Wednesday’s Child

She was five and we were sitting on the bed together. I was passively watching the evening news while editing one of her brother’s homeschool writing papers while she played with a couple of stuffed animals.

openadoptioninsight.org

openadoptioninsight.org

“Will you give me away?” she asked, jolting my attention away from correcting Joey’s common overuse of commas.

The news channel that was on did a weekly spot called Wednesday’s Child which showed children who needed foster families. I had noticed the children were always black or hispanic. That day, my little bi-racial daughter seemed to notice this for the first time. As I asked questions, I realized she was wondering why these children didn’t have parents and understood they had been “given away” by them.

That was our first “real” conversation about her adoption. I explained to her that God brought her to our family…forever. The children she saw on TV needed a family but she would never need a family. She had one and we would never let her go.

“Honey, no one will ever take you away and Daddy and Mommy will never give you away. No matter what happens, you’re ours.” A faint smile appeared on her adorable round face and I squeezed her tight. It was a holy moment for me that I hope to never forget; a moment where I asked the Lord to seal in her little heart that having a Mommy and Daddy who loved her was super important and could help her through whatever the future brought.

Over the years since then we’ve had other conversations. Each time the content deepens and each time she learns a little more about the circumstances surrounding her adoption.

In a recent conversation with a friend I was lamenting that I wished I had known years ago some of the things I understand about God and His ways now. I surmised that if I had been more attentive to His word or sought to know and understand Him more deeply I may have been able to avoid some trials along the way — like a few through which I am currently walking.

Her response resulted in me doing what my friend Ginny calls “processing.” She explained that because we are God’s children He can’t divulge all of who He is at once. As we mature He is able to disclose more of Himself to us. My daughter is able to grasp more about the complex issues of adoption now than when we had our first conversation fifteen years ago. Likewise, as we Christians grow spiritually,God is able to entrust us with more about who He is and how we have gotten to where we are today.

Honestly, I don’t always like what providence brings. Sometimes I wish for days gone by when simple answers like “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so” satisfied me. Dealing with aging, living in a fallen world full of my and others sin, and too frequently battling anxiety about what the future holds for me and those I love forces me to run to God for help. Feeding on milk was way easier than the solid food required of me now.

But when I run for help I still don’t typically get what I want. You see, what I too often want is either for someone or something to change when God’s agenda is a change in me. Will I trust Him when I’m completely out of control of my circumstances? Can His plan actually be better than mine? Is He powerful enough to sustain and strengthen me when I want to give up? Are the difficulties through which I’m walking building rather than tearing down my confidence that He is in control and everything He does is good (thanks, Mom)?

Yes, growing up in Christ means having to wrestle with aspects of who I am and who He is in a different way than I could handle when I was younger. Living in a broken, fallen world is just plain hard way more often than I anticipated. Somehow I got the idea that growing in godliness and knowing Christ better would mean an “abundant life” that meant less hard stuff.

But when it’s time for Him to go a little deeper in His communication with me I find something amazing every time: I find that I am His. Forever. Even when nothing changes but my perspective, there is comfort simply in having a loving Father.

The truth is I was Wednesday’s Child before He adopted me. Knowing that He will never give me away helps me to navigate the complex issues Christian maturity requires. After all, knowing I’m loved is super important and can help me through whatever the future brings.

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A Vineyard? In the Desert?

To speak of the past 6 months as a “desert” experience feels like an exaggeration. I have not been consistently depressed or gloomy, and have had some wonderful experiences — like watching the birth of Redeemer Church. But there have been dark times when I’ve felt weary, depressed, fearful and hopeless that certain things would ever change. Even my times with the Lord, which over the years have often been the joy of my day, required unusual effort. And there have been too many days when I gave into the temptation to allow busyness or sleep to to crowd out my devotions.

One day I was especially hopeless and realized my longing for heaven was increasingly tainted with a desire for relief from the fatigue, stress and “hardness” of life.

Then I remembered a time when I felt that before.

15 years ago I went through a similar season when I first had the thought: “This is why people can get to the point where they just wanna die.” While I had no intention to commit suicide, there was a new empathy for the hopelessness that, when left un-helped, could lead someone to think death was their only escape. Until then, I really didn’t understand how life could become so hard or sad or painful that self-inflicted death was appealing. One of the fruits of suffering is greater compassion and less self-righteousness over how others handle hardship.  Such a gift.

