preston, my preston.

[from august 12, 2009. one of my most favorite stories. can’t wait to have my own baby boy soon!]

It struck me the other day that perhaps my most promising disciple at the moment is an eight-year-old towhead named Preston, who lives in my neighborhood. I befriended his mom at the local pool last summer and since have spent time nearly every week with this precious family. I started telling Preston bedtimes stories about Jesus last fall when I would babysit him and his two year old sister Makala. At first in his young mind, Jesus ranked right up there with Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk. But many aches of intercession & many conversations about God later, I’m beginning to see his little heart come alive with unadulterated passion. Lately, Preston has been beating me to the punch – every time he sees me, the first thing he’ll ask is a question about Jesus. The other day he started telling me everything he knew about God… how God made people and trees, and how when the wind blows it’s really God breathing on us. Preston thinks that every time it rains, God is crying. After I attempted to explain to him about hell and why sin makes God sad, he said, “So if everyone stopped being bad, it would never rain!” Perfectly logical conclusion!

“Do you know any songs about God?”, he asked one day this summer on our way to the pool. I started singing a kid’s song I learned in South Africa called “Telephone to Jesus.” Preston stopped me. “Can you really talk to Jesus on the phone?” “W-e-l-l, nooo…” I started to say. “I know how you to talk to Jesus though,” he butted in. “You pray!” I had to grin at his exclamation. “That’s right,” I said. “And we can talk to Jesus just like we talk to each other, because He was a real Person,” I said. Preston promptly corrected me, “He IS a real person!”
After 15 minutes of this kind of conversation, I was in serious awe of everything this eight-year-old was telling me about the Lord. I knew he hadn’t learned it from me, and besides one trip to Sunday School, I’m virtually his only spiritual influence. “Preston, did you learn all of this in Sunday School?” I asked, genuinely puzzled. I’ve never heard him talk about God for so long. “Well, I didn’t go to Sunday School for very long, but sometimes, I just think about God and I think He likes it when we think about Him.” I was floored. The Holy Spirit is teaching this little kid about Himself!

A few weeks ago, I in the prayer room I’d helped set up for university students at a Student Church Planting Experience. I was pulling one of those 3am slots, and had entered the prayer room intending to intercede for the university students participating in SCPX. But instead, the Lord had other matters to discuss with me. I couldn’t stop praying for Preston. I felt like the Father was asking me to write a letter to Preston from Him. So I grabbed a piece of construction paper and a marker and started writing from a place of supernatural affection.

On my way back to SCPX a few days later, I picked up Preston a few days later so he could spend the day with me. He lit up with excitement when I told him that I had a letter for him from Jesus. He wanted me to help him read it right then, so I read it mostly from memory (as I tried to keep my eyes on the road!) “Preston, My Preston…” the letter began. And the whole first paragraph was the Father just wanting him to know that He loved all the questions that Preston was asking, and that His heart did cartwheels when Preston thought about Him. I’d barely finished the first part, I looked over and saw the biggest grin you can imagine taking over Preston’s face. “Can you thank Him for me?” he asked intently. “You can thank Him yourself, you know,” I gently reminded him. “Right now?” he asked. “Sure!” I said. And so, with as much passion as his little voice could muster, he let out a loud, expressive “THANK YOU!”

My heart almost melted, but I kept reading. The middle part of the letter was praising Preston for being such a good big brother and for always watching out for his little sister Makala. She’s very special, I had written on the Father’s behalf. The letter also praised Preston for his obedience to his parents, saying that they too were very special. The last section spoke of how Preston was becoming strong and brave, and of how proud Jesus was of him. “Listen for My voice, because I’m always speaking. I love you so much!” the letter finished.

Preston could hardly contain how thrilled he was over God’s words to him. The little guy let out a huge contented sigh. “I just LOVE Jesus!” he exclaimed. He began to tell me his plans for hiding the letter in a special place in his room so that Makala wouldn’t tear it up. He then began to re-read it silently, stopping every once in a while to tell me how much he liked particular lines of the letter. The presence of God was thick in the car as Preston engaged with heart of God over a few simple words scratched on green construction paper.

When we arrived at SCPX, I took Preston up to the prayer room so he could draw a picture for Jesus to hang up. He drew a picture of a rather chubby person with stick legs and a giant smile. He asked me to draw a heart next to Jesus and together we hung it up amongst the other prayers.

Something in me is deeply stirred as I write this story out. I think today I believe more than ever that there is much to consider in Jesus’ recommendation that we come to Him as children. Preston is in no way “out of the game” just because he is eight years old. He is coming to the Kingdom, running freely with a wide open heart, running faster than most grown-ups I know! Today I’m also convinced more than ever that new life is birthed in the place of prayer and that the Most High God is eager to engage with us in capturing the hearts of the ones He loves. Image

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the epic birthday

[from october 18, 2009. a night that forever shaped me. a special thank you to Wendy Andrews and Holy Spirit Friend.]ImageImageImageImageImageImage

How does one capture with words, a night of utter extravagance?

This was last night, October 17, 2009 – an early birthday celebration for me which turned into a spiritual birthday for a young woman named Carrie Callahan. Carrie’s journey to salvation has been long and marked with much pain and many tears. It’s a story that I hope she tells one day, for its the story of many in our generation. But last night painful tears breached the song of joy, and heaven’s much-anticipated moment arrived as Carrie stepped into the family of God.

