Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Battle Plans

Last year I wrote that I was limping into the new year, fearful of what 2017 might bring, and weary but determined to seek God for a joy that was not dependent on circumstances.  I thought that I could keep a thankful journal, rewire my brain to be more grateful, and then BOOM! have neural pathways reset to the “joy” setting. You know, “Choose Joy.”

I learned a lot through that focus on joy this past year, but I did not achieve it. What I learned is that the main enemy of joy in my life is not a lack of gratitude, but fear. I learned that the fight for joy is a fight to trust the Lord. To trust the Lord I must know Him and have His character firmly impressed upon my heart. 

So my lack of joy reveals deep need – to know my God much more fully. 

So much I learned throughout the process of pursuing joy over the year. Now as I look back and reflect on my intentional pursuit of joy, it is striking me that another big enemy of joy in my life is just activity. When I am rushing from one thing to the next, always with my eyes on the next task, then I am not able to be mentally and emotionally present where I am. If my consciousness resides continually in the future, then I miss joy because joy happens in the present. 

It is tough to fight this tendency to live in future tense because it is wise to plan ahead and considerate to show up when we say we will. We do have to look to the future in order to feed our families and be a part of society. And even though I may entertain dreams of removing myself from society and living on a deserted island (preferably off the coast of Scotland), Scripture instructs me to be “in the world.” 

This year has been one of operating almost exclusively in survival mode and that brings a lot of survival instincts to the very front of my motivations. The strongest of those impulses for me is pulling away from perceived threat. That threat exists mainly in the form of to-do lists and the people handing me items for that list. So I tend to want to pull away from people, and my initial response to any new task is an overreacting fight-or-flight reflex. Just ask my kids what happens when they surprise me with a request to look up a picture of some animal they've been reading about right when I thought I was going to get 5 minutes to drink my coffee and chill.

I learned earlier this year that when people are under chronic stress they often perceive threat where there is none. Often when I get an e-mail or a text or voice message my first reaction is a ridiculous amount of angst because someone might need something from me. Then when it turns out they were only sharing news, checking in, or offering encouragement, I feel a profound sense of relief like I just narrowly escaped certain death, or, you know, a similar threat like the request to bring a cookie to the next meeting. Even when someone kindly tells me they hope I am getting some rest and recuperating I feel guilty because I am still not feeling very rested at all. But, believe me, I do have it down on my to-do list! 

This post is really just my meandering thoughts attempting to straighten themselves out and may not have much structure, but I’m intentionally bringing it back around to where I started now. Obviously I am not in the healthiest place right now, but I am intentionally working to get there. And I haven’t given up fighting for joy in the Lord. In fact, I’ve developed a more appropriate battle plan:

1) Study God’s Word to know Him more fully, and 2) cut down on all the activity so I can mentally engage in the moment I am currently living. And 3) if a sabbatical on a deserted island off the coast of Scotland comes up, I might not turn it down. :)

Friday, March 2, 2018

What if

This year our family has faced an extraordinary amount of obvious need. We are constantly looking at the day, the week, the month, wondering how we will do what we need to do, get what we need to get, and learn what we need to learn.  And over and over we see the Lord provide. Have we come up against any of these needs and found them to be un-met? Never. That provision doesn’t always look like we expect or want it to, but it is always there and always “in time.” I think of Gandalf saying, “A wizard is never late. He always arrives precisely when he means to.” I may have my own ideas of when I think something should be provided – like the second I realize I have a need for it – but God has His own purposes to accomplish and He always shows up precisely when He means to. 

Yet in spite of this incredible track record, I find myself all in a dither with every realization of need and every concern that arises.

I have never, not even once in my life, worried that the sun would not rise the next day. 

Yet I daily live as though God’s faithfulness is uncertain.  As though tomorrow He might forget me for the first time ever. As though this world is just getting too crazy for Him to manage and He might get behind on my docket. 

My mind is easily consumed with “what ifs.” What if someone doesn’t buy my mom’s house fast? What if I can’t figure out what to do with her time shares? What if this health concern turns out to be something serious? What if I neglect an important aspect of raising my children because I’m so overwhelmed with the daily necessities? What if we can’t get visas to go back overseas?

Essentially, I meditate on my need instead of my Provider. I meditate on my fear instead of my Savior. I know better than to entertain those “what if” fears, but they are a persistent enemy and tough to fight off. I often try lecturing myself, but I’m not a very good lecturer, apparently, because those lofty sermons fall flat in my soul. 

Today was a really tough day in this regard, and I found myself fighting back in a new way that worked a lot better than my hyperventilated, self-directed sermons. I began challenging those what-if fears with a different set of what-ifs.

What if there is a God who created this whole universe and sustains every atom by His power and constant care? What if this God is completely in control of every detail of every life and what if He governs all with complete love? What if He cares for me personally and has good plans for me? What if He loves my children more than I do and wants their best even more than my mother heart does? What if He has designed life such that His greatest glory is our greatest good? What if He has promised that He wins in the end?  

What if He has already won?  

What if I am completely assured that all will be made right, restored, and redeemed? What if this painful and difficult life is just an infinitesimal blip in the timeline of eternity and the rest if filled with peace and joy? What if sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning? 

