Archive for February 2014 | Monthly archive page

Real Love

Feb
2014
15

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Our Pastor’s wives meet monthly to share what’s going on in our lives, strategize about how we can better serve/pray, and to pray for one another (And, of course, to eat something that’s high in carbohydrates and drink a ton of coffee).

Last month when we met I shared that Josh and I have never been closer than we are right now. I laughed and said “I know it doesn’t make sense! But it’s true!” Why doesn’t it make sense? Because this year has been insaaaaaane, of course. If there were any year that should have been hard on our marriage, should have left us distant and frustrated, it was this one.

Our church hired two new pastors and we adopted an entirely new ministry model.  It was also Josh’s busiest year in ministry yet.  So that alone would have made this a more challenging year.

But add in the fact that we decided to adopt 2 kids from Uganda last February, went to get them in June, came back with them in July, and went from 2 to 4 children just like that, and that way madness lies. Like I said, if any year should have broken us, it was this one.

And it did. But not in the way you think.

Last night at dinner, Josh and I exchanged our cards for Valentines Day, our tenth Valentines Day together (don’t know how that happened). We got each other gifts, too, but since my husband cannot wait more than 5 minutes to give a gift once its in his possession, we exchanged gifts in January. So last night it was just the cards. Well, mine was just a card, and his was a BEAUTIFUL FIVE STANZA POEM THAT HE WROTE HIMSELF. I don’t deserve him. My card was cheesy, but what I wrote in the card…well, it was cheesy, too. But the point of what I said was this: This has been our best year. I’ve never loved or respected Josh more. He’s never loved or served me better. And this only makes sense because of Jesus.

When it comes right down to it, it is the world’s definition of love and marriage that doesn’t make sense. Because the world says love is a feeling. It says that romance is driven by feelings. It says that as long as we can keep that feeling going, we are okay.

Look, I like lovey feelings just as much as the next person, but can we all be honest and admit they aren’t LOVE. They may or may not last. They may come and go with good seasons and hard seasons. But either way they cannot sustain a marriage. They are not pillars of a house. They are the nice decorations on the inside. I love having a beautiful home, but nice home decor is kind of pointless if the pillars of the house are weak and everything comes crashing down. Obviously this analogy breaks down at a certain point, but I think you catch my drift.

Feelings shift and change. Especially when the going gets tough. When Josh and I were engaged we had this huge fight one night in the car (mostly because we were sick of being engaged, I think), and once we had cooled down a bit he kind of jokingly asked, “Do you still love me?” And I sighed and said through my teeth, “I’m choosing to love you right now.” He burst out laughing and so did I. But he almost always tells that story in premarital counseling because he wants people to know that there comes a moment in every relationship when you do NOT have loving feelings toward a person, but you choose to love them.

This love, the love that is a choice, can only really come from knowing and loving and imitating Jesus. And from Him living in and working through you. You might not like that, you may want to try and find a way to do it on your own, but it’s true. We are told in Scripture, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” True love is a complete laying down of self. And I love myself way too much to lay my self down. Unless I’ve got the Spirit of God Himself making it possible for me to do what His son did. Which is exactly what happens for those who have called on Jesus as their savior.

So when I say this year has been our best, what I really mean is that it has brought us to our knees. It has brought us to the end of ourselves. I can remember sitting in our room in Uganda, the kids asleep in the bed next to us, admitting to each other how much less spiritual we are than we thought we were. We’d emptied our savings, we’d been in a completely foreign country for three weeks, we were struggling to know these two new kids of ours, we were desperately missing our girls back home, we had no idea how much longer we’d be there, and we had to admit that we couldn’t do any of it. We were totally dependent upon Jesus.
Of course we are always that dependent. It’s just that the comforts of this life dull our awareness of it. Our dependence came into sharp focus on this adoption journey. Real love would be required of us, for each other, for our children. And we’d only find it in Jesus.

 

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That month in Uganda was amazing for us. We wouldn’t trade a moment of it. We learned more about each other, more about our weaknesses and our strengths (though it mostly felt like weaknesses). And aside from all that we learned spiritually, we got to do some totally new and exciting things together. Like attend a traditional introduction ceremony, stand on the shores of Lake Victoria, and lead worship together at a village church (and you should know, Four Oaks, that that will never happen here. And you should be thankful).

I have to admit, I kind of hope this next year is easier than the last one. That maybe a little bit less will be required of us. That maybe we can sacrifice a little bit less. But I pray the opposite. Because I know the truth, that there’s joy in learning real, sacrificial love. More of this kind of love, please.

I want to SLEEP

Feb
2014
07

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This morning when my alarm went off at 5:30, one of my first thoughts was, “Oh my gosh. Charlie didn’t wake up in the middle of the night.” And then I smiled, seriously SMILED, at 5:30 in the morning because I had been allowed to sleep all the way through the night without interruption. This is how much I love sleep.

