Kickball and the Kingdom

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“Honey, a dumb kickball game is not one of my priorities right now! I have too much to do around here!”

I huffed and puffed about this time commitment, and this wife’s heart was anything but submissive.

I hung up the phone with my knuckle, since our conversation was had while I franticly tried to keep up with the mess that was being made…breakfast dishes scattered across kitchen. four loads of laundry to be folded. many more to be washed. my desire to get some blogging done. the house projects still needing to be tackled.

“Doesn’t anybody realize how much WORK is required for a family with six kids?!? I don’t have time for some church kickball game!”

The church where we are doing a residency program before we launch our church plant has a summer kickball league on Saturdays….the day when I try to get “caught up” on life.

but the minute I hung up the phone, I was convicted that I needed to submit to my husband’s request that I show up with the kids for the sake of community and fellowship.

I pull up to the field. forty-five minutes late.  (by the time you get 6 kids dressed, and fight the seat belt battle, and settle a few sibling tiffs and tempter tantrums, that was record time!)

Right across from the field a group of about 20 African Americans, march with signs about the racist shooting in Charleston last Wednesday.

I cringe as I realize I am a white person driving around in an all black neighborhood, right when racial tension is at its height.

I wonder what these individuals think of me….

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On the field was a smattering of whites, black, tan (Asian), and dark tan (Indian) bodies.  All friends, all gathering together to enjoy one another and fellowship.

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Receiving kickball instructions

I realized that this was far more than “a dumb kickball game”.

This kickball game was a display of the Kingdom.

Why would people of so many different colors, ethnic backgrounds, and economic statuses join together?

it was for more than a dumb kickball game.

It was because a group of people, who all need the Same Savior, to the same extent, gather from all parts of the city in order to know Him better, worship him more freely every Sunday… and throughout the week.

This is my Church.

And when racial tensions strain to new levels, Gospel love is creating a bond and unity amongst races, ethnicities, and socio economic disparities.

And that group of protestors, might ask questions about this diverse splattering of skin colors out on the field. Ask who we are and what we are doing.

And we tell them we are the Body of Christ.

We are a kingdom preview of Revelation 17:9

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

We love Jesus.

And we like to play kickball.

 

 

 

 

From the Mouths of Babes….or young lads who challenge the home or hospitality mentality.

The curtain rod fell down on my head as I balanced on a stool for the tenth time that day, all with hyperactive children running all around me a few feet below. I half caught it and then slammed it down on the stack of boxes below.

“I can’t get anything done around here! I can’t even get curtains hung!”

Danny tries to calm me.

“Honey, its OK. It will come together eventually. ”

“But I’m so tired of not being settled! I just want everything in its place and I want our house to be done!”

Danny could have talked til he was blue in the face, but it was my son’s words that penetrated.

“Mom, nobody in our neighborhood even has curtains. Why do we need them? Right now we’re just like everybody else.”

Oh, how his words sunk in. put this nesting mamma in her place. put priorities in order.

My neighbor's make-shift curtains, which is how my entire neighborhood "does" curtains

My neighbor’s make-shift curtains, which is how my entire neighborhood “does” curtains

What does it really look like to come from a “different culture” but choose to become one with the culture we have moved into?  What does it look like to to truly become incarnational in this context? Right here in America, where I can drive 15 minutes to a friends house and see beautiful tapestries hung and in place?

Maybe it means prioritizing people above the picturesque home I desire.

Maybe it means enjoying children more than enjoying neatness and order.

Maybe it means welcoming neighbors into a home that still has boxes stacked in the corners and walls still to be painted, simply because today I choose people over projects, the “to BE” list, rather than the “to-DO list”. 

Do I choose to spend the afternoon preparing a meal for houseguests who will then experience the meal in God's word? Or do I spend the afternoon tackling the boxes?

Do I choose to spend the afternoon preparing a meal for houseguests who will then experience the meal in God’s word? Or do I spend the afternoon tackling the boxes?

We chose the houseguests, and the Bible study.

We chose the houseguests, and the Bible study.

and let the stack of pictures to be hung just sit there.

and let the stack of pictures to be hung just sit there.

I don’t completely forsake the chipping away at household projects, or the desire to create beauty, order and grace in a home. For now, the slowness of the process can be embraced as a needed process of soul sanctification, neighbor identification, and it becomes far bigger than just my home transformation.

After all, maybe Liddell, who lives in a home with a blue tarp roof,

IMG_7635would feel far more welcomed into a home that is also making good use of large blue tarps

our backyard and the blue tarps...what drives me crazy, might actually drive our neighbors towards us rather than away from us.

our backyard and the blue tarps…what drives me crazy, might actually drive our neighbors towards us rather than away from us.

Every neighbor in this area lives in a home that needs work done on it, and despite my desire to “just be done” with house projects, being in this state of process might be the very thing that unites us instead of divides us from our neighbors.  Those walls needing paint, and that unlandscaped yard, and that pile of building supplies, might be the very thing that keeps the “us and them” mentality at bay…the very “us and them” mentality that left this neighborhood so forsaken those years ago.

