When God Plans to Let Your Loved One Pass Away

My mom was 30 when I entered this world. I was 30 when she left it. Today is the anniversary of that day and it’s a hard one to be reminded of.
 
The picture above is one of the last times we enjoyed with mom before the symptoms of her sickness started. As happy as she is in this picture, it’s harrowing to realize all that was ahead for her. She was in a body that was about to start breaking down. And we had no idea our time left with her would be so short.
 
But in this moment, God knew all that was ahead. He knew the distress we were about live in seeing mom’s abilities deteriorate. He foresaw our desperate search for a diagnosis and then our traumatic defeat learning there was no cure. He knew our hearts were about to ache for years on end and that our faith would struggle to see still Him as good. 
 

In this moment, God also knew how He’d comfort every shard of our soul-piercing pain.

He knew what resources mom would need and how He’d provide them. The donations were already lined out. The caregivers were already handpicked. He knew which people He’d motivate to come visit and what friendships He’d renew when they were needed most.

For our family, He had already planned out how He’d equip our hearts to endure a marathon of grief. He saw what Scripture we’d need to read in our devotions and what sermons we’d need to hear from our pastors. He’d already prepared How He’d inspire us to pray and how He’d answer.

He had loving designed every tender memory we’d share with mom from this day forward and even scripted out her final moments with us, which ended up being more inspiring than Shakespeare.

He knew how He’d express His love and how we’d encounter His grace.

In this picture’s tiny moment, God not only knew how He’d get us through our upcoming suffering, He knew why He was going to allow it. We’ve experienced the former and we still wrestle with the latter.

We wish we had five more years of pictures like this one. We wonder how God, in His unmeasurable love, decided it was best to let this be our last untainted memory with mom. But just as God proved Himself faithful throughout mom’s sickness, we fully believe He has proved Himself good even though we don’t understand the entirety of His plan.

For now, I am grateful I can look back on 30 years of memories with mom. And although the last few years were more painful than pleasant, I’m so thankful they were full of evidence of God’s care and His lavish comfort.

Now today, in this tiny moment, whatever trials I have ahead of me, I’m confident God has His plans in place. And come what may, I trust those plans are good.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
Jeremiah 29:11
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
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Go to Disney World Every Day

Our Dream Vacation

We just got back from the best vacation of my life.

Me and my family of five got to travel to Orlando, Florida to celebrate my cousin’s wedding at Disney World. We loved the time visiting with family, staying in a gorgeous villa, and of course – going to the Magic Kingdom!

My kids really are the perfect age to visit Disney World. The girls are both 4 years old and my son is 2. At this age, Grace and Nora are just starting to pick up on the concept of make believe. They have a hazy understanding that some things are real and some things are pretend, but they can’t exactly identify which is which without mommy’s help.

That means for now, princesses seem pretty real and special effects are absolutely magical.

My favorite Disney memories are:

  • Gracie screaming “this is so awesome!” on roller coasters – She couldn’t get enough of the adrenaline rush. My wild child will tell you, “I want to ride on these forever!” and she absolutely means it.
  • Nora being amazed by Disney magic – My little engineer was totally stumped by how Disney magic works. I especially loved her in the Tikki room. With her biggest smile on, she kept jumping up and down saying, “mommy HOW are these birds and flowers singing?!”
  • Henry milking it with the princesses – He’s only 2 and he already knows how to get the ladies. From tripping on his way to Ariel so she’d give him a comforting hug, to twirling with Cinderella and playing the shy card with Rapunzel before blowing her a goodbye kiss, this little man stole the show and everyone’s hearts.

Overall, the entire day was epic; and that made me leave the park wondering, how does Disney do it? Millions of people flock to Disney World expecting an absolutely magical experience well worth all the trouble. And not many leave disappointed.

So what is it about Disney World that makes us so happy?

What I realized is that the magic of Disney World is actually something so basic, we can (and should) experience it every day.

How Disney Does It

The real magic of Disney World is their understanding of human nature. Disney knows what makes humans happy.

