But God

We’re singing about grace this morning.

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace.

And here’s the thing about grace.

It tastes all the sweeter when you’re really and truly convinced that you don’t deserve it, that you didn’t do anything to earn it.

In fact, that’s what makes it grace.

Once upon a time I didn’t know the wretchedness of my own heart.

I was a good girl, a rule-follower, a perfectionist.

I grew up knowing about Jesus, knowing all the right answers.

And still

I was dead in my trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1).

My righteousness, my striving, my efforts would never be enough.

But God

Gracious and compassionate, abounding in love,

This God snatched me up out of my self-righteous striving and set me free.

Free from finding my identity in what I’ve done, free into living my true identity as Beloved.

Free from running hard to prove myself, free into abundant, extravagant rest.

Free from fear of not being enough, of not doing enough, free into confidence that Jesus paid it all.

Free from red-hot anger that feels justified in the moment, free into honestly seeing my own brokenness and feeling empathy.  Free into love.

It all catches me a little breathless again this morning.

This story I’ve heard thousands of times, this utter dependence and absolute need for rescue.

And this grace.

This marvelous, infinite, matchless grace.

Grace that shines light into darkness.

Grace that breathes life into dead hearts.

Grace that is greater than all our sin.

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Faithful

Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on you.

Through it all, through it all, it is well.

We sing the words again this morning and I remember.

Another day we sang this song, a day not too far in the past.

Today I can sing with gusto.

That day I could barely breathe.

That day I collapsed under the weight of what felt impossibly hard.

Making space for grace, making space for Love

During the home stretch in Little One’s case.

I was exhausted.

And I knew the days ahead would likely leave me more ragged and vulnerable than I already felt.

That day I knew that ultimately it would be well with my soul.

But it was the prayers of dear ones whispered in my ears when I couldn’t drag my needy self off the floor that breathed life.  That spoke it to be well.  Right then and there.  In the middle of the mess.

The words today feel like a victory chant.

Like a standing stone.

Because, friends, our God is faithful.

Not just because Little One is asleep in the other room right now, all arms and legs and outside voice and fiery personality.

But because in the days to come, I got to watch love win right in the court house.

Because I got to stand in the sacred space of speaking worth and value into hearts that others dismissed too easily.  And some days I still do.

Because when I didn’t have the strength to drag myself off the floor and singing it is well made me feel like a hypocrite, it left no question who made beauty start to uncurl from the broken places.

And it sure as anything wasn’t me.

And so, today, I sing with gusto.  Knowing that there will be other days when I collapse under the weight of what feels impossibly hard.

But still it is true.  Still it is well.

Because, friends, our God is faithful.

It’s Not a Race

Little One learned a new letter today—O.

This brings the grand total of letters he knows to 2.

And that’s ok.

Y’all, I am an overachiever.

I read a post that someone put about her kid on social media the other day.

A kid younger than Little One who knows ALL THE LETTERS.

I freaked out a little bit.

Or a lot.

I google-searched how many letters kids “should” know at different ages.

I scoured amazon for the “best” magnetic letters.

I am an early childhood teacher, for goodness sake, there’s no way I could let my kid fall behind!

And then exhaustion got the best of me (hello, summer of pretending to be a stay-at-home mom!) and I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.

I woke up with a little bit of clarity, feeling like I could breathe again.

And I remembered all the things that Little One can do.

Things like wiping away his sister’s tears and bringing her his lovey when she is sad.

Things like walking up on stage during the camp talent show when they ask for volunteers (even though he’s never heard the song before in his life).

Things like trying seven hundred different ways to make a block structure stand up just right and not giving up until it works.

And I sniffed his curls as he snuggled against me and asked me to read all the digger books again and again.

And I remembered what I’ve known all along.

Childhood is not a race.

Friends, it’s not.

It’s an ambling journey through the woods collecting rocks to fill your pockets.

It’s full-body painting on the porch.

It’s melting ice cubes and splashing in puddles.

It’s singing songs at the top of your lungs.

The rest will come, all in good time.

But these moments of being little are darn near close to sacred.

Too precious to be squandered on the “shoulds” and “bests” that work for someone else.

Too precious to be squandered.

You alone

Once upon a time, I made a little girl’s profession of faith.

My ears heard the story I had heard since I drew my first breath.

God created you.  Sin wrecked you.  Jesus died to make a way for you.  Choose him.

My heart snatched onto these words because all at once it knew them to be true.

And I believed.

It was honest.  It was genuine.  It was enough.

A decade later, I was mired in adolescent angst.

In retrospect, my life was decidedly not that hard.

But at the time I felt betrayed.  And angry.

I locked myself in my room and scrawled my angsty thoughts onto paper, filling notebook after notebook.

One whole year.

And then, out of nowhere, I heard Jesus.

It sounds crazy, I know, but it is as close to an audible voice as I have ever heard.

It was an ultimatum.  Walk ahead with me or walk away.  Today.  Right now.

Knees on my bedroom floor, the answer rushed from my heart without hesitation.

Where else would I go?  You alone have the words of eternal life.  I believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.  (John 6: 68-69)

Those words have come back to me over the years.

As I’ve lived through days much darker than my notebook scrawling year.

Days burnt out on ministry, wondering if I could ever love the church that Jesus called his bride.

Days of fear and picking up pieces of dashed dreams, wondering if there was still a place for me.

Days of holding a raging child, terrified of what people would think if they really knew.

Days of interminable waiting, begging for resolution and getting only resolve.

Days of aching, of walking around with a giant gaping hole in my heart and trying to pretend it was ok.

