Susannah Baker

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The Story Told By Our Scars

On February 28, 2018, Posted by , in Adoption, Adoption Journey, Encouragement, Motherhood, With 2 Comments

Perhaps the question I am asked the most often by others is, “What’s going on in that head of yours?”  Because I am always.  Thinking.  Lost in the thoughts in my head, much to the wonderment of those around me.

It’s annoying, really.  I wish I could just turn off my brain at times and stop thinking, delving, turning things around me from all angles.  But, for better or for worse, that’s just the way I am wired.  So, this week, I thought I would let you know what I’ve been turning around in my head – and, brace yourself, it’s the high and lofty topic of scars.  (You’re probably never going to ask me again what’s going on in this head of mine.)

And I have to confess, I love a good scar.

Ever since I was a kid, I used to hope that the scratch on my leg or cut on my arm would turn into a scar.  That’s so weird, I know.  And there’s probably some scary psychological reason why I like scars.  But on a surface level, without giving much more thought to any deeper layers, I like scars because I like good stories.  And every scar tells a story.

My most notable scar is on my right knee.  I was a freshman in high school and decided to run track.  Hurdles, to be exact.  And my very first track meet was at a school with an asphalt track.  The black, tarry kind of track with the little black rocks that get stuck in the soles of your tennis shoes.

The gun went off, and I started my race around the track, only to hook my back leg over the top of the hurdle and eat it, knee first, into the asphalt track beneath me.  I had to be carried off the track with an oozing wound and little black rocks stuck in my knee, and that ended my career with the hurdles.  The only good thing that came from the fall was a scar that healed over time and makes a good story to those who ask.

My husband Jason uses a scar on his back to tell small children that he was bitten by a shark.  (He wasn’t, but the way the scar healed sure looks like he was, and now there are dozens of small children all over the city of Houston who believe Mr. Baker was bitten by a shark.  They also believe that he ate a snake in order to win an iPad, which is actually a true story, one I will have to tell another time.)

But in addition to the stories they tell, I think I also like scars so much because they are a reminder in a world where we are so darn fragile, tiny, and small, that while we are destined to fall, we are also made to heal and live to tell our story.  And if our skin can heal in amazing ways, then perhaps our hearts can heal as well.

I was reminded of my affinity for scars recently when a friend of mine’s little girl was running through a hallway and split her forehead open on a doorknob.  The wound turned out to be worse than was initially realized, and after an attempt at gluing the cut, several trips to the doctor, and then finally, stitches, my friend was having a hard time with the whole experience.  She wasn’t upset about the fact that her daughter fell, or needed stitches, or even the pain involved; she was upset that she had not known how to handle the situation correctly from the get-go.  She was grieved that she had caused potential harm to her daughter by not taking the right course of action from the beginning and could have caused her daughter a deeper and more serious scar.

As we talked through it, we both realized that the incident with the doorknob wasn’t even so much about the scar as it was about the story the scar told – that as parents, we don’t always make the right or perfect decisions for our children.  That we can do things that cause them to hurt.  Or fall.  Or carry a scar.  And that is just plain, downright terrifying.

Because if there is one thread that unites all mothers of the world together, it is this: we never want to do anything, intentionally or unintentionally, that causes our children to carry a scar. We shudder at the thought of scars of the flesh or scars of the heart caused by…us.  

But let’s face it: there isn’t a person in the world who hasn’t ended up in the ER or on a counselor’s couch because of a parent’s imperfections.  And just to be clear – I am NOT talking about trips to the ER or wounds inflicted because of physical abuse.  There is never an excuse for abuse – physical, emotional, or verbal.  But I am talking about the kind of wounding that occurs just because we are broken, fallen people who live in a broken, fallen world and cannot always know how to make the perfect decisions for our children.

We are all, all of us, going to fail our children on some level.  And that’s a tough pill to swallow.

But here’s the thing: our scars tell our stories.  And if we let them, our scars remind us of the lessons we have learned from the great teacher and tutor of pain and the healing and redemption we have received at the hands of our Great Physician.  

Because our scars make our stories stronger, not weaker.  And they make us relatable to other people.  They enable us to look at another hurting soul and say, “You have a wound like that too?  Let me tell you where and how I found healing.”

Take Mia Grace for instance.  She has a scar that runs from the bottom of her nose to the top of her lip, a scar that was made because of the surgery for her cleft lip and palate.  And because of her cleft lip, she is destined for more surgeries and more scars in the future.

As a cute-as-a-button four-year-old who knows she is cute, her scar has never bothered her.  She has never once looked in the mirror and said, “I don’t like that scar or how it makes my face look.  I hate that scar.”

