Beautifully Broken

During difficulties and trials people will often say things like “everything happens for a reason.” Or “all things work together for good…” While both of these statements are true, when you are in the midst of heartache or despair, they aren’t the easiest things to hear or see.

Many people I know have had to and currently are walking through some very dark places. There can be times when we feel caught in a pit and we can’t see a way out. As followers of Jesus, we are being refined every day to be more like Him. I have always imagined the refining process like being put into a pot of water. The heat is slowly turned up, and slowly the junk comes to the surface and we are refined. There have been times in my life when I asked God multiple times if He was using a chisel on me. I imagined Him with the chisel in hand, saying lets take off this whole piece here. It can be painful and often times lonely.  We can feel like we are being stripped of everything. And all that is left is God, and in those darkest places, He proves to be so faithful.

Remarkably it is during these seasons in my life I have witnessed more miracles big and small. There is something about trials and suffering that if we press into the Lord, He will demonstrate His love to us in incredible ways that we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to see. Many times the miracles come in the 11th hour and in both simple and profound ways. For me one such miracle was through an incredible song by Hillsong called Broken Vessels. Here are a few of the lines that really stand out:

“All these pieces, broken and scattered, in mercy gathered, mended and whole, empty handed, but not forsaken…you take our failure, you take our weakness, you set your treasure, in jars of clay, so take this heart, Lord, I’ll be your vessel, the world to see, your love in me.”

And there it was…a beautiful miracle in the brokenness… A gift though a song. You see, 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 says this: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed..”

The jars of clay are us, our bodies. Crafted together from dust by the Creator. And just like the potter, He shapes and forms us into vessels to demonstrate His love to the world. And as Jesus followers His light shines in us and through us.

Imagine with me a jar made of clay.

If you put a candle in it, where would the light shine? Through the top.

Now smash that jar of clay, and what happens? It breaks into a bunch of pieces. If we were to take all those pieces and glue them back together, we would be left with a jar with a bunch of cracks in it. And what would people say if they saw that jar? Would they think it had worth? Would they accept it? No, they would feel it was no longer useful and it would likely be discarded. And if the jar could share what would it say? Probably the same things. It probably would feel worthless.

I think that’s true for many of us as we walk through trials. We can feel so alone, abandoned. We wonder why.

But lets put the candle back into our broken jar and what happens?

Not only does the light come through the top but it shines all around through all the broken pieces.

I have learned that God in His mercy sometimes allows us to be broken. We may feel completely devastated and useless during the season of brokenness. But in His incredible mercy He gathers (if we let Him) all our broken pieces and puts them together. And in the end, our brokenness allows His light to shine even brighter through us. And we are broken vessels demonstrating God’s love to a world who so desperately needs Him.

Looking back over the different trials of life, I have come to a place of thankfulness. I thank God that He has allowed me to be broken. My faith has been strengthen and my prayer is my brokenness would be used for the sake of His Kingdom.

My hope for you is the next time you are going through a season of suffering that you will see that there is beauty in brokenness.

I’m Not The Hero

Did I really just say that?

The words leave my lips and I wish there was a string on the end that I could grab and pull them back in. But out they go, like a balloon floating up to the sky and I can’t take them back.

Just over a year ago, our daughter Ady came to be in our home forever. In those first moments and weeks I never could imagine that I would find myself a year later saying something I would regret. Or feeling frustrated and confused as I have many times.

Over the months that have followed since our little chickadee (my nickname for her) or cutie-pa-todie (daddy’s nickname for her) came to our family, we have learned the depth of her pain and loss in ways we never expected or planned. Hitting, spitting, kicking, screaming, manipulating, destroying, crying, inconsolable crying. The pain and hurt done to her has left her literally terrified to receive love. She is like a tornado of hurt, fear and deep pain.

