Sunday, December 29, 2013

When All Things Work Together...

When Glenn and I first got married, we decided to start a family tradition of making Christmas about others. We never spend much money on each other..just a few simple items to open Christmas morning. Then we get to cooking. Each Christmas we host a brunch for people who may not be with family or have a place to go on Christmas. The first Christmas we hosted men who were enrolled in the men's program at Rescue Atlanta. It brought us so much joy to provide a special Christmas for them. It made our Christmas special.

Our second Christmas, it was just the two of us for brunch, but we started an additional tradition of Cookies on Christmas. We baked 24 dozen cookies and wrote a bible verse about hope on note cards and placed them along with cookies in Ziploc bags. The plan: to deliver them to our neighbors and to people who had to work on Christmas day. It made a huge difference in the interactions with our neighbors and the people who were working were in complete shock. I think my face hurt from smiling.

This being our first Christmas back in Savannah, we decided to combine the traditions. This year we had two couples along with my mom at our Christmas Brunch. One of the couples were friends we met through the apartment fire earlier this year. Their apartment was one of the ones that was burned and we have kept in touch since then. The other was a couple whom we had never hung out with before. I had met her at a bible study the week before and when they arrived we realized Glenn and been on a men's retreat with her husband. It was such a blessing to have people from different parts of life all converge on Christmas day. There was LOTS of laughter.

Following the brunch, our friends helped write the bible verses on all of the cards for the cookie bags. The verse was Romans 15:13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." I invited my friends to go with me to deliver the cookies around our block. It is amazing what a bag of cookies will do to break the ice and to create conversation. We were welcomed by everyone we encountered. We were invited into one neighbors home in which she gave us each a candy cane. We talked to kids who were outside playing with their new toys. One grandmother saw us and came outside and said, "Now that right there is a blessing." We met a man who was getting on his bike and asked if he could have a hug. We even ventured down the (drug) alley I had dare not walked down until that day and gave a bag to some men in their back yard frying a turkey. They were very nice and very appreciative.

When everyone else left, Glenn, my mom and I went to deliver little stockings to some of our Dream Campaign kids. Someone had blessed us with enough money to buy them each a devotional. 

At the second home, we were able to bless a single mom with a large financial gift because an anonymous person had given an envelops of money to someone who asked for it to go to a single mom. This person immediately asked me if I had a mom it could bless. As a matter of fact I did....remember the single mom from this story? We called her out to the car and reminded her that when she commits herself to the Lord, He will provide. This is a moment I will never forget. The Joy. The tears. The relief. The hug. Knowing that she had not been forgotten. The love of a stranger. The card and its contents came with Joshua 1:9 written on it. We framed a picture of her and her kids the first night in their home as a reminder of all that God had done.

As we drove home we passed out a few more bags of cookies to employees at McDonalds, a  homeless man on a bench downtown, 2 pedicab guys. Their reactions were all different but all priceless.

We got the best gift that day. The gift of seeing hope in others who thought they may have been forgotten. We continue to receive the gifts of neighbors who now say hello because of Christmas cookies. Witnessing God bringing people together at the House of Dreams and filling it with joy and laughter.

It was a reminder that "In all things God works together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28

Be are humbled by His goodness.

How Great Is Our God.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Our Miracle on 34th Street

The first piece of advice we received when moving into our neighborhood was this: "Don't go in waiving a banner. Just be a neighbor for awhile." So that is what we have basically done for the past six months. While we have been active in the community and built relationship with certain families and kids, we have been pretty quiet on our block. We hosted one outdoor movie night which got rained out. We sat outside and said hello to people as they passed our house. We took care of our yard. We felt the initial strain of moving into a neighborhood were some were confused of our presence. We were asked not to volunteer at a local neighborhood center because they felt our ministry presented some type of conflict of interest with theirs. Our sometimes drunk neighbor would occasionally yell profanities at us as we got out of the car. We tried to remain consistent. There were many days when I wanted to say, "what the heck have we done wrong?"

This past week was our own personal "Miracle on 34th Street." All of the praying and patience paid off when God allowed us to see the fruit of investing in our neighborhood. We decided to throw a neighborhood Christmas party. We had no idea who would show up, but we put up a sign in our front yard the week before. We passed out flyers. We told everyone we saw walking down our surrounding streets. The plan? To grill some hot dogs. blow up the outdoor movie screen, make smores and just roll with it.

The morning of our party, we were outside getting ready when our profanity yelling neighbor was walking down the street with his daily purchase of alcohol. I whispered to Glenn, "I really want to invite him but afraid of how he'll respond." (Because so far its only been cussing us out). We said "hello" and Glenn proceeded to invite him.  The man stopped and said, "How are you today? Merry Christmas. Thank you, but I think I'll keep my face on my porch tonight."  As he walked away, with a grateful heart, I was speechless at what had just transpired. That same morning, another neighbor whom Glenn had previously met came over and asked Glenn to show him how to set a mouse trap. Glenn was sitting on the side of our new fire pit and extended an open invitation to hang out by the fire. The man looked up at Glenn in complete shock and said, "You mean you want to hang out with me, neighbor?" It is a moment that is forever freeze framed in my mind. The realization that relationship is desired was shocking to this man.

