I think I might be living the dream (and you can too)

Christian looked at me the other day, we were sitting on the couch. Just sitting there, and except for waiting for some laundry to come out of the dryer, we didn’t really have anything else to do. It had literally been years since that happened. We were both really happy.

I’ve been really happy a lot lately. It has been intense, getting everyone to school and getting all the kid pick-ups scheduled. It has been strange to drop that amount of money on books and not be in charge of the cell-phone use of everyone else in the room. It was a little shocking to buy all my books (ouch).

But mostly, I have an overwhelming sense of pride in myself. Y’all. I did this thing. I quit my job, I asked for what I needed. I prayed, I trusted, I hustled. I got really lucky, and I am living the dream, the one I was scared to write down a few years ago when someone  asked me what I wanted.

What did I want? I was a mom, a wife, a teacher. Was I allowed to want? Was I allowed to have big dreams, or even little dreams? Where was the time? Wouldn’t me taking the resources mean someone else , someone I loved wasn’t getting them?

How the heck was I supposed to fit my dreams into my life?

My answer: One sentence at a time. A little here, a little there, until there was a manuscript in my hands, and then chip, chip, chipping away at querying until I finally landed an agent. Doing what I loved in the small time that I had until I pieced those spaces together into a whole life.

I am not promising you will make any money off your dream, and it takes a lot of work to even chase it. But I think you are worth it. I think you can do this. I think I can help.

Sign up here by September 1! 

The Ministry of a Messy House

Our door is almost always open, and our house is almost never clean. Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t like…gross…but there are toys on the floor, dishes in the sink. You know, because we live here. We actually live here. 

I used to be embarrassed about my mess. I would rush home on the nights we hosted Bible study in our homes and throw everything I could not find a place for into the guest room and slam the door. My husband and I would frantically run the vacuum cleaner and wipe out the sink. We would plop down on the couch out of breath moments before the first person rang our doorbell.

When I was on maternity leave with my second baby I had to give up the facade. Two in diapers and my husband coming home from class fifteen minutes after group was supposed to start meant that the house didn’t always get cleaned. The laundry didn’t always get moved for the living room. Sometimes that laundry wasn’t even clean.

An interesting thing happened that messy semester. People opened up. They showed us their whole selves. They sat on the couch and tucked their feet up like they lived there. They exhaled and laughed and cried more easily, right there in my messy living room. We started eating together at the table that was too small for all of us and I bought bean bag chairs from Walmart that people flopped into when there wasn’t enough room on the couch.

We got real with each other. We were able to be our whole selves. People weren’t afraid of messing up my perfect life with their imperfect prayer requests or questions because I was pretty up front about mine. They knew if they spilled something, or dropped something, or cried so hard they got snot on the couch that would be okay. They knew their kids, in all their messy glory were welcome. I had tried to communicate that when I was still presenting the perfect home. But it took people really seeing my mess to feel safe enough to bring me theirs.

We don’t host that small group anymore, or go to that church. But still, no one rings the doorbell at our home. New friends, old friends, everyone just comes on in. I have heard so many times now that people feel at home in my house. They aren’t afraid of messing anything up. They feel comfortable with me.

I used to spend my time frantically cleaning up for other people, but have found they feel most welcome when I invite them into my mess.

D.L. Mayfield is releasing a new book today. She is a voice that I very much admire and I was very lucky to have already received a copy of her book. She writes honestly about the realities of a missionary life and gives us a new path to follow as we learn to serve one another. I cannot recommend Assimilate or Go Home high enough. D.L. invites us into her mess, she leaves a place for us to tuck up our feet and really be at home in the hard places with her. You can get the book here.

Snack and School Disparity (again)

They call it food insecurity. The state of being without reliable access to quality food. And when I heard the phrase I cried. It was linked with my kids’ school. 30 percent of the kids who go to school with my kids are dealing with food insecurity.

This is why I get so angry when people talk about test scores, and teachers, like the teacher can make up all the difference. My kids school is making huge test score leaps, but how do you teach hungry kids? This is what I know about my own home: everyone is cranky and no one will listen to anyone when we don’t eat on time. And I don’t mean just the kids. I can’t learn anything if I haven’t eaten enough, and I don’t have a growing body.

