Thursday, October 27, 2011

GRACE abounding in love

This post is dedicated to my GG, Grace Henderson.

She has lived in the same 3 square miles for 86 years. She had lived in the same house for the last 55. Her first love she married as a teenager. Warren Nichols. They had a beautiful life together and two kids. He battled with lung cancer until he died when my mom was about 27 or 28. GG was alone for about 15 years or more. That was my early childhood, to drive down to Alabama (or up when we lived in FL) and do thanksgiving or Christmas with my GG. As I got older, she met a man named Jack, who also lost his wife to illness, and they were married. They just celebrated 20 years I believe! For the last 6 or more years, Jack has progressed with Dementia. Over the last 4 years or sohe has lots control of bodily fluids, stumbles frequently, and nearly cannot walk even with a walker. I used to get so frustrated that my GG was so far away doing all of that on her own. Helping him get to the bathroom, changing his clothes, picking up a 200lb man when he fell, showering him, feeding him, etc. It took what felt like years to convince her to get home help then to put him in assisted living. She was so resistant to it and I used to not understand why. I felt like she was going to deteriorate trying to help him. Her back started hurting more and more, etc.
This summer, we moved her from her longtime home in with my parents when they moved here to Durham. We found Jack an awesome Alzheimer's care facility. She spends hours EVERY day there and just sits with him. He doesnt know her name most days, doesnt know any of us, often can't put a sentence together.

But GG loves him. I realize why it was so hard for her. She was loving, sacrificially, and honoring a covenant she made to love and serve him in sickness and health. I have never seen such sacrificial, self-less love, as knowing my 85 year old GG was changing diapers, cleaning soiled linens, and bathing him. She would not have it any other way. Even still here in NC, she sits with him. He may not know who she is, but she sits there every day, being available, loving him in her own way. I realize how selfish I was to think she should just take care of herself and put him in a nursing home when she wasn't ready. Even now, sometimes, she won't travel with us so she won't be gone from him for days. My parents took her away this weekend to visit my uncle in TN and she texted me (i love that she texts and has a facebook account) to go by and check on Jack. I stopped by the nursing home to find him with his bib on, eating dessert. He didn't know who we or the kids were. He barely said anything. He did look at wheeler and say some semblance of "he will be a good sports player".
I was nervous to tell GG we were adopting African children. Just a few short years ago we taught her to not say the N word (she always said it with the word "sweet" before it...ahha) or negro. So I was afraid how it would go over. She was born and raised in deep south small town alabama. Do you know what this woman said to me when she heard?
"Jesus loves the children of the world and he will love yours too, and love you for giving that child a wonderful home. I love you dearly. Any child that you have will be loved by me."
Jaw dropping love. That is why our next daughter will carry her name as her middle name. Grace. It represents so much in her little life. The grace God has given her to stay alive in impossible conditions and allow us to bring her into our family. The grace he gave her on the cross. The grace he gave us as he gave us the joy to raise this little girl we will bring home. The Grace example she has in my grandmother. The self-less love that GG shows and the triumph of love over racism. The love that came from GG to deprive self and love and serve another, when getting NOTHING in return.
I love you Grace Henderson and what a legacy you have left.

Tying my story together...

WOW! Ok so I was looking for an old Bible I had gone through in 2002 and 2003. I had a plan to read the whole new testament and I can't remember if I finished or not, but anyway. I found it finally and was flipping through it. The thing was covered in underlines and notes jotted down. Keep in mind, 2002 I was a sophomore in college, had just started dating my future beloved, and had totally different plans for my life then. I think they included my Ph D, not getting married for a while, definitely no kids til I was 30, etc. I laughed out loud then promptly teared up as I turned to the page of John 14.

