The Cost of Getting Proximate {for SheLoves}

Sharing this post at SheLoves today, for the theme “Amplify.”

Bryan Stevenson changed my life.

Last year, his book, Just Mercy, crushed the last of my illusions about justice in the United States. A few months after reading it—sleep deprived with a 12-day-old newborn—I drove to hear Stevenson speak in the auditorium of a nearby university. I nursed my infant with one arm and scribbled illegible notes with my other hand. But two words rattled me, transfixed me. They altered the course of our life, in fact.

“Get proximate.”

I stopped writing and looked up as he spoke. “Get close to the problems instead of trying to solve them from a distance. Get proximate to the poor and be willing to do uncomfortable things,” he said.

Was I willing not to just visit, talk about, or pray for those living in the margins, but actually move there?

For the past two years after moving from the city of Chicago, we rented a house in a nearly all-white area of Colorado snuggled up against the Rocky Mountains. The middle class neighborhood was made up of retirees with large campers parked in their driveways and a few young families. People didn’t bother locking their doors and I would have felt safe walking down our pitch black street late at night under a jubilee of stars. We were within walking distance of a huge new park with a splash pad, a giant wooden playground, a Frisbee golf course and tennis courts.

But as we began to search for a home to buy, I sensed God nudging us towards something other than safe, secure and comfortable. As we looked for houses in the nearby college town, I picked subdivisions where the neighborhood school had a high percentage of non-white students and free lunch recipients.

I drove around neighborhoods near trailer parks and run-down apartment complexes, ashamed that though I’d be willing to live near them, I wasn’t willing to actually live in a low income neighborhood just to be proximate to the poor.

Buying a home holds a mirror to our prejudices, privilege and values. It blasts holes in our claim to love our neighbor when we begin to realize we meant the neighbor just like us.

God never assures us safe or comfortable. He doesn’t urge us to pray for “smooth journeys” or perfect health. In fact, the gospel message juxtaposed against American culture is starkly counter-cultural.

Jesus wandered from house to house, keeping company with the misfits of society. He touched the untouchable and dined with the outcast. In the end, he gave up the right to protect himself and willingly died so these misfits could experience belonging. This is the gospel. So why do Sunday mornings at church always feel so polished and pristine?

We finally bought a home. Though the city is 82 percent white, the neighborhood school is 73 percent white. Fifty-two percent of the students have free or reduced lunch. It is not a drastic shift, but it is a small step toward a wider community of neighbors.

The city we moved to is double the size of the one we left. The hum of life murmurs at a low level. We now hear sirens, see bikers buzz past our picture window and hear Thai, Arabic and Hindi spoken at the grocery store. For the first time in my life, there is an African American family living across the street. My children are also beginning to recognize Spanish being spoken at the public library or MacDonald’s play place. I have plenty of opportunities to eavesdrop on unsuspecting Chinese people who don’t know I spent five years in China. From a diversity-standpoint, this feels like a good decision.

But what about the increase in homelessness and crime—does Jesus really want us to move closer to that?

Before moving (and in rebellion against the inner voice that warns us we’re googling too far) I searched online to see if there were any sex offenders in the neighborhood. There are. The site also offered all the registered felons. There were many—even on the route my kids will one day walk to school. I joined the local online forum for our neighborhood and learned that three cars were broken into last week and an unsolved murder a few streets away was solved. Fear began pawing at me, whispering that I am right to shelter and shield my children.

Proximity costs us …

Continue reading at SheLoves.

 

Doe, a Deer, A Female Deer {for SheLoves}

I published this earlier this month at SheLoves Magazine. Click over to read the full article!

“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” –Mother Superior, The Sound of Music

Currently, I am in a season with many walls, few doors, and quite a few windows to the outside world—taunting me by what I’m allegedly missing. I’ve been here before—as a teenager trapped in my parent’s home, as a college student waiting for my life to begin, as a thirty-year-old single woman (with a sex drive and ticking biological clock) surrounded by families, as a teacher going on to the next year because it was expected. And now I’m here as a mother to three littles, walled-in by naptimes, temper tantrums and mind-numbing routines.

Perhaps you’re here, too, though your walls may look different than mine. Illness, job insecurity, infertility, a sick parent or another impossible circumstance may leave you feeling trapped against your will, walled-in and alone. You have underutilized gifts, unfulfilled callings and pent-up passions.

Part of what I’m realizing is that just because strength, intelligence or giftings are harnessed for a time doesn’t mean they are weakened or disappear. In fact, Old Mother Maturity is still at work on our juvenile souls, training us by her delays and uncomfortable restrictions.

