Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Where Have I Come From and Where Am I Going?

I think it's a good question to ask ourselves as we finish the year 2014 and enter into 2015.

A few days ago I gave Joshua and Jordan a writing assignment to reflect on this past year: the ups and downs, the twists and turns, the joys and sorrows...what have they learned, how have they grown, how have they struggled, what has God been up to in the midst of their lives.


Are you going to do this assignment too?” Jordan was quick to ask me. “Yes, I think that's a good idea,” I told her. The three of us have been thinking about what to write, but haven't gotten our thoughts down on paper yet. Maybe you'd like to join us in looking back and reflecting on 2014?

 
A few weeks ago Jordan started her own blog: Ponderings of a DivergenTCK
I think you will be blessed to read her first two posts about identity. She writes, "There is no better place to look for the key to my identity than in the one who made me: the Creator. Therefore, it is to Him that I will turn."

 
Last February I wrote in Looking Back and Looking Forward that we need to “allow space and time to grieve what is gone. But keep looking forward and trust that God has led us on this journey and He will hold our hands every step of the way.” 


God helps us to see His ever-present hand of faithfulness in our lives as we look back, which gives us renewed hope as we gaze into the unknowns of the future.

 
As we better understand where we've come from—the story God has already written on the pages of our lives—we can have a greater sense of how God is leading us in the days and months to come. Let us walk in step with Him—into the unwritten pages of this upcoming year. As He writes each of our unique stories. May they be filled with His grace and mercy. Which are new for us each day.

Immanuel.




Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Shepherding David

David, who was a shepherd, knew what it was like to be shepherded by the Lord Himself. He wrote:

“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
(Psalm 23)

In A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Phillip Keller writes that David “knew from firsthand experience that the lot in life of any particular sheep depended on the type of man who owned it. Some men were gentle, kind, intelligent, brave and selfless in their devotion to their flock.”

These sheep would greatly benefit from having a good shepherd, because “sheep do not just 'take care of themselves' as some might suppose. They require more than any other class of livestock, endless attention and meticulous care.

It is no accident that God has chosen to call us sheep. The behavior of sheep and human beings is similar in many ways...our mass minds (or mob instincts), our fears and timidity, our stubbornness and stupidity, our perverse habits are all parallels of profound importance.

Yet, despite these adverse characteristics, Christ chooses us, buys us, calls us by name, makes us His own and delights in caring for us.”


From Keller's personal experience as a shepherd, he knows that in order for sheep to lie down, four requirements must be met. The sheep must be free from
  1. all fear
  2. tensions within the flock
  3. aggravation from pests
  4. hunger
And only the shepherd can provide release from these anxieties.

“Nothing so quieted and reassured the sheep as to see me in the field. The presence of their master and owner and protector put them at ease as nothing else could do, and this applied night and day.”

As we have been shepherding David and Daniel as our still relatively new sons these past 14 ½ months, I can see clear parallels with Keller's analogies. David has told us that the first fit he threw after he'd been in our home for just over an hour was because he didn't know how we were going to treat him. There was a real fear of the unknown and the possibility that this huge change in his life was going to be for the worse. 

So he put his backpack on and screamed over and over again as loudly as he could at our front door that he wanted to go back home to the orphanage. We were finally able to calm him down. But we were all shaken by that experience and the countless fits that have followed, not knowing when they would come or how long they would last. We have seen both a receptivity in David's heart to joining our family and a resistance. It seems that overall though the desire to return to his familiar life at the orphanage has diminished greatly over the past year, and for that we are truly thankful.

God has been helping us to build a foundation of trust that can only come with time. But the question “Can I trust you?” still lingers, on both sides. Recently his 2nd grade teacher has shared with us some of her concerns about his behavior at school, and we've had talks with him at home about how his lying affects our ability to trust him. Last week he told me that he still sees himself as “bad” like he was when he was at the orphanage. I told him that he is a child of God, and he doesn't have to keep following that path now. But does he want to change and does he believe that God can help him?

How can Charly and I best shepherd and lead him along paths of righteousness?

