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!
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.
“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.