Weary Wings

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Thorns In Our Flesh

"So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with The Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." 2 Corinthians 12: 7-9

There's some debate about the "thorn" that Paul references in this passage. The opinions generally fall into two camps, one being that the thorn was a physical infirmity and the other that it was an area of sin (or the temptation to sin) that Paul struggled with. I side with the thought that this was a sin struggle for a couple of reasons. First of all, throughout Scripture, when the word "flesh" is used it is most often referring to our sin nature. It doesn't make sense to me that Paul would use the same word here to mean something else. My other thought is that when we see pride in believers it often presents itself as self righteousness in relation to our performance morally more so than in relation to our physical bodies, not to say that we cant be self righteous about our bodies, however.(I realize that I don't generally jump into exegesis, but stick with me, I promise I'm headed somewhere.)

Seeing it this way makes Paul more human to me, which he was, and it gives me hope that the things I struggle with and that tempt me are being used by God to glorify Himself. It comforts me to know that I don't have to be perfect in order for God to show Himself through me and that he uses my own thorns to keep me close to Him.

Nevertheless, recently Jesus opened my eyes to a whole other kind of thorn that is neither physical, nor spiritual. It is a thorn that a friend of mine has no power within herself to overcome and it presents itself daily like a constant reminder of her dependence on others and ultimately her dependence on Christ. All of our thorns are like that, it just isn't always so obvious.

If you know me at all you know that I am not easily shocked by people's stories. My own past (and often present) was a dark ugly mess that Jesus saved me from. I lived through some hard things that hurt me deeply and I did some really horrible things that hurt others. When people share their stories with me, I am most often calm and able to engage in the conversation without much reaction at all other than to affirm their experiences and assure them that I see them no differently and love them just the same. God has gifted me in this area and often uses it to let me let people know that they are heard and that their stories matter.

I genuinely cherish that God has given me these opportunities and for that reason I often enter into relationships with people as a very open book. I was born with a deep desire to know and be known and the times in my life when I felt I couldn't be authentic have often been the most difficult for me. I feel intensely lonely when I cannot be honest, yes, even brutally honest, about who I am and what I am going through. I force myself to be transparent because I believe deep down we all want to be loved and accepted for who we really are, no matter how messy that may be.

And, ya know, we all have thorns. When I share my story and others privilege me with their's, I am often reminded that the ground is level at the foot of the Cross and the same blood was shed for us all. As a storyteller who has heard many stories I am not easily shocked. If we haven't dealt with it in our own home, I probably know someone who has. I get that life is hard and am not afraid of a hard conversation. I felt pretty confident, maybe even prideful about the fact that I truly thought I could not be shocked. At least not easily.

As we sat around the dinner table the other night sharing stories I even said those exact words when I sensed our new friends hesitate to be as open as I was. I made a joke about not being shocked by much and we all laughed and the conversation carried on. Just a few moments later Ephram came to the table with a book and asked my friend to read it to him. It had happened earlier in the evening and I noticed that she had the same look on her face as she did earlier. I interpreted it to mean that she wasn't sure if I would be ok with that. I then said, "If you want to read to him you certainly can, but if you'd rather just chat with us feel free to tell him no."

I was totally unprepared for her response. She looked at me and slowly mouthed the words,"I can't."


Again she mouthed, "I can't read."

It was clear to both of us that I was, in fact, shocked. I immediately felt terrible that I had lost my composure fearing that I sent her the message that I thought something was wrong with her. I apologized and sent Ephram to go read alone and did my best to enter back into the conversation with everyone else at the table. I clumsily moved on hoping she didn't feel like she was any less precious to me than before she shared her secret.

Don't get me wrong, we shared all manner of history that night. We opened up some hard stuff as we visited. We rejoiced in the ways that God had saved us and how He was continually changing us. It was authentic and real and good and I was grateful for it. However, for the first time in a long time I was reminded that when I rely on my own flesh to make people feel comfortable rather than the Holy Spirit, it will only be a matter of time until I fail. And fail I did.

You see, I am an avid reader. Along with that, I, obviously, love to write. I LOVE words. I love reading them and rhyming them and seeing how beautifully they can be put together to give voice to thoughts, hopes, dreams...fears. Growing up in a house filled with chaos and violence, I spent my time stringing words together to make sense of who I was and how I felt. I escaped into any book I could find and sometimes, on rare occasions, I even read my Bible.

It is terribly difficult for me to imagine my life any other way. My love of reading and writing is a deep part of my identity. Maybe even a bit too deep. At any rate, it was (is) certainly something I took for granted never even thinking to be grateful for it.

I've thought a lot about that short conversation since it happened. My natural tendency is to figure out how I can fix a situation. It's arrogant of me to think that way, but it's true. Nevertheless, the more I thought about it, the more the Holy Spirit reminded me of Paul's words, of the thorn in his flesh and how God used it for His glory.

I can't attempt to reflect on how this might be the case for my friend, but I can tell you that knowing this about her and reflecting on the implications increased my respect for her exponentially. We live in a culture that uses knowledge and education as measurements of status and power. Our society insists that we be independent and able to fend for ourselves lest we be shamed by our inabilities, our neediness. Yet, this is not the way of the Cross, it's not the the life that Jesus called us to. He calls on us to rely on Him fully and I realized that not having the ability to read well could cause a person to understand dependence in a very real way.

Our response to the Gospel is defined by our need for it. We don't get to Jesus through self-sufficiency, we come to him with nothing to offer completely trusting that His work provides for our salvation. This is a challenge for most Americans. We've been taught that our abilities increase our worth. We reward those who need nothing and depend on no one while we scorn those who have needs beyond what they can provide for themselves. Our self sufficiency sets in us the idea that we can save ourselves. And if you can save yourself, what do you need Jesus for?

Frankly, I imagine that if I couldn't read I would feel helpless. I don't know if that's how my friend feels but I am sure that needing help with something that seems to come so easy for everyone else is frustrating at best and at times even humiliating. And I can relate to those feelings on many levels. Yet imagining having to depend on others to gather information and navigate in a culture so dependent on the written word really gave me a glimpse into how pridefully independent I falsely believe I am.

I observed my sweet friend and her husband for the rest of the evening and was struck by how he must treat her with such dignity as she is obviously convinced that he loves and values her immensely. She's confident that she brings something to the table in their marriage no matter what challenges she brings as well. And I was humbled because that does say something about their relationship, but it also says something about her having a grasp on the fact that her identity is in Christ.

Don't get me wrong, I am aware of my own thorns but I don't think I am confronted with them daily in a real tangible way. Most often I plug along insisting on my own way, convincing myself that I am capable enough until disaster strikes and I am faced with a mess of my own doing. Not to say that my friend is immune to that, but this thorn of hers presents a challenge every day that requires her to ask for help in order to accomplish things most of us take for granted. Until that night, it had never once occurred to me to thank God that I could read because in my mind it was something I had learned to do on my own. The fact that God, Himself, gave me a brain equipped to learn to read never even crossed my mind. I arrogantly failed to acknowledge reading as a gift to steward and be thankful for. I wasn't identifying with Jesus, my identity was rooted in my confidence of my own mind.

And let me be extremely clear, this woman is an incredibly talented and creative individual. She is smart and has some keen insight about her own experiences that I couldn't even come close to when I was her age. The truth is, I might have loved to read anything I could get my hands on at that time in my life but I was completely ignorant of the fact that I needed Jesus. I dug myself an incredible pit that took years to recover from and I read my precious books all along the way. Being able to read well did not save me from that destruction, Jesus did.

As much as my conceited flesh wanted to pity her for this thorn, my heart envied her knowledge and familiarity with being dependent. That's what the Gospel is all about. It's about trusting someone else to do something for us that we cannot do on our own. I've lived my life convinced that I could do anything I set my mind to. Having to make peace with our neediness is an obstacle to the Cross for most of us. It has certainly been so for me.

Ironically, earlier in the evening we had made a "first world problem" joke, you know, the kind that reminds us how easy we have it here in America. I thought of that after they left and realized that we had been graced with the company of an American who actually knew something about a problem that went beyond living in a first world country. She's dealing with a hurdle that most of us cannot relate to and one that requires her to be honest about it in order to get the help that she needs. Nobody knows by looking at her that she struggles to read, she's got to confess it to them in order to get help. She's got to trust, rely, depend...every single day.

And that's what we're called to. Complete and utter dependence on the Holy Spirit in order to walk with Christ. Just like when we come to the Cross in need of that cleansing blood initially, we are to come to it every day reminded of the thorns that He allows to keep us dependent on Him because His Grace is sufficient and His Strength is made perfect in our weaknesses. In our neediness.

I pray that I can hear the Holy Spirit when my own thorns make me feel so inadequate. I pray that He gently reminds me that I am inadequate and that I do need Him and was never meant to do it alone. I pray for a daily reminder to depend on Him rather than my tendency to believe my own lies about being capable. I want to rest in being incapable. I want to make peace with being weak so that Jesus can be glorified and I can be more like Him and less, so much less, like me.

