Love is the point

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My daughter made this for me today.

Love is the point, it says.

Ok, technically Love!  is!  the!  point!  She shares my affinity for excess punctuation.

Love is the point.

She’s right.

In the United States, there are around 400,000 kids and teenagers in foster care.  On any given day, about 100,000 of them are legally free for adoption.

This is not ok.

While adoption is not the answer to all of the issues plaguing the foster care system, there is no question that it is part of the solution.

Psychology tells us that if we put the numbers out there, your mind might pause for a second.  100,000 is a lot, after all.

But if we put a picture and a story out there, your heart will pause a little longer.  Maybe just long enough to pick up the phone.

All they need is love, so many well-meaning folks lament when they see these pictures and hear these stories.

All they need is love.

This is not true.

You see, there is no “good” way to come into foster care.  There is no “good” way to have your case plan changed to adoption.

If you choose to parent one or more of these incredible kiddos, love will not be enough.

You may need to become an expert on brain development, nutrition, mental illness, the IEP process or the workings of the juvenile justice system.

You may read more books, listen to more lectures, attend more conferences and pick the brains of more professionals than you can possibly imagine.

You may earn an honorary degree in letters and numbers—ADHD, ODD, OCD, RAD, NAMI, BIP, IEP, 504.

It will be hard.  Maybe harder than anything else you’ve ever done.

But you will look into your child’s eyes and you will see a fighter.

And you will fight with every last ounce of courage and passion and strength that you possess (and sometimes a little more).

Because even though love will not be enough,

Love is the point.

***

If you’re like me and want to see all the numbers, you can find them here: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/research-data-technology/statistics-research/afcars

If you’re considering foster care adoption, take the next step.  Go to an informational meeting.  Make a call. Send an e-mail inquiry.  Ready?  Go!

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At your word

Peter caught fish.  It was his thing.  (Luke 5:1-11)

He had been out all night working hard, giving his best effort, growing weary.  His nets were empty, but surely his pride was intact.  Tonight would be another night.  He’d rely on his expertise and things would be different.  He had this.

Enter Jesus—a carpenter by trade, and a young one at that.  Who was he to step into Peter’s boat in the first place?  And to give advice on fishing, really?

I think Peter showed a tremendous amount of restraint.

“Master,” he started, “we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.”

Jesus, I’ve got this one.

But because you say so…

At your word…

I will do as you say.

I love that Jesus didn’t shush Peter before he got to the but.  He was patient.  He let Peter speak his experience.  Because it was true.  And it was part of the story too.

We’ve worked hard and haven’t caught anything.

I’ve prayed for her for years.  I’ve told her my story, told her about Jesus.

Yes, Jesus’ silence says.  You’ve worked hard.  You’ve given it your best effort.  You’ve grown weary.  You’ve used your expertise and that’s ok because I gave you that expertise.

But

Trust me.  Push out into the deep one more time.  Let down your nets one more time.

But

Trust me.  Hit your knees for that friend one more time.  Speak my truth to her one more time.  Show her grace instead of judgment one more time.

Peter took Jesus at his word.

This week, I’m praying for grace to do the same.

Anointing

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but I am big on self-reflection and intentional growth.  So, as 2013 started winding to a close, I began looking for a few verses that I could make my theme for 2014.

I wished for something fabulously obscure.

Isaiah 61:1-3 was not what I had in mind.

But, again and again, I was drawn back to these familiar words… words that I have read a thousand times before:

Because I belong to Jesus, the Holy Spirit is on me.

I am anointed, called, chosen, empowered.

I will preach good news.

I will bind up the brokenhearted.

I will proclaim freedom.

I will speak of God’s favor and God’s justice.

I will comfort those who mourn.

I will provide for those who grieve.

Together, we will display God’s splendor.

Together, we will rebuild what has been ruined.

Together, we will restore what has been devastated.

Together we will be agents of renewal.

I like to chop up these verses.  To parcel out the anointing.  To pick and choose what feels natural and comfortable to me (yeah, I’ve got that “I will speak of God’s favor and God’s justice” one).  And to leave the rest (looking at you, “I will comfort those who mourn”) for someone else.

I am learning that I am too quick to discount my Holy Spirit instincts.  I am too quick to dismiss an opportunity to love someone because I think I am not “good” at feeling compassion, or saying the right thing, or, you know, binding up the brokenhearted.  I am too quick to overthink an impulse, to let the moment pass, to let fear win.

As a child of God, I have chosen to reject part of his anointing because I think someone else can do it better.  No more.

And so I will linger in Isaiah 61 this year.  I will speak and write and try to live these verses many times.

This, my friends, is the year of embracing the calling.  All of it.

To preach and to bind up.

To proclaim and to comfort.

To rebuild and restore and renew.

To stand with you.

Together, to display God’s splendor.

On resolve

January is a time when the word resolve gets thrown around a lot.  We resolve to do better.  To be healthier, less stressed out, smarter about our money, more consistent with our Bible reading.  And then life hits.  And, many times, our resolve crumbles.

So when I hear Barnabas (one of my favorite New Testament characters) encourage the church at Antioch to remain true to the Lord with resolute heart in Acts 11:23, my ears perk up.

