Friday, June 30, 2017

When My Shelter Left Me Soaked

It was the summer of 1996. Our family of three had called China “home” for 9 months. Baby #1 had just celebrated his first birthday. Baby #2 was on the way. We had been married for all of two years. And I told Charly I now knew why people considered divorce.

We were hosting a summer program of 6 American college grads, and Charly was committed full-time to planning and carrying out all of their activities with his English students at the university. Our home at the time consisted of two connected dorm rooms in the Foreign Students Dormitory on campus and our living room/bedroom was often full of students (stretching for my introverted personality). I participated in the group activities as much as I could, but found myself growing resentful of all the time Charly was gone. My needs were, very obviously to me, not being met.

We were out for a family walk on campus one evening when the sticky heat was more bearable. Charly stopped to talk with one of his students and I knew it was going to be longer than a couple of minutes. So I decided not to wait for him. The raindrops starting to fall from the gray clouds overhead matched my mood, and I quickened my pace, gripping the handles of the stroller more tightly. As I paused under a tree with large branches, I looked straight up and thought to myself, “These branches should keep me from getting wet.” But they didn't. I got soaked.

That night I realized that the shelter I wanted to work in my life wasn't working. It was the beginning of my journey of learning, as a new wife and young mom, that I couldn't expect Charly to meet all of my needs. Only God could. My unrealistic expectations of him were not good for me or for our marriage. My Creator alone would always be with me, and He understood my needs even better than my hormone-imbalanced self. Only He promised to be my Shelter, Protector, and Refuge. Not my husband.

Our friend Fitz recently sent this to me from Jill Kelly's Prayers of Hope for the Brokenhearted, and I love what she says about God as our Shelter:

“No matter what’s going on around me and in me, I am safe with You. I’m safe in You. You are the place I run to, the place where I hide. The place where nothing and no one can hurt me. The place where I am fully known and accepted. You are always safe.

When I don’t know where to go or what to do, I can rush to where I know You will be. When I don’t have the words and my mind is cluttered with fear, I can seek You and find You.

You are not far from me. You will not hide Your face from me. You are near to the brokenhearted. You are always with me. I am never alone.

Because You are safe, I can be who I am. I don’t have to pretend. You have chosen me and will not reject me. I will not be dismayed or discouraged. You will strengthen me and help me. You will uphold me.

As I wait patiently for You to deliver me from this place of deep sorrow and heartbreak, I will trust You. I will not be anxious or fret.

I will come to You when I am weary and burdened, and You will give me rest. In You I find rest for my wounded soul. Because You are able to do beyond what I can fully comprehend, I will wait for You, and in Your perfect timing all will be made new.

You are the Good Shepherd. You gather Your lambs in Your mighty, loving arms and carry them. You carry me close to Your heart, where I am held in the palm of Your hand. You will protect me and keep me safe. I am safe in You.

In the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of His tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. Psa27/5

This week I read this beautiful Reflection on Loneliness from Dare to Journey with Henri Nouwen by Charles Ringma:

“...we need to be alone. For we need to rediscover ourselves as much as we need to bask in the searchlight of God's love and light—to face our pain and lack of resolution with new hope and faith. In learning to be alone and still, we make a way to meet God with openness and honesty. It is there we can rediscover that we cannot blame others or live in unreality.

Nouwen speaks of the importance of embracing a loneliness “that cannot be removed by any other sinful human being.” For it is not to others that should first of all turn; instead we should create the necessary space to meet with God Himself. While we may fear this place of quietness and openness, it is the only road that will lead to new life. For from new insights come new motivations, which can give us new strength, and this will only come when we are loved, sheltered, and affirmed, as well as corrected by the One who truly knows and loves us.”

Shelter me, O God. In You alone I find my refuge, as well as renewed strength and hope for the future. Thank you for helping me return to You when my other shelters fail.


Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of Shelter

Monday, June 26, 2017

Enemy to Brother

Last night we watched Remember the Titans, based on a true story about the newly integrated T.C. Williams high school football team in Alexandria, VA in 1971. These are two powerful scenes from the movie that demonstrate the incredible change in Gerry and Julius, a white and a black player, whose relationship changed from one full of hatred toward each other to a bond in which they considered each other their brother. 