So maybe with a death of my desire,

a desire that feels so natural and justified to me,

actually creates a void

in which new life can emerge,

the life of a neighborhood connection,

a commonality,

an identification,

a “with”ness,

that creates a platform for

witness.

Which in the end, is far more important, far more eternal, than curtains being hung.

~~~~~

Guests in our home, AND the curtains were hung (in the backdrop) both desires fulfilled, but not until patience was learned.

Guests in our home, AND the curtains were hung! (in the backdrop) Both desires fulfilled, but not until patience was learned.

 

 

Eventually those boxes were unpacked.

Eventually those boxes were unpacked.

The house looked like this when we moved in...

The house looked like this when we moved in…

And looks like this now. PROGRESS!!

And looks like this now. PROGRESS!!

Progress, but not perfection...still little things needing to be done!

Progress, but not perfection…still little things needing to be done!

 

The Trials ARE the Training

We’ve sat in seminars. Visited hotel conference rooms and small group brainstorming sessions. We have been “trained” to be church planters.

Don’t get me wrong, these things are good and necessary things, but nothing is quite like

the training that trials bring.

Since moving to Atlanta, with a vision to plant churches that keep planting churches, one block at a time,
we have hit multiple trials at a time.

Toxic black mold ordeal, and losing all of what we owned.

coming head to head with witchcraft and voodoo curses from our international neighbors.

A car crash. flooded basements…FOUR times. an incredibly difficult pregnancy. depression. a motorcycle crash. near death baby delivery. another basement flood. very sick four year old. broken collar bone. broken finger. ripped up shoulder. extensive shoulder repair surgery. postpartum depression. root canal. enough medical bills to repave the pot-holed streets of Atlanta. a half renovated house with no more money to finish it. All while keeping up with the constant needs and and schedules of six children.

When you move forward into God’s calling on your life, don’t expect things to get easier, expect them to get harder.

For the trials are the training.

Yes, they may be spiritual warfare, but they are also purposed battles which God has ordained for us to engage in. And with each battle, one gains strength as you learn to gird up your sword and fight for joy and fight for trust and fight for savoring this moment hidden away in the Presence of the Prince of Peace, even when everything external seems to be exploding, and everything internal seems to be imploding.

And that training….its not even really about YOU. Yes, you are strengthened, but you don’t get strong for strength’s sake. You get strong for the Glory of God, to show HIS strength in you in trials. And He’s preparing you for greater service, greater empathy, and greater compassion towards others.

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I didn’t start to see it until a few wonderful and crazy, and faith-filled and fear-plagued people started preparing to join our launch team. And then the constant unraveling, the impetuous kinks in the plan, the crushing weights of a life in upheaval that we have experienced these past 18 months started pressing into those dear ones as well. And I saw.

I saw that in this church planting endeavor, we are leading people into rocky waters. Thrilling, refreshing, but rocky nonetheless.  And if we had not had to learn to stand as the waves of hardship, frustration, financial strains, and struggle crashed into us, then we would have no voice of hope to continue to beckon them into these stormy waters where we get to meet the One who says “Peace, be still.”

Our dear little launch team has already seen stolen passports and social security cards, lost jobs, deaths of loved ones, struggle to find housing, struggle to find local work, disappointments over not getting accepted into the local schools, houses being broken into and cars being stolen. All soon after saying “yes” to the call . We have seen God provide along the way, strengthen when we had none, and shine brightly in the darkness of our confusion and fatigue. And now they will get to as well.

And it won’t simply just be for their training, it will be for their infilling.  They will come to the end of themselves, and cry out to the Living God to fill them, and then, and only then, will they have anything to offer those around them.

One of our brave launch team members, savoring the quiet of baby cuddles as she walks through the storm of trials.

One of our brave launch team members, savoring the quiet of baby Judah cuddles as she walks through the storm of trials.

Easter Celebration~ Prayer Resurrection~God’s Kingdom Perfection

**My apologies for the extreme delay in this update…I’ve been very busy…busy cleaning up potty accidents, and putting out sibling rivalry fires, and cleaning more dishes and doing more laundry than one can keep track of. I wish I had something “more significant” as an excuse, but every load of laundry is a Kingdom investment when done unto our King.

Easter, three weeks after the move-in.

Easter, the climax of God’s redemption.

And for us, a display of prayer resurrection.

For months, while we were consumed with renovations and the struggle to simply GET there, “all” we could do was pray.

To do the “work on our knees”.

We laid out the promises of God….promises-turned- prayers for God to work at our little tabernacle that we had been working on for so long.

“May God be gracious to us and bless us, and make his face shine upon us, 

that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.” 

Psalm 67:1-2

Lord, may the nations be blessed through this home.  May your salvation and your ways be put on display in this place.

 “…for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Isaiah 56:7 

Lord, may all nations be able to gather here to pray and meet you. 

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40:3 

Lord, would your Spirit go before us, to prepare the way for YOU to work through us. Make highways into the lives and hearts of people to meet you.

 “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. ” John 17:20-21

Lord, cause the Believers in this place come together as one.  May we work towards the same aim of bring your shalom, your peace, to this place. 

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

Lord, may true disciples be raised up and formed in Grove Park.  May you lead us to those that are ready to be discipled and who will want to follow you and will raise up others to do the same.

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Isaiah 55:1

Lord, would you go before us and put a hunger in people’s hearts for You and Your Word which satisfies so richly. 

And then, as Easter approached, and I unpacked a few more boxes….

 “Then people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and take
their places at the banquet table in the kingdom of God”.  Luke 13:29

Lord, we didn’t plan ahead, but please bring to our table anyone who needs a place to celebrate your Resurrection with us.

And 48 hours before Easter, I didn’t know who all would come, but I planned to lay out a feast in faith that God would bring whoever needed a “family”.

And they started to come.

An international student from Rwanda.

Our Rwandan friend

Our Rwandan friend

Kenyan Christians just reeling from the news of the slaughter in their homeland.

Kenya, Rwanda, Japan, and Atlanta represented here!

Kenya, Rwanda, Japan, and Atlanta represented here!

Our former neighbor and now close friend, whose family is from India.

My friend, and former neighbor whose family is from India

My friend, and former neighbor whose family is from India

Friends that we had made from our life in suburbia of Atlanta, who once had been homeless but had now stabilized,

A woman from Cameroon, (who had randomly known our Haitian neighbor) and started coming to our sending church with us (and became a member!), who we had lost contact with but joined us last minute anyways.

Compton, who didn't have anyone to spend Easter with

Compton, who didn’t have anyone to spend Easter with

Then our Muslim neighbor, and our seventh-day Adventist neighbor, and a guy from our church, and our own rowdy crew and on it went….

Our gracious neighbor who ran extension cords to our house when we first moved in with no electricity

Our gracious neighbor who ran extension cords to our house when we first moved in with no electricity

all gathered at that kitchen island that a sweet friend had built for us

to feast on food, and fellowship, and the joyful declaration,

HE IS RISEN!

And that was just the beginning….

After our feast we migrated over to another “intentional neighbor”‘s house. A sweet friend and fellow Believer who has lived in the community for four years now.  We did a Scripture egg hunt and then a candy egg hunt on the big lawn in the middle of our community.  On my way over, I stopped by a house where I had invited the kids to the egg hunt just a few days prior.  As they prepared to come, another neighbor asked…

“You doin’ and Easter egg hunt for the kids? There’s a bunch of kids up that way that would wanna come..” And then the word started traveling up the street.  A bunch of kids and even a teenage girl hopped in the car, with others promising to meet us “over there”.

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When it was all said and done, there were nearly thirty kids gathered on the back deck, a handful of teens and a smattering of parents, all listening intently to the story of Christ’s death on the cross, his burial and his resurrection. Songs, a testimony, and a chance to invite this Risen Savior into one’s life and heart ensued. Neighbors had gathered to celebrate the beautiful Resurrection.

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After the massive candy egg hunt, kids played football, neighbors gathered on the front porch, Danny engaged the teen guys who had come down, and we enjoyed the beautiful day that God had given us.

Together.

So many people gathered together for Celebration over our Savior’s victory.

And my heart throbbed with joy for the prayer resurrection of all those seeds of prayer buried deep into the heart of a Father who hears his children’s cry to see Kingdom perfection.

And then, if that weren’t enough… God was about to show me just how extensively He had been answering all those prayers prayed.

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on the lawn of “pioneers” who moved into the community four years ago and are creating beauty through home and lawn and the presence of Jesus in their lives

