That Holy Loneliness

“I want a friend who is just like me, Mommy,” she said through tears to me, years ago.

“I feel alone.”

She dismissed those siblings of hers who like different songs, and sing to different beats and the spend their time ordering when she wants disorder or deconstructing when she wants to construct. She didn’t want a friend who was a year older, or another a year younger. Surely not one that’s too “rowdy”, or another too quiet.

We made a verbal list. She wanted a girl who knew what it was like to live with all those crazy siblings, while also one who wanted to put on her pajamas at two o’clock in the afternoon some days. Oh, and one who didn’t like messing with her hair. {Continue reading over here …}

“I wanted to show you my secret place.”

Several years ago when I was a new mom, my dear mentor and friend casually slid me a book by Sally Clarkson. I didn’t know when I started reading that I might find another mentor within the pages, teaching me through her words on paper. Sally has encouraged women all across the world in seeking God’s vision for their home and family. Including me. (And, yes, even as an adoptive mama with unique dynamics and challenges to our home. Especially as an adoptive mama with unique dynamics to our home). It is a sweet privilege to host her in this little space here, today, from the pages of yet another golden book that she’s written (and this one, with her daughter!). I’m only a few chapters in, and already scratching down notes and asking Him to breathe on the new pieces He has in there for me. {Read on for a taste and I suspect you’ll be buying the book yourself after you read.}

As I glanced out the kitchen window, the shadows that were overtaking the mountain told me that the sun was just about to set. Clay had proposed a rare and much-needed dinner date for just the two of us. Lots of issues in our life needed our focused attention—ministry conferences, book deadlines, taxes, a possible move, new staff for our ministry, a health problem with one of our children, a relationship problem at church—plus, we just needed some time together alone.

It was ten minutes before six, the time Clay had told me to be ready. I was still in the kitchen washing dishes, trying to get the kitchen clean before we left. And eleven-year-old Nathan, my bubbling, energetic extrovert, kept run- ning into the kitchen demanding that I come look at something.

“Mama, I have something to show you! It will take just a few minutes, but you have to come now.”

“Not now,” I almost told him. “I promise I’ll spend some time with you when I get home, but I have to finish the dishes now before Daddy takes me out to dinner. This way you kids won’t have to clean anything up!”

I almost said that, but I didn’t. After a brief mental battle I put the greasy pan back in the sudsy water and dried my hands.

“Nathan, where are you?” I yelled. “I’m ready to see your surprise.”

“I didn’t think you were ever going to come,” he moaned as he appeared from the den. “I hope we’re not too late.”

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He led me into the narrow laundry room, then stopped, looked me in the eye, and commanded in his high-pitched boy voice, “I want you to follow me up to the mountain, but you have to hold my hand and keep your eyes closed. I promise I won’t let you fall.”

I obediently followed him out the back door, which opened to a tiny block of cement patio at the base of a steep hillside bordering the national forest on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains. This was my own private hill, where I ended my early morning walk on the mountains each day. Its slope was covered with large red boulders, sandy hillside, and pine trees.

Holding my hand tightly in his pudgy little one, Nathan now led me up the steep hillside. Eyes shut, I followed the best I could. Then he stopped. “Mama, there’s a big rock here. If you put your hand right here, I can help you climb up on top of it, and we can sit there together. But you have to promise not to look up yet. Just look at your feet.”

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I submitted and finally, tentatively, eased my way on my stomach to the top of a boulder about the size of a small shed.

“Okay. Now turn around and sit without looking up, and I will tell you when to look!” Nathan insisted.

As I settled down beside his sweaty boy body, Nathan’s small arm fell snugly across my shoulders in an affectionate embrace. “Just in time,” he said excitedly. “Now you can look.”

I looked and gasped as I beheld one of the most exquisite sunsets I had ever experienced. Soft reds, vibrant golds, shimmering orange gleamed in fire-brightness before our eyes, filling the expanse of the sky with splendor. A symphony of colors seemed to sing in the evening sky. Then, slowly, the colors began to fade. The sun gave a final flourish, and a majestic wave of dark reds and purples seemed to spill out from the mountaintop, reflecting the last rays of burnished light. It was as though God Himself was providing a sparkling celebration just for us to document the importance of the moment.

