Teach Me to Number My Days

In Psalm 90, in the middle of a chapter about the passage of time, the inconsequence of our lives, and the judgment of God there is a plea; “So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.” When I read it today, it stood out. I’ve read it before and heard it in sermons, but today it felt like a message for me. Sometimes I am tempted to look things up, searching commentaries to find out what something means to the “professional” theologians. But today I felt like I should just sit with it a bit, give it time to process in my heart and in my spirit.

Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.

There are two things I notice – first is the emphasis on measurementNumber our days. I don’t think I am good at this. In fact, let me amend that – I know I am not. Not only am I forgetful, but I am forward-facing. I am goal-oriented, a striver; a first-born with a massive bent toward people-pleasing, an Enneagram 9 peacemaker who bears the weight of the world. Injustice weighs on me, a lack of truth weighs on me, a lack of harmony in any relationship of which I am aware will keep me up at night. I not only know what is lacking in this fallen world, I feel it.

whack-a-mole

Whack-a-mole

And I’m pretty convinced I can do something about it. I am a problem-solver, smart and efficient, good at seeing all sides of any problem. So when I do my thing and harmony is achieved, I feel accomplished and I move on to my next superwoman mission of peacemaking. I live in a perpetual state of whack-a-mole; squash a problem, move on, squash a problem, move on.

But this verse tells me to number my days, that I may get a heart of wisdom. I know in my heart as I read the verse that this is a spiritual discipline, a way to get the knot in my chest to loosen, to get the tears pressing behind my eyes to recede.

Because this world is messed up. Blatant injustice, economic and racial inequality, a Church (at large) who seems at times to be asleep to it all, famine and war. Just today images fill my timeline of children sleeping who are not sleeping, but who apparently are the tiny innocent targets of a chemical attack in their own country from the air. And that is just today’s horror. Yesterday there was another, tomorrow there will be more. Jesus help us. There is so much to fix in this world.

And those are just the macro issues. Our family is facing some hard realities in our everyday life; needs that press in and things outside of my control that I want so badly to fix, wounds I want to forgive that persistently intrude on my days. And we have friends who face challenging kids and big life decisions and personal battles and I just want to help ease the pain they bear. There is much to do in this dark world of ours.

Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.

So today, I am trying the spiritual discipline of measuring God’s faithfulness, numbering my days. I am remembering and listing the passages of Scripture God has given me as promises, over decades; revisiting hard times and remembering the faithfulness of God, re-reading prayer requests in old journals to note the answered prayers and the fulfilled promises. I am not looking ahead, I am looking back, writing it down, a monument to God’s faithfulness and to problems solved just as the Israelites stacked stones to remember.

Second is the emphasis on time. Numbering my days. I am also determined in the spiritual practice of only focusing on today. Not on our long term needs, the long term problems, the challenges I know we will face next month or in a future season. Today. I am thanking God for the daily bread for today. The friends who are faithful, the financial provision, the strives my daughters have made, the jobs Justin and I have that provide, the health of our family. I am taking this life that feels so long to me, but that is but a breathe to the Lord (back to Psalm 90), and I am handing every part of it over to the God who made me, focusing my grateful heart on today.

I was talking to a couple of friends yesterday, women full of grace and truth. I was asking for prayer for persistent needs and struggles that weigh on me. And they reminded me, as faithful friends do, of the truth of my situation, and the truth of theirs. We can become overwhelmed with the one next thing we need, we can take on that weight (because we are get-it-done women), and that weight can crush us. Whether it is our children or our home or our companies or our finances, the weight of what God has given us can be too much to bear. Because we weren’t meant to carry the weight of any of it on our own. We have to remind each other that it isn’t ours to carry. Yesterday all day I repeated that as a mantra to remind my frazzled sole. One friend kept repeating “You are safe. Your Father loves you.” Another constantly reminds me of gifts that are “daily bread.” We have to help each other remember these things. I really think God is teaching me we are part of each other’s “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrew 12), encouraging each other on to righteousness.

Daily bread. Teach us to number our days.

Part of the solution to that control-freak nature so many of us share, that tendency we have to forget the ways God has come through for us in the past, is to learn to count our days.

