Why do you do whatever it is you do?

I’ve been thinking about that lately.  The world stopped for a precious minute and we’ve all had time to ask ourselves for the first time in the history of probably ever why we do what we do without the eyes of the outside world expecting much.  We have had a literal minute of silence followed by a horrific noise leaving us all speechless, and Silence again.

So, no one is paying attention but everyone is watching.   What matters to you? What do you actually care about?  The world was stopped and now its inflamed.  Everyone is speechless with their mouths hanging open and I ask myself why and what next.

I love transformation.  I seek out people who want transformation.  My life has been a process of slow transformation, and transformation is the kind of work I do with my life.  While I make my living in the physical transformation of bodies, I get to be a part of the spiritual, mental, and emotional  transformation that is all part of a divided whole.

This picture feels like what we so desperately want.  This little girl, arms open wide, shamelessly joining in what she hopes to be good, and where she hopes to be included.  It may just be the warm up to a workout, but she’s all in.  She knows getting it perfect doesn’t matter, she’s already loved.   She has no shame in her.  She’ll do as much as she wants, stop when she wants, and take her shoes off at inappropriate times.  Those of us surrounding her are riddled with obligation, addiction, and bear the consequences of living past her age, but are quietly, desperately trying to get back to her.

While my job is training and helping run a gym and nonprofit ministry, what is it really that I want to do?  Strip down the logo and expose the foundation and what is it that drives me to keep trying?… It took me more than a minute of thinking and staring out of windows serenely, but now I know, when it’s all shut down or burned up,  my heart wants this:

To be a witness to transformation.  To invite strong women who have let life teach them to be small to embrace the bigness of their soul and to feel the even biggerness of God’s grace as they break things on the way. 

And to watch the boarders of privilege blend with poverty.  In the same room…Rich with poor, Weak with strong, sober with addicts…all the colors. To see the pious and the social outcast share life.  To live out stories that ground us to our knees in empathy for the load every one of us is carrying.  

You see?…Its never just a job or a place…or a gym.  It’s  where we meet together to accomplish a thing.  Where we sweat and struggle and lean into what is hard on purpose.  Its where getting to the goal demands getting rid of old habits, fears, and the weight of self-protection.  All in.  Everyone exposed.

I love transformations.  It’s part of what makes me love training the body.  I  love that moment we wake up to recognize that we have strayed far from the little girl who didn’t hide, and didn’t worry, and didn’t try to control.

It doesn’t matter if you’re fresh out of jail battling a 20 year drug addiction, or a soccer mom faking your happiness  worrying about what happens to your marriage when the kids leave home. It doesn’t matter if you are black, brown, or white.  A holy thing happens when you start to pay attention…and then you decide…and then you move. Transformation.

It’s really brave, really messy, sometimes inconsistent, and there’s no limit of bartering, begging, or re starting.  It’s all transformation.  It starts sometimes from your hatred for what evil or neglect or sabotage has happened to you…or the apathy you have allowed to happen.  And it tenaciously grows out of what is most hoped for, and the peace you long desperately to recover…and it’s all holy.

It’s a decision point.  A pain point.  The time you try again, or the time you decide NEVER AGAIN.  It wakes you up from numbness to see God, wrestles to break free, sits with failure, and reaches for salvation.

 It’s in the hard labor of breaking a sweat, the fear of not knowing what sober, or thin, or strong, or equality even look like.  It’s fragile and yet it’s terribly strong. 

Its why I do what I do, and no matter what I do, I look for its likeness.   And as long as I do things, I hope they are things that hold space for what is transformational.  Arms open wide, shamelessly joining in, already loved. 

Right now.  You as an individual may be at a pain point or a decision point.  The world has stopped a moment to get your attention.  What is it you really want?   A good body?…Peace on earth?…  all good things.   All things that need you to seize a moment and decide what happens next.  You get to be this girl in the picture, unafraid to say what is true but grounded into a deeper truth of her absolute rightness in taking her place on the floor.

What will you do with a world that is sick and burning or a body that is weak and dying?  You can go numb…or you can begin to move.  It’s my favorite thing…that moment of decision.  It’s the moment where you see your life as a thing that can change.  You have a body, a mind, and a heart that can transform. You are a business, a city, and a culture that can decide.  Arms open wide, shamelessly joining in, already loved.

