Tuesday, December 16, 2014

called to love

"Pootchy, I don't know why God does the things he does. I don't know why you live here and I don't, and I don't know why he allowed us to meet and for me to be your godmother. And it's hard to come see you because my heart hurts when I leave. It feels like I'm leaving my child behind. And I know that you have a mom and I love her, but selfishly, I feel like you're sort of mine too. And so sometimes I think it's selfish to come see you. But really I think that it's more selfish not to. So then I think about why God allows the things he does, and I still don't know the answer. But I do know that He is good, and that every time I come, I learn more about Him from you. And maybe that's part of the point. I wouldn't be LaLa without you buddy."

As we stood waiting for the boat that would take me from his village, He didn't understand much of what I said- and that's ok because it was more for me anyway. My jumble of words was a mixture of frustration and extreme thankfulness, and my heart was overwhelmed. But then, when my monologue was finished, he looked up and said, "I love you too LaLa." And I felt like he was thinking something similar. That was a conversation that I had with my 9 year old godson in July, right before I stepped onto the boat to leave him. Again. After 9 trips, we kind of have it down pat. We come, I jump off the boat, we find each other, and talk in the slim Creole that I've mastered. Then, throughout the week, we are each other's home base. He comes into camp in the mornings, we sing together, and hang out in the hammocks. During the day, we work on projects together, or maybe he's somewhere totally different doing 9 year old boy things or helping the guys in construction while I work in the clinic. People ask me where he is and I usually say that he'll be around in about an hour. And then he comes back. We go on adventures in the village together and he shows me new things going on. One afternoon we'll go swimming and he'll want to show me how well he can swim and climb onto all of the sailboats, pretending he's the boat captain like his dad. If he tries to mooch extra crackers or toys from me and doesn't get them, he'll head over to my sister Emily and see what she has to offer. That evening I'll find 45 new selfies on my camera, a few pictures of someone's foot, and a random tree that he wanted to take a picture of. The next day we'll head to VBS and I'll watch as he passes out candy to his friends and then gets on to everyone to pick up the trash. He'll sneak an extra lollipop into his pocket, because after all, he IS 9, and also somehow related to me....That evening we'll have worship in camp and he'll hold the flashlight while I hold the songbook. He'll point out the words on the page and we'll translate them for each other. Then, I'll head to my

hammock and he'll head home, reminding me that we have to go there tomorrow so he can show me how he needs a new bed. And so the week goes. On the last day, we walk to his house, where we sit down with a translator and I talk to mainly his mom Roselene. We talk about how the family is doing, if she has been able to find steady work, how her children are doing in school, and how she feels like things are going spiritually. I pull a set of sheets or towels, some toothbrushes and toothpaste out of my backpack, along with a new dress for her and a few outfits for Pootchy. We talk about how so many people support me so that I can come and spend time with her family, and how much those people love Jesus and love them. We talk about how God supplies every need, and we must first look to Him. We talk about the futures she wants for her children, and how this is not a relationship full of handouts, but of love and service, of communication and the gospel. Some conversations are harder than others, but each one is necessary. We hug and laugh together as if we've known each other our whole lives.

And then comes the day we leave. Sometimes we walk together to the playground down the road in the early morning and sit for a while. After everything in camp is packed up and we're finally ready, we begin the walk to the pier. He used to sit on my shoulders or I would carry him, but now he walks beside me, hand in hand. When we get to the pier, he finally lets himself cry. He used to say, "I want to go." But now he says, "stay here LaLa." And so my heart is full and broken at the same time. We talk a little more, say our goodbyes, and then I finally get on the boat. We paddle to the big boat on the other side of the reef and then we take off. All the children on the pier wave until they can't see us anymore. It isn't too long before I'm goofing off beside some others on the side of the boat, hanging on the ropes as we sail & acting like small children. But it's just a distraction from everything that I've just left.

