"For in you the orphan finds mercy." - Hosea 14:3

Monday, August 31, 2015

Car Ride Theology


One of the things I love most about getting the opportunity to drive Cava to school and pick him up from school in the afternoon is that time to just be with him, get to know him better, and listen to whatever he wants to talk about or the questions he has. We tend to listen to Christian music and this has often led to him asking about what he is hearing and he does listen. He has asked me, "What does mercy mean?"

Now I love language: both the meaning of words and where those meanings originally come from. Mercy is a noun. According to the dictionary it means: compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm.

That's not an easy word for any of us to wrestle with when he have to extend mercy, compassion, or forgiveness to someone we would much rather get back at. This is especially true for a child who has grown up in the orphanage system where there was no mercy or compassion extended to anyone. It was each child for his or herself. When I explained the concept of mercy in terms that he could understand, Cava's response was, "Why would I want to do that?"

Many of us might ask the same thing. I told him that, "Yeah, it isn't easy and it doesn't come natural to any of us, but Jesus has called us to."

"Why would He do that?"

"Because God, his Father, does the same for us. The Bible tells us that He is 'rich in mercy' and that He 'delights to show mercy' . . . Do you know what delight means?"

He shook his head, "No. What?"

"It makes God very happy to do it."

That's an amazing thought to have that the God who created the entire universe takes pleasure in showing us mercy. He even tells us to "come boldly unto the throne of grace" to "obtain" mercy and "find grace to help in a time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).

And I told Cava that because God has shown mercy towards us, when we didn't deserve it, we are to show mercy towards others. Micah 6:8 commands us, "Do justly. Love Mercy. Walk humbly with our God." Jesus even says that God prefers mercy to sacrifice. And in his Sermon on the Mount, He tells us, "Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy." If we are to obtain mercy from our Heavenly Father, then we are to show mercy.

Thinking about that verse from Micah, I can't help but ask: Do we truly love mercy?

We do when it applies to us and being extended to us. Not so much when we are having to do the extending. Yet scripture tells us to. All of us should, daily, practice beautiful acts of mercy. By so doing, we are being a mirror of our heavenly Father. How much of an impact would that have on those around us if we did practice mercy? I like how Rich Mullins puts it:

Let mercy lead
Let love be the strength in your legs
And in every footprint that you leave
There'll be a drop of grace. 

Lamentations tell us that God's mercies are new every morning.  It also tells us that His mercy is bigger than any of our mistakes. As Charles Spurgeon wrote, "God's mercy is so great that you may sooner drain the sea of its water, or deprive the sun of its light, or make space too narrow, than diminish the great mercy of God."

Now I like to watch documentaries about the universe and it never fails to amaze me how much greater in size the universe, or universes, are than we can even begin to understand and that behind all of that is God. The smartest minds in the world cannot even fathom the size and scope of our universe. Yet the God that made the universe is the same God who offers us mercy. And that mercy is greater in size than the universe. And it is made new every morning to us.

When I told Cava that God's mercy was bigger than the universe, he exclaimed, "Whoa! That's awesome!"

It is awesome. It is difficult. It is called for in those who receive divine mercy that they walk in and extend it to others. It is free and undeserved. But it is, indeed, awesome.







Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Father's Love For His Left-Brainer


Growing up, I'm sure my father was puzzled by me. He loved sports and got a son who loved to read, draw, and daydream. I was sure that when I had a kid of my own that he or she would be just like me and we would love going to bookstores together (something that can take hours) and we would share all of my favorite books from childhood together. Benjamin turned out to be a left-brain child who is into math, science, and technology. He is also not a reader. Particularly of fiction.  While I don't always understand what he's talking about, I love listening to him be passionate about what he's passionate about.

No, I have no clue about computer code but I am proud that teachers at his school are all wanting him to program robots and drones for different clubs. He loves technology and has even started his own blog, Avid Tech Nerd (http://avidtechnerd.blogspot.com/) to write about one of his favorite subjects. I am proud that every time I have gone to his school for some event, his teachers come up to me to talk about how smart Benjamin is. And, yes, I was thrilled when he was asked to join Beta Club this year.

More than his intelligence, what I love about Benjamin is his good heart. He is kind, compassionate, and has a sense of wanting to treat everyone equally. Ever since he was little, I have been trying to teach him that his choices determine his character and I like that he appears to be listening and, for the most part, makes good choices. It was amazing to me how great he was when he had to take a backseat for awhile when Cava first got here. He had to adjust from being the only child to now having a younger brother who needed a lot attention. But I have watched as he reached out lovingly to his new brother, even when Cava wasn't ready to accept it, to now seeing the two of them become close as brothers are. Some of my favorite moments are just watching Benjamin and Cava interact and play together. It's hard to beat those times when your kids get along with each other.

