Happy Thanksgiving!

I can’t let this week pass by without mentioning briefly a few things I’m grateful for.

Justin – He has worked for months on his first Christmas worship project (geared toward small, medium and large churches with orchestra and rhythm band) and today it is finished! I am so proud of him. He has worked for years for different music publishers but this is the first project in his name done mostly in our home studio, so we are excited. We are praying that the Lord would use it to encourage worship leaders and point people to Emmanuel during our favorite time of the year.

Grace – The child is losing teeth at an astonishing rate, growing tall and thin, and amazing us with her creativity, kindness, and brilliance. My baby is growing up! She has really matured lately, is learning self-control and to consider others, and truly is my biggest helper with her sweet smile and loving spirit. She loves school and people and could probably rule the world.

Rebekah – She is three, and she is incredibly good at it. She is hilarious, disheveled, loud, sweet, creative, and absolutely lovable. She keeps us hopping, laughing, and is the reason our entire house needs to be repainted and recarpeted. She also loves school and loves people and is fearless to a point that we are sure we will never be able to rest because she sees the world as one giant adventure made for her enjoyment.

Family and Friends Old and New: Oh how I have been blessed with family and friends. I am so grateful for all of you – you challenge me, bless my life, give me hope, and make me love the Lord more.

Happy Thanksgiving, people I love. May God bless you and give you hope.

Grieving and Hope After the Election

Many people are grieving for our country today. My Facebook feed, made up mostly of conservative Christians, is like the day after a bomb dropped. Early polls showed 80% of evangelicals voted for Governor Romney, and many are shocked and grieved by the outcome of the election.

I am grieving for the church.

Many people are posting on Facebook that this win signals people want handouts and don’t want to work, signals the death of our country’s ideals and an electorate who doesn’t care enough to be informed, and is a national endorsement of abortion, gay marriage, and weed. Most of these posts that I saw came from people who are Christians, and to those posts I have to give the following response:

I humbly and sadly disagree. I think this split in our culture is about the church. I think it is about the marginalized (the people the church should love and support). The Democrats made a compelling case that they cared about those people. We in the church have not made that same compelling argument. Even on election day, in some of our responses, we demonstrated a lack of care for people, a lack of faith in God’s sovereignty, and a lack of obedience to His commands to not fear. I am going to get into the issues and hopefully present a thoughtful view of these things so that we can understand the “other side” a bit better and respond in love instead of rhetoric – but first of all let me say this – Jesus gives hope to each of these issues. We have hope in Christ.

“The Handouts”: On election day, thousands of people tweeted jokes like “Don’t worry if Dems are leading, Republicans will vote once they get off work.” I also saw comments about the over-half of our country that voted for the Democrats that go something like this – “they want something for nothing so they’ll take our country down in debt.” And it breaks my heart. The rhetoric simply isn’t true, and this attitude is what is alienating us from not only the voting world but from the lost world. Our country has one of the highest levels of childhood poverty of any industrialized nation. Over 18% of our children don’t get enough to eat. And the assumption and the rhetoric states that is the lazy parent’s fault. But the facts, according to the Institute of Child Development, are that 75% of poor children have at least one parent who works. The remaining 25%? Mostly single women who cannot afford quality childcare to be able to work. And some call them welfare queens. But guess what, 1 out of 4 of those women don’t qualify for any federal assistance whatsoever. And the ones who do face restrictions to protect them from living off “government cheese.” There are some lazy Americans, yes, but for the most part, the working poor are just that, working poor, and not lazy Americans. These are desperate hurting Americans trying to make a living wage and failing. For example, over 50% of Walmart employees don’t make enough to live and because of this, qualify for food stamps. But they are working. Not full-time, because Walmart fights to keep employees at 39 hours per week. But hard. They aren’t looking for a handout. They are trying. And we as the church have bought into the rhetoric and ignored the reality. Church, we have to quit buying into this political “us vs. them” rhetoric of the working versus the lazy and instead buy into church’s command to love the least of these. Because our command to love is absolute, even when people take advantage of the system and are lazy. We in the church certainly do help the poor – but in the last 20 years we have helped the poor quietly and shouted the rhetoric loudly. Let’s stop the rhetoric and instead let our quiet consistent support of the poor define us.

“The Gays”: What if, in the early days of AIDS in the 1980s, the church had embraced homosexuals as they struggled in terror to understand this new disease that was wiping them out? What if we had been the ones known for our care for them? What if instead of fighting them on every right and constantly reminding them of their “terrible sin,” we remembered how Jesus treated the tax collectors and sinners and how he got to know them and ate with them, and they followed him because they loved him and knew he loved them? Dr. Stanton Jones, provost at Wheaton College, said at Dallas Theological Seminary that the church has failed in the treatment of homosexuals by treating “them” as our enemy in the culture war, and considering “their” sin as irredeemable while failing to consider our own sin and brokenness. A study by the Barna Group showed that when asked, 91% of non-Christians defined Christianity as anti-homosexual (in fact, this was the first word they used to describe the Christian faith). We have failed. We have defined the grace, love, and death of Jesus Christ to a lost world as “anti-homosexual.” Father, forgive us. Do you think they would still seek protection in a political party if we had been their ally instead of declaring “war” on them? I think that is what this election was about for them. They were aligning themselves with the party who demonstrated care for them.

“The Illegals”: The Hispanic vote overwhelming went Democratic, despite their dominate Catholic pro-life worldview (much more conservatively pro life than even most evangelicals). Why? I think it was more “us versus them” rhetoric. What if we were the ones fighting for immigrant children, brought here because children have nothing to eat in the place where they live, instead of the ones calling them “illegals” and demanding their deportation, many of them to a place where they don’t know the language and have never lived? What if we not only supported but demanded programs like the Dream Act? And I know there is a legal path to immigration, but I also know it is broken and takes sometimes decades and that path is terribly narrow and needs to be fixed. My friends in ministries like International Friends and refugee ministries, you are doing great work – and we need to partner with you more in those ministries as we seek to reach out to and love on our minority population in this country.

