Sunday, August 29, 2010

Teacher's Pet

Anyone I went to elementary school with wouldn't be surprised to hear that I liked being the teacher's pet.  Hearing, "Dawn, would you please take my mug to the drinking fountain and fill it for me," or "Dawn, would you please pass these papers out to the whole class," thrilled me.  I loved the approval, I loved the special attention, I loved the trust implied in being asked to do a special task.  Being the teacher's pet was performance based; I got good grades, I didn't misbehave, I didn't argue.  Being the teacher's pet was a sign of approval, it showed that the person in authority was pleased with how "good" I was.  It was also a sign of being favored; the pet is singled out for special attention.

Do you know Christians who equate that same teacher's pet mentality with God's love?  It can be easy to do.  We start thinking that we have to earn God's love--we have to do good deeds, we have to serve so that God will love us or love us more.  Or we think that blessings equal God's approval--and conversely that hard times mean that we've somehow displeased God and this is how he's letting us know.  We see a fellow Christian whose life is great and we feel like maybe God loves them more and we wonder what they're doing that we're not doing.  Do you ever slip into trying to be God's pet?  Do you ever slip into thinking that God's love is performance based and a sign of his approval?  I do.

But the truth is found in scripture where we learn that God's love is unfailing, faithfulit endures forever.  He loves us regardless of what we're doing, scripture even tells us in Romans 8:38 that nothing can separate us from that love.  He gets that we can't fully understand the way he loves us, and he loves us anyway.  He doesn't want us to be his pets; we can't earn his love or make him love us any more or any less than He does right now.  I love that His love is unconditional.  I love that He can hate my sin but not me.

That love is the motivation for loving and serving others.  Not a desire to perform well, not a desire for recognition, but just an outpouring of the love that he's pouring into us.  1 Peter tells us that we must love deeply and sincerely, he reminds us to be tenderhearted and humble, and that this deep love for others is what allows us to heal when someone hurts us.  If I imagine myself as a small pitcher being continuously poured into by a much bigger pitcher I'll see the water overflowing out of the small pitcher and soaking everything around it.  There's no way the small pitcher can possible hold all that water without it overflowing.  And that's the way it is with God's love.  There's no way I can possibly have it poured into me without having it spill out in love for others.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Is there any glory in illness?

I like Toby Mac and I really love the song "I Was Made to Love You." One day a few years ago I was listening to this song in my car and singing along loudly--which I love to do since I'm a great singer in my car--and I was feeling how much I really was made to love God. I sang the words "anything, I would give up for you...everything, I'd give it all away" and I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit ask a really simple question. "Even your health?" At that point I pulled my car over and put it in park. I was shaken. During that time period I was dealing with severe headaches (still am) and hadn't had a break from having a headache in months. I had been through countless doctors appointments and tests, many people were praying, some were even counseling me that I must have unconfessed sin to be so ill. God's glory was supposed to be manifest in my healing. God's glory would be shown best by the awesome testimony I would have when he miraculously healed my pain...right? That's how it works...right? And then came the question from God himself. Would I really give up ANYTHING for him? Would I be sick for His glory?

Now, don't misunderstand me. I know God didn't make me sick. He didn't give me Marfan's and all of the complications that go with that. But his question pointed out two things to me. One part was an invitation to go deeper with Him, to examine my commitment to Him. Was I really willing to give up anything? Was I really willing to use every aspect of my life to point to His greatness? Tough questions. The other part was God exposing to me an idol that I had created.

A friend of mine said recently that whatever you fear becomes your god. I was afraid of being incapacitated, afraid of being disabled, afraid that I would end up in a wheelchair or housebound. Awake in the middle of the night, can't get it out of my head fear. And because of that fear I was slowly turning health into an idol. I wanted to do everything in my power to be healthy. I was in charge of taking care of my body; I had to exercise and eat right and see the right doctors and monitor the symptoms and make sure that I knew everything there was to know about my condition and and and...None of these things are bad in and of themselves. But the repeating theme was the big giant "I have to do this." I was taking care of all of it and asking God to come along for the ride. I was trusting God to a degree, but I was taking much of the credit and responsibility on myself. Every aspect of my health focused around me hearing God correctly and doing the right things, not me trusting that God would take care of it and make himself heard. That's an exhausting way to live.

I was believing the lie that God's greatest glory would be shown in total healing. But maybe God's glory is shown best in a life well lived in the midst of great adversity. What if I can truly answer "how are you?" with "great" regardless of my circumstances? Not because I'm denying the adversity but because I feel great because of God's love and strength in me. What if God's peace and the Holy Spirit's presence is so evident in me that people are drawn to Him? What if they see only that peace and joy and know that it has to be from God because of my limitations?

