The Weight of the Wait (and Other Adoption Struggles)

Reading back through a journal can be an abrasive revelation of the state of your heart.

In July of 2013 we’d completed all the tedious Dadoption paperwork, the thorough twelve evening fostering classes, background check and more.  The day we were licensed was like a giant breath in with no thought of exhaling.  Possibility was all I saw on the rosy horizon and my heart swelled with such noble prayers as this one:

July 16, 2013
“I pray that it [adoption] would be your will…that it would be a situation that accomplishes far more than just bringing a life or lives into our family…that you would accomplish justice through this adoption. And while I pray it happens soon, I trust your timing…”

Except I was still holding my breath, in case He hadn’t noticed.  I didn’t really trust His timing; I trusted mine.  I’d put in all the “hard work” and faith of preparing for adoption, and I thought God’s job was to now wave His wand and give me a baby.  Now-ish. The waiting wasn’t part of my plan, and my excitement wore thin.  Less than a month later, my enthusiasm gave way to cautious vulnerability:

August 4th, 2013
“…as I try to process waiting an unknown amount of time for an unknown child in an unknown situation I begin to think of pregnancy as the obviously easier option to increasing our family. Except it’s not an option…it is very hard- I keep seeing babies everywhere and my heart is so ready for another baby.”

My heart hadn’t changed, I was simply becoming more honest.

When you adopt through the foster care system, you get to choose ahead of time what characteristics of a child you are open to or medical issues you feel capable of dealing with.  Are you open to a child of any race?  What age range are you hoping for?  Could you take in a child who has had sexual abuse, drug or alcohol exposure during pregnancy, a family history of mental illness?  If the child is older, what behavioral issues are you comfortable handling?

We were open to a child (or very young sibling set) under three of any race with possible drug or alcohol exposure and minor medical issues, but we didn’t feel we could handle a severe medical issue.  Still, we were counseled to draw our lines of preference a little wider than our comfort zone to stay as open as possible to a match.

Once licensed, you receive calls or emails about children who need homes as they come into care.  As hard as it is to etch your preference in ink, it’s horrifying to have to say no to a little person with nothing theoretical about him.  We had to say no to several children for a variety of reasons, but we believed it was better to know our limitations with two small children already in our home than to say yes out of guilt.

Yet as hard as it was to say no to a child, it felt just as hard to not be chosen for a child.

Even if you agree to take a child that comes into care, you still don’t know if you’ll be placed with that child.  There are many other families in the state waiting as well, and every family that says “yes” to a child gets sorted through to determine the best placement for the child.  If you’re among the final few families chosen, you’re part of the “teaming” process where social workers go through each detailed family profile to match the child with a family.

If you’re chosen, you still have an opportunity to decide that you can’t take the child after hearing their full story and history and sometimes meeting the child.  After being chosen and officially agreeing to take the child, you begin the foster to adopt process.

I kept a notebook of all the children we said “yes” to.  Little did I know we would agree to twenty-six children before actually being placed with a child.  My prayers shifted again:

October 12, 2013
“I’m disappointed. I felt like we prayed with sincere and earnest hearts. I feel like we are being obedient to a calling. So it hurts when God does not seem to be answering our prayers.

January 14, 2014
“I don’t doubt God’s ability- I begin to doubt His willingness to help- that I’ve got to do more- be better- pray another “dumb” prayer cycle with other people- that God isn’t going to answer till I’ve done all that…

Was God unable to help me, or was He unwilling or…was it me?

I had trouble relaxing into God’s plan, into His purpose. If I could convince myself that it all still depended on me, then I could be in control again.  Waiting was like a heavy weight pressing so hard on me that my fear, need for control and doubts were pressed out into the open.

Waiting comes in shades, you know.  Sometimes we wait on what we know will inevitably come, like a holiday or the end of school.  That waiting is bright and clear, illuminated by checked off calendar boxes and heralded by changing seasons.  A wait to be placed with a child is the color charcoal, thick with fog.  It’s the pain of unmet expectation amplified by uncertainty.

pixabay.com

Waiting brought me to a point of honesty with God, of learning somehow to trust who He is outside of what my circumstances were.  Looking back I know I needed that time of being stretched by waiting on God, but it didn’t see it in the middle.  In fact, just days before we were placed, when our miracle was ripening, I pleaded with God yet again:

February 4, 2014
“God I’m losing hope. Nothing has landed yet…I know you are God- that you can do whatever you want- I know that none can know your ways or seek out your thoughts. Yet I stand here, begging you to give us another child. I don’t want to feel like giving up- don’t want to keep waiting with no promise- no hope and no answers- no action. I feel helpless and hopeless and I’m becoming despondent. Please fill me and hear me.”

Less than a week after that prayer my social worker called and asked me if I was sitting down.  He told me we’d been chosen for a little newborn boy- an emergency placement child that needed to be taken home straight from the hospital…today.  I frantically called my husband, crying, and told our two young children that they were getting a new brother.  (Surprise!)

I’d have prepared a bit more if I’d known- maybe washed my hair at least.  I’d have remembered to bring a camera, that’s for sure.  And yet I would have missed out on a different kind of miracle from within the waiting.

The wait gave way to a whirlwind of formula, doctor visits and social workers.  I’ll share more about the post-placement story later, but know this about adoption: If you feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty, you’re not alone.  Maybe you’ve been praying longer, wrestling harder, and still don’t have your answer.  Or maybe you’re like some friends I know whose joy was granted then put on hold again…indefinitely.  I don’t want to pretend that every adoption story ends in cute blue booties or perfect pink ribbons.

The pain of waiting is that you don’t know what’s on the other end or when you’ll be able to exhale again.  But I also believe that if you’re willing, you will learn something in the waiting that you could never experience in only chasing what you know you can achieve or create on your own.

I pray that God will sustain you through whatever your wait is, and teach you more about Himself and your own heart through the weight of the wait.


OTHER STORIES OF WAIT AND OBSTACLES…

Terry: (International Adoption- Korea)- Part of the home study is a full discloser on each parent. Writing is not hubby’s specialty, so we devised an alternative method- we videotaped the Q&A.

[Obstacle of waiting:] identifying why another child was brought over when mine was “next” and all papers were completed x2!!

