When your story isn't beautiful.

I watch as his tiny face scrunches up making his features almost unrecognizable.  His mouth opens widely and for a moment no sound is heard until his scream pierces the air, brilliant and unmistakably angry.  He throws himself to the floor burying his face in the carpet as he flails his arms and legs all the while his voice getting louder and louder.  I sigh as I watch because I know he will wail until he loses his voice, choosing the venting of his emotion over my offer of consolation.  So I sit near him and I wait.  In a few minutes this episode will pass and he will toddle off as if nothing has happened until the cycle begins again.  I don’t keep count of how many moments we have like this in a day, I don’t have the time or the energy for such things.  But I do wonder how long we will be adrift in the sea of the in between.  The place between the orphanage life and family life.  The place where he feels like he is always drowning when in truth he is already walking on the water.

I cringe a bit on the inside when folks ask me how it’s going.  I understand, so many of them have been walking with us through this journey and they are naturally anxious to hear the happy details of our life at home now.  And I wish I had a beautiful, easy story to tell them.

People love beautiful stories.  They love to hear all of the lovely things.  But I would be remiss to gloss over the hardness, the brittle edge of reality and to pretend that all is good and beautiful and right. 

Because truthfully, adoption is not always a beautiful, lovely thing but then, neither is life. 

Forming a family from broken pieces of individuals is far more difficult than most families will tell you or admit out loud.  You see the pictures of our smiling, precious kiddos and think, “They are so cute, everything must be all settled and good now that they are home.”  When the truth is really that our work as parents and siblings has just begun.  What you don’t see in our social media flow, what you cannot possibly see without living with us are the thousands of emotions we are navigating throughout the day.  You cannot see the screaming wild eyed tantrums, the refusals to eat, the night terrors, or the language barriers.  You cannot see these children struggling with birth defects, malnutrition, infections, and developmental delays secondary to living in an institution.

With every moment I must look at my son and determine if his actions are that of a typical strong willed two-year-old or if something has triggered a hard wired fear response.  Do I discipline him or give him grace?  Do I give him a bit of space to process things or do I hold him closer? 

It’s just as hard as it sounds.

Truthfully, we just do the best we can each day.  We take every moment as it comes without holding a grudge against a little guy who can’t even tell us what’s wrong yet.

But it’s frustrating.  And at times, it’s a deeply saddening reality to live in.

At our last home visit our social worker asked me, “Is there anything that would have prepared you for this?  Anything someone else could have told you that would have helped?”  I burst into hot, honest tears and shook my head no. 

You can read all the books, you can talk to all the people and you can take all the classes in the world but I have discovered there is nothing to prepare you for the periods in your life where God is doing the sowing and you cannot begin to imagine reaping the harvest. 

When the heavenly plow is tearing through the field and turning earth that would rather be left untouched there is going to be a ravaging and nothing will be left as it was.

My wiser friends know this.

 I listen as one of them tells me about the hardness that is a shattered marriage and the vision of what was and what really is.  Twenty years ago she would not have painted this picture for her life, this example of what can happen when sin blindsides you and walks away with what you believed was the best of you.   But here she is living it and breathing it and surviving it.  I watch her living through the pain and not succumbing to it completely and know there will be beauty in her story again. 

But for now her story is not beautiful, neither is mine, perhaps yours is not either.  And I am here to tell you that it is just fine to have an ugly story.  It is absolutely normal to live from one moment to the next just holding onto the sanity that God is gracing you with right now and praying like there’s no tomorrow that he will just keep dishing it out until Jesus comes back to make your story completely beautiful and completely his.

And maybe, just maybe this hard, ugly life you’re living isn’t what you bargained for, it isn’t what you thought was coming, but guess what?  It is your life, it is my life and the life of my family at this place in time and there’s no good in pretending otherwise.  Because this is how God works at times, allowing us to feel the pain of a life unfulfilled, a dream unrealized, and sometimes a devastation felt.

 I do not pretend to understand it but I remember that the greatest story he ever wrote was also not beautiful to behold.

It was the ugliest and most painful story of them all when the God man lay down on a roughly hewn cross made by human hands that he designed for that very purpose.  Men destined from before their conception to create the weapon of destruction for the son of man fulfilled the prophecy that Friday as they lifted him up above the crowd.

It was not beautiful to watch him struggle against nails crudely made from iron ore that he himself created on the second day the world existed.

It was not a lovely thing to behold as the crowd gathered and mocked him for being the King come down, the Messiah covered in blood and dirt and sweat with sinew & tendon showing through where the lashes tore his skin and set his muscles free.

It was, I imagine, the worst life imaginable to live.

But Christ lived it.  He bore every moment of it because he understood that the crucifixion must come before the resurrection.