It’s funny how mad I get about just one middle of the night sleep interruption these days. After all, didn’t I survive having a newborn twice? So you’d think I’d be totally patient about it, because it’s not as if she’s waking me up every 3 hours and then making me sit with my eyes propped open for 20 minutes so she can have a snack. But, honestly, the DAY that newborn phase is over, I go back to being shocked, SHOCKED, when I am woken up in the middle of the night. “What are you doing?!” I want to cry out. “We had an agreement, you and I! I sustain your life for the first 6 months and then you let me SLEEP.” I have a tiny bit more patience when they’re sick. Tiny bit. But that’s it.

So right now, Charlie is in one of those phases where she wakes up in the middle of the night most nights. And I tell myself not to let it drive me crazy but then I’m woken from my deepest REM cycle by the cries of a 3 year old whose blanket doesn’t feel right or book fell off the bed and all my rationality goes out the window. “Charlie. Move the blanket. Reach down two feet and PICK THE BOOK UP. I do not need to be in here for this nonsense.” If she’s going to the bathroom, she can’t just go to the bathroom and get back in bed. She has to stop by my bed, wake me up to tell me she has to go potty, use MY bathroom, cry about how bright the bathroom light is, and then cry when her pants are back on crooked. And then she needs me to carry her back to bed after all of this emotional exhaustion. And then when we get back to the bed we discover that a book has fallen on the floor and we’re back to square one.

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The thing is, this really only lasts about 10 minutes, at most, so why does it irritate me so?? Because sleep is one of my many, many idols that I’ve got to put to death. It’s the idol I’ve had to put to death in order to FINALLY start getting up early to read the Word of God and talk to Jesus. And it’s not that sleep is BAD. Obviously sleep is good. God created it for our good. But, of course, we create idols in our hearts when we look at something good God’s created and love it more than we ought to.

From everything I had read and heard, I expected that parenting would be a sanctifying adventure. But that sleep deprivation that came when Reagan was a newborn was the first of many moments that made me go, “Ooooohhhh. I see.” Because I just couldn’t do it. I became an emotional mess. I cried every day, multiple times a day.

I recently heard a woman on NPR describing the three ways people respond to newborn sleep deprivation. She said there are people who handle it really well. Who don’t need as much sleep anyway and aren’t too phased by having a newborn. And then there are people who are somewhat affected. They get really cranky and snippy, but they push through it and are able to function. And then there are people who completely fall apart. I’m in the last camp.

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(I don’t even remember this. Or which baby that is. That’s how badly I handle the sleep-deprivation.)

So the reason this is (or has the potential to be) so very sanctifying, is that holiness comes when we admit, “I cannot do this. I’m desperate for your help, Jesus.” And he does it for us. In that sense, that season was a miracle for me. Because I felt like falling apart but I didn’t. I cried all the time but then I had joy. I had to face the fact that I felt like I couldn’t be happy and functional without 8 hours of sleep a night and then learn that sleep is not better than Jesus. Depending on Jesus is actually better than sleep. Well, my body didn’t think that, but my mind learned it. And continues to learn it, obviously.

Of course, that crazy newborn phase subsides and I have to learn how to continue to not love sleep more than Jesus when I’m getting the sleep I need. Isn’t that how our idols work? They come crashing down in the moment of stress, when we see how little they can satisfy. But the moment normal life begins again we start to rebuild those broken idols, piecing them back together. But there are all of these cracks in that idol now, so it’s easily broken again. And again, and again. And eventually I pray I just won’t even be able to piece it back together anymore.

I know this all sounds like a lot of thought about something as small as sleep. But I’ve learned, I continue to learn, that these small idols are the real battlegrounds. Sometimes there are huge idols exposed, but generally we all struggle with many little ones like this one. And we need Jesus in the seemingly small struggles as desperately as in the big ones.

So I thank God for the wonderful, restorative full-nights sleep. But I think I must thank Him, too (when I’m over being so irritated. Or perhaps to GET me over being so irritated) when my 3 year old wakes me up every night. Because it’s keeping that sleep idol smashed on the ground. And there is more to thank Him for in that than in getting a good night’s sleep.

 

February Reading

Feb
2014
06

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Is it February already? Good grief. Well, in January I planned to read A Praying Life and Mere Christianity. It was a super busy month for us ministry-wise, but I managed to finish the former and am about 2/3 through the latter.

You guys, I said it before, but I’m saying it again. If you have not read A Praying Life, read it. Like, go buy it today and start reading it. Now, I’m not typically one to advocate a book that strongly, especially Christian books because Christians gravitate toward the next best-selling spiritual book over going to the Bible. So I will typically say, eh, read the Bible instead. And yes, read your Bible people.

