Christmas Eve

Once upon a dark December, a preacher prepped his sermon for Christmas Eve.  Maybe he was tired.  Maybe he wished that he could kick back on the sofa and watch a movie with his kids instead.  I’m not really sure.  But nonetheless, he prepped.  And prayed.

And on that Christmas Eve, he spoke those words and Power blew through.  On that night, they were the precise words that Jesus would use to snatch a little girl’s heart… a little girl too serious for her own good.  A little girl who knew the words already, who had heard and read the same truth since always, but whose heart was ready on that night.  Ready to welcome Emmanuel.

It wasn’t an outwardly dramatic conversion by any definition.  There was no altar-call.  No pressure of every head bowed and every eye closed.  There were no public declarations on that day and it’s very possible that the preacher never really knew that anything had changed.

But for a little girl, everything had changed.  It was the sprouting of a seed of faith that would hold her fast through the angst of adolescence, the idealism of young adulthood and the bone-deep exhaustion of a stint in full-time ministry (and later– single parenthood).  She was not a feeler– that little girl.  And still she is not.  But that night sparked a knowing deeper than words, deeper than feelings that would hold her through the fragrant springtimes of life and also through the dark, frozen winters.

It was a little girl’s faith on that night.  Shiny and new.  It’s been beaten up a little around the edges as it’s tumbled through the realities of life and the scrutiny of hard questions.  It feels different today– wider and messier, but also very much the same.  That night.  That sermon.  That Power.  For one little girl, it changed everything.

So, friends.  If you are prepping your sermon for Christmas Eve tonight, be encouraged.  Prep and pray and let Power sweep on through.  You never know who is listening.  And, maybe, for one of them, it will be the night that changes everything.

Plan B

Little One and I are playing with legos tonight.

While Sister is at youth group, he has Mama all to himself for one glorious evening and he takes full advantage.

I’ve been tasked with building a house and I am digging through the pile of pieces to find just the right shape and size. And then I run out.

It’s ok, Mama, Little One reassures.  Just try Plan B!

I’m not sure where he learned this phrase, but it makes me chuckle as he picks out a random mish-mash of pieces that ruffle my still-too-perfectionist-for-my-own-good tendencies.

Once upon a time, I was young and idealistic.  I was considering becoming a single mom by choice and I imagined a few folks in my circle bristling at the thought because “kids should grow up with a mom and a dad.”

I didn’t want to be Plan B.

But here’s the thing.  Adoption… as beautiful as it can be at times, is rooted in loss.  In a world without sin, parents who birthed children wouldn’t struggle with poverty, addiction or mental illness.  In a world without sin, there would be no such thing as trauma.  In a world without sin, social workers and public defenders and foster parents wouldn’t need to exist.

But friends, none of us are on God’s Plan A.  We are all a hot mess, desperately in need of rescue and redemption… no matter how our families were formed.

It’s true that Little One has known too much of Plan B… before his adoption and after it too.  Our life doesn’t look the way I imagined it.  I wish I could give more to this sweet boy who gobbles my undivided attention like candy.  So much more.  And right now I just cannot.

Look, Mama! he chirps, snapping the last piece into the fence he’s made to surround our imperfect lego house.  Plan B is awesome!

Indeed it is, sweet boy.  It may not be perfect, but Plan B leaves room for grace, for redemption songs.  It leaves room for receiving help and watching God provide.  It leaves room for telling the truth and making someone else feel less alone– and making you feel less alone in the process.  It may not be perfect, but some days, Plan B is pretty stinkin’ fantastic.

 

An omer of manna

A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with my pastor. We don’t talk often, but when we do, he has my back. Poo had hit the fan (again) and his question was blunt.

Are there financial needs that we can help you meet?

My answer was honest. There really weren’t. Thanks to great insurance and some other resources we are able to access, money was far, far down on my list of concerns.

A week later, I thought about calling my pastor back. At the suggestion of a friend of mine (who also happens to be a trauma-informed therapist and a fellow adoptive mom), we made an appointment with a holistic doctor. His approach to diagnosis and treatment is outside of the realm of “things covered by insurance.”

We spent a good chunk of change (and a good number of hours) at his office. And we came home with a ton more non-medicinal things to try. Whether they bring relief or not is still to be determined. But we came home with a box full of supplements and hope that we hadn’t yet exhausted all of our options.

Honestly, it’s money I can afford to spend and whether it buys us a little hope, a placebo effect or a miracle cure, I don’t regret it a bit. It’s just that the offer had been made literally days before.

I was reminded of a story that Richard Foster tells of letting God know that he needed a pair of gloves (even if he could easily afford them) and then pausing to see if God might provide them another way before buying them. And if not, buying them with gratitude to a God who provided the resources in the first place.

I didn’t make that call. I didn’t tell anybody how expensive that lengthy appointment was (though, to be fair, my big girl did… so it’s possible that word leaked that way). I just paused.

