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?

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.

 

 

A Different Kind of December

The question was asked for reflection, what “blessed surprises” have I experienced that I could testify of God’s goodness.  It grabbed my attention in a fresh way, but somehow I knew the answer instantly.

This has been a different kind of December for us.

Our advent tradition for many years has been to live simply and focus on Christ.  We light candles on our advent wreath and share in family devotions about hope, love, joy, and peace.  We read scriptures and share our hearts about what it means to live it out in our daily lives.

We have a tradition of writing our thanks to Jesus every day in the month of December.  On Christmas morning, the first gift to be opened is our praise.  It brings joy to hear what each person has reflected on that month as we give God our gratitude and adoration.  It humbles us before God that this is His day and the reason we celebrate.

Advent is always full of meaning for us, lots of added family activities for fun, with the least amount of emphasis on shopping which is really only one small part.  This year is no different for me in some ways… only richer, more important, and deeper.  Something in particular though stands out.

As I have reflected on all that I’m grateful for most recently, I want to share two “blessed surprises.”  It is what has made this December markedly different for me.  These two scenes are a window into how God is transforming my heart.  Perhaps because they came so close together, I was able to see how incredibly profound and sacred they were.  God gave me a deep heart for two women this past week that I will save anonymity and rename here.

The first woman I’ll call Ruth.  We had never met in person, but through Visiting Orphans we developed the start of a precious friendship.  Ruth was scheduled to travel to China with me for a mission trip. The timing was just enough for us to start a bond, and then for God to soon bring two beautiful daughters home from Ethiopia and China.  I missed out on having her on my team, but I was incredibly honored to pray her two little girls home.

Through the months of Ruth’s adoption journeys, I have followed her blog postings and prayed my heart out for her family.  Facebook connected us further as we could share in prayer updates and family photos.  We have emailed some deep heartfelt concerns and held each other up at the throne of God.  And yet, we had never met in person.

The past few months have been horrifically painful for her, as Ruth’s dad battled an abrupt and vicious cancer.  My heart was so knitted in that I carried her family in many, many heartfelt prayers.  Her dad passed away a week ago today.

As God would have it, I happened to be passing through her town several hours away on the day of the viewing.  Details the way only God can orchestrate, I was able to hug her tight in her grief.  I was able to see with my own eyes and touch the hands of these two precious little girls that I prayed countless prayers for.  God had connected our hearts and it was sacred to be there in person.

The second woman I’ll name Hannah.  I had rushed late as usual into a church pew, apparently into the very seat God had saved for me.  It was the only one open.  I sat alone, the girls upstairs in their classes and the boys on a weekend away with Todd.  As we “passed the peace”, I met Hannah, who was already familiar with Todd from their recovery meetings.  She asked where he was, exchanged brief greetings and sat back down.

Throughout the service, I noticed Hannah wiping away tears.  Afterward, I asked if there was something I could pray for her.  I didn’t know if she would offer any words or not, but I wanted her to know God cared for her.  I knew the details were well known by God, and my place in that moment was to be present for her.

In her anguish, she opened up to me.  Her honesty and desperation were the kind of transparency that I have experienced and greatly appreciated in the recovery community.  She invited me into her story.  She gave me a part of her heart that was in deep need of comfort and hope.  She asked for nothing from me.

I embraced her with genuine depth and sincerity.  I met her daughter and jotted down the names of her family that I could continue to lift up to God.  And then in a way that only God can do through people who have walked suffering so deep, I was able to breathe life into her.  I know how hard it can be when your world is in so much pain, but there is hope!!  God can turn things around!!  It takes time, but He can and He will.

I left church with my life changed in that very moment.  It was with Hannah that I felt “church” had taken place in the way scriptures calls us to come alongside the broken.  It was with Hannah that I was able to see the transformation in my own heart of how I could relate to her story like never before.  It was with Hannah that my heart most genuinely, affectionately worshipped.  Newly found gratitude, warmth, and affection for the God that had allowed me to walk a similar journey.

Oh God!!!  I get it!!!  This is why You let me walk heartache and suffering.  This is how You invite me into the stories and hearts and lives of the hurting.  My heart sees.  My heart is compelled.  I can’t help but draw near.

I have walked incredible grief and sorrow and pain…and sometimes barely survived.  But with that, He calls me to enter into those same familiar places, where His people need deep comfort and authentic hope.  Be present.  Be willing.

