It was a rainy afternoon in Scotland, and I sat with my Bible by the patio doors in the dining room. The girls were younger then, it was about a year and half ago, and they flitted around, talking, singing. We had just left Mozambique a few months before. We were sure we were to land in Manenberg soon, and I was asking God what that looked like. I was reading Isaiah, one of my favourite books – a rich tapestry of mystery and promised light, and I found this: The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. At the time Lily was saying to herself over and over again “butterflies… butterflies…” and something dropped in my heart. God is asking me to invite children to play and delight over the hole of the enemy. My eyes fell on the next verse: They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. No violence, no violation. But play and delight and freedom. This would lead these little ones to the knowledge of His face. This was how the waters cover the sea.
I have been spending my days trying to juggle three. I change Leo’s nappy on my bed, while the princesses jump in his cot and ask me to rescue them from the dragon. I cut up apples and spread peanut butter while Leo naps in the carrier and I kick the washing machine shut. Just one minute, I say throughout the morning. I just have to put out the washing, I just need to feed Leo, I just need to clean up this water. I just need to go to loo, no don’t come in, okay, okay you can. There is sometimes a sweet spot in the afternoons where Leo will lie still and gaze at the clouds, and the girls will potter in the dirty yellow sand in the sun, and I will see how good, how good all of it really is. And there are times where I feel so squeezed and so thin I feel like I could split open, and I collapse exhausted, asking God to relieve me from it all. The squeeze, most of the time, is a beautiful thing. Desperation is fertile soil for God Himself to grow. I need you. He comes. Sometimes the squeeze is a warning flag – a flag saying change something – so I am paying attention and trying to ask for help, trying to make life easier if I can. After all, non-commissioned martyrdom won’t save anyone and will only make me a snappy mother. But my days are also filled with a squeeze that God Himself has breathed into being. I am supposed to be leaning on Him. Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved? the friends ask in Song of Songs. I am, I answer, in the mess of biscuit crumbs and plastic toys and sippy cups. I am.
I have wondered if in the fullness of my days there is any room left for anything else. And then I remembered what he’d spoken to me about before. Children. I think, for now, it looks like using our out-building as a little homeschool room. We are fixing the roof and fixing the floor and fixing the walls. We will paint it and fill it with colourful toys and rugs and books. My girls will spend their mornings there and I hope we can fill it with little friends from our community too. There are some beautiful preschools in Cape Town – spacious, light, creative spaces. I don’t like that they are full of nearly all white toddlers. And it is not fair that lots of tiny ones in my neighbourhood wake up to a house full of drugs and streets full of gunfire. It makes feel sad and a bit sick in my stomach, and I’m hoping this little shed at the back of house can be a tiny shard of light, of healing. To the children themselves and to all of us.
I’m a little tentative about this because I spend nearly every Monday wondering if I have the strength to manage three children, never mind any more. I am nervous to bring in the builders and I am scared to write a post about it for everyone to read. But I am also learning the lifestyle of leaning. The essence of poverty of spirit is that we do become full, but we also remain poor. We are filled and it is magical. But we also remain, as Sara Haggerty puts it, “laced with weakness”. I’m trying to remain unafraid about that. And I want desperately to be someone who dared to believe what they understood to be the whisper of God.
And I’m still learning to believe in the humble things. Sometimes I have to fight my pride. The voice that says if I was preaching and leading, my life’s work would be more significant. But He speaks to me, quietly and firmly, reminding me He is devoted to children. He sees the wisdom and beauty of children. That the humble places are like gasoline poured out on the ground, ready for his match to strike. To ignite. Reminding me of the Chinese orphaned little ones that He once spoke to, deep in the mountains. They were the ones that are grew up to be pillars of the church, or fiery martyrs of the faith. They ignited. And sometimes when I lose myself in the neck of my baby, tickling him with my nose and becoming immersed in the cacophony of his sweet giggles, I find my heart whispering, of course you are everything. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry I missed it for a moment. I am learning, sweet baby. Jesus is showing me.
It was bedtime, and I was settling into the familiar pattern. Leo was full of milk and fast asleep, Willow was settling down in her bed. I pulled the wooden blinds, turned on the lamps. I was stirring the pot, tired, Lily was flitting around my feet. She started speaking to me. Do you know Mummy, that when my heart is out of love, Jesus will give me a new heart? And He will fill my new heart up again with His love? I stopped stirring. God is my best friend, she said. I knelt down and looked at her. How did you know that? I asked her. Jesus just sang it to me, she said. And when He sang, love hearts were coming out of his clothes. I didn’t know what to say, but I know in a thousand sermons I’ve never heard anything quite as beautiful as that.
So we are fixing the roof, fixing the walls, fixing the floor. We will break up the concrete and put down grass. I want to plant flowers and put in a swing and lots of dirt to build towers in. I hope to see children run and play and laugh and be loved. I will probably be there cutting up apples, either thanking God I get to do such an amazing thing with my life or fighting my ego that says this is too small a work or desperately crying out for help.We will pull out the play dough, we will paint, we will pick dandelions and we will read stories. I will kiss foreheads and change poo-poos and remind them to share, come on now, you’ve had it for a while, share it with her. But most of all, I’m hoping that the Jesus who has love hearts coming out of his clothes will show Himself to us, to all of us. And if He passed through my living room while I was unaware one night, I have no reason to believe He won’t do it again.