Foster and Adoptive parents, I see you.
You heard an adoption story and your heart was touched.
You saw the pictures of children waiting in foster care.
You thought, we have so much.
We have more love to give, and it will be enough.
So you jumped in, laying so much down.
But over time you’ve learned love alone isn’t enough.
It takes time.
The daily grind is hard.
Maybe if you were to be honest, you’d admit that you’ve had moments of doubt.
What did we do?
Can I really do this?
You’ve thought of giving up…
Put that picture up on social media, not so pretty right?

I remember reminding God that rubber bands do snap. And as He always does, with love He reminded me I wasn’t going to snap. That I woke up today, put my feet on the floor again today, ready to love.

You know, when people first learn that you are adopting (or fostering), they think you are a hero. And yeah, when you spend years fighting for a child, you can even start to think you are bit heroic.

But I am not her hero.
Her Hero came over 2000 years ago.
He took on every sin and atrocity that was done to her.
He was her Father when she had none.
He was her comfort when she cried alone.
He is the one who rescues and redeems.
Her Hero can see through all the stains of her past.
He knows who she is, all her beautiful potential.
He is who will heal her, despite our shortcoming and mistakes along the way.

What a freeing idea. And what a privilege to be a part of her journey to get to see the miracles in her life that will come. Knowing that I don’t have to be the hero gives me so much hope.

So adoptive/foster parents, don’t give up. Breath deep in the freedom that you don’t have to be their hero, the Hero has got that covered. You just have to be there, pointing them to Him. Wake up another day, and tell that little one that they are loved. Even when their behaviors are unloveable. Pour your second cup of coffee and remind yourself that you too are loved, mistakes and all.

What a beautiful, messy, redemptive journey we get to be on.

Faith in the Waiting.

“I miss you mommy.” The sound of that phrase coming from the voice and heart of a five year old would melt anyone’s heart. But when that missing has been going on day after day for 7 months, and your daughter is 3000 miles away the sound of it takes your breath away and hurts.

We are at the very last stage of our adoption. After three years of praying, learning, processing and paperwork we need one tiny piece of paper that says we can bring our daughter home. Around the final turn of the adoption journey, we’ve come up against another mountain. Call it a snag, extra step, roadblock, whatever you name it; it stands between us and our daughter coming home.

They say in adoption, that you hurry up and do a bunch of work and then you wait, and you wait some more. During the waiting I’ve kept myself busy buying clothes, redecorating the girls room, painting their bunk bed, etc. But when everything was done, there was nothing left to do but to wait, and then wait some more.

I hate waiting.

I’ve already admitted that I’m afraid of the quiet, and in the waiting there can be a lot of quiet. In the waiting there is a lot of opportunity for fear and doubt to set in…all the “what ifs”.  The truth is God uses the waiting to shape us, to refine us, to make us look at our motives and also to bring us lovingly to a place where all we are left with is to pray, to trust.

I am at the end of myself, the end of all the planning and all the doing. Now, its only God who can see it through. The funny thing is it has really been only Him all along. He’s been there in every step, working miracle after miracle. He’s got this. He’s holding us and He’s holding her. She was a daughter of the King before she was ours, before time began and His love will carry her through.

Today I took another step of faith; I bought our daughter a suitcase for the plane ride home. It may not seem like a big deal, but it is a huge step of faith for me. It’s my way of saying, God, no matter what obstacles I trust You to finish this work. It will sit in my room as a daily reminder that all my trust and hope must rest in Him.  I don’t know all the hows and whens about our adoption, but I just know He will see it through. There may be a mountain, but I know the Mountain Mover.

Are you in a season of waiting? How has your faith grown as a result?

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory…” Ephesians 3:20-21a

Compassion Scars

So what happens when we step into the mud? We get dirty, right? Have you ever stepped into someone else’s pain or problems and it causes you to get hurt or uncomfortable in some way?

This past Tuesday was a very difficult day. We are in what we hope is the final phase of our adoption, but we found out that our sweet adoptive daughter is sick. Sick in a country that has very little medical care. Sick in a country where diseases that have been almost completely eradicated from the US are commonplace. On top of all that, I found out that two of our kids in our children’s home are in the hospital very sick. The realization sets in that without our program being there and the wonderful sponsors of these two boys, they probably wouldn’t be alive right now and it’s a sobering reality.

