Last weekend, as we moved back to the house, I was filled with gratitude for what God has done. Truly I could sing, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise Him all creatures here below" for I have realized that I am just one of His creatures, created out of His tremendous benevolence and yet He cares for me - and my family - with such love and attends to every detail of our lives. My hope is to chronicle the many ways in which He worked through this fire to refine our souls and to bring others around us closer to Him through the witness of our walking through the fire.
Shortly before we moved back in, I got a visit from Kirk, our construction foreman. He began to tell story after story of things that had been happening of which we had been unaware. We knew that God was pursuing him and wanted him for his very own but we had no idea the impact we'd made on him and how he had shared our story with everyone he encountered working on the house. Right after we signed with Capezio, we were told we would be assigned a different foreman but, funny, Kirk showed up instead. Over the course of the past year, we prayed faithfully for Kirk and his crew by name. We asked our church to storm heaven for them as well, although we didn't need to ask - they were faithful to pray for the completion of the construction, for the safety of all on the job and for the witness of our family to those we met in the process. Kirk shared with us how in the midst of the project he had spent several days in the hospital and been diagnosed with diabetes. Within a couple of weeks, a friend within the company prayed for him and he was instantly nearly healed. He was able to immediately go off all but one of his meds and his doctor even said he did not need to return for follow-up visits. A couple of months later, his wife was bitten by a brown recluse spider and also ended up in the hospital with an infection which remained unresponsive to many different antibiotics and was causing the skin around the site to decay. Within a few days she was home, energy returned, only a slight sign of the bite on her arm remained and completely healed.
Kirk also shared with us that whenever a subcontractor came into the house, he would tell them about our family and urge them to do the best job they could as quickly as they could so we could return. Many of the subs went above and beyond to do little extras that weren't part of the scope but Kirk had convinced them that we were a worthy family. Even the final building inspection went quickly when Kirk told the inspector about us, had JR. fix the problems immediately, and the inspector was convinced that he wanted us in our house as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch...we were beginning to see a change in the neighborhood children. Our children would come in most days from playing with them frustrated, angry and confused. They would lie, cheat, steal and our children just didn't get it. We began to pray through every situation and discuss ways to handle the behavior they were encountering. They eventually began to tell the other children, "We don't want to be treated this way and if you continue to (say, do) these things we are not going to play today." At first they were scorned and mocked for that response but, hey, when you have 8 kids you have enough for a *team* and our folks walking off the field was enough to stop any game dead in its tracks. Eventually, they began to see a definite difference in the way the other children were playing. They were being *nice* to each other, they weren't cheating (quite so much) and they were more willing to include those they weren't normally inclined to include. The big test came when one of the neighborhood children had his cousin over to play with the crowd. Both children had been notoriously difficult for our children to handle and they didn't even want to go out that day but I encouraged them to keep trying. Sure enough, they went out, this little guy started up, our children made their statement and the mocking began. Surprisingly it was cut short by little guy's cousin this time! The one child in the neighborhood who had caused the most grief to our children was now defending them. I praised God for allowing my children to be able to see the difference they had made! God had changed the hearts for whom we had prayed and prayed and prayed and my children witnessed it in a powerful, concrete way! That is a benevolent God.
Then there is the story of how we even came to have a place to live in the first place. The house we rented for the past year is owned by friends from within the CEC. They moved out the weekend before the fire and had just begun to look for renters. They were more than happy to get us settled in and work with the insurance company. When the insurance pulled our relocation funds in December, they lowered the rent to half as much for us. We prayed for God to bless their generosity and for a quick sale of the house once we moved out. It looks like God will answer that prayer as well - as the family across the street has shown an intense interest in buying the house quickly.
There are so many other little stories and many ways I know we aren't even aware of that we have witnessed the faithfulness of Christ to others through this experience. And, yes, we know that we are far from perfect and so God had some refining to do on us as well. I began my spiritual direction with Fr. Jeffrey and the works of St Francis de Sales which has changed the very nature of my heart. We were forced to slow down and quit all activities except for the boys' sports and our homeschool co-op which gave us lots of family time together and a wonderfully productive school year. This was the year we found some help and relief for JT and his growing difficulties. He is now a much more calm, loving and confident child. And probably the biggest lesson every one of us learned was true perseverance. It is a lesson we never could have taught our children otherwise. It is a lesson Fr Joel and I will hold in our hearts. Our marriage also has seen a tremendous boost. We have learned to love each other through good times and bad and through trials and tribulations. Rather than run into anger and frustration, we allowed God to wrap us in His mercy, silence our tongues against hurtful words and uphold and support each other with love and tenderness.
We know that our family has a particular call. We know that we are to be a picture to the world of God's love - of unity between races, of the value of each person in God's sight no matter what the color, disability, ability, personality....And this past year we were also a picture of God's grace, of walking together as a family through a difficult trial and coming out the other side in His triumphant glory.
A few weeks ago I took all the children to a store. We always get lots of stares and well-meaning but often off-color comments. On this particular day, one store clerk watched us closely for quite a while. Finally when we passed by her she said to me, "Someone needs to take your picture and put it on a poster and title it What the World Should Look Like". She didn't know our story, she didn't know the half of what we'd been through nor what we would continue to go through and yet she instinctively saw the picture we strive to paint. What a victory for Jesus Christ! That store clerk put into words the whole vision for which our family strives! We are so imperfect, so impure, so dark yet lovely and yet God chooses to use us to draw a picture of His Kingdom. Praise God from Whom ALL Blessings Flow!