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!

 

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”.

IMG_7637

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.

IMG_1916 IMG_1915 IMG_1914 IMG_7627 IMG_7624

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.

IMG_7622

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.

  

My Libyan Christmas Wish….

**Editor’s note: Posting this a bit late, but needed to get my Libyan friends’ clearance before posting.

photo-2

Ronnie Smith was called Libya’s friend. He loved the people.

And so do I.

My children actually have Libyan grandparents, you know. I have Libyan brothers and sisters and mother and pop and dear dear friends.

Not by blood or descent, but by the Mighty Hand of God bringing some of the dearest people I know, into our lives, into our family.

It all started with Adnan, the quiet solemn man struggling to learn English so he could go on to earn his Chemistry Masters at a university in Florida. We needed a sublet for our home, he needed an English speaking family.

I was nervous. quite nervous. But as that quiet man entered into our home and family, he and eventually his people would win my heart. I watched him delight in our children and have the patience of a saint as they delighted in him. He shared his food, and his time, and his thoughts with us. We shared our knowledge of navigating health insurance, car insurance, visa applications with him. He walked through the death of his father, and the shocking grief of it all, plus an engagement, and the struggles to survive in the English world. We shared a messy chaotic home, as fatigued and sick Mamma struggled through pregnancy with #5, then we shared the joy of bringing a new babe home from the hospital, we shared our home with his other international friends. And it bound us all together.

Then it was time for Adnan to go back to Libya to marry his bride, Amna, and from afar we shared in the joy of them preparing to have their own little one.

Meanwhile, we began praying that God would bring us the right “next” housemate for us. Nadar, came to visit our home to see if it was suitable to rent. It was an act of God that blinded his eye to what he was really getting in to. (IVERSON CHAOS!-I’m pretty sure that a naked 3 year old Katy-Grace streaked the top of the stairs while he was there because he stopped by right during a boisterous bath time.) After he left I told Danny, “There is no way he’s going to want to live here.” But yet the very next day, we got a text message.

“I would like to take the room. I will be ready to move in in August”

I had no idea how those words would change our lives and change our hearts forever.

Nader, who was excellent at English moved in, and got right to work. Work on the house and work on our hearts. We hadn’t quite gotten his room ready and Danny was in the middle of installing a new air conditioning unit. Nader, the engineer helped him.

Nader, our Libyan housemate

Nader, our Libyan housemate

What proceeded in the following months was a sweet and beautiful friendship as we shared meals, shared our nightly family devotions with him, shared differing beliefs about God and salvation, politics, home and family life, and culture. We shared laughs and struggles and late night discussion. We shared cars and rides and friends. We discussed Libyan ways and American ways and Islam and Christianity. We gained a window into a whole country and culture we had never travelled to. Our children had gained an older brother. Danny and I, a dear friend.

IMG_0613

And then we got to know his bright and spunky sister, Maryam, studying in the States. And then his brother, Geith who came to visit for New Years, and then Geith’s fiancé Maymuna. And eventually his precious and caring new wife. And then when his graduation and wedding were approaching his entire family would be coming to the States to celebrate. And could they stay with us? . And God worked out the timing perfectly for our friend from Korea would be moving out just in time for them to move in. And we gradually became outnumbered by Libyans in that Iverson household.

And it was a family reunion, and it was as if we were reunited with a family we never realized we had.

His father, sweet and gentle Offman, would cry, “Malachi! Malako! Malaka!” throughout the house and would scoop him up and hug him tight, Malachi gained a grandpa.

And his mother, passionate, fun-loving and hard working Wafa, and I would work away in the kitchen, somehow unbound by the language barrier, but bound by similar mothers’ hearts.

I helped (a little) and I learned a lot about Libyan cooking.  Wafa is a most gracious, joyful, and kind woman.

I helped (a little) and I learned a lot about Libyan cooking. Wafa is a most gracious, joyful, and kind woman.

And his sister painted nails and made drawings and was a big sister to my girls. And his brothers played and wrestled with my boys.

And I fell in love with an entire family, and I fell in love with a people (for their friends and family gathered from far and wide during that time. And we sat up late at night and talked of what life was like oppressed by Gaddafi‘s dictatorship. And they somehow laughed over the ridiculous and dangerous things they had to endure. And I learned of a family who had a courage unspeakable who stood up peacefully in a revolution against this cruel tyrant knowing full well that their fight for freedom, may cost them their lives. And I looked at old photos of beach vacations, and Boy Scout events, and kids being silly.