Monday, August 6, 2012

On Being a Part of a Church Plant

              About four or so years ago James started listening to sermon podcasts while he was on the road. He spends a lot of time driving and he found that the time he spent alone in his truck was redeemed when he used it to fill his mind with God’s word. He listened to Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, Darrin Patrick, Tim Keller and many others, most of whom were at churches that are part of the Acts 29 Network. This led to him listening to the podcasts that were available on the Acts 29 site, many of which were about their efforts to promote church planting.
                This put in James a desire to either plant a church himself, or be a part of a church plant. Statistically, planting new churches is the number one way to reach the lost in America and as James learned more, his desire grew and in the meantime we were led to Clear Creek Community Church just as they were in the process of joining the Acts 29 Network. We had been searching for a church to call home since we got married and we were finally where we knew God wanted us.  We were excited to be a part of a church that was doing everything it knew how to proclaim the Gospel to the lost. We found a place to serve, joined a small group, even eventually leading one, and became members of CCCC. My heart was finally at ease and I began to put down roots loving the fact that I was at a church where I was accepted fully in spite of how miserably I sometimes failed. I imagined us being there for years and living life with the church family God had brought us to. I got comfortable.
                We were serving in the junior high ministry under Ryan Prater whom we had grown to love and respect. His enthusiasm and love for the kids was infectious. He set clear expectations of his volunteers and taught us to engage the kids during small group time where we would be fleshing out the message he gave which was always full of the Gospel. We, also, as I mentioned before, served as small group leaders for an adult group and I was serving as a leader in the churches Redemption Group program. We were doing everything we knew to plug in and serve and grow. We had loving relationships with our friends there and loved and were loved by the people who led us there. It was a precious time that I will always remember fondly. However, James continued to talk about this desire to help plant a church and we often wondered where that would lead us.
                Sometime in the winter of 2010, Ryan called a meeting of the volunteers for the junior high ministry. It wasn’t unusual for a meeting to be called and if I remember correctly, it was on the same Sunday evening that many of the other ministries were meeting for encouragement and training. However, during that meeting Ryan began to talk about something he needed to tell us. I knew what he was about to say.
                As he described the journey that he had been on I prepared myself for a goodbye. With tears in his eyes he told us that God had called him to plant a church and that in six months, his time would end at Clear Creek and he would be moving forward to do that. I was choked up, but comfortable. Then he said that he would be moving 50 miles away to the city of Katy to plant this new church. My eyes immediately moved to James and I knew then what he was thinking. I started making a list of reasons why this wouldn’t work for us in my mind, knowing that we would be going.
                Over the course of about a month we prayed and talked and finally came to the decision to let Ryan and his family know that we were on board and would begin preparing to move. James was ecstatic and I was in shock. I desperately did not want to go, but knew that as a wife, God had called me to submit to my husband’s leadership. I tried to talk myself out of it and kept coming back to the fact that I wanted my own sons to know that as husbands they had the responsibility to follow wherever God lead them. Digging in my heels was only going to undermine that and dishonor my husband. So, I began packing.
                We moved to Katy almost a year ago. We had been meeting with Ryan and the other families for about two months before that, making the fifty mile drive each Sunday. My transition out of Clear Creek Community Church was abrupt and I was in no way prepared for the ways my ideas about church would change. About a month before we moved I had lunch with my dear friend Susan Wesley who had planted Clear Creek with her husband seventeen years earlier. I asked her then what I should expect and how I could best serve there. Her answer? “You do whatever needs to be done. That’s how it will be for a long time and you just keep doing it.” She is very wise and I appreciated her candor. Honestly, though, I was hoping for something a little more glamorous. (Can I be any more na├»ve?)
                Nevertheless, I pushed forward moving to Katy with my family, enrolling my kids in new schools, moving into a new apartment, and then five months later yet another new apartment (that’s another blog post altogether).We made a commitment to this new church and in doing so made a commitment to a new way of life. We started seeing our neighbors as lost people who needed to be reached and sought ways to connect to them as such. When moving here, we decided to take the mission seriously in a new way. We had lived in an apartment complex previous to moving to Katy and in the two and a half years we had lived there we never had one neighbor over for dinner. Not one. Don’t’ get me wrong, Clear Creek had implored us to reach out to our neighbors, and we even talked about it. We just didn’t do it. I guess in some way, being on mission enough to move fifty miles helped us take the idea of being missional seriously. Maybe that’s what it took for us.(Jesus, please change my heart so I can learn these lessons without moving in the future.)
                It has been an interesting journey. It has cost us. I don’t say that to gain accolades but because that’s what Jesus says following him will do. It will cost you. We moved with our family and within four months our eldest son decided to go back to finish his senior year at his old school. I was devastated. How could that have been God’s plan? I wasn’t supposed to have to give him up so soon. Yet, God provided a way for Cal to go back and made it clear that we were where we belonged no matter how much I refused to believe it. (My son, Lord? You require my son?)
                We’ve also had to sacrifice other things. Things that we had come to believe were very much a part of church. For example, our children’s ministry is limited to babies and preschoolers right now. That’s all we can accommodate. We are doing everything we can to get more people to volunteer so that we can extend it to include our elementary age kids, but right now, we don’t have that. Coming from a church of 5000 where checking your child in to kid’s ministry was akin to going through airport security, that was a hard pill to swallow. And I get frustrated by it sometimes when my 6 year old is clearly bored stiff during adult service. However, it has cemented the fact that his spiritual upbringing is not the responsibility of the church, it is ours. We have had to be intentional about sharing God’s word with him on his level and also making time for him so that he doesn’t grow up thinking that we cared more about “religion” than we cared about him. It’s stretched us and we are learning as we go, but, it’s been a good learning. A good stretching.
                I’ve also learned to love in a new way. First, like I said before, we’ve really engaged with our neighbors and have done our best to have an open door policy in our home. Our neighbors know that if they knock on the door we’ll answer and unless we are truly unable, we will invite them in. It means being inconvenienced and having conversations when we’d rather sit in front of the TV. But, it’s good. It’s made our lives richer as we’ve gotten to know them and listened to their struggles. We give when we can to meet the needs that we see and sometimes, we can’t give enough. At those times, we continue to point them to Jesus who is the Giver of all good things.
                Another way I’ve learned to love is in how I love the people in my church, those I’m in spiritual community with. In a large church you have the luxury of finding the people who are like you to do life with. In a church plant, you’ve got who you’ve got and you’ve got to learn how to get along. I, myself, struggle with feeling similar to many of the Christians I know. In a word, I’m not very “churchy”. This has been true at Cross Community, where those of us who’ve committed are from all walks of life. I feel a deep sense of commitment to “know and be known” and that has led me to be very open about my life with those in our church. Often, I’m clumsy at doing that, but I feel strongly that I can’t invite people to a church gathering where they’ll have to hide who they are. So, I refuse to hide who I am. It gets uncomfortable and messy and I don’t always see my brothers and sisters through the same Grace I am afforded. However, I believe Jesus has called me into community with them and I press on to love them as I long to be loved and as I have, in fact, been loved.
                Susan’s advice all those months ago was key. There’s a lot to be done in a church plant and often, there are only a few doing it. Many times when Ryan is asking for someone to step up to do something an uncomfortable silence follows as everyone waits it out to see if they can avoid it. I’ve learned that when hard works needs to be done, it doesn’t necessarily have to fall under the category of your “calling”. Most often, in a church plant, if something needs to be done and you are able, consider yourself “called”. And it’s hard to see the same people responding over and over again. Even harder for Ryan, I imagine, as he worries over whether or not those who are serving are close to burnout. I pray we’re not. And I pray for others to come forward and serve and accept the calling to invest in the community God has brought them to.
                And hear this; we know we’re not doing it perfectly. We are struggling with our own sin and shortcomings along the way. We get tired and sometimes long for the days when we closed our door and no one would knock. We remember back to times when we knew that if we didn’t show up to serve, someone else would. And it was safe then, and comfortable, and the church would function without us, but is that what God really wants for us?
                Being part of a church plant isn’t easy, but I think it’s how being a part of any church is supposed to be. We are supposed to be serving and working and opening up until it hurts. We are supposed to model giving the way Jesus gave, giving that costs us. We are called to go out into our neighborhoods and preach the Gospel and invite the lost into community with us. These things aren’t specific to church plants, they’re specific to Christianity.
                I look ahead to the days when our church grows and functions differently. I am eager for the Cross Kids Ministry to grow and for there to be a rotation of volunteers to take their place in serving the body. However, I pray that even when we enter that stage, we don’t give up the urgency we feel now to reach the lost and serve those we come in contact with. I pray that those of us who are called now can maintain our identity as the “called out ones” to continue love Cross Community Church as we do now. This business of planting a church isn’t meant to be for a season, but rather, for life.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Checking in, Life's Been Crazy

Hey Everyone!

