Friday, March 30, 2012

Atoning Acts and Fuzzy Bunnies?!

If you are like me, you may find yourself wondering why we do certain things.  I think a lot to be honest.  To be certain, it is a blessing and a curse.  Would part of me just like to hide some candy-filled plastic eggs, fill the baskets, watch the kids "eek" with excitement over their goodies as I inadvertently water down Christ's resurrection by 'teaching' them how to celebrate the holiest of holy days?  Then of course, we may need to make sure they are all nice and pretty or good and handsome so when we arrive at church everyone can oohh and aahh over one another?  Commenting on hair and shoes and dresses flowers and oh, that's right...we are celebrating the gift of eternal life today, relegated by our actions to second place.  Does part of me want to do this?  No, not really to be honest.  Do I like my children to be happy and be excited about celebrating.  Do I like chocolate?  Yes, of course!  But more than that, I want them to understand the reason we are celebrating and the truth about the resurrection.  I also want them to understand the subtle tricks of society.  I want them to realize the world will always tell us one thing, but the Word is the standard from which we should address life.  The Word made flesh to be specific.  

So, with Easter just around the corner, I pose this question to you: What does Christ's atoning act on the cross, his subsequent death and resurrection have to do with fuzzy bunnies and chocolate eggs?  When Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene, did he say, "Wow, Mary...that is a stunning Easter dress you have on.  And woo-wee look at those shoes?  Are they Jimmy Choos?  Love those bunny ears, girl!  Pass me a piece of that cross-shaped chocolate bar!"  No, that is not what John 20:15-18 tells us happened.  In short, Mary was weeping and grieving the 'loss' of Jesus.  When he appeared to her, he basically said, "Go to my brothers and tell them the story is not over.  Death did not defeat our God!"  Now, if you are so excited about that news, and believe me I can relate to the sheer joy that comes from knowing He is Risen, that you want to fill up baskets with candy, hide some eggs, and have a feast of sugar and ham, so be it.  I want to celebrate too.  And we will.  Please, however, just take some time to understand the history of the our 'bunny and eggs' version of Easter and see if that matches what God has placed on your heart.  Furthermore, as always, please do not forget to remember how our consumer choices affect others.  Know where your chocolate comes from and be sure it is not produced using slave labor.  Know where your trinkets are made and if possible, try to envision every hand that has touched a product before it arrived in your shopping bag.  That is hard, I know.  But our Risen Lord calls us to seek justice and part of that is acknowledging how our habits perpetuate injustice.

Here is a brief history bunnies, eggs, and Easter.  Simply put, all three of those things have pagan roots.  Eostre is the Germanic goddess of fertility,  but very little is written about her.  In his 8th Century work, De temporum ratione, the Venerable Bede mentions Eostre as a means to  try to calculate the date of Easter.  The early church coincided their holy days in and around the same time as pagan festivals.  Possibly to avoid persecution.  Possibly to help the Christian message reach the pagan population.  Possibly, if they were anything like us, to achieve harmony and peace with people of varying faiths or backgrounds they just decided, "When in Rome...".  So, in comes Eostre, originally from Germany.  The hare and the rabbit were the most fertile animals known.  The Germans associated Easter with the image of a bunny and the German Dutch brought it with them to America.  Eggs were an ancient symbol of fertility and the Roman Catholic church decided at one point were meant to symbolize Jesus' resurrection.  Why?  I'm not exactly sure.  The Jesus I love is not a hard boiled dyed egg, but I'll go with it because I can see eggs as life-giving.  It is confusing, I know.  Stay with me here!  Oh wait, I can make a connection.  Jesus died and we live by eating eggs, that is eating the life-giving bread of Jesus.  Yay, something kinda-sorta makes sense to me?!  (Not really, though.  Shhhh!)  So, there you have it.  A brief and condensed history of our unfortunate pagan-Christian marriage.  Can this marriage be annulled?  

Anyway, as Good Friday and Easter approach, why not explore some of these issues in your own home.  Rather than ignore and let is pass, ask and answer why we celebrate the way that we do.  Do you see any contradictions with celebrating Easter with eggs and chocolate?  Why or why not?  How do you keep Christ at the center of Easter when the world is pushing everything else?  I would love to hear your thoughts!    