All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one each to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6)

Keller writes, “And this we do deliberately, repeatedly, even to our own disadvantage. There is something almost terrifying about the destructive self-determination of a human being...

Just as sheep will blindly, habitually, stupidly follow one another along the same little trails until they become ruts that erode into gigantic gullies, so we humans cling to the same habits that we have seen ruin other lives...

We don't want to be led in the paths of righteousness.”

Out of all of our family relationships, David has shown the most resistance toward accepting me as his Mom. It has not been easy for me to face his rejection or natural for me to express unconditional love for him, a Love that never fails. I'm challenged by Jesus, who as the good shepherd, laid down his life for his sheep. Who as he hung on the cross, cried out to his Father, “Forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” I have been encouraged that there has been real progress in my relationship and communication with David recently. And I am trusting that walls will continue to be torn down and bridges built.


Psalm 23 concludes with “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Keller says, “Actually, what is referred to by house is the family or household or flock of the Good Shepherd. The sheep is so deeply satisfied with the flock to which it belongs, with the ownership of this particular shepherd that it has no wish to change whatever. ”

And that is our prayer as we shepherd David and Daniel, that they would desire to dwell in the family of the Lord forever. That they would be deeply satisfied with the flock to which they belong.

And that they would know and love and trust Jesus the good shepherd, who “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” and whose “sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:3,4)





Monday, December 29, 2014

David the Shepherd

Our family made a Jesse Tree this year to help us remember the people and events leading up to the birth of Jesus. Not surprisingly, our David chose David as one of the people he wanted to illustrate. He drew a smiling David, surrounded by happy sheep, holding up the sword that he used to kill the lion who came to attack his flock. 


His drawing reminded me of last year when we celebrated Christmas with our families in the US. When David used my sister's nativity set to retell the Christmas story, he said that the shepherd first went to find the lost sheep that was missing from his flock of 100 before he came to see the baby Jesus. :)


Thinking of the importance of how a good shepherd cares for his sheep. Which is what David thought about this year too when illustrating David for our Jesse Tree. He didn't draw David killing mighty Goliath or reigning as a powerful King. But as a shepherd.


It was because David had learned how to care for his sheep in the fields that he was able to shepherd the people of Israel so well when he became king. With integrity of heart and with skilled hands.

God "chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens, from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skilled hands he led them.” (Psalm 78: 70-72)

I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.” (Ezekiel 34: 23-24)

And just as David was once the shepherd of Israel, so through his line God prophesied that another Shepherd would come. To save His people and to rule forever with with righteousness and justice.

The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.” (Jeremiah 23: 5-6)




Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Send Down Your Presence


After the Israelites' escape from Egypt--when God parted the Red Sea. As they prepared to move out from Mount Sinai—where Moses received the Ten Commandments. To begin their lives as a freed nation, at last, in the Promised Land. Moses asked God to send down His Presence, to reveal His glory. Because they could not go on without Him.

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence...But, you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live.” (Exodus 33:14,19-20)

Then the Most High hid Moses in the cleft of a rock and covered him with His hand as He passed by. In all of His glory.

Show Me Your Glory by Third Day

On the first Christmas, God did not send presents. But His Presence.


God incarnate. So that people would be able--at last--to see God's face and live. He sent down His glory. In the form of His Son. Who was with Him from before time began. Who humbled himself in a way that we can hardly imagine. And became flesh. Creator God, dependent upon His own creation. In this way, He could take on the sins of the world. And extend His mercy to all who would receive Him. For there is no other way to be reconciled to God.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities;
all things were created by him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
And he is the head of the body, the church;
he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead,
so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
and through him to reconcile to himself all things,
whether things on earth or things in heaven,
by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
(Colossians 1:15-20)


The best gift of all.

Jesus.

The Presence of God.



Sunday, December 21, 2014

What Mary Pondered

What did Mary ponder in her heart at the time of Jesus' conception, as he grew within her womb, and at the time of his birth?


