From the Mouths of Babes Mondays

All out bursts of laughtersoftened heart by sweet words….conviction brought on by profounds sayings….

All from the mouths of babes… my babes.

And if I don’t record it fast, despite it’s dearness to my heart, it will flit away.  Carried off by this absent minded-mother’s tidal wave of to-do’s, and appointments, and people’s needs that crash into, and overflow my mind.

So here it is.  An internet accountability, if Mouths of Babes Monday is declared. It’ll force me to type it up real quick.  Picture or none.  Deep heart ponderings, or not.  It will be up there. Something one of these little convicting, and challenging, and endearing, and joy-giving children has to say.

And Jesus said unto them, ‘Yea; have you never read, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings you have perfected praise”?”  Matthew 21:16 NKJV

It’s all praise. Every last word of it (well, almost). The funny things said, they praise the One who put personality and character and little minds working in these little babes.

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Danny’s Dad, the one who dreams big dreams, the one who loves his nine kids and seventeen grandchildren dearly, the one who lives on the other side of the planet on the island country of Japan, he sent it out.

And Danny and I couldn’t help but discuss it at dinner. a flit of hope in our hearts.

“Did you get Dad’s email today?”

“Yeah….Is there any possible way?”

Half the family will be in Japan this Christmas.  Could the rest of us join them for another Iverson Christmas in Japan, this time with the one additional spouse and the thirteen additional grandchildren?

“Its craziness”. I think.  But maybe…maybe if we turned it into a mission trip.  Maybe if we pool frequent flyer miles.   Maybe….

Danny and I brainstorm possibilities.

And the kids brainstorm theirs.

Trinity:  “Mommy, I promise to always shut the door so we don’t waste money on air-conditioning!  And I won’t leave the water running anymore so we don’t waste money on that!  Oh! and I’ll make sure Malachi doesn’t spill all the food and waste it so that you have to buy more!”

Katy-Grace: “I can give you my two dollars from my birthday.  That will help, right?”

DJ:  I guess, I can give my money….but I really wanted that Lego set.

Trinity:  “Maybe we can collect stuff we don’t want and sell it.  Can we have a yard sale, Mommy?”

DJ: “We could sell a kid.”

         “We have lots of those…”

Me (only in my thoughts): “Exactly.  Which is precisely why we can’t go to Japan for Christmas.”

and the next day, kids are busy at play outside, and shortly thereafter I see this:

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“Hey kids…what’s going on with the berries filling our empty recycling containers?”

And after some investigating, I find this…

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and this:

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With a very excited blur of explanation…

We’re collecting berries to sell so we can go to Japan. LOOK HOW MANY WE HAVE!!! We’re gonna get aLOT of money for these! Right, Mommy?”

They had been out there a good hour, working away.

Industrial little ones, they are.

And after more investigating, I found my kitchen stool…

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and my eldest son up in a tree….

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and my youngest son, coerced into helping as well…

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But unfortunately, berries from a dogwood tree don’t have a very good exchange rate to the Japanese yen.

So we will give thanks for the invention of Skype and iPads. And use the berries for Christmas decoration instead.

My Sweet Little FIVE year old!!

Trinity’s model pose. She had fun picking the outfit out with a birthday gift card she was given. The outfit was on her within 30 seconds of arriving home.

Two weeks ago, we celebrated Trinity’s fifth birthday. I can’t believe my baby’s five years old now!  She is growing and maturing beautifully…eager to learn (homeschooling is going SO much better this year!!), eager to help (mostly), an eye for neatness and cleanliness (GREATLY appreciated by her mother!), a graceful dancer, and a music writer (she’s written a song she sings to Malachi when he starts crying and now the whole family uses it…in fact, Katy-Grace purposefully MAKES Malachi cry so that she can sing it to him…) As she gets older, I am enjoying the beauty of a mother-daughter relationship.  Its so fun introducing her into the domestic world, and she thinks she is so big and grown up as she learns and helps. This sweet little girl of mine, has such a sensitive heart to Jesus, and tells me about different things and people she prays for. She wants everyone to “hear about Jesus so they can go to heaven”. And the Bible verses this kid has memorized…I’m the one teaching them to her, and she knows them better than I do!!

The first year we were here in Orlando we were extremely blessed to celebrate her 3rd birthday with TWO sets of cousins, then last year the Nolls were still here to comprise 1/3 of the guest list of her 4th birthday celebration, and this year, we had her party with sweet friends, but no family. We are missing their presence, as they have moved to Virginia now!

Missing the Noll bunch! (One of our last kid-chaos meals 🙂

Trinity LOVED party planning, and since this was a VERY homemade party (gotta love the seminary budget!) we did everything together. Planned the guest list, printed out invitations, made a pinata, made the cake, and went shopping at the dollar store for decorations. A little picture documentation of her celebration..

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No Man’s Land

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 6:12

The act has been done by countless brave soldiers in past wars.  The act of running, charging, embarking into “no man’s land” only to be pelted by bullet after bullet.  It is incredibly risky business, chances are you will be hit, and chances are that there will be no visible advancement of lines.  But charging must happen in hopes that the lines will be advanced in the future, and someone‘s got to do the charging, if any advancement is to be made.

