Grace Before Social Services

“Grace before Social Services” has become somewhat of a motto in my house or at least in my own mind.  It probably lends more insight into the parenting of my seven, soon-to-be eight, children than I care to admit, but it’s a principle I want to exercise because I so much want others to reciprocate it.  It’s an up-to-date version of “walk a mile in another person’s shoes.”  We don’t do this enough in today’s society.  We barely walk, let alone slip on and lace up another’s kicks on our own pedicured feet.  The tendency of late, is to automatically assume the worst of others and situations.  In general, we lack grace—and grace-before-pic-2dare I say it—especially those of us who self-identify as Christians!  Ever read the comments section on a news story or on Facebook?  Then you know that what I am talking about is true—crushing.  People demanding justice, monolouging online the error of everyone’s way, and the irony of this; this behavior is the exact opposite of what we want so badly. We want people to think and desire the best for us, to conversate with us, and listen to us.  We want cheerleaders, encouragers, mentors, and realistic grace-filled friends. Grace-filled strangers would be even better.  Amen?  However, it seems that the exact opposite is happening.  Empathy has seemingly left the building and armchair activism has taken its place.

One of my friends works at a child development center.  She adores her job and all the little ones she gets to love on.  It suits her mama bear personality well.  As she was recounting various stories to me about the darndest things kids say and the crazy things they do, she told me about a little guy that shirked away from her when she reached for his arm to get him out of harm’s way.  She inquired as to what was wrong with his arm and he told her he had a really awesome tattoo and his mom removed it.  My friend asked if she could see his boo-boo and as he lifted his sleeve, she could see that his bicep was red and swollen and even looked a bit blistered.  Probing deeper, she asked how his mom removed it. He replied, “with an eraser.”

Gasp!  I am sure that as you read this you are probably grabbing your chest in horror as you imagine an angry mumbling mom with a Papermate Pink Pearl Premium eraser rubbing aggressively on a preschooler’s arm.  At least that’s where my thoughts went. I was hoping that my friend dialed the phone right then and there to Social Services.  This woman was obviously dangerous.   Concerned, she continued her Sherlock Holmes style investigation and found out the eraser was the white Magic kind, which left the little guy with a chemical burn in place of his temporary tat.

Magic Eraser!? The brakes of my pessimistic imagination came to a screeching halt and I told the lynch mob in my mind to lower the pitch forks for a hot second while I figured some stuff out, because maybe this mom was—even bigger gasp—like me. Say what you will, but this tattoo removal process suddenly made complete sense to me.  The seemingly grace-before-pic-1harmless rectangle that removes crayon from my wall would probably do an amazing job getting off those supposedly temporary symbols that taunt me with their longevity; lingering on my kid’s skin for weeks like bad perfume in a cheap motel. I am not promoting using household cleaning supplies for eradication, because chemical burns are a real thing, but if I’m being honest, I would have totally done this!  I was most likely three or four kids into life before I learned about the danger of chemical burns.  Did this make me a bad mom? No it made me a naïve one and there is a difference.

The realization that this could totally be my story, pushed me to stop and ask if they had ever suspected abuse before?  “No. Nothing.” My friend answered, “In fact, she’s really great with him and always sweet to the staff.”

She continued to tell me that she called in coworkers to examine his arm, they took pictures and prepared to call the Child Welfare Department, but first someone suggested they phone the director of the center who was on vacation.  At this point in the story I am hanging on every word and cringing, because what if the mom really did have a lapse in judgement? Was the government going to take away her boy for an unintentional mistake? The crisis was adverted when the center director after reviewing the photos and hearing the details, told them to record the information in his file and to talk with the mom to see if the stories matched.  At the end of the day, they erred on the side of grace, before making a possible life-altering phone call. When asked that evening, the mama embarrassingly shared her mistake and thankfully she left the center with her little guy to enjoy dinner together and their normal bedtime rituals.

I am not trying to downplay the possible seriousness of the matter, the potential for abuse is a reality, and there is definitely a time to phone our friends at Social Services. What I am suggesting is that before we call assuming the worst of someone, before we write an outline for our standards on how to be better humans, could we speak in love with individuals, entertaining the thought that there might be more to the story?  Could we slip our foot into the shoe of another for a moment and consider the process that led up to the now?

Eugene Petersen’s The Message phrases the words of Paul in the beginning of Galatians 6 perfectly and points to a life embracing the “Grace before Social Services” principle:

“Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.”