A big situation developed when we pursued the second adoption. I had wanted a large family, adoption costs were high so hubby said no more after second one. I tried to adopt a sibling group or multiple birth baby from Korea. You pay once for USA fees and 2x Korean fees. I received a call after about 18 months of waiting. Not going to happen, would I accept a single child? I was about to turn 35 in January so said yes, a girl. It broke my heart as I did not believe 2 kids made a large family. We received a call in Feb that a baby was available, only was positive for Hep B. I only had 3 restrictions, “no Hep B, HIV or inoperable physical defects” . This baby was Hep B pos. I called a dear friend, MD who used to work in Korea for years. She advised me to pass on this baby, as child would have issues being placed in daycare (remember this is early 1990). It killed me to pass this baby on but we did. 3 days later, we received another call for a baby. This was E. I had problems connecting with her. I was so angry that she wasn’t 2+babies. She was quite demanding of physical attention (at 24 still is, lol) so much so I had to quit teaching Lamaze classes out of my home. It probably took me about 6 months to finally accept the finality of our family and fully connect with her. She is not the worse for wear.
FYI – D was never a clingy baby. He preferred to sit near, not on our laps.

God taught me to trust Him through this process. He showed me that He knows more than I do about what I need or can handle. E kept us busy as if we had a houseful!

Caroline: (foster-to-adopt)The process of getting calls was really intense and emotionally difficult. Sometimes we had to say no to children because we knew it wasn’t the right fit for our family, but it was very difficult to say no to a child in need of a home. Saying yes was also scary and exciting.

It was also very difficult as we fostered our daughter to accept the possibility that we could lose her if there were biological family members capable of caring for her. Living in uncertainty is very challenging.

Another challenging aspect of adopting through foster care is acknowledging the loss involved. We felt compassion for our baby’s birth mother who had to suffer through losing a child. We wanted to fully enjoy and appreciate our baby while also carrying the weight of the brokenness in the situation.

Lisa: (Private US Adoption) Honestly we were lucky and didn’t have any major obstacles. We had minor obstacles such as the wait time felt like an eternity. Our adoption agency, American Adoptions, was really good at keeping us informed and staying in touch with us through the process…it can be a long process.  [A]t times you will feel all you are doing is paperwork and paperwork that tells all the small details about your life. The waiting can be hard and seem like it can take forever but in the long run the wait is totally worth it.

Pamela: (International Adoption- Ethiopia) We struggled with waiting almost a year to be match to a sibling group. Our first match was with twin boys who were said to have a deceased father but this was discovered not to be true. After that we were shortly later matched to a sibling group of a boy and girl whose mother was supposed to be deceased. That adoption went through and we brought them into our family only to learn that both their birth parents are alive.
We also had to advocate for adjusting school work and emotional support since our children were only labeled a ELL students. I initially homeschooled and then pushed in the classroom to help facilitate all the necessary adjustments.  We also struggled with helping a child deal with sexual abuse trauma.

Briana: (Foster-to-Adopt) My husband was very against a 3rd child and adoption, for the fear of the unknown. I kept praying about it and trusting God had a plan and would change his heart. If one of you in a relationship feels that way I encourage you to not give up. My life and my husband’s life is forever blessed for the gift of our daughter. I thank God everyday that he made her miraculously come into our family and complete it.  

 

 

 

Missing My Son’s Mom: An Adoption Confession

Psst…for those who are new, it’s a November Adoption Celebration Month on my blog!  Have you ever wondered or worried if you’d be able to handle a relationship with an adopted child’s birth parent?  Find courage in reading my personal story and the perspective of my friends at the end of the post!  Thanks for stopping in! 


It’s irrational to expect to meet an intimate stranger at a retail store- but welcome to my irrational imagination. I scanned the Babies “R” Us for any sign of what I believed her face must look like. Why on earth would she be here of all places? You don’t have to convince me I’m crazy. I’ve never actually met her. To be honest, I don’t even have a picture and I don’t know where she lives. But I know her name. And I know I see pieces of her in my now three year old son…because the woman I’m looking for gave birth to him.

Photo Credit: Mysticsartdesign (pixabay.com)

We have friends for whom the decision to adopt seemed quick and calculated. Our desire was always there, but we meandered and poked and investigated quite a bit before deciding to pursue a child through the foster care system. By the time we jumped in we had two young biological children, but my heart longed for another baby. After six months of licensing and home study, and seven months of waiting (a story for another time) we got a miracle phone call and our lives swelled to make room for a three day old infant with no name.

My husband found metered parking by a snow bank near the hospital in the dead of winter, me with grungy hair and a gloriously bewildered heart. We met some social workers in the lobby, then down a hall, up an elevator, wrong floor, elevator down, and stopped. That final antiseptic clean hallway we conquered is still etched in my memory. There was a small conference style room at the end on the right where we were told to wait. Wait. Wait for a little boy with a total of zero shared DNA that we’d only known about for 72 hrs.

The door opened, and they wheeled in a tiny baby with a nose that melted my heart (I’m so serious) in a slightly oversized Christmas outfit, even though the holiday was well over. Now what? With my biological children, people asked in the hospital if they could hold my baby. But this was foreign territory; a baby not from my own body. I found myself asking someone else permission to pick up that precious almost-mine child. Seven something pounds doesn’t do true justice to the weight of the miracle I held in my hands that day.

Our first family picture the night we brought our foster (soon to be adopted!) son home.

As beautiful as that hospital moment was and remains to me, it owns an untold sadness as well. Though we often want to view adoption through the celebratory lens of love that grafts a new limb on a family tree, it’s not natural for a limb to need a new tree in the first place. As I heard at an adoption group early on, no adoption story comes about without loss first. That hospital may be last place my son ever encounters his biological mom, the one who brought him into this world and carries a family history I know so little about. I had no idea how painful it would be to own just tiny scraps of the story that rightfully belongs to my son.

Initially we had some limited contact with our son’s biological brothers, and though we haven’t had the chance to see them lately, I’m beyond grateful for those moments. They’ve each been able to hold him as a baby, and one brother even passed our baby’s picture along to his biological mom. Briefly we thought a window might be opening up to meet her, but she never reached back out. I don’t judge her for it; her life is full of it’s own grief and loss, that I’ll never be able to know or erase.

Why was I so afraid of contact with the birthparents when we first started our adoption journey? In my insecurity, I couldn’t imagine trying to maintain a relationship with a woman who, in my mind, had a stronger claim to my child than I did. How agonizing might that be? But by the time we were waiting for a child, I knew in my heart that I would make room for that possibility because it would be in my child’s best interest. We would adopt not just this child, but his story as well.

I never dreamed of the pain on the other side of the coin. I never conceieved we simply wouldn’t know his mom or dad at all. In all my rosy adoption dreams, not one included me frantically searching the internet, or the aisles of a random Babies “R” Us, for a strange, precious face. I’ve dreamed of his mom and long to be able to look into her face and see my son’s eyes, or cheeks, or (bless me) his nose. I can only offer him his resemblance to his biological brothers as we have their pictures and I share them when I tell him his birth story. This is his thread-bare history-the bits and pieces of his pre-story melted into the story of how he filled our lives with joy. But I long to give him more.

