Several weeks ago, I wrote a blog called “Love Wins: A Story of Adoption, Redemption, and Love,” in response to hearing Nina Hendee’s story of being reunited with the son she had surrendered to adoption over forty years ago. (To watch their story, click here.)
Nina’s story is a miraculous and courageous one. Courageous because she made the decision to carry her baby as a 17-year-old unwed mother and then place her baby in the care of a family who could love him well. And miraculous because God reunited Nina and her son decades later and allowed them to see a glimpse, this side of heaven, of the power of faithful and persistent prayer.
When I wrote the piece, I knew it would bless people deeply to read about Nina’s courageous decision and God’s faithful redemption.
But I didn’t know it would also hurt hearts who had walked through the same circumstances as Nina yet chose abortion instead of adoption. Abortion and those who suffer under its weight is the side of the coin of unplanned pregnancy I do not think about as often as I should, and for that thoughtlessness, I am deeply sorry.
And it is to you, to the women who suffer under the hurt and pain that abortion brings, that I want to write today’s blog.
Several weeks ago, I had a quiet conversation with a friend that I cannot recall without tears.
In slow and quiet words, my friend shared the emotions she experienced as she read Nina’s story.
She too had been a young, single woman who found herself pregnant by a man she knew she did not want to marry or start a family with. She felt alone, overwhelmed and backed into a corner, squeezed into a tight space, with no option but this one: to end the life of her baby. So she did. And she stuffed that decision, buried it down deep, and moved on, living her life, until she heard Nina’s story several weeks ago.
And that’s when the pain and the shame and the hurt of her decision began to come up and out of the places where she had stuffed it.
As we went back and talked through the moments leading up to her decision to abort, we talked through the pain and loneliness she felt, and the grief she had buried.
We were able to go back through those moments and see the Presence of God with her in the doctor’s office when she felt so alone. We were able to see, through prayer, that her good Shepherd was with her in the valley of the shadow of death all along. And while it grieved Him deeply the decision she made, it grieved Him just as much that she was separated from Him, far off in her grief and pain. And the same God who was there to comfort Nina as she surrendered her son was there to comfort my friend as she surrendered her grief.
What we both remembered and experienced firsthand in those moments together was this – God did not come to comfort perfect people. He did not come to die for and forgive the righteous – for those who make good, right, and perfect decisions. He came to comfort and cover the UN-righteous. Those who made and make bad decisions, hurtful decisions, decisions that end in death and grief and in separation from God instead of loving union with Him (Romans 5:6).
And what we discovered and remembered together is that the same God who redeemed Nina’s story was there to redeem my friend’s story and every single woman’s story who wrestles with similar pain from her past.
Yes, Nina took the opportunity to make a courageous decision when she chose to carry her baby to full term and to give him life. And yes, that decision reaped immense blessing and redemption in her life. But if you chose abortion instead of adoption, it does not mean that you are excluded from the goodness of God’s blessing and redemptive purposes at work in your story and in your life. Your road will look differently than Nina’s, but the goodness of God and the power of God behind you, walking with you on your road, is the same. And if you chose abortion, you now, like my friend, have the opportunity to make a courageous decision as well, one that will have lasting impact just as Nina’s did.
You can choose to stay hidden in the pain and grief of the choice you made, or you can choose to bring it out into the open, into the light, just as my friend did, and choose to believe God can heal and redeem even this. Just as with Nina, the worst the enemy can do in your life, God can undo. He can redeem.
And every day, just as Nina had a choice to trust God, to close her eyes so that she could see His goodness and believe that God did not love her or her son because Nina was so great; He loved her because He was so great. And it was on God’s greatness and goodness that Nina’s choice to be courageous rested.
And it is the same choice you and I have as well.
I think one of the biggest lies we must learn to overcome as believers in Christ is that God’s goodness is for those who make the fewest messes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only does He draw near to those who make messes time and time and time again, He does not leave us on our own to clean those messes up. Instead, He gets down on His hands and knees and cleans up our messes for us and with us with His broken body and poured out blood.
If we believe anything else, or if we believe the goodness of God and the redemption of God is only for people like Nina who make good or courageous decisions, then we are not believing the true Gospel. The true Gospel is this: Christ came to die for sinners. Not when we were good and loved God but when we hated Him and were far off and made horrible, terrible, selfish decisions (I Peter 3:18).
And that is a truth not just for people who have chosen abortion but for all of us, myself and Nina included. I have chosen murder often when I have held unforgiveness in my heart (Matthew 5:21-22). I have chosen death many times when I have deeply envied and wronged people who have gotten things I have wanted (James 3:16). At the foot of the cross, my friends, we are all on level playing ground. We are all deeply flawed, full of sin, in need of grace.
But the tragedy is not that we have sinned. The tragedy is if we stay stuck there.