“The Stoners”: What if, instead of seeing the weed legislation movements as “slacker stoners” wanting to toke in public, we recognized the reality that our “war on drugs” has not raised the price of drugs or limited access, but instead only succeeded in imprisoning more Americans than any other country in the world? We have a broken legal system that criminalizes the social and medical problem of addiction. In 2010, 1.64 million people were arrested for drug violations, 80% of those were for possession. A friend’s son took his own life before a mandatory minimum sentence would send him away to prison after a repeat possession charge. The cost of that to my friend is unmeasurable. Over 2.3 million people in the United States are imprisoned, over half of those for non-violent drug offenses. This is devastating the African American community (which plays into both the poverty and abortion problems in that community). I’m not saying legalization is the answer – in fact I think it isn’t, but maybe if we looked at the problem with sympathetic hearts and a willingness to work together toward solutions instead of cynical political goggles, we would join together to find a better solution. Big Brothers and Sisters does great work on the mentoring front, which helps prevent this problem, and Prison Fellowship does an excellent job once people are in prison, but there is room for us to minister alongside these groups to help this marginalized group.

“The Babies”: I’ve addressed this many times before (here, here and here), and my views on abortion are clear. Abortion is terrible and we are all paying a terrible price for it. But even if reversing Roe was a possibility, which I truly am not sure it will be  until there is a major worldview change (which comes from the inside), abortions didn’t start with Roe. My family was affected by abortion long before Roe v Wade. Abortions are a consequence of spiritual, family, and economic factors. When marriages are strengthened and divorce rates go down, the number of abortions go down. When women escape poverty, abortion rates go down. When the healthcare and childcare options for women improve, the number of abortions go down. When women are in community with people who care and feel supported and encouraged, abortion rates go down. When women find hope, abortion rates go down. Legislation is not the best answer to the abortion crisis. Jesus and the church is. Our crisis pregnancy centers have done more for life than any legal battle we have ever fought. Well done friends who are part of those powerful ministries. The church is starting to get this right – and we need to continue on that path.

There is a sense that America rejected God in the voting booth yesterday. But I think there is an argument that we as the Church rejected these groups first, either directly or through the party we have closely aligned ourselves to. Church we are not the Republican party. And by the way, we aren’t the Democratic party either. In fact, the parties may be hurting us not only in mindset but also in reputation. I think we need to remember that both political parties, and partisan media sources, have not only financial interest but ultimately derive power from us suspecting each other, fearing each other, and not compromising with each other. And that is the exact opposite of what our faith is about. We cannot let the “us versus them” mindset of the political landscape hijack our message of love for all people and grace by faith in Christ alone. In this political environment, if you disagree (or even compromise or seek to understand) you are the enemy. But Jesus taught us that we not only love our enemies but lay our lives down for them. We can disagree, but we must disagree well because we don’t just represent us, we represent Christ in us.

We also have to be careful with the reputation of our faith. We cannot let extreme personalities like Trump with his “I’m a real Christian” and his honorary doctorate from Liberty, alongside his twitter rants and conspiracy theories about long forms and secret Muslim allegiances, define us. And why do so many I know believe him, but we have a president who has claimed faith in Christ, but people discount that? People seem to be mourning as if all hope is lost and the President’s heart is beyond God’s realm of control. Instead, we should be praying that the Holy Spirit would convict and lead him. The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord, he turns it wherever he will. Prov 21:1. The President’s heart is in the hand of God – so when we pray, we can affect where it turns. That is power we have in Christ! We should be encouraged by it. We truly have no reason to fear.

It feels like we have forgotten that Jesus is our hope. Jesus alone.

My former pastor, Brandon Thomas, tweeted today “Bringing people to Jesus will build our great nation to its best days, no doubt! Life in Christ = love God, love others.” I say Amen. Max Lucado tweeted “Lord, please: Unite us. Strengthen us. Appoint and annoint our president.” I say Amen. I am not saying compromise on any of these things – nor are these pastors. I’m not saying change your vote or party alignment. I’m not saying you have to agree with the Left or the Right. I am saying let’s assume a position of humility in dealing with these really difficult issues and seek to understand each other so that we can reconcile with each other. I’m saying when we are kind, we lead people to Jesus, and we make our country stronger.

Courtesy CathNewsUSA.com

I’m visual – so I keep thinking of nuns (habits and all). Everyone knows what they believe. But how do you see them portrayed, even in liberal Hollywood? Positively. Why? Because they are known for helping people – for humbly working toward the good of the people around them. So they are beloved. We could learn from their example. We need better PR and we need a return to our true hope.

America is not the hope of the world. Neither is a political party. Jesus is. Church, let’s return to him and follow His lead in loving the hurting.

The Backup:

Dr. Russell Moore on a Christian response to the election: http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/11/07/christians-lets-honor-the-president/

Abortion statistics: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr60/nvsr60_07.pdf

Prison Statistics: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/20/americas-invisible-incarcerated-millions

Drug War Statistics: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/04/business/in-rethinking-the-war-on-drugs-start-with-the-numbers.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Childhood Poverty Statistics: http://www.nichd.nih.gov/

Dallas Theological Seminary Article on Homosexuality: http://www.dts.edu/read/5-failures-on-churchs-treatment-sexuality-5-ways-forward-jones-stanton/

Non-Christian Perceptions of Christianity: unchristian by Kinnamon and Lyons

Rich Stearns, CEO of WorldVision, author of The Hole in Our Gospel, wrote this response to the election: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-stearns/goodbye-christian-america-hello-true-christianity_b_2082649.html

Tim Keller on Signs of Political Idolatry: http://kellerquotes.com/the-signs-of-political-idolatry/

Ian Simkins on Politics and the Church: http://isimkins.wordpress.com/2012/11/07/politics/

This post has been shared far beyond anything I ever thought possible. Thank you for sharing. I want to clarify a few things. First of all – pretty much everyone I know, love, and respect is a conservative. I am not saying that every conservative feels this way or has responded this way since the election. Most people I love and many millions more have not. And although I am not in the liberal Christian circles, I’m sure there has been a ton of rhetoric in that camp as well. This post was intended as an encouragement for us, in the church, on both sides, to open our eyes to each other and shut off the rhetoric – to see that the things that unite us (a love for country, a love for God, a love for people, and a desire to achieve the best for our family and people we love) are far greater than the things that divide us (our differing ideas for how we achieve change in our country).  I believe in Christ we have hope and in Christ we are brothers and sisters and that disunity, even because of partisanship, is a tactic of our enemy. Thank you again for reading. 

What it Feels Like for Me to be a Christian Woman in 2012

Disclaimer – this one is going to get deep, and not necessarily be pretty. And I am not on FB or Twitter right now to explain or clarify my positions, so I just pray that my heart would accurately come across as I write and process. I just want to be light in darkness, and I pray that nothing I say would cause shame or hurt. This is my perspective – and I am warning you it is messy.

