God Does His Best Work at the Margins

One of the gravest threats to the North American church is the deception of power - the deception of being at the center. Those at the center tend to think, "The future belongs to us. We are the shapers of tomorrow. . . . We have a track record of success." . . . God very often is working most powerfully far from the center. Jesus is crucified outside of Jerusalem - outside - with the very cynical sign over his head, "The King of the Jews." Surprise - He is the King of the Jews. . . . Who are Jesus' brothers? The weak, the hungry, the immigrant workers, the economic outcasts. . . . Who is mostly in the company of Jesus? Not bishops and pastors! The bishops and pastors are the ones who suggest he's a lunatic! Who enjoys His company? The ordinary folk, so ordinary that their characterization is simply this: "sinners."  ~David Zac Niringiye, Anglican bishop in Uganda

Yesterday, I found myself saying to the two neighborhood teens, who were gathered around our kitchen table on their second cup of coffee, that I wished I was in a different season of life so I could be more present for the action downtown. That sometimes, I wished I didn't have the kids with me all the time so I had the freedom to do more of the things I like to do.

The Republican National Convention is in Cleveland this week, and part of me, although I wouldn't be in it for the candidates, felt a little like I was stuck at home with the children. It would be interesting to be down there, meeting people, taking pictures, and experiencing the drama firsthand. It's an exciting time to be a Clevelander.

"Why don't you just get a job, Miss Jacqui?" one of them piped up.

Well, for one, I'd probably end up paying my entire salary to a daycare,

I thought to myself.

"I could..." I said as I placed a pair of shorts on top of a now teetering stack of boy clothes. It's laundry day, and they've been keeping me company as I sort and fold. The clothes used to live on the small couch in our family room in various states of completion, but lately with the amount of neighboring kids around, I thought it best to have more seating available and have since moved my piles to the kitchen table. The logistician in me theorizes that it would then have to be put away by dinner, so we'll see how that plays out.

"But then I'd have to pay for someone to watch these guys all day, and there's a lot of them. Maybe I will when they're all in school someday... Before we had kids I had a job. I used to be a social worker."

"Oh really??"

"Yeah," I say with a smile. Noting the spark of curiosity, I tuck that away for a future conversation.

When you're knee-deep in the ordinary and sick of trudging through the mundane, folding it up just like you did yesterday and placing it in a pile, it's easy to fall into thinking that what you do on a regular basis isn't significant. And that by default, YOU aren't significant. That you don't matter as much as the next guy with the exiting life or the public display of talents.

Suddenly, it feels like the prayer teams infiltrating the city are making a bigger difference because they're in the center of it all. They have literal hands in the game. And I'm missing out. Because taking pictures excites me, as does writing stories and communicating truth with a dose of perspective, so wouldn't I almost be more useful

out there??

I said to Ben the other day that we needed a third rack just for cups because there have been so many these days.

He said that's because I insist on letting the entire neighborhood drink coffee. 

But today, as I sit at the same kitchen table over another cup of coffee, only this time with a child whose behavior prevented him from participating in the fun events of the day with the other kids, I'm cherishing the reminder that

we serve a God who does His

best work

at the margins. 

It's so like us humans to want to put the importance at the center. To want to put


at the center. But the center is a place that only God should be.

I'm thankful today that He not only sees the scribbles around the periphery of the paper, outside the border of the red lines and probably written hastily on a diagonal, but He speaks most mightily there. That He reserves the nuggets of truth the author or teacher deemed paltry for those on the outskirts. That He is closest to those whom society views as insignificant and works accordingly.

So that cup of coffee with the neighborhood teens that wander in from the streets? The ones whose parents could care less where they are, the ones who get bludgeoned with four letter words as soon as they get home? That cup of coffee - the one that comes with a safe place, a home cooked meal, and welcoming conversation - could make all the difference in their life today. Maybe even tomorrow.

I'm amazed that Jesus chooses to keep company with us ordinary folk, us sinners big and small. That He can be the center of the most mundane lives, and in being so, that those of us on the margins can walk with Him.

If you find yourself on the margin of life today, I hope this is encouraging. Because God does His best work there.

