A gift

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Around Thanksgiving of last year, after considering and beginning the process of the placement of a 2 year old boy, we made the difficult decision to stop the placement and temporarily put on hold our adoption process. This began a difficult time for me of deconstructing all of my previous ideas about who I thought God was, who I thought I was, and what grace really means in my life.

One of the most difficult things for me since that time has been knowing that I had no right to any more information about where little S was placed and how he was doing. We had made our decision and one of the consequences of that decision was not knowing the rest of the story for little S. This was an almost daily battle for me. I used to be a foster care and adoption case manager, I know first hand what happens to children when they begin bouncing around the system. I struggled constantly against guilt at feeling like I had abandoned little S. I had to constantly pray that God would give me peace.

A few weeks ago we were scheduled to have our quarterly meeting with our case manager. Before she came I prayed a lot because I knew the temptation to ask her about little S would be very strong. I didn’t want to ask because I didn’t want to be selfishly trying to ease my own guilt. I had to trust that we made the best decision we could at that time and I had to trust God for the outcome, even if I never knew what the outcome was.

As we were talking our case manager volunteered information about little S. Everything she said indicated that he is in a home where he is loved and thriving. Other details confirm some other hesitations we had about the placement and that the home he is in now is the right place for him to be right now.

This information was a complete gift to me. I did not deserve it, or even have the right to it. But I see it as a loving gift from God, showing me that I can let go of my guilt and continue to trust Him with our future. It showed me that sometimes it is okay to “listen to my heart” and make a decision based on a feeling, or emotion. That maybe God, through the Holy Spirit, even uses our feelings and emotions to guide us. The gift of this information has freed me live more joyfully and confidently, one day at a time. I don’t know what the future holds. Our hearts continue to be burdened for children in difficult circumstances. I continue to feel passionately about adoption. Maybe we will adopt kids in the future. Maybe God will use us in others ways. I don’t have the answers and that is okay. There is joy in knowing that we are doing our best to follow God’s leading today and we can trust Him to work out the details of tomorrow, next month, and years to come.

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how long?

To see the law by Christ fulfilled, to hear His pardoning voice
Can change a slave into a child and duty into choice
No strength of nature can suffice to serve the Lord aright
And what she has she misapplies for want of clearer light

How long, how long beneath the law I lay
How long, how long I struggled to obey

Then to abstain from outward sin was more than I could do
Now If I feel its power within, I feel I hate it too
Then all my servile works were done, a righteousness to raise
Now, freely chosen in the Son, I freely choose His ways

How long, how long beneath the law I lay
How long, how long I struggled to obey
How long, how long in bondage and distress
How long, how long I tried without success…

credits

from The River, released 22 July 2012 by Wayfarer

This song has been on repeat at our house recently. I feel like it accurately expresses the cry of my heart recently. For so long I lived as a slave, following God’s law because it was expected of me or because it was the right thing to do or because I thought I could earn God’s love. The harder I tried to follow the law the more despondent I became because I knew I could not follow the law. I am so thankful that the past few months have taught me the glorious truth of the free gift of grace in new and meaningful ways. I truly feel like I have been released from bondage and am free to love God and follow His law out of joy and freedom!

 

Holy Week

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It’s Holy Week and my heart is tender. I want the daily routine of life to stop so that I can ponder and pray. The history of the world changed in this week. Jesus walked willingly to the cross and the curtain between God and man was torn in two forever. In this week death and sin were smashed to pieces and all things were begun to be made new again. Doesn’t this warrant a few minutes of quiet? How can I not spend this week on my knees?

Yet this morning I scratched out the week on a scrap of paper and every day has something extra that has to be done. Every day has something besides the regular home schooling, meal planning, laundry, house cleaning.

I am experiencing Lent in a new way this year. I feel more still. My heart has been quiet and calmed and I search amongst the daily lists and messes for grace. In fact I am seeing that grace is more true and real in the midst of the daily lists and messes. I am slowly losing the need to perform. Last week was messy as I fought a sinus infection and tried to implement consistent discipline. There was struggle against pride. Struggle against sin. Struggle against selfishness.

That of course is exactly why Holy Week matters. The struggle against sin continues, but at that moment in time the battle was won! On a day when I have spoken impatiently, my words have cut deep, my selfishness has hurt others I know that the price has been paid and I do not have to continue in guilt and shame. This week I pause in the midst of the daily struggle and marvel at the sacrifice. Jesus suffered for me. Because he loves me. Grace.

Lent

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Today is Ash Wednesday, the day on the church calendar that begins the Lenten season. The quiet, somber mood of the season seems appropriate to me right now. I feel heavy in my spirit. Like the psalmist I feel “my sin is ever before you.” I am aware of the depth and sorrow of my sin in ways I never knew before. My heart feels tender and tears come easily.

This morning I cleared out my blog reader of all but a few blogs that always encourage me. I didn’t do this for some kind of Lenten fast, I just need space. I need quiet. I need to not feel guilty about what I am not doing because the guilt I heap upon myself is enough. I need to just be. I need the emotional and physical space to allow myself to walk through these feelings of grief and guilt and mourning. I need to stop numbing myself with media and distractions.

