Guest Post: How the Good Gift of Adopting Displays the Goodness of Our Heavenly Father

I shared what I’ve learned about God as a Father from our adoption on the blog Beloved Prodigal today. I hope these lessons help you know how much you are loved by the God who sees every exceptional thing about you.

Five years ago, God called our family to international adoption. After years of waiting, we finally traveled to Ethiopia in March for our court date. Our brand new two-year-old has been home for four months now, and God is teaching me things about His character as a good Father through this experience of having a new son.

Here are three things I have learned about God from our adoption:

1. God sees the heart, but I can’t.

The first thing I noticed about our boy when we first met him were all the little details about his hands and feet.

Keep Learning From Mister Rogers, Your Soul Will Thank You

As soon as Fandango told me our town had a viewing, I absconded to the theater to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the new Mister Rogers documentary. It was a moving movie, and even though my husband and I bought our tickets late and had to sit in different rows, it was such an enjoyable theater experience. Stephen Thompson from NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour Podcast expressed that “the movie feels like you are getting warmly and softly hugged for an hour and a half,” and that’s the best description that could ever be said.

Why was it such a feel-good experience? It is rare for someone to tell you-you are liked. It’s even rarer to be told that you are liked just the way you are. Mister Rogers said it, sang it, believed it, and lived it. Mister Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister who attended seminary on his lunch hour over a period of eight years. He believed that God liked him just the way he was and he should, therefore, feel that way about every God-created person. He looked through the screen and openly invited the whole world to be his neighbor, and he believed that everyone who knew they were liked would in-turn like their neighbors also. The world could be a very different place, not because of just one sweater-clad friend, but it could be different because of God who is love, the Holy Spirit that Rogers relied on as translator of this Devine message, and us — his neighbors.

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As a little girl, Mister Rogers was my friend. He made me feel safe and heard. He told me things I still need to hear as an adult.

1. Express your feelings.

Mister Rogers frequently and intentionally included the message that we all have feelings and it is good to express those feelings in healthy ways. Last year, I became very discouraged in the ministry. My husband and I had been serving at a very missional church for twenty years, and we were both feeling burnout. We began seeing a therapist to help us work through our tough time, and one of the things he told me was that I was afraid of my feelings. He said to me, “It is like you view your feelings as a dark closet, and if you let one feeling affect you that you will be engulfed in the dark closet and you won’t be able to get out.” As an adult, I’ve had to relearn that lesson that we all have feelings, and I’ve had to allow myself to feel and express those feelings.

There’s no ‘should’ or should not’ when it comes to having feelings. They’re part of who we are and their origins are beyond our control. When we can believe that, we may find it easier to make constructive choices about what to do with those feelings.
— Fred Rogers, Life According to Mister Rogers

2. Slow down.

One of the most countercultural pieces of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood was the pace of the show. His slow speech and slow movements were a subtle cue, as was his life-sized traffic light glowing yellow. The show had the ambiance of a Saturday spent at grandma’s house. He would often bring out simple props like paper, instruments, or cups and play with the props in an unstaged, unpracticed way, letting the paper accidentally tear where he didn’t intend or letting the cups fall across the table. He gave his neighbors the nudge to accept that it is good to slow down and try new things. When my husband and I experienced ministry burnout, we went to a week long ministry retreat that was intentionally slow paced and were reminded of the importance that rest has in the kingdom work. As an adult, I need slow. I need permission to try and fail. I need to let the cups fall sometimes and pick them back up again.

It seems to me, though that our world needs more time to wonder and to reflect about what is inside, and if we take time we can often go much deeper as far as our spiritual life is concerned than we can if there’s constant distraction.
— Fred Rogers, The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers by Amy Hollingsworth

3. Be yourself.

Vulnerability became a mantra and catch-phrase to many after Brene´ Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability and shame when viral in 2010, but Mister Rogers was modeling vulnerability every day in his neighborhood in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. He sang his easily-poked-fun-of self-composed lyrics, wore his mom-made sweaters, and never tried to be someone he was not. Even when being interviewed on edgy late night talk shows, he spoke slowly and appeared to be the same guy who welcomed me with a song and a shoe-swap as a kid. One scene in the documentary we are shown footage of his neighborhood show where his shares his love of swimming with his neighbors. He is completely at home with himself, even when he is donning a speedo and swimming loops in the pool. We get the feeling that it never even crosses his mind to not be completely himself, and we are told that we made today special by just being ourselves.

The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.
— Fred Rogers, Life According to Mister Rogers

4. Invite everyone to be your neighbor.

The genius of Mister Rogers is that he was able to translate the second part of the Great Commandment into simple, secular terms and model loving your neighbor in a practical way. This command is a great struggle for everyone. Loving and liking others doesn’t come naturally, but doing this is essential to Christian life: seeking wholistic ministry, valuing and carrying out the Great Commission, having a healthy family life, confronting racial prejudice and bias, and seeing the image of God and the preciousness of life in each and every neighbor.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if God and neighbor are somehow One. ‘Loving God, Loving neighbor’ — the same thing? For me, coming to recognize that God loves every neighbor is the ultimate appreciation!
— Fred Rogers, Life According to Mister Rogers

5. Remember the invisible.

Posted above Mister Roger’s desk was a saying in French from The Little Prince. It said, ‘What is essential is invisible to the eyes.’ This quote is very much like what Paul penned in Second Corinthians 4:18, “as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” We must always be focused on the unseen, realizing that these things are not just important — but essential.

Beside my chair is a saying in French. It inspires me every day. It’s a sentence from Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, and it reads, ‘What is essential is invisible to the eyes.’ The closer we get to know the truth of that sentence, the closer I feel we get to wisdom. That which has real value in life in any millennium is very simple. Very deep and very simple! It happens inside of us — in the ‘essential invisible’ part of us, and that is what allows everyone to be a potential neighbor.
— Fred Rogers, Life According to Mister Rogers

Can we see the world as our neighborhood? Can we see the good in others and like them just the way they are? Can we recognize our feelings and express them in beautiful ways? Can we remember to keep our eyes on the invisible, unseen Kingdom work? Can we slow down rest, play, and be vulnerable? I think we can. Mister Rogers showed us it could be done.

 

I still need all these lessons as much at forty-one as I did when I was four. 

 

I think the big question for our soul is this: Can we accept that we are liked by God just the way we are, not the way we’ve decided we need to be to fit in or to try to be liked? Can we accept that God likes the deep down person we are at the soul-level of our creation, with all our faults and feelings? I’m asking myself that question.

Why do I feel the need to question it?

I think I need to recapture the childlike faith that didn’t question Mister Rogers sitting on my living room carpet with my pigtails in front of our console television.

God likes me just the way I am. Can I say it, sing it, believe it, and live it? Can you?

            Photo by  Pawel Kadysz  on  Unsplash

          Photo by Pawel Kadysz on Unsplash

The Kindle version of this is on sale for $0.99!

When Anxiety Makes Celebrating a Chore, Six Tips to Survive the Party

Parents were picking up kids, and I was handing out little baggies of goodies to each bouncing boy headed out the door. We had filled their systems with all forms of sugar from liquid-grown-in-fields to powdered-and-whipped. We had celebrated our bright-eyed boy’s turning of eight, complete with a hand-drawn ten-foot Godzilla adorning the wall, a back porch covered in yellow, blue, orange, and green silly string, and a cake that featured gummy army men plotting the takedown of a plastic Godzilla. I felt two feelings battling inside me, dark and light. On one hand, I felt proud we had celebrated well, even with while keeping the newly adopted two-year-old happy and feeling safe with all the buzzing, busy boys in our house. It felt good to feel like celebrating and celebrate well. On the other hand, I felt the presence of my anxiety.

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May and June are full of big days for our family: four birthdays, Mother’s Day, wedding anniversary, and Father’s Day. Last year during this time, we were in the middle of a very uncertain international adoption, and I didn’t feel like celebrating a darn thing. I was treading water emotionally. We even had a bonus special day thrown in last year because our oldest graduated high school. One more party to plan in between crying and mental nail-biting. My grief and anxiety would not be put away; It demanded to be seen and acknowledged. What I’ve realized this year is that even without the stress of our adoption and graduation, my anxiety still makes it hard for me to celebrate. 

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Celebrating is worth fighting for. It is worth it because I love my family. We must celebrate because celebrating brings joy, and joy is our strength. 

 

Here’s how to survive when the calendar demands celebration:

1. Don’t shame yourself at any point in this process.

Thoughts like, what’s wrong with me that I can’t be happy about a birthday party? are not helpful or kind to yourself. If you are wrestling temporary stress in your life or you are dealing with the realities of living with anxiety, you must allow yourself the room to feel what you really feel, and you cannot have shame because you have those feelings.

2. Set up good boundaries in your celebrating.

You don’t have to be hype for a week over the big day. You don’t even have to be partying for more than a few hours. The point is to take a chunk of time and celebrate something for the sake of celebration. Set aside your grief, anxiety, or stress-inducing problem for just a few hours and give this important person, place, or thing in your life its due festivity. When it is over, you will still have your issues you are struggling through there waiting for you.

