My Dad’s Greatest Gift to Me

When I was 4 years-old, my family ventured down our street to join the neighbors for dinner. I tripped en route and my arms, apparently glued to my sides, did not extend and I fell–quite literally–flat on my face. Dad scooped me up, removed the embedded rock, cleaned my bloodied face, and gently shifted my nasal cartilage to its original position. I still have a cross-shaped scar on my forehead and a crooked nose to remind me of my clumsiness–and his compassion.

As a child born into a low-income family, Dad learned to be compassionate toward those who lacked finances and resources. When he was 10 years-old, his dad died suddenly, earning his mom the title of ‘Single Parent’ (to six boys) and the social stigma that came with it in the 1950’s. Between poverty and childhood trauma, Dad’s empathy for those in need began to swell. As he entered his teen years, he found tangible ways to support his mom, working long hours to contribute to her light paycheck and doing his best to stay out of trouble.  

Dad with 4 of his 5 brothers. He’s the second boy from the right. His mom eventually remarried and he gained another brother and sister.

After high school, Dad scraped together enough money for college and seminary to prepare for mission work with the Warao people of Venezuela. In preparation for this remote jungle culture and language, both he and Mom traveled to Costa Rica for linguistics training. During that year, Dad volunteered at an orphanage, where he connected with a boy named Ronny. Charmed by Ronny’s addictive smile and heartbroken over his traumatic story, Dad graciously challenged a stubborn, misguided mission board that ignorantly insisted, ‘You cannot adopt a child with black blood.’ Compassion defeated injustice (as it often must–even in Church culture) and that beloved boy finally became his son.

Dad & Mom commissioned by their pastor, prior to moving overseas.

While living in Venezuela, Dad built lifelong relationships with the Warao people. He got to know them while casting nets and pulling up fish, paddling in homemade canoes, and sharing stories around open fires. He learned their language and customs and humbly respected their ways. They welcomed him as their Bible teacher, mentor, and maybe most of all, as a trusted friend, willing to help carry their pain. On one particular occasion, he stood with a devastated Warao couple on the banks of the Orinoco and watched their tiny wooden box full of dreams and a baby, float away from their broken hearts. It was their seventh.

Dad on the dock, loading/unloading from a canoe trip with both American visitors and Warao friends.

After nearly a decade in South America, our family returned to the States. Eventually, Dad got a job teaching at a small Christian school, where his compassion moved through the classroom and down the halls. He encouraged those who struggled academically, welcomed those on the social fringes, and adapted his teaching style to those with different abilities. He was quick to speak Grace and unafraid to speak Truth to power–to be a voice for the ones who most needed an advocate.

After years of serving in the school setting, Dad carried his compassion into chaplaincy work, where he specialized in palliative care. He helped countless patients and families navigate the tumultuous road of grief and loss. Rather than comfort the distraught with empty cliches or religious platitudes, Dad found meaningful ways to be present, to create safe spaces for devastated humans to be their messy, broken selves.

Dad’s compassion extended beyond humans, too. He was a magnet for wounded or stray animals, helping countless critters who may have died otherwise. On one occasion, he let us kids keep an emaciated, oil-soaked kitten that my sister found stuffed inside an exhaust pipe–right outside our dentist’s office. We named the cat Lucky, of course. (Unfortunately, that 9 Lives thing is a myth because Lucky lived with us for only a few months before he was hit by a car. #tragicirony) 

Another time, Dad provided foster care for a Basset Hound named Charlie, whose owner had recently died. When the clock struck bedtime, this four-legged, floppy-eared orphan couldn’t bear to sleep alone so Dad slept with him on the couch to keep him from howling in grief all night.

My dad introducing Selah to Dundee, one of many exotic pets that thrived in Dad’s care.

Whether connecting with the Waraos, offering support for struggling families, or tending to wounded animals, every area of Dad’s life was (and is) marked with compassion–particularly his parenting.

 

Dad with his 5 kiddos, 2015. (Not pictured: excessive amounts of sarcasm and laughter. Also, frozen toes.)

Without judgment, he listened to my impossible questions about God and life and truth. He assured me that my doubts were okay and I wasn’t alone.

He was the one to whom I cried, “No! Oh my god! No, no, no!” the night I learned of my brother-in-law’s tragic and sudden death.

He listened to me rail against God and offered no easy answers–only a quiet understanding palpable through the phone.

He endured my rants against *Christian* institutions who believed burnout was a sign of ‘good ministry happening’. As a recovering people pleaser, I’ve appreciated Dad’s assurance that saying ‘no’ is vital for overall health and sustainable work.

My dad never really fit the stereotypical man. He doesn’t have a knack for car mechanics or construction and he never played organized sports. (Although, I’ve heard him tell people that he caught the javelin in high school.) While those skills certainly have value and I respect those who are competent in them, I didn’t learn them from my dad.

I did however, learn compassion.

He taught me to notice the lonely, the weak, and the beauty that blooms in those populations–if I’m willing to see it.

He taught me to weep with those who weep, to lean in to the ache of another.  

He taught me that there is no script for grief but we can choose to be present and tangibly support those left in its wake.

I close with a few excerpts from letters that my dad has written to me over the years. His empathy is woven through his words:

Dear Kate,

As your dad, who can only love with an imperfect love and who can only view an incomplete picture, I would control your life in such a way that you would be shielded from all hurt and pain. I keep reminding God (as if He needs reminding) that you’ve already had enough. I know He hears me and I know that you are the ‘apple of His eye’. And no matter what He allows, He will be our shield and defender, our rock, our shelter in the time of storm. I am praying for you now and in the tough days ahead.

May you strongly sense His everlasting arms.

~Dad (July 1997)

 

Remember that it is alright to carry your doubts to the Lord. He’s heard them many times from most of His children. He will not be shocked or angry. (November 1997)

 

Hey Kate,

Just want you to know that as always, I will be praying for you every day. I’m asking the Lord to give you peace about the present and the future. You will know the next step when it’s time to take it.

We miss you already but are content to know that you are serving the Lord so faithfully.

How we love you! (May 2000)

 

As your dad, I want to ‘fix’ what is broken but as a disciple of Christ, I have to leave that up to my heavenly Father. Please know that you are loved beyond words, by us and by all who know you–and by Him. Words will come as the numbness wears away.

For now, just know that we are with you.

Love,

Dad (October 2008, just days after our miscarriage)

 

I wish I could say or do something to ‘fix it’ but we all know how futile that attempt would be. There have always been times when I wished I could ‘rescue’ those I love from the injustice of life. I realize that statement implies that I have doubts about God’s goodness, His fairness or His love, yet I have learned through these many years that in spite of my doubts, I can still trust Him. Trust does not demand complete understanding.

