Bright as the Noonday

Last year when we came home from our bonding trip with our son in Haiti, I fell into a strange, funky, unfamiliar place. One I could have never anticipated, because the magnitude of what we had just experienced is not one that we could’ve prepared for.

I fully gave my heart to my son. I (we!) bathed him, changed his diapers, fed him, played with him, laughed with him, held him for four hours straight one day as he burned with a fever, kissed him a million times on his soft forehead and smooth cheeks.

I soaked in every little thing about him. His wee fingers got me every time. They were so small, so fragile, so perfect and beautiful.

The day came when I knew I would have to hand him back, walk away, and face the year of uncertainty of when I’d be able to bring him home.

Acute, gut-sickening pain enveloped as I walked away, after about a hundred false goodbyes, because I couldn’t physically force myself to walk the opposite direction of my son.

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That goodbye broke something in me. It changed me. And I felt the full force of it as we returned home and normal life simply…resumed. Everything had changed, and yet nothing had changed. I couldn’t get out of the fog. I couldn’t find how to live with one foot in each of my worlds.

God taught me much here, as God often does. Reliance, aid, breath, stillness, and eventually, He helped me find a balance of living this life in front of me while simultaneously longing for the day that I held in my arms again and goodbyes would be no more.

Today we find ourselves in the very last stages of the adoption and today I feel disappointed by God. I know the real truth to that…but I feel it nonetheless.

Last year, we left a few weeks shy of our son’s third birthday. We sent money so they could buy a cake and balloons and have a party at the orphanage. I wept as pictures came in of him eating cake by the fistful. I wasn’t there and it felt all wrong.

I was NOT going to miss another birthday.

So I began to pray. I have prayed all year long that I would NOT miss another birthday. I’ve missed every single birthday since he’s been born, I couldn’t bear to miss another. I prayed hard that we would not miss one. more. birthday.

This felt so very possible 4 months ago as we neared the end of some big steps. And I rejoiced as I knew God would answer this prayer.

Somehow…who knows how. Our paperwork sat in some kind of floating world of nothingness in between two major steps. Weeks were lost. Weeks I will never get back. And, because of those weeks, I find that we are a week away from my son’s fourth birthday. I find myself arranging the money to get to the orphanage so that he can have a cake and balloons. And I will find myself, once again, looking at pictures of him stuffing a fistful of cake into his mouth. And I won’t be there to wipe away the frosting on his mouth or take him to the bathroom to “lave main!” (wash hands!)

And I’m just plain ole’ disappointed. It was possible, so very possible. I prayed and prayed and prayed for this…and God didn’t make it happen. I don’t understand and I feel like asking God what’s up.

I complained/cried/wallowed to my fellow adoptive mama’s about all of it. They get it. We’ve journeyed this same road together for the last 3 years, and they nod their heads understandingly because they’ve been there too.

They both echoed the same sentiment, “…but he will come home. And when he does, you’ll have a hard time remembering what life looked like before him. And this part will just be the memory of pain….faded and unpleasant, but just a memory.”

And, right on cue, this morning God gave me this passage: Job 11:16-18, “You will forget your misery; you will remember it as waters that have passed away. And your life will be brighter than the noonday; its darkness will be like the morning. And you will feel secure because there is hope; you will look around and take rest in security.”

Brighter. Hope. Rest. Secure.

I told God I was sad and disappointed. I knew He could answer this prayer and yet He didn’t and I won’t ever pretend to understand why. But today He turned my chin upward and whispered, “Brighter. Hope. Rest. Secure.” It doesn’t answer all my questions (if any), but it resets my focus. And, I continue in these last days of angst and waiting and limbo in hope, knowing my son’s hand will soon be in mine. Our future together will be as bright as the noonday. My soul will find rest and a new rhythm when we are finally all together. And, these days of tears because of his absence, will be as waters that have passed away. Because God doesn’t satisfy us by giving us the answers to the “why’s,” He satisfies us by turning our chins upward and filling our longing souls with hope.

