Identity Torn

 

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There’s power in a name. Too often, we hand that power over to others.

My name is Arabic in origin, literally meaning, ‘small bird.’ I think it’s cute. But last year, when a small bird built its nest in our front door wreath…I wasn’t so sure. Every time we opened the door, it whizzed into our house and repeatedly rammed into our fireplace. My youngest laughed, my daughter screamed and my oldest lurched with a determined broom to guide her outside. Hmmm.  Am I a small bird?!

In 2018, I surely let circumstances label me – Slight, Insignificant and Weak.

All false names given by false friends.

We’ve all allowed false names to banner over us. Names like: Alone, Failure or Liar.

Instead of asking God for a word to live by this year, I asked Him for a new name. This year was straight up hard. 70 percent of the time, I felt 100 percent inadequate. I mean, face-down on a rug, sobbing, I-don’t-think-I’ll-ever-stand-up-again kind of inadequate.  Maybe God had a new name for me; something awesome, like Phoenix?! A name to inspire rising up fierce from the heartache. But after failing to persuade my hubby that Phoenix is a super cool name for his wife… God dismantled my view.

In the book of Acts, Peter heals a lame beggar. Onlookers are astonished and,

” When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? … By faith in the name of Jesus,this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.” (Acts 3:12, 16, emphasis mine)

God didn’t have a new name for me; but a new understanding…

My name isn’t the one that matters.

This year, there were times I felt like this lame beggar – that I’d never stand again – miraculously, I did.  And it had nothing to do with my name.

There were moments I felt I’d suffocate from unmet expectations – but I didn’t.  And it had nothing to do with my name.

God works through the mire to birth His magnificence. I’ve lived this truth. If you have too, you’ve known no miracle on earth like it. When we’re not strong enough to stand – but still do – we’re face to face with our true identity.

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (1 Corinthians 12:10)

When this small bird felt she’d never soar – she found herself wielding swords and charging into battle…because of a name. God uses the meek to bring forth the meaningful. This year, I’ll allow the weakness in me to lead to the wonderment of Him. I’ll be less concerned with the meaning of my own name, and seek to understand more the meaning of His.

For it’s in the purposes of Him that I find the purpose of me.

We don’t require a special new name to label us; we need to allow The Name Above All Names to live in us…

Jesus.

Because there’s power in a name. 

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How to Live Out Sisterhood When You Live in the Mommyhood.

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I have one big brother; and he is all brother. When we were kiddos, his love language was messing with me. I believed his Every. Single. Word. Stuff, like-

At the age of 12, I’d be sent to live on an Indian Reservation to make bead necklaces for the rest of my life–because I was a girl.

And…

Dr. Pepper was called “Dr. Pepper” because you were supposed to pour red crushed peppers in before you drank up.

I’m relieved my parents forgot to send me away, and eventually, I traded sucking red crushed peppers through stubborn straws for my beloved non-fat, with-whip, mochas.

My whole life I’ve had the ‘fun’ of knowing what it means to have a brother…but not a sister.  Last week my daughter received a letter with the precious words crayoned,

“Ciana, you can call me Sister”.

I read it over and over, and all the feel-goods sprinkled over my spirit. My cousin’s daughter had written them. She’s adopted from Uganda and understands more than most, love makes a family. And God is that love. We enter a loving relationship with God; strike down genetic laws; and become sisters with other believers. But it doesn’t always feel that way.

If someone at church referred to me as ‘sister’…I figured they’d forgotten my name. Honestly, there are times when hearing it from random ladies makes me roll all my eyes. Why can it feel so patronizing? When it’s stripped down: we may be sisters in God’s family, but we often struggle to treat one another that way.  It’s not on purpose! We’re busy. We’re tired. We’re overwhelmed keeping precious little humans alive and forget to really pray when we say we will.

When someone in a family struggles, it affects the whole household. If something is lost, all grubby fingers dig under the couch cushions to find it. If one kiddo hurls their body into the mini-van late, all the kiddos run like hyenas to get to class on time. If you’re in a healthy family, your lives are intertwined. But if you don’t live under the same roof, this gets tough. I think of the letters between Ciana and Milla.  At such a young age, they’re making an effort to keep their lives intertwined. And that’s the key…they’re intentional.

True sisterhood speaks these words:

When you struggle, my spirit will wrestle in prayer for you.

When you’re lost in an area of life, I’ll search God’s word for answers with you.

When you feel you’ll never make it to the finish line, I’ll carry your heavy diaper bag.

But how can we authenticate our spoken words of sisterhood when life is so….much?

Here are three things I’ve found to be practical, powerful & completely do-able:

1. Fast together.

When a friend lays out a deep concern over coffee, I offer to fast with them for a week over the issue. Fasting doesn’t have to be dramatic. It can simply mean going without something you enjoy and replacing it with specific prayer.  I typically choose to stop eating sugar. The struggle is so for real. Every time I’m all cravy, I stop right there and pray for whatever unique trial my friend is dealing with.

