Dear Evangelical Church,

You pushed her out.

When she was small, you filled her head with stories of a big God who fought for small Davids against giant Goliaths, who parted seas for weary people chased by strong men, who protected the righteous from the hungry lions and a fiery furnace, and who sent His Son as a baby for a poor teen mom to mother.

You gave her prizes for memorizing Bible verses:

  • For God so loved the world He gave his only son that whoever believed in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
  • A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
  • Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

That was the God she knew and understood. The one who cared for the underdog and the marginalized. The God who protected her and provided all her needs. The God that loved her and was FOR her. The God who died for her simply because he couldn’t live without relationship with her.

And then, she got older.

She insisted on breaking arbitrary “rules” like the time she threw an orange at a friend across the church foyer and you turned it into a cataclysmic event and moral failing. In the ensuing drama, it was never mentioned that she was only there because she volunteered to watch the small children for the moms who were in a meeting. The focus was simply on her blatant “disrespect” for the 80s decor and furniture.

Or her inability to meet the letter of the dress code because of her tall stature, with her long legs and six-foot frame. Even dresses that were technically within the limits looked to be out of bounds, leading to loud whispers and rampant gossip.

She was tall and appeared confident and was expected to act and react with the wisdom of a forty-year-old, even though she was only just a girl. She was treated with disdain.

She learned from you that God’s rules are subjective, his love conditional. He desires relationship with her, but only if she behaves a certain way, and she will never be sure of what way that is.

And then, she reached adulthood.

And you showed her by your social media pages that refugees are scary and will harm our children. Immigrants will take our jobs. The “others” bring inequality on themselves.

She learned from you that God will not protect her. He will not provide for her. If other people were not created in His image, surely she wasn’t either.

After she got to know the “others” first by serving the homeless, and later moving across the world to serve those scary refugees, she finally concluded that your god doesn’t even exist. It was a logical leap. You were, after all, wrong about so many things.

The unconditional love you told her about was just a fairy tale, a myth, as you proved by your fear, your judgment, and your actions.

She walked away entirely.

I have a confession. I admire her for that. It takes great courage to reject the life and the lies in which you were once entrenched, to leave behind what you know, and walk alone.

Of course the whispers and the judgment only intensified with her decision, but she honestly doesn’t seem to care as she forges her own road.

It’s taken me so many more years to see what she found upon entering adulthood. I bought the lies so much longer. Although, our conclusions are different, we are so much alike. Our deconstruction allowed us both to break free from the capricious rules, from tough love, from the politics so entwined with the church.

For her, it led to atheism.

For me, it led back to unconditional love, to scandalous grace, to freedom. I found Jesus, again. And, while I’m still a little sketchy on what that means for my life, I’m clear on what it means for those around me…unconditional love, scandalous grace, and freedom.

Including my atheist daughter who continues to give of herself and serve those she finds in need.

Because there is grace for that.

From Delight to Crap

Recently, we took the whole crew to the human trough, also known as Golden Corral. Our oldest was busy, but we also had our married daughter, her husband, and baby, so eleven of us.

This visit, I decided to let Bo (9yo with Ds/ASD) come with me to fix his plate so he could make his own choices. He was ecstatic and delighted in carefully making selections of all the foods he loves. I noticed, like our neurotypical kids, his plate of food was all in the same color family…from beige to bright orange which made me smile. He wasn’t a fan of the fried shrimp he chose, but he loved the sweet potato casserole for which we got seconds.

Like all kids, dessert is where his true passion lies and he was in heaven with all the choices. After looking the selection over carefully, he finally landed on a chocolate cupcake with pink frosting which he quickly devoured and was rewarded with another one. After he finished that one, he noticed his brother, Eon, had just returned to the table with an exact duplicate. He very excitedly pointed and showed everyone around that Eon had a cupcake. At first, I thought he wanted Eon’s, but it soon became clear that he was just excited someone else was going to enjoy the thing he loved. He mimicked each bite his brother took with excited clapping in between. If he could speak, it was so obvious he would’ve been saying, “Isn’t it amazing? That frosting is so good! Don’t you love it?”

As empathy is a skill he has not yet mastered, we were delighted with his delight for his brother. We were all smiling and laughing. I winked at my husband and when I looked back over to Bo, his whole hand was suddenly covered in poop. It took a second before we comprehended what we were seeing. Then, the whole table erupted with cries of, “EW, ICK!” from the younger kids. I dove for my purse that had the wipes in it and hastily wiped it all off, while my dear husband prepared to scoop him off to the van for a change of pull-up.

