Category Archives: Faith

How do you do it…?

(Sharing my top-read post in two years, my very first post!)

 

“How do you do it?”

This is probably the question that is asked the most.

“How do you decide to adopt five siblings all at once?”

My only true answer is, “by the grace of God.” God is orchestrating this story, not us. We are only trying to obey in this crazy journey of love. Selfless love. Love as a verb. Agape.

How? How did I end up writing this story? When did buying bananas three bunches at a time become normal? I almost forget that just a short time ago this would have seemed absurd had someone told me that I would be doing these things today.

But as I reflect, if someone had told me 10 years ago that an unknown janitor would lead me, a die-hard atheist, back to church, and that I would come to believe with all my heart that the Lord Almighty is the creator of Heaven and Earth, and that I myself, by the grace of God, would be given the gift of the Holy Spirit driving my heart for His Kingdom, I would have thought they were crazy! When did it become possible that I would be thought worthy enough to be called a Child of God, much less a mother to nine children? How did this happen? But isn’t that how journeys are? Hindsight is always 20/20. At the start of a new journey you can’t see where the road will end. You don’t even realize the lessons you are learning until you look back.

As I look back, I see the lessons that I am learning that surround this Greek word, “agape”. Agape is defined as “selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love, the highest of the four types of love in the Bible.” As John tells us in 1 John 4:8b: God is love. It’s as simple and as hard as that. God is love. We are called to love. We are called to agape. And agape has nothing to do with emotion. It’s not the warm, fuzzy feeling you have for your loved one (although that can accompany it). It is a deliberate action. It is a choice. It is a principle we try to live our lives around. Selfless love in action.

Whatever gift you have been given, use it. Whatever talents you have, employ them. Whatever you have been blessed with, use it to bless others. Do your part. Live with purpose. Love deliberately. Take a leap of faith! Stretch yourself! TRUST GOD! Know that God is with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. -2 Timothy 1:7

BE BOLD!

Stretch yourself and give thanks in all things, ALL things, the good and the bad. It is often through suffering that we are shaped and molded into who God is calling us to be. This process is not always easy. It asks us to move beyond our comfort zone.

Is this achieved by living in our own little bubble, predictable and perfectly planned, safe, isolated and surrounded by others who think and act exactly as we do? Or are we more like Christ when we are asked to stretch ourselves and we are called to reach out to someone who is different? Someone who may have dirty hands, or torn clothes, or smells of booze? Are we more like Christ when we are asked to tuck in our own child at bed tonight, or when we are pushed beyond our comfort level to tuck in a child at night that is not ours and may not even appreciate our hug goodnight?

And when? When do we make this leap of faith? When do we accept the calling that God has for us? When we have it all together? Right after we finish having children? After the house is sold? When we graduate? As soon as we pay off our debt? Let me say – there will never be the perfect time! God’s time is the perfect time. Listen to what He is telling you. Ask Him to clue you in. He promises that if we sincerely ask, we will receive, if we seek, we shall find, if we knock, the door will be opened (Luke 11:9).

And then we have to trust and obey. We have to remember that if He brings you to it, He will bring you through it. God does not fail. I am reminded of the story of the apostles being persecuted for performing miracles and preaching about Jesus. They are brought before the Sanhedrin to explain why they continue to preach about Jesus when they have been forbidden to do so. As the Pharisees are discussing the situation amongst themselves, one Pharisee very astutely reminds them all that if the apostles actions are of men, they will eventually fail, but if they are truly from God, then they will never fail.

But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God. — Acts 5:39

I never want to fight against God. I have opened myself up to God’s perfect plans, instead of my own. I have asked God to use me in whatever way He has planned. I want to be His hands and feet in this world. I want to love as He loves. He has faithfully shown me the path to these five children. I would never have put myself here, but as I look back over all the years I see the pattern emerging. I can begin to connect the dots.

Does this mean that it’s easy? NO! Does it mean that I am always at peace with His plans for my family? Absolutely not! Does it mean we have it all figured out, nice and neat, with a ten-year plan? I wish! But I am comforted with the fact that Jesus himself pleaded with His Father at Gethsemane before His terrible suffering on the cross, “Father – if there is any other way!” (Matthew 26:39) God is big enough to handle my doubts, my questions, my fears. He tells me to cast my anxieties on Him (1 Peter 5:7). And that is what I am learning to do.

