Pitchforks and Fruit Trees

So, another popular Christian committed the unforgivable sin. She publicly stepped left of center. Members of our community are tripping over themselves in her condemnation, so eager are they to distance themselves and wave a flag of their own righteousness. LifeWay pulled her books from their shelves. Blogger Matt Walsh was quick to use her sudden infamy for click bait.

If you’re not living in the bubble of Christendom (and I applaud you), I’m speaking of popular author and speaker, Jen Hatmaker. In an interview with Religion News Service, she answered the question, “Do you think an LGBT relationship can be holy?” with:

I do. And my views here are tender. This is a very nuanced conversation, and it’s hard to nail down in one sitting. I’ve seen too much pain and rejection at the intersection of the gay community and the church. Every believer that witnesses that much overwhelming sorrow should be tender enough to do some hard work here.

And Christian evangelicals lost their collective minds.

With a vengeance, she was denigrated in my newsfeed. I read the comments posted to her latest article (which had nothing to do with any of it) and was ashamed to be associated with the people who almost gleefully “straightened out” her theology.

I could almost see the pitchforks and hear the chants of “false teacher…burn, burn!”

orangetree

But the thing I couldn’t…can’t wrap my brain around is the fruit I see. We are told in Scripture that we can know each other by our fruit (Matthew 7:16-20). Jen Hatmaker is a mom doing the holy work of loving kids, former orphans, from hard places. I know from experience that is not a one shot deal, but rather, an ongoing, intentional, sometimes grueling, daily choice. It is messy, exhausting, exhilarating, and painful, and it is holy.

She is also, one of the most instrumental racial bridge builders of our time. She has done more for racial unity in the church, than any of her peers this decade. By her authenticity, openness, and humility, she invites the rest of us to journey with her in a quest to understand the divide, to heal the hurt, and build unity. Repentance, redemption, and restoration follow her.

Love is the over-riding theme to her ministry. She loves big and has enlarged her circle to include homeless people, children of third world countries, Ethiopian mothers, the LGBTQ community, and others forgotten or ignored. Better, she encourages the rest of us to love, as well.

Here’s where it gets especially tricky for me. Some of those with the proverbial pitchforks are people I know in real life. People who posted sanctimonious things like: “We should never add anything to the Word of God!” or “I knew something wasn’t right about her. I guess I have the gift of discernment!”

There is a log in my eye when I say this, I realize, BUT, I look at the lives of those doing the judging of Jen Hatmaker, and the fruit, in comparison, is remarkably sparse. Their lives are are normal, very typical of any middle aged, nice, American parents. To that, I echo Francis Chan, “Something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers.” Those who are quick to jump on the bandwagon of condemnation would do well to compare fruit, starting with their own.

dyingtree

I’ve noticed something about people who open their hearts and their arms to love big. Their theology starts to alter and they are less dogged about doctrine. Peripheral truths that once seemed so solid begin to shift as the person of our never-changing Jesus grows bigger in their lives. They walk the narrow road of understanding that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and yet, they must keep in step with His Spirit (Galations 5:25) who is forever on the move.

Maybe, instead of eating our own when they deign to step off message, we should first look at their fruit, as Jesus instructs. If they are bearing good fruit, perhaps we should listen to them and find out why; quiet ourselves and seek to hear what they hear.

If nothing else, at least we could offer grace and then tend our own trees?

trees

 

 

 

American Idol

I’m no longer shocked, or scared, or angry. Now, I’m just kind of sad. I feel I’m watching the American Christian evangelical church topple. For years, it’s been perched on the edge of an abyss and the ground is slowly crumbling under it.

Our sin is taking us down. Not the moral failings of our culture, for which we’ve threatened doom over the years. Not the sexual immorality we ignore in our midst but for which we disparage the world. And we can’t blame this one on the LGBTQ community.

For years, we’ve made America an idol.

bible-american-flag

We’ve worshiped at the altar of her freedoms, her history (our whitewashed version of it, anyway), the comforts she affords, the safety she provides, and the power we wield in her leadership. We’ve blurred the lines between her Constitution and Biblical truth. We became convinced that WE were God’s chosen people. The abundant life Jesus promised morphed into the great American dream.

Instead of being the bride of Christ, we chose to wed the Republican party. We pledged to them our allegiance and looked to them to feed us, to teach us, to lead us. When they told us morality would save us, we were all in. The war had begun and we were on the side of right.

The men leading it stirred us in passionate speeches about the evils of the left and the biased media who could not be trusted. They pointed fingers at dirty deeds and described them in glorious detail. When some of them were caught in the same deeds, we mourned the fallen, and railed against the media for twisting the facts.