  • Live creatively, because empathy requires imagination.  To be able to identify with others and their possible motives for their actions we need to imagine what they could be feeling or thinking.  It’s grown-up imaginary play or as I prefer to call it, mind LARPing (Live Action Role Play, minus the costumes).  Whether we realize it or not we do it all the time.  For example, my son, Jace, is late getting home from work and didn’t reply to my text, it’s raining outside and I am certain he is dead in a ditch on the side of a windy back road.  In my mind, I see the police car turning in my drive, a knock on the door by a uniformed officer has me collapsing to the ground on the entry carpet between a pile of coats and boots wondering if he suffered for very long before meeting Jesus.  Here’s another one; my friend hasn’t responded to my texts and she always replies quickly.  I glue the phone to my hip waiting for the magical “you’ve got a text” chime, but meanwhile I begin a laundry list of possible offenses I could have committed, because surely that is the only reason she wouldn’t reply.   We don’t know the reality of the situation but we build off of what we know, our past experiences, or worst yet, our fears to answer the unknown. Our creativity is wasted on the negative, but what if instead we ran the situations through a positive filter.  Our thought life would dramatically change and go something like this; Jace is a responsible kid and a defensive driver I’m glad he doesn’t answer my texts when he is driving. Maybe with it raining like it is, he is helping salamanders cross the roads before they get hit by cars. Such a good kid.  My friend must have taken the homeschool lessons to the outdoors on this beautiful day or maybe she ran to the post office with that pile of packages in her office, I know she’s been putting it off.  I’ll check back in a couple hours after I get dinner ready. This way of thinking allows our creativeness to assume the best of others and ourselves.  The reality of the situation is still unknown but our imagination crafts a story framed in grace by utilizing what we know, past experiences and our hopes, not our fears and paranoia.
  • Restore others. If you believe in Christ and have been walking with him for a while you know there is nothing beyond his restorative power.  We need to speak that power over people, because restoration is encouraging.  Believe it or not most people are aware of their faults and mistakes, we don’t need to set up pie charts and board meetings to make everyone else aware.  What most don’t know is that beyond the faults and screw-ups there is a hope and a great love.  Another translation says to “gently and humbly help the person back on the right track.”  Judgment is far from humble or graceful and it’s not our job, most of us want it to be, so many of us think we are chief judge (ahem, comment trolls), but the truth is, it belongs to God alone. Ironic that most tattoo parlors get that word out about this better than churches, “Only God can judge me.”  Don’t go collecting the unemployment check yet, we still have a job; love God; love people—want for them the same stuff you want for you. Simply put; Praise God!  Encourage folks! If you don’t have anything nice to say, figure out something nice to say!
  •  Examine yourself. Maybe, just maybe it is possible that you could wind up in the same situation.  “Well, Erica,” you might be thinking, “your example of the mom was an accident, she didn’t know any better, what about people who choose to do sinful things?  I know better, that wouldn’t be me.”  To that I reply, “Oh, do you now?”  Funny how we know things are wrong, but yet we do them anyway.  My boy Paul says in Romans 7, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.  Instead, I do what I hate.”  Every morning I wake up with the best intentions of being a great person and living for God and then I walk out my bedroom door.  Life comes at me and the battle with my sinful nature begins. I know it’s not right to speed, but I’m late for an appointment and I push the gas pedal a bit further than allowed.  I know I shouldn’t yell at my kids, but for the fifth time this week an entire roll of toilet paper has mysteriously found its way into the commode and one of my precious offspring has decided to repeatedly flush in an effort to help.  Maybe for some it’s bigger than plumbing induced screams, maybe it’s I know I shouldn’t take a hit of this joint or my nightly glass of wine is turning into a nightly bottle of wine, but I just need to make it through the crazy that is my life.  Or, I know that this relationship is not healthy but this guy at work seems interested in getting to know me for me and it makes me feel young and important again.  Failure and mistakes are not very far from any of us, in fact they are like mythological sirens singing to us waiting for us to follow their songs, disguising the dangerous as harmless or necessity.
  •  Stoop down, reach out, share burdens.   You might be thinking, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”  You’re right, we don’t have time for it.  You’ve got to make time for it.  Reaching out and sharing burdens means relationship.  It’s tedious and time consuming and most times really hard work, but all good things are.  Wanting the best for someone, like really truly wanting the best for another human, means giving the best of ourselves and get this, giving the worst too.  We are not saviors, Jesus has that job. Remember ours?  Lovers.  We are called to love God and love people.  So instead of pretending we have our crap all together we need to be honest.  Share our struggles, our weaknesses, our failures because this is what makes us human.  This is what makes us relatable.  This is what makes real relationship.  When we humble ourselves and begin to let people see behind the velvet curtain of our lives, our God suddenly become more attainable and their lives might not seem so sucky after all.  People don’t need handouts they need hands out to help lift them up and then, at least for me, I want that hand to hold mine and journey with me at least for a little while.
  •  Don’t think yourself better than.  In Deuternonomy 17 Moses relays the message from God that if when they enter the Promised land and are tempted to get a king then they need to make sure that he copies for himself “this body of instruction” which were the laws of the time.  The newly selected King would need to do his copy work in the presence of the Levitical priests for accountability.  After he wrote it all down, which certainly had to be a task, that scroll had to always be with him and he was to read it daily because as Moses wrote, “this regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens.”  (Deut. 17:20) I profess to know pretty much nothing about monarchial societies, but I would assume that the king of a kingdom would definitely carry some leverage and would be held in higher esteem by the people than an everyday worker.  However, in God’s plan he says the king and the peasant are equal.  In Proverbs 22:2 It says, “the rich and the poor have this in common; the lord made them both.”  Children’s author Taro Gomi puts it this way, “Everybody poops.”  God wanted to make sure that the king should not think or feel he is above everybody else, there was an equality regardless of class, assignment, or position.  People, we’re equal.