One last thing I noticed. I love that it is a prayer. Even this isn’t on us. Again, tears behind my eyes. God knows us so well, He knows even this we can’t do well on our own. Here’s the verse in context:

“So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Jesus teach us.

The Reconcilers

Part of why I blog is to remember little lessons the Lord teaches me, so I can go back and see them later. This will be a short one, because it was inspired by the most mundane of daily tasks and I need to return to them, but I wanted to remember. Lucy, my three year old, loves to borrow her sisters’ stuff while they are at school. Please don’t tell them about this little arrangement I have with the stay-at-home child. Today, she wanted to play with some markers, and before I realized it, she had colored with permanent marker on the little handheld dry erase board Rebekah’s teacher gave her for Christmas last year. This board is a treasure. And right now it is destroyed. This will, if not corrected, cause a level-3 meltdown when Rebekah gets off the bus.

IMG_0916So during lunch today, I sat next to Lucy doing a little coloring myself. I am painstakingly coloring over the permanent marker with a dry-erase marker, trying to erase away the evidence of Lucy’s violation of Rebekah’s property and privacy. It is an agonizingly slow process, if I’m being honest.

And in case you’re wondering about justice (I do love me some justice), I did talk to Lucy about not coloring on sissy’s board with markers . But I’m working hard to make it right for her. As I was coloring, a thought bubbled to the surface. “This is the ministry of reconciliation.” This. Erasing the error of another. Hiding something, taking on a project that is not really mine to fix, but fixing it to show grace. That didn’t feel intuitive, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.

I am a big fan of dragging things into the light so we can be reconciled to each other. Let’s get it all out – air our stuff, confess our sins one to another. And I’m not alone. Doesn’t it feel like, these days, we are a little nutty about pointing out the flaws in others? In almost every social media post and online interaction, it’s interesting to watch and see how quickly the post or idea gets the “well actually” treatment. People shame others for errors, or perceived errors, even errors that have been clarified and corrected, just in case they actually meant what we’re pretty sure they meant. I do it, I’ve seen it done to others, and it has been done to me.

And yet, in our job as salt and light, is this another opportunity to be different, to shine bright in a dark world? The ministry of reconciliation can be about erasing something, forgiving it, covering it with grace instead of shining a light on it and exposing it to the world. What is a more graceful response – holding the board in Lucy’s face, meeting Rebekah at the door so she can get in on the chorus, and us showing Lucy the error of her ways? Or erasing the marks made by little hands more likely in ignorance than in spite, and promoting peace.

Peacemaking is such a theme for me these days. As a peacemaker, I really believe in all truth being God’s truth, and holding all things up to it. I can get overzealous in that and I can point out your error with the best of them, particularly in an area where I am passionate or sure of my rightness. But we are to be people of grace and truth. Jesus’ blood is said to have washed away our sins, not just magnified them so we can feel shame (1 John 1:7).

The ministry of reconciliation comes out of 2 Corinthians 5, where Paul says,

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

It describes this two way transaction; Christ reconciles us to Himself, and he gives us the power to reconcile others. I read a commentary today that said, “The reconciled become the reconcilers,” which I loved. And it describes the action as “not counting their trespasses against them.” Doesn’t it feel like, all too often, we Christians are the worst at counting “their” trespasses against them? As if we are so innocent. Why do we feel that weight and that pressure to ensure the righteousness of another, instead of trusting them to God as we trust God for our own right standing? Is it because of our fear of a vindictive God, or because we have the ministry of reconciliation all wrong?

I’m wrestling through it as I erase, but I like the idea that we function as erasers in the world, minimizing the shame and guilt and fear of others. And I like the idea of God, as a parent, erasing the sins of a beloved child. It’s such a sweet picture of God, when I default sometimes to imagining Him infinitely more harsh.

So today, on a normal Friday, I’m happy to join him in the ministry of reconciliation. And I hope you have opportunities to do the same. God knows we all need it.