The church is as enamored with America as ever. We are willing to sell our souls for her “greatness.” We are willing to turn a blind eye to the world around us and the desires and needs of the people in our own country in order to protect our rights within her.

In September of 1998, Dr. James Dobson, then president of Focus on the Family sent a scathing letter of Bill Clinton to his supporters. In it he wrote this:

As it turns out, character DOES matter. You can’t run a family, let alone a country, without it. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world!

Fast forward to 2016, and that same Dr. Dobson, wholeheartedly supports Donald Trump -a known adulterer, accused sexual predator, and habitual liar (among so many other things) – to lead this nation as President of the United States. Moral relativity, anyone?

Dr. Dobson is far from alone. Mr. Trump is the Republican nominee and while many in our party and in the evangelical church have distanced themselves from him, so many more are adamantly in support, simply because (in their words) “he is the only one who can save this country.”

His supporters may admit to his odiousness and moral failings, but they don’t care or are willing to overlook them because we must protect our religious freedom, the second amendment, babies, keep the Supreme Court from being overrun with liberal judges, and seal our borders from those who would blow us up or steal our jobs.

And, as a lifelong evangelical Christian and Republican, I want to know why. Because I look at this list of things we’re selling our souls to preserve and other than the baby part, this all seems completely self-serving. It’s all about our rights, our comfort, our way of life, our status quo. It has nothing to do with Jesus. 

We are admonished in Scripture to take up our cross and die to ourselves in pursuit of following Him. We’re supposed to expect tribulation and trials. We’re supposed to expect persecution, not avoid it. We’re supposed to remember that we’ve not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.

I’ve looked at the two greatest commandments. Loving our country didn’t make the cut. Loving our neighbor did. That means loving our immigrant neighbors, our black neighbors, our female neighbors, and our disabled neighbors, all of whom have been targeted by our GOP nominee.

So what do we do? Most of us find the Democratic choice to be morally reprehensible, as well.

First, we need to examine our individual hearts to see if/where we’ve made our country an idol and placed it before our sovereign Lord. In the same vein seeing if comfort, ease, safety, the American dream, etc, may also be idols, as well. It’s so easy to fall into that in the land of plenty.

Second, we need to stop the Chicken Little rhetoric that would tell us the sky is falling. Fear has no place here. Not only is it contrary to our core beliefs as Christians, but it also undermines our testimony to the world around us. What message of hope do we have to share if we are counting on a human savior to heal our land?

Third, I would love to wrap this up in a tidy bow and tell you, of course, we should all do _______ in this election. But, I can’t. There are third party options. If one should garner 5% of the vote, it allows that party to get federal campaign funds in the next election, therefore increasing the likelihood of a viable third party in the future. Or, you could skip the presidential part of the ticket and vote like mad for everyone else you wish to see elected. Just because we have the right to vote, doesn’t necessarily mean we have the obligation, especially if our own moral code prevents us from choosing any candidate. Don’t let anyone tell you that’s not valid.

Fourth, pray. Like most, I’m concerned about November 9th and beyond, regardless of the victor. Our country has much from which to recover.

Fifth, be the Church. Love your neighbors as you love yourself.

Charity

Be the glorious exception to what the world thinks when they hear the words “evangelical Christian.” Step outside your comfort zone to minister to the poor, give until it hurts, listen when you want to speak, read the other side to every issue, befriend people with whom you disagree and find your commonalities, make orphans a priority, never forget to look for Imago Dei in every person you encounter, and love everyone. Remember to be brave, authentic, full of grace, and to be there.

There doesn’t need to be a GOP President for us to be the Church. We have freedom in Jesus that no government can grant or take away. As my friend and former pastor, Jeremy Bialek commented:

Religious freedom to me is what Christ purchased on the cross. It is a freedom to actually be able to worship without the condemnation of death or slavery to sin. It can happen in a US church on Sunday morning, in a Chinese prison, or in an Arab desert before an ISIS executioner. It is not guaranteed by any governmental edict or court as much as it is by my Sovereign, eternal King. I don’t have to fight for that right. It is already mine and no one can take it from me.

I don’t know where America is headed or how she will recover from this. But I hope the evangelical church can recover by putting Jesus first, surrendering our need to be right, swallowing our pride, and loving people. We need to get away from all the talking and get back to doing, with the end goal of being. In other words, we want to be people from whom loves oozes. Maybe then, we can rebuild.

destroyedsyrianchurch

Picture: One of so many destroyed Syrian churches.

Arizona Adventure

We moved. Across the country. In my last post I shared that I felt nothing, just a numbness. All I feel now is an overwhelming gratitude because, it turns out, there is enough grace for that. And so much more.

