Monday, November 5, 2012


We got a call about a month ago that sent our emotions reeling. Our daughter is alive, safe, and there is again potential for her to come home. All we had to do is say "yes." And even though I know that she is still my daughter, I was scared. I feel like we've been on a roller coaster for over a year, and I just didn't know if my heart could take one more major climb with the potential for another major drop. I was afraid to hope.

But I know that she is mine. Is there potential to have our hearts broken further? Yep. Even if she does come home there is no promise of reciprocated love. There isn't even a promise that she will be stable enough for us to be able to provide the best care for her. She could be a huge ball of emotion, and hurt, and fear, and regression, and chaos. But I look at her picture and my heart aches with love that is overwhelmingly inexpressible. She is mine. I love her. I may be scared of what me loving her looks like, but that doesn't make my love for her go away.

With shaking hearts and quiet voices we said that we were in. With good reason, people tried to talk us out of this. But she is ours, whatever the cost of comfort, reputation, heartache, security, peace. She is ours, forever and ever.

Then a month passed with conflicting impressions of what we should do. And communication is spotty at best. And we live attached to our phones and computers, waiting to hear anything. Expecting to travel any day. Hoping to travel before her birthday. Knowing it was becoming less likely with each day that ticked by. I try not to be angry with my husband when he looks practically at things and tells me it's a pretty slim chance that we will have her home before her 14th birthday.

Hope feels foolish. It's stepping out into a cloud filled sky trusting that a thin piece of fabric and a couple cords will keep you from being destroyed by gravity.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick... - Prov 13:12
My heart is sick from hoping. I hope that she will come home soon. I hope for a call that it's time to make travel plans. I hope for favor with random bureaucrats who have the ability to tell us we aren't her parents. I hope that decision isn't made arbitrarily. I hope for her heart to be healed. I hope for the chance to be a good mom. I hope to some day tell her how much my heart has ached for her. I hope for a day when she will know I am her momma just as surely as I know she is my baby.

On the good days, my faith is shaky. I know all the right answers, but I hurt, and I doubt, and waves of fear threaten to cover me completely. I know that I love her, not because I chose to but because that's what God made me for. I know that I hope for her to come home not because it's easy, but because God made my heart for this. I now know why God made me with this intense, insane love that just splashes out uncontrollably sometimes. How else could I look at a picture of a beautiful girl and know that she is mine and love her with every ounce of my heart? I know now why I hope for extraordinary, impossible things that others think are foolish. How else could I hope for my daughter to come home with just the slightest bit of shift in that direction? Even as I want to give up on this impossible dream, I cry out for more hope for a miracle. I beg for more faith that God is working out his plan, to give me a future AND hope.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. - 1 Corinthians 13:13

Monday, September 10, 2012

It's a Psalm 23 Kind of Day

Grief is a hard thing to define. If you've never experienced it you don't get it. People around you grieve at the loss of a loved one, or are broken over infertility, or their marriage has ended: you name it, people are grieving. But if you have never had the aching of your soul as a result of loss you will never get it. You may think that people need to move on. You may be concerned that they have severe mental illness. You may even think that quoting Bible verses (out of context and not from experience) is the answer because then at least you're saying something, and it's from the Bible so it must be good.

Grief can look a lot like depression, anger, anxiety, selfishness, bitterness. And it can turn into those things and more if it's avoided. It is a place of great loneliness, longing for something you will never have. It is a wilderness that tests your faith, that changes the facets of your soul, that adds depth to everything you thought you knew, and takes away a lot of your preconceived notions. It can at times feel like a vast emptiness, and at other times leave you so full of emotion that you are without words to express the weight of your heart. It comes gushing forth, often at inconvenient or embarrassing times. It can lie dormant for a long time, just waiting for your guard to be down so that it can pounce again on the rubble of your heart.

Everything in me cries out, "This is not how it's supposed to be!" While sometimes it feels like the cry of a petulant child seeking a selfish sense of justice, it often is from a heart that knows it was not made to deal with this. I don't know how to deal with the loss of my daughter. Nothing in my previous experience prepared me for loving a child I have never met. Nothing on Earth can explain why my heart chose to love this specific child; why she is ever with me. It doesn't make sense! I know in my heart that she is mine, yet there is no moment in time when I can say, "That's it! That's when she became mine. That's when I knew." She has always been mine, and will always be, even though she may never know it.

But it's exhausting to deal with a broken heart. There is a deep weariness of soul that comes with grief. Most days I get out of bed and trudge through the waist-deep mud of heartache as if it's normal. Some days it is neck-deep or higher and there is a sense of heart drowning. These are the days when I desperately cry out to God for mercy. Come save me! Rescue me from this deep ocean of brokenness!

And God is ever faithful. He brings the healing salve of his Word to my wounded soul. He gives my husband the words to speak life in the desert. He causes others to carry the burden for a while so that I can rest. He reminds me to take refuge in him, to trust him, to let him lead me as the Good Shepherd of my wandering heart. He is always kind, and gentle with the broken pieces of my heart.

May there be a day when I can proclaim with the Psalmist - Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Oh sweet Lord, let it be so!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Be the Church

Marla Taviano, Jen Hatmaker, and many others all in one place is a beautiful thing! This is the last week of the 7 read-along, it is also the week we get roped into Jen Hatmaker's next crazy adventure. I really like that Jen Hatmaker lady, like if we didn't have the whole sisters in Christ thing going for us I think I might be a little creepy. Thankfully we're both part of the Bride, so I can get all excited about her being my sister without it being too weird. That and I have a soft spot in my heart for Texans, so it's all good.

So this week we are invited to collect our thoughts about 7. The main thought I have had throughout the whole read-along is summed up rather nicely by Jen in the Conclusion of her book:
Our life looks like it does because we are the Hatmakers, and God is dealing with us the way He's dealing with us. We have history and sin issues and circumstances and geography that God takes into account as He stakes our place in His kingdom.
You have an entirely different set of factors. I have no idea what this might look like in your life, nor do I want that job. Your story is God's to write, not mine. Some of us are going to live in the suburbs, others downtown. I'm going to garden; you're going to take the subway. We're adopting, you're redistributing, they're downsizing. I use words, you use a hammer. There isn't a list here. There is no stencil we can all trace into our lives in perfect unison. (p. 218)
The life of the Johnson clan on this beautiful Earth will not look like the Hatmakers, or the Tavianos, or any family in our church. We are not made to look like each other, we are made to look Christ, to reflect the glory of God, to shine forth justice in a broken world.

