If Myers-Briggs put me in a lovely little box I could be proud of and present to others — “here is my amazing self, take and see” — then the Enneagram has been the first tool to tell me that maybe, just maybe, my “gift to the world” can be a bit “too much.” That my greatest strength can actually also make me obsessive and prone to navel-gazing. It’s what the Enneagram is best at — showing us the shadowside and paths for growth. Of course this is also something my husband has told me all along. When it’s him who preempts my epiphanic moment, I get all ruffled. Later, we learn, lo and behold, that per the Enneagram we’re a “volatile combination.”
His number on the Enneagram (8, the Challenger) and mine (4, Individualist) are “inherently volatile.” The Enneagram Institute says:
Both Enneagram Fours and Eights are intense and have strong emotional responses; both seek to get a reaction from the other, and both can be dominating of their environments—Eights are socially dominant, Fours are emotionally dominant. Both types bring passion, intensity, energy, and deep (often unconscious) feelings to all aspects of the relationship. They are attracted to each other’s storminess, the other’s vulnerability, and the other’s “hidden” qualities: neither is what they seem to be on the surface. Both types are also highly intuitive—Fours by being self-aware and knowledgeable about how they are feeling, and Eights with their intuition about external phenomena, often with an extremely accurate insight about the potentials and possibilities exhibited by others.
This is what has lead us to conclude that he builds systems and knows what needs doing to help an organization flourish, while I get my fingernails dirty in the mess of people’s emotional and spiritual states. We’re yin to each other’s yang, when we’re in step with the other.
I’m sitting quite comfortably in this warm home of mine. It’s newish to me. The pangs of moving 1000 miles away from the longest place we’d ever lived since we became a family still, always, linger. And yet here I am, doing all those routine things: walking my children to school, going grocery shopping, shouting too much at my boys’ soccer games. In the throes of transition, I feel like I’m living in two universes, where home is both here and somewhere else. Home feels a bit like putting down my phone or glasses and being unable to find them. I don’t know quite where I belong without either. I wander around trying to find something I have no definite memory of letting go.
I’m watching the United States map change colors: each state colored to oppose or welcome the new plan for the US to help resettle refugees. Twenty-six governors vow to tighten their borders like cinching in their belt. It’s too dangerous, they say. It’s not our place. It’s a Trojan horse, letting them in like that.
I realize of course that immigrant policies, national politics and international crises are things much more complex than I am making them here. But I do know this: problems only magnify when we start to see us as somehow wholly different from them.
And must we surround our nation, our homes, with watertight walls? Are we so very scared that we cannot let them in because they might hurt us? But, we must ask, who are they?
They are the poor, the needy, the fatherless and the widow. They are at the very heart of the gospel. Jesus gathered a rag-tag group of fishermen, he did not run from women of disrepute, he did not turn in disgust from our disease, or dishonor or shame. He saw the widow, the child, the orphan and the leper. And he had compassion. His heart saw that we were like sheep without a shepherd. We are the homeless, the refugee. It is Jesus who comes from a far-off country and made his home with us.
It’s a fact that’s at the heart of the Bible. Giles Frazer writes for The Guardian that “For the moral imagination of the Hebrew scriptures was determined by a battered refugee people, fleeing political oppression in north Africa, and seeking a new life for themselves safe from violence and poverty. Time and again, the books of the Hebrew scriptures remind its readers not to forget that they too were once in this situation and their ethics must be structured around practical help driven by fellow-feeling.”
The Bible is clear: our homes cannot be castles. Our homes – whether our nation, our physical dwelling place, our economic policies or any other number place of belonging – cannot be simply about us.
For our homes were never meant to serve ourselves. We count square footage and upgrades to garner our worth in the same way we count our kids’ soccer goals and progress reports. We invite others in to our homes to “entertain” rather than show true hospitality. We make our homes all about us.
It’s important for our spaces to reflect us and it’s not a bad thing necessarily to upgrade your kitchen. But when our homes stop being a place to welcome the wanderer, I wonder where we think we’ll find home exactly, where we’ll find belonging. Or if we’re just burying ourselves in the trappings of home but never quite belonging.
When we wall up our homes and hearts and build castle walls of impenetrable self-centeredness, what use is Jesus exactly when he says he goes and prepares a place for us? That home that Jesus says he’s making for us feels a whole lot less valuable than the granite countertops in front of us. What use is a Jesus who we wall out with economic belt-cinching and say that he (like the refugees) isn’t quite safe to let in and really change our categories?
