A little glimpse into our neighborhood and the church plant we are starting here on the East Side of San Antonio.
Faith is hard work.
Now standing alone, that statement flys in the face of Grace, or at least seems to. But we are living this out day by day ourselves & especially with our neighbors. Faith is SO active. Faith is choosing daily, hourly, moment by moment to believe, to trust, to obey when everything you see and feel and are experiencing is telling you the opposite.
Faith is not easy…believing in what you cannot see in this world is not easy. And belief for more, for Abundant Life, for forgiveness, for peace, for joy, for provision, for hope, is being attacked at every turn.
I’ve believed in God since I was born (I think!) 🙂 I made the choice of faith in Jesus when I was 16. That’s going to be 20 (!) years ago come this Saturday…whoa. It was life-changing then & it continues to be life-changing now. And yet with so many years of ‘faith’ under my belt, it still doesn’t come naturally or easily. Yes I am rooted in faith more than 20 years ago, but the every day pull from my circumstances and especially the thoughts in my mind keep this faith muscle working over time it feels like!
That verse from Ephesians from my previous post talks about our fight being not against flesh & blood but against the spiritual forces. I feel this acutely! The lies that creep into my mind and begin to control my actions and my priorities. I can’t imagine the battle that must be waged within my brothers & sisters here in this neighborhood for whom this faith is so new and raw and vulnerable! They have so many lies that they have believed for so long…breaking these chains and choosing to believe Truth instead is hard, hard work.
We are committed to walking this journey with our friends & so thankful we serve a God who gives a million chances, who never gives up, who honors our teeny tiny steps of faith!! Faith is hard work…but the rewards are unbelievable! Please, Jesus, fill us with faith!
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Are any miracles really ‘little’?
We’ve been walking alongside a family here in our community who have decades of baggage, generations of brokenness. This past month it has felt like the fires have been stoked beneath them, as in we’ve been fighting fires daily and they have been going from crises to crises. We look at the situation from a spiritual perspective, that there is a war going on for them as they seek to have faith in Jesus and live for Him.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
We have been fasting and praying for breakthrough and today I believe we experienced it! The eldest daughter in this family has been caring for her nephew the past 4 years as well as working odd cleaning jobs through a temp agency. She has never had a job other than casual work here and there, but is reliable, dependable and faithful. I’ve committed to walk with her through the process of applying for jobs and its only been a few weeks, but its a hard slough.
Back in December she went to apply at a local fast food restaurant where her brother has worked for over a year. When she handed in her application, the manager took a look at her hand, saw the flower tattoo on it, and told her immediately she wouldn’t be considered for a job there. They have a no visible tattoo policy – and even though hers is tasteful, they were not budging.
Last week her brother came to her to say that there was a job for her at this restaurant, she only needed to come in & apply and she would have the job. So on Tuesday morning I went with her to the restaurant and I helped her fill out the application again. She handed it in and was told to come in the next day to fill out the employment paperwork. Sounded great! No mention of the tattoo, no concerns…
So I came in with her the next day (today) to be told that she was going to be interviewed by the same manager who had told her no because of the tattoo 2 months ago. And we had to wait about an hour before he would be ready. See when she filled out the application yesterday we had to read some of their policies, one being that they do NOT allow visible tattoos. The whole 10 minutes she was talking with this manager I sat there thinking, how is this going to work? Surely he’s going to take one look at her hand again and send her away. This is going to be one more knock to the family’s hope. And honestly, I didn’t even find the faith to believe God to make a way this time…I was thinking in my head about where we should go next to apply for jobs again.
And then it happens – she walks over, shows me the paper, says she’s got the job! Still unbelieving, I say but he didn’t see your tattoo? He did, she said, but he said it was ok this time, that it wasn’t offensive so don’t worry about it…! Miracle. Little in the scheme of things, but miracle all the same! I’m floored, truly, and repentant that I didn’t believe in God for more. I’ve been asking Him for more for this family for quite a while and have felt knocked down myself in defeat a few times. But as we’ve been proclaiming to them, I have to remind myself too today, that He is a Good, Good Father who has the best for us, all in His timing.
