Saturday, December 9, 2017

Presents

Shopping at Barnes and Noble yesterday. Daniel and I both felt a little overwhelmed with too many choices. As we entered the store, bustling with Christmas shoppers, I explained that with his birthday gift card, he could choose anything he wanted for $15. But alas that idea never really registered. “I want this!” “I want that!” He was bouncing between the aisles in the kids' section, browsing through books that caught his eye, and then getting sidetracked by the stuffed animals.

If you get this, then you can't get that,” I informed him. “You have to choose your favorite.

We wandered around, as Daniel excitedly checked price tags and imagined himself being the proud owner of all the things. I, meanwhile, was growing weary as the options increased. “It's time to make up your mind now. Out of everything you've seen, what did you like the best?” After much consideration, he finally settled on the Christmas teddy bear that he had loved on from the very beginning of his search.

We maneuvered our way back to the front of the store, through the crowded displays and customers right up to an empty checkout counter, then--very fortunately-- just before the cashier appeared, I glanced sideways and noticed a line of people behind a sign “Wait here for next cashier.” So we found our rightful place in the back of the line. When we got to the front, the very friendly cashier oohed and aahed over Daniel's choice. She even gave him a dollar back, which he was completely thrilled by.

After the purchase, as we were making our exit, Daniel happened to notice a stack of advent calendars. “What is this???” I explained that there was chocolate under each of the days in December. “Oooooo. I think I want that too.”

We're leaving,” I told him. “You made your choice, remember?” So I steered him out the front door and into the van. Now focused just on what he had, he happily cuddled his teddy bear the whole way home. All other choices left behind in the store. 


Don't we often want it all? But if we choose this, then many times we have to say no to that.

I could relate to Daniel's I'll take this and that too mentality this morning as I was Christmas shopping online at Christianbooks. (They are having some great deals, by the way, if you're looking for a place to shop.) Several items caught my eye that I considered purchasing for myself, like a Best Mom in the World mug. But no, I kept reminding myself, I need to keep focused on my list of people to buy for.

Two years ago I was really struggling with the Christmas tradition of gift-giving and not at all excited about shopping, so I am happy to be more “into” buying gifts this year. I'm thankful not to feel so anti-consumerism or to feel weighed down by a sense of obligation to buy gifts; instead I feel free to experience the joy of giving.

As soon as Daniel came out of his Sunday School class last week, he told me he learned that it was better to give than to get. His lesson was on Generosity. “That's great!” I told him. He usually struggles to remember what his lesson was about (his go-to answer when I ask him is “Jesus”), so this was huge. Also, I was remembering that two weeks ago, when I was volunteering in children's church, he had asked me to help him write on a card what he was thankful for. “Presents,” he had said.

Daniel was very excited about turning 12 last week and enjoyed having his friends over afterschool for a birthday party. Afterward he said that his favorite part was eating cake and opening presents. One good thing about Daniel is that we never have to guess what he's thinking.


We are thankful that the Giver of all good things takes delight in seeing His children enjoy the gifts He gives. He is a God of Extravagance, who desires for us to experience the joy of giving too.

Instead of being focused on all the things we wish we had, He also wants us to be happy with what's right in front of us.

How are you experiencing giving and receiving this season? Longings and contentment?


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Undone to be Remade

It has not yet been revealed what we shall be.”
(1 John 3:2)

We have to be undone in order to be remade.
For our hope to be made new, we must first let go of all that we had previously hoped for.
To seek God in the midst of crushing grief and pain, we have to believe that somehow He is still good.
Faith says that although sometimes God appears to be against us, He is always for us.

Surrendered Trust enables us to be molded and shaped by the Potter's hands.


The writer of Lamentations had quite a lot to be unhappy about:

He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.” (3:6)

My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.” (3:18)

In his pit of darkness, he was completely undone and almost consumed because of all of the difficulties mounted against him:
affliction
torment
disgrace
suffering
terror
pitfalls
ruin
destruction
exile
no resting place
enemies laughed/triumphed
(just to name a few)

But there's a significant turning point in his lament. An anchoring verse where he chose to stop despairing over his current situation and to lift His eyes up to God and His goodness:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope; because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (3:21-23)

God desires for each of us to find this same anchor in our lives: that our grief, pain, and suffering would not be in vain, but that through the dark we would find the Light.


Let him bury his face in the dust—there may yet be hope.” (3:29)

The writer of Lamentations' suffering humbled him into a place of repentance. He moved from complaining to confessing, as our pastor Thomas challenged us in his message on lament last Sunday.

Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven and say: 'We have sinned and rebelled and you have not forgiven.'” (3:41-42)

While God allows us to face the consequences of our sin and rebellion, His ears are also always tuned to hear our cries of confession and our petitions for help.

I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit.” (3:55)

God, from whom “both calamities and good things come” (3:38) acts in His way and in His time to bring redemption.

The Most High is truly a God of Compassion and He is our gracious Giver of Hope:

You heard my plea
You came near
You took up my case
You redeemed my life
You have seen
(3:55-59)

As we ask for His help, to keep us from being swallowed up by the darkness, we can see His Potter's hands at work in our lives as well.

Repent. Remember. Return. Be Restored. And Revealed.

Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old.” (5:21)

Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.” (Psalm 80:3)

Restoration. We must be undone in order to be remade.

