Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Deemed An Unfit Parent

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This should have come as no surprise.  They found me unfit.

I knew the "rules" and I had broken them.  Most people do break them, you know.  However, some maintain proper documentation while breaking the "rules" and I, on the other hand, let my paperwork expire years ago.  Many years ago.  On purpose, for that matter.  Their so-called "rules" seemed silly to me.  Not all of the "rules", to be sure, and I certainly did not find the people silly.  I loved the people.  The institution, however, rubbed me the wrong way.  So, I did what many have since chosen to do and left in search of a different expression.  But either way, I broke the rules, my papers expired, and for that, they deemed me unfit.

Really though, this should not have come as a surprise in the least.  I know how they operate.  I could have produced 'falsified' documents as many, many do but that is not my style.  What would be the point?  My own mother, who had faithfully followed all of the "rules" up until her final days on earth was nearly deemed unfit for a "proper burial."  The Roman Catholic church where she devoted her entire adult life almost denied her the necessary "flags" to enter the cemetery where she was to be buried when they found out {GASP!!} that a Methodist hospice minister...and a woman at that...would be conducting her funeral {hold your breath} outside of a Catholic church.  In the days following my mother's death, I actually listened as the Catholic priest yelled at the funeral director (unbiased third party) for allowing a non-Catholic woman to conduct the funeral.  How sad.  How very, very sad.

So, when the Catholic church told my sister that I was unfit to become my nephew's Godmother at his baptism, although being very upset, I was not surprised.  Never mind that I have devoted my life to Christ and seek to follow in Christ's footsteps in thought, word, and deed on a daily basis.  Never mind that practicality.  The Catholic church wanted a letter stating that I was a practicing Catholic.

Soapbox Alert: What I wanted was a letter from the Catholic church telling me what exactly a practicing Catholic looks like.  New flash:  your practicing Catholics very well might not be practicing Catholics.  BUT, they have a letter and I don't.) 

Well, unless a letter from 1995 counts, I am out of the running.  Would a letter from my seminary count?  How about a letter from the pastor of my current church?  What if I provided a document detailing my sacramental theology?  N.O.P.E.  None of that will work, silly girl.  It's Catholic or bust, don't you remember?  Oh, could I forget?!  

Honestly though, this doesn't make me angry as much as it makes me sad.  The Body of Christ, that is,  all Christians in the church universal, is supposed to operate collectively.  We are supposed to be one body in this world.  Yet, we are fragmented from here to the moon...and back.  And because of that, our impact in the world is lessened.  No, even more than that, because of our fragmented organization and broken body, we are neglecting to bring the full force of God's kingdom to earth.  Our energy and loyalty is divided.  We often care more about being right than being love.  Could you imagine what we could accomplish if we were to set aside our polity, politics, and differences in interpretation and instead choose to incarnate Christ in the world?  Can you imagine?  What a difference we could make.

If Jesus was here today, would he really care about a piece of paper or would he just want me to profess my commitment to him and to care for this child in the event that his parents could not.  When looked at that way, can we possibly see why so many are choosing to leave mainline denominations or the church in general?  If we can't get our act together internally (and collectively), how on earth (literally) are others supposed to find Christ in us?  I pray that we, the church, realize the potential and beauty in unity and diversity.  Our differences can actually make us stronger and more unified, if we could just learn to appreciate them and embrace them.  There is only one God, right?  Paul hits this topic dead-on in his letter to the church in Ephesus.  Perhaps the church today, more than ever, needs this reminder...

Ephesians 4: 3-7
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit just as you were called to one hope when you were called;  one Lord, one faith, one baptism;  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Through Her Lens

She has a smile that lights up the room.  Her joy emanates and her spirit is contagious.  She is smart and strong and witty and funny.  She loves Jesus.  She shows me Jesus.  Through her, I have come to know Jesus more intimately.  She is my gift.

Often times, I get lost in her beautiful brown eyes while thanking God for choosing me, for allowing me to be Sassy's mama.

