Monday, November 21, 2016

The Story of Esther - in honor of adoption month

When she asked the question, the dam broke. I'm surprised she could even understand my answer through the sniveling. With my newborn second son cradled in my arm and the phone balanced between my chin and shoulder I threw caution to the wind and told her all my fears. We didn't know each other that well yet, but she was an experienced mom of 4 kids and had called at just the right time to ask me how life was at home with my new little one. She reached through the phone with her voice and sternly told me that I would be fine, my boys would be fine, LIFE would be fine. She beat back the wild fears that had overtaken me and calmed my heart with these words, "The best gift you can give your child is a sibling. Stop worrying about all material things you might not be able to give and think about all you've already given him by giving him a brother."

Fast forward 20 years and it's pretty obvious that we've taken that advice and run with it! My brood has grown from those two to eight. My friend Diane has also put her money where her mouth is and she too is the mother of eight. We both have six the old fashioned way and two by adoption.

Her adoption story is the culmination of the bedrock belief she shared with me so many years ago. God uses the greenhouse of a family to form character and personalities and produce strong, healthy adults out of the little bundles that start out in their Mommas' arms. There is something profoundly powerful that happens within the four walls of a home. So when she and her husband were faced with a plea to adopt two little boys who had no family, their answer quickly became, "How can we not?"

Never mind that most of their children were grown and having children of their own and this would mean going all the way back to the toddler years. Never mind that living in Thailand as missionaries makes the adoption process wildly complicated, confusing and expensive. Never mind that it's hard. The stakes were high. The boys needed a family and Dave and Diane were willing to share theirs.

Diane & Dave with their youngest two biological kids and two adopted boys.

Attachment is a big buzzword in adoption circles. Creating connection and helping orphaned children be able to form a healthy attachment to a parent is the primary goal in adoption. Attachment has gained it's priority status for good reason - it's the magical power of family. Attachment equals trust. Trust equals courage. Courage equals obedience. Obedience equals progress and growth.

Attachment happens so naturally and beautifully when a baby is born into a healthy, intact family. The daily activities of feeding and care wrap tiny yet strong webs of connection around the baby and it's parents. Without a conscious thought of why the baby turns into a toddler who believes the things his parents are teaching him are true. The toddler turns into a child who will calm down and believe his mom who tells him that he will survive the bee sting and she knows what to do. The child turns into a teenager who will dare into the unknown finding confidence in the encouragement of his parents. Adoptive parents are on a quest to reclaim this power for their children. It's hard, hard work but it's possible. It's redemption and restoration; beauty from ashes.

Before adoption counselors and attachment seminars, there was an adoptive dad who seemed to get it right all on his own. Mordecai gave his adopted daughter, Esther, the magic of family and she gave the world the gift of her courage and obedience. Esther was actually Mordecai's cousin, the daughter of an uncle whom he raised as his own after her parents died. They were all alone in a foreign land where they had been carried away into exile. None of their circumstances made a healthy home easy. They had every reason to be a wildly dysfunctional family. Esther endured deep trauma: the death of her parents, forced relocation to an unfamiliar hostile culture, a single adoptive father and then a forced marriage. How am I so sure they weren't the mess you would expect them to be? Because of what Esther did.

The king of their captor's country was looking for a new queen and used a beauty contest as his tool to find one. Esther's beauty made her quickly rise to the top of candidates and her humble spirit caught the attention of the king. She was chosen to be queen which at first blush seems likes she won the lottery until you put yourself in her shoes and realize that she was really a victim of human trafficking. She had the strength to endure gracefully. When the crisis came, she was alert and strong.

Through a series of events recorded in the book of Esther, the Jewish people found themselves on the wrong side of an evil, yet powerful man in the king's court. His nefarious trickery ended with an official royal decree ordering the extermination of the Jewish race in Babylon. Mordecai caught wind of the evil man's plans and brought it to the attention of his adoptive daughter, a Jew and the queen of Babylon.

Esther didn't immediately jump into action. She knew the stakes were high here and that a misstep could cost her everything. Mordecai had encouraged her to make a plea on behalf of her people before the king but her first action was to confirm his instructions. She knew that even the queen would put her life on the line to presume that the king would want to see her unrequested. Her heart must have been in her throat as she waited for Mordecai's response. Is this really what he was asking of her, to risk her life?

Mordecai's response in chapter four, verse twelve is very clear. He knew he was asking for the hardest obedience yet his words were strong. He called her to be brave and to trust him with her life, death, and legacy.

