Stability

Are you looking for a new adventure? Want a better job? A new living situation? Ready to hit the road for an epic vacation? Ready for a HUGE change in your life? Everything about advertising in our culture is trying to sell us this "better" right now.

To this enter this week's word the OPPOSITE of this: stability.

Stability: Constancy of character or purpose, steadfastness.

By this, I mean doing the same thing. Doing it well. Going deep where you find yourself planted.

In his book, The Wisdom of Stability my friend, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove makes a strong case for the spiritual practice of investing your life in a particular direction. He calls in question our "always looking for a better invitation" culture.

Saying might deeper roots in a particular place with particular people for the long haul be the most faithful way to live?

I have to tell you that as I read this book, I questioned Jonathan's reasoning. Wasn't Jesus a nomad? Weren't his disciples? Why shouldn't we be on the move? (Such is a common message that preachers like me are known to preach on)

But as I kept reading, I thought about those that I know who have stayed in one faith community for a long time or who have lived in the same neighborhood for many years or who have stayed in the same line of work for their entire career.

I thought about my in-laws who for most of their attended one church and together grew one business.

I thought about my friends, Beth and Danny who for over 30 years gave their summers to a youth camp organization that did service projects all over the world in partnership with local people who in turn became their dear friends.

I thought about my former roommate, Sarah who found the neighborhood where she wanted to live in after graduation and is committed to "being carried out in a box" from her address.

Stability-- though some might call it boring-- can be such a faithful way of life where beautiful lasting gifts can come to our week.

For stability is the fertile soul where lasting meaningful relationships can thrive.

Stability is the foundation of systemic social change that lasts.

Stability is often how you don't miss God's best gifts for your lives.

So, I'm asking you this week as you ponder about your grand "what I want to do next" list, how might you be called to stability?

How might stability be not a punishment for age or declining health or economic hardship but a GIFT for your spiritual journey?

How might you bring your whole heart this week to where you are now?

XO

Elizabeth

Help

How many times have you thought to yourself, "What a stupid idea it was to do this task alone!"

Or, "Man, I could really use an extra hand with this project."

Or, "It would so great if ____ was here with me now."

And then, felt frustrated in being alone. Bitter maybe?

To this, enter this week's word: help.

Help defined as to give assistance or support. To show up for someone in their time of need.

Help is a word so many of us, myself included, have a hard time asking for even when we're really in a bind.

We don't want to impose. We see how busy our friends are. It is so much easier if we just do it ourselves. Or what if they say no? (We hate rejection).

So, we simply carry on. And find a way to tire ourselves out.

But, when we don't ASK for what we need, we miss out on life's surprises, and what we need!

Recently, I found myself in a hard place. I didn't know how I was going to juggle all of the commitments on my plate for the next day. And I was exhausted. Sure, I could have just tarried on. Or, I could just call the friend whose name I couldn't get out of my mind. I believe, God put her name in my mind for a reason.

When I did reach out, not only did my friend say yes to helping me with my specific ask, but she volunteered to do something even more. (Something, of course I needed, but didn't even know how to articulate). And I learned this: people want to help us. They really do. It helps other people to help us.

Recently I listened to this podcast by Brene Brown. In it, she shares this about our friendships:

"If you can only help others but do not ask for the same from them, you aren't in a trusting relationship. When you think less of yourself for asking for help, what you're actually doing is thinking less of them."

Ouch, right?

It's not healthy to be the helper all the time (even if we are physically healthy or available and could say yes!).

Do we really want to think less of others?

For the truth is: we are ALL going to face seasons in life when we are going to have to ask people to do things for us that maybe we'd prefer to do on our own.

But you know what? We are going to feel more connected and grounded in belonging as we ask and receive.

So here's your homework: what help do you need to ask for this week? Who might you ask for that help?

XO

Elizabeth

Presence

How many times have you seen a loved one walk through a hard season and feel helpless? (Maybe that's this week!)

When those we care about are in pain, we often don't know what to do. Or what we can do that feels helpful. Or we think we are being helpful when maybe we're not. But surely we can show up, right?

To this, enter this week's word: presence.

Presence defined as sharing space within one's immediate vicinity.

In the spring of 2019, my father-in-law grew very sick suddenly. He spent Holy Week in the hospital. He died on Easter Monday.