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Nathan beamed at me, his smile cheek-to-cheek as he looked contentedly into my eyes. “Thanks for coming with me, Mama,” he whispered almost reverently. “I wanted to show you my secret place. I saw the sunset here yesterday, and I knew you would like it, so I wanted to surprise you and bring you here. I’m glad you and I are such close friends. I’ll remember sharing this sunset with you for the rest of my life.”

And yes, in his little boy, dramatic way, he actually said that!

As I reflect back on all of the years of our family’s life together, what I remember best is not the mountains of dirty dishes and pots and pans and socks left on the floor and piles of laundry. I reflect instead on precious times shared with Clay, the kids, and those we welcomed into our home—snuggling on the couch together, nursing babies and rocking them to sleep, sharing movies and huge bowls of popcorn, comforting children after a nightmare, and all those heartfelt kisses and cards that said “I love you!”

So many other memories come to mind. Friends piled around the dinner table, candles lit, telling stories about our lives, building bridges of love to one another’s hearts. Bible studies and cups of tea shared as the light of God’s goodness dawned and hearts were forged together forever because of our common bond to His love. Times of grief filled with tears but also with the sweet comfort of friendship and of not bearing burdens alone. Illnesses, some months long, that tried everyone’s patience yet created some of the most indelible memories—tents built, stories read aloud, soothing music easing an ear infection, one more Winnie-the-Pooh cartoon, a hand to hold during the painful and fearful moments.

To me, all these memories of love given and loved received glue the years together into a deeply satisfying collage. I am so grateful for the opportunities we took to say to each other, “You are important to me. Making time to share love, intimacy, and memories is so much more important that any task that would steal my time from you.” Yet feelings of regret also occupy my mind as I realize how quickly the years have flown. I find myself thinking, I wish I had spent more time enjoying these ones I love and less time fretting about all the details that have faded in my memory.

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Photos compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography.

Get the rest of the story on the book right here.

Sarah and mamaSally Clarkson is the beloved author of multiple bestselling books, including Own Your Life and Desperate(with Sarah Mae). As a mother of four, she has inspired thousands of mothers through Whole Heart Ministries (www.wholeheart.org), which she founded with her husband, Clay, in 1998. Since then, she has advocated relentlessly for the power of motherhood and the influence of home through her Mom Heart conferences (www.momheart.org), speaking to audiences on several continents. Sally encourages many through her blogs and websites—www.sallyclarkson.com and www.lifegivinghome.com (the companion site to this book)—as well as through her e-books and live webinars.

Sarah Clarkson loves good books, beauty, and imagination, and thinks everyone else should too. She explores the intersection of literature, faith, and wonder at thoroughlyalive.com and is at very slow work on a novel. She currently hails from Oxford, where she keeps good company with the ghosts of Tolkien and Lewis and also studies theology.

I Think I’ll Choose Weak, Today

“It was almost like they were suggesting it could ruin our family.”

It took a minute to register.

What my dear friend had been carefully advised against — adoption — was the life I was living.

Ruined?

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My mind flashed to Hope practicing her ballet routine for a March performance, holes in her tights and a leotard stretched thin across her muscular frame, with graceful movements that sometimes make me catch my breath. And then Caleb, making dollhouse furniture in stealth for his sisters in the basement; he loves a good surprise.

I share their names here, now, because they aren’t statistics or a rescue mission or a cause. They’re my children. But in the context of a conversation had by a friend and another — about a hypothetical for her life — children like mine (once adopted) were positioned as potentially destructive.

Though pained by the implication, I sympathized with the one giving advice. No one wants to walk with a limp. Most of us just aren’t self-aware enough to say it: we don’t like feeling weak. We’ll claw our way out of any situation to avoid it.

No one wants to walk with a limp. Most of us just aren’t self-aware enough to say it: we don’t like feeling weak. We’ll claw our way out of any situation to avoid it.

If you walked into my kitchen at 5pm in the winter after we’d completed one of our adoptions you might have thought we were ruined. I surely did.

The sun would sink earlier every day, and one of my children would sink right with it. The “cause” changed daily: not enough food at dinner, too many piles to sweep, a sibling’s accidental elbow bump (all things that the rest of us have learned to weather), made this child wail. Night after night we fielded the sobs knowing it was probably easier for her to cry over spilt milk than to go into the crux of her pain, a loss that no five year-old should ever have to face.

