resolution: be real

i found this blog today by a missionary in costa rica who is refreshingly real. particularly this post (oh, how i relate!)

and i realize that as a Missionary here in the west side of grand rapids… a Leader of the boiler room ministry… well, i feel like such a fraud so much of the time. i struggle to know how my love for beautiful things, my desire to make photographs, my addiction to The Office and Modern Family, my artful swearing, my chocolate bingeing, and my relational avoidance can be a part of the same woman who wears those titles.

so this person is my new friend. she doesn’t know it, but she is going to coach me in the ways of transparency and embrace of the paradoxical.

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in brief

1

this evening tim and i had our supper on the front porch, in that funny little fold-up love seat we have there. we had a favorite stew. hazel sat across us in her little chair, smiling at us like a fool. and then, next thing i knew, this scene had unfolded in our front yard: four boys of three colors, having dropped their bicycles on the sidewalk, were wielding light sabers, laughing with abandon as they rough-housed together. and then, tim joining them, playing in a way i haven’t seen him play before, while i held hazel in my lap (she is just the right size for cuddling these days), watching with a smile in my heart. lots of days i resent these boys who come knocking on our door more times in a day than seems proper, always wanting something or another, and always just at the moment when we are sitting down to eat or trying to put the baby down for her nap. but tonight i had affection for them, seeing them behave at last like the children that they are, rather than the bad asses they so often feel compelled to play.

2

we begin again with the boiler room rhythms. once again we’ve sat down around a table, dreams held in open hands, quieting our voices to hear His guidance. our job is always to discern what He’s asking us to do in each season; to be more committed to coursing like a river through the bends of His winding ways than to be a rod, straight, stiff and unmoved by changing seasons. so we let go of some things that seemed so central, so essential, in the past… and we pick up other things that we wouldn’t have seen coming before. over three years now, my life has been connected with this family and the corresponding work of God here. three years of revisions and surrenders and surprises. it may seem hard to put labels on, difficult to pin down, but then so is the Holy Spirit.

3

three weddings down and one left to go this season. and that’s enough. as for next year, i’ve got one on the calendar already, but i’m not at all sure that i will intentionally pursue booking more weddings. i sense it’s time to release those intentions. if folks come knocking, wanting me to be the one to capture their wedding through my lens, i will most likely agree to it; but i won’t go looking for it like i once would have. because these days i see the world as babies and families more than as young people in love. having a baby changes everything, including, apparently, the eye of an artist. so i’m looking forward to doing some family sessions this fall, and senior portraits, and i’ll likely just about beg my friends with new babies to let me spend some time photographing them, too.

4

many days my eyes brim over with tears of affection and deep love. this love for my daughter is qualitatively other than all the other deep loves of my life. loving her opens me up. she sleeps horribly and eats like a greedy little horse. lately – after three nights of waking every two hours to feed and to comfort her – i am an empty well with mush for a brain. but then she looks at me with recognition and joy, and i can forgive her anything that she’s ever cost me.

5

i think that one thing we are learning these days is that dreams are far less lovely in their actuality than in the imagination. like this thing with the neighborhood boys and bikes (“this is what i dreamed of,” tim said one day after answering the millionth request for help, “so i guess i can’t scorn it.”) being a parent is another example, of course. and so is missional living in a neighborhood with not much going for it. and now there’s this other dream… a Big One; the one that drew tim and i together with a sense of shared purpose foundational to our marriage… and it, too, is inching into actuality… so it, too, is starting to feel a little less romantic. we dream without even knowing the cost. i wonder if the dreams of God planted in our hearts are the only ones that can survive the onslaught of Coming True. and i wonder what will happen to this one. all i know is that i stand at the threshold with more ambivalence than i would have predicted.

(being vague for now intentionally).

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remember: to stand behind a good man with all your strength and conviction, and to raise a child with all your wisdom and endurance are large enough contributions to humanity and the Kingdom.

to see again, and to lean in

it is so easy to stop seeing what’s right in front of us. this past week, charis asked the tenderos if they had a drop cloth they could borrow. well, for months there has a drop cloth laying in a corner, right in the pathway where they walk every day; it was right in front of their nose. this reminds me of how so many days i can sit alone in my sweet little house (thank you, Lord) and ruminate on the meaningless of my life and my lacking mission, while failing to see that across my yard, in clear vision of my kitchen windows, at any given hour, there are three to six homeless men sleeping or drinking on the porch of an abandoned house. could it be that part of my mission — or at least one place where i can begin to bring the kingdom to bear — is right in front of my nose, even while i sit inside moaning about my aimlessness? or maybe i haven’t stopped noticing their physical presence, but i have lost vision for the image of God in them, the Christ that is near to them, and their potential identity as redeemed children.