The first words of the incredible miracle that included her were spoken by the angel Gabriel:

“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

When Mary questioned how that could be since she was a virgin, the angel replied:

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:31-37)

The angel of the Lord later appeared to Joseph in a dream to confirm to him that Mary's pregnancy was not a scandal after all, but was a miracle from the Lord.

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)


Mary traveled to a town in the hill country of Judea to visit her relative Elizabeth (maybe to see for herself if what the angel had said was true). “When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!'” (Luke 1:39-45)

Because Mary stayed with Elizabeth three months, she may have still been there when John was born and could have heard Zechariah's prophecy (his first words spoken after 9 months of silence):

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us—to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days...

because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:68-75, 78-79)

Later in her pregnancy, Mary traveled to Bethlehem with Joseph at the time of Caesar Augustus' census, and Jesus was born while they were there. (This is a link to a very interesting article about how the conditions they faced were probably quite different from our traditional retelling of the Christmas story). Shepherds rushed in to see the baby Jesus after a great company of angels had filled the sky and told them of the “good news of great joy that will be for all people.” (Luke 2:10) Another confirmation to Mary and Joseph of their child's special purpose. He would be the Savior of the world.

Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

After the time of purification according to the Law of Moses was complete, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord and to offer the required sacrifice.

There in the temple courts, they met Simeon, a righteous and devout man who was filled with the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit he had confidence that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Simeon took Jesus in his arms and declared, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light of revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-32)

The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him.” (Luke 2:33)


Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

At the temple that day they also encountered Anna the prophetess, who worshiped, fasted and prayed at the temple night and day. “She gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:36-38)

And then there were the Magi from the east, who followed the star and came to Bethlehem to worship the new king of the Jews. They bowed down and worshiped the child Jesus, presenting him with gifts of gold, incense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:1-12)

Jesus. Whose arrival was proclaimed by angels. Who was blessed while in the womb by a joyful old pregnant woman. Who received Spirit-filled prophecy by a man who had been made mute by an angel. Who was born to a young woman who humbly believed that nothing was impossible with God. Who was given a faith-filled earthly father—who while not born of his own flesh and blood—believed in his miraculous conception. Who was first worshiped after his birth by common shepherds—full of awe--who could not keep this good news of salvation to themselves. Who was blessed in the temple by Simeon and Anna, who had been long awaiting the Messiah's arrival into the world. And who was worshiped by foreigners, Magi from the east. Recognized as the King of the Jews. King of all Kings. Savior of the World. Son of God. Prince of Peace.

Jesus continues to be “Good news of great joy for all people.” (We put these words up on our living room wall for Christmas three years ago and never felt like taking them down.)

One of our family's favorite songs is Chris Tomlin's “My Soul Magnifies the Lord” taken from Mary's song of praise in Luke 1:46-55.


As Mary pondered all the revelations about her son Jesus, her soul responded by magnifying the Lord.

May our hearts do the same as we reflect on the significance of Jesus' birth this Christmas season.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Prepare the Way

John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, had a very clear purpose in life:
he was to prepare the way for the Lord.

The last chapter of the Old Testament is a prophecy in which John would have a significant role:

Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace.
All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble,
and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty.
Not a root or a branch will be left to them.
But for you who revere my name,
the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.
And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.
Then you will trample down the wicked;
they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,”
says the Lord Almighty.

Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

See, I will send you the prophet Elijah
before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.
He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children
and the hearts of the children to their fathers;
or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
(Malachi 4)


Some 400 years later, the angel Gabriel appeared in the Temple of Jerusalem when the faithful priest Zechariah was offering incense on behalf of the Israelites and gave him a startling promise. His wife Elizabeth, barren for many years, would give birth to a son they were to name John. He would proclaim the words of the Lord, and would help to fulfill God's sovereign plan for the universe:

he will be a joy and delight to you
many will rejoice because of his birth
he will be great in the sight of the Lord
he is never to take wine or other fermented drink
he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth
many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God
and he will go on before the Lord in the Spirit and power of Elijah
to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous--
to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