The problem is our sin issues, mine and yours, can lead us to be distracted from this truth. We either cling to the letter of the law (or seeming formula of good books) to the point of becoming extra-Biblical in our living out of life, or we become so dead set of nonconformity that we refuse to hear wise counsel. We see these trends throughout the Bible, God continually laying down the law and people continually distorting it, but we also see these trends in our own hearts if we are honest. Read through the first couple chapters of Romans and you will see both sides addressed; Jews and Romans being opposing archetypes of the church. Whether you want to admit it or not, you are one of them.

So my final thoughts on 7, and input for the future 7 study have to do with those 2 groups, the law-abiders and the non-conformists.

To the law-abiders:

Chill out! This is not a competition to see who can fast the best, or the most. This book was not written as a new covenant Mishnah by which only those who adhere most closely to 7 concept will be made holy. It is not a formula unto salvation. The Hatmakers are not more beloved by God because they have a garden. Take it for what it is: the wise, quirky works of a fellow sojourner. This book should cause you to think, which is good, but it should not cause you to write a whole new handbook of conduct for your life.

The Bible is the authority, within it is all things that pertain to your life and godliness. Jen Hatmaker, David Platt, Francis Chan, John Piper, John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll, Ryan Kelly, insert-favorite-author-teacher-whatever-name-here WILL NOT SAVE YOU. There is only one mediator between God and man, the God/man Christ Jesus. There is only one law giver, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and our Father. There is only one who reveals to our hearts the words of life, the Holy Spirit. I love you law-abiders, I get you. I like reading Leviticus, that's how weird I am. But seriously, don't read this book if you will lose sight of God. Follow hard after Christ.

To the non-conformists:

Grow up! You have not been released from bondage to be lazy. The shackles of sin have been broken so that you can be doing, loving, walking in Christ. This book may be the kick in the pants you need to realize your "freedom" is really re-bondage. Yes you are set free, but with purpose. As fun as it sounds to just live however I want, using the freedom of salvation as an excuse, I need to live according to the law of loving God most of all and loving my neighbors as myself. This love is not a passive thing, it is a daily walking in Christ, for the glory of the Father, by the power of the Spirit. I can be the most spiritually free person on the planet, but if I don't have that kind of love then I have nothing. And neither do you.

The Bible has a lot about fighting, wrestling, racing, building, pressing on. Jesus didn't say, take off your yoke and lay down, he said take the yoke of the gospel upon yourself. There is work in the kingdom of God, but is the good light work of setting captives free by bringing the good news. Use your hands, use your feet, use your heart. You were made for love and good works. Look at the imperfect lives of those living that out and find encouragement. Feel the stirring in your heart for purpose, and then run with it. I love you non-confromists, I get you. I stick out like a sore thumb in my community of believers. Read this book, and ask God what he wants you to glean from it.

To all of us on both ends of the spectrum:

Let us join forces for the sake of the King! Let us lay down our petty differences, and hold fast to the Author of our faith. Let us hold hands and hearts with our fellow body members, remembering always that Christ is the head. Let us truly do the hard work of justice. Let us love the sweet pouring out of mercy. Let us walk humbly with our God. Let us be the church.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Watch and pray

Final chapter of the 7 read-along with Marla and friends. Like all of her other chapters, Jen Hatmaker does a fine job of blowing my expectations out of the water in this chapter on Stress. Did I expect her to ACTUALLY observe the Sabbath? Nope. Did I expect 7 sacred pauses? Nope. Did I expect God to wreck my heart last night during the Night Watch? ummm, no. Did I SO need this chapter? Yep.

Thank you mighty Creator of the Universe for making Jen Hatmaker just so, and gifting her in such ways that you can work in my heart through her words. I know she is a mere human being, but I am thankful for her messy, beautiful ministry.

Confession time. When I was younger I wanted to be a nun. I went to Catholic school for 4 years, even though my family is not Catholic, and in those 4 formative years I developed a strong affinity for liturgy and for nuns. I still observe Lent and Advent, not because anyone I know observes them, or because I come from a church tradition of such observations, but because my heart longs for periods of focused reflection on the Holy. I love being purposefully liturgical in our morning family worship, and enjoy seeing the unspoken liturgy of a Sunday church service at our non-denominational, Baptist-rooted-with-Presbyterian-leanings church. I was very upset when my parents laughed at my dream of becoming a nun, all I wanted to do is grow up to sing and pray all day. I know, that's not all that nuns do, but the only other thing I knew they did is teach and I didn't want to do that. Ironic because I teach teenagers every week. I also thought nuns were married to priests for a while, but was firmly set in my place by Sister Carol on that matter. (I will have you know, not all nuns are the sweet ladies from Sound of Music and Sister Act.)

I say all that to say that this chapter resonated in my heart. It brought up all those longings to sing and pray all day, longings I had laughed off as childish dreams. I don't think that 7 sacred pauses is much different from the intent behind God's command to the people regarding the covenant, for it to be ever before them and on their lips. It is no coincidence that God reminds his people throughout the entire Bible to remember his covenant, his character, his goodness now and throughout all generations.We are forgetful people, but he created order to help us remember. What a great and gracious God that he helps us in our weakness!

Here's the other part of the confession that I left out. I am terrible at praying. I am a "quick shout out while I'm thinking about it" or a "times are tough, so God I'm begging for help here" kind of pray-er. I am least often a "be still and know that I am God" pray-er. If it was my chosen vocation to pray 7 times a day I would go bonkers within a week because I am too distracted in times of prayer. Thank the Lord that he knew better!

"My prayers include rogue parenthetical thoughts:" yeah me too Jen. Me too. I love praying for people, but seriously can't go beyond about 4 sentences before I forget why I'm praying and have to look at my email again. I am of the MTV generation, and my attention span is evidence of that. I completely understand the need for "the bell" I would never remember to stop and pray if I didn't have an awkward physical reminder. (Lord, why don't I have an iPhone? I would pray so much better if I did! - yes, I admit I had that dumb thought. Then I realized my "dumb" phone could do that many alarms too.)