This morning I read:

Ancient, likewise, is the season of Lent, when the Christian is encouraged to think of her death and the sin that caused it – to examine herself, to know herself so deeply and well that knowledge becomes confession. But ancient, too, is the consolation such an exercise provides, ancient precisely because it is eternal. It is this: that when we genuinely remember the death we deserve to die, we will be moved to remember the death the Lord in fact did die – because his took the place of ours. Ah, children, we will yearn to hear the Gospel story again and again, ever seeing therein our death in his, and rejoicing that we will therefore know a rising like his as well.  – Reliving the Passion by Walter Wangerin, Jr. pg 22

There is the beautiful promise of grace!  The promise that I cling to even on the days when I can’t possibly believe it is true. The words that God whispers over and over again, “I love you!”

Zacchaeus didn’t have to do anything to make Jesus love him. And neither do you. Because, you see, God’s love is a free gift. You can’t earn it. You don’t deserve it. You can’t pay for it. You  need only open your hands to receive it.            – Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones & Jago

I don’t walk through Lent as an exercise in self-despair or self-condemnation or self-deprivation. No, this is a process of examining myself and knowing myself and through that examination being pointed again to God’s love for me. It is a process of clinging to the promise that something new will rise.

When Satan tempts me to despair

And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me                                                                                                                                                                         (words by Chris Rice)

a bit discouraging

After a week of feeling much better and more like myself I was hit again with my “mystery illness” on Thursday night. And this time it was really discouraging. It is discouraging to feel exhausted all the time, to not have any interest in anything, to feel nauseous constantly, to wonder if tomorrow will bring any change, to wonder if this is physical or psychological or maybe a bit of both.

It is looking less likely that I will have a quick solution or explanation for this illness. So how do I have love and grace even when I feel so discouraged and unlike myself?

– I pace myself and let go of the bulk of my “to-do” list.

– I give myself time and margin to take things slow and get rest when I need it.

– I control my tongue, even when I want to spew in frustration.

– I apologize when I don’t control my tongue.

– I find ways to continue to engage and enjoy my kids even with my lack of energy – stories on the couch, games, movies together, plenty of extra snuggle time.

– I praise my kids for the extra independence they are showing and the ways they help.

– I follow up with my doctor.

– I schedule an appointment with a counselor.

– I thank my husband for all the ways he is picking up my slack and serving all of us so faithfully and unselfishly.

– I call a friend and let myself cry when I am feeling discouraged.

– I give myself grace to just let things be and enjoy each moment as it comes.

grace-filled discipline

One of my sons was having a rough day. All of the typical sins that he struggles with were bubbling at the surface. He lost privileges. He spent time in time-out. By the end of the afternoon a particular indecent got him sent to his room. I was at my wits end. I was grieved not only at the behavior but at the state of his heart that was being revealed.

After giving us both some time to cool off I knocked quietly on his door and asked to talk to him. I sat on the chair next to his bed and quietly explained why his behavior was wrong. I said, “You were acting like a bully toward your brother.” Tears began to fall down his face as his chin quivered. I saw his heart go from hard to soft in the blink of an eye. I opened my arms and he somehow managed to curl his growing body on to my lap. His whole body shook as he cried.

“Can you tell me what you are feeling?” I questioned gently.

“It hurt my feelings when you called me a bully!” was the answer.

“Were or were you not being a bully?”

“I was.” brought on more tears.

“I know that you don’t want to be a bully. I am thankful to see that being shown your sin causes you to be sad. Our sin should make us sad because it is rebellion against God. It is wrong and it hurts others. But let me ask you something else, why did Jesus come and die on the cross?”

“To forgive us of our sins.” This son of mine knows the answer in his head.

“That’s right. God’s love, grace, and forgiveness are so great that He will forgive you when you act like a bully. Isn’t that great news?! He knows that you will sin and act like a bully some times, that is why He sent Jesus to rescue you. Our sin makes us sad but we don’t have to stay sad. We can ask God for forgiveness, feel His love, and then be joyful because we know that nothing we can ever do will cause Him to stop loving us!”

We prayed together confessing sin and thanking God for His forgiveness and love with the afternoon light streaming in like a benediction.

Five Minute Friday: Afraid

In the past few weeks I have come to a realization. I have spent most of my adult, spiritual life afraid of God. Afraid of losing his love. Afraid of not performing well enough. Afraid of not being radical enough, not giving enough. Afraid that I am selfish, seeking comfort, luke-warm. Afraid that I am not doing enough “big things” to serve him. Afraid that I don’t have enough faith. Afraid that when I stand before him I will be turned away as one of the goats who thought she was a sheep.

The thing about fear is that it steals joy. So I have also spent most of my adult, spiritual life desperately trying to find joy. I tried to pry the fruit of the Spirit from my frightened soul and despaired when that didn’t work.

When we decided not to pursue adoption right now all of my fears came bubbling to the surface. Everything that I thought about God and my faith was laid bare because in my mind I had failed. And the fear threatened to paralyze me.