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I often find myself repeating, sometimes several times a day, “God, I am trusting You when I remember Your promise that You work all things for the good of those who love you.” So as I break up yet another fight over who gets control of the mega nerf gun I again pray this prayer, “God, make this work for the good of all these boys here. Turn this fighting into something that will benefit them all in the end. May these grumblings work to bring about an eternal knowledge of selflessness, sharing, unconditional love of others – agape.”

I remind myself that, IF WE LET HIM, He can take all things and work them for good. He doesn’t need us to be perfect. He doesn’t want us when we have it all together. He wants us now. He wants us to ask, to be willing, to participate. He wants us to start moving so that he can push us along a little more, a little further. He wants us to love as an action. As James tells us in the Bible, faith without deeds is dead. Love as a verb. Agape.

I went into this adoption with the mindset that I was rescuing these little ones for God’s kingdom, but the truth is, they are rescuing me. Rescuing me from my own selfishness, my own desires, my own pursuit of happiness and turning my heart towards His Kingdom, His desires, His righteousness.

And so to answer, “How do you do it?”

The answer would be,

“I don’t. God does.”

It is truly only through His love that has been poured into my heart, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that I am able to pour that love back into the lives of His children. (Romans 5:5).

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and he will make your paths straight. — Proverbs 3:5

Not me, but Him…

From childless by choice, to father of eight

Stunning truth is, my husband didn’t want kids when we first met. I was a single mother when we started dating, and when the subject would come up about wanting children, he always said he didn’t have a huge urge to have children.  He enjoyed spending time with my daughter and as our relationship grew, so did his relationship with her, but he remained convinced that having solely my daughter as our only child would be perfectly fine with him.

I kept trying to explain to him the wonders of being a parent. The wonders of watching a child grow from a tiny newborn into a toddler, into a child, and so on. He was not convinced. He was fine with the status quo.

He had no desire for children.

Yet, I did. After marrying my husband, I desired to fill our home with as many children as the good Lord would bless us with. Thankfully, my husband decided to venture out with me and considered the possibility of one more child. I was ecstatic to learn that I was pregnant with a baby boy.

Once pregnant, I told my oldest daughter that we were thinking about having a baby. To my surprise, she was less than thrilled. She was 11 at the time and perfectly happy being the only child. I tried to convince her with questions such as, “wouldn’t it be exciting to have a sibling around to hang out with?” – NO. “Your mom and stepdad won’t be young forever, don’t you want a sibling closer to your age to visit when you are older?” –NO. I finally had to tell her that it wasn’t her choice and we were just preparing her for the fact that a baby was indeed coming, whether she liked it or not. But I was worried.

Will the baby be accepted?

Will the baby be loved?

Isn’t it amazing how God seems to use the most unlikely people to get the job done? There’s countless examples of this in the Bible. There are lots of lists like the one below floating around the internet:

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These are powerful reminders of the truth.  That God loves EACH of us. He has a plan for each one of us. No matter who you are, you have a part to play in this world. Which is why we should never look down on anyone. This is why God tells us to love our enemies. Because you know who else loves our enemies?  God.

So as I ponder the meaning of Christmas, it makes perfect sense to me that God would send His son wrapped as a vulnerable baby in the lowliest place imaginable to be born. Because even those looked down on in the world as the lowest, are still valuable in His eyes.

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Our God sent His son to save everyone. He loves each of us. He heals the sick and wounded. He resurrects the dead and breathes life into them. He is the God of impossible. He is the God of restoration. He is the God of redemption.

He turns men who desire no children, and little girls who desire no siblings, into the father of eight and the sister to seven.

Merry Christmas

from my family to yours!

Traditions can be tricky…

Growing up in a Catholic home, I was steeped in religious tradition. Going to mass every week meant you followed many, many traditions. Stand up. Sit down. Make the sign of the cross. Bless yourself with Holy water as you leave, etc. etc. For the longest time, I equated these traditions with God.

But God is SO MUCH MORE than these traditions!