do you want to know what holds me back from giving into the urge to bring them hot coffee or muffins in the mornings? or from speaking bold and loving truth into their souls (again)? it is this: i’m afraid that if i give an inch, they will demand a mile, either because my heart will adopt them and long to help, or because they will, in their un-health, act out of entitlement and manipulation. there have been people in my life who have demanded a mile, in the unhealthy sense, and i feel so swallowed up by their neediness, so entirely consumed, that it is enough to keep me from giving even the inch that i can afford. other times, they might demand a mile simply by arousing my heart to engaged concern, which is painful to carry, and sometimes inconvenient in what it requires of me. so i hold back.

all i’m saying is that even if you move yourself and your family down to the center of the action — where the poverty and the drugs and the abuse are — you can still stop seeing what’s in front of you, and you can still neglect the poor. it’s always in our hearts. if you live in a more affluent area, you may need to go a bit further afield to find the least and the lost, but you can carry them in your heart. in fact, maybe you’re carrying them in your heart, your  prayers, your pocket book even more than i am, though i have a cluster of homeless men in my back yard who know my name and where i live.

“lean in,” was the short phrase that Tony embedded into his sermon at Stockbridge Mission Church on Sunday morning. it wasn’t even a main point, but it reverberated in my heart. that same phrase was spoken to me, specifically, at a healing conference i went to a couple years back. it was spoken to me by some caring group leaders who, after hearing my stories and my heart, exhorted me to lean in, and then to stay there. because lots of times, when it comes to relationships, i stand erect and across-from, independent and needless, and hope that others will be, too. maybe you do this too? the fact is that people are messy — not just the ones sleeping in my alley, but most all of them — and it takes great compassion and incredible courage to lean in closer, take a deeper look, and to speak and act in a way that effects change in the both of you. i wonder how often i avoid leaning in by talking about “having boundaries”? but i suspect that when this life is over, the things that will be worth remembering, the things that my Papa will want to talk about with me, will be those relationships into which i leaned hard and fearlessly because i trusted that He is big enough to sustain me as i lean, and to heal the other person, however intensive and far-reaching their mess.

calvin college is putting on a course during their “j-term” called Dunamis, which is a course all about the Holy Spirit, for Reformed people. Tony and I get to go to this class, and not only that, but we get to act as “Spiritual Trainers,” mentoring the students in exploration of the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. and i cannot even begin to tell you how unworthy i feel (am) of playing this role. because though i have been given revelation to know that amzing Person, most of my experiences with Him feel past tense, not a reality i’m currently swimming in and into which i can beckon others to jump. so i was thinking for a while that i might not do it, because of that lack, because i feel like a fraud. but then a couple of people (you know who you are) pointed out to me that perhaps such a commitment will be just the ticket to stretching me back out, pulling me back in, opening that up for me again. lack of engagement is a slow death; so when you feel like you’re dying, choose to engage.

 

missionaries you should know

so, last night i got to make dinner for the boiler room community, plus these two wonderful couples, missionaries in town for a handful of days. their company is such a delight. we sat around the table telling funny stories and laughing a great deal, and then we got to hear a bit more in depth about the contents of their hearts and work. i just want you to meet them.

dan and regina, who are on a brief furlough from their home in zambia, and whom i have met but twice now, bless my heart and expand my dreams, as i watch them so steadily and faithfully go about undertaking the impossible, with a high degree of humility and trust. they’ve been at it a bit over a year now: the establishment of a christian community on the banks of the zambezei river in zambia, where they are developing orphan homes, agricultural programs, and simple-church planting among the villages. they’re using a model from All NationsCPX program. i’m so excited by this fresh way of kingdom-building that empowers and frees people in nations so paralyzed by a long history of western support that has inadvertently communicated to them that they are not sufficient on their own. dan and regina are not there to be depended on or glorified, but to make themselves increasingly disposable. and that seems so right to me.

missy and jeremiah were here, too, in town from minneapolis, where they’ve been plugging along at degrees in social work and social science so that they can take it back to africa with them and better navigate the systems that be as advocates for justice, and specifically the orphan. these two have spent the bulk of their 5 years of marriage on the mission field in one way or another, and while at CPX in south africa, they connected with dan and regina. after spending this past summer in zambia with them, they are planning to return there in June and stay for a few years. missy and jeremiah are so utterly genuine, so at ease with themselves and most people, and they always leave me feeling edified and loved, even after the briefest encounters.

