Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Forgetting Fun?

God, please help CJ not try to be Joshua and I's parent. And help him not to be silly.”

God, help Joshua to be strong and courageous. And help him not to be silly.

We had a good laugh when Jordan read these prayers to us from the 2008 journal she found as she was sorting through her old notebooks. She was 10, Joshua was 11, and CJ was the trying-to-be-a-parent age of 13.

We talked about how our family used to practice the Sabbath back in those days. We focused on prayer, worship, listening to sermons online, reading God's Word together, and getting time alone to hear from Him. Those were all good things. But I think sometimes we were too serious.

At one point, our family even did an entertainment fast for one or two weeks. And all three kids look back on that now as a horrible experience. Our motivation was to help our kids put God first in their lives and to recognize that games and entertainment can become like idols. But maybe we were too strict.

And maybe we took the fun out of life.

So that during that season in our lives, Jordan was praying for her brothers not to be silly. (I wonder if they were praying the same thing for her?)

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. 
When I became a man, I put my childish ways behind me.” 
(1 Corinthians 13:11)

How can we find a good balance between helping our children grow into mature adults and having fun together as a family? So that we're not forgetting the fun in our desire to see our kids put their childish ways behind them.

We're facing the same parenting issue again, in this season of life, with our youngest two. Last week we had a difficult discussion with David, who is having struggles with behavior problems and relationships at school. As we tried to talk through what he might do to improve his situation, it seemed like everything coming out of his mouth was negative. From his pit of unhappiness, he told us that he thought his life was better when he was in the orphanage and that he would be happy if he could watch TV and play video games all day.

After the boys went to bed that night and Joshua and Jordan got home from their Bible study, Charly and I told them about our discouraging conversation. Joshua said, “I can understand where he's coming from. There's a lot of focus in our family on building character. But not a lot of focus on having fun. And that's what's important to him.”

Wise words from our now-adult son. Who knows how important it is to have fun.


God, help us not to take the fun out of life as we help our kids become adults.

A time for everything. Silliness included.


Monday, March 30, 2015

Hope for the Future

Yesterday afternoon I was invited by an English training center to speak to a group of 20 high school and college students who are hoping to study abroad. For my introduction I used these two pictures: My Family in 1995 and My Family in 2014.

My Family in 1995

My Family in 2014

After that, I asked them to pair up to interview each other and then to introduce their partners to the rest of the group. One of the questions I gave them to ask each other was “What is your biggest hope for the future?” Some of their responses included “be happy, be successful, become rich, and find the ideal job.”

After introductions, I gave them some practical advice for learning English: Don't be afraid to make mistakes, look for opportunities to practice speaking and listening, and ask questions to better understand.

I shared that another piece of advice I had for them was to read the Bible and learn more about Jesus. I said that as a Mother my biggest hope for my children was for each of them develop their own personal faith in God. 

I told them that I grew up going to church every Sunday and thought that I was a Christian; but when I got to college I realized I had no clue what it meant to have a personal relationship with God. In the midst of my loneliness at college, I finally understood that more friends and more accomplishments could never fill the deep emptiness inside me. 

Even though I looked like a good person on the outside, I knew that I had a jealous heart, and I hated that about myself. I desired to be truly happy when someone else succeeded and not feel like their success somehow made me less. But I knew that I couldn't change that ugly part of myself. So I prayed that if God was real, He would change my heart. And He did.

There is a lot for our family to reflect on in this season of transition as we prepare to leave China. Our future, after we spend a year back in the US, is unclear right now. As these two family pictures show, a lot has changed in our lives these past 20 years in China. One thing that we know for certain is that our God is a God of hope. And He is always faithful to His promises. Clinging to God in the dark times of waiting have been when some of the best growth has taken place in our lives. Charly and I have made Commitments on our journeys with God, but God's commitment to us is the everlasting kind.

And as Easter draws near, we want to fix our eyes on the cross where Jesus sacrificed His all for us.


And we want to remember that because the tomb is empty, we will always have hope for the future.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Commitments

I commit myself to the harvest at any cost.”
(Matthew 9:35-38)

Charly wrote this commitment in the back of his Bible on 5/31/90 during his summer as a counselor at Eagle Lake Camp between his sophomore and junior years of college. Just below that he wrote:

If God would have me marry, I commit myself to
marrying a godly woman who is walking with the Lord.”
(Ephesians 5:22-27)


My sister Windy and I transferred from UNC to the University of Missouri just a few months later and Charly and I met that fall. The two of us got to know each other better the following spring. And we officially started dating after Charly's exploration trip to China the summer of 1991. Then Charly boarded a plane for 2 years of language study in Tianjin right after he graduated from MU in 1992. 

