I watched my niece Riley Elizabeth enter this world. What’s crazy is that her birth means the world to a handful of people, but most of the world was processing the royal wedding or the death of Osama Bin Laden when she was fighting for life. I watched my sister’s body as it was stretched to the breaking point, sacrificing herself for the purpose of something greater. It was probably one of the most amazing moments of my life–to be there with them at such an intimate moment.
I drove up to the birthing center just a few hours before her birth and spent the time praying for Lisa, Matthew and for Riley. I did not ask God to make it a painless birth. I mean, it’s gonna hurt. But I asked for endurance and strength for Lisa. The verse that kept coming to mind is Hebrews 12:2 “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…” That was the picture and the image I had for Lisa–that for the joy set before her she would endure this momentary suffering. And as the time wore on and she pushed and pushed and pushed, it was the knowledge she was fighting for this precious child that gave her the strength to endure. And in one crazy, awe-inspiring moment the suffering abated and Riley was placed in her mother’s arms for the very first time.
God gives us pictures and images. He knows that we can’t know him unless he reaches down to us and relates to us in ways that we can understand. He makes himself knowable to us. He uses language and experiences we can understand that are pictures of a heavenly reality. So I watched my sister give birth; but I was exhorted to remember that this world is momentary and fleeting. And the suffering I might experience is only for a time–and there is greater joy waiting. How do I persevere? I copy my sister–I fix my eyes on what is waiting for me. For her, at that moment, it was Riley. For me, and for all my days, I fix my eyes on Jesus–he is the one who founded and the one who will perfect my faith. I copy him, as he endured the cross for the joy that was set before him. So I will endure, by his grace, and wait for the joy that is waiting for me.
This is a letter to my sisters, especially to Lisa.
This weekend my dad and Chris came to visit. While they were here they requested that we all go out to eat to celebrate Lisa’s birthday. When they first mentioned this to me, my immediate response was, “Hey! What about me?!” as my birthday falls 20 days after hers. But I decided to suffer in silence and just go with it. I could be humble, like Jesus.
It wasn’t too much longer that my (sin) nature revealed itself for what it was. Saturday they wanted to take us to Bed, Bath, & Beyond for Lisa to pick out her birthday present. Beforehand my dad mentioned to me that they wanted to buy me new dinnerware. After six years of marriage Doug and I are down to four plates, counting the three they bought us two summers ago, so a new set would be amazing. As soon as we entered the store Dad directed Lisa over to the cookware section and Chris started explaining some things to her. Turns out she was getting a new set of cookware. Instantaneously everything good evaporated and I was consumed with jealousy. My dad said, “Why don’t you go look at the plates?” and I walked over to that section like I was being punished. Are you kidding me?! I couldn’t see anything else for the next 20 minutes. I didn’t even enjoy looking at plates. It took getting seriously carsick, which never happens to me, so I had to go to the bathroom at the next store so Jesus could get me alone to bring this to light. He called it jealousy.
He called it hating my sister. All I could do was bow my head and say, “Yes. It’s true.” I confessed. I repented. And now it seems almost laughable–except that it’s evil, dark and sinful. I was so focused on what I wasn’t getting, that I completely missed the good thing I was getting. I was incapable of enjoying my own unique, amazing gift. The plates I picked out are perfect, but I was so ensnared in my sin that I couldn’t enjoy the gift, or the the ones who gave me the gift. This jealousy has been the lens through which I’ve looked at the world.
It took 27 (almost 28) years for me to understand. I say I love my sisters. But when good things happen to them all my good feelings toward them evaporated. I can’t stand it when they get something that I’m not getting. That is not love. I blamed them. I hated them. And that’s just where it started. I have hated you too. I hate you for having the things I want. I hate you for being “ahead” of me. I hate you for being smarter, prettier, funnier, more athletic, a better writer, more godly. The list goes on and on and on. I’ve been so focused on what I don’t have, that I haven’t enjoyed the gifts I do have, or enjoyed God who has given all these good things. All I can do is confess, repent and say BUT GOD (Ephesians 2:4). I am still jealous. I still hate more than I love. But I am clinging to Jesus. He is my only hope to escape this body of sin and of death.
Doug and I are rarely on the same page. When we are pursuing something at the same time with the same amount of passion its almost miraculous. We’re so different that it seems like God has to overcome a lot of ourselves to bring us to a place of unity. Whenever that happens for us, it’s a pretty good indication this thing is from Him; it’s amazing when it happens. These moments, or seasons, give us a glimpse of what our marriage can be like. It show us that it is something worth fighting for, something worth working toward. Most recently I found out about two kids who might be available for adoption. I got their pictures, showed them to Doug and our adoption process kicked into high gear. We fell in love. We began a three month long pursuit for these kids. We believed God was going to bring them home to us, and that He was leading us to pray that in faith. We had others come alongside us and confirm this. And early December their adoption into another family was completed. We were heartbroken. It was, and kind of still is, a dark time. We had felt God bringing us together on this, asking us to pray with faith and to believe him for this…and it failed. He took them away. I went to Uganda in order to let Jesus find me and heal me. A bit extreme, but God was sovereign over the timing and this trip was more than just about me. I still don’t entirely understand why we had to go through this, but God is so good. God brought us to this place and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. My heart broke. The worst thing that could have happened, happened. And God was enough at the end. I cried. And he met me in that place and spoke love into my life–His love.
