Sunday, August 17, 2014

My life as a fortune cookie...

Sometimes the question arises at a church event, and sometimes at a birthday party, but on this particular day, the question popped up at Chickfila.  

"Is he your biological son?" 
Most people that see me with just Gabriel assume he has my dark hair, but when you sit his gorgeous brown skin next to his sisters', you tend to get a few questions.  I smiled at the sweet lady asking.  "Yes, he is my son, but no he isn't my biological child-we were blessed to adopt him. His birth mother is an amazing woman!"  Most often, the conversation will end there, but this particular lady continued, "Do you mind if I ask why you adopted him?"  This is the question that isn't so cut and dry.  Seeing as how we were in a noisy place and she had to get back to work soon, I gave her the simple answer: "We just really felt like the Lord called us to..." But my answer was followed up by a question I've not been asked before: "What exactly does that mean--that you were 'called' to adopt.  

Now that's a powerful question!

I didn't get to go into full detail in the limited amount of time we had to speak, but that woman's question has resonated in my head as I look back at how God has been writing our story...

You see, "once upon a time," I found myself on a very long journey.  I didn't know at the time that what I thought was the end of that road was actually a huge dip into a very long and winding path.  It's often better that way though, because perhaps if we were able to see every dark corner, every sharp turn, and every rocky terrain, we might not ever attempt the path that would ultimately lead us to where we are today.  The particular road I'm talking about is our road to becoming a family...

Years ago, on a day much like today, you could have easily found me in tears--the type of tears that come from deep within you and hurt just as much to let go of as they do to hold inside of you.  It wasn't a pretty place, and I certainly didn't always handle it as well as I should have.  But in those dark moments, the Lord was working.  He was using my pain to bring me to the place I would need to be to be able to accept what He knew my desires really were. My idea of expanding our family meant me getting pregnant, and yet, if the Lord would have allowed me my want, my plan, I would never have had my son in my arms--the child that my heart was longing for but that I had no idea would come to me in such a beautiful and unique way...but God knew, and so God worked.  He worked in Gabriel's birthmother's life to guide her to us; He worked in our family's lives to guide us to the agency that Rachel would choose; and He worked in the lives of so many dear family and friends who accompanied us on our journey in so very many different ways.  

But our journey didn't end there.  As we trusted in HIS perfect plan for our lives, God allowed a desire of our heart to come to fruition, and He revealed that to us exactly one year ago (I started this entry on August 15.)  On August 15, 2013, I found out that I was pregnant.  We were shocked, and humbled, and yes, a bit overwhelmed! But most importantly, we were reminded of God's goodness...not goodness because He did something that WE wanted.  No, goodness in a much more perfect way.  Let me try to explain...

A precious friend of mine offered to watch our kiddos one evening so that DH and I could go on a date.  We laugh at our "dates," because we usually spend them running errands for the kids, but we enjoy shopping together, and getting to sit through a nice dinner without any tantrums or interruptions and just focus on each other is so nice, and it's a needed time for us to recharge.  (As a side note, someone recently asked me if I had a job.  As I was responding, DH quickly interjected, "Oh yes!  She has a VERY full time job here at home!"  I'm so thankful for a husband who recognizes that I'm trying to accomplish what God has called me to do!) We went to one of our very favorite restaurants, and our dinner concluded with fortune cookies.  Now, I certainly don't put any stock in a fortune cookie, but I often find that the words inside that crunchy cookie resonate with me in some way, and this one did just that: 

"Good news is coming your way."

DH and I laughed about it a bit: I wonder if we will get a call that all of our recent medical debt has been forgiven?! I couldn't help but think of the fact that a year ago we certainly had received some very good news with finding out we were expecting Annie.  But the more I reflected on "good" news coming my way, the more I realized how good news is a lot like a fortune cookie--we envision it neatly packaged like a perfectly shaped cookie, but to be able to receive what's inside, we have to break that cookie, and just like you can see in the picture of my cookie, it often crumbles.  You see, when I think of the miracle of finding out we were expecting Lucy, I can't help but think of the cancer the doctors found in my husband's body just months before that "good" news, or my daddy's passing just months after learning of that "good" news.  And when I think of the incredible joy of bringing Gabriel into our home, I can't help but think of the grief his birthmother has endured.  And when I think of the "good" news of Annie being added to our family, I can't help but think of all of the stresses that were surrounding our family in the months leading up to such "good" news.  These things come to mind, because I am reminded how easily we allow trials to change our perception of God.  We say, "God is good!" when a friend is healed from cancer.  We say "God is so good!" when someone lands a new and exciting job.  We say, "God is so good!" when we get pregnant after years of trying.  Basically, we say, "God is good!" when He allows into my life what I consider to be good.  BUT, God's goodness is not measured by MY standards, and it is not based upon MY desires, and it is certainly not in need of MY approval!  

