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

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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.

For You My Child: You Are Loved

Life presents us with question after question on our journey. One question that comes up again and again, but is hardly ever asked, is the question of, “Am I loved?” If that’s your question, the answer is an emphatic, “Yes!

But is that enough? I knew that I was loved, but it wasn’t always by words. I knew that I was loved by the sacrifices my family made for me. I knew that I was loved by the way that they cared for me and supported me. But, in spite of all the evidence in front of me, I still had doubts. You see, I had convinced myself that I was loved because of what I did. That’s a dangerous line of thinking, and it’s not love at all. I watched those around me and also how people responded to me, especially when I made mistakes. Sometimes I convinced myself that I was loved – as long as I didn’t make mistakes.

When I became a parent, I began to love in a way that I had not known before. I had known romantic love and I had known familial love, but becoming a parent was my first encounter with indescribable love. It’s that kind of love that you really can’t explain to someone unless they have experienced it themselves. As a parent you find yourself telling expectant parents things like, “It changes you,” and, “It turns your whole world upside-down.” I believe that, in many ways (but not the only way), it allows people to experience a bit of how God feels toward us. When a parent looks on their child, they see themselves – their image. But they also see hope and possibility when they see their child, they see the best that is yet to come. And the child is loved. You are loved.

One of the greatest challenges that I have faced as a parent is to express love without also reinforcing the thought that my love is conditional. Yes, I want to train you in ways that are good. Yes, I want to correct you and teach you what I have learned. Yes, sometimes I cringe when things don’t go well. But never, in all of those attempts at guidance, does my love change. You are loved.

Why am I telling you this now? Well, quite simply, because I know how Christmas can be interpreted. I never had a Christmas without gifts. I’ve never had a Christmas without family. But, now that I am older, I’ve seen that many children do experience Christmas without gifts and without family. That’s the type of information that’s hard to ignore. It has always been true, but when those children have names and faces and stories, it is impossible to ignore. It’s hard to explain, really, but I don’t know that I have to – you’ve seen it. You have watched those names and faces come and stay in our home. You have learned their stories and – I’ve seen it – you care for them in your own way. Your cousin stays with us now but, as I watch you, I see you interacting with him as a brother. No matter what you do or where you go for the rest of your days, I could not be any more proud of you or love you any more.

I have discovered that the way I show love – my language for giving – is through acts of service. This has been modeled in my parents since day one, and it’s how I could always trust that I was loved. I didn’t always have the best understanding of how to show my love through these gifts. There were times when I thought that acts of service could be used as a way to earn love. That’s a dangerous road, it’s a road with no end. Today I better understand that giving or doing something for someone can be an act of love that doesn’t have a price tag.

Today, as I mentioned, you will face an awkward question or two. Your friends may already be asking you, “Hey, what did you get?” You may try out the answers of, “Nothing yet,” or, “I don’t know.” Listen, I get it. Christmas arrives once a year and I have helped reinforce the idea that you should have gifts wrapped and under the tree when you wake up. I told you that that is not the case this year. You said that it’s fine, and I believe you. I believe you because I know you. You are incredible, and that is what makes my heart both delighted and heavy. You deserve it all and more, as far as I’m concerned. But I don’t have it – not now.

I don’t expect that a new pair of boots or headphones or a hoodie would have brought you lasting happiness. You know that, too. But as a person who gives as a way to show love, this may be harder on me than on you. So I’m giving you this, my words, because it’s far easier for me to write through tears than to leave the words unsaid – you are loved.

There are people who had a meal this week instead of me buying you new cologne. There are people who replaced stolen presents this week instead of you having new boots. The hoodie and the art supplies will have to wait so that we could bless someone who lost their mother. There’s no iTunes gift card in the stocking but we helped someone get to work this week. When we hold these things up in comparison, it almost seems silly. And yet, at the same time, I know that it’s not. You’ll feel a little disappointment and you’ll have some awkward chats with some friends who got an arm full of things they asked for this year. But what I really want you to know is that you will never have to awkwardly answer the question, “Are you loved?” Yes, yes you are.

If you want to know what truly makes my heart swell, it’s watching you use what you have to be able to give and to bless others. That’s so beautiful and such a reflection of why we celebrate this day. “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son,” and his name is Jesus. I also want you to know, and I believe you will continue to see, that people are worthy of love regardless of how they come into your life. You won’t have to give anything to earn love, and their response toward you will not change their worth.

I’m sitting here next to a lovely dead tree. We decorated it nicely and it looks as if it’s still living – but it’s not. There are so many handmade ornaments from the years of Sunday school and classroom projects. But, whether we leave the tree in here or place it outside, it has been cut off from its roots. Please don’t be like this tree. Don’t pretend to have it all together. Don’t pretend that the shine on you makes a difference. Stay rooted. Be the life that you were meant to be.

And be loved, because you are.

