Monday, July 28, 2014

The Aftermath

There are very few things that get my heart racing more than to get a news alert of a shooting on a street where our students live a couple of miles away. My fingers rapidly fly to discover more information and to make sure that everyone is safe. Last night was one of the worst.

I had been in a missions meeting and did not get cell phone service until I reached my car. My phone dinged with news of a triple shooting. Crime has been up in our city. This made 14 shootings in the beautiful city of Savannah. There has been much talk of heat playing a role and although the heat makes me feel crazy, I don't believe it is capable of pulling a trigger. Sadly, statistically it is true. 

Once I confirmed that our students were all inside and ok I began researching what happened and exactly where. The news stations all had different information. The only thing I really had to go on was that the live news report was given in front of a memorial (from a previous shooting victim) right across the street from our students house.

Today we took the students out to lunch to process and talk through things. As we pulled onto their street we noticed that an often active and present community had taken on the form of a ghost town. No one outside and it was eerily quiet. As we approached the front of their home all that remained of last nights events was a small crumpled up piece of caution tape left behind in a yard. 

The second the students got in the car they started talking a mile a minute. My head was trying to keep up with all of the information they were throwing out. There was an altercation between men right in front of their house. The next thing you know there were gun shots.  A stray bullet hit the metal frame of the living room window only missing the window pain for kids were on the other side watching television on a hot summer afternoon. Chaos filled the living room as everyone ran for cover. One teenager was down the street when he heard the shots and watched as people who were shot tried to run from the shooter. One of the victims fell nearby as the shooters sped away. As we left the neighborhood they were trying  to point out where there was still blood on the street and sidewalk.  My mind was foggy as I tried to process the information. 

As we were walking into the restaurant the 10 year old nudged her way under my left arm and I pulled her close in a hug. When we sat down at the table, she wrapped her arms around my arm and put her head on my shoulder. She simply wanted to be held. She told me about how she was scared to go to sleep after the shooting. Cops and news crews filled her front yard for hours. Collectively, they expressed their fear to live there.  A family member said, "if we have ONE more shooting, we're outta here." I could not help but pray that it would not take one more. This is the second shooting that has taken place in front of their home in the past year. They have become prisoners of their own home for fear of what happens outside their door. I'm sure they will reconsider sitting in front of a window in their own living room for awhile. A time of simply relaxing and watching cartoons is now met with the lingering thoughts of bullets possibly invading their space. There are no counselors coming to help the neighborhood kids and families process these things. It is fear that plants a seed in them. Fear makes you angry. Fear makes you nervous. Fear keeps you from sleeping. It is the exact opposite of what children should be experiencing. 

Last night as I was reading comments under the news report on the local stations Facebook page, I became so frustrated at people's reactions to chock it up as "another one bites the dust" and "let them just kill each other off." There were more than enough "if we had better police patrol" comments.... Pointing the finger at any possible object of blame. 

I can't help but feel like the problem is actually ours. This is not a certain neighborhoods problem. This isn't a race problem. This is JUST a police problem. It is a "love thy neighbor" problem. 

The places where crime is high are the places where we need to be standing in the gap and I don't just mean in prayer. We need men to challenge men and women to encourage women. We need adults to mentor these youth who are watching this and following in the footsteps of a life of crime. Yet, these are places we avoid and cast off as someone else's problem. Crime is selfish. These people causing the problems.... are selfish. There are a lot of kids just like the ones we spent time with today that are living in the aftermath of violence with confusion, fear and the need to seek protection (which often comes in the form of gangs).... because this is real life. Who has their back when the bullets fly? It sometimes keeps me awake at night to think we may lose them to the streets where they become a part of the problem. But what if they were surrounded by a community of people who rallied around them, challenged and supported them to choose a different path? What if the kids in these homes became the ones to break the cycle and become people of peace? We have to think beyond the current status of our overflowing prison systems and look to the future.

When you see the news or hear stories like this I would encourage to think beyond the headline and consider the aftermath. Don't stop there. I would challenge you to answer the question," Lord, how could you use me?" Or simply "how does (or should) this impact me and how can I play a role in the solution?" If nothing else, please do not become part of the problem of casting blame but rather advocate for or step up as a voice of truth. 

Is it a scary question? Absolutely, which is all the more reason to ask it.

Friday, July 11, 2014

It's So Hard To Say Goodbye to Yesterday

We have lived in our neighborhood for just over a year. It has been a season of "learning" the community. Who are our people of peace? Where is most of the drug activity? What is the rhythm of the week? Where are the kids?  There are definitely days when something just feels off. It will look like a ghost town when it comes to kids. Eerily quiet. You'll see more guys out on street corners with their cell phones. Those are the days when your our radar is peaked. We are not scared, we are just more "aware."

