Last night we were walking in the door and as we were gathering our things to go inside, Leilah opened her arms wide, lifted her face to the sky and said loudly, “Good Lord Jesus, please come back!”
This made us laugh and respond with, “Girl, some days I feel the same way”.
After our laughter at our five-year-old daughter doing things that are uncharacteristic of someone her stature, I started thinking about how things do feel bleak.
Good Lord Jesus, things are a mess- maybe it’s time to come back.
Good Lord Jesus, people are hurting – maybe it’s time to come back.
Good Lord Jesus, we are afraid- maybe it’s time to come back.
Good Lord Jesus, evil and bigotry seem to be winning- maybe it’s time to come back.
Good Lord Jesus, will it ever end? Maybe it’s time to come back.
But then I remembered the good news.
We are a people with the spirit of the Living God residing in us.
We are a people who have a heart for Justice and feet ready for action.
We are a people who will not be silenced.
We are a people who won’t be contained by the margins others place us in.
We are a BRAVE people, ready to make a difference.
With our words, actions, love, hope, community, and ferocity.
Good Lord Jesus, please come back; but until then, use us for our full potential.
Help us to never be silenced when injustice abounds.
Help us to stand up for the hurting and marginalized.
Help us to be BRAVE when we have a lot to lose.
Help us to reach out to those who may be different than us.
Help us to be your hands- your feet- and your voice.
May our hope be unwavering , may our integrity be strong, may our love consume our thoughts, and may our faith be increased as we see Jesus in action.
Something happened a few weeks ago, and I can’t get it out of my mind.
It was a Saturday night and we were hosting a night of praise and worship at The Salvation Army in Seattle White Center. The folks who were present chose the songs from the titles printed on paper laid on the altars. When you chose a song, you explained a bit of why you chose it- how it relates to your life, or how you would like it to relate to your life.
We sung several songs, and heard stories from those present.
The song I picked was Good Good Father.
I told the worshipers there that I was picking that song because I’ve never had a father. For most of my growing up it was just me and my mom. I had a father figure in my life for a few years, but he wasn’t a good father. Because of those facets of my past, it is difficult for me to relate to God as a good father. I see him as the creator, as my savior, and even as my friend; but the thought of God as a good father some times feels too far fetched for me to grasp.
I want to see the Lord as my good father, I just don’t know how.
I shared my heart, and we sung the song. At our church we sing this song often, but this time was different. I was on stage leading with my acoustic guitar, like I do every Sunday- but after sharing my struggle, tears poured from my eyes. Poured. One after the other.
I played the song to the best of my ability, but it is difficult to play guitar well when you are blinded by your tears. I am usually quick to wipe my them away, but that is impossible when playing guitar and leading others in worship. I had to let them flow. Down my cheeks, past my neck, and soaking into the collar of my shirt.
I felt embarrassed, and did my best to pick myself up and keep on.
The following Wednesday we had kids programs. Our small group of kids who are in a choir gathered around the piano. The worship leader (who was not with us Saturday) told the kids we were going to do something new. We were going to sing a few praise and worship songs. The first was Happy Day, a favorite of the kids. They did well, laughing and singing the whole time. The second song the leader chose was… Good Good Father.
By the time the song was over literally every child around that piano was crying. Not blubbering or fit throwing, but gently sobbing, tears pouring down their faces. These are kids from the hood, that would do anything they could to keep you from knowing how they are really feeling. Their walls were down, and their tears were out.
I looked around and took note of every child. None of these kids have fathers. One has a father in the home, but he’s a raging alcoholic. One is a girl who’s father has never been a part of her life, one girl has no father or mother and is being raised by her grandmother. And another lost his father to gang violence.
My heart broke for these kids, for my kids.
We prayed, and I knew that the Lord was urging me to share my story with these kids.
I told them that I never knew my dad, and the guy that was like a dad never loved me and wasn’t kind. I told them it was hard for me to sing this song without a good dad in my life, but no matter what our fathers here look like, God looks at us like a good dad. Full of love and joy for us. Wanting to spend time with us, and hug us, and tell us good job.
I told them that we should sing this song not with sadness for what we don’t have, but in victory with what we do have.
We hugged it out and went on our way.
That’s when I knew my first step in looking at God as my Good Father.
If you love me, feed my sheep.
When we love like God loves, unconditionally and without expectation, He moves.
My heart broke for my kids who don’t have fathers. My heart broke for their sadness, and noticed their searching for something more.
