What a strange, confusing, crazy time we are living in. There are so many of us suffering greatly. Mourning the loss of a loved one to a sickening injustice like the Floyd family or to the virus that is still gripping us. Anxiety about employment in an uncertain economy. Rage against a society that has counted us “less than” spilling into the streets. Depression. Fear. Isolation.
We are with you. Please reach out if you need some porch time with us (in person or virtual).
We are always happy to chat.
The world is scary for sure, but here is a reality. As divided and evil as things appear right now, we still know one thing for sure. When things get bumpy, God is usually up to something really really BIG. And His plans are always better than our great ideas. So let’s aim to follow where He leads and go where He goes. Humility, justice, and love will always triumph and so we continue to choose that solid lit path.
"Thy word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path." Ps 119:105
We remain hopeful in His promise and His kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”
The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost is for us...now. Live by the Spirit.
Let’s turn our anguish into purpose and our fear into hope!
This is definitely not the end of all the crazy, and it’s not even the beginning of the end. But as Churchill famously said, “perhaps it is the end of the beginning.” There is a glimmer of light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Buckle up, because there are more bumps to come! But, God’s got this.
He really does.
Keep pushing forward friends, loving God and loving our neighbor.
We love you. We believe in you.
I have a friend who has complained of boredom every time I've spoken with him during the "stay at home order."
No work? That's understandable. That sucks. I'm really sorry if that's you.
But bored? C'mon.
Someone in your family is ill or worse?? That's terrible. How can I help?
But boredom? Nah man. Boredom is not your real issue... Is it?
Maybe I'm strange and/or lacking sympathy, but I'm feeling really blessed right now.
What do you do when there is no little league, no CCE, no dance, and no track practice? You get in the garden and up on the trampoline with your kiddos.
What do you do when there is no office to go to? Spend that commute time cuddling with your spouse or your 3 year old or finishing that book. You go on longer walks and you spend a little extra time with your coffee in the morning, that's what you do!
In many ways this situation has reprioritized us, brought me back to the basics, my closest people, Cana, the kids (as individuals), and my actual neighbors. Believe it or not, we are even praying and eating MORE as a family. I thought we were already pretty good at it. But when you are cooped up with 8 others under a single roof for weeks on end, you have to pray and communicate and communicate some more and then pray some more. Lent is VERY Lenty this year. It is a blessing.
Yes, money is going to be tight with a bunch of postponed speaking gigs, but we have food on our table.
Yes, we are so sad about not being able to go to Palm Sunday (or Easter) Mass, but I'm told actual Grace abounds in times of trial.
No, we can't gather around a table with friends and strangers on the Open Porch, but WOW lots of people are out walking and riding in our hood. There is a great opportunity to love your actual neighbors by simply sitting outside and waving!
Perhaps the stay at home order is something like getting married or having kids, it's sort of the the socially acceptable thing to complain about.
However, the truth is my wife is not a "ball and chain" at all and being mandated to stay at home with her and my beautiful kids is not a terrible thing. It is a blessing.
For the most part we have no idea what the next couple of weeks, months, years will look like in the US. Will we see baseball this season? Who knows?
Gah, I don't know!
Everything is uncertain and it seems like the news changes every day.
All I can really do right now is stay put and DO the "next right thing."
Let's not wait on life to return to normal. Let's see it for what it is right now.
Let's love our families and our neighbors (from a distance). Let's pray, read and rest.
Let's receive the blessings all around.
In a time where it might be cool to complain about it, let me give you permission to like this new normal.
If you are actually in need right now and not just bored, please reach out. We would love to support you. And if you have a prayer request please comment below.
Cana and I love you and we are praying for you, as always.
Peace and Good!
Here I am, staring at this scene, wishing I was talented enough to paint this into a gorgeous landscape work of art. What an idyllic Spring day at the beach. You can’t see them in the photo, but there are wildflowers in the grasses, and the fog was filtering the sunlight so beautifully. I want to describe it as a “carefree” day, but that would have to be a misnomer seeing as the threat of Covid-19 hangs thick in the air.
Still, it’s been a beautiful day so far. Ennie has been playing catch with the boys all morning and the beach has remained mostly empty in that time, until, of course, the siren call of the ice-cream truck drew people from the other homes nearby. Earlier, the three young women in our household went for a 4.5 mile extended workout on the beach. Coach Maddie is doing her part to make sure her track athletes are ready to compete again, if that time ever comes. As for the “little girls”, Lucia and Zelie have been frolicking on the beach for hours already, with only a pause to play “Restaurante de Mama” for brunch, thereby practicing the Spanish we would have actually been forced to use if we had gotten to go to take our Pilgrimage to Guatemala for Spring Break, as was the original plan.