I wanted to check in and let you all know what's been going on. I haven't forgotten about you, but we are going through a season of change and I haven't quite figured out what my blogging schedule will look like in all of that. Here's what's going on:

As you know, it's summer. I've graduated one son (Cal) and have two at home. I'm trying to keep them busy this summer, but with this Texas heat, we spend most of our daylight hours indoors. The perpetual teacher that I am, this involves a lot of reading and some other "school work" to keep them in practice. Every season is a season to learn.

I've also started working. It's a part time job at a Texas grocery store chain, HEB. Any Texan will tell you, it is the PREMIERE grocery store here and so far has been a great company to work for. I am doing product demonstrations and also (when I'm lucky) I get to do some cooking demonstrations. If you know me at all you know I find that incredibly fun and it's something I'm good at as well. I interviewed for so many jobs and thought I had a fancy one at a downtown law firm, but, ultimately, they weren't convinced I'd be willing to do the commute long term. As much as I wanted that job, I am grateful to have not had to give up my entire summer with the kids. My schedule is flexible and I'm off some weekdays. I am working more weekends, but that's OK too and as it's super busy, the time passes really quickly.

As usual, I am always looking for more opportunities to write. Part of why I've been away from here is because I've been writing for a website that actually pays me (www.slumpedover.com)! I can't tell you what that means to someone who hopes to one day earn her living writing. It's been a fun blessing to know that what I hash out on the computer is actually worth money to someone. As most writers, my ultimate goal is to change the world, but, some cash money in the meantime never did hurt.

As I mentioned above, my eldest son, Cal, graduated. It was a sweet time for us to see him close this chapter in his life and move on to more grown up ventures. He's working at a tire shop right now and is in the process of starting to train to work on tug boats in the Galveston Bay. Cal has always been a hard worker and one to give it his all when working with his hands. He's very creative too and not much cut out for traditional education. Of course, this college educated mama wants to see him follow in her footsteps, but, mostly I want to see him pursue whatever gifts God has given him. I trust that he's doing what he thinks is best for him and know that he will excel in whatever field he chooses to pursue. I'm proud of Cal and look forward to watching the journey my incredible God takes him on. It will be the ride of his life no matter what that looks like.

DJ is raising money right now to head off to Tacoma for a week in July. He will be participating in the Immerse program put on by Soma Communities, a church in the Tacoma area. The emphasis of the program is to teach high school and college students how to live out the Gospel in a missional way. Soma is known for the way it has trained it's members to live life seamlessly between their neighborhoods and their church communities resulting in the ability to share the Gospel in a way that makes sense to the people they are living life with. It's a different experience than what we are used to in the Church and I am eager for him to come back and teach us all he has learned. He is also looking to apply his knowledge at his high school so he can enter into relationship with other students and lead them towards a life changing relationship with Christ. (If you are interested in helping him with this trip please let me know.)

Ephram is just himself, being six it all its glory. Some days he doesn't get dressed until the late afternoon and I don't mind at all. When it cools in the evening, we take him to the pool to burn off some energy. During the day, he reads his books, plays his games and enjoys the leisurely pace summer brings. When I asked him the other day what his favorite part of summer was, he said, "Not going to school, of course!"

James is traveling a lot lately. We pray regularly for him to find a job that will not take him away from home. Until then, we endure. Thank goodness for Skype and unlimited evening minutes on the cell phones. It's a struggle to stay connected when he's gone, but we do our best. It will be even more challenging as I will be working most weekends, but we trust the Lord to keep our family connected as we pursue excellence in all we do.

And me. I am turning 39 tomorrow. I've had all kinds of thoughts about what this last year in my thirties will mean. I have visions of where I want myself to be when I turn forty and, Lord willing, I will accomplish some of that this year. I try to remind myself when setting these goals that if it weren't for the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, I would have accomplished nothing so far. And, because that is so, I am a work in progress. I will step, in faith, into each place He lights on the path in front of me. I hope that means more writing and more sharing His work in my life. I hope that means getting to know my neighbors and sharing Christ with them. I hope that means growing in my relationship with Jesus and in my relationships with my family. I hope it means setting aside the things that weigh me down and keep me from running the race. I pray that means becoming a woman grounded in His Grace for me and generous in His Grace for others. I hope to grow a little and I pray to learn a lot.

I hope you all are well. I will return soon, Lord willing. Keep us in your prayers and know that you are in His hands.

Love to you all,

Friday, May 25, 2012

Catching Up

It's been a bit since I've posted so I wanted to check in and let everyone know what's going on. I'll be back to my series of letters soon, there are so many to write, but for now a quick update will have to do.

For the last few months I have been completely consumed with searching for a job. After six years of being at home and working part time here and there, it's time for me to go back into the workforce. Truth be told, it's been time for a while. Our finances simply cannot stretch any further and we need the second income. As much as I know that working will add some stress to my life, it will be nice to have less stress regarding money.

So, back to the job search. It totally sucks. I have found myself in this weird position with lots of education and a minimal amount of experience in a variety of areas. My resume looks like it tells the story of someone who can't seem to decide what to do with herself, which is partly true, but it's also been circumstantial to some degree. Nevertheless, that resume is my introduction to people who haven't decided to meet me in person yet and it doesn't seem to be doing the job. Thankfully, we have a friend at church who works as a recruiter and has offered to look it over and help me out. I've also found a church (some distance away) in the Houston area that has a ministry specifically for people who are between jobs. I've been once and it was helpful. I will go back in the next week or two to have their resume coach look over it as well. With all this extra help I've got to be on my way to getting a resume together that will get me those interviews.

That's not to say that I haven't had any interviews or interview offers. My first interview in this search was with a marketing company. I was all ready to sell myself and my skills and be personable until he asked me who my role model was in the business world. Ummm, what? I froze. The only person I could think of was my pastor. Truthfully, that answer is the truth. He left a comfortable secure job at a mega-church to move to another city and plant a church. He has done the work of getting out into the community and meeting people to build his network and thus grow our church. Honestly, I think it's a valid answer, but I didn't really have a chance to pull myself together and articulate that well so I ended up sounding like a bored housewife who doesn't know anyone and never leaves the house. Needless to say, that was my last contact with that company. Ah well.

Then came the dry spell. Sending out countless resumes each day. Obsessing over checking my email. Getting on Craigslist every hour to hopefully catch new posts as soon as they came up. If I'm honest, this is how most of this job search has been. Searching, sending, obsessing, searching, sending, obsessing...you get the picture. In the midst of all this I did start the process of writing a test to be a freelance writer for a company in Houston. In addition to that, I was connected to a website that is actually willing to pay me to write and post articles. It doesn't pay very much so I can't give up my job search but it's been nice to get to break up the cycle with a little writing now and then. My days have since evolved to searching, sending, writing, obsessing...still very much a dry spell.

I finally broke down and started applying to any job I could think of. Grocery stores, Target, Sam's Club. I even took a day and walked through the mall filling out every application I could get my hands on. It's been humbling to realize that when I apply for these jobs I am just as inexperienced as any high school kid applying as well. Doesn't matter though. I need a job. Any job. Any pay. Any hour. I need a job.

Finally last week I got a call from a law firm asking some pre-interview questions. It wasn't much and they didn't promise they'd call me back, but I was encouraged. In another couple of days the grocery store called and invited me to a group interview. I said I'd be there. Then the law firm called back and invited me to interview. I've gone to both of those now. I'm waiting to hear from the law firm and was invited back for a second interview with the grocery store (weird that you need to do more than one interview to work at a grocery store).  In the meantime, one of the mall stores called and set up an interview. And even with these interviews coming in, I know this job search is a marathon and I keep searching, sending and, yes, obsessing. (Oh me of little faith.)

Here's what's funny. As much as I think I am qualified to work at the law firm, I'm beginning to wonder if one of the other jobs isn't a better fit for the time being. It's not that I don't want a career. I most certainly do. But this period of unemployment has given me a clearer vision of what I want that career to be. I want to write. I have always wanted to write I just never considered that it might actually be a possibility until now. And I'm wondering if taking a job at the grocery store with a flexible schedule and less stress would allow me to save some of that mental energy for when I get home so I can do what I love. Write. And maybe, just maybe, someday I can get paid a decent paycheck for it. Wouldn't that be amazing?

I'm writing all this here to let you all know that I really need prayer in all this. Prayer for direction. Prayer for whatever job God has for me to open up quickly and help meet some of the financial needs that our family has. We just need your prayers. It's been a difficult time of scraping by and we are really at the end of our rope. We need a miracle and I need a job. The truth is, I'll probably take the first job that is offered to me. I can't afford not to. So I guess I would also ask that you would pray that God in His sovereignty would allow the first job to be the right job. I ask that you would pray that He would be directing all of this and showing how to step into His plan for my future, whether it be short term or long term. Or both.

