Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Joy and fear

Easter is one of my favorite celebrations. It's the celebration of new life. This year on Easter, as I was reading the account of Jesus' resurrection from Matthew 28 in the Bible, I was drawn to a verse I'd never really noticed before. Well, it was only part of the verse that struck me...only five words actually.

After a couple of women who had been devoted followers of Jesus went to the tomb and found it empty, an angel told them that Jesus had risen and they were supposed to go spread the word. Then Matthew 28:8 says: "So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples."

Afraid yet filled with joy. Huh. Those five words really got me thinking. It wasn't an easy thing these women were asked to do. People were going to think they were crazy. Or worse. And they were afraid...yet, filled with joy. What an interesting concept.

I tried to relate to how the women must have felt and realized there have been times I've been afraid (sometimes very afraid) and yet have been joyful. When I packed up everything I owned and moved from Washington to Montana, alone. When I flew into Bolivia to serve at South America Mission. When I got married. When I gave birth. When I landed in Ghana to meet my daughter for the first time (you can watch a video of that here: )

Afraid yet filled with joy. Looking back at all those experiences, it seems like the joy I had helped me overcome my fear, and the fear I had caused my joy to be even greater in the long run. Was it like that for the women at the tomb 2,000 years ago? Was it their joy that caused them to go out and do what Jesus asked them to do in spite of their fears? If it weren't for the joy they gained from Christ's resurrection, where would they have found the courage to do something as reckless and dangerous as telling the same story that just got Jesus killed three days before?

They were the first to tell the world: "He is alive!" They were the first to tell the world all hope was NOT lost. And they were afraid. But what if they had been too afraid? What if they had refused their mission?

There are a couple specific things in my life today that present me with this odd mixture of joy and fear (although none of my fear is related to potentially being killed). These are things from which fear holds me back, but at the same time the potential for joy, the promise of things to come, spurs me forward. I will share one of those things with you: WRITING.

I recently finished the first draft of my second full-length novel and find myself faced with a decision: do I take this writing thing seriously and put myself out there and sacrifice time and energy and sometimes even money to get involved in the world of publishing or do I keep my writing tucked away as a hobby and spend my time and energy and money on other things? Thinking about pursuing writing as more than a hobby fills me with FEAR. But my love for writing and the hope of what "could be" fills me with joy.

So, what should I do? Is it a mission God's given me to do or is it a personal desire? I don't know yet. But I think about those women at Jesus' tomb and do know one thing: they set out to complete the task set before them in spite of their fear. In spite of the danger. In spite of it being hard. Because the joy they had from just being in Christ's presence and being part of His plan was enough for them.

Afraid yet filled with joy. Maybe there's something we can all learn from that.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Child of my heart

My little girl turns three on Saturday. We're not big birthday party throwers, or celebrators for that matter, but this birthday feels like kind of a big deal because it'll be the first birthday where she's actually aware she's having a birthday. In fact, she's VERY aware of that fact and has been talking about it for days now.

Birthdays can be an interesting thing when you have an adopted child. I have no memories of the day she was born. I can't tell her stories of what it was like to carry her in my tummy, what it was like when we went to the hospital, what she looked like as a baby. I can never give her that and that makes me sad. It breaks my heart.

Some of you have an idea what it's like to love a child who didn't come from your own body. Some of you understand the strange, unnatural position a woman is put in when she is a child's mother...but then again she's not. And how loving this child is the same as loving your biological children, except kind of different. Some of you understand.

For those of you who don't, I won't try to explain except to say I have no regrets and my daughter has taught me something very important. She has taught me love really must come from God, because it is bigger than people, bigger than time, bigger than distance, bigger than me. Only God could be big enough and strong enough and loving enough to invent something as hard as adoption, and make no mistake, He was the first to do it. He adopted us wretched, reckless creatures as His children long before we ever thought to do the same.

My love for my daughter is the same as my love for my biological children in that it is real and beautiful and deep, but different in that it brings into clear focus the truth that love is a choice. A choice to love someone and keep loving them until you no longer have that choice because they have become a part of you, even if they weren't born that way.

Our daughter's been with us a little over a year and a half now and I'm only beginning to realize how deep my fears are that no matter how often and consistently and tangibly I choose her, she won't have to choose me. My boys, well, too bad for them but they don't have a choice. Sure, they can reject me and run as far from me as possible, but they'll carry a piece of me wherever they go. The only thing my daughter would have to take with her would be that deliberate choosing of her that I perform every day, day after day. Choosing to love her, to claim her.

So I will keep doing it and doing it and hope she will choose me too, someday when she understands the truth and is able to make her own decisions. But my love for her does not hinge on whether she does or doesn't make that choice, because I already have. And that's real love, isn't it?

