Rejoice When the Children Come In

Gentle Reader,

We’re halfway through 2019, and so I remind myself that the Holy Spirit directed me to focus on truth this year. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and feel my heart slow within my chest. God is good and pure and wonderful.

As I think on what is true, what God has revealed about Himself and about the world, I make a resolution to stop asking people about children. As in, “Do you have children?” or “Are you going to have another child?” And why not ask? First, it’s intrusive and unneeded; the answer will be revealed organically, one way or the other. Second, the asking can at least cause irritation for the one being asked, and can definitely cause pain if there are issues of infertility or if there has been death in the family. There are times when I want to go through life as the proverbial bull in the china shop, but I’m learning the importance of sensitivity. I don’t want to knowingly cause unnecessary discomfort in others just because I’m feeling nosy.

Desiring to be sensitive means I begin to notice when I am not sensitive myself, and when others choose not to be. Thus my jaw nearly hit the floor after overhearing a conversation, during which someone commented that they don’t approve of anyone pursuing a child from another country, because there are so many American children waiting to be adopted. Why spend thousands of dollars when you can “get a kid for free?”

Up front: Yes, there are a lot of children in the foster care system. I get that. I wish there wasn’t such familial dysfunction in our country that results in so many without stable homes. Almost nothing makes me angrier than children having to suffer because of the selfish, stupid decisions of adults.

I also get that the foster care system is primarily set up for reunification with biological family, not automatic adoption. Sometimes that’s a great thing, and sometimes that’s an awful thing, but either way, it’s nowhere near as simple as, “Find a kid born in the USA! They’ll be yours in no time!”

Further, domestic adoption is not free. Sure, maybe there’s not the initial, up-front fees, but there’s going to be a good chunk of change spent on counseling and other services, because it’s rare for a child in foster care to not have experienced trauma or to not be behind in development, whether academically, physically, or socially. And any parent worth his or her salt is going to be willing to spend that money, to do what’s best for the child. Besides, adoption, done with the right motives, is never focused on saving (or gaining) a buck or two.

The naivety of this comment is not what got me, however. All of us are naive, even outright ignorant, from time to time. That’s fine. We learn, we grow.

What’s not fine: The judgment behind the comment.

Why is it odd or wrong that a couple would sacrifice, would scrimp and save, to bring a child into their home? That they would go to the ends of the earth to find the little one whose picture they cannot erase from their minds, who is meant to be theirs?

Such disdain for those who dare to do something differently than another would do it.

Again, I understand that there are children who are shuffled around and want a family to call their own. I also understand that there are foster parents who have sought to adopt these children, and have been denied by the courts, because one or more biological family members refuse to sign their rights away. Yes, that’s right. It’s not as easy as, “Oh, this child is in foster care, so their bio family is done.”

This comment diminishes the heartache, the suffering, and the waiting, for both adopters and adoptees. This comment assumes that those who adopt internationally never considered the domestic option because they want an “exotic” child. This comment doesn’t take the direction of the Holy Spirit into account.

I know families who have done domestic adoption. I know families who have done international adoption. I know families who have done both. I know families who waited for years for a mother to choose them, only to have the adoption fall through at the last moment. In each case, a whole lot of agonized prayer went into the decision.

Adoption is just as individualized and personal as having a biological child. There are thousands of thoughts and reasons that go into the choice, thoughts and reasons that only the parents and God fully understand. Those on the outside have no business wondering “why” this or “why” that, for they have no way of truly knowing. And, bluntly, they should not offer their opinions on the matter, unless asked, and even then should tread carefully. Additionally, if the outsider has difficulty rejoicing that a child, from anywhere and of any age, has found a loving home, then that outsider should take some time and examine themselves, for why would any adoption be bad?

God never says that one family has to take the same shape as another, and so on and so forth. In fact, this side of the Cross, the emphasis is less on the nuclear family (though by no means is it unimportant) and more on the Church family. We are sisters and brothers and aunties and uncles and cousins and grandparents and extra moms and bonus dads. And God went very far, the farthest anyone could ever go, to adopt each of us.

If you have a passion to be a foster parent, do that. If you feel a burning desire to save up money and bring home a kid from Ethiopia, do that. If you don’t want kids of your own at all, but instead want to pour out your energy and love into the kids around you, do that. There is no law in Scripture to burden or condemn you on this matter (and the commands of God are designed to bring us freedom, anyway), so don’t let the opinions of mere mortals bring you down.

Listen to the Holy Spirit. Heed His voice. Others might think you’re going wrong when you do, but you aren’t. His way is the best way. He has called each of us to love children, and to see them as blessings, but there are so many different ways to do that. Your role is your role. You don’t have to do what everyone else does.

