God, the President, and (little old) Me

 

Our relationship has been a rocky one, the President and me. When he took office, I cried at his inauguration and was proud to see him standing there, a black man from little means, now the leader of a nation that has been ripped apart by race relations. I didn’t vote for him, true enough. I would have preferred someone else standing there; but I tried to remain hopeful.

Within the first year of his first term, dark clouds rolled in as I saw very clearly his philosophies coming to play. He was ushering in policies that I believed would hurt the poorest in our country and weaken us as a nation. After having traveled throughout Europe, parts of Indonesia, Africa, and the Middle East, I had become more convinced than ever of how unique and wonderful American is among the nations. I was loathe to see her harmed. By the end of his first term I couldn’t watch the news anymore and just the sight of him gave me a sense of dread. I felt helpless as he made decision after decision with which I wholeheartedly disagreed.

When it was re-election time, I was giddy with the prospect of getting someone – anyone – new in office. I contributed to political funds for the first time in my life. I was living in a foreign country at the time and, somehow, this made me care about the election even more. I felt like the hope of our country was wrapped up in that vote, as if we were standing on a precipice and this decision made all the difference.

So, when President Obama won again, I was literally devastated. I cried. I ranted. I threw up my hands to the heavens and screamed, “Why?!” And then I did the only logical thing I could do and withdrew completely. I tried to stop caring about health care laws and immigration reform and international relations.

Once we moved back to the States and I could hardly hide my head in the sand anymore, I was pulled back into the vortex of negativity that is our nation’s political scene. Once again, I found that I couldn’t stand the sight of my President. The old resentments flared again, but something else was stirring in me as well and this thing was surprising…I was feeling conviction about my resentment.

I’m familiar with the biblical passages on honoring governmental authorities and the command to pray for them (1 Tim 2:1-15; Rom 13:1; 1 Pet 2:17; Titus 3:1-2). How I’ve applied these to my life has depended totally on who is in office. If it’s someone I agree with, then I piously add them to my prayer list. If it’s someone I disagree with, I somehow never do.

What’s the point? He or she is set in her ways. The strategy has been written in stone and there’s nothing my prayers can do to change it.

These are the sort of thoughts that creep into my mind; but, there’s more to it than that if I’m going to really be honest here.

The truth is: how can I resent someone that much and pray for them? How can I bad mouth them and share mocking and biting articles about them and rejoice when they fail and also come to the throne of God Almighty on their behalf?

And the truest answer is: I can’t.

For far too long I’ve chosen to be “right” in my own eyes and to completely disobey the Word of God because of the bitterness and resentment and fear in my own heart.

And you can’t tell me that’s not affecting my life. That kind of cognitive dissonance, that kind of hypocrisy, will seep down into my soul and change me in ways that I may not realize until its too late.

I don’t want to walk the earth with resentment. I want to walk in freedom. I’m invested in my country but I’m much more invested in the Kingdom of God.

President Obama is a person created in God’s image and he has a soul that will one day stand before the judgment seat of the Lord, just like me. Furthermore, nothing going on in the world is out of the hands of the Creator. He is working and His will is going to be done, one way or another. My heart posture should be one of humility and love. And I won’t allow myself anymore excuses for why it isn’t.

So, here I am, a libertarian who disagrees with nearly everything President Obama stands for and I am committing myself to pray for him on a regular basis. Because, I believe that the directive to pray for my leaders is not just for them, but for me as well. Praying for the President and for Congress will necessitate that I relinquish my grip on resentment and, as it always does, it will change my heart from one of bitterness to one of love. I want you, my readers, to hold me accountable.

Here is what I won’t pray:

  • That the President has a complete change of mind and heart on all of the issues with which I personally disagree. (That’s not humility)
  • That any embarrassment or shame comes upon him or that his legacy will be one of dishonor (That’s not love)
  • That his plans/agenda are frustrated (Again, not humility)

Here is what I will pray:

  • That the President has eyes to see and ears to hear the voice of the Lord.
  • That he will have the courage and wisdom to do the right thing in all circumstances.
  • That he will be surrounded by good and wise counsel.
  • That he and his family draw close to the Lord and are protected from all harm, spiritually, physically, and emotionally.
  • That the Lord’s will be done in the President’s life and in our nation as a whole.
  • That there will be a growth in unity and a decline in division.

These prayers might change over time, but I know with certainty that my heart will. It already has.

I don’t know what the future holds and I don’t know what is in the President’s heart, but I do know that there will be at least one person standing for him before the throne of the Lord with no other agenda but love.

Because in the end, that’s who I really want to be – not a political genius who has all the answers – but a person filled with the love of God and who actually (tries with her whole heart to) practice what she preaches.

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Hey, Brothers and Sisters! The Poor Are Not Our Trophies!

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a cold, gray Louisiana afternoon in December. My friends and I had played in the backyard all morning, rolling down leaf-covered hills, chasing each other behind pine trees, and making delicious food items for our “restaurant” completely out of mud. Mom had told us to come in and get dressed because company was coming. My sisters and brother and I cleaned up and waited for the folks to arrive, feeling nervous and excited. You see, a few weeks before, my mom had us write a few things down as a Christmas list. This list wouldn’t go to Santa, she made that clear. It would go to a family from a local church who wanted to provide us with Christmas presents. My mom pulled no punches when she broke the news to us – my parents couldn’t afford Christmas presents that year. There were four of us kids and though my parents were both working as hard as they could, they couldn’t even make ends meet at that time, much less provide frivolities like “jam boxes” (my personal request). It didn’t take long for the truth to sink in, way down deep – we were the “needy” family that these kind Christians were going to help.

And they did bless us. Not only did they bring us everything on our lists, but they brought us food and they stayed and visited with us for a long time. It was uncomfortable at first and I think I remember my mom fighting back tears, but after a while we all loosened up and enjoyed each others’ company. After they left, we never saw them again. That moment, and many others like it, left an indelible impression on me. I got the feeling that Christians were good and kind and they were people I could trust.