Grace before Social Service. This motto, isn’t for chumps and it can’t be done alone.  We need others to encourage us when life gets tough, to help us up when the world beats us down, and share stories so that we know we are not alone.  Most of all we need God to help us live creatively and love well, because this is hard stuff and it stretches us outside the safe boundaries of our comfort zone.  It also knocks us off the pedestal we have unintentionally, or maybe even intentionally, found ourselves upon.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:1- 2 that if we don’t judge others, we won’t be judged.  However, if we choose to not heed the warning and start dispensing our arbitrary opinions, well then we need to be prepared, because the standard we use in judging others is the same standard which we will be judged by.  Together we can do this.  We can extend one another grace before assuming the worst of each other and in doing so can avoid causing additional harm.  We’ve got to love, it’s that simple.

Here’s some additional encouragement:

Galatians 6:2-3 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.

1 Corinthians 10:24 Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.

Galatians 5:14 For the whole law can be summed up in this one command:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

1 Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude

Choosing a Word

I’ve chosen a word for my new year.

I’ve never done that before, but I know scores of others have selected a word instead of making a New Year’s resolution to keep them focused and headed in a direction they wish to go and want God to take them. Mine came before 2017 even hit, it started late in November, when twinkle lights started to appear on trees in the neighborhood windows.

I tend to be a bit more reflective during the Christmas season, perhaps bordering on melancholy, and this year was especially so. I was overwhelmed with the thought of buying my kids more stuff and them receiving more stuff from family members when my living room and their bedrooms already lay in shambles. I was questioning all things Christmas and trying to figure out how all our traditions and decorations really fit into our belief of honoring a Savior who came and is coming again. Even in my struggle, I allowed the kids to decorate the house for Christmas and because of my holiday funk, I did not withhold certain sentimental decorations I had protected from tiny hands in the past. Within the first week several of them were broken and I buried them beneath used coffee filters and paper plates. At first I shed some tears at their internment, but then as more snowmen and Christmas mice gathered into the plastic bag graveyard I didn’t care—I actually wanted to dump it all in there. I wanted to sweep furniture tops of holiday cheer and rip paper snowflakes off of walls and just be done with all of it except for a simple lit tree. I didn’t do it. I felt torn between simplicity and emotional guilt. I kept the decorations on practically every flat surface of my home so the children could enjoy holiday whimsy, but soon hallelujah angels and joyful shepherds from years gone by were heading to their final destination of a landfill.

It’s no secret that documentaries lead to major life changes for me, hence the reason our family has been vegetarian for over four years. A week before Christmas I watched a documentary on minimalism titled Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. Something in me started to churn and I began to understand what my internal conflict was stemming from. I have always found the lifestyle of a minimalist very appealing, yet impossible. I love stuff and although I try not to shop big box stores for things other than food, I frequent thrift stores at least every other month and come home with a haul of treasures. The other reason I think becoming a minimalist is farfetched is because we are a family of ten. I can easily limit my stuff and the babes in my belly, but everyone else needs to weigh in on their belongings and they aren’t going without a fight. Regardless, I thought I could work on me and I started in my closet and I got rid of two big trash bags full which didn’t appear to make a dent. Frustrated by the lack of visible progress I felt defeated. Brynna gently reminded me that, “progress is progress, no matter how small.” Encouraged, I kept going.

I began looking for more tangible results; I moved to the bathroom counter and ruthlessly tossed lotions never used and makeup from years ago. My counter that was once covered in half empty containers, disgarded clothing and jewelry, and beauty products was now totally visable. When I walk into my bathroom, I feel the difference, I feel sane and I like it. I didn’t get rid of every decoration or every lip gloss, but I did get rid of the useless and ugly. Some might claim this not to be minimalism and honestly I don’t want to label myself something restrictive so have decided that instead of aiming for minimalism I could shoot for a more doable goal of simplifying.


That’s my 2017 word.

I have been taking life a drawer and a shelf at a time and pairing down what I don’t need, what I don’t think is beautiful, what doesn’t make me feel good, or that I don’t think I will realistically use. I am currently over 12 trash bags of clothing and housewares to a local mission and several eBay sales into the process of simplifying. I am working on my stuff, but letting everyone know what it is that I am doing in hopes they will jump on board. The results are becoming visible too. Some of the children are more hesitant about the shedding of items than others, but they too are making small steps. To make it more understandable I have been reading a children’s book every day with the younger kids that has a simplifying/minimalistic theme and sharing what God’s word has to say about our stuff and our hearts.

Here are the books:

The Biggest House in the World by Leo Lionni is the story of a snail who learns that bigger can be crushing. My kids are still talking about the surprise ending of the story within this story.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch is a tale of a princess who loses her belongings, but never her wit or the desire to do what is right. The book and illustrations look a bit dated, but the lesson learned is timeless.

