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.

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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.

Four Years Ago

Today, a busy four year old tells me what he learned in his class at church.

Jesus rescues!

He yells it again and again.

Today he “helps” me install new smoke detectors and put pizza in the oven.

Today he snuggles into my side as I read book after book.

It feels so ordinary.

But four years ago this week, I said one of the hardest goodbyes of my life.

It’s like a muscle memory, sneaking up on me.

And it still takes my breath and makes my eyes all leaky.

Four years ago, I asked myself what would calm my heart if this Little One were my baby.

I printed photos and wrote little notes.

I folded all the tiny baby things.

I watched my sister carry my daughter out of the house as she sobbed, begging for Little One to stay.

And I sat in the rocking chair and sang until my arms literally ached.

Four years ago, I hugged a social worker who told me I was one of the good ones.

And I tried not to cry when he thought maybe I should keep some of this stuff for the next baby.

No.  My heart instinctively knew.

That would hurt too bad.

Four years ago, I buckled one of my loves into his carseat, kissed his head and closed the door as he was carried into an unknown future.

People ask me sometimes if, in retrospect, I knew he would be back.

If I knew he would be here four years later sharing my home and my last name.

The honest answer is no.

Just as I hoped he might be my baby, I hoped too that I’d done things well if that was not to be.

Sometimes foster care feels like a zero-sum game.

Except with lives at stake.

My heart was rooting for his birthmama four years ago.

Even as I ugly cried in my living room and yelled at Jesus that I was so done with all of this.

I root for her still.

Life is hard enough without judgement.

There isn’t a tidy way to wrap up the story.

In adoption, happy endings are always tinged with loss.

I hated that day.

But it is part of my story.  The story of us.

And I love that story.

Enough

I didn’t even realize how raw this day still makes me until my redemption ache started leaking out of the corner of my eyes.

I like to, you know, hide it under all the things.

Make breakfast.  Empty the dishwasher. Clean the kitchen. Pick up the groceries.  Fold the laundry. Go to church.

It’s only after I’ve settled the little one into his class (no tears– woot!) that it all starts to crash.

This morning I can text one baby’s birthmom a beautiful picture but not the other one.

This is so unfair.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

A chance encounter at the grocery store reminds me of a festering wound in my own birth family.  One I would rather ignore.

This is so unfair.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

I am tired of praying for God’s will to be done on earth.

This business of redemption takes too long sometimes.

And then the music starts and it’s the lullaby I’ve sung to my sweet (and feisty) little one from the first day we met.

The song that reminds me that God has held me in seasons of feeling torn, in seasons of crushing grief.

And he is holding me still.

He loves us, oh how he loves us, oh how he loves.

It is what I need to hear today, when I don’t want to admit how raw I feel.

Maybe it’s what you need to hear too, friend.

You are loved.

Wildly, passionately, extravagantly loved.

It is enough.

Standing Stones

The one who calls you is faithful (1 Thess. 5:24)

I’m thinking about gratitude today.

It’s been one year since my home has been closed to foster care.

The five years before that were a tumultuous journey.

Years full of purpose and fire, full of a call that I couldn’t escape.

Years that brought, without a doubt, the most joy and the most heartache my soul has known this far.

Years that brought me my babies and also the hard realization that all the Little Ones are not mine.

This year has been quieter.

As the seasons have changed, I’ve been reminded of the faithfulness of the One who calls.

I want to raise an Ebenezer.

To mark these places.

Give me faith to trust what you say.

That you’re good and your love is great.

We sing these words this morning and my heart flashes back to sleep-deprived hours of singing them on repeat by the crib of a screaming Little One who had known too much chaos, too much transition already.

Tonight that Little One scurries around with a gaggle of other kids, dancing and running wild to Jesus-music.

Tonight as we snuggle he tells me to sing the Jesus-music louder.

So I do.

***

There were days when the waiting was excruciating.

Days when I yelled and pleaded to be done.

The promise is not that this story will end the way I hope,

I wrote on one of those hard days.

But that the Holy Spirit will come in power.

Friends, I watched him do that.

I watched the church show up to love me and my children well.

Walking with me into the halls where despair lost and love won.

Dragging me off the floor when I just couldn’t anymore.

Showing up and doing a thing.

Again.  And again.

***

As the air turns crisp again and the twinkle lights shine on the long winter nights,

I remember Little One’s first Christmas.

And the gaping hole in my heart not to be part of that day.  That story.

It was one of the darkest seasons of my life.

I know this is not how the story ends.

I wrote, undoubtedly choking on my own words.

I know joy comes.

In a very real way, I know Emmanuel.

Friends, it was not how the story ended.

Joy has come.

Joy is asleep in the other room.

Joy is the unruly tribe that foster care has brought me.

A motley crew we are—diverse in practically every way.

Sharing eyes and stories, bloodlines and passion.

We have walked through dark days together and celebrated wildly on happy ones.

My life is so full.

***

I’m thinking about gratitude today.

Grateful for a quieter year to remember.

To tell the stories.

To raise the standing stones.

Today I can tell you without a doubt that the One who calls you is faithful.