in memorium :: kevin

kevin, a few years ago when i first met him.

kevin, a few years ago when i first met him.

when i met kevin, he was dapper: clean-shaven, well-manicured, proudly and uniquely dressed, and sauntering confidently around the neighborhood. he loved to talk. and he never hid anything. i remember sitting with him in the boiler room yard one day as he told me about his father’s abandonment, his intense love for his mother, the abuses he had suffered, the homosexuality he owned, the disease he contracted, and the alcoholism he struggled with. i can write this here because if you met him, he would tell you all of it, too.

so here we are, a church. and the church has been many things to men like Kevin, but warm and embracing has not typically been one of them, sadly. yet with us he somehow found a sense of safety and belonging. he knew we loved him, no matter what.

over the next few years we watched him get painfully thin, fall into despondent depression as his mother neared the end of her life and he couldn’t imagine going on without her. he stopped taking his life-sustaining medications, and he stopped eating. he stopped bathing and taking care of himself at all. he developed sores at the corners of his mouth, a glazed over look in his eyes, and a unique odor. in this season, to continue to offer loving touches and nearness were hard for me.

and then, he nearly died. or rather, he DID die. but on that hospital bed, having been declared dead, he saw Jesus. Jesus didn’t say anything, just met his eye and pointed the way back. and then Kevin wasn’t dead anymore. i cannot explain this.

but when Kevin came back, he gave His life to Jesus. he decided he wanted to live the second half of his life differently than the first half. he got healthy again. he started to have hope. he did so much hard work as he bravely and intentionally chose to forgive the many people who had abused and wronged him through his life, getting lighter all the time. he chose to be kind to his housemate, whom he had traditionally been rather mean to. he surrendered his entire heart to Jesus to be shepherded, including his sexuality, because when he asked God what He wanted Him to handover, that was was the answer he heard. there was fruit in keeping with repentance, as the scriptures say. and then Kevin asked if we would baptize him, which we did, on a Wednesday evening in the boiler room yard. it was a holy moment.

about to be baptized. october 2014.

about to be baptized. october 2014.

"kevin, you are the Father's son, and He is pleased with you!"

“kevin, you are the Father’s son, and He is pleased with you!”

exactly one week later, at the age of 42, he had a stroke. and that stroke, with all it’s complications, took his life before the day was through.

there were many tears running down the faces of our Love Feast family, who had heard word on the street throughout the day that Kevin was dying, and then came to our gathering to find that he had passed already. all those tears bear testimony to how he impacted us.

i wasn’t able to get to the hospital in time to say goodbye to him. but if i had, i wanted to tell him in a conspiratorial whisper, “this time, Kevin, you don’t have to turn around and leave when you see Jesus. you get to STAY.” holy smokes, how lucky he is.

but how he will be missed. i was looking forward to seeing him grow up and mature as a Christian, into the fullness of the man he was made to be. i was looking forward to more years bearing witness to his rambling and gut-honest story-telling prayers.

his funeral is this saturday, and Jordan will conduct the ceremony. next wednesday at Love Feast we’ll have a little memorial for him, too.

in memorium :: derek lee, gentle giant

derek helps prepare the food cart to serve love feast

derek helps prepare the food cart to serve love feast

on the street he was also known as Skillet (he loved to cook and feed people, and everyone knew it) or Green Mile (he sorta resembled the main character in the movie by the same name, at least in size, and in gentleness).

as i write this post, he is close to breathing his last breaths, as he will be disconnected from life support any minute now. it was only last week that he was walking among us, his oxygen tank trailing reluctantly behind him, but his face still full of life and humor. he was always the first one to jump at the chance for the open mic, and he had a few numbers that he performed regularly at our weekly LoveFeasts, while all the crowd clapped their hands and grooved along. He was proud of his big, deep voice, and i loved to hear it. i can hear it still.