This is why I get so frustrated when people want to say that fair means every kid gets the same dollar amount. There are entire schools down the street from us where all the kids show up well fed, everyone can take their turn with the snack rotation, Goldfish crackers are never a burden to these family budgets.

Because my kids’ school is below the poverty line everyone gets free breakfast, and free lunch. But lunch is pretty early and the pre-k kids just can’t make it that long. The harsh reality is that some 4 and 5 year olds have learned to make the choice to slip their snack in their book bag in case dinner isn’t enough that night.

I don’t even really know how to write about it. I’ve been hitting the backspace a lot more than usual. I don’t live in this reality and seeing the words in black and white just makes me so sad. In other countries maybe, but how does this happen in my city, literally in my own neighborhood? How do I wrap my brain around the reality that some of my kids friends are going hungry while mine reject the snack I give them because I bought the wrong brand? It just feels very overwhelming.

When I talk to people about the disparities in education, I can see the same overwhelmed feeling cloud their faces. How can this be? How can we live in America and not have everyone have a quality education? How can children who are my neighbors not have what they need? The reality of solving for problems in education is that mostly what we are talking about is solving for poverty.

 

I don’t know how to solve for poverty either. And while I have a lot of thoughts about ways to solve for education I know that it boils down to showing up, finding out what the school needs, and getting it to them. So. That is what I am doing. My kids’ school needs snack.

 

Christian and I checked our grocery budget, and while we have the resources to provide snack about once a month, we also don’t have the means to cover snack everyday. Often my very generous readers ask me how to help when I talk about education. Here is one way to help. I started an amazon wish list with appropriate snacks for the class. All you have to do is click click click and these items will be delivered to our house. We will be sure to pass them on.

I am hoping to get all year covered. We were able to do that 2 years ago! I know that the fruit packets are a little bit more expensive, but I also know kids in poverty don’t get enough fruits and vegetables. If you have the means, those would be great.

Would you consider sponsoring a day of snack? 

(If we get more than we need I am going to share with the other pre-k teacher who I am sure is in the same boat. Juliet’s teacher also needs snack, and it was the most requested item from her kindergarten teacher. I promise I can find a place for any snack we get. Your donation will not be wasted.)

Patriarchy and Performance: Olympic Gymnastics is SO UNFAIR

I know I am not the only one watching all the Olympics, and especially all the gymnastics all the time this week. And I am sure I can’t be the only one who has noticed the disparity of expectation in gymnastics, specifically floor exercises.

Men: Complete the elements. Be powerful. Stay in the lines.

Women: Complete the elements. Be powerful but not too powerful. Or rather be powerful but don’t make it look like that. Be effortless, graceful, fun, flirty, whatever feminine personality trait you are going to work, work that with the elements. And be beautiful. And smile. And have your wrists right, and please do it all to music. And stay in the lines.

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I’m going to own you, but also be adorable. I am just that good.

Here is the thing about being a woman in the world, we can’t just do the thing, we have to perform the thing. When my husband takes the girls to the grocery store, he gets told he is a wonderful dad. He gets told he is brave by strangers, just for completing the basic parenting element that is taking the children with you to the grocery store. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes that is harder than a triple double flippy tuck. (I believe that is the technical name.) But COME ON! I don’t get points for just doing the element. It has to be effortless, no yelling, everyone smiling, and I have to look cute while doing it if I want the points.

And the ease. The ease these ladies are expected to exhibit while slinging their bodies into the air at twice their height and then sticking the landing is just ridiculous. How come men are allowed to grunt? How come they are allowed to make noise as the air is pushed out of their lungs because their feet hit the floor with a force that would probably shatter my weak 30 something ankles. The ladies, they have to smile. SMILE. Silently WHAT THE HECK? HOW IS THAT EVEN HUMANLY POSSIBLE?

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Even their hair is perfect.

But ease is a necessary part of being a lady. I know because making things look easy is not really something I excel at. Every, single, time I express my struggle, I get at least one person telling me that I need to just quit complaining, that I need to suck it up. My life isn’t that hard. Um, Y’ALL! My life is allowed to be hard and I may grunt a little bit at the sheer force of the landing on any given day okay? Okay. Don’t deduct points because I can’t say “Fine! We are great! Everything is JUST GREAT!”

