Sunday, October 18, 2015

True Love Isn't Conditional

At church, we've been studying the book of Exodus.  Today, we focused on Moses' response to God calling him (from the burning bush, if you remember the story) to go convince the Egyptian king to free the millions of Israelite slaves.

God tells Moses to go AND follows up his command with promises and encouragement:

  • I will lead you.
  • The elders will accept your message.
  • I will raise my hand and strike the Egyptians.
  • He (the king) will let you go.

Moses's response?  "What if they don't believe me?"

God has just said, "The elders will accept your message."  Obviously, Moses doesn't think God is telling the truth.

So God preforms THREE miracles to encourage Moses.  Each miracle proves that nothing is more powerful than God.  No fear, no seemingly-unbeatable enemy, no national superpower. (Read the story in Exodus chapters 3 and 4.)

Moses' response? "Lord, I'm not good with words. I've never been. My words get all messed up."

Does God strike Moses dead for his doubt?  His pride-disguised-as-humility?  His blatant defiance? No.  He keeps encouraging Moses and reminding Moses who HE (God) is and Who is doing the work here.
"Who makes a person's mouth? Who decides who will speak and who won't? Who will hear and who won't? Who will see and who won't?  It's me! Go!   I'll be with you as you speak and I'll tell you what to say."

Surely now, Moses will say, "Okay, God. I got it! Sorry I was slow on the uptake."  Nope.  Moses pleaded, "Lord, please! Send anyone else."

Other places in scripture say God is slow to anger.  (Not "He doesn't get angry"'s just slow-coming.)  This time, The LORD becomes angry with Moses.  Strike-with-lightning time, right?!  Moses pulled the last straw!  No.  While God is angry, he encourages Moses yet again and even gives him tools to help him obey.  "Okay, your brother Aaron.  He's good at speaking. He's coming this way.  You still have to go talk, but I'll let you tell Aaron what to say and he can be the spokesman."

Why retell this story?  Because it's the perfect picture of grace.  A picture of the Gospel.  A foreshadowing of the Grace we receive through Christ and the Grace we must be offering others.  Notice, in Moses stubborn refusal, God doesn't make a sign that says, "God hates doubters," then goes and waves it in Moses' face. He didn't say, "Whelp, you're not obeying me, so down to hell you go."  He didn't sit back and post on facebook about how messed up Moses was.  He was patient.  He allowed Moses to experience the feelings he was having, even if those feelings were a direct affront to God.  Sinful.  Look back at the story. Moses is basically telling God, "I don't believe You can do anything you just promised me."  Blasphemy!  He's saying God's a liar!  He's arguing with Holy God, right there as physically close as anyone has been to God thus far.

Why is this story SO relevant to my life today?  This Grace supernaturally led me to offer Grace over the past 2 years.  It will sustain me in the future when I want to just follow my anger, my apathy, my pride.

My oldest child came to me with a lot of hurtful statements over the past couple of years.  She shared a lot of scary feelings.  She had a lot of dark thoughts.  She engaged in dangerous behaviors.  She wanted her life to be over.  She saw no reason to live.  She didn't feel loved or worthy.  She didn't want to follow God.  She thought He was a jerk.  She wanted to live life her own way.

Parents, I can encourage you with what I learned over this trial.  And I know I will need to follow my own advice again in the future.  I don't know how people do this without the strength of the Holy Spirit, because none of the "good" things I did were naturally from me.  I messed up a lot!  I said a lot of wrong things.  But I kept remembering God's mercy and grace He gave me when I was running far from Him, living completely contrary to His will AND trying to cover it all up.  Sinning hypocrite.  But He showed me Grace.  He loved me.  He didn't give up on me.  He didn't let me go.

What I learned as a Christian mom with an angry child who engaged in some risky behaviors and felt like she hated God?

And when you can't pray, rely on the prayers of others.  My mom and dad prayed a LOT.  I needed to know they were, because honestly, there were days I agreed with my daughter and felt like God was playing some cruel trick on our family.  Days I doubted deeply.
Let me add, don't tell your suffering kid (or parents of suffering kids) to "just pray."  It's trite.  Christians know they are supposed to pray.  They probably are praying and still in the middle of severe suffering.  Prayer doesn't just magically solve everything, so don't speak to someone as if it does.  Instead of telling your kid to pray more,  YOU quietly pray more for them.  If God leads you, pray out loud for them.

