Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Flood: When the Waters Recede

We face a great challenge.

Information comes to us, more often than not, in a flood. It comes rushing in, sometimes with no warning. There's no way to prepare for this flood - no, you find yourself trapped in the middle of it, thigh-deep in speculation, hearsay, and lies, sprinkled with some facts.

There are Facebook and Twitter feeds filled with articles that are filled with half-truths that are followed by confident, hasty opinions. There are digitized disagreements between "friends" and followers who've not heard the voice of the other in years, if ever.

Photo Credit: Adrian Kingsley-Hughes via Compfight cc

You're overwhelmed by the flood; there may be no getting out.

I remember watching (from the news) the floodwaters of 2005's Hurricane Katrina as they slowly receded. The dirty, displaced rubble left behind by the murky water was now ready to be rummaged through -- what is worth keeping? And what was really valuable to begin with?

The clean-up didn't happen alone. Communities - families, churches, restaurant staff, neighborhoods - worked through it together.

But by this time, many of the eyes watching the flood from cubicles and living rooms, once feeling as though they were caught up in it themselves, had moved on, changed channels, become weary or bored, because there seem to be so many floods these days.

To be sure, there was urgency during Katrina. Babies needed formula, hospitals needed medicine, and grandmothers needed rescuing from attics. There, too, is an urgency in our flood: parents want answers, authorities are overwhelmed, truths must come soon.

But beyond the urgent days comes the slow, thoughtful, difficult work of sorting through the pieces, looking for the long view, seeing a way forward.

We continue to be surrounded by the floodwaters of injustice, war, famine and deceit. And for these floods that ravage our street and our city - no longer just on our screens - may we have the courage to do the long work of digging out what is valuable and recognizing what should be left behind.

Monday, July 14, 2014

No Fear: You've Got to Dance

We sat out on the grass yesterday evening, and as I watched the people shaking their hips and moving their feet to the rhythms of the funk band, I knew something was true:

I've become afraid to dance.

When I was 17 years old, on summer break between my junior and senior year of high school, we went to the mountains of North Carolina, where we went every year for our youth group trip. There were students there from churches all over the South, and it was my intention to meet every single one of them. And I almost did.

It was the joke every year that I'd come home with 50 email addresses, and just as many love clips (clothespins that you wrote words of encouragement/notes on and sneakily clipped to someone's shirttail or sleeve). I loved this about myself; there was no fear, just a seizing of the opportunity to know another person, laugh with them, sing with them, and if it happens to be a cute boy, flirt with him (ah, sweet summer camp).

But, now, I've become afraid, afraid of what people will think of me.

Will they think I'm weird? Will they wonder why I want to talk to them? Will they think I'm childish? Will they stare at me?

What's interesting is that none of these things matter. Even if someone does think any of these things, does it really matter? Can we really manage what others assume about us before they know us? And if they do think we're weird, can we do anything about that? And... why do we care?

I could take time to answer these questions (as I've done a lot of analyzing - of myself and others - over this topic) but what I want to get to is this: it doesn't matter what they think.

I'm not talking about character here - character matters. Here, I mean that it doesn't matter what people assume before ever getting to know us; it matters that we still walk up to their table, sit down beside them, and ask for their names. It matters that we get those email addresses and stay in touch. It matters that we walk down the sidewalk, wave our hands, and ask the first questions.

We're all full of assumptions; you and I are both guilty of assumptions about others.

It's important to not let fear immobilize us from connecting with people, and it's important that our identity isn't wrapped up in other people's assumptions about us. It's important that we love others and connect deeply and make mistakes along the way.

And it's important that we dance.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Rain, Rain, Come and Stay

Sticky note poem writing, with the scent of rain sneaking in.

That smell of the rain
that came
to wash away
the heat of the day.

Just when you were
all of your shame,
hidden so far away
from the light of day.

When things are gray
sometimes it is such relief,
such relief

from yourself,
from your pain.

