Friday, December 12, 2014

Another Lesson I Learned From My Child

Motherhood can be so humbling...especially when it's your children who keep teaching YOU things. 

I'm a homeschool mom.  I spend my days with my two boys.  I teach them reading, writing, arithmetic, etc.  But we also talk a lot about character and Biblical truth. 

Recently our family fell in love with a foster child.  He spent weekends bonding with us.  We all enjoyed him so much and it felt so perfect, a great match in every way.  We thought he would soon come to live with us, that he would become our son/brother. 

Then, as the termination of parental rights hearing neared, after the child had already spent several months in foster care, some distant relatives who had never met him and live in another state came forward.  They decided they wanted to be considered as the primary adoptive family.  In our state (Iowa), relatives to the fourth degree of kinship (!!!) receive preference over foster/adoptive families.

I've found myself irritated at "the system" and the laws in our great state of Iowa.

I've found myself frustrated that caring DHS workers can't make decisions that seem to be in the child's best interest, like turning away distant relatives who don't even know a child and live all the way across the country, because of laws that don't make sense and seem to even frustrate them.  Have we lost all common sense?

I've found myself so angry that this precious little one will remain in foster care much longer than necessary, remaining in limbo and unable to get settled into his forever family, because of relatives who don't seem to be thinking of what is best for him.  If they pass their home study process months from now, he will be drug off across the country with complete strangers, having everyone and everything he knows disappear from his life, and without any transition into his new home.  Perhaps they think he's too young to remember.  They're probably right, but he won't forget the feelings associated with such loss and change.  It's unfortunate that they don't mind putting him through this when it could be avoided.  He's a real person with real feelings.  We have developed a relationship with his foster family and would continue his contact with them, the only family he's ever really known.  It's a great loss for them too.  It just doesn't seem right! 

My heart has been breaking over the loss of this little one!  I've prayed.  I've cried.  I've consoled my two little boys many times as they mourn this "little brother".  I've asked God "Why?" many times...with no real answer.  I've asked for strength, wisdom and peace for everyone involved.  I've tried to remain faithful and faith-filled, trusting the One in control of all things.

Last night our 7 year old, Andrew, brought up this little one in conversation again.  We both agreed, we miss him.  I asked him, "Have you been praying about it?"  He quickly said, "Not really."  My heart cried out, "Have I taught you nothing?!"  Then, I calmly asked, "Why not?"  And here it is...the moment when it felt like a 2x4 across my head...

He said, "Well, I believe God is doing His best.  We already prayed about it and I don't think I have to just keep on asking.  He's doing His best, Mom."

"Oh, yes, Andrew, you're right!  We need to thank God that He's working."

When we prayed together before bedtime I thanked God for the lesson I received from Him through my son.  For the reminder that He is doing His best...just as we asked Him to.  Oh, to have the faith of a child!

I remembered a quote from author and speaker, Susie Larson, "God's will for you is your best-case scenario."

I don't understand why.  I'm still frustrated with "the system".  But, ultimately, God is in control.  I can choose to trust that He's looking out for our best interest, and the best interest of this darling child.  I will keep praying that God's will, will be done and that we and others involved will cooperate with Him.  I will thank Him for hearing and answering our prayers.  I will praise Him for giving us His BEST.    

Thanks for the reminder, Andrew!  You are part of God's best-case scenario for me.    :)

Andrew with the pumpkin he carved for me this fall :)

“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. “So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.  Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen."  Matthew 6:7-13

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  Jeremiah 29:11
For the word of the Lord holds true,
    and we can trust everything he does.
He loves whatever is just and good;
    the unfailing love of the Lord fills the earth.
Psalm 33:4-5

Monday, November 24, 2014

Joy In the Ordinary ~ Fun Day Monday Returns

A few weeks ago my sons and I made a cake with lots of sprinkles.  It wasn't anyone's Birthday or a holiday or anything.  It was the middle of the week.

Who needs an excuse to celebrate?  Life is a gift from God, one to be celebrated.

Susie Larson says in her book "Growing Grateful Kids: Teaching Them to Appreciate an Extraordinary God in Ordinary Places" (I am paraphrasing) when we take time to play it communicates to our children that all is well and more rests on the shoulder of God than on ours.  Susie's words are full of wisdom. 

Our family has been through some real ups and downs in the past week and a half.  It's felt much like a roller coaster ride.  Then today, more news came that brought (more) tears and saddened our hearts.  Yes, we wonder why.  We can't see what He's doing exactly.  This life can be tough.  But we trust that God is in complete control!  We want to communicate that loud and clear to our children.

So today, we keep counting down the days to Thanksgiving by modeling gratitude for our kids.  We've been going around the table at dinner time and writing down what we're grateful for.  Not as elaborate as our Thanksgiving Tree last year, but it works.  :)  We keep walking forward in faith, trusting that God sees all of this, hears our prayers, answers faithfully and rightly, that He loves us and has good plans for our family.  We keep celebrating the gifts He's given us.

There is so much hope, joy and peace in knowing Jesus.  If you know Him you have much to celebrate.  I encourage you to join us in taking the time to celebrate His goodness in the ordinary; to pause to give thanks to the Giver today!

Cake with sprinkles, anyone?

Jesus said, "The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life."  John 10:10

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Hard Can Equal Easy

Last time I wrote about my friend Janet and the struggles she faced in this life; how she endured and grew in her faith in the process.  I wrote "I can honestly say I don't want easy.  I want to endure the hard stuff with joy and faith. To set my eyes on things above.   To finish strong!"