Allow your child doubt.
God can handle it!  See the Moses story?  There are more stories like this throughout the Bible.  God doesn't hate doubters.  He embraces them.  Doubt leads to decisions. When your child tells you about their doubt or even unbelief, build your OWN faith by trusting that God will reveal Himself.  I only asked my child to keep questioning, keep telling God she didn't believe or didn't think she believed, or felt like He was mean.  I asked her to keep the dialogue open, to read the Bible for herself, not relying on what society thinks about God or how Christians behaved (which is sometimes heartbreakingly embarrassing), but on the actual Word of God.  I told her that her faith could not be her mom's faith.  It had to be hers.  With God, though, you have to decide.  Saying you're "agnostic" means you've made a decision to not believe.  If your kid is doubting, it means she is thinking.  That's a good thing.  To tell her it was okay to doubt, question, and even express her anger with God TO God, required trust on my part.

Trust the Holy Spirit
Ask the Holy Spirit to guide YOU.  Don't first ask God to change your kid. Ask Him to change YOU. To show you how He wants you to respond.  When He wants you to just be quiet. He will show you.  Do what He leads.  Follow His example from scripture.  Then of course, you can ask God to change her heart.  Just always keep in mind that you aren't God.  You aren't the Holy Spirit.  What you think is right for your kid might not be.  So when you pray for God to change your kid, include the acknowledgement that you want your child to follow God's plan, even if that veers off the path of what you think they should do.

Love your kid where she is, no matter her behaviors.
Are you cutting off love or affection to your kid?  Are you embarrassed by her behavior?  Worried about what others will think of you?  Yeah, that's God trying to teach you something about YOURSELF, not your kid.  LOVE your kid.  Show it, even when she's pushing it away, yelling in your face, refusing love, or even engaging in "embarrassing" behavior.  Keep showing it in whatever ways you can. Ask God to help you with your own pride.  If your child is being destructive to herself or others, there have to be consequences and boundaries, but never withdraw your love, affection, and time from her.

Focus on the heart, not outward behaviors, whether good or bad.
While my child had some severe outward behaviors going on, I could see her heart.  With her mouth (and hands...ASL), she was saying, "If this is who God is, then I hate Him."  In her heart, she was questioning.  Wondering why God allows such bad things to happen.  Don't we ALL do this?  The answer is yes.  With her behavior, she was hurting herself, hating herself.  In her heart, she was asking for help in her despair.  In the moment, it seems nearly impossible to look past the outward behavior, but I beg you just take a breath and think through it.  If you can't understand the motivation for your kids' behavior, seek out people who can help you.

Rely on others.
I had friends who had similar experiences speak into Hannah's life and into mine as her mom.  They helped me understand things that were completely foreign to me.  I had a friend who mentored Hannah, taking her out for coffee every week.  We relied on two weekly counselors, in-patient and out-patient therapies, youth pastors, friends, and school staff.  God made us to be in community.  Let others help you, then be there for others whenever you can.  Again, this requires laying down of pride.  It's worth it!

Today, my questioning, doubting daughter Hannah was baptized, publicly announcing her faith in God and the work Christ did on her behalf.  I have 100% confidence that her faith is her own.  I'm praying for my other 4 kids to develop their own faith.  God is worth it.

Maybe you don't believe in God.  Maybe you're not sure.  Maybe you feel like God is a jerk.  I would ask you to do what I asked Hannah.  Just wonder.  Even if you think you're talking to an empty sky, ask God if He's there.  Ask Him to show Himself to you.  Read some scripture.  Don't look to our American "Christian culture," media portrayal of Christianity, or even popular pastors.  You'll be gravely disappointed.  I'm sorry if you've been hurt by any of these groups in the past.  Read some of the actual Bible.  Maybe John or Philippians.  Question, read, seek.  God already knows your name.  He can handle your questioning.  And He's worth seeking.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

No Good Can Come From This

God is good.  All the time.

