Family

Skipping Showers

Luke 10:30-35

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”

That title might sound strange. What does skipping showers have to do with anything? Well, it so happens that I read a blog a few months ago that listed a bunch of things that we should all do or embrace this summer. One of the recommendations was to let the kids skip showers on pool days. Now, if we did that, the kids wouldn’t get a bath but twice a week. And I simply cannot skip a shower myself. Bangs = greasy hair. But I did feel like I should embrace the spirit of the suggestion.

And what does that look like in my own life? It might look like having coffee with an old friend, or a mojito and a good laugh with a new one. It might look like stopping to visit an elderly neighbor whose health is ailing, and allowing my unofficial therapy dog to cheer her up. It might look like visiting with another student’s grandma during swimming lessons, instead of using that time to catch up on work reading. It might mean setting course prep aside for a spontaneous game of Old Maid with the kids. It might mean going swimming with the kids four or five days a week. There are so many things, actually.

To be honest, you’ll often hear me say, “I really need to get some work done.” But that’s because on so many occasions, I set that work aside to be in the moment that is set before me. I don’t want to miss whatever divine appointments might come my way, so I reason that the work can wait. But what if those unexpected opportunities actually ARE the work, the work that God has prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10)?

It makes me think of the story of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus once shared with a religious leader. I find it hard to believe that this guy was just aimlessly wandering the road to Jericho, with nothing on his agenda for the next two days. And yet, while the other passersby where too frightfully busy to stop, or maybe too skittish at the sight of blood, the Good Samaritan stopped, cared for the stranger, saw to his care in his absence, and returned to check on him later. This is the work to which we are called, and it’s how I want to live my life.

So what about you? How might you be able to figuratively skip a few showers in this season of your life? I pray that you find and take some opportunities to live in the moment, to be present for someone in their time of need, to slow down and take stock. I assure you, it will be worth it.

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Hands Free

I’ve spent the last several days disconnected from my smart phone and social media—though not by choice or by design. My phone accidentally fell out of the car at a gas station a couple hours away, and I couldn’t get it until today. Relieved that my phone seemed to be in good shape and in good hands, I decided to make this an experiment of sorts. What would I learn or discover from this hands free weekend?

My observations have probably been different than what you would have expected. Usually, when people unplug and disconnect from their smart devices and social media, they seem to find themselves more connected with the people and the world around them, more richly involved in and keenly aware of their surroundings. The experience seems to them to be a refreshing, recharging one. I, on the other hand, have been keenly aware of what is missing when these technologies are not at my disposal. And I have become even more convinced of the value that smart devices and social media can add, when properly wielded. Here are just some examples:

Making the most of the moments. Every night since misplacing my phone, I’ve checked in on the kids before bed. And every night, I’ve thought, “Oh, that would make such a sweet photo.” But alas, no smart phone. And of course, I have a ‘real’ camera, but it isn’t at my fingertips all day, every day. So, just as I end up missing these sleepy scenes, I will often miss a cute shot of the kids or the dog or the snowfall, or what have you. And, while I try to pause and appreciate the moment, I find it to be much more fleeting when I have no way of capturing it for safe keeping.

Documenting the details. Likewise, my friends can attest that I share a lot of the kids’ comments and conversations on social media—kids say the darndest things, after all. And some are so hilarious that you would think I would remember them months, and even years later. But often, when I go back to comments made six months or a year ago, I find that they’ve slipped my mind. And the older I get, and the older the kids get, and the more there is to remember, the foggier things will get in my memory. So having these keepsakes helps me to treasure these precious memories.

Keeping mommas in the memories. Selfies seem to sometimes get a bad rap. They can come across as vain and self-absorbed. But think about it this way. For many years, moms have been the ones behind the cameras, making sure that those family memories are recorded for posterity. Or, sometimes moms have tried everything to stay out of those photos, for fear that they will come across as too old, too fat, too tired. Our self-esteem and self-image problems have resulted in kids growing up and looking back on the family photo albums, only to wonder, “Where was Mom in all of these photos?” But there’s something about getting IN the photos WITH your kids that changes how you see yourself in the pictures…at least that’s how I feel. I see myself from a different perspective then, and one of greater appreciation.

