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
Junior high, high school, and the early teenage years are often times when teens experience loneliness. But loneliness doesn’t have to be a burden; it can be a gift when used as a tool to turn to God and get to know Him and who He has made us to be. Join me and my daughter, Lillian, in a conversation to learn how God has used this very important tool in her life.
Many teenagers and young people today struggle with overwhelming dread, fear, and anxiety. As parents, aunts, uncles, and mentors, we can often struggle with knowing how to help them fight their crippling, unseen fears. My 19 year old niece, Hannah, has battled anxiety the past five years, but she has learned how to fight her fears one step at a time. Listen and be encouraged as she shares her story and the tools that have helped her along the way.
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:
Happy Mother’s Day! While we are so thankful for the children God has given us, parenting can be hard on the heart. If you or your children are walking through a season of loneliness, don’t despair. Know God is using it for great good in their lives and in yours as well.
For more encouragement throughout the week, you can find me on Instagram @baker.susannah.
Holidays are full of expectations, Mother’s Day included.
Over the years, I’ve learned the hard way that it helps to pay attention to my expectations before the actual day arrives and try to line them up with reality as much as possible. That way I’m not disappointed and the day goes smoothly, even if things don’t go exactly the way I was expecting them to.
Like it or not, embedded within our hearts are certain expectations that we, as mothers, will feel honored. Appreciated. Given time off to take a nap, get dressed for church or lunch at a leisurely pace, avoid any and all food prep at any cost, and given a gift that is handmade or homemade from our kids and appropriately thoughtful and economical from our husbands. Something not too extravagant but not too cheap either. I’m just saying. Like it or not, these expectations are what’s in our heads, even if we know how slim the possibilities are that any of the above will actually occur.
I’ve learned over the past twelve years on Mother’s Day that life with kids is still life with kids, no matter what day on the calendar it is or what kind of expectations the day holds.
The reality of getting four girls (five, including myself) dressed, fed, ready for church and out the door by 9am on Sunday morning is simply summed up in one phrase: damage control. Someone will stand in the bathroom crying about her hair, someone will stand in front of her closet upset about her dress, and someone will scramble in the car missing a shoe. This is what happens on Sunday mornings.
Food prep in the kitchen will most definitely occur because let’s face it: feeding four kids who need to eat three times a day (can’t they ever just skip a meal every now and again?) is easier to do within the confines of your own home than out in a restaurant.
And the chance of getting to take a nap is 50/50. If my daughter wins her softball game and is still in the playoffs come Sunday, she will have an hour and a half of practice. There goes my nap. (Is it terrible to say I wouldn’t be too sad if they lost, and we were done for the season sooner rather than later? She is only seven…)
And let’s talk about another expectation for a moment: in Houston, where I live, embedded within church culture is the expectation that all mothers and daughters should look especially pretty on Mother’s Day. Your dresses need to color coordinate. In fact, let’s back up. Everyone should have on a dress, your hair should look especially non-greasy, your makeup should be done, and a pretty, relaxed, happy smile should be on your face when you walk in the church doors. Oh, and you should be holding the hand of at least one of your children.
Listen, some of my girls are in full-blown adolescence. There will be no hand holding walking into church. Someone will be mad at someone else, someone will hate their dress, and someone’s hair will not be doing what it should be doing. There will be tears. There will be pouts. There will be all kinds of “I’m not walking with you, mom; I’m walking behind you” business going on this coming Sunday morning.
And somehow, the cute, spring dress I bought several months ago in anticipation of the expectations of this day will just not look as cute on my body as it did on the hangar. I know this from experience. My husband is a wonderful man. In fact, he does a fabulous job of filling my cup by letting me know how pretty I look in his eyes on a regular basis.
But last year on Mother’s Day, he made the mistake of telling me that my dress looked like a bathing suit coverup as we were heading into lunch with his family. A bathing suit coverup. On Mother’s Day.
I think it’s taken a year’s worth of “You look really pretty, babe” compliments to get him over that one.
