I don’t know where my daughter was the day she was born. I don’t know if she was in a hut, laid in a pile of dirty rags or straw. I don’t know if she was in a clinic, laid on a cold, metal scale to weigh her tiny body and cracked crevice of a lip. I don’t know if she was in a field, laid in a nest of woven grass or beside the rush of a river. I don’t know if the sound of her first cry, drawn from the healthy lungs God had given her, was met with tears of joy or a pang of sadness. I don’t know if the sight of her face, her gender, and her parted palette was met with sorrow mixed with compassion or anger mixed with disgust. I don’t know if her momma gave her a whispered name, one she still treasures in her heart, or if she left her name to the orphanage where she left her.
But I do know this. Wherever she was on the day she was born, whatever emotions her mommy and daddy expressed when they saw her, whatever name they whispered in their heart, there was One above it all who held her in His heart, kept her safe those first few days of life outside the womb, directed her momma’s steps to a hut outside the Guangzhou City State Orphanage, and watched over her as her momma left and the police and orphanage authorities came in.
And those first seventeen months of life when she was without parents, He was getting us ready to be her parents. He gave me her name long before I ever saw her face. He gave her my eyes and a certain look that causes people to stop and tell me, “You know, you two look alike.” He gave her blonde-haired, blue-eyed kindergarten sister, Lillian, strong prayers to pray for an adopted sister from China that kept her fearful momma going in the rounds of paperwork when I wanted to stop. He gave her daddy a fire in his heart to tirelessly fuel our adoption journey from start to finish until the orphanage director brought her from back behind that curtain and placed her into our arms.
I had heard that God’s heart was for the orphan, and I had read about it in the pages of Scripture, but I never really knew it until I looked full in the face of Mia Grace.
“Do not fear,” God spoke to my heart in the first few months of our adoption process, “for I have redeemed her; I have called her by name; she is Mine!” (Isaiah 43:1). And “Mine” became her name, straight from the word of her Father who was weaving her together in her mother’s womb, long before we ever saw her face.
So while I don’t know many details about Mia Grace’s birth day, or her first birthday, I know exactly where she will be tomorrow on her third birthday. Instead of shrouded in rags or hidden in any sort of darkness, she will be surrounded by the light of those who love her and shout her name in joy whenever they see her beautiful face.
And isn’t that the beauty of adoption? It peals back layers of darkness to let light shine through. It turns whispered sorrows into shouts of joy and gladness. It pulls victims from pits of abandonment to place them into families of belonging, hope, and trust. It rewrites stories of shame into stories of redemption, beauty, grace, strength, and love. And it gives each and every orphan a chance at a new name.
Pause for a moment today, and reflect on the beauty and significance of adoption. Not just Mia Grace’s adoption, or the adoption of another little one you know, but, if you know Christ and are known by Him as His child, the beauty of your adoption. Your story of grace, your family of people around you who know you and love, brokenness, crooked nose, imperfections, and all, and call you “Mine!”
And if you don’t know Christ, today, today, make your story one of adoption. Bow your knee and bend your life to the Father who parted heaven to seek you and save you in the broken body of His Son.
And consider spurring others on in their journey of adoption or continuing on in your own journey if you know that is where God is leading you. Pray for families who have adopted a little one from another country or another ethnicity or another biological set of parents. And pray that more orphans will be adopted; pray that God will stir families’ hearts to have the courage to start and finish the adoption process, even when it’s hard; and pray that our country and countries around the world will make the adoption process easier on those who want to adopt in order to provide strong, healthy, godly families for children who have great needs.
And consider giving to help others adopt, even if you cannot. Adoption is an expensive, messy business, and the costs can be huge. So your gift can go a long way in helping other families who want to open their home to a child but cannot do so without financial assistance.
Adoption isn’t something we do because it makes us feel good; adoption is something we do because it is good, and it highlights the goodness of the One who has adopted us.
So celebrate Mia Grace with us this week, and celebrate your adoption too into the family of God. And then reach out and further the Kingdom of God and the Father heart of God and pray and risk and give and battle for the children God loves and has named and called His own.
