Is Love Biased? (On loving adopted & bio kids- PLUS!-how siblings reacted to adoption)

Can you love adopted and biological children the same?

Maybe it’s a question people are afraid to ask, but the curiosity lingers.  It’s human to fear what we’re not certain of… and it’s not really a selfish fear.  The last thing we want is to adopt a child only to discover that we can’t give them all the love they deserve.

But as someone who has had children through birth and adoption, I’ve found that love doesn’t know how to be partial and it certainly isn’t weighted more deeply by flesh and blood.

Adoption, like birth, is a path to parenthood and doesn’t dictate our capacity to love.  As I go through my normal day, I’m rarely thinking about the fact that my youngest is adopted.  When I’m scolding kids for sneaking candy, reading books and chasing kids at the park, or apple picking together… I don’t compartmentalize my kids or have stronger feelings of joy, pride, irritation, or protection over one than another.There are certainly differences between adoptive and biological children: I can’t go hunting for pieces of myself or my husband in our adopted son.  (Although honestly, sometimes that’s freeing because he gets to be himself- nobody can try to claim every piece of him!)  I also can’t parent him expecting him to be “just like me” or “just like his father”.  I may have a learning curve when trying to approach his unique personality and traits since I can’t chalk it up to a hand-me-down traits.  Though at the same time, I can’t assume parenting my bio kids is easier just because we have genetic similarities.

All three of my kids have wildly different personalities and annoyingly varied responses to discipline.  In fact, recently we’ve gotten professional counseling to help better parent one of our biological kids because even with shared DNA we don’t always have all the tools or wisdom to know what each child needs.  I parent each child slightly differently, but my ability to love each is the same.

Here’s what I know about my adopted son:

  • When he had trouble breathing during bad congestion, my mama heart was ready to take him to the ER, no questions asked.
  • When he paints pictures at school I’m so happy to make room for them on the fridge.
  • When he’s sad or left out my heart is sad with him (unless he’s sad because I made him return the tic-tacs he sneaked from my bag.)
  • When he needs extra help with speech, I gladly advocate for him and find him the support he needs.
  • When I tuck him in at night and he says “I lud you”, my heart melts all over again every time.
  • When I look into his little face I’m so grateful that he’s mine, perhaps in a more profound way than even with my biological children.  This doesn’t mean I love him more, but that I’m more keenly aware of the unmerited grace that brought him to us.
  • I’m fiercely protective and proud of him.
  • I post adorable pictures of him perhaps to an obnoxious degree on social media.

Love isn’t measured by DNA or birth.  Love is what pulls us out of bed to feed a baby in the middle of the night when we have no energy at all; love is something we give with no other prerequisite or merit than “you’re mine”; love cooks and cleans and wipes smudges off cheeks and then does it again the next day; love comforts and disciplines and calls someone higher into who they’re meant to be; love isn’t manufactured and it isn’t always a warm fuzzy feeling; but love is what calls you to bring a life into your home even before you ever see their face or feel their heartbeat or know their name.

If fear of being able to love an adopted child is the biggest thing holding you back, I’d suggest you do a quick inventory of all the people you love who aren’t flesh and blood related to you.  I imagine your spouse is on that list, and perhaps a few close friends and beyond.  I know the love we have for children feels like a whole different category, but our hearts are designed to make room for love beyond logic, beyond biology.  I really believe that if you take that step of faith towards adoption you’ll find your heart has no trouble wrapping itself completely around a little life, even if your mind feels a little unsure at first.

If you have your own story of adoption or making room to love, I’d enjoy hearing your story!!  Share below in the comments or on my facebook page!  And speaking of friend’s stories, below you’ll find a few stories of how parents and siblings of adopted children learned to make room in their homes for a sweet new child:

Sibling Adoption Stories From Friends…

Terry: International Adoption- Korea D was not very happy about giletting a sibling. He liked being an only child. He was 4 ½. We took him to our Agency visits so he would learn about E as we did. He seemed ok with it. His personality was completely different than E’s. We let him know that these are things we did while waiting for him to join our family.

Becky: (Foster-to-Adopt) We always talked about [adoption] as if it were a normal part of life. So when the time came for it the kids had been thinking about it and excited for it for awhile. They had written the new baby notes and bought little gifts in anticipation for the babies arrival. It all happened so fast that my son came off the bus one day and walked into the house and we said … come meet your new baby sister. He felt like he had just won the lottery too!

