Over the last few years, you have read about Louis, me, Southern Barton Heights and so much more! I recently spoke to a group of 50 women (and a few men, too) at WOVEN’s Hour to Empower Luncheon, and I felt led to share the impact the community has had on me. Here are 11 things I have learned! These are in no particular order, nor is it an all-inclusive list. My learning is ongoing….nonstop….like a firehose.
- I wouldn’t trade my life, my community for any other community in the world. I love my neighbors. I love the way my paradigms are being challenged and shifted. After Frank was shot, he asked me if I was moving. I went on to tell him – that people asked me that same question when the windows were shot out of my car and my car was stolen. “If I had moved, who would be there for you the night you were shot 9 times? All your friends ran. But, God loves you so much!” As a matter of fact, I recently told a friend – after driving south on 76 during 5pm traffic, “I’d rather have that bullet come through my front window every 6 years than deal with this traffic every night!” And…I meant it. Crazy, maybe. Honest though.
- It’s painful, but necessary, to learn the difficulties of the materially poor. Although I didn’t grow up in the ‘rich’ part of the West End, I have been made aware of how my privilege of education, race, and network provides me. The fact that Louis and I have 2 cars, when 60% of the city population has 1 or no car per household.
- I am reminded at any point, that if I have a tire blow out – I have money in savings. Even if I didn’t, I have multiple friends I can call that could loan me money. For many of my neighbors, everyone they know is also in the same situation. Generational poverty is impactful.
- I take for granted that I had a father and mother in my home. Now, my home life was far from perfect. None-the-less, my father was at home and provided for the family. Kids today are growing up in a fatherless society. So, girls and moms don’t even know what to look for and expect. Respect often has never been modeled.
- I have learned that it is not as simple as ‘pull yourselves up by your bootstraps’, but I’ve also learned that handouts create entitlement. (That statement should offend the Republicans and the Democrats equally. LOL)
- I have learned that the church – as an institution and a body of believers, in many cases, have left ‘loving your neighbor’ up to the government. And we can see that that’s not working out well for us right now. The church has outsourced ‘neighbor loving’ to the government and non-profits.
- I have learned that the materially poor inner-city people want the same things I do…that I would dare say most of us want. Safe, affordable shelter. Good schools. Reliable transportation. Steady employment with a living wage. We aren’t all that different. We are all have sinned. All have fallen short. And we all are made in God’s image. And that being materially poor takes great faith!
- As a bit of a type A personality, I have also learned to leave capacity in my schedule. I need to leave time in my calendar to say Yes to God. Louis and I are praying over our calendar more than ever before.
- As a group of women, I can also share that I have learned that having my house clean and in order is no longer a top priority. I would be exhausted if it were! With the sheer number of neighbors we have coming by along with 2 aging labs, Bella and Wesley, it’s impossible.
- I have learned that I don’t have the answers. Nothing is that simple. It’s actually quite complex. It’s vastly important to ask questions and to listen more than we talk. It’s more important to do things WITH the community not FOR or TO the community. Even though it will probably take much longer, it will be much longer lasting and sustainable.
- Prayer has become an integral part of my life. My passionate pursuit of God has become my #1 priority….well, most of the time. I try to anyway.
Why do you live where you live? What have you learned about yourself, God or your community recently?
2013 held so many ups and downs for Louis and me. There are a few things I still don’t understand….and may never. Hurts that run super deep. I’m the kinda girl who thinks….if I know the ‘WHY?” – I can deal with it better. Nearly a year later, I still don’t know the complete “why”, but one day I will. But, through these challenges, I am continually reminded that God is in control. And, I am ABUNDANTLY grateful for that. On New Year’s Eve, some friends and I closed the year in prayer – sharing our personal testimonies of God’s faithfulness, talking about forgiveness and confession, and looking toward the future. I was reminded that we should embrace challenging times, because it gives God an opportunity to shine even brighter. This was never more true than 2013.
Here are just a few of the highlights of some of the 2013 AWESOMENESS in mostly chronological order. God is in the midst of every moment of our lives, and here are some milestone God moments for us this year…
We started off the year (again!) with one of our favorite gatherings – Annual New Year’s Community Brunch. Be sure to mark your calendar for 1.1.2015, so you won’t miss it! It’s a beautiful day for good food and fellowship!
