We Were All Born to Ask This Question

It was an early Saturday morning when we loaded up the car and drove an hour to what we’ve been calling The Refugee Project for the past year. It’s really just a government housing apartment complex- one of twenty-two that line both sides of a long street, home to more than 50,000 refugees, relocated to our city.

It’s our Friday place.

But it wasn’t a Friday and we weren’t having class. Our husbands and kids  joined us to clean up the “clubhouse” and paint the place where our class has met the past year. It’s a vacant, musty three bedroom apartment filled with an assortment of books, broken chairs, dirty tables and walls.

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We were having a work day and it’s a good thing because there was plenty of work. We sorted and scrubbed and swept. We filled holes in the walls and shelves with books. We taped and painted, mopped and moved piles of trash to the dumpster.

Everyone had a job. The kids wrapped more than 600 crochet bracelets onto cards with the word Thrive. It’s our hope- that these displaced ones will find a place in Christ and thrive.

thrive bracelets @refugeeproject.net

I looked around the apartment and smiled at my husband painting a wall. He hates to paint (at least that’s what he tells me every time I ask).  I found my son wrapping bracelets next to my youngest winding yarn into balls. My teen was in the bathroom painting little faces and there was a long line of kids waiting their turn.

I stood in the center of that room and thought my children haven’t complained once. They haven’t ask for anything. They didn’t think of themselves while they worked hour after hour. They found a need and filled it. And the next thought hit me so hard I had to pretend something besides a tear was in my eye:

My family is at its best-our absolute best- when we are doing something for someone else.

Purpose is deeply satisfying.

When our hands are busy serving others, we aren’t thinking about what we don’t have. Instead, we are reminded about what we do have. We were created for more than filling our time and lives with more stuff and more space. We were created for a purpose to live our lives with purpose.

kids can help too

Do good.

The words are written on the chalkboard in our living room. And friends, even family, have cautioned against a “good works” mentality. I’m not worried. I know there aren’t enough good things for us to do to earn our way into an eternity that’s been freely given to us.

But I hope when you add up my works, the grand total isn’t a list of good deeds–I pray the grand total is love.

“Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.” (‭Romans‬ ‭13‬:‭10‬ MSG)

Because that’s why we go. That’s why we do. Love is a driving force.

working @Therefugeeproject.net

It was after 4pm when we piled back in the car. It was a comfortable kind of quiet as we drove home. Satisfaction was thick in the air.

I asked my kids if they remembered meeting the 16 year old refugee girl who helped us wrap bracelets. They did.

“She asked if she could learn to crochet too, like her sisters and mom and grandmother in our class,” I said.

“Doesn’t she go to school?” My 15 year old asked. I explained that she did, but she wanted the money for something special.

“She plays the cello and is very talented. She earned a scholarship for a music school, but she still needs money to make her dream a reality,” I said.

The car was quiet and I thought maybe my kids were thinking about how much they love music. Or maybe they were thinking about the instruments they own and love or the opportunity to take lessons. Or maybe they were wondering how to help a girl their age do the same.

“Mom,” my 12 year old son broke the silence,  “I loved today.”

His words were thick with emotion.

we were born to answer this question

I think we were all created to answer this question: What can I do that matters?

As a parent, my job is to lead my kids to ask it.

God Can Redeem Anything.

We sat in a circle and we waited.

She cleared her throat and began telling her story, looking over at her husband as he nodded in support.

I was 15 and in high school. I made mistakes. I got pregnant. It was so hard and I felt very alone.

I leaned in because I wanted to hear the whole story.

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She told of the absent teen father, how her parents did the hard work of mostly raising her baby so she could finish school.

When her child was 5 years old, she got married.

To the father of her baby.

He cleared his throat, “God redeemed me.”

I looked at this family and all I could see was redemption and restoration as I sat in their beautiful home. I couldn’t see the scars of wrong choices or missteps as clearly as I could the hope. Their son is now a teenager and other children have come and by this point, tears have pooled on the Bible in my lap.

And all I can think about is the young teen moms we seek to help on the other side of the world. Their situations are different, but brokenness is brokenness.

And redemption is redemption.

I tuck my friends’ story in my heart for the rainy days ahead.

A couple of weeks later I’m on the phone with someone I don’t know. She is dreaming of starting something like Mercy House. These calls come more often these days and I can’t help but smile at another audacious yes. But then she said something that made my heart stop,”You’ve made this look so easy and you haven’t had many problems.” And I know right then and there I have failed. I jot down a note to send her my book so she will know some of the unknown.