If you are interested in reading about how one church decided to cancel Easter services all together and instead serve the local community, click here.  This, and similar ways, is how I believe Christ would want us all to be celebrating our new life in him.  What do you think?  

Happy Easter, Everyone!  

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Feeling Helpless, Creating Distractions

As some of you know, we are preparing to travel to Ethiopia to meet Big Sister and attend our court hearing.  There are so many emotions that go into preparing for a trip like this.  Nervousness at the initial meeting.  Frustration due to our limited ability to communicate with our child.  Excitement over the thought of our expanding family.  Fear about traveling so far away from my 'already' children.  Anticipation of seeing old friends and spending time with our new daughter.  Happy, sad, excited, nervous, fearful, up, down, and sideways...the list goes on and on.

However, there is something else I am feeling right now that is so very different from our previous adoptions.  Helpless.  I am feeling helpless regarding the situation surrounding Big Sister's birth family.  While I cannot disclose specific details, I can say that adoption is NOT justice.  While I believe adoption is absolutely, unequivocally, hands-down necessary in our fallen world, I do not believe adoption is the end-all, be-all.  Furthermore, I do not believe our family was God's "Plan A" for any of our adopted children.  Adoption becomes necessary because of the systemic injustices in our world.  And because adoption is necessary, people need to write laws and rules that govern how such adoptions take place.  This is good.  And bad.  The same laws that help prevent child trafficking and help enforce ethical standards for adoption, prohibit adoptive families from extending any sort of help or assistance to any birth family member that may be alive.  Why?  Well, that is simple.  To an outsider, it could look like a child has been exchanged for money, goods, or medical care.  This is bad.  But care is good, right?!  Ahhh!  I did not know of birth family two moths ago.  I do not want to exchange money or anything else for a child.  I want to help in every way that I can, but I can't.  The rules say no.  The laws say no.  And doing otherwise would jeapordize our adoption and the entire process.  This is bad.   I am so broken right now.  You see, two months ago all I knew was that God had a child planned for our family.  I knew nothing specific about this child or his or her past.  Now, I know.  And what I know is that IT IS NOT FAIR, IT IS NOT RIGHT!  

If God did keep such a system for determining who cares for his children, I believe we were probably Plan C or D.  However, Plan A and Plan B could not come to fruition because, well, the rich oppress the poor.  (We are the rich in case you are wondering.)  We do this through our consumer habits, our political systems, military actions, etc.  I am very thankful there is even a Plan C, don't get me wrong.  I am so very thankful that Ethiopia is open and committed to placing children in families and not leaving them in institutions.  Praise God for that.  

So, as I work through these countless and conflicting emotions, I had to find something productive and tangible to do with my mind and my hands.  Because if I didn't, I really think the thought of what is about to happen next week in the coming months would break me.  It is breaking me to be honest.  So, I must distract myself.  How?  Well, doing something fun to help the kids at the orphanage celebrate Easter.  I am planning an Easter egg hunt for the kids in Ethiopia.  Now, I know other adoptive parents will cringe at the thought of the kids getting candy, but I had to.  I really did.  Please forgive me.  I don't do artificial sweetners either, it's a chemical thing, so I am even giving them real sugar.  It will be organic candy...does that make it better?  Breaking all my rules!  Please do not worry though.  I am not even going to attempt to explain that Americans celebrate the resurrection of Christ (our end-all and be-all holy days) with bunnies and chocolate eggs.  (Stay tuned for my atonement and fuzzy bunnies post.)  No, I am not going there.  I am simply going to make it a game of hide-and-seek.  There may be some bunny ears and glasses because they may of just happened to have been on sale today.  But this is just silliness.  And I needed the distraction.  Because really friends, IT IS NOT FAIR.  No one should ever have to stare her or his death in the face, while losing everything they have ever known, when help could be available, because the rich don't play nicely with the poor.  NOT FAIR, NOT JUST!  

Matthew 6:19-21 tells us, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  Father, my heart is with you and my hands and feet will follow your will.  Please continue to direct our path, open our eyes, and show us how.  Please God, show us how!  

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Why Is It Important To Love Our Neighbors?