3. Invite people who have proven themselves as safe people.

Someone who will bring you flowers on a bad day is the perfect person to invite to your good day. Someone who refuses to acknowledge you are struggling during hard times isn’t going to truly celebrate your good days either. They may pretend to celebrate with you, but if they don’t engage in your whole life as a person, good and bad, they aren't genuinely rooting for you or the success of your life. You have permission to only invite who you need and want to invite. It is perfectly ok to only allow people who are genuine and kind into those big celebratory moments of your life.

4. Do not overdo it on your party planning.

Don’t demand perfection from your party. Keep things as chill as possible. The icing might run, the wrapping paper might rip, or you might forget the cups. Something will go wrong. If you have unreasonable expectations for the big day, you are setting yourself up for a meltdown.

5. Schedule time to recover after the party.

Your energy level is going to be depleted. Plan for that. Don’t plan to hop from a time of celebration to something else that would demand your energy. You will probably have feelings about the day or interactions with people at the celebration. Plan a quiet morning the next day to reflect and recover. It may even take two or three days to recover from a party. Don’t beat yourself up if that happens. Remember, no shaming yourself!

6. Give yourself credit.

When the celebration comes to a close, don’t allow your anxiety to rob you of that moment of congratulating yourself for celebrating well. You honored the moment and didn’t allow your anxiety to steal your joy. You celebrated (not perfect) well.

Your life deserves wonder, fun, the satisfaction of accomplishment, and delight, even as you contend with your anxiety. May these tips help you celebrate and bring more joy to your life as you deal that anxiety.

The wonderful thing about joy is that it is deep enough to hold all the light and dark that your soul can hold, and as you allow joy to enter into that space in your soul that was made to hold it, your body, mind, and heart will be strengthened for the good days and bad.

Have you accomplished the goals you set for this year?

July 1st will start the second-half of 2018. The halfway mark of anything is always a good time to check-in. I've made you a worksheet that will help you do just that.

How did I come up with my 2018 goals?

I used Jennie Allen's Dream Guide to set 9 goals for 2018. In January, I evaluated my spiritual growth, relationships including marriage, kids, and friendships, health, personal growth, dreams, and work life. I also did a quick read through my to-do lists from 2017 to see what I had done the year before to see what I wanted to repeat or not repeat in 2018.

Six months into 2018, I know there are goals I've met, goals I've partially met, goals I'm working on actively, and goals I've forgotten about.

I need a reminder and a fresh dose of inspiration to finish the second-half of 2018 well. I need to be intentional about going after those goals and dreams that will change what my life looks like.

It is important to be intentional about our goals. Well thought out and accomplished goals can be the building blocks to an accomplished dream.

What makes the difference between wishing and realizing our wishes? Lots of things, and it may take months or years for a wish to come true, but it’s far more likely to happen when you care so much about a wish that you’ll do all you can to make it happen.
— Mister Rogers

How am I doing?

If you are wondering, I've completed 3 of my 9 goals. There's another goal that is almost accomplished. Two other goals are partially completed. And three goals have been completely ignored. I felt it was important to ask myself some tough questions about these goals that have been ignored. It was also important to take a thermometer on my wishes and dreams and then make sure my goals refected the direction I want to be headed. Lastly, prayer should be a big part of this process. 

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
— Philippians 4:6-7 The Message

How are you doing?

How are you doing on your 2018 goals? Download the Mid-Year Check-In Worksheet and see where you are at and get some inspiration to finish well.

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Does the idea of goals make you anxious?

Are you dealing with people pleasing or not sure what God wants from you? My book Paper Tigers might be the message you need right now.

Does feeling alone trigger your anxiety?

There are feelings that can tigger my anxiety in an instant. 

It is probably the same for you too.

Feeling ignored throws my brain into survival mode, and I feel myself wanting to flee. I want to run away from the danger. But the truth is there isn’t any danger.

In every moment of my life, I am seen by my Lord. I am deeply known.

I found beautiful validation of this truth in an unlikely place in the Bible. Right in the middle of one of the minor prophets, a lesser read portion of Scripture there is an example of deep disappointment and God’s reassuring gesture that says, “I see you.”

The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, ‘Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.’
— Haggai 2:20-23 ESV

Here is what you need to know about Zerubbabel. If the exile had not happened, Zerubbabel would have been king. Instead, he was governor over Israel. Not all of the Israelites had returned from exile. They had limited resources to rebuild what had been a magnificent temple, built under Solomon’s leadership and destroyed during the Babylonian capture. They had no armies, and they were rebuilding without the power Israel once had.

How disappointing to know that he could have been a king over Israel with a beautiful temple. Surely if the exile had not happened he would feel the favor of God. Being a governor isn't the same as being king.

I’m sure Zerubbabel probably imagined how things could have been different if the exile hadn’t happened. I’m sure he imagined the respect he would command, how it would feel to stand in front of the grandiose temple as king, and how it would feel to sit on a throne.

Did anyone notice or acknowledge the position he didn’t have, the position that would have rightly been his?

I think Zerubbabel felt unseen.

God noticed.

God saw Zerubbabel.

God looked straight at Zerubbabel and said, “O Zerubbabel my helper, I know your lineage. I will make you like a treasure. I will make you like a sign of royal favor. I choose you.” (my paraphrasing)

When Zerubbabel heard the words of Haggai, hearing that the Lord would make him like a signet ring (a highly valuable possession or treasure, a sign of royal favor) and that God had chosen him, he must feel so know, seen, and fully loved.

He was seen. He was not alone.

God promises to be with Zerubbabel and the small number of Israelites obediently rebuilding the temple. The prophet Haggai records these words of encouragement from the Lord:

Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.
— Haggai 2:4-5 ESV

The prophet Zechariah also records these encouraging words to Zerubbabel.

Then he said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.’
— Zechariah 4:6 ESV

The other thing you need to know about Zerubbabel is that he is in genealogy of the Lord Jesus. God fulfilled his promise of a king who would reign eternally through David and Zerubbabel. What a servant indeed!

Being seen and chosen was true for Zerubbabel, but it is also true for you and me too.

Feeling unseen by others causes me anxiety, but knowing how intimately God sees each of us is changing the way I react when I feel that anxiety start to build.

I do something daily that helps with this. Each day, above my to-do list I write, “I am seen, known, loved, liked, chosen, friend, included.” This is how God sees me, and I remind myself every day.

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What are your anxiety triggers?

Think about times when you’ve felt anxious. What other feelings accompanied your anxiety? What circumstances brought it on? Make a list. Then for every feeling on that list, write the truth about how God thinks of you. After you’ve done this, incorporate those truths into your life. You can copy them into a journal daily, make a reminder on your phone, or print them and put them in your bathroom. See or write the truth of how God sees you every day.

It is too easy to forget how God views us. It is too easy to think we have to behave ourselves to be loved by God. It is too easy to think we have to perform to be seen by God. Anxiety manifest in perfectionism that lies to us. Perfectionism says that we have to measure up to an unattainable goal, being a perfect Christian.

Real life is far from perfection, and truth overcomes the lies every time.

God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.
— Brennan Manning, All Is Grace

What you should know about suicide in the wake of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain

Losing my youngest brother to suicide eight years ago changed my life forever. I know things now that I could never have known if I hadn’t experienced this terrible loss.

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Here's what I think you need to know.

1.  You’ll never know why, and nothing good comes from speculating.

One of the most frustrating things about losing a loved one to suicide is the unanswered questions. Even whenever a note has been left behind, that note will never answer completely answer the question of why. The note might give you some idea to what they were thinking, but you can’t assume they are they are sharing what they were truly thinking in their note. Their last thoughts were likely so untethered that they themselves might not know why they are making this bad decision.

When famous people end their life, there is a temptation to try to answer why. It isn’t helpful to the family grieving or to your own mental health to try to pin an answer to something like fame or true happiness.

2. You need to examine your motivations for wanting answers.

Everyone wants details. The story is sensationalized. Why do we want to know?

Would you have listened to a podcast interview with Kate Spade last week? Would you have watched another rerun of Anthony Bourdain before this?

The details of their life go from mildly interesting to must-know the instant the news breaks of their death.

My suspicion is that you want to know details because you think you can isolate yourself from this kind of loss. You want to make sure you or your loved ones aren’t headed down a path that could end in suicide. The truth is you cannot isolate yourself from suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

This fear is why people love to blame famous people’s suicides on fame. When you aren’t famous, you don’t have fame as a danger in your life.

Do you want to know because you genuinely care about the family affected? Do you want to know out of morbid curiosity? Do you want to know to reassure yourself that you are safe from this type of threat? 

3. You have no idea what the family is going through.

After living through the loss of my brother, I now know that it was impossible to imagine or explain the depth of emotions to someone else that comes when you have lost a loved one to suicide. I had experienced a near-fatal suicide attempt of another loved one previously, and it in no way compared or prepared me for the blow of actually losing my brother. The sudden loss is so beyond heartbreaking. I can try to describe some of the feelings that are unique to suicide loss, but even knowing these facts will not help you to imagine the loss. 

Suicide comes with a rejection that isn’t present in other deaths. When a loved one dies from cancer or an accident, you can know that they did not decide they wanted to never see you again.

Suicide comes with anger. With other deaths you can be angry at a disease, circumstance, or murderer. In suicide, your loved one is their own murderer. I was incredibly angry with my brother for years. I had to navigate grief and forgiveness at the same time.

Suicide comes with uncertainty. Not only do you have to come to acceptance of your loved one's death, you also have to come to a place of acceptance of not having answers. 

