Friday, September 23, 2016

Will You Still Love Me?

I confess that I have a really hard time when people tell us how wonderful we are for adopting, how great it is that we've given David and Daniel such a loving family, how amazing we are...

I can't internalize that kind of praise, because I don't feel like it's true. In reality, I know that Charly and I have made all kinds of mistakes. We are selfish, and we get impatient and irritable with our kids way more than we wish we did.

In 2014, at our one year post adoption home study, Charly told our social worker that we went into adoption thinking that we had a loving home we could offer to orphans. But God has shown us that He brought David and Daniel into our family because He wanted to teach us how to love.

If anyone has a picture-perfect idea about our family, come live with us for a day. You'll see that we are definitely still a work in progress in learning how to love.

Last week David had an issue at school and he wasn't honest with us about it. As I thought about what would have motivated him to lie, I knew that it must have been fear that we would be upset with him if we knew the truth. So as we were getting on our shoes to walk to school the next morning, I asked him, “Do you know that we still love you when you make mistakes?

He looked at me for a long time. And then he said, “No.”

It was a defining moment.

And I knew that truth needed to be spoken into his wounded, fearful heart...

“We do still love you when you make mistakes. And it's very important that you know that.”

I shared this story with a friend yesterday about how it revealed a weakness in our parenting, an area we need to grow in, a truth we need to be more intentional about communicating.

And she said, “Yes. But it's also part of David's story, and the effect of his years of growing up in the orphanage, of his learning to believe that he's always loved.”

No longer an orphan but a son.

Treasured and beloved.

And we really long to communicate God's unconditional love better than we do. To teach David and Daniel that while we want them to make good choices and do what they know to be right, when they make mistakes (as we all do) that we still love them.

It's an ongoing journey for Charly and me to learn. To see ourselves as God's beloved. And then to show our children that they are treasured by us and by God. For who they are. Not for what they do.

We're thankful that after all the ways we've fallen short and after all the mistakes we've made in our parenting, God's love for us hasn't changed.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Living the Question

In Searching For Home, M. Craig Barnes writes:

When the Hebrews left slavery in Egypt and were making their way through the hard lessons of the wilderness...they were sustained by the daily gift of manna. This was a “fine flaky substance” that came as the blessing of bread from heaven. For the next forty years it served as the staple for the Hebrew diet. It had to be collected every morning, and everybody had to gather their own basketful.

Other than that, we don't know a thing about the bread from heaven. Neither did the Hebrews, who gave it the name manna because the word means, “What is it?” Every morning the mothers would gather some “What is it?” and place it on the table. Their children would ask, as they always do, “What is it?” and the moms would say, “Well, yes.”

It is striking that their daily nourishment through the purgatory of the wilderness was found in a question. This means that the manna was something of a sacrament that offered a ritualistic way of renewing the terms of their relationship with God.

As they took the manna into their bodies, they were also taking a question into their souls. “What is it, God, that you are doing? What are you asking me to leave behind, to do, to become?” Nothing is more nourishing for the soul than asking that question, because it takes the focus off of our dreams and resources, both of which have run dry, and it turns our faces toward the dreams of God that only he can deliver...

It is not our job to answer the question. That's God's responsibility, and he will fulfill it by the slow transformation of our lives. In time, we will see what God is doing, but by then we will feel less like worms crawling our way out of slavery and more like butterflies who are carried home on the gentle breeze of new mercies.

Later in the wilderness sojourn, some of the Hebrews got fed up with the uncertainty that had become their daily regimen of grace. So they started to complain saying, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic: but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” As any nomad will tell you, a prayer that begins with the words “if only” is very dangerous because you may receive what you want, and then how will you explain your unhappiness?

We are told that it was the rabble among the Hebrews that got them complaining. This was a group that they brought with them from Egypt who were not true believers in God or in the transformation he would bring to their lives...The rabble's toleration for discomfort was low, and their capacity for complaint was high. That's both an unfortunate and infectious combination. It doesn't take much for the “strong craving” of the rabble to get everyone worked up into a lather of anxiety. That's when they all began to say, “If only we had meat to eat.”

The most dangerous rabble are not the complaining people around us, but the rabble that lives in every human heart...tempting us to be anxious, making us doubt God's love for us, and thus our devotion to him...

If asking “What is it?” is the means by which our faith in God's transforming work is nurtured, then complaining, “If only” may be seen as the anti-manna. When we ask questions of God for which we are not given immediate answers, we find room for faith to grow. Faith is what binds us to God when we don't see how all of this is leading us to the right place in life. Nothing is more deadly than turning our faces back to Egypt and saying “If only”...

Speaking these words preoccupies us with either the future or the past. It assures us that our happiness lies in those places that implicitly define our present life by what is missing. Thus, the words “if only” are always a judgment upon the present day...

Here's the great danger: when the present tense disappears in your life, so does the manna. The mysterious, life-giving, blessed grace of God only comes in the day you have. If you miss that daydreaming about the future or longing for the past, your soul will never find its only source of nurture and you'll never survive the journey. Without the ability to see what God is doing today you are always anxious, never at home, and thus never joyful.

The ninety-fifth Psalm depicts God's response to those who complained their way through the journey by constantly lamenting “if only” and living in a day other than the one they were given. The Lord said, “For forty years I loathed that generation and said, 'They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.'” Throughout the Bible we are given this same consistent message. Nothing grates on God quite as much as our complaining. He doesn't respond as strongly to our many other sins, even idolatry, as he does to our complaints. God just loathes complainers.

