Tuesday, February 28, 2017

old life, new life...

It's become apparent to Marc and I in recent months that we're in a transition phase in our journey right now.

(By the way, I'm so thankful that he and I are united in this.  I don't think I could stay sane right now if we weren't on the same page!)

Through a great deal of soul searching and some really helpful counseling, we've been able to understand ourselves and our family's needs and desires more clearly.

We've been through alot of change since moving to Lynchburg 8 years ago.

Who we used to be is not exactly the same as who we are now.   Life molds you and shapes you, you know?  Different experiences, different environments and different relationships bring new perspectives.

So we're finding ourselves to be a little caught between our old life and our new.

(I suppose I should probably clarify for those who we haven't seen in a long time, we haven't gone off the deep end in any way.  We're still very much the same Marc and Amy, ha ha!)

But we're Marc and Amy that God is leading on a journey into some new places that we've never ventured before.  We've realized we need some things to change (not just for the sake of change) in order for our family to thrive.  I run the gamut of emotions about this- everything from fear to sadness to excitement to follow where He's going to guide us.

The other day I was finding myself completely overwhelmed, crying to Marc on the couch about our situation.  As he listened to my fears, he picked up the nearest crayon and a paper and scribbled out this picture to help me see our situation:

"This is our old life, Amy.  And these were the things that our heart was attached to in that life.

We lived across town in a suburban, homogeneous neighborhood.
We had one child.
That child went to this school.
We went to this church.

And now, we are entering into a new life.

We live downtown in a very diverse neighborhood, both racially and economically.
We have two children, who both have different needs and challenges.
We don't think the old school will be the best fit for our family anymore.
We don't think our church will be the best fit for our family long-term.

And Amy, we're in a hard transition process of cutting those ties in the old life and replacing them to fit the new life.

First we adopted Jameson.
Then we moved downtown.
(And now we're working to move again to the River House, just a block away.)
We're looking to change schools next fall.
And we're dreaming of bringing a multi-ethnic PCA church plant to downtown Lynchburg.

Whew!  Same town, but a very different "new life."

Crown and Joy Presbyterian Church (Richmond, VA)
The elders at our church were so gracious to give me a month off of my job as worship director.  (I've led worship for 15 years now, so it's a welcome short break!)

And each Sunday, we've been visiting different PCA multi-ethnic churches in our region.  (Washington DC, Richmond, Charlotte, etc.)

Similar to our experience in St. Louis, these multi-ethnic churches have been so life-giving to us.  It just feels like it "fits" us on so many levels.  We love our current church dearly, but you guys, my son calls it the "white church."  He doesn't have a mirror there, someone that looks like him and knows his realities in life, someone that he could look up to and model after.  I love that there's a growing network of multi-ethnic churches in our denomination (as well as homogenous culture churches who are recognizing their unintentional biases and are working to transition towards becoming more diverse), and I've come to understand that in order for us to thrive, our family needs to have a supportive, diverse church body in our city.  

So we've begun that process!  We're praying for God to do this while we're active about doing it.  (I used to be apart of the "just wait on God" crowd as I sat around and waited for things to fall in my lap, but now I see the kingdom so differently... how does God work?  Through his people praying and being faithful and active to GO and do.)  

We're networking, we're making calls.  
We're praying.  We're building relationships.  
We're telling people and our presbytery about our hope for our city.  

(sorry I can't figure out how to rotate the photo)
I've also gathered some friends from different churches and different ethnicities around town and we've begun a small discussion group called "Be the Bridge to Racial Unity." (I posted the Week 2 questions above, but here's their website if any of you are interested.)  It's an easy 8 week curriculum for churches that we're using and meeting every other week.  

I just felt like we needed a place to begin these much-needed conversations in our city.  I'm learning what a loooong, slow road racial reconciliation is, but I've already seen small glimpses of God slowly opening eyes just as He did mine, and that is SO exciting.   

This group has been a safe place for people to share their hurtful experiences with race as well as a safe place for others to listen and ask questions in order to learn, too.  

