Wednesday, December 14, 2022

when Christmas is hard

 This season can be hard. When you're broken or hurting, the celebrations and decorations can just make you hurt more. The Christmas carols remind you of everything and everyone you're missing. The lights bring tears to your eyes. The bright packages just make you think of the one person you can't buy a gift for this year.

The Christmas season can be an almost unbearably hard time when you're in a hard place. And feeling that way when you know everyone else is happy? It can make it worse. You start thinking that you're being a burden to those around you, that you're ruining their Christmas because you aren't happy. After all, "'Tis the season to be jolly," right?

Let me remind you of something--despite what the world has turned Christmas into, that's not what it's about. It isn't about the decorations: snowmen, Rudolph, candy canes, candles, Santa, angels, or twinkling lights. It isn't about the carols. It isn't about the presents. It isn't even about being with family.

Christmas is about a God who loved you so much that He chose to walk with you. It's about Immanuel--God with us. It's about the One who traded the glory of heaven for the heaviness and heartache of this world.

Christmas is about the One who knows all the pain we're going through and makes the choice to walk with us through those pains. It's about the One we can be real with; we don't have to paste on a fake smile and pretend like everything is great:

55 Saying Your name, Eternal One, I called to You
    from the darkness of this pit.
56 Surely You’ve heard me say,
    “Don’t be deaf to my call; bring me relief!”
57 So close when I’ve called out in my distress,
    You’ve whispered in my ear, “Do not be afraid.”
(Lamentations 3:55-57)

Christmas is about the One who chose the hard road for Himself so that He could walk beside you on yours. He knows your heartache and He promises to wipe away your tears. He was in the fiery furnace, the lions' den, the belly of the whale, and the waves in the storm--He's not going to abandon you in this.

So take heart in the hard times. Don't feel like you have to pretend to be happy. Don't worry about how you're "supposed" to feel or act right now.

Instead, let the One who came as Immanuel wrap you in His arms and whisper in your ear. Let Him comfort you in this season. In the middle of the busy-ness and trappings of this time, let Him remind you of the true meaning of Christmas. 

...especially in the hard times.

Monday, December 12, 2022


God's chosen people were waiting. God had promised them a Messiah, and they hadn't seen him yet. There were judges and kings and mighty warriors of God, but not the promised one who would come to redeem Israel. They were waiting for the promise to be fulfilled, for the Anointed One to come and bring peace to the earth. They were waiting for God's promised Messiah to come and set up his kingdom, the kingdom that would never end. They waited for a mighty warrior to come and wipe out Israel's enemies.

2 "The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this."
(Isaiah 9:2-7)

The were waiting, full of expectation. But as is so often the case, what they were promised and what they were expecting weren't quite in line with each other.

The Messiah was a king who chose to step out of the throne room. He chose to set aside His incorruptible body and wrap Himself in the fragile form of a tiny baby.

"Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something
to be used to His own advantage;

rather, He made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness"
(Philippians 2:6-7)

He came into the life of a young girl, a girl willing to do the will of God even though it would make things hard. A young Jewish girl who was pledged in marriage couldn't just show up pregnant--and yet, her answer when the angel appeared to tell her that the impossible was about to happen to her, Mary (or Miryam, to be closer to the Hebrew) responded, "As you have said, let it be done to me." (Luke 1:38)

He came into the life of an honorable man, Joseph (Yosef), whose life was suddenly turned upside down when he learned that the girl he was supposed to marry was pregnant. A man we honestly know very little about, but a man we can assume pursued God. A man who had already decided to divorce Mary privately so he wouldn't disgrace her, then listened to the angel and married her anyway, even though it probably would have meant disgrace for him.

He came to earth not as a mighty warrior or with the benefit of a title or royal family. Instead, He came into a broken world that didn't accept Him and waited for His crown. He waited, not for a crown of gold and jewels, but a crown of thorns. He waited because He knew we needed a Savior for our souls, not just someone who would save the day. He waited because He knew the only way to reconcile us to a holy, perfect God was to come in the humbled form of a human and live a holy, perfect life... with all the bumps and bruises and temptations that we face. He waited because He knew--from the start--that He was born to die as the sacrifice for us.

And now, all of creation waits. We don't wait for a Savior, because He was already given for us and waits for us to receive His gift. Instead, all of creation waits for the eternal restoration of what God created. We wait for the day He will return to earth in glory, the day He will come as the King of Kings and establish His kingdom on the new earth--an earth once again established in God's perfection, but this time a perfection we won't ruin. And like has happened so many times before, I can't help but think that what we expect is different from what God will do.