It meant a lot to me that he recently thanked me for the time I have invested in him and Cava. That he notices and appreciates it. He sees that he is a priority for me and I view him as such and not as a burden or a nuiscance.

And I do enjoy spending time with him, especially one-on-one time doing things that he enjoys or going places he likes to go. One of those things is just sitting down and watching his favorite YouTube show, Good Mythical Morning, with him. While I do enjoy Rhett and Link on the show, what I love most is hearing Benjamin laugh at what they're doing. It's hard to beat hearing your kids having a good time. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Good Mythical Morning go to YouTube and check it out as it's clean and a lot of fun.


It's important for me to know what he likes, who his friends are, and to be a part of his daily life. I want to be available and open to him when he needs to come to me to open up anything that he might be dealing with.

I like being able to joke around and have a good time with him.  

I like watching him grow up and see who he is becoming, though, like any parent I see how aggressively time is passing and I just want to shout, "SLOW DOWN!" I know that in a couple of years Benjamin will go off to college, so I enjoy the time I have with him at home so that I don't have to look back and wish I had been there. I do not want a "Cats in the Cradle" relationship with my son and I work hard to be there for any event or awards ceremony that he's ever had. Benjamin knows I will always be there for him because I always have been. Being a father is about being present, in the big moments and the small ones. I love all of those moments because, good and bad, they have deepened and strengthened our relationship.

I like that when Benjamin does go off to college that I will miss him. It will be with sadness and not relief that he's gone because I do enjoy being with him. While he is not the son I imagined having, he is the son I am thankful for having because I would not change him or want him to be me because I love who he is and appreciate the uniqueness that God created in him. 




Friday, August 28, 2015

Praying For The Philbecks


Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, prays, “Lord may my heart be broken by what breaks your heart.”  

How different would the world be if we all prayed that prayer and acted on it?  

A family who prayed and is acting on the call to take care of the fatherless are our dear friends Tracy and Rebecca Philbeck. This Sunday they fly to Ukraine to adopt three children.  

Please be in prayer for them as they travel. Pray that fear would be replaced with peace, doubt with confidence, and that God guards and protects them as they walk in trust and obedience to His call. May they not be filled with anxiety but with hope, joy, patience, and the knowledge that they are not alone, that God is with them, and that there are many people here who are daily lifting them up in prayer. While they are in Ukraine, may they be lights shining in the darkness. Let them be transformed by this experience and see the truth of Jesus' words when He said, "Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me" (Matthew 18:5). 








Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Weirdos


Recently, during a conversation with a close friend, he asked why God would choose someone like him to adopt. I think he expected me to answer differently than my response of, "Because God loves the weirdos and has always liked working through them."

All one has to do is look at the cast of characters in the Bible to see that this true. Both Old and New Testament. He works with the broken, the dispossessed, the fringe, the outsider, the forgotten, the abandoned, the strange, the freak, the damaged, the weak and weak-willed, the ill-tempered, the lustful, the power hungry, the loud-mouthed, the introvert, the thick-headed, and thin-skinned people that had often had absolutely nothing going for them except they heard His call and said, "Yes."


"You did not choose me, but I chose you," God reminds us in John 15:16.  Growing up, I was an short, awkward, shy, introverted, skinny, and non-athletic child. I hate gym, especially when the coach had us line up, he picked two captains, and then let them choose their teams. This was in the day before teachers believed in building a child's self-esteem. I hated being on that line. I hated waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting to be chosen. I can't dribble a ball. I can't shoot a lay-up. So they knew that and they chose, and I waited. The captains were like Samuel going to Jesse's house to pick the next king of Israel. Like Samuel, the boys chosen to be captains would've picked Jesse's older sons who bore a striking resemblance to Thor and not the scrawny, puny David. Or the pitiful, puny me. Not once did I ever hear a coach tell the two captains before they picked, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his structure, because I have rejected him." But God does not see us as we see ourselves. He doesn't see what we have to offer, but what He can offer through us if we are willing to be obedient.

As someone who has never been used to be chosen, I stand there before God and ask, "Why would You pick me?"

I am insignificant and deeply aware of my sinfulness, my selfishness, my fears, my loneliness, my hurts and self-centeredness. "Don't You see those things God?  Aren't there others who would be better at doing Your will than I am?"

"Yes," He would say, "I am very much aware of exactly who you are. Not the one you pretend to be, but the one that would be run out of church if they ever really saw your thoughts, even the ones you have during church."

