Rollercoasters and Sharks

I know that this first photo makes us laugh, and it should, but I want to share just how terrifyingly accurate it can feel. Unlike my sons, I loathe roller coasters. And almost any analogy I think of for a faith walk sounds terrible. If it’s walking on water, I can’t swim. If it’s a marathon, running hurts. There are times when I can summon the courage for 15 minutes to write about God’s faithfulness, but much of the rest of the day I feel like that boy on the ride and I’m internally yelling, “Lemmeoff! Lemmeoff! Lemmeoff!” The ride ends, a new day begins, and it happens all over again. Lately I have been feeling the physical effects of a spiritual battle. I have no other explanation for the weight and fatigue and pain. Yesterday, however, I realized more of what is happening. I have felt like this has been a fight for provision, but that’s wrong. It took me arguing with a man about a quarter at a gas station to start to see it. He was upset that I was helping a lady put air in her tire because that was his hustle. He wanted a quarter toward buying a beer. Get outta here. I didn’t want to give up a quarter because I was gripping on to what little I had so tightly and I was tired of giving. Truthfully, we both wanted a quarter so badly because neither of us could see a way to make it otherwise. The question the Apostles asked Jesus about the blind man resurfaced: “Why is this person this way?”

For God’s glory.

That’s it.

I have felt as if I was fighting for provision, but that’s wrong. It has been a spiritual battle for vision – where are my eyes? I have been digging my heels in on the waves saying, “Nonononono…” as the water continues to crash over me. I have heard the cries from the shore of, “Don’t do it! That’s crazy!” And it’s terrifying. Maybe it was because of the people praying for me, maybe it was listening to worship music for 9 hours straight while I worked, but I did not feel the physical effects last night. I felt a bit more like the second image here. Jesus reminded me that he controls the waves. But even still…

I can talk about anything that I write, but it does not work the same way in reverse. I have times when words won’t come out. On Friday morning when I took my oldest son in for x-rays, I didn’t know how my other two sons would get to school. I clammed up. My son reminded me of my uncle’s offer to help from even before the school year. My son called him and he was glad to help. Yesterday I was speaking with my mother over the phone and internally I was trying to form the words that I need help for provision, but I couldn’t. It was Mother’s Day, they have already done so much, maybe I should have…and the words fell into the waves.

The problem with testimonies of faith, with authentic worship, with the Gospel, is that it shows you the truth of what’s possible. It looks terrifying and it by no means feels safe. But it is secure. The battle was for vision, and I’m trying to keep my eyes on Christ and not the waves. God always provides for the work He wants to accomplish. Whether I help someone or not will not end all of the brokenness in this world.

At one time I was the person who saw with spiritual eyes only, “Let me pray for you” and I would move on. I came to understand that there are physical needs as well, and I have given until it hurts. I see a new season for me, and it includes both – able to meet a physical need but also being like the Apostles to the blind man and seeing that there is more than a need for a little change.

I am writing this because of the power of words and the power of testimony. I trust God to accomplish the provision while I focus on maintaining the right vision. I love all that I do when I have helped people; I know it is not wrong to do as I have. It’s an honor to be trusted with someone’s most difficult struggles. I have asked for the Spirit to move in a way beyond my imagination as I stop digging in my heels and jump in the canoe. It may sound silly but I’m going to show you what I saw in just a short amount of time. Last night someone asked me if I could pick up a bag of chips. While I was working, I used my rewards points to purchase some food for myself. When I did that, I was given a coupon for a free bag of chips. When I selected that bag of chips for the person who asked, a quarter fell off from the shelf. I had eaten, the other person would eat, and I gained a quarter. Sounds silly, I know, but I see when God moves. This morning I was starting to make breakfast and I discovered a pan of steak and chicken and potatoes that did not come from this house. Even if there is (and was) a reasonable explanation for it, I didn’t see it coming.

I’m asking for the Spirit to move and I know that He will. I wasn’t in a battle just to reach a timeout, it was for a particular victory. The Spirit will move on my behalf and intercede for me when all I can do is groan. I have imagined some of the possibilities of how the Spirit will move and most of them sound just crazy enough to be possible. I have imagined some of the things that the Spirit may say to you in your life and all I can say is, “Listen.” There are some of you who need to hear that it’s okay to take the next step. If that’s you, I’m saying, “Yes! Do it! Get on this wild ride!” There are many of you who have been testimonies of faith in my life, and to you I say, “Thank you for being in the great cloud of witnesses for me – but seriously a warning would have been nice.” However the Spirit moves, I will submit and obey. If the Spirit is moving for you, please do the same. Fight with vision and trust God to supply all that you need.