Pamela: (International Adoption- Ethiopia) Since we already had 5 biological children we asked the eldest their opinion on adopting first. At Christmas we made the announcement to the rest of the children. We were careful to not upset birth order. In the first couple years of bringing 2 new children into the home we worked very hard to give the 2 kids closest in age more attention since it was big adjustment.

Carrye: (Foster-to-Adopt) Yes, I’m sneaking one last thought in here: When we were preparing to bring our son home, we prayed almost nightly with our kids for a new baby.  Even as we were learning to wait on God, our kids were learning a similar lesson.  Since our son was an emergency placement and we brought him home so quickly, the end result was a whirlwind for us and our kids.  Our daughter cried at first because she “wanted a sister!” but quickly came to love her new brother.  A beautiful side-effect of bringing our children into our adoption story is that now it’s part of their “normal”.  When my daughter talks about having kids, she always mentions that she plans to adopt too.


Parting Thought: I don’t want to gloss over the ache of infertility or the deep fear that adopting a child might feel like a “less perfect” way to grow a family.  If that is your story, my heart breaks for you and the last thing I want to do is invalidate you or your very real struggle.  If you’re wrestling over guilt in choosing adoption after infertility, I’d refer you to this post titled “Second Best or Second Choice?” and hope it encourages you.

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.

Becky: (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.  

 

 

 

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);

 

 

The Christian Phrase I Hate (Gray Faith Study Ch 4: Gray Sin)

Does the very phrase “gray sin” make you uncomfortable?  Each generation seems to be getting more and more fuzzy about what sin means and how we handle it.  But if we’re going to live and love in God’s kingdom, we need a give-and-take discussion about sin.  And frankly, people, we all have room to grow in how we respond.

Check out my video to find out one Christian phrase I’ve come to hate- then stick around to check out this week’s on-your-own experiment and study questions.  (To follow along with the book, download or purchase here: Gray Faith on Amazon. )

Experiment #4:  

(PART 1) Find a comfortable place to kneel down.  Read through Bible passages that declare God’s holiness and power (Revelation 4:8-11, Job 38, 1Timothy 6:15-16)  Or listen to songs like “Revelation Song” by Kari Jobe, or “The Stand” by Hillsong, “Your Great Name” by Natalie Grant.  (These are suggestions- feel free to play songs you most resonate with.)  The posture of kneeling or bowing sometimes helps us to physically acknowledge who God is. Verbally acknowledge His holiness and that you accept His Lordship in your life.  Consider your smallness and brokenness in relation to who He is.

 

(Part 2) Instead of dwelling on your smallness and brokenness to the point of guilt and despair, now consider the amazing love of the Father who made a way for you to approach His throne with confidence (Hebrews 4:16).  Relish the fact that you’re covered by Jesus’ holiness, that God has removed your sins “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).  Take a moment to just dwell on how great His love for us is, that covers over our worst sins.  Write any thoughts that come to you during this time.

 

Chapter 4 Study Questions:

 

  1. What did you grow up believing were the “big sins”?  Has your understanding of or reaction to these sins changed over time?

 

  1. Can you live in the tension that someone else who loves God may not follow God the same way you do?  Explain.

 

  1.  What is the difference between standing up for what we believe in and arguing with someone over belief?  

 

  1. What does it look like to confront sin in love?

 

  1.  We’re all broken- prone to fail and fall short of God’s glory.  How have honest relationships in your life have helped to break down your judgment towards others?  

 

  1.  The “discomfort of grace” means that God covers our sins, even those we aren’t aware we commit, and he covers others as well.  We’re partly right, partly wrong.  Discuss what implications this has for our moral disagreements and how we interact with others.

 

  1. How does the magnitude of God’s holiness affect the way you view sin?

 

Bible passages for further reading:

Romans 14 (Don’t judge, Disputable issues are between us and God); Matthew 18:15-17 (sin in the Church); 1 Corinthians 13:9-12 (we know in part); Philippian 1:4-11 (God continues a good work in us); Luke 7:36-47 (Those who are forgiven much, love much); Luke 17:1-4 (Causing to sin); John 8:1-11 (A Woman Caught in Adultery); Acts 2:38 (Repent from Sin and be forgiven);Luke 18:9-14 (Humility before God); Revelation 1:9-18 (A Vision of holy Jesus


Tough conversation, but if you care to join, please comment below with your thoughts on anything from your own experience with Christianity and sin, to answers to the study questions. Thanks for joining the online study!