For yes (like Lewis says), Jesus isn’t safe, but he is good. Will our homes be safe? Because as Jesus makes his home in us, he uproots cobwebs of shame and doubt and all the ways we wall others out. He turns over tables and plants a seed of his upside-down kingdom right in our hearts.
And you better believe that Jesus making a home is more than a pretty little image, an abstraction that makes us feel good.
Because Jesus never does a background check to see if we check out first before building us a home. Because no one measures up. We’re all homeless wanderers, set adrift on the hem of someone else’s mercy. We’re all refugees, wandering around since Eden, trying to make and find our true home.
And Jesus sees us; his eyes warm with empathy, in our squalid, homeless state. He sees us, as devastated internally as the refugees sleeping on concrete are externally. We have no roof over our head either. There is nowhere we quite fit. We, too, are longing for home. This Jesus runs to meet us. He says “My son has come home!” He places rings on our fingers and the clothes of the family and throws a feast.
But sometimes that Jesus just feels a bit too unsafe to have under our roof.
So home escapes us, like my lost glasses, and we keep searching for the missing thing that promises to make things okay, to feel like we have things ordered, so we can really see.
The refugee crisis is complex. Yes, it’s a risk to welcome people, from refugees in a far-off country to even welcoming your neighbor truly into your life. But both are necessary. How could we do anything less?
How can we stay walled up and impervious to our own refugee status? How can we ignore that Jesus built his tent right in the midst of our finitude? How can we forget that his body and blood house us, that our experience of the Eucharist welcomes and clothes us, gives us sustenance?
How can we turn our backs on those that cry out for home? How can we not do something?
Refugees aren’t safe and neither is Jesus. Both are messy and turn our world upside-down. But isn’t that right where we find home, in the mess right in the middle?
Feel free to engage in the comments, send me an email, or I’d love to grab a cup of coffee if you’re local (or on Voxer if you’re not). If you disagree or have questions or concerns, let’s talk. Let’s learn civility and kindness here.
I live in the suburbs. I am your suburban mom with a minivan full of kids, picking them up from school, doing errands, and taking them to sports practices. But I’m also uncomfortable with that reality. Because it’s complicated knowing how to love Jesus and be his church in the suburbs when everything has a sheen of affluence.
I’m grateful to The Gospel Coalition for publishing an article of mine today. Here’s an excerpt:
When we told our donors we were leaving the campus ministry to plant a church in the southern California suburbs—land of affluence and megachurches—we not only lost several, we also heard the repeated question: Aren’t there enough churches there already?
I wondered too. Couldn’t we be more useful in an unreached part of the country? Or overseas?
We can subtly think that when Jesus said to “go to the ends of the earth” he meant only jungles and inner cities, not the affluent suburb next door. But all places—suburbs included—need the good news and abundant life found only in Jesus. And the good life isn’t the biggest house and the latest kitchen remodel.
In helping my husband plant Resurrection OC, I’m learning how the gospel saves us from our suburban desires for comfort and self-sufficiency, and replaces them with something much greater.
I’d love to know how you respond spiritually to living in the suburbs. Comment away!
And, as always, thanks for being a part of this journey with me. If you’d like more info about my book, how to book me for speaking engagements, etc., I welcome you to email me or subscribe to my newsletter:
On this day when another man takes over the highest office in America, our nation is deeply divided. And all of us have been brought up short by this election.
We confess that we have trusted leaders and politics to be our God, instead of you.
We have made America our god. Forgive us.
We confess that we are fearful. We are afraid for what policies may be enacted that do not have love and justice as their driving force. We are afraid for those who are weak and marginalized, that the voiceless will not be heard.
Oh merciful Father, increase our faith. Show us your light. Help us to see how we can be agents of a Kingdom that breaks every barrier based on race, politics, and socio-economics.
Grow our compassion, help us to see the good in all those who are made in your image. Help us work for justice, compassion, mercy, and love for our neighbors, no matter how they voted.
God, your Kingdom is one where the last shall be first. Humble us so that our empathy for others increases. Grow our discontent over injustice so we become good neighbors. Let us be like Jesus: challengers to greed and to immoral ways of living. Both the rule-followers and rule-breakers couldn’t understand a Kingdom that said the way up is down; the way to live is to die; the way to peace is not through a sword.
Let it start small. Help us to listen to our spouses, friends, children, neighbors.
Then, let it grow. Help us to listen to one another. Help us to listen to those who are saddened and scared today and those who are rejoicing. Let us not demonize someone made in the image of God because they think differently than we do. If so, we will have only given in to hate. And, “darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only love can do that.”
