Monday, April 25, 2011

How I'm Sure

Know the feeling of jumping into really cold water?  You go in feet first and feel it clamp around your chest and then try to yank that last desperate breath from behind clenched lips?  And then....the heart-pumping exhilarating feeling of being alive and desperate to move that comes when you break through, back to the surface? 

We had our first home study appointment last Wednesday....we held hands, counted to three and jumped into water that took our breath away. 

The meeting was full of details, questions asked, questions answered, timelines and requirements rolled out before us.  About an hour in, we got to THE question.  Our social worker, Kim, looked up from her notes and very casually asked, "So, how are you planning to pay for this?"  That's when we looked at each other, joined hands and said the icy cold water words, "We don't know how it's going to happen, but we're sure God's calling us to it, and we're sure God's calling us to it now."  Actually, before we able to collect a deep enough breath to say those words, we first squeaked out, "Do we need a plan??!"  One small question and my knees got weak and my faith got small.  But then the voice inside of me said, "Now wait a minute Lori, you're sure about this - God has spoken."  On the drive home, I kept asking myself how I could feel so sure.... because I really do.  The Holy Spirit gave a me a quick replay of the places I've been over the last 6 months, sitting in my chair with a coffee cup in my hand and my Bible on my lap.  God's Word has made me sure - He has been faithfully using it just like He promised He would to speak and direct.

It all started last fall.  I was at a real low point spiritually.  Not a rebellious low point, but a desert dry low point....and I had been there a long time.  Ministry and just life in general had become duty and obligation...I had wandered far away from living out of joy and love.  Hadn't been spending much time outside of Sundays in the Word....and when I did read my Bible it made me angry rather than calming me.  As I slowly was coming to the realization that the ugliness was coming from the ugly cold heart I had let settle inside of me, a sign-up list for the ladies retreat was passed around at church.  I was tired enough to see that list as a life-line thrown out to me and I was scared enough to grab it and hold on tight. 

The weekend came, and of course, I was sick.  Like, didn't get out of bed Thursday sick.  I think Scott had his finger on the pulse of what was going on with my heart because he got me up Friday, packed my bag, stuffed my pockets full of cold medicine and tissues and told me to go.  I honestly was too drugged up to argue, and so I went....to a place where my heart was tenderly watered and whispered to until I could see a crack in the clouds.  There were hundreds of women there who God was speaking to, but the weekend was a perfect storm of providential circumstances that added up to 48 hours that God intended just for me.  First was the speaker...  We go to this camp with our teens every summer and one of my all-time favorite speakers does most of their Ladies Retreats - I knew listening to him could help my heart.  But our church chose to go the other weekend, with a different speaker, that made me grumpy but I signed up anyway.  I knew the other speaker too, from my college days, and liked her, that made me a bit less grumpy.  Then I read that Margaret Becker was scheduled to be the musical guest my weekend, that perked me up a bit more.  I had spent a lot of time loving her music through high school and college.  Seems like I should have been putting it all together in my head by now....that God was doing this weekend for me, bringing voices together that He had spoken through when I was a girl to wake up my woman's heart.  But I didn't see it yet and was feeling mostly cynical, yet still a bit hopeful.  Actually, before I got sick, in a moment of hope and courage, I had tried to connect with Peggy, the speaker, online and set up a meeting with her over the weekend that would force me to ask for help.  I missed her, she left early to visit friends on the way, but her husband assured me that she would be happy to meet with me.  Well I knew she would be gracious and generous, wanting to offer herself to me.  But I'm not that girl, I knew the chances were slim that I'd stand in a line to talk to her after a session and seek her out.  My heart battled it out during the ride up there though, it was thawing just by being in the church van with a bunch of women who loved God and loved me and slivers of hope were appearing.  So I made a deal, not sure if it was with myself or with God, but I made it.  The deal was a list of questions, a list of things in my head that I needed God to speak to, and a promise that I wouldn' leave the retreat without finding answers.  First session, Peggy's outline, in the same order as my mental list, was the list of answers I was needing.  I hope I can find my notes from that session someday because I've forgotten many of the details.  But I very clearly remember that God used Peggy exactly as I needed her, to convict me, love me, give me a dream and to gently and firmly push me into His Word.  The defining moment came from Lamentations 3:22-24 and the picture Peggy painted of God.  Every morning, my loving Father sets the table for me.  He lays out new mercies, new compassions, new faithfulnesses for me, for my day and my needs.  He has prepared His Word to be fresh and perfect to meet me each day as I come to Him.  I don't have to live on leftovers and just get by.  I don't have go searching through God's Word when I'm desperate with a need and find the hidden promises myself.  I need to faithfully, study His Word and trust His promise to be a big enough God be ready to meet that day's need with the portion of His Word He laid out on the table for me that morning. 