And, YOU GUYS, yesterday I got an envelope in the mail all ransom-letter looking. No handwriting. No return address. I was half-expecting it to be a Jehovah’s Witness pamphlet (why do they send those with no return address anyway? What if I wanted to convert? Where would I go?). But no. It was a check. A ridiculously generous check that covered a whole bunch of that investment in holistic hope. Like almost all of it.

This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness.’ (Exodus 16:32)

Friends, we’ve been walking in the wilderness for half a year now. I keep thinking that we’ve turned the corner. Surely, we’ve turned the corner.

I don’t like the wilderness much. It makes me feel needy and dependent. Like all I’m doing is taking. And grumbling. And needing even more.

The wilderness sucks, friends. But the manna is still sweet. And still enough. And still there every. Single. Day.

And so, I want to gather up this omer of manna, this story of just right provision, just like Moses and Aaron. To bottle it up and save it and share it and use it as a reminder. To you– but mostly to me– that even here in the wilderness there is enough. Always enough. Because He is enough.

Why I still go to church

I have church issues. Living in a pastor’s home for my growing-up years gave me a front row seat to the good, the bad and the ugly done in Jesus’ name.

Coupled with my natural tendency to see the cup as already half-empty, I ended up pretty guarded and distrustful. Jesus, I could get behind. His people, not always so much.

And still…

Today I am reminded, I know in the core of my being, that it’s right for me to be here. Gathered with other messy, broken people who are desperately needy for grace. Even when we disagree on how loud the music should be or whether we should vote right or left, we all eat the same body, drink the same blood.

There are lots of reasons why I still go to church… maybe one day I will write about more of them. But today, the reason is this: I can breathe here.

As I’ve mentioned before, this is a hard season for our family. Trauma sucks. Mental health services are hard to find and keep and schedule and finance. I’m tired in every possible sense of the word.

We’re dealing with problems that don’t have easy answers. One situation in particular I’ve obsessed over and brainstormed about and  googled and fretted on for many hours without any good solutions. It makes my brain explode. It makes my chest tighten.

But here I can breathe. I am surrounded with love. With grace that doesn’t judge. My heart is free to hope a little and my brain gets stretched in different ways… thinking of new options, new possibilities for what feels impossible.

Church doesn’t make everything better. It doesn’t even make anything easier. But it gives me a moment to breathe. To hope. To believe that we will get through this. And even if it’s messy, even when it’s ugly, I know I have a safe space to rest and breathe for just a moment.

Today, this is why I go to church.

Together

For some reason, my writing inspiration seems to dry up when everything is going well.

It’s only when my mind is unsettled and disquiet, when my soul is churning that the words come fast and hard.

This last month has wreaked havoc on our little family. We are good fakers, of course, so out in public it is only the heart-listeners, the edge-sweepers who notice that we are anything other than fine.

We are not fine.

Trauma sucks.

It is not a wound neatly stitched shut with love and Jesus and therapy.

It’s more like a funky scab, seeming to be ok for a minute, then getting bumped or scratched in just the wrong way and pouring out more blood and mess than you’ve ever seen before.

More love. More Jesus. More therapy.

More pulling close when everything inside says you should be pushing away.

More googling all the things that might make you feel like you have a little bit of power in a situation where you feel straight powerless.

More stop-gap measures to relieve the pressure before it explodes. Again.

It is an exhausting way to live.

I’ve read all the things about adoption. About trauma.

And so many times, I’ve read of the isolation. Of folks who had initially supported an adoption backing away when the poo hit the fan. Even saying really helpful things like

You knew what you were getting yourself into.

No.

Not here.

Not in this story.

This past month, we’ve called in all the reinforcements.

And, friends, they have showed the heck up.

With food (of course).

And fasting.

And rides.

And the moral support of literally just sitting (and sleeping) in places that help us feel safer.

This past month, we’ve spoken together these things that I used to think could not co-exist.

God is good and life is almost unbearably hard.

We are hopeful. And also terrified.

We believe in healing and are sitting right in the middle of the mess of brokenness.

Love wins. And trauma sucks.

It helps to tell the truth. To speak it out loud where the darker parts lose the power of silence.

We are not fine.

And we are in good company here.

Where we speak things that we used to believe could not co-exist.

Together.

 

Faithful

Nothing wasted.

She smashed the jar of expensive perfume, giving her best, anointing her Savior’s feet.  They scoffed, the religious ones. What a waste. And she looked away in shame.

But her faithful Savior knew better.  No, no, he spoke gently, taking her chin in his hands.  It’s not wasted, my beloved daughter. It’s not wasted. It’s beautiful.

Nothing wasted.

Those are the words that came as I said yes to fostering a newborn.  My first adoption from foster care, though not easy by any definition of the word, was just about as uncomplicated and straightforward as such things can be.  I knew when I saw her picture that this sweet girl was my daughter. She moved in and six months later, a judge made our little family official.