We love you & Glendon more than life and we cherish our times with you and the kids.

Love,

Dad (July 2013, during a very difficult summer)

This weekend, despite the miles between us, I’m celebrating my dad and the compassion he brings to our family–and our world. I treasure this gift and I hope to use it well in my own life.

 

What characteristic do you most appreciate about your dad or male role model?

What is one meaningful memory about him that you’d like to share?

 

The One About Birth Moms

There’s a stigma that often follows the title “birth mom”–the woman who surrenders her rights for another to raise the child(ren) born to her.

Stereotypes might include:

Single.
Young.
Teenager.
Dependent.
Uneducated.
Foolish.
Poor.
Weak.
Emotional.
Incapable.
Naive.

Of course, any woman might identify with one of these labels at certain seasons in her life–one doesn’t necessarily have to be a birth mom–but these (negative) labels seem to be automatically assumed of birth moms.

“Was she a teenager?”
“Why’d didn’t she want him?”
“Why’d she give her up?”

I’ve heard these inquiries and more but I think they are the wrong questions to ask. They are not only inappropriate and unnecessary but they are also far too simplistic for the complex world of adoption.

The truth is that birth moms vary like the rest of humanity.

They are racially diverse.

They are poor and wealthy.

They live in subdivisions and subsidized housing.

They pay rent in small towns, rural areas, cities, and suburbia.

They wrestle with addictions and they strive to be healthy.

They are uneducated and they have multiple degrees.

They battle mental illness and they are of sound mind.

They are sixteen and they are thirty.

They are single and divorced and married.

They are already mothers and they are not.

They have hope in God’s love and they question His existence.

 

Photo cred: ritinhacorain at pixabay.com

Some are angry and detached.
Some are devastated and desperate.
Some are overwhelmed and terrified.

Some make their decision quickly and resolutely and some take more time to consider.

Some quickly leave their babies in a drop box outside a church.
Some slowly create a plan and choose their adoptive family.

Some prefer contact with their child’s adoptive family.
Some prefer lifelong distance.

Some cannot hold the one they’ve just birthed.
Some swaddle and kiss and struggle to release.

Some wrestle with guilt and regret.
Some live with total peace.

Photo cred: M Ameen/Vitamin at pixabay.com

In the story of adoption, I have discovered that the *Christian* culture tends to view birth moms as the villains, their children as the victims, and the adoptive families as the heroes. (Though I assure you, most adoptive families do not feel this way–despite how we are portrayed.) Church culture often praises the heroes for rescuing the victims from the villains.

Please hear me when I say: This is a false narrative. Damaging, even. We would do well to address it and challenge it, especially in *Christian* spaces where we preach redemption, forgiveness, and restoration.

Birth moms are often victims themselves, driven to make an incredibly difficult decision that they never imagined they would face. Regardless of the choices they made–or were forced into– on the road to pregnancy, they face obstacles and pain usually hidden from the public eye. Aside from the physical changes that come with growing a human, they also face public shame. They cringe at the well-intentioned but awkward, ‘Congratulations! When are you due?’–and the comments that follow after their victim is placed with the hero. They endure the labor, the hormonal ‘let down’ after birth, and the long road ahead with empty arms and a broken heart.

 

Photo cred: michydev at pixabay.com

While every birth mom has her unique experiences, here’s what I know of our kids’ birth moms:

They prayed.
They ached.
They wrestled.
They chose.
They wept.
They suffered.
They grieved.

And still do.

They are brave warriors, fellow image bearers of our Creator, and I am so grateful for their lives and for their trust in us to do what they felt they could not.

May we, who claim faith in a redemptive God, drop the labels, change the narrative, and see birth moms as women in a difficult place who need love, support, and loads of hope.

***Disclaimer: I realize that the relationships between birth families and adoptive families are complex and varied, depending on many factors: domestic/international adoptions, orphanages, foster care, adoption agency relationships, legal ramifications, race, history, family dynamics, etc. While there are universal issues related to adoption (such as loss, grief, identity, attachment), we must also recognize and respect the varied stories as we seek to support each person involved. I could not possibly cover every scenario in a single post but wanted to honestly share my observations and experiences with the birth moms and agencies from whom I continue to learn.

If you feel comfortable sharing a bit of your adoption story–whether you are a birth mom, adoptee, or adoptive parent–please post in the comments below. Or if you prefer to share privately, feel free to email me.  I promise to read and respond.

“But, he’s brown.” How Adoptive Families Can Respond to Awkward Comments

When motherhood chased me and finally caught me in the early months of 2007, I was stunned. Pregnancy wasn’t in Katie’s Carefully Crafted Master Plan, which included completion of nursing school and a solid job in the field before children arrived. I was 29 years-old and in no hurry to parent anything except our sweet pup, Sadie. If my biological clock was ticking, I never heard it.

Despite my total shock at the pink “+” sign and the emotional decision to surrender my years of nursing school, the arrival of my first born brought me deep joy. Less than two years later, another little one joined us.

 

 

As the white mom to white babies, I never heard anyone mention their skin color or question my role as their mom. People correctly assumed that these two kids belonged to the crazy-haired Caucasian woman pushing their stroller, the white female wrangling them at the grocery store, the haggard, pale lady feeding them crackers as they cruised around Target.

Remarks went something like this:

“Oh! She looks just like you!”   

“He’s obviously yours.”

“They look just like their mama!”

“Wow. You can tell they’re siblings!”

When we decided to adopt we were open to any color, culture, or gender. We knew that transracial adoption would be challenging for various reasons and would bring looks and comments from *usually* well-meaning people. But I wasn’t prepared for the intrusive questions following our adoptions:

Local Woman: Are you his babysitter?

Me: Um, I guess. He’s my son.

Woman: Oh. That’s weird. But he’s…brown.

Me: [awkward pause, trying to find words] Well, we adopted him.

 

Older female stranger yells as I enter a store with Sam: “OH MY GOSH!! IS HE ADOPTED?! WOOOOWW! WHERE’S HE FROM?!”

 

Man at the Store: Are they yours? Both of them?

Me with the two Littles: Yes.

Man: Huh.

Me: [Awkward silence hangs in the air as I offer no explanation this time.]

 

Woman At A Doctor’s Office: Where’s he from? Is he Asian? But he has brown skin. Why does he have slanted eyes? He looks so…exotic.

Me: He’s from the exotic land of the Northeast. [Because some occasions call for snark.]

 

Airport Security: I need proof that she’s yours.

Me: I say nothing but I do supply our adoption papers. [Because she’s brown, proof is required?]

 

 

I’m not sure why strangers feel the need to ask personal questions about our family or publicly declare our racial differences or subtly demand, “Are you their mother?” I suspect most folks are curious, overly friendly, or just plain ignorant. 