I've thought about this quite a bit recently.  I meant what I said.  But I want to make something a bit clearer.  The thing that really marked Janet's life wasn't that she faced hard times, it was the fact that she faced them with peace and even joy.  She could do so only because she had a thriving, dependent relationship with the One true Savior, Jesus.

Not wanting easy doesn't mean making it hard on ourselves.  It doesn't mean striving and straining to do more or be more.  It doesn't mean taking on fifteen things when God's only called us to two.  There's a name for that: perfectionism.  Perfectionism is the opposite of peace.  And peace is found in God Himself through Jesus Christ (Phil 4:6-7).     

In this life we will face trials.  Life can be tough!  It's inevitable.  That's part of living in this world.  But we don't need to go out looking for crosses to bear.  We don't have anything to prove to God, or anyone else.  I heard a quote recently from Luis Palau, "God is not disillusioned with us. He never had any illusions to begin with." We need to be discerning to follow His lead...only where He leads us.

When we know and follow Jesus closely we can face the ups and downs of life with peace in our hearts.  We can choose to rest in His love for us.  We can know where our hope is found, in Him.  We can know we are not alone and that we can Trust everything He does (Psalm 33:4).  We can even find joy in the process (James 1:2-3).  Life will be better, easier in that way.  We can be grateful for that.

Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. 
Matthew 11:29-30
In this way hard can equal easy!
How about we hang up those heavy yokes of striving, proving and perfectionism...
To  choose to trade them in for His yoke
which is easy and light...
Learn from Him,
Find rest for our souls,
Put on His peace.
Even, and especially in, the "hard".


Sunday, November 9, 2014

We Want Easy

The truth be told, we want easy.  We often say, "We want your will LORD" while in our hearts we think, "Surely your will is to bless me."  We prefer to coast along in ease and happiness.  We believe a loving God would want to shower us with "good".  And He does.  The thing is: His blessings often come disguised in hard things. 

Today a friend of mine died to this life.  She lived well.  She died well.  She suffered much.  For over forty years Janet struggled with her health.  She experienced pain ongoing.  It wasn't easy.  It was hard!  But it was in these struggles that she drew closer to the LORD.  She did  not become bitter or angry.  She did not grumble and complain.  No, she chose a better way.  She was gentle, kind and prayerful.  She chose to rely more heavily upon the LORD.  She relied on His strength and His truth more than her feelings.  She was humble, yet strong, so strong.  Her strength came from the LORD.

In the last weeks of her life she lied in a hospital bed waiting on impending death; waiting to meet the Savior she'd served and relied so heavily on.  She asked why she was still here and wondered aloud at what HE had for her to accomplish each of her last days.  She knew He wasn't done with her yet.

She was assured that He was in complete control.  She took every opportunity to tell of His goodness; to give Him glory and point others to Him even from her hospital bed.  She didn't waste a breath.  She was intentional.  She gave life giving words.  She didn't fear the future.  Yes, she hated to say goodbye to her loved ones left behind.  But she eagerly awaited seeing face to face the One with whom, through both hardship and joy, she had developed a true relationship. 

Janet didn't have an easy life.  But it was in those struggles that she developed her faith muscles.  It was in them that she developed perseverance.  It was in them that she had an opportunity to set a beautiful real life example of  "To live is Christ, to die is gain" (Phil 1:21). 
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trails of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4

We often think we want easy. We want to be spiritually mature, lacking nothing, but we don't want the testing and trials that seem to get us there.  Just like a teenager or 20 something desires the nice cars, homes and cash flow his parents and grandparents worked for years to attain.  It takes doing the "next right thing" to get there.  It doesn't usually come easy.  It takes time and effort, patience and endurance.  It's often hard.     

I don't know how many times I've written this.  I say it again and again because I'm preaching it to myself.  God did not promise us easy!  In fact, He said we will face trials.  We live in a broken, fallen, sinful world.  It's not a matter of if we will face tough times, it's a matter of when.   Isaiah 43:2 says, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze." 

See, He didn't promise us that we wouldn't go through tough times, maybe even for a long time.  He did promise He would go with us; protecting us, strengthening us.  Then, as we see Him work, our faith will grow.  

When I consider all of this I can honestly say I don't want easy.  I want to endure the hard stuff with joy and faith. To set my eyes on things above.   To finish strong!  I want to be more like Janet.  Because being more like Janet means being more like Jesus.

"Fight the good fight for the true faith.  Hold tightly to the eternal life (eternal purpose) to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses." 
 I Timothy 6:13

I'm thankful Janet endured.  She fought a good fight for the faith.   I'm thankful she pointed me, and many others, to Jesus.  She was a great example and will be greatly missed.  Yet, what a joy and comfort to know she is in Heaven now; in the presence of our Beloved Savior.  She's completely whole, free from pain and sickness.  She received the ultimate healing!  Thank you, LORD, for answered prayers and for the life you gave Janet...both earthly and eternal!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Building Faith Muscles

It seems like it would be easier not to change things...

It seems like it would be easier to leave our family structure the way it is; everyone knows their role.   Our boys are getting bigger, more self-sufficient. Although we always thought we would like a bigger family, we've become quite satisfied  and content with the one God's given us.  Life is good.

It seems like it would be easier to avoid the stress; not to have to wait on court dates and judges rulings, important phone calls, DHS decisions that could change everything; to depend on a bunch of people we don't know to do their jobs and to do the right things.  Easier to stay where we're comfortable.  To avoid the anxiety inducing variables that seem to accompany every adoption process.

