Kids

God Is Gracious

Exodus 34:6-7

“The LORD, the LORD God, is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loving devotion and faithfulness, maintaining loving devotion to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression,and sin. Yet He will by no means excuse the guilty; He will visit the iniquity of the fathers on their children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”

There once lived a man named Zane  —  which means “God is gracious.” But Zane must have been from about the third or fourth generation to be visited by the iniquity of the fathers. His list of offenses was great, such that he served prison time and ultimately disappeared from the public record.

Yet somewhere amidst his escapades, Zane fathered a child — a little girl — who he hadn’t the means to care for. Through the miracle of adoption, that little girl found a family, fell in love with Jesus, and met my dad. They got married and welcomed my sisters and me into the world. They introduced us all to Jesus, and now I have a son and daughter of my own who both know and love Jesus. I pray that we are just the beginning of a thousand generations to witness God’s forgiveness and loving devotion (Exodus 34:6-7). God IS gracious.

Fast forward 60-some years to today, when another baby — a boy — was born to a woman who was unable to care for him. Again, thanks to the miracle of adoption, he has been welcomed into a God-fearing, Jesus-loving family. Through loss and disappointment, they’ve waited and believed in God’s faithfulness. And He has delivered.

Most certainly, this little boy will be introduced to the Jesus who loves him and longs to save him. In an act of symbolic irony, his new parents have named him: Zane. God is gracious, indeed.

May we trust Him to prove gracious to us, no matter our circumstances. We can be assured that He is busy working all of these things together, for His glory and our good (Romans 8:28).

Let it be so, Lord!

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Tough Questions from Kids #1: Followers of Jesus

Matthew 4:18-20

“Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee. He saw two brothers. They were Simon (his other name was Peter) and Andrew, his brother. They were putting a net into the sea for they were fishermen.  Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me. I will make you fish for men!’
At once they left their nets and followed Him.”

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One night recently, Tijge asked me, “How do you know if you’re a follower of Jesus?” Of course, after 3+ decades of being one, I know the answer. But I realized that I wasn’t quite sure how to answer it, as posed by a seven-year old. The reason is because, whatever our answer is, it places us somewhere along a precariously balanced continuum. On one end, we can find ourselves conveying a god who is consumed with judgment, to the exclusion of grace. “We know we are followers of Jesus if we obey His commands”—this seems simple, but perhaps too simple. Might it not leave a child (or anyone for that matter) always wondering, with each sin or failure, if they are really a follower of Jesus at all? On the other end of the spectrum, we might inadvertently portray a god whose grace altogether eclipses his sense of righteous judgment. “Say a prayer, accept Jesus as your savior, and that’s it!”—again, this may be too simple. Even Paul warned of the danger that can come when we manage to convince ourselves that we should sin all the more, so that God might have greater occasion to display His grace. In truth, the answer is somewhere between neither and both.

As I tried to think of how I might articulate this truth, I thought about how so many followers of God, and later Jesus, made a decision to follow—but then spent the rest of their lives learning how to do just that. A few examples from the Old Testament that come to mind are Gideon, David, and Jonah. In the Scriptures, we join the story of each at a place where they have pledged allegiance to the God of Israel. And yet, their lives are marked by ups and downs, failures and successes, sins and redemption.

The same can be said of many of our New Testament heroes, but one who holds a special place for me is Peter. Maybe that’s because he was headstrong and stubborn, as I tend to be—who knows? What I do know is this. Jesus called Peter to follow Him, and Peter immediately dropped what he was doing, and followed. But, if anyone was ever “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” (thank you, Winston Churchill), it was Peter. I mean, watch what he does throughout the New Testament.

  • He freaks out in the storm, walks on the water, doubts Jesus, starts to sink, cries out to Jesus for rescue…and then, much later (in Acts 12:6-7), he sleeps soundly in the face of impending death.
  • He’s too proud to let Jesus wash his feet, too tired to pray with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane—then cuts off a soldier’s ear, vows his allegiance, denies Christ three times, doubts his own ability to love Jesus sacrificially…then, much later (in 1 Peter 4:8), he tells fellow believers, “Above all, love each other deeply…” (aka, sacrificially!)
  • He starts out with brotherly (phileo) love for Jesus, and it gradually becomes an unconditional, sacrificial (agape) love. He starts out by accepting Christ as Savior, then accepting Him as Lord, and then becoming more and more like Him each day, ultimately giving his life for the sake of the Gospel.

It can all be summed up this way—Peter CHOSE to follow Jesus first, then learned HOW along the way. We will each do the same thing. We’ll walk on water, start to sink, call for help, grow in faith, walk on water for longer the next time…with the hope that eventually, we will sleep soundly in the face of death, knowing that an eternity with Jesus awaits us on the other side.

So how do you know if you’re a follower of Jesus? Well, it starts with a decision. But that decision ushers us into a lifelong journey of growing closer and closer to Jesus, ‘til He returns or calls us home.