Back then, a couple of verses tucked away in the Book of Hosea became a source of great comfort to me.

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope” (2:14-15).

Whether you are going through a hard or perplexing season now, or will in the future, I hope this verse will cause you to be curious as it did me.

More on that tomorrow.

The Desert Within

What comes to mind when you think of the desert? For east coast Americans, our only reference is media imagery: bright sun, endless sand, little or no life forms, no food, and no water.  Not a place I want to visit, much less hang out!

Yet the Bible has a lot to say about deserts, probably because the typography of many Bible story locations are deserts or semi-deserts.

Just think about it: The Israelites had to pass through the desert to get to the promised land that was flowing with milk and honey. David hid in the desert from Saul (1 Samuel 1) and Elijah spent some considerable time there while in danger, too (1 Kings 19).  And, of course, Jesus had his amazing encounter with Satan in the Judean desert (Matthew 4).

I’ve recently been encouraged by remembering that Paul was knocked off his horse and converted in the desert on his way to Damascus, after which he spent three whole years in Arabia (Galatians 1) being prepared for the history-changing ministry God had for him.

Desert experiences are hard. But the really good news is that they always result in sweet fruit.

Real deserts are one thing. But dark nights of the soul (a widely used phrase from a poem by 16th century mystic Saint John of the Cross) are deserts within. Some of the symptoms can include:

  • Praying for years for something that hasn’t happened and battling fear or unbelief that God cares.
  • Feeling demotivated and disengaged from things and activities you used to love.
  •  Wondering if long held dreams and goals will ever happen.
  • Battling depression and hopelessness.
  • Wanting to withdraw from people; having to force yourself to go to meetings, hang out with people; etc.
  • Struggling with self-pity and gloominess.
  • General feeling of “going through the motions”; lacking joy.

Are you in the desert? If this list describes you all or in part, consider doing what I did recently and see your doctor to discover if there are things beyond your control that are playing a part in your struggles. Then let people know you’re hurting. For some reason, going through dark times is not something about which we Christians talk to each other. We are too often tempted to put on a happy face and feel ashamed to disclose the desert within.

But what freedom comes when we humble ourselves and say, “I’m not doing well. Can you pray for me?”

More tomorrow on my desert journey.  The hard time I have been walking through doesn’t compare to that of so many who have struggled far longer and for far more serious reasons. If you’re not struggling right now, thank God…and maybe think of someone you know who could use some encouragement.

Because there’s always hope.

Made for Another World

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said, “Most people, if they really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise…if I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Have you noticed that when you go through rough times, heaven becomes more inviting?

I remember hearing my mom talk about looking forward to heaven. I thought it was because she was old and had stopped having fun in life. Talking about Jesus coming back or how dying is hard only for those left behind — but not for the person that was lost — was kinda freaky to me. I didn’t want Jesus to come back until I was married…had kids…enjoyed life more!

Over the past several years I’ve walked through some hard times. Nothing life-threatening, and certainly nowhere near the level of suffering of others I know. These trials have tutored me in several ways (more on that another time). Recently, the Lord has been showing me that one thing suffering does is reveal the longing for heaven that I heard from and saw in my mother.

I think part of this longing comes from realizing that Lewis was right. A suffering-free life would tempt me to believe that this world can satisfy.

One of my favorite songs over the past year is called “Blessings” by Laura Story. It ends with these words:

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?
And what if trials of this life,
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise?

You and I were made for another world: a world where our greatest longings will all be fulfilled.

What is going on in your life currently that is tempting you to be discouraged? Could the Lord be using the daily grind and fatigue of caring for a new baby to gently warn you not to find your identity in motherhood alone? What if the challenges you are facing at work are revealing a hidden root of selfish ambition that could mean you think your job title or salary define your worth? Or what if the perplexing difficulties you are walking through with friends in your church are intended by God to lovingly point you to the only One who won’t reject, leave or disappoint you?

