Reclaiming A Fatherless Generation

I did not get to dance with my dad at my wedding.

But this is not a sad story.

In many ways, sin stole my dance from me.

My dad was a heroin addict, infected with Hepatitis C from a dirty needle, and died of three forms of cancer when I was 18. Though he died sober, clean, and in love with Jesus, the repercussions of the sin in his own life, and the ripple effect of his choices eventually took their toll. I deeply mourned the loss of my father, the reality of a fatherless life, and the future thought of a wedding without a father-daughter dance.

But this is not sad story.

One of my dad’s prayers during the last days of his life was that I would never be fatherless. It would seem his prayers were left unanswered, that one afternoon in March I ran into his room to find him lifeless and cold. It seemed as if my hope—my dance, had been lost forever.

Certainly, I lost hope for too long of time. I tried to find solace in alcohol, men, status, and image.

People told me it was normal—that I was a victim of a fatherless generation.

However.

Eventually I grew tired of the girl in my mirror half-living. I started to seek the Father—the ultimate Father, desperate for a life far better than this. Slowly but surely, I found a Hope, a Love, and a Security I had never known. I stopped how I was living. I called out to Him. Indeed, He came to my rescue. I latched onto Him with every piece of me. I chose to change my life around.

I told you—this is not a sad story.

For the next few years of my life, dozens of men, pastors, and mentors came alongside of me in the absolute most pivotal seasons, and became like fathers to me. I met them on different sides of the country, in different situations, and for different reasons. Many great men, along with their wives & children, accepted me into their families as their own, believed in me, advocated for me, challenged me, and gave me a second chance at a childhood, a second chance to be seen through a father’s eyes.

What is crazy is that none of these men were raised with perfect examples of Godly fathers in their own lives—so how did this come about? How did they become such great men? At one point in their lives, they too sought the ultimate Father. At one point, they made a decision to be different than the examples they were given. At one point, they were such great men, that when a fatherless, homeless poet came across them, she felt the love of the ultimate Father undoubtedly bursting straight through them, and chose them to fill the gaps the Enemy had stolen. Because God was so strongly inside of them, they became like His hands and feet, His mouthpiece, His reflection, protecting, loving, and encouraging this fatherless girl.

We too can make the choice they made. We can be what no one ever was to us. We can change patterns around. We can seek the Father, love people like Him, and be the examples the world needs to see of redeeming, forgiving, never-quitting love.

Years later, I married an incredible man.

At our wedding, four fathers danced with me—Sean, Mark, Chris, & Yeshua—all men who at different points played major roles in my life. As they each spun me around the dance floor, it was like God’s own hands and feet were sweeping me away. As the music played, it was if God’s own voice were singing, “You are not alone.” I had never seen redemption clearer. My dad’s prayers were answered. I was not fatherless. I had sought the Father. And though I had wandered for quite some time, I eventually found my way back to the dance floor.

For many of us, sin has stolen our dance.

Our mother left us. Our boyfriend cheated on us. Our purity was stolen from us. Our dad was an alcoholic. Our best friend was a liar. We’ve been told we’re not good enough. We’ve been told we’re not pretty enough. We’ve been told we’re not strong enough.

Satan has been lying to us, stealing from us, and trying to destroy us from the ground up. He likes that we think we are a fatherless generation. He likes that we think there is no hope in the world. He likes that we think that we are products of the sin in our lives, the victims of the sins of our families, the outcomes of the sin in our world.

And yet, God says the opposite.

In words God breathed, King David writes,

“Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—

This is God, whose dwelling is holy.

God places the lonely in families;

He sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.”

If we let Him in, God will redeem what Satan has snatched from us. He will be the Father we don’t have. He will be the Best Friend we lost. He will provide for us a home, a family, a freedom, and an ultimate, eternal, exuberant joy. He will out-do what the world has done. He will bring healing to our brokenness. He will give us unwavering victory.

So no, this is not a sad story. But what kind of story is it then? How does it end?

It ends with the choices we make. Are we going to be better than the examples that came before us? Are we going to wholeheartedly seek the ultimate Father, strive to look like Him, love others like Him, and choose to be the fathers, the mothers, the sisters, the brothers, the teachers, and the mentors we never had? Are we going to choose to reclaim what sin has stolen? Are we going to start a new ripple effect of love, kindness, and compassion for the generations to follow us? Who will we choose to be?

After I danced with these four amazing dads, I danced with my awesome brother-in-law, Adonis, and then ended my dance with my little brother, Elijah. Elijah was 12 when we lost our father. He was the first one to grab on to me and hold me when I fell to my knees, finding out about our daddy, and he was the last one spinning me on the dance floor that beautiful wedding day. Elijah is now a leader in our family’s ministry, works in retail, and is a basketball coach to inner-city boys. The love of God is strongly alive in him. When I asked him why he’s so passionate about coaching, he answered me, “None of those boys will grow up and say they didn’t have a man in their life cheering them on. I will be there. Coach Elijah will be there.”

