Arise, Darling! Winter is Over!

We only have one that pops up in our garden each spring. But it only takes one to make me squeal like a three-year-old …

“Look! The daffodil has bloomed!”

Daffodils are one of my favorites. They are the first to bloom around here. With their perky heads and sunny faces, they trumpet promises of warmth and renewal.

2017 May 22 Daffodil

Photo courtesy of Aaron Burden @ Unsplash

God’s promises are like that, too. They trumpet hope like water in the desert, color after a long grey winter, warmth after a bone-deep chill, the beginning of a new productive season. God’s promises are like that because like the flowers we count on to bloom every spring, so God is unchanging and faithful. We can count on His promises because we can count on Him.

Yes, His promises reveal much about His character:

He’s not slow—He’s patient.
He’s bigger than any giant—and He uses the subtlest weapons.
There’s hope beyond our current difficulties—He’s with us in our difficulties.
There’s always a bigger picture—an eternal purpose.

But did you know …

His promises also reveal much about our character?

May 22 God's promises are meaningless unless they've been tested.

For example:

His promise to never leave us or abandon us (Hebrews 13:5) doesn’t much matter until we’re in a place where He seems to have vanished. We can’t see Him, hear Him, or feel Him. It’s at this point we have to discover if we trust Him even then. It’s at this point we have a choice: to let our trust grow or falter.

What about His promise to prosper us and not harm us, to give us a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11)? Do we look at our future through the lens of our circumstances today or through His Word?

Then there’s His promise that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). How many times have we allowed death or life, principalities or powers, present circumstances or fear of the future, convince us otherwise?

Oh, and the one we all think we’ve passed when in truth we have failed over and over. Whoever believes in Jesus will have everlasting life (John 3:16). How many times have we acted as if our salvation depended on our performance—as if it’s something to be earned?

And there’s other promises we often fail to believe when tested. I can do all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13). He will supply all our needs (Philippians 4:19). The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). And how about, He will give life to our mortal bodies (Romans 8:11)?

I find that it’s easy to perk up when we recite God’s promises—that is until those …

promises experience a hard freeze.

And for me, mothering unattached children frequently blew the door wide open to wintry blasts. But you know what? Though I doubted, I clung like crazy to God’s promises.

I’d like to say those promises have evolved over the years. The way they materialized in the end sure looked a lot differently than I expected at the beginning. But the truth is, the promises didn’t change. My understanding of them did. My mind—my heart—is what has been transformed. And I can tell you now, the scent of those promises is much sweeter than I ever imagined.

So what’s popped up in your garden this spring?

Have you considered

… the effort it took for that sprout to push through the soil? Have you pondered what it might be like to endure a long, cold winter, buried in darkness? Do you realize that near death had to happen for new life to grow?

Oh, but you’ve experienced these things haven’t you? Yes, me, too. And that’s why we take the time to stop, gaze, touch, inhale deeply, and praise the Creator as we see His promises blossom into new life before us.

Like Solomon,

Jesus invites us to enter His spring.

May we follow.

 

“Arise, my darling,
    my beautiful one, come with me.
See! The winter is past;
    the rains are over and gone.
Flowers [daffodils?] appear on the earth;
    the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
    is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit;
    the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
    my beautiful one, come with me.”

Song of Songs 2:10-13, NIV

Is God a Reneger?

Sometimes God promises, God fulfills, and then God asks us to give what was promised back. What? Would God do that? Yes. He has—several times. For example …

Abraham

Abraham was finally enjoying the start of the fulfillment of God’s promise that a great nation would birth from him. It took 25 years for God to even begin to fulfill that promise through the birth of Isaac (Genesis 12:1-4; 21:5). And then, maybe 10-12 years later, God told Abraham to sacrifice this only son back to Him (Genesis 22:1-2).

Scripture only records Abraham’s unflinching obedience to God’s directive. There is no mention of doubt, confusion, or hesitancy. Don’t you find that amazing? I sure do, especially after all the times Abraham tried to take matters into his own hands (Genesis 12:10-20; Genesis 20; Genesis 16:1-6).