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I think over the past four years of 19 pregnant teens and 19 babies and there are more problems than I can count. Problems I haven’t shared. Problems that would shock over and over again. Maybe I was trying to protect the moms we help, the babies who shouldn’t have been born or maybe I was just trying to protect myself. Maybe I was trying to keep this yes from looking like a failure.

Maybe I should have told you of the young mom who brought a tangible evil presence with her into the home and left in the middle of the night. Or about the young mom we loved, but after trying everything to ease the post traumatic stress she’d suffered during a gang rape, we had to send her back home because she was violent and continually threatened the safety of everyone in the home. Maybe you should know about the mom we have desperately loved, who was just about finished with the 3 year program in Kenya, the one who made us proud, only to end up pregnant. Again.

I hung up the phone with the lady and I wanted to bury my head on my desk. Because the problems people can’t see are overwhelming.

I thought about the parenting book I’m in the middle of writing and the ugly words one of my kids yelled at me earlier that morning, “I hate my life.” Not exactly what I was planning on calling the next chapter. Nobody likes failure. But that’s exactly what I felt like-a failure, an impostor.

I’ve always believed God uses failure as much as success to reveal Himself and bring redemption. But who wants failure? I don’t want to live it and even more I don’t want you to see it. The unfinished, ugly stories of unbelievable pain are uncomfortable. There isn’t a happy ending to some of our stories  yet and there may never be until Heaven.

A few minutes after that phone call, Maureen, who runs the Kenya-side of things, asked if we could talk. I hold my breath. She doesn’t always bring bad news, but it comes often enough, usually on the heels of a new rescue or new babies or new victory. There’s nothing simple or easy or clean about stepping into the pit of Hell and taking girls from the grips of the enemy.

After some small talk, she started off the conversation with this question, “How do you know if we’ve been successful?”

I give her the same answer I’ve told anyone who has asked the past few years, “That first baby born made us a success. We’ve had 18 more now.” I could tell she was discouraged and so I reminded her,”Maureen, what we are doing is an act of obedience. He asks us to say yes, the results are up to Him.”

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In tears, she says, “I’m glad you said that because I have to tell you something.” And then I learn of a devastating decision by one of our new graduated 18 year old moms. And I can’t see the screen for the tears and my platitudes are empty and I wonder at our audacity and I question our resolve. This is what it must feel like to watch the kids you’ve sacrificed for and loved deeply leave your home and make bad choices and you can do nothing to stop them.

We’ve come to the point in the conversation where there aren’t words to fix the problems and we both know this battle is unseen and we must wage it on our knees.

My husband and I sat on the edge of our bed and cried. “God, why did you ask us to do this? It is too hard. We are too weak.”

I swiped away tears in time to get my kids off the bus until I can find a moment alone and grieve, which happened to be 30 minutes in my car during my daughter’s flute lesson.

The words hammered in my chest: God can redeem anything. God can redeem anything? Can you really, God? Even this? God can redeem anything. He will redeem everything.

We don’t talk about the anything very often. We don’t reveal the depth of our pain, the problems we face, the uncertainty. People think I know what I’m doing because it all looks neat and easy and maybe that’s what I’ve shown them.

I’m letting you into my weakness today because I’m a bigger failure if I don’t.

My daughter returned to the car and asked if I’d been crying. “No,” I whispered as a silent tear fell. She awkwardly patted my back and said, “It will be okay, Mom. It will be okay. We have God.”

That night, I am back in my friends’ living room. Their family picture smiles down at me. And I thank God for their story. For the redemption and restoration in front of me.

Maybe you’re grieving a yes or regretting a no. Maybe you feel hopeless or hopeful. Maybe this feels like the end and you really just want to began again.

I don’t know what mountain you’re facing today.

But I know God can redeem anything.

We might not see it overnight or in our lifetime, but He promises to work it out for His good.

Pregnancy, bankruptcy, rape, marriage, diagnosis, adoption, unemployment, rebellious kids, abortion, a cross-country move, divorce, failure, addiction, mistakes, even death.

He will redeem even this.


I Have Everything I Need {The Psalms 23 Family Project}

“We need to find a place to serve.”

 

I whispered these words to my husband, five days after Christmas.

He nodded his head. He could hear the kids arguing and nitpicking upstairs, too. Ah, Christmas break. Presents had been worn, plugged in and played with and a dose of perspective was next on the list.