The Gift of Nothing by Partick McDonnell is about a cat who wants to honor his friend who has everything by giving him the gift of nothing. Simple drawings add to the charm of this short story.

More by I.C. Springman a sweet story with fantastic illustrations about a bird and his treasures.

The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau won book of the year for a reason. This story has artwork that could draw you in for hours and the storyline is even more powerful. Having it all does not bring happiness.

Too Many Toys by David Shannon is probably most humorous for parents as it pokes fun at all the trouble we go through in trying to get our kids to part with toys. The story is a good jumping point for discussing how we acquire so much and the importance of imagination.

Next to read on our list is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. A classic story from 1943 that skillfully shares what is really important in this life.

The Bible verses we have been discussing so far are:

Luke 12:15 “Then he (Jesus) said, ‘Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.’’

1 Timothy 6:5b-8 “…To them, a show of godliness is just a way to become wealthy. Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.”

Matthew 6:19-21 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven where moths and rust cannot destroy and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”

Matthew 16:26 “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”

Mark 10:17-22 “As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus asked. ‘Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: “You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.”’ ‘Teacher,’ the man replied, ‘I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.’ Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. ‘There is still one thing you haven’t done,’ he told him. ‘Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”

I’ve been studying and meditating on these scriptures as well, trying to muster courage to part with inanimate objects that clutter my house and heart, that have sat on shelves for fear of hurting someone’s feelings or afraid that I will forget the significance of the moment associated with the memory the piece instills. Even more so, I have been analyzing my actions and activities that keep me from the important moments of investing in people and creativity—there are too many of them. Things need to change, things need to get simpler because the things life throws at us certainly aren’t going to.

2017 has me working toward my word for the year, “Simplify.” I don’t think I will meet minimalist status, but I recognize everytime I choose not to buy or bring something into the house; with each item that finds its way to the trash or goes to charity; by the paring down of unnecessary activities my life becomes a little bit simpler and my hope is that I draw closer to my family and my God.


Hey I would love it if you chimed in on the topic! I’ve been reading/listening to books on minimalism; The More of Less by Joshua Becker and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. If you know of any books, children or adult,on the subject that have impacted your walk toward simplifying let me know.  I would also love to know the Bible verses that speak most to you about simplifying.

Lines and Gardens: Stories of Slavery

Stateline Rd. Nottingham PA

I live a few miles south of the Mason Dixon line, the perimeter that served as a resolution in the border dispute between Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania in the mid 1700’s. Later the line became the boundary that separated freedom from slavery; the imaginary divider that caused very real division between the North and South, between brothers. Many of the markers originally placed between 1763 and 1767 have disappeared, but in certain places the original stone monument-esque markers remain standing. Aside from these reminders which were originally placed every 5th mile along the line there was no physical barrier, no wall, that kept anyone or anything from crossing to the other side. Yet being born on the northern side of the line meant freedom for many. It meant a different view of humanity.

In a small settlement, located north of the line, called Nottingham lived two sisters with the last name of Parker. Their first names were Rachel and Elizabeth. They were African American and they were free, but a slave catcher, named Thomas McCreary, without an eye for detail and a hunger for money would soon change that. He would claim that they both were runaway slaves and he would drag them across that imaginary divider, the one that had for the previous two generations before them, kept their family safe.

Both young ladies were employed as domestic servants for neighboring farmers and their family was known by locals and even the slave catcher knew of them as his primary job had him delivering mail to the area. Elizabeth was only 10 and with the cooperation of her crooked employer, she was boxed up and sent to Baltimore to be sold into to slavery for the price of $1,000. In contrast, Rachel, age 16, was defended by her lady employer, Rebecca Miller. After the mailman/slave catcher requested to speak with Rebecca, McCreary entered the home at Rachel’s invite. After being welcomed into the home, he forcibly grabbed Rachel as Rebecca tried to fight him off and her four children gathered in the room screaming for the release of the young girl they had most likely known for their entire lives. Joseph Miller, the man of the house, hearing the screams ran as fast as he could from the other end of the property to see what was going on, but the undoubtedly frightened Rachel was already loaded on the wagon and McCreary was wielding a knife. Joseph attempted again to rescue the girl with the assistance of a neighbor who blocked their getaway with his farm wagon, but both men backed off when McCreary and his accomplice again brandished weapons.

Joseph and four of his neighbors continued the pursuit on horseback as they rushed to the closest train station, located in Perryville, Maryland, 16 miles away. The train had already departed before they reached the tracks, but by the sovereign grace of God, two friends of the Millers, Eli Haines and a young man named Wiley, who were on their way to Philadelphia recognized Rachel and quickly switched trains to Baltimore to keep an eye on her and the captors. They knew their neighbors well and that a search party would be on the way to rescue the girl. They planned to keep track of the young lady and assist by giving the rescuers directions to her whereabouts upon their arrival. I would like to think that the gentleman’s familiar faces and presence on the train was noticed by Rachel and that it brought her a sense of strength and hope for what was to come. The very next train brought the rescue party and with the help of Eli, Wiley, and a local Quaker Friend they quickly formed a plan to rescue her from her newest reality, a slave pen, the temporary holding grounds where slaves were kept before being sold. The Quaker was well acquainted with Campbell, the owner of the slave pen, and when approached by the team he willingly released Rachel into the hands of her grateful rescuers. As pragmatic men and believers in justice, they took Rachel to the jail house for her safety and to await the hearing of her case, with hopes her release would be imminent. With nothing more for the men to do at the jailhouse and with optimism running high they went to the Quaker’s house for a celebratory dinner.