I am not knocking the Catholic church, please don’t think that.  However, for me personally these traditions became a stumbling block to me in a way.  It was so repetitious. Repeating the same words every week and the same prayers every week made my mind numb. My mouth could speak the words of the prayer, but my mind was a million miles away.

There is nothing wrong with traditions, necessarily, so long as they don’t become a stumbling block. So long as they don’t replace the relationship piece. So long as we don’t hold them over people’s heads and believe that our tradition is the only right tradition.

Moving around a lot over the years has meant that my family has had to change churches several times. It is always a journey to find the right church in a new city. For me, it has really brought to light the immense differences that can be seen throughout churches in our country, despite all believing in the core basics of doctrine. Each church does things a little differently. Each denomination does things a little differently.

It’s funny, we went from attending a denominational church that believed in the gift of tongues to a different denominational church that forbid the use of this gift in its church. HA!  I can’t stop thinking about this irony.  I honestly have never been given this gift myself, and it was almost a stumbling block for us in that first church that believed in this. However, we did a lot of reading about it in the Bible (it’s certainly there!) and we continued to feel the presence of God moving in a powerful way in this church, and so we made it our church home.   Yet, we knew that speaking in tongues, or not speaking in tongues, really was not what the point was. JESUS was the point, and so when we found our new church that forbid this, we laughed a little at the irony and then continued to ask ourselves, “do we feel the presence of God in this church?”

Because in the end, it’s not about traditions. It is not about the man-made rules. It is all about Jesus and what He has done for us. It is all about our personal, growing relationship with the Creator of the world. It is all about LOVE.

Jesus was actually confronted and asked what was the greatest commandment to follow.  His answer was not, “say this prayer three times every day and make sure you speak in tongues (or don’t speak in tongues).”

No, his answer was SIMPLE.

Love God.

Love others.

It’s as easy and as hard as that.

And when we complicate the message, when we lay down rules for people to follow, when we look down on others for doing things differently then us, then we are doing a huge disservice to the world. I can hear Paul exhorting us, “People – this is NOT how it should be. One says I am a Catholic. One says I am a Lutheran. One says I am a Methodist. NO, NO, NO!  We are all ONE in Christ. We are all to follow Jesus. That’s it.”

One of my favorite books, “Accidental Pharisees” by my old Pastor Larry Osborne has some wonderful truths throughout. One particular great passage says:

“Those of us who have a bent toward a rigid and rule-based expression of our faith tend to judge and condemn those who don’t follow our rules or match up to our standards. At times we can wonder if they are genuinely saved. Meanwhile those of us who consider these rules and standards unnecessary tend to look with disgust and contempt upon those who insist on keeping them. We chalk them up as uptight and narrow-minded. According to Paul’s exhortation, both responses are dead wrong.” (Romans 14-15)

I will be the first to admit that I have stood on both sides of that fence, as the accuser on each side, as well as the condemned on each side. And none of it feels good. None of it is what Jesus desired. No, my friends. What Jesus desired is for us NOT to place stumbling blocks in our brother’s way. Jesus desired for us to keep it focused.

Love God.

Love others.

Keep it simple.

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Bearing with one another…

I’ve been pondering 1 Corinthians 13. Those famous verses most often read at weddings, “Love is patient, love is kind…”

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and that verse keeps running through my mind…

 

BEARS ALL THINGS

I googled the definition of “bear” and the Cambridge Dictionary gives a few definitions of “bear” as a verb, the most applicable here I believe are the following:

“to carry or bring something”

“to hold or support something”

“to accept something painful or unpleasant with determination and strength”.

We are to bear ALL things, not just the things that are easy, or that we want to bear with. In fact, this last definition above points to the need to bear with things when they are painful or unpleasant. Even the first two definitions point to the need for help. Carrying, holding or supporting is helping.  When the going gets tough we are called to bear with each other. We are called to bear ALL THINGS. When things are bad, we are to continue to have hope. When something is painful we are called to endure. When we are faced with unpleasantness we are asked to accept it and continue to love.

 When life is hard and people are ugly and we are so tired, we are asked to continue to move forward with determination and strength.

Why?

Because LOVE NEVER FAILS.

Jesus never gave up on us.

And we are expected to follow in His example.

