by Natalie Razavi
August 10, 2014
"He does prepare you for the work He wants you to do! I would never have dreamed up this life for myself. I am a conduit by which God is inviting other people to do their thing and live out their purpose."
I was first introduced to Lori when she wrote a blog post for IF: Gathering (a movement of women who’s vision is to gather, equip, and unleash women into their purposes in this generation). As I read her words, my soul resonated deeply with what God was doing in her life. Her raw honesty and uncorked vulnerability made me feel known. And I’m not the only one. Lori’s honest writing has opened doors for women all over the country to express their pain, disappointment, doubt, and fear. She has masterfully created space for the raw and real while ever pointing to Jesus, our only anchor in the storm. She also coordinates and leads IF: Rocky Mount, MOPS, and Project: Feed a Neighbor. In her “spare time” she loves to read, write, and dream on her front porch. Lori’s life is marked by a fierce love for Jesus and a conviction that the mercy we’ve experienced is meant to be given away. This woman is deep and true, and it is my privilege to share some of her story with you. Lori lives in Rocky Mount, North Carolina with her husband, Thad (church-planter/pastor of Fellowship Rocky Mount), and their six beautiful children, Elli, Audrey, Josiah, Isaac, Ainsley, and Greenley.
So Lori, you are a self-professed bookworm. What are you reading right now?
I am reading Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. I’m in a series of books about Sabbath, or rest, or sabbatical, or soul care. Normally, I’ll read two at a time, but this book is a slow read.
Sounds similar to a One Thousand Gifts kind of book.
Yes, she’s asking a lot of questions and there are a lot of exercises that go with each chapter, so I’m taking it slow.
Do you have a favorite book of all time?
Wow! No, I don’t. I love One Thousand Gifts because it’s a book that really changed my life, but I don’t have a favorite of all time.
So, you, in one of your blog posts talk about how you love to rock out in the car when you’re driving. Sometimes it’s true rocking out and sometimes it’s feed the soul, contemplative kind of stuff. Do you have a current car jam?
[whispers] Oh, my gosh! This is going to divide your readers! Are you going to stop me at this point or continue? Well, because I live in the hood and I also live in a very rural area that’s really country, I mean, it’s straight country here…don’t laugh, don’t laugh, Florida Georgia Line. All of their music, I feel like, was written for my city. So yes, all redneck! And they combine the hood part with the country. It’s just perfect. So, embarrassingly, that’s what I listen to. As far as Christian music, or if I want to be worshipful in the car, I really like Rend Collective and All Sons and Daughters. I really love them a lot.
I think this combination just enhances your coolness!
And it’s like every time I get in the car! I will take the long way somewhere just because I think in the car. Even if the kids are there, I turn the music up really loud because I can still think, even with the noise, you know? Yeah, it’s kind of my thing.
You and your husband, Thad, met at UNC in Greensboro and I wondered, back when you were meeting and falling in love, did you have visions of six children?
No. We had plans for four and we actually ended up having four children on birth control! The only two that we planned were actually number four and number five. So, after we had four, I wanted one more. After we had the fifth one, I didn’t want any more, ever again. And then we had the sixth one. I had a tubal four years ago and we’re hoping it lasts!
Can you tell us a little bit about what it’s like to be “Mama” to six kids?