As we gathered as a family in the days after that, I have to tell you that I was reminded all over again that southerners naturally know a lot about this concept of presence. Presence looked like fried chicken and cobbler magically appearing in our kitchen. Presence looked like friends playing tag with the children in the yard to keep them busy. Presence looked like people coming and not saying a word (my favorite kind of visitors).

Many said, they heard the news and knew they needed to come and BE with us. Love, they said, just drove them on autopilot toward the house.

While no, there was nothing anyone could do to make our dear one return or the pain in our heart go away, we did have was each other. We did not have to be alone.

Can you remember a time in your life when you were encouraged by someone being present with you?

Over the past many months, the pandemic has reminded all of us all how much we NEED community, right? I need you. You need me. We just feel out of sorts when we can't be with each other.

For in presence there is a gift: you can FEEL God's love in the flesh as he or she sits beside you. God has a name that you can see with your very eyes. God comes close in a human conversation partner.

St. Teresa of Avila once said this about God: "God has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world."

I'm hoping that it doesn't take a crisis point like a funeral to remind you how beautiful it is to give and receive presence. Who do you know needs a visit or a phone call this week? Who can you reach out to and say, "I just love being with YOU!"

XO

Elizabeth

P.S. My father-in-law was such a cool man. We still miss him very much. If you want to know more about him, you can read it here.

Space

I’ve been thinking a lot about the silence spaces that fill so many of our day-to-day conversations and relationships.

A friend’s flippant comment offends us. A family member makes choices that we think are terrible. A best friend forgets our birthday.

We find ourselves with relationships full of space-- this week's word.

I'm defining space not as what's out there in the universe, but the distance from people that a person needs to feel comfortable.

But does it have to be this way? Is there anything we could do to lessen the space?

Recently I read Professor Kate Bowler’s book, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved-– a memoir about grief, cancer and dying. It’s full of beautiful prose. Prose I highly recommend to you.

One of the things that impressed me right away about Kate’s experience of a terminal illness at age 35 (a stage 4 cancer sentence nonetheless) was her crushing defiance of any space in between.

As soon as she heard that she had months to live (which has now turned into years thanks to a clinical trial), "The games of relationships had to stop," Katie said.

Coming out of her first post-cancer diagnosis surgery, Kate describes sitting next a friend who came to be with her and giving her this pep talk:

“Oh my dear one, it’s time. It’s time to go. You can leave your job . . If you stay a bitterness is going eat up everything I love about you.”

I can imagine that Kate’s directness toward her friend would not have happened if it weren’t for her reality. And, I can imagine sensitivity to her friend’s feelings might have held her back. Fear would have gotten the last word. There would have been SPACE.

But the space in between the two friends vanished because Kate had the courage to tell the truth. Kate said what her friend most needed to hear.

So today, I’m wondering this: what does it take for you to live brave like this?

How can you speak up, get to the point faster and not allow bigger canyons of space to keep you from those you love with kindness (of course)?

In the quiet moments of this week, I know that if you sit with the questions around the relationships you value the most, you'll know what to do next. You will.

God always hopes, I believe, that we will be people who live abundantly after all. Abundantly without so much space keeping us a part.

XO

Elizabeth

P.S. If want to dig deeper into this topic, one of my favorite teachers, Dr. Brene Brown. Check out this podcast she did with the folks at On Being about what it takes to have this kind of space-busting courage.

Limitations

Soulmate? Or Best friend forever? Or in the words of Jerry Maguire, "You complete me!" Language like this runs deep in the water of how we speak about relationships especially when it comes to popular culture and movies. But in reality, life is much more complicated, isn't it?

Friendships end. Partnerships we thought would last forever break up. Even family members that we thought would always be around, are not.

Enter into this conversation this week's word: limitation.

Limitation is defined as the act or instance of being bound or confined.

If you are anything like me, you don't like to talk about the limitations in your life because it immediately takes you to loss. (And who wants to think about that?)

But I think accepting the limitations of others is what helps us live lives that are centered and open.

A great teacher on the topic of limitations is the Catholic priest and writer, Henri Nouwen. He writes about his journey accepting the limitations of others in his book, Inner Voice of Love (which I highly recommend):

"You keep listening to those who seem to reject you. But they never speak about you. They speak about their own limitations. They do not say that you are bad, ugly, or despicable. They say only that you are asking for something they cannot give . . . The sadness is that you perceive their necessary withdrawal as a rejection of you instead of a call to return home and discover there: your true belovedness.”