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I just need U – Part 1

TobyMac writes some catchy songs – almost too catchy. I never enjoy them for very long because once he drops a good, new song, the local radio stations play it over and over and over and…very soon I’m done it. His song I just need U, however, is one that I need and can enjoy right now.

I’m mostly hanging on to the catchy cry, “Lord, I need you,” because I sure do. I’ve written about Sister Edith from Honduras a number of times, and it has been almost spooky to see how her testimony of faith has played out in ways for me as well. Edith heard a call to do more than teach in the Catholic schools. She went home, against the advice of all of her friends and family. And she waited. And prayed. There were knocks on the door and she said “Yes” to caring for children that families could not otherwise care for. God never overwhelmed her but he sure did stretch her. I think of the verse in Luke 6: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (verse 10a).

I’m learning more and more the truth of how God works, specifically why we have to wait to see the big picture. If God showed us all of what He will do, I firmly believe that most of us would run for the hills (and that may be exactly where He wants us). But God asks for a “yes,” honors our faithfulness with His, and repeats the process. When I met Edith, she was living in an abandoned school building that the city had given her. On any given day, there were 12-15 children living with her. Every. Day. Completely dependent on God. And God was continually faithful. She didn’t work but a few of the older children would go into the city to sell some food from the garden or find other ways to earn a little income.

Around the time that I was preparing for my first trip to Honduras, I said “yes” to a friend of mine who needed a place to stay. By the time I was ready to travel back two months later, I was ready to say “yes” to a child of 17 who had no home. Life has been a whirlwind ever since, leading me to repeating (often), “Lord, I need you.” I’ve lost track of all of those who have stayed under the roof I have. It’s rarely easy, and i have yet to see the big picture. This week, especially, has felt particularly heavy.

I don’t always write things because I want to share them. Mostly I write to clear my mind of the thought and because of the principle of testimony. Declaring what God has done in my life creates the opportunity for Him to do it again, either in my life or the life of someone else. It never fails. When I began sharing messages in the role of chaplain, the words always came back to me in some shape or form. Words have life, and words have power.

Take yesterday for example. I had thumbed out a post about Edith and faith and before the end of the day I had more virtual knocks. I’m feeling overwhelmed. God is faithful, always, but I keep wanting to know the big picture. Over the past year I have said “yes” to people who needed a place to stay. I have no other explanation for the timing and the provision but God. I have never asked anyone to leave, and, at appointed times they have moved on. And someone else knocks. And I say “yes.”

If God wanted to remind me that I don’t have this all figured out, He did. Maybe it’s that I started to think I could handle this. I can’t. Through a flaw in the family court system, I’ve been paying child support for my sons who have not lived anywhere else in over two years. I have fought and failed in court and now have to wait. So, for employment I have worked 50-plus long and exhausting hours each week, only to bring home enough for food and gas. My home just came out of foreclosure status this week (again) because of the generosity of my family. There is a shut off notice for the gas and for the water. There are other bills peeking right around the corner. And all I can do is say, “Lord, I need you.”

I don’t know what my paycheck will look like from week to week because of the variability of hours and gross sales. I had this wild hope that somehow this week there would accidentally be some extra zeroes attached. Nope. It was much less than the week before. I nearly crumbled. God is faithful, even when I’m not. God is good, even when I’m not. And God provides when I cannot.

I have been sharing more openly on Facebook so that people have an opportunity to watch God work. It’s hard though. If I don’t share, I feel like I should. When I do share, I feel like I shouldn’t. And I take arrows from people who say I’m doing it all wrong. Frankly, I am more of Job’s friends to myself than anyone else is. “You must have done…” or “You need to stop and repent…” and the questions keep on coming. But if this is from God, He will provide. He is faithful. He must supply what is needed for the advancement of His Kingdom. There is no other option.

So my whole point in all of this boils down to a very simple, “Lord, I need you. Please remove what is not from you or of you so that all which remains is your will. And Lord, I trust that you will provide perfectly and fully for every need that arises. Amen.”

What if Friday Wasn’t Good?

