Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What Kind of Fence Are You?

When I was younger, I would dream about having a cute little house in a perfectly manicured neighborhood with a white picket fence. I had the dreams of marrying a pastor and having 2-3 children. I would host women's events and people from the church in our home. The friends of my youth and I would all stay close and live near each other, raising our children to also be the best of friends. I would volunteer in the community, keep a neat home and raise perfectly well behaved children. It was a classic Norman Rockwell painting type of life.

It was a nice thought, but what happens when your white picket fence ideals turn out to look like a different kind of fence? If you were to build a fence to represent your life, what would it look like? Would your fence be the super tall one where no one can see or get in like a fortress around you? Would it be a chain link which speaks of boundaries but not completely closed off to those outside? Would it be ornate iron,  wanting people to get so caught up in the beauty of the design that they don't really look beyond the other side of the fence? Or, would yours be barely standing, repaired with whatever you could find to keep it held together? Would your fence have barbed wire? A gate? Or is there a fence at all? Do you live in the wide open spaces? (I apologize to anyone now singing the Dixie Chick song of our youth).

There is something to be said about fences. Are they created to keep others out or keep in? Are they a boundary or a barrier? Are they strong or weak? Created for beauty or to cause pain to anyone who would try to cross it? In the world today, I'm watching fences being built and torn down. Individuals and churches alike. Regardless of where a person stands on the issues, I know one thing for sure.  I am called to love my neighbor. I think of my neighbor who used to cuss me out every time he would drink. Every single time he would do it, I would smile and say, "I love you, Mr. L." For a long time, his response to my words would be more expletives but over time the hostility in his response changed. Today Mr. L tells us hello and that he loves us all the time. Do I agree with his getting drunk? No. Do I purchase him alcohol? No. Have I tried to change him by telling what I think? No. Does he still drink? Yes. Do I love him? Yes. Has our relationship changed for the better through loving him even when I don't agree with him? Yes. We have been intentional about the fence we create with him. We open the gate to his fence regularly to say hello.

So I ask you, who or what issue is your Mr. L? What does your fence with that person or issue look like and what is your life saying as a result?  I know that in the past, I have built fortresses around certain issues and people. As a result I completely ruined the opportunity to live out my faith in a way that I believe Jesus calls us to live. We are living in a world where it is no longer accepted to agree to disagree or love and be loved in spite of our differences. I see a world building iron fences with no gates. Despite the thought that many people think we are moving forward, we are only categorizing ourselves behind labels and groups and beliefs while losing the humanness we all posses as individual people with feelings and souls.

So to whoever may read this.
You are loved. No matter your race, political stance, the neighborhood you live in or your sexual preference. Wether you have a white picket fence or one topped with barbed wire, I hope that you will encounter those who love you as Christ.  I pray we all take an assessment of our fences and make sure they are what God would have them to be. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love because Love Never Fails.

And by the way....I'm glad my life didn't turn out like a Norman Rockwell painting. I absolutely LOVE my life, my husband, my neighborhood and know this is exactly the portrait HE has painted for me.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Look At Me

This afternoon, just after most of the house had laid down for a nap while I sorted through clothing donations, I heard a series of knocks on the back door. I have to be honest, I sighed a little inside because I had just started enjoying a rare few moments of silence. I knew I could not ignore the persistent knocks and  needed to answer it. I expected it to be one of our regulars wanting a basketball for a typical afternoon marathon of basketball. As I opened the door, I was bombarded by about eight kids whom I have not seen in about a year. "Can we have a basketball? Can we color?" Those were the requests as they all passed out hugs while trying to be the first to get the ball. The last time I saw the youngest child, I was holding her as a baby, but today she pushed past me in the kitchen and started demanding a ball. I grabbed a ball and a coloring book with all the needed accessories and headed for a picnic table.

I gave a short reminder of the rules, which seemed to have easily been forgotten over the course of the past year, but were quickly recalled. My fingers flew across my phone as I tried to shoot Glenn a quick, "Help!" text message. I like to think I'm superwoman, but I knew this was not a task for one person. There were about three girls and two boys coloring pages from the princess coloring book. The boys were of course making sure to color the prince and horses. The little girl sitting texting me yelled, "LOOK AT ME!" I said, "Hi Sweetheart, I am looking." She exclaimed, "NO, LOOK ONLY AT ME!" No matter how much I tried to explain that while I was watching her, I also had to look around at the other kids to make sure everyone was ok. Every single time I took a glance in any direction other than hers, she would take her colored pencil and turn my cheek back in her direction. She was coloring and creating something and she wanted my undivided attention as I watched her perform every step to be sure not to miss a single thing.