It's hard to leave, but it's harder not to go. God doesn't call me to understand. He calls me to love. And for reasons I don't know, he has allowed me to maintain a relationship with a little Haitian boy in a little Haitian village on a little Haitian island. But this seemingly "little" boy has changed my life, my family's life, and countless others in more ways than we will ever know. We don't know what life looks like without Pootchy, without La Source, and without the ways God has used all of it to grow us into who He wants us to be. I am honored that God chose me being this boy's godmother to be a part of my story. I'm not called to understand why. I'm called to love.

Monday, November 10, 2014

fake it til you make it

I've been the Program Director for a non-profit child & family center for almost 5 months now. I've mastered the art of going to bed at 9pm and waking up at 5am, every day like the responsible 30 year old I pretend to be. I know how to smile when something's not going right because someone's got to remain calm. I screen my calls, smile and nod my way through a lot of conversations I don't understand a word of, and buy pizza for my staff on Fridays because it makes them happy. Every once in a while I close the door to my office, take a deep breath, and reopen it. At 23, I'm living the life of "fake it til you make it." Here are a few things that have helped me in this transition to this weird phase of life where people in college can no longer relate to you but those older than you don't take you seriously yet.

SHOW UP. Mentally and physically be present. There is nothing more annoying that working with someone who is not focused on the task at hand. Especially if you are a boss- your employees want to know that you are aware of what is going on, from the moms who argued at the meeting to the kid who's having a hard time at group. Your staff also needs to know that you are mentally there for them in their own successes and failures. If you feel like you're on the bottom rung trying to "climb that ladder," showing up to anything extra looks good. It just does. And mentally being present means you're going to soak in a lot of info that your coworkers may miss. One reason I got to be where I am (besides just the Lord's grace) is because I showed up mentally when others didn't. Sometimes people take notice.

BE ON TIME. Period, point blank. I often make fun of my friends whose normal "on time" is actually early, but it makes a difference. Being on time means having your shtuff together early. It makes you look good and relaxes everyone else. Being late is one of the most selfish things you can do- it makes you say that your time is more important than whoever you are meeting.

LISTEN. In trainings, meetings, and other normal conversations, I realized a long, long time ago that I had little to give and much to gain. So, even if I disagree with someone, my goal is to listen first and fully, and then I present my case or information. There are lots of people who are better than me at what I do- be it urban ministry or child care, and listening to them is key to me getting to where they are. Also, listening to my staff, to what is or is not being said, is important. I know how they are doing by what they do or don't say to me or to one another. I also hear them out when they have concerns or suggestions- the way I do something is not always the right way, and being teachable about things that can be improved helps me build relationships and trust with them.

LEAD BY EXAMPLE. If I expect a teacher to sweep after lunch, I've got to be willing to grab the broom every once in a while. If I want them to verbally encourage one another, it starts with me. But being is leader is not necessarily a position you step up to, but a mindset. One of my floaters is a leader, because she leads by example. She is not even finished with her college degree yet, but she is already going above and beyond her job description because a) she cares about her kids and b) she loves the Lord. This is what people look for. This is what they should take seriously.

Whether I'm wiping up spilled milk, making a newsletter or meeting with donors, what I do and the way I do it is important, because of WHO I do it for. I am a part of His story. And what I do should be a reflection of Him and His goodness and grace. So, if you have to fake it 'til you make it, know that you're not alone- I'm still struggling along right beside you. But also know that what you do matters- do it well.

"The significance of one's life is determined by the story in which they believe they are a part of."                                                                                                                                                Wendell Berry

Monday, June 2, 2014

pk life- notes from the 2nd row.

My family recently celebrated the last Sunday of my dad’s senior pastorate at a church. 14 years ago, I came in as a wild-eyed and rambunctious 9-year-old who talked too loud and threw the football down the halls. These past years have been incredible, as our much of our church family has shown me grace upon grace, and deeply cared about my life. I often joke that the Lord sent me as a sanctifying force- both for my parents who raised me and for the church family who embraced all that I was. I could not be more thankful for the way the Lord led my family to a church who supported us, worshipped with us, and showed us Jesus. 

