Thursday, January 23, 2020

Cancun, Not Drinking, and It Being Well With my Soul

I can hardly believe it's been over 13 months since I last found myself writing.  Yet when I was in Cancun a particular situation arose that left my best friend leaning over saying, "I could see this being a blog post.  I miss you writing those."  So, here I am.  Bare with me as I attempt to breach an oft controversial subject: Drinking.

For the purpose of this post, I am not going to address whether or not drinking is okay.  If you'd like to have that discussion, I welcome talking with you personally about it.  But for this post, I just want to address the issue of drunkenness and hypocrisy.

On our second day of the trip, we went on a 45 minute drive to another resort to spend the day.  On our way back, we found ourselves crammed in the back row of a 16 passenger van that was plum full.  Just imagine my 6'4" husband in the very back, knees crammed into the back of the the person's seat in front of him.  It was comical .. until it wasn't.  Us 4 and 2 others were the only sober people in the van.  And for 45 minutes we endured every possible criticism, question, confession of sin, and condescending remark possible.

It started with a simple enough question: "Did you guys get some of that champagne?"  We all answered, "No."  One would think that would be sufficient.  But it wasn't.  And it became very clear, very quickly that we were the salt and light in that van.  We stood out.  We were different.  And I won't lie, it was hard.  By the time we arrived back at our resort, I was on the verge of tears.  Both because I'm an introvert and it was crowded and overwhelming, but also because of just how lost and deceived the world is.

Again, saying that those who drink are lost.  I have family and friends who drink that I know to be faithful followers of Christ.  One of my favorite pastor/teachers drinks wine.  This isn't what this is about.

Here's where the dilemma is for me: so many think the only way to enjoy oneself is with alcohol. There is no moderation or responsible drinking. We were repeatedly told to loosen up, have fun, do whatever we want because we were on vacation and no one had to know, etc.  One woman, who I'll refer to as "May", was loud, obnoxious, belligerent, and was primarily the one with all the questions and comments.  May at one point asked if she could ask us something.  We said "yes" then she said, "You already know what I'm going to ask, don't you?"  Confused, we said "no".  Then she said "Are y'all Southern Baptist?"  Ah, there it was.  The assumption that we don't drink because of a denomination.  And it's a pretty prevalent assumption.  Southern Baptists are in fact known for their stance against drinking.  Here's the thing, there is such blatant hypocrisy that the outside world looking in is utterly confused and disgusted and want nothing to do with religion because of people who profess one thing and yet live something entirely different.

May said "My husband is on a softball team full of Southern Baptists.  'None' of them drink while out as a group....but get one of them by himself and he'll out-drink everyone."

See what I mean?

May told us all about the affair she was having with a much younger man.  Even told me I should try it....with my husband sitting right beside me.  "What he doesn't know won't hurt him. Gotta do what ya gotta do."  Another passenger declared to May "You're as much of a whore as I am!".

To be in a situation knowing that proclaiming the Gospel to those who wouldn't receive it and honestly weren't in the state of mind to understand was disheartening.  I would have loved to have those conversations with May when she was sober.

Instead we got "Why?  WHY don't you drink?"

And our answers were simplistic because the Bible is clear about 'throwing pearls before swine' (Matt 7:6): "Because as counselors we work with addicts and see the damage it causes."  "Because it doesn't appeal to us."  "Because we have a blast without it."  "Because we don't have regrets at the end of the day."  And a bit of humor was added... "Because we like to remember our trips!".

Here's the reality.  When we woke up and went down for breakfast, we were inevitably met with "Would you like some tequila, a mimosa, something else?"  When we asked for virgin daiquiris and pina coladas, we were asked "Why?"  "For real?"  "Seriously?"  "Really?".  We had one individual tell us that in 3 years (three YEARS) that he has never had someone refuse alcohol.