and sarah, who is my dear friend and our housemate, is going to join them all there in the new year. she’ll be building connections between this community in zambia and the CPX students in south africa, as well as facilitating the times when short-terms teams come to volunteer from the states, so that those groups are truly well-utilized in building up the sustainable structures of church that are just taking wings there in the villages. i suspect she’ll also document it all beautifully, in a way that celebrates and calls out the beauty God has put even in the darkest corners of that nation, using her cameras. it’s a giant yes in my spirit that she should go to be there, even if it means i don’t get to see her for quite a long time (which is a very real loss to me).

God has ways that are splendid. even in the connections between these friends whose heart brings them to africa and us here in the boiler room and at crossroads. He has been raising up in the hearts of many people at crossroads a concern for and dedication to the orphaned. this group calls themselves Abba’s Answer, and more and more people are stepping up to become foster parents to some of the thousands of kids in the system right here in kent county. others are meeting regularly to intercede for the orphans in africa. and here in stockbridge, we’re shuffling along in our attempts to incarnate the life and love of Jesus to people who are considered, by many standards, to be the “least” and to see the kingdom unfold in this place. there is so much similarity in the DNA between this undertaking in Zambia and the work God’s given us here… it’s uncanny. and it seems significant to us all. i think that we all feel less alone for being able to meet with one another, honestly sharing struggles and joys, and praying for one another.

what a gift to know these friends, and to be able to bless them and pray for them and partner with them. i get a glimpse of God’s heart through these sweet times with our spiritual family.

 

note: missy, jeremiah, and sarah are in need of prayer and financial supporters to send them well-equipped into the place that awaits them. if you get that little nudge to be one of those people for them, i can get you in touch with them! and trust me, their hearts are good, their methods sound… they are such a worthy investment.

there is room for us all

the stockbridge neighborhood has changed while i’ve been away. i could feel it in the air right away. and as time passes, and i dig deeper back into this community, i can see the more concrete evidence of it. these are signs of life; things that were not there a year ago:

  • steeple-fest – a little street fair went on the other day for the west side (!). the police barricaded stocking avenue and there was a concert and food stands
  • the bloom collective – a little lending library and “info shop” geared toward promoting radical social change
  • 4th street garden oasis – a wee little community garden that’s getting everyone to participate in growing good food
  • hands on hunger – a non-profit committed to stopping hunger in west michigan, and seeing this as a justice issue
  • 4th street deli – located in a once decrepit and abandoned building across the tracks, now serving up hundreds of types of great sandwiches
  • and there are other old buildings being revived and populated, and efforts/initiatives i’m sure i know nothing about
  • and there are so many jesus followers moving into the neighborhood this fall, ourselves included.

there are moments when i worry that what is happening here is the dreaded “gentrification,” or that we’ll end up crowding out the very same poor and least that we are moving there to love and serve. are there too many of us, i wonder? are you concentrating our efforts in a way that ceases to be helpful? is this becoming super-saturated? are these new businesses and restored homes leaving little room for our lower-income neighbors to participate?

i think these are good questions and ones that i hope we’ll keep asking from time to time. because, for those of us who are moving into this place because we feel called to love the folks who lived here before we did, the goal really isn’t to crowd them out! it’s to encircle, embrace, include… to wrap them up in the kingdom. and if instead we chase people out, or disqualify them from participation in the new culture that our coming has created… then i think we’ve failed on some level.

BUT, i remind myself, we’d also be failing if after 5 years of laboring/living/loving in this place the poverty, the crime, and the grime remain unaltered. those things ought to disappear (darkness flees when light comes in), and this neighborhood ought to have a different spirit to it. but not because the people who originally lived here have all moved out. flower gardens, cooperation, wholesome food, reunited families, meeting jesus in the prayer garage, renovated homes, cultural events, and rising employment ought to follow in our train. but, these benefits are not only for us  (the “missionaries” and the middle-class transplants), they are for our neighbors and friends who are still here, but who now walk in new life, who now belong to a family and participate in the kingdom.

that’s what’s on my heart this morning. 🙂

The House

we found what we believe to be The House. it’s down the street from the Stockbridge Boiler Room, next door to a crack house, and around the corner from the neighborhood liquor store. yes, these are selling points. because, the way we see it, this living in the thick of it is exactly why we’re going to grand rapids. it’s part of the obedience. and so there’s this joy, too, because God’s Spirit in us makes us want (sincerely) what He wants.