So we held her when there were too many piles to sweep and I wondered if I’d ever know normal again.

My neighbor might have called that ruined. Gone were the days of cuddled read-alouds by the fire at dusk. At least for a while.

But after I tucked them in bed and in between her sobs and up the stairs and down, ushering children into jammies, I prayed a new kind of prayer. Prayer was no longer discipline, I was desperate. Tired and needy and confused. And weak. Really weak. There were no books to tell me what to expect from my child, with her particular history — her cocktail of losses and grief, who was wedged into our particular family. Even the best parenting strategies were not sufficient. I needed Him.

We were the kind of weak which many Christians spend their entire lives training themselves to not be.

Some might say we were ruined.

But something was happening on my insides that had started years before and is still working its way into me. I started to lean in to the weakness.

I started to like the benefits of seeing these layers of me unraveling at the feet of Jesus who never promised me a strength in my own self. I studied His expression towards me when I brought nothing but tears and questions to our conversation — the parts of His Word that reminded me that the brokenhearted weren’t just the ones we smugly label as “damaged” from within our cushioned lives, but the brokenhearted was me. I noticed how He treated the ones I would have judged — without a plan and needy — because now I was one of them.

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What some may have called the end of us was stocked with more understanding of the gentle-handedness of God than any single one of my strongest days could have produced.

My children didn’t “ruin” me. I was ruined long before them. They were the circumstance He used to merely make this safely-hidden fact, obvious (to me): I am weak. Terribly weak.

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I am no more ruined than I was when life ran on time and all the piles were swept and we knew what to expect out of each day. It’s just that I now can see it a little more clearly.

We think: “when I get there [to that elusively strong place] then I’ll rest, be satisfied, be confident, change the world, [fill in the blank].” We go to embarrassing lengths to claw our way out of any situation that makes us feel helpless and weak. We’ll do anything to feel strong again, even if that “strength” is a mere shadow. However, His invitation to us was and always will be: die (to this figment of strength you’ve created), and then we’ll really go for a ride together.

My children didn’t “ruin” me. I was ruined long before them. They merely made this safely-hidden fact, obvious (to me): I am weak. Terribly weak.

This cross I carry bears down on me and makes me sweat when I haven’t planned that I’d be sweating it out. It sucks the productivity out of me some days and I have splinters from it that feel permanently lodged. I get grumpy, under the weight of it.

Yet, it’s stunning, this best part of my story.

She pirouettes through the kitchen and he stores books under chairs and couches so he can read them in between chores and another paints us a picture of a boat for our bedroom that’s better than anything I’ve ever bought from a store. They belt out hymns in the shower and pray for me when I’m sick and cut fresh flowers for scattered vases in late March.

But, lest you think the answer is that “it all turned out ok”, even the best part of them is not what elicits the best parts of me. 

These children of mine are ushering me into His chest, that place where I’ve crumbled and where He moves in power, I’m weepy and He’s full of surprises for me, I’m encumbered and He’s agile in my story. When my way feels thwarted, He lays out the red carpet.

The degree to which I allow myself to be weak is the degree to which I experience true, God-originated strength (crazy, wild strength).

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We get “ruined” by whatever circumstance He is using at the moment to usher us into an awareness of our weakness and He, then, comes with a power that’s nearly unfamiliar because we’re so used to the fake replica.

I think I’ll unmask weak today.

 

[Making it Practical: “So what if I’m just plain mad?” you say, as one who is admittedly resenting their weakness — just like the rest of us who resent our weaknesses, at first pass. No one likes to die under a weighted cross. We’ll do anything to claw our way out.

Enter adoration. This little habit is making a substantive impact on how I see weakness and how I see Him in the middle of my hot mess. Our bodies don’t naturally lean, in weakness. We buck and kick and claw (or the more refined of us strategize and plan our way out). Adoration takes my fitful self and gives me language for who He really is, from His Word, and ever-so-slowly my insides rest from their fit and I begin to lean into a crazy-powerful strength that’s not mine, right there in the mess.

To read a bit more on adoration: Why I Adore, How to Really Fall in Love, A Love That Isn’t Loud, The Words You Use When You’re Not Ready to Talk or just jump in over here.]

