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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.

 

 

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So dinner time in the Hughes house usually goes one of two ways.

1) We all sit down together at “the big table” (ie the dining room table) and eat together and we all share our “bests” of the day (“played with friends” “had fun with mommy”…or if you’re Charlie, a completely made up story about something that didn’t actually happen). Then Josh reads a chapter out of the Jesus Storybook Bible (this is starting to get fun now that the kids pay attention and ask questions). Then we pray and sing a few songs. Aw, so picturesque right?

(I was recently talking to a friend at church about how I haven’t been going over Bible verses with my kids. At all. And she thanked me for telling her that because she pictures us all sitting around singing hymns while Josh plays the guitar every night. April, this second way that dinner time goes is for you, to dispel that image.)

2) Josh and I are like, no, we cannot sit at a table with these children. They are nuts. And we make them sit at the kitchen table and we sit in the dining room by ourselves. They’re only about 5 feet away but somehow it helps.

Tonight was just such a night, and we had about 10 minutes to talk before the kids were like, hey, you can’t banish us, and they were climbing all over us. Josh was sitting with his feet propped up on the table and Reagan climbed into his lap. And I looked at her, spanning from his chest to his ankles, and immediately thought of a picture of him holding her when she was about 2 months old and did that thing parents do where I COULD NOT BELIEVE HOW HUGE SHE IS. So I ran upstairs and found the picture and brought it down and we were all oohing and aahing over how cute Reagan was as a baby.

And Eva walked up and looked at the picture and smiled. “Awwww,” she said. Which always makes me laugh because “awwww” is a learned expression for her. She sees all of us doing it and mimics it, so it feels a little off coming from her. Like she’s not sure why she’s saying it but knows it’s the right thing to say.

But then her next words, oh how they cut straight to my heart. “Where is one of me, mommy?”

And just like that my laughter and smiling turns to tears welling up in my eyes. Her daddy pulls her in tight and says, “We don’t have any of you as a baby, sweetie, but we have a lot of pictures from when mommy and daddy came to get you in Uganda. Would you like to see those?” She insists that she wants to see one of her as a baby, but as he flips through all the pictures on his phone she is distracted and begins to delight in seeing herself caught on camera.

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I am not an overly sentimental mom, but oh how this breaks my heart. It brings to mind so many things, those things I often just choose not to think on. Because as I think of them as babies, I cannot help but think of their other mother. My children will always have two mothers. Titus will not, in all likelihood, remember. But Eva, dear Eva, I think there are some memories there. There have been hints of it. There is some confusion, there, about mothers. Abandoned by hers so early, acting as one herself to her younger brother. It has been, and continues to be, a slow process, her allowing me to be the mother.

There is so much I don’t know. I think of my memories of Reagan and Charlie, all of those detailed memories that began the days they were born. I have none of those for Eva and Titus. Someone else does.

On the day of our court hearing in Uganda, I sat in the car with the children’s mother for about 30 minutes while we were waiting (there was a lot of waiting in cars). It was just her, the kids, and me. We sat in uncomfortable silence for a while but eventually we began to attempt conversation. She knew very little English and I know like 4 Lugandan words, so this was difficult, but I managed to ask her, mostly through use of my hands, how Titus got a scar on his nose. She conveyed, through broken English and hand motions, that he had fallen and hit his nose on a rock when he was a little younger. That moment was the moment for me. This woman, no matter what she’s done or where she is now, she is their mother. All of those baby memories I have of my Reagan and Charlie, she has for Eva and Titus.

But herein lies the beauty of adoption. Because it doesn’t matter. Oh, of course those memories matter. They matter deeply to me, deeply to this woman who bore them. But it doesn’t matter that I don’t have those memories. I am still a mother to them. They have a new identity and it is a beautiful identity. An identity that has given them mother and father and sisters and grandparents and aunts and uncles. It is theirs fully.

So we make new memories, and take lots of pictures, but we don’t shy away from the heartbreak because it is part of their story. Tonight I am so grateful that even though I’ll never know what those early years were like for my children, God does know. Oh, He knows so well. And He already knew that I would be their mother, long before I did. And in that I take comfort and find peace.

Remembering

Jan
2014
13

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Most days I don’t tend to dwell too much on my children’s past as orphans. I don’t know if this is good or bad or normal. I don’t know that there really is a “normal” when it comes to adoption. But the fact is that our daily life is just fairly ordinary, the kids we’ve adopted are remarkably well adapted, and I just don’t spend a ton of time thinking about their past. They are our children. They feel like our children. They respond to us as our own children.

