Day 7: Meaning Behind My Blog Name

Life does not progress in a linear fashion. There are assumptions on how life should be ordered, but the older I get the more I realize that’s not going to happen. However, I am grateful. Life is nonlinear and I’m grateful for it.

It’s my nonlinearlife.

If you want to know more about it. Start at the beginning when I have kids with four other women.

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Death of a Youngster

I left my interim home at 8:30am, anticipating being in Temple, TX at 12:05pm. I arrived on time. I was the first one at the funeral. I stood in the foyer staring into the distance at an open casket with a body in it, that did not look like the last time, I had seen him. He was 15. He was 14 when his family left last year. Shot and killed immediately, he had been dead for 10 days.

Before, many others began arriving. I asked the aging pallbearer if I could view him. I only made it halfway into the sanctuary. I stood in the middle frozen, weeping, breathless. I left and walked outside, hoping to reclaim the air that death had stolen from me.

A fleet of cars pulls up. From the first proceeds a slew of family members, ending with his mother. Who looks the same except for her red hair. She looked at me and didn’t know who I was. I walked inside. It was in the foyer that she said my name. She left her family and gave me an embrace and cried. Instinctually and stupidly, I said, “It’s okay.” The words left my lips and slapped me in the face. This is not okay. Mothers should not bury their sons. A family member impatiently pulled her away telling her she needed to sit down. It was thirty minutes before the funeral began.

I walked in and seated myself in a position where I couldn’t see his face. He did not look like himself. In the time before the funeral, you could hear the irreverent cackling of the family. Mom sat alone and detached. She left the room. Moments later, I felt arms around my chest and a head upon my shoulder. It was mom. I immediately wept. I didn’t want to say any of the wrong words this time. I love you. I am so sorry. For twenty slightly interrupted minutes, she shared her sorrow with me. She shared her guilt and her pain. She shared her emptiness. Though I could not fully take them, I was graciously invited to an experience.

She returned to her family. I moved seats. I wanted to be closer to him. Throughout the funeral, the refrain was repeated in my mind, “Where would Jesus be in this scene?” The ceremony felt quick. The church was filled primarily with weeping adolescents processing death and grief. The two officiants used his death as to preach their messages of gun control and serve as a Beyond Scared Straight episode. It drove me insane. The forty or so youth in that service needed comfort. Many of them attended without their parents. The church should have comforted them.

Some of the family members cackled through the hymnals. I could see mom get irritated. The family was full of laughter, but she needed them to mourn with her. We caught eyes in the middle of the service. Seeing her with her family, her life made more sense. I could understand, why she is the way she is.

The service was over. As she arose, she let out the first wail of finality. It won’t be the only one. With every birthday, every Christmas, every Thanksgiving, the year he should have graduated she will wail like this. It hurt to hear it.

As we exited the sanctuary, we passed by his open casket. I finally looked in. Death has stolen his face. His bright honey complexion was greyed. His bouncing curls cut short. His eyes forever fastened closed. His mouth sealed to provide no opportunity for breath or speech. His rosary filled hands folded on his lap, looking out of place for him. He was resting, but it didn’t look peaceful.

I only stayed at the reception long enough to speak to the mother one last time. Then, I left.

The drive back from Temple to Houston was daunting. I played Miles Davis’s Kinda Blue and thought about everything else, but his death.

Death is a thief. I know that Life is a giver. We all wrestle with both. Death felt victorious on November 8th. Life has won the war. To answer the question, “Where would Jesus be in this scene?” I think He would just be there, wrought with sorrow and grief. Consoling the mother. Correcting the family. Comforting the adolescents. Speaking life into death. I am not Jesus, but I pray I was where he would be in this scene.I pray, that I will be that continually.

First Rain Since Harvey Left

It is the first rain since Harvey departed. In his wake, he left ruins that still remain unbuilt. As disastrous as the Houston landscape has been it was merely been a physical representation of the human heart. I have been gutted. Noahic flooding that seems like judgment, but actually is healing. Personally, I still don’t know what to make of a hurricane that felt like that of a Grecian epic. I don’t think it is mine to decipher. I am not the one who controls it.

God is the Author. He is quite the Author, but such an interesting Reader and Listener to the story as well. He placed Himself in it momentarily, but it has always been about Him. He is a mysterious Author. The best books are the one that leaves me wondering what the author was trying to tell me. He has left a Commentary who teaches, but even then, mystery. Divine and material mystery.