I'm excited to see what God will do in and through this group, but for me personally, it's been another piece of the puzzle in the "new life."  

River House
I guess what I'm learning is that we are much like the River House right now.  
God has laid a great foundation and structure.  
He's given us a beautiful family.  
And He's continuing to work and "frame in" the places in our life He wants to restore.  

Just like the River House, I can acutely feel in my soul how we're in the process of taking the old life and rehabilitating it into a new one.  

He's working towards one day making it a beautiful finished product.  

We just can't see His plans.

Monday, February 20, 2017

white mama at the black barbershop: a busted chin and a lollipop...


It's been one of those days.

In the midst of alot of stress... ministry situations, fund raising (our main supporting church just had to cut their yearly giving to RUF from $10,000 to $0...that's not stressful...), confusion over schooling for our children next year, etc., I just needed one more thing on my plate.

So how about a fluke fall onto the floor which landed a gash and a busted chin?

It was one of those motherhood rite-of-passage moments.  Where I, with wet hair and half dressed, am simultaneously grabbing my purse and rushing out the door to the doctor, holding a tissue against Jameson's chin to stop the bleeding.

And thankfully, it only needed a little cleaning and some glue to put the skin back together.  (No stitches this time, thank you, Jesus.)

This white mama doesn't do well with blood, so I'm still trying to calm down.

So we got the chin all fixed up, just in time to head to a hair cut.

New barbershop.  New barber.

A glued up chin.

A mini Simon Says game in his hands.

He was so tired from all the morning's "excitement"
and I saw his eyes getting heavier and heavier...


...until they couldn't stay open any longer.


HOWEVER cute and peaceful that may be, Jameson's now at the age that if he naps EVEN FOR JUST A FEW MINUTES, he'll be up until 10pm at night.

(And though I love my kids, I don't want to be with them at 10pm.)

So Trell, the barber, had just the trick to entice him to wake back up:  a lollipop.

That did the trick.  For whatever reason, Jameson hasn't been as fussy with a male barber like he was with our female one.  (I guess it's a pride thing...)  He doesn't ask me to sit in the chair with him, either.

We're definitely moving up.

But he still doesn't want to talk, either.  Trell tried to ask him questions, and this white mama SO appreciated it.  My son needs all the opportunities he can get to interact with black men in his life.

"Come on, Jameson," I encouraged him.  "You've gotta talk. That's what you do in a barber shop."

"That's right!" Trell said.  "And then eventually one day when you're old enough for your mama to start dropping you off, then you and me can REALLY talk."   Hahahahahaha  

We made it to the end of the cut, and isn't my baby so handsome??  He is going to be a heart breaker, y'all.

As much as I like how trim and styled this hairstyle looks,
(and my goodness, it's SO much easier to style)
I've gotta admit, I'm missing his curls on top.

But after the busted chin incident,
it was so, so good just to see him SMILE again.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

the days are long but the years are short...

Seeing as how this blog is my kids' "baby book" of sorts, here's what life is looking like these days...

Jameson is my silly guy, with a small streak of mischievous.

Still obsessed with Star Wars and potty humor, of course.

One day I let him take a bath in my tub.
A minute later, I turned around and
somehow he had found a way to fill the entire tub with bubbles.

 Caroline just switched from dance to gymnastics.

(She was doing handstands during ballet class, so I took that as our cue to leave...)

 Y'all, I can't believe my baby girl is about to turn 9 next week!  How can this be?!

She is so, so smart and outgoing.  A social butterfly of her school, neighborhood, and our church.  She continues to be a natural leader.

She's also on the intense side and needs help lightening up sometimes.  :)

We've entered the 3rd grade girl drama, so much of our conversation is centered on who was mean today at recess, who's not speaking to who, and how to be a good friend.

It's kinda crazy to watch the world grow larger to your child as she grows older.  New, bigger challenges arise.  New fears and anxieties arise.  Many times I find myself lost as to what parenting well looks like at this age.
 Jameson's not in gymnastics class, but occasionally on Saturdays, he and Caroline go to "open gym" and he loves it.

He's getting so tall these days.

