hope in Jesus

Day 29 & 30: Loving My Terrible Neighbor & Seeing the Invisible

I used to have this old crotchety neighbor named Mr. Al. He was hands down the second worst neighbor I've ever had. (The only neighbor worse than him was the lady who got drunk and drove up her brand new deck and smashed into her own house in the middle of the night while I had five little girls camping a few years away in my tent for a sleepover birthday party.) That was a little worse than Mr. Al who's just being old and bossy. It's taken me a lot of years to learn this about myself, but I don't like to be bossed. If you tell me to check my email I will not check my email. I will likely throw away my computer and end our friendship. I'm working on this by the way. (Except that I'm not.) The point is that Mr. Al really bumped up against my personal pet peeve of being bossed around. Literally every time I had a conversation with Mr. Al he was always telling me what to do.

He (aggressively) told me who to vote for, he told me how to invest all the money I still don't have, he told me where to put my mulch and also to have an abortion because I was really sick during my pregnancy. He was always so grouchy and bossy and unapologetic that I couldn't take it. Still, I tried really hard to be nice to him. We made a lot of effort to serve him and show him love, kindness and patience... even when I secretly felt violent. Even when we explained why were were okay with "the blacks" moving in. 

We had a breakthrough several years ago with Mr. Al when I brought him a meal and he Disney-frenched me in excitement. That upsetting kiss showed me that even the loneliest and grouchiest among us need a little TLC. And when they get the TLC they might respond with a little PDA. 

We no longer live next to Mr. Al, but since we have been back at our old house repairing damages, he has been on our minds lately. So, we invited him to join us for Grandpa Day. If you aren't familiar with Grandpa Day, allow me to explain. Grandpa Day is a fictitious holiday where we all gather to deep fry various foods in oil, under the guise of celebrating Grandpa. It's not a real thing. It's just something we made up so we can eat donuts. Mr. Al did not come to Grandpa Day. Because he hates joy and fried dough and babies and black people and all the other good things in the world. Still, I brought home a piece of pie to bring to him later. I am counting that and the impending geriatric makeout sesh as my #AdamsActs for Day 29.

For Day 30, I participated in a great opportunity to connect with some of the homeless population in Rochester. My friend Allie heads up a community organization called Supports on the Streets.  What I really appreciate about their vision is that it is all relationship-based with an emphasis on helping without hurting. Sure, we brought some care packages with essentials (see list below for needed items) and some dental hygiene kits, but more than that... we simply connected with people who are often marginalized. The best part of the evening for me was connecting with a man who also considers himself a writer. He told us about his poetry and about a book he is writing. I told him that his story is an inspiration for me to keep writing and he asked if we could exchange our writing sometime. I'm about 99% sure that this guy is a better writer than I will ever be, so I am looking forward to that exchange - not just of our writing but our experiences. 

The homeless population in our country is often invisible. Please consider how you might be able to love on the most under-served people in your community. I hear a lot of Christians talk about "being Jesus" to others. But in scripture Jesus refers to the hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick and imprisoned and says that "whatever you did for the least of these you did for me." Followers of Christ hear this and the takeaway is to "Be Jesus" to those who are marginalized. But I don't think that is what Jesus is saying. He didn't say to be him. He said that how we treat the marginalized is how we treat him. We aren't supposed to "Be Jesus" to the marginalized, we are supposed to treat the marginalized as if they were Jesus. However we would interact with Jesus himself if he was living in a tent off the inner loop is exactly how we should interact with the poet I met tonight. With honor, with humility, with genuine interest. We were never called to be the savior, but to honor the savior by loving those who are most often overlooked.

Here is a revised list that I compiled last year of some things that I have learned over the years about homeless outreach.  

