Fingerprints of God

img_3331I think God needs a two-by-four when dealing with me.  His fingerprints are all over my life, but He’s gotta regularly “hit me over the head” with the blatant obviousness of His presence in my life.  One way He’s done this, is with dates.  Now, before I go any further – I’m not a theologian, but even I know that this isn’t the only way God speaks….even to me!  But, God has managed to show up on significant days in my life, with a conviction or a provision or an experience that point to Him.  And, I have begun to slowly realize, that God is not only alerting me to the places where He’s at work in my life, but He’s doing it in such a way that I will forever remember the exact time and place when God showed up.  

Dates

img_3334The first time I noticed a connection between a possible message from God and significant date, was about 5 years ago, in 2012, when my husband and I were feeling a tug to move from the San Francisco South Bay to another community up the peninsula.  Reason?  We wanted to be closer to our church.  It was a short commute on Sunday mornings but it could take over an hour (one way) during the work-week.  I didn’t want to live in an evangelical bubble or holy huddle, but I did want an ecosystem that facilitated regular connections (on days other than just Sunday!) and overlaps between our our various circles….of neighbors, schoolmates church friends, etc.  We wanted to be part of a fabric that included threads of friendship, outreach, service, worship, etc.

That August, I lost a beloved uncle to Leukemia.  This heartbreaking loss was a wake-up call: we needed authentic community, one that would come around us during tough times.  My husband was from Singapore.  I was from Chicago.  We had no family in California.  We’d have to build a community of friends.  And, we believed our faith community was a natural place to start.

A month later, in late September (my birthday weekend), our pastor John Ortberg, gave a talk called the Divine Go.  It was based upon the story in Genesis, of Abram leaving Ur to follow God’s command to go to Canaan.  Sitting in church, it hit me – we need to move to Menlo.  I sobbed through most of that sermon.  I am sure that most folks sitting around me thought I was nuts.  But, I just knew.

You might be wondering, ‘why didn’t you just move churches?’.  Good question!  We tried visiting several churches closer to our home.  They were fine, but we could not shake an  inner unrest.  So, we called a realtor and moved forward, praying God would open doors – if this was indeed the path He wanted us to take.  In December, we learned of a house coming on the market, and jumped at the opportunity to put in an offer  – not thinking we had any chance of actually getting the house.  For those outside of the Bay Area, we live in what is unquestionably a seller’s market.  Many had tried to prepare us for what surely would be a long process, where we’d likely put in a dozen or more offers before finally landing something.  But, amazingly, on December 19th – the same day we submitted our offer, we got a call that our offer had been accepted.  December 19th also happens to be my middle child’s birthday.  A few weeks later, we closed on my father’s birthday.  A few months later, we closed escrow on our South Bay home AND submitted our renovation plans to the city (the new house needed some updating) ALL on my daughter’s birthday.  A couple of weeks later, Jay’s father passed away suddenly.  In provision, we saw God’s hand at work, allowing  the pieces to fall into place more perfectly than we could ever orchestrate.  In loss, we saw confirmation that we desperately needed community.  

I have repeatedly confessed here, that my husband and I are Type A Control Freaks.  Making this move defied all logic….it was not the decision that our well-designed spreadsheets or financial advisers recommended.  But, our hearts knew what our minds couldn’t explain: we needed to go.  I am learning, that often, we have to trust God before we can hear God.  And, I think this move was a lot more about God taking us on a journey of trusting Him, than it was Him needing us to change our geography in order to do life with Him.  He used dates, to make it abundantly clear that He was the one setting our path.  John ended his Divine Go sermon, saying, “All around the Bay Area, up there is coming down here….God still says Go.  And, when you say ‘yes’ you become part of something magnificent.”

Something Magnificent

We moved because we wanted to strengthen our relationship with God and His people.  And, sure enough, I found natural landing pads within the Mothers Together ministry at our church.  It was great!  I made friends, used my gifts, served.  (Confession: I loved the well-heeled mama’s, many with impressive resumes and lives.  Many remain dear friends.)  But, after a couple of years,  I started feeling this tug again….as if God wanted me to make another move.  This time, it was a heart move – not a geographic relocation.  As I have written here, God led me to a group that serves lunch to the homeless.  (Interestingly, the same gal who gave me advice when we made our move, was the one who invited me to serve lunch at the shelter).  The rest, as they say, is history.

In my head, I’d long known that faith wasn’t meant to be just for me or my own circle – it needed to fuel an outward activism for the world around me.  But, that head knowledge hadn’t really translated into meaningful engagement or love for the least….if I’m being totally honest.  (Thank goodness for the two-by-fours!)  God kept hitting me over the head…..with books, with people, with fresh eyes to the Bible itself…..you name it…..the arrows all pointed to a Micah 6:8 mission.  And, while it’s not always easy or pretty, that journey to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly led me to the ‘something magnificent.’  

Matthew 25 is a two-by-four kind of verse…. Jesus says: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  If you want a ‘with God’ life….if you want to see up there come down here, you gotta open your eyes to the people and places that Jesus points to repeatedly….the poor, widow, orphan, foreigner/outcast, sick and oppressed.  

Cars

Minivan Madness

In my last blog post, I shared how God moved my heart during Lent.  Long story short, we decided to donate my car to a charity, Able Works, in East Palo Alto.  There were other spiritual lessons, but this decision was the most tangible.  Still, I felt so spiritually clumsy.  Here, I knew that God was asking me to literally and figuratively surrender.  Yet, with every twist and turn, in the days while we waited for everything to fall into place – I’d find myself falling back into Control Freak mode.

