Sunday, March 27, 2016

One Truth, One Lie--An Easter Story

If you ever want to get a group of people talking when the atmosphere is quiet and slightly uncomfortable, play a game called One Truth, One Lie.  Each person in the room has to come up with two facts about themselves, one that is unknown but completely true, the other a total lie.  Everyone else tries to determine which fact is true, and which is totally fabricated.  The result is usually a lot of laughter, and some insight into the lives of people you most likely wouldn't have had in normal conversation.  Try it, it's really fun!

Today is Easter, or better put, Resurrection Sunday.  As I do about Christmas, I struggle with the Easter holiday as it is celebrated in our culture.  I made a late-night excursion to our local Walmart last night and was so hit with the huge commercial enterprise Easter has become.

I don't know about you, but nothing screams Happy Easter louder for me than multi-colored Peeps in a Spiderman Easter bucket, along with Ninja Turtles eggs nestled in with an Avenger action figure. Sprinkle in some Jolly Rancher jelly beans and orange M&M's in a carrot-shaped wrapper, and you have a feast fit for a prince.   I need therapy.

Oh, and don't forget the huge bunny or egg-shaped pinata.  No Easter would be complete without blindfolded children hitting a rabbit with a stick so they can dive on even more candy.  How have I never thought about doing that until now?  Must be a second-rate Easter celebrator.

What the what?

There's something much bigger here.  We have settled for a lie.  We have accepted the wrapper because it's so colorful and full of promises and have tried to unwrap it and there is nothing inside. The lie boasts that it's okay that the most important christian  holiday (holy day) of the year has turned into a big charade about rabbits and eggs and candy.  That is it?  Where is the promise in that?


The HUGE promise of new life, of hope, of a Spring in our lives has been trampled on by a huge rabbit carrying a basket of eggs.  And we know it and do it anyway.

I overheard my husband talking on the phone to someone last night who wants him to perform their wedding ceremony.  He asked what they've been up to since their counseling sessions, why they had stopped coming to church.  I overheard him politely trying to convince them to bring their children to church on Easter.  Company in town?   That's okay, bring them too.  It's Easter!  Sadly, it's obvious they had no intention of celebrating the Resurrection.  It will be a day focused on  candy, the bunny, the food.

The lie shouts from the aisles of the department stores," This is it!  This is all there is, so eat chocolate! Hunt for eggs! Buy a new toy! Wear the new clothes!"  

And when it's all over, if you're not careful,  you will be right where you are right now--searching for answers for pain and struggle, hope for tomorrow, a reason to live.

There is truth, my friend. But you won't find it in the holiday aisle of your department store.  Jesus died on a cross 2,016 years ago to prove to you that this life is not the end.  There is meaning in your existence, there is purpose in your struggle, there is a future for you.  You can have all these things, but there is a catch.

The catch is that you need to come to God on His terms. You don't get to play multiple choice with His commandments.  He paid the ultimate price by giving His only Son to suffer and die on a cross as a gift to you and I.  A Son who paid with His life a penalty for sin that we could not pay.  Give your life to Him, follow Him, make Him number one in your life and you will find a miracle of truth that you didn't even know was there.

The God of the universe who created you loves you, and has a purpose for your life.  Why not start today and embrace the truth of the Resurrection!






Friday, March 25, 2016

Light From Darkness

Today's Five Minute Friday prompt word is Alive.  Join us if you like at katemotaung.com

Go!

I love the fact that the Resurrection happened in the Spring.  It's just so fitting. New Life is possible because of the Resurrection.  Today is Good Friday.  I have mixed feelings about this day.  I think about the Scriptures where Mary and the other women went to the tomb where Jesus was laid and an angel greeted them instead.  The angel's words were--

"Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He is risen!"

He is alive!

Instead of focusing on His death, it makes more sense to concentrate on the Resurrection.
But, can you have a resurrection without death?

My 18 year old daughter literally hates sad books and sad movies.  For some reason she is okay with sad songs.  Her logic is, "why would I want to waste my time reading or watching something that has a terrible ending?"

And wouldn't it be wonderful if life was like that?  Only focus on positive things and nothing negative would happen.  Except, that's not real life, is it?

