Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Letter to the Birth Mothers of My Sons

Dear birth mothers,

你们好!I don't think we will ever have the opportunity to meet face to face (although I wish we could) so I wanted to let you know how much our family has been blessed by the gifts of your sons, 丁一凡 and 华明安, we named David and Daniel. They grew up in the Lanzhou Orphanage “like brothers” and we were able to adopt them together while we were living there in October of 2013, when they were 7 and 8 years old. So many people tell us what great smiles they have, and I wonder if they got their smiles from you.


David recently drew a picture of his Chinese mom in his life book for his English as a Second Language class. I noticed the dots all over her face and I asked if those were tears. “Yes,” he said. “I think she must have felt very sad to leave me at the hospital.” “I think so too,” I agreed. So although David doesn't know much about you, he does believe that you loved him and I'm sure that you still do and probably think about him often... 


Daniel frequently asks if I will read the Jesus Storybook Bible to him, and a few days ago as we were reading about Jesus' birth, he said, “I wish I was a baby.” “You know,” I told him. “I bet your birth mom held you, just like Mary held Jesus, after you were born.” “You???” he asked me with surprise. “No, you had another mom who gave birth to you, and later I got to become your adoptive mom.” “Oh,” he said with a question mark on his face, and I know he's still pondering what that means. Ever since his brain infection just before we adopted him, he has struggled with developmental delays and memory loss. So as he continues to process this idea of having two moms, I will keep letting him know how much his birth mom really loved him and wanted the very best for him, just like David's.

Because Daniel doesn't remember a lot about his life at the orphanage, David has filled us in on some details. He knows, for example, why Daniel has scar on his forehead because he witnessed the fight when another boy pushed him into the corner of a door. I remember the time last year when David told us proudly that he has lived almost his whole life with Daniel, first as friends and then as brothers. Even though they are almost exactly one year apart in age, when they joined our family 3 ½ years ago, Daniel had become like an infant in a 7 year old body.

Because of the brain damage from his illness and the 6 days of being in a coma, he had to relearn all of the basic life skills that he'd lost. David eagerly volunteered to help spoon feed him and assist him as he learned how to walk again. Even now he still offers to read to Daniel and help him tie his shoes. Most of the time he is a caring older brother who understands Daniel's limitations. After they both had major surgeries on their feet in February, they enjoyed having wheelchair races together. And now that they are walking again, one of their favorite things to do is to play basketball against each other.


It has been a joy to watch them grow and develop. But to be honest, being an adoptive mom has been one of the biggest challenges I've ever undertaken. Likewise, I can only imagine that leaving your precious boys in the hospital, so that their medical needs could be taken care of, was one of the most difficult things you've ever done. I still struggle sometimes with feelings of doubt that I am a good enough mom for them. And I imagine that you might still struggle with feelings of doubt that you made the right decision in leaving behind those tiny lives that you nurtured inside your bodies.

I hope that God has given you peace about that life-changing heart-wrenching decision, and I want you to know that I am thankful that you gave our boys the gift of life and cared for them in their first weeks.

We have a bird's nest in the wreath on our front door right now and this morning we were watching some videos my husband found online of house finches like ours hatching from eggs, being fed by their mothers and fathers, and then leaving the nest. It struck me how fragile the baby birds were and completely dependent on their parents. Their wide open beaks crying desperately for food, and then—just days later--they looked more like their parents and were ready to fly on their own. Daniel asked as we were watching, “When the baby birds fly away, do they need their mother and father anymore?” 


The picture of baby birds being fed by their parents has stayed with me and caused me to think about how you must have mothered our boys when they were newborn, fragile, and helpless. When you felt you couldn't care for them anymore, you put them in a place where you knew they would be found by someone who would take them to the orphanage. Neither you nor I got to see them “grow their wings” with their first crawl, their first steps, their first words...as they were living in the orphanage during all of those milestones (although we were actually able to experience Daniel's 2nd round of those firsts). Our sovereign and gracious God had His hand on them during those years, like a protective wing, and He guided them to fly into our home when His time was right.

I want to wish you both a happy Mother's Day and thank you for bringing our boys into the world. David and Daniel are both very happy living in America, but Chinese food is still their favorite, especially 兰州牛肉面. I wish all of us could go out for Lanzhou beef noodles together. I'd like to see how much spicy you put in your bowls, as they pride themselves in being able to handle a lot of hotness. And I'd also like to see their smiles reflected in yours.

母亲节快乐!




Monday, May 8, 2017

I Get It

“I get it.” Those three simple words are packed with the power of connection. I heard them this morning from Daniel's 3rd grade Sunday School teacher after Daniel angrily found his name tag on the wall and entered his classroom with a scowl on his face. He avoided his teacher's attempt at eye contact and his cheerful greeting, “Hey, Mr. Daniel. How are you this morning?

“I understand,” his teacher said to me. “We had a meltdown this morning at our house which is why we only made it to the second service.”

I get it.”

No other words needed to be said because in that brief interchange I knew that he knew what it was like. But the few more minutes of conversation about what had been going on with our kids bolstered me with a feeling of solidarity, as I headed downstairs to the church service. Through our Adoptive Parent Sunday School class together last year, I knew that we shared the same goals of connected parenting in our adoption challenges. Our families are on the same page, in the same boat, and I felt so thankful that he was the greeter today who saw Daniel enter the classroom when he was struggling. Really saw him. And understood.


