Thursday, November 17, 2011

What a GIFT!

You may have gathered from my recent facebook postings that my friends, Jason and Andrea, are adopting another daughter this week. It's been a wild and crazy ride this time around from the word "go," but I want to give them time to share their own story before I share it with you. But I wanted to share with you some of the amazing things I've seen from here. I'm told it's both Special Education week and National Adoption Month. Happy coincidence.

One of the reasons I am so pumped about this (besides the pure adrenaline rush and the fact that this kiddo is a Kentuckian, just like me!) is that my kids get to experience it this time around. When my friends adopted their first daughter, Abigail, Israel was just almost a year old and Eden was in hiding. This time, they get to experience it and understand a little about what's going on. We've made a couple of visits to the hospital lately to visit friends and their newborns who "just came out of their mommy's tummy," so when I told them that Abigail was a big sister, they of course asked, "Did Andrea have a baby in her belly?"
"Well, no." I said. "Someone else grew this baby in her belly and now she gets to be part of Abigail's family!"
Israel busted out: "That is SO COOL!!! Mom, we should do that!"
I agree with him on one count, anyway. :)

It is so cool. And I think these babies must be doubly loved. First, a mom, who for whatever reason would rather not have a child, finds out she is going to have a child and decides to keep growing that life for months. That's some love. She may not feel well, she gains weight, she deals with whatever social or familial repercussions exist with her pregnancy. She feels she is inadequate for the task of raising the child she is growing. She could be prideful and try to act like she has it all together*, but instead she decides to find a family she feels could give the child what she can't give her. I have nothing but admiration for such a mom. That is some love and some courage. (I'm sure God understands something about that, as He trusted His child to another family, to0...for opposite reasons, but requiring courage and love nonetheless.) I know how hard it is for me to admit when I don't have it all together. It's hard for me to admit it even to just one other person. I cannot imagine how much courage it takes to admit whatever weaknesses you find in yourself in a way that is put on display for strangers. To want the best for your child and be willing to look for someone else you believe can provide have to love your baby a lot to go through all that for her. It's a selfless act of love.

Of course, the child is a complete gift in all respects. And no one knows this better, I'm guessing, than the parents chosen to adopt her, who receive the gift of a child. Parents who adopt amaze me with their love. Having had two surprise babies with nine months each to get used to the idea, I have no idea what it would be like to think about it before-hand and choose to suddenly welcome a baby (plus whatever birth family she comes with!) into my family. Jason and Andrea in particular amaze me because they chose beforehand to pursue a child with "special needs." The terminology changes all the time, but the term always is trying to get at the fact that some children face extra adversity in life and challenges to overcome. One of the challenges I've seen for parents I know of special needs children (in addition to the anxiety and agony brought by various medical procedures and unknowns) is that they have the frustrating job of teaching the general populace that their child is a gift. They know it. People who know their child personally know it. But I have heard enough stories from friends to know that too many people have become doubtful in this regard. Showing every day how valuable and amazing their children are seems to be more of a difficult job than it should be. Enduring people asking, "What's wrong with her?" in front of your child? No parent should have to try to come up with an appropriate response to that. But to have an inkling beforehand of what your child may face because of others and choose to walk that road with them.... Well, when I write it that way, what parents wouldn't make that choice? But to choose to walk that road with a child as their parent when no one is asking it of you? Amazing. And I know that both the child and the parents will be greatly blessed by the process and better people because of each other. That's the way it goes in life. But I reserve the right to be amazed by it anyway.

And if you haven't had the pleasure of praying for baby Shilo ("God's gift"), go right ahead. She seems to be recovering well from the heart surgery she had today at the ripe old age of 6 days. (She'll have open heart surgery in a few months.) She's a strong girl, that one! I can't wait to get to know her in person. I am beyond happy that we, in whatever small way, get to be involved and are blessed to call this family our friends. I'm with Israel: This whole idea is SO COOL!

*I'm not meaning to imply that birth parents don't have it all together and adoptive parents do. I don't know any parent of any child who can honestly be convinced they have it all together.