Bear with your neighbor, your child, your husband, your mother, your friend, the stranger at the doctor’s office. Bear with the sales clerk at the store who is learning her new position painfully slow and offer her a smile and a reassuring statement. Bear with the old lady struggling to get her groceries out to the car and help her. Bear with your child who is having their fifth tantrum of the day and continue to offer your love and support to her. Bear with your teenaged son who just screamed at you that you don’t know anything and do not hold a grudge against him, but continue to love him. Bear with your neighbor who just lost their house in a fire and offer them a place to go, some warm clothes and food. Because we are asked to love and love bears all things.

A very convicting sermon I heard a long time ago revolved around these verses.  It was such a simple, yet powerful exercise. I will leave it here for you to ponder.

Take this powerful passage that describes true love and remove the word “love” and replace it with your name. How do you measure up to each of these statements of what love is?

4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

  • I am patient, I am kind and not jealous
  • I do not brag and I am not arrogant
  • I do not act unbecomingly
  • I do not seek my own, am not provoked, do not take into account a wrong suffered
  • I do not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoice with the truth
  • I bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.

Wow…That’s a tough list, isn’t it?  I wish I could say that each of those statements is true all of the time. Unfortunately, I am human and I am not always loving. It is hard to be all of these descriptions of love all of the time. Does that mean I throw up my hands in the air and say “forget it?” NO!  It means I keep trying, every day, every minute, to mold my behaviors to look more like Jesus. And I am thankful that he has given me the model to know what true love looks like — he bore the ultimate sacrifice for us, selflessly. He clearly showed us what true love looks like. I pray that we can all strive to be a little more like Jesus every day.

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Gifts

He is your good father. He wants to give you good gifts. He wants the best for you. He loves you always and forever and that will never change.

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I was thinking of these verses as I was wrapping presents for my children last night. A local store was going out of business and I was excited to buy some toys at a nice discount, especially those Legos that never seem to go on sale! However, as I was sorting the presents to wrap I realized that there were too many. In my excitement I had gone overboard.

I have scaled back on gift giving to our children over the last 21 years of parenting. Honestly, as I began my parenting journey I wasn’t even a believer and so Christmas, in a weird way, was all about the gifts. Slowly over time as my heart has been softened, I’ve felt a desire to reign in the true reason for the season with my family. So this brings me back to the point of too many gifts. Santa does come to our home and he brings each child three gifts, just as Jesus was given three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh when he was visited by the Wise Men.

I know that when it comes to receiving gifts my children would think, “the more the better”. I am sure their prayer to me would be, “please give me all the toys my heart desires.” And I want to! I want to shower them lavishly with everything they could ever want. It was hard for me to look at that pile of toys on the table and know that I would need to save some of those for a later date. Yet, I will. Because even though they may ask me for every toy in the store, as their loving parent I know that’s not what they need. I know that would not be beneficial or helpful for them. So I will not give them this desire, even if I could. Even though they asked for many presents,  they are just children and they don’t always understand what they need.

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And so it is with our Father in Heaven. He knows better than I what I need. His ways are higher than my ways. His thoughts are higher than my thoughts. I can’t even explain to you how the wind blows or how a child is formed in a mother’s womb, but He does all of these things and more. So I trust that He is a good father. I trust that if I ask sincerely, I will receive. At the same time though, I keep in the back of my mind that what I ask for isn’t necessarily what I might need at that time.

Because honestly, sometimes my prayers aren’t answered the way I want them to be. Sometimes I am left to wonder, “Why?”

But I still trust Him and His promises.

He promises that He loves us eternally. He promises that He has prepared a place for us in Heaven for those who hope in Him. He promises that we are adopted into His family with all the rights and honor that come with being called a Child of God. He promises to work all things for the good of those who love Him. He promises the gifts of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience,  kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He is the ultimate gift!

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I am going to cling tight to His promises this Christmas season. I am going to look forward to the promises of his gifts. He is a good father. He loves me more than anyone and He desires to give me the best gifts ever, even if I don’t understand that at the time of the gifting. He is the ultimate gift and His gifts are always for my good.

