When Rest Finds {you}

Do you know the most fulfilling moment I have had between me and my newest little one? You might guess that it was when she pointed to me and affirmed “mama“. Maybe when she first said “my love you.” Maybe it was when I had been away for a couple of days and returned home to her enormous, crescent-moon-eyed smile and shrill screams of excitement. Those things are precious to me, like jewels.

Those things tenderly noted, the most profound, fulfilling, moment ~hands down~ I will always remember in these early days is when I looked back in the van and saw my girl asleep. We had been out and about that day and in the middle of all the activity, she gave up her no-nap policy, closed her beautiful eyes and slept. Then again, voluntarily, a few days later at home~

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There is a lot of hard mixed in. As I have written before and will say again, adoption is a result of brokenness– the kind of brokenness that affects the way a brain is wired. It can, and many times does, cause defensiveness and insecurity that might follow for a lifetime.  It makes complete sense that would be the case. It would be unkind for me to assume otherwise.

For weeks she had been testing me. She wasn’t sure what to think of this arrangement. All of her faculties had been telling her that she needed to make sure nothing was going to fall apart. She thought she needed to prove her worth half of the time and the other half, wanted to see what I would do if all of her brokenness spilled out in all the worst ways. She needed to measure my response and know, with as many senses engaged as possible, I would always be there– Micah too. Sleep was not her friend in this endeavor. Anything could happen during the dreaming hours. If she wasn’t holding this all together, who was?

But this child of mine, she laid it all down– the control, the anxiety, the fear, the uncertainty, the illusion of need for panic– and my little one rested. What an honor to be privy to such a sacred, healing, space.

This child. She teaches me so much about the way I am loved. Not because I am particularly good at loving, but because I so identify with her struggle. It is easy to say, “Jesus loves me.” It is much harder to believe it when I am experiencing all the things she doesn’t have the sophistication to hide. We all carry varying degrees of the same struggles.

There is something beautiful and holy about true rest– even aside from the pursuit of it. It is a part of self-forgetfulness (T. Keller) only grace gives. When it just happens, whether it is because we reach the end of ourselves or because it is so contrary to the way that everything else works in the world, it evokes a peace that is beyond what I may find the words to describe. What I can do, is point to its shadow and appreciate, rejoice even, its presence. I know that behind the presence is a Person- three to be precise.

You could take a thousand of my struggles and sins and line them up. You could name them for which lines they cross. But this is sure of each one: every visible and invisible sinner-side of me is barred with temporary, “I am His, I can rest” amnesia. My problem is not finding and remembering all the ways my relationship with Him should go sideways. It is remembering that He remembers my sins no more and has done everything— everything— to make me His.

My soul finds rest in God alone. My salvation comes from Him. Psalm 62

I imagine that, after all has been done for Him to say, “You are Mine”, coming to the end of control, fear, anxiety, reasoning, and trying so hard to make sure it doesn’t all fall apart then finding rest in the comfort of His work, His peace, His mercy, and His grace gives Him a glory due my Abba, Father, by the work of His Son, and in the abiding of the Spirit. Lord I believe, help my unbelief.

Does Anyone Understand?

This is a third installment of a blog series that has taken a back burner as my life has been largely occupied by new little girl. To catch us both up, here are the links for the previous blogs:

Our Relational, Triune God

Who Am I?

~

I found a meme a couple of years ago and it immediately resonated with me.

I have seen this in a few different places. Many people have used her as a way to express the way they feel having a particular illness or in an effort to explain their experience living in a unique situation or circumstance, running the gamut from acquiring Lyme Disease, facing depression, or living with Sensory Processing Disorders, just to name a few. While the reason she resonates differs, she speaks to many folks the same way. I feel like I could be this woman too, with the lightning and the coffee and the well-expressed play-on-verse. I feel her isolation and underneath, her desire to connect but feeling more and more disconnected. These are serious feelings that can lead down some dark paths. I think of my news feed lately, discussions of depression and suicide in every circle. I understand those things are not cured with better Theology. Sometimes our physical needs must be attended first. At the same time, we need connection. We were made for it.

A few years ago, I was invited to join a facebook group for those who have some connection to embryo adoption. It was a rather small group to begin with but after a couple of years, it branched off in a few different directions. Even a small group of people bound by a similar path still find areas of disconnectedness and dissimilarity. Even within the branches, one may or may not still feel like it is an exact fit. We reach out for someone to listen, even through the written word with accompanying emoji, and hope anyone will catch the inflection in our voices that underscore the deep, emotive power of our experiences.

Our lives are varied and unless we believe someone sees us clearly, our experiences can isolate us. But something sacred happens when another human being enters into another’s experience enough to empathize. More immediate bonds are formed when we find others who have the ability to sympathize with us. I know there have been times a writer or speaker will say something that connects me with them in a way that makes me believe we speak the same language— a language not everyone understands. Almost always, there is something unique or some variation of thought in the way we process things that arise.

But this is what we all want. This is what I ask for as I try to explain my thoughts, feelings, and desires in a way that begs to be understood. This is what I want when I employ my understanding of words, usage, and grammar (sometimes poor grammar) to write honest descriptions. And this is what causes me angst when my attempts at being understood are met with indifference, apathy, or judgement. Surely, if only I could speak with more clarity, I would be heard. If only I could describe my feelings and thoughts in a way that the hearer had a visceral understanding, you and I could form a bond and truly see each other.

When life experience affects me deeply, I ask the big questions, whether or not I am aware. There is a question underneath the desire to be seen and heard that my soul speaks. If distilled down to a core level, I ask, “Does anyone understand what I am going through?” or more specifically and importantly, “Does anyone understand me?”. Could it be that God, in His wisdom, not only sent Jesus to seek and save the lost, which attends my greatest need, but in tenderness came to live as man so that at the appointed time, after “it is finished” and “ascension”, He sat down at the right hand of God the Father so that He may always live to intercede for me— every moment of my day. Could it be that He pleads wholly, body and blood, as God Incarnate, Emmanuel, Substitute, and Sympathizer?

