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!}

A Factory for Dreams

I love ideas. People come to me with theirs all the time, and I get a real kick out of hearing them. Several good ideas of my own knock around in my head and poke holes in my sanity on any given day.

But ideas are a dime a dozen. Actually, most of them aren’t worth a thin dime. Not until someone decides to act on them.

Before they beg action, ideas beg questions. What is the first step to make it happen? Are you willing to take that step… and the next 500 steps between today and the day your idea becomes a reality? Will you do the hard work and take the scary risks?

I love ideas, but the questions rise up and make me cynical about them, too. I am grateful for the many kind people who framed these hard questions for me along the way as the idea of Refuge Coffee Co. unfolded into something real. I remember a difficult night last fall being grilled by our sons, the night I realized I was nowhere near as far along as I thought I was. One of our daughters-in-law said, “You know they were hard on you only because they take you seriously, right?”

I’m grateful for people who have taken what’s felt like an insane idea seriously. People who ask those hard questions. This is a gift. You see, the ideas—the dreams—surrounding Refuge, they keep coming. This is not a static dream. We think up new ideas, question them, and rethink them all the time.

This morning I read about one really good idea in Mark Batterson’s Draw the Circle: The 40 Day Prayer Challenge. In 2009, Mark Moore launched MANA (Mother Administered Nutritive Aid). MANA now produces and distributes over one million RUTF packets (Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food, a product with peanut paste as its base) every month. CNN called RUTF “the most important advance to ever cure and treat malnutrition.”

Mark says the dream of MANA was birthed and grew during “meeting after meeting” in Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse, a shop National Community Church opened several years before MANA was even an idea in anyone’s mind. Mark Batterson, pastor of NCC, remembers the day a group of people placed their hands on the walls of that coffeehouse before it opened and dedicated it to the Lord. One staff member specifically asked God to make Ebenezer a dream factory. MANA is just one of many dreams that have come to life in that factory.

A dream factory.

That resonated with me, so this morning I prayed for our truck and our one-day dream of a shop: “God, would you turn us into a dream factory? Would you help us facilitate dreams right here in Clarkston?”

To be honest, I pictured more people like us spinning their dreams to help the poor, specifically our refugee neighbors who are, by most measures, poor. And then I closed the book about prayer, and I read these words in an actual prayer in Psalm 14:

“You would shame the plans of the poor, but the Lord is his refuge.” (Verse 6)

This made me think of my refugee friends who, although poor, resourceless, and ill-equipped, have plans. Big plans. Zeinab wants to open a school in her homeland of South Sudan. Bernard wants to go to college, even though he is years behind in high school because there was no school in the Ugandan refugee camp where he fled from civil war in the Congo. His brother, Samuel, wants to be a pastor or a pilot or both. Bosombo wants to write a book. I’ve lost count of the number of our neighbors who have said to me, “I want to establish a non-profit organization.”

These ideas have begged more than the average number of questions in my mind. So many pressing questions, that I’ve often dismissed them outright. In doing so, I believe I have shamed them, the ideas and perhaps even the people who have them.

But today the prevailing idea in my mind is a set of questions I’m posing to God in prayer. Questions I’d love others to ask along with me:

Lord, what if Refuge Coffee Co. became a dream factory for refugees?

What if the feet under our tables and the elbows on them accurately represented this global community? What if good ideas came to life at those tables?

What if our job training created concrete pathways to dream realization?

What if, instead of shaming the plans of the poor, instead of handing out free bandaids to cover that shame along with a short supply of dignity, what if we took a few strategic steps forward with our dreamer-neighbors?

What if this was what refuge looked like?



This is it

Here’s a little update on life in Clarkston, Georgia, on the small efforts we’re making with others to bless our little city, and the miracles (in the form of people) God uses here and there to encourage us to keep at it. If you don’t mind, I’m directing you today to our Refuge Coffee Co. website. You may start below and just hop on over…

Back when Refuge was a mere zygote instead of the tadpole it is today, we had big dreams of introducing our friends who live outside Clarkston to our friends who live in Clarkston. We figured magic might happen if we could pull that off.

Continue reading here.