Exhibit A: In March, we ordered a minivan through a nearby dealer.  Unfortunately, the delivery date kept slipping.  Not surprisingly, I panicked over whether we’d stick to our original donation date (and have no car) OR disappoint everyone at Able Works by asking to push out the date.  Then, one week ago, we got the call that the new car had arrived.  We rejoiced for a few hours, till they called back to say they couldn’t find the car on the lot….I cried.  What the hell was going on!?!?  FINALLY, they found the car and said we could come pick it up.  So, last weekend, we did.

On Sunday, it occurred to me that our slipping date was not only a pretty clever test of my faith BUT it also put the timing for getting our new car – right on Mother’s Day.  It was as if God was again weaving a tale, in such a way that I’d always remember His faithfulness in watching the pieces fall into place just in time.

Donation Day

In Surrender, I wrote: Why, if I truly wanted love, mercy and humility to be real in my life, would I go indulge in a new car? The short answer is: it wasn’t just about what I needed…..it’s about what someone else needed.   And, finally the day came when we got to give our car away.

Initially, I didn’t realize that I’d be meeting the recipient.  I’ve done enough reading on the problematic ‘savior complex’ of so many well intended Christians (check out When Helping Hurts or Overrated for more info!), that I preferred to just hand the keys to the charity and let them pass the vehicle to their chosen recipient.  But, that wasn’t the way the process worked: we were to all go to the DMV together so that the title could be simultaneously transferred from me to the charity and from them to the recipient.

When the morning came, my stomach was doing somersaults.  I so wanted this to be a moment of surrender….not just of a car, but of control…..that God would be present as my path and the path of this mom crossed.  As we waited our turn at the DMV, we chatted.  It turned out, she had a 6-year-old – just like me.  And, she had a daughter, turning 12 years old this weekend – just like me.  More fingerprints.  Finally, it was our turn, and in a few minutes, the papers were all signed and we were walking out to the parking lot.

img_3295-1When she saw the car, she started crying.  All I could do was hug her.  After pointing out a few of the car’s features, it was time to hand over the keys and be on my way.  A good friend was with me, since I needed a ride home!  She took a few pictures, which was good.  It wasn’t till I got home and sat in my kitchen, that I could truly process those moments.  On the one hand, it felt as though that DMV parking lot had become holy ground….at least for a few moments.  Up there had come down here, and I was overjoyed to have been part of it.  On the other hand, it felt so normal…..as if, this were the way life was supposed to be.

On earth….as it is in heaven

When Jesus taught us how to pray, one of the key elements of the Lord’s Prayer was to ask that Up There come Down Here…..that bits of heaven would come into the broken places on earth.  Of course, full and final redemption won’t come in this life.  But, the Bible is pretty clear on our duty to love others (especially, ‘the least’) in this life.  As I’ve clumsily walked down this Micah 6:8 path, I’ve become convinced that loving the least isn’t something we do to get EXTRA CREDIT in heaven – it is THE ticket to heaven…..it is ESSENTIAL to faith.  If you keep reading Matthew 25 (which I cited above) you’ll get to a part where it talks about separating the sheep from the goats.  Don’t be a goat.  Wanna know how: feed the hungry, shelter the stranger, give to the needy, help the sick, show compassion to the prisoner….love the least.  It is impossible to love God and yet be indifferent to what He loves.

Lighting For Literacy

I was struggling to reconcile my feelings, as I sat at my kitchen table, staring at the pictures my friend had taken at the DMV.  I opened up Facebook and saw this post by a South Bay friend named Jessica, writing soon after her return from Mexico, where they delivered and installed solar lights in impoverished communities.

When we got home, a waitress in LA heard our story and said “you must feel so good about yourselves”. We all just kind of looked at her and didn’t know what to say. I mean, ya we felt good, but not necessarily because of our actions. The people of Colonet gave us as much as we gave them in love, friendship, gratitude, and life perspective.

Her father, Doug McNeil, started a group called Lighting for Literacy.  In just a few years, they’ve done amazing work, empowering Bay Area youth to create a sustainable, renewable solar technology that provides opportunities for literacy img_3330and education around the globe.  It is truly amazing what they’ve accomplished (they’ve even been recognized a few times by the White House!).  But, at same time, I get what she’s saying….doing this kind of work shouldn’t be the exception, it should be the rule.  Heck, it IS the rule – if you call yourself a Christ-follower.  

The ‘Actual’ Divine Go

img_3333So, as it turns out, God called us closer to church, so that He could send us out into the world.  Walking with God often creates this clash of the ordinary with the extraordinary.  We see His fingerprints and we marvel at His provision.  And, as amazing as it is – it also feels incredibly normal….like this is ‘as it should be’.  The Jews have a word for this: SHALOM. The word embodies many meanings, but often refers to peace, restorationwholeness and and prosperity.   The ‘with God’ life is simultaneously magnificent and messy.  But, if you dare to do it – you experience shalom…..bits of Up There come Down Here.

I’ve frequently referenced my Pentecostal upbringing.  Back then, we talked a lot about the Holy Spirit, the gift given to early church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38).  We talked less about the way those who received His Spirit lived.  Just a few verses later, in Acts 2:44-45, it says of the early church that they,were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”  God’s temple is now in us.  And, our most beautiful worship isn’t in a sanctuary with lights and videos – it’s is when our life-song is one of outrageous, magnificent, messy love for the world around us.  As 1 Corinthians 13:1 puts it: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”  

Don’t be a goat or a cymbal.  Do Go.  These are the things God is teaching me.  His fingerprints are most noticeable in the places that move me closer to the least.  And, while it truly doesn’t matter the day or the place that God calls – the point, is that He calls.  God shows up.  Those two-by-four encounters with dates pointed to His blessed assurance.  This is my story.  This is my song.  Praising my savior, all the day long.  The glory divine, is that in magnificent and yet mundane ways, God comes.  So, we GO.    