Any good artist knows that in order to paint light you need darkness to contrast it.  Otherwise you would have a very boring, bland piece of artwork.  You need darkness to see light.  A novelist knows it as well.  He needs to create conflict in order for there to be a resolution.  A tragedy so there can be a hero.

We need to pause and reflect on death in order to appreciate life.  Jesus' horrible painful death made the resurrection possible.  God became flesh and gave himself as a sacrifice because nothing else would pay the penalty for sinful mankind.

I think about friends who are hurting right now. Friends who have lost loved ones, who are suffering in their bodies, those who are facing really, really difficult life situations, and it looks really dark for them.  I wish I could just paint light in their lives and take away their hurt and pain. But this I know.  They will not always feel pain, they will not always be in darkness.  And when their miracles come, they will appreciate them so much more for having walked through the darkness.  Some will receive their miracles here on earth; others will see them on the other side of Heaven.  This I do know for sure--there will be light; there will be life; there will be joy again. All because of the Resurrection.






Monday, March 21, 2016

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Encouragement For Those Struggling to Parent Children From Hard Places

I am a runner.  Not the kind that has that lean, energetic, and toned  body. Not the kind that looks at a piece of chocolate cake and says, "No, I think I'll just have a salad.  I just crave salads, don't you?" Not the kind that says, "I'm so stressed, I just need to go for a run to feel better. "  
No, I just usually (let's be honest here--always) take the cake and leave the salad.  The farthest thing from my mind is running when I'm stressed.  Give me a quiet room, the chocolate, the laptop or a good book, and I'll see you in a couple of hours. 
Not that kind of runner.  The other kind. 
I am the kind that has looked at a difficult situation, longed for an answer, decided that it was too hard for me to tackle, and have placed it on the back burner, hoping some other runner will grab the baton and take off with it. Except it's not an easy race. It's the kind that makes you question everything. Makes you realize your flaws and shortcomings, and doesn't even look doable on some days.The kind that makes you look like this:
It's the race of parenting a child from a hard place. 
Loving a child through adoption, foster care, or step-parenting. 

The reason I have been running for the past few years is not a small one.  In fact, it is such a huge weight and mantle that I am so very sure there is no way I can handle this on my own.  I do not have all of the answers for you, my friend.  I am just a fellow soldier struggling with the weight that has been put on my back to make it the next few feet, set down my pack, rest, regroup and get back on the road for a little while longer.

Part of the reason I have waited is that I wanted answers.  How do I help other struggling women through their hardships if I haven't arrived on the other side yet?  How do I encourage the mom whose heart is broken and she is flattened with the heavy burden she is carrying, when I am hurting and struggling too?  I so wanted to arrive on the other side and give the four step approach to freedom.
This is how you love a child from a hard place.  This is how you parent with pure love a child born to another and is now yours to love and raise.  This is the secret ingredient in that soup you keep pouring methods and ideas into, and it still just tastes flat.

Three and a half years of trying to create in myself a pure enough heart that I could love a child I don't often like.  Three and a half years of beating myself up for not conjuring up loving emotions when they deserved all of that and more. Three and a half years of guilt. Frustration.  Anger. Emotional fatigue.
If you have never parented a child from a hard place, then believe me, sister (brother), what I write will make  no sense to you whatsoever. You will compare my experience with your own and throw your shoulders back, puff out your chest, and look down your nose on me and anyone else who may identify as pitiful, selfish people who should never have adopted, fostered, step-parented in the first place.

I know this because I have seen the vicious attacks that have happened on the hurting moms and dads struggling to love an unlovely child, who dare venture out into the deep waters of adoption support groups.  I have seen them stick their toes into the water, hoping, just pleading for another to reach out a hand and help them rise above the flood of hurt and anger. There were those who offered kind words of encouragement.  But I have watched as a few wolves tore apart the injured mother sheep grasping for a little bit of encouragement.  Part of me wonders if those wolves were just dressed up sheep--sheep in wolves clothing, so to speak. Maybe they couldn't admit their own flaws.  Maybe denial has worked for them. Or maybe, just maybe they were one of the lucky ones who didn't struggle as you and I do.

Picture-perfect adoption stories fill social media pages, as they should.  Adoption is still the answer to motherless, fatherless children around the world.  Fostering is the emergency rescue of children in danger.