Seriously GOD? I dont even remember writing this. I drew a line to the verse," ask whatever you wish for and it will be given to you, this is my father's glory" to the word AFRICA. Beside that verse is the one of "I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you. Underlined. Then a little below it, "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love.......and your joy will be complete." Sure enough, God, sure enough. MAN!
I just laughed as I thought about my life. I used to think of it in separate compartments. Growing up, my inner city middle school experience, High school, college, relationship with John, working at Cafe 1040, Chick-fil-A, being and becoming a mother. My desires in each area I also saw as compartmentalized. Now, I watch as the great author ties it all together in a beautiful and messy story. Desires from childhood, now realized and living out. Lessons from being a minority in my middle school, now making sense, my unfounded desire to go to, live in, raise a child from Africa, now making total sense. Understanding God's heart for the lost as I traveled to a country closed to the gospel, now making sense. So I just laughed and cried as I saw the word AFRICA on the page of my Bible from 10 years ago. I was 18 years old. Was I asking for something regarding Africa then? I don't know. But apparently, somewhere in my heart, the Holy spirit helped write my story and my desires and now he is giving it to me for my Father's glory. Any my joy IS and WILL be complete.

Learnings (mostly ramblings) Lately...

I feel like i could explode, God has been revealing so much to me. It reminds me of when Reese asked about God making the whole earth/sky/space. He is big enough to make all that and he fits inside our hearts? How can something so big fit in my heart so small? EXACTLY!! IT CAN'T! It will burst out and overflow everywhere. THe beauty of the design.
I am about to finish up Radical, by David Platt. And that is what it is....Radical.  I shared with someone about Katie Davis (blog is here and their response? She is crazy. At first I took offense. Then I thought, well YES she is. Do we want to look like the world's definition of fitting in? No thanks. But that is what we have been doing for years. I'd rather look a little crazy.
In the preschool pick up line on Tuesday a woman asked me how many kids I have? I answered 2, 18 months apart. She said wow, that mustv'e been tough. Yes it was, tough, amazing, challenging, and beautiful all at the same time. She said "well you must be done having kids then!" I laughed to myself, and answered, "well I thought so, but we are in the process of adoption". Her response, "that is so admirable! wow!". Admirable? Really? To obey God's command to care for the fatherless? Its not admirable. Its MY priviledge to follow him in obedience. So I proceeded to answer more of her questions. "yes, two treasures from Africa." The look on her face was priceless. TWO?? AFRICA?? Her admirable comment quickly was retracted based on her facial expression and then I got the "You're crazy" look southernly sugar coated with her words that reluctantly spilled out..."whoa, wow, well" I could see her trying to keep a smile on her face but struggling! I just kept chuckling inside.
Thank you God for rescuing me from myself. Thank you for taking me away from that place. Thank you for teaching me that my comfort is not your number one goal for the world. I'll gladly be crazy in everyone's eyes if it means I get the joy and honor to give the ultimate discipleship to 2 children that would be staring at the walls of an orphanage for the next 13-16 years. Seriously? I get to do that? I'll take crazy any day.
So, the book radical is "radically" shaking my walls down of what I was taught Christianity looks like and what we see it as today. Is it seriously just a Christian spin on the american dream? Are we really missing the God of the Bible? There was a part in the book that really stood out to me. He was talking about how we cling to the verses that "He has a plan for our life" "he wants to let our joy be abundant" "he will give us peace that passes understanding" etc. Yes, those verses were written just for us. But then the verses about Defending the cause of the fatherless, pure religion being the care of orphans and widows, that really loving him is serving the least of these, that God wants all his lost sheep found. Well these verses you have to pick and choose what the Lord has "called YOU to". Oh man have we missed it! God has not only called the missionary or the adoptive family. God has called A-L-L his followers to this kind of radical obedience.
Do we really want to get to the end of our lives and say, yep God, i had my 2.4 kids, lived in a nice home, ate great food, saved our money well for retirement, tithed most of the time, and payed off our credit cards? Man.
Jesus has so much more for us if we truly follow his lead. He cared for the diseased, the dying, the atheists, the hypocrites, the children, the sinners, the homeless and prostitutes. My life sure doesn't reflect that very well.
John and I sat on the couch last night and I balled my eyes out as we talked about radically responding and shifting our lives around the lost, the least of these, and the orphans. Just because we are adopting, I don't want to feel like i can put a check mark on these things. This is just one way we are reflecting it. But I want to give 'til it hurts to these things that Jesus valued. I want to look back on our life and say that we lived well yes, comfortably at times too, but we poured ourselves out to the least of these. Because if I really want to love Jesus, he told me how. FOR ME, not for my neighbor or the missionary down the street. It is a command, not an optional buy in for Christianity. And the cool thing is, is that the command doesn't burden me. It frees me. It fills me with joy and purpose, it is actually delightful. It is not just a chore on a to do list. The more I have obeyed, the more God gives me of himself. And let me tell you, it is WAY better than food, the newest clothes, iPad or vacation. I have been EXPLODING and bursting out as Reese says, with the Love of God and It is such an honor to walk towards him in obedience and delight!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Big prayers from a big heart

