hope for tre.

Is there hope for Tre? A black kid who only knows his dad through pictures and rumors. A dad who has been in prison instead of in the life of his son. Is there hope for Tre? He’s seen so much. Has he seen too much? Crack heads caught in the act. Me: How do you know that guy’s a crack head? Tre: Cause I seen him lightin’ a crack pipe behind my house. Me: Dang.

He’s only twelve years old, but he seems like he’s been around for ages. His eyes are hard but they run deep. To look into them is to see a painful awareness that cannot be twelve years young. It’s like he’s been disappointed so many times that he’s developed an immunity. It’s still possible to let him down, but you gotta wake up early. He lives close to the ground so that the next broken promise doesn’t leave him far to fall.

Is there hope for Tre? He knows so much. Does he know too much? Has he been so long exposed to the broken dealings of broken adults that he has no more capacity to imagine? Is he damned to be a cynic for all that has flooded his mind before his mind was ready to make sense of it? He wears his anger like a birthmark. Not like it’s the result of something that happened to him in life. More like it’s the result of something that was waiting for him at birth.

Is there hope for Tre? Can the tender tears that he has shed give rise to a creative rebellion against the half-life that he has been handed? In a rare moment of defenselessness, one thing is made clear: he hopes that there is hope.

Is his hope for hope enough?

-guest post by Josh LeRoy

josh leroy is one of god’s greatest gifts to the world. he and his family have been a part of my life since i was in high school. his granddad, dad, two brothers and he are all ministers within the wesleyan church. they are the kind of folks who just move people wherever they go simply because they love like jesus loves. he and his precious wife, laura, started an inner-city movement called the bridge project in asheboro, nc.

an actual problem.

today i have been sober for 1400 days. or 46 months and a day. or 3 years, 10 months + 1 day. perhaps someone you know and love is currently or has battled in the past with the disease of alcoholism. i’m sorry. it sucks. i grew up in it, i was it – it sucks for you and it sucks for the alcoholic in your life. the disease makes us selfish. we drink because we are angry and/or depressed; in short, we drink because we want to escape something. we may only be bingers; some may be living under a bridge. as the big book says, it’s a cunning, baffling and powerful disease that affects the whole family and i’m just sorry if you’re going through it. there is help, there is hope.

i am going to try and veer away from telling you about the disease of alcoholism itself and simply want to offer you experience, strength & hope through my own story, as we say in aa. i also don’t want to talk about my experience as an adult child of an alcoholic because, like any good acoa, i still want to protect my dad, even though -and perhaps especially because- i don’t have him anymore. sadly, his disease compromised the rest of his health and, therefore, i would venture to say the disease of alcoholism was mostly responsible for his death when it comes right down to it. i do not judge him for this, even though it would be easy to if i didn’t have an understanding of the disease. instead, it makes me mad at the disease for robbing him, and me, of his life. i inherited his disease. we are fellow members of the same club.

here is my story:

i woke up on a cot in a hotel room on sunday, november 5, 2006, still wearing my dress from the night before, covered in my own vomit. my friend laura and her husband chris, who truly are saints of god because i could have ended up anywhere or with anyone and would not have known it, brought me up to their room after our friends heba and ed’s wedding the night before. an open bar at her wedding was the best gift anyone could have ever given me.

when i woke up, still drunk and hungover, laura helped me into the shower. she hadn’t slept very much because she wanted to make sure i was still breathing, that i hadn’t choked on my vomit. she told me later she just thought it was ‘one of those nights’ for me that everyone has once in a while. she didn’t realize i had an actual problem. she didn’t know that, while this was among the worst of ‘one of those nights’ for me, i was prone to drinking too much and often and that i was actually strategic about how many times a month i would go out with which friends so that no one really knew i had an actual problem. she certainly hadn’t set out to do an intervention, but that’s exactly what was about to happen.

laura stood outside the shower and lovingly told me story after story about what an ass i had made of myself the night before. i have no memory after a certain point because i blacked out. {‘black-outs’ aren’t the same as ‘passing out’. you are still ‘awake’, so to speak, in a black-out but it is likely you have no control over yourself and will have no memory of your actions later. there are otherwise good people in jail, for example, for killing people during a black-out.} by the way, that ‘certain point’? the last thing i remember was talking to my friend kelly’s husband seth while we were eating -i think- either peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or chicken biscuits and the reason i can’t recall is because i passed out in the middle of our conversation. i don’t remember very much before that and definitely not one thing after that. the next sort of ‘memory’ i have of the evening was watching myself (i know, weird) throw up everywhere in the hotel lobby in front of the bride, the groom and all of their guests. and then that’s all i can tell you about that.

as laura was filling in the blanks, i could only cry. in fact, i sat down in the shower and sobbed. i had huge dark bruises up and down one side of my body and a big scratch across the opposite side of my face and have no idea how i achieved either, except that laura said they had to carry me out and because i kept falling over. i. was. miserable. – literally, i felt miserable. but i was miserable inside, too. just…unhappy. and i knew i really did have an actual problem. i repented to jesus like i had done the morning after every other drunken night, and then i heard so sweetly in my spirit…

mary kathryn, it’s okay! i LOVE you! let’s just get a hold of this before it gets worse.

if i had never known the tenderness of my sweet jesus before that moment, i knew it then. he was not condemning or even upset with me. at all. he did not judge me or give me the silent treatment. he simply loved me. i didn’t feel his disappointment in me; instead, i knew his delight over me. and that night i responded.

