Planting Seeds

Little did I know it then, but I think God was planting seeds.  He does that sort of thing.  I was about 8 or 9 years old when I first heard her name.  Naomi.  She had come to our church to talk about her life as a missionary.  It felt odd.  Foreign.  A different world that I couldn’t imagine relating to or living in.

She seemed old, and far away, but somehow I could sense this woman was a saint and I felt drawn to her.  I was both strangely curious and yet terrified that someday God would call me to Africa.

In that church, missions were not emphasized, so this time with Naomi was even more foreign than it should have been. I had so little exposure to God’s heart for the world.

As the years went by, God still planted seeds.  A hunger to learn French in high school.  A mission trip to Egypt in college. Studying a semester abroad and finding a sense of adventure in me.  Studying Greek, and loving it, in seminary.

Little did I know when I planned a birthday party for my son with an international theme, that the nations were being birthed in my heart.  He was just in kindergarten then.  Before long, he will graduate from high school.  And all that time God was planting.

God has brought me to serve in orphanages in Ecuador, China, Haiti, and Mexico. I’ve attempted phrases of Spanish, Mandarin, Creole, and French.

Sometimes when I go to a country, all of my languages and phrases surface with incredible life. I dream and I pray in foreign languages, just bit by bit.  I only know phrases, but they bridge me to relationships and hearts and ultimately nations.  One heart at a time.

I am in awe of Him, how He unfolds visions and dreams over a lifetime.  God grew this heart for the world, for the nations.  When we lived in Wilmore, the Bible Study I went to was vibrant with missionaries on furlough, different languages to hear the scriptures, different countries to hold up in prayer.

I didn’t know when we prayed for our neighbors’ adoption from China that we were fertile ground for more seeds.  About five years later, God called us to adopt from China too, and now the nations feel ever present in our home.  Kingdom fruit.

I’m about to embark on a Conversational Chinese class at a community college next week.  In preparation, I read an e-book called How To Learn A Foreign Language.  Suddenly it all clicked.  I had inklings of how God had a purpose behind my dreams, but this book seemed to solidify them for me.  Here is a quote…

This whole process is as much about THEM as it is about you. There are people waiting to come into contact with you whom you will never have a chance of having meaningful communication with unless you invest this time and effort in learning their language. In doing so, you are honoring their culture and declaring that you have something to learn from them.

That is a vision God has put on my heart.  To enter into a nation, build a bridge to the hurting, and honor the creation of humanity that God so loves.  Because He has reached this orphaned heart, I want to go to the ends of the earth to show others the value and worth of being loved by God.  

Not forgotten.  Seen.  Heard.  Understood.  

If God translates that to COSA’s here in my own world, or to orphans in every nation, the calling is the same.  Build bridges.  Reach hurting hearts.

All of this takes a stretch.  Out of our comfort zones.  Out of busyness or apathy or familiarity.  It takes  a seed of wonder… curiosity… a spark of adventure to go where God leads.  Allowing God to open our hearts to connect with someone else.

It begins with the seed. Being open to what God is planting in you. Search your own heart. Are you being stirred?  Do you have fertile ground for the Master Gardener to cultivate some incredible dreams in you?

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Sunshine Breaking Through

How is it, God, that You bless me so?!?  

We have been walking the most hellacious healing journey over the past fifteen months.  Seventy days of rehab, continuing therapy, massive financial commitment to healing, facing raw emotions and ruptures head on, recovery meetings, unemployment, a growing family to nurture, a marriage to resurrect from the grave.

I’ve swallowed enough ongoing trauma and distress to want to give up the fight.  I have cried out to God — this has been too much, too hard, too long.  And from my wretched gut, I have meant it with everything in me.  It has felt like there is absolutely nothing left in me to give.  Stretched far beyond my ability to fathom what God is allowing us to go through, and how his timing is so different than mine.

“One day at a time” is full of great truth and perspective, but there have also been days that it all felt too heavy, too piled up, too far to walk with no end in sight.

Utter desperation before God.  Circumstances that don’t change.  No calls from any job lead.  No update on God’s plan for us.  Uncertainty, anxiety, pounding down like a harsh spring hail.  Unanswered questions.  Prolonged silence.  Even further delays.  How long can God keep us here?  How long can we wait?

And then the sky broke open with such a compelling warmth and sunshine that my heart hardly knew how to respond to such swelling joy.  All of this hard work, our deepest investment of faith and healing, finally took over with such a strong force we couldn’t help but be transformed by it.