Our conversation as I tucked Reese into bed tonight:
R- Mom- are there more than 100 orphans in Africa?
M- yes, there are millions of them.
R- why can't everyone just adopt all of them?
M- a lot of people are, but God is going to have to call a lot more to adopt if we are going to get them all into a home.
R- what will happen to them if they don't get adopted?
M- Some of them will grow up without a mom and dad.
R- will some die?
M- yes, a lot of them will not have enough to eat or get sick and die.
R- then I think I will adopt all of them.
M- that would be a big job Reese!
R- well then I will pray for God to get people to adopt all of them so they don't die.

My girl has such a big heart. Adoption has stretched the boundaries of her heart even wider. She prays big prayers and it makes me realize how small mine are. If God is who he says He is, then he can handle a lot bigger prayers than I am praying.  It may take  a 5 year old for me to keep learning this lesson over and over again, but He uses her to challenge me. Yes we may only change the outcome for 2 children, but that doesn't have to stop us from praying that the other 147 million get forever families too.
Thank you God for speaking through a childlike heart to my heart that doesn't trust you like it should. You did not create too many orphans. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your redemption of the fatherless.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Even the seasons reflect Him...

We just spent a beautiful weekend in the mountains with John's family on a kidless retreat. It was 180 degree views of blue ridge mountains covered in the colors of autumn.  When I woke up each morning, I would step out on the deck and just take it in. You couldnt see any other houses, just rolling mountains and beautiful colors.  
Fall is my favorite season. As I reflected on this season which is fast upon us, I thought of the great parallel of the seasons to seasons in our walk with God. Fall, to me symbolizes a change. A publicly marked difference in something the Lord is doing inwardly. He is making areas in our life brighter, he is revealing different things to us. He is preparing us for what is to come.  Fall is so beautiful from the outside, but it also represents a dying from the inside out. The tree is about to shed its leaves. They are turning brittle and about to fall to the ground, where they will die and return to the earth. It is much like that of what is going on with me. It is somewhat beautiful at times on the outside. But that is what is shocking about it all. Death is often beautiful.  God has revealed spots in my life that I need to die to myself and let go and let them fall to the ground. Winter is coming, where it is a stripping of sorts so that new life can come in spring. The pruning process doesnt always have to be painful, but it often is. I feel like I am in the autumn of my life at the moment. Shining bright in some areas, dead in others, and getting a renewal from the inside out. God is revealing new truths to me, God is carefully pulling away things he doesnt want in my life. It is invigorating and somehow, what is dying and falling to the ground doesn't sadden me, because I know it is soon being replaced by new life and new truths. Winter is a dormancy of sorts. You are waiting for what is to come. I do not know the reason for some of the things God is taking from me and revealing to me, I am fine to wait in the dormancy time until God is ready to spring forth new life in those areas and new purpose. 
What a beautiful God who expresses Himself through his awesome creation@

Saturday, October 8, 2011

my commitment to you

Reese and Wheeler-
     I need to write this down, mostly for myself, but as a commitment to you.