I said earlier this isn't about right or wrong. That's a conversation for another time. It's about consistency and integrity.  It's about being men and women of our word.  It's about living in such a way that our lives testify to Whom we belong.  It's about regardless of whether or not you choose to drink that no one can say that drunkenness is okay.  It's about stepping away from the notion that people can't have fun without drugs, alcohol, illicit sex, etc.  Here's the thing: even as drunk as those people were, they saw something different in us and I would never risk giving that up for any amount of alcohol.

In Acts 5, the apostles had been arrested, beaten, and told not to proclaim the name of Christ.  Yet the following verse always gets me: "They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ".  It's not my natural tendency to rejoice at trials and the difficulties of life, but I tell you, something about that encounter has changed me.  Yes, it was hard.  Yes, I could have literally just broke down and cried.  But never in my life had it been clearer that the way we have chosen to live our lives stood out that much - we were salt and light to a dark world.  Salt and light to drunkards and adulteresses.  We were grace and compassion in the heartbreak of such depravity.  And it is my hope and prayer that if they remember anything from that day it's that there are those among them that are the real deal.  Faithful, obedient, followers of Christ.  Those that live what they preach.  And that just as we stood out that day, that we'll stand out in their minds in the coming days ahead causing them to question and wonder "What...Who....makes them different?"

That day I had on my shirt that said "It is well with my soul."   May read it and bewildered said "Uh, uh.... that's too deep for vacation".

Yet as I sit here, I have ZERO regrets from our vacation. I remember every single bit of it.  We laughed until we cried.  We were adventurous.  We left without having damaged our reputations, our families, our faith, and the image of the God we serve.  We have J-O-Y incalculable.  All without alcohol.  And I can with great faith say it is well with my soul.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Mary, Joseph and Adoption

I remember reading a few years back about how darkness can only remain darkness if we choose not to bring it into the Light.  I'm learning more and more how true this can be and the freedom found in allowing others into our lives to surround us and support us.  By doing so, the darkness seems to fade and the Light shines forth.

It's no secret that adoption is hard.  There are very few foster/adoptive parents that I've ever met that would tell you differently.  It's beautiful.  But it's also brutally hard.

Recently we've been dealing with habitual lying. It started as small things that didn't have an impact on much but it has now morphed into him making statements that endanger himself and our family, as well as him telling classmates elaborate lies about someone killing Mark.

To say we have been heartbroken, terrified, hurt, in disbelief, etc. would be an understatement.  This morning I walked him into school and had him apologize to his teachers and classmates for lying to them.  I walked out with tears streaming down my face... a combination of sadness for him and a whole lot of feeling sorry for myself - for the embarrassment and humiliation we endure in our efforts to teach him ...for his own good and well-being.

And as I worried about our name and reputations potentially being ruined - the ones we've spent our lives building so we honor Christ and point people back to him - God reminded me of yesterday's sermon.

You see, when Gabriel came to Mary and Joseph, He told them that they'd be the earthly parents to the coming Messiah.  He did not share this news with anyone else.  Everyone else in town got to believe whatever they chose to believe.  This literally rocked their world, ruined their reputation, ruined their families' names, and ushered in shame and humiliation.  By Joseph taking in Mary as his wife, he in essence was choosing to take responsibility for her being pregnant, although he had nothing to do with it.  He willingly took on shame to follow in obedience to what God had called him to.

....willingly took on shame.

You see, the gifts God gives us aren't always going to be meticulously wrapped and donned with a beautiful bow.  Sometimes they're hard and heartbreaking, disappointing and anxiety-provoking, full of embarrassment and shame.

If the parents of the Messiah didn't get to escape the scorn, the looks of disgust, the gossip, the humiliation...... why should I think we get to?

Adoption is a gift.  But it's rarely ever beautifully wrapped.  Yet the gift itself is our son.  He is infinitely loved and treasured, even despite all the lies and accusations and challenges he has created.  And the greater gift?  The presence of Christ as we walk out what He has called us to.  As we drug this darkness into the Light yesterday, sharing with our Life Group the battles we're facing, they surrounded us and prayed over and for us.  This morning I've already seen posts reminding people to pray for us.  I've received texts checking on us, encouraging words, emails, etc.

