Love Thy Neighbor

I’ve been cleaning stuff out today and stumbled upon the only picture I kept of our daughter’s sister (whom we affectionately refer to as Magnolia). For months after meeting her, I kept everything as it was and didn’t touch anything. Then once that time had passed (much to my now regret), I got rid of every picture and item except for this picture.

I was up until about 2 in the morning a couple nights ago, listening to sermons and crying over the division in the world, and Christians alike, over the racial problems that still exist in the world today. My eyes (and heart) were opened when we spent those couple weeks in Wisconsin. Much of our time was spent in the black and brown neighborhoods up there. I saw differences like I have never seen in my small town Kansas.

I still sometimes question why we went through what we did with Magnolia. And when I was up late that night, it came to me that maybe it’s because that experience shaped something in me that’s irreversible. It makes me sad because I feel this situation is a great opportunity to love others and have conversations. I also feel that a good discerner of a Christian heart is how much they love. “God is love, and all who live in love live in God”, after all. (I didn’t make that up, it’s from the Bible).

Then this morning I was thinking about the story of The Good Samaritan in Luke. The priest walked by a person who had been beaten and left on the road. (If you didn’t know, if someone helped a person like that in those times they would be considered unclean by cultural standards). The priest lacked compassion for this neighbor of his, even though he had all the theological training to be a priest. Then a Levite walked by, and did the same. But a Samaritan (you could say Half breed), walked by and helped him. He didn’t question what he did to get himself in that position. He didn’t pepper him with questions about his life, he just helped.

It doesn’t help the person on the road (or in the sketchy parts of town) to love them at arms length. Or to yell some Bible verses as you pass by. It’s going to get messy. It’s going to be costly.

But, according to Jesus, this was the answer when asked “who is my neighbor”. So I’m going to do the messy work…gladly. Because there’s a girl I loved the moment I saw her and while she didn’t end up being my physical child, she’s my neighbor.

Can Sickness Be A Blessing?

My youngest daughter, who is now 6, has struggled with asthma her entire life. We’ve been to several specialists. She has been tested for so many things. We don’t have any certain answers for what triggers it, or how to keep it from coming, but we do know how to kick up which medicines when her asthma flares up.

The last couple of days she has been coughing a lot (which is usually the first sign it’s about to start bothering her). So we have began our additional medicines on top of her daily ones and doing breathing treatments until her breathing seems better.

Now that she is older she vocalizes how tired she is of being sick, how annoyed she is that she has to stop whatever she is doing every few hours to sit and do a 30 minute breathing treatment. Thirty minutes is an eternity to a 6 year old. As soon as she woke up this morning, I got her machine ready and told her she could lay in bed while she did it.

Once her treatment was completed, she came out to the living room and stated “WHEN I’M IN HEAVEN I WON’T EVER BE SICK ANYMORE!” This declaration stopped me in my tracks.

The last couple of days have been stressful in our home: lack of time, cars breaking down, a million things needing done, etc. But there will come a day where we don’t have to be stressed any more. There will come a day we won’t experience sickness anymore. (It never was God’s original plan for us to experience it any way). This is all temporary.

Knowing this is all temporary leads to hope. Hope gives us joy. Romans 12:12 “Rejoice in hope, patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer”.

That’s Life and I Can’t Deny It

When we first moved to our house, the hubs wanted to cut down all the trees and bushes surrounding our creek and pond. I convinced him otherwise, because how would my bird friends come to visit me if they had no where to stay? (Yes, I’m 80).

This morning I was feeling overwhelmed so I went out to feel the sun peeking behind the clouds and watch the different birds flying between all the branches. Then I was struck by the dirt mound to my left.

Last week we had to bury our cat, Ashley. She was hit by a car in front of our house. (I’m going to have a rant about driving the speed limit and actually stopping when you hit an animal another time). We buried her before the kids got home from school, but our girls were hysterical nonetheless.

