On the Brink of Adventure

 

Mary Poppins returns

Good morning friends and readers!

Its a beautiful day today in Atlanta and while I only have an hour to write I figured there’s no time like the present. I’ve taken what feels like a year long pause on this blog primarily because I was working on another masterpiece for the world that required most of my brain cells and attention. Might I present to you Ethan Hutchison Beck who was born on February 26, 2019 in the late hours of the night. He has stolen our hearts (and our sleep, for that matter) and was truly worth the lost writing time – though I’ll be honest that I have missed this space and am excited to launch again. (Now on a personally hosted site! http://www.courtneytbeck.com)

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Fair warning, this might happen in fits and starts as my time is even more limited than it was before now that we have a second kiddo under our roof. But I have faith that God is in the driver’s seat and that he will lead the way.

Speaking of which…

If you haven’t seen the Disney movie Mary Poppin’s Returns, do not delay. It is JUST as glorious as the first and might I say that I have developed a minor girl crush on its lead actress Emily Blunt who hit an absolute home run in the title role. My favorite scene is the moment the Banks children and Mary Poppin’s enter the fictional world of their mother’s favorite porcelain bowl to fix a broken horse-drawn carriage (OF COURSE) and decide to stay for a ride around their porcelain surroundings. Everyone clamors and questions about their destination on the way into the carriage when Mary Poppin’s stops them all and exclaims:

“We’re on the brink of adventure children! Don’t ruin it with all of your questions!”  -Mary Poppins.

Readers, this is probably my favorite line of any movie ever in the entire world Amen. Right?!

Having just had a baby I can assure you that I’ve had my own series of clamoring questions for the Lord and for the world as we’ve struggled in fits and starts to get our feet on the ground. So many of those questions still don’t have answers and I think I’m starting to realize that this is OK. I keep coming back to the words I heard loud and clear from a blog post sent by a friend just a few months before Ethan was born.

“Follow Jesus.”

Two words. So powerful because I am confident of this: the Holy Spirit of the living Christ has not failed me yet.

So, my dear ones, if you are reading this now, give yourself permission to sign up for the adventure that is following Jesus. I am cheering you on. Sometimes it will be damn scary. A lot of it can be confusing. Yet the Lord has a way of speaking to us in ways that we can eventually understand if we will allow ourselves enough time with him to hear him speak. He’s like the ultimate Mary Poppins, if you will. He’s called us to adventure. Want in? This carriage has plenty of room…

Are you or someone you know in need of direction or encouragement? Would you consider sharing this website with them? Anyone who wants to read regularly can subscribe above. I look forward to sharing more in the coming year.

 

 

Is Your Life Bearing Fruit?

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The other day I was on a local company’s website trying to get some information. The website was a little confusing and in no short amount of time I found myself clicking on several different tabs within the site as I attempted to find the information I needed. At some point in my hunt I found myself reading this company’s mission and vision statement.

To date, I have read my fair share of vision and mission statements. I still remember my collegiate business policy professor explaining quite clearly and succinctly:

“A mission statement is who you are today. A vision statement is who you want to become in the future.”

Makes sense to me.

After four years in business school and several experiences since then with highly paid consultants who could “take my organization to the next level,” I’ve found myself more than a little skeptical of mission statements. I knows its wise to have guiding/identifying principles in place; especially so when an organization or individual can’t figure out which end is up. Another part of me gets tired of all the jargon. There have been more than a few meetings in my life where I wanted to stand up and scream: “Lets stop talking about who we are and lets just do the things.”

So, it surprised me as I read this company’s “about us” page that I actually found it inspiring to read. Check this out from their core values statement:

Courage: We are afraid of new and scary things, and we believe that we can succeed anyway. We succeed on purpose. Our students and our staff are encouraged to try new things, be uncomfortable, be afraid, and do them anyway.

Isn’t that wonderful? What a great tone to set for a staff and ones customers.

This company’s mission statement brought together a few loose ends for me from 2018. Before hopping online to navigate this website I had put down a book I’d ordered from Amazon a few weeks ago. Its a basic finance book for young couples. Folks…its truly as basic as it gets. There is not a jazzy word or slogan in its 300ish pages to be found. Its a return to the fundamentals: set your budget, don’t live beyond your means, save a little bit every month.

These are all things that I’ve known and for the most part practiced since I left for college in 2002. My parents knew and practiced these things and taught them to me. But for some reason when we went from two full time incomes to 1 and a little (Thanks Mom gig!) I found myself getting…I don’t know…fatalistic. I think that’s the right word.

It was as though if I couldn’t put a huge chunk of change in our savings account each month than it wasn’t worth it in the end. If I couldn’t give to my church or my organization of choice in the amount I deemed appropriate than I just shouldn’t bother at all. And so, I got a little stagnant. And not just financially. The same has happened with my writing as I found if I couldn’t get a huge chunk of time to myself than my desires to write the big project I’ve long wanted to tackle should just be tabled for some distant day when I could get that time. Never mind that those large pockets of time just never seem to be available. At least not with any consistency.

Some different thoughts are starting to come together though.

Like this one:

Most of the books that have ever been written were written in one hour chunks.

Or these:

  •  All of the houses that were ever built began with a first delivery of lumber.
  • All of the plants that were ever planted started out from one seed.
  • All of the relationships that ever began started with an initial “Hi, what’s your name?”
  • All of the children that were ever born started out as one embryonic pin prick’s worth of cells. I still have an ultrasound picture of Ellie…when she was the size of a BLUEBERRY.

And here’s ANOTHER interesting thing to consider… When most of these really big things, like babies and books and houses and friendships start growing, the world doesn’t stop with its needs.

When I found out I was pregnant with Ellie, for instance, I still had to show up at work the next day. After an author finishes a chapter in her latest creative expression, she still has to figure out what she’s going to have for lunch. When a contractor drops off an initial load of lumber he still has to get the oil changed in his car.

I guess what’s finally clicking for me in this season is this: Sure, there may be times in life where growth or fruit comes quickly. But I don’t think this is normative. Not for the big things, like houses and babies and careers and deep friendships. These things take water and sunlight and attention and, frankly, just a heck of a lot of TIME.