So, about the Night Watch. Take Day 6 (Jen's friend Jenny praying for the oppressed) and add in Day 14 (Jen's crying out for her adoptive kiddos) and that would be Night Watch for me last night. I have talked about this in depth already so I'll spare you the details and give you the quick version: we thought we were adopting a 13 year old girl, then everything fell apart. Ugly thorns and thistles have sprouted up in the beautiful garden of love for my daughter in my heart. So I read this chapter, turned off the light and just laid there. I tried to sleep, but God had different plans. I cried out for my daughter for hours. I have not prayed like that maybe ever. There was a moment when I was out of tears, and I raised my head to get some tissue and realized it was after midnight. God took my heart through the Night Watch on behalf of my baby. I may never know why God took me on this journey. I do know that at 1:00 am I prayed through the aspects of the Lord's Prayer with a deeper understanding than I had ever before. I was praying to my Father, who has infinitely greater love for me than I could ever fathom having for my daughter.

Marla asked that we share 2 things, and I would like to end on that note.

1. What’s something you feel burdened to pray about today?

I need to ask God what his plans are for my life. I want to just shut down, live just how I am now for the rest of my life, but I feel tugging in my heart for something more, greater purpose, harder but better things. I know that tugging is the Holy Spirit, so I need to ask, and be willing to hear the answer. I feel like that's a selfish answer, but at the same time feel like I have shut down any contemplation of the future as a result of the present being so hard that I just need to buck up and actually seek God for direction.

2. What’s something causing you stress that you could use prayer for today?

I have chronic pain. There are good days (2-4 on a pain scale of 1-10) and there are bad days (7-9) but there are no pain free days. This is not a new thing in my life, but has been at least a 20 year battle between my body and soul that has become more heated with age. I am hesitant to tell people of the current diagnosis because everyone either tells me I'm looney or tells me that Western medicine is a joke. (Both may be true but that doesn't help me right now.) The real point of stress in all this is that I need more rest than I am willing to give myself most days. The bad days I spend all day feeling guilty for not doing more, and the good days I drive myself so hard that I pay for it the next day. I need balance. I need to stop comparing myself to every other 30-something woman I know. I need to find real rest in Jesus.

Maybe I need to institute the sacred pauses to realign my priorities.

Monday, April 16, 2012

9 Months

In adoption terms, 9 months is not that long. In waiting for a child to join your family, it seems to be absolutely normal. In waiting for your heart to be fully broken, it's a lifetime.

We jumped into this adoption 9 months ago with naive notions about ourselves, about adoption, about God. We were fully submerged in expectation and paperwork and prayerful pursuit of our daughter from day one. It was not a gradual easing into the joy of a child, it was thrown in the deep end, all out, crazy love for the piece of our hearts we didn't even know was missing until we saw her sweet face. It was like we got a positive pregnancy test and decorated the nursery all in one weekend and then had another 9 months to await the arrival of our bundle of joy.

And now we will most likely never hear another word about her for the rest of our lives.

We are no longer the strong and stable people we believed ourselves to be. We are broken. Our hopes and dreams are dead and we don't even get to hold her one time to say goodbye. We cry way too easily, we hide out in our home hoping no one will notice our absence, we say inappropriate things when people ask us stupid questions. We smile and serve at church and come home and melt down. We are adrift in a storm.

Adoption is hard, ugly, messy business sometimes. No one really tells you this, and even if they do, you don't believe them. You see happy families around you in all their adoptive glory and have no box to fit people with broken hearts into. It's just beautiful, wonderful redemptive work. It's one of God's pictures, like marriage, and that automatically makes it amazing. But it is also the melding of broken lives together. Even when children join their forever families it is not sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows all day long. Just as marriage is harder than anyone could ever tell you, and soon to be married couples wouldn't listen anyway, adoption is harder than imaginable. And things break down. And adoptions sometimes fail. And there are more orphans in the world than anyone is capable of fathoming, so it seems absolutely unjust for adoptions to fail. A child needing a family, and a family needing a child, and yet bureaucracy, and culture, and sinful people get in the way of that perfect match.

And God is not in the business of making his people comfortable, happy, or fitting in with the people around them. God is in the business of conforming his people into the image of his Son. And sometimes (more often than not) God uses the hard, ugly, broken things of this world to break off our self-sufficiency, pride, and idolatry. He is not mean and vindictive. He is kind enough not to let us wallow in the slums of our ignorance and selfishness. He is working in our lives the good of sanctification by the heat and pressure of broken circumstances. He is holy God, the vestiges of my Adam-likeness are burned away in the heat of his glory. But burning hurts. It is difficult to cry out "my refuge, my fortress, my God, I trust you" while my entire self is a burning effigy of sin.

I spent 9 months waiting for my daughter to come home, but forgot often to pray that my heart would happily accept God's will. Now I struggle with bitterness. I spent 9 months being so productive because my home needed to be ready at any moment. Now I struggle with laziness. I spent 9 months sharing my heart with anyone who would listen. Now I have walled off my hurt so that no one will see how much I am broken by this. I spent 9 months caring about every girl who is being sold to meet the sick desires of sinful men. Now my daughter might be one of them. I spent 9 months thinking I have it all together, feeling so completely spiritual at my oblivious faith. Now I have almost nothing left.

Then out of nowhere this song wells up in my heart:

I am weak,
I am poor,
I am broken,
Lord, but I'm yours.
Hold me now!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What's my motivation?

Another week with Marla and friends in the lovely read-along of 7, or as I like to call it, "What's your motivation?" Everything I read in Month 6: Spending, was affirming, gut-kicking, and a reminder to my heart to focus on the heart of the matter. It's so easy to read the chapter and think that she's just talking about money, but truly, sweet Jen Hatmaker shoots straight to the heart of the gospel and what our lives can/should/need to look like in response. I am thankful for her constant reminders to be more like Jesus and less like "normal".