Come, you pouring rain.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Silent Work

You started off so small.
No roots, no plan, no place to call your own.

by others, into places you may
not have chosen.
Dirty, unkempt, this place where you have landed.

But you work,
you grow those roots,
dig down deep
into dirt that knows how to grab hold and keep you down.

This place that stains the soul
is good for something.
"I think I'll stay."


On and on this goes,
while you,
keep at your silent work. 

This will take time.


Until someone notices
you've grown tall, strong, beautiful.
You were small, but you were planted.
Roots grown deep, much fruit to bear.

"I think I'll stay."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Embodiment: a revelation on the mountain

Sitting on the lake, only a day away from our departure from that beautiful place, I prayed: for the boys who long to be loved in ways they're not being loved; for the girls whose father does not keep his promises; for the many we meet whose wounds are so deep, I fear they won't be uncovered and will remain bottomless and unknown.

"I don't understand. Why?"

Why is this my story, a girl in the mountains, on the mountain, singing songs and praying prayers in western North Carolina, the mountains I love so much? Why is this their story, unfaithful fathers, deep hurts, stuck in the city that suffocates us?

"Please don't leave them alone; please make a way; please protect them from the Evil One."

Then I'm reminded, I feel Jesus nudging: "They are not alone; I've sent you."

What is this mystery that we embody Jesus, that we are one with him, that we are the ones to go and that we are the ones whose hands heal, whose hearts love, whose arms hold, whose eyes cry, who pray without ceasing. And so, Jesus is doing those very things... in us, with us, together. A mystery.

Jesus is with my neighbors; we are here.

Help me be faithful.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Airport Observations: Humans

Two people in the corner of gate A27 here at the Memphis International Airport are talking, laughing. They both look to be in their 70s. Two people who 40 and 50 years ago never would have spoken, during a time when your skin color absolutely determined who you spoke to at the lunch counter, on the sidewalk, and in the airport. But today, they are friends, for 30 minutes.

In the sunlight beaming through the window, sits a woman, feeble, slow to turn her head when she hears the giggles of the toddler running around behind her. She's patiently awaiting her flight, basking in the sun with her thin white sweater on. Her family awaits in the noisier seating area.

A man, under the age of 50, surprisingly, reclines with feet propped up on his suitcase. Relaxed while he engages in one of my favorite airport activities - people-watching.

Then there are the ones more like me: born in the 80s and 90s, skinny jeans, Toms shoes, skirts with pockets. Our heads are bowed, our eyes are cast down, not in reverence but captivated by the screens in front of us.

We aren't the only ones; we've learned well from the great teachers of our parents' generation, most of whom are also glued to their devices. Checking emails, answering texts, listening to voicemails.

Connected to digital versions of people, missing the flesh and bone humans next to us.

And we wonder why we're hungry for love.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Spring Updates: Music and Granny's China

That's right, I had a Granny. If you grew in the South (with native Southern grandparents) you've had either a Granny, Memaw, Mamaw or MawMaw. And since I'm a good Southerner, I had a Granny. And she had some simple, but still beautiful china, gifted to her in celebration of her marriage in 1950.

This china, "Made in occupied Japan" as it says on the bottom of each dish, now resides in the Malcomb House here in Memphis and saw its inaugural use in this home on Easter Sunday. We found it fitting that on the day we celebrate, remember, rejoice that Jesus - Life that is Real Life - defeated death (the Resurrection), we unwrapped these dishes, washed them off, and set them on the table, giving them once again purpose and usefulness, new life, if you will.

Stuck in a dark shed no more. They've come to life on the dinner table where many, we hope and pray, receive the breaths of new life each time they sit down to supper.

And with this season of "new" dishes, comes the resurrection of the out-of-doors world. Gardens shake off the winter chill and get ready to hold close those tiny seeds and help them grow, grow, grow. Children race outside, climbing onto our picnic table, fighting over who gets the blue chalk.

We love so dearly, ache for, smile upon our child-neighbors, who often spend time on our porch and in our yard.

