Anne Dahlhauser

When loving your neighbor means doing hard things [or, the best Christmas card ever]

Recently, we received a Christmas card in the mail stamped with: "NOTICE! This correspondence was mailed from an institution operated by the Dept of Corrections. The contents are uncensored.” I recognized the name immediately. It was a card from jail, from an individual who is sitting there because of calls we made and things we testified and evidence we handed over.

Being a good neighbor doesn't feel good at all sometimes.

Sometimes, it hurts deep and leaves questions in our minds about if we did the right thing or not. Sometimes, it makes us lose sleep, tossing and turning over the implications of what we have to do with what we know.

Sometimes loving people well requires drawing lines in the sand.

Painful lines. Hard lines. Because sometimes “adults making bad choices” are just little kids inside who never had the breaks or positive role models that you did or we did. Too often, they are adults who want better and know better but are surviving in the best way they know to survive.

And, some have trusted us to the point of making us accomplices.

Have you been close enough to become the bad guy? Because that’s when getting close enough to love starts getting real. That’s when our hearts gets torn in two, one side determined to not destroy trust and the other unable to ignore the very things that are destroying the individual we care about.

There is no superiority in pointing out another’s weakness. No victory in making those phone calls. No fulfillment in confrontations. Over the past years, we’ve been on the front lines of getting kids removed from abusive homes, sending individuals to jail, filing numerous files at child protection services. And it hurts every single time.

But Friends, here's the one thing I've learned about drawing lines in the sand:

Drawing lines in the sand is not to be done from a distance. That's when souls get hurt, relationships break, wounds rip open. Because without the warmth of a relationship, those lines just become walls. And walls isolate hearts that need Love.

But this Christmas card writer? He knows we care. We've told him. We've been here, and we've been in it with him week after week, month after month. And we didn't go away. And we tried to explain, tried to tell him about God's love and his potential. Tried to empower him toward better choices. Tried. Tried.

I suppose that's why I cried when I read his card. Then, I left it on the kitchen counter for days so I could reread it.

He has forgiven us for turning him in.

Praise God - relationships create a gentle, safe foundation in which those lines painfully drawn actually become arrows, arrows pointing to the One who embodies justice and mercy.

Friends, God can transform what could've been bitter walls into beautiful arrows when we choose to get closer, to mix up our messy life with the pain and hurt of those around us.

Maybe someday a Christmas card will come from a kid behind bars. And maybe it will say things like “I’m sorry” and “if you guys wouldn’t done that, then I wouldn’t have gotten my life straightened out” and "I forgive you" and "I hope you can forgive me."

Or, maybe that card will never come. Because honestly, many more haven’t shown up in our mailbox - yet.

But, I’ll keep holding out for Hope and keep getting close enough that my heart breaks. Because I believe in arrows, and I believe in the One to which they point.

on rolling out welcome mats for divine work

She sat across the table from me, reminding me a lot of my younger self. Her pen was poised over a notebook, and I could see she’d already been making notes and plans. And so, this was it. After seven years of founding and developing The Bridge of Storm Lake ministry, I was handing over the position of Communications Director, a role embedded into my heart - and the role to which I knew she was called. Although the past months had been an awkward scene of passing the baton, it would be official now, I told her.

Of course, it would sound nice to say “it’s always been God’s ministry” and “He can do with it as He pleases,” as if my feelings were exempt. But the reality for this mama was that it felt like my baby. I had dreamed of it and named it. I had labored over it, drawing up plans and tucking away dreams in drawers, like neatly folded onesies and receiving blankets. Eventually, the vision was birthed into reality. I cleaned it up and swaddled it with human words, making it presentable to onlookers who received and celebrated it. Together, Jay and I loved this vision-baby, amazed at what God had laid in our arms. We held on through disappointments and failures because we shared this passion to see it grow and develop and be all that God had intended. We cared for it, nurtured it, protected it, sacrificed for it, as any parents would do, through long days and sleepless nights.

Sometimes Sacrifice calls us to hang on. But, other times it calls us to let go. Only Faith can explain to us the difference.

That day over coffee, I was compelled to let go. It was time, as every parent knows when its time to encourage babies take steps, head to kindergarten, go to a sleepover, stay home with babysitters. Wings must be given and maturity means gaining independence.

And trusting God means entrusting plans and people to His capable hands.

Maybe, like me, you've hesitated over letting go. But, it's not because we don't trust others, is it? It's because we don't always trust ourselves without that baby on our hip. Because we resist the murky question of what could be next.  Because the next step hasn't yet been revealed in clarity. So, if it's not this, then what? If I'm not doing that, then what will I do? Who will I be?

And the truth is, when God closes doors, He doesn’t always open a window. At least not right way, and not always the ones we keep staring at. Sometimes, mercifully, He just lets us sit in that quiet room and breathe His peace amid the questions.

He reminds us our work is not our identity.

Maybe He wants us to step away before we step up again.