My friend Margaret, never one to mince words, sent me a text a few weeks ago that said, “Buy this book right now.” She provided a link in her text to the book, and since I’m not one of those mere mortal fools that dares to disobey Margaret, I bought the book without even really looking at the title or knowing what it was about. No questions asked.
When it came in the mail several weeks ago, I began to slowly explore its contents and can’t tell you how thankful I am Margaret sent me that text.
The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery, a book by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile outlines a map of the human personality that has been around for hundreds of years. “Some trace its origins back to a Christian monk named Evagrius, whose teachings formed the basis for what later became the Seven Deadly Sins, and to the desert mothers and fathers of the fourth century, who used it for spiritual counseling” (Cron and Stabile, The Road Back to You). Cron and Stabile take an ancient pattern for counseling people according to their personalities and frame it in fresh, new light that is easy to understand and apply.
I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty details of how the book uses the Enneagram to categorize and define the nine different personality types represented on the Enneagram, but suffice it to say if I had any doubts about if this personality tool was effective, I was floored two pages into finding the personality type that best described my own. Dumbfounded would actually be a better word.
“So there is actually a reason I act this way!” and “Other people actually act this way too; it’s not just me!” were just a few of the exclamation points running around in my head.
What I failed to heed in the introductory chapters to the book was the warning that “[a]t times, you will feel that we’re focusing far too much on the negative rather than the positive qualities of each [personality]. We are, not only to help you more easily discover your type. In our experience, people identify more readily with what’s not working in their personalities than with what is. As Suzanne likes to say, ‘We don’t know ourselves by what we get right; we know ourselves by what we get wrong.’ Try not to get all pouty.”
I jumped into the Enneagram thinking it would be the key to telling me how great I was, but oh how wrong I was. I got a little pouty. Each personality type is specifically connected to one of the seven deadly sins, and the book shows clearly and accurately how this sin can wreak havoc in a life who has not let grace in or done the hard work of sanctification and transformation. The Enneagram felt more like an enema and bears an uncanny and unfortunate similarity to the word.
But when I was neck deep in despair about all the negatives that go along with my make-up (and that were oh-so-painfully-accurate), I flipped back to the introduction and re-read the warning and felt a little better. Every personality type was feeling like I was; it wasn’t just me (hopefully).
So why in the world would I recommend to you to buy and read a book that will make you feel so down in the dumps about yourself? Because remember last week’s blog? God doesn’t come to us to slay us, but nor does He come to flatter us. He comes to show us to show us the truth about who we are so that we can cut the cancer out, get rid of the tumor that is killing us, and set us free to be healthy, whole, and healed.
As you sit and pause at the beginning of a new year, the beginning is always a good time to take true stock of who you are. Not of who you wish you were. Or who you think you are. But of who you really are. Because if you and I ever want to become the people we want to be or others around us need us to be, we have to be humble enough to recognize and admit our real selves, rather than our pretend selves. And that takes humility, repentance, confession, surrounded by the holding, comforting knowledge of unconditional love. We can face who we are because Someone faces us who has promised to never turn away. In fact, when you begin to do the hard and humble work of beginning to get rid of all the dirt, you will look up beside you and see the Son of Man scrubbing right along beside you. There is no work too humble that He will not stoop to do, especially when it involves someone He loves.
Flannery O’Connor wrote, “To know oneself is, above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against Truth, and not the other way around. The first product of self-knowledge is humility.”
“Coming face-to-face with your deadly sin can be hard, even painful, because it raises to conscious awareness the nastier bits about how we are that we’d rather not think about.” Very hard. “But no one should fail to do so if what they seek is deep knowing of self” (The Road Back to You). But very true.
If we do one thing this year, it should be to come to a deeper knowledge about ourselves so that we can interface at a deeper, more truthful level with God. “Let it be the real me that speaks to the real You,” writes C.S. Lewis. If it’s not the real me speaking, then I am in self-deception about myself, my faults, and even my strengths. And if it’s not the real God I am praying to, then we must make certain we know who He really is, for the very state of our eternal souls depends upon it.