Oh I know there’d be a distinct pain in the knowing, in the seeing. Maybe it would be much harder than I imagine, trying to let my son grow up knowing two moms. Would he face a more personal rejection? Would he struggle to make his two worlds fit together? I can’t speak into that because it’s not our story. But for those who have always thought like I did that it would be better not to muddle through an open adoption, communicating with your child’s biological parents, I can only say there’s a deep loss to not knowing them as well.

When we send our children off to school for the first time or to camp perhaps, we often feel we’re somehow missing a piece of who they are by not being with them. We eagerly anticipate asking them how their day was, who they played with, if anything bad happened, so we can fill in the gaps we missed. Because our child’s story is part of our story and we want to own all of it. The same is true of my adopted child: somehow I feel I’ve missed a piece of who he is by not being there to access and know the roots of his life that are invisibly intertwined with mine. There are questions I can’t ask or answer: Where did he get his whimsy and love for dance? Is his extroverted self a carbon copy of his dad? Did that smile get passed down from a great-grandfather? And those are just the tip of the iceberg. In the end, I’m simply left with swiss cheese pieces of his heritage.

Maybe one day we’ll learn a bit more about his biological mom and reconnect our son with the thread of his past that remains. In the meantime, I’m not sure I’ll ever stop wondering where she is and trying to find her face in even the least likely places. Whether I meet her or not, she’ll always be part of our story.

 


 

Thoughts on Birth-parents from other Adoptive families…

Caroline’s Story: (foster-adoption) “Our daughter’s birth mother visited her several times when she was very young.  It was important to me that I always treated her with kindness and compassion. I wanted to make sure I respected her dignity and I hoped that she would see that her baby was being taken care of by a safe and loving family.” 

 Lisa’s Story: (Private US adoption) “We have a semi open adoption with G-‘s birth mother.  From day one we decided we wanted G- to know her story.  Once she turned 3 and could kind of understand things we started mentioning her birth mother as her ‘tummy’ mommy and that she couldn’t care for G- the way [my husband] and I could so we adopted her.  We would read adoption books to her and still do to this day. She seems to get it…as much as a 4 year old can.  We also have made it a point to meet with her birth mother once a year and we send her pictures every month.  We want G- to know her story and if in the future she wants a relationship with her birth mother that door has already been opened for her. 

Briana’s Story: (foster-adoption) “We met her [birth mom] a few times and agreed to send a few emails a year.  She has not responded to them since the first one.  We are open to emails and letters but not interested in visits.  We might be when F- is older and has a better understanding of the entire situation.

Pamela’s Story: (Sibling Adoption from Ethiopia): “Since it is an international adoption distance hinders relationship with birthparents/family. We worked with another agency program to locate birth family and send letters and photos of children. We intend to travel back to Ethiopia in a couple years to reconnect with birth family. We describe our family as a blended family so that the children maintain their connection to birth family within our family.”

TERMS DEFINED:

Closed adoption: An adoption in which the adoptive parents do not maintain any kind of relationship with the birth parents through visits or correspondence.  This was once a very common kind of adoption, sometimes with parents never telling their child about their adoption at all.  But studies are showing more benefits to open or semi-open adoptions, though they aren’t always possible.

Semi-Open and Open adoption: Adoptive and birth families maintain some form of ongoing contact.  This could mean the adoptive family sends emails or pictures to the biological parent(s).  It could even mean occasional visits.  In private adoptions, an agency usually helps coordinate the parameters for ongoing contact.  Semi-open adoption involves non-identifying contact (bio family doesn’t have access to adoptive families last name, address, etc.)- but correspondence (and even visits- see Lisa’s Story) can occur.

In foster-adoption, prior to adoption, the state will decide the amount of contact the biological parent has.  The biological parent is given specific goals to reach in order to be reunified, and visits are often a part of that.  The state may also require that the foster-child visit with his or her biological siblings.  Post adoption, the adoptive families can decide what amount of contact with the biological family is safe or healthy or their child.

Fantasy Football Theology of Unity

You know that obnoxious person on your Fantasy Football team who has absolutely no business being there?  They own an official jersey for their favorite team, but you’re pretty confident they wouldn’t be able to pick out their team’s starting QB in a lineup of three people; they rarely watch any games so they foolishly place all their strategy eggs in the “projected points” basket on any given week; they have the nerve to use an outdated “egg” idiom to describe football.

My name is Carrye, and I’m that obnoxious person.  (Nice to meet you.)

For all the reasons I don’t really belong in my fantasy league, I admit I’m becoming a bit obsessed with it.  I’m tracking player injuries, add/dropping players like a boss, and occasionally staying up way past my bedtime on Monday nights to see if I pulled out ahead of my fantasy opponent.

But here’s my problem- I’m so devoted to the fantasy part of football that I’m completely missing the non-fantasy point.  Let me explain.

Exhibit A- Week 5: Vikings Vs Bears

I was losing by a hair going into Monday night’s game, and had placed my only hope in the questionably capable hands of Minnesota’s Adam Thielen.  I’d read stats that suggested he was performing better than expected.  Then again, I only hear the stats I want to hear.  I was optimistic about pulling ahead until I looked at my opponent’s final player- Stefon Diggs.  Through painstaking research I discovered a little known fact: both players were on the same team.  I know…my powers of observation are keen.

I won’t bore you with how football works, since you probably know the basics: endzones, tight pants, those yard lines that magically appear on the TV aren’t really on the field, and all that jazz.  But the bottom line is that two teams play against each other to see who gets more points. (Call me Captain Obvious but I’m setting up a point I promise.)

In my great desire to win a fantasy game, I changed the goal of the game to “how can my player on the same team beat his fellow teammate?”  Not team vs. team.  No glorious community win.  I pitted brother against brother because my focus was on a fantasy issue- a decoy problem that distracted me from the real-life, larger purpose of football.  The Vikings won (actual goal met) but I sulked over a personal fantasy loss of .4 points.  (My player did score more points, though. So. Yeah.)

Where’s the theology in all this convoluted fantasy football analogy?

It doesn’t take a lot of digging today to find ways to disagree with those around us.  It’s practically an epidemic, and trust me I’ve been infected.  Of all the divisions though, the Christian vs. Christian rifts are the most sobering and appalling for me.  Unlike fantasy football, many of the issues we disagree with aren’t skin deep- they are places we have strong convictions about and strong emotions over.  I’m not suggesting we bury our convictions or stop taking a stand for the justice around us. (Ask for discernment.)