12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

Esther's answer was immediate and total. She had formed a habit, one step at a time, of trusting Mordecai's love by obeying his instructions as he was bringing her up. Those steps led her to this final, important act of obedience. One that carried with it risk and uncertainty like she had never faced before. The circumstances of Esther's life didn't add up to a woman who should have the poise and confidence to do something like this...except for the miraculous power of family. Her attachment to Mordecai led to trust. Because she trusted him, she was able to be courageous in the face of danger. Her courage gave her the power to obey. Her obedience was evidence that she had become a woman of principles and depth who's mission was bigger than her own life. God brought beauty from ashes and used the orphan girl to become a hero to her people because Mordecai had been willing to be a hero to her.

God offers this to us too: attachment, trust, courage, the ability to obey, and a purpose beyond our own lives. We are His adopted sons and daughters who come from trauma and circumstances in our lives that should keep us bound in fear and selfish motives...except for the miraculous power of family, the family of God. He shows us the power of attachment in our own lives and we grow in our trust in Him. We trust Him a little and test the waters with obedience that is little and safe. We grow up a little as we find out that He is trustworthy and gain enough courage to take the next step. And before you know it, He has built a heart that is ready to say "yes" to obedience that is risky and makes the heart pound. Obedience like adopting two little Thai boys who need a family.

Mayra and I shopping in a Thai market with Diane.
My girlfriends and I go on many adventures together but can't seem to remember to get a decent photo of them!

My friend Diane, is living her advice to me. She is choosing to beat back her own wild fears because she trusts her father and He is telling her to go. Her sons, like Esther and all the rest of us adopted sons and daughters of God, will grow up with the restored ability to walk into dangerous obedience because they've learned how to trust. Adoption is a beautiful thing. It's all about wresting redemption out of brokenness and beauty from ashes while being a mirror for our own souls.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Everyday Satisfaction - The Glorious Table

As I fill my plate, the odds are stacked against me. Even with the aid of a forgiving waistband, I almost never lick the plate clean at Thanksgiving dinner.
This celebration elevates the average dinner’s protein-vegetable-starch trifecta to an Olympic level. Why settle for one kind of potato when you can have baked, mashed, twice baked, and sweet? Who would eat only green bean casserole when squash can have marshmallows and pecans toasted on top and still be called a vegetable? I don’t know about your house, but at mine, no one asks if I would like dessert; instead I’m invited for a tour of the dessert table as if it’s round two of dinner.
I routinely forego breakfast on Thanksgiving Day. In fact, the big dinner is quite often my only meal of the day. It takes absolutely all my stomach space to fully experience it. I lean back in my chair and eat slowly to maximize the number of bites I can take without risking combustion. It’s just that good.
The dinner table’s lure isn’t solely in the deliciousness of each individual dish; the combinations are what make Thanksgiving magical. Turkey becomes divine with Grandma Herrick’s homemade cranberry relish sparkling in its crystal dish. Gravy seeps its way through the potatoes and stuffing, casting a spell over everything it touches. The total package exceeds expectations, making you unable to put the fork down until you have completely obliterated the idea that you could feel hungry again in the near future.
I’ve usually changed into sweat pants by the time our football team comes on the big screen so my belly can stop crying in pain. I lean back and sigh the big Thanksgiving sigh of utter satisfaction. I am absolutely full, and I go to bed breathing deeply of the amazing smells the house still holds.
We should be chasing this kind of satisfaction every day, not by risking a 300-pound weight gain through the pursuit of a huge daily meal, but in a determination to be satisfied and completely full by the life God has offered... (Continued at The Glorious Table.)

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Five Ways to Love Raising Teenagers - The Glorious Table

Her words were the opposite of what I was used to hearing. I had a baby in my arms and only one hand free to herd my other kids—eight, seven, and three-year-old twins—out the doors of the church sanctuary. Phyllis caught up to me with a smile.
“You are so lucky! My favorite part of being a mom was having two teenagers in my house, and you get to have all these!” she said.

There wasn’t any pity or the “Just wait until they are teenagers—you’re in for it” warning I had come to expect from observers of my little circus. Instead, her eyes glittered with excitement as she recounted fond memories of being a mom of teens. She left me with a conspiratorial squeeze and a hopeful spin on the future.
Now I know where that sparkle in Phyllis’s eye came from. I’ve learned to love having a houseful of teenagers and I’ve got some tricks to pass on to help you feel the same.
Head over to The Glorious Table to read my five tips to make life with your teens awesome!

