Dear Heartbroken World

I originally wrote and posted this in August 2014, but it feels more applicable this morning than ever. I have changed some of the original details to reflect our current suffering...

Dear Heartbroken World,

Our hearts grieve the deaths of our beloved Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Dallas Police and DART Officers; the helpless and terrified Syrian people; the bloodshed in Baghdad, Bangladesh, Istanbul; the senseless death of those in our LGBTQ community trapped in Pulse Nightclub; the babies growing up practicing lock-down drills at home that they learn from school, showing us momma’s what to do if a man comes in with a gun—

the pain of our own broken pieces of earth. 

Disease, divorce, depression. 

Our hearts are grieved and we are weary. 

It all seems a bit cruel right now, doesn’t it?  

Roger Cohen for the New York Times once said, “Shed a tear, shed a thousand, it makes no difference.”

Although he did not write those words in the context I am applying them to, I can’t help but think they are the sentiment most easily adopted by anyone who has watched the news this week.

Shed a tear. Shed a thousand. It makes no difference.

It feels heavy. Out of control. Frantic, spoiled, hopeless, despairing and fatalistic.

In his brilliant book on the chronic depression of President Abraham Lincoln, Joshua Shenk says, “Hopelessness, in an extreme form, leads people to think that only one thing can break the cycle, and that is suicide.” He goes on to quote Edwin Shneidman, the creator of the field of suicide studies, “The single most dangerous word in all of suicidology, is the four-letter word only.”

Only one way out. Only one option left. Only going to get worse. Only way to find relief.

Shed a tear. Shed a thousand. It makes no difference…

Says the fatalistic heart who sees only death, destruction and heart-ache with no hope for beauty, redemption or joy.

But I say a tear matters. A thousand tears matter. And you and I? We are going to make it here in this beautiful, tragic world because our tears do make a difference.

Empathy matters. Our voices, raised in unison and whispered in prayer, matter. Our love for one another- the child on the border, the teenager walking the streets, the elderly in our nursing homes, the Yazidi cornered into a mountain, the driver in front of you, the person bagging your groceries, taking out your trash, the officers selflessly protecting our communities, our own babies, neighbors, spouses, friends, grandparents- our love, mercy, attention and kindness to each of these matters. Volunteering matters. I don’t care if you save a whale or a chicken! If you are reading to our children, cleaning up the side of the highway, teaching vocational skills in a prison or playing Bunko at the nursing home… it matters.

It matters that you and I show up. It matters that our tears of pain, anger, injustice and sadness pool together; that our empathy- our humanity- is not lost in the current tidal wave of destruction.

It has been said that without vision the people perish. I would say that without hope, the people perish.

A hopeless society is far more deadly than any war, atrocity or dictatorship. When the bleak, despairing voices of fatalism and defeatism threaten to overwhelm a society- bold advocates of resilient hope, faith, optimism and joy must fight all the more to be known.

Though we are hard pressed on every side, we are not broken. Though we are perplexed, we are not driven to despair. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen. (2 Corinthians 4:10)

And what of the life of Jesus?

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Jesus in us does not look like hopelessness, death, defeatism or fatalism. Jesus in us—even in our current collective suffering—looks like life. Abundant.

Joy in the sorrow. Hope in the broken spaces. Peace in the midst of chaos. Beauty overshadowing, prevailing, over every dark dirty day.

We are going to make it, you and I. We are going to do so with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We are going to do so as bold bearers of hope. We are going to do so through our tears.

With a firm, holy indignation I refuse to believe that our showing up makes no difference in each others lives. Indeed, our willingness to show up for one another in big and small ways, is the balm that soothes broken hearts and makes pathways out of the chaos and confusion.

Shed a tear, shed a thousand?  Yes, PLEASE.

Because the only commodity you and I can offer a hurting world is our tears. Tears shed by people who continue to SHOW UP with brave voices of HOPE in the midst of  heartache.

Fight the good fight, friends. Don't give up. Now more than ever, it matters.

much love,
jenny

Seventy Times Seven

So I found myself texting this to one of my best friends the other day: 

“I’ve been so embarrassed to ask for prayer because sometimes it feels like my life is just perpetual drama. With all the financial loss Ryan and I walked through after Addison Road stuff and then walking the road of losing Maggie and Ellen a few years later (my sister’s daughters who died at birth in October 2014) it just feels like it should be the end of the 'hard stuff.' That there shouldn’t be more and if there is, it’s somehow my fault.” 