And they reminded me so much of my own family growing up and I realized that we were two similar families. One in free America, one in oppressed Libya and walking through the joys and trials of family life. And we were two devoutly “religious” families, one worshipping Christ Jesus in a culture of Christians (at least in my sheltered little life, not in America as a whole), and one worshipping Allah in a culture of Muslims, both striving to grow in commitment and devotion.

And then the weddings and the graduation occurred and they absolutely owned us as family throughout the whole ordeal. And my girls delighted in Nader’s brother’s (Geith) wedding in Orlando, and the chance to see a beautiful bride and the fun of dancing to Arab music and dining upon couscous and curry and all kinds of fun new foods. And we camped out at the UCF graduation and cheered Nader with pride over his accomplishments, like he was our own brother.

And then Danny and I travelled to Dallas to take part of a joyous wedding celebration so different from American style, but so incredibly fun. I’ve never had more fun dancing, than I did with my new found family.

[No pictures shown out of respect for bride and female’s privacy]

I remember, being dropped off by them, Nader’s new sister in law, Maymuna, fully clothed in hijab (head scarf) and conservative outfit got out of the car to walk me to the hotel entrance.

“Bye! Thanks so much for the ride. I had so much fun dancing with you all tonight!” I call as I wave them goodbye.

A man and woman puffed at cigarettes on the bench nearby and heard our goodbye partings…”Wait a second” he said, “you danced with them?”

“Yes! We had so much fun together!”

and I skipped inside, leaving him to puzzle over the fact that the conservative looking Muslims women he sees with headresses, just dropped me off from a dance party.

(in Libyan weddings, the men and women have separated celebrations so all the women unveil themselves and have a BLAST on the dance floor…I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun at a wedding)

muslim-female-attire

Anyways, these people and their ways, they won my heart.

So when I read of Ronnie Smith being called a “lover of the Libyan people”,

I knew exactly why.

And I knew why he had been willing to move to a dangerous place to invest in the youth of a people who have actually been strengthed through their years of oppression. They may not be unified quite yet, but they have been formed into people of vigor and strength and a people who delight in the little joys of life, for at times, that is all they had. Libya, although war-torn, is a place of incredible possibility, untapped beauty. Ronnie showed up in the midst of the mess because of HOPE. Hope for a brighter future for those Libyan youth, and hope in the One Who is the Light of World.

And now, as we reel from the death of this Christian brother, I think of all the people my friends knew that also died from corrupt regimes, and unleashed manipulation by violence in that country. People whisked away from the land of the living by evil, not so much evil-in-the-form-of-a-cruel-dictator, but evil, open rebellion of God, within the human heart, manifested in violence and cruel slaughter.

And how do we fight back? With more guns, and more attacks and trying to gain control by who can generate the most fear by their random acts of brutality.

This is not what the Man, or more-than-man, who changed the course of history did. He fought evil with good. He fought corruption with love. He fought the people who desired to take his life, with a willing sacrifice….of Himself

For He knew that He was bigger than all the evil schemes of sinful man. He was bigger, but he became lesser. He was Almighty, but he was humbled. He deserved to judge, but He became the judged one.

It is knowing, and worshipping and being filled by this type of Spirit, that we combat the evil of this world. This was Ronnie’s battle plan.

And this is what Ronnie’s widowed wife has chosen to do. Although, she doesn’t actually have much of a choice, because when we’ve given ourselves to not just a man, or a cause, or an idea, but given ourselves to a God who comes and fills His people, we can’t help but act out with His Spirit,

WATCH HER INCREDIBLE INTERVIEW ON CNN

and thats same love, and mercy and “battle strategy of peace” that propelled the God-man, Jesus, or Isa, will fill our hearts too.

For God did not just create us. He did not just give us laws to follow. He did not just set up standards that we must attain in order to enter his paradise. He entered in to our inability to keep those standards and laws. He came down as a human. As a Babe, which we celebrate this Christmas day. He came to do the impossible, the inconceivablee. He came to keep the law, that we fall hopelessly short to keep, that He might fully please the One Almighty God. He came to obey the Father, and obediently go to receive the Judgement Day’s verdict – that we fall short, and don’t (and can’t) pray enough, give enough, memorize enough, do enough. The verdict that was declared by his gruesome death penalty on a cross. Isa, or Yesu, has endured what every human being who should have loved, obeyed, followed Gold perfectly should receive. Judgement. That the real murderers, theives, selfish, and proud might go free.