And charge we did, late in July.  As we neared the battle ground, we already could hear and feel the bullets whizzing in our direction.  Emails and reports revealing webs of miscommunication, blameshifting, lack of integrity, and gossip left us reeling with hurt and confusion as we made our way north to Newark this summer.  Alot of explanation, reconciliation, and forgiveness would have to be extended in order for the mess to be worked through. Then the news that our dear friend, disciple-turned-fellow-partner-in-the-Gospel, was terminally ill, followed by waves of guilt and remorse for not having kept in better contact to know all that she had been enduring this past year. We approached the battlefield laden with emotional and spiritual burden.  On top of that we came physically weak, as, the week prior I had faced one sickness after the next, and I and all of our kids began coughing badly as we traveled northward.

I got the sense that we were about to charge our entire family into the no man’s land, into open fire with no place to hide, and nowhere to go but forward. And how much ground could we really cover, in just ten days time??

It didn’t take 10 minutes of driving into Newark towards our old stomping grounds, to spot people dear to our hearts. We would pull over to see people and after hugging and talking a while the car doors would open up to show off our family.  It happened SO frequently over the course of our 10 days there, that our kids started to feel like they were a museum exhibit.  But with each stop, we were overwhelmed to hear how well people were doing.  Seeds planted 3, 5, and 7 years ago were bearing fruit.  Kids that were just a little older than Daniel Josiah when we first started working with them, were now young men, and working men at that.  Nearly every single (now) young man that we had closely worked with through their high school years, were now holding a steady full time job.  Even kids who had already gotten into the judicial system, and we were afraid would walk that course the rest of their lives, had turned around and were working now instead of hustling. Every stop, also included prayer and an inviting of the Holy Spirit into lives, homes, and streets.  We were charging.

Tatiana used to hold DJ when he was this size. Five kids later, she’s still at it.

As we pulled up into the church parking lot, every inch of growing space was filled with results of the community garden.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, egg plant, squash, and kale grew, ready to be picked. Enormous sunflowers, towered above our heads and hung heavy, laden with seeds soon to be ready for next year’s planting. Seeds had been planted, growth had occurred.  We saw it in the physical as we pulled onto the property, and we would see it in the spiritual realm. Even though organizationally, things seem to have taken a turn for the worse there in Newark (unfortunately, the nonprofit we started will be dissolving this fall) seeds of the Gospel planted were bearing fruit because God has promised they would.

Some of the many sunflowers, in the backdrop of Dre rapping the Gospel. Both beacons of life in an otherwise dark place.

Seeds planted in Shashuna, and her whole family, including her oldest, Rashiem have grown to sunflower sized plants.  Shashuna came to Christ early in our ministry, and I taught all of her kids in Sunday school and children’s church. She became one of my best friends and grew so radically in simple faith in Jesus and His promises that she was soon challenging me. Even when she didn’t make it to church due to a back problems, she would always lead the her four kids in Bible time, and when I’d stop by for visits, pictures of Bible scenes, copies of the 10 commandments, and hand-written Bible verses were displayed on the walls of their small apartment in the projects. That little boy, Rashiem, grew older and began working for the afterschool program, soon he was running the art program, and when the after school program was about to shut down due to lack of funding this past spring, he and his friend Elijah (also still in high school) decided to run their own program through the rest of the school year. Then with summer approaching they planned out their own summer camp for 20 kids, complete with chapel time, art, reading and writing, gardening, and games. Kingdom comings, based on mustard seed plantings.

Rashiem (far back left, red shirt) and his summer camp kids

It was this summer camp that our mission team from Orlando was coming to help with, in addition to doing many fix-up projects for the church building.  Danny left Thursday to “re-arrive” again with the team on Saturday, and while he was away, our coughs worsened and I began to experience the classic feverishness, then cold chills along with an achy body, but I had no choice but to pushed through for all that needed to be done. Running into the smoky haze of firing. Little victories of reconciliation with my terminally ill friend, and sweet prayer times with her, kept me charging.

Saturday the team arrived, dog-dead exhausted after having driven through the night. After a quick rest, they got to work planning out their portion of summer camp contributions and the work projects to be done.  That night we had a reunion dinner and worship time, which gathered together many people who had dropped off from going to church.  We had SUCH a sweet time of worship together and Danny shared from the word.  The Spirit of God was filling and exciting people to be reunited with fellow believers. There seem to be advancement, but then again, our team was experiencing major culture shock. The pull between wanting to see and be with all of our old flock, and then needing to ease the transition for our new one was a hard balance.  We were failing miserably, and we could feel it. A pellet of bullets our way.  Kept praying, kept repenting to team, kept on.

Sat. night-food, fellowship, followed by a sweet time of worship

Sat. night-while we’re busy talking with old friends, our team didn’t quite know what to do with themselves.

On the way home from the sweet worship time, I dropped my iPhone in a cup of water while driving.  It fried immediately.  THE most inconvenient week of the year, I did this. Bullet hit. But not a fatal wound.

Sunday, we had no idea what to expect (we had heard that the weekly attendance had dwindled to about 10), but many more people showed up than anticipated, and we were graced with the Angola singers, whose voices gave us a taste of what heaven will sound like. Over lunch, they shared their unbelievable testimony of God leading them to live, sing and preach.  Sitting before me was my answer to prayer for laborers (see end of post), sent by God all the way from Angola, Africa. In awe of God’s faithfulness.