Grace Grace Grace

I have realized something about myself lately, a thread that the Lord is connecting. I love getting to talk to women during the fun or scary transitions of life; it always feels like a weighty encounter, and I have realized that I tell them all, basically, variations on the exact same message. I feel called to it. I run to the opportunity, sometimes texting someone I haven’t talked to in ages, just so I can share this one little encouraging word from God – my spirit reminding her spirit. Getting married? I have one piece of advice I’d love to give. Having a baby? Please let me tell you the one secret that kept me sane. Lost a job? I’d love to tell you how I got through our job losses without losing it. Lost a sweet baby? Oh I love you so much, and can I share with you the one thing that enabled me to breathe?

I truly think it is my mission in life to remind the people I love of this one thing, because for some reason we so quickly forget.

Give yourself grace. It is normal and okay to feel what you feel. 

I was texting a beautiful friend, recently engaged, just tonight. She’s one of the most incredible people I have the privilege to know, but I know her and know she has always been hard on herself. I loved giving her my advice; So many things are about to change, sweet girl. Give yourself grace when you feel overwhelmed by it. When you feel doubt, when you feel fear, it is normal. Give yourself grace. God is bigger than your momentary doubts in yourself.

I love to tell new moms, or moms of special needs kids, or moms on the 4th snow day in a row; Give yourself grace when this feels hard, because it is. Whatever you feel, whether it is fear or doubt or panic or anger toward this child that you love, it is normal and we all feel it at times. Don’t live in shame. Give yourself grace. Run to God with those feelings; don’t hide them. He will help you get through this.

When friends are facing financial burdens or sudden job losses, I just want to cry out; Sweet friends, give yourself grace. It is okay to feel panic and fear, completely normal. Let me pray with you. I’m praying you can breathe out that fear, that panic, and breathe in the grace that is yours. God sees you, He knows your situation. He loves you and is mighty to save. He alone is able to change this situation you cannot change and at His feet you will find rest. 

When friends want a baby so much they ache, or they just lost another baby; I love you so much and I ache with you. Please give yourself grace to mourn this, to grieve it however you need to. Grief isn’t linear – you won’t go through stages in any way that makes sense. Give yourself grace. You are not crazy when your emotions are everywhere. This is a crazy-making challenge you are facing; it is normal to feel this way. I’m praying for you and love you and wish I could change it for you. Please just breathe in the grace that is yours in this moment.

grace

Our oldest daughter, Grace.

If I were going to get a tattoo at my *advanced* age, it would say grace. I named my first daughter Grace. I need it and sometimes forget it is mine for the taking despite the fact that I’m swimming in it. And because I forget, I remind others, sometimes to also remind myself. We all are too hard on ourselves, too quick to equate weakness with sin, fear with sin, doubt with sin, failure with sin, our human emotions with sin. So we pile on shame and try to wrangle our emotions in an attempt to somehow prove we are good enough to approach our Father. Meanwhile he is our Father. Not the perpetually disappointed Father, or the impossibly high expectations Father, or the stern unapproachable Father. He’s the one who loves us unconditionally, who wants us to cast all our cares on Him, who created us and knows our every thought, who walked on this earth and died for us, who said in Exodus “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

There are three traps to watch out for when we are going through something hard:

Trying to stop our emotions. We want to wrangle them or manage them or just stop feeling, but they swirl around and interrupt our sleep and steal our joy. What do we do when we feel out of control?  I’m learning to lean into the emotions, to study them like a scientist instead of fleeing from them. To stop fighting, breathe deeply and name them, telling God about each one of them.  For me, speaking them starts to take away their power, and I start to feel that knot in my chest loosen. I feel fear, and I hate it. I feel anger toward this person, because they really hurt me. I feel panic, even though I know I am not alone. Please help me. If we can just speak what we feel to the One who made us, no matter how messy it is, maybe we can rest again in His plans for us.