Twenty-four hours later, we sat on a blue tarp in the inner-city of Houston with a bunch of kids at a Sidewalk Sunday School event.

It was so cold it didn’t take long for children we didn’t know to crawl into our laps and lean close for warmth. Terrell passed out the extra sweatshirts and throw blanket we keep in the car.

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Pastor Scott, the faithful man who drives his colorful truck to low income apartment complexes nearly every day of the week to teach children about Jesus after school, told the children to sit still, listen close and cup their hands in their laps and open them for the blessing they were about to receive.

I looked over at my daughter sitting in-between girls she didn’t know. I got a lump in my throat when I saw  her little hands cupped, waiting for her blessing.

I’m pretty sure she was hoping to catch the small toys and candy in her open hands like the rest of the kids. And I couldn’t blame her really.

But when she leaned over and whispered, “If I catch anything, I’m going to give it away to the other kids,” I wanted to shout yes because looking around at her peers without shoes and coats, she could see her hands were already full.

She could see she already had everything she needs.

Perspective for the win, again.

I’m learning we need constant perspective reminders and by we, I mean, me.
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download this free printable here

Giving to others is s-l-o-w-l-y changing my family. We can’t always feel it when we grow, until we turn around and see how far we’ve come.

Before the Bible story, Pastor Scott told the kids he had new backpacks for those who could recite all of Psalm 23. Hands shot up in the crowd and one by one we listened to precious children recite the life-changing verses.

I  blinked back tears listening to these disadvantaged quote verse after verse and I whispered prayers over them. God, provide what they need, be with them when they walk thru the valley of the shadow of death. Comfort them. Help them to know that goodness and mercy will follow them all the days of their life.

My son leaned over and said, “Mom, I don’t even know Psalm 23.”

I know. We are going to fix that.

My kids are advantaged and yet they need the truth of the words these children quoted over and over.

They need to be reminded the Lord is their shepherd and they have everything they need.

 

If you’d like to join us, we will be memorizing Psalm 23 together in the next few weeks.

Psalm 23 Family Project:

Week 1: Verse 1

1 The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have everything I need.

  • Write down needs that have been met in your family

Week 2: Verse 2
He lets me rest in fields of green grass
    and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water.

  • Take a day of rest with your family-unplug, go on a long walk, play worship music in your house.

Week 3: Verse 3

He gives me new strength.
He guides me in the right paths,
    as he has promised.

  • Talk about your family’s journey- When has God guided your family?

Week 4: Verse 4
Even if I go through the deepest darkness,
    I will not be afraid, Lord,
    for you are with me.
Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me.

  • Comfort someone going through a dark time-with a card, a visit, a meal

Week 5: Verse 55

You prepare a banquet for me,

where all my enemies can see me;you welcome me as an honored guest and fill my cup to the brim.

  • Fix rice and beans for dinner for a week (or a month) and talk about the blessings on your table

Week 6: Verse 6
I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life;
    and your house will be my home as long as I live.

  • Find a way to serve others: feed a meal, collect coats and blankets, change your children’s perspective

4 Ways to Radically Impact Your Home in the New Year

We let the stack of breakfast dishes sit sticky and we stayed around the table… for three hours. What started out as conversation evolved into an epic board game battle while my daughter and I knitted scarves and I’m pretty sure my son refined his noise-making skills. Oh, junior high boys, you are a mystery.

It wasn’t planned. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t entirely peaceful.

There were arguments with winners and losers and tangled yarn battles and annoyances.

So, basically, you know, family life.

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But there was laughter and love and the one word that has impacted our home more than any other the past few years. Togetherness. There was intentional purpose to make time to be together.

I think in a perfect world, we equate togetherness with peace. But if your world is anything like mine, reality is often chaos. There are tears and fears and giggles and grumbling. It’s a hodgepodge of emotions. But through it all, we choose to be together and that has strengthened us.

We visited House Church (think midweek Bible Study for families) and we ended up at a house without children. The leader offered a TV to my kids, but I asked if we might stay together, study together. My children sat still as church mice on the leather couch in a stranger’s house, quietly listening and I could only think how bored they must be. But as soon as our van door closed, they all talked at once how much they enjoyed the Bible Study and declared being together was the best part and could we please do that again? I smiled wide in the dark car on the way home because I couldn’t agree more.