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The “Life Verse”

We Christians love to have a “life verse.”

Growing up a PK, I developed a survival technique I like to call, “make fun of everything.”

As I’ve gotten older, I realize I shouldn’t make fun of everything. Things I used to think were corny or ridiculous has begun to make more sense. The idea of a life verse being one of them.

It’s not that there is only one verse that should be important to us. The Bible in its entirety, as the metanarrative, should penetrate every bit of our existence. So to pull out one verse and pray it over our lives can almost seem…silly. Incomplete. It has the potential to fall significantly short. Let’s not even get started on taking the verse out of context. While this is true, I have found a lot of significance in praying a verse over the lives of our children.

Shortly after Lilly was diagnosed with CF, a disease which mainly affects her respiratory system and has no cure, I was reading through the book of Job and I came across this verse, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4) .

The breath of the Almighty gives me life. One word in the CF community is “breathe.” The very essence of life, to breathe.

This became a verse that we could pray over her life, giving thanks to God for creating her and giving her the air in her lungs hour after hour, day after day, month after month, year after year. From this day until her last day, it is God that gives her breath.

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So I succumbed to the life verse.

I believe that while the entirety of the Bible has ultimate authority over our lives, God also uses these little peek-holes in scripture. They serve to encourage us; grow us according to our gifts and/or struggles. We can’t see everything, but we have this little view into what God may have for us. After all, he made us with a unique gift set. Rich soil that is ready to receive, grow, and flourish for God’s glory.

For Wills we prayerfully chose Psalm 119:37, “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.” As every parent knows, each child is so different. As we raise him to be a man of God in a world full of enticing visual, worthless things, we pray that his eyes will be turned away from those worthless things and he finds deep, satisfying joy by walking according to the way of the Lord.

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Then we talked adoption. We prayed, considered, and said yes. We are so close to our son coming home, and are over four years from the date we contracted with our agency. I had no idea the trials we would face during these last four years. But the Lord has sustained and I have this gut-level feeling that God has big plans ahead. Sometimes it has seemed like bringing him home would never happen. But we continued to pray for God to move and His plan to not be thwarted.

Lane and I have had an ongoing discussion of the future and both of us feel like we have been chosen to raise our son to give him back to the Lord. Maybe to give him back to his native country, maybe it’s another country, maybe it’s away from us where it’s risky and scary…who knows. But we DO know that God has a plan for his life, and it doesn’t include me keeping an over-protective white-knuckled grip on him, however much I may want to. Gosh, isn’t that our default as mothers? “He’s mine, Lord. Not yours.”

It’s a verse I’ve recited, and a verse that is pretty well known. It’s even quite “coffee mug worthy.” But I don’t care. I was walking through Hobby Lobby and I saw it. The beautiful words from 1 Samuel 1:27-28, “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give him to the Lord, for his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”

I bought the sign and it’s proudly hanging in his room, waiting for him. If I’m super honest, this prayer makes me nervous. Crazy things happen when you pray these types of prayers. I’d rather stay where it’s safe and cozy, I’d rather not keep jumping off these cliffs of faith. I’d rather think I can keep the son I’ve prayed for for so long.

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But I must pray that God continually pries my tired grip from my illusion of control when it comes to my children. Because I have realized that when the blood has drained from my fingers it’s time to let go. It’s the only way I can fight agains fear, it’s the only way I can breathe. These three children God has charged me with are on loan to me from Him. So I will pray verses over their lives and speak truth into their hearts.

God, give her breath.

God, turn his eyes.

God, make him yours.

 

The Cusp of Change

This morning I was remembering our trip to Haiti, a full year ago now. Meeting Djou, the feeling of immeasurable trepidation, nerves, and surreal reality settling in that this boy is mine. And I’m it for him, his new mom.

And a rush of complete and total inadequacy filled me.