But sometimes in our division we get so focused on where we disagree that we lose sight of the “ultimate purpose” of following God (pursuing peace, justice, love and freedom with God), and instead focus on the “decoy purpose” of being right…or feeling justified…or proving someone else wrong.

(Guilty as charged.)

Colossians 3:12-15 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” [Emphasis mine]

There are a million problems with the world, and we are called to step out and make a difference hand in hand with our brothers and sisters. But for myself (maybe you can relate) I need to ask myself what it looks like to pursue the real life goals of peace and justice with brothers and sisters that I don’t always agree with.  What does it look like to bear with others, forgive grievances, and find peace as members of one body or team?  That’s a real life-changing goal.  And unlike the ease of my fantasy click and drag investment, it’s going to require real life sacrifice and sweat.  And it will probably take a lot of practice.

Still… I’d rather stop caring about a .4 point loss striving against a decoy enemy and  instead enjoy the victory of a messy community that disagrees sometimes but chooses to work together to love and serve the world anyway.  In the meantime, my ESPN app is calling…


Your thoughts?  I don’t have many answers here.  Where are the places that we can stand up with our fellow brothers and sisters to give freedom, hope and justice to others?

 

 

Embracing the “Now” Instead of the “Next”

I would so enjoy the moment right now if it weren’t for that next glittery thing just beyond my reach.  The now is filled with the mundane, the commonplace, the grit of reality.  Laundry.  Doctor’s appointments.  Weight to lose.  A soul dream not fully realized.  The “next” holds promise of magic, adventure, a more-in-shape self and my dream job of writing and speaking as an actual career.

Maybe the idea of writing gives you trauma flashbacks to highschool research papers….but I’m sure you have a “next” too. Graduating college…completing a marathon…getting married…owning a business maybe?

This past weekend I tasted and sampled a full buffet of the joy and hope of my future dream while attending reNEW, a Christian conference and retreat for writers and speakers.  My heart soared with each story by dynamic keynote speakers.  I filled pages of notes with my feverish, sloppy hand-writing, soaking in each morsel of wisdom from seasoned workshop leaders.  I over-indulged in coffee and my mind practically popped as I sat to enhance and add fresh thoughts to my latest book.

(Photo Credit: Marla Darius)

Just picture me running free through a field of wheat and poppies and there’s probably a pony somewhere in there too.  (With a classy brick Starbucks building faintly visible in the distance.)

I was swimming all weekend in the potential of my “next” things.

And now I’ve swum right back home.  And I’m breathing in the now again.  And it’s actually a wonderful now, but it doesn’t smell deliciously like fresh ink.  It doesn’t feel like the electricity of speaking out a passionate message.  At least not always.  It feels a bit more tame and the smell is often that vague “not-quite-clean” smell that infuses most houses with small children.  I don’t know if it’s the shoes or the couch or the always suspicious bathroom.

As I pondered all the places I’d like to be this weekend, I sat down to let God show me what’s right in front of me.  Not later.  But now.  And do you know, the more I thought, the more I realized that my now is actually precious.  It’s a brimming full now.  It’s a weighty now, with gifts to invest, children to plant seeds in and create safe haven for, and breathtaking opportunities to serve.  Right. Now.

As I was praying with the wonderful community of women (plus a few brave men!) this morning, I had this beautiful picture that I can only attribute to God.

I pictured a girl on a path of large square stones weaving through a peaceful nature scene.  Like a childhood game of Candyland (minus the bright colors and edible characters), I knew the path meandered and ultimately lead to an important destination.  But the stone path was barely visible- in fact, only three or so steps were illuminated at all.  The rest were veiled in murky shadow and mysterious darkness.

But the girl was untroubled by what she didn’t see, couldn’t know.  In fact, she was completely oblivious to the fact that she could only see one square ahead because she was too busy chasing a butterfly.  That whimsical delicate creature so enthralled her that she seemed oblivious to anything beyond her now.  There was such a sense of peace washing over the whole scene.

I imagined myself on that same path with jarringly different emotions.  I was right up on the edge of the dark, straining to see, stressed and panicked over what I didn’t know how to get to.  Over the fact that the “next” thing wasn’t visible for me yet.  Never did I stop to consider the beauty of the now.  Unwilling to embrace those few bright steps as the very “next” I’d once strained to see, I couldn’t enjoy anything for the fear and discontent.

All the while the girl was dancing in her moment.  Unafraid.  Intoxicated with her now.

That’s who I want to be.  That’s who I believe you want to be.  Right there taking full advantage of the few steps right in front of us.  Embracing exactly what we have.  Not ignoring the path- occasionally standing on tip-toes to glimpse just enough future to keep blazing the trail.  But neither straining for what I don’t have yet, nor fearful of never making it.  Because my moment is too precious and dripping with purpose.  And when I embrace that, I find my partially lit path is actually peaceful.


What about you?  How are you learning to walk in your own purpose in the moment and live. now. instead of constantly chasing your “next”?  I invite you to share you thoughts and chew on some of these Bible passages to encourage you to trust in God and rest in the fullness of what you have today.

Psalm 131
A song of ascents. Of David.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

Psalm 23:1-3 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.

Isaiah 42:16 I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
I will not forsake them.

Proverbs 3:5-65 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

 

One of the Afflicted (Friend Post Friday #7)

Well, I am technically a week late, but have no fear, September’s Friend Post Friday is here!  I’m eager to introduce you to Annie Bartosiak, someone I’ve just met within the past year but have already learned so much from.  She grew up in Killingworth, CT and if she’s not enjoying a hike you might find her quietly people watching.  She has a passion for traveling, and recently returned from a lengthy trip that included Australia, Thailand, and Europe!  If you get the privilege of talking over coffee with Annie, you’ll find that she is a beautiful mix of bold and humble.  She wears her passions on her sleeve, is constantly exploring books and subjects that stretch her, and listens well to the perspective of others (a difficult trait to find!)  I may be a little biased because she washed my dishes for me, but I believe Annie has a needed perspective that flows out of the introspective journey of her travels and beyond.  I hope her wisdom touches you!


