Monday, November 26, 2012

Forgotten and discarded

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: 
to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27 (ESV)

I'm not really one for picking a "life's verse" but if I had to, this would be one of them. I serve the God of the broken, of the forgotten, of the discarded.  He loves the unlovable; forgives the unforgivable; comforts the miserable.  And at many times in my life, I've felt like I was broken, forgotten, discarded. There are certainly days when I feel unlovable, unforgivable, and miserable.  I am so thankful for the grace and peace I've been given. I can't even begin to explain it.

Because of what I've been given, I can't help but want to live out that verse up there. I don't want to "visit orphans and widows" because I have to... I want to because I can't imagine life any other way. Because God has shown me how to find joy... and I pursue it all the time!  I've never found it in material things... instead I find it in homeless tent cities, in African villages, and in teaching my children about the Jesus I love.

If you have ever walked into an orphanage, you have seen things you wish you hadn't. It would be nice to bury my head in the sand and pretend there aren't children living in terrible conditions, with no moms or dads to love them. No one to kiss boo boos, no one to rock them to sleep, to sing silly songs, or look them in their eyes and tell them they are precious.  I've experienced the joy and heartache that comes from hugging orphans in the Republic of Georgia, in Ethiopia, and in Swaziland.  I have experienced the joy and the heartache that comes from adopting. It is such an honor to adopt a child who needs a family. Our family is so blessed.

My husband and I, together and individually, have been traveling to Swaziland to work with Heart for Africa since 2008. We aren't ready to adopt again right now (my sanity hasn't quite been restored -- but I'm workin' on it! ha!) but our commitment to orphans remains.

I do not want Swaziland to be forgotten and discarded. It is a tiny, beautiful country. Full of beautiful, wonderful people and gut-wrenching, soul-tearing poverty.  So many orphan-headed households. One of the highest (if not THE highest) HIV rates.  Children abandoned in pit latrines (how my heart aches for the mother who feels this is the best option for her child!), older children raising baby siblings. Not enough food.

Big, huge, sigh.

I know, however, that God has NOT forgotten the Swazis. He loves them. And I can't believe I get the honor, but I get to be a part of sharing that love - it's my turn!! I get to go to Swaziland this summer! My husband went a few months ago and I am already registered to go in July!! I get to go "visit orphans and widows in their affliction." I'm excited to go, but I mourn the fact that it's even necessary.

But it's expensive. Swaziland is crazy far away. I mean really. 18 hour flight from DC to Johannesburg, then a 5 hour bus ride into Swaziland. It's expensive to get there.  I need to do some fundraising.

So here we go! I'm going to sell a bunch of my crafty-things! I've been doing this for the past several years every Christmas. I'm a terrible business-person and don't want to start a business, but when I have a good cause, I'm happy to sell the things I make! :) I'll probably do this every Christmas for the rest of my life, honestly!

I have some great stocking-stuffer and teacher gifts this year!  Email me at yklj AT triad DOT rr DOT com if you'd like to order something. If you aren't local, I'll just charge actual shipping.

Click on "The Store" for a complete list of everything, but here are some pics to get you thinking! There's even more in the store! All kinds of custom gifts for the holidays!!!

Heroes on the half shell... custom bag tags for kids and grown-ups!

DIY Personalized canvases. My kids had a BLAST making them and they look awesome in our playroom

Personalized Christmas Ornaments

Perfect teacher gifts - personalized acrylic straw tumblers!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Gays vs. Christians Debate.

I think I've accepted the fact that this is not purely an adoption blog. I'm kinda all over the place and I know I'm not even really a "real" blogger, but I like writing and I think sometimes people read it. But I'm a little scared to write this post. You'll see why.

Have I ever mentioned how obsessed I am with reading? It is ridiculous. I have to have a book to read at all times. I cannot go to bed at night without reading first. And if I don't have a new book, I'll just re-read one of my old ones. I've probably read each of my books at least 5 times, some many more.

I'm such a nerd.

Last May, when NC was voting about adding Amendment One to our constitution (banning any union other than a marriage between a man and a woman), I somehow came across a blog: Crumbs from the Communion Table.  This guy is a Christian. And he's gay. And his name is Justin. His words during that emotionally-charged time were full of grace.  He posted a response after the Amendment passed (here's the link) that I wanted to send to everyone I know.  I'm pretty sure I excitedly told my husband all about him and said something to the effect of "I guess you never expected me to come to you and tell you how much I love a gay man." Bless his heart. Or mine, I don't know.  And Justin was writing a book and you could pre-order it. Remember that book addiction I  have? Oh yeah, I ordered his book back in May.  And it came about two weeks ago. And it's great.

