jesse isn't a youth pastor anymore. he works for his dad's ministry and is following a very strong call from god--and the cry of his own heart--to make it his full time job to bring the gospel of jesus christ to life in an extremely real and tangible way. (he'll have to go into more detail on that later, but the general idea of his passion is starting missional communities).
this has NOT been easy for me. this decision was made on october 1st of last year, to be effective january first of this year. we had layla on the way, me going on decreased-pay maternity leave, and 3 months of steady paychecks ticking down before jesse's salary would become completely support-based.
as, in asking for donations. as in, what missionaries do. as in, humbling much?
we have always always given to our missionary friends and supported them, their ministries and families with joy. jesse's family has been funded 100% by his parents raising their salaries for about 30 years now. with 5 kids and oodles of grace. i have never had one fraction of an ounce less respect for people who raise their salaries through donations than for those who "earn" them in the traditional sense (in fact, i have more); judgement maybe when i see a missionary we support rocking a better phone than me (working on that particular piece of ugliness in me). but when all of a sudden i found our family completely on the other side of that question mark, i was straight embarrassed.
it sucks to face feedback like, "why can't he just get a real job to support his family?" and "i dont understand, he's a georgia tech grad, why does he have to take other people's money?" it is really crushing. but only crushing to the parts of me that need to get crushed anyway. the prideful, "look at us world, we are doing it all by ourselves!" parts. the parts that tell us how great our life is because of how awesome we are. good riddance. except please let us keep tivo and old navy wardrobes. ok, fine, those too, if necessary.
but i still want to scream and rage at these people that he is so smart and capable and could totally get a normal job and dominate the hell out of their asses if he wanted to. jesse is a wildly intelligent graduate of a fantastic school. he had a full academic scholarship the entire time and graduated with a double major with highest honors. he finished in 4 years, including an entire year abroad (half in chile and half in spain, doing campus ministry and taking classes). so cram it in your cram hole, LaFleur! but right, that part of me is busy being crushed and shouldn't speak so loudly. (but my boyfriend could totally beat up yours...if he wanted to! nanny boo boo)
so the much deeper emotion going on in me, that is often sadly obscured by surface stress, worries of what other people think, and doubts, is glowing love and respect for my husband. who stepped out in faith when he heard his King say it was time for him to do so. admiration for a man that has such trust in his God that he will lead his family into a place that we (i) are too scared to take ourselves knowing that we have already succeeded, been taken care of and overcome. and not just in a sunday school way, but in a very real way. in a my kids may have to skip meals or lose health insurance, and we may even all die ridiculed and starving, but we will have never been forsaken, in fact we have already been rescued out of the only disaster that could have jeopardized us eternally and been redeemed into everlasting splendor sort of way. funtimes.
we've asked hard questions in these first 3 months. jesus has showed up HUGE in many ways and jesse has been working his butt off to help spread the vision of this dream and gather a support base so he can start DOING it (you have to have 2/3 of your full support raised before you can begin your ministry full-time).
i will be the first to say that the hardest part of this for our family has been me. putting pressure on jesse to hurry up, to send more letters, schedule more meetings, make more spreadsheets (those ALWAYS help). when it gets really bad i play the low-blow card: accusing him of failing to provide for his family. this is a big no-no of a thing to lampoon men about in general and i have done it to my amazing husband. but he is faithful and much better at seeing the provision as the work of god's hands more than his own. yes, he is doing the legwork, but in a very real way, god is providing for us. we were stupid to ever think he wasn't even when the paychecks came without asking for them.
even when support raising is going well and he can do some ministry stuff, i get my big ass in the way. this brings me back to sunday.
we live in an interesting and diverse neighborhood. for instance, the house that the opening scene of fried green tomatoes was filmed at is in our town. but right across the street are several sets of government housing projects. we have very rich old white people and very poor young black and hispanic families. we have rednecks, preppy families, retired couples and even a snotty, entitled blogger or two.
when jesse first realized that all those cookie-cutter houses were actually projects, he started asking more questions. he found an existing ministry that works with the kids of these neighborhoods in an after school program that gives them tutoring and a snack. he found out that almost all of these kids have no father figures. they are either in jail, absent, or completely unknown. the men that are around are prisoners to alcohol almost down to a man. when their schools are out for the holidays, the kids don't eat those days. did you catch that? they do. not. eat. half a mile from our front doorstep are children whose families cannot meet their caloric needs for the day without a public school lunch.
so this is jesse's first land in which to sew the seeds of the love of jesus christ. sounds awesome right? well, he invited the older boys, 15 and up, all over to our house for a cookout just to show them where we live and to let them know that we love them and that our door is always open...
this is hard for me. i HATE having people over. i mean i love it, but i hate being a hostess. even to our best friends. my house growing up was never the fun one to play at. being educators, my parents were very tired of other people's kids after a long day at work so home was their refuge where they spent time with just their own offspring. i totally get it. i am the exact same way. i enjoy community and time spent in it, but i think i am just wired that way: being around people leaves me tired afterwards rather than energized. i thought for a long time that this just made me a hermit bitch but jesse informed me that i'm just an introvert. a loud, outgoing, TMI-sharing introvert.
so my house has become this closely-guarded, rarely-shared commodity of mine. it's mine, all mine and nobody else can have it. filthy hobitses may not enter the precious. only me. charming, no? and completely outside the realms of a kingdom-centered life.
so i put on my big girl panties (inside out, as i do about 75% of the time...brilliant) and i said, okay, let's have them over. but can we do it outside, maybe? i'm not quite as nusto about the yard. little steps.
