY like the end- and not a good one.

They loved Jesus deeply and believed in him with all of their hearts. It was no small thing for them to have put their lot in with this Renegade Rabbi, he was a bit of a polarizing figure. They had staked EVERYTHING on the belief that he was who he said he was.  Many, probably most, perhaps even all of them had in mind their own version of what this King’s victory would look like and hanging to his death on a cross, mocked and scorned, was not it.

This didn’t work out like they had thought.  Where did this leave them?

Obviously, two millennia later, we have the answer to that question. Breathtakingly and excruciatingly beautiful, the rest of the story is, for us Christians, the single most sanctifying, perfecting, and hopeful event in all of history.

But the meantime…how many of us have experienced a “meantime” in our lives that actually felt like an end?

The friendship we had spent years cultivating that fractured, leaving a hole in our life and heart. The pregnancy we had spent years praying and trying for that did not end with a baby in our arms. The marriage we had invested our whole heart into that ended in hurt and betrayal. The job we wagered our entire financial security on that dissolved and left us adrift.  It feels like an ending.  And a BAD one.  Not good or holy or what we felt we had been promised as we walked in faith.

But the story of the Resurrection reminds us that God is NEVER done with the story.  Those hours after the crucifixion must have felt like the end to those who knew and loved and followed Jesus, but it was most certainly NOT the end.

It was actually the meantime.

The miracle of the Resurrection and the truth of what that Jesus’s people went through in that season gives us a promise to which we can cling FIERCELY in the dark moments that feel like an ending in our life.  God’s ending is always victory, even in death.

And it doesn’t mean that we won’t carry scars from our journey.  After the resurrection, Jesus’s hands and side carried the wounds of the crucifixion. But the promise we have is that through Jesus, beauty will come from the ashes, the scars will  sharpen and shape us into more of who and what He created us to be and whatever “meantime” we walk through will become a part of the beautiful fabric God is weaving in our life.

For us, darkness is the just the meantime. Victory is coming.

Let’s walk through the coming weeks and months with that lens fixed to our eyes and hearts.

He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

 

Posted in Faith

On Grief and Hope

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

My church died this weekend.  

I mean, I know that’s not an actual thing. It’s not scripturally sound nor does it reflect the actual future of our church family. But right now, that’s how it feels.

My husband and I have desperately and deeply loved the small, closely-knit community that has resulted from the faithful work of church planters who we have come to love like family. It’s the only church our babies have ever known and the only church where either of us have ever felt truly at home.

But we were faced with making a transition as a congregation that we were not able to weather and this week, we held our last service.

As I take stock of all of the feelings swirling around in my heart right now, two stand out to me- and they are two feelings that at first glance seem mismatched.  Like they don’t go together and are somehow mutually exclusive:

Grief and Hope

As I opened my pastor’s email last week and read the words I had been dreading hearing for weeks, even months, I was hit with exactly the same sense of intense loss I had been expecting.  But unexpectedly, I also felt God moving in my heart and filling it with a sense of the sacred, with a certainty of His goodness, the perfection of His ways, and the hopeful promise of His plan. Intermingled with the sorrow, I felt a deep and holy conviction that the work God was doing through this sad, sad thing that none of us ever would have chosen was important and good. And so hope was born into my heart at the same time that grief was.

It felt so strange to me to be holding grief and hope together in tension with one another, fully convinced that each is right and good and a fitting tribute to what I was experiencing. When grief and hope intermingle, our worldly selves can feel wrong or guilty about it.  We can feel like the hope does a disservice to the depth of the loss we are experiencing. We can also feel like the deep sorrow, pain, anger, and other feelings that come with grieving are affronts to the blessed hope in which God calls us to trust. Surely we shouldn’t feel hope in such a sad time, and surely our sadness means that our faith isn’t deep enough.

But for Christians, Jesus’s life and death stands as our central example of the myriad ways that the Kingdom of God trumps the ways of the world.  The passion and death of Jesus are a perfect example of how deep grief and sacred hope can occupy space together. God’s perfect plan for all of us was unspeakably sad.  To walk through it yearly during Holy Week is heartbreaking, I can only imagine what it was like to live it. And yet, that desperately sad event also ushered in the greatest hope of all time.  Proof that God can bring beauty from ashes, that even His good ways can be hard, and that grief and hope can exist together in the sacred.

I am writing this during the season of Lent, Holy week is coming in just a few weeks.  The events of Holy Weeks will feel real for me this year in a new way. Grief and hope together are even more real for me this year- and in that, hope may start to win out.

I’m sure part of me will never fully stop grieving this loss. At the moment,  I’m angry in my grief and a bit snarky with God from time to time. But the rest of the story for our church family has yet to be written- and we really are a family. We will continue to be a family and the blessings of what our pastor, his wife, and their team have built will keep unfolding.

And one of them for me is the total certainty that my grief and hope can coexist, that the feelings in our hearts and the truth of God’s promises are NOT mutually exclusive. It’s a message dripping with the same grace and warmth from the heart of God that characterized our church. Such a fitting tribute to our story, which is still unfolding- even as we turn the page.