Nothing or no one in this world can really satisfy. Our identity is in Christ…alone. And any struggle, disappointment, suffering or trial that comes that reveals “a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy” is a mercy. And the disguise isn’t as elusive to me now as it used to be.

I’m smiling…and realizing this is why Mom loved to talk about heaven.

P.S.  Listen to “Blessings” here.

joy.will.come

If you are a regular reader, you know I’m going through a challenging time.  And over the past few days, my sadness has increased because of weighty trials some dear friends are walking through. I feel helpless. Void of anything meaningful to do or say to help them. (In fact, one attempt to help wasn’t helpful due to my insensitivity and poor timing.) Tempted to fear for future things.

Then last night at my Community Group someone asked if they could share their own struggles and battles with discouragement.  She didn’t have to be coerced to open up, but volunteered to.  As I watched her humility and the group’s tender care for her, I was aware we were in the presence of our loving, gentle, caring Father.  I watched Him incarnate Himself through a group of flawed, broken people who simply wanted to love a friend. She left encouraged and hopeful.

I did, too. It was edifying and helpful to hear the loving questions and compassionate counsel she received.  The care she received washed over onto me.

Then this morning, someone at the meeting sent me a link (below) to a song I had never heard.

Are you hurting for yourself or someone you love today? Are you experiencing heart-wrenching trials? Is someone you love hurting so badly that only the help of THE Comforter and Wonderful Counselor will suffice?

Listen to this.

joy.will.come.

He is faithful.  There is hope.  SO grateful.

I’m also grateful for those of you who visit here.  Thanks for giving me a place where I can both gush about my grandchildren and admit I’m hurting.

And if you think of our dear friends who are hurting this week, please say a prayer. God knows their situation and will lead you. Thank you!

A New Look at Romans 8:28

Recently I’ve been thinking about the present tense of Romans 8:28: “All things work together for good…”

I typically don’t see the “good” of the “all things” in my life or the lives of those I love until later. Then I think, “God, you’re so faithful.  All things worked together, just like you said.”  The insinuation of that comment is that the good didn’t come until the very end when enough time had passed for God’s glory and goodness to happen.

But Paul didn’t say, “All thing will work” or “All things have worked” or even “All thing might work.”  His God-inspired word “work” was intentional by our wise and sovereign Father.

This verse has been on my heart recently because I’ve been walking through some personal challenges. Nothing urgent or life-altering. But hard nonetheless.

The Holy Spirit has been consistently reminding me that God’s work is being done today; this hour; this minute. Things are working together day by day and situation by situation in my life that I will someday recognize as good. The disappointments; painful situations happening to those I love; uncertainties; disagreements; worries; and perplexities I am facing are for my good now and not just sometime in the future.

What good is at work this week in my friend’s cancer?

What glorious purpose is there in the anxieties I’m having right now about my child’s relationship with the Lord?

How was good happening last Thursday during Benny’s and my conflict?

The questions for me are these:  Do I really believe that even in the midst of my sinful fretting, unkind words and temptations to distrust Him (which certainly require repentance) God is at work in my heart and life? Does my sin disqualify me from the good work of His Spirit happening right nowDo I have faith to believe that in the midst of my troubled heart a loving, patient and powerful God is doing good? Or do I think that good will only come later — especially once I deal with my unbiblical thoughts and attitudes and allow Him to work His good out in my life?

Often I don’t write about things until after I’ve figured out what to say. Not this time. I’m still in process and, in fact, welcome your thoughts, comments and prayers. I know God is faithful. I’ve watched Him work all things together for good in my life over and over. And I now have faith that good is at work this week; today; tonight as I type. Even writing this post has been good for me; not only because I’ve had to humble myself to put my thoughts out there (anything that requires humility is indeed good for me!), but also because I’m realizing that Romans 8:28 is taking on new meaning in my soul.

I’m grateful.