Pain before beauty.  Sacrifice before peace.  Submission before sanctification.  These are ways of the cross bearer that we follow. 

And so it will be for us too. 

As we move ever closer to the day he makes all stories beautiful remember, dear heart, that your story is his story too.  For as long as he has existed the workings of your story have been designed and planned.  There is nothing you are walking through that he did not know about.  Your life is no surprise to the one who made it.  

So do not be afraid to live your ugly story out loud.  It will make the ending all the more beautiful.

 

Take Your Chair

Last week as the holidays began to set themselves fully in motion a thought struck me so hard I had to sit still and catch my breath.  As people rushed to load cars with more food than any family in one house could eat this thought pushed itself past every joyful memory.    As families opened arms and opened doors to one another I could not help but be reminded of one detail.

There's still an empty seat at my table.

It should NOT be there.  

There's a kid missing at my house.  There's a set of feet not swinging underneath that chair.  There's a crumb dropper half a world away who may literally be waiting for a crumb.  And the injustice in that cannot be wished away.  No matter how hard I try.

I should be folding his clothes and learning how his laugh sounds when his big sisters play tickle little brother until he can't breathe.  He should be pulling at my jeans wanting more goldfish crackers and juice.  I should be tripping over his shoes in the kitchen and wiping up his toothpaste in the bathroom.  His dad and I should be debating which toy should be the "big" toy under the tree this year.  

We should not still be fighting this fight.  We just should not. Bureaucracy is now the foulest word we know.  We have proven 3 times over that we are fit parents.  We are deeply scarred from this war.  Each month, no each day seems to have its own battle.  So many things aren't even discussed anymore because there are no givens here.  This war has no rules either.   We take each moment just as it's comes.  And when that days battle are over we just exchange glances knowing that we are one moment tougher than we were before.  We are one moment closer to our child.

Sometimes I wonder if my feelings are but a shadow of what God feels about us when we are separated from him.  We are his children so it would seem natural that when we aren't in relationship with him that he would mourn us.  That he would MISS us.  His love for you and for me is so much deeper and boundless than mine is for my son.  It must tear him apart to watch us choose not to be family, both with him and with each other.  It must be unconscionable to him that those of us in his family would not willingly tell every soul we meet how simple it is to be a part of his family.  The greatest gift we've ever been given is so often tucked into the deepest recesses of our souls that it's as if letting others see this salvation will somehow diminish it or expose us; as if his sinless son dying in our place on a piece of wood was not exposure in its most violent form.

I wonder if he walks the rooms in heaven sometimes and imagines us there the way I imagine my son in his.  Do he and Christ walk the halls and plan whose room will face the sunrise and sunset?  Do they create the colors in that room there just for me?  John 14 tells us that's a distinct possibility.  Verse two says, "My Father's house has many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  It says for you.  You.  Me.  Christ is planning for us individually.  He sees each of us as his own.  How precious that the word would think I was important enough to plan for eternally.  

How difficult it must be for them to watch us choose sin and separation from love, life and relationship.  Over and over they see us choose empty objects to put in their places.  They witness our hunger and our thirst for more and they watch us strive for the things that will never fill us up.  And the entire time the answer is always right there waiting to be accepted.   And they could make us believe.  They could make us obey.  With a single word God could command us to love and serve him forever.  But a love that's demanded is no love at all.  And above all God wants you to choose to be at home with him.  He moved Heaven to send his son to earth to restore your relationship with him.  He fights a war every moment for you.  He doesn't want to give up on you even if you have given up on him.  "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."  (2 Peter 3:9)

Everyone.

More than anything God wants your feet swinging underneath his table.  

  I imagine his dinner table stretches much farther than mine does.  So great is his table that you cannot stand at one end and see the chairs at the other end.  Along its edges are chairs and places designed for every one of us, but we get to choose if we want that seat.  There will come a day when our opportunities to choose that seat will be gone and our chair will remain empty forever.  "...for you know very well that the day of The Lord will come like a thief in the night." (1 Thessalonians 5:2)

Your seat at the table should NOT be empty and neither should your neighbor's, your sisters, or the little girl in Honduras that has never heard the name of Jesus.  It is our choice to accept the chair and then share that blessing.

There's always room at his table.

Discover what being in the family of God is all about.  Find out what it’s like to be loved unconditionally.  Learn how to live without fear of failure.  Uncover the truth about who you were meant to become.  Family can be forever.

Friend take your chair and start swinging your feet. 