But I’ve spent some time thinking about how that scar will affect her when she is fourteen.  Or twenty-four.  She might not be so blind to or casually dismissive about it.  And her scar might have the potential to harm her self-image, depending on the story she chooses to believe.

The first story, the true story, goes like this: “Mia Grace, you were born to a mommy and daddy in China who were unable to care for you the way you were meant to be cared for.  When they saw you had a cleft lip and palate, they thought the government could do a better job caring for you than they could, so they took you to an orphanage where you would have the surgery you needed and hopefully be adopted by a family who had more resources than they did to care for you.  The very thing that gave you a scar gave you to us, your adopted family.  God used that scar for His redemptive purposes in your life, and I, for one, am more thankful for that scar than you could ever imagine.  Your scar is part of what makes you and your story so beautiful to me.”

 

But there is a second story, a story she is going to have to work hard not to listen to, and it goes like this: “Mia Grace, you were born to parents who did not want you and abandoned you at birth.  You were left at a government orphanage because of your cleft lip and palate, and your scar is a perpetual reminder of the fact that you were un-wanted.  Un-desired.  Un-beautiful.”

You see, our scars tell us our stories, but we have to choose what story we are going to listen to.  But, when we know and are known by the Lord Jesus Christ, we have to learn how to let Him tell us the story of our scars through the lens of the truth – through the lens of His redemption, adoption, goodness, glory, and grace.

And as parents, that’s what we must trust about our children’s scars, even the scars we inadvertently make.  They are holy ground upon which the Lord loves to tread, and they have the ability to tell our children something true, right, and beautiful about their past, present, and future as the children of God.

Today, or this week, consider writing out the narrative of your scars or even your children’s scars.  Like I did for Mia Grace, write out two different narratives – the truth and then the lie you are tempted most often to believe.  And then listenactually listen, to the narrative of the truth that has the ability to set you free and heal you from the inside out as you look at your scars.

Because while we would love to set up ourselves and our children for a life without scars, we must remember that there is always life in our scars, beginning with the scars bound up in our Healer’s hands.  For the Hands that hold us are scarred as well, scars caused by a good Father who allowed His One and Only Son to be crucified so that we could find life in our own scars every time we look, and listen, to the One who works all things for our greatest good, and His greatest glory, even through, and especially through, our scars.

When You Need Encouragement to Keep Stepping

On February 23, 2018, Posted by , in Encouragement, With No Comments

If you are anything like me, walking through this week has been a little dreary.  I don’t know if it’s the dreary skies, or the thought of tackling the dreary tasks sitting piled high on my desk, or having to do the same-old same-old daily routines when all I want to do is get on the next airplane to a sunny beach somewhere, but I’ve just been itching this week to get out of the drearies and into something exciting, fresh, new, or grand.

But this time of year, after Christmas has passed, after the newness of New Year’s has come and gone, and before spring steps through the door and we take a break from our daily routines through spring break or Easter, we just have to keep walking and keep stepping through the drearies.  We have to look back at all the things we purposed to do in January, the resolutions we made and now, just a few weeks later, need dusting off, and keep stepping in the right direction, trusting that a fresh wind is coming and going to blow right through the dreariness of February into the newness of March.

This week, I was invited to write a guest post on my friend, Marian Ellis’ blog, and since she is one of the women I love, admire, and respect most in this world, I eagerly said, “Yes!”

For over fifteen years now, Marian has stepped up to the plate of taking the gospel to college-aged women, using her story of redemption to invite a generation into tasting the goodness of Jesus.

She is a gifted speaker, author, and one of the most authentic people I know, so after you read the blog, check out other parts of her website and ministry and get ready to be challenged and encouraged to step out of your dreariness into the goodness and excitement of what Jesus is doing all over the country and the globe through Redeemed Girl Ministries.

Here is the link to the post for this week – www.redeemedgirl.org/how-god-measures-success

May it encourage you to keep stepping and keep moving, knowing the Lord has just what you need to battle the dreariness and hold out hope that the newness of spring is on its way.

A Sweet Scent on Valentine’s Day

On February 13, 2018, Posted by , in Encouragement, Uncategorized, With 3 Comments

Valentine’s Day is just one day away, and while it isn’t categorized as a “major” holiday like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter, it is still a holiday.  And holidays have this strange ability to highlight in our hearts all that we’re not as opposed to all that we are, or all that we don’t have as opposed to all that we do.