I have ups and downs in this work we are doing. There are days of celebration like recently when we got the news that our primary school is fully funded. But there are a lot of days of heartache. Some days, like last Tuesday, you just wonder what else can happen, how much more can your heart take.

In a moment of quietness, God spoke something so clear. Our conversation went like this:

(Me)“God, I just don’t understand, we are just trying to help these kids, and its so painful, so overwhelming, how much more heartbreak can we take?”

(God) “What you are doing is an act of compassion, right?”

(Me) “Yes, yes it is.”

(God) “And compassion means to suffer with, to suffer alongside, right?”

(Me) “Yes, yes it does.”

(God) “So at what point, did you expect to step into suffering and not feel pain, to not become uncomfortable?”

(Me) “I see it now.”

(God) “Good, then let’s get on with it, follow me.”

I am not sure if it is a western culture thing, or just a human thing, but I know our tendency is towards comfort and away from pain. When it’s cold out, we put a coat on. When it’s hot out, we put the AC on. When our back hurts, we take a Motrin. We run from pain, hurt and confrontation. We all want to be comfortable.

Later in the week, we also learned of the unexpected death of a missionary we know. He spent many years serving God, choosing to follow Him over the life he could’ve had of comfort. I thought of him standing before Jesus. I do not think he in that moment said, “I wish I would’ve lived a more comfortable life.” I think its safe to say, looking into Jesus’ eyes, he was glad he laid it all down for Him.

So now, the challenge comes to you and me friend. We have a God who ran towards suffering, not away from it. When we see injustice, when we see people hurting will we take the easy way out and simply say, “I’m praying for you”? Or, will we embrace true compassion, one that choses to step into suffering and expose ourselves to potential pain and hurt?

Do we really want to step out of this life, into the next unscathed when others are suffering so much? I wanna leave this world with compassion scars, because the One I am following after has them, and I want my life to look like His. So let’s go, let’s get on with it.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

How have you stepped into someone’s pain to show true compassion? Has someone done that for you? I would love to hear your story. Let’s encourage each other with stories of hope.

 

Mushy Ground

After a really extra long, extra cold winter here in Buffalo, spring has finally arrived!

Yesterday, I parked in my usual spot to pick up my munchkins from school. I started walking across the grass area I always do. This time though, I got really muddy. The ground was super soft and wet from all the melting snow. And it got me thinking…It’s usually after the first big thaw that the ground is the mushiest and messiest. The ground is super soft, and pliable, ready to receive the seeds in spring that will grow through summer and yield harvest in the fall. I think it’s how God uses difficulties and storms in our lives. After the winter and during the thaw:

  • We are the most pliable and soft to hear from God.
  • We are fertile soil for Him to plant in us what He is calling us to.
  • When we feel we are at our messiest, it’s the perfect time for God to shape us.
  • Many times the weeds are dead and there’s less competing to distract us from growth.

Life is all about seasons. For now, I find myself in a winter as I am waiting on God for our adoption, but there are signs that spring is coming!

If you are in the joy of summer, make sure you don’t allow the soil of your heart to harden and get you to a place where you aren’t relying on Him.

If you are in the harvest of fall, enjoy the blessing and fruit of how God is using you and immerse yourself in Him because you know another winter is coming.

If you find yourself in a cold, long winter, remember that spring is coming. Lean into Him in the long, cold nights.

And if you find yourself in the growth of spring, keep the soil of your heart soft so that God can mold you and plant in you Kingdom callings!

“For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” 2 Corinthians 4:17

Are You Afraid of the Quiet?

“Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest.” Jesus

Strangely while this gift from Jesus should seem like a relief, to me it has always felt like a punishment, like I had to be put in “time out.”