That was certainly a sad day. That moment, (like so many as of late) when fear and the virus that accompanies it, finally laid waste to our long hoped for, and best laid plans, and sent our part of the world scrambling to adjust, and to be prepared, and to protect ourselves from suffering illness or loss.
Nothing like a global pandemic to inspire “fear of neighbor”, amiright? Don’t get me wrong, I recognize this virus is a very serious illness. My family and I are certainly adopting every recommended procedure within our power to help curb the effects of this devastating illness on ourselves, and especially on the most vulnerable in our communities. We are vigilantly washing our hands and practicing social distancing measures to the best of our ability. I mean even as this precious ice-cream truck scene unfolded, I found myself with fears running through my head.
Does the man driving the truck and peddling the syrupy blue dyed popsicles my children selected wash his hands?! Does he sanitize his hands in-between credit card and cash transactions with customers? What’s his story? Has he been exposed to the virus that causes Covid-19? Perhaps he has a family at home praying he can make good sales today?
Surely before all this started, he was looking forward to the week of Spring Break as one of his bigger money making weeks of the year. Are the safety concerns I have for my own family worth denying him our portion of the small, probably very welcome income he will receive today? Not to mention, of course, the drama and tears it would cause my own dear children if I acted on my impulse of fear and veto’d my husband's loving decision to indulge our children in this sweet delight.
Fear of neighbor. It feels very real. And it’s a wake-up call to me. As someone who has long been trying to apply the gospel message of “love your neighbor” through practical, down to earth strategies of hospitality and encounter, like our weekly open porch -- this whole quarantine thing feels like a cruel joke. The current recommendation is that my own family of nine should only be allowed to gather with a maximum of one other person making a total of 10. ONE guest!? It feels foreign to me!
As a side note, I will admit that I’ve spent a bit of time reflecting on the idea of who I’d choose to invite into our home since it can only be one person. I think I’ve settled on a priest. The problem is, the best priests I know would likely be with their own dear families if forced to isolate from their larger flocks. Hmm...how about a mendicant then? We’d have to find a traveling man of the cloth who could bring us the Eucharist itself, and on the promise of that merciful sacrifice we would sustain ourselves against fear. Oh dear, my imagination really can run wild!
And so I draw myself back to this present moment. What grace, what true gift it is that in this beautiful, beautiful moment, our children are safe and fed. Our immune systems seem to be strong, and my family is getting rest, nourishment, exercise and lots and lots of quality time. I do not know what the future holds. All I know is that now, in this present moment I am called to love my most immediate neighbors -- meaning my husband and my children. I’m finding myself content with making time to encounter them, hold space for them, and serve their needs with the gift of hospitality. I’m leaning into the practice of gratitude, and noticing beauty in the ordinary. What an unexpected way we’ve been forced to slow the heck down and practice, really practice loving each other -- which has always been our highest call anyway. I suppose the only thing that could make this moment better is if the cooking, dishes, and laundry were doing themselves.
I can't believe that today is the last day of 2019! As much as I'd like to rejoice in it's passing, I can't help but show honor to it.
2019, you were a beast. We learned a lot about life and the big picture. Here's to you, you filthy filthy year!
In 2020, I want to live in more freedom to love and forgive.
So, I'll start with this:
If you are angry with me, I'm sorry, I'm a selfish idiot, I didn't mean to hurt you.
If you've hurt me, I'm over it, I forgive you.
If we aren't friends anymore, I'm okay, and I hope you are too, I love you and wish the best for you.
If you owe me something, let's call it even.
I've learned a lot this year, and mostly that the life God has given us is way too short to only listen to the critics, to hold grudges, and to compare ourselves to others. We are grateful for the lifers who have loved us so well this year. You inspires us!
I want to make a commitment to hope this coming year, hope in God, the human person and in the power of authentic community. If every human person, as we believe, is created very good, lovable, with all kinds of real and true value, then we should just simply be better to one another.
We are ALL needy, not perfect, trying to do our best with what we have been given. I want to show more compassion and empathy this year.
We don’t have to be picky with love in the 20s. Let’s just give it away like it’s the end of a moving sale. Let’s challenge others to do the same and support leaders that believe in building up the human family and not building division between them.
Let’s be good to each other in 2020.
Onward we go along the way.
The winter long, the spring to come.
We hope in Him who brought us together.
His light enough to keep us warm.
peace and good!