It seems like it would be easier to just stay home rather than running off to visits, drop offs and pick ups. To avoid the chaos of going back and forth, changing routine and having to say goodbye again and again to a child we wish we could keep with us.

It seems like it would be easier not to have to answer so many questions.  While it's nice people are interested (and praying), it's not easy explaining over and over again; hearing everyone's comments and opinions.  It's even harder to know what to say and what not to say.  There are rules we need to follow.  (But I don't want people to stop asking.  We'll share what we can...and ask you to pray)

It seems like it would be easier just not to. Not to set ourselves, and our two biological children, up for potential heartbreak.  It feels risky. There are so many unknowns, uncertainties and undetermined details.  We've been investing in, and now have fallen in love with, a child we're not even sure we're ever going to get to  call "ours".  And no one can tell us if we will or won't.  No one knows but God.

Yes, it seems like it would be easier.  But would it?  The real question is, is it suppose to be easy?!

We didn't go into foster care and adoption because we were seeking easy and simple. We began this journey because we felt the LORD prompting our hearts. We felt called. We had a desire to help children. We saw the need. We wanted to obey God.

Let's go back a little...

Honestly, it would have been easier not to go to ten weeks of three hour classes an hours drive away.  To go through background checks, fill out mounds of paperwork, be analyzed and have three home studies!  But we kept stepping forward in faith believing we would be used of God to make a difference in the life of a child or two.

It seems easier not to...

Then we see the face of this child; smiling, sweet, precious.  A completely lovable child who deserves a stable, loving family; one like ours.  A vulnerable child who depends on strangers to make right choices on his/her behalf.  A child who is worth the effort!  A child who fits right in to our family and brings much joy to our hearts.  It becomes obvious...this is why we're doing this!  We only want what's best for this dear little one; dear to us and dear to God.  It's really not about us, or our comfort level.  We would never turn our backs on this little one.

Then we hear another uncertainty, a huge hitch in "our plans".  Then another one.  Things I can't share.  But, trust me, they are anxiety inducing. 

"But God doesn't call us to be comfortable.  He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn't come through."  Francis Chan

Yep, today it seems easier to avoid all of this....but it wouldn't be.  God has called us here for such a time as this; for such a child as this.  We love this child already.  God loves this child much more!  We pray.  We hope.  We believe.  If we never get to adopt this child, we will still be better for having known him/her.  We've already learned quite a bit through this process.

God whispers to our hearts, "You say you trust me.  Do you?"  We are building faith muscles that apparently needed a bit more exercise. 

Things may not go the way we think they should.  He never promised this life would be easy.  In fact, He told us in His Word that there would be trials of many kinds.  BUT He did promise that He would walk closely with those of us who love Him.  He promised good things for us who love Him. When we're coasting along,  in ease and comfort, there's no need to cling to such promises.  It's when we recognize how much our lives are out of our control that we turn more fully to Him. 

So for now I meditate on scriptures like this one...

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trails of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4

When I consider these verses I don't want easy...I want to be a woman who walks in faith, develops perseverance and fully trusts the God I serve to do what is best; knowing His best is truly our best case scenario.  I will ask for what I want.  I will do the next right thing. Not because I'm so awesome...because I serve a God who is!! I will remind myself that He is God and I am not.  It is a choice to believe what His Word says; He has good plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11) and we can trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6).

I've had a bit of experience with Faith in the Waiting.  It's definitely not easy!  But I can choose faith.  When my flesh feels anxious because I can't see what He is up to (which is often) and my heart is troubled, it's just another opportunity to take Him at His Word.  I pray we will, and believe our faith muscles will be strengthened in the process.

As we continue to wait I will find joy in the honor to know and pray for this little one.  We will love on this child as if he/she is staying forever.  And I will remind myself...

"Don't let your heart be troubled.  Trust in God, and trust also in me (Jesus)...I am leaving you with a gift ~ peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid." John 14:1, 27
"Don't be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand." Isaiah 41:10

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

It's Okay Not to Be Okay

Is it?  Is it okay not to be okay?
I've spent so much of my life being "strong".  As a young girl I built up walls to protect myself from the feelings of grief and loss, fear and sadness I felt.  I decided I would no longer allow myself to cry; to me a sign of weakness.  I refused it.  And for years, I pushed back the tears, to the point where they just didn't come anymore.  I still felt things.  I just didn't often show it.  I put on a smile.  I was an extra good girl.  I was "fine" always.

I grew up in church.  I went to Christian school.  I knew all the right words and phrases.  I knew the right scripture verses.  I saw all the "perfect" people; how private they were and just how strong, and always okay, they were.  I learned how to be strong, or at least how to fake it.  Although no one ever said it, I learned by example you hide weakness and try to overcome it.  To look good, because we're suppose to be strong...and full of faith...always peaceful...full of joy...never wavering...and never weak.  At least that's what I learned.

Yes, scripture does teach us to look to Christ for strength and peace and joy in all circumstances and not to waver from our faith.   But that's not ALL scripture teaches us...

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
 A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
 A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
 Ecclesiastes 3:1-3

Really?  Did you catch that?  A time to cry.  A tie to laugh.  A time to grieve.  A time to dance.

crying: none

It's not a sin to cry...or grieve.  It's not a sin to be sick, weary, downhearted, disappointed, angry or depressed either (check out David in the Psalms, my friends).  We do not have to feel guilty for it.  It's okay not to be okay all the time.  In fact, it is healthy to work through those normal, human feelings.  Yes, there will be a day when we will laugh again, there is a time for that too.  But that day doesn't have to be today.  Today we can cry on His shoulder because He understands.  Yes, Jesus, understands...

