Why You Shouldn’t Share the Good News

I pull into the parking lot outside the food pantry and turn off my 1990-something GMC Safari. Its 250,000 miles smell hot on a cold December night, and that rhythmic thunking sound it makes reminds me eerily of the coughing sound a dying person makes in the movies. I drop the keys down between the seats and get out.

Walking into where they hand out the food is a good reminder of how prideful I am, because at first the same unbidden thought surfaces: I hope no one I know sees me here and thinks I’ve come for food. Perhaps I think that because Maile and I are not so far removed from being in that place of needing help. Soon we’ll be moving out of my parents’ basement again, into our place (finally), and if I’ve learned anything in the last year it’s that life is anything but certain.

Inside I find Maile, and the friend she brought to get some food has already been served, so we walk back out into the cold and load their food into Maile’s van. In the mean time, I talk to her friend and hear about work and how things are going. Why this current job he has might be slipping away. Why the food stamps didn’t show up this month.

“So, I don’t know,” he says. “I might be looking for work.”

“No worries, man,” I say. “We’ll figure something out.”

I wish my confidence had some basis in reality. But Maile has been doing her best to help this family get back on the right track, and I’m starting to get involved, and other folks at church drop off food at their house later that night and give them rides when they need them.

If you’re not alone, there’s always hope.

* * * * *

Talking to one of my many, many cousins the other week, I found out something I hadn’t known before: she picks up a neighborhood girl after school each week, takes her home, then that night takes her to a local youth shelter where my cousin volunteers. Finally, afterwards, she takes the girl back to her house, where apparently her life is harder than anything I’ve ever known.

“Every week I take her back to her house,” my cousin says with tears in her eyes, “and every week I just wish I could take her home with me.”

It’s sad, but there’s hope, because the girl isn’t alone.

* * * * *

Another friend of mine oversees a running club at a local school. This past Sunday, the girls in her club, all from high risk situations, ran a 5k.

“You should’ve seen them run,” my friend says, her eyes alive. “But especially my girl. She ran it in 24 minutes. She was cruising.”

My friend has a good life with plenty of children and house to more than take up her time. She’s got a career and, along with her husband, owns a business. But once a week she hangs out with these girls. For some of them, she is the only splinter of hope they will encounter.

But she might just be enough.

* * * * *

There is a movement sweeping through our neighborhoods. You’ll rarely hear about it on the local news, because this is good news. This is THE Good News. The Kingdom of the Heavens is among us, and it’s moving, and it’s changing people’s lives. You can either pretend that everyone within a ten-mile radius of your house has their lives together, or you can go out and be their friend. Help them get food. Buy them a coffee. Encourage them to persevere.

Join the revolution. Share the good news.

No. Don’t share the good news. BE the Good News.

* * * * *

The book that Maile and I wrote about our 10,000-mile, cross-country trip, How to Use a Runaway Truck Ramp, is now available for pre-order HERE.

So Much Waiting

Last week the folks over at Deeper Church were kind enough to post something that I wrote about how my grandma died and then Maile started miscarrying that day. Here is an excerpt:

I spend three solid days and nights there, waiting for her to die. I go home only because I need to shower and, besides, I feel bad for my wife, pregnant and watching the four kids by herself. But she shushes my apologies and says, “Grandma won’t be here much longer.”

And all eight of my aunts and uncles return to Pennsylvania, and nearly all of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren show their face from time to time. Usually there are thirty or forty of us there at night, all sitting in the largest room our aunt’s house has to offer. Some sit on the floor, others sprawl on the folding chairs. My grandmother sits in her armchair, eyes open, barely breathing. This atmosphere, being surrounded by her family, the singing: it’s as close to heaven as she’s ever been.

Songs spring up out of the silent spaces, old hymns and gospel songs, and I realize that somehow I know the words even though I can’t remember the last time I sang them.

What will it be when we get over yonder
And join the throng upon the glassy sea?
To greet our loved ones and crown Christ forever,
Oh, this is just what Heaven means to me.

But eventually I realize I cannot spend my entire life waiting for someone to die, no matter how much I wish I could be there when she leaves, so I look in on her one last time and then I get on with my life. I text my dad to see how things are going. I stop by a few times each day, peek my head in to make sure.

Seventy-two hours later, two in the morning, my phone buzzes on the side table.

To read the rest of the post, head over to Deeper Church.

One of My Goals For Advent

So, recently I’ve been the one to put our youngest two children to bed. The process begins with unbelieving faces that sort of morph into childlike versions of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”, with open mouths supported by gripping hands. Their swirling cries take the place of loud color.

My request that they “please use the potty” is met with collapsing on to the floor and tears of disappointment, but the reminder that there will be books helps to raise spirits. We accomplish the rest (the changing into pajamas, the brushing of the teeth, the crawling into mommy and daddy’s bed for story time) through the thick air of resignation and lost hope.