How much more does God’s heart break for them… and for me?
My prayer is that God would continue to use my story for His Glory, especially the rough bits.
God sees you and your wounds, and wants to hold you close, and use you and your story to share the truth of Jesus. I claim that truth today. Are you with me?
Her name was Claudia, she was in foster care, 15 years old, and on Monday January 15th she took her life.
A few days after she passed I got a call from a good friend I met through my interactions with the foster care system asking if we could help with the memorial. There was no hesitation, of course we can help. We are The Salvation Army- we fill the needs of our communities whenever we can. That’s what we do, and that’s who we are.
So I met with Claudia’s tribe; a beautiful mix of biological family, foster sister, and former foster parent. We walked around our building, chatting about what spaces could be best utilized, and sharing about Claudia the whole way through.
I hadn’t ever met Claudia, but I learned much about her that day. Most of what I learned was beautiful; some of what I learned broke my heart. Some things I learned about her eerily mirrored things in my life. I feel like we may have had similar personalities. We like a lot of the same things- bright colors mixed with black, loud music, animals, encouraging our friends, reaching out to the lost and the lonely, and social justice.
She had several attempts before her light went out. One of the things that was said was that it wasn’t a surprise that she took her own life because, “No one could withstand that kind of trauma”…
After our meeting finished I kept hearing that phrase on a loop in my mind.
No one could withstand that kind of trauma..
Here’s the rub… When I was 15 I was in foster care. When I was 15 I had gone through some extreme trauma. And when I was 15, I wanted to end my life.
No one could withstand that kind of trauma…
But I did… Didn’t I?
I got a little wrapped up in that internally. I questioned if I really am as healthy and whole as I’d like to think.
Could that phrase be true?
Not for me.
The thing that kept me going when I was 15 and just wanted it all to be over was my community. I was a part of a body of Christ that loved me before I loved myself. A body that accepted me and where I belonged before I believed. I had a youth group of other weirdo teenagers that saw me, and heard me, and loved me when I was broken and couldn’t reciprocate those feelings. I had leaders who loved me when I did everything in my power to push them away.
And camp. I needed to go to camp one more time…Then it was 2 more times, then I was on camp staff, and then Jesus became real- the healing party started and I never looked back.
Today was Claudia’s service. Her tribe created a beautiful space to honor Claudia, help those see the beautiful things about her story, and facilitate healing for everyone who loved her. And I felt over and over as if I was given a very strange “through the looking glass” experience.
It was as if I was watching the memorial that may have taken place for 15 year old Lisa if I had made a different choice.
No one is at fault for the loss of Claudia. Depression is an ugly beast that I wouldn’t wish on my least favorite folks. Even though no one is responsible for Claudia leaving too soon, this is a good reminder that we can all do something to be a positive impact on those who are hurting.
We were created to be in community, and to live in unity. We don’t always know when people are struggling. So maybe we can choose to live and love like we really do need each other. Like we do need to be people of kindness and encouragement- even to those that don’t make it easy for us. I know when I was at my worst, It was a struggle to show me kindness- but there were people who did it anyway, and it changed my world.
Kindness matters. Unity matters. Support matters. Laughter matters. Friendship matters.
Even on the rough days, it gets better- and you are not alone.
*The national suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255
A few weeks ago I was having dinner with a new but very dear friend. During the course of our meal (yup, that was intentional) I shared with her that up until relatively recently I did all I could to keep my past a secret. I felt as if people genuinely knew where I had come from or what I’d been through that I would find myself alone.
The thought of being abandoned again drove me to hide that I’d grown up in foster care. I hid that my mother was an addict and a prostitute that chased after her addictions at a break necking pace; so much that I have been taking care of myself pretty much entirely since I was 7 years old. Every once and a while I lived in homes where I didn’t have to steel to eat, or where they occasionally bought me school clothes, but even then- with a roof over my head, I was very much alone.
I met and married my husband, and I kept a lot of this from him.
I went to seminary to be a professional Christian, hiding the majority of this from the folks there too.
I pastored my first church in San Francisco, surrounded by broken people, who would have understood and loved me had I given them a full chance at knowing these dark bits. But I didn’t there either.
I felt as if I had to guard these secrets with my life. I would share some, but not all. I would feel the leading to let people in to these areas of woundedness, but my shame, or maybe even my pride kept me silent. It kept me lying.