The shame cycle. Sometimes we are so busy apologizing for what we feel and feeling bad about it that we get stuck in this tornado of shame about our feelings. My therapists through the years have helped me so much with this one by simply giving me permission to have emotions and to feel what I feel. I don’t know where I picked up this idea that my feelings were shameful, maybe church or home or just first-born perfectionist nonsense. But it is pointless to feel shame for what we feel. Our feelings are just signals that there is something we need to work through. Shame and condemnation are not from God, so I think we take those voices to Him too. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, remember? God I don’t feel lovable, but I know you love me. I feel alone, but I know you are with me. I feel weak, but I know you are mighty to save. I don’t believe any of this truth right now, but I trust you to turn my feelings around in Your timing. I feel a lot of shame, even about this, but I trust You to release me from that because I know that is not of You. I’m a mess, but I’m Your mess, and I know You love me. 

The trap of isolation. We cannot brave it alone; we need grace-filled friends who will join us in prayer. I had lunch with a friend a few weeks ago and just speaking some of my thoughts took away their power, and she spoke peace to me as well as truth I needed to hear. Her perspective helped me see things, and myself, in a new way. She didn’t coddle me, but she did remind me to give myself grace. Many people who love me and love Jesus have given me grace in this season. I got a message tonight from someone I haven’t talked to in person in almost a decade, offering grace, community and understanding for the struggles we are facing. So encouraging! She used social media, which we all know is challenging these days, to show me love. What beautiful redemption of that medium, to use it to show solidarity and community to people in our circles. A great reminder that we need each other. We were made to face this big stuff together.

Give yourself grace. I’m going to keep reminding the people I love until the end, because we all need reminders of the grace greater than our sin. Our Father loves us so much, if only we could glimpse a fraction of his love.

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

Haiti Day 2

Haiti Day 2

I am in Haiti this week with Community of Faith, seeing what God is doing down here through the two churches we are associated with and our school, the Community of Faith School in Le Village de La Source, Haiti. I am posting with limited internet, so forgive the sloppy formatting and lack of photos.

 

I am a person of strong feelings and opinions (understatement). One of the things I have oh so many feelings about is how to honor and respect people when traveling to another culture, so that you aren’t the rude American taking pictures of other people’s children as if they are zoo animals. Just imagine if someone showed up at your house or junior’s preschool and was looking through the window, taking pictures of your little precious without your permission. “Lawsuit” (you need to know that in my head that word was said in the church lady’s voice). It even has a name – poverty tourism – exploiting people with a right to privacy and dignity just so you can score the best Facebook profile picture. It crawls all over me.

So imagine my mental angst when it comes to me traveling for the church to document the progress of the school that our church supports, which involves shooting pictures and video of other people’s children. For me, a natural over-thinker, it is a mental minefield. So I have been praying about it, asking the Lord to give me eyes to see and to use even my camera as a way to connect.

We drove from Gonaives up to Le Village de la Source, which is this tiny village tucked in this valley with literally 360 degree views of absolutely beautiful mountains. We went to visit the COF school up there for older children started by one of the Pastors on our staff. I walked in a little nervous, not only to shoot pictures and videos, but because we had been told that we should each prepare a greeting that they would translate for the children, and I struggled to find the words. I have terrible stage fright and knew whatever I said had to be simple because I was bound to stutter my way through it. The children sang us a song as we walked in, and the leadership of the school began to greet us one by one. Just before I was introduced, our leader David introduced me and explained that I would be documenting the story of their progress, and not only how the school had grown but how they had all grown as students and leaders. I stood up shakily to give my little speech, and it went something like this. “Bonjour (my only French word – they giggled at my Texas/French dialect). Thank you for coming today on your day off to visit with us. Our church loves you and prays for you. I love being here, and personally am so happy to see so many girls in school today. I believe that with education, and Jesus, we can change the world. It is nice to meet you and thank you for having me.” I nervously sat down and looked over to find many of the children smiling at me. It gave me courage, and I slipped out of my seat and began to work my way around the room taking pictures and videos, slowly working my way into a rhythm as I moved around the room and caught more and more shy smiles from eager children. I also caught glances from a group of neighborhood women and children who had seen our van pull up, stuffed like a clown car full of white people, and come over to look through the windows and see what has happening. I shared our snacks with them, and although we didn’t know each other’s language, we communicated through smiles and gestures until I felt like I was making friends.