The arrival of spring, the birds’ song that penetrates into my soul, the warmth of the air melting frozen places within me, I can feel it.  My heart is being revived and I am coming to new life.

The amazing thing is that we are still surrounded by much uncertainty.  There is still no job to support our family.  Questions remain unresolved and unsettled.  So what has changed?

We have.

God is transforming this adversity and testing into endurance, depth, and wisdom.  Astronomically more profound than anything we have ever walked, this must be preparation ground for something.  We can’t see where he is taking us yet, but our faith is growing.  We are becoming utterly convinced that God must know what he is doing.  He must be good.  He is indeed healing us and making us new.

Maybe it is because we are that desperate.  We know it is not within our capacity to save ourselves.  God is our only hope.  If he can’t help us, we’re completely screwed.  Have you ever been in a place so deep???

If you haven’t been there, I’m sure my words seem strange.  Maybe you can’t relate.  But, if you have walked seasons so dark and so hard that you weren’t sure if you could survive them, you are not alone.  I’m walking them too.  And God is so near with his purpose, his transforming power, his infinite grace, that this horrific journey is actually a privileged place to grow.

We don’t get to choose our classroom at times.  We play the hand we’ve been dealt.  We learn to accept the journey before us and make the most of it.  Embrace it, believing if God can work anywhere, he can work in this.

And in a way that only God can, right there in the midst of what you’re walking, he brings on the sunshine.  Simultaneously allowing us to experience pain, growth, and new life.  Even when it’s hard, and long, and far too much.  Suddenly you are so profoundly grateful for what he has allowed, because there is nothing so amazing as what God can do.  Glory!!

 

 

 

 

 

Walk Lighter

I am a detail person, which at times gives me greater delight than those who just don’t seem to notice things.

I marvel at the sky, the trees, the moon.  I notice things people say and I can hear hearts.  I see God at work and answers to prayer, even in the midst of darkness.  I have deep gratitude, even simultaneously when despair comes in like a wave to knock me down.

But all of this detail, at times, can be exhausting.  It is hard for me to step back, let go, and detach.  My mind can race, my worries can linger, and my heart can be unsettled just longing for calm.

I love a phrase I ran into in my studies that gave some shape to the idea of detachment.  It said to let go of the agony.  How true it is, that I carry that weight, despite how much more difficult I make it for myself.  That load, that burden or pressure, that entangled mess I try to figure out.  Let it float.  Walk lighter.

I’m learning to invest and choose how to spend the moments in my day.  Let go of the things I don’t really need.  Appreciate the graces that bring warmth in the middle of a rough week.  Treat myself more gently.  Nurture my heart.

In that freedom of a lighter heart, I can be more refreshed in the present moment.  Less burdened for things that don’t really need my focus and concern right now.  I’m more able to ask myself, what is mine to do?  What do I need in this moment?

Serenity.  Simplicity.  Walk lighter.

Living in Safety: Honor and Respect

We try to keep the rules pretty simple around here.  Kindness.  Honor.  Respect.  If only things could stay that simple.  In reality, things can get pretty messy.  Relationships are difficult.  We need to give each other the grace to grow through them, to make mistakes, and to learn to be healthy.

A concept like respect or honor can be very abstract.  I believe it must be modeled and taught, but sometimes we lack finding healthy people to learn it from.

We have posted on our refrigerator some basics of how respect manifests itself.  (This is taken from Peter Scazzero.)  Respect is giving both myself and others the right to:

space and privacy

to be different

to disagree

to be heard

to be taken seriously

to be given the benefit of the doubt

to be told the truth

to be consulted

to be imperfect and make mistakes

to courteous and honorable treatment

The book goes into more detail to help explain it further, but even just this list is very helpful to me.  Not only does it model for me how I want to treat other people, but it also speaks to what relationships are healthy and safe.  That is how we are training up our children — to have a home that is nurturing and safe.

We’ve used this list to sort through sibling difficulties.  Often when someone is mistreated or disrespected, it is difficult to work through the concern to a place of health.  Having these guidelines helps us pinpoint where the boundaries were crossed, and how the relationship can be repaired.

We decided to have some fun with these lessons on boundaries with our kids.  We love to watch football together, so now we have terms that help them understand some relational dynamics.

