Finding Strength to Heal a Broken Community

A year ago, on this very morning, my husband Russ and us I held each other as the sun came up over the surrounding hills. Our serene valley turned beautiful shades of orange as the light hit the autumn trees.

We were basking in the glow of the night before. We had renewed our vows in front of family and friends, promising to love each other well.

This morning, we held each other again. As the sun began to show it’s light we prayed for strength to find hope. We vowed to love our community well.

Both mornings we were tired. The first was an overflowing and peaceful tired. This morning was the exhaustion from feeling poured out.

We have relief workers coming in tomorrow to help our community navigate the hairpin turns of this scary winding road. A path that is is dark and unknown.

These are the folks I trained with to become a Disaster Relief Responder myself.

We have both grieved and walked others through grief. What makes this unique is the sense that no one here is truly objective. No one is untouched and no one will come out unscathed. We are all aching and even the strongest among us are so very weak.

We can only hold each other.

We are lighting candles because Roseburg is our home. We are feeding each other because that’s what you do at times like this.

Still, I’m just not hungry…I feel sick.

Scripture tells us that we are to “weep with those who weep” and all of us are taking turns weeping.

This is the first Sunday since our the first news of our tragedy and we will gather with our faith community to comfort and grieve together.

We gather. That’s the important thing. We come together in the same space to breathe the same space and wipe eachother’s tears.

When dealing with her mother’s cancer, Jen Hatmaker said that she went to her office to quietly ask God if He was still good. The answer was yes. He is still good.

Evil is still evil. Darkness is still so very dark. The only thing to get rid of darkness is light.

A reporter asked me on Friday if I can forgive the shooter. I replied “I have to.” When he asked why I told him that I can’t hold that place in my heart for darkness.

We can get angry, yes. We should be very angry. However, if we allow ourselves to hold the anger until it turns bitter, we give up a place in our soul and it does nothing to punish the evil.

Forgiveness doesn’t release a person of their responsibility. It only releases us from our own soul from the bitter prison in which we hold the key. It also takes strength to hold onto the anger and my strength is needed to love and comfort because loving through the pain is hard.

This morning we will release tears.

On this day we will seek peace.

In these moments we will find a way to the next moment.

For me it will be standing in the midst of my church family as we raise our hands and cry out to the God of mercy and grace because right now we need both.

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Dear World, From Roseburg

Dear World,

Before yesterday most of you had never heard of the City of Roseburg. Now when you hear that name you will link us to the tragedy that happened on our small community college campus yesterday.

That is not who we are.

We are a logging community tucked into a beautiful valley with some of the most beautiful tree covered hills you’ve ever seen.

The waters of the Umpqua river flow through our town and Umpqua Community College sits above its banks.

The same interstate that brought reporters and government officials is the same road that’s welcomed back our own Charlie Company from more than one tour protecting our nation.

Our children bring their livestock to show at the county fair on the same fairgrounds that welcomed busloads of students to frantic families anxious to see them step off the bus. Local pastors, relief workers and counselors were waiting too.

The Thursday night sky filled with candlelight in the park where music fills the air every summer on a blanket covered hill.

In July our streets fill with classic cars as families line the sidewalks of downtown, waiting for a history to roll by. The same streets rocked by an explosion more than 50 years ago.

On Veterans Day, those same streets welcome war heroes, marching bands and flag waving children, sometimes in pouring rain.

Photographs of the injured being rolled into the hospital doesn’t tell the whole story either.

Most of our babies have been born at Mercy and lives are saved there everyday, not just the tragic ones.

Umpqua Community College is the place where too many will remember for the wrong reasons. You won’t speak of the thousands of graduates who’ve learned to be nurses, dental assistants and anything that would put them back to work in our once thriving timber economy.

We’ll still show up at Jacoby Auditorium as it fills with local actors and musicians throughout the year.

In July, the track on campus fills with walkers as we join the Relay for Life.

There is so much more to remember about us than the day this tragedy tore into our lives and changed our community forever.

Today you will hear names and get to know a small bit of who we lost.

We will hear the names and feel the loss.

After the media is gone, we will still be here. We will return to celebrating in our streets, dancing in our parks and holding each other up when they are too weak to stand.

As the story continues to unfold and details emerge and you speak the name of our city please remember this, our city and college is not the name of a tragedy.

