Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Watering the Garden

1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

This scripture came to my mind today. I read it and I think in addition to being prepared to give an answer for our hope, we should also be prepared to give an answer when we are asked or challenged about things we feel called to do and are passionate about as an overflow of that hope we have in Christ. There will always be skeptics. There will always be those with pre-conceived notions that lump all short-term missions or all single adoptive parents or all Christians or whatever it is - into one big ole category. Instead of getting offended or angry, why not just simply be prepared with an answer? A gentle, respectful answer (that part is key). Why not also look at these opportunities to answer the hard and oftentimes overly generalized questions as a great opportunity to settle in your heart why you believe what you believe and at the same time perhaps give this other person a new perspective? And even if they don't budge or see your side, it's still good practice for you putting into words what your heart already knows. And sometimes in those moments, even when you are prepared with an answer "so to speak", God will give you fresh perspective to add to it - things that just flow out of your mouth that you hadn't even thought of before. Those are the "God - that was all you and that was cool" moments. Which makes me think of this scripture:

Luke 21:14-15 (NIV)

14But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.

These two scriptures almost seem like they contradict each other at first glance but yet, upon further reflection, I don't really think they do. In my opinion (and I'm no bible scholar by any means), when it says you should be prepared to give an answer, I think that means simply that you should know why you believe what you believe and if you really believe it - you will be passionate about it and it won't be hard to give an answer. I don't think very many people have a hard time talking about what they're passionate about. And so, while you're prepared with an answer because you've settled within yourself why you believe something, at the same time - you don't need to stress about saying it the exact perfect way. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matthew 12 & Luke 6) so if your heart has settled on what you believe, it should naturally come out when you speak.

So.... all this brings me to some revelation I had today about what I believe - specifically in regards to Visiting Orphans.

I do believe God calls us to short-term missions to visit orphans - in James 1:27, it literally says "visit orphans and widows in their distress". It doesn't say pack up and move permanently although that is definitely one great option for caring for orphans but that particular verse doesn't say that. It says VISIT and in the greek concordance that word means:

visit, look out for
to inspect, i.e. (by implication) to select; by extension, to go to see, relieve -- look out, visit.

In case you ever wondered (or even knew), that's why Amanda Lawrence came up with the really cool idea to have a Visiting Orphans t-shirt with the VISIT definition on it - because we believe that God has called us to take that verse seriously by going on short term mission trips to go see, to inspect, check in on, to look after the orphans in this world. I do believe that while we haven't always done everything totally perfectly (who has, right?), that there is value and real life change happening as a result of going.

I grew up in a non-Christian pretty dysfunctional home and yet all throughout my childhood, there was always someone reminding me who Jesus was and who I was in Him. It wasn't the same person every time - it was lots of different people that God placed in my life over the years to remind me of His love and the hope I have in Him. If it wasn't the lady down the street who picked up all the neighbor kids in her van to take them to church for Sunday school, then it was my current best friends parents who would let me come stay with them on weekends and would take me to church. It was always someone - no matter how many times we moved and how many different schools I went to - it was always someone. I look back and clearly see it as seeds that were planted and each person who came after the first was watering those seeds a little bit more and eventually it took root and grew. If it wasn't for those people that let the Lord use them to plant those seeds and water them, I don't know where I'd be today. I am truly thankful for all those people. And while there were also some consistent people in my life that have been here all these years, I don't discount the ones who came and went for a season whether that season was a day or a week or a year. Seeds. Watering. Later taking root and growing. Yeah, God works like that. He's in the gardening business y'all. :)

So I had this revelation today from the perspective of the kids we visit - our teams, although brief, can be like those people who watered seeds in my life growing up - a reminder that they are not forgotten, that they do have a hope and a future and a God who deeply loves them. One team member interacting with one child and it could be a moment that changes both of their lives forever. We don't always get to see the root or the tree, but we get to water seeds and that's a pretty awesome thing. It's also a responsibility. A responsibility not to be taken lightly. We do need to make sure we're helping without hurting and seeking the Lord in how we would minister to these kids. We do need to be willing to learn and change and grow as He reveals things to us that maybe we've been doing that isn't His best plan. But we also need to not forget that if nothing else, sharing the hope we have in Christ to children from hard places who need to be reminded and who need to be "watered", is so very worth all of our time, attention, prayers and love.