What if His goodness IS a cancer diagnosis that will draw someone closer to Christ?  

What if God's goodness IS a difficult job that leaves us dependent on Him for strength and financial provisions?

What if God's goodness IS in a couple's struggle with infertility by them not experiencing the heartbreak of a possible miscarriage, or it bringing about the ability to soften their heart towards their true calling to adopt, or in them having the time to invest in children who desperately need a mother and father figure in their lives?

Isaiah 55:8-9 says this:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts."

This means that God's ways are beyond what I can comprehend.  But just because I cannot comprehend it does not change the fact that He IS good, all the time.  No, His goodness does not rest on my approval.  However, His goodness is felt when I will surrender to His ways and lay down my own.  His goodness exists even when I cannot see it, but oh, how He desires for me to experience it!  L.B. Cowman once said that "The best things in life are the result of being wounded...And it is a broken heart that pleases God."

That long journey that I was on that was filled with so much heartache?  It taught me dependance and trust and satisfaction in the Lord my God; it allowed me to experience the comfort of my Saviour; it broadened my view of His faithfulness;  and, it now echos of the goodness of my Lord.

So when you hear me say that "God is good" when I'm referring to something exciting going on in our lives, or when I'm rejoicing with someone else in exciting news of their own, please don't confuse what I'm saying. I don't mean that He is only good by my own standards. I really do believe He is good all the time-in those happy times, and in those sad times, and yes, even when my world seems to be falling a part into pieces.  So, I'm not sure what "good news" may be coming my way this week, but I pray that I can respond with praise, even if the cookie crumbles...

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What's in YOUR backpack??

It's summertime, which means camp time for many kiddos.  I remember when I was in 4th grade, I was all set to go to my very first camp.  However, out of all of the camps in California that I was going to go to, mine found itself as the epicenter of a pretty major earthquake the night before I was supposed to leave for camp.  So, obviously, camp didn't happen that year.  I did get to experience a different camp, Camp Cherith, the following year though.  I think I probably enjoyed the idea a camp a whole lot better than the art of actually being at camp, but it was a neat experience nonetheless. 

Our kids obviously aren't old enough to attend camp (thank goodness! I am SO not ready for that!), but there are still ways to get them in on the fun. One thing our church does for the preteen campers is fill backpacks with snacks, gifts, and notes for each child. Lucy really wanted to fill a backpack, so she grabbed one on her own and proudly brought it home for us to fill. We went and did our shopping, and then Lucy worked very hard on making her own cards to place in the backpack for our camper. Now, I realize I'm a bit bias, but Lucy really does make the sweetest cards. On one of them she wrote, "I love you!" in vibrant colors, and the word "love" was replaced with a big heart. She showed me her work of art and I said, "Lucy, this is really great, but don't you think it's kind of odd for you to say 'I love you' to this girl since you don't even know her?" And that's when my precious girl's heart shined through just as vibrantly as the colors she used to draw one. She responded, "Yes...But I know if I DO meet her, that I WILL love her!"

 Wow. Such a profound statement from my little girl!  In John 13:34-35, we read this:
"A new command I give you: Love on another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

One of the things that I love so dearly about Lucy is how deep her emotions run.  When she feels something, she feels it with every ounce of her being!  Now, this can certainly present some challenges in parenting her (like dealing with how upset she gets when she gets in trouble) but it can also bring a lot of joy in watching her heart feel so deeply for others.

Am I willing to love with that kind of abandon?  Sadly, I think I'm often more worried about how the other person may respond: What if they reject me?  What if they take me the wrong way?  What if they don't love me back?  A friend on FB recently posted this quote from a movie:
"How am I supposed to show love to somebody, over and over and over, who constantly rejects me?" I was reminded of how we are not called to love because of how it makes us feel, but we are called to love because that's what God's commanded of us.  I show love to others because I love Jesus!  

I have several chalkboards throughout our home that I typically write scriptures on.  I recently changed our cross chalkboard to show the fruits of the spirit.  As a momma to 3 energetic blessings, I can easily get frazzled, so one thing I've been praying is that the Lord would help me to respond to my children with the fruits of the spirit.  Am I showing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and SELF-CONTROL in my responses to them?  When Lucy spills her drinks for the second time in one afternoon, do I lovingly help her clean it up?  When Gabriel is kicking at me because he doesn't want to go down for his nap, do I speak to him in gentle words to help calm him?  When Annie cries every time I try to put her down, do I patiently tend to her?  It's my prayer that I truly show my kids these fruits of the spirit, not to gain any kind of number one mom award, but to bring glory to my Father.  My job as a mother is to show Christ's love to my children.  Am I selflessly doing that in every way possible?  I guess I have to take a look at my own "backpack" that I carry around and ask myself what I'm trying to fill it with.  Am I filling it with tools that will build me up and help me succeed in life, or am I filling it up with things that can be poured out onto others? 