But there are days, like today, when it’s a constant drumming thought in my mind. Days when we sing in church, “In the night when all our hope is lost/You are the One who won’t give up on us/You hold the orphan in your loving arms” and my eyes fill with tears and I remember – so vividly I remember – holding those children in my arms that night in the car in the parking lot of the airport in Entebbe. So willingly they came into our arms, so deep was their need for a mother and a father.

On days like today, everywhere I look I think of Uganda, of Kampala, of the orphanage. I think of the unclean water and the distended bellies and the relentless snotty noses. I think of the house-mothers who work tirelessly to cook, bathe, dress, teach all these orphans. I think of those children by name. I think of them all curling up for a nap in the middle of the day on that big blue tarp laid out over the concrete floor. I think of the one who sat in the corner and wept silent tears because there weren’t enough balls to go around but he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. I think of how afraid Eva and Titus were when we would go into that orphanage. Afraid that we were going to leave them after all.

I think of the family who we stayed with, working themselves to death to save child after child. I think of all the hard work that goes into every day life there. Of how ill-suited I was for life there, with my weak arms, unable to do laundry by hand, my mediocre cooking skills, not able to make anything without a recipe.

I think of the mother of my children. What a strange sentence. And an even stranger feeling. I wonder where she is. I wonder if she thinks of them often. When we were in that courtroom together, could she see that Josh and I are kind, that we love her children? Or does she live every day in fear of what’s happened to them because she believes the horror stories that she hears of adoptions gone wrong? Does she regret her decision to give up her rights? Or is she happy knowing that they have a chance now? These are questions that will plague me for the rest of my life, I’m sure. Questions without answers.

I could go on and on. I think of how thrilled Eva and Titus were about the most basic modern conveniences. Of how they clapped – CLAPPED – every time we turned on a light for like the first month. So grateful for electricity that is readily available. I think of how they danced in the shower the first time we bathed them in Uganda, so excited for a bath (Titus just came down in his footy pajamas and thanked me for getting him a new loofa. What can I say? They boy loves his loofa.) I think of the way Eva would bring her arms up over her head to hide when she cried in those first months. (Was she afraid? Did she just not want to be seen? I don’t even know if I want to know why she did this). What a relief when she could finally cry freely in front of us. Now she cries loudly and openly when she’s upset, because she’s learned it’s okay to do so.

When Josh got home from his trip today, Eva ran and jumped into his arms shouting, “Daddy!” She loves having a father. She took to him immediately, faster than she did with me. Tonight when he put her in bed, Josh looked at her and said, “Hey Eva, can I tell you a secret? I love being your daddy.” And she replied, “Forever.” Oh how little girls need their daddies.

I think of the poverty. The poverty that you cannot imagine until you’ve seen it with your own eyes. And I wonder what would have become of Eva and Titus had they remained. They had nothing. Their mother had nothing. Statistically there is a very high chance that they would have contracted HIV or simply died young of malnutrition and no health care. These are the hardest thoughts. When I look at my own children, and remember how little chance they had, and remember how I selfishly thought of how hard it would be to adopt them. Even now I hesitantly ask God, Will you ask us to do it again? And that nasty old selfishness rears it’s ugly head in spite of all I’ve seen and all I know.

Today marks 6 months since our children first set foot on American soil. Can it only be 6 months? Oh how afraid I was coming home with those children. Would it be hard for them to learn the language? Would I begin to feel a connection with them? Or would the bonding always be such hard work? Would these 4 siblings, these strangers, become real siblings? Would Eva and Titus begin to really trust us? Would they be able to handle school? Would the culture shock just completely freak them out? Would things ever be normal?

I know I’m rambling. Do you see why I’ve said so little about these things before? There are so many thoughts and feelings and I don’t even know where to begin with them. Adoption is a terrifying, life-changing, miraculous thing. It has changed me at my very core. I know that sounds dramatic. It is dramatic.  Life goes on as it always has, with all of the same demands and tasks and responsibilities that were there before these little ones came. And yet there is a thread of adoption woven through every one of those mundane daily moments. Life. These children have life. Life that I have so taken for granted, now seen through their eyes as a precious gift. Given freely and yet at great cost. A cost I’d gladly pay again.