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

On Being Strong - The Glorious Table

My mom would tell you that me growing up unscathed by dysfunction and trauma is a complete miracle. My mom is a chain breaker. She worked hard to avoid passing on the unhealthy patterns of family life in which she was raised. Instead, she set me on solid ground with a strong dose of healthy habits and thought patterns as I started adult life. As a little girl, and then later as a teen, I regularly heard a prayer whispered over me: “Please protect this child from her Momma’s mistakes.” She believed God would do exactly that and help her to raise me up better than she could on her own.

My mom didn’t hand down the depression and chronic fatigue that have been her own battles. In their place, she passed on to me her fierce determination to believe what God says and trust him. She is the bravest women I’ve ever met...
Join me over at The Glorious Table to read more! 

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Ordinary Sacred Places

One week of every summer deposits our family in the heart of Michigan's up north beauty. My husband speaks for one of the programs at Lake Ann Camp and I spend the week with no agenda, breathing deeply and soaking up beauty.

Each day, my walks from our cabin to the dining hall take me past a lone picnic table in an out of the way location. With only the wind in the trees and scampering squirrels to interrupt my thoughts I find my mind wandering over the past 20 years of summertime memories I've collected here. That picnic table played host to a couple serious and emotional conversations with one of our students. The discussion pushed me as I tried to offer equal doses of grace and truth. 

I have similar precious memories of a park bench in Brazil, a campground trail in New York, the front seat of our car, the backyard hammock, a conference center back hallway, a paddle boat in the middle of a lake, the darkness of the bunk room after lights out and around campfire in Canada. Big moments so often happen out of small moments. Alot of times they magically materialize out of empty, unhurried space. Sometimes they are helped along by the right question spoken by a safe person who has time to wait for the real answer. 

When it happens, and someone trusts you with an unfettered view of their soul, time freezes and you remember those big moments. The ordinary places become sacred.

Right now I have the lake breeze blowing over me and a couple chairs to my left that bring back another big moment memory. I sat in this very spot two summers ago as the breeze carried snatches of a big moment conversation happening in those two chairs near by. A camper and counselor were in the middle of a relaxed, yet serious discussion - what Lake Ann calls "one on one" time. The counselor listened as the boy slowly and quietly unloaded some of the heaviness in his heart. With few but rich words, his counselor offered him hope. My heart swelled as I listened because the counselor was my son.

Summer is a great time to collect moments with the people you love and turn ordinary places into sacred ones. Breathe deeply, spend the time it takes to be safe, be willing to ask the question that begs asking. Who knows what ordinary, sacred places we can add to our collection this year.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Seasonality of Motherhood - The Glorious Table

I am writing over at The Glorious Table today as part of their Motherhood series. I have learned so much about life by being a mom. One lesson is that a well lived life needs to be lived in seasons...

The Seasonality of Motherhood

 I am ignoring the barbecue sauce I just found on the toilet seat. It came from the beard of a thirsty dog who finished off some rib remnants she found in the trash while we were sleeping. Dishes are crusting over in the sink, and my fingernails are four days past in need of polish remover. It’s hard to stay here with my computer, trying to focus my mind and write. But the house is quiet now. I see a string of minutes, maybe even hours, laid out ahead. So I will stay, because this moment, this season, was made for writing, made for accomplishing a call on my life, a purpose I was made for. There will be moments in this day, or maybe the next, for the barbecue sauce. Housework doesn’t win this hand–writing does, unless the trump card gets played.
I ignored the barbecue sauce in favor of writing, but then I moved the computer to make way for a little someone who appeared from her bedroom, warm to the touch. Her need for the best of me supersedes everything else. She holds the trump card: she calls me Mom.
may_floridaA satisfying life asks us to be in a constant dance with our priorities–adjusting, moving with the flow, thinking ahead and, now and then choosing to go where the music moves instead of with the carefully planned choreography. Beauty is equally in the plan and in the adjustments.
We believe the lie that steals our focus and the I’m killing it feeling. The lie says I can have it all. The truth is, we can have it all, but we usually can’t have it all at the same time. 
Read more by pulling up a chair at The Glorious Table.

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Sunday, May 8, 2016

To My Kids on Mother's Day

The house is quiet and all I can think about is how crazy I am about you guys and how much I want to be better for you. Being your mom is, hands down, the thing about my life that makes me feel the most like I'm working hand in hand with God to do something massively important. It is my life's work and my life's love. Belonging to you is something I always dreamed of.

Funny thing, I'm finding today that there are more things I'm wondering about and feeling uncertain about than ever before.  Part of that is the change and shift that comes with new roles, ages and stages, needs changing - just life. Part of it is also my age and experience. Twenty one years of being a mom hasn't taken me to a spot where I feel certain that I have it all figured out. Instead it's highlighted how many things I still have to learn.