I can’t help but wonder how I would have felt if that family stopped to take a few selfies with me and my tearful mother and my out-of-work father. Perhaps they’d hashtag them on their Instagrams and their Facebooks:

#GivingBack

#Breaksmyheart

#TheLeastofThese

#Matthew25

I’m sure their friends and family (and church) would laud them for being Good Samaritans and adopting this poor, unfortunate family in their time of need. How Godly! How Christ-like! How convicting! How inspiring!

And my family and I would live on in the minds of others as “needy” and “poor” and “the least of these” that these wonderful Christians sacrificed to help.

Does this scenario sound familiar? I know that I see this on a daily basis in articles, blog posts, facebook posts and instagrammed pictures. Beautiful, heart-rending words are written about people in bad neighborhoods, who are down on their luck, and who are now better off because of the good work so-and-so has done. Entire sagas are recounted in blog series of the poor in other countries, complete with pictures and names and locations (for the noble purpose of raising awareness, of course). Were these people asked their permission to share their stories, their pictures, and their names? Was it explained to them that their pain and trial – which will continue long after the well-intentioned folks are gone – will be distilled into a smartphone picture with a hashtag? Are they aware that they, caught in the most helpless and perhaps hopeless of states, are now starring as your profile picture on social media?

Hey, Brothers and Sisters! Wake up! The poor are not our trophies!

The poor have lives all their own, identities that have nothing to do with us. And just as I wouldn’t walk up to a couple on the streets who are quarreling and give them a little relationship advice, a good book on conflict resolution, and some money for a nice dinner and then take a selfie with them and broadcast it on social media, hashtagged as #AnotherMarriageSaved, I shouldn’t treat the poor with any less common sense and dignity.

Look, I’ve been there. I’ve been on the other side too. I remember being in Africa and having my heart ripped out by things that I saw and wanting to share it with the world, to make the world see. I just knew that if folks could understand the disparity between what we have and what they have, that they would be spurred to action and together we could save the world.

But I was immature and naive. Here are some hard truths that I’ve learned from being on both sides of poverty:

  1. There is no us and them. That dichotomy is a lie. There is only us. Therefore, every action I take on behalf of the poor or toward the poor should be done as I would want it done for myself. If I wouldn’t want my pain and trial to be hashtagged and instagrammed and facebooked all over the world, then I should never do it to someone else.
  2. Awareness can be raised without the self-aggrandizement that often comes with it in this day of social media. There are creative ways to tell stories, to share an experience, and to send a message without exploitation. It may mean that we don’t have that touching picture of ourselves feeding the poor; but, really, if we are feeding the poor or doing any good work, it should be done between us and God and not the entire world.
  3. Very often, the ones we are “helping” end up resenting us if they feel undignified in our approach. In other words, they aren’t stupid. They can tell if we’re there for pure purposes, really investing ourselves in their lives or not. They know if they’re being used. We are fooling ourselves if we think otherwise.
  4. You are being allowed into a sacred place of trust when you enter into the world of another. Your intention may be to share this story with the world, while their intention was to become your friend. You may be taking the selfie to use on social media, while they may think you want a cherished memory with them. Piggybacking off of #3, is this – permission should always be obtained, if possible, before telling someone else’s story and/or sharing personal pictures and names. This is called full disclosure in the mental health community. It is not ethical to take pictures and gather details of someone else (a fully human person with feelings and an identity all their own) and then share them publicly without their express permission. Does this apply to children? I think it should. I ask my own children before sharing their personal details on social media. Why would I show other children any less respect?

Living in a foreign country for three years, and being surrounded by the “poor” on a daily basis taught me these hard lessons. I watched as these “poor” people worked from before sunrise until after sunset, day in and day out to provide for their families and yet were still as poor as it gets by American standards. I wanted to write about it, to share what I saw, to tell of my encounters; but, mostly, I never did. I got to know some of these people on a personal level and realized they had Facebook pages of their own, lives of their own, friendships, social lives, and dreams. Their economic status made them no less human. So I asked myself this: If I were to share their stories without their permission, and if I were to take pictures of them and share those, how would I feel if they saw these things? The answer is that I would have felt ashamed. They were allowing me into a sacred space of relationship, not agreeing to be interviewed for my blog. And if I am doing something that, if brought into the light, would make me ashamed; then why am I doing it at all?

The poor aren’t our trophies. They are human beings. They need friends, not human saviors. They need to feel the love of God, not our pity. So before we post or hashtag or instagram, may we remember that these people are people just like us and they have stories but they are not ours to tell.

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Catching Up

Hello there. It’s been a while since I last wrote of our adventures in the Big Apple. That’s only because NYC in Fall and during the holidays is THE most magical place on earth. I’m convinced of it. So, we’ve been busy hosting guests and touring the city and taking in shows and eating good food. Now that the New Year is upon us, it is time to chronicle some of these things before my rapidly aging brain forgets the details and this period morphs into a NYC memory-stew in which all I have left is this faint recollection that our time here was really cool.