"19 For all of creation is waiting, yearning for the time when the children of God will be revealed. 20 You see, all of creation has collapsed into emptiness, not by its own choosing, but by God’s. Still He placed within it a deep and abiding hope 21 that creation would one day be liberated from its slavery to corruption and experience the glorious freedom of the children of God." (Romans 8:19-21)

We wait now, not because God wants to see us suffer in a broken world, but because God wants to see all of us come to Him. We wait because He is giving us time:

"Now the Lord is not slow about enacting His promise—slow is how some people want to characterize it—no, He is not slow but patient and merciful to you, not wanting anyone to be destroyed, but wanting everyone to turn away from following his own path and to turn toward God's." (2 Peter 3:9)

"His purpose in all this was that people of every culture and religion would search for this ultimate God, grope for Him in the darkness, as it were, hoping to find Him. Yet, in truth, God is not far from any of us." (Acts 17:27)

We wait in a fallen, broken world because God wants everyone to search for Him and find Him. So today, as we wait for Christmas, I pray we will all remember the weight of waiting, and I pray that those of us who are in the waiting stage--those of us who have already accepted the gift that was sent to all of us at Christmas--will reach out to those who are searching so they will realize that God is waiting for them.

Thursday, November 10, 2022


You may not know it, but back in the midst of the craziness of 2020 our family grew from 4 to 7. It's not really something I talk about a lot, despite how it changed our lives. It may be a surprise if you only know me from my writing here, but I'm a very private person. I'm not good at small talk, but I'm not one for dumping out my entire life story, either (On that note, I once took a train from Toledo to Kansas City and sat next to a girl who had told me most of her life story before we even pulled out of the station...). Part of my silence about our adoption is simply due to the fact that I tend to keep to myself.

Part of being quiet is because I'm still not sure how much of our kids' stories are mine to tell. It's a delicate balance, a tightrope walk of sorts, trying to figure out who in our lives needs to know how much. Some of it is mine to relate simply because I'm a mom who needs to make sure my kids are taken care of. Other parts, though, aren't mine to tell.

One of the biggest reasons I keep quiet, though, is quite simply because I don't like the awkward praise that usually follows after somebody finds out that some of our kids are adopted. I'm sure it's genuine and not meant to make me uncomfortable, but I'm not good at dealing with praise in any situation... let alone in one that's so hard just by its very nature. But any time somebody finds out, they almost immediately say something along the lines of, "Oh wow--that's so amazing! I really admire you for adopting. I could never do something like that." I'm sure there's a good way to handle that and a graceful way to continue the conversation, but I haven't found it yet. Instead I tend to stammer something and change the subject really quickly.

Because honestly? This adoption thing is hard. For that matter, this whole parenting thing is hard. I can't count the number of times I've questioned just what God was thinking when He put these kids in my care. I wonder on an almost daily basis if we're messing them up. 

Are we too strict? After all, our kids have daily chores, limited screen time, no social media accounts, no cell phones, high academic standards to meet, are ready for bed and in their bedrooms by 9...

Or too lenient? They watch things I'm not a fan of, don't have to keep their rooms clean, don't have a bedtime on the weekends, listen to music I don't screen, have friends I'm not a big fan of, have (almost) total control over how they dress...

I'm sure I'm not the only one out there trying to navigate the parenting world and sometimes feeling like I'm just wandering aimlessly. And while parenting is, by its very nature, excruciatingly hard at times, mixing that with adoption brings on an entirely new set of challenges.

Because the truth is, not every adoption story is the result of a young mom who lovingly makes the choice to give up her baby because she knew someone else could provide a better life. I'm sure those stories are filled with challenges of their own, hard things that those kids deal with and that their adoptive parents have to walk through with them. But many, many kids come out of hard places and have huge amounts of ugly baggage they carry with them. Then they get put with other people who have baggage of their own, and together a whole bunch of broken people have to figure out how to navigate life together.

 Kids who have been in foster care have hard histories many of us can never imagine. Older kids, like mine, have been forced to navigate hard roads where they've developed unhealthy coping and survival mechanisms that will take years (maybe even a lifetime) to unlearn. Their cognitive and emotional ages very rarely match their biological age, and the difference is more pronounced the longer they had to be in the system. They've had adults who were supposed to protect them let them down instead, often more times than they can count. They've had to figure out ways to try to protect themselves, which usually means they've built walls around their hearts that could rival those of any fortress ever erected. They've learned to manipulate adults to get what they need. They've focused on survival for so long that the idea of just living life as a kid is a foreign concept--trusting your life to someone else seems like a dangerous idea.

And those of us who come alongside them in the mess? We aren't saints. We aren't heroes. We're broken, imperfect people trying to learn to dance to music we can't hear, following the lead of kids who have never been taught the steps. We are struggling through tough choices on a daily basis, trying to figure out how to be parents to kids who, in a perfect world, never should have faced life in a different family, never should have been ours. At the same time, we're asking ourselves whether we made life better or worse for our biological kids--in protecting one set of kids, are we opening the other set up to pain they never should have experienced?