All around the globe, this past weekend was witness to churches full of well-dressed, singing, dancing, and praising worshippers. Social media probably kept you busy liking all the lovely pictures of family and food and new outfits. Much less prominent in the conclusion of this Holy Week was Good Friday. There’s a reason for that: Friday feels broken. Sometimes we even wonder why we call it “good,” and we also feel that it’s not the end of the story.

You’re right.

There is a very famous sermon that simply declares, with ever-increasing fervor, “It’s Friiii-day! But Sunday’s a-coming!” I’ve heard that sermon preached and, let me tell you, that truth will preach. But haven’t you ever wondered why we call it “Good Friday?” Doesn’t it seem a little odd? If you have ever watched The Passion of the Christ and saw the way that a man was mocked, beaten within a breath of his own life, and left to suffocate in naked shame on full display for all to see – how can you call that good?

It wasn’t. Not by itself.

The only reason we have the audacity to call that unwatchable spectacle “good” is because we made it to the good news of the Sunday that followed. But not everyone has seen that Light. And, even for those who have, the weight of that Friday still comes. You see, there’s a fundamental statement that comes around to all of us just as it did to those on that crucifixion day: “This is NOT how this was supposed to go!”

And again, you’re right. Followers of Jesus left their livelihoods to follow him. Some left their families behind. Those who were healed and those who heard hope began to follow Jesus – there was a Light of Truth that attracted them to him. And they watched him die, if they were brave enough to stay around. In the larger context, God’s people were looking for and hoping to find a political figure who would help them overthrow the oppressive rule of the Romans. And, as the following grew, Jesus rode triumphantly into the city – on a donkey. But then he was arrested. Accused. Given over the will of the crowd. Beaten. And, as we know, he died.

No one around Jesus knew that Sunday was a-coming. Many of them probably wondered if they would even see Saturday. If you are affiliated with a political revolution, and the leader is murdered publicly, it’s pretty safe to say you should run for cover. Deny your involvement. Cry. Worry. Hide your family.

It was not supposed to be like this!

If you have ever said something like that, you know what a Friday experience is like. And, if you are anything like me, you are ready to fight anyone who would dare to call that experience “good” – because it’s not. Not by itself. I remember a class in high school in which a father and mother came to share with us about their experience in grieving their son who died. It stood out to me when they shared that, in their grieving, words of hope often fell flat. When Jesus was fighting for breath on the cross, I can not imagine anyone in that scene whispering, “God works all things out for good…” Even if it’s true, it doesn’t match the context.

One year ago I had a Friday experience. I’ve had several poignant ones in my life, but last year another one hit. An attempt to reconcile my marriage came to an abrupt end, and I found myself with that same statement, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this!” And I’m right.

I cannot fully explain it here, but every day I encounter some variation of that statement in other people. Take the last ten days as a sample, and I’ve heard of: a fraying marriage, an abortion, an unexpected pregnancy, an imprisonment, a car accident, severe hunger, a broken relationship, a family sleeping in a tent, a call from a mental health facility with a request to help find housing, and a call from jail on Resurrection Sunday. Yesterday was a “light” day of Friday experiences. I only was asked to help feed someone who had not eaten since the day before, made plans to pick up clothing of someone who is in jail, and provided housing to a “non-biological” (that’s how my sons have referred to our affinity to house those in need.)

I have been stuck in a Saturday with hope for a Sunday for over a year. Tonight is the second night in the last year when all three of my sons have been out of the home. It’s exhausting. Saturday experiences are for survival, and that’s what I have been attempting to do as best I can. But I’m ready for a Sunday experience. When someone asked for help last week, I told him that I would do what I can but I’m looking for a miracle myself. I meant it.

That’s the difference for those of us who have made it to Sunday. There are many, many people around us who have not made it that far. They are either still reeling from the broken moments of life or stuck in the survival of the aftermath. It is for those people that we must keep repeating, “Sunday’s a-coming!” They won’t believe you, so just keep holding out that light. Let the light grow. Sunday’s a-coming.

There are three possible conclusions to reach after those Friday moments, and none of them are easy to accept. Our default reaction often seems to be, “God got it wrong.” That’s logical, right? If God is good, all-powerful, and our only hope, it wouldn’t go this way. The second conclusion is one I have wrestled with countless times: “I got it wrong.” This one is the one that isolates us. We blame ourselves or think of what we should have done differently. Sometimes we think that the Friday experience is our punishment. The third conclusion may be the most difficult to accept: “This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.” No, that can’t be right. I’m not supposed to be in this broken Friday. I’m not supposed to be in this surviving Sunday. Just, “No.”