We are not here to provide an argument for your agenda or to be on a horrible list somewhere.

We are here because Roseburg is our home and that is the on thing about us that can’t be changed.

This post originally appeared at NRToday.com/moms

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For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards (book review)

I’m passionate about community. My mercy heart screams out when I feel as if someone has had to to walk a dark path on their own or even celebrate a special day by themselves making the victory feel a bit hollow.

When I posted about Jen Hatmaker’s new book “For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards” I wrote about the gift of community that has been the best part of being on the launch team.

Today I get to tell you more about the book itself because today is launch day!

For the Love is a witty, deep and beautiful piece written from the trenches of life. Jen Hatmaker lives the life she writes about with a simple approach to grace and love.

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Jen shares her heart on women in Haiti as well as those in arms reach we can gather around our own tables. As I took in the thoughts of her heart I remembered the days where simple comments from other women put pressure on my soul for me to become a person I was never created to be.

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For the Love leads me to the freedom in Christ to fully rely on Him to lead the way. No longer will I ascribe to the manufactured, Pinterest perfect ideal taken from a polished speaker as some fancy event.

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If you’ve ever read anything by Jen you’ll know to expect humor and plenty of it. Her views of life are often wrapped up in the hilarious stories that are laugh out loud funny.

This book was all quotable so I finally stopped highlighting because I realized that reading it all over again would be a gift to myself. My next time through will be a book club style with some women who have become a safe place for me to gather.

If you have ever struggles with being a woman, mother, friend, Christian, wife or just with personhood, you’ll find a beautiful path in the pages here.

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Order yours at Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Christian Book

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PS
A special shout out to my launch team besties for creating the great graphics from the book so we could all share them with you! You have all been an example of organic grace that is the fresh water needed to grow a community of love.

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Making Room at the Table

I want to be raw and honest and real. I want to be polished and on point and put together. I hope for my words to be true but I wonder if they should be filtered.

Like a photo, edited to highlight the best parts – leaving some truth in the original image – I more often want you to see what is pleasing.

My words aren’t always seasoned with grace. They are sometimes raw with the passion that pours from my mercy heart. That place in my soul, shaped by my Creator that sees the lonely, the hurting, the tossed aside.

I know what it’s like to not fit in. I’m okay with that.

Those days of striving to fit in only managed to draw me away from my true self. To fit in we must become an imitation of someone else. A cheap imitation at best. A piece of plastic that will break under pressure or melt in the heat.

Belonging. To belong is a different story. To Love Passionately means that everyone belongs. No one is made to feel like an outsider but there is a place for everyone.

I ache when I see someone made to feel as if they don’t belong. When there is no room at the table.

Growing up in home of seven people, we always had leaves for the table.  Whenever someone came we would extend the table to make room for others. We would offer them the best chairs and pull up a stool or folding chair for one of us.

There was always room at our table.

One Sunday I brought home two friends for supper. My mom had invited the local baptist college president that day. My brothers were mortified that I’d brought long haired friends with holes in their jeans and flip flops. At first glance my mom was upset too.

She relayed her angst later. “I’ve always told you I wanted an open home. My first thought was what our guest would think. Then it dawned on me that he is a college president and probably enjoyed having more young people around.”

It was true. Our meal was full of laughter, good food and warm company. My friends weren’t the type to fit in but there was no doubt, they belonged.

Jesus picked twelve very different men. He asked them to follow Him and only expected them to reflect Him in the things that mattered. In fact, He used their differences to benefit the ministry.

Sometimes I feel like Peter.

Sinking Peter, Denying Peter, Impulsive Peter, Clueless Peter must have drawn many an eye roll among the disciples.  He wasn’t known as a charming “Yes Man”.

Peter had questions.

Peter had ideas.

Peter had really big feelings.

These are the ways I feel like Peter.

In hindsight, we love Peter. His bold honesty and tremendous faith are something we want to connect with. That vulnerable moment where he stepped out on the water is how we hope others see us. Boldly fixing his eyes on the Savior he was woven into a miracle. Peter’s legacy is one of faith and failure in the same story.

Peter sank and sometimes we sink too.

We hide our face as the water begins to wash over our ankles. When our gaze of faith strays away to become fixed on our own achievements we start to sink. Sinking leads to flailing until I’m reminded to reset my gaze back to the one who says “You belong to me”.