The world will pull our families apart if we let it. It will divide and separate us and interrupt dinner and encourage us to live for yourselves and forget others. It will tell you to buy into the American Dream for your family and move out of that starter home and build your own little Kingdom of worldly possessions.

But our culture won’t tell your family breaking bread and breaking your life and giving it away is the way to really keep it together.

If you want to change your family, the world, do it side-by-side. It doesn’t have to cost a dime or even that much time. It’s about getting back to the basics and getting back together.

Go to church together. Ride bikes together. Play games together. Clean the kitchen together. Look for opportunities to bond as a family in your every day life and a new year is the perfect time to start.

My kids are getting older and I feel a pull to draw them back in.

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Start with one or two of these four goals that can radically impact your home:

  1. Eat Together – This is as simple as it sounds, but it’s not always easy. And it’s definitely not a priority in many families (especially as kids get older). When I had toddlers around the table, I just got through many nights. But I did it because it set precedence and one day, your meal will last longer than 9 minutes. As children grow, the demand to move away from the table is strong with practices and rehearsals and games. Fight against it.
  2. Read Together –I don’t have to tell you that reading to your children will change their life. But so will reading with your kids. Several years ago, we moved from reading to our kids to reading books with them. You can check out some recommendations here (I’ve updated the list). Pick a book and read one-page-at-a-time until you’re done. You won’t regret this kind of togetherness. A perfect time to do so is at the dinner table (and a chalkboard table helps busy hands).
  3. Serve Together –By far, this has changed our family the most and kids are never too young or too old to give to others in some way. (I have a huge list of ideas here). After making this a priority in our lives, I’m beginning to see that my children are becoming servants. Start with one or two opportunities a year; it doesn’t have to be about quantity to give quality to your family and others.
  4. Gratitude Together – Get in the habit of sharing the highs and lows of your day together, write down your thanks. Keep a record. Thankfulness and giving our children opportunities to work hard are great ways to defeat entitlement in our home and stir up grateful reflection. I love this one for kids: My First Gratitude Journal: A Write-in, Draw-in Gratitude Journal for Kids.

Goals are just that –goals. We don’t eat together seven nights a week, four weeks a month, twelve months a year. But we try to. We don’t schedule things during dinner. We look for opportunities to serve; we practice gratitude. We don’t always hit the mark, but we aim for it and hit much higher than we would if we led life lead us instead of the other way around.

Together.

 

This week, I’m reposting some of my most shared blog posts of 2014 with you. Thanks for being a part of this community. I can’t wait to see what 2015 brings!

Christmas Is For Nobodies

I spent two nights in New York City with my man this past weekend, celebrating 20 years.

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It was my first time there and it was magical.

But nothing makes you feel quite as small as a big city at Christmas.

We pressed through crowds on the streets, in the subways, in the stores.

There were people everywhere: nameless faces, a melting pot from all over the world.

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Terrell and I are people watchers. We wondered at the homeless man’s story, the girl crying on her phone in an alley, the stiletto-heeled lady in front of Saks 5th Avenue, the waiter in Chinatown and the Muslim taxicab driver who chatted with us about long work days in a place like New York City.

In a crowd, it’s easy to feel like a nobody.

But I was reminded that’s exactly who Christmas is for. The nobodies.

I couldn’t help but think about  the question my youngest asked before we left for the airport, “Is it Christmas everywhere? Even in Africa and New York City?”

Yes, Christmas is everywhere.

Because He came for everyone.

He came for the huge masses. He came for little you.

We’ve been studying our way verse-by-verse through the book of Nehemiah at church. Nehemiah, cupbearer to the King, was the son of a nobody. His dad was unknown. He came from a long line of regular, insignificant people.

And he was cupbearer to the King–not because it was a secure job, but because it’s where God put him.

He had a dream and yet he served faithfully, quietly.

Sometimes we think waiting is meaningless.

Sometimes we think in order to do something great, we have to be somebody.

But Jesus became a nobody at Christmas–a helpless, dependent babe-to show us He came for the nobodies.

God used a nobody like Nehemiah to rebuild and reestablish the city of Jerusalem, in the perfect time.

Because the place God puts us may not be the place we would put ourselves and we may not like where we are or who we are, but He doesn’t waste any of it.

And this Christmas Eve, wherever you are, whatever you’re feeling, whatever you’re waiting on, it’s not a mistake. It takes faith to look past our present circumstances and see God has us right where you are for a reason.

God came to a stable as a nobody, so we could be somebody in Him.

Merry Christmas!