Thank the God of miracles with us today for providing and showing us His Glory in a seemingly impossible situation!
One of the most fulfilling aspects of ministry right now for me is the opportunity to lead and share in Inner Healing Prayer with our neighbors. Some may not be too familiar with this type of prayer, I was only introduced to it in 2012 but have since received it a handful of times and have found a lot of healing and nearness to Jesus through it.
Inner Healing Prayer for me is a chance to walk with someone as they meet with Jesus. I’m not a counselor or therapist. But what I can do is encourage a friend or neighbor to bring their hurts, their past, and their emotions to Jesus to see how He wants to address them in His Presence.
My journey with Inner Healing prayer began in 2012 when I had been struggling with anxiety and panic attacks for 5 years. I had been on medication & sought counseling which was all helpful and I encourage others to do. But I always felt there was another level to the fear I was experiencing, a spiritual place that wasn’t being addressed by these methods. I was introduced by my Pastors to a group that had been trained in this type of prayer and 2 ladies spent a few evenings over the course of a few months praying with and for me. They led me into Jesus’ Presence and allowed Him to minister to me, with no agenda of their own. I found deep healing through this, I can honestly say that over the past 3 years I’ve never experienced anxiety like I did before then!
I knew as I began to learn about this prayer that it was a gifting God was calling out in myself to offer to others. I sought to learn more and was trained in my local church. I was amazed and so thankful to find upon joining Servant Partners that this type of prayer is used as a ministry and outreach tool in many sites, and even a prominent part of their Member Care to us as staff.
My SP teammate, Sarah, also has a heart for this prayer and so we have begun meeting with a few women in our neighborhood to pray and seek out healing with them. It has been so exciting to see their excitement at hearing God for themselves and to share in their healing and faith journey! I look forward to how this will continue to grow and develop as we offer it to more women and men in our community.
I got to experience the miracle of birth last week for the second time. It was not as we had expected, Eoin Matthew (pronounced like ‘Owen’) came a few days before his due date while Kora was almost 2 weeks late. And ‘not as we had expected’ is truly an understatement…as Mark mentioned in his post below. The labor with Eoin was fast and intense. My contractions started around 5:30pm and he was born at 1:05am on the 9th of October. When we arrived at the birth center around 12:50, my waters broke and they rushed me in where they searched for a heartbeat but called the EMS immediately as they couldn’t find it at all. The midwife told me I was almost fully dilated and if I had the ability to push, I should push him out as quickly as possible. She said I pushed him out in 8 minutes – my body wasn’t really ready for that, so I’m left with a lot of healing, but it was well worth it for my little boy. I don’t know how much longer he would have been stuck inside me without oxygen if we had to wait to be transported to the hospital. Instead he was put on my tummy as soon as he made it out, and I had about 15 minutes of terrifying yet blissful moments holding my little boy as they began trying to get him breathing right there on top of me. I’ve told the midwife so many times how much I appreciate her encouraging me to get him out – it meant so much to me to do what I could to save his little life.
One of the hardest facts to cope with for me is that Eoin was a healthy, happy baby up to the very end of labor. I felt him kicking alongside contractions earlier in the evening…he was a very active little guy in me. And then a random thing occurred, no one can tell us why, the placenta abrupted, or detached from my uterus & at that point he had no more oxygen coming to him. Just like that, for no apparent reason, his chances for survival were cut to little to none.
The next few days were filled with a rollercoaster of emotions. We are surprised that we have yet to feel anger and despair, though sadness has been with us all along the way. Through all of this we have felt an undergirding of Peace that we can only attribute to Jesus’ Presence with us. And then there was the constant stream of prayers and love from our family and friends all over the world. We really couldn’t have survived those hours without all the hope and faith of others upholding us and strengthening ours which was waning. Each conversation with doctors knocked our faith while there always seemed to come an encouragement from someone else soon after. We were overwhelmed by the love, even from those we don’t and won’t ever know. I told Eoin that he was a famous little guy!
From Friday to Sunday, Eoin was surviving on an Oscillator ventilator and nitrous oxide. The hope was that after he was warmed from the cooling treatment (which was meant to protect his brain from any further damage over that time period) that he would begin to try to function on his own, try to breathe, move, etc. Unfortunately he never opened his eyes, never tried to breathe, never squeezed my finger.