Because the darkness can only remain dark if we choose to allow it to remain there.

And I'll tell you, there's likely a whole host of foster/adoptive families struggling in ways you are completely unaware of.  Dragging the darkness into the Light is hard, so much so that many choose to remain in the dark.  This isn't easy for me to share.  And I certainly am not sharing it because we want pity.  We (foster/adoptive parents) desperately need your prayers and words of encouragement.  If I could tell you anything today, it's that we need warriors to come alongside us on this journey.  We need people to educate themselves on Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), the impacts of trauma on these kids, the ways it manifests, the ways it impacts their parents and siblings.... and then we need you to faithfully get on your knees and lift us up.  It is the single greatest thing you can do for us.

Might I encourage you sweet friends?  Go find an adoptive or foster family this Christmas season and just love on them...ask them how you can pray for them specifically.  I assure you, it will mean more than you know.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Write It Down

Then the Lord said to Moses, "Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it."  Exodus 17:14
Many times throughout Scripture, an emphasis on writing things down, remembering them, passing them on to your children, etc is heavily present.  We can see this time and time again when reading through the account of the Israelites, their freedom from Egypt, and during their time of wandering in the wilderness.  They took their eyes off of God and instead focused on the problem, which inherently led to them forgetting all God had already done for them.  It's no coincidence then that God instructs them to keep a jar of manna to be kept throughout the generations as a reminder of how He fed them all their years of wandering.  Or when he tells them to write all He'd done as a memorial in a book.

So often I'm tempted to see the giants in front of me instead of the Faithful God before me.  And as I've been leading my T2 girls through the account of the Israelites, I continually keep seeing God reminding them to write it down.

So here I am.... writing it down.  Because right now, there are things which I'm waiting to see how God works out.  I worry over exactly how it's going to work out, how long it's going to take, and what all life will entail in the meanwhile.

But God.

Oh how He's always been faithful.  I can look back over losing our babies and see how His hand was with me through it all.  I can look at total betrayal from a group of people and how He used that to move us where we needed to be.... to a place where we are accepted and loved and cherished.  I can see how He's worked in and through the lives of my friends and family.  And just this summer, He absolutely blew me away time and time again.

You see, I had been debating whether or not to get licensed as a counselor.  I had gone through the process 12 years ago after graduating from Graduate school but God put other opportunities in front of me that kept me from taking the test to move forward. And as I result, I was able to be on staff at a church for close to 9 years as their Biblical Adviser.  After taking a break since having Emilee and adopting Chi, I was offered a job....that would require me to get licensed.  And once again I was faced with a decision.  And I battled it for quite awhile on whether or not it was something I wanted to move forward with when God yet again stepped in.  Everything worked together where I was offered a job at Central as one of their Biblical Advisers - a job I had previously told Mark would be my dream job.  And here I am, every week getting to meet with teens and young women and am continually blown away by God's goodness at allowing me to do what I love - sharing how the Gospel changes lives.

But then God was also working in the lives of our friends, laying me and Mark on their hearts as who they should reach out to about buying their house.  She reluctantly sent me a message and said "I hope you don't think I'm nuts..."  We weren't even looking for a house, but little did she know we had been discussing "if we happened to find something."  Little did she know the struggles that our boys, each with their own diagnoses plus a 7 year age gap, faced sharing a room.  Oh the battles we'd been dealing with.  And now here we are in a different house, each kid with their own room, and dealing with substantially less fall out as when having our boys in the same room.