As summer will soon be drawing to a close, we find ourselves shopping for a different kind of backpack--one that our kids will carry on their backs each day as they head off to school.  If you follow me on facebook, you know we've been on the hunt for a FROZEN backpack with a matching lunchbox.  (Store clerks almost have flat out laughed at us when we've asked if they have them in stock!  I have awesome FB friends though who helped us get Lucy hooked up with some sweet frozen swag;-) Even though the purpose of this backpack is to carry necessary items to and from school each day, I pray that Lucy's great ability to show love will be the main item she carries with her every single day, and that as they see her enter into her school, Frozen backpack in tow, they will recognize a disciple of Christ.

So, what about you?  When people look into your "backpack," do they see the evidence of a disciple of Christ?  Oh, how I pray that I am found putting on LOVE with everything that I do, just like my little Lucy!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Climbing my mountain...

As a child of the 80's, there are very specific things I remember: Cabbage Patch Kids, My Little Pony, and Psalty the Singing Song Book. I loved music from a very early age, and my dad's work at the time took us on several long car trips. I remember many trips sitting in the back of our Nissan stanza wagon with my favorite yellow blanket underneath me, a doll in my lap, some my little pony toys scattered in front of me, and my arms lifted high to the praise music blaring from the car stereo.  One of my very favorite Psalty albums was the Camping Adventure.  As a child, we only had the cassette tape, but after Lucy was born I learned they had put them on DVDs, and we now own this particular Psalty DVD (from 1984!) Gabriel has recently become very interested in "PSALTY!" as he excitedly voices wanting to watch the DVDs, and the camping adventure one has been played pretty frequently in our home this past week. One of the songs on the DVD refers to how climbing a mountain is done one step at a time, and when we have Jesus by our side, we can accomplish anything.
Well, we haven't been climbing any actual mountains in our house this week, but living in a two story house, we have been climbing plenty of STAIRS.
 If any of you live in a two story home, then I imagine you know the struggle of getting your children to go upstairs by themselves. Truth be known, if we've been away from our home, I don't like to go up the stairs by myself after we return either. My mind always wanders to that worst case what-if. But the Lord began speaking to my heart during my pregnancy with Lucy that I was to "Live in faith and not fear." So, I suppose it is fitting that Lucy is needing her mommy to mirror that lesson to help her face her own fears.  I often ask her to go take something up stairs, and it is always met with a fearful response: "I don't want to; I'm scared." Well, on Facebook this week, I saw that a friend of mine was having the same type of conversation with her son. Rather than argue with him that there was nothing to be afraid of, she encouraged him to face his fear, and if he would, she would make him a bravery award. I wasn't sure that this would work with Lucy, but I figured it wouldn't hurt anything to try. So when she told me last night that she was afraid to go upstairs, I said, "I tell ya what, Lucy. If you'll go upstairs and put your things away, I'll make you a certificate for being so brave!"  This really intrigued Lucy, and it got her mind on her bravery award and off the fact that she hates going upstairs by herself. She came downstairs very excited to see how we were going to create her award. She picked the paper out and instructed me that I was to use crayons.  After I finished, I placed it on the fridge and told her to go have a look.
She seemed pleased with it, but she brought it to me and said, "But mommy, why did you give this to me? What I did wasn't brave. Being brave is when you climb a really high mountain or something like that. I just went up the stairs."  I smiled at her and looked her in the eye and said, "Oh no, Lucy. Being brave means all sorts of things. It means conquering your fears, and that can be anything. And that's exactly what you did-you faced your fear! You were afraid to go up the stairs, but you did it anyway!"

You may remember a post I wrote about being "brave" the day after Gabriel was born.  The adoption process can truly find you facing all sorts of fears: What if the adoption agency won't approve you? What if the caseworker doesn't think your house is clean enough? What if a Birthmother never chooses you? What if the Birthmother changes her mind?  What if the birthfather comes back before the 30 days is up? What if your post placement visits don't go well? What if...???  Some of these fears can seem as silly to some as being scared of a monster hiding in the closet upstairs, but some of them can be very, very real. But when the Lord called us to adopt, He called us to be brave, and that meant facing every single one of our fears, big or small, realistic or not.  And while we didn't literally climb to the top of a very tall mountain through our adoption process, the end result is almost like being able to look down at all of the twists and turns we experienced to get to where we are today. In fact, I think the same could be said of any fear we face in our lives...  

Like when DH was diagnosed with cancer...

Like when we didn't know if we would ever have children...

Like when my father passed away unexpectedly...