Charly and his sturdy Flying Pigeon

I guess he must have left me with his Bible that had these two commitments in the back. Because today as we were discussing Genesis, I saw that I had highlighted Genesis 24:55-58 with the date 1-10-93 in the margin of his old Bible. In that passage about Rebekah's decision to leave right away with Abraham's servant and marry Isaac, a man she had never met, I had underlined her courageous words “I will go” and had written “willingness” underneath.

What was going on in my life then? I reflected back to that window of time when I had finished my first semester of medical school at MU. Charly had called me (back when China-to-US phone calls were really expensive!) during that Christmas break and shocked me with the question of whether I would consider not finishing medical school. He told me that God had made it clear to him in his first semester of language study that China was where God wanted him to be. He was not asking Charly to return to the US and wait for me to finish medical school/residency/and paying off my debt.

Charly was committed to the harvest whatever the cost, especially where the workers were few. And his desire was to marry me as well. But he was willing to give up our relationship if God wasn't leading us together to China.

I wanted to be a doctor and I wanted to marry Charly.

Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)

The real desires of my heart I realized, as I sought God's will during those difficult months, were to be a Mom and to minister together with Charly in China. Practicing medicine was clearly less important to me, and God gave me the willingness to sacrifice that to Him. A decision I have never regretted. 

engagement in Hong Kong: August 1993
 
Today God reminded me, through showing me what I had highlighted in Charly's Bible, that Rebekah's step of faith to leave her family without delay to marry Isaac had inspired me to take a similar step.

Our family was talking this morning about the importance of having memorials in our life. What can we do to help us to remember the milestones? The turning points? The commitments?

What helps you to remember what God has done and what He has impressed on your heart?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Transition

Yesterday was my last day of teaching English at Daniel's kindergarten. We made the decision last week to keep him home for the next 2 plus months. Some issues had come up with his behavior at school, and we didn't feel that the environment there was the best fit for him anymore.

I will miss the cute kids and their expressed excitement over seeing me on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. I will miss seeing their eagerness to learn and being able to help them make progress in their English. I will not miss those times when the class of 45 turned into chaos, and it was obvious that no one could hear my not-very-loud-even-when-I-try voice. When I was more than halfway through singing “If You're Happy and You Know It” before anyone realized it, and I wondered why I was singing such a silly song when I was not happy and my face was surely showing how I really felt.

some of the kindergarteners enjoying Christmas cookies

This past month I had started teaching Daniel's 4-5 year old class in addition to the 5-6 year old class. His class has only 25 students, who are just as cute. And just as loud. The traditional Chinese education method is to repeat after the teacher and answer in unison. Unfortunately these sweet kids really liked to shout out the answer together as loud as they could. And my attempts to lower the volume by putting my finger over my mouth were in vain. Have I ever mentioned that I don't like loud noise? 

Daniel passing out Christmas cookies to his class

I took Daniel with me yesterday when I taught my last two classes, and he was happy to say goodbye to his classmates and teachers. As we walked back home he excitedly asked about going to school in America. “我可以上一年级吗?” I'll get to be in first grade? with a huge smile on his face.

He's been doing better with English learning at home than he was last fall, and we think this will be a good window of time for him to focus on English before we move back to the US.

Daniel working on opposites

 In this time of transition, we're asking for God's deep peace to be present in each of our lives.

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)


Friday, March 20, 2015

A Time for Everything

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.”
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Yesterday afternoon I went for a walk, along the Yellow River and in a nearby park, looking for signs of spring. I saw new life in beautiful buds and blossoms, as well as death in ugly brown leaves still stubbornly clinging to the vines and branches.

And I thought how much I wanted to get rid of all of the dead so as to make room for the new life that was trying to grow. What needs to die in me, Lord? What do I need to get rid of in my heart in order to give room for Your new life to grow?

As we are in the process of going through all of our stuff and deciding what to keep and what to give or throw away, I find myself looking forward to the end result: a simplifying of life, being left with only what we really need, decluttered. To be able to enter a season where we hope to see God bring new life, a time for us to hopefully be renewed.