For instance, on Christmas, we can tend to focus on all the gifts that we don’t have as opposed to all the gifts we do.  Or on Thanksgiving we can dwell on who isn’t around our table as opposed to who is.  And on Valentine’s Day, we can focus on the ways we aren’t loved instead of the ways we most certainly are.  And you don’t have to be intentionally or unintentionally celebrating Valentine’s Day to feel this way.  Certain feelings just pop up uninvited, in untimely places – like passing the card aisle at the grocery store.  Or overhearing a conversation about what so-and-so is doing on Valentine’s Day and comparing your ho-hum schedule.  Or listening to how so-and-so’s husband brought her a card, flowers, and a gift while cooking the whole family a special dinner, while your husband forgot the whole darn day even existed.

But let me offer a word of hope and encouragement for the day of the celebration of love that is just one day around the corner.  While romantic love is a part of the celebration of Valentine’s Day, it certainly does not make up the whole.  It is simply a side course to the main course of the all-consuming, life-creating, soul-sustaining love of God.

It is a love that enables us to walk confidently through any and every life circumstance, no matter if our hearts are rejoicing or breaking.  And that is the love I want to focus on this Valentine’s Day.

When I was in college, my grandmother sent me a bookmark with these words on it: “You are a fragrance of God to those who are in need and a sweet aroma of the one of God in this place.”  The words are a paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 which read, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.  For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”

It is a bookmark I still have and use, and the words on it hold a special place in my heart.

But while I have had the bookmark for over twenty years now, the words took on new and special meaning a few weeks ago.

My daughter Caroline, the same daughter from last week’s blog (click here to read more), came home a few weeks ago and said, “Mom, I’ve made a new friend, and I told her about Jesus, but I don’t know if she has a Bible.  Can I get her a Bible and give it to her?”

After saying “Yes!” as fast as I could, I drove Caroline to the store and helped her select a Bible for her new friend.  As she brought it home and time wrapping her gift, I thought, “Why don’t I do this myself more often?  With my friends, with the people God brings across my path on a day in, day out basis, why am I not more bold and purposeful about sharing and spreading the beautiful fragrance of Christ?”  Because, really, let’s face it – is there any other fragrance sweeter, any other expression of love truer, than telling our friends about the ultimate love that will hold them and ground them and never let them go, no matter what in life they will walk through?

Several days after Caroline bought the Bible and journal for her new friend, I went to a store to return some perfume I received as a gift for Christmas.  The saleswoman in the store could not have been more helpful or kind.  She spent time with me helping me select a new fragrance and then showed me how to apply it so that it would last.  First, she had me wash my hands, then she applied the scent to my wrists and tops of my hands, and then finally, she massaged lotion onto my hands that was the same scent as the perfume.  The lotion, she explained, was the key that would lock in the scent.  (Who knew there were so many steps to applying perfume?!)

And she was right.  The rest of the day, every time I used my hands to gesture, emphasize, “speak,” or serve in one way or another, a sweet fragrance greeted my nose.  I have never enjoyed the scent of my hands more.  And it was a scent that lasted all day.

And I thought, “Isn’t this how my life in Christ should be?”  Every time we use our hands in His Name, there is a fragrance, a scent of His unfailing love.  Every time we “speak,” a scent wafts up to the nose of the one who is listening, and we have an opportunity to “speak” of Christ, simply by the fragrance of our hands.

So here is my challenge to us this Valentine’s Day: instead of focusing on all that we’re not, let’s focus on all that we are.  And if you know Christ as your Lord and Savior, two things are clear: number one, you are loved with a love that will not let you go.  And more than that, you are Christ’s beloved.  Because as we all know deep down in our hearts, it’s one thing to be loved, but it’s another thing to be someone’s beloved, cherished as the apple of their eye.  And in Christ, we have that confidence: we are the beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And number two: as His beloved, you are His fragrance.  And wherever you go, you spread the sweet aroma of Him, His fragrance in every place.

So here’s the practical part of my challenge: after knowing who you are, purposefully go and be that fragrance in someone’s life.  Because someone in your path today, this week, needs the Word of God, calling them, reminding them, telling them that through relationship with Christ, they are Christ’s beloved too.  So like Caroline, as an expression of great love towards a friend, give someone a Bible, the greatest love letter of all time.  It might feel awkward, it might feel weird, you might wonder if your relationship with that person will ever be the same, but why would you and I ever withhold a fragrance from someone’s life that can change them forever from the inside out?

Isaiah 55:10-11 reminds us, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

God’s Word does notin fact cannot, return void or empty.  It will accomplish the purpose for which it was sent.  Caroline gave her friend a Bible like this – it’s a great option for adults or children.  And if you aren’t sure who in your life to give God’s Word to, just ask.  Ask the Lord to show you exactly who the person is, and wait on His perfect timing this Valentine’s Day.  I think you will be amazed at just how specifically and clearly He answers.

