Thursday, March 31, 2011

Being Led

Tiny footprints.  Marks made by little feet.  A carefree day at the ocean.  Sea shells.  Salty air.  Sun shining down on our shoulders.  Little girl, filled with wonder.  Every part of her day, glorious.  No fear.  No worry.  Right now.  Just this moment.  Laughing.  Exploring.  Experiencing.  Trusting.

Sometimes I learn a lot about life from my children.

I want my life to look like this.  My trust to look like this.

Even when rain beats down.  Even when lightning rips through the sky.  Even when the snow is blown so fiercly by icy winds that I can't see a foot in front of me.

I want to be led.

I want to see where this God whose voice shakes mountains and quiets souls is taking me.  Sometimes He asks me to stand still.  Sometimes He shows me where to put my next step.  He leads me through hard places, and He brings me out the other side, refined by the heat but unscorched by the flame.  He births dreams in my soul, and He asks me to trust Him enough to hand them back.  Then with my stronger, braver, battle-worn, more faith-filled heart, He brings me into places that are so incredibly rich in His glory.

My prayers used to be so specific.  I thought I knew exactly what to ask the Lord to do in my life.  And the longer I spend in the warmth of His presence, the more I know that the only safe thing to ask is for His will to be done.  I ask to be led.  I ask to have my heart changed to be more like His.  I ask for the stripping away of the things that are holding me back from basking in His perfect peace.  I learn to stand still when I want to be moving.  And to step forward when I don't know exactly where I'm going.

"Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'" Isaiah 30:21 

My prayer for you today is that you will hear God's voice clearly leading you in each step.  That you will be fearless and trusting and filled with joy.  That God's dreams for you will change your heart in ways you never imagined and wouldn't want to live without.  I'm praying for you to weather the storms with grace and to soak up the glorious warmth of the Lord's presence where you are today.  

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Holding on Loosely

At times, I find my fingers tightly gripping a dream.  The appearance of it is beautiful to me.  It's what I pray for and wait for.

But God wants me to hold on loosely.  The way a dream takes shape is by the forming of His hands, if it is a dream worth having.

I learned this because of a orphan I love.  A boy in Ukraine who is part of my heart's family.  In my dream, we adopt him, and he spends weekends fishing with my husband.  In my dream, he shares the room on the third floor with Eli, and they wrestle with our bulldog together, laughing as brothers.  In my dream, he sits in the chair that has been empty at the dinner table each evening, and on school mornings, I only drink half of my coffee before rushing one more child out to the car on the way to school.

We pursue this dream.  We see in God's Word that He is "A father to the fatherless...God sets the lonely in families."  Psalm 68:5 & 6
That must mean it's God's will for him to be adopted, right?

God is faithful, both in the opening and closing of doors.  God's dream for Sasha is different than mine.  In my loosely holding onto a dream, God has taught me so much about His perfect way of shaping our lives and our hearts.  He has taught me so much about how little I understand and how unequipped I am to be the dream-designer in my life.  Certainly there are dreams I have, because God has planted them in my heart.  But as they grow from seeds, the way they spring to life and blossom is by His design.

God has shown me that He has set Sasha in a family.  He is part of our family by love.  We work hard to love on him and encourage him through letters and by a commitment to meet any needs we know he has.  We remind him the Lord loves him and has good plans for him.  We have promised to remain in his life as long as he'd like us to be there.  God has also set him in a family in Ukraine, at Sunshine, where he has lived for several years now.   Sasha is standing next to the man who has been his foster father in this ski picture.  I loved receiving this, because I am so thankful that he is being loved and cared for within the context of a family and a home.

And God is so good.  He is refining my dreams and stretching my faith all the time.  But even as this is happening, He surprises me with beautiful gifts.  In August, Selden and I will be going to Sunshine to spend time with Sasha and the other kids there.  Some of you sent them gifts this Christmas, as part of the Sunshine Christmas project we did on Facebook!  (See their happy faces, with all the gifts!!!)  We are taking gifts to the children when we go, so if you would like to send something to a specific child (you can meet them all on Sunshine Christmas on Facebook or I can send you pictures) or something for the Center, please let me know.   Please also pray for us to raise the finances for the trip (and if you'd like to make a donation, we humbly welcome that - you can "comment" to ask more info).  We are so excited to go on this mission and meet the children whose names and faces we now know.  They all are so precious!

