Friday, December 4, 2015

The Wait and The Works

"Yet I am confident I will see the Lord's goodness while I am here in the land of the living.  Wait patiently for the Lord.  Be brave and courageous.  Yes, wait patiently for the Lord."
Psalm 27:13-14


It's been two Thanksgivings, very soon will be two Christmases, and one missed birthday since first seeing her face.  Since hearing her story and picturing her as ours.  A different kind of waiting than the kind that comes after a first ultrasound glimpse of the one your heart will embrace long before they'll ever reach your arms.  But you still embrace.  As you lay your head on the pillow at night, just a staircase away from where you hope she'll one day sleep, you wonder where she lays her head now and what dreams join her there.  Does she dream of a family as we dream of her joining ours?  There is no guarantee in this least not the kind that means we can count on bringing her home to that bedroom just up the stairs.  The phone call yesterday was a reminder of that.  There are decisions being made this week, entirely out of our control, that will determine whether our arms will ever hold the one our hearts already do.

So what is with the waiting?

With Christmas around the corner, and the Advent season upon us, I've been reminded of another kind of waiting.  The definition of advent is "the coming or arrival of something or someone that is important or worthy of note."  Those who celebrate or recognize this season of Advent do so because it is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of Christ's birth.  While we can predict the end of our "waiting" by looking for December 25th on our calendar, such was not the case for those who anxiously awaited the promised one who would "release the captives, cause the blind to see and set the oppressed free." (Isaiah 61:1)

400 years is a long time to wait...a long time to wonder whether God has forgotten...

400 years of silence passed between the Old Testament promises & phophecies and the birth of Christ.  Centuries during which God's people waited, longing for their rescue, for what was promised. They lived in the land of promise, but lived a life of slavery as a result of time and again turning their backs on God and refusing to recognize Him as their provider and deliverer. Faltering when they demanded what they wanted, when they wanted it, in the time they deemed best-rather than the right time.  A pattern that began not long after they started their journey as freed slaves from Egypt.

"But the people grew impatient with the long journey, and they began to speak against God and Moses.  'Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in this wilderness?'  they complained.  'There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink.  And we hate this horrible manna!'"
Numbers 21:4-5

They despised and ignored what had been provided for them as gifts from His sustain them in the waiting.  The seemingly endless waiting was not something they had counted on or envisioned, so they doubted whether God Himself could be counted on.  Longing for what was not yet fully in view, they made new plans and settled many times for something far less.

"But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love.  You did not abandon your great mercy you did not abandon them to die in the wilderness.  The pillar of cloud still led them forward by day, and the pillar of fire showed them the way through the night.  You sent your good Spirit to instruct them, and you did not stop giving them manna from heaven or water for their thirst.  For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing.  Their clothes did not wear out, and their feet did not swell!"
Nehemiah 9:17, 19-21

The rest of this chapter in Nehemiah narrates the back and forth of a people who became comfortable and arrogant in the blessings provided them by a loving God. Who turned their backs on Him when the living was easy in the land He'd led them to, only to cry out in desperation for His rescue again in their time of trouble that always came after their rebellion.

"But in your great mercy, you did not destroy them completely or abandon them forever.  What a gracious and merciful God you are!"  Nehemiah 9:31

The angels start their whispering
About the One they're welcoming
No one knows what's soon to be
Angels start their whispering

They sing glory
In the highest
Come now our King
We've been
Come now our King."

(Come Now Our King~Chris August)

"But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.  God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children."  Galatians 4:4-5

Christmas is a reminder that God makes good on His promises.  God will fulfill His long appointed plans for us.  He is always working for His glory and our good. Even in the silence of waiting. Nothing is wasted in the waiting.

"God's way is perfect.  All the Lord's promises prove true.  He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.  For who is God except the Lord?  Who but our God is a solid rock?  God arms me with strength, and he makes my way perfect."  Psalm 18:30-32

So how do we wait?


"For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."  Ephesians 2:10

I may not fully understand in this moment of waiting what it is that God has prepared in advance for our family to do.  I may not know what the working out of the desires He's placed in our hearts will ultimately look like.  Though it's my hope, it may not involve being able to run up a stairway to calm the fears that may come in the night to a girl we long to bring home.