  1. Due to the lack of consistent dental hygiene, many people have sore or missing teeth. So, stick to softer foods that are easy to chew - bread, soft cereal bars, pudding, applesauce, bananas, soups, cheese sticks, even pizza. :) Avoid foods like apples. A lot of people cannot eat raw apples. 
  2. Keep clean socks in your car. The health of your feet is of utmost importance when you spend your life walking from place to place. Limited access to showers or fresh socks can often lead to foot issues and pain. 
  3. Chapstick, disposable toothbrushes, trial size deodorant, travel size packs of baby wipes and other small personal hygiene essentials are very helpful. And don't forget to supply the ladies during that "extra special' time of the month. Can you imagine dealing with all that on the streets? 
  4. Some helpful items we may not think about are large, sturdy ziplock bags, a waterproof tarp, hats and gloves, rain poncho, and those rubber shoe cover things that protect shoes from water. 
  5. Touch them. Living on the fringe of society often means these people are overlooked. If you are invisible, you are probably not being affectionately cared for. So look into people's eyes, say good morning, ask how they feel, ask if there is anyone you can call for them. Give them a hug, touch their shoulder, hold their hand. Ask what their name is. Ask if they'd like to tell you how they ended up on the street. Ask if they need to go to the hospital. Ask if they are in touch with anyone for services/supports. If you can, sit and eat a meal with them. Treat them like an equal, with value and a little dignity. 
  6. Expect to see a lot of mental illness. Contrary to what most people believe, a large majority of homeless people are in that position because of mental health problems. Expect a lot of confusion. Just be compassionate, and let them swear a little because they think you want to steal their cat. (They don't have a cat.) Just tell them you love them and get then get the crap outta there. 
  7. Remember that it could be you. I try to remember that with each lost soul I see, that I am not better. I am just as capable of losing my mind. I am just as capable of losing everyone I love in some freak tragedy. I am just as capable of making a terrible choice that leads me down a path of destruction. I am not better. You are not better. We all need Jesus. So don't judge, don't make assumptions, just help without hurting and be grateful for your teeth.  

Day 13: Privilege.

My blog posts are officially a day behind, so if you haven’t caught up on all the blogs… don’t feel too bad. I mean, feel a little bad, but just enough to go back and get all caught up. For Day 13 I was a guest speaker at Monroe Community College. I was asked to organize a diversity training for the student leaders of a group called Campus Ambassadors. The training will take place over the course of a few weeks, but my favorite place to start is with a privilege walk.

I think that this eye-opening experience should be required in schools. There are a number of ways that these privilege walks are done, but here is how I do it: I have all the participants stand next to one another, holding hands, in a straight line. I read aloud a series of prompts, such as:

-If your parents were married for the majority of your childhood, step forward.

-If your grandparents owned property, take a step forward.

-If you can freely travel the world without fear of sexual assault, step forward.

-If you were brought into this country illegally as a minor take a step back.

-If you had more than 50 books in your home growing up, step forward.

-If you regularly rely on public transportation, step back.

-If you ever participated in an activity that required a participation fee, step forward.

-If you grew up assuming you would attend college, step forward.

-If you can easily and reliably find hair and skin care products for your ethnicity and skin color (at an affordable price), step forward.

These are just some examples of questions that I ask. I do not allow participants to speak during the exercise because I think that the most common reaction to becoming aware of our privilege is to explain it away. When participants are taking steps forward while their peers/colleagues/friends are taking steps back, they eventually have to release hands. In that moment when you realize that your privilege has benefited you in a way that others have not experienced, it's normal to feel guilty and want to explain it away. We want to say “Sure, I went to a well-funded school but that doesn’t mean it was easy for me! I still had to work really hard. Should I feel guilty that I happened to go to a good school?”

No. You shouldn’t. That’s not the point of the privilege walk. The goal isn’t to make the people who are really far out in front (almost always the white males) feel guilty. The goal is to make everyone more aware. So, I ask people to remain silent and aware. This time, I asked one of the white guys to volunteer to try walking in someone else’s shoes. I had him respond to each question in the opposite way than he would in his real life. So, for example, when I said to “take a step forward if you grew up with fresh fruits and vegetables available on a daily basis” he would not step forward if that was true in his real life. Answering the opposite of his reality allowed him to experience a very different perspective than if he answered these questions as a white man who came from generational wealth opposed to minority woman experiencing generational poverty.  

This volunteer was so far behind the rest of the group there was a point that he could no longer hear the questions I was asking. He was leaning forward, cupping his ear, straining to hear the next prompt. If that isn’t a powerful picture of privilege… I honestly don’t know what is. People want to deny that white privilege exists, but to me, that is it in a nutshell. That by no fault of his/her own, a person’s inherited circumstances can put him/her at a significant disadvantage. Comparatively, some of us have unearned privileges that put us at an advantage.