My dearest friends here in Kansas City took it upon themselves to throw me a grand and glorious dinner party, as a way of creating space for God to convince me of His extravagant and abundant generosity to me. The dearest of dears, Wendy Andrews, had been secretly compiling a list of things I loved and needed and desired in order to shower all of them on me. She rounded up many of our friends and each one contributed to the grandeur of the night.

The Boulevard home, where Wendy and my other dearest friends all live, had been decorated like a regular palace! In typical Rachel-fashion, that is, generous to the bone, Rachel Anderson had filled the room with every lovely flower arrangement imaginable. A myriad of sparkling lit candles, silk cloths, and fancy pillows filled the first floor of the Boulevard. The table was laden with sauteed beef skewers in Thai peanut sauce, a jazzy spinach salad, and hand-pressed apple cider. Inside of a pumpkin, Wendy had baked a scrumptious cheese sauce (with a terribly luxurious name that I can’t even pronounce let alone spell!) that we ate with soft Asiago bread. It was unbelievably delicious! And of course, my favorite sweet treats abounded on another table – homemade fudge, chocolate chip cookies, and almond shortbread! A snazzy pear custard torte served as my birthday cake, complete with little candles.

After dinner I settled into the chair dubbed as “the queen’s chair” and shared with the girls a bit of my heart’s journey since summer, an explanation of why God had asked Wendy to throw this party in the first place. It’s a long and messy odyssey, as most wanderings of the heart are, but I shall try to capture a bit of it here briefly.

I have not always believed that giving one’s life for the poor and broken and walking in the abundant generosity of the Father were not exclusive. My entire life I have operated out of a mindset that tells me that poverty is more godly than wealth, that plain and drab is more righteous than beauty. I have scorned all forms of extravagance, including at times romance. In some distorted way, I have somehow convinced myself that if I am blessed when so much of the world is in dire need, I am guilty of injustice. I have convinced myself that, “I am fine. I am tough. I can handle living in survival mode. Only give me what I need for existence, and I shall be satisfied. I am fine. I don’t need anything extra to live, so therefore I will refuse to receive it.” I’ve interpreted both spiritual and physical blessings through this faulty mindset. I have seen the world has sexualized the beauty of women and taken advantage of it, and in my quest for a pure heart I have more often than not feared embracing beauty. I have been content to marvel at the grandeur of God’s creation outside of me while ignoring the grandeur He created inside of me.

This past summer however, the Holy Spirit began to show me the untruthful foundation I have built on. He began to highlight to me all of the descriptions in Scripture of God and every last one is stunning, breath-taking, loaded with allusions to diamonds and jewels and magnificent riches. The entire story of God is teeming with references to our inheritance, our spiritual blessings, the riches of His glory. As I have repented of pride and clinging to false ideals, the Holy Spirit has diligently shown me the ways in which my life is effected by the lies of the enemy. One day He asked me, “You are so concerned for the poor in your neighborhood, but if you yourself are living in spiritual poverty, then what kind of life are you inviting these lost ones into? How is what you are offering much different than what they already have?” In these last months I have also come to understand that God has placed beauty in the hands of women. It is our design, our pleasure, and even our responsibility to make the world a more beautiful place – with our bodies, our homes, and our lives.

Over these months, God has spoken to me specifically through this: “And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare. When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became Mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fined linen and covered you with silk. And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver and your clothing was of fine lined and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine four and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 16: 6-14)

And so, the evening commenced as I shared with the women a bit of my journey. I opened elaborate gift after gift, as women spoke words of encouragement and life over me. Among the gifts were a deep red silk scarf, various quality eye shadows and eye-liners, hand-crafted necklaces and earrings, a gorgeous fabric, a purse, fine-smelling soaps, a lovely blouse, a gift certificate for a facial, a picture, a hair dryer (which I desperately needed because in Wendy’s words, “Your old one sounds like an airplane coming in for landing!”) My friend Anna brought her gift in a clear glass bowl, because she said, “May your life be a glass bowl; may you show off the beauty inside!” Juli Cox’s words marked me indelibly as she gave me jewelry from South Africa and an antique pendant. “I feel like you carry a bit of Africa in you, and these ‘diamond’ (CZ) earrings and necklace are to remind you that through your beauty you will give your life for the poor. These things are not mutually exclusive, but people will come to know the King through your queenly beauty. The antique pendant you can wear close to your heart as a reminder of the rich heritage you have in your family.”

I had determined at the beginning of the night to never say, “It’s too much!” But alas, in an overwhelming moment toward the end of gift-opening, it slipped out of my mouth. I knew there was still lies dwelling inside of me that I needed to repent of. So as the women gathered around to pray for me, I began to confess every lie I have believed about receiving the goodness of God. I confessed pride and fear and asked for continued revelation. The Spirit of God was thick in the room, and several other women agreeing with my repentant prayers.

From the couch next to me, Carrie began to weep. And weep, an weep. She began to cry out, asking God to forgive her over and over for many things. She went on and on, in a truly repentant state, declaring her belief in God and His goodness. It soon became apparent that she was giving her life over to Jesus in that moment. I pulled my chair over and with all eyes fixed on the beautiful, sobbing woman in the middle of the room we talked through what it means to become a daughter of God. In the most genuine and expressive manner I have ever witnessed, Carrie exclaimed through tears, “I’m in!” She told God she would receive His forgiveness and become His daughter.