Increase our love. May love keep the revolution you began going.
Oh God, you who set the stars spinning into space, rule over all. May we be faithful agents of your Kingdom. May we take refuge under your wings, knowing you rule, see all, forgive, and comfort.
Friends, in this new year, I’m hoping to add more micro-reviews to my blog. Short and sweet. Reviews that will give you the feel of the book. Nothing fussy. Just enough to see if it’s a good fit for you.
Here’s my first one on Esther Emery’s What Falls from the Sky. Several of you know Esther as the woman who lives in a yurt, part of the duo of the YouTube channel, Fouch-o-matic Off Grid, and a beautiful writer. What Falls from the Sky is her debut book, a memoir about finding God in the quiet.
It’s pitch dark so that the light coming from my computer is harsh. I am caught in a flood of rain, with it hitting every window. It’s the sort of rain we don’t see much in California, the sort of rain that makes you feel small and where the sky might fall. In it, creation comes closer. I am suddenly aware of how I use the ground beneath my feet unthinkingly. It becomes something else to consume. I need to feel the sky around me, even in the middle of my couch, in the middle of the suburbs.
I loved Esther Emery’s memoir, What Falls from the Sky, for just that reason: it reorients you. You’ll find yourself savoring sentences, slowing done, re-learning quiet. It puts you not only back in touch with creation, but with God himself. When we turn off the noise, what will we hear?
It’s the story of the year without the Internet. It’s the story of going so fast in your own life that you’re headed down a highway and all you crave is speed. It’s a story of coming to terms with the ghosts of our pasts, finding hope after infidelity, and learning how to leave space open for silence, and yes, even for God.
The book is organized by season and all that falls from the sky: snow, rain, sun, and fog. It’s a book that follows the seasons of the year and seasons of the heart. It follows Esther’s quiet, slow journey away from noise and performing for others and moves her into the arms of God.
Here’s a sample of her achingly lovely prose:
On the Internet:
“And I know that, yes, in truth, it is isolation that I have come looking for no matter how many times I’ve said the opposite.
In all the tales of heroes, growth begins with a pilgrimage…this is my pilgrimage: out form under the shelter of my screens, to see the sky.
“I cried because I couldn’t do it. But I also cried because my ego was disappearing. I was losing self in little bits, like fingers, and I knew even then the change was irreversible…You can call that magic if you want, but it is a real and painful magic, neither sudden nor inexplicable.”
On giving up performance in favor of presence:
“Never in my life have I felt such total anonymity as I do right now. Never in my life have I stood so far from the portal that frames the stage. I used to think that it would be like dying. But it isn’t like dying. It’s much more like having a quiet place to rest.”
Do you need a quiet place to rest?
You might not make the choice, like Esther and her family, to move back to the land. But you can put down your phone. We can learn to think about our choices of consumption — whether that’s of the Internet, people, new stuff, or ethically sourced products — no matter where we live.
Rain is what is falling from the sky. What will you find when you take the space to look?
Pick it up. It’s just $14 for a gorgeous hardback today on Amazon.
As always, I value your presence here.
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I’m sending out my December newsletter with a picture of my family dabbing. It was amazing. And because I love you even if you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, I’ll put it here too.
I know everyone is asking for your money in these last few days of 2016. We’re asking our own church to be crazy generous so we can be generous people to our community. Writing is a lot like that. I think that writers should (at least in part) give away their words for free. Words are gifts. They are salve, and balm, and sometimes a knife that amputates what is rotten.
But it costs to give away words for free. It costs money most obviously. Now we don’t like to talk about money these days. It feels crass. But listen, we aren’t brains and souls on toothpicks. We are embodied people, learning and fumbling how to live in community. And to do that we need resources.
I just received my blog renewal update and it’s more than I thought. I give my words away on aahales.com. I write for free for The Mudroom, and for The Well, and for many other places like (in)courage and The Gospel Coalition (I have an article in the queue there). It takes time, energy and often babysitting hours.
I need your help.
If something I’ve written has met you, has encouraged you, has challenged you, would you consider helping me keep writing? Any amount will help.
But to break it down:
— $5 will help pay for a cup of coffee when I have a babysitter
— $45 will help pay for a babysitter for one morning
— $100 will make a dent in my blog hosting for one year
My goal is $500. Anything given beyond that might get me on a plane to have a solo writing retreat to finish writing Finding Holy in the Suburbs, my book with IVP.