And many, many days of holding stories.  Stories too hard.  Of abuse and unfaithfulness.  Of self-hatred and self-harm.  Of terrible diseases and relentless love.  Of so many Little Ones lost too soon.

If you’ve lived any time at all, you know we aren’t immune to these too-hard stories just because we love Jesus.

But where would I go?  You alone have the words of eternal life.

The words come again this morning.

As I wrangle a squirmy toddler and sing in faith words that I desperately want to be true.

For me.  And for all the dear ones with the too-hard stories.

You alone have the words of eternal life.

Only here, in those words, can we be anchored.  Secure.  Hopeful.

You alone.

Rooted in Love

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ… (Eph. 3:17)

You prophets, bold speakers of Spirit-truth, we need you.  Your words make us brave.  Brave enough to love well.

You servants, compassionate care-takers of the practical, we need you.  Your hands and feet free us to listen.  We hear the drum-beat of Spirit-love in your quiet footsteps.

You teachers, increasers of insight and understanding, we need you.  Your stories help us grasp love with our hearts and open us to be grasped by Love.

You encouragers, you gentle walkers-beside, we need you.  Your capacity to listen well helps us know that we are heard.  Your words ring true in our hearts because we know we are loved.

You givers, free-flowing vessels of grace and provision, we need you.  Your generosity lets love trickle into corners it couldn’t otherwise reach.

You leaders, influencers of mind and heart, we need you.  Your voice points us in the right direction, helping us encounter Love for ourselves.

You mercy-givers, edge-sweeping holders of the broken, we need you.  Your hearts bleed love and we notice.  You see the ones the rest ignore, and we cannot escape it when you are around… you are covered in the aroma of Love.

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. (Romans 12:6)

But our gifts are not to be hoarded.  Not to be locked up inside of us.

No.

Our gifts are for the body.  For a desperately needy world.  For the Giver.

Your gift is valuable.  Indispensable.

It’s only together that we have power to know the width and length and height and breadth of Love.

A Love that changes everything.

An Adoption By the Numbers

Months in care: 30 (I cannot count the days… it hurts my heart too much)

Number of CASAs: 2 (one fantastic, one not-at-all fantastic)

Number of days lost from work because of sudden arrivals/removals from my home: about 8 (not including the FMLA leave I chose to take during the first two months)

Number of days lost from work because of court hearings that didn’t happen when/where I was informed they would: 3

Number of court hearings and other official meetings that I “accidentally” didn’t get notification about: 3

Child’s social workers: 5

Number of times I dropped the f bomb on child’s social worker (without children present): 1

Number of times dropping the f bomb on social worker got me what I wanted: 1

Supervisors: 2

Number of times I pestered supervisors because I didn’t like social workers’ answers: too many to count

Big Bosses: 2

Number of times I called in the big boss because I didn’t like supervisors’ answers: 2

Number of times calling in the big boss got me what I wanted: 1

Number of times the big boss told me emphatically to wait in the lobby and not come upstairs to his office: 1

Number of times I threatened to appeal a decision that actually had to do with me (most decisions in foster care don’t): 1

Number of times that threatening to appeal got me what I wanted: 0.5 (they met me halfway on this one)

Number of times I was late arriving for a required visit: 1

Number of times a professional was late or didn’t show for a required visit: 50? 100? These are actual estimates.

Number of times I would do it again: all of them.  Because Little One is worth it.  All of the little ones are worth it.

(To be fair, not all adoptions are like this.  My daughter’s adoption involved only one social worker and no f bombs.)

The Call That Changed My Life

Three years ago today, I got the second call that changed my life.

The first one was giddily anticipated… the call about the Little One who would grow into my big girl.  The one that proved the naysayers wrong.

This one was different.

I had just had my annual foster care reconsideration visit a few days earlier.

I had jumped through the hoops to stay licensed for another year even though I really, really wanted to be done.

I told my social worker that I didn’t know what kind of placement I wanted.  But that parenting my big girl had made me brave, and she could call me about anything.  And that I would probably say no.

It was Friday afternoon and I was just leaving work.

And there was a baby.

A tiny one ready to be released from the hospital on Monday.

I had no plans for childcare (not to mention that the baby was too young to be in daycare even if I did).  I had no baby stuff.  I had never even held a person this tiny before, much less walked into a hospital and taken one home.

It was crazy.

And I knew by the pounding in my chest that the answer was yes.

And so I took a few months off from work (yep, with a weekend’s notice!).  I filled my sister’s minivan with stuff I thought I might need.  And I walked into the hospital with my mama pretending that I knew what the heck I was doing.

As she told me all about specially mixed formula and follow up appointments, the nurse said she could tell I had done this before.

I told her that I was a good faker.

And I strapped this tiny Little One into a borrowed car seat and drove him right on home.

It’s true, he had me at one look into those deep brown eyes.

He was an infant, after all.  How can you not bond with an infant?

But I didn’t know what the future would hold.

It would be years before that Little One would share my last name.

Years of uncertainty and stress and jumping through one thousand more hoops.

Years of navigating a relationship with a birth family that loves him too.

Years of monthly visits by social workers and CASAs (some great, some meh).

One whole year, in fact, of hellos and good-byes that ripped my heart to shreds.

This Little One immersed in potty humor and obsessed with basketball was worth it all.

To know him, even for a short time, would have been enough.

To hold him still, to ruffle his perfectly messy curls makes my heart explode.

Friends, sometimes the answer is no.

But sometimes the answer is yes.  Even when it seems crazy.

Sometimes the call that changes your life comes when you’re least expecting it.