I Beg To Differ

Come in close with me for a moment? I’m in a gentle, whispering sort of mood and I have some thoughts to give and questions I would ask all you feelers and thinkers and lovers. My questions are the coffeehouse or fire pit variety, the kind that get asked when we can look through the steam or across the flames and find, above all things, the value-code writ into each other’s faces.

1. Do you think God knew we would interpret the gospel 7 billion different ways before sunrise on Sunday? (My sense is that God knew this was inevitable and They still didn’t build parameters to make sure it didn’t happen.)

2. Do you think They are concerned about interpretation nuances?

3. And do you ever wonder if we were even meant to believe the same things regarding doctrine, theology and the like?

Screen shot 2013-04-10 at 11.14.41 PMSometimes I lay in bed during the night watch and imagine all kinds of people standing behind my eyes. I place them there just so I can look real long into their soul-windows and speak these over them in the dark: “I see you”. Because what if nobody ever tried to see them before and my looking at them with love is like a prayer going out to cover this essential human need?

So I lay with my physical eyes shut and my spirit-eyes wide open and I see the panorama of skin colors and heights, sizes and shapes. But more importantly I see that everyone is carrying the weight of their own history; an entire world riding piggy on their backs and everyone is fighting their own battles, wearing their own scars, bleeding from their own wounds, pushing through their own struggles. I see we’re all haunted by standard red devils and white ghosts and it’s not just when these eyes are closed. I see that you and you and all of you are bent with your own heaviness, just like I’m doubled over with mine. I see humanity has 7 billion different molecular codes informing their responses, reactions; persuading the spectrum of their emotions. On my left I see the guy who seems whole on the outside, but his soul limps like a zombie, diseased and mostly dead. I see the one in the shadows who perpetuates unspeakable evil and I look at him extra long so I have time to trace his life backward in my mind’s eye and hopefully understand what happened to him, “Who hurt you?” I will always ask. I see the girl who thinks she’s got it all figured out, but she actually don’t know shit. (Sometimes that girl is me.) I see the religious, non-religious; educated, uneducated; rich man, poor man; young man, old man. I see the preposterous, vulgar, timid, boisterous, abused, broken, numb, bloodshot, drunk, diseased, depressed, drugged and dumb. I see sinners, saints, successes, eccentrics, bullies, bullied, straights, gays, clowns, misfits, fools and thieves.

I see a mysterious cocktail of a thousand different characteristics inside the mix of each person . . . 

Join me at Deeper Story today to read the rest of my thinkings! Click HERE or HERE or HERE. :)

 

Love,

Erika

When A Cross-Dresser Meets An Off-Key Kumbayah

Screen shot 2013-02-17 at 12.02.08 AMI quit all service-related activities this past summer when I burned out.

And I haven’t been back at them since.

But the thing is, when you go too long with your heart-values being unrequited, something different—but equally damaging—happens: your heart starts to choke on your own values because they just keep sitting there, stacking up inside you.

Until they come so high you can nearly taste them crawling inch by inch up the back of your throat, suffocating you for their need to be released.

So it was no surprise to walk into Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry at butt-early o’clock on Saturday and feel like I could breathe again. I had come home. Home, I tell you. A place so familiar I can smell it in my sleep, with sounds and sights cascading dreamily through me like a favorite childhood memory – maybe the one where I sit on the counter in our growing-up kitchen, sneaking dough and keeping my mama company while she makes my favorite cookies. Comfort, contentment, intimacy, warmth down to my little white feet, that’s what flooded over my body when I travelled across the threshold of that church-basement pantry.

I’ve said it before and I’ll I say it again: there is never a greater sense of belonging then in this space, where my soul is catapulted to the center of an unwashed, undignified sea of quirky people. I love the loud-mouths, the misfits, the skin colors and wrinkle patterns. I love the offending scents, bad language and indecent behavior. I love the spectrum and volume of energy buzzing and pinging from wall to wall, the graceless chaos of pushing and shoving. I love the reluctant acceptance and show of community. I love the joy that still comes when someone starts yelling at me because I can’t understand the name he mumbles at the registration table. All this—even much more—and I feel like I’m the opportunist who found herself in heaven because she already chose to die.

