Friday, July 31, 2015

"Give Me 30."

"My Daddy be touching anything. That's why I have so many brothers and sisters from him."
Words from this young teenage girl have sat in my heart since I heard them yesterday.
 I hear a lot of things. I see a lot of things. 
A few days ago my friend walked in to visit our clothing closet with her family and had a sling on her arm. "What did you do to your arm?" Silence. "Don't want to talk about it right now?" Then she just said it; "The police hurt my arm when they were putting me into the police car Friday night." ...Oh. 
She has my number. I told her to call if she needs to talk.
 During prayer meeting Tuesday, one of our mentor students, a boy around 10, walked in with a baby girl in a stroller, who felt feverish and smelled like vomit. "J" was very respectful as we prayed. He left then came back. "Ya'll got any snacks for her?" One of the staff picked up the baby while I found a snack to share. Why is a 10-year-old taking care of this baby? I thought. She was his niece. He has a sister old enough to have a baby, but lives with her father, also his father. But He lives somewhere else, with his mother and 3 other siblings, one as young as 3, and a string of different fathers within that sibling group too. Most of our kids have no father in the home. Some are in prison, or were never in their life to begin with.
  "Give me 30," one of the mamas said when one of our "Aunties" (a lady on our leadership team) went to pick her up to take her to lunch. So Auntie C went across the fence for a while to find some kids to love on while she waited. She came back in 30 minutes to pick up our friend, and she was "ready" now...and high as a kite. She loved her and took her to lunch anyway, and got to hear pieces of her heart she may have never shared in her own environment. You see, just the day before, this mama was sitting in our prayer room crying, saying "I need me some Jesus." She had been evicted and sat there with her 2 daughters (whom we have loved and mentored for years) and a beautiful One-year-old-baby girl.
I love these people. They are my people and I want to see them free. They know that we are not there to call the cops and get them in trouble, but to call on Jesus, journey with them and help them get OUT of trouble. 
 The house was packed Tuesday, with a steady flow of people for 2 hours straight. Young and old and in between. Food, clothes, hugs, play time and prayers were swirling through the HOPE Center everywhere you looked. And I loved every minute of it! I am blessed more than they are. This is when I feel fully alive. I needed to stand in that circle of beautiful brown sisters who love me, and hold hands and agree in prayer as we supported each other, quoted God's word and thanked Him for bringing a son home from prison after 8 and a half years! So many memories. So many stories. So much hope in store for my precious Village of Hope! I call it "mine" not as a leader, but as a neighbor.
 I have stood on the porch praying with prostitutes while the "man" of the house politely let me pray for them as he waited behind the screen door. I have witnessed a girl come to me and confess to stealing from our donation jar, say "sorry" and pray to God and ask for forgiveness right in front of me. (She put the money back too.) The community waves at us first now, we don't have to initiate all the contact or conversation when we're walking around. Sometimes I hear a voice without a face. It is a "Hey Miss Jessie!!!" being said through a window screen, somewhere close. There is mutual respect and dignity. I have been hit, cursed at, vandalized, stolen from... but a million times more I have been blessed. They know I have not abandoned them when times got hard. They know I am there through the good and bad. Just like Jesus has been for me!
  Yesterday one of the staff and myself were in "The Gardens" just sitting and spending time with one of our new friends who is also facing eviction and is afraid to tell her "boyfriend" (a man about 20 years older than her, probably a "sugar-daddy," very common in that community...) and introduced us to her son, a sweet boy and gifted basketball player. Within minutes, I watched as a group of about 10-15 people were "stirring" right across the yard in the next building. About 6 waited for someone to answer the door and then attacked them. A "brawl" was breaking out. (This was about the 4th fight in a matter of days) It was loud, angry and there was blood. There was also a sweet little toddler right up in the mix. Did we run? No. We got on our knees and worshipped Jesus. The atmosphere calmed down almost immediately. Then God told me to go over and hold the babies. I held a sweet little one and just waved and greeted everyone. And then? We left and came back with 50 hamburgers. We asked if we could sit in their breezeway and have some shade. "Sure."
So We sat on the concrete, ate a burger, and shared the rest. I loved on another baby, I walked up the stairs and passed out more food. LOVE WON THE FIGHT. 
    And Love will keep winning this fight.
   Baby girl, I know of a Dad in Heaven that is nothing like your daddy who "touches anything." He's a good Father, and He is coming for you. You can trust Him. And you can trust us. We love you too.
                                                                                                                                               -Mama J




Tuesday, July 21, 2015

"That's My Girl."