I know I can be more sensitive than most, but to be a woman in this culture of rhetoric and soundbites is really difficult. Politicians and the media are hurtling words across the aisle without thought – words like “rape,” “pregnancy,” “abortion,” and “contraception” – like these are arrows slung from a bow and not real personal issues that carry with them memories, hurts, fears, and a visceral reaction.

I feel assaulted by it.

I am tired of signing onto Twitter and seeing snarky comments about rape and abortion. I am tired of rhetoric about pregnancy and abortion without a meaningful plan to help women and reduce these shocking statistics that mask a terrible reality. I am tired of pregnancy, infertility, and contraception being issues hurled about in the public sphere without a heart for what these things mean to the women and men making these decisions. I am tired of women’s rights and women’s equality being words without complex meaning in a world where women are battered, raped, maimed, enslaved, and reduced to being less than we are worldwide on an astonishing scale.

Don’t people understand these are REAL women and REAL babies they are talking about? That these decisions and topics are gut wrenching?

Our world is so broken, and we need Jesus so much.

I hate abortion. I’ve written about it before. I hated it even before Roe, when it was done in the dark of night, when women were maimed in back offices, sometimes not even given a choice because they were too young and they weren’t the ones paying so they were ignored. They endured it without anesthetic or a voice. What a cruel world that would steal from a woman even the choice to bear life, but it happens worldwide every single day. Abortion isn’t an American issue – it is a world issue. I hate the fear and stigma that backs women into a corner, the broken systems that entrap women. I hate that even decades later in some homes, a past secret abortion is not dealt with so peace can be found, the growing crack in the wall that reveals the facade behind the “happy healthy family.”

I hate it now that it is legal in the US and “more simple.”  I hate when it is convenient and it can be done without thought, except that it is not without thought and millions of women will tell you it haunts them decades later because there isn’t support for after. I hate it when it is done in deception, when a “simple” pill is given that makes the woman horribly ill for days, in pain bleeding alone in her home, unable to tell anyone. I hate when it is done after viability, when the baby could actually live outside of the womb and should, without question, have the rights of every other human. I don’t understand how we justify that. I hate when is agonized over – a terrible choice in the middle of a difficult life made in quiet and shame and fear of discovery. I hate that anyone has had to face that terrible choice and live with the results. I hate that it has stolen from so many of us, including me, family members. I see tiny newborn children and I hate that so many of them have vanished in violent ends, taking with them a part of our world’s future. I hate that it has left some women as shells, pieced back together and afraid of discovery, unable to forgive themselves. I hate that it places the burden on these women and takes the lives of these babies, and either gives men no choice or voice at all, or it enables boys to stay in suspended adolescence and not grow into men. It leaves nobody unscarred.

I hate it. It has stolen so much. It is not a simple right, it is an anchor. And it is taking us all down with it.

And I hate that it has become a political tagline. I think that grieves the heart of God as much as it hardens those of us who hear it over and over. I think since the beginning of time we have tried to find human solutions to the problem of sin we created in the garden (God didn’t want to give us kings, but we wanted kings, and when we got them they ruled over us without kindness. God didn’t want to give us divorce, but we insisted on divorce, and we left untold damage in our wake. We keep demanding the things that only damage us and distance us from Him, and then we blame Him when the mess we insisted on creating is messy). Even still, I wish there was a human solution, like legislation, that could erase the terrible reality of abortion, but the reality is that abortion is part of our broken world and has been since Adam and Eve made their choice. The numbers have increased since Roe vs. Wade, certainly, and the price has been immeasurably high on our culture and our values, but abortion has been a reality since humans have had the ability to fear and the desire to control each other and our future.

I think abortion is a consequence of fear. Fear of the future, fear of consequence, fear of discovery, fear of inadequacy. And you can’t insulate someone enough, provide them enough healthcare and options and support, to erase fear. Only perfect love drives out fear. A genuine love for women, a genuine love for children, a genuine love for God and trusting Him with our days – those things are the only answer to the abortion crisis and they will never grow from a political affiliation. We have to ALL quit numbing ourselves and start looking around, not judging each other but jumping in and getting our hands dirty – loving women and men in the messy realities of life. Loves drives out fear. So it means we support our children and nieces and friends when they are faced with terrifying decisions. It means we love and trust others enough to cry out for help when we find ourselves entangled in a nightmare scenario. It means we love selflessly, opening our hearts, homes and wallets to help each other and to meet needs. And it means we stop ignoring the orphan crisis – how can we ask women to choose life when more than 170 million children worldwide need homes? We need to love the orphan and the birth mother – no matter how messy that gets. If our prayers are answered and there are less abortions, that will mean there are more adoptions, and we need to be ready for that.

And let’s all agree to stop using abortion as a hurtling arrow.

And let’s add rape to that list. Rape is not rhetoric, and it can never be boiled down to a soundbite. Rape is complicated. Sometimes it is violent. Sometimes it is quiet and quick, devastating in its ambiguity. The moments leading up to it are confusing, the years after it are devastating. I know women who only, after feeling safe enough to do an honest assessment of the past, have realized that what they experienced was, in fact, rape. That their rights and their bodies were actually violated and that it is okay to call it that. I would bet that the statistics on rape are far lower than the reality of rape. No politician has a right to judge it on the degree of force or desire. It is intensely personal and can devastating.

Rape and abortion are the epitome of brokenness and to treat them casually destroys the thing about us that makes us human.

This world is broken. And more and more, I believe that the political rhetoric is contributing to the brokenness, not solving it. It makes us hard. It makes us mean. Anything can be taken out of context and spun and the heart of the person and the complexity of the matter completely annihilated.

Don’t believe me? Try this. Go outside and spend some time in prayer and check your blood pressure after that. Take a look at yourself in the mirror, talk to yourself and listen to your voice. Then watch your favorite political commentator for an hour – the guy you agree with. Then try the experiment again. Look in the mirror and talk, listen to your voice, check your blood pressure. Even when you agree with the person, I have found you will sound and look more defensive and angry, your adrenaline will probably be flowing, and your blood pressure will be higher. People who watch and listen to the rhetoric all day are growing more numb, more angry, and more hard by the hour. We need to step away from it. I’m convinced this stuff is toxic to our systems. It is the same human solutions to a divine sin problem we’ve been trying since Adam and Eve sewed together leaves to hide their nakedness.

