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Monday, September 29, 2014

Everything happens for a reason...



Except I don't believe that. I really don't. It sounds nice and I think those are supposed to be words of comfort. And maybe if I gain all God's wisdom after I die, I'll look back and understand all the reasons for things. But right now, I don't actually think everything happens for a reason.

At least not a good one.

I have folks around me suffering.  People I know and love are fighting cancer and disease, losing children, being abused, starving to death, falling into the disease of addiction. I lost my dad to a couple of those things just a few short months ago.

The only reason I can come up with for that is that this world is broken.

But don't get me wrong. I believe God can use all things for good. And that's why I have hope in the midst of this messed up, wrong world.  I don't believe God's will is for mothers to lose babies, for women to be raped, for children to be abandoned, for the disease of addiction to tear families apart. But he calls us to love - to love the mothers who have lost children and to grieve with them; to fight for the oppressed and help abused women regain their sense of value, to be families for children who need them, to extend a hand to the addict to help them to recovery. To be the hands and feet of Jesus.

I think our calling to be peace-makers and justice-fighters and care-givers doesn't provide the reason why things happen. It just tells us what to do in the face of such brokenness.

So while I don't believe everything happens for a reason I do have hope. I have hope that when things go awry in my life I know the One who can bring peace. I have hope that when I visit starving families in Swaziland that they can know the One who brings them joy.  I don't serve because I think I can fix all the problems. I do it because one day there will be no hunger, no despair, no fear, no sickness. Every time I feed someone who is hungry or grieve with someone who is suffering I proclaim the day when that will no longer happen, when God returns and everything is restored.

Maybe everything doesn't happen for a reason, but I can be a reason there's a little less suffering in this world. And right now, that's enough for me.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

God's Not Dead and Why We Need to Stop Defending the Gospel

In the very beginning of God's Not Dead, Josh Wheaton says, "I feel like God wants someone to defend him." For me, this was the moment in which the movie started to go awry.

Christians, we do not need to defend the Gospel. We do not need to defend God. God is GOD. He is all-powerful, all-sovereign, the Alpha and the Omega. Jesus defeated death and rose from the grave. He does not need a 17 year-old college freshman to defend him. Or a 35 year-old mostly stay-at-home mom either (did I say 35? I'm sorry, I meant 29). Honestly, y'all, I'm not worried about that Kingdom falling down out of the sky.

In all seriousness, here's exactly why we shouldn't defend the gospel: Because when I do that, I take my precious gospel, my good news, my hope and I ball it up and stick it behind my back. And then I turn and face anyone who doesn't value it like I do with my fists raised, ready to fight. I have just laid the lines clearly for "us" vs "them."  I plant myself firmly between "them" and God, barring their way. And in the process label "them" (anyone who is not a Christian) as the enemy.

I cannot simultaneously defend the gospel and share it. It ceases to be "Good News" when I have drawn lines in the sand AGAINST others.  I cannot defend God AGAINST someone and at the same time send them the message that God is FOR them. It is impossible.

But what about what the Bible says. Doesn't the Bible tell us to defend?

"Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil." 1 Peter 3:14-17 (ESV)

Look closely - it says be prepared to "make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." That means that if someone asks me why I live my life the way I do, I make no secret that I am who I am and I live how I live because Jesus has filled me so full of love that it can't help but spill over. I cannot help but be worried about the poor, fight for the oppressed, visit the imprisoned, and love the neglected because Jesus has made my heart like his. I can't help but love my neighbors, I want to be the best friend I can be because I know that's the best way for me to love others like Jesus.  And in order for anyone to have cause to ask me, I need to be living my life in relationship with other people. I can't have only Christians in my circle. I must be living a life so full of hope that someone notices and pauses to ask me why. It doesn't say I should start an argument, nor does it say that I should "fight fire with fire."

And did you notice? When I tell them about my hope, I am to do it with gentleness and respect.

