Staying green in summertime can be difficult, especially when you live in a place like Houston, Texas. By the end of July, early August, once verdant, green lawns are burned brown and once beautiful spring flowers are shriveled, scorched from the heat of the sun. Everyone’s lawn looks like it needs a healthy dose of Miracle Grow.
But as tough a chore as keeping your lawn green can be in times of intense heat, it can be even tougher to keep your soul green. When the sun blazes down from the circumstances of life and scorches dreams, hopes, and contentment, at some point you realize the green growth that once existed has turned to brown, crackling blades underneath your feet. Instead of reflecting beauty, joy, rest, and refreshment, the parched soul starts to shrivel, in desperate need of a deep drink of water.
To be honest, summer time is usually a time where it is easier for my soul to stay green. The circumstances that normally drain my water supply are alleviated, and I can take a deep breath in and relax. No homeschool, no carpool, no after-school activities, playdates or appointments. No teaching commitments. Just. Rest.
The real challenge isn’t staying green in the summer; it’s staying green come mid-August when the beginning of school and fall commitments commence once again. And if I’m not careful, I can begin to be anxious, hoping and praying for a good dose of Miracle Grow that will somehow sustain me until Thanksgiving.
But as believers in Christ, there’s a way to stay green, even in the driest of seasons, as long as you know where to find water.
My mom gave me a book to read this summer called Green Leaf in Drought-Time by Isobel Kuhn. The book is out of print, but she heard about it on Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ radio program called Revive Our Hearts. It’s a short, slim book, not a heavy read. But it’s pages are full of life-sustaining truth. The book is the true story of Wilda and Arthur Mathews, the last missionaries from the China Inland Mission to escape from China when the Communists took over in the 1950’s. Their journey of escape took several years, and this committed couple and their toddler experienced set back after set back in trying to get out, but after years of waiting in drought, they not only escaped with their lives, but escaped with their souls still in full bloom, still green. And that is the point of the biography. The author examines how under extreme stress, in conditions of severe drought, when to every apparent eye there was no water, the Mathews “leaves were green and were not anxious in a year of drought and did not cease to yield fruit” (Jeremiah 17:8). Not a popular topic to write about or examine today.
Today, most books and sermons and self-help talks are about how to get out of drought, rather than learning how to stay green within it.
But here’s the thing: God does not promise us drought-free circumstances. But He does promise us drought-free hearts when we “extend our roots by a stream,” a stream of living water that never dries up, and never ceases to give the supernatural refreshment for our souls we so desperately need.
The book Green Leaf in Drought-Time opens with a quote in the Foreword by J. Oswald Sanders: “God does not waste suffering, nor does He discipline out of caprice. If He plow, it is because He purposes a crop.”
Can I ask you something? The same two questions I asked myself when I read the first sentence of the book. Have you accepted the fact that God allows suffering and discipline and seasons of drought in your life? And if so, in those seasons, are you disciplined enough to go in search of water?
As Americans, we spend so much of our time refusing to accept or even acknowledge God’s sovereignly ordained seasons of discipline in our lives, trying to dull or explain away the pain or troubles with every known remedy under the sun. But what if you and I, instead of trying to explain the season away, or search for a ten-step-formula out from underneath the circumstances, submitted to God’s Hand over the circumstances, learned to trust Him in the lessons He is wanting us to learn, and then went hard after water?
Jeremiah 17:5-8 says this: “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will Iive in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.”
Christian, you and I never need to fear drought, because we always know where to find water.
On the last day of the Feast of Booths in Jerusalem, Jesus stood up before the masses of people and cried out: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water'” (John 7:37-38).
One translation says Jesus’ words this way: “Let him keep coming to Me and let him keep drinking.”
Our drink from the water of life isn’t a one time stop when we go forward or bend the knee to make a decision to submit to the Lordship of Christ. It is a perpetual posture of the soul. We are to keep coming and keep drinking on a day-by-day, sometimes moment-by-moment basis. The state of your soul absolutely depends on how much water you’ve been drinking. Wilted soul – no water. No Words of Christ. Vibrant soul, even in conditions of drought – well-watered soul. A soul that stops to drink on a regular basis, receiving Jesus’ Words, believing Jesus’ Words, letting Him in.
