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


  1. Hi, Johanna--This is Lori--I played volleyball with Matt last fall and he posted this. Just wanted to say how beautifully expressed these thoughts were. I love your heart for God and your children.

  2. Johanna, thanks for another radical glimpse into your experiences and the refining God is doing thru got a gift my friend...and not just for translating experiences into words but being able to create a window and a mirror for us simultaneously! Love you blessed to witness some of the journey with y'all