After 21 years of writing and hiding notes for my oldest daughter, I was blessed to be the recipient of HER notes the other day. I found them when I was having a tough time. And oh my, it is truly uplifting, affirming and just plain lovely!!!!Who wouldn’t want someone to take the time to write a few nice things about you and then hide them for you to find?How would it change your day to find a note like this, encouraging you, appreciating you, inspiring you?Since it is Valentine’s Day, I encourage you to BE the LOVE around you. Perhaps today is the day that you could leave some love notes for the people in your life to find?!?! Simple, cheap, and leaves a HUGE impact!
Grandma Mary (or Gigi as her great grandchildren called her) was a second mother to me. Growing up she lived right around the corner from me, and if I wasn’t at home I was at Grandma’s. I was always walking around the corner to her house to get some good food and spoiling like only a Grandma can give.
When I think of Grandma Mary, I think about selfless love. She loved EVERYONE and was always happy to help anyone out. She didn’t have a mean bone in her entire 4 foot 8 inch body. I can honestly say that I do not have one memory of my grandmother raising her voice…ever! Even when all seven of us grandchildren had to have been driving her crazy!
She was always happy to serve others, especially her family, in a selfless act of love. It made her genuinely happy to cook and bake for others, and that was her true gift. She was always up late at night, waiting for her pie to cook, or her bread to finish baking, sitting in her favorite rocking recliner, saying her rosary, which she faithfully said three times per day. She was never one to go to sleep early as there was always something for her to do! She was a self-professed night owl, and the grandkids loved that about Grandma. We never had to go to bed early when we slept at grandma’s house, and we always knew Grandma would order us pizza and let us eat candy into the night.
Sundays were the most special day for Grandma, as she carried on her Italian mother’s tradition of Sunday spaghetti dinner. I remember these family gathering times vividly as a child, as they are some of the fondest memories of Grandma’s. Walking into her house to find my cousins, the smell of spaghetti sauce and fresh baked apple pie, wondering who was already at the house and who was yet to come, the sounds of kids playing, adults laughing and talking, and inevitably the piano being played. Kool-aid and lemonade were the drinks of choice and dinner was spaghetti, meatballs, pork and salad. Sometimes, when we were really lucky, homemade raviolis or gnocchi (gnoches as Grandma called them) took the place of the spaghetti. We would hardly finish our dinner when Grandma would be telling us to eat more, or trying to get us to eat multiple desserts. Everyone was always too skinny for Grandma and no one ever ate enough to satisfy her.
Grandma liked traditions and she carried on other traditions from her mother as well. Who could forget the Easter dolls? Even the older grandchildren would beg for them, and then as adults we would gobble up the ones Gram would give to our own kids that were too young to enjoy them. Or how about her famous crustells, or “crystals” as the grandkids called them, an Italian potato dumpling fried and rolled in sugar. I remember her making those many late nights, on a random request, for anyone. Or pizzelles, an Italian waffle cookie that Grandma called “chumbells”. She would make those chumbells on an old cast iron set that was her mothers. She could barely lift it to turn it over on the stove! And of course, the other request from her grandchildren – homemade french fries. I blame Grandma for my deep affinity for homemade french fries! Again, it didn’t matter what time it was, midnight or later, all you had to do was ask.
That was pretty much true for anything with Grandma…all you had to do was ask and she would always give whatever she had to anyone. She may have been short in stature, but she towered over with Love. Her example of unconditional love is one we can all follow.
I believe that anyone who knew Grandma Mary would only have lovely things to say about her. She was truly an amazing woman. She always wore a dress, she never drank, never smoked, never swore, she never even raised her voice. She was a peacemaker. She had one photo of herself in her gym shorts and said that was on a dare from her younger sister, and this was probably the most racy thing from her past. She was the sweetest, kindest person, who was loving towards everyone! She served others selflessly. She loved with action!
I can think of so many ways that she touched the hearts of those around her, and I cherish these memories. She will always remain close in my heart. Forever. I always think of Grandma’s Love when I read 1 Corinthians 13, because this is the type of love that she exemplified…
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Grandma Mary didn’t have much money, she never worked outside her home, she never even left the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but what she DID have was faith, hope, and an overabundance of Love that she gave freely to anyone and everyone.
