Tat pic

The Fellowship of the Impoverished

When it comes to courage, my style is tiny, irrevocable spurts of bravery followed by absolute panic.

Like on the way to the hospital to deliver our firstborn, when I wondered out loud if we could change our minds, not so much because I was afraid of childbirth, but because motherhood terrified me. I was not prepared. What was I thinking?

That’s often where I land mere days after a courageous decision: What was I thinking? (Yes, bringing a child into the world is a courageous decision. Bravo parents everywhere.)

So when Refuge Coffee Co. began to be a real thing, I wondered What was I thinking? pretty much every day.

It’s not like I make these courageous decisions alone. In 2014, when we decided to raise money for nothing more than a good idea, my friend Jeff Shinabarger of Plywood People asked me, “What would you do for $10,000? Would you get a tattoo?”

“Yes, I said,” pausing, “well, I’d get one for $15,000.”

We raised enough money to turn the idea into a reality, but no one gave $15,000. No tattoo for this grandmother of eight that year. Which was fine by me. But this year, we upped the goal of our now-annual fundraiser from 30k to 50k and lowered the tattoo deal to 5k.

It didn’t go all that well for a long while. Almost four weeks in, and we were all the way up to 7% of our goal.

But even before we reached that embarrassing point, the What was I thinking? voices started in. It wasn’t the tattoo; it was asking people to give us so much money. It was the fear of failing, of looking ridiculous. I couldn’t stop the questions. Have I fatally humiliated myself and—worse—everyone on our team? Was it pure presumption to double the goal? Is Refuge really worth people’s investment? Am I a bad leader? Who do I think I am anyway, trying to do this thing when, clearly, I don’t have what it takes to do any of it?

One morning, the questions won. I was bankrupt. Seriously wondering if I could just up and quit.

I’m thankful for habits born of years of desperate moments not unlike this one. With my cup of Clarkston Blend warming the morning chill, I opened my Bible and paid attention. I read what Jesus said while watching that quaint metaphor for what we give God, the offering box. My offering of zero was echoing in the offering box of my life that day. As they say, I didn’t have two coins to rub together.

Which put me right where God could speak truth to me.

“For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:4)

All she had to live on.

And, let me tell you, all is better than a lot.

All is better than abundance. Right then, that morning, I responded to Jesus: I’ll give you my poverty. I believe you’re pleased when I give what I don’t have. My nothing, I believe you can use that.

In a holy miracle moment, the heaviness lifted. Thinking you have to carry around sufficient abundance is a burden.

But I forget so easily. I strive for abundance, for a kind of perfection, for the ability to be a force of nature, because without the cushion of abundance I feel exposed and maybe even useless. To give my nothing feels counter intuitive. It flies in the face of all those Be the Change rallying cries out there. The impoverished? They are the people who need us. Their desperation makes us feel useful, noble even. They are the ones. But I’m convinced that until we become the impoverished ones, we will have little of substance to give. God’s economy goes like this: In His offering box our abundance is a pittance // our poverty is a veritable Fort Knox.

The more I try to do courageous (and obedient) things, the more I want to give all of my nothing away. We talk about BHAGS (that’s Big Hairy Audacious Goals for those of you who don’t read leadership books) or God-sized Dreams. And, yes, I want to go after those. But if the definition is accurate, I do not have what it takes for goals of that proportion. I do not. But when I leverage my poverty in the pursuit of a higher purpose, God fills the empty and makes it overflow.

There is a fellowship of the impoverished, and whenever I meet a sister or brother in poverty, I rejoice. So let me tell you about my new friend. Rather, let me tell you what my new friend does not have. She doesn’t have a job (well, she does now, but she didn’t when we first met a few weeks ago). She doesn’t have a lot of money nor the illusion of a lot of money. She doesn’t have the benefit of years. She’s young and zealous, like so many of the young men and women in Clarkston that Bill and I affectionately call our ukulele-playing, wild-eyed, hipster missionary friends.