I feel like God's Not Dead missed a beautiful opportunity. It could have been a movie that opened up lines of discussion, that sent a message to the masses that God is FOR you, that tore down the lines of "us vs them." But instead it built them up. Instead, it sent a message to anyone who doesn't identify as Christian that Christians don't think very highly of them.  Think about it - every single nonbeliever in this movie was not just someone who didn't love Jesus, they were horrible people. The plot was so unrealistic it that I had to set the storyline down to even think about underlying issues.  The only likable character was Josh Wheaton. 

We need to listen to the response to this movie, Christians. I spent hours researching the movie online, reading reviews, I talked to many friends who watched the movie. Then, instead of watching it alone, I invited three of my close friends to watch it with me (none of whom identify themselves as "Christian.")

So what did I find when I listened? I heard some Christians tell me they were uplifted, that they loved the movie, that it was inspiring. But from people who don't identify as Christian? They said they felt offended, devalued, that the line between "us" and "them" was strengthened (and that they had been relegated to "them"). Worse, I read reviews from Christians online that celebrated the movie because "it sticks a thumb in the liberal’s eye and finally turns the tables on them, in that it portrays them as the evil ones as opposed to Christians and conservatives." (from a post here that goes on to poke fun at negative reviews others left about the movie.)  And while that seems to be an extreme quote, I saw plenty of other reviews in that same vein.  I fail to see gentleness or respect there. 

I'm not saying it's not okay to make a movie "for Christians." I suppose that's fine. And I am going to assume that the intentions of the producers of God's Not Dead were good. I'm not sure I even fault them for making the movie. What upsets me is the culture in American Christianity that teaches it is okay to view non-Christians as the enemy, that it is a positive thing to defeat another person, that it's okay to portray people groups as stereotypes if they aren't Christians.  A culture that says "my Christian preferences should trump yours!"  I hear you saying, "but that's what they do to us!"... I acknowlege you. Yes, that happens, but look back at 1 Peter 3:9: “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing.”

And when Christian morale-boosting happens at the expense of the people we are supposed to love, we need to take a good hard look at the results of our actions. I want to point people towards Jesus because he's my hope; I want to point people toward Jesus because I want them to know that God loves them, that he accepts them just as they are because Jesus died for them long before they were born.  And if a movie that makes some Christians feel good about themselves makes non-Christians feel devalued, we have missed the mark.

And my friends who watched the movie with me? These women I trust, women whose opinions matter to me, women who are open-minded and intelligent, who are part of my Mom-Network and are helping me raise my kids to be good people - - they found the movie offensive.  Honestly, so did I. We had a lengthy discussion after the movie was over. Our main consensus was that it made the lines between "us" and "them" very clear and strengthened stereotypes about people groups (Muslims, women, Asians, atheists). I asked them if the movie made them feel any differently about God. The answer was a resounding no. Instead, they said that the movie made them want to distance themselves from anyone who would defend the movie.

And then they offered me a beautiful gift. They told me that they don't judge all Christians because of this movie. They said they know I respect them. They offered me grace, even though people from "my group" made a movie that was offensive to them.  They commented how they liked the part in the movie where Josh Wheaton confirms that we all have a choice.  They were the ones who pointed out to me that Josh Wheaton was a likable character. These friends of mine are a blessing. 

I believe we can be united and respectful together. My most positive take-away from this is that my friends agreed to come watch this movie with me even though I told them I was afraid it might offend them. They were willing to hang out and talk about matters of faith and issues of divisiveness.  They know that I believe Jesus loves them. I know that they respect my beliefs, just as I do theirs.  Our relationships will continue. I see God in those friends. He has used them to help me be a better mom, to help me grieve the loss of my dad, to help me try to make sense of injustices. God has blessed me through those relationships.  My life would be worse if these ladies weren't in it and I can't even imagine them being a "them."  God doesn't love me more, doesn't give me more, doesn't value me more than he does them.  We are an "us." 


**semantic disclaimer (that my husband told me I need to include): when I say "defend" I don't mean saying, "this is what I believe to be true and here's why..." No problems there. I mean "defend" in terms of pitting yourself against another in order to prove them wrong. When the point is to win, we've already lost.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why I'm sad and that's okay.