Last weekend I went on a search for potting soil as David had an assignment to take a pot with planted flower seeds to school. I finally found a little stall at the very end of the road. And while I was there, I fell in love with the color of this plant so I bought it too. Yesterday it looked like the plant was dying (there were only 2 blossoms left) and we all felt sad that I'd killed a plant so quickly. But today there were lots of new blossoms. And so we realized that death and life were happening in the same plant. 


A time for everything. Everything in its time.




Thursday, March 19, 2015

Signs of Spring



“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” (Psalm 40:3a) 


“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”
(Isaiah 43:18-19)


“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you;
I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
(Ezekiel 36:26)


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


“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24b) 


“He will swallow up death forever.” (Isaiah 25:8a) 


“You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
(Psalm 16:11)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

I Want to Be With My King

Mephibosheth is one of my favorite characters in the Bible. His transformation from a “dead dog” to a prince in King David's palace (2 Samuel 9) is the passage that God used to change my heart about adoption in 2007.

In John Piper's ebook Disability and the Sovereign Goodness of God, John Knight beautifully highlights a later scene in Mephibosheth's life when David returns to Jerusalem. David had believed his servant Ziba's earlier lie about Mephibosheth's intentions for staying behind (2 Samuel 16: 1-4) and confronts Mephibosheth on his motives:

“Mephibosheth is lied about. David has to make in his human assumption: 'I don't know who's right here. I'll give half to the guy who's lying about you and half to you.' And Mephibosheth says, 'Let him have it all. I'm with my king.' I look at that and say, that's what I want to be like. I want to be with my king, my king who has done everything for me. I don't need anything else.” (from 2 Samuel 19: 24-30)

When I look at Mephibosheth's response in this passage, that's what I want too. I want to be with my king. You can take everything else. Because nothing else really matters.

And I think that disability helps to bring that perspective: Humility and a clear sense of what's important.

Mephibosheth declares, “All my grandfather's descendants deserved nothing but death from my lord the king, but you gave your servant a place among those who sat at your table.” (2 Samuel 19:28)

And all I really want in life is to be with you at your table.

David running during a treasure hunt for Joshua's birthday last year


About the blind man whose sight was restored in John 9, Piper writes, “This blind man becomes clearer and clearer about who Jesus is. And he becomes stronger and stronger in his courage in defending Jesus against very dangerous adversaries. This is what Jesus was after: clear sight of who he was, courageous confession of faith, and worship.”

The question is Who can really see?

See that what's most important in life is to be with the king. And to worship Him.

David took this picture of Daniel climbing steps on a hike last fall

Piper writes, “Jesus says that the purpose of the blindness is to put the work of God on display. This means that for our suffering to have ultimate meaning, God must be supremely valuable to us. More valuable than health and life. Many things in the Bible make no sense until God becomes your supreme value.”

Can we see that being with the king is more important than an earthly kingdom?

More important than good health.

More important than a perfect body.

More important than a sharp mind.

God, give me eyes to really see. And a heart to really worship You.

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; 
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” (Psalm 84:10)

This is one of my favorite songs "Here in Your Presence":




Monday, March 16, 2015

Embracing Disability

I was touched yesterday morning when David's prayer before breakfast included “God, no matter whether Mommy's health is good or bad, please help her to persevere and to trust in You.” (my translation of his prayer in Chinese)

Later in the morning, after we had sung several praise songs together, Charly asked each of us to think of something we wanted to thank God for, and we went around the circle in a time of thanksgiving. 

David thanked God that He had arranged for him and Daniel to join our family, and that He had brought different kinds of healing: David's feet are much better than when he was born and Daniel has recovered a lot from his brain infection.

Then Charly asked us to think of people we wanted to pray for, and Daniel prayed for children who have been hurt. That God would help them to be better and that they would be resurrected.

Charly downloaded a free ebook for me called Disability and the Sovereign Goodness of God by John Piper, and it really ministered to my heart yesterday. That book and these prayers of my boys, with their unique view on handicaps, pierced my heart in a way that I realized I have much to learn. How do I choose to see God's hands at work and view His goodness and sovereignty?

John Piper says, “One of the hardest things in life is the suffering of children, and the suffering of those who love them—especially when that early suffering turns into a lifetime of living with profound loss.”

“If God forsees and permits a conception that he knows will produce blindness, he has reasons for this permission. And those reasons are his purposes. His designs. His plans. God never has met a child from whom he had no plan. There are no accidents in God's mind or hands...There is no child and no suffering outside God's purposes.”


Our family is in the midst of transition right now. We are planning to move back to the US for at least a year, beginning this summer, in large part so that we can access special education, various therapies, and English as a Second Language resources for David and Daniel.