And for the first two weeks of April, we traveled through our great home state, Mississippi. Every set of travel is different, but with this common theme: our lives are richly blessed with people who love us well.

From Petal to Tuscaloosa (a detour to Alabama), from Starkville to Waynesboro, and back down South to Hattiesburg. You folks are great; we love you so.

And finally, upon return, (and from being inspired by some of the homes we stayed in), Jeff built some shelves. Some very cool shelves for our ever-growing collection of coffee-brewing devices!

We're home for a month, before we travel much of the month of June, leading worship for students in Tennessee and North Carolina (our favorite place on earth... seriously.)

Here's to Spring! It is fleeting; it is beautiful. Enjoy it. Open your dinner table. Drink your coffee. Drink deeply of friendships. Meet new neighbors. Open your diner table to them. Love well.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Springtime: Ledge of Hope

There are lots of things to be afraid of.

Snakes that slither so quickly toward you out of the dirt, slithering that makes your heart beat fast. 

There's the sharp lightning dash, followed so quickly by the thunder peal that your eyes and brain didn't have time to tell your heart not to jump out of your chest.

Boys on ledges, eyeing you uneasily, while the one you thought sweet is almost swept up in their uneasiness. 

Girls with tempers so red hot and fiery fast that you don't know which way your head is spinning once they're through with you.

A world that seems draped with the fog of danger and darkness; broken daughters looking for love their daddies never bothered to give and lost sons walking down sidewalks not bothering to look for meaning, because there is no meaning to be found.

And many, many days, I am afraid, that too much will be lost, too many hearts broken, too many families destroyed. That too many sons and daughters will believe the lies they've been told, will not recognize the light for they've become accustomed to the dark.

But when Spring comes, I remember there are so many things to be a part of.

There is dirt to dig, weeds to pull, with the help of 8 small hands, pulling their weight and then some.

Spring sunset over our soon-to-be-prepared raised garden beds.

There are porches to be sat on, while the storm rages on, because the rain sweeping across the freeway is just so beautiful this time.

There are sidewalks on which to walk, without fear, past those ledges, offering a soft but unwavering eye to the ledge-sitters, proclaiming, "I am not afraid," and maybe even, "I know this isn't you; I know you are kind."

And there is understanding and grace found, for the anger is not really about you, only piled up and up and up from years of abandonment and misdirection and wounds of wounds of wounds.

It is Spring, and there is Hope yet to be found!

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Size of Your Heart

There's something that happens to me a lot, and I'm ashamed to admit it.  

The hatbox full of letters of so many friends that fill up my heart.

But maybe some of you do this, too.

Do you know the feeling when you see Facebook pictures of your best friends hanging out with their other friends, the ones you always fear are a little cooler than you, enticing your besties with fun Friday night plans or a free vacation some warm, summer-year-round location?

Or you're at a party, sitting at the dinner table, when the other friend cracks some inside joke, of which you are clearly on the outside, or "remembers when" to a time of which for the life of you, you just cannot remember (until, oh yes, you can't remember because it happened on that warm vacation to which you weren't invited).

Those times stink, the times when you are reminded that your friends' lives don't revolve around you, and they do, in fact, have other friends.

Then, one time, you went out to dinner with your besties - multiple sets of besties - and you cracked the inside joke about the New Year's party and you remembered the time at the lakehouse when you both thought you were brave enough to swim across the lake until a storm blew up, and you turned around for home.

And about the time you were turning around in the middle of the lake, you saw your friend's face fall just a bit, as she realized she wasn't there and this wasn't her story and so, for five or ten minutes, it feels like she's not cool enough or loved enough and maybe you do love your lakehouse friends more (no! wait! I love them all!)

That's when you realize that if your heart's capacity is big enough for your lakehouse friends, drop-in friends, workout friends, laugh-at-nothing-and-everything friends, then maybe their heart is that big, too. 

And if you genuinely love all those friends and value them for all the unique ways they make your life rich, then they probably value you and love you that much, too.