One sibling offends or upsets the other, and within moments, there is a growing dispute. We take it as a teaching moment and intervene.  First there’s a penalty…

We explain the offense, or boundary failure, in terms of personal foul or encroachment.

It lightens the mood as we compare our emotions and relationships to the football field.  They understand encroachment is when you’ve gotten into someone else’s space.  You’ve gone too far.  You’ve crossed the line.  Boundary failure.  5 yard penalty means give them some space.  And as we work through it together, there can be amends and repair.

Our kids are learning to see their own responsibility in having healthy emotions and how to navigate in relationships.  These are lessons that are lived out in our daily interactions.  And it is for more than just kids to learn.  Adults need to continually be reminded of health and safety too.

Healing Together

A woman sat next to me in a crumbled heap, broken and sobbing.  Her husband’s addiction devastated her and the consequences of his actions bore heavily on her soul.

I felt her pain.  Her breathing heaved, with the weight of life and death crushing on her.  She had been completely devastated and wondered how she could live again.

It was all she could put to words at the time, but her heart went to a much deeper place.  Perhaps she wondered, “will the pain ever stop?”  And “how will I ever survive this?” 

An addict doesn’t realize the hell or havoc they cause their loved ones.  When they are lost in the world of their addiction, they are blind to the consequences and checked out of relationship.  And when it goes too far, they unleash earthquake consequences on the ones they love.  That’s the nature of addiction. It destroys.

As a codependent who learns to live enmeshed, we lose a sense of who we are.  Life becomes more of how to stay connected, how to pray hard enough, how to please or help or serve or care take.  Whatever we can frantically “do” to come out of crisis.

The step back into serenity comes through boundaries.  Realizing the mess of an entangled relationship needs better definition of who I am and who you are.  What is my responsibility that I need to own and act on, and what do I need to release and step away from?

I have fond memories of healing and growth in Lexington, Kentucky. God allowed Wilmore, specifically, to be a place of sacred retreat and refuge for me.  I find incredible beauty in the rolling hills and horse farms. They stir my soul with life and vitality that is hard to explain.  I’m just drawn to them.

I soaked this picture into my heart as I drove through the rolling hills of Lexington.  It filled me with great warmth and serenity.  And then I realized, those fences give me a picture of the buffer I need between my relationships that have become enmeshed.

These are healthy boundaries.  There can be a gate, where we are open and relate and have connections.  But there are times that I need to just be responsible for what is inside my own fence.

I believe that is the essence of what is healing my heart and my marriage.  Where I can step back from the entangled mess of addiction and find myself again.  I can nurture my own soul.  I can heal and find serenity.  

It doesn’t come in isolation or cutting myself off, although that is what a battered soul is tempted to do, to hide and run for cover.  Healing comes in stepping out to trust safe relationships.  Surrounding myself in a variety of support so that I can rebuild.  Reaching out, risking being known, and finding that I can live again.

I have had the privilege to hear the stories of many broken hearts.  I am honored that they would trust me enough to count me as part of their safe support.  The pain runs so raw and so deep, but it also connects us with profound compassion for the hurting.

I can enter in because I have been there and experienced it to the core of me.  And I have great hope for how a heart can heal.  I know the journey and exasperating work of healing.  And I know the joy beyond description of working it through.

It is extremely costly and it can take everything you have.  But if you are in a place of profound desperation, what other choice do you have?

I see the anguish of this woman’s pain and I want to tell her there is great hope.  There is great healing.  When we learn to surround ourselves with healthy people, we can walk it together.

We’re still here. In the long haul.

It is difficult to be somewhere, indefinitely, for the long haul.  When life has taken its toll and it has been too hard, too much, and too long.  The accumulated distress has sunk my spirit, made it  too heavy to keep picking up, keep walking, keep hoping.

I’ve been learning to break things down, small steps, and live in the moment.  It helps my sanity for sure.  It keeps me grounded, helps me focus, and teaches me the concept of one day at a time.  But strangely this day looks much like the one before.

For as much as I’ve tried to rally and keep going, despite our circumstances, there is still apparently more to be learned here.  God hasn’t opened the door yet.  We are 14 months into unemployment, the consequence of my husband’s addiction.

Last year I bought a house plant, with leaves that were full and bushy and abundant.  I was drawn to its life and vitality.  It looked fresh and alive and welcoming.  It seemed like a great thing to nurture and enjoy.