We can choose to turn this cycle around.

I refuse to be called “a fatherless generation.” My Father is here. My Father is available. My Father restores broken lives.

Through my Father, I reclaim the dance that sin had stolen.

My Father—His song plays on. We can choose to dance again.

Finding Home

As the pavement glides like fresh-paved ice underneath me, I drive into yet another sunset, soaking up the rainbow sherbet rays, savoring this familiar moment—a moment I used to live in— the moment of transition between two homes.

For four years I existed here— here in the in-between. I had no permanent home, no official address, and no guarantee of residence for the next month. With all the highs and lows that this lifestyle offered, I can confidently say it was the experience of a lifetime, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. From profound seasons of loneliness, to overwhelming seasons of community, from crying on my knees thinking I would always carry this burden alone, to having tours filled with inspiring, encouraging, partners in crime, feeling like anything was possible, I saw the world in a new way I never would have dreamt. I got a view of humankind that changed me—a peek into the depths of myself, and a glance at what the universe looks like from the seat of other countries, states, and living rooms. 

To the many whom I came across— It has been an honor and a privilege to be invited into your houses, your hearts, and your families. Thank you for allowing this missionary artist onto your couch.

Sure there is a great stage narrative to be told, and perhaps one day I’ll tell it, but as I drive into one of my final sunsets, one of my sacred transitional traditions as a single, homeless nomad, the off-stage story just feels far more significant. As I traveled from stages to streets, from prisons to schools, from churches to camps, from conferences to projects, and from one booking to the next, the story of the in-between is really where my miracle lies. It was here at these sunsets, on these freeways, in these airplanes, between these cities, where I really found Home. It was He who never left me. It was He who provided just enough money, even if only hours before that bill was due. It was He who provided not one father, but multiple fathers to fill the gap for this wandering daughter. It was He who provided my voice to thrive on-stage, when it was completely and utterly gone off-stage. It was He who protected me as I drove through the night for thousands of miles by myself. It was He who brought healing, and wholeness, and reconciliation to the darkest parts inside of me. It was He who brought friends. It was He who brought family. It was He whom I spoke to every night and every morning, no matter where in the world I went to sleep. He went before me. He was on that road with me. And no matter the season that’s coming up ahead, I know the Common Thread that lies underneath my every transition, my every ending, and my every beginning. He is my Familiar Moment.

Alas, these savory drives into the sunset will soon feel a little different. I’m marrying an incredible (and I mean, an incredible, incredible, incredible) man. We will have an address together. And life on the road will start to look a little differently. Aware of the beauty of this closing season, I took the past two weeks off in order to travel to various homes and loved ones, to reconnect and bid farewell to monuments of seasons past, to remember the landmarks of God’s faithfulness, and to soak in the joy of the Lord that feels so strongly tangible in the midst of these transitions. It was such an important trip—for me personally, for my many communities, and also for me & the Lord. Soon it won’t be just me and Him. Soon it will be me, Him, and my hunk of a husband, more of a trio at times than a strict duo act. So I will enjoy Him in this present. And I will enjoy Him all the more in the near & dear future. In every season. In any location. Certainly, I will continue to change. Even more surely, He never will. He is our Constant, our Foothold, our Solid Ground in this ever-revolving world.

He is the same Yesterday, Today, Always, and Forever.

In the transitions, in the staying still.

The Common Thread. The Familiar Moment.

Wherever I am…

Indeed, He is Home. 

The Greatest Adventure

Paul, a traveling missionary to the first century world, put it like this:

“…I consider everything to be nothing compared to knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. To know him is the best thing of all. Because of him I have lost everything. But I consider all of it to be garbage so I can get to know Christ. I want to be joined to him.

For me, being right with God does not come from the law. It comes because I believe in Christ. It comes from God. It is received by faith.

I want to know Christ better. I want to know the power that raised him from the dead. I want to share in his sufferings. I want to become like him by sharing in his death. Then by God’s grace I will rise from the dead.”

These past 4 years, these words have run repeatedly through my veins, pumping renewing life straight into me, reminding me of the reasons why I move and breathe. I could weep as I write this-- there is nothing better, no greater adventure, than the active pursuit of knowing and following God.

Webster defines adventure as “an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity…. the exploration of unknown territory.” I resonate with this when thinking of when I first dared to venture to that place of fully surrendering myself to the Lord and His ways. In my short life, I have gone on a handful of unusual, yet exciting expeditions into unknown territories. Some were less than thrilling; some have left my life forever changed. But there has been nothing—nothing that has taken me deeper into scariest and hardest parts of the world and myself, nothing that has left me more in awe and wonder of something outside of myself, and nothing that has completely changed me from the inside out, or left me in a place where I am so broken for people, more than the daring expedition of being in the trenches of knowing Christ, suffering like Christ, and seeing the world like Christ. The things of this earth, the praises of men, & the "adventures" of this world... cannot compare to this.