For Your Continued Pursuit: 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 | Matthew 16:24-25 | Psalm 33:16-22 | Psalm 147:10-11

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No More Running On Empty

There’s this thing that happens when I’m introduced to another woman who has adopted. We can know little to nothing about one another and yet share a glance that says “oh, you’ve had a taste of where I’ve been.” That’s likely true of anyone who has walked through pain, themselves, or with their children — that knowing glance. Jennifer Ebenhack and I have this in common: a hunger to find Him as we hold the hands of our children in a walk towards restoration and fingernails that have gotten a little bit dirty clawing our way there. I’ve invited her to write, here, today. Her words strike a deep vein. Read on, ready to be stirred.


I can’t keep living like this. I’m being eaten alive, Lord! I threw myself to the bed and sobbed. Resentment toward Jarod, each member of my household, and every missionary who ever enjoyed a family trip back to the States flowed like poison from my mind to my heart and through every cell of my body. I wanted to destroy something or someone—to exact revenge on Joseph for ruining our adoptions, to rebel against God for allowing all of this, to do something drastic enough to prove to everyone around me that I needed help.

My tears turned to silent cries: I’m afraid I’ll do something horrible, God! I’m terrified. I’m exhausted. I’m desperate! Don’t you see? There’s no way out! But even as my adrenaline pumped, my mind jumped ahead of my tantrum: What good would it do? I was only heading deeper into the darkness, and I’d already spiraled so far into the abyss of self-pity that I didn’t recognize myself. I knew the antidote to darkness was light. But apart from an adoption miracle—which I’d long ago given up on—how could anything change?

Utterly depleted, I reached for my One Year Bible. Just this once, God, could you show me something I’ve never seen before?
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My hope rose just a little as I flipped pages to find the reading of the day, but my expectations were soon let down.

Psalm 23.

That’s it? How are verses about sheep and oil going to help me today, Lord?

I read on, expecting nothing.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

I scoffed, and a few tears ran down my cheek.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters.”

 Lie down? If only!

“He restores my soul.”

And here I stopped.

“He restores my soul.”

I was living in a spiritual desert that rivaled the Sahara. Those four words may as well have been an invitation into the turquoise waters of Tahiti.

Are you serious, God? You can do that? This from a woman who’d been studying Scripture since childhood.

I drank in the words one more time: “He restores my soul.”

And suddenly the truth became real, piercing through all my cynicism. I was placing impossible burdens on everyone around me. It was no wonder they failed to deliver. My husband, friends, and family were powerless to perform the duties of my Savior—my Shepherd. Life was disappointing. Circumstances were impossible. My loved ones let me down regularly. But I was never supposed to place my hope in them. I finally saw that.

Okay, Jesus. Be my Shepherd. Please, restore my soul! I turned a wet face up to the ceiling. Help me! I am such a mess!

I was still on my bed, in a hot, cluttered room, but I had been spiritually plunged into the still, clear waters of restoration. God was listening.

I devoured the following verses.

“He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Of course. He will help me—after all, His holy name is at stake.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

Like never before, I knew what it was to fear evil, and oh how ready I was for His comfort. I also knew what it was to prepare a table; the process of making three meals a day from scratch, setting the table, cutting and cooling the kids’ food, and dishing out seconds and thirds before I’d had my first bite had frustrated me regularly. The beauty of Jesus serving me so tenderly humbled me. He wanted to feed me. He wanted to anoint my wounds with oil. He offered to keep my cup so full, filling it after every sip, that it would overflow. I didn’t have to run on empty; I didn’t have to live with a dry cup.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

I’d spent the past months convinced darkness and despair would follow me all the days of my life. But here was restoration for my soul.

There was a knock at the door. Someone needed me for something urgent, as always. Drying my face with tissues, I opened the door. The needs remained. Mommy was in demand. I was still stuck. Nothing had changed.

Yet everything had changed.

Jen Profile In a Sun-Scorched Land Back CoverJennifer’s eight eventful years in Haiti produced a gift of brokenness through which she has discovered the depths of God’s healing grace. She passes that grace on to others through her blog, life coaching, her recently released memoir, In a Sun-Scorched Land: A memoir of adoption, faith, and the moving of Haiti’s mountains, and her ebook Take Courage: Choosing faith on my journey of fear. 
Jennifer, her husband Jarod, and their five children currently reside in South Florida. Jennifer blogs regularly for The Better MomClub 31 WomenFaithgirlz, and JenniferEbenhack.com. You can also find her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram.

