Isn't this just about the most wonderful time of the year? Forget that we have a forecast of 1-3 inches of snow here in Philly tomorrow, we are getting longer, sunnier days, and we have been getting some of the best behavior on record from our kids for the past couple weeks by motivating them with trips to the playground and treats from the ice cream truck as rewards.
(Yes, the ice cream truck is already making it's rounds! The kids have a "noodle jar" which gets dry ziti put in it for good behavior, and get a pre-determined reward when the noodles reach the line. The most recent reward was a treat from the ice cream truck, so go ahead and have a little laugh picturing me chasing down the ice cream truck for several blocks while on the phone with Frank, telling him & the kids to come from the playground and meet me at the ice cream truck. It was pretty comical!)
It was barely winter when we sent out our last update, so there are a lot of things to share. First, I'd like to share a couple of really important prayer requests that we'd love for you to take before the Father.
In our last update, we told you about the scary situation of our next-door neighbor being assaulted by her ex-boyfriend. She has a restraining order against him, but has softened and didn't completely follow through with pressing charges against him under pressure from his family. She has not cut herself off completely from talking to him, and now with the door open a crack, he has been calling her dozens of times a day, and sending friends over or calling on 3-way when she doesn't answer. He has a court date next week, Tuesday, March 24th. There is a possibility that he could be released at that time. It's hard to know exactly what to pray for, but please pray for God's goodness to give her wisdom & good judgement, protection from harm, and decisions that will help her girls to grow up in a life free from exposure to violence and abuse.
We found out from Priscilla that last September when everything went down, the police got at least six 911 calls from people on our block. That was really encouraging. Even though this man may think that Priscilla will soften on her enforcement of the restraining order, I assured her that the rest of the neighborhood will be happy to call 911 if we see him on the block.
It has been encouraging to see the strength of the relationship that we have built with her at this point, after so many rough patches. A couple of months ago she knocked on our door, asking to use our computer to try to figure out how to activate a phone she had just purchased. It was clearly stolen, as the "lost mode" message with the owner's contact info came on as soon as it was connected to our wi-fi. There is basically no way to get a stolen iPhone to work, and despite telling her that it was pointless and that the right thing to do was to contact the owner and give the phone back, she walked out the door angry at us. After not speaking to us for a week or so, she came over to pay us back some money she owed (a recent regular occurrence) and said, "Elizabeth, I wanted to tell you what happened! I listened to you and I gave that phone back to that girl. She tried to give me money for it, and I didn't take it. Two days later my sister got a new phone and gave me her old iPhone 5!" She was so proud of herself, and I was so proud of her. For those of us who have grown up with families who taught us this basic right-from-wrong, it may be the behavior that you already expect from even a young child, but for someone who grew up with theft as a totally acceptable behavior, this is a major break-through! Thank you Jesus!
I'd also like to ask you to continue to pray fervently for our neighbors Kim (grandmother), Cassie (mother) and Makayla (3 year old daughter). Kim has been battling cancer on top of her schizophrenia, and around Christmastime things turned from bad to worse as she had pneumonia, unexplained blood loss that put her in the hospital for 10 days and weeks and weeks where she was too ill to have chemotherapy. Her first scan after this ordeal revealed a spot on her liver. She is resuming regular chemotherapy now, but when cancer reaches the liver, the prognosis becomes much worse. Kim has been the primary daytime caregiver for Makayla while Cassie works full-time. We have been caring for Makayla when Kim has doctor's appointments, but it has been a difficult arrangement. They are just in such a tough spot, with such few supports and resources. It's a situation where they truly don't have anyone else to rely on beside us. On one hand, we can clearly see how important it is that we are available to them and are thankful that we can care for them, and on the other hand it just feels like too much sometimes. Please pray for relief in the pressing and demanding aspects of their life, and for God's goodness to give them hope all through the day. Pray that we will have love for and patience with Makayla on the roughest days, and that God would claim her life for His glory. This little girl has so much stacked against her, and as a 3 year old, it can really only be blamed on the failings of the adults in her life.