There was this mom of three boys.  Just as her oldest was graduating high school and her youngest was beginning high school...when she could start carving out some real time for herself and her husband, she felt the lump.  Breast cancer.  Aggressive. Chemo.  Dense dosing.  Neuropathy?  Not good news for someone whose job relies on her hands.

There was this other mom of three boys. She loved them more than words.  At the same time, she prayed for a girl.  She felt strongly in her heart that her family included a little girl.  But it just never happened.  A few false alarms.  Miscarriages.  Maybe she was wrong about the girl.  After all, she's over 40 by now.

There was this teenage boy.  He had been orphaned and abused for years on end.  Finally adopted, he despised the people who cared for him and who showed him unconditional love.  "What's love, anyway? I don't even know what that means."  Trust no one. Get close to no one.  Look out for number one; isn't that what everyone else is doing?  Your so-called "love" must have a catch.

There was this teenage girl.  She hated herself.  She thought everyone else hated her, too.  She saw herself as a burden, not a joy.  She would hurt herself daily, leaving lasting scars as reminders.  She just wanted her life to be over and she made attempts to end it.  She hated God.  "Fine, 'God doesn't cause evil to happen, He just allows it.' Well, even if He's just allowing this, He's an asshole."

But God.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4–5)

This week, the first mom gets this news: "Your MRI indicates a complete resolution" of the tumor.

The second mom has not only become a mom to a precious girl through fostering,  but 7 days ago, gave birth to a (surprise!) baby girl.

The boy?  He's beginning to know and accept love.  His entire countenance has altered and his heart is softening.  Today, for the first time, he stood on the other side of the planet, face-to-face with the biological brother that, less than 5 months ago, he didn't even know he had. (They've talked twice a day every day since summer.  I wish you could see the photo of these brothers together.  I don't think I've ever seen a smile that genuine in my entire life.)

The girl is finding herself.  She's realizing her value.  She still struggles, but fights through it.  She has her family, true forever-friends, her amazing school,  her church family.  She's experiencing True Love.  And she's chosen to accept that Love.  Not only accept it, but proclaim it and follow Christ in baptism this coming Sunday.

The timeline of suffering in these examples ranges from 1 to 18 YEARS.  God certainly doesn't follow my preferred timeline or methods.  And I won't be so Pollyanna that I fail to mention that sometimes, the cancer kills, the child is never born or even dies, the orphan doesn't know love, and the girl ends her life.  Faith IS trusting when something is beyond understanding.   Faith is holding on to hope even in the darkness.

Each of these stories are from a small handful of people I consider my closest friends.  The girl, of course, is my own daughter.  Let me tell you, some of these stories include vile ugliness I won't even write about.  I can't adequately express the dark places we have been.  There have been times when it seems there is absolutely no light.  Hopelessness.  Despair.  Not everything in each of our lives has turned out the way we want.  Even today, there are still unanswered "whys."  We all still have major struggles, setbacks, and pain ahead of us.

But God.  But God.  But God offers an oasis in the desert.  He offers grace in the midst of us cursing Him. When I find myself running from Him or feeling like he's turned His back, all I have to do is stop and see he's right there.  Beside me.  In front of me.  Carrying me.  It reminds me of a song we sing/sign at church.  I can't get through the lyrics without tears because of the depth of Truth:

Behold the Man upon the cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
call out among the scoffers
It as my sin that held Him there 
until it was accomplished 
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished.

God, just like our Prayer Request page from the adoption, I want to use this week to remind me of Your faithfulness despite what seems to make no sense and even appears cruel at times.  Thank You for being patient with my doubt, my anger, my apathy. Thank You, God for such crazy-amazing reminders over the past 7 days.  It's truly been an incredible thing to witness.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  ...So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:7-9; 16-18)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Adoptive Parents: Write It Down!

Adoptive parents who have just begun the process often ask for advice. I have a lot, but one thing I can't stress enough: record as much as you can.  Write it down, blog it, vlog it, photograph it, do something to keep a record of the process and especially your days leading up to meeting, meeting, and then adjusting.  