What I like about this visual image is that it shows that privilege is not just racial – it’s also about socioeconomics, class, gender, religion, culture and physical/mental health. Can you imagine answering this series of questions that have nothing to do with a person’s personal choices, work ethic, values, etc. and telling the kid who is a dozen yards behind everyone else to pull himself up by his bootstraps? Can you imagine saying “Hey, I know you can’t hear the questions anymore because you are so far back in your circumstance that you no longer have access to all the tools, information and resources that are readily available to me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t work hard. You just need to work harder!”

No, you wouldn’t say that. Because you aren’t an enormous dirtbag. Still, that’s what a lot of us do in real life. We talk about equal opportunity, but we don’t talk a lot about equity. Yes, we all have equal opportunities… but those of us that are really privileged are standing a couple feet from opportunity while others start off life a half mile back.


My brother Adam won a Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest while he was in high school. His essay was about racism and cultural appropriation. This was the early 90’s by the way. Let that sink in a minute. The stuff we are all in a huff about right now in America – kneeling during the anthem, exploiting black culture via cultural appropriation, implicit bias, racial and social injustice… these were things that my brother – a privileged 17-year-old white kid from the suburbs – was intentional about exploring and understanding. Not only was he aware of his privilege, he leveraged his power, privilege and influence to educate and inspire others to think differently.

I know that discussing our privilege is uncomfortable. I know that I will get really hurtful and even hateful messages from some of you about this topic. But I also know that I will keep talking about it anyways. Because as hard as it is to ask people to become aware and to think differently, it is also right. Not because it is what my brother did, even though I think it’s pretty bad to the bone that he did in fact live this way. But I will do it because it’s what Jesus did. Loving people beyond reason, seeing beyond wealth and beauty into the heart... that is what Jesus did. It’s who he is, and it’s who I am called to be. So for Day 13, I asked people to examine their own circumstances and imagine the circumstances of others. I encouraged them to be willing to lay down their privilege in an effort to create equity for a friend.


It Takes a Village (and One Pack Mule)

A few months ago I made an exciting announcement in this embarrassing video. If you haven't watched it, then you might still be operating under the assumption that I'm not an idiot. That's so nice of you! But you'd be mistaken. In the video I describe in an obnoxiously choppy and drawn out way a charming fashion that I will be publishing a 31 day devotional to supplement #AdamsActs and my blog in the month of October. The downloadable file will be available for $1.99 on this website starting on October 1st.

Before I go any further, I am going to give a micro-explanation of what I am talking about. #AdamsActs is a kindness movement that I started in memory of my brother Adam who was killed at the age of 17. We do 31 random acts of kindness in his memory to spread love and good cheer during a month that used to put me in a funk of sadness. When sharing this deeply personal part of my family's story, I can't help but share the part of my story that is even more significant: my faith story.

I am unwilling to cheapen my faith in Jesus by being pushy about it so I tend to share less than I sometimes want. Still, there are a lot of readers who want to explore this faith I speak of, and they want to do it in an environment that is not initimidating or judgey. I decided to process some of the deeper faith components of grief and suffering in a separate place than the blog so that readers can choose to participate or not. This thing that I am calling a devotional is simply a series of meditations and thoughts to consider as we go through the month of October. My hope is that it challenges you to examine your beliefs and explore/consider deepening your faith. I also secretly hope that you laugh at my funny jokes.

It has been a labor of love and so much nausea to get this devotional written. It has taken a village to raise up this little project. On the village roster we have my friend Lexi who would kick me out of my house and take excellent care of my kids so I could go to the library and get work done... only to ambush me at said library with coffee. She amused herself in the process by taking absurd pictures of my striking resemblance to a pack mule.


Next on the village roster are my three editors. Greta (pictured below - in the middle) worked as my copy editor, tirelessly deleting 484 billion commas. I didn't know that I had a comma addiction. But, apparently, I, do, and, it's, super, annoying. She cleaned up my work significantly, and if you find any errors or typos... it's because I couldn't part with all the commas and I also came up on my deadline before she could make one final pass for edits. Also, it's a $1.99 so why don't you go ahead and simmer down on the expectations mmkay? Next on the roster, we have Char (pictured on the right with all the tats and a wicked mohawk) who combed through for any theological issues. She helped me answer questions like "Is it okay to call Jesus a baller?" For the record, the answer is no. No, it is not.