Even though I've learned to cradle my dreams in open hands, knowing that they are only mine if God says they are and how He says they are, sometimes I know He must be smiling as He hands back to me bits of what I have desperately longed for.

The vision my heart has had for over a year now is one of Sasha and Selden, standing at the water's edge, fishing poles in hand.  (They both love fishing more than anything.)  I've said goodbye to this dream over and over.  Each time I package up things I bought for Sasha to have here and go to the post office, I let some of my dream go.  When I lost my pink fishing pole, and we unwrapped the one we bought for Sasha, because he isn't coming here to use it, I let my dream change shape.  So, I'm really excited to tell you that one of the things we'll be doing on our missions trip is fishing!  I'll take a few pictures of this, because how many times do you get a chance to stand back and look at a dream spring to life?

God wants us to be willing to hand back each of our dreams to Him.  He desires our trust.  He is worthy of our trust.  God is not a dream-taker.  When things turn out differently than we hoped, it is because we can only see things from our limited perspective.  God wants me to chase Him and His will instead of a dream.  When I open my hands and release everything in my heart back to the Lord, He is so faithful to repackage and give back to me the dreams He has created for me in exactly the way He knows is best.

"Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart."  Psalm 37:4

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

If Only I Loved Swimming: Thoughts from the Edge of the Diving Board

When I was a little girl, I loved to swim.  Up to the edge of the diving board I would walk, letting my toes linger briefly at the edge.  My mom taught me how to stretch my arms up high and bend toward the water, so I could slice right through the surface. Eventually I became more comfortable at the end of the board, and I wanted to feel the movement of the board under my little body.  I wanted to dive "big." Standing there, arms locked tight beside my ears, fingers pointed, I loved to spring off the board and try to swim the whole length of the pool before coming up for air.

At the ocean, my dad and I would wade slowly out into the icy Atlantic surf at Acadia.  Sometimes we'd stand still, feeling the sand rushing out from beneath our feet each time the waves pulled away from the shore.  My dad and I would swim together in that water, only coming out when we couldn't even feel our skin anymore for the cold.

Now I'm a grown-up, and I don't love swimming.  Now, I prefer to sit in a beach chair with a good book, watching the kids play in the water.  I don't think being flung from the end of a diving board into a bunch of chlorinated pool water sounds like fun (or like a good idea for preserving my hair color).  Freezing half to death in the ocean, where I might be unfortunate enough to run into a jelly fish - and I'll definitely be unfortunate enough to have bits of sand sticking to me for days - is not my idea of a good time.

And that's ok.  As long as we're talking about swimming.

But what about my faith?  I want to be someone who gets to the edge and jumps.  I want my jumping to be fearless and for there to be no lingering at the edge of my comfort zone.  When the sway of uncertainty is under my feet and growing with each step, I don't want to hesitate before stretching my arms up heavenward and diving in.

What I notice about myself is that it's not the jumping part that I'm afraid of.  It's the landing.  Specifically it's the not-knowing-where-I'm-landing part.  A lot of times, I know what God's asking me to do, but I really struggle when I don't know the "how" part of His plan.  God's reminding me daily that He is telling me the "what," but I won't know the "how" until I leave the diving board.

Where is the line of trust drawn?  Do I have a place I'll follow Jesus up to, but to go beyond that is too far? Will I only stand up to my ankles at the edge of the expanse of what God's preparing for my life, or will I rush in, even when the sand is slipping from beneath my feet and the water's really cold?

I'm asking God to fill me with the kind of faith that never pauses before leaping.  I really want it to be something that happens without the requirement of leaping first, but that isn't how faith works.  So I'm standing at the edge, and sometimes I close my eyes, because I don't dare to look.  I just have to jump.

Once in a while, my dive is graceful and sure.  Other times, I jump reluctantly, as though I'm unsure if there's even water in the pool.  There are even moments I know I've sat in my chair when I should have been swimming.  I wonder what I've missed.

