Our little ladybug

I hear from a lot of different people why they don’t pursue fostering. Most often I hear a version of, “it would break my heart to give them back.” I’ve wrestled with this and I don’t think people are wrong. They are more right than I could’ve imagined.

I can feel my heart breaking most days. During nap times, after the many to-do’s I’ve made, in the quiet moments where I reflect… the what-if’s and unknowns and troubling information wrench my heart and I am constantly breaking.

I can’t share with you our foster child’s name, but I will refer to her as ladybug. We were approved by the state in January on a Tuesday and were called about ladybug that Friday at 5pm. She was at our house that night at 8! Ladybug’s been with us for just over a month, and becoming more and more a part of our lives. She is a beautiful, mild-tempered bug and is a bundle of joy and happy smiles.

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Gideon and Ladybug playing together. too. much. sweetness.

Our first week we received a clothing donation from a nearby church, which was awesome! Ladybug came with no clothes, so at that point we were scrambling. As I sorted through the sweet little things, I pulled out a red onesie with a frilly heart that said ‘my first valentine’s day.’

And I couldn’t get it together.

See, we entered her life before her first valentine’s day. We’re the witnesses of that memory. What a bittersweet moment – I mourned ladybug and ladybug’s momma’s loss of not being able to have that memory together. They both were going to miss out and knowing how sweet it is to witness your baby’s firsts, I hated it. But I also tasted the overwhelming goodness of God in His provision for ladybug and allowing me into her story. Thomas and I get to love ladybug and her family through all of these hard moments. And by God’s grace help them heal to new beginnings together.

My heart breaks when I think about sending ladybug home. My heart breaks that this sweet human whom I’ve stayed up long nights with and poured my heart into, may go home and never know me – may never know my love for her – that I want all the best in the world for her.

But I don’t think that should stop me or any of us from loving the least. My father’s heart broke when He gave His only Son so that I might live. Jesus didn’t sit back and apathetically look down from heaven. He stepped in. He allowed Himself to be broken. For me. For any who would believe in Him. So I think it’s okay that my heart breaks too.

Letting you in

I was three months pregnant with Gideon when I told Thomas it was time to adopt.

We were sitting around our fire pit and I was telling him about my experiences at a women’s conference that weekend. My heart broke over the course of that weekend for the littles who grew up in a world with no one claiming them as their own. All of their little milestones missed or disregarded. Orphans who are unseen, unwanted, and alone. Their realities tore down my doubts and hesitations.

Thomas and I always love looking at our pictures from growing up. We had parents who loved us and captured our moments.

Thomas was moved at what was going on in my heart, but not persuaded that the timing was right. So I refused to nag or manipulate and began to pray. In 3 years of marriage, I’ve seen God use my gift of ready faith and Thomas’s wisdom and patience to complement one another time and again. We challenge each other to step closer to Jesus and hear what He is saying to us. Because while my boldness scares him to the cross, His patience and wisdom drives me there just the same.

At the end of the year, Thomas initiated going to a foster and adopt information session and wound up attending by himself. He came home moved. But not to adopt. He was shocked about the need for foster families in our state. Fostering terrified me. Loving a little and then sending them back? It sounded way too hard for me.

So we baby stepped our way into it, going to training sessions to volunteer. Then Gideon came and our life dramatically slowed down.

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thanksgiving 2015

A new year came and we took stock. Was God still calling us to this hard way of life? Thomas came to me early in the new year and said in 2016 we were going to become foster parents and foster at least one child. His boldness surprised me and I knew that was the Holy Spirit reaffirming our earlier convictions.

So we ran hard after it. After 30+ hours of training, locking up our knives, buying a fire extinguisher and carbon dioxide detector, painting a new crib, filling out endless paperwork and several home studies we are on the verge of becoming foster parents.