May 15: Hope is a Rainbow and a Promise

"I don't know where to look for the rainbow, mom!"

We had been watching the front blow in for a while now.

From our perch atop a hill, we saw the clouds rolling in long before we heard the pitter patter of any droplets. Eager to leave the sanctuary inside at the first sight of sun peeping through, we rushed out onto the porch in search of the bow of many colors.

The clouds pulled back like a blanket and beams of gold shone on the ground below, but there wasn't a rainbow to be found in the air of excitement.

"I can't find it, mom! It has to be here somewhere, though right?"

From our wraparound porch growing up, we had seen many a rainbow over the years, and I knew that when the sun came out during a rainstorm there was sure to be one.

The trick is to turn your back to the sun, momma said, and you'll be sure to find it then.


The kids were crazy in the car and we couldn't get home fast enough. The quiet game had been a flop and no one had any more craps to give about being a team player, including us. 

The sky had looked ominous for a while now, and we were less then ten minutes from home when the big, fat raindrops began to pound our windshield. 

Great. I thought. We made it this whole time without any rain and it arrives just in time for us to unload at home in a downpour.

There's a special clause in the hell that is Murphy's Law that applies specifically to parents who are already having a bad day. I'm convinced of this. 

The rain came fast and fierce, but after just a few minutes the black clouds parted and brilliant, unmistakable rays of sun pierced through, lighting the road in front of us. The rain had slowed but was still falling, and a light mist rose from the grass around us. 

"The sun's out now, so that means there should be a rainbow somewhere," I said to my husband. I started looking around but didn't see anything yet. Maybe it's too soon, I thought. 

"No, there it is," he replied, pointing. "I can see it in the rear view mirror."

And as I turned my back to the sun and peered over my shoulder, sure enough, there it was. Clear as day, an entire bow. Double even. 

I'm sure there were better photos to be had in Cleveland today, but we didn't pull over and get one. It was beautiful, though. The kids loved it and squealed with joy until it disappeared from sight. And as we drove over the valley, the curtain of grey rain still visible in the distance, I quietly marveled at a promise made long ago by an eternally faithful God.

Because a rainbow is only visible when we turn our back to the Son.

When life is a storm and we feel like we're overwhelmed by the torrents blowing our way

When we're drowning in the accumulation of our tears 

When we look around us and fateful circumstance is all we can see

When we're discouraged by the wickedness of the world

The very moment we begin to doubt, slowly turning our back to the Son

He reminds us with a bow of many colors that there's always hope. Because He never breaks a promise. 

Never again will he destroy the earth with the salty ocean of his tears. Never again will he give up on us. Never again could we become so wicked, so selfish, so violent or destructive that He would turn His wrath on us.

For although we will turn our back on the Son time and time again, never again will He turn His back on us.

Though we turn our back on Him, His mercy and faithfulness will forever be displayed in a rainbow on the darkest of days to remind us. Because we so easily forget.

No matter how bad things get, there's always hope.

He promised.

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” Genesis 9:12-16

November 6: God Is, and That Changes Everything

We find ourselves in a bit of a holiday vortex lately: still munching on Halloween candy
and preparing for Thanksgiving, all while listening to Christmas music...

Neither the truth nor God are dependent on our awareness of them.

Or on our belief in them.

God simply is. 

He hems us in behind and before like a masterful quilter.

Patches, binding, borders, and colorful brilliance.

We look at life, at circumstances, and we think, that's just the way it is.

No. It's just one of the Enemy's many lies.

God is. 

Circumstances are merely a slave.

And that changes everything.

It's an invitation to focus on the Who instead of the What.

To shift our gaze from outward to upward and inward.

An invitation to change our perspective, to see rightly.

To filter all of life through the Truth.

Because Jesus is the archetype of "what could be."

For nothing is impossible with God.

To the Mom Beating Her Son on the Side of the Road

The day didn't work out at all how I thought it would. But if it had, I wouldn't have seen you.

I woke up with grand plans of showering, once I got the big kids off to school, and taking my little ones to the first moms group of the season. You know, the glorious place where I would get to eat a lovely breakfast and sip my hot coffee in peace and enjoy a couple kid-free hours with other adults. I'd get home in time to feed the kids a quick lunch and lay them down for a nap. Pretty much a perfect day, if you ask me.

