Unearthing My Idols

I like to feel productive. Do you? But as commendable as that might sound, I know it can also become idolatrous--at least for me. Maybe some of you can relate. For me, most of my idols aren't apparent until I experience some kind of loss. When things are going well, I don't recognize them. But when some type of loss, pain, or tragedy enters my life, they stand out in stark relief.

Through these past 18 months, I have been going through my own journey of grief, even as we have welcomed Anah into our family. Because we were obeying the Lord and doing something good, it never crossed my mind that I would have to suffer grief. I thought that we could just incorporate her into our lives without too much difficulty. After all, she is older and not a newborn, right?

Wrong.

I won't go into all the details of the things I have lost. Suffice it to say that I have felt the loss of some dreams that are near and dear to my heart, much of which is related to this website. And these ideas were ones that I believe came from God.

The problem was not that they came from God, but that I looked to them and not God for my worth, identity and purpose. I had come to believe that what I did gave me purpose in life. However, when Anah came, all those dreams had to be set aside, if not permanently abandoned. I found myself mired down by all her many needs that drained all my physical, emotional and spiritual resources, so much so that I had little time for anything else, including my marriage, friendships and myself. Survival was and has been the goal in my life now. That and making sure the other kids had as smooth a transition as possible.

Instead of enjoying this season of my life, I found myself resenting it. Instead of bonding with Anah, I found myself feeling bitter towards her. I felt like God had short-changed me. Instead of enjoying the challenges of learning new things, writing my (of course) profound insights, and interacting with others, I found myself repeating the same thing over and over, cleaning up toileting accidents, and looking into blank eyes. How could He do this to me when I had served Him (I thought) so faithfully? It was cruel.

Because we now have Anah, not only have I lost much of what I enjoyed, our lives have had to slow down tremendously. With her, everything is extremely slow: dressing, bathing, toileting, eating, learning, and even moving. There is a lot of waiting involved whenever she is around. I cannot do what I want to do when I want to do it. Her slowness impinges on my agenda, chopping my time into tiny bits so that I do not have the long stretches of time to tackle a project, write a post, or study productively--or any of the life-giving things I once enjoyed doing.

So what has this got to do with idolatry? As I sat thinking about it this morning, I realized that because I was not able to have the time to do these big things, I felt unproductive. And when I felt unproductive, I felt like I was worthless. I had made my work, my productivity, my pride in being able to see my accomplishments my god instead of the Lord.

It is at this point then, that God has had to rebuke me by showing me the truth of what I was believing. Even though I know that my works cannot save me, I am still relying on my works to give me a sense of worth and value. I have replaced Him with something, while good, is lesser.

Ironically, since God has been revealing these unflattering truths about myself, I have found myself writing more, mostly in an effort to process and internalize them more deeply. (Sorry to have to drag you into this.) This is my third post this week (you can find the first one here and the second one here), which after a period of drought is pretty amazing. Even if no one but myself benefits from these ramblings, I know that God is preparing my heart so that one day, if He wills, I will have something worth reading and speaking about.

But first, He needs me to face the junk that is blocking the way, hardening my heart, and blinding my eyes. When I am willing to face the truth about my idols, confess my sin, and by His strength, get rid of them, then He will be able to minister to my soul, speak to my heart, and use me effectively to bless others. God is inviting me to take a fresh look at this new season I am in, to see the invisible benefits that are hidden in it. They are there, if I am willing to let go of my agenda, slow down, and let Him lead me on His own timeline.

And maybe that's the very first thing He wants to teach me. It isn't so much about what I can do for Anah. It may be more what she, as an agent of God's mercy, is doing in me.

Wait For It

It has been a long time since I have posted, hasn't it? After finishing our study in Journeys of Faithfulness with my daughter and her friends, life went back to normal. Since then, Janna has finished high school, my husband and I have had more difficult discussions over future decisions, and Anah has gone forward (and backward) with her neurodevelopmental program. It has been full indeed.

In fact, I don't know if "full" is even the best word, as it has a positive connotation. Instead, I think the word "burdened," "heavy," and "painfully slow" seem to be better descriptions of my life now. It has been this way for the past 18 months, since Anah's arrival. I chafe at this when I want to sit down and write but just don't have the time or the energy to do so.

