Friday Favorites: how to shine.

Ok, I have a little secret.  It’s a secret and it’s something that no one really talks about in the Church.  I feel like a lot of you are going to judge me when I tell it to you.  So, please show grace.

I have a favorite book of the Bible.

THERE, I said it!  Gah!  It feels really good to get that off of my chest.  But the other thing about my secret is that my favorite book is not even especially unique or dramatic or “cool.”   Philippians is my fave.  Well, for sure it’s my favorite epistle from Paul, and probably my favorite book of the Bible.

Philippians is like comfort food to me.  Or to be more descriptive, I would even say Philippians has an SCENT to me.  Does that sound insane to you?  It’s a scent that brings almost visceral feelings and emotions to me, a strong and comfortable familiarity.   If I had a Philippians sweater, I would pull it out of my closet and bury my face in it, breathing in the smell of the words.   You probably think I’m crazy, but aromas have a strong power over us!

For example: the other day I was grocery shopping and I had headphones in, listening to music.  With my tunes playing, I wasdrakkar in my own little world, not really paying attention to any shoppers around me.  And all of a sudden, I got a whiff of Drakkar cologne.  Oh my gosh. It was like I was in a time machine, transported right there from the canned goods aisle to a seat on a school bus in junior high.  I was picturing rugby shirts on boys, permed hair and pegged pants on girls.  I honestly don’t even remember if there was a specific boy or boys who wore that scent, but clearly that aroma is strongly associated in my mind to those years (which, let’s be honest, were strongly associated with boys in general).  It was very surprising.  I still have no idea which of my fellow shoppers was bringing back the 90’s for me that day.  I mostly shop with senior citizens and stay-at-home moms on Monday morning, so it’s really anyone’s guess.

Fortunately, Philippians doesn’t remind of any ill-fated adolescent romances or raging hormones.  But it does remind of childhood songs, teenage convictions, college-level exegetical challenges and new discoveries even as an adult.  Maybe Philippians reminds me to recognize my upbringing in the Church as the absolute gift that it is.  I’ve read those four little chapters time after time, and still the Holy Spirit is able to open my eyes to new treasures within them.  I could write a dozen blog posts about my favorite verses, but an old favorite has been pressing on me this month.

Now, technically, my heart belongs to Thessalonians right now, because I’m knee deep in Children of the Day, by Beth Moore.  (You guys? Sah. Good.)  But sometime around the first of this month, I stumbled across Philippians 2 and read one of my favorite lines in all of Scripture:  “Then you will shine among them like stars in the night, as you hold firmly to the word of life.”

Isn’t that the most beautiful image?  Who among us doesn’t want to SHINE like stars in the night?   I’m wriggling in my seat, holding my hand up with fingers flared in that annoying way little kids do when they want to be called on.  Me! Me! Me!  I want to shine, teacher!  Pick me!  Oh, for crying out loud, this world that we live in is so. stinking. dark.    And at first glance, when I read this verse, I am tempted to think really BIG PICTURE.  As in: African militants kidnapping hundreds of innocent children, thousands of children being abused and neglected, humans being bought and sold like property, intense poverty robbing millions of basic needs and dignity.  Part of me wishes that the verse preceding this would have some HUGE secret for us, the way we can SHINE a light into the deepest darkest parts of our globe and truly “change the world.”

Well, it does have a bit of a secret.  But you know what?  It’s not BIG PICTURE like I imagine.  But I think it probably can change the world.  Wanna know what it says?  Wanna know what comes before “….THEN you can shine…”?

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing.”

Come again, Paul?  Seriously?

The entire passage of Philippians 2: 14-16a says:

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.  Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” 

Paul had a firm grip on the reality of our sinful nature, so I don’t think he literally meant that if we stopped whining we’d be “without fault.”   Commentaries tell us he most likely meant that if you live without stirring up trouble, you’ll be above reproach and no one will be able to accuse you of wrong-doing.  But not much figurative language is needed for us to nod our heads in somber agreement as we look around at a warped and crooked generation.   Yet, it still takes me aback that the wide sweeping notions of this dark world and being pure before the Lord are all kicked off with an instruction to stop grumbling.  It feels a little like putting a wild fire out with a squirt gun.

As I was pondering this passage, I found myself brushing off the notion.  That is way too simple to make much of a difference in the world.  But brushing off parts of Scripture is not really a healthy habit.  Maybe my inclination to minimize this instruction is because it’s NOT simple!  Maybe I don’t want to think about it, because what I’m feeling is conviction with a capital C!  I so very much want to focus on that part of the verse about shining.  Can I just do that?   Can I just SHINE when I feel like it and still keep my arguing and my grumbling?  Please?

And I started to think about how often my instinct is to complain.  I bicker and argue as much as the next girl, but the instruction to do EVERYTHING without grumbling?  That hits a little close to home.  Fighting with the IRS and Social Security about adoption-related paperwork AGAIN?  I want to give someone a PIECE OF MY MIND.  Why does the school drop-off line turn grown adults into clue-less self-centered babies? I need to write a post about it on Facebook.  My husband or kids dare to be human and annoying?  I need to vent to all my nearest and dearest girlfriends.   I started to realize that I have a habit of grumbling that may be much more serious than I thought.

I’ve talked a lot on this blog about my desire to be genuine, not pretending life is hunky-dory all the time when it is not.  So how do we do that?  How do we carry on relationships with honesty, and avoid being negative?  Well, first, if you look carefully, Paul never said: always be positive.  (He DID say, several times: “Rejoice in the Lord always!”)  He said “Don’t grumble.”  There’s a difference.  I can admit to having a crappy day, without starting up a round of “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat some worms.”   I can have a really frustrating interaction with, say, multiple government employees, and I DON’T EVEN HAVE TO PUT IT ON FACEBOOK.  I can be in a really challenging season with my job, my best friends, my parents, my in-laws, my husband, my kids or my health and choose to share the details with a small group of trusted friends without giving the nitty-gritty details to every acquaintance who crosses my path.