We need to see the "Gotcha Day" videos, to cry with  new moms and dads who have worked, prayed, and waited for so long and are finally able to hold and hug the children they have loved from afar. We all need to see the miracle of a life rescued from abandonment, placed in a loving home, thriving far more than anyone ever expected. We need to see the before and after pictures. Tens of millions of children still need homes. They cannot rescue themselves.  Parents need to rise up. We and millions of others just like us are the answer.  Imperfect people are needed to imperfectly reach out to angry, hurting and abandoned children.

The pressure is there, my friend.  Pressure to fake it 'til you make it, with the idea that at some point you will make it.  Pressure to come up with the answers that nag you day in and day out.  Pressure to paint a picture-perfect adoption story so that you can inspire others to rise up and do the same.
But the answer that I had searched for these past three and half years hit me in the face today.  I guess I knew it all along, but now I'm finally going to pass it to you.  It's okay if you don't get it right away. It took me an awful long time to get it myself.

As beautiful as the gotcha day videos are.  As beautiful as the successful, picture-perfect adoption stories are.  As amazing as the before and after pictures of rescued children are, they all pale in comparison to the most beautiful expression of love of all.
The breathtaking beauty is in your struggle.  
Your tears, your doubts, your anger, your hurt paint a masterpiece far more beautiful than anything else.  You are loving the unlovely in the midst of all of the ugly.  Your broken pieces are creating a mosaic.  You can't see it because each piece looks imperfect.  Parenting in your weakness.  Helping when you are hurting.  Providing when you are angry.  Giving when you have been taken from.  The Bible puts it this way:
 “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.       --Luke 6:32-36The Message (MSG)
You think you have come up short because you are so engulfed in the emotions of it all, it feels like failure.  If you truly loved your child, wouldn't you know it? Wouldn't you feel loving? Wouldn't you have the endless "I would kill for this child, I would give my life for this child, I would give up everything for this child" emotions to go along with it?  Guess what?  You don't need the emotions. The fact that you don't have warm fuzzy feelings is proof that you have loved when it is hard.  It is the extra mile.  You have already walked it.  You have given when it didn't feel like giving, it just felt like a big charade.

The angry outbursts followed by an apology, or maybe not.  Yet another meeting with the school principal, the teacher, the resource worker.  The IEP. Hundreds of hours of counseling.  Nights of lost sleep.  Trips to psychiatric wings, to hospitals, to jails.  Breaking up fights. The phone calls from school.  Staying up late nights trying to figure out how the extra bills will be paid. The nagging feeling you are doing irreparable damage to your other children. The arguments with your spouse. The pit in your stomach.  The tears you have cried.  All pieces.  All imperfectly, breathtakingly beautiful.
There's a song that plays quietly in my head on some days.  It says what I feel often.  I heard it many years ago before I could apply it to my struggle.

"...People say that I'm amazingStrong beyond my years,But they don't see inside of meI'm hiding all the tears.
They don't know that I go running home when I fall down.They don't know who picks me up when no one is around.I drop my sword and cry for just a while.'Cause deep inside this armor,The warrior is a child."(From "Warrior is a Child, by Twila Paris)
"Once upon a time, my sister, you were a girl with a beautiful dream, and so was I.  We were going to be mommies.  We were going to share a lifetime of love and laughter with bright-eyed, dimpled children that would thrive under our care.  We were going to foster or adopt and give a future to a child who had no future.  Our hearts were loving, our motives were pure, we just didn't know then what we know now.  We didn't know that damaged children take more than love and security and structure to heal.  More than food on the table and a roof over their heads and clean clothes and new toys and a good education and piano lessons and band aids on skinned knee." 
(excerpt from  http://lisa-overcomingmyself.blogspot.com/2011/07/to-mothers-of-unattached-children.html?m=1)

Stand up,  chin up, shoulders back, my friend. Take a deep breath. You are doing it! You are making a difference. You are accomplishing what many wish they could, but aren't yet.  Don't worry about the finish line right now.  Your goal is the next few steps.  You have an Advocate that is with you, giving you what you need for today.  Surrender your hurts, your fears, your anger, your imperfections to the One who can fill in the gaps for you.  He promises to be the perfect Father to your child when you fall short.  He is cheering you on in your battle. 