Gray Church (Ch 3, Online Gray Faith Study)

The Church isn’t always perfect.  OK, sometimes we’re a long way from it.  Yet there’s a mystery to this group of believers that we’re called to live within.  God intends each of us to build up those around us with the gifts, love, and abilities He’s equipped us with…yet we often disagree and divide instead.  I don’t believe we’re meant to sit stagnant and ignore the areas where our church may be missing God’s heart.  But I believe we’re called to be humble catalysts of change, often right where we are.  Watch this video and check out the discussion questions below as we continue our online study together!


Gray Church Video: Three C’s for Investing in Healthy Church

Gray Faith Chapter 3 Experiment/Study Guide:

Experiment #3:
If you’re a regular church attender, and especially if you’re very active in your church, plan a time to take a week off. If you feel comfortable, try taking a week off from church altogether. Instead, carve out some time to meet with God on your own or with your family. Worship God in a stripped setting- perhaps out in nature, or a personal favorite place. Understand, this isn’t meant to drive you away from your church. Rather, stepping back gives you a chance to breathe in God without feeling the weight of a “role” to perform, and it allows you to step back from routine so you can gain fresh perspective. During this time, honestly give God your ministries, your experience and expectations within the church, your relationships with members and leaders. Ask God to show you where your heart is in line with His and where He wants to shift your heart, roles, or expectations. Write down your thoughts from this reflection.

Chapter 3 Study Questions:

1.What is the role or purpose of the church? (the local church and the global church)

2. We want our churches to be relevant and inviting to the outside world for good reason. But have you ever gotten more caught up in what church looked like than the God who is relevant regardless? What does it mean to be “seeker-friendly” in a way that doesn’t diminish God?

3. How have you experienced the brokenness of the church? How have you been a part of the brokenness of the church?

4. If you’ve never done this before, sit down and make a list of church “non-negotiables”: the doctrines and practices that you MUST agree with in order to be part of a church family. Then make a list of “secondary issues”, such as worship style, ministries or activities offered, etc.

How often do your church frustrations stem from the list of non-negotiables vs secondary issues?

5. All of us within a church family have weaknesses. What does it look like to stay together as a church and balance each other even through disagreements?

6. When you consider that some people will never enter a church building, how do you feel? What does it mean to be the church outside of the church building? Think of examples that are specific to you.

7. In what areas of ministry do you serve the church? Do you feel that you are serving in a healthy way? (Consider your time commitment, affect on family, energy spent, motivation for serving, people you may feel the need to please, etc.) Have you ever stepped back to reflect and pray about your role?

8. Discuss the cost of our lack of unity between churches, especially across cultural and denominational lines. How can we begin to bridge the gap?

Bible passages for further study:
The Book of Acts (beginning of the Church); Romans 12:3-13 (The Church as a Body); 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (The Church as a Body); Hebrews 10:23-25 (Encourage and Meet Together); 1 Corinthians 14 (Instructions for Worship/ Order)

How Many Shades of Gray Faith?

No, the answer isn’t 50.  At least I don’t think so.  It’s a gray area.

Understanding and finding more of God is a process, and we need to give ourselves permission to seek God where our answers seem to run out, where our expectations aren’t quite met, where we can simply be our honest selves.  We might gravitate towards black and white answers and easy spiritual growth- but in my experience, we’re missing so much of God in that safe and sterile Christianity.

I believe we find a lot more of God in the shades and tones of gray, at the end of our control, at the end of what we think it means to just be a “good Christian”, at the end of the simple answers we’ve believed in our head but missed in the depths of our soul.

If you’re looking to step out and meet God in the middle of real life and mess and questions this summer, I invite you to join me for an online “Gray Faith” book study this summer starting Monday June 26th!!

Here are just a few shades of gray you can expect to explore as we go through the 8 chapters of the book:

Gray Beginnings:  Are we believing the lie of “Good Christianity”?  What have we picked up from our spiritual beginnings? What have we grown up believing and how can we critically question those beliefs and spiritual routines in a healthy way?

Gray Christian Culture: What have we been raised in the church to believe?  How has our “Christian culture” shaped our view of God and others, and are we brave enough to step outside of that culture long enough to see the parts that honor God and the parts that may be keeping us from fully experiencing Him?  What are those outside our Christian culture really seeing and hearing from us?