In the first scene, the two of them are unhappy roommates during their pre-season football camp and are forced to learn some facts about each other so that their coach will ease up on their 3-a-day workouts.

"What I have to say, you really don't want to hear. Cause honesty ain't too high up on your people's priority list," Julius challenged. "Honesty?" Gerry countered. "You want honesty? Alright. Honestly, I think you're nothing. Nothing but a waste of God-given talent. You don't listen to nobody."

This conversation turned out to be transformative as Gerry (the team captain) took Julius' final words to heart: "Attitude reflects leadership." When he then exploded at his long-time friend Ray for not blocking for his black teammate, the atmosphere began to change. The ice melting between these two leaders, combined with the leadership of Coach Boone (their new black coach) and Coach Yoast (the white previous head coach), set the stage for most of the players overcoming their prejudices toward each other and learning how to play together as a real team. 

Their transformation and resulting winning streak that season had a huge impact on the whole town. While celebrating their victory at regionals, Gerry was tragically struck by a car and the second scene shows Julius arriving at the hospital after he heard the news.

"I was afraid of you, Julius," Gerry confesses. "I only saw what I was afraid of. And now I know I was only hating my brother."

This movie is both inspiring and sobering to me, when I think about the racial tensions that still exist in our country today, 46 years later. How desperately we need to get to know people who are different from us so that we can see the "other" as our brother or sister, as Julius and Gerry were able to do.

Thomas' sermon this morning at Pulpit Rock went right along with this theme: "Being us is better than being right."

We want to be about "seeking common ground as we seek higher ground."

"If Jesus put Simon the Zealot, an insurrectionist who hated the Romans, on the same team with with Matthew the tax collector, a collaborator with the Romans, and made them roommates, I'm not sure why we can't set aside some differences for the common good."

We need to really see and really hear the people around us in order to experience the kind of self-sacrificing love Jesus intended for us. 

And if we find that the people around us are too similar to us, then we need to go beyond some borders to find brothers and sisters who look different and have different beliefs than us.

As Thomas said, "We are known for our beliefs but remembered for our love."

Who might God be asking you to step out of your need to be right in order to love? Do you have enemies who could become your friends, if you let go both of your desire to be separate and your need to be right?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Be Loved

As David was telling me about his dream last night, he seemed to be glowing. His whole countenance was unusually peaceful and reflective.

“I was fighting in a battle with Legolas,” he smiled as he remembered the scene. “We were a team. I was kind of like—you know—his vice president.”

I nodded.

“He gave me one of his arrows to use. But his bow was broken so I couldn't shoot the arrow. I had to use a gun instead and it was too heavy.”

“We were fighting the dwarfs, and there were too many of them so we lost.”

“But it was really cool to be with Legolas. He's really kind and I can always count on him.”

“I wish I could have more dreams like that....I wish I could meet the REAL Legolas!”

What an honor it was for David to be Legolas' vice president. He felt so treasured and valued in his dream.

This afternoon he was working on an exercise to distinguish linking verbs from action verbs. I was thinking about the word beloved (the theme for Velvet Ashes this week) and how the word could be separated into two: be loved where “be” is a linking verb. There is a necessary receiving on our part. God calls us his beloved but we don't always feel that way.

Shame, self-condemnation, perfectionism, and pride can block our ability to experience God's love.

As I was reading The Jesus Storybook Bible to the boys today, we got to the parable of the Hidden Treasure again. And David said, “I bet I know what that's about. God is the farmer who dug up the treasure and the treasure is us.” I really like that view of the parable, not just that our greatest treasure is God but that His greatest treasure is us!

Daniel, as you know, often asks the same question multiple times. One of his favorites as we're reading through the Storybook Bible is, “Am I God's children?” Each time I answer, “Yes, you are,” he gets such a sweet smile of contentment. Being reminded of that truth is very comforting to him.

Don't we all need that reminder?

We can get so focused on the activity around us that we forget the truth that God calls us His beloved. His treasure. His sheep that He would search the ends of the earth  to bring back to Him. He longs to carry us close to His heart. Because we belong to Him. He has written us on the palms of His hands. He delights in us. He wants us to Be Loved. To receive His Love.