Jay-Z and Kanye were wrong, you know. There IS church in the wild and I find it every time I’m there in that jungle of battered humanity, where I am chief of all the rabble-ish creatures. But, for absolutely dead damn certain the finest part of the whole [rethink] church service that morning was the moment when a lively cross-dressed man (complete with giant gold hoop earrings) flaunted in and started serenading the crowd at the very height of his off-key lungs. Round and around and around he would weave himself slowly through all the food-seeking bodies with an open hymn book in hand, singing song after song. He was so LOUD y’all, but in my estimation this man seemed like he represented The Glue that stuck all us kids together that day . . . not only did his off-color character invite you to come just as you are with all the strangeness and skeletons you stand up under, but because the first song he belted forth was none other then Kumbayah – the tune “originally associated with human and spiritual unity, closeness and compassion”. The whole eccentric event made me want to whoop and dance and grin as wide as the lousy limitations of my face would allow. And my spirit was so stretched with colliding and ricocheting sensations, the feeling you might have when something shamelessly pure and indescribably right and incandescently beautiful rises from an unseen place and expands your chest with all the good things. Bursting, I have heard it called before.

I am bursting. And all the craziness and Kumbayah singing doesn’t stop me from pausing within the bedlam just to inhale him, my Jesus. Pausing and breathing and shutting my eyes for only a moment and I can see his figure moving around the earthbound bodies in that fluid way – touching shoulders, bathing feet, bending close for every hug, delivering that celestial-sized smile he’s famous for . . . You see? The reason I go is selfish, really. I just want to be close to Jesus and remember who he is [especially] during this Lent season. Not only is he all over every person I smell and touch and serve, but his Spirit is also whorling between every piece of food and flesh. I mean, you literally and certainly CAN’T miss him. Of all the reasons for dragging my arse out of bed on a Saturday morning, that one is the absolute best.

{Image: SOURCE}

What I’m Hungry For

Will you hear what I am hungry for? How I can eat moments like my first and last and only meal?

Moments.

Moments of stillness and quiet, with just enough length to take an extra breath, speak a gentle “I’m here, Abba” and be mindful that behind the air I inhale is another galaxy of meaning and mystery – it’s heaven waiting in the wings for the sprinkling of God-children spread all over the earth to bring a piece of the celestial into earth-time. (Try it and see . . . With just one beautiful, purposeful and God-rich thought in your head, drag in some atmosphere through your nose and I believe you’ve brought the Kingdom here and now.)

I was born with a mystic heart and I could feast on solitude for days, but God gave me a family and made me a homeschool mama and also dug such a deep well of love in my heart for all the people who walk around and straight into my world . . . You see? Moments are all I get and that’s okay, but I’ve got to cultivate them to be good ones otherwise my soul would shrink to a shrivel.

So, I’m praying every morning for a cleansed palette with which to taste all of God in every little beat of space ticking down eternity’s clock. Even more so and especially now that my eyes have gone soft from gazing towards the dawn of Advent this Sunday. We’ll wait the whole day to light the Candle of Hope at night and I know with that tiny flame flickering to life on our Advent wreath my breath will beg to be pulled inside my lungs slow and deep and all the way down to my belly like the way I had to when I was 9 months pregnant; when my body was so full of flesh that short gasps could never fill me up .

That’s how to breathe the Advent air. All the way down to your gut. Because if any air in the world is pregnant, it’s the Advent air – 9 months, pre-labor large with the memory of expecting Someone so big He could only come in the package-size of an infant.

Again this year the moments in our home will glow gentle with hundreds and more tiny twinkle lights on a Charlie Brown evergreen tree and all the spirit-atoms within go hush-hush for the sweet Bethlehem Baby. A Baby that I’ve never wanted to hold so bad and we all wrap Him in our arms with each sacrament and remembrance. We’ll take Him in our arms and clutch Him close to our chests once more, tis the season for new-skin smell and Baby-breath fanning and for swaying around the living room humming lullabies, caressing our flesh-palms over and across a soft, downy, Divine-head. The thermometer around us will shift to temperature still as we supplicate for the deep hope of softening and bending our souls towards the heart of Christmas.