 

Again today, as all the feverish work we have done over the last three months becomes the temperate road ahead.  Not so much easier, but consistent and forward.

David is kept in a state of constant evolution, working a steady second job that steadily allows us to pay the mortgage.  Chris does what Chris does and works at all hours of the day while occasionally irritating me with impromptu budget discussions and the very unromantic side of paying for a new business.  I press through the day,  fitness classes at 5am whether anyone shows up or not, clients, a very glamorous cleaning job, and the selling of my own plasma for grocery money and, secondarily, the benefit of anyone with coagulation issues.  There it is.  The very exotic life of three social entrepreneurs who love Jesus and feel like life is better when lived out in service.

As I go, I learn. 

As we go, we cut a path.  The further in, the more entangled our purpose becomes with the purpose of those around us.  The further on, the more we see how a broken world seeks to break what is weak in us.  Anymore, I only see clearly when I look behind and realize that the path had been cut for me…that it was never about me…and that is sometimes a relief, sometimes a bummer.

I considered the potential of partnering 148 Ministries into a brick and mortar existence as 148 Wellness with a muddy mixture of unwavering confidence and absolute uncertainty.  Confidence, that even my bad decisions are malleable to the kind of God that uses foolish things as teachers.  Absolute uncertainty of what this process would even look like, what life would look like, what the heck whatever we did would look like…

What would a business with the heart of a ministry even look like?

Several weeks in now, I keep discovering uncharted difficulty and unexpected clarity, but I also keep going.  Still confident.  Still uncertain.  We all just continue to take the next step, do the next thing, engage the next fire.   Overwhelmed with gratitude, and literally crying from uncontainable joy at so much undeserved favor, and in the next moment crying because I’m tired, and stupid, and whose idea was this anyway…

It does not feel like I thought it would feel.

Somehow as the process began and each door opened into another, I simply walked. Cautiously optimistic. Woefully naïve. Wonderfully simple. It was only in the walking that I found the direction; only in the stepping did the ground form underneath to support the weight of each footfall.

I had a dream many years ago of opening a gym with the mission of building up women broken from a world of abuse and misdirected worth.  Now alongside a pastor and a PTA we have a gym that does that…and more.  Somehow, It’s better than my dream.  Somehow, what I thought would be hard isn’t as hard as what I never once thought about.   The attacks come from the sides and within…never head on…never straight forward.

There was something still in me that thought doing a “good thing,” following God’s prompting, building a dream, serving a purpose, or whatever you want to call it,  meant that the “good” and “godly” in this world would be excited and supportive, cheering their fellow soldiers on.

…Some are…some are not…some don’t really care.

Something told me I could discern who was “good” and “godly.”

…I cannot.

Something in me must have also assumed that the personal struggles with my own character flaws, family dysfunction, and chronic tardiness would somehow fade behind the heroic mask of purpose.  All at once, every insecurity, every lazy habit, every fear would just dissipate like some kind of vapor.  All at once, I would be competent with an Excel spreadsheet.

…they have not.  I am not.

Something told me I could do this. 

Something told me I could not.

Somehow I must have had the idea that stepping out in faith would smooth the road ahead.  I have never considered myself a “good Christian” and things always seemed to go poorly for me as a matter of consequence.  This time though…was different…I was different.  My heart was different.  Somehow in my head that meant that surely goodness and mercy would follow me all the days of my life.  Good friends would draw closer and share the vision. All conflict, if any, would be resolvable. People would like me. My character would be above reproach. My marriage bonded even tighter with the chords of a working partnership. I would lose ten pounds but not even care, and it would all be under budget…because Jesus.

…None of that happened.

The road ahead is still only revealed one upward step at a time.  Friends have pulled away; bitterness and questionable motivations are always hunting us. It is now even harder to make time for family.  The time suck of conflict has emerged from the stupidity of miscommunication.  I can’t make anyone like me.  I still have anger issues. I’ve been eating products that could outlive me through some wizardry of the food industry called red #5, and the other day David and I had a legitimate kind of fight about the sequence of room painting.

This just doesn’t feel like I thought it would feel.

It is, however, better.  More risky, more unstable, more of what I already don’t have enough of, but infinitely better.  I only get the next step by taking the first. I only get to see what is wonderful when I wonder what is next…and I have seen some really wonderful things in the last few weeks.   I could have spent the rest of my life asking for a presentation of the path and the purpose, But God only seems to be interested in showing me as I go.