She carries deep scars.  Scars that her smile and fun loving personality go to great lengths to mask.  And yet, she is only three years old.  Some experts try to tell us that young children will forget their early childhood trauma, but I simply do not accept that.  No, actually I flat out reject that idea.  Her scars are simply woven into her fabric and while God redeems hurts and helps us to grieve forward, some scars become part of one's identity.

But there is someone else that also carries deep scars.  A nameless, faceless person I will probably never meet this side of heaven.  A person I pray for daily and think of often.  I was reminded of that person the other night.

While watching Downton Abbey {Spoiler Alert: stop reading if you have not watched Season 3, Episode 4!} and seeing/feeling/sensing Ethel go through the painful and heart wrenching process of deciding to give up her baby boy, Charlie, for adoption and therefore come to terms with the fact she will never see him again, I simply lost it.  Lost! It!  I pictured this same scene unfolding in a tiny town in southern Ethiopia.  I imagined a person who loved her/his child so very much, who had tried her/his best to love and take care of a child, but simply could not provide for very basic needs.  I imagined this person dropping off their child on the streets, a child who was old enough to walk, and then running safely out of sight before crumpling the ground in tears, weighted down with pain, shame, sorrow, and guilt.

No parent or guardian should ever be forced to make that horrid decision, and yet so many are forced to make that exact decision every day.  Why?  Poverty, injustice, oppression, curable and treatable illnesses, and lack of support systems to name just a few.  That is the lens I often view adoption from.  Through the eyes of the person forced to make an unthinkable decision.  Perhaps that seems depressing, but it is true.  That is reality.  Adoption would not be necessary on the scale it is today if we (humanity) cared enough about each other to correct major flaws in our global systems.  But we would rather carry on with the busyness and distractions in our lives that keep us from addressing some very real needs in our world.

So, when people say our children are "lucky" or "blessed",  I certainly understand their sentiment and agree that yes, our children certainly are lucky to have safely arrived to her new family, with the hope of brighter future.  However, I think many fail to recognize that in order for adoption to be necessary, something went seriously wrong on the other side of the equation.  No parent should ever have to make the decision to give up her child.  None.  There was no "luck" going on there, that is for sure.  Only pain, hopelessness, despair, grief, etc., etc.   There was a woman or man so very desperate that they could think of nothing better to do than to abandon a child on the streets.  Could you imagine?  I cannot.  But praise God for opening our eyes to the layers of wrong in our world.  Praise God.  Their fights are now our fights.  Their hurts, ours.  Their pain, our pain.  We grieve and grow forward, embracing God's plan for our lives while never, not for one second, forgetting the truth.

God speaks through our children's past tragedies to show us his unfailing love, mercy, and compassion.  We are blessed, we are the lucky ones.  If there is any luck going on at all in this scenario it is that our lives have been gloriously wrecked and forever altered by joining God on his mission to care for the fatherless and seek justice.  It is that through our journeys into God's heart, God has given us a purpose and direction that would have been missed had we forfeited the opportunity to grow our family through adoption.

But what about you?  Have you figured out what God's purpose if for this chapter in your life?  What is God asking you to do?  Viewing the world through whose lens breaks your heart?  The orphan? The widow?  The recovering addict?  The homebound?  The sick?  What it is?  Join God there.  Say yes.

I'll close with one question and I pray that you spend time in prayer and reflection thinking about this:
Why do you think God has given you more than you need? 

Leviticus 19:9
"When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edgesof your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Balentine's Day Firsts

Before getting started, I have to say that I am going to miss, more than words can describe, the accents, Amharglish, and translation humor that fills our home most days.  I am usually left both cracking up and in awe through the day-to-day routines that demonstrate God's redemptive power in all of us.  Yet, it is usually only in hindsight that one can see how far we all have come.