But to be honest, as good as these years have been, there have also been plenty of difficult times. Having parents so invested in a group of people, in a calling, and in relationships for the sake of the Gospel comes at a price. Fruitful ministry (in any vocation) comes with roll-up-your-sleeves kind of work. Sometimes it means vacations are cut short, sometimes it means people don't get along with your family because of decisions that have been made, and sometimes it means that you see a side of the church most people don't- the dirty side of ministry in a fallen world- relationships that are severed, and sin that overpowers.

For 23 years I've watched the church both struggle and thrive, be both vulnerable and closed up, treat leaders with grace and treat leaders with harshness, be receptive to the Gospel and run from it. I too am a part of that body of believers, and that struggle for balance is ever present in my own life. But, I also have a unique perspective as a pastor's daughter. I've watched my parents in their own ups and downs- both with the joy of serving their Savior and the hardship and sacrifice for them personally that has come with that. I've known pk friends who ran from the Lord because of their broken relationship with their family's church, and I've known other pk friends who run after the Lord wholeheartedly because of their relationship. Growing up, there were times when I experienced both. Some days the critics and legalistic perspectives that I sensed seemed all consuming. But there were other times when my relationships with leaders, youth pastors, moms in the church and others pointed me to Jesus. They showed me that living out the Gospel is so much more than just showing up on Sunday and singing in the choir. It’s about real people with real struggles who come together, acknowledging their mess, and reminding one another about the hope in the One who is making it all right again. Because of them, my worldview as a pk was shaped into less about doing all the right things and having all the right answers, and more about showing others the Savior who was working on my heart. 

And so, I urge you, for whatever children romp around your church classrooms, race up and down the sanctuary aisles and peek into your offices- I urge you to love them well. You as a congregation have a unique opportunity to pour into your pastor’s family in a way that will greatly shape their children's future view of the church. The words that you speak have weight and the way you interact with them matters. The way you either point them to Jesus or choose to make life about anything else will stick with them.

  • There will be times when all they want to do is be anywhere else- love them well.
  • There will be times when they have way too many right answers in Sunday School- show them grace.
  • There will be times when they're sick of feeling like they're on a platform- the most loving thing that you can do is show your own vulnerability.
  • There will be times when they will be late- treat them like you would the normal late-comers. Even pastor's daughters have wardrobe struggles and hair disasters.
  • There will be times when they feel like the "goody two shoes" at school and want to be anything but that- love them by living a life shaped by Jesus, not one of moralism.
  • There will be times when they don't want to show up at the outreach that Saturday because they've spent the past 4 days doing church events- love them by being understanding.
  • There will be times when they lie, times when they break the rules, times when they are normal teenagers- love them by living out the Gospel of redemption and restoration- not just by breathing down their necks.
  • There will be times when they feel loved by the men and women they're around, and there will be times when they'll feel like they have WAY too many moms- be their confidant, not their dictator.
  • There will be times when they know too much- love them anyway.
  • There will be times when they take a family trip- love them by not calling- let them recharge as a family.
  • There will be times when they question what this ministry for Jesus is all about- let them doubt, and love them through it.
  • There will be times when their family's brokenness is on display for all to see- don't overlook it or avoid it- celebrate the example of a desperate need of Jesus. And follow it with the assurance that He has His children in the palm of His hand.

There will be times of needed correction, needed mentoring, and needed verbal encouragement in the truths of the Scripture. But if a congregation will make it a point to love their pastor's children with an understanding of their own brokenness and desperate continued need of a Savior, they will see the relationship as an opportunity, not a burden. An opportunity to love someone with your sleeves rolled up, knowing all the while that our God never stops being about the business of advancing His kingdom. What you do matters. As your pastor serves you, serve his family. They aren't any "better" than the rest of the congregation, and they aren't trying to be. They need Jesus, nothing more. Let them see Jesus, let them rest in that.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Life as a Fellow.

I've gotten the question numerous times over the past year, in one form or another. "What is Fellows?" It is usually accompanied by one or more of these: "are you in graduate school or working?" "why do you look like you're dating 6 different guys?" "who are these Livingstons and why do you love them?" "what's all this #fellows14 stuff?" "why Birmingham?" and "who are all these small children that you post pictures of?"
As I sit here procrastinating, not yet ready to finish my paper for our Final Fellows project, (due tomorrow) I figured I'd take the time to tell you a little bit about what I've been up to the past year.