Maggie dashed upstairs to fill the bathtub with water, and I asked Carrie if she knew what baptism meant. She proceeded to tell us, with more clarity most preachers, what baptism was – a washing of the sins, a dying of the old self, and a coming of a new, clean Carrie! We prayed with her to receive with her the power of the Holy Spirit right then, and as the water ran in the tub upstairs, Anna sat down to the baby grand piano. Carrie’s name literally means “Song of Joy.” Her middle name means “God is Gracious.” So Anna began to sing out, with such anointing, that heaven had been singing Carrie, song of joy for all of eternity. She sang out the affection of God and the longing He has had over Carrie’s life. So powerful was the moment, that Carrie literally fell off the couch onto her knees.

As for me, I got it. In that moment, as Anna’s voice touched the foundations of eternity I understood the full picture. I wept uncontrollably on the couch, my whole body heaving great sobs, as the revelation I’ve been asking for flooded my being. I had received freely that night, I had embraced beauty, I had turned from the old poor woman to the taking my place as a queen in His Kingdom… and look, right before my very eyes, the salvation of a woman I had longed for was happening. In the same moment that Juli was telling my beauty would win the hearts of the poor for the King, so a heart was already being won. It was not only the Father’s graciousness to Carrie, but His mercy to every woman in that room as we understood that beauty begets beauty, blessing begets blessing, and the generosity leads to the expansion of this family.

I will never in my life forget the hour that followed Carrie’s bathtub baptism! After whoops of delight and soggy hugs, we rejoined in the living room. In the spirit of the night, prayer began to break out for other women in the room. The most astonishing thing of all was that Carrie herself was leading the charge. Just moments after her baptism, she was laying hands on women, praying for them boldly, and giving them prophetic words! “I feel like God just wants me to say that you don’t need to be afraid…” I thought I had died and was with Jesus already! The Holy Spirit was already at work in Carrie, giving her power to love and letting her hear God’s voice so promptly. In one hour, the Lord redeemed every broken relationship Carrie has always had with women who have betrayed her by placing her in a room chock full of godly, loving, trustworthy women.

Who knew that when I started chatting with Carrie at the ghetto pool in Gilham Park last summer that it would lead such rich friendship? We’ve come to love each other, I’m now the godmother of her children, and in the last month she finally agreed to study the stories of Jesus with me. We’ve been reading in Luke every week, and the Man Jesus Christ has been winning Carrie over, story by story. Since summer, I’ve been asking God that Carrie would receive salvation and be baptized by my birthday. Since last year, when we baptized Wendy’s sister in a bathtub around my last birthday, I’ve been telling the Lord that all I want for my birthday is the opportunity to baptize someone in the bathtub!

This birthday shall go down in the history books. It’s been written in the journals of heaven as epic. It’s been written in my journal and those of a dozen other women as revolutionary. I am forever marked. We all are, I think. These are surely not light matters in the heart of God.

hands open and yes in my heart.

“Hey, wanna make dinner together tonight and eat on the front porch?” Tay asks me as we head out the door at 7:45 am for our short jaunt to work.  Tay and her husband Joel lives upstairs in our two-family flat.  Tay and I both work at an elementary school a mile down the road, so we ride together each day.  Tay and Joel own one car, and so do Myles and I.  Since Joel works at home and Myles goes to school 30 minutes away, Tay and I just take their car so Myles can drive our truck to school.  Ironically enough, I actually drive their car each morning since its stick-shift and Tay doesn’t know how to drive stick.  (And let’s be honest, experiencing my pathetic stick-shift skills everyday have probably dissuaded her from ever trying to learn!)

Dinner is scrumptious.  I have half a salad leftover from a luncheon at work on hand, some bell peppers, onions, and fresh herbs from my new garden.  Tay has 2 chicken sausages, brussel sprouts, potatoes and garlic.  We chat as we chop, tossing everything but the salad into a big skillet with lots of farm fresh butter from the Eastern Market.  Joel is away on a business trip at the moment, so its just Tay and Myles and I on the porch eating tonight.  Dinner never would have been this good if we hadn’t combined what we both had together… I think as we eat, sip ice tea, and watch our neighbor girls all dressed up for prom and out in their yard taking photos with every single auntie, cousin, and grandpa in the family.

I feel so satisfied as I shower and do dishes tonight.  I’m thinking about how the best meals we have are the shared ones.  Every Tuesday night, Myles and I host a “Family Dinner” for our merry little band of Jesus followers and whatever neighbors and friends we can persuade to join us.  There’s always a theme, and everyone brings an item or two or three, and combined altogether, its almost always a win.  We had some killer fish tacos last week – complete with mango & cilantro and a dozen other fresh toppings.  I mean, who wants to chop a dozen different toppings when you’re eating tacos solo or just with your husband?  I find Tuesday dinners are like a sigh of relief, because no matter how crazy the week gets, you know that a healthy, complete meal is guaranteed to happen.

“Linds, where’s the vacuum?”  I hear Tay call to me as I shower.  “In the back room… don’t forget to empty it if its full.”  We share a vacuum.  They are expensive little machines, and so darn essential.  But its completely unnecessary to have two in one house.  We also share muffin tins.  And a 9×13 pan. And a pencil sharpener.  Showers.  Spices. Eggs.  Internet service.  Milk.  Prayer. Bath salts. Flowers. A guest bedroom.  Printer cords and extension cords. Heels and earrings. Aspirin.  There’s also three unmatched socks sitting on our stairs right now, because a handful of other friends who don’t have a washing machine come over to do their laundry here… and I have no idea which of the 8 different people those little lonely socks belong too.  As I write this, Tay just came down to ask for a lightbulb.  Literally, every single day we use or borrow items from each other.   I find it gets easier to ask all the time – because the response so far has always been generous, and because we both owe each other so much at this point, there is no point to any kind of record or any kind of shame.