“One of the Afflicted”

by Annie Bartosiak

After having travelled extensively earlier this year, I returned home with an increased sense of awareness and curiosity which has driven me to question certain situations I am now encountering in my daily life.
I am allowing myself time and space to observe, feel and reflect (a process I believe many people in today’s society are too rushed, self-absorbed, detached or perhaps apprehensive to engage in) in order to try and figure out how I can live my best life possible.
Through my reflections, I stumbled upon two different yet interrelated themes which seem to explain much of the chaos afflicting us internally, which has rooted itself in how we perceive and conduct ourselves as a whole in society.
The first is the belief in redemption. Nowadays, when many individuals do not have a religious affiliation, or if one does, is not fully committed to the scale of belief/devotion that true following entails, it leaves one in a very murky state of mind and vulnerable state of being. Our insecurity, as a result of unbelief, leaves us unfilled, constantly participating in distracting or destructive behavior. I am not saying one is not allowed to have doubts; rather, today one is overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choice when it is no longer predicated on fundamental principles or beliefs. It begs the question, “What would my life look like if I lived out my true beliefs?”
There are times when I feel consumed by hopelessness. It has taken me awhile to figure out that not only are outside influences affecting me (the world is so big and has so many issues that I know I cannot fix myself), but internally I am not actually following and practicing my beliefs to the fullest extent. To give a small example, I am an advocate for eco-friendly practices. I strive for zero waste overall. I like to bring a reusable cup with me for coffee (or a mason jar if I know I’ll be getting a juice or smoothie). If I have forgotten to plan ahead and there are not in house reusable choices, I will opt out of getting something. I know this might sound a little silly and extreme, but I would not be able to enjoy the indulgence if there is waste attached which the environment would suffer for as a result. It makes me sad to be in a disposable culture where most people don’t even think of the effects of their choices. But I will not hold it against them. I just choose a different path for myself-I have the power to live out my personal choice/belief and also to not judge another for his/her own.
Lack of absolution leaves our society and oneself spinning in circles. We become susceptible to misguided (in extreme cases, perverted) thoughts. Today, we are seeing contention engulf groups of individuals concerning issues we believed we had already fought and won as a larger society.
I am also not saying we all have to share the same beliefs, merely, that our collective beliefs need to be united in striving to support and sustain everyone’s wellbeing. I want to be able to lift you up and be lifted in return. This line of thought leads me to my second theme: the discipline of restraint.
You give to others what you receive from them. Giving kindness in return for kindness is easy. It is also easy to fall into negativity and offense when it is shown to us or it is what we constantly encounter in our everyday lives. We need to endeavor to rise above and give kindness to all, especially to those who seem incapable of reciprocating.
For instance, I was recently at the supermarket buying a few groceries when I encountered such a situation. I chose the self checkout lane since I reasoned I could go at my own pace which might even be quicker than the regular line. There were a couple people standing in each line so I waited behind an older woman who only had the similar few items in her cart. It took me a minute or two to realize that the associate was helping another woman ahead of both of us scan a full stack of coupons into the system. I knew it might take a little longer, but I decided to sit back and relax and just let my mind wander. Others were not at the same leisure. Suddenly the woman in front of me spoke up abruptly (shouting the distance of 3 cart lengths to the associate in front of her), “Do you think you will be done anytime soon?” Her tone was not pleasant, with a note of irritation one can normally brush off in public. The associate responded, “I’m sorry. I’m not sure.” The woman continued, insistent, “Well how long do you think you’ll take?” The associate held up the stack of coupons to show her the extent of his task, shrugged and said, “I don’t really know-a couple of minutes or more probably.” Now there was a woman with a cart full of groceries and children in the line next to us. She said to the woman, “You can go ahead of me. That’s no way to talk to someone.” This remark diverted the woman’s attention and irritation towards the other and she replied, “You have to right to say that to me.” And the other responded, “Well you really shouldn’t talk to someone like that. Now, I’m telling you, you can go ahead of me.” (And I’m pretty certain she gestured ahead of her own cart to the scanner that was now unoccupied.) The older woman quipped, “I don’t want to go in front of you.” And truth be told, that is the moment I walked off shaking my head. Being in the midst of negative emotions really affect me a lot, but even after I went to another line, paid for the items and left, I could not stop thinking about the entire situation. We (I’m generalizing the American population) no longer practice patience or understand the power of silence. I have noticed time and again how many have become preachers. A preaching moment causes tension and resistance, whereas, a teaching moment can be silent and impactful. I’m not saying that there is necessarily a right and wrong side to this scenario, just that negativity feeds into negativity. I don’t believe anyone in the vicinity of that exchange left feeling happy or comfortable. At the heart of this problem are grace and humility. In today’s society we indulge ourselves in many superficial and afflictive thoughts, behaviors and emotions. Most of the time we are in our own heads and worlds it doesn’t even occur to us to extend our thoughts and feelings towards others, strangers primarily, to empathize and try to build a positive from the situation. These caustic practices isolate us as well as blind us to the beauty and the power of love and happiness.
Separation supports an unhealthy view of oneself and the world. We, as a whole, feel undeserving, yet incapable of rectifying this attitude. We need reassurance from others. But usually block this need with a wall of contentious superiority. By investing in personal restraint of egotism (restrictive tendencies we sustain that are perceived to be self-fulfilling), we would consciously be opening ourselves up to the support of others. These are the parallels of the afflicted. Freely give to others while practicing restraint within oneself.
We are all broken individuals. Yet we resist this truth. But together we have power. It is time to have faith and reach across the chasm dividing us all, hoping others will reciprocate. If we cannot depose our self-perpetuating actions, if we cannot forgive, we cannot abound.


If you have something to add to the conversation, please join in by commenting!  And if you’re interested in being a “Friend Post Friday” writer, feel free to contact me!  I’m currently looking for writers for December 2017 and January/February 2018!

This is Not My Country

I’m proud of my Home Country.  But it’s not the one you’re thinking of.

My Home isn’t subject to geographical boundary lines.

It doesn’t belong to one race or culture, but encompasses all.

It doesn’t diminish or even elevate some individuals over others- it is ruled by the equalizer of grace.

It doesn’t advance through violent force, but expands like a garden plant, quietly pushing through the existing realm of authority with beautiful fruit.

It is lead by the weak, the poor, the broken.

It can exist within any government, yet isn’t subject to any other authority.

Even in the midst of suffering or persecution, you can find peace and hope in its midst.

Its people aren’t held against their will by brute force or legislation, but are drawn of their own free will by sacrificial love.

It can’t die out- ever-because nothing can shake it or shut it down.

It’s people can never lose their citizenship because unlike any other earthly affiliation, My Home Country is a Kingdom that outlasts even death.

Its goal isn’t to conquer and subdue, but to liberate and renew.

It doesn’t pursue homogeneity but diversity.

It isn’t spread through flags, ships, or dominance, but through the Spirit that is gloriously unbound by such restraints.

You may have guessed…my Home Country…it’s the Kingdom of Heaven.

But trust me it isn’t just a happy pie-in-the-sky place for later.  It’s here. It’s now.  It’s real.