This was different.  I welcomed this tiny one into our home, into our family with a future much less certain to everyone– myself included.

I mixed his bottles.  I changed his diapers.  I sang songs about Jesus to him at all hours of the night.  I loved him fiercely.

Four months later, I buckled him into his carseat and kissed his head as the social worker carried him off into the arms of another mama who loved him.  A mama who was trying hard to break heavy chains and do right by her baby.

People ask me if deep down somewhere, I knew he would be back.  That he was my son. The truth is that, though I hoped he would be back forever, I also prayed desperately– as passionately as I’ve ever prayed for anything– that Jesus would help his mama break those heavy chains so she could parent him safely.  Foster care is complicated like that.

Nothing wasted.

The next two years brought a whirlwind of emotions that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.  Little One moved in and out of my home three more times in a case that seemed like it couldn’t get any more complicated.  The twists and turns were frustrating. The wait for permanence was agonizing. I wore high heels to court and outlasted four social workers and the big boss.  I screamed at Jesus in my car, crying hot tears that splashed on the steering wheel. I wondered if I was a bad mom for putting my daughter through all this drama when her life had been hard enough already.  I was a wreck. And my God was faithful.

I knew his faithfulness in the words of his people who whispered hope and healing into my ears on the days when my arms ached to hold a baby.  In the verses they wrote on cards that I read again and again when it all felt like a waste. In the moments that we sat together and, words failing, just cried.

I knew his faithfulness in the times his people chose to just show up and do something… to bring me food, to watch my daughter, to walk beside me into court, to boldly ask, “hey… do you want to talk about the baby or do you not want to talk about the baby?”

I knew his faithfulness in the prayers bombarding heaven on my behalf.  I remember one morning I felt like I literally couldn’t even get off the floor, stumbling under the heaviness of what felt like a never-ending fight.  And two sisters came right alongside me, approaching the throne of grace with confidence that I couldn’t manage, holding up my arms when I was so exhausted I wasn’t sure how I could fight any more.

I knew his faithfulness in financial provision.  Because this case was so complicated, I paid my lawyer to do a few adoption related things that weren’t reimbursed by my agency.  I wasn’t worried about it and nobody else knew how much I had paid… but one day soon after, sweet friends handed me an envelope full of encouraging words and cash in that exact amount.  Extravagant provision by a faithful God.

I know his faithfulness in the relationships that I’ve been able to build with Little One’s birth family.  In the moments that I’ve been able to look into his other mama’s eyes and tell her the truth about herself… that she is loved.  That she is worthy.

I know his faithfulness in the unruly tribe that foster care has brought me.  Several of Little One’s siblings were adopted by other families in our town. We are able to get together regularly and watching all of our kids interact is one of the great joys of my life.  Some connected by genes, others by commitment, onlookers can never quite pick out which is which.

And, of course, I know his faithfulness in the everyday moments, the mornings that I wake up and can’t believe that I actually get to parent these two incredible human beings.  The nights I collapse exhausted because being a single parent is just plain hard.

Nothing wasted.  I can say it with certainty now, with conviction.

And it’s true for you too.  Don’t look away in shame, sister.  Others might scoff, but your faithful Savior knows better.  No, no, he’s speaking gently. It’s not wasted, my beloved one.  It’s not wasted. It’s beautiful.

When Christmas is messy

My kiddos sometimes make up song lyrics when they don’t know the actual words (maybe we all do this?).

My daughter’s rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen sounds like this:

Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day

To save his sons and daughters from our terrible mistakes…

I think it’s perfect.

First, yay for gender inclusivity.

But also, I think Jesus’ deliverance doesn’t stop at Satan’s power.

I think he came to save us from our terrible mistakes too.

Can I be honest for a second?

My little family has watched the fallout from some terrible mistakes this year.  

My babies know too much of advent, too much of leaning into the ache between the now and not yet of redemption.  I want to wrap them up in my own childish naivety, but it is not to be.

Ever since I chose to enter the beautiful mess that is foster care and adoption, Christmas has been tinged with longing, with grief.

And this year is no different.

But I believe that Jesus is no stranger to the mess.

I’ve never birthed a child, it’s true.

But I’ve heard that the process is pretty messy.

Not nearly as sweet and serene as our nativity scenes portray.

I haven’t spent much time in barns, either.

But I doubt the first Christmas night smelled too great.

I believe there were blood, sweat and tears that night.

I imagine that though it was holy, it likely wasn’t silent.

The night that heaven broke through.

That Love came near.

And there, in the mess.  In the stench. In the din.

Emmanuel.

The with-us God.

The One born to save us from Satan’s power.

And our own terrible mistakes.

And so

If Christmas feels messy for you this year,

Know that you are not alone.

You are in good company, friend.

I believe that Jesus is here too.

Even when Christmas is messy.