The house we ended up in is in a wonderful neighborhood, surrounded by farmland, (Yes, they farm in the desert! I had no idea!) and exactly two miles from the base of the White Tank Mountains and its regional park. It is gorgeous, especially for previous flat-land Hoosiers like us. treesThe one thing I was worried about missing most from Indiana landscape was trees, but we have three large trees with hummingbird and turtle dove nests in our backyard. Amazing!

We leased a ranch style, one-level home which has eliminated so much stress from our daily lives as it makes supervision of Bo so much easier. Just eliminating the frequent adrenaline surges from large objects flying down the stairs from his hand, on a regular basis, has lowered all of our blood pressure to normal levels.

We are all acclimating to the higher temperatures and doing our best to forgive every blasted person who promised us a “dry heat” as humidity levels have routinely soared between 40-60% since our arrival, with temps around 105 daily. Dry heat, my butt. I’m told this is temporary due to monsoon season, but it seems pretty convenient nobody thought to mention it before we moved. Ahem.

neighborhood

My drive home from work. I smile every afternoon. 

School started five days after Shawn and the kids arrived and was very hectic, initially. Arizona schools frankly are pretty broke and have a terrible reputation. We were very worried about the boys, especially as they came from such amazing school situations. It is something that we bathed in prayer and spent way too much time obsessively worrying over.

Bo was in an essential skills class previously and would’ve returned to the same teacher, Miss Julie’s, classroom had we stayed. They shared a mutual adoration for one another and she challenged him in ways no one else could. More than that, she believed in him, even more than we did, I’m embarrassed to say, and he excelled under her tutelage. The thought of him ending up wasting his time in some of the awful situations I’ve read about, was really scary to me. But God knew. He loves Bo even more than I do. He provided Mrs. D. who is a near clone to Miss Julie. She adores Bo, has the same classroom style and set-up, and believes in him every bit as much. She is so impressed with all he learned under Miss Julie and is keeping her goals for his new IEP. The speech therapist is amazing, as well and has big plans for total communication for him, which is what I’ve been shooting for with him. He loves school!

Eon was fully included the last two years and the plan for second grade was the same in his amazing Indiana school. We were unsure how this was going to fly in his new school, although we knew the law was on our side. We also knew that if the teacher is not, it can be a terrible year. We had his transitional meeting on Friday. His teacher loves him. Yay! She does, however, have 33 kids in her class. He will need more support in the classroom. I may have annoyed his mild special ed teacher with my little inclusion speech, and expectation that evidence-based practice be provided. If she plans to pull him from the classroom some, that’s fine, as long as she shows me the current research to demonstrate that it’s best practice. I just wanted them to be aware of my expectations and goals when we reconvene for the IEP so no one is blindsided and we don’t waste anyone’s time. Overall, they seem like a great team and I think we can work well together to ensure his needs are met. He has, however, been playing them quite a bit and he needed a “come to Jesus” meeting when he got home from school. Turns out, they think he needs help carrying his lunch tray (Ha! Uh, no. Tell him to suck it up, buttercup!) and he’s been laying on the floor if he doesn’t want to do something (um, heck, no! Dad will come to the school to put a stop to that if need be! And, why in the world was he coming home with green/good behavior checks everyday?!?) Anyway, we straightened them out that he is very competent when he chooses to be and he WILL choose to be from now on. Ugh. This child.

moth

Giant moth on our stoop.

The other kids are thrilled to realize there are critters to be found in Arizona, too, although in the desert, not the creek. They are undaunted by the heat and spend at least part of everyday exploring the desert and longboarding in the park.

We gave Ellie, 16, the reins to find us a church to visit, and she, being the awesome big sis she is, found one advertising a special needs program. The website said we needed to contact them in advance, so we intended to keep Bo with us the first service we visited. However, when we were checking in the other kids, the volunteer helping us, told us he was more than welcome to attend that very day and her husband was actually working in his class. She took us there, we verbally told them some info about him, they gave us a form to fill out during the service and bring back and he was good to stay! Amazing! Never have we felt so welcomed and wanted in a church. Frankly, the service could’ve been terrible and we still would’ve returned just for that feeling and relief. It was the first time in 3 1/2 years that we relaxed, and worshiped together, knowing all our kids were well taken care of and learning about Jesus. Turns out, It was actually a great service! Ellie went to youth group that night and has since made some friends. We’ve decided to make it our new home church and are looking forward to getting involved in small groups.

park

Our park.

My job is fantastic and I love it! After twenty years of wearing scrubs, I feel like I’m playing dress up everyday in business attire and it’s fun! (although, my feet didn’t think so, initially, but they’re coming around.) I work for a huge non-profit hospital conglomerate in the acute inpatient rehab department as a clinical referral specialist. (although, depending on who you talk to, I’m also called an acute rehab liaison. Idk.) It’s very different from my previous twenty years as an occupational therapist, but I am able to use my clinical judgment daily (which seemed like I was able to do less and less in the SNF environment), therapeutic use of self, and communication skills I honed as an occupational therapist.

