Not Everything. Just Something.

Every night for the last few months, I’ve crawled into my king-sized bed, slipped under the covers and thought about wet Syrian children shivering on a rocky beach somewhere. Then I pray.

Lord Jesus, thank you for my warm, safe bed, but WTF?

Most people I know don’t pray like that, but I do because it is exactly what I mean, and I’d rather show up as my grateful, confused self with the bad filter, than try to tidy up for the Infinite Omniscient, who discerns my thoughts from afar anyway.

Like we’re capable of tricking the One who names the stars. Please.

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The Pleiades

Worse, every time I try to write about it, I choke on the following question:

Why Lord, do some of us get trapped with our hungry families at a filthy, frozen border while others get king sized beds and yachts in Florida? 

I can’t square it, and so for months I’ve been paralyzed into total radio silence.

Whatever can be said by those born on third base?

But in Madagascar this fall, after an evening spent with 150 orphaned and foster kids, one of my friends stood in our crowded, little room with her hands on her hips, staring at the floor.

“Erin, I’m not handling this very well,” she said, and burst into tears.

I figure her American self was trying to square it, but she never will and I told her that.

“The world is unfair and the best we can do, is what we just did,” I said. Don’t run. Get in and wrestle with it. Keep engaging it until it’s clear what part the Lord has given you to play and what resources you have to do it.

Not everything. Just something.

That is how WE change, and isn’t that ground zero for changing the world?

So I was thrilled last week, when five authors I read and love, Liz Gilbert, Glennon Melton, Rob Bell, Brene Brown and Cheryl Strayed, did something for the refugees flooding into Europe.

Each of them, using their considerable social media sway, asked their followers to give $25 or less to help volunteers on the ground in Europe buy blankets, shoes, shelter and food for the refugees.

They raised one million dollars in 31 hours – in $25 increments. 

Pause and calmly consider that.

As a fundraising model, it’s wild because you couldn’t donate more than $25 – unless you logged in all over again. Therein lies the genius. Five unrelated people, who don’t work for NGO’s, used what they had in their hands – friendship and social media clout – to ask a lot of us to do a little bit. And who could be overwhelmed by such a tiny ask?

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The fact is, this world is never going to square, ever, not until Jesus comes back, but rather than skulk away from that reality, feeling overwhelmed and guilty, why not stare it down; then take whatever’s in your hands and start shoveling uneven playing fields.

If the Compassion Collective’s story teaches us anything, it’s one person x 40,000 others can move an awful lot of dirt.

Be not overwhelmed friends! Happy New Year!


Need a place to dig? Here are five I love besides the Compassion Collective.

  1. The Los Angeles Dream Center – L.A. California
  2. Mercy Ministries – International
  3. The Preemptive Love Coalition – Iraq
  4. Mercy Ships – Currently – Madagascar
  5. For the Silent – Tyler, Texas

 

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Love in the Time of ISIS

Something snapped in me this week. It’s hard to describe what the phrase “systemic sexual violence against women and children” does to me, but I think it looks like this. 

I’m kicking trash cans and smashing mailboxes because Boko Haram militants pray for conception as they rape little girls, hoping to create a new generation of Islamist militants in Nigeria. ISIS sells naked little girls in slave markets in Iraq with such impunity there’s a pamphlet with an FAQ explaining how rape and enslavement are cool with Allah. 

Now, before we set off an argument about which religions have, throughout history, used sacred texts to defend the buying, selling and abuse of other humans (ahem), or before we dismiss all of it saying the poor and marginalized have been abused forever, I want us to travel in our minds to a market in Ramadi and take an unflinching look at naked girl children being sold like calves. You can purchase a little girl there for $172. An orphan calf in Texas costs twice that. Now, consider those people, in the course of history, who’ve stood up, often at great personal cost, and said:

This is wrong and I’m going to fight it.

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You can think what you want, but I believe I will stand before God and give an account of my life. I will answer for how I spent my abundant freedom and my deep American privilege. I’m not afraid of that day, but I really want to give a good answer – especially when it comes to desperate women and children.

If you’re not a Bible reader, here is just one of its admonitions on the topic –  words spoken by a woman, to her son, King Lemuel. 

Speak for those who cannot speak. Seek justice for all those on the verge of destruction. Speak up, judge righteously, & defend the rights of the afflicted and oppressed. Prov. 31:8-9

This week author Ann Voskamp spoke up, issuing a serious call to the North American church. Abandoning her normally gentle, quiet tone, she basically yelled: Wake up Church! Quit repaving your parking lots. This abomination requires an immediate and loud response from people who still have loud voices. – Us!

