Thursday, October 30, 2014

On Sickness

It’s hard to be sick. And it’s hard when a loved one is sick. It’s hard to feel helpless in the battle against pain. And it’s hard to wait and trust when the fear of the unknown looms dark.

But those life-giving words—“It’s not cancer,” bring a fresh wind of new hope. We heard those words from across the ocean this week, from our nieces and nephew camped out in the hospital with Charly’s sister. And we breathed a deep sigh of relief and thanked God for this great news. It could have been a different story.

My friend Elizabeth, who has been battling chronic pain, recently recommended Amy Carmichael’s Rose From Brier to me. She wrote this book “from the ill to the ill” as a source of strength, encouragement, and hope. I’ve been so blessed by her words this week, both as I’ve thought about my personal struggle with migraine pain and about friends and family who are currently battling different kinds of pain. Some who are living in the aftermath of hearing the words no one wants to hear: "You have cancer." But our illness and pain don't have to define us. These are some of my favorites of her poems:

Dear Lord, for all in pain
We pray to Thee;
Oh, come and smite again
Thine enemy.

Give to Thy servants skill
To soothe and bless;
And to the tired and ill
Give quietness.

And, Lord, to those who know
Pain may not cease,
Come near, that even so
They may have peace.

(“For All in Pain” Mountain Breezes)

Lord, Thou hast suffered, Thou dost know
The thrust of pain, the piercing dart,
How wearily the wind can blow
Upon the tired heart.

He whom Thou lovest, Lord, is ill.
O come, Thou mighty Vanquisher
Of wind and wave; say “Peace be still,”
Eternal comforter.

(“Come, Mighty Vanquisher” Mountain Breezes)

Then answered the Lord to the cry of His world,
“Shall I take away pain,
And with it the power of the soul to endure,
Made strong by the strain?
Shall I take away pity that knits heart to heart?
And sacrifice high?
Will ye lose all your heroes, that lift from the fire
White brows to the sky?
Shall I take away love that redeems with a price,
And smiles at its loss?
Can ye spare from your lives that would climb unto Mine,
The Christ on the Cross?”


“God never wastes His children’s pain.” (Amy Carmichael)

He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places like a river.” 
(Psalm 105:41)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Outward Appearance

Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

These were the words God spoke to Samuel, when He sent him to the house of Jesse to anoint the next king after Saul. God passed over 7 of Jesse’s sons—who looked like they could have been king material—and said that Jesse’s youngest son David was the one. He had to be sent for, because he was out, tending the family’s sheep. David. Not chosen because of his outward appearance, but because he had a heart after God’s own heart.

David later became best friends with Saul’s son Jonathan, and made a covenant with him that extended into their future generations. Jonathan requested, “But show me unfailing kindness like that of the Lord as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family—not even when the Lord has cut off everyone of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.” (1 Samuel 20:14-15)

David was faithful to this covenant with his best friend. After Saul and Jonathan were both killed in battle, and David was crowned King of Israel, he asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9:1) And Mephibosheth—crippled in both feet—was brought to the king’s palace. And made a prince. 

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that God used the story of David and Mephibosheth to change my heart about adoption back in January of 2007, when we began our adoption journey. After 6 plus years of waiting, in July of 2013, we found out about Ding Yi Fan (David) and Hua Ming An (Daniel)—boys who both have crippled feet.

We’ve been talking about David’s feet a lot recently because he started going to a local Chinese school in 2nd grade this fall. And the kids at school have been making fun of how he walks. As he’s been dealing with a lot of teasing, we can see that he’s fallen back on some of the survival skills that he learned during his almost 9 years at the orphanage and gotten into conflicts—doing and saying bad things to others when he’s treated badly. 

We’ve been encouraged though that he’s expressed a desire to make things right, and has prayed that God would help him to forgive those kids who have been mean to him. That God would help him to improve his relationships at school. That God would help him to return evil with good. And while we don’t always have a clear picture of what’s happening at school, we believe that God has been helping him in these areas.