God is calling us to get in the water.  What if we all held on loosely to what we have, to where we are comfortable, to our financial security, to our agendas?  I've heard the phrase "give until it hurts" several times recently, and I don't know if I've ever done that.  I've thought of the rich man in Mark 10 who was told by Jesus, "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven."  He walked away, because he only wanted Jesus as long as it didn't cost him too much.

Today, I'm praying that all of us will be taking more steps in faith and fewer in fear and that we will be people who show our love by our obedience, whatever the cost.  I'm asking God to keep giving me reasons to get back on that diving board, so I can eventually be good at diving headfirst, fearlessly and "big" into His will and even try swimming for a while before coming up for air.

"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:18

"We live by faith and not by sight." 2 Corinthians 5:7

"For Christ's love compels us... And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." 2 Corinthians 5:14a & 15

Reckless Faith: Let Go and Be Led
If you want to move more fearlessly into the adventure God's designed you to live, and you want to be inspired to stretch your faith, read this book!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Worth Repeating: A Talk With My Dad

(This is a post from a year ago when we were seeing closed doors in our adoption process, but it is something worth sharing again. Maybe it will speak to you where you are today...)

Last night I had such a great conversation with my dad. We've always been a pair who can talk forever, and yesterday was one of those long, precious conversations. I'm blessed that I have a father on this earth who speaks wisdom to me (and wisdom spoken in an Irish accent just sounds that much cooler!). We were talking, among other things, about doors. Specifically about doors being open or doors being closed. In life as well as in adoption, we are constantly moving through these doorways, constantly moving through some process or other.

My dad said something to me that I think is so right on, and I want to share it. He said, "There is as much blessing in a door being closed as in a door being open. God is 'He who closes and no man can open and opens and no man can close.' We often like to think that the blessing is the open door, but it's important to see the gift of the door that is closed."

He also said that our lives are about the process. He has a saying, "It's not what's happening to you but what's happening in you in response to what's happening to you that matters." That God is going to make sure we "go through to get through." That we can't short-cut what the Lord is teaching us and doing in us in the "process" of whatever it is that is going on in our lives. That is so relevant to what God's been teaching me lately, which is to wait patiently on Him. 

One final thing that my dad said was really the same thing that a girlfriend said to me the other day, about God being too big to begin to understand. My friend told me that she often sits in awe of the Lord, not fully understanding Him - and she said that it always occurs to her that if she could understand God, He wouldn't be her God. She embraces in Him what so many won't - He is beyond all things, bigger than our ability to understand, with ways higher than ours and thoughts we cannot begin to fathom, worthy of our praise and trust and obedience. My dad said that same thing, too. He was reflecting on the fact that God's ways are not like ours and His thoughts are not like ours, so if we limit our lives to doing only things that we can understand completely, or that make sense in our minds, we can be relatively certain that we are missing out on some of the things God has for us. It's something to really think about.

Also, today I'm thankful! Thankful for my marriage and that I have so many friends with great husbands who are also amazing leaders, and I want to say to my friends who love to brag on their men, "Thank you, and keep it up!" It blesses me to hear you bragging! So many women show so much disrespect in how they speak to friends about their husbands, and it's a shame. God puts systems in place within life and within marriage to be blessings. One of the things I'm most blessed by is the wisdom of my husband.  I am so heart-led sometimes, and my husband is the most wise and precious and strong leader in our family. He hears my heart, and he loves my heart, and he still follows the wisdom God gives him as my leader, and I respect Selden so much for how flawlessly he leads in our home. I can trust him at all times, with all decisions. He makes me feel so safe that way, and I thank God for that protection He's given our family through my husband. He's so much more patient than I am, and he doesn't worry or waver. He's so awesome!

The other thing that is on my heart today is from my reading in Romans this morning. There are so many of us who are waiting on the Lord to move mountains, to deliver long-awaited promises, to provide for needs that seem overwhelming to our human mind. I was reminded today that our God is the God who does the impossible. He promises, and He also provides. His plan in fulfilling His promises can sometimes stretch out for what feels like a long time in our perspective. Like Abraham and Sarah. He was "about a hundred years old" and his wife's "womb was also dead." "Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised." (Romans 4:20 and 21)
Our God is not constrained to the limits that are imposed upon us as humans. His resources are limitless.  His knowledge and wisdom are unsearchable. His love for us is beyond our comprehension. And the obstacles that we see do not exist as obstacles for Him. He is "the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were." (Romans 4:17)

Today, as I'm re-posting this, I am praying that each of you reading this will be encouraged in your day, that you will see both the opening and closing of doors as a gift from a God who knows how to give good things to His children, that you would cling to the promises of God for your life, and stand firm in the faith that "He who promised is faithful."  I know some of you are going through times of waiting, times of trials, times of not quite understanding the HOW of the promise God has spoken to you.  Be encouraged.  Hang on to the promise.  