The Quaker Friend knew the men would be targets for the angry slavery advocates and he devised a route for them to safely arrive at the train station under the cover of darkness. The rescue team was warned to not leave the group at any moment, but with a false sense of security, Miller left the group before the train pulled out to smoke a cigar on the busy train platform and he disappeared. The rescue party’s feelings of hope and happiness soon turned to panic and fear. Young Wiley, being the least known in the matter at hand, ventured throughout the cars in search of Miller but he returned without finding him.

Freemont Rd Nottingham PA

Joseph Miller was found several days later hanging in a tree, declared suicide by Maryland newspapers. His friends and family did not believe such a preposterous claim and went to Baltimore to bring his body home. Upon arrival, they were directed to a 2-foot deep grave where Miller was interred in a primitive box that allowed dirt to fall around his dead body. His friends had a proper coffin made and traveled home with his body via train. Miller did not Rest in Peace though, as his body was exhumed several times thereafter to perform autopsies. Miller’s death was no suicide, his body bore the marks of manacles around his wrists and ankles, he had rope burns around his waist, signs of a torture device being hooked to his nose, he was drenched in arsenic, explaining why his bowels and stomach were completely empty of the earlier celebratory meal; he had retched everything up. Lastly, he was hung from a tree, a message that spoke loud and clear to the abolitionists of the North.

The story of the Parker sisters’ kidnapping is horrific. I cried more than I care to admit learning about and imagining this story, not only for the betrayed Elizabeth and the terrified Rachel; children ripped from all they had ever known and taken to a “land” that believed them somehow to be less-than-human. I also cried for the frightened fighters mustering courage to do what was right in the face of evil; the mama, Rebecca Miller, pounding dainty fists on the post man, the Miller children raising their voices in opposition to their friend being drug from their own home, the neighbor who tried to stop a reckless wagon, the travelers who changed their plans to be the eyes of the rescuers they had faith would come, the Quaker Friend who used his connections and his hospitality which later earned a brutal beating by pro-slavery thugs, Joseph Miller and his friends who didn’t know what to expect but knew they had to do something.

Micah 6 asks:

“What can we bring to the Lord? What kind of offering should we bring him? Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves? Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins? No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.”

As Christians we complicate things so often. We think we need to be extravagant and showy in what we do and say for God, but the requirement expectations are simple, albeit difficult. Seek justice, mercy and humility as we walk through life with God.

I want to live beyond myself like the courageous folks surrounding the Parker girls. Unfortunately over 100 years later people are still treating others as less than, as property, as pawns in a game of power and riches. In 2016 there are more slaves than any other time in history, an estimated 20.9 million people being forced to work in the sex and labor industries. I want to not only recognize what is right, I want to do it; I want to ooze compassion and forgiveness; I want a humble God-stride, to give him credit for every step I take. Yeah, I really want that life, but if I could be transparent for a moment, Joseph Miller’s death scares me. Like really, really scares me. I want to think that if I am doing what God says that I get a guarantee of safety, that my days will continue until I’m old and gray, but with Christ, safety is not guaranteed.

In fact, Jesus says in Luke 9:23-24, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake you will save it.”

Walking with God does not equate our safety; walking with God equates furthering His Kingdom.

There is a Mexican proverb that I love, it says, “They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.” Joseph Miller’s death in 1852 was tragic and assuredly devastated his family, but his death sprouted up a garden of bravery in the face of injustice as 79 men and women from his local area traveled more than 50 miles across an imaginary line into a hostile environment to testify on behalf of Elizabeth and Rachel Parker. Justice prevailed and the girls returned home to their mother. Miller’s death also spurred the abolitionists of the North to pursue their fight with even more fervor, the stakes were higher than ever and they knew that freedom would not come without a price, they knew that the line dividing freedom and slavery must become a thing of the past, that along with justice, mercy, and a humble walk with God, they needed unity. They faced fear head on and with courage they took the risk that if they did what was required, no matter the outcome, there would be gardens for the future to enjoy not lines of division.

This is what is required of us.

The fascinating story of the Parker sisters and Joseph Miller can be found in detail at the links below:

Explore PA History

Mainline Today

Also in this book (not an affiliate link): Stealing Freedom Along the Mason Dixon Line by Milt Diggins

Worshipping Crap gods

bumsI would not claim to be an expert in Scatological studies, or any studies for that matter, but let’s face it with seven kids, one of which is still in diapers, and living on a small farm I deal with fecal matter more than the average person.  Maybe our experience with poop is not the same, but I think we can probably agree that it’s pretty disgusting.  Smell, sight, sound—all very unpleasant.  Makes sense because poop is all the worthless parts of what we have ingested.  We put food in our mouths and as it travels through our bodies, our bodies are intuitive enough to separate and utilize everything that is usable and needed for growth and sustainability.  All the parts it deems non-beneficial is excreted from the body as waste.  Dispersed as no value added. As disgusting as waste matter is, it is a necessary part of our life.   If it were left inside our bodies crazy things would happen; we would become very ill and some extreme cases of non-elimination have led to death.