In Trinity, Christ Jesus just might answer in a way that has the capability to speak to those core questions. Could , “Does anyone understand?” be met with a balm-for-the-soul, “I do”?

The Person who relates to my question with perfect sympathy and empathy, omniscience and personal experience is Jesus Christ. There are so many functions of the incarnation. Upon Him is the crux of salvation in his life, death, and resurrection. But among those holy rites are very human ones. Kelly Kapic has an excellent chapter in his book, Embodied Hope which looks at Colossians 2:9 through the lenses of Athanasius and Warfield, exploring the emotional life of Savior of the World. It is beautiful. We often think of Jesus in His big moments, doing all to fulfill the big laws, accomplishing all we should do and doing nothing we shouldn’t. We think of His big decisions, His preaching, teaching, discipling, providing, and healing. Among the big moments were many small ones. Was there down time in the life of the Savior of the World? Well, it would be true that all of His time here was completely and perfectly good, even the ways He negotiated every in-between moment in His ministry. He fulfilled the Law for us, savingly as a substitute but also sympathetically. He didn’t fail to take every moment captive in service to His mission when others were watching and did not fail to continue even when they weren’t. His life, every minute, was poured out, measured to meet us in our every need.

There is a record of his humanity recorded in the gospels*. Jesus developed in utero and was born. He was circumcised. He increased in wisdom and stature as His body grew and brain developed. He learned to walk, to eat, to jump. He was baptized and felt the water wash over Him. He was led by the Spirit. He was hungry, tempted, and physically needed the ministry of angels. He negotiated complicated circumstances to stay the course of His mission on earth. He listened and asked questions. He used words and language to preach and draw people to Himself, the Living Word. He was famous and popular among people and built a reputation. When He healed others, He used hands which He created first for Adam. He looked down and experienced the skin He designed for man for Himself. He submitted to their limitations in His humanity, yet they bore the power to help and heal in His divinity. One hand grasped the hand of Peter in the water, his very physical feet rested on the surface of the waves. He mixed and placed mud on the eyes of the blind. He broke the bread and served the wine.  He tenderly held the feet of His disciples and washed them. He marveled at those who came to Him. He reclined and ate. He gave counsel. He felt compassion– in fact, He was moved with it over and over again.

Kapic says, “Jesus was no stoic.” And I wholeheartedly agree.

Could it be that His face is not neutral? That He expresses emotions with us as He prays for us? With His own blood, He addresses our biggest needs and with His never-ending petitions, doesn’t fail to remember our smallest.

So what isolates me these days? What makes me ask, “Does anyone understand?” Well, learning to parent six children has —in the same day— had me both laughing in stitches and wanting to curl up in the fetal position. Our family life has needed to be entirely renegotiated. Adoption is beautiful and so, so hard. Our church has been undergoing some pretty difficult stuff. Some of my adult relationships have changed. I am continuing to hear, “at your age…” from medical personnel. I have visited various docs way more than I would like so far this year. There may be a facebook group for those things— but could it be that in the Trinity, I might find a relationship more satisfying?

When I feel grief, the kind that rips my soul open, makes my gut seize, and elicits the kind of cry that makes my head hurt, Jesus has wept.

When I feel deep joy, those awarenesses only experience brings to the most simple and profound things, causing my smiling eyes to well up and face beam as the center of my chest threatens to burst, Jesus created this response and felt this too.

When things are so complicated that feelings and thoughts, desires and choices make my mind spin, Jesus negotiated tough situations in a way that always put the work given Him by the Father first. His priorities were never compromised and capacity to love never undermined by His mission.

He knew the feeling of torn skin and broken bones, of lethargy and sweat, hunger and thirst. When my body breaks, aches, and hurts, He has felt those things.

He was misunderstood, misjudged, the subject of gossip and lies. When I am a target of speculation and judgement, He knows what that feels like, too.

When I am in situation of suspense and I feel completely nauseated or my mind is fatigued to the point of mental exhaustion, He knows.

He felt all of these things, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). He lived without the poison that makes me forget His righteousness for me and praise my own accomplishment ~or~ momentarily, fear, despair, and forget to hope.

The words spoken to the Father on my behalf are uttered out of the lips of a Holy Savior using real breath from once breathless, now transfigured lungs. If I meditate on this long enough to fill in the space between biblical inspiration and my experience, I imagine He explains how it feels to live under the weight of sin in a world groaning for redemption. He is the fulfillment of weeping with those who weep, rejoicing with those who rejoice, and all that is between.

Jesus Christ did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but took the form of a servant (Phil. 2:5-7), so that He could do what I cannot. My life doesn’t need a makeover. I don’t just need some help. I need a substitute— for all of it. I need a Savior who lived an obedient life that honors God in all ways in all things— a life that fulfills the Law and silences it. I must have the sin-penalty paid— death and sacrifice to satisfy the wrath of God. I have to have someone who is an advocate for me who defeated death so that I may have the eternal hope of heaven. Yet, in the way God ordained my need to be met with His work, I have a Savior who is also is my Sympathizer.

It is hard to believe that anyone could do and be all of those things. Lord I believe, help my unbelief. Learning more of this Savior and Sympathizer with others in community is a gift and a connection worth preserving.

Jesus was eager to return to the Father at His ascension. He was also eager for us to receive the Comforter. I have more questions. Could it be that in the Persons of the Trinity, there are more answers?

 

 

*Ref. Matthew 2:1; 3:16; 4:1,2,12; 4:24; 5:1-7:28; 8:3,10; 9:36; 11:16, 21; 14:14; 15:32 – just to name a few.