As if that wasn't enough, one Sunday morning Bro. Archie was preaching through Revelations.  I knew it struck a cord with Eli because he's our history buff, particularly on wars.  So when he started talking about Jesus' return, the battle that will ensue, etc., he perked up....and the rocking stopped.  As soon as invitation began, his rocking resumed and increased in intensity.  He said nothing.  He went to class.  And afterward, as we loaded into the car and began getting situated, I hadn't even put my seat belt on before he abruptly said "I need to be saved!"  It was as if if he didn't say it right then, it wasn't going to come out.  And so we talked on the drive home, me ensuring he fully understood, that he realized this wasn't a prayer but rather a lifelong decision to follow in obedience.   That no prayer has ever saved anyone without the faith behind it. And there in my bedroom of our previous house, I led him to Jesus.  That God would allow me that privilege.... You see, last fall/winter was really rough with Eli.  He had gone downhill quickly: academically, behaviorally, emotionally.  We were at a loss.  The lashing out.  The downright brutal things he would say that would crush my spirit as a his momma.  But God.  He allowed us to figure out it was a medication issue and through a series of trial and error to find something that worked better with his growing body.  To have gone through that together and to come out on the other side with him coming to me.  Grace.  Nothing but grace.  And to top it all off?  Mark got to baptize him in the 11 Point River... one of my all time favorite places and now one of Eli's too.

May I never forget.  Mercy on mercy.  Grace upon grace.

He has always been faithful.  He can be trusted.

I don't know what you might need to write down, what promises of His faithfulness that you need to call to mind, but might I encourage you to take a minute to do so?  It's in our remembering that we have the faith to keep our eyes on Him and to trust that He's not only been behind us, but is before us (Deut. 31:8) and beside us.

Write it down.  He has been, is, and will always be faithful.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Unfading Beauty

About 3 years ago I started on a journey.  A journey of being healthier and happier.  And 3 years later I've done that but not at all in the way I had expected.

You see, 3 years ago I joined Plexus.  I used it, sold it, lost weight, and felt better.  And in some weird way, I thought this would make everything about life better.

Can I be honest with you?

It didn't.

The truth is, I think we can become so focused on how we look that it starts becoming an idol in our lives.  What's the scale say?  Did I take my supplements?  How many calories did I consume today?  Did I exercise long enough and hard enough?  Is what I'm eating healthy?  Low carb, high protein?  What about gluten and dairy free?  Maybe I should try that.  Did I drink 100 ounces of water?  I wonder if I've worked hard enough to eat cake at the birthday party.  Have I done measurements lately?  What about adding coconut oil or apple cider vinegar.  

And life quickly becomes all about stuff that's not necessarily bad but that can become bad when it consumes your thinking and way of life.

I've had to take a step back from a lot groups and things that have aided me in focusing on lesser things.

Because at the end of the day, life isn't about what I look like.  It won't make one difference when I die if I was a size 0 or a size 10.  What will matter is how I invested my life in others.

And before you start thinking this is a post bashing Plexus, it isn't.  I love Plexus.  I've met some truly incredible people as a result.  And I'm still taking some of their products and I still sell it, although I don't actively promote it anymore.  I love MLM and direct sale companies and truth be told, if I'm going to buy something, I'd prefer to (and do) buy it from a friend and help them out.

But here's my issue.  I think I need clearer skin.  I buy what I think will help.  I need thicker hair.  I buy some shampoo and conditioner that's supposed to do the trick.  I need better makeup.  Then I need whiter teeth and less cellulite.  And I need some cute polish or designs for my nails.  I need ALL the cute jewelry and purses to go with it.  And I need something for these crows feet and dark circles and and and.....

..... it never ends.  There's always something vying for my attention - trying to tell me that how I am isn't good enough or that I could be better if I just had _____.

And I'm tired of believing that lie.

I've been doing a study on I Peter for the past several weeks.  And over and over again I keep reading how true beauty isn't from outward appearances.  It's not how our hair looks or the way we dress or the size of pants we wear.

But rather true beauty is found from having a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of GREAT worth in God's eyes.  And not only that, it's unfading (I Peter 3:3-4).  True beauty never fades.

Soak that in sweet friends.

My focus has been all wrong.  I have made the lesser the priority instead of cultivating what Christ says is true beauty.  Maybe you have too.

And maybe you echo with me: "I'm done!".

At the end of my life I want it to have mattered because I loved well.  Because I shared Christ with people.  Because I made a difference by serving and giving of myself.  I want to finish on empty - having given my all.

Not having worried about myself.