Last week I eased my minivan out of our driveway into the cul-de-sac and caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye. Poised like a queen was a huge doe, beaming her gaze directly at me. But the most alarming part was that she stood trapped inside my neighbor’s fenced yard.

How did she get in there? I thought. And how will she get out?

The image haunted me all day long. It took a while to decode my emotions, but when I did, I accepted this living parable as a gift to me in my current season. It was as if God was saying,

“I see you.

Yes, you are fenced in right now, unable to travel far or do so much of what you thought you would do with your life. But the fact that you are restricted does not diminish your strength. And it does not mean you will be here forever.”

That doe was strength under control. She was choosing containment just as I am choosing it now for the sake of my little people.

And through forfeited freedom, I am learning the richness of soulful living.

Science calls this “potential energy.” Potential energy is the energy an object has because of its position, rather than its motion. It is a bicycle perched on a hill, a nearly poured-out pitcher of water or a book balanced on someone’s head. It is a doe behind a fence. It is harnessed energy, ready to explode into action. It is doors slammed shut, waiting for windows to be thrown open …Continue reading at SheLoves …

In Solidarity with the Butt Wipers {for SheLoves}

Most days I’m responsible for wiping four out of the five butts in our household. Sometimes I change my clothes three times a day because of shoulder snot, spit-up or worse. My life is not glamorous by any stretch. And I know I can’t be the only one.

So today I seek solidarity with the mama who wipes butts other than her own. The mom who eats standing up, has given up on sleep as an inalienable right, and thinks going to the dentist is equivalent to a spa day.

I stand with the mom who sometimes wishes she could run away, and then feels guilty about it. The mom who is compelled to write, teach, create, study, or use her education the way she thought she would, but just can’t right now. The mom who thought her life would be a tad more adventurous. I stand with the mom who sometimes wants to jump in the car and just drive. Anywhere. As long as there is silence.

I stand in solidarity with the mom who feels like she can’t catch up. She is like a cell phone that never charges to 100 percent power but is constantly being unplugged, always needed. We can’t keep up with it all: sleep, cooking, shopping, planning activities for our kids, juggling job and home life, dusting, sweeping, folding laundry, sorting junk, organizing bins of teeny clothing, not to mention making love or talking to our spouses (which sadly makes the “to do” list). We never fall into bed at night thinking, I’m so satisfied by all I accomplished today.

I stand in solidarity with the mama who messes up. We yell, say the wrong thing, get frustrated, lose our cool and do everything “the books” tell us not to do. We fear we’re ruining our kids. We sometimes care more about what other moms think than we do about our relationship with our child. But then we kneel down, peer into their little faces with their tiny noses and earnest looks and we know they forgive us. They adore us, in fact.

I stand in solidarity with the mom who longs for meaningful friendships but isn’t sure how to string together enough play dates to equal one in-depth conversation. As children, we had sleepovers, played in the backyard, then whispered together about our crushes, our fears, and hopes for the future. In college, we shared rooms, clothes, and cars. But marriage and needy children complicated our old habits of friendship cultivating. We need each other more than ever but lack the time, energy and gumption to reach the same level of intimacy we enjoyed when we were single. We turn to social media instead of putting forth the effort to befriend people we can touch and see in real life. Sometimes this is our only option, but we yearn for the flesh, blood, and tears of face-to-face sisterhood.

I stand with the mom who is trying to make the most of these days with little ones because everyone warns us they go so fast

continue reading at SheLoves.

 

When Writing Feels Like a Waste of Time {for SheLoves}

On a rough day, my husband will cheer me up with a dozen yellow roses. For some reason, it’s often before we go out of town, so I immediately think how we will receive a sad, wilted welcome when we return from our trip. It feels like a waste of beauty.

How many days and months go into cultivating a single yellow rose? Daily sunlight, water and fertilizer encourage it to grow. At just the right moment, it is snipped, sold and carried from the store by some well-meaning suitor or lover (or more likely, a female who treats herself to this little luxury every once in a while). All for what? To sit on our crumb-laden kitchen tables for a few days, splashing our rooms with color and assaulting our senses with scent only to be thrown in the trash within the week?