today, in just a little while, i’ll complete the mortgage application. we look risky on paper because we are relocating, and therefore cannot show the lender that we have 30 days of solid work history in Grand Rapids. but. we have a co-signer (thank you!) and we are hoping that she will cover the gaps in our application. you can pray alongside us, if you want.

and then there’ll be lots of work. the floors need to be sanded and re-finished, the ceilings need to be re-plastered. we need appliances. we need new windows. we want paint in lots of colors. and other small things. but none of this is impossible, and we have a few amazing people in corner who love stuff like this and are standing ready to aid us in sorting it all out and doing it all on the cheap, but with style.

the yard of this house, you wouldn’t believe. it’s magical.

so. standing here poised to perhaps step into one of my deepest wishes: the ownership of a home. i’m nervous. i feel really vulnerable to ups and downs of this process because it’s so close to my heart’s desire. pray that i’ll have balance, that i’ll cling to jesus and not have fear.

expand my territory

He said, “stay; I have something for you here.” so we’re here still, staying, as we’ve been told. and in the staying, He’s changing my heart so that it wants to stay, to nestle in, to put down roots and spread out branches. and He’s been talking a lot about things like building family, and He’s been giving us hunches.

in our tender-shoot Madison Boiler Room, He’s moving us on the grassroots level. we are seeing life over small things like dude church and chick church and evening prayer, and other off-shoot, spontaneous activities. and we’re wondering together, if this is a FAMILY God’s building, what will the family tree of the Boiler Room look like?: maybe like all of us (now well established and raised to maturity in the family of the core team) growing up, getting married, and having babies, so to speak? yet still being brothers and sisters with one Papa, who go to one another’s soccer games and chorale concerts, who help one another with home repair projects, and bail each other out in times of trial. and now that this vision has been settling into my spirit, i can see that He’s already been moving in that direction. it’s not like the revelation of this “Building Family” strategy requires us to abruptly switch course, because He’s already set the course, and maybe now He’s just drawing our attention to what He’s been doing all along.

i never want to resist the river of God.

so that at this point, to buy a house in this neighborhood seems like an act of obedience. it says, “i have heard you, God, here i am. i will make a home here, plant a garden, buy and sell, and seek the peace of this city to which you’ve carried me.” and it just so happens that there’s a house, sitting a few blocks from here, empty and weary and in foreclosure, which means it is in our price range (as nearly no other at-assessment-price house in the city would ever be). we like where it is, and we’ve begun painting pictures of our lives unfolding in it’s rooms. we drive by it almost every day, and ask God please to reserve it for us, until we can creatively come up with cash for closing costs and a wee little down payment. because once we’re in it, it’ll be cheaper per month than our apartment is, and that would be good. and we could make some room there, even more than now, for sheltering folks and having babies.

meanwhile, all within a week following christmas, our dearest little hobo church (aka “the little church that could”) has suffered the loss of it’s pastor and the death of it’s director. all of this within 2 months of our discovery of the little place. for these two months, t and i have simply been showing up there, keeping our mouths shut and our ears open, waiting to see what God might have in store for us there (because we suspected there was something). and it might just be that he wants to give it to us, in part or in full… somewhere between the pastoring of the church services and the taking on of the entire non-profit (!). our new friends there, who don’t really know us from Adam and haven’t seen our credentials seem to think we might be the answer to some of their prayers, and they wonder if we’ll take it on. and i am sitting here in stunned disbelief because i have fantasized about this, but didn’t dare to expect it, nor even to ask for it. there are big ifs and hearts that need softening and legalities that need sorting… and the call to an internal commitment in our own hearts to say yes to this crazy venture, even when there are so very many unknowns. we’re doing research, uncovering historical information, and trying to listen to God’s heart for this little piece of his family. as pastor bill said, during his final sermon, “this isn’t bill’s church and it isn’t ___’s mission; it’s God’s. and God has a way of providing what He needs.”