We gave the school children some gifts, and they gave us gifts, and as they told us stories and gave us greetings, we identified three people we wanted to get on video. I stepped out with another member of our team to setup for the video shoot, and the technicality of it relaxed me even more. As we were setting up, I noticed that the neighborhood women I connected with earlier had following me over and were watching. I used some of them as models to get my settings right, and let them listen to my microphone setup through headphones. I tried to tell one woman my name and get hers, but she remained silent and watchful, not understanding me. I shared a snack with her. After I handed it to her, she reached up to the tree we were standing under and tore off a leaf. She handed it to me and patted her hip. I struggled to understand. I said the word “leaf” and tried to hand it back. She patted her hip again and pointed to my pants. I realized she was pointing at my pocket, and the leaf was her gift back to me. Again tears rushed to my eyes as I put the leaf in my pocket. “Oh Lord, yes, how quickly I forget. This is about connection, one mother to another, and I don’t want to be the one only giving. It is mutual.” I said “Mesi” (my only Haitian-Creole word) and put my hand on my heart to tell her it meant something to me, and we smiled at each other.

We began to shoot our stories, and I saw the children watching me from the periphery. After I finished I took the camera and headed to the group. I asked them if I could photograph them (which of course they didn’t understand) so I gestured and they began to pose. I shot a picture, and then stepped forward so they could see what I had shot. They giggled, and more and more kids came over, and we did this for 10 minutes, back and forth, pose and giggle. I have dozens and dozens of cheesily-posed pictures of smiling kids, and I love them. I need to find a way to get printed copies back to them.

So the Lord did it (not surprising). He made the two things I was nervous about, speaking publicly and taking pictures, the two tools he most used to allow me to connect with the kids. I’m grateful.

Haiti Day 1

This week I travel to Haiti with a team from Community of Faith to shoot a short documentary-style video of the work COF is doing in Haiti.

My friends and I have often joked that a Sims family trait (my maiden name) is that we do things either 100% or not at all. I’m not sure when Haiti became one of my 100% things, but I have prayed for this place and loved it from afar for as long as I can remember. My love for this place grew when I sponsored a little Haitian girl, Widline, through Compassion International, and the 2010 earthquake solidified it, as I went to bed and woke up praying for days for the many thousands without homes and missing loved ones.

Today when the plane landed I had tears pressing up against my eyes as I looked out the window at this place where I have walked in prayer. I thought to myself, “I didn’t expect so many mountains. It is so green and beautiful. I can’t believe I’m here.” The Haitian man sitting between the window and me thought, “Why is this crazy American crying all over me?”

On the plane I was reading my friend Kristen’s book, Rhinestone Jesus, about her transition from a “good girl Christian” with dreams to change the world to the operator of a maternity home in Nairobi Kenya, seeing the Lord make her dreams a reality. Every word seemed important, as I too traveled on a plane without my spouse to a place I know will change me. Have you ever been in the place where you know the Lord is doing something significant, but you don’t know yet what it is, so you wait in anticipation? That is where I am today.

As we drove down roads crammed with vehicles somehow working together despite what looked to me like chaos, I watched the people, saw the colorful painted tap taps I have seen in pictures, passed the school children walking home from school in their rainbow of uniform colors, and prayed. Somehow it felt familiar to me. I know part of that feeling comes from the glimpse of life I get from the Livesay family (a missionary family that serves at Heartline Maternity Center in Port Au Prince that are my favorite follows on social media), but I also think it is because the connection in an unseen realm that is developed when we pray for someone. I feel this tether to Haiti. My prayers for these people, over years, have somehow connected us.

On my first trip with COF we went to a small village outside of Cancun Mexico. There, half of our team was dropped off at this home in the jungle where we were going to help the students from our Cancun Campus pour a cement floor. I was nervous. Our leaders and my backpack drove away in the car that left to go to the other location, and I looked around this tin roofed tiny house that seemed to be falling apart with music playing from somewhere deep and unseen in the jungle and thought, “What am I doing here? Am I even safe?” However, as the day progressed, and we laughed with students we could barely understand about common things like Harry Potter and college plans, and we saw shy children advance from watching us in dooryards to joining us in play, I noticed something. This “shanty” had these beautiful potted plants all around in a courtyard, and the house was surrounded by the most exotic trees I had ever seen. There were iridescent butterflies and tiny bunnies and it was green and lush and exotic and it smelled like the campfires from my childhood memories. What was at first strange and scary by the end of the day became beautiful and a home to me. The place was the same – but my eyes had changed. I saw not how different it was, but how beautiful and the same it was. I saw plants on a courtyard of a home that a mother made for her children to enjoy. I understood her and related to her.

