HOMELESS

I had lied to my mother. I had lied to her about where I was going, who was with me, and what I would be doing. Those were the three questions she always asked and I had lied about each one in order to go on a double date…fully two years before I was permitted to do so.

And I regretted it immediately.

I thought it would be dinner and a movie. Like an episode of Saved by the Bell, where we ended the evening laughing at the diner drinking milkshakes. I was fourteen.

We had ended up at someone’s home. No. Someone’s house. But did anyone really live here? I couldn’t figure out what they were doing with the spoon over the fire. I remember feeling invisible. No one seemed to notice me and I tried not to look directly at any of them. Being invisible was the only solace I had. Should anyone have spoken to me, or attempted to engage me in whatever it was they were doing, I fully expected to become a puddle in the floor. It was the Saturday night before Easter.

I wanted to go home. I was 14, but I may as well have been 5. I longed for the scent of my mother, the creak in our wooden floor, and blankets that would envelope my shame. I imagined that she would be preparing our baskets and the morning would come and it would be the most glorious feeling in the whole world. I couldn’t wait. I looked around the room and knew that no one else there had a mother like mine. I was so close to home, but had never felt so far away. My gut had such a wrenching ache.

This was my first true experience of longing for home.

My second longing, however, is much different from the first. The second longing comes with an assurance that the first longing only dreamt of. There is no longer a hollow ache in my gut. My second longing is accompanied with hope. The second longing is accompanied with peace. The second longing is able to experience the kingdom already but not yet the kingdom to its fullest. The kingdom to its fullest is still yet to come. Until then, we sojourn on. Until then we are all foreigners here, strangers in a strange land. Even when the babies are tucked in tight, and there are soft carols playing, and the glow of the twinkling lights provide the only evening light we need, and I am in my home…I’m not home. Permanence here is illusive. Because for every child nestled all snug in his bed, there is a restless one with no earthly ear to hear his cry.

And in despair I bowed my head

“There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

I’m not home until there are no more homeless refugees, trying to makes sense of their plight. I’m not home until there is nary a need for a gun, nor a fence, nor a password, nor a calendar, nor antidepressants. I’m not home until the fatherless get evening bear hugs with real touchable beards. I’m not home until babies sleep from a full belly, rather than hungered exhaustion. I’m not home until there are no more orphans smoking in crack houses on the Saturday night before Easter. I’m not home until there is no more night. In his book, Longing for Home, Frederick Buechner writes, “be really at home is to be really at peace, and our lives are so intricately interwoven that there can be no real peace for any of us until there is real peace for all of us.”

——-

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail

With peace on earth, good will to men.”

But there will come a Day!

Until that Day, we wait. We wait as Israel waited. And we wait with the promise that “The Lord watches over sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless…”. Until that Day, we wait not as we wait in line at WalMart, passively biding the moments until we can get on with our day. We wait as we wait for Christmas. We wait in constant preparation and proclamation. We wait, all the while proclaiming to the orphan that she has a Father! We wait, all the while proclaiming to the addict that the void can be filled – filled to overflowing! We wait, all the while proclaiming to the hungry, and the weary, and the worn – hope! And we proclaim to the refugees – all of us longing for a home – there is a home with table prepared, and where everyone has a Father.

And the Father is always, always home (John 14:2-3).

(This post was written for First Alliance Church in Lexington, KY to be included in their daily advent readings.  For a daily advent reflection, visit their website or follow my brother’s blog.)

May the blessed anticipation of the Savior be real in your home and your heart this Christmas season!

MRS.

When I was in the eighth grade, I walked into a classroom where there was being spoken a foreign language by the most brilliant, bright-eyed, lovely, quirky, caring teacher I still have ever known. Her name was Mrs. Mahuron, but since her husband worked a few doors down in the science department, we sometimes just called her Mrs.

She was always smitten with her chemist husband, who was equally brilliant and caring. Theirs was a marriage worth having. They subtly displayed a genuine, deep care for one another, and a genuine, deep sense of their calling as teachers. Our little town was so incredibly blessed to have them.

For five years she instructed me in the language, and then and since in all the ways of life.  She was always there. And she was always smiling. And she was always giving off the sense that she cared about us so much, and at the same time expecting us to preform to the absolute best of our ability. Her care for us never excused our mediocrity; her care was so genuine it demanded more from us. The best from us.

Mrs. was a steady, dependable constant at a time in my life when all was chaotic and in perpetual motion. She was always there. Over the course of five years, she showed up for me. She listened, but didn’t pry. She counseled, but didn’t lecture. She encouraged, but didn’t pressure. The atmosphere she created within those hard cinderblock walls was one of warmth and invitation. It was as if walking through those doors were walking right into a warm blanket on a cold day.