And I have begun to comprehend, to see, what it is that God loves us as a Father. Life. I have life. Life that I so often take for granted when it is actually the most precious, impossible gift. Given freely to me, and yet at such immeasurable cost. Oh, that I would really see what it means to be adopted by this heavenly father. Who was willing to pay the highest price to take me in His loving arms and bring me home. No more fear. No more anxiety. No more poverty. No more death.

Life.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.”

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Our family is kind of into Disney. And by “kind of”, I mean big time. And by “our family”, I mostly mean Josh and I. As in, we can go anywhere for our 10th anniversary in a year and half and we are already planning a week at Disney…by ourselves.

But our kids are pretty into it to (which makes it not weird, right??). We had passes last year and took Reagan and Charlie all the time and now they think that’s just a thing people do and are confused when we’re like, “Hey guys, there are 6 people in our family now and it’s a ton of money.” Oh, don’t worry. It’ll happen. But I suppose it’s good for our kids to learn that Disney ain’t free in the meantime. We’ve already got our first trip with Eva and Titus planned for the fall, but while we wait we’ve been busy indoctrinating them with plenty of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Pixar and Princesses. That’s right. Our girls love princesses. And you can’t make me feel badly about it.

So, obviously when Frozen came out we were willing to fork over the cost of an entire week’s worth of groceries to see it (Um, when did going to the movies get so expensive? And how long has it been since we went that it shocked us so much?)

We L-O-V-Ed it. Not only was the film fantastic (if you’ve spent any time with us in the last 2 weeks you’re tired of hearing us talk about it), but it was Eva and Titus’ first time going to the movies. This made it extra special. Titus seriously sat down in his booster, clasped his little fingers together and stared at the screen. And didn’t move for an hour and a half. Then when the movie was over he nonchalantly got out of his chair and left. I love him. Eva is basically like the Energizer bunny and doesn’t stop moving from 7am to 7pm, so she mostly just asked if it was over every time there was a pause in dialogue or darkening of the screen because she wanted to get up and run around in circles.

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Reagan and Charlie are accustomed to watching princess movies so they were all in before it began. Charlie totally enters into a movie. At a dramatic point in the film, when the entire land is covered in snow and the music stops and there’s total silence, Charlie stared wide-eyed at the screen and loudly whispered, “EVERYTHING ITH FROTHEN.” Reagan is 100% girly girl and so all she cared about was the pretty dresses and the castle. So if you ask her about the movie she will tell you about the part where Elsa’s dress changes and she makes an ice castle. Then she will proceed to sing “Let it Go” for you (with perfect pitch, because she is her father’s daughter).

Yesterday morning Reagan informed me that her main goal in life is to be Elsa at Disney World. I mean, can you blame her? I think it might secretly be my dream job, too. Actually, let’s be honest, I think I’d happily sweep the streets at Disney World. Anyway, as we’re talking about this, she informs me that she also wants to be a mom. “But mom,” she asks, “If I’m Elsa at Disney World, what will my kids do during the day while I’m at Disney World being Elsa?”

Oi. 5 year olds ask big questions. Now maybe that’s not a big question for you but it is for me. I have made a very conscious choice to stay home with my children and not pursue any career outside the home. This does NOT mean that I think it’s wrong to pursue a career. I know many women who do so, and I think this choice is a matter of personal conviction that each family has to work out in their own conscience and context. So it’s a tricky question to answer. On the one hand, our decision for me to stay home is one that reflects our beliefs about the home. And I want to teach those beliefs to my children. On the other hand, I don’t want to be weirdo conservative stay-at-home mom who’s daughter goes to school saying that her mom stays home because she loves her children and why doesn’t your mommy stay home? That’s totally unhelpful and uncool.

Either way, my answer went something like, “Well, mommy doesn’t have a job because she wants to take care of you guys. So if you wanted to take care of your kids you could always be Elsa at Disney before you have kids.” It was admittedly kind of a fumble. Thankfully I don’t think she was even listening at that point. Because she immediately followed the question with this one. “Mom, are stepmothers real?” (I can only assume that the train of thought that led to this went something like Elsa -> Princesses -> Cinderella -> Stepmothers. Because otherwise it was a complete non sequitur).

Gah! Why is she asking me all of these questions?? Another hard one, because the answer necessarily involves real life tragedy. There are two ways that children obtain a stepmother (divorce and death), both very serious and hard things to talk about with a five year old. As I stood at the sink thinking hard about how to answer this, she once again moved on to something else. Thankfully this time it involved a pretend game with Charlotte and did NOT involve any more questions.