 

 

 

Many Questions {and then a beautiful answer}

Back in January, I started hearing that things weren’t moving as we had hoped. We knew from the beginning that adopting from Haiti could be a very long process. Maybe I misunderstood. Maybe things slowed down. Maybe I am just beginning to feel my age. Maybe I am coming to terms with the ages of the children around here who are growing at easily noticeable rates. Whatever the catalyst, we knew something was off. We asked some questions and the information we received made us believe it would take even longer. As we looked again at the timeline and studied the shortest and longest possible scenarios, Micah and I knew something was going to have to change. Knowing that we still felt called to adopt, we began exploring what that change could be.

After looking toward other options, we learned we could adopt from Asia. The timeline seemed more feasible. We began getting used to the idea and at the same time, began grieving the loss of what we hoped for in Haiti. After a couple of near matches, I wasn’t sure where things were going.

Then, I got a phone call. Apparently, the reason all the maybes began to pile up, questions swirl, and unsettled thoughts and feelings rushed in at just the right time was because our child was here. There was a little girl originally from Asia, already living in the United States, who might be a fit for our family. Honestly, we knew she belonged here from that first conversation. It wasn’t a question of how but of when.

Within just a few weeks, everything was in motion. The more we learned about her, the more we realized her life was being born into our lives. Everything has happened so fast. The Lord has been before us all the way. I have no other explanation for the way so many details have come together. Bedrooms were moved around, books read in preparation, pertinent, appropriate conversations were had among friends and advisors, shopping was done— all in the service of making us and our home available and ready for this little girl— and all of it in a time frame that, looking back, almost seems impossible. Then, we received an incredible placement timeline that moved her from the state she resided in to ours. The hard work of our agency and the blessing of officials has been both humbling and simply amazing.

This evening as I type, she is with us. She is home.

Over the past year and a half, the Lord was readying us for her and her for us. Now, we cannot wait to be “officially” a family in the eyes of the law. Prayerfully, it is only a matter of time. I can’t wait for you to meet her. She is a delight.

God bless the orphans in Haiti, Asia, chryo-preservation units, and all over the world. God bless the families willing to love them into their homes. God bless them for the days, months, and years they wait for each other. May He continue to call us by His name and weave our lives together.

In Pain and Providence

Everything happens for a reason. 

These words cut into me as deeply as the pain I felt in my back, but sliced into soul instead of skin. “Okay, you got me,” I thought. I fantasized about switching places with the bearer of ill-communicated words of God’s providence. The pain overrode my response and kindly kept my mouth shut.

I had spent the better part of the previous week preparing for a trip away with Micah. He and I don’t get away alone very often. And when we do, there is so much planning that goes into it. Making sure our five left at home are covered as well as whomever is kind enough to come spend days with them, taking on the pressures of their care and schedule, is a days-long process.

There was so much to consider, plan, and prepare. Yet, come the morning we were to leave, everything was done. The biggest problem on my mind was the over-packing of heavy books I had done in the excitement of having some extra reading and writing time. I had spent a few minutes feeling relief, even journaling a few notes of thankfulness. I had one errand to run, and with a short flight delay, there was plenty of time to get it accomplished before heading to sunny Florida.

That morning, there was a school delay. Even as sleet had affected roads the night before, it seemed largely inconsequential compared to the sum of the life-negotiations I had finally ceased navigating. Buses were still running. Schools gave extra time but did not close. I gathered several items in my arms, including my purse prepared with traveling necessities, and headed out. I opened and closed the front door without a pause in my movement thinking only of the last task before the trip.

My next thoughts were, “What is happening. I am falling. There is nothing I can do.” It seemed to last a long time— the falling down part, even though it was only a couple of seconds at most. Because my hands were full, I didn’t get them behind me. I was quite sure I had hit the concrete stairs, but I couldn’t tell exactly what was injured, at first. As I fell, I somehow yelled for Micah who was just inside the door. I didn’t think he had heard me, so I raised my phone, already in my hand, and tried to activate it. I knew something was awry and I needed help. As my husband barreled out the door toward me, sliding too and landing to my right, I tried to turn and help him. My body wouldn’t comply. It took him a minute to shake off his injuries.

Now, I have watched funny videos enough to know that if you had been a house or two down watching this craziness, it might be reasonable to snicker at what appeared to be a pile-up of people at the mercy of icy stairs. I saw the viral video of the jogger who bragged and busted it on live news in 2014 and while I hoped the poor gal wasn’t seriously injured, I laughed. It was funny. The trampoline, piñata, “watch this” people who have walked away with $$$$ for their pain know, as much as it hurts, our mistakes sometimes induce the best laughs.

Speaking of mistakes, I have never wanted so badly to go back just a few minutes and consider for just a second the fact that icy weather conditions equal slick stairs. I had a lot of time to desire a do-over in my desperate situation. I was immobile. Micah tried to get me up but it just wasn’t happening. My back had gone into some kind of spasm. The pain oozed in and had taken over. He tried again to lift me. Nope. So he called an ambulance.

I had 10-15 minutes of laying in the sleet on the concrete landing before they came. I had 1,000 thoughts. The overriding one orbited around the feeling that I just couldn’t believe this was happening. And what had I done? What in the world hurt so bad that I couldn’t move? And— would I even be able to move?

The next hours were full of pain… so much pain, particularly as the ambulance bumped and swerved its way to the hospital in terrible traffic, then as the medical professionals moved me from board to stretcher, stretcher to ER bed, bed to CT, back to bed, bed to X-ray, back to bed. Coats and clothing had to be maneuvered. Every movement was excruciating. I cried a lot.

In the midst, enter lady with the untimely truth.

Sometimes, we are untimely with our words.