Outside of my family, she has been the greatest influence in my life.

My favorite exercise she had us to complete was a journal. It was informal. It was handwritten. It was loose leaf paper tucked in a plain manilla folder. An unassuming facade for a sea of thoughts and teenage emotions. Oh, how I wrote. It was as if I had been bound, and all of a sudden I had been set free. I, of course, journaled about very mature and distinguished things. Boys. Homecoming. Prom. Upcoming collegiate adventures….to where? What should I do? Where should I go?

Do you know that she always took considerable time to answer my quandaries? Her written responses were thoughtful and wise, deliberate and sure. She never dismissed my juvenile woes. I can still see her distinct handwriting to this day in my mind’s eye.

A few weeks ago I was able to speak to her by phone. She smiled as she spoke. I am sure of it. And do you know what she said? She said these words me, “Oh, I know I didn’t have anything to do with it, but I’m just so proud of you.” And she said other beautiful things that I could hardly swallow through my tightened throat and tear brimmed eyes.

And I just want to say now, Mrs., that YES YOU DID. You had everything to do with it. You taught me. But you taught me in the truest sense of the word. You taught in a way that compelled me to learn. To yearn to be a seeker of knowledge, and ultimately of Truth. Thank you. Thank you for compelling me to learn. Thank you for demanding my best, but most importantly for demonstrating yours. Yours is such an incredible testimony to Truth. Of excellence and steadfast perseverance.

And Mrs. Mahuron, thank you for showing up for me. Your classroom was always a refuge and your smile always a comfort. I cannot imagine the number of students whose lives you touched in your tenure at our small school. I cannot imagine the ripple effect that flows from your influence. I only know that there is more excellence and less mediocrity in the world because you taught in it. I know there is more warmth and less arrogance, more authenticity and less pretense, more security and less confusion. Because you have taught in this world, there are more smiles and down right more joy. Your influence knows no bounds.

Para la idioma de español, muchas gracias. Para la idioma de enseñar, infinitas gracias. Tu ejemplo es un regalo muy muy precioso.

 

(By the way, Mrs., ….fragments in the above reflection are intentional and for dramatic effect.) 😉

 

BLESSONS

For those of you who have followed this blog since it began, I am eternally grateful.  Your encouragement has been phenomenal, and I have cherished every exchange. I am so excited to tell you that I have turned this little blog into a book…and until September 13th @ 11:59p.m., you can get FREE SHIPPING if you preorder it!  Just go to our website (http://www.living-legacy-ministries.com/publishing) to order your copy today!  Books will be shipped after October 5th.

Here’s what some of my favorite people said about the book. (I cry every time I read their words):

“This open file of life experiences will be your go to when you need a fresh perspective during the most demanding of days.  You will laugh.  You will cry. You will not feel alone in your journey.”  
Adair Moorefield, fellow sojourner, mother of 2

In the breathless world of iPhone notifications and extracurricular everything, Blessons offers us a moment to stop, to catch our breath, and to remember that this world’s clock has not bound God’s timeless hands. ChristiAnna Coats invites us into her reflections on an ordinary life that feels close to home but helps us to see the God who often goes unnoticed when life stays ordinary and home stays close. If the Christian life is lived forwards but understood backwards (Kierkegaard), this is a book that demonstrates the possibility of hindsight in a world that puts life on fast-forward. In that way, Coats shows us what it means to think like a Christian and thus how to speak like a Christian–not through the mystical way of escape, not through the political way of protest, not through the pious way of perfection, but through the human way of remembering. The God in these pages is a God who is real enough to remember and true enough to transform our memory. I have no doubt that anyone who encounters these testimonies will remember this God as well, even if for the first time.”

-Jeremy Spainhour, fellow reflector, father of 3

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I’m so emotional about this whole endeavor. I cried when I read my ISBN number. I cried when I saw the cover. I don’t know what I’ll do when the actual hold-me-in-my-hands book arrives at my door….

MARRIAGE

coatsquotes

I found out how strong my grandparents’ marriage was a few months before my grandmother passed away.  It was my wedding day.  We were all staying together at a church conference center; my entire family had driven from North Carolina to Indiana to help me celebrate.  My 84-year old granddaddy was the pastor conducting the ceremony.