Also, since I've learned that the best way to take my mind off my own stresses is to invest in others, why don't you leave any prayer requests you have in the comments. Let's commit to be praying for each others needs and trusting for one another that God will have His way in our lives. Let's pray blessings over one another and believe in Our Father to do the wonderful miracles He wants to do in our lives. And, most of all, let's be praying that no matter what we're going through, it would be growing us closer to Him.

Until next time,

Monday, April 23, 2012

Cal's Prom and Blue Like Jazz

This past weekend Cal attended his Senior Prom. It kind of snuck up on me. Since he's moved out, it's harder to keep up with these kinds of events, but, even so, I did have advance warning. I guess I just didn't realize how I would feel when the day actually arrived.

 We tried to make plans to go down to see him the day of the prom and take some pictures. As you can imagine, he and his friends were difficult to nail down as far as where and when they would be for said pictures. It turned out that we didn't go and I had to settle for some texted photos of him in his tux. As soon as I saw them I was a mess.

 It seems like only yesterday that I was going to my own prom. Ironically, I went with Cal's dad. Reflecting on that I remembered that we had gone camping with his dad's grandparents the weekend of the prom and his dad drove me back the day of the event so we could go. If you know much about Cal's dad and I you know that it's been many years since we were together and our relationship has had it's fair share of negative moments. Nonetheless, that memory prompted me to tell him that if I hadn't said so at the time, it meant a lot to me that he drove me home to take me to prom.

 Not long after that prom Cal was born. I was 20 when he arrived and, again, it seems like only yesterday. Cal was a lot of fun as a kid. He was active and always eager to make new friends. He couldn't wait to be old enough to "go outside" and play with the other neighborhood kids. I can remember him asking me if he could "please go outside" when he was very little. As I looked at the pictures of him in his tux, I was thinking how quickly the time had passed. I was longing for more days of him playing in the yard, scrapping his knees and getting dirty.

 And then, I remembered my prom again. As I reminisced about how incredibly reckless I was then, I began to worry. Then I started texting him neurotically...

 Me: Have fun and be careful. And NO SEX!
 Cal: Ok mom.
 Me: I'm serious about the sex.
 Cal: I know mom and I know the consequences of that.
Me: Just making sure because you really cannot afford to get anyone pregnant.
 Cal: I know mom. I won't.
 Me: Ok, be safe.
 Cal: I will mom.
 Me: Do have fun. And Miss Nikki told me to tell you to "crump it out tonight."
 Cal: Haha. Ok, I will.

 Never mind that I realize that texting warnings to your 18 year old son is by no means stellar parenting. I get that. I guess I just wanted to say the things that I felt needed to be said knowing that he would have to make his own decisions about those things anyways. I prayed that he would be wise and safe and be a gentleman to the girls he was with. It was all I could do.

 What does all of this have to do with Blue Like Jazz? I'm getting to that, I promise.

 James and I went to see Blue Like Jazz the night it opened. I hadn't read the book but had read much about the book and have read other work of Donald Miller's. I am by no means an expert, just a fan with some thoughts on what I saw.

 The Story begins with young "Don" going off the a very liberal college after having had a crisis of his faith. He comes from a very traditional background and his experience within Christian culture leaves him somewhat unprepared for the life that awaits him at college. He goes to great lengths to hide his Christian roots in order to fit in, all the while, internally struggling with what he actually believes.

 In the end, Don winds up finding his faith again and begins to address some of what he sees as inconsistencies in the Church. He confesses those shortcomings to his fellow classmates and finds himself in a relationship with a God who can handle Don's growing pains.

 Obviously the movie deserves more than two short paragraphs, but, this post isn't just about the movie. I wholeheartedly recommend that you go see it for yourself.

 Anyhow, with this story fresh in my mind as I was sending my firstborn off to his Senior Prom, I started to think about the faith I've tried to teach my kids and how I hope it sustains them in the world. I prayed earnestly that my son would only make the best of choices at his prom, at parties, at school, outside of school. You get the picture.

 The thing is, as much as I want my kids to avoid the consequences I've had to live through, more than that, I want them to have a faith that can weather those consequences should they come. As I watched the character in Blue Like Jazz figure out that God could handle his questions and failures, my heart desired that same kind of relationship with Christ for my own kids. I want them to know that no matter what they do or what they go through, Jesus can handle it.

 I've come to believe that it isn't enough to teach my kids morality. It isn't enough to take them to church and ask them to take a purity vow. I sell them short when I present to them a god who won't walk with them through failure or even doubt of his existence. I leave them with nothing to hold on to if I can't tell them of Jesus, who saves sinners and LOVES them in spite of their performance.

 And I know this firsthand. He's loved me in spite of my performance. He's stood the test of time and walked through many doubts. Years ago, at that reckless prom of mine, Jesus was loving me and planning his dramatic rescue of me. As much as I want my kids to be "good kids", I want them to know the power of their own dramatic rescue. I want them to know in their very bones that Jesus saves.

 A long time ago I was faced with some big decisions about my children. I remember feeling the weight of that and feeling like I was deciding their fate or even the course of human history. With this pressure on me as I drove one afternoon the Holy Spirit spoke clearly to me and said,"No matter what you decide, you do not have the power to change my plans for your children." It took my breath away to hear those words and I was flooded with relief. I knew then that God had a plan for my kids and that He would use me in that plan, but, ultimately, the plan was His. I've rested in that many times since. I do now instead of obsessing over what might have happened at Cal's prom. I hope you can rest in that too.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Taking Care of the Poor

Growing up I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. They adored me and did their best to spoil me rotten. My grandfather was a trucker and I can remember riding in his truck watching the road pass by through the little window by my feet. My grandmother loved researching her genealogy and some days after school she would take me to the Mormon library where I did my homework and she researched. And every night they took me out to eat. Mostly at Denny's, which I hate to this day.

They also took me to church. We attended a small Pentecostal church where I learned of a Jesus who loved me and I believed it with my whole heart even if it did take a long time for me to live it with my life. My grandparents are responsible for the seeds that were planted so long ago and because they loved me so much, I could believe in a God who was said to have loved me even more. I owe a debt of gratitude to them for introducing me to my Savior.

They did teach me other things as well though. Lessons that were subtle but very real. They taught me that Christians were Republican. They taught me that I should be suspicious of people who didn't look like me. They taught me that people on welfare were lazy and taking advantage of the government. My grandmother even once told me that Martin Luther King Jr. was a communist. I didn't know what that meant but I did know that it was very bad.

Even as young as I was I had a hard time reconciling the different messages they were sending me. I sang "Jesus Loves the Little Children", "red and yellow, black and white." I heard stories of a God who loved the poor and took care of them. I knew my grandparents loved God, but I was growing to think that the way God loved was different from the way they loved.

Nevertheless, I had some deeply rooted beliefs about what was acceptable for my life. Church, being patriotic, loving your family, those things were all good. Interracial dating (or worse, marriage), getting pregnant outside of marriage, being on welfare, well, those things were bad, to say the least. It was clear what was expected of me. The problem was, I had a hard time caring about those things.

In eighth grade I started dating a boy who was Filipino. Of course I didn't tell my grandfather this because I knew he wouldn't approve. One day though, he saw us walking hand in hand down the street. He called me a couple of days later and said,"Kimberly,I saw who you were with." I hated disappointing him but I also didn't believe he was right. Besides, at least I wasn't pregnant and on welfare. Right?

Fast forward a few years. My grandparents had both passed away but I still felt their disappointment when I did get pregnant, not once, but twice. I consoled myself with the fact that I had two very white babies and knew that if my grandparents had been alive, they would have accepted my children. And, I wasn't on welfare, that is if you didn't count the Medicaid that paid for the birth of my children.

Here's the thing though, as a 22 year old with two kids and no education I didn't have many options. I was working two jobs and unable to make ends meet. I barely saw my children whom I loved deeply and as my friends were busy earning their degrees and getting their adult lives in order, I was doing nothing and getting nowhere. So, I decided to go to school. In order to do that, I went on welfare. I was ashamed but again consoled by the things people said to me,"We don't mind people like you using welfare. That's what it's there for." Oh, so for me welfare was acceptable. For people not like me, it was not.

I worked hard to earn my associates degree at the local community college. I was surrounded by a diverse group of women who were using welfare to do the same thing. Get an education. We were commended for our efforts and I excelled. Around this time I also started going back to church. I was ready to make Christ the Lord of my life. However, I found myself lying to the people I worshiped with. I didn't want them to know I was on welfare. I had been taught that they wouldn't approve. From the conversations I heard and the ways that I was encouraged to vote, I was convinced that was the truth.

As I approached the end of my courses for my Associates degree, I began to realize that I needed to go further in my education in order to put myself in a better position to provide for my children. The problem was, I had signed a "Welfare to Work" contract (as mandated by the Welfare Reform laws) that only allowed me to go to school for 24 months. When my welfare worker asked me what I was doing to find a job at the end of that I told him that I understood my time was up but I planned to transfer to the university and earn my Bachelors degree. I told him I knew that meant I would lose welfare benefits and I was prepared to deal with that. His response was that he would see what he could do. And he did. He sent me a letter that said,"in your case we have decided to follow the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law and approve your case for continued education at the university level." I was thrilled, but, in the back of my mind I once again heard the message,"we don't mind when people like you use welfare."