Yesterday I was struck with how great a desire I have when we're back in the US to learn from families of disabled children. I want to sit at their feet and hear their stories. I want to be asking God now--as we are trying to figure out where to live--to open up doors for us to make these kind of connections. Would you pray this with me? The Piper book includes three inspirational interviews with John Knight, the father of a teenage son who was born blind. I want to be able to connect with people like him, who wrote the vision statement, along with Bob Horning, for the disability ministry at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis:

“Our vision is that Bethlehem would display the supremacy of God in disability and suffering. We want our lives to reflect an unshakable joy in the Lord that allows us to embrace a life of suffering in disability for His purpose and glory. We want to shout that a life with a disability in Jesus is infinitely better than a healthy body without Him.”

I love that a church has this kind of vision statement!

When Jesus healed the man who was blind from birth, he said that the reason for his blindness was so “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)

I pray that God would mold and shape my heart this coming year, so that His works in and through our family could be displayed more clearly as He enables me to better accept and embrace David and Daniel's disabilities.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Emptying Our Trash

Friends came over yesterday to talk about the husband's struggle with pornography. We knew it would be difficult, and we hoped to offer them a safe place to share their “trash” with us. We wanted to offer comfort, to share tears, to affirm the positive steps taken, to ask hard questions, and to love them through the messy.

As I mopped our floors and emptied our trash cans before they came, I pondered how we could prepare our hearts in addition to our home.


So we could truly listen to what was said and what was not said.

How could we clean up the cluttered places in our hearts in order to make space for another's pain?

I asked God to give us discernment so we could to speak His words with gentleness and love. That we could direct the conversation in such a way that it wouldn't feel like it was all about us trying to “fix them” or that we have it all together. Because we so don't.

We just want to come alongside as fellow travelers in this journey of life. As safe friends of like heart who want to offer our hands of support and encouragement so that they don't feel alone in this valley.

After our friends left last night, our living room trash can was full again—with orange peels, chocolate candy wrappers, an empty water bottle...

There was an emptying of the trash in preparation of their coming, a filling up of the trash can while we were together, and an emptying of it again after they left. A feeling of starting clean once more. And we want to believe with them that God is working all things new. That He can bring good out of the bad, something beautiful out of the ugly.

For He is the Repairer of Broken Walls. And the Redeemer of All Things.

He takes our trash and our repentant hearts and says, “I love you, precious child, and that is why I gave you my Son.”


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Your Waiting Presence

Your Waiting Presence”
by John Baillie

Almighty and eternal God,
You are hidden from my sight:
You are beyond the understanding of my mind:
Your thoughts are not as my thoughts:
Your ways are past finding out.

Yet You have breathed Your Spirit into my life:
Yet You have formed my mind to seek You:
Yet You have inclined my heart to love You:
Yet You have made me restless for the rest that is in You:
Yet You have planted within me a hunger and thirst that make me dissatisfied with the joys of earth.


O You, who alone know what lies before me this day,
grant that in every hour of it I may stay close to You.
Let me be in the world, yet not of it. Let me use this world without abusing it.
If I buy, let me be as though I possessed not.
If I have nothing, let me be as though possessing all things.
Let me today embark on no undertaking that is not in line with Your will for my life,
nor shrink from any sacrifice which Your will may demand.
Suggest, direct, control every movement of my mind;
for my Lord Christ's sake. Amen.

(taken from Devotional Classics, edited by Richard J Foster and James Bryan Smith)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

His Eyes are Always on Us

One afternoon last week, Jordan was playing in the hotel swimming pool with Daniel. He was wearing his orange inflatable Thomas the Tank Engine ring and wanted to venture into the deep end. As the two of them were heading back toward the shallow end, Daniel impulsively decided to take his ring off because he had become very comfortable in the water and felt that he could swim. Jordan was in front of him and someone from across the pool had just called her name, so her attention was diverted. But a man happened to be watching from his lounge chair and immediately jumped in when Daniel went down into the deep water and didn't come back up. 


God's eyes are always on us.

In that brief moment which could have been a tragedy, God used a stranger to provide the rescue.

As I thanked God for His mercy, I was reminded of a post I wrote, A Cry for Rescue, after we found out about Daniel (Hua Ming An)'s encephalitis. When our adoption file had just been locked with his and David (Ding Yi Fan)'s files in September 2013. This is part of what I wrote in that post:

The waves of death surrounded me;
The floods of destruction swept over me.
The grave wrapped its ropes around me;
Death itself stared me in the face.
But in my distress I cried out to the Lord;
Yes, I called to my God for help.
He heard me from his sanctuary;
My cry reached his ears.