It made me wonder if this is how God feels about us.

Is he asking us to look to Him?

Are we busy looking all around and somehow missing what He is doing and creating?

Is gazing at Him enough?

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Day In The Life...

So often we get questions like.."so what is a typical day like with The Dream Campaign?"... We never really know exactly how to answer that questions because literally no two days are the same. Today was one of our "typical/crazy" days so I thought I'd give you a glimpse into A Day in Our Wonderful, Crazy Life.

7:00 - One of our newest additions to the family knocks on our bedroom door to make sure I'm awake to take him to school even though my alarm is set for 7:30 and he just doesn't have any idea what time it is.

7:30 - I think about getting up to make a good breakfast but shortly call down the stairs.."Make a bowl of cereal, I'll be down in a few." Yep. I don't even feel guilty today.

7:49 - One of the other kids I take to summer school knocks on the front door even though I usually pick him up at 8:15. (at least no one wants to be late) Sure...you grab cereal too.

8:15 - Load everyone up and head to summer school after explaining why the street drain is not a garbage can. We listen to Just Like You and then blast Gameface to get in the zone. Watch these two videos to have a better glimpse into a typical day in our car.

8:30 - Waiting in front of the beauty shop to get hair for our newest addition to have her hair braided. Huge learning curve for me. I'm taking pictures and texting people asking, "Is this right?"

8:55 - Driving to drop off newest addition to get her hair braided and getting educated on the different types of braids, how to care for them, etc."

9:00 - Realize I have an hour before my next appointment and quickly text husband to see if he wants to grab breakfast and coffee ALONE and we quickly take advantage of a short morning date.

10:00 - Pick up my first girl for mentoring, run all the errands, (post office/bank AKA check for donations/deposit donations/mail rent check) and drop of Glenn to cover the house because people are dropping off things today.

11:00 - Take mentoring student with me to pick up summer school kids and drop off paperwork to release two kids FROM summer school for one week to go to camp...making note of the work we have to do each day while AT camp for this privilege.  Wait in car pick up line going over mentoring book with student in the front seat while we wait. Kids pile in..a few extra who need a ride home.

11:30 - The boys ask if they can give music requests so we listen to Gameface and Just Like You....again.

11:40 - All the boys are dropped off so mentee and I head to Michaels to pick up items for this afternoons Try It Thursday Activity at the house of Dreams. Para cord bracelets and drawing using simple shapes.

12:30 - Well Michaels took longer than expected....Thinking fast at how we can combine mentoring and lunch into one. We settle on Your Pie and grab a booth and do our discipleship book while our pizza cooks. My phone rings and its another student talking to me about his packing list for camp and what he still needs. I'm trying to make a mental note with no paper near by.

12:45 - I receive a text from my hubby that some incredible friends from Chevis Oaks Baptist Church loaded us down with snacks for the neighborhood and sent this picture of our kitchen.

1:30 - Stop by and pick up my mentee's older sister who I also mentor and make it home just in time for our afternoon activity to start which should be outside but..hey...our arrival home also brought a down pour, so I shuffle everyone inside and set up a card table in the living room for overflow.

2:00-4:00 - Glenn teaches the girls how to make paracord bracelets. There are many sighs, huffs, puffs, pouts, but in the end, everyone ended up with a great bracelet they made themselves. Lots of encouraging not to give up and keep trying, atta girls and knowing it's really not about the bracelet but real life. Boys are in the living room drawing, crumbling up every piece of plain copy paper in our house when they make one wrong mark WITH  A PENCIL and I'm trying to tell them to erase and keep going while keeping one of the girls from having a meltdown about her bracelet. In the meantime kids are knocking on the door asking for water,  phone is ringing with donors wanting to come and visit, people are ringing the front door bell with donations to drop off and I smile and simply say.."Welcome."

4:00 - Mr. Jim arrives to mentor one of our boys but decides to stay and play board games with all of them. He turns apples to apples into a vocabulary game because none of the boys know how its really played and its a way to capitalize on a teachable situation. I'm impressed. I dash out the door to take Glenn to a woodworking event because.."breaks and breathing" are so needed and I know how much a few hours at the shop would mean.  He tells me he will just stay home, I refuse to let him do that, So I tell our volunteers I'll be right back and run him down the street.

