Just living my life, and making it work!

The first weeks of summer my Facebook news feed was full of ambitious summer home education plans. I started seeing posts on limits of screen time, mandatory reading time, and a host of educational websites for learning activities and printable worksheets on line. I am tempted to follow suit as it seems that is what “good” parents do, but then I remember “because everyone else is dong it.” is not a good parenting  strategy.  I have decided not to do any of that stuff, and here’s why.

Summer is a season of rest. 

During the school year our days are a blur. We get up early, spend 8 plus hours a day at school, do homework, run between dance and martial arts, and fall into bed half dead by 8:00. Ok so that is the goal, but often it is actually closer to 9:00. During the summer we do a few church camp things, but we have no extra curricular activities, and no set scheduled when we can help it. 

Summer is for family time:

We are so busy during the school year that we never see each other. Someone is constantly gone to something, and we just don’t have time to bond together as a whole family. My children play together like no other in the summer. When they get board they start making up their own games. Their relationship with the school system will last 20 years or so. Their relationship with each other will last a life time, and at some point I won’t be around to facilitate that. 

Summer is for Self Exploration

We provide a wide variety of materials and toys, and our kids pick out what they want to do with them. If they find something on YouTube or the Internet they want to learn more about we help cultivate their interest. This summer one of my children learned to sew and knit. Another learned about animals, and the boys learned about electric circuits. 

Summer is for FUN!

During the school year we have no time for fun activities like flying kites at the park, or going swimming, or doing Lego lab at the library. One of our favorite things to do is feed the ducks at the pond, have lunch in the park,  and go to our local children’s science  museum. 

Summer is not for “getting ahead” or “falling behind” for average students. 

 To be sure there are some kids who need the extra help. In fact I was one of them. I spent two hours a day in  tutoring during the summers in 3 rd and 4 th  grade. I couldn’t  add 2+2, but soon I was cought up to my peers. I never did school work in the summer again. I still managed to not only get into college, but I did very well.  The point being if my kids are headed for an acedimic life it will happen without me riding them to read daily or do math worksheets all summer. 

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For Such A Time As This

This morning my Facebook feed started blowing up that a man with ties to ISIS opened fire at a LGBT night club this morning. This tragedy is being billed as the largest mass shooting in our nations history. There is so much going on in this story that I’m not sure where to begin, so I’m just gonna.

Dear ISIS,

You go about creating these “terror” attacks in hopes that the fear you are perpetrating will force some kind of change. Let me be clear, greater is He that is living in me than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4). I am sure that whatever plots you design, and carry to fruition CAN and WILL be used for GOOD, even though they are conceived by you in hate (Genesis 50:20) God is our protector, and healer. Just as He rescued the Jews time and time again, so He will deliver us from the likes of you. I serve the God who is filled with grace, and mercy, and everlasting hope that none should perish, but CHOOSE to follow Him (2 Peter 3:9). Your god teaches you to terrorize and murder those who do not follow him. By your fruits are you known. (Matthew 7:16)

Dear Christians saying the LGBT community got what they deserved,

If sin makes you deserving of being shot down in cold blood by a mad man, we’d ALL BE WEARING BULLET PROOF VESTS. I have a tattoo on my wrist. It has a cross with the words “Romans 3:23”. This serves as a reminder to me that we have ALL sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are ALL in need of Jesus, because we are ALL sinners. Keep your eyes on your own paper, and don’t’ act like you know the smallest thing about the hearts and minds of those who were tragically killed this morning, because you don’t. But, God does, and he expects  Christians to offer the same sort of grace, mercy, and forgiveness that He gives to us daily…..some times hourly. Jesus himself said the two greatest commandments are to Love God & Love Others. (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12 :30-31,  Luke 10:27)  If you are unclear about how God defines “love” please see 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

Dear Christian America,

Do not let this tragedy steal your love away from immigrants or make you fear them. First, this particular criminal was a natural born citizen. This tragedy has more to do with the general decline of patriotism than it does immigration. Second, unless your blood line is exclusively Native American or Mexican, you are from an immigrant family. Third, America has long been a refuge for the oppressed, and those who lack opportunity in their native country. . Let the immigrants from these war torn Muslim countries who need refuge come. Just as God used Jonah to turn Nineveh towards Him, so can He use this opportunity we have to pour love, grace, and mercy into the hearts of this immigrant population. Matthew 5:14-16 says “Your are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people hide a lamp, and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

 