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yesterday in the early morning hours he suffered a stroke. but it was worse than just that. there was also systemic infection, blood clot in brain, and internal bleeding with unknown source. when i went to the hospital to see him, his gentle giant body was perfectly still, tangled up in an impossible number of wires and tubes and machines. every once and a while his eyes would open, but it wasn’t clear how much he was registering. i sat with his fiance and made her eat some dinner i’d fetched from the cafeteria. in that uniquely self-conscious way that accompanies speaking to someone who is not cognizant, i went to his side, laid my hand on his large black one, and talked to him about the days when he lived in the boiler room and cooked so many terribly greasy things in the deep frier, then turned around and teased me for cooking so much “healthy stuff” when it was my own turn behind the stove. i told him how much i liked hearing him sing at Love Feast. i told him that i’ve actually come to like bacon grease a lot recently, and could he believe that? i blamed it on the pregnancy, the pregnancy that he so boldly and unapologetically inquired about before i was really even telling anyone the news. he wasn’t the king of subtly. 🙂

before i went, i prayed with him and his fiance, through tears i did not expect, both mine and hers. they came when i told him how loved he was, what a valuable member of our family and our church he had become, and how hard it was to see him suffering. i wanted to pray for God to grant him new life on the other side of this, to bring him through singing and dancing once more (he is only about 50 years old, afterall), but in my bones, i knew he would be leaving us. so i prayed mostly for a release of the shalom and presence of Christ in that room, and over Derek’s body. and in my own heart, i pleaded that even now, in this late hour of altered consciousness, that Holy Spirit would show Derek how to believe in Christ for his salvation. because i’m sorry to say this — almost ashamed — but after 6 years of knowing this man, i have never directly asked him where he stood with Jesus. and suddenly, this mattered so very much, but was too late to discuss. God, have mercy.

and now today. my husband is sitting with him and his gathered friends and his family who had to make the hard, hard call that no one ever wants to have to make: to pull the plug. and he will be gone before this afternoon has ended. which means that i will never get those gentle hugs or kindly teasing from that giant brother again.

but he will be finished — for i am casting my vote on my Papa’s love and mercy — finished with chronic sickness, with the temptation and ensnarement of addictions, and with the hardships of poverty.

me and derek at a love feast in 2009

me and derek at a love feast in 2009

a harder week

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i tried to start a fire in the wood stove so that i could sit here and write in front of it. the fire did not take. so the scene of this writing isn’t as romantic, nor as cozy as i hoped to be able to report to you, reader-friends. 🙂

you may have noticed that i’ve been quiet in this space. i had one other post drafted last week but in the end it sounded preachy somehow. i wasn’t comfortable with that. so i scrapped it. but i’ve been having trouble coming up with things to say.

this week has been hard. hard isn’t a very good descriptor; it’s much too vague. this week has been full of a raw emotional vulnerability, saying hard things and having hard things said back. it has been a scary week, a week in which i’ve fallen into the temptation to doubt the value and course of our ministry because a very recent Series of Unfortunate Events formed one big question of “what the hell is going on here?” in my heart. and i didn’t know whether it meant God was trying to put the brakes on things or just to invite us into another layer of trust and steadfastness. in the end, steadfastness turns out to be closer to the truth, i think. i’m grateful that He spoke that word (along with other wonderfully reassuring ones) over us and our team. I Corinthians 15:58 has felt like an answer: “Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of The Lord, knowing that in The Lord your labor is not in vain.”

but whenever we are facing the possibility of not getting our next paycheck — as we are right now (it is one of the Series of Unfortunate Events), and which is also a prospect that we face at least once each year — i crumble into a pile of worry and resentment and then go into problem-solving, striving, i’m-going-to-take-care-of-myself-because-clearly-YOU-are-NOT mode. i’ve known that this compulsive chain reaction indicates that need for some healing or sanctification, or maybe both. so tim and i spent the week fasting and praying about it.

[as an aside, can i share with you a bit of what it’s like to live on the financial support of people who love you and Donors Who Shall Remain Anonymous? friends, it is not an easy thing. if you are not careful, you fill find yourself often in a state of questioning yourself, the work you are doing and how you are doing it, always asking if it’s good spiritually enough, the results obvious enough, the numbers impressive enough to deserve the gifts of your hard-working counter-parts who earn their paychecks at for-profit companies. in seasons when the number of people you’re “reaching” seems small, or the fruit in their lives invisible, you may wonder if you’re wasting everyone’s money in order to keep living in this God-forsaken place under chronic low-grade stress that comes from being in close proximity with poverty and abuse and social injustices that your ministry doesn’t seem to be able to penetrate with life-changing gospel news in ways that you think your donors might expect (as if it’s really ultimately your job or at all under your control). and if you buy yourself something pretty or go on a vacation, you may feel an almost irresistable urge to (a) hide it, (b) downplay it or (c) somehow explain yourself for having spent money on it. you may start to fear that your friends will dread seeing you because they anticipate you asking for support, and you struggle to believe that it may actually be a gift and a joy for them to give it.  no, this is not an easy thing. so when there’s a financial rough patch at the boiler room, my desire to somehow escape our status as ministers living on support goes through the roof.]