That's what it would mean to be sick for God. Living out my life focused on God's love and constant presence and abundant blessings in the midst of trouble honors God. It's my truest form of worship.

Do you want to know how I answered the Holy Spirit's question that day in the car? I did say yes but tentatively and unenthusiastically. I think I actually said "I guess?" I don't like having problems with my body. I would rather be well, but I'm willing to lay down my desire. I am willing to cling to the promise in Romans 8:18 "[But what of that?] For I consider that the sufferings of this present time (this present life) are not worth being compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us and in us and for us and conferred on us!" (amplified)

Romans also says in 8:35-37, "Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us." (NLT) I am going to embrace the promise of overwhelming victory and live out this present life for God.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Special Doll

I was talking with a friend recently about my mom and she said she can't ever think about my mom without remembering a story I told her about a doll I received for Christmas one year. I'll tell the story here because it does illustrate what an amazing mom God gave me.

When I was little it seems like money was always tight. There were 9 of us in the house, my Dad owned his own business and clients didn't always pay when they were supposed to. One year when I was preschool age I really wanted a baby doll and buggy for Christmas. I wanted it so bad! I even asked Santa at the mall for it. On Christmas morning all 7 kids had to wait in the long hallway that the bedrooms branched off of until all of us were up and ready to go see our stockings. As we waited for the last few stragglers, the anticipation and excitement would build. This year as I walked out to the living room I saw a doll buggy sitting in front of the fireplace. I had received the gift I was dreaming of! I was thrilled! I ran over and picked up my baby doll...and disappointment set in. I was picturing a perfect, beautiful doll. But what I was holding was a doll with a defect. Her eyes were not set in the sockets like they were supposed to be. Instead they were sunken back in her head. She wasn't beautiful at all. I shook her around a little and tried to fix it. I tried not to let my disappointment show. But I finally took her to my mom and told her that something was wrong with my baby doll. Close to tears I showed her the dolls eyes and asked her if they could be fixed. She told me no and then this is the part that I think illustrates what an amazing mother I have. But before I tell you I want you to imagine being in my mom's shoes. Money is tight, you have 7 kids, it's Christmas, and the only doll you can afford to give to grant your baby's wish is a defective one. When I asked my question she didn't show disappointment or shame, she just said, "you know, I think Santa knew that you would love that doll no matter what. You see, sometimes God gives parents a baby that has something wrong with it. He can only give those babies to the really special parents, the ones who will love that baby just like it is. I think that God knows you're one of those really special ones, so Santa knew you could love that doll." So love her I did. Sometimes I was embarrassed when a bunch of girls got together to play dolls and inevitably someone would ask me what was wrong with my doll. Sometimes I tried to hide her face. But my mom's words stuck with me and I kept that baby doll and loved her even when I received new dolls who were perfect in later years.

My mom didn't know at that point that I had been born with a genetic defect. She had already gone through 6 months of a hip brace, 3 surgeries, and countless doctor's appointments by that time. She had already dealt with rude people telling her she shouldn't let me act like a 2 year old because I was so tall that I looked 4 or 5 when I was 2. She didn't know that she would go through years of orthopedic visits with me crying and arguing. She didn't know that I would be teased mercilessly for my height and my skinny arms and legs and come home from school many days in tears. She didn't know that I would be hospitalized and sick with severe headaches for months in 1st grade, have surgery on my foot twice, and finally be diagnosed with Marfan's at 21. My mom was there every step of the way. She and my Dad were there during my high risk labor and delivery, they were there praying and pleading with God when my aorta dissected. They were there in my recovery taking care of me and helping with my kids as we lived with my parents while I healed. I was a pretty high maintenance kid and I'm still a high maintenance adult and their motto continues to be at 77 that if I need them, they'll be here.

And so I think back to her words..."sometimes God gives parents a baby that has something wrong with it. He can only give those babies to the really special parents, the ones who will love that baby just like it is." I think God knew that my parents would love me in the midst of my imperfection. I think God knew that they wouldn't ever make me feel like I shouldn't be the person I was. I am so thankful for the amazing, special parents that God gave me. Thanks for the lesson, Mom and Dad. You said it, Mom, and then you guys lived it out in my life.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Thanks for the laughter, Lord.

This is the 4th installment in Isaac's adoption story. You can find the first, second and third here.