And even though the kingdoms and countries around us may be falling apart, dividing, stirring up fear, and leaving us questioning what we stand for- this Kingdom gives me hope because it is outside all of that.   It is spiritual, yes, but it has the powerful capacity to create change even within these broken political systems, places, and circumstances we find ourselves in.

And while I may struggle with national pride or pride in my governing leaders, I can tell you I’ll never lose my allegiance to this Kingdom.  I’ll never regret this Kingdom- never be embarrassed by the God who rules it- never cease to be proud of what it stands for: a freedom and justice that goes beyond anything we’ve ever witnessed in this physical world.  I’ll never wake up and wonder whether this Kingdom is good for me and those around me.  I’ll never need to be afraid here even if there’s plenty around me that gives reason to fear.  My Kingdom is stronger and my God is bigger.

And that is the hope I’m standing in today.

Luke 17:20-21
Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed,  nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

Matthew 5:3-3 
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Mark 4:30-32 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?  It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth.  Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

Matthew 6:9-10
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.

Revelation 7:9

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

1 Peter 1:3-5 3 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,  who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 

All Scripture references taken from NIV version:New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 


These thoughts flow partially out of reading a blog post where Roger Martin posed the question, “Can we ever love our country too much?”  I encourage you to read his provocative post because I think he’s onto something.  And please share your thoughts about your own hope when this world seems so broken.  Is there anything that you place unflinching pride in?

 

 

 

Immature Mom Moment?

My counselor asked me once why I always feel behind.  Oh gracious, I could write a book about that.

But it all starts with intending to wake up before my children, and snoozing in just a few extra peaceful minutes only to find one of them waking me up instead.  (A kid at 6am is harder to ignore than an alarm at 5:45 apparently.)

This morning my usual three year old culprit greeted me and I had to shush him and whisk him down the stairs before he woke up the other two angelic sleeping children. (And “angelic” is a word we seldom use in this house.)

Then I sat down to have my “quiet time” where I read a chapter of a book or some chapters in my Bible or pray (or for the love of all things sugar-free be ALONE).  But I find myself feeling guilty that while I’m trying to have a calm conversation with God I have to keep yelling at a mischievous child.  I think God gets it but its awkward.

Finally my little guy wore me down, as usual, and I invited him to join my “quiet time” if he could, in fact, be quiet.  Bless his heart.  He lowered his voice to a toddler whisper, but the kid never stopped talking. Asking me questions.  Wanting me to see what he was working on.

Death glare.  “Child…you will learn what quiet means if it is the only legacy I pass on to you.”

Finally my older daughter came in and I gave up my not-so-quiet endeavor to look something up on the computer for her.  Next thing I knew, I looked over and my preschooler was wielding his scissors and must have been bored with paper because he was now intent on trying to cut my new blue shirt.

I mom panicked into over-reacting umm….just a smidge we’ll say.  My poor son was surprised and hurt by how quickly I over-scolded him. 

I shooed my daughter out of the room and told her to get dressed, I plucked my crying three year old up and put him in time-out with yet another firm reminder that “we ONLY cut paper” (which his little brain will file away in the same place he puts my rules about not coloring on the wall).

Then in anger I called out passive aggressively to no one in particular (but specifically my husband) something about having to handle all the things myself just because I’m “mom”.  (Translation: obviously we are in crisis mode and if my tirade and a crying child didn’t get you down here…I’m going to lay out an additional suuuuper subtle hint for you.)

Then I sat down for a brief moment, probably to stew in irritability even though my shirt didn’t actually get cut after all.  And suddenly it occurred to me…my husband had kissed me goodbye a good 15 minutes ago and left for work already.  He clearly had no idea of the shirt and scissors kerfuffle and thankfully he also missed my immature mom moment of taking my frustration out on him.

I’m actually relieved because the minute I realized he wasn’t there I saw my Mom meltdown for what it was- that kind of embarrassing time when my kids witnessed me yelling at literally no one because of a blue shirt.  I had made a mistake but since he wasn’t there I got to take it back and start over.  (How often does that happen?)

Whew.  With any luck he won’t even read this blog and he’ll be none the wiser. 😉

Now my big kids are at school and my son has been sneaking his own lunch while I type.  But I think its worth it to take a minute to cheer you up with my immaturity.


 

What about you?  Any embarrassing or slightly over-reacting moments from your parenting career?  Feel free to share- sometimes being able to laugh at ourselves brings us a little perspective on our frustrations for today.

What Twinkies Taught Me About Human Dignity

“Fat people gotta eat!” she said as she poked around an end of aisle snack food display at the grocery store.  She’d been talking half to herself, half to my three year old son who has the innocence and charm to engage many a stranger.

I was on a pointless search for an almond butter that didn’t cost a million dollars, but I smiled as she emphasized her statement by grabbing at her perfectly thin stomach.  I assured her that she was more than fine in the weight department but not to be deterred, she good naturedly revealed her undershirt to reiterate her point.

She never stopped moving and I wondered if she really cared what anyone thought of her, stomach or otherwise, the way she confidently rattled on, side-stepping social expectations in a delightful child-like way.  But as she poked her head around me to say hi to my son, she unexpectedly threw off my own sense of social balance:  As though she literally couldn’t help herself, she invited my sugar-loving preschooler over to a veritable heaven of Hostess products and said, “Want a treat?  You can only pick two.  Which ones do you want?”

My son hid behind me at first as though even he was unsure of what to do in this situation.  But confection wins out every time and before I really knew what had happened, he was throwing a box each of Twinkies and Ding Dongs into my cart.

Our new friend grinned and waved me along, “Just follow me and I’ll buy ’em when I check out.”

What had I gotten myself into?  I didn’t have a strong social map for this situation (do they make books for this kind of thing?), and all my brain synapses were firing on awkward.  How did this shopping trip turn into me playing follow-the-leader with a stranger who wanted to buy my kid infamously bad-for-you treats?

Still, though I may never know her whole story, I sensed that this woman might be someone who frequently found herself on the receiving end of help.  How often did she feel really seen?  How often did she feel the simple dignity of giving an impromptu gift to someone who couldn’t help their self?

So what that my three year old would have more Polysorbate 60 (apparently a Twinkie ingredient) than he knew what to do with.  So what that we didn’t need them and I could have bought them myself.

We continued our unlikely procession, she occasionally turning behind to encourage my lagging son to keep going.  At one point we split down different aisles but she told me she’d catch me up front.  My son, far more aware of the situation than I’d given him credit for, said in his earnest way, “Need her!  Red shirt!”  He could identify down to the shirt color the woman who was funding his treats and he feared we’d lost her.