Angola Singers, sent by God to sing and preach, an answer to years of prayers

That afternoon I drove our five kids (with no phone and no GPS, nonetheless) to meet up with my brother and sister in NYC.  Once we arrived (really late, due to traffic) Daniel Josiah started complaining of being extremely cold, and then a few minutes later, being extremely  hot.   I felt his head and he was running a fever, not to mention the coughing that seemed to be worsening.  “He’s got it, too, now. Lord, I can take the bullets, but my kids?? Please protect them!” That night upon our return (after getting our sick kids to bed), our team meeting went really well, and there seemed to be a breakthrough in everyone’s attitude towards all the culture shock and hardships of inner city life.

Monday, the work projects started and so many people from the community showed up to help. Kids that used to sabotage our working efforts, were now old enough to pitch in and help.  It was a beautiful sight to see. While others were working, I had set up a discipleship time with a sweet girl who had been involved in the ministry from the start. We were diving into God’s word, with my children milling about in front of me, when suddenly she said “Oh, don’t drink that!”  I turned my head to see Benjamin, who was only 5 feet in front of me, start violently throwing up with a Styrofoam cup still in his hand. I snatched him up and began running upstairs with him, as someone else sniffed what had been in the cup and exclaimed “Its bleach!!”  Thoughts of speeding him to the ER to get his stomach pumped filled my mind. Our team member, Brian, called poison control right away and they walked us through what we were suppose to do.  Due to God’s incredible design of the human body, which will not tolerate poisonous substances, an ER visit was not needed because Benjamin’s body expelled it immediately.  His shirt was bleach stained from the throw-up and his body needed to be completely washed down, but in 20 minutes time he was marching around like nothing had happened. Analicia and I were even able to finish our Bible study and pray together afterwards.

Analicia…I still can’t believe how grown up she is now. I taught her when she was in the first grade.

During summer camp that day, I was running to the store and then helping give a hair cut to one of my good friends who had fallen on really hard times while we were away. It was a joy to spend time with her, while helping her in an intensely practical way, and helping restore some dignity to her.

That night Danny told me how difficult it was to have his family around WHILE being the leader of a mission trip.  Two mission fields merged into one, but resulting in feeling very torn.  We carried that weight with us.

Prayer for our family, during worship service on Sunday.

Tuesday, I again tried to balance five children along with a discipleship meeting with the first girl I ever met in Newark, this time attempting it at the park.  She was incredibly patient, as we attempted to have a much interrupted conversation.  Sweet times of catching up, reports of victory over dark seasons of her life, mingled with remorse on my part for not having been better about discipling her through her teen years and keep in better contact while away. If so, could some poor choices have been avoided?

That afternoon after summer camp, I had just loaded up some of my kids, plus my friend and one of her kids in order to take her somewhere, when Danny stopped me “Do you see how badly Daniel Josiah is coughing?!?” he said.  Tense moment. We need to do something about this.  Earlier that day I had called around to different local doctors to take him to, but things were getting really bad.  Our team suggested we take DJ, plus the rest of our coughing kids to the ER to make sure it wasn’t pneumonia or some other bad cough (possibly contracted through contact with their newly adopted cousin from Ethiopia, who came off the plane coughing).  We UNloaded my friend, and then reloaded the rest of our kids and our entire family made a trip to the ER.  For some reason all the nurses loved us, gave us the largest room, and brought us a free dinner from the cafeteria.  The X-rays were clear so a simple antibiotic was prescribed for a bronchitis type illness, and we were on our way again.  This time, to grab our bags and luggage, so that the kids and I could spend the next two days at our friend’s house in the suburbs, to contain the germs and help my kids to rest and recuperate.

Daniel Josiah on a nebulizer in ER

Wednesday may have been the most stressful day to date as I attempted to keep my kids from destroying the house. But I got laundry done and was able to make some phone calls about paying for Daniel Josiah’s medical expenses. Am I completely taken out of the fight?  At least there were soldiers still carrying on…

Thursday I woke up with stomach bug (have I mentioned that it had been circulating our team all week?), and our hosts mercifully watched the four oldest kids while I dozed in bed all morning.  That evening was going to be our huge outreach cookout, but I was feeling so sick, I didn’t know if I would make it.  Finally, I rallied and got all the kids in the car and headed down to Newark.  A blessed sight awaited me.  Four hundred people from the community showed up to eat dinner and hear different Christian performances (rappers, singers, preachers, etc) It seemed as though EVERYONE from our former ministry showed up and it was so sweet to see everyone, dispite my achy belly and weakened state.  I was so glad I showed up, even if wounded.

Serving food at the cook-out

Friday the team had already left, but we stuck around to finish cleaning things up and say goodbye to people. I finally got to spend time with our longest standing staff member who had become like a sister to me over the years. (Another burdened I carried all week was not having made time to be with her much)  We stopped by the projects to drop off some left over food and pray with a dear family.  Meanwhile our car battery died, and it took several attempts to get it going again.  Finally, we were on the road again, this time to deliver food to another dear family we had worked with over the years.  The seven kids and their parents circled around in the parking lot of their apartment complex as we prayed for them, and they for us. “I’m a bit rusty” said the dad, after he finished praying for a safe trip for us. Praise God, through Jesus’ blood, rustiness doesn’t matter in prayer. A bullet deflected.