Because here's the thing we know for sure, not every relationship is forever.

No one person or persons can be all things for you all the time even if they are alive.

Not every friend can handle every story in your heart that needs to come out. Your biological family might not even be where you find true belonging.

Dear, wonderful folks in our lives have limitations. They need rest. They need to say no. They need time to deal privately with their own emotional and spiritual questions.

Joy comes as we lean into the wisdom of these limitations-- not asking anyone in our lives to be more than they want or are able to be for us.

So here's your mantra for this week: Let go of what needs to go. And as you do, trust that what you need will come. I believe it will! God knows the desires of your heart.

XO

Elizabeth

P.S. If you want to go deeper into today's word, I'd love to share this post with you about How to Manage Messy Relationships that I wrote this week in response to another book of Henri Nouwen's, Love, Henri.

Advocate

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the problems in this world?

Do you ever wonder, what's the point? I'm just one person. How can my voice change anything at all?

Well, enter into the conversation this week's word: advocate.

It's a word that reminds us that we can do something. We can stand up for one person.

Advocate is a verb which means to pled the cause of another, to support or argue for another.

Or as I like to define it, to advocate is to believe that another person's goodness and well-being is directly tied to mine.

In 2019, I attended a Friday night Shabbat prayer service at a Jewish synagogue in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. There were so many powerful moments in this service as Jews and Gentiles alike prayed together and as we held hands with strangers and sang, “We Shall Overcome.”

But honestly, what I will remember most is what the Rabbi said.

During her sermon, she told us to look at our neighbor and know that our freedom and our liberation was tied to that of our neighbors. You need to know this: most of us were gathered among strangers.

"Yet for any of us to be truly free," she said, "all of us have to be free."

Think about that for a minute. Powerful, right?

No matter if our history with one another is short our long-- we all belong to each other. We all need each other to live the abundant lives God has called us to live. We all need to do our part to protect the most vulnerable among us.

So, here's what I would love you to do this week if you're up for it:

Pick one neighbor of yours (and by neighbor I mean anybody close or far) that you can advocate for.

It might mean attending a community or school board meeting, advocating for a child in your neighborhood to have the safest school year.

It might mean calling a friend who is struggling with depression, advocating for a tired soul to find rest.

It might mean writing a note to a member of Congress about an issue that is close to your heart.

The possibilities are endless, really. It might be as simple as wearing your mask when you'd rather not.

I know what I'm asking you to do is HARD work. But please hear me say, I'm doing it alongside you, seeking to learn more this week about what it means to be an advocate. It's the work I believe God calls us to do the most! Let's talk again next Sunday.

XO

Elizabeth

The 10 Commandments Revisited

 

7694535The Ten Commandments . . . It isn’t usually the type of post that you imagine me getting excited about, especially when you know I'm not a person all into "hell fire and brimstone" or tons of "thou shall nots."

However, when I read famed Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann's take on this passage in his book Journey to the Common Good, I was so excited I hardly knew what to do with myself (which is of course letting you in on my pastor dorkiness) because his framework for the meaning of the Ten Commandments shed a whole new light on this often over quoted, frequently debated and controversy driven portion of scripture.  (Kevin can attest to this fact after I sought to give him the cliff note version of this book on the way home one afternoon in the car and wouldn’t stop talking about it to which he might or might not have stop listening . . .

So, can you name all ten?

If you only found yourself able to name a couple, you are in good company. If you are like most Americans, the number of them that you know is always less than ten.

In fact a survey several years ago reported that more Americans could name seven ingredients of a McDonald's Big Mac hamburger and members of TV's "The Brady Bunch" more easily than the Bible's Ten Commandments.

Less than half of respondents -- 45 percent -- could recall the commandment "honor thy father and mother""[i] but 62 percent knew the Big Mac has a pickle and 43% knew that Bobby and Peter were Bradies.

So even as most of us don't exactly know all of the commandments, there are some of our Christian brothers and sisters sure do get fired up about them. 29_commandments2

We've all heard and followed the news of legislative battles over placement of the ten commandments in public places over recent years.

For example in September 13 of 2011, the Huffington Post reported that "The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia sued a southwest Virginia school board for posting the Ten Commandments, contending that the display violates the Constitution's guarantee of separation of church and state. This lawsuit sought to have the Ten Commandments removed from school walls and a ban on further display of the biblical documents.[ii]

The Ten Commandment and American religious culture go hand in hand as the debate in of their appropriateness in public life is likely to go on for generations . . .