I was suddenly very aware of how I would fail him, not be enough for him, not make all the right decisions. Despite my extensive reading and all the adoption classes, I realized how little I truly knew about raising a child of a different background, language, culture. Surely he has encountered trauma in his short three years on this earth. His mama said goodbye to him on the steps of a Haitian orphanage when he was a little one year old, hoping that someone else could put food in his belly. This mama of his…should have never had to face such an impossible decision, it is beyond our comprehension.

I don’t know a lot about her story. I know her name and her age. I know she has two other children. That is all I know.  Yet I think of her daily, always as I think of this boy that is now my son. He is my son, but it came at a deep, gut-wrenching cost. The brokenness of this world never fails to crush me. If anything, this adoption journey has shown me the real brokenness of the world.

So we are possibly only weeks, maybe days, away from getting a phone call that says, “Djou has a visa. Come and get him!” We are quite literally on the tender cusp of a lot of change in our quiet little lives.

This has me facing a giant wave of all kinds of emotion: joy, love, fear, sorrow, excitement, longing, anxiety, happiness.

Joy because it means we can finally begin life with him. I fell in love with this beautiful brown-skinned boy with a smile that knocks you sideways and a laugh that makes your heart sing.

Fear because of those familiar feelings of inadequacy to fill in the gaping hole of “mommy.” I don’t know enough, haven’t read enough, and I know there are days of failure and frustration ahead for all of us.

Sorrow because for my son, he is losing everything he knows: his country, language, culture, smells, food, caregivers, friends, etc. Sorrow for the mother who brought him into this world, who will be made aware that her son is living in another country with another family. I can only pacify this sorrow with the hope that my son is gaining a family to call his own. Our family that is dedicated to loving him with as much love as anyone could lavish. And I pray that his birth mama is filled with hope that her son will have the world at his fingertips.

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When moments arrive where I face the edge of another cliff, this time higher than the one before, and God asks me to jump….these moments bring me to the only place I can trust: the feet of Jesus. My heart bows before Him and I plea with Him to give me courage and to strengthen my heart. I ask Him to go before me, to be enough, and for grace to abound.

And Jesus whispers, “Breathe. You won’t be enough, but I am enough. Hope surrounds you because I am hope. You have strength and courage because I’ve given it to you. I’ve not only gone before you, I’m already there. Fear not, do not be afraid. All my promises are true. My steadfast love touches every crevice of this life. BREATHE.”

I’m as prepared at this moment as I will ever be. I will learn much on the job. I will always be inadequate. I will always grieve the loss that my son has suffered. I will most likely always wrestle with fear. But in all of this, I keep remembering that it is when I am weak, He is strong. I remain weak so I can draw on His strength.

And one of the biggest gifts of all, I have found so far, is that God chose ME to be part of this redemption story. We enter into this broken mess, and God says, “Now watch as I use you to mend what is broken.” To God be the glory.

God be with us.

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Lilly and Cystic Fibrosis

Hard days never truly touched me while I was growing up as a Pastor’s kid in a small town in rural Michigan.

I thought I would get married and have a family and be happy and undisturbed by suffering.

When we had our daughter Lilly, I was sure that I’d have a healthy baby. Not because I thought I “deserved” it, but because the thought of the alternative was too much to bear. I had not context for a world that had a lot of pain.

She was born with no complications, but was very tiny. I thought,”Oh, she’ll gain weight in no time after I nurse her!”

She didn’t.

She had no chub, not even after 6 months.

She cried a horrible cry after she ate. Her belly was hard and distended. Her poop was oily and greasy, like bacon grease. I felt in my gut that something was wrong.

I told the doctor all about my concerns at her next visit. This doctor looked right at me, gave me a condescending laugh, and said, “You are a typical paranoid first time mom.” As well as, “Your milk isn’t fattening enough. Stop breastfeeding and give her formula.”

I knew in my bones that he wasn’t right. So, I found a new doctor. I told him all of my concerns and he took everything into consideration.

We spent the next week running tests and everything seemed fine, until he said, “I’d like to send her to have a sweat-chloride test. It’s to determine if she has a disease called Cystic Fibrosis.”