Having my parents nearby is a huge bonus. They have been a wonderful help to us and, even though the drive across the valley is long (a little over an hour),  we see them quite a bit. Grandpa helped me with the kids for two weeks as Shawn returned to Indiana to get the house finally on the market. We were so grateful to have him!

I’ll be glad when Google maps no longer has to help me navigate my daily life and when I start to feel like I belong instead of just a visitor, but that will come.

 

Moving Readiness…or Not

Three weeks from today I will replace the lush greenery and farmland of Indiana, for the mountains and desert landscape of Arizona, for good.

My emotions have been so mixed about this move, I have ceased to have any. When people ask if I’m excited, I feign enthusiasm. When asked if I’m sad to leave, I affirmatively answer that, too. Nervous, same. I don’t know what I feel.

The truth is, I don’t really feel anything. I’m over it already. I try to conjure up emotion for the “last times”, but I find there aren’t any and I worry I’ll regret that in the months to come. “This is the last Greenwood Freedom Festival for us, Mom.” Yep. And I only feel a little guilt that I sent you with the neighbors so I could recover from our garage sale.

Nothing is normal and I thrive on normalcy. I try to honor the kids in their need for routine in this stressful time, even though I just want them to stay out of my way while I get things done.20160427_210154 I’m trying to make sure they get to relish in their “last times” as they enjoy romping in their favorite creek and capturing Hoosier critters with their friends. I’m trying to allow teen daughter to make as many memories as possible with all her besties and her boyfriend to carry her through the coming months.

I’m trying to be empathetic as they process their feelings. Oh man, do they have a lot of feelings. Could we all just stop with the feelings, already? 20160625_125549And Eon, bless him, asking me daily, “Move now, Mom?”

Our garage sale was a huge success with blessedly little leftover to load onto the Salvation Army truck. Only to come upstairs and trip over boxes I forgot to take outside. And then find another in my closet…and, oh look! Here’s another in the girls’ closet. Pretty sure we have enough stuff for an entirely new sale, but instead, we’ll just call the truck back.

The hardest part is when people ask me for details. Little things like: When is the rest of the family joining you? How are they all getting out there? Do you have a house, yet? Have you sold yours? You know, details.

Frankly, we don’t really have answers for the details. We’ve never done a cross country move before. We’re kind of figuring it out as we go.

We’ve not sold the house, yet, nor do we even have it on the market. Turns out, making repairs and improvements with a destructo-Serb underfoot and a lot of other kids who need more supervision than they’re currently getting is a lot easier said than done. (Which is probably why it needs so many repairs and improvements to begin with.)

We can’t secure housing until I get out there to see the rental properties we’re interested in. I will stay with my parents temporarily, but my job is in the northwest valley of Phoenix, and they live in the east valley. The commute will be brutal. Hopefully, I will secure housing the first week I’m there before I start my job and I won’t have to do it long. The family will join me after that.

The teenager and youngest will fly out and everyone else will drive. We think. Lately, the Serb has been freaking out in the car and having what appear to be panic attacks. No idea what’s up with that, but if it continues, we can’t subject him to a 2,000 mile car trip. So, I don’t know.

In other words, I don’t know what exactly is happening with my life except it’s all changing, it’s completely stressful, and my response to all of it is to not care. I hope there’s grace for that. IMG_20160527_082511

My Target Bathroom Experience

Today, I needed some stuff from the store. I managed to escape the house without children and drove to our local Meijer store here in Greenwood, Indiana. I sat in the parking lot and began making a list on my phone when I received a Facebook notification. That’s all it took before I was completely distracted and scrolling through Facebook in my car, oblivious to the world around me, or my purpose for being at the store in the first place. (Welcome to ADD…Squirrel!)

I came across a post by one of my friends promoting a pledge by the American Family Association to boycott Target stores because of their new inclusive bathroom policies. It’s been signed by over a million people. It reminded me that I’d read something about protests outside Target stores on this date.

I started my car, left Meijer, and drove to my nearest Target. No protesters. Dang it. I was slightly deflated that I didn’t get to cross a picket line.  I shopped…and shopped…and shopped. Did I mention I didn’t have any children with me? As I headed toward the Market section of the store to complete my list, the inevitable happened.

I needed to use the bathroom.

Dare I? Was it safe? Weren’t there men in there dressed as women lurking in the stalls just waiting to attack or, at the very least, peer at my nether regions? Oh, wait. This is Target. They don’t even have to dress as women! 

