He’s got this.

I’ve got this, I think as I turn to John 13.

I’ve found life here before.  In these words.  In this story.

Back in the year of Haiti and hospice and respite foster care.  Back in the year of learning to love well even when time was short.

I know what to hear.  I know what to expect.

Until I don’t.

Close your eyes, my pastor says, and picture yourself there.

The God of the universe, seeing through your dirt to his image.  Stooping to wash your feet.

I try, but I feel myself physically pull away.

Somebody give me a floor to sweep, a pile of dishes to wash.  Anything.

I know what to do with a broom, a sponge.  But this?

We think pride is failing to stoop.  Failing to serve.  And it is.

But what about refusing to meet his gaze

Pleading to wash our own feet

Or protesting mightily that our feet aren’t really that dirty after all?

This too is pride.

It’s true.  The washing of regeneration was once for all.

But the washing for renewal, for transformation

It’s today.

Today, the God of the universe sees through our dirt to his image.

He’s stooping to wash our feet.

The truth is I’m still learning.

Sometimes I think I know what to hear, what to expect.

I don’t.

I haven’t got this.

But he does.

This I know

Once upon a time, I was a little girl who didn’t understand.

I didn’t understand why church people would blame someone for being sick.

I didn’t understand why they would condemn these men—one dying, both in desperate need of hope.  Closing their doors.  Averting their eyes.  Refusing to help, to love.

But this I know.

Jesus walked into that house, into those lives, wearing the skin of my parents…

My courageous, compassionate parents who brought hope and cookies and two little girls.

Together we sat.

Talking.  Laughing.  Eating cookies.

Together we learned.

Love is bigger than hate.  Grace is stronger than ignorance.

Death can be both unflinchingly hard and overwhelmingly beautiful.

Deep down, where it really matters, we are more alike than different.

And we need Jesus.  All of us need Jesus.

It is only in retrospect that the details of this story fall into place.

It is only in retrospect that I realize too what’s missing.

The snide comments.  The nasty looks.

The voices of condemnation.

In my memory, in my mind’s eye, they are all theoretical.  Blocked, I’m sure, from penetrating the heart of a little girl.  Blocked by Jesus wearing the skin of my parents.

When I remember this story, when I let the image of these moments settle into my consciousness, it’s only the love that comes into focus.

This I know.

Two men met Jesus in that house—one dying, both in desperate need of hope.

And so did I.

When Following Means Staying Put

“Where you go, I’ll go,” I sing (and mean it),

“Where you stay, I’ll stay.”

The truth is, sometimes the going feels so much easier than the staying.

It is easy, so very easy for me to succumb to spiritual wanderlust.

I look around at the beautiful diversity that is the body of Christ and I itch for something else.

Some other gift.  Some other calling.  Some other mission field.

I want to go.

My life feels so mundane,

So white, middle-class motherish.

I find myself again and again wrestling with my own youthful zeal to do something “big” for God.

To each one, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.          (1 Corinthians 12:7)

These words are like water to my thirsty, discontent soul.

Today I cannot go.

Today I watch a movie, wipe some tears and tuck my baby into bed, promising her (again) that forever means tomorrow too.

This too is the manifestation of the Spirit.

Tomorrow I will give my best to a roomful of kindergarteners, no matter how grumpy other things make me.

This too is the manifestation of the Spirit.

This week I will write a note, send a text, smile and mean it, pray like a crazy person.

This too is the manifestation of the Spirit.

Today, this is the gift.  This is the calling.  This is the mission field.

For the glory of God.  For the common good.

And it is indispensable.

Throwback Thursday: The Long Answer

(Originally written after a heart-enlarging, perspective-shifting week in Haiti with Food for the Hungry in 2011.)

“How was Haiti?”

They told me I should prepare two answers for this question… one for casual inquirers who are mostly being polite and another for the hard-core, those who really want to hear the story.

The short answer is easy enough for me.  Haiti is beautiful, the poverty and the earthquake’s devastation (even 15 months later) are heartbreaking, the children are (like children everywhere) energetic, playful and full of hope for the future.

