I’m FOREVER with you: another letter to my kids

I’m FOREVER with you: another letter to my kids

dayna_005Dear Ana, Aaron and Nathaniel:

Oh, my.  We are REALLY sad.  We thought that we would be celebrating the election of the first female president.  Instead, we are wondering what life will be like with President Trump.  Even after a couple days, we are all still a bit numb and shell-shocked.  I don’t think I’ve done much to quell your fears; so, I return to the place where I make sense of and peace with the tangle of thoughts and emotions in my head.  I write.  I write, because today YOU need me.  I write, because tomorrow we ALL must remember the lessons of this election.

IT HURTS

I still choke up, reflecting on that moment when you woke up on Wednesday morning, asked me who won, and learned the news that similarly shocked so many across the country.  You all wanted to know if we were moving to Singapore.  I wanted to say, yes.  We all search for a response that tells the world, ‘this is not okay with me’.  But, instead, with my heart still beating out of my chest and stomach still in knots, I told you we would stay….that we must cling to all that is good, and strive to make our nation even better.  Ana, your fear and tears will haunt me for a long time, in the best possible way.  It was you that motivated me to ‘go public’ with my beliefs, even though they went against the grain of what many in our Christian circles espouse.  And, it is you and your brothers that will fuel me to keep searching for God’s place in this messy life; out of these broken pieces, we will build something.  This is not the end.

MAKE A PLAN 

bidenI showed you guys that funny Joe Biden video clip, where he encourages voters to make a plan to get to the polls.  Well, sadly, our plans didn’t work out…..THIS TIME.  But, there will be another time.  Quick lesson in American government: mid-term elections occur every two years and the next presidential election will be in four.  Let’s make a plan.  

More than half of your generation (well, those that are old enough to vote but still young!), voted for Hillary Clinton.  Many of your values, from the way we take care of our planet to compassion for others regardless of their race, gender or religion, will likely be more commonplace in the years to come.  We had thought that year was this year.  But, we were wrong.  Clearly, there is work still to be done.

They say necessity is the mother of invention.  Well, we need to come up with new plans and new people.  Our nation is hurting.  You can be part of the healing.  As your mother, I am telling you it is more true today than ever before, that God invented (created) you for such a time as this.

WHEN THEY GO LOW, YOU GO HIGH 

103816023-gettyimages-580960452-600x400Ana, you and I watched Michelle Obama give a speech during the Democratic Convention, where she said a line that became a bit of a mantra during the rest of the Clinton campaign: when they go low, you go high.  Well, it’s a good line!  And, we’re gonna keep using it.  And, more than just saying it, we need to do it.  Part of going high means that we need to listen.  It is clear from the election results and exit polling that we are a divided nation…urban vs rural, rich vs poor, young vs old, men vs women, etc.

One of the groups that voted overwhelmingly for Trump was evangelicals.  So, guess what?  We have to be a bridge.  We fall into a category of folks who are strong believers in the Bible AND progressive politics.  Please know that we are not alone, but we ARE in the minority.

Let’s change that….by listening to others and by our fruits.  In Sunday School, you’ve learned about the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  The Bible says, they’ll know us by our fruits – this is what it means to be a Christian.  PERIOD.  More than our church attendance or political affiliation, these are the qualities that define us.  The world is watching, so let’s cultivate those fruits.  To be more specific, we are not moving to Singapore.  We are not giving up.  We are not going to be silent.  We re-double our commitment to the greatest commandment, loving others.

BE LIKE WILLIE

This morning, I put on my black dress and pearls, stuffed a huge wad of Kleenex into my purse and went to the funeral of Willie J Mackey.  I didn’t know Willie well, but when I heard of his passing, I knew I had to go to his service, especially since it was occurring on the very day I was already scheduled to serve lunch at OSC….it’s like God put it on my calendar.  Today, I heard Willie’s story, and it changed me.