Cautiously, I approached. I saw several men go into and come out of the Men’s restroom. None of them even glanced at the door to the Women’s. I walked closer to the doors.

A mother and her young daughter went into the Women’s restroom before me and into a stall. I went into another stall and locked the door. They did their business. I did mine.20160604_114021 Other people came and went. Toilets flushed. Sinks turned on and off. I came out of my stall and washed my hands. Another lady was there and laughed as I waved my hand under the non-automatic paper towel dispenser, stating she did the same thing. At least I think she was a biological female. She could have been a transgender female. I have no idea. Nor do I care. We did our business, exchanged pleasantries, and returned to our shopping.

I used a Target bathroom and I was unharmed. I lived to tell the tale.

You can, too. 

We Are Enough

Earlier in my mothering I struggled with feeling like I wasn’t enough. In fact, five years ago on Mother’s Day, I wrote this post expressing that very idea. Beautiful-Happy-Mothers-Day-Images

I am human and imperfect. My children know this about me and I am sure that picking out the perfect Mother’s Day card is difficult for them. I imagine them standing in the aisle rejecting card after card, until they finally find a safe, funny one.

I hate that the holiday objectifies motherhood until it is something  angelic and saintly like halos and gold dust. I know few women who can live up to that.

It portrays the “good” mothers are those who can read the same favorite bedtime stories for hours on end, instead of hiding the annoying books and leaving out only the short ones….that rhyme.They can create gourmet meals on a shoe string budget, instead of serving frozen pizza for the 3rd time this week. There is no way they have a hidden chocolate stash, but if they did and it was found, they’d be sure to share, instead of lunging for it and yelling, “MINE!”…

…I’m just a mom. I feel like I am failing much more often than succeeding. I notice all the the things I’m not doing, over all I am. I worry that I’m not disciplining enough, enjoying them enough, teaching them enough, loving them enough…that I’m not enough.

I have not changed very much, but my perspective has. Maybe because I’m older, my kids are older, or I have so dang many of them. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been immersed into the world of special needs and the bar has been significantly lowered. It’s hard to worry about Pinterest parties and gourmet meals when you’re just trying to keep your kids out of the hospital or making sure you know every last bit of the law to ensure they get the education they are due.

Last night, at church, our pastor spoke on the idea that mothers walk around with our very own cloud of guilt hanging over our heads. He told us that almost all of us struggle with not feeling like we’re enough. I teared up, not because I struggle with it so much now, but because I remember sitting in that very church three years ago, weeping as he said the same words and I absorbed them for the first time.

I was told I was enough. There was no “but…” attached.

Other than my husband, all my world at that time was telling me differently. The homeschooling community was telling me to be enough I should read the Bible with my children everyday and grind my own wheat. My former church taught me I should squelch all my needs and desires and find fulfillment only in service to my family. BuzzFeed threatened that I should be turned over to CPS for allowing my kids to play unsupervised in the yard. Pinterest showed me that I was failing in every possible way from birthday parties to healthy recipes. And Facebook assured me that everyone else was doing it exactly right.

So, hearing a different song was a balm to my soul. I drank in that message of grace. Like cracked ground thirsting for rain, I could not get my fill of it.

And, as one who has once been so thirsty, I try to nourish other moms with the same grace. You are enough, dear mama. You are exactly the mom your child needs. God chose you, specifically, knowing in advance your shortcomings and failures, to mother the children he has given you. The fact that you have ever worried about failing as a mother, proves that you are not failing, because you care enough to care.

chocolate-03I still have a hidden chocolate stash; my kids wear mismatched socks (and not the kind bought on purpose…I’m talking a cute kid’s sock and a giant men’s tube sock); I’m supposed to cook our weekend meals which means we usually have donuts and McDonalds; Sometimes, I bribe older kids to put little ones to bed; My five-year-old knows all the lyrics to “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots. You get the idea. I am not rocking this motherhood thing.

But I’m enough. And so are you. 

We are selfish at times, most definitely. We are wrong, often. We are human, absolutely. But we love, however imperfectly, and that is enough. Because of Him, we are enough.

There is grace for that.

 

Dupification, Bitterness, Mercy, and Love

I was duped. Perhaps you were, too. For years and years, I was led to believe that my behavior, my morality, was not just the barometer of my relationship with God, but actually was to be the focus of my whole spiritual existence.
Accusing-fingerI needed to keep tabs on all areas of my outer life, for so many reasons. God certainly was. It was behavior He was looking at to determine if He could be pleased with me. How many times did I pray, “Lord, may I be pleasing to you in all that I do and say”? It was as if He was just waiting for me to screw up and garner His displeasure.