I dig a little deeper and learn that this word “resolute” implies both intention and a plan.

Barnabas doesn’t pat these new believers on the back, wish them well and leave them to their own devices.  That might fulfill the intention part, but this good man—full of the Holy Spirit and faith, knows that intention alone is not enough.

Intention is not enough.

Wanting to remain true to the Lord (even really, really wanting it) is not enough.

These disciples need a plan.

So Barnabas sets out in search of Saul and together they come back with a plan.  They meet with the church, with these new believers and the other disciples too—the ones who had fled persecution and spoken the good news of Jesus and ended up with an exploding church on their hands.  They meet.  And they teach.

Not once.  Not for six weeks.  For a whole year.

Verse 26 tells us that they taught a considerable number of people.  It is worth noting that we don’t know whether every single convert in Antioch was among that considerable number.

Because even the best plan won’t work without intention.  Without purpose.

For their faith to survive, for their hearts to remain true to the Lord, the new believers at Antioch needed both.

So do we.

This year, let’s pursue Jesus with resolute hearts.

Let’s embrace both the intention and the plan.

Let’s want to become more and more transformed into the image of Christ.  Let’s really, really want it.

And let’s put ourselves in places, in relationships, where teaching and learning and honesty and challenge and grace and transformation can happen.

How My Faith Survived (public) High School, (Christian) college and Grad School (at a self-proclaimed “world class research university”)

I know lots of folks who do lots of ministry in lots of places all over the world, so pretty regularly I run across a link to some article or another fretting over the alarming percentage of kids raised in evangelical churches who abandon their faith before reaching adulthood.  We point fingers at parents, at youth pastors, at churches that make faith boring, at churches that make faith too much fun, at public schools with all their tolerance.

I am the other side of those statistics that everyone likes to throw around.  My life is not a percentage point, but it is a story.  The story of a girl raised in church, burned by church (again and again, thank you very much) and still committed to church as an adult.  The story of faith surviving the rocky transition from childhood to adulthood.

There were lots of factors that set me up for success.  I had parents who were smart, honest and committed to living their faith in practical ways.  I had youth leaders who cared about me as a person and who challenged me to take specific steps to grow in my faith.  I had teachers who believed in the authenticity of my story and encouraged me to speak and write about my faith even if they didn’t share it.  I had a personality that was risk-averse and stubborn—once I decided what I was going to do, the “everybody’s’ doing it” argument had no chance of changing my mind, even during my moody adolescence.

But even with all of that, I think I could have followed the crowd out of church and into “spiritual but not religious” territory except for one thing.  I kept encountering Jesus.

He met me in my bedroom, in the depths of my frustration and anger—with a voice so close to audible that it brought me to my knees.  He met me in my English class where I read my story, the story of my conversion, into the circle and found that I was not alone in my search for meaning.  He met me in my third floor dorm room, speaking comfort and grace when loss rocked my world.  He met me in a tiny basement chapel, surrounded by the voices of my sisters’ earnest prayers.  He met me on the streets of Camden.  And Philly.  And Baltimore.

And, yes, the truth is that Jesus met me in church too.  In his body, broken for me.  In his blood, shed for me.  In his word, spoken clearly and without apology.  In the eyes and voices of the faithful who let me know that it was ok to believe and question, to learn and struggle and argue, to (gasp!) think and feel for myself.

I am not naïve.  Goodness knows I’ve seen sin in the church.  I’ve heard judgment and condemnation.  I’ve watched people say and do things in Jesus’ name that make me want to turn and run the other way.  I’ve felt hurt more deeply in the church than anywhere else I’ve ever been.

But that is not the whole story.

The truth is, I stuck with church because Jesus and I found each other there.

Meditate

In Joshua 1, the newly minted leader of God’s people has some pretty big shoes to fill.  And in the first nine verses of this chapter, he gets his marching orders.

Cross the Jordan River.

Be strong and courageous.

Meditate on God’s word.

Meditate.  Don’t let it depart from your mouth.  Think about it again and again.  All day.  All night.  Let it be a constant murmur in the background of your life.  Do it.  Let it become so much a part of you that speaking it comes as naturally as breathing.

And you will be successful.

True confession: promises of success make me nervous.  Even when they’re in the Bible.

Enter my trusty Hebrew-Greek keyword Bible and I find the word successful mingling with words like wisdom, understanding, insight, intellectual comprehension, being upright, flourishing.

I wonder if Joshua wanted to skip to the “cross the Jordan River” part.  Sometimes I do, don’t you?  I’m a sucker for action steps.  For things that have measurable, quantifiable outcomes.  For numbers.

But Joshua gave himself three days.

I imagine there was a lot of meditating going on during those 72 hours.  A lot of waiting on (and begging for) the strength and courage that God commanded.  A lot of murmuring.

And then Joshua led God’s people right on through the Jordan River.

This week, let’s not splash headlong into our own rivers of impossibility alone.  Let’s not struggle and strain to muster up the strength and courage to which we feel called.

Let’s meditate.

Let’s let God’s word settle deep into our hearts and minds.  Let’s come back to it again and again.

I believe it’s there that the strength and courage will come.

I believe it’s there that we’ll get the command, at just the right time and in just the right way, to cross our own Jordans.