Friday, September 21, 2012

Waiting for the Wind

Our longer-than-expected adoption journey has given me a much greater empathy for my friends who have been trying for years to get pregnant. And for my single friends who wonder if God's plans for them include marriage. It can be hard to live in the midst of community where almost everyone else is getting married and having babies. And completing adoptions. The unfulfilled dream can seem even more like a barren wasteland of waiting.

And the ever-present question whispers: Is my turn coming?

After His resurrection, Jesus had a private conversation with Peter to reconfirm Peter’s love for him, and to restate His purpose for Peter’s life. Jesus concluded by saying, “’The truth is, when you were young, you were able to go wherever you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will direct you and take you where you don’t want to go.’ Jesus said this to let him know what kind of death he would die to glorify God. Then Jesus told him, ‘Follow me.’ Peter turned around and saw the disciple Jesus loved following them... (and he) asked Jesus, ‘What about him, Lord?’ Jesus replied, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You follow me.’” (John 21:18-22)

God’s plans for each of us are unique—the purpose in life, the kind of death, the type of pain, the sources of joy, the lessons in waiting. And the life messages He imprints on our hearts in order to share with others...

God has not forgotten any one of us. He does not waste pain. He does not make mistakes. And he is able to redeem what seems to be lost, broken, or impossible. Like dreams.

Driving across the long, flat state of Kansas several times this summer, we noticed windmill farms on either side of the highway. There were those that caught the direction of the wind just right and were spinning effortlessly, doing what they were made to do. But then there were those that stood motionless. Seemingly useless. Maybe the angle of their blades was not quite right to catch the wind. So they stood. Still. Waiting.

(I know this may sound silly but) my heart ached for those windmills that didn’t catch the wind. I didn’t want to look at them because they reminded me of myself.. They were designed to spin, but nothing was happening. In contrast to their fellow windmills spinning purposefully on the other side of the highway, the still ones seemed to be questioning, “Why them and not me?” “Is my turn coming?

Just as windmills cannot control the presence of, or the direction of, the wind, so also, many circumstances in our lives are out of our control. But God is in control even in the times of interminable waiting. Even on those windless days. And on the days when the wind is blowing in the wrong direction. Especially then.

When we were in Tianjin this spring, I had regular acupuncture treatments to try to reduce my migraine pain. Riding bus 845 was the most direct and cheapest option for transportation to and from the clinic, and time spent on the bus itself was only 20 minutes. But waiting for the bus to come was torturous! Usually between 30 and 45 minutes—the time for 2 or 3 buses of other numbers to roll through the bus stop. I wished that I could have been waiting instead for one of those buses that came more often. And I confess that sometimes I gave up and took a taxi.

I became aware that a raw part of my heart had been touched that went deeper than just waiting for a bus.

“Is my turn coming, God?”

When Charly and I had our 2nd honeymoon in the Colorado mountains in June, we had a chance to reflect on our adoption journey. We reviewed the passages that had seemed like promises and gave us hope. We prayed that God would bring our adoption to completion. And we asked Him to show us what He wants us to do and to learn as we continue to trust Him in this journey.

2 Samuel 9:11 “Mephibosheth ate at the king's table like one of his sons.”

Isaiah 45:2 “I will go before you and will level the mountains. I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.”

Isaiah 45:19 “I did not tell the people of Israel to ask me for something I did not plan to give. I, the LORD, speak only what is true and right.”

Romans 4:17-22 God “calls into existence that things that do not exist” and “in hope (Abraham) believed against hope, no unbelief made him waver, but he grew strong in his faith, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

Habakkuk 2:3 “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”

In June of 2007, we completed our paperwork for a Chinese adoption. Our original request was for a baby girl, and we were told that the estimated wait was about 1 year. (That seemed long to us at the time!) About 9 months later, as our family was praying one Sabbath about our adoption, I felt compelled (in a way that I have never felt before) to ask God for two siblings from Gansu province. Charly strongly affirmed this request, and we all believed that this was a new direction God was leading our family—to step out in faith and to ask Him for what seemed impossible (for our delight and for His glory).

We already knew that sibling sets are uncommon in China because most orphans are abandoned. But we also discovered that twins typically go to families with no current children. So, because we already had three biological children, we were told that it would not be possible for us to adopt two siblings.