We need Jesus. We need healing. We need restoration. We need forgiveness. We need miraculous protection from the darkness in this world – the sin that so easily entangles. We need to pray. Prayer can help with the abortion statistics and the rape statistics. It will open our eyes and soften our hearts. We will draw close to God and He will lead us in the way we should go in helping and assisting moms and adopting these kids who need homes. Only God can grow a boy into a man – giving him the strength to be honorable in this deceptive world that tells him he doesn’t have to live with honor. When that happens, rape and abortion numbers will go down. When heart-change and heart-softening happens, as we turn to Christ and light, this darkness must flee. We have to pray for that – that God will do it. He’s the only one who can.

Jesus this world is broken. It makes me shake. I look at my children and I ache for them – the statistics are scary and I pray they never experience these things, but I know they will at least be touched by them in this world. I see the women I know who have experienced infertility, unplanned or lost pregnancy, rape, and abortion and I ache for them. They all carry the scars – they all have lost so much. I know if this rhetoric stuns me it may devastate them. Or maybe it doesn’t – maybe that part of them is so walled off. Either way, Jesus, please draw near to the hurting and offer your healing mercy. Help us please. Government is not our answer – YOU are our answer. Human solutions stink – they only make things worse. We need you. We have done it our way and we have screwed it up. Please call your church to be salt and light in a broken world. Thank you for the people who get this – for the men and women who stand on your Word as a light to the world – being light as they embrace the complexity of loving a broken world. This is not simple, and we need people brave enough to admit that. Thank you for pregnancy centers filled with volunteers and staff who actually love women and desire to help them. Thank you for people who are unafraid to jump in and do the heavy lifting. I know even as much as Planned Parenthood is reviled on one side of this debate, there are many people there who deeply desire to help women. Please lead all of those people to yourself  – you are our only hope. Help our country. Help our leaders. Convict them. Convict us to pray for them and not be cynical and hateful toward them. I need help with that – I can feel so hopeless about the weakness of our country’s leadership. Help us to turn off the rhetoric, turn on our ears to hear Your Spirit, turn from our evil ways, and turn from our dependence on human solutions. And Jesus, please, please, heal our land.

Leaders and Servants

Lately I’ve seen an interesting phenomenon in church and culture. A leader is working with a team, surrounded by people eager to help and serve joyfully to carry out a God-sized task. The helpers work hard and are faithful to the leader and to the task. But they are human – so things happen and the enemy intervenes, and the project stalls or the vision is attacked or it simply takes longer than the leader expected.

And the leader has a choice: shift his/her perception to see that the task is not really his but is bigger than him and see the heart of the people serving, maintaining a heart of gratitude despite the hiccup; or let their feelings take over, going in to panic mode, assuming the absolute worst of the people helping carry out this task and acting like the helpers are hindrances to the goal instead of partners deserving gratitude and respect.

I keep seeing leaders choose the second course. I’ve seen it probably four different times in the past year. The leader was tired and overwhelmed in every case. They were all good people. They were trying to do big God-sized things. I don’t think they realized they were barreling through life and through friendships as they tunneled toward this goal. I don’t think they realized they were dishonoring the people helping them in the process. But they forged on and they left a path of damage behind them.

Their choice revealed them, and hurt the people around them. They weren’t leading, they were using. It wasn’t about the people and teamwork and doing things as unto the Lord. It was about the leader’s agenda and needs and when times got hard, they revealed their true lack of faith. They thought their panic was because of their helper’s incompetence, but their panic was really because they weren’t trusting God to begin with. Not only that, but they showed the task was more important than the hearts and health of the people helping. Now, that is not the heart of any of these leaders all the time, but in this case, at least for a little while, the leader believed that the battle was between them and what they could carry out, and not Believers working together in a common battle against the true enemy of our soul.

I saw a powerful interview with Jason Russell, the founder of Invisible Children, the guy who had a very public nervous breakdown earlier this year. He literally lost his mind when the task God had given him proved too much for him. He has few memories of the day he was pacing and beating the ground naked in front of his home, or the two weeks he was incoherent, rambling and raging, hospitalized in a mental institution. His wife, who was there with his children when his fragile mind snapped, wasn’t sure if the man she married would ever return to her. But after weeks of intensive therapy and medications, Jason Russell did return to his sanity and his family, and his story is really powerful.

He took a God-sized vision, to rescue children in Africa from Joseph Kony and the LRA, and he made it his personal mission. He had highlighted himself and his son in a campaign to make Kony famous, and when it went viral and the media descended, he took it on himself to answer the questions and defend his vision. For over a week he did not sleep and rarely ate as he fought to defend against the forces opposing him and the movement he saw as his. The people around him saw the signs and tried to warn him. Meetings were held telling him to step back and let someone else take over, but he pushed back and ignored those around him. And one morning, in his kitchen, he snapped.

Photo: TMZ.com

Most of the world saw the video of him raging and beating the ground with his hands (until his wedding ring bent and his hands were bruised and broken). His breakdown did massive damage to the ministry he helped create. Rumors that he was gay or on drugs circulated widely. And he now says, with humility, that it was his ego that snapped, taking his mind with it. That what kept him awake those many nights was his role in the movement, the Nobel prize talk and the requests for interviews and the high-profile people who wanted to partner with him.

He believed he must carry this vision, and the vision he was never intended to carry crushed him under its overwhelming weight.  He blew through the people serving Invisible Children and when he fell apart, he left them to pick up the pieces. Jason told Oprah that God broke him to take Invisible Children away from him and return it where it belonged, in the hands of the God who hears the cries of the children and who calls us to partner with Him in His work. Even now, months after the breakdown, Jason has a very limited role in Invisible Children and in the mission to rescue children from Joseph Kony, because he has learned his limits and he is working to stay within them. And slowly the reputation of Invisible Children and Jason Russell is being restored because he is doing the hard work of confessing his weakness. I know that the Lord will bless that, and seeing him be faithful has given me hope in the restoring work of the Lord after a great failure.

So what do we learn from Jason’s powerful confession, his story, and the situations I have seen this year? What do we do if we are this leader and we have barreled through people in pursuit of our goal, even unknowingly? What do we do if we are making ourselves physically sick trying to shoulder responsibilities never given to us to carry? What do we do if we have been hurt by the dishonoring actions of someone we respected?