then God spoke Prov 31:25 to me through another member of our Core Team. “She can laugh at the time to come,” it says. She can laugh partly because she’s prepared and she knows how to care for her family in hard times using what she has on hand and the wits God’s given her. but even more so, i think the reason she can laugh at the future is because she knows who her Papa is, and that He’s holding her fast, and that He isn’t interested in seeing His children beg for bread, and that He’s wealthy and fully sufficient. furthermore, she can laugh because even if the time to come is hard and she is not rescued from the hard things, still she can expect a great gift from that Father who doesn’t give indigestible stones where there should be nourishing fish. He might not rescue her from a missed paycheck, but He will give her provision for what’s really needed, or an experience of His nearness that shrinks all her earthly concerns to something the size of an inconsequential pebble compared to the eternal worth of knowing Him. So I chose to start laughing. and worshiping. even when i still had no idea how we’d pay all the bills this month. there has been so much freedom in that, and so much joy.

as if the Series of Unfortunate Events were not enough, one of my buttons was pushed by another Core Team member in what was really an innocent email in the wake of the Unfortunate Events. and instead of waiting until the maelstrom of emotions subsided enough for me to see straight, i responded through my tears of insecurity and anger and fear, which sent that person and that person’s spouse into something of a tailspin for a couple of days. that whole process also shed light on a way i’ve been relating to tim that is not as it ought to be, and to confess that before him and ask his forgiveness and then to receive it was hard and weepy work, too. and though we [all] have been able to make things right, there’s a residue of embarrassment and disappointment in myself for not acting very much like the woman i like to think that i am, or –worse yet — for not actually even being that woman. it’s so humbling. and i’ve felt so raw and exposed, even as i’ve received grace.

i’ve been so preoccupied with the unresolved relationship tension and the quest to figure out a plan b for our finances, that i have been checking out on my kids and my daily household tasks, looking for ways to escape (obsessive Instagram checks!), finding solace in things that don’t actually satisfy, because i just didn’t know how to help myself, or haven’t felt up to helping myself. i spent one day in a funk so deep that i actually hid from everyone and refused to attend our weekly community meal because i knew i could cry at the drop of a hat. instead, i ate lots of cookies and went to bed early.

BUT He doesn’t leave me here, at least not alone, and certainly not forever. i’ve interspersed testimony to that fact in the midst of my sharing about the struggles, i hope. He’s faithful and He’s worth it all.

and it looks like — breaking news! — we might not miss that paycheck after all.

so this is me, very much still in process. feeling like the world’s worst missionary (i’ll fight you for the title, Jamie). clinging to the steadfast love of my Father and trying to emulate that steadfastness. writing “Jesus, we trust you” in huge letters on the chalkboard wall and trying to mean it. worshipping. forgiving myself. keeping my hand to the plow to do the work He’s giving me to do in spite of my imperfection in doing it.

i used to…

… be a health food nut.

another-summer-dinner-2i bought only organic grains and vegetables and locally raised meats. i never used sugar or caffeine. i purchased the best quality oils and spices and ingredients i could. whole grains all the time.  and i kept track of how many servings of dairy i’d already had so that i could keep it in check. and i ate meat only 1 or 2 times per week. i took vitamins. i planned meals that included the entire rainbow of colored produce.

and all of this is fine. those are healthy choices, choices that honor the body God created for me to live in.

but see, it became a bit like religion to me. it was a way to stay clean, to be pure. there was a certain degree of self-satisfaction in living up to all these ideals, even if it meant my grocery bill was astronomically high for a single young women with no family to feed, even if it meant i couldn’t enjoy fellowship over foods that didn’t meet my stringent criteria. there was lots of low-grade anxiety around it, too, as i would scan ingredients lists and refuse things that didn’t measure up, which i’m sure sometimes caused offense to other people. and if i ever did “cheat,” i’d feel so anxious that i probably made myself sick.

then God moved me to the Boiler Room. suddenly i was surrounded my homeless folks who couldn’t be so picky about food even if they wanted to be (they didn’t). i tried to cook my special, nutritionally healing foods for them and they would choke down a few bites, then tease me about eating nuts and berries while turning down seconds. folks donated food to us often, so that we could feed ourselves (we didn’t have paying jobs) and the recovering addicts who lived with us. they donated a lot of cakes. there was a LOT of coffee. and my habits couldn’t be kept up in this environment. i felt a little embarrassed to be so concerned about dietary purity when suddenly i personally knew so many people who had to eat whatever they could get. i started to see that my eating habits were sometimes keeping me from connecting with other people. i started to see that i was finding solace in food instead of in Jesus’s sufficiency.

the way that i was eating… it had just gotten…out of order.

this area of food was one of the first places where i experienced a parenting technique i’ve experienced with Papa many times since: He takes something away for a while so that He can give it back to me, this time rightly ordered.