So, the next time they talk about that warm, sunny vacation, maybe you'll feel a twinge of jealousy, but it will quickly depart as you smile, sit back, listen and love that your friends all get to give and receive so much love - from you and many others. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Wash the Dishes: Memory and Legacy

We washed. We dried. We put away.

This was the 2-3 times daily ritual of the dishes, led by a grandchild, always participated in by Nana.

Oh, she had a dishwasher, but rarely did she use it except for the big holiday meals and whenever else she got a hankering for its sanitizing power. Nana seemed to prefer the handwashing.

Or maybe she just preferred the time with her grandchildren, all working together, suds and dishtowels, the stool that made me tall enough to join in, plunging my hands into the warm water filling that yellow, porcelain sink.

This is one of my sharpest, most distinct memories with Nana. We worked together, sometimes after breakfast, lunch and dinner, before plenty of game-playing, bowling or a trip to the Bingo hall, where we read our own books while they played (or, best of all, when she snuck us one of her Bingo cards where, if we won, she yelled "Bingo!" for us since, after all, we were under 18). We went to the movies, to the mall, to the park. We spent countless nights over at her house, joining Pop's ritual watching of Wheel of Fortune after an early dinner.

Before the meal that dirtied the dishes, there were leaves. Yes, the dreaded leaves. And pine straw.

We gathered up the needed supplies - gloves, rakes, trash bags, the wheelbarrow from the shed - and knew that you had to stoop low enough to get all the leaves from under the bushes or Pop would surely notice and make you go back and get them later. We knew not to stop into Ms. Jones' yard lest she see you on her property and give you the evil eye.

We worked together a lot.

And you know, these times were good to us. Could it be that now, because of those dishes and leaves, I understand the joy and camaraderie of working alongside those you love ? When Susan and I spend hours weeding in the garden, don't we have some of the best and often unexpected conversations there?

My Nana gave this to me; this is her legacy. She taught us work. She taught us togetherness. She showed us family.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Chance to Change

In less than a month, our new housemate will move in. Here are 5 things I hope not to do:
  1. Resent him for not doing his dishes.
  2. Tell him one thing when I mean another. Instead, I’ll have a real conversation about it, not a passive-aggressive one in passing.
  3. Ask him to do things that I am not willing to do myself. How many times have I caught myself doing the very thing that bugs me about another person?
  4. Forget it’s his house, too. He pays rent. He lives here. Give up some control here.
  5. Love myself more than him. 
As hard as it is to live with others - sharing space, sharing decisions, sharing needs - it can often be harder to live with yourself. 

In the 5 years we’ve lived with a variety of people, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve not necessarily changed a lot about myself, but I have seen it. I have spoken it aloud. But now it my opportunity to put into practice some of the change I hope to see in myself.

What have you learned about yourself from living with others (roommates, spouses, parents, etc.)? Have you been brave enough, vulnerable enough, to make changes?

Friday, January 3, 2014

You and Me, On the Curb

Mattresses, clothes, a baby crib. Bookshelf, rocking chair, lamp, microwave. All things that immediately identify regular, everyday living, things that most of us have in our homes and closets, on our shelves, in our kitchens.

We shop for them at thrift stores and on Craigslist; receive them at wedding showers and baby showers; get them as hand-me-downs from grandparents and aunts. Their usefulness goes unnoticed most days, as we rise up and sit back down in the same old chair, re-heat our leftovers every day at lunch, drift off to sleep night after night, some more restless than others.

But when stacked on the curb, near the intersection of Holmes and Walnut Grove, any passerby knows it means one thing only: eviction.


My coffee was only $2.68. Unlimited refills. That’s worth it to me, when I’ve set up shop here at this local cafe, knowing I should be buying food (and often, I do). 

I’ve got a five-dollar bill left, one I’m half-prepared to give to the woman on the corner a half-mile back, the one holding the sign while smiling at me as I turned at the light, making my way here. 

It’s not that I’m always compassionate; I love excuses.  

“She’s probably lying to me.” (Yes, there’s a good chance of that.)