Not the Fundamentals: Family Size

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Gentle Reader,

Accepting the Bible to be inspired by God necessitates the belief that God affirms the value of life, and therefore children. So before we even begin this emotionally-charged discussion, know that I stand firmly within that belief. (Especially as a pacifist). All the kids in my life are special. In no way do I think that there should be governmental restrictions on the amount or gender of children that a couple has. Basically, kids are a good thing.

Nevertheless, despite this affirmation, I strongly object to the Quiverfull movement and it’s often-attendant theology of Dominionism. (Please note that not all people who ascribe to the Quiverfull movement also ascribe to Dominionism, but the two can be generally linked). In essence, Quiverfull adherents believe that any and all forms of birth control are sinful, because a married couple should always be open to the blessing of more children. Dominionism is a complex system, but essentially makes no distinction between Israel and the Church; the Church is subject to the same blessings and curses found in the Sinai covenant and it’s subsequent reiteration in Deuteronomy. Dominionists believe that Christians must bring about the total reformation of society as a whole, distinct from the mainstream idea of Christ changing the individual. When the two systems are linked, the focus lies on “outbreeding” everyone else, especially secular humanists and even other Christian groups, which may or may not be seen as legitimate.

As you might imagine, the families treading this path live within a very legalistic structure, with emphasis on outward conformity. (Again, this is a generalization. Certainly not all Quiverfull families are legalistic. However, based on what I have read, there is a great deal of pressure toward certain “norms.”)

Dominionism is based on a poor hermeneutic, one that I simply cannot get behind. The Church has not replaced Israel; at the very least, Romans 9-11 makes that clear. The prophecies found in Revelation were not all fulfilled in the years immediately following Christ’s ascent. Certainly, some of them were, but many of the prophecies can and do have a dual meaning and therefore a dual fulfillment. Christians aren’t to set up Christ’s kingdom before He returns. Outward conformity does not indicate true faith.

I could go on, but we’ll leave it at that.

The Quiverfull movement is based on a poor understanding of Scripture and of medical science. Firstly, the movement bases itself on Psalm 127:3-5 –

Children are a heritage from the Lordoffspring a reward from Him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.” (NKJV)

As far as I know, you won’t find a single Christian person who disagrees with the above. Children are a blessing. Children are from God. Yet how one jumps from this to “have as many babies as possible” is still somewhat mystifying to me. And yes, surely, God did command Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), but taking this as a literal command for all future generations fails to take context into account. Additionally, the argument that the Bible “doesn’t talk about birth control” means nothing. The Bible also doesn’t talk about smartphones.

Contrary to their beliefs, birth control does not cause abortions. Birth control prevents pregnancy from happening. Unless you believe that an egg and a sperm are, on their own, viable human life, this should be apparent. No fertilization and no implantation equals no baby. Furthermore, the alarm cry that using birth control directly leads to breast (or other) cancer is far too loud, as this clearly points out.

There is a willful blindness at play. I’m all for trusting God to provide, but I’m also all for the common sense that He gave each of us and that is enhanced and developed by the Spirit. For example, if you have three kids and know that you aren’t in a position to take care of a fourth, then don’t have that fourth. If there are medical issues that would prevent you from properly caring for children, don’t have them. In neither case does this point to a lack of salvation or faith. It means that you’re using the brain God gave you to recognize your situation and handle it appropriately.

Those who have been reading this blog for awhile know that I am unable to have children, but that isn’t why this issue is so important to me. I hate what kids suffer because of the actions of their parents. I don’t dislike it, it doesn’t annoy me. I hate it. Children don’t ask to be born. They don’t ask to suffer because of a lack of time, money or other resources. They don’t ask to be neglected. They don’t ask to take on adult-sized responsibilities long before they are able. They don’t ask to be the children of selfish people who should never have been parents.

This is what the Quiverfull and other fundamentalist movements fail to take into account. God does not call each of us to the exact same life. Singleness is blessed. Marriage without kids is blessed. Marriage with two kids is blessed. Marriage with one kid and the mission field is blessed. Marriage with adoption is blessed. Blended families are blessed. So long as one is walking with the Lord, there are as many variations as there are Christians.

Finally, I fail to see how the size and shape of my family is the business of anyone but myself, my husband and God. I know large families and I know small families. I know blended families. I know families who have adopted. I know widows, widowers and never-marrieds. To say that any of them are outside the will of God claims a sight that I know no human to have.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all the posts in the Not the Fundamentals series, go here.

31 Days of Brave: Fuzzy

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Gentle Reader,

He paws at my arm. Licks my fingers. Puts his head under my hand and jolts it from the keyboard.

His name is Fuzzy and he wants attention right now.