:::

If any of you are looking for a couple of Spirit-whispers to supplement your holiday season, below are a few resources that nurtured and strengthened our own tribe-traditions.

This is our second year to travel through Ann Voskamp’s Jesse Tree Family Advent Devotional – we all love the way she stitched and crafted The Story from start to finish. If you’re interested, you can download it for FREE right HERE.

John Blase wrote a beautiful little triumph of a book called Touching Wonder. This, too, can be download for FREE over HERE or at Amazon.

For younger kids, this Advent Storybook is our favorite and we are still reading it every year – so sweet and reverent.

:::

Can I tell you how blessed and joy-full I wish and pray for your Advent and Christmas to be? I’m wrapping my big heart around each and every y’all, okay? I LOVE you!

 

{Image Source}

Adoption: An EPIC Update

The 200-year-old wood floor is unyielding beneath my bent legs; I’m writing this one from my knees, neck and fingers arched low and right now I have the kind of body that makes big Spirit-noise. Listen . . . God has something in His sleeve and thread by thread He’s pulling that sleeve back and the small amounts of His skin being revealed chokes me up and falls me down. Soon we’re going to see the whole cosmic arm stretched before us and behind us and moving earth with giant sweeping motions to make a way for His will and our destinies. And this may be the longest post in my blog history, with a bazillion back-story links to boot . . . Maybe you need to journey with us today? Because my Mr. and I never imagined that our adoption story would continue like this, that the Kingdom would SO redefine and expand our conditioned ideas of certain things . . . Would you come close, my dudes and darlin’s? Grab some coffee if you want and travel with me for just a microscopic slice of your eternity while I retell some important pieces of the adoption narrative before moving on with what’s current.

Have you been with us long enough to remember how it all began? How life with three-kids-in-three-years had finally reached a rhythm that flowed with a bit more ease and a lot more grace. And somehow the ease and grace promoted an expansion to the walls of our daily-life capacity and why did my arms suddenly feel so empty? Do you remember how the empty-arm-feeling brought our family to the threshold of a thread that we chose to follow? Yes, we picked up the adoption thread, walked forward and prayed on.

In THIS post I swallowed the Son and confessed to the Father that my little Light-full heart yearned for more, and while we chose as a family to pursue adoption as an avenue of expressing “more“, we also committed to leaving the “more” open-ended in definition – remembering from previous life experiences that sometimes our ideas and expectations look like yellow bananas next to God’s green apples. (A.K.A.They’re NOT the same thing.)

And we prayed a specific and pivotal prayer in front of you all: “Our Father, what is real family for us?”  We spread this sentence around heaven because we believed that the way family has been defined by our western, white-man’s dictionary is not the truest or deepest definition of the word. On the alternate hand, we won’t make our statements like a blanket and say every family’s should be a mixed-up, kaleidiscopic collection. But, what in this world does it mean for us to be family? On the other side of Jesus the margins are stretched, definitions are upside down (and you may just need to stand on your head to see the world right-side-up) and family just might be is most assuredly global, but how that plays out in each of our stories is as multi-hued as the earth itself. So we rent our fisted fingers and invoked the Kingdom’s commentary, “Father, what is real family for US?”

Somehow, in the midst of some very constant and intense emotions, we still had the wisdom and wherewithal to say: From refinement of time and trial, we know better then to fold-up, over and around our own expectations, because it seems that quite often the catalyst which launches a movement in our lives is not always the same as where we end up, but we do believe that something life-altering and New Kingdom advancing is present inside each tiny fiber of this upward-moving thread.