A speaker I heard recently shared about a season in her life when her health just would not get into gear. She was struggling with chronic illness and was just trying and trying and trying to find THE THING that would heal her and when each thing she tried “failed” she would start to think that she was actually failing in some way. It wasn’t until she found herself spilling her guts at an empty table with her brother in law that she finally started getting some clarity. After some serious word vomit, this woman’s brother finally asked her this incredibly wise question:

“OK, but is your life bearing fruit?”

From a Biblical perspective, the fruit of the spirit is this: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self control.

This wise man was asking her if despite her frustrations about healing was she growing in the things that really mattered over the long haul of a life. Because here’s what we all know but maybe don’t want to admit. Our physical bodies will fall apart some day and one day go away entirely. But you know what won’t go away? Those things that echo far beyond our 70 or 80 years that come about as a result of love and joy and gentleness and self control. Of course, that also means that the things that we do as a result of fear and hate and anger will echo out far beyond ourselves as well. My assumption here though is that we are reaching for the noble life. And nobility seems to start with the things they teach us in preschool.  Be patient. Be kind. Clean up after the messes you’ve made.

In our society, the fruit of the spirit is not very sexy. We like the hustler and the woman who takes no prisoners in her field of work. I confess that I read passages from Paul in the new testament and wonder if its all a little too kumbaya. (Colossians 3:12-17 for example) But if anything, Paul had an understanding of lasting impact that was formed by the gospel. A gospel that says we are far too easily pleased by our own self-motivated, self-governed efforts. Frankly, I believe he knew that the the REAL BATTLE in life was not ultimately to cross as many things off our to-do lists as possible in a given week but to fight for the slow growing fruit of love, joy, peace and patience in an increasingly neurotic world. A world with so many to-do lists and side hustles and life goals that we’ve forgotten why we have them in the first place.

There’s so much more to write here but this post is already too long. Let me leave it at this: I’ve become too cynical about mission statements. They are put in place for seasons like the one my family is in where we truly do not know which way the chips are going to fall. The other day I shared with Andy about the mission statement I’d found and connected it to the incredibly unsexy financial advice I’d read in a book with a boring cover. I then considered the growth we’ve made as people over the last 10 years of good, hard struggle that we’ve fought through and suggested this:

I think if our family ever established a mission statement it would say this:

“Our family pursues slow and steady growth.”

To which Andy responded:

“YES.”

He knew it. I knew it. Both of us have goals that are not coming off the check list as quickly as we would like. In many ways we expected we’d be further along. But I believe as I look back across 10 years I can say that I am far more patient than I was at 25. I’m certainly more peaceful. And joy is absolutely a more consistent thread in my life.

These traits increasingly feel like solid ground to me. A place to stand on days when the sun is shining and also on the days, weeks and months when the clouds just won’t seem clear. I’ll take the freedom that comes from that kind of fruit any day of the week.

 

Baseball Game Faith

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Every time Andy and I talk about “the church,” a certain air exits the room. Its really kind of amazing. We’ll be talking about something we’ve read, or sadly, a recent bit of politics that’s somehow connected to the church at large and his reaction is almost predictable. He gets this look on his face of concern mixed with sadness and the pace of our conversation slows down a hair.

To be clear, this doesn’t happen in discussions about our local church or the churches we’ve attended in the recent past. Its really in relationship to the portions of the universal church, which for him historically, has meant the evangelical protestant church (EPC).

Truly, you’d have to have lived in a bunker for the past year to have missed the crisis the EPC has unveiled after it was revealed that 80% of us voted for our current president. Men and women I admire who have grown up in these circles have been left shaking their heads wondering what happened to the communities that raised them. Andy’s not the only person I know who slows down at mention of the state of things.

Raised in a moderate Catholic family, I’ve often struggled to relate. My mom, who taught us that the life of the church was fundamental, also taught us to hold it with a loose grip. I now believe that was healthy. In better words I’d say this: I learned that I needed the church to live a whole life while also learning that a fallible church with fallible people could not ultimately save me. This is an important distinction. Modern psychology would call this the ability to “differentiate.”

My first impression when I heard that 80% of white evangelicals voted the way they did was that maybe the term “white evangelical” doesn’t necessarily mean what we all thought it did. A recent article by Tim Keller in the New York Times suggests I might be on the right track as he states that evangelicalism is now more likely a political term than it is a term that suggests alignment with any historical Judeo-Christian ethics.

The slight comfort this could be, it still has people wondering HOW the church they loved has become so unrecognizable. HOW did people who stood for morality and righteousness become aligned with a party that elected someone so unfit for office. WHY do the people who formed us seem to now align with a man we wouldn’t allow in the presence of our children.

An answer came to me last night as I finished Eugene Peterson’s 1983 book Run with the Horses. The book walks a reader through the book of Jeremiah and describes the prophet’s commitment to a faith partnership with God in the face of years upon years of difficulty and tragedy. At the end of the book as Jeremiah tries to rally the remnant of people who remain in a ravaged city, encouraging them through the Lord to stay and see what God will do, the Israelites decide they are tired of “living by faith,” to use Peterson’s language. Looking around at the devastation, they believed it was too much for them and for their (clearly limited) understanding of what God could do. They informed Jeremiah that they would be going to Egypt.

Egypt, Peterson tells us, did not require much faith. Egypt had a verdant Nile river valley to water crops, animals and people. Egypt had a clear social hierarchy where you knew where you stood. Egypt had mathematically perfect architecture with its towering pyramids and a theologically understandable system that required little more than an understanding of which god to pray to for which need. Egyptian religion to the Israelites could be what a baseball game is us. By a game’s end we know who won and who lost. Who advanced their ERA a percentage and who didn’t. How many singles, doubles, balls and strikes made the game end the way it did. Which is all incredibly comforting until we get home at night and wonder who won the day after a fight with our spouse and a successful visit to the dentist. Baseball game religion, Egyptian religion, only works until the “religious moment” is over and everyone goes home. The best you can hope for is less and less time between “games” which is why, for all my love of the part of the evangelical church that has matured me into adulthood, I believe we’ve identified our problem.