I also wonder if our culture might be obsessed with trying to figure out how to categorize people. When families don’t fit the tidy social constructs, particularly in matters of (ambiguous) race, people seem to want an explanation.

While the desire to understand familial connection is benign, the invasive questions can be hurtful. Many transracial adoptees struggle with identity and belonging, no matter how well-loved and warmly accepted they are in their families and communities. The frequent, public reminders that they are different from their adoptive family may further injure their (typically) fragile identity.

As a biological kid with 3 adopted siblings, I grew uncomfortable with the ongoing questions about our diverse family. I often felt like we were on display, especially in new settings as people tried to figure out whether or how we belonged to each other. To be fair, some strangers were engaging and respectful and our family has since learned to laugh about certain comments. But as a young kid, I resented being made to feel like we needed to prove the legitimacy of our family–as if blood and resemblance are the only defining qualities.

As a transracial adoptive parent (TAP), I feel that same resentment flare up on occasion. When I’m running errands with my kids, I am often asked to explain our varied skin tones. I feel like I’m on trial to prove to the jury that I’m their mother. My default response has been to people-please my way through the awkwardness, bowing to the interrogation of strangers. At times, I move to the offensive and overshare in order to control the conversation. I’m embarrassed to admit that there have been moments when I’ve felt obligated to share details, especially to those who gave financially toward our adoptions. I’m learning to let go of those expectations, both internal and external, and focus instead on what is best for the little ones I’m raising.

To the adoptive parent, I offer

3 Ways To Respond to the Awkward Comments & Questions:

  • Consider your kids. In your ongoing effort to help your kids feel a sense of belonging, their (current and future) feelings are your priority. The details of their diversity and adoptions simply don’t need shared with strangers, especially in public. While we adoptive parents might feel comfortable sharing when they are infants/toddlers, we must remember that those little ears are growing. Establishing healthy boundaries around their stories now can help build trust between you and them in the future. Their long-term emotional stability is more important than the fleeting opinions of others.
  • Creatively answer personal questions. Inevitably, people will wonder about the varied hues in your family but you don’t owe anyone an explanation for that. You can briefly state, “Yep, he’s my son through adoption” or politely say, “Thank you for your interest in our family but the details of her story are sacred and we’d prefer to keep it that way.” Or when someone asks, “Where are they from?”, you can respond by naming the city in which you currently live. Then graciously redirect the conversation in a way that protects your children and respects the curious.
  • Let your kids respond. If your kids are older and know their story, you can give them the opportunity to answer the questions. For example, a woman sees you with your 12 year-old daughter and says, “Oh! She must be adopted! Where is she from?” You could look at your daughter and say, “Would you like to answer this one?” Allowing your children to respond gives them agency as they determine who gets to hear (the details of) their story and when. Then support them as needed through the conversation.

 

 

I have felt the searing pain that comes with birthing a child and I have felt the bitter ache of receiving a child born to another. The roads traveled to bring each kiddo home vary with the hues of their skin, weaving a tapestry of colors worthy to be seen and valued–not questioned at every turn.

Though I labored differently with each child, I hold fast to the truth that these four belong to me. I am indeed their mother and I love them fiercely. I want to do all that I can to help them understand their identity and assure them that they belong. Following these 3 simple guidelines has been a good place to start. I hope they serve you, as well.

What is the most bizarre question or statement directed at your transracial family?

How did you respond?

Would love to hear from you!

 

 

 

The Way My Mom Loves

If you want a glimpse into how my mom loves, you can follow the clues on her hands.

They are practical: trimmed nails, subtle color, nothing dramatic. They are busy: often moving, ready to grab a broom, dust rag, or spatula.

Through the years, her practical and busy hands have pointed to her fierce love for many.

They’ve changed diapers and wrapped wounds.

They’ve held tiny, lifeless babies fresh from the wombs of the weeping Warao in the jungles of Venezuela.

Home on furlough before we returned to the jungle. Not pictured: my brother Jake, who came along 4 years later.

They’ve scratched my back, while the legalistic sermons lulled me to sleep in the pew.

They’ve hugged the heaving shoulders of her cancer patients.

They’ve jotted Algebra equations on jagged pieces of scrap paper.

 

Enjoying strawberry milkshakes with Selah at Parksdale Farms in FL.

They’ve tied shoes, pulled weeds, written poems, tickled piano keys, scrubbed floors, baked pies, hung picture frames, made beds, stitched pillows, ironed shirts, folded laundry, strummed guitar strings, mended clothes, and welcomed countless folks into her home.

Feeding the birds with Jude.

Then Parkinson’s came calling. He was quiet at first, then more insistent, peeking in windows and demanding her attention. For a decade, she pushed her tiny frame against the door, refusing to let him enter. But Parkinson’s will have his way. Eventually. He broke in and wracked her body with tremors and fatigue and a host of other complications.

But she continues to fight.

When energy permits, she creates more memories and takes fun road trips with my dad. She continues to encourage and pray for me and my siblings and their families. She makes an effort to communicate with her 12 grandkids. She plays Scrabble and wraps gifts and leads a Bible study in her neighborhood. She looks to meet the needs of others.

An adventure to Death Valley with Dad.

As with any progressive disease, the ticking clock reminds me that PD is not yet satisfied but I don’t want to grieve the unknown future–I want to savor the moments of the present.

I want my kids to craft meaningful memories with her that they’ll carry in their tender hearts for decades to come. I want them to know their Grammy, to see the strength of her spirit, to learn that no matter what horrors come knocking on their own doors, they can choose to live selflessly, to trust in the goodness of God in the midst of the awful. They can refuse the easy route of wallowing in self-pity. They can find another way–a better way.

This is the way of my mom.

Holding a snuggly Sam.

There may come a day when she will need a cane, a wheelchair, a stronger dose, a newer drug, a longer nap. Or more.

But not today.

Today she will arrive to our home. She will help feed hungry bellies, roll dice for a competitive game of Monopoly, and turn pages with snuggling babes on her lap. Her love will continue to pour out through her hands.

 

Chatting with a bright-eyed Eden.

I’m grateful for this mom who makes an effort to be with us, no matter the distance, time, or expense. She seems to find a way to ‘get there’, especially for significant events like the arrival of a baby, a move out of state, or a grandson’s surgery.

While I know our time on earth is limited, as it is for all of us, I’m thrilled to celebrate her this week and the way she’s nurtured me these past 40 years.

 

 

When the To-Do List Can Wait

Our home is a hive of activity these days. Many of you can relate, I’m sure.