Today I'm ok with the uncertainty and the shifting and I hope you are too. We've got a couple solid rocks to stand on that will hold us up together no matter what else swirls around us. Here's what you need to never forget is eternally sure:

1. Your Momma is absolutely, undeniably crazy about you - all NINE of you! I have a feeling you know that tears are streaming down my face right now and I'm glad I'm alone in the kitchen for the ugly cry that happens when I think about how great you guys are. I am absolutely awed by what I see in you people and feel overwhelmed that God let me be the one you call Mom. When I dreamed about having kids, my dreams were never this good (or this BIG!) You are people I imagined pointing out to my kids as examples and mentors. You make me smile, you make me laugh, you make my heart swell with pride and you make me overwhelmed with God's goodness. I really, really like you guys. You are my favorite people on earth.

2.  I'm not perfect, in fact I've collected a large memory base of "Mom Screw Up Moments" in my mind. There are times when, as I'm saying something, my insides are screaming "Abort, Abort!" but I can't find a ways to turn the ship around. There have been a million nights I've sat by your bed with regret and considered waking you up so I can have a re-do. And even worse than the screw-ups is that I know I haven't apologized for nearly as many of them as I should have. I'm stubborn and I'm proud.

BUT, and this is a big but, I know something that is more important than my screw-ups. I know that God made me your  mom on purpose and I know He is much more powerful in your life than I am. I am going to continue to offer you the best that I have, knowing that it contains many more screw-up moments to come, and trust His power. He will cover my mistakes sometimes. Other times He will allow my mistakes to hurt you and then bring beauty from the ashes of your pain that will make you grow. He is strong enough and good enough to take the tiny little offering in my Mom hands and make it be exactly what you need each day. I'm going to keep offering and trusting Him - you should too. You are safe - not because I'm good enough, but because Jesus is.

3. Here's something else I know for drop-dead sure. Focusing on a few, wildly important things, will build an amazing life. These are the life lessons we can't faint on, that we must hold dear and get a little closer to every day.
**Love Jesus - He is more crazy about you than I am and so much stronger. He can be trusted. Teach your heart to trust Him implicitly. This is the most important thing about you.
**Be Brave - The life stretching out in front of you is something that should make your heart beat with adrenaline-laced adventure, not fear. God made you for this - be who He's made and offer it to the world with your arms flung wide. You might get hurt along the way and that's ok. You are strong enough to bear it and the adventure is worth it.
**Be Kind - This matters so much. Be kind, be kind, be kind. A kind person pleases the heart of God. A kind person lives a happy life and makes every place they are better. Be kind.

I just want you Florida kids to know, deep inside today, what a treasure you are to me. I look at you and know that you are such better people than I could have made you. You guys made me a Mom which is a supremely satisfying title. I'm so glad we are connected forever that way. Being yours makes me happy today!

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Mile Wide and an Inch Deep

I didn’t rush out and buy a red convertible, so my mid-life crisis wasn’t obvious. The tipping point was sending my youngest off to full-day kindergarten two years ago. I drove home that morning without a preschooler in tow for the first time in twenty years. The empty car was filled with my racing thoughts.
The plan I put in motion during college was to get a teaching degree (check), put my career on hold to stay home with my babies (check), and then head back to the classroom full time. That day in the car, my pencil was poised to make the third checkmark on my plan, but suddenly, I wasn’t sure I still wanted number three to be on the list.

The responsible planner in me (I’m a typical firstborn) recoiled at the possibility that I might consider “wasting” my degree by not making it a career. But there was something in my spirit I couldn’t ignore...
I'm over at The Glorious Table today - please click HERE join us to continue reading! 

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Why Discipleship Is Worth Sweating Over - The Glorious Table guest post

She was young, she was loud, and she made me sweat. This thirteen-year-old girl could get me more off my game than most. She wasn’t like the other girls in my group. Those girls nodded their heads while I talked and hid their nerves behind polite conversation. Not Britt.
Every Wednesday I fought flutters in my belly as my mind settled on Britt. She had questions about everything and those questions felt like a bright spotlight on all the things I didn’t know. 
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Monday, January 11, 2016

The Awakening

 I can imagine the face of the Samaritan woman in John 4. You would expect downcast eyes but I think bold, challenging eye contact was her armor. Her face bore the hardness of one unfair day after another. There was a forced beauty about her...evidence that she was an expert at trying hard. I wish I could know her name. I would love to friend her on facebook and then meet up for coffee. She knows secrets about how Jesus wakes up a dry, numb heart. Those are secrets that all of us who mentor and reach out to lives around us need to hear.