From what I observed, Disney World seems to “manufacture” happiness 2 main ways:

  1. Moments of Wonder – Whether it’s the adrenaline rush of riding a careening roller coaster or the exhilaration of meeting one of your favorite movie characters, Disney World delivers extraordinary experiences around every corner. Every ride and every show stun us with elements that are well beyond our normal every-day experiences. Interacting with something you can’t explain leads us to wonder and amazement – and those are close cousins to joy. We love to encounter something bigger than ourselves.
  2. Shared Delight – The first time I went to Disney World on my honeymoon I had a pretty good time enjoying the park’s attractions. The next time I came back my heart could barely handle how happy I was enjoying my kids’ reactions to the park’s attractions. Is there anything better than seeing your 4-year-old’s jaw drop when she meets her favorite princess? Seriously, this moment made our whole trip worthwhile:
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    This face is why Disney World exists.

    Seeing my kids happy and knowing that I was part of bringing them that happiness was one of the more satisfying things I’ve done as a parent. All day felt like Christmas – constantly handing my kids new presents and getting to watch them ridiculously love each one. Disney World knows they can multiply your joy by the number of people you share it with which is why the whole park is designed to be a family experience. Not only did I laugh watching the Monsters Inc. jokes show, I then turned to see Henry fall on his seat in a goofy overreaction, Nora cover her mouth to contain all her cute giggles, and Grace shout out loud her own punchline answers and that all led to triple the reason for more happy laughter.

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    My favorite princesses.

Why It Works

Disney World didn’t invent our inclinations towards wonder and relationships, they simply cashed in on it. What they’ve really picked up on are some of the essential aspects of our divine design.

It’s simple – we want to wonder, because we are made for worship.

From early on, we have a curious bent to believe in magic, and that serves as evidence that a simply natural world would never suffice. Somewhere rooted in this physical body and this material mind there is soul that savors the supernatural. It’s displayed in different ways, but it’s never denied. Disney World gets this right. Magic is amazing.

And shared delights are better because we are meant for relationships.

This life isn’t fully experienced if it’s lived alone. Loving one another is deeply satisfying. And sharing our happy experiences with another exponentially increases our joy. Meaningful relationships not only enhance our lives, they are the very motivation we have for life and living.

While I’m grateful Disney World reminded me how I was made to experience joy, what they left out was honestly the most important part: the magician Himself.

There’s More Magic

There was an unforgettable moment at the end of our day when we were watching the closing fireworks and listening to the “When You Wish Upon a Star” montage. Gracie heard these lyrics and acted on them right away:

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

Grace looked up at the Disney castle and gleefully yelled, “I wish I could fly!!!” A second later, she whipped around and with her frustrated little face asked me, “Mama, why am I not flying?!!” Before I could respond she tried again, this time asking for her own playground. But again, her request went unanswered and I had to explain to her that the song didn’t exactly work that way.

The people around us ate it up. They thought it was so cute. But really, it was kind of profound. In the midst of all the Disney magic, Grace ran into reality. Disney World has all the top notch special effects in the world, but they are no magicians.

And that is exactly Who they are missing – the only magician, God Himself.

Both our bent toward worship and our delight in relationships are meant to point us to the source of our joy – Jesus Christ. Not only is God the Creator of our capacity for joy, He is also the One Who “magically” conjures joy for our delight.

John 15:11

11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Worshipping a limitless God means we have a lifetime of  unlimited wonder ahead of us as often as we step back and take in our amazing God. And sharing the delight of those moments of wonder with God and His people promises to exponentially increase our joy along the way.

What Disney gets right in part is fulfilled completely in Christ. At Disney World we get immediate delight, but it’s fleeting. It fades the moment you walk out of the park. What we get in Christ is unperishable, eternal, enduring -it grows rather than wanes. It sustains through suffering and is a hopeful reminder of the even greater inexpressible joy we have ahead of us.

Special effects are amazing, but who would ever chose that over real magic? The source of wonder, the source of all goodness and relationships all come from one place:

James 1:17

17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

 

What if we spent as much time pursuing joy in our eternal relationship with God as we do planning for a temporary trip to a theme park? What if we really believed we could have more than Disney World every day?

The ticket to our joy isn’t the one to Disney World – it’s the experience of knowing and loving God and it’s already been paid for by the King. Let’s take joy in that today.

Until God Gets Here

Ho-Hum Hope

Have you forgotten how to hope?

No, seriously. Think back. When’s the last time you really hoped for something?