We are so uncomfortable entering into suffering, sometimes (shall I say many times if we are brave?) even our own. We want to smooth things over, even with holy things. But what if the pain is just as holy? What if this road, the way of the cross, is the one we absolutely cannot avoid? And we stay on it all the way until we meet the day we arrive at our physical end? Then and only then do we awaken in complete, never-going-back, whole resurrection. What if the suffering, both physical and spiritual, ushers in truths that shine a spotlight full-on the state of our bodies and souls and is what brings us to God?

This is the way of the cross. It is the way of suffering.

Words that go around suffering feel more like weapons rather than truths that support space for all the real pain of this broken place. What is ironic is that my Providential, Sovereign God was with me every moment, not forcing unrealized redemption of as a way to anesthetize the suffering. The promise that it would come to an end— that Jesus came to defeat all that is hurt and pain and secured the promise of an eternity absent every bad thing (most importantly my own sin and rebellion)— was just as true unspoken as heard aloud every minute. It reached in in the cross and proved Immanuel once again. The Holy Spirit, Comforter prays for me. The One known as the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief, now seated at the right hand of His Father, hears. He always has the ear of my Father. He ever-lives to intercede for me, as I writhe and cry, feel the limitations of a body, finite and frail, knowing how it felt to have bones that cracked and broke, flesh that was bruised and torn. He sees His scars and knows— being human hurts and He prays accordingly on my behalf.

He waited with me on the stairs. He was there with Micah as he made decisions and moved to care for me. He was all around when my consciousness was lost. He was there as the IV tore open my vein and as meds were administered that helped with the pain. He was there as the nurses attended and anticipated my needs. He was in the assessment and treatment given by a seasoned physician, knowing all that was wrong, even before the viewers of the scanning machines. He was there as I sat up for the first time, feeling the weight of the pain settle in muscles that would remind me of the injury even to this minute. He was behind and before as the Physical Therapist taught me to walk and climb and descend stairs. Every second of pain, every minute of question, every hour of recovery since… Never moving out of the discomfort but abiding with me in it, the Incarnate One, Emmanuel, was mine. Not because of who I am, but because of who He is.

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20

I have spent the last almost two weeks knowing what it means to have part of my spine break. It is astonishing the pain two fractures of the transverse process of one’s L1 vertebrae inflict. The bone is one thing— the muscles responding are another. I was fortunate to avoid worse injury and paralysis. I was fortunate to not have damage to organs. I have re-learned how to do things I haven’t thought about being able to do ever. My baby sister— the little one I was so proud to care for some as a baby, now grown with a baby of her own— came in to care for me this time. Before her, Micah’s parents kindly held down the fort. Folks have brought meals and flowers. I have received prayers and cards. I treasure them. I have come to appreciate well-honed skill of my Physical Therapist. I am making progress! I am so thankful that God brings temporary healing to shadow the hope of heaven. Micah and I have added a new season of knowing in a way that will be woven in the tapestry of our marriage forever. I am a dependent being, made more aware of all the outside-of-me help.

My eternal hope, and yours, is not that we always share truths in timely ways. God knows I have tried to avoid sharing in the sufferings of my friends and neighbors by forcing an over-realized eschatology instead of weeping with them in their very real pain. I do have a desire that I grow in bearing with one another well, loving as I have first been loved— but that is not my hope. It rests in the One who ever lives and pleads for me. Jesus lived a life marked with timely words uttered from human lips, emanating from His omniscience and perfect compassion, for me. He submitted to suffering and death for my sake. He rose again to bring the promise of resurrection— for me.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

I don’t know the reasons why this happened. I suspect they are good ones. They don’t change how hard this has been and may be for a while. I may never know the whys. And that is okay.

 

 

Who Am I?

The internet is a place where we can design what the world sees us to be. As much as I’d like to think I am real out here, the truth is that you know me from a lot of words filled with truth and typos and some glimpses into my life via the one-second snapshots I have probably edited and posted. Sometimes I get brave and try to be as truthful as I can. But I know, as much as we’d like to think we are who the internet thinks we are, we only scratch the surface out here.

I think about the thing for which I’d like to be known. I’d like to be known for being a person in process— loved by God and wanting to know more of what that means. A person with real flaws, real gifts, real pain, and real joy. A person with questions and thoughts. I’d like to think myself a writer. And not just a writer, but a good one!

Every real relationship, either face-to-face or screen-to-screen, i.e. wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, friend, neighbor, acquaintance— begs the question, who am I to {you}? Am I liked? Loved? I want you to see me as a positive adjective  noun. It isn’t entirely satisfying for me to define who I am either. I want you to agree with and affirm me. This is powerful— because who we say we are is confirmed if someone agrees with us— and not just someone, but someone with some authority. Or maybe if enough people say it, then it will be true. But what if there is one dissenter? One who point out the flaws and says I am a negative adjective noun? And what if deep down I know they are right? Facts and opinion, founded or unfounded, tears at the peace of the hope of positive identity.

Who am I? Who do all these people think I am? But who am I really? What is my identity? Where do I belong? If I put this upon you to answer for me, I am certain this question will never be put to rest.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote this verse, still applicable today:

WHO AM I?
Who am I? They often tell me
I would step from my cell`s confinement
calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They also tell me
I would talk to my warders
freely and friendly and clearly,
as though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I would bear the days of misfortune
equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself,
restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
trembling with anger at despotisms and petty humiliation,
tossing in expectation of great events,
powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today, and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

~

We cannot talk about who we are without first talking about who God is. It is He who made us— not we ourselves. I am growing in my awareness of how controversial beginning here is these days. Yet, I come from the starting point of scripture and I desire to maintain the integrity of its assertions. From there, we begin as God reveals Himself. The Old Testament is full of stories that reveal the One True and Living God.