Posted in Faith

Simply and Honestly Ourselves

“That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for, those who are simply and honestly themselves before Him.” John 4:23 (MSG)

 

I’m a part of a group of women who are going through the gospel of John and sharing our thoughts in a Facebook group. I’ve been doing my Scripture reading out of The Message for the past couple of months and so it’s that translation I’m reading through this time.  Sometimes reading out of a different translation than I’m used to is just interesting rather than profound, but today was one of those days when it reached right out and grabbed me

The story of the Samaritan Woman at the well in chapter 4 is probably a familiar one to just about anybody who has studied Jesus or attended church for any length of time. In it, Jesus meets a woman at a well and asks her for a drink. She learns that he knows all about her difficult and sin-filled past (and present), he tells her about the LIVING water, and she goes off and tells the people in her village about Jesus and many come to believe because of her witness.

As is the case with EXACTLY ALL of the stories about Jesus’s words and deeds, there are layers and layers of good things to unpack and digest and be fed by.  I could take just that story and write a month’s worth of posts on it. And then come back in a couple of years and see it with new eyes and do the same all over again.

What stuck out at me this time, though, didn’t have as much to do with the content of the story itself as it did with something Jesus said about the nature of God and of worship and of what we are called to- something that Eugene H. Peterson, writer of The Message, thought about in a way I had never had.

Here’s the text from the New International Version, what I’m used to reading and hearing”

23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

And here is The Message’s version of this verse:

“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

 

 

Being ourselves before the Father.  Being MYSELF.

Worshipping out of our true selves.  MY true self.

 Wow.  My true self.  Who is that even some days?

 

This fallen world is full to bursting with messages about who and what we SHOULD be. As a woman, as a mom, as a CHRISTIAN, I live constantly in the middle of a veritable “should-storm” of ways of being, looking, thinking, feeling, dressing- sometimes who  *I* actually am, how I was created, gets lost in the shuffle. And if I’m perfectly honest, some of the messages I hear seem to tell me that who *I* actually am is wrong.  The world has very different standards from The Maker.

This verse is a reminder of the value of my true self to the One who made me.    Our Father very intentionally made us each as we are, and He did so with greater purpose and intentionality than any of us can muster in our own processes of creation.  And He did this because how we are pleases Him, delights Him- and furthers His kingdom.   He made us just right, y’all.  Just EXACTLY right. Down the number of hairs. on. our. very. head.  He KNIT US TOGETHER HIMSELF, just as He planned for us to be and when we come before Him in worship, He wants to

But in a world that tells us plenty about who we SHOULD be, that divine invitation to come as we are can actually feel quite problematic.  If it comes right down to it, do I even really know HOW to come as I am, just as He made me?  I mean, what is OF ME, THE WAY I WAS MADE BY GOD and what is OF THE WORLD and is part of what has landed on me from the “should-storm” that constantly rages around me?  Do I even know the Truth of me that God wants to see well enough to bring it before Him?  It almost feels like yet another SHOULD being thrown at me.

But God’s requests and invitations stand in stark contrast to the demands of the world.  Just like everything Jesus put out there for us, I know that if I run after it, it will be good. The “shoulds” of the world are a fire that consumes and destroys, the divine biddings of God are a fire that refines and purifies.  If I seek to worship Him out of my very being, then my very being, the one HE created just as He intended, is what I will find.

This challenge, to come as I am before God, is one I’m going to take seriously and really lean into.  I mean, God knows WAY better than I do and I’m quite certain His version of who and what I am and should be is FAR superior to whatever notion I’ve concocted in my head.  And what better, safer, more loving place to do the work of letting down the guards I’ve put up for the world and slipping back into my truest self than in His presence?

Will you join me?  Will you work with me in this season on worshiping God out of your TRUEST self, the way He made you to worship Him?  The things He calls us to are holy, sisters, and I’m glad to be doing them with you.

 

Posted in Faith

New Year’s Resolutions

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR, Y’ALL!

 

Yes, I know it’s September and we don’t actually turn the calendar to 2018 for four more months (2018!!!! I mean, what?  When did that happen…).  But honestly, between being in school myself, teaching school, and then having kids in school, September has always felt more like the start of something new to me than January ever has.  Consequently, September has always been when the REAL New Year’s Resolutioning has happened for me.  

This year, the resolutioning feels weighty in a way it never has before.  See, we are at that point in the kid-raising where things are ramping up a notch for our family.  Cam (our older) is starting full-day Kinder, Kenzie (our younger) is starting preschool, he’s doing soccer and she’s doing dance, so all of a sudden we have one kid in REAL SCHOOL, both kids in SOME KIND OF SCHOOL, AND evening activities.  Feels like we are getting thrown into the deep end of the pool and we had very well better have our flotation devices ready or have finished swim lessons or something.