Alas, long Wednesdays at school followed by an evening at church, as fun as it is, tends to strangle the life out of Thursday mornings. Everyone wakes up tired and crabby.

I tried everything--I promised treats from the moms group, mac and cheese for lunch when we got home, even a trip to Wendy's for Frostys if they willingly went to their class at church so I could go to mine.

Please, for the love of God, take the Frosty deal. Take advantage of my desperateness. I'm begging you. 

But no.

They didn't want to go, no matter what I offered. In a passive-aggressive huff, I relented and walked back downstairs into a day that would now revolve around their preferences, muttering something about laying them both down for an early nap since they were so tired. The tears began to fall, and I quickly felt like a loser for the comment. They were going to take a nap anyways, but I had to go and make it into a consequence. Awesome.

I hugged them and told them it as okay. I wasn't mad at them. They really were too tired to hold it together in a foreign environment for several hours, and it looked like it was best to stay home after all. For them, and me.

I remembered that we still needed to drop my husband's phone off at work and run to the bank, so I wiped away the rest of their tears and promised we'd come right back home. They piled in the car, still heaving a little from the guilt trip I gave them, and I pulled off the street and waited at the corner light.

That's when I heard you yelling.

I heard you before I saw you, even though my car windows were shut tight. I watched you turn the corner to walk by my car, still in your pajamas, hair tied up in a scarf and looking like you just got out of bed. I saw your son cowering in front of you, walking backwards with this hands above his head to protect himself. I saw you smack him on the head in rage every couple steps as you screamed at him at the top of your lungs. Just walloping him in stride.

"You think you can just run away out the house?? You think you can do that?"

The boys face was contorted in pain and fear as he inched back with every step you took forward. He didn't need to say anything because his eyes said it all--he was afraid, begging you with his gaze to make it stop.

And I just sat there in my car, mouth ajar, staring. It was like watching a train wreck. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. For a second I thought about grabbing the video recorder.

Someone should say something for that little boy. Someone should stop her.

But my mouth didn't move.

My face, however, began to flush with shame as the car behind me yelled out to her. She grabbed the boys arm and, looking at the driver, shouted, "this fool just think he can up and run out the house and go wherever he wants! No sir!"

The light turned green, and I followed the other cars as they moved on. In my rear view mirror, I could see yet another driver stopped to confront her, and my heart sank.

Why hadn't I said something to her?

I don't know what I would've said in the shock of it all, really. The first thing that came to my mind, and most likely what would've come out of my mouth in the moment was, "Lady, maybe he ran off to get the hell away from you! I don't blame him!"

I don't think that would've improved the situation at all, however. Perhaps it was for the best.

But was it?

We ran our errands and I kept an eye out for her on the way back home, but she was long gone. I couldn't stop thinking about that little boy. About how he desperately needed someone to speak for him, and I didn't. How nothing I was doing at the moment was more important then that.

Why hadn't I said something? Why hadn't I pulled over to offer some help? 

Clearly the woman, and the boy, needed help. I love the city because a lot of the time, the people who walk these streets wear their brokenness on their sleeve. Certainly, there are people hiding here just like anywhere else, or folks wouldn't be able to keep three girls locked up in their house for a decade without anyone noticing. But sometimes, like today, the mess just spills out all over the sidewalk for the world to see.

What would I say to her if I had another chance? Would I put on my social worker hat and confront from a place of authority, child protection, and anger management? Would I help her get connected to the right local services? It was past the time school had started, so I wondered if the boy had special needs of some sort, putting him at further risk of abuse. It was hard to tell for sure through his wincing expressions.

Would I just offer a listening ear, mom to mom? Extended a hand of grace? I know what it's like to have a child that you want to beat within an inch of his life at times, and by the great mercy of the Lord I have never followed through with that. But I know what it feels like to want to. I know how scary it is when the threads of self-control that are binding you, holding you back from horrible things, are breaking one by one, threatening to unleash the fury within. I know.