Even as much as I loved this chapter, I also am having a hard time seeing the immediate applicability of what I gained through reading. That's not true, I see it, but I don't really want to think about it, or apply it. Honestly, I prayed this morning a prayer that looks a lot like Psalm 13, among others. I am weary. This weekend we had what felt like the final conversation with our adoption agency about our daughter. Our hearts ache for the child who will never make it home. Agreeing that she is un-adoptable felt like an acquiescence to the truth we already knew rather than a decision we had to make. I sent out our final adoption update email, then took my dog to the vet to find out that he probably has cancer and needs surgery. This comes on the heels of finding out my body is more broken than I thought it was. And my husband's grandfather dying, and family drama surrounding that. And our youth minister leaving soon to pursue another ministry opportunity, which means the ministry is falling in our laps. And, and, and, and....

It's too much! I feel a lot less like Job saying "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him" and a lot more like "God why do you keep giving me breath?! Why won't you slay me?!"

But do I go to God to comfort my aching? No. I go to Starbucks, Target, Chick-fil-A, Talbots, JoAnns, Amazon and anywhere else I can get that temporary high of "owning" something. I feel so in control in my out of my control life when I can buy something all my own. I know that purchasing is a drug to me. Yet I struggle during times of wanting (emotionally, spiritually) with what is a want and what is a need, physically speaking.

I think I need new clothes, considering I'm still wearing the things that fit me 30-50 pounds ago. But when I go to the store and buy something I get a little sick at the thought of what better use of my money I could have come up with than a pair of pants that doesn't fall off. I want to buy a reasonably priced scooter to save us a ton of money on gas, but then I think about the added costs of a safety course, helmet, riding jacket, etc. and then I feel like it's just me trying to spend money to make myself feel better. And on and on it goes. I know I am in the middle of a life desert, and I know when in this kind of phase I am a purchasing self-soother, and all this knowledge just makes me suspicious of every thought and action. What is my motivation?

Am I saying in my heart the things Jen Hatmaker lists on Day 8 as justification?
  • It's no big deal.
  • I can afford this.
  • I've worked hard for my money, so I can spend it how I want.
  • I want this, back off.
  • I deserve this.**
  • Other people spend way more.*
  • I still have money in the bank.
  • What's the big deal?
( * Jen's excuse of choice. ** Danielle's excuse of choice followed by a tantrum about how hard everything is right now.)

Sometimes the "What's my motivation?" is self-condemnation. Sometimes it is the still small voice of the Holy Spirit reminding me that I am not to be conformed to this world. Rather I am to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. As I practice this transformation, like a newborn calf testing it's legs, I learn how to discern what is the perfect will of God.

I think it's time to re-read Romans again.

The other side of the I deserve it justification is giving. We give to the church. We give to church plants. We give to missionaries. We give to local outreaches. We give to friends who are adopting. We give and give and give. Why shouldn't I take what's left and do whatever I want? How easily I forget that it's all God's, not just the parts I feel led to give away. That he gives any to me to steward is out of his sheer kindness. It is not because I deserve to be able to live comfortably, it is so that I can be a broken clay vessel pouring out his goodness to others. This pouring out doesn't look like drops in the bucket here or there. It looks like walking another mile when only one is required. It is not only giving my extra coat away to someone in need but also giving the shirt off my back. It is the continual, repetitive laying down of my life, money, talents.

And this laying down should not ever be so that I can look like the Pharisees Jesus rebuked who prayed loudly in the street blocking the entrance to the temple, and helped those in need only when people were watching, and changed the meaning of the law to make their lives look better. Oh Lord forgive me for the times, more often than not, that this is what it looks like for me to love my neighbor. It looks great on the outside, but my heart is ugly.
Oh! to be like Thee, blessed Redeemer
This is my constant longing and prayer.
Gladly I'll forfeit all of earth's treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.
How I long for this simple hymn to be true in my heart!

Monday, April 9, 2012

The End

For those of you out there interested in our adoption journey but not on our email list, here is the final email.

Hello family and friends!

Thank you so much for your prayers and support through our adoption journey. It is with heavy hearts that we send this update, and it will probably be the last update we send. After months of prayer, consulting with our agency, and consulting with trusted friends who know a lot about adoption, we believe at this time that our daughter is not adoptable.

In our last official update we let you know that she had been asked to stay with her biological family as her mother is dying of cancer. We have not heard anything since then. Because we know she is with her family, our belief is that she will more than likely stay with her family. While we remain open to adopting her in the future if her situation changes, we have had to acknowledge that it is highly unlikely that we will ever hear anything again about our daughter.

Our hearts are broken at the loss of our daughter. We knew there were risks involved in pursuing this adoption, as there are in almost all adoptions, but we chose to love this girl. For us, she will always be ours in our hearts, and we will not cease to pray for her. We pray that she is safe, loved, and cared for. We pray for healing and reconciliation in her family. We pray most importantly that she will hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and come to believe in him for salvation, redemption, and spiritual adoption. Will you join us please in praying for this one precious life?

As for us, we don't know what our next step will be. We are hoping to spend some time pressing more into God, caring more for each other's hearts, and ministering always to "our kids" at church. Thank you all again for your partnerships in our journey.  Your thoughts, prayers, and kind words have been such an encouragement to us.


Danielle and JJ

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

This land was made for you and me

I have no power at my house as I write this. I’m using what battery power I have left on my laptop to write a blog post in hopes that some time today power will be restored and I will be able to post it. My assumption for why I have no power has to do with the fact that I live in the desert and it is snowing, IN APRIL! And everyone knows that desert dwellers panic when the roads turn ever so slightly white (or wet, or windy, or dirty) and in this panic tear down power lines with their SUVs that they think can handle anything. (Sweet lady doing your make-up, yelling at your kids, talking on your phone, and nervously driving too fast/slow: you need new tires on your people mover, and said people mover is top heavy. Please be safe.) I’m sure there are poor souls out there in the snow right now trying to restore power to my neighborhood, cursing the fact that it’s snowing IN APRIL, and shaking their heads at those idiot desert dwelling drivers.

The irony is not lost on me that I can’t post my blog post for the read along about the Waste chapter of 7 because I have no power at my house. How many times I have begged for a solar power system that can bail me out when everyone else is without the absolutely necessary energy that powers our TVs, computers, etc., etc., etc. Oh God, you’re so creative in your mocking of my idols! This chapter was another one for me of feeling confident going in and walking away with some serious heart conviction. Marla invited us to share our stories, and I jump at any opportunity to talk about myself, so let’s go!