It wasn’t until we were in Arizona, in church leadership where the proverbial crap hit the fan. I was in a screaming match with God (This is not as proverbial as the previously mentioned crap and fan). I was crying out to God as my sadness and loneliness had become unbearable.
In the middle of the fight, it was as if I heard God say “Lisa! What is it that you want? All I hear are complaints. You are my child, what do you want?”
I froze and responded with, “I want to be a woman of influence, and I want to be a writer”. This was a little bonkers at the time, because up until this point, I hadn’t written anything. I screwed around on this blog a bit… but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count.
Then the truth was clearer than ever. If I was going to do what was on my heart to do, it was time to be honest. As I unraveled all that made me me, all that had marked my past with abandonment and abuse, everything in my life changed.
Then my prayer shifted. The prayer that followed has become a mantra in my life.
“God, please don’t let my pain be in vain”
I am seeing the fruit of the faithfulness in my honesty. I’m not sayin’ that its easy, or that mighty doors in ministry will open up (I mean they might, but I’m pretty sure I’m not qualified to claim that as a guarantee). But I am saying that the freedom that comes from honesty and vulnerability is palpable.
There is nothing in this world that is better than being free.
Your pain doesn’t have to be in vain.
Your struggle doesn’t have to be for nothing.
The suffering doesn’t have to be your permanent prison or permanent definition.
We share our victories, and others seek victory for themselves. This life is contagious.
Talk about passing the peace.
Our world can be better and those that are trapped in their suffering can find release from that captivity just like you have. Talk about good news.
If you haven’t found freedom yet, today is a good day for that too. Send me a note and we will chat about it.
Who wants to dance with me in freedom?
Historically speaking, Mother’s Day has been my least favorite day of the year. The worst memories I have of growing up happened either on Mother’s Day or Christmas.
Even as an adult, with my own children most Mothers Day’s have been spent fighting back tears and sadness. You would think the first Mother’s Day after my birth mothers passing would be exceptionally difficult. But what I am feeling now, is a very different story.
Let me back up a little bit. This past Sunday we were in Virginia Beach for Anthony’s Master’s graduation. He also had an opportunity to preach at the Kroc Center on Sunday morning. He spoke about acts chapter 16, the passage about Paul and Silas being in prison and then being set free…
Here’s the Lisa Barnes condensed version of that story. What happens is, Paul and Silas are arrested, for casting out a demon in a slave girl who was fortune-telling. When the people who owned this girl found out that their enterprise was now bankrupt, they got really pissed. They had Paul and Silas arrested. But first they were stripped naked, beaten, and chained not just with chains that we would associate with shackles. They were locked in stocks, which were big pieces of wood that completely immobilized them, impairing any kind of movement. Then they were placed in the center sell where everyone can see them, and they could be thoroughly humiliated.
That’s when they started singing hymns and praising God. Everyone in the jail heard. And then there was a great earthquake. This jail wasn’t a jail in a building like we would see now, it was probably in a cave and the chains were affixed to the walls and floor of the cave. When the earth shook their chains were broken and all of the prisoners were set free.
When the jailer realized that everyone was free he drew his sword to kill himself. He figured they’re all gone and I’m as good as dead anyway. Before he could do any harm, the disciples called out “Stop! We’re all still here. Don’t hurt yourself ”
The jailer doesn’t believe what he hears, so he grabs a torch and runs inside. When he sees that everyone is still there he doesn’t ask “why didn’t you leave?” Or, “what happened?” What he asks is “what do I need to do to be saved? ”
What struck me most from this passage of scripture, was that God could have released the prisoners anyway he wanted. He could’ve just changed the jailers heart and had him unlock everyone, or he could’ve just snapped his godly fingers and the chains could’ve been come invisible but, God does things in a way that we usually wouldn’t expect.
God uses something that we would consider to be an act of destruction. God uses an earthquake that is associated with damage and chaos, to bring freedom and salvation.
I mention this passage of scripture in regards to my current feelings towards Mother’s Day because my birth mother’s passing was a bit of an earthquake in my life. But through this time, I have a renewed sense in what motherhood is, and maybe more so what isn’t.
I have something great planned for the women who worship with us on Sundays. More than I can think about my own sorrow or loss, or even the childhood I never had… and now for sure can’t ever fully resolve, I’m thinking about how wonderful this Sunday can be for so many women that I Love with my whole heart.