Long ago, after 15 years as an account, Willie lost his job.  As the months without a paycheck passed, he used up all of this savings.  When he couldn’t afford to keep his home, he moved into his car.  Eventually, he was forced to sell his car, which left

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Willie at the Santa Clara Medical Respite Program

him with nowhere to go but the streets.  The hardship of those years, took a major toll on his health.  Thankfully, he found Hotel de Zink, which provides emergency meals and housing to the homeless, with the hosting rotating through churches throughout the bay area.  Willie also connected with much needed health care resources, which helped him diagnose and treating his diabetes.  So many years without care resulted in what would be the first of many partial foot amputations.  Once Willie found long-term housing through the Opportunity Services Center plus much-needed health assistance, he was able to start an entirely new chapter.

The first time I remember seeing Willie, was at church, where he served for six years as an usher.  To be honest, till today, I just knew him as the guy who was lucky enough to find help from our church, which allowed him to turn his life around. This morning, God hit your mama over the head with a 2×4.  Unsuccessfully, I tried to hide my tears; at one point, someone actually handed me a stack of paper towels.  Kids, I was so ashamed of my false assumptions and pride.  Sitting there, I was saw that Willie had given all of us, far more than what we ever gave him….that he was the one with a life worth emulating, not vice versa.

The courtyard at the Opportunity Services Center where I sat, was packed with people from across the Bay Area.  Some were community leaders.  Some were priests and pastors.  Some were homeless.  All loved Willie.  Speaker after speaker got up to tell their story; it was astonishing, how many considered Willie their right-hand man; he was indispensable to countless organizations.  As it turns out, Willie had been active in the community for years before he lost his job, volunteering with organizations that provided African American youth with STEM programs/scholarships.  Willie had a big heart before hardship came his way.  His personal experience with homelessness merely reoriented his focus and intensified his passion, with most of his involvement in later years focusing on poverty, homelessness and health related organizations.

stepup_logo_horizontalCheck out Willie’s LinkedIn Page.  There, you see the very long list of organizations where Willie served as Board Member, Commissioner, Volunteer and Member/Participant.  It was clear, in listening to people talk about his technical expertise, his compassion for others and unwavering willingness to help – Willie could have easily returned to a paying job, once his life stabilized.  But, he leaned into the very place he’d once shunned.  Shame had once upon a time prevented him from asking for help from those he’d previously worked and volunteered with.  But, eventually, he found purpose and peace in going all over the bay, to advocate for the very community he’d once been so afraid to be associated with.

There is a verse in the Bible that says the first shall be last.  I realized how profoundly true this is, when you look at a life like Willie.  Listening to people speak, I saw the beauty in being last (by our modern, American standards).  I want to be like Willie.  I want you to be like Willie.  Better to surrender your life to service, than to chase promotions or titles.  In your world, as kids, this means that kindness must come before good grades or the extra curricular activities we hope will one day help you get into college.  You must ruthlessly carve out space in your life for the broken.  It may not be easy, but it essential.

It is easy to judge or make assumptions when you don’t take the time to ask someone their story.  Hearing more of Willie’s story broke me in the best possible way today.  For pincamwalker01example, I learned the reason why he often wore an orthopedic boot.  As your mom, I’m embarrassed to admit this, given how much I preach about compassion or not judging others.  But, I confess that when I’d see the boot (month after month, year after year), I’d think, “why doesn’t he get that checked?  Is there some part of his health or recovery he’s not managing well?  Why does someone wear a boot for years?”.

Now I know.  He wore that boot because of his ongoing battle with diabetes, which required multiple partial foot amputations….first the toes, then a bit more….and a bit more.  Some of the ushers he served with, told stories today of how diligent he was in his work as an usher, often staying late to help with one more thing, or straighten one more area.  One lady told of how she could see the pain on his face, but somehow he still had a smile; he refused to stop.  At church or Hotel de Zink or the many other organizations in which he served.   He never gave up.  And, I never knew…

I think that is part of the lesson here.  Everyone has a story.  When folks talked about Willie and the influence he had on organizations that served the homeless, one of the repeated themes was his insistence that clients be part of the conversation.  Even serving, should not be something we do FOR people….it is something we do WITH people.  Ask questions.  Hear the story.  Listen to learn, not to respond.  Remember always that we are all broken, and you never really know who is helping who.