Kortlyn, our longest standing fellow laborer, and brilliant art and community garden director. She has been a breath of fresh air to me throughout the years.

After nursing Malachi, on the stoop of the projects, waiting for Danny to fix our car. Neighborhood girls were fascinated with the concept of nursing, not bottlefeeding.

And with that, we left the battle ground, not waiting for the smoke to clear, not measuring to see if we made any advancement.  We did what God called us to do, and the result are up to Him.  We were willing to enter no man’s land, in faith that God is making it the Son of Man’s land.

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Little Ones, Do You Realize?

Dear Little Ones, my Daniel Josiah, Trinity, Katy-Grace, Benjamin and Little Malachi,

Today, on Father’s Day, do you realize what an incredible father you have?  You are among some of the most blessed children on earth to have a Daddy like you do.

Do you realize your Daddy is showing you what the faithfulness of the Heavenly Father is like? Because he faithfully keeps his word to have a Daddy date with you every Saturday, your are learning what it means to have promises kept.  He faithfully gets up to fix you “Daddy’s special breakfast” of cheesy eggs, grits, fruit, and juice and sometimes he’s tired on those Saturday mornings and may not feel like it, but he still does it because he loves you and he wants to be faithful.  Do you realize that its a lot of work to clean up all the dishes after making that kind of breakfast, but he does it in order to serve your mommy? He takes you to the pool, or to the park, or to McDonalds for ice cream and the playplace faithfully every Daddy date because he genuinely loves spending time with you, and he genuinely desires to give mommy a break at the end of the week. Do you realize that is such a gift?

Do you realize that your Daddy desires to win your heart-above getting you to behave a certain way, or memorize Scripture verses, or learning to help around the house. He sincerely wants to win your heart, because that is what God does towards us, alluring us into a Father-Child relationship of love and unity.

Do you realize that your Daddy would give his life to protect you?  Part of the reason he trains in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is so that he will be equipped to protect each one of you, if need be.

Do you realize that he already gives his life in a million small ways each day so that you might have food and clothing, shelter and lavish love?  It is not easy to carry the responsibility of providing for a family of seven, but he carries the load (and the long working hours) so that you might be provided for.

Do you realize that your Daddy is a prayer warrior for you?  He brings you before the throne of God daily and cries out to his Father to protect and nourish your little souls.  He prays that you will become sons and daughters of the Most High and that your lives would be lived out for His Glory, for that is where your greatest joy will come from.

Do you realize that by disciplining you well, your Daddy is loving you well?  It would be so easy to let things slide because your disobedience and subsequently-needed discipline comes at an inconvenient time, when we’re trying to get out the door  or when we have dinner guests over.  But he is faithfully being obedient to his Father to correct you, to discipline you, to pray with you afterwards and to love and cuddle you back into a restored relationship with your parents, siblings, and Heavenly Father. He’s training you in repentance and your need for a Savior.

Do you realize that your Daddy is loving each of you well by loving your mommy well?  He makes date nights a priority because he knows that each of you will be blessed and loved as our marriage flourishes and is knit together.  He stands guard over our relationship because in doing so he stands guard over your security and emotional well-being.

Do you realize that your Daddy is teaching you to be creative?  Whether it be designing and building wooden pop guns, duct tape swords, or writing songs with you, he’s teaching you that God created us to be little mini creators and as you excitedly watch him and participate with him in the creative process you are learning to use your own little minds and creativity to be mini creators.

Do you realize that you are learning to be servant-hearted and hard working?  When he works with you to clean out the car or do the yard work or clean out the garage your Daddy is serving mommy and teaching you the blessing of service and the call to do it with all your heart.

Do you realize your Daddy is a winner of souls, and “he who wins souls is wise”?  Daddy passionately shares the Gospel with so many hurting hearts, and desires to make disciples of all nations.  What a gift it is that your Daddy’s heart is in alignment with the heart of God.

Do you realize that you are blessed in the spiritual realm because the Word of God is embedded on your Daddy’s heart and he delights to proclaim it in the pulpit, and in our home? What a treasure that he is giving you when he leads you in family worship each night, seeking to impart to you the Words of Life that will protect you and keep you in this life and in the life to come.

And do you realize that your Daddy is a sinner?  I know, you may not see it or think it at this point, because he is all hero in your eyes.  But he is, and do you realize what a gift it is that he acknowledges so?  For it puts him at the foot of the cross, in desperate need of a Savior to pay for the failures and sins of his heart, and this is the most blessed place your daddy could be.  For in his desperation for a Savior, he gains a new life, the life of Christ, in him.

Do you realize that all those wonderful, amazing things that you adore about your Daddy are because Jesus is alive in him? And Jesus is the one who brings you to your Perfect Daddy. Sweet little ones, I pray that you realize.

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The List

It was #14 on that list penned by a motherless teenage girl.  The list could have included “long walks on the beach” and being “romantic” but rather, this list consisted of qualities desired in a man of God fit to be a lifelong partner in the Gospel. It was the list of a teenage girl who wished to bypass the drama of pointless boyfriends, in order to hold out for the mate God had foreordained for her.  And the list included #14. “He has mother who I get along with well.” Because that was important to me, in the absence of my own.