Who
we
will
be
has
not
yet
been
revealed.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Hope in the Dark Waiting

Yesterday Thomas tied Lament to the Portrait of Hope in his first sermon series on Advent. He expounded on Psalm 80, Asaph's psalm of lament to the Shepherd of Israel who seemed to have abandoned His people:

“Restore us, O God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.
You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land...

Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes?

Return to us, O God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! 
Watch over this vine, the root your right hand has planted, 
the son you have raised up for yourself...

Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand,
 the son of man you have raised up for yourself.”
(Psalm 80:7-9, 12, 14-15, 17)

In his message, Thomas differentiated complaining (which includes hopelessness) with lament (a passionate cry for divine help) and ended his message with a question:

Where do you need God's face to shine on you in Advent this year?



Then Meryl and his grandson Joseph lit the first Advent candle representing Hope. Joseph read, “The Israelites were hoping for a Savior, their Messiah. God had promised a Messiah and they believed it. They didn't know when or who but they were waiting, hoping for this Messiah to come.

And Meryl read Isaiah 11:1-10:

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord...In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him and his place of rest will be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:1-2, 10)

Reading Psalm 80 alongside Isaiah 11 yesterday made me think about the Branch and the Vine and the long time of waiting in darkness for God's promise to be fulfilled.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “When I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line; he will do what is just and right in the land.” (Jeremiah 33:14-15)

Jesus. Our Messiah.

In God's way and in God's time. We wait for the day that the ugly violence and evil we witness and experience now will be transformed into beauty, righteousness and goodness. That the awful sting of death will be healed completely. That all the wrongs will become right. That the crushing weight of pain and grief will be released and lifted from us forever. 

Therefore, we can hold on to hope as we wait in the dark: that our lament is heard, that we are seen, and that God will act.

We anticipate with great longing the day when the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; when the nations will rally to him and his place of rest will be glorious.

In this season of Advent we Hope.

We believe in the Light as we are surrounded by darkness.

Our Messiah has come and is coming again.





Wednesday, November 29, 2017

His Heartbeat

Immanuel.

God with us in our every day ordinary lives.

Earlier this year, our pediatrician scheduled Daniel for an EKG to determine whether his heart could handle the stimulant ADHD medication she wanted to try. Expecting to be in and out of the doctor's office that day, checking the required box that Daniel's heart was normal, I was surprised when the cardiologist said that his EKG was actually abnormal. The stimulus for Daniel's heartbeat was traveling the opposite direction than it should be, so he wanted to do an ultrasound of the heart to get a better look.

The ultrasound technician commented that Daniel sure asked a lot of questions as he lay—trying to be still--on the examining table much longer than I expected an ultrasound to take. Then after she wiped the goo off his chest, the minutes ticked by as we waited again for the cardiologist to inform us of the results. This time though, as we waited for news, apprehension filled my heart. What might be wrong?

His tall, calm presence entered the room and he made himself comfortable on the stool across from us. His eyes were reassuring as he told me that, through the ultrasound, they were able to rule out all the potential problems and conclude that Daniel's heart abnormality is harmless. He then wheeled up close to Daniel and asked if he could listen to his heart.

After requesting a few deep breaths with responding giggles from our ticklish boy, he asked if Daniel wanted to use the stethoscope to listen to his heart. His eyes lit up. Really? Even though this doctor was clearly behind schedule, he seemed to have all the time in the world for us. “How about my heart?” he asked Daniel. He smiled as he then placed the stethoscope end over his own heart and let Daniel listen to his heartbeat. Before he left the room he told Daniel he had a million dollar smile.

God gifted us with His presence in the doctor's office that afternoon. Immanuel came through an unrushed cardiologist who saw us, cared for us, and lingered—when he could have been in a hurry to check us off his box and to get through all his patients that day.

Instead, he smiled as he gave his stethoscope to a little boy who does not at all enjoy being examined by doctors. Daniel smiled with delight as he listened to his own heartbeat and then the doctor's.


When we returned to the US from China two and a half years ago, my heart was full of doubts that I had anything to offer anymore. Emotionally drained and burnt out, I felt like a square peg who had been trying too long to fit into a round hole.

God graciously provided a sabbatical team of four amazing women who walked with me through a much-needed season of renewal, reflection, realignment, and reassignment. They listened, prayed, and guided me toward discovering who God has made me to be and what He has for my next step here, as we plant roots in the United States.

Through His calm presence in the waiting room of my sabbatical process, God allowed me to slow down and listen to my heartbeat. He smiled with me as He also let me hear the beat of His own shepherd's heart.

He then extended an invitation for me to join the staff care team of our organization, with opportunities to support and encourage women who have recently returned from overseas. And through this new shepherd's role, I am starting to feel like the square peg of who I am is fitting exactly into the square hole that God designed just for me.

This Old Testament blessing rings true in my heart:

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26, NIV)

Immanuel.

How have you experienced the gift of God's presence this year?

How have you felt your heart beating in line with God's heart?






Wednesday, November 22, 2017

What's Behind the Words?

It's amazingly easy to make assumptions about others. To assume the worst. And to feel convinced that we're always right. But what if we paused to consider that we might actually be wrong? What if we chose to believe the best about someone else when we weren't exactly sure of the motive behind the action? What if we asked questions with a sincere desire to better understand?

In The Curious Christian, Barnabas Piper writes, “Curiosity asks, 'How do they feel?' and wonders how the other person experiences things. When they hear criticism, does it fire them up or defeat them? What experiences do they have in their history that shape their view of life and their responses to it? How do they hear me?”