Immediately, I was horrified and embarrassed, although I tend to roll with these things pretty well and it didn’t take me too long to laugh it off.

I share this story because it is so typical of our life with disability. We have very high highs, followed a split second later by very low lows. Usually, as in this case, we have a great sense of humor and are able to bounce back pretty quickly. But sometimes, it’s a lot and more than a little overwhelming. I know that we are not alone in this experience (okay, maybe we are in this particular experience, but I’m speaking more generally.) I know of many great families who are currently dealing with the “lot” part of parenting kids with disabilities.

I don’t have answers on how to live in daily bliss with these types of challenges. I’m not great at keeping my cool when a child is knocking over chairs and threatening to upend the dining room table. I could use some work on how to calmly endure backseat spitting when a sibling is losing their shit over it. I definitely need some tips on how to keep my sanity when the one thing that calms Bo is his favorite youtube videos of children shrieking and behaving badly.

The only thing I do know is that this life has given me a new lens. I see the world differently. I see people as more valuable. I am more convinced of Imgago Dei in everyone, regardless of ability, class, education, choices, behavior, or status.

I recognize that everyone has a story to which I’m not privy. I can and should withhold judgment, always. Acceptance, inclusion, and unconditional love are key. I have a much deeper understanding of grace and now recognize that everyone needs it including, maybe especially, myself.

Delight and crap seem to be the two speeds of my life right now and, as always, there is grace for that.

The Good, the Bad, the Serb.

It struck me again as we were snuggling after his morning shower, the overwhelming sense of joy because I get to be his mom. It doesn’t happen very often anymore, maybe because I’m lulled into complacency after six years or perhaps the challenges outweigh the joy, at times.

I realized that those who aren’t walking this road can never really know the contented feeling of snuggling a nine-year-old boy who acts very much like a young toddler. The thought of similar things when I was beginning this journey caused fear to well up. I could feel my throat constrict and my stomach feel queasy with panic over the very things that are now daily life.

I couldn’t have imagined being okay with a pre-teen who prefers musical infant toys to video games, or changing diapers on a child too big to pick up. I would’ve been appalled to think of fixing sippy cups for a third-grader.

Most of us spend our whole lives trying to mitigate disaster, to avoid pain, and to dodge unpleasantness. I still do, yet this boy of mine continues to teach me that embracing the hard has its own rewards.

When we’ve spent literally years trying to teach him how to live in a family, and he seeks us out to sit with us while he’s playing on his tablet, I am so grateful. He came to us without knowing how to show affection and not having any desire to learn, so I don’t take it lightly when he leans in for a kiss. Because he spent so long ignoring every question as his little non-verbal self didn’t know how to respond, I am delighted when he answers his brother’s query about how school was with a loud, “Good,” even though he’s likely just parroting what he was taught to say.

Things that seem so simple and trivial to most, are monumental in our world.

Please know the good does not make up for or in anyway overshadow the ugly. There is an inordinate amount of hard in parenting this child. Late night ER visits, physical pain from playful bites or aggressive throws, shitastrophes of epic proportions, constant neediness, broken furniture and electronics, and so many questions and self doubt.

Are we doing this right? Is there a right way to do this? How do we calm him down? What happens if we can’t? Will there be a day we cannot control him? What will puberty be like? Are we doing enough? …a never-ending sea of questions.

He wasn’t what I was expecting those six years ago when we flew across the world to add him to our family. I expected, no I wanted, a stereotypical child with Down syndrome. I wanted it to be just challenging enough to make us look good, but not so hard as to effect our daily lives. Laughable, I know.

This kid that I wanted to seamlessly fit into our family wrecked us. We are forever changed, indelibly altered but, though life will never again be easy, I am beyond grateful.

Perhaps, just maybe, without the pain, the joy wouldn’t be so powerful; without the difficulty, there would be less delight.

One thing I’m absolutely sure of though, there is grace for that.

Humility and the Prairie Dog

prairiedogI ran over a prairie dog on the way to the coffee shop. I swerved as he darted into my path, but he changed course in a split second, right under my tire. I checked my rear view mirror hoping, somehow, he’d miraculously avoided certain death, only to have my fear confirmed. I was unprepared for the sudden wave of nausea that hit me. I began to tremble, and had to pull over as heaving sobs wracked my body.