I’ll be the first to admit my husband and I aren’t like all the other families on the block. For starters, we are visually impaired. This means we live our life using public transportation as neither of us can drive. Second, we have five children, and two of them are adopted from China.Two of the three of our biological children are also visually impaired. Our oldest adopted daughter has Spina Bifida, and uses a wheel chair. She is very independent, and a great kid, but there are lots of doctor visits to schedule, and medical bills to pay. Not to mention that with five kids there is more food to buy, more laundry that needs washing, several schedules to iron out, and some one is almost always in need of correction. But, that  also means there are more birthday celebrations, more laughter, its never boring, and there is almost always someone to play with.  We live crazy, super fun, super loud, and sometimes stressful lives.
We have great friends and family who love us, and support our decision to build a large-ish family through both birth and adoption. In an effort to be encouraging I often hear “Y’all are AMAZING! I don’t know how you do it. I COULD NEVER DO SOMETHING LIKE WHAT Y’All HAVE DONE.” While I know people say this with nothing but love and respect, it makes me cringe.

I cringe because it vastly diminishes the role of God in our lives. There is nothing extraordinary about us except when God called we said “yes”. We were just as scared about an unknown future with adopted children as anyone would be. Like everyone else we wondered where the finances were going to come from, and if we had enough emotional reserves to parent kids from hard places. We worried about the impact on our three biological kids, and what if we had a child with big hurts that led to big family problems.  BUT, we were more confident in God’s abilities than we were  not confident in our own.

You see, we are confident that God doesn’t ask for what He isn’t willing to provide for. We are confident in His Word, and His promises. We are confident that aligning our life with His priorities will always be more fulfilling, than living with worldly comforts. We are confident that He sees each of our children, and will provide them with hope and a future. We are confident that God is our redeemer, our healer, and our source of  strength in times of weakness. There are those hard, messy days that make me feel like a failure, and doubt my ability to shepherd this crew. I remember that I am not enough, nor will I ever be enough, but I am confident that He is. I am confident that  His grace fills in, and restores all of the cracks.

At the end of the day we are just as frail and human as anyone else. By thinking we are somehow better than average it kind of lets people off the hook. It says others don’t have to do what we have done, because somehow they have the mistaken belief that we are more equipped. Don’t get me wrong, I get that adoption is a calling that not everyone has. But, I’ve heard  1,000 times  “I’ve thought about/wanted to adopt/foster, but….”  My prayer is that all of those who have even the smallest seed of orphan care planted in their hearts will bravely say “yes” to that calling. Does it require sacrifice? Yes. Is it hard and uncomfortable sometimes? Yes. Do we sometimes mess up in even big ways? Yes. But, there is no sacrifice or mess up too big for God to heal, and redeem. I cannot tell you how amazing it is to be a active participant in a small piece of God’s redemption story in the life of a living breathing human being who needs you. 

“We adopt not because we are  redeemers, but because we are the redeemed.” Sermon by David Platt 

The first time I saw Quinn’s advocacy video I couldn’t stop thinking about her. We decided to adopt again from China, and honestly thought we were looking for a young girl with vision issues. Low vision is something we have lots of experience with, and are comfortable living with. Quinn didn’t have thick glasses, or a blind cane: Quinn had a wheelchair.  I saw a remarkable child with such resiliency, intelligence and kindness, but that wheel chair scared me. I prayed for her mother to find her. I knew in my heart that she needed a family if she was ever to have a real chance at life. But, that wheel chair scared me.  Over the next month or so I looked over hundreds of kids’ advocacy files, but Quinn was always on my heart. I just kept going back to that website, and back to her video. I must have watched it a dozen times.

Over time I started to wonder if she could be our daughter. We even contacted her adoption agency and asked to review her file. But, she was an older child? Could we deal with the emotional needs that sometimes come with that? But she had spina bifida, and used a wheel chair. But, we live in a two story house, and have no ramps or bathroom bars? But we don’t drive, and use public transportation?  But how would we pay for the medical bills? But…..but…..but?  We weren’t brave enough, and sent her file back.

A week or so later we still couldn’t stop thinking about Quinn or watching her advocacy video. The fact is, she was a real human being who needed a family. We are both firm believers that God doesn’t ask for what He will not provide for. Although we weren’t sure how it would all work out we took a running leap off the cliff of faith trusting that God would be there to catch us. We called the adoption agency back, and signed the first documents on the long road to make Quinn our daughter.

We brought Quinn home on August 1, 2015. Turns out we haven’t made any adjustments to our home. She can pop her wheel chair up to get through the threshold of our house. She doesn’t need any bathroom bars or bath stools in the tub. She scoots up and down the stairs on her bottom. She went to school in China so we started her in school here with our other kids. She is doing great. Our school has bent over backwards for her, and she is a very self motivated English language learner. She is a nice likable child, and has had no trouble making friends. Especially now that her conversational English is good. Have we had our issues? Yes. Have we had our fair share of meltdowns, and rages? Yes. But, all in all she has melted into our family. It’s almost as if she was always here. She has taught us so much about choosing joy, and determination.