In his book Piper quotes Roy T. Bennett: “Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don't listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don't listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what's behind the words.”

How do they hear me?” and “Listen for what's behind the words” have been great challenges for me recently, as I have been participating in the Transracial Adoption 101 facebook group. My blog post last week “White Saviorism in Adoption” sparked significantly more response than normal. Some people commented that they appreciated hearing more about this perspective while others felt that this phrase didn't connect to their adoption journey at all. I get that.

While it's definitely not in my personality to seek out controversy, I never want to shy away from presenting a challenging view when God puts something on my heart to share.

This view says, “Even though I once might have thought that adopting transracial children somehow 'proved' that I'm not racist, when I hear stories from adult transracial adoptees about their white adoptive parents being racist, I want to hear more. I want to know how I might be acting in the same way without even realizing it.”

This view says, “Even though there are few things in the world right now that bother me more than white supremacy and racist actions, it is possible that I have some racist beliefs in me that I am blind to. I want to identify them and change my thinking.”

This view says, “Even though I have my own story about adoption, my children do too. And I want to give them space to tell their story, the good and the bad, without edits from me about the story they should be telling. I want to honor their stories.”

I am seeking to become a better listener, like Brene Brown when she says, “Tell me more.

And as I'm listening to the words (which might be difficult to hear), I also want to pay attention to what's behind the words.

I don't want to keep making assumptions. Because even though I'd like to think that I'm always right,

I'm not.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Myth of Conversion

The Good Earth by Pearl Buck was my all-time favorite book in Mrs. Sigmon’s 7th grade English class. Back then, I never would have imagined I’d spend 20 years of my life in the land of China. I also couldn’t have guessed that in 2010, my daughter and I would have the opportunity to act as Pearl Buck in a Chinese documentary in Jiangxi province. We discovered Pearl Buck spent her summers there with her parents, as she grew up in China in the late 1800’s.

The TV documentary included scenes of my 11-year-old daughter as the young Pearl Buck sitting at a desk, writing in a journal, getting her hair brushed by a Chinese servant, going to sleep in a big bed and waking up as me, the adult Pearl Buck. I chopped wood with an ax (this required multiple shootings as I was not a natural wood cutter), attempted to type with an old-fashioned typewriter, and in the final scene tied my scarf on the fence of the summer home while I carried my suitcase and looked back longingly.

It was sobering for me to see the way Pearl Buck’s father presented a very foreign gospel. One scene shows him preaching passionately while a Chinese peasant angrily exits the church, and in another scene a farmer refuses his gift of a Bible. Pearl Buck later criticized her father for having a negative impact on the people he was trying to convert. She also felt he neglected his family while he absorbed himself completely in “his work.” As an adult, Pearl seemed to turn away from the Christian faith that had been poorly modeled in her life.

Pearl Buck’s only reference to Christianity in The Good Earth is how the Chinese would have experienced it: a strange-looking white man presenting a piece of paper to an illiterate Chinese farmer, whose only impression of the half-naked man on the cross was that he must have been a very evil man.


 Acting as Pearl Buck and learning more of her story challenged me to consider the way cross-cultural workers have presented the Good News throughout history in their pursuit of Christian converts. Their view of God, their view of themselves, and their view of the people they minister to were extremely critical to achieving the end result...

(The rest of this post is at Velvet Ashes: https://velvetashes.com/the-myth-of-conversion/)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

White Saviorism in Adoption

Did you know that November is National Adoption Awareness Month? And tomorrow is Orphan Sunday. I've been seeing promotions for adoption in social media and highlights of beautiful families who have adopted. I've also been thinking quite a lot about adoption recently, but I'd like to take a different, maybe darker, angle on adoption in this post.

There's a side of transracial adoption called white saviorism.

It makes me feel uncomfortable, which is why I want to share it. In this perspective, white adoptive parents are not the good guys, but bad guys who see themselves as rescuers. I certainly don't like to think of myself as a villain. But I believe it's necessary and good to step out of the place of safety where I feel comfortable in order to learn from transracial adoptees about the potential harm I could unknowingly cause our adopted children.

I'd like to shed some light on what I've been learning about adoption from the adoptee's side because I don't think this voice is often heard among the general population. In my experience of the adoption world, people tend to either share about how great adoption is (pats on the back for those who have such big hearts) or to seek out advice/support from other adoptive parents who are struggling (how can I parent my traumatized child well?)

Last month a friend recommended that I join a facebook group called Transracial Adoption 101, which I highly recommend if you are considering transracial adoption or have a transracial child already. The group's mission is very clearly not to be a support group for adoptive parents but to be a place for adoptive parents to learn from adoptees. I have felt both challenged and defensive by the topics and comments in this group, which I think is incredibly important for self-evaluation and growth.

I can relate with the Pharisees who responded to the parables of Jesus (in which they were often the bad guys), “It feels like you are offending us.” 

 
There was a CNN article last month about a family in Ohio who adopted a girl from Uganda and later realized it was a human trafficking situation. The adoptive mother Jessica Davis commented, “I've always hoped to make a difference in this world. To bring goodness, peace or healing to a world that often seems inundated with loss, hardship and a vast array of obstacles that make life difficult for so many. When it came to the decision to adopt, it seemed like a no-brainer. I thought this was one way to make a difference, at least for one child. My husband, Adam, and I would open our home and our hearts to a child in need.”

