Today I don’t “live” anywhere. Today looks like an Air BnB rental, monkeys on the roof, the Indian Ocean, pajama time, two cups of coffee, and my family.
We just ended our term with the ministry, and we haven’t made it to the city where we will plant the new church yet. We slept as late as we could. (6:30am… learning to rest takes time). We let it sink in that we are here - just us, just here. We poured cups of coffee and opened our Bibles.
This is Day 1 of sabbatical, the 3-month commitment to God, where we intentionally exchange the “what we do’s” for the “who He is and what He will do”. We start with no address and nothing to do except for family (the verb family) and drink coffee. (Lifa drinks milk.)
This morning I started my sabbatical by looking back and giving thanks. I remembered fifteen years ago, when a college scholarship and great expectation carried me out of Alvin, Texas - the only town I’d ever known. Since then, I’ve had 10 different addresses and have said goodnight in more places than I can count.
For the past seven years, I have lived in White River, Mpumalanga. (Mpumalanga is pronounced just like it’s spelled and is a province in South Africa.) I was heavy with emotion as we pulled out of that green gate for the last time. I haven’t lived in any town as long as I’ve lived in White River since I was 17-years old. White River is the place where we became a family.
This morning, God showed me there was a lot more to my heart for family than seven years could hold. While Lifa watched The Jungle Book (the original…it’s a bare necessity) and my husband read the book of Daniel, I thanked God for a family I didn’t deserve. A family that is so for family. For familying together. I asked God how I deserved a family so extraordinary, burgeoning with such a deep love for family that we are begin entrusted with expanding His Family through a church. (Totally don’t deserve it BTW.) He took me on a journey of memories from way back then to right here in my jammies.
I remembered White River, where my heart switched from caring for the orphan, to strengthening the family. If we have families, then we don’t have orphans.
I thought about how God called me to not think, speak or live in the poverty and sickness around me, but to thrive, live and give away my inheritance and health. I bear within me wealth and health that do not run out. I can give it away without cost. I thought about all the stories that didn’t make sense according to the world, unchartable highs and lows, and something even better than that...
There is unchartable joy in being a family that makes room for people, instead of dwelling on the plight of the orphan. If we are a family, then we do not have orphans after all.
The God who wrote this story started WAY longer than 7 years ago, way longer than 32 years ago. Today He reminded me of all the ways He held me in his hand and taught me about family, even when I didn’t know I needed to learn it. When my goal was independence, He let me need people and gave me the people I needed. When my mindset was for survival, He personally packed my survival kit with secrets of abundant life tucked inside. When the walls burned down and I didn’t have a place to belong, He brought home after home to give me the place I needed. When I didn’t know I was starving for substance, He placed me at countless family dinner tables. When I tried to take things into my own hands to save the orphaned, He was holding me in His hands, patiently waiting, writing, knowing. When I could not see or understand family the way it was designed, I was surrounded by it like the mountains surround Jerusalem. I was hemmed in when I didn’t know I was fraying.
So, before I even take off my pajamas on this first day of sabbatical, (it may or may not be noon right now…), I have to say thank you. Before beginning something new, before parking at a new address or opening the next chapter of family, I have to give thanks to the people who held me so I could behold.
I have an incredible family: Rosa lived with limitless sacrifice and Sister Jo gives perfect, sparkly love. And NaNa is perfect. Actual perfect. I have a family that made family fun, always jumped in the river, and never questioned any of my moves or starting a family on the other side of the world. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I can’t list you all, but here’s a good start.
- Thank you South Park Baptist Church for being a steady, safe house to go to as a child, for Mr. Newton and the others who showed me that loving Jesus makes you look different, and for the man with the moustache that always opened the car door for me.
- Thank you Mrs. Cavallo and all the other teachers that saw me, shaped me, encouraged me, celebrated me, and stuck with me - even that time I peed my pants in P.E.
- Thank you Alvin First United Methodist Church for being the place and especially for being the people that showed me how to have a relationship with God, a real relationship with God. For Carla’s mentorship and Cindy’s leadership. For the bus ride to Schlitterbahn that taught me church people are fun and for opening my eyes to missions and a world beyond myself.