But beating someone into submission never solves anything, either. I know that, too.

In my heart I asked the Lord to forgive me and promised to speak next time. To say something. Anything.

We walked out the door to go to the park, and I saw the neighbor on her front porch with her new boyfriend's kids, brushing their blond hair. I say "new" boyfriend because she tends to replace them every few weeks or so, and this one appeared the day after her last boyfriend was dragged out of the house by the SWAT team. She's a poor judge of character, to say the least, and a recovering addict.

But I looked at the sweet little faces of those blond kids on the porch, and I thought, maybe they need someone to speak for them, too. I told her we were headed to the park down the road and asked if they'd like to join us. She said thanks and maybe they would in a little while. I made another comment about the beautiful day and walked on behind the kids on their bikes. She never did show up, but at least I said something this time.

There was a water truck doing something with the hydrants by the park, and the city worker flagged us across the street when the coast was clear. I waved to thank him, and the kids proceeded to enjoy a lovely morning at the park. God is good, for I did get to sit in peace with my hot cup of coffee after all. I sat on a bench in the shade in between watching them ride their bikes and pushing them in the bucket swings. Sunshine is healing to the soul--it's a reminder that all things work together for His glory.

We had been there over an hour when the kids finally said they were ready to go, just in time to get home for a quick lunch and naps. I reminded the kids to ride slowly down the hill so they wouldn't fly out into the road at the end, and that's when I looked up and saw you across the street.

Now you can't tell me, even for a hot second, that there is any such thing as coincidence. Not like this. No, the Lord desperately pursues our hearts, seeks us out, even in our most wretched state, and wants to make all the brokenness new. He makes beautiful things out of the dust, and he is the God of second chances. Because there you were, right in front of me. Again.

In that moment, I knew God wanted to redeem my story and at the same time speak into yours.

At least I thought it was you, but I wasn't close enough to tell for sure yet. I thought I recognized the clothes, but you had your hair did now and no longer needed a scarf. I hurried the kids across the road, thanking the same city worker on my way. I tried to holler and get your attention, but the truck was too loud. You couldn't hear me.

Quickening my footsteps to reach you, I ended up leaving my littlest behind. She got stuck on the sloped sidewalk and started to cry, and I had to run back and help her up. Thankfully, my son rode on ahead, and you stepped aside for him to pass. Looking back, you saw me wave and apologize, and I was finally able to grab your attention.

"Excuse me! Could I ask you something?" I blurted out.

You turned around and said yes, with a smile.

"Were you walking down the road this morning with a little boy?" I asked.

"Yes, that was me," you replied.

"I was driving by and saw you guys. Is he okay?!?"

You said yes, he was okay. The kids had woken up late and missed the bus for school, and you didn't have enough money for bus fare to get them there yourself, so they had to stay home today. But your oldest son just took off and ran away. You said that wasn't like him, that he had never done anything like that before. And it turns out the little boy's not so little after all; he's twelve.

You went out looking but couldn't find him, and after checking the dollar store, they told you he had been in and may be down the street. When you finally saw him, you witnessed an older man trying to give him money. When the man heard you yelling, he looked startled and ran off, leaving you convinced your son just barely escaped a kidnapping attempt because you showed up in the knick of time.

And you were scared.

"That sounds terrifying," I replied.

I remember the day I thought I lost the two-year-old. How we looked everywhere in the house and the yard outside and couldn't find her. How we ran all over calling her name, down the street, the kids riding their bikes around the block, shouting. How the tweaker next door said he saw her walking down the street with two older boys, but neither she nor any boys could be found.

My mind immediately went to the worst possible scenario, because there was no way her little legs could've gotten her that far away that quickly. It had only been a couple minutes since I saw her last. I know the panic and terror in the pit of your stomach when someone precious, someone of irreplaceable worth, has been lost. The fear, the helplessness, the guilt for looking away for seconds. And just as I picked up the phone to make that terrible call to my husband and then the police, the call you pray to God you never have to make, I turned around to see her standing there in front of me, unharmed.

She had been hiding in the garage.