“I get it” communicates that I see what is going on.
I'm not going to make assumptions or judge you.
I have experienced something similar enough to understand.
And I know how difficult it is.
You are not alone.

In parenting, when our children's less-than-desirable behavior is on display for the whole world to see, feelings of guilt and shame are often present. Questions and doubts from ourselves and from others, “Are you parenting in the best way?” can cause us to lose heart. With so many opportunities for being misunderstood in our challenging parenting situations, knowing that there are other parents who “get it” is invaluable.

Support.
Compassion.
Solidarity.
Connection.

Who has communicated “I get it” when you really needed it?
Who in your life needs to hear those words from you?



Saturday, May 6, 2017

Stand Up Gideon

Stand up, Gideon,” the principal spoke into the mic, in front of a few hundred rising 6th graders seated cross-legged on the floor and their parents crowded into the gym bleachers of Timberview Middle School. Gideon rose to his feet and became the focus of everyone's attention, as the principal went on to say, “Gideon's mom already introduced him to me and I just wanted to recognize him.”

I really felt for that kid, even though he didn't seem embarrassed at all. And I know that David, sitting at my side, was relieved that he wasn't Gideon, as his goal at the middle school intro night was to blend in as much as possible.

These past couple of weeks I've been thinking about Gideon's mom, and how I can relate with her desire to be a mover and shaker for her son. To help stack the cards for him so he might have a better chance of succeeding. Not only in school, but in all of life. 


Gideon's mom reminds me of the mother of James and John, who was so bold as to ask Jesus if one of her sons could sit at his right and one at his left in his kingdom. (Matthew 20:20-21) It doesn't hurt to ask right? Let's dream big.

One of our family's favorite movie scenes is from Glory Road, when Harry's mom, determined to help him improve his grades, sits in the desk right behind him at school. When the teacher asks who can answer her questions, his mom responds each time with confidence, “My son Harry can.” Jordan can do a great impersonation of Harry's mom and had us all laughing with that line in our last family skype call.


Gideon's mom, James and John's mom, Harry's mom--all have the same goal in mind, don't they?

They want the best for their children and they're committed to doing whatever they can to help them reach their goals. Is that true of us too?

Is the main focus of our lives Jesus, with gratitude for all of His grace poured out on us? Or do we feel a heavy weight on our shoulders that everything is up to our effort? If I don't make it happen, it's not going to happen. (I am definitely guilty of believing that at times.)

Paul wrote a stinging letter to the Galatians about how they had begun with the Spirit, but were now trying to reach their goal by human effort. “Something crazy has happened, for it's obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives.” (Gal 3:1 MSG)

Clear focus. That's what I really want for each of my children. But I also need it for myself. And I'm aware of how easily I can lose that focus, so that Jesus is no longer the center of my life. How quickly I default to depending on my own efforts.

Last week CJ called us with some good news: he was selected as Notre Dame's valedictorian. Charly and I felt both humbled and amazed. This was very different than being valedictorian of his home school class of one! He had emailed us his submitted speech, which was one part of the selection process, and we thought it was great (but we might be just a little bit biased). I told him I would have voted for him if I was on the selection committee. But of course, there was nothing I could do to put in a good word for him. I'm sure that popping up behind him in his interview, like Harry's mom, "Choose my son CJ" would not have helped him. When we heard the news that CJ had received this huge honor, we received it as a gracious gift from God. So clearly not a result of our efforts.

I finished reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to David this morning and I love what Aslan said to Lucy and Edmund, after he told them that although they were too old to return to Narnia, they would see him in their own world. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

Aslan's words help me to focus on what I see as my main job as a mom: not to work hard to help my kids get ahead, but to help them know Jesus for themselves. That He would be the clear focus of my life and their lives. That we would not get side-tracked and lose that focus, like the Galatians did, and start to depend on our own efforts to reach our goals, apart from Him.

“Anyone who tries to live by his own effort, independent of God, is doomed to failure.”

“The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you.” (Gal. 3:10,11 MSG)

Maybe instead of focusing on getting our kids to stand up and stand out, we would do better to teach them how to spend time on their knees, keeping their focus on Jesus.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Teacher Appreciation

On Monday night I had the privilege of honoring Daniel's amazing 3rd grade teacher Mrs. McRae at District 20's Special Education Staff Appreciation Night. The whole evening was very inspiring and heart warming, as parents shared stories of 40 plus staff members (school bus drivers, paraprofessionals, speech therapists, special ed teachers, classroom teachers) and the significant contributions they have made in the lives of their children this year. It was so encouraging to see the life-changing impact one person can make who “gets” a special needs child and creates an environment where that child feels safe and understood.

This is what I shared:

This is such a special event! What a blessing to hear about all of these wonderful teachers and staff who have made such a difference in the lives of our children. I'd like to share with you all what our son Daniel's 3rd grade teacher Mrs. McRae wrote to him on a postcard at the beginning of the school year:

Dear Daniel, I'm so thrilled you are in my class! I love your cheerful spirit, big smile, and perseverance when things get tough. We are going to have a fantastic rest of the year! 
Love, Mrs. McRae

This is the way Mrs. McRae is--so incredibly positive and encouraging! She was able to identify and affirm those traits in Daniel early on and then help him continue to develop them during the year. This has been Daniel's 2nd year in the public school system. Last year he received full-time para assistance, and this year he was able to cut back to half-time as he's become more independent. Mrs. McRae has been committed to fully integrating him into her classroom, and she helps him know what's ok to do and what's not ok.