The alarm sounds. Coffee. Quiet time. Exercise. Kids up. Breakfast. Work. School. Appointments. Diapers. Lunch. Naps. Writing. Meetings. Cleaning. Laundry. Homework. Dinner. Errands. Community investment. Emails. Social media. Whining. Snuggles. Sibling rivalry. School drama. Reading. Bedtime. Repeat.

Some days feel productive as I race through my to-do list, crossing off each item with fury and delight. (And if I complete a task that’s not on my list, I write it down and cross it out because I’m that person.) Other days, the FedEx guy finds me at the door with greasy hair and snot-covered workout gear. It’s as glamorous as it sounds. Don’t be jealous.

The weather is warmer now and the chirping birds and quiet bunnies remind me of our homeschool days, specifically our unit on butterflies. Despite the misleading title, that lesson didn’t start with a full grown Painted Lady. The slow process began weeks before when we ordered tiny caterpillars online, fed and nurtured them, took notes, and hoped for a few live insects by spring. (Side note: When I first typed ‘nurtured’, it read ‘neutered’. Can you imagine? Carry on.)

We discussed the four stages and watched as those caterpillars moved from cocoons to struggling butterflies and finally to flight outside. (Unfortunately, the eggs cannot be mailed). The gradual transformation was fascinating.

My six year old son, Jude, thrived in this unit. He marveled at the growing larvae and was entranced by the metallic cocoons hanging from their netted home. He drew pictures and wrote daily in his journal. But when his younger brother Sam teetered toward him, arms outstretched like Frankenstein, Jude set down his insect notes and welcomed the pause. He stepped away from his favorite unit to play with his brother. There was no sighing or eye rolling, even as Sam’s sticky hands grabbed his skinned knees, inviting him to play.

In my frustration, I often had to pry Sam from Jude, guiding my curious tot away from the table so my student could focus on his assignment. But really, I wanted to be done with school so I could keep moving forward with my day.

Then the familiar mental battle would begin,

“You shouldn’t wish away this interruption. It’s part of life.

[But I have so much to do. Have you seen The List?]

You shouldn’t be so focused on lists and ‘getting it all done’.

[But we need to get through this unit.]

Relax, connecting with your kids is more important in this moment.

[Aack! Shut up already. I don’t have time for this!]

Looking back, I see now that I was a student, too–learning (and often failing) to be okay with the morning routine taking longer than planned. With time and grace, I S L O W L Y began to accept the delays, to hold those chubby toddler hands rather than resent the tugs on my time. The only way to master these important life skills is to be given opportunities to practice them but for so long I had resisted more than I had received.

Jude’s example taught me patience as I watched him leave the table several times to accept a hug from his younger brother who insisted we pay attention to his antics. Jude showed me how to welcome the unplanned when he reached down to squeeze Sam’s cheeks, tickled him, and led him to his favorite toy. His sweet spirit gave me permission to accept that sometimes my work just needed to wait.

Metamorphosis: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly.

I often feel more like a chrysalis—trapped inside the hard shell of expectations and agendas, not quite ready to fully open up and celebrate the moments that look like interruptions. Not yet willing to welcome the *perceived* intrusions.

These days, my two little men have different school teachers, schedules, and units. They are discovering new and valuable lessons away from our weathered table. Meanwhile, I continue to loosen my grip on The Daily Agenda and to graciously embrace what often feels disruptive to my carefully crafted plans.

And I’m grateful for two growing boys who continue to show me how.

When You’re Waiting for New Life

If you’ve been awake at all this winter, you probably know that snow has buried the northern parts of the country. For those of us in the northeast, particularly my friends in the Poconos, this is not exactly the ‘usual’ spring we were hoping for.  

 

 

Well-meaning people chirping through their plastic smiles, ‘It’s not a big deal–it’s just the weather” would be wise to remember that ‘eternal winter in Narnia’ was considered a curse by the likes of C.S. Lewis. And that guy was a modern day prophet. I’m just sayin’.

 

A week prior to the ‘big snow’ here in March, we savored sunny 60 degree temps. As I played outside with the kiddos, I noticed our daffodils on the verge of blooming. I walked along the flower beds screaming internally, “Don’t do it!! Stay tucked inside!! For the love of God, NO BLOOMING!! Go back underground until you’re told otherwise!!” The excessive use of exclamation points cannot be underestimated here.  

 

 

But those stubborn blooms refused to listen. As the cold days returned, one flower peeked out, then another. And another. They seemed to arrive much too early and yet, they’re doing exactly what they were designed to do: bloom. Their hardy petals prove that life will emerge from the cold, dark ground. They are a resurrection of yellow.  

Many of us are still dusting off the snow from a rough winter—not necessarily a result of the weather–but due to the harsh realities of our lives:

An adoption that feels more like grief than joy.

Strained relationships.

The loss of a loved one.  

The weariness of advocating for your child with different abilities.

The painful realization that our sociopolitical beliefs impact our relationships, especially as they relate to racial justice and reconciliation.

The constant care of a child who needs extra support.

The ache of waiting to adopt.

For many of us, these grey months have left us wondering whether or how new life could possibly rise from the dirt. We cannot imagine there will be any beauty left to behold.

This Sprinter (see what I did there?), I discovered…

3 Steps to Take in a Difficult Season:

  1. Grieve. Mustering up the ‘choose joy’ mantra feels unhelpful to me in the hard seasons of life. We don’t have to ‘fake it ’til we make it’ (who wants to do that and how do we know we’ve ‘made it’?) or ignore the hurt or pretend to be okay. Christians often tend to heap theology–like coarse sand–on fresh wounds, because many don’t know how to respond to emotional pain. Let’s give ourselves–and each other–permission to be sad and to feel the pain of tough seasons without trying to candy-coat the hurt or frustration.
  2. Laugh. Grief and laughter are both necessary in difficult times. Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for both. They are part of a more holistic approach to our healing. So, bring on all the funny memes, GIFS, comedy shows, books, and hilarious texts/messages from those we love! One bedtime ritual we’ve added in our home is to watch a few funny online videos with our older two. We snort with laughter, then read and pray together, which feels like the best way to end any day.
  3. Take a social media break. In this oft negative (and hateful) sociopolitical climate, stepping back from FB has been the perfect move for me. I post occasionally about what matters personally and I no longer scroll. Instead, I’m exploring local efforts where the Gospel is already at work in areas that are deeply important to me. I’ve joined a few online groups that add value to my life and work, comment occasionally on friend’s posts, and text/email/call people in order to stay connected. Maybe it would be helpful for you to step away from the screen for a bit, go for a walk, or meet up with a close friend.

I don’t know what new life looks like for you in the midst of this [extended] season of waiting. I do know that we can’t control outcomes or the weather (I mean, clearly) but we do have some agency. As we wait, we can take steps to help us better handle the difficult seasons and we can trust that new life will bloom.