We went to the Children’s Hospital and had the test.

Then I got the call from her doctor a few days later. I was changing Lilly’s diaper.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Mindy. It’s Dr. White.” His voice sounded sad and my heart was beating out of my chest. “I’m afraid the test for Cystic Fibrosis came back positive.”

The world stopped.

I don’t remember a lot about what I said during that phone call, but I remember poor Dr. White listening to my crying and panicked questions.

I called Lane in a panic, right in the middle of his school day. He came home and we tried to figure out what life was going to look like from there on out.

I began reading about CF and read things like “incurable disease”-“early death”-“lung transplant”-“life expectancy 35 years”……in the middle of reading about the horrors of CF, I looked over at her. She was in her bouncy chair, slobbering all over a toy. She looked at me and smiled and started bouncing wildly.

In that moment, God whispered something tender into my heart. “She is still here. You are grieving as if she is gone. Her life is in your care, and I chose you to be her mom. I love her more than you can possibly imagine, and I will not abandon you.”

I believe it was in that moment that I realized I’d have to cling to God in a way I never had before. It was necessary, it was air. If I didn’t I would tumble into deep fear, and I had a job to do.

Lilly was 8 months old when she was diagnosed with CF. We spent the next three years learning a new normal, with cupboards full of medications, hospital visits, a new vernacular, and a new rhythm of life.

By the time she was three, we felt we had it down pretty well. So it begged the question: what do we do about more children? It’s complicated with CF. People with CF should never be around other people with CF. They easily pass communicable diseases to one another and if they are together for any length of time, they will become sick. Very sick. I was advised that “if” we were to have another child with CF, to not allow them to hug or kiss. Which, of course, is impossible.

Our options were limited. Abortion of a “fetus” if CF was detected during pregnancy was even suggested. That broke my heart that perhaps some families considered this as a viable option. As if my right to an “easier” life trumped a CF baby’s life.

So, it came down to choosing to have another baby and trusting God with the outcome, come what may. Or, being content with one child. Adoption down the road, perhaps?

I remember sitting with Lane on the porch swing, watching Lilly play, and saying, “Honestly, I think I’m ok with just her. It’s not what I imagined for our lives, but I’m content just being her mom.”

Time passed and we prayed about the “big gamble”….have another baby and take our chances or call it quits?

It was honestly a matter of trust. Did I trust God enough with what should come? Do I believe that He is good, will never abandon me, and will be enough in all situations? Sure, I “believed” it….but did I BELIEVE IT.

We decided to trust God, feeling like He wouldn’t allow me to throw in the towel with children just yet.

I got pregnant with Wills and struggled mightily with fear of the unknown. I constantly had to choose to put my trust in God, minute by minute.

I begged God to allow him to be healthy. William was born on May 9, 2007. Everything went well and I tried to simply enjoy this newborn in my arms before worrying about the future.

And on the day that Dr. White called me with his cord-blood test results, his voice sounded excited. “I have WONDERFUL NEWS! William does not have CF. Not only that, he carries NONE of the CF mutated genes. He is a perfectly healthy baby!”

We were in Wendy’s. Lane and I sunk to the floor and cried with desperate relief. I just kept repeating, “Thank you, God. Thank you, God. Thank you, God.” Wills was two weeks old.

I knew that Wills was my last biological baby. Sure, I had to grieve the fact that I wouldn’t carry any more children. But, I felt like I was granted an extra blessing by having Wills in the first place. He was extra! He was bonus! And he was HEALTHY! We felt we could close the chapter of child-birthing and feel as blessed as ever.

The desire to adopt came much later. We chose to adopt because we felt called, it was a desire to be obedient. A desire to be part of a redemption plan in a broken world. A desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We weren’t trying to grow our family, we were actually totally content with our little family of four.