And then on the left we have Melissa who served as more of a line editor. She did a lot of the heavy lifting when I knew what I meant to say, but the reader maybe wouldn't. The 4:55am editing sesh was not a one time thing. She lives in Manahttan, so for this side by side situation to take place... she had to travel all the way here multiple times to help a sister out. Her help was invaluable to me. 

My other villagers include a slew of people that Lexi and my friend Brandi manhandled into being on some sort of launch team to get a first look at the devo and share some of their favorite bits as a teaser for everyone else. Their positive reviews have been such an encouragement during these past few days of intense vulnerability hangover.

The mayor of this village of support is Heather (not pictured above) who is the designer for the devotional and is working on it as I write this. She sent me a sneak peek and I am telling you that she's a miracle worker because the crazy document I sent to her is looking clean, polished and professional, even if overly riddled with commas. 

It was not all fun and games and I learned a lot about my shortcomings. Which I could have done without to be honest. I spent less time with my family than ever before, but Tom happily took on the extra responsibilities while I was tied up with the editing process. The kids were proud of me, and have been so encouraging and understanding. The best thing to come out of this process is the excitement my oldest daughter, Annalee, has expressed in participating in the devotional with the rest of us in October. Her supportive offer to "buy it at full price" made all the work worth it. Even if I felt like this the whole time...


If you are interested in participating in #AdamsActs or in downloading the devotional then here are a few things you can do:

  • Skip on one cup of coffee this week and the cost is already in the budget.
  • Subscribe to the blog here so it's super easy to follow along through the month
  • And/or follow me on Facebook so you never miss an update.
  • Download the devotional on October 1st right here on this website.
  • Spread the word by liking and sharing posts in October.
  • Find a group of people who might be interested in exploring faith and invite them to read and discuss the devotional with you.
  • Send me a private message here if you are interested in joining a weekly discussion group about the devotional just for the month of October. If there is enough interest, I will create an opportunity for people from all over to join me online via Periscope or Facebook Live to do a Q&A and discussion once a week about what we are learning. 
  • Praise the Lord that this thing is finally done.

Life in the Tension

Sometimes I like to imagine what my kids will remember me teaching them throughout their childhood. What will stick? Will they remember all the "I love you's?" Will the "you're so brave's" and "tell me about your day's" be the words that become fastened to their memory? Or will something else overshadow the sweet and encouraging sentiments? One thing I frequently tell them that they find less favorable (but I am certain they will remember me saying) is "that is not a real problem." Let's run this down so we are all clear on what a real problem is in our house.

Scenario 1: You are four years old and you have no food to eat. At all. Ever.

Correct, that's a real problem. 

Scenario 2: You are four years old and you do not like "beet taste." 

Not even close to a real problem. (Also, beets are delicious.)  

Scenario 3: You must spend a half a day walking to a source of (questionably) drinkable water. 

Yes, this. This is a real problem. 

Scenario 4: Your food touches.  

No. Having your hot, nutritious food touch other bits of hot, nutritious food? That is - comically - not a real problem. 

You can see how they might remember me saying this. Because it is said frequently. And trust me, we are a big 'feelings' house. We talk about our feelings, we validate each others feelings, we use lots of expressive feeling words. There is no shutting down how they might feel about beets. This is a safe space to feel strong dislike for "beet taste." While I strive to always hear and even affirm their feelings, I don't pretend for a second that this is a real problem. 

I was discussing this with my friend Megan the other day. (Some of you might remember her from previous #AdamsActs posts about the heartbreaking loss of one of their sweet little twin girls, Zoey.) Megan and I were discussing our very low threshold for problems-that-aren't-really-problems. I think that low threshold is directly correlated with experiencing great and tragic loss. It changes you. It changes your perspective on what suffering is. It changes your capacity to tolerate complaints about that which is not a real problem. 

When facing challenges of various kinds, the leaders at our church will often use this phrase, "This is a tension to manage, not a problem to solve." Ugh... I love this, and oh how I wish that this concept would go ahead and just embed itself in my memory already! There are some challenges in my life that I have viewed as problems I desperately need to solve. Or avoid. Or feel sorry for myself about. These "problems" are not really problems to solve, they are simple tensions to manage. 