As cute as the little critters are, I knew this wasn’t about hitting a rodent.

This is the fallout from weeks of advocacy for the weak. (Really months and months as each new “policy” threatens a vulnerable population.) I’m exhausted, shredded actually, emotionally spent. I’ve had numerous sleepless nights. I’ve researched until my eyes burned, making sure I’m sharing the most accurate information. I’ve been on the phone with the offices of all of my elected officials and sent countless emails. I’ve raised funds for non-profits that hire immigration lawyers to represent the children and parents at the border.

I’ve tried to educate and counter the prevalent misinformation abounding on social media with facts. I’ve challenged theological fallacies with sound doctrine in hopes that eyes would be opened and hearts changed.  I’ve been called a “libtard” and “condescending”,  told I was being “used by the media”, accused of being “naive” and “stupid.” I’ve felt gutted by my fellow Christians who staunchly defend a policy that strips children of their parents and cages them, in the name of following the law. I’ve been deeply saddened by a complete lack of empathy and compassion on the part of those who call themselves Christ-followers.

I’m worn out.

Should I simmer down and step away from this type of thing?

politicsThere are those (almost exclusively on the other side of this “issue”) saying we should all just get along, and stop “letting politics divide us.”

But they don’t understand. This is not politics. This is PEOPLE. It’s about imago Dei. It’s about humanity. I cannot walk away from the mistreatment of fellow humans. I cannot let bygones be bygones when it comes to people. 

Some may be surprised to learn that I do believe it is a government’s responsibility to control its borders. Immigration reform is a necessity. That is a political issue on which most of us agree.

But it is a Christian’s responsibility to love everybody, always…to love our neighbors as ourselves…to treat others as we want to be treated. I want to be someone who acts justly, loves mercy, and walks humbly. (Micah 6:8)

It will be a shock, I’m sure, to realize that it’s the last part I struggle with the most. (Read, sarcasm.) Justice and mercy are how I roll. When I see injustice, everything in me burns with righteous anger which fuels me to right the wrong. My heart is rooted in mercy for those who struggle in a society where the deck seems forever stacked against them.

Oh, but humility. Argh.

When I’ve picked a hill on which I’m willing to die, when I’ve done the research and I know for fact injustice IS occurring, when people are suffering and time is of the essence, and some yahoo on social media posts false information justifying the injustice in the name of MY GOD?!? I fear I don’t respond very humbly.

pearlsAnd yet, humility would very much save me so much angst. It would keep me from casting my pearls before swine. It would prevent me from engaging in futile arguments in which my blood pressure raises to perilous levels. It would remind me to walk away. I can educate, but it is not my responsibility to change hearts. It is not up to me to condemn those whom I believe have lost their way and chosen nationalism over Jesus, safety over compassion, comfort over love.

Maybe, if I had chosen all three: justice, mercy, AND humility over the last few weeks, instead of cherry picking my favorite two, I would’ve had the emotional reserves to mourn for the prairie dog appropriately, instead of sobbing uncontrollably for a rodent, God rest his soul.

Oh, fix it, Jesus. There is grace for that.

Not Consumed

We went to a nearby lake in the mountains the other day. The sun was shining and the air was hot. The water, however, was freezing. The kids were undaunted, jumping in and yelling, laughing, and splashing. I stuck my foot in and when it went numb, decided swimming was not for me.

20180415_192410Toward the end our visit, I said something to my husband about wishing I’d brought my suit. “Oh yeah. That’s why you’re not swimming,” he teased. Always one to take the bait, I immediately ran into the water to my waist and dove under.

The shock of cold was electrifying. I shot up out of the water and could not catch my breath. It’s like I didn’t remember how to inhale. A train sound was rushing through my ears, my arms were leaden, and my lungs refused to work.

I remember so well the complete peace and assurance I had when we were in the process of adoption. I was worried about logistical things like funding and paperwork, but I never doubted that what we were doing was absolutely right. Taking a leap of faith was exhilarating and I had no doubt that God was going to be there to catch us.

Only I expected Him to catch us before we encountered the pain. I didn’t know we’d fall through the thunderstorm, be blown by hurricane-force winds, break the tree tops, get hung up on the branches, scrape our bodies on the bark and twigs, and land in freezing water.

It has been so hard.