Monday, November 7, 2011

questioning leadership

Recently, I've been encountering situations of various magnitudes that put before me a choice: hope or despair. These are situations that cause me to wonder about my own purpose in life and my relationship with God. I wonder about what I can do and what God can do and what it means to pray. I have questions about what being rescued or "saved" means for people who continue to lead difficult lives. It can really weigh me down at times, even when my own life is fine. I see children with very difficult home situations, adults with children who break their hearts, children born with conditions that make life more difficult, and the myriad ways people are affected by other people's sin.

These are things I really wrestled with in college. The difference is that back then, most of these situations were hypothetical. I knew they were probably happening somewhere. So I had it out with God over the "problem of evil," also sometimes put as "Why do bad things happen to good people?" or "Why do bad things have to happen to ANYONE?" I was really calling unto account God's ability to make good decisions. I promised myself two things during that time: 1.) I would never be afraid to question things down to that level again, and 2.) I would question thoroughly so I would never have to do it again.

So when I find myself asking similar questions now, some 10 years later, I do what I can to keep both promises. I decide to just go ahead a lay it all out there, knowing I likely will get no more answers this time than I did the last. And I didn't get ANY answers during that crazy time of questioning God. I just got to know Him. He didn't explain Himself to me or anything. What's different now is that I don't expect Him to.

Something else that is different this time around is that I am some manner or other of spiritual leader. While I am re-wrestling with God over the things I see going on in the lives of my girls or their friends, or others, I'm also trying to lead them through their wrestling, too. When I'm having my own questions about how to know I've heard God, I'm being asked questions about how to hear God. When someone asks why God hasn't answered their prayer for rescue, I'm asking the same question. Don't hear me wrong. I don't think it's a human's job to know all the answers. Somehow I was just expecting to know a few more....

This Sunday, the girls were over. We've been learning stories that go straight through the life of Christ, which I'm trying to conclude before our Christmas party. This means that I had to teach the entire week of the Passion in one hour. In order to simplify, I made a sort of virtual felt-board to help keep track of the characters and who was where when. Starting out, we have Jesus and his 12 disciples. (I don't really think Jesus was a head taller than everyone else....)

He's washing their feet and sharing what he knows will be his last meal with them. He also knows that one of the guys whose feet he just washed, named Judas, is going to betray him. He tells him to go ahead and do it. (I don't think I'd do that.) So then it's Jesus and the 11.

He tells them about how he's preparing to die and how he will go to prepare a place for them so they can be together again. He takes the bread and says, "This is my body," and rips it in two. He takes the wine and says, "This is my blood," and pours it out. He has to be kind of freaking out inside. They sing together and he asks his close friends to come and pray with him up on the Mount of Olives. I can imagine he wants some company on what he knows is going to be a very difficult night. So there we have Jesus with Peter, James, and John going to pray.

But the guys keep falling asleep instead of praying. And Jesus has gone to talk to His Father, to ask if there's not some way for life to go well without this awful stuff happening to him. He asks three times. That makes me think that maybe He's not hearing anything back. Either that, or He's getting an answer He doesn't like. But he decides to believe God knows better and says, basically, "Do it your way, not mine." That's pretty intense. And cause for all kinds of theological unrest within the trinity, but I'm glad to understand Jesus as fully human here, because that makes sense to me...praying the same thing over and over, not sure if you're hearing (or not hearing) right, hoping you've heard wrong, hoping more prayer will change God's mind anyway. And then you're interrupted by more bad news.

So there is Jesus with his three sleepy friends and then here comes Judas back with the Roman soldiers to arrest Him.

Peter chops off the ear of one of the soldiers. Jesus says, "No, that's not how this is going to go down," puts the ear back on the soldier, and lets them take him away to be tried and killed. And he knows that's what He's doing, because where does he end up? At the house of the high priest, Caiaphas, who had already been talking with his friends about how it's be better for Jesus to die than not. I don't think anyone's expecting a fair trial, here. Peter and John follow along to the house and wait outside to see what's going to happen. It's there that Peter, in a weird rush of self-interest, calls down curses on himself and swears he's never had anything to do with Jesus in his whole life. Peter was one of Jesus's closest friends.
He's then taken alone before Pilate, who tries to release him. But then all those people who had been praising Jesus the week before, who thought He was going to come and be their king by overthrowing the Romans, show their disappointment in Him and His methods by asking for the release of a violent revolutionary instead. So then, when Jesus gets to the cross, He's up there all by himself, with the rest of the world either against Him or powerless to be for Him.