"There was a moment when the Presence of God was felt as uneasy morning sickness. Don’t be surprised if your current unease is that exact same avenue of Presence." - Scott Erickson
There has been something extra sacred for me in the celebration of this advent season. It seems more hallowed somehow to enter into the waiting, the expectant hope, the joy that this season brings when I too, am carrying in my womb the joy of new life!
Admittedly, our friend Scott's words above stopped me in my tracks, and gave me a lot to ponder. Maybe it's because I'm just getting to the other side of the "morning sickness" (what a misnomer!) phase of pregnancy, but it's also undoubtedly because it's so often hard to believe that God is at work in the unease and discomforting moments of life. Either way, I'm learning to lean in to the unease. I find myself desiring to breathe my fiat into even the most uncomfortable and worrisome moments of daily life.
Our family's practice of gathering around the advent wreath every evening, lighting the candles and praying together as we prepare our hearts for the coming of the light of the world is a particular solace to me. I remember years when it felt like my kids would never sit still long enough to accomplish these simple prayers, years when I wondered if I'd always be the only one who knew all the words to "O Come, O Come Emmanuel". I remember countless worries about if we were doing enough, or if we were doing it right. But that seems long ago now, and I've recognized that His Presence was with us then, as it is now. Suddenly, I don't wonder or worry much anymore. My children's voices all ring out loud and clear, and they know every word. The older ones have no problem spontaneously leading the prayers, and the familiarity of the tradition brings with it a sense of calm that stills and settles even the smaller ones.
The Light is coming, and The Light is here.
We are waiting with joyful hope!
As many of you know, the year 2019 was one of incredible transition for the Hickman family. There were countless moments of great discomfort, some broken dreams, and a huge amount of waiting and wondering at what the future might hold. It has been a year of hopeful waiting on the Lord. And yet, it has not been devoid of light. It has been a year of comfort, and stillness, and healing. So many of you, dear readers, have been a part of that. By your prayers and support, we have known solace in the midst of the waiting. As this advent season draws to a close, and the days of Christmas celebration descend quickly upon us, we want to reiterate once again our gratitude to each of you for your accompaniment throughout this year. We have no doubt that the Light has been present to us in all of the waiting. And our prayer for each one of you is to be able recognize the presence of the Savior who is at work in the everyday, ordinary, and even the uneasy, and uncomfortable parts of our lives. May we all like Mary, be able to say with unshakeable trust “be it done unto me according to thy Word.”
When I was seventeen, I never thought I would make it as an adult. I was reckless. I drank a lot, smoked a lot, and drove way too fast. But my greatest thrill more than anything, was to win the affection of my friends, because deep down I had very little affection for myself.
At twenty, I thought I was a big shot. I had “reclaimed my life” and was a legendary (read: self righteous) follower of Jesus. My drug of choice was the respect and affirmation I won from people for my “good behavior”. I tricked myself into believing that my performance determined my value.
People responded when I performed well in ministry and in my family. Winning this game meant survival for me, because I really believed them more than I believed myself. If they liked me, I liked me. If they didn’t like me, well, I had to try harder until they did. And worst of all, I attributed this type of transactional love to God. Good behavior meant love.
By my thirties, the life of facades and performance had absolutely exhausted me. I began to find it way easier to let God love me in my mess than to perform for the love of other people. I felt as if I was inching toward that freedom that Jesus promised. I'm so grateful for the spiritual mentors and friends who show me the love of Christ by accepting me for who I am and not simply because of how I perform for them. Honesty among these peers began to give birth to freedom. And freedom opened up opportunities for growth in humility.
I’m not sure if it’s aging wisdom, but now in my forties I do have a couple of things to say about all of this. 1) God really does love me regardless of how I perform. 2) A few real and honest relationships are better than thousands of affirming people.
The mess of our life shouldn't cause us to perform for others or to get stuck in shame, it should remind us of our need for God and His grace. I believe in a God who loves me as I am and not as I should be. The greatest thing I can do for myself is to rest in that love.
"My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it."
Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel
And the greatest thing we can offer the world is that same kind of love. Today, I want to love people more than they hate themselves, so that they don’t have to perform like I did for so many years, so that they quit the act, receive healing found in authenticity, and accept that in the midst of all of their sh*t, they are loved beyond imagination by a forever God.
Hear me; don’t wait as long as I did to love yourself. God loves you and you can too.
He was 40 years old or so when I was born, so I had the unique experience of a young “in his prime” kind of grandfather. I was spoiled rotten with his attention.