God help us! how large are these things we’re asking you for! ready our hearts to carry them, if you do indeed intend to entrust them to us. in all things, may you be the One who is recognized as redeemer, provider, and breather of life into a just-born boiler room, an old house of Fifth street, and a weary old Mission.

anell reminded me today that we don’t do any work; we simply join God is what He is already doing. and when that’s the case, things fall into place with surreal ease. the sort of unfolding you witness and then say, “i can’t believe this is happening, but i saw it coming.”

campus angel

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i think that tim is becoming a campus angel. sometimes this is what being a state coordinator for Campus America ends up looking like. sure, he does some recruiting of students to get prayer started on their campuses, but mostly he unearths students who are already doing it, or on the brink of doing it. and then, once they’ve been discovered, he (and some of his friends) get to alight on their campuses for an evening to encourage them and pray with them and resource them to press on.

tim has been making campus visits for months now. he makes the drives out to various cities like Eu Claire, Platteville, Milwaukee, Green Bay and sets up appointments to sit down with the prayer-room-planing students at each one. he comes home excited by what God is already doing in each place. maybe he’s only being humble, but he always makes it sound like all he did for them was give them a yes and an amen.

last week, i got to tag along with him on two campus visits, each to schools where 24-7 Prayer rooms were up and running.

first, we went to UW-Oshkosh on a Tuesday evening, along with 6 other friends from the Madison Boiler Room. about 100 students from every student ministry group represented on campus came together in a university building for a worship time, followed by testimonies about prayer, and then a noisy but well-organized sign-up session that resulted in 2 weeks worth of hour-long prayer slots being filled in under 20 minutes. then we all walked the short few blocks to the house where the prayer room had been installed, to dedicate it and kick off with the first prayer slot. these students are PASSIONATE and they are oozing with  joy because they are seeing the fruit of their wildest prayers coming together in this unified call to prayer. they prayed Big Prayers. the time with these students was mutually encouraging, leaving them with recognition and affirmation that they are on the right track, and leaving us with a desire to have a bit more of that kind of faith we saw operating in them.

on thursday, tim and i headed to UW-Whitewater, which is tim’s alma mater. some of his old buddies from Campus Crusade were doing two days of unbroken prayer in the basement of their “Man House.” we didn’t have any predetermined appointments with anyone there, so we simply showed up, and let ourselves into the prayer room. the writing on the walls gave me the sense that they might be a bit tired, but plugging along faithfully in spite of it. we walked around and surveyed the messages and prayers already poured out on the walls of the space, interceding in prayer for their lives and their campus accordingly. i received a few words in my spirit to leave for their crew, so i scribbled them down on a page from my journal and left it there for them.

and this weekend i’ll send tim off on another angel visit, this time into campuses where there are not yet any known student groups praying. he’ll go in blind, along with some friends, and prayer walk for each campus and those they meet while walking there, as part of what is known as the Wilder Project.

i love that this is part of our lives… this privilege of coming alongside students with holy fires in their bellies to see their worlds rearranged in this crazy Kingdom. we get to be there with them. we get to let their incredible faith rub off on us. we get to hear the stories first, and then tell them to a watching world. we get to see, in so many disconnected places, the One Thing that God is doing in this generation. and we get to marvel at His work.

hobo church and the return of evening prayer

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last night, snuggling into the plush down and bamboo heaven that is our bed, where tim was folding laundry on the other half of it, i said to him, through a sigh, “honey, i feel hopeful.”

yes, to use an over-used but apt phrase, hope is dawning in my heart. and so much in one day!

1. hobo church

the church was one that we found last week on a walk around our neighborhood. a walk tim made me take because i was in a melancholic mood and he figured it’d be good to get me outside of the house and outside of myself. it’s a small white, wood-sided church with its main sanctuary doors sealed shut and a no trespassing sign for good measure. but the side door has a hand-scrawled note in permanent marker on poster board, that says, “no alcohol or alcohol drinking allowed inside.” followed by a short description of when the building was open. i told tim that the nature of this sign indicates that there are probably a goodly number of hobos to be found around the place. we resolved we’d visit for Sunday morning service the upcoming weekend.

we put on something a little more nice than we normally wear to the modern, contemporary services we normally attend in madison, and walked the two blocks to the tiny church. we went in that side door with the sign advising us that alcoholic beverages aren’t permitted and followed our ears down to the basement. as we rounded the corner, we saw several folding tables at which sat probably 20-25 hobos! and there was a counter opposite with three middle-aged men serving up spaghetti, cole slaw, and garlic bread. though we were pleasantly surprised, we DID want to go to service, so we inquired of the servers, who directed us upstairs, and told us to be sure to come back down afterwards and have something to eat.