Hopefully crap-2you have stuck with me through that first paragraph and I didn’t lose too many of you with such potty talk, but the disgusting nature of poop needs to be addressed in order for us to understand the seriousness of what God is trying to drive home in 2 Kings.  2 Kings is an Old Testament book of the Bible that provides snippets of insight into the royal lives of those ruling over the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.  One such king was Hoshea.  He was the last King of Israel and he did evil in the sight of the Lord. Chapter 17 tells us that King Hoshea was being forced to pay a really oppressive tribute to the rival kingdom of Assyria.  Tired of paying the tribute, Hoshea began to feel a bit bold and decided to partner with the king of Egypt to rebel against the controlling Assyrian king.  When the Assyrian leader figured out the treachery that was occurring, it didn’t end well for Israel.  He imprisoned Hoshea and exiled some of the people of Israel to his country.  2 Kings says, “this disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshipped other gods.”  Publicly and in their hearts the people of Israel had sinned greatly against the God of their people for years and, well, God was getting tired of it.  Scripture goes on to say in verse 12, “Yes, they worshipped idols* despite the LORD’s specific and repeated warnings.”   Anyone notice the *?  I love to find asterisks when reading the Bible because it usually means that there is something at the bottom of the page that is about to shed some insight on the situation.  In this case it sheds a lot of light.  The word used for idol in this particular verse is “gillulim” which according to the footnotes in the NLT version of the Bible is a Hebrew term which literally means round things and is referencing dung.  It was rarely used in the Old Testament, but when it was it was to evoke a response of repulsion.  The word typically used for idol is the word “atsab” which simply means “image”.  The profit Ezekiel liked to put the word “gillulim” down in his writing to prove a point and even though scholars are uncertain of the authorship of 2 Kings we can be assured that he, like Ezekiel, wasn’t afraid to be contemptuous.  He used this particular word meaning “dung” or “ordure” to drive his point home and offend the hearers of his words.  I’m going to drag this out a bit more and let you think about the true meaning of these words because dung doesn’t carry that much power in this day and age and it’s easy to gloss over. Let’s see if any of these synonyms conjure up a feeling of disgust for you:  manure, muck, excrement, droppings, stools, dump, scat, cow patties, horse apples, ka-ka, sewage, dog logs, crap.  “Gillulim” wasn’t cutesy like, “poopsie in your panties”, rather it grabbed attention like if your pastor stood up in front of the congregation on a Sunday morning and said, “Stop worshipping sh*t”.     Offensive, right?  This is what the Israelites were worshipping according to the author; disgusting worthless waste.  Now ancient god worship was weird and they definitely did freaky stuff to satisfy the false gods of their time, even offering their sons and daughters to carved images, but they weren’t literally worshipping someone or something’s dung.  The author of 2 Kings was laying it out for the people of Israel about how truly foolish and more importantly how sickening their worship of the false gods was to the one REAL God.  The people of Israel knew of the great deeds of their God’s rescuing hand.  They knew who could sustain them and who was beneficial to their lives, yet they chose to hold onto crap gods.  2 Kings 17:15b says, “They worshipped worthless idols, so they became worthless themselves.”

Ouch.  We take on the characteristics of what we worship!?!

This is what happens when our priorities are wrong.  We forgo the good and elevate crap to god status.  I am only sharing this because when I read it, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  I was reading the words on the thin pages of my duct tape covered Bible and I felt the unmistakable impression that God was saying to my heart, “Erica, you are worshipping some sh*t and despite my warnings you hold onto it like it is life giving.”  I am not a person who cusses. They aren’t my go-to words when hurt or angry and they never pepper my everyday vocabulary.  The only reason I can imagine that I felt God was saying that, was he wanted me to be affronted by my actions and priorities.  God is good and mighty and jealous.  You might be asking, “Jealous?”  Yes, jealous.  Right now, stuff away any images that might creep into your mind of crazy girlfriends keying trucks or ex-boyfriends threatening new handsome beaus.  This is not human jealously.  It is not sinful and self-seeking.  God loves us so much he doesn’t want to see us waste our time on thinchickens-in-yardgs that don’t bring growth.  He knows of our potential and wants us to live up to it.  And unlike immature humans reacting out of pain, he is jealous out of a selfless all-consuming love for us. A love so grand he doesn’t want to see us spend our time and affection on crap.  Also and more importantly God is totally aware of who he is.  He is the Creator, the Supreme, and he knows there is nothing that is in his league—he has no competition.  When we elevate grossly inferior things to a place of honor in our lives it is an insult and his jealousy burns for that place in our hearts.