Sometimes this is how publishing a piece of writing feels. When I think about the days, months and years that have preceded putting my thoughts into words, then the hours of molding and shaping them, coaxing out the beauty, the grace, the deeper meaning, it reminds me of these roses. I am the gardener and yet I also decide when my words are ready to be cut and offered to the world. When my offering of words is welcomed, I smile. And yet how quickly the glory fades as my article is overlapped by another, then another, then another article until what felt like vibrant, fresh and life-breathing words become faded and forgotten.

So is writing (without monetary compensation) even worth it?

***

Last night I tried out a complicated new recipe. I sipped red wine, dancing between the recipe on my computer screen and turning up the volume of the “evening acoustic” album on Pandora. My husband wrestled with the kids on the rug in the living room while I chopped onions, garlic and peppers to toss into the simmering oil in the pan. He took the kids out for a dusk walk and I relaxed into the smells, sounds and feel of a kitchen in use. When they returned, we washed tiny hands, strapped kids into high chairs and bowed heads to pray in spite of spoons banging and feet kicking.

If you’re a parent, then you know what came after this seemingly magical moment.

“Yuck,” my son said, pushing his dish away. My daughter picked out a few pieces of food, but also declared my meticulously prepared meal “yucky.” My husband and I finished eating in less than 15 minutes and just like that—after nearly an hour of preparation–it was over.

But here’s the thing. Even though the food was underappreciated, consumed quickly and the process will need to be repeated tomorrow and the next day, it was still worth it. Why?

Because the process of preparation fed my soul. The meal gave us a reason to sit down together as a family. And it provided nourishment for the hungry ones at the table.

Just like your writing.

As you write, God is working out what He is working in you...

Continue reading at SheLoves.

When the Answer is “Not Now” {For SheLoves}

 

What about a driving school for Muslim women? My mind buzzes with the possibilities, spinning the details into a feasible plan. I just dropped our Saudi Arabian exchange student off at the international terminal and in the quiet hum of the hour-long interstate ride home, I plan, strategize and dream. Most of the Saudi international student girls I’ve met have a secret desire to learn how to drive since they are not permitted to drive in their country. Likewise, they all complain about the expensive driving schools in the U.S. or about taking private lessons where they have to be alone in a car with a man. We have a spare car, I think. And I could give private lessons and get to know the women at the same time. Perfect …

As I turn the minivan off the interstate at our exit, I hear stirring in the backseat, then arguing, then shrieking. I sigh, smoothing the bunched-up shirt over my ever-growing belly, remembering. Lost in Imaginary Land where I could chase every dream, I had forgotten my reality: two children under four and a baby on the way. I tuck the idea away in the attic of my heart, thinking, If only …

***

Several months later, scrubbing potatoes by the window at the kitchen sink, I watch my elderly neighbor shuffle around in his backyard, shoveling snow. In summer, he and his wife spend hours each day planting, watering, weeding and coaxing incredible beauty out of dry ground. It has always perplexed me, actually, because I’ve never seen anyone else in their yard. It seems like such a waste to sculpt beauty for no one to see.

Standing at the kitchen counter, I think about the notebook I carry around with me that probably has 200 titles of blog posts and ideas to write about. Some of those words will grow, blossom and die without a single other person ever reading them—just a secret thought between God and me. But some will be cut and handed out for others to enjoy (though, like freshly cut flowers, they will likely be forgotten with the next day’s round of blog posts, email newsletters and online journals).

What a waste, I think. But then I begin to wonder …

Is hidden beauty still beautiful?

Continue reading at SheLoves.

Breastfeeding and the Liturgy of the Hours {for SheLoves}

I’ve grown to recognize that pausing, waiting and stillness is, in fact, a gift of lavish love from a patient father.

I am a doer, goer and to-do list extraordinaire. I buy post-it notes in 12 packs. Freshman year of college was the first time I met anyone who actually enjoyed sitting around doing nothing. Bursting into our dorm room to change clothes for an intramural soccer game before my study group and the floor party later that night, I was shocked to find my roommate perched on her bed, staring at the wall.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Fine,” she answered.

“But what are you doing?” I asked, puzzled.

“Just sitting here,” she responded. I’m sure I gave her a quizzical look before darting off to my game, inwardly judging her for wasting time.

That was the beginning of nearly twenty years of living with introverts (including my husband), a true gift of tough grace for an extroverted over-achiever like me.

Through the years, God has used various people and circumstances to wrestle me to the ground, sometimes finding it necessary to dislocate a limb of pride, power or privilege along the way as He holds me to a forced stop. But though sitting still can sometimes feel more like being punished in time-out, I’ve grown to recognize that pausing, waiting and stillness is, in fact, a gift of lavish love from a patient father.