1. We will love- we will love each other. We will learn to work as a team. To stick up for each other, to fight for and protect each other. We will not just talk about love, we will live it out. There will be lots of times I miss this. I'll be cleaning the kitchen instead of showing you I love you by reading with you, or my voice will raise, instead of affirm your preciousness when you are having a hard time. But know this, I love you with a fierce love and nothing could ever change this. Because of this great love, it has challenged me to do things I never thought would come into our story... We will not only love those in our family. We will love others. We will love others as best as we can just as we love our own family. We will love those who don't look like us, talk like us, dress like us. I pray I can faintly (as inaccurate as I do) model this for you, so that you will grow up loving with no boundaries of race, status, or location.
2. We may not always be comfortable- I have found that this is an underlying (and not so hidden) value in society and even in the Church. Comfort may look like many different things. Comfort to me used to look like an easy day with 2 well behaved, semi-quiet children. God exposed that idol in my life. He has taken me to a place and asked me to sacrifice comfort. He has asked me if i really feel like my #1 on this list is something I will hold to. Because of this great love he has given me and thus I have given you, We will continue to love others. It may sometimes come at the expense of our comfort, but is this what we will live for? Will we live for comfort or love? I choose love, I hope you will choose it with me. 

3. We will sacrifice- these next few years will be a team effort. We are embarking on a new journey as a family. We will sacrifice pleasing others. God calls us first to follow him, even if that means we choose his path over the path our family would have chosen for us. We will sacrifice an easier way life with getting second looks, ignorant comments made about our family, and walk in the joy of having a beautifully painted family. Our family is God's artwork on display. When given the choice, would we rather be a family and have comments said about us, or not be a family and make others more comfortable when they see us...we choose to be a family.  However, when I say we will sacrifice, it doesn't quite sound right in my heart. It is really not a sacrifice at all in my heart. I feel so privileged and honored to walk forward in what God has called us to and the "sacrifice" seems so small compared to what we have to gain. I know you both will have to pitch in in ways like never before and adjust to new ways of doing family, but I know God has prepared your hearts for such a time as this and I am thankful that such a small sacrifice will let you live out love and live out the Gospel in a way I couldn't teach you with words.

4. We will center ourselves on the Gospel, on Jesus. When we lose sight of our focus, we become aimless and purposeless. Our family will have a purpose, a mission. We will follow Him with reckless abandon and I pray we keep what Jesus has done for us at the forefront. I pray that the Gospel isn't a story before we go to bed in our house hold. I pray it is our life-breath. I pray it defines our family, focuses us in our mission and I pray it is something we reflect to others. 
5. We will have fun! If we go through life while missing this, then we miss a lot! I look forward to the memory making that is to come. I look fondly on the times we have had together, just laughing until we cry and enjoying the beauty of God's creation. I pray you never see yourselves as a side note or distraction or bother to me. You are a precious treasure, my reward, my undeserved blessing straight from my Father. I pray I parent you in a way you can see the depth of your value to me and to your God. 
6. We will be generous- we will give sacrificially. We will welcome people into our home. We will be available to others. We will give to our mission and give sometimes until it hurts. We need to all get better at this and work at it as a team. I don't want to just teach you "the value of a dollar". I want you to know hard work and I want you to know responsibility with money. But even more so, I want you to know what impact we can have on the kingdom when we give. Because in the end, is it really just about getting another toy? Or could it be about giving a child a meal who hasn't eaten in days, or welcoming a child into our home who has no concept of what a family is. We will give generously because life is pointless if we don't. We will give generously because, God gives us more of Himself when we do. We will give generously because we want to love others well. Just as much as I couldn't and would do anything in my power to never let you go hungry or uncared for, we also have to do that for our neighbors, whether they live in North Carolina, Brazil or Uganda. 

