The blessings of children -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

The blessings of children

Aaron Atlas and his wife, Mar’lyn Bland, with their youngest son, Elishiel, 6 months.

The first time Aaron Atlas saw Mar’lyn was in a dream.

She wore a blue dress with white trim and was walking with children. She was beautiful.

Mar’lyn first saw Aaron in church, the House of Prayer in Compton in metro Los Angeles. On their first date, they walked together along the beach near the Pacific. She knew he was the one.

“Suddenly that love spark was there,” she said. Later they would realize together that she owned the blue dream dress.

6 months to 6 years

The couple of seven years will become homeowners after the Jimmy Carter Work Project in Los Angeles this year. They will tell you their life together is blessed but not easy. Among the blessings are those beautiful children Aaron dreamed about. They are six strong: the thoughtful Sulal, their 6-year-old daughter; a second daughter, Lateah, 4; and the boys, Savael, 5; Jerion, 2; Jarias, 1; and 6-month-old Elishiel.

The parents both come from big families: Aaron is one of five siblings and Mar’lyn one of nine. And so, of course, they wanted lots of children.

Mar’lyn is a typist-clerk for the Los Angeles County Sanitation District. Aaron, who has a degree in computers and a background in construction, works from home and is the chief homemaker for his children.

“He has a system that works for him,” Mar’lyn said.

Aaron nods his head to acknowledge that somehow it does. Aaron’s system includes keeping clothes in plastic bags store under beds and along walls to protect everything from mold, termites and roaches.

The family shares a three-bedroom, one-bath house with six other people. They are among the estimated 85 percent of families in Los Angeles County who cannot afford to buy a home.

Happy together

On this day, Aaron has scrubbed, dressed and bundled his family into a car to drive to the Greater Los Angeles Habitat for Humanity office for an interview. The children, for more than an hour of talking and taking photos, are bright, funny and well-behaved. The family laughs with each other while they are photographed.

“I don’t see many people as happy as I am,” Mar’lyn said. Aaron nods again.

Listening to talk radio one day, the couple heard someone talk about how they had bought a house through Habitat for Humanity. An discovered they had missed the 2006 application deadline by only a few days.

They waited a year, applied again and in June learned they had qualified to work for a house that would be built during the JCWP in San Pedro.

The family’s new home, after their hours of sweat equity are complete, will overlook the cruise ships and freighters, a bridge and a sliver of Los Angeles Harbor. Mar’lyn grew up in Long Beach, just across the harbor; from the new home, her commute will be shorter. Aaron, who has lived his life in Compton, will need to explore a new neighborhood.

The first thing he plans to do in that new house, he said, is “look around and take a deep breath and tell the Lord thank you.”

Both Aaron and Mar’lyn are determined that neither hard work nor circumstances will get in the way.

A special message

Aaron’s determination is already obvious in a new kitchen floor in the house they share in Compton. For an hour every day while the babies were napping, he would move all the appliances out and then back again – so meals could still be prepared at night – as he replaced the rotted wood and put down new tile.

It is a special floor: Aaron carefully worked Psalm 23:1 into the tiling: “The Lord is my shepherd…”

The children see a Habitat house from a different perspective. Sulal, the oldest daughter, thinks it may be the perfect opportunity to fill her longing for a family pet.

Savael agrees, and specifically wants a black dog; Lateah asks for a puppy and a kitty. Sulal makes it clear that either is fine.

The expressions on their parents’ faces make it clear that this longing for a pet is not new. Aaron gently explains this decision has not been made.

Both parents dream of many things for their children. Mar’lyn wants them to grow up and love the Lord, to be righteous and keep their integrity.

“I want them to feel confident and at ease,” she said. “You can’t get anywhere in life without that first.”

Aaron wants each child to be free to become their own person.

“I want them to do the best they can,” he added.

First things first

Their future is tied to the new house.

“Being in our own space, being able to set the tone for our family in our own house so the children all have a place to call their own, to me that’s very important,” Mar’lyn said.

“You can’t do things as you’d like to now. In your own place you just go on. Ownership gives you that freedom.”

They plan for a house with bright colors and plenty of room for friends and family to visit. A house where Mar’lyn feels comfortable taking her shoes off and cooking.

She makes cakes and cookies – especially pistachio cookies – and her special oven-fried chicken.

“I try to keep us healthy, so it’s oven-fried,” she said. “But it’s a great smell in a house.”

Especially in your own house.