I can’t see the big picture and all the parts woven together. To most, it probably looks like Doug and I allowed ourselves to get our hopes up and then were hurt and you can say “well, duh.” But the trend I have been made sensitive to lately is the suffering that goes into adding children to a family. Even in preparing for biological children there are no guarantees. We live in a fallen, broken world and infertility and miscarriages are their own unique grief that some of us will never understand. In adoption the journey requires so much of ourselves. And while it’s possible to hold yourself back and wait until the safest possible moment to give your heart away THAT is not gospel love. Adoption is full of anticipation, joy, and sorrow. We have friends who have been waiting for six years for their little girl from China. Another family fell in love with a little girl in Uganda. They prayed for her and tried to bring her home, and they have no idea where she is, or if she is safe. Their hearts are still broken for her. Another couple got a call from a hospital in Memphis asking if they were interested in a little girl who was just born. They said, “Yes!” made the drive from Austin to Memphis, and found out that the birth parents haven’t decided on an adoption plan yet. This is agony.
Or we can look at the reality that these kids are loved. This little girl has two sets of parents right now who want what’s best for her–even if it means giving her up or taking her home. “Our kids” in the midst of a million orphans had two families loving them, praying them home and longing after them. These kids taste love. They are being pursued. C.S. Lewis wrote:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket– safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.
Adoption through the lens of the gospel throws that back. It says, break my heart again and again and again. It causes us to make ourselves vulnerable. It means suffering. It means getting attached without any knowledge of the outcome. But that is why it is beautiful. It doesn’t make sense. Just like the path Jesus took for us doesn’t make sense. The cross is a path of suffering and of weeping. But on the other side it is pure joy. This is where we are headed. It is not a painless journey. It will cost us more than we ever imagined. But to love as Christ loved me? I gladly undertake this journey again.
I am not a beggar. I am a daughter of the king. So why do I always approach God with such uncertainty? I pray but without any thought that it makes a difference. When there are things that I really want–say, like to adopt–I start begging God to let me do it. My prayers are uncertain, repetitive and sound a lot like someone begging for scraps. And I believe I’ll only get whatever it is only if God is feeling especially magnanimous that particular day. So I pray. But from the place of a beggar, unworthy of time and attention, and without any claim to the presence of God.
On our first morning in Uganda, my sister taught on God’s desire to bring healing to the slums. She said we don’t have to beg God to heal because that is his heart. All throughout Scripture we read about his desire to bring healing, to set the captive free, to defend the orphan and the widow. We don’t have to beg him to do these things because that is who he is! So, rather than begging God to bring healing over the lives of people in Banda, Kasubi, and Kina, we are to declare healing over their lives.*
Now it might be obvious to you, but it took two days for that truth to settle into the fiber of my being and the ramifications to take root. God’s heart is adoption. He adopted us. He calls us sons and daughters, not just “those people I set free from sin and death.” He defends the orphan! He sets the solitary in families. He is a father to the fatherless. He created adoption. He started it. Just as our earthly marriages are a symbol of the heavenly reality of our relationship to Christ as his bride, so adoption is an earthly picture of what God did for us on the cross. We become his sons and daughters. He brought us into his family. And now we get to go and adopt–showing the world a picture of God’s love for his people. He lifted us out of places of despair and darkness and gave us a hope and a future. There is almost no better picture of salvation than to love someone seemingly unworthy, but more than that, to call them son or daughter.
So my whole begging God to let me adopt thing? Kind of silly. It’s his heart! The timing looks different for us than for others. And it may still be awhile (though I’m hoping not). But it will happen. And I feel such freedom to wait and pray and enjoy this season of anticipation. To wait in peace for the fulfillment of the dream God birthed in me 15 years ago. I thought it ended there. And then this morning, God showed me how I viewed myself as a beggar. So the reason I begged is because I just wanted the scraps and believed that’s all I deserved–and to a certain extent that might be true. But that’s not the power of the cross. The cross declares that I am a daughter of the king. And God met me here to remind me to pray from that place. So beseeching, persevering, seeking, and knocking are not begging when I know who I am in Christ.
*The Rev Life team is dreaming impossible dreams for these places, and one of those dreams is that these slums would be Aids free zones.