But when we go free, we don’t continue to freely do evil.

There is something so humbling by seeing Perfection Himself outpour a love and grace you do not deserve. A humbling, and Truth that makes us free.

We are free, free to love God back for the incredible love He has poured out.

We are free, free to love people with a love we cannot generate on our own.

Free to move to a dangerous place, to love a youth, and pour your heart out teaching Chemistry, because Love Himself propels you.

Free to forgive and desire forgiveness for the men who pulled up in a Black SUV to your jogging husband, only to gun him down, splattering your baby’s father’s blood on the streets of a place you didn’t really have to be, in the first place

That is a freedom and a forgiveness that is unnatural.

For it is Supernatural.

And a proof that there is One God, who has sent Isa, whose very name means “Annointed One” or “Messiah”. This Isa, was also called Prince of Peace in the books of Prophecy following the Torah, and confirmed in the Injeel. He came to BE Peace, and to bring peace, so that “Salaam-Alaikum” can be true in the lives of Muslims worldwide.

It is the Story of Ronnie Smith, and his forgiving widow.

It is the story of Christmas.

And my prayer, this Christmas, is that it would be yours as well.

Meeting Him on the Water

The waves are crashing all around, while the secure boat feels safe against their surge. But then you spot, in the distance, an Image that beckons you. The figure that you have grown to love and adore asks you to meet Him out where there is nothing firm to stand upon, or so you think. “Is meeting Him worth the risk?” You sigh, and begin to get out of the boat. The risk will be taken, if the thrill of seeing Him up close is the sweet reward.

You can’t truly see Him show up, unless you get out.

And get out, we did, this Christmas.

And SHOW up, HE did.

Scheduled for this Christmas season, were Christmas clubs each Friday afternoon, a week long visit from Eric and Sara-Beth and their four children, during which, Danny’s other sister, Martha and her one year old would be staying with us (in case you need help doing the math- thats five adults and a 7,6,5, 4, two 3, two 2, 1 and 8 month year olds in our home! Joyful chaos is what we like to call it.) All in addition to extra Christmas outreaches at OKPCA, where Danny is a part time pastor, plus all the Christmas shopping, cooking, and baking needing to be done. As soon as those guests left, we were scheduled to host international students again.

The coordinator of the ministry we have been involved with for the past three years here in Orlando called me up to work on placing some students in our home. I had told him previously that we would be willing to take whoever was the hardest to place.  He had a Korean family of four who would be hard to place because the unit was so big.  I told him “yes” with slight disappointment in my heart.  Why? Not because it was a unit of four, although that would indeed make for a full house. But rather because the mom and three girls had marked “Christian” as their religion on their application for the program.  I was very glad they were Christians, but my heart beats for people that don’t yet know Christ as their Savior.  Last year’s thrill of sharing the Gospel with people who had never heard the Word of God or the Savior which it proclaims was still fresh in my heart.  “I guess we won’t get that joy this year….” I think as I agreed to take the family.  Despite the surface disappointment, I knew that if I just said “yes” and got out of the boat of my expectations, I would meet my Savior out on that water. And there is nothing sweeter than stepping out, and seeing Him show up and show OFF His beautiful handiwork.

The first little detail He took care of was their arrival.  The Nolls had JUST left and so many sheets and towels needed washing, floors needed mopping (you should have seen all the dirt those 30 feet tracked through our house), and bathrooms needed cleaning.  I was on a push to get things done WHILE keeping five children occupied, watching the time tick away quickly while the To-Do list did NOT tick so quickly.  Then I got word that their flight would be arriving late, and had 4 more hours to work before they arrived!  Thank you, Lord, for showing up, and taking care of this tiny need-to be ready for their arrival!