I excelled in my upper level course work and enjoyed every minute of it. Between my welfare benefits and scholarships and grants, we were also in a pretty good place financially. My little family didn't look like it was on welfare. Of course I did have to use my food stamps at the grocery store and each time I went I prayed that nobody from church would see me there paying for my groceries with them. I had started to confide in some of the people I went to church with and got the same message," But you're using it for the right reasons" I was often told. That didn't sit well with me though. I didn't feel any different from the other women I knew who needed welfare. I also wasn't surrounded by that same diverse group of women who had also worked hard at the community college. Very few of us were granted permission to go on.

In my senior year of college I decided to do my project on the Welfare Reform laws and how they had affected the women and children who needed welfare. It was a huge step outside of the thinking I had been taught as a child. I was finding myself more and more convinced that our country was doing very little to actually help the poor and what's worse is that the Church was doing even less. Add to that the fact that it was within the church that I was hearing the most complaints about the welfare system and the lazy people who use it. The conception was that large amounts of taxpayer money was going to take care of people who wouldn't take care of themselves. Rarely did anyone consider that some of those people couldn't take care of themselves. Always the blame fell on the poor.

As I researched my project and grew in my faith I felt that the thinking of most of the Christians I was in contact with was inconsistent with Scripture. I read in the Bible that it was our job to take care of the poor, I never saw a place in God's Words where we were called to blame them for being poor. In fact Jesus himself said that there would always be the poor among us. If that's the case, then our job of taking care of them is never finished. And as Christians I felt that we shouldn't be complaining about "all" the money the government spent on welfare. It seemed to me that we should have been paying that gladly and looking for ways to do more.

I also found that only about five percent of the Federal budget goes to support welfare programs that take care of poor people. (Here's a link for more explanation on that http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif ) That's only five dollars for every one hundred dollars we are taxed. It's a few cups of Starbucks that we spend to assist the needy in our country. As Christians we should be happy to give that money up and we should be clamoring to find ways to do more and spend more to care for those less fortunate. It should shame the church that our government even needs to have a welfare program because we are the ones called by God to provide for the needy in our midst.

Another complaint I hear is that there are so many people taking advantage of the system. Not "people like me", the other kind, you know. Here's the thing, nobody's getting rich off the welfare system and while there are those who are looking for loopholes (there always are) the numbers are so staggeringly low that it wouldn't affect the welfare system if we could weed them out altogether. Of course I don't want people to take advantage of the system but it isn't a get rich quick scheme and just because a person is trapped in the cycle of generational poverty doesn't mean they are doing anything wrong. When God calls us to help the poor He doesn't tell us to qualify how or why they're poor. It's His job to deal with people's hearts and change their situations. It's our job to be His hands and feet in the meantime.

I know, I know, in II Thessalonians it says that if you don't work you don't eat. I get it. That instruction was written specifically to men who were not providing for their families. Men who were taking advantage of the church. That's not what's happening in our country. First of all, the church is mostly relying on the government to do its job and second of all the vast majority of welfare recipients are women and children. You want to decrease the welfare expense in our country? We should start by actually prosecuting all the men who are not supporting their children making it necessary for these women and children to be on welfare. And then, Church, let's do our job, take care of the poor.

In all fairness I have been involved with some churches over the last few years that make a genuine effort to do that. I applaud that. My gripe, though, is with the Christians I hear complaining about the welfare system as if most of their individual paycheck is going to support people they don't feel are deserving of the help. As I said above, a VERY small portion of your paycheck is going towards actually taking care of the poor. As far as whether or not they deserve it, that's not our call. According to the Gospel, none of us deserve the riches we gain in Christ. We are poor, blind and naked standing before our Savior and He set the example by clothing us and feeding us. And then he tells us to do the same for others.

I have to tell you, this blog was hard for me to write because I know what some of you will say. I felt that way when I graduated from college and invited people I went to church with for a celebration at my apartment afterwards. Instead of proudly displaying the project I had worked so hard on I hid it in my room. I was afraid of what my fellow Christians would think. I am still afraid. But I'm not afraid for me anymore. I'm afraid for the body of Christ, specifically the Christians in America, because one day we will have to stand before Jesus and explain why we were so busy judging the poor instead of doing what we were called to do to help them. We'll have to answer for the fact that we even needed the government to take a few dollars from our paychecks in the first place not to mention that we complained about handing over those pitiful dollars when we should have been giving so much more.

And let me be clear. This is not a political post. I know God fearing Christians all along the political spectrum. Both major political parties contributed to the welfare system we have in place now. This is not about how you should vote. It is simply about the attitude that many Christians have regarding the money that is spent taking care of the poor. If we are to reflect the heart of Christ the only issue we should have is how we can help them more.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Some letters are tougher than others.

So, as you all know, I've been using my blog to write letters to people in my life who have made an impact or found a place in my heart. There are many of these letter floating around in my head to so, so many people. I am sure that when I am finished with this project I will continue to think of people I should have written to and am certain that there's no way I'll be able to express myself to every person who has impacted my life. If you're reading them, know that this is just a sample of what's in my heart. I am overwhelmed with the words I want to say to those I love. I fear that I will never be able to say enough.

And then there are some letters, like the one I just finished writing, that probably should remain private.

You see, as I alluded to in an earlier post, I've made some huge mistakes in my life. I've made some choices that hurt people immensely and ended some relationships that were quite valuable to me, although I may not have known it at the time. This letter was to one such person.

As I wrote I began to feel that the words I was writing might be only for her eyes. I may not even send it, I am still praying about that. But, if I do, it will remain between her and I.

Here's why.

I don't want to capitalize on the hurt I've caused someone in any way. I found that what I had to say revealed some insights I've had into my character and although I praise God for what he's done in me, getting accolades for that at the expense of someone's privacy, and maybe even their heart, diminishes what I am trying to communicate. That's a revelation for me. I tend to be so open about who I am and what I'm going through that I often over share about my own life. I do believe God can use that but I am seeing now that I must be careful that I am not also sharing details of someone else's life in the process. It is a delicate balance to say the least.

For now, as to this particular letter, I will say this. I was once a friend who should not have been trusted. I pray that is not true of me now. I was once a friend who traded loyalty for temporary acceptance. I hope that I have changed. I used to be no kind of friend at all. When people said, keep your friends close but your enemies closer, I was both. I was someone they either should have kept very close, or detached from altogether. I was Judas. For thirty pieces of silver I betrayed my very best friend, sometimes for even less.

I read through the scene in John 13 today where Jesus washes the disciples feet. It seems from reading the passage that Judas was still present at the table when this took place. We have no reason to believe that Jesus wouldn't have washed his feet along with the others. In just the next few verses he reveals that someone there would betray him. Someone he had served.

So often I have read this passage in the past to mean that I should be serving my brothers and sisters in Christ. That I should be serving those I am disciplining and investing in. It is the example Jesus sets for us in scripture. Serve one another. But, what about those who are not (or not yet) our brothers and sisters? What about those outside our circle, those who are lost and broken and yes, those who are untrustworthy, just a moment away from betraying us?

It seems Jesus would have us serve them too. And we would hope that our love and service to those who might hurt us would change their hearts and turn them towards us. Yet, we see that this was not the case for Jesus and Judas. Judas would go on to betray the very one who served him. Furthermore, Judas would be unable to see that Jesus had wanted to clean him and instead of redemption and reconciliation, Judas would choose destruction. And while Jesus poured water over Judas' dirty and calloused feet, Jesus knew that. And served him anyway.

I've been Judas. To Jesus and to some of the people He has put in my life. And, nonetheless, Jesus has loved me, and served me, and put others in my life to pour out His love on me. I've experienced redemption and renewal in a way that I didn't deserve. Even though I've carelessly tossed aside relationships that Jesus meant for good in my life, He continues to surround me with people who long to love and serve me in the way that He served. I am constantly reminded of how much He loves me by the fact that He refuses to let me live this life without loving relationships no matter how bad I am at being in those relationships.

On the flip side, I've also been hurt. I've experienced the pain of betrayal. Most of us have. As a result, I've read all the books on boundaries and how to "teach" people how to treat me. These things are helpful and I agree that we have to be careful with who we let close to us and especially our children. But, at the same time, I'm wondering, what does this look like if I am in fact called to serve those around me, yes, including those who might betray me? How do I reconcile my instinct to protect myself while loving like Jesus, washing the very feet of the man who would hand Him over to the very people who wanted Him dead? And Jesus did this, knowing that Judas would not accept His love. Where does that leave us?

As someone who's been loved at times when I least deserved it, I long to press on and love anyway, fiercely and unconditionally. As someone who's been hurt, I feel the need to build walls and set strict standards regarding those who can get in. It's a conflict that I must work out with the Holy Spirit if I am to do the will of the One who loves me best, most, even to death. When I read of Jesus washing the disciples feet, not just Judas, but all these men who would deny Him in His darkest hour, I am convinced that I must find a way to love and serve, even when it means I might get hurt.

