The Slippery Truth

by Laura on March 4, 2015

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The Truth is a slippery son-of-a-gun. It’s like one of those water wiggler snakes I got for one of my middle school birthdays. It seemed a chintzy gift– a tube of rubber with water inside– until I held it in my awkward hands. I’d have it firmly in my grip, settled, sure. Then I’d turn my attention elsewhere for just a millisecond and – bam!- it’d slip right through grasping fingers before I knew what had happened. And then it was a frantic hand-over-hand pinching-corners routine that typically resulted in the water toy in my lap or on the floor.

And I’m learning that on good days, hanging onto a shred of the Truth is a lot like that; on bad ones, it’s attempting the same with warm butter on my hands.

I wake up and hear from God– a whisper in Word, a message in a journal, a peace through a song. I talk to a friend and remember I’m not alone, people are in my corner. I watch a video about injustice, and I’m inspired. I hear that God is for me, and I soul-core know it to be true. I talk to Matt about battle and Kingdom-advancing, about life as the battle of Normandy, and I become Frodo, swinging swords and climbing Mount Doom with a purpose bigger than the story I lived in the Shire.

But, then? Then, moments slip by–  and so does that Truth.

And gravity pulls me into a spiral I don’t recognize I’m in until the Truth is left by itself on the floor and I’m clinching nothing but air. I begin to have crazy-making thoughts: No one cares about me, there’s nothing I can really do to fight slavery, God is distant and actually a bit indifferent, how I spend my time with my family doesn’t really matter, life isn’t a front-line battle, after all.

While the Truth might be a water snake toy, lies are a bit more like bricks– easy to pick up and hold onto with these two hands of mine.  And if I were honest, most days the Truth has wriggled out of my hands and instead I’ve slipped slipped into spiritual sleep, into status-quo, into auto-pilot. Uninspired. Lethargic. Selfish. Isolated. Carrying bricks is heavy, yes, but it’s easier, too; holding bricks doesn’t require my constant attention.

But the truth about the Truth? I’m learning it’s worth the struggle to hang on to because it does change everything. It shifts the way I look at myself and others; the way I spend my moments. It changes my reactions, alters my entire perspective. Truth ushers me into the much bigger Story, calls me not to play small, welcomes Spirit at every turn.

Truth in my grasping hands beats lies settled in my clenched fists, any day. 

And while it will take more effort, more attention, more energy to get grasped, Truth is worth picking off the floor and trying once again to hold.

 

 

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God’s Work Without God

by Laura on February 8, 2015

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It’s entirely possible to do God’s work without God, utterly likely that Spirit-breathed-ministry can morph into self-fueled-effort. This is the way of humanity and most Christian work as I’ve come to see it. Sadly, the same can be said of myself.

What started faith-only and desperate-for-Jesus slid subtly over time into action-driven and next-step-logical. And I’m just waking up to this reality after two years and a lot of blood spilt on the battlefield.

I look back through my journals from the early days of this journey and see pages and pages of prayers of the wild-faith-kind — experiences and proclamations and lyrics that drip of a soul steeped in daily communion. And it was from this place, this soul-alive-what’s-next-God place that a ministry was birthed.

And hundreds of thousands of dollars, multiple staff and offices, and hundreds of children rescued later, I flip back through my journal and recognize it’s been months, sometimes many months, between entries. I assess my soul and realize it’s more dry tumbleweed than tree planted by Living Water. And when I sit in the quiet, with phone and social media and next-work-crisis at bay, I recognize that the race I started hand-in-hand with Christ, I’m now running hard solo. I’m knee-deep and bone-weary in a workshop building something for God, without really acknowledging the presence of His Spirit.

And I don’t think I got here out of impure motive or willful deceit; I think I got here from believing that justice somehow depended on me, from lazy habits that led to imbalance, and from a blatant disregard for soul-care. And two years in, the weeds are beginning to creep into the crops. I’m learning that the harvest raised from putting my hand to the plow without the daily shouldering of the yoke of Christ is not at all what He had in mind when He called me to this field in the first place. He has always been about a relationship with me, and the opportunity to co-labor with Him is an avenue to foster that, not replace it. But it’s a slippery slope from one to the other.