 

Also, there is a disparity as always, with clothing expectations. Can we just talk about how unfair that is? Men get to do their thing in pants. Pants! Women have to wear sparkly leotards that they have glued to their hinies so nothing rides up their butt on national television. Because even if Simone Biles can do things with her body that literally no one else in the world can do, you know if she picked a wedge that would be the only news worthy thing for the next twenty-four hours. I taught high school for nine years and every single day I had to make sure nothing was too tight, too loose, too short, too low, too whatever man. I seriously doubt my khaki and polo everyday friends (button down if they are getting fancy) have ever thought about most of this? NO! Not even on the radar.

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Wedgie not likely.

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Wedgie guaranteed.

How many extra points does Gabby Douglas get for the most incredible lipstick in the entire olympic games? Or Simone Biles for not poking her eye out while applying glittery lower eye liner? How much does it up the difficulty level, because that junk is HARD!! How many extra points in life do I get for putting on make up most non-house days? And for correctly negotiating water proof mascara necessary situations in my life? I have literally preached one time in my whole life, and I have already thought way, WAY more about my make up than the pastor who gets up their almost every week. I want a little credit! I want two bonus tenths.

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I need to know what color this is.

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I am as likely to ever be able to get my eyeliner like this as I am to ever stick on of her landings. This eyeliner alone needs a gold medal.

And on top of all of this. All of it, women have to do their routines to music. Dance! Dance! Perform perform perform! Point your toes! Flick your wrists! Make this look fun! Entertain us! It would be one thing if we just got BONUS for doing all of these things, but we get punished if we don’t hit these ridiculous standards. And I guess that would be fine too, but these things aren’t even on the list of things that most men are expected to do! The world does not ask them to smile while also defying gravity.

I could not be prouder of the women gymnasts this go round. I am so glad my girls are growing up in a world where they can look up to them. But I hope my girls will be allowed to navigate the world in pants if they want to, and not get punished for it.

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Smash the Patriarchy? Oh, they are ready.

 

 

 

The Art of Church

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I looked at the calendar and saw half the Sundays of the summer gone to travel, to family, to festivals. How do you schedule the art when you are going to be gone. I reached out to my people, my faithful artists who stand at the easel and work it out with paint and brush as the preacher works it out in words. They were busy. They were mothering, and sistering, and in the same strange sort of summer flux that I was also experiencing. And I wonder too if my unspoken reality was also theirs. We were tired.

I found a giant canvas in the room full of stuff that had been left behind. When you are in a historic building, you just never know what you might stumble upon if you go looking. (I have my eye on a card catalog but cannot yet figure out what I would do with it. The wooden wheelchair is also pretty cool.) I don’t know how we acquired it, but I knew I wanted to use it.

Before I left for a few weeks I traced a huge one-line drawing on the canvas, one that started and ended in the same place. We were studying Acts and I wanted to represent the one work of the Holy Spirit, the one never ending love of God, the one universal church. I then ordered my colors and left instructions for our congregation. Come to the front. Fill in  some spaces.

I chose the colors carefully and watched over the first few weeks, it was going well. It was working. But then I left. And when I came back, it seemed that people had believed me. When I said: all are invited, the process is far more important than the product, that I wanted anyone who wanted to come take a crack at this canvas, they believed me. The people believed me. The children believed me. 

I wonder sometimes what it means to come to the kingdom of God like a child, and lately I have been thinking of the little ones who heard me say they were wanted and tugged their parents to the front of the sanctuary. They mixed colors and painted through my careful lines and worshiped before their God with abandon. It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, and it certainly wasn’t what I expected, but wow. It was beautiful. It was real, it was genuine. It was worship.

When I look at parts of this painting I see the kids who painted it. The careful mixing of that beautiful lavender. The bold pink streaks and the pride that accompanied them. The fierce determination of a 4 year old who was literally hanging from the stage railing to get the paint where she wanted it. The precious corner of a little boy who has not yet been told that art is for girls, it is black with green dots and it makes me cry. I love the streaks and the mixed colors and the mess that was presented humbly to our God. Our kids are re-teaching me about a life and a church that cannot be contained and I am just so grateful. I hope that I can follow these little disciples well.