Make sure it’s not last night’s pizza talking

About ten years ago, shortly after finding my way back to church after many years as a stubborn atheist, I remember hearing a sermon from my Pastor Larry Osborne of North Coast Church . He was talking about finding God’s will for your life. He said something that struck me as both funny and confusing at the same time.  He warned about evaluating when you are feeling the calling of God. He said something like, “make sure that what you are feeling isn’t actually just rumblings in your belly from the pizza you had last night.”

Everyone laughed, including me, but I remember thinking about that for a long time and here I am today still thinking about that 10 years later.

Back then I remember feeling like I didn’t quite understand what he was saying. Now that I look back I realize that’s because I didn’t relate to having this urging of God telling me to do something and needing to evaluate that. I honestly had never felt those urgings in my life up to that point. And to be honest, part of the reason why I never felt those urgings from God was because I believe I never sincerely asked for that.

I never sincerely asked God wholeheartedly to point me to where He wanted me to be.

It wasn’t until 10 years later when my faith had grown a whole ton that I truly began to pray those types of prayers earnestly. God use me to reach the brokenhearted. God mold me to be more like You. God I want to be your hands and feet in this world, show me where I am needed.

It can be really scary to pray those types of prayers sincerely. Where will He need me? What would He have me do? Will I be up to the task? What if I don’t want to do it?

Once I was led to the path of adopting my children I began to understand what my pastor had been teaching that day 10 years ago. He was explaining the deep discernment that takes place when you are about to make life changing decisions.

Is this truly God’s will, or is this just last night’s pizza talking to me?

Honestly for our adoption journey, it took a lot of sincere prayer, thought, and time to discern God’s will. It was not something we immediately felt we knew the answer to for sure.

As I described in my post the battle, it was honestly a heart wrenching decision for me in the end. This was so confusing to me because I felt so strongly convicted in the beginning. But journeys weave us through many mountains and valleys. I went from a high mountain into a deep valley and it was only through serious prayer that I was finally 100% sure that God wanted me to continue on this adoption path. He did not want me to fear. He wanted me to be brave.

So what is that 10 step plan to ensure that it is God’s will and not the pizza talking? I wish it were that easy! The only thing I can say is that He wants us to ask Him. He desires our communication with Him. He loves when we pour our heart out to Him like a child to a Father.  He tells us if we sincerely ask, He will answer. If we knock, the door will open. (Matthew 7:7-8, Luke 11:9-10).

He is just a prayer away, my friend!

 

Whatever you do, just don’t lose heart!

“One million reasons why, you shouldn’t even try.
After all you’re just one heart, a single candle in the dark.
And there are shadows here, feeding on your fears,
That you don’t have what it takes – who are you to make a change?”

“Whatever you do, just don’t look back.
Oh somebody needs the light you have.
Whatever you do, just don’t lose heart.
Keep on pushing back the dark,
Keep on pushing back the dark.”

Our adoption journey began June 2014 with our first hosting trip.  Two years, four hosting trips to the US, and two international trips to Eastern Europe later, and we can FINALLY say THEY HAVE A FOREVER FAMILY! None of it was easy, none of it came without heart wrenching decisions and tears, but every single second was WORTH IT! I can’t imagine life without these kiddos in it.

I have said that I came into this adoption journey with the mindset that I was saving them. The truth is though, that they have saved ME. They have saved me from my selfishness.  They have saved me from my greed.  They have saved me from myself.  They have turned my heart outwards instead of inwards.  They have focused my heart on those things that are eternal, instead of the things of this world that will pass away.  THANK YOU GOD!

I want to encourage you to pursue your dreams.  Live without regrets!  Take that leap of faith!  JUST DO IT!  Whatever you have been given, use it.  Whatever your talents are, employ them.  Whatever you are dreaming about, GO FOR IT!  It is never too late.  Never give up.  Have no regrets! Don’t let fear stop you, fear is a liar!

BE BOLD!

And just when you are ready to give up the battle, just when you feel you are at your breaking point and you can’t do it anymore, just keep on keeping on, my friend! Remember these four points I learned from a sermon about where faith takes us…

—to the point where we need to make decisions that involve BIG RISK
—to the starting point of long journeys
— to the point of waiting for the impossible
— to the point of giving everything you have

Never give up.  Have no regrets.

(song and lyrics are from “Pushing Back the Dark” by Josh Wilson)