Yesterday he told me that he didn’t feel like the “new kid in the class” anymore. He feels like his relationships overall have gotten better. He likes those kids who don’t stare at him and imitate his turned-in club feet. He said when other kids make fun of him, he sometimes tells them, “You shouldn’t laugh at me. You could have been born with feet like this too.”

David has asked us how long he will walk the way he does. And if his birth parents had feet that turn in like his. The specialists, when we were back in the US, told us there was nothing that could be done for him at this point. Their policy is to not do surgery unless medically necessary—because it would involve breaking and resetting the bones of both of his lower legs. No surgery just for appearance sake.

We’ve talked with David about the man born blind, about whom Jesus said “this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (John 9:3). We’ve talked about how God can use bad things and difficult things for our good. Recently we’ve been listening a lot to one of Joshua and Jordan’s favorite songs “Beautiful Things.” It’s become one of David’s favorites too.

He makes beautiful things out of the dust.

He makes beautiful things out of us.

This past year we’ve seen changes in David’s life. God has begun a work in him that we believe He will carry on to completion. (Philippians 1:6)

He is giving our David Jonathan a heart after God’s own heart. Just like King David. And making beautiful things out of his life.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Feeling Stuck

Like a kite caught in a tree.
No longer free to fly.
But trapped.

Repetition with Daniel can be the same instructions repeated over and over again to help him complete simple tasks. And it can also be his own repetition. Of a word or phrase that becomes babbling. Of a question that gets asked over and over throughout the day. “Whose turn is it to wash dishes?” “How come CJ hasn’t been here in a long time?” “How much longer until my birthday?” And it can get tiring. And I can feel trapped. Stuck in the repetition that never seems to end.

Last week an American doctor friend stopped by to see how Daniel was doing. He asked us questions about his cognitive development, and Charly and I shared our frustration with knowing how best to teach him at home. It’s hard when he doesn’t seem to be making any progress. And even harder when there seems to be regression. If he can’t get the basics down, then how can he move on to study anything harder? Is he going to be stuck on problems like 8-5=3 for the rest of his life?

We shared how he often gets stuck on the wrong answer. We tell him that it’s wrong, but he says the same wrong answer again. And again. He just can’t seem to get the wrong answer out of his head. And that’s frustrating. And a challenge to be patient and not give up on him. How can we give him just the right amount of pushing to help him make progress? What is he capable of? What is realistic?

The doctor told us a lot has to do with our expectations. And that’s so true. He said we’ve taught our other kids at home, but we’ve never dealt with learning difficulties like this. And that’s so true too. And just hearing him say that was helpful. He didn’t offer any solutions. Just a desire to listen and to agree with us that it's not an easy situation.

I’ve realized that I need to take a step back sometimes, especially when I’m feeling frustrated, and not focus on schoolwork so much. Daniel’s character development is actually a lot more important than what grade level he is able to reach. How can I help him develop life skills and his own relationship with God that will last a lifetime? How can I give him a solid confidence that he is loved and treasured regardless of his performance? 

We don't have to stay in those stuck places.

I’ve had a song in my head recently called “I am Free.” And I want those words to be true of my life. In the midst of endless repetition, I can still be free.

Free to run.
Free to dance.
Free to live for You.
I am free. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Today is Thursday. Which means its Daniel’s turn to wash the dishes. Which means I go into the kitchen after he tells me he’s done, to check his work. And show him which ones aren’t clean yet. And he washes them again. And tells me he’s done again. And I check his work again and show him where there are still spots that aren’t clean. After about 3 washings the dishes are mostly clean. And he asks if he can change his clothes because he’s gotten himself all wet in the process.

This morning as Daniel was washing the breakfast dishes, Charly asked me, “Do you think it’s worth it—giving him a day to wash the dishes?” “I don’t know,” I sighed. “I can get really frustrated with him and how he’s doing his work. It seems like something he should be able to do. But he has so many problems with it. It’s the same with making his bed. I have to keep telling him what step is next. I don’t want to do it for him. But he seems so clueless sometimes. I really want him to learn how to do these things on his own and to learn how to look how to do a good job.”