Living by faith is hard and we want to be in control. 

Here’s my point made a little clearer…Yesterday the Public Religion Research Institute released new data regarding our society’s opinions about the fact that in the next couple of decades the country’s population is projected to be populated more by people of color (African, Asian, Hispanic) than people of European descent. Sadly, 52% of white evangelical protestants viewed this probability as a negative thing for our country.

Now, I still don’t believe the term “White Evangelical Protestant” means what it used to. I don’t believe all people who identify as WEPs are spirit led Christians in the same way I don’t believe everyone who voted for Donald Trump identifies as a died in the wool Donald Trump supporter. Take a breath, y’all. I think we can all say with solidarity that we walked to the polls in November holding our breath.

I will say this though. If 1 of every 2 people who are in the very least Americans (who I would assume believe in the American Dream), or at the very worst, American believers in a triune God that states very clearly in scriptures that ALL people are made in the image of that diversely-unified God, then we are working with a people that are more interested in a system of worship that they can control than a life of faith that everything will work out for the good.

Diversity, after all, is hard. Its unpredictable and it takes a measure of faith. What if we close our eyes at the wrong time or say hello in the wrong way or chew our food differently. What if instead of minor custom infractions something worse happens. What if someone gets hurt. 

Well, to put it far to simply than I’d prefer, the cross tells us we’ll be OK. I think it tells us that there’s no pain we will endure that GOD HIMSELF hasn’t already endured for and with us. I think he’s saying we can go even there. Even into pain.

Further still, I can’t help but wonder if a controlled “Egyptian” faith experience could be hurting us in ways we don’t even realize. ‘Cause here’s something else I know. I think I’ve seen my husband cry a total of six times in the 14 years we’ve known each other. The man is not prone to lead with his emotions. Of that handful of times though? At least two were in the presence of a black gospel choir where the Spirit of the Living God touched his heart in a way that his head couldn’t stop.

Living by faith is so incredibly hard. Sometimes it feels impossible to follow a God I sense but cannot see. But I truly believe it’s our only way out of the dark.

 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

Psalm 139: 7-12

 

 

The Beauty of a Solid Soul

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Around this time, nine years ago, I recall sitting in our in our rented Baltimore rowhouse, trying to understand what we were doing. We had recently accepted Andy’s invitation to start a PhD in Galveston and while I knew unequivocally that we were called to move, I was having more than a bit of trouble digesting the news. This hadn’t been a part of my plan.

At the time I was working a dream job at Habitat for Humanity. I spent most days preparing people for home ownership. We’d look at the available inventory, pick out carpet or flooring selections and within a matter of months I’d be at the title company with our first time home buyers, watching them sign a deed. It is still deeply ironic to me that after a ten year career in real estate, I have still never owned my own place. I’ve watched a hundred or more individuals sign these documents and have never signed them myself.

I now know that this has been a strategic move on the part of a God who knows me better than I know myself.

That summer as I processed our move I read through the book of Jeremiah. This book contained the passage from our wedding and I wondered what God was doing with our hopes and dreams in relation to the verses we had chosen to frame a wedding service, and a marriage, the year before:

 “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” …For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29: 4-12

A few chapters later, I thought I had my answer. As Jeremiah is absorbing the fact that his city is going to be ransacked and his people sent into exile, the Lord does a curious thing and tells him to purchase a piece of property. In chapter 32, after Jeremiah has prophesied all the disaster that is coming upon his homeland, we see the details of a transaction:

“I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales. I took the deed of purchase—the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions, as well as the unsealed copy— and I gave this deed to Baruch son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and of all the Jews sitting in the courtyard of the guard. “In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions: ‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’ ” Jeremiah 32: 11-15

I remember lighting up at these curious details because it was so reminiscent of my everyday in Baltimore. I read it and felt I had an inkling toward an answer about this strange adventure we were embarking on. I thought God was showing me what I would DO. 

I’ve realized in recent months that a move to South Texas was difficult for me primarily because I couldn’t identify with anything about the place I was moving to. Had we moved to Colorado I think I would have handled it better. At least I’d have our familiar outdoor adventure opportunities nearby and could camp and hike and mountain bike any frustrations out. This was familiar to me.

An island on the Gulf of Mexico however was an entirely different ball game. One google search for the nearest forest to get lost in took me to “The Rainforest Cafe.” We had to drive several hours off the coast to find any solid tree cover. So when I read a peculiar passage about deeds and terms and conditions in the midst of an exile, I thought God was showing me what I would do. Maybe, he had lined up a way for me to help execute deeds in Texas. Maybe a part of my identity could stay intact there because I would have at least this one thing to hang my hat on. Courtney, the Non Profit administrator, would stay intact.

While some of this was true…I would eventually return to my previous role and more…it took three years for me to realize that God was taking me to a place I did not identify with so I would finally take the time to ask myself who I really was. The question, after all, is never really “What will I do,” but rather “Who am I, and what am I becoming?” There are plenty of things to do in this world. Too many things, in fact, that clamor for our attention. It is a great gift when we are given the time to ask ourselves: “In a world that clamors for our attention, who am I called to be? What aspects of a multifaceted God am I to creatively display in this life?”

I could write a book  (and am trying to!) about all the things God has taught me about myself in the 9 years since we moved. But as Andy and I sense that things are beginning to come full circle I couldn’t help but laugh as I opened a Bible up the other morning and saw it land on Jeremiah 32. This time, I smiled at a different part of the passage:

“…but this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: …I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul. “This is what the LORD says: As I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will give them all the prosperity I have promised them.” Jeremiah 32: 36-42

Singleness of heart and action. 

Couldn’t you just cry over that line?

We live in a world where there’s a new thing to fear and a new thing to want and a new thing to “need” every other minute of every other day. Its amazing that any of us are still breathing from the relentless attacks on our identity because all of these attacks do nothing more than tell us we are not enough without them.

Every once in a while though, God will give us an opportunity like no other to push those things down to the ground, letting them die, so that our true selves and our true desires and his true omniscience can rise to the surface. And I don’t know about you but in a world that clamors for our attention I’ll take singleness of heart and action any day of the week. There is no better feeling in the world than the freedom and joy that grows from the foundations of a solid soul. 