There are a few moments of the kids crying that are burned into my mind: them crying and saying goodbye to K’s little sister (when we attempted to adopt her), my oldest son crying on the first day of school (because it takes a lot to get him emotional), and how sad my girls were when we told them about Ashley.

I want to protect them from every pain possible. But I know that it is impossible. I also believe there is pain with purpose. I told the girls to mourn Ashley. I told T and C the same when we said goodbye to K’s sister. It is good that they learn to love things and people without conditions.

I think it’s realizing this chasm in life that you start to understand it, even just a little bit. There are and will be beautiful moments throughout your life, but there will also be pain. Let them change you and cause you to grow.

Occasionally sit in the remembrance of it. Knowing it’s all a part of your story, and it can all work for good.

We’re All A Little Different

“There’s not very many black people in the world”. I was sitting out in the back yard with my youngest daughter, who is black. I looked over at her, taken aback, and said “there may not be in this town, but there are a lot of black people in the world”. We live in a small town in the Midwest. It’s safe to say it’s not very diverse.

This is something I have always been conscious of. I knew when we adopted her it was going to take a lot of intentionality to make sure she felt well represented and not separate from other people around her. One of her brothers is adopted as well and is a different race from us also, which does help some.

We read every night before bed, and last night we read a book that was based in Africa. At the end of the book, it showed real pictures of African kids and families together. Guess what? One white person was in those pictures. I told my daughter that if we went and visited there I would be the one who stood out.

My husband and I also told her how we all more than likely came from some other country in our family history. That it just depends on which part of the world you’re in, as to what race the people will be.

I hate that she has moments of questioning her value. I can’t tell you the nights I’ve spent awake worrying about this. But I also know, her skin color isn’t her entire story. I will always do everything in my power to gain knowledge to help with the racial differences , I will show her unconditional love, and she will know in this family she always belongs.

But more than where she is now, I care where she’s going to be for eternity. This is the basis on which we live. We all feel like we don’t belong sometimes in this world. While my daughter’s are more visual, which causes more direct conversation about it, every one deals with it some times.

Her struggles won’t look the same as my struggles throughout life, but she belongs in this family. Because the family we will end up in eternally will be filled to the brim with different races, yet we will all be one family. For eternity, we will see and celebrate the differences in each other. I can’t wait for the day.

Emotions Are Trainable

I always tell my kids “you are in charge of your actions no matter how you feel”. From an early age, I wanted my kids to recognize that they have the ability to control their emotions, not the other way around. I always acknowledge their feelings and that the feelings are real, but that they are able (were legitimately born with the ability) to control them.

I fear we, as a society, have forgotten this as of late. I don’t agree with the idea of not discussing feelings. But when we put too much emphasis on the feelings themselves we fail to acknowledge that it is within our power to control them.

I used to play the clarinet. It was appropriate to tune the instrument and to move your fingers in certain ways in order to achieve the desired sound you wanted to come out of it. Much like my old clarinet; our emotions are things that we tune to appropriate responses to certain objects.

When we find our emotions heightened, we focus on the object that is producing that certain emotion. The focus of the situation should not be the emotion itself but the object causing that emotion. We, as human beings, have been born with the ability to control, and when appropriate, even train our emotions to respond appropriately to certain situations.

C.S. Lewis stated in “Abolition of Man” that “no emotion is, in itself, a judgment; in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it”.

Proverbs 14:29 states that “whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly”. Folly is defined as a lack of sense, foolishness. Apparently understanding and knowledge leads to the ability to control emotions. A person who is quick to anger lacks sense.

I also feel it would be remiss to not mention that not all feelings are truth. Yes, once again, it is true that you may feel them, but because you are feeling them doesn’t mean they are true. Want proof of this? Come visit me towards the beginning of every month when that lovely lady friend is here for her monthly visit.

We are often stronger than we believe, and one of the strengths we contain is the ability to control our emotions.

Integrity in Sports

My daughter had her last 2nd grade basketball game today. We played the other team from our school. This week going into it, I felt myself wanting to win more than anything. It was our home turf and I wanted to show that I was a coach who brought our kids to a higher level of basketball.