 I stood on the pavement outside of our "HOPE Center," hanging out with kids and volunteers during our after-school program. It was a nice "winter" afternoon in Florida. I looked to my right and saw a tiny, filthy, silent little girl sitting at one of our picnic tables. She was new to the neighborhood and all alone. I saw her and said, "Who's that? She's beautiful."
 Within minutes of being noticed, she smiled and landed in my arms, wrapped around my neck. Although most of her teeth were black or missing due to lack of care, her smile was golden. She told me about her "Nanny," whom she lived with, and I told her about my "Jesus," who loved her. I escorted her to our clothing closet, wiped her feet as clean as I could and put new socks and shoes on her feet. We also packed up some groceries for her and "Nanny" to share. I can remember her giving heart as she offered to give her old socks to someone who might need them. That first day I met her, I wrote about that and remember typing "That's my girl." And for almost 9 months, she really did get to be my girl!
By fall of last year, Mirena was in urgent need and I increasingly stepped in to help both she and her grandmother, as God led me to do so in crystal clear ways. From sheltering her when the power was off at her apartment, to buying clothes and food, giving rides, and comforting and watching over her during the aftercare of some dental work and making sure she got to school when I could, she truly became a beautiful example of what it looks like when Jesus says "I was a stranger and you invited me in." (Matthew 25:35) Psalm 68:6 says, "God places the lonely in families." As I got closer to her situation, God began to put more puzzle pieces together and revealed some hidden darkness and environmental dangers that eventually led to some of the hardest and most heart-felt prayers I have ever prayed! But He was building a case. Not "against" anyone, but "for" Himself! A testimony of His love and goodness. A story of hope for Mirena. Through a series of fast miracles, God rescued her and brought her home safe to a new family and completely new way of living! On November 1, 2014 she crashed on our couch for the first time. By December 12, (just weeks later) My hero-husband and I were granted non-relative placement...We had legal custody! The little girl who sat at the picnic table now had a place at our table. And the journey began!
  Looking back, there were many difficulties yet many victories. The rewards and lessons learned are priceless, just like she is! We have learned so much about love through this little one!
In a bittersweet turn of events due to circumstances beyond our control (but completely in the hands of God), we had to make the hard decision about 2 weeks ago (At the time of this update it is now 9/12/15) to allow Mirena to be placed in a different home. One more suitable to prioritize the specialized care she needs, and for the safety and health of my other two children, myself and our marriage. Please pray for continued healing and wholeness over M's behavioral health and trauma needs and for the re-adjustment and new season this brings to our family. (Now again, suddenly a "family of four.") We sure do miss her and are saddened. We are blessed to have maintained some contact and ability to have visitation and be treated as "extended family," even though we are no longer able to stand in the gap as her full-time parents. That eases our minds a little. And Maybe our story will still inspire other Christian families to foster or adopt at least one child; To live with your hands wide open, ready to receive or ready to surrender. It's all about obedience and love. It's all about Jesus and "true religion." (James 1:27) Jesus said, "Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming Me." (Matthew 18:5) When we open our hearts and homes to the orphan, the needy, the widow, for a meal or for years or anywhere in between, we are welcoming Him in. When we brought Mirena home, we were really saying, "Welcome Home, Jesus." 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Mama's Heart...What "Yes" looks like.

Many people ask me "How did you get started at Carver?" And I explain the practical (For which I am thankful!) but I don't always go much further than that. When I was around 19 or 20, I had radically encountered the life-changing love of Jesus. At the same time I fell in love with street ministry and making disciples. I was introduced to Carver Village as one of the locations where our team would stop to give sandwiches, prayer and love. I continued to be involved with the neighborhood even after things changed with that particular ministry. (And I continue to do street ministry in other locations and one face at a time!) Oh sure, I had some "set-backs." Life-threatening Postpartum Depression, the birth of two babies, deaths in our family, and a marriage being held together only by the hand of the Lord. (He has gloriously restored us and we even got to foster another child!) I also had some shifting and yielding to do in regards to church, my role in it and opening my mind to where I would lead and call "home." There are many details and precious times of God speaking over the years to confirm His direction, but one of the most powerful things He showed me years ago was this vision:
I saw God's hands scooping up the children of Carver (particularly the boys) and gathering them up to Heaven like "jacks" in a game. He held them and then released them/threw them back down to the earth and when they landed, all on their feet, they were full-grown and standing solid, sure-footed, like army men. They were now pastors, teachers, missionaries...They were walking in the confidence of God's love and purpose. They were not statistics. I knew that beyond giving out food, doing outreaches or running programs, that He was assigning me this "post" to keep watch over, for the the sake of the next generation! He has spoken clearly to me of His jealous love over the people of Carver; "NO ONE is invisible to Me." Someone has to see, lead, be a Moses...Be a spiritual Mama to these sons and daughters. They had been like "sheep without a shepherd" and He has been faithful to give me the grace, prayers, provision and faith needed to continue to see what He sees over them, not what society says about them. I am standing guard over the word of the Lord. I just keep saying "Yes," No matter the cost! But I am not saying yes to solving their problems, I am not even saying yes to a vision or calling alone, I am ultimately saying "YES!" to Jesus Himself. Not just in the big picture, but with every little part of it. When I hug the poor, I hug Christ. When I feed the homeless, I feed Him. When I put a bandaid on a boo-boo or wash little feet, I care for His most prized possessions. When I preach to one man, bound by demons and alcohol on a Sunday morning on a sidewalk, instead of sitting in a pew, I feel fully alive! When I hold a spiritual son who tells me of his news of full-blown AIDS, I am wrapping Him in the arms of Christ. When I play basket-ball barefoot and visit the elderly, I am identifying with the gospel, first-hand. And when I administer tough-love and manners and the truth about sin to our young people? I am still loving, because Love tells the truth.
What started with sandwiches and street witnessing has given birth to a miracle...the miracle of a mother's love. The miracle of God proving what is possible in an "impossible" situation. Besides the salvations, physical healings, provision, and even supernatural food multiplication we have seen at Carver, the miracle we see all the time there? The miracle of God's faithfulness and Love. 
"He will be faithful to complete this good work that He has begun!" Phil. 1:6
...And I will be watching, praying and cheering Him on! I invite you into this amazing journey with me! Every "Yes" matters. So glad I didn't say "No" to what I saw! What do YOU see? What is God asking you to say Yes to?