BUT, read this book, too, if you can. Most of us live busy, distracted lives. And we need to go to Jesus. We just want to do do do, but we need to go to Jesus. And be like Mary who sat at his feet. And be like the tax-collector who said, “Have mercy on me, a sinner!” And cry out, as Paul instructed us, “Abba, Father!” And just continually receive the grace that sustains. We’re meant to be constantly repenting, conversing, pleading, praising. Instead we avoid Him, trying to do it all without Him. This is just the tip of the iceberg that is this book. It’s intensely personal, very Biblical, and wonderfully practical. So read it; I promise you won’t regret it.

“What do I lose when I have a praying life? Control. Independence. What do I gain? Friendship with God. A quiet heart. The living work of God in the hearts of those I love. The ability to roll back the tide of evil. Essentially, I lose my kingdom and get his. I move from being an independent player to a dependent lover. I move from being an orphan to a child of God.” (A Praying Life, 126)

I haven’t finished Mere Christianity but I will in the next week or so. C.S. Lewis is so witty and winsome and enjoyable to read. Anytime I read anything by him, I want to read everything by him. It’s reminding me of what a delight it is to be constantly going deeper into knowing Christ. It’s an endless, wonderful journey.

“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”  (Mere Christianity, 50)

So, I’ll finish that, and I’ve got a couple more books on my list for February.

First, a dear friend gave me True Companion: Thoughts on Being a Pastor’s Wife for Christmas. This is by Nancy Wilson, who spoke at that conference we went to. Aside from her blog posts, I’ve read one other book by her, The Fruit of Her Hands, and I loved it. I read that one early in our marriage and it was one of the most impacting books I read during that season. I commend it to you, but fair warning, it is very Complimentarian (as am I!). If you’re not quite so Complimentarian you might not love it quite so much as I did.

So I’m excited to read this one as well, which speaks specifically to my calling as a pastor’s wife. Plus, look at this cover! The fact that there isn’t a tea cup or woman standing on the beach with her arms flung wide is incentive enough to read it. (Oh hush. I kid, I kid. I love those books, too). But this is a great cover.

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I’ll also be reading The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller. This was given to all of our pastor’s and elder’s wives last night at our quarterly meeting, and after hearing about it’s content from our darling guest speaker, I have no doubt it will be wonderful.

Both of those books I just mentioned are fairly short, so chances are, I will actually finish them both this month! Oh, and I’m also re-reading Pride and Prejudice right now, and planning to read all of Jane Austen’s books again this year. Because, duh, you can never have too much Jane Austen.

The Age Conundrum

Feb
2014
02

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So, if you’ve asked us in the last 7 months how old our adopted kids are, you may have received varying answers depending on what week or month it was. In August we would have just looked confused and begun the long tale for you. In September we might have simply told you they were 4 and 2. And in October, 5 and 3. Now we typically we say they are 5 and 2. But I guess eventually we’ll be back to 5 and 3, because that’s technically how old they are. Only probably not.

Confused yet? Join the club.

See, back in February after we had decided to adopt the kids, we had only my brief time with them to go on, and I based their ages on their sizes and thought them to be about 4 and 2. But in April we received an email that included their birthdates, both April, 2008 and 2010 respectively. This would make Eva 3 months older than Reagan and Titus 1 month younger than Charlotte. Weird, I thought, they didn’t seem to be quite that old. But there was nothing we could do about that, and we began to adjust to the thought of having two 5 year olds and two 3 year olds. We went ahead with school plans accordingly, enrolling Eva in Kindergarten and Titus in a 3 year old preschool class.

Now let’s talk about the BIG BIRTH-ORDER NO-NO we were committing. If you don’t know anything about adoption, you don’t know what I’m talking about, but believe me, it’s in all-caps for a reason. People are freaked out about birth-order. I was freaked out about birth order. According to the experts, the ones who have written the books, you should NOT adopt out of birth order. We were already going against the rules by adopting Eva, who would be older than Charlie, but now we find out that she would be older than the oldest and that is simply not done.

We weren’t changing our minds about the adoption or anything, but this news definitely freaked me out a little. Were we going to completely wreck Reagan by adopting a little girl who would take her place as oldest? Would there be constant tension between these two, fighting for that position? In the end I supposed we’d just have to deal with the fall out. But I was definitely nervous about it.

Can I be real with you for a minute? I think, in retrospect, that this birth-order obsession is dangerous, selfish and harmful to the cause of adoption.

Please hear me out. I think that the whole “kids have certain tendencies based on their birth order” concept is valid. Firstborns tend to be a certain way, depending on their gender, and middle children, and youngest, and so on and so forth. Just listen in on a conversation between moms about their children and you’ll hear things like “Mine does that TOO! Do you think it’s because they’re both oldest?”