He has done this with big things like marriage (or the hope thereof), where i lived, or my career, and smaller things like the way that i eat or my photography hobby.

He takes it away and at first blush it seems so unkind, as if He’s some cosmic spoil-sport. it’s only in hindsight that i can see how He wanted me to have the good gift, but He wanted me to have it in a way that would optimize my ability to healthfully enjoy it, in a state of freedom! He had to re-order it so that my heart would delight first in Him, which is where true joy lies.

things WILL get out-of-order in our hearts. it’s the human condition. as we recently discussed at Mission Church, “the human heart is an idol factory” (Tim Keller). therefore, one of my favorite prayers to pray these days is, “rightly order this thing in me, God.”

i’m happy to live a season or two (or three!) without something that i love in order to have it put back in order by Him. He always returns it to us in better condition than it was in when He took it from our hands.

what is something you have experienced God re-ordering in your own life?

 

ps: i’m still a bit of a health food nut but there’s been a deep release of up-tightness about it. i’m able to enjoy foods that previously seemed too naughty/disgusting to consider consuming before. i eat sugar and i drink coffee. i also love quinoa vegetable soup and sautéed greens. all things in moderation!

a man named K

in the group of people that i call my Church Family, there is a man (K) who is dying. he is dying of AIDS. he is dying because he has stopped taking his ARVs. in the last year, i have watched him shrink several pants sizes, become unkempt and listless, dirty and rumpled, and mentally altered, with deep and painful-looking sores cracking the corners of his mouth.

we aren’t sure why he’s stopped taking the ARVs, but neither of the possible reasons is a good one. it is either because he has stopped taking them in his depressive state over his beloved mother’s slow dying process these last two years, or because he cannot afford to pay for these life-saving drugs.

and i don’t know how to help him. he trusts Jesus as His savior, and He has experienced the unconditional love of the Father through his mother and this Church Family, i think, even in his open homosexuality (i’m so grateful for this because i know that is a sadly uncommon experience). i believe He’ll go Home on the day that He dies.

but then i wonder, does he really even have to die? couldn’t he yet choose life? if we could get him his medications, perhaps then he would have a while longer? if we could somehow sort through all the unhealthy codependencies that leads him to wish for death rather than a life without a living mother, perhaps he’d stop this slow suicide?

sometimes i get caught up in the larger picture, too…. all the social injustices and unfair infrastructure that make the lives of men like K so difficult, demoralizing, and desperate. these are systemic flaws to “the system” that make it so that some people have every opportunity in the world and others not a fighting chance. i can’t fix all of that in my lifetime, let alone in time for K to get his medications and a healing diet and good counseling services and all the other things that might turn his life around.

but God. He sees. I believe He knows K, and is holding Him still. i don’t understand why He doesn’t want to social-work K’s life to make things better for him this side, or heal him in an instant, but i’m glad that K is with us here for now, receiving some affection and hearing the words of God.

as i took a breather from writing this post, because i wasn’t sure what to say next, i noticed this status update from a Facebook friend:

Some of the most comforting words from Jesus: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” -John 13:7

maybe that’s a place to end this.

ps: tonight during worship at our Church gathering, i took a video K holding hands with one of our Vision Course students. this, my friends, is the kingdom of God on earth. i was so humbled and touched by the sight of this dear dirty and untouchable middle-aged man holding hands with a clean-and-tidy young woman.

evidences of His love (a Love Feast story)

tonight at Love Feast, Tim invited everyone to share little stories about how they experience God loving them.

neighbor-friends around the table whose lives look to me to be so hard, so undesirable, still had things to share, moments where they’ve seen evidences of His love for them.