But it is.

My hope for a miracle is mostly evident as financial, but that is only the symptom. In the past year, with the loss of an income and the increased responsibility on me, I have struggled. I’ve shared this before. This is not new for those of you who follow me. What is new is that I surrender on trying to figure it out. Sometimes we can conclude that we make our own miracles. We don’t. And I know that I can’t. When the reconciliation attempt ended a year ago, the mother of my sons filed for assistance. For those of you familiar with how our systems are set up, you know that generates a request for support. Because we have an agreement for 50/50 parenting but my income on record is higher, I am ordered to pay support. I’ve been fighting it for months and all that I have experienced are delays. As it stands right now, I’m working 50+ hours a week, trying to provide food and shelter for four teenage boys, and bringing home the pay of roughly 35 hours. Having to make sure that they are covered has never left my mind. The type of work that I can do and the type of parent that I can be is limited by my circumstances. Darkness limits our vision. We can only see what is right in front of us. I am remarkably single (That is not an invitation, just a statement of fact) and I very often feel that I cannot fully be who I could be. That’s the isolation of a survival Saturday. It was not supposed to be like this.

But when we know that Sunday’s a-coming, we press on. Have you ever wondered how long it would have taken for Jesus’ followers to discover his resurrection if it had not been for the women showing up on Sunday? They kept on, proceeding to do what they would have done in spite of what happened on Friday. For those of us who have found that Sunday morning, we must keep telling others around us!

When I think about the people who have shared the gift of their Friday moments with me, all I’ve really wanted to do is let them know that there is hope. If Jesus had only died for your sins, giving you a clean slate here on earth, would that have been enough? No. We need Sunday. If you survived through Saturday, would that be enough? No. We need Sunday. We need the victory over death and sin and brokenness – because all of those things still exist! Believers and seekers, we still have Fridays. We still have Saturdays of surviving. And we press on. We know Sunday is coming. We know miracles happen. That is what Christ does for us. His victory and life lets us know that God did not get it wrong. Christ reminds us that even when we do get it wrong, he is there with us to keep us going. And when Christ is present with us, we know that we are exactly where we are supposed to be. And that truth and the Light of Sunday gets a little brighter.

The reason that I share things like these are twofold: there is a growing host of people in my life who are feeling Friday or stuck in Saturday. It has come to the point where even if I go to Meijer at 2:00am on a Monday, I will encounter someone who needs something to eat and a ride back to his tent home. (I will note that while I was at the stoplight – at 2am – I was next to a car with words of “Jesus is our Lord and Savior” and saw a van from The Good Shepherd church. I laughed. I can’t make this up.) I believe, and I hope, that threads will continue to be woven between those whom I help and those who hear or read my words. Secondly, I share this because you are to me what those in need do not have – a gift and a resource. I’m behind in my mortgage, my gas bill, my light bill, my water bill…and I don’t see how I will catch up. Could I make one phone call to my family and make some of this go away? Yes. Would my story be the same if I did that? No.

The way that you respond to a Friday is exactly the way that Jesus will heal you on a Sunday. If you were afraid on Friday, he will make you bold. If you were mourning on Friday, he will give you joy. If you denied him on Friday, he will make you a proclaimer. If you were alone on Friday, he will surround you with people on Sunday.

All of those are in some way true for me. I was hired into a position where I was told that I would be called “Pastor Doug.” I said, “Oh no…not me!” Right now I cannot see myself doing anything other than preaching or teaching or writing on God’s Word. I have mourned – often – and have many moments of joy. I felt like I lost my voice. I feel it coming back. And, in the middle of the madness of this past year, God has not left me alone. He has surrounded me with a community that I never would have imagined. Right now, at this moment, I am the only one in this house. I can count the number of nighttime hours that I have been alone on two hands for this past year. God knows. He’s in control. We needed Friday so that we can get to Sunday!

As someone who has seen the light of Resurrection Sunday, I am compelled to share that truth with those in the darkness of Friday. Yes, Friday was good – but not by itself. The story needs completion. Christ gives us the opportunity to share his Light every day. The miracle of Resurrection Sunday is the answer to the hopelessness we felt on Friday, and we need to share both our struggle and the hope together.

