Living the Gray

Our youngest was tasked with dressing as “who she wants to be when she grows up” for theme week at school. That led to a discussion with the older kids about what their dreams for their grown-up selves were.

“I want to be Zak,” my ten-year-old Zak said simply (and with probable sarcasm.)

It struck me as profound. As I wrestle, in middle age, with who I’ve become versus who I wish I was, I need that bold, child-like simplicity.

I want to be me.

I want to be the truest version of Tara I can be. It doesn’t matter where I am in my career (not where I want to be), how much money I have in the bank (not enough), or how impressive my kids are (pretty amazing, but definitely human). What matters most to me is authenticity, living the truth.

It wasn’t so very long ago that life was black and white. I felt secure in my belonging in the evangelical church. We were united in our resistance to the world, to the others…those who sought to corrupt our children, to steal our freedom, to move our country on a path away from biblical morality.

It was all so cut and dried, so easy to understand. Do this and you’ll be protected. Follow the rules and God will bless you. If you love the Lord, everything will work out just fine.

There was a common enemy.

The World. 

So we lived in a bubble of our own construct. We were friends with each other. We worshiped and socialized together. We sought each other out in our workplace to align and become stronger together against the world. We found Christian businesses to support, so that our hard-earned money didn’t support worldly ventures. We were so glad to be part of the family of God.

But that wasn’t me. I kept straining against the box, popping out on occasion to question it all, only to be squashed into submission.

Yet, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it on some level. I miss the community and I really miss the knowing. As misguided as we were, there was certainty in what we were about. We were sure.

But lately, I can see all sides of every issue, too many sides. I see validity in the views of my “opponents.” There is so much more gray than I ever thought possible.

The old me would never have understood this, but there is grace for gray. People are never one-dimensional. We are created by our experiences, our upbringing, our circle of influence. We can be changed by one simple moment in time…an accident, a lost loved one, the birth of a child with special needs. Those moments shape us, and who am I to determine your shaping is faulty if I haven’t experienced your one moment in time?

People are rich with depth and nuance. Our world is a treasure trove of untold delight mixed with unspeakable suffering. There is little room for black and white, all good or all bad. Truth, while not fluid, is perceived differently by all of us based on our stories.

Woven through it all is an underlying thread of imago Dei, image of God. We are valuable. No matter what we’ve done, or what we believe, we have great worth.

You are valuable. You have great worth.

That truth is mine. It is the basis of everything I am about and all that I am for. You don’t have to fit inside a box to be accepted. Your choices don’t have to reconcile with mine. You are free, and you are loved, and you are worth it. Agreeing with you or not, I am for you. My God is for you. 

It is my great joy in life to see that you are known and loved well. It is my dream that others see imago Dei in you, too.

Instead of hiding in the bubble, locked inside the box, I wish to live tall and free with open hands. I want to have more questions than answers, always seeking the nuance, stretching to reach the heart of each individual in my path.

My truest me is revealing the depth of gray. I’m most authentic when I am peeling back the layers of black and white to expose the blessed hues of gray beneath.cold-snow-black-and-white-road

So, what am I as a grown up? I am me. I am loving and living the gray.

And there is grace for that. 

 

 

Drop the Load

hand2I sit here before a blank page. I’ve been so eager to get back to writing, to find some time, to let the words pour out. How strange to find I have none. Nothing cohesive, anyway. The blinking cursor has been mocking me for quite awhile.

It’s the start of the new year. The last one was all about change. It was exciting and stressful and fulfilling and scary…and so, so busy. So as I sit and pray and reflect, I find myself disconnected from my source. I know about God and I’m somewhat aware of His existence near me, but He’s become this sort of fuzzy, nebulous presence…instead of my Creator, my Savior, my Friend.

And I realize I miss Him.

No wonder I have nothing to write. I have nothing to give. My battery is dead. I’m full of meaningless ideals, insignificant platitudes, and hollow words. I’m an empty shell.

cactusWhile I love it in our new home state of perpetual sunshine, I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge some disappointment in realizing that winter can find me even here. I thought I’d escaped the cold, the darkness, the overwhelming desire to hibernate…to hide. But, while there is no snow or ice (for which I’m so thankful), the days are short. I see each breathtaking sunrise in the morning, and beautiful sunset in the early evening.

And then there’s darkness.

I want to don my jammies and escape into my old friends, television and social media, often before dinner has even graced the table.

Because, winter.
And so, while there are flowers still in abundant bloom, my kids wear flip flops most days, and our heat has been on less than a week in total, I continue to stuff a void and attempt to manage a discontent with unhelpful meaninglessness.

I am afraid of the dark.

dark

It draws me back into habits long held. It weakens my resolve to connect with the people in my world, and more importantly, with my God. Darkness becomes a load I carry instead of a shade through which I walk.

But one heartfelt cry of His name is all it takes to restore relationship. He is in focus once again. He is here. It is the beauty of the cross that one whispered prayer can bridge the chasm and revive the heart. He relieves the burden.

While there are fragments that must be swept away from the chaos I caused fumbling with my weight of darkness, my heart is now at peace.

20170103_111425Earlier today, my non-verbal Serb handed me a multitude of hot wheel cars on the back porch and pushed me into the house. Every time I stopped, I felt his little hands on my rump pushing me forward until, finally, he stopped and pointed with both hands to the floor, indicating I was to drop the load.

Later, my husband prayed, “Lord, thank you for this year you’re pushing us into,” and I laughed remembering determined hands pushing me to an unknown destination. This year, may I be so in tune with my God that I never fail to feel His hands, leading, guiding, and sometimes pushing.

And may I always be aware when He’s telling me it’s time to drop the load.

He Knows

You may feel anxious right now. The fate of our country is uncertain, at best. The chasm we all hoped would settle after the election seems to be ever widening as the ground around it rumbles and shakes. The truth is difficult to cipher. Fake news stories abound and are virally shared.

Add in the usual holiday madness that has become our norm for this month of the year and for some, this is the perfect storm.

But focus on this.

You are loved.

mangerThe King of the world, with you in mind, came to be one of us, to experience life as you do. To laugh, to weep, to be annoyed and exasperated, to feel stress, to be treated unjustly, to have his words twisted, to be mocked. He experienced deep loss and grieved. He knew great agony and physical pain.

He was misunderstood, over and over again. Not one person really knew Him.

He knows.

And while my emotions are running the gamut the last few months, and I could choose to write about so many other things, I’m focusing on this, instead.

He knows…us.

Intimately and deeply, whether we accept Him or not. He is the only one who really “gets” us. You realize you’re not alone in that desire to be known, right? We all want that. Some  look for it longingly in past relationships with parents, wondering why they were never enough. Others in one failed romantic entanglement after another. Some of us find some semblance of it in our marriages, but even that’s not quite enough to totally satisfy the deep need to be fully known and fully loved.

He knows our human experience and what we’re experiencing because He was human. BUT, more than that, He knows our personal experience, our feelings, our darkest fears, our highest hopes, because He knows us.

And He is delighted in each of us. 

The story of Christmas is that God came near. The hope of Christmas is that He is near, still. Emmanuel…God with us.

greenerycloseup_750

Please know, He’s just a whisper away. Merry Christmas, and may God be near to you all year.

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.

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

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