Jump Starting Hope (Featuring Velynn Brown)

I met Velynn Brown–slam-poet, writer, and speaker–at a writer’s conference in Portland, Oregon. It was early spring, and the cherry trees were shedding their blossoms on the parking lot of Warner Pacific College. Velynn and I shared a retreat conversation, one in which I praised the beauty of the cherry-blossom carpet and the pink-skirted azaleas. She spoke of nature, too. “See the black sap tears on the fir? God is crying with us.”

Velynn stood in the shadow of Ferguson, in the fresh grief of the brutal detention and subsequent death of Freddie Gray, and she asked me, “do black lives matter?” Sure, we’ve all seen the hashtag. But when your sister looks you in the eye, when she removes the “#”, inserts spaces, and slaps it with a question mark made for you, the equation changes.

Velynn is a poet and passionate social justice advocate. She’s a joyful psalmist and a modern incarnation of lamentation. But more than any of these things, she is my sister. I trust her. I’ve invited her to share words with us via my Tiny Letter, and she’s offered a piece of poetry. Sign up to receive the Tiny Letter by clicking this link, and I’ll make sure you receive a copy of her words. They’re powerful and good.

If you get the chance today, check out Velynn’s work on her blog and at the Mudroom. Follow her on Twitter, and join her Facebook community. She is one of the good ones.

***TINY LETTER***

Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the June newsletter, I’m be giving away Chapter 2 of Dear Little Brothers, a serial eBook. Sign up in the box below, to receive Chapter 1 and look for the June Tiny Letter in your inbox to download Chapter 2!

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Grandma’s Passing

My grandmother slipped behind the veil last week. Slow, groggy, feeling a little too tired, she laid down for a ten-minute nap and woke in eternity. My parents said she went with a smile on her face. She was 95.

As my friend Karen said this morning, “weddings, births, and funerals tend to turn people toward reflection.” Yesterday, a few handfuls of celebrants gathered at Moore’s Funeral Chapel, and we reflected on the passing of a saint. She was a woman who used her 95 years well. By all accounts she was a student of scripture, a spiritual mother, a living prayer.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to share a poem at her funeral. Today, I’m sharing it here.

*****

For Grandma Upon Her Passing.

At 95 we thought she might live forever,
suspended between nature and eternity,
the passages caused by old age
or accident, whichever God gifted first.
Brow folded over brow, wisdom lines
tracing trenches until her 90th birthday,
then no more. (One can acquire only
what wisdom is acquirable.)
Thin-skinned hands, veins light purple
the color of queens who seem
to outshine the lot of us.
Affections turned toward home,
toward husband, and children,
and children’s children,
to mother and father, to friends
who visit in late afternoon memories.
In well-worn age, the world’s weights
became helium balloons, releasable,
laughable, floating things.
Memories, family, faith, hope–
these are the anchors of age.

95 and we thought she might live forever.
Perhaps she did.

IMG_4733-600x600
Image by Amber Haines.

***TINY LETTER***

Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the June newsletter, I’m be giving away Chapter 2 of Dear Little Brothers, a serial eBook. Sign up in the box below, to receive Chapter 1 and look for the June Tiny Letter in your inbox to download Chapter 2!

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Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

Confederate Treason

I attended a high school with rebel roots. We were a Southern school on the south side of town. Our rival high school was on the north side. We were the majority white school. They were the majority black school.

The school mascot in those days was Johnny Reb, our unofficial theme song was Charlie Daniels’ “The South’s Gonna do it Again.” Under the Friday night lights, the parking lot was filled with Confederate flags. After every touchdown, the band played Dixie, and we sang “I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten.” We justified it all, said this Confederate lingo was just part of our heritage.

I never took a stand against the mascot or the Confederate flag (the flag which was officially banned my sophomore year) in those days. Perhaps this was because I didn’t understand the full implications of our histories, our heritage. Perhaps I blamed any criticism of the tradition as benig levied by those who were “too sensitive,” or “too politically correct.” Perhaps it was because I didn’t listen to my black friends.

Whatever. I was wrong.

***

My family sneaked away to Gulf Shores, Alabama last week for a little rest and relaxation. There, on the beach, plain as day, teenage boys wore Confederate flag shorts, and cars in the parking garage had stars-and-bars license plate holders. I saw at least a half-dozen Confederate flags flying on the highway, and more symbols of Southern rebellion on teeshirts, sunglasses, and belts.

It’s strange, when you think about it, this swath of folks celebrating a flag that stands for treason and racism. If they flew ISIS flags, they’d be called traitors and racists. We’d round them up, interrogate them. We’d detain them and subject them to all manner of examinations. But these aren’t Muslim terrorists, see. These are our own people, the people who share our office cubicles and grocery store aisles with us. Maybe a person or two who goes to church with us.

