Three months and no words? Where have the Iversons been all summer?

 

Where have the Iversons been all summer?!?©KathrynMcCraryPhotographyAtlantaPhotographer-150

Three full months, and no words?

No blog posts?

No adventures to recount?

No thoughts or impressions from the Lord?

No musings from the Living Word of God?

Oh, they have been there.

They have been mulled over while scrubbing pots and pans.

They have been formulated while setting up chairs for the large number of houseguests coming over for dinner.

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extra bodies and mouths start to gather for dinner

They have been pieced together in nights spent rocking sleepless babes.

The kid that smiles big during the day, but sleeps little during the night

The kid that smiles big during the day, but sleeps little during the night

They have been composed while sitting in traffic, driving home from multiple doctor appointments for an eight year old’s broken arm.

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wounded, but cheerful little broken-armed girl

They have been half typed, at wee hours in the morning, but always interrupted by a coughing child, or a bad dream or a wet bed.

They have been there…but so have the setbacks…broken arms, bashed mouths with teethe getting knocked out.  A baby’s bad fall. Bloody battles (literally and spiritually)

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This is the “rated G” picture…be glad his lips are covering what the inside of his mouth looks like. Two teeth completely gone, and another just dangling

The adventures have been had, the sightings of God’s mighty work has been seen, abundant answers to prayers for ministry partners have been witnessed, but Oh, for the time to be able to sit and record them…to have the time to do as Isaiah 63:7 states

I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord, the praiseworthy acts of the Lord, because of all that the Lord has done for us, and the great favor to the house of Israel that he has shown them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.

 

I know the Lord wants us to recount these deeds He has done. The homeless family that is learning how to be a family again, without the throws of dysfunctional relationships and drug addiction.  The little baby born to homeless parents who should have died at delivery two weeks ago but is now ventilator free and ready to come home from the hospital, despite her blindness and multiple health issues. The way the single mom was thrilled at the Bible study we held in the home, declaring “I’ve never heard the Bible taught like this. This is exactly what I have been needing.”  The way that the young man who was about to convert to a very deceptive religion, ran up to Danny the other night and said, “I don’t want to be a part of that other stuff! I want to be baptized.”  The way the doors of this Shalom home have opened to four different homeless people who needed to be a part of a family’s rhythms, as rocky as they might be,  so they could learn what being  covenant family is all about.  The way that the boy, all rough and tough and angry, melted in tears last week at church with us.  The way that God has answered my prayer that He raise up an older black lady to be my prayer partner…and He brought her into my life in the most creative of ways. The way teachers from our kids public charter school want to come over for dinner to learn more about what this church plant is all about. The way we have been praying that God would take all these buildings that have been abandoned by business owners and put new businesses in them…and God sent a Christian Korean couple to start one .3 miles from our house, with them declaring, “We kept trying to avoid the call, but the Spirit of God kept telling us to open this Wings and Philly place right here…and we couldn’t figure out why.”

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Kids time, during house church

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Bible study and prayer! We are all soaking it up.

There are so so many other stories….stories of God answering specific prayers laid out MONTHS ago before the Throne of the One who reigns on High and is more passionate about this church plant than we are.  And OH, for the time to recount them.

Would you join me in prayer that this would come about?  That God grant the windows of time to work on the new blog, and the new ministry website which recently got hacked, crashed, and now has to be rebuilt before we have a new place to declare the faithful deeds of the God we serve?

Would you pray for a mother, busy with the life of running a household of eight+ all the people staying with us, to be granted the windows of time needed to type, and pray, and record, and write these posts and finish that book that was started two years ago now?

The enemy of our souls, wants the stories silenced. But I believe our God wants His glorious goodness to be put on display.

His Church is being built.  His Kingdom is advancing. His saints are praying and seeing miraculous answers.

And these stories will not be silenced.

 

**stay tuned for information about JourneytoShalom;the journey towards wholistic peace and flourishing in an under privileged community of the inner city: launching soon, Lord-willing**

 

 

 

 

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….

~~~~

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.

~~~~~~

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.

  

The Move, the Emotions, and the Empathy

I had dragged little people down there at 8pm, with sleeping bags, a paintbrush, and a large cup of coffee in hand.

We made makeshift beds for them on the carpet padding, and then got to work.

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Our kids “corner” for sleeping or watching movings….nail free, and fairly clean.

 

Always fighting back panic with song.

But the panic gained ground.

and gave way to panicked pleading.

Please, God, please. Work a miracle in this place and please, please, please let it be ready for us to move in  in two weeks!

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Little ones in a work zone is….stressful. to say the least.

 

I swept up a pile of sheetrock and spackle dust. Sending the dust swirling into the air…

and onto anything nearby.

Sweeping up sheetrock dust, the Lord met me.

Sweeping up sheetrock dust, the Lord met me.

Visions of me endlessly wiping the dusty stuff off our furniture that would have to be moved in to a work zone because our lease had run out, flashed through my mind.

A phone call from our dear ministry partner, Chuck, who lives a few blocks away, led to the discussion of the fact that we had no kitchen counters and no kitchen sink.

“That’s OK” I said, only half believing it, “people all over the world function without kitchen sinks.”

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BEAUTIFUL cabinets redone by my artist friend….but with no kitchen sink or countertops on them.

 

As we hung up the phone, it hit me.