And let’s finish talking about expectations by talking about gifts.
Men, I mean this. I really mean this. Whatever card or gift or homemade creation you hand your wife on Mother’s Day simply needs to reflect that you thought about it. In advance. Meaning, for more than a panicked few minutes before the gift-handing-over moment. As moms, we care more about the thought behind the gift than the actual gift itself.
My favorite gift-giving expectation from Mother’s Day happened five years ago.
Several months before Mother’s Day, I started dropping hints, laying the groundwork, prepping the soil of my husband’s heart, if you will, that I wanted…an iPad. I know, I know. It was a big ask. And I was fairly certain the heart of my husband was not going to be moved in the general direction of an iPad when what he had in mind was probably a gift certificate for a new pair of workout pants.
But it was worth a try.
I even enlisted my sister-in-law, Cara, who is the master of persuasion, to help me in my cause. And even she failed. Something she was not too happy about.
Mother’s Day morning came, and went, and no iPad. Flowers, yes. A card, yes. A smaller, more appropriate token of his affection, yes. But not an iPad.
But then came Mother’s Day evening.
His family had come over for dinner, and at the end of the evening, we were in our driveway walking everyone to their cars when Jason noticed our cat pawing at something in the street. He walked over to check it out, bent down, and came up holding…a snake. A twelve inch long twisting, wriggling, curling around his arm snake.
And out of nowhere, Cara, Jason’s sister, said, “I dare you to eat that snake.”
Now I think it would be entirely appropriate to pause here for a moment and ask, “What kind of a person sees another person holding a snake and immediately thinks, ‘I should ask that person to eat that snake’?” Probably a person who grew up as the only girl in a household with three brothers. But even then, her question gives me pause about a whole lot of things concerning my sister-in-law.
And as quick as lightening, Jason came back with, “I’ll eat it. But only if you buy me an iPad.”
“Done,” Cara said.
And in that moment, time froze. The ten of us standing in the driveway stood there with our mouths hanging open as Jason opened his mouth and then shoved that whole writhing snake inside.
Children started crying. My girls were screaming because they thought their daddy was going to die from eating that snake. Cara’s children were crying because they thought they were going to have to give Uncle Jason their iPad. My mother-in-law who thought she had seen it all in raising four children stood there with her mouth hanging open, cleaned out banana pudding dish in her hand, watching her son in horrible fascination. Even neighbors turned on their lights, opened their shutters, and came outside to see the cause of the hubbub we were all making.
And through it all, Jason chewed that snake. And chewed. And chewed. And chewed. He stood there for five minutes chewing that twelve inch long, wriggling thing with his sister beside him the whole time saying, “Open your mouth. Let me see. Nope. It’s still not all down. I said all of it.”
And every last bit of that snake disappeared into his mouth down into his stomach. I didn’t kiss the man for a week. But guess what I got for Mother’s Day?…an iPad. Thank you, Cara. Thank you, Jason. And thank you, Mr. Snake.
So, like I said, Mother’s Day is full of expectations. Some of them don’t always turn out the way you think they will. Sometimes you get the gift you want; sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you look cute in the dress you bought; sometimes you don’t. Sometimes your kids behave and hold your hand walking into church; sometimes they don’t. Sometimes your husband eats a snake; sometimes he doesn’t.
But no matter what happens this Mother’s Day, I want to remember is this: expectations are fine to have, but real joy, real life happens in the mess. It happens in the car-crying moments and in the snake-eating moments. It happens in the gift-giving moments or the not so great-gift giving moments. It happens if I get a nap in or struggle on through the afternoon.
Because Mothers’ Day isn’t so much about being celebrated as a mother as celebrating those around me who make life sweet, children or no children. iPad or no iPad. Nap or no nap. Lots of food prep or no food prep. Finally, twelve years in the making, I am learning to delight in the people He’s given me to fill my cup, my plate, and my life, no matter how the events of the day unfold.