What helps you through seasons that feel relentless and difficult?

Lessons from a Prophet-Preacher: What I’ve Learned from Dr. MLK

Today marks the 50th anniversary since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I wish I could have met this courageous truth-teller and humble follower of The Way.

The Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, where Dr. King was shot and killed. Credit: julia5136 at Pixabay photos

As a sassy 6 year-old, I gave tongue lashings to those who bullied the ‘fringe kids’. I carefully scanned the playground at recess to watch for those in need of help. I returned glares and verbal jabs to the ‘mean kids’, whether in the classroom or in the pews.

This early bent toward justice–and many life experiences–have driven me to study Dr. King’s Gospel-centered work, to listen to his eloquent speeches, and to learn from his example. In my research, I’ve discovered an approach other than my own (which is to dropkick racists and verbally attack those who worship the Confederate flag–not exactly MLK style). King’s pastoral words spur me on to courageously and humbly address racism and to be a part of local and national racial reconciliation efforts.

On this memorable day, I offer two life lessons from one of my favorite preachers:

First, refuse to be silent.

As one who follows Christ, I believe I am called to speak out against injustice. In Scripture, the word ‘justice’ is often tied to the word ‘righteousness’. One who claims to identify with Jesus cannot ‘do right’ without seeking justice for the oppressed–and there are many ways to do this. These interconnected words command us to set free the captive, to care for and be among the poor, to reject the empirical powers and violent ‘solutions’, and to embody the truth that all people are made in the image of God and equal in value.

But silence in the face of racism appears to be the safer response. Silence allows us to move through our days without risking too much. To speak against racial injustice will likely disturb the social status quo, which might offend our family, friends, and local institutions. We could risk losing our comfort, time, online following, reputation, and job security–maybe even our lives.

And yet, how can we do ‘right’ but refuse to address this sin of embedded favortism?

Dr. King shows us how to ‘seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly’. He was full of holy discontent–and for good reason. Despite the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, blacks were still enslaved by the Jim Crow laws. Dr. King challenged these laws from the pulpit and in the public sphere. His words still speak to us–peacefully crying out for justice and unity and peace.

President LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964

He wrote letters to President Lyndon B. Johnson, pushing for law reform so that blacks could share the same privileges as their fellow white Americans. When told to quiet down, to quit challenging the systems in power, his answer was always a firm and gracious “no”. King worked hard to desegregate public places and to underscore the words from the Declaration of Independence that ‘all men are created equal’.

In sermons and speeches, he reminded the Church and the nation that silence was more tragic than the goals of evil men:

History will have to record that

the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition

was not the strident clamor of the bad people,

but the appalling silence of the good people.”

The second lesson is to tell the truth in peaceful ways.

For King, telling the truth in nonviolent ways was the only way to tell it. He refused to respond in hatred, believing that retaliation was not the way of Christ nor was it effective for authentic, sustainable change.

King said in an interview that this photograph was taken as he tried to explain to his daughter Yolanda why she could not go to Funtown, a whites-only amusement park in Atlanta. King claims to have been tongue-tied when speaking to her. “One of the most painful experiences I have ever faced was to see her tears when I told her Funtown was closed to colored children, for I realized the first dark cloud of inferiority had floated into her little mental sky.” Credit: James Karales, TIME.com

The white majority wanted to silence him while many Civil Rights advocates wished he would fight more aggressively. But King, influenced by the teachings of Jesus and Mahatma Ghandi, never fought with vengeful words or weapons against the ongoing systemic injustice. He continued to challenge white supremacy through peaceful marches and quiet demonstrations–refusing to strike back, even when he and his followers were mocked, assaulted, brutally beaten, attacked by police dogs, sprayed with fire truck hoses, and hunted down and shot.

Police dogs unleashed on peaceful protestors during The Birmingham Campaign, 1963. Credit: AP/Bill Hudson

Through the humiliation and brutality, Dr. King still insisted on a peaceful response:

Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all.

It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding: it seeks to annihilate rather than convert.

Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love.

It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible.

It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue.

Violence ends up defeating itself.

It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.”

 

The march from Selma to Montgomery, AL, 1965. They marched for the equal right to participate in the political process (voting).

Whether in prison or on the streets, the hopeful Dr. King responded with love toward his enemies, admonishing his followers to do the same:

“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.

We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.

Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

When I think of the current racial climate in America, I wonder whether we’re any more racially united than during the dark days of King’s courageous leadership. While laws have changed, the systemic effects continue and I have stories of my own that speak to the subtle forms of racism in various social spheres. I see pockets of reconciliation and change, yet I grieve the tragic and senseless loss of black lives and the silence of the ‘good people’.

I think of:

Rodney King (1991)

James Byrd Jr. (1998)

Sean Bell (2006)

Trayvon Martin (2012)

Renisha McBride (2013)

Michael Brown (2014)

Walter Scott (2015)

Freddie Gray (2015)

Stephon Clark (2018)

And countless others murdered out of unjust fear, unfounded suspicion, and unchecked anger toward those cloaked in brown or black skin.

Funeral procession for Dr. King, April 9, 1968.

We cannot ignore the racism that is woven into the fabric of our nation: housing, education, employment, mass incarceration, and yes, even within the Church.

Friends, the statistics (which are many) are hard to argue and the stories painful to read. We owe it to our black and brown brothers and sisters to pay attention, to seek to understand their reality, to confess and collectively grieve, and to move forward in humility and solidarity.

I am so deeply grateful for Dr. King’s work on behalf of our country and for the Kingdom.

And I’m learning to speak up–beyond those sassy playground days–and tell the truth more graciously.

If you could sit down with Dr. King today, what would you ask him?

How has his work and/or words influenced your life?

 

If you’re looking to further explore racial justice and racial reconciliation, I highly recommend educating yourself and spending time in conversation with people of color (I find it best to just listen). You can see my recommended resources from a previous post here.

Today, I offer a few more:

  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting in the Cafeteria Together? And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum, PhD
  • Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland, Director of the Center for Reconciliation, Duke Divinity School
  • Be the Bridge: Equipping the World to Do the Work of Racial Unity https://beabridgebuilder.com
  • Janie Velencia, “Majority Of White People Say There’s Racism Everywhere, But Not Around Them,” Huffington Post, July 7, 2015, htttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/white-people-racism-poll_55a91a4fe4b0c5f0322d17f2
  • The Loving Generation: an original documentary series that follows the stories of children born to one black parent and one white parent after the 1967 decision of Loving v. Virginia.

