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.

PayPal: douglasjroede@gmail.com

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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.

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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.