{an aside: this is sort of funny. not really, but sort of. so, the wedding had been out-of-town, about an hour away from where we all lived. i drove home that morning and i really don’t think i realized then that i was still a little bit drunk. (please, please don’t judge me for this. i know there is no excuse for this. i did this often; i was very selfish.) i called every alcoholic i could think of, save for members of my immediately family. i called brennan manning’s office and at home and left messages for him at both, bawling my eyes out the entire time. (i got an email the next day from his assistant who said she could not understand a word of what i said, she just knew something was really wrong.) i called friends who knew and loved me and left messages everywhere i could, weeping and wanting to talk about my ‘problem’. god bless those sweet people.}

i walked into my first aa meeting that night. i will always remember big ed*, a santa claus of a man, being out in front of the clubhouse as if he was waiting there just for me. (really, he was just out there smoking with everyone else.)

it was a speaker meeting and, even though i was a little familiar with the program due to my experience with my dad, i really thought the speaker and the leader of the meeting were professionals. (‘professional drunks‘, i can hear them say.) i would, of course, come to find out that they were drunks just like me and might have been there a few months or a few years before me, but together we all only had that day by the grace of god.

i cried through the entire meeting. and then proceeded to cry at every meeting after that for the next month, maybe longer. i was definitely, definitely a newcomer. and i was definitely, definitely in the right place. i felt relieved and overwhelmed, but i knew i was safe and that i never had to drink again.

after i took my first (and only) white chip at the end of that meeting, a sweet friend, who i would learn later had only gotten sober a few days earlier, told me it had been suggested to him to do a ’90 in 90′. i had no idea what that meant but i agreed (it means 90 meetings in 90 days). the women swarmed over me that night, each one saying ‘get a sponsor…here’s my phone number…here’s a list of meetings…’ i felt like i was in a psychedelic, slow-motion swirl of love, from these people who did not know me but they definitely knew me.

i went to bed that night both exhausted and relieved and had the best night’s sleep i had had in a really long time. and for the first time in a long time, i had hope.

tomorrow, i’ll tell you what it was like before i got sober and then later this week, what my life is like now.

in the meantime, if you think you might have a problem with alcohol or another addiction, there is help available. you are not alone.

*names have been changed to protect anonymity.

she speaks picture highlights.

these are some of my picture highlights of the she speaks conference last weekend.

my next post will be the highlights of the messages i heard.

the women of table eleven! i just sat down next to cynthia (far left) on the first night and we all fell in love! the four ladies in the middle are all friends from baton rouge, although lee (in purple) now lives in arizona. sandra (next to me in blue) is a breast cancer survivor and that’s her daughter, kristi, in light pink in the back.

van walton is the director of spanish ministries for proverbs 31 ministries. she is an incredible woman of gentleness, kindness and encouragement.

van was the leader of my speaker evaluation group. she created such an atmosphere of such peace and openness in our little sitting room each evening. she made herself so available to us prior to the conference and i was so blessed and impressed by her emails before we got there. (i even had a wardrobe question that she helped answer over the phone.) :)

van, thank you for your willingness to be used to speak life and blessing over our little fun group. you are such a gift.

bridging the (age) gap between my new bff’s shawna kirk and laura amstutz. as shawna pointed out during our first real conversation over dinner on saturday night, we have the type of connection where you just know you’re loved and accepted…you can just sink back into the gift of that friendship and be exactly who you are. like…soulmates.

shawna and laura were there to represent compassion international. i think there were close to 70 children who received sponsors as a result of them being there to advocate on their behalf.

laura and i discovered we have way too much in common for us not to be destined to be friends. she is an artist in nashville and she also hosts art therapy workshops. i love her heart and her work. find both here.

this is my new friend, cindy finley, who i just happened to be sitting next to at lunch on saturday. turns out, we couldn’t stop talking (i know, imagine that…me! i couldn’t stop talking! i know…) she and her husband are pastors in virginia and have six children of their own (i couldn’t believe it either). last summer, they were going to sponsor a child from kazakhstan only for a few weeks. once katya went back home, the lord laid it on their heart to adopt her. so began their story of adoption from eastern europe, which opened their eyes to the reality of sex-trafficking. it is HORRID.

cindy’s heart is to minister to women between 20-35, helping them work through life and love in god. however, through her family’s experience of adopting katya, she is also compelled to expose the horror that is sex-trafficking.

these are the women that were in my speaker evaluation group. we met with one another on friday and saturday nights. i was so moved by each of their stories and so impressed by each woman’s courage to talk about the brokenness and redemption in their own lives. i’m convinced that we can only speak about what we know, and that god has a purpose and a plan for each of us. he does not waste any of our pain or our tears and my experience has been that he uses our lives to minister to other women who are going or have been through similar challenges.

it was an honor to be a part of this group.