Sharing in celebration. I love seeing friends’ and family members’ announcements, whether it’s an engagement, marriage, pregnancy, or birth announcement, I like to celebrate with you! And I like being reminded about birthdays, so I can send a greeting. And I like seeing how others celebrate holidays and vacations, and sharing our own celebrations with loved ones. Who knows what kinds of announcements and celebrations I’ve missed over the past few days?!

So, my little experiment gave me a greater appreciation for the connectedness afforded by modern technology. I know that what are blessings to me are curses for others, and I want to be sensitive to those struggles. But for me, fingertip technology falls squarely on the list of things to be grateful for—and you can bet that I won’t be resolving to get offline this year. And I’m glad to be back in touch with all of you once again. Happy New Year!

For Such a Time as This

Esther 4:14 (ESV)

“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

If you read the last entry on my blog, you will have read my mom’s adoption story, from her perspective and in her words. This week, I’d like to add a bit of my own commentary, having watched her adoption story, even more as an outsider than I realized. I say this because I remember always feeling like it wasn’t fair that my mom was adopted, only to be relegated to housekeeping chores and other responsibilities beyond the purview of a child.

Adoption, in my mind, was supposed to be magical, joyous, and all the rest. But so often, as I looked on, I saw it as a burden for her. Granted, in seeing what was, I was unaware at the time of what might have been—mafia ties and the like, which appears now to have been the alternative.

Over the years, I think my mom found solace in her parents’ need for her, reasoning that their physical and tangible needs were the reason God placed her in their home. But in my view, that’s only part of the story. Ultimately, we all have physical needs, and we find ways of having them met. But I think that watching my mom’s selflessness, day in and day out for 35 years, made a lasting impression. How do I know this?

Just this past summer, I learned of the day when my grandparents were ageing and in failing health, and my mom sent her pastor to visit with them, and to tell them about Jesus. After the visit, the pastor told my mom that both Grandma and Grandpa had accepted God’s forgiveness and were now secure in their eternal salvation. It seems odd that a virtual stranger could walk into their home and find such accepting and receptive hosts.

And yet, in a way, it’s not surprising at all. It’s not surprising because this stranger was sent by someone who had lived out the mission of Christ in their midst for all those years…she had served them sacrificially, loved them unconditionally, forgiven them repeatedly and undeservedly. Just. Like. Jesus. And I believe that with each act of selflessness, each load of laundry, each Sunday visit (and so much more), they were seeing Jesus. And if you ask me, it wasn’t each of those moments that were God’s purpose for placing her there. It was the moment when each of them said yes to God’s offer of salvation. And I believe that God was watching, thinking of my mom, and whispering to her soul, This. I placed you here for such a time as THIS.

And in truth, God continues to use her in times such as these…to serve a neighbor in need, to reach out to a disheartened coworker, to impact a school child in her care, and on and on. I know that the mundane of her day to day isn’t always glamorous, and that she often feels like she’s still waiting for her calling. But I believe she’s living it every day. So many times, God must be whispering to her soul, I placed you here for such a time as this…and this…and this. Oh, that we would all be willing to live our lives as a reflection of Jesus, and to recognize those times when He has divinely placed us here or there, and for such a time as this.

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Loved & Treasured

By Mary Beth Anderson

Hosea 14:3b
“in you the fatherless find compassion.”

Most people don’t remember the day they were born, but I do. It was a beautiful sunny day in June of 1957. I was 2 ½. My brother, who was 3 ½, and I were going to meet our new parents, Don and Norma Schulke. I recently talked to a woman who was a teenager at that time and she said she remembered how excited my parents were when they were preparing for our arrival. She said that it was like they had won the lottery.

I don’t remember any time before that but the adoption agency filled in a few gaps for me. My birth mother had left my brother and me with friends so that she could explore a risky business venture. They said she had planned on coming back for us but never did. When the county found out about this they put us in foster care, where we stayed until we were adopted.

Our parents had always told us that we were adopted. They said it was like going into a candy store and some people just have to take what the man behind the counter gives them. But my parents got to go in and pick the ones they wanted. I felt bad for all the kids who weren’t “chosen” by their parents.