I don’t like the feeling of wanting to do something to please people, or doing something with others opinions in mind. Because of that, I spent the last week evaluating and reflecting my feelings and my whys. The root of my problem was pride.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I am a competitive person. Aside from watching our kids play sports, our family spends a lot of time watching other sporting events and playing games together when we can. I also don’t think it’s bad going into a game wanting to win. But I wanted to keep in perspective that this is 2nd grade basketball. Kids genuinely get worn out of sports more and more and I think it’s because we forget that.

I also didn’t want to make their game about me. The girls can show improvement without winning. I often think character is better learned in the losses and hard times than if you are always ahead and never experience some heartbreak. Guess what? We didn’t win. Guess what else? I couldn’t have been prouder.

I’ve always told the girls to give 100%, which they did. And they did show improvement because we played the same team at the beginning of the year and the point difference was smaller.

But more than anything that involves me, basketball isn’t all I want for my girl. No sport is. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, but when I take a step back and look at the big picture, I have such bigger aspirations for my baby than having a winning 2nd grade season. I want her to be someone of integrity, love, determination, grit, and learning. Sports help teach her those things. Focusing on myself doesn’t. Craving a score more than improvement doesn’t.

Living a life all about yourself, or myself in this case, actually causes you to lose yourself. If you aren’t someone of integrity, even in secret, you have a hard time knowing what you stand for or why. I want to be someone who stands for the same principles regardless of the situation. And at the end of the game, my girl had her siblings still cheering for her more than any one else, she still has our unending love, she still has her friends, and she had a calm mother who wasn’t caught up in my own issues but able to be there for hers.

He Pays Attention to the Details

Tonight while sitting at the dinner table, I asked the kids what are some ways they saw God at work today. Now, don’t start clapping; I don’t always remember these “all important questions”. I do try to do it when time allows/ when my mind isn’t too fogged to have moments of great questioning.

I said I was happy for the beautiful day God gave us today. The hubs did when he was able to help one of our friends in another town by us today. Number 2 child said she was happy for the weather as well. Number 3 said she saw God because she loved the breeze. The first born said he saw God because he won a poster from a drawing at the school book fair.

I know we don’t think those things are big enough to thank God for, like God doesn’t care about those minuscule parts of life. The poster is a funny story though. We gave each of our kids $20 for the book fair. The youngest told me what she wanted and I wrote it down for the teacher. The older two were told “this is how much you have, pick what you want”. My first born already had his eyes on a couple books (and he loves to read), so they won out against a LeBron James poster he wanted. We even sent him with extra money to school today for something else he needed in another class. He teased this morning how mean it was to give more money and him still not be able to get the poster. Then he brought home a poster today because he had won it in a school drawing.

Tonight we talked about how God would be good with or without giving us material things we want. But how amazing is it that God pays enough attention to the details that He will sometimes give us fulfilled desires, just because of His grace. Because He is a loving Father.

He gives us these little moments to help us see His goodness and love, as a gift. When we are in a situation or a time period of life where it may seem hard to believe God is paying attention, you can recall moments like this. Not because you need them to believe He is good. Not because He has to. Not because the material things matter one iota, but because the grace He gives us in life comes in many different forms.

And I’m grateful for it.

Not Everyone Is Going To Like You

I think one of the most dangerous mindsets is the one that thinks everyone has to approve or agree of all your life choices. Your value shouldn’t come from what I think of you. My value or justification of my choices shouldn’t come from you. I’ve always said at the end of the day if you have peace with your truth (however you judge that) and yourself, that’s all that matters.

Personal story: When we started the adoption process for our first adoption, we specified race on our paperwork. Not because of us, but because I was worried about the adopted child being loved differently from others around us. I literally lost sleep over it because I didn’t have peace about it. I would stay up late and search through the Bible (my gauge of truth). I couldn’t find any truth to justify it, even if others didn’t agree. So we changed it.