Friday, March 11, 2011

From What I Have Received

On my 20th birthday, I brought Lia home from the hospital.  After a season of turning my back on the Lord and trying to escape the hurt of my broken family, God, in His precious grace, gave me not what I deserved but what I in no way deserved.  He gave me a beautiful daughter.  He gave me a reminder that my life matters to Him and that it is important to spend it carefully, and He gave me someone whose beautiful face reminds me of that love daily.

Last Sunday at an adoption/orphan care ministry meeting at church, I heard from a young woman who is receiving help for herself and her baby from an organization called Safe Families for Children.  She said the couple who are reaching out to her have let her see what a family looks like for the first time in her life. She wiped away tears as she shared the hard places she has been in her life and how she has felt so helpless to know how to move into a better place.  But now she has a couple investing in her life and helping with her son.  Now she has heard that Jesus loves her, and more than hearing, she is experiencing that.

As an afterthought in her talking with our group, she mentioned knowing a couple of young ladies who are expectant mothers and are currently homeless.  These women, whose faces I have not seen and whose names I do not know, have landed squarely in the middle of my heart.  I called the area director of Safe Families, and I asked him to sign me up (and as it turns out, we need a home study for this, so all my pestering the Lord about why the heck we have this home study has been met with at least one answer so far!  God's incredibly cool that way....).

My mother invested her life in me and Lia while Lia was tiny.  My mother gave us a home, she took a night shift feeding her, she helped me plan and open my business.  My mom put her own masters degree on hold for years, because she chose to sacrifice what was for her in order to invest in us.  Because of her help, I was able to open and run a successful business for over 10 years (until my husband and I decided for me to stay home when our littlest one was born).  I was able to have a job that afforded me the ability to go back to college and pursue my Art Education degree and to have the flexibility to use that knowledge to volunteer teaching art at our church's school.  All of these good things are fruit of my mother's investment and sacrifice.

When I heard of these young women last Sunday, my heart responded, because I can't imagine being in a situation like that without hope, without resources, without a mama to come alongside me.  So I'm praying for them.  I'm praying that if the Lord would use me to be a mama-friend to them and to welcome them into my life and invest back some of the grace invested in me, He would open that door.  I'm praying that if not me, someone will be put in these women's lives.  I'm praying they will know the overwhelming love of Christ for them, and that they would have hope.

Right now, my life looks beautiful.  I'm not perfect, so I'm not taking credit for the beauty.  It's the Lord. It's His relentless pursuit of my heart through hard places that has brought about the change and the beauty.  I am a work continually in progress until heaven.  But here on this earth, I am very blessed.  I am blessed to have a husband who is my hero.  He works hard every day to take care of me and our kids.  I am blessed to be able to be home full-time and pursue the ministry of making a home and being available to be used in different ways in our community.  I'm blessed to have 3 healthy, precious kids.  I'm blessed by the gifts my mother has given me, because I believe without question that had she not been there for me and Lia, our lives would look different right now.

Because I have received so much good, so much grace, I am compelled to give back to the Lord by sharing His love with others.  The more time I spend with Jesus, the more clearly I see him, and the more clearly I end up seeing me.  I don't deserve what Jesus did for me on the cross.  But I'm so thankful.  In my thankfulness, I am humbled.

I want to pour out my life in thanks to God for what He has so freely given me through Christ.  I want to invest back into the lives of others from the good gifts I have been so generously given.  My heart cries out, "Use me, Lord!"  I'm like a little kid, waving her arms around wildly, shouting, "Pick me!  Pick me!!! I'll do it!!!"  I know that in saying that I'm agreeing to go into hard places and see hard things.  I'm agreeing to share in hurt as well as in rejoicing.  It's just that I'm so very thankful.