Don’t stay stuck in your past. Move up and out through confession into the light.
You don’t have to trumpet the decision you made on a loud speaker on your front lawn to your whole street. You don’t have to stand up in a pulpit on a Sunday morning and confess to a whole church full of people.
But you do have to confess to God, confess to anyone who was hurt by your sin (and this happens in God’s time, God’s way as He shows you how), and it helps tremendously to confess to at least one other person who can look at you in the flesh, put their hands on you, and say, “My friend, you are forgiven. This is what the cross of Christ is for. And God is going to redeem your story. All of it. Even this, especially this.”
This is what the body of Christ is for. We are to proclaim to one another daily and often: Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again. In others words, Christ has died – you are forgiven. Christ has risen – you are made new in the power of His Holy Spirit. Christ will come again – all of our stories will be redeemed, and we will live with Him forever.
Please know that as I write, if you are in pain over a decision from the past you have made, I am praying for you. I am praying that right now, today, your heart would be stirred to look up and out to Jesus. I am praying that you would leave your shame and pain at the foot of the cross and learn to look courageously at Him for the rest of your life, for all of your days. Like Nina, you might see the outcome of your decision to trust God here on this earth, or like many of us, you might not. But I can promise you this: you will see it one day. And you will be blown away by the power of our God to make all things new.
If you are struggling under the weight or sorrow of an abortion, here are some steps you can take:
- Confess your sin to God, and then pray about confessing it to another person who is trustworthy. Ask God to show you who that person is.
- Instead of burying your grief about the life of your child, allow it to come to the surface. Consider giving your child a name if you have not already done so. Write a letter to him or her, and say the things you wish you could say; write out the prayers, hopes, and dreams you had for his or her life.
- Trust the decision you made to end a life in death, God can redeem. Put a tangible reminder of this hope and God’s redemption in a place where you will see it often. Plant a tree or flowering bush. Pick up a rock, a stone of remembrance of the goodness of God, and put it by your bed or on your desk. But do something to remind you of God’s promise to be faithful even when you are faithless (reference).
- Guilt and shame can only hold power over us when they go unacknowledged and remain hidden, in the dark. When the enemy of your soul comes to make you feel small, ashamed, embarrassed, or dirty from the inside it, stop, and notice it. Stop and say, “That’s shame.” Say it out loud, under your breath, or make a tally mark on a card. Even something as simple as that begins to loosen and destroy the hold that shame has over you. And then actively turn towards God. Memorize and think on a Scripture that pushes you towards the goodness of God for sinners who are made righteous because of Jesus, not because of anything we do for ourselves or on our own. One verse you could use is Romans 8:31-32: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, how will He not graciously give us all things?…If God is for us, who can be against us?” If God has forgiven you and promised to redeem you, then what can anyone else including Satan himself, do to you? Nothing.
- Consider meeting with a counselor or joining a support group with other women who have walked through abortion and actively process your story with those who can help you work towards healing. For resources on a counselor or group, please consider connecting with the amazing people here.
Know this from Nina, from my friend, from me, but most of all, from the Lord: no matter your past, or the decisions you have made, you are loved. Those who call on the Name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13). Forgiven. Made whole. And renewed. And no power on heaven or on earth can separate you from His love.
Whatever decision you make today, let it be this: courageously look up and out to Jesus, and like Nina, and like my friend, let your healing begin. You will never regret surrendering all that you hold in your heart and your hands to Him, to the One whose hands can safely hold it all.
For more encouragement throughout the week, you can find me on Instagram @baker.susannah
I’ve known Nina Hendee a long time. I’ve known the warmth that radiates from her big, beautiful blue eyes. I’ve known the joy that emanates from every cell of her body even when, and especially when, life is hard. I’ve known the comfort of being a part of her family in some of my most difficult days. I’ve known her as a mentor, mom, role model, and friend.
But I’ve never known her as a fellow mom whose life had been touched by adoption until several months ago.
Jason and I were eating dinner at her family’s famous steakhouse restaurant, The Taste of Texas, when Nina came over to visit. As she pulled out her chair and sat down, she began to tell us a story. A story of herself as a seventeen-year-old girl who was pregnant and unmarried yet who made the courageous and inconvenient decision to carry her baby full term and surrender him to adoption.
She told us the story of holding him in her arms just once, only once, and telling him everything that was on her heart to say – all of her prayers, all of her hopes, and all of her dreams for his life. As she handed him over to the nurse, she handed him over to God with fervent, heartfelt prayers that he would be raised by a family who feared God and loved Him with all their hearts as she did.
And then she never saw him again.
Until the day a letter showed up in her mailbox forty-eight years later from the son she had surrendered long ago.
The letter was from a man named Kyle Poulson who had gone on the long, arduous, and vulnerable journey to find his birth mother, only to discover Nina Hendee at the end as his destination.
