Wednesday, November 4, 2015

This year has been different.

For months before marriage God spoke to my heart of new things, prepared my soul to cling to His promise, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” This seemed obvious. Of course, marriage was new, learning to share leadership in our home was new, having someone to share everything with was new – and so wonderful! – nearly everything felt new. What I did not perceive all the months of these whispers was that God was also speaking of something much deeper, much more subtle, much less obvious. Apart from anyone’s eyes, deep in my insides, God was going a new thing in me. In the depths of my heart, in a hidden place that the outside world could not see or understand, My loving Father was tenderly peeling back the layers, revealing to me my very truest, deep-seated beliefs about Him and carefully chiseling them away to replace them with truth.

For the first time in years, opposition in our lives was not coming from outside, but from within these walls. No one was deathly ill on our doorstep. Ministry seemed to run fairly smoothly. The presence of friends was true and constant. And in this season of calm, within our home, deep wounds were on display – mine and theirs. Old woundedness, occurring long before God knit us together as a family, began to surface and just kept surfacing in this season of new. The newest thing of this season was the work God was doing invisibly, in our hearts.

And in the midst of it all, of trying to hold all the wounds and pour out love, of trying to understand things incomprehensible to me and see our children through God’s eyes, he pulled up my very own heart-flaws, most blatantly this questioning, a wondering if really, this time, He would be faithful. I, who have tied my whole life up in proclaiming His faithfulness to others, believing in healing for others, declaring His goodness to others, wondered if really He would still be faithful to me.

I have personally known His faithfulness time and time again. God has kept His promises, throughout all of my life and throughout all of history. I have tasted of His goodness; I have lived in it. And somehow in a season of things so different and so new, and so seemingly unending, I wondered if this time He would come through?

I remembered His promise, spoken for months. But this new thing, it was not only beautiful, it was difficult. What new thing was He really speaking of? Couldn’t I see it? And so I sat in my wondering and my waiting and my pleading, and God spoke to me the same words again and again, “I am not done yet.” And I fought to believe it. But this was my way through the sea, my stream in the wasteland, my lifeline. When in my heart I felt that I might be truly done, He was still at work in the hearts of my people, and He was not done yet.

He was not done with me.

This year was different. Outwardly, almost nothing progressed. Almost nothing was measurably accomplished that an onlooker would notice or recognize. But inwardly, He was doing a new thing – in us. God was not finished with me, He was not done with the wounds in the hearts of our children, He was working, patiently and quietly, and sometimes even invisibly to chisel away at the hardened parts of each of us.

In the quiet, in the waiting, in the asking and believing and sometimes even faltering, He was our stream in the desert. His strength became our strength when being strong seemed a thing of the past. His love endured when I wondered if mine would give out. His faithfulness endured through the waiting, through the changes, through the challenge.

“Behold, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up! Can you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness, and streams in the wasteland to give drink to my chosen people, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.”

In the last weeks, we have seen immeasurable growth, joy and heart change in our children that does not compare to anything we have experienced before as a family. The Spirit’s work is evident and I feel the Lord’s hand heavy on our home. Of course in reality, it has been all along.

His words ring true in my ears and in my heart, these words He has spoken over me long in preparation. I look at our people, our home, that He has so faithfully and so constantly poured into and He opens my eyes, I perceive it. He has done a new thing in us and He is not finished.

And He gives us to drink that we may proclaim His praise. Halleluiah! His love endures. He is at work in us!

I don’t know your desert place, the place that seems like a wasteland where God is clearly finished working or has moved on. I don’t know your places of questioning, “Will you really come through this time?” But I know that His promise to me could very well be His promise to you. “Behold, I am doing a new thing,” and surely, beloved, even when we cannot see or perceive it He is not done. He is making a way in your wilderness and a stream in the wasteland because you are His chosen, who He formed for Himself to the glory and praise of His name!

Chin up, love. In the waiting, in the quiet, He could chisel away at those old wounds and you might just see that the new thing He is forming is you.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

To the mom who doesn't feel like a mother, yet (and the other moms too!)