Here’s a big orange button if you’d like to help out:
As always, I’m grateful for you — that we get to do this virtual life together. Thank you.
All my newsletter friends already know (make sure you don’t miss out on news first: subscribe here), but I have some big news!
October 2014 I had an infant, a 2.5 year old, a Kindergartner and 1st grader. My husband was starting to get antsy in his job and I had had so many babies and done so many things that I was starting to lose a bit of myself. Do you know what it’s like to start to lose you? So I turned to Write 31 days, a 30-day blogging challenge just to have something that was for me. I wrote on finding beauty in the mundane because I desperately needed to find God in my busy, whiny world.
Writing saved me.
Not that I’d found my life’s vocation or the heavens opened, but I did a small thing for me that opened me up, allowed me to think through things and helped me better care for others — for my family, friends, and new friends met online.
After that month, I kept writing. I joined Tribe Writers and Clumsy Bloggers and Redbud Writers Guild. I wrote for The Mudroom because the editor, Tammy Perlmutter, liked what I wrote. I met new friends. I went to a writing conference in Portland in 2015 and then to the Festival of Faith and Writing in 2016. I wrote for (in)courage, ThinkChristian, Books & Culture, The Englewood Review of Books, The Well, other friends’ blogs (see some of those here). I was chasing what I was curious about.
At Festival of Faith & Writing, I felt like I’d come home. There were academics (some of my undergraduate professors!), philosophers, poets, bloggers, authors I’d admired. We all fit there. I also met Helen Lee of InterVarsity Press and we had a lovely conversation about my book ideas.
I wrote a book proposal and kept putting myself out there — not because I wanted fame or because I felt I was “all that” — but because I needed to chase the ideas to the very end and I’d heard how my writing had met people. How it had clarified things for them. That something that I thought could save only me was also a gift to share.
Later this fall, that book proposal was revised and then accepted by InterVarsity Press for publication. I’m writing a real, live book that will get in your hands! I think I was stunned for about a month and now am in the trenches writing. It’s exciting and yet I know that such work never happens in a vacuum and that writing is a form of prayer and sustained attention.
The book’s working title is Finding Holy in the Suburbs, it’s my own journey back to suburbia and finding belonging in Jesus rather than a zip code. It’s my love letter to Christians who grew up thinking they had to do something radical to really follow Jesus. When more than half of Americans live in a suburb, we need a way to practice ordinary means of grace with delight, while eschewing the idols of our places. In God’s kingdom, there are no little places and the suburbs can be a place to house the glory of God.
I know there are potential readers hungry for this book and that’s where you come in, even now.
Book-writing is a long process and it’s unlikely to be on shelves until 2018 with writing and editing. But I need your help with two things.
I need prayer. If you could commit to praying for my writing time daily or weekly, I need it. With little kids, a husband who is over-extended as a church planter, and all that we all do, writing happens in small cracks of time. I need prayer for those small times to be productive and Spirit-filled. Please comment and let me know if you want to join my prayer team; I’ll add you to a separate, intimate list of pray-ers. I’d be honored.
I need people. I’m passionate about the message of Finding Holy in the Suburbs. If there’s someone you know who could use the message of this book, could you share this with them? There will be plenty of time later for launch team and promotion and all the fun parties surrounding the book. But I want to make sure that the book I’m writing gets to the people who need it. And that means they’re not only aware of it but also receive my newsletters to get the first bit of info. Thank you!
If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, I’d be honored if you would. I write nearly monthly. It’s an intimate letter of sorts, holds my favorite book recommendations, and you’re the first to know about book news and giveaways. I’m sending one soon with my favorite books of 2016. Don’t miss out.
Thank you friends, for being on this journey with me. I can’t wait to update you all about it.
Sign up now to hear more about Finding Holy in the Suburbs and be sure to comment or email to be added to my prayer team.
When you’re a writer with a herd of children and unattached to a university, nonprofit, or other place where writers, thinkers, and artists gather, you can feel all kinds of lonely. I started reading Jen Pollock Michel’s Teach Us To Wantlast year and reached out to her because I so resonated with her story — a wife, a mom, a writer, and a Christian trying to put all the pieces of a vocation together. After several months of voxer conversations, she’s become a dear friend. I’m honored to be at her spot of Internet today writing about home (one of my favorite topics) and the subject of her forthcoming book, Keeping Place. (Pre-order it here!)
Yet it was there in those cramped quarters where we learned not only to be a married couple, but how hospitality blossoms like the gospel.
