Thursday, June 20, 2013

Practicing Joy

We are just over 700 days into our adoption process.  That is 1 year, 11 months, 1 week, and 6 days to be exact.  Just over 700 days.  Some days that number seems really high.  In a way, the time has moved quickly.  More days than that, however, it feels just the opposite--like that 700 really is at least 1000 years because the time is moving slowly.

I read a familiar Scripture, 2 Peter 3:8, yesterday: "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends; With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day."  I made note that on the days when it feels like time is dragging on and a thousand years have passed in 24 hours, the Lord understands my pain and is there WITH me.  The verse above says so.  "With the Lord a day is like a thousand years..."  He is with me on those hard days that feel indescribably long.  And when the days are passing quickly, I also found great comfort in the fact that God is with me on those days too.  When this process is said and done and Nora is eating breakfast at our table and saying prayers with us at night, these 700+ days will feel like less than a day in the grand scheme of things.  That concept truly does help my brain simmer down on how much I am missing out on as the days count onward.

So at just after 700 days, where are we at in the process?  How close are we to bringing Nora home?  Those are the questions I get asked most often.  Although I don't have all of the answers, here is the best I've got...

We are in our 7th week in the department called MOI (Ministry of Interior).  Our original projected time line puts this part of the process at 3-6 months.  Just before we got into MOI, the typical time frames were running 4-6 weeks if there were no errors in the paperwork, but if there were errors, we should be prepared to sit there for quite some time.  All of the others ahead of us in our orphanage have unfortunately run into issues in MOI and have definitely been in for 3-6 months now.  I'm heartbroken for them as I want their children home just like I want Nora home.  It's hard for my brain to comprehend why this last check over all of the materials would take so long if they had made it through all the other departments fine, but to put it into a bit more perspective, there are supposedly around 2000 files in MOI to be processed right now.  On top of that, the building MOI is located in just went through a remodeling project and shut down for the reconstruction.  (Can you even imagine if one of our US governmental offices just simply shut down while it was being remodeled???  What a concept.)  It helps to face the realities of the timeline when you have some sort of facts to cling to.  Anyway, we currently have no clue if our papers have any errors or not so we just don't know how long it will take us to get through MOI.  That has been very frustrating to me, and as much as I want an answer to that question, I know I will not get it for now.  Many people would say this is a chance to practice patience.  That typically brings a quick eye-roll from this Mama.  Um, no, I've had a little over 700 days to practice patience...I think I have that one down at this point, thank you very much.  But what it does give me is an opportunity to practice something practice joy.

Take note, like I had to, that joy is not happiness.  Happiness is conditional, elusive to some, caught by many and then dropped by everyone as soon as something comes along that steals it away.  If your day is going well, you are happy.  If it is not going well, you are not so happy.  It's not something that is constant despite the situation you find yourself in.  Joy, however, goes beyond the beginnings and ends of each situation.  Joy can be held captive within your soul and heart when the next "bad" thing comes along trying to steal it away.  Joy is a gift of the Spirit.  A gift that is given by a Holy God because He loves us.  It is ours for the keeping!  It is a gift that unfortunately has been getting buried a bit this far into the adoption journey and lately I've realized the need to pull it out to the surface again.

This journey has been weary for me, there is no getting around that.  It has taken me to depths I have never gone before and taught me such amazingly wonderful things about God, myself, and others I had never learned before.  It has had moments of gut-wrenching pain and mountain-top elation.  It has drawn our family closer together and caused a fierce love to grow for a certain little lady we are blessed to adding to our family.  It has brought out the uglies in me and it has given me opportunities to share the love of Christ with others.  It has brought deep sorrow for so many different reasons and it has had many happy times as well.  Through it all, joy has always been there--sometimes deep underneath and sometimes at the surface, but it has been there.  Lately, it has been deep underneath.  I have allowed the frustrations and heartache of the wait and unanswered questions to push it deeper and deeper underneath my bitterness and child-like "it's not fair" pouting fits.

A few weeks back, however, after some great time in the Word and talking with Micah, I realized I was allowing the end of this adoption to be shaded with negativity instead of joy.  I was allowing the beauty of adoption and the excitement of the fact we have been chosen to add this amazing little girl into our family to be lost in the negatives.  Even when it feels like a 1000 year type of day, our time of waiting is drawing closer and closer to an end and instead of getting more and more excited for Nora's arrival, I have been focused on the frustrations of the moment instead.  It's almost like the end of a pregnancy when the mom-to-be has swollen feet, can hardly move her front-heavy body around, and is overwhelmed with her pre-labor emotions.  Is she thinking about the excitement and joy of the miracle of life that is just around her corner?  Not really.  In all honesty, she's thinking about how to get her body off the couch one more blasted time to get to the bathroom before she pees her pants...again.  (Am I right, moms out there???)  It is HARD for that precious mom-to-be to focus on the blessing inside of her body that is about to make his or her appearance.  It is hard for her to take her mind off the circumstances surrounding her and focus more on the joy of the role God has given her to bring life into this world.  So it is with this adoption--it is hard to choose the joy and excitement of what is happening--the final moments getting in line before the miracle moment--over the realities of what my current situation is--tired of being "pregnant" for over 700 days.