There is another "awareness" that comes with learning our neighborhood and that is knowing when families are about to move. We suddenly start seeing less and less of them. There is almost a detachment that comes. In some cases, we kind of know what to expect but in others.....they are here today and gone tomorrow.

Last week we noticed one of our neighbors packing up a pick up truck several different times. One of our volunteers asked him if his family was moving. She said he kind of gave her the crazy eye and said, "No." Words and actions never match up in this regard. His kids showed up on our doorstep a few days later. I answered the door excited to see that they were still here. The little boy greeted me with, "Bye Miss Morgan, " while the older girl acted like she had no idea what he was talking about. She said they "would" be moving in the future because they were building a house somewhere. She also said that she did not know where they would be living in the meantime but that it was not any time soon. I wrote down my telephone number and email address and asked the girl to please hold on to it.

Two days later, Glenn and I watched as their landlord,  with a police escort,  knocked on the door. (Most likely to serve eviction papers). We were not surprised to find out that the house was completely empty with only a few scattered remains of unwanted items that never found their way to the garbage can.  No goodbye. (This was the young lady who had knocked on my door to ask for prayer before her test and had started reading a devotional and asking questions about God.) No more conversations.
I was expressing my sadness about their move last night to Glenn by saying,  "We'll probably never see them again."

Today I decided to go to the grocery store I loathe, just to grab a few quick items. I swung into an empty parking spot, turned off the engine and looked to my right to grab my purse. That is when my eyes locked with hers. The former neighbor girl and her little brother were in the backseat of the car next to me. There was a grin from ear to ear on both of their faces followed by an excited, "HEY MISS MORGAN!" Their mother, who never really seemed fond of us, kind of blew me off.  I managed to get in a quick, "I miss y'all," before they drove away. The smiles faded as they drove out of sight, hands waving goodbye from the back window of the car. I wondered what all had transpired since that conversation in my living room just a few short days before that moment. I had a feeling there was no house being built and maybe the reality of their transition had been a little more intense than they were expecting.

The neighbors next to us had almost ten kids in their house for awhile while another family member lived there. Their kids would be in our yard almost every single day. One of the little girls used to say, "HEY MISS LADY!" every time she would see me. We worked with them every day on manners and being polite and respectful to adults. When I got back from my Poland trip, one of the little boys came tearing across the basketball court and wrapped his arms around my legs in a super hug. Glenn said he asked about me the whole time I was gone. I went on a trip to Texas shortly after that and was very much looking forward to that same welcome home, except...there was no hug or welcome home. They moved the day after I got home and I have not seen them since. I often wonder if that little girl is still saying "Please" and I'm still longing for one more of those incredible "welcome home" hugs from her brother.

I think the hardest part of what we do is not knowing what happens to the kids who come and go. A friend was reminding us tonight that God calls some of us to plant seeds. Sometimes we get the gift of watering them and even seeing the growth that only God can provide. So often we only get to plant the seed and  that comes after a long period of tilling the soil. I often find myself asking the question, "Am I ok with being a seed planter? Will I give the same amount and go out of my way knowing that I may never see the results?" I know the answer to this question is not only yes, but exactly what God called me to be.  He has comforted me in the difficult times of "no goodbye's" by reminding me that planting the seed is actually one of the most awesome responsibilities. Every beautiful plant  starts with someone knowing what a little seed can become.

Let's plant a beautiful garden.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Jumping the Tracks

Have you ever felt like the track your on ends and you have to make your own way? Have you ever felt like the whispers of your heart suddenly were being screamed through a megaphone? Did you listen and as a result experience a life changing moment?

Today my blogging prompt is about a choice that changed my life. My problem is not thinking of "one" but of "which one" had the most impact?

 (Forgive me if I have shared pieces of this in previous blogs).

When I was a sophomore in college I chose to spend my summer as a summer missionary in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I thought I was going to give outdoor concerts around the city as part of a praise band. Two weeks before I left I received a phone call in which I was informed that my location would be the same, but my assignment had changed. I was told that instead of singing my heart out for tourists around the city, I would be teaching English as a second language and working with a street ministry to drug addicts and prostitutes. I chose to keep my word and say yes to an adventure.