And maybe, if I’m really making an effort to stop grumbling, I’ll pick and choose which things I talk about with my loved ones.  Is this weighing heavy on my heart?  Have I been thinking about this for a few days?  If so, then it’s worthy of sharing with someone who can help encourage me.  Is this a passing annoyance, or just a chance to complain about another person, then I can probably just keep it to myself.   Will sharing this complaint on social media solve my problem?  Will it instruct or uplift me or anyone else?  If the answer is no, then I should probably just go ahead and hold back the flying fingers of wrath.

You know why?  Because I DO want to shine.  Choosing my conversations more carefully may not rescue children from slavery, but it can have a profound impact in my world.  My biggest circle of influence is right here in this teeny little 1200 square foot home, and any smart person will tell you Mama sets the tone in the household.  I want to SHINE, and I want to teach my kiddos how to SHINE in their world too.  I want to “hold firmly to the Word of Life” with everything in my being, and I want them to SEE that on me day after tiring day.  Heaven knows they are growing up fast in a crooked and warped generation. If curbing the grumbling and arguing is the start of teaching them how to shine for Jesus, then it’s a challenge worthy of my time.  Will you do it with me? Let’s do some world-changing with our words and attitudes.

(You guys gotta hold me to this plan, because, well: IRS.)

2015 is gonna be the year we SHINE.

shine like stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Surrender…Some

Is it just me?  Do you have certain problems in your life, and in the daytime they are bothersome, but at night they are LIFE SHATTERING?  I have such insomnia due to over-thinking that I have certainly lost weeks worth of sleep.  Usually I fall asleep just fine, but if I am awoken for any reason (usually a child or a bladder–or a child’s bladder) then I’m laying in bed with my eyes wide open,  ruminating on the issue du jour.   Or I guess, the issue du nuit would be more appropriate.

This last week I’ve been wrestling with a hot topic in my life that is a problem with no easy solution.  It’s not huge, but it’s not small either.  It has relational, financial and ministry implications and it involves people I care about deeply.  I’ve given this topic way too much thought and worry during the day, and then at night, it took over my brain!  A few nights ago, I kept going round and round about possible ways to fix this issue, and how much it concerned me, then I re-played all my conversations about the issue, thinking I had already said things I shouldn’t have, or maybe I should have?  I worried about feelings of all involved and the health of the ministry.   It was pretty ridiculous, considering the small part I play in the whole shebang, and the relatively small nature of the problem itself.

And I remember after tossing and turning, half asleep, I FINALLY said in very clear words in my mind:  “This is ridiculous!  Jesus is bigger than this problem! I need to sleep.  Lord, I surrender this whole issue to you for the night.”  And then I heard it back in my head.  “For the night”?!?  It was almost laughable.  “Because I am really sleepy, Lord, I’m willing not to be in control of this big problem for a few hours.  You can hang on to it for now, and then when the sun comes up, I’ll take it back from you and try to fix it with my own power again.”  

If I could see the Lord’s face, I have a feeling it would be similar to my face when my kids say something ridiculous and borderline disrespectful.  His head would be tilted, arms folded, and one eye-brow raised with a sly smile on his face.  He might say, “Do you wanna think that through and try again, dear daughter?”

And as I quickly realized the audacity in my prayer, it actually gave me peace.  Jesus doesn’t tell me to loan my problems to him for a bit so I can get a break.  He tells me to cast ALL my anxiety on Him because He cares for me.  Jesus tells me to come to Him and surrender my WHOLE burden, because He can handle it all.  And I certainly don’t need to try to take it back from him, or withhold the really tricky parts.

daughterziondesigns
daughterziondesigns

“Lord, I surrender this whole issue to you.”  Period.

Does it mean the problem was solved when I woke up?  Of course not.  But does it mean that I can give the control-freak nature of mine a rest?  Yes.  And that His wisdom is where the solution will be found, not my own.  God is good at being God, and I can just go ahead and let Him.  As a friend of mine used to tell herself in the wee hours:  He is still on the throne.   My circumstances can change drastically, my whole world could come crashing down, and He would still be unchanged, sovereign and faithful.

And that is a reason to sleep soundly.

 

Struck a chord–part 2

If you didn’t read part 1, check it out here.  

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about the comments people shared with me and why so many people that don’t usually respond took the time to jot something down.  I have a lot of thoughts, but they don’t necessarily come in an orderly fashion.  Be patient with me.

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I KNOW, right?! Presh.

First, parenting is, like,  SUPER hard.  And if you don’t think it is, then I’m not sure what kind of fairy tale child you have. (And I’m assuming you only have one.  And please remember that other children are created VERY differently than yours, and hold off your judgement on those of us who don’t think this is a cake walk.)  But for the purposes of anyone who’s being honest, parenting is the most amazing adventure we’ll ever go on, but it is also incredibly challenging.  It brings out in me the strongest emotions I never knew existed on planet earth, let alone in my heart and mind.  Those feelings run the gamut from a love so strong and powerful you could lift a vehicle off your child or fight a bear to protect them.  It’s a love that makes you physically SICK when you think about it too long.  And for many of us, it also brings out some incredibly real frustration and anger.  Fortunately the love counter balances the anger, so usually we can reign it in a bit.