I grew up going to Arlo Guthrie concerts with my dad, and singing heartily along when Arlo performed his daddy’s song, “This Land is Your Land” then coming home and consuming like it was my God-given right. In 5th grade our school had a whole green initiative thing (way ahead of its time) in which we all were shown videos of landfills with animated characters telling us the horrors of greenhouse gasses. We had an end of year musical all about Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling in which all of the kids were encouraged to obtain Styrofoam containers to use as puppets. Oh the irony. The only thing we recycled in our house was aluminum cans because nothing else could be recycled within our county, and dad made a few bucks off of selling aluminum.

Fast forward 20+ years to our current life. I am the crazy lady digging through the trash (mine and my neighbors) looking for things misplaced. In the kitchen/pantry we have a trash can, a recycling bin, an aluminum can, a bag of CDs to be mailed to recycle, a bag of batteries to be taken somewhere, a bag of plastic that our city won’t recycle but I can take to Whole Food’s, a bag of plastic bags to be recycled, and a bag of paper bags to be reused as bags or packaging material. The glass recycling is in the shed, and boxes go straight out to the giant recycling bin that I keep asking the City to kindly make bigger or give me two of. Have I thought of reducing my waste? Not really: it looks smaller once it's parceled out in so many different ways. My husband is a mechanic, so our home garage is filled (and emptied regularly) with steel, aluminum, copper, and batteries that otherwise would have ended up in the dumpster at work. I have piles of old t-shirts waiting to be turned into yarn and knitted into rugs. Yes, I am that crazy earthy crunchy lady you would prefer not to have as a neighbor because I don’t spray for weeds or bugs, and often only water outside plants if I have water in my trash-can-turned-rain-barrel.

I am however not as conscientious about my food. Our first year in our house I had a garden. My dog ate the oregano, squash bugs destroyed my zucchini, and my husband refused to eat anything made with fresh tomatoes. Everything else I killed because I didn’t want to waste the water to make it grow. So after drying an entire yard-full of basil, and giving some pretty ugly tomatoes away I gave up on growing things in the desert. I buy organic food when it’s convenient. I buy local food almost never. Part of that is laziness, and part of that is for safety reasons. Around these parts everything local (restaurants, farmers markets, even beer) is tainted with green chile. The locals love it! I’m deathly allergic. There are times of year when I can’t leave my house because folks are roasting fresh crops on seemingly every street corner in hopes that they can send me to the hospital with anaphylaxis. More than once I have asked God why he placed us here of all places, and more than once he has answered me with a million reasons that don’t include green chile. For breakfast this morning I had rice cakes from California, cheese from Illinois, avocados and grapes from Chile, fair-trade coffee from who-knows-where, half and half from Colorado, and sugar from Hawaii. My belly sure does get around!

 And this is all me, not even taking into account the little four legged babies in our house. Part of me cringes when buying Venison & Rice dog food in 50 lb bags because one of my babies gets sick from anything containing lamb, beef, or corn. Don’t even get me started on the nasty feline things that existed in my husband’s life before I did! I could feed a lot of people with the money I spend on these 4 fur balls! But then I remember that every one of our babies was abused, neglected, thrown out in the desert to die, or found starving on the streets. So I give them their expensive food, cover them with blankies, and pray for humans who are suffering worse fates than my animals. Ugh! That’s just ugly heart stuff right there.

Finally is the vehicle situation. We have two cars, but probably could do with only one. We have toyed with this idea, my husband biking to work every once in a while, looking up bus schedules, dreaming of lower fuel costs in our budget, but it would be so hard to make this transition that we have both discouraged the other from doing more research. We have hand-me-down cars which have benefited us financially, but have left us with a bit of an eco-friendly conundrum. My husband drives a Miata, I don’t drive it because I drive only automatic transmission vehicles. I have no desire to learn, don’t tell me how easy it is, it just results in crying and fighting with my husband that I don’t wish to revisit. Anyway, he averages 30+ mpg and fills ups every couple weeks. It’s a good deal for us. I drive an F-150, and I love my big truck. There are parts of town I hide my face in shame while driving my honkin’ truck through, and I have been yelled at more than once in a parking lot by angry hippies. They get into their Pruis’ not thinking of the environmental impact the giant battery in their car has but yell at me for averaging 15+ mpg. By the way, I fill up my tank about once a month.

Why do I love my truck? Because it is the means to many ends. All that automotive waste I mentioned earlier could not be so easily recycled if I couldn’t take it 3/4 of a ton at a time to the scrap yard. And the money I get from recycling that junk, it goes straight into our adoption expenses account. If I didn’t have a big truck bed I couldn’t haul mounds of recycling away from our church. Apparently my fellow church folk want to recycle, but have no idea how to actually do it, so it all piles up creating fire hazards until I take it away. I can transport 5 teenagers and all of their junk before/after/during youth events and have opportunities to love these kids while telling them to stop screaming. I can help friends and family move and be hands and feet of Jesus as we jenga sofas and kitchen tables in what seemed like a big truck until they brought all their stuff out to the curb.

But again this can all be self-justifying works. I do this, this, and this, and that means Jesus loves me more. NOT! Is my motivation in self-justification, self-glory, self-waste-reduction? If so then it is all folly. Is my motivation stewardship, obedience, creation work? Then maybe I’m on the right path. This land was made (by God) for you and me (to enjoy, protect, rebuild, and work.) Dear Woody, I'm slightly sorry for the revision to your song.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Flashy Things and My Heart

Linking again with Marla for the read-along. This week, 7: Media. I walked into this chapter feeling so good about myself. I believe smug would be the appropriate word. Our house is QUIET, and I like it that way. We have a friend who lives with us off and on (she's a bit of a vagabond, but we love her) and the biggest shock to my system when she's with us is the constant noise. Between music, TV shows, talking, singing, etc. I have days when my sinful heart can't wait for her to leave for school or work.

We cancelled our cable almost 2 years ago for financial reasons and realized shortly after how good it was to not be plugged into TV, DVR, and the constant consumerism flashing at us in 2 minute or less chunks. We almost never watch live TV, and have recently started taking family walks every night before plugging into something from Netflix. My husband's job is physically and mentally taxing, so sometimes he needs to just sit and stare at what I affectionately call "flashy things." My thorn in the flesh causes good days and bad days: I have super productive days when my house is super clean by the end, and days when the most productive thing I do is power through half a season of a TV show (thank you, Netfilx Instant!) Neither of us have smart phones, and the only reason we have unlimited texting is because our teenagers only communicate with 160 characters or less. Yep, I was smug coming into this chapter. Jen Hatmaker (and the Holy Spirit) can't touch me, I've got every excuse covered, I can power through without even blinking.