I’m learning I’m addicted to doing. I can’t sit still and I always need to be going. And while this can be a strength, there is always a dark side to our strengths, and for me it’s that I never rest. Well that catches up with you eventually, and after an extremely busy year both personally and at work I have crashed.

About two weeks ago all the doing caught up with me. For about a week tears flowed uncontrollably. I’m really not a crier so this was very strange and I felt like I was losing control.  I took some time to just sit and be still. And that’s where I realized I am afraid of the quiet. In the quiet we can’t mask our problems, our fears or our disappointments, it’s like someone shines a spotlight on them. And I dare say that is actually a good thing.

Here’s what I learned in the quiet:

  1. God’s not done with me. In fact I have a long way to go to be refined and become more like Jesus.
  2. Kingdom work goes on even while we rest. God invites us in and uses us, but its really not all going to fall apart without us.
  3. It is dishonoring to Him to not take care of ourselves physically.
  4. He loves us so much. HIS LOVE FOR US IS NOT DEPENDENT ON WHAT WE DO. He loves us simply because we are His. Wow, that is so freeing.

I took the past week off and stayed home and faced my fear of the quiet. I also decided that I was going to take my health seriously and switched to a week of all whole foods. I will talk more about that in another post. But lets just say the first four days were a real battle, but by the end of the week so much clarity and strength came.

What God taught me in the quiet is that while it brings Him glory when we serve Him with all we are and have, that it is also dishonoring to Him when we don’t take time and rest in Him. If we are to become more like Him, then we have to take the time in rest and reflection for Him to refresh us and speak to our hearts.

Are you weary from doing? Come into the quiet and rest, He is there waiting.

 

It’s a BIG deal!

My kids frequently fight over who gets in the car first and where they sit. Honestly, it drives me crazy!

Recently, we had an exceptionally dramatic morning over this issue. My youngest was especially upset that he had to be the last one in. So much so that he threw a bit of a fit, and fell out of his seat, while I was closing the door. Luckily he wasn’t hurt. But the fact that he could’ve been made me even more upset at the ridiculousness of the situation.

“It’s just getting in the car! Who cares who’s first! What’s the big deal?” I reasoned. It was at that moment I looked in the rear view mirror and saw the tears streaming down his face and I realized to him it was a big deal. For his little life of five years, that was the biggest thing happening. To him it was everything.

I wiped his tears and dropped him off and he went skipping into school.

After, driving to work it I began thinking: What issues in my life am I freaking out about and throwing a fit about? To me it’s such a big deal. Even now I find myself in a situation beyond my control and I’m freaking out. But in the driver seat of my life is a Father who is all knowing, all loving. He holds the world in His hands and sees every situation. He knows the number of the hairs on our head. I wonder if He’s looking at us, wiping our tears smiling, saying, my beautiful child, I’m here, calm down, come to me and rest.

I hope today that no matter what situation you find yourself in big or small that you will be encouraged that your Heavenly Father sees you, you matter to Him and He will see you through! If you let Him, He will wipe your tears so you can go skipping on into the life He has planned for you! 

When Death is Beautiful

My absolute favorite season is fall. As a Buffalo girl, it’s another hopeful start to the Buffalo Bills season (naysayers don’t even haha). I love the crispness of the fall air, and comfortable temperatures. I love the general “coziness” of the season: apple picking, pumpkin farms and warm apple cider. Most of all I love the beautiful colors of fall. Every day I awake to a new beautiful color display as if God repainted the canvas of the trees at night while we were all asleep.

Recently while driving I reflected on the “why” behind the changing colors. I was reminded that the changing colors are actually the process of the leaves dying. The leaves must die in preparation for winter and eventually for new growth in the spring. If it weren’t for the death of the leaves we would miss out on the beautiful splendor that comes with the changing colors. And even after the death of the leaves we know it is not the end, after some time, past the cold of winter, new leaves will bud once again.