Though he's able to reason more now at 4,
it's so difficult to persuade him to do every little task.

Get on your shoes.  
Go use the potty.  
Wash your hands.  
Get your coat on.

The struggle is real.

Recently we surprised the kids with a trip to the trampoline park and every day they still ask to go back.

It was like the best hour of their life.  ha ha ha ha
Who do you think won this battle?

We've only had one snow this year thus far!  The kids LOVE to sled down the hill behind our house.

10% of Liberty University students are sick with the flu this week, so we are keeping our fingers crossed it doesn't reach our house.  (!!!)

Can I just freeze time still right now??  Be still my heart.  May he always want to carry his baby around in public.

oh, I love him

But really, how many lightsabers does one need?

The days are long, but the years are so short.

Every day I want to cuddle and kiss them.

God, give me grace to be their mama.

Monday, February 6, 2017

river house #12: wall of windows and a homeless ministry

Y'all, this River House is going to do me in.  My hair is going gray and this project is probably why.

Don't get me wrong, I love it.  I have the vision, and I'm ready to see it come to life!  I wish I was moving in tomorrow!

But oh, the days and weeks just drag on, and it feels like our wallets are empty and we are still in framing.

This project has become so much bigger than just a house.  Oh no, it's giving us stories.  It's giving us connections.  It's giving us ministry.

It was a sad and discouraging day when we had to let our former contractor, Mr. Larry, go.  The bills were just getting too high.  And through friends of ours who are also in the business of renovating properties, God brought us Mr. Jim.

Mr. Jim
"Mr. Jim," as our kids call him, is our new contractor and we love him already.

10 years ago, Jim lost his son at age 16 to suicide as a result of childhood bullying.  Through that tragedy, he admits he lost his marriage and he lost his faith.

But every year on the anniversary of their son's death, Jim and his former wife (they're still best friends) host a party in his remembrance.  And this year, being the 10th anniversary, was the biggest yet.

They hired magicians for the kids, they had pinatas and lots of food and candy.  We were so honored to attend, and we are praying for Jesus to carry Mr. Jim through so much pain.

In just a short time, Mr. Jim has made quite a splash at the River House.  
Remember the large great room that didn't even have windows yet?

(Designing the focal wall of windows for a river house is a little intimidating to say the least...)

Here it was the night before windows....

And here it is AFTER.  The windows took my breath away when I walked in and saw the view for the first time.  The picture doesn't do it justice.  

NOW it looks like a River House.

Those windows are so great, you'll be able to see all the way to the back wall of windows as you walk in the front door.

Jim also put the window in that will go above my tub.  I can picture it now.... ahhh....

Beginning of fireplace wall

getting essentials together for the homeless man
It turned out that Mr. Jim had compassion on a homeless man who happened to stop by one day and ask for work.  But after he worked at the house all day, we caught the man trying to sleep on the dirt floor under the house.  (so, so sad.  He just wanted to stay out of the cold.)  It's a long story, full of twists and turns over the next few nights, but I'll just say that a ministry to the homeless wasn't exactly in my plans when I bought this house...

Obviously God had other plans, and it was a good opportunity to wrestle with what it looks like to live out the Gospel we claim to believe... especially when the person literally shows up in your house.

It was a very tangible reminder that our own Savior himself entered this world with no place to lay his head.  He, too, was relegated to a dirt floor.  

Great Room
So this is where the open Great Room currently stands.  Isn't it GORGEOUS?  Can you envision it?
Looking into the dining room and kitchen

Burn, baby, burn

Instead of hauling a bunch of wood scraps to the dump, we decided to burn it one day.  (I'm not sure we realized the fire would get so big??)

The kids absolutely loved playing "firemen" with the hose, though!

If anyone has a crew of construction workers and about $100,000 sitting around,
we'll take it...

To be continued.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

michael brown is living in my house...

Back from a much needed, life-giving conference in St. Louis.

Our denomination hosts a yearly "Justice and Reconciliation" conference at New City Fellowship in St. Louis, which is an amazing multi-ethnic congregation doing great things in their city.