All my life I’ve been a dog lover. There’s never been an extended period of time when I haven’t had access to a furry bundle of drool and barks. I can connect a dog to most of the significant moments of life – Petey sat in the front yard the first time I rode the bus to school, Murphy trotted around my feet as I got ready for my wedding, Benny moved in with my husband and me shortly after we bought our first house. There is something so comforting about the presence of a dog.

But this dog? Fuzzy?

He’s a handful. And a half.

Fuzzy’s barely out of his puppy years, so he’s got all the energy in the world. He just needs to explore everything. And chew on things. And bark – a lot. And steal toys from his brothers. In general, he’s something of a nuisance. He just can’t help himself.

Then, at night, when I’ve just about had all I can take, he curls up next to me. Those sweet brown eyes look at me, full of trust and loyalty. It’s almost as if he knows that we’ve had a hard day together, and he’s promising that he’ll do better tomorrow. It gets me every time. He nudges my hand and I stroke his soft fur as we settle in for a good sleep.

Fuzzy’s combination of  mischievous behavior and sweet affection makes me think of something Jesus said:

“Do not be afraid, little flock.” – Luke 12:32a (NKJV)

Our Lord spoke these words within the context of what is termed in Matthew’s Gospel as the Sermon on the Mount. Thousands of people spread out before Him. Their worries and burdens, etched in lines on their faces, were clear to Him. Jesus understood how their lives were often a chore: work all day, pay the taxes, feed the kids, try to make the money stretch as far as it would go. He understood how the political seasons shifted without warning, catching the average person in sudden, dangerous winds. He knew that mothers went to sleep at night wondering if their children would still be alive in the morning. He knew that young men dreamed of striking out on their own. He knew that fathers begged for a little more time, a little bit of space.

Their experience was not so different from ours. Very little is within our ability to control. We worry about that. So much is outside of our control. We worry about that, too. Like Fuzzy, we run around aimlessly, trying to burn off the energy that comes from fear. We scratch at things. We push and shove. We have needs and they need to be met right now.

Jesus goes on:

“Your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” – Luke 12:32b (NKJV)

There is great depth here, a depth that this space does not allow us to explore, but even the simplest reading of this statement can change our perspective. Only a king can give away a kingdom. At his disposal are vast riches, innumerable resources. From fields full of thriving grain, to busy metropolises of arts and culture, to quiet streams in the woods, everything ultimately belongs to the king. The length and breadth of his realm contains all the pieces of a contented, secure life.

Jesus says that the Father, the King, is happy to give us His kingdom. It’s as if the Lord invites us in and bids us to look around. To take whatever it is that we need in the moment. We don’t have to pry His hand open; it’s always extended to us. He lets us know that what He alone can give, He gives freely.

We can skip the chewing on things that won’t satisfy our hunger. We can skip the striving to get what other people have. We can skip the incessant barking, the attempt to let everyone and anyone know that we are angry or scared. God tells us to go straight for the peace. He calls us to curl up next to Him. He wants to provide for us. He’s happy to provide for us. He’ll never stop providing for us.

God’s amazing care doesn’t end there. When we do forget that His hand is open, when we do allow fear to rule us, when we do nip and run at others, He is faithful to draw us back to that place of peace. We can try to ignore. We can kick and scream about it. But the invitation is always there. No matter how hard the day has been, no matter how far we’ve gotten off the path, His hand is still outstretched. All we have to do is take.

And He’ll help us do better tomorrow.

My journey to faith. (15)

 For all of the posts in the 31 Days: Brave series, go here.

This post also appeared on the Far East Broadcasting Company Gospel Blog on September 20, 2013.

For the Children

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Gentle Reader,

The political situation in the Middle East is a tangled mess, and I blame Islam for that. Call me any name you want, but all the wars over there? All the oppression? The poverty? The rampant anti-woman violence? The gassing of innocent bystanders? The lack of education? The fear? The suspicion? The hatred?

All in the name of Allah, my friend.

All in the name of Allah.

My stomach turns to think of the millions of refugees pouring into already-crowded camps. My heart aches to think of the United States going into another war that is impossible to win and will never end this side of Eternity. The faces of the children haunt me. They did not ask for this. They do not understand things such as alliances, sacred law and holy war. They do not know that the conflict is rooted in thousands of years of brutality. All they know is that their fathers and brothers are gone, fighting. Or dead. All they know is that they can’t live at home anymore.

We cannot turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to the suffering. Unfortunately, most Christian organizations are barred from overtly operating in explicitly Islamic countries. At this point, the best avenues I can find for giving is the United Nations Refugee Agency and UNICEF. I know that money is tight for many of us, but these people, especially these children, have it so much worse.

Let’s extend our hands in compassion.

My journey to faith. (15)