God got it right, because we couldn’t, and we are exactly where we are supposed to be.

Amen

Burgers & Burps, BBQ & Babies – Beautiful

A few days ago I tried to explain to a friend what it is like to live this life unscripted. I failed. There is no good way to explain it. I told her that I “just show up,” a response that she shoved off. In truth, however, that’s how it feels.

Take yesterday as one example of a day that would have blown my mind not that long ago. But, by dancing on the waves of grace, it all works and it all flows. I woke up first, but I was hardly alone. Next to me was a toddler who I watch at times in order to help out his mother. In the nearby bedroom was a pregnant young lady whom I had not even met two weeks ago. Upstairs were all of my sons and their cousin who has stayed with us since October. Lost yet?

I woke up my middle son and his cousin so that they could prepare for their work. The mother-to-be watched the toddler for me while I brought the two boys where they needed to go. After that, I picked up a friend of the mother-to-be so that she could come over and have a warm place to sleep. On our way to the house we stopped by her favorite doughnut place that she had mentioned the day before. This is 10:00 on a Saturday morning. Are we having fun yet?

At the house the toddler is awake and a handful. When he comes over, he is my shadow and I am his. I checked in with his mother (who uses our van to bring him back and forth to school until she can afford her own car again) and we made plans for him to be picked up. My two sons in the home were awake and having breakfast (if pizza rolls can count as breakfast for one), and I thought about our day. I knew it was full, but I saw an opportunity to carve out some holy space. A few weeks ago I had been treated to a garbage burger and the person (friend of a friend who was giving me work for that day) told me those burgers are $5 on Saturdays.

Bingo.

My sons have been here every day for the past two years, save for the occasional night at a friend’s house. They’ve seen all the madness and have helped me navigate this chaos that is single parenthood. Our time together is rare, not only because of our open door but also their own teenage schedules. Yesterday presented that rare chance. The toddler stayed behind (and crying because I left) with the young mother and the mother-to-be while his mother was on her way (after she picked up her friend from work). I know that you’re lost, but we have made it to 1:30pm.

My sons and I walked into a country-themed bar – not a joke – and sat down for garbage burgers. They were delicious, and we ate like a bunch of boys. The root beer-drinker let out a burp and there were laughs all around. My sons made sure I put my phone away even as I was apologizing for the crying toddler. We talked about music and how the server reminded them of a family member. It was beautiful.

Back at the house, the once-cold young mother was making ribs in a crockpot for her pregnant friend. The picky chef requested honey bbq sauce, but we were out. I promised to pick some up later. My sons and I watched Cleveland get destroyed in basketball, and it was beautiful. My youngest son stepped out with a friend before his scheduled haircut. I headed out with my middle son for his date and after I dropped him off, I found the honey bbq sauce. We have made it to 6:00 now, thanks for riding along.

Let’s get to the close of the night. I picked up my son from the movies, and that brought all of us home. My sons and I, their cousin, the young mother and her friend. But wait, we aren’t done. The young mother was so proud of how her ribs turned out, something she had learned from her adoptive mother. There was talk of playing Mario on the Wii, and I took a phone call. Another young mother asked if she could bring over her baby for two hours. She was parenting solo for the weekend and she needed to finish her college homework.

Yes! We love that baby.

I have said all of that to get to this point. It’s around midnight, and there I was on the couch. I held a one-month old baby who is simply angelic. Favorite snacks were being shared. The young mother was playing Mario with my son and his cousin. In-between the talk of ribs and the sharing of the baby time, there was laughter – so much laughter. I don’t know how Mario makes so much laughter, but it always does. Under one roof on a Saturday at midnight there were 8 beautiful souls and it felt like church. I’m not counting the three dogs and two cats, but they were here too.

There were other highlights of the day too. My oldest son tried to find some country music songs that I might like (they’re not bad). My middle son and I talked about his date. My youngest son has a fresh new haircut from his personal barber and I swear he gets taller by the day. Their cousin told us about his day in a Paws Patrol costume at the roller rink. A friend of mine told me about a job opportunity for the mother-to-be. And it all led to the moment when I could glimpse what it looks like to embrace the truth that nothing is mine. (Well, the mountain of laundry is probably mine.) It was beautiful (the moment, not the laundry).