As we long for the day that we will see Him face to face.

Which will be even more incredible than meeting Legolas.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wearing the Hat of Motherhood for 22 Years

22 years ago CJ's premature arrival presented me with the gift of motherhood. There have been days when I thought I knew what I was doing as a Mom and days I was sure I didn't know what I was doing. But motherhood has been one of my biggest blessings in life and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Some of the different hats I have worn these past 22 years (as my hair underneath the hats has been turning more and more white):
New Mom
Toddler Mom
3 kids 3 and under Mom
Mom of TCK's (third culture kids)
Stay at Home Mom
Foreign Mom (in China)
Special Needs Mom
Mom of Adult/College kids

Out of all the Mom hats, the one that I won't wear for a long time is the one for the Empty Nest Moms.

A friend told me last summer after we'd spent time at the park together that her 11 year old daughter said how sweet it was that God had given us David and Daniel so that when Jordan left for college Charly and I wouldn't be bored and lonely at home with no kids.

We are not bored or lonely. That is true.

We have traveled the road of teething, throw up, temper tantrums, and tattling.

We have laughed, we have cried, we have worried, we have prayed.

We have walked the difficult line of giving boundaries and giving freedoms, sometimes better than others. Our kids have usually told us when we haven't done it well.

We have tried to find the balance in practicing Sabbath, teaching our kids about God and building character with times of being silly and just having fun together. Our kids have pointed out to us those times when they thought we were taking the fun out of life.

We have had heartwarming moments and heartbreaking moments. Moments when our family was truly united and moments when we really struggled with unity.

We've lived out of our comfort zones in different cultures, and adapted in ways unique to our personalities.

We've been separated both by oceans and by time zones across America (skype has been our great connect point). Times that all 7 of us can be together are truly a gift.

We've been learning how to parent all over again through adoption, as we try to understand the different needs and life stories our boys have (so much that we missed of their early years).

Now our kids' ages span from 11 to 22. You could call us parents who are seasoned and very much aware of our shortcomings.

On the way back from CJ's graduation in Indiana last month, I was taking a turn driving across Kansas when it began to get very windy. So windy in fact that I felt like our van might get blown off the highway. As I looked ahead at the dark threatening sky and saw the first drops of rain hit the windshield, I knew it was time for me to pull over and let Charly drive. But no sooner had I gotten out of the driver's seat when Jordan asked, “Can I drive?” “Of COURSE not!” I replied. “These are bad conditions.”

“I've never driven in the rain before,” her voice sounded hopeful. Charly (with no worry at all) agreed for her to take the wheel. She had a sparkle in her eye as she braved the storm head-on, while my eyes were tightly shut in the seat right behind her.

She did great. And I learned yet another lesson about letting go and trusting God with my kids, in scary situations that cause me to get a little panicky.

Even though I want our kids to be safe, I also want them to have courage and not be filled with doubt or shy away from the hard. And God has given each of them this brave desire to do hard things. They are willing to take risks, when they're unsure of what the outcome will be.

As my children demonstrate courage, they are teaching me to be more courageous too. (But I am almost positive that I will never personally want to drive in a thunderstorm!)

That's ok because as our kids get older, much of Motherhood is not in the driver's seat anyway, but coaching from the passenger's seat or praying hard from the back seat.

Bless all you mothers who can relate. My hat is off to you.

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Letter to the Birth Fathers of My Sons

Dear birth fathers,


On Mother's Day last month I wrote a letter to our sons' birth mothers. Since I've been thinking about you too, I wanted to write to you on Father's Day.

Earlier this week I took David to a physical therapy appointment. In the waiting room, I noticed an Asian couple with their child in a baby carrier. When the nurse said it was their time to see the doctor, the dad carried the baby back. And I thought about you and how you were with our boys when they were this young. This scene reminded me of how important dads are and how much you might be missing David 丁一凡and Daniel 华明安. Maybe there are certain dates that especially cause you to wonder how they're doing: their birthdays (we have estimate dates in December of 2004 and 2005 but you know the days they were actually born), the days they were taken to the hospital and secretly left in places where they would be found but you wouldn't be discovered for abandoning them, June 1 儿童节 Children's Day...