"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."  Luke 12:48b

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Good Places

"The people refused to enter the pleasant land, for they wouldn't believe his promise to care for them."  Psalm 106:24

Are there places your heart is being led to enter, but fear is standing in your way?  Is God leading you into an unfamiliar place?  Remember your Father is holding your hand.  He will walk with you into the new places.  He will take care of you.  Look at your Father, not at your fear.  He is faithful.

The only thing worth clinging to is His hand.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"Radical" Thoughts

"My biggest fear, even now, is that I will hear Jesus' words and walk away, content to settle for less than radical obedience to him."  These words are written by David Platt in his book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, but they are echoed in my spirit.  I underline them, because I need to read them again.

The Radical Question: What Is Jesus Worth to You? (10-Pack)

I continue reading.  And underlining.  "You and I can choose to continue with business as usual in the Christian life and in the church as a whole, enjoying success based on the standards defined by the culture around us.  Or we can take an honest look at the Jesus of the Bible and dare to ask what the consequences might be if we really believed him and really obeyed him."  

Kenya (Eyewitness Travel Guides)

God has put a relentless love for the orphan in my heart, and I've asked Him so many times, "What in the world am I supposed to do with this?"  We've worked on adoptions before, and yet we have not adopted. We have a homestudy (again), but we don't have any reason for it (that I can see with my own eyes).  I pester the Lord many days to please show me a way to do something with this passion.  

Two Saturdays ago, I was compelled to pray about my husband and I going on a missions trip to an orphanage.  I prayed.  I checked out some ministries I'm familiar with.  And as a last thought, I send off an email to a couple at church to ask if anything orphanage-related was in the works for missions trips.  The next day after church, they came to my husband and me to say that actually there is just that kind of trip being planned to Kenya and would be officially announced the next week!  

Travelers Choice Luggage Rio Two Piece Expandable Carry-On Luggage Set, Mustard, One Size

Please be praying with us that the Lord would raise up the exact group He knows needs to be sent. Please pray with us that if God would honor our requests to Him to be included in that group, He would provide the money we need to get the tickets.  So far, God's been so gracious to bless us with some offers for help with our kiddos and also some donations for fundraising.  My heart's desire is to attend this trip, and I know if that's a dream the Lord has planted in my heart, He will show His overwhelming faithfulness in the fulfilling of it.

Dr. Brown's BPA Free Polypropylene Natural Flow Wide Neck Bottle, 8 oz - 3-Pack

I'll write more and share more, but please be praying.  There are little ones without mamas and daddies who need to know the love of Christ.  There are babies who don't spend time being held while they drink their milk, because there are too few sets of arms to hold them.  There are buildings in need of repair.  Please pray with us that God would open the doors according to His will, so that if He wants me to be rocking babies in Kenya this spring (while Selden fixes stuff), that we will go! 

Denali 115-Piece Home Repair Tool Kit

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Today I Wonder

Many days, I find myself rushing through a long list of things I think I must do only to end up missing out on some of the things that mean much more.  My laundry gets done.  The floors are clean.  My menu for the week is planned out in advance.  My emails are answered.  Those things are great, and they are important parts of running a house.  But they are not the most precious threads woven into the fabric of making a home or raising a family. 

Today I wonder a few things.  I wonder what would happen if my "to do" list took a back seat to my "to be" list.  I wonder if I can learn to see the world from my children's perspective a little better if I slow down a little bit and let their playful rhythm guide my dance steps.  I wonder if I'm missing some of the joyful moments of small things that God wants to give me as blessings.

As I think about these things, I'm smiling.  I'm looking forward to my middle schooler waking up and wanting to tell me the stories she has already told me a thousand times about what happened at school this week.  And I am excited to listen to them like it's the first time I've heard them.  I will look her in the eye instead of listening-while-emailing.  I'm eager to lift my toddler out of her bed and hear her laughter.  I will sit on the floor in the middle of all her toys and play dollhouse with her instead of folding laundry while she plays. 

Today I'm asking the Lord to help me see my time as He sees it and to invest it wisely in the moments that matter the most.  

"Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."  Psalm 90:14