4:10 - I run back inside to switch gears to girls small group. We talk about future plans and fun girl ideas for the rest of the summer, do a devotional and then they educate me further on different types of braids, weave, clip ons, edges, crowns, hair care and we calculate the hours our newest family addition has been getting her hair braided and I'm told, its not unreasonable that its now been 7 hours and I still have not gotten a call to pick her up. Girls are doing nails, we talk about not believing the lies of the world and how the truth will set us free. We spend a lot of time talking about how our heart effects how we speak, see, hear and act. I'm encouraged that new friendships are being made around the table.

5:40 - I start to talk to our amazing summer intern through the church about VBS planning for July at the Baptist Center. We realize half way through that I need to take kids home so she hops in the car with me and we listen to.....GAME FACE and JUST LIKE YOU as I explain about the different neighborhoods and some of our recent crime and issues.

6:00 - get a text on the way home that newest additions hair is finished so we pick her up and oo and ahh over it. Intern offers to hang out with our two new additions on saturday so Glenn and I can throw my sister and her fiancé' a wedding shower. I'm SO incredibly grateful.

6:10 - get home to a yard full of kids. No problems. Good. Flying solo this evening.

6:15 - get a text from a girl that one of the boys is bothering her and making inappropriate comments.

6:16 - find said boy and have a talk about how girls are not objects and he can't touch them or speak in a degrading way and that I better never see or hear it again. He grumbles a "yes ma'am." This used to be one of the most respectful kids on the court, but I think he has gotten mixed up into some things and its sad.

6:20 - I stand on the front porch with 5 other kids and talk about camp, life, neighborhood happenings, wave at people coming home from work and hear the basketball court get crazy. I'm also fielding text messages from my mother about my sisters wedding shower and all the things I have not even been able to think about Just yet. Yes..the shower is in 2 days. No, I don't know all the answers, but it will happen by saturday :)

6:22 - Head out the back door and boy from previous conversation is cussing up a storm. I address it. He gets sassy. I tell him to Try again tomorrow but he needs to leave the court today. Too many issues effecting too many other kids. He cusses at me and then proceeds to throw rocks into the yard at those who remain. I have to tighten up and get a little more stern. But..there is a win....the boys who were in that same position even a month ago are now the ones on the court telling him to calm down and be respectful and not act crazy. They then turn to me and apologize for his behavior and tell us that they really love us and are thankful. My thought - "What did you do? You are super guilty. Who are you and what have you done with the kids who used to come?" But hey...could it be that after 2 years of consistency in what we say and do...they are taking ownership of the court and following/enforcing the guidelines? I'll take it. Thank you Jesus.

6:25 - I decide I should probably cook something for the kids, all while running between the front and back door to keep an eye on things. I move the donations off the stove and add another stack to the floor. So thankful for the food and snacks and currently building a new house in my head with ALL THE STORAGE. :) It was great to have snacks for everyone today, though. Temporary issue with huge blessings.

7:25 - Hear commotion in the street, by the time I get outside the group is splitting up. I think a few punches were thrown and someone got it on video. I'm tired. I'm over the whole "lets video tape fights thing" and throw out "Hey..lets have a little integrity..." as I check the chicken nuggets.  I send everyone home for the day and one little boy stands at the back door and says, "Can I come in?" His buddy is living with us right now and I say, "No, not tonight buddy. We have to eat dinner and pick up Mr. Glenn."

7:27 - The look on his face is killing me so I text him and tell him to come back for dinner but THEN he has to go home.

7:35 - Everyone is eating..but me. I'm too hot. Too tired. And they ask for more chicken nuggets so...sure..here..split mine. I shove a few bites of mashed potatoes in my mouth and get a text that Glenn is ready.

7:45 - Load up everyone...even the extra little boy because..dang it, I can't send him home and guess what..they want to listen to Gameface and I Just wanna be like you. Every time I listen to them sing that song it makes my heart  a little sad. The lyrics are powerful and message is clear. Yet they keep requesting it.

8:00 - Pull up to pick up Glenn wide eyed and we ride to a surprise.....It's the snowball stand. Selfishly ....because I just want something cold, but one kid exclaims "Ms. Morgan you are so fun!" and it pushes me a little further.