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about loving, not judging, our neighbors.  Now, I'm sure some of you thought I plunged off the liberal deep end.  (Side note: I completely dislike the words conservative and liberal because they conjure up too many emotions and we use them within our own contexts but others may interpret our intended meanings in a completely different context.  However, that discussion will have to wait until another day.)  My main thought while jamming out that post was that others should know we are Christians by the way we love each other.  You know, good 'ole John 13:35.  That is what Scripture tells us.  However, it is unfortunate that one of the first things people think of when you say "Christian" is judgmental.  Not loving, compassionate, or humble.  Judgmental.  Let that sink in.  

As I mentioned in my previous post, I think a lot of Christians are fearful of truly loving others who have beliefs, political persuasions, lifestyles, or religions that differ from their own because they believe that will either (1) somehow negate the truth of the gospel or (2) cause a free-for-all anything goes lax society where sinful behavior becomes the norm.  However, I would like to challenge those thoughts.  First, if we believe the gospel is the truth and that Jesus is the way, and I wholeheartedly do, there is nothing that can change or even put in a dent in that unwavering truth.  He always was and always will be the truth.  Simply loving someone whom you may not agree with does not change the message of the gospel.  Second, if you take a quick look back throughout history, there have been many periods where society and those claiming the Christian faith, including the state owned churches at various points, have displayed just as much, if not more, perverse and lax behaviors as we do today.  That may be hard to believe, but it is true.  Finally, Christians are always talking about reaching the unchurched.  How do we reach the unchurched?  How do we invite them and welcome them into our church families?  Well, being judgmental and hypocritical is certainly not going to reach people who are already skeptical of organized religion.  

So, why is it important to love and not judge?  Well, for one Jesus commanded us to do so.  In addition, he also told us to go and make disciples of all nations.  Furthermore, he told us that by loving one another as he has loved us, the world will know we are his disciples.  So, we are his disciples, our job is make more disciples, and we are to that through loving.  He told us to do it, not (as Francis Chan humorously pointed out in one of his sermons) to talk about it, memorize it, or come up with a five step program on how we might consider loving more.  Jesus said do it!  We are also told that there is one and only one righteous judge (not your or I).  It is simply not our job to convict another of their sin.  God can handle that.  Personally, I think he told us to love and not judge because he knew we couldn't handle the judging part without becoming self-righteous.  If we loved with all the energy that put into judging, how might our lives, our church, and even our society look differently? 

Remember, when we talk about reaching the unchurched, or making disciples, like we are commanded to do, we have to take some initial steps.  If we cannot even commit to loving those who do not personally know the good news of the gospel, are we growing the kingdom or just continuing to bless the blessed?  I am not talking about accountability for those who are already believers, spiritual transformation, dying to self etc.  Those things tend to come later in one's faith journey.  Think about your own faith journey.  For me, there are things the Holy Spirit is currently convicting me of that I had no idea were even hindering my relationship with Christ a few years ago.  That is how I believe sanctification, or becoming more like Christ, works.  Step by step.  Sometimes there are big leaps and bounds, and at other times the process is more gentle and gradual.  However, there is always a starting point. 

Christ died for us while we were still sinners.  My question to you is who do you believe the 'us' is in that verse?   What does that mean to you?  Who might we be ostracizing by our actions or inactions?  Where is there injustice in your community and how can individuals and the local church better show God's love through the way we love each other?  Today, during the course of your daily interactions, I challenge you to extend the love of Christ to one person through an unexpected kind word or action.  I can guarantee you will bless someone's day and in the process be blessed.  

The lyrics to Sidewalk Prophet's song "Live Like That" sum up my convictions on loving our neighbor.  "When they see me, do they see you?"  We are called to show the world the love he gave to us! 

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wishing I Didn't Know Now What I Didn't Know Then

The days run away like wild horses over the hills.  The title of a book of poems by Charles Bukowski and also the first line of the first letter (the old school kind) my husband wrote to me during our first months together.  Ironic because at the time, before marriage and kids, I wonder what could have been taking up our days to make it feel like time was passing so quickly.  I know we were both 'busy' with our careers; the stress of the pace of life in our nation's capitol can feel overwhelming, but that is all we had going on at the time.  Work and play.  But isn't that how life goes?  We never realize how much time and/or freedom we had in a previous chapter until that chapter is closed and we enter a new, perhaps more difficult and challenging chapter, where time feels so limited and scare that we wonder how we will accomplish all that needs to get done.