We also had a wonderful visit from our dear friend, Richard. Louis has known him for 30+ years. They bought a house together and served the oldest housing complex in Charlotte for 5 years together before Louis went off to California to Fuller Seminary.While Richard was in town, he modeled how to love my community and love her deeply. We love this man!
I just love these kids – and the daily lives we live together.
When Louis and I went through challenging times that spanned from February to December, we continued in our faith-building journey…pressing more intimately into God arms, guidance and direction. Grateful for our friends who prayed with us and for us and…stayed close. Not only is God in control, but He’s making all things new… (Rev 21:5) Most of all – He’s making me new again, and again through the refining fire!
Attended TEDxRVA with old and new friends. What a super fun inaugural event!
Made our annual trek to Florida to visit ‘family’ in Miami and Orlando for a conference.
Our Annual Community Easter Egg Hunt. Thanks to the Easter Bunny for making a special appearance! Check out more here >> Candy, Bunny and Eggs…Oh My!
Our Annual Community Memorial Day Cookout. Here >> Memorial Day Festivities
And…I turned 50!!! I have the best girlfriends and husband (and his friends) ever! Louis and some of his guy friends hosted a homemade dinner and served about 25 of my girlfriends. It was a sweet gathering and you can see more here >> How Much Love Inside a Friend? – Shel Silverstein
Another favorite event and partnership with our friends at Hope Church – 2nd Annual Camp Splash! Nothing better than a bunch of water games with a group of kids and teaching the Redemption Story! For tons of pictures and summary check here >> Camp Splash 2013 In Review.
The newest member of the family…Marques, who stayed with us for about 6 months when he relocated here to marry his ‘boo’ on 12.28.2013. As he was busy settling in to the rhythms of living in RVA, teaching and coaching football at Highland Springs, we grew close to him and love him as our own. Here’s his obligatory First Day of School picture! Blessings, Marques and Lori! 🙂
Louis survived 2 knee replacements and 1 hip replacement. Me? I had emergency gall bladder removal – just a little over a week before his first knee! Check out this progress!!! God has equipped an amazing medical team who does awesome work! I’m so looking forward to getting active again!
One of the funnest (is that even a word???) evenings of the year because it was full of spontaneity, good friends….and a modern day miracle! A night I was reminded to say YES! Here >> Just Say ‘YES’
And then, there was that unforgetable night…when a bullet came through our front window, between us and the TV, and into the back wall. This post received more hits than any other post I have written. If you missed it, check it out >> A Night Unlike Most Other Nights and a follow-up post here >> New. Every. Morning.
Halloween is one of the nights we intentionally stay at home and sit on our front porch – meeting our neighbors and having fun! If you don’t have a front porch, you don’t know what you are missing! 🙂 More Fun Here >> Hallo-BOO-ween 2013
A big goal achieved! A Certificate in Nonprofit Management from the Nonprofit Learning Point. Here >> SOOO Excited!
Louis and I love sharing time with others, especially hosting them in our home over a meal and conversation. This is one way we support one of our favorite nonprofits – RCLI — Richmond Christian Leadership Institute. Students sign up for one of 5 or 6 dinners at our home, where we continue to get to know one another and resume conversations on topics from the most recent sessions. To check out more on RCLI >> RCLI Website (Note: Interviews for the next class are coming up this spring! Let me know if you want to know more about this program. I’m a graduate of RCLI’s 2nd year – 2009.)
This Christmas has been full of JOY! What a blessing to go caroling with a team from Church in Restoration! More here >> Fa La La La La
In addition, we had a Birthday Party for Jesus where friends from the community and from a number of churches partnered together to throw Jesus a birthday party! Not only did Santa come, but we had craft time making angels, ate lots of goodies, heard the Christmas story, and so much more! I haven’t posted this yet, but soon will! Be sure to subscribe for updates! Sneak peak:
Lastly, Louis and I announced that we started Into The Neighborhood, our new nonprofit. Much more to come on that, but you can read our latest update by clicking the photo below or you can Click Here For Update.