It all goes back to trust, trust in God. Do I trust Him with my heart? Do I trust Him to repair what's broken when I am wounded by those He's called me to love and serve? Do I trust Him to put in me a love for them much like the love He's put in others for me? Will I knowingly pour out onto those who might not accept what I have to offer, just as Judas turned away from the love of a Savior who came to save him.

I would say that I don't trust like that yet. But, I want to. I will pray that as I move through my relationships I will give all I have, not expecting anything in return other than the opportunity to be like Christ. To love without condition. To serve my betrayers, whomever they may be.

As for my letter, pray for me. I haven't decided whether or not to send it yet. I don't want to open old wounds just so I can share my heart. That would be selfish. I want to be led by the Holy Spirit and send it if I come to believe that the words I've written were meant to heal through the love of Jesus.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

To Darlene and DeAndre...

This next post is for two people who entered our home, and then our hearts and then our family. We love them every day and are so joyous in looking towards the future God has for them.

Dear DeAndre,

I can remember the day you were born. Your dad called me to tell me and I reminded him that it was also my birthday. Immediately you were engraved on my heart, special to me, someone I cared for and worried about.

I wondered at the time if your brother, Cal, would ever get a chance to meet you. It seemed so unlikely as we were all so far apart. I got bits and pieces of information about your life and every time I wondered, how were you doing, so little in the middle of such a mess.

Just three short years later I met you face to face. God had brought you and your mama to Texas and there you were in my house, needing some love for a time while the crisis in your life settled. So we attempted to do that. Love you. And you didn't always make it easy. I remembered a challenge that had come to someone else and heard it for myself, "Can you just love him." And so as best as I could I did.

Our time was short. You were snatched away and our hearts were broken and worried. We prayed for you and hope that we might be given the chance to be let back in. I believed that God had brought you to be a part of our family and I wasn't willing to give up so easily.

In time, you returned. We were overjoyed to have you back in our lives. It was a lot of work, true, but always you have been worth it. Week after week we were allowed to pour into you and try our best to teach you of a Love so far above what we could ever offer. Because we didn't know what the future held, we took each moment with you as it came, wondering if it would be the last.

For about two years we lived this way. Having you visit our lives every week and trying to be a source of stability and love when you were there. I wasn't always perfect at it, often I fell short and wished that I could have loved a little more. During that time we prayed for Jesus to restore your home to a place that would give you the love and support you needed to grow. And we prayed.

Without warning our family of 5 became a family of 7 when you and your mom came to live with us. Our apartment was bursting at the seems and you brought to it a life and love of fun that you obviously get from your brother Cal. It was precious to see how you took to him and I knew that God had meant for you to have that time with him. We worked hard to give you and Ephram a routine that was consistent and yes, it was hard, but we loved having you and loved, again, the chance to pour into you.

For five short months we were your home. I grew to love that you would complain about what I was making for dinner all the while knowing you would love it when it was in front of you. We became Power Ranger fans all over again. You reminded me of Cal when he was your age, so active, so agile and so open to being loved. We read our stories and prayed our prayers with you, investing as if forever, knowing that would not be the case.

And then it happened. You were gone again. My heart was broken, but, in a good way for you. The squabbles with Ephram stopped. The combing your hair. The tucking you in. It all stopped. And while I grieve that you are gone, I rejoice in what God is doing for you.

There are a couple things I want you to know though. First, we still love you. You have a place at our table and a spot in our hearts. Second, more importantly than that, Jesus loves you. He always has and always will. He has been weaving the story of your life through many circumstances. He has a plan for your life that is beyond your comprehension. He is mad about you. If you want adventure DeAndre, go with Jesus, he will take you there. If you want to be great, follow Christ until you know only He is great. Give yourself to him and watch what He will do with you.

DeAndre, we couldn't have imagined how much we would miss you. I still hear your voice through the apartment calling my name, "Miss Kim, Miss Kim..." You brought life and joy to our home and we will never be the same. You taught us much about loving and about being loved.

Life your life sweet boy. Ride your bike and make a new best friend every day. Don't complain too much about brushing your teeth or combing your hair. It's got to be done. And for crying out loud, eat all your lunch, yes, even the crust. And do not forget, even for one second that you are loved by many and our covered in our prayers. It is a joy to watch you grow and I can't wait to hear all about it.

Miss Kim


Where to begin? I guess at the beginning. I remember when you first came to our house in Dickinson. I remember thinking immediately that you were one of the most beautiful people I had ever seen. We had been watching DeAndre for you and you came to be with him.

As I observed you and your son, I was aware that you loved him immensely and would do whatever you thought was best for him. You wanted him to have a life that you hadn't had, the love of a mother that you hadn't had. No matter what I thought of the situation, that's what I thought of you, and still do to this day.

You and I have a lot in common. I could tell you stories about myself and you would think they were you. You've lived in my home, you know how alike we are. In some good ways, and in some not so good ways. One way in particular that is similar is how we both grew up knowing of God's love but not really knowing how to experience it for ourselves. I've watched that change in you. I've watched you fall in love with Jesus in a way that I couldn't imagine and I have to tell you, in some ways I'm jealous of the newness you are experiencing with Him.

It's been touch and go for us. I've wanted to lecture so many times but I knew it wouldn't do any good. I've wanted to rush in and fix everything and you have to admit, we gave that a good try and it didn't work. But, all the while, Jesus was working in you and preparing you for what He had in store. I am so thankful that you allowed us to be as close as we have been. I am filled with gratitude that you have trusted us with your precious son. No matter how my heart hurts to let him go, I am so blessed to see what God is doing in you and how He is calling you to be the mother He created you to be.

You've been a good friend to me. You know me well, having lived under my roof. You know how my actual life lines up with what I say I believe and yet, you have loved and trusted us anyway. That means the world to me. Your friendship means the world to me. It was hard to let you go, to go back out there to find your way to Jesus, and I have missed you so, but, what He is doing in you is amazing. I would miss you a thousand times more just to be able to watch the plans He has for you unfold.

I am praying for you. I am praying for you to stick with the amazing love Jesus has poured out on you. I am praying for you to follow His plan and live in the grace He extends to us. I am praying for God to go before you and make a way for you. I know you have questions about what will happen, He's got it. He will take care of you.

No matter what, I will always consider you a part of our family. I hope you feel the same. I know it will change because you don't need us now, but, we'd like to be part of your life nonetheless. We'd like to walk this road with you as much as we can.

Just a couple of months ago you were asking us to do something that we would have done, but believed God wanted for you. I told you then that my prayer was for you to become the woman and mother that God planned for you to be. You couldn't even hope that far ahead at the time. I think you can now though. He's doing it, he's doing an amazing work in you that will change your life forever. I cannot say enough how proud of you I am that you hung in there for that. You have come such a long way in such a short time.

Please know that we love love love you. We are here, however we can be and can't wait to see what the future holds for you. You're amazing Darlene. Don't forget that.

In Christ,

Friday, March 23, 2012

Let me introduce myself...again.

I am taking a bit of a break from my series of letters for this. Don't worry, I'll get back to that (for all 2 of you who were worried about that). For now I just want to get reacquainted with you all. Or at least let you get reacquainted with me. I am thinking of posting a link to this blog on Facebook. That's where I am most public and feeling led to share myself more but, in the back of my mind I am wondering, do you all really want to know? Do you want to know what's REALLY been going on with my life over the last 10 years? Or are you satisfied with the pithy status updates I leave you with? I suppose if you're here you are wondering a little bit what all the secrecy is about. I'll get to that. If you stick with me that is...

For many of you this blog is the introduction to my adult life. You might remember me as the big busted blonde from high school. That was me, for sure, in part.

Some of you were friends of mine and remember a reckless and wild girl who couldn't turn away from a drinking challenge. I made sure everyone knew I could drink a lot. I'm not sure why that was so important to me, but it was.

Some still, remember a girl who couldn't decide between following a God who loved her or turning away from Him altogether. In truth, I am still that girl.

But, let me start where it matters. Where the rubber meets the road so to speak, where the cross made a difference for me.

In high school I thought I was supposed to party. I pretty much felt it was my duty to make sure that those around me partied as well and if there was any chance we were going to get caught, well then, all the more reason, better enjoy it while it lasts. The problem for me was that it always lasted. I was a product of a home that was in it's own kind of turmoil and frankly, as long as I wasn't pregnant or arrested, nobody cared. I managed to steer clear of those two fates and able to keep the party going for a very long time.

I burned a lot of bridges then. Some of you were there and might even remember. It was a tough time for me. As much as I wanted those relationships to mean to me, when I was faced with a decision, instant acceptance, immediate affirmation, I was quick to betray every time. I could not say no to whatever attention was in front of me and because of that I hurt a lot of people. I cannot begin to say how sorry I am for that. I would be cheap to even try. It's the truth about me and I have come to accept that it paved the way for me in my relationships as hard as that is to admit.