If the Enneagram and The Road Back to You isn’t for you, that’s fine. But find something that is. Find something that speaks the truth about your soul to your soul. The truth that tells you who you really are so that you can deal with your real self before the only true, real God. Everything else in your life depends upon it.
So heed Margaret’s advice to “Buy this book right now.” And while you might feel a little pouty in the process, like me, you will be thankful in the end.
For further encouragement this week, don’t forget to connect with me on Facebook.
In case you missed it last week, I wrote about cultivating holy habits of grace into the fields of our hearts for this new year. My wonderful, talented, creative friend Emily Hodges put together this guide to help us in taking some time to cultivate our habits, and I liked it so much, I wanted to share it with you here. It’s easy to download, print out, and take with you to a quiet space to do some listening, walking, and talking with God:
If you were able to take some time to walk through Isaiah 5:1-4, asking God to show you the areas of your heart that remain uncultivated and untouched by His grace, like me, you may have been surprised by some of the answers you received.
As I listened to His Voice and the voices of those around me who know me and love me, I knew that some of the areas in my life that were in need of some major weed-wacking were areas of stress, anger, and control. To put it plainly, I have a tendency to major in the minors and nitpick and control the details of my life and those around me when I am stressed, responding in anger when circumstances don’t unfold smoothly or people don’t perform perfectly. This sign I saw in a store in Brenham, Texas, pretty much sums me up:
And since adding a fourth child to our home and homeschooling my three oldest girls while still working on bonding and attaching to a toddler means I have the capacity to be in a constant state of stress, anxiety, and anger unless I am actively choosing grace on a day in and day out basis. “Smooth” just isn’t a daily word choice in our vocabulary and “perfection” has never been a possibility. Yet for some reason, in my natural, sinful habitat, I continue to look for it and demand it first in myself and then in others.
Sometimes I am good at choosing grace (notice I said good, not great), and sometimes I am not so good. I am downright bad, actually. And throw in the fact that in February, we are getting ready to move everything out of our house into temporary housing or storage while we undertake a major remodel, while taking a week right before our move to attend a board retreat in Israel that has been on the calendar for months (more to come on that later), I have been doing a pretty poor job on managing my stress. In fact, last week, I think my internal stress-o-meter was measuring about a 10 on the Richter scale while scheduling and managing Israel dates, moving dates, and make up homeschool dates.
So God did something to get my attention. On Friday morning, I woke up with swollen lips, eyes, and puffy cheeks, feeling like I had received a numbing shot FOR MY FACE at the dentist’s office. Not one to be deterred by minor details like a face that looked like Miss Piggy’s from The Muppets, I determined it was hives brought on by my stressful response to the week, so I took some benadryl and carried on in business as usual with my day, exercising, taking the girls to the Museum of Fine Arts to meet my aunt, eat lunch and see an exhibit, all the while feeling worse and worse.
By 3:00, my face was still partially swollen, my lips drooping, and benadryl was not helping anymore. My husband, Jason called me on the phone and said, “You need to go to Urgent Care. Now.” So I did.
And what I discovered is I had developed an abscess in my nasal cavity that had turned into a staph infection, causing all of the swelling around my face.
It took two days of two different doctors, an IV of antibiotics, two rounds of oral antibiotics, and four long needles stuck through my lip and nose to drain the infection to get the swelling down and the infection reduced.
Needless to say, my calendar was quickly cleared, and all of my focus and attention the past few days was placed onto obtaining the steps necessary to get the infection out and the antibiotics in. My focus went from hosting kid sleep-overs and watching basketball games to battling full-blown infection.
In the meantime, all week, I had preparing to teach in our Sunday School class on II Samuel 12, the classic passage where the prophet Nathan confronts David about his sins of murder and adultery. I had been carefully examining the elements of confrontation, confession, and repentance, looking at how David appropriated grace, all the while missing the grace that was sorely needed in my own life. I listened to a sermon on II Samuel 12 by Tim Keller called “The Sinner,” and his words about Nathan struck me, even before my infection reared its ugly head.