As I clean up the clutter from the day tonight, I’m thinking about how comforting community is.  I always have what I need.  I freely give and I freely receive.  My life is much, much richer.  Its not always convenient, but its convenient more often than not.  There are definitely those Saturday morning when I want to sleep in and I can hear every move Joel and Tay make in our creaky old house, and there’s definitely those weekends when I’ve let my laundry pile up and unfortunately everyone else in the community has too and there’s a line of baskets out the laundry room door.  There’s definitely those aggravating moments when all I want is a hot shower, but everyone’s flushing toilets and dish washing keeps yanking all my hot water.  But for every moment of frustrating are at least two moments of safety, comfort, and provision.

Tonight I think to myself, God is so smart.  He is so wise, and so, so smart.  His ideas about sharing freely and living as family simply make the most sense.  Community living is smart for so many reasons – I am more free financially, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally.  I am a better steward of the earth and resources.  I am more safe, which in my neighborhood is a big deal.  People know my business all the time, and it is GOOD for me.  I can’t get away with sin.  I can’t get away with selfishness.  I think when we live in isolation its very possible to be the most selfish person on the planet and never even know it simply because there is no one to expose it!

I wanted to write this out tonight, because I want a reminder.  In case I ever get the notion to strike it out alone, or get tempted to posses two cars when I only need one, or begin to think that I don’t want to share whats in my fridge because there might not be enough for me, I want to read words like these and remember what it is I truly want:

I want richness.  I want fullness.  I want a colorful story.  I want the grace and goodness and generosity of God to fill all my days and all my rooms.  I want to live with my hands open and a yes in my heart.  When my hands are open, I can’t hold on to stuff… but I am also ready to receive anything good that’s given to me.  And when there’s a yes in my heart, I can’t always be sure where I will end up, but I can always be sure that I haven’t missed out on anything glorious.

Our home here in a new city sure looks different than our full house in Kansas City did.  I don’t have little brown faces and giggles and oatmeal-covered hands waking me up in the morning, or the horrid smell of weed wafting through the vents, or teenagers sleeping on my couch every night.

Yet, that is.

Sometimes houses take a while to fill.  Sometimes longer than you hope.  Our empty bedrooms make me sad.  And everyday I ask God, “Who next God?  Who are you bringing us to love and to be loved by?  Who are You going to fill our home with?  Yes to whoever You’ve got in mind.”  And I remind myself that all my best, craziest stories and favorite people from the last few years came from prayers like this.

Sometimes I hold my hands open when I ask God this, as my way of telling both Him and myself that whatever I have I will give and whatever He has I want.  And I do try to always tell Him “YES.”  Even if all I say is that one word, He knows exactly what I mean.  I know Him well enough to know that He always takes us up on every single yes.  Every single one.

i have to live for miracles.

Hugs from A’Lana* are one of my favorite parts of the day.  If its a good day I’ll get three or four.  She’s a ten-year-old sweetheart with a knack for getting into trouble.  She has a hard time staying in class, and she’s known to fight.  But she’s got a smile that will light up the whole hallway and a hug that is always guaranteed to melt me.

First thing this Monday morning I was getting in my morning A’Lana hug outside the cafeteria while other students were filing in for breakfast.  As I squeezed her tight and played with her hair, I asked her how her weekend was.  “Scary, Mrs. Hamby!”  “Why was it scary?” I asked.  She proceeded to tell me the whole traumatic tale.  Over the weekend she came over to the school playground to play since she lives right down the street.  The school was surrounded by cops, as she drew close she realized that a fifteen-year-old boy had been shot in the leg and then in the head in a gang skirmish.  He was dead.  His mother and A’Lana’s mother are close friends.  In fact, A’Lana’s mother is the one who had to call his mother with the news.  Not a privilege I’d ever want to have.

I spent my morning today with two more sweethearts with a reputation for trouble.  This ten and eleven-year-old brother duo has been suspended so many times this year for fighting that they’ve both been kicked out of school until September.  They have to keep up with their studies through virtual programs.  The only reason they were even at the school today was for testing.  Honestly, if I didn’t know these boys had been suspended so much, I never would have guessed it from my time with them today.  Away from their antagonistic peers, the boys were calm, very respectful, and quite enjoyable to be around.  They were just boys – kids who like to see who can swing the highest and climb the fastest.

In between their tests, I gave their brains and little antsy bodies a break with a jaunt to the playground.  It was a gorgeous day, and although they were sad their former classmates weren’t outside with them, the boys had each other and seemed to enjoy their recess.  I challenged them to a swinging contest and on my way over to the swingset I noticed the fresh graffiti job on the side of the school.

SMN.

It stands for Self-Made Niggas, and its the signage of the neighborhood gang.  You’ll find those letters everywhere within blocks of the school.  There are people that think Detroit doesn’t have a gang problem, because most of the major gangs that ravage Chicago and LA haven’t staked a claim here.  Instead of large gangs, Detroit is rampant with smaller neighborhood gangs.  Gang experts say targeting countless small gangs is daunting, because instead of a few major gang signs, codes, and ringleaders to keep track of, there’s literally a different code and contact in every little neighborhood in Detroit.  Neighborhood gangs are constantly at odds with each other, and its difficult to stay on top of who is currently fighting who.  Instead of long-time rivalries that exist in larger cities, the clashes between neighborhood gangs may change often.  Gangs here are more into reputation than money – which is sometimes scarier, because they are willing to do anything reckless to get their name on the map.