 

 

What’s a cubit?

5ae0c50d-ed2c-4eb1-84cf-4714f2317aa4It’s just about time for Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin to ring in the New Year from Times Square in NYC.  If I could swap Anderson for another ‘newsy’ celebrity, I think I’d pick Stephen Colbert.  He makes you laugh, but he’s been incredibly transparent about his own election hangover.  Similarly, I’ve struggled to find the usual levity and joy that accompanies the holiday season.

I’m about half-way through Accidental Saints, by Nadia Bolz-Weber.  She contrasts our idealized, Normal Rockwell Christmases, with the actual story in the Bible.  I love her takeaway, saying this of the first Christmas:

It reveals a God who has entered our world as it actually exists, and not as the world would 16ab5b0d-1e59-4edf-93b4-52f45ee49065often wish it would be.  God’s love is too pure to enter a world that does not exist, even though this is often how we treat Jesus, like we are trying to shelter Him from reality.  We often behave as though Jesus is only interested in saving and loving a romanticized version of our selves, or an idealized version of our mess of a world, and so we offer him a version of our best selves.  

I have a long ways to go, but I feel like this has been the year when my eyes were opened and my heart was broken, by the world as it actually is. 

The bad news is that the world is still messed up.  The good news is that God is in the mess.  Just these last few weeks, that’s been the painful truth for my family.  My mom is over a year into her battle against cancer.  We were so glad she was well enough to make it out to California for what we’ve dubbed ‘Turkey Christmas’ (gift exchanges done at Thanksgiving).  But, the day after her return, she was admitted to the hospital and she’s been back and forth between the hospital and rehab ever since.  Just to add to the medical drama for our family, my daughter fell and broke her ankle in 3 places, the day after Christmas.  It is dangerous to sugarcoat hardship; you cheapen the real pain of the folks closest to the suffering.  But, it is also dishonest to omit the very real ways God showed up in the midst of it all.  

Just when things looked bleakest for my mom, the pieces started falling into place for my Mom to get to Mayo, with friends and family moving mountains to facilitate this endeavor and provide care in between.  For my daughter, there have also been some mixed f26f1a1e-a965-48df-94ad-e05f368b85a6blessings.  A little backstory to her injury helps…

She went upstairs to get her little brother, when he failed to show up and set the table (after being called no less than 23 times).  And, long story short, she tripped and fell, carrying him down the stairs.  Like all big sisters around the globe, she’s frustrated by her brothers’ frequent reluctance to pitch in and help.  But, it’s been baptism by fire since the day she broke her ankle.  I wouldn’t call either of them ‘Martha’, but they’ve definitely shouldered a larger chore load, and have even displayed more compassion and care for their sister, since the accident.  I have no illusions about the long-term durability of these lessons; it’s likely they’ll be back to their usual quarreling selves, about 5 minutes after the cast comes off.  However, that doesn’t take away from the lessons we can learn when we’re forced to just stop for a moment.  And, this moment, as we start a New Year, might be a good time for all of us to pause.

John Dickerson interviewed Stephen Colbert on Christmas Day.  Among other things, they talked about the 2016 Oxford Word of the Year: Post-Truth, an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.  Here’s a snippet of their post-truth exchange:

COLBERT: That scares me, the idea that facts don’t exist anymore is actually scary to me, whereas if there are no facts anymore, then there is nothing to agree upon and so we can’t agree. You can’t build anything.

DICKERSON: You’ve got to agree on the measurement of things if you’re building (INAUDIBLE)…

COLBERT: What is one kilo?

f240562e-beeb-4fb6-8448-e479ccd42c1f
Dickerson & Colbert

DICKERSON: Right.

Or one cubit?

COLBERT: Exactly.

What is a cubit?

Exactly.

Exactly…..what’s a cubit?

As Dickerson puts it, if we want to build something, we have to agree on the measurement.  in.  I think this is part of the reason why these last few weeks have been so disorienting.  It’s not just that we disagree on facts, our worldview or preferred prescription for the world….it’s this sense that everything has been turned upside down, and truth doesn’t matter.  What can you build when you can’t define a cubit?

The Bible talks a lot about weights and measurements.  Proverbs 11:1 states, “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, But a just weight is His delight.”  Too often, the church has either turned a blind eye to or been party to false balances.  And, the church will inevitably continue as a diverse body, with a huge variance of perspectives and prescriptions (and, this is good!!!). However, if we are to maintain any shred of credibility in 2017, we must agree on the cubit.  We must seek some common ground upon which at least a critical mass of Christians agree.  The church must go back to its Biblical roots to welcome the foreigner, protect the oppressed, help the poor, heal the sick, respect the elderly, defend women and children, etc.  If we can find that critical mass in 2017, maybe we can move closer to the tipping points that affect broader change.  We might not always agree on the details, but let’s not let politics or ideology of earth stand between us and the heaven’s plea to be light in the darkness.  And, quick clarification: light in the darkness has a lot more to do with those folks I just mentioned (poor, sick, foreigner, etc.) than it does well-crafted worship services or Bible programs.  The book of Amos has some harsh words, on the topic of scales:

Hear this, you who trample the needy
and do away with the poor of the land,
5 saying,

“When will the New Moon be over
that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended
that we may market wheat?”—
skimping on the measure,
boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales,
6 buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
selling even the sweepings with the wheat.