Another parent shared how her daughter really misses her teacher when she's away from school. Daniel is the exact same way. Whenever we go on a trip, I know it won't be long before I hear from the back seat how many days its going to be until he sees Mrs. McRae again, and how much he misses her already.

Daniel and Mrs. McRae at a cross country meet

One of the most amazing things for me was meeting Mrs. McRae for the first time at Pioneer's Back to School Night. I thought we were going to be meeting his new teacher for the first time, but it actually felt like I was meeting an old friend when I discovered that she already knew Daniel and was excited about him being in her class! Soon after that, I came across a picture (below) of Daniel running cross country the year before and there was Mrs. McRae, cheering him on in the finish chute. We didn't know her then, but there she was. And it's a beautiful picture to me of how God was preparing the way for Daniel and we didn't even know it. 

Daniel's 2nd grade teacher in the center and Mrs. McRae to her left

Daniel and his brother David, in 5th grade, had surgeries in early February. After that, they had to use wheelchairs and walkers for two months. Mrs. McRae was very supportive of our whole family during that time. The day before surgery she sent Daniel home with an overflowing basket of goodies so that both boys would have things to do while they were recovering. She gave our family a gift certificate for Papa Murphy's pizza. And all of Daniel's classmates made very sweet get well cards for him.

Mrs. McRae is an exceptional teacher who has shown us so much love and support this year, and we feel sad that the school year is coming to an end. We are truly going to miss her!


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

This is Not Good For Me

This is not good for me,” I thought in that long pause of a moment that my body was preparing itself for a hard landing on the basketball court.

David had just traded positions with his friend Jack. “You guard my mom,” he said and I should have taken those words as a warning. Jack was playing more aggressive defense than David (whose feet were getting tired) and I didn't take that into consideration as I started dribbling toward the basket. Jack planted himself directly in front of me...and down I crashed. Not very gracefully. 

Surprisingly, ten year old Jack, the 70 pound Wall, suffered no injuries.

This is how I imagine the scene right before I collided with Jack

“That was not one of your finer moments,” Charly laughed as he offered his hand to lift me off the ground. The stars were still circling around my head like they do in the cartoons as I hobbled off to the side to watch the rest of the game.

Daniel hopped over from the kid team to join Charly, and they still pulled off a victory before Jack needed to go home.

After we walked home from the school playground, I began to wonder if I had cracked a rib. Anything beyond shallow breathing was causing stabs of chest pain. Certain positions felt increasingly uncomfortable. But fortunately, after a good night's sleep, the pain and soreness have been better today. And I'm hopeful that more healing will come with the passing of time.

All of the basketball action yesterday affected David as well, and his left foot was hurting him quite a bit this morning. He decided to use his wheelchair and walker again at school, and he shed a few tears over both the physical pain and the defeated feeling of going backward instead of forward in his recovery.

His physical therapist examined his feet at his lunchtime appointment and said it looked like an ankle sprain. So she taped it, gave him shoe inserts for more support, recommended icing his ankle twice a day, and gave him some exercises to reduce the swelling.


Pain can enter our lives through so many different avenues. It causes us to slow down and reevaluate what's going on in our lives. And it often brings a combination of discouragement and a desire for improvement.

I really like Max Lucado's perspective on the choice we have to hear negative or positive voices, in his book Facing Your Giants: “Two types of thoughts continually vie for your attention. One says, “Yes, you can.” The other says, “No you can't.” One says “God will help you.” The other lies, “God has left you.” One speaks the language of heaven; the other deceives...One proclaims God's strengths; the other lists your failures. One longs to build you up, the other seeks to tear you down. And here's the good news: you select the voice you hear.

Which voice do you most often hear—the one that trumpets God's strengths or the one that recounts your failures?

How can you get better at listening to the voice that builds you up and disregarding the voice that tears you down?”

Training ourselves to listen to God's voice can enable us to find perspective and renewed strength in Him, like David did at one of the lowest points in his life when his men wanted to stone him. “David found strength in the Lord his God.” (1 Samuel 30:6)

He didn't give up, but decided to keep pressing on.

The thought, “This is not good for me” can become “How might God turn this into good for me?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Quotes by Daniel part 3

I have to go to the bathroom,” Daniel let me know last Saturday, as soon as we unloaded David's bike and Daniel's scooter from the back of the van at their school parking lot.

You do?” I asked him with a frown, knowing there was no bathroom available.

I'm not too exciting,” he assured me.

What do you mean?

I mean I can wait,” he translated for me.

“I want to be a real basketball player,” inspired by March Madness. His running commentary when he plays nerf basketball on his own is usually a close game between SC and Gonzaga. Since March, he has gotten more serious about playing real basketball on the court as well.


Orange!” he yelled out at the dentist's office yesterday. “BEAUTIFUL orange!” and he held up his brand new treasured toothbrush like an Olympic torch. He was thrilled that they had his favorite color this time.

Oh Dog. I missed you,” I smiled to hear such a sweet voice drift out of his room. But then a not-so-sweet voice followed. “I'm going to cut all your heads off!

“Underwear first,” talking to himself as he was getting dressed after his bath. “Underwear ALL-ways first.”

"What are you doing, Daniel?" Charly called out while we were lingering at the dinner table with our guests and Daniel, who had already left the table, was being suspiciously quiet. "Picking my nose!" Daniel replied in a loud voice from the kitchen. 

