Monday, October 1, 2018

Excuses

“He answered them, ‘And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of tradition? …for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matthew 15:1-9)

The Pharisees had created a set of rules and traditions for themselves and set those rules up to be equal with Scriptural commandments. In this passage, Jesus calls them specifically on not honoring their parents. The Pharisees had made a tradition that allowed them to shirk the duty of caring for aging parents by saying that they had dedicated their finances and resources to the Lord. In doing this they dishonored their parents and disobeyed the Word of God. Jesus calls them on their hypocrisy. 

God does not desire human designed sacrifice. He certainly does not accept or bless offerings made with the intent of disobedience to His Word. He makes this clear in 1 Samuel. Saul, the king of Israel, had been instructed by the Lord to completely destroy the Amalekites, including their riches and goods. Instead, Saul disobeys the Lord by destroying the people of Amalek but also plundering the city and taking (instead of destroying) the riches. When confronted with his sin, Saul claims he took the plunder to make a sacrifice to the Lord. God responds through his prophet, Samuel: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) 

The Lord sees our hearts and hears our thoughts. The excuses we make to ourselves and others for our disobedience do not work with God. “Don’t excuse yourself by saying, ‘Look, we didn’t know.’ For God understands all hearts, and he sees you. He who guards your soul knows you knew. He will repay all people as their actions deserve.” (Proverbs 24:12) 

What disobedience have we tried to mask with self-righteous rules or human created tradition? Our traditions, customs, and self-made rules should never replace obedience to God’s Word. 

God’s Word is filled with instruction meant to bring glory to our heavenly Father, and also meant for edification and blessing in our lives here on earth. God did not intend for us to pick and choose which instructions and commandments we desire (or, as churched people say, “feel called”) to obey, but instead His desire is for complete obedience that He may be glorified and that more people may hear the gospel and be led to a life everlasting. Love the Lord with all our hearts and minds. Give generously to the poor. Love our neighbors as ourselves. Honor our fathers and mothers. Honor and love our spouses. Care for the orphans and widows. Bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. May we all be able to say, “I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” (John 17:5) 

Friday, September 28, 2018

He is Good All The Time

As I have gone through the motions of life over the past week, a story of David has been going through my mind over and over. I have paused to reflect and reread it many times. 

In 2 Samuel, the prophet Nathan confronts David regarding his sin with Bathsheba, and then prophesies that David and Bathsheba’s first-born son will soon die. After David’s son falls ill, David goes to the Lord with prayer and fasting to ask Him to save his son: “David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground.” (2 Sam 12:16) And so he prays for seven days. 

When the child dies, David’s servants are afraid to tell him. They have watched him grieve and pray, refusing food or rest, for days. They fear what he may do when he finds out his son has died. David sees his servants whispering among themselves and perceives his son has passed away. His servants then confirm that indeed, his son is gone. 

“Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.” (12:20) 

The Lord had answered. And although the answer was not the one David had hoped for, it was still an answer. And God was still God. Despite a sorrowful “no” to days of prayer, despite a crushing loss, God was still a God who deserved worship, whose plans are perfect, and who loves his servants more than we will ever fathom. 

How often is that our response to an answer of “no”? When we know the Lord has answered and His answer is not the one we hoped for, do we get up and worship? Or is our behavior more like one of a petulant child? Or—even worse—is it disobedience, as we push through that no and keep moving in the same direction we desired, even when we know we should not? 

David, who had received quite possibly the most difficult loss of all, the loss of a child, responded by getting up, and going to the Lord with worship. Even as David grieved for his son, he recognized the majesty and worthiness of his Lord God Almighty. 

So it should be with us. Even as we grieve a loss, or process what to do in the face of a “no”, God is still a God worthy of worship and we are blessed to be called His. We are thankful He is a God who hears and answers. He draws us close. He comforts those who mourn and graciously fills our hearts with peace. He has loved us since the beginning of time and his thoughts for us outnumber the sand. He is good. All the time. 


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Lessons from Vacation Bible School

This week my children and I have been attending Vacation Bible School at our church. It has been a delightful week. I love seeing all the children worship and dance. They have had fun learning new songs, doing crafts, and playing games. They’ve been learning that whatever may come, Jesus is there to rescue us. He is there when we worry, when we struggle, when we are lonely. 

We got a devastating phone call today. I knew as soon as she said hello that something was wrong. And then bad news. And questions…unanswered questions that leave us with sadness and an undetermined amount of waiting ahead. 

I hung up the phone with an empty feeling in my heart and one big question in my head: “Did I hear you wrong, Lord?” All week long, this very piece of my life had been pressing on my mind and heart and I had stopped many times to pray for the Lord to move. And now…I wonder…is this His “no”, or “wait”? Either way it is not the resounding ‘yes’ my heart desired. 

I sat quietly with my questions and the words of the children’s VBS song echoed in my mind…”Through every storm of life, I know you’re by my side. And I am holding on to your promises. You are the God who holds my future and my dreams…” Then a gentle whisper said, “Do you really believe all that you are teaching these children?”