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross! Phil 2:3-8

I think we realize first that we are human, weak, flawed, sinful, selfish and that we can all develop tunnel-vision about the things that are important to us. (I am not speaking as one who judges, by the way. I am speaking as one who for years has struggled with ulcers and depression and losing sleep over things that are not mine to control. I get it – I live in this place. That’s why I related to Jason. I could see myself in his story.)  We search our minds for times when we have treated others as servants instead of serving. We spend a few minutes confessing these things to the God who created us and who understands our fragile minds and our limitless egos. We lay these burdens we are not capable of carrying at his cross. We curl up on our beds and we confess our absolute need of Him and dependence on Him, and we give back to Him the things that have always been His.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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 11:28-30

Then we confess to each other. If we have done things out of selfish ambition, we make the hard phone call. We mend fences and get back on the same team. We embrace each other in grace and respond to each other in humility. We see it is never to late to express gratitude and respect to those who partner with us for the Gospel.

If we were a helper, and have walked away feeling dishonored and used, we confess that hurt and bitterness and we seek to forgive so we can lay that burden down as well. God will never waste the times we have served others – our sacrifice was for good and the God who sees all will bless those who served him (Luke 12:37). The leader you loved and served is still loved by a God who has a great plan for him. Trust the Lord to mend the broken and restore the stolen. Try to see this as an opportunity to “consider others better than yourselves.” Realize how easy this sin is to commit, and release the person from the prison in your mind.

And together, as we go forward, we realize that according to Christ, to lead is to serve. Our leader washed feet and died on a cross in the pursuit of the goal God had given Him. When we position ourselves with humility, giving of ourselves, we will get far more done than we would sitting at the head of the table, delegating and organizing. We give the people around us the benefit of the doubt, and we treat them with grace. We make ourselves their servants. It is not human to make ourselves less – but it is righteous. So we seek ways to serve, and trust the Lord with the results. The task is always His, after all.

Jesus help us to see big tasks as being Yours, and not ours. Protect us from ourselves. Give us eyes to see others as You see them and keep us from using people for our personal gain. Thank you for Jason Russell’s confession – please use him powerfully to show your grace, forgiveness, and resurrection of all that is lost. Bless each person who confesses today, and who lays down their hurt. We love You Lord and trust You that someday all that is invisible will be made visible, an all of our hurts will have meaning. 

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. Lamentations 3:19-26

Community in a Political Season

Right now is a challenging time to relate to other people, in my opinion. I’ll be talking to someone at church or work or school, and the conversation will turn in the slightest direction where it may head toward politics, and I’ll feel it. Not every time or every person, but you know it when it is coming. There is a shift in the air. A tension and what feels like an underlying anger. Suddenly where our conversation was light and full of life, it becomes something different. And it will happen. The person will lean in, speak quietly, and state some joke, position or assumption about politics, confident that I share their fears and frustrations.

And the truth is, I don’t. I’ll say something noncommittal, change the subject. Try to return the conversation to the million things we agree upon. But the tension remains. The person I am talking to may have expected me to join in or pile on, but I didn’t, and it has thrown them. My attempt to change the conversation has surprised them. And they’ll soon walk away.

And there it is – disunity.

Courtesy Businessnewsdaily.com

I feel outside. Other. Less than. Because I don’t share a political leaning – I am no longer in community like I would be if I did.

And that’s been a hard feeling to live with this political season. I’m not sure why my friends walk away, maybe they feel exposed or embarrassed? Maybe they are questioning me? I’m not sure. But it happens on both sides of the aisle.

So I don’t speak up about politics even though I have a point of view. Because over and over this election, I have heard friends throw down the gauntlet and say something like “In this election, you can’t be a Christian and vote ________________” or, “In this election, you can’t be a woman and vote _______________.”

And I disagree.

I am a Christian, and a woman, and I do approach the world with a Biblical worldview, and I am very engaged with politics, but I still contend that this election isn’t as simple as some people make it. This election is hard and complicated and I don’t see a savior anywhere in our political arena worthy of saying, “If you don’t vote for this person – you aren’t a true follower of Christ or a real woman.”

I don’t feel that either party represents me as a Christian or as a woman perfectly, so I can understand the rationalization for compromising to vote for either one of our less-than-ideal choices this election. Because of this, you are my brother and my sister if you are the bluest of blues or the reddest of reds. No candidate and no party platform fully encapsulates my views just as no political division overcomes our commands to love one another and live in unity.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to one hope when you were called- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Eph 4:2-6

I don’t think a political stance is worthy of disunity. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the disunity is an indicator that our political views trump our Kingdom view. Because our commands to love each other and respect the authority under which we are governed were given by men living in an actual police state. We think we have it bad – our environment is a carnival compared to the Roman occupation under which Jesus was crucified. And yet Jesus said to be known by our love and to render unto Caesar and Paul said to live in unity. A presidential race in the US in 2012 is not a worthy reason for Christians to walk away from one another or grow cold toward each other. After the election of President Obama in 2008, someone wrote on Facebook “To give him the power to destroy us is just as dangerous as to give him the power to save us” and I wholeheartedly agreed with that and add Romney’s name to it as well. There is no perfect candidate in this election, and there is no perfectly evil candidate – neither can save or condemn.

Jesus saves. Jesus brings peace. Jesus heals. Jesus provides. Because of Jesus, we live and breathe and have our being (Acts 17:28).

So can we please quit walking away from each other and growing cold toward each other for something so temporal? Who cares if others don’t share our view? Walking away and growing cold makes us small – and we are not small. We are children of Jesus, brothers and sisters who will live together forever in the land of our King, and the things which unify us are a million times stronger than the things which divide us. The enemy divides – Jesus unifies. Let’s join him in that.

Jesus, help us. We deeply desire to live righteous lives, and your command to live in the world but not of it is such a hard command to follow. This world seems all-encompassing and confusing. Please help us. We want to be light – please show us how to do that. It is hard when our self-interest and opinions and “rights” crowd into our perspective. Please help us, convict us and lead us. Please unleash your Holy Spirit to speak truth to us and use us for Your great glory to share truth with others. Please forgive us where we get it wrong. Please help us remove the barriers and cross the divide in relationships grown cold. Please unify your church. Please help us to love. We know you are in control – that you place kings in places of authority and remove them when their time is up. We trust you. Please protect, guide and lead those who lead us. We are in great need of you individually, in our churches and communities, and nationally. You are the source of all that is good in our world, and we need more of you everyday.