Then I got to meet my the family and it turns out it was a mom, Juyeon, her two daughters (9 and 11 years old), and her niece (16 years old) who had flown to visit them during her winter break.  As we talked about the upcoming schedule of events (including activities at our Korean Church), Juyeon asked, “My niece is Buddhist.  She has never been to a church before.  Is it still OK for her to come to church if she is Buddhist?”.  Is. it. OK…..My heart began to soar! “You mean she doesn’t know anything about Jesus?”  “No, not really.” was the reply. Jesus knew the desire of my heart, and He met me there.  I WOULD still get to be sharing with someone who had not yet even heard of the good news of Jesus!  Katherine (the niece) drank in everything while we were at church, and asked lots of questions.  She received a Jesus Storybook Bible from us for Christmas, as a follow up to what she had heard us read to the kids at family devotions during the evenings.

Then Juyeon (whose English was incredible) and I had wonderful conversations AS SHE HELPED ME CLEAN THE KITCHEN (more on that in a minute) she said she was so impressed that Danny led us in family worship each night, and she thought it was so good for her girl’s to see the father taking that role. She confided in me that her husband was not a believer, and how she longs for her life to be a witness to him.  We talked like kindred spirits over the struggle to live LOVE all the time and that we so often fail, and lose our patience.  We spoke of letting Christ live in us to the degree that HE is the one who lives, handles the conflict, and is the witness through our hands and feet and mouth and ears.  We even had prayer time together for her witness to her husband and for her girls to grow to know and love the Lord.  Throughout the week, she had so many questions for me…about why we have so many people live stay with us/come over, why we have so many children, why we work at a Korean church, etc.  I think she was amazed at our lives, which seem so “normal” to us. It was a joy to share that it wasn’t ME, anything good or challenging she saw in our lives, was due to the Power and Grace of Jesus living in us.

About the cleaning thing…Juyeon was just like the wonderful Korean women at my church…Always busy working on something, washing dishes, and tidying up.  She asked “Is it OK to do this?  It just feels natural to me.”  I’m not one to argue over that due to my own pride…I’ll take all the help I can get!  I couldn’t believe it. She made my week and a half with them even easier than when it’s me by myself with my kids – just another way of Jesus showing up and carrying what would have been a huge burden.  Beforehand, I had no idea how I would keep up with everything…my own children and the messes they make plus extra people at meals and more hospitality on Christmas day…but I had known that when saying “yes”, God would take care of those details somehow-and He did in Juyeon’s helpful spirit)

THEN, my least favorite part about hosting the students at Christmas is being down in the kitchen by 6:45 am to fix them breakfast, get them fed, and then get them out the door by 7:30 so they can go on their Disney excursions.  But the night they arrived, Juyeon said to me, “I hope you don’t mind, but I brought noodles for our breakfasts because my girls are picky eaters.  Is it OK if I just fix them their breakfast each morning?”  What?!?  Jesus showing up again and taking care of the details…

The first half of Christmas Eve, they attended a conference in which the Gospel was shared- it was Katherine’s first time having the full Gospel shared with her. They arrived back home, we had dinner and started getting ready for our Christmas Eve “Service”  (Korean style, is to do a talent show, where each small group does an act or a song, and then we close with a candlelight singing time).  Danny was going to be rapping for it and the kids were in a couple of acts, and shot-in-the-dark, I asked our Muslim housemate,Nader, if he wanted to come.  We have asked him numerous other times to go to church with us, and he never does, so I didn’t have much expectation of him doing so.  BUT faithful Juyeon, says, “Yes! Yes! You need to come with us, we will all go together and it will be so much fun.”  Low and behold he decides to come with us 20 minutes before we leave!  THEN half the acts and songs are in Korean, so Juyeon is faithful translating things for Nader.  A little kids Christmas play of the story of Jesus’ birth with the Scripture of each scene up on the screen in Korean AND English-Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem, Jesus being born, the angels appearing to the shepherds, and the wise men coming to worship Jesus-led to alot of question and answer on Nader’s part.  In the past he has said “Muslims believe in Jesus too-that he was a great prophet” but he knew so little about Jesus’ background and his birth so we were a bit noisy explaining everything during the play, but so thankful for the opportunity. Only Jesus could have coordinated a woman from Korea getting a Muslim guy from Libya to go to a Korean Christmas Eve Service in America, to be a place where this American family could explain more about Jesus’ coming. Jesus shows off in extravagant ways out there on the water!