Gray Church:  What does it mean to be part of a church or body of Christ?  How do we handle disagreements and denominations, loving each other and loving the world?  What does it mean to balance each other?  Does God have a one-size-fits-all plan for how church looks?

Gray Sin: What does it truly mean to love a broken world?  Does that look more like waving a protest sign or sincerely listening to people we may not agree with? What does it mean to acknowledge that we’re all broken and need grace?  How do we keep our hearts in check before a Holy God?

Gray Evangelism: What does it look like to “share our faith” with others?  Do we need an exciting before and after story to impact people?  What motivates us to share God with others?  How can we share physical love with people that goes hand-in-hand with our words?  Where have we gotten “evangelism” twisted?

Gray Expectations: What are some of the expectations and assumptions we’ve come to make about God?  Do we perpetually think He’s unhappy with us?  Are we frustrated with Him for not blessing us the way we thought He would when we followed Him?  Our expectations have the power to reveal our true beliefs of God- and wrestling through those expectations honestly helps us find God more intimately.

Gray Walk: What does it look like to grow and change over time with God?  Where are the places that God has been changing our views or opinions?  How do we continue to find God in each season; the waiting and the receiving, the loss and the joy, the beauty and the ashes?  Can our process with God lead us to crave His presence even in the ups and downs?

Gray Answers: At the end of the day, on this side of eternity, we simply won’t have all the answers.  What does it mean to humbly walk with others knowing we don’t have all the answers?  What does it look like to encourage friends without trying to fix their problems with the “right” answer?  How do we handle difficult questions like why God allows pain and suffering?  Can we trust that God is big enough to meet each us uniquely precisely in the gray?


The beautiful thing is, if you’re the extrovert kind of person who wants to get a group together and go through the study with friends, go for it!  I’ve done the study with friends and absolutely loved the raw, genuine conversations that came up.

But if you’re the kind of person who still feels a bit uncomfortable asking gray questions in front of others- if you’d rather just wrestle with God in the privacy of your own home wearing your sweats and a tiara (hey, I’m not judging!) then you can absolutely follow along on your own.

Either way, here’s what to do to JOIN THE ONLINE STUDY:

  1. Optional: Purchase a “Gray Faith” book (paperback or kindle version) here: Gray Faith Book (Note: you can still follow along with the study videos/questions without having a book.)
  2. “Like” my facebook author page, where I’ll be posting all my updates and videos!
  3. Check into facebook every Monday for a new video and FREE weekly Study Guide downloads on my blog!
  4. Comment on the weekly video to join the conversation, challenge others, and open up about your own process with God.  This is one of the most exciting parts for me- really getting to connect with YOU and hear your heart.
  5. Share with friends!  If you know someone who might be interested in joining, or if you find encouragement from the study, please pass the news along!

Thanks so much for checking in; I can’t wait to start this “Gray Faith” journey with you all.

Dead Sparrows= Don’t be Afraid?

The Bible often mystifies me.  Levitical law is too far beyond my culture and era to fathom; Paul is obnoxiously confusing at times (You seemed pretty confident that I’m saved by faith, so what’s this line about being saved through childbearing, Buddy? Get your story straight.); and the finer details of Revelation leave me scratching my head every time.

So there’s this perplexing passage where Jesus is talking to His disciples about how they shouldn’t fear people- the worst they can do is kill your body, but they have no power to touch your soul.  Rather, shouldn’t we be concerned about God and what He thinks of us because He has true authority over us?

But He follows up with what I’ve long considered to be one of the worst pep talks ever:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31: 29 )

I don’t know about you, but here’s what I’m reading: A sparrow isn’t worth much.  But God still knows when it dies.  I can barely keep track of when I’m supposed to wash my hair, but God, apparently, keeps a running tally of each follicle, clean or otherwise.  Moral: Don’t be afraid, because you’re worth more than many cheap sparrows.  The end.

Here’s my problem, in case any of you missed the apparently non-sequitur leap from message to moral: the sparrow is dead, people.  We aren’t supposed to be afraid because of a dead sparrow? (I’ve complained enough about this passage to one friend, that she sent me this picture because dead birds remind her of me now.  I know, it’s pretty bad.)

Image: Caitlin Leffingwell

Jesus doesn’t say that when a sparrow, who is worth almost nothing, starts to fall, God swoops in to resuscitate it.  Jesus doesn’t say, if the sparrow starts to plummet, I’ll give it wings like Eagles and send it on its merry way.  Nope.  He simply says that the sparrow doesn’t go down “0utside your Father’s care.”  Oh, and have no fear.

