Going to the Hard Place

Living and working in the inner city undid me. Being sent to the hard places taught me the Gospel. It undid my self-righteous, just-spiritualize-everything mentality. It taught me that being a Christian, a “little Christ” was so much more than memorizing verses and meeting people in comfortable coffee shops to discuss the Scriptures. Being a Christian is far more gut wrenching, but also more glorious than showing up to all the church’s different events to socialize with all these people that were exactly. like. me.

It taught me that those verses about the poor weren’t simply about being “poor in spirit” or seeing myself as “poor in God’s sight”. It ACTUALLY MEANT POOR PEOPLE. People who would ask for help, and never be able to return the favor. People we would invite in for dinner, and we would never get invited back over. People who were so different from me, but needed friendship, so hanging out with them didn’t “fill my emotional tank’.  Most often it meant smelling the strong smells of unlaundered clothing, giving time and energy when I didn’t really feel like it, and making myself available, on God’s time table, NOT MINE.

I learned that being a Christian, a “little Christ” meant having hands that got dirty. Noses that smelled the stenches. Ears that heard the heart-wrenching trevails of pain, betrayal and baggage that sends one’s mind whirring. Mouths that speak truth, and pray over situations far too desperate than anything I could help in my own strength. Arms that actually hold the neglected child. Minds that actually work to solve problems of how to keep that teen from being locked up, or how to get the power company to turn the heat back on, or the landlord to wait just a little longer while we gathered the rest of the rent needed for that family of eight. It meant showing up with every component of my humanity to make myself available to spend myself on the poor. And all this is impossible without a heart transplant in the hard, hard place, of my own heart.

After living in a hard place, “the poor” was no longer a statistic for me. They had names, and faces, and stories. They went from being a “project” to being my neighbors, my familiar faces, my friends-BEST friends, and even family…my “adopted” sons and daughters, aunts and uncles for my kids, mothers to me who, in all their brokenness and perseverance became my heroes. And in those years of pressing through the hard places to the point of falling in love with the place, the people, the life there, some resolves were formed in my heart.

1. I will never live in the suburbs again.

How could I? Knowing what I know of the pain and suffering of these neighborhoods full of broken families and disfunction, that just need some neighbors who could be a beacon of light and an example to them. How could I ever live apart from having the need and brokenness on my doorstep? How could I live in a comfy place, with manicured lawns, and stable people (and yes, I know that there is brokenness everywhere, but there are common graces that suburban life GREATLY takes for granted). How could I go back to that way of life when Julissa needs a real home to stop by at after school, and Jaquil could use a hot meal tonight for dinner, and Vernard and TiTi need an example of what marriage looks like. How could I live apart from the freshness, the raw truth of the poverty that most of the world lives in. I need it in my face to keep my heart in check from spending on myself and my own comforts. I didn’t want to join the ranks of those who live inoculated from physical need, because it was that very physical need that helped bring a spiritualized Christianity into the nitty gritty of real life for me.

2. I will never be part of a “bells and whistles” church.

I know what its like to show up on Sunday to set up band practice and have to put pots and pans around the sanctuary to catch the rain through the leaking roof. I know what its like to be so desperate for Sunday School teachers because kids without parents are showing up and need to be taught the Word of God. I know what its like to be desperate for more hands to hold little ones so struggling single moms could be freed up to actually sit in the service and gain nuggets of truth and encouragement to give them strength to struggle through another week. I know what its like to have desperate needs to minister to but just not enough bodies to make the Body do what Christ intended it to do. And because of all that, I couldn’t tolerate spending extra money on fog machines or special lighting or serving Starbucks coffee after worship…could someone please come down here and help us serve a hot meal to these kids after worship? It’ll be the only cooked meal they get this weekend. Or could some of the money that you use on your “wow” affects during worship, be used to patch our roof so we’re not sitting amongst all these pots and pans? Or could someone be willing to forego the comfy feeling of a social event on Sundays so that these kids that have no stable parents, much less mentors, have a decent Sunday School teacher? No, where-ever God would send us, we would always seek to yield any gifts we might have to help a small, struggling church, because we know what it is like to be one.

3. I will never go to the Bible belt.

There is a VAST need for Bible believing church in the inner cities, in northeastern U.S,  in most countries all over the world, not to mention the absolutely unreached peoples of the 10/40 window. No, may my energies never be used to “reach” people who live amongst churches on every street corner, when people in my neighborhood, and people around the world, don’t have that luxury, or have NEVER EVEN HEARD the Name of Jesus. Everyone gets “called” to the southeast where there is already such a culture geared towards Christianity. I don’t want to help “carry the telephone pole and help the side which already has ten people on one side, while just one person carries the other all by himself”. No, having seen the need of just one inner city setting, I vowed in my heart that I would only go where the needs were the greatest and Christ is proclaimed the least.

Well, God laughs at our inner vows, evidently. And He sees bigger sights than we see. And He sees the hard places of our hearts, and sends us to the hard places that will break that hardness.

And just how the hard inner city setting softened parts of my heart, it hardened others, to the point that there is more breaking that needs to be done.  So, come June, guess where God is calling us?

1. a wealthy area

2. to be involved in a HUGE church (nothing against this church…it is doing awesome things and they love Jesus, its just so…well…different)

3. in Atlanta, GA-smack dab in the middle of the Bible belt

WHAT is going on?!? This is not the hard place I was preparing for!

And my prideful heart, thinks God needs some help running His Kingdom.

I think the Lord of the Harvest needs some help directing the harvest workers.

Well, this whole ordeal is God’s gracious way of putting me in my place.

The hardest place I could have ever been sent to.