I’ve learned that when I am living in full submission to God, I have a growing desire to please Him and bring Him glory. I want to empty myself so that He can fill me. My heart begins to break for the things that break His heart. And when I live in this state of open-handedenss, God moves and works.

So while selfishly, I would’ve loved to stay in a place of ease, where God wouldn’t ask anything else of me, after all, hadn’t I passed the test of trust?  I knew however, to do that would be to close my hands and live in disobedience.

It’s been through the darkest of times, the valleys, the depths of despair, that God has taught me the most. And I’ve felt the blessing that comes with brokenness, and joy can live with pain simultaneously.

Lilly is now 13. She is the perfect picture of health and vitality. I believe with all my heart that is God’s protection and blessing. He’s granted her health and it’s freed us up to say YES to the difficult road of adoption.

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Eyes to See

The Old Testament can be tricky to read and beyond reading the big stories of the Old Testament, it’s tempting to overlook the words in between, and go to the New Testament where we feel more at home.

But there’s so much goodness in these ancient texts, so much to learn about God here. And as challenging as it can be, it’s worth pushing through and seeing what God will teach us here about who He is.

In the Old Testamnet, if you are going off of your knowledge learned in Sunday school, you might have vague memories of some of the bigger stories like the 10 Commandments or David and Goliath. You also may think that the Old Testament characters are something like heroes, and that God chose the best of the best.

If you’re familiar with your Bible, you know this is not true. At ALL. Especially with David. He was insignificant and least likely off all men to take the throne of Israel. He had a heart that reflected God’s heart. Yet, there was Bethsheba and that whole debaucle. But David still had screw-ups after this massive failure, yet over and over the Bible speaks of God’s steadfast love for him, as well as David’s heart being fully devoted to the Lord.

David always comes back to God. Always. His failure gives him great sorrow, not because of the consequences, but because He has sinned against His God. “Against you and you alone have I sinned and done which is evil in your sight.” Psalm 51:4.

Second Samuel 24:18-25 and First Chronicles 21 give parallel accounts. The account in First Chronicles offers more details of David’s failure that resulted in pestilence on the land and people of Israel.

Chapter 21 begins, “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.” He then told Joab, the Commander of David’s army, to carry out the command of the census. Joab disagreed with David, but since David was King, he couldn’t refuse. So the census was taken and reported to David.

“But God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Isreal. And David said to God, ‘I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing.'” (1 Chronicles 21:7-8).

The King taking a census doesn’t exactly seem sinful or worthy of harsh punishment…but it wasn’t the actual census that was sinful, it was of course David’s heart in the matter. Perhaps it was David’s pride and military ambition…but either way, David did something that was not commanded by God.

In nearly all of David’s dealings, He inquires of God first. Then takes action. In this instance, he took action but did not wait for God to give the command.

With God, obedience is of utmost importance.

The land of Israel was struck with a great pestilence and many died. God also sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it. “…but as he was about to destroy it, the Lord saw, and he relented from the calamity. And he said the the angel who was working the destruction, ‘It is enough; now stay your hand.’ And the angel of the Lord was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. And David lifted lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth, and in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem.” (1 Chronicles 21:14-15).

At this point, we get this tingle of a memory from another story, Abraham and Isaac. When God stops destruction and death at the very last second, a hand raised with sword in hand,  the blow of death anticipated. God intervenes and relents, giving mercy.

Because David is penitent, his plea for mercy is granted. Here is where the site of the threshing floor that David purchased for “full price” is so significant. He buys the site of the threshing floor, makes an alter, and offers burnt offerings to the Lord. The pestilence is lifted and David is once again reconciled with God Almighty.

This site is later identified as Mount Moriah (2 Chronicles 3:1), the same place Abraham was told to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. The same place that God chose, through David’s son Solomon, to build His holy temple.

This threshing floor location is significant to God. It is here He passes judgement, listens to His people, grants mercy and forgiveness, bestows blessing, and redeems His people.