It seems to be the lament of many adoptive mothers I meet, “I didn’t really feel it.” Somewhere along the line, adoption has become associated with the myth of “love at first sight.” I surely cannot say that no one feels this, but I can say that not everyone does, and not everyone has to. Because the truth is, love is a thing that grows.

I am sure there is truth in the stories that many tell of that moment they saw their child for the first time and knew instantly that God had ordained him to be theirs and fell in love. But I think so much more often, the action of love precedes the actual feeling.

 I knew many of my children months or years before I became their mother. When I first met them, I had no idea that this would be a bond we would share. Even when they first moved in and we filled out the foster care papers, I was tentative. I didn’t really feel like a mother, I felt like a stopgap in the system, a temporary solution. Even as we took steps to make their adoptions more permanent, after God had made it clear that we would be a forever family, I fumbled, often feeling more like a babysitter, or on good days, a fun aunt.

Parents who are still feeling this way, be encouraged: you didn’t miss the miracle. The love at first sight moment isn’t really what it is all about, and might not happen for all of us. Some days, love isn’t a feeling, it is a choice.

You may be the momma who opens her arms wide to the baby you’ve seen in photos who now clings tightly to the orphanage worker and cries in fear. You might be the mother sitting in your hotel room oceans away from your home watching her little chest move up and down while she sleeps, and feeling just devastated by how much of her you do not know. You might be the mother starting at the teenager who, years later, still refuses to be loved, who pushes you away just to see when, if, you will ever leave. And I just wanted to tell you, it is ok. You didn’t miss it. You didn’t miss His call and you didn’t miss the miracle. Love is a thing that grows.

From the moment I met my children I loved them in the way that a heart feels they must love another human being, especially one in need of care. I felt that God made it clear to me that I was to raise them and this intensified my love into a fierce, protective, sacrificial love, but it didn't change the fact that it takes some time to make strangers into family. That part is a daily choice. From the day I signed those papers I knew they were mine; I was choosing to be their parent. But just like the choice I had made to adopt a child, I would also have to choose to love them. I would choose to love them each morning and each evening and sometimes many times in between. This often felt like failure. If God was giving me children, why didn’t parenting come a little more naturally? Wasn’t deep, connected, instantaneous love a miraculous gift? In my experience, it was more of a choice than a feeling. It was a process that took growth and the daily choice to love and pour into the small person in front of me, even on days when I felt like more of a babysitter than a mom.

I wish I could tell my young, striving mother heart a thing or two. If I could, I would bring her weary frame a cup of coffee and reach out across the years to hold her hand a whisper to her all of the things that I did not know.

I didn’t know that, one day, love for them would consume me.

In those early days of laying sleepy heads on pillows and training tiny hearts to know Jesus, I had no comprehension of the wild, devastating, uncontainable love I would feel for them. I didn’t know that they would some how be these little extensions of me, that when they hurt I would hurt more deeply than I ever had before and that when they showed delight over a success or an excitement for God’s Word my heart would swell within me and I would be unable to contain tears of joy. I didn’t know that sometimes I would look at them and just love them so much that my heart would physically ache within my chest.

I didn’t know that I would blink and they would be grown up, and I would feel like their little lives were slipping through my fingers and I would want to just soak them up, pause the time and savor the moments; that I had this unspoken expectation in my mind that they would grow up and stay little all at the same time. That no matter what I would never feel that I had done well enough, loved hard enough, or taught them enough, but that wouldn’t keep me from pouring out every ounce of myself anyway.

I didn’t know that I would see the sparkle of my eyes in theirs and hear the lilt of my voice when they spoke, or that I would smell the same scent of my skin when I kissed their foreheads or that over the years their laughs and their mannerisms would become more and more like mine. I didn’t foresee that I would sneak into their rooms late at night just to watch their chests rise and fall and study the way their little fingers curled around the edge of their blankets and that no matter how “big” they got I would still have the curves of even their fingertips etched in my mind.