When people talked about Willie, the adjective they used over and over again was GENTLE.  His gentleness did not impede his impact; it facilitated it.  To be sure, there are moments you have to stick up for yourself or others.  But, whatever the circumstances, be kind.  I saw a phrase online today: Make American Kind Again.  Yep.  Let’s.

Kids, the closest you’ll ever get to a cold night without a roof over your head is a campinghomeless-3-750xx7360-4152-0-589 trip.  If Willie can pull himself up, so can you. And, let’s honor Willie and the many others who practice their faith by becoming ‘hands and feet’ by loving others.  If you want to find Jesus, you will find Him when you serve a meal, or help a child or wash feet or stand up for the oppressed or give shelter to folks like Willie.    

Love is not a box you tick.  It is an intentional choice to show up and give with all you’ve got, to the ones who need it most…maybe, sometimes, even the ones you feel deserve it least.  THIS, is what we must do over and over and over and over again.  That is our plan.  

CAVES   

Our pastor, John Ortberg, writes of caves in his book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You Gotta Get Out of the Boat.  In it, he recounts the story of how David, when fleeing Saul, took refuge in a cave.  The cave was both a physical and symbolic place of hiding.  He’d been stripped rpi-nqtpd-nottingham-caves-jan-enof all the power, security, wealth and fame and now here he was, fearful for his life.  But, God met David in that cave.  The Bible says, David strengthened himself in the Lord His God.  When we are in the cave, and we fear this is it, it is easy to get discouraged.  But, the phrase that gets repeated more than any other in the Bible is, FEAR NOT.  When Jesus came, the angels called Him, Emmanuel, God with us.  He is the God who meets us in the cave, and strengthens us when we are afraid.  And, when that baby grew up, they nailed Him to a cross and then put Him in a cave.  This was defeat.  This was the end.  Except, it wasn’t.  Because, God does His best work in caves.

Nobody likes the cave.  The cave is dark and scary.  But, that’s where we are right now.  And, we have a choice.  We can surrender to our fears and throw in the towel.  Or, we can look for God in this, remembering that sometimes the moments that seem the worst are actually when God is preparing us for His best work yet.  We can look to the testimony of great men like Willie, as examples for how we will live out our faith going forward.  As Charley Scandlyn said in his remarks during today’s service, Willie helped us to see others the way God sees them.  And, that should be how we move forward….loving others.  Nothing has changed since my last letter: we STILL believe in a God that loves us and everyone else with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.

I started this blog because I was trying to figure out how to truly act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.  And, a few days ago, my words became a letter to you.  My grief has left me hallowed; but, perhaps now there is space for God to come in even more powerfully than before.  It is true, that no matter who is elected, God is still on the throne.  What is also true, is that we are still on earth.  And, so long as there is breath in our lungs, we will work to bring heaven to earth.  We will open our hearts to hurting and broken, we will defend those without an advocate and we will give to those in need.  In the same way that democracy is not a spectator sport, so faith is requires our daily surrender the commandment to love God and love others.  That’s our plan.

Still love you to the moon and back,

Mom

 

 

I want Joanna and Chip to build me a house, Jen Hatmaker to be my BFF and Michelle + Melinda to let me help them save the world.

Admit it.

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#Shiplap

Maybe your list is different.  But, you have a list of celebrities that you’d love to have as your BFF’s….or, just hang out with for a day.  I think many of my friends would have at least one of these people on their list.  Joanna and Chip are so hilarious to watch; I feel the need to let them renovate my house, even though there’s nothing major that needs to be ‘fixed’.  Jen Hatmaker looks like so much fun…I can totally see it….her coming over, probably with chips and salsa (or some other yummy, Southwestern/Texas treat) and us ‘clicking’ from day 1.

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#SuperWoman

Oh, and don’t forget Michelle Obama and Melinda Gates – two strong women advocating for the rights of women and girls, using their position and power in admirable ways to fix what’s wrong in the world.  What I’d give to jump on that bandwagon.  Truly – I’d be in Africa passing out anti-malaria tents in a heartbeat, if I got to hang out with the likes of Melinda.