I was driving home Monday praying for this first little who will be joining our family. And it hit me, he’s out there. The little who has already so impacted our lives for the last two and a half years is out there now. And it’s this little that God is calling us to love and lay our lives down for… and if I’m honest it’s felt extravagant. For us the whole process has felt hard and long and pricey.

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Parker, Mary Louise, Thomas and Clark playing on the slide.

It sinks in all over again, as it does whenever we lay our lives down for another. God so loved us He didn’t even spare His own Son, what more will He not do for us?! The process seems extravagant for me and Thomas because we’re still learning the love of the Father. But for God, it’s simply the tip of the iceberg. His love is deeper, wider, stronger, richer, and fiercer for this little than I can even imagine. Of course He would send me and mine to love His littles.

As we get closer to welcoming our first little into our home, would you join with us in prayer and support? We are starting to put together a support team and if you feel led we’d love to have you join us.

xo, lauren and thomas

My friend who was homeless, Brian

He looked like at some point in his life he was a normal, maybe even an above average looking guy.

About half a year before I befriended Brian one of his molars had become impacted, infected and incurable by modern medicine. His tormented tooth drained fluid into a grapefruit sized tumor on the lower right side of his jaw. For three months my eyes kept searching for any sign of recovery, but his swollen face only sunk into more disrepair.

He oozed out of the corner of his lips. Cuts and stitches hung under his jaw, left by the doctor’s attempts at digging and draining. When Brian ate, he chewed slowly like a cow munching its curd. Watching him was like watching a washer with a see-through door roll its clothes around and around. I would sit and try to avoid staring, but often I found myself mesmerized by his rhythmic smacking. It was rare for Brian to shave. His stubble rounded over his infected mound and created a few ingrown hairs across his tumor that became zits.

A little old lady driving a tan sedan smacked a biker fifteen feet clear across Ponce on a Thursday morning in July. Brian and I teamed up to hold her hand still as it tremored and hug her as she processed her part in the tragedy. After, I asked if I could pray healing for Brian’s infection and he stopped. Said yes, of course. So I began to pray, but right before I closed my eyes, he took my hand and pressed it over his disturbing growth. At the time my insides recoiled.

Two days ago, Brian died; his infection became cancerous. Since finding out, I’ve continuously thought about our friendship and that day. It made no sense to me, why was that moment so profound? Listening for answers, I heard Jesus tell me that 2,000 years ago He came to touch the untouchables and to befriend the friendless. Jesus told me how lovely it was that day when I cupped Brian’s oozing, swollen, stubbly jaw and thanked Him for our friendship.
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Tidbits of Truth

To continue the process of reflecting on this summer, I am hunting through my journals and conversations. God keeps recalling the truth about relationship building that I gleaned from the streets.

Slow down. Two words that float to the top of all of my journal entries from this summer. Sometimes my life beebops so quick from one engagement to the next, I miss chances to really cherish people.

Before lunch everyday, our community hosts a prayer time. We circle up, hold hands, and hang on for the long haul that is afternoon prayer. By the end of the summer, my sigh at the beginning of afternoon prayer began to bug me. Why am I so restless that I can barely make it through a 15 minute prayer? Is it because, if I’m honest, I act like my time is my own? If Christ owns me, He owns all of me, including my time. Slow down; love God and love your neighbors, lauren baggett.

Receive. It makes such sense! When I receive advice, encouragement, food, or gifts from a homeless brother or sister our relationship immediately deepens; we become friends. It is better to give than to receive, so for love’s sake, receive.

On one of my last days in Atlanta I took a mission team over to Gateway, the state-run homeless shelter, to paint nails and craft with people. I knew I had caught hold of the vision of Church on the Street when as the mission team girls intently painted nails I sat next to a few pregnant women with several half-naked children. They chitchatted with me about their love-lives and painted my nails. Shanay, a 6ft 5” woman with a laugh that makes you smile, painted swirly designs on my nails, and asked ‘So are you new here at Gateway?’ What joy! What sweet words! Somehow, I had disassociated myself from the mission team people and snuck my way into not simply being friends with these women, but belonging with them!