And I think we don’t talk about the hard side of parenting in healthy and real ways very often.  Maybe if you are lucky enough to have an inner circle of friends who are parents, especially if they also have challenging personalities in their home, you can be honest with each other.  But in general, I think we default to focusing on the pretty parts of raising a family.  OR, the way social media is often used, we shoot off a quick and angry post to vent about how awful our kid is being today and a joke about needing a glass of wine.  I’m totally not above that, I’ve done similar posts myself.  But I’m not sure that’s very helpful.  It’s good for a laugh, definitely, but not gonna motivate me to be a better mom.  I don’t want to use my 140 twitter characters to constantly berate my children.  (Tempting sometimes, but not wise.)

I really wish we could be more vulnerable with each other.  It was not fun to admit to world wide web-land that I had a crappy mom day.  It did not feel awesome to share my weaknesses and failures of that day.  Partly because we all know that was not the only day I displayed those weaknesses. It is so much more fun to share the fun parts of my life–to flip through my camera roll and choose the best of the 5 photos to post, the one where I only have one chin.  Why would I want to let you all in to the ugly?

But we are just not doing ourselves or each other any favors by using social media to only highlight the awesomeness in our lives.  It creates such a facade that is misleading at best and harmful at worst.  I’m all for using the web to see pictures of your cute kid and hear about your husband’s new job.  I really do want to see and hear that stuff.  But if I’m ONLY seeing adorable pictures of you doing special crafts and coffee dates with your perfectly dressed children, I’m going to start comparing my REAL  life to your FAKE life, and then I will assume something is very wrong with me.   This applies to all of us as we interact on social media, not just parents.  But how do we DO that?

I don’t have an easy answer, but I think it begins with feeling seen and understood.  It was so encouraging to me to see so many people respond to my lousy mom moment by saying “You are not alone.”  Hallelujah!  Isn’t that what we all long for?  To know that we are not the only ones who have bad days, who have whiny kids, who have difficult co-workers, who work hard at being married, who eat too much junk food?!  It only takes a few words or an understanding smile to help someone feel like they are not alone.

IMG_6168I think another part of the answer is that we need honesty, but we need some hope too.  I don’t want to sit around with a bunch of other moms and hear how hard it is to parent a strong-willed child without someone saying, “We can DO THIS, you guys!  I know it!”   One of God’s gifts to us is finding a parent who is a few years ahead of where we are who will put their arm around us and say, “It’s OK, I’ve been there and you will make it through.”   It’s not going to benefit any of us if we all get super real with one another about the ridiculousness of cleaning up bodily fluids unless we also are able to laugh at ourselves–and the pee, poop, spit-up, phlegm, vomit and blood.  Part of the purpose of being vulnerable with each other is to ENCOURAGE each other.    I need to know when you are struggling, so I can lift you up, and vice versa.  I want you to know that you are not alone, not just so we can have a gripe-fest about parenting, but rather so that we can feel like teammates fighting like crazy to WIN together.

More than anything, I think when we expose our weaknesses, we open ourselves up to need and receive GRACE.  Grace from God, grace from our kids and our spouses, grace from each other, and–the hardest one–grace for OURSELVES.   A good friend sent me this quote today:  “Our flaws become exhibits of God’s power and grace.”  Exactly!   If I always have it together, why would I need Jesus?  If you think I always have it together, I am giving glory to MYSELF, and not to God who honestly is the one who gets me through the hard days.

I think we are all still figuring out this life together, especially this part of life where we interact with community online.  But I want to strive for authenticity, lavishly sprinkled with grace and hope.  And I promise a good bodily fluid story every now and then.  Because THAT?  Is my real life.

 

 

Struck a chord–Part 1

Last night I put a pic up on instagram and facebook after dinner sometime, and when I woke up in the morning, the picture had over 200 likes and  50 comments on the sites. To some bloggers, that’s nothing, but it’s more responses than I usually get for a simple instagram photo.

Today I’ve been thinking about it a lot.  What was it about that picture that struck a chord with so many of you?  But I realize it wasn’t the photo.  It was the story that you connected with.  Why?  What does this say about us?

photo (30)

Well, let me back up.  First, let me tell the longer story behind the picture.  Then tomorrow let’s be geeks and analyze your responses.

So much happened on Monday before that picture.  And not a lot of it was great.  It was the first day back to school routine after a long, lazy Christmas break, and I did not plan well for the transition melee that often occurs.  We had a rough morning, a rough afternoon with just me and my littlest, and then it continued to get rougher when the bigger two came home.  I didn’t have my thinking cap on, and decided to treat my family to a special dinner and bought an expensive roast and didn’t prepare it at all until Monday afternoon.  So then I was cramming to try to get all the veggies cut and the meat prepared and in the oven.  My youngest can smell a to-do list on you like a bad perfume and once he sniffs it out, he will do whatever it takes to keep you from it.  That usually means getting my attention in big–very big–ways, all of them destructive.  Our afternoon was a battle. Then the big kids came home, they were tired and cranky.  Two kept ganging up on a third (always a different combo) and I heard “Get away from me!” and “That’s MINE!” and “Give that BACK!” and “MOOOOOOOMEEEEEEEEEEE!” so many times I wanted to scream.  Ok, I probably did scream a little.  More like yelling.  Hollering?  Ugh.  Whatever it was: not pretty.  We all went round and round and round.

One child broke another one’s toy on purpose, another punched a stomach on purpose, yet another put a sibling’s toothbrush in a poopy toilet on purpose and then LIED about it.  To top it all off, they started whining and complaining about what was for dinner HOURS before they even saw it with their eyes, let alone set it to their tongues.  My beautiful, expensive, time-sacrifice of a dinner, and they hated it already and were not afraid to let me know.