About three weeks ago she needed a major spinal cord surgery. She had a tethered cord and lipoma meaning her spinal cord was attached somewhere it shouldn’t be near the base and it was covered in a type of fat. It was causing a whole host of problems with her body including scoliosis and really tight leg muscles. Her bladder was also affected.  Turns our her case was more difficult than the doctor thought, and a 3-4 hour surgery double into an almost 8 hour surgery. The next three days were very painful, and she had lost all of the functioning in her legs ( her right leg she could temporarily stand on, and used it a lot to get round).  She was afraid that her body would never work the same again, and that physical activities would be even harder for her than before. She was over the extreme pain and having to stay perfectly still in bed. I could see the light that fueled her determination and resilience starting to flicker and burn out. I was over it too. I was doing my best to stay strong and be encouraging for her, but I started to doubt my decision to have the surgery. I went in the bathroom and cried.

I looked up into the mirror with my mascara streamed face, my lipstick and hair a big old mess. I hadn’t slept more than an hour or so at a time in days.  At that moment a Bible verse flooded my heart. It was almost as if the Holy Spirit spoke it too me. It was 2 Timothy 1:7 “God didn’t give us a spirit that makes us weak and fearful. He gave us a spirit that gives us power and love…” It reminded me that fear always boils down to a lack of faith. I cleaned my self up, brushed my hair, and decided then that no matter what I was going to trust God. I was going to trust that He placed this child in our family (Psalm 68:6). I was going to trust that He knows ever last hair on her head, and sees what she goes through (Matthew 10:29/31). I was going to trust the plan even if I couldn’t see it. Even if it didn’t look like what we expected, or seemed harder. I was going to trust that it was good. (Jeremiah 29:1)  I was determined to cast out the doubt and fear in my heart, and replace it with trust.

Fast forward three weeks, and she is doing great! She gets more strength and movement in her legs every day. She can now use her legs in ways she couldn’tdo before the surgery. We celebrate with joy and thanksgiving every sign of progress. The hard parts were very hard, but they are over for now. Her body is healthier, and will continue to get stronger. She faces one more surgery later this summer to fix her knee. The tethered cord caused her left leg to bend and get stuck in a bent position. This will be a long 2-6 month recovery, but by Christmas she should be good to go. 

The one thing that haunts me is what if we had said no? What if we hadn’t been brave enough to say yes, because we almost weren’t. We knew nothing about wheelchairs or spinal cord surgeries. All we had to go on was a love in our hearts for this child, and an unshakable belief that God doesn’t call the equipped, but He absolutely equips the called. It haunts me knowing she would have never received these surgeries in China, and would have likely lost functioning as she aged eventually going from an orphanage to a nursing home. The beautiful, determined, intelligent, kind, helpful, joy filled light that shines so brightly within her would never been given the chance to fully develop. Today, because we said “yes”, that won’t happen. Plus, turns out, wheelchairs and tethered cords aren’t nearly as scary and unmanageable as it once seemed.

If God is speaking to your heart about something do it, say “yes”. Even if it is scary. Even if you have no idea what you are doing. You will, and although there will be had spots, it will be an amazing journey. I am happy to talk with anyone considering adoption, or about parenting a child with special needs. It really isn’t that scary, and you really can do it! 

 

The other day one of my kids came in the back door crying because someone called him a “big fat jerk”. I asked him if he was in fact a big fat jerk, and looking at the floor he slowly shook his head no. Hugging him I said that when people say bad or untrue things about him he should stand up tall, and confidently say “Those words are not true, and I don’t care what you say about me.”. I encouraged him to practice saying that sentence. The first time tears were still streaming down his cheeks and I could barely hear his voice. We said it again and again together until his head and shoulders were high and there was conviction and strength behind his words. We practiced because he could say that sentence 100 times, but until he really took it into his heart and BELIEVED it to be true, the words would have no power.

A short time later I found myself in a funk. I was anxious about all the never ending house hold chores I hadn’t completed. I felt insecure about looking older, and worried that I wasn’t spending enough time with my husband. I felt like I wasn’t spending enough time with my kids, teaching them enough, making them eat enough good foods. In short I felt unworthy of my house, my marriage, my children……basically my life. I allowed these thoughts to seep in through the cracks of insecurity and unworthiness in my heart, and pool together at the bottom of my soul leading to feelings of failure and despair.