Keller says, “God has sent Nathan not to do condemning but to do converting. God does not send a sword to smite David but a scalpel to take out the tumor. In other words, God is calling David to repentance…repentance is his only hope now, the only way that is possible for him to put his life back together again. So what is repentance? Repentance is killing the habits of your heart that are killing you without killing yourself.”
I will tell you something: as Regina, the very kind and talented ENT surgeon who took time out of her Saturday to meet me at her office and stick needles up my lip and nose, said, “I’m a very nice person, but you’re not going to like me very much when I do this to you. Even if I numb the area, it will still hurt when the needle touches the infection because infections don’t numb well; they hurt.”
As I sat in that chair with my heart racing and my palms sweating, all I could think of was Nathan and David. And the prayer that rose up from heart and my sweat-soaked shirt was, “Lord, whatever You are trying to tell me, I AM LISTENING. I don’t ever want to have to repeat this lesson again.” I was tempted to bolt out of the chair and run out of the office as fast as my legs could carry me, never to return, but what was my alternative? To let the infection sit in my face, close to my brain, just hoping on a wing and a prayer that it would disappear if left alone? Not a chance. My only option was to go under the surgeon’s scalpel and let her get the sickness out. I had to let her kill the infection in my face so that it lost its potential to kill me.
My friend, the reality is, the staff infection inside my face is less lethal than the sin infection inside my heart. And the time and rest and energy required to get the physical infection out should be but a small indicator of the time, energy and rest required to allow God to remove the infectious disease of stress, anxiety, worry, fear, anger, and control. Will it hurt? Yes. Will it be a major inconvenience? Yes. But what’s my other option? A slow, infectious death from the wild weeds of sin in my heart? No thank you.
As I have thought and prayed this weekend, I have come to realize that I have let my view of myself grow bigger than my view of God. My self dominates and towers in my world as it wrestles to manage, control, and nitpick to perfection circumstances and people around me. I have relegated God to the corner, minimizing His capabilities, His strength, His all-knowing control, His mercy for my mistakes, His grace for my moments, and His wisdom for my day. My self has pushed Him out of the way, and full blown infection has ensued.
I spent Sunday morning praying that the eyes of my heart would be enlightened to know and believe the all-sufficient character and power of Jesus. That He is not sometimes enough. He is always enough. For all situations on any sort of day.
My prayer and challenge to you today is to walk with your eyes wide open. If you ask God to remove the unholy habits of your heart and replace them with His grace, don’t expect Him to show up at your door with a picnic basket in hand. He comes with a scalpel. To dig out with urgent attention and care the infections that are killing us, and to send us home with the orders to rest in His care, rest in His word, and take the daily medicine He prescribes of habitual repentance and the receiving of healing grace.
Have you taken the time to ask the Lord to clean out the weeds in your heart this year? And if so, how has He responded? Are you listening to His messages and messengers of grace, even if they are causing pain and discomfort? If you haven’t taken time to get serious about your relationship with God, the state of your soul, and the fields He wants to clear this year, don’t delay any longer. In His Hand is the only place where true healing comes.
For further encouragement this week, connect with me on Facebook. And to continue working on holy habits of the heart, creating space for God to speak, heal, and move, consider working through the study, Waiting on the Lord, asking God to transform the broken places in your life into the beautiful.
The holidays are over, and the Christmas decorations are down. The gifts are put away, closets are cleaned out, and all the debris from Christmas glitter, wrapping paper, and pine needles has been swept up and either stored for next year or placed into the dust bin, and a sense of quiet normalcy pervades the air at our house for the first time in weeks.
It’s the weary hush after the holidays, the pause of January as a new leaf is turned in the book of a new year, and we have a few quiet moments to think about what will be written on the pages of 2017.
Much of what will be written, you and I have little to no control over. As much as I like to plan, strategize, dream, and pray, when it comes right down to it, my hand does not hold the pen writing the story for the new year. But I know whose hand does. And while I cannot control what He writes, I can control my response to His story.