Grief sucks.

That's my main thought on how I feel sometimes. Y'all, I miss my dad. Terribly. Every time I have some paperwork to fill out or decision to make about his estate, it makes me so sad. I don't want his money, I don't want his stuff. I just want him to still be here. And then there's all the milestones - his birthday, a new school-year starting, all three kids have had birthdays since he passed away. He'll never see them be 8, 6, and 4. My birthday is coming up and he always made an effort to be in NC with me on my birthday. I always thought it was silly, since I'm not a big birthday person but now I'm dreading this year's birthday without him.

But that's all okay. I'm not upset that I'm sad. I'm just sad. I am supposed to be - I've lost someone I dearly love.

We live in a culture that tells us we are supposed to be strong, that we are supposed to move on, carry on. Facebook is full of "inspirational quotes." Avoid anger, sadness, frustration. Those are bad things.

But you know what? Those are emotions. Emotions are healthy. When unjust things happen, I should be angry. When sad things happen, I should feel sad. When frustrating things happen, I should feel stressed-out. I don't have to stay that way, and I certainly don't like it, but feeling how I feel is part of being healthy.

I'm not saying we should get bogged down in that stuff. I'm a huge fan of focusing on the positive, of choosing good over bad. But right now... I'm sad. And that's okay.

So if you're sad today, that's okay. I'm sad with you. We'll feel better later.  And my joy is that much sweeter when I've walked through pain. God doesn't abandon us on days we aren't feeling strong. It's not a failure to feel sad. He's just going to have to carry me today until I'm strong again tomorrow. And that's okay too. I can glorify him in my weakness just as I can in my strength.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

When your joy is forever tangled up in someone else's grief

Today is a precious day for our family. Not only is it my oldest child's birthday, it is also the day that I walked out of the orphanage with my youngest child in my arms, bringing him with me to the guest house in Ethiopia where we'd live until we were given clearance to come home to the US and to the rest of our family.

We don't really do anything to "celebrate" this day. We have so many dates related to Amani joining our family: the day we received our referral and first learned who he was, the day we first met him, the day we passed court, the day he left the orphanage to live with me in Ethiopia, the day we finally landed at the Charlotte airport and came home to live all together as a family of five. And, of course, we celebrate Amani's birthday.


Riley first met Amani in Ethiopia in July 2011 when we were there for court
Allyn didn't meet him until we landed at the Charlotte airport in Oct 2011.
Her first big sister kiss!

So why is it hard to celebrate? Well, every step of that process is not only about our joy from adding a child to our family. It is also the tragedy and trauma of my child's life. It is the steps taken for him to lose his birth parents and his birth country. It's the terror he experienced when he was taken from the orphanage - the only place he knew as home - and into the arms of a strange woman who didn't speak his language, who didn't know how he liked to be held, or how to prepare the foods he was used to.

It is impossible to celebrate without acknowledging the loss. And not fair to my child to pretend that adoption is just joy. He has gained much in our family, of course, but that doesn't change the fact that he has also lost much.

So we don't over-celebrate adoption stuff. Of course we are overjoyed that Amani has joined our family. We just aren't overjoyed about why it had to happen and what he had to go through.  I will never forget that my joy is tangled up in another woman's grief.  As a mother, Amani's birthmom is on my mind all the time. Especially on days like today.

So, dear Birthmom. We love you. We love your boy. So much. He's growing up and loves to dance and play games. He loves his school and his friends. And everywhere we go, people tell me that his smile lights up the room. I imagine that same smile across the ocean on the faces of his birth family. Our boy embodies joy. And we will always honor you on days that we honor his adoption.  You will always have a special place in our family and in our hearts. Grace and peace to you, mama. Rest your heart, your boy is well loved.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Uh Oh Game

We've been playing a lot of this game lately and I can't believe I haven't shared this with y'all yet!

Let me introduce you to the greatest game ever invented:

The Uh Oh Game!