When Arthur Mathew was tricked into signing a letter from a Communist authority, putting his life and his wife and child’s life at risk, with the very real possibility of being led to the execution wall the next morning along with hundreds of others, he was in the “‘midnight of fear.’…And can you imagine the despair. Drought had brought the forest fire and the flames were licking toward these two young trees of the Lord’s planting. What chance was there for survival?….that spreadeth out its roots by the river. Water is the thing that conquers fire. So down on their knees by the little old trunk in the kitchen corner went the two [Arthur and Wilda Mathews], and they read the Scripture. Psalms 140 to 144 fell open before them….and their heated fears were cooled and they were helped.”
In conditions of extreme drought, time and time again, it wasn’t a magic formula that saved Arthur and Wilda Mathews, it wasn’t a committee from the China Inland Mission working to get them out (although they tried), it wasn’t a conversation with friends (they had no friends in their remote corner of China), and it wasn’t a meal out or the comforts of home or the luxuries money can buy (there were no luxuries to be had). It was, time after time, the Word of God, applied to their hearts and minds through prayer and thoughtful meditation.
When I think about the Fall, as far as I know, I do not have to face the drought of a Communist Party takeover, or the threat of execution, or the daily basic needs of survival. My worries about drought are much less severe. But I have the privilege of knowing where to go to find water and how to spread my roots out before the presence of the Lord in His life-giving stream, just as the Mathews did.
Whatever season the Lord has you or me in, let’s embrace it. Let’s not fear the scorching heat of summer or the withering power of the sun. Rather, let’s renew our commitment to keep coming and keep drinking the water whose source never fails and who never ceases to enable us not only to stay green, but to bear fruit, even in the driest of times.
For more on learning to bear fruit and drink from the water whose source never fails, read “Waiting on the Lord: Waiting for Fruitfulness” or listen to the talk “Waiting for Fruitfulness,” coming in September 2016.
Adoption is beautiful and hard.
That’s what a friend told me a couple of weeks ago and the phrase has stuck in my head and rolled around in my heart like a catchy tune or phrase.
Because that pretty much sums it up. Sums up our year. Sums up our days. Sums up our moments.
Last Wednesday, July 13th, marked the one year anniversary of Mia Grace’s Gotcha Day, her “birth” day of sorts into our family. It was the day an orphanage director named Wendy walked out of a back room curtain holding a seventeen-pound seventeen-month-old serious faced little thing whose head was damp with sweat and whose hand clutched an orange little plastic shovel as if her life depended on it. (To read more about our adoption story, click here.) After placing her into my arms and giving me a five minute low down on Mia Grace’s schedule, history, and daily rhythms (not much time or information when someone hands you a total stranger of a seventeen-month-old), Wendy departed, and the whole experience of Gotcha Day lasted about twenty minutes after we had waited for a daughter for almost two and a half years. And I still remember the exhilarating feeling of riding with former LingYu Xu now Mia Grace Baker, in the car back to our hotel, feeling like we had just busted someone out of prison. I couldn’t wait to get the orphanage smell, the orphanage clothes, and the orphanage shovel out of her hands and let her start becoming a Baker, an official member of our family.
And what a becoming it’s been.
Sometimes the beauty and the hardness of it all still catches me off guard. I have been asked a number of times this year if loving Mia Grace is harder than loving my biological children. Yes and no. With my biological children, loving comes easy. They have my scent, my brown eyes or Jason’s hazel eyes, my husband’s walk, the personality traits of their grandmothers, and a connectedness to my mother’s heart that goes back to the long nine months of carrying them in the womb and soaking in their sweet baby scent in the hospital. I don’t have those things with Mia Grace. Sometimes I’m still taken aback to look down in my arms at the little person I’m holding and see brown skin, dark brown, almost black, beautiful almond shaped eyes, and a small, petite stature that looks nothing like mine. Nothing about her looks like me.