Crazy things happen when we set our sights on kingdom things and not just our current situations. Growth happens when we make space for God to heal, even if that healing comes through our own earthquake.
I rejoice today in knowing that the wounds of our past, through the healing of Jesus, can be the faint scars of tomorrow. That’s not to say that those hurts don’t impact us, or even worse to say that they never existed. But they don’t have to be gaping. They don’t have to be a current affliction; they can be a memory of the people we used to be in the situations that God has brought us through.
It’s a cool thing to realize that as a woman who has love the Lord a long time, a woman who has been redeemed many times over, is still experiencing redemption of my story. Even today.
No matter who you are, or where you’ve been, what kind of mother you had, or what kind of mother you have been, I hope that your Sunday is bathed in grace and fellowship with folks you love. I pray your wounds continue to heal into faint scars.
You aren’t alone.
Here is a picture of my kids we took last week. I look at them, and praise God that even through my imperfections, that the cycle has been broken.
The Oxford English dictionary defines sea change “a change wrought by the sea”. A phrase that originally shows up in The Tempest by Shakespeare. It’s often spoken to be a metamorphosis in a person or an alteration that happens in a significant way.
It is easy to connect a powerful change, a sea change, with the images of water baptism. You enter the water as the old you, you are submerged, and as you rise up, gasping for breath, you breathe new air, you live new life.
As my fellow Salvationists know, in the Army we are dry cleaned, no water necessary. But, when we kneel at the mercy seat and unite or reunite with the creator, we are new too.
I saw a quote recently that said, “The cure for everything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea”.
After I found out my mother passed away, I spent the next week at the shore of the Puget Sound. Not all day, but an hour or two every day with my kids and my dog. I was drawn in to the sounds and smells of the sea. There is no pretension at the sea. No one to impress, no one to paste on a phony smile to make them feel more comfortable. Tears are almost invisible at the sea…
The kids are playing. Building sandcastle’s, skipping stones, fetching with the dog.
I gave myself space and time to feel whatever I needed to. No matter how much I didn’t want to feel those things. I kept coming back to the thought, “You don’t get to make me sad anymore. You’ve done too much damage, and I won’t let you hurt me anymore.”
But that’s not how morning works. We don’t get to just turn off our feelings when they aren’t enjoyable. Sometimes I wish we could, but then where would the growth and healing come from?
I was reminded of how much the Lord knows me.
She passed on March 9. But I didn’t find out until April 12. Smack dab in the middle of Holy Week. My favorite week of the year. This is the week I can’t help but mourn. I mourn the way our savior died. I mourn that he had to sacrifice for me. I mourn the great silence on Saturday- the before the hinge pin of our faith, and the ultimate victory of the Resurrection on Sunday.
I listen to songs about death having no victory, songs about the grave bringing freedom.
It was as if God was saying to me, “I know you don’t want to feel these things. I know you don’t want to hurt, but you need to do this to move forward. I know you and I love you. You need this. This is hard, but you are strong and I am with you. Let’s walk to the sea together. ”
I mourned the passing of my mother at the sea, and I was changed. I was prepared to mourn, and that happened.
I wasn’t prepared to celebrate. I celebrated the great things I have, and the folks in my life that shower me with love and grace, even at my worst. I saw all the areas where I am not my mother and my confidence was renewed. The Lord showed me again that what’s hurt us in the past doesn’t have to keep hurting us. We can be free and whole, even when confusion and sadness hit.
I feel okay now. There will probably be some days where I’m not OK. God is there in those days too.
Today I found out that my birth mother died. It happened on March 9th. Stage 4 lung cancer.
Two of my uncles that I don’t think I’ve ever met in person, found me and called my office phone.
I called one back and he told me what happened. He seems like a gentile and kind man. I don’t know how much he knows of what our relationship was… but he didn’t lean in with any expectations, and I appreciate that.
Towards the end of the conversation he told me he’s proud of me. That I’ve done a lot despite my childhood. I think that was the most difficult part of the conversation. I’ve never in my life had a relative tell me they were proud of me. Part of my heart swelled, and part of me thought, “Where were you when I was seven and alone?”
He said that he would like to meet me and my family. I think I’d like that too, but I know better than to get my hopes up….
She’s been cremated already. My uncle asked if I wanted her ashes… I don’t.
He said they were going to find a time soon to go to the beach and scatter the remains. I don’t know if I want to be a part of that.
What are you supposed to do when you are the child of an abusive and neglectful parent? How do you mourn? What is my part in all of this?
