Friday, October 18, 2013

Thus Far.

Three years ago today, we met Tabbi, Heather and Ty for the first time as they came to live with us. 

God took two very imperfect adults and made them a little less selfish and a little more patient. 

He took three tiny broken hearts and helped them discover that they are wanted and made them the heroes of our family's story. 

His love has truly covered a multitude of things and against all odds he breathed on us, creating a family where five strangers once stood. 

Year Three has been the best yet, full of wonder and connection and what felt exhaustingly impossible and elusive early on, and all of you -- OUR PEOPLE -- know that he did what he said. 

God. It was just all him. Every page of this tale has held his fingerprint-his stamp of new life- beginning when he trusted us with these awesome kids, and he has been the thread woven throughout our little tribe, holding us and stitching us back together when we felt everything unravel-sometimes with them, sometimes with us. 

He took an interest in healing them (and us, in a lot of ways) and our breath has caught in our throats over how GOOD he is at this kind of thing.

There is always going to be more healing work to be done, but today I turn around and echo the words of Samuel as he set a stone of remembrance
--an Ebenezer--
"Thus far The Lord has helped us." 

With a big wink to the heavens, today I am raising my Ebenezer, my stone of remembrance. 

I'm astounded as I whisper "I won't forget what you've done here, Lord. I won't forget this."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Scar + The Sacred.

We were sitting around the table one evening last weekend reading a Bible story with the girls before bed.

"What do you treasure?" I asked, wondering about whether they had been paying attention.
Predictably, my younger daughter grinned wide. "PRESENTS!"
I chuckled and looked at my eldest, asking her the same thing. "Food," she spoke carefully.

The moment the word tumbled out, I was reminded again that three-year-olds don't quickly forget what it's like to know the deep ache in their stomach. There's a fancy term for it: food insecurity. Sometimes at six, she still gets nervous that there won't be enough for tomorrow, so she asks for a snack every night just to make sure.

I quickly gathered myself as best I could, changed the subject, and put them in bed before I fell apart inside. I hate it that she is still struggling with this..that even after years of faithfully providing meals for her, her fear of going hungry still lingers.
Sometimes I forget that I am parenting little ones with deeper emotional wounds than that of many adults I know. Almost three years into this journey, those wounds are healing and the hurts are harder to spot perhaps, but the evidence remains: some wounds leave scars, and the wound of neglect cuts to the quick.

Seth was preaching on Sacraments recently and he spoke of them as Sacred Moments - experiences where God's grace and our lives intersect, times where the human and the Holy miraculously collide.
Where were my most sacred moments? Some were undoubtedly the Sacraments recognized by Christians everywhere -- when I experienced baptism as an adult, our wedding day, some really moving times of Communion, the night I answered the call to ministry. Those were all occasions when God came near in a unique way and his presence made a life-altering imprint on my heart.

But if I am honest, surely the most sacred - meaning the most hushed, hallowed, consecrated
times - where I felt the weight of glory heaviest on my soul, have taken place as God stitched up my deeply broken heart.
The moments that the glory of God most markedly covered me were the ones when I was most injured by the harsh reality of life in a fallen world. It has been in Christ's repair shop that I have most fully experienced the loving presence of a faithful God: in tragedy, sorrow, disappointment, regret, and others' sins against me.

So basically, all the moments I have desperately tried to avoid with all diligence are the ones where I become the most intimately acquainted with my Savior.

Scars aren't as ugly if you know Jesus better because of them.


She mentioned her "first mommy" tonight and I sensed grief weighing on her so heavily that it was hard for me to breathe. "Why doesn't she ever come around? How come she left?" Sometimes she asks if her other mom is in Heaven; after all, that's where my mom is and she sees me grieve the loss from time to time... it makes perfect sense if you're six and you feel a loss deeply. Questions I can't answer or explain away, hurts too deep for any cheap talk, and broken promises too big to ignore. Scars that can't be seen by the naked eye.

And yet, those scars could run headlong into a Sacred time of leaning into her Savior. 

In the middle of the sadness, may she hear whispers of truth and love and an even more meaningful adoption where she will find the grace of her Heavenly Father in the midst of these deep disappointments.

May she find the Bread of Life most fulfilling because she once knew the pang of hunger.

May she know that truly, he never leaves of forsakes or disappears or runs away when things get tough -- oh no, that's not his style. He prefers to sit with her and enter into the pain along with her as he tenderly works to bring healing in the broken places. Some people might not know this about him, but He delights in becoming a refuge, a safe place to get angry and throw hands up and ask why this world wields such dangerous weapons.

May she find this above all:  
He too bore the scars so that he might simultaneously know how it feels AND fix it. 
He added value to our suffering, which is the definition of redemption. She will need to know that it doesn't happen for naught...God so longed to have deep, meaningful, life-giving fellowship with her that he was willing to do so over a bowl of her tears.