We can all learn a little from Grandma on how to love the way God asks us to. This was Grandma’s greatest gift of all, one that keeps on giving, LOVE…
Of course, Dear Lord, Your ways are not my ways. Your thoughts are not my thoughts. Some things are left a mystery until the end.
Sometimes I cannot see, or even begin to understand, the why of a certain situation. I could drive myself crazy trying to figure it all out.
Luckily, I don’t have to. Because I have YOU to trust in. You to hold me. You to comfort me. You to guide me.
If I would only always remember to turn to You first. So quickly I forget. Every decision first to You. How fast I am to grumble, complain and cry out!
Forgive me Lord, when I close my fists instead of opening them in thanksgiving for all you have done for me. All for good. No matter if I see it that way or not right now.
Always You are faithful. Always You work for the good of those who love You, who have been called according to Your purpose. Thank you, Father.
And when I forget, forgive me. When I forget the power of the Holy Spirit, Mighty Counselor, lives in me.
How can I forget? How can I not listen? He is right here, always guiding, probing, directing.
It is ME who does not listen. It is me who denies. Me who questions. Me who ignores. Forgive me.
Help me to always trust.
Always depend on.
Thank you, Father, for everything. The good and the bad that are molding me into who You want me to be. Help me to turn to You at the mountaintops and in the valleys. You are always there working it all for my good.
That was what it said. Right there in black in white. The words were unmistakable.
No special talents or abilities.
Not one good quality could be brainstormed to write for her on this Referral Letter for adoption.
But I knew differently. I knew that was a lie. I knew that she had love, motivation, and independence unknown to most little seven year old girls, especially ones who had seen and endured all that she had in her short time on earth.
I knew she could clean up and rediaper a soiled baby, for she had told me how often she cared for one. I knew she was eager to help with any and all household chores and she worked diligently. I knew she was the first person who would run to help clean up a mess that she didn’t even make. I knew that her strong compassion for others meant that if someone was crying, she would be there to hug them. I knew she had a knack for languages and was quickly picking up a new one. I knew she could outrun some of her brothers and had determination and grit in learning new skills such as ice skating, that rivaled the boys.
Those are only a brief listing of the talents and abilities I learned from a mere four weeks with this young child. How could this adoption referral not recognize her talents? How could this adoption referral not recognize her abilities? How could it be that in her seven years not one positive thing could be shared about this lovely girl?
The other night I watched the movie “Noah” for the first time. There is a part towards the end of the movie where Noah is talking to Ila, a girl they had found alive amidst her burning, pillaged village where everyone else laid dead. They took Ila in and raised her as their daughter.
Noah says to Ila, “When we took you in I thought you would be burden. But I was wrong. You are a gift. Never forget that.”
And I burst into tears. Yes.
Yes, my sweetheart, you ARE a gift.
You ARE valuable.
I see your talents and abilities and I celebrate them with you.
Thank you, Lord, for the beautiful gifts you have given me in these sweet children of Yours. AMEN!
When no one else cares, You always do.
When no one else will comfort, You are there.
When no one else strengthens, You are there to lift up.
When no one else listens, Your ears are always yearning to hear.
When no one else is offering help, You are there carrying me along.
When everything else fades away, Your love and promises remain eternally.
As we start the New Year, I reflect back on where I was a year ago.
We had just finished our fourth hosting through P143 (Project 143 Orphan Hosting Program) and this hosting period was the first time we met our two little girls. It was also the first time they were reunited with their three, big, biological brothers. The boys remained in the orphanage when a foster family was finally found for the girls, and they hadn’t seen each other in years. Needless to say, tensions ran high and expectations ran even higher.
This picture about sums up how I felt. I was trying desperately to hang on, to be happy and to find the joy and blessings. However, in reality I felt pushed to the ground. Overwhelmed by children. Overwhelmed from the newness of having little girls in the house, after having only little boys for so long. Those high-pitched screams and the WHINING! Ohhh I was NOT prepared for the onslaught of whining that commenced with their arrival. And those were just the surface things. Then there was the overwhelming fact that they knew zero English and were accustomed to fighting it out with their foster siblings. We had a lot of hitting and scratching and temper tantrums.
But the hardest part, and this is difficult for me to admit because I feel so much guilt over it, was their desperate desire to be loved by me. To be cuddled by me. To be held by me. To be adored by me. For me to give them my undivided attention. It was quickly overwhelming to be giving that much attention and physical contact to two children while maintaining a household and tending to six other children. And I wasn’t expecting that. I wasn’t expecting to feel “over loved”– is there such a word? I felt over touched. I felt over talked to. I felt over climbed on. My senses were on overload. Everything was louder, took longer, required more effort and organization than previously, and I was just downright EXHAUSTED.