It’s the long answer that causes me trouble.  I so badly want this experience to be wrapped up in a single, unifying theme.  I want you, those of you who really care, to see what I saw, hear what I heard, feel what I felt.  I want the 60 pages of rambling in my journal to make sense to someone other than just me.  It’s a weird kind of isolation, especially for someone who prides herself on precise vocabulary… having this crazy, hard, powerful experience and not having the words to describe it.

But the long answer is important because the long answer is part of who I am and also who I want to become.  The long answer is the one that Douna and Christina and Bebe and Forlencia deserve.  The long answer is hard.  But it is the right answer, the truth.  And so I persist, groping for the right words (and failing often), remembering and praying and sometimes holding back tears.

So, how was Haiti?

Haiti was love in the challenge from Julio—come not just to give, not just to see the need.  Come to see the joy and potential alive and well in our children and families and communities.  Haiti was love in a dad’s prayer not for a new house or a better life, but simply for his neighbors to know Jesus.  Haiti was love in the little one (she couldn’t have been more than three) with her arm around the even littler one, comforting him and drying his tears.  Haiti was love in the eyes and laugh of Bebe, the tiny one so easily amused by my glasses and my crazy antics that she would lunge into my lap again and again.  Haiti was love in a teacher’s joyful spirit and confident leadership, content and fully alive surrounded by his kids.  Haiti was love in the gift of coconuts and conversation shared by the beautiful mama, sitting cross-legged on the ground, cleaning rice. Haiti was love in the elaborate meal prepared by the women in Hoy Hose and shared in the pastor’s dining room.  Haiti was love in bubbles blown, beads strung, floors mopped, furniture moved, mosquito nets mended and feet washed.  Haiti was love in the words of affirmation from friends in whose prayers I felt content to rest.  Haiti was love in the vulnerable conversations and the connections made with teammates who took the initiative to serve.

Haiti was listening to the dream and potential of a prospective college student.  Haiti was listening to William’s story of losing all of his possessions but feeling blessed because his family escaped unharmed.  Haiti was listening to FH’s approach to AIDS prevention and care and wanting to learn more, to engage my brain in this important fight.  Haiti was listening to the hurt and frustration of the community leaders in Boicaiman, even when I had no answers.  Haiti was listening to the voices of the children with “Praise ye the Lord, Alleluia” on eternal repeat.  Haiti was listening to words of adoration and petition uttered in Creole and agreeing even when I didn’t exactly understand.  Haiti was listening to a little girl with two small nephews and a baby niece—just like me, though worlds apart.  Haiti was listening to the quick thinking and good judgment of leaders in a situation that seems more dangerous in retrospect.  Haiti was listening to the hope in despair, the light in darkness, and knowing whose voice I heard.  Haiti was listening to Johnny retell the story of that horrific day, of choking on the dust, of pulling bodies from the wreckage.  Haiti was listening to my teammates’ desire to engage their minds and hearts and hands in making a difference.  Haiti was listening to the dedication and hope of those committed to community transformation over the long haul.

Haiti was surrender of my family (and my anxiety) to a God who is infinitely more capable of protecting them than I am.  Haiti was surrender of my tendency to rush ahead with my impulses to help.  Haiti was surrender of my competing tendency to lag behind with my desire to be cautious and wise.  Haiti was surrender into the beauty and the hurt and the hope of the moment, this moment, and the next and the next.  Haiti was surrender of relying on words and release into relying on grace.  Haiti was surrender of my teacher identity to embrace the role of student.  Haiti was surrender of expectations as plans changed and kids just kept coming.  Haiti was surrender of comfort as vans were full, mountains were steep, and streets were vaguely paved.  Haiti was surrender of control as food and supplies multiplied somehow to always be enough.  Haiti was surrender of task-orientation (or, more accurately, selfishness) as people became the main focus, my main focus.  Haiti was surrender of sarcasm and judgment, surrender into speaking words of life.  Haiti was surrender of my ideas of how to give and “do missions” best.  Haiti was surrender of my emotional walls as I was challenged to love well, even when I knew the time was short.  And, ultimately, with my view of Port au Prince suddenly obscured by clouds, Haiti was surrender of the beautiful ones who captured my heart to the Father who will continue to passionately love and pursue them long after I am gone.

That is the long answer.  That is the truth.

Game Night!


