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.

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Love Them, Love Them, Say That You Love Them

Gentle Reader,

The Apostle John fascinates me.

…on the way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for Him. But they did not welcome Him, because He determined to journey to Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”

But He turned and rebuked them…

– Luke 9:52b-55a (CSB)

Like a gangster’s lackeys in a Depression-era movie, they ask, “Hey, Jesus? You want we should whack them?”

I wonder if Jesus paused before turning around. I wonder if His head dropped to His chest the way a father’s does when he’s exasperated with his children. I wonder if He rubbed his temples. I wonder if His words came out clipped or if they were measured. I know that He surely looked both of them in the eyes and, from the deep well of patient love within His heart, the Savior spoke, telling James and John to knock it off.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Him and said, “Teacher, we want You to do whatever we ask You.”

“What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked them.

They answered Him, “Allow us to sit at Your right and at Your left in Your glory.”

– Mark 10:35-37 (CSB)

They want the places of honor. The top spots. Of course this makes the other disciples mad. I wonder if Jesus sighed heavily. I wonder if He cast His eyes to Heaven. I wonder if He shook His head, marveling at how little they understood.

Then, Gethsemane. The betrayal. The arrest. Everyone flees. At some point, John circles back around, following the proceedings from a safe distance. He is there, at the foot of the Cross, with the women. Jesus tells him to take care of His mother (John 19:26-27; church tradition maintains that he did so for the rest of her life). Dark, quiet hours as the Light of the World lay in the tomb.

Ah, but as the song says: Bursting forth, in glorious day, up from the grave He rose again. Fifty days to wrap their minds around resurrection, salvation. His feet lifted off of the Mount of Olives. They watched, blinking at the brightness. Confusion, waiting.

Pentecost. Tongues of fire. Preaching and teaching as they’d never preached before.

About that time King Herod violently attacked some who belonged to the church, and he executed James, John’s brother, with the sword. 

– Acts 12:1-2 (CSB)

No mention of how John reacted. No doubt he mourned. As the eldest is usually listed first in ancient documents, including the Bible, James was probably his big brother. If John was like other little brothers throughout the ages, he wanted to be just like James. Followed him around. Tried to act and think like James did.

Suddenly, he is left alone. The community of faith, the family of God, remains, but there’s something about losing a sibling. Your first friend. The one who knows you the best.

Something shifts in John as he grows and continues to walk with God. The narrative in Acts slides over to Paul beginning in Chapter 13, and we lose track of the man who begins, at some point, to think of himself as the Beloved Disciple. No more does he want to call down fire on people’s heads. No more does he seek a place of glory.

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.

– 1 John 4:7-10 (CSB)

Brimstone and rage, power and position…to love.

Another church tradition tells us that, toward the end of his life, John settled on one sentence to sum up the life and teachings of Jesus, a sentence that he repeated over and over again: “Little children, love one another.”

I don’t believe it’s too far a stretch to think that John would be shocked by our practices in the church today, for this Apostle was not only the preacher of love but the great enemy of Gnosticism, a philosophy that downplays the importance of the physical and elevates mystical experiences in the pursuit of secret or special knowledge. Gnostics were either ascetics, denying bodily needs, or libertines, engaging in whatever activities they liked because it didn’t matter. In essence, “thou shalt not” or “do what thou wilt.”

These competing ideas influence us greatly. For some of us, there is fear of the body, and so we come up with long lists of rules. A man must not really be friends with a woman to whom he is not married, and he definitely shouldn’t hug women, because he will of course be aroused and there’s no way he can control himself. (I am not sure if this is more insulting to women or to men). For others, there is shunning of Scriptural ethics. That passage tells me not to do this, but that can’t be what the writer actually meant; they had no concept of this and so I can ignore what’s being said and indulge because God is basically a cosmic hippie who cares only about my happiness.

Neither is healthy. Neither is loving.

In the youth ministry context in which I currently sit, I listen as teens ask, “Do you really love me? Do I really belong?” They don’t always use words, but the question is ever-present. Of course, we tell them, “Yes! Yes!” But they are smarter than we give them credit for, despite the lack of fully developed brains. They watch how we interact with each other. They see our unease, our inability to avoid the extremes. They notice our fear.

Our answers don’t line up with our actions.

When John said, “Little children, love one another,” he meant it. As in, actually love one another. Recognizing that we who have been brought from death to life by the power of Christ are really family, we don’t have to be paranoid around each other. You can give someone a hug if he looks like he needs it. You can say “I love you” to her without having to rush to the marriage altar. At the same time, we also don’t get to cast off good sense and wisdom; we don’t get to make our own rules and demand that God and Scripture submit to them. Instead, we see the goodness and kindness in what God commands, and we ask Him to reshape our hearts into those that beat to the time of obedience.