Her Sacred Moments will be much richer because he will come to her as a Healer. Not some far-off God, but a loving Dad who entered into the pain with her - by going to the deep wound and cleaning it, and also ending that wound's hold on her through the loving nail-scarred hands.


The Sacred One continues to meet humanity in the Holy scars, the ones in which we find healing. He is inviting my precious daughter into it. He invites you as well, with a promise only He can make. "For the suffering of this time, while very small and swift, prepares us great glory without limits for the eternity of eternities."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Feast of Love.

I forgot to warn her.

A friend stayed the night at my house one weekend, and she attended church with my family at the Lutheran church in which I was raised. We went through the Communion line, her at my heels. After receiving, I headed back to my seat when I felt a sharp poke in my back.

“You didn’t tell me!” she hissed.

“Tell you what?!”

“WINE! It was wine and it was gross and I almost spit it out by accident. It burned my throat!” My very Baptist friend had her first sip of the legit fruit of the vine and to say the least, it caught her off-guard.

We couldn’t keep from giggling through the remainder of the liturgy.

Our time at the Table is sacred, no doubt.

But a pastor pointed out to me a couple of years ago that perhaps we shouldn’t look so glum and down-in-the-dumps as we approach Communion. It’s not only a memorial service, he said, but a celebration of life – new life given through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He compared our experiences during the Lord’s Supper to photos of his loved ones on his desk – pictures that remind him of joyous days and celebrations, moments of love and grace and even perhaps redemption, forever captured. We can come to Communion with a smile, remembering all the ways Jesus has offered us liberty and the many ways we enjoy it.

This feast of love, this celebration, this remembrance, this beautiful mystery – is held in as many ways as the Body of Christ is unique. I’ve shared the fellowship of Christ using crackers and water and I’ve felt His presence with good friends around barbecue. I told you before I felt it at Pizza Hut (of all places, showing me that God can work anywhere). Can that be Communion?

My favorite story about this subject is the one my friend Matt tells, of watching two men with special needs sharing God’s Table at a summer camp. They used doughnuts and juice and then one man scraped the icing out of the fingernails of the other man.

May I suggest that Christ was found more in those doughnuts and that glass of juice than in what many would consider a “proper” sharing of the Lord’s Supper?

I think that doughnuts and juice thing is what Jesus had in mind when He said, “Remember Me” - servanthood was definitely His style, and as we remember Him, we remember the way He loved people and put them before tradition. 

Jesus – the Great Joy Giver. One-third of the Godhead who makes dry bones…well, dance.

Would he not want us to laugh and love our way to His Holy table? Is that not the way he lived? Enjoying the presence of real sinners? Laughing with them? Swapping stories?

The elements of Communion are found almost everywhere – a little wheat, a little fruit of the vine. The everyday made sacred - the mundane set apart as holy. Was this a coincidence, or was it meant to remind us during EVERY meal we share in which Jesus is glorified and people are sharing a feast of love and grace with one another?

Two little girls at our church were sharing Communion a few years ago – it was one of the first times after they had both made professions of faith. The two girls were best friends and happened to be sitting next to each other, so in the spirit of love, friendship, joy, and some sort of sisterhood of the traveling Communion, they clinked their itsy-bitsy glasses together before drinking the juice.

Of course, their parents explained to them all the reasons it wasn’t a proper thing to do, as I would do with my own children.

We still laugh about that on the front row every first-Sunday-of-the-month. But a little part of me wonders, did they understand more about the spirit of the Feast of Love than I do?

God never wanted the memorial of His son to become the memorial of all my sins instead, where I feel so depressed that all I can remember are my shortcomings, and I forget His more than sufficient grace. That’s why He asks us to deal with that stuff and examine ourselves BEFORE we approach the table.

The two little girls – maybe they were on to something. I’m not saying we should toast one another when the tiny cups come out. But maybe we could enter into the joy Jesus finds in redeeming us, in raising us to new life, and in waiting on us to share it anew with Him in His Kingdom.

I reckon that would be a meaningful and joyful feast of love.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

It's Hard to Get the Mayo Back in the Jar.

In my hometown, there is a delightful restaurant where carhops come to my car window to take my order. This place has this celestial combination of every good condiment on earth mixed with a touch of sugar. They call it special sauce and I am fairly certain it's on God's hamburgers. It gets along famously with the tenderloins and baskets of fried cheese served daily at this hometown hangout.

My attempts at making my own  little version of said delicious condiment of mystery went slightly left of perfect tonight.
Instead of taking the extra 3.62 seconds to grab a spoon and scoop out an appropriate portion of mayonnaise, I impulsively picked up the mayo and (go 'head, shake your heads) shook the bottle until some came out. And by some, I mean a humongous mayo-jar-shaped glob that would make the guy on Man vs. Food blush.