Suicide comes with guilt. No matter how your relationship was with your lost loved one before their death, you will inevitably feel as though the loss is your fault. It is not your fault. It will take years to accept that the blame for the loss cannot be laid at your feet.

4. Loss because of suicide can take a long time to grieve.

Because of the added stress, feelings to process, and stigma, grieving suicide can take much longer than typical periods of grief (as if typical exists.) The closer that a person was to the lost loved one can make the amount of time to grieve longer as well. Do not expect someone to be done grieving a suicide loss in a year, two years, or even five years. It would be better to see the grieving as a process that never ends during their lifetime.

5. Losing a loved one to suicide makes you 65% more likely to commit suicide.

This fact may contribute to the feelings many people have that make them want to isolate from suicide loss or reassure themselves that they are not at risk. You need to be aware of the statistic so you can be proactive. If you’ve lost a loved one to suicide, you will need to take your mental health very seriously for the rest of your life. Keeping your mental health in a good place is extremely important. 

If you have a friend, family member, or church member who has lost a loved one to suicide, it is important that you remain proactive in showing love and care towards them. Remember that it takes years to grieve this loss, and you will need to show support throughout the whole grieving process. You don’t have to have the right words, just show up for them and remind them that you care about them and their grief. Check in often, and make sure they are caring for themselves.

6. Guns make suicide-attempts effective.

Wherever you land on political arguments about guns doesn’t matter when it comes to this issue. The fact is that firearms account for more than half of the suicides each year. 85% of suicide attempts with a firearm end in death. Every other method has a higher survival rate. For example, drug overdose attempts are only 3% fatal.

If you or a loved one is at higher risk of committing suicide, please remove guns from your home.  My brother killed himself with a gun that our family wasn’t even aware he had.

Be aware of these facts, and I would advise you to lean towards safety.

 

7. Celebrity suicides bring up feelings of loss for survivors of suicide.

I remember exactly where I was when I found out about Robin Williams’s suicide. I will remember where I was when I read about Kate and Anthony as well. It isn’t because I’m a huge fan of their work. It is because feelings resurface. It is impossible to not think of my brother. Those feelings linked to his death rise to the surface. Guilt, anger, uncertainty, and rejection have to be processed again. I’ve gotten good at calming these feelings over the years, but I still have to go through the thoughts: It is not my fault. I forgive him. I will never know why. He loved me.

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If you need more information, I recommend the book & the website The Gift of Second.

Please call if you need someone to talk to.

When You Need to Admit You Have Anxiety

I have anxiety. It is not easy to put this information in black and white for the world to see. I live in a hotbed of stigma. I am surrounded by it. Depression and suicide in my family of origin, transracial adoption, and choices by family members have made me very aware of how stigma is isolating. Willingly admit more stigma to my life might be wildly unwise. At this point, I’m knee deep anyway. Why not add a few more inches?

Truth is truth, whether you admit it publicly or not.

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I was hesitant to admit my anxiety because of the idea of labeling myself. If I said this was a problem for me, I would have this label attached to me. I believed that my anxiety was temporary. It isn’t. I can look back into my memories and see an anxiety-filled Jennifer at every age and stage of my development. I have lived with anxiety all my life, and the only hope of overcoming it is to own it and learn the best ways to live with it.

If you’ve read my blog, you might remember me posting about struggles with social anxiety. You might be wondering what the difference is. There is a difference. In the past, I’ve struggled with social anxiety. With social anxiety, I would put thoughts in other people’s heads. I would decide I knew what other people were thinking about me, and it wasn’t good. These false ideas would paralyze me and cause me to withdraw from social settings, especially church.

In the last year, my anxiety has become very evident and a hindrance to functioning in life. So many times I have become overwhelmed with the human response to fear. I don’t just feel paralyzed or want to withdraw, my fight or flight response has lost its ability to discern what is really dangerous. The slightest feelings related to fear (rejection, stress, inadequacy, helplessness, overlooked, left out) are treated as life-threatening by my brain. My body reacts, and I cannot control it. My nervous system makes my skin hurt, my brain becomes foggy, I have headaches, heart palpitations, and sweaty palms all because my brain releases hormones that cause all kinds of physical problems.

For me, admitting that I had social anxiety was like admitting to anxiety-light, not the full blown anxiety that tops the list of mental illnesses. I wasn’t ready to be truthful with myself about the extent of my internal struggles.

This summer I plan to blog about my anxiety, how it affects my day to day life, and how it relates to my faith. I hope sharing my struggles and victories will encourage you with your own hard-to-admit problems, whether that is also anxiety or something else that fills you with shame, anger, or fear.

If you are struggling with owning your anxiety, social anxiety, depression, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, eating disorder, or other mental illness, I would encourage you to think through these questions.

  1. What would it change to admit that I have this illness?
  2. Can I look back in my past and see that I had this issue in my childhood or teenage years?
  3. Who would be supportive if I admit that I have this illness?
  4. Who might pull away if I admit that I have this illness?
  5. Am I getting help (medicinal, therapy, or otherwise) for my illness?
  6. Would I be more likely to seek help if I admit that I have this illness?

Admitting the truth of where you are at is the only way you can know the options of your next steps.

For me, my next steps have been big. I have been seeking several outlets for healing and help. I have intentionally surrounded myself with supportive people. 

There’s a silver lining of stigma. You find true, safe friends when you have this baggage that many shy away from. There were people in my life that were unwilling to discuss my anxiety. They didn’t want to ask questions or seek to understand it. Supportive people will not only seek understanding, but they will approach you with empathy. Empathy is essential to really good friendship. 

On the other hand, there were a few friends who showed themselves to be caring, kind, empathetic, and encouraging. These are the friends who showed the love of Christ during a difficult time in my life. I am so grateful for their wisdom and friendship.

Don’t be afraid of stigma, losing unsupportive friends, or seeking help. As you take the first step of admitting you have a problem that needs help, pray God will lead you to your next step. Supportive friends will emerge, and you will thank God for them.

*I'm not a therapist or a doctor. Please seek medical help if you have anxiety or other medical issues.

Book Review - Holy Hustle

I first was introduced to Crystal Stine when I signed up for my first Write-31-Days challenge back in 2015. She was our host, encouraging participants to keep going on our challenge.

This week, I was thrilled to read Crystal’s first published book that released today, Holy Hustle: Embracing a Work-Hard, Rest-Well Life. 

I’m here for the rest. This is a lesson I’ve been learning the past few months. After some serious burnout, our church sent my husband and me to a week-long retreat specifically to help us overcome our ministry burnout. The majority of our week was spent learning why proper rhythms of work and rest were extremely important in ministry. I had already begun learning some of these lessons as I hit a wall and wrote about my feelings towards good works and God in my 2016 Write-31-Days challenge.

Crystal has learned the importance of rest.

I’ve had to admit some prideful thoughts to God as He’s asked me to incorporate rest into my life. Thoughts like: No one else can do this as well as I can. If I don’t do it who will? If I say yes to all these projects I’ll have job security. I don’t have time to rest.

Whether it’s about the work I need to do to maintain our household for my family, the tasks on my freelance to-do list, or the commitments I’ve made to friends, my pride tells me I need to strive, work harder than everyone else, and prove I’m irreplaceable. In reality all that does is cause me to experience burnout and frustration.
— Crystal Stine, Holy Hustle

The idea that we can rest well as we do good work is so exhilarating.

I have to admit that I felt a little tension with the word hustle. I’ve been in urban ministry for twenty years, and for me, hustle has connotations related to selling illegal things on corners. I know that might not be the typical connotation for a middle-aged white Jesus woman, but it is. Rap lyrics are not a stranger to me.

Crystal lays out a beautiful case for redeeming the word hustle.

When we look at the dictionary definition of hustle, all it means is to ‘work rapidly or energetically.’ Doesn’t it remind you of Colossians 3:23? ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.’
— Crystal Stine, Holy Hustle

Crystal spends the majority of the book telling what good work is not:

  • It does not bring guilt or shame you for resting.
  • It is not striving.
  • It isn’t bothersome or insignificant to God.
  • It can’t be too small to make a big impact in God’s Kingdom.
  • It isn’t born out of fear.
  • It doesn’t serve ourselves, instead it serves others.
  • It doesn’t shine a spotlight on ourselves, instead it illuminates God’s glory.
  • It isn’t work just meant for a few people, instead it is for everyone.
  • It doesn’t promote competition.
  • It isn’t limited to a few gifts, instead every gift is needed.
  • It doesn’t stop when failure happens, instead God can redeem failure.
  • It doesn’t keep going when it is time to rest.
Tucked into holy hustle is freedom that takes away the guilt of work and the shame of rest.
— Crystal Stine, Holy Hustle

Holy Hustle will change the way you live out your calling among the people in your lives. As you read and embrace healthy rhythms of work and rest, you can obey your commission well and have holier harmony in your priorities.

We can model rest to our families, we can prioritize people over projects, and we can enter our work ready to serve with our whole hearts. We can also create a sustainable model of holy hustle that allows us to do the best possible work for God’s kingdom as we choose to intentionally work hard, rest well, and repeat.
— Crystal Stine, Holy Hustle

Winter Lessons

It’s been a mild winter, but I’m still longing for the sun. In these last few days of winter, I’m thinking back on what I’ve learned these cold months and I’m merrily looking forward to spring.