Currently, with Big Sister's court hearing just around the corner, I am finding myself once again grieving.  Grieving for her loss, her birth family's loss and pain, and also grieving for the loss of our family as we currently know it.  I find myself wishing that I didn't know now, what I didn't know then.  Why?  Because now I know.  I know how hard it is for a child to leave the only home they have ever known.  I know the depths of grief and loss.  I know that my children have a God-sized hole in their hearts that I will never be able to fill.  I know that cultural differences do matter.  I know that love is an action word and requires a selflessness that does not come easy.  I know that nurture needs to trump nature until the two become so intertwined that one cannot tell the difference.  I know how hard the transition is on children currently in the home.  I know the pain and displacement our birth children face when we choose to love like God loves.  I know the stress, fatigue, sleepless nights, battles of the will, the power struggles, the feeling of being one more incident away from complete implosion.  I know what it feels like to rely on the source of all life and strength because my self source is completely depleted.  I wish I knew none of this, that I was entering this adoption as green as last time, armed with all of my book knowledge, countless training courses, and endless optimism.  

Don't get me wrong, I trust that God is walking each and every step with us, that he has gone before and will be here to scoop us up.  That, in fact, is my very lifeline.  However, what I know now is how hard being obedient to God's will actually is in day-to-day living.  Is it rewarding in the depths of one's soul?  Absolutely.  However, learning to appreciate and be grateful for the trek through the valley while keeping the mountain top in view, is a skill I am trying to develop.  There are some great nuggets to truth in the valley, but most of the time we are just trying to sidestep them to reach the mountain.  

With this knowledge, I have been preparing as best as I know how.  For months now, I have been envisioning our house with Big Sister in it.  Even before we saw her face, I pictured a face.  At breakfast, I imagine what she may or may not like to eat, where she will sit, how she will interact with everyone.  I imagine packing one extra lunch, seeing her off to school, and watching her play soccer.  After school, I imagine helping one more child with homework, teaching her the English language and how to read.  I think about her playing outside with the neighborhood kids.  I imagine speaking comforting and healing words to her, letting her know it is OK to be scared.  At dinner, same thing.  At bedtime, I imagine one more child in the wind down routine.  One more child to read and pray with.  I try to think of times when I felt scared and alone.  I take myself back to those places and replay the emotions.  I tell myself to remember what that felt like because Big Sister is at the very least going to feel scared and alone.  

My prayer since beginning of our first adoption was that God would unite us in spirit.  All of us.  Big Sister, Sporty, Sassy, birth families and extended families on earth and in heaven, our children, myself, and my husband.  I pray that God would give our children wisdom beyond their years and the comfort and peace that surpasses all understanding.  To watch God at work in our children is amazing.  Sometimes when doubt creeps in, I look to my children.  They have not yet learned the self-serving ways of the world.  They do not worry about test scores or college tuition and instead know how to be present in the moment.  Joyfully present in whatever they happen to be caught up in at the time.  Because I cannot unlearn or forget anything the past year has taught us, I need to trust.  When I asked God to break my heart for what breaks his and to give me his eyes to see, I need to trust that as he does this, he will provide all that is necessary to meet the day's challenges.  I also secretly know that each and every hardship of the past year will be used to heal in the days and years ahead.  We become God's wounded healers and that is such a gift!  God never promised life would be easy, but did promise we would never be alone.  I believe this in faith and in experience.  I believe that if we are not reaching beyond our own capabilities, we are not reaching far enough.  

Do you trust that God will provide all that you need to meet the challenges of what he has called you to do?   What experiences in your past could be used to help others?  What challenging and unique situations have you been through?  Believe me, he has and is calling you to something greater than yourself.  What would you be doing with your life right now if you completely trusted God to meet your needs?  Go ahead, take the leap!  
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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Love, Not Judge, Our Neighbor

Jesus really tried to make things simple for us.  He knew, being a law-abiding Jew himself, the propensity for human beings to complicate matters.  After all, God incarnate came to earth fully human and fully divine.  In his human form, I imagine he was capable of thinking and feeling the same way you and I do.  He observed the customs and traditions of his time and entered history, not in a vacuum, but with life marching on around him.  There were all sorts of socioeconomic problems, class distinctions, gender distinctions, and religious distinctions.  In short, a world with problems that resemble, in one form or another, the world we live in today.