What an amazing feeling it is to be chosen to parent a baby. We had been waiting so long. It had been 10 months since our homestudy was complete, about 18 months since we had started the process. That's short by a lot of adoption standards. It felt like a long time to us. Most of the couples that we had started out with already had adopted by this point. We were some of the last to have a baby placed with us.

We went straight from meeting our son's birthparents to my parents' house to pick our daughter up. Our daughter was the first person we saw and we told her she was going to have a baby brother. She ran in the house and told her grandparents. We went back to our house and got a call telling us that our son would be most likely coming home the next day. Wow! So we called my parents and asked them to come over and help us get ready. We hadn't bought diapers or soaps or any of those baby supplies. The crib was still in pieces in the basement. I didn't want all of that sitting there daily reminding me of what we didn't have but now it was time. My Mom and I washed clothes, my Dad went with Rick to buy a second car. My Mom always jokes that they actually came over just to help hold my feet on the ground. That's probably closest to the truth. I felt like I was floating, like I couldn't focus. I had so much to do to be ready for this little guy in such a short period of time and I didn't really want to do any of it, I just wanted to go pick him up and hold him in my arms and bring him home.

We met the adoption worker and our son's foster mother at DSHS the next day. The first thing they did was hand us his discharge papers from the NICU. There were 9 different diagnoses listed on it. Most of them were resolved but I was so overwhelmed. Then his foster mother started outlining his care; how his feedings had to happen, when his medications were due, how to work the monitor, what to do when he turned blue or the alarm sounded telling us that his heartrate was too low. Then she took the blanket off the carseat and there he was; so tiny--only 6 pounds and 6 ounces at that point--and so pale. He looked so fragile and I was so scared. For an instant I wondered if we really were the right parents for this little guy. And then she asked if I wanted to hold him. When she laid him in my arms all of the negatives just evaporated. There was such a feeling of rightness, this was our baby. Our son had finally arrived. Isaac David Jacob was now a part of our family.

I remember early on in our adoption journey hearing that every adoption begins with loss. The adoptive parents have (usually) lost the abilbity to have a biological child and need to mourn whatever brought them to that place. The child has lost his first family--his birth family and will mourn that over his lifetime. And of course the birthparents have lost the daily parenting of a child that they've given life. But out of that loss, something beautiful can grow. We didn't ignore the loss, we couldn't. We didn't deny it's existence, denial wouldn't have made it go away anyway. Instead we trusted that God is bigger than any of those things. He can redeem any situation. He's not limited by grief, he's not limited by feelings. He took those first losses and used those tattered threads to weave together a family. I am so, so thankful that he did.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hidden sin

My husband bought himself a t-shirt a few months back. It's black, it looks cool. It has a picture of a skeleton in full biker gear on a Harley. When he bought it, he noticed it had writing on it but he didn't really take the time to read through it all. Most of it just looked like part of the design elements of the shirt. The first time he wore it he came downstairs and one of our kids said "Dad, do you know that you're wearing a shirt that says "SIN" in big letters at the top? Maybe you shouldn't wear that one to work." My husband was shocked. How could he have missed it? He said "I can't believe I bought a shirt that advertises sin". Some of you might think that being a church employee at that point he tore the shirt off and threw it away. Nope, even at only $5, he's way too frugal to throw away a perfectly good shirt. (I want to be clear that "sin" is the brand name.) He is careful about when he wears it though.

As I put our clothes away today though, I started thinking about him accidentally buying a shirt with "SIN" emblazoned across the front. He didn't notice the "sin", he saw the cool picture, he saw the cheap price tag, he saw the good fit. Isn't that how we accidentally slip into sin in our lives? We didn't want to gossip but those women were really funny and pretty soon the conversation turned and it was so interesting. We didn't mean to get into that inappropriate relationship but that person really understood us and listened to us and paid attention and pretty soon a line was crossed. We slip into sin not because we make a conscious choice to advertise sin with our lives, but because it was hidden by the other details. And isn't the rational for why we stay in sin similar to why my husband still has the shirt? He doesn't want to take the (albeit really small) financial hit. Isn't that similar to, "well, I know we shouldn't be living together before marriage but housing prices are so expensive and this just makes financial sense." The shirt is in great shape, there are so many other parts of the shirt that work great. That's pretty similar to, "but the friendship is so good, I don't want to lose it by being the boring one who won't take part in the gossip." Or "I'm sure we can be strong and just talk and it won't cross any lines this time."

Scripture tells us to stay alert because our enemy the devil prowls around seeking someone to devour. It also tells us to avoid every kind of evil--all sin. I want to make sure that I don't accidentally slip into sin in my life like my husband accidentally slipped into his sin shirt.