Power Dynamics

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When I landed a big role as executive director at Habitat for Humanity in suburban Houston one of my first tasks was to orchestrate a combined board and staff retreat to determine where we wanted to take the organization over the next five years. Our plan from previous leadership had expired and we needed a new strategy. “Great,” I thought. “Nothing like diving into the deep end to get things started?”

Fortunately for me, I’d been in the role as interim for several months by this point and had already met so many people who were willing to help. One of them was a local entrepreneur named David who liked to consult with area non-profits and help them get established. David invited me to a new winery and bistro he was opening at the Kemah boardwalk and we chatted about the affiliate and how I should approach my first year as its leader. At some point along the way David told me that he taught Business strategy classes at the University of Houston at which point I knew I had my guy.

“David, is there any way you’d be willing to lead a business planning session with my staff and board?” I asked towards the end of our meeting. “I’m not really sure where to begin and something tells me you’ve done this a time or two.”

“Hmmm,” he said. “Can we host it here at the winery? My staff can handle lunch.”

“Sold.” I said, smiling.

Well, I don’t mean to brag…but we knocked this thing out of the park. By the time we finished the plan at a board meeting two months later, people were saying it was the most fun they’d had on a retreat in years. We had put a lot of work into turning over stones and talking about areas where our affiliate was struggling. Now we had a plan and had even written a story from the vantage point of our future, encapsulating the major transitions we wanted to make as an organization. I was so pleased…

Until the following week.

I took the plan and put it in the front pocket of my padfolio and stared at a blank page on my legal pad next to it.

“Now what?” I thought.

The truth is, I knew that even if I followed my business plan to the letter, I could never force someone to write a check for the ministry. I also knew that we could galvanize all the resources and teams necessary to build houses in Galveston, an organizational goal, and ultimately learn that the barriers to building successfully in a flood plain would be too high to raise the first wall. Where was I going to get the personal, financial and organizational power to carry this vision out?

This may seem like a rabbit trail but stick with me…It occurs to me that we might just have to divorce the Kingdom of God from the American Dream. 

I don’t know about you, but I grew up learning that with enough hard work and determination the American Dream was mine for the taking. Dream is probably the right word here…what exactly were we supposed to be working so hard for? A two car garage and an acre of land? Self determination? Don’t get me wrong…the Lord and I have had very intimate conversations about my desire for a place to call my own. I don’t think these are wrong things to want and I also happen to believe that in time he will be pleased to root me somewhere. But I’ve also started to become grateful for the realization that I have no power to make these things come about and that whatever does eventually come my way is a gift and not something owed to me.

This feels like the kingdom of God to me.

In the sermon on the mount after Jesus says verse after verse about paradoxical blessing he says the following: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matt 5:17

He’s referring to the oldest business plan there ever was, given to Moses on Mount Sinai. God established his own vision with his own organization, the Israelites. “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” God gives Moses the ten commandments and says, essentially, follow these and you shall live in my blessing and for the thousands of years that followed we are given a history of the Israelites trying to do things on their own. The nation returns time and time again with their tails between their legs wondering what went wrong.

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes are the new business plan; the new blueprint for living a holy, and therefore a whole, life:

  • For we know we are to have no other Gods besides the Lord and yet when we admit that we put so many people and things in place of relationship with him we are poor in spirit and inherit the kingdom.
  • We know we are to keep the sabbath day holy but when we admit that we can’t we are meek and inherit the earth.
  • We know we are supposed to honor our parents and when we fail to do this we remember how blessed it is to be peacemakers and are called sons and daughters of God.
  • We know we’re not supposed to bear false witness against a neighbor and when we finally admit our need to be pure in heart, in time, we see God.

There are different kinds of power in the world. There’s pure muscle. There’s emotional and relational power. There’s financial power and so many other forms.

As much as is possible I want to be driven by the power that’s found in the beatitudes. Its the power that does not necessarily seek weakness for its own sake but understands that in its very nature, as exemplified by the Israelites time and again, that it is simply unable to get much of anything good accomplished by determination alone. There’s power in acknowledging our weaknesses and power in asking God to carry out a plan.

2 years after we made our plan, I left Habitat to move to Atlanta. I had mixed emotions. I knew it was my time to go but I wondered where our hard work would go next. The one thing I thought I was certain of was that our attempts to start building in Galveston would dissolve. I had developed those relationships and I didn’t think we had gained enough momentum to carry this part of the plan out. Funny how things work out though. 2 weeks ago a former employee who worked for me and eventually became a board member posted a picture of the walls rising on the first house in Galveston. All while I’ve worked joyfully on the new projects the Lord has had for me here in Atlanta. I’ll take that kind of power any day of the week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seek First the Kingdom

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Three years ago as our time in Texas was coming to an end there was a scripture passage that I found incredibly comforting:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or about your body what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them…Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:25-27

These verses were such an anchor for me in that season. We were doing all the things they tell you not to do at one time. Leaving two jobs, moving to a new state, having a baby and starting a new career. Truthfully, it was a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, God worked with us to take care of all the details in the most amazing way. With the help of this verse, we kept our eyes up on the overarching goals we new he was leading us to and let the details work themselves out day by day.

I’ve thought a lot about that one verse in particular since that transition: “Seek first the kingdom of God.” It continues to ground me as we navigate this early season of starting a family and career. It stops me often because while I know I’m not supposed to sit and stew about our bank account or elaborate plans for feeding and clothing our family its also not incredibly clear what the alternative, seeking the kingdom, actually entails.

The more I’ve looked into it, the more I find myself in good company as there isn’t much out there to read on the topic. What I do read comes bathed in precursors like: “theologians disagree mightily on this topic.” At first I took this to mean “tread lightly…this is going to go over your head.” Now though, I’m realizing its just a caution to understand that the kingdom of God, this side of heaven, is frankly somewhat mysterious. We have to take out our magnifying lens to find what it is we are looking for. I believe that’s intentional.