The chapter continues with this admonishment:

7 The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.

8 “Will not the land tremble for this,
and all who live in it mourn?
The whole land will rise like the Nile;
it will be stirred up and then sink
like the river of Egypt.
9 “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord,

“I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your religious festivals into mourning
and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
and the end of it like a bitter day.
11 “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
“when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
12 People will stagger from sea to sea
and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the Lord,
but they will not find it.

Part of my pivot for 2017 is to look for the people and organizations doing the best work to help these groups, and then go join them….whether they’re affiliated with a church or not.  Being the church doesn’t require a steeple – just hands and feet.  In fact, we have spent far too much time quarreling with each other (case in point, recent criticisms of Russell Moore) or point a finger at others, when there’s so much common ground with both religious and secular groups that we could have used as a foundation for being hands and feet.  Nadia Bolz-Weber puts it this way:

That is the surprising scandal of the gospel, the surprising scandal of the kingdom: it looks like the same crappy mess that bumps us out of our unconscious addiction to being good, so that we can look at Jesus as he approaches us on the street and says, Man, you look like you could use a good meal.

I hope that the church will lean into those messy places, in bolder and more courageous ways than we have in a long time.  But, there will come a day when I am accountable.  And, on that day there will be nothing else to blame; ideology, theology, my calendar nor my finances, and all of life’s countless demands and perceived constraints….you name it….they won’t matter.  I, and I alone will be measured.  So, I’d better figure out what is a cubit.

Politicians and pundits might not agree on much, but I think the Bible is pretty clear on

5607bf45-318d-4849-b1d6-c9823764b832
From Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

measurements.  We are called to love God and love people.  And, we’re known by our fruits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  And, the places where these commandments ring true and our true selves are revealed, are in our responses to the broken people and messy places.

The real question is not, what’s a cubit….the real question is what’s a person worth?  God’s already shown us what a person is worth to Him.  But, what’s a person….a young black man, a Hispanic housekeeper, a Syrian refugee, a homeless child or female pastor worth to us?  Is there room in our 2017 gospel for them?  Let’s make it so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Are The Ones

tissuesI’ve had to stop wearing mascara.  The tears just won’t stop.  Every time I think I’ve turned a corner, the grief hits me like a ton of bricks.  These last 10+ days have been excruciating.  I’ve written about ‘the day after’.  This time, the day after November 8th broke me.  But, I’m still here.  One of the most encouraging lines I’ve read in recent days, came from Ann Voskamp: “God sees the broken as the best, and He sees the best in the broken, and He calls the wounded to be the world changers.” This, whatever this is….it is not okay.  We may be wounded, but we are not defeated.  For those who are struggling, like me, I offer my rough draft list of ways to begin healing.

FOR YOURSELF

LISTEN AND LEARN

How did we become a nation so divided?  There are many reasons, but one is that we don’t listen well.  Here are books and articles that I’ve either read (and LOVE) or have in recent days learned about, and hope to read soon.  Some provide insights into forgotten communities dotting the the rust belt…others, into the pain of racism that still rages today or to a new posture for the evangelical church in a hurting world.

Books for Adults

As my recent ancestry.com genetic test proves, I am about as white as you can get!  So, to my fellow Caucasians, please consider the books above (or films below) that speak to the pain of bias and discrimination, especially racism.  While there’s no disputing the many forgotten towns where the ‘white working class’ has seen better days, these communities do not hold a monopoly over suffering in America.  The numbers do not lie, and they tell us that Latinos and African Americans remain worse off than the white working class—which is still the “largest demographic bloc in the workforce”—by pretty much every measurable outcome, from home ownership to life expectancy.  Our desire to help those who have been hurt by a broken system should be universal and unbiased.  That is why I also include books that will broaden my own perspective, like Hillbilly Elegy.

Books for Kids

There have been reports of harassment from both sides, in areas not far from me.  Kids are not immune from dinner table conversations or the palpable fear grownups are walking around with.  And, for some kids, the threat of deportation or explicit racism is very real.  Here are some of my favorite books for kids, which are helpful anytime, but especially at times like these.  Teaching our kids to embrace diversity, practice generosity and show compassion should be paramount in parenting.

Movies

This isn’t a complete list, but just new films that have caught my eye and speak powerfully to the issues we’re facing today.  1468522346_loving_social_2-398x398

Bible Studies

Here’s the deal.  A week ago, I wasn’t ready to open my Bible.  I couldn’t.  I felt (and, to a large extent) still feel like a stranger in my own faith, with 81% voting for Trump.  We all have the same life manual, yet we come away with such drastically different conclusions.  But, a dear friend urged me to open Romans.  I did.  And, God met me.  The next day, she said she had already ordered an NT Wright study on Romans for us to do together.  This friend reminds me of Aaron (in the Old Testament), who held up Moses’s arms during the battle with the Amalekites; as long as Moses’s arms were raised, Israel prevailed.  We all need someone to hold up our arms, when we don’t have the strength.

Lauren Daigle

Yesterday, I pulled up my Lauren Daigle playlist.  I love her.  But, for days it was just too how-to-backup-itunes-playlist-1much.  Were you ever so sad that you were afraid of healing?  Part of me was desperate for assurance and another part of me felt like I would be betraying those on the front-lines of suffering.  See, I will be okay.  I’ve never doubted that.  So many others…the LGBTQ community, people of color, the undocumented, Muslims….they will not.

I did not want to pick up the pieces and move ON until I knew where I was moving TO.  

