Monday, September 17, 2007

Adventures in Preschool

I had an interesting (and by "interesting" I mean "nightmare-ish") time volunteering at the preschool downtown this past week. So many moments came down to a battle between my flesh and my spirit . . . because, while I know that these kids need grace and love, my own anger and frustration with them kept getting in the way. Let me explain . . .

On Tuesday when I walked through the doors, I was greeted with loving choruses of surprised "you came back!" from the kids. This is my standard greeting from the 45 - three to five year-olds who go to school here. I keep wondering how many times I have to come back before they will cease to be surprised by my return. I am making my rounds: hugging the kids, wiping noses, and helping them eat their breakfast when Ms. Smith (one of the teachers) asked if I could watch the kids while they had a "quick meeting" I smile and answer (naturally) "of course"....

I gather the kids (all 45 of them)and we play a rousing game of "Simon Says", which the kids don't really understand (they do anything I say regardless of whether or not I tell them "simon says") and which lasts all of about 15 minutes, before disintegrating into mass chaos. Before I know what has happened, kids are running around with no regard for furniture, sound limits or boundaries of any sort, banging on the piano, literally throwing punches at each other. At all times at least 3 children are bawling and clinging to my legs and arms . . . my stern pleas to "sit down", "calm down" and "please be quiet" don't even phase them. My shirt is stretched out, I'm covered in tears and grime and my muscles ache from carrying at least 2 kids every moment - and my hair resembles a bird's nest because I let the kids "braid" my hair when i realized it was the only thing that seemed to entertain them and keep them quiet . . .

Two and a half HOURS later the teachers finish their meeting just in time for lunch and nap time . . . I left that day exhausted and more than a little frustrated.

Grudgingly (after a lot of sleep and a nice long shower), I decide to go back to the preschool on Thursday. Now, Thursday was actually a pretty good day - until one of the little boys decided to literally slap me across the face . . . I stare at the five-year old in shock: the hard set of his jaw contrasts sharply with his innocent gap-tooth grin - but it is the question in his eyes that betrays him. Suddenly, I realize that he's testing me, pushing me - wondering if I really meant it when I hugged him and told him I'm proud, wondering if I'll really come back yet again.

Like Peter, I am ready to throw up my hands in exasperation - forgiving SEVEN times is surely enough, I'm poised to run out the door straight back to suburbia, where no one will slap my face or bruise my ego. But the Lord gently reminds me "not seven times, but seventy-seven times" and I realize that I WILL come back . . . because I still have a lot of forgiving and loving to do.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Graffiti . . .

Adam and I have decided to get involved with the new Canvas ministry at FBC - Matt and Becky Miller (two of our favorite people!) have decided to expand it to become a 20s ministry rather than just a college ministry - and we're excited about a place to serve, experience community, and to make friends that we can seek the Lord alongside of . . .

Last night was the first meeting of the group. The meeting was held in the college house, which is on the edge of our church's property. When we walked into the house, we were shocked to find paint splattered literally all over everything in the kitchen. Matt explained the house had been broken into and vandalized - and we spent a little time walking around and praying for our ministry, the house, and the people who vandalized it. Paint splatters, obscenities (the f-word and the n-word) as well as several other phrases like "God is Dead" and "This is our house now" were painted on the ceilings, windows and floors all over the house.

There is one room in the house that we have designated as our "prayer room." The room is painted on every wall with the different names of God. I was most struck by the vandalism when I walked into the normally soothing blue room to see the Lord's name attacked with bright strokes of red paint. More than the shock of these actions, however, I was struck by the realization that it changed nothing. Regardless of whether the names were splattered with red paint or not, God is still our Redeemer, Comforter, Strength, the Alpha and Omega, our Rock . . . the vandals had changed nothing, despite their best efforts.

I realized standing there that the same thing is true about me and my faith. There have been so many times throughout my life when people write labels on me. They splatter with red paint and try to cover up all the things that God says are true about me. This past week in particular, I have felt like the enemy has been trying to dissuade me from going downtown and working with the kids - because it's hard, and I can't tell if I'm making a difference . . . but standing in a room streaked with red paint, I realized that no matter how hard the enemy tries to paint me, label me and vandalize me - it changes nothing about who I am or what God has called me to do. So when it gets hard and I am uncertain, I will cling to what is true - I will remember what is UNDER that red paint - the powerful and unchanging truth about who God is and who I am in Him.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Learning by Serving

Since we got back from Camp Grace, I've been going downtown a couple times a week and helping out with several of the ministries that brought kids up to camp. I'm sharing this fact not to "toot my own horn" so to speak, but to tell you a little bit about how blessed I've been through serving. The Lord continually teaches me, stretches me, and blesses me with overflowing joy each time I go serve in the projects and share love with some deserving kids.

I am struck each time I drive downtown by the poverty that surrounds me. Boarded-over windows, barbed wire, broken-down cars and trash litter and line the streets. When we pull up to Herndon Homes (the largest project in Atlanta) it looks nicer than I expected, it is not until Jeremy points out the drug dealers on the corner and the "dime bags" that once held crack all over the ground that I realize I've entered a whole different world, one I've never before experienced or imagined.

My heart breaks with fear and pain as I watch two year olds waddle around in nothing more than a diaper, drinking grape soda from a can, mindless of the minefield of broken glass that his little feet navigate fearlessly.

At children's church this Sunday, a beautiful young girl asks me to pray for her mom - when I ask for details she says she can't tell in front of so many people - when i ask if she wants to whisper in my ear, she nods vigorously before informing me that her mom's in jail and she has been separated from her brothers and sisters and is living with her aunt. Tears well in her eyes (and mine) as I do the only thing I know how to: pray earnestly that the Lord will show us a way out, and that he will rescue her from her circumstances.

Later, a polite and helpful young man who often helps us with our ministry reveals that he has been suspended for misbehaving in school. His mom adds that he has threatened to re-open a DFCS case on her, and he protests strongly when his mother says she's trying to get his father to pay child support (he argues that his father shouldn't be to blame)

I cannot help but wonder how any of these kids can be expected to rise above their circumstances . . .we are quick to label them lazy and "bad" from the comfort of our four bedroom homes with big yards and full fridges - but how will they know a different way to live unless WE show them. They desperately need to know that they're worth it, that they deserve more than they have been dealt, and that their heavenly Father cares infinitely more about them than their earthly fathers seem to . . .

I am excited every time I get to go downtown and spend time with these kids, knowing that in them I encounter the Lord, who became the poor and hurting as He died on the cross. . . Never before has my faith felt as vibrant and real as it does when i am serving these kids.

"The Lord of Hosts says this: "Render true justice. Show faithful love and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the stranger or the poor. . ." Zachariah 7:9-10a

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