Then Christmas morning was SUCH a joyful time together.  Our guests and Nader experienced “Christmas” complete with “Joy to the World”, a reading of Luke 2, and massive amounts of presents** being opened for the very first time.  **(Did I mention that right after I agreed to host the four Korean students, someone anonymously sent us a $200 gift card to Target (THANK YOU to whoever it was, if you are reading this), which in turn paid for the stocking stuffers for the ELEVEN stockings I had to shop for and fill. )  Everyone had a such a wonderful time opening things, and I just loved seeing Nader’s and the Korean student’s reactions when I have gifts for them to open and they weren’t expecting it.  (Must be how God feels as I received gift after gift of seeing Him work and coordinate events this Christmas season)

After presents and Christmas brunch, our house looked like a tornado had hit it, and we were having two guys from Egypt and a guy from Iran(who now will be moving in with us in February) for Christmas dinner.  Again Juyeon came to the rescue and recruited her girls to set the table, and she herself cleaned up the house, while I was busy in the kitchen cooking.  (Thank you, Jesus, for taking care of the details again!) Then we had a wonderful dinner and a two and a half hour discussion afterwards about God, the Bible, the Koran, the Gospel, Islam, and salvation.  Around our table sat Coptic Christians from Egypt, a former Muslim now agnostic from Iran, a devout Muslim from Libya, three Christians from Korea, a Buddhist from Korea, and then our Christian American family.  You’d better believe we had a LIVELY discussion….but amazingly, even though things got somewhat intense at times, we all ended better friends and blessed to have been challenged by one another’s beliefs (Juyeon’s daughters kept my kids busy playing upstairs with new Christmas toys).  Again we saw Jesus show up around our dinner table, and throughout our conversations, throughout every little detail.  It is a joy to step out, and let Him take care of the logistics.  I just love meeting a LIVING SAVIOR outside the boat.

Our time with the students came to a close with Katherine telling me that she had learned SO much over the week and a half, and Juyeon and I promising to get together up north (she lives in Albany) before she moves back to Korea in a year.  I ended my time with them in awe of God’s goodness, and more inspired to take bold steps of faith, for having seen Him take care of everything, down to who would keep my kids occupied so I could engage hearts from the nation’s around my dinner table.

There is no greater joy than simply showing up, saying yes, getting out of the safety of the boat of my own limitations, and walking on water with a supernatural power that could only come from the One who had created it in the first place.  I’m sold.  I am convinced.  There is no other way to live life but outside the boat…walking towards the Image of the Holy One and meeting Him in the impossible places.

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The Home…Tool or Treasure?

Definitely NOT our home.

Definitely NOT our home.

Those magazines, blogs, and advertisements…they’ll do a woman like me in, if I don’t keep my heart in check.  The standard of neatness, organization, decoration, and perfection they set are so unattainable.  And if that is the kind of standard I abide by in order to welcome people into my home, we’ll live a hermit life.  This internal battle surfaced a few weeks ago…

I was quickly tidying up before I had to go get Daniel Josiah, and the troop of children from his public school who would be gracing our home for Christmas club that afternoon. I was coming off of having my family in town for the week, and hosting nearly 20 people for Thanksgiving.  As I was cleaning, I was quickly noticing how desperately my home needed a deep cleaning.   I was excited  to have the troop of children over, but with the children would come the moms.  What would they think of the smudges on the front windows, the stains on the carpet, the clutter on the bookshelves, and the watermarks on the coffee table, not to mention my two year old’s artwork on the walls and the poorly kept lawn   “Why can’t I keep up with my housework better?”  “What will these moms think of this house, bearing the marks of the many children the live and play here?” “This place is ridiculous!”

But as I wrestled with these internal criticisms, I had to ask, “OK, Kimberly, is your home going to be a tool or a treasure? ”  Is it going to be a trophy that you only show off when it is perfect, so that people will think highly of you for your creative decor and you superb organization?  or is it going to be simply something you use, to bless people and make Christ’s love known in.  When its just a tool, you work on it to keep it functional, and its only a means to an end. Not an end in itself.  And that is where the magazines and ads scream lies at us.

As I searched my heart, and my desires,  I’d much rather have the PEOPLE than the  pristine home. And you generally can’t have both. People produce smudges, and stains, and stepped-on goldfish, and more dirty dishes. But they also produce more joy and laughter and fun and interaction. Not only do we have a lot of  people (mostly little ones) that LIVE  here and make messes here, but we also have a burning desire to invite people into our home with whom we can share the gift of life, and most importantly the Giver of Life. The joy of all the new faces, new personalities, and new cultures we get to experience through continual hospitality far outweighs the physical imperfections that get left behind. If they don’t like to stained carpet, I guess they’ll have to stay home.