I’m excited for all that TwentyFourteen holds!
Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
Our annual front yard Halloween gathering! I think the pictures speak for themselves! We had a blast and had a record number of neighbors and friends – old and new, young and old – who came by! It got so busy we couldn’t keep up with picture-taking and candy-giving.
What a great evening for chillin’ on the front porch with the ones you love! I wouldn’t trade this night for anything.
Last night, I struggled to go to bed and to sleep, but at 2am I finally reached a point where I had pretty much finished processing, crying, fussing at God, crying some more, and much more. Especially as I thought about the many evenings I have spent on our front porch, at our dining room table, playing wii in front of the TV with a house full of youth and friends.
Side note: Louis treated me to hot chocolate chip cookies, since Terence hadn’t been around! Gotta love him for doing that for me!!! (Terence – your cookies are still the best!!!)
If you have no idea what I am talking about, then you missed my last post…check it out here>>> A Night Unlike Most Other Nights.
This morning I woke up well rested and with a fresh perspective. God’s mercies are new…every. single. morning. Instead of feeling defeated, hopeless, mad, and lacking peace, I awakened a new person! I thank God Almighty for hearing and answering your prayers and mine! I felt peace that passes ALL understanding.
I was reminded that we live in a dark, sinful, wretched, fallen world that is in DESPERATE need of a Redeemer and a Savior! We need Jesus. I need Jesus. Jesus is the only answer to what plagues our community. And we are in desperate need of a move of the Holy Spirit…of individual and community transformation.
I woke up with a greater desire and almost a compulsion to share about Jesus and Him crucified. I woke up with courage and boldness to cover our streets, our homes, our children, our community, our city in prayer.
So, tonight…at 6pm, Louis and I held a Community Prayer Service in front of our home – at the corner of Barton and Roberts. We had 30+ people (old friends and new from the community and from other parts of the city) praying bold and outrageous prayers covering our streets, our corners, our homes, our children, our community in the name of Jesus. Not only did we pray for our community, but we also spent time just praising and thanking the Lord for His protection, for His blessing, for HIs goodness and faithfulness, and so much more. We ended our time together singing…
In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus
We have the victory.
In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus
Satan will have to flee.
Tell me who can stand before us
When we call on this great name
JESUS, JESUS, JESUS, JESUS
We have the victory!
Our community grew tighter tonight, as we prayed and believed together….as folks just lingered and talked afterwards. We also had a time of individual prayer with one man who wants a new start in life. He’s been shot 5 times over the years and struggles with a lot. We are claiming a victory…in the name of Jesus!
At the end of the evening, I learned something new that I did not know before. I learned the name of the victim. Again…another young man I have known since shortly after moving to SBH. One who has been in and out of my house when he was in middle school, but now about 18 or 19. One who was in our wedding nearly 5 years ago. One who I love, but Jesus loves more.
Come, Lord Jesus. Come.
How much margin do you leave in your life for God-size surprises and blessings? Sometimes we find ourselves running so fast from one thing to another, or planning just how things are going to go that we leave little to no room for God’s unexpected treats and encounters. Last night, I was tempted to let that happen. Again. I am soooo grateful that I didn’t try to orchestrate it too much.
After several days of scheduling, we were finally getting together with a couple who were married just 2 months ago. Mentally, I had it all planned out. They were bringing dinner with them, so it was going to be a super night of NOT cooking, a simple night of just throwing dishes in the dishwasher and a quiet dinner and sweet fellowship including catching and listening to the update on the adjustments of married life, the honeymoon, and life in general.
Change #1 and #2 – Our housemate was home, because his intended was traveling this weekend; and then another friend showed up moments before our friends were scheduled to be here. Immediately I started to think… how’s this going to work? Should we invite them to join us? They…and Louis….were enjoying the football game when the newlyweds walked in. Of course, the groom joined right into the game and the bride and I found ourselves on the front porch while dinner (their incredible enchiladas!) cooked in the oven.
Change #3 – David and 3 other neighborhood kids happened by and asked if we had an air pump for their bike tires. I was so enjoying our quiet time on the porch and was so torn. I was tempted to lie or make up some excuse, but was quickly convicted and confirmed that we did have one. We found ourselves in the front yard attempting to help these kids work on their bikes. Funny thing is…we didn’t do a thing but push the button on the air compressor while they did the dirty work.