Is exercise bad?  No.  Is healthy eating bad?  No.  Are supplements bad?  Nope.  Are any of the things I mentioned wrong?  No.

Not unless you've given them too much room in your life.  If they've become your focus, your idol, your priority.

And that's where I've been.

Am I heavier than I was 2 years ago?  Yes.  But I'm learning more and more that it's okay.  I can exercise and eat pretty good and let God worry about the rest.  My body just won't respond how it used to.  I wish it would.  Oh how I wish it would.  But all the doctors and appointments and tests and money spent.....  it's all been for what?  So I can look a certain way.  And really friends, it's hard to admit that.  Sometimes you can only do so much until it becomes futile.

I'm there.

And I'm telling you today I'm surrendering.  I'm letting it go.  Am I giving up on this healthy and happier stuff?  Not really.  I'll still run 30 minutes every day and lift my weights and do my squats and pushups and planks.  I'm still planning on watching what I eat and limiting sweets. I just refuse to allow it to occupy more time and space in my life than things of eternal significance.  I'm refusing to make it the greater when it's really the lesser.  So much less than what really matters.

You know, when my husband can lay in bed beside me and say "No one ever has, does, or will make me feel like you do."..... that's all I need.  He has loved me at every size possible.  And now it's time that I love myself like that too.  That I see myself as Christ does.

So, go buy all.the.things from your friends.  Support them.  Love them.  But at the end of the day, realize what's really important is that Christ shines in and through you.  Put the majority of your effort into cultivating the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth.

It's invaluable.  So are you sweet friends.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Never Good Enough

Do you ever feel like you're just not good enough?

That you have to spend too much time and effort trying to prove yourself, only to be reminded you still aren't good enough?

I'd be lying if I didn't say that that's basically been my life in a nutshell.

I can remember distinct times growing up and thinking these things.  Like when I was in 8th grade band.  For 3 years, I was almost always 2nd chair, next to Mike (or next to Allen if I was 3rd).  Every time we had try-outs, my place remained.  Only one month, Mike messed up during tryouts and for a short period of time, I was 1st chair.  Not because I deserved it.  Not because I was better than Mike, because honestly, he's an incredibly talented musician, but simply because he had made a fluke error that day and I didn't.  I never measured up to him as a trumpet player.  I went on to quit band.

Or during my Sophomore year running track how I threw up before  Yep.  Every single one of them.  My nerves would always get the best of me.  And while I was constantly improving and running my events faster and faster, there was always this guy named Scott who would rag me in Geometry class about how much faster he could have ran them.  Always asking if I threw up...again.  And then him and his friends would laugh and mock me.  It didn't matter that I received the Most Improved award, or that I had dropped 33 lbs between my Sophomore and Junior year.  I still wasn't good enough.

Or the time when I was a Junior in Chemistry class and everyone was struggling to even make passing grades on Mr. Hartsfield's tests.  That is, everyone except me.  So when the curve was implemented, everyone was elated that maybe they could finally get a passing grade.  But there was me, who made 95's and 100's, all but eliminating the curve.  And I remember the day Mr. Hartsfield said there was no curve because someone made a 100.  People were mad and seeking out the person that prevented them from getting extra points.  That's when Clay turned around, already knowing it was me, looked me square in the eyes and said "You're an ugly *itch."  Even being the best proved to not be good enough.

Or when I once liked one of my brother's friends.  They lived together for awhile and I had become pretty infatuated with him.  But it was never reciprocated until about 2 years later..... after I had ran track and..... you guessed it, dropped 33 lbs.  I wasn't good enough before and I remember that feeling permanently marking me.  I was excited when he asked me out on a date, yet I also instinctively knew I didn't ever want to be married to someone who couldn't love me at every weight I might ever be.  Things with him obviously (and thankfully) didn't work out.  Yet the reality of only being liked at a certain weight has stuck with me all these years later.