 

In a Sun-Scorchd Land Cover

Hope Takes Practice

On Christmas morning, I padded around the house in my slippers, stepping over remnants from the annual Christmas show the night before — the one the children have performed for us since a friend first suggested it as their family’s favorite tradition.

For the months leading up to this day, one of mine had drank deep gulps of negativity — the kind I recognize from my twenties. The kind that is both fueled and understood in light of a broken history. My little girl had reason to think that any given day might not be a “good day.” Her early years were stained with many not-so-good days.

The Christmas show, as with many good and beautiful things, felt like a set-up. For ones who struggle to hope even the very best things get translated into opportunities for the very worst. This particular child had made a habit of it. It felt easier for her to assume that a tear in the hem would mean the whole dress would unravel. Those feeling hope-less always hedge their bets.

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This night was no different. The music was off cue and the curtain didn’t rise at the right time and one child melted in fear of the audience’s eyes — all which might easily lead her to what many adults find themselves saying: “figures. I should’ve known this would happen.” 

Except something shifted in such a surprising way that I didn’t see it until the whole show was over. My little girl — the one who hedges her bets — she carried the show. She was Herod and Joseph and Mary (all at once), playing the roles of siblings who, themselves, were folding back stage under all the unexpected glitches. She stood, poised and confident, when given real reason to think that this night they’d been rehearsing for months might just be terrible. She was radiant. Perhaps the most radiant I’d ever seen her.

The child with a loaded history and a scary night — the child with real reason to live a measured and calculated existence, spying out every challenge in advance and bracing herself for the worst, as she had done often before — hoped. She leaned in to the God-Man who is hope.

And His light in her was brilliant.

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Hope does that to a person.

Not the Hallmark hope — the kind that feels like warm and cozy vapor, available when we need a boost but not weighty enough to really move our insides — but the kind birthed through sweat and ache that leans, weak and needy, into the chest of the One who made us, all when it would be much easier to grow cynical and hardened.

Real hope is forged.

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And it’s stunning.

It reflects this Jesus, when you see it eke through the life of a person who has any of a myriad of tangible reasons not to hope, and it tethers us to the truth that our true reality is not about what we can see with our eyes and touch with our hands.

We hope or we die, on the inside.

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So I pad circles around the first floor on Christmas morning and stop to stare across to the woods in our front yard and I can’t help but notice the harshness of winter on what felt lush just a few months earlier. Those trees look dead. Long dead.

I hear the whisper of that word that He has been speaking to me all month: hope. 

Hope in Jesus is like staring at the winter-worn tree and expecting a shoot. It’s looking at dead, dry bones of circumstance and story and relationships and dreams and expecting that they could become radiant with Him. Telling them to breathe. It’s making His Word, in our minds, more real than what we see.

It’s crazy.

It’s not careful and it’s full of foolishness and it’s certainly not safe, by any of the standards around us. To stand, day after day, at the base of that winter tree and watch for life would be a great waste … for the heart that hasn’t yet known the ever-expanding value of hope in Jesus.

So we wait on this thing — this barren womb or this child who’s still wounded or this broken body or this empty bank account with no sign of a new job or this [insert yours here] — with an option of how to wait.

When I move my often-stubborn heart towards waiting with expectancy that God can do what I could not fathom being done, instead of sitting cynical and refusing this risky hope, my heart expands. It grows. For and towards Him.

I practice hope with what is right in front of me at the moment so that I can build a lifetime of expanding my heart in hope for Him, just Him. Him, forever.

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Expectancy builds capacity for God.

Christmas show glitches and unpaid bills and empty bedrooms and broken bodies and staring at the dead-tree of winter while waiting for spring are all the practice runs. They’re practice runs inviting us to look at Him, with expectancy, and not at what we see right in front of us. He shines, here. Radiates. And our insides expand a little wider.

Then we grow in hope, the waiting kind of hope.

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Until the next practice run.

And thousands of practice runs get strung together across our life, ushering us into a fearsome kind of expectancy of God. A forever expectancy.