What do you do when God fills a promise and then asks you to let it go?

May 15 Letting Go
{Photo courtesy of Averie Woodard @ Unsplash}

What if it appears God takes the gift back without even allowing you to choose?

Like, He promises you a husband, one finally shows up when you’re 30, and then it turns out this husband is far from the prince you thought your faithfulness deserved. Or you get your dream job and it turns out to be a nightmare. Or you are finally approved for adoption, your child arrives, and the child pushes you away.

I’m not saying we misunderstood God’s promise. No, it was very real and showed up as expected. But in time, the object of promise seems to crumble. Your spouse dies … or your house burns down … or your adopted child grows up, moves out, and refuses to speak to you.

These things happen. Quite frequently. In fact, we will probably all experience this sort of deal at least once in our lives.

Do we trust God enough to hold His promises with open hands?

May 15 Open Hands
{Photo courtesy of Mathias Reed @ Unsplash}

Do we believe His plans are perfect? Do we believe His love is enough? Can we, like Abraham and so many others mentioned in Hebrews 11, trust God to stay true to His word even if we don’t see it fulfilled in our lifetime?

Wow! Here I am, thinking my topic for May was going to be a little more lighthearted. And I certainly hope it turns that corner. And yet, that’s exactly …

What God’s promises are supposed to do.

They are meant to illumine the darkness that seems to hover close. They are meant to lighten the burdens that weigh us down. God gave them to ignite hope when we can find none anywhere else.

But maybe …

May 15 God's promises are more about increasing our faith, than brightening our day

Last week I wrote that we can place our confidence in God’s promises even when we have to wait an eternity to see them fulfilled. Today I want to underscore that …

We can trust God Himself when it appears He’s fulfilled a promise only to ask us to surrender it back to Him.

You see, when God asks us to surrender, it’s because He has something greater in mind.

A deeper trust to develop
A richer provision for everything He asks of us
A new understanding of His purposes
A fresh picture of His redemptive ways
A sweeter awareness of His love

In reality He’s not reneging on His promise at all. He’s refining our hearts, enriching our faith, and enhancing our stories. He’s taking His promises and exploding their impact.

“But as it is written:
‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.'”
1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.”
1 Corinthians 1:20 NIV

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
Psalm 136:1 NASB

I Just Want to Hold You

I’m not a crier.

Or, at least, I didn’t used to be. But one day my quivering voice confessed to my mom the realization that I’d never hear an enthusiastic toddler sing “Mommy,” as he ran to me, his arms reaching wide. I was wading through grief after coming to the awareness that I’d never be my children’s first mom. My arms would not likely be the ones they’d long for.

Have you been here with your nonbiological child? When all you want to do is hold them tight and tell them how precious they are—and have them believe it. To see that belief reflected in their eyes; and hear it in their voice; and watch it as they walk through life.

This desire is one of the strongest for any mom. But some of us have become painfully aware it’s not a desire that will necessarily be fulfilled. And so we find our arms achingly empty.

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This desire. It’s innate. It’s a God-image part of us. It mirrors Father God’s base nature.

This I-long-to-hold-you characteristic of God is seen throughout Scripture.

The eternal God is a dwelling place,
And underneath are the everlasting arms;
Deuteronomy 33:27a (NASB)

We see it depicted in God as our shepherd in Psalm 95:7 (NASB), For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Psalm 23 describes Shepherd-God as the provider for our every need: places of rest, nourishing food, refreshing drink, restoration for our souls, guidance toward righteousness, comfort in the darkest places of life, safety from our enemy, empowerment for our calling, abundance, goodness, mercy, and eternity with Him.

And can’t you just picture this from Psalm 116:1-2 (NASB)?

I love the Lord, because He hears
My voice and my supplications.
Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live.

And how about this image?

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
… He will cover you with His pinions,
And under His wings you may seek refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.
Psalm 91:1-4 (NASB)

In fact God delights in our presence so much, He is never far away.

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
…You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
…Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Psalm 139:1-12 (NASB)

God is intimately aware of this longing in our hearts to draw our children close.