the sanctuary is very small, with only a couple dozen pews, and on them sat approximately 8 people. the preacher, a 70-something gentleman holding a methodist song book, waved at us when we came in and then continued on with the litany, which was periodically punctuated with commentary from another 70-something man whose name we gathered to be Eugene, and who appeared to have some axes to grind with The World, which was going to hell in a handbasket. every time Eugene interrupted he was kindly patted on the arm by the woman in the pew in front of him, and asked to shush. the preacher made lots of jokes, a behavior that seemed congruent with the smile lines and general joy that covered his countenance. he spoke about All Saints Day (which was yesterday, didn’t you know?) and the fact that each of us has a place in the creation of God, before, during, and after life as we know it. the singing was off-key and off rhythm, but it was hearty.

a woman named shirley introduced herself to us after the service. she was the one who’d been patting eugene’s arm and shushing him during the sermon. now she wanted to tell us a bit about her family — the best place ever, she said. she’s been a part of the clan since 1962, back before they had a building. the first minister of the church was a recovering alcoholic and he had desired to create a mission in which others like him could have support and encouragement to recover as well. so for many years they centered their communal life around that purpose, even having up to 10 homeless, recovering alcoholics at a time sleeping in various rooms of the church (everywhere but the sanctuary). they kept the doors open all the time and folks could come in to shelter from the weather, get a bite to eat, or doze. shirley shone with pride as she gave us this tour guide through the church’s past. then she gave us a tour, and every time we would pass a lock or a sign that instructed people about Dos and Don’ts, she would scoff and remark about what nonsense it was.

t got a plate of food and we found a seat at a table next to a guy our age, named ryan. his story of homeless had to do with currency trading failures and credit card debt combined with a fierce stubbornness and refusal to admit defeat. for a year he’s been staying in shelters and taking his meals at places like this church, all the while scheming how to get a Big Break if he could only find some cash to reinvest in the markets. all around us as we talked, men sat at nearby tables, mostly quietly. i was itchy to be able to do the rounds, to learn more faces, to hear more stories.

finally when the lunch line closed at noon, t and i gathered ourselves and our jackets and walked out the door. we saw the car belonging to our neighbors at the “Chiropractic Office” parked outside, and the older couple it belonged to, and whom t had recently helped carry some things inside, getting inside of it. we walked home, hand in hand, and i waited for t to say what i thought (and prayed) that he would. he said, “i really liked being there.” i said, “me too.” we decided we’d like to come around again. and again. and see what God does.

but, you see, it felt like God saying, “i see you, sweetheart. i see those longings not yet dead for living in my kingdom among the poor and the addicted. i like that you want in on that and i’ve put that in your heart.” so here, a mere two blocks from our house, lies a community of people who my heart is drawn to on multiple levels. and, gratefully, t’s heart is also bending that way.

2. evening prayer

(here i will cut and paste some of what i wrote to my fellow boiler room leaders about the topic)

on tuesday night  jake and tim and i took the Transit girls to Oshkosh for the launch of their 24-7 prayer room and two weeks of unending prayer. there was LIFE over that place and over those students…. a vibrancy and expectancy of God’s ability and desire to radically change their hearts and their campus. i started remembering all the times that i have tasted that fullness, the sort of vibrancy of spirit-drenched prayer and radical obedience that makes worship songs make sense, and i nearly wept for missing it. late that night when we got home, tim and i were laying in bed processing the evening and i shared my heart with him about this, my longing for MORE. and, to my surprise, he agreed with me and prayed out that something is off, that he’s at the end of himself and wants to repent of smoothing things over and being content with things staying as they are. we kept praying together for quite a while and the Lord gave us a couple of specific things to request in prayer for our community, then tim also felt this nudge to begin a short season of more intensely seeking God in prayer… making the sacrifices of sleep and schedule if we have to, because we’re convinced that God has more for us and we want to lay hold of it. and in that moment, i realized that i was no longer willing to try to talk myself out of my longing for more. I don’t buy that because we’re not in a certain phase of life (college) we cannot have the singleness of passion, that quality of whole-heartedness. I want to see the life of the Spirit of God over us; i want to see us praying with expectancy and experiencing more fruit of the kingdom in our individual and corporate lives. and i’m ready to wrestle God for it. we both are. i see now that there are lots of folks in our community also ready.