Every July for the past four years, I go back and peruse my blogs and photos from July 2011 and the year leading up to that time.  There are always details I've forgotten, stories that make me laugh, and pictures that remind me how little and frightened, yet brave the boys were when they were literally pushed into our arms.  The boys love looking through the old photos, too.  They have never tired of their adoption stories.  Every time we talk about it, more questions are answered and more questions are left unanswered.  The more the boys understand about adoption, the more they can realize that there is much about their first two and three years that we simply don't know; there are stories we have that are likely fabricated or at least embellished.  This is why every single scrap of information, even what at the time may have seemed insignificant, is of great value to the boys.  They have two and three years of sketchy history, so every detail I recorded of the year leading up to the adoption and the years since are becoming more precious to them as they grow older.  

Today marks four years since we adopted Travis; four years since we were first The Brown Seven. Here are some memories:


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Jellystone Park Hill Country

In Kentucky 2012
A few years ago, on an RV road trip to Louisville, Kentucky for the NAD Conference, we stopped at a Jellystone RV Park in Mammoth Caves and had the time of our lives! (Except for Ken, who was sick that day.)

I was surprised to learn that Texas has several Jellystone Parks, as I hadn't heard of them before our road trip in 2012.  The Brown Family needed a quick getaway.  While we are SO ready to go on a cruise again, we've recently replaced a vehicle and leased a new home, so our savings is sparse.  When we saw the Living Social deal for Jellystone Park Hill Country, we jumped at the opportunity!

In Texas 2015
Check-in is at 3pm, but in our usual style, we were running behind our goal to leave Austin by 3:00.  Around 3:30, we got a courtesy call from Jellystone, asking if we were on our way and still planning to be there. They gave us instructions on how to check ourselves in since we would be arriving after their closing time of 5:00. We left Austin at 4:00, which put us at Jellystone at about 10 after 5:00. Fortunately, the staff was still there and checked us in!  Whew!

Living Social gave us a s'mores gift bag, complete with charcoal.  Jellystone gave me a Mother's Day pocket mirror.  Free swag! I'll take it!

We drove up to our cabin, which had parking for two, a fire pit, a grill, and covered patio with picnic table.

Inside this "Deluxe 2-Bedroom Cabin," we had 2 bedrooms, each with one queen bed, a set of twin bunkbeds, and a full bathroom.  The common area housed a full kitchen, large dining table with benches, a sleeper sofa, and cable TV, which I wouldn't have minded being without.

The kitchen was stocked with pots, pans, a baking sheet, measuring cups, serving bowls, dishes and utensils.  It was a truly complete kitchen with oven, range, microwave and coffee maker.  I said we went camping; I didn't say we were roughing it.

The kids' first stop was the jumping pillow. With a thunderstorm predicted and storm clouds looming, we decided to get outside and stay there until the sun set or the storms let loose.  Jumping worked up a muggy sweat, so we headed a few steps over to the pool.  Between the pool and jumping pillow, a huge construction project is going on.  They are building a new water feature much like those you see at Great Wolf Lodge or Hawaiian Falls.  This new water feature is due to open in July of this year.  If you want to see photos of the planned construction, as well as all the photos from our trip, check them out here.

Splashing in the shallow end.
The stormclouds loomed, but the storm never came. Yay!

After swimming, we headed back up to the cabin for taco salad.  Thursday, we spent the day jumping, swimming, and exploring.  We took a quick jaunt out of the park to see the Guatalupe River, but ended up finding Canyon Lake Dam. It was gorgeous!  (See photos)  I'm sure there is much more to explore in that area, but we had come for a slow-paced, low-key getaway, so headed back to camp to more relaxing.  (Jellystone isn't the only camping resort in the area. You can read my sister's blog for a brief review of Hill Country RV Resort.)

Jellystone has a pretty rad laser tag arena.  We didn't play because we were there mid-week, so there wasn't enough staff to run the game.  They said we could ask and they might get it all set up, but we weren't that motivated to play.  They also had pedal cars for rent, but after seeing some other people ride them, we didn't think it would be worth the $5 per seat, per half-hour.  We stuck to what we were enjoying the most: swimming and jumping.

We bought some fire starters for $1 in the gift shop. We enjoyed grilling burgers and, of course, assembling s'mores.

Because of the season and weekday stay, we were almost alone in the camp.  For this trip, we enjoyed the solitude, but decided it would be fun to come back in August of 2016 for the Water War Weekend, like we had enjoyed in Kentucky.  There wasn't an empty campsite that weekend and it was a blast!