The Fellows program is a 9-month, intensive discipleship & leadership program, from September to May. There's something called the The Fellows Initiative, and Briarwood Fellows in Birmingham is just one of those programs. Our week is full of both internships and seminary class, youth and urban ministry, living life with 11 other fellows, meeting with mentors, and kickin it with a host family. There are SO many Briarwood people who have poured into us through seminars, meeting one-on-one, providing things for us, and making our professional and spiritual development a priority. There's no way to sum all of that up, but here's a little breakdown of our week-

My internship is with Foundations Early Learning & Family Center. It's a nonprofit child & family center in the community of Fairfield. Briarwood has chosen Fairfield as it's urban ministry focus, so Foundations was started as a way to prevent kids from being behind by the time they reach Kindergarden. This year we've had 1 pre-K class of 18 energetic, unique 4 year olds. I'm the Assistant Director, so I do everything from coordinating with speakers, volunteers, and parents to running the office to taking out the trash so that I can bask in the sunshine outside for 2 minutes. I also get to be in charge of After Care, so I work one-on-one with several of the kids who need a little extra help. The kids are cute, the long term goals are incredible, and I've learned a ton. Every other Monday night, we have parent trainings, where speakers from the community come and we talk about things like reading readiness, the importance of family, what to teach your kids about the Bible, health & safety, & much more, in an effort to build a partnership with these parents.

Sunday nights, I co-lead a small group of 10th grade girls (and I get to hang out with them on Wednesday nights too at youth group). I've learned so much from them this year. They have loved me so well, and keep me feeling young. It's been a true joy to walk through the ups and downs of life, as we pray and study together. They keep me updated with the boys, cheesy jokes & pick-up lines, and all the new technological savvy tricks. These girls are a breath of fresh air and too much laughter, and I can't wait to continue my friendship with them.

On Thursday and Friday mornings, the fellows take seminary classes together. This has been one of the best times for me, because it's just the 12 of us in class with a professor. So much freedom to wrestle with truth and ask questions. Thursday afternoons, we go to Fairfield (the community where I also work) and tutor 4th-6th grade kids at an Elementary school.
We get to hang out and build friendships, work on reading skills, and through that, share with them the hope of Christ through the book that we're reading (a modern-day Pilgrim's Progress). On Fridays, we have a Leadership Lunch with someone in the community who shares their story, their successes and failures in the professional world, and encourages us to strive for truth.

Then there are the Livingstons. My host family is incredible. I live with the Livingstons, and they're kind of a big deal. John & Connie have loved me as their own, provided food and a welcoming place to live, made sure I survived the snowpacalypse and tornadoes, carried everything for me when I broke my foot, and SO much more. Mary Lee & Millie are both in high school, and it has been a blast to be welcomed into their family. Chickens in the backyard, trips to the thrift store, and random singing/dance parties are all the norm. I am beyond thankful for them, and for the way that they have loved me so well. I get to live with them through June (a little after Fellows ends) and can't wait to spend some of my summer with these people who encourage me daily.


And last but not least, the best part of Fellows for me has by far been these guys. 11 other fellows who are in the same place in life as me. We are going through the same things, learning from the same people, challenging one another in what we talk about, striving for unity and community daily, and committing to be each other's "people." I think the Lord has used this part of the program in my life the most, as I have had to come face to face with vulnerability, doubt, trials, and tears, with the comfort of knowing that this community is a safe place for me. It is a place of laughter, lots and lots of laughter. True enjoyment of each other. A place of rest. Tuesday nights we have Round Table, where we take turns cooking for one another, get to enjoy a meal together, and then go through a study of a book or passage, where we learn from each other's life experiences, questions, and faith. It's the most encouraging time of the week for me- any time where I can come in from the day, as hectic as it may have been, and just BE. That's how you know you've found your people. We all need that safe place. And this is mine right now. These people. We are SO unique. There's not 1 of the 12 that looks or acts like the other. And I love it. It is a beautiful thing. Living life in this community has spoiled me for sure. So I don't want to think about after graduation yet- it's in a few weeks. But I've got time. God is good, and he has blessed me beyond measure with this Fellows year. Praise Him Amen. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

no more hiding.