On our final day together, I was able to spend some precious moments with our little Eoin. I fed him some of my milk with a cotton swab – he probably never swallowed, but the nurses assured me it was still good for him. I helped the nurse bathe him and take some of the monitors off him. I got to spend time chatting to him about all his family and friends who loved him. Kora, Mark & I prayed over him and we sang one of the songs we sing with Kora every night before bed. His little feet were dry, so I got the baby oil out and massaged his legs and feet. And finally, when all the cords had been removed, I cuddled my precious little one.
The nurse had encouraged us over the weekend to have Kora involved, to meet him and draw him pictures that they would hang by his bedside. On Sunday she colored a picture of a bear (pictured above)- it was just the first page we came to in her book, nothing special, but it has come to mean a lot to me. The nurse hung it right above Eoin’s feet and this little picture of a chubby bear playing with a butterfly has brought me a lot of hope during those days and beyond. The bear is lying on his back as Eoin had the whole time we knew him – and as Eoin was quite chubby with the extra fluid he was retaining, he reminded me of the bear. Thus Eoin became my little baby bear. But more than that was on Sunday or Monday night, I can’t remember which, I had a dream with bears in it. We were driving along in a beautiful place & out of the grass came a huge mama bear…and just behind we could see her baby bear. We began backing the car away, but we were more in awe than scared. That’s the extent of the dream, but as I contemplated more on that dream and this picture, I felt Jesus speaking over me how He was now the mama bear, protecting my little cub. That the happy, playful bear in the picture was how Eoin would be with him, enjoying his little baby life to the full. And then on his final day, I noticed the butterfly that the bear in the picture was playing with…and I remembered that it is often a symbol of resurrection life…something our little Eoin is now experiencing in full, a promise that I cherish.
Such joy and such sorrow all in one. We don’t know how the next few weeks, months, etc will feel or be like, but we’re taking it a day at a time & appreciating the moments we as a family have together.
This morning my emotions overwhelmed me as I prayed for our friend who is in court today. He has a rough past and even recently has made some bad choices which is why he’s in court. And yet, Jesus is moving in his heart. He’s praying with and for us, he’s desiring and taking steps towards a more stable, healthy life for his family, he’s starting to read the Bible weekly with Mark and a couple other guys. He has a lot of potential and promise, which we continually speak over him and believe for him. He’s beginning to believe it too!
Which makes this morning even harder…the max he could get today is 6 months’ jail time, but it is possible that he will get off on probation. We’re praying for the latter as we feel his repentance and humility right now are honest. But the thought of him being sent away right now, for 6 weeks, for 3 months, or more just feels frustrating when it seems so right for him to be continuing on the path he’s on right now – a steady job, growing healthy friendships and trying to piece his life together well.
We do trust that whatever the outcome, God is pursuing him with His Love and that won’t stop! Which is comforting!
The brokenness here sometimes feels infinite, layer after layer of hurt, betrayal, sin, shame, guilt… It definitely overwhelms somedays. And yet HOPE is ever-present and NEVER out of reach! We believe this for our friends and neighbors and trust that they are beginning to see and believe this too. Jesus is their only HOPE. We’re grateful to be part of sharing that truth and honored to be invited into their lives to believe it for them too!
Though many may begin reading this post looking for insights into urban poor ministry, poverty or other very important and interesting subjects, that’s not what I’m heading towards in this post. My learning points on this trip were much more focused on myself and that feels quite un-missionary like to say or admit…but that’s what I had to learn…
I began this 4-week excursion to Manila, Philippines with a 1.9 year old in tow (gorgeous Kora Joy), a 5 1/2 month large pregnant belly, an awesome husband to encourage us…and a huge ego (mine that is, not Mark’s!). See I’ve been on quite a few short-term trips in the past to various places around the world, in differing levels of poverty, need and climate. I felt quite well equipped for a month in a Manila slum, sure that my expertise would allow for a relatively easy and enjoyable time, wrestling with the needs around me of course, but overall handling the new pressures of traveling as a family and 6 months’ pregnant with finesse. 🙂 Do you see where this is going?