Our maybe it’s not about stepping up or stepping out at all. Maybe it’s about Who we step into more fully.

And, maybe it's about how letting go invites us to open up spaces that our arms have been wrapped tight around. It makes us available for new seasons, allows others to experience God in new ways, and rolls out welcome mats for divine work we’ve not yet imagined.

We must release to receive.

We must let go to let in.

We must face closed doors to come closer to God's next door.

Today, let's know this without doubt:

Letting go doesn't leave us void; it frees up spaces and souls for the Spirit's filling.

Lord Jesus, we sit in the temporary, in the now of life. We can't always make sense of what You're forming on the horizon. But, we trust You, and we entrust to You the people and plans around us for Your glory. Would You come today and rule with Your peace? Thank You for guiding us with closed doors and closed windows. Help us to settle back into Your ways and to trust You with every change. Amen.

On rescheduling contractions & sorting out rice & kite-flying

My husband, Jay, says it’s like a mid-life crisis. He’s usually right, so I’ll believe him. This is the point in which a geared, passionate young woman, well-marinated in busyness and purpose raises her head and wonders, “Why? Why am I doing this again?”

This is about writing. It’s long been my companion, both feared and loved. Feared, because I don’t know what to make of it, what it will become, or what it will require of me. Loved, because it’s my way, my safe place, an undeniable and otherworldly process that guides me, grows me.

And yet, why exactly am I doing this writing thing? The question is like a fly in my eyes and ears, as I tap out late-night words to satisfy a deadline.

Fellow creative souls, risk-takers, and air-breathers can likely relate. After all, no one knocks on your door and passes you a note with your life's purpose and detailed plans of which steps to take on the road toward becoming.

Do you ever lift up your head, adjust your glasses, squint at your surroundings, and say, "Wait a sec. Am I seeing any of this clearly? I am in the right place... right?"

Writing guides say I should write to share information, that I should determine which is my area of expertise and establish my platform based on credentials and experiences. And, I should meet a need for my audience, helping or informing or inspiring you all of something. And, that’s precisely why I let this blog sit for a couple months. I got stuck on the bit about having something profound to share and meeting a reader’s need.

Who does that? I muttered for weeks. I guess I'm now at the official, legal age of drinking cocktails of reality, humility, and past experiences. And, this I know: what I've learned in life has been force-fed to me, for my own good, often because I’ve sickened myself on too much of my own medicine. That hardly comprises expertise. At this point in life, parenting, and ministry, I wonder how anyone builds a platform, scrambles up top, and poses as an expert. 

And, I’ve stumbled over the question of why share what I write? Because most days I don’t have the need to share with anyone. Unless it’s sharing silence at the same multi-roomed mansion, in which I would take this floor, and you take that one. Or vice versa. I could be flexible.

This has been my crisis. These have been the doubts. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you, too, feel like the one who doesn't belong in a room full of talkative experts and talent, teetering on high platforms.

But while I was coaching myself to put away the notebooks and take down this blog, my why showed up - rather, I recognized it for what it is:  

I write and will keep writing because every single day without fail, I work out a story or a post in my head, as I drive, as I cook, as I run, as  I live. Simply, I can’t not write because if I could quit it, I would. It’s a bothersome voice of narration that runs through my days and keeps me alert for meaning, words, illustrations, phrases to weave into paragraphs and then blend into articles. I want to turn it off most days because writing is work. Writing requires me to elbow-out room in my schedule and to sit in precious silence and chase words. They must be the right words, colored with meaning, the right depth. 

Like a cook mumbling over spices or a painter blending and shading, I labor over words and pray for ones that come out living. 

As much as I'd like to, it's a labor I can't avoid - just as a pregnant woman can't reschedule her contractions for a more suitable evening or ask a friend to take over for few hours.

Or, it's like that rice I threw into the cooking pot the other night - which eventually overtook the entire stew, making it one large glob of mushy carbohydrates. Writing overtakes everything, touches every part of my life, expands and fills, can’t be compartmentalized, and can’t be sorted out anymore. 

I suppose that’s why I write. That is all.

Reader, what is that thing you can't not do? What's that thing you do that really isn't a thing to do at all? It's you, your way. It fills you and overtakes everything and comes from a Source beyond your understanding. It may not make sense. It may not seem worth the effort much of the time.

But if - when you lay it down like a kite on a windy day - if it raises back up and waves for you to come back and keep holding on, then do just that. Stay with it. Hold on. Ride the wind and let it move you as it will, as He wills.

So, why? Why are you doing this again? And why am I writing?

Because, it's what we do without doing. It's who we are. It's how we've been crafted by Divine hands, fitted to catch these certain wind currents in this place and time. We can't lay motionless on that grassy hill, not with His purpose blowing around us as it is. And so, here we are, in our little expanse of the sky, dipping and soaring according to a bigger plan. Our design won't allow anything else.

I suppose that's why. That is enough.