~~~~~~~~

I pulled up to the tiny house that is “home” to more people than I can keep track of. I drop a handful of kids off, and then meander over to Tamiya’s dad’s truck, where he sits talking to all the neighborhood men, the ones who congregate at “the spot” to chat and sip away at their Budweisers all day. I introduced myself to him and apologized for keeping her so long.

“That’s OK. I’m just hang in’ out anyways. Hey, do you guys know of any kind of programs that mentor girls?”

You, mean, discipleship?!?

I think in my heart.

“Yah, my girl, she’s a good girl, but her mom and I split, and she don’t go to a good school, and she’s getting caught up with the wrong crowd. I know my girl is smart. She used to read all the time, but she really need some sort of mentor in her life to help give her direction, cuz she keeps mess’in up in school.”

And we had a long talk about parenting, and the Gospel, and the power of prayer, all amidst the other guys interjecting,

“You said your husband’s a pastor?”

“When you gonna start prayer meetin’ s or something’? I’ll come, I need to get back with God again.”

“I wanna be part of stuff too.”

“Can my kids go to church with you?”

And then we all prayed right by that beat up red pick up truck. We prayed for our neighborhood, for Tamyia, for the struggle of parenthood, and we thanked Jesus that, because of His death and resurrection, we could have His presence right there with us.

And we had “church” right there on the side of the street.

And it reminded me of the way Jesus use to do it. Along the road. As he came and went. Meeting people where they were. His Kingdom Perfection, amidst an imperfect world. His Resurrection, all making it possible.  And the Celebration that happens when we get to witness and participate in it all.