But as we rounded another aisle she shuffled past and kept waving us along as though we’d never left her sights.  True to her word, she presented my son with his prize bag of goodies as she rung up her own things in the self check-out.  I scanned my items too and thanked her, enjoying her ongoing irritated conversation with the finicky self-check out system.  Before we left she told us where she lived and that we should stop by sometime and head to the lake.  Her generous sincerity somehow rubbed like sandpaper against my own inhibitions and slowness to welcome people with such open-handed hospitality.

As we walked out the door she called loudly to my son again, “Love ya babe!”  Maybe we’d call it taboo.  Maybe we’d say it was a lack of social awareness. But from the time we encountered her, the woman was simply reacting in the present with a warmth and realness that most of us would be too embarrassed to show.  (And maybe that’s more a tragedy than we realize.)

Though she didn’t hear him, my son, now tagging at my heels, met her free child-like emotion with his own: “I lud you too.”

And though admittedly I had to fight that place in my head that worried about my son freely throwing out “I love yous” to strangers, I started tearing up a bit at the exchange I’d just witnessed.  My son didn’t see the strange, the uncomfortable, or the awkward.  He didn’t care her gender, clothing choice, education level or race.  Yes he was mostly fixated on the Twinkies, but I also believe he saw her as an equal.  And isn’t that what I say I believe too?  That we’re all equals?

It made me stop to ask myself how I think about each person I see.  Do I really believe each person has equal dignity?  Do I honestly believe that each person I encounter has a dignity that goes beyond what they’ve ACCOMPLISHED, what they can GIVE, or how they PRESENT themselves? Am I so busy trying to secure my own dignity and worth through helping others that I stop seeing each person as intrinsically valuable?

Do I forget that our human need for each other doesn’t depend on our culture’s definition of who qualifies as “needy” but on the fundamental premise that each of us has some incalculable imprint of our Creator to share with the world?

Silly though my story may be, I didn’t give that woman dignity by letting her buy my son Twinkies.  Her dignity was her own beautiful birthright, Creator bestowed, not to be increased or diminished by a fellow creation.  But in letting her buy my son something seemingly insignificant, I believe I acknowledged in my heart the dignity that was always hers.  In watching her interact with my son I witnessed a piece of her that filled my own soul with more joy than a Twinkie has crème.

As I shared this story with my dad I lamented that my first reaction towards people is to see their social status, their worth according to culture, not their intrinsic dignity.  How can I change that first reaction?

And he wisely suggested that perhaps we can’t control that first reaction, but that God is more concerned with our “second look” at people.  Maybe we can’t help that first feeling of superiority (or inferiority even), that knee-jerk scan of who a person is and how valuable they are based on our first glance.  But we give that reaction to God and let Him shape our second look so that we are able to lay down our man-made view of dignity and see people through the filter of His free love.

So may we pray to acknowledge and embrace the full dignity of others on the streets, in our homes, and occasionally even in the Twinkie aisle.


Have a story to share about your own encounter with the dignity in others?  No story is small or insignificant…I hope you’ll share your moment and revelations with the rest of us.  Or start a conversation on my facebook page at www.facebook.com/lesstobemore. Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

I Don’t Know (Gray Faith Study Ch 8: Gray Answers)

“I don’t know” has become one of the most refreshing phrases to hear others say, and yet it doesn’t roll off my own tongue easily.  In fact, sometimes I have to chase it down and drag it out of my mouth kicking and screaming.

I know I don’t have all the answers but I so desperately want to fix everything- to make it better.  I NEED for there to be an answer…or I think that’s what I need.  What they need.  What you need.

At core admitting that “I don’t know” is a massive letting go of control.   Letting go of my perceived control over making someone happy, my perceived ability to make someone better, our perceived control over situations that are broken.

But trusting in God takes the “I don’t know” to another level of humility because I have to concede that He DOES KNOW.  It’s this letting go of my belief that I’m capable of even beginning to fathom the vast knowledge that spans souls and soil, breath and bread, Spirit and truth. And that’s scary.

But what’s perhaps even scarier is that God knows the answers and yet problems still exist.  The suffering still continues.  My friends’ pain isn’t getting wrapped up neatly.  My own struggles aren’t dissolving.  If God knows the answer and the problem persists then maybe we’re tempted to throw God out entirely and say we can’t believe in a God who knows and hasn’t fixed.

Or.  OR.  We chase the why.  We become absolutely convinced that even if we don’t know how to SOLVE a problem we can make it better with a “why” bandaid.  Why does someone’s pain exist? Is God teaching them something?  Did we make a mistake?  Is something amazing going to happen through the suffering?  Why?

“I don’t know” is a giant inky pool that no one wants to swim in.  We think answers are the life-raft to save us- but they’re not.  They might actually be trapping us, handicapping us, holding us hostage.

But…God is there in the inky pool holding us somehow in the not knowing.  He is a Life-raft that somehow envelops us more securely than the styrofoam answers we’re clinging to.

Photo Credit: Joy Martin

And He, Holder of the answers, Creator of the world, Sustainer of our cells and souls, perhaps wants us to trust in Him even more than in answers.

And just as He sits with us in our unanswered mess, walks with us and speaks identity over us, we can sit with others and extend to them the grace of not knowing.  We can point them to the Answer that doesn’t always resolve our problems here-and-now, neat and clean- that Spirit that surpasses all the other answers that we think we need.

Maybe that sounds like another easy answer.  But I’ve had to fight and flounder to believe it, and even now it isn’t easy.  I can honestly say now that finding God’s presence in my life has been the single thing that keeps me afloat because I’ve felt Him when nothing else made sense.

But that’s where my story is.

I know for some just getting to that place of believing in God feels like too big a step, too much faith in what you can’t see.   I don’t want to diminish that struggle or try to fix you with some platitude.

So I’ll leave you to ponder, to wonder, to seek.  But I hope that when the search for answers wearies you and you can’t even find the whys, that you might venture trusting in surprisingly steady arms in that dark sea you find yourself in.

And for those who feel like they have to have all the answers, or that God isn’t pleased if they can’t find a verse to combat any problem…may you somehow find peace and rest in the not knowing.

Here’s the FINAL Gray Faith video/Study Guide!!  (Chapter 8)


Experiment #8-
Whatever you believe has been shaped by many things. I challenge you to take away the books, the friend’s opinions that fill your head, even the things you were taught to believe as a child. When you strip away all these things, what is the bottom line of your belief- the fundamental reason you believe as you do. Sometimes this means mentally suspending what you believe momentarily to ask yourself if another way makes sense. For example, can you imagine that God doesn’t exist? Would your life be substantially changed if He didn’t? What, if any, personal experiences have you had with God that shape your belief? Even if you don’t feel like you have all the answers, imagine what living out your deepest beliefs may look like in your practical life.