But because Zechariah did not believe the angel's words, Gabriel said he would be unable to speak “until the day this happens.” (Luke 1:11-22)

When Elizabeth gave birth to their child of promise, Zechariah's tongue was loosed and he gave praise to God. “Everyone who heard about this wondered about it, asking, 'What then is this child going to be?' For the Lord's hand was with him.” (Luke 1:66)

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah prophesied about the purpose of his newborn son's life:

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
(Luke 1: 76-79)

We don't know much about John's growing up years, but from Gabriel's prophecy, we know that he was filled with the Holy Spirit from the time of his birth, and was a joy and delight to his parents. From what we know of Zechariah and Elizabeth, I believe they must have wholeheartedly sought the Lord as they taught their son about his unique purpose in God's plan. Because of their old age, they might have died when John was still quite young.

 
When John became a man, “he went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Luke 3:3)

In this way, he fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah the prophet:

A voice of one calling in the desert,
'Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
And all mankind will see God's salvation.'”
(Luke 3: 4-6 from Isaiah 40:3-5)

John also had a message of rebuke and coming judgment for those religious Israelites who were depending on their self-righteousness to save them, with no humility in their hearts to truly seek God:

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.'
I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children from Abraham.
The ax is already at the root of the trees,
and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
(Matthew 3:7-10)


When Jesus himself came to the Jordan to be baptized, John said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” And “the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” (John 1: 29, 31)

When John's disciples then began to follow Jesus, John was not jealous that his significance had been taken away, but was joyful because he had faithfully done the job God had given him:

A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.
You yourselves can testify that I said, “I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.'
The bride belongs to the bridegroom.
The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him,
and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice.
That joy is mine, and it is now complete.
He must become greater; I must become less.

The one who comes from above is above all;
the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth.
The one who comes from heaven is above all.
He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony.
The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful.
For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God,
for God gives the Spirit without limit.
The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life,
but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him.”
(John 3: 27-36)

Not long after Jesus had stepped into the spotlight with his public ministry, John was imprisoned because he had offended Herod. And from prison, John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the one they were waiting for.

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
(Matthew 11: 2-6)

John never left Herod's prison and was beheaded. His work on earth was done. (Matthew 14: 1-12)

A faithful and humble man who lived out his life's purpose until the end of his days.
A prophet.
Who prepared the way for the Lord.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Receive This Child in My Name

When the disciples were arguing over which one of them was the greatest, Jesus “took a child and put him by his side, and said to them, 'Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me, for he who is the least among you all is the one who is great.'” (Luke 9:47-48)

John Piper comments on this passage in A Godward Life: “Jesus says that when you receive a child in his name (that is, with love in Jesus' strength and for his glory), you receive Jesus himself. In that act of love for the glory of Christ, Jesus himself draws near and makes his fellowship more real and more sweet. Jesus continued by saying that when you receive him in this way, you also receive God the Father.”

When Jesus rebuked his striving-to-be-the-greatest-disciples with the challenge of humbly receiving a child in his name, I wonder if he might have thought of his mother. Mary, who willingly received Jesus as her child, in the name of God Most High—believing the impossible and trusting the angel's news that she would give birth to the King of Kings. With humble submission and awe, “I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)

Believing a promise. Trusting in the impossible. The gift of a child.

This morning I have been reflecting back to the day last September when Charly and I visited Daniel, just before he was taken back to the orphanage after his 3 week stay in the hospital. The military hospital didn't have a therapy department, and the doctor said they had done all they could do for him after his encephalitis and 6 day coma. Our adoption paperwork for him and for David was almost complete. And after we got home from that trip to the hospital, we would make our final family decision: to accept our match for both boys, even with the recent and dramatic change in Daniel's situation.

As we stood at the foot of Daniel's hospital bed, while he was oblivious to everything going on around him, I noticed a pair of little red shoes on the floor. Shoes that the orphanage staff had brought in for him, that he didn't actually need at that time. Because he wasn't able to walk. And the doctor said it was impossible to say then whether he would ever be able to walk or talk again. We were praying and waiting to see what kind of healing God would bring. But those little red shoes made me think of the verse, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”  

And I silently prayed: “How beautiful are his feet (even though we don’t know if he will walk again) to bring Your good news of peace and salvation. I believe you have a special purpose for Daniel's life. And You will use this illness for Your glory.”