Okay. Well, my oldest one turned thirteen last week and my youngest one is four. We have been a home schooling family up until this point. I have three that will go to public school in the fall, which is a whole other story. It’s really challenging. My husband and I have been in full time ministry all of this time. It took him seven years to finish seminary at Dallas Theological Seminary and so, a lot of our marriage, I feel like I’ve been a single mom. Even though he’s been there, he’s worked full time and gone to school full time. Since moving to Rocky Mount, it’s been the first time that we’ve ever, I guess you could say, done ministry with our family. We didn’t intend for it to be that way, but it’s kind of become that way. We have four girls and two boys, the two boys being in the middle, number three and number four. I thought when they were smaller it would be a lot harder to rear them and when they got bigger and more self sufficient, things would get easy. The problem is, now everyone is talking, all of the time, ALL OF THE TIME, oh my word! And they are all dominant personalities. I think we have one that’s not, but the others are, so we deal with that. Our house is very loud, very chaotic. Everyone has an opinion on everything, all of the time. Out of the eight of us, seven are strong introverts, so it makes life in our family difficult. All of us want time alone, and our house is pretty large, but not big enough where we can all escape. And living in the hood, we have neighbors coming over all the time. We always feel like our house is open. We have times when we just tell people “no,” but it’s really hard. It’s hard to function in a large family, do ministry, have people in our home, plant a church, live in our community, serve our community, lead a Bible study, do MOPS, those kinds of things, when, as introverts, people drain us. We love people, but they’re kind of our work, so it’s hard. Now that the kids are older, they’re developing relationships with friends and that has, for me, compounded the need to manage their relationships and make sure we have family time and friend time, and yeah, it’s crazy right now!
What does parenting look like for you and Thad?
As far as parenting goes, I think, since we moved here, we’re finding that we just have to be proactive parents. We have to prepare our kids a lot more for things that we did not anticipate having to teach them or prepare them for. When we first moved home [Rocky Mount], I was kind of on the defense. I’ve got my kids in the yard and I’m thinking it’s a safe place because I’m home. They won’t pick up things that I don’t want them to pick up or hear things or see things that I don’t want them to see. The reality though is that they are picking up and seeing everything all of the time. So, after about six or eight months of saying, “this kid cannot come back into the yard to play,” my husband and I realized that was not the solution. How can we live in our community and be a light in our community if half of them [the kids] can’t ever come back and play? So, we got really smart and said, “Okay, Lord, if you have called us to live here, and we’re going to plant a church here, and be a light here, and be all in, then we have to prepare our kids for the things they’re going to see and hear.” And that’s been awkward. My husband and I are just modest people. We don’t walk around the house naked. I mean, most of our kids are pretty modest, so we’ve had to go there with some conversations that we had not ever, in a million years, thought of. Our kids weren’t nearly as shocked as we were, though. The things they were hearing were just things they didn’t understand. So, when they’d come in and say, “so and so said whatever, what does that mean?”, of course we freaked, but we realized, “okay, we have to prepare our kids.” We want them to know all the stuff about all the things that all of the kids probably know and don’t really know. Where our kids can hear and say, “that’s not really how it is, or not how it’s supposed to be.” So, our parenting has really shifted. We protect them to a certain degree, but our plan is to prepare them and launch them from the safety of our house and our yard, you know?
What has it been like for you to walk in the peace of Christ in a neighborhood that’s not “safe”?
I think the biggest challenge for me (and this is going to sound really petty and small) is having to, or feeling like I should, defend God’s call for us to live here to other believers. That’s the constant pushback we get: “you’re not protecting your children,” “You’ve made a poor decision to live there,” “don’t you think you should put your kids in a private school or a safer place to live.” So, that is my biggest thing, trusting Jesus that yes, He called us to it and then letting Him give me peace, while having to have conversations with other believers as to why “this” neighborhood, “this” church, “that” school, all the time. They mean well, but I would just love for other believers to come alongside and say, “I believe in what you’re doing and the choices that you’ve made, and I’m going to come alongside and really bathe your kids in prayer as they get on that school bus, that they’ll be a light and that God will protect them while they’re there.” We had someone offer last week to just pay for all three of our school-aged kids to go to the local private school here and we were like, “Wow! That’s so generous.” That was our first thought, “That is so kind and so generous!” So Friday, Thad and I were sitting at the kitchen table and we were talking and he said, “So, what do you think?” “Well,” I said, “my first thought is, that’s awesome! That’s really generous.” My second thought is, “No. We’ve prayed it through. We feel like this is what God is asking us to do.”
You know, that reminds me of something Jennie Allen (IF: Gathering founder) said in regards to obedience: “When your head hits the pillow at night, the only one you’re accountable to for the decisions you make, is the Lord.” So, if you and Thad have, like you said, prayed it through and know that this is the calling that God has on your life, then you can trust Him.