2. Pray at the same time everyday together.

Most likely, you don’t see your friend every day. So set an alarm on your phone to remind you both to stop what you’re doing and pray. I had a friend who was struggling with her husband when he came home from work. We set our phones to alert us to pray thirty minutes before he got home. When we were done praying, we would simply text, “Amen,” to each other.

3. Dedicate a prayer journal to your friend.

 I love to do this! I buy thin journal packs at TJ Maxx or HomeGoods, sharpie a friend’s name on the cover, and fill it up with prayers over their life. Some fill up faster than others and I don’t do it every day. Sometimes I’ll take a quick picture of the cover and text it to my friend saying, ‘You were just covered in prayer.” I imagine when I go home to Jesus; my children will find them and deliver them to my living friends.

I’m praying these practical tips spur your relationships to a deeper level. It’s not easy when you’re in the jungle of ‘Adulting’. But that’s why it’s so important, isn’t it? We all need to know someone is genuinely in the thick with us. We all want someone to take the time to say, “Friend, you can call me Sister.”

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

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Three Ways to Comfort a Friend When They’re “Ugly Crying”

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Definition of Ugly Crying: The kind of crying that scrapes at the bottom of your tummy, leaving you raw and sore; Crying that sounds like a wailing cat; Crying that renders all make-up, ice-packs and chocolate – useless.

I’ve learned a lot about myself over the years. One, I need to grieve alone. Some people drive quickly to friends or family and throw themselves into their arms, sobbing when soul-breaking hits. Not me.

Leave. Me. Alone.

Jenna, want to walk and talk it out today?

No.

Jenna, let’s grab a coffee and you can process with me.

No, thank you.

Can I at least call you and affirm you?

Nope.

I’ve wondered if something is wrong with me? Am I too proud to accept help?  I’ve come to find, telling my precious friends I’m not ready to talk…IS asking for help.  I’m asking them to help me grieve in the way that works for me. Finding friends that don’t take offense to this = ginormous blessing!  All of us process heartbreak in different ways.

This is what it looks like for me:

  • A LOT of ugly crying.
  • Lying face down.
  • Uglier crying.
  • Praying.
  • Grisly crying.
  • Reading the Bible.
  • Civilized Crying.
  • Prayer journaling.
  • Dainty crying.
  • Repeat for minimum of one week.

True friends give us the space to ugly cry alone- if that’s what we need. Seriously, if I even look a friend in the eyes during this time, I burst into uncontrollable tears in school parking lots.

I just can’t.

Profoundly, the women in my life honor my request. They don’t come bursting through my front door. They stand outside my door and patiently wait for me to come out.

I recently had a season of mourning and each time I opened my front door, there was a mocha, or a croissant, or flowers or chocolate, or a note saying ‘You are loved’…even homemade Tabbouleh salad (UH-mazing).

Each treasure a reminder, “We’re here for you – when you’re ready.” This helped me in the healing journey more than the physical solitude. Because,  I don’t really want to mourn alone. My body wants to be solo, but not my spirit. My spirit was being loved and prayed for as my body was huddled on the floor. I could feel it. And it made all the difference.

It’s teaching me to ask questions about my own role as a friend. How do my friends feel loved by me? How do they grieve? What makes them feel seen? How am I showing them I’m here?

This is sincere friendship. Meeting others in the spaces they understand as support. It may not match up with the way we receive support.

Three ways to help a friend who’s having a brutal week:

  1. Ask them what they need and accept the answer. If they don’t want to hang out, don’t push the subject. Find a way to love them outside the door – a thoughtful note, their favorite chocolate, cozy slippers. If you offer a coffee date and they say, ‘yes!’…jump in your car and hustle over there. Elijah affirmed his friendship with Elisha saying,As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” (2 Kings 2:2)  The point is to affirm they’re not alone.
  2. If they don’t want to talk, text them your prayers. I have a best friend who texts me prayers as though she is speaking them over me. Complete with, “Dear Lord” and “Amen”. Sometimes a simple, “I’m thinking of you right now,” is all we need. “My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God. (Job 16:20) The point is to affirm you care enough about them to carry their pain to God.
  3. Bring them joy. Make them laugh. I have a dear friend who knew I was having a rough week, and instead of asking how I was feeling over and over, she texted me a photo of her newly cracked treadmill with the line, “I killed it with my fatness”. I literally laughed out loud. This gorgeous Mamma isn’t overweight, she’s 8-months pregnant! Laughter brings our spirits up for fresh air. “The nights of crying your eyes out give way to days of laughter.”(Psalm 30:5 MSG) The point is to affirm perspective. They won’t feel this way forever.

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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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