Do you see the treason? It looks like us.

*****

This morning I read the daily collect in the Book of Common Prayer. It reads:

“Keep O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion.” (emphasis added)

The truth is, racism is baked into our society. The truth is, the Confederate flag is a flag of treason and racism. The truth is, it is a symbol of hate speech, and ultimately, of treasonous evil.

I grew up in a world where flying the stars-and-bars was justified as “heritage not hate.” Let’s be honest. It’s always been about hate not heritage. It’s always been about rebellion.

*****

I’m grieving for my black brothers and sisters in Charleston, South Carolina. I’m grieving for the violence they suffered at the hands of a domestic terrorist. I’m grieving for children of the Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney, who will grow up without a father because of a racist with a gun. And I’m sorry they’ll be reared in the shadow of the Confederate flag flying high over the Capitol.

See a Confederate flag? Speak out against it. Is this an attack on the Southern heritage, at least in part? You bet.

***TINY LETTER***

Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the June newsletter, I’m be giving away Chapter 2 of Dear Little Brothers, a serial eBook. Sign up in the box below, to receive Chapter 1 and look for the June Tiny Letter in your inbox to download Chapter 2!

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Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

Recovery Room: Writing My Identity

This year, I’ll be releasing my first book, Coming Clean (Zondervan, 2015), a book about recovery and the abiding presence of God. In conjunction with Coming Clean, I’m hosting various writers, pastors, and counselors as they step into the Recovery Room. Here, we’ll discuss the things that supplant inner sobriety and connectedness to an abiding God. Couldn’t we all use a little recovery from something?  Today, welcome Jennifer Camp. Jennifer is the founder of  Gather Ministries, and the author of Loop: What Women Need to Know. You can connect with her on Twitter, or visit her blog, JenniferJCamp.com.

Welcome Jennifer Camp to the Recovery Room!

*****

Writing My Idenitiy

I flip through the pages of the catalogue I get in yesterday’s mail. The girl on the cover looks cute, with her long brown hair flowing down past her shoulders and her blunt, straight bangs. She grips a “I got you Babe” porcelain coffee cup with a big red heart stamped on the front. She smiles down at a stout bulldog with droopy cheeks and pink, wet tongue and has the word “Marlowe” sharpied on her arm. I study her outfit, her hairstyle, her expression and wonder if I could pull this look off, too.

It’s not simply her plaid flannel shirt in bright patchwork that draws me, or the way she perches jauntily on top of the brown, antique desk. She is advertising an identity of strength. She appears indifferent to the camera, engrossed and happy in the moment, confident to be who she is. Her appearance is actually a bit of a mess: her hair is disheveled, her jeans are torn, and there are crumpled papers littering the desk where she sits. But she seems to not care about the disarray one bit. She just sits there, gazing at her drooling bulldog and smiling. And, even though this is a secular advertisement for women’s clothing, I am captivated by something else, something deeper. Is there truly joy and freedom to be had when we embrace God’s invitation to be exactly who He invites us to be?

I can hear you say it. Because my heart says it too: “But I’m such a mess! How can He love me, how can He like me, like this?” I am nothing like the woman on the cover of the catalog. But, what if He loves us nonetheless? It feels kind of crazy-awesome, doesn’t it, to imagine that, in our mess, despite all of our mistakes and wounds and wishes-I-were-different, that He is smiling, sticking close, wanting us to believe that not only does He love us, but He actually likes us too.

God likes me?

I sit across the room from my friend listening to the musician Misty Edwards sing hope through the speaker. My friend and I are both startled when we hear God’s words for us, through her song: “I knew what I was getting into when I called you. I knew what I was getting into, and I still said your name. And I am not shocked by your brokenness. I knew what I was getting into, and I still like you.” He likes me. He likes me. It is that word “like” that makes my heart beat fast. Why am I so surprised by this reminder—that God likes the very girl He made? Do you ever wonder about this, too?

It is somehow easier for me to believe that God loves me than it is for me to accept His liking me and wanting to be with me. And do you know why I struggle here? It’s because I have trouble surrendering to the truth that my being liked is not about whether or not I deserve it. Despite all my sin, despite all my brokenness, His liking me pushes up against my wanting to earn His favor. And I can’t. He loves me and He likes me because I am whom He has created and He sees the end of me—all of me, in my fullness, with Him.

Years ago, in college, I came home from class to find a watercolor painting pushed under my dorm room door. On a single sheet of eight and a half by eleven white were painted waves of green and blue and these words brushed on carefully, by my friend’s loving hand: “But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, O Jennifer, he who formed you, O Jennifer: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name, you are mine’” (Isaiah 43:1). I grasped the sheet with trembling fingers and could hardly believe what I was reading. I was desperate to believe He sees me; I was aching to believe I am enough, I am delighted in and adored and redeemed. I struggled to imagine God loving me, so beautifully, so personally, just as I am.