She implored her followers to “Wage Love” and defy ISIS by raising $150,000 for The Preemptive Love Coalition – a small NGO in Iraq doing pediatric heart surgeries, paying tuition for kids and granting micro finance loans to Iraqi women.

By Thursday, they raised half a million dollars, I think because many people are saying, I can’t keep kicking trash cans over ISIS. I will help, but what do I do?Empower

I often take questions like that to God, because in my experience, he gives me reliable, though often difficult, counsel. Here’s what I got:

“Give a sum large enough that you and Sam will argue about it.”

Ooooh see now, that costs me something because I don’t want to argue with Sam. But we did, then we agreed, then we gave. Yah! Go us! 

And now Sam and I are a small part of that half million dollars. I’m defiant by nature, and it feels awesome to shoot ISIS the finger in a practical way. The irony is, on their homepage, PLC reminds us to “Love First” not shoot people the bird. OK. I’m a work in progress.

Here’s the thing. We we can ignore this and the myriad other issues that have us smashing trash cans, or we can do something. But if you’re stuck knowing what to do and how. Here’s my best tip:

matchGo into your room. Close the door. Get on your knees and pray, even if you don’t really know how. Just ask. “God, I want to help, what would you have me do?” Then sit and listen. Pay attention for the next few days. Look for mysterious little invitations popping up around issues you care about. Slavery. Addiction. Bullying. Whatever. Then take a step over that threshold. Then another. Then another.

See those curious little beckonings are open doors into work that matters to you and to God. They are invitations to a big life in God’s big army. If that concept makes you queasy because of all the armies out there violating people in the name of God, here’s something to ease your mind.

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5

Just look for the light, and that’s how you judge the army. 

Just Fine and the Drowning Girl

Love DinnerYesterday, I had a three-minute conversation with a friend in which she wound up in tears. It was just an average conversation, on an average Tuesday, until I looked her in the face and said something that was probably a little heavy for the office.

It’s scary to step around a person who says they are  “just fine,” to reach for the other one struggling beneath the surface.

But it’s important because Jesus did all the time. He did it for blind men, prostitutes, lepers, deaf mutes, kids, outcasts and soldiers. He said to them, “I see you in there, I see where it hurts, be brave and bring it to me.”

People, we need less noise and more love. To look into, rather than just at, each other, which is sometimes a messy and expensive proposition. Jesus said, you will know my followers by their love for one another –  not their politics, their words, their church or their jewelry. Just their love. That’s it.

I’m telling you this, because I’ve been drowning for the past few weeks, while telling people it’s fine. It’s not fine. When my fall trip to the ship got postponed until spring, I sank. Traveling with Mercy Shippers, encouraging them to grab hands with Jesus and run wherever he leads, is something I was born to do.

However, a few wise folk have suggested that by this delay, God has cleared my decks, so I can refocus on the other thing I was born to do – to write. What a privilege to have two equally interesting but demanding passions. Certainly, getting here was a process and that’s the subject of the book.

So while I chastise myself for drowning, Jesus doesn’t see it that way. He looks right past my “Just Fine,” reaches for me and says, “I see you in there, I see where it hurts, be brave and bring it to me.”

He does it for us, then we do it for each other, and that’s how this job gets done.

Photo Credit: Sonny Lazzeri

Photo Credit: Sonny Lazzeri

Recently, one of my favorite writers Shauna Niequist announced she’d begun writing her next book. I love Shauna and her kitchen table because as her lively tribe gathers round, it’s apparent how sterile a life of independence can be; how tragedy, apology and pain are necessary to the whole plot. In time, everybody’s lives get tangled together like grapevines, heavy with fruit and flowers. Then Shauna writes about it.

Does this sound familiar? That’s Love Dinner and why it’s back – this Saturday. We need each other more than we care to admit, and sometimes we just need to collapse at each others’ tables and quit drowning for a minute, letting people who love us, pull us out of the water.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to figure out the pattern here, but I finally see it. For the last year, I’ve allowed writing books and going to Africa to be mutually exclusive activities, but they’re not. No matter where I am – on a ship, in a garden, at the table with friends – my life is in the people, and the object is always the same:

Point them to who they are in Jesus, watch what happens and write it down.

That, to me, is a story worth reading.