Truly, I don’t think a week went by in the past two years where we weren’t praying or processing what it might mean for our family to adopt. But, also during that time God started playing a new melody on each of our souls and singing more of His song over our heads and would you know that what we started hearing was the hymn of revival and the notes were full with vision and spark. Our heart-kiln’s were stoked and the Fire-Starter was blowing against the coals, igniting us all the way. And I wrote one story that illustrated how the flames were affecting us and how the boys chose to respond to what God was doing. I communicated at the end of this story that our family had chosen to adopt a revolving family member into our hearts, that every time we met our most basic needs or even indulged in our “wants”, that we would also include one more person in our bounty each time. And by doing so, all five of us felt the Divine hand Cross-stitching our love to the people of our city.

And just when we were contemplating a move out to the Connecticut country, that semi-exposed Arm reached right into the middle of our choices and brandished some magic like we had never seen before and I told that alchemic-tale in Prodigal God . If you haven’t read it yet, please – you MUST. It may be the most integral component – or rather, it is the foundation for the rest of what I’m about to tell you.

Following that truth-tale of a recklessly-extravagant God, we had 10 cents less then a dime’s worth of doubt that the great Him gifted us with the house where we abide now and damn if we don’t love every crack and cranny, creaky floorboard and curvy angle (not to mention the steam shower!!!) of this colonial cape.

But, we barely settled in our new river casa, before my adoption-bent heart prompted a phone call to the social worker, telling him we were ready for our fresh digs to get the state-required “check-out”. Two afternoons later Carlos came over and we tarried and scoured property and home, he meticulously inched his way inside and out with a tiny-fingered comb. Then, the inspection was done and I may or may not have been biting my nails while sitting on pins and needles and when the verdict came? He only itemized three improvements that would need to be completed before our home could meet government approval and our adoption could take another pace ahead. Three EASY-ish things!!! No big whoop! We were prepared for at least as many speed-bumps as the ones Carlos communicated that day. However, having just crashed into BURN-OUT, I knew that we wouldn’t be able to fathom any house projects until we returned from [what we hoped would be] a very restorative family holiday in northern Michigan.

Before vacation and one week after that appointment with Carlos, I took our 9-year-young boy on a “his turn” date. And this is what you need to know about these occasions with Seth: whenever he gets alone with either parent, the dude canNOT stop kissing our hands, squeezing our bodies, and . . . monologuing. The. Kid. Will. TALK. And talk, and talk and talk. His excitement is so profound and he expresses it through non-stop touch and chatter – chatter about any and every and all the things on earth – this particular date being no exception. So, Seth and I were driving home from a Panera Bread/Froyo World consumption combo and he is doing some EPIC commentating in the backseat and I’m listening with most of both my ears when all of a sudden he stops spieling mid-sentence. Wondering why he broke speech, I made a quick glance in the rearview mirror to see him cock his head a little to the east right before saying, “Hey Mama . . . We have six people in our family. You. Papa. Me. Gabe. Jude. And the city of New Haven.” Then he picks up his monologue right where he left off, like nothing unusual or profound had just happened. *I*, however, felt chills fall from face to feet and an aorta knocking double-time against rib and flesh and just as immediately my mouth let-go the slightest prayer into the atmosphere, “Father, what does THAT mean?”.

For the next three weeks and through vacation my mind would turn at strange points to ponder that one sentence projected by our prophetic son and I would wonder what meaning it cradled. In addition, Austin and I processed and prayed and shared the story with family and close friends, inviting any and all wisdom to be spoken regarding. But mostly I just sat with it close to my chest, content for the skin of His arm to be revealed at the right time.

During our two weeks in the night-cool, quietly-clean country air and with the comfort of being circled with family and feasting on  nourishment from my mama’s kitchen, I felt completely restored from my soul tasting like ashes. HOWEVER. Our road-trip back to CT, altogether and almightily changed that wholeness when some kind of devil-stewed flu virus crawled in and corrupted my body – laying me flat for two weeks. This sickness totally stripped me of any feeling I had of being lit-up and I would drain tears for being unable to sense even the smallest vestige of my previous restoration. (Wah, wah and boo-hoo, someone get our their violin.) [Devil-virus notwithstanding] on day 12, my sapped-out self was standing under the spray of a steamy shower when a Who-sized prayer rose up from the fire buried way deep down under all my ailments: “God, I do NOT care if you want us to adopt a child or an entire city, we’ll adopt whatever You want us to. But, could You close one door and open another because I don’t know if we can do both right now.”