And the tricky thing? The tricky thing is that I could probably get away with it for years (I hold the last two years as evidence). I could write and fundraise, speak on a stage, receive applause as an advocate who is “inspirational,” and taste continued success in the eyes of the world, even Christian circles. And you could, too, in whatever work you’ve been called to. And so could the pastor that you admire or the nonprofit leader you think walks on water or that Christian author you follow on twitter.

It’s a fine line between self-led in God’s work and Spirit-led in the same, and honestly, I wonder how many of us in the trenches or with the microphones don’t recognize we’re running hard in a race for Him which He never intended for us to run alone.

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Tending Graves

by Laura on February 3, 2015

“The resurrection life you received from God is not a TIMID, GRAVE-TENDING LIFE. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a child-like, ‘What’s next, Papa?’ “(Romans 8, The Message)

The last eight months, since we stepped foot on Asian soil, have felt a little like navigating active land mine fields– unexpected detonations becoming more common than not. And the thing that’s been most surprising (and hurtful) to me, however, is that most of the explosions have had deep relational fallout. Instead of the Midas-touch, most people we’ve touched have had something negative to say about us. It’s been decisions we’ve made that others disagreed with, miscommunications that resulted in hurt, conflict that got out of hand before we even understood there were issues. We’ve been criticized, land-blasted, and email-yelled-at, by partners, friends, and co-workers, by strangers brave with the anonymity of the internet. We’ve been falsely accused and nit-picked and torn down. It’s been a brutal season on our hearts.

And honestly, the amount of conflict, missed expectations and relational disappointments over the last months have left their marks. The lies of you are a terrible person, doing terrible work and no one is in your corner and if you don’t stay in front, people will steal it all  have become mantras we’ve slowly bought into. We’ve begun believing that the perspectives others have of us is the right one, and since we’ve gotten such consistent waves of negative feedback, our entire stance in life and work has become a defensive, paranoid and cynical one. It’s not difficult to start seeing demons around every corner and enemies eager for a misstep when every stumbling attempt forward delivers grenades, not cheering fans.

And we’ve mourned at the graveside of these failures for quite some time, now, processing the hell out of who said what and what did that really mean, where the breakdown began and how we should have recognized the signs sooner. We’ve grieved in the dark for relationships lost, wires crossed, reputations smeared, mistakes made.

But here are the things I’m learning about leadership, the front-lines, and growth: tending graves should only last a season and critics, naysayers, and the disgruntled will always grab the microphone. Yes, I need to process honestly disappointments, conflict and relational misunderstandings, but wallowing in what went wrong (both what I did and what was done to me) never moved anything forward. Tending graves is sedentary (and depressing) work. It pulls us away from the future by demanding we stay camped out in the past, sometimes for years waiting by a tomb of a situation or relationship that might not find redemption until the other side (and whose resurrection we have no power over anyway).

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And, you know, I’m not doing it anymore. I’m beginning to trust in new ways that God will redeem what He will redeem, when He wants to redeem it. I’m laying down my own microphone — explaining and justifying and scrambling to communicate my side of the story– and I’m letting go of managing the opinions others have of me, of us, of our work.

The truth is, I’m doing the very best I can to follow Jesus, to love others. And yes the path I’m walking is riddled, riddled with my own mistakes, but God wants me moving forward into light, not wringing my hands forever in the dark by the grave of something that went terribly wrong.

So, friends, here’s to forgiveness and grace for me and for them today and tomorrow and the day after that.

Here’s to walking out of that cemetery, with well-healed scars.

 

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How about you? Are you “stuck” licking wounds, tending graves?

 

*A note. Obviously when I talk about “moving forward” I am not talking about ignoring painful circumstances and relationships. It’s important to spend time giving yourself space to process grief and heartache, which is a vital component of eventual healing. Speaking truth, owning mistakes, trying to mend fences, grieving loss, Yes. Wallowing in broken things? Maybe not so much.* 

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Dear Friends, It’s been a long while since I’ve written, and I hope that this post will explain the reasons for my quiet. I actually wrote this back in October, only to have my blog crash for two months and then more life get in the way of posting it until now.  (Funny how the deeply good things are the ones that come under the most attack, yes?) I’ll be honest, the following is a vulnerable (and long) post, but I deeply appreciate you continuing on this journey with me and our family. 