He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care.
 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
Isaiah 53:3-4

Paul asked the LORD to take his afflictions from Him, but...
Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in (your) weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.  That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  
II Corinthians 12:9-11
If we are never weak, and honest about it, than how can God be shown strong in our lives?  If we're so dependent on our own strength how will we ever boast in His strength in us; how He works in our very real, broken lives?  How else can we learn just how sufficient His grace is for us?
Dare I say it?  It is in the times of sorrow, weakness and trial that we turn more fully to the One who is our true strength. It is in those times that we allow Him to do His work in us and realize our utter dependence on Him.  It is when we draw closer to Him...and we recognize just how close He is to us.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
    he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
Psalm 34:18
We should not despise this refining, sanctifying, maturing time.  Some Christians seem to think that if we were better Christians these trying times would not come or if we had stronger faith things would go well for us or that God promised us smooth sailing.  God did not promise us that hard times would not come.  He did promise us that He would walk through them with us, protecting us. 

Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
    I have called you by name; you are mine.
 When you go through deep waters,
    I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
    you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
    you will not be burned up;
    the flames will not consume you.
 For I am the Lord, your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Isaiah 43: 1-3

What a beautiful promise!  Once we've walked through the difficulties of life, we can, in turn, comfort others with the same comfort we have received.  We become witnesses to His faithfulness.  Our faith is strengthened.  If we never experienced hardship, how could we relate or know how to comfort those hurting around us?
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 
II Corinthians 1:4
How can others be blessed if we're never honest enough about our weaknesses and pain to allow them to comfort us, to pray for us, to help as the hands and feet of Christ should?  It's a double blessing, for us and them.  What if we're so busy being strong and courageous that we make others feel as I felt, that being HUMAN is wrong?  We live in a fallen world where troubles come.  Life is not easy.  We need each other.  We are the body of Christ...
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,  so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;  if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Romans 12:4-7
In recent years I have been humbled time and time again.  Hard times and hard things have taken me to my knees in prayer.  .  I began to clearly see that walls I built around myself for protection were really a barrier.  Thankfully the LORD has opened my eyes to see my need for HIS strength...and the support of His people.  My definition and understanding of true strength has changed.  Those walls are slowly coming down, stone by stone.  I know I can't do it alone.  Sometimes I need help.  That's okay.  It's okay to cry.  It's okay to be weak and vulnerable, to be REAL.  It's okay to allow others in.  It's okay to not be okay all the time, not fully anyway. 
It's in Him and His people that I find comfort and hope.  And it's in the hard times that I have matured the most.  I have seen the goodness of the LORD.
No matter what you or I are going through...
There will be a day when we will see the good He promised to us in all of this, in everything (Romans 8:28). 
There will be a day when we feel strong again (Philippians 4:13). 
Even in the midst of this we can find joy and thankfulness in knowing HE is near (Psalm 145:18).  
He is our hope (Psalm 33:20). 
He will turn our tears to gladness (Psalm 30:11). 
We will be long as we keep turning to Him. 
But it's okay not to be totally okay today...
Just keep going to the One who heals and allow Him to bind your wounds.
(Psalm 147:3)
Joy will come in the morning!
This song by Jason Gray has recently ministered to my soul.  Take the time to listen...and be blessed.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
for the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.
He has sent me to tell those who mourn
that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
To all who mourn in Israel,
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.
Isaiah 61:1-3

Friday, May 9, 2014

God is Sovereign. I am Grateful

Life happens. We live in a fallen, imperfect world. Struggles are part of it. Because it's unpredictable, it can seem scary to us at times; even frustrating.  We can't control it. We don't see the big picture...or even the small one sometimes.

Several loved ones struggling hard. A friend who lost her dad to cancer. Another friend walking through infertility. Others killed in their prime. Another friend walking through the devastation of divorce. Others hospitalized. So many lost and hurting. My own neck pain and upcoming surgery...just as we finish our foster care classes. 

Why God? Where are you in all of this mess?  What are you doing?

But God is Sovereign. 

Definition: Sovereignty means that God, as the ruler of the Universe, has the right to do whatever he wants. Further, he is in complete control over everything that happens.

I am so grateful to know this.

When we're thinking clearly, with a proper perspective (as my Pastor has been teaching), we will know what seems bad, downright lousy, completely devastating and out of  our control will turn out for good because HE is good.  HE is in control!  We can trust Him...even when we don't see it. Even when we don't feel it. Even when our prayers are not answered the way we think they should be.  Believing this requires us to put faith into action; to take God at His Word.

What seems adverse will advance THE agenda (as my Pastor also taught), God's agenda.  He has a plan. And that plan includes the spreading of the Gospel...through me, through you.  How we react will determine how He is glorified.  How much we lean on Him will determine how much He is able to strengthen and comfort us in all of our afflictions. He is able. He is willing. We must turn to Him and truly trust Him.

I'm praying that through our Seemingly Adverse Affairs (my Pastor's words, not mine) that our LORD will enable and strengthen us, me and you, to cooperate with Him in THE agenda, His agenda. And that our faith will rest in Him, the Faithful One.

I am so grateful to know He is Sovereign!

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.  Ephesians 3:20-21
I am participating in 5 Minute Friday with Lisa-Jo Baker.
Click on the 5 Minute Friday icon above to see what others wrote about today's word: GRATEFUL

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why Have We Chosen Foster Care and/or Adoption? PART 2

If you missed my last post Read Part 1 HERE.