In this year of the never ending winter, board games have become a slight obsession in our house.  And can I tell you how happy it makes me now that, “board games” doesn’t mean Candyland, Chutes and Ladders and some mind-numbing version of Memory?  Very, very happy.

Here are some of our favorites, ranked by a very scientific post-it star system.  More stars=more fun (although even the lowest ranked games have been played for hours without a seven year old losing interest or her mama wanting to poke herself in the eye with a stick).

Blokus—R: 4 stars, me: 4 stars

Such an easy game to learn, but it’s different every time you play, so it doesn’t get boring.  I played this with my daughter, my mom, my aunt and my grandma once, and it was enjoyed by all.  Sometimes my daughter and I play with one color each.  This version makes the game easy to tie and hard to win—which has its advantages.  When we are feeling smart, we play with two colors each (much trickier).

Square Up!—R: 3 stars, me: 5 stars

Does anybody else remember getting those tiny puzzles with the sliding squares in Sunday School?  This game is like that, but bigger, more colorful, and with really cool pattern-creating dice.  When I first bought this game, I could beat my daughter easily (and, true mama confessions: I don’t lose games on purpose.  Ever.  Even with a seven year old.).  That girl is a little bit competitive, though, and she practiced playing solo many, many hours so she could level the playing field.  We’re pretty evenly matched now (though she is speedier, so she can make more moves than I can in the same amount of time).  Easy to learn, but hard to perfect, this is the perfect one or two player game.

Tipover Crate Game—R: 5 stars, me: 1 star

This is really meant to be a one person game, but my daughter and I sometimes work together to complete the puzzle challenges (although she also plays on her own—a plus).  I like the three-dimensional aspect of the puzzles, she likes the noise the crates make when they tip over (and the fact that the game is meant for ages 8 to adult, so she feels like she is breaking the rules).  We found the beginner challenges to be too easy, and the intermediate challenges to be pretty hard.  Not my favorite, but it’s growing on me.

1-2-3 Oy!—R: 2 stars, me: 3 stars

This one comes with an instruction booklet including 10 different games, each with several variations.  We have only played the “Line OY!” game, and after playing it for a while, my daughter invented one of the variations on her own (I swear just for the purpose of beating me… but since it means more mental math, I’ll allow it).  This is the most blatantly educational game on the list, so much so that R said one night, “I am practicing my math facts while I’m playing this game.”  And yet, she still chooses it.  Spoiler alert: you could play the same game with regular playing cards.

9 to 1—R: 1 star, me: 2 stars

Lots of dice rolling, counting, addition and making small numbers (up to 12) in different ways.  This game has the perfect degree of challenge for my first grader—stretching her math skills without frustrating her too much.  Spoiler alert: you could play the same game with a piece of paper and different colored dice.

The teacher in me wants to mention that all of these games are great for developing different mathematical skills (not to mention turn-taking, communication skills and perseverance).  The mama in me wants to invite you over for game night.

What games are you playing with your kids?

Hope Wins

I like hope.

It’s an underrated virtue, I think.  Persistent, but not showy.

Hope is confidence in the waiting.  Eager expectation in the dark.

Hope is vision that sees just beyond the fall to the redemption.

Just beyond the struggle to the victory.

I like that the word translated hope in the New Testament means all this.

And it also means Jesus.

Hope comes easily for me sometimes.

The redemption, the victory is so close that I can almost taste it.

And then there are those times when the fall seems too hard.  The darkness too thick.  The waiting too ridiculously long.

Confidence fades.  Expectation flickers.  Vision fails.

And yet—

In all the hardness and thickness and longness, hope still wins.

Maybe not today.

Maybe not in the way we imagined.

But hope,

the one hope to which we were called (Ephesians 4:4)?

Hope still wins.

Throwback Thursday: Jesus and

(Originally written in 2011.  Particularly relevant to me this week as I am working on that “undivided heart” thing from Sunday.)

As a child, I remember hearing Old Testament stories and being perplexed at the idea of idols.  I couldn’t fathom grown ups bowing down to worship statues and golden cows.  It was preposterous!  The command was clear… don’t have any other gods.  And Israel (the nation that was supposed to be God’s) was clearly, blatantly, disobedient.