Are you playing a game?” He was already kneeling down next to a stranger on her iPad in the vision therapy waiting room as I pushed the door open a second or so after he'd entered the office. ("Stranger" is actually not a word in his vocabulary. People he doesn't know could be classified as “friends he hasn't gotten to know yet.”)

Wait! I want to stay on!” he yelled as I exited onto the 2nd floor of the doctor's office. He thought the stranger he had just started to get to know on the elevator, who was continuing on to the 4th floor, was pretty interesting and he wasn't ready to leave.

“I still can't stand you,” in frustration after I tried explaining one more time how to do a vision therapy exercise.
“I CAN WALK!” he announced to the produce stocker at King Soopers. as he happily pushed his walker and fully enjoyed his first outing with his new walking cast. “That's cool, buddy,” the guy replied. “I like it.”

I want to do it!” volunteering to walk on stilts during a class field trip on Tuesday.


“Are you pretty excited or really excited that Daddy's coming home tomorrow?” he asked me last night, as we're coming to the end of Charly's almost 3 week trip to China.

“Really excited,” I told him. “How about you?”

Me too,” he said with a big smile.

Quotes by Daniel part 2

Quotes by Daniel









Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Focus

We've been working on therapy exercises quite a lot recently.

Physical therapy to strengthen leg and feet muscles that have been “sleeping.”

And vision therapy to help David and Daniel's eyes with tracking.


David has a really encouraging physical therapist who has been helping him to improve his walking skills and his balance.

Yesterday she had him practice putting one foot directly in front of the other and holding that position for as long as he could. On his first attempts, he could only stand for a couple of seconds before he fell over. His arms were flapping wildly, and he felt discouraged that it was so hard for him. Then she said, “Look at the yellow strap across the room. Keep looking at it and try again.” By focusing on that strap, he was able to hold his position for over 30 seconds!

Having a focal point helped him to keep his focus off of his imbalance, so that he could center himself much better.

One of the vision therapy exercises we've been working on at home involves the boys lying on the floor, while I hold a ping pong ball attached to a string over their heads. They have to follow the star painted on the bottom of the ball with just their eyes while I swing it horizontally, vertically, and in a slow circle. David has learned how to keep his focus, so that I am able to give him spelling words and math problems to solve while he's following the star with his eyes. Daniel's eyes can track for little while, but then they start darting around so that I have to keep reminding him to follow the star. (It reminds me of the wise men.)

We've enjoyed reading the Chronicles of Narnia books together these past couple of weeks. We finished Prince Caspian on Sunday and watched the Disney movie last night. It struck me how Lucy, with childlike faith, was focused on Aslan throughout their journey, while the others had to grow in their desire both to see him and then to trust in him.

It's so easy to lose focus on what's most important in life, isn't it?

Focus.

Helps us to balance.

Helps us to have the right priorities.

Helps us to find our way.

What are you focusing on these days?



Saturday, April 15, 2017

Father, Forgive Them

Father, forgive them,” Jesus cried out on the most horrific day in history. “For they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

In Facing Your Giants, Max Lucado writes, “No one had a clearer sense of right and wrong than the perfect Son of God. Yet, 'when he suffered, he didn't make any threats but left everything to the one who judges fairly.' (1 Peter 2:23)

This morning before the boys left for school, we talked about what Good Friday means and we read in The Jesus Storybook Bible about the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Arrest, and the Crucifixion:

My body is like this bread. It will break,” Jesus told them. “This cup is like my blood. It will pour out.”

“But this is how God will rescue the whole world. My life will break and God's broken world will mend. My heart will tear apart—and your hearts will heal. Just as the passover lamb died, so now I will die instead of you. My blood will wash away all of your sins. And you'll be clean on the inside—in your hearts.”

“God was going to pour into Jesus' heart all the sadness and brokenness in people's hearts. He was going to pour into Jesus' body all the sickness in people's bodies. God was going to have to blame his son for everything that had gone wrong. It would crush Jesus.”

Father, forgive them,” Jesus gasped. “They don't understand what they're doing.”

"It wasn't the nails that kept Jesus there. It was love."

This morning as we read and talked about the events, I wondered for the first time how the disciples must have felt when Judas arrived with the soldiers to arrest Jesus. Clearly he had betrayed Jesus (who had forgiven him before the act had even been committed). But I'm sure the disciples must have felt a sense of betrayal too. How could Judas--who had spent as much time with the Master as they had--turn against Him like that? 


On Good Friday we are humbled by Jesus' death on the cross. His willing sacrifice as the perfect Lamb of God. God's forgiveness extended. Undeserved mercy for sinners.

But after we've received and been cleansed by God's forgiveness, how well do we extend His forgiveness to others?

Last Sunday at Pulpit Rock, Thomas addressed the issue of forgiveness and how it relates to our joy. He asked, "Why would you want to hold on to something that's hurting you?"  He challenged us with the statement: "There's never a reason not to forgive." And, "Whatever Jesus expects of you, He empowers you to do."

On this topic, Max Lucado writes, “Forgiveness is, at its core, choosing to see your offender with different eyes.”

“To forgive is to move on," he explains, "not to think about the offense anymore. You don't excuse him, endorse her, or embrace them. You just route thoughts about them through heaven. You see your enemy as God's child and revenge as God's job.”