And in the meantime, those who don’t mind crunching on a Cheerios every once in a while or the unique wall art , those who DO want to come over, can have a lower standard on what their own homes need to look like in order to entertain guests.  I’m willing to die to self and “nice-home-righteousness”, in order to be real about how messy life can get. I don’t mind being the home which people compare theirs to to make themselves feel better…as long as my home is graced with souls tasting and seeing the goodness of the Lord and salvation found in Jesus.  After all, there is home being prepared for me in heaven, and I’d rather use this temporary home to be a tool to store up my treasures in that place, where it will never spoil or fade.

These types of pictures show up on my phone when little hands get a hold of it.

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Unexpected Guests and the Little Deaths

I just had to swing by Winn-Dixie really quick after church and then I was gonna get the kids fed and down for naps so that I could get a good “Sabbath rest” in aka, read a good book, go for a run, and have time with Danny.  As I pulled out of the parking lot, I saw it.  Cardboard  sign with sharpie marker scribbled all over it “Homeless, need food, gas, and shelter. Please help. Thank you and God bless.” I pulled over, and asked the blonde woman with a sweet face behind the sign if she want to come home with me for lunch.  Her husband was sitting in their large, old suburban in the parking lot and she said they didn’t have enough gas to get to our house just a mile away.  Instead I met them at the gas station just one parking lot over.  I asked questions as we filled their tank up, and  I quickly found out that this wasn’t your typical homeless couple.  She was enrolled as a virtual student at Liberty University.  He was a “rider” (motorcycle, that is) turned pastor.  They had only been homeless for two months and the tiny country church they were members of could do little more than offer them their parking lot to “camp out” on in their big truck.

As we sat around the lunch table we found that Murray was an evangelist at heart and although he saw a lot wrong with the modern Church (don’t we all?), his desire is to go to where the people are to bring the good news of Jesus to them.  Terry was a sweet woman with a humble spirit who had few complaints-  Despite the fact they were living out of their truck.  Despite taking showers at the local camp ground, while making pots of pork-n-beans over a campfire for dinner.  Despite parking their truck a the church parking lot, tucked away and in a “safe spot” in the 90 degree weather (with Florida’s intense humidity level thrown in as a bonus) Despite all this, the couple said that they keep trusting the Lord one day at a time.  “He keeps being faithful” they said.  They count it a blessing that their small car broke down and they ended up buying “the truck” for $400 a couple of months before they lost their now-condemned rental home. “Its perfect for us to lie down in the back, and sometimes we even hook up the portable dvd player we salvaged and watch a movie while we’re in there”  Whether it was a bag of dog food (they have two big dogs that live with them in the truck) and some sandwiches given by one of the church members, or someone who puts $10 of gas in their tank they said that God keeps providing for them and showing them He hasn’t forgotten them.

It was refreshing to be around such need again.  Not refreshing like going to a spa and getting your nails done refreshing…more like refreshing to have to face the little crucifixions that come along with serving my neighbor in need.  Like the list of things I had really wanted to do on my Sunday afternoon as a busy mom of four. Death to my to-do list. Or my nicely stocked pantry that I emptied so that they would have some food for the next several days. Death to Kimberly’s control and her meal planning. Or my home, it’s cleanliness, and my family’s rhythm of life as we’ve offered them our extra room and our back porch for the dogs. Death to my comfort, my privacy, my convenience. We were suppose to rent that room out this summer because we technically can’t afford this house without a renter. Death to my financial plan and peace of mind. Oh, the deaths.  But, oh, the joys.  The joys of making new friends out of the unlikeliest people. The joys of being stretched out of my comfort zone. The joys of being forced to cling to the promises that “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Pr.11:25)  or “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord”(Pr.19:17)  or “My God will supply all your needs” (Phil 4:19) or “Seek first the Kingdom of God and HIS righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).  May Kimberly’s flesh die and may the Spirit of God live in me so that my walk is HIS Word and nothing else. To live is Christ and to DIE is gain (Phil. 1:21)