the places that made me

This week I’m thanking God for the places that made me. I am a Southern girl through and through, but I admit that the Deep South is a complicated place to be from. For all our churches, hospitality, and genteel manners, we can’t deny a legacy of racism, classicism, illiteracy, and poverty. Turns out, though, we’re not the only place on the globe where humans hurt each other or just plain hurt. So I’ll keep being thankful that I’m a Southern girl, and I’ll keep pushing to change the things that need changing where I’m from and beyond.

So where exactly AM I from? I’m thankful to call four Southern states home–or perhaps I should say Southeastern Conference states. When I say I’m from the South, I mean all over it. And yes, I did just make reference to that hallowed football conference, the one that churns out the best games of the season every year.

img_5724 Read More

the people who made me

Happy All Saints Day! Though my church tradition doesn’t specifically celebrate the day, I tend to pause a bit on Nov 1st to think about the people who came before me.

I’m indebted to my mom for making this day resonate with me. Several years ago, she did an All Saints writing project with her junior high students to explore their family trees. Her students thought and wrote about those who had impacted their lives, and they were able to move toward gratitude for those people.

Her point was that the people who came before us (whether they are from our family of origin or are simply people who have impacted us) contribute to who we are. Whether those people looked more like “saints” or not, we can find things to celebrate about our connection with the people of the past.

I am starting this month of Thanksgiving, then, with a moment of thankfulness for all the people who made me: godly parents and grandparents, neighbors and friends who were like parents and grandparents, English teachers who taught me to love writing, mentors who taught me to love the person I was becoming, Bible teachers who didn’t just preach me a list of do’s and don’ts, bosses who gave me career opportunities, and a multitude of friends who’ve brightened my life.

I am profoundly grateful.

One secret when the path is uncertain

I’ve been bouncing back and forth between two faith-giants who spoke of obstacles on the path to fulfilling their purposes. The first is David. Pulled from the sheep field, anointed by God as king, and then forced to run for his life for years until he ascended the throne, David poured out his ups and downs through the Psalms. I’ve found strength and comfort in these songs of the faith and continue to work them into my prayer life just as the women and men of the Bible did. One passage that’s been particularly galvanizing for me as I’ve faced things like chronic anxiety, depression, or fibromyalgia pain is Psalm 142, especially verse 7:

Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.

Read More

3 truths teens need to hear 

If you were asked to fill in the blank, “Sometimes, I feel like I’m not ___________ enough,” what would you say?

What would your 15-year-old say?

A few weeks ago, I asked 50 or so high school women just that. Here’s some of what they told me:

Sometimes, I feel like I’m not

Pretty

Smart

Strong

Popular

Involved

Interesting

Fun

Friendly

In-shape

Normal

Good

Worth

enough.

They also talked of how they struggle to have enough time, energy, confidence, and friends to make it through their days.

Read More

how my “life verse” got fresh legs: dream team, part ii

Welcome back! This month we’re zeroing in on passages from Philippians and praising God for the “dream teams” He puts together.  Spurred by Paul’s words, I thank my God every time I remember you, we’ve reflected on the fellow faith-warriors, encouragers, I’ve-got-your-back kind of people who, when monsters loom large, remind us God has a larger dream and bolder plan at work.

This week as I’ve jotted more notes, I have a silly confession: I actually do not know how to spell “Philippians.” I habitually use two L’s and one P or spell it like the Philippine islands. Even if I manage to spell it correctly, I doubt myself every time. My recourse is to rely on Spellcheck or simply abbreviate “Phil” and let the chips fall where they may. I chuckle that it irks me so much (yes, that recovering perfectionist in me still rears her head on occasion), but really, it should stick by now.

That’s because Phillipians-Philippines-Phil has been my favorite New Testament book since I was a 12-year-old at Maranook summer camp hearing it preached with fervor and learning to study the Bible for herself. You’d think I’d simply know.

One thing I do know, however, is the memory verse I learned that week at camp:

For I am confident of this very thing that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil 1:6 NASB

Except I can do more than say it: I can still sing the camp song version complete with handclaps and thrilling shouts of ¡Arriba! (I’ll give you a taste of my impressive rendition at the end of this post.) Read More

in good times or bad, who’s your dream team?  

Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and now, mass violence. Shocked and reeling, we cry and pray, but truthfully, we also doubt and rage. Once again, we’re united with all others in the suffering that goes on throughout the world and has been since the first murder of an innocent person (Abel) by his enraged brother (Cain).

A few weeks ago, in the midst of Houston’s great flood I commented on the soul-level impact of tragedy even when we are on the outskirts. I think it bears repeating:

I discovered I was almost afraid to take significant time out to read my Bible and write in my journal. Maybe I was hiding from my conflicted feelings, not ready to bring my doubts and fears before God. I’m not exactly sure. Probably I was just completely overwhelmed like everyone else. Whatever the reason, that fear of taking time out to read, reflect, pray, and worship was something that needed to be addressed. That was the need of the day. I found Christ still there waiting for me and more than willing to restore my soul.

