Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ten-Year Old B*tches, Sunday School, and Getting our Judgey On: A Little Chat About Motes and Beams

Grace: Mom, can people really get kicked out the church?

Me: Uh....well, um, yeah, I suppose if they do something really bad and it's not safe for other people at church to be around them...

Grace: Can I get kicked out of the church?

Me: What happened?

Grace: XX (Anonymous Child) said that the bishop can kick people out of church, and they can't come back, and he's going to kick me out because I don't go to the right Sunday School class.

Editorial comment here: Grace rarely ever goes to her "assigned" class, and it has quite a lot to do with XX, who is a little bee-yotch. It's not enough that she has to torment and harass my daughter IN the class; now she's appointed herself the God police to judge my daughter for avoiding the scene of emotional brutality? Cue the mama-bear claws now.

This was followed by a heart-to-heart talk about how Jesus Christ invites everyone--EVERYONE--to come to Him, and He's less concerned with technicalities like getting to the "right" Sunday School class, and more concerned with helping each of us be good and kind. We talked about how sometimes when we feel unhappy and miserable, we try to make other people feel bad, too, and that it says more about the person being mean than the victim of the meanness. We talked about who gets to have input in decisions like which Sunday School class to attend--that Grace gets a lot of input in the choice because it's her body & soul under discussion, that Mom gets a say because God assigned her to be Grace's mom & look out for her well-being--and because Mom loves Grace & cares for her--, that the Primary president and bishop get a little bit of a say because they accepted assignments from God to watch over the congregation, and they also love & care about Grace. And Anonymous Child XX gets zero say, because it's none of her damn business.

If there is one lousy, rotten thing that we church people are waaaaaay too good at, it's that all too often, we excel at judging, criticizing, and picking apart each others' perceived sins.

Here's the thing: I believe there are very limited, narrow circumstances where it's not only okay to pass some form of judgment; it's necessary and right. As a mom, I have the right and responsibility to use my judgment to protect my children. While I believe in redemption and forgiveness, I'm not going to knowingly leave my child alone with a convicted child predator because I want to be open-minded and tolerant. As a single woman, I sometimes make conscious decisions to not become involved with some men because their scars and brokenness are not a good fit with my scars and brokenness, and we would be very unhealthy together. I tend to avoid gossipy or negative people as much as I can, because I don't like the feeling that I have around them. I also generally avoid being around people who relish drama, because my life is quite busy enough for good and happy reasons, and I don't need extraneous uproar to distract me from the more important business of being a good mom, a good sister, a good daughter, and a good friend.

I have noticed that when I am feeling most critical toward others, I am always, ALWAYS feeling unhappy with myself. It's not about them; it's about me. I have noticed that when I am feeling chock full, brimming over with love, happy with myself and trusting God, I don't have the teeniest speck of judgment for others. I just love them.

Love is a whole different ball game from criticism. Love listens. Love wants to understand. Love doesn't condemn. Love points the way to healing and redemption. Love says, "I like being with you. I miss you. Tell me how I can help you. Help me understand your point of view." Love says, "Let's walk together,and help each other."

Love isn't always easy. It isn't intended to be. Love sent the most perfect, gentle and loving Man who ever lived to the cross. Thanks to His example, we have a blueprint for how to love each other.

Here's a surefire tip for navigating church life and home life and everything in between: if it's about fear, it's not of God. If it's about love, it's about God. And if you are wielding fear as a club to bring people to God....well, maybe stop and consider who is the author of fear and who is the author of peace and love, and maybe reconsider who you are following.

Fear asks what other people will think. Love asks what you & God think--because your opinion, thoughts, and feelings matter to Him.

Fear threatens shunning, rejection, and being kicked out. Love invites you in, all of you, even in your messy incompleteness.

Fear offers the damning illusion that other people's flaws somehow make you better. Love covers your flaws with mercy, and frees you to forgive the flaws of others and extend a helping hand.

Fear creates rigid rules and artificial boundaries under the false impression that forcing compliance will lead to safety. Love honors free will as one of the greatest gifts of God, and naturally leads to wise choices as love begets understanding.

Fear sees others' actions as reflecting on us. Love celebrates and encourages personal agency.

Fear leads to unhealthy dependence. Love leads to joyful interdependence.

Fear says that questioning is wrong and bad and scary. Love says that questions are the beginning of answers, and that no question is too big or tough for God, even if the question is screamed and hollered.

Fear says people do things because they are evil. Love says only God knows the heart, and people often do things out of deep hurt, longstanding pain, familial patterns, and ignorance. Love sets us free to learn and do better, and to allow others the same privilege.

Fear says you'll get in trouble. Love offers you help.

Fear makes us suspicious of others' motives and actions. Love knows we are all in this together, and love extends grace.