I’ve been moved, challenged, and convicted by the words of Isaiah 5:1-4 the past few days. Isaiah writes,
“Please let me sing about my Beloved,
my Loved One’s song about His vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
And He dug it all around,
removed its stones,
and planted it with the choicest vine.
And He built a tower in the middle of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
then He confidently expected it to produce good grapes,
but it produced only worthless ones.
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Judge between Me and My vineyard:
What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it?
Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes, did it produce worthless ones?”
I’ve been haunted by that question the Lord asks of His people through the prophet Isaiah: “What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes, did it produce worthless ones?”
In his commentary on Isaiah, Alec Motyer writes, “All [God’s] caring work issued in hope: he looked for a crop. But instead of grapes all it yielded was bad fruit. Every care had been lavished, but yet the vine retained its natural wildness – as if grace had never touched it.”
Turning 40 ushered me into a timely season of reflection. Through the lens of God’s grace, I’ve been looking at some of the patterns of my present that have their roots in the past, patterns that sometimes extend back 40 years. Patterns like seeing circles as closed rather than open and responding to people and situations in hurt and anger instead of patient trust and grace. Patterns like walking in the well-worn ruts of my life of self-pity, perfectionism, and deep-seeded fear because it’s easy and it’s natural and sometimes it’s all I know instead of choosing to walk in new paths that beckon through the Spirit of Christ and His Word, paths of abiding peace and unconditional love. And I’m telling you, with all that is in me, I don’t want to walk in these unholy habits anymore. Turning 40 has shown me that life is short and swift, and while pain can be real and circumstances hard, God is always good, and His grace is always real. But it’s up to me to choose the path I want to walk. I can keep walking in the ruts; I can keep listening to the same old voices of pain and fear that say I don’t measure up or can’t keep up. Or I can walk in grace.
Last week, Jason and I went with my parents, brothers, and their wives to see Rogue One, the new Star Wars movie. (Growing up with two brothers, my hero quickly became Harrison Ford after watching Star Wars and Indiana Jones. What can I say? Decades later, we are still a Star Wars kind of family.) In the very beginning of the movie, the heroine is rescued from enemy forces but is resisting those who have shown up to save her. Instead of responding with thanks and cooperation, she responds with all out resistance and fear. Finally, after she has knocked out every soldier sent to save her, the one left standing says, “Congratulations. You are being rescued. Please do not resist.”
I started cracking up since resistance is my natural response to grace when it invades my life as well. And apparently, it was the response of the people of Isaiah’s day too.
Grace comes down from heaven, chooses us as His own special possession, clears out all the stones and obstacles from sin through the death of His One and Only Son sent to die on our behalf, plants the person of Christ through the Spirit of Christ in the middle of our hearts and souls to give us all the resources we need to live the abundant, grace-filled life, sets a tower in the middle of our lives to watch over us, protect us, defend us from our enemies and meet our every need, and then hews out a vat from the rock of our hearts in which to store the harvest and good works our lives will produce, and then stands back to wait and watch expectantly for a good crop to come.
But. All this vineyard owner gets for His labor is a worthless crop. Bad grapes. Useless fruit. “Every care had been lavished, but yet the vine retained its natural wildness – as if grace had never touched it.”
I can honestly look at so many ruts and places in my life that even after over 30 years of being in God’s vineyard and receiving His loving, attentive care, still look wild, overgrown, unfruitful, and as if grace has never touched me.
I know perfection is not something I can ever attain while still standing on this sin-cursed earth. But I also know that if I love the One who made me and trust His care, the untamed spots in my life should start looking like they have been touched and tamed by grace.
As I pause to look ahead at the pages at 2017, I know cannot control the events that happen, but I know that I can control the habitat of my heart. I want to work on wacking at the weeds of its natural, sin-cursed wilderness and receive the planting of grace.