Mercifully I was doing a women’s Bible study by Pricilla Shirer called “The Armor of God’, and the idea of using the “Helmet of Salvation” to “take every thought captive” was fresh in my mind. (An amazing Bible study that I highly recommend) I began to break down and evaluate these thoughts, and compare them with His truth as found in the Bible. I realized that most of these thoughts were rooted in lies of deception, guilt, and unworthiness. None of witch comes form God, and in fact are used by the Devil to deceive us and shield our minds from the truth.

Every time I identified a thought or someone else’s words as untrue I stopped what I was doing. Bound that untruth in my mind, and purposefully rejected it. I then asked the Holy Spirit to replace that lie by speaking truth to my soul. Over time I began to identify these lies more quickly, and I made room in my heart for God’s truth. We tell our children they should be confident in who God made them to be. We tell them to ignore and stand courageously against lies they hear from others. Unfortunately, we don’t always apply that wisdom to our own lives, because deep down although many of us already know God’s truths we don’t really BELIEVE it in our soul. So……

When He tells you he loves you, and will provide what you need BELIEVE HIM!

When He tells you you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that He knit you together in your mother’s womb BELIEVE HIM!

When He tells you not to be anxious about bad seasons in life, but to see it as an opportunity to grow in wisdom and strength knowing that He will see you through it BELIVE HIM!

When He tells you eternal salvation is as easy as accepting Jesus as your savior and putting Him first in your life BELIEVE HIM!

Anything contradictory to His truths are lies conceived to destroy you peace, your faith, your hope, and your calling according to  His purposes. Once you know these truths and you BELIVE God is who he says he is, and you BELIEVE you are who God says you are in Him, you can easily identify and reject the lies seeping into your life. In doing so you leave room in your mind and heart for the Holy Spirit to speak TRUTH into your life. You start to BELIVE in your heart that you are a child of God, as in the CREATER OF THE UNIVERSE GOD, and any outside approval you may or may not receive becomes insignificant in comparison.

A favorite mantra of mine is “If it is good enough for God, I don’t care if its good enough for anyone else”. I’ve been saying this to people as an encouragement for the last few years, but I didn’t  really BELIEVE it in my soul. I would say it, but just like my son, the words had no power behind them. I still had feelings of doubt, insecurity, unworthiness, anxiety , and fear. Once I started rejecting the lies behind those feelings, and BELIEVING that what God says about me is true I found a inner peace and joy that I have honestly not had since I was a child. Now I can hear the lies whispered into my ears intended to settle in my heart, and say with confidence ” I am a child of God. Those words are not true, and I don’t care what you say about me.”

 

 

I’m a Tax Collector

A few Sundays ago I was in church discussing the fact that Jesus associated with sinners and tax collectors. Tax collectors were thought to be particularly  terrible people as they got rich from taking more taxes than they were due, and by collecting taxes for the Roman Empire they were assisting in the oppression of their own people.  Matthew, Levi, and Zaccheaus were all used as examples of  tax collectors who Jesus spent time with. In Mark 2:16 the Pharisees called Jesus our for eating with “sinners and tax collectors”. The implication of this study being that as Christians we should climb down off our high crosses, and  reach out to the lowly sinners and tax collectors to show them the error of their ways. Are you kidding me?!?!  I find this sentiment especially  repulsive, because guess what ? We are all tax collectors.

In case you missed it I’m gonna say it again.

WE ARE ALL TAX COLLECTORS!

I can clearly remember being 15, sitting on my bed with my BFF discussing everyone else’ sins. We were patting ourselves on the back because we didn’t smoke, or drink, or sleep around, and we were absolutely judging those we knew who did. I had a list of do’s and do not’s, and I felt my list of do not’s was pretty clean (at least on the outside). It wasn’t, but I felt it was especially when I compared myself with the other kids I knew. In reality, on the inside, I was judgmental, manipulative, gossipy, prideful and self-righteous. I was every bit as big of a “tax collector” in need of redemption as the kids we were trash talking. The only difference was my sins are not as easily detected by others from the outside. And by the way over the years I have participated in more than my fair share of those easily detectable sins as well.

The point is all of us have stuff that puts us at odds with God’s standards. Even those who we would consider to be really “good people” are not. Isaiah 64:6 says “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” Furthermore, Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” We are ALL sinners and tax collectors in need of reconciliation with God. Even our very best attempts at living a Holy life falls so incredibly short of God’s standards that it is compared to “filthy rags“. Our hope of redemption does not depend on how clean our list of do’s and do not’s is, but from accepting the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and the resulting infusion of the Holy Spirit within us.