You can do this.  You already have. 




Friday, March 18, 2016

The Surprise

Our family has a favorite game called Spook. It's a twist on the old familiar hide and seek, except it's played in the dark, and the finder gets to wield a flashlight. The twist is that when you're about to be discovered, you scream or yell “boo” as loud as you can to try and scare the beJeebies out of the finder. I've seen that it's a lot of fun, although I don't play it. I prefer to keep my bejeebies intact. Plus, it's my husband's tradition with the kids, it's his time to be a kid again, and  he loves it as much as they do.


I have a beloved sister-in-law, Teresa, who also loves the element of surprise. Through the years, she has planned her out of town visits so that she can walk out from a back room unknowingly and surprise everyone with her presence. She has done this over and over for anniversaries, Christmas parties, birthdays, and even for no apparent reason at all. She just loves to surprise people.




Two years ago,Teresa and I were responsible for planning an 80th birthday party for my sweet mother-in-law. I, who don't really appreciate surprises wanted to make it a planned event. Of course, Teresa wanted to surprise her. Well circumstances became a little complicated at the time, so we decided to compromise. Teresa would appear out of the bedroom of my in-law's house on the day of the event, for the surprise factor. But the party was to be planned. I had told Mom that we would have a few friends gathered together at church for dessert and coffee. She loved the idea--she wouldn't want a huge event with a lot of planning and preparation. The thought of a few close friends gathered for her birthday would be perfect for her. Plus, she wanted to be able to look nice for the occasion. So my sister and brother-in-law took them out for dinner, and then brought them over to church for the party. 

Little did any of us know, but the small gathering of friends had grown to about 80 people. Several of her closest friends had gone above and beyond and decorated the room beautifully. Speeches were given telling of her love and thoughtfulness. Mom was like a little bird, flitting from table to table, hugging people and laughing. I don't think she stopped talking and hugging all night. She had sown time, love, and her amazing cooking with so many over the years. Hours of loving on the hurting, ministering to the broken hearted, truly treating those most of us would have overlooked as if they were the most important people on earth--this had been what she had sown.

The evening was spent honoring a lady who had truly impacted so many. The surprise was on all of us. The little gathering of friends became a grand birthday party after all.




Saturday, March 12, 2016

Are You a Back-Seat Driver?



I have a confession to make.  I have insomnia.  Not the kind that keeps you up at night, tossing and turning, trying to fall asleep.  Actually, I may hold some sort of record, falling asleep in mere seconds.  I have been known to fall asleep mid-sentence.  One time my husband called from another state after being gone several days. All of a sudden, I remember him shouting my name into the phone.  Apparently, it had gone silent on my end. Yep, sad to say, I had nodded off on him in the middle of our conversation.  


No, falling asleep is not the issue.  For me, it’s staying asleep.


There are many nights I wake up after only a few hours of sleep, thinking I have slept the whole night.  I look at the clock, expecting it to be around 6 am, only to find that it’s 2:33 am, or some other ungodly hour.  Then my mind starts.  I think about what I should have done yesterday and didn’t.  I ponder the events of the day and week.  Sometimes I rehash conversations, stewing over an unkind remark. I have been known to solve world hunger, but somehow the next day the answer is lost.


The truth is, much of my thoughts are actually unproductive.  I worry and stress about things that are out of my control.


Control cartoon.png


One of the most impactful books I have read is now classic in the self-help genre, written in the ‘70s by Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  Brilliantly written, one of the basic premises of the book, the foundation that we need to build on to be effective, is to realize what we really control and what we don’t.  When we try and focus our time and energy on that which we have no control, we become stressed, irritable, angry, and even depressed.  


There are people in our lives we influence, such as our family and friends, possibly co-workers. But we really cannot control anyone other than ourselves.  But what we do control is not unimportant; in fact, it is of the utmost importance.  We control ourselves, our own actions, our own attitudes.  A great amount of stress and anxiety comes when we focus on things we have no control over.  A great amount of stress also happens when we fail to realize that we really do have control over ourselves.