If you’re like me, today you probably hoped you’d wake up early. Then, when you didn’t, you hoped the kids would sleep in so you could grab some personal time. But the moment you finished hoping that, which was the same moment your toddler hobbled into the bedroom, you stopped hoping for anything because your brain got busy keeping little people alive and attending to the daily grind.

Our days are filled with many other optimisms of course – we hope the boss likes our latest project, we hope the traffic isn’t bad, we hope our sports team doesn’t choke, we hope the kids go to bed right away.

In that sense, maybe your day was full of hopes. But if that’s the extent of it, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that maybe your day was a little long, a little tiring, and at least a little lacking. It probably wasn’t all that you hoped your day would be.

That makes sense. Because to be honest, the things we typically hope for are pretty pitiful. In the grand scheme of things, if my most frequent hope is that I find time to watch Netflix, then it’s not all that surprising that my days feel a tad mundane.

Thankfully, my 4-year-old has given me another option.

On His Way

At a recent play date, one of our little friends decided to loan my daughter a Tinker Bell doll she saw Gracie playing with. So we took Tink home for a few days visit with the expressed purpose of returning her on our next get-together. It was a strange arrangement; but it was cute, so I went with it.

A day or two later, the little friend decided Tinker Bell could stay with Grace permanently. How sweet! When I told her the good news, Gracie beamed at me and then asked me the most precious question.

She didn’t ask, “Do I really get to keep this new doll forever?!”

She said, “Do I really get to keep Tinker Bell until God gets here?!

I just love moments like that. Moments when your child applies a truth you’ve taught them to a situation you didn’t realize it related to.

Just hearing her words drew me to praise God for that very fact – He’s going to get here one day! And what a way to remember that – my daughter’s statement held heavy emphasis on the hope attached to an insignificant toy, but it pointed me to the eternal joy I have waiting right beyond this world’s trinkets.

The saying has stuck and now both of my daughters use the phrase “until God gets here” whenever they are asking about the permanency of something. At least once or twice a day I hear, “Mama, will we get to go visit Grandma again before God gets here?” or “Mommy, will we move again or do we get to stay in this house until God gets here?”

Every time I hear the phrase I get a sudden, unprompted reminder of the hope I have ahead of me. I know the girls don’t realize the impact of what they’re saying, but the fact that Christ’s arrival is so matter-of-factly brought to my attention multiple times a day has really been having an affect on me… and making me realize what my days have been missing for most of my adult life.

Frequent False Hopes

I tend to hope in temporal things. I don’t typically hope in the eternal. My heart keeps forgetting that this routine isn’t forever. But as a Christian, the fact that my Savior is planning His return – any minute! – ought to fill my heart with at least a little nervous excitement, and more often than not – a whole lot of hope!

But it just… doesn’t.

This past week, my kiddos have taught me two things about my hope in God and in particular in Christ’s return – it’s impersonal and rare.

It’s impersonal because I think of it in textbook terms. “The 2nd coming of Christ” sounds more like a chapter in a heavy theology book rather than a sold out event I can’t believe I’m holding a ticket to. Sadly, I’ve studied Christ’s return far more than I have anticipated it.

And it’s rare because my hopes are crowded. If we’re being honest, over the last week I’ve longed more to see the 2nd season of Fixer Upper on Netflix than I have the second coming of Christ. And there are plenty of other trivial hopes that my heart is set on. They aren’t just distracting me from heavenly hopes; they are choking them out of existence.

Somehow I’ve come to admire the 2nd coming from afar forgetting that I’m involved in the event at all.

Something to Look Forward to

But according to the New Testament writers, my highest hopes are supposed to be fixed on the promised return of my Savior. Life’s little joys are well and good – but they ought to pale in comparison to the greatest gain of seeing Christ.

Here is just a sampling of the promises that ought to be more than enough motivation to get through our days:

  • Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:28
  • For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
  • Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you don’t expect. Matthew 24:44
  • For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 24:27
  • When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:4
  • Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. John 14:1-3

The Bible frequently reminds us that if we set our hopes on Christ the grandeur of His promises are enough to cause rejoicing even as we look forward to their fulfillment.

We have a hope worth dwelling on and daydreaming about. The very anticipation of it makes our days worthwhile.

And the more we elevate this hope above all others, the better perspective we’ll have on the joys and disappointments of our lives. If we evaluate our daily ambitions in light of the fact that our Christ is on His way, then we’ll end each day with the same perspective – looking forward.