Merry Christmas to each of you, Laura 

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My husband Matt sat across from a corporate consultant a two years ago. The suit talked about measurables and statistics and growth curves, based on research and a resume chock-full of big names. We’d been knee deep in launching The Exodus Road for the past year and were after some advice about best next steps. We understood that any sustainable ministry had a business side, too. Kids can’t get rescued on good intentions alone.

“Mach eight,” he said with conviction. “You gotta pull up hard and go mach eight. Mach 10 will (literally) kill you, but anything less than aggressive, aggressive growth, and you’ll stall, get stagnant and eventually die out. The majority of nonprofits fail in the first three years, anyway, and organizations that linger under a million in revenue typically won’t go the distance. You have to break that ceiling. And you have to do it soon, like yesterday.

And, in wisdom or stupidity, we took the suit’s advice that day. We blasted mach eight for the next year and a half. God had written this powerful story in our lives about Light and darkness, and we wanted to do justice by it. We knew that victims of trafficking didn’t need another flash-in-the-pan; they needed a bridge towards freedom that could bear significant weight over the long haul. And, so, we pulled the throttle back hard, the force of the climb quickly gluing us to the back of our lives.

Wrapping up an intense several years overseas, we began logging time in airplanes and on stages, from our new-again home base in Colorado. The house stayed messy and fast-food showed up on the table on a regular basis. Our capacity for anything beyond two full-time jobs in this upstart nonprofit and three kids in school suddenly shrunk to survival-only mode. Community, exercise, and soul care, were quickly laid on the altar of fighting slavery. Carpal Tunnel crept into my wrists from time spent frantically writing at a computer, and date nights quickly got booted out of the schedule. Ideals of boundaries crumbled in the face of 5 am texts about 12 year old’s in private brothels. (How could they not?)

We didn’t just do The Exodus Road; we became it. And our mach eight climb subtlety morphed into a black hole that consumed most of the things that kept us personally soul-alive.

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Mid-climb and after two years spent stateside developing and fundraising, an opportunity arose that would require another international move from Colorado back to SE Asia. Oddly enough, we were open to it. We thought it would be hugely beneficial for me to connect with the work again, we wanted to minimize Matt’s travel time away from the family, and honestly, we felt like the program side of the organization needed to be invested in. We kicked it up to mach nine and, though several clicks past burnout already, operated under the assumption that when we got to Asia, things would calm down. We’d be able to breathe deep, re-gather ourselves, connect with the ethos of where everything started in the first place.

We gutted out the round-the-world-move in eight. weeks and landed on foreign soil mid-May.

And then it really hit the fan.

We walked into political and partnership scenarios we weren’t prepared to navigate on day three. The country was in a military coup. Our foundation required legal acrobats we hadn’t planned. It felt like one crisis, one fire, after another. If we were breaking before, it was shreds of grace scotch-taping us together now.

We hosted people on vision trips in the midst of setting up home utilities in a foreign country and trying to give our new rental house, with very-white tile floors and even-whiter concrete walls, a semblance of home for our hearts. Matt traveled weekly to the capital city fulfilling a role there with a partner organization (which was helping pay for international schooling for our kids), navigating cases and government relationships, wearing his own suit and carrying mountains of stress like The World’s Strongest Man. We juggled maintaining our roles back in the States online and via skype, while trying to pass the baton effectively to our new VP of Operations in Colorado, who started work 20 days after we moved to Asia. We tried to care for new volunteers on the ground while also investing in our own children’s hearts in the midst of another foundation-shaking transition for them.

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And then the real blow. Our friends, who had moved out to Asia within a week of us from the same town in Colorado, lost their six-year-old daughter, a sweet friend of my Ava’s, to a virus within three months of landing overseas. And suddenly, I found myself sitting beside a mother, a woman I’d grown to admire, as she literally ushered her sweet girl into the arms of Jesus. It was absolutely wrecking on every level imaginable.

We stumbled up from that hellish summer, desperately hopeful for the start of school, despite the understandable emotional kid-hand-wringing that accompanied it. And we prayed and watched them walk onto the campus– hopeful for consistent schedules, fresh community, and a bit of a breather.

False.