I was in my room getting ready and I heard my grandparents talking in their adjacent room.  My grandmother was going over the ceremony with my granddaddy, who had retired from full-time pastoring a few years prior.  He, unbeknownst to me, had been struggling with early signs of dementia.  Unbeknownst to me, because my grandmother took such care of him.

“No, you have to emphasize this, not for, for this reason shall a man…”

and so on she went through the entire ceremony, again.  She wanted it to be just right (because she…

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KINDERGARTEN

For all of you moms, dropping them off for the first time – cry your tears. Those are good, hard-earned, well invested tears. Those first 5 years are the very most formative of all of his life. And look how much you’ve loved him. And prayed for him. And cherished and nurtured and snuggled and played with him!  He is ready! You are less so, but you are going to make it, Mama! I wrote this the night before I took Nolan to kindergarten 4 years ago….

———–

For the past 5 and a half years, I have had the distinct honor of mothering my precious son, Nolan.  I have monopolized his time, dictated his schedule, and orchestrated each and every social interaction of which he has been a part.  Tomorrow all of that changes as we begin a new era in our lives.  I couldn’t help to let my mind drift back tonight as I tucked him into bed (teddy bear still clutched tightly in his arms)…

His early days were spent being rocked (for hours) and nursed (on demand), sung and read to, and being toted to and fro…wherever I needed to go.  We cuddled and nestled and I distinctly remember trying to treasure those moments, as I could sense them fleeing right before my very eyes.

Once he began to toddle around, his personality emerged as a strong and curious leader, spontaneous and social…with a laugh that was simply infectious.  Those days seemed to last a little longer, but the moments I continued to treasure.  With each new discovery or word or milestone, we cheered him on.  Always ready for the next big challenge, be it potty training or pronouncing the letter “K”, which seemed to take forever!

I suppose in a sense I have prepared for tomorrow for the past 5 and a half years.  I knew this day would come.

Tomorrow.  Tomorrow, I give up extra long after breakfast snuggles (we’ll have to figure out a different time).  No more Tuesday morning playdates, Wednesday picnic lunches at the park that just last until whenever, or going to the zoo just because.  Tomorrow we will slip into a routine.  A schedule.  There’ll be checklists and homework and permission slips and things that are really important to keep track of (even more important than an oddly shaped stick or rock that have been discovered in the driveway).

Tomorrow I will let my little heart walk about in the world.  He’ll be influenced and instructed, challenged and changed.  He’ll grow and adapt and make good friends and have conversations (and I may not be privy to every word).  He’ll probably discover that his new sneakers are Nikes, not Sketchers (as he believes they are now), and that the hand held device that his friends have is a DSi, not a BSi.  He’ll probably discover that sometimes kids are unkind, and he may get scared.

I wonder if Jesus thought similar (although more sophisticated) thoughts about his disciples when he sent them out into the world.  I wonder if he reminisced about the first few years they spent together and hoped that His words would be the ones that would ring loudest in their ears.  I wonder…

His most formidable and influential years are already gone, just like that.  Tomorrow, I pray he will walk in the Truth when faced with adversity.  I pray he will stand for what is right, and resist what is wrong.  I pray he will allow the God of the universe to direct his path and ease his mind and calm any fear.  I pray will be the salt and light of the earth.  I pray he will be confident yet approachable, curious yet calm, motivated yet patient.  I pray he will grow in the fullness of who God created him to be, and that he seeks that above ALL else. Tomorrow.

Yes tomorrow is going to be a great day, because I’m shedding all my tears tonight!

CHECKPOINTS

I hesitate to write this post, as it leaves me vulnerable and open and human and fallible. But such is me and what am I if not all those things? Fake? A parading facade that gives the illusion of whimsy when I am in despair? Let me be frank.

I learned very quickly after committing my life to Christ that I shouldn’t attempt to make too many long-term plans. Our little charmed life seemed to be turned so easily on its head in a moment’s notice. And because we have had a lot of adjustment, shifting, transition, and directional change in the past ten years, Michael has initiated checkpoints along the way.   Our checkpoints are simple. It will be a conversation over coffee, a lingering Sunday drive, a weekend away, in the front porch rocking chairs, or during a routine trip to the grocery store. The setting isn’t so much the point as the content of the conversation.

Our checkpoints must answer a few basic questions. Where are we going? How are we doing along the way?

The checkpoints have been vital to our marriage and ministry. Sometimes they result in seasonal themes like “Family” or “Focus” (<— current). Sometimes they result in additional checkpoints to dig deeper to the root of a problem. Sometimes they result in change. Sometimes they result in staying where we are and feeling confirmed in that position.