Those who knew my Granpa would agree, Shelly Stapleton was a part of what’s called a “dying breed” of man. Half cowboy, half saint, a bright star, whose light was cast further than most, terrifying to behold and yet comforting when standing in it’s warmth. He was a wall, a rock, a man who knew the line of decency and justice and was uncompromising when it came to defending it. Cross him and you’d be crossing a bear. Ask him for help and he’d go above and beyond with a big ol’ grin. And Granpa’s hands told the story. The calluses were born out of selfless service to his country, his wife, and his family.
He was the servant of everyone he encountered. Unless of course he didn’t like you. And if Shelly didn’t like you... you must be up to no good. I never saw him associate with those who weren’t honest and true to their word. Shelly could not be bought or sold. He knew a fair deal and demanded that others respect him as much as he respected them. He made companions for life this way and it made a great impact on me and my brothers. He was a student of people. He watched, listened and read them well. As you might expect, he also won some money at cards.
The day we buried him, I met Billy Baldwin, Granpa’s best friend since second grade. This dear old man teared up when he told me story after story of the two of them getting into mischief on the Houston ship channel in the 1940s and 50s.
“If anyone ever said it couldn’t be done, Shelly would glance over at me and I would say to him, ‘ya hear that Shell?’ and Shelly would look back to me and say ‘Well. I guess we are gonna have to show them, aren’t we?’”
Billy said my Granpa was never afraid to try anything. If he didn’t know how to do it, he would make his best guess at it until he figured it out. Of course, I already knew this about my grandfather. It was always that way. Granpa knew everything about everything. Or at least one very important or interesting thing about everything (that made him seem like he knew everything).
There was literally nothing he wouldn’t try and learn. It was that way with fishing, hunting, construction, history, literature, golf, woodworking, pecan harvesting, horse racing, cattle, rope swings and chocolate cakes. He was a conversationalist, a humorist, and a prophet. God and His creation were a constant marvel to him and he lived grateful. Granpa had a boyish curiosity about the way things worked and he got a kick out of creating things with his hands. My grandfather was also playful as he was intimidating. He always had a “Shellyism” to break the ice among friends and family. These smart quibs were like dad jokes, except way more intelligent and funny. Shelly had a way of making you think for a second or two and then bust out laughing. If a stranger didn’t understand a joke, that was alright with him. He’d figure out a way to make them laugh later on. He was very comfortable in his own skin.
If someone asked “How ya doing Shelly?” he’d reply “I feel more like myself today than I ever have.”
If he liked your cooking, he’d say “I better not get any on my forehead, my tongue would beat my brains out trying to get to it.”
If he wanted a cigar, he’d say “I’m fixing to smoke all over myself.”
If you said “It was good to see you Shelly!” He’d say “It was good to be seen!”
And if you were saying goodbye, he’d say “See ya wallago!”
I love you Granpa. I miss you already. Thanks for continuing to teach me.
See ya wallago.
A few weeks ago, a dear friend (kind of out of the blue) asked my forgiveness. I was shocked, because I was the one who needed to ask for his. It wasn’t a huge offense, nothing that was capable of ruining our friendship. I just needed to apologize for assuming some things and letting our friendship drift a bit. And there HE was asking mercy of me. In that moment, Christ’s presence was truly thick in our midst. Two dad dudes standing there forgiving each other and saying I’m sorry, like grown ups, like men, like disciples of Jesus. It was perhaps, miraculous.
It doesn’t take a scientist to realize that we live in a culture of blame. Social media and greed has thrown us into a frenzy of tribalism, where only others are to blame for our issues. To take any responsibility is to admit defeat and weakness. To admit wrong, even a teeny tiny bit of wrong, means now we are THE responsible party. But this isn’t true at all.
What if my friend AND I were both responsible for some wrongdoing? And what if we weren’t the only ones either? What if there were others involved? Could I have not realized I was injuring my friend because of something from my own formation? Who’s responsible here?
I’m coming to believe that evil in the world cannot be blamed on a single person, ideology, circumstance or group. There is an enemy of God that no one likes to talk about. And his main mission is to divide us.
Who’s to blame? All of us and none of us. But in Christ, we are free forever from that yoke. He suffered to redeem us and we are free indeed.
After a good tight bro hug and some encouraging words, both my friend and I walked away lighter, happier, more free. If you were at Encounter Texas and you thought God did some great work through Cana and I and the others, know that the vessel He used for a lot of that was my dear friend. His boldness was infectious. It spread through me and others, the ministry team, the staff. That conference was not only beautiful on the outside, there was a whole lot of healing mercy going on behind the scenes too.