Their reunion over the past few months has been sweet and rich and redemptive – redemptive for several reasons.
One, all of Nina’s prayers for her son were realized and confirmed when Kyle walked into the room. He was adopted by parents who raised him as their beloved son with a strong and nurturing love for the Lord and for other people. They helped Kyle grow into a man any woman would be proud to call her son.
Two, I don’t know who Kyle imagined would be at the end of his journey to find the woman who gave him life, but my guess is never in his wildest dreams would he have thought that woman would be anyone as close in character and kindness and excellence as Nina Hendee. It was like he hit the jackpot of all jackpots in moms and in families.
But three, ten years ago, on February 13, 2010, Nina lost her son, Edd K. Hendee, in a tragic skiing accident. He left behind a grieving wife, children, parents, and two beautiful sisters. And I thought Nina had lost her only son.
But God has a strange and miraculous, almost incomprehensible, way of redeeming every story.
And when Kyle walked back into Nina’s life and into her family’s life forty-eight years later, Nina got back a son. No one can replace Edd, and that’s definitely not what I am suggesting.
But what I am saying is that when I watched a video this past Sunday about their story and the beauty of their reunion, my hope in a God who holds the power to redeem was renewed.
When Kyle’s face showed up on that screen and I saw Edd K’s eyes looking back at me, I wept at the ability of God to give us back here on this earth, in small part, what we have lost, with the sure promise of all He will restore and redeem one day in the future.
I was reminded anew that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Corinthians 2:9).
I was reminded that the worst the enemy can do in our lives, God undoes (Genesis 50:20).
I was reminded that every decision we make to honor God and choose life never goes unnoticed or forgotten. It is like precious seed that is buried in the ground, and just when we think it is dead without any hope of resurrection, God speaks, and it blooms (Psalm 126:5-6; John 12:24).
And I was reminded that in the Kingdom of God, our greatest deaths and deepest surrenders end in life when we surrender them into God’s hands. They do so not because we are so good or so wise. They do because God is so good and so wise, and He holds the promise of our full redemption in His nail-pierced hands.
Nina, thank you for choosing life. Thank you for making the hard and gutsy decision to carry a baby only to entrust him to another. Thank you for loving life and loving adoption.
Thank you for walking through all of your trials with the hope of heaven in your heart. Thank you for reminding me that with every loss, with every surrender, and with every death, there is a God behind it all who holds hope, redemption, and life in His Hands.
You have painted a beautiful picture of the goodness of God with the choices you have made in your life, even when those choices have cost you something big. As I look at that picture, you have helped me love God and know God more. And for that, I speak for many who say, “Thank you.”
I can’t wait to be in heaven and see the fullness of His redemption with you one day.
To watch Kyle and Nina’s powerful and beautiful story, click on the link below:
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 listen, actually 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.
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.
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.
It’s hard to believe, but we are coming up on the year mark of our adoption. I’m not sure what I thought I would feel after one year, but the overwhelming emotion I have on most days is thankfulness. Thankfulness that we all made it to this point and are still standing. Thankfulness that we all know each other, like each other, and are learning to love each other like real families do. Thankful that after two and a half long years of waiting, I know her, she knows me, and we both like each other. A lot. Thankfulness, as I love to tell her often, that “Out of all the babies in the world, God gave me you.”
Because for so long, for over two years, there was always so much uncertainty. Who would our child be? What would she look like? Would I ever have enough courage to make it through the piles of paperwork to even get a child? If we did, what kind of medical needs would she have, and what kind of surgery would be involved? What would her temperament be like? Would she be a cryer, a tantrum thrower, tough as nails, or solemn and sweet? What was her story and how much trauma had she endured? How would my biological children adjust? The questions, anxieties, and uncertainties were endless. But here we stand almost one year later with a trip to China behind us, a mound of paperwork in our past, and Mia Grace Baker in our arms as a permanent part of our family.
But as I think back over the past year, if thankfulness is our primary emotion, becoming has been our primary action.
What I mean is this: there was a moment in time, a singular moment in time, when LingYu Xu, legal ward of the Chinese government, was brought out of a back room with a curtain, clutching a kleenex in one hand and a tiny shovel in the other hand, her head drenched with sweat, and placed into my arms.
In that moment, that singular moment, LingYu Xu became Mia Grace Baker and instantly went from orphan to adopted, alone to surrounded, and abandoned to beloved. She went from having no one claim her as their own to two parents, three sisters, four grandparents, ten aunts and uncles, nine cousins, twenty five neighbors and a host of beloved friends and wonderful extended family clamoring to hold her and love her as their own. She was welcomed in in every sense of the word in a display of love that still makes my heart swell with thankfulness.