I see people all the time standing on street corners throwing people’s sins up in their faces. They are ranting about sins like alcoholism, drug addiction, prostitution, homosexuality, and promiscuity. They call these sins abominations, and tell people that if they stop doing them they can come to know Jesus. I’m sorry, but Jesus is not a 10 step program. John 3:16-17 does not say “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and  only Son, and whoever  shall not drink, smoke, engage in homosexuality, fornicate, engage in adultery……. will not perish, but have ever lasting life….” Instead it says ” For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” It is impossible for people to overcome sin and then come to Jesus, as it is only through Jesus that sin can be overcome.

So instead of thinking of ourselves as Christians reaching out to the “lowly” sinners and tax collectors how much more amazing would it be if we said “I am a sinner and tax collector too. This is my stuff, and this is how Jesus has brought me through it, and continues to bring me through it every  moment of every day of my life. AND this is how you can lay your stuff at his feet too.” Instead of putting on a face of perfection so people will see how Holy and self-righteous I am, I need to be showing people my brokenness so they can see how Holy and righteous my God is.  When confronted by the Pharisees for eating with sinners and tax collectors Jesus simply replied ” It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” I don’t know about you, but I’m just another sick tax collector patient in the hospital of life in need of a cure named Jesus.

 

 

We have five children, and sometimes people assume that means we have a larger than average income. While we have been blessed financially, I think it is more accurate to say that we have different priorities than many Americans. One of those is we have let go of the financial burden of paying for our children’s college. This is a purposeful decision we made even when we only had one child, and could easily afford a college fund. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying people with college funds are bad parents. Every family and situation is different. The following is simply why our family said “no” to college funds.

We don’t have a dream for our children, because we know God already has a plan. Many parents not only assume, but insist, college is an outcome for their children. We are not in the business of running our kid’s adult lives. God has already equipped our children with the traits they need to become what He designed them to be. It is our job as parents to cultivate that relationship, and shepherd those traits, so our children can grow into the people they were created to become. Both of us have masters degrees so we aren’t anti education. We realize college may or may not be important to any one of our kid’s adult lives, but we just don’t assume that it is. We also know that if it is, the provision will be there without our saving up for it.

We measure success differently. Our children’s value is not tied to personal wealth or choosing a prestigious career. Instead, their value is tied to being children of God. Our hope is that they grow into adults who love God, and pour His love into the people around them. Of course we want them to be independent and productive members of society, but that will likely end up looking very different for each of our children. For example, one of our children wants to be a math teacher, and our first grader wants to be a garbage truck man. All work is valuable, and making lots of money or being well educated isn’t the only way for people to prosper. Our sole criteria on the path they choose is that it is moral, legal, and they can support themselves doing it.

There is value in the struggle. Parents often want to pay for their kid’s college, because they remember what it is like to try and pay for their own college. They remember having to pull all nighters studding because they were working during the day. They remember not running the air conditioning, and scraping together a few dollars to buy milk, and box of cereal, and some ramen noodles. They love their kids, and don’t want to see them struggle the way they did. However, when things like college are simply handed to a mostly grown child it takes something away from them. They loose experiences that grow important traits like self reliance, self efficacy, problem solving and financial management. This is not to say we are just going to throw them out when they graduate high school. Of course we will help them however we can, and we will help them plan for their future. That help will not come in the form of simply writing a check.

A friend recently told me of a story she read in a devotional. A man was watching a butterfly come out of its cocoon. The hole was very small, and the butterfly was struggling to get itself through. Out of compassion for the butterfly the man made the hole slightly larger so that it would be easier for it to come out. Sure enough the butterfly quickly appeared, but unfortunately its wings were never strong enough for it to fly, and it died. What the man didn’t know was the struggle to get through the opening is what makes the butterfly’s wings strong enough to fly. Just like the butterfly our children need a fair amount of struggle to grow strong enough to fly.

We have more important things to do with our money.  God put adoption on our hearts, and by aligning our values and goals  with Him instead of the basic American culture we have been able to say “yes”. Not only do our adopted children have a family, and hope for a better future, but the lessons in unconditional love, grace, redemption, and the importance of family have given our biological children (and us) more than a college education ever could. I realize not everyone has a heart for adoption. However, God has placed a need on every Christian’s heart, and it hurts me when people miss out on those blessings because they think they cannot afford to meet that need. If this is speaking to your heart right now prayerfully consider where your money is going.  Maybe its not a college fund, but instead it is a bigger house, or a newer car, or a big remodeling job. Maybe you need these things, and maybe you don’t. I’m not trying to judge anyone’s life. I’m simply asking that you pray about it, and ACT on the message you receive.