I am having the best summer. It’s not only because I am poolside most afternoons. (Although praise God and hallelujah – and I am so sorry for last Sunday when my son puked in the pool and you had to shut it down for the afternoon…) Or because I am hammocking in my yard with my summer fragrance of choice, OFF: Deep Woods. (You can tell your deet-free Avon skin-so-soft that our mosquitos eat repellant like her for breakfast. Give us the deet. Period.) Or because I am getting to reconnect with my friends and family, with whom I have spent precious little time over the past year. I am having the best summer because I am me again.

Michael looked at me with all the intensity that there is a few weeks ago and said, “I’m so glad I have my wife back.”

I am having this best season because I had one helluva spring.

I had been gone. Not physically, but in every other way possible. I had been distracted, stressed, consumed, anxious, and elsewhere for far too long. It was during one of our checkpoint conversations that I had to face the grim reality that my actions were not consistent with my priorities, and I got scared about that. Not the kind of fear that brings about a good fight, the kind of fear that paralyzes. That renders its inhabitant useless. I didn’t know how to escape. I just kept existing and my dearest ones around me just kept suffering.

It was a hard, dark time.

I wish I could say that I came to my senses and escaped on my own. I wish I could say that I willed myself back to the important and back to the present and back to myself. But I didn’t. I had been utterly and completely swallowed up, and the darkness in that pit kept me from finding my way out. The darkness just kept me there…deep in the recesses of its all-consuming command.

Until a checkpoint came.

And my people told me I wasn’t me. And then my people got me out. They rescued me. They got down in that pit with me, hoisted me on their shoulders – they have such broad shoulders – and carried me up, speaking Life and Truth to me all along the way up. Gently and caringly they strengthened me. Strengthened me enough so that when we got to the top, the only thing left for me to do was stand up and walk away from the pit.

And I did.

And it was the bravest, hardest, bestest thing I’ve ever done. That last little bit, where I stood up, required absolute surrender to the Holy Spirit. The End. It was not an action I could have executed without His power. Those standing muscles had been so weak, having been crouched down in that pit and all.

Some seasons are so very light, and airy, and whimsical, and holy, and sacred. Those are the best seasons. Some seasons are so very hard. Some seasons are marked by tragedy, grief, monotony, solitude, despair, fear, or consequences of your very own actions, to be just an absolute truth-teller.  Should you find your season a difficult one, can I give you this little blesson I have just learned five minutes ago and find very worthy to divulge? Let your people in. They don’t want to see you this way. It is sucking the life out of them and it is changing who they are, and that is not fair.  And that is not the holy heritage you are to embrace, nor the legacy you wish to leave.  (Side Note: Your people are not your Facebook Friends List) Your people are very few. Those who know why you’re in the pit. Those who are willing to get in there with you when you finally admit you need their shoulders. These are your people. They are safe, and that is an incredibly important part of this.  They are offering their strong shoulders. Take hold. As you ascend, your strength will return. You will feel the blood course back through your life-giving veins. And you will stand back up on your feet and will walk away from that damnable pit. You will call on the Holy Spirit to help you, and by God’s sweet grace, He will stand you up. But you, my friend, have to do the walking.

I dare you to have a checkpoint conversation. Ask yourself, ask your spouse, best friend, or sister, how you are doing. Ask the person who will tell you the truth. And let him tell you the truth. Let her. Are you going where you want to go? And how are you doing along the way? Be prepared for the truth. The truth may be that you are doing swell! Bravo! Keep up God’s good work! You may be slightly off your intended trajectory – that’s no big deal! Just veer back on the rightful path!

But if you are in a pit (fill in whatever your pit is: unhealthy relationship, job, unholy habit, bitterness, unforgiveness, greed, you get the basic idea) – let your people help you up. Let our God stand you up. And walk the swearword away from that stupid pit.

PLAY

Remembering how much fun playing is as my legs throb tonight!

coatsquotes

So…I don’t want to put Shaun T or Jane Fonda out of a job, but I think I’ve found the most effective workout routine.

Play with your kids.

Michael has deemed this summer a summer focused on our family.  We need it.  Our kids have sacrificed a LOT of time with us because of seminary and our crazy schedule.  We’re saying ‘no’ to things that don’t fall in line with our summer theme.  We’re dating our kids.  We’re dating each other.  We’re loving one another extravagantly and specifically.  Our focus is each other.  Fall will come and bring demands and pull us away to things that are important and urgent and worthy of our time, no doubt. But for now, we are focused on our family.

Last week at the pool I was sitting with a friend who had let her children bring those squirter toys.  You know the ones…that…

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