So, when Danny, came back from his prayer and fasting, seeking God’s face for our next step, and “Atlanta, GA” was his answer

All we could do was kneel by our bed, and poured out our hearts to our Guide

and cry,

and pray,

“Lord, this is the hardest death I’ve had to face. Aren’t all those passions and desires for the poor something YOU put there? Isn’t that what your Word speaks of? Isn’t going to the hard places something you command? I didn’t conjure this up on my own! And I don’t understand, but I trust You. Please take this grain of wheat, falling to the ground and dying, and produce many seeds from it (John 12:24) Its all I’ve got to offer. And I want my life to count. To count in the lives of those kids and families. To count in the lives of people who have never heard your name. And because I’m yours, I will go to the hard place.  My hardest place.”

Explanatory Note:

**Danny has been chosen to participate in Perimeter’s Church-Planting Residency program. He will be working for and be trained by Perimeter for the first two years and then we will move into an inner city setting in Atlanta to launch a church (finally!) amongst the types of people I feel so strongly to reach. After that (5-7 years total) MAYBE the Lord will permit us to move back to the city that has so strongly has gripped my heart.

St. Patrick’s Parenting Mandates

We finally did it. My very Irish Granddaddy would turn green if he realized his part Irish granddaughter hadn’t celebrated St. Patrick’s day these past seven years of motherhood. But this year we did- complete with Irish soda bread, green eggs and grits, and green juice- AND a group reading of the story of St. Patrick

Who would have thought that St. Patrick’s testimony has within it some most crucial parenting mandates.

You see he grew up under a father who was a deacon in his church, who loved the land and the Lord and taught his children the truths of Scripture. St. Patrick’s daddy was not only a farmer of the physical land, but a farmer of the seeds of God’s Word. He was a ” farmer who went out to sow his seed” (or rather, the Lord’s seed) and he scattered it broadly and abundantly. Well that seed lay dormant in young Patrick’s heart. He could care less for that religious stuff his father always spoke of. Had it fallen on the path, or the rocks, or among the thorn? (Matthew 13:22)

Well, when 16 year old Patrick was kidnapped by pirates, brought to Ireland and sold into slavery, that seed went with him. And when Patrick was forced to spend long, hungry days and fiercely cold nights out in the barren lands tending flocks of his cruel master, that seed stayed with him. And when Patrick was utterly stripped of everything, and needed a strong tower and fortress to abide in, that seed was there. It was in that soil of suffering and need and loneliness that those seeds scattered from his infancy were able to grow and flourish. And out there in that harsh wilderness those seeds of Scripture were the only thing he had to feed on. And he met a living Lord that began to feed Him completely.

Out of that desperate clinging and utter dependence upon the Lord, Patrick learned to hear Gods voice so when God told him to head for the seashore to escape, he started walking. Not knowing the way, but asking God to guide his steps he ventured forth. And sure enough, eventually he made it back to Briton where he would reunite with his family, only to have the Lord would train him up to send him BACK to the people’s who had treated him so cruelly. And that is where we see the hundred fold harvest of those little seeds planted in His youth…for many barbaric Irish were softened and saved by the message of the Gospel that he brought with him. The message that lived within in. A huge fruitful tree coming from mustard seeds.

And if those seeds had never been planted in a young disinterested Patrick, my ancestors would never have heard the good news. And my Granddaddy might never have been changed by a living Lord. And then where would I be? Probably not in existence, much less, alive in Christ.

So thank you, St. Patrick, Thank you, Lord for the mandates I receive from the lives and testimonies of your saints…..

1. Never underestimate the seeds of the Scripture planted in young ones. Those seeds, in faith, can reap hundred fold harvest as we cover them with the top soil of prayer. Plant seeds in faith.

2. You never know what desperate circumstances our children may come to face, in which those seeds are the only life they have to draw from. I want to scatter many and fill that soil with as many life-giving seeds as possible. plant MANY seeds.

3. Suffering may be the only means by which those seeds are forced to grow. Releasing my kids to God’s ultimate protection and plan for their lives may be difficult to watch, but full confidence must be placed in the Good Farmer who knows more about growing fruit in His children than I do. Entrust the growth to the Lord.

4. If God can guide a wandering Patricks footsteps to the shores of Ireland so he could escape, God is able to guide my footsteps as I go about my day caring for and teaching these five little ones He’s entrusted to me. Ask for guided footsteps.

5. Patrick obeyed the promptings of the Lord even when they made no sense. It was a a life of obedience in many, many small things that led to the Gospel presence on a barbaric island. And that Gospel presences wasn’t just for his lifetime, but spilled down through many, including a Murphy family of which I am a part. Obedience in the small things can lead to generationally HUGE things. Obey the promptings.

And because of St. Patrick, I have a heritage, and also a heart calling- to plant the seeds, of which I have been entrusted. And on that glorious day, when Jesus greets his saints, I long to be counted in that number.

From the Mouths of Babes

She was begging me all day to teach her to sew…for some reason she got it in her mind that this was an absolute necessity. So after we got our morning chores and homeschooling done, the novice herself, began teaching them the very very basics. The girls were delighted.

photo

And mid tiny-handbag-made-out-of-old-T-shirt-for-their-dolls, and out of the silence of concentrating little girls, Trinity exclaims,

“You are one lucky Mommy!!”

“Why is that, honey?”

“Because now you have girls that can sew and fix stuff for you!!”

I love the servant’s heart!

He loves the water, just not when its from the toilet

He loves the water, just not when its from the toilet

Then, my little two year old, who I’d love to be out of diapers, isn’t so keen on the whole potty training experience. Just this morning, when asked if he wanted to start going potty in the big potty he says in his broken two-year-old speech…

“Faaaalllll…..”

“Pooottttyyyyy….”

“No, faaallll poootttyyyyy”

So there it is. We won’t be potty trained until this fear of falling into that deep cold wet potty is gotten over. The concerns of two year old’s world.