I’ll begin with the end of October when we learned the following things about this city:

  1. One does not drag one’s feet when booking ANYTHING or buying tickets to ANYTHING. Case in point: we wanted to go to Sleepy Hollow’s jack-o-lantern extravaganza and tried to buy tickets in late September. Hahahaha! Rookie mistake! Those tickets were sold out in late August/beginning of September. So…we settled on going to a “pumpkin patch” at one of the “farms” here on Staten Island. This leads me to the next lesson we learned…
  2. There is nothing more pathetic than city-folk trying to play the part of farm-folk. We packed the kids up for a fun-filled day of hayrides, apple cider, and pumpkin picking. Upon arriving at a certain unnamed “farm,” it quickly dawned on us that our definition (as well as the dictionary definition) of “farm” diverged rather severely from the city-folk definition. After shelling out $40, we entered a “corn maze” that you could complete in less than one minute due to the facts that: a.) it was the size of my bedroom closet and b.) it was tied together so loosely you could see through every wall and all the way to the end. Once outside of the maze, we saw before us a field of dirt upon which was strewn all manner of pumpkins – many of which were half-rotten and/or deformed to the point of unrecognizability. The kids, dauntless in their quest to have the PERFECT pumpkin, quickly went to work examining, discussing, and gathering the contestants for the JONES FAMILY PUMPKIN. Finally, they settled upon 1 medium size pumpkin and a few smaller ones which they planned to paint and personalize later. After procuring the PERFECT PUMPKIN, we mosied on over to the “hayride.” A long line of our fellow New Yorkers were gathered around, corralling kids, and talking to one another in their accents, with which I am still enamored. I could listen to them all day. They could be discussing the most mundane things, but I will listen with rapt attention just to hear the novelty of their voices. Funny thing, I’ve met quite a few who feel the same about me. I guess to them my Southern accent is just as foreign and interesting. Anyway, back to the “hayride.” To our surprise, a large John Deere mower (a little larger than the kind you’d have in a neighborhood, but smaller than the tractor mower my FIL has on his farm) pulls up with a large trailer on the back. It is indeed filled with hay, but it was the saddest bunch of hay you’ve ever seen. It was a little hay, not bales of hay, but just strewn hay bunched up here and there over the bottom of the trailer. Clayton and I exchanged looks, then tried to refrain from laughing as we climbed onto the trailer and situated ourselves. I was seated next to a family and it became clear that they were also underwhelmed at the “hayride” we were subjecting ourselves to as adults (not to mention paying for). We all snickered and joked about the things we do for our kids as we circled the flower garden. Yes, you got that right – our exciting hayride consisted of circling a large flower garden. <sigh> After that thrilling experience, we walked over listen to the “band.” There was a girl there with her family and she was clearly mentally disabled. She was larger than her mom but had the mind of a small child and she SO BADLY wanted to jump on stage with the musicians. In fact, she did just that! She jumped on stage and started ripping their instruments from them, smiling and laughing, trying to play in the band. The band member were so gracious and just kept playing and trying to dodge her as her parents worked over-time to get her off the stage. Eventually, she ended up throwing a fit and wallowing around in the mud as her parents tried to calm her down. Now, here’s why I’m telling you this. Every New Yorker there just went about his or her business and hardly acknowledged what was happening. They went on picking pumpkins, drinking cider, riding in pathetic hayrides, and having a good time. At first, I didn’t know what to make of that. I kept thinking we should intervene (and Clayton did offer to help them); but, as the parents regained control and they made their way to the pumpkin patch where the girl happily began to examine pumpkins, I gained a new appreciation for New Yorkers. It isn’t that they don’t care about people, it is just that they’ve seen it all. They’ve seen so much and seen it so often, that they’ve learned to “live and let live” as much as possible. That is part of thriving in a city like this – you learn to coexist and let people live in peace. I was so happy that no one stared at the parents and the girl (except for me, obviously. I am no New Yorker) and made them feel ashamed. They had nothing to be ashamed of after all. I left the “farm” that day really happy to be here and learn from what is, in many ways, an entirely different culture than my own.IMG_1278 IMG_1285 IMG_1290 IMG_1295 FullSizeRender IMG_1308 FullSizeRender (1)
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    One of the best things at the “farm” were the vendors that were selling locally made items, such as these glorious darlings: homemade chutneys and jams, including one made of bacon and port (which Clayton promptly bought up).

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    Introducing THE JONES FAMILY PUMPKIN, carved and on display.

A couple of cool things happened in October too. Nya started professional art lessons and she loves it. It is quite an effort to get her to lessons (every commute seems to take triple what it should in these parts) and then to stay for the 2-3 hours of her lesson; but, she acts like a bride on her wedding day every time and that makes it totally worth it.IMG_1336

The boys and Clayton are all doing Judo/ Ju Jitsu several times a week and they enjoy doing some all together that is physically demanding. Of course, Jude just runs around being cute and naughty; but everyone else seems to get a lot out of it. 🙂 And, finally, we drove to Baltimore and picked up our swagger wagon which we hadn’t seen since May. We also ate some Baltimore pit bbq and we all agreed that we’d had much better. Some things are just better down South, folks.

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This random pic is from Clayton’s command BBQ. It was my first time seeing an entire pig cooked like this (much less with a knife protruding from its head) and I didn’t want to forget it, so I included it here because we went in October.

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My best friend, Danielle, came for a quick visit while her kids were at camp. Her husband is currently deployed to Kuwait and I know she needed some cheering up, so we took a long weekend and hit the town. First, we saw the Rockettes and it was everything the hype said it would be – entertaining and magical. We had so much fun just acting like goofballs all through the city. One of my favorite things about our friendship is our ability to laugh and cut-up like two schoolgirls. After all of these years, it remains the same. We went to Sardi’s for lunch one afternoon. It’s a restaurant I’ve always wanted to go to because I saw it on the movie “Muppets in Manhattan,” which I watched no less than 500 times growing up. It was the restaurant Kermit the Frog went to for the purposes of starting a “rumor campaign” to get his new script on Broadway. It was where the movers and shakers of theater went for lunches and drinks. Well, I got my chance to be a mover and a shaker and was pleasantly surprised that the place looked exactly as it did in that old movie. All of the walls are lined with the caricatures of movie stars, playwrights, authors, singers, musicians, and politicians who have been to Sardi’s. Afterward, we roamed around 5th Ave and Central Park and enjoyed the afternoon without kids.

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Danielle is holding an iPhone pic of Pedro so he can be with us in spirit as we enjoy the day. We look forward to re-creating this memory with him IN PERSON when he comes back from Kuwait.

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Rockettes!