I told her “I have this little voice inside of me that tells me I’ve used up my allotment of sympathy and prayers; that life should henceforth be easy and painless and perfectly put together because I’ve maxed out my quota for pain and people are tired of hearing about it already." 

(Never mind that I am tired of living it already.) 

Against all the blaring sirens in my heart and soul telling me I was “too much” and “out of turns to ask for help” and I just needed to “be quiet, suck it up and handle it on my own”…  

I told her...

“But I need prayers in this season because my heart is breaking in a new kind of way that I didn’t know was possible. Who knew there were more ways for it to break? And I cringe asking for prayers, because I wish more than anyone it was all put together already and I didn’t need them. But I do. So can you pray for me? Again?” 

As I texted those words, God so tenderly seemed to respond in my soul, “Who put a limit on mercy, Jenny? Was it me? Did I say you were out of turns for compassion, grace and love? Who told you that you were a burden and that people were weary of walking alongside you?"

Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive this brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 

Jesus looks Peter in the eye and blows his mind. “I tell you not just seven, but seventy times seven.” 

Jesus looked me in the eye and whispered the same thing over my heart this week. 

Who am I to limit how many times I can be on the receiving end of mercy and grace and forgiveness and prayers? Should I receive the tender and fierce prayers of my community only seven times? Or seventy times seven? 

God himself is reminding me: if forgiveness is not limited, neither is mercy. 

Or prayers. Or grace. Or love. Or compassion. 

Do I deserve it? Have I earned it? Do I need to re-pay it? Will I have to ask again? Am I a burden? This week I am practicing the art of silencing all these questions and leaning into the grace of friends who have not once shamed me and told me to “just be well already.” Friends who have stood beside me and not grown weary in their love and prayers. 

And I am standing in awe of a God who keeps whispering “seventy times seven” over me. 

Maybe you need to be reminded today that seventy times seven is for you too. 

Maybe you need to offer more than seven shots at grace to someone in your life. 

Maybe God needs to step into your shame and fear and “people are SO tired of hearing this story from me” thoughts and remind you that this whole Gospel thing? It’s about mercy... 

and mercy and mercy and mercy and mercy… the unlimited, never-runs-dry, seventy times seven kind. 

I'm Pregnant. I think.

Hello, my name is Jenny and I'm pregnant. I think. 

If I were to walk into group therapy today, that's how I would introduce myself. I'm pregnant, I think. 

Last week I heard the heart beat and the whole pee-in-the-cup business continues to confirm that I am indeed pregnant. But while my stomach is slightly larger than usual (even that seems to fluctuate with the time of day and size of meal) and I get the occasional leg cramp in my sleep, these are the only vague indicators that something is growing inside of me. No morning sickness. No intense cravings for exotic or bizarre foods. Not particularly weepy or sleepy. And so far, no discernible movement from the baby.  

I am on the cusp of being 18-weeks-pregnant and don't feel much of anything.

My friends have told me about a place where I can go get a sonogram for only $100 and my sister has offered to mail me her at-home fetal heart rate monitor. The nurse said I could come in if I needed to hear the heart beat for reassurance and peace of mind. And I'm tempted to say yes to all of these things. YES, I WANT PROOF. 

YES, I want peace of mind. YES, I want reassurance.

But there's something I want more. 

I want to learn how to trust. I want to be a woman rooted deep in faith. 

While the incredibly kind and well-intentioned offers of my friends and family to 'put me out of my misery' are beautiful examples of their love for me, I feel as though God keeps whispering that this is not a season for short-cuts. This is a season to re-engage the hard work of faith. So while I sorely want to hear a heart beat and be instantly reassured that all is well with the tiny baby growing inside of me, I am choosing instead to repeat a simple prayer of faith when I feel frantic for proof of life:

I trust that you are alive. 
I trust that you were made well. 

These utterances are my simple acts of faith. Faith is a spiritual gift. But it is not my spiritual gift. I am a skeptic, doubter, thinker, mystic, over-analyzer and general 'I want proof' kind of gal. Faith doesn't always come naturally for me; it's a muscle I must routinely exercise, and even then it seems to be hidden away in that clandestine place where my ab muscles are mysteriously holed up. So I have a choice. I can constantly seek to relieve the tension of not-knowing or I can learn to rest in a faith that reminds me it is already known. 