There are other pieces to the day. (Yes, this is just one day.) A young lady tried to figure out how to pay a bill when her paycheck isn’t coming until Thursday. A friend is in dire need of medicine and was in a very dark space. Another friend of mine did not eat yesterday, but not by choice. She does not have the means. A young man needs help with rent and he remains on my mind. The girlfriend of a young man updated me on his status (he’s in jail for a probation violation).

And now it’s Sunday. I did not sleep well, but I will be okay. I have written more beautiful words than this, but I don’t know if I have covered more beautiful content. It’s still not entirely accurate to say that I “just show up,” but it’s close. I show up to a waiting Jesus, an empowering Holy Spirit, and an all-knowing God. It’s all worth it, just to see what the day holds.

If you wish to support my writing or any of the needs that are coming to my ears, thank you. You are going to be a part of something beautiful.

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I write to share. It’s my means of processing, getting past the experience and ready for the next. I am always honored to find that you have read it, and you are always free to share.

May those who are meant to see this, find it.

Amen.

Not Enough

The music distracted her, but not enough. Not enough. Those two words kept playing in the background like the strings of her violent symphony. As long as the music kept playing, it was enough. They were songs of love, or something like it. She was happy to have the distraction from where she had just been and where she was heading.

It was nice that the white man would drive her to the courthouse, but it was not enough. His presence was both calming and uncomfortable. The pain and anger she felt were so familiar, but he did not share that same pain. Even if he understood it, that would not be enough. No one understood it, not even her.

With the courthouse in view, her music stopped. It was time to be an adult, or something like it. She believed that she was doing what was best, at least that’s what she told herself. How could she know? An adopted daughter of a white woman, an abused child when she should have been protected, and now a mother herself, who could convince her that surrendering the care of her daughter was best?

It was enough to make her wish she could drown her doubt in pills. She had tried that once, or something like it. The last attempt was only ten days ago. She wanted it to work and yet she hoped to hang on. One ambulance ride, three bags of fluid, and six days in an institution helped bring to her this point. She was here. Still here. It was a break, but not enough. A cry for help, but who was listening?

Halfway through the invasive and confusing paperwork, her mother arrived. The baby was not with her. The walls of the courthouse helped restrain her anger, but not enough. She cursed freely and boldly, much to the frustration of her mother. It helped relieve the slightest bit of pain while also keeping others from coming too close. Close was the source of her pain in the first place.

Touch and distance. Distance and touch. Her life kept repeating the pattern of a violin string – capable of beautiful music, full of tension, and the occasional break. Yet each time the string would break, a new one was placed back on the instrument of her story. Maybe one day the right notes would all fall in place, but not today. She needed more time, more distance, more guidance, and more love. Today there was not enough.

Surviving the Blow: Part 2

Fired. Divorced. Accused. Investigated. Laid off. Homeless. Abandoned. Incarcerated. Rejected. Abused. Laid off. Detached. Hungry. Depressed. Helpless. Hospitalized. Silenced. Death of a loved one. There’s a very good chance that you can personally identify with at least one of those words. If you cannot relate to these life blows personally, someone close to you can.

Trust me.

I remember when my life was in order – vaguely. When I look back on it, the order that I felt was primarily an attempt at control. In Part 1, I shared my naïve concept of future success https://rootedandreachingdotcom.wordpress.com/2018/01/04/surviving-the-blow-part-1/. Once I buy my DeLorean, I’ll see if I can go back in time to buy that Lexus before I turn 30 all over again. Until then, I’ll be grateful for what I have now.

People have told me, “You have a big heart.” I know what they mean by it, but I’m going to disagree. Words matter, so I want to correct that phrase. First of all, I’m 5’6 1/2″ and I might weigh 150 if I hold our suddenly-heavy cat. If anything, my heart is slightly below average. I’ve looked for a better way to phrase it because my heart and what I do is no different than your ticker and it’s less than what many people do all over the world.

I have an exposed heart.

The image I’m using in this piece is a photo of a tree rooted along the drive to my childhood home. It is the still-ticking trunk of an apple tree. You can see that it is fully exposed, even to the point of having a hole completely through it. Do you know what that tree does? It bears fruit – buckets and buckets of fruit. My father has taken down many trees over the years, but this is one he has tried to prop up. However, much to his amazement, time and time again the prop would fall down while the tree remained standing.