First – My pride must be slain to protect the health of my baby and myself. I totally underestimated the heat & humidity of living in a concrete jungle of 9,000 people. Whoa baby – literally, with a baby incubating inside this body and an almost 2 year old wanting to cling to myself all the time, it was challenging! We would take a cold bucket bath in the morning to wipe off the sweat & then a few minutes later, the sweat would return resulting in heat rash, especially all over little Kora 😦 for the duration of our trip. We didn’t live in air-conditioning, though we had an electric fan to keep some air-flow going in our little abode. The few times we could escape to air-con, we would and this pregnant body fully appreciated it! I struggled with this…I should be able to deal with this – I should be able to plow through – I should be able to walk to the air-con shop and not take a local bike taxi – I should push myself because that’s what I’ve always done on these trips. Its not supposed to be easy! Ha, yes, not easy but we should survive it, right? And I was reminded on more than one occasion by my loving husband that the health of our baby and this mom was more important than my pride. Ouch…
Second, I am no longer my own. We traveled with an awesome group of 8 other Servant Partners’ new staff – 1 married couple and the other 6 were single, most in their mid-late 20s. It was so much fun to share our lives, our family, with this group. They loved on Kora so well & were a constant source of encouragement for us along the way – hopefully we were to them as well! I’ve known for awhile that this motherhood identity is challenging, I’ve felt it along the way as I’ve had to choose my daughter over other things I’d like to do or invest time into. For some reason this seemed to reach a tipping point while in Manila. We keep calling it a ‘pressure cooker’ experience because it felt so intense and full, though totally worth it. I found myself longing for the freedom of our friends that we were traveling with – to spend time on their own with God for hours at a time, to take their evenings and spend it with our Filipino neighbors, learning about the culture and singing karaoke, to sit through an entire training session and not be interrupted by someone’s nappy needing a change…the list could definitely go on & on. And at times, in the pressurised experience that it was, I felt resentful and very frustrated. I also felt limited and like my role and experience was not as full as everyone else’s. I missed at least 1/3 of our sessions (would have been a lot more had we not had the lovely Ate Cora and Ate Ema helping us hang out with Kora most days!!). I didn’t have the capacity in the mornings or evenings to process much of what we had learned or discussed – I was too exhausted and hot!
The journey of motherhood is both joy-filled and frightening. I’m becoming a new and different person, not leaving all behind but hopefully being re-defined into a better version of myself, one that is less selfish, more intentional, and lots more dependant on my Jesus! But that re-defining takes a lot of surrender, which is not the easy path for me. Some days I long to have moments to myself, to not be needed by little people, to fully pursue some areas of ministry and gifting I feel called to. God has been speaking into this space over this summer to me. He has been accepting my confessions of pride, resentment, selfishness, etc with abundant forgiveness. And He has been promising me the gifts instead of joy, peace, and fruitfulness as I seek to see my ministry of motherhood as integral to my outward ministry and gifts. Though I AM limited in capacity during this season, I am NOT without a mission or the opportunities to use my gifts. My children need to come first, which includes encouraging them to get out and love the people around us – so really ‘ministry’ flows from ‘mothering’ and I need to let off some of this pressure I’ve put myself under & actually enjoy where I’m at and pay attention to what God is up to. Because He sure doesn’t see this season as one of setting my giftings on a shelf until a more convenient season…
Plus, Kora has been a bridge to so many conversations and relationships as I share being a mother and having a family with so many we meet. She’s much more of an extrovert and seriously draws people in – God’s going to use that in mighty ways over the coming years, just wait & see! Even now, He is taking her lovely innocence and teaching this mom to not get so bound up with my own expectations of what ‘ministry’ looks like and actually embrace the opportunities arising moment by moment, both in seeing her blossom into a beautiful little girl and in experiencing the love for our neighbors that God so desperately wants to share through us.
So, I return to San Antonio humbled, limited, and joyfully expectant of how God wants to use me as I depend on Him and not myself. I didn’t expect this of our trip to Manila, but it was part of the training God needed me to be on to engage this coming season of ministry and new baby with more grace and peace. And hopefully with a lighter load, we will experience more of His fruit in our relationships with our neighbors here. We love where and to whom God has called us!!