I think many of us can relate to her motivation to adopt. But what I'm coming to understand is that this type of wording can affect transracial adoptees in a very negative way. One made a comment on this article that really struck me: “I was sick to my stomach the whole time reading it. I hate transracial adoptions. Particularly white families saving a kid of color.”

Ouch. Even though the article detailed how this adoptive family went through the painful process of returning their adoptive daughter to her biological mother and are now trying to seek reform in international adoptions, to bring justice, and to keep families from being ripped apart in this way, I realized that transracial adoptees could read this story very differently than me and view this mother not as a hero but as the bad guy in the story. Maybe her words in the beginning put the whole article in an ugly light. Or maybe for someone who has been deeply hurt, as a transracial adoptee, there can be no imagining it any other way.

Jessica Davis addressed the issues of white privilege and saviorism: “Throughout the journey to reunite Namata with her family, I have been met with so much resistance, saturated in entitlement and privilege. More than once I have been asked, why don't you just "keep her"? These are words I use when describing something I purchased at the grocery store! I never owned Namata; she is a human being who deserves better than that type of narrow-minded and selfish thinking.

Once, someone suggested that I just not tell anyone what she had told us. Other times, I was told that it was my Christian duty to keep her and "raise her in the proper faith."

The travesty in this injustice is beyond words. I must be clear in the following statement: My race, country of origin, wealth (though small, it's greater than that of the vast majority of people in the world), my access to "things," my religion -- none of these privileges entitles me to the children of the poor, voiceless and underprivileged.

The Davis family

If anything, I believe these privileges should come with a responsibility to do more, to stand up against such injustices. We can't let other families be ripped apart to grow our own families!

I'm sure that most families seeking international adoption have the best of intentions, but good intentions are not an excuse for ignorance. After unveiling Namata's true story and doing extensive research, I feel I have gained an awareness of the realities of corruption occurring across the board within international adoption. This complicated yet beautiful act of opening up a home and a heart to a child in need has become heavily corrupted by greed and saviorism.

During this journey, I have also come to a revelation of what it means to truly aid and love the orphan (a phrase often used when discussing adoption). That love goes far beyond anything I could've fathomed before. Now it seems so clear. Now those hundreds of adult adoptee's voices I have encountered since I began this journey ring clearly in my ears.

The vast majority of children in orphanages, and countless children adopted internationally, are not orphans at all (according to Catholic Relief Services). Most have a parent, or parents. Additionally, many have siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, who care about them.

My good intentions all along were misguided. If I truly wanted to help or aid an orphan, that act required that I make certain that every effort has been made to keep that child within her biological family! Had that been my focus from the start, I may not have missed so many red flags.

Too many of us see international adoption as way to "save" children. But what if we looked at it another way? What if we decided to do everything in our power to make sure those children could live their lives with the families God intended for them in the first place?”

Namata reunited with her family

What I'm learning about white saviorism in adoption:

1. Our children have their own story to tell and I want to give them opportunities to share it when and how they feel comfortable. I shouldn't correct them, speak for them, or overshare about their past (I feel guilty about this already).

2. I want to be careful how I bring “God's plan” and “we were called to adopt” into the way I talk about their adoption stories because it can be confusing to them how God would have wanted them not to live with their birth families and it can wrongly build us up as their “white saviors.”

3. I want to affirm them and their worth. They are not “poor orphans” who are “lucky” to be adopted into our wonderful family. Other people might say this to us or them, but I can correct them.

4. I don't have to answer every question people ask about why they were abandoned, is adoption expensive, aren't there more Chinese girls adopted than boys?

5. I want to help them stay connected to Chinese culture and people as part of their identity. Even though I might think they are not affected by racism, they are more aware of their different skin color and ethnicity than I think they are. We can make race an open topic of discussion in our home.



I'm interested in hearing your thoughts.

How will you enter into and be impacted by Orphan Sunday tomorrow?







Thursday, November 9, 2017

Questions I Avoid

Adam had sexual relations with his wife Eve. She became pregnant and gave birth to Cain...

Somehow I just knew the dreaded question was coming. And sure enough, as soon as I took a breath, David asked, “What does sex-u-al relations mean?”

I just could not go there.

It was before 8 in the morning. The snowy fog outside our living room window was as thick as the fog in my brain. There was no question in my trying-hard-to-wake-up mind that this conversation was best saved for another time. Another day. And with their Dad.

So, I replied as vaguely as I could, “it means they came together” and left no pause before I went on: Then Eve said, “With the Lord's help, I have given birth to a man.”

There are certain questions in our Bible reading that I--100% of the time--choose to avoid.

Like the one: What does circumcision mean?

Again, trying to keep my voice monotone and matter-of-fact. “It means to take off part of the skin.” Eeeeew. Gross. And I'm thinking “You have no idea.”


Yes, I know that our boys need to understand these important facts of life. They will be turning 12 and 13 next month. David even came home from school last week and said that he heard an 8th grade girl say he was cute. Let's just keep those girls away for now, please. Especially older women.

The truth is that I would just as soon take a pass in these situations that make me blush. I really don't want to dive into questions where I feel uncomfortable and inadequate. I much prefer to stay wrapped in my fluffy towel on the side of the pool and let someone else tackle these topics in the deep end.

I've been thinking recently though about the kind of questions that Jesus asked. He certainly didn't shy away from making people feel uncomfortable, did he? One of my favorites was before He fed the 5000.