I have gone through the gamut of human emotions since Harvey.

Sorrow. Anger. Loneliness. Shame. Envy. Abandonment. Displacement. Fear.

Anger. Loneliness. Shame. Envy. Abandonment. Displacement. Fear.

Loneliness. Shame. Envy. Abandonment. Displacement. Fear.

Shame. Envy. Abandonment. Displacement. Fear.

Envy. Abandonment. Displacement. Fear.

Abandonment. Displacement. Fear.

Displacement. Fear.

Fear.

Those have been my most persistent friends in this season. They are terrible friends; they leech themselves onto me. As I turn to them, they turn on me. I don’t think they have all departed. I still think they linger, but in this moment, I have felt something I have not felt since the flood waters rose.

Hope.

It was by way of a woman I have always admired. How kind is God in the midst of ruins to sift through the rubble.

Good Father,

I am devastated, in both definitions of the word. I have looked inward for so long, that I have lost sight. Your truth is so simple. Your call is so clear. My cross is so much. Teach me to trust. Teach me to bear burdens better. Remind me that you are both the Builder and the Cornerstone. When I burrow into the complexities of the human ego, remind me of the simplicity of the Gospel.

The Good News is the hope for those who have fear.

The Good News is a refuge for those who are displaced.

The Good News is reclamation for those who feel abandoned.

The Good News is gratitude in a heart that envies what is not hers.

The Good News is penitence in the place of shame.

The Good News is the hope of companionship for those who are burdened with loneliness.

The Good News is understanding rather than anger.

The Good News is joy in the middle of sorrow.

I am not fully “telos-ed” by the Gospel today. I will not know if I will be tomorrow, but Mrs. Ellen, thank you for the reminder. I don’t know if you will ever read these words but bless you.

In Christ. By Way of the Spirit. Directed to the Father.

Amen

Hope.

Hope. Refuge.

Hope. Refuge. Reclamation.

Hope. Refuge. Reclamation. Gratitude.

Hope. Refuge. Reclamation. Gratitude. Forgiveness.

Hope. Refuge. Reclamation. Gratitude. Forgiveness. Penitence.

Hope. Refuge. Reclamation. Gratitude. Forgiveness. Penitence. Companionship.

Hope. Refuge. Reclamation. Gratitude. Forgiveness. Penitence. Companionship. Understanding.

Hope. Refuge. Reclamation. Gratitude. Forgiveness. Penitence. Companionship. Understanding. Joy

Displacement

God,

In Harvey’s ending, many people, for the first time, considered what it means to be displaced. I did not. 2014 raced through my head. I saw the hand of believers move to serve me, yet I focused on the depression of that year. Remembering the August night spent in my car, terrified and alone. I dwelled on the isolation of that year. The many nights, I remained in my office hours past close simply to be alone. I concentrated on the loss of that year. Initially, it was a job, a home, and children, but by the end, it was a sense of identity, value, and self. When 2014 ended. I was broken.

When you are displaced you lose much more than a home. You lose a rhythm and a schedule. You lose your daily patterns and cadences with people. You lose your ability to control meals. You lose the ability to shut the door in people’s face. You lose control. The only thing I gained in 2014 was weight. 25 pounds exactly and I still haven’t even lost that three years later.

God, I am at a total loss. My heart lies somewhere in the debris of drywall and flooring. I don’t know if it is even worthy of repair. I do know You are the Original Creative. I know You take chaos and disorder and bring life, sustainable life. Take the chaos of a dismantled heart and bring about life and order. I know I have been distant from You. I have wandered from You, but I need You for You to find me. I am done being prodigal. Be my home.

In the Son. Through the Spirit. To the Father

Amen

 

The Language of “I Love You”/Loving My Teens

I have never met three little words as simple and complex and these. Each individual word is only one syllable, but it is as if every letter carries the weight of Kilimanjaro. Because each word means a million other words.

At the conclusion of my first year of foster parenting, I wrote a post titled Loving Your KidsThis post chronicled the beautiful agonies of loving someone with your whole heart and constantly seeing them go. There are several little boys and girls who will never remember me, but they carry fragments of my heart.  The way a parent loves their child is essentially a replication of how God loves me: unrelentingly, at my worst, sacrificially, unconditionally, furiously, purposefully. I don’t think I ever loved people as passionately and ferociously as those little ones. Until now.