A Godly Woman’s Final Words

Hours after our moving van pulled away from the Virginia home where Mom had lived with us for her last 7 years, she was released from the hospital to continue out-patient chemotherapy. Often during the next few days we had chatty, long distance conversations. She was feeling better and was gushing with joy over the surprise changes my sister made to beautify her little apartment.  The tumor was shrinking, and she was hopeful and happy. We talked about her coming to Florida to spend some extended time with us in the winter…

But within days things suddenly worsened and she was re-hospitalized. When my sister called I was able to speak with the doctor, who explained that a bacterial blood infection was ravaging her body and was growing faster than antibiotics could stop it.  I asked her to be honest with me: if this was her mother, would she come?  Her emphatic “yes” resulted in Jaime and I getting on the first plane out of Orlando to DC.

Soon after we joined my brother and sister, along with a few of Mom’s grandchildren and other family members, her breathing became increasingly labored. She was offered the option of going onto a ventilator. Just minutes before the medical staff came in, I had a moment with her alone. I took her hand, leaned close and told her I loved her. She was too weak to respond. We both knew her allotted time was about to come to an end. If Mom was able to muster the strength and breath to speak again, I knew they would be her last words.

“So before they come, Mom, is there anything you want me to tell everyone?  Anything on your heart to say?” Her countenance displayed a striking contrast of peace and weariness. During the past hour all of us became ready to let her go. The suffering just needed to stop.

Her eyes were closed. Each breath was quick and labored. I fought to maintain control over my emotions because these moments weren’t about me. Her life had been about me and my siblings; dad and her own siblings; her nieces and nephews. It was time for everything to be about only her.

“I want you to tell everybody,” she said in slow and hushed tones, “that God is in control…and everything He does is good.”

She squeezed my hand lightly as the medical team told me I needed to leave.

Once the ventilator was in place and morphine had been administered, we all surrounded her bed as my Josh led us in worship. I noticed medical personnel standing at a distance wiping tears. Even they knew this was a holy moment. Within minutes she was gone. No more suffering. No more cancer. She had been welcomed by the Savior that had carried her through a lifetime of hardship and suffering. And I’m sure Daddy and Randy were among the cloud of witnesses that were eagerly awaiting her.

Since that day nearly 12 years ago, I have often thought of her last words. My mother lived a life peppered with suffering. Her son became a quadriplegic at age 21 and then died 6 years later.  Just months later, she lost my dad to a heart attack.

Yet when it came time to summarize what she wanted her family to know, she spoke of God’s loving and sovereign control over everything. How could a woman who had suffered so much have such a honorable perspective in her moments of greatest suffering?

In control? Always good? Even when year after painful year of grief gripped her heart? Marital strife tempted her to give up? Sisters lost grandchildren to tragic accidents? An adult son needed his mom to rotate his paralyzed body night after night to avoid bed sores? A younger brother died after a horrific house fire? Recurring financial strain tempted her to wonder how this month’s bills would be paid? Back and neck issues, including multiple surgeries, didn’t bring relief to decades of daily, chronic pain?

Since her death I have gone through some really tough times. There have been moments when I’ve actually found it hard to breathe due to the weighty issues we were walking through. But each time God has reminded me of Mom — lying on her deathbed working hard for every breath — testifying of His goodness.

I’m learning that God is in control and everything He does is good.

P.S.  This picture was taken during Mom’s trip to Texas for Josh and Rachel’s wedding — just 4 months before she died. A copy of it sat on her casket at her memorial service. We all agreed she was saying goodbye. See you soon, Mom.

Her Last Lesson

We were in the middle of packing to move from Virginia to Orlando when we found out it wasn’t pneumonia. Just days before we would be making the long drive down I 95 to Florida, we were told Mom had lung cancer. I was fretful. Anxious. Disoriented. How could I leave her? I just couldn’t…and I told her that.

“Honey,” she began with her lingering southern drawl, left over from spending her childhood in the mountains of southwest Virginia. “Of course you will go. Benny and the kids are your priority and I will be just fine. God will take care of me. So yes, you will go. And I don’t want you to feel guilty.” Even in my mid-40’s Mom was still discipling me.

My remaining days in Virginia were bittersweet. The agony of leaving my family, friends and the church Benny and I had loved for two decades pulled fiercely at my heart. Now Mom had cancer. How could this be? I needed to be there. The timing couldn’t have been worse. I was comforted by knowing she would be in good hands: my amazing sister and devoted brother — along with our large and loving extended family — would pamper and care for her. I can’t describe how torn I felt, but I knew she was right. I had to entrust her to God.