And as you wait this week and give your hands in loving service to be the fragrance of Christ to someone else, that same sweet fragrance will come in and refresh and restore your own soul every time the are not’s and the have not’s hit you unawares.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
 The precepts of the Lord are right,
    giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
    giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
    enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
    and all of them are righteous.

They are more precious than gold,
    than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
    than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

Psalm 19:7-11

Happy Valentine’s Day to you, our Great, Good God’s beloved.

Valentine’s Day and Valuing Friendship

On February 5, 2018, Posted by , in Encouragement, Uncategorized, With 10 Comments

With Valentine’s Day coming up, I’ve been thinking about all different kinds of love – love in marriage, love in friendship, love in relationship with God.  While we often spend lots of time thinking about love within marriage or in our relationship with God, past the age of about twenty-two, we don’t usually spend much time thinking about love within friendship.  It’s a topic often relegated to our younger years.

But friendship is an important topic because it is such an important part of our lives.  And recently, no one has taught me more about friendship than my daughter, Caroline, and her constant compadre, Tess (also known as “Dr. Phil” when it comes to relationships in Caroline’s world – click here to read about that from last week’s blog).

Tess Tredennick, affectionately known as “Tessy” around our house, is one of my favorite people on the planet. She’s about four feet tall, has a tangle of blonde curls that always look like they may or may not have been brushed, wears cute purple glasses, and never does anything without a leap, skip, laugh, skid, or cartwheel.

Like my daughter Caroline, Tess is seven years old, and for as long as I can remember, Caroline has called Tess her “twin.” Whenever her sisters try to correct her (and trust me, lots of correcting goes on over here with two big sisters because what in the world would we do without their wise and insightful direction in our lives?), Caroline says with passion (she doesn’t really say things without passion), “Tessy IS TOO my twin! I’ve known her since before we were BORN, and I LOVE her!” Obviously, Caroline has a lot to learn about the birds and the bees, but for now, to her, being a twin means knowing and loving someone since before they were born and loving them still just as much seven years down the road.

Caroline and Tess celebrated their first birthday together along with their friend Gray, and they have had almost every birthday party together since.

I think what amazes me the most about these two is that they don’t seem to see or at least dwell on each other’s faults or imperfections.  They see each other through rose-colored glasses, loving and accepting each other exactly as they are.  And they have always been that way.  I can’t remember a time when Caroline didn’t love Tess and Tess didn’t love Caroline.  And when they are together, I never have to intervene or referee and blow the whistle or pull one aside and have “the talk” about how one needs to include the other one.  They always seem to be completely content in each other’s presence.  And when Tessy leaves town, well, life just isn’t quite the same…

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That amazes me.  I think partly because I remember having a best friend like that when I was little –  a friend who could do no wrong, and every available second I wanted to spend in her presence.  And partly because somewhere along the way as women, we begin to see each other through jaded, green, envy-colored glasses instead of rosy, I-love-you-just-the-way-you-are kind of glasses.

I’m not sure why or when that transition happens, but it’s a transition that I’ve been trying to undo or fight against now for years.  Because as women, our natural, sin-cursed inclination (thank you, Eve) is to see what people are not doing, or not saying, or not being as opposed to embracing exactly who they are, where they are, and with what they are able to offer.

So the past few years I have been taking lessons from Tessy and Caroline and working on trying to come alongside my friends, instead of standing from far off envying, coveting, and viewing life through the lens of a closed circle instead of an open one (click here to read more on that).

Caroline and Tess have also reminded me in a season of life where the needs and wants of family seem to take up every waking moment that friends are not “icing on the top” reserved for dessert and special occasions, but my friends are the necessary stuff of everyday life.  The course that goes in the plain, smack-dab middle instead of reserved for special occasions or time at the end.  They have given me permission to stay present and enjoy and delight in my friends when there is always the possibility of choosing to complete one more task instead of practicing the presence of people.  And that’s been a necessary lesson for a task-driven, tight-margin momma like me to learn during this season of life with four young children.

None of us have time or space for playdates and sleepovers like we did when we were little, but all of us need to be reminded of the necessity and delight of weaving our friends into the everyday fabric of our lives.  Because in modern times, friendship, as CS Lewis writes in his book, The Four Loves, has become “something quite marginal; not a main course in life’s banquet; a diversion; something that fills up the chinks of one’s time.  How has this come about?…Friendship is – in a sense not at all derogatory to it – the least natural of loves; the least instinctive, organic, biological, gregarious, and necessary.  It has least commerce with our nerves; there is nothing throaty about it; nothing that quickens the pulse or turns you red and pale…Without Eros none of us would have been begotten and without Affection none of us would have been reared; but we can live and breed without Friendship.  The species, biologically considered, has no need of it…but few value [friendship] because few experience it.”