When we try to seek revenge, he says it "removes God from the equation. Vigilantes displace and replace God. 'I'm not sure you can handle this one, Lord. You may punish too little or too slowly. I'll take this matter into my hands, thank you.'”

Kind of like Peter, who was quick to react in Jesus' defense and sliced off a guard's ear with his sword. Jesus then reprimanded him, “Peter, this is not the way.” (John 18:10-11)

Can we entrust ourselves like Jesus did, in the face of mistreatment, to the One who judges rightly?

Can we echo Jesus' words, “Father forgive them”?

Can we see our offenders as God's children and route our thoughts about them through heaven?

Can we pray for their hearts to be healed as ours have--through Jesus' broken body and blood poured out on the cross?

Jesus died so that we--and they--could experience true reconciliation.

*******************************************************************
Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the Theme of Forgive

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Avoidance

I try to avoid lots of things. Especially when it comes to driving.

Times of heavy traffic.

Poor visibility and snow/ice/rain.

Areas of construction.

Lane changes and merging.

The highway.

Curvy roads and lanes that feel too narrow.

The only time that I actually don't feel stressed when I'm behind the wheel is when no one else is on the road. And that doesn't happen very often.

I often have to get myself psyched up, even for a simple drive across town, “You can do hard things!

Last Wednesday I followed the suggested fastest route of the GPS to take David and Daniel to vision therapy. Unfortunately I discovered that there were way more cars on the highway than I expected at 2 in the afternoon, and I had to tell Daniel to stop talking to me so I could focus. At one point an 18 wheeler was crossing into my lane as he merged in from the shoulder on my right, while cars whizzed by me on the left. And I held my breath, as my knuckles turned white on the steering wheel.

We are going to find a different route next week,” I vowed, once we had gotten safely past the truck and my heart rate returned to normal. “Not the highway again. There must be a better way.”


I am struck by the example of Jesus in the garden, who prayed so earnestly that his sweat was like blood, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:40)

The path would have been much easier for Jesus to avoid the cross.

But there was no other way.

So Jesus willingly walked that road.

For us.

As He hung on the cross, He was mocked by rulers, soldiers, and even one of the criminals who was hanging on a cross beside him:

“He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.”

“If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

“Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:35-39)

But the truth was that if Jesus had saved Himself, He couldn't have saved us. So He didn't give in to that temptation (and we have no idea how great it might have been). He chose not to avoid the pain, the feeling of being deserted by His Father, the trip to Hell.

So that He could save us, who would not enter this world for many generations to come. He knew us and loved us even then.

“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
(Isaiah 53:4-5, emphasis added)

Jesus chose not to avoid the cross because of His incomprehensible love for us. Sinners, every single one, who would have betrayed Him in the same way that Judas and Peter did, if we had been there. 

On the cross, in the midst of the temptation and the mocking, Jesus chose to focus on the future joy of our being reconciled to the Father and living together forever with us, within the fellowship of the Trinity.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3)

Consider Him and don't lose heart.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Resistance

Sometimes I make things harder than they need to be.

Like pushing Daniel in the wheelchair up our hill with the brakes on.

The boys' walking casts came off the end of March and, as they're growing in their ability to walk longer distances, last week they shared one wheelchair on our walk home from school. On Friday, David took his turn first and I was piggybacking Daniel until we got to the bottom of the hill. Then David generously offered his seat in the wheelchair to Daniel and put the brakes on as he stood up. But I didn't know that.

I only knew it felt really hard to push for some reason. Maybe it was the extra books in David's backpack hanging on the handlebars...

We got to a bump in the sidewalk and I had to make three attempts before I could get over it. Strange.

“Hi there!” our neighbors called out as we walked (I struggled) past their driveway. “How's it going?”

“Good!” I called back, and then felt the need to explain why I was breathing so hard. “The wheelchair seems really hard to push today...”

“Do you want me to push it the rest of the way for you?” the husband offered.

I politely refused, feeling kind of embarrassed for seeming so out-of-shape.

It wasn't until we got inside the house and I maneuvered the wheelchair into its corner of the room that I realized the brakes were on. My arm muscles were sore the rest of the day.


I did something pretty similar a few months ago when I drove the car with the emergency brake on.

I was racking my early morning brain, trying to figure out why it was so difficult to drive, and then grew increasingly concerned as I reached 25 mph and the car started shaking. Cars were passing me left and right as I drove in the middle lane of the 45 mph road. What is wrong with the car? What do I do if it just breaks down right here??? I prayed for God's protection and that He would help me make it 5 more minutes down the road to my physical therapy appointment. I called Charly with huge relief after pulling into the parking lot and turning off the car.

I really don't think I can drive home,” I told him. “I don't know what's wrong the car, but I didn't feel safe on the road at all.”

As we problem solved together, I offered a possible explanation, “The word BRAKE showed up in red on the dash board. That might have been it. I don't really know...But if it was, I couldn't figure out how to release the emergency brake while I was driving.”

Charly calmly coached me as to where I could find it. I released the very worn-out brake, then the physical therapist released some of the tension in my neck, and I drove home without any problems.

Cars really do drive much better when the brakes aren't on. And wheelchairs, I've found, are much easier to push when brakes aren't holding them back either.

In what areas of my life, I wonder, am I making it harder for God to do His work in me?

Where am I resisting Him?