We can’t grow, in Him, without this impractical, “irrational” hope.

Real hope opens us to see Jesus as He really is.

Wild. Uncomely. And radiant.

(Yes, even while we wait. Especially, while we wait.)

 

Making it practical: His word is better than Hallmark and Biblical hope might just turn the most deep-run cynic into one who prays with the roof off.

Read on: Psalm 34:5 | Romans 5:3-5 | Hebrews 6:13-20 | Hebrews 11:1-3 | Romans 8:5-11, 18-25 | Ezekiel 37

First and third photos compliments of Mandie Joy. Second and Fourth photos compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography.

Getting In The Way Of Perfect

Our first home together was a 1930’s bungalow, the only remaining vestige of a farm in Crozet, Virginia. When we moved in, then, had 50 nearly-new spec homes around it, transforming it from a charming farmhouse into the gangly outlaw of the neighborhood. In exchange for reduced rent, we stripped wall-paper and sanded floors and painted trim. We also added a pull-down staircase into the attic in a harried attempt to compensate for the hole our friend made in the ceiling as he foist our boxes up into “storage.”

Most of those boxes were Nate’s; I brought only a small dowry to our union. I thought he must be a pack rat, then (you know, all those guesses you make about this person who’s ring you’re wearing but of whom you still barely know). Poetry anthologies and historical biographies and more works of C.S. Lewis than I knew he wrote. We loaded up that cob-webbed crawl-space in the ceiling with box after box of books that didn’t have titles like “Growing Your Heart for God,” which were the only kind of books that I read at that time. The attic concealed them, so I ignored them.

When we moved again three years later into the home that didn’t have an attic, but a basement, and one into which we walked through every day from our garage up to the first floor,  I remembered the books. The boxes of books. “Can’t we just sell them?” I inquired with an added edge. I now knew … {continue reading over here —>}

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s To No Longer Playing It Safe

I never wanted to play it safe.

In those rare minutes when the noise of life is quieter than His whisper against my insides, I welcome risk. I want adventure and a life-rush that might empty every last drop of me and dreams that keep my eyes open during otherwise-normal days. I’ll take the threat of danger, if it means I get more of Him. I want unconventional, even when it’s coupled with the prospect of clearing my bank account or my fuel tank or my carefully planned schedule.

Yes, even with my children in mind, when life is still and my pulse tells me He is near, I’m Caleb and the giants are small.

I never wanted to play it safe, no not even as a mom. And I don’t want them to play it safe, either. I’ve lived enough life to know they can’t live with both a deep sense of Him coursing through their veins and a white-knuckled grip on their circumstances. I want them to sing (even through tears) if the house burns down and to clear their savings if He nudges them and buy a one-way ticket to China if He asked.

But there is one sneaky thing that tries to keep me tethered to safety, that tries to keep my life –and theirs — small.

Continue reading over here at The Better Mom…

Up, please.

We have this petri dish of a home. Having seven different bodies doesn’t only mean seven different personalities and seven different Myer’s Briggs’ scores and seven different body types. In our house, we have seven different beginnings and seven different histories, started in three different countries and cultures. There is a lot within these walls to observe about the human heart and how the waves of life make an impact.

So I’ve been watching, with this babe — the one my body hasn’t just held but formed — and wondering if I’d see a difference not only in him but in how he relates to me. Some want to call him a “child of my own“, but they’re all my own (and sometimes I’m actually at risk of overlooking the one that has my DNA for the others who’ve called forth a greater fight from within me for their grafting into our family).

Though there is something different and for nearly two years I haven’t been able to name it — until this past summer when I was away from my children for a night. I laid on my hotel room bed and talked to God and had that rush of understanding that back-filled two years worth of interacting with him.

“Up, please,” I saw the wide eyes of the babe in my mind.

Arms raised in the air, this toddler (whose epicenter mimics the belly of a forty-five year-old ex-athlete), looks up with expectation and says this one phrase more times than any other in a day. It’s the first one he learned. At 7:30am he’s squeaking it, his voice rusty from hours of sleep and his body ready to be held. At 9:30am it’s a cry for relief. He’s been in the sibling-care rotation and needs the respite of mommy’s arms. And sometimes it’s said with a creeping lower lip and eyes brimmed with tears.