My mother took the picture of the tree and continues to tell me, “There’s a sermon in that tree.” There’s probably more than one, but she’s right. I have tried to find my identity in so many things over the years, much like props for a broken tree, and they kept falling down. There were grades, sports, status, appearance, spouse, church-goer, titles, honourable work, parent, home-owner, and an all-around good person. None of those matter because my identity belongs in Christ, and that’s the lesson that keeps coming back with every life blow.

When I share my weaknesses, I am exposed. I’m not sharing them in order to hear heart exaggerations. What I truly want you to know is that: God is good, God is faithful, and there are hurting people all around you. Trust me.

I remember when I treated the hurting people as “clients” because that was the relationship. Someone paid me to help hurting people, and they were broken people who got help – or didn’t. I was paid either way. The system would move them along eventually, so the results did not seem all that important. It was pretty easy to walk away with the thought of, “Well, I tried.” The concept that helping people is a one-way street only holds true if we think in terms of finances or assets. As I look back on my journey, I see clear points when God was knocking away the thought props I had used to keep hurting people at an arms-length.

I share my struggles for the sake of those who are still silent with theirs. There are a lot of broken apple trees who do not have the benefit of a safe haven while they are exposed. If I wrote all year, I would still not do justice to the stories I have heard in the past nine months. My goal is not your finances, my vision is a community that embodies the truth of the Gospel and the love of Christ. The single mother who was fired before Christmas needs more than money to make ends meet. The friend with severe health issues who reluctantly accepted six dollars so she could get something to eat needs more than one Wendy’s meal. The young man starting a job after incarceration needs more than gas money. The two young ladies who prompted me to make emergency calls because of their separate overdose attempts need more than rides and referrals. They need community.

There’s another use of words that I push back against, and it’s the concept of “self-care.” I would certainly be someone who would get a recommendation for self-care. When you are surviving, you are not thriving. But sometimes surviving is what needs to be done, and you can still bear fruit while surviving! That apple tree, by appearances, could have been cut down years ago. It was left to stand, is cared for, and it continues to bear fruit. By God’s faithfulness and the roots of my incredible family, there is still fruit in spite of my broken state. It’s not so much that I need self-care as I am grateful for community care.

That’s the vision, and that’s why I share. I know many who are surviving, and they find no time for self-care. They need a community. When I write, it is an act of obedience. There are no drafts, no templates, and no hidden motives. Two days ago a friend of mine shared Part 1. It led to a day of me doing some manual labor for income. And, much like that tree, there was a sermon in the work. I spent the day picking up and moving a demolished ceiling in an old building where grave vaults used to be made. Let me translate that for you: I was picking up broken pieces in a place once meant to seal in death so that something new could be formed.

Read that again if you missed it.

I spent quite a bit of time listening to the man who was paying me for the work. At one point he stopped in order to try to explain why he thought me being there was a sign from God about which direction he should go in life. When I did not help him yesterday (so that I could drive a young lady to a courthouse for paperwork regarding her daughter), he sent me a text about prioritizing. I was a little upset by that because I didn’t feel that he knew me well enough to judge the situation. By the end of the day, he was sharing that he has been praying for the past two days, writing letters to people in prison, and that he just wants to put some more bread and fish in my basket. No matter what happens next, it seems fair to say that he’s part of the community.

Listen, I wish I had the imagination to write these things into a script. I’m glad that it’s not up to me and I keep being included in it. If there’s a way that you want to be part of someone’s community care, I’m all ears. If nothing else, I would be honored if you would share this piece. You never know what thread God will weave in once you do.

God bless you.

Surviving the Blow: Part 1

Eight cents. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. I’m writing this with eight cents in my account. I could go digging in the snow for unknown hidden treasure, but I would rather write this.

It’s the fourth day of the year now. Did you make resolutions? Goals? Great. How are they going? Would you like to change your life? I can help, but…don’t do it.

Are you sure? Really? Reeeeeeally?

I can tell you what happened to me, but the process is hard to recommend. I don’t remember when it was, but I know where I was. All that I did was pray, “God, help me to love more deeply.” That’s it. God has been answering that prayer ever since, and he started that very night.

That prayer was uttered around 6pm on a Friday night after I had listened, in a pastoral role, to a young lady who felt defeated by circumstances. Before that night ended I was literally chasing after that young lady in the streets. She had tried to run away from her circumstances, and I had a sense of where she might go. I had prayed for my fruit to grow. Love is within the fruit of the Spirit. If you want to bear better fruit, God will help you grow deeper roots. It really is that simple.