One evening as we were walking the streets of Downtown Vancouver around Hastings Street, I heard that whisper loud and clear. The area we were working in was known to be have the highest rate of drug use in North America. It was 10:30 pm and my team mate and I had been passing out hot chocolate and doughnuts to people on the street. Many of our interaction included carrying on a conversation with a person shooting heroin as they talked to us. Sometimes it meant talking to a prostitute until the invitation from a business man driving a jaguar (probably with a wife and kids at home) had a far greater value than a cup of coffee. On this particular night we had one cup of coffee and one doughnut left and I was looking for the person who needed it most.

I just knew there was someone who was in tattered clothes who was cold in the vicinity. As I passed by a nicely dressed man on a park bench that internal whisper became loud and clearn,  "TURN AROUND and offer that man what you have left." I wanted to keep walking because he did not fit the description of who needed it most in my mind. I was frozen. I could not take another step. It was as if God put a wall in front of me that forced me to turn around. Confused, I approached the man and offered him a cup of coffee. What transpired over the next 45 minutes has never left my mind. We discovered that this man was contemplating suicide. He was in the process of heading back to his apartment to end his life when a friend passed by and told him to sit on the bench. She would be right back. We sat with this man and honestly just encouraged him and spoke hope over his life. He ended up not following through with his plans and a friendship with him formed and continued for months past my time in Vancouver.

Choosing to stop. Choosing to jump the tracks and go off course. Choosing to trust my gut instead of what "made sense" changed my life (and his).

It was that same gut choice to go off the track and not finish college but instead take a job I had always wanted. It was silencing the voices of expectation for a person my age to follow the status quo. It is not a bad plan. It just wasn't the right plan and time for me.

The same screaming whispers encouraged me to choose to quit that dream job years later and work for The American Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina and teach people about disaster preparedness. I went as an Americorp,  leaving the best salary and benefits I've ever had to pretty much volunteer. My dad could NOT wrap his head around that one. It was only the beginning of highly nonsensical choices in my life.

I have spent my entire adult life choosing to take an adventure and follow a unique path that many do not understand. Thankfully, God introduced me to a man with a similar desire for unexplainable adventure.

Together we chose to start our marriage by moving to Atlanta for no salary and almost 3 years later, we are still walking that road. The choice to walk by faith and not by sight and say "yes" to the things that do not make an ounce of sense to many has been the greatest, life changing choices we have made.

Listening to the whispers until they turn into screams.

Taking risks.

Saying yes.


Feeling alive.

Knowing me.

Jumping the tracks.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pardon the Interruption, But....

I just crossed off the #1 thing on my dream list!!!!!!

I'm sorry for blowing up your social media news feed, but I do not think I can even put into words the amount of relief that I experienced today.

My blogging prompt today is "what I need."

I need people to know that this is not just a little piece of paper and some small thing. The simple piece of paper that I received today stating that we are an official 501c3 tax exempt non-profit is the thing that has kept me awake at all hours of the night with worry. It was the source of many a tear stained pillow . If tree huggers knew just how much wasted paper I spent crumbling one draft after another and tossing it into the garbage can, they would be picketing on my door step.

This was my Goliath. It was the thing that I feared. It was wondering if I could really do it. It was the closure on an "idea" and the "hope" of future dreams come true for others. In some ways it was my measuring stick. I think I put it on the top of my list because when I made this list over two years ago....that's all it was.....a dream.

I read books, researched, met with people, received life coaching on the subject and at some point said..."I've done all I can do." When we put the final application in the mail with the big check that went with it, Glenn and I laid hands on it and asked God to put it on the desk of someone who believed in what we were doing and would approve it without further inspection or delay.

I felt a sense of relief that day, but then came the waiting. Everyone now and then I would check the IRS website to see what month they were one. The three month window of "you're approved" without further work passed. I slowly started preparing myself for the worst as I had just read an article last week about the delay in determination letters and how now it can take up to 1.5 years.

Today, when I checked the mail I saw "Internal Revenue Service" on the edge of the envelope as I opened the P.O. box. I swallowed hard and my hand trembled as I tore open the envelope. Just a single sheet and a pamphlet. I felt my heart sink as I was certain such a monumental effort would be returned with a similar size packet for acceptance. After all, this was my Goliath. It was BIG.

As I unfolded the paper, my eyes danced across the words, "you have been approved." My breathing was shallow and tears threatened to fill my eyes. I kid you not when I say I bolted out of the post office and I RAN to my car where I had left my phone. My hands were shaking something fierce as I attempted to dial Glenn's number to share the news. When he answered, I could do nothing but sob. Lord knows what he thought was wrong. I finally was able to squeak out..."It came. We got approved. We're tax exempt." Cue more ridiculous sobs. I called my mother and as soon as I told her, she started crying too. These are people who have been THROUGH this process with me.