Justin's book is TORN: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays versus Christians Debate.  It's his story: how he discovered he is gay and how he has struggled to reconcile this with the fact that he also loves Jesus and wants nothing but God's will for his life.  It is beautifully written and his only agenda is that we need to listen to one another in love; and disagree with one another in love.  And today I'm joining in his Synchroblog for Sanity: a call for more reasonable, respectful dialogue about this issue.

In this culture, especially in the South where I live, it is pretty obvious that we have a battle going on: Gays vs. Christians.

And that is so sad.

So I'm going to be honest, publicly, about how I feel about the issue. It breaks my heart that people who say they love Jesus are so outwardly hateful towards gay people.  It breaks my heart when I hear the rhetoric that Christians often use to talk about gay people and how very unwelcome gay people feel when they come to church. Especially when we turn a blind eye to about a bazillion "internal" sins.  The whole sex thing kills me: our churches are FILLED with straight unmarried couples having sex and straight married men who watch pornography. I'm fairly certain those behaviors aren't healthy for marriage and families but I don't see Christians leading any crusades against them under the banner of protecting marriage and families or trying to create policies and laws to stop them.  And I don't know anyone who thinks setting them up to be the enemy would be the Christ-like way to deal with their behavior. Why is it that Christians act as if gay people are the main problem undermining the fabric of society and harming families? I'm sorry, but I do not believe there is a gay agenda.

And all of the anti-gay actions done in the name of Jesus are not causing gay people to decide "wow - I really love that Jesus guy. I want to be one of his followers."

I very openly identify myself as a Christian but when it comes to the issue of sexual orientation, I am often ashamed to claim that name. As a Christian, I want to apologize for hateful behavior, for anything that has been said or done that did the opposite of showing the love of Christ. I promise not all Christians hate gay people.

I say this a lot, but I don't think the purpose of the Bible is to find all the rules we're supposed to follow. It is the story of God and his revelation to us about who he is and what he has done.  As we seek to be more like him, he works to change our hearts. What he is working on in my heart right now might not be the same thing he's working on in yours. And it is not up to me to tell you what he should be changing in your heart. Most importantly, you don't need to change ANYTHING for his love. Not a single thing.

Yes, God doesn't like sin. Sin is anything that moves me away from the heart of God. It's also something I do every single day no matter how hard I try. Thankfully, Jesus died a long time ago and paid that price - no matter how much I fail.  And not all Christians agree on exactly what qualifies as a sin. Alcohol is an example. I think it's okay to have a drink now & again. Some Christians believe we should never have a drink. We need to have grace with each other and understand that sometimes we are going to see things differently.

There are people who believe in what the Bible says and are earnestly seeking after the heart of God who think that having a same-sex relationship is a sin AND there are people who believe in what the Bible says and who are earnestly seeking after the heart of God who think that it is not.

It is okay that we disagree. Unity doesn't mean agreeing on every single issue. There is room for all of us at the foot of the cross. What we must agree on is that the grace and peace of Christ is enough for all of us.

So here's the deal. Regardless of whether you believe gay sex is a sin, Jesus loves people who are gay.  And some people who love Jesus are gay. Gay people can be Christians. And right now, the church is missing out on showing the love of Christ to an entire section of our population. Our actions are pushing them away. Away from Jesus. They think we hate them. And some of "them" are some of "us" and they're getting that message too.  That all makes me want to cry.

We still don't know what causes sexual orientation, but an overwhelming number of people who are gay say they were born that way. And a good deal of research is pointing to genetic or hormonal influence. What is becoming very clear is that people are not choosing to be gay.  I am not going to judge someone for a choice they did not make.

As part of the Synchroblog for Sanity, I'm asking for a kinder debate on this subject. Leave a comment today and I will post it (as long as it is not hateful) regardless of whether you agree or disagree with me.  If you know me in real life, talk to me about it.  We need thoughtful, grace-filled dialogue on this issue.  And if nothing else, I hope you will consider reading Justin's book. It is thought-provoking, kind, and graceful. Unless you actually hate gay people and want to stay that way. In that case, you probably won't like it. Everyone else on all ends of the spectrum of thought on this issue: read it please!

And just to make it easy for you to get the book, here it is.
Click to buy it on amazon.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My next four years will be full of JOY

The election is over. I'm writing this on election day and I wonder how long I stayed up last night waiting to hear who is to be our President for the next four years.

I'll stay up to find out who it is, but I honestly don't believe it will change my life very much.

You see, my next four years are going to look much like my last four: full of joy. I'm fairly confident of that.

What's my plan for the next four years?  Easy:  Love.

I don't mean this in a cheesy way. I mean it in the messy, be-there-for-others-put-myself-last kind of way. For me, the joy I will find in the next four years will come from serving others, from serving Jesus. That's how I found joy these last four years. I'm gonna stick with what works, folks.