Then the most amazing thing began to happen. I  began to see love. Everywhere. There was love in the people around me, and in the Bible, and in the world outside my door, and in blog posts like this, and in the still small voice that kept whispering to my heart in the darkness of the night, “I love you!” I was astonished at the love that I knew I didn’t earn or deserve but was receiving anyway.

As I allow the pure, unconditional, unadulterated love to pour in the fear is fleeing and the joy is coming.

The count starts again

A few years ago I started a list. Inspired by Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience I started writing down my thousand gifts. This simple habit caused quite a change in my usual Eeyore-like demeanor. It is safe to say that I am not usually a “glass half full” type of person. Starting the list seemed self indulgent to me. It seemed like a modern “feel good” exercise and I was skeptical as to just what the outcome of it would be. As I scratched out my list in a notebook, everything from the seemingly mundane to the miraculous, I began to notice things. I began to see beauty all around.  I began to see how much I was loved. My focus changed and I saw that even on the most difficult of days my heart could see God’s goodness to me.

But at some point I stopped counting. The list stopped abruptly somewhere in the 700’s for reasons I don’t remember. Maybe I thought I got the point? Maybe I got lazy? Maybe I turned a joyful exercise into a requirement? Count on me to turn a joyful experience into a task and rob it of its joy. At the fresh start of this year, in which I am on a quest to discover more of grace, I decided to take up the Joy Dare again. I picked up my pen and a crisp new notebook and started to number the gifts again, starting back at #1 because there is grace to begin again. It feels comfortable and seven days into the new year I feel the joy in the counting return. I take a moment to notice the sky, the blossoms, the twinkle of lights against the rainy day, the sparkle in my son’s eye, the steady arms of my husband. In this renewed habit I begin again to see the everyday beauty of God’s love for me. Each gift scratched in pen a testament to love. Not just a general, all-encompassing love but specific love. For me. It’s mind boggling really.

 

Taking the dare to see joy and count God’s gifts

1. Aaron’s “I love you” 2. Nathaniel’s giggle 3. Jeremiah playing with Lego’s

4. camilla blooms 5. our cozy school room 6. left over tacos for lunch

7. quiet in the sunroom while I shower, which means the boys are getting along 8. Nathaniel singing praise songs in the aisle at Costco 9. Aaron & boys doing devotions

10. well loved Christmas decorations 11. big stack of new library books 12. bright blue sky after days of rain!

13. the book “Because He Loves Me” by Elyse Fitzpatrick, life giving! 14. a clean house 15. Aaron & Nathaniel on the couch watching football together

16. gifts for friends – just because 17. lots of fresh fruits and veggies 18. a growing awareness of what it means to be loved unconditionally by God

What are you seeking?

This morning I was blithely reading in the book of John again. John the Baptist has revealed Jesus to be the Christ and two of his disciples leave him and start following Jesus. Jesus turns to them and said, “What are you seeking?” (John 1:38). Such a personal, thoughtful question. That Jesus, the Son of God, would ask them this question is astounding to me. “What are you after?” (The Message).

This today is my grace. This question from Jesus, spoken to two disciples a few thousand years ago but also to me today. This gentle probing that acknowledges my lack of confidence, encourages me to look into my heart, and implies that what I seek I will find in Him.

This today is my grace. That I don’t have to have all the answers today. I don’t have to rush ahead trying to fix my own insecurity or to prove my worth. I can look at Jesus, who has already done everything for me, and rest calm in his knowledge of my seeking.

“Because He Loves Me”

bookI was looking for something to read the other day and ran across this book. The author’s name sounded familiar and the description sounded like it would dovetail well with my pursuit of grace and love. The Kindle Edition was only $3.99 so I went ahead and ordered it. Just a few pages in she asks some questions,

– Are you more focused on your performance for him than his for you?
– At the end of the day is there a rest in your soul because of him, or is there guilt and a determination that tomorrow you’re going to “do better’?
– Do you still feel the need to prove that you’re not “all that bad”? Do you get angry when people criticize or ignore you?

I knew I needed to keep reading.

I have made it through chapter one, savoring, writing down quotes, pondering. Here are some quotes I have written in my journal:

” If we’re not completely convinced that his love is ours, right now, fully and unalterably ours, we’ll always hide in the shadows, be focused on our performance, fearing his wrath.”

” If you neglect to focus on God’s love for you in Christ, your Christianity will soon be reduced to a program of self improvement – just one of many methods to help you ‘get your act together.'”

” If you’re in Christ today, God’s promise of relationship and identity with him is rooted in his ageless love: I have loved you so much that I sent my Beloved Son to bring you to myself, that in believing this you might have eternal relationship with me. I will be your God, you will be my child. Rest and rejoice in all my love has done to transform you.”

As I read through the book of John and through this book I feel my soul being refreshed. I am seeing the person of Christ in a new way. I don’t know how I missed it before – this reality of Christ being a physical manifestation of God’s love, not just as a person in history, but as my Savior.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. -Ephesians 1:3-6