The thing is when we say we're pursing foster care and adoption many people respond with something like, "Oh, how exciting!"  Others respond, "Oh!" with a confused and concerned look on their faces, but we'll address that later.  For now, let's address the "exciting" comment. 

You know, it is kind of exciting in the sense that we're following God's lead; we're going to have the opportunity to invest in the lives of children; there is a huge need and, God willing, we're going to do something rather than just talk about it.  Yep, that sounds kind of exciting, right?  But, the truth is, most often good, worthwhile things are also not easy things. They stretch you. They require self-sacrifice. It's hard work. 

At first, it was all a little scary. Yes, we had faith (and still do). Apart from that faith, this all seemed crazy.  Although we have nothing to hide, having "the government" invade (not really, but that's how it felt at first) our home and analyze our every move, seemed a bit taxing and intrusive. Undergoing background checks, turning over our tax records, going through 10 weeks of 3 hour classes ~ a one hour drive away, piles of paperwork and 3 home studies, all seemed inconvenient and a bit overwhelming. We worried about the safety of our own children. We were concerned that "they" would discriminate against us because we're a bit "outside the box"...conservative Christians, homeschoolers, etc. We're not dealing with a Christian agency. In fact, that's not even an option in Iowa. I wish it were.

As time has passed and we've connected with the people of the system, it doesn't seem like they're "out to get us". The more we learn, the more we understand just why all of these rules, guidelines and procedures are in place.  It's to protect the kids. So I'm thankful they're in place, even if it does seem a bit crazy at times.  I really question how any unstable couples/individuals ever manage to make it through without being detected. 

So pursuing foster care and adoption is about as exciting as being an overseas missionary. It's not glamorous.  But it is important, necessary, gospel spreading...and not for everyone.

Announcing you're doing foster care/foster care adoption isn't like announcing a pregnancy.  Although we will welcome a little one with joy into our home, LORD willing, for all the joy and excitement we will feel, that little one will most likely feel just as much sorrow and loss.

You see, every foster child in the system represents a broken family.  It's sad.  For every child we have an opportunity to nurture and protect there is a devastating reality of neglect and/or abuse behind them being in foster care in the first place.  There's nothing exciting about that.  Every child, no matter their age, wants to be with their birth family.  This is something we knew, but understand a lot better now that we've taken the PS-MAPP classes.  Although it's wonderful to have the desire to help children, the very fact that foster care (and adoption) is even necessary is a sad reality.  As foster and adoptive parents we will need to help children work through much pain, confusion, loss and grief. 

When you have a better understanding of the things many innocent children are facing in this modern day world, your heart can't help but feel burdened for them, these beloved children of God. 

No matter what type of orphan care, foster care or adoption you pursue or support, it represents the dark realities of this fallen, broken world where children are mistreated or unwanted or abandoned...or all of the above.  And there are repercussions. 

International adoption, domestic adoption, foster care adoption, embryo adoption...all come with their own set of challenges and triumphs.  All are vital and important in nurturing LIFE!  If you're not familiar with any of these types of adoptions, I urge you to Google them (I added a link to embryo adoption since it is perhaps the least well known option). 

I've had a few people ask how they can help us through this foster care/adoption process.  My first request is PLEASE PRAY!  Pray for:

Us (our family) ~ for protection, wisdom, strength, open hearts that will follow the LORD's leading and move as He directs us, and only as He directs us, so that He may be glorified.

Children in foster care and those who will be entering care, all of them, but especially for those the LORD will bring to us.  We are trusting God with every detail!

Parents and families of the children in foster care ~ as I mentioned in my previous post many of these parents faced the same neglect and abuse as children themselves.  The cycle needs to be broken.  Many are facing addictions, incarceration or mental health issues.  They need to know that there is hope and a better way.  They need JESUS.

Social/Case Workers, Licensing Workers, Adoption Workers, Judges, etc ~  They have a huge weight on their shoulders and the decisions they make effect the lives of many.

Secondly, I ask you to pray about getting involved.  I'm NOT saying everyone should do foster care or adopt.  I AM saying: find a way you can help.  (Get ideas on how you can help by following the links below)

We understand today, even more than when we started this process, there is a great need for Christians to step in and be the nurturing arms of Christ.  Not so we can pat ourselves on the back.  So that we can live out the Gospel, impact lives and honor God.

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. James 1:27 (NLT)

I recently started following the Jason Johnson Blog.  Jason Johnson and his wife are adoptive parents and foster care providers.  He has some wonderful insights.  Here are a few links I highly recommend; ones that echo my own heart!

Orphan Care, the Church and Evangelical Fads (Zeal without Knowledge is dangerous and Orphan Care is not a Fad)
Orphan Care: You Can't Do Everything, But You Can Do Something (Can't do foster care or adopt at this time?  Other ways YOU can support children ~ modern day orphans ~ and adoptive families). 

Adoption: Giving a Family, Not Just Getting a Child

Once you are on Jason's blog you will find all kinds of other links to good, relevant blog posts!!


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Why Have We Chosen Foster Care and Adoption? PART 1

We've already heard the typical crazy comments and questions about foster care and adoption from the foster care system...and we don't even have our first placement yet.  Heck, we haven't even finished the classes yet. 

It's clear most people don't have a great understanding of how the foster care system works or about the kids it helps. 