Ahem, “God, pardon my irreverent question here, but how does watching a bird die count as ‘care’?”  

OK, I’m going to let you just hold onto that awkward irreverent question while I pause to insert a brief side story:

I was talking to my friend Susan recently about the how I’m stressed from always being high- and when I say “high”, I mean my blood sugar numbers have been elevated because of my diabetes.  (Ah, I enjoy that joke too much.)

I told her I had struggled to feel like God cared for me in the midst of my suffering; that He didn’t seem to want to help.  But I also told her I felt like I was supposed to say “yes” to whatever He wanted to do through my problem- that I needed to let Him use the circumstance for His plan.

And she basically said, “You’re still looking at the circumstance.”  Pff…um…no I was trying to learn God’s lesson for me, right?  That’s what all this is about, right?  Being made mature and God using me to help others and bladabladah?  But maybe she was right?  Maybe I was putting way too much emphasis on the circumstance itself.

If I was upset at God for not healing me, I was defining Him by my circumstance.  If I was waiting for Him to do something through my pain, I was defining Him by my circumstance.  If I was feeling that I had to somehow figure out how to use my problem for something better, I’d still be focusing on my circumstance.

So…can I define God completely outside of my circumstance?

Back to our dying bird and the deafening silence I left you in after my last question to God: What if the point of that story has a lot more to do with WHO GOD IS than with the condition of the bird?  Here I’ve been making sarcastic comments to God about how His little dead bird anecdote is hardly uplifting- when all the while that dead bird has been pointing me to a God whose character is outside my circumstances.  

In the middle of our worst moments we ask God where He is, whether He is big enough, whether He “cares”.  Why? Because our circumstances changed.

But did He?

What if God simply IS good?  (Whether our car gets totaled or we inherit a lamborghini?)

What if God simply DOES care? (Whether we’re enjoying a day at the beach or we just got diagnosed with an illness?)

What if God simply IS love? (Whether we feel Him powerfully in the moment or lie awake in the dark wishing we knew where He was?)

Maybe the story is really saying, “If I care to know this bird’s story, if I’m aware and concerned for it’s death, then I’m a God who cares that much more about you.  No matter what is happening to you.  I’ve numbered your hairs- because that’s how much I care to KNOW you…because that’s just who I am.  I can’t promise you no pain, I won’t promise you won’t die, but I promise you that as your circumstances change, I never will.  Who I am is gloriously unaffected by your circumstances.  So when your pain and heartache and loss tell you I’ve left you, can you remember that I’m not defined by those things?  Can you still trust Me because you know who I am?”

 

I’m on the upswing of a rough week, and the weather is finally bright and sunshiny…its possible that my rising belief in God’s goodness is related to that.  But now more than ever, I desperately want to KNOW God deeply, because I need Love and Care and Good that will not change no matter what I face. Because I’m pretty sure there will be worse days, and I’m going to need something solid to stand on.


What about you?  Have you ever felt like you were defining God by what was happening around you?  What have you found about God’s character in the middle of your trials?  What do you think it means that God cares for us even when our struggles remain?

 

 

 

(Hope in) Wearing my Disease

 

I don’t usually ask for jewelry.  My mother-in-law seems to know exactly what necklaces to buy me, and my mom lends me jewelry indefinitely forever, so I have a cute little collection going.  But it’s not something I want to spend a lot of money on.

But this Christmas, I asked my husband for a bracelet.  It’s beautiful- a perfect dose of classy with a hint of sparkle to pop.  (Fun fact: I do not shave my arms.)

But I don’t want this bracelet that I asked for.  Not really.  I should have bought a bracelet like this years ago- 7 years ago, to be exact.  But like I said…it’s not a bracelet I wanted.

The truth is, it’s really just a glorified medical ID tag.

And underneath all the pretty- the class and sparkle- is an inscription that labels me: “Carrye…type-1 diabetic”.  No, I never wanted the bracelet, because I never wanted the disease.  And if there are stages of acceptance, of grief over something, I’m not there yet.  I don’t like feeling

vulnerable.

medicine-dependent.

afraid of exercise.

isolated as a medical minority.

anxious.

like a financial liability.

left with no cure.

There are so many worse diseases, so many worse problems, and trust me I’m grateful for every last medical achievement that makes my life so that you wouldn’t know to look at me that my life is anything but normal.  In many ways, my life is thriving and so absolutely beautiful.