Even when I graduated as Valedictorian, it wasn't good enough.  Because my class was the last class before they changed the handbook, which stated that anyone with a 4.0 GPA was Valedictorian.  I achieved that.  But so did 10 others.  Yes, there were 11 of us that year.  And from there on out, the handbook read "The highest GPA".  Even in achieving what very few could, it wasn't good enough.  We were a joke.  "11 of you.  Hahahaha.  You're not the Valedictorian.  You're just one of many."

Even at the top, I wasn't good enough.

The reality is that while these were in high school, things like this still happen.

Like when you bicker about whose way of loading the dishwasher is correct.

Or when you're handed the pink slip at work and have to go home and tell your family you lost your job.

Or when your husband walks out.

When people say "Oh, you're *just* a stay-at-home mom? Don't you have 2 college degrees?"

Or when you feel like you're missing out on everything with your kids because you're working two jobs to make ends meet.

Or when your pillow is wet from crying yourself to sleep because you don't think you'll ever compare or measure up.

When you feel left out, uninvited and are being talked about.

When you're passed over on the job you were hoping to get.

When your weight yoyos back and forth like an olympic skier going up and down the hills and you don't want to leave the house because not only can you never compare to the tan, perfectly ripped, chiseled, scantily clad models, you can't even compete with who you were a year ago.

When you stumble across the evidence of your spouse's indiscretions and are left devastated and heartbroken.

When you fall into the comparison trap and feel like your income, house, car, and wardrobe don't meet the standards of everyone else.

When your kids are bickering and fighting with each other and your house feels more like a war zone than a safehaven.

The thoughts soon follow:

"I'll never be good enough."  "Well maybe I'll just try harder.  I'll do ___, ____, and ____ and then I'll prove once and for all that I'm good enough."

And the problem with this mentality is that not only is it destructive and putting too much focus on other people and circumstances making us happy, but it often flows over into our relationship with Christ.

This has been true for me.

So many instances of not feeling good enough have led me to believe that I'm not good enough for Christ either.  And the reality of that is, I'm not.  None of us are (Rom. 3:10).  But the danger is in when I begin feeling like I can work my way into better graces.  The "fixer" in me says "Get to work."  That if I'm more patient and gentle He'll somehow love me more.  If I can be more successful and give more.  If I can pray harder and dig deeper in His Word then maybe I'll have more faith and He'll somehow reward me with feeling accepted.  If I wouldn't have ever been depressed.  If I can become more disciplined and self controlled then maybe, just maybe......

And friends, He's showing me the futility of this.

Because really, that's what it is.  Futile.

There is NOTHING, absolutely nothing I can do that could ever make Him love and accept me anymore than He already has.

I am loved.

And I'm not just loved, I am loved by the Creator of the world.  The One who knit me together in my mother's womb, intricately weaving me piece by piece into who I am (Psalm 139:13).  The One who came to rescue and draw me to Himself.

You see, He loved me when I was unlovable.  He loved me before I was even born, knowing full and well all the horrible things I would think and say and do....all the times I wouldn't be good enough....all the times I would cry in the car, trying to pull myself together before I arrived where I was going.  He foreknew all of these instances, that I would struggle with accepting and receiving Love.  He knew ahead of time that trust would be hard for me and life would only deal me blows that made it harder.  And friends.....He came anyway.

He loved me while I was still a sinner (Rom. 5:8).  I didn't have to do anything to prove myself or that I'm good enough (Eph. 2:8-9).  I was simply enough because I was His.... am His.

And He's been breaking my knees until I will bow to this realization and understanding.  Forcing me  into situations that require me to rely on Him and trust Him and see how good He is.  And oh how He's constantly showing me this over and over and over until my heart will bend to it.

I've recently been listening to Selah's new song, Broken Ladders.  It reminds me that we so often think we have to reach and rise for all these things that will never bring us true happiness, that will never prove that we're good enough.  Because you know, He never asked us to do that.  He didn't ask us to be a certain way for Him to love us.  He simply has asked for our hearts and obedience.

And day by day, I'm learning this truth.

I'll never be good enough.  And that's perfectly okay because I am loved more than I could ever know