I'm also excited to share a couple of reports of praise and God's goodness in providing for our family. Marriage, parenting, urban ministry, financial uncertainty and simply being sinners living in flesh has taken us to several crisis points over the past year, especially within our marriage. Honestly, lots of 2014 was going from one crisis point to the next. God has shown up in a lot of ways for us one very clear way --the miraculous provision of our family minivan. You would think that an amazing provision like that would just make us our best, but I humbly share with you that Frank & I had a pretty remarkable and embarrassing argument in front of our kids on the ride home from picking out our new van. We have both been very un-well in a lot of ways, and have been un-well as a couple.
God orchestrated for me to have an appointment with a loving friend after one such crisis point last fall. Remember me sharing in our last email about showing up to speak at a Bible Study as a total wreck? Here I was trying to share with women about God's goodness, feeling that our marriage had reached the lowest point ever. My friend who had invited me to speak was so encouraging and compassionate. Not only did she speak life and hope into our marriage & family that day, but she was able to connect us with a wonderful Christian counseling center, and her church made it possible for us to be able to see a therapist there free of cost.
I already shared in our last update that I was offered an opportunity to teach birth classes at a local hospital. This job mostly closed the gap between our ministry support income, but not completely, and I was still feeling pressure to take on paid birth doula clients in order to help our family financially. The difficulty is that being on-call 24/7 for four full weeks, and having no idea when I will get back has been a tremendous pressure for Frank and the kids. We had hoped for something more predictable like more teaching opportunities, but it just never seemed to come together. Well, on our way home from our second therapy session, Frank got a call from our pastor, asking if he would consider taking on a paid position at our church to oversee the building coordination & maintenance. It's a perfect position for Frank, and it fills in the remaining gap of our income needs so that I can take a minimum number of paid doula clients, bringing so much more stability to our family.
Another necessary piece of this lovely picture of a stable and sufficiently resourced little family is the provision of a little car that has helped so very much to meet our own family's needs and help to care for other's needs. A sweet family from our community who had a son in preschool with our littles and a daughter in Selah's kindergarten class came in and out of our lives too quickly, as we were just getting to know them when they decided to take a job offer that moved them to Sweden. They were so kind to sell us their Honda Fit that they had to leave behind for a steal of a deal. Now when Frank has to be the first one to church to open the doors on Sunday morning, I can still leave at regular time with the three kids to get to church. And when I have to leave in the middle of the night to attend a birth, there is no crisis over whether I will be back in time for the morning carpool. Frank and I are BOTH so thankful for this, which also happens to make us much nicer people to be married to as well!
Beside starting counseling as a couple, 2015 has been a year marked by necessary steps of self care. Since Selah was born, we have been tightening the belt, over and over. Having our actual income needs met means that I go shopping and buy produce for my family because it's good for us, instead of trying to buy the least possible because it's expensive. Because we have two vehicles, we can easily drive some other kids from the neighborhood to & from school, so we are able to swap school transportation for childcare, and now have no-kid Fridays! I didn't realize how much of the root of my own anxiety was because I don't think I believed that I as a person or we as a family deserved all of the things that I now see that we need for our well-being. And the more well we get, the more we have to give to the people around us.
Let me end on an item related to that --- cash gifts that we were given at Christmastime allowed us to be able to buy some more space-saving furniture. Other than the occasional midnight wanderer, we have all of our kids in a bedroom together, and a nice big new child-free bed in our room. We purposely re-arranged so that we would have sleeping space in the kids' room for all 5 of us so that we could offer our bedroom to overnight guests. We are also hoping and planning this year to have a bathroom put in downstairs, so our overnight guests wouldn't even have to walk through our family's sleeping quarters to get to the existing bathroom. These simple purchases & rearrangements have made our house feel so much bigger! We'd love to share it with you if you find yourself wandering through Philly in the future!
So since I started this email yesterday, today is actually now the first day of Spring, and the snow is falling here in Philly. I'm sitting at our church building finishing this update, and Frank has survived a trip up on the roof to check out a leak. A year ago I never would have imagined that we would be enjoying the blessings that we are, or that God would have brought us through such incredible challenges. Thank you all so much for being the cloud of witnesses that cheers us on, picks us up, prays for us, gives sacrificially for us, believes in us and loves us despite our faults & flaws.
With love and gratitude,
Frank, Elizabeth, Selah, Callum & Clementine