Allow me to start by clearing up a few misconceptions and maybe answering some of your questions.
The children in foster care are not bad kids.  They have done nothing wrong.  They're not second rate citizens or "less than" our biological children or anyone else's.  Although they've been victims of neglect and/or abuse and these things effect their development, they were not necessarily born that way.  They did not ask to be born into dysfunctional families or to parents who need to work on their own issues.  They didn't do anything to deserve the treatment they've received.

Just as their are misconceptions about the children, there are certain "labels" put on all birth parents who end up with kids in the foster care system.  But I'm rarely quick to slap a label on anyone.  Don't judge someone until you've walked a little while in their shoes.  Many of these parents were victims of the same things their kids are now going through.  It's a cycle that needs to be broken.  Many of these parents need mentors to give them hope and show them a better way.

Even though there are obvious reasons that children are taken from their birth parents and put into foster care, it doesn't change the fact that those kids still want to be with their parents.  No matter what their parents have done or how dysfunctional they're home life was, every kid wants to be with his/her parents.  Likewise, many of these parents love their kids and fight to get them back.

The point of foster care is not to rip families apart.  In fact, from everything I'm learning, there has to be real, solid evidence of abuse and/or neglect.  I know you hear of "horror stories" of kids being taken from their parents when they shouldn't have been.  From what I am learning, that is not the norm.  In fact, DHS doesn't want to remove the children and work to do everything they can to keep families together.  Once the kids are taken into care, the goal is reunification of the children with their birth family.  Only when it becomes clear (usually after multiple chances) that reunification is impossible are the parental rights terminated and the children put up for adoption.  That's why many of the children you hear of who need adopted out of foster care are older children.

That being said, not all the kids in foster care are teenagers.  In fact, from what we've learned, 43% of the children in foster care in the state of Iowa, where we live, are 0-5 years old!  The reason the child welfare service is always advocating for foster teen care and adoption is because there are so few people willing to take teenagers, especially teenagers with special needs.  So many of these kids stay in foster care homes or group homes and eventually "age out" of the system without a family.  Sad, but true. 

We have two young sons, 7 and 4.  Because we are thinking of their safety and well-being, and what child(ren) will work best in our little family, we are hoping to foster young children.  This isn't some selfish, self-protective stance.  Actually, in our PS-MAPP classes they have emphasized "knowing your family", really assessing your family and knowing what would/would not work best for/with your family, before taking placements.  This is better for everyone involved, including the foster children who do not wish to be moved again and again.  I have utmost respect for people willing to foster older children and that may be something we do in the future, but, for today, we're in "little kids" zone around here.  We hope that some day we will have the opportunity to adopt out of the foster care system. 

This is not PLAN B.  When I was a teenager I knew I wanted to adopt some day, whether I had my own biological children or not.  I felt strongly about it.  I wanted to help hurting children, to show them the love of Christ. After Alan and I were married I mentioned the idea of adoption to him, he didn't like the idea.  I was shocked because up to that point we had agreed on so many things.  I decided that I wouldn't nag him or even mention it again, I would just pray.  And that's what I did.  Four years later, he said out of the blue one day that had been thinking...maybe we should adopt some day.  GOD is amazing!!

We're not pursuing foster care/adoption because we had three miscarriages and have given up on having more biological children.  We don't know whether we will have more biological children or not.  Only God knows the answer to that question.  We're open to what He has for us.  We believe that children (ALL children) are a blessing from the LORD.

Psalm 127:3 Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb (*any womb) is a reward. 4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one's youth. 5 How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They will not be ashamed When they speak with their enemies in the gate. *extra words added by me

I thought adoption was something we would pursue later, when our children were older, especially if we went the foster care route.  But last year God changed my heart and mind.  Over the whole year He was working on me.  It seemed like everywhere I turned, everything I heard or saw was about adoption.  And I kept hearing about children in foster care.  Still, I was leaning toward the idea of international adoption.  However, the first time (last year) that I mentioned this stronger tug on my heart, the idea that the time might be now not later, to Alan, he wasn't enthusiastic.  I asked him to begin praying about it, which he did. 

As the year proceeded (we) kept processing and praying and it still felt like the Lord was leading that way.  I couldn't shake it.  The tug eventually became a burning conviction.  Alan and I had several in depth conversations about it.  In one of those conversations he expressed a desire to adopt children right here in Iowa.  Together we decided that foster care was something we should do; that we could also care for and love children that we may never have the opportunity to adopt.  In fact, we felt God directing us that way.  We've always known God calls us to care for the widows and orphans. These are our modern day orphans.

Would it be easier not to do foster care and/or adopt?  Sure seems like it.  But what blessings would we miss?  What about the children?  Is there anything a person/family could do to impact the course of another person's life than this?  Most things worth doing are not easy.  We're moving ahead in obedience, peace and with joy.  We know God has good plans for us and our family! 

Our understanding of foster care has changed since we started this process.  We have learned so much...and we continue to.  The reasons we began were perhaps a bit different than the reasons we're continuing to pursue it.  We can see more clearly now why God has called us to this!

But I will share more about that next time.  I have so much more to say.  This has to be more than one post...

Join me next time.  :)

"Teach me how to live, O LORD.  Lead me along the right path...I am confident I will see the LORD's goodness while I am here in the land of the living.  Wait patiently for the LORD.  Be brave and courageous.  Yes, wait patiently, for the LORD."  Psalm 27:11, 13

At the beginning of the year I chose my words for the year 2014.  God gave me: FEAR NOT.  :)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Random Rachel Returns

What do I write about.  Which thing? 