Yeah, I think it’s a matter of God saying, “Do you trust me in this? Do you trust me enough to send your kids there?” And maybe we’re hearing Him wrong, we don’t know, but we’re going to walk in faith that this is what He’s called us to do. We’ll do it for a season and if we feel differently in a year or in six months or six weeks, we can make other plans. For right now though, our church is at Baskerville, where our youngest son will go to school. The principal is a believer. She’s fabulous. The staff there is great. It’s a very low performing school because of the children that go there, but I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid. We’re going to try it and see.
You’ve been really open on your blog about how your personal journey over the last three years has been rocky, and bumpy, and full of turmoil. I was reading and laughing the other day when you said that in the early days of living in Rocky Mount, you would “chunk” cans of beans at Thad!
Yes! We are talking years, like maybe two years. Yes, he would walk into the kitchen and peek around the corner wondering, “how is she feeling today?” Thad was in tune to the Holy Spirit. I spoke at something in Dallas in March and a question that one of the ladies asked was, “why did you decide to move to Rocky Mount if you didn’t want to go?” I said, “Well, I didn’t want a divorce!” Thad was in tune to what the Holy Spirit was doing and I was not. I was very happy with our life. I was very content in our church. I loved Thad’s job. People liked us there. It was easy street and I wanted to stay. We’re talking like for two years I was not happy with my life here, even in the year prior to moving. I knew I had to be obedient, though. It wasn’t a matter of whether I was going to be disobedient, because I’ve been disobedient and I didn’t want the ramifications of that. So, in my mind and in my soul, I knew: obedience is painful but the reward is great and the blessing is great and the closer walk with Jesus is a lot more important. The walking in obedience, though, just sucks a lot of times, and so it sucked. And I think the whole year that was so hard was just a submission of what I thought the Christian dream in America was. And it was not to pay $80,000 for a seminary education and then work at a warehouse, managing stuff and living in a place where it’s just hard. It wasn’t my “plan,” but now I love it! In the last year I have felt like Jesus loved me enough to move me, and give me a different way of seeing and a different way of living. I feel like my life is full and I’m just loving seeing God move and then have Him invite me to do it with Him. I have always done a lot of stuff and I like doing stuff, but I was wearing myself out, and I think the reality is, I was doing things Jesus never asked me to do. So, once I quit doing all those things that weren’t working anyway, I felt like the Lord said, “Well, let’s go do this. It’s going to be really fun.” And it has been fun. It’s been fun! I’m tired, but it’s a different kind of tired. It’s great. It’s exciting!
That’s so amazing! Your story is such a beautiful picture of submission to the power of the Holy Spirit. If you’re doing it on your own just because it’s a great idea, it feels strivey and exhausting. I love that because the Lord has, over the last three years, stripped away all these things, now He is it for you. “Of course I’ll say yes to you, Lord! How else am I going to survive here?”
Yes! And that’s the reality. People think it’s really pretty, the submission part, and then Jesus just opens up the floodgates of heaven and you get to do the fun stuff. The truth is, though, there’s a lot of drudgery in the getting there, and I think that’s seen over and over in the Bible. God calls somebody to do something and they don’t want to do it. They kick and scream and they fight and wrestle with the Lord. Then they finally submit. Not because they’re good and everything is right, but because they’re at the end of themselves. And then Jesus says, “Okay, let’s go do it. It’s going to be awesome!”
I’m so curious to know if the fire in your belly to write about your experiences rose out of the transition you made to Rocky Mount or has always been a part of who you are?