(standing, left to right): monica, deedy, carrie, lottie, carole, sandy, & me)

(kneeling, left to right): laura, erin, tonya, van & heatherly)

angela thomas delivered our Saturday night message. y’all. she is a spitfire. SPIT. FIRE. amazing. UH. mazing. for reals. i’ll talk more tomorrow about what i learned at the conference. but she b l e w me away. not to mention, she’s hysterical. aaand she has her master’s of divinity from dallas theological seminary. (i know, i know…)

p.s. beth moore delivered our saturday afternoon talk via satellite. i know. it’s true.

this is obviously not the greatest picture of me and shari, but it is better than it might have been had she actually stayed KNEELING DOWN like she started out doing (she is eleven feet tall, i swear).

shari braendel is the resident fashionista of proverbs 31 ministries. she is a client of my bff-amy, having recently published her latest book, good girls don’t have to dress bad. shari has been an image consultant for over 20 years, working in cosmetics and in fashion. and now she uses her gifts to help christian women dress right for their body type, as well as young women understand how to dress modestly but still true to their personality. BUT she does it in a way that is honest but not threatening. she has such a unique niche for her ministry and she knows exactly what she is talking about.

this is the woman that i told you i was going to have breakfast with on saturday. (when she got off the elevator she didn’t see me. seriously, she is 17 feet tall). she is hilarious and REAL and a JOY. if you ever get to attend one of her ‘what to wear’ conferences, you’ll be in for a real treat. she also offers personal image consulting and now offers a ten-month program for women who would also like to pursue image consulting in christian settings.

and this is my precious friend, heatherly. she is a teacher in boston, has two (?) kids, a husband and a tender heart. she is tough and strong and sweet and soft – my favorite type of woman. i wish you could know her. you would love her like i do…and it’s not like we even got to spend tons of time together! i just know i love her and you would, too.

as for me, i learned that i still have a lot to learn. and that if it takes two or twenty years for the lord to put me in front of 5 or 5,000 people, i would spend that time studying the word of god and going deeper in my own walk with him. i have no desire to make my name known if it doesn’t honor god. nothing is more important to me than knowing him more and loving the people he loves, christian or no. that is what i’m called to (and so are you). my life doesn’t belong to myself. i am not my own. everything i’ve been through has not been in vain if it can change the life of just one person (in particular, my own. so, there you go! not in vain. told you.)

in the meantime, my job is to be responsible to ENJOY the life i have now and to love god and love other people.

i know this weekend was pivotal for me. not in a mountaintop, emotional way (i think i’ve kind of outgrown that). but it solidified my desire to serve god with everything that is in me. as micca campbell put it, it’s so in me that i can’t not do it. it will just be up to the lord to do it is all. fine by me!

charlie gaddy once asked me, ‘what is your blue sky, mary kathryn?’ (i love asking people that question now.) i probably didn’t have a very good answer then, even though i’ve known all of my life that the thing that brings me the greatest joy is loving god.

and so, i ask you friend, ‘what is your blue sky?’

what is the thing that you can’t not do with your life?

are you doing it?

love you.


this is my new little girl, felista. she lives in tanzania. she is seven years old. i adopted her this past weekend while i was at a conference in charlotte. i say ‘adopt’ because it fills a need in me of scooping up all the children of the world who need help. the more appropriate way to say it, though, is that i became a sponsor through compassion international.

the cost to sponsor a child is $38/month (up from $34). i bought a pair of shoes from tj maxx for $42 last week (that i need to return). my gym membership is $38/month. when my gas tank is empty, it has cost $36.94 to fill it up the last few times.

wages in tanzania are $8/month.

i live on a tiiight budget, paycheck-to-paycheck. but i feel so strongly about this cause that i just knew god would work it out somehow, especially given how much he loves these children and created them in his image.

just like you. just like me.

i couldn’t not come home with a child.

today, i emailed my property manager because my lease would be up in a month so i just wanted to make sure it would be okay for me to stay in my apartment. when i signed my lease last year, i had to agree to a second deposit that would be spread out over the course of the year, which will now be diminished. the amount?

