Saturday, August 31, 2013

The eyes of my 7 year old

It all started when she walked into my closet the other day. “Mom why do you put that black stuff on your eyes?”
‘To make my eyelashes show up better I guess’
“Why? What’s wrong with them how they are?”
Right to the heart. By my 7 year old.  I tried to recover quickly, to say that nothing is really wrong with my eyelashes how they are, how makeup just enhances what God has given you. All the while feeling kind of sick about my empty answer to my curious and onlooking daughter.
Then, every day since, she has come out and asked to put blush on her cheeks and lip gloss on. No God. Has it started? Have I contributed?
How do I walk this fine line of self-confidence and esteem that starts now?
I have read tons of great articles lately on our bodies as moms and how it starts with me. Because the truth is, stretch marks from my 9 pound daughter, hips that have turned out from two births: my body is not like it used to be, and that’s ok. That is what it is supposed to be. It tells the story of the journey He has called me to.  I do not want to pass on my feelings about my changing body to my daughter. I don’t want her to think twice about what her legs look like or if her stomach rolls over her pants. Sure I want her to make healthy choices and exercise her body so that she is strong and healthy, but not driven by disgust at what she sees in the mirror. This starts with me: the way I talk about myself and others, what I look at, what I focus on, my identity in Christ.
This is just the beginning of an ongoing discussion. One I feel inept to lead or contribute to.
But I do want her to know: Your body is a shell, a vessel that carries the qualities God has tucked in our hearts. God loves beauty and God is creative, that is why he made your bluish green eyes and lashes turn heavenward, your muscular legs and your little cute nose, your sandy blonde hair and your cute belly button. It all tells a story that points to him and the depth he goes to create the intricacies of our body that should point us to his greatness.
God doesn’t make ugly. So tuck that away for the day someone calls you ugly. Because it is impossible for a Good Creator to make something ugly. He is perfect. He built you as a masterpiece. And my sweet girl, please remember this before you mutter these words to another girl. Our words have power, power to plant a lie in her heart that will deepen her insecurities and disbelief in a God who makes beautiful creations.
Modesty is mysterious and beautiful. It is not frumpy and drudgery. God gave you this beautiful body. He made it with his delight at the forefront and for it to be cherished as his dwelling and for your future husband. We have a part in protecting boys' eyes and hearts by the way we dress. This will get complicated as you get older but we will have to choose this together. It may cause a distance to grow between us and I pray it does not, but I hope you will see the value in modesty, not only for others, but to honor God and yourself. I struggled with this as a girl. I gave pieces of my heart away to find validation in men that can only be found in him. I struggled to see that I am more than how I fit in or how cute were my clothes. I struggled to see that not showing things is actually far more beautiful than putting on display the secretness of what God gave us.

This is a life struggle. Your identity, your value, your beauty, your body. To see this as a gift is a choice. You must choose to root your beauty in Him, to anchor your value to his righteousness, to bind up your thoughts about yourself to what he speaks over you. I speak this to you as I shout this to myself.
I pray you hear this from God as he sings it over his precious creation, you.
Jeremiah 31:20 msg (italics mine)
“Oh Reese is my dear, dear daughter,my child in whom I take pleasure!
Every time I mention her name,
My heart bursts with longing for her!
Everything in me cries out for her.
Soft and tenderly I wait for her. God’s Decree.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Our first birthday with Levi

I can hardly believe you're two! It's been 14 months since I've laid eyes on you
around 10 months old in that purple shirt with the heart on it with a strong but stoic look on your face. Even at 10 months you were a survivor. A survivor for the 15% mortality rate in children in DR Congo under 5. A survivor in the harsh conditions for children abandoned in a city of millions. You held on. You held on to your sister to survive as she held on to hope and to you. I hope you forever are grateful to God and to your sister who carried you. Your sister who gave up a little of her childhood to aid in your survival. I pray your bond is unbreakable. Now looking back its even more fitting we named you Levi meaning attached or joined. Because it is those qualities in your spirit that have lent to your survival. Even today, you hold on for dear life to me. You just want to be held close. You have a close circle of people that you cling to when they're around.