Two days later, Matt was full-on interrogated at immigration (which was just as scary and discouraging as it sounds), and our organization here was called into a financial audit with the government. Then we had a motorbike accident where we thought I’d lost the top section of my toe and landed in a hospital. After that, we had to evict our renters from one of our rental houses back in Colorado, which gave our finances and faith-in-human-decency another blow. All the while, Matt was continuing to fly down to the capital city to  on a near-weekly basis, and I was trying to navigate communications and fundraising projects, kids that were transitioning to a new school, and figuring out where to buy cheese and how to pay our cell phone bills (which, surprisingly, you do at the local 7-11 or ATM).

But we kept plowing through, throttle back. “Victims of trafficking can’t afford for us to quit,” we told ourselves (and do still believe); the buck-stops-here is a motivator unlike any other. So we hired and trained national staff. We got our legal issues in Asia ironed out through a thousand signatures and mounds of paperwork. We passed the financial audit, while we broke that million-dollar-in-assets-glass-ceiling (oh, wouldn’t the suit be proud).

At this point, it was the Fall now, and we’d survived more turmoil and climbed more false summits than we had time to process. “If we can make it to October school break,” we thought, “If we can just hold it together till then, we’ll go to some resort somewhere. We’ll refresh, we’ll fight for our hearts, we’ll try to reconnect as a couple and family.” We knew we were horribly out of balance and dangerously now beyond burnout, but that fall break was a finish line. We talked about it for weeks. Just. Hold. On.

Then three days before our scheduled vacation, we were blindsided with a situation that was fairly brutal for us —  both personally and professionally. We ended up spending that desperately-sought-down-time confused and wounded, processing-the-hell-out-of-things, and questioning just about everything from the why to the who to the how. 

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It’s November now, and Matt left last week for a two-week trip back to the States. It’s my first solo-parenting gig on this side of the world, and he encouraged me to take a week off— those vacation days I seldom take keep accruing.

Sometimes the hardest step is a backwards one. But, I’ve forced myself to take a few, anyway. I’ve bought flowers and gone shopping with friends. I’ve exercised and read a book, listened to podcasts and worship music. And I’ve started to write again.

And I feel like I’m finding myself, waking up, remembering. I promise I’ll share more in weeks to come– our mistakes (of which there were many), what I’ve learned along the way, the ways Kingdom is still showing up. My blog will wake up, too. We’ve both been dormant for far too long. I’ve been tenderly reminded that this gift God’s given me of writing, it’s something I get to do with Him. And I’ve missed Him something fierce lately.

I guess what the suit failed to mention over lunch that day in the cafe was the price to be paid for a mach eight climb– a “damaging insistence on forward thrust.” And I guess what I failed to recognize is how quickly, in the pursuit of justice and God-following, I paid it.

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“Help. We can be freed from a damaging insistence on forward thrust, from a commitment to running wildly down a convenient path that might actually be taking us deeper into the dark forest. Praying “Help” means that we ask that Something give us the courage to stop in our tracks, right were we are and turn our fixation away from the Gordian knot of our problems . . . . You think it means you have lost. But in surrender you have won.” – Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow

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I’ll be writing more in the coming weeks about the pieces we’re picking up and the ways we’re walking forward; the lessons of Christ I’m learning and the dangers of, can I say, too much “sacrifice.” In the meantime, are you struggling with burnout? How do you keep your ministry/work and soul-life in balance? 

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Bride and Divorce

by Laura on January 28, 2014

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If the Church is really the Bride, I’ll admit I’ve wanted a divorce for a few years now. 

She isn’t who I thought she was 20 years ago when I said, “I do.”  She hasn’t been kind, either –to the people outside of her club, to those who question or doubt, to me.

And, so, I’ve essentially lived in an off-again-on-again state of separation from this dysfunctional being that is the American Church for a solid two years now. She tells me I don’t look or act or think or believe rightly. She sells me a promise of community, and then sits me in a pew facing forward. She takes my money, but hides the Jesus I adore. And every time I muster the hope to try again, she disappoints. So like a scorned spouse, I’ve walked away from her power, her manipulation, her legalism. Her abuse.