He doesn’t work like I thought He would, but as I go, I get to watch what is otherwise overwhelming become a simple step…and it’s so much better.

1 Chronicles 28:20

“Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God is with you…”

Another week goes by. Another Sunday I sit and can barely believe the direction we head.  One step, one moment one breath at a time we proceed in spite of fear and fatigue.

Last week was the first of many Tuesdays at Hope Center Indy.  Last Friday we again held chapel service for the women of the Volunteers of America Fresh Start program in downtown Indianapolis.  This week we look to extend yet again.  We work through complicated scheduling and uncertainty.  We wrestle internally with inadequacy and sorrow.  At the end of each day, David and I stare blankly at each other and cannot find the words to define the day.  We simply marvel at a God who allows us to share in the work.

Another week as their stories become a part of ours.  Another door opened, another scale falls from our eyes, another reason we can never turn back.  We hear them sing, we let them cry.  We get to be a part of their recovery and they are among the most refreshing parts of our day.  Gone is pretense. They can’t afford the walls the rest of us have built.  They are raw and they are wonderful.  

A girl asks for prayer,  she just wants her kids to forgive her.  A girl is abused as a pawn in her mother’s Satanic worship.  A girl fears going home knowing her pattern of relapse.  A girl wants her baby back but lives with the shame of the past.  A girl is beaten by someone who should have loved her. A girl has been raped by her father.  A girl has lost her husband to overdose…A girl recoils at kindness when hate is all she knows.

And yet… A girl sings with beauty and boldness, fully alive in her gift.  A girl commits her life to Christ.  A girl is hopeful.  A girl presses in to moving forward.  A girl embraces the God who sustained her.  A girl holds tightly to forgiveness.  A girl is baptized.  A girl releases her past and grins about her future.

Take it in.

These girls are your neighbors. These girls are your sisters.  These girls are in need of more than a government funded detox program or a well-meaning Christian handout.   They need us to get over ourselves.  They need us to stop worrying about things that don’t matter and get to work.  They need to walk out into a community that doesn’t fear them…doesn’t judge them.

So many of you want to help.  So many of you have offered support. We need it.

We need your prayer. We need your encouragement.  We need your talent.  We need your money.  We need your time.

But they need more.  They need foster parents who can weather the demons of addiction. They need a church family that is ferociously devoted to condition-less love.  They need know that they are not alone in their brokenness.  They need to know  that Jesus stands up for us in the midst of an accusing world,  and without flinching says “…Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11)  They need to see that in us.

The work is unfamiliar.  The outcome is uncertain.  The call is unmistakable: Be strong and do the work.  In our case, we just show up and watch God work.  Every time, It is a miraculous exposure of His power perfected in our weakness.   

If I can require anything of you today, it is this:  just show up.

Do the work you are called to do.  Hold comfort and competence lightly in your hands and trust that God is with you.  There is something more for you to do. There is a need.  You have a purpose.  Now you know.

As I was preparing to enter 148 Ministries’ first weekend working with the clients at the Hope Center Indy, I had no idea what kind of effect it would have on me personally.  I adhered to my normal sermon prep routine, I prayed for wisdom in an unfamiliar setting, and I stepped out with faith that God would lead.  I had no idea just how unprepared I was for the unsettling reality I would be forced to confront, and that the lesson would be mine to learn.

The Hope Center Indy houses and rehabilitates women of all backgrounds who have been victims of human trafficking.  All through Friday and Saturday we got to know the girls.  I spoke multiple times about the value God places on us, we shared personal testimonies, we shared workouts, and at one point, my wife offered me as a human punching bag.  She has this belief that most women would be better off if they could hit things really hard, so, with my core braced and arms padded, I offered myself up.  And yet for me, one of the most profound things that happened that day was a simple note, casually written on a sticky pad, shoved in an envelope with my name scrawled across it, and handed to me as we were packing to leave.   I had not realized it at the time, but the women and girls had written us each a few sentences anonymously throughout the weekend and it was these that our host had unexpectedly given me as we left.  It wasn’t till I got home that I was able to read them.  They were all unbelievably kind and overwhelmingly precious.