Like any mediocre cook, I panicked.
And then it prevailed upon me that I should take a small spoon and scoop some unblemished mayonnaise back into the container. I tried to do just that, but I could only get a couple of spoonfuls back in the jar, and boy, did it ever make a massive mess.

The same thing happened to me earlier today.
Only it wasn't a condiment that splatted everywhere , but rather my careless, thoughtless words.
I deeply hurt someone I love very much. Instead of taking a few seconds to evaluate my words, change them into something encouraging and uplifting, they came rolling violently out. And although I apologized, there was no getting all that verbal mayonnaise back into the jar unscathed.

The thing about words is that they do hurt.

No matter how unconsciously those little daggers leave our voice boxes, they WILL land somewhere and no matter how sorry we are, we cannot reach up collect those words from the air into which we so hastily spoke them.

I wish I could get my words back into that ole mayonnaise jar. Sadly, that's just not an option.

What I CAN do is learn from my little "special sauce" disaster and my ugly words and vow to take a few extra moments to make sure my words will build up and create next time instead of breaking down and destroying.

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Proverbs 12:18


"And I've concluded something else. That the words people say to us not only have shelf life but have the ability to shape life."
Bob Goff, Love Does

Friday, November 30, 2012

Welcoming Jesus: Forgotten Friday.

This following blog is in partnership with a fantastic organization called The Forgotten Initiative, a branch of Lifesong for Orphans. The Forgotten Initiative focuses on "bringing joy and purpose to the foster care community," and if you've been hanging around here for very long, you know that is right up The A* Team's alley! I am the voice today for a series on their blog called "Forgotten Friday." I hope you'll join me as we make a difference for foster children and their families through the power of story.


The first time I preached after we welcomed our children into our home, it was during the Advent Season. I mentioned to my husband in passing how I related to Mary in a totally different context, not just as a first-time mom, but as a foster mom, and he asked me to expound on that in the pulpit.

Honestly, I found her story anew because I was a special kind of desperate. 

Continue reading over here at TFI's Blog.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Just Wanted to Let You Know...

...about this:

I may or may not have overflowed my bathroom sink while looking at it.

The children have already affectionately picked names.
Heather likes Sleeping Beauty.
Tabbi likes "Hannah Tana" (smh).
Ty likes 'PiderMan.

Welcome to our crazy life, Baby A!

Yes, the LORD has done amazing things for us! What joy!
Psalm 126:3 (NLT)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

To My Girls: A Letter About Legacy.

“Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it onto future generations.”
{George Bernard Shaw}

Dearest Tabbitha and Heather,

You would have loved her.

She was funny and she loved popcorn too and she had this sweet little way of patting my hand just like you do, H.

Her name was Mamaw Cheryl. She was my mommy. She changed my life. 
It's very important that I do my best to introduce you to her legacy.

You both saw me crying on Friday and your sweet little hearts grieved with me, unsure of what had jilted our little basket of fun. I carefully tried to carve out some words that wouldn't confuse or scare you but were also honest. It was, as always, tricky for me to explain. Honestly, it's hard for me to tell big people.

My mommy died. Even five years later, I still get so, so sad. She will be with Jesus forever but I sure do miss her something fierce.

Girls, I want to tell you a most important secret. In one of my favorite movies (you can't see it until you are 35, so don't even ask), the main character says something I want you to always remember.

Every man dies, not every man really lives.

My mama, she did it. She really lived.
She made people feel loved and valued. She let me lick the beaters. She made Uncle Ry-Ry's favorite tomato salad whenever he was in town. She washed, folded, and ironed my laundry every weekend I brought it home from college. (Not going to happen for you. There's too many of you that will be in college at once.) She ran a successful business not because she made a lot of money, but because she made a difference in her community. She was married to the same man for just shy of forty years.
She birthed me at 36, God bless her.

She occasionally colored her words with sentence enhancers and she could get angry if anybody wasn't getting a fair shake or somebody messed with her children. She was not perfect and was a not a good money manager at times. I don't want you to think she was perfect, she would have hated that.
Her discernment could make bad folks uncomfortable and made folks who were poor in spirit feel like the richest man in the room.

I guess you could say she was a heck of a lady.

She had many, many different hairstyles through the years, and when all that hair fell out several times, she encouraged us not to do the supportive thing because, she pointed out irreverently, "Two baldys in the family is enough!" She was making fun of Papaw's bald head.

Under advisement of her nine-year-old, she got her hair whacked off when yours truly told her, "Mom, you should get it cut like Katie Couric!" What a good sport.

She prayed and believed and got to work to change her city. She brought all the churches together in unity to meet the needs of people who didn't have enough to eat and couldn't keep warm in the winter or cool in the summer. 

