Humility and the Prairie Dog

prairiedogI ran over a prairie dog on the way to the coffee shop. I swerved as he darted into my path, but he changed course in a split second, right under my tire. I checked my rear view mirror hoping, somehow, he’d miraculously avoided certain death, only to have my fear confirmed. I was unprepared for the sudden wave of nausea that hit me. I began to tremble, and had to pull over as heaving sobs wracked my body.

As cute as the little critters are, I knew this wasn’t about hitting a rodent.

This is the fallout from weeks of advocacy for the weak. (Really months and months as each new “policy” threatens a vulnerable population.) I’m exhausted, shredded actually, emotionally spent. I’ve had numerous sleepless nights. I’ve researched until my eyes burned, making sure I’m sharing the most accurate information. I’ve been on the phone with the offices of all of my elected officials and sent countless emails. I’ve raised funds for non-profits that hire immigration lawyers to represent the children and parents at the border.

I’ve tried to educate and counter the prevalent misinformation abounding on social media with facts. I’ve challenged theological fallacies with sound doctrine in hopes that eyes would be opened and hearts changed.  I’ve been called a “libtard” and “condescending”,  told I was being “used by the media”, accused of being “naive” and “stupid.” I’ve felt gutted by my fellow Christians who staunchly defend a policy that strips children of their parents and cages them, in the name of following the law. I’ve been deeply saddened by a complete lack of empathy and compassion on the part of those who call themselves Christ-followers.

I’m worn out.

Should I simmer down and step away from this type of thing?

politicsThere are those (almost exclusively on the other side of this “issue”) saying we should all just get along, and stop “letting politics divide us.”

But they don’t understand. This is not politics. This is PEOPLE. It’s about imago Dei. It’s about humanity. I cannot walk away from the mistreatment of fellow humans. I cannot let bygones be bygones when it comes to people. 

Some may be surprised to learn that I do believe it is a government’s responsibility to control its borders. Immigration reform is a necessity. That is a political issue on which most of us agree.

But it is a Christian’s responsibility to love everybody, always…to love our neighbors as ourselves…to treat others as we want to be treated. I want to be someone who acts justly, loves mercy, and walks humbly. (Micah 6:8)

It will be a shock, I’m sure, to realize that it’s the last part I struggle with the most. (Read, sarcasm.) Justice and mercy are how I roll. When I see injustice, everything in me burns with righteous anger which fuels me to right the wrong. My heart is rooted in mercy for those who struggle in a society where the deck seems forever stacked against them.

Oh, but humility. Argh.

When I’ve picked a hill on which I’m willing to die, when I’ve done the research and I know for fact injustice IS occurring, when people are suffering and time is of the essence, and some yahoo on social media posts false information justifying the injustice in the name of MY GOD?!? I fear I don’t respond very humbly.

pearlsAnd yet, humility would very much save me so much angst. It would keep me from casting my pearls before swine. It would prevent me from engaging in futile arguments in which my blood pressure raises to perilous levels. It would remind me to walk away. I can educate, but it is not my responsibility to change hearts. It is not up to me to condemn those whom I believe have lost their way and chosen nationalism over Jesus, safety over compassion, comfort over love.

Maybe, if I had chosen all three: justice, mercy, AND humility over the last few weeks, instead of cherry picking my favorite two, I would’ve had the emotional reserves to mourn for the prairie dog appropriately, instead of sobbing uncontrollably for a rodent, God rest his soul.

Oh, fix it, Jesus. There is grace for that.

Not Consumed

We went to a nearby lake in the mountains the other day. The sun was shining and the air was hot. The water, however, was freezing. The kids were undaunted, jumping in and yelling, laughing, and splashing. I stuck my foot in and when it went numb, decided swimming was not for me.

20180415_192410Toward the end our visit, I said something to my husband about wishing I’d brought my suit. “Oh yeah. That’s why you’re not swimming,” he teased. Always one to take the bait, I immediately ran into the water to my waist and dove under.

The shock of cold was electrifying. I shot up out of the water and could not catch my breath. It’s like I didn’t remember how to inhale. A train sound was rushing through my ears, my arms were leaden, and my lungs refused to work.

I remember so well the complete peace and assurance I had when we were in the process of adoption. I was worried about logistical things like funding and paperwork, but I never doubted that what we were doing was absolutely right. Taking a leap of faith was exhilarating and I had no doubt that God was going to be there to catch us.

Only I expected Him to catch us before we encountered the pain. I didn’t know we’d fall through the thunderstorm, be blown by hurricane-force winds, break the tree tops, get hung up on the branches, scrape our bodies on the bark and twigs, and land in freezing water.

It has been so hard.

It has been so amazing, so incredible, so undeniably worth it, but so very, very hard.