There is nothing biologically or historically speaking that draws her to me or me to her. But the love I have for Mia Grace isn’t based on biology. It’s based on something deeper, truer, beautiful, and fierce. It catches me off guard and makes me catch my breath. It’s a love that sometimes feels different and looks different than I have for my biological children, but it’s a love like steel that has uncuttable cords and reaches past biology into grace.
Because when I look at her, I see myself. I look at my skin, the color of my eyes, the smallness of my hands, the hardness and often disobedient nature of my heart, and I don’t see anything about myself that looks like my heavenly Father. I am just so other than Him. Yet He loves me. Sent His Son to die for me. Wrapped me in cords of love and drew me to Himself in a love that will not let me go that is rooted and grounded in His glory and grace.
I used to hear those words, see those words, and understand with my head but not necessarily my heart. But adoption has helped to change that. I understand a little bit more about this love that holds me and emanates from Someone who looks nothing like me. Who spent large amounts of His resources, in fact, the very best that He had, to change my name and secure me to Himself.
So is it hard sometimes to love someone who looks nothing like I look or who shares none of my history or ancestors? Yes. But the beautiful far outweighs the hard. In fact, the hard has made the past year even more beautiful.
I don’t know where you are today. I don’t know if you have ever experienced and received your heavenly Father’s unconditional, deep love and embrace, or if you have felt like you’ve had to earn it. Prove it. Work hard at it and for it. But from one very imperfect adoptive parent, let me tell you on behalf of the very perfect adoptive Parent, you are loved. No matter your looks. No matter your situation. No matter your past. No matter your present circumstances. The Father’s love for you isn’t based on your similarities in scent, or facial features, or shared history. His love for you is based on a decision He made, long before you were born, to go after you in your sinful, wretched state through the beautiful, hard death of Jesus on the cross. And once you have accepted Christ by faith and surrendered your will to His Spirit, His love for you is secure. Final. Complete. Bound to Him with cords of love that go deeper than biology. They are tied tight through grace.
To celebrate Mia Grace’s “Gotcha Day,” I drove up to Java, the local coffee shop here in Ketchum, Idaho, the town where we are staying for the next several weeks, and bought a coffee for myself and a giant cinnamon roll for Mia Grace that was as big as her face.
Over breakfast, the girls, Jason, and I went around the table while MG licked icing off her fingers and smeared the rest in her hair, and recounted all of the ways God has been faithful to Mia Grace and our family over the past first year of adoption. All of the beauty and all of the hard. Our cheeks were wet with tears by the end of our cinnamon rolls and testifying to the goodness of a God who has the power to make all adoption stories beautiful.
The next day, I hiked up our favorite Ketchum peak, Bald Mountain, with Mia Grace on my back.
The climb was a tough one, especially with the added weight of a two-and-a-half year old on my back, but once again, the hard of the uphill reminded me of the strain and hard of adoption. Of learning to love, bond, attach, connect with, and help train, raise, and steer someone with such a different history, past, biology, and story than mine. But then we got to the top. And we simply sat back and soaked in the beautiful view with an enjoyment more sweet and rewarding precisely because of the hard uphill climb.
As people who love Jesus, it’s so easy to forget our “Gotcha Day” with the Lord the older we get. It’s easy to never pause and remember the cords of love that drew us and have never ceased to hold us, no matter how off course we get. And we lose our sense of wonder and awe in our own adoption stories, forgetting the hard parts of our past and our present climbs only serve to make the love we are held with more beautiful and the views more breath-taking.
My challenge to you this week is to eat at least one cinnamon roll…and remember the great lengths God went to to secure you to Himself. Rejoice in your Gotcha Day, and recount at least ten different ways your Father has been faithful to you in the past. Then walk out into your day, your week, and your season in confidence, knowing that the hard is tightly bound to the beautiful, and God’s love will not let you go. That’s the story of adoption. That’s the story of Mia Grace. And that’s the story of you and me and all those who love King Jesus, the author of all adoption stories.