This may all sound a bit strange to some of you. There's nothing I can do about that. But as my daughter's third birthday draws near, I think of her beautiful skin and unruly hair, her deep dimples and contagious giggle, and I know what love is. And it's not feelings, or circumstances, or chance.

It's a choice.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The burning question

Have you ever had one of those "why am I here" moments? One of those moments when the world around you fades away and the quest for an answer to that question is the only thing you can think about? It's one of the most basic and commonly shared human experiences. In fact, it's one of the things that makes us human, this ability and need to ask this important question.

I'm not being philosophical here. I'm not talking about the meaning of life or finding my purpose. I'm talking about when you get up from your couch or your desk or your bed, and walk into another room for some reason, only to come face to face with the question: "Why am I here?"

I don't know about you, but for me these moments take confusing to a-whole-nother level. I stand there, filled with doubt, knowing there had to be a reason I went into the kitchen yet unable to conjure it up. Am I thirsty? Did I think I needed a drink of water? Was I supposed to get something out of the freezer to thaw? Did I want to sweep the floor? I don't know. I don't know!

Sometimes these moments move beyond confusion into the realm of terror. You know what I'm talking about. You're standing in the living room, looking around like you've never seen this place before, and fear begins to wrap its clammy hands around your heart. What if I was supposed to do something important? What if I never remember? What if I'm losing my mind?

When the fear grips me, I retrace my steps, hoping to jog my memory. Hoping to return to the concrete world of reliable reality. Sometimes retracing my steps works and I just slap my forehead with a "whew!" and laugh at myself for being scatterbrained. Other times, the retracing only sends me deeper and deeper into the dimension of forgotten intentions. Now I'm doubting whether I even HAD a reason for leaving my desk. Now...I'm doubting whether I even have a desk.

As Alice in Wonderland knows, going too far down the rabbit-hole can lead to unintended consequences, so when no amount of retracing can help me remember what I was doing, I do what any logical, sane person would do. I assume the fetal position and wait for the moment to pass. And it always does. The sun comes back out. The birds sing again. Life goes on.

But always, in the back of my mind, some deep part of my spirit hopes that I will one day solve the mystery of why I was there. Why am I here? Because seriously, I wouldn't have just gotten up from the couch for no reason.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Life's not fair

We live in a broken world. I would say something like, "No one knows that better than me," but a more accurate way to put it would be to say, "No one knows that better than every single person who's ever lived." Because no one escapes the brokenness. No one gets out unscathed.

Sometimes it seems unfair, the way things go down. Why does one person die from cancer and another survive? Why does one family's house burn down while their neighbors remain safe? Two men might work hard their whole lives, putting in long hours and sacrificing themselves for their jobs, only to have one of them retire in contentment and comfort while the other ends his days as a miserable, wretched, broken shell of the man he once was.

Doesn't seem fair.

But of course, saying something isn't fair begs the question: what is fair? What does it even mean? Merriam Webster tells me it means "marked by impartiality and honesty: free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism (1) : conforming with the established rules." This definition doesn't clear the matter up because different people and different situations have different "established rules," so what is fair to one person at one time, may not be fair to another in a different circumstance.

For example, my 2-year-old and my 9-year-old have different rules. What I expect from my older, I do not necessarily expect from my younger. The amount of ice cream I would give my older is WAY DIFFERENT than the amount of ice cream I would give my younger. She would say that's not fair. I would say it is.

This whole fairness thing is enough to drive anybody crazy. I mean, if you really think about it, if you dwell on the injustice of it all, you could lose a lot of sleep. You could lose a lot of hope, because life is really, really hard. Sometimes it downright sucks. But I believe there's another way to look at it.

Every day we get is more than fair. Every breath we take, every laugh, even every tear we shed and every stab of pain we feel, is more than fair. Because what would be fair would be if we got nothing. I mean, I didn't do a single thing to contribute to me being born on this earth, did you? I didn't make my brain or my lungs or my heart. I didn't set up the world or create oxygen. Did you? We get all those things despite having done nothing to earn them, nothing to deserve them, nothing to justify our continued use of them.

In fact, usually I do things that would justify having all those privileges taken away. You know, if we were being fair. Because I take things away from my kids when they don't follow the rules, so why shouldn't I lose my privilege to keep breathing when I use the air I take in to form words that hurt others? If we're being fair, the muscles in my hands should be taken away and put in the "timeout box" if I use them inappropriately, until I can earn them back. The brain in my head should be taken away until I can demonstrate that I'm mature enough for a second chance.

But it doesn't work like that, does it? Instead, a gracious God has given us everything - everything we are and everything around us - to do with what we will. We can literally curse His name and spit in His face, do damage to those around us with our hands or our tongues, despise the very bodies we didn't deserve in the first place, and still wake up in the morning to do it all again. How is that fair?

It's not. It's grace.

So Thank God life's not fair. Otherwise, we might actually get what we deserve.