The world rushes by……   I feel it so strongly to the core of my being that it absolutely aches within me.  There are so many distractions, so much busyness, so many things to do, and time is gone.  But if we fall into those traps, we completely miss the sacred.  The blessed surprises. The opportunities to see Jesus right there in our midst.

It’s a different kind of December for me.  At the top of my most treasured reflections of God’s goodness this month is in the sacred interactions with Ruth and Hannah.  I am humbled and in awe that God would allow me to be a small part of their journey, to deeply understand their pain.  A glimmer of hope to embrace them in their suffering.  God is here.  God loves.  God comes.

Recalling Faithfulness

It was ironically similar to this month — this season of waiting, anticipation, and desperation before God.  It was December 2004 and strangely enough, my husband had just lost his job to his addiction.  At the time, we didn’t really understand it was an addiction.

We were just beginning to learn about how incredibly entangling his bondage was.  We learned of new hope with therapy, a daily sponsor, and recovery in a twelve step group.  All of that was new lingo to us.  I remember it being shocking to embrace and accept, but I hoped to God it would bring help for Todd.  My heart broke for him and our family felt deeply torn by the heartache.

Something else, though…something extremely significant in our world was being birthed.  I honestly believe God gave me our calling to adoption, at this very time specifically, to give me something huge to trust God for — to watch Him move mountains and grow my faith, and nurture our little ones to follow hard after God.

God began our call to adoption with three words — surrender, obedience, and provision.  Surrender because we thought we were done having children. We didn’t have room or money.  Obedience because He called us to bring a little girl from China into our family.  He had a bigger plan, a greater purpose, and He wanted us to align with Him.  And provision because it would take the miraculous to accomplish such a thing.

We had many hurdles to trip us up that year, but losing a job in this particular timing trumped it all.  Our months of waiting for our referral ended for the other families in December.  They all received beautiful precious pictures of their babies waiting for them to come bring them home.  Joy overflowed for them.  We had to hold our breath and wonder.  Fear intertwined with pain and faith.  Our referral was unable to be received, because no job according to China means no adoption.

I was utterly confused before God.  I grieved a stillborn adoption, asking God if this was only meant to be an illustration, a metaphor, or a test of our faith.  Was God just giving us His Word for now, and fruition would be at another time, another baby, or did we just miss it?  I sobbed on my knees in prayer.  I so wanted to understand what God was teaching us, how we could survive it, and if God would come through.

The short story for now is that He did.  In the very final hour that we could receive this precious little girl, God made the way.  God opened the door for exactly what was needed.  And on her first birthday, we were able to see her face.

The Jews, God’s people in Old Testament history,  have a tradition of retelling the stories to recall God’s faithfulness.  At the same time every year, they have festivals called feasts that bring back to mind who God is, what He has done, and to remember they are His.  It is worship, relationship, connection.

I believe I’m in one of those months right now.  There are again mountains needing to be moved, and I know the God that can move them.  How do I know?  Because He has done it before, and He can do it again.  Remember that time seven years ago when we had no job?  Remember that anguish of soul that God touched with the miraculous?

As I sit in awe of Him, I feel like Mary, pondering things in her heart.  Go back a little further.  My heart swells with joy as I recall December 2001.  Ten years ago this month, Todd graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary with two masters degrees: a masters of divinity and masters in counseling.

God’s provision outpoured once again, as I was able to stay at home to have babies and raise our little ones.  Todd went to school full time, and worked odd jobs like bus driving, a coffee shop, a school janitor, landscaping, and with that there were others who came alongside us and supported us.

In the end, we had survived countless miracles…sometimes barely getting by, or praying our hearts out, but we graduated debt free.  Glory to God!!!!!  And to think that when we started I thought I would need to work full time and not be able to stay home to nurture my babies.  God gave my prayer partner, Denise, the scripture that the oil will not run out, and He fulfilled it!!!  That’s my God!!!

Incredible joy outshines my weary soul this morning.  I am so tired of walking this road that has devastated me in so many ways.  I have had many moments of wondering how I could take another step.  But God!  I don’t want to miss out on what God is going to do!!!  Have mercy!!  Help me get there, God!!

We can’t see it yet, but I am assured that this God who brought us through seminary debt free, this God that brought our daughter home and provided every penny, is also the God that will carry us through unemployment, recovery from addiction, and restoration of our hearts.  How big is your God?