Now, on to Valentine's Day.  (Or, Balentine's Day for Big Sister.)  If you know me, you will know that I can be really "bah humbuggy" about the way our culture likes to make holidays all about consumerism and consumption.  (Which is pretty much every holiday now, right?  Buy this.  Do that.  You can only celebrate properly if you have spent a ton of money.  Blah!  Bologna!)  My radar keenly picks up on how profit motives drive the marketing behind holidays big and small and how something good and pure gets warped into a money making machine.  To this, I say "Boo!" However, God has pulled off quite a feat this year.  He is softening my heart and showing me how we can celebrate fun days like today AND still keep our love for Him as the motive.  That we can participate in the consumerism aspect as little as we'd like and yet still let the spirit of love (of God and neighbor) be present in our interactions.  Let me share with you a little about the events of this past week:

The other night, after dreading and dragging my feet, we all sat around the dining room table neatly tearing, folding, signing, and sealing our 125+ valentine's day cards.  What I thought would be a nightmare of an event, full of moaning and complaining, and ending with me (mom) having to forge (using my weak hand) 100 signatures on their cards, turned into a joyous evening.  Our table was full of love and stories about the friends in their class, why so-and-so will be Larry's favorite valentine (including a specially made double starburst with the hearts facing out gift for her) and why Big Sister will NOT be handing a "your cute" card to so-and-so.  Moe was thrilled to be able to write his own name 25 times.  I was thrilled that each child happily wrote her or his name on every. single. card.  I went to bed that night a little confused, quite perplexed, and full of joy that the simple act of writing cards and sharing stories brought so much happiness to our dining room.

The spirit of love continued throughout the following day and evening as we headed to our Wednesday night church dinner and then to the Ash Wednesday service.  The service is a special and reflective time to ask for forgiveness and prepare our hearts and minds for Jesus' death and resurrection.  This year, Ash Wednesday just happened to fall the day before valentine's day.  I am not sure why, but I kinda liked that.  It seemed to bring our family close together.  We ended the evening happily, apologized for our shortcomings, and my heart felt content.  Strange.  I don't usually like these (valentine) holidays.  But, it gets better.

This morning, I woke up to beautiful flowers and a card from my husband.  Larry (my resident hoarder) told me this: "Mama, valentine's day is not about chocolate or presents.  It is about spreading love."  Those words, coming out of the mouth of my six year old, made my mama heart explode with joy.  But it gets better.  I had presented all five children with a small box of chocolates, which I fully expected to turn into a whine fest, full of moaning about why they can't eat the entire box before breakfast.  But that didn't happen.  Rather, Larry and Moe asked me if they could give their box away.  Each box had four pieces of chocolate and they each decided who would get them.  On the walk to school, Officer Stacey, our crossing guard was gifted with two pieces.  One of the teachers who corrals the students each morning in the cafeteria was gifted two as well. When Moe slipped up and ate half of one of the pieces he wanted to give to his teacher (and after explaining that it would be rude to gift her a half-eaten piece of chocolate), we put some heart shaped cookies in a bag so they could have something to give their teachers.  All was good.  Or so I thought.

Then, just as I thought we were having the perfect morning, the reality of past hurts crept in.  Even though we have been home now for two years, there are deep wounds that resurface from time to time.  Scars from her past presented, a life where fear, malnutrition, and starvation were daily realities.  When I couldn't find Sassy, I knew immediately what had happened.  She had taken her box of chocolates up to her bedroom and was hurriedly shoving them in her mouth.  We have come so far toward developing a healthy relationship with food, but there are triggers.  There are times when she seems to have so little control over what she is doing.  I have seen this so many times.  It breaks my heart.  She will lie about what just happened.  Even though my eyes saw her doing this, when I ask she will look right at me and say, "No. I did not eat the chocolate."  I will have to press her at least a half dozen times and explain why we need to tell the truth.  Sometimes she will, sometimes she won't.  The scars are deep.  Through parenting Sassy, God teaches me daily about his patience and grace and love.  While God continues his healing and redemptive work in her, he also reminds me and gives me countless opportunities to exercise that same patience and grace toward her and I truly consider this a gift from God.