I enjoy my job. It is interesting and beneficial and challenging. However, I love my teens. Working with them reminds me of each and every day of being a foster mama. In dozens of ways, God used working at Casa de Esperanza to prepare me for working with my teens. I look back on my adolescence and having a conversation with my friend Jon Butts. It was about those three little words. I remember in my adolescent melancholy telling him, “If you say I love you too much, people won’t think you mean it.” I still hold to that statement, but it is with the added phasing, “If you show I love you, then people will know you mean it.”

Saying “I love you” communicates you have an affect on me. You. You as you are, are so worthy of love. In fact my love is a gift. I want you to accept it, but if you don’t it is always here. Because in the midst of the cursing and fighting I realize, for me to love my teens it requires absolutely nothing on their part. They don’t have to change. They don’t have to like me. I just love them. Know, I don’t do things perfectly. I trespass against them and am rude. I am annoying, and sometimes don’t know when to back off. However, they respond, I love them.

It is a humbling love.

It is a love that let’s another human call you a b#&$@ and not respond in wrath. 

It is a love that forces you to sit in silence as another human pours out their rage on you. 

It is a love that seeks healing for the brokenness. 

It is a love that makes frightening police encounters opportunities to prove you are there for them. 

It is a love that cries the tears that have already dried on their face. 

It is a love that drives throughout Downtown Houston looking for truant teens

It is a love that when someone yells, “$@&# you” all you want to do is hug them. 

It is a love that allows you to sit and paint the nails of a girl who doesn’t speak English. 

It is a love that moves you from your desk to the basketball court while wearing a dress or a skirt

It is a love that finds opportunities for them to grow

It is a love that lobbies for the best possibilities. 

It is a love that does not look past faults, but corrects them. 

It is a love that sees potential and nurtures it. 

It is a love that opens you up to empathize deeply and many time painfully so. 

It is a love that daily wipes the slate clean. 

It is a love that brings you to a place of utter transparency. 

It is a love that desires to know the deepest yearning of their heart. 

 

I don’t do all of this perfectly. I barely do half of them averagely, but the more I look at this list, the more I realize my Father’s love for me. His love knows and drives and moves and seeks and allows and nurtures and finds and desires and cleanses. And, His love is like this unrelentingly and perfectly with the same intensity at all times. His love is best. We are best equipped to love others when we know many of the ways our Father loves us.

There are dozens teens who probably will never remember me, but there are little mason jars, abbreviated authors, troublemakers, teen mamas, and many more who hold fragments of my heart. My hope and prayer in this moment is that they realize it was never my heart in the first place, but the heart of the Father.

Every Two Weeks

I believe there is a clock, that knows when my payday is. As my payday approaches, without fail something goes extremely wrong, causing me to shell out a large sum of money ($200-$500) to pay for it to be fixed. Air conditioning, tires, spark plugs and coils. Today it is my cell phone. While, in a life proof case my phone descended 3 feet onto the ground. Shattering the digitizer and rendering my phone useless. This is only made worse by the fact that it is a touch screen and on silent. So my alarm continually goes off, but I can only press the snooze button on the side.

I feel awful about it. I rely on my phone for so much communication between my work and family. The moment I realized it was broken, I sort of lost it. I was with my friend Rosie who kindly went with me to Best Buy, and I think that made it even worse…I had a slight meltdown in the store. We came home to eat some Thai food, and I was pretty much done for the day. I could not muster up an ounce of joy. I was frustrated.

All summer, I have worked to pay off the fall semester before it starts. All, summer, I have worked to pay off my credit card. With all these random expenses, it is becoming impossible.

I called it a night earlier than usual. As, I lay in my bed staring into the darkness, I began to pray.

God, help me to see the bigger picture. In the context of today so much has happened. Remind me that my cell phone is not a big deal. Remind me to care more about what is eternal and less of what is temporary. Please don’t allow me to be distracted and miss something so important.

Matthew 6, popped into my head

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Convicting stuff. Now, I don’t think God is upset with me because I’m bummed that my phone broke. However, I do think that allowing a material item to control my entire disposition is a problem. So, yeah. I don’t have a phone. I will probably have to shell out $200 to pay for a new one, but I have plenty reason to be thankful.