 We deal with pain, anger, fear, frustration, and disbelief on a daily basis, both from ourselves and our kids. We struggle with exhaustion, confusion, and feelings of incompetence and ineptitude. We question if we're doing the right thing, if we're helping, and if we're anything more than just a landing place. We spend sleepless nights questioning everything, trying to figure out the right way to move forward after what feels like a thousand steps back.

But at the same time, we deal with hope. We see glimpses of who our kids are becoming. We see 5 kids treat each other as if they've been siblings for their whole lives, picking on each other one minute and standing up for each other the next. We see unguarded smiles that were incredibly rare just a year ago. We see growth that may not be obvious to the rest of the world but means the world to us, even when it's just a single step forward.

Honestly? We're dealing with the same questions and concerns and issues that parents have faced forever. Some of those are magnified, but that's what we signed up for and what we knew (though couldn't have fully understood) we were getting into. I know it's well-meaning, but please don't tell me how amazing we are for adopting. Instead, do what you do with any other parent--ask about our kids and give us the opportunity to do a little bit of bragging--or venting, depending on the moment.


Wednesday, November 2, 2022

"protecting" our kids?

 Last Christmas, my parents gifted all of us season passes to Silver Dollar City. A couple weeks ago, we decided to surprise the kids with a day at the amusement park. It was a beautiful day--we let them sleep in, then took them out for burgers before heading up to Branson. The park was all decked out for fall, full of carved pumpkins, fall colors, and the tastes of the season. The rides were open after dark--and oh my goodness, there's a whole different feeling when you're on a roller coaster and can't see the track ahead of you! We had a wonderful time making family memories (though as is always the case, things weren't quite as perfect as I had hoped: notice that one kid is missing from the pictures because he had no interest in going).

We had arranged for a day off of work in advance, then gave the kids an unexpected day off of school. What we hadn't realized, though, was that one of our kids missed a test that day. When he got back to school the next week and asked his teacher about it, he was told that it was an unexcused absence and he couldn't make it up--he would have to take a zero. He was mad and we were frustrated, but it was our fault. We knew the policy and should have thought about it in advance. We messed up, and his missing grade was the consequence.

We could have gotten mad. We could have gone to the teacher and tried to convince her to let him take the test. We could have done what many parents today do and go over her head to the principal and convinced the office to mark his absence as excused. We could have thrown a fit and gotten worked up and threatened and most likely gotten our way.

The thing is, though, we were the ones that messed it up, not the teacher or the school. Our son shouldn't have had to pay the price for our mistake with his grade, but that was the school policy and we knew it. So instead, he had to learn a costly lesson that wasn't really his to learn at the moment but an important one anyway--you have to stand by your principles even when there's a cost. It wouldn't have been right for us to go in and throw a fit to get his absence excused. Thankfully, that grade was at the very beginning of the 9-weeks. It will take some work on his part, but he'll be able to pull his grade back up to an A by the end of the semester.

As parents, we all want to make life easier for our kids. We want to rush to the rescue--fix the grade, stop a kid from being picked on, always deliver the forgotten homework or forgotten uniform. Sometimes, that's the right choice. Sometimes it is our duty as parents to step in and fix bad situations.

Other times, though, we as parents need to take a step back. While it's normal to always want to come to the rescue, it isn't what's best for our kids. We can't go ahead of them making sure nothing ever goes wrong, and we can't follow along behind them fixing every mistake. Failure is a part of life, and part of our job as parents is to make sure that our kids are prepared to face failure and have the tools they need to get through to the other side.

Failure isn't meant to be final, especially for kids. Sometimes that failure comes in the form of a test they didn't study for, or riding the bench on the ball team, or getting made fun of for something they did in front of their peers. Sometimes it's missing out on something they really wanted to do because they didn't meet the requirements. In the middle of all of those things, our job as parents is to guide our kids to handle them the right way. If they see and hear us blame the teacher or the coach or talk about how we're going to make sure those other kids get in trouble, they will definitely learn something. Our kids learn from everything we say and do.

The problem is, what are they learning? They are learning not to take responsibility. They are learning to blame other people for their problems. They are learning that it doesn't matter if you work hard for something--it's the people who throw the biggest fit who get the results they want.

I'm not sure what the reason is, but our generation is raising the next generation to be entitled and lazy. We are raising kids who think they can do whatever they want without consequence. We are teaching our kids that you throw a fit to get what you want--something that past generations of parents worked hard to get their kids to stop doing as toddlers. We are teaching them that merit and hard work are meaningless, because everybody "deserves" the same thing.