I didn’t know the rejoicing I would feel as I watched them serve others, when I saw them devouring scripture, praying, or longing for more of God. And I sure didn’t know the inadequacy I would feel as I realized more and more that I was shaping them, helping God make them into the people that He intended them to be.

And at the end of the day I had no idea just how powerful and humbling it would be to acknowledge that it would only be God who could change them, redeem them, and save them, not me. Only He could work in their hearts and know their futures. Only He would had been with them all the days of their lives and would remain with them each day and receive all the glory.

If I could reach back in time and whisper to her, I would tell her that I didn’t know Jesus the way I do now, before I became a mother, and that alone makes it all worth it.

It is not lost on me, the miracle of all that has taken place here to allow me to feel all of these things. I look at these young ladies and so much of it seems like a blur. I can’t exactly pin-point all of the ah-ha moments, but somewhere along the lines, it happened. The daily choice became a habit and the habit became a lifestyle and we became a family.

Somewhere in all the laundry and homework help and consistent discipline and constant, tireless love, it happened that I looked at my child and saw in her such a piece of me and He confirmed with real life what He had spoken to my heart many years before – she is mine.

The youngest stands with her toes pointed out and her hands on her hips and I might as well be looking at a mirror. The oldest smiles gently and speaks truth and reminds me exactly of my mother as if it could somehow be genetic. And when that one smiles all her bottom teeth show, too, and she is confident in Jesus and wants big things from life just like a teenager I once new. And this one loves justice and learning how to cook new things while another shows patience in caring for younger children something I loved just as much at her age.

And for us, this is the miracle: not that we experienced love at first sight but that God has given me a love for these once-strangers that is just as strong as if they had grown in my own womb. That somewhere along the line after weeks or months or years of choosing this kind of love, I suddenly found myself in the place that I am now where I have no choice, where I could not stop loving that if I tried because they are part of me. The miracle is that God has given me His eyes for them and in my moments of saying “she is mine” He has given me a glimpse of His heart for me.

So to all the moms out there who are cradling their little ones, or even their big ones, and wondering when you will stop feeling like a surrogate; to the mothers who are clumsily jostling their newborn for the first time and to those who are staring out over the expansive distance that has grown between themselves and that hard-to-parent teenager; your Heavenly Father sees you. And He is glorified by your trying, your pursuing, your loving. Love is a choice, and as we choose it, it grows. We keep choosing love and He keeps choosing us, and this, my friend, is the miracle.

My hope is that you will cherish God’s welcome invitation to know Him increasingly in answering the high calling that is motherhood. No matter how He has enabled you to be a mom, in marriage, in singleness, through foster care, through childbirth, as a mother of one, as a mother of many, keep being faithful to Him as you parent your children. He’s shaping them through you and He is shaping you through them.

And to all the mothers who have given their foster children to forever families but still have that child-shaped hole in their heart, to the mothers now called “birth mom” who have given their child into a better life out of love, to the mothers whose babies now rest in the arms of Jesus; thank you. You are brave, you are beautiful, and this day is for you, too.

Happy Mother’s Day to us!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

He looked into their eyes, both of them.

He shouldn’t have even been talking with the woman at the well because of her race. The woman with the issue of blood shouldn’t have even been near Him because of her uncleanliness. I shouldn’t even be allowed to approach Holy God because of my sin.

But Jesus. He looked into their eyes. He stopped what He was doing, stopped in the hustle and bustle of the day. And His gentle voice held their hearts as He spoke, “Daughter.”

We are just like them.

I am the Samaritan woman hiding from my sin in the heat of the day. My secrets take different forms than 5 former husbands, but I hide them just the same, down deep so that people won’t see. I wonder why He is even speaking to me, so ordinary. Doesn’t He know my faults? He does. And His desire is to heal, to comfort, to uplift. His desire is that I would know the lines under his eyes and the beads of sweat on his forehead and the lilt of his voice just as intimately as she did. My sin leaves me thirsty and I long for living water. I yearn for it and He gives it freely.