My faith almost did not survive. It certainly doesn’t much resemble what it was. For this, I am beyond grateful. But it hurt in the deconstructing. Everything I thought I knew was challenged. Up was no longer up. Everything was down. Nothing was certain. All was debatable until proven true.

Honestly, it took years before I even had the time or energy to deal with matters of faith or emotion, before I could process any of it. At first, it was simply reacting and responding, trying to keep afloat. There was a film of disappointment over my life that what we were walking through was unmanageable. No matter how many Bible verses I clung to or how many prayers I prayed, I felt immensely alone, completely on our own. It appeared He was not there.

I begged for sleep, but four hours a night was all I was allotted. I begged for answers, and while some came, we were always left with more questions. I craved fellowship and friendship and was rejected for failure to fit the mold. My circumstances were no longer relatable, and in my stress and exhaustion, I could no longer hold the mask of pretense.

I felt a slave to the “supposed to bes” of happily ever after, love conquers all, and the redemption narrative that is the public face of adoption. Our story paled in so many ways.

And where was God in that?

I still went to church (although not nearly as faithfully as pre-adoption). We often sang, “Oceans.” I stood stone silent each and every time, the bile of bitterness at the base of my throat, irritated by the carefree way those around me crooned the lyrics. I wanted to scream a warning, “Don’t you know what you’re signing on for?!? You could be drowning like me!”

 

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

No way would I ever trust God again with my future or my life. That’s what the experience taught me. God could not be trusted.

I still believed in God. I even believed He was good. But I didn’t believe Him.

Like the freezing water I plunged into at the lake, I felt God had thrown me into the deep end and I couldn’t swim. The shock was too much for me. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move my limbs. No lifeline was thrown.

What I couldn’t see at the time was that slowly, my body adjusted to the temperature and breathing returned to near normal. Although still in deep water, I could now tread it and keep my head above it. Sometimes, I even felt forward motion toward the shore, although often a wave would knock me back. And when I felt I couldn’t go any farther, He taught me how to float.

We sang “Oceans” this morning at church. I sang, too. Softly, at first, but then I realized I meant it. I trust Him. It’s a bit tenuous and I’m still finding my way.

My faith is tender in some ways, but there is depth to it I’m just beginning to explore. I’m a little raw, often reacting when a scab is prodded or pulled. For example, I heard a sermon today in which our pastor said something like, “We can walk through fire and not be singed. Our clothes won’t smell like smoke.” Isaiah43I know the Scripture well to which he was alluding. It was the passage that got me on the plane in Chicago for our international flight to our son.

When the pastor made the statement, tears poured down my face. Because that was not my experience. I know that sometimes we walk through fire and we are burned. We come out charred, in need of surgeries, debridements, and rehabilitation. It is a long, costly, and painful road to healing. However, if we walk through the fire and are burned, we are not consumed. That is the hope I know to be true. That is the hope to which I cling.

I’m still here. Still swimming, often breathless, discouraged, exhausted. But then, some words of encouragement from a fellow swimmer, an unexpected current to ride, or just some extraordinary beauty in an ordinary day will buoy me, and I’m okay.

I don’t know why other people are able to walk through water or even walk on it without waves threatening to engulf them. I don’t know why some walk through fire and emerge without a hint of smoke. That is not my story.

I only know this: He is with me.

In raging waters or scorching flames, He is here.

And there is grace for that.

 

The Graceful Hypocrite

A man called me a hypocrite.

It was during a Facebook exchange in which I expressed disappointment hearing Christians defend statements and policies that denigrate the marginalized and reduce services for the least of these.

He told me I’m judgmental and a hypocrite and I’m the reason people are leaving the church in droves.

The thing is, he’s right.

No, I don’t think I’m wrong for calling out injustice even if (maybe especially if) it’s Christians who are being unjust.

But I am a hypocrite.hypocrite

I know it. I see it every time I remember I’m not carrying cash so I walk past a homeless person on the sidewalk, and pretend I don’t see them. Instead I should look them in the eye, acknowledge I have no cash, and ask them about their day. I may not have money right then, but I do have the gift of gab. I can connect with them for a moment and treat them like the fellow human they are, squeeze their hand, and wish them well. But too often I walk on by, squirming in my own discomfort.

Hypocrite. 

I see it when I pray that God breaks my heart with what breaks His, and then scroll by the articles about human suffering that litter my news feed because I just don’t feel emotionally equipped to handle it right now. I only want to watch kitten videos or take celebrity quizzes because that is comfortable and mind numbing and maybe I didn’t really mean it when I prayed that prayer, anyway.

Hypocrite. 

I recognize it when in church I lift my hands with great passion and sing:

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

And then spend the free time of my week on social media or watching television because it’s easier than doing the work of relationship with God and frankly, I’m afraid of what He might require of me if I listen.

Hypocrite.