Just as I stepped beyond the shower to towel down, I heard my phone signal the voicemail ringtone and for reasons now known, my spirit surged with a sense of urgency to find out who called. Rushing through the post-shower proceedings, I quickly bare-footed over to see who was on the other side of my message and heard the voice of our social worker. With a swiftly tattooing heart-beat, I listened with all my ears to what he had to say: “Hello Erika, this is Carlos. I just wanted to touch base with you because there are some regulation changes if you want to adopt in the city of New Haven and they will effect your application. So please give me a call as soon as you get a chance and we can chat about it.” I set my phone down and knew. I knew in that moment, with a certainty that I will rarely claim, that as soon as I talked with Carlos, we would know one way or another what or whom we were adopting; which door would swing open and which one would shut closed.

After a short game of phone tag, Carlos caught me the following afternoon and quickly dispensing with formalities, we got right down to business. He tells me that specifically in the city of New Haven, the adoption rules have changed. He tells me that if a house was built before 1970 (which is ONLY every single house in the whole dad-gum historical city). . . And he gave me a list of new requirements longer then the devil’s own lies. And by “things” I mean, we had to do stuff to “un-historic” our historical house. And by “we” I mean that a specialized team would have to come in and accomplish those things for us because we are neither licensed or qualified or even ALLOWED to do them ourselves. And I’ll just give you ONE example so you hear what I mean: Every window in our home would either have to be replaced (cha-ching, cha-ching) or we would have to pay thousands of dollars to have every window removed, encapsulated in a special LEAD-coating paint and then replaced and repaired. (You can imagine the nightmare and horror). It doesn’t matter that this entire house has been restored and all the windows repainted, you would STILL be mandated to have it done by professionals. And it’s really not the canyon-load of home-improvement-headache or catastrophic cash cost that closed the door on our adoption.

The door closed because God unarguably, magically and boldly gifted us with this house so we would know where He geographically wanted our hands and hearts to be . . . and having given us this house, it came with the exspense that our landlords (who meticulously restored all the historical details of this home) would NOT and NEVER!!! allow us to do the things to THEIR colonial cape that Carlos said were now required in order for us to adopt in New Haven.

In shorter terms: God gave us a house that we couldn’t adopt a child into. On the other hand, God gave us a house that radically positioned us to adopt a whole city and tying our hair back is second on our list of “to-do s”, right after learning how to spend more minutes on our knees.

Among a few other sentences of how I really felt, I very kindly told Carlos that the “system sucks”. (Because it does.) (Do I hear an “AMEN”?)

He said “I know” and “I’m sorry”.

And with the ending of our conversation, the only response I had in me was a quiet and surrendered, “Okay”.

We had an answer to a two-year-long sojourn and subsequent question.

“Okay” and we’re diving into deep, Living waters here, swimming with our eyes open, trying to know all the sensations touching our skin . . . Drinking the Divine aqua down as much as we’re able. Dear Jesus, did He ever blow-up our prescribed understanding of adoption. Who knew that we could also adopt an entire city? That I could be a mama to so many? That I would rock New Haven to sleep at night, crooning prayers over her head while she lies in the crook of my arms? That our Gabe would supplicate these words on a Monday morning: “Teach me how to be a good brother to this city and to the people who live here . . . Yes, God! Roger is my brother! Help me to be a good brother to Roger and Joe and all the other homeless people in New Haven.”

G.A.H!!!!!

Never did we imagine this outcome two years ago when we learned that there was more Love inside us and wanted to adopt a child to share that Love with. But, you know what we’re going to do? We’re going to gratefully and gladly receive an entire city into the fold of our tribe and this isn’t even a roller coaster we’re riding anymore – no man-made vehicle could be this wild. Definitely not. This is transcendental tidal wave we’re surfing here and it keeps turning and rolling and wakes us in the night and has all our eyes watching the horizon and staring at the Son.

Also: pray with us? And tell me your thoughts?!