- Thank you, thank you, thank you to the Dam Fam for making me yours. This whole letter is inspired by the revelation God gave me about His love for me through you and the place you gave me, for a true look at the joyfulness that marks families centered on Christ, and for what it looks like to do church. To be church. There are not enough thank you’s.
- Thank you to the Ramirez family and the countless other families, friends and leaders who always had a couch I could fall into and be home.
- Thank you Phi Lamb sisters for showing me what it’s like to have Christ-centered, real, deep friendships. For all the prayers, dance parties, and letting me be all the way me.
- Thank you Sky Ranch Camp for showing me how to give all you’ve got, no matter what it takes, to make sure every kid has a chance to meet Jesus. And for the ginormous tubs of peanut butter we raided from the kitchen. (Sorry about that.)
- Thank you to my Fuller Seminary professors and Kenichi for accepting me with no credentials and with no idea what I was doing. For patience when I melted down when I got my first “B” because I couldn’t understand any of the -ology words and for Kenichi’s constant encouragement and Truth. Most importantly, for exposing me to the Kingdom of God, making me think, and forcing me to grip onto my faith in a way I never had.
- Thank you to the ladies of Chang Commons for changing my life with the most profound friendship and community I’ve ever encountered. No words can communicate what the red couch can.
- Thank you Christian Assembly Church and Kathy for walking me further into missions and worshiping in community.
- Thank you Eve and Lily for letting me be family and for giving so much to come see me when I was far away - in Texas and South Africa.
- Thank you Dr. Glen Roberts, Lisa, Shakeh and the others who shared wisdom, brought perspective, let me use inflatable microphones and finger paint at work, and helped me wrestle through advocating for hope and healing when “life” and mental health does what it can do to children, families and people.
- Thank you Mona, Galveston, Bolivar Peninsula and all of the people I encountered during my time of working as a Hurricane Ike crisis counselor for showing me what its like to love where you live, and live where you live, no matter what life brings.
- Thank you Ten Thousand Homes for welcoming Lifa in with me and being a learning, strengthening and stretching environment for me.
- Thank you ERC Mbonisweni for calling me a daughter, even when I looked different and spoke a different language than everyone else. You translated for me, taught me, and even let me teach you. You let me break all the norms to do art and throw parties from the pulpit. You showed me the word of God changes people. You showed me that Church works, and that changed the whole direction of my life.
- Thank you Citymark Church and Pastor Steven Yoes for your outlandish, ridiculously committed love. For taking me in, trusting I hear God, and helping me do what He says. For being consistent family to me- no matter what you were going through, for coming, and for sticking with me. Thank you for believing in God’s excellence and creating it in worship and for your city. You’re real family, and you look like the Kingdom of God.
- Thank you to those who gave to Glory House, for believing in your investment as it became a family and a church more than a building.
- Thank you to our support team who sacrifices and gives for something beyond yourself. Every month and every dollar reminds me to believe bigger and to give of myself like you do. It’s mind-blowing.
- Thank you Ladd Family for loving me and bejewelling me as your own treasure, even when you hadn’t met me and when I put on turquoise boots for our wedding.
- Thank you to my husband for choosing me daily, seeing me for who I am and what I am, and still loving me more today than you did yesterday. Thank you for believing in me and in Christ in me, lovingly leading me, and wanting a lifetime of adventures with me. You’re of a caliber I could never deserve on my own, a daily reminder of God’s perfect and continuous grace. And you are sa-mokin’ hott.
When I didn’t know I was right in the palm of God’s hand, you were the fingers and the thumb that held me right there in place. Today I’m gathering up all of these strengths and truths that were planted in me through you, and I’m cultivating them with gratitude. I’m nurturing and harvesting them with great expectation in my own family and for our church. If we reach even one person in Cape Town, or anywhere to the ends of the earth, you have to know that you are in that touch. You are part of the hand that reaches, and that you matter more than you know.
Thank you for being part of the hand that holds the whole world. Whether your name was in this list or not, know that you are part of something for someone. That someone at your dinner table, riding next to you in the car, or sitting in your classroom is going to look back and remember one day. They are going to become who they are because of the secrets you plant in them and the words you spoke over them. Know that today you can be a part of changing the future by the way you live and you love.
You have changed my life with your touch, and we’re gonna spread it all around.
But, right now, we’re going to go to the beach.