Jesus has done the same for me: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” –john 1.14

He became flesh! Like me! And He lived with people, really lived with people, like perfectly lived for and with them. And He died for us, giving us His good standing with God and all of the riches of His inheritance as God’s Son. He knew, ahead of time, that He was giving these things to people, to sinners, who will misuse His generosity and He did it anyways… It’s almost like He is the greatest “enabler” of us all…

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Living Gently

Every now and again a day at Church on the Street becomes hectic. H.E.C.T.I.C. Two types of people generally walk through our doors: One who comes for more long-term help, who becomes a part of our community, the other storms in needing immediate help always for a code-RED crisis situation.  As an ambassador for Jesus and an intern with Church on the Street, I have a responsibility to respond to both types of people by treating their interests as more important than my own.

Today an 18-year-old girl, Nashay, required my immediate attention, pushing aside a mother, Phylis, who was also a code-red (Apparently, I come off as a woman-in-charge… ha!) She needed marta cards and an ID. Normally, we jump through these hurtles by giving our friends information about other groups who exist primarily to help with those situations, but what with Nashay freshly 18 and naively waving around a check she needed to cash, I decided to escort her to Crossroads, another ministry. Crossroads was closed. Dun dun dun. Together we squatted on the curb trying to find some solutions for her problems. Her stories started to change… Confronting her about her inconsistent facts quickly spoiled her friendly attitude and she just up and walked away, not knowing where she was headed and without the help I offered. Humbly, I chased after close behind ‘Nashay! Nashaaaay!’ ‘I don’t wanna talk no more. Im done.’ Awfully confused, I managed to blurt out ‘Why?’ Nothing- She simply walked away.  

Dazed, I walked back to St. Paul’s. My prayers shot up to Jesus – please, O Jesus, help me to shepherd Your sheep better. Forgive me for my lack of gentleness! Not every interaction ends with hugs and blessings, sometimes I simply have to trust that Jesus has a bigger plan and somehow my attempt to love Nashay fits in it.

Plodding along, I noticed the corner of Peachtree and Pine was hopping: plenty of junkies swamped in their plenty of junk and lots of shifty eyes trying hard not to make eye contact. However, as I prayerfully stepped across the crosswalk, a woman hollered at me – ‘Baby!’

I recognized her from seeing her at Retreat several times. ‘O hey there!’ I smiled and reached for a hug. She snaked her arms around my neck and smooshed my body close. First thoughts? I bet you she’s drugged up and emotionally over-stimulated. As she let me go, tears trailed down her cheeks and she mumbled ‘It’s just been one of those days, baby.’ So I hugged her again and she sobbed. A man crossed the street raising cain, a hootin and a hollerin about how my friend was a crack whore- She ain’t nothing but trash! GARBAGE! A crack whore who ain’t worth your time! Don’t give her none of yo money! She dirt! Look at her bung-up head! A truck drove by and a man yelled out at me- White girl, go home now! I clung to my friend and kissed her bald, bung-up head and told her ‘You are so precious to me. You are so precious to God.’ She just held on to me and as the man bee-lined his verbal assault our way, she said ‘I love you baby, God sent me His angel today to be full of His Spirit to bless me.’

There cannot be a more important job to share the love of God with His children. Who knows? Wanda might have been drugged up, and probably had a stash on her and had dealt crookedly with that guy, but who knows? Jesus does! And what does Jesus think about Wanda? Is it what the man in the truck thinks? That she is an untouchableunsafe and unworthy? Is it what the man who charged after us accusing her of all ungodliness? No, Jesus whispered in my ear- This one, she is my favorite. His voice, the most gentle of all, tenderly leads the despised and the helpless into His love; may my voice always join His in harmony.

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the mind of Jesus

The simplicity of the gospel grips me anew as I listened to one of my brothers share his prayer request this morning.