The kingdom of God reminds me of Paul’s attempt in 1 Corinthians to talk about love. He never really defines love but spends verse after verse trying to describe it. He says its kind and patient. Its not envious or proud. In the beginning of that passage he says that it could mean giving what we own to the poor or even offering our lives up on behalf of someone. Then he follows that thought up with the caution that even those things could be done out of our own self interest! Whats motivated by love in one person could be motivated by hate in another.

It appears that love, and the kingdom of God, resist definition.

Often, if I get curious enough, I do find myself uncovering consistent insights about the kingdom. For instance, kingdom manifestations are almost never flashing in neon lights. Usually, by the time I get there, my face is covered in sweat or dirt and my heart is a little banged up. But when I walk through that little door I eventually stumble upon the feeling is usually a familiar one…its usually some form of resting from or even forgetting about the hard work it took to get there.

Jesus almost exclusively spoke in stories when he talked about the kingdom. He wasn’t prescriptive and I think that was completely intentional. He didn’t want anyone getting away without a personal meeting with the great physician himself. Can you imagine that?

Lets say you have a strange ailment. Your body that was built for work and pleasure just won’t function the way its supposed to making work and joy near impossible. Your symptoms cycle on and off for months or years completely screwing with your plans, making typical life operations impossible. The general practitioners who try to treat you just don’t know enough about your particular disease or your particular body to do anything about it and so they keep passing the buck to this pill or that therapy wondering right along with you if they are doing anything to help.

You would understandably start to lose hope at some point, right? After years of difficulty? I know I would. But what if you found out that there was a doctor in your town who started his career studying your specific problem. What if he spent quality time with you in the exam room and you finally felt understood as he asked questions about your particular symptoms. What if he was so familiar with the disease and how it manifests that he knew exactly how to treat you. Wouldn’t your heart just completely come to rest? I know mine would.

There’s only one problem now though…you would only rest for a moment. Just as soon as you got that health problem figured out you would run into some other problem and that problem would take over until you finally realized that you needed a whole life physician. Body, mind, spirit, emotions…the whole thing needs an overhaul.

Here’s what I believe: God is willing to upend our lives through disease, debt, divorce, doubt, death and whatever else he needs to make us finally get curious about the Kingdom of God. Why? He says it right in that verse. Its where the LIFE is:

“Is not life more than food? The body more than clothes?” 

All of us have strange diseases in our lives…For some it will be a physical malady. For others it will be a difficult relationship or an unreachable goal. Most of us have more than one malady that will crop up in response to different stressors. All of these have been tailor picked for us by a God who is kind enough to have bigger goals for us than the temporary ones we prop up as permanent solutions. Relationships are useless after all if we don’t understand their deeper context. Just as a six figure salary is useless if we don’t understand how to steward money in the first place.

So in your difficulty and concern over food, clothing, health and money, the proper question isn’t “how do i position my life to get hold of these things” but “where is the kingdom invitation in my current situation? Is there something redemptive in my pain or fear that I am not seeing and need to seek out?” There are no easy answers to these questions. They can take years to figure out. But if we keep them before us I’m confident the answers will come in a way we can understand. Even if it feels more mysterious than concrete. The kingdom of God is like love after all. It defies definition but you sure as hell know it when you’ve found it.

 

Tell all the truth but tell it Slant-

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm delight

The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightening to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind –

-Emily Dickinson

A Reflection on 10 Years of Marriage

wedding

Last year I felt inspired to write some poetry around the time of our anniversary. This is what I wrote and its still one of my favorite pieces. I think I could post this every year on June 7th and feel satisfied. But this year we’ve hit 10 years and I want to reflect a little more. Its in the writing of things that I figure out what I know.

The past 10 years have been a wild ride. Wild in that I wouldn’t have expected the course we’ve walked in ten million years. Truthfully, I don’t know what I would have plotted instead. I don’t think I’d thought that far ahead when we got married 10 years ago. I know if I had been asked I would not have guessed our course. Two out of state moves. A career path on my end that involved the lowest lows (bored out of my mind for three years straight) and the highest highs (leading an organization that built houses and opened a business). A doctorate and fellowship for Andy. The birth of our daughter. The unexpected loss of a pregnancy. Recently, a trip to the Bahamas. Turns out you can do a lot in ten years.

TEN.

When I was ten years old I was in the fourth and fifth grade. I remember those years well. I loved my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Sabathier. She was from Baton Rouge, Louisiana and had the syrupy sweet southern accent to prove it. She loved her students to pieces and didn’t so much as teach us as she swooned over how wonderful and brilliant we all were. We emerged none the worse for wear the following year as Mrs. Biondo took over our education as fifth graders. She decorated her desk with cows and took off her shoes  during class and donned black and white cow slippers while she diagrammed sentences on the board. The cows did not disturb from her merciless expectations in reading and writing. She would pause in read alouds to ask us to define large words and made us memorize all of the prepositions in the english language. To this day I remember them all, in alphabetical order, and can say them in approximately 15 seconds or less thanks to her insistence that we compete on the matter. The world thanks you for this, Mrs Biondo…I think?

These were great years to be in school. I had my first little crush on a boy named Omar. We made sure to count the boys and girls to the back of the line so that we could sit next to each other in Friday morning church services. We would play jackpot at recess and he’d give me the ball 50% of the time when he caught it, making me feel special.

I remember some jarring times too though. One morning Mrs. Sabathier came in crying and asked us to quiet down. She explained that Mrs. Clarke, a first grade teacher at our school and the mom of one of my classmates, had lost her fight with breast cancer. The next year, both fifth grade classes attended a funeral service for the father of another girl in our class. He had died suddenly in an accident at work. Those were weird, hard days to absorb for fourth and fifth graders whose worst days in a given year revolved around petty recess shenanigans. Funerals seemed incongruent with the world we assumed we were being handed.

I’ve tried to write this piece on marriage several times and have abandoned it several times because it always has such a rough edge to it. I’m trying to write about my most beloved relationship here people, and I keep getting all dreary! Lest there be concern, Andy is still the funniest and funnest person I know. I admire him to the skies and I’m most certain he still admires me too as he tells me so on the regular! So, I keep thinking I’m not supposed to write this way and it should be coming out all dream-like and nauseating. Isn’t that the promise of the white dress and the tuxedo? Nauseating perfection, until death do us part?