And that witching hour?  Between 4-6ish?  Lived up to it’s name.  It turned mommy into a witch.  Yes, I know better.  Yes, I know so many of the “why’s” about their behavior and knew that more quality time with me would help some of it, and I knew my anger was just feeding the fire, but our train was just so far off the tracks I didn’t have the energy to get it back.  I don’t think I did anything horrible.  Please don’t call CPS.  I didn’t even use the demon voice (you know you have one) or spank anyone or say mean things.  I was just. So. Cranky.

And as usually happens, about 3.4 seconds before Trent walks in the door, all my offspring flip a switch and turn into joyful angels.  Something about a new parent in the home pulls them up out of the icky pit they’ve been playing in for hours and they suddenly want to play board games together and sing Kumbaya.  But I was still TICKED!

Trent sat down on the couch and I came to sit down next to him, and the children followed like my little shadows.  And strangely, I thought it was Daddy they would want, but it was me.  The witch.  All three of them clamored to sit next to me, but I only have 2 sides, so one of them actually sat ON me.  I was not thrilled.  I kept picturing the broken toy and the feces-covered toothbrush and SO. MUCH. WHINING.   I was upset but envious of how quickly they got out of their funk.  How could they forgive me so quickly for being that awful?  And did they remember ANYTHING that transpired in this house 20 minutes prior?!  But even in my anger, I craved a flipped switch of my own.  I didn’t FEEL loving, but I chose to ACT loving.

We snuggled on the couch as my beautiful, disgusting [to them] roast finished cooking.  I pulled bodies in closer and kissed heads and didn’t say much.  I rested my cheek on orange, blonde and black hair that was all crowding into my face.  And I just breathed it in.   I asked myself why I hang on to my anger for so long.  I got mad at myself for being so grouchy and losing sight of the big picture.  Aren’t I supposed to be the grown up?  Ugh. I thanked God for my healthy babies and their forgiving hearts.  I grieved for my own actions and what an awful example I can sometimes be.  And I just longed, LONGED for a flipped switch.  A fresh start, a new day, a do-over.

And I realized: I get to have all of that.

That’s when I asked Trent to take our picture, because I wanted to remember it.   New mercies.  Forgiveness I don’t deserve, a clean slate to try all over again.  My children’s grace to me is humbling enough, but to think that the God of the universe will let me start over again?  REMEMBER THIS.  When He sees me, He doesn’t see a cranky, tired mom who can’t get her act together, who messes up over and over again.  He doesn’t roll His eyes in disappointment. He sees the 37 year old girl HE created to be the mother to these three hooligans.  HE sees a mama who will never be able to do it on her own, and He’s standing there waiting to shower me with strength and patience that comes from the only perfect Parent.  And sitting there on that couch, I realized: I’m desperate for my Father and His grace.  I think maybe some of you are too.

“And God is able to make ALL grace abound to you, so that in ALL things at ALL times, having ALL that you need, you will abound in every good work. ” 2 Corinthians 9:8 (emphasis mine) 
 
PS: The roast was delicious, but they refused to acknowledge such.  Two of them went hungry for the remainder of the evening because they refused to eat cooked and seasoned potatoes/carrots.  
Ok, NOW you can call CPS. 

 

A new and glorious morn

My intentions for writing about several of my favorite Christmas lyrics went the way of so many good bloggy intentions.  [Disappeared into a fog of real life.]  But it’s not too late!  Christmas hasn’t passed yet.  I loved hearing from so many of you about your favorite Christmas lyrics.  I’m almost out of time, so I need to cut to the chase.  To the Christmas lyrics that, for me, are the creme de la creme.  I know you know it.

My favorite theme of Christmas and the songs we sing is the reminder of how God’s people were LONGING for a Messiah.   They loved God, and tried to obey His law, but pre-Jesus faith was about a God who was big and powerful.  If I may risk sounding blasphemous, it was not a personal faith.  In order to hear God’s word or be near Him, the Hebrew people had to go to the temple or tabernacle.  Only certain religious professionals were allowed to enter the presence of God, by going past an insanely thick veil into the Holy of Holies.

They knew in their deepest beings that something was missing.  Whether they had a name for Satan or not, they knew his work in their lives and their people.  Their lives were complicated, messy and empty, and they were yearning for something…MORE.  For generations they had been promised a Messiah, a God who would be WITH them.  Not apart from them, but living in their midst, looking in their eyes, feeling their pain, touching their skin.

Long lay the world, in sin and error pining

’til He appeared and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices

for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

I just…I can’t get over the fact that the birth of this baby, this GOD baby, changed EVERYTHING.  I mean EVERYTHING.   Every human on this planet is created with a PINING for our Creator.  And not just His existence, but His PRESENCE.  Of course the real work for the Kingdom began years later, when he could walk and didn’t need his diaper changed.  But that’s part of what created the “thrill of hope.”  In hindsight, we can look back at that Silent Night in the Little Town of Bethlehem (see what I did there?) and our hearts should beat a little faster, like a brilliant foreshadowing in the most thrilling novel ever.

This birth of Jesus is full of joy and excitement, because it is unlike any other birth in history.  The Hebrew people didn’t fully appreciate what was happening when this child was born, but we have the unique privilege of understanding.  We celebrate his birth because it made possible his death and resurrection, which is the true power of His gospel.  His death, when THAT VEIL that separated all the people from God, was RIPPED IN TWO from top to bottom.  The symbolism of that is one of the most powerful in all of Scripture.  There is no longer and separation between God and His people.  He is more personal than we could ever fathom.