The sweet conversations I had alone in the hospital room with my mother the days before we left were a precious gift. While reading portions of Randy Alcorn’s Heaven to her, I asked if she was afraid to die.

“Baby, I’m not afraid to die,” she said with quiet confidence. Her soft blue eyes, though surrounded by deep wrinkles, were still beautiful at 73. “I’m gonna meet Jesus and see your daddy and Randy [my older brother who died at 27]. Why would I be afraid to die?”

I finally mustered the courage to say what I had been feeling. “Mom, I don’t want you to die; especially of cancer. I don’t want you to suffer…” I couldn’t hold back the tears. For a moment I was a little girl again and Mommy’s embrace was comforting me. But her kiss wasn’t going to make this all better.

Mom then told me two really important things. First, that suffering is a part of life and none of us can avoid it. Then came the words that stunned and instructed me.  For the first time in days her voice was strong and firm.

“Don’t you believe for a minute that cancer will kill me. My days were numbered by the Lord before I was born and I won’t die one minute before my time is over. Yes, I’ve been irresponsible and shouldn’t have put so much nicotine into my body. I hate that this is causing my family such pain and heartache and I need everyone of you to forgive me. But God is bigger than nicotine and cancer. I will go because He decides it’s time and for no other reason.”

I learned so many things from Mom during our 45 years together. During those days she taught me a final lesson: how to die.

More on that tomorrow.

Hardships and Heaven

I love living an hour from the beach. Benny and I spontaneously decided to use his much-needed afternoon off to take my lab, Wallace, to play in the ocean yesterday afternoon. As we sat enjoying the beauty, I was especially admiring the fluffy white clouds against the beautiful blue sky.

“Honey, today would be a GREAT day for Jesus to come. He’s gonna come on the clouds…I want Him to come right now on those clouds! Come, Lord Jesus!” I exclaimed. And you know what? I surprised myself by how much I really meant it.

On the way home we talked about how our view of heaven has changed over the years. We reminisced about going to a meeting when we were dating and hearing a message on the return of Christ. While there were aspects of that thought that intrigued me at 17, I remember thinking I didn’t want Jesus to come back at least until we were married and had a few kids…

When was my longing for heaven born?

I don’t remember but it grew slowly. It had something to do with going through hard times. Years of infertility that made we wonder if I would ever have those children I wanted Jesus to wait on. Attending the funerals of my 27-year-old brother, too-young daddy and cherished grandmother in an 18-month period when I was in my mid 20’s. Leaving northern Virginia, and my beloved church and extended family, in my mid-40’s to move to Orlando…only to unexpectedly lose my mom to cancer less than two weeks later. Walking through devastating heartbreaks with dear friends overs over the past 10 years: adultery, heart attack, teens walking away from God, repeated job losses, horrific abuse, cancer, hopeless marital strife, infertility, bankruptcy.

Charles Spurgeon said, “The bitter cups of earth will give a relish to the new wine that sparkles in the golden bowls of heaven.”

Our struggles, pain, loss, grief, sin, disappointment and brokenness here remind us of something really important: there is a place where none of these will happen. No death. No sin. No heartache. No sickness. No grief. No goodbyes. No worry.

And it’s not just about what won’t be, but also what will be!  Worship without getting tired or distracted. Health. Reunions. Uninterrupted joy. Relationships with no anger, bitterness or impatience. Contentment. Peace. Finding it easy to love and serve and think of others before ourselves. Nothing to fret about or lose sleep over.

Forever and ever.

I’m hurting today. I’m scared for a friend who is very sick; longing for another friend’s husband to hear about a much-needed job (closeby, Lord?); missing family members who live far away; and praying for reconciliation between some people I love dearly who can’t seem to get along.

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (1 Pet 4:17).

It doesn’t feel light. Or momentary.

Are you hurting, too?  Let’s pray for faith to rise in our hearts to eagerly and expectantly (not morbidly or with self-pity) anticipate the clouds that WILL usher Him in.  Whether we’re on this side or the other, what a day that will be. Wow. It has helped me to write this.

Come, Lord Jesus! I’m eager to taste some of that new wine.