I got down on my knees and hugged her, squeezed her tighter then ever before. Then I told her how important it was to answer mom when I called, how scared I had been. How precious she was. She never actually left the yard, but the panic was real. And although she was home and safe, it took me the rest of the night to calm the tightly wound nerves inside.

"So I whooped him," she continued. "You better believe it. Yes ma'am, I did."

Because you were so scared.

I get it. I really do. It doesn't justify it or make it right, but I understand. There are other Ariel Castro's wandering around this city, and it's just not safe. Fear makes us behave in ways we would never expect, and in ways we may always regret.

I asked her if she needed anything, and after pointing out my house down the road, I found myself offering her kids a ride to school if she ever needed it in the future. She thanked me and we talked about our kids for a while. She has three of her own, and she bent down to tell my daughter how beautiful she was.

I asked if I could pray for her before she went on her way. She shrugged and said, "sure!"

So I did. I prayed for this woman who had shocked me more then I've been shocked in a long time. Because underneath the brokenness, hurt and pain, she's a human being. She's a mom who's not much different then me, as it turns out. A mom who was scared of losing her son to the evil that lurks in this city.

Under all the gunk, she's a person made in the image of the Living God.

She smiled and thanked me. I extended a hand as I introduced myself.

"You know," she said, "my youngest son, about his age (pointing to my son), is having a birthday party this Saturday. You and your kids should come and have some cake. There's gonna be a lot of cake, and I'm cookin'. Y'all like spaghetti and chicken??"

I laughed and said, "oh yes, we love spaghetti." I told her I'd actually had spaghetti for breakfast this morning and last night before I went to bed, due to an odd craving (or divine foreshadowing). She laughed, too. God is in the littlest of details.

"What time?" I asked.

"Three o'clock." she replied, pointing to her house down the street. "You won't be able to miss it--there will be people all over the place having a good time!"

"Well, we just might have to stop by," I said. That sounds great.

Some Thoughts on Knowing God: "Momma!! I Don't Hear You Walking..."

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. {Genesis 3:8}

Eva has been potty-trained for almost a year now, but as those of you with little ones know, it sometimes takes a while before they can do all the wiping and whatnot by themselves. So, she will sit and wait for me to help her.

"Momma! I'm done!"

"Okay, I'm coming." I reply.

Now, "I'm coming," rarely means I'm coming right now. It usually means I'll come when I've finished what I'm currently doing, when I'm done helping whatever child is needy, or when I must finally relent my comfort and get up off the couch.

So if I don't come quickly enough for her liking, she will start yelling out to me. 

"Momma, I'm done!"

"Momma! I don't hear you walking..."

"Momma!!! I. DON'T. HEAR. YOU. WALKING!"

And I laugh, because my 2 year old knows the sound of my footsteps approaching the bathroom to help her, and she also knows she can't hear them yet, which means that I'm not, in fact, coming.

Sitting on the couch with her this morning while she and her brother watched a dinosaur show, I thought about that concept. How she knows the sound of my walking. How, likewise, I know the footsteps of those with whom I live and love. I know what it sounds like when my husband walks by. The door can be shut, and I still know without a doubt that it's him. 

I know what it sounds like when her tiny, two-year-old feet are frantically slapping the hardwood floor, running as fast as they can after the dog. I know what her oldest brother's feet sound like when they're upstairs stomping around like a gorilla. And I know whose feet are out of bed and coming back down the stairs at night when all the little feet in the house are supposed to be asleep. 

I know the sound of their walking.

Can you imagine being in Adam and Eve's position (I'd say shoes, but my guess is they weren't wearing any) and knowing the sound of the Lord walking?

They communed with the Lord. They were intimately acquainted. They worked together, talked together, and did life together.

They knew the sound of his footsteps.

And I guess the question to us today is, can you hear Him walking?

Do you know your Father's footsteps?

The reality is, He's moving and working among us, regardless of the state of the world today. But can we hear it? Are we looking for his footsteps? 

May the soil of our hearts be fertile and ready to focus on him alone. 

May the harvest of our minds produce a crop of revelations from his Spirit.

May our eyes be clear as water to see his sovereignty and grace. 

And may our ears be intimately tuned to his character and ways

that we may hear him walk in the cool of the day.