It was hard.
I felt like a failure.
I felt guilty that I was struggling with these things.
Was I a terrible mom because I saw that same child coming for the 100th hug in the last hour, despite the fact that I am arm deep in toilet bowl cleaner. He doesn’t care in the least, but I am deeply annoyed.
As we began to draw near to their departure date I began to look forward to it a little bit. Bedtime would be so much easier. No more high-pitched whines. No more fighting. My husband and I were leaning towards believing that this was not going to work for our family.
We felt defeated.
We were ready to give up.
It is SO much easier to give up then to persevere. It is SO much easier to give up then to endure. It is SO much easier to give up then to bear another’s burdens.
But we aren’t called to live an easy life. We were warned there would be trials. We were asked to pick up our cross and follow Him. We were told that we would only make it by abiding in Him. Apart from Him we can do nothing. With Him, nothing is impossible.
And what does “perseverance” mean? Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines perseverance as “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition”.
Did you catch that?
DESPITE difficulties, failure or opposition. As in to persevere you must first be faced with difficulties, failure or opposition.
So if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Don’t give up.
Abide in Him.
Run the race.
Because you know what? It DOES get easier. He does help me when I turn to Him. He does strengthen me when I pray to Him. Time allows for so many things to work themselves out. The girls are absolutely fluent in English. It took them less than five months time to go from zero English to fluent. Amazing! And those tantrums? Yes, we still have some every now and then, but they are radically different from what they were a year ago. They are now identifiable. They are understandable. They are manageable. They are almost gone completely. Amazing!
And I sit here typing this embarrassed at myself that we almost did give up. That’s the truth right there. We almost let all the fears and worries of the world get the better of us, then trusting what God was telling us all along.
Abide in me.
I will provide all you need.
I don’t know what your mountain is today, my friend. I don’t know what you are staring down this year and wondering how you will ever make it to the next. But know that I understand that feeling. I felt hopeless this time last year, and I really couldn’t see past it without a huge amount of God’s help. So I am here to encourage you to reach out to Him. Stay close to Him. Abide in Him. And He will take you through this year to the next. I am living proof of it.
“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
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.
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…
“The Gospel demands a great deal of us. It calls us to a perennially unpopular and unselfish path. Little wonder Jesus said, ‘The world’s going to hate you’ (John 15:18-19). When you can no longer play the game of judging, labeling, and punishing others, you will quickly become the outsider.” Fr. Richard Rohr
Jesus was an outsider. If we choose to follow Him into the next year and for the rest of our lives here on Earth, we also choose to be an outsider. It means we forever give up, as Rohr says, “judging, labeling, and punishing others.”
There is no such thing as blessed intimidation, sacred condemnation, honorable hate, justified segregation or redemptive violence.
When we speak or act in unloving ways, we step away from God, separating ourselves from the love and grace He has given us – and continues to give – from our birth. We must remember He gives, not because we have done or refrained from doing anything to earn His love; God gives because He is Love.
Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for you; rather it is an old one you have had from the very beginning. This old commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before. We must love each other because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born from God and knows God. (1 John 2:7, 4:7)
In four days, a brand new year will be upon us. We all have a choice to make. Will we continue to travel the same, well-plod, self-centered road that is parallel to our walk with Jesus, or will we surrender control of our own egos? Will we let go of unforgiveness, anger and condemnation and allow the Spirit of God to lead our lives into a transformational rebirth?
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:
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.
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.
from my family to yours!
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.
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.
Keep it simple.
I’ve been pondering 1 Corinthians 13. Those famous verses most often read at weddings, “Love is patient, love is kind…”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
“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!
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)
2 My child, when you come to serve the Lord,
prepare yourself for testing.— Ecclesiasticus 2:1
This past year has been full of fiery trials for our family in many ways. Our adoption process, which had been flying by at lightning speeds, had slowed to a snail’s pace as we learned that the kids were on different timelines and the youngest boy’s father’s rights were not terminated with his siblings and would take much longer to process. We had a move to a new city, which entailed buying and selling homes, moving furniture, and sooooo many boxes. Unexpectedly, we suffered four unrelated deaths within our extended family.