In other words, friendship doesn’t cause anything warm or fuzzy to rise up in us like romance, or give us anything back like the love of a child.  Friendship requires you to give the most with the least likely promise of reward or return.  In other words, friendship requires risk.  But friendship also offers great reward.

“Friendship, unlike Eros [Romantic love], is uninquisitive.  You become a man’s Friend without knowing or caring whether he is married or single or how he earns his living. ..In a circle of Friends each man is simply what he is: stands for nothing but himself.  No one cares two-pence about anyone else’s family, profession, class, income, race or previous history.  Of course you will get to know about most of these in the end.  But casually.  They will come out bit by bit, to furnish an illustration or an analogy, to serve as pegs for a anecdote; never for their own sake.  That is the kingliness of Friendship…Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities”  (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves).

In friendship, we have the opportunity to love and be loved simply for who we are, no strings attached.  Not because of what we can give someone or what they can give us.  But simply because we stand side by side and and see and love the same truth.  “You will not find the warrior, the poet, the philosopher or the Christian by staring in his eyes as if he were your mistress: better fight beside him, read with him, argue with him, pray with him” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves).

And as we live and fight and read and pray side by side, friendship also teaches us to love not for the sake of getting anything back but simply because in doing so, we are loving others in the way Jesus Himself loved us: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, emphasis mine). And in laying our lives down, we finally are able to take our eyes off of ourselves and become the people God has called us to be while encouraging and beholding the image of God in one another.  And as we do so, “each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before all the rest.  Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters.  He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company.  Especially when the whole group is together, each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others….Life – natural life – has no better gift to give.  Who could have deserved it?”  (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves)

In light of the knowledge of the gift that friendship is and because of the strong, steady, life-giving friendships God has given us, Jason and I are constantly encouraging and reminding one another: pursue your friends.  Not because we are such great friends, but because we can tend to be such poor friends.  It’s easier to check something tangible off of a list than sit in connection over a cup of coffee.  Yet over the cups of coffee is where our souls are known and valued and loved for who we are rather than for the things we do.  And in those places of total transparency, vulnerability, and friendship, we are free to let our guards down and let others in to walk alongside of us, imperfections and all, on the road before us.

I wish making time for friends was as easy as an adult as it was as a kid.  I wish someone would come in with a pencil on my calendar and schedule playdates and birthday parties and sleep overs for me and my friends just like I do for my girls and their friends.  But those days are over, and now it is my responsibility to have intentional time with friends who see the same truth and challenge me to lay my life down and grow more into the person God has called me to be.  And it is when I weave these times of friendship into the main course at the table of life instead of the dessert at the end, that I am most whole, balanced, full, and richly blessed.

Lewis closes his essay on friendship with this: “[I]n Friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality, a few years’ difference in the dates of our birthdays, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another, posting to different regiments, the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting – any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ can truly say to every group of Christian friends ‘You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.’ The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others….At this feast it is He who has spread the board and it is He who has chosen the guests. It is He, we may dare to hope, who sometimes does, and always should, preside. Let us not reckon without our Host.”

When we understand that God is the one who has set the table of our friendships and brought specific people into our lives for “such a time as this,” we begin to fight for our friendships instead of against them.  We take off our prickles and put on grace.  We set aside our tasks and pull up a chair at the feast of transparency, accountability, and love.  And we begin to delve into the feast of friendship, if we are seven or seventy-seven years old.

This Valentine’s Day, as I look at the table God has set before me of Godly, strong, humble, kind, wise, beautiful women, I am astounded and humbled that I have a place at their table.  And each time I sit down in their presence, I encounter a Christ-like love that shapes me into a better wife, a better mom, a better teacher, a better person, a better friend.  And, let’s face it, they give me the necessary tools of laugher and permission to eat as much chocolate as I want or need to make it through one day, one week, one season, one year at a time.

This Valentine’s Day, take an honest evaluation of yourself as a friend and the table God has set before you.  Are you a good friend who loves others for who they are, right where they are?  Or are you always standing off at a distance waiting to be asked in instead of being brave enough to day in and day out simply walk alongside?  Do you make enough time for your friends to really speak into and shape your life?  Not just an occasional lunch or cup of coffee, but true iron-sharpening-iron, a true love that stands the test of time and can speak truth and hear truth because it is spoken in love?

If not, don’t despair.  But take off your jaded, green, micro-managing, task and time driven glasses, and put on lenses that see through the rose color of love and grace that true friendship offers one meal, one conversation, one encounter at a time.