Knowing Him is the best thing of all. Knowing God is the greatest adventure.

Whether I was on my knees, alone in Beijing, China, learning how God was a protector, or traveling for years between states, between homes, learning that God was a provider, or finding community and a stable home, living life a little more conventionally, learning how God was a friend-- there was nothing I experienced on any of those journeys that could hold a candle to what I was learning about the Lord. Hands down-- if I was seeking God with all my heart, I was in the best place I could be-- knee-deep in the trenches of encountering Him. If I was hungrily diving into His Word, I was on a journey far surpassing anything worldly. If I was dying to myself like Him, seeing the world like Him, and loving others like Him, I was on the greatest adventure of all.

For many of us, this adventure is not a physical place. It’s a place God is calling our hearts to be. Maybe for some of us, the heart of God is still unknown territory, an undertaking we know has been waiting for us for a while.

Whatever part of the world you are in, whatever job you are in, whatever season of your life you are in, God is begging you—step away from the viewing section. Step away from looking at Him at a distance. Step away from enjoying the sites of other people knowing and serving Him. And come into the trenches of knowing and following God. It’s unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, and much of this territory will remain unknown. But it’s worth the risk; it's worth throwing comfort to the wind—to better understand the personality of the risen Savior, and to personally encounter the power of Resurrection. 

He is the best.

And He is begging us…

To join Him on a greater adventure.


MAPS: Finding God's Perfect Place to Be

(This blog speaks on the piece, "Maps," available to watch below.) 


I wrote “Maps” on my knees, crying before the Lord, in the middle of my first “tour” as a solo artist.

I hesitate in calling it a tour because that sounds way more extravagant than it actually was. It was Summer of 2011—earlier that year I had turned down stable jobs, left relationships that meant a great deal to me, and was throwing a wrench into my life's plans as I packed up my bags and crossed state lines in pursuit of preaching the Gospel through spoken word. What was this girl thinking? Who knew. I had close to no idea what I was doing or what it would turn into. I lived out of a suitcase—literally. I had no place to call home. I was going from booking to booking, city to city, state to state, just barely making ends meet. “Tour” seems to imply that it was a temporary journey, an expedition to various places that would eventually come to an end. That is not what this was. I had burnt all my bridges. I had nowhere else to go. I was far more of a starving, nomadic missionary than a touring artist. I had bookings for the next few weeks, with no idea if I was going to keep getting jobs for the rest of the year or if I was going to be homeless. I so badly wanted to go where God wanted me to go, to be where He desired me to be. But all alone, in a new city and state, in the guest room of a pastor’s family that I didn’t know, whose church had hired me for the weekend, I thought, “Am I in the right place? Where am I supposed to be?

I am not alone.

We’ve all been there. Juniors in high school and college, desperate to pick the perfect school or pick the right job. Singles in their mid-twenties, longing to find “the one.” Anyone & everyone thinking of switching careers or relocating a family. We’ve all been at this place, a place of internal desperation & seeking, or quite literally on our knees, begging God to reveal to us His cosmic preferences.

For me, it was here, on my knees on the side of a bed, in my early 20’s, hoping that I was in the exact physical location God wanted me to be.

Turns out, there is far less in the Bible on God being specific in His preferred destinations & plans for us, and far more of an emphasis on where He wants our hearts to be. He doesn’t talk so much about the precise “will” He wants us to follow through with, but instead talks abundantly about the “way” He wants us to do things in the first place— the way He wants us to think and treat people, the way He wants us to surrender and be faithful. He never seems to care about anything more than people knowing and loving Him, and loving His people. He doesn’t seem to care too much about the things we so adamantly obsess over.

The verse I reference in my piece is from Paul, in prison for preaching the Gospel, speaking on being content wherever He is. I love that verse. He did not care if he was behind riches or behind bars—as long as he was living for Jesus, he was content wherever.

Another verse that really spoke to me in that state of wondering is found in James 4.

Verses 13-15 state, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city. We will spend a year there. We will buy and sell and make money.’ You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? It is a mist that appears for a little while. Then it disappears. Instead, you should say, ‘If it pleases the Lord, we will live and do this or that.’”

Here the writer is practically mocking us, giving us a fresh perspective on the things we worry about. He is saying, “Who cares about the details? Who cares about the plans? You’re not going to be here for forever anyway. Wherever you go, whatever you do, make sure you please the Lord there.”