BUT, when we let such modern, secular concepts dictate our care for those in need, we should wake up and take notice. The call is to care for the orphan and widow, not to care for the one who most conveniently fits into my specific plans. We ought not to fear such things as “messing up birth order.” I believe that the God we serve is quite a bit bigger than such issues. And is able to handle them easily. And, I might add, it is yet one more thing that drives me to my knees in prayer. Lord, help Reagan and Eva. They are both the oldest. Help them to co-exist. Give me wisdom when it’s challenging.

Please don’t hear what I’m NOT saying. I don’t think birth order is irrelevant or unimportant. I think it’s legitimate to consider it, especially with large age gaps. And there are other factors, too, such as where a child has been and what they’ve experienced. This may make it unsafe to adopt an older child. All I’m saying is that it is good to ask, “What am I holding tightly too? Am I placing my preferences or my comfort above God’s calling and His power to care for our family?”

So, back to our particular issue. We went into our trip to Uganda with the assumption that we’d be bringing back this 5 and 3 year old. But in no time at all we were really questioning this. For one thing, they were both so very small. But this could be explained, we supposed, by malnutrition, and ethnicity. After all, most of the people we met there were not overly tall or big, so that could have something to do with it. But, more than that, they seemed to be developmentally behind. It was especially clear that Titus could not possibly be 3. He was barely 2 in my estimation. And in the end his age, at least, was confirmed by his birth mother, who told us he was definitely 2. But to try to change it in the Ugandan system would either extend our stay indefinitely or force us to go home without the kids and come back for them when it had all been sorted out. I know that sounds crazy to your American ears but if you had been through their court system you would not be surprised by that. So, of course, we didn’t even consider this as an option.

Why on earth were their ages so off? This was my question and it is probably yours after reading all of this. But again, it is just so hard for us to imagine because all we know is the way we do things. And we live in the most developed society in the world. And we are given birth certificates THE DAY WE ARE BORN. And it’s virtually impossible for your age to just slip through the cracks.

Most children there are born without the aide of a doctor. There is no record-keeping involved in this. I’m sure many of the mothers know the birthdays of their own children, but it’s not entered into a computer or a system or anything. In the case of our own children, we think (we do not know, this is definitely conjecture) that when their grandmother brought them to the orphanage, she gave them birth dates that were incorrect because she didn’t know the dates herself.

Well, without the option of getting things fixed there in Kampala, Josh and I began to talk about changing their ages when we got back. I had heard of this being done, and we decided that, if possible, we would simply move their birthdays forward a year each, making them 4 and 2. We also went ahead and emailed the schools and reserved spots for them in younger classes. So we came home fairly confident that we were back to the 5,4,3,2 game plan we had started with.

Wrong. Guess what? We couldn’t change their ages. I won’t go into the very long legal reason for this but it just simply isn’t done much anymore. It has to do with immigration and homeland security and all sorts of other things. SO. We were back to 5 and 3. But thinking this was probably wrong for Eva and knowing for certain it was wrong for Titus, we had unexpected decisions to make.

This actually turned out to be really good for me. Already this adoption had exposed my attachment to my plans for the future, and once again my expectations for how the future would go were shaken. I found myself worrying a lot about what we would do. We knew Eva wasn’t ready for kindergarten and yet waiting another year meant she’d be behind a grade for her age, a year behind Reagan. So she’d be older than Reagan but behind her in school. Then we discovered that VPK would not be covered because Eva is 5 and kids must be 4 to qualify. We tried, in vain, to find some loop-hole or exception to this. There wasn’t one. So now we either had to pay for it out of pocket or keep her home. And then in a couple years face the same issue with Titus all over again.

The reason this was so good for me is it forced me back to that question I’d been asking since we’d felt called to this adoption. What’s really important here?! I can tell you right now, the answer is NOT that my kids be exactly the right age for the grade they’re in. And yet we become obsessed with these sorts of things as parents, especially here in the states. I was forced to remember where my kids had come from and just calm down. It was ok that Reagan and Eva would have issues as joint-eldest in the family. It was ok that Eva and Titus would be older than everyone in their grade. It was ok that things weren’t perfect. There were, there are, more important things at stake than everything being smooth and seamless with my kids.

And once I began to let that go I embraced all the good that can come from this. It was a conversation starter ever time someone asked, “How old are the kids?” Because I could tell their incredible story. The story of how these 2 came from having no certainty at all, even about their own birth, to being a part of a family. I cannot wait to celebrate these kids birthdays, regardless of how accurate or inaccurate they are. Because, in the end, the age isn’t really so important. They are here in our family now, and that’s what really matters.