I left that weekend with my Bible and a plan.  The plan was an old one that Peggy had actually challenged me with during college... one to help build my confidence in the way God uses His Word to meet my needs.  I chose to start my study in John.  Peggy suggested John as a good place for baby Christians to start, and I was feeling a weak as a little baby, so it seemed like the right place to go.  I really just wanted to learn to love Jesus in a way I never had before and John is all about Jesus.  So my commitment was to come to the table full of fresh mercies that God had laid out for me in John and lay my needs before Him.  I journal the heaviness that's on my heart and then pray before I open my Bible.  I've learned from my pastor that the sin in my own heart is one of my biggest obstacles to hearing God when I open my Bible.  So I pray that God will get rid of my pride and fear and will cleanse my heart and speak to me through His Word.  I've found that this is the key - God's Word is always speaking, but my heart has to put the headphones on to hear it.  And then I read, I read in John.  And I resist the urge to go straight to my concordance looking for the verses that I think will meet my need, what I want to hear, what makes sense to me.  God is God, and I'm finding that He's laid out just what I need each day in John.  God has been speaking to my heart about everything through John.....it's gotten to the point that I often laugh out loud to myself as I'm journaling and wondering what crazy way God's going to use His words in John to speak to this seemingly unrelated situation. And after I read, I journal again....journal the unmistakable connections between God's Word and my needy heart that day.

It's this commitment to sticking to the book of John that plopped me directly in John 6 the morning of our first homestudy meeting, the day we jumped into cold water.  In the beauty of God's plan, His Word, and His love for me He set the table for me that morning.  He so sweetly laid out for me John 6:1-15 and reminded me that Jesus knows my needs before I even feel them.  Those people in that big crowd hadn't even felt hungry yet when Jesus asked Philip how they were going to be fed.  Before they're stomachs complained, Jesus had a plan.  His provision for me has already been decided in detail, I'm sure of it.  Philip's quickly did the math, and nothing added up - the obvious answer was, "It's impossible, they can't be fed."  While this conversation's happening, Andrew's out in the crowd, looking for whatever's out there.  When he finds 5 loaves and 2 fish, instead of deciding it's not enough, he decided that the little he had to offer was worth offering because Jesus is Jesus.  Andrew brought the fish, and Jesus did what Jesus does. 

That's why I'm sure, why I felt a crazy adrenaline-laced confidence as we told Kim about our "plan" for paying for this adoption.  I'm sure because God's Word speaks to my life each day, and I've got 6 months of journaling to prove it.  And I'm sure because Jesus is Jesus, He's got a plan and He can make much of our little.  And over this past 6 months, I've learned to really love Jesus and that makes me feel confidence.  I want to offer my 5 little loaves and then sit down and just be amazed at what He does with them.  I want to watch Him do things that I didn't even know to pray for because they don't add up.