For only $100! I can have a sonogram done at the drop of a hat and feel immediate relief from my discomfort. But this reinforces my reliance on hard evidence and proof. You don't need faith or trust (or pixie dust!) if you can get all the answers on demand. As long as my body is healthy and my doctor finds no need to do extra-testing, it's probably safe to say the baby is fine and I will hear the pitter-patter of her heart again in six weeks time. The question is more-than-likely less about whether the baby is growing as she should be, but whether I am growing into a life of faith, as I could be. In my own book I write, "As a person of faith I am invited to live in the tension of believing that God is present and at work, whether I see immediate evidence of it or not. I am invited to abide in the truth that the sun is still rising. Always rising. Whether I see it yet or not, there's a little bit of morning outside."

I will always be chasing these words, re-learning to live by them in each new season. 

In fourteen days we will get the regularly scheduled sonogram to find out whether we are having a boy or girl. To find out if the heart and brain and lungs are all accounted for and developing as they should be. 

Until then, when it suddenly hits me that I have not "felt" pregnant at all on a given day, I will take a deep breath, repeat my simple prayer, and allow the discomfort of not-knowing to propel me towards a trust and faith that is not built on immediate answers but on the knowledge that there is more at work in this world than my eye can see. There is a way of living that does not require proof.

Evidence will manifest itself in due time. Until then, I am learning all over again what it means to be a woman of faith. 