It has been so amazing, so incredible, so undeniably worth it, but so very, very hard.

My faith almost did not survive. It certainly doesn’t much resemble what it was. For this, I am beyond grateful. But it hurt in the deconstructing. Everything I thought I knew was challenged. Up was no longer up. Everything was down. Nothing was certain. All was debatable until proven true.

Honestly, it took years before I even had the time or energy to deal with matters of faith or emotion, before I could process any of it. At first, it was simply reacting and responding, trying to keep afloat. There was a film of disappointment over my life that what we were walking through was unmanageable. No matter how many Bible verses I clung to or how many prayers I prayed, I felt immensely alone, completely on our own. It appeared He was not there.

I begged for sleep, but four hours a night was all I was allotted. I begged for answers, and while some came, we were always left with more questions. I craved fellowship and friendship and was rejected for failure to fit the mold. My circumstances were no longer relatable, and in my stress and exhaustion, I could no longer hold the mask of pretense.

I felt a slave to the “supposed to bes” of happily ever after, love conquers all, and the redemption narrative that is the public face of adoption. Our story paled in so many ways.

And where was God in that?

I still went to church (although not nearly as faithfully as pre-adoption). We often sang, “Oceans.” I stood stone silent each and every time, the bile of bitterness at the base of my throat, irritated by the carefree way those around me crooned the lyrics. I wanted to scream a warning, “Don’t you know what you’re signing on for?!? You could be drowning like me!”

 

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

No way would I ever trust God again with my future or my life. That’s what the experience taught me. God could not be trusted.

I still believed in God. I even believed He was good. But I didn’t believe Him.

Like the freezing water I plunged into at the lake, I felt God had thrown me into the deep end and I couldn’t swim. The shock was too much for me. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move my limbs. No lifeline was thrown.

What I couldn’t see at the time was that slowly, my body adjusted to the temperature and breathing returned to near normal. Although still in deep water, I could now tread it and keep my head above it. Sometimes, I even felt forward motion toward the shore, although often a wave would knock me back. And when I felt I couldn’t go any farther, He taught me how to float.

We sang “Oceans” this morning at church. I sang, too. Softly, at first, but then I realized I meant it. I trust Him. It’s a bit tenuous and I’m still finding my way.

My faith is tender in some ways, but there is depth to it I’m just beginning to explore. I’m a little raw, often reacting when a scab is prodded or pulled. For example, I heard a sermon today in which our pastor said something like, “We can walk through fire and not be singed. Our clothes won’t smell like smoke.” Isaiah43I know the Scripture well to which he was alluding. It was the passage that got me on the plane in Chicago for our international flight to our son.

When the pastor made the statement, tears poured down my face. Because that was not my experience. I know that sometimes we walk through fire and we are burned. We come out charred, in need of surgeries, debridements, and rehabilitation. It is a long, costly, and painful road to healing. However, if we walk through the fire and are burned, we are not consumed. That is the hope I know to be true. That is the hope to which I cling.

I’m still here. Still swimming, often breathless, discouraged, exhausted. But then, some words of encouragement from a fellow swimmer, an unexpected current to ride, or just some extraordinary beauty in an ordinary day will buoy me, and I’m okay.

I don’t know why other people are able to walk through water or even walk on it without waves threatening to engulf them. I don’t know why some walk through fire and emerge without a hint of smoke. That is not my story.

I only know this: He is with me.

In raging waters or scorching flames, He is here.

And there is grace for that.

 

No Blue Here

This World Autism Day, I am not wearing blue. You won’t find cute puzzle piece picture frames on my wall. We will not have cupcakes and invite the neighbors as we did for World Down Syndrome Day a few weeks ago. I LOATHE autism. With every fiber of my being I want to vanquish it from our lives. It takes all that is good in our family and shreds it.

Yesterday, on a beautiful Easter holiday, full of celebration and joy, I was peed on, bitten, scratched, head butted, spat on, pinched, and had furniture and toys thrown at me. Bo was out of control and we were unable to regain it. Nothing in our bag of tricks worked. It was discouraging and disheartening and demoralizing and depressing and any other sad “de” words I can think of. 20180401_152037

Do you remember having a two-year-old? Do you remember her lack of impulse control? Do you remember holding so tightly to his hand when you went into a store for fear of what he might knock over? Do you remember being caught off guard when she suddenly threw her plate off the table when she didn’t want dinner? Or having a toy whacked into your face when you were resting your eyes on the couch? Or the “throw-himself-on-the-floor” temper tantrums?