By the time I was 22 I was the single mom of two BEAUTIFUL boys, but, by two different fathers. I was immensely ashamed of that. It was a fate worse than death for me to be "that girl." When my boys were very little I would drive across town after work on Friday afternoons to do my grocery shopping in Pacific Grove. It was my way of avoiding the people who knew me in the Safeway on Fremont. If you grew up on the Monterey Peninsula you know that going to the grocery store was like walking through the neighborhood. I couldn't take the stares, the questions. I couldn't begin to force myself to answer for the life that had become mine. I loved my children but hated that their mom was the kind of girl who would have two kids by two different dads. I wasn't ashamed of them, I was ashamed for them.

Somewhere during that period of my life I was introduced to methamphetamine. This was a glorious discovery for me because suddenly I could get everything done that was on my plate. I could work all day, clean all night, lose weight, take care of my kids and still have time for a visit with friends every now and again. I really felt that this drug was the answer to my dilemma and because of that I used it ferociously for two years. I could go into detail but suffice it to say that I was a wreck and two minutes from losing my precious sons by the time this addiction caught up with me.

At this time God used a series of events and some unsuspecting people to help get me on my feet. I have to mention Maria DiPretoro by name in all this because without her I would have lost my kids and then quickly lost myself. God used this woman to help encourage me and put in my the desire to get my life together for these beautiful sons of mine.

So, I did. With her and with the miracle that was Christ's love for me, I got my life together. I quit using drugs and started going to school. I earned my degree and moved to Texas to start over thinking that my life was in front of me and there was nothing that could stop me.

In some ways, that was true. Jesus had a new life for me and Cal and DJ in Texas. I started teaching and was surrounded by a loving community of people at Pine Drive Baptist School. It was a safe haven for us. We so needed it. I was still hung up on the fact that my kids had two different dads. When I interviewed for the position I only disclosed their first names. It wasn't until I was hired that I filled out their registration forms truthfully. I was afraid that I would be judged for my past. I still don't know if that fear was valid or not.

We started going to a good church in the area and soon I met James. We quickly fell in love and he began to make sure I knew his intentions were to marry me. I was thrilled and secretly hoped that this would be the final missing link to how I felt about myself. Marriage would legitimize my relationship and my children...right? However, in the back of my mind I knew that my insecurities were the same, my struggles were the same, I was afraid of how they would play out in my family once James moved in.

It wasn't long until we knew. I was a mess. As much as I couldn't handle the relationships that resulted from my promiscuity, this relationship, my marriage, proved far more challenging. If I was afraid to be left before, multiply that by one hundred. If i was afraid to fail, double that. I was in over my head and I knew it.

Four months after James and I were married I found out I was pregnant. I was horrified. If I couldn't leave before it was even more so now. I had to figure out how to make this marriage work. I tried, and tried and tried. And failed and failed and failed.

All the character flaws that had presented themselves before in my life were on overdrive in my marriage. I was rude and harsh and when I wasn't taking my frustrations out on James I was taking them out on my children. My family was falling apart and I was a major factor in that, I couldn't deny it. I just didn't know what to do.

Over many months of counseling the issues started to become clearer. I saw that I was deeply afraid that James would leave and often tried to leave first to keep that from happening. James was patient and I could see that he wanted our marriage to survive. After looking under many rocks, I was finally diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. As I learned what this meant, so much of my life began to make sense. As a Christian, I accepted responsibility for the sinful choices I had made but I also began to see that some of those choices had been influenced by a set of behaviors that were imbedded into my brain. Not that I wasn't responsible, I cannot emphasize that enough, but, suddenly the pieces began to fit, it all started to make sense.

Shortly after my diagnosis I started a regimen of medication that has made a huge difference in my life. I no longer feel powerless over the self destructive behaviors that once ruled me. Minor conflicts no longer mean major abandonment for me, as was the case before. I cannot describe to you the ways that I have been changed by medication. I wish people would speak more positively of it when the situation arises because I can tell you that without the meds my marriage would be over, or worse. Worse.

So, why do I share all this, you ask? For many reasons. First, it's not about sympathy. My husband is a major source of love and encouragement for me, I do not need sympathy. And it's not about attention. I have refrained from linking this blog to Facebook because I did not want attention. It is about information. And redemption. And the love of Jesus in my life, more than anything the love of my savior in my life.

I've come a long way. This blog is about that. I still fall short and revert back to old insecurities and behaviors so often. This blog is about that. I love my children. This blog is about that. Jesus redeems, more than anything, this blog is about that! It's my life, my days, my relationships, my heart. It's how I see things through the broken lens that I look through and how I love them through that same broken lens.

Most of all it's a place for me to be who I really am. That's who I want to be for you all. A sinner, saved by grace, being who she really is. A woman, who struggles with a mental illness, being who she really is. A mom, a friend, a wife...

And when you come here, be who you are. Be free to say what you say, do what you do. You're in good company. I hope to be a place of shared healing and a source of light. I hope to be a place where you find the freedom to love the Jesus that I love. He is everything, even when we're not.

Love to you all,

Friday, March 16, 2012

Letters from a Mom...

It seems I'm on a roll. This blogging might actually catch on this time...maybe. I try not to pressure myself but then that leads to, well...no pressure. A little goal is good every now and then and maybe if I can set a goal of a post a week, well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. I think I'll just enjoy it while it lasts instead.

Today's post will be four notes to my children (my three sons and my step-daughter). They will be written in the order of their birth first to Ashlee, then Cal, DJ and last Ephram. Without further ado...


It's funny, when I first met you I had all these ideas about what I thought our relationship should be like. It's such an immature thought really. How could I possibly know what it would be like to know someone I didn't know. I've learned that with my "non-step" kids as our relationships have changed day by day from the moment they were born. Yet, for some reason, with you, I thought I knew exactly what you needed in a step mom. I was so wrong.

I don't have to tell you that I tried to parent you too much. You were there, you remember. I also don't have to tell you that I thought I knew how your dad should parent you, I'll bet you remember that too. I knew everything ;). What I didn't know, or who rather, was you.

I am so glad I have gotten to know you instead of continuing to try to make our relationship fit into my mold. I have come to know an incredible young woman with big dreams and a generous heart. It inspires me to see how deeply you love your family and friends. You are compassionate, almost to a fault. Sometimes you forget to protect yourself and I hate seeing you get hurt because of that.

I can't tell you enough how much it means to me that you embraced Cal and DJ as your brothers from the very beginning. It was such joy to see the three of you make jokes and get along and make a real attempt to be friends. When you visit, it thrills my heart that the three of you stay up all night talking, even if I am dying to know what you are talking about.

You have always had a special love for children. You are amazing with them. It's like you were born knowing how to make each child feel special just by being around them. This is a gift that has been amazing to watch you use with your baby brother Ephram. I am always blessed to see that though there are many miles between the two of you, love has not been lost over that distance. You have made yourself very special to him and I know that the relationship he has with you is one that he will value for his entire life.

I want you to know what it has meant to me, too, to have a relationship with you. For starters, I am so excited every time you come because when you are here, I am not the only girl in the house. You bring the pink back into my life. I always wanted a daughter and I thought I wanted one to be able to dress and fix her hair. I didn't get any of that with you. You were way beyond anyone trying to dress you when we met. What I did get though, was much more. I had to learn to love a daughter who was already forming her own opinions about the world. I had to learn to love a daughter who didn't always agree with me. I had to learn to love you for who you are and to enjoy the times when you have let me in. I am so grateful for knowing you and for being allowed to be a part of your life, no matter how small or infrequent our visits are, I am always glad you were here.

I hope that as you grow and mature I can still be a source of friendship for you. I hope that I can be a good listener and, when you ask, I hope I can be a godly advisor. I pray that my words to you point you to Jesus and remind you that you are loved. If I could direct your path so you would do all the things I thought you should do, I probably would. But, that wouldn't be the journey God has for you. I want to be an encourager to you on that journey, your journey, wherever that takes you.

Most of all I want to thank you for having an open heart towards me. I am a better person for the relationship we have and I can't imagine what it would be like if we hadn't grown. It's been amazing to know you and I can't wait to see what God has for you in your life.

Steppy K


My firstborn. My eldest son. I can't say enough how much I love you. I should stop there because words are cheap, but humor me if you will. I have some things I'd like to share with you.

When you were born there was no way I could have begun to prepare myself for what I would feel when it came time for you to leave our home. It wasn't even in my thinking to look that far ahead. It was as if that moment would never come, except that it did.

I was so young when you were born but so determined to do everything right. I had no idea that I couldn't have even guessed what that might mean. I wanted the best for you but unfortunately didn't want the best for myself, as a result of that, you had to live through much immaturity on my part and some reckless choices along the way. I cannot apologize enough for that. You didn't get the childhood you deserved and I am a big part of that.