How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” (Mark 6:38)

At that point, the disciples were more than ready to send the hungry crowds back to their homes to feed themselves. Which would have been my response exactly.

But Jesus wanted them to be part of a multiplying miracle. Taking what little they had to give and making it more than enough.

And maybe, I'm beginning to wonder, Jesus could do that with me too. Diving with me into the deep end. Helping me to find age-appropriate responses to David and Daniel's curious questions.

I definitely need prayer for this.


*******************************************************************
Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of Questions.




Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Come to the Table

Prostitutes and sinners felt at home with Jesus because He was able to sympathize with their brokenness, treat them with deep love and fervent compassion, and enter their world.” (Rusty Rustenbach)

Jesus attracted crowds wherever he went, but He seemed to have opposing effects on people.

There were those who were drawn to Him, aware of their brokenness and need. And there were those who were offended by Him, oblivious to their brokenness and need.

In his sermon last Sunday Sometimes it Takes a Table...To Tell the Story, Thomas Thompson expounded on his Table series theme of Jesus eating good food with bad people: “Jesus invited the wrong people to his table, people who were tired of empty bowls of religion.” 


Thomas explained how Jesus transformed the Passover meal in His last supper with His disciples (Luke 22). A meal that had originated with the Exodus from Egypt--and had served to remind generations of Jews of God's provision and promises--now became a meal where the bread would remind Jesus' followers forever after that He was the provision and the wine would symbolize God's promise to redeem His people through the blood of Jesus.

It was a meal of reconciliation.

A time for God's people both to look back and remember their brokenness and need, and to look forward to the kingdom table that was to come...

On the mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine--
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
One this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all the tears from all faces;
he will remove his people's disgrace from all the earth.”
Isaiah 25:6-8

“This is the great feast. Rich food for ALL people. A table where there are no walls. Where death can't find a seat. Where shame and disgrace are not welcome. And we gather on the earth with God at his kingdom table, forever,” Thomas concluded.

I love these sermon application questions:

What is the story of your table?

How could you bring a table of reconciliation or a taste of the kingdom table to others?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Lessons from a Rotten Salad

I glanced at my watch to see that I had 30 minutes before I needed to leave for my morning appointment, remembered the container of mixed greens that had been sitting in our refrigerator for awhile, and then clicked the PTO signup link in my email that YES I could bring a green salad to the parent teacher conference dinner that night.

But to my dismay, when I pulled the greens out of the refrigerator, I saw that the Best Used Before date stamped on the container was 6 days earlier.

Please don't judge me.

I used the rotten lettuce anyway.

I tried my best to remove the slimy pieces. I rinsed some off that still looked edible and slightly crisp. Throwing all of the lettuce away felt wasteful, and while I might have been able to squeeze in a quick run to the store to buy a new container of salad greens, I really didn't want to waste my time.

Besides, I reasoned myself out of a trip to King Soopers, I had already added two packages of baby tomatoes to the greens. The addition of a chopped green pepper and some grapes sliced in half should definitely help. And a heavy dose of Ranch dressing would probably cover up the rotten lettuce flavor completely, right?

I let Daniel do a taste test to see if he had a negative reaction. He wondered why I wanted him to try the salad, but said it tasted pretty good. So my decision was made.

As I covered the salad bowl with plastic wrap and placed it on the refrigerator shelf until our afternoon conference, I silently prayed that none of the teachers would get sick or ask each other, “Who brought this rotten salad?” 

I intentionally decided to take the salad in a cheap bowl from the dollar store without our name on it.
 Because I really did not want my pitiful offering to be associated with me.


What if what I have to give turns out to be rotten?

How do I try to cover it up and pretend like its ok?

How can I bring my authentic self to Jesus and seek not a cover-up but a total transformation?

How am I stewarding my time? My energy? My resources?

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

Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the Theme of Custodian.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

When I Didn't Trust My Dentist

I stretched myself out--a little nervously--on the dentist chair, positioned my ear buds and pressed play on the most recent episode of the upside down podcast I had pre-selected on my phone. I hoped to focus my attention on something besides the drilling noises that would very soon be happening inside my mouth.

The dental assistant smiled as she secured the paper bib around my neck and handed me a pair of sun glasses to protect my eyes. I tried to relax and even imagine that I was soaking in the sun at the beach, but when the noise of the drill became deafening and the pressure in my upper mouth intense, I was beyond the point of distraction and began to seriously doubt that this dental work was a good idea.

I didn't trust my dentist.

During my check up/cleaning the week before, he had suggested having two adjacent silver fillings replaced because one was beginning to show a gap between the filling and the tooth. After the hygienist had confirmed that our insurance would cover it, I had naively agreed to make a follow-up appointment. I was pretty sure I had heard somewhere that old silver fillings were best removed from your body, so it seemed to be a good idea.


Increasing the volume of the podcast didn't drown out the drilling vibrations. Surrounded by unrelenting noise, imagining a black hole forming in my precious tooth, I feared the moment that the drill would create unbearable pain beyond the coverage of the anesthesia injection.

Calm down, I told myself. You don't want to have an anxiety attack in the dentist's chair.

Even though I tried hard not to listen to the conversation between the dentist and hygienist as they tossed ideas of Halloween costumes back and forth above my head, I vaguely caught part of a discussion between them that one of the instruments had broken in my mouth and could not be fixed.

What if he breaks my tooth???