This was the beginning of my heart being open to God reaching out to me, His girl, His daughter. This was the beginning of my armor of protection being softened, exposing layers of wounds and pain God wanted to reveal and heal in me.

Knowing—believing—that we are pursued and loved, despite our sin, is the place where the pursuit of our heart begins.

I have heard the Father’s words of love whisper directly to my heart, the message almost too good to believe:

You are not made to live without Me, child. You are not made to live life on your own, trying to be strong. You are not more likable based on your efforts. I like you because I have made you. I like what I am made. And I love you because that is who I am.

He has made me. He has made you. No matter what we do or what we have done, this Father of ours pursues us with a love that does not change. That is why we are saved. Paul writes the church at Ephesus “We are saved by grace through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

I hear Paul’s words and something in me both aches to believe it and rebels against it, too—even though I know what He says is true. My being saved by Christ’s sacrifice reveals God’s ultimate love for me, and there is nothing I can do to make Him love me more or less. Yet it can be difficult to believe that God likes us when we continue to feel that there is something we can do to try to earn His affection, or to somehow measure up.

I can easily care a lot about what you think of me.

I want to be the girl on the catalog. If I feel sure of myself, in who I am, perhaps this will help me believe God likes me. Maybe this will be what it takes for me to believe others might like me for who I am, too. I can’t help wanting to look like I have it together, even when I really don’t. An unexpected knock on my door prompts me to take quick inventory. Is the house picked up or a mess? Are the kids’ shoes still piled up by the door? Are the breakfast dishes in the sink? Did I tidy up the bathroom after the get-to-school-quick rush? Do my yoga pants have dog hair on them? Do I have makeup on? Is my ponytail straight? Before I’ve pulled open the door to greet you, I have graded myself on how put together I look.

The Bible tells me not too worry more about my outside appearance—that it is the condition of my heart that counts. “Charm can fool you. Beauty fades. But a woman who has respect for the Lord should be praised” (Proverbs 31:30, NIV). But when I don’t know the truth of who I am, in God’s eyes, what other people think of me is what I care about most. We all want—and need—to feel loved. And we will do what it takes to get it.

The problem is that there is a cost to striving to be loved by the world rather than abiding in the love of God. Our heart breaks a bit when our lives are spent trying to prove our worth.

I’ve lived this. This is my confession.

*****

Jennifer Camp

Jennifer Camp is the co-founder of Gather Ministries and author of Loop: What Women Need to Know, grew up in the middle of an almond orchard in Northern California and now lives in the busy San Francisco Bay area with her husband, Justin, and their three kids. Connect with Jennifer on her blog, jenniferjcamp.com, where she wrestles with God about worship, imagination, and faith and loves to get to know women eager to hear God’s whispers to their heart.

***COMING CLEAN ANNOUNCEMENT***

CC-Coming-Soon-Square

If you pre-order Coming Clean at Amazon, Givington’s, or Barnes & Noble, let me know in the comments below or on Facebook, and I’ll add you to a Facebook group for Coming Clean Insiders. There, you’ll have access to the behind the scenes information about Coming Clean, and perhaps find an Easter egg or two along the way.

***TINY LETTER***

Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the June newsletter, I’m be giving away Chapter 2 of Dear Little Brothers, a serial eBook. Sign up in the box below, to receive Chapter 1 and look for the June Tiny Letter in your inbox to download Chapter 2!

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Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

Boy Again

My family took a much needed vacation to the Gulf last week. It was fantastic (and accounts for my silence), and this week I’m sharing bits and pieces of it with you. I’ll write very little, and am opting instead for a more photo-blog sort of feel. Enjoy.

And join us Thursday for a guest-submission to the Recovery Room series.

As always, thanks for reading.

***

Boy Again

To be a boy:
strange to the laws
of war and gravity;

Cannons

gravity

curious as high tide
drawn by the moon,
drawn to the moon;

Tide

all flavors–briny,
creamy, blue–
fresh shucked firsts;

shucked

all waves proof
of the strength
in brothers’ arms.

waves

 

To be a boy again:
it’s a rolling dream,
like ocean thunder.

Ian

Sandcastles

18087653164_85cb4bd41e_z

*****

Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the June newsletter, I’m be giving away Chapter 2 of Dear Little Brothers, a serial eBook. Sign up in the box below, to receive Chapter 1 and look for the June Tiny Letter in your inbox to download Chapter 2!

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Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

© Copyright - Seth Haines