Selah.

For This Child I Prayed

Psalm 37:4

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

1 Samuel 1:27

“For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of Him.”

When we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our hearts. But He doesn’t always do that in the ways we expect. Often, He changes our dreams and desires to conform to His, and we realize that our previous dreams were just a foreshadowing of what God was planning all along. Along the way, He may reveal to us many more possibilities than we ever imagined.

I remember hearing a story some time ago about a mother of two who never felt like her family was “complete,” but who hadn’t had the opportunity to build it further, either through birth or adoption. As her kids grew older, and as she grew older herself, she wondered and prayed about why God would give her this passion, if not to fulfill it. Years later, in a tragic series of events, her family ended up adopting her niece. Only then did she realize that SHE was the reason, and the missing puzzle piece that completed her family.

I often wonder and pray, just as she did—why the desire, without the fulfillment? In my imagination, that fulfilment used to look like adoption. I mean, obviously. My mom was adopted, and I’ve seen so many families and adopted children whose lives have been forever blessed through this beautiful gift. And of course, that is still a dream of mine. If I were overseas somewhere, and I had no one to answer to, and a child just fell into my lap, I would bring them home—no question.

But then, I don’t know what God has in mind. And as I seek His will, I can imagine more and more possibilities each day. Maybe I am meant to mentor and disciple young women—my friends’ kids, my kids’ friends, nieces, students, kids at church or at the early childhood development center where I volunteer, and so on.

Most recently, I’ve been thinking of the many high school kids in our city who experience homelessness. In Waco ISD alone, there were 335 homeless students in 2017-2018—many of whom were unaccompanied. These kids are significantly less likely to graduate from high school, and significantly more likely to experience negative long-term outcomes. In a few short years (or in 12 long years rather) we will have three empty beds in our house. Who knows what God has planned for them?

And maybe as I delight myself in Him, He will continue to re-shape the desires of my heart, and open up new possibilities. One thing I have to believe, I choose to believe, is that one day, I will look into a pair of eyes and know immediately, that it was for THIS child I had prayed.

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Adoption: A Portrait of Grace

Y’all, it’s November! This is one of my favorite months because it is Adoption Awareness Month. And I LOVE sharing not only my own heart for adoption, but also the stories and experiences of others whose lives have been touched by this beautiful gift. Today, I want to kick off Adoption Awareness Month with a guest entry from a long-time friend, Ashley M. Wolfe. As you will see, adoption is a HUGE part of her story. I hope you enjoy!

What is adoption? In Latin, the translation literally means “to choose.” However, my favorite definition depicts adoption as: “the act of taking something on as your own.” Both of these definitions perfectly portray the experience that I have had with adoption.  When people ask me about the factors that have shaped my spiritual walk, two things always come to mind—grace and adoption. These two factors work hand in hand, even more so than I initially realized.

The first time I saw God’s providence in the form of adoption, was in the love that my dad had for me. Bryan, who I refer to as Dad, is not my biological father. He legally adopted me on my 10th birthday. I remember the hurt I felt when my own biological father willingly gave up his rights to me. I was his daughter, the only blood child he had left, after the accident my older sister, Ally, and I were in. An accident that left me scared and confused. And yet, reflecting on my pain and thinking of the things that followed, I hear Romans 8:28 come to mind. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”

I remember worrying that people in school would think I was weird for changing my name, because I had always been known as “Ashley Bridwell” and now I was going to be “Ashley Wolfe.” My grandmother eased my nerves about what my peers might think by telling me, “You’ve always been a Wolfe, we’re just making it official.” Reflecting now, the significance of my own personal story of adoption holds such great meaning, because now I can appreciate that my biological father signed away his rights to me. Bryan Wolfe did not stumble upon us by accident. Bryan has been my father, and so much more. I cannot think of a better man that a woman could possibly search for. And the grace in all of it is- God saw my mother as being recently divorced, alone with two children, and he not only gave her an amazing husband but also gave Ally and me a father. The special thing about my dad and grandparents that makes them unique to others in similar situations is that they always loved us as their own. They never for a second considered the technicalities of me being half, step, or anything like that. To Bryan, I was his from the second he saw me, and that is something so precious and rare.