On this trip I prayed for that transition to happen even more quickly. “Lord, help me see this place, these people, as you see them. I do not want to find them strange or scary or watch them like animals in a zoo. I want to connect with them, to love them, to see your beauty in them.” I think he answered my prayer. The many people often crammed on a motorbike and the women balancing boxes, baskets and bags on their heads, and the children walking in groups home from school or playing on broken sidewalks didn’t feel strange or scary, they were all beautiful. I prayed as we drove and it sounds crazy I know, but I loved them.

Today I purposely did not pull out the multitude of fancy camera equipment I brought, so I do not have pictures because I wanted to live fully present in today and experience Haiti with my eyes, not with the equipment, and trust the Lord to help me remember. Tomorrow I start to pull out cameras and microphones to try and capture just a fragment of a story of what God is doing in Haiti. But I can already tell, the tiny bit I capture will be only that, a tiny fragment. I think Haiti is a place I will probably never understand, but will always love.

The Prayers of Many

I have a friend who is in the middle of a very difficult adoption trial. I want to protect her privacy, so I’ll call her M. She is a kind, wise, godly person who loves children, a school teacher, who adopted a little girl last summer (I’ll call E) out of the foster system. Months after bringing E into her home, M found out that CPS had made serious errors in the removal of E from her previous home. Although there was definite evidence of abuse and neglect, these errors have put the adoption of E into indefinite hold just days before the adoption was to be finalized.

E has been bounced around from home to home most of her young life. She has been neglected, forgotten, and abused. Last year she finally got a mommy who had prayed for her long before she knew her. She was safe and loved. She has made strides this year to trust M and to start to let down the walls that she built around herself in her early life. They have walked through some serious trials together and truthfully they are still walking through difficulty. The wounds in E are deep. She’s afraid, and justifiably so, that M isn’t permanent. The therapist working with E has encouraged M that once E’s adoption is finalized, she can really begin to trust and heal.

So not only does this indefinite hold effect M and E because it seems to have the potential to split them up, it is actually delaying E’s healing and making M’s home feel like just another “holding tank” that E has been placed into, not the home of permanent stability and safety she so desperately needs.

It is a terribly difficult situation. M lives in a rural community, works all day with her students, comes home and focuses intently on E and her healing, and then after E goes to bed grades papers until she finally falls asleep exhausted. She does not have much community around her, outside of her family, who “get” what she is doing. She is not on Facebook, attached to the amazing community of adoptive parents that I have been able to meet, and she isn’t in a church that has other adoptive parents.

So the purpose of this blog is to change that. It occurred to me today that I know an army of people who fight for kids like E and moms like M everyday. So I am going to send this blog to every adoptive mom and adoption advocate I can think of and to members of the church who have stood with us in trials. I want people to come in droves willing to pray for M and E, willing to write them letters of scripture and encouragement, willing to stand with them in intercession before God that He would fight for them, give M peace, and heal this sweet little girl. So if you want to join me in this army of prayer support and encouragement for my friend, would you leave a comment, or send me an email at jenniferlwells@me.com? I will send you updates on the situation, and a way to send encouraging “snail mail” and email to M and E if you feel led to send them encouragement and prayers.

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:8-11

I believe that together we will rejoice (and I pray it is soon) when the Lord has worked a miracle not only in the case, but in M and E’s home, in the love, trust, and permanency of a family. And until then, Jesus please be near my sweet friend.

Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me

So I have a new person I want to be when I grow up – Dr. Karyn Purvis. She’s a precious, lovely, brilliant child-development guru who wrote The Connected Child and spoke at the Empowered to Connect Conference this weekend that Justin and I attended. She has spent the last 15 years of her life helping adoptive parents and adopted children heal and connect and I just fell in love with her heart for children from hard places.