"Isn't it crazy to think that at one point, the most important thing to me in the whole world was to be able to hide and not be found?" My friend Leslie said that to me the other day. We were remembering middle and high school, playing hide & seek at youth group. Everything in our whole lives hinged on the pride we felt from our secret hiding spots. Girls vs guys hide & seek in the dark. We would strategize, eavesdrop, whatever it took to find more boys than they found of us girls. Some of us kept our same hiding places for years. Years. It was that important to us. We would wait for the boys to come searching, hold our breath as they walked into the room, and not move an inch, our hearts about to beat out of our chests, wanting with everything in us to beat them at the game. It was innocent and carefree, but it was such a big deal to us. As the years went on, my world became much bigger than just not wanting to be found at youth group hide & seek in the dark. But in so many ways, I still like to hide.

Why do we hide? I hide my problems from my host family because it's easier to just crack a joke. I hide from friends because that requires being vulnerable. I hide my hurt, my sadness, and the cries of my heart. I hide my sin because I am ashamed. I hide failure and disappointment with sarcasm. I talk about situations matter-of-factly, without ever having to dive deeper than a baby pool into how I feel about them. I can change any conversation around so that we end up talking about you, or the weather, or a joke, or some abstract question that gets people thinking about anything else besides who I really am, or how things affect me. I love to listen to other people talk about their highs and lows. I genuinely love to learn how other people think, how they process, how things affect them, what they're learning, and how I can encourage them. But when it comes to me, I'd rather hide in the shadows. Let you know the fun Lauren without the vulnerable one. I hide the truth because it's shameful at times. I even find myself hiding behind the right answer- talking to someone about something that's happening but skipping right into, "But God's doing amazing things. He's really working, and I know he's using this." I don't even give myself the opportunity to acknowledge that this is hard. That this hurts. That sometimes I question all of that, and that it leaves me restless.

Fellows has been a process of changing that for me. It has caused me to step out of the shadows. To admit when I'm not okay. To cause me to call up someone when I know I need encouragement, and not just when I know that they do. Leaning on community has been something that I have always struggled with. Maybe it's because I like to fix things, and when I can't, I don't want you to know about it. I don't want to be that person that just throws up their life on you without warning. No one wants to be that person. But if I've learned one thing in the past few years, it's that it's okay to not be okay. 

This past week, I found myself saying, "I just feel tired. Not still recovering from the trip to Nicaragua tired. But weary. Like my heart hurts." It took a lot for me to say that. To not hide behind the smile that so easily gets me out of the "how have you really been" conversations. But how true it was. My heart was overwhelmed with future decisions, with family decisions, with how God is stirring in my heart towards what he has next for me, and overwhelmed with the energy that it takes to be fully in the right now when a lot of changes are happening around me and those I love. Changes for the better, but changes just the same. And overwhelmed with the anxiousness that starts to creep in when one-by-one, other Fellows have their next year planned out and I'm still just trying to survive today. I wanted to run and hide from it all. I was tired. I was weak. The thought of one more cloudy day, or one more thing that I couldn't seem to do right left me feeling helpless. And then I heard Him. "Lauren Elisabeth you are mine. And I love you. Rest." He calls me to rest in Him. To rest in the truth that He goes behind and before. That He comes to me and continuously pulls me out of the shadows and into His arms, reassuring me that He is the Healer. That I don't have to hide my struggle behind expected laughter, but because He holds me, I am freed up to genuinely laugh and to have that joy. That particular day He used His people. Those people that He has so graciously placed in my life that I can learn from and be encouraged by. Those loving people that let me walk in with what seems like 2 checked bags and a carry-on full of my own questions, doubts, restlessness, and heartache and help me begin to unpack and sort through it. I need those people. I need to be those people. Those people that encourage me not to hide because of shame or doubt, but point me to Him in whom "there is no darkness at all."