The next time I saw divine intervention in the form of adoption is with my brother, Andrew. Aggieland Pregnancy Outreach is responsible for my 3 siblings who were adopted. The distinctive thing about APO is the birth mom is the one to select the family that she wants her child to be placed with by looking through “lifebooks” or scrapbooks of the families who are applying to adopt. Drew was our first adopted child that I was there for. I remember taking him home, and wondering if I would ever really feel like this was my brother. Little did I know that boy would have us all wrapped around his finger. And just like any of my other siblings, I always find myself in a rage if someone ever hurt his feelings, or even if he falls down and scrapes his knee. Drew is 100% our baby. I enjoy watching people’s faces when they see Drew walk in somewhere with us. Most of my siblings are blonde hair blue eyes, and Drew is mixed. They look so genuinely confused, which always makes me laugh because to outsiders he looks out of place, but in reality there is no place more fitting. Something amazing about Drew Wolfe is how perfect he is. I know that I’m biased, but he is incredibly handsome, smart, sweet, and a goofball. From a young age, my parents told Drew he was adopted and we have a spectacular relationship with his birth parents. Even when we see them, and are all together it makes my heart full seeing him recognize who they are, and what they have done for him, and still calling my parents “Mom and Dad.” Andrew literally means “manly and strong,” and what a name for this boy. He is always looking to help, to learn something new, or eager to do acts of kindness. Not only is he strong, but his 7 year old self has blessed my family and strengthened our bond since the day we brought him home.

As of recently, we have two new additions to our family. They have lived with us for the past couple months, and we are finalizing their adoption this month. My siblings and I were shocked to hear we would be adopting not one new sibling, but two. My parents delayed telling us because they hadn’t thought we would be selected to adopt them. Again, I felt that old fear creep up on me—that fear that our family wouldn’t be the same or that we wouldn’t get used to being all together, or that Drew would feel forgotten because these new children needed extra care getting adjusted. Fortunately for me, God reined me in. He reminded me of the purpose that adoption serves. He reminded me how I had felt when we adopted Drew and how I feel about him now. Finally, he reminded me that he is sufficient and that our parents would never risk shorting us in any way. They were adopting because it was God’s will, and because we were able and called to do so. In hindsight, this fear was so foolish—these children strengthen our family, and are absolutely precious. Just as Drew did, they already have everyone wrapped around their fingers. These two just happened to have names starting with A— a tradition among us siblings. They are also the same age difference as Ally and I were, and Anna and Alayna are. This is the grace of God, not only that we were chosen by their grandparents but because they had each other and we were able to adopt them together.

But the biggest way I’ve seen grace in the form of adoption is the one that relates to all of us. God has given us grace, and the ability to have a relationship with him and by that same token when we accept him he adopts us into his family, and our old body and soul is gone replaced with one that will strive to live our life for HIM. Adoption is so closely correlated with the grace of God that there is a verse in Galatians 4:4-5 that says, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” This is not only my personal adoption story, and those of my family, but as children of the Lord, it is the story of faith and providence for all of us. What greater correlation to adoption is there, than the God of the universe taking us as his own?

Wolfe Family Photo

 

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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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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A Prayer for the Lady

Dear God,

Please bless Laredo on this, her fourth birthday. Help her to know how much we all love her and how much YOU love her. Help her to always believe that you have created her—your beloved child, fearfully and wonderfully made—for wonderful works and wonderful purposes. Help her to embrace her identity in you, with confidence AND humility. Help her to grow each day to be more like you in every way.

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And when she fails—WHEN, not IF—help her to know that we and you still love her, as much as ever. Help her to believe the truth that NOTHING can separate her from the love you have for her. Help her to fall more and more in love with you with each passing day and each passing year.

Thank you SO much for the blessing that she is.

Amen

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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Abide

John 15:4-5
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine,
so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches;
he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Last weekend, I hopped between two different local sites for this year’s IF:Gathering. This worldwide livestream event allows women of God to gather, to find encouragement, and to be challenged to a deeper and closer—a more active—walk with Jesus. The premise? IF we believed that Jesus is real, IF we believed that God is who He says He is, IF we believed that the Bible is true, then what? What would that mean for our thoughts, words, actions, and relationships?

And each year, we come away with a token of God’s personal challenge to us. This year, we each received a domino, on which we were invited to write one word—one word representing something the Holy Spirit is calling us to “fall into” this year, in prayerful hope of an amazing chain reaction among God’s people across the globe.

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By the end of the weekend, my word was pretty clear: ABIDE. Abide in the Word, and in prayer, and in Christ’s presence. I can recall a time in my life when morning quiet time was a staple in my day. But then I let it slip for a bit. First it was because I was studying for comprehensive exams and writing a dissertation. Then it was because I was a new mom, sleep deprived and exhausted. Then it was because my second child came out with no intention of sleeping through the night—at least not until she was 18 months old. Then it was my part-time teaching job. Now the kids are 4 ½ and 3, and are still keeping us up at night, and my commitment to that quiet time is still sketchy.

I’ve made all kinds of excuses—being there for my kids is my calling in this season; my students are my mission field right now, and they take so much of my time and attention; my gift is encouragement, and so and so needs encouragement right now; there are only so many minutes in the day…blah, blah, blah. And truthfully, none of that has changed.

Still, the time has come to be more deliberate about spending time in the Word daily. After all, I spend so much time praying for direction, guidance, and clarity—but perhaps it’s in that abiding that God wants to speak the answers to those prayers.

How about you? What is God calling YOU to fall into during this season?