Instead of graciously managing the tensions, I have tried to control the tensions. I have tried solving the tensions. I have attempted to escape or avoid or blame the tensions. Shoot, I'd punch the tensions in the face if I could. Yet, nothing changes... the tension remains.

I recently shifted my definition of a problem to something more like this: a problem is only a problem if there is an actionable step one can take to work toward a solution. If no actionable step can be taken, there can be a lot of tension. That tension needs to be managed in a healthy way.

Parenting a child with a pretty severe behavioral disorder can feel a heck of a lot like a life-consuming problem. Except for one thing... there is no actionable step that I can possibly take to work toward a solution.

I must live in the tension. 

I can pray in the tension. I can cry in the tension. I can seek wise counsel in the tension. I can adjust my attitude about the tension. But I cannot solve it. I must accept it. 

The focus then is not on how to "solve" my son's disorder, but on how I can remain emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy enough to manage the tension that surfaces in light of my son's disorder.   

You may be wondering, "Who cares? What's the difference?" But the difference is everything. It's the difference between overwhelming shame that I cannot heal my child, and accepting him where he's at in his process. It's the difference between feeling exhausted and infuriated by the sheer volume of time spent supervising every little move, and recognizing our family's need for respite in order to prevent that fury and exhaustion. 

The difference is the understanding that I cannot play the Holy Spirit in my child's life. In the tension, I can only manage my own reactions, my own health, my relationships. But in the tension, I can know that I did not cause my child to have Reactive Attachment Disorder any more than I can cause my child's aversion to the glorious taste of a perfectly roasted sugarbeet. 

I did not cause either of these phenomena, and I cannot "cure" them either. I can only manage myself in the tension. 

It's hard to suffer well. And the greatest suffering occurs when there is no actionable step to take, because we cannot solve our way out of our pain. We cannot bring back the child that died. Or the parent who left. We cannot heal the primal wound that is left within the child who is separated from his first mother. 

We must simply learn to live, and accept, and love, in the tension.

So, when my five little ones are all grown and they reflect back upon their childhood, I hope that what they remember most is all the expressions of love, encouragement and adoration. Yet, I don't mind if they also remember me clarifying the difference between a real problem - real suffering - and something that is simply a tension to manage. Not only do I hope they remember hearing me speak these truths into their life, but I hope they remember me living, and loving, in the tensions... and teaching them to someday do the same. 


Jay, age four, confronting his greatest fear, a beet.  

The Time I Went B-A-N-A-N-A-S

Yesterday was a bad day. A really, really bad day. I basically failed at life yesterday.

My sister-in-law, Carlie, recently sent me a song that has become my anthem. I have this song on repeat for much of the day, and I'm telling you that if you watch this video, and watch it all the way to the end, you're gonna straight up pray that sinner's prayer. Okay, maybe you won't, but that is the impact that Miss Tasha Cobbs has on me when she's singing this song. This song, it is my anthem.

Plus, my voice sounds a lot like hers.

I can not overstate how this has become my battle cry. "I am empty before you, fill me up God." 

I don't know how it is possible to feel so empty, and also so full of my own self. I am empty, and yet, I am stuffed. I am stuffed with selfishness, with fear, with stress, with rage, with pride, with self-loathing, with a desire for control, and more than anything else, I am stuffed with a desire for relief. I am stuffed sick of my self, and at the very same time I feel completely empty. So, I listen to this song on repeat and I let Ol' Tasha usher Jesus into my empty places, and I let him sweetly pour me out, all of that junk that is in me, I beg him to let it spill out so that He alone can fill me up. 

I know that this sounds ridiculous if you have never encountered Jesus as a living leader and active forgiver. But, for me... this song is like being in a spiritual spin class. Where the instructor is leading me into an excercise that I lack the motivation and discipline and know-how to do on my own. Listening to this song has been a spiritual excercise, and the incredible voice on that woman is walking me through the process of opening up inside, and letting a holy fire burn out whatever is left in me, so that I can be an empty vessel that God, in his mercy, can fill to overflowing.