So what do I do with that?  How do I wait well in the silence?

I will choose to place my faith in His promises during the wait.  His promises can be trusted even if what we envisioned doesn't come to pass.

"Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart's desires.  Commit everything you do to the Lord.  Trust him, and he will help you.  He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.  Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act."  Psalm 37:4-7

I can trust the desires of my heart when they line up with His own.

"Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you."  James 1:27

What I can't trust is how my humanness attempts to come up with what those desires should look like in the here and now and in the timing I'd prefer.

"In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps."  Proverbs 16:9

I trust His promise that there are things He's prepared in advance for me to do...even when they are not fully in view.  I trust that He cares for me.  I trust that He cares for the one that I long to be a mom to. 

Please, God.  Let me be her mom?

The truth is, apart from Him, I could never be what she needs.  There is nothing in my own resources, strength or abilities that could ever meet her needs like that of her Heavenly Father.

" you alone do the orphans find mercy."  Hosea 14:3

I can't share her name here, but I can share the meaning of her name that has become so special to me in this period of waiting.  The name her birth mom gave her means "holy oil".  In Scripture, oil is recognized as a symbol of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has annointed me to bring Good News to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord's favor has come."  Luke 4:18

This very verse is the New Testament fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy in Isaiah 61:1 that those who had rebelled themselves into a life of slavery clung to as they returned to the Lord and waited for hundreds of years through His silence for Him to make good on His promise.  I trust that He has a plan for her future...even if that plan doesn't include her being here with us.  The reality is, we are already a part of that plan, even if she never knows who we are.  Her face, her name and her story have inserted themselves deep into our hearts and though she may never know it, we and others have been praying for her by name for quite some time now.  Though we wait in the silence, our requests on her behalf are being heard.

"There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off."  Proverbs 23:18

"Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we afirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise."  Hebrews 10:23

"This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.  It leads us through the curtain into God's inner sanctuary."  Hebrews 6:19

" quietness and trust is your strength...the Lord longs to be gracious to you, he will rise up to show you compassion.  For the Lord is a God of justice.  Blessed are all who wait for him!"
Isaiah 30:15, 18

I am most deceived when I interpret the waiting to mean that God is not good. It is in fact His goodness that sometimes brings us to periods of waiting.  In our waiting we learn that He is all that matters.  That His silence does not mean He is not near and at work.  If 400 years of silence culminated in the birth of Christ and His eventual death and resurrection, our only means of redemption and adoption as his children, can I not wait for one decade...watchng for that same Savior to show up in a miraculous way as we walk this journey of adoption today?  To shatter my perceptioms of what "should be" and open my eyes to what is?  My biggest fear is not that what I want will not come to be.  It is that I might get distracted by what I want and miss what He's already prepared in advance.  I do not want to merely exist in the land of promise, enslaved by my selfish desires, and miss out on the blessing of His provision and presence.

If He chooses to close this door, I will watch in hope for the Lord to shine a light on the path He's already laid.

"But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me...though I have fallen, I will rise.  Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light."  Micah 7:7-8

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take."  Proverbs 3:5-6

"You light a lamp for me.  The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness."  Psalm 18:19

"The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength."  Isaiah 58:11

"It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord."  Lamentations 3:26

Sunday, August 30, 2015

So long, Safe!

"Safe?  said Mr. Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  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
"For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting, and His faithfulness to all generations."
Psalm 100:5

Most of us could say we are creatures of comfort by nature.  If it contributes to our physical ease and well-being, we are the first in line.  We find safety in what can be carefully thought out and planned, when risks can be managed and collateral damage can be minimized or not exist all together... Maybe I'm fooling myself when I refer to "most of us" as being this way.  Quite honestly, if you took a look at my nuclear family, I am what my spunky grandmother probably would have referred to as a "fuddy-duddy".  I'm not sure what that means or even if it's a real word, but I'm pretty sure I am one.  On the other hand, my husband, Matt actually told me once while careening down a ski slope that if there's no potential of fatality or dismemberment, what you're doing can't really be classified as having fun.  (My descent was more of a cart-wheeling than careening after being talked into the black Colorado, people.)  My daughter, Hannah would like to go skydiving for her 18th birthday because I can no longer legally forbid it at that point, and my son, Sam thinks it's "safe" to dive headfirst into a pool as long as there's an adult present to dial 911 if he doesn't resurface.  This is what I have to compete with, folks. 