THIS manger situation that has become rather cliche was truly, truly the beginning of a new and glorious morning, where God is not a mythical feature holding a gavel in the sky, but He in our midst, every minute of every day.  Jesus did not remain on the earth in physical form, but the Holy Spirit came to stay.  We can talk to him like we talk to a loving father, a cherished friend and a perfect Savior.  AND HE HEARS US.   If any of us thinks that we are not living in sin and error as much as the pre-Jesus believers, then we are fooling ourselves.  We should be pining for Emmanuel, God with us.  We should be crying out, FALLING on our knees. He has appeared, and even though we are not able to see him with our eyes, those of us who have experienced him with our hearts should be able to truly proclaim that our souls feel the worth of that holy night.long lay

Friday Favorites: My Heart-pulls Collide

Do you guys remember the old commercials for Reese’s PB Cups from the 80’s?  download The premise was: who was the first person who combined chocolate and peanut-butter?  Because it changed the world as we know it.  I think in one of the scenes, some guys tried the combo and said “Hey, let’s go tell our friend Noah about this!  Nah.  We’ll wait until it stops raining.”  GET IT?!   I know, it’s not a knee-slapper, but here I am remembering it 30 years later, so it was clever enough for a 7 year old, I guess.

The passion I feel for Reese’s (especially Pieces) pales in comparison to the way I feel about today’s Friday Favorite.  When I heard through the grapevine about this special mission, my eyes got big and my pulse began to race.  I needed to know more.  As I am involved in my daily life, especially on social media, I encounter literally dozens of opportunities each DAY for me to support a “cause” in some way or another.  I know you do too.  They are asking for my attention, my time, my prayers, my money, or my circle of influence.  I have learned in the past several years to be more deliberate about how I invest my support.  My husband and I have focused in a few areas and ministries that, for whatever reason, God has stirred in our hearts more than others.  It doesn’t mean they are better than any other, it just means that we’re narrowing our focus.

Many of you know that one of those areas of focus for us it to find ways to support ministries that fight human trafficking.   We obviously love helping children find forever families through adoption, but we also are intentional on finding ministries that work towards family preservation, or “orphan prevention” around the world.  And without a doubt, our hearts are forever and always tied to the beautiful country of Thailand, the birthplace of our boy.

So you can imagine my “peanut butter and chocolate” moment, when I found out about a couple who have been so captured by Jesus’ heart for trafficked children that they are moving their entire family to THAILAND to work with an organization committed to rescuing children from trafficking in that country.  

Please meet the Besk family!besk

It was like two of the biggest pulls on my heart collided and tied a nice little knot right on this beautiful family.   This family, who are no strangers to heartbreak.  This father, who happens to have years of experience as an investigator to make him amazingly suited for the challenging ground work of rescuing children. This mother, who loves her children so much that she is choosing not to keep them safely protected in the suburbs of American life, but is allowing the discomfort and sacrifices necessary to save the lives of other children.  She is teaching them that every life is valuable and worthy and in need of redeeming.  You are.  He is. She is. We are.

I would love for you to check out Cat’s blog post about their decision to move to Thailand, about their fundraising needs, and also the ministry they will be working with, ZOE.  Be praying about whether or not you might be able to support the Besks in any way, large or small.

You can also read about our experience in Thailand, when I came face-to-face with a young woman whom I am convinced was being held against her will.  That moment was the first thing I thought of when I read Cat’s explanation of why they are going all the way to Thailand to do this important work.  Her answer: “This is where our hearts have been broken.”

Praise God for broken hearts, surrendered to Jesus’ work. Praying for you, Besk family!

 

Wonders upon wonders.

For as long as I can remember, back to early elementary school, I have sung in some sort of choir during the Christmas season.  I’m sure most of you also had Christmas programs in elementary school (back when we didn’t have to say “Holiday Program” or “Winter Vacation”) and wore angel wings or shepherds robes and sang Away in a Manger and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.  (I couldn’t find a Christmas singing photo, but this beaut to the right is me in all my 10 year old glory as Harmony, the green singing songbook.  Daughter of Psalty if you speak the language.  I KILLED it, obvi.)

I ended up sticking with it and stayed in choirs and ensembles all through high school, college, and into adulthood.  In those 30 odd Decembers, I’ve sung a lot of Christmas carols.  I mean, a LOT a lot.  I know the usual suspects and the also-rans. I have a soft spot for the often overlooked God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.  I can rattle off all four verses of Hark the Herald for you RIGHT NOW.  And that’s including the lesser known and very strange fourth verse, traditionally left out, that includes the phrases “woman’s conquering seed”  and “the serpent’s head.”  I KNOW, right?  Weird.

But as with so many well-sung tunes that have to do with Jesus, I often realize that I’ve sung a lyric dozens of times and never actually LISTENED to what was coming out of my mouth.  I’m not the only one, as I was reminded this week, when we were singing the aforementioned Hark! in the car and Sydney said “Who is the newborn King?  Is that Jesus?”  Um, YES, daughter.   ?!  Did we miss something in the Parenting Christian Kids 101 class?  I mean, we HAVE the Fisher Price Little People nativity scene and EVERYTHING.  Maybe we just need to give some semantics lessons on all the different ways these songs refer to Little-People-NativityJesus.

This season, this month, is one of the only times that the world lets us sing out loud about God coming to earth as a human, and how He came so humbly. This literally world-changing event is the basis of our faith and, along with His death and resurrection, it is what sets our God apart from other gods.  It’s rather a big deal.  Normally we are told to pipe down, but in this little window of time, we are free to shout out the TRUTH if it has a pretty melody.  Of course many would prefer a chippy version of Deck the Halls, but I’ve seen even the strongest atheists hum a little First Noel or melt a bit during Silent Night.  I say “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”   But while we’re at it, let’s be REALLY CRAZY and sing about the whole reason we have this holiday in the first place.