Your heart is so obedient. Sure you have your normal toddler defiance every now and then, but more than any of our kids you have the desire to obey and listen. I hate to admit I have forgotten you were in time out a time or two as you sat quietly in the kitchen with me with your hands folded in your lap for 10+ minutes. I pray that quiet obedience translates into a quiet strength, hope and trust in Jesus.
There is a verse I've prayed over you in mark 2:13 where Jesus calls Levi the tax collector and he immediately follows. That night Levi invites Jesus and his disciples and other tax collectors and "notorious sinners" to eat at his house. The Pharisees saw this and didn't understand why Jesus would eat with such low people. Jesus responds,"healthy people don't need a doctor, sick people do. I have come to call sinners, not those who already think they are good enough". Levi is the one who also carries the cross a little of the way up to Calvary.
My prayer is that god uses your story. Your beginnings. Your survival. Your quiet strength. To call sinners to himself. I pray when you encounter Jesus you immediately follow. And I am so grateful to Jesus and you for taking me down the journey of showing me I am the sick one. I am the orphan. And pulling me away from a life where I am just good enough. But yet to see his righteousness cover all my sin. 
Happy birthday my very silly, quite vivacious, often shy, sometimes quiet, high squealing, sibling chasing, airplane loving, ball bouncing, fast running, high jumping, water bug, diaper removing, kiss giving, hug loving two year old.
Your life is special. It counts. Your story will be great. All good stories have to rise up above great odds stacked against them and survive in the midst of heartache, trauma and pain. Beauty from ashes my son.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

To my daughter on her 7th birthday...

Dear Reese,
Oh Six! Can another year already be over? My first memories as a little girl started around 6. There are many events I pray you remember from year 6. Getting Baptized, starting 1st grade, bringing a new brother and sister home, beach trips, gymnastics, Disney Cruise and more. But to remember the year in full there were hard things too.  Problems we had to work out with friends, stresses of adjusting to a new sister who didn't speak your language, mom with a little less time for you, etc. But we made it together with God's help! You are such an amazing girl Reese. God has flooded your obedient heart with compassion and generosity and a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. These were the four things I prayed for you for the first 9 months you were being knit together in my womb. And God has blessed me 100 times over for those prayers. Your kindness flows to others and you know when the spirit speaks in your heart when you have made a bad choice. That my daughter is a gift. A gift I pray you hold close as you go through year 7, 10, 13, 18, 21 and beyond. I pray your relationship with Jesus will grow and deepen. I pray our trip to Africa will open your eyes to the hurt and the hope in this world for the poor, sick and orphaned. God has BIG plans for you Reese McNeil White. Year 7 will hold so many joys and struggles and I am honored to walk through it all with you. God has taught (and continues to teach) me so many things about Himself through you, my first baby girl. My gift from the Lord is you. You are God's treasure and most precious daughter. I pray you feel and know that deeper this year. 
Happy Birthday Reese,

7 Year old interview:
Favorite Color? Pink and white, because they look good together.
Favorite thing to play? Draw or go to the beach.
What do you want to be when you grow up? In the olympics for gymnastics.
What do you like most about mommy? That we go on dates together.
What do you like most about daddy? That he spins me in the towel after baths.
What are you really good at? Gymnastics
What is the saddest thing that has ever happened to you? When I got hurt riding my bike.
What makes you happy? When I do something right.
What is your favorite thing about school? Science.
What are you most excited about starting 2nd grade? That my teacher might be Miss Sherin.
Most nervous about 2nd grade? If we have to stand up and say our names on the first day.
Favorite food? Chick-fil-A number 1 no pickles and a sweet tea.
Favorite restaurant? Kanki Japanese Steakhouse
Plans after college? Maran and I will have an apartment and cut hair at a salon. Wheeler will live next door and have a motorcycle and take us to work. He can get free haircuts too.
Best part about being a big sister? There are lots of people to play with in our family.
Hardest part? Everyone wants you to take care of them.
Where do you want to visit one day? Disney world again.
Where do you want to live when you grow up? At the beach.
Favorite memory of your whole life? Disney Cruise.
Favorite Friend? Sam. But don't send this to everybody so he will see it.
What job do you want to have? Gymnastics teacher.
What college do you hope to go to? Auburn, yea Auburn.
Where does mommy work? At home, taking care of us and cleaning.
Favorite thing about yourself? I am pretty smart.
Favorite thing about God? He is in my heart and will stay there forever.
Favorite bible verse? Keep your tongue from evil. Wait no, Guard your heart or love your neighbor as yourself.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Kenya here we come...