Friday, April 7, 2017

The In Between

Last week Part 1 of our adoption journey was published at No Hands But Ours, a website for adoptive parents of China's special needs children. And an interesting thing happened during the three days before Part 2 followed. I unexpectedly found myself sitting once again on our broken couch in our Lanzhou 9th floor apartment, during those early days of Daniel's recovery, grieving all that had been taken away from him. And as I lingered in those days of sadness, when the future did not seem at all hopeful or full of promise, I realized that God could have written the last 3 1/2 years of our story much differently.

At that point we just didn't know.

I imagine that Jesus' followers must have felt much the same way after they witnessed their beloved friend and teacher exhale his final breath on the cross. All they knew at that point of their story was that Jesus had experienced an unbelievably horrific death, and that everything they hoped for had died with Him. Darkness must have consumed them as they suffered from the deepest kind of grief.

A time of rejoicing would come, but they didn't know that. This interminable period of mourning offered them no clue as to what the future might hold.

They had once heard Jesus say, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” Now they found themselves, in complete shock and disbelief, mourning Jesus' very own death.

In her book You Are Free, Rebekah Lyons writes,

“I believe grief is our most powerful confession, because it cracks our hearts wide open. The Spirit prays for what we need in that moment, in ways we can't imagine...Deep grief can take us to new depths of brokenness and surrender. In the depths of grief we realize mourning brings the comfort of God, and above all, God is waiting to rescue us in our darkest hour.

Isn't that what faith is all about—trusting God is working something beautiful and beyond our wildest imagination? Jesus, in the flesh, joined our sufferings in life and death. But the third morning after his death, at dawn, he gave us an example of exceeding abundance. A promise of hope for all who believe.”

I've rediscovered this week that lingering in the days of loss, sitting in the grief, and allowing the feelings of sorrow to resurface has been both painful and healing. Entering back into that time has brought a renewed sense of gratefulness for all that Daniel has regained since the trauma of his brain infection. He does not even recognize himself in those early recovery pictures. God has definitely brought him a long way since he joined our family as a 7 year old infant. But grieving has also brought me back into the time when I was really questioning what God was doing, projecting my fears into the future, and doubting my ability to handle this new lifetime responsibility we had just taken on because “How could we say no?

God, in His faithfulness, has always met me right where I am, and never with accusations or condemnations. Looking back on my journey with Him, I can say that there has never been a time when He crossed His arms and scolded, “Why wasn't your faith stronger during that season?

But only, “I was with you every painful step of the way.


To be honest, one of the most painful realizations for me when I step back into that season doesn't have to do with Daniel, but with David. Our family was operating in survival mode at that time, and I defaulted into the caregiver role for Daniel. When I saw that David's needs were being met by other members of my family, I didn't initiate building a relationship with him in the way that I wish I had. The result was that we didn't develop a solid foundation in our relationship from the beginning, and we are still working on that now. If I had the chance to go back in time, that would be the one thing I would change. But I can't. And that brings me grief too.

Rebekah Lyons writes, “Every time we express grief, we allow Jesus to absorb our pain. When we live out the freedom we have been given to grieve, Jesus takes our grief upon himself and replaces it with comfort.”

Before we can experience His comfort though, we have to allow ourselves the freedom to grieve.

She also writes: “God wants us to reveal our weakness—to recognize what traumatizes and exhausts us. He wants us to confess our wounds, our sources of pain and stress, and bring them into the light so he can redeem and transform them with his strength.”

Redemption and transformation.

The hope of the resurrection, even on that dark Saturday in between.

God says that it's never too late for a new beginning.

************************************************************************
Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of Admit.  
(Admit the need to Grieve)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Hidden Treasure

Yesterday morning Daniel braved a chicken pox shot and was excited to get to choose a prize from the treasure chest at the doctor's office. When we came home, we read in The Jesus Storybook Bible about the Hidden Treasure parable in Matthew 13:


“One day Jesus was telling people about God's Kingdom. 'God's kingdom is wherever God is king,' Jesus told them. 'It's wherever God is in charge. It's where he fills up your heart with his Forever Happiness and you stop running away from him and you love him.'

Jesus said, 'Coming home to God is as wonderful as finding a treasure! You might have to dig before you find it. You might have to give up everything you have to get it. But being where God is—being in his kingdom—that's more important than anything else in all the world. It's worth anything you have to give it up!' Jesus told them. 'Because God is the real treasure.'”


I love the way The Jesus Storybook Bible weaves Jesus' thread through the Old and New Testaments...

“God had a treasure, too, of course. A treasure that was lost, long, long ago. What was God's treasure, his most important thing, the thing God loved best in all the world?

God's treasure was his children.

It was why Jesus had come into the world. To find God's treasure. And pay the price to win them back. And Jesus would do it—even if it cost him everything he had.”


Even if it cost Him everything He had. This is the heart of the gospel. The story of our redemption. Our hopeful anticipation in this season of Lent. Jesus willingly paid it all. Because of God's relentless pursuit of us.

The parable of the hidden treasure challenges us to consider where our treasure lies. Do we pursue the Kingdom of God with everything we have or are we sort of lukewarm in our relationship with Him, valuing the things of this world as much as or more than the things of God?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth; where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

Where is your treasure and where is your heart?

Where is your search for hidden treasure taking you?

Daniel and David searching for treasure
on an Easter Egg Hunt yesterday


Friday, March 24, 2017

How Will Our Children Adapt?