Sometimes we don’t run on our own two feet; sometimes we run on our knees.
That’s how I felt like running last Friday when I woke up and heard the news about the shooting in Dallas…and the shooting before that…and the shooting before that.
There really aren’t any good answers or any good new running techniques we need to adopt into our routine. What we really need to do is shut our mouths, take off our shoes, and hit our knees. Pray. Call out to the God who holds the only answers in His Hands and and the message of the Gospel in His Heart.
I loved this image I saw on Ann Voskamp’s blog, www.aholyexperience.com. It seemed to say it all and say it well.
Would you commit with me each and every day this week…to pray? Pray before you say anything in the heated dialogue. Pray before you enter the race with your running shoes. Pray before the feeling passes and you turn to start working on or thinking about other things.
Consider reaching out to a pastor on your church staff and asking if your church can call a special time of prayer for our nation and the victims and families of the shootings. If praying at your church isn’t a possibility, consider gathering with one or two family members or friends this week and praying. “For where two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20).
Monday – Pray for the comfort and healing of the hearts of the families of the victims who were shot. Pray the injustice done to them would not be fuel for the fire for more injustice but would be a radical opportunity to forgive and experience the knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus Christ first hand.
Tuesday – Pray that the church would PRAY. Pray that she would respond on her knees and reach out across any dividing lines to gather as one body in cities and towns around our country and pray.
Wednesday – Pray for healing in the hearts of law enforcement officers around our nation. Pray for protection as they work to protect us, pray for conviction to act in wisdom, justice, and compassion in any and every situation, and pray for healing from loss and from any and all racial discrimination or hatred.
Thursday – Pray that the church would RESPOND. Pray that where there has been racial hatred in our own hearts, we would seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Pray that we would reach out to people who look, speak, and live differently than we do and be willing to love and sacrificially serve.
Friday – Pray for wisdom for our government leaders as they make decisions concerning our future welfare. Pray that elections and bi-partisian politics would not control or steer the conversations or decision-making but humility, wisdom, and the fear of the Lord.
Saturday – Pray for healing and revival for our nation, beginning with healing and revival of your very own heart. Pray that you would seek God through His Word and prayer, more than you ever have before, and the spark that is ignited in you would fan into flame an entire nation seeking His glory.
Prayer isn’t one thing we can do; it is the thing we can do.
So put on your running shoes, hit your knees, and pray. The miles we cover in prayer are the only way we will finish the race in front of us.
Last Sunday, we dropped our two oldest girls off at camp for one week. I attended this same camp growing and loved every single minute I was there. I loved my counselors, the friends I made from other towns across Texas and Arkansas, and the opportunity I had to try new things, like jumping off of a pamper pole, shooting a rifle, or making my way across a ropes course.
Lizzie, our eight-year-old, was nervous but excited about her first year of camp. She made a sign and taped it across the inside of her trunk: “Camp T Bar M…Here I Come!” Every picture I’ve seen of her this week on the camp website contains a big smile.
Lillian…not so much. The day before she left, she pulled Jason aside, took his face in her hands, and said, “Dad, I know I’m not supposed to use this word except in regards to sin or Satan, but I HATE, HATE, HATE camp…I need your word that you will not make me go next year.”