But as much as Mia Grace became our daughter in a single moment through the gift of adoption, Mia Grace had to become our daughter over the past year through the gift of adoption. And that was something I was not quite prepared for. It sounds ridiculous now to even admit it. I mean, how could I have expected a child who had a revolving door of caretakers, never heard one word of English, nor seen a white person to instantly trust a woman with pale skin who looked nothing like her and spoke in a strange dialect to trust me as her primary caregiver and mother?
But as strange as it sounds, I think I did expect this instantaneous bond of deep affection and trust to occur. But that bond is something both Mia Grace and I have had to work hard on this past year. I never knew it would be so painful to have someone who calls you “Momma” to reject dependence on you at the most basic of levels. To stuff and hoard food in her mouth and refuse to swallow. To refuse to let me hold her bottle and hold on tightly with her two little hands while pushing my hands away. To refuse to face me in the rocking chair and snuggle in and demand to always face outward, a position she can control while monitoring the room and keeping a safe distance away from me.
She had no idea in her little seventeen month old self how hard her independence was on a momma’s heart. But she wasn’t in daughter mode. She was in survival mode. She was in abandoned-orphan mode, even though she had been adopted. And because of that, Mia Grace had to learn how to become.
And she has come so far. In less than a year, as long as I have read the requisite two books before nap time or bedtime, she will face inward and let me rock her for a long, long time. She still refuses to close her eyes or fall asleep in my arms and let go of complete control, even if I know she’s exhausted. But hey, I will take what I can get. After a year, she will actually eat and swallow about four or five bites of meat or a protein before stuffing the rest in her mouth and make me fish it out an hour later, but a quarter of a hot dog is better than no hot dog at all. After a year, she will approach me from the front to give me a hug instead of only feeling comfortable enough to hug from behind. After a year, she has stopped reaching up and out for strangers to hold her and is content to be in mommy’s arms.
But we still have a long way to go, and as I have said before, orphan habits like control, fear, independence, and survival die hard. They’re a lot like that little shovel she came out clutching so tightly in her hand in China. After several days of holding the shovel, eating with the shovel, and sleeping with the shovel, I finally had to pry it out of her hands. I don’t think she held on to the shovel because it was a great toy or help to her throughout her day. I think she held on to it because it was the last familiar thing she took in her hands from the orphanage. She held on to it because it was comfortable and familiar. Orphan habits are a lot like that. It’s not that they’re so great, or so fun to play with, or helpful to us throughout daily life. It’s just that they are the last familiar remnants we hold on to from the orphanages we once knew and called “home.”
Just like Mia Grace, I have orphan habits too. In fact, perhaps the hardest part of adopting Mia Grace has been the way that she has made me look at my own orphan habits. And in order to help her put her habits and control tendencies aside, I’ve had to put mine aside first. And if I’m honest, that’s been really hard to do. To make her stop trying to control, I try to control right back. And trust me – I’ve learned this one from experience – you can’t fight control with control. Someone always ends up broken in the process. You have to fight control with humility and love. When she begins to act out in fear, I have to help her go back to the place where the train derailed, back to the point in her heart and mind where she was left and abandoned by the two people on planet earth who were never meant to abandon her, and help that place of derailment, unhealthy independence, and lack of trust heal. Through trust. Love. Patient words. Slow responses of healing and empathy instead of quick reactions of anger. And that is so tough to do for someone who is a recovering control addict herself.
All year I have pondered and meditated on the helpful words from Henri Nouwen in his book, Life of the Beloved: “If it is true that we not only are the Beloved, but also have to become the Beloved; if it is true that we not only are children of God, but also have to become children of God…how then can we get a grip on this process of becoming?…Becoming the Beloved means letting the truth of our Belovedness become enfleshed in everything we think, say, or do…What is required is to become the Beloved in the commonplaces of my daily existence and, bit by bit, to close the gap that exists between what I know myself to be and the countless specific realities of everyday life. Becoming the Beloved is pulling the truth revealed to me from above down into the ordinariness of what I am, in fact, thinking of, talking about, and doing from hour to hour.”
Becoming the Beloved of God is hard. When all you can hear are the voices of failure whisper their way through your day, it is so hard to believe, I mean really believe, you are the Beloved, the beautiful, and the valuable of God. Becoming the Beloved takes intense focus, concentration, and consistency in training our ears to listen to the Voice of the One who loves us, made us, and calls us His own. And just as I have needed time and grace to become the Beloved of God and to pull the truth of who I am into the rhythms and specific realities of everyday life, Mia Grace has needed that time and grace too to become my daughter in the daily rhythms of everyday life.
So one year in, both Mia Grace and Mommy are still working on becoming children instead of orphans – me a child of God, and Mia Grace a child of mine. But we are learning, she and I. We are learning how to become, how to rise up from set backs, how to recover from falls, how to say “I’m sorry” when we’ve failed, and how to believe God works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose as His Beloved.