I decided then that I didn't really needed to get those fillings replaced. This new young dentist, who had just taken over the practice from the dentist whom we knew and trusted, probably just wanted to create more work for himself. But I was already committed and could not turn back.

I took a deep breath and swallowed as best I could, while my mouth remained forced open with a clamp, and reflected on the chapter on Fear in Louie Giglio's book Goliath Must Fall.

Fear grips us whenever we believe that apart from, or in spite of, our best efforts, something undesirable is going to happen and we can't stop it. Sometimes fear is irrational and sometimes it's rational. But no matter what kind of fear it is, it always affects us.

The dentist--I had now decided I didn't trust at all--told me when the dental work was finally done that one of the fillings he removed was larger than he expected, reaching almost to the root. And because of that, I could expect to have sensitivity for 1-2 days, up to a week.

Later that afternoon the pain began and I decided to distract myself by googling my condition, to discover what kind of outcomes I could expect. I was disheartened when my search led me to some internet horror stories from victims who had silver fillings replaced only to have up to a year of dental disasters, with subsequent filling replacements, unending nerve pain, and root canals.

This was a definite mistake I decided with an overwhelming sense of dread.

I wished I had read up on the pros and cons of filling replacements before I had so quickly and unwisely consented to a potential lifetime of mouth problems. But I could not rewind and redo.

Almost the entire next day I was in bed, with pain both in my mouth and in my head that medication did not touch.

If only I hadn't received dental work from a dentist I didn't trust.

Louie Giglio says, “We don't minimize the situation; we maximize our view of the only One we can totally trust. We don't simply deny the problem we are threatened by; we relocate it to the hands of the only One who can manage it well.

He goes on to say, “Worship and worry cannot occupy the same space; they can't fill our mouths at the same time. One always displaces the other. We either speak doom and destruction, kicking into high gear our worrying and stressing. Or we recount the size and character of the Almighty. We release our outcomes to him and center our thinking in his sovereign plans.”

Thankfully, three days later the pain is much better. But whether I am in pain or not, I really want to work on filling my mouth with worship, not worry. I don't want to be so easily caught up in the fear of future doom, but to focus on the size and character of God. I want to release my outcome to Him (not to a dentist or to a google search), for He is the only One worthy of my complete trust.






Friday, October 6, 2017

A Veiled Face in a Muslim Land

My white face was still white. But the traditional black head covering kept my light hair under wraps so that it didn’t broadcast my outsider-ness. Wearing black, not only on my head but all the way down to my toes, I was disguised. Sitting on a slab of kindling wood around a table just five inches off the ground at a Sufi memorial festival in a local village, I was hidden even from my husband. He had briefly left his position of serving tea at the men’s tables and stood just 50 feet away from me, taking pictures of the thousand or so women dressed in black, gathered around tables, to honor the anniversary of the death of the founder of the village Sufi order.

I didn’t see you,” he told me when our family had reconnected after the festival, back in our host family’s courtyard. I was pleased to point out to him in his photos exactly where I was sitting among all the black-clad women. This strange Western woman for once had not stood out in all of her whiteness. For the first time ever since we had moved to China 15 years earlier, I had blended in with those around me. Almost unbelievably, I actually looked like one of the local women.


Facing an environment where everyone else belongs, with cultural expectations that everyone else knows, with a common language that everyone else speaks, the foreignness of the foreigner feels glaringly obvious.

But if the facing of the new environment can be done with a face that doesn’t draw so much attention, there can be a greater sense of entering in, without feeling the weight of stares that so often penetrate the unspoken question in people’s eyes:

Why is she here?  

No one is really noticing me, I marveled, while I tried to slurp down my spicy noodle soup before the next course was served by the young men of the village...

(You can read the rest of the post here at Velvet Ashes)









Thursday, September 28, 2017

Homesick

A lot had changed in 20 months. In October of 1995, my parents had driven us to LAX for our international move to the Middle Kingdom with 4 month old CJ who slept peacefully for most of the flight. In June of 1997, they picked us up from the same airport a few days shy of CJ's 2nd birthday, for 7 month old Joshua's first visit to America. Regretfully we had saved money and not paid for a child's seat because CJ still qualified as a “lap baby.”

As bad luck would have it, there were no empty seats on the plane for us to spill on to so we had to hold our on-the-go boy for the entire flight. During the longest 20 hour trip Charly and I have ever experienced, from our door at Tianjin Normal University to my parents' door in southern California, CJ slept for only one hour.

We were tired.

Our family of four squeezed into two bulkhead seats, unable to take advantage of the clip-on bassinet--all ready for us as we boarded--because our 95th percentile height and weight baby Joshua did not fit.

Because car seats were non-existent in China, CJ had not been in one since our trip to LAX when he was four months old. And he wanted nothing to do with being buckled in for the 45 minute drive to my parents' home from the airport. Somehow Charly ended up in complete freedom, riding in my Dad's car, and I got stuck in my Mom's car with our hysterical toddler, who I ended up illegally holding in my lap the whole way home.

After a few days of recovery at my parents' house, I wrote them this letter about how I was struggling with homesickness:

I feel like we've come home to family and I know that we're so important to you. It has been so nice to have you all to ourselves and that you don't have a lot of other commitments. I've enjoyed talking with both of you about all kinds of things in a non-rushed way. It has been so great to see you play with CJ and Joshua. CJ has fallen in love with you guys, and I feel like it's going to be hard to leave. He is so happy here. Part of me wishes we could just stay here the whole summer (but maybe we'd all get tired of each other by then!)