He chose me and those other weirdos precisely because we bring nothing to the table. Precisely because it is not about us, it's all about Him. We can bring nothing to God and He can bring all to us. It is what He offers, not what we do. He offers a radical, unconditional love and an all-encompassing grace.

That is why He chose Abraham, David, Jeremiah, Peter, Saint Francis of Assissi, C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham, and Mother Teresa. Not because of their worthiness but because of His own. He has no illusion about His creation. He sees past our hateful feelings towards ourselves. As Brennan Manning wrote, "God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be."

God sees how feeble my prayer life can be, how limited my faith can oftentimes be in its shakiness; about how I am often filled more with doubt and shame than belief and holiness. The only thing consistent is that I am inconsistent. He knows that I too often ponder the imponderable. I wrestle with Him. Struggle with Him. Question Him. Doubt Him. Disobey Him. But always return to Him like a child who needs his Papa. I love God not because of anything in me but because, as Saint Augustine wrote, "That you may love God, let Him dwell in you and love Himself through you." Even my love for God is all God. I am not even capable of truly loving him as I should.


Like Peter and Judas, I have often betrayed Christ. I have doubted more often than Thomas. Yet like Peter and Thomas, I have also realized how desperately I need to cling to His grace. I don't deserve His love and His grace, yet He freely gives both to me. My identity cannot rest in what I think of myself, but in how Jesus sees me through that love and grace.

That is why He called me to adopt. That is why He called me to write this blog and to keep writing it whenever I consider stopping because I oftentimes feel like a fraud. It's all Him, not me. The words I wrote that have touched others are His words. This path has been His path for my life and my family's.

He chose me because I am an outcast who can understand and love other outcasts, especially the orphan. My wounds cause me to reach out to help love them in theirs. I am more like my adopted son than most can ever realize. I was a lonely child who understands what it was like to not be picked, or to spend more time by myself, in my own imagination than in the company of my peers. I know what it's like to be bullied and picked on for no other reason than you are small and quiet. I know rejection, even by a mother. But I also know the truth that Henri Nouwen wrote that, "Long before any human being saw us, we are seen by God's loving eyes. Long before anyone heard us cry or laugh, we are heard by our God who is all ears for us."

God sees my brokenness and shallow faith and still says, "I choose you." But He has chosen me to move beyond me into His purpose to reach the place of others' needs. In my prodigal way, I follow the path of His grace and trust that He will not only lead me, minister to me, heal me, love me, but use me - an outcast, a misfit, and a weirdo.

Why?

Because those are the ones who will reach out to the other outcasts, misfits, and weirdos. Only then will it be as Ephesians 2:19 says, "And so you are no longer called outcasts and wanderers but citizens with God's people."





Monday, August 24, 2015

Great Expectations



Today Benjamin started tenth grade and Cava the fourth.

What words of wisdom do I have for them as they start another school year?

Strive for excellence, not just academically but, more importantly, in terms of character. Walk in honesty, integrity, and godly-courage.

Have the confidence that you have something to offer, a perspective that no one else has but listen to others because they do as well. You never know how you might see the world differently if you just stop and hear what others have to say.

Walk in extravagant compassion because you never know what someone around you is going through.

Extend the same grace to them that you would want extended to you. Be someone who practices Hebrew 12:15, "See to it that no one misses the grace of God."

Be guided by grace, not fear. Everyone in school is insecure and wants to be accepted. Don't let worrying about what others might think change who you are. Let others see what is unique about you and look to find the uniqueness in others. Originality should be embraced and celebrated, not made fun of or ridiculed. Creativity is not something a person is necessarily born with, it is something you nurture and aspire to. Being thought odd just means others haven't caught up with you yet.

Be present. Don't be in a rush to get through your day. If you do, you may miss the miracle.

Bravery means standing up for what you believe in, even if no one else does. It also means admitting when you ae wrong.

Be respectful of others.

Laugh. At yourself, especially. If you can laugh at yourself, then you disarm anyone who would make fun of you.

Open yourself up to the experience. Approach learning with a sense of wonder. You don't have to know all the answers to life, but be full of questions about it. Remember, a closed mind shows open ignorance.

Don't be afraid of failure. It's not the end of the world to make mistakes. It's how you deal with your failures and mistakes that matter.

Read a book you normally wouldn't. Speak to another kid that you normally wouldn't.

Let this be a year that you make your mark on your school and on those around you.

Be ambitious. Don't shrink to fit yourself into other people's molds of what you should be.

Dream big even when others tell you yours dreams are foolish. The best kind always are. Just ask those who followed them because they are the innovators, the creators, the inventors, and the artists.