Or what about when I emphatically teach my children that we are called to be peace makers which is different than peace keepers. A peace keeper avoids conflict in effort to preserve a false “peace” and may spend years walking on eggshells in order to prevent upsetting the status quo. A peace maker will unearth the source of conflict and bring it to light so as to work it out and cause true peace to reign. It is messy and uncomfortable and a lot of effort. So, while my mouth is telling my kids to be a maker not a keeper, my feet are carefully stepping on the eggshells of my own relationships to avoid the effort, the messy, and the uncomfortable. Because it’s one thing to have wisdom in an area; it’s a whole ‘nother thing to act on it.

Hypocrite.

So while I disagreed with my Facebook accuser’s reasoning, I could not deny the accuracy of his charge.

I am a hypocrite.

stock-photo-hypocrite-in-word-cloud-concept-312949688I can hear the accusation of it, over and over, beating like a mantra of shame inside my soul. “You are a hypocrite.” It makes me want to shrink, to withdraw, to hide. I have nothing to offer. I am not successful in the good I’m attempting. The proof is all around. One wouldn’t have to look hard to uncover it.

I can strain and strive and work to become better. But, I know that will never last. Striving leads to more legalism and more rules which only leads to more hypocrisy.  No, better to fall on my face and admit it. We are all hypocrites in some ways, all of us saying one thing and doing another; all of us wanting to be different than who we actually are, seeing ourselves the hero while putting forth the coward’s effort.

It is only off-putting when I continue to pretend. When I deny my own hypocrisy, I fool no one and repel everyone. The shame is in the pretense. All that’s required of me is to take the off the mask. Jesus even said, “I’ve come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.” (Matthew 9:13)

I’m not already good enough. Are you? I’m reminded of another line from the song quoted above:

Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

I’ll not let the accuser make hypocrisy be my mantra. Grace will be the heartbeat of my life. I can easily get lost in the pretending, but grace is where I’m found.

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.”

“And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” Romans 11:6

The truth is, I am a hypocrite. And so are you. And with simply asking, there is grace enough for us all. Tightened Oily Hands

What She’s Always Wanted

Mickpic“This is what I’ve always wanted to do.” I could hear her smiling as she said it. My oldest daughter, Michaela (Mick), has been working hard to help in any way she can with the world refugee crisis. As she has written, “Currently, there are 65 million forcibly displaced people in the world with 21.3 million of those people being refugees. Refugees are those who have fled their country for fear of their safety because of war, threats of persecution, or natural disasters. While refugees come from all over the world, fleeing their country for one reason or another, 51% of refugees come from Somalia, Syria, and Afghanistan combined.”

Currently, she is in Serbia, the homeland of her brother, a country which has proven anything but kind to the least of these, and refugees are no exception. Graffiti is everywhere with slogans of frustration and hate making it clear that those with nowhere else to go are not wanted there.

Because the need is great, and she is strong and confident at twenty years of age, she was asked to go to the Hungarian border and lead a team to help meet the needs of the most vulnerable, people who are living in squats or out in the open, determined to somehow beat the impossible game of racing across the border to a life with hope. They are often harassed and beaten by police, and are without the means to feed themselves. While most of them are young men, too many are adolescents, barely old enough to have facial hair. And there are a few children, six and seven years-old with only teen relatives to watch over them in this wilderness.

Ever the adventurous quick learner, she learned to drive a stick in less than a day, so she can transport goods from the nearest warehouse to the people. Her willingness to do this cost her much, possibly including her safety, which is much more perilous in this position.

IMG-20170910-WA0000

Ikea, the wonder pup.

She also rescued a puppy from an IKEA parking lot. I know, I know. But, actually, I think it’s a smart move. She’s been training him, already. She envisions him as a protector for herself as he gets older, but also as a therapy dog for the children and the broken people she encounters. He’ll need to eat, too, of course. Also, as she is further north, she will need to secure warmer clothing and gear as winter approaches and she will be spending a greater amount of time in the elements.

She told me the initial quote after informing me she’s currently living in the warehouse, has no place to shower, and no stove on which to cook food. And, yet, this is what she’s always wanted to do. I hear contentment in her voice, pain and fear at times, but also peace.

When she started this journey, she determined to go where she was needed. All she sees now, day in and day out, is overwhelming need. If you would like to partner with her, you can give at wallet.google.com and enter her email: mickmae@gmail.com I can promise that any amount you give would go a long way. She is my daughter and thrifty is her middle name.

One time gifts are so appreciated and helpful. Monthly support would be phenomenal and such a boon to her spirit (and give such peace to mine!) She is meeting needs in a way that most of us couldn’t. I am so grateful for her willingness and her tenacity to do so.

If you are the praying type, I would love it if you would commit to pray for her for safety, endurance, wisdom, and grace. Please pray that she loves well and obtains favor with all those she encounters.

May the rest of be so blessed to find “what we’ve always wanted to do” in acts of service to those around us. In this world of increasing instability, I am certain there is grace for that.

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.

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