How blessed on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7)


Mary, chosen by God out of all the people of this world, had the incredible privilege and responsibility of caring for Jesus--in all of his physical needs--as he grew from an infant to a boy to a man. Feeding him when he was hungry, giving him drink when he was thirsty, giving him extra care when he was sick, providing him with clothes to wear...

And somehow, Jesus said that even today “Whatever we do for the least of these, we do for him.” Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, inviting the stranger into our homes, clothing the needy, visiting the sick and the prisoner...All of these blessings (however big or small) that we extend to the “least” Jesus receives as if we were serving him. (from Matthew 25)

How do I receive the least?

Sometimes it is a big one-time decision, like bringing a child home to adopt. But in other ways it's a decision that must be made every day. How do I love and receive this child in my home as if he were Jesus himself?

Will I receive this child in Jesus' name?
With love. In His strength and for His glory.

And in doing so, receive Jesus. So that fellowship with Him is more real and more sweet.

Let every heart prepare him room.” 
May those words be true as we sing "Joy to the World" this Christmas season.






Monday, December 15, 2014

Handicapped

According to Webster's, a “handicap” means something that hampers a person, a disadvantage, a hindrance. “The handicapped” are those who are physically disabled or mentally retarded. “Retarded” is defined as slowed or delayed development or progress.

To be disadvantaged. Disabled. Delayed. To have obstacles, of various kinds, to overcome. We can relate to those definitions. At school this fall David has been teased because of his club feet and called 残疾人(handicapped). And as Daniel has been struggling these past two weeks to keep up in kindergarten, I've thought about the book a friend loaned me before David and Daniel joined our family last year, The Power of the Powerless. Christopher de Vinck wrote that his brother Oliver “was physically and mentally retarded, but he was not spiritually retarded. I was taught by my parents to look at Oliver and see…the mystery, things that linger, things which stay with us…We can stand before the Olivers of the world and see clearly who we are.”

On our walk to Daniel's kindergarten this morning I was thinking about what I can learn about God from him. And I wondered, what is he learning about God from me? My pace slowed down to match his, as I realized that even though we were holding hands, I was a full step ahead of him. “I don't need to be in a hurry,” I thought. He had just excitedly pointed out to me that we could still see the moon in the early morning sky. I had missed that. What else could he show me that I am missing?

I shared with a friend last week that I feel like I have been looking at Daniel through a lens of “I wish you were different,” and “How can I help you become more normal?” That kind of focus leaves me with an ongoing feeling of disappointment and frustration with him. I really want to change and take my focus off his handicaps. To focus on what he can do. Not on what he can't do, or can't do well. But at the same time, I don't want to accept that his abnormal behaviors and his learning disabilities are permanent. I still long to see him grow and develop. To reach his full potential.

Can an acceptance of him as he is and a longing for him to mature dwell in my heart together? (Isn't that actually the way God views me?) Is it possible for me to have eyes to see him as God sees him? To believe that God is still working in his life, even though his progress and recovery from encephalitis a year ago has slowed down and we feel we've reached a plateau. To be open to learning from him all that God wants to teach me. To see that his “simple-mindedness” could be a gift that I could thank Him for. Help me, God. I know this perspective can only come from you.

Jesus had a special place in his heart for children and said that in order to enter the Kingdom we needed to become like them. He said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” (Luke 10:21)

And the Apostle Paul wrote, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” (1 Corinthians 1:27)

In A Place of Healing, Joni Eareckson Tada writes, “I believe with all my heart that sometimes it is through the lives of those who are mentally or physically challenged, or those bearing up under suffering, that Jesus chooses to shine in the most spectacular ways.”