A couple of years ago, in a women's meeting at church, we were discussing ways that we could show love for each other. Sisters shared stories of kindnesses performed, loving words spoken, generous gifts received, and huge sacrifices made for each other. One sister offered the most profound and touching example. "As I look over my life," she said, "I am so grateful for the acts of service, large and small, that I have received. But I think the greatest kindness of all has come simply when others have refrained from judgment."


Here's to opening doors and hearts, living less in fear and more in love, to ignoring the motes and focusing more on the beams, and to extending more grace and forgiveness, even to little ten-year old bee-yotches--who probably need less of my momma-bear claws and more of my momma-bear love.

In the end, love always wins. Always.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

On Easter Sunday

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.

One of my favorite hymns is the quintessential anthem of redemption Amazing Grace. It's only in part because I have my very own amazing Grace, who continues to amaze and astound me every day, as I relish the wonder of being her mother. Each of my babies has been rocked to sleep by the words and the tune celebrating the endless depths of Christ's power to redeem.

The story of Easter is the story of John Newton, who wrote the original lines to the hymn. He could be the poster child for the power of redemption. Law-breaking, atheist, notorious for his profanity, incarcerated multiple times for his rebellion, and actively involved as a slave trader for much of his early life, Newton became a minister, ardent anti-slavery activist, and prolific writer of hymns, sermons, and gospel lessons.

The beauty of the grace he celebrated in his most famous hymn is that we don't remember him as one of many faceless slave traders in history. We don't know him for the violence and brutality that marked his early life. We don't remember him as a great minister. In fact, we don't really think about him much at all. His legacy is the peace and faith and hope and crowning power of Christ's wondrous work, as told in the words to his song.

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
So long as life endures

The story of Easter is the story of second chances. And third and fourth and one-hundred-seventy-seventh chances. It's the story of beginning anew. It's the promise that all things, no matter how broken, can be made whole. It's the story of all things being turned to our good and to God's glory.

It's the story of grace so powerful that it can root out our sins, change our very hearts, and make us holy. That's some seriously amazing grace.

You can rise above whatever is holding you down. You can be more than you were. Whatever you were yesterday, you can be something more today. It's never too late, it's never too much, and it's never beyond the power of His love.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come. 
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.

Amazing grace. Redemption. To overcome a life enslaved by chains or a life holding the chains on others, for healing the wounds we've received or the wounds we've inflicted, there is only One with power to bring us above the pain, hopelessness, suffering, sin, and despair of life.

Let His incomparable, transcendent, and truly amazing grace lead you home.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Sparrow. My Story of Matthew 10:29-31

When I bought valentines for my kids to share on Vday this year, the thought flickered across my mind that I should pick up an extra box. So I did. And then I patted myself on the back for preemptively dealing with the inevitable fallout when the last child to choose is stuck with the last box and therefore hates it, not because anything is wrong with it, but just because he/she didn't get to CHOOSE it.

I didn't really think about what to do with the leftover box, assuming, I suppose, that I'd just pass it along to a neighbor, or bring the Vday treats inside the box to share at the office.

So I was surprised when, the moment that I actually thought about it, a clear and distinct feeling came that I should give it to one of my daughter's teachers, for someone in the class who wouldn't be prepared with valentines that day.

I didn't pay much attention, and when I did remember, I'd wonder if I should just hand it to the first teacher I saw. And every time I'd have the clear feeling that it needed to be THAT teacher, in that classroom, in that grade.

I finally remembered on Valentine's Day itself. I grabbed the box and ran into the classroom when I dropped my kids off. The teacher was surprised, and looked doubtful. "Are you sure you want to leave it with me," she asked. "I'm pretty sure that all of my kids are ready for Valentine's Day." I told her to share the treats with the class if they weren't needed.

Later that day I got an email from the teacher. "How did you know?" she wrote. "One of the boys didn't have any valentines to hand out, and he was so sad. I gave him the box you dropped off and it made his day. He was so excited to not only have valentines, but to have such AWESOME ones."

Here's the thing that keeps getting me: I didn't know. His teacher didn't know. The other kids didn't know. Quite possibly, the kid himself didn't even know, because kids are kind of clueless like that, and don't always think about things like asking parents to get valentines for them.

But Somebody did.

Somebody cared enough about one little boy in one little school in one little town, to nudge one distracted and tired mom to grab an extra box of valentines, and point her feet in the direction they needed to go, and then open one teacher's eyes to see where the need was, so it could be filled.

It's not even a very big deal. In the big, grand scheme of things, not having valentines to pass out in fifth grade hardly rates as a reason for divine intervention.

That's how God works, though. If it matters to us, it matters to Him. He moves heaven and earth, moves overworked teachers and moms in minivans, to see us happy.

YOU matter. YOU are the child of Heavenly Parents, and your happiness is their sole aim. You are loved, even down to the details of your daily life. There is nothing too small or too silly; too big or too scary, that it can't be wrapped up in their love.