I haven't been able to sleep well because I've been thinking about not seeing you for two more years and it makes me feel so sad inside I can't bear it. I really hope we can see you next summer. I love you so much and I wish we didn't live so far away. I think now is maybe the hardest it's ever been for me think about it. I believe that God wants us in China, its just not always very easy. I think being with you these last few days has made me feel overwhelmed with how wonderful it is to be with family. In China we have friends, but it really isn't the same.”

When my Mom shared this 20 year old letter with me a few weeks ago, it transported me right back into that season of homesickness. I could remember how much I struggled with insomnia that summer. I remembered how fun it was to introduce Joshua for the first time to most of our family (Charly's mom and stepdad had traveled to China just after Joshua was born and were the only ones who had met him). And I remembered the joy of watching our boys connect with extended family in person instead of just knowing them from pictures. I remembered how difficult it felt to count down the days until we boarded our end-of-summer transatlantic flight (we decided to pay a little extra to ensure that CJ had a seat for the return trip) because we expected it to be another two years before we would see our family again.

At that point I didn't know that we would be back again the following summer for Jordan to be born in Lawrence, Kansas as Charly was starting his Masters there, and that we would experience the blessing of living closer to our families for a year before returning to Tianjin. I didn't know then that for the 20 years we would live in China, we would get to see my parents at least once a year as they made a commitment to come visit us every year that we didn't travel back to the US.

CJ and Joshua soaking up time with our family

Overseas living brings sacrifice--both for the ones leaving and for the ones left behind.

A longing for togetherness.

A desire to be with those we know and who know us.

An ache for the familiar.

A wish that we could stop time and freeze those special moments before they slip away.

A heart that feels split in two when we (or ones we love) are not present for family traditions and important events.

I wonder if Jesus felt homesick for heaven when He was misunderstood and mistreated here on earth...

When his friends slept during his agonizing night of prayer.

And when they ran away in fear as He was whipped and nailed to a cross.

He was confident that He would be reunited with His Father when the time had come.

And He knew His purpose on earth until that time.

But I imagine that there were times when He ached to be with His Father the way He had before He walked our dusty streets and maneuvered the crowds, handling with incredible discernment those whose hearts were drawn to Him, those who wanted to kill Him and those who demanded from Him.

I imagine that Jesus' heart ached in much the same way that our hearts ache with homesickness.

He knows us and understands our struggles, even better than we do. And because He has promised to always be with us, we can trust that He can sustain us when we are far away from family and all that feels dear to us. So that we never feel truly alone. In creative and tangible ways, He can show us how our new home in a foreign land can feel more like a real home, so that the unfamiliar becomes familiar. But at all points in our journeys, He gives us permission to grieve.

How has being homesick affected you?

*******Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of Homesick*******

Monday, September 25, 2017

Chosen

I never thought I would be adopted,” David wrote yesterday in chapter 2 of his life story for his 6th grade English class.

It was the first time I had heard him articulate that he given up hope as an 8 year old, having seen too many other kids leave the orphanage to join their forever families.

He had thought he would be an orphan for the rest of his life.

My own life story was different than David's. As a biological child in a family with two adopted brothers, I never even considered that I needed to be adopted.

I had my place at the table from birth. Felt entitled. Went to church. Checked the boxes. Was “better than most” in my prideful opinion.

But one incident stands out in my childhood memory bank, filling me with deep shame. In the 6th grade I had a special needs classmate named Terri. One day in the gym, I laughingly imitated the way she walked with so much struggle. I hate that I acted like that and wish I could turn back time and tear that page out of my book. I so wish I hadn't been hurtful to someone who was already hurting and taken that path of meanness toward Terri, a potential friend to whom I had the opportunity to show kindness and compassion.

Three years ago David was on the receiving end of mockery in a similar situation. As we walked home together from Chinese school for his lunch break, one of his 2nd grade classmates walked a few steps ahead, with the exaggerated in-toeing of David's club feet. I was horrified. How could this boy be so cruel?

But I was actually just the same. Maybe even worse. My mom was a special education teacher. I should have known better.

Still, God chose me in all of my pride and cruelty. He adopted me to be one of His own children. Not because I was the cream of the crop. But because in His great mercy, He desired to show me a better way. He wanted to reveal my sin to me in a way that I would feel horrified not justified. In His grace, He chose to pour out His transforming power on someone as hard-hearted and self-righteous as me.

He humbled me so that He could lift me up. He helped me to realize that I come to Him with absolutely nothing of value apart from Him. Needy with all of my own special needs, I can only cling to the Vine.

As I gave Daniel a piggy back ride home from school last week because of his injured foot, I remembered when we brought him home from the orphanage almost four years ago, early in his post-encephalitis recovery, and he was unable to walk. Charly, Joshua, Jordan and I had taken turns piggy backing him up the nine flights of stairs in our Lanzhou apartment building. 

Adoption Day

When Daniel became a Pine and we pulled his wheelchair up to our table, he had nothing to offer. Such a visual for me to realize that this is the same way God receives me and calls me His daughter.

I didn't know I needed to be adopted. I didn't know that what God really desired was from me was not a list of accomplishments to prove my worthiness, but to place my hand in His and to call Him Abba Father.


I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; he chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)

I am so grateful that God has chosen and adopted me, and that He is continuing to teach me about His adoptive heart through the privilege He has given me of being the mother of two boys whose identities have changed from orphans to sons.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Courage to Let Yourself Be Spoken

“All that we have and are is one of the unique and never-to-be-repeated ways
God has chosen to express himself in time and space...