 

~~~

Further thoughts on Waiting and Lostness from my book
The Road to Becoming:

"The possibility of giving birth to a new person is both terrifying and exhilarating. And you realize waiting is not just an exercise for the sake of learning patience; waiting is for the sake of letting something grow. Learning patience along the way is simply a bonus. We wait because new life requires time to grow. We wait because there is a bigger issue at hand than just What will I do next? but rather, Who will I be when I finally get there?"   

"A person who is willing to inhabit their lostness has the faith of a great army. People who don't have faith don't allow themselves to get lost. They do not trust God to show up in the darkness and shine a light on the path that leads to being found."

"Jesus has become the guide, and the the Guide is teaching me how to move forward in the dark." 

"When I confidently trust that God is near and in the business of finishing what He started, I can wait with hope." 

"Sometimes life is all fat feet and waiting games." 

"Our aversion to patience, our propensity to hurry along the person who is waiting and preparing, speaks deeply to the state of our hasty, risk-averse souls. We would rather put someone out of their supposed misery than sit through the misery with them while they wait. We would rather cut short their time of growth in order to wrap up their tense moments of indefinite waiting with a pretty bow." 

"Incubating, growing, becoming. It is not a curse. It is a blessing." 

"That anything can be planted and then sprout, grow and bloom is holy." 

 

 

 

Mercy In My Underwear Drawer

One month ago I found out some pretty major news that rocked my world. I was emotionally reeling, Ryan was at work, and three real estate agents were lined up to come to our home that morning to talk about listing our home on the market. It was the first day of Lent and I was endeavoring to live with open eyes and an open heart. A man pulled into my driveway in an old beat-up white truck and came to my front door one hour before the first real estate agent was to arrive.

I always keep the front door open because I love to see the sunlight pouring in through the storm door. Also, we live at the end of a quiet, private cul-de-sac so it never feels intrusive or dangerous. The down side to this is, sometimes people in old, beat-up white trucks pull up to the curb and feel the freedom to walk straight to the open door and knock. In these situations, there really isn’t proper time to close the door and pretend you aren’t home.

He told me his name and his wife’s name. She was in the truck. He was in the neighborhood laying mulch for neighbors and had a pretty big load he still needed to get rid of. He noticed we had nice big flower beds, but no fresh mulch and wondered if I might be interested in his. It was top of the line- it would last all season- and he would give me a great price. Ryan and I had actually just made a short list of things that needed to be updated around the house if we were going to put it on the market. Mulch in the flower beds was one of those things.

“How much?” I asked him.

“$6.85 a bag,” he said.

“And how many bags do you think you will use?”

“Well, each bag is 50 pounds and it won’t take too much, ma’am. I’ll give you a good rate.”

“Ok, well I have realtors coming to the house in an hour, do you think you can be done by then?”

“Yes ma’am! And could I please have some cold water for my wife and I?”

I brought him the water and chatted with he and his wife as they began to work outside. I didn’t have the best feeling about the whole situation but they clearly needed the income. They were in worn-out ratty clothes, driving an old beat up truck, looking for work. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that maybe she was in a situation she didn’t want to be in. So now that they were here, I figured I might as well try and pour some love into them and make sure she was safe. The whole situation was bizarre and I was kicking myself for not just having the wits to say, “NO THANK YOU.”

A million accusations flooded my mind.

Seriously Jenny? Why are you such a sucker? Why can’t you just say no? Why do you answer the door? You can shut it in someone’s face, you know. It’s your house. I’ve been letting in Mormon missionaries and encyclopedia salesmen my whole life. Don’t even get me started on that one time a man selling meat from the back of his truck almost sucked me in. How much does mulch cost anyways? He sure does seem to be using a lot.

The first real estate agent and his greasy protégé showed up thirty minutes early. I suppose they were going to sit in the car until the proper time. But you know- I’m the girl that keeps the front door open- so they got out and joined the party in the front yard. I was dripping in sweat form anxiety. Already riddled from an emotional 24 hours, I just wasn’t thinking clearly. I got the real estate agents settled inside and went to tell the man out front that we had enough mulch.

He handed me a sheet of paper, freshly torn from the spiral notebook in his hand, that said the total price. I almost passed out. I thought I would have a heart attack. His wife was already back in the truck and horror stories instantly played through my mind of what might happen if I fought back and said, “absolutely not.” He already looked like he could kill a person with a shovel at any moment. The mistake was made and it was mine. I just wanted them gone and I wanted to feel safe. In my emotionally frazzled state, the safest thing seemed like paying and getting them to leave.

I still can’t even type the number that I wrote that check for without waves of shame and embarrassment. But you can do the math. Somehow our flower beds required 40 bags of mulch.

Please. If you feel the need to point out how cheap a bag of mulch is at Home Depot, trust me, I am painfully aware.  

The dread I felt in having to text Ryan and tell him what I had done was intense. We don’t have that kind of money laying around and I knew it would mean we would need to dip into savings to cover my monumental mistake. I was totally ashamed and embarrassed that I had made such a stupid mistake. I was angry at myself for always being a sucker. I’ve been a sucker my whole life. I texted him. “I made a huge mistake. I’m sorry. I know it was stupid. I can’t even talk about it right now because I might break out in hives. But you are going to need to move some money over from savings. I’m so so sorry.”

Ryan’s initial response was as expected. “You can’t be serious?” “No way Jen. There is no way he charged you that much and you paid.”

It wasn’t my finest moment.

I laid in bed that night crying my eyes out. But when I went to brush my teeth, the most amazing thing happened.

The man who laid the mulch promised me it would last all season!, and if it didn’t, I could just call him and he would come lay new mulch for free. He scrawled his name, Archie C., and his phone number on the corner edge of the notebook paper and the cost per bag. I showed Ryan earlier in the day. “Seriously? That’s his business card? This is all you got in return?” No. I got forty bags of mulch in return ;-). He laughed at the ridiculousness of it all and put the tiny piece of paper in his pocket.

As I went to pick up my toothbrush that night, I found Archie’s “business card” taped around the bristles of the brush. My dear husband, who always has a wicked sense of humor, left this gift for me. I died laughing. The next morning, I woke up and found his "business card" taped to the toilet seat. That night it was under my pillow. And the following morning, as I hurriedly got ready for meetings, I reached inside my underwear drawer, pull out of my favorite pair, and there ole’ Archie’s “business card” was. Taped inside my favorite pair of underwear. I have never laugh-cried harder in my life.