I've looked at that sheet of paper a hundred times since I opened it. It represents so much more than a technicality. Hopefully this will open the door for us to get more funding.

When we get more funding....

  • More kids get opportunities to discover their dreams through programs and outreach.
  • We can eventually get a paycheck (which we have not had in almost three years). 
  • We can hire other people to expand the program in other areas. 
  • We can get on insurance which will allow Glenn to get the knee surgery he so desperately needs.
  • We can look at expanding our space and the impact we can have in our community. 

What do I need? I need everyone to celebrate what this means on so many levels.

I feel a little ridiculous making such a big deal, but if you have ever been there or have been a witness to this in our life, you know I'm not exaggerating.

Tonight Glenn said, "Of course it went through. It has been God's from the start and thousands of people have been praying over this." It is true. So many different people have played a part in this coming to fruition through prayers and finances. THANK YOU for standing in the gap and supporting the dream God gave us. I am so excited about what is ahead.

On a challenging note, what is your Goliath?

Don't give up. The next stone may be the one to bring him down. You can do it. With God's help and a whole lot of determination, perseverance and can slay the giant.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Dancing Light

There are very few things that have moved with me from place to place since high school. One of the items that is most precious to me is a little framed quote that my assistant principal gave me when I graduated high school. It reads:

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” - Helen Keller

There is something about that quote that has resonated within me since I was 18 years old. In addition to that, my mom has always instilled in me the importance of  praying for closed doors and open windows.

I can honestly say that this idea has helped me through many difficult circumstances. It has helped me reframe some really confusing situations.

Stuck. Ever been there?

I can remember so many times over the past few years where I shook my hands at God and said, "I thought I was following your direction. I thought that Glenn and I did what you wanted. I thought we were in this together! Why the hell has everything fallen apart around us? Did I miss something?"

Although never clinically diagnosed, I really believe I struggled with depression during a period that we were in Atlanta. The ministry we had worked for shut its doors. We had just founded the Dream Campaign. We were living in a $100/month house in the middle of inner city Atlanta. There were many nights we ate some concoction of rice and beans because it was literally all we could afford. I could not SEE beyond the struggle. I was fixated on the lack.

When we arrived back in Savannah to make a fresh start and lay the foundation of the new ministry God had put in our laps, we had no idea where to begin. A good friend of ours allowed us to live at their beach condo for a few months while we figured things out. There were many days when I sat on the balcony at that condo and thought about those tough nights in Atlanta. If I had only known....

The honey moon period did not last long and there we were in that place again of "Um...hello God. Remember me? The one who thought she was following you. WHERE ARE YOU?"

We had put all of our eggs into a basket of moving into an apartment complex where we would host The Dream Campaign. We had EVERY reason to believe THAT was where we were supposed to go. We had a few successful outreach events. A member of the corporate office had driven down to see what we do and was very excited about the plans. There was only one problem. The one person who had to make the final call backed out at the last minute and here we were once again with a dream and no place to make its home.

"Ya know God, I'm starting to feel like a fool here. Every time we take a step of faith it feels like we have gone completely backwards. Maybe this isn't right after all. Maybe I am the fool. Maybe this was a mistake."

There were no words of comfort or encouragement that could penetrate the disappointment in my heart. I was choosing to be mad, bitter and miserable. Apathy set in. I was ready to quit. The life of complete faith and trust was exhausting and watching the bank account sometimes get down to $1 with no promise of a future deposit was weighing heavily on me.

Thankfully, this was not the end.

Fast forward.

We are now in a perfect location with a thriving ministry that God has truly blessed. We are doing exactly what we were created to do and could not imagine life any differently. Relationships are being made. Children's lives are being impacted. What would have happened if I would have dug in my heels and remained fixated on that closed door? The thought makes my stomach churn.

Hindsight is an unbelievable gift.  I can now see how each disappoint, every wandering detour and seemingly dead end was perfectly woven into the tapestry of our current life. Would I trade it for a different ending? Absolutely not.

Hurt is real. Depression is sometimes paralyzing. Life hurts. Setbacks suck.

The closed door does not have to be the end of the story.

Are you standing in front of a permanently closed door?

Take a step back and look for the light peaking beneath,  dancing across the floor. Do not be afraid to accept it's invitation. May it be a doorway to a greater adventure than you could ever imagine.

** This blog is part of a collective hosted by The Story Sessions.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

To See and Be Seen

My writing prompt today is on "Connections."