I don't honestly know where this came from or who made it up. A friend of mine told me about it (kind of by accident, which is a funny story) and Amani LOVES it.

The Uh Oh Game is perfect for preschoolers who need a little help working on letter recognition but you can use it for anything: math facts, number recognition, colors, words in other languages, animals, shapes, whatever.

It is genius, I tell you.

Here's the game:


No lie. This is the whole thing. I cut up scrapbook paper into small squares, wrote letters on them, crumpled them up and stuffed 'em in a plastic container. 

Two pieces of paper have the words "uh oh" on them with a smiley face. You'll see why.

How to Play
Start by letting your child dump all the papers on the floor (this is fun already, right?)

Taking turns, one player picks up a crumpled piece, uncrumples it, and reads the letter. 

If he/she gets the letter correct, he/she gets to toss it into the plastic bin (we experiment with holding it up high, putting it far away, standing up over it and dropping the paper) and you do lots of celebrating.

If the player can't identify it, work together to come up with the answer but it doesn't go in the bin, it goes back onto the floor (so it will be picked up again later). I often have Amani trace the letter with his finger, while we say the letter or while he thinks about it. And we say words that start with that letter too.

If you pick up the "uh oh" card - your child gets to dump the bin and the fun starts all over again.

Not hard to see why this is the greatest game ever.


Notes
We started with 10 letters or so, most of them being letters he already could recognize. The key is for your child to have LOTS of success playing the game. For example, he was great at recognizing the letters in his name, so I started with those and then added in two letters he had trouble with. And as we played, if it seemed like he was struggling with a particular letter, I'd add in another paper with that letter on it, so he'd come across it more often. I really try to make it so that there aren't more than 2-3 new letters in the bin at a time but each of those might be in there twice or even three times.

The "uh oh" cards don't go back onto the floor. Once one is found, I keep it next to me (otherwise the game would be NEVERENDING). That way, the game can be over once the bin is all full. Of course, you can always choose to keep playing.

Y'all. This game is so fabulous. Amani loves it. His older brother & sister love helping him play. And it REALLY helped him with letter recognition! You could even use it with spelling words for an older child (you uncrumple the paper and he/she has to spell the word to you).

And now your life is better. You are welcome.

Friday, September 5, 2014

GIVEAWAY

Want to win $180 worth of jewelry and accessories? 
I thought so!

I am so excited about this. I'm just really sad that I can't win. Maybe I can enter my own giveway under an alias?? No? Oh well...

My dear friend, Chris Cheek, is moving to Swaziland to live on Project Canaan for two years. She will be a mentor to the Aunties who work at El Roi, the baby care home, and a grandmother to the sweet babies (all 70 of them!).  In her own words, she goes to "etch hope into the lives of the children of Swaziland." If you know her, you already know what an amazing woman she is. I want to be her when I grow up, seriously.

She is retiring from her job in December so that she can move and she has to raise ALL of her living expenses in order to go and serve the people of Swaziland. And if you know anything about me, you know what an honor it is to be part of sending her! I love seeing how God works through women all over the world.

You can learn more about Chris and her plans to move to Swaziland on her blog HERE

And here's where you come in! You could win all of these beautiful items. All are handmade in Swaziland and the artisans who made them received a fair wage for their work.

This scarf is the main reason I am so sad I can't win this giveaway!

And these are the rest of the reasons I'm sad I can't win!

Forgive my lack of photography skills but hopefully this
gives you a better idea of what the earrings look like!

Here's what you win:
1 beaded heart keychain
4 small-bead stacking bracelets (one has the HOPE charm)
2 pairs of earrings - one blue bead pair, one brown wooden pair
2 large-bead bracelets, one with a Swazi coin
2 thread bangle bracelets (red and blue)
The striped scarf
All this together has a $180 value!

And it's easy to win! Make a tax-deductible donation to Heart for Africa to Chris's fund.
Every $15 donation gets you ONE entry, a $25 donation gets you TWO entries, and a $100 donation will get you TEN entries!!