As an adult, I find it much easier to relate to the Israelites.  “Well, God sure is taking a long time answering this prayer,” I’ll say to myself, then I’ll look around and see what shiny thing catches my attention.  Don’t get me wrong, I still want Jesus, but my sentences start to have a lot of “Jesus ands” in them.  As in, “I’ll have enough as long as I have Jesus and ___.” Or “I’ll be happy as long as I have Jesus and ___.”  In high-school, it was often Jesus and my good reputation.  In college, it was Jesus and my new relationships or Jesus and my own particular way of understanding and living faith.  At one point, my “and”, my idol, became ministry.  Something good, something important, but something that Jesus had to dethrone because it was dividing my affections and loyalties.

As a young adult, it’s easy to think that all will be well as long as I have Jesus and guaranteed job security or Jesus and my degrees or Jesus and somebody who really understands me.  The fact remains, as easy as any of these statements might be to believe, they are simply not true.  The command is clear… love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.  And I (the one who is supposed to be God’s) am clearly, blatantly disobedient.

The “ands” that are hardest to dislodge aren’t specific to one particular situation or stage of life, though.  You know the ones.  They are the ones that seem to keep growing—consuming your time, your attention, your money.  They are the ones that you shove back into the dark corners of your mind because you’re scared that if you dare speak their name, your secret will be out.

When I think of these idols in my life, I’m reminded of the story of the Philistines (1 Samuel 5).  They had captured the ark of the covenant (the Old Testament symbol of God’s presence), so they carried it back to the temple of their god, Dagon.  They left it there and went home for the night.  The next morning, Dagon had fallen down before the ark.  Undeterred, they picked him up and put him right back in his place.  I do this sometimes, don’t you?  “Oops, God,” I’ll say, “that must have been an accident.  You know that I love you, and this isn’t really such a bad thing, right?”  I’ll dust it off and put it right back in its place.

But this was no mistake.  The next morning, Dagan was again on the floor, but this time his head and his hands had been broken off.  He was beyond repair.  Are you scared that if you speak your secret, your “and”, God will smash it smithereens?  I’m scared too.  I don’t like smashing.  But our God is jealous.  Just as God wouldn’t share the temple with Dagon, he wants our undivided attention, our undivided loyalty and our undivided devotion.  He wants us to love him enough, to trust him enough, to give him our “ands.”  All of them.

What if when we sang about laying down our dreams, our rights, our pride, we dared to turn the light on those dark corners?  What if we dared to speak the name of our “ands”?  What if we dared to denounce our idols and commit again to serving God alone?  I’m not sure what would happen (and I think it would likely involve smashing).  But I’m ready to give it a try.  Are you?

What I’m Watching: Love and Logic Strategies for Kids with Hurtful Pasts

I have a few friends who are rabid fans of Love and Logic.  I like them on Facebook.  I love their emphasis on teaching kids personal responsibility.  I’ve even attended several of their workshops to fulfill the ongoing training requirements for my foster care license.  The truth is, all of their strategies sound great in theory.  The rest of the truth is that parenting children who have experienced early trauma is completely different from parenting children who securely attached to you as infants.  I’ve always been a little worried that some of the no-nonsense Love and Logic techniques might not work so well with kids who are still working hard to resolve issues of grief and loss and attach to their caregivers.

Enter this webinar.  The speaker, Jedd Hafer, earned immediate credibility with me when he mentioned that he adopted two children from foster care.  This guy is not just spouting theories, he’s living the life of parenting toward healing.  Throughout the two hour webinar (yep, it’s a time commitment), he gave tons of information and told enough funny stories to keep me engaged.

The Love and Logic strategies mentioned in the webinar focus on helping kids understand three things:

I am safe.   Surely this is important for any kid, but I cannot stress enough how vitally important felt safety is for kids with hurtful pasts.  If they are afraid, you can praise, punish and logical consequence all day long and all you will get is the fear response of fight, flight or freeze.  Kids can process neither love nor logic in this heightened state, and Jedd gets that.  He gives helpful suggestions for preventing and deescalating this fear response, as well as for dealing with the fallout later—when everyone is calm.

I am heard.  So many kids with hurtful pasts feel like they have no control over their lives, so they grasp and cling to whatever scraps of power they can find.  Enter the food and bathroom issues that are so common among kids who have experienced early trauma.  Again, Jedd suggests ways to help kids understand that they have a voice, that they can have control over appropriate areas of their lives.