So I made a $270 mistake. It happens. Well, maybe that particular kind of mistake will never happen to you because you aren’t gullible. But maybe a different kind of mistake will. Or maybe you have a gullible person in your life too and they will make a stupid mistake. But here’s the thing----

In ten years, what I will remember about that day is not the mistake I made but the mercy I was given. Because after Ryan’s initial “YOU DID WHAT?” response, he quickly did what he does best. Offers grace. He didn’t make snide comments about the cost of mulch at Home Depot or my inability to just say no, he didn’t roll his eyes, comment on how much money I had just lost us or allow me to feel shame for a single minute longer than I needed to. He let it go and endeavored to help me do the same. He laughed. He brought joy and gave unmerited mercy.

Mercy doesn’t come with a side of judgmental arrogance. 

Mercy doesn’t come with a smirk and a declaration in your heart that “you would never make that kind of mistake.”

Mercy comes free. Without merit. In the midst of the mistake. Mercy is for those of us who make stupid decisions. It shows up taped to your toothbrush and in your underwear drawer. It comes on visitation days at the prison and in living rooms after affairs are discovered. It comes as you confess what you’ve been racking up on the credit card and in the car when you’ve yelled at your babies and they forgive you before you can ask out loud. It comes on a cross when everyone has gone home, hidden their faces and run away from the One they once called their beloved teacher and Lord.

Mercy comes running. And it sets us free. No strings attached.

May we know God’s mercy this Lenten season.

May we be quick to give and receive grace.

Quicker still to release our shame.

And eager to be lavish givers of mercy.

 

(And yes, Dad. I know you will now go and listen to Mercy Came Running by Phillips, Craig and Dean for the rest of the day. Let me make it easy for you. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2otwzdgDRw )

UpRooting and Re-rooting Well

For military spouses and others who uproot your family in service to others: I am in awe of your sacrifice and grateful for the hard work you do to establish roots where ever you go. Your ability to LIVE and LOVE no matter where your home may be located, inspires us to make the most of what we have. You uproot and re-root and do so with beauty and strength.

You are heroes too.


I spent this weekend with my sister Melissa, her husband Tim and their beautiful daughters in Lexington, Kentucky. They have been in the city less than three months and this is the fifth move their family has made for the Army since they got married ten years ago. But as we celebrated my niece's 4th birthday with an outer-space themed party, the house began to fill with people. And when it was all said and done there were twenty people in their home loving on that sweet little girl. Twenty people that, three months ago, my sister did not know. I was in awe. My sister re-roots well.

These are three things I've learned from Melissa and Tim about people who uproot and re-root well:

*They just start living. They don't wait until their houses are perfectly put back together or the moving boxes are all cleared out or they are completely settled in. Settling takes time, and their time is precious. People who re-root well hit the ground living for the day at hand.

*People who re-root themselves well don't have the luxury of picky perfection. I leaned over this weekend and asked Melissa where all these people had come from. Had our dad paid them to come to his granddaughter's birthday party?!? She laughed and said, "Nope. They are all from our new church!" New church already? It's taken us three years to find the right church here in Nashville. Maybe that's because when time is of no value, we often get lost in our freedom. But for people who uproot every three years, time is of the essence. And people who uproot well value every second they have. When Melissa and Tim arrived in August, they located churches near them, wrote a list, and began to visit the first Sunday they were in town. As it turns out, they didn't need the list, because the very first church they attended- they liked. And decided to stay. And it doesn't always happen that quickly- sometimes it takes a few months. But people who re-root well don't have time to laboriously comb through churches with their mile-long lists of needs that must be met. They hold some standards tightly and the non-essentials loosely. Knowing you have three years- or five- means you don't have the luxury of looking for a perfect family, you look for a good family with open arms and jump all in. We may all do well to follow this example. There is no such thing as a perfect family. But there sure are a lot of good families out there. They may not fit all of our needs or fulfill all of our dreams and wishes- but that was never supposed to be the church's job in the first place. People who re-root well don't wait for a perfect church family, they find a place with open arms and just get to it.

*Finally, those who re-root well are open to befriending a wide range of people. When we moved to Nashville my biggest concern was Annie having friends at her birthday party. I was a *wee* bit scarred by my own third grade birthday party, which happened several months after moving to a new city, and no one came. Consequently, I did not want my own daughter to experience the same thing (although she was only turning 4-years-old and probably wouldn't remember!). I lasered in on any human that had a child in their possession. And what followed was an unlikely group of women who graciously invited me and Annie into their lives. We were all VERY different, but I wanted friends and more importantly I wanted my daughter to have friends---so I was grateful for anyone with open arms. I still am. People who re-root well are not too picky about the open arms; they are grateful for each set and willing to befriend the most unlikely people. They make friends at the library, Starbucks, church, the playground and in their neighborhood. Currently, my brother-in-law has weekly tea with the new friends he has made in the program he is studying for-they are all from the Middle East. My sister has friends who are absolutely nothing like her, friends perhaps she would never naturally be drawn to, but has been welcomed by and that's what matters.

I sat at a birthday party this weekend in awe of those who uproot and re-root well. They don't wait to "feel" settled, they aren't picky about new faith families and they are open to befriending a wide range of people. Most importantly, they don't shut down and retreat---waiting with dread for the next move, not investing because they are afraid of the good-byes, hiding because it's easier than living. They bravely, boldly, sometimes just-for-their-kids'-sake start living the minute their feet hit the ground on new soil. As we honor Veterans this week- we also honor the spouses who fight for their families to have LIFE abundant in each new place they are stationed. Your ability to LIVE and LOVE no matter where your home may be located, inspires us to make the most of what we have. You uproot and re-root and do so with beauty and strength. You are heroes too.

(PS: Apparently people who up-root well know the potential a moving box has to become a spaceship. You up-rooters rock those multi-purpose packing boxes!)