The year’s at the spring,

And day’s at the morn;

Morning’s at seven;

The hillside’s dew pearled;

The lark’s on the wing;

The snail’s on the thorn;

God’s in His Heaven -

All’s right with the world!
— Robert Browning

Here’s a list of what I learned this winter:

1. I dove deep into figuring out hygge, a Danish lifestyle idea that’s gained popularity around the world. I lit candles (almost burned my house down), read books with cozy socks, and I enjoyed simple. I found a book at the public library, and I read up on how to hygge. One thing I learned in the chapter about light is about the cute, modern Danish lampshades that I love to gaze at on Ikea trips. The shape and size of the shades are trying to accomplish something besides just looking cool. They are trying to create a less harsh light for a more calm living space. I had no idea.

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2. The book of Isaiah in the Bible might not have been entirely written only by the prophet Isaiah. I’ve been attending Community Bible Study since August, and this year our study is titled Return to Jerusalem. We’ve been learning all about the exile and return of God’s people in the years between 630 BC and 430 BC. Isaiah’s prophetic ministry actually predated this and began in 740 BC. So when I was listening to the audiobook The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson and he was talking about unknown prophets writing parts of Isaiah during and after the exile, my ears perked up. We had talked about Isaiah’s prophecies about the exile back in October. Maybe we didn’t know the whole picture. Peterson said that Isaiah had clearly authored chapters 1 through 39, and it is thought that an unknown prophet authored chapters 40 through 55, and another unknown prophet authored chapters 56 through 66. This idea that someone was writing this work that would be canonized into our Holy Bible during and after the exile without their name being recorded defiantly sparked my imagination. What would that be like? Isaiah chapter 40 is beloved especially since the eagle represents America and Isaiah 58 is often quoted by our current church’s renewed focus on social justice. What about the “beautiful feet” of chapter 52? What if these chapters were not written by Isaiah at all but some anonymous prophet living in Babylon? To know nothing of the man God chose to pen such inspiring, beautiful words? The Holy Spirit breathing these holy ideas through an unknown vessel? Or what if the multiple author theory is wrong and Isaiah wrote it all? What if this theory is just human nature to try to explain away the specificity of Isaiah prophecy (like knowing Cyrus’s name 200 years beforehand)? So what I learned this winter was more questions. More questions isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes having more questions means you’re getting closer to knowing something.

 

3. This January as I was making my list of goals for 2018, I realized one thing I wanted to do this year was join or start a fiction book club. It sounded like fun when I was reading the book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin several months ago, and I haven’t quit thinking about it. I started remembering some things about 6th grade Jennifer. I loved to read, and my favorite thing to read during that time was Sweet Valley books. One of my Sweet Valley books came with a book club kit. It had all kinds of silly paper goods created with preteens in mind like little book club membership cards. I remember sitting at my little desk in my room dreaming of having a Sweet Valley book club. Who would I invite? What would we talk about at our meetings? Would we wear all purple like Jessica on meeting days? I never started my club. Probably because it was summer and I lived in the country at the time. I didn’t have many neighbors I could have wrangled into my club. What I learned this winter is that I am still that 6th-grade girl, and I still want a book club. I might not want to talk about my favorite fictional Cali-girl twins, but I want to talk about story, plot, narrative, symbolism, and how fiction teaches us how we feel about the real world. I have no book club plans, but I learned something I want to do and knowing what you want to do is half the battle.

 

4. I like designing calendars. I’ve made calendars for my email subscribers for January, February, and now for March. It’s fun designing these useful printables for my email friends and my own personal refrigerator. I just emailed out the link for the March calendar yesterday. If you subscribe, I’ll email it to you too.

 

5. I read the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend for the first time this winter. There were so many good, healthy lessons in that book. I wish I could have gone back in time and told my twenty-year-old self to read it. It was written in 1992 so I could have! My favorite lesson was this: There’s a difference between carrying your own load and carrying a burden. Galatians 6:5 says we each have to carry our own load. This is another way of saying that we have to adult. We have to take responsibility for ourselves. Work is good. Dependance and co-dependence is a sign of bad boundaries. Sometimes life gets really hard and something comes along that is too heavy to carry, like a boulder. This is a burden. Galatians 6:2 says to, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

“Problems arise when people act as if their “boulder” are daily loads and refuse to help, or as if their “daily loads” are boulders they shouldn’t have to carry. The results of these two instances are either perpetual pain or irresponsibility.”
— Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend, Boundaries

I’ve had my fair share of boulders to carry in the last decade, and I’m thankful for my friends who have grabbed a corner in some way. 

There are so many ways we can reach out and bear a burden, be the Church, fulfill the law of Christ! An intercessory prayer, an ear to listen, a well-timed (or God-timed) text or message to let someone know they’re not alone, a thoughtful gift or a need met out of the blue can be tangible love. It is a disgrace to sit around in buildings and talk about loving one another and never actually do something that shows love to someone who needs love.

If you are sitting here reading this trying to decide what is and isn’t a burden. My advice is to air on the side of grace. Something that seems easy to you might actually be something that feels like drowning to someone else. Most burden-bearing activities don’t cost much, do they? Call that hurting friend. Send that text. Pray for those who pop-up in your mind.

Galatians 6:2-3 ESV says, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” And I love how The Message version translated Galatians 6:3. It says, “If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.”

If letting someone know you care sounds like too much to you, you might have a different boundary problem, the opposite of co-dependancy. You might have a fence with no gate. You might not have a mechanism to let in and let out love. 

“Sometimes, we have bad on the inside and good on the outside. In these instances, we need to be able to open up our boundaries to let the good in and the bad out. In other words, our fences need gates in them.”
— Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend, Boundaries

This winter had a lot of good lessons.

Have you learned something this winter, you want to share? Comment below!

If you want to share what you've learned this winter, check out Emily P. Freeman's What We Learned Link-up.

 

 

Word of the Year 2018

The last few weeks I was asking myself the question, What’s the opposite of fear?

God answers a question in funny ways sometimes. It wasn’t the answer I expected, but it was the answer that was right in front of my face.

I had tried to answer the question on my own, going down a rabbit hole of online thesaurus entries. I had gone to Google instead of God.

Google makes me feel like I’m somewhat solving my problems, because isn’t research the first step to a solution? When I need an answer, I sometimes go to God, but I almost always go to Google. My safety net when I’m stressed is Googling, planning, and worrying. Google always has an answer, even when that answer is buried in a message board, contained in a comment made by someone who most likely has no idea what they are talking about.
— Amena Brown, How to Fix a Broken Record

The reason I wanted to know the opposite of fear was because I thought it would make an excellent word of the year for 2018. (Yes, I still haven’t settled on a word yet, and it is almost March. Better late than never.)

Last night, attending my IF:Local, God gave me the answer so clearly that I felt almost silly that I hadn’t found it. I also felt so loved and seen. God hears our unspoken questions.

When God’s Word hits you smack in the face, sometimes it doesn’t hurt as much as it feels like an overpowering hug from a toddler without knowledge of his own strength.

At the beginning of the year, I was trying to figure out what word I should use for my word of the year. I couldn’t tell you. I could tell you what I didn’t want for 2018. I didn’t want more fear-driven good behavior, fear-driven people pleasing, or pride-driven good works. I have been working on letting go of those things so hard that I wrote a book about it

I knew I didn’t want fear driving my year in any way. Thus my search for the opposite of fear.

The key verse for 2018’s IF:Gathering was 2 Timothy 1:7, and it says this, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power, love, and self-control.

God just flat out told me the opposite of fear in that one Bible verse, and I laughed in delight and wonder.

Here’s the hilarious thing. I’ve been podcasting about the opposite of fear this last month, and I didn’t even recognize what I was doing.

In my Quiet series for the DevoPod, I dedicated part of the study to breaking out of quiet through serving in God’s dynamite power.

God’s power is absolutely the opposite of fear. God’s power is full of love and it comes more easily if we are connected to our source of self-control or a sound mind, His Word.

It is so clear what my word for 2018 is because I’ve already been thinking about it, writing about it, and trying to live wrapped up in it. It is dynamite.

Eat your heart out J. J.!

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I shared this on Day 11 of the Quiet series on the DevoPod.  The Greek dunamis loosely refers to “strength, power, or ability.” It is the root word of our English words dynamite, dynamo and dynamic.

We can take comfort that we can serve in God’s dynamic, dynamite strength.

If you are one of those people who know a lot about God’s Word or maybe have the Logos app, you might say that the word Paul used for power in this verse is actually translated from the Greek word dunameos, meaning miraculous power, might strength from the root dunamai. I would say, why are you being a party pooper? And it is a verb related to the cognate-noun dynamis. And please be nice to me because I’m not a Bible scholar, and I’m being upfront with that. I’m just a girl studying God’s Word, like we all are empowered to do.

If you are one of those people who know a lot about science, you might say that dynamite wasn’t invented in the first century when Paul wrote this letter to Timothy. I would also say, why are you being a party pooper? I am not one of those people who know a lot about science, but I can Google it and see that Alfred Nobel invented it in 1867. He named it from this greek word dunamis calling it Nobels Extradynamit, and “J.J.” Jimmy Walker didn’t make it fun to say until 1974 so what of it?