I think I’ve heard my father in law say “when you point a finger at someone, you are really pointing four more back at yourself.” The funny thing about wrongdoing, is everyone can always admit to some imperfection and some fault. So I’m here to say in blog form today (and I hope we can connect soon), if I’ve ever pointed a finger in your direction, I’m truly sorry. If I’ve ever hurt you or disappointed you, I’m sorry for that too. Please forgive me.
Peace and Good!
One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is about our decision to host our open porch weekly: “How do you do it, EVERY WEEK? Isn’t it exhausting to have your house “guest ready” that often?”
This is such a great question, and one with a complex answer. Of course, yes, in some ways it is exhausting. I won’t pretend there’s not hard work involved in prepping large meals, and making sure we’re well stocked on toilet paper, plates, cups, etc. And certainly, there’s always a substantial amount of clean-up involved, either that evening or the following morning. But Ennie and I, (and now our kids) have discovered that the work is truly worth it. It’s worth the couple of hours necessary to prepare our home to receive our guests every week, and clean up after them when they’ve gone home -- because we are honestly, so blessed by their presence each week. It’s like most disciplines in following Jesus. They always seem difficult at first, but once you are doing it, they become a gift and a joy.
In addition to the work being worth it, my idea of what “guest ready” is, has evolved dramatically. I say this because early on in our marriage, I remember preparing for an event (a baby shower, I think) that was to take place in our home. I took an entire week to make sure that every part of my house would be gleaming. My oldest children were small then, but I practically ignored them in order to focus on preparing my home to have guests. I went so far as to vacuum the front room meticulously just before my guests arrived, and then (this is so embarrassing) purposefully walked carefully over the vacuum lines with clean shoes so that my guests wouldn’t know I had just vacuumed. I wanted them to believe that my house was just always this perfectly spotless! THAT, is WEIRD. THAT is what I now call “living inside other people’s heads”, thinking so much about what others are thinking, that I’m no longer free to be me. In that instance, my house was guest ready, but my heart certainly was not.
Thankfully, I’ve let that neurotic behavior go. Nowadays making my house “guest ready” is certainly not perfection, but it has its roots in respect. Out of respect for our guests we make sure our house is neat and tidy. Out of respect for our guests we try to hang a clean hand-towel in the bathroom, for example. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t pulled directly out of the dryer, or that there aren’t three loads of dirty laundry waiting to be cycled through behind it. Out of respect for ourselves we’re willing to be vulnerable and let our guests recognize that human beings live here, and that life with seven children can be messy, and even so, that they are invited into that reality. Imperfections and “mistakes” in hospitality are sometimes the best parts of our open porch, because life IS truly messy, it’s imperfect, and when others are invited into that reality, they are somehow more free to be themselves, vulnerable and real.
We were created for community, and before we make our house “guest ready” we must make our hearts “guest ready”. When we are willing to make room in our hearts for people, neighbors, friends, enemies, hospitality takes on new meaning. Community is built in vulnerability and presence to one another. We can vacuum all we want, but unless we are willing to share ourselves, our true selves, we will never find true community.
Cana and I didn’t plan on having a bunch of kids. We also didn’t plan on having just a few kids. The truth is, we didn’t plan at all. When I’m asked about it, I usually say something along the lines of “I just love my wife” and for a laugh maybe I’ll add a “frequently”. It’s no secret that Cana and I love each other intensely. And to me, there is no more noble mission on the planet than becoming an expert at loving and serving my spouse. It’s my first apostolate, my vocation and my highest call. She’s my most immediate neighbor and Jesus said that I’m supposed to love my neighbors. The result and the rest of our story has been pretty serendipitous, meaning we haven’t really planned too far beyond that.
Webster’s dictionary defines serendipity this way; a faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for. So in simpler words, serendipity, in my opinion, is finding awesome things accidentally. I like this concept a lot. I like it because as I look back over my life and the story that God and I have written together, I find so much of the really awesome stuff to be the "accidental" stuff, and not even a part of my plan at all.
God's plan is way better than mine.
His will is perfect and He loves me.
He is making me better in the shut doors and also the opportunities, in the loneliness and the consolation. This is His grace, it’s alive and tangible right here in the present moment.
If we over-plan and over-discern our paths, we can easily stifle this grace and the ways that God is leading us.
Be present to your present moment, trust that you are right where you are supposed to be, love those around you and find some valuable things accidentally together. God oftentimes fulfills dreams that we didn’t even know we had. A few of ours worth noting are named Madeline, Dominic, Sophia, Avila, Lucia, Quinn, Zelie (Fatima, Michael, and Thomas, our babes in heaven).
Peace and Good!