Rockettes!

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The windows at Berghdorf’s

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Central Park is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

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Windows at Berghdorf’s

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Tiffany’s

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After Danielle flew home, it wasn’t long until our friends/family, the Romeus clan, came to visit for Thanksgiving. We spent a lot of time just hanging out and catching up, but we also did a few things in the city. We visited the 9-11 memorial and, this being my first time, I was thoroughly surprised by the emotions it brought up in me. I’m an American and my husband is in the military, so my life has been shaped just as much (if not more) than any other American by the events of that day. But, it wasn’t until moving here and meeting actual first-responders and victims, that the trauma of that day began to really sink in. An entire city was literally traumatized and it didn’t end when the buildings fell. That was just the beginning of what would be a decade long process of grieving and rebuilding. It’s still going on to this day. I choked back sobs at the wall of posters that were placed all over the city in the days following the attacks, rows and rows of faces and names and lives that mattered so much to those left behind. As a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a child – I can only imagine the spark of hope that it took to print out a flyer like that and to know, in the back of your mind where logic still reigned, that the hope was probably in vain.

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All the kiddos on the ferry.

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We had planned to go to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but through a series of events, it just didn’t work out. However, we did make it to a place (which will remain nameless, but it is like a hostel) that offered military members a free Thanksgiving dinner. Boy, was that an interesting dinner indeed! The hostel looked like a haunted mansion in the middle of city, filled with faded paintings and threadbare rugs. The folks who were serving the meal were very kind and heaped our plates full; but, all the other people there seemed like transplants from the Twilight Zone.

The hostel where we ate our Thanksgiving Twilight Zone feast!

The hostel where we ate our Thanksgiving Twilight Zone feast!

Perhaps it was the free wine that was flowing, or the fact that this “cheap” lodging attracted a certain type of person — I don’t know why every weirdo in Manhattan was there on that day — but they were and the times were strange, my friends. One example of the weirdness was a couple who were reclining on the couch behind our table. When we entered the room, the man was hunched over the woman, completely obscuring her. I thought it was just an unusual form of PDA until he sat back upright and I saw that the lady had a row of baby dolls lined lined across the arm of the couch beside her. The woman appeared to be asleep, but every few minutes she would wake up, grab one of those dolls and rock them and sing to them and kiss them and then she would put them back and fall asleep again. Needless to say, we ate and left as quickly as we could, hoping that no ghosts or goblins followed us home. During their visit, we went to see “On the Town” on Broadway. It was one of those classic “parenting fails,” because the modern take on the classic musical starring Frank Sinatra, has all the usual crap that we’ve come to associate with our modern age – overt sexuality, crass language, and political agenda. <sigh> I contemplated leaving at intermission; but it ended it up being a teachable moment with the kids as we discussed the themes and the worldview involved. We all laughed about it later and tried to ignore the fact that our kiddos were singing tunes from the show for a few days following.

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“On the Town”

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First snow of the season

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The hostel where we ate our Thanksgiving Twilight Zone feast!

The hostel where we ate our Thanksgiving Twilight Zone feast!

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Empire State Building cookies just taste better…

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Macy’s famous windows…

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Macy’s famous windows…

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Macy’s famous windows…

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We were spoiled by our time with the Romeus family. They are the kind of people you can do life with – cook, exercise, talk, watch movies, adventure with in the outdoors. It was very sad when they had to go, but we found solace in the fact that Danielle and kids were coming back for Christmas in just four short weeks.

In the meantime, the kids and I worked hard at home school and made time for an outing to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a few friends from our homeschool group. The Met is absolutely world-class and rivaled any of the museums that we visited in Europe- including the Louvre. I can’t wait to see more of it in the future.

It will take many more visits to see all that the museum has to offer, but we started in the Ancient Egypt section. We saw so many interesting artifacts: ancient writings, sculpture, art, jewelry, and even real mummies. Levi and Nya are studying the ancients this year and so everything they’ve been reading about came to life as we walked the halls of this beautiful building.

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There is an entire room of Picasso’s, but I was caught and reprimanded for taking pictures, so this is all I have.

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We also had the chance to see “The Illusionists” on Broadway for free, thanks to tickets from the USO. It was a truly fantastic magic show and the kids are still scratching their heads over some of the tricks.

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As Autumn drew to a close, the temperatures began to drop and we enjoyed a little light snow, lots of hot cocoa, and some time around the fire pit in the backyard. We took out the decorations and the tree and got busy with our holiday traditions.

The next post in the line-up will be about our first Christmas in NYC and how I think I’m ruined for life to doing Christmas anywhere else.

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I’m a White Woman Trying to Raise a Black Woman

I’m a woman trying to raise a woman. I’m a Christian woman trying to raise a Christian woman. I’m a white woman who is trying to raise a black woman. Of all of these descriptors, which do you think is the most difficult to accomplish?
In this world we live in, it’s more and more difficult to be the third trying to do the third. To be a white woman trying to raise a black woman in a world of:
#Ferguson
#Trayvon
#ICANT BREATHE
A world where Rush Limbaugh and Al Sharpton collide and their vitriol and nonsense flows across airwaves and through television sets and enters the ears of people across the racial spectrum and then penetrates their hearts and sits…and sits… and metastasizes, until we all can’t breathe.
But it’s even deeper than that. I feel the pressure on a day-to-day basis; on a regular Tuesday when no one is protesting and shops aren’t being looted and cops aren’t overstepping their authorities.

The day I took my daughter with me. Can you imagine how weird it was for her to see my white face and hear that I am her "Mommy?" Yet, miraculously, she learned to love me and accept me as her mom, white skin, big teeth and all.

The day I took my daughter with me. Can you imagine how weird it was for her to see my white face and hear that I am her “Mommy?” Yet, miraculously, she learned to love me and accept me as her mom, white skin, big teeth and all.