***

Now is one of those times—and I am fighting it. I am breastfeeding my newborn several hours a day, leaving my other two children, age four and two, wild and free to execute devious plots and create elaborate messes. Though I thought pregnancy was the worst sort of slowness, I had forgotten the demands of having an infant.

I now spend hours on my couch, holding a tiny, dependent human, in the midst of a house that looks like someone picked it up, shook it snow-globe-style and then put it back down again…

…continue reading at SheLoves. 

***

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Madeleine L’Engle Made Me Do It {for SheLoves}

I shared this last week on SheLoves for the theme “legacy.” When I thought of a woman who has had a huge impact on my life, Madeleine L’Engle immediately came to mind…

 
My husband and I fell in love dodging sparks over a shared affection for travel, coffee and Madeleine L’Engle. I had just finished rereading L’Engle’s treatise on faith and art, Walking on Water, for the umpteenth time, feeling the usual pull to be a writer without the guts to follow the call. My future husband, it turned out, owned every non-fiction book she had written, but had a special affinity for this one because of his own call to be an actor.

Over the years, L’Engle’s words have not only entertained, but also empowered me. For the closet creative with a secret compulsion to write, act, paint, draw, sing, plant or plan a Pinterest party, her words are just the pixie dust you need to fly.

I’ve had a fondness for Madeleine L’Engle since the first time my mom thrust A Wrinkle in Time into my hands in elementary school, making me promise to read it before devouring another Babysitter’s Club book. Years later, after graduating and taking a job teaching seventh grade, A Wrinkle in Time was my first choice of a novel for my students to read for our literature circles.

But it wasn’t until last year that L’Engle’s words changed the trajectory of my life.

Five years after my husband and I fell in love, I reread Walking on Water not in the midst of my single life full of wide-open paths, but sitting on a spit-up stained couch by dim lamplight nursing my second baby. As I read, my secret compulsion unexpectedly grew into courage.

Like a prophecy that awaits its time, the words finally claimed me.

“Feed the lake,” she wrote.

I had so many excuses why I shouldn’t begin writing publically. (The baby on my lap, for one). But there were others…

Continue reading at SheLoves.

How Our Muslim Student Became Auntie Boo {for SheLoves}

I’m over at SheLoves today, sharing about how a Muslim girl came to live with us and became a part of our family…

My three-year-old son tightly twisted the long strand of strong black hair round and round his fingers as he emerged from the guest room yesterday. I peeked through the bedroom door and found my one-year-old daughter squatting on the floor, peering into a fish tank at the “fiffy”—a silky black Betta fish that fluttered to the surface of the bowl. Next to her, Shirin, a 26-year-old Saudi Arabian girl, sat cross-legged taking videos of my daughter that will no doubt make her famous on Snapchat in Saudi Arabia. I smiled silently at the scene, reflecting on the treasure of an unexpected relationship.

***

Three years ago, living back in Chicago after spending several years abroad, I was hungry for relationships with anyone who wasn’t a white American. Though I felt limited by my new mommy status, I volunteered to help ESL students at a nearby university practice their English on the condition that I could bring my eight-month-old son. Desperate for native speakers for students to practice with, the teacher agreed and invited me to her class of Saudi Arabians.

The class was made up of six women and four men who were forced to practice English together despite the fact that in conservative Islamic Saudi Arabia, men and women aren’t even allowed to attend mixed-gender classes. Most of the women wore traditional Saudi clothing—headscarves called hijabs and black, lightweight cloaks called abayas. They were painfully shy, though the presence of a baby magically cracked their solemn demeanor. After the third week volunteering, the teacher of the class whispered that there was something she needed to talk to me about after class.

Scooping up my son who had spent the class crawling under feet, skirts and chair legs, I handed him my keys to play with as I curiously sat down with the teacher.

“So,” she started. “Do you know Shirin from class?” I nodded. “Well,” she continued, “she wanted me to ask you if she could live with you for three months. She’ll pay you rent,” she added.
Surprised, I told her that I wasn’t sure, but I’d talk to my husband.

Though this was something that excited me, I was pretty sure my more level-headed husband would simply shake his head with that smirk on his face that says, “I love you for being so different, honey—but you’re kind of crazy.”

Instead, he leaned back against the kitchen counter, smiled, and shocked me by saying, “There’s really no reason we shouldn’t have her.”
Shirin moved in with us at the end of the summer and three months turned into ten…

…continue reading at SheLoves.

~~~ 

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~~~

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