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.


On Not Saying Goodbye

There’s this thing on the ship that people talk about all the time. Or maybe they don’t talk about it enough. It’s a nasty little gut check, a surprise I got this week as posts from DFW, Heathrow and Tenerife filled my newsfeed.

Every day, Mercy Shippers make you fall in love with them and then they leave.

They leave Texas for the ship. They leave the ship to go home, or they leave the ship forever to write the next chapter in their lives. After returning from field service in Haiti, and saying goodbye (or not) to a group of 30 (not 31) people who forced me to come up higher, listen harder, pray deeper and trust God more than I ever have, my heart broke in new and unusual ways.

My gosh, I’ve only known them for eight weeks. Please. But I’ve been skulking around their lives the whole time, asking questions I can’t even believe I ask. Questions that maybe we should ask more often in church, but don’t because we’re too busy, polite or afraid.

“Tell me about your Dad.”

“What’s the Lord saying about that?”

“What’s happening on the boyfriend front?”

I don’t know who gave me permission, maybe I just gave it to myself, but when you ask hard questions, people bristle, they fight, they cry or they breathe a sigh of relief and say, “My God, do you see me in here?”

Jesus sees you in there. It’s his light we’re shining. His is the only one I’ve found that reliably chases out the darkness. There are people sitting next to you right now, whose story would break you in half, if you knew it, but we avoid it because people are messy and loving them is costly.

Especially when they leave.

I’ve decided this is the Lord’s way of teaching me empathy for the crew of the Africa Mercy – people who live, work, eat, cry, pray and laugh together until the day they walk down the gangway in tears or stand atop it in tears, waving. Painful goodbyes are such a regular event on the ship, people say they’re not sure leasing real estate in their hearts is worth it. They know exactly how bereft that land will be when their sweet little squatters are gone.

That’s plainer to me now after a year of Gateways, and in particular this field service in Haiti, where I camped on a bunch of new real estate and let people camp on mine.

One day, when I nearly hurled a garden hoe across a huge weedy field and later sat on a 100-degree rooftop and cried, two different somebodies showed up to remind me that God is working in me too, and if all I can muster is to walk humbly as I grope my way through, well then, they’d happily stand by, praying.

I’d love to say I have a salve for the painful goodbye, but I don’t and frankly I doubt I’m meant to. Maybe a little longing, a little pain is part of the fullness Jesus had in mind when he explained what he was doing here. Remember Jesus didn’t promise us happy, he promised us full, and there is a difference. So if full means missing these faces until I climb the gangway again, I’ll take it.

Ship videographer Josh Callow put it like this in a blog post he called The Pieces of My Scattered Heart, which I beg you to read because it’s his heart laid bare on this topic, in a fearless and magnificent display.

The thing that is so great about Mercy Ships is the ferocity with which we love. These people that travel across the world to work for no pay to serve the poorest of the poor are some of the most selfless folks you’ll ever meet. They dive in head first and love at full speed…

So June 2014 On Boarding – Go dive in and love at full speed. Then pair up in threes as soon as you can.


10429298_10152355639114737_1422943316129289360_n*As ever, the thoughts are my own, not those of Mercy Ships, but I’m pretty sure you know that.

Choose Love Over Lonely.

Love DinnerThroughout my first year living in East Texas, I prayed every time I went to the grocery store.

“Lord, please let me run into somebody I know, and let us discuss the price of lemons, or dish washing liquid or the crushing loneliness that moving twice in four years brings, and if they could invite us over for dinner that would be nice too. Thanks. Amen.”

It never happened. Not one time.

That spring I was in California, sitting by my friend Karen’s pool, drinking wine with three of the world’s smartest women, when I said, “Yah, I’m basically a hermit now and I don’t even care.” Speechless and mortified, they threatened an intervention if I didn’t come back to California and myself.

But thirsty country has a purpose and I know now what it was for me. I also know heartsick and lonely like my own face, but running to California isn’t the answer (ok sometimes it is). Admitting this feels vulnerable and losery, but maybe if we said such things to one another and quit faking it, we’d get out of the desert faster.

So it was no small thing this morning, when I found my kitchen happily strewn with wine bottles, spent candles, flowers and stray forks after not one, but two Love Dinners. One was scheduled, the other was a charming surprise.

Photo Credit: wili_hybrid

Photo Credit: wili_hybrid

Staring at the chaos with sheer gratitude, I thought “this is what building life with Jesus and his people looks like.” It looks like messy tables and open invitations for people to poke around your broom closets and say, “uh hey, what’s this?”

We don’t do this enough because we care too much what people think. We hide, exhausting ourselves with frivolity and small talk, when what we want is to be known and loved in spite of it.

This may be the best part of following Jesus. He knows me and loves me anyway. So I can relax around people and say “yep that’s a jacked up mess and I don’t know what to do about it.” On Friday night, it was fragile and a little heavy, so my friends turned it carefully in their hands and said, “Nope, we don’t either, let’s take it to Jesus.”

And something precious grew between us that someday Jesus will use for his own purposes.

Sure it’s easier to stay home and watch tv; it’s chancy to invite someone into your broom closet. It’s even chancier to invite nine somebodies, but it’s worth it because sometimes one will show up, hand everybody a tiny gift and say, “I know I can do hard things because I have all of you.”

I’m a million miles from the grocery store parking lot, and you can be too. If you’re struggling with loneliness here are a few tips:

1. You are enough for God, in all your beautiful damage. He can and will steady your heart, if you ask.

2. Then he’ll move all your furniture around and invite new people over to sit in it, and that can be scary and hard.

3. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, just keep walking toward it.

So make the call. Light the candles. Look each other in the face and get down to the way things are.

This isn’t frivolity. It’s legacy.