That's because they will never find their way home by complaining that the road is too hard. It's supposed to be hard. That's what turns us to God.

Sunday, September 18, 2016


This week I've shared several posts from pieces I've written in the past. Mostly these posts have been to help me process what I heard at Daniel's neuropsych exam last week. I needed to reflect on Daniel's story and remember that It is His Miracle and He Will Provide. I could tell that I was starting to let the story God is writing get clouded by worry about the future, so it was good for me to remember the ways He has provided for Daniel this past year through a sweet classmate and an exceptional teacher. To help me keep trusting that He will continue to provide. To keep believing that He is still in control. And to keep holding on to hope in Him, because His plans are still good.

The two physicians who examined Daniel last Wednesday were very friendly and they kept asking me if I had any questions. But they seemed to treat Daniel as a “case” not as a person. And their evaluation seemed kind of cold and lacking in hope. I was expecting to get an assessment of how Daniel's brain is working, along with some ideas on how we could make adjustments to help him learn better. There was definitely some of that, but the assessment seemed more focused on the long-term implications of his disabilities. It surprised me that one of the examiners even used the word “retarded,” because I didn't think that word was used anymore. They told me that I could put Daniel on a waiting list now for a group home after he turns 18. It wasn't at all the kind of report I was expecting to hear.

It wasn't that the report was new news. But the unexpectedness of receiving these kind of results and the unhopefulness of the examiners led my heart to be flooded with grief. And as I asked myself, “Why is this so hard for me?” I realized that I had been holding on to hope for breakthroughs for Daniel. For him to be “fixed,” made more whole.

My hope for the neuropsych exam was to discover a certain way of helping him learn that would bring significant changes for him academically. (It didn't.)

My hope for his sleep study in July was that we would gain insight into what was going on with his brain at night, that might address his memory issues. He received a diagnosis of restless leg syndrome and a new medication to try with the potential of better sleep and significantly improved attention span. (But we haven't seen any change.) 

My hope for his gait lab study in April was for improvement in his walking and running. (But he is still dragging his left foot even with the new leg brace and has already worn a hole in his shoe.) 

So the results of his neuropsych exam actually exposed these different unrealized hopes I had been holding on to, as well as my fears: What if he doesn't make progress? What if his strange behaviors are still here in 10 years? in 20 years? What if learning will always be slow and a struggle for him? Maybe he will only reach a 4th-6th grade level academically. And never be able to live independently.

As my fears have been uncovered, God has been speaking to me about them. “I am still sovereign over Daniel's life. Why worry about the future?

If Daniel doesn't show improvement in these areas of concern, that doesn't make him less of a person. The way that he is right now, God has declared to be good. While I can still rejoice in whatever progress he makes along the way, I can let go of my hopes for significant breakthroughs that will “fix him” or change him into a different person.

I can rejoice in who he is, not just in the progress he is making.

This revolutionary idea comes from a great article I read last week by special needs mom Heather Kirnlanier who describes what radical acceptance looks like:

“It seems that our jobs as family members is to practice radical acceptance of our loved ones. Even in times of healing or recovery. Even while a person might also be working toward change, or progress, or gross motor goals, or feeding goals, or more stable mental wellness…. Even while we are helping them work toward these goals, as any parent of a kid with disabilities, or “special needs,” is doing. We are attending occupational therapy with them. We are modeling an AAC system for them. We are offering them spoonfuls of vary-textured purees. But if we do this with the anxiety of wanting them different, with the clenched jaw of nervous hope—the hope that this act, this spoon, this therapeutic hour will change them into something or someone else, someone we desire—our efforts backfire. Our desire to want our loved ones to be different will serve as a small eclipse between us and the solar source of our love.”

God has also spoken to me through the Grace-filled sermon series we've been listening to by Jonathan Cleveland. On September 4, his message was “Grace leaves room for what is unfinished.” He challenged us to ask ourselves “How are you leaving room for the people you love to be unfinished?” He said that it's Christ's job, not our job, to fix other people. We are to bring grace into our relationships. These ideas have been really helpful for me to remember as I think about Daniel's situation.

Yesterday Daniel ran his first cross country race of this season. Last year an adult ran with him at each meet to encourage him to keep running and to help him stay on course (in case he forgot what he was doing and started chasing butterflies). We weren't sure how he would do on his own or if he could even run a full mile. But he did it! I was so proud of him when he came out of the woods, running toward the finish line. I had been talking to another mom, and her son who had finished earlier walked up as I was turning to leave. I overheard him talking about Daniel, so I lingered to hear the mom's response.

“That boy has a problem with his legs so he doesn't run very fast.”

“Right. But look at him running and not giving up.”

“Yeah. He's still running.”

“And that's the whole point.”

Yes, I silently agreed with her. That is the whole point. He hasn't given up. He's still running. He's doing his best. And it doesn't matter what he looks like when he's running or how far he finishes behind everyone else. This is his race, and he's running it with courage.

And while I'm cheering him on to the finish line, I want him to not just hear "run faster" or "become better," but to hear me celebrating the gift of who he is right now.

I want him to know that I'm proud of who he is, which is different than being proud of how far he's come.

Radical acceptance of what is Unfinished.

Because it's part of God's beautiful story of Grace.


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