8:30 - Everyone in the snowball stand line probably hates me because I'm the woman who brings all the kids to get snowballs right before it closes. But it is oh so good.

8:45 - Hey why not....Game Face and Just like you...one....more.....time.

9:00 - Actually drop off our extra dinner guest and eye is on the prize....home.

9:10 - Sit with Glenn at the table while he eats his chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes and look at each other with tired yet fulfilled eyes. These moments of being alone are rare and precious.

9:30 - Kids join us at the table and we do family devotions...well TWO because I was accosted this morning because we forgot to do devotionals last night because everyone wanted to go to bed early.

10:00 - I'm told they want a super good breakfast in the morning and I inform them its cool, but they better not knock on my door at 7 am because..no summer school on Fridays. I'm asked what we are going to do tomorrow and my list of things is not exactly acceptable to children's ears..but hey..I gotta get it all done before camp on Monday. We say our goodnights and Glenn and I give them a bed time.

10:05 - climbing the stairs feeling every ache and exhausted and remember I have to scan and email a students paperwork to camp..OH...and I promised our boy that I would actually PRINT the words to JUST LIKE YOU so he could MASTER ALL OF THEM.

10:45 - crawl into bed and tell Glenn..I'm typing out our day.......45 minutes later.........sigh.

I wouldn't change a thing.
It is joy, heartbreak and I probably only captured a glimpse, but it is our life.

Realizing midnight is not the best blog post time...but...it is what I've got these days.


Monday, June 8, 2015

We Need More Gold Diggers

Did you think you read the title of this blog wrong?

You didn't.

My heart has been heavy this week, as I'm sure like many of yours. The amount of injustice, pain and violence happening in our world is nothing short of heartbreaking. In our own community it is as if a war has broken out on our streets. Teenagers are dying. Children are making adult decisions and being tried as adults.  Families are being torn apart. I have a habit of listening to the police scanner app on my phone. The past week it has been non stop with call ins of shootings, many of them involving juveniles.  We have caught a group of boys hiding a semi automatic BB gun behind our fence. People are finding empty packaging for those types of guns in yards on the east side of Savannah. We have become guardians to some children who need a place to stay and we are on a huge learning curve with parenting hurting and angry kids 24/7. All of it is just overwhelming if you stop and think about it for too long. The brokenness and pain on every side of each situation is absolutely gut wrenching. The bigness of the problem often feels insurmountable.

Our media outlets are filled with these types of stories. I cringe every time I click on a news story and read the comments section beneath. Comments and pictures filled with hate and judgement. I have always hated labels and boxes. I have lived my life trying to break free of any labels put on me. Labels are stifling. Labels are limiting. So when I read comments like, "I hope those Young THUGS get life in prison," speaking about teenagers in our community or "Why don't those good for nothin thugs all just kill each other off," a piece of my heart breaks. 

Dirt. People are really good at throwing it on other people.  Every single time I hear a story of crime I wonder how many people threw dirt on them. How many people took a look at them, labeled them and walked away? How can we call it justice for a child to spend the rest of his life in prison? Where was the justice when that little boy was looking around him for cues on how to be a man? Where was justice when someone redefined and distorted the meaning of family, acceptance and love for him? I believe in consequences for actions...but that is not the same as justice. Justice is not death. Justice is not a retaliation. Justice is not rallying around an issue or a person with handfuls of dirt.

What would happen if we released our fistfuls of dirt and picked up a shovel? What if we started to let that dirt sift through the grates until we start to find the specks of gold? What if we all just found a way to offer a word of hope instead a devastating label? What if the people who are picking up those guns had more Gold Diggers in their life?  It is much easier to be the accuser and release a handful of dirt than it is to take the time to sift through it all to discover something beautiful. So before you pick up the dirt, ask yourself if you want to be a part of that persons story line. 

I am convinced that the only way to justice is to pick up shovels and sift our way to the truth and beauty of who a person is at their core.   It can be messy.  Messy but worth it.

Bang Bo Nang Ching, Sa Kaeo, THAILAND - September 16, 2011: A gold prospector sifts the soil tirelessly in the hope of finding a speck of gold, near Bang Bo Ching Nang, east Thailand.

We need to celebrate the good. We need to look a child in the eye and speak hope and give them a shovel at an early age.

We need to become Gold Diggers.