Wednesday, April 30, 2014

For The Days When You Feel Yourself Sinking

When I was a little girl my mom enrolled us in swimming lessons every summer. Even after we were able to swim, she continued to enroll us. It may have been that we loved it, it was summer camp activities or that she wanted to be sure we knew how to swim. I remember one lesson better than all of the others: learning to tread water. More important than the backstroke, butterfly or the breast stroke, treading water could save your life when you were in danger.  I can vividly recall the day I had to tread water for a certain amount of time in order to pass the swim test. When you tread, you move your arms and legs in certain ways to keep your body vertical.  You are moving, but your body stays in the same place and you are able to keep your head above water. Little did I know that treading water would be used in my life in more ways than one.

“All hell has broken loose.”

These were the words spoken by a dear friend of mine on the other end of the telephone line this morning. In fact, I have spoken this phrase more times than I can count. Maybe you have been there, when you feel like one more thing couldn’t possibly go wrong. The odds do not appear to be “Ever in your favor.”  The shear magnitude, weight and stress of it all makes you just want to go belly up. You can’t take one more bit of bad news, one more stressful decision or possibly muster up the energy to do one more thing and God forbid you have to slap on that “I’m ok” smile for a single other soul when inside you’re screaming “If you only knew…”

You have two decisions to make: 1) Give up or 2) Tread Water.

Throwing in the towel, giving in to your desires or diving straight into self -condemnation and harm seems like the easiest thing. It is. Floating is always easier.
The real growth the real fight is when we tread water.  

According to an article on here are some important notes about treading water:

“When treading water, your body pushes against the water, increasing resistance and ultimately burning more calories.”

 "Water's continuous resistance forces you to engage more muscle fibers through a larger range of motion."

“People underestimate the effort treading water requires. This form of exercise takes strength and stamina to sustain a moderate or fast pace. As a person builds strength treading water, the ability to maintain the motion for longer periods will increase.”

See, when you are treading, your body is working, strengthening, increasing flexibility and building muscles in important places. When you feel like you’re not moving you’re gaining so much more…you are keeping your head above water to breathe. You are conditioning yourself to endure it. It is exercising those muscles of strength, trust, dependence and faith.

Treading is not fighting, nor is it giving up…it is meant to sustain. You can endure longer if you can keep your head above the water to breathe. If you fight too hard, you’ll grow weary fast and if you only go belly up and float, you can’t see where you are going.

The thing is, we need to exercise those muscles because we NEED the endurance.

“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” Hebrews 10:36 (ESV)

Here is my prayer for the days where we need to suit up, put on our goggles and tread.

“We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.”  Colossians 1:11-12 (The Message)

Don’t forget that you have a swim instructor and a lifeboat.

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Romans 15:4 (ESV)

Tread on, sweet friends.

A fellow member of the swim team,

Monday, April 28, 2014

When the Light Shines Through

If you read my last blog, you know that we have had a pretty rough time in our neighborhood lately. Little did we know that was only scratching the surface. In the past 48 hours we have had 20 gunshots in the middle of the night and an 8 year old boy riding his bike was the victim of a hit and run (he is recovering). I received a text message Sunday morning from a friend a few streets down saying, "I just witnessed a hold up, lock your doors." The neighborhood was swarming with concern on Sunday morning, but we noticed was bringing neighbors together in conversations about the safety of kids.

It's incredibly easy to get bogged down in the bad news. If we lose our focus we can slip into the mindset of fear. The "world" may be dark, but there are little lights shining all over this community. People are stepping up, walls are coming down and the hardened shell that so many of these kids put on in the beginning, is starting to crack as light shines through.

In the midst of a bad news morning, we were preparing for a big block party. There were a lot of people praying over our house and yard and we had complete peace about moving forward with the days events. Two missions teams and a small group from our church came and put on an amazing block party for our kids AND many of their parents came this time and participated. I had several conversations with Mom's who want to volunteer. There has been a SCAD movie filming next door and the director and crew walked over and participated and wanted to know how to sign up to volunteer this summer. YES! Light. Unity. Community.

Last night as we collapsed on the couch after an amazing day, we pulled up a movie on Netflix called, "In The Hive." This is not your family friendly, sugar coated, made for TV movie. It is very real. It is actually one of the best movies that mirrors so closely what we see and what we do. It is based on real events and is so incredibly powerful in the way it shows what many kids are up against and the difference having someone believe in you can make. If you want  a real world understanding of why we do what we do, watch it. If you don't have netflix, come over...we will gladly show it to you.

Throughout the movie, I kept looking over at Glenn like, "This is our story." The scenes were very real, they caused tears of understanding to run down our cheeks. One of the closing lines in the movie talks about the fact that it only takes one light to shut out darkness. We often feel like we are given an opportunity to start cracking the shell. It starts with building trust, being consistent and being a safe place.