Apparently the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, because when Jason was nine years old, his parents sent him to camp for a month and he hated every minute of it as well. One of the greatest things my mother-in-law ever did was to save Jason’s camp letters. They are the gift that just keeps giving every time we pull them out. Since they are just too good to keep to ourselves, I thought I would share a few of them with you:
Translation (I’ve kept the spelling as is just so you don’t have to miss out): “Dear Mom and Dad, I Hate (double underscore) this camp and you were wrong, it is not a blast. I was writing that good stuff because the counselors would see but now I will tell you from the bottom of my heart. I hate this camp. Pick me up before Monday because I can’t stand it. I just got Mike’s shirt and your letter. Pick me up soon. I almost threw up and I threw up some the other day. Pick me up soon, please. This is a cussing camp a not-caring-for-camp, and that is No (double underscore with stars) Lie. I hate it. Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate (it’s true, he wrote “Hate” twenty-one times) it. Will you pick me up. They make you do stuff and they said they wouldn’t. Pick me up soon. Will you send me some Christian comic books? Cause I am getting bourd. They don’t do anything fun here. God loves you and so do I. Write back soon. Love, Jason” (And he writes the word “Hate” thirteen more times underneath his name to underscore the point just in case they missed the overall tone and theme of the letter.)
And here’s just one more. This one happens to be my personal favorite, maybe just because I know how much my husband hates to dance even now as a forty-five year old:
Translation: “Dear Mom and Dad and Bunch, They cuss here and I hate it. They have disco too. I wish you would pick me up. Will you. Please, unless you want me to hear cussing and probably copy, which I doubt. This is a harable place. Pick me up, please. They make you do stuff. I can’t stand it. This is like a cussing home, I promise. Nobody is Nice to me. I was thinking of running away and hiding, I promise. I just received your letter. Pick me up Thursday. Please. It is freezing at night. I feel like an ice berge. Jesus loves me. In fishing you get to fish for 2 minutes. This is like a desert. We had pizza and it was harable. I hate (double underscore) this whole camp. I can’t stand it any longer or I will have to hide. God loves you and so do I but, pick me up or I will have to hide. (And his last ditch effort to hit his mom where it counts…) Dear Mom I am not getting to read my divotional. Pick me up soon. Write back soon. Love, Jason”
Please, please read these out loud and wipe the tears off your cheeks either from sorrow or hysterical laughter that a nine-year-old boy wrote such things as: “This is a cussing camp, a not-caring-for-camp,” or “This is like a cussing home, I promise.” What does that even mean?!? I couldn’t make these letters up, even if I tried. And these are just a sampling – we have a whole book of them from his month away.
Thankfully, we haven’t received any letters home yet from Lillian quite this drastic, but I have a feeling she is not having the time of her life. She is our official homebody, and a perfect day for her consists of sitting in a chair while she reads at least one or two books, making a few charms or bracelets on her rainbow loom, starting a craft with her sisters, and getting up sporadically to play the piano. The longest trip she takes is from the reading chair to the piano. She went to camp for the first time last year, and when we picked her up, we asked her if she liked it: “Yes!” she said, “I had a good time, but I don’t want to go back next year.” Sorry, Lils. We didn’t give her much of a vote in the matter.
Before you feel too sorry for her, her bunk is right next to her cousin, one of her favorite people on the planet, and right above her are two of her good friends from Houston.
I sent her a post card this week with a quote from Jane Austen on the front that says, “If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.”
Being a homebody is a wonderful thing, something I really appreciate about Lillian. She reminds me to slow down and sit for a spell when life is spinning crazily out of control. On the other hand, Caroline, our six-year-old, would prefer to spend every night away from home and is counting down the days until she gets to go to camp. I’m just hoping she remembers to say goodbye to us on her way out the door! She helps me get up off my tush and venture into the outside world when Lillian and I have decided to hole up like hobbits. Everyone is wired differently, but sometimes, everyone needs a change in perspective to understand new things about themselves, others, the world around them, and even God Himself. A change of location often provides that change of perspective, and summer is a great time to pick a new point on the map.
I wrote to Lils telling her that I was praying she embraced the week and the change of perspective instead of refusing to enjoy it and simply counting down the days until she returned home. Sometimes our adventures we handpick for ourselves, and other times they are picked for us. But I pray for all of us this summer, whether it’s a trip to a part of our city or to a neighborhood we have never seen before, or a different city or country altogether, we would be willing to trade location for perspective, learning to see the bigness of God, the beauty of others, and sides to ourselves we would never have known were there had we decided to stay…at home.