Chapter 8 Study Questions:

1.What does it mean to be “comfortable being uncomfortable” when we don’t have the answers? Why is this necessary?

2. Formulas can be tools to help us grow, but how can they become negative?

3. Imagine/discuss what you believe Eden was like: a perfect relationship with God, a world before the curse. How do you see brokenness of the fall in everything humans have touched?

4. Respond to this statement: “The beauty of the world and the suffering alike tell me that we were meant for more.”

5. Have you experienced Jesus to be bigger than your circumstances? Explain.

6. Be honest with yourself/ your group, and God- what are some the “unanswered” questions in your life?

7. How can you live with questions and still actively believe in God?

Bible passages for further reading:
Romans 1:18-20 (God reveals Himself through creation); Mark 9:14-29 (Jesus heals a boy/father asks for help with unbelief); Matthew 11:1-6 (John the Baptist questions Jesus’ identity);

 

 

Moving On, Community and Letting Go (Friend Post Friday #6)

I still remember the first day I met Maura Eckels, my guest blogger for today.  We were at a mutual friend’s graduation party and her sweet love of children found her gravitating towards the playground where I was swinging my kiddos.  From the first conversation, I could tell Maura oozed passion to taste and change the world- and not just in a passing fad kind of way- the girl was ready to make a real difference.  I was amazed that someone so young was already aware of such a deep calling on her life.  It’s no surprise then that her faith and heart have since taken her to Franciscan University where she’s enrolled in theology and human life studies, with plans to graduate and carry God’s heart wherever He takes her.  If you ever have the pleasure of talking with Maura, you’ll find yourself caught up in her smile and eager dialogue, while simultaneously feeling challenged to fully live your beliefs and convictions the way she does.  Her journey hasn’t been easy, and in fact her life circumstances have made tuition alone very difficult for her.  I’m sharing with you her tuition go-fund-me page in the hopes that you will read more of her story and please help out financially if you are able!  And I hope you’ll stick around to be inspired as she shares her honest beautiful thoughts.

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“Moving On, Community and Letting Go”

by Maura Eckels

There’s this closing scene in a film called Brooklyn that deeply moves me. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the movie, but it’s about this young woman from Ireland who takes the boat to New York City and meets this Italian fella. The movie ends with her standing on a street in a city which became her home. She sees her husband after a long period of time (she married the Italian guy), he sees her and then she says this incredible line:

“One day the sun will come out-you might not even notice straight away, it’ll be that faint. And then you’ll catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past and you’ll realize… that this is where your life is.”

As I moved away from Connecticut and into a new home in my college town, I found myself on soccer mom duty for the children of a former professor. Three munchkins, one minivan and an afternoon practice seemed to be the perfect medicine for my soul after a restless day driving to Ohio.

It was here that I was overcome with this same realization. These friends and families around me have become my community. This poverty stricken town has become my home. And for right now, this is where my life is.

Just days before I was cleaning out the childhood bedroom of the home I’ve known for 21 years. I noticed that the mess I was either throwing away or organizing into storage bins paled in comparison to the mess of my heart. On the one hand, I could taste the sweet freedom of moving out for good and on the other, the daunting reality of now facing life with the baggage I’ve accumulated over the years, like dust on a shelf.

As I took one last look at the empty room holding nothing but my battered heart, a truth washed over me that perhaps you can sympathize with: We don’t realize how much crap we have until we sift through it and we can’t see how broken we are until we try to clean shop.

Somehow, I’ve painfully managed to grasp on rather than let go of that which weighs me down. This still small voice would keep asking to lighten the load and to share in my burden, but I couldn’t figure out how to concretely give it over to Jesus. And the truth is, I still can’t. So I resolved to carry it alone. Worse, I accepted that maybe I am alone. After all, how could He possibly be helping if he claims his yoke to be light and mine is so heavy?

Then a beautiful woman reminded me that God will allow you to struggle because He wants you to show up for your own fight. And I remembered all the times I made it through the valley with the help of His grace and once again I am reassured that just as I was victorious before, I will be victorious again.

His grace is sufficient for me. His power is made perfect in my weakness.

So I want Jesus to be my number one. I want him to be enough for me. He is the bridegroom and I am his bride. His love for me is covenant; it’s eternal. My maker wants to marry me. He gives himself totally and completely on the cross, holding nothing back. His body given up for me. Love without condition. And in response to Christ’s disinterested gift of self, I desire to be one right back. I want to love him for his own sake and goodness and not for what he does for me. And I can’t claim to fully love someone whom I fear because perfect love casts out all fear. Therefore, I will continue to ask for the grace to not put God in my own image because it’s a false one. Rather, I hope to see him for who he truly is.

The problem is this: Jesus is not as tangible as I would like him to be. I can’t see his facial expressions, hear the inflection in his voice or know what his laugh sounds like. Does he have a preference in wine? I mean he created the vines, but you never know. It’s the details which seem lacking. He feels less real to me than the people around me even though that’s the furthest from the truth. He’s more real…I know that. Yet my heart won’t consent. I hate admitting that he doesn’t feel enough for me because he is supposed to be. To love God for his own sake means to really know him. But I realized that I don’t know him well because if I did, I wouldn’t fear him.

Yet, I have to believe that the same God who created us for himself in whom we alone find satisfaction and fulfillment is also the same God who said to Adam in the Garden that it is not good for man to be alone. We need others just as much as we need God. I mean Heaven itself isn’t just us alone chillin’ with the Trinity. It’s us, Him and the angels and saints. Even our forever is community. Community is what we’re created for.

I know that soon enough I will have to say goodbye to this community that the Lord has blessed me with these past three years. He’s given me so much more than I could have ever anticipated for myself and for this, I am eternally grateful. As I’ve been learning to detach from objects, people and places, I’ve come to the conclusion that as Elizabeth Bishop says, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” Letting go is okay, necessary and good. I don’t think any of us will ever be perfectly content with it, but I can only pray for a holy indifference so that when God asks me to leave, I’ll leave and when he asks me to stay, I’ll stay.

Just as God has given before, he will give again. I’m reminded of this even now surrounded by what feels like an abundance of blessings. Even when we are left with what may seem like nothing and no one, we can have confidence and peace knowing that one day he will fill our cup again. When our brokenness surfaces, we can trust that he will heal us in his timing. We can choose to believe the promise Jesus gives us that everything else will be given to us when we seek first the kingdom of God. So I’m choosing right now to seek him first. I want him to be my priority amidst the struggle of this life. In this pursuit of the one who brought me into being, I can find consolation knowing that he will take care of the rest.