I tapped on my Lauren Daigle playlist and My Revival randomly came on…except, nothing is random with God.  It begins…

I will run and not grow weary
I will walk, I will not faint
I will soar on wings like eagles
Find my rest in your everlasting name
You are my revival
Jesus on you I wait
I’ll lean on your promise
You will renew my strength

I stood in my bathroom, weeping.  And, then, I wiped away the tears and got ready to go to go feed lunch to the homeless.  I was so glad it was Thursday.  I knew that spending time with those who wear their brokenness on the outside, would help me find direction for the brokenness on my inside, which had rendered me so distraught and disoriented.  And, it did.

PAY-UP

the-new-york-times-logo-featuredI have a confession.  I love a good deal.  And, what’s better than free?  Now I know.

For years, I’ve loved getting my news for free via the internet.  I’d even ration my access to New York Times articles (10 a month!) so that I wouldn’t have to pay.  Our new economy is driven by clicks, not quality reporting or truth.  No matter who is in the White House, we need quality news outlets, if we are to be well informed.  Therefore, I plan to start paying for news subscriptions to the institutions I believe are doing some of the best reporting, like NPR/PBS and the New York Times, among others.  On the flip-side, avoid fake news or fake news sources.

FIND A FRIEND

No, not the ones on Facebook.  I am so grateful for the friends who came alongside me in my grief.  Dark days have a way of revealing who your true friends are.   A book.  A coffee.  A pot of split-pea soup.  A morning run.  A bunch of crazy cat videos.  Repeated calls or texts to say, ‘are you okay?’.  These last few days have drenched me in both love and grief.  The folks who made me feel less alone, by confessing that they too were not okay…..

FOR OTHERS

#NOTOKAY

I will be okay.  My heart breaks because there are millions of people in our country who will NOT be okay.  It seems to me, part of faith and loving God is letting your heart be broken for the folks who are not okay.

California has a large Hispanic population.  I decided to lean into that starbuckspain, talking folks who are already seeing their lives turned upside down.  One gal, with tears streaming down her face, told me of how her son cries when she drops him at school, not knowing if she might not pick him up.  A Hispanic gentleman told me, shared how a lady in Starbucks looked at him on November 9th and said, “Make America White Again.”  There are no words….  I know these people well.  They are good, hardworking individuals.  One of them looked at me, and with the greatest sincerity said, “I still believe that America is the greatest country on the planet.”  He loves America.

Though I should be the one wearing the ‘encourager’ hat, they are the ones who have instilled hope in me; they say, “it’s just four years…..it will be hard but we will get through it…..sometimes, things have to get worse before they get better….”  Their personal resilience and collective faith inspires me.  They are the ones who make America great.

If you are looking for a place to start, try talking to the people you already know.  Offer them a safe space to share their story.  We cannot absolve ourselves of the impact, even if our intent was not to do harm.  No matter how you voted, we must come step out of our silos and listen with a desire to learn, not to respond.

WEAR A PIN

pinIn the wake of the election, many started wearing a safety pin.  It’s a way of showing support and solidarity with those who are afraid.  There are lots of opinions on whether this is actually useful.  (Here’s a good assessment.)  But, I’ve decided to continue wearing it for the time-being.  The first reason is somewhat personal.  When my daughter initially saw it and asked what it meant, she immediately suggested that I move the pin where others could see it more easily.  In that moment, it dawned on me that she believed I could be a safe person…she wanted me to be a safe person for others.  If I want her to be brave, I have to be brave.  And, so, I’ve worn it everyday for a week now.  When I put it on, it reminds me to look for opportunities to show kindness.

People holds hands looking at post-election Post-it notes  pasted along a tiled walk at Union Square subway station in New YorkThe pin can be as little or as much as we make it; I am trying to make it step #1 in a long path of aligning myself with those who are scared and worry what the future may hold.  In some cities, thousands have pledged to stand by neighbors who are afraid.  In the case of my friend, I told her to put my number in her son’s backpack and have him call me if ever he needs help.  God help me – I will be the one.  There are so many ways you can make it more than just a pin.  If you are local and you want a safety pin, I have stocked up.  Just ask.

VOLUNTEER

Find an under-resourced school or an organization that helps the homeless.  Sign up to be a Big Brother or Big Sister.  Find local groups fighting sex trafficking.  Here in the Bay Area, some favorites of mine are:

I love the church because it is the body of Christ…the hands and feet of Jesus.  It is where I have focused the bulk of my volunteer hours.  But, I will be honest that I am really struggling in my relationship with organized religion at the moment.  I see some institutions and individuals who aren’t afraid to stand up, who believe the greatest commandment is to love others and who understand that the world is watching.  Young people, like my children, are watching.  I believe the church is OUT there.  Maybe, that is where I should be….

Elizabeth Elliot once said, “Live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord.”  Jesus never took a survey or ran from conflict.  His love was not based upon strategy or maximizing his ROI.  As I pray about the future, I’m personally going to be looking for the people and places where the gospel is being preached and practice without abandon.

GIVE

poverty-incWe are heading into the holiday season, with Thanksgiving just days away.  If ever there was a time to give well, the time is now.  I recently watched the documentary, Poverty, Inc. with my small group.  It reinforces themes from books, including, When Helping Hurts.  Sometimes, our best intentions go awry.  All too often, this is the case with charity.  Our world needs help.  Some of that help is tangible.  Some is not.  But, if you decide to give, take the time to give well.

Here’s a list of organizations that either do charity or rate charities.