 

**Unless specifically labeled in the post pictures, all photos were taken from: https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/martin-luther-king-jr/pictures

 

A Letter to Sam on World Down Syndrome Day 2018

Dear Sam,

Happy World Down Syndrome Day, buddy! I am thrilled to celebrate you and raise awareness for those with Down syndrome. I’m so thankful to walk through life with you and connect with so many other families who have loved ones who also have that extra chromosome.

I remember when your Dad and I decided to adopt. We took a few months to pray and then a few steps of faith down an unknown, beautiful road. We waded through mounds of paperwork, somehow proving to the state that we were qualified to add to our family. Long months of waiting eventually led to that life-changing phone call, when we learned of you.

I prayed and wept and fought for you. And when I finally met you, I never wanted to leave your side, keeping a watchful eye on the NICU staff as they wheeled you away for surgery. When they brought you back, you were full of tubes and IVs but even they could not keep me from you. I weaved my hands between the wires, carefully untangling your limbs so I could snuggle you. I cupped your tiny fingers in mine, covered your sweet face with kisses, and gave thanks for the gift of you.

Here we are, dear one, 3 ½ years later. You are no longer tethered to any beeping machines. You are less interested in sitting on my lap unless you’re really tired. You are running and dancing and grinning and teasing. You are building LEGOs, racing trains, learning signs, tickling siblings, and meeting milestones at your own pace.

You have moved from my arms to my lap to a spot in the preschool room. You are no longer constantly within my reach and I am painfully aware of what the passing seasons mean for you and me. I didn’t struggle to release your siblings like I struggle to S.L.O.W.L.Y. release you–to free you to learn and grow apart from me.

I confess my worry over letting you venture too far without me. I see our Creator’s fingerprints all over you but I also realize that many in our world do not. People can be ignorant and cruel and I cannot always protect you from the ugliness of humanity.

You are smart and capable, to be sure. You are learning social cues and interpreting facial expressions. You can do far more than the negativity ever said you would.

You are able to communicate your needs and wants but will others be willing and patient enough to listen?

You are funny and kind and helpful but will others see you and take advantage?

Your life has value and meaning but will others notice your differences and make assumptions about your inherent worth?

You have worked hard and struggled to reach your goals but will others use your delays as a reason to exclude and hurt you?  

You bring humor and joy and friendship to our lives but will doctors and geneticists and governments continue to justify the elimination of those like you?  

Sam, I don’t have the power to change minds or hearts but I can give you space to be you. I can utilize resources and programs that will encourage your growth and development. I can vote for people who view Down syndrome as a vital, beautiful part of our culture–not as an expense or liability. I can give you opportunities to be exactly who you are in this broken world and I can say to anyone willing to listen and learn, “Here’s an eraser. Let’s get to work on those margin lines.”

When will Down syndrome be considered a cultural norm with no need to commemorate on 3/21?

When will a diagnosis of Down syndrome bring smiles and celebration rather than averted glances and apologies?

When will people no longer stare at you for your differences?

When will your presence in our world be more ‘normal’ than your absence?

I cannot answer these questions but I can help to educate and inspire others, advocate for you, and shout your worth to a world that needs reminded often that ‘we are more alike than different’.

May you know how much I love you, Sam–and if I had to go back in time, I’d choose you all over again.

Love,

Mommy

Free Advice from a 40-Year Old

I bid farewell to my 30’s last week.

Some good-byes are difficult but not this one.

I have a new sense of freedom as I celebrate another year of life.

A friend recently asked me, “What do you feel free from?” Well, for many years, I wrestled with issues related to my identity, my dreams and goals and gifts, all while trying to please people who had their own ideas of who I should be.

I’m walking away from decades of giving permission to the poison whispered in my ears: “You’re not enough…You have nothing to offer…Do more and you’ll be accepted…Be ‘this’ and we’ll include you…Work harder…God expects more from you…You should be married by now…You should have kids by now…You’re just a SAHM…You should only be a SAHM…Be more perky and outgoing…Sit down and shut up…Rest is for the weak…Saying ‘no’ means you’re selfish and lazy…”

Toxins. All of them.

I’m in the recovery phase now, better prepared to resist the lies, feeling strong and free and well-loved by those who matter, especially the One who’s brought me to the BIG 4-0.

As I reflect on years past, I’m grateful for the growth and I’m ready to discover new lessons as I move forward in faith. In looking ahead, I offer a glimpse of what I’ve learned on the road to forty:

1. Embrace your personality and gifts. In my early twenties, I thought I was extroverted, that I adored all things people-y, and that I shouldn’t take a break from serving others. I got the sense from church and ministry culture that extroverts were more like Jesus so I tried to live with that persona. I shunned my own needs so I could serve others with endless energy, much like I imagined Jesus had served. Turns out, that’s just warped theology.

I didn’t know or like myself enough to set healthy boundaries with people who were more like leeches than actual humans. I let them suck my time and energy and manipulate my opinions and decisions because that’s what good little Christian girls do for people–for God.

Hearing oft misunderstood words like ‘ministry’ and ‘service’, and ‘sacrifice’, spoken by those in authority, pushed me to give in ways I never should have. Then I railed against my loved ones when I crumbled beneath the weight of my exhaustion and guilt. People-pleasing ‘for Jesus’ stole my joy, emotional health, and mental space.

The most revolutionary word I’ve learned in 40 years.

Through prayer, personal counseling, and time to heal, I’ve learned that the agendas of others do not determine my decisions or personality, that saying ‘no’ is revolutionary, and that my voice matters, too. I’ve finally embraced my introverted self, my INFJness and I’m stepping into my 40’s without feeling the need to please the ones who demand that I be their version of who God made me to be. 

In related news, if you aren’t familiar with the Enneagram, Google it–like yesterday.

2. Jesus is Love, Truth, and a bit of Mystery. He’s the Son of God who loves us completely and perfectly. He is fully divine yet fully human–a union my mind cannot grasp. The more I read of His character and life, the more questions I have and yet the more sure I am of His faithful love.

His practical care for the outcasts, those rejected by their culture and religion, those struggling with dark secrets and sin–even His enemies–both encourages and challenges me.

Do I love like that?

Do I love those who cannot return a favor?

How do I love the kid that bullies my daughter or mocks my son with Down syndrome?

How do I love without enabling a narcissist?

How does my faith in Jesus shape my ideas on war, poverty, crime, laws, justice, and all issues related to our humanity?

How do I live at peace with everyone–as far as it depends on me?

What does it mean specifically to love Jesus? And what does it mean to be loved by Him?

I wrestle with these questions and more. I’m learning to accept what I know to be true in His Word and I’m trusting that some mysteries may never be understood in my earthly life. And that’s okay. He doesn’t ask me to be certain–He asks me to trust.