But as I read this book aloud in the car while my sweetie was driving us home from his grandfather's funeral I got a lot more than I expected from this chapter. Yes we read aloud to each other. We get that we're weird, there's no need to point it out. We are more than occasionally old fashioned 30 year old's and we're ok with that.

It was all fun and games, laughing it up at that crazy Hatmaker family until I got to Day 15. Jen starts talking to her former self in an encouraging torrent of "this is who you are, but this is is who you are becoming" and "don't lose heart" and "focus on the Kingdom." Oh my heart needed that. But most of all my heart needed to hear this:
Self-hatred is not appropriate when God reveals a new angle. That is not the way of Christ, who abolished condemnation under the banner of grace. The wise responder humbly receives truth, allows it to supersede the version he or she is holding, and adjusts. This progression is not cause for shame but gratitude; thankful God never leaves us where we are but draws us into a richer faith. ...I don't even know what I don't know. - p. 109
I had a very rebellious few years after I graduated from high school and before I met my husband. By a few I mean almost a decade of doing everything possible to run as far away from all that I knew to be true. I put myself in so many dangerous and foolish situations that I laid in bed last night crying, thanking God that he preserved my life. He very much brought me up from the pit and redeemed my life from destruction. I often look back at those years with shame and heartache and the things I lost, the mistakes I made, the riches I squandered chasing after everything that is temporary and vain. I read Ecclesiastes and feel sometimes like maybe I could have written it, I grasped at the wind!


God promised me, his child, that there is only grace in Christ. It is no longer me who lives my life, but Christ in me. The only thing sweeter than that is death. I am not my own, I was bought with the price of Jesus' blood. Propitiation has been made for all of my wanderings and failings. All of those old things have passed away, my LIFE has been made new.

Thank you Lord for using my sister Jen to remind me of the truth of the gospel in my life.

So I keep reading, and Day 26 is another needed kick in the head.

Back story: When my husband and I have morning worship together we have a time when we ask each other "How's your heart?" We often forget to ask this question of each other, so we for now are forcing it for the sake of it becoming habit in our relationship, and for it to become natural worship to God to care for each other. It helps us love each other better, and pray for each other better, and sometimes it's just good to know that another human being knows where our heart is at day to day. The particular day we read 7 together we had a long "How's your heart?" time because we were in the car for 7 hours with nothing to do but talk to each other or listen to the radio. Our hearts are in about the same place for once. There is a lot of tension in our lives, many things floating in the air without answers and we are trying to figure out which thing is what God wants for us. My poor husband has the hard job of leading our family right now in following Christ when there is just enough light for half a step in the direction we're supposed to go. It's just plain hard and exhausting right now.

Enter Day 26. I could quote the ENTIRE day because I cried while reading it to my husband. But I won't. I'll just quote the part that brought hopeful tears:
the story of God's people comprises a billion little moments when an average believer pressed on, carried through, stepped up. In the quantity of ordinary obedience, the kingdom truly advances.
I was ready to feel so self-justified as I read this chapter. Instead I was reminded over and over that I am only Christ-justified.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Grace for purging

Back again with Marla talking about Jen Hatmaker's book 7: this week is Possessions. But before I go into what thoughts I had while reading this chapter I want to talk about Marla. Marla is a brave woman. Who else would host a read-along about such a conscience challenging book and willingly take on open and honest discussion about things that are challenging Western church culture like consumerism? And who else would do it with such grace and reckless obedience to the work God is doing in her heart? I'm convinced only my friend Marla would. I love her brave heart, I love that she doesn't think she has all the answers, and I love that she is so kind, forgiving, and apologetic when the iron sharpening iron hurts. I'm thankful she didn't give up hosting this read-along after last weeks explosion of discussion about clothes, 'cause I think this is all good stuff for the Western church to realize that consumerism is a cultural thing, not a God mandated thing. And now I'm stepping on toes...

I was just thinking the other day how cool it is to read a book about the journey God has had you on for years. I didn't realize that God was taking me through some forced fasting, I just thought he was trying to make my head explode! Every chapter so far has resonated in my heart not because Jen Hatmaker is so eloquent (although I love her writing,) and not because I feel really convicted by what is covered, but because this is confirmation that the journey my heart has been on over the last few years is good and right for me. I cried when I read about Jen speaking at a women's conference and all those ladies giving away their possessions, it reminded me of the church in the NT that Paul had to tell them to stop giving 'cause it was too much sacrifice for them. I cried in hope for those women, and in joy that God has brought me to a place where that seems good, not crazy.

When my husband and I married 4.5 years ago we combined two adult lives and households into one house. We moved into our house 6 months later and put everything in one bedroom and said we would unpack 1 box a night until that room was cleared out. 3 years after that almost every box in that room was opened, dug through because we were looking for something, and then thrown back in with more stuff piled in on top. It was floor to ceiling waste, and it just made my heart sad, but I didn't want to tackle it all by myself, and besides not all of that junk was mine. Sometimes I step back and marvel at the childish attitude I have in our marriage, it's all mine unless something has to be done about it and then it's not mine at all.

Then we started talking adoption, and quickly we started talking adoption of a particular girl. I laid awake in bed at night thinking of her sleeping on a mat on the floor while I laid in my comfy bed that I constantly complained about. I looked at labels on things I wanted to buy and often saw the name of the country she lives in. I thought of her beautiful face with sweat pouring down it while she made all of that junk that I didn't even appreciate and just piled in the room of waste. Her delicate hands struggling to get a seam just right on a shirt I wore once and didn't like how it fit so I gave it away. She is in a safe place and not doing hard labor, but many children in her country are not, and now I have a face to put to that ugliness. The daughters and sons of that country are slaves to the daughters and sons of this country, and we all turned a blind eye because we want to keep up with the proverbial Joneses more than we want to care about the quality of life of strangers on the other side of the planet.