Follow your convictions, your passions, your beliefs even if they are unpopular because life is ultimately not about popularity but about causing change, helping others, and seeing beauty in the world.

Have a servant's heart. Help others. See how much you can change the world around you just by putting someone else's needs first. Look for ways to help someone around you.

Know that I believe in you. I will cheer for you. I will listen to you. I will advise you. I will guide you. But, most of all, I will love you. You are my sons.





Friday, August 21, 2015

Love Deeply


When circumstances are difficult and things are hard, people outside what is happening tend to ask you after these things have passed, "Knowing what you know now, would you do it again?"  They asked me that about adopting Cava. Seeing how far he has come and who Cava is now and who he will be, I, without missing a beat, reply, "YES!"  But when I've been asked that about more recent events and hosting, I still struggle with my answer. It wasn't easy and it wasn't how I had anticipated or wanted it to be at all, but does that make it any less what God had planned?

One thing we were very keenly aware of was that God had a plan and a purpose through all of this and still does. We may not be able to see that plan clearly, but that doesn't mean that it is not unfolding and that we weren't a vital part of an end result that will ultimately give him glory.  

He called us to love. Not int he kind of false imitation of love that one sees in movies, TV, and books. No, he called us to love with a real love. Real love is an eternal act. 

C. S. Lewis once wrote, "If you love deeply, you're going to get hurt badly. But it's still worth it." Most of us don't want to hear that. We don't want to hear that something is going to hurt and will do anything we can to avoid pain and suffering. Real love is going to leave scars but its from those wounds that we can most beautifully love others in their pain and hurt. 

If Jesus didn't get through this life unwounded, how do we, as his followers, believe that we won't?

Yet that fear of pain should never stop us from moving in acts of love.

1st Corinthians 14:1 tells us, "Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it - because it does."  How many of us really do that?  To "go after a life of love" is to put ourselves out there: out there where we can be rejected, rebuffed, insulted, mocked, and hurt. Christ was. But it is the only way to bring others to love, to healing, to Jesus. 

There's a line in Rich Mullins' song "Nothing Is Beyond You" that astounds me every time I hear it: I cannot explain the way that You came to love me, except to say that nothing is beyond you.

He stepped outside of time to come into human form and die on a cross because He loved me. With Him, there are no degrees of love, there is just love. That love transforms and that is why we need to be obedient in reaching out to a broken, fallen world to let them know that they are loved and of great worth. Only that love can heal the deepest pain, the pain of a world that longs to be loved and craves to be accepted. I have seen this kind of desperation for love at its utter depths in each of my encounters with orphans. 

When our host daughter kept saying, "I love you," I finally stopped her and asked her, "What do you mean by 'love'?"

She didn't even take a moment to think. She just said, "A family."  She understood in her limited way that a family could be a form of love and healing. Ernestine Schumann-Heink said, "What is a home? It is the laughter of a child, the song of a mother, the strength of a father. Home is the first school, and the first church, where they learn about a loving God." I pray that even for the short time she was here, our Host Daughter encountered and experienced that. 

God loved her into existence. Not chance. Not luck. Not mere circumstance. 

That same love brought us into her life. That love laid on it on my heart to pray for her every day for two years. That love brought her into our home. That love is an eternal, never-ending, never-changing, never-turning away from kind of love. That is the love that will show her that she is of value and worth. That love alone can reach her when ours could not.

And now she has not only me praying for her, but so many of you who have reached out to us to let us know that she would be part of your daily prayers. That alone is a powerful statement about love. Prayer is an expression of love because it reaches beyond the now to the infinite where our impossibilities become acts of miraculous reality because of a God who loves us enough to move on our behalf to love a child who so desperately needs to know what Psalm 136 reminds us again and again, "God's love never fails," that "His steadfast love endures forever." Or, as the verse in 1st Corinthians 13:8 keeps coming back to me again and again to remind me, "Love never dies."

That is why we must go out there and love deeply. There's a lost world that depends on it.





Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Relentless


While our Host Daughter was here, we shared the gospel with her. She informed us that she had heard about how Jesus loved her enough to die on a cross for her sins but that she didn't believe it. But she did not discuss the subject any further than that. During a car ride from Charlotte, the subject came up with Cava. I asked him about the missionaries coming to visit the boarding school, how they showed the Jesus film, and shared the gospel of God's love to the kids. I asked Cava if he heard that and believed that God loved him.

"No," he replied, "because if He did why was I there?"

While his response did not surprise me, it cut me deep. I mean it makes sense: Why believe in a loving God when no one else around you is loving or cares for you?

"Do you believe that God loves you now?" I asked.