3. Marriage can be fantastic–and maddening.

In 15 years of marriage, I’ve found that love is best served up through tiny, seemingly insignificant decisions to care for the one I married. It’s one big fat, selfless relationship and some days and seasons are really hard. I offer a few suggestions:

Listen to each other.

Be kind.

Try not to yell. It’s a waste of energy.

Don’t badmouth your spouse, especially publicly.  

Pray every day together.

Be honest about your needs.

Keep dating. Schedule dates no matter how tight your time and finances. Trade a night out with another couple. Or go cheap (like we do): put the kids to bed, move your phones out of sight, pour the wine, make the popcorn, and actually look at each other. Our rule: we don’t talk about the kids or the jobs. Talk about your personal and marital successes, failures, areas to improve, hopes and dreams–whatever.

Have lip synch competitions–add your kids or other families into the mix. These are gold, especially if your spouse has all the Petra songs memorized. I’m not naming names.

Laugh daily. Share hilarious stories or find YouTube videos of people fails. Watching people trip and fall and smash those perfect wedding cakes is strangely satisfying. Guaranteed to make you chuckle.

4. Parenting is more of an art than a science. Remember when you didn’t have kids and you held in your hands the most precious parenting advice? All those how-to’s made sense to you, didn’t they? And then you had kids and you just laughed and laughed because you realized you didn’t know jack.

There are great resources available today for those of us in the parenting trenches but one (or a hundred) books, classes, etc. will rarely be effective for every kid. We have a tween, an elementary kiddo, a preschooler with Down syndrome, and a toddler. I birthed our two oldest and we adopted our two youngest, who are the most beautiful biracial kids east of the Mississippi. I’m not biased AT ALL. Obviously, there is no one formula that works for our brood but we still access a variety of helpful books, podcasts, and classes because awareness and education are useful and effective in helping us along.

If you follow me on FB, you know the chaos that is our home. And you also know that I don’t have all the answers on parenting–not even a few–but I do know my kids and I have a sense of their current needs.

Here’s what I’ve learned in ten years of parenting:

  • Kids need freedom to make mistakes.
  • Kids need age-appropriate boundaries.
  • Kids need unconditional love.
  • Kids need connection.
  • Kids thrive with laughter.

The challenge to parenting my kids well is to love them unconditionally in ways that they understand, to know if/when to enforce healthy boundaries, and to maintain a connection to their hearts in the midst of discipline. It’s a tough gig some days.

 

As for the results? Well, I can’t predict the future or control their choices. Life has no guarantees so there’s no way to ensure that my hard work, effort, and prayers will take root or blow away in the wind. Will my cherubs become entitled, spoiled brats who think the world owes them something? Or will they credit their brilliant parents and stellar upbringing [insert sarcasm] when they win the Presidency, eradicate poverty, and find a cure for cancer? Stay tuned!

In the meantime, we read, laugh, play, dance, screw up, forgive, and pray together, while making time to explore our lives in light of God’s Truth. (And we watch America’s Funniest Home Videos online because I want their laughter to ring in my ears when they eventually fly the nest.)

5. A small group of friends is worth more than 100 acquaintances. I’m indebted to the tiny circle of people who truly get me. Author Sarah Bessey refers to this group as her ‘Somewheres’. Agreed.

I have a select few who know my besetting sins, tendencies, ‘secret’ failures, desires, and fears. They are my Somewheres–a safe place where I can hold out the refuse and humbly ask, “Will you help me work through this stuff?” And my Somewheres assure me of their presence, graciously help me to sift through the mess, and gently but boldly speak Truth when I most need to hear it.

My Somewheres have permission to challenge me. We share mutual trust, respect, and loyalty. They’ve seen the outtakes of my edited life and they’re still for me, consistently offering support through their presence, prayers, and hysterical GIFs. I highly recommend naming your Somewheres and connecting with them as much as possible.

 

6. Invest in your health. Find a sustainable exercise that you enjoy. I like road running. I crave the time outside to think and process and write essays in my head. Every drop of sweat is a stressor left along the road so that when I walk through the front door in all my sweaty funk, I’m better able to fulfill my roles.

I also *enjoy* (like one might *enjoy* a sledgehammer to the face) high intensity workouts with strength training. This is an effective winter alternative since I don’t run outside in temps below 40–it’s simply against my exercise religion.

As for proper nutrition, I aim to eat what fuels me and I enjoy the occasional treat that I find to be worth the calories. I still have more wobbly bits than I care to see but I feel strong and the scale numbers aren’t climbing.

Now, I’m gonna get bossy for a minute. PLEASE: Make that annual appointment with your doctor. Check your parts and moles in the shower. Get your blood drawn. Schedule the mammogram. Discover your triggers. Call that counselor (or trusted pastor/friend) to help you process your pain, trauma, loss, next step, or just to maintain your mental health. Discover the cause of your fatigue or strange symptoms. Pay attention to and take good care of the only body/mind/soul God gave you.

7. Work and dreams do not need to be mutually exclusive. Dreaming requires a certain level of faith and courage because often our dreams don’t put food on the table or pay off student loans–at least not right away. Dreams feel impractical when they don’t (yet) provide a sustainable living or health coverage. So, we take the job that we hate and feel our dreams begin to shrivel–but we’re getting paid and covering our expenses, right? Maybe we think, “It’ll get better. If I can just get through this time, then I’ll pursue what makes me come alive….” Maybe.

Maybe there’s a third way. Maybe we can take whatever job we need (or can find) for a season while also working toward our dreams.  

 

Author Frederick Buechner said, The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

What makes you deeply glad?

How can you employ your gifts and dreams in meaningful ways? How can you use your creativity and passion to help bring God’s Kingdom here? What would that look like specifically in your life?

I currently work as a SAHM–a mutual, intentional decision between Glendon and me. I realize our choice is a privilege that most families around the world cannot afford to consider because many are struggling just to survive. I know many families who’ve chosen to balance parenthood with their careers & dreams and they’re thriving. I also know families in which one spouse would like to work as a full-time parent (and all that comes with that choice) but the budget won’t allow for it. No matter what families decide, there are always pros and cons to consider.

While I’m grateful for the time and opportunity to be at home with my kids in this season, motherhood was never my ‘dream job’ nor my only dream. When I think of what brings me deep gladness, I imagine serving my readers with words that matter–and earning an income doing it. God gave this dream to me and I intend to use it as best I can, even with littles underfoot. For all of you looking for a third way: I get it and I hope that you can find a way to move toward your God-given dreams in ways that serve and heal and bring Truth to our world.

There are countless personal lessons that I simply could not make time or space for in one blog post. The ones listed have proven to be the most significant and life-shaping for me.

Here’s to another 40 years of deeper faith, more laughter, and bolder dreams.  