And while He's up there, He yells, "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?" I know there is a big discussion to have about that. How is God not really with Jesus? Is it because of the sin of the world? Maybe Jesus is just saying that and God the Father didn't really leave Him, after all. I don't think it least not for me right now. What matters is that, in the hardest time of His life, Jesus at least feels all alone. No one is helping Him. No one is saving Him. And, because He decided not to do it His own way, He's not even saving Himself. And He's going through that so He can later be with us forever. But He wasn't in the euphoric forever yet. No. He did all this in the, "Why, God?" where the rest of us live.

And then, with His last words, He trusted His soul to the one He didn't understand. "Into Your hands I commit My spirit."

Now, none of my questions are bigger than the one Jesus was asking. And none of my deciding to trust God anyway has such high stakes for me. But I was so grateful to be reading through this story with the girls and learning myself how there's nowhere I go in life where Jesus hasn't gone before me to show me how to do it. Even when being an example for us, He still asked, "Why?" He still tried to come up with a better way for the world to work than what He saw coming down the line. And it's because I can follow Him there that I can follow Him to hoping against all hope that somehow all things really will work for good. Somehow.

Friday, August 26, 2011

with artistic excellence

Disclaimer: I hope that in writing this post, I am not justifying myself, but merely sharing the freedom I've come into and the lesson I'm learning...again.

" It is assumed that one will have talents, materials, subjects – perhaps even genius or inspiration or vision. But these are traditionally understood not as personal properties with which one may do as one chooses but as gifts of God or nature that must be honored in use. One does not dare to use these things without the skill to use them well. …To use gifts less than well is to dishonor them and their Giver."
- Wendell Berry, in
“Christianity and the Survival of Creation”

I embarked on our recent retreat (see post below) with many questions for God about my purpose in life. I am interested and passionate about so many things:

- education
- nutrition
- beauty
- hospitality
- deep friendships
- community development
- mentoring
- gardening
- parenting
- teaching
- writing
- and more, I'm sure, but these things are always near the front of my mind.

It is not uncommon for me to try to major on all of these things at once. And I know others who seem to be able to do it. But I've come to realize lately that I might not me one of those amazing, can-do-it-all sorts of people. My garden is barely identifiable this year. I am frustrated with my kids and just about everyone else. The nutrition I was providing for kids was made with at least as much stress as it was with love. The small neighborhood beautification projects I did became ugly again. I had several writing goals I didn't begin to attempt. And my friendships have become rushed, stressful things to maintain instead of rich things to be enjoyed.

The things I want to do are all good things. But too many good things make for a lot of bad things. It means that, though I'm taking on plenty of noble tasks, I'm not doing any of it well. And I hate mediocrity. I think God does, too. I went to the retreat knowing I needed to prioritize.

While we were there, we spent an afternoon at the Cincinnati Art Museum. They have an entire wing showcasing the work of Cincinnati artists. Apparently there was an arts community there in the late 1800's. (Maybe? I'm horrible at remembering dates.) Perhaps it was simply because they lived in such close proximity to me that I found them particularly interesting. Maybe it just made them more relatable. Maybe I just thought them more ordinary for that reason and was all the more impressed with their work.

Regardless, the work done by those artists was wonderful. There was a particular sculpture there that caught my attention as having been done with excellence. (Just about everything there was done with excellence, but this was particularly so.) It was "Eve Hearing the Voice" by Moses J. Ezekiel. The way she is both hiding herself (face, nakedness) and pushing the Voice away is striking. (This image is more striking, but even though it is not pornography -- we are obviously meant to be looking at the woman's soul -- I didn't want to post a female chest on here in case some people didn't want to see it.) This sculpture was slightly larger than myself, appearing a little super-human. I found myself, much like God probably did, looking for her face.

(photo from Quantum Interceptions)