Don’t Forget to Hope

Don’t be discouraged if you realize today that you’ve lost hope. We are forgetful, selfish people consumed by whatever is right in front of us.

But tomorrow, put your hope in the ultimate, not the immediate. Fight to focus more on the promises of God than the mere short-term triumphs of this life.

The Christian who is full of hope is the one who keeps hearing it as often as he forgets it. For this forgetful believer, I’ve had 4-year-olds giving me daily reminders that “God’s going to get here” soon. But once they’ve outgrown this adorable catchphrase will I revert back to infrequent reminders or will I seek out daily revelations of my divine promise? Of course I know right where the words are waiting for me.

Let’s surround ourselves with the greatest hope we have. Let’s read it and savor it straight from the source. Let’s reiterate it to each other as frequently as possible. And let’s pray for the fervor that its astounding power merits.

Because the reality is, we won’t be here forever. Our struggles are temporary, our pain is short-lived. The mundane is fading, and the tedious fleeting. All of these things will only last until our Lord gets here.

And friend, God is going to get here. And it’ll be soon.

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay…”

Hebrews 10:23, 35-37

It’s Not Enough That You’re a Mess

We’re in This Together

There’s a pretty comforting trend going around the mama blogosphere. It goes like this – “You’re a mess. I’m a mess. We’re all okay.”

You’ll find tons of posts following this theme. They tell hilarious stories of moms’ most embarrassing moments or their most frequent failures all with the general message – if I can make it through this, then you can too!

I’ve liked this trend for as long as I’ve been a mom. I’ll readily admit I’m a Pinterest-poser who relates way more to the messy bun mom in sweat pants.

In many ways, confession blogs give me permission to accept that I’ll never be the perfect parent I envision and more than likely, I’m always going to be a bit of a mess.

So often, that’s exactly what my sleep-deprived soul longs to hear.

These parenting posts are meant to be funny. But I wonder if they reveal a side to motherhood we need to address more seriously.

Behind the camaraderie, there’s often a lot of painful complaining.  Beneath the jokes about how hard this life is, there is often the very serious shock of nagging discontentment. While we pat each other on the back for making it through another day, there’s a side of us that seems to actually say, “how long do you think we can hold on?!”

Yes, I get a good laugh at the messy mom blogs. But when I turn my attention back to the little ones fighting in the living room, and the laundry laying on my bed, and the work emails waiting in my inbox – that’s when empathy isn’t enough.

In my muddle of tasks each day, it’s not enough to know I’m not alone. As much as I love them, I need more than other moms on my side.

The Big Picture

Of course, we know how to talk ourselves through the tough days. Mom blogs exist so we can be reminded of the bigger picture:

“Yes, life is hard and basically unbearable some days, but somehow we’ll get through this. We just need to take it one day at a time. Someday our little ones will grow up and it won’t be this hard. But for now, they need us and we love them; so it’s worth it.”

But, what if the big picture is actually bigger than that?

What I’d like to propose is that maybe the point isn’t to strive for the day when we’re done struggling. Maybe we don’t need to settle for just surviving these years. And maybe we’re meant to do more with our pain than turn it into a punchline for our friends.

I’d like to argue that you’re a better mom for being a mess. But only if you wear it well.

A Tale of Two Play Dates

Take for instance, my latest play date adventures…

One happened today. We met up with friends to celebrate a little girl’s birthday. The kids got to eat lunch at McDonald’s and then play at a local park. The sun was shining and for the first time in months it was warm enough to play outdoors without a coat.

My kids were ecstatic. They gobbled up their chicken nuggets as they shared silly stories with their friends. At the park, they ran around the playground and imagined they were pirates sailing through the ocean on the lookout for sharks. They built towers out of dirt and threw stones onto the still-frozen pond. It was a full day filled with energetic giggles followed by the rarest of 3-hour afternoon naps.

To me, this was a triumph of a play date.

Last week’s play date had a bit more character.

It had just rained, and being a city girl transplant in Montana, I didn’t think about the consequences of taking an unpaved back road to my friend’s house. When we arrived, my car was dripping with mud – which I took no notice of until I had pressed against the side of the car to undo the backseat buckles.

Great. I only had one kid out of the car and already I was a mess.