Last week Mia Grace (our cute-as-a-button 2-year-old adopted daughter from China) and I were at her weekly Occupational Therapy appointment with “Miss Julie,” my new favorite person on the planet. Julie Ploetner runs PolkadOT Pediatric Therapy, and her office is pure heaven for Mia Grace. The minute she walks in the door, she heads straight for the rice pool (literally, a blown up plastic pool filled with rice and tiny plastic treasures of all shapes and sizes). She slips off her little shoes (sister wears a size 6-9 month shoe…her feet are TINY) and slips in the rice to play and pour and sift and sort to her heart’s content. After she’s had her fill of rice, she heads on over to a massive cushion with plastic frogs and turtles on top to see how many she can carry in her hands on her way down the massive “mountain” of fluff. It’s always good times in Miss Julie’s office. It’s amazing what spending time on pillows and swings and in rice tubs can do for one’s body and soul. I’m thinking adults should try it more often.
But as I sat there by Mia Grace, watching her sift rice through her little fingers, I was (very unconsciously) holding tightly onto a plastic necklace made up of stars and hearts. I would squeeze it with one hand, and then pass it to the other hand. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. All of a sudden, Miss Julie looked at me and said, “Is that comforting to you to hold on to that necklace? I’ve noticed each time you are in here you like to hold things in your hands. You must have a lot on your mind.” Wow. I’m pretty sure I looked at her like someone had caught me with my hand in a cookie jar.
“Well,” I said, “I’ve never thought about it.”
“But now that you say that, yes, in fact, it is very comforting. I always like to have something in my hands or I feel purposeless. Ungrounded and anxious about just sitting still.”
True confessions in PolkadOT Therapy. I considered right then and there if I needed to slip off my shoes and climb in the rice next to Mia Grace for a little therapy myself.
But Julie got me thinking, all week in fact. This time of year for moms can be downright stressful. Saying goodbye and finishing anything well always is. And saying goodbye to an entire school year with your kids takes a lot of time, focus, and energy. On top of that, the new season of summer looms on the horizon, and a blank slate stares at moms in the face, waiting to be filled in whatever way we think our family needs. No pressure.
But there is pressure. And that’s what Miss Julie picked up on. I often travel through life, especially this time of year, with a low level of continually burning stress. Through every appointment or conversation, I am present in body but my mind is running a million different directions sorting through every list on my desk and in my head. I constantly fight feeling behind or like I will never catch up. So at rare moments when I am just sitting, like I was doing during Mia Grace’s appointment, to focus my stress, to help my out-of-control feel more in-control, I hold things in my hands, or in this case, press the heck out of a plastic necklace.
There has got to be a place for our stress to go that doesn’t have anything to do with plastic necklaces or what we can control with our hands. I am learning, more and more, that I have got to leave things in God’s Hands, especially during times of the year when I am more prone to stress.
My husband, Jason, was teaching on Sunday morning about taking big risks for God. Taking risks to love other people well, to forgive when you don’t want to, to reach out and bless someone with a kind word…because people are dying all around us for a touch, for a word, and for us to be risk takers in this area of love and kindness in the Name of Jesus.
My tendency when the word “risk” is mentioned is to start thinking about risking all of our finances and giving everything away to the poor, risking all of my community and moving to India to share the Gospel, or risking my life and moving to the Middle East. But in the quiet of that moment in Sunday School, the Lord whispered to my heart, “What about risking all of your stress and putting it in My Hands? What if your greatest risk this week began with really trusting Me?”
Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying – I think God does want us to risk big things for His Name when it comes to our finances and our time and our very lives. But I think He wants us to start with risking our hearts and who we really choose to trust.
The words of Jeremiah 17 came to my mind, and I’ve been thinking on them all week: “Cursed is the one 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 live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. Blessed is the one 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” (Jeremiah 17:5-8).
So this week, when I’ve been tempted to press something with my hands, I’ve been working on pressing the words of Jeremiah 17 into my heart. I’ve been working on practicing the presence of the Lord and the presence of people He puts right in front of me by trusting Him with my lists, my time, and the plastic necklaces I hold in my hands.
I practiced it last night when we celebrated Jason’s birthday and the girls made him silly cards and wore silly hats.
I practiced it when we pulled out the dvd player and watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the middle of the week for a birthday treat instead of answering emails and checking more things off my to-do list.
I practiced it by going up to the friend I never see in the grocery store and talking for ten minutes instead of ducking my head and praying we didn’t catch eyes simply because I didn’t have time.
I practiced it when Lizzie asked me to slow down this morning and scratch her back instead of getting on with fixing breakfast.
I practiced it by letting the girls enjoy cake pops this morning as a “last day of homeschool” treat instead of doing our usual routine.
And I practiced it this morning with an open Bible in one hand and a pen and paper in the other, recording all the ways God has been faithful to us this year, even when I have been faithless.