So that’s my word for 2018: Dynamite

It’s already been an amazing year! Check out our adoption update!

What about you?  Have you chosen your word for 2018? Do you have dreams and struggles coming up this year and need some focus? It's not too late to do this fun, focusing exercise. Sign up to receive my Word of the Year Worsheet by email if you need a little help finding your word.

This song is so stinkin' good! So many of our fears are silly in the light of eternity. It's such a good reminder to love, love, love.

Was it for me?

I want you to read a section of Scripture that you might not be familiar with. I don't think I've ever heard a sermon preached on this. I know I've never read it and comprehended it until this year, but this section of Scripture has been weaving around my brain for two solid months now, and I've been so affected by it that I want to share it with every person I know. It has broken me. It has led me to confession and repentance. It has comforted me in times of distress. It has become a value I use to make decisions. It has helped me to better understand God, and that's no small thing.

In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev. Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men to entreat the favor of the Lord, saying to the priests of the house of the Lord of hosts and the prophets, ‘Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?’

Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me: ‘Say to all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves? Were not these the words that the Lord proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous, with her cities around her, and the South and the lowland were inhabited?’

And the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.’ But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts. ‘As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and the pleasant land was made desolate.’
— Zachariah 7:1-14 ESV

Let me try to clear up what is going on here because there are some words and backstory that I didn't know. After the Israelites were taken into exile, they had no temple and therefore no place of worship. They began the religious observance of fasting on four significant days around their exile. They fasted on the day the siege of Jerusalem began, the day the wall of Jerusalem was broken through, the day the temple was destroyed, and the day their high priest was murdered. In my mind, I've always pictured Jerusalem's fall happening in a slow-motion movie sequence that lasts only a few days. The reality of these events recorded in Scripture shows that the destruction of Jerusalem and exile of God's people was a series of horrific, traumatic violence that lasting at least 10 months.

The word Chislev in the first paragraph is the name of a month in the Jewish calendar, the third month to be exact. At the beginning of the fifth month was when the Jewish people would fast in remembrance and mourning of the destruction of the temple. 

You also need to know that the exile had ended, many of the Israelites had returned to Jerusalem, and the temple was in the process of being restored.

When the men came to ask the priests, “Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” what they were asking was could they stop fasting in mourning of the destruction of the temple now that the temple was being rebuilt?

The people had just fasted the month before in remembrance of the destruction of the wall. The was not yet rebuilt, and it wouldn't be rebuilt for another 70 years. The people didn't really want to fast, and they thought they could get off the hook for one of the four fasts since the temple was now being restored.

God cut right to the people's heart issues when He gave Zechariah these prophetic words: "When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted?"

God sliced away every bit of the outside, surface, distracting baggage, and He shined a spotlight on the heart of His people.

Was it for me?

With these words, God swept away the religious acts, the busyness of their hands, the pious physical actions, the empty observances, the outwardly sacred, the pride-building sacrificial compliance, and He uncovered the barrenness of their feelings towards their God.

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Was it for me?

Here's where this account of our God becomes so beautiful to me. God doesn't do what I would expect Him to do. He doesn't lecture His people on how they need to actually love their God. God points to who He loves, and says love these people. 

These are the words God gives. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”

God cuts deeper into their already exposed hearts, and He points out their lack of justice, love, and mercy. He reminds the people of the lawless, heartless sins that lead to hard-hearted people that were allowed by God to be exiled.

This is where my heart shatters. I look around at our American church and I don't see a focus on justice, love, and mercy. I see a focus on religious acts, busyness of hands, pious physical actions, empty observances, outwardly sacred, and pride-building sacrificial compliance. I see a focus on defending political views as if they are sacred while ignoring the sacredness of showing mercy to the sojourner (which would include foreign refugees.) I see a focus on following rules while distancing themselves from those who are poor or oppressed.

I look at my own heart that is exposed. I see pride, selfishness, and hurry instead of love, mercy, and seeking justice.

I look at my religious weekly activities. I let God ask me, "Was it for me?"

Sometimes I don't like my answer.

I think of the praise song we sometimes sing when we join with other parts of our Church, "Break my heart for what breaks Yours." Here we have God plainly lining out what breaks His heart: lies and corruption in justice, people who don't show kindness and mercy (giving others more than they deserve), oppressing the vulnerable, not caring for the temporary stranger, and not caring for the poor.

My heart breaks for these things, and I feel unbelievable comfort when I realize God cares more than I do about injustice.

My trip-ups in my twenty years of ministry haven't always been neglecting the poor or seeking justice. I've been serving in urban, missional church in the heart of my city sharing the love of Jesus with the vulnerable.

My heart issue comes when I allow God to ask me that question about my ministry: "Was it for me?"

Was I feeding children for God's benefit? Was I serving the poor because it was God's will, and was I serving each of those faces because Matthew 25 tells me that those faces were Jesus himself?

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If I allow God to slice into my human heart, I see emotions that shouldn't be present in these religious actions with my hands. I see pride. I've gotten something out of the service, and I am not honest with myself when I don't recognize it and repent of it.

It feels good to serve. Look at me. Look at the sacrifices I am making to love and care for the overlooked, vulnerable, hurting people of my city. I read the end of James, chapter one, and I boast that I'm doing religion right. I feel sorry for the suckers sitting in "regular church."

And God says, "Jennifer, was it for me?"

I can care for the poor, the refugee, the widow, and the orphan, and still, I am not God. I don't deserve the praise.

I can give up comfortable church to serve in a missional church for twenty years, and still, I am not God. No one should pat me on the back.

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If our motivations are wrong (if you are human, your motivations will be wrong), we should stop what we are doing and figure out what God is doing.

This doesn't mean we cease to care for the vulnerable. Instead, we daily take a pause to repent of our pride and ask God what we can do for Him.

He daily asks, "Was it for me?"

We honestly answer. We hope we can answer that we acted out of love. We hope we can answer we did it for His glory and not our own.

Word tbd

The last few years I've participated in the practice of picking a word of the year.

This year I'm stuck in the process, and it just isn't happening.

Maybe it is because I feel like I completely failed at 2017's word. I failed so badly that by summer I couldn't even tell you what my word was because I couldn't remember. Not even knowing what the word was, I knew for sure that I hadn't lived into it. How could I have? My life was a mess.

Some healing happened in the fall, but healing doesn't mean fixed. The last few days of 2017 I may have physically been going through the motions, but emotionally I was flat on my face.

I looked this morning to see what my 2017 word was because I still couldn't remember. It was confidence.

When I think of living in confidence, I picture those cute little toys I loved as a kid, Weebles. Remember "Weebles wobble but they don't fall down?" Weebles had these rounded bottoms that were weighted in the way that they bounced back up.

That was not my experience in 2017. I weebled, I woobled, I fell down. I didn't live in confidence in anything.

I failed at ministry, parenting, trust in God, family relationships, goals. We had a failed adoption referral in February, and we started over with a new referral in April.

I was so grateful to start a new year. 2018 is here, and it has got to be better! After recovering from strep, I began all the new year goal-building exercises. I reviewed my 2017 planner, made lists of what worked and what didn't, downloaded Jennie Allen's Dream Guide, and started my word of the year worksheet.

I've filled out half of my word of the year worksheet, and I'm stuck. I'm reluctant. I failed so badly at remaining confident in God and myself in 2017. Was I just bad at knowing my situation or self at the beginning of last year or was I just bad a knowing the future?

2018's word is still to be determined.

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I don't know what God has for me in 2018, and I'm going to need more time getting quiet.

What I do know is that I ended 2017 on my face, and when I look at Scripture, being on your face wasn't a bad place to be. It usually meant something good was happening. It usually is done when a person is in the presence of God (Genesis, 17:3, Numbers 20:6, Ezekial 1:28, Luke 5:12, Revelations 7:11) or expressing worship (1 Kings 18:39, 1 Chronicles 29:20, Matthew 2:11, Matthew 17:6).

It also could mean something bad had happened. Face down is an expression of fear or mourning (Isaiah 15:3, Joshua 7:6).

I am in mourning of the losses and changes our life is going through. I am in fear of the changes that are inevitable in 2018. I feel very unsure of what 2018 holds.

I've repented of the times I lost confidence in the love, sovereignty, and goodness of God in the past year. I'm forgiven. I'm loved. 

Right now I'm staying on my face for a little while longer. I'll let you know when that changes.

I'm on my face in mourning. Mourning doesn't make people comfortable, but it is a necessary part of healing.

I'm on my face in worship.

I'm on my face listening and asking for healing.

While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’ And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him. And he charged him to tell no one, but ‘go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.’ But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.
— Luke 5:12-16 ESV

Want to pick a word for 2018? Subscribe to my email newsletter, and I will email you the worksheet.

Merry Christmas from the Lane family!

Merry Christmas!

Our two boys had fun making this silly greeting for you and your family. Gabe has been obsessed with Nutcrackers since I took him to see the ballet with friends a few weeks ago. That was the inspiration here.

On a more serious note, I wanted to share this illustrated poem that James, my poet-at-heart husband, wrote. He produced it for the tv show for Citychurch. He hired a voice actor to bring it to life, and he used his video production skills to make it very cool. James is so good at portraying emotions. This poem is the Christmas story from Joseph's point of view.

I wrote and produced this for our upcoming Christmas show. Check it out. Merry Christmas!