So what can we learn from them?

If we go back to the text-- Exodus 20-- at their first appearance we see the context.

Prior to this moment at the base of Mount Sinai, the nation of Israel were slaves. They were owned by the nation of Egypt. They labored hard from sun up to sun down to edify and strengthen not themselves or their families but the empire.

They were asked to perform in bondage back-breaking work simply because the Pharaoh of the land was a afraid: afraid that without oppressing others that one day he'd not have enough. 

And I believe this is most important: they were a member of a society that was build not on ever having time to rest-- because if you stopped then someone else might get ahead. It was also a society not built on caring for neighbor-- because the only way to get ahead as a nation was to put others down.

Yet, as we know, everything had changed. The nation of Israel was now FREE!

Now, no longer would they be asked to bow to Pharaoh or any other god for that matter.

They’d be asked to form their life together around this truth: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me."

They’d be asked to form their life together around this truth: "Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work."

They’d be asked to put neighbor above self and "honor your father and your mother," "not commit adultery" "not steal" or "bear false witness against their neighbor."

When we take a step back and look at the commandments as a unit over all (instead of reading them as so many often do in isolation) what we uncover is that God outlined for the children of Israel a NEW society

 . . . that was no longer based on scarcity, the fear of not having enough.

Instead, they would be asked live together as a people who believed as the Apostle Paul would say later on in the New Testament, "My God shall supply all of your needs."

They would be an abundant community.  

They’d be asked to become a community where no child was left behind wondering if their parents loved them because adultery broke up their parents marriage  . . .

They’d be asked to be a community where there would be no need to take another's food for everyone had their share . . .

They’d be asked to be a community where the deep breaths and moments of life reflecting silence would bring restorative healing as Sabbath, or a day from work was regularly taken. . . .

But their freedom and the abundance of provisions came with a cost. It actually was for a bigger purpose!

Remember long ago what God had said to their ancestor Abraham when he had been called by God, God said to Abraham, "all peoples of the earth will be blessed by you."2014-01-16-BelovedCommunity

Well, I believe that it is here in this moment of history that the way of life comes to be in order to make this happen.

The people of Israel are given an order to their life together so that they can use their blessing by God to bless others. Most of all this: to create a neighborhood where all would be welcomed. ALL people would be welcome.

Walter Bruggemann puts it like this, the Ten Commandments "are not rules for deep moralism. They are not commonsense rules to scold people. Rather, they are the most elemental statement of how to organize social power and social goods for the common benefit of the community."

Which is a way of saying, the Israelites were being asked to order their lives in such a way-- not just to feel shame if they broke one of the commandments, not just to feel like their God was lording over them in oppressive ways (as Pharaoh had done) but journey together toward the common good of all.

Here’s the underlining point: God gave them the 10 commandments to be intentional in their inclusion.

But the question was would they create it? Will we?

________________________________

[i]  "Americans Know Big Macs Better than Ten Commandments." http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/10/12/us-bible-commandments-idUSN1223894020071012

[ii] Virginia Ten Commandments Lawsuit: Civil-Liberties Groups Sue Southwest Virginia School Board For Posting Ten Commandments. Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/13/virginia-ten-commandments-lawsuit_n_960447.html

I Need You. You Need Me

Within my first couple weeks of seminary at Duke Divinity School back in 2003, I attended a weekend retreat.

It was designed for women a part of the free church tradition (i.e. Baptists, Free Methodists, AME, Pentecostals, etc).  And, coming from the Baptist tradition myself, it was a perfect match to fulfill the required spiritual formational credit for graduation.

I loved how the retreat connected me to the theological and racial diversity of the school and brought me new friends. But there was one weird part.

The closing song.

i-need-you-so-muchMy classmates and I were asked to partner up, look into one another's eyes and sing "I Need You To Survive" to a gospel anthem by Hezekiah Walker with full gusto! I have to tell you, I'm all about the feelings but such an exercise was too much for even me. These were some of the words:

I need you, you need me.
We're all a part of God's body.
Stand with me, agree with me.
We're all a part of God's body.
It is his will, that every need be supplied.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.
You can you can listen to the full song by clicking here

Ironically, Abby who became my best friend at Duke (and still a great friend and colleague today) was my partner. If anybody was grading us, we would have gotten an F for our participation because couldn't stop laughing! But obviously something about the experience must have stuck because here I am 11 years later writing about it.