He smiles with us those moments we stand in moon-lit rooms, gazing at our sleeping cherubs. His heart swells with ours as we cheer from the bleachers and applaud from the auditorium. His heart aches alongside ours when a defiant one turns away from our instructions.

But one thing He does not do is embrace the emptiness that Satan’s lies have attempted to forge. Because this Father knows there is always hope. Always. Hope.

Why? Because when it comes down to it, He’s the first parent. He’s also the last parent. He is our Creator—He is our children’s creator. Author. And Finisher. The final say-so.

And whether our children want it or not—whether we believe it or not—His arms are eternally long. Our children are never out of His reach.

mar-13-no-one-is-everbeyondgods-reach

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. Isaiah 59:1 (NASB).

Now What?

It was another Help, Lord! moment.

One of my children had just blindsided me with another, never-before-used, boundary-challenging technique. Dumbfounded, frustrated, and weary, I asked my heavenly Father, “Now what do I do with THIS?”

I once considered writing a book titled Now What? because it was a question I asked on a regular basis. Too frequently I felt thrown off kilter. The misbehaviors I faced—almost daily—required the wisdom of an experienced professional. I frequently felt like Tim Conway, in the Carol Burnett Show episode years ago, when he jabbed himself in the forehead with Novocain. But I knew I had to formulate some sort of immediate response to the inconceivable situation, so I typically used anger to fight through the stupor.

In one of those crying-out-to-the-Lord moments, I told Him, even if there are books out there to help me, I don’t have time to read them. And even if I read them all, they still wouldn’t have prepared me for this new issue. I needed divine insight, and I needed it right now.

Have you heard that phrase, “What would Jesus do?” Asking this question actually helped me. Jesus said anyone who had seen him, had seen the Father (John 14:9). I figured no professional insight could begin to compare to the wisdom of Father God. So if I took a good look at the way Jesus handled “out-of-the-blue” behaviors, I might get some clues about my current situation.

• Because He was confident in His identity, no surprise attack ever threatened Him.

• Because He never felt threatened, He could remain in control, think clearly, and respond appropriately.

• He used Scripture to guide His responses.

• Even when lied to, lied about, misunderstood, misrepresented, belittled, betrayed, crushed, and crucified, He remained confident Father God’s purposes would be accomplished.

• He was therefore free to patiently instruct, guide, provide for, heal, forgive, encourage, beckon, comfort, and even die for a fickle, unreliable, self-centered, wayward bunch of children.

When “what thens” fly in our face, it’s time to return to the most basic truths. We are God’s and He’s the One calling the shots.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1, NIV).

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28, NASB)

But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. (Psalm 115:3, NASB).

The Lord of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand,” (Is 14:24, NASB).

Time and time again, God took me back to the basic—yet earth-shifting—truth that He loved me. He delighted in me. My identity was based on who He declared I was an eternity ago, not on what my children did a moment ago. As long as I took regular time to remember this, I would find myself at peace and able to parent the tough stuff from a place of confidence.

mar-6-our-identity-is-based-on-what-god-declared

I’ve talked with many moms the past several years. I’ve heard stories of horrendous misbehaviors. But you know what? I rarely hear anything new. Crazy lying. Stealing. Feces smearing. Destruction of property (even brand-newly decorated rooms). Explosive episodes. Sexual acting out. Drug usage. Alcoholism. Debt-incurring financial choices. The list goes on and on.

No matter how horrible, none of these behaviors can ever change who God is. None change who we are. None threaten God. They don’t need to threaten us either. None steal God’s peace, or joy, or love, or decision to lay down His life. None thwart His eternal plans.

So, what then? Then is when we sit down, breathe belly-deep, and wait. Wait until the dust that clouds our thinking settles. Wait until we remember how deeply we’re loved. Wait until we’re confident in who God is, what He’s able to do. Wait until we have an answer from God.

But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31, NKJV).

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O Lord, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. (1 Chronicles 29:11, NASB).