Over the past few months, this beautiful and thriving plant has been thinning out and dropping leaves.   It has gradually gotten far worse.  Pathetic.

I brought it out into the light to see if it could be revived.  Now it sits right there in front of me, and I realize it mirrors how I feel inside.

Drooped.  Depleted.  Worn thin.  Weary deep in my soul.

Like a pile of broken, dried sticks, that you aren’t even sure where to prune.

Little signs of new life, but not really sure if they will hang on and revive.

There are these honest moments, when you know you are doing all you can to live into recovery, but you aren’t sure if it will be enough to take you through to the other side.

When you are in the thick of it, sometimes it is hard to see that you are actually going somewhere.  Especially when you look back and see the toll life has taken and it quite frankly has been far too much.

Bear in mind that I have no clue what I’m doing with these plants, other than enjoying a little bit of nature to care for.  Another plant we had was dying.  (I’m not sure if this is a pattern in my greenhouse skills, or a lesson God intends for me to learn through metaphor.  Most likely both.)  I decided to cut it back and prune off whatever seemed to be holding it back.  It was hardly green at all, mostly just sticks.  You would have thought I could have tossed it to the curb.  And this year, miraculously, it is coming back.

Growth where there could have been death.

I watch these plants, wondering about this mysterious cycle of death and life.  Pruning and transformation.  Cut back to grow further still.

I believe authentic growth goes in cycles.  There are days, seasons even, where God allows us to experience profound pain.  Anguish and despair taunt us.  Silence, waiting, and unanswered prayer.  Days are long, months crash one into the other, and we are still here.

Scripture tells us, Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.

I want to be in a place of thriving — life-giving abundance in my spirit.  Some days I am.  I am pouring all I have into this healing.  I have the eyes to see the hope.  It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going.  Fulfillment is coming.  It’s worth holding on for.

But there are other times that I’m just worn out from hanging on so long.  No direction or clarity.  No end in sight.  No new word to hold onto.

All of this purging, and pruning, and wrenching of spirit WILL birth something NEW.

Therein lies my hope and my peace, even on the days that leaves drop to the floor.

Love Reaches In

Clear across the world to a now familiar place, a second home.  It is the birth place of my youngest daughter.  It has been my privilege to return to her native land and serve in the orphanages there.

On this particular trip several years ago, I was asked by an adoptive mom to get an update on how her daughter was doing.  She was eagerly waiting for travel dates to come get her and bring her home.

Her sweet Chinese name was Dong Dong, and when said with a Chinese accent, my heart was instantly warmed.

I had grown accustomed to this orphanage from our previous visit.  I had even served in several other orphanages in several other countries.  But something about Dong Dong seemed unusual to me.  I was drawn in.

She was facing the wall, standing stiff.  When she moved around the room, her feet shifted across the floor rigidly.  If anyone came near her, she screamed in fear.  We were told she was afraid of strangers. We honored her space and gave her time to adjust to our visit.

I was in the outer corridor, taking a picture of a team member walking with one of the children.  I stepped backward to get a better angle, and didn’t realize that Dong Dong had followed me.  She bumped to the ground and I scooped her up in my arms in an instant.  I held her close to me, still stiff as a board, and soothed her with prayers and singing.

Together we walked those outer corridors.  As I held her in my arms, I told her about her mama coming to get her.  I told her about her two older sisters and how she would be loved in a family soon.  I trusted that the bond we were creating transcended the language barrier and her seemingly frozen state.

Love can do that.  Love can reach where no one has dared to go.  Love can melt what had no hope to soften.  Love can heal the orphaned soul.

No one wants to be frozen.  Some build walls to try to protect our hearts, afraid of more pain if someone comes near.  Some ball up, withdraw, and stay back — not because we want to, but because somewhere and somehow over the years we learned to cope.

Hidden, stiff behind walls, we wonder.  Would it ever be safe to be found?  To be heard, seen, known?  Or is that far too risky?

Deep down we wonder if there is a warmth and a welcome that can embrace our hurting.  But who dares reach?

Come near.  No longer isolated, rejected, outcast, and alone.  There is hope.  There is healing.  Life doesn’t have to be filled with walls and pain.  Love reaches in.

Dong Dong is home, surrounded in a forever family full of love.  She is transformed by the warmth of a healing embrace.  A commitment to nurture her heart and soul so that she can thrive.  Glorious adoption.

The door is open.  The opportunity is there.  Hearts can be healed.  Orphans can come home.