He reached down from heaven and rescued me;
He drew me out of deep waters.
He delivered me from my powerful enemies,
From those who hated me and were too strong for me.
They attacked me at a moment when I was weakest,
But the Lord upheld me.
(2 Samuel 22: 5-7, 17-19)

During the time that our family first sensed God putting on our hearts the desire to ask Him for two siblings from Gansu province. I had a dream of a child drowning in deep, dark waters and strong hands appeared to lift that child out to safety. The next morning I read this passage of rescue in 2 Samuel and wrote in the margin of my Bible: 3/31/08-adoption dream.

Last Thursday, two days after our adoption file got “locked” with Ding Yi Fan and Hua Ming An, we received news that Hua Ming An was in the hospital. He had suffered from a sudden and severe brain infection, and had been in a coma for 6 days with high fever and frequent seizures. But there had been improvement the past two days: his fever was down, he was “awake” and there was some movement in his arms and legs.

I remembered this 2 Samuel passage and my dream of a drowning child being rescued. I thought about Hua Ming An in the deep waters of a coma and how God had already reached down from heaven and pulled him from death to life. And over the course of the past three days, since we have been able to visit Hua Ming An in the hospital—seeing him with his eyes open but not responding to what is going on around him—it has been my heart’s cry that God would continue to draw him out of the deep waters he is still in, to bring him back to full consciousness. A cry for rescue.

His sweet little body is on that hospital bed, but so many of his functions have been lost. As we cry out to God, we believe that He can completely restore Hua Ming An—just like He called Lazarus out of the grave when he had been dead for 4 days—but we don’t know yet if that is His plan. Waiting to see how much of him will God bring back to life.”

*************************************************************************************************************

That rocky time in our lives seems so long ago now. As we look back, we can see how God's perfect plan has unfolded for Daniel these past 1 1 /2 years. God graciously restored many of the major functions that he had lost and miraculously healed him from his athetoid movement disorder (which baffled our pediatric neurologist last year because according to the patches of damage scattered throughout his brain MRI, he should still have the movement disorder).

Depending on our perspective, we can choose to be thankful for all that God has done in Daniel's life. Or we can feel discouraged over the effects of his lasting brain damage and worry about whether he will ever become an independent adult. God's rescue of Daniel last week was a powerful reminder to me that God has a plan for Daniel's life that is good. His strong hands of mercy once again rescued Daniel from the deep waters. Our sovereign God is a God who never turns His head away. Even for a moment.

His eyes are always on us.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

This is My Offering

We just got back from a 2 week trip to Thailand. I was struck while we were there by the number of shrines like this one with food and/or drink offerings. 

 
One early morning as I walked past this hotel shrine on my way to the beach, I thought about the word “offering” and what it means. Why do people offer gifts to gods or idols? What are they hoping to receive as a result of the gift? And what are their fears if they neglect to offer it?


Wondering about how the word “offering” is a part of my personal relationship with our One True God, I began to silently sing “Offering" by Third Day. And then a penetrating question from God: “Do I have your heart? Your whole heart?

As we began our flight from Bangkok back to China, I read this interesting article in the Global Times newspaper (February 28-March 1):

Chinese traditionally offer worship to holy figures at the start of the lunar new year, who they believe can bring them fortune and prosperity. During the just ended Spring Festival holidays, many devout believers visited temples on Xijiao Mountain, Foshan, Guangdong Province, and donated to the monks there. One man, perhaps thinking that the gods needed better telecommunications, even tried to put his iPhone 6 into the collection box, but the monks refused it. Religious offerings are a long-held tradition, adding flavor to the spirit of the Chinese New Year. But one can just offer worship with a sincere heart rather than waste money on material goods.”

To just offer worship with a sincere heart. Is that an easy thing to do? Oh, that we could offer sincere worship--not to the gods in hopes of receiving fortune or prosperity—but to the Creator of the universe, because He is worthy of all our praise. Isn't that what God desires in His relationship with us? Not our money or our “stuff” if our hearts are cold and far from Him.

David penned this prayer of repentance: “You do not delight in sacrifice or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart. O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17)

In this Chinese New Year of the Ram, may we lift our eyes to the Lamb of God who gave His life as an offering on our behalf. I want to offer Him my whole heart. To hold nothing back from Him.

This is my offering.

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