First, God is not some amorphous, out-there deity. He reveals Himself in particular ways and He relates to His creation in particular ways as well. At the beginning, He is Creator. He also relates closely with Adam and Eve, walking with them in the garden. But very quickly after the fall, God reveals Himself to be I AM- the One who was and is and is to come. His authority is swiftly established as He asserts His judgement and dominion over the earth and its inhabitants. As the Law is added, we learn I AM is not one with whom to be reckoned alone. No one comes to God in their own way. He also chooses to reveal Himself by name in terms of His attributes as well as His covenants. Among those, there is El-Shaddai. El is a generic term for deity that “instills with mankind a mysterious dread or reverence”, with -Shaddai meaning “God of the Mountains” or “The Almighty God”. El-Roi means “God who sees me”. Yahweh-Jireh combines the covenant name for God with the place God provided the lamb in the place of Isaac and means “The LORD will provide”. There is Adonai which shows honor and “took on the connotation of God’s absolute lordship”. {reference, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, pp. 1171-1172} God has many names and these are only some of the ways God chose to reveal Himself for years and years. These names are the ways those with faith called upon Him. They would have thought themselves “Sons of Abraham”, the ones who were the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. Yet Abraham was not their ultimate father.

Woven throughout scripture are promises of the One who will bridge the chasm between God and man. There are prophecies that speak of Him. His identity is woven in and  through the Old Testament. He will be a child; one called a Son. He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. He is the child born to us (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6) Immanuel, God with us.

This Son comes to earth, making the claim to be the fulfillment of the prophecies. He says and does many things to prove His divinity and, at the same time, displays His humanity. One of the things He does is teach the disciples how to pray. Yet, after all the descriptive names that reveal the person and character of God in the Old Testament, Jesus tells the disciples to pray in this way (Matthew and Luke’s gospels), and calls out to God saying our Father, or Father. He has spoken of their Heavenly Father, yet speaking of and speaking to are different things. Jesus speaks directly to God as Father and admonishes those around Him to follow suit. Of all the names the disciples would have known to address God, Dad was the way Jesus wanted them to know Him.

Jesus introduces us to God— our, His, mine, your Everlasting Father. 

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Scripture is first a book about His rescue plan, to borrow a phrase from Sally Loyd-Jones. His plan, His person, His Son, Jesus is the main narrative. And who needs to be rescued? The first chapters of the book of Romans answers this question as does other scriptures which describe those apart from God. This must be acknowledged if I am to begin to settle the question of who I am in relation to Him. We are first made aware that we are people following the prince of the power of the air, hopeless, dead in trespasses, orphans, exiles— all the negative adjectives nouns— We are those who need rescue. I feel all those adjectives deeply as they give voice to the part of my soul that longs to be pulled from despair. Clearly, we need a new identity if there is to be peace in all the parts of our souls that ask, Who am I?

After a rich explanation of our need in the first several chapters of the book of Romans, Paul voices a response to God after having his eyes opened to his own sin. I have written about this before, yet I feel my soul repeating it when I continue to come to terms with the depths of my own need. When we become aware of who we are before God,  our response isn’t, Sovereign Lord. It isn’t Righteous Ruler. Not Deliverer. It is, “Abba! Father!” We look to Him as a child looks to his or her dad, knowing the only real help comes from Him. Our hearts are like lifted arms, only to be made aware that He has been pulling us up by our hands all along. This is the chosen way God shows Himself to a people who are made aware of exactly who they are. There is nothing more to say, nothing to explain, nothing to do but see Him and press in to the awareness that He is our Father. 

God is I AM, our Father, one with authority and paternity. In the way He chooses to reveal Himself as Father, He relates to us and by default says you are.

But God— being rich in mercy made those lost to Him, found. He sent Jesus to seek them, to live for them, to die for them, and to be raised again for the hope of eternity— all so He can name them. The adjectives and nouns no longer change in relation to Him. The title is no longer up in the air. It is settled once and for all.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his son into your hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.  Galatians 4:4-7

The one who carries the name above all names has named us. He has initiated, maintains, and promises to wholly ~body and soul~ restore our relationship, complete with the benefits of the only righteous Son and rightful Heir, who gives His righteousness  and rightfulness to His inheritance to us.

We all want to be called someone significant who is loved and cherished, who is accepted and forever belongs. And because God calls Jesus, Son, and because we are in Him, we are sons and daughters. And not only are we sons and daughters, but we are heirs, beloved, and forever belonging. The blanks we seek to fill-in with all the relationships we have in our lifetime will vary. But we no longer have to ask the question, Who am I? If God, our Father, is who He says He is, then we are who He says we are.

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am thine.

link:  D. Bonhoeffer

Hearing His word settles me down— as only the voice of a loving parent can settle and sooth, because His words do not hang on anything other than who He is and what He has done. The struggle now is to believe— to convince my mind, not yet whole, that I am becoming who I already am. I can hear it a thousand different ways today and need to hear it again tomorrow. Sinner and Saint. Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

 

 

 

Our Relational, Triune God

This past summer, my second oldest son and I were debriefing after he had spent time in VBS. “How was your day?” I asked.

“Well, (short pause) I detected a bit of trinitarian heresy,” he replied.

I burst out laughing. I vacillated between being curious, proud, and sincerely hoping he had not called out the teacher in front of everyone in the middle of lesson time! This child— His parents. He gets it honest people.

I have spent years trying to fight the fact that I love theology. Once, I joined a women’s book club. When the group voted on future recommendations, I was a tad (okay, more than a tad) disappointed my choice, The Doctrine of God by John Frame (which I was lightly reading at the time), wasn’t a shoo-in. I just can’t fake it. I am not a Janette Oak reader. Never have been— never will be. And maybe it is okay that I am okay with that at this point in life. Perhaps you have known this all along and you are okay with that too.