Worse than my own potential demise, though, was the burden I carried for those in my world. I was taught that, as Christians, we are to be “set apart” from the world. We needed to look, talk, and act differently than those heathens around us. In so doing, we would win others to the Kingdom. The theory was that they would be so attracted by our “light” they would want what we had.

It was a huge burden for a mouthy, short-tempered, habitual sinner like me to try to win over people to Jesus by my goodness. Because, frankly, I’m just not that good. And, there are tons of other people out there, heathens evenwho are way better than me, who aren’t peddling Jesus.

loveIn the last few years, I’ve experienced a huge paradigm shift. I realize that being set apart has so little to do with our behavior and everything to do with our hearts. I understand that Jesus never said they’d know we are His followers by our goodness and adherence to rules, but rather by our radical, ridiculous, uninhibited love.

There is exhilarating freedom in discovery of this magnitude.

Unfortunately, rather than relishing in the freedom, I ruminated on the past. I dredged up all the faulty teachings I sat under for years in a former church. I studied abusive church practices and pastors and realized I was not imagining it and I really had been a victim. As wounds reopened, instead of bringing them to Jesus for healing, I picked at the scabs until they festered and the stench of infectious bitterness took hold. Every new revelation in Scripture, instead of bringing wholeness, just further indicted the church in all its failures and reminded me of all the years I’d lost.

But God…

(Isn’t that how every good story turns?)

But God, in His mercy, in a snippet of a sermon with another point entirely, showed me my bitterness and rebellion and told me to lay it down. 

Bianca Olthoff preached the story of the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11 from the perspective of Martha, early in February at the IF:Gathering. I highly recommend a listen if you can get your hands on it. Almost as an aside, she talked about Mary coming out to meet Jesus after her brother died, and laying at His feet. Mary, whose name means “Bitterness, rebellion, and want (as in a child)” laying at the feet of Jesus. Verse 33 tells us that when she did that, Jesus was deeply moved. Olthoff said, “When we willingly lay our bitterness and rebellion at the feet of Jesus, something changes.”

An arrow pierced my heart.

I wrote in another post that I was ready to swim again. I was ready for change. Something needs to change.15193306-a-man-making-a-confession-to-the-cross-shot-under-dawn-sky-1024x683

So, I laid it down. All of it. The anger, the bitterness, the frustration, the hurt, the resulting rebellion, the hate…and the want, the want to birth something new.

And freedom reigns.

I laugh now at my former crazy ideas of God. I’ve written before I can count on no hands the number of people who’d approached me and asked about Jesus because of my non-alcoholic, G-rated lifestyle.

My biggest opportunities for sharing with those who really want to know, have arisen in the last three years from those who start out asking why in the world we would add a child with Down syndrome to our already ginormous family (Jesus told us to love the least of these), or why we often spend Easter sharing communion and Cadbury eggs with homeless people (they don’t care what we’re wearing, almost everybody likes Easter candy, and see answer #1), or where I got my shirt that says, “I don’t have my sh*t together.” (online, and it’s a relief to admit it and know I’m loved anyway.)

Basking in His amazing love for us and really getting that He could not be more pleased with us as His children is where it sparks. Our love for others is an outflow of His love for us and has absolutely nothing to do with striving, or putting our best foot forward, or pasting on a happy face.

homeless-It is seeing people as Imago Dei, with His eyes, and loving them in all their mess. It is painfully hard and deliriously wonderful, and I’m not very good at it, yet. It’s outside my comfort zone and feels weird much of the time. When I take my eyes off Jesus, I worry I’m not doing it right, a throw back to my religious roots.

But He loves me. He has grace and patience for me in abundance, even when I get it woefully wrong, which is often. He loves us all. 

 

What If?

Four years ago today, we received the response for which we’d been waiting on pins and needles. It was affirmative. Serbia was going to allow us, a crazy big family, to adopt a child with Down syndrome from their country.

Long before we were waiting to hear from them, God stirred our hearts for the estimated 15 million institutionalized orphans in the world. With a simple prayer, “God, break our hearts for what breaks yours,” uttered many years ago, our world shifted as our hearts cracked. Our knowledge increased about orphans with special needs in Eastern European countries and the terrible fate awaiting them. We were undone.

We prayed for those orphans. We began supporting families adopting them, we cheered every “gotcha day”, and read every blog post. And while we occasionally wondered what it would be like to be in their shoes, the obstacles were great and the leap of faith needed too big.

Our excuses were typical, but very real.