Edinburgh. Image via Unsplash.
The Ministry of Spongy Wallpaper and Cramped Hospitality
1/5 Leith Walk BMT, Edinburgh, UK
We wore our wool coats in the middle of a southern California summer, waved goodbye to our mothers, and boarded a plane to Scotland a year after we said our “I do’s.” We touched down in northern Scotland a day later, bleary-eyed and discombobulated watching a foreign countryside fly past on the wrong side of the road.
When we made it south to Edinburgh a fortnight later, we were struck we didn’t know what “BMT” stood for — the ending to our first address as expat postgraduate students in Britain. It was the basement and when we’d creaked open that peeling paint of the blue main door and walked down the stairs, we realized why our rent was so cheap. We’d imagined all sorts of exotic sounding appellations for BMT with no idea that it meant a “basement” flat with one tiny window to let in the light.
We didn’t know enough to be sorely disappointed. We hadn’t yet puffed ourselves up with multiple children and proper jobs to feel we were entitled to a better habitation. It was sufficient. It was what we could afford. We could walk the several miles to university and back. We could make it work. There was enough love and tea to go around. And plenty of books.
It’s the season of sweets. As much as I want to indulge, there’s often a tug-a-war on what to eat and what not to eat going on under the surface. Or, most likely, I chuck it all and indulge and vow to eat healthily later. I’m finding that eating (like most things) isn’t often about eating at all. It goes much deeper.
Today, I’m at The Mudroom writing about food, deliverance, and prayer.
The problem isn’t the food or my inability to eat healthily, to say “no” to what is bad for me and hunger after what is good. The problem isn’t food at all.
Like so much else — relationships, sex, church, houses — food is a gift. It is sustenance and grace and provision. Like good gifts it is meant to be received and enjoyed. But when we obsess over it, Gollum-like, through our indulgence or abstention, we’re simply using the gift of good food to say something about ourselves.
That I don’t measure up unless I measure up.
That I use food to feel my feelings because I’m too scared to feel them. Swallowing them is much easier.
That I feel productive when I eat healthily so I’ll beat myself up when I deviate from my plan.
That I deserve this coffee or cocktail or this cookie because somehow it’ll make up for hard decisions, tired mornings, and feeling unseen and unappreciated.
As if food could solve soul problems. Food is the safest drug we have.
As always, I’m grateful for you and that you read my words as a gift. I’d love to send you my monthly-ish newsletter. No spam. Just some good, hefty words to roll around and ponder. I’d love if you’d subscribe below:
Perhaps the snow this year has already lost its luster. Or instead of snow, you just have wind that goes right through your bones. Or if you’re in a sunny spot, you long for what you do not have: the snow boots, the snowmen, the glint of sunlight on icicles. We’re always waiting, aren’t we?
I live in the midst of wait-ers. We wait for the bonus, the promotion, the sale, that will put us over some financial edge that will allow us to finally attain the good life. But the edge keeps moving back. The houses and the cars don’t satisfy. If we do get what we want, we’re on a walkway that moves so quickly we don’t have eyes to see anymore. It takes more shopping, more stuff, more alcohol, more fancy vacations to quell the ache.
Or, we have a particular Jesus-y version of the suburban gods of accumulation: we reason if we had a better quiet time, more “authentic” worship experience, a different (bigger, better) church down the road, followed through on a Bible reading plan, a mentor/counselor/spiritual director/therapist who really saw me, then we’d arrive.
But we still wait.
What if the waiting was actually how God comes near? Maybe waiting is (at least part of) the whole point? Maybe we need to lean into the pain of waiting and offer up our broken hearts. That’s all we have to give.
I’m thrilled to be over at my friend Kris Camealy’s blog today writing on these themes. Here’s an excerpt:
The world is heavy these days. Every day we have an onslaught of news — of hate winning, of earthquakes and air strikes, of just feeling buried under the grind of the mundane. In our world, all that has been broken for a very long time has reached the surface. It’s as if all the things that were cheap, easy, and horribly bad for it, we’ve been feeding to our collective body and they have made our skin green and our insides twisted. We just now see it. It’s hard to pull away from online chatter, it’s hard to do the good, hard, next step: show up, make dinner, seek forgiveness (not just across party lines, or racial and class lines, but even in your own family). It’s hard to be present when you find yourself weighed down with the weight of waiting.
When all you have is a broken heart, you wonder if that’s enough. Can your brokenness be more than a defect? Can it even help heal a nation, a community, a soul?
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