I have always loved to write. I journaled all the way through college and even as I was growing up, it was something that was always affirmed. But I grew up in the Bible belt where women just stayed at home, so I went to college really to get married. I minored in English literature and writing because it helped my GPA out, but I did not anticipate ever writing. When we moved from Dallas to Rocky Mount, I told our para-support team there, our church there, I would probably start a blog. I didn’t read blogs at all. I didn’t even know what they were, but I just thought, “That sounds good. I’ll start a blog and keep you up to date with our ministry so you guys will know.” I wrote, I think two posts ministry related and then I’m like, “This is horrible! No one’s reading it, so I’m just going to write what I think,” and it was cathartic for me. I probably wrote four hundred posts in eighteen months. I wrote a lot of junk and a lot of it was just the Lord processing things. With the writing in the first year, no one was reading-I probably had two hundred readers a day. No one was reading or commenting because I think I was writing stuff that people didn’t know how to respond to. It was very raw and very nitty gritty. After eighteen months of writing like that, I just felt the Lord asking me to stop writing for thirty days. So, last October I did thirty-one days of simply “being.” I quit writing. And it was really during that time I felt the Lord say, “Okay.” I had broken my wrist and I was really at the end of myself. I said, “Okay, Lord, I quit. Whatever you want from this writing. Whatever you want for our life here, I will do it. You just have to let me know.” And He really did. In my culture of Christianity, women don’t write like that and surely a pastor’s wife would never write that. So, unbeknownst to me (I thought my primary readers were in Dallas or elsewhere) the bulk of my readers were coming from Rocky Mount. When I first mentioned wanting to do the IF: Gathering, I had a team of ladies that I didn’t know very well at all, volunteer to help do something they had never heard of. I watched the Lord bring one hundred women to that event over the course of the weekend, and I wept because I realized that God had used all of that broken writing as a means by which to show grace to my community that’s not accustomed to ever receiving that or understanding it. The writing allowed for an avenue of honesty. So, the cool thing is we did the IF: Gathering and then from that, we were able to launch a citywide MOPS group. It’s just been the coolest thing. We’ve done a Restless Bible study and several other citywide Bible studies, so I feel like God is drawing women who probably won’t go to a church, or if they’re attending a local church, they’re not going to ever vocalize what they’ll share in a Bible study with me after I’ve written all of the ugly stuff. It’s a safe place, so I’m grateful that I was writing. The writing was for me to process, but God has used it for other things and I just love that.
Going back to the move that you guys made to Rocky Mount in 2011, how did you and Thad translate your step of faith to the kids? I guess Elli and Audrey would have been the only ones old enough to kind of understand what you were doing.
It’s an ongoing conversation we have, particularly as the girls are getting older. They are the only two that remember our life in Dallas and how things were much easier there. We had a little bit more money to work with, and we were around affluent people, not the poor. So, it’s a drastic change for them. It’s been really difficult for our oldest daughter. She’ll get really quiet and I know she’s thinking, “I don’t like my life here. I don’t like my neighbors.” I think she’s trying to learn to like them, but it’s an on-going conversation of telling the story, just telling the story. We were there [Dallas] and Jesus asked us to move to Rocky Mount because there needed to be light in our community and it’s going to be hard. The process of moving and talking them through that was just that God had invited us to do something differently, that no one else was doing and we said, ‘yes.’ That doesn’t make us special, it just makes us a little different.”
Have you seen your own story of brokenness affect the way you parent?
I let my kids feel things out loud a lot more than I probably would have. My oldest daughter just gets quiet and I allow her some space to work it out. Obviously, the Lord has got to do the work in her life for her to be able to accept it here. It’s not up to me to give her all of the things she would have had if we had lived someplace else. I’ve got to give her the life that God is asking us to give her here and pray that she receives it. We have really honest conversations. I talk to the older girls a lot about things and just let them feel what they want to feel. They struggle a lot with the neighborhood kids, just in personal things, which is natural. Many of the kids don’t have strong families or much family at all, so they don’t know to respect the girls or use kind words. We talk about that and I let them walk out their relationship with Jesus and then have a conversation about why they think “so-and-so” did what they did. I guess I’m helping them learn compassion, how to extend understanding. They have seen me have to work through these things, too. When we first moved here, I wanted my family to be my family, and I didn’t want to let the other kids in. I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I thought, “We’ll do a block party once a quarter and that will be enough.” No, it’s not enough! It’s called community and letting someone get up in your personal business all the time! I hate that, but the kids have seen me gradually say “yes” to some things and I have seen them gradually say “yes” to things. I think it’s more of us modeling the way and being uncomfortable. I talk a lot about doing the things I hate to do in hopes that one day I’ll learn to love it. I think it’s been the story of my life since moving here, “I will do the same thing every day and maybe one day I’ll wake up and my heart will be changed.” I think that’s true for the kids, too. The more we live here and the more they’re called out of their comfort zone or the things that they want or love, they’ll wake up one day and realize that this life is not so horrible, and that Jesus can understand and take their anger and frustration. I don’t fuss at them when life gets hard out here. I just let them feel what they want to feel. For me, in my own walk with the Lord, it was allowing me to be really real and say, “I hate this. You have ruined my life. I don’t understand what you’re doing. We’ve spent all of this money for an education Thad’s not even using at this point, and no one cares that we wasted all of that time in seminary.” They [the kids] have watched me walk through those things and I’m hoping, as they grow older, especially in their teenage years, that when life is hard they won’t just shove it down, that they will give themselves permission to say all of the ugly stuff and then heal from it.