  • We couldn’t afford it. We’re a large family living on one income. We live within our means and comfortably, but there is not much extra and adoption is expensive.
  • We didn’t have much room. With seven kids already squeezed into a 3-bedroom home, I was unsure we’d even pass a home study. (Two words – vertical space. Kids stack well and triple bunk beds are a dream.)
  • We were normal. Meaning we weren’t superheroes or extra patient or incredibly loving or extra spiritual or anything else we thought adoptive parents were supposed to be. We liked our comfort, we valued sleep, we got short with the kids sometimes, our house was often a disaster…just normal.
  • We felt at capacity with the seven kids we already had. We forgot that love multiplies; never divides.

And they were a lot of sound reasons not to do this to overcome. So many what if scenarios playing over and over in the recesses of our minds.

  • What if…we commit to a child and then don’t have the funds to bring him home?
  • What if…we get there and find his medical issues are way more involved than they said?
  • What if…I can’t love him like I do my other kids?
  • What if…he never attaches to us and has severe behavioral problems?
  • What if…he has autism? (Yes, this was an actual fear. Proof God thinks Himself hilarious.)
  • And there were more. So many more. It was terrifying.

So while we’d been waiting for Serbia’s yes, it was really a giant, yet trepidatious, yes on our part that got us to that point. A year later we brought home our feral three-year-old with the functional skills of an infant. I’ve written much about our wild ride since then with my most noteworthy post here, written a year ago.

Our Bo has been home three years now and life is just normal. Well, our normal, anyway. I don’t think about his adoption much except on the anniversaries. But yesterday, as I was sitting on the couch watching a movie, he climbed up in my lap, rested his head on my chest and fell asleep.

For two hours, I dared not move and I scarcely breathed, lest he’d waken and the spell would be broken. I allowed myself to wonder and I wept big silent crocodile tears because…

What if?!?

What if we’d said no? 

And, oh God, my throat constricts, and my heart pounds, and the tears are running again. Because for this boy, it wouldn’t simply mean no mama’s arms to hold him until they cramped, no strong papa with whom to feel safe, no tickle fights with siblings, no toys to increase imagination, no therapy to broaden skills, no school to increase knowledge.

For this boy, and for millions like him, it would mean eventual abuse, neglect, and death. 

And, as terrifying as our yes seemed at the time, the fact that his very life hung on it, scares me that much more. Because we almost said no so many times and at so many points along the way and our reasons were so foolish and ridiculous when the life of a child hung in the balance!

Our excuses seemed reasonable, but next to a life, they were anything but.

I don’t like to think about what if, because it shakes me. It forces me to think about the others – the orphans, the homeless, the trafficked, the abused – and my seemingly reasonable excuses to sit idly by, while lives hang in the balance.

Complacency is easier. It’s comfortable and it costs me nothing. But for those to whom I’m saying no, my complacency costs everything. It almost cost my son his life.

goofybo

Open Letter to Trump Supporters

Dear Donald Trump Supporters,

Your candidate has publicly mocked a reporter with a disability (Nov 25, 2015.) He has denigrated women loudly and openly (pigs, dogs, disgusting, grotesque, fat, ugly, bimbo.) He said we should build institutions for people with mental illnesses (Face the Nation, Jan 3, 2016.)

One man’s opinions and actions matter little to me except that he has followers like you, a lot of you, apparently. In interviews and polls, your reasons for backing him usually boil down to, “He tells it like it is,” so I have to believe you agree with him on these points and deem his behavior desirable.

And that terrifies me. 

As a woman with a mental illness (generalized anxiety/panic disorder) and the mother of two boys with disabilities, I always knew there were haters out there. I follow social media and read the comments on internet articles and have seen hate and ignorance spewed about on a daily basis.

I am acutely aware there are those convinced that people with mental illnesses are dangerous and a threat, when the opposite is actually true and we are much more likely to be victims of violent crimes.

I know misogyny abounds even today and women are considered a punchline, a sexual object, or even a punching bag.

Most distressful to me, however, is the mockery of people like my boys, or worse, the opinion that their lives are not worth living and they shouldn’t even exist at all. These boys love life, they have intrinsic value and worth, and they have my heart.

This is not about politics for me. This is real life. No matter what happens in the Primaries or come November, I’m afraid now and feel unsafe in my own community.

See, I used to think all those people with all those opinions about my life were just internet trolls who maybe lived in their mother’s basements.

Until your candidate became wildly popular and you began following him, I had no idea I worked with those people, went to church with them, and even invited them to my home.  And, frankly I don’t know what to do with that.

Because while you appear to treat me normally, you support Trump because “he says what everyone is thinking” so I have to believe you think it’s okay for men to treat me with disdain or for me to be institutionalized. While you smile and pat my boys on the head, in your mind, it matters not that people bully, ostracize, and mock them.