Posted by James Lane on Monday, December 18, 2017

I hope you enjoyed our silly and serious Christmas videos. We are praying your Christmas is filled with love, joy, peace, and hope!

We love you all! Love, James, Jennifer, Lucy, Andrew, Gabe, (and soon Hezekiah)!

Fall Lessons

The week before Thanksgiving, I went to a week-long ministry retreat with my husband. It was amazing to get away from day-to-day life for that long. The only time my husband and I have been away from home that long is on short-term mission trips. Being away to rest and renew in the mountains was a completely new experience.

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You may never have an opportunity to have that experience so I want to share some things I learned. (The retreat was called SonScape. If you're interested, email me and I'll give you more details.) 

Here are five things I learned in my week of retreat:

1. I learned that I'm better at knowing other people than I am at knowing myself.

I learned about Myers-Briggs personality types, and I learned that I am an INFJ. That means I am: introverted (I prefer to focus on my inner world), iNtuitive (I focus first on the big picture), feeler (I think about people and feelings over logic), Judging (I get satisfaction from completing tasks and long for closure to all problems.)  Because I am an intuitive feeler, that means I have deep thoughts and deep feelings.

It was much easier to spot how other people in my life might fit into one of the sixteen personality types than it was to know that my personality type fits me. I am also actually less introverted than I thought I was. I am only slightly-introverted. I enjoy being around people more than I thought I did. I am just picky about who I want to spend time with because I am such a deep feeler, I don't want to spend time with people who can't go deep with me or I don't feel they are safe to share my deep feelings with. The problem with this is that my personality type is the rarest, meaning there aren't a lot of people who like to go deep like I do. INFJ is only 1% of the population. That means I would have to meet 100 people before I would find another INFJ. My husband has a more frequent personality type. He could meet 11 people, and chances are one of those people would be the same personality type that he is. We even have more than one of his personality types in our immediate families. So I'm on a mission to find another INFJ to be friends with. If you are reading this and you are an INFJ, let me know!

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2. Play is part of Sabbath

Sabbath was made for us. We need it. God does not need Sabbath. (Mark 2:27) The purpose of Sabbath is not a religious testing to see if we can sit still for 24 hours. It is a time of putting down our work. That's really the only requirement, we are to not work. (Exodus 20:8-11)

In God's Word, we are never called the adults of God. We are children of God, and just like play is an integral part of child development, playing is necessary for children of God too. Beautiful times of pure worship can happen in the middle of play.

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3. An awesome definition of fear

Our retreat leaders suggested we listen to a Brennan Manning sermon that was on an iPod in our cabin. The sermon was so wonderful. One of my favorite parts of the sermon was Brennan's definition of fear:

Fear - silent wonder, radical amazement, and affectionate awe at the infinite goodness of God.
— Brennan Manning

So often we associate having fear of God with the idea that God is dangerous, likely to cause us pain or that God is a threat, but this isn't the emotion of fear that God demands from us. Brennan's definition of fear is a relief for an anxious person such as me. 

4. Emotional health affects our spiritual health

Much of my quiet times at the retreat was focused on the work I've been doing in therapy. Getting my head and heart to a healthy place is very important to ministry and my Spirit, my relationship with God.

Getting healthy will require us to pull back the veneer. It won’t happen until we’re serious enough to get honest, own our stuff, and take responsibility for our soul care. We’ll need to go to some of the most private corners of our soul... dark places where personal ambition, insecurity, fear, and brokeness reside. These and other lurking soul predators would love to devour you, those you live and your ministry.
— Lance Witt, Replentish

Emotional health pursuits like therapy, journaling, meditating, breathing, reading self-help books, creating quiet, leaving margin, and having boundaries might sound like it has nothing to do with your spiritual life, but it is crucial to your relationship with God. You are a whole person, and God has called you to love him with your whole self (mind, body, and spirit.)

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5. We need all need healthy, weekly rhythms of rest and quiet.

Our retreat journal said this, "It is not the people around us that are holding us back from a life of deep intimacy with Jesus. It is not the people around us who are keeping us addicted to busyness and noise. It is ourselves." 

We have to take responsibility for our choices. We need to make decisions that will plan times during our week that allow us to get quiet and ask these questions: 1. Who is God? 2. Who did God make me to be? 3. What is God doing in my world? 4. How can I be a part of what God is doing?

Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.
— Matthew 6:6 The Message
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I learned so much more than these five things, but these were my favorite new lessons I couldn't wait to share with you. It would be impossible to fit all seven days into these few words. If you are in ministry (whether you are feeling burnout or not at that point yet) I know a SonScape Retreat will impact your ministry life for the better.

If you want to share what you've learned this fall, check out Emily P. Freeman's What We Learned Link-up.

Christmas Shopping Guide - Ethiopia Edition

For several years I've made a list of great gift options that were fair trade and/or sourced from small businesses.

This year, I'm not even going to pretend I don't have a favorite gift source. It's Ethiopia. If you have a chance during your holiday shopping to send some love to that beautiful country that has part of my heart, do it.

Here's some good gift giving options:

 

1. Happy Car Baby Blanket, $89, from Little Gabies, purchase on Yogaso Site or Amazon.

2. Ethiopian Coffee from Story Co., $16, purchase here.

3. Ammo Bracelet, $14, from Addis Jemari, purchase here.

4. Burlap Christmas Stockings, $20, from Carry 117, purchase here.

1. Handmade Tan Korah Tote, $199, from Carry 117, purchase here.

2. Confidant Necklace, $68, from Noonday Collections, purchase here.

3. Peppermint Lip Balm, $3, from Mare Naturals, purchase here.

4. Men's Nkrumahs Brown, $220, from ENZI Footwear, purchase here.

1. White & Blue Striped Cotton Kitchen Towel, $20, from Sabahar, purchase here.

2. Eyerusalem Passport Wallet, $35, from Able, purchase here.

3. Azeb iPad Sleeve - Slate, $23, from Raven and Lily, purchase here.

4. Kyah Baby Shoes, $36, from Parker Clay, purchase here.


So there you have it! Twelve beautiful things you can gift this holiday plus show some Ethiopia love.

Happy shopping!

Still need ideas? Previous years' Christmas gift guides: 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

Merry Christmas!

Need a Calendar?

Uncovering from a shame blanket and relishing the robe of righteousness

I have been buried in emotion, and I've been seeing an emotion pro (otherwize known as a therapist) to help me dig out.  One thing that happens to me when I have deep feelings is that my brain gets hijacked.  I am overcome with feelings of rejection and I cannot think clearly.

We've identified a few triggers that send me into panic.  Anytime I perceive I'm being ignored, feel unwanted, or feel rejected, I believe that I am unsafe.  I am sent into flight mode, and I withdraw myself from the situation that is causing me stress.

My therapist has also told me that I have a shame blanket.  This means that almost every feeling I have has an element of shame linked to it.  I feel like I've done something wrong to cause the stress.  I've caused others to reject me.  I don't even think about it.  Whatever the feeling I'm having or feeling I perceive others have about me, I immediately feel:  it is my fault.

Just knowing I have a shame blanket gives me even more shame.  What is wrong with me?

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As I've been working towards healthier thinking, I can clearly see God working in my life.  This summer I decided to join a weekly, interdenominational Bible study called Community Bible Study.  The books of the Bible we are working through are not heavily read portions of Scripture.  We just got through studying Haggai and we are now working our way through Zachariah.  I would have never guessed that these books of the Bible would have had such an impact on my life, but they have.

Studying the prophetic visions in Zachariah was tough work mentally.  Trying to understand Bible prophecy is like sorting wet spaghetti, nothing feels firm or graspable.  In the midst of this study, I found something that felt as though it had been written directly for me.  Zachariah was describing one of the visions he had about their high priest Joshua.

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?’ Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Remove the filthy garments from him.’ And to him he said, ‘Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.’ And I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head.’ So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by.
— Zechariah 3:1-5 ESV

 

This vision has direct meaning to God's people at the time it was written. Joshua was a real person. He was actually the high priest of God's people who have left exile in Babylon and are back in Jerusalem working on rebuilding the temple.  

This vision also is a prophecy of the coming Messiah. It is a clear illustration of the atonement Jesus Christ would offer.

So when I say that these verses felt very personal to me, I am aware that they were written for His people then. But they also can be an encouragement for His people now.

The enemy loves my shame blanket. He loves that I feel guilt over every feeling that God created me to have. Feelings are not sin, but the enemy loves that I feel like every emotion gives me the shame and guilt that sinning would envoke.

Do you know who doesn't love my shame blanket?

Jesus.

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
— Hebrews 12:2 ESV

Jesus endured the cross.

Jesus despises shame.

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As I sat with my Bible study book, unconfidently trying to understand the book of Zechariah. A book written by a priest and prophet around 520 B.C., I was stunned to read this passage and feel how palpable God's love for me was in these words.

This man was standing before the Angel of the LORD, who many believe is Jesus in a temporary form. To his right is Satan, acting as an accuser or a prosecutor. He has a strong case for accusation because Joshua is clothed in filthy, excrament-smelling garments.

Joshua doesn't have to defend himself. He couldn't if he wanted to. He has no defense. Instead God defends him and all of His people that Joshua represents as high priest. 