When I think about a Dad's role in his child's life I think about providing and protecting. I can't imagine how heart-wrenching it must have been for both of you, after waiting with great expectation for 9 months for the births of your children, to discover that they had medical conditions you didn't feel you could provide for. You did your best to care for them for an estimated 1 and 3 months before you and your wives decided that you were not able to keep them. So you protectively wrapped them up, kissed them goodbye, and left them in a safe place in a hospital. Maybe you hid in the shadows, with your heart pounding, until you saw that someone had discovered them and you knew that they would be taken to the Lanzhou orphanage. And then you returned home heavy-hearted and empty-handed.

As I've been reading The Jesus Storybook Bible to Daniel recently, he's been asking questions and telling me his thoughts about the Bible stories. This week as we were reading about how God the Father abandoned Jesus temporarily on the cross, in order for Him to bear the full weight of our sin, I read that Jesus' heart was torn in two. Daniel commented that he thought His Father's heart was torn in two as well.

Just as David and Daniel's hearts were torn with the loss of a father in their lives for 7 and 8 years, we know that your hearts were torn too. A huge loss on both sides.

David has gotten interested in books that are part of a series. He really wants the story to go on. And so it has, in their lives. Book 1 began with their birth families, book 2 was called the Orphanage, and now God is writing the pages of book 3 with our family. Each part of their stories is significant and has shaped them into the special young men that they are.

I believe that you would be proud of them for their resilience, their courage, and their strength. They are both fighters with hearts of compassion. They are overcomers. (Maybe they got these qualities from you.) And they are growing in their understanding that God loves them and has had His hand on them for their entire lives.

You haven't had the opportunity to see your precious sons grow up. We missed years of their lives as well. But we believe that they are children of God and that He has been their Father, their ultimate Provider and Protector, all along.

Even though you didn't hand them directly to us (we wish that could have happened), we thank you for entrusting them to us. We would love for David and Daniel to get to know you.

Happy Father's Day. 父亲节快乐


God bless you,
The Pines


Detoxify=to counteract or destroy the toxic properties of. To remove the effects of poison from.

I'm starting Day 4 of a detox program, trying to help my body get healthier. This morning as I watched a video of a comedian transparently sharing her story of coming to accept her daughter's down syndrome, I was struck by the similarities of the need to be cleansed of toxic thoughts related to special needs parenting.

The past few days, Daniel's limitations have been very much on the surface of life, and I've felt a sadness in my soul.

The school district generously provided summer boxes for our boys with books and activities to stimulate their learning. Daniel's box had a “Bridges” workbook from 3rd to 4th grade. I flipped through it and saw at once that it was way beyond what he could do. But he was so excited about his new book that it felt like I was crushing him to tell him he couldn't start working in it because I wanted to see if I could trade it in for a different one.

Yesterday we picked up a 1st to 2nd grade Bridges book, and he told me he was so excited because he'd waited such a long time for his book. He started working on it before dinner, and I realized with discouragement that almost every page will require instruction, redirection, correction, and more redirection as it's still a stretch beyond where he is (maybe I should have asked for the K-1st grade book). But he's wondering why if he's going into 4th grade does he have a 2nd grade book? I just told him that this one is better for his level and he will be able to do more of the pages. David then pointed out to him that he will probably be the oldest kid at Pioneer next year because most kids are 10-11 in the 5th grade and Daniel is 11 ½. Because he was in the back seat of the van and didn't respond, I couldn't tell how Daniel actually felt about this concept.

The truth is that I don't know the best way to navigate this road of Daniel's growing awareness of the gap. But I feel sure that the key is for me to first accept the gap so that I can better help him accept it and then both of us can help others accept it as well.