BELONG TOUR

There is something seductive about celebrity.  I happen to adore everyone on this list.  But, I’m trying to ground myself a bit, heading into a conference this weekend.  I am attending the Belong Tour in San Jose.  And, I am like a 6-year-old getting ready for their first trip to belong_brand_goldlogobasicDisney.  I AM PSYCHED!  This Christian women’s conference brings headliners like Jen Hatmaker and Shauna Niequist together to inspire and teach women how to live ‘fun, faith-filled, purposeful’ lives.  It is going to be awesome.

In my post, The Day After, I talked about what we do after the big event.  And, this is true, even in noble pursuits, like a Christian conference.  I definitely credit the women in this line-up for changing the conversation in faith circles, advocating generosity and justice, and showing us by example what it looks like to be vulnerable about the brokenness in our world…and, even in ourselves.  Yet, the reality is that this (a conference) is not the end – this is just the beginning.  For sure, we all need the ‘ra ra’ moments…the moments that will motivate and inspire.  But, if I fail to take it one step further, I’ve done nothing truly spiritual.  I may as well call it for what it is, a girls weekend.  (Btw, there’s nothing wrong with girls weekends!)

LESS ‘RA RA’ – MORE CROSSES 

Faith is not about the ‘ra ra’ moments – it’s about God coming into the messy moments.  Ann Voskamp writes of an exchange with a homeless man, they invited to live with them:

The sun’s losing light as it edges across the floor. I can feel the world tilting a bit, its truth slipping right out and onto the floor between Gordon and me: Why do we rush to defend God to a broken world, and not race to defend the image of God in the world’s broken? Gordon’s eyes search mine. The light’s caught in his hair. Yeah, I’ve got no idea if he’s packing something, dealing something, trafficking something, but something holy’s caught in my throat. We’ve all got our crosses.

I love that.  We’ve all got our crosses.  What’s remarkable is that for so long, Christian culture has managed to stick a cross on everything….our Christian books, our Christian music, our Christian camps – even our churches.  Yet, most of the time, it’s symbolic – we’ve cheapened our faith to the point of forgetting what the cross actually means.  Let’s be honest.  If you are hungry.  If your parent(s) are in prison.  If you have no roof over your head.  If you are being trafficked.  If your country is falling apart and you are a refugee.  If your world is broken, you could care less about all the Christian conferences, camps, books, songs – you name it.  You just want help.  You just want someone to walk alongside you.  You’ve got an actual cross.

Read these brutally honest words, written by Mickey Maudlin, Senior Vice President and Executive Editor at HarperOne:

Eventually the scales fell off and I had to confront the uncomfortable truth that perhaps evangelical churches, books, personalities and programs were the most popular because the movement was the most accommodated to consumer culture. Seeing evangelicalism as a populist movement, subject to fads and personality cults, fit with many of the dynamics I witnessed.

Somehow, we so quickly forget that the real treasure isn’t in best-sellers or the number of congregants in the pews, it’s something much better.

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#ProofOfTheExistenceOfGod

OVER COFFEE AND CROISSANTS 

Yesterday, two friends came over for brunch.  We drank a pot of coffee, and ate a bag of croissants from Mademoiselle Colette.  It was divine.  But, the real treat was hearing their stories.  One shared stories of building schools in South America, while the other talked of how visiting orphanages in Asia and Africa has changed the way her kids see the world. I can’t help but think that this is church.  This is faith.  These are holy moments.

My Jesus Calling devotion for today, is titled Be Willing to Follow.  It says: “Some of My richest blessings are just around the bend: out of sight, but nonetheless very real.  To receive these gifts, you must walk by faith – not by sight.  It means subordinating the visible world to the invisible Shepherd of your soul.”

I have to be brutally honest with myself.  How often has my heart been captured by my eyes?  I am drawn in by the talent, the wealth, the intellect….  Like a shiny penny, my eyes quickly see that well-crafted package; it is so easy to open.  It is so lovely to read a book or listen to a song, and to feel good about my salvation.  On the other hand, if I let my soul be my guide, where would it take me?  What new things would suddenly become visible to me, if I saw beyond the safe and sanitary, tree-lined streets of Menlo Park?