If you follow closely you will remember my husband and son went to Kenya earlier this year with Care For Aids ( and I posted about it here and here.
Well here we go again! We are taking Reese to Kenya September 19! She is so excited and has been asking to go to Africa for 2 years now. We as parents feel like the best way to cultivate compassion and generosity in our children's heart for the least, the vulnerable, the orphan, and the impoverished is to expose them to that world. I don't want my kids growing up thinking everyone lives at the level we do, that food is always in excess, and that their biggest problems are what to wear or that I made them apologize to their sibling or clean up after themselves.  I want them to know that children their age lose their innocence when they have to become parents to their younger siblings as they lose their parents to AIDS, war or poverty. That kids their age are watching their parents bodies shrivel up to a disease that will tear apart their family and that we can actually do something about it. 
Our hearts and lives have been connected to Care for Aids and we are so grateful for the partnership that lies ahead.  John and I have been praying for 5 years for a place we could plant roots as a family to not only give but to get our hands in the game as a family, visit, make connections, build relationships and invest. We want to do more than check writing as our giving, we want to do life living. To really get in there with the 'least of these'. Because they have more to teach me about life than any book I could read or group I could join. I feel most at home in the red dirt of Africa. It does well for my heart to be among those that are  joyous in suffering, those that are content while having little, and those who are hopeful and depend on God for their very existence. I pray that we can teach our kids how to love without bounds. That we are not the "privileged" because of how much we have, but that God has seen great potential in us to get involved in the story he is writing. Potential I don't want to shirk because we are busy and the trip is expensive and our kids are too young. We cannot close our eyes. God has shown us so much injustice, poverty, and pain. We must act. I don't want my kids to just sit on the sidelines of God's story either. I want their heart to follow their treasure. I want their treasure to be what God treasures. And he treasures the lost, the fatherless, the poor, the broken, the hungry, the naked. I am too often and don't want to be a stumbling block for my kids. It is so easy for me to get caught up in "stuff", making memories with fun date nights, cute clothes, making sure our playroom is stocked with toys, etc.  These are not the ultimate things. But if I am not cautious they pass beyond where they should in our hearts and I pass that on to my kids. But I feel like when I step onto African soil a reset button is hit in my heart. A reminder of what God has brought my heart through. A re-ignition of the passion he has put deep inside me. And a fading away of the temporary and petty worries I let cloud my mind. And a shifting of perspective again fixing my eyes more clearly on Jesus and resetting my heart on the right treasure.
I want my kids to have a context for how 90%+ of how the world lives. I want it to be an ongoing discussion in our home. Not just a guilt comment at dinner about hungry children, but a memory, an experience, a connection they've made. Some people think it is not safe to take little kids out of the country to a place with rape, parasites, disease and such poverty. But where some see risk I see benefit. I hope that Reese sees that in our family we choose obedience and compassion over our safety. I hope this penetrates the hearts of my kids so deep that they are repulsed by living a "safe" life. I love the quote in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe:
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? 
Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. 
But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
I hope this trip changes Reese, I hope her heart is broken, here eyes are opened, barriers are removed, God is more real to her, she shines her light, her love is extravagant. I pray she sees Jesus differently. Because he is a lot easier to find here for me. After all, he has told us where he is. He is at the bottom, near to the brokenhearted, Father of the Fatherless, and arm in arm with the least of these. This is not a hierarchy that puts me at the top. It is a brotherhood where I should be standing side by side, touching hands and sharing resources, giving of myself.
Jen Hatmaker said in a conference I recently attended (loosely quoted from my notes:) the following:
"As we see the world as our 'neighbors' unrest should grow in our hearts. When we look upon the injustices of the world and see our lack of involvement with the least, our hearts should be torn. Jesus was very dramatic with his language toward the rich. Camel fitting through a needle? Deaf? Blind? For so long I was over-churched, bible studies, being at the church every time the doors were open. I was still "dry", starving and malnourished spiritually. I read the verses about the hungry, the orphan the poor. I excused myself because I cared for the 'spiritual orphan', the hungry 'souls', the poor 'in spirit'. But I realized with over 300 verses about it, God is being very literal. We are the answer to so many of the problems around the world if we let God have his way with us. Pride and shame are both incorrect responses to your wealth. You didn't get to pick where you were born. Do not freeze in guilt. You've been selected for this time. Much is required from you. Don't be paralyzed by the scope of your responsibility. He is sovereign and he sees something in you. When we live in exclusion to the rest of the world's suffering as we wallow in our own excess we do so at the misrepresentation of Christ. Just act. Throw in your lot with the marginalized. It may be a mess, there may be disappointment. But you will find the most exciting faith you've never experienced, the deepest joy you've always missed. God is still in the miracle business, we just rarely go where he told us He would be. At the bottom of the pile. With the least of these"