God never wastes these words found in the Old Testament. It is so tempting to overlook the significance of these accounts, and to not put in the effort to look beyond and see the story God is telling. Even the site of this threshing floor, a place bought with a price, a place where judgement is due but God makes a way for fellowship and forgiveness with His people. A place that God chose to set up residence.

Here, in the middle of pestilence and sin, God makes a way for His children. It foreshadows the events to come almost 500 years later, when God would send His son Jesus to make a way for His children to have communion with Him, through the line of David.  Judgement is imminent until the Cross. He rescues us. He paid full price. At the cross, he grants mercy and forgiveness, bestows blessing, and redeems His people once and for all. A dirty, hard threshing floor; a rough, crude cross. Each make a way for those in Christ to have forgiveness of sin and communion with our Creator.

So if you’re reading the Old Testament, ask God to give you eyes to see and ears to hear. Every part of His word allows us to learn more about Him, who He is, and His steadfast love for us .

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Welcome to the Threshing Floor

Last year I began reading through the Old Testament, slowly and purposefully. In all honesty, my reading faltered from time to time because I felt I wasn’t walking away enriched and encouraged, like I often did when I would spend my mornings in the Psalms or the gospels or any of Paul’s letters. But I kept feeling the prompting of the Holy Spirit to keep looking, asking God each morning give me eyes to see.

There were moments I literally laughed out loud (2 Kings 2:24), when a group of boys were taunting Elisha, he cursed them, and suddenly two “she-bears” came out of the woods and “tore forty-two of the boys.” I mean. Wait, what?

However, I also kept coming across the term “threshing floor.” This is an Old-Testament specific phrase, and only mentioned twice in the New Testament. (Matthew 3:12 and Luke 3:17). The threshing took place during the harvest, where the grain was removed from the husk and the false grain was separated from the wheat in a rather violent beating process. Afterwards, in a process called winnowing, they would toss the stalks up in the air in hopes that the wind would carry away the rest and they only had the good, valuable stuff left. (Paraphrase, David Reagan, “Learn the Bible”)

Over and over the threshing floor was mentioned, and I paid special attention because it seemed so symbolic. Indeed, the threshing floor symbolizes a place of both blessing and judgement. In 2 Samuel 24:18-25, David is going to build an alter to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. (Jebusites were the previous inhabitants of Jerusalem, and some still lived there.) Araunah was fully prepared to give the King the site, as well as oxen for the burnt offering.

Then David says, “No, I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that costs me nothing.”

So often we lay down our “offerings” to the Lord and it cost us nothing to do so. All throughout the Bible, when God chooses His servants, it costs them everything. When fear and doubt creep in, we are often tempted to take control to help God out. We end up making a mess of things, yet God in His infinite grace, still accomplishes His will through us.

And it always, always, costs.

 

When we had the first inklings of adoption, I said to God, “Ok, I’m up for adoption. But I’m thinking, like, drop a baby at our doorstep, like they do in Lifetime movies, and I will say, ‘Wow! A baby! Let’s adopt him!'” He’d of course be perfect and everything would be tied up with a pretty bow. And, best of all, it would cost me nothing. In other words…obedience without sacrifice.

God gave me the opposite story. This journey has been long. Arduous. Painful. Humbling. I’ve been filled with fear and doubt and have faced more spiritual attacks in four years than I have in my entire life. But it’s also taken me to the hard, dirty surface of the threshing floor. I’m the stalk that has been slammed to the ground, tossed in the air, and stripped of the worthless fibers that padded my life. And the valuable kernels have fallen to the ground, and gleaned for His glory.

So from now on, I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing. Because I’ve learned that in the threshing, in the pain of the price, God proves to be more than enough. Not just enough…bountiful. A deep, inexhaustible well that fills the soul.

And I’d rather have the valuable kernels that are gathered and used, than the worthless chaff that the wind carries away in the smallest of breezes.

Oh to be people of God who refuse the easy way and instead we say, “I will not offer my offering to the Lord that costs me nothing.” And gladly surrender all that we have to the Lord our God.

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