David and Daniel came home hot and sweaty from playing basketball at the park yesterday. The first thing Daniel told me as he plopped down in the chair to take off his shoes was, “A boy made fun of me.” That's the first time I've heard him say those words and I felt my stomach tighten. “What happened?” I asked him. He said that the boy was joking about his feet. “What did you do?” I inquired. He said that he just told the boy he'd had surgery and they kept playing. I felt relieved that Daniel had handled the situation well, even though the boy's teasing continued, and that he didn't seem to feel that being on the receiving end of someone's mocking meant that he was less of a person. On the flip side, it was the boy who had a problem of being mean.

I wish that I could protect Daniel from all forms of teasing in his life, but of course I can't. What I can do is help him learn to have a balance of toughness and graciousness. To learn how to speak up for himself, to forgive and let go, and to not internalize insults.

The toxicity that I'm trying to rid my body of is also the toxicity that I want to purge out of my heart.

I can't harbor negative feelings toward insensitive kids who attack and tear down.

I can't dwell on the hurts and disappointments of Daniel's and my growing awareness of the gap between him and other kids his age.

I can't focus on fears of how far he's going to make it educationally, emotionally, socially.

As I drink enzyme-rich, life-giving vegetable juices these days I'm thinking about what I'm really hungry for. What do I crave?

More than delicious food I desire for my gut to be unclogged of years of toxic build up.

More than satisfying my sweet tooth I want to be full of the real Truth.

More than putting “whatever” into my mouth I want to be aware of what I am allowing in.

I believe that the most important truth for me to dwell on and to help Daniel to dwell on is that we are beloved children of God, fearfully and wonderfully made. And that God has a unique purpose for each of us. He enables us to hear His voice and to follow Him. Because only in Him will we find significance and contentment. My "craving" is that Daniel would grow in confidence in how much God loves him and delights in who he is. Fully known and Fully loved. And that he would walk with Him all of his days.

Daniel often talks about being afraid of snakes, but at the library last week he was brave enough to touch a red-tailed boa and even wanted to go back and hang around with the huge snake. He courageously overcame his fears. And so can I.

As I am becoming detoxified, I am trusting anew that
God's work is Unfinished and that He has great things in store.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

To Love Mercy

Watching the Disney movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame this week has caused me to think about outcasts and the idea of sanctuary. As people of faith, do we notice those people suffering on the outside and try to bring them to safety, in an attempt to protect them from harm? Or are we more about trying to keep people out, in an effort to protect ourselves?

Frollo, the villain in the movie, chased a gypsy woman to her death on the steps of the Notre Dame cathedral as she attempted to seek sanctuary for her newborn son. When Frollo discovered that the baby was half-formed he started to dispose of the "worthless" creature. But he instead listened to the priest who said he should raise him as his own. And he kept Quasimodo locked away as a slave in the bell tower.

Twenty years later, an outcast gypsy woman named Esmeralda stood up for Quasimodo at the Festival of Fools where he made his first public appearance and was ridiculed.

This scene from the movie is very moving:

God Help the Outcasts

I don't know if You can hear me
Or if You're even there
I don't know if You would listen
To a gypsy's prayer

Yes, I know I'm just an outcast
I shouldn't speak to You
Still I see Your face and wonder
Were You once an outcast too?

God help the outcasts
Hungry from birth
Show them the mercy
They don't find on earth

God help my people
We look to You still
God help the outcasts
Where nobody will

I ask for wealth, I ask for fame
I ask for glory to shine on my name
I ask for love I can possess
I ask for God and His angels to bless me

I ask for nothing
I can get by
But I know so many
Less lucky than I

Please help my people
The poor and downtrod

I thought we all were
Children of God

God help the outcasts
Children of God

In her book Invitations From God, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun writes, "Jesus' followers follow Jesus' example of humility and vulnerability. They risk his journey of descent--the journey that will be the making of us. Maturity, humility, patience, godliness--these are all fruit of following Jesus. These are the fruit of following Jesus down."

Esmeralda risked her life for Quasimodo at the festival, and he in turn risked his life for her by scaling the cathedral walls and carrying her to safety. A third character joined them in the risk-taking: Phoebus the soldier, who refused to follow Frollo's orders to kill innocent gypsies and courageously stood beside his two new friends. Instead of seeing them as beneath him, he recognized the genuineness of their character and realized that they could teach him the meaning of real friendship.