So as we prepared our house for imminent arrival (which still has not happened 6+ months later, but at the time we thought it would be within the next few days,) we started to analyze every thing in the room of waste. We dug out every corner of our house, looked it over and decided if what we had was really worth keeping. There was urgency to the purging. We wanted nothing to stay if it would distract in any way from our loving our daughter. About half of our possessions went out the door in a weekend because we wanted our hearts and lives to be uncluttered. We wanted our daughter to walk in our house overwhelmed by love, not stuff.

She still is not home, and it's looking more and more like she will never be. So should we just start re-amassing things to fill the whole in our hearts left by the daughter who never made it home? Should we just readjust back to "normal" and forget all about the dream of loving people more than we love our comfort and happiness? Perish the thought! Even as I pray for God to work miracles to get her home, and pray for my heart to heal if she doesn't come home, I pray that God would not allow us to fall back into "normal" but would continue to conform us from glory to glory. The awareness of this precious life half a world away caused my heart to be aware of millions of precious, marginalized, forgotten lives all around me. Even if she never makes it into my arms, she is part of the legacy God is building in my heart. He is tearing down what I want my kingdom to look like, and is building a glorious messy kingdom of grace that gets all up in the brokenness of lives and sets prisoners free, heals brokenhearted, and cares about the orphan and the widow in their affliction.

I pray that God continues to tear down my waste and mess. I pray that his kingdom would come, his will would be done, on Earth, and in my heart, as it is in Heaven.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fig leaves or armor?

Chapter 2 of 7 with Marla and friends, and I am conflicted. I preach to my HS girls often about our hearts, that changing our actions isn't nearly as important as our need for God to change our hearts. I feel like Jen Hatmaker gave me a dose of my own medicine this week. So, since I don't know where to start with this, and usually I can just free form ideas into the madness that is this blog, I'm actually going to follow Marla's suggested pattern for the week.
In a culture that elevates beauty and style, the Christian community is at genuine risk for distraction, even deception. - p 67
I struggle with this often. I come from a church tradition of always wearing Sunday best. I wore a dress to church every day of my childhood. It was the one day a week when my mom would curl my hair, she would even paint her nails for Sunday morning. I now go to a church where jeans, shorts, flip-flops, whatever, is the standard. It's almost as odd (culturally contrary) in my current church to wear a dress on Sunday as it would have been for me to wear shorts to church when I was a kid. Usually though I wear my "nice" clothes because if I didn't wear them to church I would have no need to even have anything other than jeans and t-shirts in my wardrobe. Here's my real struggle though: for a church that in it's actions says that particular clothing is not necessary for worship, I've had more conversations on a Sunday morning about clothes (hair, make-up, etc.) than about real heart issues. I have had more people ask me if I made the scarf I'm wearing that day than people asking how my heart is doing with our adoption process, or lack thereof. But before I start feeling all high and mighty, I know I'm the same way. I will comment on a million things I like about your outfit before I ask how I can pray for you this week. Some Sundays I get so concerned about what I will wear that day, and how out of control my hair is, that I end up fighting with my husband about nothing and not even taking a breath until I sit down in my seat at church. Most of the week I have no clue what I'm wearing, but somehow my heart is programed to care on Sundays in an unhealthy and unnatural way. What are Sundays for? Am I there for corporate worship, teaching, fellowship, and love or am I there to make a good impression, to make people think I'm all put together, to be noticed?

I don't know where I fit as far as my attitude about clothing. My current wardrobe is about 1/4 of what I used to have. But there are a lot of days that I feel discontent because I have the same 100+ items to choose from. I have had days where I smell something all day and then realize it's the pair of jeans I've been wearing for so many days that I can't remember the last time I washed them. Every time I sit down with a new knitting project my husband asks if I'm making myself ANOTHER scarf. I have walked away from a $2 t-shirt in the Target sale rack because I can't justify the purchase, but have splurged on a $20 (it's on sale how can I pass up that deal?) purse because I'm just tired of the one I have. I would love to say that I don't care about clothes, but every time my fashionable mom is clearing out her closet I get excited to go "shopping" for new things. I'm so contradictory it's embarrassing. I know I would have a hard time limiting myself to only 7 items of clothing because I would be worried that people would notice my repeat outfits, but if I'm being realistic I think I wear about 10 items of clothing on a regular rotation with very few substitutions. The problem though is that none of this matters. I could have half as many clothing items as I do now and still have a heart that is too focused on outward appearance. I could have twice what I have now and love my neighbor better.

I NEED spiritual clothes more than physical trappings. I need a belt of truth wrapped around me, and a breastplate of righteousness protecting my heart. I need shoes for my feet that make me ready to charge forward preaching the gospel of peace. I need faith that covers me like a shield and protects me from fiery darts of comparison, greed, envy, strife. I need the knowledge of my salvation to protect my mind from doubt. I need the double edged sword of the Word of God to pierce through to the thoughts and intentions of my heart. I need prayer to cover me like a cloak.

This is what I need, but often I feel like Adam and Eve sewing together fig leaves to hide myself from God and others.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Beans, Rice, and Perspective

Here I am with Marla for the first week of the 7 read along. FOOD. This chapter felt so familiar to me. God has taken me through my own food journey for the last year and half, and I could so relate with what Jen Hatmaker had to say (both the "I can't take it anymore" and the "wow God.")

My body has always been weird. I have a multitude of reminders that I have a broken body because of a broken world, but the one that could have explained a vast majority of those issues is that I have extreme food allergies. Unfortunately, 30 years ago no one was testing babies, toddlers, young children for food allergies, unless they had an obvious reaction. My momma always fed us pretty healthy food, very little packaged stuff, minimal ingredients, low sugar and fat content. All the stuff we are supposed to have. I was allergic to most of it and had no clue. I felt nauseated after eating at almost every meal for as long as I can remember. I have major sugar spikes and drops that seem to be random. I had behavioral issues, concentration issues, and constantly was alternating between ok and sick. These were all seemingly unrelated, but new research shows that many of them can be connected to constantly being exposed to foods you are allergic to. Rather than having one major reaction I was having hundreds of little ones that were piling up.

A year and a half ago I finally ended up at an allergist's office as a last resort. They did the prick test for quite a few things (75+) and I experienced my first taste of anaphylaxis. My husband had to be called at work to come take me home 2 hours later once they felt my blood pressure had normalized. I walked into the allergist's office knowing 1 food I was allergic to. I walked out with a list of 10 things to eliminate from my diet immediately. I didn't even know what to eat for dinner that night. My entire world turned upside down. How had I made it this far in my life without any awareness that I was slowly killing myself?