I am the woman with the issue of blood – persistent sickness in need of a Healer. Except I am a woman with the issue of sin instead, in need of a Savior to wash me clean. I am chasing after Him, reaching toward Him, longing just to touch the hem of His robe. And He is not far off. He turns toward me the way He turned toward her, kneels down, cups my chin in His hand.

“Daughter,” He says.

Can you hear Him?

And His words to us are the same as they were to those two. “You faith has made you well. Go in peace.”

He has made us well! Hallelujah! He has made us well and He has given us peace.
We are healed from our depravity, our iniquity, our wickedness. We are given peace from our struggling, our striving, our hurt. He loves us like that.

The sick woman chases after Jesus, after twelve years of no answers. It doesn’t matter what the world says, if they say she is dirty and hopeless. She chases after Him because she believes that He has what she needs, that He can heal her. And He does. She squeezes through the crowd, reaches for His hem, because she knows He is the Savior. And He is.

The woman at the well, she runs into the town to tell anyone, everyone what He has done for her. This man knows everything she has ever done and yet still He loves her and desires to set her free. They believe because of her testimony, they race to see for themselves, to hear and see and touch, and they too are saved.

We have received this same grace. So might we spend our whole lives like these women – broken, thirsty and in need of Him. Reaching out for Him, no matter the circumstance. Fearlessly hoping in Him regardless of what the world might say about our situation or the extent of our brokenness. Bearing our hearts to Him, no matter the shame of our sin. Running toward Him, no mater the distance. Boldly proclaiming to all the world, “Come and listen! Come and see what He has done for us. He has made us well! He has given us peace!” He loves us like that.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

It is rainy season again. My friend and I slip and slide down the muddy hill to Masese where we weekly study the word with a group of women who have become so dear to us. Every Tuesday we come, joyful and overflowing, or broken and weary, or anything in between and we don’t have to hide it because these women have become friends. We wear our babies on our hips and we wear each others’ burdens. We break bread together in each others homes and each week we crack open His word desperate for His filling, searching for His wisdom, inquiring together, “What do you have for us, God.”

It is beautiful, when I have eyes to see. It is beautiful, but my heart isn’t prepared for Masese today.

We sit in a circle in the dirt space between falling-apart slum buildings and I scuff the dirt under my sandals and let my mind wander as the women share prayer requests, each of them more devastating than the last. Last week, just two days after I held her baby in this very circle, our friend was poisoned and quickly died. We shake our heads in disbelief and we try to remember the good things she brought to this community without losing hope. But as we continue to share, someone else’s mom is slowly dying of tuberculosis and some else’s daughter was assaulted and far too many people that everyone knows have fallen prey to alcoholism and addiction and we see the way this so quickly destroys the lives around us. And how do we not lose hope, I wonder. I let my mind wander because I am weary. I don’t want to engage in this kind of suffering again today. I live just a few minutes away from here but my life is still so different. My hard looks like teenagers with rolling eyes and fragile hearts that are crushed with a few wrong words or glances. Their hard is rampant disease and rape and murder. I haven’t spent enough time with Jesus and today I just can’t seem to open my heart to that kind of hurt without despair.

I force myself to get down in the dirt and lay my hands on a sick friend and pray. My hand is wet and I realize that she is letting her tears fall, vulnerable, in front of me, in front of our Father. Her hurt is different than mine, but really, it is the same. We are the same. Both just as in need of a Savior as the other. Both willing Him, begging Him to come quickly. I ask Him to open my heart to right here and right now. I ask Him to make Himself known.

We sit in the dirt and let the tears fall. And despite my best efforts to harden myself to the suffering today, Faithful God breaks me, gives me eyes not just to see the pain but to know it intimately. These aren’t just people. These are my friends. These are people I know, people He knows. I know their names, their husbands, their children. He knows each hair on their heads and the deepest cries of our heart.