And by all means, if you see a woman this Mother’s Day who looks like she has a bathing suit cover-up on, and her children are all standing about ten feet behind with tear streaks on their faces, give that woman a hug and say, “Good job, momma. You look great in that spring dress of yours. I hope you get a nap this afternoon, and a free iPad by dinner. And if your husband ever needs to know how to eat a snake, I know someone you need to call.”
For those of you who live in Houston, I have an exciting opportunity. For three weeks in June, I will be teaching a Bible study at Houston’s First Baptist church on prayer. We will be using my prayer guide and journal called Secure, due to be published and released right before the study in late May. There is no need for you to register beforehand; just come the first night of the study ready to enter into a time of learning how to securely attach to a good Father who loves to connect with His children through the daily habit of prayer.
The study will be the first three Tuesday evenings of June, June 5, 12, and 19, from 6:30-8pm in the Reception Room at First Baptist. The address is 7401 Katy Freeway / Houston, TX / 77024.
I hope to have the privilege of seeing some of your faces and meeting you there!
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.
Several weeks ago was the first week of fifth grade, or middle school, for my oldest daughter, Lillian.
She got into the car quiet as a mouse when I picked her up at the end of her first day, and little by little, as the evening wore on, she began to share about the events of the day and what had made her so quiet in the car.
Turns out she felt at the end of the day like so many of us remember feeling at the end of a day of middle school – a little unnoticed, a little faded into the background, a little like an old piece on a patchwork quilt. Part of that feeling was a result of her quiet personality, and part of that feeling was just what goes along with the territory of middle school. She faded into the background at lunch, she faded into the background in class, and overall, she ended the day feeling…alone. Even though she was surrounded by 64 classmates.
All summer (and let’s be honest, pretty much for all their lives) I’ve been praying for that “one friend” for my daughters…all four of them. Because let’s face it, with four girls to raise, what else does one pray about at this phase of life besides friendships, sassy backtalk, and emotional drama?
If you’re a woman, when you hear the phrase “one friend,” you know who I’m talking about. That “one friend” who saves you a seat at her lunch table come hell or high water. That “one friend” who chooses you in class, no matter who the new girl or the cool girl is. That “one friend” who invites you over on a Friday night, even if the most exciting thing you are going to do is sleep on her family’s pullout couch and watch a Fred Astaire musical…again.
I had a friend like that. And she was a best friend in every sense of the word. She was the cool kid and let’s just say I was…not. But she always choose me. And next to her I always felt like my place was secure. And if I wasn’t picked on a Friday night by anyone else, it was ok, because I knew I would always be picked by her.
And that’s who I’ve been praying for for my girls. And if we are honest, I think a lot of mommas pray that for their girls. Because for some reason, we think our daughters can endure and weather anything as long as they have that “one friend.”
So last week when I began to pray my “one friend” prayer for my daughters once again, the Lord quietly responded with a simple statement in my heart: “You might be praying the wrong prayer.”
And immediately the words of Ephesians 3:17-19 came to mind: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Apparently, being filled up with all the fullness of God, being rooted and grounded in His unchanging love, experiencing the height and depth, the length and width of a crucified Christ has nothing to do with having that “one friend.”
This was news to my heart. Not to my head – I’ve known these verses, memorized these verses, prayed these verses for years. But this time, the scripture translated to my heart.
My prayer for my daughters does not need to be, “O God, give them just one friend.” My prayer needs to be, “O God, no matter what happens in my daughters’ day, fill them up with all the fullness of Christ. Let them be so rooted and grounded in Your love, that no matter what happens, the knowledge of Your love, the knowledge that You are with them and always choose them and love to be with them, trumps any knowledge of despair, fear, shame, rejection, embarrassment, or sadness they might feel. Lord, would You please be their One Friend?”