so here comes the fully honest, unattractive, jesus-and-jesse-getting-in-the-way-of side of me. wait, did you think we had already started that portion? hahaha. there is much worse to come. feel free to defriend.
so at about 5:30 on sunday jesse and i and 5 of our awesome friends welcomed 15 or so teenage boys as they rolled up to our house. they were supposed to have arrived at 4:30. they were in various stages of undress, it being about 75 degrees and them having to bike or walk to get there. most of them were black, but there were some white and hispanic kids too. every single one of them would have me fighting the urge to lock my car doors if i pulled up in traffic next to them (honesty, remember?).
but i tried to push down and shove away those urges like all the clothes in my "too fat for right now" drawer. i gave the kids hugs and squeezes on the arms as i was introduced. orlando, CJ, christian, brendan, d'andre, b'darius, terry, decorius, john, snook and more i have already forgotten.
we were grilling steaks. this was my own personal, prepare-my-treasure-in-heaven-cause-i'm-so-awesome idea. jesse mentioned a cookout a few weeks ago, hamburger/hotdog style. i said, let's give them steaks because thats what jesus would want to give them. to spoil them and show them that they were honored guests. right idea, wrong person getting the glory in my vision of the day.
kids table. judah with our awesome friend valerie (ADORE!) and her son gabriel (ADORE!). (make a mental note of the huge steak knife sticking up across from judah at 4 o'clock)
well it was really fun. i wasn't too uptight and was really enjoying serving the kids. they had a blast chasing and getting the junk scared out of them by our dogs, and by riding jesse's hand me down road-bike with the baby seat on the back. for kids who ride bikes everywhere, this was just inexplicably hilarious to them. i think the skinny wheels was what was so weird to them.
we tried to get them to talk to us, but mostly they just cut up with one another and plowed through the food. they kept saying thank you, but i totally felt like a teacher whenever i tried to talk to them and they would clam up or get a look like they thought i was going to put them in detention.
i went inside to get some more sweet tea at one point and when i came back out there was one boy right by the door with corn on his forehead. i started to make a joke as i passed by and then i got a reading on the social temperature in the air. it was buzzing with malevolent intensity. i was standing there, holding layla, with jesse and judah the only other two people near me, in between a fight about one millisecond from breaking out.
they had started messing around as the meal wound down and it went too far and one of the kids chucked a piece of corn cob at the other one's face. hard enough to make it swell. the victim got super pissed and chairs were pushed back and grills were gotten up in; threats of impending beatdowns growled back and forth. it was an alpha male showdown of pure dominance-assertion and the 4 of us dukes were right in the middle. suddenly serving steaks that required KNIVES to be scattered all over the place and within reach was not my most brilliant idea ever.
immediately all thoughts of being jesus flew right out the window. all i could think, is "get the fuck out of my house and away from my kids, you monsters. how dare you stand there and threaten violence when my children are two feet from either of you?"
i became everything i hate and decry in so much of entitled christendom: just looking out for me and my own. all that matters is the people i care about and to hell with anyone who threatens my safety or paradigm; damn the muslims, write off ignorant white trash, blame the single black mothers, send the hispanics back where they came from. they've all gotten themselves in bad situations and make ME pay for the repercussions and i just want them all gone away from me. i purport to HATE these unloving, prejudiced attitudes and all those like it, yet that is instantly where my mind and heart went.
UGGGGGGGGGGGH!!! shame sprial.
through divine intervention in my heart, my holy spirit spidey-senses recovered before either of the boys had backed off. my entire little family was still right in the middle of what could get super ugly at any moment, but it wasn't the same anymore. i wasn't mad at them for acting this way around my family. i was heartbroken and dumbfounded that two members of my family could turn against each other so fast. of the awful patterns that had been laid down in these kids' lives such that a silly food fight could trample pride and ignite division so fast. that the only tools they had for handling this were bluster, insult and violence.
i don't think my righteous sirloin and sweet tea combo is gonna be enough.
i couldn't shake this horrible feeling after the party. the boys bolted as soon as the food was finished, and all illusions of that meal leading to them trusting us and forging deep bonds that would lead to healing relationships with jesus dissolved before my eyes.
i was pissed at them. like a petulant little brat. i thought so highly of myself and went so far outside of my comfort zone that i thought they would have to be wowed into submission (to christ, of course, not me. no, never. hmmm). dammit, they should have been humbled by my awesomeness and my willingness to cross socioeconomic lines and hang out with them. somehow they weren't overawed by me as much as they should have been.
father forgive me for being so prideful.
jesse was outstanding as usual. he said it would take time. lots and lots of time. these kids aren't just in need of one great flashy meal and a snooty white lady, gasp, letting them use the guest bathroom and the fancy soap. they are in need of a place that they can bring their stories. where they can unload the dirtiest and most mangled pieces of themselves, and of christ-modellers who will wash their broken feet with tears rather than just cringing when their dirty sneakers scuff my swiffered floors.
i just don't get it. i talk the mouth talk but can't seem to walk the heart walk. i flee from the cross with my scraps and rags when i should be clinging to its riches with every fiber of my being.
i'm so not there yet. but i know someone who is; the first one who ever was. and i pray that He will take over in all the many places that i fall so short of carrying his message. that he will give me strength to give his people crumbs for their bodies while somehow pointing them in the direction of the bread that was made for their hearts.
thankfully, i worship a king that got down off the cross, came roaring out of the grave and relentlessly tracks my wretched, cowardly, sin-soaked--if sometimes well meaning--heart back down again and pummels me with never-failing love, acceptance and light and who lets me shine, flawless, with him as a worthy daughter. may i be humble enough to shine. amen.
dont give up on me, guys!