If I publicly display affection with my daughter, or if I publicly chastise my daughter, or if I’m in a hurry or having a bad day and just don’t pay attention to her hair – all of these scenarios and many more, will often draw sideways glances, scornful looks, or bold stares.
Who is this white woman trying to raise a black woman in a country in which white and black seem to be separated by a vast chasm that apologies and politics and religion and dialogue just can’t seem to bridge? Who does she think she is?
And as I lay in bed at night, I have asked myself the same question: Who do I think I am?

Isn't she lovely? I'm so thankful that the color of our skin didn't prevent us from becoming a family so that I have the privilege of watching her grow into a beautiful woman.

Isn’t she lovely? I’m so thankful that the color of our skin didn’t prevent us from becoming a family so that I have the privilege of watching her grow into a beautiful woman.

The truth of my story is this:
I am white and though I wouldn’t have ever considered myself having been raised with privilege, I now understand what white privilege is and what it is not and – yes – I have experienced some privilege because of the color of my skin. I’ve also experienced privilege on the basis of my attractiveness to certain people, on the basis of my status as a U.S. citizen, on the basis that English is my first language, and the list goes on and on. I’m not ashamed of being white, though I am ashamed of my country’s history of slavery and human rights abuses against non-white persons. However, my head is not so buried in shame that I can’t look up and see that, historically, all humankind, all races (including Africans) have enslaved others and their own people at some point. EVERY people group. This tells me that the enslaving and oppression of others is not a white problem, it is a human problem and the catalyst for this problem is not white aggression, it is sin.
I, a white American woman, happened to marry a white American man and we had two white American male children. We felt the Lord’s calling to adopt and we researched countries, agencies, and the global orphan crisis and we kept coming back to Ethiopia. When I looked at the children in Ethiopia, the first thing that entered my mind was not that these kids were black; it was that these kids were orphaned. I was seeking to adopt a child who needed a home and there are many children in Ethiopia who need homes. It was that simple, in my mind.
Hear this: I wasn’t trying to be a white savior. I wasn’t forgetting all the orphaned kids in my “own” country. My heart was drawn to Ethiopia and, I now know, it was because that was where the girl who was meant to be my daughter was waiting.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who needs help in the hair fixing department. She has actually asked to watch tutorials on how to do white girl hair! :)

Apparently, I’m not the only one who needs help in the hair fixing department. She has actually asked to watch tutorials on how to do white girl hair! 🙂

I wasn’t so naïve that I didn’t realize there would be a little backlash for becoming an interracial family. We were living in Mississippi at the time, and I knew we’d be in for some prejudice. I envisioned old, white people, vestiges from the Jim Crow days, giving us the evil eye here and there. And, in truth, there was some of that. A man almost ran my daughter and I over in a supermarket parking lot and looked at us with pure hatred and disgust. We’ve received many stares, awkward and nosy questions, and generally idiotic statements from white folks throughout the years.
But here is the plain truth –
The vast majority of racist comments and gestures I have received as a white woman trying to raise a black woman have been from the black community.
There, I said it. It needs to be said. More importantly, it needs to be heard.
I had a black man stand in line behind us at a store, glaring while he watched my family interact. When he heard my daughter call me “Mom,” he threw his merchandise down and said, “Oh hell no!” and marched out of the store.
I’ve had SO MANY black women give me negative feedback on how I care for my child’s hair, as if I personally offend them by not having it braided at all times.
I’ve had black people ask me why I adopted a black child, as if I owe them an explanation. I’ve had folks insinuate that I didn’t do a good job keeping my daughter’s culture alive or that I “took” her from her real home.
I’ve been on the receiving end of bitter glances, backhanded compliments, muttered insults and profanity simply for holding my daughter’s hand and walking down the street.
The worst part is that, by and large, I am not allowed the dignity to enter into a meaningful conversation with the black community about this. I have very rarely been welcomed into the fold, asked about my experiences, or listened to at all on this topic. And, yes, I’ve tried. It is now to the point that I say, very bluntly, “Will you please be my friend? I need relationships with black people.”
That line always draws interesting reactions.
There have been a few kind, generous people who have opened their hearts and their minds to our family and have seen the beauty in what the Lord has done. They’ve also seen the difficulties of being a white woman trying to raise a black woman and they’ve offered help, advice, and friendship. They’ve seen the need for my daughter to know and be close to people who look like her and share her experience in this world and they’ve offered to come alongside her as mentors and friends.

This is one of my best friends in the world, who is also a black woman who has let me into her heart and into her experience. She will never know the gift she has been to me and my daughter.

This is one of my best friends in the world, who is also a black woman who has let me into her heart and into her experience. She will never know the gift she has been to me and my daughter.

This shouldn’t be a rarity, folks; especially not when a white woman is essentially begging to know you and learn about you.
So I humbly ask the black community:
Will you let someone like me in?
Can you look at me as an individual rather than as a white woman who could never understand you?
You say you want equality and fair treatment for all; so, will you esteem my relationship with my daughter as legitimate and afford it the respect that it deserves?
Can you open up your hearts to a family like mine and see the beauty of a love that crosses racial boundaries?
Can you forgive?
Can you love?
Because we in the white community have a lot to learn and a whole lot of work to do to stop the widening of this chasm and continue the effort of bridging it; but it can’t be a one-sided endeavor. We both need to reach out, talk, and hold on to each other even when we want to let go.
After all this time, and despite the moments of doubt I have, deep inside I know who I am.
I’m a white woman who sold her wedding rings and conducted fund-raisers to adopt a child from Africa. I endured the agony of home studies, and breaking the news to everyone that we were adopting, and filling out reams of paperwork, and answering personal questions asked by disinterested bureaucrats. I traveled across the globe and adopted this child on faith that we would grow to love each other and then spent years working through attachment and bonding issues until we got to the point where we did. I’m a white woman who watches YouTube videos on how to do black hair, and who reads books by and about black people from all walks of life so that I can help my daughter navigate this crazy world as a black woman. I pray for her, I provide for her, I would give my life for her.
So, I don’t need anyone’s permission to be a white woman raising a black woman. I don’t need anyone’s approval on how I love her and mother her. But I would love your support and the benefit of your experience. And so I ask once again: Will you let me in?