I am competent.  Here’s where the Love and Logic techniques that I’ve heard about before come into play.  After kids know that they are safe.  After they know they are heard.  When their bodies are calm, their hearts are open to receive love, and their brains are available to engage in logical thinking.  Of course.  Why didn’t I think of this before?

Informative, practical and decidedly hopeful, I’d recommend this webinar for foster and adoptive parents as well as anyone who loves a kid with a hurtful past.

You can find more information about this webinar here.

Disclaimer: Love and Logic did not reimburse me for this review.  They did provide access to the webinar and related resources.

Undivided Heart

Not long ago, I was struggling over a particular decision, so I gave God an ultimatum.

“I’m going to sit here,” I said, “until I get some kind of clarity on this.  What should I do?”

I sat.

And then my mind was drawn to Jesus’ words to Martha in Luke 10.

You are worried and distracted about many things.

Yep, so, so many.

But only one thing is needed.

Only one thing.

This is not the answer I wanted, but I knew in that moment, and I know now, that it is the right one.

This morning, I guess I needed reminding.

The words of Psalm 86:11 were spoken aloud and they resonated in my heart so loudly that I couldn’t hear much else.

Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth;

Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.

An undivided heart.

A heart that knows just one thing.

Even tonight, my heart wants to run every which way.

I am worried and distracted about many things.

So, so many.

But I plead alongside David.

And Martha.

For a heart that knows the only One who is necessary.

A heart undivided.

What I Know Two Years In


Tomorrow we will celebrate two years since we finalized my daughter’s adoption.  She had already lived with me for six months at that time, but we enjoyed an extra-long honeymoon period, and the poo was just beginning to hit the fan two years ago.  I told my mom recently that if I had it to do over again, I would parent differently.  She reminded me that everyone probably would.  I don’t presume to be a parenting expert, but here is what I know two years in.

Lots of stuff that I think should be important really isn’t.  What other people think about transracial adoption?  Not that important.  Meals cooked from scratch?  Not that important.  Homework completed perfectly?  Not that important.  Outfits that match in any conventional sense?  Not that important.  One hundred percent compliance?  Not that important.  Other people’s opinion of my parenting approach?  Not that important.  Perfectly styled hair?  It is through clenched teeth that I admit… not that important.  So, what is that important?  In our family, we prioritize physical safety, progress toward emotional health and secure attachment.  Everything else is gravy.

The village is vital.  When I became a mom, I was surprised at how reluctant I was to share the hard parts—even with the people who are closest to me.  Somehow I had this idea that since I had chosen motherhood and jumped through so many hoops to prove that I would be a good mother, I had no right to complain.  I feared that if I was honest about everything, people might somehow love my daughter less.  I was wrong.  If you are a friend who reminds me that I can still read books for fun, enjoy adult conversation and care about my own professional advancement, I need you.  If you are a friend who normalizes my experiences by telling me that all moms are overwhelmed and emotional and slightly obsessive, I need you.  If you are a friend who understands that parenting toward healing is hard, so much harder than you can even imagine unless you’ve done it, I need you.

My instincts are smarter than I like to admit.  I am a thinker.  I’ve never been one to go with my gut when there was an option to gather information and weigh the pros and cons of a particular decision.  The more I get to know my daughter, the more I am realizing that my first instinct (though maybe not what makes the most “logical” sense—at least to anything else) is very often what she needs most.  Though I am no expert on parenting or adoption, I know my daughter better than anybody else.  And my heart somehow knows her even better than my brain.

Story matters.  Along with our adoption day, this month my daughter will have spent more time in our home than anywhere else she’s lived.  This is huge.  When I became mom overnight, I underestimated the powerful effect that time and shared experience would have on helping my daughter and I bond.  I loved her as much as I possibly could two years ago.  I love her more today.  I love that she tells our story every day when she reminisces, “Mama, remember when we…”  I love that she is working hard to integrate our lives before each other (pictures, tons of pictures have been great for this) with our life together.  I love that we have traditions and inside jokes.  Stories do not happen overnight, and I love that we have a shared story now.

So that’s what I know.  What do you know now that you didn’t know when you first became a parent?