Below is the story of how God taught me that "safe" is not always "good", and that comfort is not what He calls me to. 

I'll never forget that text.  I remember where I was and what I was doing.  Something about it made me pause and take the time to grasp that it wasn't just a friend making a request, it was God asking our family to step outside our comfort zone and to be open to changing our lives forever.

A week later we met the girl who would move into our home within a month and into our hearts forever.  Our biggest mistake was thinking we were doing this for her.  God did this for her.  He did this for us.  And in the midst of it all, He grew our family in ways we might never have known we needed.  I hope one day Tatyana will share her story here.  For now, I'll share mine...

The last two years have been a lesson in letting go of comfort and predictability and instead embracing the uncomfortable, the at times awkward, even painful, and DEFINITELY the unpredictable.  Of greater importance though, these years have been a divine invitation to step outside what was safe, for what was good.

"When did we start believing God wants to send us to safe places to do easy things?  That playing it safe is safe?  That radical is anything but normal?  Jesus didn't die to keep us safe.  He died to make us dangerous.  Faithfulness is not holding the fort.  It's storming the gates of hell.  The will of God is not an insurance plan.  It's a daring plan.  And the complete surrender of your life to the cause of Christ isn't radical.  It's normal.  It's time to quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death."  ~Mark Batterson, All In

I am ALL ABOUT the comfort.  All.  About.  It.  The stillness of the house as I sit alone in my favorite chair with my coffee and watch the world wake up outside my window could probably be classified as one of my favorite moments of each day.  Also of note: I am a FAN of preparedness, quite possibly it's most faithful supporter.  I will not even proceed to the speaker at a drive-thru before all orders for those in the car are received and meticulously cataloged into my brain so I can reiterate them seamlessly to the faceless voice coming through the box.  (You're welcome.)  If my level of preparedness for going through the drive-thru at a fast food restaurant has such lofty standards, just imagine the amount of control and preparation I prefer to employ in situations of even greater consequence!  My comfort level in most situations (Okay, ALL situations.)  is directly proportional to the amount of control I can exert over my surroundings and circumstances.

For anyone who's ever had a house guest, especially one who walks through your door as a relative stranger, you know that comfort may not be the first word that describes your family's actions and interactions in those initial moments and days.  The perfect marriage, the perfect children, the perfect dog, the perfect meals--can all exist for a time, propped up as a facade against the real life backdrop of imperfections, disagreements, frustrations and meals from the frozen aisle at Walmart.  (Because it's soccer season and who has time to be Betty Crocker??  Am I right?!)  In order to maintain our sanity and to not slip into some robotic conformist, Stepford version of ourselves, and because we knew God was calling us all to something deeper, we knew Tatyana could not just be our long-term guest, she had to be part of our family.  If you asked, our kids would probably tell you that there are some benefits to being part of our family, but they'd also tell you there are plenty of boundaries.

So here's the thing about parenting a daughter who comes to you at 16...  I had no idea how to respond to someone who would tell me, in no uncertain terms, that she did what she wanted, when she wanted.  Up till this point, I'd somehow been able to fool myself into believing that I had some modicum of control over the children I'd raised from birth.  The idea that they "belonged" to me simply because we were legally bound together by a piece of paper and a set of genes gave me the false notion that I was somehow in control.  How was I to be a mom to someone who could walk out the door at any point she decided she'd had enough of us?  And still be safe.  That sounded like a dangerous kind of love.  A risky kind of love.  Would God really ask me to give my whole self to her as a mom, even if she never responded as a daughter?  Never recognized or valued the love behind the boundaries and structure?  He would.

So here's the thing about parenting...  No child who enters our sphere of influence ever truly belongs to us.  Nor do the relationships we form with them exist merely for our fulfillment.  Each is a gift, for a blink-of-an-eye moment in time, that God has entrusted to our care.  There are no givens.  There are no guarantees.  Just the directive to love them and lead them in such a way as to point them to a Heavenly Father.  Who just happened to give His whole self to them in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Offering up His life even to those who may never respond as a son or a daughter.  When we choose to step outside of what's comfortable, what's safe--to value the relationships we're given as God honoring opportunities to give up the blindness called self in order to truly see another--we reflect (though imperfectly!) God's own redemptive love for us.