 (*Reese is going to take part in raising money for the ministry there. She will be selling Paper Bead necklaces made by Ugandan women. Please email me on the "drop me a line" button on the right if you are interested in purchasing one or donating to the ministry going on there! Pictures taken by Mark Miller on Wheeler's trip to Kenya)

Please be in prayer for Reese's heart especially as we prepare for this journey!

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

A picture is really worth a thousand words

I’ve heard it too many times when people see our family: “you’re so incredible, inspirational, amazing”. This is not my hope for what you see when you see our family out and about, read my blog, or see our family picture; because this is not what is true. I am not above or beyond reach. I am not some higher level of extraordinary. We are not on a different “level” of Christianity that anyone else.  Not even close.

When you see us I pray you see:
-an imperfect family made up of imperfect people who all came from brokenness and are on different journeys to healing and wholeness.
-a picture that now has smiles, but that came out of suffering, trauma, and abandonment. We walked through (and still walk through) seasons of challenge, difficulty and hardships.
-an adoption that journeyed through the deepest of pain. We cast out demons, we witnessed trauma, we had moments where we wanted to quit, throw in the towel, return to an ‘easier life’.
-relationships that sometimes require a will to love rather than relying on a fleeting emotion of love.
-two parents who are not “saviors” of our children. Only two saved by a Great God and in the overflow of the love he gives us, we also give to all of our children.
-a marriage that is not perfect, but that strives to love and serve each other through difficulty rather than having an option of getting out.
-two parents that do not have it all together, have all the answers, and even the “wisdom” we do have is not put into practice at all times.
-a journey that took me to the bottom of myself, showed me the depth of depravity and a time where I was forced to stare at the worst of my thoughts, emotions and actions.

But also I hope you see:
-that saying yes to God is not drudgery and pain. It is freeing and fun. It leads to a life that we could not imagine before stepping out in what He calls us to.
-love is not confined to our own genetic makeup. (I mean, I love my husband don’t I? :)
-races really can coexist in unity and beauty. That the least of these can become the greatest. That Jesus really is where he says he is and who he says he is.
-you really can still focus on and enjoy your marriage with 4 little ones running around vying for your every ounce of energy.
-living the ‘comfortable’ life with 2.4 perfect kids and a easily explained existence is really not the best life God had for us.
-trading in my comforts and areas of safety is worth giving all I have to Jesus and my family.
-it is worth the stares, the family members that may not have understood, the friends that told us we may be getting in over our heads, and the challenges we faced to be honored to parent all 4 of our kids.
-that we did not ruin our kids lives by opening our hearts and homes to ‘orphans’, God has opened their hearts to far more.

I hope you see yourself in our adoption, just like I have. The brokenness and pain that was exchanged for belonging and family. The acceptance and unconditional love they now have access to. That Jesus wants to give that to all of us if we allow ourselves to leave what binds us and trade in for a life of freedom and a family far greater than any on this earth. It is merely the tiniest of glimmers of the love and life he has for us.
I am so grateful to be adopted by Jesus. I can not nor do I intend to be the savior in my own equation. I pray my broken, imperfect life points my children to a whole, perfect God. 
So look closely. What is God calling you to see? What does your life say about Him? What is the truth behind the smiles? Lets trade in the masks we wear for the truth of the journey we are on. He receives far more glory and our chains of performance are gone.

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