For when I think about how God made us to relate to one another in community, it's really so true.

I need you. And you need me. 

Yet, most of us live on the sidelines, contact people just when we need a favor, or wait till a birthday or a Christmas card to say hello. But when we do potentially amazing relationships fall just in the "OK" category because we aren't willing to say:

I need you. You need me. 

There's a lot of intentionally and vulnerability involved in this process and of course rejection sucks if the other person is not all in.

But what I most want to tell you today is don't let fear of rejection keep you from showing up.

I don't know about you, but I want to live a life full of joy. I want to live a life that isn't pained with unnecessary loneliness or without the encouragement I need to stay the course.

There are so many people in my life I would love to tell right now (if you were sitting beside me as I write): I need you. You need you. I love you. I need you to survive. I'm all the better because you are in my life. I am under no pretenses that I can be all I am called to be without your help!

But what does this look like in practice?

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a Christmas party.

It was an invitation like many we all receive this time of year. It came at the last-minute from a person I would consider a friend, but not one of my best of best friends. I waffled on whether or not to go. The traffic to get to her house would be annoying. I'd had a long week already. Why stress myself out if I didn't need to?

So when I tried to gracefully bow out, my friend said in a roundabout way, "I need you. You need me. And it would mean the world to me if you came."

Well, then. 

So, I went. Because she was right. I need this friend in my life and she needs me. And showing up for people who are in our community is no small thing. It's worth 30 minute searches for parking spaces.

This kind of living is NOT about having upper hand of "being needed" all the time or someone owing us a favor constantly. But it includes looking loved ones in the eyes and saying: "I need you" (which is MUCH harder). And letting them help us.

So these days I'm thinking that retreat leader was really on to something.  She was giving us life wisdom: "I need you. You need me."

Though it might feel weird or make us feel more vulnerable than we would like, here's the truth:

I need you. And you need me. 

Healing Scars

"Some people see scars, and it is wounding they remember. To me they are proof of the fact that there is healing." --Linda Hogan

Last August I found myself in a situation where I needed to have emergency surgery.

I'd gotten a bacteria infection so intense that it required a major surgical procedure to remove the tumor. The doctor told me there was a chance I could have cancer. A couple hours in the operating room and a of inches of an incision later, the nightmare was over. Three days later I learned that I did not have cancer. I am happy to say that I have fully recovered and feel great now, if not better. 

But there is one thing that lingers because of the whole ordeal and that is a large scar. 

I see it every day when I dress, when I shower. It's a reminder of the horror that was August 23, 2013. 

ThoughI thought I wouldn't care if I had a scar, the more I looked at it in the months following the surgery, the more I hated it. 

Such was a reminder to me of an ugly and unexplainable chapter in my story. "Why really do I have to look at it EVERY day?" I protested to Kevin one night. 

My problem solving husband replied, "Well do something about it!"

The next day, I went to a drug store in search of scar removal creams. I talked to the pharmanist and picked out what I thought was the best one. I began using it faithfully twice a day.

But while doing research for a sermon one afternoon, I ran across the Hogan quote:

"Some people see scars, and it is wounding they remember. To me they are proof of the fact that there is healing." --Linda Hogan

Such wisdom went against everything I'd ever thought or heard about scars. 

So, then maybe my perspective needed to be altered.

What if I looked at the scar and remembered how much better I felt because of the surgery?

What if I said a prayer of thanksgiving for the doctor who diagnosed me and took care of me?

What I remembered the healing both physical and spiritual that took place in me from this ordeal?

Such was a much more helpful train of thought. Being healed, you see, is something to be celebrated, not covered up! 

The human body is quite amazing, isn't it?  And the surgery I had last August probably won't be the last one I have! Our body truly wants to get well and stay well but sometimes in the process scars remain. 

Join me today in  thanking God for healing . . . thanking  God for second chances at life . . .  and  thanking God for the fact that even in our darkest hour we can get better and have marks to remember how far we've come! 

Teachers in the Philippines

There's been a lot of talk the past couple of weeks about the Philippines, hasn't there? From the devastating earthquake a few weeks ago to this past weekend's destructive typhoon, it seems that the people of these islands are not getting a break. They've faced so many trials. It's been almost too much to watch!