Can we take a moment to park on a few of these gems and let them sink in a little?  I want to tell you about a few of my favorite lyrics over 3-4 posts between now and Christmas.

Let’s start with one you all know.  It’s in the last verse of Joy to the World, and it goes like this:

He rules the world

With truth and grace

And makes the nations prove

The glories of His righteousness

And wonders of His love, wonders of His love

Wonders, wonders of His love

One of the reasons I think we miss some great, powerful lyrics is because of musical phrasing, which is kind of unavoidable.  For years I’ve just sung “Maaaaakes…. the naaaaaaations proooooove!” at the top of my lungs without really thinking about what we, the nations are proving. Like those four words were the end of the thought.  “The nations” just means all of us on earth.  Also, I believe that word “makes” is misleading.  It does not mean he forces the nations to do something.  He’s not pointing his finger and saying “PROVE IT!”  It’s more like when you see an adorable baby and you say “She makes me want to kiss her face!”  Or a snowy day “makes me want to sit inside and read a book.”

But when you take that entire verse as one,  in the Jentompkins paraphrase, we are singing: “He is the King of truth and grace.  His people are compelled to proclaim His righteousness and the many wonders of His love.” (I know it’s many because we repeat that word four times!)

wonders of his love

That refrain sticks with me.  The wonders of His love.  The wonders of His love.  I wanted to see if that phrase was used in Scripture, and it is, mostly in the book of Psalms.  Psalm 17:7 says, “Show me the wonders of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes.”  Psalm 31: 21 says “Praise be to the Lord, for he showed me the wonders of his love when I was in a city under siege.”  

But what stood out to me was another verse when the words are used a little out of order, in Psalm 136.  Verse four says, “To him who alone does great wondersHis love endures forever.”  But if you look at that entire chapter, what do you notice?  Seriously, go take a peek. You’ll notice right away the repetition of one refrain:  HIS LOVE ENDURES FOREVER.  David sings that in EVERY verse for 26 verses, over and over again. He is not satisfied with generic praise, but rather gets really specific!  The entire psalm is about giving thanks to God for who He is, and what He has done, but more than anything, it is a call to anyone who hears it to remember that God’s love is UNFAILING and EVERLASTING.  Can I get an amen?!

When I take this newly discovered Biblical reference to the wonders of His love, and I add them onto my own personal experience of the way God loves me, the meaning deepens still.  What is wondrous about His love?  It is constant and powerful.  It is not weak and frail and conditional, the way our own human love can be.  The more I see the ugly truth about my ability to love on my own, the more I am humbled and grateful for a God who IS love.  He continually pursues after us, even when we push him away, abuse His name or ignore Him altogether.  Even when we mess up time after time, he forgives us yet again, promising to throw our guilt and shame away as far as the east is from the west.  At times, he allows us to experience intense pain, but makes it clear that even in our darkest moments, He never leaves.  His love ENDURES.

My life has been forever changed by the wondrous love of my Savior.  I’m the proof.  Right here.  And I’ll repeat it 4 times, 26 times or for a lifetime.

I would love to know: what Christmas lyrics are especially meaningful to you?

Called to Love 2014

stageLast year after the very first Called to Love Retreat, I wrote in a blog post: “This little ministry is definitely my thing.  Not MY thing meaning I own it, but rather it’s the thing for me.  The perfect task for my gifts and passion.  I have not been so exhausted emotionally and physically in a really long time; but I have rarely felt so fulfilled and confident that I was exactly where I supposed to be.”

Can I just say for this year: “DITTO”? Since the day we said goodbye last year to those 103 women, I have been excitedly counting down the weeks until we could do it again.  This last weekend was the second annual C2L Retreat, and it was wonderful.  It was not perfect, but it was wonderful.  I had that same feeling of being filled up as I was pouring out, a total peace that I was serving right where He photo (29)wanted me.  Being with these girls gives me such joy.  My amazing ministry partner is Amy, and we were reminded again this weekend (and laughed at ourselves) that our strengths and weaknesses perfectly complement each other. For instance, I am a total extrovert and worked hours with the spreadsheets of names and information, so I wanted to meet, hug and remember as many faces as possible.  Amy is more introverted and has a hard time remembering lots of names.  She’d probably rather not hug people she doesn’t know.  Amy is amazingly creative and talented at decorating–she TRANSFORMS a room– and I have a hard time stringing a banner in a straight line.  She also organizes thank you cards and gifts in beautifully decorated packages, and knows exactly what is in each gift and who it is for.  If I’m left in charge, the guests leave without their gift or with the wrong bag.  It’s a match made in heaven.  We have a PHENOMENAL team of 7 mamas who work humbly and willingly all year round.  We couldn’t do this retreat without them.

We had 188 mamas coming from all over the west coast (and Hawaii, South Dakota, Utah and Colorado!), and our heart’s desire was just to love on them and fill them up.  Our theme was “Love Like Crazy.” Adoptive and foster moms are not better or stronger than any other moms.  We just are walking a unique path that can sometimes be hard to explain or understand.  I think all parents flag nametagsNEED connection, and these women might need it a little more than others.  It can be a very lonely and isolating role. These women had to be kind of brave and make themselves vulnerable in a short amount of time, and they did.  I think the Holy Spirit honestly just invaded LOVE wallthe room and there was such a unity felt among all the moms there.  The situations varied greatly, including international adoption, domestic infant adoption, foster care, adoption through DHS, and some relative adoptions.  Even though the specific details of our situations were not identical, our paths are all similar enough that we could relate and connect on a deep level.  My heart is so full thinking of all the times I would look around our big room and see women talking, smiling, crying, hugging–many of whom had never met!  The speakers and the breakout sessions are important to the event, but having so many moms come alongside one another is what makes this ministry so much more than a normal conference.