As these three transformed heroes selflessly protected each other through helping them to find sanctuary, they embodied the challenge of Micah 6:8: "What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with your God."

Esmeralda and Phoebus did not focus on Quasimodo's deformities but on his true beauty, and they helped the townspeople to accept him as one of their heroes as well.

Calhoun states, "Each of our faces reflects a facet of the image and beauty of our Father in heaven."

"We were meant to see our value through the adoring gaze of the Father, who mirrors back to us our worth."

Frollo had convinced the gypsies that they were worthless and that the people of Paris would be better off to be rid of them. But he faced his own judgment at the end of the movie, and the mindset of the people was reversed.

This is the transformative power of love: "Kindness softens hard hearts, disarms the defended, mends the hurting, values the unnoticed, strengthens the weak and brings in God's kingdom. In a hard world, kindness shines with the face of God." (Calhoun)

How is the love of mercy changing your life?
What does the Kingdom of God look like to you?

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Greatness is Found in Humility

"We all have our story, the unique place and family that we come from." CJ shared in his commencement speech two weeks ago. "And during our time at Notre Dame, our stories have become interwoven and linked. We have lived and studied alongside people very different from ourselves, who have become our friends and family. I want to tell you about two of my friends who have shaped my vision for life while being here.

Walking into Jordan Hall for international orientation four years ago, I could not have anticipated that I would meet one of my best friends at school – Majak from South Sudan. This past semester, Majak has been in his home community, Bor-town, pioneering a school for 240 students, through his organization Education Bridge. I have learned deeper magic, the power of sacrifice, from Majak as he gives his life to service in the context of conflict and famine.

Coming to Siegfried Hall, a proud all-men’s residence, little did I know how much our time as Siegfried boys would be shaped by the songs and joy of Ms. Ellen, the champion housekeeper of Siegfried. Ms. Ellen is working in the hall today, serving all the families and visitors during this commencement weekend. She embodies a deeper magic that arises each day and shares God’s love with the world. To Ms. Ellen, I hope you are watching, and to every employee of the University of Notre Dame, in every department, every building, every function – when we say “We are ND” we mean you...

Class of 2017, we would not let our rights be taken from us or our futures dictated to us. Therefore, as you and I leave this stadium, we must fight for others, for their unalienable rights, so that their future becomes their own. Our generation must stand against the scapegoating of Muslims. Our concern for freedom of religion must mean freedom for all religions, not just our own, otherwise none of us is free. We must commit ourselves to make certain that all of our friends and classmates at Notre Dame receive equal rights and respect when they leave this stadium with us...

We believe that greatness is found in humility. It is in giving of ourselves — as we leave today — that we find ourselves. Our time at Notre Dame has taken place within a tradition that explicitly follows the deeper love of Jesus that crosses borders...

We are part of something bigger. We stand on the shoulders of giants, as we carry on the love of our families and the legacy of Father Hesburgh...

Father Hesburgh and Majak

Our calling as we leave this stadium is to get these gowns dirty together, as we wade into muddy waters, as our learning becomes service to justice. When we follow the deeper callings of justice and proclaim the deeper magic of love and sacrifice that connect all of us – no matter which corner of the world we come from, then we will be true to what we have learned at Notre Dame. Then we will be true to our humanity, to the person that God has called each of us to be."

Reverend Gregory Boyle's speech was also very powerful.

"You imagine with God a circle of compassion and then you imagine nobody standing outside that circle. You go from here to dismantle the barriers that exclude.

And there’s only one way to do that: and that is to go where the joy is, which is at the margins, for if you stand at the margins, that’s the only way they’ll get erased, and you stand with the poor, and the powerless and the voiceless. You stand with those whose dignity has been denied, and you stand with those whose burdens are more than they can bear, and you will go from here and have this exquisite privilege once in a while to be able to stand with the easily despised and the readily left out, with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop, and with the disposable, so the day will come when we stop throwing people away...

You go from this place so that other voices get to be heard, and you go equipped with values so eloquently articulated by C.J. earlier, values born in the Acts of the Apostles: see how they love one another. There’s nobody needy in this community...

The measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins but only in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them."



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