We have to love one another. Love is listening. Love is responding in grace and truth. Love is playing, eating, serving, sitting in silence. Love is squeezing hands and shoulders. Love is hugs. Love is looking others in the eye. Love is creating space for God-given differences of abilities, gifts and perspectives.

Love is relationship.

The messy, up-in-your-business, no-room-for-hiding relationship.

Not this fakeness we’re used to.

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Little Tortilla Girl

Gentle Reader,

This one is for my goddaughter, the spunky Riley Rae. When she was a baby and decidedly hangry, I held her in a headlock in order to get her to drink a bottle. We’ve been best buddies ever since.

********

A beautiful early spring evening in Bellevue…or Seattle…or wherever we exactly and technically were. (I have no sense of direction or place). The first day of Northwest Ministry Conference had passed by in a blur of workshops, conversations and a fast lunch trip to Chick-fil-A. (My first time eating the Lord’s chicken nuggets, complete with dipping sauce. Vegetarianism went out the minivan window. Hashtag worth it, never mind the liver complaining later). As the sun began to dip in the distance, calling the street lamps to flickering life, we sat, a tired but merry band, twenty-odd strong, around brightly patterned tables, noses filled with the scents of Mexican food. Or, at least, what passes for Mexican food in the Pacific Northwest (my Southern friends were about to object).

In a 1988 interview, author Ursula K. LeGuin discussed her daily schedule, noting that, after 8:00 p.m., “I tend to be very stupid and we won’t talk about this.” I had reached the stupid point around 6:00 p.m., very much ready for sleep but knowing that it was hours away. So, when my dearest Riley, who was sitting to my left, asked, “Auntie Marie, where is my food? How long does it take to make a quesadilla?,” I should not have been surprised (though I was) when the spirit of my father and uncles overtook my mind and the silliest of sentences came flying out of my mouth.

“Well,” I replied. “They have to go and hunt the tortilla, you know.”

Her eyes went wide. “That’s not true.” She giggled, gaps where teeth used to be on full display. “That’s just not true.”

And thus the Saga of Tortilla Hunting began.

“They really do have to hunt the tortillas. Where do you think they come from?”

Riley had no answer.

You see, tortillas grow wild in the plains of South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. They are bright pink in color, though a few green ones have been spotted. The green ones are the aged tortillas, the wise ones who have escaped capture. Trouble is, most tortillas are not intelligent, so they don’t listen to their elders, who try so hard to teach them how to live free.

“Don’t eat the guacamole,” they say. “Don’t trust the avocados.”

Put a little guacamole in the bottom of a tortilla trap and they come flying. They spin like flying saucers and make a strange, indescribable flapping noise. They only have one eye, so they don’t see well at all, often smacking into things in their quest to find the guacamole. Ah, but their sense of smell never fails them. They descend into the trap, mouths, at the center of their bodies, directly tied to their stomachs because tortilla anatomy does not include an esophagus or other digestive parts, wide open.

Clang!

A leprechaun, dressed in ninja clothes and riding a unicorn, slams the trap shut. Only ninja-leprechauns can hunt tortillas, you know. And of course they ride unicorns, because what else would they ride? How silly, imagining a leprechaun astride any other steed or using public transport. What do you think this is, a made-up-on-the-fly story? Honestly.

The leprechauns have to open the traps in order to stuff the tortillas into plastic bags, suitable for selling in local supermarkets. Some tortillas, stunned but determined to live, make their way out of the traps, flinging themselves against living room windows, but their stomachs are so full of food that they can’t hang on, and they fall into the waiting arms of the leprechauns below. (Oh, I forgot to mention: The unicorns that the leprechauns ride, they are smaller in size, able to hide in bushes. They are known in folklore as “Stealthicorns”). This is what happened to Billy Scrimshaw Tortilla.

Billy was a young tortilla, just venturing out on his own. Saddled with student loan debt that he could never hope to pay off, Billy nevertheless planned to be the first Certified Public Accountant for the tortilla community. Again, tortillas are not intelligent; they don’t use money, and their average lifespan is less than twenty years, so why Billy went to college in the first place is a mystery. And how did he get into school? Aunt Becky bought him a spot at the University of Southern California.

Billy had heard the stories. An elder who lived at the bottom of a gnarled tree had warned him. But Billy couldn’t help himself. The smell was too strong. His hunger, too great. He rose from the fields one clear night (for tortillas are nocturnal), driven by the powerful urge to eat. And eat. And eat some more.