We all have a theology, whether or not we are aware of it. Our thoughts about God permeate our conscious and subconscious. Even those who wouldn’t claim belief in a higher power take great pains to defend their position and disprove others. I find that… interesting.

Our theology shapes us. It reaches into the everyday and gives a foothold when everything else seems to be shifting. The way we know God changes the way we see Him, clearly, but it also shapes the way we see ourselves and others. It matters for me when I kiss my husband. It matters when I look in the eyes of my children, love, and lead them. It matters when I wait and wonder about our two Haiti babies and the hearts of birth parents. It matters when I glance in the mirror and see an aging face. It enters into chores and rest. It speeds and slows the diffusing of all the experiences that seem like such a big deal.

Particular in this internet space, I find myself sometimes uplifted, other times discouraged, and often sad. The internet seems to be, in its expanse, a readied means for invoking and revealing the soul. From stern warnings, social media conflicts, and new stories, creating awareness of all the broken things on one side— then to the  positive  heart-warming stories, “how to’s”, reminders of grace, and unification for a cause, there are so many feelings out here! Regardless of the theme, the affects of “likes”, “loves”, “reviews”, and “shares” make me painfully self-reflective.

Outside the cyber world, the real world offers an incessant dialogue between head and heart, mind and soul. When I find myself reacting strongly or feeling down, there may be surface questions that roll around my head, but if I could reduce all of them, they would originate with these three thoughts:

  1. Who am I? Who do all these people think I am? But who am I really? What is my identity? Where do I belong?
  2. Does anyone understand what I am going through? Does anyone see and understand me?
  3. Am I all alone?

I think about how the Triune God— Father, Son, and Holy Spirit— relate to these questions. Part of the way God has chosen to reveal Himself speaks to them. I am a person who forgets things, which is a big reason I write. I am always encouraged as God reaches from the outside in to my day, my space and circumstances, reminds, and gently leads. I hope that as I think again about who I am and who God is, I can encourage you too. I hope to go through these questions in a series of blogs so they are a bit more concise and easy for mediation. I honestly think books could be written here! But in this season and for reflective purposes, I am going to keep this a beginning point for a conversation which will most likely continue until faith is sight.

 

 

 

 

A Soul Growing to Know Well

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works,

                                                                                      my soul knows it very well.

I remember sitting at a Women’s Conference many years ago and hearing this verse read and the admonition to echo it sank from my ears to my heart. The truth immediately elicited an emotional reaction. Tears burned the sides of my face as I tried to swallow and fight back the kind of cry one would rather take place in private. The thought that my body was fashioned to house my soul for those moments— for the years behind and ahead— made me marvel. The complex systems humans strain to understand, from the structure of skin on the outside to the minute hormonal, cellular processes on the inside, are apologetic arguments in and of themselves. Even with the presence of wonder in what it means to be intimately created by a loving Creator, in His image no less, the thought still brought a deep measure of sadness.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

Today, I feel much the same. For the past year, my thyroid, or what is left of it, has (at best guess) ceased to function. It is amazing that a gland so small can control so many vital functions! It has taken months to get me to a place where I am getting some answers. Some of those answers have come with a new set of questions. I do have a new doc— one with a medical degree, twenty years experience in internal medicine, as well as a degree in functional medicine. I feel like I am in a tunnel looking for the light at the end. I am sure it is there, I am just not sure how long until I can see it.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.

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I have been unable to do some of the things I love— including writing! My brain has been foggy, a term I had heard but had not experienced. It is a thing.

O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.

I generally don’t wrestle with symptoms of problems. This, along with a myriad of odd health issues peppered throughout my life and particularly in the last year, forces me into a head-on confrontation of the realization that this body is not made to live forever. The questions that most often permeate my thoughts are ones around trusting that God, who made me in fear and wonder, did so under the weight of the fall. As 40 approaches in the next couple of years, it seems this is the magic age for more to go awry. But even as I grieve the loss of taking my energy level, dietary freedom, and less dependence on interventions for granted, I am reminded of the mercy behind the misery of it all.

I was recently teaching through Genesis 1-3 again with a gal who will soon be married. As I walked through the drama of scripture:

{the admonition given to Adam about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, his communication to Eve about the command, their fall into sin, the consequences for all mankind, the curses to follow, and most importantly thread of hope that runs ahead of the brokenness foretelling crushing of the serpent’s head and the sacrifice that allowed for the covering of the naked and ashamed couple}

the phrase that always stands out to me, left unfinished, is, “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—'” First, the differentiation of the two trees is important. Before the fall, eating from the Tree of Life was permissible. Eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was not. Adam and Eve had to be separated from the Tree of Life, lest they live eternally in bodies encumbered by sin. I have read commentators who say that even the thought of that was too much for God to imagine (if I may be so liberal in that term), so the sentence is incomplete. They are kicked out of the garden. In a way, it seems a great punishment to leave the place they walked with Him so closely. Yet for their own good, it was a great mercy. The older I get, the more I know that to live is to sin and know that I am a sinner. There is only one way out.

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Adam and Eve, forced from the Tree of Life, leave with the wages of sin both in curse and consequence. But they don’t leave naked. They exit clothed in covering provided by the death of another— animal skin.