And I’m going to continue to practice it throughout the days ahead by intentionally trusting the Lord, putting all things into His Hands, instead of holding them so tightly with mine.
This morning when I saw my friend Brandy and we were laughing about the craziness of the end of school, she said, “It’s a good thing this is our last week because they either need to shut school down or send me away. At this point in the year, those are the only two options!” Amen, sister. But until the last day of school, the last homework assignment, the last teacher gift, and the last packed lunch, let’s continue to encourage one another to keep our gaze on the One who holds us all together, even our plastic necklaces, with His Hands.
On Thursday, the girls and I were in our playroom/schoolroom, immersed in math and history. Mia Grace had crawled over to the bookshelves across the room, picked herself out a book, and made herself comfortable against one of the chairs. All of a sudden, we heard this:
I quietly sushed the girls and we listened to MG “read” to herself for a good minute. When she looked up and saw that she had an audience, she, of course, stopped, and getting her to do it again was difficult. But to say we were tickled was an understatement! We could not stop laughing! That little thing is always in the middle of her sisters’ business, wanting to do exactly what they are doing. And if reading a book about Abraham Lincoln upside down is part of acting like a big girl, by golly, she is going to find a way to do it!
More and more, Mia Grace is fitting in to our family rhythms, while still tenaciously holding her own. For such a little thing (I think we are up to weighing 20 pounds by now), she has a will of iron, and it always tickles us to see her determination. Well, let me take that back. Sometimes it tickles us. Other times, like when she’s in the high chair, and wants to eat soup with a fork and a spoon ALL BY HERSELF, we all sigh and say, “MIA GRACE…DON’T BE SO STUBBORN!” But most the time, we just smile.
Please keep praying for Jason and I as we learn, usually by our failures, how to parent Mia Grace in all of her uniqueness. Daily I ask for wisdom from the Lord to know when to factor in her history of being an orphan for the first 17 months of her life and when to just treat her (or her stubbornness) as an ordinary, normal almost two-year-old. And the truth is, the answer always lies somewhere in the middle. Yes, factor in her history, and yes, treat her like a normal toddler. Work my hardest at helping her bond and attach and learn how to have two parents, and also work my hardest on my ability to let her go and maintain some illusion of control – with a fork and spoon in the high chair or with a book in the rocking chair. Orphan habits die hard, and she needs as much grace as I do at learning to have a mom and a dad as I do in learning how to parent a twenty-month old I had never laid eyes on until three months ago.
Every day is a search for grace, and every day, I have to believe I have found it, whether I feel like it or not. I am just thankful I am parented by a Father who never lets me go, who knows my own orphan habits die hard, and parents me patiently as I want to parent Mia Grace.
Honestly, this journey of adoption is harder than I expected, but it’s also sweeter than I expected. While my failures are big, the grace that holds all of us is big too, and I am learning to accept that grace in a way I have never needed to accept it before.
Last week I taught our Sunday School class again, and the lesson was on Luke 7:36-50, the story of the sinful woman who anoints Jesus and the parable He tells of the Two Debtors. While I expecting to find myself in the Pharisee, I wasn’t so much expecting to find myself in the woman. But there, in her tears, in her gratitude, and in the grace that was offered, I surprisingly found myself at the feet of Jesus and was strengthened and nourished for the next phase of the adoption journey.
I have never done this before, but at the risk of seeming self-promoting, I am going to include the link to the lesson if you want to listen to it.
In no way am I suggesting that I think I have words that you need to hear; but I wanted to give you access to a text that changed the way I looked at grace and the Jesus that I follow. All Luke 7 did was make me love Him more.
So here is the link to the lesson: Just go to www.hfbctheoaks.com, and the password is “theoaks” (all one word, all in lowercase letters). You will see the link to the lesson under “Podcast” in the middle of the page.
And here is the outline I had to go with it – The Parable of the Two Debtors
I am so thankful for the many of you who are on this same journey of grace, on this same journey of learning to follow a grace-giving God wherever He beckons us to follow.
May God give you grace for all of your journeys this week, and may the reality of your own adoption absolutely delight and overwhelm your soul.
The Baker Six
Let me introduce you to some people who are pretty important people in our world. Around our house, they are affectionately known as the “BK Team,” but in the real estate world, they are known as “BakerKatz.” These are the people who make our lives run and keep everyone (i.e. Jason and all of his women) afloat.
Well, let me put an addendum on that. Really I should say, Traci and Jennifer keep our lives afloat. Because let’s face it BK Boys, if you take away the BK Women, you pretty much don’t have BakerKatz. They are the ones who keep Dana and Sus sane, Jason focused, Kenneth culturally updated, Neil hilarious, Lunden Italian, and Ben willing to stick around. And…this is an important one here – they keep snacks in the kitchen.