The shells are sometimes thick and for a period we work with "little adults" because their demeanor is anything but a child's. Over time they soften and start to ask questions like kids, want to watch Disney movies, want a happy meal for the toy, laugh at our silly attempts to lighten the mood and eventually, if you wait long enough....they will reach out for a hug or sit down next to you and actually engage in conversation. The road to that point is long and sometimes painful. The one line from the movie that will stick with me is, "You're not afraid to die, You're afraid to really live." The streets teach you "Ride or Die." The other way? It's sometimes scary. When the voices around you start to consistently give you a different option, challenge the positive things in you, truth will reign. Truth will speak. Light will break through the calloused places.

Our kiddos teach me something everyday. They spur me on to be a better person. That challenge me. They inspire me.

A few days ago, I was teaching some kids the song "This little light of mine, i'm gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine."

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden." Matthew 5:14

We always need more light shiners...will you help us?

Let it Shine til Jesus comes,

Monday, April 21, 2014

When The Sirens Never Come

I grew up in an upper middle class and very safe community.  I was raised in the church from birth. My parents set boundaries for me. I actually managed to make it through my entire high school and college career without ever seeing drugs or even knowing how to get them. I never saw a homeless person  in our town. I never saw guns outside of being locked in a gun cabinet and never heard gunshots unless it was in the country and due to hunting. I never had profanity shouted at me or heard my parents using it every other word. I grew up very sheltered, very protected, very supported. In most ways, I am thankful because I would not be who I am today without that foundation. But I also had a mom who knew that wasn't the real world....and would one day encourage me with a mother's love and on bended knee to embrace the calling to live in the middle of the exact opposite of everything I had ever known.

My husband and I retreated to a cabin in the woods this past weekend to rest, recharge, reflect, rekindle and refocus. It was a beautiful time to be in nature, disconnected from the world. The disconnect did not last for long. The first night we turned on the TV to look for a movie and the evening news was on. We decided to watch long enough to check out the weather but not without seeing that there had been a shooting a few blocks from our house. My heart sunk. Another one.  By the time we returned home 3 days later, there had been 3 shootings in our area.

Last night as I was just falling into a deep sleep around 2 AM, I became wide eyed at the sound of 4 very loud gun shots and uttered those all too familiar words to my husband, "That was close wasn't it?"
He replied with what I knew, but hated to hear, "Yep, probably only a street or two down."

Then I did what I always do, I listened and waited....for the sirens. Yet, they never came. They never do. 

Where I grew up, if there had been gunshots in our neighborhood, the 911 call center would have flooded with frantic calls and every cop in our town would have been there in a matter of minutes. It may be that way in your neighborhood, too. We live in gated, security patrolled places for that reason. We pay a lot of money to arm our houses  and even be able to view a live feed from a computer or phone because we know that there is a potential for harm. If there wasn't, what would be the need for them? We go to that extent because we trust that if there was a problem, someone would be alerted and they would come to check on us. I grew up like that. It was normal to me.

The absence of it feels very real at times. I was speaking to a neighbor today about it and she said, "Girl, we in the hood!" While that may be true, I can't help but run the scenarios through my mind each time I hear the bang of a gun..."Who shot the gun? Who were they shooting at? Why did they do it? Why isn't anyone coming to check it out? Who is next? What were they like as kids? Did they have involved parents? Did they join a gang? Did they act like they were holding guns to other kids heads in make believe play as children, like we sometimes see?  Do they know Jesus? Could this be some of our kids one day?"

Today was supposed to be an extension of our retreat, but when I opened the door and there were at least 10 kids under the age of 12 playing in our yard all I could think about was the sirens that never came. I sat on a bench in our yard most of the afternoon and bounced little girls on my knee, made funny faces, sang every kids song I knew, oversaw the basketball court, passed out snacks, diffused arguments between siblings and watched two mom's get into yelling match of profanities in the street after their sons had an argument while all the neighborhood kids watched nearby.  I overheard their kids start talking about guns once they were back on the basketball court and sadness pained my heart.

In the midst of it all, I was surprised when I felt a three year old girl kiss the top of my hand. I looked down and she said, "Can I have a hug?"

Some people may look at me or know my background and think, "She can't possibly understand."
In many ways I can't, but I do know about God's love and grace and I know it's available to both the gated community and the hood. I know He has given me a mother's heart and desire to see all of these kids succeed.

And I cling to the fact that God does not always call the equipped, but He equips the called. I know without a shadow of a doubt that He has brought my husband and I here and woven our stories together for this very moment.

There may not be sirens, but there is a safe place.

My mind went back to yesterday afternoon when a 10 year old boy said, "Miss Morgan, do y'all have to do this for the community or do you want to do this for the community?"

Oh sweet boy.....We want to, more than you will ever know.

Peace Be Still,