One thing I do know for sure: We were meant for each other.

One thing I do know for sure: We were meant for each other.

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Naked and Afraid

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go back in time, to the very beginning, and live in the skin of our mother, Eve? Sometimes, as I grow travel-weary in this skin of mine, I wonder.
The Bible says that she walked with God and her husband, unashamed (Gen 2:25) in her image-bearing nakedness. She bore the very image of God Almighty and that was clothing enough for her.
We all know how the story goes from there – Eve listens to the serpent who whispers sensible-sounding lies into her ear and she eats. And then she knows what is good and what is evil and, instead of making her powerful, the knowing makes her afraid. Where she once lived with abandon, she now hides in shame. Her eyes were opened, as the serpent said; but his double tongue failed to mention that, to her human eyes, the evil would now often blind her to the good.
With the choice came the curse; and that curse – well, it’s a doozy. Our mother Eve now has an enemy bigger than she could have ever imagined. The serpent will forever be particularly hostile toward her (Gen 3:15) and she will now know physical pain and emotional anguish as she desperately seeks to get back to her original state through any means necessary. She will now try to force the man to fulfill her in ways that he never, ever can because he was never, ever meant for a task so enormous as that (Gen 3:16). Besides, he now has problems of his own and perhaps there will always be a part of him that blames her, that scrutinizes her with suspicious eyes. Whatever the motive, he will now oppress her as he seeks to scrape a place out for himself in this cruel new world (Gen 3:16). Where there once was love and acceptance and peace, there is now selfishness and fear and the torment of shame that has seeped into the DNA of man and womankind.
And so I often wonder what it would be like to walk in this world naked and unafraid, hiding myself from no one, without the lies of the serpent biting at my heels. Unencumbered by “knowledge” that is killing me slowly, what would I be like in the world? If I gave no man the power to validate me because it never occurred to me that I wasn’t perfectly acceptable in the eyes of my Creator and I knew, without any shadow of doubt, that my Creator’s eyes were all that mattered – what would that miracle do to me?

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My soul aches at the thought of this kind of beautiful life, and I find myself nodding my head in agreement with C.S. Lewis who described this longing for a lost beauty as “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
I stumble through this world, Eve’s very own daughter, afraid of others and of myself. I grab at things with which to cover myself – my home, my children, my talents, my youth, my friends; and, for a moment, relief washes over my camouflaged self. Yet, the serpent still sees me for what I am and he still whispers and I look at myself and realize that these are only fig leaves and I am still naked and the never-ending vulnerability scares me to death. The thing about fig leaves is that they are flimsy and they weren’t meant to clothe a human body – much less a soul – and they provide no real protection from the harshness of this world; and so the relief is short-lived and I end up hunting, scraping, and fighting for more leaves and more leaves and more. And I look around and see, to my horror, that the whole wide world is doing the same and there just aren’t enough leaves to ever cover this kind of nakedness. It’s hopeless.

But God.
From before our mother and father made their fateful choices, their Creator had a plan. The curse was working its way through everyone and everything; but He would reverse the curse in good time and with His own sacrifice. Through Christ, He would take the shame of nakedness and all the pain and fear and He would bear it once-and-for-all upon His own shoulders. The serpent would be crushed and silenced, once and for all and – get this – God would use the woman’s offspring to strike the final blow!
And so I remind myself that Christ has come and I am found in Him. One of the most beautiful things He has done for me is to clothe me with Himself.
“I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Isaiah 61:10

I thought that returning to the original state of being naked and unafraid was the ultimate goal, the most beautiful kind of life. But I was wrong.

To be clothed in the beauty of Christ (Gal 3:27, Rom 13:14) is like putting on the most splendid wedding dress and the most dazzling jewels. But, no, that’s wrong too. Did you catch that nuance in the Isaiah scripture above? The Lord himself has “decked and adorned” me, lovingly and with great care. I am beautiful and accepted and the sight of me pleases the Lord.

When you are clothed with Christ, the very sight of you pleases the Lord.

Suddenly, life in this harsh world becomes hopeful. With this Christ-garment upon me, I can walk without fear of what others think of me or can do to me (Matt 10:28). There is no need to fight for fig leaves and so I am finally free of the weight of competition and survival-of-the-fittest.

When you are clothed with Christ, you are free.

Because of this freedom, I can be vulnerable without being needy. I choose to make myself vulnerable by loving openly, but this is a position of strength found only in Christ. Although I can still be hurt, the most real parts of myself are eternally protected by the shield of the Christ-garment in which I live. The needy longing I once thrust upon others, begging or demanding them to fulfill, is now gone. Divine purpose has filled that gaping hole.

When you are clothed in Christ, you are fulfilled.

When I think about it now, I see that I am experiencing something of which my mother Eve couldn’t have dreamed. I am clothed in the radiant glory of the Creator and this is the most beautiful kind of life – to be loved, freed, and fulfilled. The echoes of the lying serpent still reverberate in my ears and through the earth, but the light of truth exposes them for what they are – desperate last measures. There are those who still cling to the curse, too; and they call to me and remind me of what happened and of the ramifications and they say I have to live and die by those cosmic consequences.
These poor ones still don’t know, they haven’t heard, what the Lord has really done. I have to live like I’m loved and freed and fulfilled if I want them to know the hope that I’ve found. No more fig leaves, no more grasping, no more fighting.
I can see good and I can see evil and, though I carry the scars of what that knowledge has done, the beauty of the Creator’s plan is a canopy over it all and a banner over me.