“She probably keeps making bad decisions.” (Also a good chance of that. A lot of people who make bad decisions, including myself, still have a roof over their head. So, what?)

“I’ve seen her before; why hasn’t anything changed?” (Because most people only give her five-dollar bills and then drive away never to think twice about her.)

What I know is that she needs more than a five-dollar bill, and that is what’s hard to address. What she needs is to be looked in the eyes and asked, “What is your name?”

That is scarier, harder, asks more of me, like getting out of my car on [what a south Mississippi-born gal considers to be] a bitterly cold day. It means she might ask for more. It means she might have the opportunity to lie to me. Or to tell me the truth. 

And the truth usually asks much more of me than a lie.

As I think about the invisible family who got evicted less than a mile from my house and the woman on the corner less than a mile from my mind, I’m struck by the power of community.

Are these families, made of mothers and sons, grandmothers and goddaughters, connected to a community? What kind of community? 

In my Christian community, one where we seek to know, support and love each other more richly than a success and power-driven culture might have us do, we talk about community a lot. I think we’ve concluded that it’s not community if we just hang out, if we aren’t going deeper, if we aren’t seeking God together.

And I agree: that is a good, rich definition of community.

But that’s our definition of community, that when we've finally reached "real community" it's good, and hard, and rich.

Almost everyone is a part of a community: the homeless community, a family community, a religious community. It can be healthy, or it can be toxic. It can be life-giving, or it can be demanding and controlling. Almost always there is some community at work in someone’s decisions, health and well-being, or lack thereof. Community is, indeed, powerful, whether for good or bad.

And this is why I’m thinking about community. Is there a good, healthy community at work in the lives of those I’m writing about today, the woman on the corner, the family out of a home? Maybe. Their community might be doing the best they can to love them and serve them in hard places, giving temporary shelter when the locks were changed, or on the coldest of nights.

But my gut says that there is a truly good community yet to be found, a community of hospitality, of welcome and love that says come as you are. A community that has been welcomed first by the One who dwelt in flesh, living among wanderers who lived on every extreme of the spectrums: from fishermen to rabbis, from powerful men to weak and property-less women, from legalistic leaders to faith-filled tax collectors who invited Him in for dinner. 

This is what I’ve yet to get, to really internalize, that I was invited and loved as I was, as I am

I was given a home, an identity, a purpose, even with all my crap on the curb and my little lies just to get a handout or two to make myself feel better for about 24 hours. 

And now, I am to go and do likewise. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Walking Lonely Roads

Some days it is a lonely road on which the artists walks. The way we must document everything, in lines and fire, dust and color, words and song. Why must the smallest of things be noted, some so taxing to read, listen to, watch. Are our mediums - canvas, clay, paper - just places to groan, complain about what's wrong around us, draw attention to ourselves to fill some hole left unfilled in our childhoods?

Even our closest friends can sometimes feel the pressure from being given too much emotion, baggage, thoughts brought up from the depths. C'mon, just leave it buried; that's what we do.

As I write, I imagine how my husband might respond to the exposed things, possibly with, "What?" or "What do you mean?" or "Hmmmmm, good writing." Even to those as close to us as a spouse or a sibling, there's no way to wholly transfer experience, perception, feeling. As a songwriter, I hope to at least stir up some desire for the listener to think on their own experience, as a result of placing themselves in mine for 4 minutes.

It's a scary thing to pick up that guitar and expose the flaws, loves, guilts, hatreds I've found in myself. Or what more of the same you will find in me, once you hear.

But mine isn't the only road that's lonely.

Yours is, too.

You've documented everything that's ever happened to you, been done to you, documented it in your own head. You, too, note every small thing, every failure, every victory. You beat yourself up, pick yourself up, and, if you're brave enough, eek out little snippets of these things to the ones closest to you, hoping to feel some relief, should they reach out and grab hold of what you've given them.

But for some, you'll never tell, never explain, never get around to the deepest of deeps.

For me, and maybe for you, I just can't help but write it down.

I'll help you walk that often lonely road.