As an in-process adoptive momma, I have a new perspective on teams going and loving on kids. My little guy has been in an orphanage a year since I met him. It has seriously been teams and staff going every few months and loving on him, looking out for, inspecting, seeing how he is... that has given me so much peace over this past year. I don't know how I would get through this time of waiting if I didn't know he was being loved on and checked in on regularly. I seriously have a whole new view on all of it. And this view makes me even more passionate about sending teams to go. be. love.

And then there's the view of the nannies and staff who are there every single day caring for these kids. In many cases, caring for A LOT of kids with a very few amount of staff. We go to relieve them, to encourage them, to remind them that Jesus loves them just as much as He loves these kids He has placed in their care. There is HUGE value in this. It's about so much more than the kids.

Like, for example, the team members who go.
Our Visiting Orphans mission statement is:
To awaken the body of Christ to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the 163 million orphans by visiting them, loving them, and sharing the Father’s heart.

We're getting to see and hear about the body of Christ truly being awakened, often for the first time, to the orphan crisis in our world. We're seeing their hearts and lives being radically wrecked so to speak. Once you've seen, it's so much harder to ignore the reality of what is going on in this fallen world. Once you've seen, you are responsible. Team members are coming home and making real change. They are doing something about what they saw. They are being awakened. And that awakening is taking on all sorts of different forms. We've seen A LOT of people have their hearts opened to adoption for the first time and step out and adopt, we've seen people make financial sacrifices to sponsor kids or go back again to visit the same kids they met, some have moved overseas long-term to help on a daily basis, while others have started their own non-profits while others have come home and taken what they experienced and shared it with their churches and in turn, have created orphan care ministries in those churches. The list goes on. It is truly awesome to be seeing and hearing about all these things.

It is a great joy and privilege to be able to be a part of this ministry.

And while yes, short-term missions can be harmful and hurt more than they help - that doesn't mean that ALL of them are and that doesn't mean that just because it's sometimes complicated and hard to sort through what works and doesn't work and what helps and what hurts - that doesn't mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater. These kids are worth our time, our effort, our love. They are worth every dollar and every moment we spend to VISIT them. If our team members get to remind them or tell them for the first time or the hundredth time that Jesus loves them and they are not forgotten, isn't that worth going for? The bible said to go make disciples and I don't know about you but I was made a disciple because seeds were planted and God used people to water those seeds and His love permeated through every one of those people in my life along the way who did the planting and watering. They were people just like you and me and I saw Jesus in them. That's what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Never underestimate the power of planting and watering. Maybe all we really need is a good lesson on gardening.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

You Should Be Overwhelmed...

It's been awhile since I wrote on this blog. I've primarily been blogging on my adoption blog here for the past year. Oh what a year it has been. So much has changed. Actually, almost everything has changed.

At home, I no longer have a roommate and I now have a bedroom ready for a little boy to reside in when that day finally arrives when I get to bring him home (I pray it's soon). I've painted, rearranged and made things child-proofed. The house is ready.

At Visiting Orphans, I'm now the Executive Director, we have several new staff, a new office, a new email system and team sharing site, new phones and phone number, a new fax number, we've got new partnership ministries and some have transitioned out, and I could go on and on about things that are changing daily there.

It is truly a season of transition and change. 

No wonder I'm having dreams about tornadoes completely wiping everything out in sight and yet, there I am unharmed and miraculously, all the other people are unharmed too. I feel like God is reminding me that He's right here through all these changes. The structure may come out looking COMPLETELY different but His people will be ok - He's bringing us through the "storm" so to speak. And even though all this change is good and necessary for God to take things in the direction He's leading, I think most people recognize that change can be hard.

I'm reading a book called "Sun Stand Still" by Steven Furtick right now. Timely, amazing, so very good for me to be reading right now. It is speaking so much to me in my adoption and in my new role at Visiting Orphans and to my heart in the midst of all this change and all this responsibility. I feel like I've been highlighting half the book. This part really spoke to me:
"If you're afraid of some of the gigantic changes you sense God is trying to make in your life, you need to know that your fear is normal. Not only are your fears normal, they're also valid. And they can even serve an important purpose. If you didn't have major fears about the big things God is calling you to do, I'd be worried. The goal of faith isn't to take away your fears but to leverage those fears to create bolder belief. Faith leads you past your fears and reassures you of God's presence. And after a while, you begin to trust that God is going to lift you above the waves this time just like he did last time."