I spent this afternoon with Cai*, one of my new favorite kids on the planet.  He is also eleven-years-old, and has a mouth bigger than the rest of him put together.  This boy can NOT at any point stop moving or talking, I’m convinced.  He’s not afraid to say anything to anybody, and despite his skinny self, he will throw a punches right along with his trash talking.  (In case you hadn’t picked up on it by this point, my job currently entails giving individual attention to the worst-behaved kids in one of the worst schools in Detroit.)  He sounds like a tough case, but truthfully he is really irresistibly endearing.  He is a total charmer when you give him more than a minute and get him by himself.  It took me several months to get through to him – he used to just start cussing up a storm as soon as he would see me walking down the hallway!  But a little patience, some hugs and kindness, and a I’m-not-giving-up-on-you attitude finally wore him down and now we get along just great.

He’s just a boy, too.  He loves football, he’s good at math.  He loves to hide and play jokes.  He’s got a killer smile and a contagious laugh.  He’s a complete goofball.  He has a different girlfriend every week – the innocent kind of 5th-grade romance, where everyone nonchalantly breaks up with each other, laughs about it, and moves on to the next person in the class.

Cai was on a roll today.  He thinks he’s hot stuff, thinks SMN are his bros, and thinks the neighborhood gang is the place to be.  He’s eleven years old, in case you didn’t remember.  He was supposed to be doing math, but instead was bouncing around the room making up his own rap to an instrumental beat he found on YouTube.  “If being in a gang is illegal, then take me straight to jail. I’m with SMN forever…”  The rest of his rap was full of “F— you’s” to the guys who shot the fifteen-year-old this weekend.  I found out the kid’s name was Tyrone* and that he used to go to this school.

I hate that I have to wonder if Cai will live to see his twenty-first birthday.  I hate that I have to wonder how long it will be before the criminal justice system interrupts his life.  The kid is brimming with potential.  He is so full of energy and talent its almost ridiculous.  The earth seriously needs human beings like Cai.  But this boy needs a miracle.  A’Lana needs a miracle too.  So do the 600 other little ones at the school.

I’m reminding myself today that I live for miracles.  I have to live for miracles.  I’ve been ruined for anything less glorious. Anything less is a waste of time.  There’s no point in living for anything less than supernatural wonder on the earth.  If you are a friend of God and if you believe in miracles, would you ask Him for miracles for my kids today?  Ask Him to intervene.  Ask Him to grab the attention of their wandering little hearts.   Ask Him to spare their lives from the dullness of death and destruction.  Ask Him to give me words of life on my lips and the power of love in my hands each day.

(*Names have been changed for the security of my students.)

bonus salads [a story, not a recipe]

He is audacious, that man I married.  Bold, and he breathes faith like I breathe oxygen.

He is generous, that God I belong to.  Astounding and gracious, and there is absolutely no One like Him.

A few weeks ago we were flying home from Argentina.  On our way back to Kansas City after a two splendid weeks of a relaxing honeymoon.  We had just been exploring all over Buenos Aires, considered the “Paris of South America”… exploring  at Iguazu Falls, one of the world’s most expansive and exquisite set of waterfalls… and then there was the glorious exploring of each other’s bodies: AyeeYaYay!  …I’ll leave it at that 😉

So there we were, crammed in tiny airplane seats with backpacks full of yerba mate, hearts full of stories to tell, and a camera full of photos to prove our adventures.  Stale air was blasting through the vent, and the attendant pushed his teeming food cart in our direction.  Fortunately, this trip we were wise enough to request vegetarian meals from the airlines ahead of time.  I’ve flown enough international flights to know that “Mystery Vegetables” are usually less sketchy than “Mystery Meat.”

Within minutes I was devouring my tiny salad with intensity.  Let me preface the rest of this story by informing you that Argentina is The Land of Steak.  The biggest, juiciest steaks you’ve ever laid eyes on.  And empanadas.  Those deep-fried mini-pies full of meat or mozzarella in all sorts of tasty combinations. And pizza and pasta.  The yummiest, cheesiest, finest-crafted pizzas and pastas I’ve tasted in my lifetime.  AND dulce de leche.  That highly addicting, sticky, delicious caramel-like goo that fills croissants and cookies in every little bakery on every little corner of every town in Argentina.  (I do not exaggerate with this statement.)  Needless to say our tongues were happy honeymoon campers… but after two weeks of this kind of fare, our bodies (that normally thrive on daily green smoothies and salads) were seriously protesting.

Myles eyed my empty little salad carton as he continued to eat his own salad – as usual, more methodically than I ever eat.  “Would you like another salad?” he asked me sweetly.  He knows when I make salads at home they are easily ten times as large.  Its not uncommon for either of us to be munching on greens from the biggest mixing bowls in the house.  I’m pretty sure I scoffed at his thoughtful offer.  I realize that it is not very nice for a wife to scoff when her husband asks a kind question, but at two weeks in, I am still learning how to be a nice wife.  Even though his offer was sweet, in my mind it was also ridiculous.  I know enough about airline flights to know that they carry exactly one meal per passenger.  I was quite certain they did not have a stack of salads just chilling in the back waiting to be eaten.  It would never even occur to me to ask for another salad.