SO tim sat on this all week, each of us praying into it in our own prayer times. this weekend we checked in with one another about what we were sensing and we felt nudged to initiate a season of whole-hearted seeking in the form of nightly gathering in the upstairs prayer room from 9 to 10 pm from now until the 13th (when we head to Stockbridge on a pilgrimage). after that, we’ll discern what God might be saying about whether to keep it going, alter it, or be done. we just wonder what God might have in store for us when we give Him plenty of space to speak into our lives.

through all of this, my spirit is quickened again, and i feel strength returning to me at the mere thought of doing this… of being unabashedly desperate for Him and open-hearted for Him to rock our worlds. i keep thinking of one of Tony’s favorite sayings, “we order our lives around prayer, rather than ordering prayer around our lives.” that’s how i’m thinking of this endeavor.

so, there it is: hope dawning.

thank you and come, Lord Jesus, come.

discerning our calling

SmoothiesEggs-1The wedding, special and anointed as it will be, is such a small piece of what we’re preparing for here. Because, really, we’re preparing to be married to one another for the rest of our lives. And that’s worth probably 20 times as much attention as the decisions about paper products and rings.

We have a future together. We’ve been dreaming and seeking the Lord about what that future will be. Or at least the next steps.

We know there’s a calling on our lives to live a form of discipleship that isn’t for everyone – a form that means forgoing traditional employment and being present and ready for the surprises of a new form of church that the Spirit of God is putting in the collective consciousness of our generation. We are clear on this much: our vocation is, for lack of a better word, ministry. More specifically, it is pastoral, communal, missional, and incarnational. These may seem like so many theological buzz words, but they are trying to get at the heart of the thing. We’re settling into the reality of our shared calling to missions/ministry, and learning how to live into that beautifully.

But the trouble with following Jesus is that He rarely, if ever, unfolds His entire plan in one breathtaking view. And He never hands out cover-all instruction manuals. Instead, He asks us to keep step with Him, relationally and in love, though we have limited sight. He says, “Do you trust me? Walk with me.” And that’s often all we get to know. We’re at the mercy of this Man of tender compassion who is reconciling the world to the Father through Himself.

So when we sit down and say that we’re trying to be obedient to Jesus by pursuing life as a part-time missionaries, we do so somewhat sheepishly because there is a lot about the particulars that we don’t know and cannot predict. We just know that He’s calling us to keep big gaps in our schedules and an ear to His mouth, inclined to hear and promptly obey when we hear Him speak. There have been many many moments of confusion and frustration around what we’re doing here, but there’s a constant reassurance to keep the course anyway. We will keep pressing into Him for guidance and direction, with hearts readied to obey, because that’s where the joy is.

Here is what we see: we see a generation rising up that is hungering and thirsting for righteousness, for something to live and die for in discipleship that is whole-hearted and uncompromising. We see that the Holy Spirit is planting dreams in our collective consciousness, dreams that are potent and alive. We see a new form of church emerging that is simple, accessible, small, and equilateral. It is shining and pure; it is the new wine skin of the Church that Jesus is building. We see a generation that is willing to live on little among those with little so that the shame of poverty may be reduced, a generation who is willing to reorganize their lives to steward creation well, and to go into all the nations with the gospel of Christ.

Most of all we sense that the Father is working to convince His kids that they belong to His heart and that He loves them with an everlasting love. We see the spirit of adoption being poured out on many as they encounter the love of Jesus and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. We see that Jesus is readying His bride for His return.

And we say, “Jesus, we want in!” This is what He’s given us grace to embrace, individually and as a couple, as our vocations: participation in this new thing He is doing, though it cost us much. We long to see His Kingdom come in our world.

We don’t hope for what we already have, but for what we do not yet have. And as we hope, we wait for it patiently (Romans 8:24-25). So, we are hoping for something that is both a here-and-now and a not-yet Word. There is much that is yet far-off, and the images ahead are fuzzy, not yet in focus. But He’s setting us on stepping stones here and now, confirming and affirming to our spirits through many means that each of our steps is in conjunction with His.

What does this look like, practically speaking?

24-7 Prayer[1] is a group of friends scattered around the world committed to the marriage of Prayer, Mission and Justice. This is the context God has put us in to journey deeper into this vocation He’s assigned us. We are involved in 24-7 Prayer USA in three different areas (here’s some copy-and-paste action from their websites):

  • Boiler Rooms: A 24-7 Boiler Room is a simple Christian community (one might even say Church) that practices a daily rhythm of prayer, study and celebration, while caring actively for the poor and the lost. A 24-7 Boiler Room exists to love God in prayer and to love its neighbors in practice.  These purposes are contextualized in community and expressed in a defined location.
  • Transit: a 9-month opportunity to live as part of a Boiler Room community, experiencing a monastic lifestyle of prayer, study and action. 24-7 Transit has been tailor-made to equip disciples for the two great adventures of life:
    – the inward journey of spiritual formation
    – the outward journey of social transformation
  • Campus America: an effort to mobilize [unceasing] 24-7 prayer on all 2,614 university, college and seminary campuses in America in 2010. It’s an invitation to a generation that really could change the course of many thousands of lives, impacting the poor, and spreading the good news about Jesus. What happens as a result of such an unprecedented wave of prayer is really up to God.