In the midst of all this, we got the call we had been waiting for — ALL the children were free for adoption!!! Except that it came with a “but”…but, the oldest (now 14) was unsure he wanted to be adopted (after writing on paper during hosting #1 “I no go back”). He said he loved our family and wanted to continue to visit, but the teenager he had grown into wasn’t sure he wanted to leave his friends and new girlfriend behind.
Imagine proposing to someone you really love and think will be really excited to marry you, and then they say “no”.
I think it felt similar to that.
As we processed through that, my knee locked up on me and I was sent off to undergo an unplanned knee scope. Normally this would be no big deal for most, but for my already bad knee – well – let’s just say I’m still not back to pre-surgery state. Following this, my own mother began suffering with some serious health issues. Then days before we had to finalize our decision and process many adoption fees someone hacked into our online bank accounts, made money transfers, and stole thousands of dollars.
THE BATTLE IS REAL!
I feel like I started the year off strong. Despite the changes and difficulties, I was able to keep God in focus. Yet, with each new circumstance that occurred, I felt myself weakening, slowing and tiring. It was honestly EXHAUSTING.
It seems when I am physically tired, I am often spiritually tired as well.
I am sure that I was an easy target for the devil. Those mornings when it is SO hard to pull myself out of bed, he is whispering in my ear, “you can’t even keep up with the laundry you have, you will never be able to do it with more!”
And when you’re tired, or lonely, or grieving, or stressed out, it is SO easy to believe those lies.
Satan is the father of lies. He wants to replace your FAITH with FEAR.
And fear is a LIAR!
Interestingly, I just read in my devotional the other day,
“Fear is dangerous to your hope and means your trust in God has failed.”
As soon as I read it I called my husband over to read it as well. That is EXACTLY what happened!!! THAT was it! I saw it coming a year ago. I wrote my last post to that effect. I felt the fear coming. I KNEW what we were supposed to do. I KNEW the right answers. I KNEW we were to trust in the Lord and make our FAITH bigger than our fear.
Yet, I let tiredness, sadness, doubt, and mistrust creep inside instead.
And it was ugly.
It contracted. It pulled in. It withdrew. It withered my heart, my love, and robbed me of my joy. I went through the motions, but I wasn’t ME.
While we were stalled with our adoption we started to hear rumors about our hosting program and agency worker. We started to doubt all the money we had spent on hosting and adoption thus far, especially as the decision to host FIVE kiddos again this summer (which meant insane hosting fees for the fifth time and no closer to adoption) was looming over head because we still didn’t have a referral. We wondered if the kids were never adopted, was this the best use of our resources in caring for orphans. We started to listen to what the world was telling us and not what God had been telling us from the beginning.
Maybe this WAS a dumb idea.
Maybe we SHOULDN’T be spending so much money on this.
Life would be SO MUCH EASIER if we just kept the status quo.
Thankfully, I have some wonderful, faithful friends who talked me through my thoughts. Friends who got down on their knees and prayed for us. Friends who sent Bible verses and songs in perfect timing. Friends who gave us wise advice.
My friend, Michelle, gave me the best piece of advice that really changed the way I thought about everything. She said,
“It is OK to have righteous anger towards people or processes that are unethical, but it is NOT OKAY TO FEAR.”
We are not to fear.
And that was EXACTLY what was happening. The fear was eating me up. I let it consume me. It WAS dangerous to my hope. The fear consumed my hope and my loss of hope meant my trust in God had failed. And if I was honest with myself, my trust in God had failed.
Our official referral for the kiddos FINALLY came on Friday the 13th of May, nonetheless. We were forced to make a final decision within two weeks. Of course, satan would use those two weeks to wage an all-out war on our family. He would separate us by distance, as I had to travel with my mom to medical appointments six hours away. He would attack our finances with identity theft. However, God ALWAYS wins. He is ALWAYS victorious.
He will ALWAYS find a way to speak to our heart, mind and soul if we let Him.
God began to speak to me through friends, songs, Bible verses, and perfectly timed sermons. One of the most convicting sermons was given to us just two days after we got our referral. Pastor Luis Martinez came from Impacto Ministry and the majority of his sermon was describing their mission in Guatemala. The last 15 minutes or so he spent in a short sermon he called Stepping out of the Boat.
His four point sermon was this:
- Faith takes us to the point where we need to make decisions that involve BIG RISK.