As I've caught up on the news and heard reports from the Feed The Children staff in the Philippines (many who have lost everything in one of these major events!), my mind has quickly gone back to the experience I shared in this country almost exactly a year ago last year.

largeOn our first Feed The Children trip to Asia, Kevin and I explored several islands with the staff (as seen to the right). We meet community members involved in Feed The Children's programs. And as we toured, I couldn't help but feel schooled on the fact that the perceptions I had on what "aid" looked like were all wrong.

On November 5th, I blogged this:

As I write this I find myself on a boat heading from Bohol back to Cebu (Philippines) . . . We just met a group of families on a remote island who pulled their resources together to begin a village savings and loan– where their was no bank to help give the financial resources to move the community forward.

During our visit, our delegation was allowed to observe, a shareholders meeting, a weekly occurrence, where loans were given and dividends were paid back to share holders. We learned that 10% of the money made in the project goes back to assist the children in the community. Parents said, “We want a better life for kids. We know that begins with us being good stewards of our own resources. We want to be able to do this ourselves.” Over the past year this community (where it is not commonplace to have toilets in the house or more than one pair of shoes per person) has saved over $3,500 US to reinvest in their children’s school. . . .

For now, this is what I know: most of the world is not as it seems to us from our lens of American privilege. The “have-nots” people are not less than human. Change CAN happen as resources and strong leadership are given to make it possible.

For me, I am learning that life can no longer be about “that trip” or “out there” but somehow we must find a way to integrate life in such a way that all of life is about being a member of the human family that is full of challenges, yes, but hope. We must do what we can to serve wherever we find ourselves. We must never think our privilege as an honor, but an opportunity to be in a larger community.

I've thought about these reflections again recently, especially as so many organizations are on the ground now in the Philippines seeking to help those in need.

I think it's wonderful when the world comes to the aid of the vulnerable. Some crises are indeed so bad that we need help that must come from those with more resources than we have. And the commercial in me would like to tell you to give (if you feel so compelled) to Feed The Children.

But what bothers me about the news coverage and talk of the Philippines these days is it is so easily turned into an "us vs. them" appeal.

Because what is true is this: the people of the Philippines are strong. They are resilient. They will take care of each other with whatever resources they've got. And if we choose to help them (and I hope we all will), it is good to give from the perspective of these are my brothers and sisters in need NOT those poor and sad people out there.

We've got teachers who embody saving, sharing and giving all over the world. And many of those are found in the Philippines. It's our job not only to share but to learn.

We All Have Pain

The juxtaposition of my life these past couple days has been interesting—attending a Christian conference discussing orphan ministries and global poverty in a well-to-do suburb of Nashville, TN to now being among kids in poverty in rural villages in Guatemala assisting with feeding programs with the staff of Feed The Children.

There’s still much to process. But for now, this is what is coming together in my mind:

One of the best experiences of the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit for me was the breakout session I attended called, “Straight Talk from Adult Adoptees.”

In the session, a packed room, three adults and one older teen led a panel discussion about growing into maturity from their experiences as adopted children.

Feelings such as “I hated my birth parents or birth country for abandoning me” to “I always knew my birth parents loved me, until they got a divorce . . . “ to “I never really understood why my birth parents would give me up” were shared openly.

But, then the discussion got complicated. We quickly learned there would be no “one sized fits all” answers or even the luxury that “being adopted” would be the defining experience of the panelists’ lives.

One of the adult adoptees shared how her trust issues were complicated by the fact that she learned her adoptive father only agreed to her adoption to save his marriage—which indeed didn’t happen as they divorced six months after her placement with family. She talked about her mother’s complicated re-marriage processes and then shared about the recent death of her adopted mom. All experiences of great loss . . .

But before our minds in the audience could single out her experience as “oh so bad” this adult adoptee stopped us saying directly to us: “Everybody in their life has pain. I have friends who have been through great losses too—deep woundedness that follows them as mine does me. . . . It just so happens that mine is more understandable than some with the label of adoption.”

It was a light bulb moment for me.

She spoke the truth: everybody has deep pain. Everybody is wounded. It's not an adoption issue. It's a human issue.

Being adopted and coming to turns with the abandonment part of it is just one of the ways that deep pain of this broken world can find a person early in life.

Pain is pain. Grief is grief. Loss is loss. And it is something we all understand, the more honest we become with our own story. Experiencing pain is a part of what it means to be human. Experiencing pain is part of what connects us to other human beings.

photoFast forward to this morning as I spent the day with the Feed The Children staff in Guatemala and several other guests at one of our feeding centers in rural Guatemala. As we visited with the kids, played games like hitting the piñata in search for candy, read stories to them, and then of course served a meal (rice with some chicken mixed in, cucumbers and radish salad, and tortillas), I couldn’t help but think about these kids’ pain.