Change #4 – The guys willingly left the TV game and came out to take a look at the bikes, to no avail. We need new chains, a new tire and a seat. We need a bike repair clinic if anyone is willing!!! When things were wrapping up, the bride asked the kids if they had eaten dinner yet, to which they answered no. Again, I found myself tempted to make them a sandwich and send them on their way, when I remembered we didn’t have any bread in the house and again I was convicted, and said… “come on in!”
Change #5 – Terence had been over earlier in the day and came back to finish what he had started making in the kitchen. Our quiet, intimate dinner for 4 turned into a dinner for 6, and then dinner for 10 and ended with a loud dinner for 11. For those who have eaten at our table, you understand how how table is really meant to be full…and overflowing.
I love how God works and arranges everything. We had more than enough enchiladas to go around. I threw together another salad to go with one the newlyweds brought. Plenty of brownies to be devoured by all. Just like other nights similar to this one, it was like the fishes and the loaves. Voila! Miracle in the making. No one went hungry. Today…as I reflect on the beauty of last night. At any point, I could have said no, but I started thinking about everything I would have missed if I had. To name a few…
- a night full of laughter and silliness,
- 3 new young friends,
- a full table and a full heart,
- the chance to see God multiply the food before our eyes…again,
- the joy of connecting my friends together (for those of you who really know me…you know how much I love to connect people!),
- an opportunity to talk to the kids about CHAT and East End Fellowship, since 2 of the kids live in Church Hill and
- selfishly, a chance to plug all the wonderful reasons the newlyweds should move into SBH. 🙂
So, here’s a question for you…
When was the last time you slowed down and allowed your plans to be changed and were incredibly blessed in the process?
Enjoy more pictures…
Do you ever get surprised by God? Have your found yourself expecting one thing, and then receiving so much more than you could ever ask for or imagine? That happened to me last week…in a huge way! Camp Splash was last week. Just like last year, the neighborhood kids and the youth and college age students had a terrific time of parachute games, water games, crafts and daily installments of the redemptive story of God’s creation, sin, the Savior Jesus and His bodily resurrection, and how He wants a relationship with us.
We heard the story of how we are reconciled to God through His son Jesus. But, we also experienced reconciliation with one another as we gathered and created community. God’s big surprise was the group of mama’s, caregivers and grandma’s who came to be with their children. They came the first day, Monday. I thought to myself – OK…they are coming to check this out. Not sure if they should leave their children unattended with a group of strangers. I don’t blame them. They just intently listened, watched and took it all in.
On Tuesday, they returned. And I thought – OK – this must be something. Is this God? At the end of the evening, I approached this loving group of women and asked if they might want to meet together while their kids were cared for and taught. They loudly agreed with a resounding – YES!
On Wednesday and Thursday, we met together and talked about our dreams for the community, our kids, our lives. We shared some of our history, our struggles, too. A time of prayer where we lifted our thanks and petitions to our God. By Friday, God was already answering! One person asked that we pray for joy…for peace.
On Thursday, I saw that some of the moms joined in the parachute games before we met together. By Friday, the moms were joining in the messy slime relay game – delivering non-toxic slime from one bucket to the other. Look at the HUGE smiles in these pictures. You can almost hear the giggles of joy. Thanks God for bringing a few minutes of joy and giggles through slimey games! And we know and love where everlasting joy comes from.
Starting this Thursday, we will continue to gather weekly and will start exploring THAT kind of Joy…joy unspeakable and full of glory…and that kind of Peace…peace that passes all understanding…
God-size surprises aren’t always HUGE and fancy. I am learning that God-size surprises may be small…unexpected…something that I definitely can’t take credit for. Something I never saw coming! God-size surprises are often in the everyday walk of life. He cares about and shows up in the mundane, routine, detailed parts of our lives. I love that.
Where do you see God working in your life in unexpected ways? In the routines of life?