Pushed into the Deep End

{Oh, the stories! Stories of heartbreak, confusion, disillusionment, and despondency. Not just my stories, but others have them, too. Stories validate our feelings. Stories give us hope. My story of parenting five children adopted from Russia is shared often in these pages. But what about the stories of other such moms? You’ve simply got to hear them! The struggles we all identify with are present in their stories – along with the hope that not all is lost.

Today, I have the privilege of sharing words of wisdom from Sarah E. Frazer. Sarah understands the struggles of parenting a nonbiological child; but she also believes God’s Word. Sarah shares her stories and her hope beautifully. I’m so grateful she’s allowed me to share them with you today.}


feb-27-living-in-the-deep-end

Appalachian summers are filled with heat and humidity. 70 degrees feels like 90. On the really hot days, our family would pile into the minivan and drive three minutes up the hill behind our house. Mom would park at the bottom of the hill. My brother, sisters, and I would pack-mule it up the concrete path. Chlorine and 90’s music greeted us as we walked through the entrance to the city pool. The teenager behind the counter would smile, and pull out our family’s membership card. We dumped our snacks, towels, and blow-up rings in our usual spot: next to the baby pool, but within view of the deep end.

The water, cool and blue, beckoned us to jump. My ten-year-old brother would run to the deep end and climb the high ladder to dive into the 12-foot section. I was content swimming in the shallows. Even though I was a good swimmer, the dark blue water frightened me. I didn’t like to swim where I couldn’t see the bottom.

Sometimes my brother and his friends would sneak up behind me and push me into the deep end. I never found it humorous. I was always mad about it. I didn’t like the feeling of not touching. Panic creeped into my heart as the water lapped beside my neck, seeping into my mouth.

I wanted to know what I was jumping into. I still do. I’m a planner. Last year, I had a plan. As we began the adoption process, I was pretty sure I was prepared for the unknown, even planned for it. I thought I was ready for whatever God’s plan was for our family. But I wasn’t.

As I sat on a lumpy hotel bed in the middle of Zhengzhou, China, I realized I had just jumped into the deep end. And I was mad. The water of fear rushed around my face. I tried to grasp onto truth, but I felt my fingers slipping. God had called us. We had chosen this. But I felt pushed. Pushed into the deep end. I thought, This is not what I signed up for…..

Even a year later, I remember the feelings of drowning. The rushing water of uncertainty, creeping up and over into my comfortable life. It wrecked all of my hard work. Destroyed my plans.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. Psalm 42:11 (ESV)

In the middle of my ocean of fear, I couldn’t praise Him. One day I might praise God, but not today, I thought. I held out my hands, empty of praise and found a friend’s hand. Community surrounded our family. We knew the waters were deep, but God had not abandoned us. Until we could touch the bottom, they jumped into the water and held us up.

Living in the deep end, with the waters of fear looming close, brings me more to my knees and to Scripture than ever before. And to my friends. I poured myself into God’s Word and prayed every day for strength. I began living one day a time. It was all could handle as I treaded water. 365 days later, I’ve realized that’s ok. Our God provides just enough. Enough forgiveness. Enough strength. Enough hope. I’ve come to see a change in circumstances will not bring praise, only the truth of God’s Word and trust in His plan.

And slowly my anger melted into praise. Praise to the Father and Son who has revealed how deep His steadfast love truly is – especially while I learn to swim in the deep end.

Oh the river it rushes to madness
And the water it spreads like sadness
And there’s no high ground
Closer to the danger and the rolling deep
Closer to the run and the losing streak
And what brings us to our knees
Sara Groves

Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. Psalm 42:7-8 (ESV)

I understand that the deepest part of your heart just wants this hard place to be over. I ask you to walk through whatever circumstance you are facing one day at a time. You aren’t alone and you are made to be exceptional, right here, right now. I wrote a book about living in a new normal and finding grace for the moment. The Glorious Ordinary is an invitation to study God’s Word in your everyday life. You can find daily strength, joy, and peace when you look in the Bible. Read more about the book here.


