Don’t Hoard “What Could’ve Been”

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I have papers filed, stuffed, and strategically tucked away…much like the grief attached to them.

I have official binders of completed Home Studies, one for Ghana, one for Domestic. Another folder filled with the remnants of our Ethiopia dossier. Love letters addressed, “To Our baby from Africa, From Big Sister Ciana,” randomly skydive out of shelves when I tug at a book. It’s routine for me to tenderly tuck them back in the crevice they escaped. It’s routine for me to cry as I do it.

God pressed my heart yesterday,

Why are you keeping all these papers?

Papers have no power.

I struggle releasing the hope that the International Adoption Program in Ghana will re-open. What if it did?! Even if I made gazillion copies of these documents…they’re all expired.

Yet, there’s no expiration date on hope.

When God calls the Israelites to enter the Promise land, He tells them…

“You have stayed long enough at this mountain.” (Deuteronomy 1:6)

It was time to move forward to the new place God had prepared; A land of hope. If you’re familiar with the story, they had major trouble trusting in God’s promise.  They’d rather be literal SLAVES in Egypt then to trust God’s call to move forward.

We all do this. We make ourselves slaves to the past. We’re terrified God doesn’t have a better way. So we remain on timed-out mountain-tops and needlessly wander the wilderness.

His word reminds us, “As for God, his way is perfect” (Psalm 18:30)

Don’t hoard what could’ve been.  It devours valuable soul space.

Stop asking, Lord, what-if…

Start asking,  Lord, what- now?

If we don’t, we may miss the new thing God has for us.

“ See, I am doing a new thing!
   Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19) 

Snapshots of the past 5 years have indeed, looked like a spiritual trudge through wasteland. I want to perceive new things God’s springing up in my life. Physical things can clutter the halls of our spiritual house. I’m making room. But it’s not easy.

I couldn’t bring myself to throw all the papers away. I’m constantly handing my heart over for God to complete his work in me. However, I did consolidate them and move them into a garage space. Now they can’t ambush my peace. I’ll only revisit them if God calls me to.

God’s faithfully held me as I’ve mourned on this mountain for a season. But  I’ve been here long enough. It’s time to follow Him to new territory.

Honestly, there’s still sorrow in the descent.

Honestly,  I have no clear vision of where He’s leading.

I know it’s a land of hope.

I know in order for him to make a “new way”…He’s asked me to move all the papers off the path.

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The Strength We Sometimes Forget

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When I was a kid, some lady bundled me in winter clothes and threw me into a swimming pool. I think she was my swim teacher…or an escaped mental patient. Either way, the struggle was real.

I don’t recall having any legal representation or signing a waiver.  I just heard the zip of a puffy jacket, felt my feet lift off, and everything went silent as my head sunk under water. I tried to kick, but the snow boots cemented to my feet were SOO-AAA-HEAVY. Luckily, I had freakishly strong arms.

I fixed my eyes on the side of the pool. My muscles were burning. My mom was cheering. She saw an ability in me I didn’t know I had. If I wanted to make it to that edge, I had to forget about the weight on my feet and focus on my strength.

I’ve never been able to shake the memory of this day. Not because it was mildly horrifying, but because I made it to the edge of that pool. Even though I’d been thrown into an unknown circumstance, bearing the weight of unwanted burdens…

I did it.

I knew I could do it again.

How many times has it felt like God has thrown you into a cold pool with a Patagonia jacket and a pair of UGGS?

How many times has it felt he’s standing on the side watching you struggle for air?!

It can feel cruel.

Feelings lie.

God sees the strength in us we forget to claim. He sees HIS spirit in us, the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. (Romans 6:10-11) He wants us to see this truth, too!

He won’t allow the world to throw us in a pool and watch us drown.

He knows this…but he needs US to know this. We can’t fathom how the power of God can propel us through the waves, unless we’ve endured numerous storms.

It has nothing to do with our freakishly strong arms, but everything to do with our fiercely strong God. When we are weak, He is strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-11) How can we claim this, if we haven’t lived this?

I’ve experienced God’s supernatural ability to carry me through some goopy gunk. I know on a profoundly personal level, “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

We all find ourselves floating in unknown circumstances, bearing the weight of unwanted burdens.

We all have a choice.

We can focus on the weight pulling us down, or focus on our strength– Christ in us.

Focus on Him, and we claim our holy ability to endure and press on.

We begin to trust we can survive deeper waters, swim a little farther, stay in the fight a bit longer. We begin to believe God keeps his promise to never leave us nor forsake us. He will always deliver us to His perfect will…even if it takes wearing soggy snow boots to get us there.

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Something on the Brink of Death is Stuck Under My Oven

 

 

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I’m on all fours, straining to flick out the blue, wriggling tail that’s slide under my oven.

I need something long, but not sharp.