But here’s the thing about the disgruntled and hurt partner whom I’ve become, sitting outside with arms crossed and denying the inherent good mixed with the ugly, I haven’t found life or hope or joy in that space either. I thought I’d divorce and walk away completely to find nobility and freedom, but instead what I’m finding is cynicism, bitterness and a tendency to cast the stones right back.

But here’s the thing– the person this potential divorce is hurting the most is  . . . me. 

Disbelief in the Bride’s redemption is leaving me lonely, prideful and self-righteous. Cynicism of her role to play in my own life and in bringing light to the world has left me with my back turned in the counselor’s chair–closed, hardened. Done.

And try as I might to excuse it, this posture doesn’t remind me of Jesus, either. I don’t get to love the world and hate the Bride. I don’t get to cast unconditional grace on other lovers but deny it to my own family. 

Because Jesus had this wild plan for the evolving beauty of His church, and he wants me part of it. And I can’t claim to follow him if I divorce the one he’s redeeming for Himself– not the institution or the doctrine, the method or the damage– but the idea of her, the vision of her. 

Following Christ might not mean living under the same old roof, the same old system with the Bride; perhaps periods of separation can be redemptive.

It does mean, however, leaving the lawyer’s office with the signature line intentionally left blank.

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“There is a song for my family, Outside the walls of Sunday Morning from some within.

This is a song to confess our sins, Lay it all out, and try to begin again.

To hope again. 

Please forgive our ignorance, In looking down on you, 

Please forgive our selfishness, For hiding in our pews while the world bleeds.

While the world needs us to be what we should be.

This is a song for my family who, Just can’t believe in the Jesus that you’ve seen on Sunday morning.

This is a song for the cynical saints, The burned out and hopeless.

The ones that we’ve cast away, I feel your pain.

Please forgive the wastefulness of all that we could be
But don’t forget, there’s more than this
Her beauty still exists
His bride is still alive

His bride is still alive.”

Gungor, Song for My Family

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On an unrelated note, this post gave me a new sympathy for our heterosexual brothers who struggle with the imagery of Christ as the Groom. I get it now, guys, I get it.

Also, an earlier, unedited version of this accidentally got into my RSS feed yesterday- sorry about that. Ignore that one, and thanks for your internet-grace. 

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Is the Purpose of Missions KINGDOM or GOSPEL?

January 21, 2014
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“It reminded me of other conversations we’ve had with many in the church-world who’ve said to us essentially, “Why save them from an earthly hell if you can’t save them from an eternal one?” And I’ll be brutally honest, that type of thinking hurts. It hurts that Christians would so quickly write off justice if there’s no […]




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Playing Nice {On Competition in the NonProfit World}

January 11, 2014
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Elementary school was a dream for me until the second grade. In the second grade, a new girl named Wendy moved to town. She was cute with brown curly hair and she quickly set her sights on my best friend, Sarah. What ensued over the next 259 days of the school year was not so […]




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The Manger Wasn’t Instagrammable

December 19, 2013
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The pressure to have the perfect Christmas looms large this time of year. I would assume, for most of us. We want to deliver the pumpkin bread tied in Martha Stewart bows and we want the kids to have matching socks (note the photo below)– at least for the Christmas concert. We want the deep […]




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Beware the One-Dimensional Life

November 30, 2013
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Beware of the One-Dimensional Life. The seasons when your hours and conversations and energies become hostage to one dictator– however kind, noble or “right” he may be. The gravity of a one-dimensional life is a strong one. It plays balanced for a while, but eventually pulls every conversation into a vortex about itself.  Hopelessly one-sided, […]




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The Mafia and Falling Asleep Anyway

October 9, 2013
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Perhaps I’m an adrenaline junkie. 15 months ago, my husband texted me, “I’m working a case involving the mafia.” And I can remember the holy ground that was my bedroom when I read that sentence on my computer screen; it was one of those late nights, after kids were in bed,  just me and Him. […]




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In Which My Book Is Dirt-Cheap, and I Thank You

October 1, 2013
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They always said writing a book was like birthing a baby, and I was all eye-rolling-know-it-all: “It can’t be that bad. I mean, really. I’ve never seen anyone sweaty and screaming over a manuscript.” I remember with our first (real, actual, human, non-figurative) baby, I had much the same attitude. “I’m going all-natural. No big […]




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