How about you?
What lessons have you learned through the years?
For those of you older than 40, what words of wisdom do you have for those of us following behind?
Would love to hear from you guys!

When It’s Hard to Love Our Neighbors

Determine Your Role: Part 3 of 3 in the LYN Series

When we left a quiet cabin in the woods for an old home in an active small town, my understanding of what it means to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ shifted with the contents in our boxes. Living next door to people is nothing new for me but the level of proximity was an adjustment.

Home in the Poconos

For the past 3 years, we’ve shared a yard with our immediate neighbor, used a town parking lot space as our driveway, and met all kinds of characters in a 1-mile radius. We can look out our front windows and take note of who’s visiting the bank. In related news: I can hear your music playing when you roll up to the ATM. It’s okay, though–I like Bruce Springsteen. Good choice.

Our back door opens to an alley where kids (and adults) run helter skelter to beat the clock before karate class–their belts, bags, and shoes trailing behind them. I see tweens on bikes and skate boards roaming around after school and delivery trucks unloading their loot at the pharmacy.

As one who craves silence and total darkness for optimal sleep, I confess this move was a wake-up call to my petty expectations. Our picturesque lake view in the Poconos, where wildlife (and our kids) roamed freely, has morphed into concrete sidewalks and traffic laws.

Hiking in our ‘backyard’ with our older two

I’ve traded quiet hikes in the woods for animated walks with loud pick-ups, barking dogs, and Confederate flags that make me cringe.

Since our move, I’ve learned that our small town was once a KKK hot spot. Friends of mine remember the marches–led by angry cowards in white sheets and pointy hoods– just a few yards from our front porch. Current meetings are held less than 10 miles from our town.

Reading Luke 10:25-37 was easier when I only had to contend with a noisy camp guest or two. The command to love my neighbor as myself hardly seems difficult when those neighbors are beautiful black bears. Or when those neighbors share similar values and core beliefs. But here? Where the KKK uses my post office? Where white supremacists live and work? Where many imply that God is a white Republican and gun ownership is next to godliness? Loving my neighbor can feel impossible and I finally ‘get’ the scandalous nature of the Good Samaritan.

Easier-to-love neighbors (when they aren’t destroying trash cans)

As I’ve discovered my neighbors (part 1 of 3) and defined the love (part 2 of 3 ) written in Luke 10, I’ve also determined my specific role: to care for my neighbors next door and beyond–even when I struggle to relate. This means I wave to the white supremacist while humbly, peacefully helping him to see the beauty in our diverse family. This means I am friends with the poor around me and I get to join the local efforts crossing the socioeconomic barriers. This means I learn the names of my neighbors and find practical ways to remind them of their worth. This means I get to partner with my church and other organizations to effectively engage and support global efforts to reach those in desperate need.

 

 

Looking at this text through my current lens has required a shift in my perspective and a break in my heart. The Good Samaritan moves me to confess my resistance and lame excuses and trust God more fully as I’m pushed beyond my physical, emotional, or financial comfort.

“Why did you move?” they ask. “Why would you uproot your kids from that adorable stone cabin with a 5-minute commute and 6 weeks paid vacation accrued? Why would you abandon that beautiful lakeshore where your littles could catch salamanders in the spring, make new friends in the summer, collect rainbow leaves in the fall, and skate on the lake when winter arrives? Where words like ‘quiet’ and ‘safe’ and ‘fresh air’ were the best descriptors of your home environment? What were you thinking?”

 

View from our porch in the Poconos

Be assured: we were thinking. And praying. And wrestling with the unknowns and the mysterious leading of God. I do know this: it was time to relocate, despite the idyllic setting, comfortable living, easy commute, and quiet outdoor life. God had worked in us and through us in the Poconos and the time came for Him to work in and through us right here–in small town Maryland.

Some days, this area is more difficult to love. I struggle with the homogenized schools and churches and neighborhoods and how that culture affects our transracial family. I have legitimate concerns about the subtle–and not so subtle–racism, the proud insistence on flag worship, and the *angry* resistance and exclusion toward anyone who challenges the local status quo.

I am however, willing to listen and learn in the process.

I listen to the stories and I learn that my proximity to my neighbors–made in the image of God–reminds me of my need for a Love beyond myself. I can move from avoidance to genuine concern for their well-being because God has so loved me in my ugliness.

I listen to T, a man who plays guitar in pubs around the state as he continues to grieve the loss of his son to a deadly seizure.

I listen to J, an incredibly kind and generous man with an easy laugh despite the pain of his divorce and the recent, unexpected death of his infant grandchild.

I listen to A, chatting while she wrangles two tots as her other two ramble toward karate practice. We chuckle over our shared *obnoxious* passion for gardening and the chaos of parenthood.

I listen to M, a man rejected by his birth family, then abused by the foster care system. We talk about the pain of his loss, adoption, and the love of God–our Mother.

I listen to my kids’ friends, “I live with my mom and stepdad but I don’t like him…My mom is marrying her boyfriend but I don’t like him…My dad just went to jail…”

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

In 3 short years, these checkered stories have become our friends. We welcome them into our home, we bake goodies for special occasions, we celebrate their birthdays and happy life events, and we surprise them with groceries. We tolerate the smell of tobacco and body odor because connection is more important than our particulars.

 

 

My proximity to my neighbors allows me the privilege of hearing their stories. Yes, it’s emotionally taxing. Yes, it feels like an interruption to my very full days. Yes, I struggle with the smell of mushroom farms and menthol. Yes, I miss the wildlife and the fresh air and the quiet.

But.

My life is richer. I see lost and broken people daily and I remember that in order to love my neighbor as myself, I must admit my own need for the One who loves me, too, and died to set us all free. I must move toward my neighbors, push beyond my comfort level, and work to help bind their wounds, bring Hope to their burdened lives, and love them as Christ has loved me.

 

Do you know your neighbors? Are you willing to listen and learn from them—even if their lives annoy or offend you? What does it look like for you to specifically love your neighbor in this season?

Your thoughts and questions are welcome.

For deeper study, here is a list of resources that have helped shape my perspective and understanding around this broad and often complex topic.

Books:

The Irresistible Revolution: Living as An Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne

The Awakening of Hope: Why We Practice A Common Faith by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Love Does by Bob Goff

Falling Free by Shannan Martin

Simple Spirituality: Learning to See God in a Broken World by Christopher L. Heuertz

The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus by Brennan Manning

Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman

Befriending the Stranger by Jean Vanier

The Wounded Healer by Henri J.M. Nouwen

Podcast: The most helpful podcast I have found on this topic is Love Thy Neighborhood with Jesse Eubanks. I have not listened to every episode but what I’ve heard so far is practical and thought-provoking.