  1. I have been able to pay (via credit or debit) for every random expense.
  2. I have been able to still faithfully tithe.
  3. I have other means to contact my family
  4. My car runs better than ever.
  5. I still have income in my account.
  6. All of these expenses happen in a timely manner.
  7. My friends randomly bless me by purchasing movie tickets or dinner for me.
  8. Random restaurants bless me by giving me free food.
  9. I was with an encouraging friend when all this happened.
  10. I can turn to God for comfort even for something as menial as a cell phone
  11. God comforts me with truth for something as menial as a cell phone
  12. My alarm on my cell phone still works
  13. I have the income to pay for a new phone.
  14. God uses silly situations like this to teach me and grow me.
  15. Mom and sister serve me so well in helping through this.

The amazing thing about this prayer is, in a matter of moments, God shifted the entire position of my heart. From complete frustration to a reminder of my reliance on Him for ALL THINGS. I think that is what our lives are meant to be about. We were never meant to figure things out on our own. We were meant to seek Him, because He is so easily found.

#blessed

Torn to Be Healed

Each year is rationed the same number of days, 365. Most of these days are forgettable. Some stand out more than others, even now my heart awaits with tremendous expectation to celebrate the resurrection on Sunday. However, there are days in my life, where something outstanding happened. So outstanding, that as these dates pass it will remind me of a sequence of events. January 7, 2011. September 7, 2012. Today.

If you have followed my blog through 2014, you realized most posts were lamentations. The lament began today. This day is branded on my mind. I remember the tension and the fear in this day. I will recall it briefly.

After months of pushing for change, with passive resistance came Monday. Mondays were busy, I awake and took a flower to school and then zoomed off to school myself for my first semester of seminary. Sunday, there was a conflict, but I thought it was resolved. I thought it was over. I was angry, but I could keep my anger to myself. I could be functionally furious. I could be angry and do my job well. As, I sat in Dr. Hanna’s class that Monday, I received a text from my boss asking me to meet with her the moment I was done with class. This was a normal request, but filled my heart with dread. As his class concluded, I got in the van and panicked. Prayers jumbled in my mind. I could not get my words straight. I did not know what to pray. I was scared.

I sang. I sang “Order My Steps” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness”. I sang songs of His sovereignty over plans. I didn’t know what was in that conference room, but I discerned it was not good. However, when I entered, I felt peace. Not in the knowledge that everything was going to be all right. I felt the peace of God, whispering deeply into my soul, “Tosin, I am in control.” As, I entered the room and the doors closed behind me, I knew I didn’t walk into that room alone. Like, the three Hebrew boys, Christ was with me. Christ’s presence softened the immediate impact of my forced resignation. He is who equipped me in that room to respond in His grace and His love and not my fear and anger.

As, the next 24 hours unfolded, I told my family and friends and situated a place to stay. I reserved a rental vehicle. I packed away 18 months of my life in Houston. And, I left. Not without painful conversations with coworkers and other staff. My heart hurt to bid farewell to the women I had shared 6 months of parenting with. The most painful of them all was explaining to my kids that I was leaving. I walked them to their rooms for their nap. I held my rose, my duck, and my tiny religion and sang to them for the last time. I went to what was my room and wept.

I drove off my only Houston home rejected and began a 274-day process of drifting. My immediate response to the impact was positive. I busied myself. I would treat myself to coffee as I journaled, about new beginnings. I would spend the whole day looking for jobs and apartments. Within two months, I began working at the GAP. I was able to enjoy that season within a harsher season of time. There was one day, however, where the realities of my peril could not be avoided. Where my hope took a massive blow. I woke up on a Saturday morning to go to work. I was staying with a friend and parked my car on the street. As, I turned the corner, I saw items of mine strewn across the sidewalk. My heart rate increased. Glass, everywhere. Someone had busted my windshield to look through my items and steal absolutely nothing. At least nothing that I would not have simply given to them. As, I drove to work, I frantically called my mother (who did not answer) and my sister who did.

I could barely get my words out between the tears, “Someone broke into my car. Why is this happening to me? I didn’t do anything.” Eventually, I calmed. I walked into work, made a joke of it, and went along with my day. It was easy to avoid thinking of it. Until, I clocked out and went back to my car. I drove to Kroger and attempted to create a trash bag windshield for the time being. As people looked at my struggle, I cried. I asked God to send someone to me. He sent a Samaritan, who did not exactly fix my window, but decided to be present in that moment.

I was only at GAP for a month. By the beginning of July, I found a full-time job at Star of Hope. Even that was chaotic. I did not know exactly what I was supposed to be doing with the teens, but I knew their constant fighting was not it. In time, the teens who made my time there hellacious left, two amazing men came, and work became a safe haven. I would work late because, I knew my office and my car were the only places of true solitude that I had.