Yesterday was a bad day. Yesterday, I was empty. And I am realizing now that "empty" just means that I am actually full - of all the wrong things. So, yesterday I was stuffed. And I lost it. I absolutely lost my mind. I have a new respect for the phrase " go bananas" because I truly and completely went bananas. Ironically, about 14 bananas were actually involved in this particular incident. I won't go into the whole mess of the thing, but let's just say that lives were saved by the fact that bananas are a soft fruit. If we were talking pineapples, I'd be in jail right now.

It wasn't pretty y'all. My entire dining room was a battle scene, the evidence of our struggle was everywhere. The floor, the table, most of the chairs, the walls, all of it, was caked with smashed banana, and my heart was caked with shame. And while I was on my knees, face down, sobbing in the literal and figurative mess of my life, I heard Tasha Cobbs still playing on my phone. It was at 3:56 into the video and in the song she is begging God to fill her up. 

Fill me up, God

Fill me up, God

Fill me up, God

Thirty times in that section of the song, the phrase, my anthem, is repeated.  

"Somebody ask him," she sings, "I need a fresh annointing... Somebody ask him, fill me again. I need more of you. I've been running on empty. I need you to fill me again. We cry out for more. More of your spirit is what we need. More of your annointing, more of your glory, fill me up. That's what I really want, that's what I really need. I'm so tired of me, I need more of you. I gotta have more of you. "

A couple weeks ago, I was the key-note speaker for a weekend retreat. Next week I go to Michigan for two speaking events, and when I get back home, I have even more events lined up, or maybe not after I publish this post. Either way, I am not selling out arenas or anything, none of these events are necessaily huge or impressive. But, I stand before people and I tell them about my life, I tell them about the wisdom in the Bible, the truths of scripture, but ultimately... I only ever say one thing, that Jesus is the bringer of hope and redemption. That is my only message.

Sure, I write and speak about my life. I talk about parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder. I talk about being a multi-racial, adoptive family. I talk about racism. I talk about the violent end to my brother's life, and my response to his death (#AdamsActs) with you all. I share my family's personal experiences - my daughter's current health struggles, my mistakes and my struggles, about throwing down with bananas, cross-country road trips, general shenanigans, and all the in-between stuff. But, all of that sharing is just a pouring out. It's just an attempt to overflow what God is doing, has ALWAYS done, in my life.

I have nothing to say, I have nothing to write, that isn't about redemption.

People often tell me that I should write a book. There are even times where it feels like it could actually be a dream realized. But the question remains - what would my book be about? 

The answer is redemption. The answer can only ever be redemption.

Because I am empty, and yet I am stuffed. And I am the worst. And I lost my head and I went crazy and I let myself lose sight of who God made me to be. And so much banana was involved. And still, somehow, God still lets me speak to rooms full of people. God still lets me tell you my story. He lets me tell you his story.

Please don't tell me how amazing I am in response to this. Please. If there is ANY good thing in me, anything at all that is inspiring, or encouraging, or worthy of admiring in me then you must know, that is not me at all. I am on the floor covered in fruit. I am dry, and empty, and still sickly full of my self, my shame and my sin. But, still, he uses me. I am not amazing, I am broken and he redeems me for his purpose. And that is the miraculous power of the living God that I serve and rely on. Because if, even for a second, I take my eyes and my hope off of Him... I instantly become part of the broken mess. 

And every time I go to write, or speak to other people there is nothing I am more aware of than my own lack. My shortcomings, my limitations, my total and complete depravity are never far from my mind. The day I lose the awareness of my own need for redemption is the day I have no business writing or speaking to anyone again.

Yesterday was a bad day. A really, really bad day. All of us can relate to that. Anyone parenting a difficult child, or does life with somone who has mental health issues, may be able to relate to some degree. Those of you parenting a child with disordered attachment... you have a banana battle story of your own, I'm certain. And as I kneeled down, filthy and sobbing and ashamed, I begged God - out loud and in front of my empty, hurting child - to fill me up.

"Fill me up God, Fill me up God, Fill me up God"

I do not deserve to write or speak to so many people. I am not worthy to speak a single word about a Bible that I can so easily disregard in a moment of anger or exhaustion or emptiness. But,

That. Is. Redemption.

That in the unlikliest places, that at the unlikliest times, in the unlikliest people, God chooses to fill, to forgive, to heal and to sort it out for good. And as long as he continues to redeem me and fill me and give me another go, I will simply never shut up about it.