And I am telling you, my heart flooded with peace when I prayed that prayer. Because that way, the pressure is off people. It’s off that “one friend” or any friend for that matter to perform in a way that communicates unconditional love and acceptance. And that pressure is transferred to God. And I can count on Him as a mom of four daughters to love each and every one of them through every situation. I can count on Him to choose them every single time. I can lean on Him to provide in their hearts what no human heart can ever provide – the rooting and grounding nature of the unchanging nature of the love of Christ.
And that gives this momma’s heart peace.
I had to repent for the lenses I had been wearing and the expectations I had been placing on other people – fifth, third, and first grade people for that matter! – to be something to my girls no one could ever be except the Lord. And I have been praying that prayer consistently ever since the Lord deposited it in my heart.
I don’t know what your prayers for your child or children have been over the summer or fall, and I don’t know what your expectations are when it comes to friends. But I can tell you this, you and I both will be disappointed if we are waiting on that “one friend,” for our children, or even for ourselves. Because what I am finding is that my daughter’s middle school feelings have the ability to pull up my own middle school feelings from years ago and make my feel like a fifth grader at a lunch table all over again. And even as a forty-year-old, I have found myself praying that “one friend” prayer, hoping a human can deliver for me what only God can provide.
Because at some point, as an eleven-year-old or as a forty-year-old, the expectation of a “one friend” is going to fail you. And what I am learning is that God designed it that way for a purpose.
Because how else in the world would we ever come to know and experience the love that never fails us if we could find it in a fifth grade classroom or at a forty-year-old lunch table? And maybe that’s what the Lord wants to teach you and me and our children this school year. Stop asking for the things that can’t help but let you down, and start asking for the one love, the one friend, that hung on a cross so that He could lift you to Himself and never let you down. He truly is your Perfect Friend.
Some of you may have read this post last week, only to find it disappear from my blog site – I apologize for that error! Last week’s post was meant to be Top Ten Things I Learned from a Hurricane, and this week’s post was supposed to be today’s, Finding a Friend. I am trusting the timing on when it was read – last week or this week – was sovereignly ordained for each and every heart. As always, thank you for being patient with me and all my technological errors!
Trusting the One Friend who never fails,
Softball season is upon us. Two of our girls are playing in a league this year, and, by happenstance, both girls’ teams are called Fury. Same team name, same uniforms. It makes for some pretty cute pictures.
Dinner seems to be pushed back later and later as the light lingers longer and Jason stays out in the yard giving bp to the girls or drilling them on grounders. I have to say, with four girls, so many of the practical life lessons or duties fall upon me to do. For the most part, girls just aren’t going to go their dads for lessons in fixing their hair, picking out clothes, recovering from hurt girl feelings, or taking them to the ladies’ room in a public setting (a new accomplishment for Mia Grace in our house this week). So softball is one area where daddy is fully in charge in our house, and I am loving it. It gives the girls good time to learn how to listen to their daddy’s voice. “Stay low…eye on the ball…move towards the ball…swing hard…hands in front…use both hands…listen to your coaches.”
One of the many things that makes softball so much fun this year is that Lillian gets to play on the same team with her cousin, Katie. This year is the first year that the kids begin to pitch instead of the coaches, and Katie is our team’s pitcher. Bless her. Most of the weight of the game rests on her ten-year-old ability to pitch, and for a laid-back soul like Katie, that pressure is something to which she is adjusting.
Katie is known in our extended family as “The Teletubby.” If you don’t know what a Teletubby is, or need a memory jog, here is a reminder:
Katie typically lives in what we all affectionately call “Katie’s World,” and her answers to questions are usually monosyllabic sounds, not words. Her favorite animal is the unicorn, and one of my favorite memories of Katie is when, for the first grade book fair, she came in full unicorn costume from head to toe.
So seeing her in this new role as a serious, focused, softball pitcher is something to which we are all adjusting. My husband finally had to tell his sister, Katie’s mom, to zip her yapper and stop yelling instructions to Katie from the bleachers: “Keep your shoulders squared!” “Get the ball out of the dirt!” “Keep your hand flat!” “Focus!” I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard after watching Cara watch Katie pitch.