However, since that realization a few weeks back, I have seen the freedom and blessing in choosing to practice joy.  I say "practice" because I have to admit, it is still not a the point of coming completely natural.  I still have to consciously think about choosing joy.  I have to make myself choose joy each day (or several times a day).  I have to practice because I'm pretty out of shape using it.  When I do it, though, it is liberating to my soul.  Joy, friends, is the blessing of feeling in control of myself again and making the decisions the Lord has always meant for me to make.  I no longer allow the situations and circumstances of my day to determine if my joy is unleashed or not.  Joy is a gift the Lord has given to me and it is MY choice to have it, not my circumstances choice.  Because I have decided to say YES to joy--YES to including this gift God has given me into my day--I have found myself so much more focused on the excitement of the coming events than ever before.  Nora is coming home, friends!  I have MUCH joy because of this fact.  I refuse to let the unknowns of that date and time steal away the joy God has given me to experience even in the wait.  Today, I choose to practice joy and regain the gift He has given to me.  The more I do it, the more peace comes and replaces the frustrations of a weary brain, the more love comes and replaces bitterness with people I have never met who handle our paperwork, the more hope comes and replaces the feelings that this will never end.  This joy, when found in my heart, is extended to others too, and the more joy is shared with the world.

The Lord gave me a Word that has spoken Truth and Blessing over my weary body.  It is found in Hosea 2:14-15: "Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.  There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.  There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt."  See, friends, even though I feel like I'm indeed trekking through a desert these days, I can rest knowing that God is the One who has led me here because He is longing to speak tenderly to me.  There is no better place to do so than where I am most needy--a desert place.  Because I have followed Him to this desert place, I am promised such treasures--I am promised by the Lord to have tender words spoken over me, my vineyards (my fruit of the Spirit) restored (which includes my JOY), and I will be given hope again.  I will sing again as I did when I first found my freedom and I'm so excited for that!

So even after 700+ days of wandering around in the desert with the Lord, I have the ability, the privilege, the choice given to me by Him to have joy, to experience joy, to practice joy until it comes naturally.  I am grateful for the desert place I'm in with the Lord and the joy I am finding there.  Practicing leads to perfecting.  Not that I'll ever get my joy perfected before entering the gates of Heaven, but the more I do it, the better I'll be.  This concept reminds me of a little song on my Bullfrogs and Butterflies tape I listened to as a child...perhaps this is the "song of my youth" from that passage in Hosea God wanted me to start singing again...

One of the ways to I've found helpful in practicing joy is reading Scripture that points me in the right direction.  Here are a several for you to use if you, too, are needing that boost of encouragement today...

  • "The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes." ~Psalm 19:8
  • "The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him." ~Psalm 28:7
  • "Bring joy to your servant, Lord, for I put my trust in you." ~Psalm 86:4
  • '"When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy." ~Psalm 94:19
  • "If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." ~John 15:10-12
  • "A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy." ~John 16:21-22
  • "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." ~Romans 12:12
  • "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." ~Romans 15:13
  • "Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." ~Philippians 2:1-3
I pray blessings of joy over myself and each of you today no matter where God has you in your own life.  Whether you are in a desert place or a mountain top high, joy is a gift within you--I pray you chose to experience it today...the freedom it brings is priceless!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Sometimes Mothers Don't Know Best...Lessons from a 7 Year Old's Birthday

I've been mulling over the content of this post for several weeks now.  The more I chew on it, the more it speaks to my heart of hearts and the more my heart of hearts smiles.  I smile not because of something I have done, but because of the work of the Lord in my daughter's heart and even my own.  He certainly loves us all and calls us all to be missionaries of His love to others...even 7 year olds.

Let me take you back several weeks with me.  The scene would be my almost 7 year old daughter sitting on a couch asking me when we are going to send out her birthday party invitations.  Birthday invitations, yep, almost forgot those.  In all the planning of when the party will be scheduled, what the theme will be, what decorations we'll use, what the cake will be decorated as and how many people we will invite, we somehow missed also figuring out WHO we will invite and actually getting the invitations in the mail.  Oh the woes of birthday party planning...there is so much to do.  However, we did have to get those invitations out because the party was just a few weeks away and the rest would be pointless if there were not people there to enjoy it all.  So, with that background, the work of the Lord began.