If you like sponsorship-type programs, here are alternatives to Samaritan’s Purse (information on why Operation Christmas Child can have unintended consequences):

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS….

puppyIn the midst of the tears, we learned that a breeder we’d followed for a long time had puppies. And, after many years of bribing healthy habits and good behavior out of our kids, we finally felt this was the time.  A few days after Christmas, we’ll bring home a little girl.  We’ve named her Calli.

The good our family hopes to do will require a lot more than a safety pin.  And, I have no doubt the years ahead will be tough; there will be moments when I need to turn off the computer, grab the leash and take this little lady for a walk….while simultaneously spending some time talking to God.  There’s that great verse that says, be still, and know that I am God.  I know that God sits on the throne; my most fervent prayer right now, is that in ways big and small, I can be a reflection of his love on earth.  Fingers crossed, puppy kisses and a wagging tail, will also serve as a tangible reminder of unconditional love.

SECOND CLASS SAINTS

Do we believe that one day in heaven, there will be second class saints or celestial slums? I think most would say NO.  But, if there is an order in heaven, Jesus gives a pretty big clue as to what it looks like, saying that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.  We are his church.  We are his hands and feet.  We are here to bring what’s up there down here….to people of all colors, religions, genders, economic status…you name it.  For God so loved the WHOLE WORLD.  How can we possibly justify a rationing of love and kindness, based upon our own bias or greed?  We cannot.  We must not.

To borrow from a Hopi poem, “we are the ones we have been waiting for.”  The times is now.mc  We are the ones.  On November 9th, a dear friend and I sat at Mademoiselle Colette, just reeling.  She had brought me a copy of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  I confess that I’ve not very far into it (it hasn’t been my most productive week….), but I absolutely love that this friend wanted to encourage me in my writing.

In the introduction, there’s this great line that so speaks to this moment: “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try tobook do the right thing, the dawn will come.  You wait and watch and work; you don’t give up.”  It’s been rather dark for me, these last few days.  But, I have hope.  I believe that dawn WILL come.

I was staring at my “act justly, love mercy, walk humbly” necklace yesterday, complete now with its large safety pin.  The little pearl caught my eye.  I remembered the verse in Matthew 13:46, where Jesus tells the parable of necklace2the merchant who, when he found a pearl, went and sold all that he had to buy it.  Not only did Christ give his all for us, but we in turn are called to emulate this kind of love…to the widow, orphan, foreigner or poor.   Folks, there are pearls all around us.  The question is whether we are the ones who see them as such, believe the broken are indeed the best and will do whatever it takes to love them with reckless abandon.   

 

 

 

 

 

I Went Back

Last Thursday, I learned what was across the street from Town & Country: a homeless shelter.  Actually, it is a homeless drop-in center (there’s a difference).  This world is new to me; I’m still figuring out how it works and how best to navigate it.  It’s another world, even though it is right in the middle of ‘my’ world.

I had to go back.  These are my observations from yesterday’s return visit to the Opportunity Services Center (OSC).

  1. That song again….  Am I the only one who has conversations with myself in my head??  As I’m getting ready, I’m asking myself….  should I wear less make-up today…..would it be better if I wore plain clothes, etc….???  The men out there probably have no idea the process women go through in deciding what to wear.  #TheStruggleIsReal.  As I’m contemplating my choices, I recall the song that hit me like a ton of bricks last week….You/they are my treasure and my reward.  I realize God and these folks alike could care less whether I’ve opted for minimal makeup or not.   What matters a whole lot more, is whether I still see them as people who are precious and worthy, regardless of where they are in life right now.
  2. 1021124-01Just Ask  On a mission to NOT valet park my car again, I arrived super early, with time to grab a bite to eat at LuLu’s.  Sometimes, the center gets donations from restaurants at Town and Country.  As I’m sitting there, enjoying my chicken and brown rice soup, the thought occurs to me, ‘You should ask them if they have anything they’d like to donate!’.  It only takes me half a millisecond to think of five solid reasons why that’s a BAD idea.  Maybe someone has already approached them!  I have no idea what kinds of donations we can and can’t take!  And so on!  But, here’s the thing.  The real reason I hesitated, wasn’t because of my smart questions – it was because I was embarrassed.  God tends to have a way with timing.  As luck would have it, while I was eating my soup, I had just started reading a
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    Lunchtime Reading Material

    book called, Doing Good is Simple.  Lovely.  Thank you, Lord.  You give me no choice!  So, I swallowed my pride, and asked the guy behind the counter if there was anything he could donate to the homeless shelter across the street.  No….I didn’t secure donations for the next year.  I didn’t even walk out with a bag of free chips.  But, I did learn that I need to sometimes stop over-thinking and just ask.

  3. Some people really like blueberry muffins.  The main components of the meal we serve come from a place called Loaves and Fishes.  Last week, we had meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  This week, we had roasted chicken and rice.  We usually supplement with fruit that we bring, or other donations.  Yesterday, we had a bunch of day-old pastries from Starbucks, plus some Costco muffins.  As this one gentleman made his way thru the line, he spotted the blueberry muffin….I wish I could adequately describe the expression and tone of his excitement.  He was over the top in his gratitude, thanking me and repeatedly saying, ‘God bless you’.  It’s a muffin.  Just a muffin.  But, it made his day.  And, his joy made mine.
  4. SONY DSCSome people can’t eat apples.  As I said last week, there are many folks who come thru the line, and they look like super normal – they don’t look like your stereotypical homeless person.  But, other folks have been living with poverty for a long time, and it has taken a noticeable toll.  Minus proper dental care for many years, some folks don’t have a full set of teeth.  I always ask folks if they want an apple, orange or grapes….it finally dawned on me why some decline the apple.
  5. It’s sad….he’s a nice kid….  I got to meet the director of Services Center, Philip Dah.
    philip-dah
    Philip Dah