Welcome to St. Louis!
Marc and I have been trying to get to this conference for the past two years, and this year we just HAD to make it happen.

Florissant Ave. in Ferguson, Missouri
Upon arriving town, the first place we headed was the small town next door, Ferguson.  Since the events of Michael Brown's shooting there and the subsequent over-militarization of the police against protesters, I've had this strong desire to go and see it for myself.

Because it was two and a half years ago when I watched a live stream night after night on my computer.  I struggled to understand the racial complexities of the situation from both sides.  My heart was breaking to see the lengths people were going in their desperation and pleas for justice.  The situation looked like a scene I had only seen in a movie from the 1960's.  And this was 2015.  

I watched many of my facebook friends respond hastily with condemnation and hateful words towards the situation.  They rushed to judgment, bypassing empathy altogether.  Was anyone asking questions?  Was anyone seeking to understand?  There's a ton of complexity when it comes to this stuff.  There's a ton of history that plays into it as well.  And all of that didn't seem to matter in the heat of the moment.

Ferguson impacted me deeply.  I felt the fear that black mothers all over the country feel for their boys.  They know the statistics, they know the realities all too well.  And yet, as I was drawing nearer in solidarity to my dark-skinned brothers and sisters, I was simultaneously feeling more rejected and alienated by those in my own culture.

I don't think my white friends and family intended to be hurtful.  I honestly think most are blissfully ignorant, and they're uncomfortable or unsure when it comes to speaking on matters of race.  (perhaps that's because in our culture, we've bought into the lie that race isn't something that should be discussed.) 

But the blank faces, the minimizing, the same predictable defenses are not only hurtful, they are tiring, too.  

Two years later, fresh roses were laying upon the scene of Michael Brown's death
When you love someone, you can't help but see the world through their eyes.  In a way, it's like God has woken me up.  He's ripped blinders off of my eyes and allowed me to see things for the first time. 

Take this quick example from our church's Sunday School children's curriculum.  (It's used in a gazillion churches in America each Sunday morning.)  

Look at it through my son's eyes.  

Look at it through a historical lens.  (Jarius' daughter wasn't blonde, I can tell you that.)  

What does this subtly teach our children?  

It's simultaneously a beautiful thing and a terrible thing to go through what my counselor calls "major identity shifts."  

"Major identity shifts" are not so easily done when you're in a community that doesn't share them with you.  Honestly, we've endured the stress of feeling alone in our situation.  There is not a single PCA black man in our city for my son to emulate.  Not one.  There are dynamics of raising a black son that most folks in our circles don't understand.  

So part of St. Louis was going to gain some support, even if it would be long-distance.  

When I got to the Justice and Reconciliation conference, I quickly met the African American woman that I've forever idolized on social media.  I'll never forget her words to me upon hearing that I'm an adoptive mama to a brown skinned boy who was forever changed by Ferguson:

"Michael Brown is living in your house.  The advancement of the disadvantaged is now your family crest."

Yes.  Wow.

(I literally stopped her from saying another word while I wrote that down.)

I spoke with another black woman who is a licensed counselor and dean at a seminary about raising a black son, and she, too, spoke truthfully to me about many things, like the need to teach Jameson about interacting with the police in order to save his life.

One by one, each person I met at the conference just "got it."  They gave me the encouragement I needed to hear.

I didn't feel so crazy anymore.

These people loved Jesus, and they longed to see the power of the Gospel reconcile Jew and Gentile, black and white, native american, hispanic, poor and rich.  They knew the power of Jesus' kingdom and how it can break through the Sunday morning segregation, and they were actually doing the multi-ethnic community of which we dream.
with our friend, PCA pastor Irwyn Ince

We came to St. Louis on empty and we left feeling so full and recharged.

We're eager to continue laboring unto the Lord in the area of justice and reconciliation where we are.  I'm starting a small discussion group here in Lynchburg on racial unity.  We're praying that God might bring a multi-ethnic PCA church plant to our city.

And though there will be times we'll feel discouragement and have to remind ourselves that reconciliation is a long, slow work of God, at least we now know we're not alone.