Think about it.  How many arguments happen when one person tries to control another? The truth-- pretty much all of them.  How much stress and anxiety happen when we try and make someone else act a certain way?


In our home, there is a husband (father), wife, (mother), and five children ages 7 to 23, living under one roof.  I would venture to say that all are good-natured people, not wanting to ruin anyone else’s lives purposefully.  But if I were to tell you that we all got along all of the time because we let each other be the people they are, I would be telling you an outright lie.  We have a lot of quarreling and tempers flaring on most days. Add hormones, low blood sugar, adoption, pressures of school, work, peers, et al--personalities clash.  I am sorry to tell you this, if you thought that a pastor’s home is perfect.  Let me burst that bubble for you once and for all.  We spend a lot of time and energy trying to control each other.  


Let me give you an example. Child A wants the last piece of cake, a certain shirt, to ride shotgun, the bathroom, the TV remote, etc.-- “called it,” but child B decided that it was rightfully his.  Child B takes his “privilege.”  Child A loses it.  The truth is, neither one bought the cake, baked the cake, or had a birthday that week. Neither one owns the house, car, or pays a single bill.  Both want the same thing, so they believe subconsciously they can control the rest of the household, make everyone respect their “rights.”   


Child C (a teenager) believes she can control what other people think of her by looking and acting a certain way.  She is certain that if her hair and makeup are spot on, her clothes are in style and cute, her shoes, backpack, and iphone are up to date, others will like her and she will be popular.  Enter the uncontrollables.  Little brother acts quirky around friends.  Sister takes “the shirt” prepared in advance for the day.  Parents don’t care about style and wear the wrong clothes, act the wrong way around friends, drive the wrong car, even live in the wrong house.  Parents won’t give in to every desire Child C has for how the household income is spent, shamelessly neglecting important things like movie tickets, ski trips, updating the family car, and generous allowances. Child C becomes angry and depressed because she can’t control her lifestyle, her family, or her friends.  


Here is one more.  I have certain beliefs regarding morals, speech, attitudes, and actions.  They are not random. I have carefully, prayerfully thought these through, and have come up with what I believe are very sound principles to govern my life by.  But you, having been raised in another family, possibly in another time and culture, have come up with your own.  I can respect that most of the time, until our paths cross and your actions and attitudes affect me.  My first response?  I want to change your mind so that your beliefs line up with mine.  It’s not that I don’t like you or that I want you to suffer in anyway.  In fact, because I like you, I want to enlighten you so that you can save time and energy and get on the right path that I have already figured out.  I will now put my energy into changing you.  I will subconsciously try to convert you to my way of thinking. The problem is, I can’t. But I will do my best and give you my best persuasive argument to win you over.  I may even take more time and energy and post my opinions online so that I can rally more people on my side to try and convince you you are wrong.  You might then get some people on your side to try and convince me. I have a huge arsenal at my disposal now--Google.  I can cite many articles written by people I have never met to back up my opinions. Thus begins a messy social media attack.


The Bible puts it this way in James 4:1-3 (NLT):
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme...to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.”


When we are children, the arguments are usually over simple things, like toys. As we get older, the items change, but the premise stays the same. Fights rage over clothes, make-up, electronics, and my personal favorite, private space.  Eventually items are replaced by opinions and ideas.  Two people want the same thing. Both believe they are more deserving than the other. They become experts in what they want, but are often blind to the opinions/needs of others. Hormones rage, tempers flare, arguments become more sophisticated and heated.


What we want most, we cannot have.  
We want control.
We want to control other people, their time, and their stuff.


What if I recognized this and decided to make a change?
What if I focused my time and energy on prayer rather than persuasion?  
What if I decided that it was okay to be wronged? ! Corinthians 6:7b puts it this way:
“...why not rather be wronged?  Why not rather be cheated?”
What if I was secure enough in my own opinions that I didn’t focus time and energy on changing yours?
What if we stopped caring so much what others thought about us?


What if we just purposed in our heart to cut each other a lot more slack?


I’m pretty sure our stress levels would go down.  
Pretty sure we would enjoy each other more.
Positive we would be a lot happier.
Might even carve out a lot more time for prayer and meditation.


There is only One who can change other people’s hearts.  Let’s do our part and work on our own.