Sunday, September 10, 2017

“Is he yours?”

 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Matthew 25:34-40

“Oooh!” A woman at the store cooed, spotting the tiny baby wrapped close to my chest. “Is he yours?”

What was such a simple question that I took for granted with my daughters is the million dollar question this time around.

Knowing she probably isn’t looking for a novel, I just smile and say, “Yes, we’re taking care of him right now.”

What I want to say is more complicated…

Do you mean am I the one who wakes up at 3am with him when he’s hungry, holding him close my chest and breathing in deeply the smell of his hair? The one who packs the diaper bags when we go out, to make sure he has formula and clean diapers? The one who wonders if he’s napping, as I walk between meetings during the day? The one who lives court date to court date, praying for reunification with his biological parents and pondering the heartache it will bring it in the same breath? If so, then yes, he’s mine.

But maybe you mean the woman who spent nine months growing him, feeling him kick inside her, wondering what the future held for him at each prenatal appointment. The one whose feet swelled and back ached. The one who went home to an empty cribbed that she had expected to lay her baby in. The one who prays for him from a distance and cherishes the few hours a week she gets with him. If so, that’s not me.

Or maybe you mean the caseworker, who’s up at night feeling the weight of the decisions she has to make. The one who only sees him every other week, but has to make a call on his future, based on a few documents, files and observations. The one who has foster children of her own and is thinking “What would I do if he was my baby?” If so, that’s not me.

Perhaps though, Matthew 25 is very clear on this muddy issue. While our tendency is to build walls around what is ours, maybe that defies everything that’s been asked of us to be fully human. Perhaps none of them were ours to begin with… or maybe they all were.

The second night we had our foster placement, I told Nate, “I’m not sure how much I’m supposed to love him.”

Met with a strange look from him, I doubled down saying, “You know… like… do I love him like he’s my son… or…”

Nate in his simplistic wisdom said, “I think you just love him.”

So that’s my stand. When he’s hungry, I feed him. When he’s naked, I give him clothing. When he was a stranger, I left work in the middle of a meeting to rush to the hospital and invite him into my home. And it’s easy to see Christ in his innocence, like in Matthew 25.

But I felt God say so clearly to me two weeks ago, you don’t just foster for the children – you foster for their parents. Because the parents are my beloved children… and so they are yours too.

So yes, he’s mine. And he’s his sweet birth mama’s. And he’s his caseworker’s. And he’s yours, since I know many of you have been praying for him and offering meals and clothes and help.

But most of all, he’s Jesus’s. And we’ll love him deeply, hold him loosely, and trust God with his tomorrow

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A gift unopened

552 days. That's how long it has been since I wrote my last blog.

Shortly after we opened our Christmas gifts last month, I made a resolution that I would blog weekly, but before the countdown to January 1 reached zero, I declared that resolution canceled. I couldn't do it. If people ask why I haven't blogged, I say it's because I'm busy. Finally I told someone last week that I couldn't blog because I've had nothing to say - unsure whether it was God humbling my spirit or the enemy attacking a joyful past time, I've felt entirely unable, unworthy and unequipped to write and share my thoughts.

But something shifted this week. Through a number of simple, everyday minor mishaps and pitfalls, I came to the crushing realization that I can never earn or be worthy of God's love.

Okay, that's not entirely fair. That concept is a fairly main tenant of the faith I've professed for the past 12 years and that my husband is a pastor of, so I've course I had mentally realized that. I would correctly mark "true" on a true or false exam. But I've never actually emotionally accepted it.

Somewhere deep, deep down in the very pit of my being, everything I did was still with the aim of being good enough, and I lived in fear of the grace offered so freely.

I'm not a good gift receiver. You can ask almost anyone who loves me. A couple of years ago, my parents got me the most beautiful Michael Kors wool coat for Christmas. Instead of proclaiming my joyful thanks and trying it on, I thanked them weakly... and then cried. Like, a lot. I thought about starving children and people with no coats at all and what a crappy kid I was to my parents when I was a teenager, and 300 other reasons that I didn't deserve that gift. And I hid it in the back of my closet.

In a lot of ways, that's been my experience with God's grace. It's been a gift left unopened. I've put it in the fire extinguisher case, behind glass that says, "Break only in case of emergency." Really appreciate that it's there God, but I'll try to just get through without it when I can.

Most of who I am... the person I identify as... is based on my efforts. I am an achievement junkie, control freak and perfectionist.

How hard I've worked... What I've fought to overcome...What I'm able to provide in my relationships, church or community... that is how I find my worth.

Even my college majors were due to me being hard headed. I chose English because my junior English teacher called my final writing project "uninspired and lacking substance" and told me that "she bet I was surprised" that I got a 34 in English on my ACT. (Frankly I always preferred the STEM fields.) I chose Psychology because in some strange way, it represented a mastery to me of my mental illness. I was an expert in my own undoing, which gave me some semblance of control.

I began working (albeit serving hot dogs from a giant ice cream cone) when I was 14. I actually had to have my guidance counselor sign a work permit for them to be able to legally employ me. But I wanted a job more than anything. I wanted to finally be able to EARN my way.

I measure the success of my relationships by what I can contribute to them... and I assume that others do too. When Nate tells me to relax... take a break... I interpret it as some kind of trick. How will he know I'm a good wife, if I can't show that I've cleaned the house and folded the laundry and sent an encouraging text message and brought home a good paycheck? How will I know I'm a good mom if I haven't read the kids three books each and made sure they can recite the alphabet and count to twenty?

Even my spiritual journey has been some sort of weird holy checklist of obeying God's calling, while simultaneously working upstream against my crippling perfectionism. I told Nate frustratedly a few weeks ago, "I feel like I'm not doing anything for the Kingdom!"

Where is my worth, if I can't measure it?

Last night Blakely asked me a question that I can't stop thinking about. The girls always treat the 28 minute drive to Pekin in my car without a radio like it's the greatest torture known to man, so we sometimes play a game where we ask each other random questions. After asking about favorite foods, favorite colors, and more, Blakely asked me, "Mom... What would you do if you were a Princess?"

"Um, what?" I laughed.

But I can't stop thinking about it. If I truly believe that God is King... why don't I act like a princess? Why do I live out of scarcity and my own efforts? Why do I reject the Kingdom for my own fear of being unworthy without some checklist to "prove my worth"?

This is the part of the blog where I'd usually wrap up my thoughts with a nice bow, maybe a platitude or two. But I can't today. Honestly, I couldn't for the last 552 days. I couldn't write in my blog because God is untying and unraveling all of my bows. But maybe it's His way of telling me to just open up the gift already.