Psalm 116:7 would call this returning to the soul’s resting place. We draw close to Jesus and let His presence become bigger than our need to have all the answers. As we do so, we also find ourselves able to lift our heads and look for others. Yes, for those we can help in tangible, practical ways, but also for those who comprise our dream teams.

Read More

confessions of the world’s worst barista

Note to 1995-coffee-house self:  NO MATTER WHAT, ALWAYS PUT THE  CARAFE BACK UNDER THE AUTODRIPPER BEFORE YOU PRESS “ON.” Even if that old crank with the bad hair fusses that her bagel is charring in the toaster, even if your boyfriend is chatting you up for free coffee, DO NOT FORGET THE CARAFE.

Of course, I DID forget the carafe. More than once I turned around to the horror of boiling breakfast blend streaming down the counter. I also burned more bagels and messed up more half-caf skinny lattes than you could shake a steam wand at.

That was the summer I really should have been crowned world’s worst barista. To be fair, I didn’t think I’d become a professional coffee wizard. I knew this part-time gig at O’Henry’s was temporary, a break from the “let me sit down at a computer” jobs I’d been working since age 15. However, I assumed I’d at least gain a deftness at steaming milk and crisping pastries.

Instead, I learned that a) I was terrible at food service and b) I would, eventually, be thoroughly OK with that. Read More

what do i do when friendships end? friendships and houseplants, part 2

We’re talking about friendships with my buddy Keri Lee from Free to Fly Ministries again this week. Check out last week’s post where she laments her “black thumbs” when it comes to caring for houseplants but offers Biblical wisdom on caring for our friendships. Such good reminders for me!

This week, though, I asked her, “What about when the relationship ends despite best efforts?” Here are her thoughts and encouragement to get out there and try again.

Read More

friendships and houseplants: help! the flowers fell off!

Excited for you to meet my friend Keri Lee Robbins this week as she shares a two-part series on tending our “friendship plants” with wisdom from God’s word. Keri  Lee and I met a few years ago through Twitter as we were traveling to attend the same conference. My Las Vegas buddy is a gentle yet passionate advocate for foster care and adoption as well as for those with disabilities. So glad to call her my friend. Enjoy!

I do not have a green thumb at all. It’s quite black. Like midnight black. Generally speaking, giving me a plant is sentencing it to death. It’s a sad reality that I have come to accept. The people I love know that I do enjoy flowers though, so recently I was given 2 flowering plants.

On Mother’s Day, my Mom gave me an orchid. An orchid. One of the hardest plants to keep alive in the history of plants. It had five very pretty little flowers on it. I was immediately enamored and terrified. Then, my sweet friend Cindy brought me a flowering succulent with lovely coral flowers.

Both plants came with little cards detailing how to care for them, and I studied them cautiously. They only needed water once a week with good drainage, medium sunlight, and needed to be transplanted when they got larger. There was, however, nothing on the cards to prepare me for what would occur within a few days.

 The flowers began to brown and fall off.  

Read More

why you’re headed toward harvey helper burnout (and what to do about it)

I’m a muddy mix of post-Harvey feelings. I bet you are, too.

I’m grateful my neighborhood was spared the worst so we can be out there helping our city. I’m heartbroken over other’s losses. I’m also worried about my friends facing down Hurricane Irma, but I’m not sure how to help them. I want to know how long it’s going to take for us to recover, to feel normal again.

Longer than I’d like, I’m sure.

It’s not just the physical recovery either. I had two recent experiences that showed me the emotional toll of a disaster, even for people who didn’t lose their homes. Sunday night I awoke from a disturbing nightmare about flooding. I won’t recount the details. Too many people around me lived the real thing while our family stayed high and dry. Then, 2AM Wednesday, a short-lived thunderstorm rolled into Houston. I bolted up, crying out, “What’s happening?!” I’ve heard from other friends who reacted similarly, some taking shelter in closets in case of more tornadoes, and all of us worrying about other people.

And we are the ones who lost nothing in the physical sense. I can’t fathom the trauma of people who lost homes, cars, jobs, or family. What is abundantly clear, however, is that all of us need grace and time to heal.

Read More

want to help Houston? 6 things to know

We saw blue sky peek through around 6pm yesterday for the first time in days, and I think our whole city cheered. Even as harrowing rescue efforts continued and shelters filled, we had a moment of hope and a chance to smile at something. We needed that bit of sunshine so much.

The whole Texas coast is going to need hopeful moments to help us push through the Harvey and Houston flood disasters, but we’re also going to need help. Some, like our family, have been spared the worst of it, and we are profoundly grateful. We now have an opportunity to help others, and we are being joined by so many of you from all over the world who want to help, too.  It’s encouraging.