One of the main values we felt was key for our ministry & calling was to be ‘incarnational’ wherever we are called. This term may mean different things to people, but to us it is this: living within the community you are called to minister to and with. It is based on Jesus’ model of coming into this world to be with us, living as one of us – and especially among those most overlooked and underserved. Servant Partners‘ staff are committed to this across the world, some moving into some pretty intense situations and having to cope with major challenges because of this – yet reaping the eternal rewards of this lifestyle.
We’ve already experienced some joys of this choice in our ministry here in San Antonio. One of the best things is just taking a walk through our neighborhood and knowing the people we are meeting on the streets! We are getting to know them and they are getting to know us – not just here & there or on a Sunday, but daily.
As we have opened our house to families and friends from the community, we are now an open door to those kids that wander around the neighborhood and are looking for friends and people to hang out with. Though we have to have healthy boundaries to protect ourselves and them, we love that we are accessible and known to be welcoming and nearby.
This past week alone we have had many experiences with our neighbors that have shown us the value of living here on the East Side. A friend who is severely vision-impaired dropped some cash out of his pocket & was walking the street trying to find it when we passed by & happened to find a few of the bills he was looking for! (pray for this friend as he has eye surgery this Wednesday!!) A couple we know had to leave their house due to a bug issue and slept in their truck one night – the next night after we learned about it, we were able to lend them an air mattress to stay at another friend’s house here.
Last night we were blessed to go to our friend, Wendy’s, induction into a school honor society. Her mom wasn’t able to make it because of work, so she asked us to give her a ride & we asked if we could stay & support her. She said to us “i think of you like my second family, i would love if you came!” Wow, what an honor for us! If we didn’t live here and see her regularly in her normal life, have an open door for her to come and hang out with us and play games, talk about life, I don’t think we’d be invited into her life so readily.
There are many other ways being ‘incarnational’ is valuable but this week we’ve enjoyed being present in our friend’s lives, both the struggles and the joys.
Last Saturday we joined some neighbours and jumped in our cars and travelled 2 ½ hours to the beach just past Corpus Christi, Texas for the day.
It was also Kora’s first official experience at the beach – her first time was actually in the UK but we don’t really count that, it was cold and wet and rocky in southeast England…let’s just say she seemed to enjoy her time at the beach this time more! Every day she looks at us, points to the door and says ‘deech’? Man, its hard to say no to that little voice! 🙂 Here are some pictures from the day…
“and give me a desire
to show forth Thy praise,
testify Thy love,
advance Thy kingdom.
I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
with Thee, O Father as my harbor,
Thee, O Son, at my helm
Thee O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.”
Twice now we’ve been given the following scripture:
“I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.” Philemon 1:6
As we look ahead to the unknown of 2015 with eager anticipation of what Jesus has in store, I pray for boldness and a strong anchoring in Jesus. I want my faith and relationship with Jesus to be a hallmark on my life, that steers and infuses every meeting, every new friendship, every obstacle on our path. May every proclamation of His goodness bring us into a deeper understanding of who He is!
a prayer from:
The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions by Arthur Bennett
Length of days does not profit me
except the days are passed in Thy presence,
in Thy service, to Thy glory.
Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides,
sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour,
that I may not be one moment apart from Thee,
but may rely on Thy Spirit
to supply every thought,
speak in every word,
direct every step,
prosper every work,
build up every mote of faith,
and give me a desire
to show forth Thy praise,
testify Thy love,
advance Thy kingdom.
I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
with Thee, O Father as my harbor,
Thee, O Son, at my helm,
Thee O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.
Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,
my lamp burning,
my ear open to Thy calls,
my heart full of love,
my soul free.
Give me Thy grace to sanctify me,
Thy comforts to cheer,
Thy wisdom to teach,
Thy right hand to guide,
Thy counsel to instruct,
Thy law to judge,
Thy presence to stabilize.
May Thy fear by my awe,
Thy triumphs my joy.
Praying that our family and yours will be faithful to join God’s healing work in the lives of those around us and that we may all experience the joy of transformation and new life!