Imagine living like that daily, for years, only add on 60 pounds and the anxiety of never being sure how that child will react to a stranger. Is he going to spit in the face of the elderly man giving him knuckle bumps at the grocery store? Is the cup he’s currently drinking so sweetly in church going to be launched into the back of the lady three rows up? Is he going to reach out a grab a fistful of the nearest toddler’s hair?

We are constantly in a state of red alert, always scanning, forever anticipating, and yet, frequently caught off guard. It’s exhausting. There is no down time, no relief.

We love him. We have sweet and wonderful moments with him. He snuggles us, gives great hugs, seeks us out for affection, and teases us…but always on his own terms. But then he retreats, the veil goes down, and we are closed out. I see him try to reach us, showing us anyway he can that he is angry, or hurting, or sad. Worse, if we accidentally hurt him, for example, bump him with a door as I did the other day, he holds the hurt in so tightly and lashes out. Tears leak out after a few minutes, but he refuses comfort, not understanding that the pain was unintentional.

I am afraid of the future.

As he gets older and bigger, I don’t know how to keep him safe. I don’t know how to include him if I can’t keep those around him safe. I want to reach him, to comfort him, and to calm him. I want to guide him and parent him.

But I don’t know how.

Autism and its friends, OCD and ADHD, have stolen this kid from me, even though they had him first. I want him back. We can even share him if I can just have enough to work with.

That’s why this day is so hard for me. There is no celebration today, not for this. We celebrate Bo, always and forever. He is worth it. We celebrate his life, his light, his joy, and even his Down syndrome, but not his autism. We barely tolerate that.

received_10212289369841882I applaud those braver, stronger folks who are bringing awareness and wearing the blue. Maybe awareness will bring assistance and all of us can get the help and hope we need. But today, I grieve and mourn. I throw myself a pity party and whine a little, cry a lot, because tomorrow and the next day, and the day after that, we forge ahead. We research, plan, adapt, and duck. We do what we must to love our boy, autism and all.

 

The Graceful Hypocrite

A man called me a hypocrite.

It was during a Facebook exchange in which I expressed disappointment hearing Christians defend statements and policies that denigrate the marginalized and reduce services for the least of these.

He told me I’m judgmental and a hypocrite and I’m the reason people are leaving the church in droves.

The thing is, he’s right.

No, I don’t think I’m wrong for calling out injustice even if (maybe especially if) it’s Christians who are being unjust.

But I am a hypocrite.hypocrite

I know it. I see it every time I remember I’m not carrying cash so I walk past a homeless person on the sidewalk, and pretend I don’t see them. Instead I should look them in the eye, acknowledge I have no cash, and ask them about their day. I may not have money right then, but I do have the gift of gab. I can connect with them for a moment and treat them like the fellow human they are, squeeze their hand, and wish them well. But too often I walk on by, squirming in my own discomfort.

Hypocrite. 

I see it when I pray that God breaks my heart with what breaks His, and then scroll by the articles about human suffering that litter my news feed because I just don’t feel emotionally equipped to handle it right now. I only want to watch kitten videos or take celebrity quizzes because that is comfortable and mind numbing and maybe I didn’t really mean it when I prayed that prayer, anyway.

Hypocrite. 

I recognize it when in church I lift my hands with great passion and sing:

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

And then spend the free time of my week on social media or watching television because it’s easier than doing the work of relationship with God and frankly, I’m afraid of what He might require of me if I listen.

Hypocrite.

Or what about when I emphatically teach my children that we are called to be peace makers which is different than peace keepers. A peace keeper avoids conflict in effort to preserve a false “peace” and may spend years walking on eggshells in order to prevent upsetting the status quo. A peace maker will unearth the source of conflict and bring it to light so as to work it out and cause true peace to reign. It is messy and uncomfortable and a lot of effort. So, while my mouth is telling my kids to be a maker not a keeper, my feet are carefully stepping on the eggshells of my own relationships to avoid the effort, the messy, and the uncomfortable. Because it’s one thing to have wisdom in an area; it’s a whole ‘nother thing to act on it.

Hypocrite.

So while I disagreed with my Facebook accuser’s reasoning, I could not deny the accuracy of his charge.