These are just a few of my commitments to you. I cannot uphold them alone, but I lean into a great God who, If we are about His business, he will be about ours. I will delight myself in Him and let His will shape my desires. I know I will mess up daily and I will need your forgiveness endlessly. But I wouldn't rather do this with anyone else.

Monday, October 3, 2011

a lesson in parenting

Over the last few months God has taught me a lot about himself through parenting.  As I prepare myself to enter a new phase of parenting (they are all uncharted territory right!?), I have thought about how the Lord perfectly parents me. As I think about adding more children to our family. Children who don't know our language, the tastes of our food, maybe how to go up and down stairs, how to snuggle, whatever it may be. I think of the phases of parenting. That first year where it is all about meeting every need, the high pitched loving voice as we coo at that little baby in our arms, snuggling for hours on end, meeting every cry with a dry diaper, a burped back, a tight swaddle. Then time passes, our parenting changes. The next year or two brings on a different phase. A phase of encouraging independence, cheering as they crawl, take their first step, drink from a cup, feed themselves cheerios. Following this, a phase of discipline added onto the love and encouragement we have been giving. Having to set limits, boundaries, and enforce them over and over and over. A new phase begins, one where our child spends more and more time apart from us, "needs us less" in a certain sense of the word, but needing us in a different way. Needing us to come along side them as they decide how they will treat others, how they will obey, how they will navigate the world. There is a lot less of that "high pitch voice" and coos that there once were, there are more heart to hearts. Discussing the purpose of our family, how to work as a team, how to serve others. I think about a few weeks ago when reese came home from school and i asked her if there were any bad parts about her day. She told me how she got her feelings hurt when someone made fun of her hair when she took it down after p.e. Someone called her ugly and that she looked stupid. I was so sad she had to experience that. I remember being aftaid to send her to school because i knew she would face that kind of stuff. After she told me i got an opportunity to speak into her tender heart about her value, her preciousness, and what the Lord thinks of her. If she would not have gone through that hard time, i wouldnt have had her attention to take that chance to speak value into her heart. I know we will face a lot more of that as a family as we become a family of different colors. Lots of people will miss the beauty of it. It wont make sense to many. I know it will bring an opportunity to speak the gospel into our kids that we wouldnt have gotten to live out otherwise.  I don't know what the next phase will look like after this. But I think about my spiritual growth as it relates to these phases. It helps me think about the times God has been "silent" or what I thought was him pulling away from me. I would get so discouraged as to why he wasnt speaking so constantly to me as he did when I was growing fiercely fast. But then I think, maybe he is a proud father sitting back and watching what his child will do with her independence. There to coach and mentor and direct when needed, but I am at a different phase of growth in my spiritual life than when I was a "baby". Similar to 1 corinthians 3, he gave me spiritual baby food when I needed that. He knows my growth and I know he wants my growth. It looks different in different phases. Sometimes he is right next to me, speaking words and hand on my shoulder. And sometimes he just gives me the paint and a blank canvas and says Go. I am learning to enjoy both and lean on him in new ways. I am learning to consult him in different ways than when I was at a different phase of growth. I am learning to interpret him in new ways. I am learning to let fact walk before my faith, so that my faith is always focused on the fact of who God is and what he says about himself. And I've learned (and am still learning) to let my feeling follow my faith, always keeping its eyes on faith who is keeping its eyes on fact. When I get that order mixed up, that is when I doubt God's presence in my life. I let my feelings dictate my faith and that is not rooted in the fact of the Gospel. Jesus in my place. I am so thankful for a heavenly father who is patient and kind, but wildly fierce in his power. I am thankful for the times he has let me walk into hard things out in the world because it has given him an opportunity to speak value, wisdom and affirmation in my life I wouldn't have been needing otherwise.