And then I came to the note that changed the way I look at women, the way I see men, and the way I   confront sin.  It revealed to me the true, honest, and very raw perspective these girls have towards the men who should have protected them, but instead, have scarred them.  It read:

“You give me hope that I won’t always feel uncomfortable near men. You seem to be pure in your thoughts and not a predator; which I thought was impossible. I thought all men were perverted. Thank you for not making me feel “looked at.”   I see Christ in you!”

 I finished reading and I froze.  Standing in the kitchen, holding the little sticky note, my stomach turned as my head searched for understanding.  In that moment, just to be honest, I never wanted to look at a woman ever again… ever.  A “predator” can be defined as “an animal that naturally preys on others” or “a person that ruthlessly exploits others.”   So which one of those definitions describes men?  Probably both.

  Satan is also described as a predator…the ultimate predator, a Lion.  In 1 Peter 5:8, the Bible tells us that “Satan prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”  In other words, Satan is a methodical hunter who is intentionally looking for ways to cause Jesus’ followers to stumble and sin.  He is quiet. He is calculating.  He is patient.  He is going about his work as if his life depended on it, and He is hungry.  He does not strike when we are healthy and surrounded with protection; He strikes when we are weak, wounded, and alone.

 Men, do we have the courage to confront that kind of predator …and do we have the self-awareness to recognize when it’s us?  Before you dismiss the ugly possibility, examine your heart, your mind, and your motives.  It doesn’t have to be physical or sexual abuse.  There are many ways to devour.

Ask yourself, as a Christian man, do I do the same thing to women?  As a predator, do I seek women out to exploit them and cause them to sin?

…Too strong?

Ok, how do you think of women? Do you hide your thoughts in the safe stalking ground of your mind, using them secretly and justifying it deliberately?

 …Still too strong?

 Ok then…do you manipulate your wife or girlfriend in a way that is demeaning and devaluing to her as a person, as a wife, as a mother, and as a child of God? Do you use guilt to get your way?  Do you use anger and lack of self-control to intimidate? Do you deny her gifting and purpose to pursue your own?   In the hierarchy of your love, are her needs a priority or a pawn?  Do you protect her heart, or do you prey upon her emotions?

I went last weekend to teach these women about how God sees them…I left questioning how I have viewed women all my life.  Questioning how women must navigate this exhausting narrative all their lives.  I left, analyzing my thoughts and actions, and I left with a mind that is reinforced against the schemes of the predator. 

Check your motives men of God. Take every thought captive.  Where we are called to protect, love and cherish, we have earned the title of predators.  We are called to be providers, leaders, or spiritual examples, and yet, most women have learned that we are not worthy of their trust.  This culture has always been a consumer of women and yet we have not stood up against it as protectors.  We are as guilty as the men who abuse, and sell, and exploit our sisters if we continue to refuse or underestimate our God given roll to reflect the heart of Christ in our relationships toward them.

So, which category do you fit into?  Predator or Protector? And will you choose to see where God is calling us all to examine our hearts as we navigate a broken world.

After what was for me, a fairly brutal week, I am driving downtown to the Volunteers of America building where they house their “Fresh Start Recovery” center.  It is a relatively new and desperately needed program where the mothers of opioid addiction are allowed to keep their children through the grueling process of recovery.  It is a beautiful provision in an ugly situation.  It is by grace alone that I have been allowed to work with these women who are far braver than I will ever be.  It is a sweet breaking of my heart, and a bitter reality to face.

I’m wearing a shirt my husband, in his kindness, had made for me, per my specifications, featuring our logo and the word “FEARLESS” embroidered on the front.  I had wanted our ministry to project boldness in a broken world…at least that was my intent…but, as I drive, I am filled with what I can only describe as fear itself.

As usual, I left the house in a series of random scurrying movements, always underestimating the amount of time it takes me to do basic things. My dog-owner guilt is in the red as I leave Sherman without a walk, suffering from an ear infection and food allergy that is costing me more money than I have.

The week behind has been filled with boxes checked and schedules filled.  I completed a certification exam I had expertly procrastinated and had long been dreading.   We had our very first board meeting as a fledgling non-profit.  Up until this point, I had no idea what “bylaws” even were and, after sitting through a two and a half hour meeting Wednesday night, I am discouraged to think that I still don’t really know…I’m cold, I’m behind at work, I’m tired, discouraged with feelings of inadequacy, and despite my best efforts, crying.  Ah yes…just what everyone wants to see as they roll up alongside someone at a stop light…a messy haired, pasty complexioned, white girl… weeping…claiming to be FEARLESS…inspiring.