For me, I know that grace begins with a purposeful, consistent habit of an open Bible, a journal, and a pen. Grace begins with God-reliance instead of self-reliance. Grace begins with meditation on God’s Word and specific commands and promises, taking time and effort to really think and process through what they mean and how they apply to my daily life. Grace is reading a command, and keeping it. Grace is knowing a promise, and resting in it. Grace is seeing an example, and following it (Motyer, Isaiah by the Day). Grace is trusting God to transform us into the people we have always wanted to be, into the people that are available for us to be, as we stop resisting rescue and give in to His grace.
So this is the year I want to work on becoming the woman I’ve always wanted to be. Not through accomplishments, but through appropriating grace.
For me personally, I know some of the holy habits I need to cultivate in my life for the weeds to be cleared and the good fruit to come. I know that when I humbly and consistently walk in these habits, change occurs. Sometimes change comes an inch at a time, but it is still change. And that is the road I want to walk.
Some of my habits include:
- Consistent time in God’s Word in the mornings
- Consistent time of prayer, appropriating what I have read in the Word and sowing it into my life and the lives of those I love
- Consistent times of reconnecting with God in His Word and prayer before I go to sleep at night
- Consistently turning from walking in the rut of rejection, self-pity, or fear through the habit of thankfulness. I am learning when I am tempted to see the circle or situation as closed, to turn it into a times of thanksgiving – to be thankful for my friends, thankful for my children, thankful that in that specific situation I know God will bring good because that’s what He always does (Romans 8:28). I have a specific journal I placed on my desk, designated for these “thankful” moments instead of self-pitying moments.
- Accountability through meeting with a counselor to walk out of some of the ruts of my life
- Accountability through taking time and room to have others pray over me and for me on a regular basis as I learn to walk out of these ruts onto new paths of grace
These are the habits the Lord has placed on my heart. What about your’s?
Can I suggest something? Take a day. Take a day with your Bible, a pen, a journal, and some walking shoes to do some weed-wacking with the Lord. Weeds don’t come out of our hearts on their own, and ruts don’t just naturally fill in. In fact, left unattended, they only grow deeper with time. So take some time. And ask the Lord what unholy habits He wants to fill in with His grace. Don’t slit your wrists with introspective self-pity or despair, but allow the Lord in His kindness to lead you to repentance, showing you exactly where He wants to work.
And trust me. He will. He will show you. He always does.
In the time you have allotted to be with Him, if it is a few hours or a whole day, start by reading slowly over Isaiah 5:1-4, and then:
- Go through the action verbs one by one in verse 2, thanking God specifically for the amazing work of grace He has done in your life from the time of your conversion until now.
- Then ask Him: what areas of my life have retained their natural wildness and resisted rescue instead of being changed and tamed by grace?
- To answer the above question, ask Him to bring consistent habits to mind, ruts in the road of your life you most consistently walk in, especially when hard things happen. Or even when the daily grind of the mundane happens. How do you most naturally respond? In what paths do you most consistently walk? In resistant wildness or in grace?
- And then ask Him what holy habits He wants you to cultivate in your heart this new year. Ask Him for three habits. Just three. Not ten. And then write them down on a piece of paper. Writing things down solidifies them in our hearts, and we are far more likely to do those things then if we just think about them.
- And then, go on a walk or a run. Do some big body movements. I’ve learned in my occupational therapy with Mia Grace this year that when we walk or run or swing or jump or MOVE, those movements help to calm and organize our bodies and our thoughts follow. So move, and meditate and pray, and watch how God puts the pieces of your time with Him together in surprising and beautiful ways.
- And then, when you get home, place your piece of paper with your habits in a place where you will see it often and be reminded of what you have written down. My habits are on my desk so that I will see them every morning. And the goal isn’t so much that I focus on the weeds in my life or the ruts. The goal is that I focus on the Lord and cultivating intimacy and trust with Him in the every day places of my life. And as I do that, as I learn to abide in the One who came to walk with me, my life will begin to bear the fruit of grace. And yours will too.
Let us know what habits you find most helpful. Let us know how God is helping you walk out of the ruts in your life. And let us walk together in this new year, with holy habits of hearts, cultivating grace, reminding one another to resist only the enemy and open up to the One who came to give us grace.
Connect with me on Facebook this week for more help on cultivating grace and holy habits of the heart.