I am a hypocrite.

stock-photo-hypocrite-in-word-cloud-concept-312949688I can hear the accusation of it, over and over, beating like a mantra of shame inside my soul. “You are a hypocrite.” It makes me want to shrink, to withdraw, to hide. I have nothing to offer. I am not successful in the good I’m attempting. The proof is all around. One wouldn’t have to look hard to uncover it.

I can strain and strive and work to become better. But, I know that will never last. Striving leads to more legalism and more rules which only leads to more hypocrisy.  No, better to fall on my face and admit it. We are all hypocrites in some ways, all of us saying one thing and doing another; all of us wanting to be different than who we actually are, seeing ourselves the hero while putting forth the coward’s effort.

It is only off-putting when I continue to pretend. When I deny my own hypocrisy, I fool no one and repel everyone. The shame is in the pretense. All that’s required of me is to take the off the mask. Jesus even said, “I’ve come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.” (Matthew 9:13)

I’m not already good enough. Are you? I’m reminded of another line from the song quoted above:

Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

I’ll not let the accuser make hypocrisy be my mantra. Grace will be the heartbeat of my life. I can easily get lost in the pretending, but grace is where I’m found.

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.”

“And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” Romans 11:6

The truth is, I am a hypocrite. And so are you. And with simply asking, there is grace enough for us all. Tightened Oily Hands

Living the Gray

Our youngest was tasked with dressing as “who she wants to be when she grows up” for theme week at school. That led to a discussion with the older kids about what their dreams for their grown-up selves were.

“I want to be Zak,” my ten-year-old Zak said simply (and with probable sarcasm.)

It struck me as profound. As I wrestle, in middle age, with who I’ve become versus who I wish I was, I need that bold, child-like simplicity.

I want to be me.

I want to be the truest version of Tara I can be. It doesn’t matter where I am in my career (not where I want to be), how much money I have in the bank (not enough), or how impressive my kids are (pretty amazing, but definitely human). What matters most to me is authenticity, living the truth.

It wasn’t so very long ago that life was black and white. I felt secure in my belonging in the evangelical church. We were united in our resistance to the world, to the others…those who sought to corrupt our children, to steal our freedom, to move our country on a path away from biblical morality.

It was all so cut and dried, so easy to understand. Do this and you’ll be protected. Follow the rules and God will bless you. If you love the Lord, everything will work out just fine.

There was a common enemy.

The World. 

So we lived in a bubble of our own construct. We were friends with each other. We worshiped and socialized together. We sought each other out in our workplace to align and become stronger together against the world. We found Christian businesses to support, so that our hard-earned money didn’t support worldly ventures. We were so glad to be part of the family of God.

But that wasn’t me. I kept straining against the box, popping out on occasion to question it all, only to be squashed into submission.

Yet, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it on some level. I miss the community and I really miss the knowing. As misguided as we were, there was certainty in what we were about. We were sure.

But lately, I can see all sides of every issue, too many sides. I see validity in the views of my “opponents.” There is so much more gray than I ever thought possible.

The old me would never have understood this, but there is grace for gray. People are never one-dimensional. We are created by our experiences, our upbringing, our circle of influence. We can be changed by one simple moment in time…an accident, a lost loved one, the birth of a child with special needs. Those moments shape us, and who am I to determine your shaping is faulty if I haven’t experienced your one moment in time?

People are rich with depth and nuance. Our world is a treasure trove of untold delight mixed with unspeakable suffering. There is little room for black and white, all good or all bad. Truth, while not fluid, is perceived differently by all of us based on our stories.

Woven through it all is an underlying thread of imago Dei, image of God. We are valuable. No matter what we’ve done, or what we believe, we have great worth.

You are valuable. You have great worth.

That truth is mine. It is the basis of everything I am about and all that I am for. You don’t have to fit inside a box to be accepted. Your choices don’t have to reconcile with mine. You are free, and you are loved, and you are worth it. Agreeing with you or not, I am for you. My God is for you. 

It is my great joy in life to see that you are known and loved well. It is my dream that others see imago Dei in you, too.

Instead of hiding in the bubble, locked inside the box, I wish to live tall and free with open hands. I want to have more questions than answers, always seeking the nuance, stretching to reach the heart of each individual in my path.

My truest me is revealing the depth of gray. I’m most authentic when I am peeling back the layers of black and white to expose the blessed hues of gray beneath.cold-snow-black-and-white-road

So, what am I as a grown up? I am me. I am loving and living the gray.