I proceeded to get out children 2 and 3; but in those few seconds, child 1 decided that mud dripping off of our car looks pretty cool and should be examined closely. Said child got mud all over his hands. I finished getting all children extracted from the vehicle and closed the door just in time to see little Henry poking at the gushy puddle. I tried to pull his hand away, but in the process I accidentally swung him around too far and smooshed the back of his coat flat against the mud-covered car.

Keep up with me now – by the time I reached the front door I had 2 muddy, messy people for my friend to welcome into her recently cleaned home.

7 lunches were made and divvyed out. Although it was a bit of marathon getting everybody settled in for lunch, it was worth it. Finally, my friend and I could plop down in the living room to chat while we enjoyed lunch with the littles and the big kids ate on their own.

But two minutes into our lunch, I heard my daughter start coughing. I had warned my friend about this lingering cough that was the stubborn hold out from Gracie’s cold. It was nothing, I had assured her. But this cough didn’t sound like nothing. It kept going. And going. And going.

After a few agonizing minutes, Grace made her way to me with tears in her eyes because she couldn’t stop coughing.

At this point, I started worrying that I’d exposed my obviously sick child to all her little friends. I hate it when other moms do that to my kids. I hated it that I was now that mom that I hate.

I tried to console Grace while figuring out whether we should just pack up and leave. But before my brain even got the chance to answer this parenting pop quiz, Grace did something she’s never done before.

She threw up. In my lap.

Next mental challenge: should I laugh this off while politely requesting some paper towels? Or do I jump into emergency mode and order bucket and rags, stat? If I was at home, this would’ve been the moment where I would’ve screamed for my husband to “hurry in here, NOW!” and he would’ve saved me while I just sat helpless and lingered in my shock. But I wasn’t at home. I had to keep it together – to comfort Grace, to keep any vomit from getting on their carpet, to not die of embarrassment and total humiliation.

So I smiled, apologized, and asked for some paper towels. Of course my friend obliged.

And while she got them for us, just to top it off, Grace threw up on me three more times.

Still keeping count? I was trying not to.

Nora somehow made it out of the play date unscathed although there was a juice spill between her and her little friend which we might as well throw into our tally since we were on such a role anyhow.

I left this play date wearing my friend’s clothes and wondering if we’d ever be invited back, or if I’d ever risk leaving the house again for any play date, ever. I was embarrassed and worn out. And a mess.

Why We Need Terrible Play Dates and Messy Moms

To state the obvious, I only want play date triumphs. I never want to relive the ones where I was frazzled and got thrown-up on. But of course we don’t get to opt out of life’s messy moments. We ought not ignore them or laugh them off too quickly either. They can serve great purpose.

Why is parenting hard? Because I am a sinful mama, raising sin-addicted children in a sin-smeared world.

What does God do with sin? He redeems it.

Isn’t the message of the Bible, that sin has messed everything up and yet through God’s plan every single bit of that mess is going to be used to bring Him glory? That our God, not only conquers sin – He shockingly incorporates it into His salvation plan before He ultimately rids the world of it.

Sin is what makes motherhood a mess. It’s why we lash out, why we give up, and why we’ll never be the consistently-loving moms we want to be. But because God has fused His eternal purpose into every action of our day-to-day lives, He’s using our breakdowns to bring about breath-taking grace too.

Our repeat failures mount a stronger argument for God’s unfailing love. Our daily sins showcase a tally of the times Christ has chosen to save us. Our tired hearts reveal the challenge His promised sanctification is ready to take on.

We need the mess of motherhood to better understand the glory of the gospel.

What glories did I see in my play date catastrophe? I saw God deepen a friendship with bonds that went well beyond my comfort zone.  I saw God strengthen my relationship with my daughter who now knows I’ll care for her whenever and wherever she needs me. I even saw God jump start my prayer life, which to be honest had been lacking.

Make the Most of Your Mess

Does the chaos of motherhood point you to Christ or to your insufficiency? It’s not enough to admit that you are a mess if it doesn’t lead you to wonder at God’s grace at work in you. There is so much of God’s glory being revealed in our  weakness.

Whatever your final straw, your breaking point, wherever you last lost it as a mom – that is where you met the limits of your faith. And that is where Christ is ready to extend it by granting you yet another measure of His unfailing love and His unbelievable grace.

So let’s admit we are weak and revel that we are Christ’s.

