Singing through the Storms

It’s posted right in my windowsill over the sink…

The kids and I sing it on the way to school…

Its a lifeline and bedrock when every physical thing around me is shifting (or being hauled to the dump)

“Yes, they shall sing of the ways of the Lord. 

For GREAT is the glory of the Lord.

Though the Lord is on HIGH,

He regards the lowly,

But the proud he knows from afar.”  

Psalm 138:5-6

And I sing it, and I rejoice in the humbling,

for far worse than mold,

and illness,

and throwing away precious sentimental items,

is knowing God from afar.

So, if it means I can know Him closely,

I will welcome any and every storm,

And sing through it.

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Mold and a Maker’s Heart Surgery

The great Heart Surgeon, has cut into the cancer of my soul, quietly growing deep within the darkness.

Comparison. Self-Consciousness. Greed. Covetousness. A Hope in THINGS, above people.  A Gaze upon the standards around me, rather than the standards of heaven. A Desire to have a Pinterest home, rather than a purified heart.

I love our new home. (in the “ghetto of Norcross” as I’ve been informed). I love our new life. Neighborhood kids running in and out. Toting neighbors to church in our run-down-but-still-running car with the broken handles and the duct taped mirror. Our mismatched furniture that all has a story of the faithfulness of God to provide for our needs. My eclectic decorating, trying to use what I have on hand instead of spending money on a home that I can’t take with me. I am truly content when I am here.  We live in the lap of luxury compared to my friends back in Newark.

The back porch I love so much (don't have to sweep all the spilled food off my kitchen floor)

The back porch I love so much (don’t have to sweep all the spilled food off my kitchen floor)

But the Lord has thrust us into a culture which seems so foreign to me.  We drive up to church (Benjamin exclaims “Look, Mommy! CASTLE!!” when we pull up) and park that broken-and-duct-taped car next to Mercedes and brand new minivans. We go to church meetings in homes that should be featured in Southern Living and could house six Newark families in it. My kids go to school with children whose parents can afford ballet, and music lessons, and sports, and summer camps. And my contentment fizzles into fear.  Fear that I don’t belong here. Fear of being judged. Fear of offering my home for parent meetings because its old, its “small”, and its always messy. And  deadly cancer starts to grow. And that cancer of comparison starts to rob the pulse of life which enables a person to love outrageously. Because its too busy thinking about self.

In the hurry to get our home settled, to get it decent enough to at least have SOME people (not the really wealthy ones though, good heavens, what would they think of me!) I have worshiped that goddess that woos me so frequently.  I have worshipped neatness, and things, and yard-saling in order to finalize the last touches of my frugal decorating.

Well, the Heart Surgeon, King Jesus, who is jealous for my love, and jealous for my love to be directed towards a husband, and children, and not just a house, well, he cut deep. Right at the root of the issue. He’s stripping back all that I could hide behind. To remind me once again. There are only three things that are eternal.  And only three things things that will be exalted above all else.

1. Himself, His Name, His Character (Psalm 138:2)

2. His Word (Psalm 138:2)

3. And the people He has made, particularly the ones He redeemed as His Bride (Ephesians 5)

All else, will fall away in the blink of an eye.

So with this knife He starts the surgery….

Since about January, I have been noticing Benjamin become increasingly fatigued and catch numerous “coughs”, look sickly in the face and eyes, and have at least 4-5 poopy diapers a day. I never put all the symptoms together, but the fatigue was what was getting to me.  I’ve got enough kids to know that when a two year old is laying on around the house all day, something is wrong.  I tried to get the doctor to do bloodwork on him but she kept writing me off and saying “oh, he’s two, he needs lots of rest.”  or “oh, all those coughs are just because of being in a home with alot of siblings”.  So I started asking around….food allergies? anemia? leukemia? I couldn’t shake the feeling that it seemed like something toxic might be in his body. After seeking counsel from experienced moms, and some doctors, I finally started praying. (Isn’t that funny, how we go to God in prayer once we’ve already exhausted our own resources…pretty sure there are numerous references to the Isrealites doing that) Two weeks after I started praying that Jesus would simply expose exactly what was going on, He did. Ever so faithfully.