But I have this bracelet, see.  And without a miracle or a cure it’s one I’ll wear for life.

And yet…I can let this disease own me or maybe I can own my disease.  Maybe in wearing my disease out loud, I can choose to see the power in even this broken part of me.  This isn’t who I am, but it is shaping who I am…and as a good friend told me once, God is using this disease to strip me of even the fear that seems like a side-effect of diabetes.

Maybe there’s something being forged stronger in us through our trials than we’d ever know without them.

The storm demands my God be bigger.

I’m letting go of my pretend control.

I’m fighting to know His peace verses the world’s.

I’m weighing the fleetingness of my life.

I’m slowly feeling bolder, braver.  Baby steps.

I’m being pushed into a journey to test and know if Jesus really is enough.

So maybe this is Hope.

And wouldn’t you know.  That came with the bracelet too.  It’s not what I wanted to wear.  But maybe it’s producing in me what I wanted to be all along.

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P.S. I’m thankful to my cousin for sharing this medical I.D. bracelet site with me.  If you have a chronic condition, check out the beautiful designs at  Lauren’s Hope. If you have to wear something every day, it may as well be something you like.  

 

 

Suffering: The Weight of Hope and Praise

Lately I’ve been wrestling with a body not yet thirty years old that may never work the way most people’s do.  My diabetic levels remain high, the numbers are all wrong, and I look back and has it really been this way for months on end? Why do I try so hard, pray so much…yet here I am with this invisible weight?

And then…I’ve been watching friends around me wrestle too.  Wrestle with worse.  Grapple with emotional and physical and family issues that I’m quite sure would warp and bend me till I broke.  And I’ve seen these same people pray, cry out to God, and sometimes…so it seems…their situations have only gotten worse.  And my soul aches for their ache.

bachelorette-and-fathers-day-001

And yet I’ve been sensing, over and over, that I’m meant to be “unshaken”.  That I’m meant to trust God, and trust Him, and trust Him.  I believe He keeps asking me when I get frustrated and weary, “Do you trust me? Do you trust me if you numbers never get better?  If it’s like this forever?  If it only gets worse?

And why would I?  Why would I trust a God who asks me that?  Why would I trust Him for my friends?  I can only trust because He’s a God who gave up everything for me…bled for me, was bent and broken for me, and in humility defeated death for me.  I’ve found that when everything else is moving, shaking, that God is the same yesterday. today. tomorrow.  And how incredibly thankful I am that He doesn’t change because that means He is always Love.  He is always Life.  He is always Hope…always a Good Father.

Is it possible that true trust in God must come only through suffering?  Is it possible that suffering actually produces in me a stronger hope than ease could produce?  I’m slowly…oh so slowly… coming to understand what Paul says in Romans 5:3-5

3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

I desperately crave that Hope that suffering produces.

FURTHER, is it possible that suffering produces a different kind of praise?  God wants my praise at all times, yes, but there’s a praise that follows blessing and there’s a different kind of praise that follows pain.  Both are good, but maybe there’s a weight to our praise through pain that we simply can’t replicate at other times.

There’s a story (Mark 12:41-44) where Jesus points out a widow who gave a very small amount of money to God.  Yet Jesus marvels at her faith because she put in “everything…she had to live on”.  And though others gave more, they gave out of their abundance…out of their extra…though they gave more, it didn’t COST them as much.  Perhaps the same is true of the cost of our praise.

When we feel that we have nothing left to give- when our circumstances are screaming lies like “what if God isn’t really  good?  What if He doesn’t love you or isn’t strong enough to save you?  Why would you trust Him?”  Maybe then our praise costs a bit more… When we feel that the answer isn’t coming and we have no blessing to stand on, the weight of our praise is powerful.  The sound of that praise is deafening.

As my mom said today, the enemy simply can’t stand in praise like that.  If we can praise God in the MIDDLE of the worst, when it costs us everything to hope, the Kingdom of God is more alive than ever.  It’s advancing, growing deeper roots, spreading like beautiful vines that are taking over the death and destruction and the darkness of this world.

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When God can produce praise from our suffering through His own love, through His own sacrifice and presence… the enemy. simply. can’t. stand.

His lies must stop.  His end has been sealed. The victory is ours.