And the next time we are reminded of our mess, let’s not simply turn to each other in mutual resignation. Let’s encourage each other to remember the relief we have in the gospel of grace. And when we do confide our struggles or laugh about this crazy life, let’s be sure it’s with a firm hope in our God who is working all of our failures for His glory.

Because ultimately our greatest hope isn’t that we have each other, it’s that we have Christ.

 

 

To the Mom Who Doesn’t Love Her Adopted Child

What happens when adoption is way harder than you expected? Below is an edited version of an email I recently wrote to a mom, who, like all new adoptive parents, was asking “is this going to get any better?”

Oh my goodness, the first thing you need to know is that you are completely normal. Right before we brought home our Nora, I remember a beautifully honest friend of mine sitting me down to talk with me about some of their unexpected adoption challenges and every single thing she mentioned happened with us as well. And even despite her warnings, I still felt overwhelmed by all that I went through when Nora came home.

I thought I’d be dealing with Nora’s adjustment into our family, but the harder part was dealing with MY adjustments adding her to our family.

I had zero natural affections for her and found myself getting surprisingly angry with her over petty things (and I never got angry with our biological daughter in the same way). I was appalled at how my heart was feeling towards our daughter we had labored to bring home and looked forward to meeting for years.

Honestly, I think disappointment is the first hurdle. You have so much time to build up this vision of your life with your new addition; and if you already have biological children, you probably expect many of the same joys you’ve experienced with your other children to happen again with your new child. When life with your adopted child is hard, just hard, for days and weeks and months – you have to get through the loss of your expectations and learn to adjust and accept the reality of your situation. Thankfully, once you submit to what always was God’s plan for your family, you’ll be given a new vision and a deeper hope for how God will use and bless your life with this child.

Adoption, like marriage, is a beautiful gift with the unexpected bonus of exposing some of our darkest sins.

As good a person as you think you are, your heart really doesn’t want to constantly serve another – especially when there is little or no personal gain from your efforts. If your little one doesn’t show gratitude or affection yet (which I wouldn’t expect at all early on), the challenge to love “the unlovable” is basically impossible apart from the power of Christ. That maternal instinct God gives mothers is an incredible force for good – and something I’ve never had with our adopted daughter like I have with my other kids.

When Nora joined our family, I expected to have hard days – I just didn’t expects months of them back-to-back. And during those days, my heart got ugly. Really ugly. I went from disappointed to barely surviving to bitter and defeated. My sinful response to adoption was shocking most of all to myself. I never would have expected to struggle internally with feelings of such anger and frustration.

The good news in all of this is the other part – the sanctification part. Just because I wasn’t aware of the depths of my sin potential doesn’t mean it wasn’t always lurking in my heart. And after realizing my desperate need for Christ to save me again from even greater sins, my faith was forced to grow. Talk openly about your struggles to people who love Jesus because you need them to remind you of the gospel. You might already know it, but now you need it more than ever.

Remember that Christ knows how to love the unlovable. He came to die for the undesirable. He didn’t rely on a feeling of affection – He fully trusted in the will of His Father. And the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in your own heart is going to make you more like Christ.

His goodness, not our worthiness, motivated His sacrifice. And in Christ’s goodness, you will find all the motivation you need to love your child well.

Furthermore, this experience of adoption, Lord-willing, is going to lead you to cherish your own salvation far more than ever before. You will see how undeserving your own soul was to be saved. You’ll be challenged to love your Father better and appreciate His sacrifice more now that you feel the pangs of rejection and rebellion from your own child.

You’ll know the miraculous power of Christ’s mercy and love now that you know the natural reaction is repulsion and frustration – not affection – for the sinner in front of you. And, I have great hope, that you’ll experience seeing your heart change over time as God even grants you increasing measures of affection for your child – which in contrast to this struggle, you’ll know is His doing and not your own.

We imagine that our needy, adoptive child is a victim worthy of love. The reality is they are a sinner worthy of wrath. We imagine that adoptive parents are good people worthy of praise. The reality is we too are scoundrels made up of a mix of righteous and prideful motives. It’s hard when these realities hit you, but it’s the best place for Christ to continue His sanctifying work.