Up please — the incessant ask of the tethered child. Out into the world of blocks and puzzles and rowdy siblings and back into the place of sure-safety. All day long, I’m reminded that I have one that needs me. ‘Cause the diaper changes and the lunches and the baths do remind me on occasion, but not like that baby reach.

Four others need me too.

But they never got to say “up, please.”

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The needs of former orphans are often masked. Children raised on the streets or in foster care or at an orphanage among many earn their mask — it’s the survivor’s emblem. Some of the hardest workers are former orphans. They bury their “up please” behind a set gaze and eyes that don’t cry or they cry when it shouldn’t hurt as a means of controlling exactly how and when they get love. Shame of abandonment or rejection can shove that vulnerable “up, please” way down as if to say: I never want to feel that ache again, of needing and not receiving — so I won’t ask the question that leaves me with my arms in the air and no one on the other side to respond.

“Up, please” is dangerous for the child who’s not been tethered.

And for you. And for me.

Because somewhere in that grafting, when we said “yes” to Jesus — at seven or sixteen or twenty-three —  the inertia of humanity and life has taught us that “up, please” is for babies and we don’t know how to be babies to God.

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And He said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3

It’s on our grandmother’s wall and in cartooned story-books. We know it, but if we’re honest we don’t like it.

I’d rather not be like a child. I don’t want to fumble over my words in a crowd or have my daughter’s wounds get triggered in public, for others to see. I don’t want to be the medical conundrum. I don’t want my eyes to be red at church, from a “discussion” I had with my husband before I arrived. I don’t want to be pushing forty and needing to ask the question: what broke at fifteen to make me still.keep.struggling. with that same issue? I don’t want to bleed, for too long at least.

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I don’t want to be diapered and drool.

I don’t want to need.

I’ll say it again: if I’m honest — I don’t really want to need Him.

Friends, we’ve been duped, just as my once-orphaned children had been duped. (Though I must say, they’re seeing it earlier than I did and walking out the healing a decade before I ever did.) We could spend a lifetime hiding behind “I’ve got this thing figured out” and running from the raw vulnerability that can turn a stalwart God follower into a forever-lover.

I want to crawl out of weak skin and learn the five points on how to grow my passion for God — ’cause wouldn’t we all rather learn it in a sermon than with our lives? Yet He keeps inviting me to be bare with Him — to literally, sit before Him and let down my heart and ask the questions and wait on His answers. Be vulnerable and stay vulnerable is quite the invitation in a world where efficient mastery and polished appearances are praised.

At three a.m. when the baby’s awake and mind-numbing scrolling allures me, “Up, please” is what He created me to say. When the child is bristling and a playdate sounds easier than a conversation with God: “Up, please.” The two o’clock in the afternoon quiet that exposes a bare heart more than a bare schedule — in lieu of checking off tasks: “Up, please.” With a still unrepentant perpetrator or a still unrepentant friend: “Up, please.” Standing beside a girlfriend who has what you want. You could push to get it or say these words: “Up, please.”  Lost in the crowd of many who barely know your story, before you open your mouth to tell them: “Up, please.”

The dozen moments in a day that I resent because they remind me that I’m weak are the ones when He wants to hear my faltering voice: “up, please.”

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Needy tears have become a treasure here. When pain isn’t shoved back into submission through self-flagellation or masked underneath layers of “I’m fine!” but instead spills out through eight and ten and eleven year-old versions of “up, please,” we celebrate. We give long cuddles, just to re-affirm them that hearts that are bleeding raw before God are the ones on their way to coming alive. 

[And for those of you adoring God with us over here or those intrigued by the notion of adoration: adoration isn’t for the strong minutes of our day, it is for when we’re tired and restless and grumpy. Vulnerable. We bring our raw selves — yup, the “this is how I’m really feeling right now, God” — with the expectation that He can handle it and that we’re not going to stay there. Adoration takes all of me — right where I am in that moment — and puts it at the feet of all of Him. I get changed as I adore.]

For Your Continued Pursuit: Romans 11:17-18 | Genesis 3:1-11 | 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 | 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 | Psalm 34:18

Pictures compliments of Mandie Joy and Cherish Andrea Photography.