Several weeks ago when Paul Tripp came and did a parenting conference at our church he talked about the three stages of parenting. The first is 1-5, that trying, physically exhausting stage. The stage where you just have to do EVERYTHING for them and are trying to teach them the basic principles of authority and obedience. And I have just been completely immersed in that stage for 5 years. Especially these last 6 months with FOUR in that stage (ARE WE INSANE?).

But the second stage is 6-12, and I can see it coming for us. Suddenly Reagan can fetch things for me and help around the house and is starting to read and can shower and is helping her siblings and having reason-filled conversations with me. She’s observing classmates and comparing our family to theirs and asking questions about it. She’s asking where babies come from (NOOOOO) and what happened to Eva and Titus’ mommy and daddy and will we adopt any more brothers and sisters (UHHHHH). Suddenly, where there used to be a chubby little curly haired baby there is a tall skinny kid and I’m kind of freaking out.

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You know what? This parenting gig is nuts. And I’ve really only just begun. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Could there be anything better than me than for my kids to ask me questions that force me to really articulate what we believe? Thank God for His Word and the Holy Spirit because otherwise I think I’d just be staring at my kids terrified all the time.

 

January Reading

Jan
2014
03

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Just wanted to give my promised update on what I’m reading. I really am going to try to blog more in 2014 (I guess you could say it’s a resolution?? Although to say I’ve “resolved” to write more blog posts just feels a little dramatic). A great way to do that would be to stop waiting until I have a thousand things to say and then writing super long posts. So here’s a brief one for you!

Last time I mentioned what I was reading I had just started Through His Eyes: God’s Perspective on Women in the Bible. If you are unfamiliar with stories of some of the more prominent women in the Bible, this is a great book for you. Barrs very nicely summarizes each story and then looks at what we learn about who God is and how He views women. If you’re pretty familiar with these accounts, the summaries might seem a little tedious, but still, I think it’s a worthwhile read with some really interesting insight. It could really even work as a kind of devotional, if you combine the reading of the text being discussed with the helpful questions at the end of each chapter. I recommend it.

This month I plan on tackling a couple of re-reads. As I’m looking ahead to this new year, one of the things I really want to pursue is deeper prayerful-ness. This crazy life we’ve taken on just requires so much dependence upon my heavenly Father and I really desire more consistent communication with Him. So even though I’ve read it before, I’m going to give A Praying Life by Paul Miller another read. This is such a helpful book if you struggle to pray. Miller really gets to the heart of this struggle and seeks to enable believers to pray as they were meant to.

I’m also planning on reading through Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis again. I haven’t read it since high school and was reminded of what a great book it is recently. Our Midtown Pastor, Lance Olimb, quoted several passages from it recently while preaching about that greatest of all sins, pride. I’m looking forward to going through it again, as I love Lewis’ writing.

Also, I can’t believe I failed to include this book in my last post, but one of the most helpful books I read last year is Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic. If you have small children, this is a must read. It’s a funny, short little book that’s just packed full of good theology and encouragement for young moms. I totally loved it.

It’s a new year, a great time to get back in the habit of reading!

God in the Moments

Dec
2013
17

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The Friday morning before last was an epic disaster of a morning.

I actually woke up feeling quite pleased with myself. My kindergartener, Reagan, was having “Muffins with Moms” that morning at 8am in her class. She was excited. Beyond excited. As in, she drew a picture of herself and me eating muffins together the day before and hung it on the fridge. That excited. So, as you can see, it was VERY important that I be there.

The hurdle presented by this event is that my 3 little preschoolers don’t start school until 9am. Normally Josh has Fridays off and he would watch them but he was in charge of organizing and leading worship at not just one but two conferences that weekend and he would be at the church getting ready for the event. But no worries, I had a plan. I’d just be sure to be at the preschool at 8am on the dot, I’d drop the little ones off for Early Bird, and then Reagan and I would only be a few minutes late for the muffins.

Now the reason I felt so pleased with myself (ugh, you know things are about to go down when you start to feel pleased with yourself) is that I was READY. I am never ready. I’m always running around with half my make-up on and backpacks and shoes are flying and it’s total chaos. But not this time. I laid out all the clothes and socks and shoes. I packed snacks the night before. I got up super early and was dressed and ready. And then I got the kids up with enough time for breakfast and hair and all that stuff. Everything was going perfectly according to plan.