If perfection’s the promise (I’m not sure that it is) than it certainly isn’t fulfilled in a hippy skippy manner (I am sure of that!). But I’ve decided I’m ultimately OK with that. Wearing a wedding dress and a tuxedo every day for ten years this side of heaven would be irritating, if nothing else. We’d also be incredibly overdressed when so much of life is taking out the trash and doing the laundry.

Maybe that’s where I’ve gotten hung up as I’ve tried to write this reflection. I look back on those 10 years of highs and lows that we’ve weathered together and realize that so much of it was just taking the next right step. Even when we found ourselves sitting in the mud. We’d get up each day and do chores. Discuss finances or weekend plans. Cook dinner.  Which is not to say that it has all been drudgery. That’s not the case. Its just been different than I think I thought it would be on June 7, 2008.

That’s kind of life for you though, isn’t it? You memorize all the prepositions in the english language for class in the same week that you smile over your fourth grade crush giving you the ball at recess in the same month that you attend the funeral of a classmates mother in the same year you grow an inch taller. Life is so strange and weird and awkward isn’t it? Sometimes its also just really wonderful.

Some mornings, 10 years after you wore a white wedding dress and he wore a black tux, you wake up and realize that the good times and the tough times have really been God’s way of ushering you both, hand in hand, into the one great struggle of your lives. The struggle for a true and lasting joy. Not joy as in happy. Joy as defined so well by Kay Warren: “the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of our life. The quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right. And the determined choice to [give glory to] God in all things.”

Today, I can look back on ten years and then look over at Andy to say this:

It has truly been a joy. Not because it has been easy. Not because we were always skipping through fields of wildflowers without a care in the world. It has been a joy because by some peculiar and amazing grace we keep coming back to that guiding line that we both sense and can never see to say that we’ll honor and acknowledge and obey what its calling us to. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. Moment by moment. As long as we both shall live.

 

“In the cathedrals of New York and Rome,

There is a feeling that you should just go home,

and spend a lifetime finding out just where that is.”

 

from “Cathedrals,” by Jump Little Children

(our first dance)

andy

 

 

Rebirth. Not Reinvention.

rebirth

Well, it appears its time. I have to talk about giving birth.

Not that I really want to. The birth process is scary and something beyond our control…but it has to be addressed because I am afraid that too many of us are trying to reinvent our lives when we are actually called to the process of rebirth.

I am not talking here about physical birth, though the birth of a child can be a wonderful fruit of this process. It was for me. Here though, I am talking about spiritual rebirth.

In a recent post I wrote about God calling me into the spirit of adventure with him and I am afraid that for all of the whimsy that a call like that suggests, it appears that most days I am just not up to this task. Deep down, the person I most identify with, is the little girl who wants to feel completely secure. Sometimes I wonder though: Am I really that girl? All the way through to the bottom? I’m not so sure that’s true. And if its not true then maybe I cling too easily to a part of my identity that’s really, in the end, unhelpful.

In the couple of years before Ellie was born I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out who I was and what exactly I was supposed to be doing. At times I affectionately call the decade of my 20s my “awkward teenage years” and for all the laughter that gets in a conversation, the actual living of those years were incredibly difficult. It felt like learning how to walk.

There’s a moment in the gospel of John when a pharisee named Nicodemus visits Jesus at night and tells him, essentially: “I know who you are because of the signs you have been performing in our community.”

Jesus responds to the man’s certainty with a slanted truth: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” This mysterious line sends Nicodemus into an intellectual tailspin as he realizes that while he had approached Jesus to identify with him and likely seek his allegiance he hadn’t expected Jesus to respond by holding up a mirror to him to ask him if he really knew the man in front of him in the first place.

Jesus tells him to be born again. Using terms like “born again” in our day and age is not a way to win any friends but I will say this…coming to grips with who you are, deep down, requires not just a rearrangement of what you know intellectually about yourself or your life but submitting yourself to the emotional-physical-spiritual gestation process that Jesus invites us into. Rebirth is not reinvention. He says it to Nicodemus plain as day in the text:

“You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to…the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit.” John 3:5 Message Translation

Things started to change in my own life when I finally let go of what I felt I was certain of and took a chance on the mystery of the Spirit of God. First, I let go at work. Then, I let go at home. Before long I was leading an organization that birthed a business and not long after that I found out I was pregnant. If you had told me a year before this all happened that these two things would occur at the same time I would have dissolved into a puddle in front of your very eyes. Yet somehow, by saying I’d allow him to lead and then taking the next right steps with him, I got through a pregnancy, a multi-state move and a job transition with energy left to spare. Which was perfect – I now had a newborn to care for and a new life to build in a new city.

I would leave it at that but I think so much is left unsaid if I don’t share what I learned in the middle of all these crazy transitions. A few things are coming to mind:

  1. Rebirth, spiritual rebirth that is, requires a moment of consent. God is not going to drag us into spiritual maturity. He will wait patiently until we let go and allow him to lead us but he will not take one step in the direction of holistic and abundant new life if we do not take the step with him.
  2. He WILL allow our lives to become narrow and difficult. He will take us to a place where we don’t have much choice but to reach out our hand towards him in faith. He really is a loving parent. He really does want to help us out of our junk and he will make that fact obvious.
  3. Bringing something, someone or some part of ourselves to life takes ALOT of time. Way longer than you ever anticipate. So take your plans and then add some time. No, really. ADD MORE TIME THAN THAT. This will take more time than you ever imagined and this will be incredibly frustrating. There are more verses than I would like to count in scripture that say essentially: “And Joseph was forgotten and spent two years in prison…” (Genesis 40-41) Keep the faith. A broken and limited people may have forgotten, but God has not. This is not for nothing. This is how you change a life.