One time, she marched around a building in the middle of Loogootee seven whole times (just like our Bible buddy Joshua) because some greedy people wanted to make that building into a place that exploited young women and put the town at risk. 

It worked.

She loved high heels, Casual Corner, and cruises to exotic places. She told me of one of her travels where she saw a flower that bloomed, but once it was touched by human hands, it closed, never to bud again. Her life was kind of like that. We all enjoyed the gift of Mamaw Cheryl for a little while, just long enough to truly savor the beauty.

Her girlfriends like Aunt Julie got together and made her a beautiful quilt. It has lots of squares and pictures, and I look forward to telling you all the stories, like why there's a Diet Mountain Dew logo (two words: Uncle CURT) and why my quilt square looks like a junior high boy designed it (long story. I'm not that artistic, you know).  

I sat beside her bed and I watched this awful disease called Cancer make her very, very sick. I know you won't understand this until you get older, but she taught me how to live and die, all for the glory of God. 
She championed the underdog right up until the end, ministering to broken and hurting nurses, encouraging her friends. 

She shaped your life in so many ways.

Uncle Ry Ry had them play "Don't Worry Baby" by the Beach Boys at her funeral. It was one of her favorites, and she always went the extra mile so the people around her wouldn't feel anxiety or fear.

Your own mama learned a lot from Mamaw Cheryl. She was one of the best. I have tried to take her parenting strategies, add my own little brand of mama sparkle, and ask for a TON of help from The Big Guy in order to parent you. When I have you say "I Will Be A Mighty Woman of God, AMEN!" every night, it's her face I picture.

Mamaw Cheryl once told my friend Krystal something as Mamaw battled for her life. She told Krystal that she was proud of the woman I was becoming and that she knew I'd do great things.

I say the same to you two, my little women, today. You're a chip off your Mamaw's block and I see her fire for right and true in your green and brown eyes. 

This is your legacy from Mamaw Cheryl: fun, (mostly) fearless female who touched Heaven with her prayers and changed her community by seeing Jesus in every face.

She didn't meet you, but she has shaped little pieces of your life for the better through the power of Christ. She left the generations who follow her a better idea for what on earth as it is in Heaven might really look like.

Speaking of Heaven, you've asked me a lot of questions about what it will be like, what Mamaw Cheryl is doing, if I will have to go to Heaven just like my mommy did and leave you alone, what Jesus DOES UP THERE ALL THE TIME, and so on. I wish I could tell you a lot about it, but I'm not that sure, and some of the best things in life are really mysteries. Daddy always says that there are so few good surprises left in life, so I guess Heaven will be one of them for us. 

But true to form, I remembered a song on Friday, when Mamaw Cheryl had been gone five long years, and I think you should read some of the words, not because it answers your questions, but because when you read them, the questions may not matter as much anymore.

Death can be so inconvenient.
You try to live and love. It comes and interrupts.
And what do I know? What do I know?

Well,I don't know that there are harps in heaven,
Or the process for earning your wings.
And I don't know of bright lights at the ends of tunnels,
Or any of these things.

But I know to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord, 
and from what I know of him, that must be pretty good.
Oh, I know to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord, 
and from what I know of him, that must be very good.

Here are a few things I want you to remember. Thinking of Mamaw Cheryl reminded me of them. She was always telling me stuff that mattered. I hope I'm doing the same for you, so here goes:

Communicate with God. Talk to Him a lot. He sure loves hearing from you, and it means something to people when you talk to God about them. If you don't know what to do or say, pray for them. You won't feel helpless anymore because you're calling on a God who is so "Powerful" (right Tabbi?) and He always knows how to help. So don't be bashful. Just talk to Him.

Make other people feel important. In this family, we value people. We try to value their stories and their journeys and feel their troubles. Make many people feel like they are the only person in the world while they are talking to you. I'm still working on modeling this for you-but we will keep learning together.

Listen to ABBA. Heaven forbid I would raise a child who do not know the words to Waterloo or cut off the radio when Dancing Queen comes on. Life's too short to take yourselves too seriously.

Take risks. March around a building or two in your lifetime and don't give a Fig Newton if somebody laughs at you. This will only make you more reliant on Christ's opinion of you. If you want to be a mighty woman of God, you'll need to just look for His wink and nobody else's.

Don't put things off. Your Mamaw Cheryl and I always talked about going to Broadway, but we missed our chance. Be careful talking about tomorrow. If I've learned anything, it's that we never have tomorrow. Only today.

Live in crazy love with Jesus. This is how you make it triumphant through a mean old world full of cynicism and dread. You have hope and the world needs to know who is the reason for it. Shine your light wherever He sends you.

I can only hope that I'll be half the mother to you that I had. 

You will change the world, Pickle Pants Squared. Your Mamaw Cheryl did.

Love you like ice cream,