Do I? Do I believe He is the God who holds my future and my dreams? That He never lets go? That He is here to rescue me in the middle of heartbreak? 

I do. I recount all the times He has been faithful and know He will always be so. I look back at all the times His way was the best way and know that His way will continue to be so. Even in the middle of grief, He is here with me. 

Tomorrow the children and I will sing again. And the words will ring intimately true as my tender heart continues to grieve. I am thankful for His Word that is timeless. As I teach children, He teaches me. As I pray for their sweet hearts to know Him, He pulls me closer and shows me that I, too, can learn to know and trust him even more.  

Monday, April 9, 2018

1 Year Home, Part 2: Changing Together

I have said it before, and I will say it again. The hardest part of traveling to China alone, was coming home alone. While I was in China finalizing our adoption of Laura, the trip itself was fun at times, exhausting at others, full of adventure, and life changing. While I was there, I felt the prayers of my family and friends at home. The Lord sustained me in times of fatigue and gave me a brave heart that was able to enjoy the sweet time with my newest daughter and fall in love with her country.

We came home to our family and I was so happy to see them all and be together again. But...something inside me had changed and I couldn't...nor did I want to...go back to the "before." It wasn't a flashy change or something that any stranger would notice. But, my husband noticed and called me "post China Amy", sometimes in a more endearing way than others. I struggled internally to integrate back into American society. Truth be told, I had no desire to be back in American society. If Robert had been on board, I would have sold everything and moved overseas to serve the orphans in some way...any way. It was difficult to process all these feelings alone. It was difficult to have this life changing event without my husband there with me.

When travel approval came for Howie, we were thrilled that it worked out so that we could go together this time. We had several people in our life willing and able to care for our children and several people in our life who kept telling us it was important for Robert to be there this time (and we agreed.) I packed and prepared with excitement. I couldn't wait to hold our son. I couldn't wait to get back to China. I couldn't wait for noodles. I couldn't wait to hug several guides who I loved and I couldn't wait to share everything I loved with the man I love. Part of me did worry he wouldn't love it...and then what? "Please don't ruin China." is what I said as we headed to the airport that dark morning in April.

Then, we traveled for a long time. We climbed the Great Wall and met families with shared desires to grow their families through the blessing of adoption.  We met our son on a day that Robert would later describe as "one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen". We visited the orphanage and saw the hundreds of beds.  We walked the streets of Zhengzhou and Guangzhou together and fell in love with China together. And then came home together, and had each other to process through all the change and feelings and aches.

Although Robert still is not on board with selling everything and moving overseas, we do share an ache for the children we left behind and a love for adoption. We flinch at the "easy button" that so many desire to push, and laugh at the all the interesting conversations our little family creates. We love our children with our whole hearts and know we have room for more. Room in our hearts, room in our home. Because adoption and China changed us forever. And we thank God for that. Our lives are blessed beyond measure by the six precious hearts the Lord has placed in our family. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be their parents.


Sunday, April 8, 2018

One Year Home, Part 1: Howard Derek

It is hard to believe a whole year has passed since we met Howie for the first time. In many ways, it feels like yesterday that we stood waiting for him arrive, watching other families from our group be united with their children. But, since then, our family has packed up and moved to a new state and settled in to a new home and routine. The year has been busy and good for all of us.

In many ways, Howie's adoption and integration into our family has been a "best case scenario." When we adopted both he and Laura, we went into the adoptions hoping for all the best case scenarios but knowing full well, and trying to prepare for, less than best cases. Medically, Howie is a healthy boy. He was diagnosed in China with hydrocephalus and has a strange scar on the side of his head. (The neurologist here called it a "witch doctor scar.") We will never know what happened in his life before us, but we do know he does not have hydrocephalus. He has a larger than average head, but a healthy brain, and that is what really matters.

Howie adjusted quickly to our family and our home and is a delight to us. He is funny and brave. He is rough and tumble and "all boy". He loves to jump off of everything (which has resulted in more than one injury...all minor, thankfully!). He builds with blocks and legos. He loves trains and asks to dump out the tracks daily. He was afraid of water and swimming when he first got home, but he loves it now. He enjoys the beach and the pool. He loves to ride his tricycle and scooter outside and play in the dirt in the backyard. He is everything a four year old boy should be. He loves his siblings and plays well with all of them (most of the time!)

We talked as a family about what we will always remember about Howie's first year with us and here are our top five: (Most are comical because that is who Howie is!) :)

1. Howie used to yell at us in mandarin. He learned English very quickly (he was saying words and short phrases before we left China), but when he was angry, his words were still in mandarin. We tried to use Google Translate to figure out what he was saying, but I guess his language was a 3 year old's version of mandarin and that didn't compute, because we rarely could figure out what he was saying. Robert used to say "I think when we can understand him, he may be in trouble." He would also sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" in mandarin in the car. I do wish we could have preserved that language for him in some way.