*If you are someone who has generously given to us, you may wonder how it is that there are no gifts this Christmas. It’s simple, really. We have a roof and lights and food and clothes on our back. Not everyone does. If I had told people of our financial circumstances, they would not have let me help them. Trust me, I know. I have placed an inherently foolish (only to the world) amount of trust in God and His provision because I’ve seen it – time and time and time again. I’ve been on a unique journey for a while and I have learned that if God gives me five portions of manna, I am bound to encounter four people who have none. The next day is new all over again. There’s an expression regarding bills and finances that I use fairly often, “You gotta keep the wolf away.” Well, when you walk with the Great Shepherd, sometimes you just learn to let the wolves howl and snarl while you take the time to feed His sheep. Merry Christmas. ❤️

When Lightning Strikes: Seek Cover

Take 4…

God is good. The End. That’s the final sentence of this piece. Everything else that I share is an exposure of my scar, but it is also a testimony to the truth that God is good. I am also going to invite you to cover me with prayer, support, and money. Seriously. I don’t want to, but I would be foolish to pretend that I am thriving.

When lightning strikes a tree, it leaves a mark. When lightning strikes a life, the scar is just as evident. I am exposing my scar here on behalf of all the people who have shared their scars with me. Let me share with you about people that I know with some hidden scars. They are people who, like me, can go through their day with a pretty good cover, but when the weight falls too heavily on them it feels as if they might break. As I share, remember that God is good.

I know someone who is just out of jail after eight months and has no consistent bed, food, or income. He cannot travel out of the county to see his family because of the terms of his probation. He has been sleeping where he can, even if it’s outside.

I know someone who texted me to apologize for what they were about to do in order to have some money. They work full-time and have only $1.53 in their account until next Thursday. All that they have ever wanted for Christmas is to be surrounded by people who love them, but that’s never really happened.

I know someone who received an eviction notice while battling chronic health problems. They are a single parent and their health has placed them in a very helpless situation.

I know someone who was fired from their job one week ago and is trying to provide for their children in any way they can.

I know someone who needs reliable transportation to bring their child back and forth to school. At the same time as this need, their hours have been cut at work.

I know someone who found out that their check had an error – an error that will not be corrected until after Christmas, putting their hopes for Christmas for their children in jeopardy.

I know a couple who just had their first child. Both of them lack consistent family support and they are doing their best just to keep their footing.

I know someone who lost their mother and their unborn child around the very same time this year.

I know someone who just had their home burglarized yesterday, and is now wondering what type of Christmas they will provide for their children.

Listen, I know Christmas isn’t about the gifts. I get it. And I am not writing any of this to evoke guilt or with any particular expectation. I have purchased zero gifts. My car is on a flat tire that is stuck on the rim, and I could pay one bill and look at all zeroes in my bank account. Even still, God is good.

In 2017 alone, I have seen God’s goodness in ways I never would have imagined. I was diagnosed with dysthymia (chronic depression) and ADD, was given one day of notice before being laid off, I have had every utility turned off at least once, my house was 15 hours from a sheriff’s auction, attended three funerals within a month (my aunt, my father-in-law, and one of my best friends), my room or my couch has been a place to sleep for someone else for nearly seven months now, I have been ordered to pay child support even though the boys have lived nowhere else but here for the past two years, and I have not a clue where my next source of income will come from. And you know what? God is good.

I’m kind of hoping for a Wonderful Life type of Christmas, but I think that only happens in movies. I don’t want gifts for myself and my sons are fine. They are without need. One of the reasons I have not purchased any gifts is because I have found myself in a truly humbling position of being able to hear other people’s scars. I don’t know what I ever did to be entrusted with such precious information. All I know is that I would rather make sure my friend has a place to sleep, food to eat, and a way to work more than I want my son to have a new hoodie.

This year has been…crazy. Unscripted. And altogether wonderful. I have found myself operating almost-exclusively as a single parent, and at the same time we have been able to provide a place to stay for four different adults, several children, and presently, a fourth high schooler. Throughout this craziness of not knowing who will walk through the door on any given day, I have told my sons that they can play their trump card at any point in time. If all of this becomes too much, all they have to do is tell me. They haven’t said it, not once. In fact, it was my son who noticed the need for his cousin now staying with us. My son asked me if he could stay here and has surrendered space in his room to make it happen. When I was talking to my son about it, he said, “I got it from you.”

Cue the watery eyes, God is good.

When lightning strikes a tree, it can remain standing, but it will forever be changed. I think that I can best illustrate my testimony to God’s goodness in a few photos.

I’ve nearly deleted the picture on the top left any number of times. I looked miserable in spite of Joshua’s celebration. I looked miserable because I was. The top right is this spring, at Jonathan’s celebration. That’s a genuine smile in spite of being two months into a new season of single parenting. I had been taking antidepressants and my emotional floor was much stronger than it was without them. The bottom photo is the most recent. That’s a fairly normal weekend here, and that’s my sweet spot. God’s goodness cannot be placed in a box and cannot fit under a tree. God’s goodness is His love and faithfulness to us when we are most dependent on Him.

All that I really wanted to do is to get this off my chest so that I can write the next piece. God has allowed me to hear of some significant needs, and I’m learning from those people in my life that when lightning strikes, I should seek cover. You can be our cover. Please cover us in prayer. Please cover us in support of this live ministry taking shape in God’s time and in God’s hands. And, if you can give to our need or anyone else’s, we receive that.

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If you think that I really just need a glass of wine and a hug, I’ll give you my address. And that reminds me, there is an open invitation to be here on Christmas, especially if you don’t know who you will spend it with. If you come, I want you to know two things:

1.

2. God IS good.