Yet we wait for now in the storm.  To my friends and to those I may never meet… I pray you find strength for where you hurt right now.  I pray God gives you a place to stand in the storm.  I pray that when you’re hard pressed, you’re not crushed; when you’re perplexed, you’re not in despair; when you’re struck down, you’re not destroyed.  I pray you’d KNOW in the core of your being that though you are persecuted you’re NEVER abandoned.   (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

Don’t get me wrong: Praise is not faking happiness.  It isn’t hiding our pain or disappointment from God.  Praise is still looking at God when your world is falling apart.  Praise can be the whisper to “help me in my unbelief” when it would be easier to not talk to God at all.  Praise is hands lifted through tears when no words will come.  Praise is giving God even the tiniest piece of your broken heart, with faltering hands, because deep down you are learning to trust, allowing Him to grow something in you EVEN THOUGH it hurts.  That praise is costly, a sacrifice, yet I believe it’s one of the most beautiful and precious gifts you can give God.

I leave you with this from this song I LOVE by Casting Crowns: Praise You in the Storm

And with this Bible passage from the Message version: (2 Corinthians 4:13-18)

13-15 We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!

16-18 So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.

My “Awkward Christian Moment”

Every year our adoption agency hosts a summer picnic with an exotic-to-us playground, food treats galore, and the whimsical highlight for my kids: Derek the magician.  (AMAZING every year)

This year, just before the magical performance, one of the picnic-goers raffled off a couple of truly beautiful miniature fairy gardens.  And I, rare-winner-of-anything, got picked, and wasn’t even paying attention.  My daughter ran over to alert me and proudly skipped up to the table to collect our prize- a mossy, little bowl of life, topped off with a tiny Buddha.

The woman smiled at my daughter, pointing out a little scroll of paper, daintily rolled up near a walnut.  “You write your wish on that paper, and little Buddha here will take care of it for you.”

Conversation Starter
 Spiritual Conversation Starter

 

And I had a moment which I can only refer to as an “awkward Christian moment.”

See, I teach my kids about God.  I explain life to them as I understand it, and I’ve experienced it.  And to some extent, I think we all either raise our kids with the values and beliefs we grew up with, or we branch away from what we’ve grown up with and intentionally teach our kids differently.

But how do we allow our kids to experience other cultures- other religions- other ideas- in a healthy way?  How can we teach them what our heart for them is, without ignoring other beliefs, without breeding a sense of superiority, hatred, or suspicion towards other people and cultures?  Moreover, how to we give them freedom to test what they believe in the crucible of life.

That little Buddha bowl of life spawned a conversation with my daughter later on.  Probably not my most polished moment.  But I hope something positive.

And I talked to her again about God, and prayer- about bringing God all the things we need help with. And I said it out loud, but my heart felt fake just then.  See, at that moment I was struggling with my own encounters with God.  I was waiting on an answer that wasn’t coming and boy was it making me look hard at God and confront once again whether or not I’m holding onto something plastic.

Funny.  I had just spoken at my church about this.  I had just told everyone that often we don’t truly encounter genuine God until “our circumstances contradict our expectations of God.”  I said this because I’ve experienced that.  I’ve gotten mad at God or felt hopeless and He has proven to eclipse even my struggles.  He has shown who He REALLY is when I stop acting like everything is fine.

And, of course, I worked through all that like a champ, and now I can help other people and won’t ever have false expectations of God again.  I’ll never need to doubt the foundation of my belief because me and God have an understanding now…right God?  Wink, wink.  Nudge, nudge.

Or maybe not.  Maybe I’m not one of those people who gets to learn something once.  Maybe none of us gets to be one of those people.  And maybe part of peeling away the plastic beliefs, means I’m going to constantly have to reaffirm whether God is big enough for me- real enough for me- when my diabetes makes me want to kick and shake my fist at God- when depression stalks me and threatens to devour my courage and joy- when I can’t even see where to put my foot next on this climb.

No matter what you believe- the hardest situations in life are what call our deepest beliefs into question.  But I still believe- yes, even through my week of “why?”- that a Presence beyond and inexplicably intermingled with my own fleeting story, emerges from my dark places.

And so I pass that on to my kids, even when I don’t have all the answers.  And as friends have wisely suggested, I use even those “awkward Christian moments”- those places where people don’t see eye to eye with me spiritually- as conversation starters- something my kids ultimately need to work through personally when they’re finally confronted with their own places of pain and disappointment.

What about you?  What have your disappointments and struggles taught you about what you believe, and how do you pass that on to others around you?