Our life with our new parents was great, although not perfect. No families are. When I was 10, my mom was diagnosed with M.S. That meant that I had to be responsible for much of the housework. And then as my parents aged, I continued to take care of them. I always thought that God had given me to them because he knew that they would need me.

Recently though, I have been doing an ancestry search—trying to find out my story. In so doing I found out that my birth mom, Lois Blomberg Brown Gildea, was adopted as well. And I learned that my birth father, Zane Orwin Brown, and his family members had a history of having children and abandoning them. And though through my DNA search I have found some amazing cousins, a half-brother, and at least two step sisters, I was still looking for my mom and dad. I did find out that my mom had died in 2009. But I would still like to find out more information about her. And I’m still hoping to find my dad. I’ve learned that he wasn’t a very nice man, and that some of his family members were awful and crazy. But still, I want to meet him and hear the story. It’s not that the story is going to change who I am, I just want to know.

I might not ever find him. I don’t know if they know the Lord. I pray that they do and that someday I will meet them in heaven and know the story. But even if they don’t, I know the one who has known me since I was formed in my mother’s womb and He knows the story. And I can hear it from Him.

The most important thing that I’ve learned on this journey is that, though I believe that God put me where he wanted me to be to help my adoptive parents, I now also see His protective and loving hand picking me out of a very dysfunctional family and putting me in a home where I was loved and treasured.

I’m thankful for my birth mom making the decision to put us up for adoption. My birth parents gave me “life.” My adopted parents gave me “a life.” And Jesus gave me eternal life.

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Rebel

Colossians 3:18-22

“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.”

Rebel Elizabeth—that is the name I had long planned to give my firstborn daughter. It had a special meaning to me, too. It meant “rebel consecrated to God.” What does that mean? Well, it means someone who doesn’t go along with the crowd or the status quo, someone who fights against injustice, who responds to hatred with love. In short, someone who lives like Jesus did when He took on flesh and dwelt among us. The name was to be a blessing spoken and prayed over this little girl.

The problem was that the name actually predated her dad, who had more delicate sensibilities regarding what the name might imply to some and how it might be misinterpreted. “But that’s not how I mean it,” I argued over and over. “My intentions and reasons are good and noble and righteous…godly even.” BUT in the end, I had to consider how the name might adversely impact some unknown percentage of people for whom “Rebel” carries a very loaded meaning. Striking it from consideration was one of the greatest acts of submission I’ve ever undertaken, and one that frankly had me kicking and screaming deep in my heart (and not really all that deep, as I was pretty vocal about it). That was in 2012, shortly before racial and ethnic tensions in our country really started to flare up. In the long run, the choice to submit was the right one…at least until something horrific happens in the town of Laredo to tarnish our daughter’s namesake.

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I think this story tells us a few things:

  1. God’s desires for us do not always match our own desires—no matter how well-intentioned ours may be. He knows things in His infinite wisdom that we couldn’t possibly foresee, and we need to trust His guidance. Sometimes that guidance comes in the form of an earthly authority figure that He has placed over us, one to whom we our called to submit.
  2. Our reasons and intentions matter far less than our decisions and actions, and their consequences. Our love for the least of these, our faith in God, and our intent to follow Jesus require ACTION on our part. And the truth is that sometimes we think (or convince ourselves) that we are acting in accordance with God’s will and direction and in the best interest of all concerned, but the outcome demonstrates that we were wrong. In those cases, God calls us to repent and to make right the wrongs we’ve caused, whether intentional or otherwise. That requires more humility than is comfortable for most of us. But it is what God requires nonetheless.
  3. God’s instructions are there for our protection and our good, and we can trust HIM. We are often hesitant to submit if we lack confidence in the authorities placed over us. But look at the list of relationships outlined in Colossians 3:18-22—wives and husbands; children and parents; slaves and masters. Surely earthly husbands, parents, and masters will fail us. But this passage does not permit us to forego submission when they let us down. Instead, we are to submit to God through our submission to others, placing our faith not in them but in HIM.

Submission is hard, but it is necessary. And even more, it is rewarding, if we allow it to be. Maybe you can think of an area in your own life wherein you’re being called to submit and surrender, perhaps one wherein you’ve been resistant to doing so. Pray over it. Ask God to help you. Ask other believers to help you. And then DO it.