Both of us are a part of the core leadership team for an emerging boiler room here in Madison. After a year of meeting to listen to God and build solid relationships, we are venturing out into more practical expressions[2] of our values[3] in the form of regular prayer rhythms, hosting pilgrims in need of rest, and weekly open gatherings for prayer, worship and teaching, alternating with meal-sharing.

The Madison Boiler Room hosts students for nine months at a time who are called Transit Students. As a Transit mentor, Brooke will be discipling four college-aged Transit girls weekly, being present for them in this deeply transformative, beautiful and difficult, year. It is both a small thing and a profound thing, this commitment to be available and attentive to the spiritual formation of these young women.

Brooke and Tim are dreaming about a call to the poor, believing that there is a special place for the poor in the heart of God. We’re pressing into God to give us assignments that will bring us into places where broken and hurting people await the restorative touch of His love. Maybe it will be through volunteering with homelessness organizations, or jumping on board with a team of area intercessors committed to praying the kingdom into one of madison’s poorest (and more crime-ridden) neighborhoods. We hope it will mean frequently sitting down to home-cooked meals with them, not in a social services model, where one is the giver and the other the recipient, but in authentic friendship that invites them into supportive social structures again. We want our home and our church community to be open-handed and have [literal] open doors to the “least of these,” and we recognize a special grace on the two of us to pioneer that effort on behalf of the entire boiler room.

At the beginning of 2009, Tim accepted the role of State Coordinator for Wisconsin in the Campus America project. He is building a state-wide team of student organizers and older-generation prayer supporters across the state, providing guidance for setting up prayer rooms on campuses, traveling to meet with and encourage students, networking them with one another, the Campus Wisconsin blog and other resources for encouragement. He’s also organizing a couple of state-wide gatherings in the 2009-2010 academic year.

In addition to all of this, Tim is working as a job coach for developmentally disabled adults and Brooke is a cook at a small day care center down the street, as well as assisting area wedding photographers from time to time.

Do you know how many days there are pangs of desire in our heart to have a steady, full-time, salaried job with benefits? Do you know how much it eases our anxieties to think about having earned income that is sufficient to meet our expenses, plus afford an occasional vacation? (Oh, it’s tempting!) That’s the track we were individually pursuing before He pursued us right outta there. We would both rather “earn our keep” any day, and we have been always and ever wiling to work. We’ll work part-time no matter what, at jobs that are not prestigious, because it’s an intersection point for people in our city who may be hungry for Jesus. But whenever we go back to God with the question of working full-time again, all we hear is “No”. It seems that in our line of work there’s something to be said for having time and energy to be available and ready, something that a full time job detracts from. We’re beginning to wonder whether we’ve been irrevocably called out of the standard American career track, contrary to all common-sense wisdom. And if not irrevocably, at least for a season of undetermined length.

Now here is some serious financial transparency: Our combined regular, adjusted gross income is approximately $1,450. On this we can get by, as long as we have our student loans in deferment, have no health insurance or health care, never travel, and don’t have any savings. Haha. Obviously, that’s not a great set-up. Our estimated budget, were we to add on those other things that we’ve been doing without, would be about $2,100. That’s discrepancy of about $650/mo.

So here it is again: following Jesus in spite of things not making sense of lining up, in spite of them seeming irrational, irresponsible, or even impossible.

And I (brooke) hope to get better at this thing. I hope to learn how to much more quickly return to a place of confident waiting on God, rather than so often ringing my hands together and scheming to make things work out for us. I’m glad to have such a patient teacher in my Papa God.


[1] http://www.24-7Prayer.us (USA) or http://www.24-7Prayer.com (international)

[2] The 6 Practices of the Madison Boiler Room are as follows: Prayer and Worship, Witness, Justice and Mercy, Hospitality and Pilgrimage, Discipleship (Learning), Creativity, Sabbath and Celebration.

[3] The Madison Boiler Room is a Christ-centered family of friends pursuing authenticity in relationships, unity in the church, and restoration in the world through prayer and practice.