Every emotion I was walking through, with thoughts of moving my kids into an unsafe environment, into a living condition hazardous to human flourishing, and all the tension that comes along with it…

…the inner turmoil that come with instability, without a place to call home and settle down in…

….every extra strain because of financial constrictions that hinder you from being able to just do what you need to do to take care of your family….

….functioning without hot water, electricity, and yes, even kitchen sinks…

is experienced every day

in this neighborhood.

Most women do it without a spouse, and with just as many children as I have, and without a support system praying for them and helping them.

The feelings of being stuck and trapped in circumstances are exactly where God wanted me.

It was an introduction into the neighborhood.

into their emotional world.

And realizing that, helped lift the panic, and submit to the plan, God’s plan, knowing it was all part of His training and preparation for me to be able to love my new neighbors from a place of mutual understanding.

So when, 36 hours before we were had to have every item that 8 people own out of our rental house, right as I finished taping up the last “kitchen” box with everything needed to feed those 8 people, I got a phone call telling me we had failed our electrical inspection and Georgia Power had immediately cut the line to our home, I fully walked in those emotions…

instead of fighting them.

I found myself in more of a place of receiving rather that restricting.

Receiving the education, and the experience the Lord was giving me,

rather that trying to control, constrict and throw a conniption over my frustration.

And from the very beginning of our move, we were forced into a place of receiving…for we had to call on neighbors to run massive extension chords to help light lamps to finish the painting, and the installation of the kitchen sink, and then run a space heater to keep an Iverson crew warm until the power got turned back on Tuesday morning.

We saw God do miracles with changing the hearts of those working on the electrical situation.  We saw His provision through our Muslim neighbor who ran the extension chord.  We saw His care threw our black neighbor who helped with painting and has become a friend and declared “this is crazy…I’ve never been friends with a white man before”. And we see His faithful steady care as little by little appliances have been provided, work has been done, friends have shown up help with little projects, so that we could start unpacking boxes….and this home, it is becoming a haven.

A haven, not just for us, but for those who for their whole lives,  have been walking through the tension and stress that I endured for just a few weeks.

Watch the slideshow to see some of the transformations:

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God Uses the Messes

It had been another frantic Sunday morning.

If I had lain the children’s clothes out the night before, we wouldn’t have had battles over mismatching clothes.

Help me, Lord. 

If I had trained my kids better about putting shoes away in their shoe bins, we wouldn’t have spent 20 minutes franticly looking under couches and in toy chests for them.

Help me, Lord.

If I had a better chore system, my daughter would automatically do her breakfast chore without mommy asking 16 times.

Help me, Lord. 

If I had gotten up earlier, I would have had Bible time with the kids at the breakfast table instead of barking at them to eat faster so we could leave.

Help me, Lord. 

If I were calmer, gentler, maybe there wouldn’t be so much bickering and complaining in the car while we drove downtown to church.

Help me, Lord.

If I were a more organized person, my purse wouldn’t be so heavy with all the junk that’s accumulated in it…in addition to lugging a chunky baby in a car seat carrier.

Help me, Lord. 

Gotta love the chunky cheeks and double chin...except when you're carrying him in a car seat carrier with a large purse and five kids following behind...

Gotta love the chunky cheeks and double chin…except when you’re carrying him in a car seat carrier with a large purse and five kids following behind…

And we’re just rolling in to church, and I’m exhausted. The adrenaline rush to get us out the door is starting to crash, and we file into our seats. And all the kids are fidgety. And Katy-Grace is “hungry again”. (We just ate breakfast!) Daniel Josiah took five bagels off the refreshments table on our way into the sanctuary. (I’m telling you, we JUST ate breakfast!) Malachi needs a diaper change (I JUST changed it, before we left), and all I want to do is sing some songs to Jesus and not have to deal with anyone else’s problem for at least 20 minutes…

Then the whimpering starts…

“Mommy! Mommy! My tag is itching me.”

Honey, I can’t do anything about that right now.

“But, moooommmy, it really itches. Can you cut it off?”

Lord, I know I’m failing miserably at everything…and if I could just get my act together and get more organized, things wouldn’t be so hard. But Lord, you’re going to have to handle this problem. I give it to you. I have nothing left. 

“Mommy, can’t you get some scissors and just cut it off…it reeeeaaaalllly iiiiiiiitches…”

Honey, you’re just going to have to deal with it.

We’re already halfway through the worship time, and I’m fishing through my bag to find Malachi’s diaper so I can slip out and change it.

And then I feel them.

I had thrown then in there earlier in the week to wrap a gift for someone at.stoplights.on.my.way.across.town

because, again, I didn’t have my act together, and was doing it on the fly.

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The miraculous scissors

I quickly pulled them out and snipped the tag off. Thus relieving me of an entire-worship-service-long whining session.

Thank you, Lord, Thank you!!

I whisper to Him.

And He did some whispering back:

If you had had your “act” together like you envision and expect for yourself, I couldn’t show up in such intimate ways. You wouldn’t need Me.

 I take the entirety of your messy life, and use every part. Even un-cleaned-out purses and lost shoes and whining children. 

Bring me itchy tags, and disorganized purses, and frantic mornings, and let me bear them.  I have creative ways of carrying them, while you carry my easy yoke and light burden. 

The “extra luggage” that you think is so cumbersome now, might be your answer to prayer later. 

Faith as small as a mustard seed…as small as itchy tags, can move mountains. Just watch.”

 

The crazy full, and unorganized purse. All part of God's plan.

The crazy full, and unorganized purse. All part of God’s plan.

Isaiah 65:24 NLT

I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers!

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.