He has, and is, certainly doing that work in my heart. After 2 1/2 years with Nora home it’s still hard – but totally worth it. I wish my sin was easier to eradicate, but God is using the blessing of adoption to faithfully root it out of me. Loving Nora is easier, and deeper, than I thought it could get. And I see huge strides of slow but steady progress in our relationship.

Most of all I’m thankful that adoption made it impossible for me to have a complacent relationship with ChristI give up my time with Him, and I fall right back into chaos. He is what makes our adoptive family work – and I’m so thankful for the challenge of adoption that makes me know my need for Christ.

3 Dollars for My Baby

It was another hectic library day. Library day mostly exists so when I see it written on my calendar I can feel like a good mom. The trip itself leave me far less confident about my parenting skills.

Strangely enough, I arrived early that day. Early is almost as stressful as late when you have a great big library waiting to be explored, 3 wide-eyed little wanderers, and no program to capture all their unbridled excitement. For those pre-Story Time moments, I knew what my mission was: get my rowdy bunch to the kids’ zone ASAP and try to restrain any screaming, fighting, or escape attempts along the way.

There was yelling to slow down hallways and begging to speed up stairs, but eventually we made it to our happy place. The toddler area is the one spot where noise is begrudgingly permitted – not coincidentally it’s also the only area of library where I feel comfortable looking other patrons in the eye.

My girls immediately darted to one of the new science exhibits. You know the type: “hands on” displays perfect for families that have a 1:1 parent/child ratio and a nightmare to moms of multiples who can’t keep track of all the hands that are “on” and throwing and squishing and trying to tear apart said educational display. I think the exhibit was supposed to be teaching us how molecules were made up of individual atoms. I think my girls had learned that foam atoms were very fun to throw and baby Henry had correctly deduced that they are delicious.

All of two minutes in, I was starting to worry we might be breaking the bounds even of library toddler haven. This was also the moment that a disheveled, middle-aged man walked up to me.

I don’t have much experience with his type. Most middle-aged men are afraid of young moms with chaotic offspring. They tend to avoid us. Unless of course they are annoyed by us to the point of confrontation – which is what I assumed was his purpose.

He was direct to say the least. Right off the bat it was: “Is he yours? That baby. Do you own him?”

Immediately I recognized that English wasn’t his first language. I also recognized that he was not smiling.

Bracing for whatever rebuke he had for me, I held Henry a bit closer and tried to muster the friendliest smile I could manage while nonchalantly prying the library display out of little man’s mouth.

“Umm… this little guy I’m holding here on my hip? The boy gumming a foam atom? Yes, this is my son. Why do you ask?”

All the man had to say was “OK.” Then he went to rummaging through his pockets.

We shared an awkward pause as he searched for God knows what in his coat, while I regained awareness of my surroundings and threw a mom-glare at my girls still ransacking the display.

Eventually, he pulled out two dollar bills.

“Here. For your baby.”

Well, this was new territory. The way he said it made me think he was trying to actually make a trade. Then came more rummaging.

“No. Here. Three dollars.”

“I, um, don’t understand sir. What is this for?”

I’m starting to notice that some social cues are a bit off. Now I’m sensing he’s not “all there.” Outwardly, I kept a consistently pleasant demeanor. Inwardly I’d just gone from timid, please don’t yell at me for being a mess of a mom to warrior mode. This weirdo wasn’t getting anywhere near my kiddos. What the heck is he getting at about my son? He’d better back up now!

He was struggling to find the right words. But very firmly, he tells me: “For your baby. Only your baby. You have baby. You take this for your baby. Only for your baby. Not you.”

And it hit me. This man was trying to make a donation. He wanted to give money to help. Well, that’s a totally different story. I softened my stance and gave my automatic American response.

“Oh. Well, thank you sir. But he doesn’t need any money. That is so nice, but we have money to take care of him. You keep that for yourself.”

“No, baby is good. Here is three dollars.”

From there he mumbled something about a bad ruler back at his home. I didn’t know how that related, but what I did understand was his fervor. In our confused dialogue his message was becoming clear.

It is good you have a baby. I want to help your baby.

Thankfully, God gave me the presence of mind to quickly push aside my pride and accept this act of kindness towards my young son.

“You are trying to be generous aren’t you, sir? We love our baby very much. Thank you for being generous towards him. I’ll use this money to help take care of Henry.”