I’m honestly debriefing for myself in writing, and the weekend was so full
and complex that I don’t even know where to start.  For me and Amy and our team, the weekend was full of little fires that needed to be put out, most of them logistical and technical in nature.  We are such a young ministry, and as we experience some prayer cardgrowing pains, we are learning a LOT.   We often scrambled frantically to try to hide our mistakes and surprises from the attendees.  I have to give a big shout out to my Dad who dropped everything to bring me his own laptop, which we desperately needed when THREE of our team laptops did not work the way we needed them. However, learning some things the hard way is going to ensure that we learned it well, and I anticipate far fewer technical difficulties next year! Some “fires” were out of our hands, not our fault or not fixable, and we just had to be like Elsa and LET IT GO.

I loved the speakers we had this year.  Their speaking styles and experiences were completely across the board.  Two are adoptive moms, one is an adult adoptee, and another grew up in the foster care system and became the lead foster family trainer in our county.  Each of them entrusted us with their stories, which we cherish and learned from.  All four of them showed huge courage in opening the deep parts of their hearts and allowing us to see adoption or foster care from their point of view.

photo (30)As the coordinators of this retreat, we know what kind of atmosphere we want to provide–we know the vibe we hope is created.  But we can’t guarantee that it will happen.  The very best way we can do that is by starting every session with heart-felt worship.  We were blessed beyond measure to get some of our dearest friends to lead us in that worship this weekend.  This band gave up their entire weekend to provide not just high-quality music, but authentic, fall-on-your-face-before-Jesus, tears-streaming-down-your-face, can’t-get-enough-of-this WORSHIP.  It was clear they were all-in, that their sets had been prayed over and carefully chosen for us.  As we read through the evaluations, we saw that this part of the retreat was powerful for the mamas, and God was so present.  None of this–NONE!–could be done without Him.  His hand has been so evident in every step, that it gives me such joy to stand in worship of Him with all these women.

I started writing some of my favorite moments of the weekend, but I just can’t even put it into a single blog post.  I will say a big highlight for me was seeing a little idea come to life.  Last spring we had the idea to assign a prayer partner  to every single woman partial teamattending the retreat.  The plan was to get some of our non-adoptive-parent friends or family members to start praying for these moms by name, including some information about their situation from their registration form.  It was a way that they could be involved and play a part in the ministry.  Then before the retreat, they would write a card to their specific person and we’d give it to the mamas when they arrived at C2L.  We had over 100 people willingly take on this task.   I was the lucky middle man in this secret project, and for the last week in October, every day I opened my mailbox to dozens of letters and notes, full of love and prayers from across the country.  I loved hearing from the moms who were surprised and touched by the words from their prayer partners, covering many of them since May!  The friends prayed over little details about them, like how many kids they have in their home and whether they are waiting for an adoption to be finalized or a kiddo to come home.  I was humbled and thrilled that so many people wanted to love on these ladies and lift them and their families up to the Lord.  We will definitely malie paintingdo it again, so let me know if you want to get on the list!

Another favorite part of the retreat was our Encounter room.  One of our team members, Jessica, spends hours creating several stations in this room, a space for us to sit and savor the presence of the Lord.  She copies Scripture and writes a sort of devotional for each station to direct our thoughts and hearts.  At one station, there was a large canvas for us to write the names of our children as we prayed for them.  Then on Sunday morning during worship, one of our mamas took that name canvas and created an amazing painting over it.  It was so clearly her act of worship as we sang our songs and watched a beautiful picture appear over the names of our babes.  If it sounds cheesy, it wasn’t.  The end product conveyed pure joy and peace, and the fact that you know what was under it made it even more meaningful.   It summed up the whole weekend and the whole point of the retreat for me.  We all come with from individual situations, we carry our baggage and also the hurts of many of our children, and we lay them out before the Lord.  We are all messy and messed up and weary.  But when we come together in His name, we are renewed and encouraged.  He is taking the stories of our kids, the stories of our families, and redeeming them.  HE is the one who heals and makes things beautiful.  We just have to seek Him and love like crazy. painting

The 411 on C2L

My mind is spinning each day with details, details, details about the Called to Love retreat this weekend.  I feel like I’ve talked about it so much that everyone I’ve ever met knows everything there is to know about it.  But then the other day some friends asked, “Now, what is it exactly?”  It’s kind of like when I’ve chatted with another school mom every day for months and months, and the first day we met she may have told me her name, but now we’re practically best friends and I don’t know her name!   Maybe you have heard me yammer on about C2L for months, but don’t know the scoop and feel embarrassed to ask!

So here is the full story.  You might as well read it, because I won’t blog until the darn thing is over.

391250_10200392016703469_85459650_nBackground:  In January of 2013, my good friend Amy and I traveled to Atlanta for a conference for adoptive moms (Created for Care).  She was entering her third year of waiting for her children from Ethiopia, and I was six months home with our adopted toddler after a 2.5 year wait.  I can’t speak for her, but I was hanging on by emotional threads at the time.  I felt like I was failing as parent to my adopted AND bio kids, I was googling things like “post-adoption depression” and could not figure out why everyone on f@cebook seemed to have no issues with their adopted toddlers.  I loved my son and still felt confident in our decision, but I was unprepared for the difficulty I had bonding with him. I thought by 6 months home it would have all clicked into place and we’d be madly in love with each other.  I was filled with guilt for my lack of affection and ability to parent confidently, and I was frustrated with him for his destructive and defiant behavior–some of which was personality, some toddler nature, and some a result of his own attachment struggles.  I felt even MORE guilt for my own feelings, because I fully recognized the immense loss my child had just been through, and saw with my eyes how traumatizing it was.  But he honestly seemed to be recovering more quickly than me!  I knew I loved him fiercely, but I felt like I was drowning in the experience of parenting him and his siblings.  I had wonderful support from friends and family, but none of them had experienced this personally, so even with them I often didn’t feel like I could be totally honest, because I didn’t want them to worry about me.

