Throwback Thursday: Thoughts on Obedience

(Originally written once upon a time when someone thought it would be a good idea to let me speak in church 🙂 )

I believe that God has an invitation for his people today and I think that he would say to us what he said to Peter in John 21.  The invitation is “follow me.”  Peter had heard these words before, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and had responded in the best way that he knew how.  But a lot had happened between then and now.  Peter had messed up, big time.  In Jesus’ darkest days, Peter had first followed at a distance, and then denied his Savior outright.  But here is Jesus, walking along the shore, reaching out again.

 This “follow me” doesn’t mean “come check out my claims, maybe you should give this faith thing a try.”  Peter had already done that.  And most of us have too.  Instead, Jesus’ words are an invitation to intense obedience.  It’s as if Jesus is saying “I know you.  I’ve seen who you are when it really matters.  But I am Grace.  I am Redemption.  I love you—deeply, passionately and I want all of you.  I want your best.”

Today, I believe that Jesus is inviting us too.  He wants all of us.  He wants our best.  Not just our good intentions.  Not just our good theology.  He wants us to trust him with our time, our passion, our money.  I don’t know what your response to the invitation to follow Christ needs to look like.  I don’t know what he is calling you to give.  But I do know that if we take his invitation to intense obedience seriously, it will change our lives, and our church.

I know that one of the obstacles that I have to confront when Jesus challenges me to give more generously is fear.  Somehow, even though I have experienced his provision again and again, my memory is short.

Allow me to jog our memories this morning.  The God who asks for our best is the God described in the Old Testament as El Shaddai… the Almighty and All-Sufficient One.

The God who asks for our best is the God who provided a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire to lead Moses and his people through the Red Sea.

The God who asks for our best is the God who provided the Ark of the Covenant to lead Joshua and his people through the Jordan River.

The God who asks for our best is the God who provided a son to Abraham, and then provided a ram in the bushes so that son could live.

The God who asks for our best is the God who provided manna from heaven, water from a rock and food for five thousand.

The God who asks for our best is the God who provided a perfect, sinless sacrifice so that you and I could walk in abundant, eternal life.

The God who asks for our best has a proven track record.  He has the resources to provide for us infinitely more capably than our own frantic striving can.

And so the invitation stands.  Jesus is reaching out to us.  He knows us.  He’s seen who we are when it really matters.

He is Grace.

He is Redemption.

He loves us—deeply, passionately and he wants all of us.

Not a casual nod of assent.  Not an hour on Sunday morning.  Not whatever money we can rustle up after we’ve spent what we please.

He wants our best.  He calls us to intense obedience.  Hear his word to us today.  “Follow me.”

An Adoption Story: It Never Happens Like That

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(This is the last chapter of a story that starts here and continues here, here and here.)

Though our American foster care system is undeniably broken, the vast majority of professionals that I met during my journey through this system to motherhood are kind, gracious people who genuinely care about children and want to do what is best for them.

The social worker who did my homestudy is one of those people.  Having one’s entire life scrutinized and verified and notarized in an attempt to prove that one will make a good parent is stressful.  She did her best to set me at ease and calm my nerves.  We sat on the couch in my living room and chatted about life.  I told her how I imagined my foster adoption journey going and she said, “That’s great, hon.  But you know it never happens like that, right?”

It never happens like that.  It’s a phrase that I heard again and again along the way from kind, gracious professionals who had been around long enough to know.

Kids are unpredictable.  Courts are unpredictable.  Things happen.  Plans change.  Families attach.  Promises get broken.  Hearts get broken.  It never happens like that.

Lots of people say the waiting is the hardest part of the road to adoption.  In my mind’s eye, at least, I was uncharacteristically zen in the waiting (as zen is not exactly my default).  I had an unwavering conviction that when the time and the circumstances were right, I would just know.

After my homestudy, I carried on with life.  I spent a week meeting Jesus in Haiti.  I welcomed my niece—another beautiful little one loved from the start.  I said good-bye to my Pop Pop.  I did respite for two babies and fell in love over the course of one weekend (you can read more about them here).

And then, I got the call.

My social worker wanted me to stop by her office to talk about a possible placement.  And when I saw the picture of her there, on my social worker’s computer, I knew.  I begged and pleaded for this photo (and lots of other things) later on, and now it is framed in my living room.  “That’s when I knew,” I tell my daughter.  “That’s when I knew we were meant for each other.”

We met.  She moved in.  We started school together—her in preK, me next door in kindergarten.  Court proceedings and appeal windows and waiting periods slipped by quietly as we got to know each other.  I learned that she eats anything except melted cheese.  She mastered the Shannon face.  We fought and cried and rocked and sang and danced and laughed and became family.  And six months later, surrounded by the ones I love most in the world, it became official.

They say it never happens like that.  But, friends, I need you to know that they are wrong.

They are wrong.

The truth is, sometimes it happens exactly like that.

An Adoption Story: Falling in Line

I’m not sure quite what I expected when I told my family and close friends that I had decided to adopt.  Fireworks, maybe.  Or sirens.  What I got instead was the distinct impression that I was the last one to find out.

After a crash course in adoption (read: obsessive internet searches and devouring every adoption-related book in the public library), I decided that foster care adoption might be a good fit for me.  After attending an informational meeting held by the foster agency in our county, I was convinced.

“You’re adopting from foster care?” I heard, again and again.  “Oh yes, yes of course.”  Um, friends, if you all knew this, why didn’t somebody tell me?