Twin, tall and slim as a willow branch, lopes around St Paul’s barely able to stand still for most of the day, but he somehow manages to corral himself into our chapel every morning at 9 am for morning prayer. His real name is Antonio, but only a few people know that. His normal banter ping pongs back and forth between coherence and crazy; the ball goes up, the ball goes down around to the inside of your mind when you see that the peaches aren’t on the street and the peach tree has no  home to where you send your apples to. Can you take second fruits to the street where you  sometimes eat? Only then you know that you’re too young for marriage and a second, third mortgage. Don’t marry too young is all. 

Twin asked this morning for us to pray that we’d love everybody so that people would feel included in our community. Of course, he made his request in a jumbled sort of way, and as I pieced his meanings together he nodded in agreement. How simple? I thought. Jesus frees us to love God and to love our neighbors, to make them both feel welcome and at home in our lives.

And it’s that simplicity that over the past two years has begun to transform Twin and many others like him who are too manic to settle and too independent for others to push them into institutions. Pastor Andy tells me that when Twin first started coming he could not stop jibber-jabbering through bible studies and that he interacted aggressively with others. Miraculously, the gospel and the love from the body of Christ Jesus have melted Twin into the smiling, sometimes beautifully coherent, dancing, goofy Twin that I know and cherish today.

God is good!

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Jesus wept too…

In the past two months, I have steadily grown more aware and annoyed with myself at my ability to cry about any dad-gum thing. My eyes grow weak, my mouth wobbles, my nose runs and my face becomes blotchy. It’s simply delightful!

Jesus has begun to share with me however, that tears are a part of how He knit me together. Sure, there’s suffering that comes along with it (people get awfully uncomfortable with the moaning myrtle of the group), but to display the tender heart of Jesus to those around me, I’m learning, is a privilege.

On Wednesday, the other interns and I led a mission team back under the bridges and I ran into Gregory again, but this time bandages were wrapped around one of his hands and covered most of his head. He had just waved people on to avoid conversation when he saw me, smiled, said my name and called me over. What happened greg?! I almost shouted at him as I grabbed his shoulder and squatted down beside him. He explained that there are a group of young men that like to beat up the elderly under the bridge early in the morning. One had come looking for a fight and had hit greg with a healthy looking tree limb; he pointed to the innocent looking limb still lying next to the scene. Gingerly, greg took off his hat with his one good, but bent arthritic hand and immediately, as I took in the bloody insides of his hat and the thick bandages that Grady had hastily taped over the fresh staples in his head, I began to weep. He stopped mid-sentence and watched tears fall down my face, confused and bemused: What are you… why are you doing that? He made a move to brush a tear, but stopped himself. He chuckled, shocked that I would care and suggested I become a nurse.

Gahly! I’m crying now just recalling the sweetness of the moment… I’m thankful for the honor of expressing to greg that he and his suffering matter to me and more importantly to God. It’s wild- Jesus cares about every human, every injustice, and every tear.

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The Bridges

Earlier this summer I held my breath, under the guise of an old childhood game, driving under the bridge on Auburn Avenue on the way to Pastor Andy’s house… but really it was the darkness that scared the breath out of my lungs. The possibility of the unknown people squatting under the bridge en masse commandeering my car and leaving me for dead seems very real in the few seconds right before I zip under the bridge and am through to the other side in a matter of seconds.

On wednesday, I ventured under “the bridges,” as they are referred to on the streets, and I was tempted to hold my breath again. Water dripped down from the highway above and pigeons flocked around the few homeless who like to create dependents. There are more pigeons than people and they bravely waddle close to the very people I am cautious to drive by in my car.