We highly recommend Jellystone Canyon Lake. It's an excellent getaway for Austin or San Antonio families, as the camp is only about an hour away from either city.  As for the other Jellystones, they are each independently-owned, but the two we've stayed in have been clean, well-run, and lots of fun!

I must thank God for two major blessings on this trip. Literally on our way to Canyon Lake, we received a completely unexpected check that covered our stay. In addition, storms were predicted with a 60-80% chance all weekend long, but it never did more than sprinkle for a few minutes 2 or 3 times.  We had decided we would find fun, rain or shine, but were happy that we didn't have to settle for a rain-soaked vacation. It was just what we needed!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Grow Old, Don't Want!

If the last post was titled "Language Boom 2," this one should be titled "Boom Boom POW!"  Sorry it's been so long since I last posted.  Life has happened and blogging was put on the back burner for a while.

We continue to see gains in the boys' language development, especially Travis'.  I'll share with you a story:

Last night, after Ken, the girls and I had been away for the weekend at the Empowered to Connect Conference (amazing, by the way), I was putting the boys to bed and reading a couple of books.  We began discussing age and how they both have birthdays coming up in the next few months.  I told them they are growing way too fast!  I pushed down on the top of their heads and said, "Stop it!! Stop growing!"  They both giggled and stood up on their tip-toes to get as high as possible.  I told them that they will eventually be taller than me.  Travis seemed curious at this and said, "But you'll always be older."
"Yes, I'll always be older.  Just like with your oldest sister. She's taller than me, but I'm older."  Then I counted with him, "You're 6 and I'm 40. When you're 7, I'll be 41."  Then I proceeded to sign simultaneously our ages as the years pass.  (That's something only signed languages can do, by the way. You can't count two different sets of numbers in spoken languages. ASL rocks!)
As I counted him up to 16 and me 50, he grew more and more somber, even sad.  I asked, "What's wrong?"  He shrugged and scowled.  "You look sad."  He whimpered the cutest little stifled cry and signed, "GROW-OLDER, I DON'T-WANT."

"Everyone gets older every year. We all grow up.  Why don't you want to grow up?"

"GROW-OLDER, I DIE. I DON'T-WANT."  Then he buried his head in my chest and hugged me tight.

Oh my mama heart!!

I hugged him and when he leaned back to visit again, I told him he didn't have to worry about dying. I reassured him that people live a long time.  (This wasn't the time to talk about how some people die young.)  We talked about our soul (had to clarify we weren't talking about a spooky ghost) and how we will always live and that God will always be close and we'll always be family. He proceeded to tell me that he didn't want to go to the hospital and die. We had a conversation about growing up and families.  He had just spent the weekend with my 70 year-old parents at the house, so I asked, "Nana and Pappy are very, very old (snicker) and are they dead?"  He answered, "Yes."

Okay. Let's rephrase that.  "NANA, PAPPY, *NOW* ALIVE, DEAD, WHICH?"
He answered, "Alive, but Pappy went to the hospital again and again."

Posing with his giant Easter bunny. Has only eaten the ears.
Wow.  I didn't realize he even thought about that.  So we continued to talk about how people get sick and go to the hospital, but that doesn't mean they are dead.  Then we looked at family photos and talked about my and Ken's parents and how they are all still living even though we are 40.  He was looking at a photo of himself with Grandma and Grandpa Brown from two years ago.  He described every detail about the photo, "That's Grandma Brown and that's Grandpa Brown and they gave me a train with a remote control. Grandma Brown hugged me."  He acted out the entire scene as if it had just happened. I'm glad he remembers and can recall and express his memories.

Tian with his bunny. It was eaten in 3 days.
(He did share some.)
Travis, Tian and I talked for an hour about families and growing up. Tian informed me that he will marry Alexis and that he "can't wait to be married!"  (Her dad better watch out now!) Travis expressed that he did not want to have babies.  When I asked why,  he honestly answered, "Because they cry and cry. I don't like it."  Maybe he and my older niece can move in together to a "no kids allowed" neighborhood. Watch and they will be the cousins with the most kids.

I can't tell you how much I love these talks and these boys!