Modern day idolatry is all around.  In some cases, we readily recognize its power and control in the lives of others, as in the case of drug or alcohol addiction or Beyonce fandom, but typically we can’t identify idol worship easily because it is such common place.  Here’s what you need to know about idols, they exist if you don’t have God at the center of your worship and you WILL fill his place with something nearby.  You will.  You just will.  We are made to worship and if it’s not God it’s something else.    True story.   The things on their own don’t have to be blatantly evil and maybe their prevalence makes them all the more insidious.  Kyle Idleman wrote a fantastic book entitled, gods at War.  In this book he speaks in depth to the idols of our society; food, sex, entertainment, success, money, achievement, romance, family, and self.  Personally I struggle with elevating a few of those to a position above my Savior.  I look to them for value, affirmation, escape, meaning, and answers.  Sometimes they deliver, but in comparison to where I could be looking for answers, in comparison to God, they are steaming piles I have placed on pedestals.

The god of me is a huge struggle on my part.  I battle insecurity every single time I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and at times I am so preoccupied with thoughts of what others think of me and my writing that I am paralyzed from pursuing what I want to do or the belief that I am called to do this.  Idleman says, “You can’t help but be self-conscious, because when you’re god, it’s all about you.” If God were in his rightful place above self in my life, then I would recognize that regardless of the opinion of others, despite the fact that people might complain and question my relationship with Christ because I used a four-letter word, would be irrelevant.  I need to push back against my fear, place myself in a position of worship to God and not self and do what I am called to do, because we all know haters gonna hate.

Another crap god I worship is, embarrassingly, social media.  I love Instagram.  I use it as a personal photo album, it inspires me, I connect with long distance friends, and I use it as a creative and emotional outlet.  However, there are times it consumes me, robbing me of precious time, feeding jealousy, filling my mind with negativity and discontent, and it disconnects me from what is happening in my own home–sometimes for hours a day.  At that point it is taking supremacy over God, his truths and his ways.

crapThere are certain things that we should never put into our mouths, and then there are things that are good and nutritious; things that benefit, grow, and sustain us.  Even these wonderful things though are by God’s design stripped by our bodies of the unusable and shed as waste.  There are things in this life that when we consume them physically, mentally, and emotionally can enhance our relationship with Christ.  We take the things that benefit and grow us, notice I didn’t say make us happy because there is a difference, and allow them to nourish our souls. However, when we try to hold onto every piece of whatever it is, we begin to make it into an idol.  When it is so important that we can’t let anything from it pass through and leave, then it is time to check ourselves and see if what we are beginning to worship is a crap god.  If it is, we need to let it pass and flush it away.  Remember that 2 Kings said that our worthless idol worship leaves us worthless too.  I do not know one person who wants their life to be worthless, we want meaning.  We want meaningful things and we want to mean something to others.  God’s intention of one-God worship is to give us that, he is the ultimate and he does not want us wallowing in our own excrement pretending it’s a party.  We need to identify the gods in our lives, whether they are ideas, relationships, objects, or goals.  Begin with prayer, asking God to reveal the priorities that are askew.

Analyze the answers to these questions:

  • When I need escape, where do I go or turn to?
  • Where does my fulfilment, joy, value, happiness come from?
  • What are my fears?
  • What do I hope for, what are my goals?
  • What do I pray for?

These are meant as a first step.  The answers don’t necessarily mean idolatry, but if something is rising into a place of lordship in our lives it will begin to surface within these questions.  Our next move will be to take a break or at least a step back from said thing or activity and see if its place in our lives is appropriate and what kind of power it has on us.   We need to have grace for ourselves as we begin this process of identifying where our devotion lies because it’s embarrassing to admit that we’ve been worshipping idols.  Listen up though, God’s expansive love covers ALL.  When we set our sights upon Him once again and realign ourselves with his Word we can rest assured that we are no longer worthless like the things we once worshipped and we begin to see the characteristics of the one we serve become evident in our lives. bible

Working on Goals and Life

In the past I have had a tendency to begin projects and abandon them halfway through when something else “shiny” caught my eye.  I guess some would say I lack discipline.  I guess some would be right.

Shortly after I turned 40, I decided I was going to pursue my dream of writing a book and teaching/speaking with a new fervor.  I had tried many times before, but always with a laidback, if-it’s-meant-to-be-it-will-happen approach.  I knew I needed to be intentional and disciplined.  It was all part of the new mantra I had adopted of, “Screw perfect, I’d rather be brave.”  In my first act of bravery I signed up for a couple online classes with the author of my new life motto, as well as, the bestselling book “If You Find This Letter,” Hannah Brencher.  In her class she suggested that if we wanted to get serious we should secure our name as our web address and start writing.  I asked my lovely and talented friend, Amy, to help me get going.  She graciously obliged.  She had up and running within two weeks while managing her own business, a job, and mothering her two kids.  I told you, crazy talented.  She told me to write my introduction post and then we could launch it to the world.