That's a relief. Because I'd be lying if I said I didn't have fears about all this responsibility I have now and more that's coming. I hear this scripture in my head almost daily:  
"For everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be required." -- Luke 12:48.

I feel it. The weight of the much I've been given. And yet I also feel the Lord telling me to stop trying to carry all of it by myself. There is fear of failure as the leader of an organization that sends people to care for orphans and fear of failure as I venture into life as a single mom. And fear in wondering how in the world am I going to do both of those very huge, important things and do them both well. I don't take responsibility lightly. I want to do it well! No wonder I dreamed the other night that I was dead and no one could hear me - the entire dream was spent feeling helpless and voiceless and yet worried about all my responsibilities. I was so upset in the dream. "I can't really be dead. God - send me back - raise me from the dead. I have so much more to do. More that I want to do. I'm about to be a mom to a precious little boy, I have a dog, I have a job to do at Visiting Orphans. I want to be there for my family and friends. Please bring me back. I'm not finished yet." And as frustrating as this dream was, I realized later that there's all these things that I'm "responsible" for and I am honored and thankful to be responsible for them - they are all things I love and am truly passionate about and yet those same things are all things I can't control. Responsibility can be misleading. ME alone, I am not responsible for it ALL, even though I sometimes forget that!!! I need to be faithful to do my part but I do not need to carry it by myself. I have to die to myself and my need or desire to feel like I'm in control. I have to lean into God and HE alone has to be the one to give life to these things. He's teaching me so much in this season. Things that I know I need to learn. Things I know He wants me to learn - now... before I venture into the ultimate responsibility... motherhood. I need to get this.

There are days when I find myself saying "God, are you sure you meant to choose me for all this? Can I really handle it?" And yet another great quote from Sun Stand Still jumps off the page at me:
"When you reflect on God's vision for your life, you should be overwhelmed."

Whew, that's a relief - cause I feel overwhelmed. Not to the point of giving up but just to the point of "whoa, this is a lot!" and that daily realization that I CANNOT nor do I want to do it alone.

“It’s not wrong to feel fear. It is wrong to let that fear have the last word in your life. The people who accomplish the most astounding things for God’s glory aren’t the people who feel the least fear. Often they’re the one who deal with the most intense fear. But instead of letting that fear disable their dreams, they start increasing their capacity for faith. They act on the part of God’s direction they do understand. And they leave the rest up to him.” - Sun Stand Still

That lesson about control and responsibility - I'm starting to get it. I knew adoption was hard and long and unpredictable. It certainly has been. It's heart-wrenching and oh such a lesson in trusting God and letting go of control. In adoption, we are so not in control. Most days, I feel completely helpless. All I can do is pray. And I think that's exactly the place I need to be. So much in life is really an illusion of control. Who are we kidding? We are not the ones in control of much of anything. To fully grasp that and stop trying and to recognize that I can do nothing in all of this to make it go any faster or any smoother - it's hard but at the same time - it's kind of freeing too. I feel like even though this wait has been hard, God is using it to prepare me for being a mom. I know this leaning on God and realizing I can't control things will be a re-occurring theme in my life as a mom. As a soon-to-be-single mom, there are a lot of fears that I have and yet, I've already been seeing God bring other people into my son's life to look out for him, check in on him and love on him until I can bring him home. God is reminding me daily that He's his father and he's watching out for him and that comes in the form of many different people being His hands and feet on a daily basis. I am so thankful for those who are willing to be His hands and feet. Do I want to be the one that gets to be there and meet my son's needs? Of course I do. But right now, I can't be and so I thank God for all those who can and who are willing. And I know that even when he is home and I am caring for him - even then, I'm not meant to do it all alone. It takes a village. And speaking of which - I love this blog by Jen Hatmaker about exactly that:

So maybe it's natural to feel overwhelmed by all of this. And though I should be and I am, at the same time, if it even makes sense, I won't be overwhelmed. I am hearing these song lyrics below daily playing in my head. I should be overwhelmed, but in Christ, I won't be. I hear you Lord - and I'm listening. I know I need to get this. It's only overwhelming if I keep trying to do it by myself. I want to get this. I will get this.

God, I look to You, I won’t be overwhelmed
Give me vision to see things like You do
God, I look to You, You’re where my help comes from
Give me wisdom; You know just what to do 

from the song God, I Look to You
Jenn Johnson/Ian Mcintosh Bethel Music Publishing 2010