20170227-sarah-picAs a momma of littles and wife to a busy husband, Sarah spends her days making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, reheating her coffee ten times a day, and sneaking quiet time with her earbuds to drown out the screaming. Sometimes she worries her sticky tables, cluttered counters, and crumby floors are not enough. Maybe she’s not enough.

In the empty places of her heart, Sarah has found God is enough. Enough to satisfy all of our longings. Enough strength to do the work He has called us to do. Enough hope to lighten the dark path. Enough grace to cover all the mistakes. Enough joy, even for just today. Sarah invites you to join her @sarahefrazer.com as we study God’s Word in our ordinary days!

Twenty Years Ago Today

“Isn’t she beautiful?” he said with a gleam in his eye, and a tremble in his voice I’d never heard before. “Isn’t she beautiful?” he kept saying over and over.

Squatting before her in a cold, dark Russian orphanage, I couldn’t answer. This seven-year-old chatterbox in a deep blue dress scared me. I would soon become her mom. “Oh Lord, help! Am I ready for this?”

The next day a 30 pound, five-year-old, blonder than blond, boy ran into my arms. Tears filled my eyes, as the adults around me sniffled. Now this I could handle. But he was the scared one—appearing confident but too afraid to look us in the eyes.

Moments later, at the third orphanage we visited, he ran ahead of us to greet his brother whom he hadn’t seen for several months. His brother, eight-years-old, didn’t have as much time with us as he wanted because he had to keep little brother out of all the toys.

A few days later, we became their parents. Three children at once.

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That was twenty years ago today. Twenty!

Though I can’t tell you our twenty-year story, I can give you a rough outline. We’ve all been scared. Disappointed. Grieved. Angry. Beyond done with it all. But yet here we are today. Closer than I dreamed possible. Loving. Appreciating. Applauding.

Bang your pots and pans; blow your kazoos; whoop and holler; dance ’til you can’t breathe. It’s a day to celebrate.

Celebrate three amazing people: Katya, Sergei, and Misha.

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Katya is now a wife and mother of three. Almost every time we talk she thanks me for adopting her. She and her husband are working hard to move forward in life. She makes me so proud.

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Sergei, that little tiny blond, is now a husband and father of almost three kids. He no longer lives nearby but he gives me a long, hard hug whenever we meet.

 

2017-feb-20-misha-20-years-later

Misha, now a father of one he unfortunately rarely gets to see, is a favorite uncle to his nieces and nephews. He’s a hard-working, respected employee of close friends of ours. And, like his siblings, he loves to hang and chat with us as the hours speed by.

Those first years were so hard. You know, like those first ten years. All the stuff kids with attachment and fetal alcohol issues can throw at you, they threw. Lying, stealing, disobedience, rage, and all manners of acting out not suitable to discuss here.

I wanted to quit more times than I can count. I wanted to disappear. Sometimes jail seemed better than living in my home.

The early adult years were only better because now their misbehavior was being handled by landlords, bosses, the police, and judges. Their acting out happened somewhere other than my space.

Yes, raising them was far harder than I ever dreamed it would be. But there was so much good, too. Homeschool fieldtrips. Mealtime laughter. Vacations west to national parks. Camping on Lake Superior’s north shore. Remodeling a house. Birthdays and holidays. Accomplishments celebrated. Skills developed. Maturity happened.

These were the things that smoothed over their rugged foundations. And in time, the foundations have held firm. We love them more than ever—and they us. Our little chatterbox in recent years told us she learned how to parent from our example.

Does it get any better than that? Not much.

And if you give yourself to the hungry
And satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
Then your light will rise in darkness
And your gloom will become like midday.
And the Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;
And you will be called the repairer of the breach,
The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.
Isaiah 58:10-12 (NASB)

This restoration process is no easy thing. It’s dirty, exhausting, painful, and discouraging. But when we keep working—stone upon stone, layer on layer, day after day after day—I promise—God promises—we will witness that light in the darkness, that soul-deep satisfaction, and that inexplicable strength. It’s being faithful in the little things that repairs and rebuilds and refreshes.

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Someday, like me, you will look back and be able to say, “Yes, this thing we’ve done is very good.”