Our questions breeze right in through the open windows of our minds: fearful reactions can grip us with chilled anxiety, while sun-kissed, hope-filled responses enable us to envision a bright future. When we decide to enter into another culture, we truly don’t know how that choice will affect each of our uniquely-designed children. How will they choose to follow our host culture? Will they learn how to fit in and adapt without losing their sense of identity?


After having grown comfortable living in a large city on the east coast of China for 15 years, our family relocated to central western China in 2011 for my husband to pursue his PhD. Through his field research, the door opened for us to live in a Muslim minority village for weeks at a time, which needless to say was a huge change for us.

Our 13 year old daughter Jordan felt at home right away, and she couldn’t wait to be done with home school so she could spend time with her new friends. One of her writing assignments when we were back in the city was about her life in the village...

Our 15 year old son stepped off the same bus into village life, but with much more hesitation and resistance. Over time, however, as he and his older brother learned how to participate in the Sufi festivals that honored the deaths of their shieks, his perspective began to change. Through joining in with the other young men of the village as they served food at the festivals, Joshua became part of the community. This is what he wrote in a college application essay about what village life taught him about adaptability and diversity...

To read what Jordan and Joshua wrote about their different experiences in the village, click here to go to the post on the theme of "Follow" for Velvet Ashes: http://velvetashes.com/how-will-our-children-adapt/ 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Whispers of Accusation

You really think you can pray?”

Whispers of accusation chased their way through my mind while I sat at the prayer team table for Pulpit Rock's IF Gathering women's conference.

“What if these true prayer warriors at the table realize you're just a counterfeit who only prays surface prayers and is far from knowing how to actually wrestle with God in prayer, far from knowing what praying in the Spirit really means?”

“What if they see the real you, a kindergarten pray-er pretending to be someone who truly prays?”

The whispers from the accuser that weekend gave voice to my deep-rooted fear of being “found out” that I'm not qualified, not deserving, inadequate. What if the image of who others think I am crumbles down to reveal the real me—who doesn't belong at the table?

It's one of my dominant stories that Jonathan referred to in his sermon on Sunday “Taking Every Thought Captive: Story.” He said that we create these stories based on our interpretations of life events, and they become strongholds in our lives when they don't line up with Jesus story. In our pursuit of renewing our minds we need to ask:

Are we willing to exchange our dominant story for Jesus story?

This renewal is a lifelong process by which our way of thinking comes to resemble more and more the ways of God.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2


My fear of not measuring up has popped its head up throughout my life:

When I played basketball in 7th grade and hoped and prayed no one would pass the ball to me, because ball coordination was clearly not my strength. What are you doing on this team?

When I took on a job as a physics tutor for student athletes in college and it became painfully clear that I didn't know as much physics as I thought I did. And some of my students complained about me. How did you get a job you weren't even qualified for?

When we attended the wedding of one of the Chinese teachers at Charly's language school in Tianjin and (even though my children protested) I picked seats up at the front for our family to sit. And we were politely asked to move somewhere else. (I think there is even a Bible verse about this.) Who do you think you are taking a seat of honor?

When (even now) I read Cinderella to David and Daniel and feel like they see me in the story as the wicked stepmother. Because a good mother to them would be a lot more loving and affirming than I am. What if people (who think you're so amazing for adopting) knew what kind of adoptive mother you really are?

What God helped me to realize as I wrestled with these thoughts, before dawn this morning, is that I can have a seat at the table even if I'm not the best. Perfection is not a prerequisite for God. I can set down the measuring stick of comparison--that others are better at whatever it is than me. God simply wants me to come to His table with my sinful, repentant heart. Confession and communion. He doesn't love and accept me because of what I can do or who I try to be. But because of Jesus.

This song that I learned at church has become one of my favorites and I find that the lyrics often repeat themselves in my head. Such good words of Truth for me to soak in...to replace those of the accuser that tell me I don't belong, don't measure up, and might be “found out.”

Elevation Worship

O come to the altar
The Father's arms are open wide
Forgiveness is bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ.

The Truth is that my validation doesn't come from my performance or from how others see me. But from God Himself.

My audience of One.

And His arms are always open wide. Offering me (and you) a place at His table.

What dominant story do you need to exchange for the gospel story?



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Don't Listen to Morris

Morris the Moose tried to convince a cow that she was a moose. His argument was simple: the cow had four legs, a tail, and things on her head. “But I say MOO!” said the cow. “I give milk to people.” And Daniel's favorite line, “But my mother is a COW!”


Despite Morris' persistence, the cow held firm to her beliefs about herself, and even consulted a deer for confirmation that she was not a moose. At the end of the story, Morris, the cow, and the deer drank from a stream together and gazed at their reflections in the water. They embraced their differences because their identities were made clear.

After listening to Thomas' message on Sunday, Every Thought Captive: Enemy, my take-away from Daniel's reader last night was: Don't listen to Morris. Know who you are and don't believe lies about yourself. If your identity is in question, consult the Word, and find a true reflection of who God says you are.

Day 8 of Tommy Newberry's 40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life is called “Stop Identity Theft”: Your true self-worth is based only on what God says about you, not on how you feel about yourself.

“Do you see yourself as a child of almighty God? Remember whose you really are. You are an original masterpiece...A mediocre self-concept does not come from God but from the blemishes and stains of the world. It comes from seeing ourselves differently than God sees us. It comes from disagreeing with God. It comes from continuing to identify with the things that haven't worked. It comes from continuing to think about ourselves as unworthy, as if we've forgotten about the blood of Jesus that cleanses and purifies us.”