$33.00. it didn’t even occur to me until i looked at her picture just now that this would be the money i will give to felista each month. (i think i can manage to wriggle the extra $5.00 from my shoe budget.)

felista has two siblings and lives at home with her mom and dad. but as soon as i signed up, felista became my child.

compassion is not paying me anything to endorse them. in fact, i asked my new bff’s shawna & laura how i could become a compassion blogger, and i don’t even qualify right now (and may never because it requires 50,000 blog hits to get noticed). those of you who know me know that i cannot blindly promote anything; for me to endorse something, it must be something in which i strongly believe. i will get no special attention for telling you about my new relationship with compassion and felista.

the only thing that may happen as a result of this post is that you may be moved to sponsor a child of your own.

and if that does happen, please prayerfully consider the impact and reach of just how far $38/month will go.

the story of grace

have you met hannah grace?

she is her (amazing) mother’s world,

her Father’s girl,

and the pure delight of her aunt kk’s heart.

dustin, who has been closer than a brother to us since high school, wrote this beautiful song for my incredible sister that i want you to hear.

but first, you need to read the story of grace.

*tutu photos taken by adam jones at my dad’s 60th birthday celebration at his grave.


I need you to know something. It’s about my dad. He died last fall. Suddenly, unexpectedly. He was only 59. My uncle found him slumped over his chair in his home in Nashville within about ten minutes of my dad’s  heart stopping and he couldn’t be revived. He had been writing an email to my older sister and, at the point when the email cuts off, we realized he literally must have died laughing, which is perfect.

Among a myriad of other health issues, he had congestive heart failure. He went just as we were told he would, which is that his heart would just stop one day. Cardiac arrest. And that’s exactly what happened, we just weren’t given a timeframe. I was at work when I got the call that he had been rushed to the hospital. I was told he had been unconscious but it didn’t register with me that meant he was already dead. He was like a cat and had been in the hospital on numerous occasions and I just wasn’t going to panic this time. Only the next call I got was that “the doctors did everything the could” like you hear in movies. Everything was suddenly in slow-motion. I was in my then-boyfriend’s car because he didn’t think I should drive myself home from work that day, not knowing when the next call would come or from whom. He took me to my mom’s house where I met my little sister and we just started calling everyone we could think of to call.

There aren’t any instructions for what to do when a parent dies. You don’t know what to do until you have to do it. And you don’t know how to walk through grief, either, until you have to do it. I’m still not over it -I’ve been told you never “get over it”- and it will hit me at random times how  much I miss him.

I need for you to know he is the best and most challenging parts of me. You will hear of him again. Probably a lot. But I need for you to know him in order to know me better. People used to say to me, “You are just like your dad” and it would mean one thing to me and something entirely different to them. But, it’s true. I am so much like my dad, and I am proud if it means I am loving and kind and gentle and creative the way that he was.

My dad was an alcoholic for over half of his life. For all of mine. He was an artist and a musician and wrote the best songs of anyone I know. My favorite sound in the world (is) falling asleep to the sound of him playing the piano downstairs late at night. He had a heart like Jesus. Anyone would feel comfortable next to him, princes and paupers alike. To know him was to love him, and everyone was loved by him. EVERYONE. He just loved being with folks. Not even doing anything. After we (and by “we”, I mean our non-profit, which is vastly different from being family-owned) sold our conference center, the new owners honored him by placing a nameplate on his bench on the side porch (which I dubbed his “office”), where he would sit and smoke and listen and laugh and dole out either hilarious jokes or simple nuggets of hard-earned wisdom if it was asked of him. Everyone loved my dad. He was precious and tender and sad and joyful.

We had a strained relationship, especially in the last several years for reasons I’m sure will come out as I tell my own story on these pages. Suffice it to say, there was a lot of water under the bridge between us brought on by years of living next door to one another, both in active alcoholism, where he was my boss (also on the property in the country where we both lived) and I was the daughter who lived the closest to him.

But in the last year or so before he died, there began a healing between us that was precious and tender and raw and unfiltered. He wasn’t well and, while I wasn’t hoping for or expecting it and didn’t know, I knew I didn’t want to spend whatever time he had left punishing him.

The last time I saw him was last summer. My then-boyfriend and I drove out to Nashville for a long weekend. And it was the first time in a long time when the pauses weren’t awkward. And I really enjoyed being with him. There was never a time when he didn’t enjoy being with me, even when I was abusive and angry at him. While there was no proper indication that he would die not three months later, I knew in my heart it would be the last time I would see him. And we had a good talk and he prayed for me before I left and we cried together.

He loved me more than anyone ever has or ever will on this earth. And I know it sounds crazy but…while we couldn’t get it right on this side of life, we have it right now. Now, I sense his presence and we can love each other without any filter and it doesn’t hurt to love him now.

I just need you to know.


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