When an expert in the law, a Pharisee, tried to trip Jesus up by asking him what the greatest commandment was, Jesus summed up everything under the sun for us.  The first command was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.  The second command was to love your neighbor as yourself.  I think we often like to leave off the 'as yourself' part, but those two words, in my opinion, harbor the true meaning.  Jesus goes on to state that all the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22: 34-40).  Wow, the entire law hangs on those two commandments?  Could it really be that simple?  Yes, I believe it can!  Now is it, in fact, that simple to truly love God with everything we are and love our neighbor as ourself?  Living out those simple commandments is not so simple in our fallen world, where we often chose self over God and over others.  

But let's dive deeper into the idea of loving, not judging.  Notice how Jesus did not say love only those neighbors you agree with, share similar political persuasions with, and/or have everything in common with.  He said love your yourself.  Jesus was on the spot, being grilled by the Sadducees and Pharisees; he could have laid out a new list of laws and commandments, he could have given us a 'ten steps to get to heaven' list, he could have done any number of things; yet he chose to tell us how to live a God-honoring life by giving us the two greatest commandments.  

But what does the Bible tell us about judging others?  Matthew 7:1-5 says, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."  Romans 2:1-3 states, "Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges.  For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things.  Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?"  Another example is James 4:11-12 that states, "Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters.  If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law.  But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you.  God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge.  He alone has the power to save or to destroy.  So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?"  

Do you see it?  Friends, the world does not need another judge.  God, the righteous judge, is at the helm and I've got some news for us all:  there is not, nor will there ever be, a job vacancy to fill that position.  So, why do we spend so much time judging others rather than loving our neighbors as ourself?  Acts 17:31 tells us that "God has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man (not your or I) he has appointed."  So, relax the judging and amp up the loving already.  Seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly (Micah 6:8) with our God.  Worry not about the business of others, just love them.  Love them in our prayers, our thoughts, and our actions.  

So, here is a short quiz to see if we are making progress:

(1) Your neighbor is a Democrat and you are Republican.  You think Obama is a baby killer, who was not even born in the United States, and that his health care plan is destroying the economy.  Do you (a.) love them OR (b.) judge them?

(2) Your neighbor is gay or lesbian.  You have read in the Bible that homosexual acts are unnatural and are a sin.  You briefly forget that the Bible also mentions countless other thoughts and acts that are sinful.  You immediately start to form an imaginary hierarchy of sins and instantaneously decide that your sins are less severe than your neighbors.  You forget that we live in a fallen world where all of us are sinners saved by grace.  You have a choice.  Do you (a.) love them OR (b.) judge them?  

(3) Your neighbor creates a video to draw attention to atrocities that are being committed around the world.  32 Million people view the video within 24 hours and now people who have never taken an interest in Africa are suddenly educated about crimes that have been being committed there for decades.  You decide that their interests are self-serving and their approach wasn't perfect.  Do you (a.) love them OR (b.) judge them?  

I hope this fun quiz is making you somewhat uncomfortable.  It is just so, so easy to judge others and frankly, we have no business doing so.  We are commanded not to.  Yet, judge on we do.  I believe we are fearful that loving others will somehow create an 'anything goes' world.  However, if God commanded us to love others and He alone knows how this story plays out, we have got to trust that loving is obedience to His will.  It takes intentionality in our thoughts and actions to love rather than judge.  A few years ago, I started asking God to convict me each and every time my thoughts or actions started to wander into 'holier than thou' territory.  You know what happened?  He did just that.  It is now almost instantaneous.  I will hear, "convicted, convicted, convicted" over and over in my head until I stop my thought and change my mind.  "Love not judge, remember?", the voice says.  

So, the next time you are tempted to judge another person, I sincerely hope you are able to stop and remember that we are commanded to love one another as we love ourself.  That means, if you would not think it, say it, or do it to yourself, we have to right to think it, say it, or do it, to another.  Sounds simple, right?  Almost like heaven!  
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