Love & Refrigerators


Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.  1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Dear Little One, 
There will times in your life when you feel unloved.  It's possible that you will even remember times before you lived with us when you felt that way.  Maybe you will even think we don't love you sometimes too, especially when we discipline you or tell you "no" about something.  Or perhaps there is going to be an event in your life that dad & I can't protect you from that will make you question the very humanity of people.  That happens everyday all around us.  Bad things do happen to the greatest people, I wish that weren't true, but dear one, it is.  As long as we wait for Christ to return Satan will wage his war against God's beloved.  And truthfully, the fact that you are even a member of our family is a testament to this.  There will be some reasons your family could not keep you and they will be valid but the facts can never diminish the loss you have already suffered.  And there may be a part of you that will wonder if you are loved.  Please listen to your momma when I tell you what love can be for you.

It looks like over thirty families giving us items for a huge yard sale so we could start your adoption OVER with a new adoption agency when our first one could no longer help us.  
It resembles your momma's last piece of pride being scraped away as she asks her girlfriends for fundraising help. (don't worry, momma doesn't miss her pride)

Love looks like a refrigerator that a friend delivered for your sale from over an hour away. (it was the first thing we sold:) 

It smells like ladies baking cookies, pies, cakes, brownies, and bread for our bake sale.  And then people paying triple the marked prices to help cover your fees.  And when we ran out, then went back in their kitchens and made more for our second day.

It looks like kids cleaning out toy chests and giving away their own things so the "baby" could come home.

Love looks like yours sisters giving up new clothes, Friday lunches, and family movie dates and depositing that money in your adoption account and not because we asked them to, because they wanted to.

It looks like a young man & his family dropping off items on his way out of town to his grandfather's funeral.

It's pregnant ladies working all day and then going home exhausted yet still pushing through and sorting out closets so they could donate to your sale.

Love feels like a vacation day someone took just to work your fundraiser because they knew we were shorthanded.

It is our local radio announcers talking about your fundraiser on air everyday to help us get the word out to our community and then coming by to spend some money themselves.

It looks like friends showing up at 6am with smiles, messy hair and coffee cups in hand to set up over 1500 square feet of goods. And not just on one day, but two.

It acts like a young married couple celebrating their anniversary by running around in the pouring rain to pick up tables, bags, and merchandise for your fundraiser.

Love for you is grandparents cooking for volunteers, picking up your siblings while we worked, baking for your sale, and praying for it's success.

Love sometimes looked like a check and sometimes it felt like a hug.   People blessed you through us.  Do not doubt that.

Love is seeing random strangers handing us $5 bills when they found out our fundraiser was for you.  People we had never met gave us money just for you.

Love looks like friends organizing hundreds of pieces of clothing and bargaining over knick knacks knowing that every dollar was one more closer to you.

Love sounds like people laughing.  We laughed together so much over those two days.  We have the most wonderful stories to tell you about.

Love is people continuing to bring us items to sell, even into our second day,  so that we always had something to put out.

Love for you is people rounding up their sales total and paying extra, just because they wanted to.

Love is people praying for you all the time because they want you to be safe, healthy, and happy.

Love is people working the sale together and helping each other and no one complaining about anything for two solid days.  Nothing.  They just reached in and did whatever needed to be done.

Love for you is a whole community of people coming together to help mom & dad do something they could never have done themselves.  We just couldn't do it alone.  We really thought we could but God has taught us better than that.  We can never do it without him.  And he's using his people to show us that his love can look a lot like his children.

Little one, sometimes people think love is just a feeling.  It is not.  Love is a choice.  And all these people have chosen to love you.  They have chosen to live out 1 Corinthians in the choices they have made regarding you.  There is no glory in sorting used clothing or bartering with people over prices.  There is no trophy they got for participating.    Those who blessed you with their love chose to do so of their own free will.  They are doing their very best to get you home as fast as they can.  They gave their money, their time, their skills, and their own personal possessions up just for you.  Mom can never give back to these people what they have given up for you and they don't expect her to.  That's how real love works.  

You are loved immeasurably by a whole community of people over 8,147 miles away from your homeland.  That says a lot about the people who will surround you as you grow up.

But there is someone who loves you more than they do.  A man who loves you more than mom & dad do too.  And his love looks different than anyone else's has or ever will.  On those very tough days this world throws at you remember Christ also chose to love you.  But his love was so BIG that he gave his life to protect yours eternally.  You were so precious to him that he chose to die on Calvary rather than let you face this life without hope of being with him in the next one.  

So when Satan tries to convince you that no one cares and that you are unloved remember that's not true.  

Love is a choice. Christ chose to love you.  

And God is sending his people to surround you & love you too.

*To our family and friends in our Hope, AR community thank you is not a big enough set of words.  There aren't words big enough for what has occurred during our fundraiser.   We believe Paul says it better:
We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.  
1 Thessalonians 1:2,3