I told Lily to get a piece of paper and write down the names of the girls she wanted to invite to her party.  We previously agreed to invite only 6 girls this year because, with her included, that would make 7 girls total and she was turning 7 years old--seemed fitting.  (Last year we had 13 girls and it was...well...a tad overwhelming).  So, with pencil and paper in hand, Lily made her list.  When she handed it to me, I was surprised to see names of young girls I had never heard of before instead of the familiar names of the ones we've seen grow up beside our daughter over the past 7 years.  Where were the names of her closest friends?

Instantly, I began to derail the work of the Lord.  "Um, Lil, I don't even know these girls.  Who are they?  Why didn't you put your best friends on the list?"

Looking at me like she had never even thought of that notion, Lily answered, "Well, these are some of the people I know from school and the bus, Mom.  I wanted to invite them to my party."

Still oblivious to my undermining, I said, "Well, that's sweet of you, Honey, but since you can only invite 6 girls, don't you want those to be your closest friends?  Don't you think your friends will be sad if they are not invited to your party while other people you don't know very well were?"

"But, Mom," Lily pleaded, "these girls haven't ever been to my house yet and I thought it would be fun to have them come to my party so I could show them where we live and my room and toys and stuff."

To which, in my not-so-glamorous moment, I replied, "Well, I understand that you want to have other girls over but let's do that some other time this summer and invite your closest friends to your birthday party instead, okay?  That way you get to celebrate with your friends!"

With a roll of the eyes and a "Yes, Mom," Lily began erasing well-meaning names off her list and replacing them with her "closer" friends just like her mother told her to do.  (Insert hind-sight shutter).

Mind you, I had no guilt over my decision to have Lily change her invitation list.  No reservation that I had perhaps not made the right choice.  No further thoughts that made me question if my motherly advise was good or not.  I mean, come on, this is what parties are like, right?  A place of celebration where our closest friends surround us and cheer us on.  A place where you are the highlighted person amongst your peers or co-workers or family members for a short time because of an accomplishment of some sort--like turning another year older.  For young girls, a birthday party is a place where you get to open presents, eat cake, and laugh the hours away with all of your friends.  It's not a time or place where you actually do Kingdom it?  Well, I believe God has a differing opinion than I did.

The very next morning, forgetting the events with my daughter the evening before, I opened up my Good Morning Girls Bible study reading to a passage in Luke 14.  That's when everything started to unravel and God got my attention.  If there is any question on whether the Bible still applies today, this is an example of how I could answer that with a profound "YES!"  The active and applicable Word of God is what opened my eyes to the Truth.  Read with me...

Luke 14:12-14
"Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,  and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Ouch...a good ouch. Instantaneously, I had complete conviction over my oh-so-wise mothering decisions the evening before.  How could I be so blind to the way I was misguiding my precious daughter away from her innocent and tender way of being a follower of Christ's ways?  How could I be so gullible to following the ways of this world...the ways of adults...the ways of conditioned people who think selfishly of who they WANT to be around for a few hours instead of who they SHOULD be around for a few hours.  How did I miss the holiness of my daughter's choice of guests?  I was so grateful for the wake up call.  So grateful for God's Word.  So grateful He didn't leave me in my shallowness, but drew me into a deeper knowledge of His ways and His desires.  I knew I needed to have a talk with Lily when she got off the bus that afternoon and was so excited to express my sincere apologies and seek forgiveness from her.

After Lily bounded off the bus, I sat down on the couch with her and told her I needed to show her what I read in the Bible that morning.  We read the passage together and I apologized for not following what Christ had taught there.  I also thanked her for her heart's desire to reach out to those who had never had the chance to come to our house or be invited to one of her special parties.  I made sure she knew she was very, very right in her train of thought and that her heart was so very good.  I told her, in the end, it really didn't matter who she invited to the party--whether it was some of her closer friends and family or girls she had never invited over before.  What was important was following the whispers Christ had put into her heart and not allowing others (even her very own mother) stand in the way of that.  I gave her the paper back and told her to please invite whomever she wanted to invite, and that if there were new friends on that list, I would be excited to get to know them better.

So, she did rewrite the list...back to the original almost and I couldn't have been more elated.  A 7 year old missionary of Christ's love.  Yep, that is what I have growing up in my presence.  A 7 year old who has a heart that beats to the drum of the Lord.  A 7 year old who is willing to sacrifice sharing cake with her "besties" in order to bring others into her home who haven't had that chance yet.  A 7 year old who is more focused on others feeling included and loved than on what others will think of her decisions.  A 7 year old who I am so very blessed to have as my daughter.  A 7 year old who just schooled her mom on how to live like Jesus.

I'm thanking the Lord for her today.  Thanking the Lord for using her and His Word to teach me, once again, that even though I'm the mother, sometimes mothers don't always know what's best.

P.S.  She had a fun, crazy loud party with other precious young girls whom we were blessed to get to know a little better.  Praise the Lord!