Why do I do what I do? Why do I live the way that I live? These are 2 questions that I am asked on a regular basis. Then, I am often ‘warned’ against the many, many things that could go wrong and the risks that I am assuming. Then, I am usually told how unsafe it is and how they could never live like that. This conversation happened in-depth again this week. I am guessing that some of you and many others think the same way, and I want to respond the best that I can. I should say ‘we’ now that I am married, but often times – I tend to be more provocative than Louis… I’m the gas pedal. Louis tends to be the brake.
Why do I do what I do?
Why do I live the way that I live?
Nearly 8 years ago, I felt a calling to move into Southern Barton Heights. I struggled with it a bit. I was not at all used to a community that had such heavy street crime – drugs, prostitutes, shootings, etc. I also wasn’t used to being the minority – one of the few white folks for what felt like miles around. I had no idea what God had in store for me, but I knew that I had a choice to be obedient to what God called me to do, or be disobedient – running, like Jonah. I really didn’t want to end up in the belly of a big fish. And, I was also somewhat excited.
Since that time, I have learned so much about myself, about others, and about God. Louis and I attempt to live in reckless abandon to what God has called us to do. We have good days, and we have bad ones. Let me recap the last 8 years.
8/17/2005 – I bought a house and moved into my beloved Southern Barton Heights; and God made it a home.
8/19/2005 – (Yes, 2 days later.) I meet a bunch of the neighborhood children – when they ask me if I have any kids that can come out to play. We bake and eat a ton of chocolate chip cookies together. We live life together, and I don’t go anywhere alone. To the grocery store – I’ve got some with me. We’d talk about the price of groceries, good eating choices, explaining different types of fruits and vegetables. I’m sure it is not much different from when a parent takes their kids to the grocery store – even down to the ‘put that down’, ‘no, you can’t have that’, ‘come back over here’, ‘stop running’, etc. It wasn’t much later that Miss Marti, Miss Marti’s House, and Miss Marti’s Kids became everyday language.
I’m working full-time and traveling quite a bit for work. Even today, some of the kids, now grown, talk about how they would ring my doorbell, only to be disappointed because I was traveling….AGAIN. The group of mainly boys steadily grows. One comes to live with me after his mom passes and his dad ends up in the hospital. One of the most challenging situations to date.
We are having sleepovers, parties, brunches, and other fun field trips. But, I am no longer doing all the things that I used to do. Movies, dinners out with friends, and fun trips became less and less. In fact, some friends weren’t willing to come to my home because they didn’t feel safe. As time progressed, I am happy to report that my friends feel much more comfortable and will even spend the night!
December 2006 – This life continues until my new mentor, pastor and friend, Don Coleman gives me Luke 10:1-7, which changes my prayer from ‘Lord – will I ever have a husband?’ to ‘Lord – I’m praying for the other half of my pair. Someone who can go on this adventure….carry out God’s mission with me, just as Jesus sent out his folks 2 at a time in Luke 10.’ And, I continue to hang out with the kids, yet I learn that my job and my company is relocating to St Louis, and God tells me to stay in Richmond. I was left wondering how in the world I would pay my bills.
12/27/2007 – God answers my prayer….and I talk to Louis for the first time on the phone and set up our first date. Arranged by God, Don and another friend, Jennifer.
12/30/2007 – I meet Louis for the first time on a blind date….dinner at Edo’s Squid. YUM!
12/31/2007 – God answers another prayer! Louis joins me on our first joint mission – a New Year’s Eve party for some of Miss Marti’s Kids…giving them a safe place to hang out.
1/27/2008 – A guy gets shot 9 times outside the back door on our 4th date. Needless to say – that changed up our date that night…and our lives as we entered into a lovely relationship with the victim (yes, he lived) and his family. Earning some street cred with another population in the community. We continued dating, as Miss Marti’s Kids watched – sometimes way more closely than I would have liked…asking all kinds of questions, usually pertaining to kissing, sex (or our lack of!!), and more. I wasn’t prepped for that one at all! Our “family dynamics” were challenged and shifted as a male adult entered the picture. Many a family meeting were held as Louis’s position in our ‘family’ was challenged, and as Louis and I moved toward engagement and marriage.
12/27/2008 – Louis and I tied the knot and officially start our mission as a married couple. So much has happened since!