He heard the sound of unicorn hooves. A soft laugh. (Leprechauns are rather bold in their hunting). His eye flicked this way and that. A brief thought flitted through his minuscule brain. He knew he should stop. But the guacamole was homemade. And it didn’t have any cilantro in it because cilantro is disgusting and tastes like soap. In a daze, he descended into the warm red circle, mouth watering.

“That’s not true!” Riley cried, arms flapping. “Tortillas don’t fly!”

“They do! There’s a documentary about it, but you may not have access to it due to parental controls because it’s a little disturbing.”

Fits of laughter, not at all proper manners for a restaurant setting. I began to speak in my Mary Poppins accent, adding a level of gravitas that made it all the funnier. But perhaps the best part was the contribution of the other adults present, who added little bits and pieces to the tall tale, or at the very least kept Riley wondering if, just maybe, there might be some kernel of truth in what I was saying.

Hours later, we were still going.

“You ate him, Riley! You ate Billy!”

We dissolved into too-exhausted-to-care giggles on the hotel bed. Tears dripped from my eyes. This was so very stupid, but the sort of fun that we both needed in that moment.

A brief pause while she styled my hair. Bangs askew, curls a mess. Didn’t matter to me.

“Auntie Marie,” she said, “let’s take a selfie.” Of course I obliged.

She approved the photo. “You need to send this to that guy in the red shirt from dinner, because you are the biggest liar I know but he is the second biggest.”

“That guy” added some crucial elements to the story. He also dared her to stick her tongue on a piping hot fajita pan.

Of course I sent the photo.

The night wound down. We lay on the bed, snuggled under the blanket, nothing at all to watch on television. Riley’s older sister, the delightful Emery Mae, sent some texts to her friends. Baby Aurora Jade fought sleep in their mother’s arms. I could see Tauni, my sister from another mister, in each of their faces. And in that moment, in that hotel room, hanging out with four of the ladies I love best in the whole world, I thanked God for relationships that stretch back years and will grow into the future. For friends who are truly family.

A knock on the door. Time for the them to head out. I hugged Riley and whispered in her ear, “Be sure to watch for the tortillas. They migrate this way in the spring.”

She pushed me and bounced off the bed, laughing once again.

********

Riley, or, to use your “Monty Python” name, Johann Sebastian Gambolpotty of Ulm, this is a night I will never forget. I am so, so glad that you are in my life. Watching you grow and learn is a joy. Being your auntie is a privilege. I look forward to many more days of ridiculousness.

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The Wednesday Writers: Carol Emmert

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

It’s The Wednesday Writers!

No idea what I’m talking about? Read this.

Today we hear from my new blogging buddy, Carol Emmert.

Mom Needs a Sick Day

One of the hardest things for our families to hear is this: Mom needs a sick day.

This phrase may have struck fear in your own heart a time or two. It is often Mom who holds all the little pieces of the day together, and keeps the family moving like a well-oiled machine, so having a mom who is down for the count seems tragic. But it does not have to be a tragedy – it can be a time  for everyone else to practice their skills, and a time to appreciate what Mom normally does every day.

When children are little they rely on their parents for almost everything, as they should. But by the time they are six or seven, children should be learning how to do some of their own chores, and learning some basic self-care skills. If parents take a little bit of time each week to teach their children some basic household skills, the home will run much more smoothly – even when mom is sick. A small child who has learned how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on their own can be a huge help around the house. If they can brush their teeth by themselves- even better! If your ten year old knows how to make mac & cheese or scrambled eggs, they can feed your family for a week if necessary. If your teens know how to run the washing machine and clean the bathroom, even if it is not done quite as wells when mom does it, then dad can spend his time focusing on taking care of his sick wife, going to work, and bathing the toddler before bed.

The best way to not dread the phrase Mom needs a sick day is to be prepared for it. Everyone gets sick sometime – even mom. So make a plan for what you will do when mom does need a sick day, or for the time when she needs to take care of someone else – like Grandma and Grandpa. Sit down and make a list of age-appropriate chores and cooking skills for each child. Then make a family plan for the next few months and work on learning how to do them well. Not only will this help when mom is sick, it also makes it easier to clean the house before last-minute guests arrive, or before you want to head out of town for the weekend.

For those times when mom really does need a sick day, have some bottled water, some herbal tea, and some crackers on hand. If mom can make it to the couch, surely your five year old will be happy to share his crackers, and his favorite cartoon with her. Then your ten year old can make her some tea, or chicken soup for lunch. Rally around mom when she is sick. Show her how much you appreciate her by caring for her, and cleaning up after yourselves. Moms are usually quick to recover, and with some practice, the family machine will still be running when she does.

********

Carol-headshot

 


Carol writes at Home Sweet Life. She shares snippets of everyday life while homeschooling high school, plus her family
s love for Jesus, road trips and adventure.

 

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