I very seldom jump into water cooler than a balmy 80-somthing degress voluntarily, and then only when I've baked in the sun long enough to be suprememly hot!  My cold water jumps almost always happen as a result of being pushed or shamed into it by my children!  Funny thing, it's never as bad as I anticipated.  I usually stay and play for a while and get some "fun mom points."  When I do head back, the lounge chair has extra appeal because of the water drops that evaoporate as I'm drying in the sun.  That's where I was on the drive home last Wednesday, in the lounge chair, savoring the fact that I had jumped, and hoping, against normal reason, that I'll get another chance soon.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Backpack Full of Stories

I've had a pile of stones in my heart for a long time, and from time to time, in various places I set stones in a pile that I can see and touch.  I've got lots of other piles in my life, ugly ones that have slowly built over time, piles that I don't like, didn't ask for, that suck the energy out of me.  Piles of laundry, piles of things to do, piles of papers to file, and more piles of laundry.  This pile is different.  This pile is mine on purpose, I've built it.  This pile puts a spotlight on Jesus that breathes life into me as it grows, makes me feel solid and settled and lifts my foot up for the next step of faith. 

The stones remind me of moments, moments that have built my faith.  Just like the children of Israel, I've erected a monument in my soul to point my heart, and the hearts of future generations to the powerful God who is working in my life.  Looking at these rocks reminds me of the things I know, the things I've seen Him do on my behalf.  They remind me that my heart is safe and make me willing to risk a little more and be a little bolder.

Our family has built a stone pile too.  We're picking up a new stone to add, one that's big. We have begun the process of  adding to our family through an Ethiopian adoption.  It feels like a big stone because we already have a house full of 6 kids and a schedule full of much ministry.  It feels obvious, though, when we dare to imagine the life of one of the 5 million orphans in Ethiopia who need us to have room for one more .  God's been whispering in our ears for 10 years about adoption, but His voice has gotten much more insistent the past 6 months.  He has made it very, very clear to all 8 of us that He is calling us, as a family, as a team,  to adoption.  We've already collected a backpack-full of story-stones and I'm worried about losing some if we don't have a chronicle, hence the birth of this blog. 

Our kids kept asking if we were done thinking about adoption and were ready to sign the papers.  Sometime in February, Scott & I felt like we were ready to take the next step....the one that required many signatures and a non-refundable deposit.  The kids were excited, we were excited, with a heavy dose of nervous. On a sunny Sunday Scott asked me what our next step was.  I called from the other room that it was time to fill out the formal application and come up with the $750 fee to go with it.  "How are we gonna come up with that fee?" I asked.  Scott walked into the room with his hand in his pocket.  He pulled it out, full of a roll of bills, the 50's and 20's type. Earlier that day, out in the garage, he had sold our 4-wheeler for, you guessed it, $750, exactly.  Now you've gotta know that we had been trying to sell this thing for months.  We had it listed on Craigslist for a couple months before Christmas, the perfect time to sell, and got no action on the listing, not one inquiry.  We tried again in February, and had a firestorm of emails in our inbox with multiple cash offers immediately.  Scott made some calls, set up some appointments, and met with a guy in our garage on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  After the test drive and the haggling, the 4-wheeler was loaded into a truck and a bunch of bills rolled up with God's direction was loaded into Scott's pocket.

There's the first story-stone.  Like I said, we've already collected a backpack full.  Every time we've taken a deep breath and stepped, God has responded.  God has shown Himself to us in the ways that you read about in missionary biographies.  Too many things have happened to chalk up to coincidence.  We're convinced that there is no coincidence in this story, this new stone on our pile, only a whole lot of faith-building providence.  We want to share that, with the people we love and anyone else who might be watching.  We want to put a spotlight on Jesus.  We want to be faithful to the stories of the moments, big and small, that make it obvious to us that God is working.

So feel free to come by every now and then and take a look at our pile of stones as it grows.  It's there for you as much as it is for me, or any of us Floridas.  It's there because God is faithful and He's strong.  It's there to put a spotlight on Jesus that breathes life into us, make us feel solid and settled, and lifts our feet up for the next step of faith.