It seems terrifying to know that God knows all my thoughts— my anxieties and worry, desire to know and control everything, and all my attempts to get around suffering— unless the path of repentance and faith is safe. Just as He has searched me, he has made the everlasting way my way by the person and work of Christ.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

Absent fruit from the Tree of Life, my body is beautifully made for a life which will meet an end. Without that knowledge, I may have never begun to wrestle with what comes next! I find it no mistake that the psalmist says “my soul knows” the Lord’s works are wonderful. My body cries, “What in the world is happening here?!” My soul knows it well— while flesh is wasting away, my soul is being renewed day by day. A growing knowledge of my dependence on the Lord has been and continues to be a source of life. There are many good gifts that delay and help, but they are only temporary. It is going to take my lifetime for me to shift my gaze away from looking for the cure apart from the work of Jesus on my behalf. It doesn’t mean that the wasting away part doesn’t absolutely stink! Sometimes it is absolutely terrible. Sometimes it physically hurts. There is no diminishing those facts. But the promise remains that God is continuing to turn my eyes from temporal things to the eternal. And isn’t that the struggle— to see all things in light of what He has done and is working to do. He is unmaking my body to make me His forever. My eternal body will work properly! The days of deteriorating will not last forever.

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Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. 

Until then, I am so thankful for a doc who is working so hard to help me. I feel hopeful that God will use him and his expertise to get a handle on my hormone levels! I am comforted when I remember that God has always cared for me by way of many means and promises to continue be with me. I am so grateful for each moment I can sing and dance, move and breathe, think clearly, and all the things that have suddenly become difficult! I also find rest in the Gospel— that Jesus gave His life so that I may live. He is my complete covering. The Spirit meets me and seals my soul. ~Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief~

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.

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All that said, please pray for me. This has come at an interesting time! Our dossier is now in the hands of the folks in Haiti. Now, we wait to be matched with our children. I can’t help but wonder if this timing allows for some gained stability before we travel to meet our Haiti babies. I pray that my needs are met with daily bread, sustaining strength, courage, and most of all, faith in the finished work of Jesus.

scripture reference, Psalm 139; Genesis 1:9, 2:16-17, 3:2-3,6-7, 14-19, 21-22; 2 Cor. 4:16 

 

 

Design for the Body & Soul

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This past Spring, I watched a Netflix original program called Abstract:  The Art of Design. It highlights different people who have found careers in graphic design, stage design, fashion, architecture and many other creative outlets. The artists featured are fascinating to me.

One of my favorites from the series is Ilse Crawford, a famed interior designer. She has had a part in creating spaces that invite folks in. Her work includes design for restaurants, hotels, homes, and furnishings. Her breadth stretches from high-end to more affordable, particularly in collaborations with Ikea.

I was fascinated at the dialogue of the program. She is an interesting person with obvious gifts. Ilse operates within the realm of engaging all of the senses. Not only does she have an eye for both form and function, but she also finds a way of treating those who enter the spaces she creates with a respect to their humanity, with empathy. When five senses are attended within design, a person feels differently and may act differently, she reflects.

In A Frame for Life, Isle says, “We are interested in integrating design with human experience, in investigating how design affects us, rather than how it affects the image. We don’t view design as a finished piece of furniture. Instead we explore how it can bring us together and better connect us, how it can make us more open and aware, how it can encourage us to keep learning and growing, how it can make us more active and encourage generosity and trust.”

Her words resonate with me as I spend so much of my time at home. In particular, my home is a canvas for life and love to dwell; a place of support for souls bound in lifetime connection, nourishment, and rest— or at least that’s what I would hope it would be. Beauty and order (or maybe intention in the way things are ordered) are inspiring to me. I have always felt a tension between aesthetics and the necessities of real life lived out in the most functional way possible. Regardless of the budget, I have had better and worse success blending the two in the many spaces we have lived through the years. All in all, I have wanted those living and visiting here to be affectionately invited in, needs met, and given some sense of freedom to be exactly where they are at any given moment.  I also love art and color, particularly having the ability to appreciate the beauty of a hue without it getting lost in busy display. Monochrome is my starting speed.

Having spent some time learning about other cultures and even other folk’s stories, I realize this is a luxury. Even at its best, home is a metaphor for the space where all of God’s promises will be fulfilled. Spaces are temporary. And not all have the invariable of safety.

That in mind, Isle inspires me to think about my own efforts. I would hope that through whatever the environment, people are the most valuable in the space.

I lose sight of that sometimes. I get all bent out of shape and less quick to offer whatever I have been given out of insecurity. And if I am honest, sometimes, my home is precisely the place where I feel the least attended. This is the place my lists accumulate. It is the place the project I began months ago lies in wait in the corner of the room, collecting dust and silently looming. It is the place that the fact that I am terrible at putting away laundry is on display. Then, there are the relationships here. Tear-stained pillows line the bed. It is the place conflicts erupt with the people I love most in this world. There are the places I stood and used harsh words and traded empathy for being “right”. Injuries, sleeplessness, anxieties, wrestling with hard questions— they all center here.

It is also where these relationships grow. There is a lot of laughing and a lot of love as well. There are marks on the wall that show the children’s heights. Their artwork is literally everywhere! They learn to live together and help each other within these walls. They break out in song and dance and share their dreams and thoughts about things. Marriage is challenged here and the foundation is poured upon resulting in, at least perseverance and at best, greater strength. People bind together in love. Provisions abound. As much as I try to combine aesthetics and application, space is still shaped in and through experience— and those experiences leave me wanting more. Design is not an end unto itself, and as much as it may foster or hinder the relational part, it is limited. My best and worst efforts leave me desiring to be better attended than a well-appointed space.

Not too long ago, I began a journey out of the church denomination I knew very well into one more Anglican. You and I could spend an hour or two over coffee and I could try to articulate the reasons why I gravitated toward this. Some of it was circumstances both geographically and divinely inspired. Let me stop for just a moment and say aloud, I am not a Christian by tradition or any corruptible thing. Faith in Christ Jesus alone, by grace alone is what saves. When I found myself in a place of a deep awareness of the sin in me as well as a renewed hope of the Gospel, God gave me a place of safety to softly fall. That place happened to be an Episcopal church with a deep appreciation for liturgy.