- Faith takes us to the starting point of long journeys.
- Faith takes us to the point of waiting for the impossible.
- Faith takes us to the point of giving everything you have.
WOW. That should have been enough, but it wasn’t. Thankfully, God continued to convict.
Right before leaving for my mom’s medical appointments, my mom and I were blessed to be able to attend a women’s retreat together, which helped revive my faith. Phillip Yancy spoke about the seasons of our faith life. Yes- I had been in one LONG winter season. The good news though? I was about to spring forth anew! At the retreat, I prayed with a wonderful woman in the prayer room who quickly did the “Spiritual War” scene with me on scrap paper. As she was going though it, I thought “yes, I know this already, but my question is should we adopt the children or not? ” DUH- I may have understood what she was writing, but I didn’t even realize then that was the battle going on in my own heart!
That night, because I had spoke in the prayer room about my blog and knowing I wasn’t supposed to fear, I was convicted to go back and read through my blog. It had been set to private about a year ago and I hadn’t touched it since. As I read through those posts I thought to myself, “who is that girl?” It was just as if God knew I would need to read those words again. It was as if He had me write to myself for this specific moment in time. God is so creative!
Once I had read those words, I had to ask myself, do I believe them? Do I believe what I wrote a year ago? I trusted him wholeheartedly when I had written those posts…did I still trust Him?
And in those moments that I first asked that question of myself, the honest answer was, I don’t know. It took time, honest prayer and reflection.
My husband actually caught me off guard by giving me his “yes” the night before I was leaving for my mom’s doctor appointments. I certainly felt like I was leaning more towards “yes” and that he was leaning more towards “no”. I was in bed early that night as I wasn’t feeling well, and he came in and when I woke a little, he said, “honey, tell our agency yes.” It should have been a wonderfully joyous time, but instead I was struck with fear. Why was I fearing?
God finally convicted me undeniably in the middle of a Cracker Barrel store. It took driving hours in a silent car with my parents who love to read, praying continually the entire time, to finally hear in my heart loud and clear, DO NOT FEAR — I AM WITH YOU!
My parents and I were getting hungry after driving several hours in our silent car together, so we decided to pull over to get something to eat. As I was walking into the Cracker Barrel, still praying “God lead us”, which is essentially what I had been praying continually for the past 2 1/2 hours, the first thing my eyes focused on was a large bag that said
It caught me off guard as I looked around and was encouraged by all the inspirational, Christian items everywhere. My eyes were drawn to a nautical display (my blog uses “God as our anchor” and we were just encouraged by the stepping out of the boat sermon). There was a sign that lit up that said
Where was my HOPE?
At that very moment, my dear friend Jen texted me some verses she had told me earlier in the day she would find for me. Of course God would have her use that moment in time to text me back, crying in the middle of the Cracker Barrel store, to continue to convict me.
I admitted to her that I WAS SO AFRAID! That is what it was! That fear of the unknown! I looked down and saw a nautical themed devotional. I had a little conversation with God. I said, “God, if you REALLY and TRULY want me to ‘just be brave’ and to ‘hope’ again, then I am going to open this devotional to today’s date, and it will absolutely, without question make complete sense. If you do not want us to move forward, if you want us to stop, then this entry will be completely off topic” I furiously flipped to May 26th and as I read the title, the tears free flowed.
Courage to Change
Yes. Did I have the courage to change? I was so very fearful of change! Yet – we had always said, we have the ability to take in these children and change their lives for the better. Now the question really was:
Did we have the courage to step out of the boat?
I knew after reading that devotional that my answer was YES. As I was walking to pay before leaving, just to make sure that I indeed got it, God set my eyes on the following cup:
When we first step out of the boat we have to overcome our initial fear. Peter did it – he stepped out of the boat onto water. But that doesn’t mean that we will never fall into the water!
From Matthew 14:29-30
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
I got out of the boat. Then the wind came and I was frozen with fear. I began to sink, but I forgot to earnestly cry out to the Lord to save me. Yet, He is relentless. He kept on pursuing me. And as soon as I cried out to Him with all of my heart, mind and soul, “Lord, help me!” He reached out His hand and caught me and reminded me to have
I feel like myself again.
Thank you, Jesus. When I step out onto the waters, when I trust in You, when I let my heart beat for You, then I am able to laugh without fear of the future. May we always trust in You Lord, in good times and bad.