The closest I got to fireworks was when I told my Pop Pop at lunch on Father’s Day.  After hearing the news, he prayed a prayer of blessing over my daughter loud enough for the whole restaurant to hear.  We would bury my Pop Pop the next Father’s Day.  One full year he spent praying for my little girl who he would never meet.  One day not long ago, snuggled in my lap before bedtime, she asked me to tell her all about my Pop Pop.  Every detail.  “I’m sad I didn’t get to meet him, Mama,” she said.  “I think I would have liked him.”  Yes, Love, I know you would have.

And sirens?  I have to admit that I was a little on the defensive when I first started sharing the news.  And though a few brave, honest friends raised some questions about my motivation at the outset of this journey, most of the struggle came from inside of myself.  Was I rushing ahead of God and choosing a path that might not be his very best because I wanted to be a mom so badly?  Just because my life didn’t follow the “normal” trajectory (at least in my conservativish leaning circles) of husband then babies, would that make my family less than ideal?  And what about that “take care of widows and orphans” thing—was that reserved for married couples?

I wrestled with all of it.  Hard.

And I realized this:  In our post-Eden world, life isn’t about waiting around for ideal.  It’s about loving well.  It’s about living redemption.  It’s about hearing the call of Jesus and doing the next right thing.  And then the next.

For me, the next right thing was to fall in line with what everyone close to me seemed to already know.  My baby was in foster care.  And I needed to get ready to bring her home.

Storm (Mark 4:35-41)

Follow me, he says.

And they do.

Mental assent, emotional connection, practical getting up and going, they follow.

We follow.

Let’s go over to the other side, he says.

They push out into the water and plot their course.

Surely, this can be called nothing less than obedience, surrender, following.

They did it all right.  We did it all right.

And then, the storm.

A furious squall.

And where was Jesus?  Where is Jesus?

Resting.  Really?

No.  No.  No.  That can’t be right.

Shouldn’t he be out here fixing this?

Shouldn’t You be out here fixing this?

Somebody go get him!  He says he’s the Messiah—make him act like it!

Don’t you care, they asked.

Don’t you care that we’re about to die?

Don’t you care that this is not what we prayed for?

Don’t you care that my baby is screaming when I tell her that her friends’ daddy is gone?

No.  No.  No.  This can’t be right.

And then, a word,

the Word.

The storm is over.  The fight is over.

Calm.  And a rebuke.

Why are you so afraid?  Where is your faith?

Oh, Jesus.  It’s here.

Right here in this battered boat.

Right here in my baby’s bedroom.

Right here with You.

It’s right here.

An Adoption Story: Collision

(If you’d like, feel free to check out the prologue and beginning of this story)

Like about a quarter of Americans, adoption was something that I thought I might do “someday.”

I’m not sure exactly how I came to this vague conclusion, though I suspect it had a little to do with growing up in a home where lots of folks came to stay for a while when they hit a rough patch.  It wasn’t foster care in any official sense, just compassion and hospitality lived out without fanfare (which, I will admit, I did not always appreciate at the time).

This experience, plus my evangelical faith, my sociology degree and my overgrown sense of responsibility to “do something” when faced with injustice made adoption a no-brainer.  At least in theory.

And so it was that I found myself again in the hospital waiting room, anxious to meet my second nephew—a perfectly healthy baby, nurtured and protected from the start.  I knew that my love would expand to greet this new little person, that there would be more than enough.

Sitting there, flipping idly through the pages of an outdated magazine, I heard the story of another baby.  He had been born too early, with a variety of complications that may (or, I suppose, may not) have been the result of bad choices made before he was born.  His future was uncertain.  His parents were overwhelmed with their own lives and not sure that they could parent him.

Joy and grief mingled there in waiting room.  And, uninvited, the thought crossed my mind, “what if I could adopt him?”

The timing was terrible, I thought.

I was single, working full time and scrambling to recover my financial footing after some hasty decisions left me in a tight spot.  I knew nothing about medical stuff and too little about being a mom.

There was no way it could work.

But in that moment, I also knew that if the opportunity arose, the village that I had unintentionally created would make sure it worked.  I knew that if this were my child, my family and friends would rally, and we would find a way.  Period.

It would take another year (and a cousin adopting her daughter from Ethiopia) before I would muster the courage to tell my extended family and officially get the adoption ball rolling.

But it was on that day, the day that I met my second nephew, that vague thoughts of “someday” collided with God’s plan for my family and the idea of adoption became very, very real.

An Adoption Story: Beginning

(If you haven’t already, please read the prologue to this story here.)

I was not the girl who always dreamed of being a mommy.

But something broke loose inside of me when my first nephew was born.

Although I never would have admitted it in so many words, before him my heart believed that love, though big, was finite.  That to love one person more, I had to love someone else less.

I could love, I reasoned, but I’d better keep a little in reserve—to make sure I had enough for the ones that really mattered.

It sounds crazy to me now, but it’s true.

And then I laid my eyes on this beautiful miracle baby, and I knew immediately that I had been wrong all along.  In that moment, I loved more than I ever had before.  No rationing, no readjusting—my heart just stretched out enough to make room for this new little person.

That night, I wrote this in my journal: “Even as I write these words, my heart is full with love for (my nephew), but broken for the many, many babies around the world who don’t know every single day that they are loved.  Would you hold them too, Jesus?  And would you please allow me, in some way, to hold them—to love them?”

I didn’t know it then, but on the day that I realized that my capacity for love could grow, I was praying for my daughter.