In all honestly though, this is something I wish I could explain better to others.  Yes, Sassy is healthy and thriving and exudes confidence and joy, but underneath there are scars.  I think the same can be said for all of us, right?  Underneath that mask that we wear in public, at work, at church, in school and in our daily interactions, there are usually some scars from previous life experiences.  Scars that while hurt us a great deal, also helped us to grow in other ways.  They are part of us, and although I wish I could take away every awful nightmare of an experience our children lived through, I absolutely believe God will use every hurt to help them help others one day.  God is a God of new mercies and new beginnings.  God redeems all brokenness.  God is love.

This year, I am thankful that God softened my heart and showed me how to parent and participate in a fun and loving event that can and will still be centered on Christ.  Through the joyous and the painful, God is at work redeeming and loving.  Happy Valentine's Day!

Romans 13:10: "Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."

Friday, February 1, 2013

God's Strength Made Perfect

"How do you do this?" 

I have to admit, I usually just giggle and shrug off that question.  It's not that I don't want to answer, it is just that I honestly don't know how to answer it.  It is just that unless I really stop to think about it, I am not sure what they are asking...what they are talking about.  Do what?  What is this

"I am not doing anything," is really what I want to say.  I want to say that, because that is what I truly believe.  That might sound strange, but I don't see our family as really doing anything other than what God asks from each of us.  That is, to love God and to love each other.  Different people express and live out that love in different ways, and we are just living it out the way God asked and continues to ask us.  

You see, I like to look at and look to individuals and families who are doing a lot more than we are doing.  I actually keep their photos handy (I hope that's not too creepy?!) to look at throughout each day when I feel stressed and frazzled.  "Surely so-and-so is stretched more thinly than we are," I say silently for comfort.  Plus, I am truly inspired by the radical faith so many 'ordinary' people are embodying.  Some have 'sold it all and gone.' Others have began organizations and ministries to support, educate, and empower HIV/AIDS widows and mothers.  And yet many more and opening their hearts and homes to children, locally and globally, who were orphaned.  It seems God is raising up our generation of Kingdom focused people and I don't want to miss out on that fun!  God is at the helm in these stories and when God is at the helm, buckle up because it's going to be an exciting ride!  

In reality, when people ask how we 'do this', I know they are talking about logistics, busyness, sanity, and mental and emotional energy.  What I feel like they may be asking is this: "How do you parent five children, attend seminary, work part time in ministry, love your family, and have anything left over?"  
"How do we get from here to there and back again?"  "How do we make it to four different soccer games per weekend?"  "How do we stay sane?"

So, I would like to take three words to answer all of those questions:


Ha!  I know that is not a very profound answer, but it is the truth.  I have no earthly idea how day after day, we get five lunches packed and five kids off to school.  How we keep track of science fair projects and stuffed animals.  How I engage in deep theological reflection and read The Fire Cat for the hundredth time and gain deep joy and gratification from both.  How the energy and resources seem to be just enough to get through each day, with not an ounce left over.  

But then I think about those questions again, and I know the truth.  That truly I am not really don't anything at all, yet it is God.  We have given God full access to our lives and therefore God is being allowed to work through ordinary, everyday, sinful, imperfect vessels to redeem brokenness and restore us to health.  The truth that left alone to my own devices and my own strength, I would have crumbled years ago.  The truth, found in 2 Corinthians 12:9 when Paul states, "[God's] grace is sufficient for you, [God's] power is made perfect in weakness.  Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."  

So, that is the truth.  That is how we do it.  We don't.  God does.  Love does.  And now that we know the amazing things God can accomplish when we allow God access to our lives, there is no way we would live any other way.  God gave us purpose.  God gave us a mission.  And God gives us everything we need to see the mission through.  

The same is true for you.  Do you know what your mission is?  Have you allowed God full access to the life he has given you?  If not, ask.  Ask for clarity and direction and purpose.  But don't be surprised if God asks you to step WAY out of your comfort zone.  I promise you this:  once you take that first step, the following steps are much easier to take.  So go ahead, let God's strength be made perfect in your weakness.  Go after that God-sized dream or passion.  You will have no earthly idea how things are falling into place and mountains are being moved, but you will, you most certainly will, gain a glimpse of heaven and realize how powerful and mighty our God truly is.  Praise him!  
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