And of course the joy of this line of thinking is that these things are not merely “what ifs.” They are a firm certainty that underlies and outlasts all the fearful "what ifs" that haunt me. What if we can’t sell my mom’s house quickly? What if that health concern turns out to be something serious? Well….? It doesn’t put a dent in the assurance of God’s sovereign love in my life or His faithfulness to provide for our needs and redeem our pain or His promise of the joy that comes in the morning.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Staying on the Horse

One time in my middle school years I went horseback riding on the beach during a family vacation. Like most tourist experiences of this kind, it wasn’t quite the dream I hoped it would be. A large group of random people were rushed to mount tired horses and led en masse to plod slowly along a narrow strip of sand that wasn’t nice enough to front a resort. It was unremarkable, to say the least, and I probably wouldn’t even remember that whole experience today if not for one intense moment that seared itself and the whole event indelibly into my memory. 

At one point in the ride a couple of more experienced riders were allowed to urge their horses to a gallop, and a couple of other horses, mine included, decided it would be fun to join in. Without warning my horse bolted off and sent a shock of adrenaline through my heart. Thankfully I had spent enough time on a horse to be able to slow my eager mount back down to a walk, but I watched the other lady steak ahead of me down the beach screaming in terror as she slid off her horse. I don’t think she was seriously hurt, but I doubt she ever road a horse again. 

My little burst of speed was far less dramatic, but during that short stretch of near panic my whole body, mind, and soul were consumed with one objective – staying on that horse! I was not interested in the beauty of the sunset on the beach, what I would eat for dinner that night, my future career, my current crush, or the state of millions of lost souls. I was 100% focused on surviving. 

That is how I feel like this last year has been. That is where our family is now. We are just trying our hardest to stay on the horse! We are not able to keep a handle on intentional relationships, rigorous academics, healthy eating, family discipleship, stellar dental hygiene, dealing with my parents’ estate, and the dozen different aspects of our work. 

One week we are blessed to meet with a couple of friends and are deeply encouraged, but our schoolwork is confined to the bare minimum, we miss family devotions, and we eat more frozen food than I care to admit. The next week we hunker down at home and get a little more school done and start back to our family devotions, but miss church because one child is sick and we only have one car, a long commute, and a meeting in the afternoon. The next week we have 6 doctor’s appointments and start to deal with various health issues, but get nothing done toward dealing with my parents’ estate, and family devotions are out again.

And every week we hear about something that we need to do better – floss more, sell the house faster, be more intentional in counseling our children through their grief, give up more ‘personal time’ for work because there’s just too much work to be confined to work hours, or advocate for our work more actively. And every week I find myself more and more jealous of Matt Damon in that movie where he is stranded on Mars.

I can’t even get a decent dinner on the table, but I’m supposed to keep close track of what my kid is eating that could be causing her severe stomach pain, all the while knowing deep in my gut that her stomach pain is most likely from the stress of an unexpected move from the continent she calls home in order to say goodbye to the 4th close relative she’s lost in 5 years. I know because that’s exactly what my stomach does under extreme stress, and I am about to start my 3rd round of intensive stomach acid treatment in 5 years because of my pre-ulcerous stomach and esophageal spasms. All due to stress. 

I really want to be able to enjoy the sunset, give a little thought to our school instead of cruising on autopilot, give in relationships and not just take, and I especially want to be very intentional in shepherding my children through life and all the loss and transition they are encountering. But I just need the horse to stop so I can form a thought about something other than hanging on! 

Toward that end, we are aiming to slow down for a season and regroup. We are trying to get our health back in order with root canals, echocardiograms, stomach medicines, and flossing. We are seeking counseling and advice from professionals and peers. To be sure, we still have a pretty intense stretch ahead of us since we need to move as soon as possible (and haven’t found a place yet), and go through my parents’ house and pull out the important things we want to keep from my family, and have an estate sell for everything else, and sell the house and my mom’s car, and deal with a really tricky estate for my mom AND my dad since his estate was never closed… But we are really trying to slow the horse down before we fall off.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Choosing (to fight for) Joy

Everyone around me seems to be marching resolutely into the new year full of excitement at what it may bring. 

I feel like I am limping across the finish line of 2016 and trudging resignedly on into 2017 just hoping  that it can be a little less difficult and wearying than 2016, yet fearing it to be worse. 

Rather a doom and gloom way to head into the new year, but I don’t really mean it quite as doomy and gloomy as it sounds.

I am pressing on into the unknown year with faith that God holds me and our family, that He is sovereign and loving, and that He will work all for good in the end.

It’s just that I am so very tired. 

And right now my faith is the desperately clinging kind rather than the excited kind. And I’m trying to shake off the feeling that it ought to be the excited kind. To be okay with the desperate clinging even though the other kind feels nicer.

It’s not that I am having trouble trusting God to do what’s good. It’s just that I’ve seen how terribly difficult that good can be. And I’m not sure how much good I can stand. 