Run YOUR Race!

Hebrews 12:1-2

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us,
let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us,
and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,
despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Wow! November is getting away from us SO quickly. I’m usually much better about posting regularly, especially during Adoption Awareness Month, which is one of my favorite times of the year. This November, I have a confession to make. I get kind of envious when I see mothers with new babies, or who are expecting, or who have adopted children, or who are fostering to adopt. With my youngest having just turned four years old last week, I feel like that phase of life is just slipping away.

And the further away from it we get as a family, and the closer we get to our arbitrary self-imposed adoptive-parent age limit of 40 years old (I will be 38 in February, can you believe it?!), the less likely it seems that we will end up pursuing adoption after all. Granted, we always say we’re open to burning bush moments and clear direction from God to the contrary, but for now, it seems unlikely.

Still, I STRONGLY support adoption. I think it is one of the most amazing and miraculous things you can do, and I believe that it offers such an indescribable blessing to everyone it touches. So I may ask God, Why not us? But as I read Hebrews 12:1-2, I hear God instructing me, “Run with endurance the race that is set before YOU…” While we ultimately all run a race designed to glorify God and advance his kingdom, we do not all run the exact same race, or the exact same route.

And, at this moment, the race set before me is not one that necessarily includes adoption (as sad as it is to admit). Instead, it includes being a wife and mother within a family of FOUR. It includes mentoring young women as they transition into the next stages of their lives. It includes praying for others at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. It includes befriending the elderly, who have too often been neglected in this fast-paced world of ours. It includes teaching college students not just about subject matter, but about responsibility and character. It includes writing research papers that draw attention to important social issues of our day. And so many more things.

Your race may look very little (if at all) like mine, or like anyone else’s for that matter. But whatever it does look like, I would encourage you to embrace it and pursue it with diligence, as unto the Lord. And if YOUR race involves the joy and blessing of adoption, know that while I will feel a twinge of envy, I will also cheer you on, champion your cause, and do whatever I can to help you to run that race, and to run it well. You have my prayers and my admiration.

Run YOUR race!

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Social Director

I wear a lot of hats throughout the day: Christ follower, wife, mother, professor, blogger, friend, and so many more. But this fall, I’ve been inducted into a new role—social director for one little girl who has, over the course of her nearly four years, grown accustomed to having a big brother around 24/7 for her entertainment. Well, big brother started all-day kindergarten this year, about two weeks before pre-school started for little sis. Even since her school started, she and I have had a lot of one-on-one time, both before and after school. On top of that, she had her tonsils out a couple of weeks ago, necessitating a week off from school. So, needless to say, we’ve spent a LOT of time together over the past couple of months.

And unlike her self-sufficient, independent older brother, Miss Laredo refuses to entertain herself. “What can we do?” is her common inquiry. She usually has some ideas, but they all require two of us (at least in her mind). So we have played a lot of games, read a lot of books, and painted a lot of pictures. While I cherish the quality time together, I confess that I have often felt guilty and stressed over the other duties that I’ve had to set aside, and anxious about when I might be able to catch up. And yet, I’m reminded (as I often am) of Psalm 39:5, which states, “Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!” James 4:14 further asks, “What is your life? It is just a vapor, appearing for a little while, and then vanishing.”

So these moments, when I sit with my little girl and make memories that will hopefully last a lifetime, I try to remember the truth about what matters most in this life, and the brevity of it all. And I try to choose her. After all, a day will likely come when she dreads the thought of hanging out with her mom. Still, though, I have to admit that I’m thankful for today—a Saturday—when Tijge is here to fill in as social director and give me a much needed break.

Here’s to you and to the memories YOU will make today with the loved ones who are longing to make those memories with you.

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Handprints

Grad Party 6

 

In May of 2013, we celebrated my long-awaited graduation from Clemson University. Our celebration necessarily involved a cake with orange and purple frosting. By the end of the evening, I noticed a sizeable purple streak of frosting that had been ground into the carpet. I didn’t think too much of it, knowing that our carpet was already in need of replacement (it has been since we moved in).