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NYC in Fall

“I love New York in fall. It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils if I knew your name.” –  Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), You’ve Got Mail

Ah, New York in fall! I’ve heard tale of how delicious this place is in Autumn and it has lived up to all my expectations. “You’ve Got Mail” is one of my favorite movies and it’s more of a love story of New York than it is the two main characters. When I stop and think about it, many of my favorite movies involve NY in some way or another. This place is so many things, but one thing it certainly is is magical. I can feel the history beneath my feet as I walk the streets, sit in the subway, go to the festivals, and watch the musicals.
It’s not Disney World magical, by any means – that sort of fabricated magic that makes life feel perfect. No, NYC is far from perfect. It’s dirty, except for Central Park (which is beautiful) and the Upper West Side (which I love, love, love, love!). There are homeless, hopeless, distracted, exhausted people everywhere. On the weekends, it can be shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and endless lines and screaming panhandlers. We’ve even encountered an OCD ticket issuer at the Museum of Natural History, which I’m fairly sure could have had Tourette’s. But that’s a story for another time.
It is so expensive, I can’t pretend anything else. A friend of mine paid almost six bucks for a latte in the city recently and for our family to go out to dinner we’re talking $100 even at a pizza joint – which is why we dine at home most of the time or take picnics to where we want to go.
But all of that aside, it is the most exciting, interesting place I’ve ever been in my life, let alone lived. As I’ve told you before, the energy is electric, there are so many different people from different walks of life, I find myself humming “It’s a small world after all,” as I walk down the street.
I’m immersing myself in this city, living like I’m on borrowed time here. I’m studying its history, reading its poets, listening to its singers, looking at its art. I can see right now that once we move away, I will be so jealous of those who get to stay here forever. It feels like I’m standing on the pulse of the world and to move away would mean divorcing myself from something great.
Here are a few of the highlights of our family’s adventures since I last wrote.

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My good friend and her daughter became our first house guests and stayed the weekend. We took our girls to see “Wicked” on Broadway and out for sushi. It was so much fun catching up, talking about the Lord, and laughing all weekend.

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Nya had a Marilyn Monroe moment as the subway went underneath her at Times square.

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Our first Mom/Daughter night in forever.

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Nya thought she was big stuff getting to try a Shirley Temple for the first time.

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The staging area and props were just the beginning of what was the BEST production I’ve seen yet on Broadway.

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So, this is the view from my “backyard” and it’s pretty spectacular. We were tailgating the night of the Saints/Cowboys game (in which the Cowboys reigned victorious, but I’d hate to brag).

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Clayton and I went to the Coast Guard Foundation Banquet at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square. It was a lot of fun and we got to see the cast from “It’s a Only a Play” in the lobby on the way out. I felt pretty fancy schmancy.

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This is the banquet hall. It was a very well-done event with over a million dollars raised for the Coast Guard and their families.

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“Ferry Fare” as we like to call it. On our way to the Museum of Natural History.

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Levi doesn’t look as impressed as Nya when it comes to seeing large dinosaur fossils.

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It’s kind of hard to believe these creatures roamed the earth at one time.

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After the museum, we searched for a restaurant in the Upper West Side and could not find anywhere that met the following criteria: 1.) was open; 2.) would not cost us our firstborn child; 3.) did not have a line bigger than Dallas; and 4.) had indoor seating large enough to accommodate our crew. FINALLY, we stumbled upon this taco shack and it ended up being the BEST meal we’ve had in the city. Oh my goodness! My mouth is watering just typing this. The restaurant was about as large as my bedroom and so it required communal seating. Fortunately, we take up at least a whole table just the six of us, so we didn’t have to break bread (or tortilla chips, as it were) with total strangers after a looooong day walking the museum.

My baby turned FOUR and I'll cry if I want to!

My baby turned FOUR and I’ll cry if I want to!

Our steady.

Our steady.

I will never grow tired of this sight! “The beautiful city, the city of hurried and sparkling waters! the city of spires and masts! The city nested in bays! my city!” – Walt Whitman

I will never grow tired of this sight!
“The beautiful city, the city of hurried and sparkling waters! the city of spires and masts!
The city nested in bays! my city!” – Walt Whitman

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We also turned SIXTEEN! We celebrated our anniversary on top of Manhattan at The View restaurant. It was more wonderful than my words can describe.

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This photo and the next one were taken about an hour and a half apart. We watched the sun go down from this revolving restaurant that does a complete revolution every hour.

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So we ate three desserts that night – the two we ordered and then this one, which the fabulous staff brought us because it was our special night.

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Confession: I’m an Extremist

I’ve been asked before why, when it comes to the whole Jesus thing, I am so: devout, convinced, over-the-top, extreme.
It’s a good question and one that deserves a good answer. Yet, I find it hard to put into words just why my whole world revolves around Jesus, why every time someone seeks my advice I end up pointing to Jesus, why in all the wide world and out of all the religious beliefs or philosophies, I have found one to be the ultimate truth, why that one name – Jesus – changed, and continues to change, everything for me.
The words are too many, the experience of Jesus has been too real and too vast to describe in a sentence or a conversation.
Yet, I found myself musing with a friend over coffee recently that testimony is so often the most powerful sermon and it occurred to me that I should open my lips to testify, especially for those who wonder why I have a devotion that seems so extreme. So here I am to write it out, why I love Him, worship Him, and could never live without Him.
I Was Starving and Dying of Thirst When He Found Me
“A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.) The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.) Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.” The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water’? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who dug this well and drank from it, he and his sons and livestock, and passed it down to us?”
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.” John 4: 7-14