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because you prayed and God brought you to Ukraine to adopt me."

Cava knows God loves him because of the love he's experienced since he's been here and he sees the love of God through people. It's a daily encounter with love.

God's love is relentless, is ever-reaching, is a pursuing, intense love. It's a radical tenderness. I've been reading through the Old Testatment prophets and it's been a real hootenanny, especially as I wrestle and struggle with the will of God and trying to understand. Reading the prophets, like much of the Bible, has been less comforting and more confronting. Yet there, amidst all the doom on Jerusalem, I came across this line in Zephaniah 3:17, " . . .he will quiet you by his love . . ."  Not exactly a line one expects from a prophet, but there it was. Immediately, my mind conjured up a mother going to her wailing baby during the night, to hold and comfort the infant. Isaiah also presents this mothering image of God when he wrote, "As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you . . ." or "Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?"

While people talk of God's love, they tend to see it as a gentle, Mr. Rogers' kindness than the love portrayed in the Bible. No, scripture shows that God's love is more like the powerful, raging falls of Iguaza where there are 275 waterfalls, including one that reaches a height of 269 feet. It is twice as tall as Niagra. 1,500 cubic meters of water fall per second. During the rainy season, 13,000 cubic meters of water falls per second. This kind of love is more like what Rich Mullins describes when he sings about being "caught in the reckless, raging fury that they call the love of God." That is an intense love of a storm that sweeps one up and away and drowns us in it. It's the kind of love that neither height nor the depths of hell can escape. It's the kind of love that causes a father to not be ashamed to run, embrace and kiss his prodigal son who is covered in and reeks of the muck of pig pens. Jesus even addresses his Father as "Abba" or "Papa," a very loving and intimate title.

But how do children who either do not know their parents or, worse, have very negative memories of their mother or father then begin to understand the love of a God who is shown as both mother and father?

The theologian Jean Vanier wrote, "To love someone is to show to them their beauty, their worth, their importance." God has done this to a violent degree. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . ."  Yet for the orphan, those are just words. Empty and hollow as they feel inside. They have no context. Many of them can only identify father or mother with neglect, abuse, and rejection. These kids don't understand an unwavering love that accepts them as they are but does not leave them that way.

Cava still has trouble accepting our love. He has been with us just over two years and he is only now, slowly, seeing that our love is not an elevator love that goes up and down depending on his behavior. Oh, Cava had a bad day, love goes down. Hey! Cava had a great day, love goes up. That is not love. But the love we offer him is frail and a pale comparsion to the unconditional love of God. Yet for him to begin to comprehend that love, which is something most of us cannot do, he first had to see it mirrored in people. He had to see that our love was reliable before he could even start the process of accepting that God's love was even more so.

In his book The Furious Longing of God, Brennan Manning wrote, "The revolutionary thinking that God loves me as I am and not as I should be requires radical thinking and profound emotional readjustment."

It is very much like a child being adopted into a family. The adopted child struggles with self-acceptance, with being loved because they don't feel lovable, that they have worth and value. They see their pasts, their hurts, their deep wounds, the rejection, loss, fears, and say, "You can't possibly love me."  They will often fight against the very love they long for. Love has to continously come back again and again to overcome that rejection. Both Cava and our host daughter have responded to my statement, "I love you," with, "No love you." They were both stunned with my responding back with, "That's okay. You don't have to love me because I still love you."  This kind of love is frightening to them because it is unfamiliar and strange. It shocks them because they are not used to someone loving them and they will test that love to see if that love is true. They want it to be, but they are afraid it's not. Many of us are the same way with God. We are secretly praying, "Are You for real? Do you really love me?"

Romans 8:14-17 tells us, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ . . ."  

Many reject this because we cannot believe it's true. Or we fight and struggle and question, but we do it with a furious longing for God's love to be true. 

Going back to those who are in orphanages or foster care, how will they truly know the love of God if Christian's don't love them into that love?  We, as believers, need to stop offering the orphan our indifference and walk in obedience to God's call that we take care of the orphan, so that, through us, they see God's love. Only His love will change them. Only His love will heal them. Only God's relentless love, tenderness, and grace can reach these children who desperately need to know a love that the poet Rilke wrote about in a poem that was more of a prayer, "I yearn to be held / in the great hands of your heart -" The hands of that heart alone can heal them, give them peace, and hold them as Jesus held the children that came to him.

For those who do step out in adoption to reach these kids, know that in the midst of the whirlwind of chaos that is the normalcy of their lives that they will bring to yours, what 1 Corinthians 13:7-8 tells us is, "Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen."

If we aren't willing to show these kids the relentless love of God, how then will they ever know and believe?