Last December, BakerKatz celebrated 10 years as a company, so Traci master-minded this incredible video to show as a surprise for Kenneth and Jason at the company holiday party. I interviewed my three girls (we only had three at the time) for the video, and here is Caroline’s response…an official commentary on what’s important in the BKOffice:
Let’s go back to that keeping Sus sane thing. Both Jennifer and Traci are something I am not: resourceful. And they don’t dissolve in a crisis in a puddle of tears. (No wonder Jason likes them so much.) They figure it out. Jack Bauer style. While everyone else is sleeping, I’m pretty sure Traci and Jennifer are up, figuring out how to save the world.
They can figure out how to do anything at any time with any budget from any point on the globe. Need to figure out how to get from the rural Indian countryside to a major city airport in a rickshaw? No problem. Need to figure out how to purchase a building, prepare LOI’s, and keep clients eating out of the palm of your hand? Done. Need to figure out how to review a document from the middle of the hills in the Lake District where there’s no internet reception? Got it. Need to figure out how to get a refund on tickets when Continental merged with United and it takes you four days to get from Houston to Scotland and you are stranded with three kids, without luggage, on the floor of the airport in Frankfurt, Germany? Piece of cake. Need to figure out how to add an adopted kid to your insurance policy whose official name is still LingYu Xu (the name, apparently, of a famous Chinese pop star), but her adopted name is Mia Grace Baker? Easy. Kid’s stuff. Need to figure out how to wade through all things paperwork and birth a baby through notarized documents, FedEx packages, certified checks, and official copies of birth certificates, social security cards (I still don’t know where my husband’s is), marriage licenses, and proof after fingerprint proof that YOU ARE NOT A CRIMINAL?!? Not a problem.
I can say with utmost confidence that if Jennifer and Traci were not around, there is a strong possibility that Mia Grace would not be around either. I would have plunged off of the paperwork face of the earth and shriveled up in a hole somewhere to die a slow death.
So that’s why, when we returned from China with Mia Grace safe and sound in our arms, some of the very first people I wanted her to meet where her BK Family. They had skin in the game, so to speak, just like Jason and I did.
And, of course, Mia Grace took to the BKWomen like a rat to a cheeto…literally. She was won over by the snacks…and, of course, the huge smiles on their faces and tremendous love in their hearts.
BakerKatz, the Baker Six couldn’t be more thankful for each of you, and of course, for all of the SNACKS!!!
Last week was our first week of starting back to school. (I know, I know – the rest of the world has been back in school since July. Trust me – I was counting down the days until I could wave good-bye to everyone at 8am. I tried not to look too gleeful as I dropped them off in their classrooms last Wednesday morning with the knowledge I wouldn’t see their knee-highed legs again until 3:30pm that afternoon.)
It was a “soft start” kind of a week since they were only in school for half the week. We go to a school where my kids attend school on campus on Mondays and Wednesdays, and I home school them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays are “free days”, where good home school moms take their kids to places like museums, historical markers, and the original log cabin where Laura Ingalls grew up. By Friday, I am usually laying on the couch in a comatose state attempting to take a four hour nap while my kids are left to entertain themselves in the house with art projects left over from the summer. I am in full support of Jessica Trozzo’s statement, my friend and fellow homeschooling mom, that “our kids have really fun lives; I don’t feel the need to entertain them every Friday.” At least, that’s how I comfort myself when I lay down on the couch on Fridays.
Anywho, last Thursday was our first home school day and Friday was “free.”
So this week is official – we are really back in school. Yesterday was our first Tuesday home day, and I have to be honest, I had forgotten from last year what long days Tuesday are. Thursdays we have a little more breathing room. If we didn’t have time to fit Grammar in, or we forgot about Science, we can squeeze it in over the weekend. But there is no squeezing on a Tuesday; everything has to be crammed in to be turned in and ready to go for a campus school day on Wednesday. And by yesterday evening, when Jason walked in the door, I didn’t even have words left to tell him how the day was. All of my words had been used up by 3pm, and all that was left was silence or an occasional grunt.
I wish by the end of the day on Tuesdays I felt tired like I had run a really good race or completed a really good workout. But it’s not that kind of tired. It’s a tired like someone has taken me to a woodshed out in the backyard, laid me over their knees, and given me a good, sound spanking. I know that might sound strange, but to put it another way, at the end of a Tuesday, I never feel like, “Wow, that was a hard day but it was a GREAT day! I just excelled in my role as a mom; what a fabulous mom I must be!” It’s more like, “Wow, I can’t believe I blew it THAT MANY TIMES IN ONE DAY.” And if I have any words left, there are usually spent in saying “I’m sorry,” as in “I’m sorry for yelling when you dropped your peanut butter and jelly sandwich on our newly washed rug.” Or “I’m sorry for yelling when I was reading to you about the planets and you lunged for our cat so you could play with her and act like I wasn’t doing my best to educate your brain about Pluto (which isn’t even a planet anymore, by the way, according to a vote by some astronomical board! I felt robbed, cheated of my knowledge of the planet line ups when I was in third grade. I always felt like Pluto was nice little dot at the end.)” And “I’m sorry when you whined for the hundredth time about having to learn to write the letter “A”, I told you if you did that again, you would spent the rest of your life in time out because this is simply part of pre-K; I already finished pre-K and know how to write my letter A’s.”