Who could honestly raise their hand and excitedly shout, "Oooh!  Pick me!  Pick me!", when asked to leave their comfort zone?  You certainly wouldn't find me bouncing out of my chair.  It's so much easier to depend on myself, to control the controllable and to avoid the things that require something outside myself.  The things that could wreck me.  If an unrefined metal had a physical being to feel pain, or a soul to ache at a loss, it would not easily choose the refining fire that would burn away the impurities, leaving behind the precious metal of true worth.  It's the same with me.  I can't envision the perfection God is drawing me to.  I just see what I know, what I can predict.  But when I only surround myself with what's comfortable, I forfeit the heights to which God longs to bring me.  No growth happens where I'm comfortable.  Comfort doesn't provide the friction necessary to smooth the rough edges most prone to trip me up.  Comfort allows the growth of pride that so often tempts me to think that somehow I'm doing all right on my own.  The past two years have taught me to be brave enough to at least slip my hand up in hesitant surrender to the One who gave His all for me.  

Here's the best part.  When I've given up control.  When I've made myself available.  When I've said "yes" to His ask.  I'm no longer responsible for the outcome.  It doesn't depend on me.  It depends on Him.  The only thing He really asked of me was my obedience and the willingness to trust that He is good, even when the things He calls us to aren't safe.  The hardest parts of the past two years have come when I mistakenly thought it was up to me.  If I said the right thing, did the right thing, read the right thing...  Only God is in the business of changing hearts.  We are to be about the business of loving in the midst of the muck, the mess and the madness.  To empty ourselves in the loving, knowing He is faithful to fill.  "Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance."  1 Corinthians 13:7

"Humbly let go.  Let go of trying to do, let go of trying to control, let go of my own way, let go of my own fears.  Let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy's fire.  Leave the hand open and be.  Be at peace.  Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love and whisper a surprised thanks.  This is the fuel for joy's flame.  Fullness of joy is discovered only in the emptying of will.  And I can empty.  I can empty because counting His graces has awakened me to how He cherishes me, holds me, passionately values me.  I can empty because I am full of His love.  I can trust." ~Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

Counting His Graces

1.  I've been reminded of what a great partner my husband is.  He is everything that I am not in all the good ways.  Without him I am only half the equation.  I consider our relationship a place of refuge and refueling when we've spent ourselves on the things that matter to God.  I more highly value the "just us" times having been given a deeper understanding of how it makes for a better "them".

2.  I've gotten to watch as Hannah & Sam have given themselves completely to loving Tatyana as a sister.  Never once reserving a part of themselves.  Never once complaining of getting "less" of us.  Not simply enduring, but enjoying her as part of our family.  They've learned that a house is just a house, but a HOME is what we share with others because it's true value comes in it's sharing.

3.  Trials.  Yep.  Trials.  I love Ann Voskamp's quote above and how she refers to trials as the "oxygen for joy's fire".  There have been tears-the kind that wrack your body with sobs you can't control.  There have been late nights, sleepless nights, looong nights.  There have been loud arguments, there has been silence-the kind you tiptoe around because something might break if you don't.  We've been stretched.  She's been stretched.  She ran away.  I ran away.  BUT.  That was all the set-up for the joy to come.  And not just any old run-of-the-mill joy.  The fire of joy.  It's all consuming, it brings tears to your eyes, spilling over because you just can't contain it when you see the goodness of the Lord.  And speaking of...

4.  God allowed me the opportunity to have a front row seat in order to witness the softening of what was once hardened.  From the day we met her, Tatyana has always been this larger than life, center of the action, inquisitive, spirited and dynamic girl.  Those are things easily evident to anyone who's spent even a few minutes with her.  Beyond all that there was a wealth of beauty we'd sometimes catch glimpses of, just waiting to be let loose from deep within a heart that had over the years built a fortress around itself in order to survive.  Only God could have breached those walls.  And when He did, it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.  There is a beauty that goes way beyond skin deep that shines in her eyes now.

"I prayed to the Lord, and He answered me; He freed me from all my fears.  Those who look to Him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces."  Psalm 34:4-5

5.  My faith has been strengthened as I've watched His faithfulness to another as a result of obedience.  He did not call me to something I could do.  He called me to something He could do.