We were contacted by the people who bought our home in Florida (we were just renters, but ended up becoming friends with this incredible Christian couple who bought the house to use it for the Kingdom, much like we had).  While they were in the process of renovating they began discovering black mold. The toxic kind, ALL. THROUGHOUT.THE.HOUSE.  With the heaviest concentration being behind all the walls in the boys room. The plumber who had been working in the exposed mold started throwing up blood. Other workers who were in there once it was exposed ended up seeing pulmonary specialists. As I looked up symptoms, Benjamin was a poster child for extreme exposure. Chronic fatigue, muscle aches, diarrhea, respiratory illnesses, a suppressed immune system. And now I had found the source of not only his illness, but Malachi’s several sinus infections, Daniel Josiah and Trinity’s nosebleeds, and Katy-Grace’s post nasal drip.  When all in isolation, I had reasonable explanation for each one, but now it was all coming clear that they were all stemming from the same source. Toxic Black Mold.

Who would have thought this home was deadly?

Who would have thought this home was deadly?

Over the past week we have been investigating all of the items we brought with us. We have found mold on edges/creases of the crib mattress, all inside the futon mattress (the two places where Benjamin has slept his entire life of almost three years), on the backs of dressers. on our three piece leather sofa set (which was given to us by our landlord because it had been in the house for years before we moved there), inside bath toys, and on the under side of area rugs. We have brought the poison with us.

Benjamin has perked up considerably since we moved, since has not been exposed to such a concentration of mold spores, but we now have to work to eradicate the major sources of the spores which we have brought with us.

Benjamin is doing much better now...almost back to his superhero self

Benjamin is doing much better now…almost back to his superhero self

Tomorrow, we will be doing a dump-run.  Couches, dressers, bookshelves made of particle board, any type of cardboard we brought from the old house, all linens, bedspreads, pillows, curtains (yeah, all those things that actually matched) stuffed animals, every darn basket I have in my house (and, believe me, I store EVERYTHING in baskets) will need to be taken to the dump.  Shoot, I can’t even yard sale it, to make money for the adoption we are saving up for.

Those couches? Will be in the dump tomorrow.

Those couches? Will be in the dump tomorrow.

And the Lord cut into this heart of mine.

All the times I spent trying to get that one last little “house project” done instead of spending time in the evenings with my husband, or instead of reading to my children, or instead of engaging their hearts rather than shooing them out of the way. Instead of stopping to hear the voice of the Lord and be still in His presence. All the time spent building my own kingdom in my home has been wasted, for that kingdom has crumbled.

Glory to God, that He cut quickly. Before I had wasted any more time prioritizing things and images, instead of His Name, His Word, and the people He has put in front of me.

*Stay tuned for our remediation process, and for incredible testimonies of God’s faithfulness through the love and generosity of the community of Saints that God has put us into.

And the Children Came…

A Part II of Let the Children Come

“WHY am I doing this?!? Why did I think running a kids club by myself was a good idea?!?” I wonder as, 30 minutes before Kids Club is supposed to start, I am cleaning up INCHES of water in my bathroom due to the kids climbing on the sink to fill water balloons, bursting a pipe, and continuing to fill the balloons, with the bathroom filling with water far faster than any balloons are.  I was, once again, running behind on preparing for the afternoon (there’s never enough time to get done all that I want to) and instead of gathering the materials I needed for the lesson that day, I was sweeping those inches of water into a bucket, and very testily lecturing my kids about not climbing on the sink, and the need to come get mommy about the water spilling before INCHES of it have accumulated on the floor and under the sink.

My home is still recovering from having children rampaging through it, and I am now two weeks behind on household chores (except, of course, for the bathroom floor which got mopped up on Friday afternoon).