Less than 2 hours after we had landed in Atlanta, I sat in a hotel room with two moms who both looked me in the eye and said “Yes. I’ve been there.  We adopted a toddler and it was very hard.  It took years until we found our groove.  But IT’S GOING TO GET SO MUCH BETTER.  You’re going to be OK and so is your son.  I know you love him.”  The tears just flowed.  I felt like someone had offered me a life boat, and I climbed in. The rest of the weekend was full of similar conversations.  The discussions were full of HONESTY AND HOPE, two things I needed so badly.  I was told over and over again, “Yes, it’s hard, but it’s worth it.  Your child is worth fighting for.  It’s going to get better.  Seek the Lord and He will give you what you need.  I GET IT.”    It was exactly what I needed and was truly a game-changer for me as an adoptive mom.

Amy and I were not rooming together, and barely saw each other all weekend, because we were spending time with other adoptive moms and being renewed in our own specific ways.  During the weekend, they encouraged us to do retreats in our own communities. At one point during the weekend, we met up in an almost empty meeting room and one of us said: “We’re so doing this, aren’t we?”  And the other said, “Oh heck yes we are.”  I don’t remember who said what, but we were both 5 steps into planning before we got on the plane ride home.  For five hours straight, from ATL to PDX,  we dreamed and planned what it could look like to create a retreat for foster and adoptive moms on the west coast.

The Beginning:  Once home, we put some feelers out to adoptive mom friends of ours in the Northwest, and immediately had about 7 other friends and acquaintances who were on board to be our “team.”  They just happened to be some of the most intelligent, capable women I’ve ever come across, and they were  ALL IN.  We discussed the huge need for support and encouragement in this unique role.  On advice from our attorney (who happens to be one of the moms on our team!) and the founders of the original conference in Atlanta, we chose to start a non-profit organization that would be the foundation of the retreat.  Our purpose was simple: encourage and support adoptive AND foster moms in any stage of their journey.  Amy and I prayed and brainstormed and prayed some more about a name, and decided on Called to Love.  It may sound cheesy at first, but it took the broad vision for this ministry and brought it down to a very simple directive.  We are called to love these children. No matter what.  Not called to be heroes or rescuers or perfect parents, just LOVE.  Our theme verse is Isaiah 43:1:  “Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, and you are mine.”   We were incorporated as state-sanctioned non-profit organization on March 20, 2013.

Immediately, God started flinging doors open for us.  High quality, sought-after speakers and session teachers agreed to come for little or no charge.  We strongly desired to hear from adult adoptees and birth moms, and both started coming TO US, willing to use their story to encourage these moms.  Foster and adoptive moms from all over the country were expressing great interest.  Amy is the budget guru, and she worked and reworked the budget dozens of times.  We chose a venue, and found the magic number to be 90 women.  If we could get 90 paying registrations and carefully watched every penny we spent, we could pay all of our bills and neither of our families would go into debt–other than the initially investment to secure a contract.  We took a leap of faith and opened the registrations up.  We didn’t get bombarded, but slowly and surely, moms from across the country from Michigan to Florida have took their own leap of faith and committed to attending a brand spanking new event.  Last year we had 103 moms attend, this year we will have 188.  We are so grateful for how far God has brought this little dream of ours to fruition, and want to give all the credit to Him.   I’m overflowing with joy to have the opportunity to offer a lifeboat to some other moms, and I pray that they will climb in and receive His abounding love and grace.

To read more about what God did at Called to Love in 2013, click HERE. 

Friday Favorites: nutritious and generous

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Some of you may remember my birthday post from 2013, where I asked you all to “like” a new business called Encompass Nutrients.  During that month, for every “like” Encompass received on f@cebook, they donated $1 to Destiny Rescue.  (Destiny Rescue is an organization very near and dear to my heart that fights human trafficking in Thailand among other places.)  Since that time, Encompass Nutrients has continued to grow and flourish, and press on toward their business goal of donating 80% of their profits to organizations that care for vulnerable children worldwide.   Did you catch that?  Have you ever heard of a more fantastic, backwards goal?  For a business to want to donate EIGHTY PERCENT of their profits?indaboysbw-300x300

I have a friend who works for Encompass Nutrients, and he sent me some of their product to try out in our household.  The packaging was beautiful and the product was great.  Their “complete” line of vitamins is the highest quality, and I especially liked the Complete Adult line, which I take daily.  But honestly?  The actual vitamins are not necessarily what make this company stand out.  It’s their passion.  It oozes out all over their publicity and their web page.  You can’t learn about this product without feeling the heart of the people behind it.  Encompass partners with several different non-profit organizations, each one specifically situated to help orphans and children in need.  EN offers a chance to invest in your family’s health and invest in lives worldwide.

EncompassRide2ohio-7-300x225On the website, there is a page which tells stories of the ways this company and it’s employees are putting their time, energy, gifts and money where their mouths are.  5K’s, trips to Africa, 150 mile cycling trips to raise money….these guys are legit!  I want to send lots of traffic and business their way, so go check out their website, www.encompassnutrients.com and find them on Facebook and Twitter.CompleteAdult-Single-188x315