 Alexa…Will a butter knife cut a beta fish?

Alexa…how long, can this thing live out of water?

Goodness, my daughter is crying. She begged to help me transfer the fish into his clean water bowl. She didn’t want to help, she wanted to do it herself.

I knew it was a bad idea. We’ve had London two years now. I’ve made it clear to him,

If you jump out and fall on the floor, I’m not picking you up. You’ll die there, buddy.

However, when the tragedy unfolded, I couldn’t let him die, undignified, on a sticky kitchen floor.

No. I’d save his life! And I did. He was softer than I’d imagined. Gross…but soft.

I kinda, sorta, totally love him.

I imagine we’ve all pleaded with God to give us something. Unlike me, he’s a perfect parent. My fuzzy feelings for London the fish, are nothing compared to the love God has for the desires of my heart.

He knows when we’re ready.

He knows when we’re not.

We may drop the responsibility on the floor, shrink behind a stool and cry. Not because we don’t want to please God, but because we aren’t equipped yet for the call.

For years, I’ve asked God,

Why have you allowed so many trials in our pursuit of adoption?

I’ve begged and begged…

Just let us do this Lord!!

He’s answered on several occasions the same way,

I’m making you stronger.

I don’t know all the reasons we’re asked to wait. However, I do know there is perfectly holy reason for every situation. Sometimes he waits because I haven’t allowed him to shape my desires to his perfect will.

Desires of the heart aren’t docile and tame. More often, hope slips out of our hands and wedges itself in a hot, messy crevice. When it does, we can’t flip out and pronounce it dead. We need to be ready to get on our knees and breathe life into it through arduous prayer.

The third time the door shut on adoption; I swear the rupture in my heart was audible.

But I remembered, Jesus was, “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.” (Isaiah 53:3)

I also know he pushed through, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2)

There was a joy our Savior didn’t reach until he endured great suffering. He knew the suffering was worth it because there was incomprehensible joy on the other end.

God cherishes the desires of our hearts so immensely, he won’t hand them over until our hands are perfectly aligned with his for safe transfer. Then, we must allow his hands to cup our own and lead us in the right direction.

So many times, I’ve pulled away from his will and forged the journey on my own.  He’s super patient. He’s watched countless ‘fish’ splat on my life’s floor.

Every so often, by his grace, my hold stays in perfect unison with his. This doesn’t mean things move forward without a hitch. I can’t flawlessly love and persevere like Jesus. But when something on the brink of death is stuck under my oven, I don’t freak out like I used to.

I understand desires of our hearts require constant care and dedication.  We need to love them as much as God does. Sometimes, it’s necessary to face things that once grossed us out; like picking up a fish or seeing the corrupt underbelly of adoption institutions.

Whatever God places in my little hands, is something he totally adores. He doesn’t give it to me to watch it suffocate. He has to make me brave enough to stretch into the unknown and fight for its life when things get shaky.

God withholds, until we’re prepared to take holy-hold of the things he loves.

 

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. “

Ecclesiastes 3:11

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Tending to Hope Among the Decay

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She’s waiting.

I’m worried.

If one more soccer ball crashes against our disintegrating patio cover, it might collapse. At our house, that’s every 2 minutes.  I’ve learned not to judge other mammas. But, seriously. Why did this sweetie choose such a precarious place to nest her egg?!

We named her Penelope. She’s the best little mamma, tirelessly tending to the hope beneath her. She wants to be ready when life breaks through. Her delicate frame flutters about, eyes watching for the slightest movement. She rests, but not for long.

Her focus is constant.

My focus has changed.

Instead of wishing we’d tear down our patio cover and replace it with beautiful wood, I’m praying it stays up. I’m rooting for the budding life, cupped in splintered hands. My eyes go straight to the nest now.

I no longer look at the defective, but at the life I’ve detected.  I love sitting under my creaky shade, cup of coffee in hand, watching for new life with my feathered soul sister.

We’re so eager to tear down things that aren’t perfectly lovely in our life. We don’t want to look at rickety boards and chipped paint. We don’t want to have awkward conversations and squint to see potential. Nurturing hope is intentional work. The world doesn’t have patience for this. It preaches,

If your marriage is struggling, tear it down.

If your friend betrays you, close the door.

If your dream shreds easily, throw it out.

If your ministry doesn’t grow, give up.

STOP.

This is the world’s way. It is not God’s way.

Don’t bring in the demolition crew so quickly. Look for life. Even if the promise is huddled in a fragile shell.

When the Lord brought Ezekiel to a valley of dry bones, he asked, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel answered, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” (Ezekiel 37:3)

And God did know.

He spoke to the bones, “I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” (Ezekiel 37:6b)

Ezekiel saw dry bones. God saw an opportunity for a miracle. Anyone can bring death to a situation. Only God can bring life.