LOVE WARRIOR 

Tuesday, I was at home with a sick kid.  After cancelling my appointments and plans, I suddenly had all this time I hadn’t planned on.  So, I decided to start a book that all my friends have been reading, Love Warrior.  Glennon Doyle Melton holds nothing back, in writing about her life and marriage.  As things fell apart, Christians were anything but helpful.  In the excerpt below, she’s at church with her daughter, when the judgment from folks there, revealed the gulf between our God and our religion:

I look away, farther down the hall, and I see Tish in line with her Sunday school class.img_01571692323  Tish sees me and her face lights up.  In that instant, I realize that I owe nothing to the institution of Christianity – not my health, not my dignity, not my silence, not my martyrdom.  I do not answer to this place, I answer to God, to myself and to the little girl in that line….She needs to learn from me that these four walls don’t contain God and that the people inside them don’t own God, that God loves her more than any institution God made for her.  She will learn this only if I show her that I believe it myself.  

I’ve been there.  I’ve been that little girl, Tish.  I am the collateral damage of a church that prioritized outsides over insides.  Jesus doesn’t mince any words.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, so that the outside may become clean as well. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity.

Tomorrow, I head to belong.  I can’t wait.  I don’t want to be blind.  I don’t want to be a clanging cymbal.  I don’t want to be that well-meaning woman in the church.  I don’t want a conference to be the beginning and the end.  The world doesn’t need any more books, CD’s (is that old tech now, should we say MP3’s?), camps or conventions.  The world needs us to just get OUT.  I’m nearly done with Brandon Hatmaker’s book, A Mile Wide, where he writes:

We become so consumed with our model or way of church, protecting our beliefs and fighting over doctrine that we become distracted from what’s most important….the Kingdom is for sinners, not the righteous…although Christ died for us and offers us what we cannot earn, we still spend way too much time trying to appear like we earned it.  

While he offers many tips for how to get out of our old beliefs and ways, two ideas stuck with me.  The first one, he learned from a friend, Alan, who regularly helped the homeless.  Alan, a church leader like Brandon, told him, “My job is to get as many people out of the pews sheryl-sandberg-facebook-cooand onto the streets of our city as I can, because I know it will change them.”  The second tip is that a deeper faith is rooted in trusted relationships…maybe like the relationships born over coffee and croissants, where families figure out how they can make the ‘love God + love others’ equation a reality in their lives.

I may love to dream big, of working with the celebrities of the world.  Heck, Sheryl Sandberg’s kids go to the same school as mine.  And, you can be sure that my ego sometimes whispers, that maybe I should try to find a way to get my ideas to her or see if I can get connected to her.  (For the record, I’m a huge fan of hers!)  But, that never seemed to be the way Jesus went about things….He almost always seemed to ‘go small’….to pursue hearts and minds, one at a time…to start with the people that are right in front of you.

This year, I’m kinda all over the map.  The homeless, low-income schools, my kids’ schools, a myriad of roles at church….and, now, a Christian women’s conference.  I’m trying it all….including, blogging.  And, I hope that the blogging never comes across as bragging.  Dear God, help me – if it does.  The blog is about accountability.  It is about documenting this journey, and letting others into the messiness.  I’m trying to see what faith actually looks like outside of the church.  If we are talking about belonging, I no longer want to belong to a cultural Christian club.  Rather, I think God is asking whether I am making space so the hurting, messy world can belong to me and I to it…whether I let my heart be broken, so that out of the pieces I may find how I’m supposed to live out my Micah 6:8 life.

It turns out, the real fixer upper is me.

 

P.S.

To the beautiful women I get to spend this weekend with, let me speak to you.  Let’s have fun.  We are hard-working mama’s who deserve a weekend away.  And, many of you inspire me with the way you’ve oriented your lives around helping those in need.  So, I’m kinda speaking to the choir.  But, let’s collectively commit to letting this weekend be the beginning of something bigger!  – Love, Dayna