But about a year ago, I noticed the spot again. And this time, it distinctly resembled a tiny handprint. At that point, I realized that the spot was more than a mess—it was a memory. It’s a reminder of that party, and the accomplishment of finishing school, and a time when the kids were even smaller than they are now.

The realization triggered another memory; of when my sisters and I were younger. In those days, we would work on our homework at the kitchen table. But invariably, we would forget to put a protective barrier between our work and the table. As a result, years later, you could look closely at the table and make out the remnants of whatever we were working on—math problems, handwriting, whatever. Some would think of those as unsightly scars—but if I could have kept that table, I think I would have. Indeed, when we do eventually replace our carpet, I just might keep that little swatch—the one with a handprint that I will always cherish.

Littler Minutes

Last night, just before a had fallen asleep—and only seconds after Chris had drifted off—came the familiar sound of one Laredo Jade, whimpering from her bedroom, “Mommy…Mommy.” I went to her and asked her what she needed. “I just need you to hold me,” she answered as she wrapped her arms tightly around my neck and rested her head on my shoulder. Usually she demands that I hold her while I’m standing up, but last night, she agreed that we could lay on the couch together. After shifting around a bit, she got comfortable laying on my chest (and tummy and legs, because let’s face it, at her age she takes up quite a bit more space). Then she fell asleep, and then I fell asleep. But before I did, I thought back to a post I’d written in June of 2014, entitled, “Little Minutes.”

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Psalm 39:4-5

“LORD, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days;
Let me know how transient I am. Behold, you have made my days as handbreadths,
And my lifetime as nothing in your sight; Surely every man at his best is a mere breath. Selah.”

As I was lying in the hotel bed with Tijge, he took my hand and held it as he drifted off to sleep. I was reminded of a habit that we had briefly gotten into a few weeks before. He would lay down and go to sleep, only to wake up at around midnight—at which point, he would sweetly ask, “You want to lay by me a little minutes?” Of course I do. Well, invariably, I would fall asleep and end up spending the rest of the night with him.

At one point, Chris expressed concern that this might get to be too much of a habit. Probably, I reasoned inwardly, but then I thought about the day that would no doubt come—sooner rather than later—when I would no longer be able to comfort him; when I wouldn’t be “cool” enough to be seen with, let alone to lay or snuggle with. And then I will miss these nights, and I won’t remember the midnight wake-up call, or his tossing and turning, or my stiff back and neck. I will only, and very fondly, remember those few extra minutes with him each night.

Little minutes, indeed.

——

Yep, that’s still about right. Different day. Different kid. Same stiff neck. Same little minutes…except they keep getting littler every day.

 

The Archer’s Aim

Psalm 127:3-5

 “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.
How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…”

Children are indeed a gift, a blessing, a heritage from the Lord—like arrows in a quiver. But this analogy raises an important point: an arrow’s aim is only as true as the archer’s. Sometimes I’m not sure that I’m getting it right. I don’t always know what footwear is going to be appropriate. I occasionally forget to brush the kids’ teeth in the morning. I don’t always know which battles are worth fighting, and which I should let go. There are a lot of responsibilities and decisions to juggle as a parent—just to keep the kids fed, clothed, rested and safe.

More importantly, we as parents are responsible for aiming our children in the direction of truth, righteousness, and love. Their spiritual development rests largely in our hands. It isn’t something that we can pawn off on others—grandparents, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, motivational speakers. And in order to point our children in toward the paths they ought to take, we must ourselves be moving in that same direction.

To be sure, none of us have—or will ever have—arrived at the destination of perfect holiness, godliness, or righteousness. The process of sanctification will end only on that day when we see the Father and are made whole in Him and in His presence. And until then, we will stumble and fall and fail. But our aim MUST be true. Our words and actions must reflect hearts tuned into God’s. Our kids need to see Jesus in us.

I pray that God would mold all of us into the kinds of parents, or archers, who will be able to aim our children toward a saving relationship with Jesus and a deep love for God and other people. In the meantime, I take comfort in this: There is a sinless archer, One who never misses His mark, and One who chose my kids (now and future) for me and me for them because He knows that we each need exactly what one another has to offer. And during this season of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for this truth.