I think this applies to our own lives. Sometimes good things must die to make way for the new. We might fight against the process, but if we were to let go, we can actually learn to appreciate the beauty in that process. Sometimes I find myself letting go of something only to try to take it back again. It reminds me of those last few leaves that hold on to the trees, the ones that are there during the first snow. The problem is, those leaves freeze, and weigh down the tree, damaging it.

We must learn to let things die. Whether its bad attitudes, bitterness and anger, or even some of our commitments that keeps us too busy. If we keep holding on to them, just like the leaves that hold on until winter, we will damage ourselves. When we let go, the death of those things make way for new life. Bad attitudes can be replaced with joy. Bitterness and anger can be replaced with peace. And moving away from being overcommitted can lead to more fullness of life.

Learning to let go is not always, and death can be painful. I encourage all of us to do it. I would even push us to take a step further, to a look for and appreciate the beauty in the process.

What things in your life do you need to let go of to make way for the new?

Spells, Bob Goff & Backyard Bullies

Last week was interesting to say the least. There was weird stuff, hopeful stuff and hurtful stuff all at the same time. My hope is that these stories and lessons learned will be an encouragement to you.

The week started out as a normal week in the let them LOL office. The energy is exciting and the office is always busy as we are preparing for our upcoming Water Gala. Then Wednesday hit. I received a call from one of our Sierra Leone staff that someone had put a spell on me. “What did you say?” was my response. Yes, someone had put a spell on me, but it wasn’t a “bad” spell, it was one that tries to control the heart of the person. However, all our Sierra Leone staff was going to fast and pray for three days for me.  Oh, thanks, now I feel much better. It’s not a bad spell but you are all going to fast and pray for three days? After we hung up, I was definitely feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed by this whole idea. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much Wednesday night.

Thursday morning I woke up thinking about the whole thing. I wondered, who do I even talk to about something like this? Then I remembered that Bob Goff, the author of Love Does (one of my favorite books) had experience with this kind of stuff as a result of the work he is doing in Uganda. In the back of Love Does, Bob left his phone number in case a reader wanted to call him. I remembered this but thought to myself: “he probably has someone answering it for him, what’s the point?” I changed my mind though and opened up the book and dialed the number. “Bob Goff here” was what I heard. I put my shock aside and went right to explaining everything, as I didn’t want to take up too much of his time. He said a lot of encouraging things and I will share the key takeaways at the end of the post.

Literally 15 minutes after I hung up with Bob, I get another call from our Sierra Leone staff. This time someone there was threatening our program. They didn’t have ground to stand on, but both our US and Sierra Leone teams were upset. We were basically being bullied so someone could get what they wanted. It took a couple of days, but the whole situation calmed down and was resolved. 
By the end of the week, we were all really worn out.

Here are a few things that I learned this week:

1. Fear is contagious, but so is hope. (Bob Goff) This is the phrase from my conversation with Bob that sticks out the most for me. Once one of our Sierra Leone staff started freaking out about the whole spell thing, then the whole team there was freaking out and then I was. When you face fear, you have a choice about how much power to give it. If you let it overwhelm you, it will spread to others. In the same way, when you allow yourself to be filled with hope that is contagious too. I want to be a HOPE spreader and a fear stopper! Don’t you?

2. Be careful who you give the microphone to in your life. (Bob Goff) Yep. I often struggle with this one. While other’s input in our lives is important, we always need to watch how much influence that has over us. I was reminded on Sunday during a song at church: “no power in hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand.” It is important to seek advice, but always weigh the advice against who you are because of WHOSE you are.

3. Perseverance. We have been so excited to be able to share so many of the amazing stories of all God is doing through let them LOL. But what most people don’t see is the weeks like these. The weeks where we are left completely empty and exhausted. Through prayer and help from God, we press on through the struggles and challenges. Someone once said “I didn’t say it would be easy, but it will be worth it.”

I’m pretty sure this week wasn’t filled with spells for you, but I’m sure many of you faced struggles and trials. What’s one thing you do when you face difficulty?