In late December, NF (New Friend) made an appointment to come to our house in Clarkston. She sat on our back porch double rocker and quickly bypassed small talk. She told me she’d visited the truck for the first time the week before. The next day, she spent an extended time praying and couldn’t get Refuge off of her heart, so she prayed for us. As she prayed, she turned to Luke 21. She had her Bible on her lap, open to the page:

“She out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Abruptly, she looked up from her Bible and said, “So I am going to give Refuge $5,000.”

And she did. I won’t tell you all about the rest of our conversation. I won’t tell you about my tears. I won’t give her away by describing in detail how she is the least likely major donor. I won’t even tell you how I know this, but I’m convinced she will be okay and her parents won’t be mad at her for such a seemingly rash decision. I’m convinced she isn’t foolish. Well, no more foolish than other faith heroes I know.

I thought people with abundant means would give humongous checks to our campaign. I thought our compelling social media photographs and our well-written emails would convince them. I thought our wealth of passion would do the trick. And then, when it didn’t, I realized I was looking at the wrong bank account. I’d been giving what I had instead of what I didn’t have.

My brand new tattoo is pictured above. Grace. I believe the reason my New Friend could give so freely is the reason I don’t have to quit giving either. Our Old Friend, Jesus, became poor to make us rich. 

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” ( 2 Corinthians 8:9)

That’s grace.

{PS – Our last week of the campaign, another friend gave another 5k (more than that, actually) and so Bill got a tattoo as well… his is an emblem of courage, way bigger and prominently placed than mine. You’ll have to wait for another blog post to hear about that one!}

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When Intentionality Has You in a Choke Hold

When Intentionality Has You in a Choke Hold

Our granddaughter, Charleston, flings her right hand in the air these days like Queen Elizabeth at a polo match and pronounces: “I hate Poptarts. I hate Poptarts.”

I feel you, Charlie girl. And it’s okay, because Poptarts aren’t good for you, anyway.

There’s a word I really hate these days, and I hate it like that. Like a little girl all dressed up in a sequined yard sale gown, fluttering her fingers, tiara bobbing on her fluffy blonde head, telling the world what she doesn’t like.

It’s no one’s fault, but I loathe the word “intentional,” hate it like Charlie hates Poptarts. Sometimes it—this idea that every single step of my life, every conversation, every appointment, every book I read, every decision I make, must be strategic—this thought strangles the very life out of me.

So when two young moms, seeking to be more intentional, asked me to have coffee with them to talk about how to engage the refugee community better, I had to stifle my inner three-year-old princess. Which wasn’t all that hard, since I have liked and admired these women since the day I laid eyes on each of them. Of course, I am going to meet them for coffee.

But when I think about my intentions as a neighbor to our refugee friends, I am caught in a familiar intentionality chokehold, reminded of my own under performance. What can I tell these two earnest young women, when a quick inventory of my last few months shows a life that doesn’t reflect its own intentions? I’ve started a non-profit business that is all about welcoming refugees, about creating a place of refuge for them right here in Clarkston. And this very business, with this very intention behind it, has kept me from doing what I love most: intentionally engaging the very people I am committed to serve. It’s even kept me from having as much quality, intentional time with my children and grandchildren and a host of other people as I’d like. What’s up with that?

I am tempted to blame the business or the busyness it has imposed on my life. But the truth is I failed at intentionality long before I intended to start a non-profit.

Maybe it’s just the pressure of living a responsible adult life. Maybe it’s the oldest daughter syndrome. Or that I was a pastor’s wife for thirty years. Or that I am the product of a Christian culture that tells me I must painstakingly attempt to live each segment of my life—my wife-lover-mother-grandmother-daughter-friend-servant-neighbor-leader life—with brow-sweating effort. And that it should all look effortless.

Charlie reminds me that it’s kind of okay to hate a word for a moment. Maybe I’m being childlike, but maybe that’s okay, too. Maybe to receive grace I must be like a child. Adults don’t seem to like grace all that much, but kids, they eat it up.