As I look back over the timeline of the past four years or so, I often come up confused. Back in 2010, I believed God had me on a trajectory, that though was not my plan, I was willing to trust Him to work through me. I took steps of faith to begin speaking to groups of moms and even submit articles for publication. In both venues, I sensed the Lord was giving me the green light to keep moving forward, which was why I took the next step of starting a blog. Little by little, He was developing a vision to use the resources He has given me to further His Kingdom through speaking and writing. It certainly was a step out of my comfort zone.

Then it hit. In 2011, just as I was starting to get things up and running, came the invitation to consider adoption. Before I knew it, we were filling out forms, getting fingerprinted, and meeting with social workers. The next year, our house was remodeled to accommodate Anah and soon after, we were on an international flight with all our kids. In the back of my mind, I kept wondering, "What has this got to do with speaking and writing?"

I have been wrestling with this over the past 18 months, because honestly, I have not had the time to sit and write something meaningful on a consistent basis. And for those of you who still faithfully check this blog on occasion, I thank you for putting up with my less-than-stellar performance. In fact, for all I know, I might be writing to no one but myself at this point.

My rebellious side has tried to resist what God wants to do through Anah in my life. I think, "Doggone it, God has been preparing me to teach and write, so I'm going to do it!" So I try this idea for the blog and I try that one, but the reality of life keeps me from following through. I often feel like I am hitting a wall. In fact, as I look back on my posts, they are more apologies for not writing than for anything else.

However, this week, I think God is slowly revealing a glimpse of the "backside" of the tapestry He is weaving in my life. Yes, He may have been preparing me for a future ministry of writing and speaking, but it is clearly not that season right now. In fact, I don't know when that will ever be, and sometimes I waffle between wondering if I heard right in the first place and despairing that I will never get there because it feels like I will never move out of this stage of life.

But as I began reading Alan Fadling's An Unhurried Life this week, I realized that perhaps, that the temptation Jesus faced in the wilderness before his earthly ministry may in some cases be mine too. And that may be where the similarities end.  Alan then writes, "It strikes me that the essence of these temptations was to provoke Jesus to hurry to get for himself what the Father had promised to provide, but in his good timing." Bingo. And the light went on. I have been trying to get for myself what He is preparing for me on my own timetable, not His. No wonder there is friction!

There have been times when I have doubted all that God had been developing over the past ten years. When I look at this season of my life with Anah, I don't see any correlation. Often, it feels like He has taken me on a backroad that is way off the course that I thought He was taking me on.

But through this illustration, the Lord is reminding me that I cannot base my understanding on my own human perspective, for "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways." As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways and thoughts higher than mine. (Isaiah 55:8, 9)

So His lesson for me right now is this: Slow down. Don't rush. Enter fully into this season of life that I find myself in, trusting that He will get me there in His good time. And even if I never see what I think He is doing, I know that there must be an even better reason behind it.

I just need to wait for it.

Getting to Know You

Note: This post is addressed to our Evergreen Baptist SGV Church family in particular, but I hope that it gives some insights to anyone who knows us. Who knows? We might end up visiting YOU someday soon!
Note #2: I revised this post after reading some comments from other readers. It's basically the same but I did add a point #5. If you haven't read it, I hope you'll do so.

It was rather weird walking through our church campus last Sunday. I don't know how to explain it, but it was. There seemed to be the kind of shyness that comes when you're meeting someone new. I wrote this post to hopefully help us navigate through this new season. If this looks too long for you, read point #5. That is my most important thought.

Even if you will never meet us, I hope this will give you some insight when it comes to walking alongside new adoptive parents or parents with special needs. These thoughts are mine, so I want to say I'm not speaking for everyone in general. The best thing you can do is to courageously ask what is the best way to help or interact with their child. It's better than avoiding the topic, or worse yet, avoiding the child.