    He came over to say hello, just as a young man was making his way through the lunch line.  After the young man walked away to find a seat, Philip, said, ‘It’s so sad….he’s a nice kid.’  He went on to explain that this fellow had lived for years with his grandfather, who recently passed away.  At some point long ago, his parents had divorced and started new lives.  After his grandfather passed, he had no place to go and his parents didn’t want him disrupting their new lives and families.  So, the dad drove him to OSC and left him.  Thankfully, there are people like Philip.  But, the world needs a lot more Philips.  One of the most famous verses in the New Testament comes from Philippians: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” 

  6. kqed-logoKQED does it again.  Whether they realize it or not, my local NPR station inspires my spiritual growth.  Their reporting through the years on issues of poverty, racism and injustice has motivated me to take my faith from the church into the world.  As I drove home from the OSC, I heard an author and poet talking with Fresh Air host, Terry Gross, about his latest book, Blood at the Root.  The author, Patrick Philips, writes about an event that took place in his own hometown of Forsyth, back in 1912.  White mobs set 29215193fire to black churches and black-owned businesses. Eventually the entire black population of Forsyth County was driven out.  I missed the first part of the interview, only catching the end, as he talked about his family and faith.  Patrick says,  “I don’t go to church anymore, and I don’t have faith, so I miss it in some ways.”  That line struck me – I don’t have faith, so I miss it….  He goes on to share how his father was a Methodist minister, who also left the church.  It seems father and son held similar sentiments. He ends the interview saying,  “So in some ways, my father also had a rift with the organized church, and I think that is not unrelated to the Civil Rights movement and some real disappointment and disillusionment about the response of white churches during some of those darkest days.”  Where we are on the darkest days says a lot.
  7. Today, I met three Philip’s.  The first Philip was Philip Dah, at the Services Center, who added a story to the face of the man in front of me.  The second Philip was the Philip tabghamosaicloavesfish-1on the radio, the one who told both the story of racial cleansing in America, as well as his own narrative of how he lost his faith in the face of Christian indifference to racial injustice.  The third Philip was in the Bible.  Actually, there are several Philips in the Bible, but two play a prominent role (stick with me here, folks).  The first was Philip, the Apostle, who had also been a disciple of John the Baptist.  Philip is the one who calculated how much it would take to feed the 5,000 (Interestingly, it is Philip who coordinates services at the shelter, including meals….which come from a place called Loaves and Fishes).  There’s a second Philip in the Bible, called Philip the Evangelist.  He went out, he cared for the poor, he preached.  He met and baptised an Ethiopian man, a eunuch, in Gaza, marking the start of the Ethiopian Church (Acts 8).  I’d forgotten the details of the Biblical Philip(s) – but, we got reacquainted today (thank you, Google+Biblegateway).  We are all Philip.  Maybe we are the young man struggling.  Maybe we are figuring out how to feed or assist those in need.  Maybe we are out there, trying to share our faith.  Maybe, we have lost of our faith.
  8. His words haunt me.  Radio Philip has stuck with me….I don’t have faith, so I miss it.  There’s a hole in our heart that only God can fill.  Religion will always disappoint, but Jesus will not; the chasm between the two lies in mistaking modern Christianity with true discipleship.  Philip is not the only disillusioned by modern Christianity and disappointed by the white church.  Google ‘Nones’ and Pew Research Center.  Dallas Willard said, A disciple is a person who has decided that the most important thing in their life is to learn how to do what Jesus said to do.  And, newsflash – it’s not wearing a 1398525WWJD bracelet.  Jesus stood with the oppressed.  He fed the hungry.  He loved those everyone else had rejected.  Brandon Hatmaker, husband to the very-popular Jen Hatmaker, writes in his book Barefoot Church“We live in a world that is watching the church with one eyebrow raised. When Hollywood is viewed as doing more to feed the hungry and fight human trafficking than the church, we need to take a hard look at what we’re doing and ask if it’s enough. Jesus taught that when others see our good deeds they would assign value to God (Matthew 5:16). I can’t help but think that the same is true for his church.”  

You are my treasure and my reward.  It’s more than a song; it’s a mantra.  If it stays on the radio, then I am but a clanging cymbal.  Go back.  Try again.  Ask the question.  See the humanity.  Let your heart be broken.  Let your life be the song.  Change the story.  #BeginWithHumilityEndWithGlory

 

Next to Town & Country

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Town & Country – Palo Alto

If you’ve been to Palo Alto, you’ve probably been to Town & Country.  If you haven’t actually visited, trust me….you’ve driven by this bustling shopping center.  It’s located across the street from Stanford University and is a popular destination for students and peninsula residents alike.  My family goes nearly once a week; you’ll find us at either our favorite sushi spot OR at Gott’s.

Gott's burgers
Gott’s Roadside

As the picture implies, Gott’s is the kind of burger joint you’d expect in an upscale part of Silicon Valley; kids get their organic Niman Ranch hot dog while parents enjoy a grilled ahi-tuna burger and glass of wine.

No, my blog is not slipping into the food and lifestyle genre.  Remember?  #NotThatCool.  So, what’s my point?

My point is this: today, I learned what’s next to Town & Country.  Across the street, in what looks like a completely normal building, there is a homeless shelter.  After reading my blog post yesterday, a good friend who has been a ‘missions mentor’ of sorts, sent me an email saying, ‘I’m feeding lunch to the homeless tomorrow.  Want to come?  I can give you a ride.’  It was mid-afternoon.  I was in the middle of what felt like my 30th trip back and forth across town to get my precious kiddos to and from their multitude of afternoon activities.  I decided to just jump-in and say ‘yes’ before I over-thought it too much (that approach seemed to have worked with the blog).