Last Wednesday, my friend, Quen, and another friend, Noelle, and I talked about our childhoods. Quen told us about his favorite day as a child, which was a composite of all his favorite days. I told about mine. And I added a bit about what I guessed would be our boy’s favorite day.

Quen loved exploring on his grandpa’s farm in Texas. I loved tromping through the woods behind our house. There was this bluff maybe a quarter mile away. It was more epic than Mt. Rushmore, more thrilling than any plastic park slide. It was probably all of ten feet tall. Beyond the cliff, a valley with only green moss for ground cover that I imagined housed a complicated network of fairy villages. Our boys went “swamping” far beyond our property in pursuit of a Yeti. Yes, there was a swamp. There might have been a Yeti, too.

Quen, Noelle, and I had this conversation at the end of a long, very intentional day, a good day. But I was exhausted by all that intentionality, so maybe I imagined it, but something buoyant happened in the room as we talked about a lifetime ago when we did not have to plan to live. Something inside of me fluttered open.

What was I longing for? An all-day ramble in the woods? Maybe. A sequined gown and the right to make silly pronouncements at will? I don’t think so.

I think I wanted something that is of more value in the kingdom of heaven than it is here on earth. Immediacy. Immediacy is different from intentionality. You can’t train or prepare or plan or study for it. Listen to what Oswald Chambers says:

God’s training is for now, not presently. His purpose is for this minute, not for something in the future.

Immediacy by itself can be good or bad in certain contexts, I get that. But put immediacy together with something children have to learn from us before they grow all the way up, and it can be powerful. That thing is obedience. Not obedience to just anybody, but obedience ultimately to God.

I’m comforted by the memory that Refuge Coffee Co. was born out of an immediate obedience to a dream I am 99% sure God gave me. And it has progressed more or less due to a series of random, immediate decisions to obey. The decisions are not just my own, but I have kinfolk, blood and otherwise, who surround and support this thing by obeying God in the moment. And the next moment. Distill all these moments down to their essence, and you have nothing less than love.

Immediacy does not come naturally to me. I have, however, observed a unique version of immediacy here in Clarkston. I’ve noticed that people from other cultures come to our truck for coffee or tea and end up staying for hours. They talk and play chess. They offer to buy you coffee. They laugh about the appointment they will be late for because they haven’t left yet, and then they stay on. This forces me, in the gentlest of ways, to sit and stay on with them.

It is our obedience to the God who is love, not our intentionality, that makes immediacy explode with HIS intentions. Love is far more dizzying and dazzling than intentionality could ever hope to be. Here’s Oswald again:

We have nothing to do with the afterwards of obedience; we get wrong when we think of the afterward. What men call training and preparation, God calls the end.

God’s end is to enable me to see that He can walk on the chaos of my life just now. If we have a further end in view, we do not pay sufficient attention to the immediate present: if we realize that obedience is the end, then each moment as it comes is precious.

We used to tell our kids a true story about a man who yelled to his son across a playground to “Come here right now!” The son went to his father, and because he obeyed, the rabid dog that had been approaching him just beyond the child’s line of sight did not attack him. And then we’d tell the boys what this story meant. It meant immediate obedience, to us first as practice and eventually to God, was good for them.

I agree with that young-parent-us story. But I think it sells obedience way too short. When I obey in the moment, God gets the afterward, which is far more than avoiding bad things.

His intentions + my obedience = untold mysteries and wonders.

God’s afterwards. I miss them when I get addicted to my own series of intentional action steps written in black ink and highlighted in yellow in case I forget them or, worse, avoid doing them. Not that this is all bad. I will continue to make these lists and… ugh… be intentional. But I want more than that.

More begins in the immediate moment when I obey God’s intention. And his intentions are always for my good, unlike Poptarts.

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900 Seconds of Light

900 Seconds of Light or What Every Parent Needs

I’ve almost forgotten this fact: Raising children can be discouraging. This stands to reason because children are, by definition, not yet what they will be. This not yet quality children possess persists for years, so much so that it feels like the not yet will never go away.