I was confronted with my own mortality months before my 30th birthday, and it took me weeks to get over the shock of it. I was in a very miry pit of despair, and had only salad and chicken to comfort my broken heart. Every new thing I tried to make came out as a disaster at least once. My husband is still convinced that a particular brand of rice noodles is actual rice glued together in noodle shapes and if you cook it too long the glue melts and you end up with a hearty ground turkey sauce over rice rather than spaghetti. I didn't have snack food anymore. Shopping took me at least twice as long because I had to read every ingredient on the package. More than once I walked out of the grocery store crying, abandoning my cart half full of awful tasting food on an aisle, because I just couldn't take the constant reminders of what I couldn't have. The final straw was when I went down the anaphylaxis road again after partaking in Lord's Supper. This is a commanded grace that I can no longer have, surely God had to have planned for this way back when Jesus broke the bread!

I got tired of people trying to relate to me by telling me how hard it is to find quality organic fruit. I was hurt more than once by someone who argued that allergies were all in my head and I just needed to rise above. I felt so alone when with friends or family because every meal revolved around people asking me what I couldn't have at the meal, and then telling me how good that banned substance was. I lost 40 pounds in 6 months, mostly because I was not even coming close to meeting basic dietary needs on a daily basis. People would invite us to dinner, I would tell them about my food restrictions and suddenly they would forget to call to schedule dinner. I tried to send recipes to friends and family, post successful meals to Facebook, bring things to potlucks with every ingredient written down, make bread for the entire church so that I could participate in Lord's Supper. Since I tend to live life full force that's what I did with this new-found issue. I was on my own personal crusade to educate everyone I knew about food allergies and tell them how to treat people with food allergies better.

But God had bigger plans than me making sure that everyone knew I was dying on my cross of food allergies. I started to realize how wasteful I was being with the abundance of food I was turning my nose up at because it wasn't what I was used to. Rather than complain that I had to eat yet another rice and bean meal, God made me aware of the millions of lives that would treasure beans to add to their rice, if they even had rice. I saw absolute joy in the eyes of a couple people I gave grocery bags full of food that I had to take out of my pantry. People I love who were struggling to put food on their tables and I didn't even know it until I gave them a bag of noodles. A friend confided in me that she was so thankful for bread that I gave her; her dinner the night before had been a scoop of peanut butter and a scoop of jelly out of the jar because she couldn't afford bread and that's all she had left in the house. People I hugged at church and told them I loved them were going hungry. While I complained about another batch of brownies that tasted awful, I forgot to invite people to dinner. People who would have been happy with any disaster meal I made were being neglected because I was too busy talking to listen. I realized that there are people in my city who have to eat food they are allergic to because that's the only kind of food they have at the local food bank. Starving people all around me and all I could think about was how hungry I was!

And in my hunger God gave me Romans 8. This has been the anthem of my heart for almost 2 years. I am not condemned because I am set free IN Christ. If I live according to what my flesh wants I die, but if I live according to what the Spirit wants for me I live. I am an adopted child of God, and part of my inheritance in the Kingdom is suffering. But I'm not alone in my suffering, Christ suffered, and all of creation groans for final redemption! The Spirit knows what is in my heart and intercedes for me when I am without words to go on. All of these things are being used to conform me into the image of Christ. I was chosen specifically for this life. But in everything I am sure of one thing, NOTHING can separate me from the love of God.

Not even food allergies.

I have truly experienced hunger, and it makes my heart ache for others. Lord thank you for beans and rice... and perspective.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mercy hiding in plain sight

Starting in on another read along with Marla, my heart is in a bad place. The book is 7 by Jen Hatmaker, and judging by the intro I think I will be exceptionally challenged by this book. It's not that I think I have an issue with excess in many areas of my life per se, more that I know my heart is wicked and twisted and even my non-excess is excess wrapped in self-righteousness. Romans 7:24 seems to be my refrain lately.

Marla invited us to do several things in this first week, and while I would feel more comfortable doing anything else, I think sharing my "right now" story is really what's best. Since my heart is in a bad place I think it best to just bear it out so that I can hopefully be more willing for God to work through this read along.

I doubt the mercy of God. My heart breaks to even admit that. I know that God is good, faithful, wise, holy, righteous, powerful. I preach God's mercy to our students at church, but in my heart, in my life, I fail to see it. I have come to a point of feeling like all God does is strip me down, he leaves nothing stable, nothing secure, nothing good. I've even started fearing that he will strike my husband dead because he isn't merciful enough to let me have that one good thing.

All of this is blasphemy. O Lord of glory, forgive my wretchedness, save me from myself.

The Lord gives AND the Lord takes away, I will bless his name.

I don't know why God put in my heart an overwhelming desire for children. I have no children. Even as I think that my students are stand in children, and love them passionately, I know they are not mine. The daughter I know is mine may never come home, in fact my heart is pretty sure of that fact. I sat with several moms of our students on Sunday while they chatted about life. One came to join the group and started asking questions about schools, going around the circle to let every mom have a chance to say the schooling choices for her kids. When she got to me she said something flippant which I know was just to move on to the next person, but it cut deep into my heart. In that moment I knew I was not part of the group, and I wondered if I ever would be.

I have two kinds of friends, the ones who are my age or older and have multiple children, and the ones who have no kids but are so much younger than me that I feel like I'm mentoring them. Both groups are far too busy to spend much time on friendship, and I am left in a no man's land of loneliness. Most days it's just easier to stay home, or go out and interact with strangers as I run my errands, than to reach out to the people God has placed in my life. I'm tired of pursuing friendships that no one has time for. I'm tired of trying to find commonalities with people who know they have very little in common with me. I'm tired of being lonely.

Then God gives me days where this is on repeat in my head all day long:
Let every man be considered a liar
If he doubts the goodness and faithfulness of God
- Josh Garrels

And it hits me smack between the eyes: I have spent so long wallowing in self-pity, self-gratification, self-justification, self-(everything else) that I have begun to believe lies about God. There is so much more that God needs to strip away from me, the fact that he hasn't is evidence of his mercy.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.