It was a feeble request to a God who promises to do “exceedingly and abundantly above all that we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20) I had NO idea how pathetic my request was compared to the woman God would bring into my life through my husband.  A woman who has now nurtured me, mentored me, gracefully shared the wisdom she has attained through years of adventure, struggle, and walking with God in the midst of missionary life and raising NINE children.

This answer to prayer, this woman who nurtured my husband for so many years, and who now nurtures me and my children, has flown across continents and oceans FIVE times over, in order to be present for the arrival of each of our babies, and to nurse me back to health in the wake of labor and delivery. And she comes with so much more than willing hands to fold laundry, cook meals, organize closets, and occupy grandchildren.  She comes with her servant hearted example, a deep humility, eyes set on Christ, and profound wisdom for that motherless girl now on the front-end of the mothering adventure.

Carol Iverson and her first grand baby, Daniel Josiah

Her first visit, she was a guide post at the beginning of so many adventures to come. New to full time ministry in the inner city, new to sharing my home with needy individuals, new to housemate who we were trying to help get back on their feet, and very new to the adventures of motherhood. She came to a scared young woman who didn’t know what on earth to do with a newborn life solely dependent upon her care and attention.  She taught me all the foundational “stuff” for caring for little ones. Books just don’t cut it, when the baby is screaming in the middle of the night and you don’t know what to do. You need an older mamma’s voice to coach you in your care.

“Ba Ba” and Trinity (with Aunt Betsy in the background)

Her second visit was truly a stream in the desert.  The desert of Newark, where all around was parched ground that her son and daughter-in-law were seeking to satisfy with the Living Water.  For two years we had been pouring into the parched ground of teenage boys living with us, constant knocking on the door by drug addicts, the homeless, neighborhood girls who wanted a safe place to hang out. Since my husband is the leader of men, fatherless teenage boys flocked to our home, to our dinner table, to our family life. I was absolutely surrounded by men. In the midst of a busy ministry, who had time to cultivate relationships with female friends? But what a sweet refreshment it was to have an experienced mother, wife, hostess, and missionary to talk to in order to glean wisdom and advice from.

“Mom” with Katy-Grace

Her third visit, I thought surely wouldn’t happen. I had already been spoiled for two baby arrivals and surely I couldn’t expect her to fly from Japan AGAIN to be with us.  But God worked things out so she could come, and what a blessing, in the midst of a painful recovery while a three and one year old scampered around the house and needed constant attention and care. She graced us with delicious meals, a cleaned house, “Grandma time” for the kids, and the added “protection” from constant neighborhood visitors (when you are 10 years old and bored, what’s more fun than visiting Miss Kimberly and the new baby?!?)

Mom cuddling Benjamin

Her fourth visit came in a new location, Orlando, just a month after we had moved into our new home. The now-a-bit-more-experienced mother needed counsel as she entered into a new season of supporting her husband, not in ministry but in seminary in a vastly different setting than what she had grown to know and love. She helped smooth the transition and poured out her wisdom as the homeschooling adventure was beginning, and life with four children four and under proceeded.

At it again, the magic touch with Malachi as well

And then this visit. When life with small children with big needs seems so constant and overwhelming. When at times you feel as though you are drowning in spills, and laundry, and shrieking, and bickering, and energy, and…did the one-year-old just escape out the front door? And she’s provided a sweet little respite to cherish the newest bundle, to cuddle him and nurse him quietly, and to take an afternoon nap with him upon my chest because neither of us slept the night before.  And her service and hard work has allowed the entrance of this newest life to our family be a joy instead of a daunting “task”.  Her counsel concerning child-rearing reassures me and gives me fresh vision in the journey. She has a big “grandma-ing” job, because, for my children she’s the only one they’ve got. Her presence and love now nurture not only her own son and his mate, but the next generation of Iversons.

I’m so thankful for that list written so many years ago.  It stands as a visible, tangible testimony of the ways God answers prayers beyond what we could even dream of. When that list was written two women were praying for the same man.  A mama’s heart praying for her son’s future helpmate, and a young woman praying for her partner for the journey. And Source of All has woven a beautiful story drawing glory to Himself.

For God, too, has written a “list” of sorts…his great and precious promises.
“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.” (I Cor. 1:20)

So, in awe of His goodness and faithfulness, I say

“Amen”

to that list scribed by my sixteen-year-old hands.

BECAUSE I can also say

“Amen”

to the promise spoken by Him and worked out by HIS hands.

Ba Ba and (our) five of her 14 grandbabies

Moments with Malachi

Real life hasn’t hit yet. Daddy (and my mother-in-law) are carrying the brunt of day to day life in our household. People around us have lavished love upon us and provided meals, watched kids, and paved the way so that mommy can rest and recover, and most importantly, spend

moments with Malachi

I’ve gotten to cradle this tiny being, listened to his soft hum as he contently nurses, feel is short little breaths against my chest as he slumbers there, and I pray and I praise as I stand in wonder at the gift of LIFE. I daydream of who and what he will be as his little personality blossoms, just as I have watched the four personalities before him blossom.

Last summer we wrestled with doing the “wise” thing verses trusting God with an act that only He can do, the act of creating a new little soul. And it makes me weep to think of having prevented little Zao Malachi from entering my womb, entering our marriage, entering my world, entering the lives of his four siblings. I stand in fear and trembling before the Creator who knit and formed this little one perfectly, all without my help, except the help of being available, surrendering my body, my womb (or should I say His womb) to do whatever bidding He sees fit.