And there is grace for that. 

 

 

What She’s Always Wanted

Mickpic“This is what I’ve always wanted to do.” I could hear her smiling as she said it. My oldest daughter, Michaela (Mick), has been working hard to help in any way she can with the world refugee crisis. As she has written, “Currently, there are 65 million forcibly displaced people in the world with 21.3 million of those people being refugees. Refugees are those who have fled their country for fear of their safety because of war, threats of persecution, or natural disasters. While refugees come from all over the world, fleeing their country for one reason or another, 51% of refugees come from Somalia, Syria, and Afghanistan combined.”

Currently, she is in Serbia, the homeland of her brother, a country which has proven anything but kind to the least of these, and refugees are no exception. Graffiti is everywhere with slogans of frustration and hate making it clear that those with nowhere else to go are not wanted there.

Because the need is great, and she is strong and confident at twenty years of age, she was asked to go to the Hungarian border and lead a team to help meet the needs of the most vulnerable, people who are living in squats or out in the open, determined to somehow beat the impossible game of racing across the border to a life with hope. They are often harassed and beaten by police, and are without the means to feed themselves. While most of them are young men, too many are adolescents, barely old enough to have facial hair. And there are a few children, six and seven years-old with only teen relatives to watch over them in this wilderness.

Ever the adventurous quick learner, she learned to drive a stick in less than a day, so she can transport goods from the nearest warehouse to the people. Her willingness to do this cost her much, possibly including her safety, which is much more perilous in this position.

IMG-20170910-WA0000

Ikea, the wonder pup.

She also rescued a puppy from an IKEA parking lot. I know, I know. But, actually, I think it’s a smart move. She’s been training him, already. She envisions him as a protector for herself as he gets older, but also as a therapy dog for the children and the broken people she encounters. He’ll need to eat, too, of course. Also, as she is further north, she will need to secure warmer clothing and gear as winter approaches and she will be spending a greater amount of time in the elements.

She told me the initial quote after informing me she’s currently living in the warehouse, has no place to shower, and no stove on which to cook food. And, yet, this is what she’s always wanted to do. I hear contentment in her voice, pain and fear at times, but also peace.

When she started this journey, she determined to go where she was needed. All she sees now, day in and day out, is overwhelming need. If you would like to partner with her, you can give at wallet.google.com and enter her email: mickmae@gmail.com I can promise that any amount you give would go a long way. She is my daughter and thrifty is her middle name.

One time gifts are so appreciated and helpful. Monthly support would be phenomenal and such a boon to her spirit (and give such peace to mine!) She is meeting needs in a way that most of us couldn’t. I am so grateful for her willingness and her tenacity to do so.

If you are the praying type, I would love it if you would commit to pray for her for safety, endurance, wisdom, and grace. Please pray that she loves well and obtains favor with all those she encounters.

May the rest of be so blessed to find “what we’ve always wanted to do” in acts of service to those around us. In this world of increasing instability, I am certain there is grace for that.

Racism, Heresy, and Hope

When the events of Charlottesville happened, I was hopeful that real conversation would ensue. Many of my white Christian friends seemed genuinely puzzled by what was happening and the swift explosion of condemnation to it. I thought, perhaps, they would seek to understand perspectives they had not before fully considered.

Of course, I was wrong.

moneyMy social media pages are now full of memes poking fun of people “offended” by various things, (as if that’s what any of this is about), quotes from token conservative black people (as if the fringe should ever silence the collective whole), and false equivalencies (no sane person wants to remove the names of our founding fathers from anything), all of which were posted by fellow believers.

It’s for these people this post was written.

Sunday, our pastor spoke on Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s masterpiece.” He shared that a work of art comes from the inner most part of who the artist is. And he asked this question:

Is it possible to stand before a masterpiece and not recognize it as such?

The answer, of course, is yes. What I’ve learned in the last few weeks, is that while some of us don’t recognize a work of art because of simple ignorance, many of us refuse to see. Willful ignorance is our downfall. Standing before us are people of color, individual masterpieces of God, and we refuse to acknowledge them as such.

I can hear you protesting as you read this. You are denying that you are racist. You would never wear a swastika. You love everybody. You don’t even notice color. Purple, green, brown, yellow, whatever, it matters not to you. People are just people.