I promise. You are that important.

And worth so much more than sparrows.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Just One More

Just in case you haven't heard the hollering at our house....

We're adding one more. 

We're bringing home a new brother from China, yes, BUT we're also bringing home a new sister as well. Can you hear the heavens singing? 

I'm not even sure how to tell the story, in part because it's still being written. I'm still having a hard time wrapping my mind around all the crazy things that led up to this decision, and the miracle that we actually got approval to bring home a second baby. I won't lie--I'm freaking out a little bit when I think about TWO new little ones running around my house. One was scary; two is flat out terrifying. 

Oh, but we are so excited! This feels so right for our family. It's such a neat thing to watch things fall apart and then fall back together, perfectly and just-rightly. It's such a privilege to see God at work, up close and personal. 

The adoption process is brutal. I'd forgotten how rough it can be, and this most recent one so far trumps the others in sheer amount of work and emotional energy. At least every other day I find myself thinking that I can't do this again. And maybe I won't. That's okay, if I'm done after these two. 

The thing that has kept me pushing through is knowing that, however rough it is for me, it's so much worse to live life without a family. However unbearable the incredibly invasive process feels to me, it's so much worse to grow up without a family to hug you and play with you and be there for you and remember your birthday, and have a place to go at Christmas. 

One of the reasons that it took me three+ years to get on board the adoption plan this time around was because I wasn't convinced that adopting as a single mom was a great plan. I thought a two-parent family would be better for the child, and I wasn't sure that I, as a single mom, wanted to take on even more--especially when I know so intimately how hard it can sometimes be. God was patient with me and led me along until my heart was ready. Ultimately, two truths convinced me. One, I was busy whining about how I wasn't sure I could handle another child and I wasn't sure this was the right time for me/us, and this wasn't the way that I'd prefer to do it....and the whole time I was whining there were millions of orphans sitting in cribs who never even got asked if they could handle being alone, or whether this was the right time to be orphaned, or whether this was the way they'd prefer to live their lives. Two, I realized that they didn't need a great and perfect plan, with a great and perfect family. They just needed a family. Even a goofy, crazy one like mine. Even a single-mom family like mine, with loud, obnoxious siblings, and a tired, too-often-frazzled momma. We aren't perfect; I'm not perfect. But we're enough. 

I'm hoping to travel this summer to bring them home. Right now my paperwork is working its way through the final steps in Washington DC, then on to China. It's been a long and exhausting process. I keep reminding myself that the real work begins once they get home. Being part of a family when you've never known what "family" means can be scary and overwhelming and really, really hard. I have no illusions that this is going to be easy. But some of the best things in my life are also the hardest things. At our house, "hard" isn't a reason to avoid good things with eternal consequences. We grit our teeth and say lots of prayers and just keep plugging away. There are some advantages to being a stubborn little #$%&.  

Your prayers would be greatly appreciated. For me, as I work my butt off to make this happen financially.  For the kids in my home right now, who are working out realities like new bedroom arrangements and how to keep little ones out of their legos, and can't understand why adoption is such a long & seemingly endless process. For my kiddos who are waiting on the other side of the globe, who are about to go through an unbelievable life change, that likely won't seem like a good thing at first, from their perspective. Please pray for us. 

Also, soak in that loads of cuteness picture at the top. Am I the luckiest momma or what? I CANNOT WAIT to smooch those cheeks, and make my little boy chuckle (because seeing it in video is just not enough, not even close). 

God's plan is a beautiful thing. We are so blessed to be part of it.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

40 Acts of Service

I've been very bad about blogging our 40 acts of service in honor of my 40th birthday. I haven't been as bad about actually doing them, though.

During the past three months we've hauled bags of food to the food pantry, shoveled snow for neighbors, donated money to help other families adopt, and babysat for friends, to name a few.

I'm giving up right now on recapping all of them here, though we did indeed finish our list.

My focus is the takeaway from this little project.

Sometimes I think that I am one of the most obtuse people on the planet. So many of my friends seem to have a knack for noticing the needs of those around them, and finding ways to help. Me, I'm the clueless one on the sidelines who stands and watches, and thinks of opening the door for you after you've already struggled through with four kids and ten bags. This whole charity thing is just not hard wired into my brain and heart.

It's something that I pray for, and work at, and try to do better. And that's been the best thing about our 40 acts of service. For the past three months my mind has been focused on ways to serve people, and I've felt myself actually becoming the compassionate, kind person I want to be.

The 40 acts themselves were wonderful. I'm almost more excited about the smaller kindnesses that popped up because my mind and heart were in charity mode.

The miracle was that for the past three months I've actually noticed. The woman clearing six inches of snow off her car in hose and heels. The mother with more crying children than lap space. The woman with her arms loaded up between buildings. The elderly gentleman who needed a listening ear. This 40 acts project we took on finally succeeded in breaking down some walls of self-absorption around my heart so my eyes could see more clearly.