Finally, I would just say this. The joy on the other side of the mess will be better than you could have ever imagined. I lived in absolute terror of life for a good half decade. And that’s conservative. But I will say this: Just yesterday I sat back at the end of a beautiful spring day with a joy that spilled over into our evening. We ate dinner outside and “played lacrosse” with our daughter and I could have burst over the beauty of something that years before I would have been scared to allow myself to enjoy. Truthfully, I’m still scared some days. Thankfully, those fears are no longer driving the bus.

“Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32.

 

It is Time.

wine

Well, we’ve recently introduced Ellie to the Lion King. Such a great Disney movie that I remember seeing with my Grandmother and my sister when we went to visit her one summer in California. I remember how good it felt to sit in a freezing cold theater at midday in the desert where she lives only to leave and be warmed by both the hot air and the lingering images of Simba winning back his seat as King of the animal kingdom.  Its a warm memory as I prepare to go see them both again next weekend! I have really missed them both.

Andy and I have found ourselves quoting lines from the Lion King here and there. Lets be honest…I don’t think there was a child of the 80s who didn’t have that movie memorized. We both love the moment when Rafiki, the monkey priest, realizes that Simba is alive and he heads off to find him. In a thick Afrikaner accent he yells: “It is time!”

This line came to mind this weekend when reading about Jesus first miracle, turning water into wine. It struck me how Mary might have been more pivotal in this moment than I’ve ever given her credit for. I wonder if she was encouraging Jesus, telling him before he’d possibly grasped it himself, that he was ready to embody the kingdom. 

“Embodiment” is my new favorite word these days. I think because I’ve spent far too much time in my own head. I’ve finally entered a season where my head and heart feel at least loosely connected…and let me tell you, its lovely! I feel more like a whole person, and in that way its making me feel like a more fruitful person too.

Several years ago I found myself over-taxed with evening commitments. I had two church activities each week outside of Sunday services and was about to take on a third and realized I’d have to neglect some aspects of rest and/or physical fitness if I was going to hold all these balls in the air. It took about one week for me to realize I’d have to give up an evening bible study in order to stay connected to the other activities I felt committed to. The choice was logical if not a bit of a bummer. I really enjoyed our time with friends at the Duke house. But Andy agreed that he would continue going to those studies on his own while I took that evening to go to the university gym with a friend who I’d not spent much time with over the last couple of years (due to a literal lack of available time!).

Folks, those evenings were so much FUN! We would hit the elliptical and talk about any number of things. I’d been so steeped in a search for God’s presence through a really difficult season that I was literally oozing Jesus out of every pore of me. I couldn’t get enough of the fact that He not only promised to meet me but was also actually meeting me in the details of my life and helping me get through them in one way or another. I couldn’t help but share that with my friend who has a similar temperament as I do. Tiffany is as lacking in tolerance for frustration as I am and so she and I would talk throughout about how we were approaching different snags in life. Sometimes after our workouts we’d crack open a bible and see what there was to be said in there. I don’t think it was anything earth shattering. Mostly we just laughed and yelled “Bullsh**!” to the air as we considered what Jesus would say today about the viruses in her petri dishes at her lab and the poverty in the neighborhoods I was trying to work in. It was all just a lot of fun. (Tiff, if you’re reading…I really miss you!)

Looking back on that time is so funny to me. I had to quit a bible study to work out with my friend and I think I got more spirituality out of the workout than I would have at the study. To be fair, I needed a history of bible studies to talk intelligently about how God works. I don’t want to throw the Bible study baby out with the bath water. I do think we can become spiritually or intellectually bloated if we are not careful. There comes a time when we have to integrate what we’ve learned with our lives or we’ll get too fat to move. Which would be sad, as we were created to move…and move freely.

Which brings me back to Mary and Jesus at the wedding. I wonder if Jesus took a minute to get oriented to his ministry. He’d just been baptized and he clearly knew his mission to reconcile people to God (see verse 4 in John 2.) But maybe he needed a little help with his next step in the process. Maybe he needed Mary to say: “You’re ready. Show them what the kingdom of God is like. Give them some wine.”

I love that Mary didn’t have to say anything back to Jesus when he responded to her. He’d realize in due time what he needed to do and she knew that he’d make the next right step. By my reading, she appears to shrug off his response and instead tells the caterers: “Do whatever he tells you.”

Which could be the greatest line to a follower of God I’ve ever heard. “Do whatever He tells you.” 

God is not silent. He’s patient, and he’ll wait for us to decide if we want to partner with him, but he is not silent. Better still, he is not unaware of the fact that between this moment and our final breaths we might just run out of wine and find ourselves in a bit of a pickle, wondering what to do next.

So we do whatever he tells us. We read the scriptures if we can’t sense his voice. We remember anew that we’re witnesses to a paradoxical kingdom where the good wine is saved for last. And we realize like Jesus that there’s no time and place like our present situation to reflect what he, and Mary for that matter, are trying to say:

It is time.

 

When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” John 2:10-11

 

Dr. King and Me

martin-luther-king-jr-

Today, Atlanta is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the funeral procession of Martin Luther King, Jr. I love this city, I really do. I spent Friday afternoon with my kid at the Carter center and then considered last night how I might join a march with the King family on the anniversary of his death (sadly, sickness and rain kept us home). I’m remembering that this city is a place where so many good things have started (with King). And continued (with Carter, among others).

I found myself wondering along with the nation the other day what Dr. King’s death accomplished, if anything. I don’t know that I am qualified to answer that question. I should probably ask my black friends for their opinions. I do think Dr. King and I have some things in common. We both have dreams for better lives. We both believe that this can happen in response to the invitation of God in his work where “every valley shall be exalted [and], every hill and mountain shall be made low (to quote King, who quotes scripture).”

I remember the exact day in my college career when I realized I wanted something different. I had decided on a business degree because it was the logical choice for someone who would graduate with student loans. I sat in a downstairs classroom of the Sellinger Business School as my professor passed out slips of paper that had a company name on it. We had split into groups and would prepare a marketing plan for the company that we were assigned at random. My company?

Gillette Razors.