How to be patient as I help him learn—whether its lessons in housework or with schoolwork—when it takes a lot of repetition. This has been a big struggle for me recently.

On Tuesday night, Jordan, David, Daniel and I went outside after dinner to play badminton. David came home early to get started on his Chinese school 2nd grade homework. And Jordan and I tried to see how many times we could hit the birdie back and forth as the sky turned darker and it got more challenging. Daniel watched us and practiced trying to hit his own birdie by himself.

Then a neighbor grandmother appeared and asked Daniel if he wanted to do some exercises with her. They started by touching their toes. And he was having trouble keeping his legs straight. Another neighbor showed up and joined in some of the exercises. Jordan and I decided to stop playing badminton and she asked if I wanted to “study” with the grandmother too. We ended up getting an intro class in kungfu.

At the end of the class, the grandmother told us she could teach us if we were interested—she has a few other students—and she doesn’t take any money. So last night after dinner, Jordan and I joined kungfu grandmother outside for our 2nd class.

And during the class, I thought about how much I need repetition. I needed to keep my eyes on the teacher or on Jordan and then keep looking back at my arms and legs to see if I had the right position. I dreaded the moments when our teacher turned around to see if we could do a sequence on our own, and I hadn’t really “gotten” it yet. I needed lots of repetition, following the master, imitating her moves until they became my own.

And in life—how much repetition I so often need to really “get” what God is trying to teach me.

How many times have I told God, “I’m done”—like Daniel with the dishes— and He says, “No, not yet. There’s still more work to be done here.”

Repetition. God, help me to really “get” those lessons you are teaching me. And help me to be patient with all the repetition that Daniel needs. To be patient with him as You are patient with me.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fix Your Eyes on Jesus

Recent skype calls with friends—both from across the ocean and from different cities around this country—have greatly encouraged me. I have felt "held up" by these friends, my great cloud of witnesses.

Inspired by their examples—of how they are living faithfully and courageously,
of how they are trusting God in the different seasons of their lives,
and of how they are facing difficulties without giving up.

Keep pressing on.
God is bigger.
We can’t fit Him in a box.
He has a plan even if we can’t see what it is.
He will never leave us and will always provide what we need.

And I’m thankful for Jordan—who came back to cheer me on after a run together last week. She gave me a high five as I neared the finish line and a “Woo hoo! Pretty fast!” And of course, I wasn’t that fast, but I appreciated her big smile and words of encouragement. As we walked up the hill together toward home, she said, “On the last stretch, I just kept focused on the big tree in the middle of the sidewalk. It got closer and closer and I could forget about everything else. Kind of like the verse ‘Fix your eyes on Jesus.’”

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12: 1-3)

God never promised that the race marked out for us would be easy. But He promises that as we become weary and consider giving up, fixing our eyes on Jesus will inspire and strengthen us. And we can tune our ears to hear the cheers of our great cloud of witnesses—both from the past and from the heroes of the faith that God has put in our lives today. They help us to keep running with perseverance and to not lose heart.

And like them, we can focus our spiritual eyes through a lens of faith to see what our physical eyes cannot see.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

“By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.” (11:7)

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (11:8)

“By faith (Moses) left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” (11:27)

“Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” (Hebrews 12:12-13)

“Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your eyes directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left.; keep your foot from evil.” (Proverbs 4: 25-27)

Fix your eyes on Jesus.

Friday, October 10, 2014

45 Years Later

What a beautiful picture of faithfulness.

When the Israelites finally entered the Promised Land, under Joshua’s leadership, Caleb approached him with a request.

“I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, but my brothers who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt with fear. I, however, followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly. So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.’

Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.’

Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance.” (Joshua 14:7-13, emphasis added))

“From Hebron Caleb drove out the three Anakites—Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai.” (Joshua 15:14)

For 40 years Caleb had wandered with the rest of the Israelites in the desert as one by one the entire disbelieving generation had died. Their generation had believed the account of the 10 spies, who gave this disheartening report to Moses:

"We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendents of Anak there…

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.’

But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.’ And they spread a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, ‘The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendents of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.’”