As soon as I took his money he nodded approval and walked away. I on the other hand, was frozen for moment taking in the abrupt beauty of the previous 2 minutes. I don’t fully grasp what motivated him to give Henry three dollars. Maybe he’d had people give him a few spare dollars and he was reenacting the gesture he didn’t fully comprehend.

He gave me more than three dollars though.

With his broken words and awkward actions he confronted my misplaced priorities. I’d been focused on my failed attempt to appear put-together, but here was a man moved by a far greater image he observed. New life – rowdy, messy, unpredictable little life.. is life that still reflects the mysterious and astounding value of his Creator. How could I have forgotten the glory of the gift in my arms? The sanctity of the little lives meandering around me…

It was absolutely riveting to have someone point out my son’s astonishing worth when all day I’d been mostly preoccupied by the yogurt stains on his shirt.

For whatever reason, this man was motivated to care about and contribute to the well-being of my baby boy. And this mama will cherish the high compliment that came with those three dollars.

Next time I go out with my unruly bunch, I plan to look more strangers in the eye. I want to notice them and their value just like someone did for my Henry-boy.

And for the record, Henry got about 20 diapers out of the deal.

If You Failed in 2014

Ah, the end of 2014. A time for self-reflection, for looking back, evaluating life decisions and measuring the year’s success.

In other words, it’s time to polish off those Christmas cookies while you wallow over your annual list of let-downs.

Seriously, does anyone sit down and have a rush of accomplishments come to mind? Or are you like me, settling in for what seems like a necessary acknowledgement of how once again, I couldn’t keep up.

– Remember that crazy idea about getting up early? Pu-lease. No amount of solitude or Starbucks lattes could entice me out of bed before work beckoned or babies cried. Face it, I’ll never be the 6 am early bird that I so long to be.

– And what about my house? Is it STILL messy? I thought that new schedule, that new resolve, that new routine was going to actually change things around here. But for all my cleaning I can still guarantee that every room is punctuated by clutter as it was yesterday, last week, and last year.

– I had plans! Plans to read books, write articles, support causes, invest in relationships, get organized, get over anxiety, spend more time with God. What happened to last year’s eager resolutions?

I wish 2014 was the unusual year, but it looks painfully similar to my last decade of year-end reviews. While I celebrate the year’s facebook-worthy milestones, I can’t help but linger over my private defeats – the struggles that persist, the weaknesses that still hold me back, the fears I haven’t overcome, the failures I find myself repeating.

So what is this year’s great resolution? Of course I realize a more balanced perspective is in order. There WAS progress this year. I could purpose to dwell on what things went RIGHT in 2014:

– We potty trained two toddlers. (That’s 12 diapers a day I don’t have to change, people! And did I mention our year-long battle with toddler diarrhea ?… I will never get over how INCREDIBLE toilets are.)

– I nursed Henry for a WHOLE YEAR. (Annnd now you know where all the saved diaper-time went.)

– I finally found balance in my work-from-home/stay-at-home-mom routine. (I know all you work-from-home mama’s know exactly what I’m talking about. You can do it, ladies. It just took me three years to figure it out.)

– And of course there was the little fact that we paid off my school debt, Henry’s medical bills, and Nora’s adoption. (Insert obligatory thanks to Dave Ramsey.)

But a tally of all that went right, doesn’t erase its lurking counterpart.  It might distract for a bit and provide some excuses, but my other list lingers and is ready to forecast a repeat of my often unmet resolutions.

This year, I have no grand epiphany; but in the quiet, on this eve of either renewal or resignation, I’m reminding my soul to have hope for 2015.

My performance, my personal bests and worsts of 2014, can’t be where I start planning for 2015. They have their value, but no power to predict the outcome of the year ahead.

The only hopeful place for me to begin the new year is in the faithfulness of Christ.

He’s the only one to keep His every resolution – and I can’t believe saving me is again part of His annual plan. My 2014 failures have already been met by last year’s intended atonement and His promise to keep me clean in 2015 is as resolute as ever.

When I plan my upcoming year, I don’t want to fixate on my shortcomings, but revel in my clean slate. The year is new, and so is Christ’s resolve to free me from my stubborn sin. I prefer a more instant version of this process that God’s decided to draw out over the years of my life, but if He’s willing to walk me through another year of slow but steady growth, I’m ready to get started.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:22-24 ESV)