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.

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.

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.

Girl Power…or something like that.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “girl power” and what I think that entails. I am an accidental girl mom. I say that because I truly thought I’d never be a girl mom. I always felt I was going to have a house full of boys. I now have 2 boys and 2 girls. I love having each, but I do still struggle more with girl emotions and drama.

I think a lot about the things I want to impart upon my girls as they grow. “Girl power” or “I’m a girl I can do everything on my own” is a pretty popular philosophy nowadays. I am 100% for girl power, but I find the characteristics I consider girl power aren’t often what others consider it to be, and vice versa.

Tonight I was watching my 8 year old daughter at her basketball practice. I noticed when she was running sprints that she was looking at the girls around her. After practice, I told her looking at other people while running just slows her down. I told her to pay attention to her running and her race, then she would run better. (I also feel like that could be used for many different areas of life as well).

I want to write a list of things I want my daughters to know as they grow, as they grow in to their “girl power”:

  1. Never be afraid to stand alone.
  2. Be confident enough in who you are to know you don’t have to explain yourself to others.
  3. Don’t pretend to be less smart than you are. Even if you’re made fun of, you’ll come out ahead.
  4. Know that you don’t have to have your makeup and hair done all the time-a little real-ness can be very welcoming.
  5. Know your worth isn’t dependent upon anyone else.
  6. Be friendly with many types of people. I mean truly friendly, not the “friendly to your face, talk behind your back” kind of friendly. Many viewpoints lead to a better understanding of the world.
  7. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
  8. Where I hope you’ll be friendly with many persons, I want you to also know it’s okay if you don’t want to be friends with everyone. Some people will only drag you down, you are free to say no to friendships like that.
  9. Know and own your weaknesses. Ask for help when you need it.
  10. Believe you can do much more than you think you can: athletically, academically, etc.
  11. Enjoy life. Do not fear anything that cannot kill the soul.

Now, these main points don’t sound controversial to the main stream girl power we hear, do they? But here’s where I see a big difference: the women that come to my mind when I think about “girl power” don’t ever have to discuss it. They are able to do hard things, and they have peace with themselves when they aren’t doing those hard things.

They realize being a woman is an empowering thing in itself. The women I think of also aren’t afraid (or feel like less of a woman) to ask for a man’s help. Because they know we each bring our own gifts to the table. Men having value does not curtail the value of women. We compliment each other, which makes us even stronger.

I raise my girls exactly like my boys, but I know each will have their own different strengths and weaknesses. I raise my boys to encourage my girls, and my girls to encourage my boys. But I feel like when you raise a child (boy or girl) with the values above, you don’t need to tell them “speak up when a guy makes you uncomfortable” or “you aren’t less of a woman because you don’t like girly things” or “you have to bring down guys to appear strong”. When you raise them to know these truths, they become aware of themselves and grow confident in who they were made to be. I don’t want my girls to scream “girl power”, I want them to live it.

Unapologetic About Your Occupation

I still remember the reprimand I received from my public speaking professor while I was in college. We were all discussing something and I made the comment “she’s just a stay at home mom”. My professor then proceeded to tell me she spent 12 years at home while her kids were younger and it was the hardest job she’s ever had. Even with this revelation, I still wasn’t entirely convinced.

Fast forward a few more years, and I found myself pregnant during my Senior year of college. I was able to graduate before my first born made his appearance, but I suddenly faced a dilemma. Do I continue to pursue teaching jobs, as I had already started turning in resumes, or do I stay home with the baby once I graduate college. To say this was an easy decision would be the biggest lie of the century.

I looked forward to teaching. I found great pride in the fact that I was the first one in my family to graduate college straight after high school. I did, however; have many mentors who told me they either a) loved staying home when their kids were little or b) wish they could go back and do it again to stay home with their children when they had been younger. It should be noted that my husband and I also talked about this as well and his opinions do factor into my thought process.

So, I decided to stay home with our baby. I am so grateful to have been home with all our children thus far. I have to admit though, that it wasn’t easy in the beginning. I felt shame for saying I was a stay at home mom when asked by others what I was currently doing. Usually the question that directly followed my stay at home mom revelation was “so when will you start teaching?” I have also received the occasional comments about my college education going to waste because I stay home. These conversations used to leave me embarrassed and ashamed.

That began to change when I changed my viewpoint on staying home. I wasn’t doing “lesser work”. Every occupation or position you occupy in life is to be fulfilled to the glory of God. Yes, there are days that feel absolutely mundane. But that is true of any job. In any occupation, you will have tasks that seem mundane and tedious.

We are told “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”. We don’t compartmentalize our relationship with God. I don’t live parts of my life to give Him glory, and live other parts of my for my own or others glory. If homemaking is my current calling, then this is where I am to glorify God. And any task that is aimed at God’s glory can never be a lesser task.

Another thing that has helped me to change my outlook is the realization that my children are all I will (God willing) leave in this world. Any job occupation I will ever have will be filled in my absence, but there is no one else who will ever be my kids mother. That burden and blessing takes this calling to new levels of importance.

Don’t ever feel your tasks are unimportant, whether it be that of a SAHM or a job occupation you are ashamed of. Anything done with eternal significance simply cannot be unimportant. You decide what is important with how you decide to live your life. We all live most of our lives in the little moments. I’ll leave you with a quote from Paul David Tripp: “Our lives are comprised of 10,000 little moments and maybe only 3 or 4 dramatic ones”.

Guys, be confident in your little moments as well as the big.