We are supposed to be raising the generation that will take our place as leaders in the world. We should be teaching them to work hard and earn the things they want instead of expecting those things to be handed to them. We should be teaching them about honesty, integrity, and values. We should be teaching them responsibility instead of how to get away with not doing things they are supposed to. We should be teaching them to make the right choice and do the right thing even when the consequences aren't what we want.

Until we start doing that, we will be failing our kids.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Christians in public school?

 I'm sure you've seen all the craziness that's surrounding public schools right now. They've been in the spotlight for quite a while--test scores have been on the decline for much longer than anyone wants to admit, then parents were called domestic terrorists for standing up to express their concern at school board meetings. You've probably seen the videos put out by some of the individuals to whom parents have entrusted their children 5 days a week, videos that are alarming at best and in some cases downright scary. You've heard of critical race theory being pushed in classrooms, of the 1619 project being pushed instead of true American history, of some educators pushing the idea that 2+2=4 is racist and that expecting kids to behave in class and do their work is simply a result of white supremacist thinking.

If you're a Christian, I'm sure you've also seen people calling for you to pull your kids out of public school. Just today I read a post with a list of questions they wanted parents to ask themselves, questions that pointed out how your kids are in danger of indoctrination in public schools and reminded parents that the "lifelong well-being of your precious child" was at stake.

I understand that homeschooling is a calling for some. As a former public school teacher, though, I also understand that homeschooling can be used as an excuse for parents who don't want to mess with school... but that's a whole different issue. There is no doubt in my mind that as parents we are responsible for the education of our children. As Christian parents, that's even a biblical directive:

"Teach a child how to follow the right way;
    even when he is old, he will stay on course."
(Proverbs 22:6)

"Make the things I’m commanding you today part of who you are. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you’re sitting together in your home and when you’re walking together down the road. Make them the last thing you talk about before you go to bed and the first thing you talk about the next morning."
(Deuteronomy 6:6-7)

There are many who believe this means that Christian parents have no business having their kids in public schools to begin with, that the directives outlined here mean that parents should be solely responsible for teaching their kids or that their kids should only be enrolled in private, Christian schools.

Let me tell you something as a former private, Christian school teacher as well--just because a school has that int heir title doesn't mean they are getting a high quality education, either from a biblical perspective or a purely academic one. Some of those titles are little more than words.

I'm not here to tell you that you should homeschool, or that your kids should be in public school, or that they should be in private school. I truly believe those kinds of decisions are between each family and God, and I think He calls different people to different things.

What I would like to suggest, though, is that telling all Christians to pull their kids out of public schools may not be the right answer.

As Christians, we are called to be salt and light. Whether we like it or not, if our kids are followers of Christ they are called to the same thing. I'm sure at first you think, "Of course I want my kids to be salt and light!" But think, for a minute, about what that means.

Being salt means fighting corruption and decay in this fallen world. That's not an easy thing to do, and it means the salt has to first be exposed to the corruption and decay. As much as we want to protect our kids from the ugly parts of life, if we want them to be willing and able to take a stand against those things they will have to know about them. You can't fight an evil you don't know about. We can't expect our kids to be mighty warriors for God if they haven't ever seen the weapons the enemy uses.

Being salt also means being a preservative. Just like salt is used to protect and preserve food, our kids need to be the protectors and preservers of those around them. They need to be able to step in when they see their friends and classmates in danger from something that could hurt them, being the voice of reason that points others in the right direction--toward God.

The same goes for being the light. A light shining only in the presence of other lights isn't really all that useful. It's only when you put that tiny flame in a dark place that you truly see it shine. If we want our kids to be lights that God can use to point people to Him, they will have to be able to shine in the darkness.

I'm like everybody else--I would much rather keep my kids protected from all the bad things in this world. If I could build a wall around our property and keep all the bad outside of that wall, I would probably do it in a heartbeat. If I did, though, what would happen to my kids once they grew up? What would happen when they stepped outside of that wall for the first time and were expected to go out into the world? What would happen if they were bombarded by all the evils of this world at one time, right as they were trying to spread their wings on their own for the first time?

Those precious babies of mine would probably crash and burn.

So instead, as much as I hate it, I'll let my kids be introduced to the evils of this world while they are still safely under my protection at home. I'll have those hard talks about why our expectations for them are so much different from the expectations placed on most of their friends. I'll explain how the values of the world contradict the values of God, and remind them:

"Don’t you know that making friends with this corrupt world order is open aggression toward God? So anyone who aligns with this bogus world system is declaring war against the one true God."
(James 4:4)

It may change in the future, but for now my kids will stay in public school. I will pray for them to have the faith and the strength to stand up for God's truth, for them to be salt and light in an ugly, hostile world.

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