Malachi is what He saw. When I was scared. When I was listing all the reasons why having another child is not practical. When I was complaining that it would be too hard.

I am still scared, for real life hasn’t hit yet. I am actually terrified at times. I am Peter, who has seen my Lord across the way, and called to say “Is it you??”. I have gotten out of the safe boat, and started to walk, miraculously, on the substance of things unseen. But I see the wind, waves and the furry of the storm of caring for, discipling, disciplining, and raising all the little ones with all these needs. And then I start to sink. sink. sink.

“How am I going to do this?!?” “Are we crazy?!?” “This is going to be too hard!!”

I am asking the wrong questions.

“How are YOU going to do this, Lord?” “How am I to surrender, moment by moment, when Malachi needs to nurse, Benjamin is screaming, and the kids have enough energy to bring the house down?” “How are you going to show up to provide for what You have provided (all these kids)?” “How are you going to show your faithfulness in my weakness?” “How are you going to prove that your promises are true?” “What ways are you going to show your mighty power?”

And then Jesus grabs hold of me, and lifts me from sinking into waves overwhelming. The waves of fear and doubt and nearsightedness are replaced with His strong grip. His righteous right hand, upholding his weak vessel. This is all I can ever hope in. His righteous right hand upholding utter neediness.

This week as I spent moments with Malachi, nursing him with pure milk to feed his tiny, growing body, God was feeding me the milk of His Word, to feed my tiny, growing faith.

“…Jacob shall no more be ashamed,

no more shall his face grow pale.

For when he sees his children,

the work of my hands, in his midst,

they will sanctify my name;

they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob

and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.”

Isaiah 29:22b-23

This ambition of raising all these kids could put me to shame and cause me to grow pale at the enormity of the task , but I have promises otherwise. These children’s bodies are the work of the hands of God, as he formed them in my womb. I can do nothing but trust that their minds, souls, and spirit’s shapings will be the work of His hands as well. And the cry of my heart is that they, and I, and all those around us would sanctify, glorify, and stand in awe of the name of Jesus because of their presence here in this world.

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“From Father to Son,” Zao Malachi – Explaining the meaning of your name

Danny wrote a special letter to our new son… It explains the meaning of his name and reminds us of the glorious life we have in Christ!

Dear son,
I write this to you with great joy in my heart at your birth on 4/12/12. You have come into a fallen world as a covenant child of the most high God, brought to us by God’s grace, a gift for this world and our family.  Words can’t describe the way I feel right now as your father…  So proud, so amazed at you and you haven’t even done anything but breathe, cry and sleep (and pee on your mother).  As I sit here in the quietness of the room as your beautiful and courageous momma slumbers across from me I reflect on the meaning of your name we have given you: Zao Malachi Iverson.

Zao (“z-ay-oh” as we are pronouncing it) is greek.  It means “I live.”  This past weekend we celebrated Easter and rejoiced in the life Christ has given us (and you) through his resurrection. As you come into a cruel and sinful world, where death still stings, you have a deep hope, my son, in the promises the resurrection brings.  That those who are in union with Christ live! Not just now, but forever, in eternity.  Let me explain… This body encasing your soul is not your final form, and I hate to tell you this but the parasite of your parents’ sin is attached to you at your conception, and no matter how hard you try you won’t be able to get rid of it… I could’t either, can’t and won’t.  I ache as I write this, knowing the reality of sin and the pain it causes… the way it  has infected me your father, the way it affects your mother… Your earthly parents love you, but we too find within ourselves the struggle every human faces against the enemy within, the sinful nature that you too have inherited… I wish I could tell you as you lie there, so cute and pink, so fresh with innocence, that you will not have to face the reality of the sinful nature all humans born into this world bear within them… but you will. You must realize the reality of it in yourself, that as long as you live in this body the parasite of sin will be there, demanding to be fed by its host, demanding that you indulge its desires… You will see it immediately in your siblings as you meet them. They are a wonderful bunch, fun, full of joy, anointed with the Spirit… but they too have that parasite, so don’t be too surprised when your big brother Benjamin jealously hurts you because you are getting mommy’s attention instead of him.  Don’t be surprised when Katy-Grace does’t share with you, or Trinity makes fun of you, or DJ steals your food… Don’t be surprised when your parents fail you… when we lose our tempers, or fail to love you the way you need us to. So that is the bad news my son-the reality of this world under the curse of sin… But your name, my son, doesn’t moan of death and sorrow, but sings of life and hope. It sings of resurrection, for that is what our loving God has promised for his covenant people and sings over us through his precious Son Jesus who came to bear the curse of death, wrath and sorrow for us and put death to death forever on the cross. You see, he didn’t and doesn’t have the parasite of sin, since he is the Holy One, the Word made flesh, “God with skin on” as your great grandfather Bill says… He is the second and better Adam who didn’t fail and give into temptation like we do… He was tempted just like you will be, but the parasite couldn’t attach to him,  and he never sinned. But the news gets better son, Jesus lived the life we could never live and showed us what it means to be truly human, to love and be in communion with our Creator with everything we are and love our fellow humans as we love ourselves. He showed us that great love by going to the cross and becoming the curse that our sin deserves, taking the justice that should have been placed on us, “becoming our sin” as the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21. Next week I get to preach on Isaiah 53 that tells us that the punishment that brought us life was placed on him… That by his wounds we are healed. That means we are free, no longer under condemnation for our failures, or guilty before our Creator, no longer under the eternal death sentence, no longer in slavery to evil… but free… to live. When Jesus died, all those united to him and belonging to him died too. Galatians 2:20 says “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” This is the verse that inspired your name… That you would live the life you have been given by faith in Jesus who loves you and gave himself for you.  That  you would know that through Christ who loves you, the parasite of sin dies forever when this temporary body formed in your mother’s womb becomes old and stops working. In Christ, death loses its sting, and there is no fear but joy. Pure joy  as you travel from the womb of this fallen world and are born again into the world to come, the Kingdom of God.  In Christ we are promised resurrection life in a perfect new body without sin, purified for eternity by your pure Savior Jesus and His Spirit who fills His people… This is the hope your first name sings, the hope of resurrection life and the hope of a new world… a place where you will never have to cry again the way you are crying now… This is the name I give you, my son.