*By the way – I’m not equating passion with disunity. I have a friend who is DEEPLY passionate about one political leaning – but I have seen her do this well as she maintains friendships despite deep fundamental disagreements on policy. So the “I’m just passionate” argument doesn’t really hold water with me, because I promise you there are passionate people who are fighting to remain unified despite their passions. It may not be easy, but it is right and worth struggling for.

He Makes All Things New

This is a new season in the Wells home. Grace starts Kindergarten tomorrow, oddly enough on the same day I start full-time college. Today I’ve had school supplies strewn out in my living room, one pile colorful and fun, one slightly more serious. We’re both excited and giddy at the new adventure God is beginning in us.

He makes all things new. 

The beginning of fall is in the air, and change comes with it. I have one friend who is starting a new job as a teacher, another is soon to return to work after the birth of her new little boy, another waits to hear word that she can travel to go get her new daughter from the country of her birth, and another is adjusting to a new normal after her world collapsed into what seemed like an unholy mess, but for God. Today in church I got to sit next to a new friend, and I pray the Lord will bring her back to join with our little messy body of Believers.

He makes all things new.

New hopes rise, sometimes in the shadow of hopes lost. That is certainly my experience this Fall. In my head, the countdown to what would have been my due date is still ticking away. I thought it would have stopped by now, but I am still learning to grieve and trust even when the grieving takes longer than I wanted it to take. In some ways, although this fall brings great blessings, it still feels like there is a hole where the new baby was “supposed” to fit into the picture. And I’ve had to come to peace with that void and with that feeling of incompleteness. Our little family in my head and heart is five, even though it stubbornly remains at four. And I’ve had to wrestle with that over and over this year. In the quiet, after the wrestling, I remember that God is still good, is for us, and is still doing new things in our hearts and minds even if the new thing we were expecting isn’t going to happen.

He makes all things new.

I’m so grateful for that truth. He even makes new our hopes and dreams, and our visions for the future. My heart that felt weary and full of doubt as I cried out my fears and questions to people who loved me just as recently as last week – that heart today feels hopeful. And that is a miracle of our God. He brings fall every year, with the death of some things and the change of others, and in all the change, He remains loving toward us, accepting of us, pouring on us His mercy. He shows us that death is never the end, because of the cross, and we never have reason to lose hope.

He makes all things new. I pray that truth is real to you this Fall, despite your circumstances.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Cor 5:17

I’m not as fun as I used to be

This morning a woman named Tara, who I follow on Facebook and who I have really grown to admire although we’ve never met, posted that she was told she wasn’t as fun as she used to be. See, in her everyday life, she sees children starving and women traveling hours to get simple maternity care down in Haiti, and then she reads New York Times articles about hot-dog eating contests where the winner eats 65 hotdogs, and it is annoying and even repulsive to her.

And she has every right to feel that way. That disparity should bother her and us – it should get under our skin. And if talking about it makes us less fun, well then we should be less fun.

I live in an area where there aren’t just houses around us, there are amazing estates. And oh how I love them. Giant beautiful houses on multi-acre lots, with land and pools and ponds and horses. And I love to drive around and look at them, imagining moving our kids into a place like that. I love to imagine a day in the future when we get a pool, or imagine taking our kids on a grand beach vacation. I badly want a minivan with the fancy doors that open with the touch of a button, and every time I walk into a store all the lovely clothes and jewelry entice. There are things in our world that are beautiful and alluring and it is easy to covet what we don’t have.

Sometimes I can go weeks imagining and planning a future that has more, bigger, faster, nicer.

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 1 John 2:16

And then I get home and I read this article about one of the ministries my friend Tara is associated with. Please take a moment to read it. Please. This is real and they need help. This ministry lost 9 children in the past 2 1/2 weeks, and they have a desperate need for money for ICU nurses. They don’t even need much, less than $6000. Please click the link and check it out. Together we can help them accomplish this.

And seeing that changes me. It makes me mindful, and some people would say not as fun as I used to be. But you see – the world has grown smaller and the hurting are harder to ignore. Because of the miracle of technology, I can be in the car, driving past the beautiful houses, and I can pull over and use my amazing iPhone to jump on Tara’s blog (or any number of other blogs or Facebook pages of ministries on the ground around the world) and I can see what their exact needs are. And I can click the Paypal donate link, and send money to relieve those needs right then. The starving have a voice now, and we have to close our eyes to not see them. We have to willfully ignore the little girl that weighs 14 pounds at 5 years-old. But when we look, when we really look, when we see them not just as hopeless situations but as opportunities to take care of the least of these as Jesus commanded, then the things we covet start to look a little faded, a little showy.

This stuff does bother me, and the dueling desires in me, the desire for beautiful things and the desire to make a difference around the world for Christ, they battle all-day-long every single day. And it makes me a little less fun. I don’t blog about Pinterest projects or cooking ideas, I blog about this stuff. Because it is on my heart and mind and it is something I am battling through. I have to mindfully, willfully ignore and combat the pull to materialism in the world around me. And I can fail miserably. There are still many days where an Amazon box arrives at my house full of things I don’t really need or I’ll spend all day researching Honda Odysseys (those vans are stinking amazing). And there are days where I take a slow drive past the beautiful houses, imagining owning something like that. But on those days, I say a little prayer. It isn’t selfless – in fact it’s pretty selfish and small sometimes. I say something like this, “Lord, this world is not my home. This world is not my home. Help me remember that. Please forgive me. Help me not to covet and allow me to make a difference in this world. Use me to rescue people and share your love and bring you glory. Please don’t let me be enticed by things I do not need. Please set my mind on things above. I know it sounds crazy, but please give my kids a fancy mansion in heaven with horses and ponds and pools and land. Let them draw the skies and dance across fields (without fear of snakes or bugs or allergies). I believe we want the beautiful things for a reason, we were made to want them and we have a future full of them, and for that I am truly grateful. Please help me to wait and to trust you that the unseen greatly exceeds the seen.”

It is hard to fight my nature, and because of that, I am not as fun as I used to be. But I wouldn’t change it. Because this is real and the world is small and the hurting are all around us, and we can make a difference around the world with just a click.

I did a little search for verses about materialism – and wow are they tough. They make it clear that this isn’t a “harmless” struggle – this is life or death stuff for our souls. Here are a few of the verses I found – and there are many more. Lord change our hearts and help us to desire what you desire. 

  • Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:6-10
  • And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15
  • Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
  • “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21
  • But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 1 John 3:17
  • Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-17
  • “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’  “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’. “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’  “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ” Matthew 25:31-46
  • This is the kind of fast day I’m after:  to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts.  What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families.  Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once.  Your righteousness will pave your way.  The God of glory will secure your passage.  Then when you pray, God will answer.  You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’  “If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. I will always show you where to go.  I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—  firm muscles, strong bones.  You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry.  You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past.  You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again. Isaiah 58: 6-12 (Message version)

An update: The ICU Nannies were funded for the first 6 months! Praise God! http://www.realhopeforhaiti.org/?p=7991

The Substitute: Part 2

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post called “The Substitute” about a friend who subbed in for another friend in the middle of a long difficult trial. It was a very well-received, shared, and talked about post because it seemed to strike a nerve with everyone just as the lesson struck a nerve with me, which compelled me to blog.

I have an update to that post, and it is truly amazing. My friend, the one who was enduring the unending trial, the one who was faithful in the face of very little hope over years of waiting, that precious friend who was tired and weary but straining to hope? That sweet friend has gotten her miracle. Since her friend subbed in and prayed like the trial was 1 day-old instead of thousands of days, the Lord has completely turned the situation around.

My friend’s life, and her family’s life, is forever altered. The seemingly impossible trial is ending in the most miraculous way imaginable. We have seen the victory that my friend believed and waited for over those difficult years. It is humbling and impressive and worship-inspiring to witness.

And I have to wonder, and God only knows, how much the prayers of the friend who subbed in at the point of exhaustion unlocked the miracle.

This summer is already long and hot, and many are facing daunting personal trials. People around us are tired of waiting and hoping and praying. Their eyes are straining from watching for their desperately longed-for miracle.

Maybe they need a substitute.

And maybe that substitute is us.

I believe more than ever that the time we spend subbing in for the ones around us is eternally valuable time. We get to be a part of God working miracles on the earth – turning the impossible into the incredible. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Substitution works.

Lord give us eyes to see the people around us and the burdens they are bearing. Impress upon us the value of intercession. Use us to give people comfort and lead them to You. Use us for your great glory. We don’t want to waste our lives on what is seen, but we want to make a difference in the unseen eternity that awaits us. Thank you for the privilege of prayer, for the privilege of community, for the privilege of intercession. Thank you that our prayers matter even in seemingly hopeless situations. 

Practical Faith, Miraculous Results

One of the things I’ve been deeply convicted of the past few years is the way I handle people who are suffering around me. Say someone posts on Facebook that they are sick or have a need. How do I respond? I used to just blow past that in the busyness of life, thinking “I’ll pray about that later” or “poor so-and-so, that stinks.” But the Lord sent me some amazing faithful friends who lived differently, who acted on their faith constantly and met needs and ministered to others, and I wanted to live more like them – more like Jesus. It changed me.

Now when I see someone hurting, I try to stop – I try to be the church and meet a need, maybe even get to be Jesus with skin to that person. First off, I’ll say “I’m praying” and I stop at that moment and actually pray – lifting that need to the Father (trying to make myself less of a liar when I inevitably forget the need later). But second, I try to think of a practical thing I can do to lift their burden. Can I bring a meal? Can I pick up a kid or send you a book or note to encourage your heart? If it is a ministry, can I send supplies or give a gift? And I try to do that quickly too. Commit right then to do something, and do it then, before I can forget.

It takes a few minutes, but when I am faithful to do it – I’m telling you I get blessed. And we can’t out-give God – he always provides. This is a completely true story of how God provided for us last year when we were learning to live with open hands. It started when we were given a huge Christmas blessing including quite a bit of cash. After paying bills, we had $300 remaining. We heard of a friend who needed $300 to pay their electric bill, and we gave it to them. We just felt like the money wasn’t ours to begin with, since it had been given to us, so why not share it? A few weeks later, when we were faced with some medical bills, a friend of mine asked me to coffee (someone also going through a difficult financial struggle). Without knowing about our gift to our friend, she slid an envelope over to me across the table with $300 in cash inside the envelope because she and her husband felt the Lord had told them to bless us. A few weeks later, someone dropped an envelope on those friends’ front porch with a little over $300 inside it. That money transferred hands four times meeting needs exactly when it was needed, that we know of. It freaks me out it’s so cool. It taught us a HUGE lesson.

So we give – even when we don’t have much to give. And God provides. We have loved taking meals to friends. We have loved meeting simple basic needs for ministries on the ground around the world. I do the graphics for a ministry in Kenya that houses young pregnant women and helps them with prenatal and postnatal needs so they can keep their babies and not have to give them up for adoption, and that was all because I saw a tweet that they needed help and over a year later, I’m still partnering with them whenever possible.

otoscope

Baby scale

stethoscope

In addition, we have started following several ministries on Facebook and Twitter, especially since the Haiti earthquake, so we can know what they need and pray and maybe help meet those needs. One of the ministries we follow is Real Hope for Haiti – a clinic and outreach center a few hours north of Port-au-Prince Haiti. A few months ago they posted a need for a baby scale for their clinic. I reached out and purchased a scale off Amazon, had it shipped along with a few other basic pieces of medical equipment to Miami, and the ministry sent me pictures this week of the supplies we sent being used to treat the beautiful people of Haiti.

This was a simple thing – I think the whole thing cost us maybe $150 bucks. But look at where it went! That is an investment that pays dividends forever.

I know many of you who read this have a huge heart for the world, and like me, you love meeting practical needs. Real Hope for Haiti is getting ready to ship a massive container of supplies from Indiana to Haiti to help the poor and hurting. They have set up a Walmart Wishlist with things like baby powder and orajel on it (some things cost just a few dollars) and we can partner with them to meet these simple needs. In addition, they are gathering money to ship the container. If you want to be a part of a simple solution to bless someone who needs it, click here.

Let’s be the church. Let’s obey Jesus. And let’s see the miracles pour forth.

The Battle for Adoptive Families

As most of you know, my husband and I want to adopt. As we have waited for our opportunity, we have felt a strong clear calling is to support and encourage families who go before us in adoption and foster care. Our wait has made us “students” of adoption and prayer warriors for adoptive families. There is so much we did not know before we began this journey – and as our eyes have opened, our prayer life has increased.