I realized recently that the church led in liturgy, by inspiration of scripture, fits my soul like a well-designed piece of furniture or well-appointed space, yet its elements do not change or wear with time. It meets me in need and leads to the One for whom it is fashioned to proclaim.

In Beyond Smells and Bells, Mark Galli says this, “The liturgy— whose basic outline is the same in all {these} traditions— remains the staple of Sunday worship and daily prayer for millions for a reason:  it allows people to enter into an enduring story that makes sense of life, and allows them to enter into communion with God in a way that touches body, mind, and soul.” (emphasis mine)

So much of what Ilse desires to do with her art— create safe spaces where those who come in have their senses wholistically attended— is a beautiful idea. I find that the body of Christ and the liturgy in which we all share, particularly at my church home, leads in remembering our humanity and remembering God’s divinity. Both perpetuate the proclamation of the Gospel and the life of the One who tabernacled with us and ultimately succeeds where design meets its limit.

It knows the shapes and curves of my body and soul, then supports, leads into repentance, reminds of truth, brings me to be fed with physical and spiritual food, reminds me that I need not work but rest in the work of Christ. I stand, hear, speak, kneel, sing, embrace brothers and sisters in peace. The fellowship, liturgy, and sacraments afforded the church are to engage my senses, not for the sake of religious method or aestheticism, but to functionally invite communion. With deep empathy, I am attended as a person between the cross and grave, saint and sinner. And on top of it all, it is as beautiful as the God-breathed language it follows.

We have been given so much in life, including art and design, that points to something greater, or more importantly Someone greater.

 

 

Hearts Toward Haiti

The day of the election, while our country moved on in its history, I stood at one end of my dining room table, Micah at the other, and we took another step in ours. We looked into each other’s eyes and while we used different words, we spoke in unison. For the first time in a long time, I was vulnerable and open. He was resolute and firm. In the quiet spaces, hearts had shifted. Clay was being quietly, firmly molded and pressed, given over to the thought that maybe, just maybe, there may be more. ~ This seems a dramatic scene, but I assure you, it is this vivid in my mind. And sometimes I feel like I live in a novel. ~

We had prayed for a large family. God granted what we asked— not in a way we could have dreamed or imagined but in a way that has and continues to direct our faces toward His love and grace. Micah and I have had the honor to love our five. They remind us every day that life is precious and in it, God writes beautiful stories that sing His love. They teach us more and more about His Fatherly affection, the forgiveness offered by the Son, and the nearness of the Spirit. We have had the opportunity to love more little ones beyond the five we see, even for such a short time. I am so thankful I got to know of them. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to love them with a motherly love. I am thankful to have the hope of meeting them again, when we all are whole. Until then, I find myself in the thick of it. There are dance parties, struggles, schoolwork, housework, conflicts, resolutions, tears, smiles, running, resting, failure, success, quiet, loud, and all that happens between. It seemed we had encountered a likely bookend to this season. Yet, there was always another thought. What if God would bring children once orphaned in different ways into this home? Our home?

Over the last few years, Micah and I have talked about adopting again.

((I am going to give you just a minute to gasp, or laugh, or whatever emotion that last sentence might evoke))

Until the last several months, we might mention it and laugh too, often with an eye roll. There always seems to be a little crazy in calling. I can’t say I know what exactly has changed but something most certainly has. As the country was watching election results either reeling or rejoicing, he and I spent the majority of the evening reorienting our thoughts around what was happening much closer home. We were and are all in.

Adoption. Yes. International. Yes. Where would we be both geographically and circumstantially approved? Most importantly, where might a child or children live as orphans who we might call by our name? In just a few days, reckoning information, thoughts, feelings, desires, it was clear to us. The answer was Haiti.

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As of right now, our home study has been approved. The piles of paperwork have aligned (with the help of an awesome social worker).

Since last November, God has given us hearts for Haiti; for its beauty, for its struggle. Micah had the privilege of visiting for a few days with an old Seminary friend of his. Many of the people there have great needs, as do we, but markedly and variably different. They also have great resilience. I try to follow the landscape of need, and am aware that there exists, sometimes in whole countries, a kind of desperation I do not know living here.

I am thankful that in the last few years, Haiti has come under the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. It seeks to make children the priority and serve their best interests, limiting corruption and the exploitation of children. It addresses trafficking— which is utterly evil. It affirms children given for adoption are true orphans.

We are praying for a child or two siblings— opening our hearts for who might be on the other end of this. Part of our preparation has been learning as much as we can about the Haitian culture. We’d love to learn the language. It is our desire to honor their heritage and learn from them.

One thing I want to make clear, we are neither saving children or being saved by them. They will be a precious gift to us, as we hope we are to them. If there would be a child or children who would benefit leaving the home they have always known to come and live with us, we are available. We want to be their forever family. I know the people who live with me and they (as do I) have a lot of love to give, as we have been so loved first.

I am still struck by the gravity of what adoption means. It would be desirable for children to be raised by one or both birth parents and I am grateful to groups who help hold families together by helping provide the means for steady income. These orphan prevention programs are such a blessing to many families, particularly in countries where extreme poverty and the effects of major natural disasters are constants. Regardless of those efforts, and as I know well, there will still remain orphans because we live in the land of broken things. In recent past or even as I type, a mother and/or father are feeling the weight of caring for a child or children they cannot. The resources provided them aren’t enough. Or, death separates. Whatever the circumstances, hearts are breaking. Lives have been or are being torn apart. This is where the need for adoption begins. The weight is necessary. It cannot be glossed over. It cannot be denied. We look to honor it and corporately remember the One who brings family together and promises to redeem broken things, us included.

So— this is an invitation. We ask your prayers; for Micah and me, for our children, and for “Haiti babies” (as our triplets call them) who will, God willing, also be called by our name and come to be with us.