I also see the faithful clean up crew. A few people just quietly filled in the gaps, redrew the painted over lines, found boundaries around the messier bits and formed it into something whole. I am more sure than I have ever been that the church is mostly made up of people who quietly go about their work. With the kids, running the slides, making the coffee, painting the building, fixing the wifi, watering the plants. I learned recently it takes over 30 volunteers to make our church go each Sunday. (That doesn’t include either the child care workers or the folks serving brunch.) That is a lot of people who just show up and do the thing that is needed, because it is needed. Who just show up and say, where are the gaps? How can I fill them? I love a church that doesn’t mind a little work and a little mess because they just want to serve well. Because they believe in a bigger picture they are participating in.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what church means, how we do it. I am headed to seminary and now attend the staff meetings. Y’all, there are a lot of beautiful ideas, gorgeous sketches in the planning stage. There are so many carefully drawn out lines. But these ideas are not meant to sit in the staff meeting. They are meant to be colored in with all the beauty and color and fierce determination of a greater church. Sometimes that means the plans are not executed exactly as originally thought. Sometimes the congregation has their own ideas. Sometimes this thing is happening in this corner and that in another and the only thing that holds it together is the line of the Holy Spirit.

Always, the picture is something more than I could ever do on my own. Always, always it is beautiful.

As always this blog runs on love via Patreon.

 

What if you did it on purpose?

!n our first Skype meeting, she asked me the question that has haunted me for years: What I want to know is, what would purposeful look like?

We had met in an online writing course, Esther and I, and were “randomly assigned” critique partner status. If it was random, it was darn lucky for me. We took a look at each other’s blog and offered our honest feedback. Both of us coming from very artistic backgrounds, we didn’t hold back.

We’ve been pacing each other ever since. But only a few weeks ago did I answer that first question. What would purposeful look like?

I was writing at the time, at Accidental Devotional. I was claiming a lot of things in my life were an accident. I didn’t know if I wanted to go to college, but I wanted to be on a speech team, and I “accidentally” majored in education, and was good at it, so it stuck. Then I moved to Atlanta and accidentally started writing, accidentally about God.

I was doing all the things, but I wasn’t owning any of them. I was telling the story as though my life was a thing that happened to me, not something I was creating.

You can read the rest right here.

This is about Asking

I am terrible at asking. Like, just really really bad. I live sometimes in this fantasy land where I shouldn’t have to ask for anything. I live in the world where if I sit on my hands and am just good enough someone will notice and I will get what I need.

I know women who didn’t have to query agents for years before they got representation, who just got an email one day, Hey! Would you like to write a book? I wanted that to be my story. That isn’t my story. I pounded on that door for a long time.

I know women who were plucked out of their congregations or Bible studies, told YOU are a LEADER, COME SPEAK. And I sat on my hands and tried to not say one more thing but may have ended up saying two more things for years before I pulled my hands from beneath me and pointed at myself. Me. I am called to lead, to speak, to preach. I wanted it to be someone else, but it had to be me first. Here I am Lord. Pick me.

I ended up in the dean of student’s office ugly crying and saying, I needed more help. With a few clicks and an email I got it. I just had to ask. Then Christian got a job 7 days after the deadline I gave God (y’all, that maybe isn’t the best idea…). We are staying. Everyone has a school to go to. We looked at the budget and the assistance I am getting and realized we were still short.

I don’t need to make a lot, but I do need to make enough. Currently, I don’t. I pulled out the calendar and blocked off this time and that time and realized how little time I was about to have for my family, and for my writing. I have always hustled pretty hard, but this is a whole new level, one I’m not sure is physically possible.

So, I am asking.

I started a Patreon account and for five dollars a month, you can get an update from me about what seminary is like, and what specific shape my faith crisis is taking that month (I’ve heard that happens a lot. I guess we’ll find out together). For ten I will tell you before everyone but my mom any big news I might have (book! baby! new dog! who knows? hopefully not the baby though). For fifty I will paint you a picture. Every month.

Mostly, if I can get to even 500 dollars it would provide enough breathing room for me and my family that I could for sure keep writing at least a few times a week. I could engage with my followers, I could keep on keeping on. Please consider signing on.

Always, thank you. Thank you for walking with me. Cheering me on. Praying for me and my family. Your support of this blog, my thoughts, my gifts, have gotten me to seminary in the first place. I am so very grateful for everything you have already done.

Here is my patreon. If you can’t donate, please consider sharing?