So, WHY did I do this?  Cram more into my schedule when I don’t feel like I’m even doing what I already have well?  Why did I collect more kids and more chaos when I really could have used those afternoon naptimes to do get stuff done, order my world better, or get a chance to exercise?

Well, this is my answer….

1. God led me to do it. I had every intention to spend the first two months settling in and tending to “setting up house and schedule” after we moved in. But one morning it came to me in my quiet time, that I should do a kids club, and all the lesson plan ideas started rushing over me. And my job is simply to be available and obey the promptings…even if they don’t make sense.

2. It was a building block. We now have a well established relationship with many of the neighborhood families  since I was banging on their door every day for the past week and a half. One Grandma even joined in the effort by making cupcakes to match the day’s lesson plan on Friday. We now have several people interested in our weekly Bible study in our home, and interested in going to church with us. (see below)

3. My children (plus Jamar) and I had the opportunity to partner together, plan, pray for and implement an event to reach out to neighborhood kids and families. These little disciples are learning intentional community in the process.

4. Saprina, my newfound friend and neighbor who has started going to church with us, and I got to build a friendship as she came over every day to help. (Can I just say that being friends with Saprina is so refreshing, she makes me feel like I’m back in Newark, with all those inner city women who have so much spunk and energy)

IMG_2373

NOT crazy about this picture, but Trinity captured it and its the only one I have of Saprina

5. I was humbled through it.

6.  Janki. And her story. Thursday we went around to knock on all the doors again to gather the kids, and Karishma had not been able to come any of the days thus far (her grandfather always cracked the door open and said “She sleep. She sleep.”  Hesitant to keep harassing them, I ventured to knock again.  This time Karishma opened the door and her grandparents willingly sent her along. After her young mother, Janki, got off of work, she came by and ended up hanging out for an hour after kids club was over.  She.has.a.remarkable.story. She came to Christ three years ago-out of Hinduism,and a whole bunch of other obstacles, (maybe one day I’ll get to share her story…)but hasn’t gotten plugged into a really good church.  She was very interested in going to church with us and joining our weekly Bible story.

Katy-Grace and Karishma playing dress-ups after kids club while the mommies talk

Katy-Grace and Karishma playing dress-ups after kids club while the mommies talk

7. Cray and his mom and brother. He, too, hadn’t answered the door all week, but on Friday Jamar went and banged on the door and they were actually home. His mother was wary of letting him come over but we got to talking about Danny being a pastor and she said “Ah, yawl go to church? Yah, I been needin to go to church.  I need to go wit yawl sometime”.  So there we go, yet another searching soul, on this kingdom-strategic street that I prayed for all those months.

8.  The heart-to-heart with my kids Friday night. in which I confessed my anger towards them for not listening well and being a distraction during the lesson.  The sin. The repentance. The reconciliation. The cycle. of it all, with the children, seeing all the ugliness in my heart spilling out, and the beauty of them realizing they’ve got it spilling out of theirs also.  And that we all need a Perfect Savior to cleanse it all. And change it all.  The responses and the softness of the kids toward the confession time, made all the rockiness of the previous hours worth it.

9.  The joy of watching kids delight in a hose and water balloons and hot summer sunshine.

IMG_2407 IMG_2409 IMG_2410 IMG_2405

10. Jamar and Armani (and my kids too) seeing Scripture tie together as something we were reading for family devotions that night referenced back to what we had learned about during kids club that day.  The lightbulbs that go off, are beautiful to witness.

Jamar and Armani are our part-time kids...joining us for a lot of our days or evenings

Jamar and Armani are our part-time kids…joining us for a lot of our days or evenings

11. Morgana. (yet another “motherless” child on our street…lives with her dad, but does have an awesome grandma who comes and stays with them when Dad is working) And her eagerness to help with the kids or help me in the kitchen.