{PHOTO by John Wimberly :: SOURCE}

Roger And Our Dirty Skin

{Taken right outside Froyo World.}

I would love to show you a photo of old Roger so you could see what I see: that he’s just the most beautiful. His leather-like face is thickly etched with time-lines, his hair is unhygienic, lousy . . . his skin wears pockmarks and blackheads like some woman wear pearls and polka dots. He doesn’t have any top teeth that I can see beyond his overgrown mustache and whew! if he doesn’t smell like an unwashed decade. He wears baggy velour track pants, three jackets, scars across his heart and no less then a globe’s worth of guilt on his back. Maybe he’s 65. Or 90. Who can tell under all the layers of filth and fault he bears?

Our family was getting concerned about Roger and started asking around town because we hadn’t seen him in two months, when we usually intersect stories weekly. We asked and asked and all five pairs of eyes would go left and right and all in circles scanning crowds and alleys looking specifically for the tall, homeless man with that distinct gait and bushy beard of his.

He loves Froyo World more then anything so we always brought him there. For a while, EVERY time we took to town to treat ourselves—out of all the places he could be in New Haven—Roger would magically walk right across our path like we were telepathically connected and destined for friendship and Froyo. We would take him inside and all the curious watchers would wonder at our ease of relationship, love and laughter with this bum-looking character. The kids would get their small allotted portions, but Roger? I always told him to FILL. IT. UP!!! And he would pour $8 worth of vanilla yogurt into his container. That’s it, no toppings. Just plain vanilla. Maybe he likes to keep it simple because life has been so complicated?

Roger talks of the crazy wife he wanted to kill, his time in jail, his two children—a boy and a girl. He gave them up for adoption because he was so strung-down on drugs and too busy suffocating the life out of himself that he couldn’t meet their most basic needs, let alone offer any kind of nurturing. He says that he constantly checks on them, (maybe to assuage his heart?) to make sure they’re not “turning out the way he did”. But to hear him talk of it will sure-as-anything-sharp, slice-your-soul-right-up because when he says it, his eyes are full of fathomless sadness, sadness so strong that a person could be sucked right into the vortex of his pain and drown inside if they weren’t careful.

He once told me he was “an undesireable” and with all my heart I told him that was a lie.

Last night we were driving to Froyo World to meet our friends, Justin and Chrisy, when we pulled up to a red light and Jude yelled from the back seat: “THERE”S ROGER!!!! I FOUND HIM!!!!”. And I rolled down my window so fast to call his name so loud and with all the thrill of a Christmas morning, “ROGER!!! HI!!! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!?!? WE’VE BEEN LOOKING EVERYWHERE FOR YOU!!! WOULD YOU LIKE TO GET ICE CREAM WITH US?!

Because, you see? I’ve missed my friend and I wanted to make sure he knew it.

Roger tells me right back that he’s missed us, that he’s been looking for us too!!! “I thought maybe you moved to Texas!!!” I laughed so big and just like that we fell into our camaraderie and moved as a unit to get dessert together, but before our friends even showed up or we could get our frozen yogurt, Roger said he had a present for the boys and took off at a trot towards the stash of stuff that he keeps somewhere. 20 minutes later he came back holding out a big, colorful hardcover “Birds of Prey” coffee table book and he gifted it to Gabe, Seth and Jude. And, can I tell you? It was one of the sweetest moments in my personal history, to witness a homeless man giving something to us when he, essentially, has nothing. Oh, it was like being transported to ancient times and witnessing the widow give her mite. What a sensation, to feel (in little) what it must’ve felt like for Jesus to watch her give from her poverty, everything she had.

Mercy. The whole event moved mountains in me and the rest of our time together was filled with the Spirit while we ate and shared questions and stories and near the end Roger asked me to read some Psalms over him and our friend Justin had a prophetic word for Roger regarding the guilt he carries and how God actually sees him like a beloved son in spite of the lies he hears. Then we bowed our heads and Justin prayed for him and I held his hand, dirty skin to dirty skin – Roger’s and mine.

 

{Austin Morrison – my Mr., my Him, my Love . . . I was SO wishing you weren’t out of town for this. Miss you.}