Nevertheless, you have grown into an amazing young person on his way to being a godly man. I see in you the desire to live and grow and love people along the way. I love to watch the way you give yourself to knowing people and your life experiences have taught you not to judge when they could have made you bitter. Sometimes I even want you to be tougher on those around you because that is what I would do, but, you are like you, not me. I am grateful for that.

When you decided to move out I was so sad to see you go. You bring life into our family and your presence cannot be replaced. However, I have learned how much I depended on you to keep things fun and light and since you've been gone, I've had to grow some myself (with more growing to do) in order to not let the darkness I am often prone to take over. My life is forever changed by the time you lived under my roof. It has been a privilege to be your mother.

I am praying for you. I know that God is designing you to be a man worthy of His calling and I look ahead to how that unfolds in your life. I am grateful for the godly people God has placed in your path and can only hope that you continue to seek out those people as you make plans for your future. I pray to be a source of encouragement and wisdom for you, when you allow it, and am grateful for the ways that you allow James and I to speak into your life. It says something about you that you come home to discuss your plans with us. We very much appreciate it.

I want to caution you on something though. It is easy for people like you who are surrounded with friends to forget to reach out to Jesus. Don't forget Him. Ultimately He is your best friend and will go all the places with you that no one else can follow. He sees your deepest hurts and still hears the prayers your prayed from an innocent childlike heart. He doesn't forget those prayers and He is faithful. Trust Him with your life Cal. Let Him make you into the man He wants you to become even though it would be easy to just be your own man. He loves us too much to leave us on our own.

I love you Cal and am eager to see your life unfold. I so wish for that to happen in a place that is close to me but I know that no matter how far away God may take you you will always be a part of our family and you will always be my son.



As I sit to write this to you I am even now at a loss. So much I want to say and at the same time afraid of trying to say too much. We're just at this weird place in our relationship, you and I, and I don't always know what to do about it. Tonight, I pray that my words to you are encouraging and hope filled. I think that's what you need right now.

Just like Cal did, you had to suffer the pain of having a young, immature, reckless mother. I had lists of things that I thought I could check off that would make me a good mom and even though I earnestly tried to check those lists, I often fell short. By my choices, you were born into a family already broken. I thought if I could be tough and strong and make you guys behave that I could make up for it. Mostly, I just put a great gap between you and I that I try so hard so often to close.

Of all my children, you remind me most of myself. I wonder if that surprises you. I think you worry that I think you will be like your dad. I don't. I worry that you'll be so busy trying not to be like him that you'll end up like me. And the truth is, without Jesus, that's no better. Even with Him I am prone to failure. What I want most for you is for you to work hard at being who God designed you to be and for you to be confident in that.

You and I are naturally inclined to dark moods. Sometimes it's really tough on me to see you that way because I know it's lonely and difficult. I want you to know though, there are some benefits to it. You are a very compassionate guy. I am so proud to hear you tell me of the people who feel comfortable talking to you and telling you of their hurts and fears. You take those hurts into your very heart and I see the pain you feel with your friends. I want to encourage you to let that pain drive you to prayer. That's what it's there for. To lead us to the throne of God so that we might be broken for ourselves and others in His presence. Use that gift and trust that as you do Jesus is at work in you and in the lives of those you pray for.

One way that you are not like me though, one way that you are all your own is in how incredibly talented you are. You have gifts that I dreamed of and tried to cultivate. I see you pick up your instruments and play things you learn and make up and I am so delighted that God allowed me to have a son who could express himself through music. I hear you tear yourself down about all this and it breaks my heart. You have no idea how amazing you are. We hear the sweet sounds drifting from your room and are so blessed to have you here playing your music. Give yourself fully to this. I know God wants to use your gifts not only to bring glory to Himself but to bring you closer to Him. He has an amazing plan for you. Something that we could never begin to dream up, just keep working hard, on you, on your music and on your relationship with Jesus. It won't be worth it to go on the journey without Him.

I haven't let you know enough how much I appreciate how you've stepped up as a big brother since Cal moved out. You have done a great job of pouring into the kids and letting them know they mean something to you. It's hard to have a sibling so much younger than you, I realize, but you are handling it with grace and love in a way that my teenage self would not have been capable of. You mean the world to them. You mean the world to all of us.

Most of all I want you to know that I am on this journey with you. Until it's time for you to leave our home I am taking each step with you, sometimes graciously, sometimes not, but always here. I hope and pray that you come to know what you mean to me and to trust that I see you as Jesus sees you, fully redeemed.



Boy, you were my second chance at mothering a small child. I had no idea what I had missed the first time around until you came along. I am so grateful to have been given that chance with you.

You're still little in my eyes but oh how the time has flown. I was just looking at some baby pictures of you yesterday and I can hardly believe you will be six in just two short months. It's gone too fast for me. I want you to be tiny and helpless again so I can be your mommy forever, but that isn't how it's going to be.

Ephram, you were the glue that put our crazy family together. You are still too young to understand how Cal and DJ have different dads and Ashlee has a different mom. That just confuses you when we talk about it. One day in the not so distant future you'll understand. When you do I will explain to you that you coming into our family was God's way of giving us all someone we would love and be connected to before we were even connected to each other. You're the one who belonged to all of us and we all belonged to you. You are quick to remind us of this all the time.

I am so enjoying watching you learn about a God who changes everything. I hear your questions and watch your face as we learn about Him. It's like falling in love with Jesus all over again. I hope that your daddy and I create a safe place for you to learn about Him and grow and ask questions as they come up. I hope we make it safe for you to fall so we can teach you to fall into the arms of Jesus. I hope that we live a life that makes Jesus attractive to you. I hope you see Him in us as I hope to one day see Him in you.

I fear for your little heart sometimes. It is so easily frustrated and broken. I can relate to that but long to direct those feelings in you so that they come out in healthy productive ways. It's not easy to feel as deeply as we do little man and it's even harder to learn how to manage that. I pray that as I learn, I teach you well.

Ephram, you are the youngest and although I think we have many years ahead, I know better. In no time you'll be gone and I will be wondering where all these years went. I pray that until then I can fill them with a childhood that is joyous and eventful. I hope to help you use your gift of loving people so much so that you can grow into a man who continues to love and is not afraid to show it. You bring joy to many sweet boy. You bring much joy to me, I love you.


Y'all still with me? It's getting heavy I know. I promise this letter writing thing wont' last forever and maybe I can throw in a few lighthearted posts every now and again to keep you with me. Until then I hope that peeking into my heart towards those I love will encourage you to dig into your own so that you can let those you love know what they mean to you.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dear James

Disclaimer: Obviously the person who means the most to me in my life is Jesus. This goes without saying. However, I don't think he needs me to blog a letter to him in order to know what's in my heart for him. He knows how much (or how little, depending on the day) I love him.

That being said...

Dear James,

This first letter is for you. It's fitting because you are my husband and my relationship with you should be the top priority as far as human relationships go. I know, however, that that is not always the case. Sometimes, in the business of life, you come in dead last. I am sorry for that, please forgive me.

I want you to know that I am so glad God gave you to me. I often find myself thinking of how fortunate I am to be married to you. Only God could have known that I needed someone as fiercely loyal as you. He knew what challenges I would bring to our relationship and he choose you for me, knowing you would stick it out in spite of how difficult I would make that for you.

You are an amazing provider. I have watched you stay with a job that takes it's toll on you knowing that you do so because you love our family. I know that you often wish you were making more money but I can't tell you enough that I have everything I need and am so grateful for the past 6 years I have been able to be at home for our family instead of working a full time job. You have valued our family enough to let me be available to them as much as possible.

I know that I don't show it enough but I truly enjoy you as a friend. I love the time that we spend together and am glad that you express how much you enjoy spending time with me. It took me a long time to understand that our trips to the grocery store could be more than a chore. I was often just trying to get the job done but you saw it as a chance to be with me even when I wasn't so gracious about it. It's been that way for much of our marriage. You have come alongside me to do things that I would normally do alone not because you didn't think I could do it, but so that we could have the joy of doing those things together. I didn't always get that and I still sometimes forget but I appreciate that you see the opportunity and seize it.

It has not been easy loving me, I know. I am moody and often distant for reasons I mostly can't explain. I am prone to giving into those moods instead of pushing through them. I know this has been hard on you. I know you often feel the weight of that and even wonder if you are responsible. I am sorry for those times and am sorry that I don't always know how to tell you to help me. I imagine it must be lonely when I shut myself off. I know, however, that during those times you are praying for me and trusting God to see me through it. Those prayers mean the world to me and I know that they are a huge part of the healing that has taken place.

I wanted to write this letter to you mostly because there were these things in my heart that I often fail to say to you. I am too quick to point out your faults rather than being the kind of wife who builds you up. Please forgive me. I do want to speak loving words of encouragement over you and will work harder at doing so. You are my best friend and as much as we've had to learn about how to live together, I cannot imagine my life without you. Thank you so much for taking this journey with me.

I love you so much,