That is a gift. That is an answered prayer. That is my favorite thing about this experience.

The challenge now is to keep those walls down. I want to keep seeing with these new eyes of charity.

Monday, November 18, 2013

It's All a Matter of Perspective

Grace: "What is the definition of 'obsolete?'" 
Me: "Um, old and doesn't really work anymore." 
Grace: "You mean, like, Grandma Sherry?"
Me: "Oh, BURN." 
Grace: "WHAT?!?! I meant, that she's retired and doesn't have to go to work like you do. What did YOU think I meant?" 


Mia: "Mom, what's this picture?" 
Me: "That's when I was in college." 
Mia: "WHAT?? I didn't know they had fridges when you were in college!"

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Saving Batman

Someone asked me the other day why I was adopting another little one.

That's a big question, with lots of big answers. But I think I can summarize.

Last week Eric had a friend over to play. Between the Legos, movies, and candy, they perused comic books and discussed subjects near and dear to little boys' hearts. Like Batman.

"Do you know something really, really sad about Batman," Eric queried.

"Um, I guess," replied his friend.

"Did you know that his mom and dad were killed? They got shot, right in front of him. When he was just a little kid."

Unintelligible grunt from friend.

"So, he has no parents. And he grew up without a family. Isn't that totally the worst thing you can imagine?"

Another unintelligible grunt from friend.

My kids are a big part of the reason that I'm going for one more. They have been pushing for this for years. There has never been any doubt in their minds that there is another child out there meant to come home to us. They are exceptionally kind and compassionate kiddos, it's true. But I think it's more than that.

They get it. When they hear stories of kids growing up in orphanages and kids without families, there is an element of "there but for the grace of God go I" for my kids. They don't take it for granted.

Eric loves to sneak into his room when no one notices and come out wearing a superhero mask and cape. He'll race around the front room and refuse to answer to "Eric."

"I'm ChinaMan! How did ChinaMan get into the house? No one knows!"

I'm doing this again because I know the joy that one little masked crusader brings to a home.

I can't save the estimated four million orphans in the world. But I can make sure that one more little superhero doesn't have to find out how sad it is to grow up without a family.

Saving the world one Batman at a time.

Kindness Thing 5, For Real This Time

Kindness Thing No. 5 was Mia's brainchild.

We bought a package of mints. Mia wrote a note:

Dear mail carier, thank you for brngingus our mail evry day.

We put it in the mailbox with the note peeking out. It took four days before the letter carrier took it. I think he didn't read the note the first three days. Either that, or curious neighbor children went home smelling like peppermint.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Kindness Thing 5 (Almost)

One of the things on our Kindness list was to go out to eat and pay for another family's dinner.

This was more of a challenge than we expected, as the restaurant was nearly deserted. By the time we picked a group of diners to treat, it didn't seem that dinner would be appreciated, but perhaps buying dessert would.

We called the waitress over to ask if we could buy dessert for the next table. She bustled over with a twinkle in her eye. Before we could ask our question she informed us that WE were being treated to dessert!

You can bet there were some happy kids at our table.

So, we still have to do number five. But, on the plus side, isn't it so wonderful to see how kindness comes back to you?

People are just good.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Kindness Things 3 & 4

As noted earlier, the kids and I are carrying out 40 acts of kindness in anticipation of my 40th birthday coming up--and I'm chronicling them here (since I'm too lazy to keep a separate record).

No. 3

We wrote thank you notes to teachers who we love. It was sweet to see my kids' sincere appreciation for the little things their teachers do. It spurred me to do the same. I hunted down the address for one of my old professors, now retired, and wrote a note thanking him for being such a positive influence in my life.

Gratitude just feels so good.

No. 4

I have been hesitant to post this one. It seems kind of private and sacred to our family. But I also can't imagine leaving it off the list.

Last week I got a really awful text from someone our family loves very much, telling me that her newborn son had only lived a few hours from birth. Instead of coming home with her new baby, she and her husband were planning a funeral and trying to figure out how to tell their little daughter that her baby brother wouldn't be coming home.

My kids LOVE babies. Head-over-heels-obsess over them. My kids love R and her family. They have enjoyed loving on her first baby since birth, and have adored watching her grow from newborn to toddler to big girl. When I broke the news to the kids the car went absolutely silent. Then Mia said, "That is the worst thing you've ever told us." I agree, baby girl. It sucks.

My kids also have very big hearts. In the eight minutes it took to get home they had unanimously decided to forfeit our family pizza money and send it to R & her family to help in whatever way it could, with medical bills, funeral costs, or even just grabbing pizza themselves on a night they were too tired, too busy, or too sad to think about dinner.

Love those kids of mine. They are keepers, the whole lot of them.