It can’t be explained any plainer than that. I spent my childhood and adolescence floating through circumstances, hating myself, longing for so much. I was abused by others but I abused myself much more. I craved acceptance so I tried to fit in somewhere, anywhere. I wanted so badly to be wanted that I gave myself away to those whose desire was temporary and cheap. I was scared almost all the time – of others, of myself, and of never filling the void that seemed to grow larger with each passing year. I put myself in situation after sad situation that ended up adding to the pile of pain I was stacking in my heart and mind, cluttering up everything with a deep despair.
I remember making out with a guy (one in a long, sad list) – I truly don’t remember his name even as I type this – and kissing him so violently that I made my own mouth bleed. It wasn’t the passionate kiss of a lover, it was the detached anger of a girl who was sick of the emptiness and wanted this nameless boy to somehow fill up that emptiness with…anything. I was starving and thirsting literally to death. (This well is so deep) I was a lost girl in a desert where there was no water, only the mirage of water and that boy was a disappointing mirage.
For God’s sake, please fill me up! I screamed this with my body, with every groping action.
But the poor boy couldn’t do that anymore than the paltry old well could give the Samaritan woman eternally thirst-quenching water.
For me, it came down to this:
I was dying on the inside. I was desperately searching for something to relieve me. I saw in the message of Christ something hopeful, something true. I grabbed on to Him, knowing that I had to be rescued, and I’ve never let go.
I know that some may argue that I was young, I had nothing going for me so, of course, I was looking for purpose. I would agree. I am now older, have a couple of college degrees, a comfortable home, have traveled to many places in the world, have four beautiful and healthy children, have a faithful and loving husband. I am healthy, I am intelligent, I have a lot to look forward to in this world.
And yet.
If I let loose of Jesus for even a day, I am thirsty again. Anytime I’ve relied on myself and not Him, anytime I’ve left Him behind on the path while I went searching for something else, that old, hateful hunger gnaws again. All of my accomplishments, all of my accolades, all of my belongings, everything I’ve ever had in my hands has not been able to fill that shocking emptiness inside me.
It’s always been, and always will be Him alone.
Which brings me to the next part of my testimony.

I Am a Hateful, Ugly, Jealous, Prideful, Ungrateful Sinner in Need of Continual Rescuing
“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.
I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples. I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love.” John 15: 4-10
I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not with you. I am a sinner, plain and simple. Some of the more generous among us may say, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re a good person. Why slap those horrible labels on yourself?”
Normally I appreciate the benefit of the doubt, but not when it comes to this. In order for you to understand why I won’t let go of Jesus and why He grows more important to me each day, you must understand this one thing: apart from Him, I am something terrible.
You don’t have insight into my soul the way that I do and I don’t have insight into my soul the way my Creator does. So you are two times removed from the truth of who I really am. This I can tell you with certainty: when I am not connected to Jesus, I lie, manipulate, misuse others, scheme, hurt myself, and the list goes on and on. Perhaps I’m not a murderer, but Jesus says hate in my heart is the same thing. Perhaps I’m not an adulterer, but Jesus reveals that lusting after someone else is tantamount to the act. I can take a measuring rod and measure myself against those who seem to be worse off than me, but it would only put a band-aid on a wound that will never heal.
When it comes down to it, I am not good apart from Him. If you love me, if you like things about me, I can assure you what you really love is Jesus in me. He continues to tend the garden of my heart, ripping up the weeds and planting these amazing things I never knew could exist within me. I am absolutely addicted to watching the miracles He does in my heart.
What sort of God is this who says, “Come in here. Make yourselves at home in my love”?
Which brings me to my final point.
I Have a Home in Him
“That triggered a response from one of the guests: “How fortunate the one who gets to eat dinner in God’s kingdom! Jesus followed up. “Yes. For there was once a man who threw a great dinner party and invited many. When it was time for dinner, he sent out his servant to the invited guests, saying, ‘Come on in; the food’s on the table. Then they all began to beg off, one after another making excuses. The first said, ‘I bought a piece of property and need to look it over. Send my regrets.’
“Another said, ‘I just bought five teams of oxen, and I really need to check them out. Send my regrets.’
“And yet another said, ‘I just got married and need to get home to my wife.’
“The servant went back and told the master what had happened. He was outraged and told the servant, ‘Quickly, get out into the city streets and alleys. Collect all who look like they need a square meal, all the misfits and homeless and wretched you can lay your hands on, and bring them here.’
“The servant reported back, ‘Master, I did what you commanded—and there’s still room.’
“The master said, ‘Then go to the country roads. Whoever you find, drag them in. I want my house full!” Luke: 14:15-24
It’s not some secret that this world can turn you inside out and upside down. I’ve been on the outside, in the cold, a refugee fleeing pain but with nowhere to call my own.
Several times throughout my life, I’ve been overwhelmed by a feeling that I don’t belong anywhere or to anyone. Have you ever felt that way? It’s one of the worst feelings a person can have. Even if I were in a room full of people, I could feel utterly alone.
So here is Jesus, saying, “Get in here! I want my house full!”
He wants me – and you – in His house, at His table, NOW. He is absolutely urgent about it. I’m not one of the earlier folks who was invited to the party and begged off, with something better to do. I’m one of the “misfit, homeless, wretched” types and I have never been lavished with love and grace and generosity the way I have been by Jesus.
He took me and gave me a new life. He keeps me alive inside every day with His artisanal spring of living water. He has forgiven me of my sins and has helped me to overcome those things that would have eventually cost me everything. He drug me inside the banquet hall, cleaned me up, gave me a beautiful dress, and called me His own. In exchange, I gave Him my rags of emptiness, sin, and hopelessness.
For my fear, I got bravery. For my pain, I got purpose. For my sin, I got gifts of strength. For my nothing, I got everything.
And that is why that when it comes to the whole Jesus thing, I am so: devout, convinced, over-the-top, extreme.
Perhaps you have your own Jesus story. I’d love to hear it. If you don’t share it with me, please share it with someone. The world needs the hope you hold inside of you, they need to know that there is a home to be had in His love.
For those of you who are still out there seeking, I hope you know He’s at the door of the banquet hall and he’s waiting.
And he’s waiting.

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