Last weekend’s game started off well for Katie, but she wasn’t feeling great and was struggling with one of those deep-Houston-allergy-induced-chest-coughs that we all have around this time of year. By about the fourth inning, our lead was slowly being eaten away by Katie’s balls ending up in the dirt or way above the catcher’s head.
That’s when my brother-in-law, Katie’s dad, called a time out and walked out to the pitcher’s mound. He stood there for a few minutes, toe-to-toe with Katie and spoke quietly in her ear. Then he walked off, and the inning resumed. And Katie struck out three batters right in a row, throwing all perfect pitches.
What was the change? Was it a new vitamin or supplement he slipped her? No. Was it a change of uniform or new piece of equipment he had her put on? No. Was it any sort of disciplinary action he administered? No again. The change came from hearing her father’s voice and the wisdom that went along with it and obeying his instructions.
Her father’s voice steadied her nerves and reminded her of what she needed to do. Her father’s voice was calm and comforting and provided much needed peace. And her father’s voice was infused with wisdom.
My brother-in-law played in the Major Leagues for over fifteen years and knows the game of baseball as well as anyone. He has watched pitchers struggle in the little leagues, the minor leagues, the major leagues, and even during the World Series. He has encouraged teammates who are now in the hall of fame, and he now coaches high school and little league teams to encourage younger players.
As I sat there and watched, I realized I could learn a powerful lesson from Katie. Life is full of stressful moments. Every day I throw all sorts of pitches from the pitcher’s mound to my kids, my spouse, my friends, even acquaintances. A few are in the strike zone, but most are either hitting the dirt in a sharp word I’ve said or going way over the catcher’s head in moments of weariness and exhaustion. Going through the exercises of daily life at the speed with which life happens around here with four young children in the last eight weeks before school is out leaves me little time to really stop and think about how to improve my game. Most days, my feet hit the floor and I am throwing pitches as fast as I can just to keep everybody moving in the same direction, preferably sane, clothed, fed, and with as few tears as possible (a huge feat in a household with five women, six including the cat).
But like Katie, I not only have a good father, I have a wise father, who often calls time outs on my behalf from the dug out and ascends the pitcher’s mound. And it is there, in those quiet places, that He counsels me, encourages me, advises and instructs me, if only I have the heart to listen. My Father’s Voice steadies my frayed nerves when life is happening ninety to nothing. My Father’s Voice corrects my stance and steadies my heart when my emotions are out of control. My Father’s Voice cleanses me of my guilt and gives me second chances after my decisions hit the dirt or are so far out of the strike zone I think I should be pulled out of the game.
And like Katie, I have a decision to make. I can let my Father’s Voice redirect the decisions I make in finishing out the game of the day, or I can try to keep playing in my own strength and skill set, with the balls hitting the dirt.
Today, like Katie, listen to your Father. He is more skilled than the best baseball player that has ever played the game. He is wiser than the most seasoned coach. He is more magnificent than the greatest hall of famer…and it is your heart that He loves to coach, counsel, advise, and come alongside. Day by day, moment by moment, hour by hour, you have access to the greatest Father a daughter could ever have. So tune your ears to His Voice, follow the instructions He so wisely gives, and finish your game.
Yesterday, the girls had another softball game, and Katie held our team’s one run lead in the last inning. She pitched like I had never seen her pitch before. And when she struck out the last batter, and the game was won, guess where she ran? Straight into her father’s arms. Like Katie, do the same with your Father today; His arms and His Voice are waiting.
I wanted to let you all know that I will not be blogging as often during this season of spring, softball, and end of school. I am in the process of writing a new study for women that I am really excited to share with you all this summer. My goal is to have it ready to go by the beginning of June, so please be on the lookout for that & in the meantime, I would appreciate your prayers for the time and creative energy I will need in order to listen to the Lord and put on paper what He is speaking to my heart.
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.