Malachi is Hebrew. It is the name given to the prophet of God, the one who announces His Word. It means “my messenger” or “God’s messenger” in the context of the Bible. That is our prayer for your life my son. That you will announce the great hope of resurrection found in Jesus…. That as you live, and struggle in this world like your parents and grandparents before you, you will believe, hold fast, and proclaim the promises of your Savior God to this dying world in desperate need of good news.  We pray that the words of your mouth would sing life to others…. that the work of your hands would sow love and peace amidst this world that is harvesting war and hate.  We pray that His message will be in you and your life well-lived will be His message, the good message that God saves sinners  and recreates the old and broken into something new and beautiful. Your mother and I pray that everything you are would resound with the love of Jesus and that you would boldly proclaim the new creation promised in Him. Your Savior saves for a purpose son, that His people might live for something so much greater than themselves and the selfish temporary things of this world. In union with Him you become empowered with His Spirit to live out the righteousness given to you in Christ by an obedient and holy life that brings Glory to your Father in heaven and joy to all peoples… We pray that you will believe this message and live this message…

You are an Iverson my son, descended from the vikings of Norway. Viking runs in your blood as it did in your forefathers. Many of them pillaged and conquered for evil kings of old, but somewhere in our ancestry a new King came to rule our clan, the King of the universe named Jesus. Now we fight for him, not with battle axes dripping the blood of our enemies but with courageous words of truth for all peoples. Now we voyage around the world for our King, not to oppress foreign lands with cruel hate and war, but as courageous and peaceful messengers of hope that long to set all nations free with the love of Christ that we bear within us.

May you bear these names well my son. We love you and consider it a joy to call you our child.

Christmas Riches, Almost Missed…

This year we had every excuse in the book not to do it.

We had tons of family coming into town for the holidays.

We already would have a full house.

I’m pregnant (and tired!) with baby #5.

We have four little rascals running around.

We already have one international student living with us.

Money’s tight, more mouths to feed might be an issue.

I even blogged to promote the ministry.

Surely, it just wouldn’t work this year. “I’ll just recruit others to do it.” I thought.

But as we took our gaze OFF of our own little world’s circumstances, and looked at the call of our Savior to invite the stranger in (Matt. 25:35), we knew we were called to, once again, walk that line of faith. To put ourselves in a a place to be a watchman on the walls.

OK, Lord, if we’re going to do this, you have got to give me the energy.

I called up the area coordinator and told him we were willing to host up to two students (our other housemate, a seminary student would be out of town for the holidays and said we could us his room).  “Oh, good, he immediately said, I’ve got two Saudi Arabian young men who I’ve been trying to find a place for!”

Gulp.

OK, Lord. Here we go.

But oh, what joy, what riches, the Lord was trying to bless us with through this call to obedience!

So on Dec. 20th, Danny drove to the airport and picked up “James”*.  He came back and joined our family chaos of having a gingerbread making contest amongst Danny’s siblings and their kids.

That evening while eating dinner, we tried to explain to “James” that we would be going to a prayer meeting that night because Danny is a pastor of a church.

“Church? Pastor? I don’t know what those are.  We do not have those in my country.” he said.

We had a great discussion trying to explain to him what a pastor is, what a church is, and what we believe as Christians. The only thing he said he knew about Christians is that they “have to get wet.” (baptism)

Prayer meeting went well, and he seemed so intrigued by all we did and studied. A whole new world was opening up to him.

Then, that night, quiet “John”* arrived, and as I observed his trendy clothes and his cornrowed hair, I felt like we were hosting a Newark youth again.

Thursday and Friday they were off doing touristy things with the whole group, but in the evenings we enjoyed talking with them and playing board games with them and Danny’s siblings. Saturday they attended the “Christmas conference” portion of their trip and came home, each with a Bible in hand, excited to practice their English by reading it.  “Oh, Lord, make it come alive to them.” my heart throbbed.

I felt guilty feeding them quickly and ushering them out the door again to another “Church thing”, attending a Christmas Eve candlelight service at Sara and Eric’s church, but they seemed up for anything.  We tried to explain to them that many different churches believe the same thing, but worship in different ways, and the one that they would be attending this night would be a more formal church. It was encouraging to watch them try to sing along in the hymnbook our classic Christmas carols, triumphing the coming of Christ.