I allow myself to imagine us in the palm of His hand. I imagine his tenderness as He numbered those hairs, I imagine His hand cupping my face as a Daddy cups the face of His daughter, and I imagine Him looking into these women’s eyes and smiling, delighted in His daughters. I close my eyes and in my mind I hear the voice of my husband as he sits on our bed and strums his guitar, “for mercy for comfort we wait on the Lord,” He sings.

Today I feel like we are just waiting. Today, hope is something we fight for.

A woman I don’t know very well walks by our circle. I have heard stories of her. She sits on the ground against the wall of the little dirt church we meet behind and stares vacantly. Nobody is really sure if she is disabled or if she has just been abused by so many men that she doesn’t talk anymore.

 Another woman who I know well and love dearly stumbles down the hill and nuzzles her head into my shoulder. She lived with us years ago as she recovered from alcoholism and her child recovered from resulting burns, but it is clear how drunk she is as she tries to communicate with me through language barriers and slurred speech. My eyes look into hers, blood-shot red, and I plead with her. She is such a good mother, sober. I ask where her little girl is, trying to remind her that being home alone is how she got so injured last time but she isn’t listening. She kisses my cheeks and stumbles away.

It is just days after they lowered our friend’s body into the ground because she was brutally, intentionally killed. Just a week ago she sat in this circle with us and now her body rots in the ground while we try to figure out who will check on her babies. The women look defeated. I feel defeated.

How do we find the hope of Jesus here? How do we proclaim that He is at work when we just can’t see it?

“Let us see you here, Lord,” I pray it desperately. He answers with Romans 2:8, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life.” These women, they persist. Against all the odds, when it would be easier to just give up and go ahead and call this place hopeless, they cling to their hope in Jesus and the persist in doing good, they persist in seeking His glory.

I trudge back up the hill with my mind full of questions. God where are you in this mess? Where are you? As I ponder, my foot slips and lands in a mixture that is surely part alcohol and part human waste. I choose to call it mud and begin to sigh, of course. Two strong arms wrap around me from behind and Santina’s laughter fills my ears. She is laughing at me because she knows how distracted I was and of course, of course I stepped in the hole. She pulls my arm and drags me to her home where she pulls off my shoes and scrubs them in a basin of soapy water. Water isn’t an easy thing to come by around here and I can’t believe she is using it on my sandals. She proceeds to wash my feet. She is washing my feet and I want to protest but I think of Jesus. Bent down, towel around His waist, arguing with Peter who just doesn’t understand. He whispers to me, “See? Do you see Me? I am at work here.”

My stubborn heart may not always want to believe it but I know that it is true. He is at work here.

Margaret walks up the hill in front of me still giggling about my feet and my grumpy-ness. Margaret, who I thought would die. Margaret who at 19 years old held her 4 year old and her dead baby and bled and bled all alone in her house with no one to help her and no one to call family. Margaret who moved in just as frail and sick as Katherine or Betty. Margaret who slept on an extra mattress in my room for weeks because I was so afraid of death that the couch seemed too far away. Margaret who lived. She walks up the hill her arms full of necklaces that now provide for her and her little guy, both happy and healthy back at home in this community, and her heart full of God’s Word which she loves to share with others. “I am at work here,” He whispers, again and again. “Can you believe me? Can you believe my promises?”

Of course I do. I read the words of 1 Peter now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. I cannot deny that I have tasted of His goodness. I cannot deny that I have seen and known Him working all things for the good of those who love Him, even the ugly, hard, unspeakable things.

For mercy, for comfort, we wait on the Lord. And He is at work here.

What is too hard today, friends? What is too messy? It is hard to believe sometimes but we can know that God is good in that place. We’ve tasted and known His goodness, even in the impossibly hard places. Romans 2 says, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory honor and immortality, He will give eternal life.”

Persist in doing good, dear one. Persist in resting in and relying on Him. Peace that passes understanding is promised us, and eternal life awaits us!