Here are my thoughts for Anah:

  1. Don't be afraid to talk to us. Some thoughtful friends have told us that they have kept back because they don't want to overwhelm us. I can see that. But I'm sure that it won't be like that forever. Once the newness wears off, I hope that if you don't get a chance to introduce yourselves in the first few weeks, that you'll do so when the "lines" are shorter!
  2. Don't be afraid to talk to Anah. She doesn't bite. We are teaching her to wave and say "hi!" Just get down to her level and say "hi!" I can't guarantee she will respond, but we are teaching her how to greet others. Feel free to talk to her like you would any other kid. Don't let the fact that she doesn't understand English keep you from talking with her. You don't need to speak Mandarin! Tone of voice counts more than your words. There are guarantees on how she'd respond, and blank looks are common, even with us. (But you'd look that way too if some stranger came up to you and started speaking a different language!) However, our goal is to help her to learn the conventions of language. You can help in the process. In time, she will understand. In the meantime, just talk naturally.
  3. Be forewarned that if she takes a liking to you, she may want you to pick her up. You can tell this because she holds her arms up to you, like a toddler does when he wants to be picked up. This is her way of letting you know that she is comfortable with you and likes you. She may stick her face close to yours or hold your head by the sides. We think she needs glasses and cannot see very well, so she needs everything up close. However, if you feel uncomfortable, don't feel bad about putting her down. It won't hurt her feelings. Instead, I hope you take her interest in you as a compliment. (And don't feel bad if she doesn't. It's not a sign that she doesn't like you!)
  4. If you'd like your children to meet Anah, you may want to talk to them in advance. If they want to introduce themselves, you can share with them what I shared in point 2 above. You may wish to warn them that she may not respond, but to not let that discourage them. My prayer is that our children will learn to see beyond the physical to the commonalities they share. I hope and dream of seeing Anah and the kids at our church playing together without any hesitation or fear. She is a child. She may not act her age, but she is a little girl who loves to play Ring Around the Rosy, blow bubbles, and laugh. With all my heart, I pray that the kids in our church family will learn to see her and not her disability.
  5. Repeat points #1-4 regularly. Make it a habit to greet her. Keep at this, over and over and over. Once is not enough. This point is mainly for you, my brothers and sisters in Christ. If we truly are going to do this as a church family, then we need to spend the time getting to know her. How are we going to help her grow if she is marginalized and forgotten? Of all these points, I hope you hear the pleading in my voice for this one. Once the newness wears off, will it be business as usual? Or will you be willing to let her into your heart and life?

If you feel uncomfortable, I hope you will not let that stop you. Take a step of faith. You may be pleasantly surprised. I know I was and still am. To be honest, this is the first day since we received Anah almost 4 weeks ago that I have felt like she was my daughter and not a visitor or guest. It takes time, but if you are willing to take the step and reach out, I am confident that you will be blessed. I know we are.

October's Mini Elephants

Well, we are back home, safe and sound. We arrived at LAX on Friday afternoon to a loud cheer of welcome. Only in God's kingdom is an orphan girl greeted like a celebrity. Even though it took us 2 hours to get home, it was worth it. My sisters had prepared dinner and stocked our refrigerator with good food to eat, including homemade wonton just for Anah. Never mind that she slept through the whole reception and homecoming. I don't blame her.

The next day, we went to our dear friends' wedding. At the dinner reception, she turned her nose up at the chicken nuggets and french fries, but loved the dancing afterwards. At least she stayed up a little longer than she did the day before and people could see what she's like awake!

Thanks to a busy weekend and friends keeping us company, we have been able to stay awake in the afternoons and keep from taking those long naps that really make the jet lag recovery time so difficult. We've been doing okay, though I am not used to getting up so late!

So, last month, my goals were to:

  1. Continue reading about Chinese history in Story of the World.
    We read through about 3/4 of it. Better than nothing! 
  2. Write out my course of study for each of my kids before we leave. I have a mental idea but not written out.
    Sort of completed. I only did Matthew's.
  3. Learn how to use my new laptop so I can blog on our trip!
  4. Prepare a few freezer meals so I don't have to cook when I get back home.
    Didn't get to this but I have not had to worry about meals, thanks to wonderful friends!
  5. Enjoy our time together as a family as we travel.
    We had a great time together. I'll have to do a summary post on highlights.
  6. Get to know Anah!
    This will be a continual process, but we have learned:
    she really does love to sing and dance.
    she is incredibly stubborn about brushing her teeth and getting her nails trimmed
    likes to imitate (which can be both good and bad)
    finds a way to let us know what she needs. 
    she is really a very happy and cheerful girl.
     