The books help to bring it down several notches. The books serve as an end stop to a sentence of uncertainty. When the books come out, they know there is no going back.

Then the fluffing of the pillows and last call and we might as well be down at the tavern for all the begging and pleading for one last drink. But the lights are out and the fan is on and I’m in bed between these two little people.

Sam plants his forehead against my shoulder, clutching his yellow blanket and sucking his thumb. He is asleep in three minutes.

Abra moves into her bed, and I get down beside her. She has this remarkable talent of manipulating your arms and turning her body in such a way that before you know it, you are hugging her, and you didn’t even mean to be. And she giggles, because she knows that once again she is being hugged, and that is her favorite thing of all.

“Good night, Abra,” I whisper and then I get my computer and sit on the chair in the room, in the dark. Sammy snores occasionally. Abra chats to herself or sings or does whatever it is that she is doing. My computer screen glows. Light comes in from the hall.

Soon Cade and Lucy creep into the room to get their pajamas on and to say good night. I smile at them, so grown up now, but they cannot see my face in the dark. So many things seem lost between me and my children, and sometimes they are things that I desperately want them to know or feel, and other times I let those things be lost, and I am okay with it.

Then, eventually, Abra is still. I carry Sam to his small bed and he pulls his knees up to his chest and I lay a huge blanket over him. And I walk out of the room, and another bed time is finished, and I realize it was one of the few times all day where I sat in the silence. One of the few times when I let stillness rest on my skin without pushing it away.

That is one of my goals this Advent season: savor the stillness.

Why Our World Doesn’t Need More Santas

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Maybe Christmas used to celebrate the Incarnation, once upon a time. Back when we weren’t so obsessed with keeping the X out of Christmas. Back when our rallying cry wasn’t “I’ll punch you in the head if you wish me a ‘Happy Holidays’.” Back when you couldn’t buy a 50″ television for $4.99.

Now we mistake giving gifts for becoming flesh and dwelling among them. We think bling is the thing.

Maile and I learned about this the hard way.

* * * * *

Back in the day, a small group of us from our church spent time hanging out with battered women at a shelter outside of town. We’d take a meal out there every once in a while, play with their kids, basically just hang out. One Christmas we decided the Christ-like thing to do would be to take presents there for each of the moms and all of their kids.

There were seven or eight women there, and most of them had kids, so it was a big undertaking, but our church was up to the challenge. We collected bags and bags of gifts. Honestly. It took about ten huge trash bags to carry all the gifts we had collected.

Praise the Lord.

I arrived at the shelter feeling pretty freaking good about myself. In my mind, we were basically making their entire lives – they would always think back on this as their favorite Christmas ever. Nothing would eclipse it.

We found each of the women and gave them their bag of gifts. But one of the women got three bags – she had six or seven children. We thought we were really doing her a favor during the holiday Christmas season.

But we forgot to include gifts for her newborn. She went through the bags, literally throwing the wrapped presents over her shoulder while the rest of her children looked on.

“But what about my baby?” she practically screamed. “What about her?”

To say I was shocked is a complete understatement. Words flitted through my mind. Ungrateful. Demanding. And other words even less kind than that. We had brought this woman stacks and stacks of gifts, but because we had forgotten to bring a gift for her baby – WHO WOULD NEVER REMEMBER IT – she went off.

One of the girls from our group calmed her down and assured her that we would bring back a few gifts for her baby. The mother vanished inside and locked the door to her room.

* * * * *

The next year we debated our approach. Should we do gifts again? The general consensus was:

Forget that. It was a nightmare.

So we took enough ingredients to the shelter to make a bazillion gingerbread houses. And you know what? It was a huge success because, in spite of what all the commercials tell you, people don’t want more stuff. They want to hang out. They want to have fun. They want to feel loved.

For a few hours, those women had someone to help them with their kids. For a few hours, the kids had kind men around to help them build their gingerbread houses or tease them or talk to them about school. For a few hours, the Kingdom of the Heavens was among us.

* * * * *

We try to be Christmas to people by giving them presents and money, and that’s not all bad. Gift-giving can be an important part of showing someone that you care. But people don’t need more Christmas – they need more Incarnation. They need us to be love, in person, dwelling among them.

So next time you give, don’t leave it at that. Talk to her. Hang out with him. And make arrangements to catch up again, soon. After all, there’s a Santa on every street corner in this country. We don’t need more Santas.

We need more Incarnation.

* * * * *

Today marks my first post over at Deeper Church. It’s called “Waiting for Her to Die” and tells the story of how my faith was strengthened during the time of my grandmother’s passing and my wife’s miscarriage, both of which happened within a few days of each other. You can read that by clicking HERE.