One of the most astounding birthday presents I ever received came in the middle of a very challenging time.
Almost a year before this birthday we had uprooted our family of six from the comfortable suburban home we had been renting and had moved into a one-bedroom basement apartment in our friends’ house. Yes, we were crammed into a very tight space, but we were thankful and excited! The Lord had called us to start a training and outreach ministry – we were going to call it “International Family Missions” – and we needed a block of uninterrupted time to lay the foundation well. So, when our friends kindly offered to let us live in their basement rent-free to give us more freedom to work on its development, we thanked God for His provision. My husband Joe quit his job and we made the move. It was a sharply radical step for us. We had never done anything so crazy! But we estimated we would only need to live there about 3-4 months until we were organized and the Lord would undoubtedly move us to a more reasonable situation after that.
For the first time in our lives we let go of normal means to provide for ourselves. It was scary (especially with a family) but also exhilarating to be that vulnerable and look to God directly for everything. We purposely didn’t ask anyone for support or help. This was going to be our training ground of faith! We headed into it with a strong sense that as we obeyed Him in this new calling, He would take care of us just as He said He would.
The little bit of money we brought with us ran out quickly. The Lord was leading us into very new territory. What followed were times of great strain from unmet needs, and then glorious breakthroughs as He provided for them. We were blessed and amazed. Through those endless cycles of need and then His provision the Lord exercised our faith and built it up. Our understanding of His faithfulness grew exponentially. It was an amazing, dramatic time. And it was also pressured and exhausting as we learned.
We greatly underestimated how long the Lord would keep us in our tiny quarters. Instead of four months, we stayed there a long fourteen months. And the school of faith He had us in was not an easy one. It was glorious but it was also a crucible for all six of us.
Being all snuggled in there was a good thing in a lot of ways. We made the best of our home and the things we had, and we had fun together as a family. A family with kids is dear where ever they’re temporarily parked. But there is no question that we were also in a pressure cooker. The Lord used the intensity of our circumstances to bring a lot of dross to the surface in our lives for one thing. It could get hard and messy just personally as we dealt with our own responses to things.
Then, the surprisingly fierce and intense reactions we had to deal with from others were also more challenging for us than our physical conditions. It seemed everyone had a strong opinion about what we had done. Some thought we were crazy, irresponsible, bad parents, even showboats. Others put us way up on a pedestal which was not only wrong but even dangerous for us to be around. There were few who saw the truth: we were just regular Christians, trying to hear His voice and obey it, and this, after much prayer, time in the Word, and counsel, is what we thought He was telling us to do. End of story.
A pressure cooker ALONE is one thing, but when there are six of you in there together, it’s even more dynamic. That was the target of the most painful attacks. Our children were aged 4 to 16. Our littlest really loved our “Cozy Bunny Hole” as I called it as much as I possibly could to my children. But the older ones had their own personal struggles. We were all basically fine with the living arrangements. It was what OTHERS thought about it that tripped them up the most. Our 16 year old daughter was the most conflicted with this radical new arrangement. “This was your decision. Not mine! What’s wrong with NORMAL?!” It was so embarrassing for her she never brought one friend to our home that whole time.
The other intense battlefield was just believing it ourselves. We did not know anyone who had ever done such a thing before. We were as sure as we knew to be to take the initial step, but in the middle of it when the needs weren’t always quickly met, the kids weren’t always happy with it, and it was dragging on way past what we expected…it was so easy to feel like we were playing make believe or something. When I look back at the spiritual attacks waged against us during that time, one incident stands out as the most distressing, and it was related to that: Were we doing what the Lord had given us to do, or was this our own fantasy?
Joe had his own small construction company before we moved. He was physically active and labored long hard hours. He had his tools and he worked. Now, in the midst of circumstances squeezing us relentlessly, he would get up and only move a few feet from our bed to sit down at his computer at the desk – both of which were located in the tiny apartment living room. He worked even longer hours than he had in construction but it just didn’t seem like WORK to the kids. They brought it up from time to time and it stabbed Joe to the heart for them to have seemingly lost some respect for him. It just seemed like he should get up and go to work so we could have the things we needed or they wanted instead of just “sitting around” every day!
But a comment by the principal of the Christian school our middle two kids attended was the direct shot from the devil. We knew him fairly well and he seemed to be a dear man. The kids all really liked him. To this day I don’t know why he would have said this to our children, but I do know it was the enemy behind the remark. He looked at our young kids, when we were not present, and said, “Your dad – he’s just a dreamer.” We were all really vulnerable and that one sentence sent us reeling. Nothing hurt as much as that because of how it affected our children, casting much more doubt and frustration in their minds. But through all those spiritual and physical battles the Lord kept His strong grip on us and helped us to just keep going.
One particularly weary day I was on an errand in Target. I walked by the aisle with dishes and stopped. I saw the very dish set I loved and wished I had. Corelle. Plates with blue edges. So new. So cool! (It was the 80’s).
In our little apartment we had only been able to bring the bare necessities with us – almost like we were camping. So once I saw those dishes in the store I was momentarily flooded with emotions.
I missed our old settled suburban life. I missed being an established homemaker with pretty things to set a table with – like these dishes. I don’t think I was coveting. I was definitely yearning though. I also think I was mourning a little bit. I assumed that a life of faith meant poverty that could never include pretty plates. Although I was generally hopeful and excited about where we were headed in the Lord, looking at the plates touched a nerve. I lingered a few minutes more by the plates, and then I just let go of it and continued on my way. I didn’t think about it again or mention it to anyone.
A few days later there was a knock at our door. It was Tad Frost who lived just two houses up from ours. He was a large, loud, joyful follower of Jesus, and he and Joe had spent hours together wrestling through the scriptures and enjoying the Lord together. He was a great new friend. And this day he walked through the door carrying an oversized box.
He said it was the craziest thing, but he was in Target and had walked by a display of dishes. The Holy Spirit stopped him and said, “Buy these for Kathy Hart”. It was a surprising thing to hear, but he said he thought he should obey. “So, here they are”, he said. “I brought them to you just like He told me to.”
I opened the box and I was shocked. There were the same blue Corelle dishes I had looked at in the store! No one knew about those dishes! As I took them slowly out of the box I almost felt like I was in a dream. And it also just happened to be my birthday! Tad didn’t know either of those things. But my Father knew, and He gave me the dishes as a gift. I was awed by His lavish and oh so personal love for me. And those dishes refreshed my soul.
Those fourteen months in the little apartment so many years ago turned out to be a priceless treasure with far-reaching impact on us and others. We had enough time to establish a good, solid foundation for the new ministry; our dear children got to experience firsthand the faithfulness and REALNESS of God; and it set us on a course of trusting God and seeing His provision in all the years that have followed. I have seen God’s hand in so many spectacular ways since then it would be hard to count them all. But the tender birthday present of the dishes is one I hold especially dear in my heart and it has profoundly affected my life to this very day.
Photo of one of the actual dishes provided by the author