148 ministries began as a quietly held breath in my mind over 2 years ago as I sat one morning at 4 am in the middle of reading a book by Christine Caine called “Unashamed.”  I had found myself in a circumstance I never expected to be, in a place I didn’t want to be, and working a job I had told myself I would never again be working.

There I sat, divorced after 9 difficult years, in Michigan, on a horse farm.  In those small morning hours, I would read, or pray, or cry, or do all three at the same time in an unexplainable feat of emotional acrobatics. 

There, for the first time, I became aware of the trafficking exploitation of women and children with all of its global proportions, and its moral implications.  And like waking up to a sharp pain, I adjusted my cramped, narrow position.  I am not formally educated, I am not degreed, I am not even easily focused, and yet in that moment I knew I wanted to use the only thing I knew, as the Lord chose to lead, to serve in the healing of His daughters.  As I turns out, I understood only too well the scars of physical and emotional abuse, about the self-inflicted lies that bind all women in fear, and the healing, proving ground that physical stress and unconditional support could have.  I did not know how or when, but I did know God was speaking there, and admittedly with some fear I trusted that He knew the plan, and that it was to give me a future and a hope. (Jer 29:11)

Still a bit sulky, I haul what feels like 497 pounds of workout equipment onto my person and trudge through sloppy snow to the front door, I’m buzzed in by the always cheery attendant, and without a hesitation force an equally cheery face that must have been on retainer for such occasions as this. 

I rush to clear the all-purpose room of tables, I accidentally set off an alarm that could wake the dead, and follow that up by locking myself out. I am helpless as I wait to be rescued from the hallway…ln defiance, I crank up the grittiest Christian rap I can find on Pandora but get annoyed by it and land on a fairly clean station featuring Jenifer Lopez…whatever…I’m not proud.  

Around 10 minutes past the time I have been scheduled to start, girls uncommittedly filter in.  There are six.  Two are quiet and look like they hate me.  One is pregnant.  Two others are uncontrollably running around and disorienting the equipment I strategically laid out. One leaves because she has reconsidered her choice of pants…she may or may not return. None of them have reasonable shoes.

I don’t know how…every time I’m pretty sure I black out…but the next hour is a mess of introduction, warm-up, explanations, instruction, adaptation, exasperation, laughter, complaining, quitting, explaining again… and again.

They are unconditioned, unmotivated, and pretty unimpressed by my attempt to share my love of fitness.  

Heroine or Meth or some other drug I’ve never even heard of has rung their lives out.  Every day, every moment, for them is suffocated with the overwhelming call of a chemical relationship that can numb their pain and remove their shame.  Every moment they have to fight to love their kids more than they hate themselves.  Every moment they have to be fearless.  

We sit stretching in a circle on the floor.  Some tell their story while I fight for the ability to relate.  I cannot.  I am out of my league here too.  I ask if they want help with workout ideas they can do without equipment, if they have questions about nutrition or weight loss.  Some do.  I ask if they have anything they would like me to pray for or with them.  In doing so, I am asking them to give me the privilege of their trust I don’t yet deserve. Some do, and I pray with and for them.

They filter out. I pick up the 497 estimated pounds of crap I hauled in there…somehow its lighter…and leave the building without setting off an alarm this time. 

I sit in my car and exhale that quietly held breath.  

I am not without fear.  I am not without anxiety, sadness, anger, or complete disorientation.  Somehow I thought this would be easier, but I had no idea just how perfect.  No idea how an incomprehensibly good God could use my clumsy effort to show a few women on a Friday afternoon that hears them when they pray.  148 Ministries was a thought placed by God, a path provided for by God, with a human effort protected by God.  I know for sure just how insufficient I am, but I also know just how sufficient He is. 

Driving home, I know there is infinite work to be done, plans to move forward and expand and to step into a mess I don’t even understand.  Tears start to fill my eyes again, but this time with the overwhelming recognition that I just got schooled in His undeserved faithfulness.  God provided a way for the last thing and He will provide a way through the next thing.  I can step forward, not without fear, but in spite of it.  Not because I am good, but because He is.  Not because I am strong, or smart, or steady under pressure, but because He is steadfast, and patient, and He works all things according to his purpose and timing.  In that promise I can rest fearlessly.