Then, while I was on the other side of the house getting everyone dressed and ready, one of my darling children ran to go to the bathroom, flushed the toilet and came back. And the toilet overflowed. But I did not hear it or know of it. And it just continued to overflow. So that by the time I knew what had happened it had filled the entire bathroom, hallway, laundry room, and part of my kitchen. It was 7:48. And all you-know-what broke loose.

I cried. I mean, you guys, I ugly cried. I was sobbing. Which, of course meant that Reagan was sobbing. Because she’s the most empathetic child of all time. I was just standing in the mess, completely paralyzed by it. I called Josh and completely freaked. He came home, IN THE MIDDLE OF GETTING READY FOR THE CONFERENCE, and started helping me clean up. But mostly he came home to talk me down off the ledge. Because I was losing it.

Once he calmed me down and left, I made sure the wood floors were dry and just left the rest of it for later and made it to Muffins for the last 15 minutes and everything was fine. All of that freaking out and everything was fine.

As I was recounting this story to my dear friend Meredith on the phone a couple hours later, beginning to laugh about that which had so recently wreaked such havoc, I just kept saying to her, “Meredith! I just hate that I react this way! I cannot keep responding to things like this!” I mean, jeez, it was certainly inconvenient but in no way worthy of a complete emotional breakdown. And she, the best kind of friend because she speaks truth into my life, dropped by later with this cute little plant (which, sadly, I will probably kill) and a card containing the following verses.

“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

And I’m kinda dense sometimes so I appreciated the note and loved the verse but didn’t really make the connection until this morning, as I read those verses again in the quiet pre-kidswakingup hour of my morning. I REALLY read the verses, letting the living Word of God do what it is supposed to do, pierce to the division of soul and spirit and discern the thoughts and intentions of my heart.

Who hopes for what he sees?

I do.

When my morning plans are completely dismantled by a toilet and my response is to lose all perspective and joy it means that I’m hoping in what I can see right now. I have no vision for beyond the here and now. All I see is that frustration of the moment.

What’s really sad is that my sweet little Eva could see beyond the moment much better than I could. As all of this madness was going down and I was crying and panicking, do you know what she was doing? She was standing nearby, looking at me solemnly, saying over and over in her broken English, “I pray for you mommy, I pray for you mommy.”

Paul Tripp, the person who was actually speaking at those conferences that weekend, says, “You don’t live life in big moments. You live life in the utterly mundane. If God doesn’t rule your mundane, then he doesn’t rule your life.”

God was not ruling my mundane that day. I had decided that I was in charge of my mundane. Now, as I look back on that moment ten days later, I can see all the ways that moment could have changed if God had been ruling and if I had been placing my hope in what I don’t see. I could have taught my children to pray when things go wrong by stopping and praying with them myself (although obviously Eva was doing just fine with that on her own). I could have THANKED GOD. Hadn’t I seen such abject poverty only months before and here I was crying over a toilet when a toilet is such a blessing, such a gift. That toilet water that is probably still cleaner than the water my children used to drink in their poverty, it is a gift. And I could have taught Reagan that it’s okay when we don’t get to do the thing we want to do. Often God has better things for us.

And maybe you’re reading this and thinking, sheesh, it’s just a toilet overflow, no need to read all of that into it. But those little moments, as Tripp says, they really really do matter. We should not, we cannot, let these moments pass us by, day in, day out, without seeing them for what they really are. I don’t want to miss that God is in all things, all the time, everywhere, shaping, molding, teaching, loving. Even in, especially in, a moment like that.

You know what the really great news is? That moment is not wasted because I just failed so utterly and dramatically to handle it well. It is perhaps even more meaningful because of it. Perhaps my saying to my children, later that day, “Mommy was sinning. That was not a big deal and I should not have reacted that way. I need Jesus to help me have joy when things like that happen” was even better than my handling everything perfectly. Bob Kaufflin says, and this is a favorite quote of Josh’s and mine, “Our job is not to teach our children not to sin. Our job is to teach our children what to do with their sin.”

I hope, I pray, that the next time I have a moment like that (because the next toilet overflow is always right around the corner), I would respond rightly and teach my children through example. But how wonderful that even in our failures – really, especially in them – the grace of God is made apparent. How appropriate that I would feel my sin and my need for a savior so desperately here in this advent season, so that I can then turn and rejoice that the Savior DID come. That He already has appeared. That I can do nothing good on my own but through HIM can do all things to which God has called me. And that He’s coming again, and so I can hope in what I don’t see instead of hoping in what I see.