I kid you not that the only thing running through my mind at this moment is this song. It was stuck in my head all day earlier this week.  I frequently change the words from "girl" to "boy" and sing it to my husband. Welcome to my brain. Welcome to his life.

Now that I have offloaded THAT thought..

One of my favorite games to play when I was little was hide and seek. Do you remember those times when you found THE perfect hiding spot? The sound of footsteps nearing your secret place caused you to hold your breath as to not give yourself away. The adrenaline pumped through you when your instincts proved correct about your stellar choice in hideaways. Just as you thought the coast was clear you carefully emerged into the wide open space and all of the sudden you felt a hand touch your shoulder followed by an excited, "YOU'RE IT!" You had been seen.

To see and be seen carries a plethora of feelings with it.

"What if I WANTED to hide?" or "Oh, thank God you are here!"
"I never asked you to come." or "I did not think anyone would ever notice."

All of those scenarios result in a connection between the seeker and the identified. There is something at the heart of all of us that desperately wants to know that we are seen. Cared for. Thought of. Worth seeing.

It is all too easy to put the responsibility on the person doing the seeking. I have been there. Have you ever kept tabs on which friends called you on your birthday? Which ones forgot? Don't lie. Ha! Have you ever felt looked over and come up with all sorts of ridiculous reasons why someone else was seen over you?

The writing group that I'm a part of often poses the question, "What do you need?" We started off our recent retreat this way. My response was, "I need to sit in this big comfortable chair with my soft blanket. I need to put my feet up and rest for a few days." I knew that I needed that because it was self-care and it is not something I do enough of at home. A year ago I would have been terrified to speak that need, but I was given permission to be seen for where I was in that moment. Do you know that I got exactly what I asked for that weekend because every single person there knew exactly how to affirm and see me? It was a refreshing experience in that way.

I do not think we do that enough. What would our friendships, homes, marriages, etc, look like if we simply asked the question, "What do you need?" and then answered it honestly ourselves.

Connection can be scary. It means opening ourselves up to the possibility of hurt or scrutiny. It sometimes means having light shed on an area of our life we would much rather keep in the darkness. Connection can also be the most beautiful, life-giving experience when handled with the care it so deserves. It can unlock places in us that have been hidden for too long. It can bring healing to the deepest of wounds. It is the hand that extends itself in a terrifying moment and offers support. It is peace of knowing that you are not alone.

We were made for connection.

I know that I am at my best when I am seen. It gives me the confidence to own whatever place I am in life. I also find that when I am looking to see others in specific ways, my life is more positive.

Do not be afraid to speak what you need. There are people that would help if they just knew how. Have grace on the fact that no one in this world is a mind reader.

How do you need to be seen today?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What I Love: The Spark

Today's blogging assignment is "What I Love."

I had to think about this one for awhile because there are SO many things that I love. There is a thread that runs through them all and that is the spark.

You know the spark.

It is the twinkle in a person's eye when they look across the room and have a silent shared moment with the one they love.

It is the even brief moment when a dream is realized. When a person does what they were created to do and in that moment they are fully alive.

It is the life giving laughter and illuminating smile that a child clothes themselves with when they are embracing their innocence and expressing pure joy.

It is the moment when a person tries something for the first time and realizes not only was it good but it brings them life in a way they have never experienced


It is the child who makes a 100 on a report and stands proudly on your door step believing for the first time that maybe he really does have what it takes.

It is taking a leap of faith and landing with two feet.

It is the way your heart leaps when it experiences something too beautiful for words.

It is a person rising above seemingly insurmountable obstacles and coming out stronger on the other side.

It is opening yourself up to listen and get to know someone very different than you and realizing that maybe you have more in common than you thought.

It's the rush of energy you experience when your words start to flow and brush strokes start to form at a rapid pace. It is standing back and realizing that you can create.

It is looking through a lens and capturing a beautiful moment and then sharing the moment that the person realizes that THEY are beautiful.

It is the times when as adults you get together with family and realize you are also friends cut from the same cloth.

It is writing the final words to your book.

It is staring into your babies eyes for the first time.

It is a sunset or a shooting star that feels like it was just for you.

It is seizing the day in the best possible way.

It is discovering a child doing the right thing because it is in his nature, not because anyone was watching. 

It is knowing that there is brokenness in this world but choosing to see the good instead.

It is connection.

It is individual.

It is loud.

It is soft.

It is found in crowds and in silent corners of a coffee shop.

It is what makes you get back up and try again.

It is the light inside that only you can carry.

I love it because it is what makes people so diverse, art so unique, words so powerful and life so beautiful.

The Spark.