I was excited, but then I started not feeling that great and I got sidetracked with life.  I didn’t write for three weeks.  Some discipline, huh?  It seemed I had slipped back into my old ways.  On fire one minute and Netflix binge watching the next.

Turns out I wasn’t being a complete loaf as I put all thoughts aside regarding my new site, I was doing something more productive than discovering the Gilmore Girls for the first time, I working on creating another tiny human.  That’s right, we’ve got a new little Berge going to join our family the beginning of next year. A family of 10!  As I am approaching full relief from the life-makes-me-want-to-hurl stage of pregnancy I am once again determined to be intentional about my goals and the part this website will play in it.  I hope you will join me and offer constructive feedback, because although it’s not perfect, I will be brave.


(Hey, Howdy, Hey,  Be sure to click on the link to see all the awesomeness that is my new page.)

Finding the Church: An Update


Great news, we found one!

Interestingly enough, it has landed us smack dab in the heart of our own home. For the past 8 weeks we have been churching it here on our couches and chairs and around our kitchen table.

Cray, right?  Don’t I know it! It happened within a couple weeks of my original post.

No, we have not resorted to cult tactics to train others to look at the church like we do (although I am fearful others may think we have), rather we have found our tribe! A group of people who were genuinely feeling the same way we were. People who were frustrated by churches with upside down priorities and watered down Gospel messages to attract membership.  This tribe of ours desires Jesus, genuine community, and the opportunity for Kingdom impact.  We even have a couple of friends who join us that don’t believe in God.  They come because they like hanging out with us and we love that, because we really like hanging with them too.

We are worshipping, learning, and relearning together (thanks to our church in California, the Desert Vineyard, having a live feed), we are eating (a lot), and we are finding the community we’ve been seeking (within our families and our neighborhoods).

When I mention eating a lot.  I’m not even joking.  We have pastries and fruit at the beginning of the actual service and then afterward we have Communion like I have never had it before!  Not with flattened bread and juice (although we have done that too) but with lasagna, enchiladas, sandwiches, pizza, and chili.  I realize this is by no means a traditional Communion, and I am not trying to downplay the significance of the ceremonial wafer and plastic cup, but these meals we are sharing are some of the most spiritual-filling Communions I have ever partaken.  Every time. Every. Single. Time. I am reminded of the sacrifice of Christ and I remember what He did for me, this unlikely group gathered around our house, and those outside its doors. We remember Him. It is sweet and I am grateful.

Conversations go on for hours; we’ve even watched the noonday sun disappear behind the horizon on several occasions.  Laughter fills the rooms, as do screaming and shrieking kids.  This gathering of ours is not for the timid or the easily annoyed, but if you can steel yourself to the fact that after service kids run laps through rooms and a pot-bellied pig might eat the crumbs that fall on the ground by your feet, you will be blessed–it is precious.  Burdens are carried together, and we hang out during the week encouraging and helping one another. We even started Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University this week, can you even get anymore church-like than that?

We don’t know what’s next for our living room church.  We don’t know if it will grow or if it will even last. There are things we need to figure out if it does, like how to make singing in front of the television feel like a spiritual experience in a sun-filled living room instead of an awkward daylight group karaoke sing-a-long.  We need to tighten up the “children’s ministry” because kids just want to play in the yard instead of listening to older kids read Bible stories or do crafts. Despite the lack of structured lessons, our young ones are experiencing a new depth to relationships they have never had in a church setting. Right now we take it one step at a time; trying really hard to love each other well, trying even harder to love God with all that we are, hoping that in this process of finding and becoming the church we show others love in a big way while discovering who he created us to be.

Wanna join us? Push the pig out of the way and grab a chair, there’s always room at the table.


The Sorting Process

Last night we watched the “The Good Lie” a film based on the true story of children from Sudan; their fleeing from their village after soliders came in and killed nearly everyone they loved and the opportunity to come to America after 13 years in a refugee camp.  It was a good movie with an overwhelming theme of selfless love.  As I watched I got teary-eyed quite a few times.

The tears continued after I got in bed and turned off the lights recounting the day.  I had spent time with my family, enjoyed lunch with a friend, helped Brian work on the chicken coop, ate leftovers for dinner in a warm house, watched a movie with the kids, and here I was in my soft comfortable bed–crying.  I’m glad Brian was asleep because I don’t know how to explain my sadness.  As much as I wish everyone had the blessings of my life, my tears weren’t for the displaced refugees we had just watched, or those stuck in poverty, as much as they were for me.  Sounds selfish, I know, but I can’t figure out the discrepency God allows between the lives of the poor and me.  I don’t know what to do with the chasm that spans the materially poor and the life I live, even with my ripped couches, discount groceries, and thrift store clothes, I should call it what it is–a life of luxury.  I have so much.  So very much.

My tears turned to sobbing this morning as I read Psalms that spoke of God’s justice and love for the oppressed and the poor.  I am unsure of what I am I supposed to do with this churning in my spirit.   My life of comfort has become uncomfortable as I continue to wrestle with justice and community.  I recognize that gratitude is not enough, that all that I have experienced or possess cannot be simply for me to say, “thanks, God.”