Your support of Mr. Trump frightens me, not necessarily because of what it means for the future of this country, but because of what it means for the present. The reality is my world is not as safe and good as I once thought it to be. My neighbors, co-workers, and friends are not the people I presumed them to be.

I now understand, that while you may not intend to hurt me or my family, you would do nothing to stop it were we to be harmed in the name of straight talk, or change to the political system, or “making America great again.”

I know this because you’re allowing it to happen now.

You’re part of a cultural shift in which people who are not like you are maligned, threatened, and sometimes physically tossed about for being different or expressing different opinions. You may not actually be doing the threatening or the tossing, but you’re endorsing it.

Your true character, the core of who you are, is now exposed and to be honest, I’m a little afraid of you.

I’ve allowed my vulnerabilities to seep through in our past interactions. I’ve shown you my hand. My gender was obvious, but you also know of my struggles with anxiety and panic. You know the joys and challenges I’ve faced raising children with special needs and the uphill road ahead of them as adults with cognitive disabilities.

How long before you prey upon those weaknesses or allow others to do the same? 

To you, this may be just about politics, but to me, your support of Mr. Trump paints a picture of who you actually are.

And that makes me kind of sad, and scares me more than a little. 

Erecting my own wall around myself and family,

A fellow American

 

Swimming

boardwalkI have a deep love for the Atlantic Ocean born from yearly vacations to the South Carolina shore as a child. The wildness of the waves, yet predictability of the tides, holds great allure for a Midwestern girl like me.

Always a strong swimmer, I never fully appreciated the sea in all her strength until one summer when I was about thirteen. I was a little farther out and down shore from my family when I miscalculated a breaker and was slammed headfirst into the water. I tumbled over and over, as the waves tossed me nearly to shore and then pulled me back again. All orientation was lost to me and I had no idea which way was up as the mighty ocean dragged my face along the sand, only to pull me back and then do it again. Time stood still as I struggled, and wrestled, and swallowed salt water before I was mercifully spit upon the beach, exhausted and stunned, rethinking everything I thought I knew about swimming.

Three years ago, we embarked on the adventure of our lives to travel across the world and receive our son, on whom we had never before laid eyes. I read the blog posts I wrote in the time leading up to travel and wonder, “Who is that woman? So inspiring, so full of faith, so certain.” I barely remember her, but I wish I could be her.

Adoption, Bo, autism, medical complications…none of these are the cause of the hit my faith has taken in the last three years. They may have been catalysts, or it very well may be an easy starting point from which to mark time.  I set off on the this journey full of faith that God would see us through it, which is noble and true, and had I stopped there in my thinking, all would have been well. But, instead, I knew how God was going to see us through. I had planned it out for Him. All He had to do was follow the plan and do A, B, and C.

Only He did not do A, B, and C.

There were deep valleys, and hills, and wrong turns, and fender benders, and wild collisions, and cliff hangers. There was rejection, and isolation, and fear, and loneliness, and anger, and grief.

I embarked on this journey certain I knew how God worked. I had the formulas, the platitudes, the righteous answers all memorized. “There is blessing in obedience.” “As you sow, so shall you reap.” “All things work together for good.”

My Jesus was more cosmic karma than Father God. Deep in my core I believed that if I did hard things for Him, He owed me a good life. (Good, of course, meaning easy. I am American, after all.) So this wilderness in which I’ve been wandering came as a complete surprise and mystery to me. As one by one He stripped away my faulty core beliefs, exposing me to complete vulnerability, and in the process, raw pain, I developed my own scabs and callouses, a tough exoskeleton designed to keep me safe.

But carrying around a shell is a wearying burden.

I’ve watched my responses to other people as of late. My lack of empathy to those feeling stressed by what to them feels like a crushing blow, but to me seems minor, is startling. My judgmental sarcasm about those who have opposing views is unattractive. There is a hardness to me that mirrors anything but love.

I saw this meme and related to it, initially, before I recoiled. diamonds

I don’t want my beauty to have an edge. I don’t want to be untouchable. I want God to use my pain for His glory, so I can offer hope, grace, and love to those in the middle of it. I need to lose the exoskeleton or the diamonds or whatever hardness resides in me if I am to be free to do that.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Coming to Jesus and learning to be gentle and humble in heart is the starting point. I have no answers on how God works and very few on who He is. I’ll let my favorite quote about Aslan, the great lion in one of my favorite books sum it up:

Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Much like all those years ago on the beach, when I realized what I thought I knew about swimming didn’t really apply to the bigness of the ocean, I now see what I thought I knew about Jesus doesn’t really apply to the bigness of the world.

I’ve finally come to the understanding that while God did not do it my way, He did NOT fail me. I know this because here I stand on the shore, shaken, bruised, and dripping, but ready once again to swim.

bowaves