The first words out of her mouth when Jesus asked her for a drink sound like echoes of the attitudes I've encountered over the years in my small group of high school girls. For every handful of soft, eager learners I always find a girl with a heart like a rock. A girl who makes even an innocent request for a drink a challenge. I imagine the Samaritan woman pointing her finger at Jesus and spitting out the cold, hard truth of her unworthiness before he had a chance to hurt her with it.

Jesus continued the conversation with measured, gentle truth. The Samaritan woman kept up her guarded ways while she tried to ascertain what handouts could come from this encounter. Her whole world must have felt like it shifted off kilter when he told her things about her past that she thought were safely locked up. Unexpectedly, everything changed. The armor chinked, the soft heart was laid bare and her deepest need rose to the surface: Redemption.  I think she whispered her next words, "Could this be the Christ?"

 The posturing and protection were over.  Now all she could think about was bringing other people to Jesus.  Something happened in her heart when she encountered Jesus, it woke up. You could call it an awakening.  That's exactly what any leader is hoping to see in the hearts of their people.

We minister because we are burdened for hearts and are asking God to use us to show Himself.  If you are like me you aren't satisfied with helping people behave better or try harder. What I am desperate to see is hearts that wake up, that ask, "Could this be the Christ?  Could Jesus really be the answer?"  Hearts that yield, giving way to God's grace and forgiveness. Lives that are radically changed like the Samaritan woman's. 

My next question is how?  How can I pave the way for Jesus' presence and God's grace to get to hearts unencumbered?  The Bible speaks a lot to how hearts awaken to the presence of Jesus.

Hearts awaken when they see things happen that could only have been God. 
The fire of the Lord came down from heaven and burned up Elijah's sacrifice on Mt. Carmel... 'When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, 'The Lord - he is God! The Lord - he is God!'" I Kings 18:39 (NIV)

Does my life show God this way?  Have I risked enough in my faith, like Elijah, that others can see things in my life that could only have been God?

Hearts awaken when they humbly respond to spiritual leadership. 
King Hezekiah sent couriers throughout Israel inviting the people to gather at the temple to celebrate Passover.  The couriers went out, but the people scorned and ridiculed them, "Nevertheless, some men of Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem.  Also in Judah the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered, following the word of the Lord." II Chron. 30:11-12 (NIV)
Am I providing spiritual leadership like Hezekiah? Am I offering invitations to obedience that require a response?  Most will probably scorn and ridicule, but some will have humble hearts. What if there is a Samaritan woman in my group?

Hearts awaken when just one heart responds to God in confession.
Ezra received a report about the behavior of the exiles that appalled him.  He tore his robes and fell on his knees before the Lord and prayed a desperate prayer for the forgiveness of his people. "While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites - men, women and children - gathered around him.  They too wept bitterly." Ezra 10:1 (NIV)

Confession of  sin began among the people when they witnessed Ezra's example.  Do I feel the weight of my people's sin as heavy as Ezra did?  Am I desperately seeking God on behalf of them? Are they seeing it?

Hearts respond when they're faced with their sin and God's wrath. 

John the Baptist traveled the countryside calling people to repentance, seeking the forgiveness of their sins and warning of God's wrath on sin. "What should we do then?' the crowd asked." Luke 3:10 (NIV)

One of the deepest goals of ministry needs to be hearing people ask this question.  John the Baptist's message was clear.  We are enemies of God, deserving of his wrath because of our sin.  True faith requires repentance - a complete turning.  Am I unashamedly speaking the truth to hearts, forcing them to face the fact that they are deserving only of God's wrath. Are my words making them desperate for an answer? Have I made it clear that Jesus is the only answer.  If people hear nothing else from me, they must hear this.

Hearts awaken when they hear about Jesus' power in the lives of those around them.
Our friend the Samaritan woman led the crowd to Jesus and  John 4:39 tells us that "Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, 'He told me everything I ever did.'" (NIV)

The woman didn't know much about Jesus, but what she did know she told. Her meager testimony was enough to awaken the hearts of those around her.  Am I offering tastes of what Jesus can do in a life?  The little I have to offer is enough to be used by God to awaken hearts.

Watch what happens next in John 4. Jesus is right in the middle of talking with the group of gathered Samaritans, it's almost like he holds his finger up to the crowd and asked them to excuse him for a minute while he huddles with his team....

"I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields!  They are ripe for harvest...." John 4:35 (NIV)

Jesus is telling us the same thing.  He has us in the huddle and is whispering,  "Open your eyes and look around you.... I'm getting ready to wake them up, don't miss it!"

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