Besides, I rarely ever ask for more.  I don’t like to ask for extra favors, and I cringe at the thought of trying to get something free, and I will barely ever ask to be the exception to the rule.  I have a general supposition that there is not enough to go around, that it is up to me to figure things out, and if something isn’t working out in my favor I should probably just grin and bear it.

Myles is really quite the opposite.  He always assumes there is more to be had, and he will gladly and freely ask for it.  If he likes the bread and garlic sauce at a restaurant, he will rave about it to the waiter and shamelessly ask for more.  They have plenty back there in the kitchen, why shouldn’t we enjoy more?  He has no qualms about asking people to give him stuff for free.  He assumes some passing tourists is dying to take at least 5 photos of us beside a monument.  He is convinced there is always some exception to the rules, and if there hasn’t been one before, he can be the guy to make the first one.  He is undaunted by gruff people, grumpy people, and awkward scenarios.  Yes, I married him.  And yes, I am very glad I did.

So despite my second-salad-scoffing, my husband flashes a charming smile to the gentleman serving us drinks and politely asked it if was at all possible, could we please have another salad.  The attendant’s response was nicer than mine but nearly as doubtful.  My memory is a little foggy, but I’m pretty sure I shook my head at Myles’ audacity, made some smart remark, and continued on with my pathetic dinner fairly convinced that my lame pasta with carrots was as good as it was gonna get.

Our conversation prior to dinner was about our future- about having enough money for grad school, about jobs, about our dreams for starting business that fund non-profit justice endeavors that transform cities and prisoner populations.  So as we picked at our food, we continued our conversation, laced with a mix of doubt and faith.  Will there be enough money?  Will we be able to stay debt-free?  Do we have what it takes to actually do what we dream of?

All of a sudden a hand emerged from somewhere behind our heads holding two more cartons of salad.

And it was just one of those moments.  The kind of moment where you just sit stunned because you don’t know what to say.  And then the words start tumbling out and you just can’t seem to stop stammering in astonishment.  The kind of moment where you know you clearly just got proven wrong, but it was all so brilliant you don’t even mind admitting it.

I realize that receiving two bonus salads on an international flight may not seem like a big deal.  In all reality its not.  When I consider all the incredible gifts we’ve received in the last few months, tiny freeby salads are definitely at the bottom of the list in terms of value.

But the timing.  Now that is what killed me.  It was the precise moment in which our conversation was demanding faith and courage that this little thing my husband had confidently asked for appeared.  God’s Presence showed up for me right then.  He didn’t have to say a word.  His gesture to me said everything.

Ask.

Believe.

Have courage.

Be bold.

There is more than enough.

I am happy to give.

I’m giving you resources to change the world.

We gratefully devouring our second round of salads – me rather humbly, Myles perhaps a little less humbly. 🙂  After dinner, while the rest of the plane slept, we stayed up late into the night typing all of our crazy ideas and dreams into a document on our laptop.

We got home from Argentina, and you know what?  I started asking for things.  I asked the Lord for money to give our friends who are adopting.  I asked for more money than we could realistically give away.  You know what?  That money showed up after just a week of asking!  I asked the Lord to help us cut down on our food budget.  That week my best friend put us in charge of her garden while she is away, and I started getting more free food at work than I ever have before.  Then I called the bed and breakfast we stayed at on our wedding night and asked them to MAKE AN EXCEPTION just for me to surprise Myles by taking him for breakfast there on our one -month anniversary.  Four phone calls later, they totally let me do it.  It was a delicious breakfast, but Myles knows that his real gift that day was that I actually asked for a special favor.

He is kind, that God I belong to.  Patient and generous.  Astounding and gracious, and there is absolutely no One like Him.

the un-detailed, semi-short, barely sappy version of OUR LOVE STORY


January 2009:  Myles and Lindsay are both in Las Vegas at a Student Church Planting Gathering, baptizing people who are deciding to follow Jesus with buckets of water in the middle of UNLV’s campus

February 2009: Lindsay is traveling to campuses.  Myles is joining a fraternity and running for Student Government at UCLA. They have a conversation, and Lindsay thinks he is cool, but that is about all…

January 2011: Lindsay is riding a bus from Redding, CA to Sacramento.  Her phone rings. “Why in the world is Myles Hamby calling me..???”  As it turns out, Myles is moving to Kansas City to work on some projects for SCPX and needs a place to live.  Mutual friends and mentors had informed him that Lindsay had an open room for rent on the third floor of the Tracy House. They have a cool conversation about social entrepreneurship and ministry in the urban core. They are both excited, and Lindsay says, “Will you be my friend?”

February 5, 2011:  Myles drives across the country, through a blizzard, swearing he won’t get into any kind of romantic relationship, and moves into the Tracy House in Kansas City.  When he walks in the door, he gives Lindsay a hug, and she is a little surprised by how great the hug is.  He is thinking she is pretty attractive.

The month of February and March: Myles and Lindsay proceed to do EVERYTHING together.  They both love to run and had individually set goals of running a marathon that year, so they decide to train for a half marathon together.  Being the only two extroverts in the whole house, they stay up late doing dishes, drinking tea, and talking about how to change the world. They go grocery shopping.  They make raw food together and sprout beans and everything else sproutable. They hang out with all the random teenagers from the hood that showed up at the Tracy House. They laugh a lot, help each other, and go on adventures. They scheme about a summer internship.  They babysit their roommates’ kids.  They intervene in crisis after crisis. Lindsay introduces Myles to all of her friends, since  he knows no one in KC.  Her best friends become his best friends.  All their talks about their dreams for the future end up being exactly the same.  And they both enjoy each other so much that just keep doing everything together.  Lindsay thinks Myles is one of the most quality guys she’s seen in a LONG time and Myles thinks Lindsay would make an amazing wife and mother.  Finally, Lindsay begins to think, “If I was spending this much time with any other guy, we’d totally be dating…”

March 23, 2011: DTR #1 (define the relationship talk).  At Kauffman Gardens, Myles tells Lindsay he admires her a lot and she responds with the same sentiment.  They decide its too weird to date while living in the same house, and that their friendship has happened too fast for any serious kind of step forward.  They decide to just be friends who like each other for alittle while.