The Bible isn't my rulebook for life. It's not a moral manual telling me how to live.  I have fallen in love with my God, with the Savior who died because of ME, because of my failures and how I fall short of perfection every day.  The only response I know to that is to love others, to pass on what was so freely given to me.

When I say "As a Christian, I know how I am to live," it has nothing to do with any rules I'm supposed to follow.  What I mean is that I have been shown crazy grace and love and when that happens to you, you can't imagine living a life filled with anything less.

You know when you eat something really good and you have to turn to the person next to you and say "ohmygosh.... TRY this!" as you shove your fork in their face?  I feel that way about Mellow Mushroom pretzels and pretty much all the food at Ghassans. Because I love it, I want to tell all my friends and family, take them there, and eat together.

That's how I feel about my joy, about my Jesus.  My life is crazy-amazing because of Him, and I want to share it.  I want others to feel it too. I do NOT want to force them to change; to make them follow certain rules. That has nothing to do with it. If you have ever thought that being a Christian meant following the right rules or acting the "right" way, I apologize. Sadly, that message is out there. Sadly, I think a lot of Christians think that IS the message.

Anyway, my next four years will be full of joy. That doesn't mean I wont have struggles, heartbreaks, or difficulties. I fully expect those things to happen in the next four years too. But the cool thing about this joy is that it perseveres in the face of those hard times. Trust me, that whole adoption thing is the biggest tangle of joy and heartbreak I've ever experienced.

So I'm excited today. When this posts, we'll know who the President is. But I'm writing election-day morning and I have no idea.  And I'm very much looking FORWARD to the next four years.  In these next four years I get to:

* continue the honor of serving my homeless friends; they teach me so much about bravery, selflessness, and friendship
* travel to Swaziland! Oh I can't wait for my feet to walk in that beautiful country, bringing words of encouragement, hugs, and letting the Swazis put my hands to work for them
* continue to walk on the journey that is our little church plant, Missio Dei. It is seriously like refreshing, cooling water to my soul to do church with those folks.
* keep on raising those crazy kiddos of mine. Motherhood is an adventure every day.
* stand by my dad and pray for him as he continues to battle cancer (again... ugh)
* adopt again (!). Okay, that's not for certain in the next four years, but it's a likely possibility. I certainly hope it's in our future.
* be a good friend, a good neighbor. These next four years, I really want to be there for my friends. God put people in my life for a reason and I want nothing more than to be a blessing to those who know me.

And all of those things will be messy. I guarantee you I will cry. I bet we'll have less money four years from now than we do now (especially if we adopt again). I am not living the American dream.

But I have a joy that surpasses all else. And I'm not gonna let that go.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Election Day Prayers

I took my kids to vote this week. I really appreciate that they do the kids vote thing. It definitely gave me the opportunity to have some great conversations with my kids.

Sadly, it was an important conversation to me because I fear what they'll learn about politics outside of our home. Politics has become a culture war.

I told them they do not have to vote the same way as Mommy and Daddy and that we don't even always vote for all the same people.  Each person needs to vote for the people they like best and it is okay for that to be different.  Just because we both love God doesn't  mean we'll be in agreement with political stuff. There is no perfect candidate.  Jesus doesn't make endorsements.

We talked about respect and how important it is to respect the person who holds the office of President and to respect the person who challenges the office.  And we talked about how that respect is seriously missing in how people talk about the election today.

The last is a message I've been saying a lot lately. Partly because I believe it, but also because I need to really live it: It doesn't matter who wins this next Presidential election. Not in the grand scheme of things. Our hope lies in Jesus. The Bible makes no mention of any kind of savior coming from the American government. I don't believe that America is the world's best hope. The world has a best hope, but he doesn't live in a white house.

That doesn't mean we can't try to pick the best person for the job. I do have a candidate that I like better.  But I am not praying he'll win. Instead I'm praying for my heart. I'm praying that I won't be disappointed on election day if he loses and that I won't really celebrate if he wins.  Because I will pray for my President on November 7th and I will pray for my President on January 20th whether those are two different people or the same man.

And I don't expect him to be able to fix all our country's problems.

As a Christian, I know how I am to live. More importantly, I know who I am to love.  The Bible says to carry the message and to love others and that God will change hearts. There's no moral policing in my job description.

But I'm in danger of getting sucked in... there really is a candidate I like better and my heart feels pulled in one direction.  So I'm praying for my heart. I pray I remember what really matters.

No matter who wins on Nov 7th, how I am to live doesn't change. I serve a God of grace and love who is not limited by men who sit in authority.

Thank goodness!