Want an extra entry? Share on your FB page or on Pinterest and comment (with your FB/Pinterest name) to let me know you did!

Go HERE to donate, then comment on the blog to let me know you did!

She should get her list of donors from Heart for Africa at the end of the month. I'll check my list of commenters against that list so that I can see how many entries you have, and will announce the winner in the beginning of October!  

DON'T FORGET TO COMMENT - that is the only way I will know that you have entered the giveaway!!


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ruined?

I don't listen to the radio much, but there's a guilty-pleasure morning radio show I sometimes listen to after I've dropped my kids off at school. I have about a 5 minute drive from their school to the Y or about a 12 minute drive home so I don't really get to hear much of what they say, but sometimes it makes me laugh.

This morning, it made me angry.

Today was a 5-minute-listen-day. But in the five-minute drive from our elementary school to the Y, I heard a conversation about how "having kids ruins a woman's body." The host was saying that he would gladly take on a pregnancy so that it would "ruin" his body instead and his wife could keep her figure, since women don't care as much about how a man's body looks.

I'm not sure what made me more mad: his presumption that his children "ruined" his wife's body or the fact that the others on his show were acting like he's a nice guy for his idea of how he might "save" his wife's body.

Can I tell y'all something? I do exercise regularly. Most weeks I can fit 3-4 days of exercise in. And it does keep me in the same-size clothing year-round. But that's not why I do it. My depression is better, my self-esteem is better, my stress-level is more manageable when I work out regularly because it means I'm taking care of myself. I want to be HEALTHY so I can run around with my three littles (or not-so-littles!) and keep up with them as long as possible. And, you know, be around to play with my grandkids. 'Cause they are going to be cute.

But I need to tell you this too: With all that exercise, my body is still "ruined."

I still pee my pants a little if I laugh too hard because of  two vaginal births. One of those made me a mom. The other made me a mom-of-a-daughter (which is, in my opinion, a slightly different creature).

I still have skin that sags around the middle. Probably from when I gained extra weight staying up late snacking while reading adoption blogs, crying over "THE CALL" posts, and clicking around on Google Earth just looking at Ethiopia. Other places are, um, a little less perky than they used to be too - let's just chalk that up to extended breastfeeding.

I have varicose veins in my legs. Probably from those above-mentioned pregnancies.

I have dark circles under my eyes. From late-nights and early-mornings.

I have back pain every day. From baby-wearing for 5 years straight. From bending over to address short-people a million times a day. From tying shoes and giving baths and heavy lifting. I wonder how many pounds of laundry I lift in a week.

And maybe my shape would change a bit if I didn't have those glasses of wine. The ones I drink with friends as we listen to one another, build each other up, commiserate. But I wouldn't give up those moments for all the money in the world.  I know I don't need the chocolate cupcakes I share "just because" with my kids. Or, um, the handfuls of chocolate chips I cram into my mouth when my kids stress me out. But I'm not giving those up either.

Because you know what else I have? Three beautiful children who call me "Mommy." Three distinct personalities I get to help learn how to shine. Three individuals who are going to change the world and I have the honor of shepherding them as they figure out exactly how.

This body of mine carries them when they are too tired, hugs them when they are hurting. My hands hold theirs to give them comfort, to protect, to guide. I fit them (all three sometimes) onto my lap for snuggles. My eyes, dark-circles and all, read books every night, check homework, and watch athletic events. Ruined? I don't think so.

Mamas, our bodies are not ruined. I pray my daughter never accepts that message. Bearing children is beautiful and amazing. The scars and "imperfections" my body now bears from childbirth and breastfeeding and the adoption process and just plain old MOTHERING are my badges of honor. I work hard to raise up good human beings. There is nothing ruinous about it.

Our bodies allow us to mother. Our bodies carry us through the day. Fine, maybe we don't look as good in bikinis anymore. I'll grant that radio-show-host that one. But as far as I'm concerned, the tasks that a mother's body does every day are nothing short of miraculous.

I am not ruined. And neither are you.