After over a year of what seemed to be only closed doors toward our specific request, our dossier came to the front of the foreign adoption line in the summer of 2009. At that point we were given the incredibly painful decision of adopting “one or none.” Then, after writing a letter explaining our situation to the new CCAA director, we were (miraculously) given permission to adopt two siblings from Gansu!

We have the permission. And we have renewed our adoption paperwork multiple times. But for the past three years, there have not been two siblings from Gansu available for international adoption. So we are continuing to wait. And hope. And doubt. And wrestle with God. Did we hear Him right then? How is He leading us now? Is our turn coming?

I don’t know how our adoption journey will end. But I do believe that Jesus is speaking to me the words that He spoke to Peter after His resurrection, “You follow me.” Don’t compare or be distracted by the way My plans unfold for anyone else. My plan for you is hand-selected. For your good. And for My glory.

Trust me. Even when it doesn’t make sense.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Transforming a Jealous Heart

If to judge someone is to stand on a self-made pedestal and to look down, thinking “I am better than you,”
then to be jealous is to see another person standing on the pedestal and to think, “I want to take your place up there. I want to be better than you.”

A jealous heart is the kind of heart I had growing up. On the outside I looked like a good person, but on the inside I knew that my heart was not that good. I was competitive in cross-country and track and tried to gain achievements academically as well. But no accomplishment ever gave me a real sense of fulfillment. I kept looking ahead, seeing other people as my competition and wanting to be the best.

Our theme for high school graduation was “A Time for Everything” from Ecclesiastes 3. And in my graduation speech, I remember referring to this passage: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13b-14) Such a great passage! But at the time I didn’t have a clue what it meant. I thought I was a Christian because I went to church almost every Sunday and was basically a good person. The whole concept of a personal relationship with God had never connected with my heart.

Then I went to college and experienced loneliness for the first time. During my first semester I realized that more friends and more accomplishments could never fill the emptiness that I felt inside. Someone in my dorm invited me to attend a weekly Bible study, and I started reading the Bible on my own for the first time. Since I thought I already was a Christian, I was amazed by how much I didn’t know!

Back home, my sister was a high school senior and doing really well on the cross country team. We talked on the phone after each meet, and beforehand I always hoped I would hear that she hadn’t done well. Then I could sympathize with her, but would be inwardly happy because that meant that I could still be on the pedestal I had created. I was able to sound like I was excited when she ran well and placed in the top, but my jealous heart hated her victories because that meant that she was on the pedestal and not me.

I wanted to be genuinely happy for my sister, not a hypocrite! But was this even possible?

My jealous heart was a glaring ugliness in my life, and seemed like something I just couldn’t change. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t make myself truly happy for my sister when she ran faster or placed higher than I had. More than anything, I still wanted to be the best.

So, as I was reading the Bible that fall, I was also praying, “God, if you are real, will you change my jealous heart?”

And I began to see a definite difference in those phone calls with my sister. I could tell (and I rejoiced!) when my words of congratulations actually matched up with my true heart attitude. God was taking my jealous heart and changing it to be more like His! That convinced me that He was real, that He wanted me to be more like Him, and that He had the power to change me.

I came to understand that it was Jesus who was the missing part of my life and that only He could fill that deep emptiness inside. Applying my “graduation verses” in Philippians: I can forget what is behind (my heart of jealousy) and strain toward what is ahead (genuine happiness for others). I don’t have to live in the bondage of a jealous heart. In pressing on toward the goal, I am not trying to come in first! I see people around me as God’s creation, not as my competition. I want to be faithful to what He has called me to, and to cheer others on in how God has uniquely gifted them and in what He has called them to. Receiving the eternal prize doesn’t mean being the best.

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Getting Rid of the Logs

I think to judge someone is basically to say, “I am good and you are not.”

It is pointing out the fault in another, when our vision is actually distorted.