If I were to go scatter her ashes, what would I say?
Thank you for…….. nothing.
You were………. a hurtful parent.
Really, I feel as if I mourned the loss of her years ago.
Maybe now I’m mourning the relationship I never had, and now for sure I never will.
Maybe I’m mourning the opportunity to really mourn; feeling reminded that no matter how much healing happens, I’m still not “normal” or have “normal emotional processes”.
I feel confused. I feel a little sad, and then sadder that I’m not really sad
I feel angry at her all over again.
Clarity would be great.
Hopefully that will come as I go through this.
Thanks for your prayers.
These are pictures of the last time I saw her. Summer of 2009
Today I did my best at #8,
Be a friend who listens.
I’m really good at talking, not nearly as good at listening. But this is a characteristic that I want to define who I am, and how I treat others. Like most things that don’t come naturally, practice makes perfect.
I’m thankful for friends who give me opportunities to listen, and to love.
Today is day 2 and I chose #6
Write a letter to someone who has made a difference in your life.
I chose Jen Arens and with her permission, this is the letter:
You’ve been a part of my life since I was 16. I had just moved out of a home of an addicted mother where I was made to feel that everything about me was wrong.
I was hurting and alone. I felt too different, and fought as hard as I could to fake normal. I thought that was the key to making it out alive; trick everyone into thinking you are just like them. They can’t hurt you if they never really see you.
And then I met you. You were bananas; an original to the core.
You were fully you- honest and vulnerable, outgoing and bold, completely without a filter and unabashedly loving.
I met you and the scales fell from my eyes. I thought, “This woman holds nothing back. She loves Jesus and the freaks in the margins just the same. She is free. All I want is to be free”
I’ve had the privilege of living life with you since then.
I’ve modeled my ministry, my parenting, and my love after yours.
People give me a lot of credit for the things I get to do, and truth I get to speak into the lives of others. But I am not a pioneer; I am a woman who identifies those who have gone before and gotten it right as they clear a path for the next wave.
We’ve been through a lot together.
You were the first person I told I knew I was called to ministry. You tried to talk me out of it. Jokes on you, look at me now 🙂
You were the second person I told I was 20 years old, pregnant, and not married- second to Anthony… Priorities.
I sat with you and cried when I struggled with infertility- feeling like I was being punished for not getting it right the first time, and you picked up weight that I couldn’t bare.
I walked with you as a ministry you were passionate was taken away, and rejoiced years later with you when you were given your hearts utmost desire- a ministry in the Bayview.
I refer to you as a mother figure in my life, but that terminology doesn’t really do justice for who you really are.
You have been my mother, my friend, my confidant, my stretcher-bearer, the giver of a swift kick in the pants, and reality checker. You have reminded me that faith with no bounds can move unimaginable mountains. You are showing us that cancer doesn’t mean we can’t still do amazing things for the kingdom.
Jen, as I finish this note, while crying my eyes out- I want to say thanks.
Thanks for never being afraid to be who God created you to be, even when people didn’t get it, or felt threatened by you, or tried to marginalized or silence you.
I am me because of you. I have Jesus because of you. I’ll never stop fighting with love because you’ve done that for me.
Today is day one, and I decided to do almost the last thing on my Lent list.
69. Say something kind to a child.
We had youth programs tonight, and I was able to have a good one on one conversation with a girl who is close to my heart. In a lot of ways, she reminds me of little Lisa.
She’s struggling and trying to figure it out. Sometimes she does well, and sometimes she falls short (kinda like the rest of us). Today our chat was light hearted and fun. They don’t have to all be heavy and emotional to be valuable.
We Salvos love to show Jesus in the ministry of presence. Today was one of those days.
And then there was Leilah….
Today was her birthday and she thought no established rule on the earth applied to her. As you can guess, that thinking led to distruction.
As a consequence for her crazy behavior, she wasn’t able to open the rest of her birthday presents.
She. Was. Mortified.
We sat in the car and had a serious chat about how even on our birthdays, we still need to be kind. In my humanness and general exhaustion, I just wanted to go home and send her straight to bed. But even though the day went a little sideways, it was still her birthday. Probably the first birthday she will remember.
So she got an ice cream cone on the way home. Birthday cake in a sugar cone.
I don’t know if I did it all right, but I know I did the best I could with that I had.
Our kids are a gift. I hope I never take them for granted.