Since, actual Christmas day, we would be at our Korean church all day, we decided to surprise the kids after the Christmas Eve service with all the presents and stockings set out.  I dashed home with my sister-in-law and Danny went with the kids and “James” and “John” to McDonald’s for $1 ice cream cones.  I quickly got everything set up and awaited their arrival.

Our kids (AND James and John) were surprised and ecstatic when they walked in with everything set up. We took our traditional stair photo, sang “Joy to the World”, and started the stocking openings.  James and John were so surprised when I showed them where their stockings were. And then as we each took turns opening presents, they were thrilled when they had different things to opened. (One of which was a Jesus Film, in Arabic). Christmas is so often enjoyed by parents as they watch the wonder and excitement of the children, and this year we had two extra “kids” who were equally filled with surprise, excitement, and wonder.  It was simply so much fun. (It was also so fun to see bright smiles spread across John’s quiet, reserved face, as he opened his own presents and watched our kids be thrilled over theirs)

James kept saying, “This is my BEST Christmas.  This is my first Christmas and it will always be my best Christmas in my memory.”

I couldn’t help but pray, that his Christmases will get even better, not because of gifts to open, and children squealing in excitement, but because he has opened the best Gift of all, his Savior and Sustainer of his life.

A little past midnight, after the kids had finally settled down and everyone was in bed, Danny went down to check on the guys and say goodnight. John was curled up on his bed watching something on his computer. It was the Jesus film we had given him.

Lord, work through it, Danny prayed.

The next morning was an early morning of ushering children and James and John out the door again for more church services. I almost felt bad for them…they didn’t know what they were getting into when they stayed with us. But they seemed eager to observe and listen to their new friend, Danny, preach of the prophecies of Christ and their fulfillment in Christmas.  Then we had Sunday School, and John was missing. I found him wandering around the property, my heart sank. “We have probably offended him…doing so much “Christian” stuff.” I thought. I asked him if he would like to join us or if he was too tired. (we had so many late nights that week!) He said “No, I want to come, I didn’t know where you were.” “Oh,” I sighed with relief.

Boy, was I glad he came.  Danny told us to look up Matthew 6 and we just read two verses and then watched Tim Keller’s “Gospel in Life” video about work.  John’s eyes did not leave the page after we read those verses. I kept glancing at him as he read and read. The VERY FIRST time he had ever read the Bible for himself.

The guys went home with relatives, because we had to stick around for more responsibilities (have I mentioned that Korean’s are hard-core and take their Sabbath day very seriously…all day events…we, flimsy Americans with our “express services” have a thing or two to learn from them, anyways…”

When we got home around 5pm we found that James had taken a much needed nap, but John had finished watching the rest of the Jesus film.

He had a ton of questions at Christmas dinner. He had many questions that he couldn’t quite articulate so we used James(whose English was better) and our trusty Google Translate to be able to address his questions. One of the first ones was, “That book that we read at church today. Can I get one of them? I would like to read it more.”

“That book” just happened to be the Holy Inspired Word of God. “That book” happened to have words of truth, and hope and salvation, that in all of John’s 19 years of life, he had never even known existed.

And here’s the cool part.  Earlier that week I was researching sharing Christ with Muslims and stumbled upon a ministry website that would send an Arabic Bible for free. I asked if I could get it before Christmas, and they said there was probably no chance it would arrive in time.  Christmas Eve it arrived.  When Danny and I opened it (and some Arabic literature/tracts), we asked Jesus who needed it the most, but we just set it aside to pray about it more.

Here was our answer.

After Danny fetched the Bible we talked for about an hour answering questions like “Who killed Jesus?” “Why did they kill him?” “Did he really come back to life?” “Can God live in my spirit too?”. James, wasn’t asking as many questions, but was still eager to be involved in the conversation, so I asked him what different things said on the tracts (they were in Arabic and I couldn’t read them).  Here he was explaining God’s word to me.  I commended him on how well he translated it, and he said “Maybe I could be a pastor too one day!”  Oh, Lord, may he!!!

The whole experience, and the curiosity and hunger to learn was all so thrilling and exciting to be a part of, I couldn’t imagine if we had tried to “protect” our family time by not hosting these two great guys. What riches we would have been missed out on. What amazing privileges would have been passed up. What new friendships would never have formed.

Our kids cried on Wednesday morning when the guys left, and they still talk about missing James and John.

And we daily cry out to God, that his Spirit of truth, will guide them into all truth. (John 16:13)

For, simply being very feebly-available, has led to deep friendship and love for our Saudi Arabian guests, and we long for them to know not only the surface riches of Christmas, but the real riches of Christmas in Christ,

that

Christmas riches, almost missed by us,

would become

Christmas riches,

embraced by them.

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Pictures of our guests have been removed for their privacy and protection.

*real names not used because of their Muslim faith which prohibits them from celebrating Christmas, investigating Christianity, and owning and reading a Bible. We don’t want to put our new friends at risk in any way.

Christmas update

Here’s some of what we’ve been doing the past two weeks. SUCH a treat to be with all the stateside Iversons for Christmas…but we missed those that are serving the Lord on different continents!  More updates to come!


And here’s our family’s end of 2011 update letter!

IverUpdate Dec. 2011

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)

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