One of our previous misconceptions was that the adoption struggle and the adoption story was the process to get a child home. We now know there are two main struggles of adoption, and the initial struggle to get a child home is only part of the story. The first struggle includes the sometimes nightmarish bureaucracy that has to be painstakingly navigated, the many thousands of dollars that must be raised, the process of educating and developing a support system to surround your family in the process, the uncertainty inherent to such an emotionally charged decision, the potential for great pain and even disruption of the adoption, and the logistics of travel or legal processes. This struggle can be simply annoying, or it can absolutely break the hearts of the adoptive family. We have seen families survive difficulties and hurts in this struggle that are the worst-case scenario. We’ve watched God redeem and restore even the most broken.

The second struggle is the process of healing and adapting to the new normal within the family once the children come home. This is not talked about very much outside of the adoption community, because frankly it doesn’t often feel “safe” for an adoptive family to share that there are challenges after the new children get home. The common misconception is that once the child gets home into a safe loving home, the work is done. But it is just beginning. These children from hard places are hurt, often deeply. Even if they are adopted at birth, they may have had prenatal exposure that will impact their ability to connect. Trust needs to be established, boundaries established and enforced in love without the child overreacting, and the people in the home need to connect as a family. None of this is simple. Just like we don’t /poof!/ become completely angelic creatures without sin at salvation, but instead we work out our salvation “in fear and trembling” as we gradually grow more like Christ, so a child doesn’t always trust completely and meld perfectly into the family God has chosen for him instantly at adoption. The work of connection after a child comes home is hard for many of our adoptive families. Occasionally it feels “impossible” – to quote a dear friend who has endured the worst. And they don’t feel free to share that struggle because when they do, they are often faced with people who say “I told you so” or who judge the way the family is handling the adjustment or who judge the child as “broken.” Very few people can be trusted to know the deep struggles that come along with adoption, and not judge or criticize. This creates a situation where the family can be isolated, and we all know that the enemy of our souls works in isolation. So this struggle is often longer and more painful than the first struggle, although there are few articles about it on the internet and few discussions about it over the dinner table. But this struggle remains, and this is a major prayer need of an adoptive family.

We have also seen God work huge miracles in this struggle. We have seen Him make all things new, although that journey can be tough. I recently heard someone say that when God calls families to “visit orphans in their distress” (James 1) it is more often us entering into their pain and distress with them and walking with them to healing, rather than plucking them up out of pain and bringing them into our world of wholeness. It is painful for us and them, but God is faithful.

During these years we have waited, we have intentionally reached out to adoptive families on Facebook and in person to get to know them, to let them know it is safe to be honest with us, and to come alongside them in prayer. It has stretched our faith to walk through the valleys of these two struggles with these families (as much as we are able). But as we have done so – there is a really interesting phenomenon we have noted.

In Ephesians 6, Paul talks about difficulty in our world. He says: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” During the two struggles of adoption, it can seem like you are fighting all kinds of things. It feels like you are fighting a bureaucracy that is fundamentally broken, it feels like you are fighting to advocate for a child that has often been forgotten, it feels like you are fighting against the misled and often false assumptions of others, it feels like you are fighting against societal norms, and it even can feel like, after the child is home, you are fighting the walls in your child as you try to get them to trust you. It can feel like you are fighting the world. But this verse makes clear who you are actually fighting. You are fighting the enemy of our souls, which is why the battle is so difficult.

The Bible says God “sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68). The Bible says that adoption is a picture of our salvation (Romans 8, Galatians 4). The Bible says that God gives special care to the orphan  and watches over them as a Father (Exodus 22, Psalms 10, James 1, Psalms 68, Deuteronomy 24). The Bible says that all Christ-followers are called to serve the orphan (James 1, Isaiah 1, Proverbs 31, Matthew 18, Matthew 25). It is clear that the call to adopt, as difficult as it may be, is something we are called to do and God is faithful to provide for and equip the called, because it is important to Him. So of course, if adoption is so important to God, then thwarting it is important to the enemy of God.

One of the things I have noticed as we’ve watched and prayed, is that time and time again, my friends in the adoption world seem to have simultaneous victories and struggles. It is like this fabric across the world is attached to every adoption. And when God breaks through a struggle and works a miracle on someone’s behalf, there is a ripple that goes across the world, and there is a consequence of that breakthrough in many families. It happened again this week. A precious friend’s adoption of a little girl from Haiti finally passed through a certain government office where their adoption had been stalled for months. It was a great victory, and we rejoiced. But on that day, several completely disconnected adoptive families shared with me through different avenues that they had experienced a really difficult day with the healing of their newly adopted child. It was like the fabric was shaken, and it affected everyone. This concept sounds crazy, I know, until you look at the verse from Ephesians 6. If all of these adoptive struggles were separate and not related, then they should not impact each other. But if we are all fighting one enemy, set against adoption, against the lonely finding families, opposed to the healing and connection of a child, then it isn’t so crazy after all.

Not to overdo the imagery, but since I am visual I have also seen this like a dragon who experiences the swipe of a claw against his face. It hurts him, and He swings around in rage, lashing out with his tail at anything surrounding him. He was wounded, so he wounds. That is how I have seen the adoption community this week. It seems connected. God is moving (praise Him) but our enemy is reacting and his goal is to wound. We need to be praying. In a spiritual battle, against an enemy we cannot see but can feel his effects, prayer is our weapon. We know that the Lord has the victory, and we know that He is more powerful, but we also know that for a time, the enemy has some level of authority on the earth. Revelations 12:12 says “Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” I believe that the wrath and fury of the enemy is focused many places, but certainly adoptive families are included in that list. I don’t believe those families are without hope (thank you Jesus), but I also believe that we who are not in an adoption process have a responsibility to battle these forces of evil with adoptive families in prayer throughout both of the struggles of adoption, the initial struggle to bring a child home and the secondary struggle to get a child healed and connected. We who stand around these adoptive families must fight our human instinct to criticize and correct, and instead act on our spiritual responsibility to humbly enter into community, acting with compassion and grace, praying as we go.

I count myself humbled, and honored, to get to stand with you families fighting these battles. This week has felt heavy and my prayer has felt especially necessary this week, and my heart cries out on your behalf. I am grateful for each of you. My faith grows because of your sacrifice and your faithful obedience to the call of our Father.

Take heart friends. Just as this past week we celebrated Christ’s victory over death and sin, so this week we stand with you and proclaim Christ’s victory over your struggles. Your children will be made whole because of Jesus, and your family’s struggle will be redeemed. And until that day, we stand with you in prayer.

Jesus be near, give grace, be mighty to save, fight for these beloved children, give encouragement and peace to adoptive families. We stand in simple faith and tell you that we trust you, we are grateful for the victory you promise, and we give you the glory.

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