She gives the example of a little Down syndrome boy named Isaiah Nicklas, whose sister Mary told Joni that his gift of ministry was his smile. And it was true. “His smile was transcendent. It glowed. And it gave me so much joy to see him...If you ever wanted to see pure joy right out of the heavenly tap, it was there in Isaiah's countenance.”


She writes, “People suffering from debilitating distress aren't your standard musical instruments in the orchestra. We can't do everything able-bodied people can do in their physical strength and mobility and vitality. It takes a special skill to bring music out of broken instruments, and the one who does deserves recognition and glory.

God is that one.

God is the one who finds incomparable beauty and makes matchless music using the most unexpected and unlikely of instruments...

His melody—His incomparable, heavenly, impossibly beautiful music—somehow comes into its own when it emanates from a broken, battered, but fully yielded human vessel.

It's music that can only come from particular instruments, broken in particular ways, and yielded with particular humility. I also believe it brings God glory in a way that is completely unique on earth or in the heavens.”

In the introduction to her autobiography Joni she includes this passage: “We are handicapped on all sides, but we are never frustrated; we are puzzled, but never in despair. We are persecuted, but we never have to stand it alone: we may be knocked down but we are never knocked out! Every day we experience something of the death of the life of Jesus, so that we may also know the power of the life of Jesus in these bodies of ours...We wish you could see how all this is working out for your benefit, and how the more grace God gives, the more thanksgiving with redound to his glory. This is the reason we never collapse.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10, 15, 16, Phillips)

She writes, “Sometimes in His mercy and in His purposes, He will heal immediately. But at other times his healing will go on at a deeper level in the innermost parts of our being and not be fully realized in our bodies until we step into our new bodies upon our arrival at our Father's house. And yes, he has redeemed us, but He is also continuing that redemptive process in our lives right up until we draw our last breath. Yes, we are healed by His stripes, or wounds, but we are a work in process, and He isn't finished with us yet!”

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power, and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” (Jude 24-25)



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

8 Years Ago

12/12 is an easy date for me to remember. On 12/12/06 we we were taking care of 4 siblings when their sibling #5 entered the world. That was a significant time for our family. And for me, in particular.


A few months earlier we had started the practice of setting aside the Sabbath to spend extended time with God, and He was stirring our hearts both about adoption and about Gansu province (the place God had put on Charly's heart before we got married). By December, all of our family felt ready to start the adoption process. Except me. I felt like adoption was probably part of God's plan for us in the future, but I didn't feel ready for it then. My fears about adoption clearly trumped those stirrings from God. 

 
But while those four precious siblings were staying with us, God used 8-year old Joseph to soften my heart-full-of-fear. Joseph picked out Max Lucado's The Crippled Lamb, and we sat down on the couch to read together. The crippled lamb was named Joshua. He felt different from the other lambs because he had no parents. And he could not run and jump like the other lambs, because of his crippled leg. When the rest of the sheep were moving on to the next valley, the shepherd told Joshua to stay behind because it was too far for him and he was too slow. Joshua felt very sad and lonely. But because he stayed behind in the stable, he was there to welcome baby Jesus into the world and to help keep him warm on the night of His birth. So the words that Joshua's best friend, Abigail the cow, had always told him proved to be true: “God has a special place for those who feel left out.”


We finished the story, and Joseph pointedly asked me, “When are you going to adopt?

I'm not sure how I answered him, but I could not get his question out of my head or my heart for the following days and weeks. To be questioned so directly by a boy who was adopted kind of rattled me. And not just by any adopted boy. Joseph was, and still is (at age 16), one of my favorite people in the world. God has used him and his whole family (now with 12 children) in significant ways in my life. They each hold a special place in my heart.

After planting the question-that-I-could-not-get-rid-of through Joseph, God then used the story of David and Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9 to take my focus off my many adoption fears. And to enable me to see adoption as a privilege. That we could be a family to a child without a family. That he/she could eat at our table every day, just like the king's sons. And I had peace to say yes to adoption.

In January when our homeschooling group went ice sledding at the TV Tower, Joseph was one of the first people I wanted to tell about our family decision. He was absolutely thrilled and immediately started praying for our future child.