The last few years have been full of really hard things – cancers and deaths and estrangements and big scares with children’s health and pregnancies and anxiety and the constant “Chinese water torture” of all sorts of pressures and expectations that I can’t meet and the numbing weariness of feeling that I am disappointing half the people in my life on a daily basis.

I’ve grown in confidence and conviction about what I’m supposed to be doing in this season of my life just as I prayed for so much at the beginning of last year. That has been wonderful! But it has included a lot of saying “no” to what people ask of me so that I can say “yes” to what I see God asking of me. Because I can’t do it all. And it is so freeing to accept that!

But I’ve begun to feel very discouraged by the incessant pressure to do more or do differently and the lack of understanding and support for the path I’m walking.

I am too wimpy and ungrateful, though, because I have incredible support where it really matters, for the most part. Brett couldn’t be more encouraging and supportive and I have a few close friends who are also very uplifting in this regard. How is it that sometimes all the discouraging voices, or questioning voices, seem so much louder?

Anyway, here I am heading wearily into another year without much excitement but with a great deal of determination, actually. Because I have a new thing to seek God for this year. Last year it was confidence.

This year it is JOY. 

I am fighting fear over what this year may bring and fighting the weariness of what I am already carrying into 2017 in the form of these pressures that don’t seem to be going anywhere soon.

And I don’t want to wait for circumstances that make it easy to be joyful. I want to learn the secret of being content in any circumstances. 

I want to fight for more than grim resolve in the difficulties of this life. 

I want to fight for joy in the Lord! Unshakeable, unconquerable joy that persists through the weariness and pain of life. I want my hope to be set on something far greater and more certain than an easier year or an easier life.

It’s no help to look around at people who seem to me to have an easier road to walk. THIS is the road that has been marked out for me by my all-wise, all-loving, and all-powerful God. I can trust Him.

And I hope I can learn to fight for JOY in Him through it all. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Adoption and the Powerful Call of Hope

"Our" Leo is still hoping for family to adopt him before he ages out
in 2 years at the age of 14. Picture from
where you can read more about his story.
When I was first moved to work overseas it wasn't out of some sense of guilt or pressure to do something that I didn't want to do. It was out of excitement to see what God can do and joy to be a part of His Kingdom work, a work that has eternal fruit. 

I couldn’t imagine what else I could possibly want to do with my life.

I heard stories of others who left their home, their family, their country and all that was familiar because they saw God's plan revealed in Scripture to bring all nations to Himself and had faith in His extravagant promises. I was inspired, encouraged, and filled with longing – I wanted to be a part of that!

It was perhaps a bit naive considering I was only 9 at the time, and I can certainly think of some other things I could do with my life now. I sometimes think wistfully of how I could live for Kingdom purposes back in our home country. 

But that motivation, however naively it began, remained essentially the same through years of developing and maturing until it finally came to fruition in our family's move overseas 8 years ago. And it keeps me here now despite plenty of struggles and a complete loss of that naïve vision of what overseas life would look like. 

Now more than ever, it is this hope in the promises of God that holds me here and gives me strength to press on through the struggles and disappointments we face each day. And not to press on only in a determined, gritted-teeth kind of way, but also to have an abiding sense of excitement and joy in looking toward the reward.  

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. 

In that same way I have found myself completely captivated by stories of another kind, full of hope and joy in proportion to the pain that is overcome. Stories of redemption that show the deepest wounds being healed. That show the power and glory of the Redeemer. 

Beautiful stories of adoption

I’m sure I am somewhat naïve on this point, too, not having adopted myself. But I’ve followed closely the adoption journeys of various friends and I am deeply aware of the pain and loss that bring the need for adoption. I have watched and hurt and prayed over the struggles of bringing a traumatized child into a family and over the brokenness that puts children in a position of needed to be adopted in the first place. And I have rejoiced in tears and in awe over the redeeming and transforming power of God both in the lives these precious, valuable children and in the families they join.

So this month as we seek to raise awareness for children who are in need of the love and protection of a family, I don’t want to highlight the great need or the great responsibility we have as followers of Christ to care for these children. Those points are important to consider, for sure, but need and responsibility don’t work alone to move us to action. 

The powerful forces that draw us out of our comfort zone and actually move us to action are hope and faith.

And, you guys, they don’t disappoint. No one can promise smooth sailing when you follow Christ out on the seas of life. In fact, as followers of Christ we are promised the opposite. But hope and faith will sustain you and give you peace and joy through the storms because they will assure you that in the end Christ will overcome and it will be more than worth it!

I don't believe there is a biblical mandate for everyone to adopt, though I do recognize the biblical calling to lay down our lives to care for the "least of these" in our world. This includes orphans and the unwanted children whose lives we seek to protect while they are still in the womb and ought to protect when they make it all the way to birth. 

I understand that care can take many different forms and not everyone can adopt. But I am staggered by the great privilege and joy of being part of God's redemptive work through adoption. 

It is the hope and joy of stepping out in faith to follow God and seeing His leading and provision that compels me to earnestly plead - don't miss out on His amazing work because of fear! Maybe, for you, that could mean His work through adoption.

If you have any interest in adoption at all and would like to be connected to some stories I've mentioned please let me know.