Not only does God defend Joshua. He commands that Joshua's filthy garments be removed, and he is clothed in a pure robe. He is given a clean turban for his head and clean garments.

Joshua wasn't told to go clean himself up or to wash his garments on his own.

Joshua didn't deserve to have his filthy garments replaced with pure clothing.

Here I am, a child of God who has been adopted into His family. I have been covered with the atonement of Jesus. My sins have been forgiven, and my God sees me clothed, not in the filthy garments I have created for myself, but in the righteousness of Christ.

But I wrap up in my shame blanket anyway.

I think I'm not loved.

I think I'm not worthy of love.

I think my feelings are wrong.

I think my feelings are bad.

I think I am bad.

All of this thinking is tearing me up and paralyzing me. Meanwhile, God wants to wrap my head in a clean turban. He wants me to think of myself the way He thinks of me.

He loves me. He sees me as worthy of love. He chose me. He sees me as good. He sees all the good things he created me to be and do.

How do you let go of a shame blanket?

God is going to have to do the work of prying my hands off of the security of being wrapped in bad thoughts about myself. Shame feels right because I am a sinner, and it doesn't take much to convince me that I am the problem.

Shame feels right and grace feels wrong.

Our flesh will never feel like grace is right because grace isn't fair.

Joshua didn't deserve clean new garments. Joshua deserved the accusations.

I don't deserve for God to take my shame blanket and cloth me in a robe of Christ's righteousness. I deserve the accusations, and my head is full of them.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
— Isaiah 61:10 ESV

Today I have the assurance that my Abba Father is being a good parent to me at reaching down to take something dangerous out of my clumsy, unknowing hands. He is pulling away the comfortable blanket of shame that I have grown accustomed to living wrapped up in. I am crying like a toddler who wants that thing in her hands and doesn't understand my parent is trying to protect me from hurt. Like any good parent, He is placing something safe and good in my hands and hoping I will forget about the dangerous thing that He has taken from me.

Lord, help me to not want my shame blanket. Help me to capture my negative, accusatory thoughts and replace them with the thoughts you have about me.

Help me to feel secure in this robe of righteousness that you have placed on me, even though I don't feel like I deserve it because I don't deserve it.

Jesus told us to pray, "Your kingdom come." And in God's kingdom, we are all clothed in white robes forever and ever.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
— Revelation 7:9-10 ESV

When His Kingdom does come, I will be able to physically see my white robe, and will never ever see or feel my shame blanket again. So I fervently pray that His Kingdom comes, now, here on Earth as it will be in Heaven.

Lord, uncover me from this shame blanket and guide me in relishing my robe of righteousness!

Thank you, Jesus!

Here's a song for you, because I like sharing songs with my friends.

Write 31 Days Project - DevoPod, devotional podcast

For my third year participating in Write 31 Days, I'm going to do something a little different. I'm going to launch a new podcast. I'll be writing devotional content for each of the podcast episodes so just because I won't be typing out words here on the blog page, that doesn't mean I won't be writing my little heart out.

The introduction episode and today's episode, day one,  is now on my website if you'd like to listen to them both. The links are below. I will continue to add links to this page as I release episodes each day this month. 

You can listen to the DevoPod on iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play.

DevoPod is a daily devotional in podcast form. My goal for the podcast is to make taking time to really be in God’s Word easy for listeners. Each day this month, the podcast will lead the listener through a short Scripture reading straight from the Bible, a prayer, and a question so that you can make His Word personal in your heart and life. The episodes will be about five minutes long.

We will be concentrating on a different Beatitude each week; week one will examine, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Links:

 

Introduction:

Day One:

Poor in Spirit; 2 Corinthians 12:5-10

Day Two:

Poor in Spirit; Philippians 2:1-11

Day Three:

Poor in Spirit; James 4:1-10

Day Four:

Poor in Spirit; Eph 4:1-7

Day Five:

Poor in Spirit; 1 Peter 5:6-9

Day Six:

Poor in Spirit; Matthew 11:25-30

Day Seven:

Poor in Spirit; Luke 21:1-4

Day Eight:

Day one of Those Who Mourn; Romans 8:38-39

Day Nine:

Day two of Those Who Mourn; John 11:17-27

Day Ten:

Day three of Those Who Mourn; John 11:28-37

Day Eleven:

Day four of Those Who Mourn; Romans 5:1-5

Day Twelve:

Day five of Those Who Mourn; John 14:1-4

Day Thirteen:

Day six of Those Who Mourn; Romans 8:26-27

Day Fourteen:

Day seven of Those Who Mourn; 2 Corinthians 7:7-13a

Day Fifteen:

Day one of The Meek; Psalms 37

Day Sixteen:

Day two of The Meek; James 3:13-18

Day Seventeen:

Day three of The Meek; Numbers 12:3

Day Eighteen:

Day four of The Meek; Jeremiah 39:9-10

Day Nineteen:

Day five of The Meek; 1 Peter 5:5

Day Twenty:

Day six of the The Meek; Zeph. 3:11-13

Day Twenty-One:

Day seven of The Meek; 1 Peter 3:13-17

Day Twenty-Two:

Day one of Satisfied; Genesis 15:1-6

Day Twenty-Three:

Day two of Satisfied; Jeremiah 23:5-6

Day Twenty-Four:

Day three of Satisfied; Matthew 5:17-20

Day Twenty-Five:

Day four of Satisfied; Matthew 6:25-33

Day Twenty-Six:

Day five of Satisfied; Romans 1:16-17

Day Twenty-Seven:

Day six of Satisfied; Romans 4:1-8

Day Twenty-Eight:

Day seven of Satisfied; Romans 8:9-11

Day Twenty-Nine:

Day eight of Satisfied; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Day Thirty:

Day nine of Satisfied; Galatians 2:15-21

Day Thirty-one:

Day ten of Satisfied; Galatians 3:10-14

<<< a song for you >>>

Introducing Myself

I am off to a writers conference in just 10 short days.  I will be attending the Declare Conference in Dallas, Texas, and I'm introducing myself for a fun pre-conference blog link-up.

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Whether you are a conference attendee or just reading my blog, I have now recruited you as a friend and you should know some things.

When did you feel called to be a digital evangelist, what’s your main medium (podcast / blogging / books / speaking / social media / etc.), and how long have you been doing it?

I fell in love with writing while blogging about a mission trip to Ethiopia in 2014.  I had been blogging about our adoption experience before that, but this was a whole new heart-tug to write about so much more.  I have written two eBooks, Faith Adventures and a new eBook I will be releasing this month titled Paper Tigers and Impressing God: How To Be a Doer Who is Free.  I have dabbled in the podcast world, and I have a new podcast on the horizon.

 

What is your life scripture?

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV

 

What are your passions?

Encouraging you to put hands & feet to your discipleship, so you can seek justice while you grow spiritually, is what delights my heart.  I'm passionate about the Great Commission, loving my husband, and loving my 3 (soon to be 4 through adoption) pretty great kids.

 

What is your favorite candy and / or food?

Dark chocolate, it's like normal chocolate at prescription strength.

 

Where is your happy place and what’s it like?

Standing in front of a stage, hearing live music. My brain is alive, and it is marvelous.

 

Are you working on any exciting projects that you can share about? If so, please share!

I have signed up for Write 31 Days, which begins October 1st, and I am using the challenge to launch a new project - a devotional podcast called DevoPod.

 

How can we pray for you as you prepare for this year’s conference?

Pray for my anxiety.  As an introvert/people pleaser, I get nervous!  Instead of being in my head, I want to be present and open to new opportunities and friendships that God will lead me towards.

 

Your turn!  What are you passionate about?  I'm dying to hear! Please comment & Let me know.

      A song for you as you go.

Meet Hezekiah - Adoption Update

It has been months since I’ve posted anything about our adoption on my social media or blog.  I apologize for keeping quiet.  

I have some news I’d like to share with you.  We have been referred a sweet 2-year-old boy.  He is not yet ours, but we are doing everything we can to get a chance to go to court in Ethiopia and make him our son.

MEET HEZEKIAH

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HERE’S THE SHORT VERSION, THE ANSWERS TO THE QUESTIONS I GET ASKED MOST OFTEN.

We don’t know when our court date might be.  The most likely guess is sometime between December and March, but it could always be longer because we are dependent on the Ethiopian government and that is unpredictable.

We have paid all of our agency fees.  We were able to fundraise and save all $26,000 we needed to pay our agency.  There were so many people who gave generously to our adoption.  Our adoption wouldn’t be happening without those donations and the provision of our Faithful God.

We still will need to pay for our travel.  When we travel for court, that expense is completely up to us to provide.  We estimate that it will cost around $8,000.

We will be able to bring Hezekiah home when we travel for court.  Whenever we are finally able to travel, we will be bringing our son home with us when we come home.  We will need to be in Ethiopia for three weeks.

This little boy is not the same 4-year-old boy, “A”, that we were hoping to adopt at Christmastime.  You can read more about that below or in our last blog post.

Thank you to everyone who has prayed for us, shared about our adoption, let me know you were praying for us, donated to our adoption, or participated in one or more of our bazillion fundraisers.

I really am appreciative.

HERE’S THE LONG VERSION OF THE STORY, FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO LOVE MORE DETAILS.  