I between, those days, and now are a blur. Again, some days stood out more than others did. Twice I slept in my car, once in August and again in September. I had my first intense interaction with the police. I almost watched a teen get tazered. I lived on couches and daybeds and mattresses in living rooms. I contemplated walking away from religion (on multiply occasions). I liked several dudes and cried multiple times.

However, I am now able to look back at my experiences last year and see the merely a fraction of the ways in which God has been glorified in it. And that’s what this post is honestly about. It is about giving God glory and given (wo)men thanks.

Working at Star of Hope has been one of the most complex blessings I have experienced. Not because I am the blessing, but because I have been blessed by those who live here. In my first 3 months, the loveliest times I had were in moments where I shared with parents of teens my housing struggles. In response, they prayed for me. It was absurd at times to think that a meeting about their child getting a written warning would end with us praying for one another. It reminds me that those who believe in Christ and have a relationship with Him are not just guests, but they are my family in Christ. A family who keeps me accountable and lifted in prayer.

In addition, in experiencing a season of displacement and at times homelessness, I believe it gives me a way to empathize with people at Star of Hope. In moments of deep depravity, I would stare at my purity ring. I would contemplate taking it off for the night and trading my virginity for a bed in a room with a door that I could close. That is the story of many homeless women, but especially mothers. I never went through with it, but that is a testimony of God’s grace and my weakness.

I desire reconciliation with my former workplace. Mostly, because I love them still. Even the people who fired me I love them and I am grateful to them. I am grateful for 18 months of motherhood. I am grateful for all the lessons I have learned through them. I am most grateful because working there stretched me to love my teens at Star of Hope. I don’t love perfectly. There are days, I get in my car and sigh and acknowledge that I hurt one of my teens. I replay moments when I yelled when I could have been understanding. I see condescending remarks rather than kind words. There are days where I am selfish with my time and spend more time alone than with them, but I love them. I love them when they are annoying. I love them when they fight. I love them when they are disrespectful. I love them when they don’t like me. I love them for where they are. I love them because; I see God’s creativity in them. I love them because they remain strong, but open. I love them because, I don’t think I couldn’t. I love them with their flaws, while in trouble, and in the midst of meeting in my office. I love them without condition. I love them as a youth minister, a sister, a parent, a mentor, and hopefully like Christ.

I hope they know as I challenge them that I love them. With every small thing I point out, I desire for them to know it is not about criticism, but about preparing them to be ready when God calls them to follow Him fully. Like my kids at Casa, I cannot save them, but I believe that there is a God in heaven who can. I believe God can redeem the years of pain they experienced and make them whole. He has already begun redeeming my year and me.

I think that is what this post is about. While last year brought pain, which I still am working through. If it is what brought me here, with my teens at Star of Hope. Then the sleepless nights, the crying, the fear, the pain, the rejection are all worth it.

God, I have never been more scared than last year. I have never questioned You more than last year. I have never been closer than walking away from You than last year. Forgive me. It seems easy to appear strong after a season of sorrow, but you have shown me how weak I am. I am a house made of sand and when a storm came, I drifted. Lord, it was only Your hand that preserved me. Last year should have  destroyed me. If it were not for Your protection, I would have been consumed.

Even now, as I look to Good Friday, I am humbled that You would stoop so low to experience this world in all of its sin and destruction. You saved me. You save me. Why does You love me? I am unrighteous. I am a sinner, but You call me Yours.

God. I am so sorry. I trust You. Let me be a light for Your kingdom. Open my capacity to love You more. So, I can love my teens more. Even now, minister to their hearts. Break down the strongholds that keep them from You. Holy Spirit, You are so much bigger than our present problems. Help us.

Finally, Lord I want to express my love for You. There is no one like you. You are God. You live outside of space and time and my logic and reason. You are my Father. You have been a good Father to me. You have cared for me as a daughter. Where my earthly father falls short, You perfect in your love. You are my Savior. Before, I knew I needed You, You saved me. I have no fear because, You are the one in which I place my trust. You are my Guide. You show me the way I should go. I trust You. I adore You. I love You.

Let me bring honor to Your Name.

“Come, let us return to the LordHe has torn us to pieces; now he will heal us. He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds. In just a short time he will restore us, so that we may live in his presence. Oh, that we might know the LordLet us press on to know him. He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.” Hosea 6:1-3

In Christ’s beautiful name,

Amen

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