When we focus on our position we lose the ability to see the One who never waivers. We begin to grasp our influence in our clenched fist instead of an open hand. Open hands understand that opportunity is a gift, it isn’t earned. When we get that. we begin to make room at the table.

We want faith without failure.

We forget that faith comes with grace. It accompanies failure and pain along with awkward imperfections.

We look for faith we can see and require others to earn grace. Ironic isn’t it?

When including others is contingent on how well we agree, we all miss out. When we believe leading means assembling people who never see things from a different perspective, we lose. The souls we’ve been entrusted to serve lose too.

Those who think exactly like us don’t stretch us. They keep us from climbing out of the boat and sometimes even worse they strand us on the shore.

 

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Do Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly

It’s natural to be want to be right. There is something about walking out life on a platform where  your word and thoughts are set out for the world to read.

Ideas come from research or personal experience, either way, that’s what this writing thing is about. It’s about sharing ideas and expressing thoughts to evoke change or at the least inspire. At least for me that has been my hope.

When Mother’s Day rolls around every year my feelings morph and flow out onto my pages. They often resonate with those who agree with me. For those who don’t I hear very little but we can’t all agree with every thing, right? Tradition holds a sacred place for some.

Some of my thoughts have come from my own experiences. The painful moments or the joyous days shape how I approach special days. This year is no different.

All the while I’ve stepped out, written words to be shared,  knowing my thoughts aren’t everyone’s thoughts, I still need to remain true. Sometimes blogging means putting it out there one day and having new thoughts the next.

My ideas on Mother’s Day come across strong because I have big feelings about it all. My path to motherhood was long and difficult. The stories winding through that path hold the full spectrum of memories from excruciating to beautiful.

Maybe it’s the mom in me or perhaps it’s my heart of mercy, either way I’m protective of those who may feel hurt or isolated. I’m unapologetically sensitive about how the faith community  treats the ache of others.

Here is where I need to be careful, I don’t speak for everyone. What may cause me deep pain and isolation may in fact be a better way to cope for others.

Brooke Mardell wrote a great piece last week titled “Don’t Cancel the Celebration“.  She states, “I mean, the day is about Moms. And I’m not one. So it’s not my party. But there’s all this talk about how I should be treated on their day. Wha????”

As I read her words I found myself checking off the list of places I’ve been guilty of over correcting the way we drive this thing. I felt my own heart saying “Hey Jem, why don’t you stay in your own lane?” After all, my losses don’t look like yours so why should I assume you heal the way I do?

My friend shared this morning how her healthy daughter was born the same month a cousin had a stillbirth. Everyone tiptoed around the grieving mother until she spoke up and said “Is somebody going to let me hold that baby?” She needed to hold the joy in her arms and taste the healing for her own soul. Everyone’s projection of feelings almost kept her from a moment she wanted so desperately.

A couple of weeks before my wedding my brother passed away. It was unexpected but my brother had told my dad that morning that no matter what, “…don’t let anything stop that wedding”.

There were family members who believed it was disrespectful for us to move on with our plans. They didn’t speak of it until years later but I believe it would have dishonored Glen’s memory to cancel.

What my brother understood was this, you can have more than one emotion at a time. You can grieve in the deepest part of your soul while sharing an ocean of joy at the very same time. Marrying the man I dearly love did not in any way negate the adoration I have for my brother. What it did was give me hope and strength to navigate the painful loss in my heart.

I guess I have felt like a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to celebrating certain events. A part of me had wanted to reign in the party in order to honor those whose longing has not been fulfilled. I never wanted to be one of those women in the bible who paraded their gift of children in front of the barren woman.

What I don’t want to do now is to downplay the beauty of the gift I have in front of me. When I was paying monthly visits to the infertility specialist I was reminded by a pregnant friend that she didn’t want to be pregnant. Somehow she thought that would make me feel better about it, I can assure you it didn’t. I also didn’t want to join the line of people rubbing her growing belly, I wasn’t ready for that either.

Today I’m landing in the field of keeping space for those who are hurting. Acknowledging the ache without being dishonest about the gift I hold in my own life seems to be a better way for honor to be shared.

I’ll not hide the beauty that is being a mother. I won’t make it look like it’s less than it is because that causes more wounds than it avoids. I won’t assume that I know more than I do about how to navigate the heartache of others either.

I will purpose to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with my God.

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