  • i’m thankful He woke me up this morning.
  • i’m thankful i’m out of the hospital, alive and walking!
  • i’m glad i had a good day at school today.
  • my son is going to be 14 in two months; he’s as tall as i am!
  • i’m thankful for my friend Tony (who is present in the room); i wouldn’t be here without him.
  • my baby cousin H (whom we’ve been praying for) was released from the hospital on the 22nd of August!
  • M and T had a baby girl yesterday morning; her name is Sophie.

i was so humbled to hear these joyful testimonies as folks popped up one-by-one around the room with hardly a pause between, to speak about how Papa loves them.

and then we sang,

“He loves us,

oh how He loves us,

oh how He loves us;

How He loves us…oh!”

i kept my eyes open as i sang it, looking slowly around the room, to see all my neighbor-friends singing along, obviously worshipping. holy spirit shivers.

and i thought, we have come so far! i can’t believe i’m witnessing this thing. 

we are never too poor, too low, too addicted, too abused, too dirty to receive the Father’s love.

and. gratitude is a potent medicine.

1 year after stepping back

about a year ago i wrote about my decision to step back from the SBR ministry after realizing how terribly burnt out i was.

i haven’t looked back once. i have never second-guessed that decision. it’s crazy to be able to honestly say that.

i was just looking at that entry from 1 year ago, in which i had written about what i hoped to see happen after stepping back, and i wanted to spend a little time reflecting on how those things have or have not turned out the way i imagined or hoped that they would:

  • i am looking forward to learning and mastering the art forms of managing my household well (including cleaning and menu planning and budgeting), and mothering intentionally and creatively. our entire marriage has been spent with both of us in ministry, and the timeline of our shared life has been a whirlwind of events in quick succession (meeting, moving, marriage, transit-leadership, moving again, buying and fixing a house, beginning SBR leadership, having a baby, getting pregnant a second time), and so there hasn’t been that time period in which to really settle down into some of those foundational skills. i want to master them and do them with attention to the presence of God.

yes, i think i’m making some progress. my ambitious “household binder” that was supposed to keep me on a manageable schedule for cleaning the house, budgeting, and menu planning sort of fell by the wayside, but i have learned a great new way to budget and have developed a habit of monthly menu planning and both are working out well and are sustainable! cleaning, however… well, that’s something i’ve yet to really find a happy place with. 🙂 as for mothering “intentionally and creatively,” yes, i think that’s coming, too. but there’s some balance to find there. like, i don’t have to have a zillion hand-made activities and a strict daily schedule in order to count myself as an intentional and creative mother. the standard can be a bit more relaxed.

  • i suspect i’ll actually be a fresher and more positive encourager and helpmeet for tim now.  i had been so tied up in knots of cynicism and criticism about the boiler room ministry because of my own lack of peace about continuing on in it, that i carried that energy into all of our conversations with him, with the end result of often making him feel discouraged or diminished in his life work. now i feel i’ll be more able to see it from his perspective (which is one of confidence and faithfulness and joy) and spur him on.

this has absolutely been true! since stepping down, the Lord has really renewed my joy in living where we live and in being a part of the ministry/work that we’re apart of. i have felt the cynicism melt away miraculously and relatively quickly. i have really been taking delight in being a listening ear and advisor to Tim as he continues in the work. i feel proud of him and am watching him really step up and excel in new ways! it’s been really amazing.

  • i am excited to be able to pour my time and energy into taking hazel on outings and to play dates that will stimulate and bless her, as well as to pursue photography, without feeling like i should be doing 20 other boiler-room related things instead (which just ends up paralyzing me).

yup, it’s been great to spend the “open” hours between meals and naps going on outings with hazel or playing intentionally with her (and gus) rather than feeling like i need to steal moments to work on something for the boiler room. it’s both an actual change in how much time i can give to being a mom, AND a mental load off (those open-ended to-do lists are such a drag). i have managed to keep doing some photo work, and to narrow down precisely what SORT of photo work i want to do. and that’s been joyful and just the right amount of it, most of the time. i’ve gotten some help from mommy helpers to keep the kids for a few hours while i edit, blog, or respond to emails for my business (3 or 4 hours a week).

  • i look forward to seeing how Father will direct my heart, and what divine appointments He will lead me into now that i won’t be moving out of a place of obligation or slavery, but of freedom. i wonder what he’ll do with some of those areas/interests in my life that seem to “have life on them” (as tim would say): photography, the birth community, motherhood, food.

i’ve been having fun stepping into boiler room life and work when i have time and inclination or holy spirit nudges. whether that’s pursuing some quality time with someone who needs some love, redesigning our website, or photo-documenting boiler room events. and i’ve been really enjoying following my Christ-indwelled heart into other things with life, like getting to know the natural birth community in Grand Rapids or joining a mama bible study with a bunch of great women i didn’t know before.

SO. praise you, Jesus, for being the Good Shepherd who truly did lead me into green pastures and give me rest for my soul.