Many people didn’t understand our wanting to adopt in the first place. Some family members were downright upset that we started the foster process after. (Not all, many were supportive). But I had one person literally say, “are you kidding me?” to my face. We’re they uncomfortable conversations? Yep. Was I upset? Yep.

But at the end of the day I knew I wouldn’t have peace if I didn’t live the Truth. Not everyone is going to like everything you do. Not everyone likes everything I do. It’s just not feasible in life. But I also don’t have to agree with your every choice to like you. If you feel the need to tear down those who oppose you, you are no better than them.

If you know what you’re doing is right, you don’t need justification from others. If you feel you need others to tell you that you’re right in order to believe it, maybe you need to examine why.

Make Time for Stillness

I do not like being bombarded with noise all the time. I feel overwhelmed if I don’t have times to pause in complete silence throughout the day. It legitimately makes me anxious if there is noise, running around, and mess all the time.

Seems kind of funny considering the fact that I have 4 kids, right? I will agree that 4 kids is hectic on it’s own. But there are things I do to help offset the busyness of this season with 4 littles. I do a quick pick up halfway through the day, usually right before nap time. I don’t have TVs on for just white noise during the day. I make time for rest during the day (usually while the little is napping), so I have energy to carry it on until bedtime.

This was something that did not come naturally to me. I had to teach myself to learn to sit in quiet. At the time, it was because I wanted to learn to sit in my thoughts, not busy myself in order to them. I was surprised at how hard it was at first. But as such goes with new habits, consistently won.

This is a great example of how we should live in relation of God. I’ve heard a quote (I can’t remember who said it) that God does his best work with empty. We can’t constantly be filling with things other than God. We must carve out time to be filled with His Word. If we aren’t filled with Him, we will be filled with something else.

Jen Wilkin has said “the heart can’t love what the mind doesn’t know”. I learned early in my parenting role what I needed to do to give what I can in my role as a mother. It’s much more important that we realize what is necessary to make sure we are filled with the most important person in life.

I Can’t Protect Them From It All

I am 10 years or so in to parenting. I have spent most of my years trying to protect them from anything that will hinder their true personality or cause unnecessary pain. I have recently realized that their are going to be outside circumstances that will inevitably effect their growing into their own person, regardless of how much I want to stop it.

My 8 year old daughter has began changing a lot of things we thought were “part of who she is” of late. She has always loved sparkles, pink, frills, and anything girly. In the past few months, this has become a complete about face. She wants a completely new wardrobe of nothing girly. She wants to cut her hair shorter; whereas before she’s always loved her long, blonde locks.

I know she is also my child who wants to fit in with those around her. I am 98% certain that the change in appearance is linked to the fact that she doesn’t see many other friends into the girly things she was into. I can’t even tell you the number of times I have asked her why the change, her responses always being “I just don’t like it anymore”.

On the other side of that, I know my kids don’t care about a lot of things their friends do, and for that I feel to blame. Because of the makeup of our family, we have experienced more loss and heartbreak than most. Etched into my memory is my 4 and 6 year olds crying as we said goodbye to our almost adopted baby girl. I can see a clear image in my mind of us walking out of the State Foster Care Visitation building as we said goodbye to the little man we loved on for several months.

Now, don’t get me wrong-the brokenness that comes with fostering and adoption is minuscule compared to the beauty that has come from it in our family. We have 2 beautiful babies who are thriving in our home. We are able to, daily show our kids that looks and appearance alone do not make a family. We are able to show how easy it can be to be grafted in, what it means to “be adopted as sons”.

I want to protect them from everything, but I also know this life was given its thorns and thistles for a reason. Every area of this life is marked with sin and unrest. So in the meantime, I will be here for my kids, knowing none of our lives (including theirs) will be perfect or without suffering. Together we will look forward to a time where all things will be made new. One day we won’t be crying over good byes. There will be a time we don’t live to please anyone but the only One who matters. This is our hope.