Fast-forward to today.  It’s late morning and nearly time for me to leave for the homeless shelter.  I pull up the address on my computer, so that I can figure out where this place is located.  I knew it was in Palo Alto, but I wasn’t sure exactly where……that’s when I realized….this shelter is just feet away from the place I’ve been shopping and eating for YEARS.  I had no idea.  So, here’s what I learned in the last 24 hours, since I decided to ‘go public’ with my pursuit of a more missionally-minded life.

  1. Tell someone.  If I hadn’t talked to people or posted this blog, I would have missed out on both the fellowship and accountability that come from getting outside of my own head.  And, frankly – it makes a difference when you’re doing something with a friend.  I might have never made the leap, without that loving but direct offer: ‘I’m going tomorrow, want to come?’.
  2. The need exists RIGHT WHERE WE ARE.  You don’t have to cross the globe or even railroad tracks (not that you shouldn’t, but just sayin’).  People in our own community need help.
  3. Not all homeless are the same.  Sure, some look like they slept under a bridge.  But, the first guy to walk into the cafeteria where I was working with others to serve lunch, reminded me of my husband.  He was a clean-cut Asian man, dressed in nice athletic gear, carrying some kind of tablet.  Had you dropped him into the sushi or burger joint, nobody would have thought twice.  But, he wasn’t there – he was here, at the homeless shelter.  I could have cried.  It makes you rethink the assumptions we walk around with.
  4. The shelter is busier at the end of the month.  Today, we fed 53 people, which they said was a bit on the low side.  Why?  Someone explained to me that the checks poor receive from the State, come at the start at the month.  So, in these first couple weeks, life is less dire.  But, by the end of the month, the food line is much longer as greater numbers are desperate for a free meal.  I just don’t have words.
  5. They like eggs.  This could be their only solid, hot meal for a while.  A hard-boiled egg is a great source of protein they can take with them and eat later.  I eat what I want to eat or what seems healthy….I don’t make my choices out of fear or worry about where my next meal is coming from.
  6. #FirstWorldParkingProblem.  I’m putting this near the end of the list for the very
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    Claim Ticket

    logical reason that I’m embarrassed.  You see, I was rushing to get there on time.  I figured that I’d just park at the shopping center, like I normally do when grabbing a bite to eat.  Except, this time, I couldn’t find a parking spot.  So, I used valet parking (cringe).  Talk about God hitting me over the head with a 2×4 (again!) – it was like He wanted to make it ABUNDANTLY clear, the blessings and provisions that He’s lavished upon my family and me.  I might not be running around town in a Rolls Royce, but I’ve got a very functional car that I can afford to run/insure without hesitation….  You get the picture.

  7. Make it work.  Today was early dismissal day for my kids at school, so I was scrambling to get from the shelter to their school.  I was a few minutes late.  But, it was okay.  There were plenty of mamas who are part of ‘my village’ who watched my boys till I could get there.  And, when they asked me ‘why were you late?’ – I couldn’t wait to tell them.
  8. Tell a story.  The hard part for missionally minded moms, is that not all charities will let you bring your kid.  The next-best thing to bringing your kid is telling them a story.  Yes, as early and as often as you can – get them out there!  Nothing can replace first-hand experiences.  But, realize it or not, we tell our kids a narrative about what matters by the things we choose to do and talk about in the time we are with them.  If all we talk about is good grades, guess what they’ll think is most important?  If all we do is watch, participate in or talk about sports, guess what they’ll become obsessed with?  If we are so busy with our careers that everything else comes second, guess how they’ll rank order our priority today and theirs tomorrow?  Even if they can’t participate, I think the stories we tell around the dinner table as we debrief our days, can still make an impact.
  9. We see what we want to see.  I had never known that such a shelter existed just 5 minutes from my neighborhood.  Then again, I never looked.
  10. Keep Trying.  This wasn’t my first time feeding the homeless or participating in some sort of charity or service related activity.  Clearly, the existence of this blog is evidence of my struggle to get it right.  But, don’t quit.  I refuse to believe that some of us don’t have a place.  #WeAllHaveAPlace

A few months ago, KQED partnered with dozens of organizations to do in-depth stories for two weeks, just on this topic of homelessness in the Bay Area.  I remember being struck by stories that challenged my assumptions.  For example, there are over 500,000 homeless children in the state of California (not all homeless are like that drunk dude on the corner).  Not all homeless people are unemployed.  To be fair, the main reason many are on the street is because they lost their job.  But, many others actually have jobs and are functional member of society – they just can’t afford housing.  (They’re not all lazy or unwilling to try to pull themselves out of hardship.)  I could keep going….

There’s this great Lauren Daigle song called First.  She sings about letting God be the thing that leads all else.  So, as I’m getting ready this morning, First, is playing in the background.  I hear that line, ‘You are my treasure and my reward’.  For a second, I reflect on the power of that line…that it challenges me to reorient my view of blessings…that He’s it, better than anything this world could ever offer.  A split second later, I think about how this line could be flipped as God’s love-song to us, that WE are HIS treasure.  For a moment, I’m overwhelmed that God might see ME as that.  And, then, God flips it one more time.  In my heart, I hear Him telling me that these folks that the world has forgotten….THEY TOO ARE HIS TREASURE AND HIS REWARD.

I think I’m going back.