Morgana and Jamar

Morgana and Jamar

12. I got to witness answered prayer.  Prayers for my neighbors and their kids. Prayers for divine appointments. Prayers for the kids to meet Jesus. Prayers for Jesus to show up and “do the heavy lifting”, even when I didn’t have my act together. THANK YOU to all those who prayed for the week!  I love getting to record how God keeps his promise- “Ask and it will be given”…

More "ebenezers" added to my prayer journal as to ways God provided and orchestrated events

More “ebenezers” added to my prayer journal as to ways God provided and orchestrated events

13. And since a picture is worth a thousand words…These are the rest of the reasons…

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**A HUGE shout-out to my friends, Amberly and Emily who volunteered to go shopping for me and collect craft supplies and all the snacks for the whole week.  They couldn’t come with their kids (they would have brought nine more kids between them) but they helped me out so much by collecting the supplies.

“Pride Goes Before A Fall…”

The minute the words started moving through my lips, I knew where it had come from.

The rush, starting in the heart, always in the heart, moved those words, up and out just like a tidal wave moves a piece of ugly driftwood easily ashore.

That momentous force that pushes those ill-timed words out, words that under other conditions would be harmless, maybe even beneficial but are ugly, ugly sin when motivated by

PRIDE.

PRIDE in the heart.

PRIDE welling up.

PRIDE bringing low.

With Danny’s new job (at Perimeter church), he is meeting with many different department heads to see where his giftings would be best used for the next two years before he plants his own church. Well, Head of Community Outreach was on his way to our house to pick Danny up for a meeting.  Estimated time of arrival? 4pm, right when Kids Club would be finishing up and our yard would be filled with kids from all nations.”Perfect”, I think to myself, “He’ll show up at our house and see how focused we are on reaching the community around us. He’ll definitely want Danny working in his department, then.”

So yesterday we finish up kids club and I start cleaning up and all the kids start trickling home. Afterwards, Mr. Head of Community Outreach gets welcomed into our home, with craft papers and markers still strewn about, and now not just pride over doing outreach sets in, but pride over my house and “I-can’t-bear-to-have-him-think-that-this-is-what-my-house-always-looks-like.” gets the better of me.

So as Danny introduces him to me, I cleverly pridefully throw in a,

“Sorry about our house, we just finished up doing a kids club this afternoon.  We’re doing it all week to reach out to our neighbors and get a chance to share the Gospel with them.”

Those ugly words, slimed with my pride.

And Matthew 6:1 shakes it’s eternal head at me…

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.”

And just as a reminder, God sent rain ALL DAY today, and a phone call from one of the kid’s grandma’s saying that she wouldn’t be able to come, and a conversation this morning with one of the dads saying his daughter would be with relatives today, and a knocked-on door that never got answered, and a visit to Nurhiam, Joseph, Joshua, and Renato’s house that was met with a “we can’t come today, we are about to go to the doctors.” And I walked back to my place, under the umbrella, under the rain, and under conviction. .  “Lord, I know I got prideful at how well this kids club is going and I took a gift FROM YOU, and tried to get glory FOR ME from it, And I’m just an ugly mess of mixed motives.  But please, Lord, I repent of this, and please don’t let my sin get in the way of these kids meeting you this week.”

So with my five, and just two other neighbors we do “Plan B” kids club, which was actually God’s “Plan A”.  Because as I told them to draw a picture while I read to them, instead of doing our normal schedule of events (because I don’t want the other kids to miss the crucial parts of the Gospel presentation), I opened the book they chose for me to read, and this is what the first chapter was:

Chapter 1: Pride Goes Before a Fall

Chapter 1: Pride Goes Before a Fall

I get it, Lord! I’m learning!

And I invited those seven kids around the table into my learning process, and told them how I had been prideful and how today not many kids could come, AND it was raining, AND how God was using this little children’s book, “In Grandma’s Attic”, to whop me over the head, humble me, and keep me on my knees before Jesus.

“Is it worth it, guys?” , I ask.

NO! they sound out in unison.

“See how our pride hurts us and the people around us?”

And its a wonder that God chooses messy, arrogant people to be his laborers in the harvest.

May He get all the more glory from using broken tools to build His Kingdom.

Glimpse into today:

Newspaper “Snow” Ball fight in the basement

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