With endurance and perseverance we must wait for God to make clear what he wants to say through us. Such waiting involves patience and attention, as well as the courage to let yourself be spoken.
This courage comes only through faith in God, who utters no false word.”
(Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus)

Today I've been soaking in this beautiful image that we are God's hand-crafted design in our personalities and unique expressions of Himself.

Have the courage to let yourself be spoken.

In China as a young mom I wondered How does God want to express Himself through me? Both in the aspects of my personality that eventually came to thrive in that very different culture, as well as in the absence of other important parts of me that felt like they never got unpacked from my suitcase.


I learned how to live with my life on display.
I learned how to return curious stares and smiles at my fair-haired babies with smiles of my own, when my preference was to stay out of the spotlight.
I learned how to receive advice about my parenting as expressions of love and concern, not criticism.
I learned how to receive Chinese hospitality and offer it back as best as I could.
I learned how to ask for help.
I learned that tones in the language are very important, but that it was ok if I never truly mastered them and always sounded like a foreigner speaking Chinese (even when the rest of my family sounded like native speakers)
I learned how to laugh at myself.
I learned how to see situations from multiple points of view.
I learned how to bike in crazy traffic (and subsequently forgot how to drive a car when we returned to the US)
I learned how I could share my love for God and His Word with other women.
I learned that I have a life-long desire to learn from others, especially those who are different from me.
 
Ultimately, I learned how I could be myself in the Chinese context. Both in and out of my comfort zone. In the times when I understood what was going on and when I completely misunderstood what others were saying. When I could communicate reasonably well what I meant to say and when I felt limited in my language ability.

Through it all, God was speaking to me and through me in the unique way He had designed me.

I'm sure sometimes He chuckled over my blunders and other times He cried with me in my pain. But even when I felt disappointed with myself and felt that I had let God down by not representing Him as well as I should, I am coming to believe that He was actually never disappointed in me.

How have you grown in courage to let yourself be spoken?

*****Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of Personality*****

Friday, July 14, 2017

Quotes by Daniel part 4

That's the biggest storm I've never seen!” Yesterday afternoon as we watched the rain pelt against our living room windows and witnessed the neighbor's flag pole swaying wildly with the strong winds.

Definitely!” when we arrived at Walgreen's yesterday morning after a very long to Daniel 10 minute walk (I think he meant to say “Finally!”)

I think my hair is dry now,” patting the top of his head. “Yes, but with the gel in your hair it still looks like it's wet,” I told him. “It does?” and a big smile lit up his face. And I smiled big on the inside, thinking that our days of excess water to cool his hair were now over.


 “What does I Am Salty mean?” from the back seat of the van in the middle of singing his heart out to “I Exalt Thee.”

If you do a good job, I'll clap for you. If you don't, I won't.” clapping his approval to one of the songs on a Chris Tomlin CD. I'm sure Chris Tomlin would be happy to know that Daniel likes his singing.

That very not make sense to me,” when we read in his Jesus Storybook Bible about the mountains and hills singing praise to God or when we try to work on math problems like 2+___= 5+5.

"Do you pray to God while you're sleeping?" he asked me. "Well, sometimes when I can't sleep, I do. Do you?" "Yes," he answered. "What do you pray about?" I asked him. "I don't know..." he struggled to remember. But I was encouraged by this little window into his heart, to see that he is developing his own relationship with God.

“I need to go to the bathroom. Bad,” as he passed me on the stairs, taking them two at a time. The next thing I know he's calling out, “Mommy. You want to come see?” “See what?” I called back. “I spit,” he answered. When I opened the bathroom door I realized that his two big bowls of Charly's beef noodles for dinner and then my reminding him that he hadn't finished drinking his noodle broth was a mistake. There had been no room at all for the mugful of broth in his overstuffed tummy.

“STICK!” Every time he sees a new one on our walk to/from the school/park he gets super excited. Yesterday I heard him having his own stick conversation as he used one stick to drag another one toward him on the ground. “'Thank you for finding me,' said the second stick. 'You're welcome,' said the first stick. 'That's very kind of you to say.'”

Is Daddy your servant?” I have no recollection of what happened just before that to prompt his question. Maybe I was being bossy without even being aware of it. Since then I've been more conscious of my potential bossiness.

“Nooooooo!” grabbing his arm away from the nurse who wanted to take a blood draw this week. “I'm going to need you to hold his arm down.” The nurse told me. “Daniel, you're getting yourself worried. This isn't going to be so bad. She's going to be really fast,” I tried to calm him down. On the drive home he agreed that it wasn't as bad as he thought. “I can forget about the worrying thing now.”

I think you eat a lot,” pointing to my upper leg, while he was sitting beside me on the couch. “You have a lot of meat!” Hmmmm. This is why I don't often wear shorts, I thought. And then I felt the need to explain to him that in Chinese, the same character refers to meat (in animals) and muscle (in people). It was better to use the word muscle.

No, not really,” his honest answer when my Mom asked him during a skype call this week if he was enjoying being the only kid at home, while David has been spending a fun week with my parents.

“I'm very excited that David is coming home today!” this morning as we walked to his summer school reading class. “I missed him.”


******************************************************
 Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the Theme of Top 10
(even though Daniel's most recent best quotes are a few more than 10)



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