I just keep thinking about what an incredible gift you and Thad are giving them, to be honest and raw and to continue to walk with Jesus. Beautiful. Could you take some time to talk about Project: Feed a Neighbor?
This is the most exciting thing I’m doing right now! The coolest thing is I didn’t think it up. That’s the coolest thing. We had gone to a neighbor’s house for a 4th of July party and it was a sparkler party. They only had fifteen sparklers for twelve kids, so it obviously wasn’t a “party” party. As things were wrapping up, we started having a conversation with the woman who hosted. She had never been one to ask for anything, but began telling my husband about the challenge of the summer and trying to feed her kids three meals a day while working full-time. Thad told me when we got home that she and her family would need some groceries. Last summer we had between eighteen and twenty kids in our side yard all of the time, so I was anticipating the same number of children. I knew our small family with our income could not feed her family by ourselves. I was downtrodden and said, “Lord, I don’t want to deal with the food issue. I can’t feed them all summer long.” As Thad and I were talking about it that night over the farm table I decided to post something about it on Facebook and see if I could get someone else to help us with groceries for this family. I posted the need that evening and within three or four hours we had about twenty people offer to donate food. Well, when I said that the need had been taken care of, we still had families asking if there were any other families in the neighborhood who needed groceries. Our neighborhood is the working poor, so most of them won’t ask, but we know they have severe need. So, for the next week I was receiving groceries non-stop and it was crazy! People were being thoughtful about their food donations. They were putting together meals that the children could prepare while the parents were at work. And then we started getting money in the mail, which always weirds me out. I don’t like dealing with the money stuff. The four checks we got all came with long letters saying, “…to be the hands and feet on Avent Street.” So, I just knew that the Lord was providing, and we knew of families who had need, so the question became, “how can we organize the people who want to help?” Of course, Thad was like, “Lori, really?” It wasn’t like I set out to feed my neighbors, though. It was just that we had this one family that had a need with more people that wanted to give than she could receive. Now, we have two wonderful ladies from the community, who are helping to carry this project into the future. We are working together to launch an effort in September that will provide a crock-pot to participating families and a “meal prep” day where they’ll have the opportunity to make 10 pre-made freezer meals for their families. Each family will also receive groceries to supplement and advice on how to maximize their aid dollars. The possibilities are endless and it’s really exciting!
I think a lot of moms in our generation are asking, “What does it look like to pursue your calling in God and at the same be faithful to the calling He’s given you with your children?" Can you speak to that?