Jesus said, “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log from your own eye, then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” (Luke 6:41-42, NLT)

For the self-righteous accusers of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus’ challenge was to self-examination. “Let those who have never sinned throw the first stones.” (John 8:7)

When Jesus was invited to Simon’s house and anointed by a sinful woman with expensive perfume, Simon was horrified. “She’s a sinner!” he protested to Jesus. And Jesus rebuked him, “Simon, you didn’t offer me water when I entered your house. You didn’t give me a kiss of greeting. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head.” In other words, “Simon, take a humble look at yourself and then look at this woman as I see her.” Then to the repentant one who had wholeheartedly blessed him, he spoke gently. “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50)

And then there was the proud Pharisee who prayed, “I thank you, God that I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t sin, I don’t commit adultery, I fast twice a week and I give you a tenth of my income.” Meanwhile the tax collector, who had a more accurate view of himself “stood at a distance and dared not lift his eyes to heaven. ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’” And God was merciful to the one who recognized his need of Him. (Luke 18:9-14)

When we judge someone else, we harden our hearts and step onto an undeserved platform. Smug and wrapped in a robe of self-righteousness, we look down and feel better about ourselves with condemning thoughts about another. “I am good and you are not.” This offensive robe must be removed, along with the troublesome log in our eye, if we want to see ourselves as God sees us. And when our hearts are cleansed by the blood of Jesus, He will give us His robe of true righteousness.

Jesus said, “Stop judging others, and you will not be judged. Stop accusing others, or it will all come back on you. If you forgive others, you will be forgiven. If you give, you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving—large or small—it will be used to measure what is given back to you.” (Luke 6:37-38)

Today is the 11th anniversary of 9/11. Since our family's move last year, for Charly to do his PhD research on Chinese Muslim minorities, we have become increasingly aware of judgments between Christians and Muslims. In the spring, I had a conversation with a man in Gaoli village whose eyes filled with tears as he brought up issues in the Middle East and asked me about American politics (definitely not one of my strong suits in conversation!)

I told him that we didn’t agree with all of America’s foreign policies. And I said that as a result of 9/11, it seems that many Americans have come to see Muslims as the “enemy.” Muslim has come to be synonymous with terrorist. I told this Muslim man that our family has been blessed to get to know many wonderful Muslims in Gansu province, and that we hope we can promote better understanding between Muslims and Christians, in the East and the West. We would love to see both sides remove the logs blocking the way, in order to see the other as God does.

“Search me, O God and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dropping Stones and Extending the Hand of Mercy

Times of rest were few this summer, and only once did I take the time to blog in the midst of our travels. But I did have blog ideas constantly rumbling around in my mind and heart! Some of the questions that I’ve been pondering are: How am I judging people? How can I make others feel accepted and not judged by me? And how can God use me to walk alongside people on their journeys, wherever they are?

A story I’ve been reflecting on is the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11.

Narrowed eyes full of hatred, condemnation, accusation
Standing above this sinful woman who was caught in the very act
Stones held in tightly clenched fists
Presenting a carefully designed trap for Jesus
Waiting only for his word to stone her to death
And be rid of this worthless, shameful life
In the name of justice
They would have walked away proud
Exalted as a result of stepping on one so clearly beneath them

But Jesus, instead of patting those on the back who felt so deserving and right,
Challenged them to self-examination.
“Let those who have never sinned throw the first stones.”
And one by one they dropped their stones and humbly slipped away from the crowd.

Then as Jesus stood beside the woman,
His kind eyes looked directly into her soul and spoke of hope for a changed life
The only sinless one who had the right to judge
Chose instead to extend the hand of forgiveness and mercy.
“Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

Where would I have been in this story?
Would I have been looking down on her, thinking that I would never sin like that?
Would my eyes have been accusing, condemning, even hating?
Would my hands have been clenched around stones, ready to throw?
Or would they have reached out to the one on the ground, labeled “sinful” and “shameful”
Extending mercy and forgiveness?
Would I have been able to offer the hope of a new life that He did?
Do I demonstrate an attitude of humble repentance and mercy to others now?
Or an attitude of judgment and thinking that I am “better than”?

I discovered Michael Card’s Immanuel: Reflections on the Life of Christ on my parents’ bookshelf this summer, and it has become one of my all-time favorites. I love the song that he wrote about this story called “Forgiving Eyes.”

“Surrounded with shouts, the cruel accusations,
Dragged to the court, no hope of salvation,
All hope was lost for those who had caught me
Knew who I was, they knew all about me.

I thought it seemed strange as we entered in,
They stopped a young Rabbi to ask his opinion.
Caught in the act, their reason for hating,
My body could feel the stones that were waiting.