March 23-April 22, 2011: Meanwhile, the joking escalates, the laughter abounds, and Myles and Lindsay keep doing EVERYTHING together.  They decide to plan a whole summer internship together. Simultaneously, everyone around them is getting suspicious.

April 23, 2011: DTR #2.  Clearly Myles and Lindsay need to either date or not date.  But Myles is having a particularly anxious time, and decides that for a while, they need to “pull back.”  Lindsay is sad, but by this point Myles is her best friend and she is convinced that he will eventually marry her, so she is not too worried.  Nonetheless its hard and painful and slightly awkward as they both still live in the same house.  Though they are both crying themselves just hours beforehand, when 2am rolls around and one of the kids is up crying, like always, Myles and Lindsay intervene and spend an hour entertaining a two-year-old, laughing, and feeding each other snacks.

April 24, 2011: Myles goes on a 12 mile run, decides he really wants to date Lindsay and will do whatever it takes to get over his anxiety.  Its Easter Sunday, so they spend the whole day with the Tracy House roommates, swinging on swings at the park, marking and eating food.  They laugh, they joke, they makes plans to run another half marathon, and they start dreaming up a road trip across the country.  (Now they laugh at their “pulling back.”)

May 4, 2011: Myles goes on a visit back to California. Lindsay breaks all the rules of “not-dating.”  She makes Myles his favorite – peanut butter granola bars AND peanut butter granola, gets some friends to write notes, writes him a silly poem and a few notes herself, and sends him with a packet of notes to open every day he is gone.

May 19, 2011: Sitting in the car, in the parking lot of the Boiler Room, Myles shares his heart with Lindsay.  He tells her he loves her, thinks he can marry her someday, and that its time to start dating.  Lindsay is THRILLED. (God had given her a prophetic dream three days before that this would happen… and it did – exactly like in her dream!)

June 19, 2011: First kiss. WOW.  E-l-e-c-t-r-i-c…

May 19-December 9, 2011: Myles and Lindsay DATE 😉  They run an internship for college students, both move houses, go on a few road trips, fly to the West coast a few times, run another half marathon.  They lead a few trainings on starting simple churches, go hiking and swimming and white-water rafting. They have picnics, and a few late-night adventures. They learn to pray together and seek God together.  They learn to work out their conflicts.  They have lots of conversations about the future.  They spend time with each others’ families, study for the GRE, and lead a simple church together. They take care of their single-mom friends’ children, and rescue her from all kinds of shenanigans. They experience more and more of God’s perfect love through each other.

November 7, 2011:  On the sly, Myles asks Lindsay’s parents for permission to marry her while they are visiting Ohio.

December 10, 2011: Like a champ, Myles PROPOSES!  Lindsay, of course, says YES 🙂  He asks her at Kauffman Gardens, the place of their first DTR back in March.

April 14, 2011: The two best friends are joined together for the REST OF THEIR LIVES!

[Disclaimer: There are a GREAT many, many juicy details to this story that include dreams, words from God, trippy destiny moments, super romantic moments, all kinds of awesomeness by Myles, and all kinds of sweetness by Lindsay that simply cannot be included in this “un-detailed, semi-short, barely sappy version of OUR LOVE STORY.”  If you are the kind of person who likes the sap, the gush, and the beautiful heart-wrenching stuff you will simply have to ask us in person or wait for the full-length storybook.]

the eve of our engagement

the story of sunglasses girl and my disregarded pity party

It was the start of another scorching summer day in Austin, Texas.  I was sitting on the stairs of some ridiculously large tower in the middle of UT’s campus, listening to Erik Fish* animatedly tell stories about the all-importance of disciple making.  Erik was doing that thing that spiritual dads do best – persuading us that we are more than we think we are and managing to soundly kick our butts at the same time.

When the dust had settled, and the weight of his words had just begun to hit the small crowd of college students to my right, I watched with swelling admiration as a handful of my friends, some long-time and some brand new, began to dart about.  They grabbed the shoulders of those experiencing conviction, commissioning them to make disciples just as Jesus commanded.  They hugged the crying students, and joined the laughing ones.  Not a person present could withstand a grin at the sight of the few students who couldn’t even stand up under the joyful pressure of the Presence of God.  My friends are courageous little freaks, all very young twenty-somethings who have encountered the power of God  and His Family sometime in the last few years, and have boldly stepped up to lead their peers down the Path of Life.  The whole crowd  next to me that morning was a sea of tears, and slobber, and hugs, and dancing.  The kind of mess that makes every lover of Love truly happy.

But rather than join in the fun, I was chilling out on the sidelines, throwing myself a royal pity party.  Erik’s anointed teaching had the usual affect on me.  I was struck to the core, and all I really wanted is to follow Jesus 100% for the rest of my days.  After I whined for a bit.