  7. Read Crazy Love by Francis Chan.
    This was an awesome read. So glad I was finally able to read it.

This month, my goals are:

  1. Get the family back on track timewise.
  2. Work out a new family routine, chore chart and system for our home.
  3. Work on review products for our school time. Other than that, we're keeping it light.
  4. Help Janna with her PSAT coming up mid month.
  5. Spend quality time with Jonathan each day through this transition time, 30 minutes a day just for him.
  6. Ditto for Matthew.
  7. Go out on at least two dates this month.
  8. Get started on medical visits and care for Anah.
  9. Plan an evaluation time for Anah's education.
  10. Work our way out of the pull-ups. We're getting used to the toilet but are missing her cues.
  11. Read Men and Women by Larry Crabb.
Lord, this is going to a month of many transitions and changes. Please guide us as we integrate Anah into our home. We cannot do this alone and need your wisdom, love, and guidance. Thank you. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Our Adoption Journey

Last Sunday, my husband and I made the big announcement to our church family that we were in the process of adopting a little six-year-old girl with Down Syndrome from China. We decided to name her Anah (Ah-nah) Joy. Anah means "God has answered" and "she who sings." I'll be sharing more about her in the posts this week. Our church had been supporting this orphanage (Mother's Love) for many years. Little by little, the government began to close it down---first the infant portion of the ministry, and now the special needs section. The director of the orphanage sent a plea to our pastor, asking our church family if there would be six families who would be willing to step up and take six children into their homes and lives, so that they would not be sent to the state orphanage. From what we learned, children who were over 14 years old were no longer deemed adoptable by China's standards. These six were still under that age and though each of them had a special need of some type, were still open for adoption.

That was in April. I must confess that when the call first came out, I was very curious. That night, after the announcement came out, we had a family discussion at dinner about it. I was surprised to see that all of the others were very interested in seriously pursuing it. My husband then started communications with the staff about our interest. A week or so later, we called a day of fasting and prayer, to ask the Lord where He wanted us to go.

I will have to admit that of all my family, I was the squeaky wheel. I felt like I wasn't keeping up with what I already had to do, much less add another person into our home...and one that needed special care! I kept asking, "What about me?" When they are gone at work, who's going to be holding down the fort at home? When the kids have grown up and moved out, who's still going to have to take care of her? Will I ever have time alone again? Will there ever be space for me to pursue my dreams of getting a Master's degree? Open a retreat home? Write? Will I never be able to travel? See the world? Will my husband and I never have an empty nest?

These were the very real questions I had. All I could see was what I would lose. And because all I could see in my future was loss, I could not move ahead with the adoption. And so it came to a screeching halt because of me.

But oh, how gracious God is! How can I outgive Him? "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all---how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Rom 8:32) It finally dawned on me that when I focus on the things that I lose, I will miss out on the things that God wants to give.

In God's economy, the greatest gifts come with the greatest sacrifices. Just think of all that Jesus had to do so that we might be saved. He had to lay down His life. He had to sacrifice His comforts. He had to give up trying to retaliate or prove Himself. And He did it so that you and I might have forgiveness of sin, a new nature, the privilege of an heir, hope, eternal life...and so much more.

What I need to give up is a sacrifice. I still feel sad at times. There still is mourning. But when God leads, He is able to take our mourning and turn it into dancing (Psalm 30:11). And I am sure there will be a lot of that in this house when Anah finally comes home.

First in a series: Adoption Journey

PS If you want to hear my husband's message, go to http://www.evergreensgv.org/sermons/ and click on the Aug. 27, 2011 message, "The Heart of Adoption." Somehow at the end it gets cut off and our pastor ends up giving an altar call from another message. Sorry about that!