I've been stepping back...simplifying...allowing the refining. 

I've felt pressured to write (I mean, this blog is just sitting here...) and yet, I don't. 

Do I write about the things He's been showing me?  The way He's been chipping away at my character.  The way He's been renewing and restoring things lost...and giving what perhaps never was.  Understanding.  Change.  Newfound joy.

Do I write about the foster care classes?   The stuff we're learning.  The way God is opening my eyes and heart even more to just why He's called us to this.  The class content is absolutely fascinating and educational.  Not sure what I expected, but the classes are better than I thought they would be. 

Do I write about the licensing process and the preparation to care for a foster child?  It's quite a process.  Many steps, a lot of paperwork, home studies and preparation necessary.  Sometimes it seems taxing, then I remember the goal.  It's worth it!

Do I write about one of our classes?  About Managing behaviors? Assessing strengths and needs?  Maybe about gains and losses?

Do I write about our loss?  It was 2  years ago that we lost our baby Faith to miscarriage; our third miscarriage.  Two years!!  Wow.  We've grieved.  We've questioned.  We've processed.  We've accepted God's promises to be true.  He has a good plan for us and we can trust Him, even when we don't understand.  As we move ahead, we see more clearly how He has worked in it.  How He has grown us; prepared us; lead us.  In joyful anticipation we look forward to seeing what He will do next, in His timing and in His way. 

Do I write about our two precious little boys?  They're constantly changing, growing, learning, bringing joy to our lives and home.  What about my 3 year old asking me what breasts are for!  :)  Or his little sweetness telling me daily, "You're the best mom!  I'll never forget about you."  Melts my heart!  Or what about my 7 year old who's suddenly a big boy; changing, growing increasingly independent and pulling away from mommy in some ways.  He's a little man.  Time is passing.

And I realize more and more and more the need to be here, to be fully present.  I can't be attached to a computer screen or my iPhone.  I can't be running around to numerous commitments.  I could miss it.  I don't mean just missing them growing or missing my chance.  Even worse, I could miss their hearts.  THIS is my call: to love God and others, starting at home with my husband and sons.  To spread the gospel, starting here.

To spend time just being with them (and their daddy), modeling, loving, nurturing relationships...
maybe even get a BONUS ride in the wagon every once in a while.  :)

Do I write about the disconnect between what our culture (as a whole) says is important and how we actually live?  How are we, especially we Christians, living out what we say we believe?  We say our mission field begins at home and yet it seems to me that the people in our homes often tend to get the worst of us rather than the best; as if everyone else "out there" is more important.  This is the true test of the every day. 

Or do I write a Random Rachel post to just say...I can't write that much here?  I guess so.  That's what I'm doing.  I'm saying I just can't write that much right now.  At least not here.  Not now.  It's just not the time.  Today is the day to He leads me/us to the next place of promise.  I know it's a good place to be.

What would you write about?  What is God showing you? 

Philippians 2:1-11
Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,[a]
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges[b];
    he took the humble position of a slave[c]
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,[d]
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Feeling Small

Sometimes I feel so small.  I feel insignificant, of little use or value.  I live in the boonies, not even a small town.  I'm not rich or famous.  I'm not "special" by the world's standards.  I'm just me; a farmer's wife.

My days are spent taking care of small things.  Two small children.  Seemingly menial tasks.  Small ministries, at least in numbers. 

It's easy to feel small in such a big world.  I tell God this and He lovingly corrects me.

The enemy of my soul would love to keep me feeling small.  To lead me to believe that I have no influence or power.  The Truth of God's Word tells me different.  In His Word I find that:

God has good plans for ME! 
The Savior of the world knows me, sees me, loves me and has a purpose for my life.
I am significant and what I do matters.  It matters very much.
In the small stuff...that really adds up to the big stuff!
Not only in the small, but especially in the small.  In the every day, mundane stuff of life.
In the seemingly insignificant one on one contact with those in my unique sphere of influence.
What I do for the least of these...
It matters!

God wants me to see that.  And He wants to do even more.  He doesn't want me to miss the joy and opportunity He has for me in the small.

When we are faithful in the small...
He gives even more...
More of Him which means:
More insight, wisdom and revelation.
More faith and hope.
More joy and peace.
More strength and courage.
And isn't that what I want?!  More of Him and less of me.  To become smaller.  Small isn't so bad.  When I become smaller, He becomes greater in me.

So although I am valued, loved and powerful in the name of, because I am all of those things...I am okay with being "small".  And I will choose to see the miracle and joy in the every day stuff of life.  All of it...every part...matters!

"Who dares despise the days of small things..."  Zechariah 4:10
I'm participating in Five Minute Friday.  Okay, so I'm a day late, but who's really keeping track, right?! :)
This is a time when I write on one word for five minutes.  This weeks one word prompt was "Small". 
Jump on over to Lisa-Jo Baker's page to see what others had to say on this subject by clicking the link below:

Monday, February 17, 2014

Lego Birthday Party ~ Fun Day Monday

It's hard to believe our oldest son, Andrew, turned 7 at the end of January.  But he did!  Where does time go?!  He's quite the young man, so inquisitive, insightful and full of zest for life!  And he's really growing up on us!!
Andrew decided on a lego Birthday party this year.  Here's a picture of the birthday boy with his party spread...
BUT I need to back track a little first....
The day before Andrew's big day we surprised him with a trip to Cabela's where we let him pick out his own gift.  He chose, with the help of Daddy and little brother, Noah, a nice fishing pole.  Now he's eager for spring to come so he can try it out!!
On his Birthday we celebrated with a few more little gifts...
and our traditional birthday pancakes complete with chocolate chips, whipped cream and sprinkles!
Before his birthday came we started working on his Birthday Party Pinata...
A lego piñata...made with a shoebox and a toilet paper roll cut into thirds...
Then the birthday boy and I covered it with paper mache...
Just paper mache paste and strips of newspaper...
We added several layers of paper mache to the piñata, removed the shoebox, then covered the bottom with aluminum foil and more layers of paper mache.  We let each layer dry between adding the next.  Finally it was time to paint it...
Then I made easy lego cakes using loaf pans and oreo cookies...
Not perfection, but cute none the less...
Andrew was thrilled with his lego cakes!!
FINALLY it was time to party!! :)
He had 7 friends attend.  With him and his little brother there were 9 kids under the age of 9.  Fun!
We set up the piñata in our partially finished basement, hanging it with twine from one of the rafters under the false ceiling.
That thing was tough!!  Much tougher than I thought paper mache would be...
By the time all 9 kids had, had their swing at it with the plastic bat, the excitement had really built!!
Finally we had to get out a real metal bat.  That did the trick.  :)
The Birthday Boy had a great time...and I believe all the other kids did too.  Daddy even refereed a dodge ball game.  Little kids love throwing things at each other, go figure.  :) 
We even had time to eat the cake, treats and ice cream in the midst of the children posing their best silly faces for the camera.  :)
But every day is a fun adventure with the little guy!  We are so blessed to be his parents!
HAPPY 7th BIRTHDAY ANDREW!!  You are a treasure!!

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!
Psalm 127:3-5


Thursday, February 6, 2014

When You Dare to Ask God What He Wants...

I utter, “Use me, Lord.” “Show me your will, Lord.”  “I want to honor you, Lord.”  Do I mean it? 

What about my agenda.  My plan.  My way.  My dreams.  All good things, many of them sought with a desire to glorify Him.  I ask for what I want.  But I’m not God.  And I don’t know His plans.  What do I know of His ways?  How often do I dare to ask God what He wants? Really ask Him…and wait to hear His answer.  Hands open to whatever He has for me; even when it looks much different than what I thought…or planned…or dreamed. 

What about when His honor comes through the unexpected?  Or when it’s uncomfortable.  Or scary.  Or downright hard.  Or it involves suffering.  What then?   Do I ask for that?  Or do I keep my hands in tight fists, clinging to what I “know” is God’s best for me, and my loved ones?   It’s human nature to want “easy”, “happy” and “comfy cozy”.    

But, most often, when I ask Him what He wants…and actually wait to hear what He says, He doesn’t say “easy”.  He often calls me to the hard.  To things that seem beyond my reach.  To things that stretch my faith and cause me to rely on Him more.  

I see Christians do it all the time.  We say we want to be used of God.  What we often mean is we want the spotlight; the glory.  We want to do the good things on our agenda…and invite God to join us.  We may  look mature on the outside.  But the LORD sees us as little children with fingers in ears, singing, “La la la.”  Only willing to hear what we want to hear.  We want to hear words like blessings…and good gifts…grace and joy.   
The trouble: blessings, good gifts, even grace and joy often come in unexpected wrappings. 

Lately, my LORD has bee doing some serious sanctifying work in me.  Preparing me for His next place of promise (a Susie Larson quote).  I've watched Him do His work in my husband's heart as well.  Obvious and glorious!  He's doing a new thing...or two or three.
As my husband and I venture into the world of becoming foster parents, we face so many unknowns.   It’s exciting.  It can also be nerve wracking apart from faith.  He’s leading this way, no doubt about it.  We dared to ask.  We also dared to listen.  He answered.  So we step forward in faith and obedience, taking God at His word; choosing to lean on Jesus; humbly dependent.
We don’t expect easy.  We expect challenges.  But we’re compelled; compelled to help children.  We’re compelled to love with open hearts and arms; pouring out the love He’s so abundantly given us.  So many hurting kids, we can’t sit with eyes closed and hands clinched, clinging to our desire for unchallenged lives.  Growth stunted.
Honestly, it seems it would be easier not to.  Things are good and comfortable here.  Why mess with a good thing?  It will be work.  It will cost us something.  It will be inconvenient at times.  But what if we don’t?  Who will help?  There is a critical need and Jesus is calling us to intervene!  We can't help everyone, but we can help someone. 

If  we chose self-centeredness what seemingly haphazardly wrapped gifts would we miss?  True blessings given and received, designated for us and them, for such a time as this.  I shudder to think of passing it up for the sake of complacency.

Would it really be easier to say no?  Is not the center of God's will the best and safest place to be?  Christians often say it.  But do we live it?  We can be missionaries, His ambassadors, right here, right now, in our own home, in our own community.  But it requires faith steps.
I look ahead in anticipation of what He’s about to do.  Thankful for what He's already done.  Joyful.  Expecting.  Trusting.  Without fear.  Hands wide open and lifted up.  When doubt and fear and the Enemy’s lies rear their head once more, I will again choose faith.  Not because I am good.  Because He is good and I know I can trust Him. And truly my heart aches to help; to do His will. 
Will you dare to ask Him what He wants of you?

Will you pray for us as we move forward in faith? 

Will you please pray for the 450,000 children currently in foster care in the United States? 

Remember God doesn't call the equipped.  He equips the called.
"...Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.  For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him."  Philippians 2:12-13
 You might also like this post:  Want An Easy Life?