That night, no less than 60 people came to our block party. There was a Christmas movie, Christmas karaoke, hot dogs, a fire and smores (some made smores for the very first time.) There were lots of kids and a handful of adults. There was laughter and smiles. 

The owner of a neighborhood business even came by.

Our sweet neighbor across the street who was born in her house in the 40's said, "This is wonderful. This is what our neighborhood used to be like when I was a child." A few days later, a man I've never seen stopped us outside and said, "Thank you for what you did for the kids in our neighborhood. That was really nice."

We announced at our party that in January we would be starting a weekly youth meeting in our home on Sunday afternoons (HELP NEEDED)  and that Glenn would be starting a men's bible study. Last night while we were gathered around the fire with some friends, a man who lives down the street came over to make sure he wasn't missing the bible study. He had already started inviting men in the neighborhood.  Now every time we drive down the street or people pass by, they say hello. We are neighbors. We have been accepted by many in this community. This is our Christmas miracle. This is where we can really start watering the seeds that have been planted. We are so thankful for how God has worked in the hearts of our neighbors. We are thankful for the work He has done in our hearts in preparation. We feel like we've grown so much as well.

ALL Glory and Honor to God :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

When a House Becomes a Home

Six months ago I pulled up in front of a house in a neighborhood I had always avoided. To be honest, two years ago I would have double checked the door locks while passing through. (Why do we do that?) As my husband and I walked through our potential location of The Dream Campaign, I was skeptical. The house was infested with fleas, the walls were grungy, there was dirt and dust EVERYWHERE. There was a lingering odor of pets. The fireplace was falling apart, the kitchen floor was cracked. I was overwhelmed by what I saw and my vision of what could be was foggy. Glenn was sold before we ever walked in the door. He had been praying and God had answered. Once again, I was feeling like a Debbie Downer. Questions immediately flooded my mind: Would this be a good use of funds? Could we make a difference? Would we be accepted? Did we have what it would take to make the house a home?

The short answer was: no. We did not. Fortunately, this has never been about US and more about what WE as a community could do together. I remember sitting on a dirty floor with flea bites, scrubbing baseboards stained with the color of neglect. Tears fell down my cheeks and my heart screamed, muffled by the walls of my chest at how hard this journey had become. Exhaustion laced with bitterness threatened to choke any amount of hope I had for what this could be someday. Like still framed photographs, images started to flood my mind of the little girls who were playing patty cake in our front yard the first day we walked through the house. A few days later, two neighborhood boys showed up and asked if they could help us move in. These kids. They were the reason we were there.

The past six months have been filled with hard work, sweat and a rainstorm of tears, but we have seen the rainbows following the storm. God has provided every penny needed to become operational as well as surrounded us with incredibly generous friends and supporters who have truly been the hands and feet of Christ not only to us but to those we serve. The walls have been painted, kitchen floor has been replaced and a table with chairs now sits in the dining room where kids can gather for family meals. A community fire pit is being installed next weekend as a landing spot to engage our neighbors. A slab for a basketball court is being poured to welcome the dunk of the wandering basketballs being bounced by teenagers on our street every single day. 

Praying on their own before a meal
Students helping out and learning new skills through mentoring
Some of our dreamers.
Decorating the House of Dreams Christmas Tree
Telling Riddles after Thanksgiving Dinner at The House of Dreams
We  hear lots of sirens and gunshots from time to time. We read the crime reports each day and mourn the issues that plague our neighborhood. We grieve the fallen world we live in, but it can no longer shake the peace that is deep rooted in knowing that this house is a home to many. This is a place of beauty. A place of peace. A place of acceptance. A place where dreaming is encouraged. We now have children who play and laugh in our yard. We held hands with students and friends and shared all that we were thankful for at Thanksgiving. In January, we will start having a weekly youth group/Bible Study on Sunday evenings for our neighborhood kids. Two of our students have been promoted a grade level just in this first semester. It is a JOY to work with them. Smiles and laughter have been abundant.

Recently, an out of town friend came to spend the night. She asked several times if her car was going to be safe parked in our yard. It was a warranted question, but it made me smile. It allowed me to see just how far my heart had come.  I no longer think of those things because...this is a ministry house but it is our home. We are neighbors. This is our neighborhood. We are a part of something bigger. So as we are often serenaded late at night by a neighbor who has a tight grip on liquid courage and often yells profanities at us, we continue to extend a hand of love.

In the words of Mr. Rogers, " I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,
I’'ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.  So let’s make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we’'re together, we might as well say, Would you be mine? Could you be mine? 
Won’t you be my neighbor?  Won’t you please, won’t you please, Please won’t you be my neighbor?"

Dreams Come True.

This is just the beginning. We have tons of  exciting stuff on the horizon for 2014!!!!

From our Home Sweet Home to yours, 
Mi Casa, Su Casa,

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