Like when the doctor told us something was wrong with one of our children...

Like when family and friends close to us lost a child...

Some of these fears seem much bigger than others, but big or small, God asks us if we are willing to lay those fears at His feet and allow Him to give us the strength to face them, and then watch Him make something beautiful from them.

...Perhaps Lucy wasn't so far off in saying being brave is when you climb a mountain, but maybe she just didn't understand that the view isn't always portrayed as rocky terrain.  Sometimes it's seen as a leap of faith, sometimes it's seen as a fist willing to loosen its grip, and sometimes it's seen in simply climbing up the stairs... 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Less is more...

I think one of the biggest fears in my life is failure. Because of this, I will often not even attempt certain things out of the fear that I MIGHT fail. I think it stems from certain childhood experiences I had before I understood what failure even was...

I remember being placed in the lowest level reading group in 1st grade.
There were four different groups, and they each had names.  The best group was the butterflies--what little girl doesn't want to be a butterfly? But Miss Brian put me in the ant group--the ugly, brown ant. I worked so very hard to get out of that group, and at the end of the year I was supposed to get an award for my reading because I had improved so drastically.  (I don't say this to give myself any kind of accolade because my mother worked extremely hard with me to help me with my reading.) However, politics won out, and because my mom wore pants and was probably not going to be allowed into heaven because of that, they gave the award to a church member.  (You think I'm joking, but they really had issues with my mom wearing jeans!)  To a 1st grader, all you understand from that is that you weren't good enough.  Failure.

In 2nd grade, I can remember taking a math quiz and getting it back to discover I had failed it. I didn't even know what a failing grade was until then, and it embarrassed me so much.  From then on, I told myself I was no good at math. Failure.

I begged and begged my parents to let me take piano lessons as a little girl, but they were told by someone that my fingers were too short and stubby to make a good pianist, so they resisted for quite some time on allowing me to take lessons.  Failure.

But academics were nothing compared to my total failure at anything with athletics. To this day, I absolutely detest basketball, probably because when I tried to play, I was laughed at so much by the other players. I was completely humiliated. Failure.

In junior high, I decided I was going to become a runner. I remember some girls I was running with laughing at me afterwards and telling me how awful I was at running. Failure.
But quite possibly the biggest feeling of failure was when DH and I tried to expand our family. My body felt broken, as it was unable to do what it was "supposed" to do. Failure...

Well, though I'm certainly no book worm now, reading is no longer a struggle. I read constantly as a child and I think that's what helped me develop such a love for writing. 

And no, I will never win the Van Cliburn, but the Lord softened my parents' hearts to allow me to take lessons, and through that gift I learned how to express myself through music.

You definitely won't ever find me tutoring anyone in math now, but with an extreme amount of work I made A's in all of my college math courses (although you would be shocked if you knew how many HOURS I spent daily studying for those classes. Big shout-outs go to Em and Aunt April for their help!) 

There's no cinderella story for me to tell you about basketball. They say white men can't jump though, so I'll just blame this one on genetics;) 
And running? People still probably laugh at me when they see me training, but I have ran 5ks, 10ks, and have completed several sprint triathlons. I would never consider myself an actual athlete, and I would be lying if I told you those girls' voices don't often haunt me when I find myself breathless during a run and having to take a walking break. 

And as for expanding our family...the Lord had such better plans for that than our dreams could have ever reached for. When I look at my three children and see how The Lord brought each of them into our arms in such unique ways, I'm filled with such a sense of humbled awe that He would choose me to be their mother. 

I don't share all of this with you to portray a "woe as me" attitude or to try to get a bunch of compliments.  I share this with you to give you a small picture of how I have often lived my life with an attitude of total defeat.  I have found myself feeling so "less than" from everyone else. I have so often felt not good enough. But you know what finally helped me turn my failure into victory?  When I stopped trying so hard to succeed. You see, I AM incapable, but I am so thankful now that I'm incapable!  Because when I realize how weak I truly am, I finally can begin to take the focus off of ME and place it on the One who is more than capable.  "When I am weak, THEN am I made strong..."

I would be lying if I told you that my life is a breeze right now.  Don't get me wrong-I am so thankful for this season of life as a wife and momma and minister alongside my husband.  But every day, I fight the voice in my head that tells me what a failure I am. When my house is a wreck and the laundry is piling up; when I snap at my husband or speak in a harsh tone to my kids; when I can't make it past the buggy section of the grocery store before having to turn around and leave because my child is throwing a fit; when I'm so exhausted I can't get my workout in... Failure.  But through Him? oh, through my Jesus I am MORE than conquerors!  Through Him I am whole and I am victorious!  Truly, I am thankful that I am incapable; I am thankful I am less than, because that is when I discover how I am so much more than, through Jesus my King...