2. Jumping, jumping, jumping. Howie jumps off of stairs and curbs...any time a jump is possible, he prefers that to stepping every time. The day before his medical appointment in China, he jumped off of a little bridge at the hotel park and hit his head. We went to the medical appointment with an egg shaped knot on his forehead. He has had similar injuries throughout the year, but he still loves to jump!

3. He has the best little giggle and smile! He is one of those kids that smiles with his whole face and it is darling. And his sweet cheeks...I could kiss them all day.

4. Funniest/grossest story of the year: Shortly after we moved into our house in North Carolina, I was unpacking downstairs and the 3 year olds were playing in the girls' room upstairs. It got quiet. I got nervous and went upstairs. I walked into the bathroom and Howie was wet all over. His head was wet. His shirt was wet. His arms were dripping. Strangely, his feet and legs were dry. I looked around...the bath was dry...why was he wet? I asked him and he just stared at me. I asked Rachel and she paused before saying: "Howie stuck his head in the potty." Ummm....what???? "WHY???" was my response. "To save our toys." Rachel replied. Yep. They had flushed toys. Some were still floating. Some were stuck in the pipes. Some were stuck in the bend of the toilet. A plumber, new toilet, and long shower later, it is funny. It is really funny, actually. Pretty gross at the moment though. So...Howie is the kid that will stick his arms (and head) in the toilet in effort to save his sisters' dolls.

5. Howie fell in love with Paw Patrol as soon as we got home. He loves it. Christmas and his birthday were all about Paw Patrol and he currently has a fleet of Paw Patrol trucks in his room. It goes nicely with Jacob's garbage truck and firetruck fleets. They are a good pair.

It has been a lovely year with our Hao Hao! We are thankful we got the opportunity to be his family and thankful that we said yes to one more! It sounded crazy at the time...but it has been fun so far and we look forward to many more years of fun together. This crew keeps us smiling!








Monday, January 22, 2018

A Season of Rest

“Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” –Matthew 11:28

Sometimes our days are so busy, it is not until we finally lay our heads down at night that we finally feel our fatigue.  We all have those days…when the flurry of activity does not subside until heads are on pillows.  We all have days when the only time we sit is to drive our children to an event, weeks of full calendars and constant movement, months of endless activity. And then, when it is over, sleep overcomes us, and we long for a few days, weeks or months of rest and peace.  

We recently came out of a season of business: several years that felt like constant change and movement and very little rest.  A few years of the Lord’s seemingly constant calls to “Go”, “Move”, “Go”, “Do”, “Yes!” His blessings were numerous as He called us to constant change. Other than the tangible blessings of added children, one of the most precious blessings for us was one of endurance and faithfulness, as from 2014 to 2017 we gave birth to our daughter, moved across the country, went to China and adopted our daughter, went to China again and adopted our son, and then moved across the country again.  All the while, we also tried our very best to nurture and care for our children as we walked through and rejoiced in these busy years.  

Peace came after we finally landed here in North Carolina.  As we settled in and started our home school routine, it was now just the children and me.  No adoption paperwork.  No moving boxes.  No looming commitments.  Just us. Day in and day out: teaching, learning, building with blocks, playing kitchen, riding bikes, reading books, making meals, exploring new museums, snuggling in front of movies, playing at the park, enjoying each other.  As the weeks passed, I noticed in this peace, we were becoming even more closely knit than before.  

In this period of peace and slower days, the Lord is teaching me that He is here in the everyday too.  As we worked through two adoptions and two moves, it was easy to feel my need for the Lord’s strength and easy to see Him moving in big ways.  Although adopting and moving were both hard, it was also—dare I say it?—fun to step far outside our normal to do work He was calling us to.  In those years of turmoil and busy activity, I leaned heavily on the Lord for guidance, endurance, hope, and courage.  Now, I knew He was calling us to a quieter season and I felt some anxiety about my relationship with Him.  Would He still whisper truths to me as I moved through weeks that ran together in seemingly identical days?  Would my Spirit still ache for time with him without the pressing need of huge life events? 

I have been humbled and delighted at just how often He still speaks to me in this time of stillness and quiet.  It’s not the big events that cause me to hear His voice, but the condition of my heart.  I am reminded of Psalm 51: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it, you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart.”  Although He may call us to do, go, and be, it is not the act He desires most: but the willing, obedient heart and spirit.  

I do hear His whispers still.  And I see Him move.  He teaches me now of contentment in sameness.  My joy overflows as I get to be at home, experiencing school and life with my children.  He whispers truths about caring for their hearts, teaching them, protecting them, advocating for them, and praying over them.

There is joy in the peace and stillness.  There is joy because He is still here.  He has given us this sweet season of rest, and we are soaking up every moment.  Even as we enjoy this season, we hear Him say “There is more work ahead…” and we know He has more for us to “do”, “go”, and “move”. The vision is becoming clear but it is not for now…for now, we enjoy His presence and His directive to just “Be still.”