I’m self-aware enough to know that being regimented, scheduled, and super-organized is NOT among my spiritual gifts and so this is going to present a major challenge for me and for our family.  Is anyone else in that place? Puh-LEEZE tell me that I am not the only one who feels intimidated by what lies ahead of me this year.  My insecurity is envisioning everyone sitting reading this like, “Psssssh, girl what is wrong? With? You? For REAL women this is our MOMENT!”  If that is you, I’m envious of you, happy for you, and praying you can love me even though I’m over here like this at the thought of what’s to come.

giphy (11)

Recently (how recently I am slightly embarrassed to admit, it may or may not have been within the last 48 hours), I finally moved past the weeks of mounting dread, of fretting and Pinteresting,  of “YOU DON’T HAVE WHAT IT TAKES” panic moments and into the actually PRODUCTIVE space of praying for discernment about what I need to get in place for our family for the coming months.  Took me long enough, right? Always does.  Bless my heart, God loves me just as I am…

As I prayed about what my New Year’s Resolutions should look like, God really surprised me with what He came back with.  He didn’t talk to me about homework routines, organizing our space, making a family calendar or anything like that- although all of those are important and on His list.  What He impressed upon my heart was that what this family was going to need more than anything was for ME to get MY game right inside of me, get my heart and head in order, because nothing was going to go the way it needed to if I’m all scattered and scrambling and adrift all the time.  

Mind= Blown

giphy-downsized-large

He urged me to sit and think about (and also ask HIM about) what little things in my life I needed to change or firm up in order to put myself in a place of strength.   As I mused and prayed, prayed and mused,  I realized that my real question for myself was not what things about my life needed the most fixing, what things about me were the most contraindicative to success in the coming months and therefore needed to be rectified IMMEDIATELY, the question was

What are the things in my life that, when they are in place, make me feel the most like I’ve got my you-know-what together?

  1. Tighten up my Heavenly Connection Game–  If I attempt to walk through my days not sufficiently connected to God, I basically end up like a piñata being battered, smacked around, and ripped wide open by the fallen world around me.  It’s amazing what big things don’t even faze me when I’m rightly anchored and it’s equally as amazing what little things do get me down and set me off when I’m adrift. Truly there is no such thing as ENOUGH connection to heaven this side of eternity, but that’s part of what makes our faith journey such a refining fire- we are constantly working to get better at being closer.  For now, two of my girlfriends and I are walking through the “Enjoying Jesus” study from IF:Gathering that unpacks the spiritual disciplines and guides us toward implementing them in our lives.  I’m excited to try them out and really work on finding pieces that will strengthen my daily routines that anchor me to God and keep the lines of communication and connection open. I’m guessing I’ll be blogging about that.
  2. Commit to MY bedtime routine–  In the book Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist (I love her, do you love her?  We are besties.  Only she doesn’t know it yet) talks about making a resolution NOT to sleep in her clothes.  She decided that taking care of herself meant actually putting on jammies at the end of every day and I can relate to that on such a deep level.  At the end of my days, I am usually EXHAUSTED and just ready to be done, I will throw on jammies, quickly brush teeth, and leave #allthethings just as they are in my desire to just be done. The problem there is that I wake up in the morning to a messy floor, mascara under my eyes, and basically start the day two steps behind.  It makes A BIG DIFFERENCE to me if I taken ten minutes at the end of my day to pick up my room and bathroom, set the living room right for the morning, actually attend to my skincare routine, maybe throw some oils in the diffuser, and basically don’t neglect stuff.  I wake in the morning feeling like I’m already all over it just by waking up.
  3. Meal. Plan.-  This family runs on food.  *I* run on food.  I have discovered over the years that our entire life can be in ashambles, the house can be a mess, we can be MILES behind the 8 ball, and yet if our meals are easy and on time and locked down, it’s somehow manageable.  And for me, if I have no idea what I’m doing for breakfast/lunch/dinner, the entire day seems like so much work.  I LOATHE taking the time to meal plan. I am a Big Idea Person, I would rather be solving the problems of the world than taking my brain space to attend to painfully dull minutiae like PLANNING FRIDAY’S DINNER ON SUNDAY. But I like my life so much better when I do it.  And also, if I plan ahead I can ORDER my groceries for the week from Fred Meyer and PICK! THEM! UP! Without even setting foot in the store with two children.  So, meal planning it is.
  4. Exercise-  If you know me at all, you know that physical activity is not my jam. I didn’t play sports in high school, I dislike exerting myself, I am not super into doing long stretches of repetitive things like CARDIO and STRENGTH TRAINING REPS- It’s not my thing.  But, much like meal planning and washing my face at night, I feel better about my life when I do it. And also, I’m about to be 39 1/2. Which means in six months…well, you know what it means.  I’m about to start needing things like regular mammograms and I already know I have several risk factors for bone loss- I basically need to start taking care of my body before stuff starts falling apart, actively working to maintain my health for my family.  And if I just *happen* to look slimmer and trimmer as I put my childbearing years behind me, that also would not suck.  So, 3-4 times a week it is.  Uggggggggh…

So, there you have it.  Four small things that are actually HARD things that if I do them, will make me feel like I have my ish together enough to run the show. If I do those things, they will lay a foundation for the other things. Allllll of the other things.

So, my sisters, what would be your Big Four? The things self-care items that you feel like will help you come from the place of strength your family needs from you as the coming months march on? Share them with me!  Let’s hold each other accountable, encourage one another, commiserate when we fail, congratulate when we nail it, and be better people together.