I thought about the pain these kids may not have words to speak of right now, but pain that will follow them because of the kind of livelihood they were born into.

For, these were kids who came to the center in tattered clothing, dirty faces and shoes that didn’t seem to fit right.

These were kids who starred often at us “white people” with the cameras taking pictures of the festivities with the look of “Wow, what a nice life you have!”

These were kids who have walked to walk miles to school, many of whom depend on the donated shoes from TOMS (one of Feed The Children’s partners) in order to get there safely.

These were kids with great needs, more than I can mention in this post (though of course thanks to the generosity of FTC contributors and sponsors many of these needs are getting met).

They know pain.

Though I did not grow up in a home that struggled to provide me with basic life necessities, I can identify with them. I can identify with their loss, even if it may not be to the degree that their loss is to them.

For at the end of the day, we all just want to be loved. We all just want to know that someone cares about us in particular. We all want not to worry about where our next meal will come from or that we’ll have clean clothes to put on the next day. We want to feel secure in a family system, orphaned or not.

And I believe that when we all get to the point in our lives when we see our stories as broken, as in need, and most of all full of pain of one kind or another—we are given a great gift.

We're given the ability to more honestly look into the eyes of our brothers and sisters in humanity, knowing we’re from the same family. All of us. Because of this, we need each other more than we ever thought.

Building Community with the Hagans

At its core, I believe that Christianity is a communal faith.

It's a committment to a lifestyle that none of us can choose to live alone.

We need exhortation, correction and support from one another not only to know God more fully, but to stay on the often difficult path we call discipleship.

Creating community is what the church is all about.

We gather together each week for worship because believe that somehow together we are much better off than alone.

We share meals together in social halls because we believe there is something about shared fellowship that makes us stronger.

We study scripture together because we trust that in reading holy texts with other ears around the table we see God more clearly.

But, I'm always interested in how faith communities are formed outside the walls of organized religion.

Lesson one-- Christian community can be built, literally.

dad and sonAt Christmas time, Kevin and I have spent the past week with family in South Georgia-- in a small town of all things Hagan.

It's a locale where my husband's family have lived for generations and everyone in his immediate family lives except us.

It's a home that includes two ponds, a pond house cabin, and homes for both my sister and brother in-law's families. It's a little piece of wonderful solitude to visit.

When first introduced to my future father-in-law when Kevin and I were dating I asked: "What are your hobbies?" It was a causal question meant to make conversation but his answer told me so much about what I would later come to love about him. "Well," he said, "I don't really have any hobbies other than the fact that I build things."

And it is true: Mr. Hagan is good at building things.

Though I know my mother-in-law wonders when it will all stop...

In the past several years, he's helped his grandson build a house, added a dock and gazebos to the pond outside his home (where our wedding was held by the way), added an outdoor kitchen to the pool, built a cabin affectionately known as "the pond house" as gathering space for groups and his latest project a shed for syrup making (see pictures below).

He does so for one reason: to bring people together.

Though he'd never say it in that way. It is just what he does.

He wants to make his homeplace a place for others to find joy.

And not just for his immediate family (though these people are important to him) but anyone you needs a place to be.

At a family dinner or when a group gathers for a party on his property, watch the twinkle in Mr. Hagan's eyes. He knows his sweat, efforts and financial investment has been worth it.

Community building, for him is not a one time thing but a lifestyle I've observed over these 7 years I've been associated with this family.

For example, this week a group of men from town gathered in the syrup making shed for the 4 hour process of making gallons and gallons of syrup (to be distributed and given to others in the area).

As we all stood around the big pot, I couldn't help but take a step back and soak in the wisdom of my teacher of a father-in-law.

There is nothing that brings him more joy than building things and seeing people enjoying what he has created.

God calls us into community.

God calls us to use our gifts whatever they may be to cultivate community. God calls us to welcome others into our daily space in the mystery called Christian community.

Some of us cook meals.

Others of us write blogs or author books.

Some of us coach sports teams.

And some of us even construct shelters.

And in all of these contributions, community is built.

And I have to think God looks on and says "it is very good." I am glad to have such good teachers as I keep learning.

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