Walking away from a valley of dry bones is not God’s way.

Breathing life into them is God’s way.

Raising the dead is His way.

Letting a baby bird hatch in a termite palace, is His way.

Hover over these truths. Be patient. Keep praying. Ask for God’s spirit to breathe into every situation.

Try not to focus on broken boards framing the circumstances…choose to find the nesting egg, the dry bones that God can bring to life.

Always tend to the hope among the decay.

If you do, you’ll be ready to welcome new life like Penelope.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)

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Sometimes, All You Can Do Is Hang On

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If I look down, I’ll fall!

And then…my kids will tumble off…

If we survive, we’re doomed! I didn’t pack any snacks or hand sanitizer.

Welcome to me…unhinged in a National Park. Fear of heights is a relatively new blessing. Something short circuited when Aaron and I were newlyweds. On top of the Sacred Heart church in Paris, a strong wind blew. I stopped. Dropped. And rolled into the fetal position.

We kept the shovel he used to scrape me off the floor as a souvenir.

Ever since, I imagine myself plunging to my death at the slightest heights. My sweet husband thinks I’ve lost my mind. I don’t even allow the kids to walk next to the mall railing on the second floor.

It freaks me out.

What if they decide to climb over and jump to Santa?!

It could happen.

If anyone fell off this cliff in Sequoia, Santa wouldn’t be there to catch us.

I decided the best way to prevent a tragedy, was to glue my face, arms, legs and stomach to the cold stone; like a flattened fruit roll up. This offered room for other hikers to push past.

Yes, this was a good idea

Mommy! Aren’t you going to the top with us?!

Nah…Mommy is going to smell this rock for a bit.

People were staring. Some tried to help, Do you need a tissue? Essential oil?

I don’t reminisce over this snapshot often.

However, I’m a visual learner. I’ve been asking God to teach me by showing me. During worship on Sunday, God brought this distressed picture of Jenna to the forefront.

There I was, clinging to the side of the cliff.  When I looked down, I was seized with fear. When I looked up, the clouds were crushing me. But, just like in Sequoia, if I kept my face towards the rock, I knew I would be OK.

He was clear.

This is what you look like, Jenna. You’re panicking. Stop looking away from the rock.

We’re living through a season of great unknown in our adoption journey. I don’t know how to stop shifting my gaze in every direction. I’m looking for answers.

Will this break me, Lord?

Will any good come out of this?

God is the fire by night, the cloud by day. But he is always the rock.

There is no Rock like our God. (1 Samuel 2:2)

King David was protected by the rock, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge …’(2 Samuel 2-3).

The Israelites were pursued by the rock,  “…for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)

God’s people were given sweet provision from the rock, “He nourished him with honey from the rock, and with oil from the flinty crag” (Deuteronomy 32:13 )

There’s no shame in taking a season to stop and grasp to the rock…the rock that is Christ.

We were made to climb with Jesus.

Honestly, there are days all I can do is cling to Him.

God knows. He gives grace if we’re not ready to forge to the top. But, it’s those pesky what ifs that pry our fingers from our stronghold. We glance down and imagine our broken bodies at the bottom. Even more, our shattered expectations of what God should’ve done.

I have a choice. I’m learning to train my thoughts to press back into the solid rock. My arms wrapped tight around Jesus.

Yes. This is a good idea.

I may look like a crazy-lady-pancake fastened to my faith. I’m not ashamed.

God answered my question. Can any good come from this?

Yes.

God’s protection,

God’s pursuing love,

God’s sweet provision.

This time, I’m not gripped by fear, but faithfulness. I’ll be brave enough to climb again soon.

For now, I’m just going to hang on.

 

A Marked life:

If you don’t feel strong enough to climb, it’s OK to cling. 

There is no Rock like our God!

 

 

Blue Fish Faith

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I ended up with a pet fish last month. I say “ended up,” because I did not want, ask for, or like this fish. I actually don’t like fish unless they have been grilled, fried or baked. I certainly don’t like them looking bored in a bowl on the kitchen counter. But my sweet eight year old daughter has her daddy wrapped around his caring finger. So when the two of them ran into the pet store to grab dog food, she came back to the car proudly carrying a fish in a cup.

“Mommy! Me and Daddy bought you a pet fish!”

“Oh? Why?”

“Because! Isn’t he so pretty? And, he was on sale!”

Well then, if he was on sale…I’d love to have another dirty animal to care for -on top of the dog, the bunny, and two leopard geckos.

“Oh, thank you, Sweet Girl. He is super pretty.”

Ugh!

I have a horrible history with pet fish. Seriously. Once I cooked my goldfish. I didn’t realize my mom had just washed the dishes with burning hot water. I filled a cup unknowingly with scalding water and carefully transfered my goldfish into it so I could clean his bowl. Within seconds, this doomed fish turned upside down, his scales white.