The weekend after Thanksgiving, we were driving home from visiting my family in Ft. Worth when I pulled up a waiting child list and saw a precious little face.  The waiting child list was on a private webpage and it included children that they had not been able to find a family for from among the families adopting through their agency.  This little boy was just the age we had hoped to adopt, and we knew we could be a home for him.  We emailed the agency (which was a completely different adoption agency that had been using and paid all of our fees to) to see if this little boy still needed a family.

A week later we had found out that this sweet little boy was still waiting for a family, and we were trying to make the difficult decision of switch agencies to try to adopt him or stay with our agency with no end in sight to our waiting.  The biggest factor was money.  We had paid our current agency about one-third of the money required for an international adoption, and we wouldn’t get any of it back if we switched agencies.  Also, we would need to pay over twice the amount we had paid thus far and pay for yet another home study for the new agency.  It was money we didn’t have, and we would have to trust God to provide it.

We took the leap.  I have the conviction that God does not view money the way we people do, and I never want to make a ministry decision based solely on money.  We switched agencies and began fundraising.

From the first week of December until the last week of February we fundraised like mad people.  We did bake sales, present wrapping, garage sales, barbecues, craft sales, and online auctions.  We downright asked for handouts.  We made a video asking everyone to give $2 and invite 10 friends to do the same.  Our Paypal account was flooded by generous people.  After a few months of constant fundraising, we were still about $7,000 short of paying all of our new agency’s fees.  Paying off those fees would allow us to sign the contract that would make sure that we would be the family that would adopt this sweet boy.  We were so sure that this was the boy God had in mind for our family.

One afternoon the last week of February, I was pulling into the craft store parking lot.  I was in the middle of making more crafts for yet another fundraiser, and my phone rang.  It was our new social worker on the phone.  She had some tough news to share about “our boy.”  My first thought was that he was sick or worse.  She shared that without their knowledge, the remote orphanage that our sweet boy was at had contacted a different agency to advocate for finding a family.  Another family had stepped up to adopt him through another agency.  They had already completed their home study and all of their paperwork.  This family had paid all their agency’s fees and signed a contract of adoption with the orphanage.  All of this had been done weeks ago without our agency’s knowledge, and the orphanage had decided to let this other family proceed with the adoption.

This news was devastating.  I mourned this loss hard.  In the middle of grief was tremendous guilt.  Wasn’t I happy that he was still healthy and still was going to be adopted into a family?  Hurt mixed with guilt is a recipe for some awful thoughts about yourself.  I felt so selfish for being so upset.

I just kept thinking, but we had worked so hard.  We had spent every free moment for months fundraising, working on our new home study, and rebuilding our adoption paperwork from scratch, every single paper had to be resigned because our old paperwork was too outdated.

I was also so confused by this news.  We had felt so sure that this boy was the reason our family had been called to adoption.

It took a few weeks before the hurt began to subside in my heart.  We could have easily walked away from the idea of adoption after this huge disappointment, but we didn’t.  Both my husband and I had seen the faces of children in the orphanages we had visited.  We had held the babies and played games with the children.  We knew we had to keep going.  We had to trust God that He still had a plan.

About two months later, we received the phone call I had been dreaming about for four years.  Our new agency called to say there was a little boy they would like to refer to our family, meaning that if we were ready to adopt him, they would help us do it.  She didn’t give us any details about the little boy, other than his age.  She said that the agency would email us his file in a few days that would have all of his pictures and information.

We were so anxious to receive that email.  Two days later, we received the email.  We were blown away at how precious this little boy was, and we were in shock that we were going to get to adopt him.  Our giddiness lasted only a few hours because by that evening we had learned that the Ethiopian government had suspended international adoptions with no reason given or timeline for the suspension to end.

It was the 21st of April, and the spring and beginning of summer is a blur of setting in my backyard trying to focus on anything besides the adoption suspension.

I’d like to tell you that during that season, I completely leaned on the Lord, but many times I leaned on Dunkin Donuts frozen coffees.  Worry was so present in my mind those days that it would completely fog my brain, and the only thing that seemed to make me feel like a human was a big dose of sugar and caffeine in the form of a blended corporate concoction.  It was also clear to me that my vitamin d levels were suffering from the inside life I lived all winter.  A typical day this spring included me doing the minimum school work to finish up our home schooler’s first-grade year while taking every opportunity to refresh my email, search keywords “adoption and Ethiopia” on Twitter, and stocking all the adoption Facebook groups for any clue of what was going to happen with our adoption.

By the time James came home from his work at the church, I was a mess and we would get in the car and get our frozen coffee fix for the day.

Sure I prayed and I would tell you that God was in control, but if someone else said that God’s timing was perfect one more time I would have thrown my frozen coffee in their face.

Would God give us a picture of a beautiful boy who needed a home and then tell us our adoption journey was done?  I honestly didn’t know.

I kept telling God that this whole adoption was His idea, not mine.  Why would He give us this calling, allow our hearts to be fully devoted to the idea of bringing an Ethiopian child into our family, and then threaten to let us fall on our face?

The hard questions weren’t just directed at God.  I accused myself of not really caring about this adorable little boy but really being upset because I would look like a failure if this adoption I had so publicly pursued would end without success.

I spent a lot of time in my Bible that spring reading the words of the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah.  God’s promise of redemption through His Son was centuries away from those generations, but God was determined to give His people hope.

I needed hope more than frozen coffee.

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.
— Isaiah 30:18 ESV

I hit some real low points in my faith life during that season.  I feel shame for these low points asking ugly questions about God and doubting His sovereignty.  I also feel thankfulness for these low points.

I was completely empty.  I was completely powerless.

I had nothing but Jesus to hang onto because each of those low points let me see God better.  The answers would come with tears and the Spirit.  God was loving and sovereign.  God was present in my troubles.

As the calendar turned to July, we began to see the light at the end of our waiting tunnel.  Good news about the future of Ethiopian adoptions began to trickle in, and we were able to continue on our journey.

Our newly redone paperwork was sent to Ethiopia on August 17th, and our last immigration application was received by Homeland Security on September 7th.

The application process with immigration will take about 3-6 months.  Along with this approval from the US government, we are waiting for an approval letter from the Ethiopian government too.  There is no estimated timeline for that letter.  We are just hopeful that we will receive the letter in the same 3-6 months that the immigration approval will be approved.

There is a decent chance that this could happen, but there is also a chance that we could be waiting longer than that.

We definitely need prayer.  Continue to pray for our Hezekiah and our family.

I will update the blog as we know more, but it could be months before I have anything to post.

Thank you again!

Adoption Update - He Restores Our Soul

We have some disappointing news about our adoption.  Monday we got a call from the case worker at our new agency.  She called to let us know that because of the breakdown in communication in rural Ethiopia, something unexpected had happened.  Because little "A" that we had been working towards adopting the past 3 months was on the waiting child list for so long, the orphanage directors had reached out to other adoption agencies to advocate for him.  One of those agencies found a family wanting to adopt "A."  This family already had their dossier complete and updated, and they had all their agency fees paid and were able to sign an official referral with their agency.  It had already been two weeks before our agency knew this had happened.  Our agency told the orphanage that we were working hard to adopt "A" and very, very close to having our dossier (fancy word for official adoption paperwork) updated, but the orphanage made a judgment call.  The orphanage decided to allow this other family to proceed with adopting "A."

This isn't something that happens often in Ethiopian adoptions.  These were unusual circumstances, but after visiting orphanages the last three summers, I could see how this communication breakdown could easily happen.

We were very disappointed to hear this news Monday, and it has been a rough week dealing with all the feelings that bubbled up after hearing this news about our adoption.

We know we cannot give up, and we are not supposed to quit trying to adopt from Ethiopia.

Our friends and family have been so generous helping us raise money to pay the adoption fees to adopt "A."  We were so very close to having all of our agency fees paid.  We have raised $20,600 since the last week of December!  We were only short $7,000.  That is amazing!

Our home study should be finalized any day now, and our dossier only lacks our final home study copy and about 5 other documents.

Being so close to having everything we needed to adopt "A" made it really hard to accept that we were not going to be able to adopt him.

We are honestly happy that "A" will have a forever family.  He will have a home.  That is what we wanted for him all along.  We are just disappointed that home won't be our home.

All of the money we raised and work we have done updating our home study and dossier can be used to adopt a different child through our new agency.  Our agency has given us a time line that we can expect to be matched with a new child in the next 6 months.

We are going to continue to gather the last of the paperwork needed to complete our dossier, and we will continue waiting for the child God has to place in our home.

It has been hard finding our confidence that the Lord has a plan when we felt so sure that "A" was the boy God had chosen to add to our family.  But God has been slowly speaking into our hurting hearts this week.

On Monday, when I got the heartbreaking call from our agency, I was sitting in the Michael's parking lot about to buy paint.  The plan had been to make as many wood signs as possible this month to sell at a craft show this weekend.  I had just started a new sign.  I picked a Bible verse completely randomly.  I was looking for a Bible verse that was universally loved.  I didn't even think about what the verse or sign said on Monday when I started making it, hoping to make several to sell at the craft show.

On Tuesday, when all I wanted to do was watch mindless television and eat Captain Crunch, I realized that God had given me this verse that I would need before I even knew I needed it.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
— Psalm 23:1-4 ESV

God is restoring our soul.  God is planting dreams in our hearts and reassuring our family that He is leading us.  He has a plan.