"The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."  John 1:5

Friday, January 10, 2014


I don't have another word to describe it.
I am a smiling on the outside, world turned upside down on the inside wreck. And I mean that in the best possible way. As I sit here in my longsleeves curled up under a blanket, I think back to just a week ago when I was leaving La Source, sun blazing, sweat pouring, and covered in dirt. 

As I stepped on the boat, I was already missing Pootchy, already missing the 3 children on each arm as I walked through the village, already missing the "LaLa, LaLa dance!" (which I usually willingly did, because any cultural barrier is broken when the white girl from Georgia willingly makes a fool of herself bustin a move). But I'm used to goodbyes. In fact, I've gotten pretty dang good at them over the years. It's not that I don't miss people, I've just gotten used to the "see ya laters" and the weight of knowing that might be the last time you see that person, with the hope that it's not. So what the heck was wrong with me? Why was it so hard this time? 

I walked to the front of the boat and just sat there, alone for the first time in a while. Was it the afternoon-long conversation that I had to have with Pootchy's mom, about honesty and gifts vs expectation, and about what this godmother/godson relationship looks like in relation to the long-term goal of the ministry? Was it the way Pootchy wept in my arms as we waited for the boat, or the way he said how much he loved me and would pray for me? Was there unfinished business of ministry that we were supposed to be doing that week and somehow missed? The playground was complete, and had been dedicated to the village. The children's Christmas party went well. The women's knitting ministry bought more dishcloths than ever before, and even the mission house projects were a success. Commitments to the Lord were made from a few team members and the gospel was shared with the village. Relationships were continuing between us and the village.  Relationships among team members were good. Really, really good. And as I thought about all of those things, I couldn't help but wonder why I was a wreck. But I pushed it to the side, got up, and enjoyed the boat ride back to the mainland. Just think about it later. Well, later came 2 days later in baggage claim (ironic) and I was about to lose it. 

Talking to myself (per usual), I kept saying, "Lauren, you've done this like 7 times. You should be used to this by now. Your left your family to go work at an orphanage for 5 months with people you hadn't met before, and that didn't phase you. Get it together."

As we walked toward the airport exit, I knew that I was leaving some people that I loved dearly, and others that I had just gotten to know in an incredible way through serving together, and was headed back to Bham. And for some reason it just hit me hard. And knowing logically that this is where God has me for the right now and wanting to actually be there are 2 very different things. It's not that I'm not thankful for Fellows, because I am. I am so, so thankful for where God has me and the friendships that I have. For the ministry opportunities here and for the growth that's happening in my life. But going back from a trip like that without anyone to share your inside jokes with, or without people who know exactly what you're talking about, or who don't know how to brainstorm toward future ministry in the village because they don't have a reference point isn't easy. Leaving a place where your family seems to work together seamlessly and heading back to the realities of life is just hard sometimes. 

But even more than that, I think, was the voice of the Lord pointing out sin in my life. Little things that he showed me throughout the week. Things that make you feel like the straight up sinner that you are. As I wrestled with those things, I was reminded of CS Lewis' wise words:

"It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us, it is the very sign of his presence."

And so, for right now, it's ok with me that I'm a little bit of a wreck. I visited Maison (the orphanage that I interned at last spring) a day before the rest of the team came in to Haiti. One boy, Wilson, that I love dearly, was getting to go home with his adoptive family the next day. He looked at me and said, "Miss Lauren, I feel happy and sad at the same time. Wilson gets it. At 9 years old, he gets me. 

And so I say all of that to say, yes it IS worth it. Serving the Lord, where he calls, is worth feeling wrecked. For those of you who went to La Source with me, remember that it is worth your obedience. I don't think that any of us can say that we are exactly who we were before we went. He worked in us as much as he is working in that village. And if you're reading this and didn't go, then GO. To La Source, to the projects, to your neighbor, to your sister, to work, just go. He has called you, and he who calls is faithful. He will wreck you. He will reveal your sin. He will give you incredible friendships. It will not be the easiest thing you have ever done. But I'd rather be wrecked and have my heart broken for what breaks his and sometimes get sad about missing people than sit around and never have experienced the opportunities he has given me. 

"Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger 
In the presence of my Savior"