However, I’ve noticed that not all types of “helping” are encouraging or even useful—I’ll list a few actions later that are extremely needed, but first, here are three things that we could use your help in stopping:

  1. Outside armchair quarterbacking and social media “outrage” over whether things are being done the way you would’ve done them. There will be time for analysis, but please calm the heck down for a few more days. In fact, why don’t you set up the equivalent of a swear jar on your kitchen counter—you remember the swear jar, don’t you? You deposit a dollar every time you cuss? This week, every time you feel like lighting up social media with your five-point critique of how we’re handling evacuations, etc, why don’t you put five bucks in the jar and then donate that money at the end of the week? We’ll thank you for your generosity, and we’ll all be in a better frame of mind to discuss what could be improved after the worst has passed.
  2. Spreading unverified “helpful” information. There is a load of bad information and rumors being circulated about immigrants being harassed for papers at shelters (totally false), bogus phone numbers to call for help, and even sighting of sharks swimming down the freeway. Please take a second. Check the local news and emergency response officials before you send it out. I guarantee that if you have time to retweet something, you have time to do a quick Google search to verify it.
  3. Bagging up old, ratty clothes or expired food to donate. If you live close enough to donate physical goods, then absolutely, go through your house or head to the store for specifically requested items. I’ve seen and sorted the things that end up at donation drops, and I’m not sure what some folks were thinking. How can I put this delicately? Nobody needs skid-marked underwear, sweat-stained pillows, or cans of frosting that expired last year. Those are called trash, not donations. Even items in good condition may be more of a hindrance than a help right now. Agencies and shelters are very specific about what they need so that they can best care for the people they serve, and they usually post this information. Right after a disaster, displaced families do not need bulky stuffed animals, books, furniture, or even a whole lot of clothes. Showing up at shelters to drop off such things creates more work for volunteers and a storage nightmare. Hold onto non-requested items for later as people start to rebuild. Instead, grab the list of items requested and get to work.

OK, enough of that. We are thankful that you are motivated to care and to help, so here are three things we need you to start doing if you haven’t already:

  1. Dig into your wallets and donate to those that are doing the hard work. At minimum, give to an organization like Samaritan’s Purse who brings trained teams into hard-hit areas. If you want  more tangibility to your gift—to see your dollars in action so to speak—text your friends in the region and ask them who they recommend. For instance, here are some of my favorite groups that actively serve our community 365 days a year and are being stretched to the limit by this disaster: bridgingfortomorrow.orgHoustonfoodbank.orgmissionofyahweh.orggenerationone.netFaithbridge.org
  2. Prepare for the long haul. Things like Harvey and the Houston flood provide opportunities for you to help for weeks, months, and years to come. Begin to check with your church about how you can be prepared to help when it’s time for restoration. This may even be your chance to step out and lead a team! Have your pastor or missions coordinator reach out to their Texas counterparts to let them know you will be ready. Check with organizations like Samaritan’s Purse. There may be some immediate opportunities, but never underestimate the usefulness of building a well-prepared, well-trained team that is willing to partner over the long term with groups that are already in place.
  3. Minister to people’s spiritual needs. Pray! And not just a hurried whisper to the heavens or a repost of a beautifully written prayer. While those are important, your friends in the area would love for you to reach out and ask specifically what you can pray with them about that day. Be willing to listen to those going through this disaster. They need to talk to someone who will patiently listen without offering a million suggestions or nice “reminders” about how they should be more grateful for what they didn’t lose. There will be time to help people gain perspective, but unless they have the freedom to process grief and confusion, that next step will be delayed.

I am grateful for the outpouring of love, support, and hard work I’m seeing all around me. Good-hearted people everywhere are simply rolling up their sleeves and getting to work. (I especially love when I see a news crew put down their microphones and actually help people into boats. Remember, if the news team can arrive there, then just off camera, there are a dozen first-responders and volunteers working really hard.) Pray for the folks on the front line as well as those they are helping. And thank you for caring about Texas. God bless you.

 

waiting on a storm and preaching to myself

Between Monday’s eclipse and getting kids back to school, it’s already been a strange week. Now, with Hurricane Harvey bearing down on us here in Texas, we’re all throwing our schedules out the window and getting prepared.

Storm prep is a bit sobering—last year’s devastating floods are still fresh on people’s minds. However, one good thing that always happens in Houston is that people begin to focus on taking care of their families and neighbors. Grace starts to manifest itself in beautiful ways.

hurricane-earth-satellite-tracking-71116

In my own life this week, I’ve needed a refresher on that amazing grace. What I wrote last week on forbearance and what I’ve wanted to write about forgiveness this week have been put to the test. There haven’t been any big upsets, but I’ve been an anxious, irritable mess and haven’t had a whole lot of grace for my family or myself. On top of that, every bit of sharp-tongued criticism I’ve directed at my family, every hurt feeling I’ve struggled to release—all of it has been on a replay loop in my brain. Forbearance? Forgiveness? Who can write about those when you can’t seem to extend either?

Now, a few of you other veteran parents just nodded knowingly because you are acutely aware that things get a little tense as the kids head back to school. In fact, my problem-solving husband was Googling articles on the August Blues, trying to help me gain perspective. (He was also trying to soothe me with science since I’m a sucker for good research—if nerd-speak isn’t an official love language, it should be.)

So yes, I’m aware that what I’ve been experiencing—the short temper, the frustration, and the angsty regrets over those feelings—isn’t that different from other moms in back-to-school mode, especially those who tend toward some anxiety and depression like me.

So do I dare write about things like forbearance and forgiveness? You bet I do.

Read More