12/31/2010 – My position at work finally comes to an end, after being extended several times due to another merger. God was so gracious with me as my identity was challenged, my faith was tested, our finances were being stretched and our spending plan was being tightened. But, God has us on an assignment…in our community and our city. As we engage in organic community/church, Christian Community Development, and living out God’s mission in our everyday, walk around lives. All the while…encouraging and mentoring others to do the same. Walking alongside churches, small groups, individuals, etc. who are trying to figure this kind of life out.
1/1/2012 – Louis and I find ourselves both working without pay for 5 months. We are busy doing God’s work, just not getting paid for it here on earth.
5/20/2012 – Louis has a short stent (10 months) in an interim pastor’s position, which ends in a way that totally surprised us and a lot of other people. But, I know that it didn’t surprise God, and He’s in control. I am grateful for that time. Even though it is marred with difficult times that weren’t at all Christlike or God-glorifying, I am so thankful for the many lovely friends we have made, stories and lives and journeys that we share with so many people who now worship at a number of different locations.
Today – I could complain incessantly about the days that I am frustrated because change hasn’t happened soon enough, because empty chip bags, styrofoam boxes, and ‘urban tumbleweeds’ (black plastic shopping bags from the 2 local stores) litter our streets, because the corner dealer is still slinging heroin 8 years later, because negative influences move in and pollute the minds, souls and hearts of my neighbors and their children, because well-meaning people drop in and out doing more harm than good ‘in the name of Jesus’, because the education system, economic development, affordable housing, mass incarceration, crime and poverty still seem to be rampant.
But, then God gives me a glimpse of how HE is at work in my beloved community. Now, 8 years later, we still have kids (some now 8 years older!!!) hanging out the house and doing life…and joining us in God’s mission. It’s not by hit-and-run ministry, but through new suburban friends who are willing to sacrifice their time to come be in relationship with me and my friends and neighbors. It’s how God pulls 6 neighborhood moms together with me and a couple of suburban moms during Camp Splash to build community. One who stated she prays that we will become a group of moms who will transform the community. Today – the sacrifices and frustrations, the difficulties and challenges, the pain and tears, the loneliness and sometimes feelings of isolation… it’s all worth it.
It takes time.
So…back to the question.
Why do I do what I do? Why do I live the way that I live?
Because just as the Father sent Christ, Christ sent me. I’m about doing the Father’s business, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I was recently nominated for Epoch Award. And they have recently asked, what this nomination means to me. It’s an honor to be nominated and be recognized as an unsung hero… one who could share in $50,000 cash awards that would allow Louis and I to continue to be about God’s mission in our community and to continue encouraging, challenging, and mentoring others to live a radically obedient life that honors God and make the name of Jesus famous. It would help to bridge our finances until another paying gig comes our way. You know, it’s an honor to be even nominated because this isn’t a formal non-profit. It’s a way-of-life. It’s the way we roll. It’s what God calls us to do.
That’s what we want to encourage others to do. Go, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and do what God has called you to do in your everyday, walk-around life.
Love God. Love others. Go make disciples who will make disciples.
It’s that time again! Sign up for our annual backyard Vacation Bible School called…
For more information and pictures from last year…check out this link…
Be sure to RSVP, so that we will have enough supplies for all the youth.
In addition, note that weather permitting…we are having a community cookout on
Friday evening at 7pm!!!
Bring something to share! Thanks!
Louis and I love our annual Memorial Day Festivities!!! This shin-dig started years ago and has grown significantly since. We hung out with a lot of friends and neighbors..remembering and honoring the day. Louis and I provide the grilled chicken, drinks and birthday cake (because my birthday always falls around Memorial Day!)…and everyone else provided the rest….fruit, sides, veggies, salads, fried fish, corn cake, curried chicken, you name it! What a blessing!
Go ahead…mark your calendar for next year….Monday, May 26, 2014….4pm-8pm. I dare you!
Quick side note… My birthday won’t actually fall on Memorial Day until 2021…when I will turn 58. WOW! Now THAT is scary!
Curious to know…for those of you who came,
what was YOUR favorite part of the gathering and why?
Mine? I love connecting my friends to one another over a good plate of food, where everyone had a part in contributing to the meal.