Have you ever prayed for patience? If you haven’t, don’t. Or at least be prepared when you do. I firmly believe that all facets of the fruit of the Holy Spirit follow this rule: Love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It’s not as simple as going through the mess (where roots can grow), because we all know people who have been broken by horrific pain and suffering. The fruit comes when God works in mysterious, unseen, and amazing ways in the deepest parts of our stories. If you pray for patience, I assure you that you will experience circumstances that will help you bear better patience fruit. I just happened to pray for deep love before I truly realized how this works.

It’s incredibly humbling to know the stories that I know, to hear the depth of things I am entrusted to hear. I can no longer imagine it any other way. It has reached the point where my mother now calls to ask, “Whose child was that that you were holding?” Depends on the day, mom. There are so many incredible details that I hear and am invited into that I never share because the stories aren’t mine to give. I have a vision to help them share their own stories, and I think that will come, but right now I feel like a pastor of an unorganized church and a walking deacon’s fund.

“Doug, you can’t keep doing this by yourself.” You are absolutely correct. I cannot. I never have done this by myself. But if you want to point out that it’s not okay to have no job, no idea of a source of income, and have eight cents in the middle of winter, I know. I’ve been here before. More times than I can count. God has never failed me once. You know and I know that God will never fail me.

Today, thanks to a gift from a friend, I was able to share with a young man who can start a job tomorrow after he spent several months in jail. Tonight, of what I had left, I was able to share with a dear friend who had not eaten all day. Both of them, when I explained that I had no more to give, apologized. They tried to refuse the help. My answer was the same both times: you need it, and God will work it out. He always does. If I shared my shortcomings with those who need help, as I’m doing here, they would stop asking me for help.

We underestimate the strength that is necessary to ask for help and admit our shortcomings. If you are a person who has struggled and been let down again and again, it takes tremendous courage to ask someone for help. Most of the people who share their struggle with me are those whom I have known for years. It takes time to earn a position of trust with people who have been hurt. As I said above, it’s remarkably humbling.

I’m also acutely aware of a huge difference between me and most of those who ask: I am a white male with a college degree, a supportive family, and a network of friends. My struggle will never be attributed to who I am as a person. It is one thing to struggle with a safety net, quite another to make a go of it without one. It’s not as stressful for me to sit with eight cents in my account as for many others. And even still, I don’t like asking for help. It’s embarrassing, no matter how many times I have had to do it, and no matter how many times that the answer is “yes.” The senior quote for me in the yearbook was that I would own a Lexus by the time I was 30 years old.

Oh, young Douglas. Tomorrow I will wonder if I have enough gas to bring my son to his practice and back. We’ll be fine. Tonight I was bothered that my youngest son had no orange juice for his nightly routine. He’ll be fine. Tomorrow morning I expect a text from someone who needs help to get to work and I’ll be sad if I cannot help. But being sad is not the same as someone missing work when they desperately need the income.

I cannot entirely explain it, but the unorganized church has always appealed to me more than the organized church. I feel more comfortable in my purpose with the sheep in the wild, but those sheep are hungry and they can’t pay me a salary.

If you are in a position to give, I am willing to receive. It doesn’t even have to be money even though that’s the most immediate and obvious need. The people who share with me need far more than money, but that is certainly pressing. They need people who will leave the comfort of the pasture in order to walk with them. If you aren’t sure how you will get there, try that prayer:

God, help me to love more deeply.”

Before you know it, you might be running into the wilderness, and God will be with you every step of the way.

If you would like to give in a financial way, thank you. My CashApp ID is $DouglasRoede or you can use my phone number of 6162092446. PayPal is douglasjroede@gmail.com. Both of those allow you to send without fees. I would pass a collection plate, but this is what I have.

I’ll be bold and let you know that $5,000 would let me feed the sheep and pacify the wolves (bills, I have those too). With $40,000 I could accomplish what I need for this year while also developing this unorganized church I’ve found. Do I expect to wake up to that tomorrow? No. I ask God for my daily bread, and He always provides. Writing that is just a small step for me to acknowledge what God is doing. Five years ago I acknowledged my role as a pastor. God already had designs for where He would lead me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.