“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him [Jesus], then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” 

 

 

 

 

 

What I’m Reading

Nov
2013
19

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You know, it was brought to my attention recently that I am incredibly blessed to have a constant resource of great books at my disposal. Because my husband is a pastor, I don’t even really need to look for great theological and spiritual books to read. They just appear in our house on a regular basis. And if I express interest in reading one that I’ve heard about, chances are he already has it in his giant library at church.

For instance, I recently read this review of Timothy Keller’s new book on suffering (Walking with God through Pain and Suffering) by Joni Erickson Tada. And I texted the link to Josh and said, “Hon, I really want to read this book,” and he was like, “Yeah, I already ordered it.”

And on top of all that, we regularly go to conferences where giant bookstores are set up with every book on every topic imaginable. Now I love to read, so this is heavenly to me. I love to wander around and look through books. I get lost in it. I miss talks at the conference because of it.

But even if you don’t love to read, which is fine, I think that reading books that encourage and build the faith is a great habit for every Christian to develop. John Piper said this, and Josh and I both found it incredibly encouraging:

“Suppose you read about 250 words a minute and that you resolve to devote just 15 minutes a day to serious theological reading to deepen your grasp of biblical truth. In one year (365 days) you would read for 5,475 minutes. Multiply that times 250 words per minute and you get 1,368,750 words per year. Now most books have between 300 and 400 words per page. So if we take 350 words per page and divide that into 1,368,750 words per year, we get 3,910 pages per year. This means that at 250 words a minute, 15 minutes a day, you could read about 20 average sized books a year!” (you can see the full post here).

Anyone, even a non-reader, can do that!

Anyhow, since I have such regular access to great books, I thought I’d share with you what I’m reading on a semi-regular basis. First, my hope would be that it would give you some ideas of books you may enjoy, and encourage you to pursue reading. Second, it will probably keep me reading as well. If I tell you I’m reading a book, I’ll be embarrassed if you ask me about it 4 months later and I still haven’t finished it. See! We all benefit!

So here’s what I’m reading now…

I just finished The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller. Our pastors at Four Oaks encouraged us all to read this as they preached a short sermon series on the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15 (fantastic sermons that you can find here). You guys, this book is so good. It’s about 130 pages, an easy read, but so packed with great truth. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“The father could not just forgive the younger son, somebody had to pay! The father could not reinstate him except at the expense of the elder brother. There was no other way. But Jesus does not put a true elder brother in the story, one who is willing to pay any cost to seek and save that which is lost. It is heartbreaking. The younger son gets a Pharisee for a brother instead.

But we do not.

By putting a flawed elder brother in the story, Jesus is inviting us to imagine and yearn for a true one…our true elder brother paid our debt, on the cross, in our place” (84-85).

This book is gospel-saturated, the best kind of book. Totally worth your time. If you go to Four Oaks and haven’t read it yet, I’m pretty sure there are still some copies available.

Now that I finished that, I’ve just started reading Through His Eyes: God’s Perspective on Women in the Bible, by Jerram Barrs. I picked this up in April at The Gospel Coalition conference in Orlando, but haven’t gotten around to reading it until now. Barrs sums up the purpose of the book nicely in his introduction:

“I have been deeply troubled in our churches by the way much teaching on women begins with the restrictive passages in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 and 1 Timothy 2 and often ends there. It is not that those passages are insignificant, but I have been eager to ask a more foundational question: How does the Lord see women…what does God think about women, and how does He treat them?” (9).

Each chapter in the book focuses on a specific woman in Scripture and examines what the text reveals about that woman and God’s view of her (Eve, Sarah, Tamar, Rahab, etc.). I’m only a few chapters in but I’m excited to read a book that takes a different look at women than any I’ve read before.  I’ll let y’all know what I’ve learned when I finish it!

Some other books I’ve read in the last year and have really benefited from:

Future Grace by John Piper

Humility by Andrew Murray

The God Who is There by D.A. Carson

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp (yes, I KNOW, I hated on this book before I fully read it and am now a convert. Maybe I’ll devote an entire post to how that happened someday)

Be Still My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering (25 Classic and Contemporary Readings on the Problem of Pain) edited by Nancy Guthrie

Hope these suggestions are helpful to you! I’d love to hear what other people are reading and learning from as well. I’m always looking for great books to read!