You simply don’t understand why this is such a big deal now, in 2017. Slavery was outlawed hundreds of years ago. Civil rights were won over fifty years ago. The playing field is level and you’re tired of everyone playing victim and throwing the race card. You’re convinced the media is playing us all against each other and creating drama where otherwise there would be none.

Does that about sum it up?

Well, I contend that you are not just racist, a case could be made that you are also dangerously close to heresy, which is defined as adherence to a religious opinion contrary to church dogma, or code of tenets.

One of the basic doctrinal principles of our faith is Imago Dei. Genesis 1:27 So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

All of us are image bearers of God, worthy of respect and equality. Instead of honoring that, you are placing your opinion, your experience, your desires, and your rights above people of color.

Collectively, people are sharing their experiences of being black in America. They are sharing their pain, their fear, and their reality. And your response is to silence them, to whitesplain what really happened, how they should really feel, and what’s really going on.

Because you have never had to worry for your life in an encounter with police, you are convinced that is truth for all. Because you have only ever been pulled over for valid reasons, you are sure that is true for all. Because everyone you know has a shot at a fair trial with a jury of their peers, it can’t possibly be true that people die without deserving it.

Because you have the luxury of living in a system created for you, your skin color, your culture, your hair type, your manner of speech and dress, you don’t ever have to think of race or race relations except when it’s all over the news, therefore, you are convinced that suddenly, race relations are “worse than ever” and it’s probably Obama’s fault.

Thinking about these things makes you uncomfortable and defensive, so instead of actively listening and lamenting, you poke fun and trivialize it, not realizing that you prove the point that equality is a myth by your very actions. It’s all about your comfort level, your feelings, your opinions.

By denying people of color their lived experiences, by whitewashing our history, by trivializing and belittling their woundedness, you are demeaning their humanity. You are denying their equality. And you are spitting on the artist who skillfully created them, the God you claim to serve, the God in whose image they were cast.

You are viewing these masterpieces through the value system designed by our culture, instead of the Word of God which tells us in Psalm 139 that they, like all of us, are skillfully and wonderfully made.

You are not adhering to Imago Dei.

Another tenet of our faith is loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is so easy to say, it has almost become cliche in our churches. Of course we love our neighbors. We are nice to the barista, we don’t throw the finger to the guy who cut us off in traffic, and we faithfully pack our shoe boxes every Christmas.

But love is more than that. More is required. We must love all people as we love ourselves.

In the same way we desire only the best for ourselves, we must want the best for others. As everything in us rises up to defend ourselves, we must rise to defend them. Just as we would fight to the death to preserve our own lives, we must be willing to fight for theirs. In the same way we seek comfort and solace in the face of heartache, we must reach out and offer it to them. As we want people to react kindly to us when we are not our best, we must extend grace to them.

So, what have you done with the plethora of emotion an entire group of people is experiencing right now? Have you come alongside to better understand, to right injustice, to bring healing, to be a bridge?

confederateYou have not. You have dug in your heels, defended your position, and shouted down the wounded. You have put objects over people. You have done everything but love your neighbors.

And you’ve done all of it with a self-righteous zeal…in the name of God. (Saul would be so proud.)

Again, I stand by my statement. If you have participated in this mess, you are not just a racist, you might also be a heretic, not even standing by two of the basic tenets of the Christian faith.

I’m calling you out. It needs to stop. You need to stop. It’s time to step away from Breitbart, FoxNews, AllenBWest, and all the memes that are telling you it’s okay to be a bigot.

It’s not.

But here’s the good news.

You don’t have to stay here in this mess. You, too, are a masterpiece of God and the rest of Ephesians 2:10 says this, “He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” That’s the amazing thing about our God, we always get a fresh start in Jesus and he has good things planned for you.

Are you ready to do good things?

Become a student. Here is a sample of recommended reading to get you started:

Books:

Heal Us, Emmanuel: A Call for Racial Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity Within the Church by Doug Serven

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity by Edward Gilbreath

Articles:

Anything from Jelani Cobb

Toward an Understanding of Prejudice and Racism

The Ultimate White Privilege Statistics & Data Post

Why I Stopped Talking About Racial Reconciliation and Started Talking About White Supremacy

It’s uncomfortable and it’s not easy. Everything inside you will want to well up and defend yourself as you learn more, but don’t you long to be a bridge of healing and a source of hope? I know, as a follower of Jesus, you do, and I believe that together we can.

I know from experience, there is grace for that.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4