Sometimes I feel like a bit of a poser when it comes to the adoption thing. I love it, know we are called to it, but also know that our time has not yet come. So we go to these conferences and we’re surrounded by people in the trenches who are giving their lives, time, money, energy, and hearts to adopted and foster kids in the room, and there we sit with our two bio kids and a dream. And sometimes I feel a little foolish, frankly. But I also know that there is purpose in waiting, and that our vision for adoption has shifted even in these 3 years we have waited. I know that I am a better mom now than I was even a year ago (partially because of the amazing parenting strategies taught at conferences like the one I attended today). I know that the Lord is realigning my priorities even this week to focus on my family and He continues to shave the rough edges off the crazy woman that is Jen Wells. I know that this past few years, while we’ve waited, I’ve identified pretty unrealistic expectations in my heart of how this will all turn out, and I’ve watched those expectations die. I’ve learned to trust my Father more this past 3 years. I’ve become more of a person my kids can trust. So I can see that this wait has definitely served a purpose.

But still we wait. And we pray. And we read books and blogs. And we attend conferences. And we try desperately to be a light for our friends who have adopted, and be a safe person they can vent to and turn to when they need to take off their capes and be human and frustrated for a second.

He must become greater, I must become less. John 3:30

Now that verse sounds holy, right? But in recent weeks the life of John the Baptist, who made that beautiful statement of faith, has come up time and time again in my personal studies. This guy had spent his life predicting and proclaiming the coming Messiah. And He comes! John gets to baptize Him and hears the voice of God proclaiming that this is His Son. All of this is a huge mountaintop event – John is rare in humankind in that even while he is touching the shoulders of the flesh-bearing manifestation of the Son, He is seeing the Holy Spirit come down from heaven and hearing the voice of God the Father. So in essence – He experienced, with human senses, the Trinity. And that’s pretty amazing.

But then he’s sent to prison. While in prison, He sends Jesus a question – “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Basically John is suffering, and he wants to make sure he’s got it right. And Jesus sends a message back confirming miracles that have been prophesied about the Messiah – but He leaves one really important part of the prophesy out. He leaves out the part where the Messiah sets the prisoner free. And at the end of His message, He sends a note to John, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

I’m not an expert on the Bible – but basically if I’m reading this right, Jesus’ message to John says something like this: “I am the Messiah. But I’m not going to free you from prison, my plans for you are different from what you expect. But you’ll be blessed if you still love and trust Me even unto death.”

That is some crazy deep stuff. I’ll be honest, that is hard stuff for me to wrap my mind around. But in so many ways – this idea of living unoffended is the message of people I admire and respect, was the message of this conference, and is the message I think the Lord has been trying to teach me during the last 3 years of my discomfort (it’s hard to call what we’ve experienced a trial after being in the room I was in today with people who have experienced real trials and who are parenting kids who have come from unimaginable trauma). We can choose to not be offended by Jesus in those places of pain and suffering, and because of that choice, we will be blessed. It isn’t natural and it isn’t easy to experience suffering and remain unoffended. It kind of makes you an oddball in this comfort-driven world, actually. But by God’s grace, we can choose to live that way. We can find joy, peace, and grace in the absolute middle of impossibly hard places and we can choose to love Jesus with every pitiful ounce of strength we have left in the midst of trial and pain – and when we do, we are blessed.

Today I sat in a room full of people who have counted the cost, and who have joined widows and orphans in their distress. They get this concept. They live unoffended while they live out James 1:27 “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” That verse took on new meaning to me this weekend. I think in my mind I saw adoption as rescuing orphans from a world of chaos and bringing them into our world of safety and love. But today I was taught that James 1:27 says we’ll visit them in their distress – so more often it is us entering into their pain, their suffering, and their trauma so that we can walk with them to safety and healing. It’s messy and beautiful and holy.

I don’t really know how to wrap this blog up, as I so often like to do. I just know that I want to love and encourage people who are doing their best to be faithful, even in suffering. Jesus said it, and I believe it – “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” God please help us to live unoffended.