When Our International Adoption Turned Local

Today, I share my friend Emily Wierenga with you. This woman has a raw vulnerability with her words  and her pursuit of God. It’s an honor to have a writer in this space who has handled her craft with such poise and beauty and who deeply loves Jesus as she writes.

I was all set to mail the application in.

I’d announced it on Facebook the night before, begging people for prayer and that’s when a friend of mine read my status and connected me with another Canadian–who lived just two hours from me–who had also adopted from Uganda.

We had been told it was nearly impossible to adopt from the Pearl of Africa.

But I’m the kind of girl who, upon being told “Don’t jump!” says defiantly, “How high?”

So we jumped, and we researched, and we made contacts and we felt very much hopeful and terrified. And as I was talking with the local woman who’d adopted years earlier, she said, “I think our adoption case may be the reason every Canadian case is so difficult now.”

I didn’t think much about it at the time.

Not until two nights later, when I felt a nudge, and so I wrote her. “How much did you end up spending, overall?” I said.

She responded in less than a minute.

“$110,000. And bankrupt.”

My heart stopped.

I swallowed.

Hard.

I’d known it was expensive–and this woman, she’d brought home two children, but she’d also lost everything: her savings, and her husband, in the process.

I never mailed the application.

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No, I sat at my desk, the boys napping in their beds, and I typed in “local adoption Alberta” because I know one thing–there are needy children everywhere. Here, and in Africa, and profiles of boys and girls filled my screen and I sent Alberta Government a note, asking how we could get started.

And then I leaned my head on my hands and cried.

Because loving hurts.

And I can still smell her skin–baby Edina–and it smelled like bananas and the sun. Her pale pink dress stained with the plantain I’d fed her for lunch, and no one even knowing how old she was. Somewhere between a year and 18 months and rescued from the slums and she had no one. And now, she didn’t have me either.

I ached like the Grand Canyon, I wept and I prayed and I knew I’d made the right decision because right often feels like dying, and yet there’s a peace, too. Kind of like the end of a long run.

“That must have been so hard for you,” Trent said when he came home from coaching basketball, and I told him. He held me close. “I’m fine with adopting local, as long as that’s what you want,” he said. “And we can sponsor so many children now that we have the money.”

Two nights later, after speaking with the local adoption agency, and signing up for their training, I sobbed into the floor by the wood stove. Asked God to speak to me about our daughter–the one missing from our family since the miscarriage last spring.

And then I went upstairs at midnight and chose five children to sponsor from Destiny Villages of Hope. And even as I sent the email, requesting those children, I received a message from a friend of mine whom I met in Korea years ago.

She was forwarding an old email of mine–and the subject was “Birth Announcement” and it was the letter we’d sent out telling everyone about our eldest son’s birth.

“I found this precious, old email, Em,” she wrote.

And in the first few lines of the forwarded message, I’d written,

“We celebrate, so very humbly, the birth of our beautiful babe: Aiden Grey… born Nov. 12, 12:24 a.m., at 8 lbs, 2 oz, 20 inches. Our hearts are full. We have longed for a child, and God has heard our longing… may you be encouraged, in your own pursuits and dreams. He hears, and He is good.”

It was enough. This random, very much planned coincidence, was enough.

It was God saying, through my own words, “I heard your longing then, Emily, and I hear it now.”

Even as he always does.

(Emily is celebrating the release of her new memoir, Making It Home: Finding My Way To Peace, Identity and PurposeGet your copy HERE!)

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Emily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, and the author of five books including the memoir Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look (Baker Books). All proceeds from Atlas Girl benefit Emily’s non-profit, The Lulu Tree. She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and three children. For more info, please visit www.emilywierenga.com. Find her on Twitter or Facebook.

A Friend Who Leaves a Mark

Death can provide an exclamation point on a life that was already expressing the glory of God.

My friend passed between that one-day-will-be-thin sheath of death and life and I tried to remember if I’d ever told her how much of an imprint she’d left upon me.

Claire and I shared a small city but couldn’t have been more different, back then. She had six children. I had none. My womb was empty — and sometimes I wore a suit to work. I was fumbling through my twenties, both unsure of myself and also overconfident and she had bigger concerns than her weekend plans. She’d earned her grey hair.

Not too long after I met Claire, {continue reading over here —->}