6.  Our family has expanded to include another.  Something we'd have never experienced were it not for God weaving our lives together in a way only He could do.  Our lives are richer today because we can share each other's joys and burdens.

7.  We are more prepared today than we were two years ago for whatever is next.  I know this, I trust this because God does not waste a single opportunity.  Those things that pass through His hand to touch our lives are sent by a loving Father who sees what we do not, who understands what we cannot and who knows what we need before we may even recognize our neediness.  We may not know what's next.  We may not know what it requires.  But we do know that when God is in the growing business, He's not growing us and stretching us to plop us back in our comfy chair. 
So long, Safe!

Holiness, not safety is the end of our calling." ~Lilias Trotter

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy Birthday, America! Well, sort of anyway...

I guess it all depends on whether you consider the birth of our nation to have occurred in 1765 upon the start of the American Revolution, when the American colonists rejected the authority of the British Parliament to tax them... Or in 1775 at the start of the American Revolutionary War... Orrrr in 1783 at the war's end with the signing of the peace treaty confirming the new nation's complete separation from the British Empire.

July 4, 1776 is actually a date tucked amidst all that upheaval and unrest on which the Declaration of Independence was signed by the Continental Congress declaring that the colonies were free and independent states.  So, I guess the argument could be, were we born as a nation when we declared we were?  Or when we actually were?  I digress...I may be losing some of you here.

Since when do you write a blog about history, Johanna?  Let's leave that to the professionals.

Anyway, that's not really the point I'm getting at here.  For the sake of argument (or non-argument?), let's just say today is our nation's birthday.  The birth of our freedom as a people from what once ruled over us.  The commencement of our staking a claim on our unalienable Rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  I was pondering on this today...In the Declaration of Independence these Rights are stated to have been endowed to us by our Creator.  This begs the assumption that we just possess these things by nature of them being given.  Yet, so much of what consumes our nation's attentions and efforts in recent weeks, months and years reflects more of a grasping for what's fleeting, what's just out of reach.

Life...I mean, that's fairly simple.  We have it.  Well, until we don't.  Liberty...mostly simple.  We have freedom...but in most cases, only so far as that freedom doesn't encroach upon another's freedom.  Now.  The pursuit of Happiness.  That sounds nice.  But fleeting, so temporary.  The idea of having to pursue it, to chase after it, to possibly never catch it.  To not just have been "endowed" with Happiness, only the pursuit of it, lends one to suppose that the Happiness referred to cannot simply be endowed.

One has to find it?..  Make it?..  Take it?.. 

Or maybe those who drafted this Declaration knew it's fatal flaw.  Life for one could be the death of another.  One man's freedom could be another's chains.  One woman's oppression could be another's security.  Ultimately, what brings happiness to one could cast a shadow of sorrow on another.  So they settled on the Right to pursue it, not the promise of attaining it.  I'm no historian.  Just a thinker of thoughts.

Don't misread my intent, I love my Country tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty.  But I am flawed. Our forefathers were flawed.  Their Declaration was flawed.  Our systems are flawed.  We are flawed.  So we pursue, but don't procure.  We grasp, but never gain.  All we can mirror here is but a mere, muddied reflection of what our citizenship elsewhere could be.

"So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."  John 8:36

When He declares us free, we are actually free.

"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."  Galatians 5:1

Which leads me here: One Man's chains actually meant my freedom.  Not just a freedom in which mine only reaches as far as yours begins.  But true freedom, one that endows me with eternal Life, Liberates me from being enslaved by my sinful desires, and sets in me a deep, abiding Joy that defies situation and circumstance and makes the pursuit of Happiness pale in comparison.  It's in the security of this freedom that I can choose, if necessary, to lay aside my unalienable Rights as a citizen of this world in order to experience a freedom this nation can only declare, never deliver.

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.  No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.  1 Corinthians 10:23

"But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit."  2 Corinthians 3:16-18

May I be more concerned with my response to the One who purchased my ultimate freedom than grasping for the rights and freedoms of this age that I'd gladly lay down in exchange for what was bought with a price no one else could ever pay.

"Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.  For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one."  Romans 12:1-3