Now…I love me a good razor. I am personally glad that there are people in the world who work at the factories that make them. I suppose I’m even grateful that someone markets those razors to my local grocer so I can buy them with ease when I need them.  But I’d be lying to say that on that day my heart didn’t sink. After 17 years of school I found it somewhat demoralizing to realize that I might just finish it all to go sell razor blades. Not when I knew that there were people not one mile down the road from the classroom I sat in that would walk past our campus and consider attendance at a school like mine an impossibility. A literal dream scenario.

My momentary exasperation would eventually lead to hope as I learned just how badly the not-for-profit world needs people with business degrees. I’ve ended up putting it to good use in my career. Yet that day may have just been the moment when my life would take a turn that I didn’t expect. It didn’t totally connect with me that the desire to do kingdom work often comes with a cost.  For King it was the ultimate cost of his life. For us, its been a much slower march to certain goals than I had ever anticipated.

A surprising thing about life, for me, has been how hard it is to go after what you want. As children, people will ask us what we want to be when we grow up and we’ll say “a doctor!” or “a firefighter!” or “a ballerina!” not realizing that the process required to do those things and still keep food on the table can be incredibly difficult. People will tell you, as they told me, that it all requires sacrifice and I will agree wholeheartedly with them until the moment comes for me to actually give up on something. Even if just for a a bit more time. Its then that I start to get suspicious that I’ve been led into a bait and switch, though that couldn’t be further from the truth. I have been told all my life that I can go after what I want AND i have been told that it would require sacrifice. I just never really understood what that really meant until those two realities came together.

Which brings me to my weekend and a dream that I had. This weekend I pretty much busted at the seams as I realized that some things that I’ve wanted for our family are just taking longer to realize than I ever imagined that they would. Sometimes it feels like your dreams are just getting lost in the shuffle and you lose your cool. Sometimes, to my absolute surprise, I make certain desires ultimate things without even realizing it. I’ve put them there because the culture I’m surrounded by has put them there and told me that I’ll be able to say “I’ve made it” once I check off these boxes.

Which brings me to a dream I had on Saturday night. I dreamed that my sister was getting married. Kristin was beside herself that she was heading down the aisle. She couldn’t wait to get married and I, as her matron of honor, was just as excited for her. The only problem with this wedding day was that little things kept going wrong before the ceremony could start. I was supposed to hold onto the engagement ring and I had somehow misplaced it. Kristin’s dress had torn and she was forced to wear a black t-shirt on top with her bridal gown’s skirt on the bottom.

Over and over things would happen that were culturally problematic though I suppose not functionally so. You don’t technically need an engagement ring to get married. You can in fact get married in a torn black t-shirt and a white skirt, though perhaps you’ll be thought odd. Over and over in the dream I would finally get up the courage to break the news to my sister about the problem at hand and each time she would laugh and figure out a work around. Each time she would remind me that she just wanted to walk down the aisle and nothing could really get in the way of her excitement over that.

No sooner would I start to laugh ever so hesitantly with Kristin who could have cared less would someone pull me aside and say: “you’re not really going to let her walk down the aisle without her engagement ring, are you?” or, “We can’t start the wedding until she has a new gown. You can’t go down the aisle in a t-shirt!”

Then the dream ended. Ellie woke us up in a coughing fit. Kind of happy about that though…this is one that I want to remember. I believe what the scriptures tell us – this life is preparation for a wedding feast. Genesis starts with a wedding and ends with a wedding celebration and I’ve put all my eggs in that basket. Everything that’s beautiful in the world points to this if you have eyes to see it. The relationship between a husband and a wife. The relationship between a child and her parent. The relationship between us and our environment. The relationship between our work and our world. They are all, at their best, mini outworkings of a world and a people that are preparing for a time when the barriers between God and man are broken down for good. The best wedding you’ve ever attended.

So when my sister was excited to walk down the aisle, regardless of the particulars of how that ceremony itself would play out, she was responding to the call of her life. She was saying: “I don’t care how this all plays out. I just want to walk towards the love of my life!”

While I should have been celebrating and laughing with her I found myself pulled by a culture that said I wasn’t doing it right. Which is kind of ridiculous if you think about it. I’ve never been to the same wedding twice. Which is to say, everyone has a different path down the aisle. So what do we do when we recognize we’re being pulled from the celebration? For good or for ill, here’s what I did:

I intentionally reflected on it all and found myself thankful for the grace to see that I was torn. The night prior I had been certain that I was right as I hammered home a new plan of action for us all and you couldn’t have told me otherwise. But this dream set me straight. I apologized to God (and to Andy!) for believing that he was intentionally withholding from me. Then I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that God would allow difficulty in my life to expose what keeps me from the expectation of the best things for us. Lastly, I asked for the faith to believe that he is already working to provide the next piece of the puzzle that is a part of our journey.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was ultimately killed for daring to dream of and speak for a better world. I wish like hell it didn’t take his death to shake us awake. Yet 40 plus years after his death I sat in a classroom one Tuesday before college graduation and realized I wanted to be a part of the feast that he, and the scriptures he tried to live by, were inviting us into. This didn’t happen in a vacuum. It came after learning about him over and over again and going on trip after trip to engage with folks who’ve had different American experiences than I. I ultimately realized I could go get a corporate job that probably paid really well but left me spiritually empty or I could hold out for a position that stirred up my heart for more partnership with God. The jobs that have pulled that out of me the most have been my roles at Habitat for Humanity and my role as a mom.

I don’t think this leap was insignificant. Taking a position that makes $30,000 a year so that economically distressed individuals can become first time homeowners is not necessarily the best investment of a 17 year private school education. At least if we’re just looking at the numbers. Staying at home with a child is even less so! But at Habitat and in this season with Ellie I see echoes of what the feast will be like in ways that I’m certain I would not have seen as a corporate marketing executive. People who were unjustly kept from opportunities for home ownership finally had the barriers removed. Seemingly insignificant things are inviting great wonder again. While my hopes for the future are taking longer to come to fruition I find that the difficulty makes their eventual appearance that much sweeter. So today I remember the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. and am encouraged by the city I live in to keep figuring out ways to live out his vision. He was not a perfect man but I know this one thing about him: he tried to show up peacefully and make space for everyone to sit at the table. I hope to follow his lead.

The full text of Dr. King’s speech is here. I can’t recommend reading it enough!