Are you getting the picture? We’re not exactly the Brady Bunch over here on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I feel more like a circus master running a four ring circus.
It doesn’t help, either, that I am teaching Sunday School for the first time on Sunday since getting back from China. Which means every morning at 5am I drag myself out of bed and stumble downstairs to sip on a cup of coffee while I try to put coherent thoughts about the Bible together in my brain and on paper. I love trying to put coherent thoughts about the Bible together; what’s tough about teaching, particularly this week, is that to teach a good lesson, you have to live a good lesson. You have to hold your own life up under the bright light of the Word of God and let it convict, challenge, and change you if you don’t want to be a hypocrite when you stand up there on Sunday morning.
All that to say, this week’s lesson has been particularly challenging because it’s on the parable of “The Great Banquet” that Jesus tells at a dinner party in Luke 14:16-24. I always find the toughest, most challenging lessons to teach are on the words of Jesus Himself. His words are just so – hard. And difficult to understand. And I always find myself so lacking underneath the weight of the words of this God-Man who came and flipped the world upside down with His justice, mercy, love, and grace. Particularly during a season when I am struggling to give grace to my kids, much less to a waiting, hurting, groaning world.
I won’t go into all the details of the parable, but what has given me hope this home school week are the three groups of people invited to the banquet Jesus outlines in Luke 14. The first group represent the religious elite, the people who sit in the pews, who know the Word of God backwards and forwards, who have grown up in church, but do not know Jesus Himself. They are hell-bent on making their own rules and regulations to the Great Feast and Table of the Lord, and Jesus, with all of His grace, is messing up their guest list. With tax collectors like Zaccheus. Prostitutes like Mary Magdelene. Blind beggars like Bartimaeus, truth seekers like Nicodemus, blue-collar, uneducated fisherman like Peter and demon-possessed Gentiles like the man from Gerasene.
Not only do they dislike Jesus, but they are doing everything in their power to completely stop the banquet from even taking place. So they refuse to come. No show at the last minute in a deliberate attempt to publicly humiliate the host and bring him shame and dishonor.
So how does the Host respond? Does He go out and wreak havoc on all of those who have rejected His invitation to His table? Quite the opposite. In the words of Kenneth Bailey, “The host reprocesses his anger into grace” and begins to invite to his banquet all those who could never pay him back. He tells his slave, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” This second group of invitees represented the lost sheep of Israel that Jesus came to seek and to save, but it also represents you and me. It represents all those who are outcasts and who have been on the outskirts their whole lives but now, according to the lavish mercy and grace of God, have been invited in. I know because I have one of these invitees who sits at my table on a daily basis. She has black hair and brown eyes and the cutest little dimple over her right cheek you have ever seen.
She is a daily reminder to me of GRACE. Of the grace that sits at our table and the grace that is the only ticket to sit at the table to come. And her story of being outcast, abandoned, forsaken, and then brought in to a family and to a table is a reminder to me of all of our stories. Sometimes, though, it’s easy for me to forget my story and my need for an invitation in. Because let me tell you, more times than not, I am in the first group. The religious group. The group that thinks I have no need of the Savior’s table or can make up my own rules and set my own table. And then Jesus’ grace undoes me and I move from outside the door to take my place at the table with all of the rest of the broken invitees. I know that once I yielded to Christ as Lord I have never lost my place at His table, but I sure do have the tendency to get up and move around at lot.
Yesterday, I took Mia Grace to a long time friend and gifted photographer to have her picture taken, an official portrait for the Baker Girl Wall of Fame. Cindy had never met Mia Grace but was well aware of her story and how long we had waited to bring her home. As soon as she saw her, she started to weep. And throughout the photo session she wept. After every few pictures, she had to put her camera down to wipe away her tears.
I have discovered that Mia Grace has this effect on people. In the midst of our everyday, day-to-day, rat race and craziness, Mia Grace is this burst of…grace. A reminder of our invitation to the table. A reminder that we, too, are invited in. To sit down. To pull up a chair. To be called family. To know and be known. And to feast. Not in spite of our brokenness, but because of our brokenness. And because of the Host who died to make us whole.
So today, whoever you are, whatever your brokenness looks like, whatever your past or present, and wherever you’ve been, keep the feast, accept the invitation, and sit down. You have a Savior who is waiting.