Poor fish. I don’t even remember his name.

So here I was, once again with the task of caring for a gilled creature. His name is London. My daughter is right. He’s really pretty. London is a Betta fish with long, flowing fins circling all around him.

Two weeks in, London stopped eating. He sulked at the bottom of his bowl. His fins looked burdened and heavy. He had weird white spots. I actually felt sad! I needed to find out if I could help London. I had a responsibility to keep this fish alive.

For one thing, it was a gift from my daughter. Second, I wanted to somehow redeem myself for murdering what’s-his-name all those years ago.

I Googled, “What to do if Betta fish gets sick.” I went to the pet store, bought special water drops. Our family prayed for him before dinner.

While washing dishes a few days later, something caught my attention. A bright blue, poetic-like thrashing called me to London’s bowl. He was at the water’s surface, fins fanned and dancing around his body. He was hungry! I dropped one small fish food pellet in at a time. He literally jumped up out of the water to catch the first one. He was ravenous. He shimmied and waited intently for more. He was healthy again.

Believe it or not, God’s Spirit spoke to me as I fed this silly little fish. He has been chasing me down with a verse from the Psalms for months. It’s been in worship songs and every podcast I’ve decided to turn on. My daughter even wrote her own devotional using the same verse. When I cleaned out the garage last week, I opened a devotional and on the top of the page was this same verse…again.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in Him.” Psalm 34:8

My response to to this verse had been, “Yes, Lord, I know You are good. You are so good.”  But, as I watched how breathtaking this fish was when he was hungry, deeper truth whispered to me.

Just as London had become gorgeous in his hunger…we are gorgeous in our Father’s eyes when we hunger for Him. He is longing for us to hover at the top of every moment, intently waiting to receive from Him.

If I want to taste the full goodness of God, I must first be hungry for Him. Not just hungry, but ravenous. Ravenous for His Word, His presence, His direction, His love. I must be swimming to the top of my prayer life, jumping out in faith to taste His goodness.

If God looks upon me and I’m sulking at the bottom of my day – with no desire to taste His goodness, no desire to be nourished by His Word – it’s an indication that I’m spiritually sick.

How can we taste of God’s goodness if we are not coming to His table to eat? And, why would we come to His table if we weren’t hungry? We’re  not called to come to His table as an afterthought. We wouldn’t insult a host by filling up on a meal we cooked ourselves before we went to their home for dinner. In the same way, we owe God our full appetite.

What had I been filling my soul with BEFORE coming to the Lord’s table? Was I leaving only enough space in my spiritual stomach for a small sampling of the Lord’s goodness?

Our mighty God is not an appetizer.  

He is not a dessert to finish our day with.

His very Word, His presence, His love is to be the bread that sustains me all day, every day. Nothing else. The Lord will only fill us with what we’ve made room for. The more we come to be filled by Him, the greater and fuller the filling will become.

When we’re ravenous for the Lord, people notice. Just like London’s movement at the top of his bowl made me put down my sponge and watch.  London is healthy, full of color and life. This is how God intended him to be.

God has designed His children to make the world stop and stare. The world should look at God’s children and ask, “What are they so hungry for? What makes them so passionate that they would jump up out of the mire of life to reach for more?”  Then we can pull up a chair and invite them to taste and see that the Lord is good.

My husband teases me, “God wanted to teach you to have blue fish faith”.

Cute. But if he buys me another fish, it’s going in the frying pan. Just sayin’.

 

He Loved Him.

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It is a hard calling to follow Jesus. Not one of us is doing it perfectly.

     ‘Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack…” he said’.

Remember this story in Mark 10:21?  A rich young man is eager to assure Jesus he has kept all the commandments since he was a boy.  But Jesus sees he is lacking one thing.

     Sometimes I think we are eager to point out that ‘one thing’ that is lacking in the ‘Christianity’ of others.  Our judgments move so quickly, we miss the heart of Jesus.  Before Jesus spoke the words ‘one thing you lack...’, the scripture says ‘Jesus looked at him and loved him‘.

He loved him.

He did not shame him.

He loved him.

He did not shout out in ‘righteous’ anger.

 He loved him.  

He did not tell him he was an embarrassment or a ‘bad’ Christian.

He did not compare his perfect faith with the man’s lack of faith.

Before he opened his mouth: Jesus looked at him and loved him.

We are encouraged to restore each other in the spirit of

gentleness (Gal 6:1).  We are told to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15).

     The young man struggled with following Jesus perfectly.  He was lacking one thing. I am lacking many!! Jesus is not ashamed of me while I wrestle.

He looks at me and loves me.

He calls me to look at others and love them in the areas they struggle too.

We are wildly imperfect in our loving others.  I am so thankful we are wildly loved by a perfect God.