I learned something that changed my life that year, and it’s the ending line to my 2013’s album & tour’s title piece, “Maps.”

When I am here, asking, “Where’s the right place to be?” He answers simply, “Where you are seeking Me.”

As it turned out, my physical place didn’t matter all that much. What mattered was that I was in a place of surrender. I was in a place of seeking God. I was so desperate for Him, reading His Word everyday, having hours of intimacy with Him everyday, longing to have His discernment everyday—and that place of hunger, that place of obedience was indeed the right place to be.

We can’t ruin God’s plan by choosing a certain school, job, or city. We are just not that powerful. But we can ruin our own relationship with God, the quality of our own lives, by not being in a place of seeking Him daily, by not being in a place where He is in the center of our thoughts and desires. If we miss Him, then we are the ones who undoubtedly miss out. Instead, we need to be in a place where we are content with knowing and following Him. We need to be in a place where we say, “If it pleases the Lord, I will do this or that.” We need to be in a place where we say, “I am seeking God with all my heart. I am right where I am supposed to be.”

In Psalm 84:10, the songwriter states,

“A single day in your courtyards is better than a thousand anywhere else. I would rather guard the door of the house of my God than live in the tents of sinful people.”

Prior to the Summer of 2011, I had been in a place of worshipping men, status, and my own fleshly desires. But that day, I was in a different place. For the first time in a long time, I was in the right place. I filled that room with worship as I spoke to the Lord over and over, “One day with you is better than a thousand somewhere else. I just want to be where you are. I just want to know you.”

I was in the right place.

May we all be in that right place. That place of seeking God. That place of indulging in His Word. That place of looking like Him, loving others like Him, and trading in our own desires for Him. May we not obsess over the maps. May we not worry about the plans. If we are pleasing the Lord, we can do this or that. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we will be in the right place if we are seeking, loving, and following Him.

 

"...Until The Day I Die."

Blood everywhere. I’ll never forget the first time I saw my dad get beat up.

We were having Church in the Park—our bi-weekly, sometimes tri-weekly outreach to the homeless. The band was playing. My dad was worshipping God with his arms raised high. A man began to loudly and angrily curse at him and the musicians on stage. This was not new. No man who is living for himself likes the sounds of surrender.

But this time was different. My dad asked him to step away. The man pushed him. My dad touched his shoulder and said, “You’re being disruptive, would you stand on the side?”

Swing.

My dad crashed onto the brick cement street. A man we would later identify as Donald Peoples continued in his rage and his continuously swung at my father.

I could go on and on about what it was like standing with my little brother and older sister as she tried to cover our eyes—unsuccessfully, and what it was like to watch a hero fall. I could go on even longer about the beauty of the Church—as my dad hit the floor, dozens of homeless men who were addicts, alcoholics, some of who at one point also cursed at my dad came rushing in defending him, fighting off Mr. Peoples. Truth be told, there was a lot I learned about the world that day.

But perhaps the best part was after the riot. My dad had bandages all over his face and arm. The music had stopped. The park was overrun by sounds of whispers and questions. Should we all go home? The pastor was hurt.

The image I’ll never forget is my dad walking onto the stage and grabbing the microphone. We were outdoors, and this is what could be heard for blocks throughout downtown San Francisco: “The truth is, I used to be just like that man. But then I found Jesus. I’m going to talk right now about a Savior who can change your whole life.”

I watched as my dad tore off his bandages, and preached the Gospel to hundreds of homeless men and women. I watched as he prayed over them and led dozens to the Lord. I watched from the backseat as he drove my family home. And I decided, for the rest of my life, no matter how hard the punches came, I would not wallow in my bandages or wounds. I would use every opportunity—every bruise and scar, to tell people the story that could change their whole life. I would tear off my bandages, get over myself, and get the job done.

No, I'm not a singer. But from time to time, my dad and I would lead worship together in the park with our homeless friends. Those are some of the best moments of my life.

I used to ask my dad if he was scared. Was he scared that one day another Donald would come around? By the way, many did. Was he scared that people would hate him, and violently stand in the way of him telling people about Jesus? By the way, many, many did. My dad never said much about that. But he did always say, “I will see souls saved until the day I die.”

He did.

He preached in that park for over 20 years before he died.

5 days before his death he was preaching to the homeless in that very spot he got beat up at many years before. 2 days before his death he was sharing the story of Jesus to a plumber that came to his house to fix his sink. And when he died, March 12, 2008, I know there was nothing left in him—he put it all out on the line for the Kingdom—everyday, and never missed an opportunity to tell people the truth about Jesus.

May no wounds stand in our way. May no discouraging men stand in our way. May we use every opportunity to show people how they can have a radically new life.

Bring on the punches.

Bring on the curses.

Bring on the riots.

There is a Savior who can change lives.

May we see souls saved until the day we die.