My judge, a man from Galilee,
In His eyes so gentle I could see
A Father and a Brother and a Son.

Just as I saw Him the hope I had lost became born again.
I was not hopeless.
Though I’d been lost, now I felt I was found
When He looked at me
With His forgiving eyes.

The crowd gathered round so angry and violent.
But He stood beside me peaceful and silent.
Then with a word, with one question, He showed them
That they too were guilty and could not condemn.

The next thing I knew He asked me, ‘Where are they?’
When I looked around, the courtyard was empty.
The stones gathered ‘round, the warm morning sunlight,
He’d made the darkness perfectly light.

In this new light now I understood,
He would not condemn me though He could.
For He would be condemned someday for me.

Just as I saw Him the hope I had lost became born again.
I was not hopeless.
Though I’d been lost, now I felt I was found
When He looked at me
With his forgiving eyes.”

Another book from my parents’ bookshelf that I enjoyed this summer was The Other Jesus by Lloyd J. Oglivie, especially the chapter expounding on Jesus’ statement in Luke 15:7 “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not (think they) need to repent.” (author’s addition)

“Only the self-righteous religious leaders, who didn’t acknowledge that they too were lost and needed to be found, criticized Jesus. One day they leveled a judgment on Him that was really a compliment. ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’ (Luke 15:2) The criticism is all the more a compliment when we realize that the word “receives” really means “welcomes.” The vindictive leaders could not have stated Jesus’ purpose more accurately. Jesus did not object; He simply agreed with them. There was no need to justify His concern for the lost. The real need was to contrast the Father’s heart in search of the lost with the judgmental exclusivism of the religious leaders...

We miss the Father’s party when we are not continually amazed that He has found us, and do not, out of gratitude, want to serve Him. Heaven stands poised to sing a new song of joy over us every day and every hour. The rejoicing that began when we first repented and became Christians swells with greater delight each time we take a new step of confidence and courageous faith...

A sure way to know we’ve been found is that we long to rejoice with the Father over others who are found. We become so busy sharing the searching heart of God over the lost around us that we have little time to sit around waiting to hear our song. The only satisfaction that’s greater than having heaven rejoice over us is to rejoice over others who have been brought home to the heart of God.

It’s awesome to know that we can bring pleasure to the Father. And His greatest joy—even greater than His joy at a repentant sinner’s first response to His love—comes when we allow our hearts to beat at one with the rhythms of His heart of concern over people who do not know Him...

Many of us have known a far country of rebellion like this younger son, the prodigal. Looking back, we are astonished at the freedom the Lord gave us. But what we could never get free of was our homesickness for Him. The memory of His love made us see how lost we were and how much we wanted to come home to Him again. And like the Father in the parable, He comes running to us each time we return. We know the joy of the Father’s party. And the wonder of it all is that the celebration is for us!

The startling thing is how quickly we forget, and how soon we take on the attitude of the elder brother. We find plenty of role models for that. Churches are filled with elder brothers. Some have a short memory of what it was like to, in some far country, repent and receive the Father’s grace. Others have never repented. They have been religious all of their lives. There’s been no party for them. How could there be? The most difficult far country to leave is the one inside our own hearts. It’s also a parched land devoid of the flowers of gratitude...

Just imagine what might have happened if the younger son had met his brother on his way home! He would never have made it to his father. Nothing in the far country was as bad as the bitter, judgmental self-righteousness of his older brother.

That makes us wonder about how many people returning to the Father have been met at the pass by elder brother types of both sexes and of all ages in their families, among their friends, and in the church. That makes us wonder about ourselves.

—Do we affirm or contradict the Father’s heart?

—Would anyone want to go all the way home to the Father because of the welcoming love and acceptance we communicate?

—Are we willing to walk with others and reintroduce them to the Father?” (p. 183-197)

Lord, convict me of self-righteous pride and a judgmental attitude toward others. As I have received your completely underserved gift of grace, help me to rejoice in extending your welcoming hand to those on their way home to your heart. Please keep me from standing in anyone’s way on their journey of coming home to you (like the religious leaders and the elder son did in these stories). Help me to step inside the shoes of others, to better understand their unique journeys that you already know so well. May others come to know you as a redeeming God of Grace through my attitude and actions toward them.


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