Then Joshua and Caleb “tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, ‘The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.’” (Numbers 13:27-28, 30-33, 14:6b-9, emphasis added)

As a result of the people’s disbelief, the Lord said that everyone of that generation would die without entering the Promised Land: “not one of them will ever see the land promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into this land he went to, and his descendents will inherit it.”

God told them: “Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.” (Numbers 14: 23-24, 30, emphasis added)

This story is why we chose the name Caleb Joshua for CJ and then used the name Joshua again. We hoped our boys would have the same faith and conviction of these two men to trust God wholeheartedly— in the midst of a crowd full of disbelief— and to have the courage to act on their faith.

Reading this story today makes me wonder:

Are our eyes focused on our enemy’s strength and on our own weakness—causing us to cower in fear?

We can’t

They are stronger

We’ll be devoured

We are like grasshoppers

Or are our eyes focused on God—His unlimited strength and His promises that never fail—causing us to move forward in confidence and conviction?

We can certainly do it

He will lead us

We will swallow them up

The Lord is with us

I love the window that God gives us into Caleb’s life—a man who was just as strong at 85 as he was at 40, strong in his convictions and his faith, and physically strong and ready for battle.

What a faithful man—who waited 45 years for the fulfillment of the promise he had wholeheartedly trusted God for, along with Joshua, when the rest of those around them had given into fear and doubt.

God gave him the land
Caleb drove out the Anakites
And Hebron was his inheritance
A land flowing with milk and honey.

A story of Caleb’s faithfulness to God. And of God’s faithfulness to him.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Unwritten Stories

There are some mothers whose stories I would like to know.

Like the mother who packed the simple lunch of 5 loaves and 2 fish for her son as he set off to see Jesus for himself. Jesus. The man who everyone was saying could do miracles. What was her reaction when he burst in the door with the story of a miracle that the two of them had actually been a part of: “Mom, you’ll never guess what Jesus did with the food you gave me!” (from John 6)

How did the mother of the prodigal son respond when she saw her son shuffling down the dusty road toward home? Had she been standing by her husband’s side every day, looking down that road, wondering in hopeful expectation of the day their son’s figure might appear? Did she hum a tune of praise as she prepared his welcoming feast? Or was she more like their older son, wearing a scowl and an attitude that said, “You’re going to have to earn my trust again, buddy”? (from Luke 15)

Was Jairus’ wife anxiously watching from the window as her husband left in a desperate search for Jesus? Jesus. Their very last hope to save their precious daughter’s life. The life that was only hanging now by a thread. Did she see the interruption—after Jesus was finally on his way to their house—by the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years? Did all her hope for a miracle slip out the window as she heard her daughter breathe her last? He’s too late. Could she ever have imagined the even greater miracle of Jesus raising their daughter from the dead? New life. A new start. Not only for their daughter but for this precious mother as well. A new faith. In Jesus. Who could do the impossible. (from Mark 5)

What was the mother of Mary like? How did she handle the news of her daughter’s seemingly scandalous pregnancy? Did she believe and support her daughter’s story of the angel’s coming and giving her the incredible news that she had been chosen to bear God’s Son? Did she affirm the words “Nothing is impossible with God”? Or did she, like many others in their hometown, think the worst of her daughter? And what kind of grandmother was she to Jesus? (from Luke 1)

What was King Saul’s wife like? I want to think that she was a godly mother because her son Jonathan and her daughter Michal became the best friend and wife of David. I’d like to think that their character traits of loyalty, faith, and courage—that enabled them to stand up against their intimidating father when they knew he was wrong, in order to protect David—came at least in part from their mother’s godly influence in their lives. (from 1 Samuel 14-20)

And as I wonder about these mothers and hope to know their stories one day in heaven—I’m challenged to think about myself as a mother. A mother who wants to be faithful in the everyday things and joyful at unexpected surprises like the lunch-packing mama. A welcoming and merciful mother when her prodigal son comes limping home. A mother transformed by Jesus, who can hold on to hope when all hope seems lost. A mother who believes her children and who truly believes that “nothing is impossible with God.” And a mother who passes on godly traits to her children, by her example and influence in their lives.



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