When we were in Dallas, the church that we went to was very family centric and so we did a program called ORANGE, where the church is the yellow and the family is the red and you mix them together to get orange. The idea is that the family is responsible for nurturing their children. So, most things that we do, like Project: Feed a Neighbor, we do together. The kids help us deliver the food. Elli and Audrey will be able to help be a part of the team of people who prepare these crock-pot meals. Our kids are always with us. It’s just something our family does-not exclusively something that I do. I mean, I do go to meetings, but I try to have those at 7:30 on Saturday mornings while they’re still sleeping. So, I’m still present and here. When I write, I usually do it late at night or early in the morning. I think, for me, if it ever got to the point where I was gone more than I was home or the things that I was doing didn’t fit, then I’d have to re-evaluate. We’re in a season right now of making our circles overlap. Everything has to overlap. So, everything we do makes sense. Our church is in an area where we’re already doing ministry and all of the other things we’re doing fit beautifully. Our kids are at an age now where they can participate in most everything we do. I think for Thad and I, we aim to create a rhythm for our family where it’s not “ministry” that we do as much as it is the “life” that we live. And the life that we live is in Christ, so all things are sacred and everything that Jesus is asking and inviting us to do is in service to Him. Our kids need to see this. I’ll be honest, when we were at our church, Fellowship Dallas, we were so busy that I feel like our family was neglected one hundred times more than they are now. Our children are in active ministry with us and they don’t even know it. It’s not plain to them. They’re entertaining guests on the porch and passing out granola bars. As moms, it’s important to know that there doesn’t come a period in your life when you get to do ministry or you get to serve the Lord. I want to turn the tide of thinking that “my children are the only ones that matter.” Jesus loves them all. They all matter: your kids, your neighbor’s kids. Although, you’re responsible for rearing your own, you can, while your kids are young, come alongside the family next door and walk with them, serve them, be a friend and a good neighbor. Ministry and job and motherhood are not separate-they all go together. I feel like for the first time ever, my life makes sense. It didn’t make sense before. I was doing a lot of the same kinds of things, but my life felt crazy.
It is empowering to speak to the fact that you can create that coherence in your life by looking at how the circles overlap and thinking about the sacredness of everything. We’re doing life. We’re not leaving our life to do ministry. I love this quote of yours: “I’m no leader y’all, I’m just a scaredy cat with convictions and dreams that won’t let me curl up and die on Avent.” So, if leadership is not what naturally rises up in you, what has it taken to be brave and to see the needs around you and go for it, even when you’re scared?
It [leadership] is like the furthest thing from me. My MO is behind the scenes: serving the kids' gold fish or cleaning up the mess or taking someone a meal. Leadership is not my thing, but I do feel like we are living differently and the writing has given me a platform that would not have normally happened. I think because of that, people have been able to follow me into hard things that normally they wouldn’t have. I’ve had to rise to the occasion. The IF: Gathering has been huge. I didn’t plan to lead anything. I just thought we’d gather the ladies and then be done, but what I realized was that they were looking to me to lead: to give guidance, answer the hard questions, and let them know what’s next (as If I had a plan!). For me, being brave has been acknowledging that Jesus is calling me into deeper waters of leadership, knowing that I can’t just do the “thing” as much as I have to lead other women into doing the “thing” with me. That causes me to have to rise to the occasion and learn things that I don’t know how to do, like: handle conflict on a team, cast vision, set goals, or lead from a place of vulnerability. It’s been hugely challenging, but it’s been fun. It is causing me to have to be brave and do things I don’t want to do and talk about things I don’t want to talk about. It’s lonely to lead, to be honest. I don’t really like that part of it. The exciting thing, though, is that God is moving women. You see with the IF: Gathering, He is mobilizing women. When we moved home [Rocky Mount], I was so accustomed to just being Thad’s wife, and I did not anticipate leading. With IF: Gathering, I saw that God was moving women and it gave me the courage to say, “Okay, maybe you do want me to lead in these ways.” He does prepare you for the work He wants you to do! I would never have dreamed up this life for myself. I am a conduit by which God is inviting other people to do their thing and live out their purpose.
What is the legacy you want to leave for your children?
The legacy I want to leave for my children is that God has made them uniquely and has gifted them uniquely. They have a purpose and God wants them to do what they love to do and belong to Him. I want them to see their life as service and see their life as a gift to the Lord. I want them to see that their gifts, talents, abilities, where they live, all of the things that they do, are important to the Kingdom, that there is no distinction between what we call “secular” and sacred. I’ve wasted a lot of my life dividing it up and I don’t want that for them. I want them to see their entire life as belonging to Jesus. Every bit of it. The trip to the grocery store, everything, and that it all counts. I don’t want them to waste their life doing the things that God never equipped them to do or called them to do just because they think that working is important. I want them to serve the Lord in their gifting because that’s what they love to do and it glorifies Him when they use their gifts.
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