Like children and most people really, the homeless appreciate and open up when you physically get on their level. So, I sat myself down, criss-cross-apple sauce, next to a urine container and a mumbling man who gradually began to share his name, gregory, and his story. Slowly his words became firmer, as if he hadn’t spoken in a long time and his words were finally being thawed out of a frozen throat. Gregory shared about his thyroid problems and about how excellent of an artist his mother was. By the time we said goodbye, his mouth melted into a smile and his eyes watered up with thankfulness, “I didn’t think I was much of a talker, but something about your smile made me talk.” He grasped my extended hand with his bent, arthritic one and gave it a pat.

Thankful. My heart is so thankful that Jesus leads me to be light in dark places, especially places I am afraid to go.

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The last shall be first…

Before lunch at noon everyday our community gathers in a circle joined by hands. Old hands shaking in the clasp of young. White, yellow, brown hands mixed together all praying to our one God in thanksgiving, mostly for waking up in our “right” minds.

Today, a gaggle of transgendered ladies all bearing 5-o’clock shadows, joined our circle and lept into prayer, with what I thought was going to be shallow penance and a show of religious words. However, as one of the women-sirs prayed earnestly to Jesus, the Holy Spirit laid a finger on my chest – almost as if to hush my spiritual chatter so that He could listen more clearly. So, I listened too, and as Cici began to pour out her honest feelings, I began to weep. In front of complete strangers, she thanked Jesus for confronting her ‘twisted ways’ with not simply a soup kitchen, but with a community where she could enter into His presence. She confessed her waywardness and longing for Jesus. The Holy Spirit reminded me that He came for the least of the least; the transgenders are scorned even by the homeless community. Thus, Cici’s prayers are infinitely precious to Him. I know that Emmanuel, with great compassion, stares lovingly into Cici’s eyes and calls her by name, hearing her cry and longing for her return.

It is a confusing matter to sort out, however, after prayer, when the women are honored and allowed to the front of the lunch line. Cici skipped to the beginning of the line with a huge grin, while a whole bunch of men were left in her dust shaking their heads.

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Challenges

Today was full of a bunch of crazies and drama. Phase strolled through the chapel after breakfast with his du-rag strapped around his head and his eyes glued to the ceiling. Last week, he was on his way to being a famous guitarist. Today, he’s never played guitar, but the drums. I’m tempted to be hurt when I realize that a person I’ve befriended has a mental illness. ‘Jesus, I befriended them and You choose to let me know now that they have a few loose screws???’ Graciously, the Lord teaches me that no matter the person’s condition or flaws, He loves them and desires (commands) that I love them as well.

As challenging as it is sometimes to simply be a friend to some of these (mostly) men, it can also be difficult to know how and when to speak truth and love into their lives. However, the reward that my brothers and sisters on the street might be pushed closer into the arms of Christ is worth asking the bold, awkward questions and  worth waiting through the long pauses between answers.

I met Stefan recently on a rainy day when most of our regulars were hiding up under bridges or waiting out the rain at the Pine (the huge shelter on Peachtree St. and Pine St. that has an awful reputation even on the streets as corrupt and dangerous). Over our morning pastries, we had a simple conversation. He shared how proud he was of his son for succeeding in boxing and how it made him feel better that something of his own had succeeded in life, but that he was a screw up. What makes you a screw up? Addiction has me bad. What are you addicted to? He looks me in the eyes to see if I am genuinely concerned. He’s somewhat shocked that I would be bold enough to even ask. Cocaine and weed, he shares. Have you thought about getting help? No, I got authority issues. He goes on to tell me that he became a christian in 1996, that he’d been clean for two days now and this time was going to be different. How long have you been using? Ehhhhh, I guess it’s been about twenty years now. He stares at his coffee and then looks at me with his huge, searching eyes. What I’ve found to be true in my life and in scripture, is that how we interact with our earthly authority often reflects how we interact with our heavenly. He nodded in agreement. So you’re saying I need to let people help me? That God has put those people in my life? Yes, I think so. But more than that, maybe God is showing you that you aren’t really letting Him have authority over your life. If He really had authority in your life, do you think your life would be the same?

He cocked his head to the side – No, my life would be completely different.

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