In the storybook, Morris the Moose didn't intend to deceive the cow; he was just confused himself. But in this world, we have an enemy whose mission is completely opposite of everything God intends for us. And we need to be aware of his deceitful schemes.

Our enemy wants us to believe things about God and about ourselves that aren't true. “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and a father of lies.” John 8:44

God wants us to be aware of Satan's deceitful schemes, but He doesn't want us to live in fear of him. We need to recognize the battle going on for our minds and to use the weapons God provides for us, utilizing His unlimited strength.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of the this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Ephesians 6:10-13

by Chris Tomlin

You hear me when I call
You are my morning song
Though darkness fills the night
It cannot hide the light
Whom shall I fear

You crush the enemy
Underneath my feet
You are my sword and shield
Though troubles linger still
Whom shall I fear

I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side

The one who reigns forever
He is a friend of mine
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side

My strength is in your name
For you alone can save
You will deliver me
Yours is the victory
Whom shall I fear

And nothing formed against me shall stand
You hold the whole world in your hands
I'm holding on to your promises
You are faithful
You are faithful

“When you see yourself as down and defeated, that is what you will surely be. This woeful approach does you no good personally and only serves to minimize your contribution in the world. However, if you choose to see yourself as more than a conqueror through Christ (see Romans 8:37), you will certainly ascend to that level.” (40 Days book)

A cow, not a moose.
A victor, not a loser.
Always remember who you are and whose you are.



Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Divine Silence

We arrived at our friends’ home, nestled in the majestic mountains of western China, completely unprepared. Grandmother opened the door for us, unable to hold back her tears. We followed her to the table where her daughter-in-law filled our tea cups and whispered their heartbreaking news, “Our son died three months ago.”

She then slipped out of the room to prepare food for us, while Grandmother returned to her bed at the end of the hall. We silently sipped our tea and let this news sink in; our hearts filled with grief.

One of the friends traveling with us encouraged me to comfort Grandmother whose muffled sobs echoed softly in the hallway. I reluctantly stood up, thinking, “I really don’t know what to say.” But as I slowly walked down the hall, I was reminded of Job’s friends who simply sat with him in his grief because “his suffering was too great for words.” (Job 2:13)

God, please help my presence be a comfort to her.


You can read the rest of the post here: http://www.incourage.me/2017/03/divine-silence.html

And if you're interested, you can sign up to receive free daily devotionals from incourage:  www.incourage.me/subscribe


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

What Kind of Reaction?

When I turned around from running cold tap water into the sizzling skillet last night, I discovered Daniel rubbing his oven-mitted hand across the stovetop burner asking himself outloud, “I wonder if this is hot?

“Oh my goodness! What are you doing?” I yelled.

I grabbed his hand away and turned the mitt over to show him the scorched side. I asked him if he could smell it burning, and told him that what he did was really dangerous.

My reaction scared him, and I hope that the result will be that he won't try that again.

His curiosity had led to a chemical reaction: something that can't be undone. There's no such thing as “unburning what's been burned.”


Last month David and Daniel got some play-doh as a post-surgery gift. David wanted to see what would happen if he mixed his two colors of green and purple together. The resulting drab gray color satisfied his curiosity, and now he knows that the vibrant original colors won't come back. After his experiment, he convinced Daniel to mix his orange and yellow together. Daniel didn't play with his play-doh as long, so the two bright colors are both still there. But if he continues to play, they will eventually turn into one color. Another reaction that can't be undone because a new substance will be formed.

Our sermon series during Lent is on Taking Every Thought Captive. Thomas has been teaching on 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 about our minds being a battlefield. About our need to demolish the strongholds we have in our lives. About reaching for the right weapons.

We formed a new small group of four families, meeting every Sunday after church, to discuss the sermons during Lent and the book the church is reading together: 40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life by Tommy Newberry. Yesterday our group discussed what our strongholds are, how our jobs/environments can reinforce them, how we find ways to quiet our hearts (with all the bees buzzing around) and what it looks like to choose joy. We talked about how easy it is to get stuck in a rut of negative cycles. And how we desire to be more proactive in coming up with a strategy to help us respond differently when we're tempted to fall back into our old ways.

This morning I've been thinking about reactions.

Child's bad behavior + parent's irritability/impatience, seeing the child through the lens of the bad behavior, and overreacting because strongholds have been triggered = not a positive outcome

Child's bad behavior + parent's peace of mind, ability to see past the behavior to the heart of the child, and awareness/ability to recognize triggers and not be controlled by them = a transformed outcome

The 40 Days book emphasizes that we always have a choice for gratitude: we can choose to look for the good in others/ourselves/our world. It will always be easier to complain, especially if we're in an environment of complaining people. And we can always focus on the bad because its never going away. But the challenge is to be renewed in our minds and to lift our eyes higher than our circumstances.

“Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

We can't unburn what's been burned, and so we must live with the consequences of our (and others') bad decisions in the past. But we have new choices to make each day. We don't have to continue down the well-worn path of negative patterns. We can keep our play-doh colors vibrant by not conforming to the ways of the world. We can make the choice to let God transform our minds.

Thomas said “You cannot change your thinking without God. God will not change your thinking without you.”

God + you working together = transformation

That's the kind of reaction I want. Don't you? 

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