 
We had our home study with our social worker that March, and completed our adoption dossier in June of 2007. The estimated wait then was one year, which we thought sounded like a long time. Little did we know the actual wait we had in store! 


 
In April of 2008 we changed our request from a healthy baby girl to two siblings (of any age or gender) from Gansu province. The entire process of Chinese adoptions had slowed down and the wait time had extended to almost 2 years. In the summer of 2009 our dossier had finally reached the “front of the line” and we could have adopted a single child then.

But we said we wanted to keep waiting for the specific request that God had placed on our hearts. Their initial response was a firm “one or none.” But then the director miraculously agreed to keep us in the system and gave us permission to adopt two siblings from Gansu, if they became available.

In the summer of 2013 we had renewed our application as many times as we could. When we were out of time to wait on Gansu siblings, My Husband My Hero asked our Gansu adoption contact if we could have special permission to adopt two unrelated children. And she told us about David and Daniel, who were “like brothers” and had grown up together since they were babies in the Lanzhou orphanage. One with club feet and one with spina bifida. 14 months ago they were able to join our family, and we just celebrated their 9th and 10th birthdays.

8 years ago, Daniel was 1 and David was 2 years old. We don't know all the reasons why they couldn't have joined us sooner. But God does. Those long years of waiting, for them and for us, must fit into His bigger plan somehow.

Daniel's middle name is Joseph. Partly from Joseph of the Old Testament, who continued to trust God through many strikes against him, and who experienced God's victory over the unfavorable circumstances of his life. 

And partly from our friend Joseph who played such an important role in our adoption journey and who lives out a big faith in our big God whose heart beats for the adoption of His children.


Monday, December 8, 2014

The Language of Lament

Several years ago my friend Mags shared “The Lesson of Honoring God with Our Honest Hearts in the Language of Lament” from the book of Habakkuk. She said that Habakkuk had lived with the legacy of good king Josiah--who was tragically killed by a random arrow. Then, also tragically, Jehoiakim was placed on the throne--a wicked king who brought in the gods of Egypt, and all the good Josiah had done was lost in months. Habakkuk's question was “How could God allow that to happen?

She noted that Habakkuk's first complaint was “God, you're not doing anything.” His second complaint was “God, what are you doing?” (an invasion by the Babylonians, really, God?)

God simply responds, “Will you trust me in this?” The envelope He offers with the invitation to trust is different for every person, and it arrives in many different ways: a broken relationship, a tragedy, a disappointment, an unmet expectation...


I want to share two blog posts by friends who have gone through/are currently going through very trying times, because they beautifully share not only their heart cries to God in the midst of pain, but practical insights as well regarding how the Body of Christ can best come alongside those who are deeply hurting: by listening to their individualized language of lament without judging, without trying to minimize or ignore the pain, and without making blanket statements about suffering that are simply not helpful.


Iris says, “I am grateful for those who embrace the dark chapters of my life without trying to put a spin on them. I am most comforted when others stick with me in the uneasy tension between sorrow and hope. It is an agonizing place to be, but I’ve found that that’s where my healing begins. The eternally present God is here in the “right now” of my pain. I only wish more people would join us there.


Jenn says, “I need to get over the fact that it's us again, and that it's not about me. It puts suffering and pain into a community paradigm not just in the individual journey. The family of God together calls out in pain. We wrestle with these questions together. Honestly. It just happens to be our turn.” 


God, it is my prayer that you would help us in the midst of our trials, to express in our personalized language of lament, “I don't know what You're doing, but I want to trust You in this. And I want to believe You are good.

God, I ask that you would help us to come alongside those in our lives who are hurting, by embracing the darkness with them “in the uneasy tension between sorrow and hope.”

God, would you help us to hear You speak tenderly to our grieving hearts, as the storm rages on and the doubts/anger/fears flood in: “Will you trust me in this?

I love Mags' summary of Habakkuk's deep wrestling with a God he struggled to understand: “Even though. Even there. Immanuel.”


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