Waaah. Waaah. Waaaaaaah.  I suck at making disciples.  I can’t do anything right.  I shouldn’t even be here right now. I should have had more boldness in that situation last spring.  I didn’t love that girl this summer well enough.  I’ve only ever failed and there is no hope for me to ever… 

In the middle of my whine session, I noticed three Asian-looking girls had wandered over to the far side of the portico where we were located and were observing the slobbery-hug fest  happening amongst the students.  I had an inkling I should go over and speak with them, but as soon as the thought came I saw a few students go over and strike up a conversation.  “Great, they’re covered,” I thought and went straight back to my pity party.

I’ve only ever failed. All I do is fail.  I don’t even know if I am a real follower of Jesus. 

Meanwhile, Holy Spirit Friend was completely disregarding my pathetic little shin-dig.

“Right knee.”

Maybe no one I invest in will ever become a true disciple.  Maybe I will never learn how to love right…

“Right knee. Lindsay, right knee.”

Seriously, Holy Spirit?  Right now? 

“Right knee. Right knee. Right knee.”

So I meander over to the Asian trio, and casually ask if any of them had any pain in their right knee.  After a few quizzical looks and head shaking, I began to clumsily explain how sometimes I hear things that God wants to heal for people and then how sometimes I think I hear from God but I just made it up.  The girl with huge movie-star sunglasses piped up.  “I used to play basketball and I have an injury to my right knee that comes and goes.  It doesn’t hurt right now, but a lot of times it does.”

Classic,  Holy Spirit… classic.

So I asked her if she’d like to be healed so she would never have to feel that pain again.  I squatted down on the ground next to her, laid my hand on her right knee, and commanded it to be healed in Jesus’ name.  After my brief prayer, I realized that the girl was fascinated by the scene going on behind me.  “Do you know what all these people are doing?” I asked her.  “No,” she exclaimed, “Do you?”

I laughed a little.  “I do actually!  All these people here are followers of Jesus.  They are brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God.”  I was pretty sure that meant absolutely nothing to sunglasses girl, and she looked intrigued enough to listen to more, so I just went for it.  “Have you ever had any experiences with God?” I asked.  She shook her head, “I’ve been to church a few times, but now I have to work on Sundays so I can’t go.”  I loved the slightly-confused look on the bottom half of her face that wasn’t covered by her cool shades when I told her that most people in the crowd next to us also didn’t go to a church building on Sunday mornings either.

Ohhh let the fun begin.  If I didn’t rub my hands together in gleeful anticipation, I surely wanted to. I opened my mouth… and out it came.  I laid out the whole story of God for her, how He’s invisible and we can’t see Him but how He wanted friendship with us so much that He became a Person to show us His character and personality.  How that Person healed sick people, raised the dead, and caused a ruckus with religious folks everywhere He went.  How He came to teach us how to rightly relate to God and to each and to the whole world.  How He came to make all that is wrong with us right, and make it possible for us to be in His Family.

I couldn’t see her eyes because of those darn sunglasses, but I soon noticed big tears sliding down her cheeks and I knew our words were hitting home.  I say “our”, because most of the stuff that tumbles out of my mouth in situations like these definitely does not originate in my brain, but is the overflow of the Holy Spirit inside of me.  We’re a team, me and ol’ HS.

The tears on her face stoked the fire burning in my bones, and I began to passionately describe to her the ways that Jesus has changed my life, how He rescued me from the place where I was convinced I was completely alone forever and proved to me that He is always with me.  “Look at these crazy people!” I gestured towards the students behind us, who by this point were nearly all dancing, laughing, and worshipping their little hearts out.  “You can see for yourself the joy on their faces.  They’ve met the God of Love.”

Just then all the student began to gather around Erik to pray for him.  He was getting ready to leave town, and they wanted to send him off with a blessing.  In the middle of my sentence, the young woman in front of me rose to her feet and headed towards the students with their hands all stretched toward Erik.  I had to bite back a giddy laugh as I scurried to join her… This girl wants IN!

When the prayers had subsided, she turned to me with all sincerity, “I want to learn more about Jesus.  I have only one thing holding me back.  My mom is a Buddhist.”

I wasn’t daunted for a second.  I immediately began to point out various people around the room who had parents of differing faiths.  I motioned for my friend whose dad practices Buddhist values.  She came right over, and soon they were chatting it up.  We quickly discovered that the girl was heading to Denton for her first year at the University of North Texas that very next week.  And wouldn’t you know it, my friends’ highschool buddy just happened to be a student at UNT already and had just told my friend a few weeks prior that she wanted to start a simple church on her campus.

Classic, Holy Spirit.  So classic.

I gave her my Bible.  My friend swapped phone numbers with her.  The girl with the movie-star sunglasses was heading off for college with the stories of Jesus tucked under her arm, a vision of love, and the potential of friendships at a strange new school.  And, I believe, the promise of a place in God’s eternal family finally within her reach.  I walked away… no, maybe I was skipping or twirling… Well anyways, I left BRIMMING with joy inexpressible.

I am so glad Holy Spirit Friend disregarded my pity party.

Anytime,  any time at all You want to interrupt my days, You just go for it Holy Spirit Friend.  Your ideas are waaaaay better than mine.

(*Erik Fish and his wife Jen have been coaches, mentors, and dear friends to me for several years.  They train young people all over the nation and world how to plant simple churches and make disciple of Jesus.  You can find articles by Erik at his website: www.erikfish.com.  You can find the nearest Student Church Planting Experience at www.scpx.org.)