Good habits like bed-making, doing homework with some proficiency, doing homework at all (hello, middle school), basic hygiene, table manners, answering politely when spoken to, kindness, self control. Sometimes I wondered if they’d ever learn. And then there were the bad habits like wearing their brand new, clean socks without shoes in the back yard or leaving the milk jug on the counter, unless it was empty and then they’d put it in the fridge. Sibling Rivalry was the bane of my maternal existence for what felt like forever.

The other day my mom told me I pitched a temper tantrum once. One. Time. Only. My mother has impeccable integrity, but in this instance I seriously doubt her. No child of mine (her grandchildren) committed any grievous or commonplace sin only once. Sin is habitual. And, in children, immaturity is, too. My mom is like me in that she forgets. But the point of this post is not to tell you you’ll forget the discouraging parts of parenting (even though you probably will).

In fact, most days I knew our boys would not end up going to college in diapers or never have clean fingernails except in the summer (when they spent all their days in the pool). I knew they would develop decent table manners and common courtesy. They would not sulk like teenagers forever.

But I did wonder if they would encounter Jesus—personally and authentically—and, in that encounter, be transformed into his likeness. I wondered if they would seek him and find him. I wondered if they would love well. If they would have pure hearts and clean hands, metaphorically speaking. Sure I wanted our boys to wipe their feet on the door mat and hang up their jackets in the hall closet. I wanted them to make eye contact with adults and bathe every day. But I wanted a lot more.

I think you probably have a lot of important wants for with your children, too, thus the discouragement during the not yet years. Today I want to suggest something for you ask God to give you in the middle of it all.

I’m not suggesting something to pray for your children. I hope you pray big and bold and audacious prayers for them. I hope your heart explodes with longing before the throne of God. I hope you have a faith-imagination on your children’s behalf that defies reason and exceeds all these small habits you want them to learn. No, this is not about what to pray for them; it is about what to pray for yourself to help you get through.

During that long season when our boys were habitually missing the toilet or the hamper or their curfews, when we found cigarettes in their closets or they couldn’t seem to interact with their peers without ugly sarcasm, an older friend told me she used to ask God for fifteen minutes of encouragement every year. Fifteen minutes of clarity from her Creator that it would all be okay. Fifteen minutes that flew in the face of the other minutes that suggested it wasn’t really all that okay. Fifteen minutes of light delivered on dark days. Fifteen minutes of confirmation that the truth and wisdom she imparted to her children would one day stick.

At first that sounded like underselling God. But then I thought about how many separate moments fifteen minutes could hold. As long as it was meted out in tiny intervals, 900 seconds total, fifteen minutes sounded about right to me. I couldn’t see any clear biblical basis to this prayer request, but it seemed like what I needed, so I prayed for fifteen minutes.

I’m here to tell you those 900 seconds of light sustained me for years.

And lest you think this is parenting advice that shoots way too low, I’d like to add here that I’m not talking about our responsibility as parents, a responsibility that includes loving our kids so fully that we “hope all things” for them. That’s the better part of obedience, to look for hopeful signs of excellence every waking moment you are with your kids. To heed Paul’s words to the Philippians:

Finally… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil. 4:8, ESV)

I’m not talking about this. No, I’m talking about those moments when you take off your shoes, because God himself has whispered something hopeful to you about your not-yet-there child. Fifteen minutes is not shooting too low.

Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Peter, James, and John; they were sustained by smoking firepots, burning bushes, hot coals, and a time when Jesus, ablaze in glory, appeared before their very eyes on a mountainside. These were not every day occurrences, even for men such as these. They were flickers of hope sprinkled in brief, bright increments to sustain them as they parented generations of believers. Like us, they counted on the sparks flying upward, sparks that prophesy to a not yet world that there will come a day, a day when we will completely forget that we were ever not yet there. A new day engineered by a God who knows the beginning from the end and speaks in the in between.

So pray big and bold for your children. And pray small and hopeful glimpses of light for yourself as you wait for those big prayers to come true.

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