2015: The Year of Wrestling

IMG_8126

I generally feel sad on New Year’s Eve. It’s a day when I can’t avoid how quickly time is passing by. Every time December 31 rolls around, I can remember the previous one like it was yesterday, and it weirds me out. It’s a day when my nostalgic, sentimental side threatens to overwhelm me with melancholy.

But I also embrace the opportunity to reflect on what God has done in the past year, and to start afresh with renewed energy and passion. This year, I’m especially grateful for the past 365 days.

While last year was certainly one of sweet, unmatched blessings with my precious little family, I am even more grateful for everything God did in my heart.

If I had to pick one word to describe my spiritual journey in 2015, it would be “wrestling”. I wrestled with intense fear like I had never known. I wrestled with assurance of salvation, and it was a hard, draining, fight. I wrestled with finding the balance of enjoying God’s good gifts while recognizing that He could remove them at anytime and that I am not entitled to anything.

I haven’t overcome all these struggles by any means, but I have seen God’s faithfulness to comfort, to speak truth, to hold onto me. He restored my confidence and trust that He has saved me, after some very agonizing months, and I am closer to Him and more thankful for His work on the cross than ever before. He used His Word and many wise believers in my life to teach me how to combat fear and anxiety Biblically, so that although I still struggle with it, I am equipped to conquer it in His strength. He is still teaching me how to enjoy His material blessings without finding my joy and stability in them.

It’s not something you can measure, but it feels like I grew more in my love for God and my understanding of the Christian walk in 2015 than I did in my whole life up to that point. It makes me excited for how He will continue to change and shape me in the years to come. What an awesome, powerful God we serve!

Yes, I wrestled in 2015. It was hard work and at times I was overcome by how far I had to go. But God was right there with me, every step of the way. So really, when I look at 2015, I see God. I see Him overshadowing all my failures and struggles and sin. And I trust Him to stay at my side for whatever 2016 will bring.

Do not fret because of evildoers,
Be not envious toward wrongdoers.
For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb.
Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.
(Psalm 37:1-6)

Walking for Life!

DSC_0087I’m so excited to participate in the Santa Clarita Valley Pregnancy Center’s Walk for Life in just a few weeks! I’ve loved everything I’ve heard about this organization, and I am so thankful for the hard work they put in on the front lines of this important issue. They show the love of Christ and advocate for unborn children in a special way.

Will you consider sponsoring me for this walk? The money donated will go toward saving babies and coming alongside needy moms.

Below is the link, thank you so much in advance! =)

My Fundraising Page

But Adoption’s Not For Us, Is It?

DSC_0104As I shared in my most recent blog post, God has used the recent Planned Parenthood “scandal” to awaken my heart to the plight of unborn children in our nation.

But it’s neat to see how, previous to these videos being released and my awareness of abortion being heightened, God was already stirring within me a desire to help needy children.

Around February, I began giving thought to orphans. When I saw firsthand how dependent our own baby was on us for all his needs, and how he responded to the simplest gestures of affection and tenderness, it broke my heart to consider kids who don’t experience even the most basic love and care.

It’s great to be a pro-life, pro-adoption Christian, but how could I act on those convictions? I had never “felt called” to adopt, although I loved seeing adoptive families in action. I wondered to myself, What if “being called” to adopt is nothing more than simply seeing the need and our obligation to help orphans, recognizing that I am equipped to fill the need, and taking the step to do so?

Well, as soon as I thought that, suddenly my heart became very drawn to the idea of adoption and I could hardly get it off my mind. God was definitely at work!

So about this time (March?), I casually raised the topic with Andrew. I wanted to let him know that it was something I’d started thinking about, and hear his thoughts. He shared that while he had never considered adopting, he was definitely open to it, but figured during seminary was probably not workable timing. I agreed.

But over the following weeks, we discussed adoption more and more. I began looking into the various avenues for adopting children and was staggered by 1) the huge need for adoptive families and 2) the astronomical costs for both international and domestic adoptions. Then I began researching adoption through foster care. I learned that while there are huge “risks” and major challenges to this route, it is also affordable…actually, free!

By this time, Andrew and I were talking and praying more and more seriously about pursuing adoption while still in seminary. We had begun reading Adopted for Life together, which approaches the theological, gospel-centered reasons to adopt. The Lord had now clearly laid the same burden for orphans on Andrew’s heart, and we were very much “in this” together, which excited me to no end!

I looked into a local Christian foster agency and made contact. We got more questions answered and sought some trusted friends for counsel. Finally, we pulled the first of many triggers…we filled out the application and scheduled a meeting in August with the agency!

Some of the “downsides” to foster care adoption are…

  • There is no guarantee that the child placed in your home will be adoptable, even after months or years of being part of your family. He/she is likely to be reunited with their parents or relatives, which is the first goal of foster care.
  • Many foster placements require regular visits with the biological family, which can be time-consuming and emotionally draining.
  • Foster children are extremely likely to have mild-to-extreme physical, emotional, developmental, or psychological damage, even when placed as newborns.
  • The process to adopt a child from foster care can drag on for years.

While much of what we learned in our meeting with the agency made us all-the-more passionate about fostering, we learned some new information that seemed to be direction from God that continuing to pursue adoption while in seminary was not wise. We were already “running out of time” anyway due to the fact that Andrew will, Lord-willing, graduate in spring 2017, and the additional details and rules regarding the process just did not mesh well with our current situation.

All of this was extremely disappointing. I had already begun to experience maternal emotions as I prepared my heart to welcome a new child into our home, and it was difficult to have that desire denied for the time being. At the same time, it was encouraging to have clear direction, and Andrew and I were thankful that we were 100% agreed about pressing the “pause” button.

All that said, we are very hopeful and excited that the Lord may allow us to seriously pursue adoption in the future! We don’t know exactly what that will look like, as there are many factors at play, but we are eager to see what child(ren) God might choose to gift us as we follow His leading! Even if adoption is not in our own future, we desire to be more involved in promoting it and supporting others who do take this step. We’ve come to realize that as Christians, we should all love and be involved in the care of orphans, but what that looks like will be different for every family.

I wanted to share all this to hopefully encourage anyone else whose hearts might be stirred toward taking an orphan into their family. It is a huge step, but God will enable and provide if adoption is in His plan for you. I’ve seen him do it for many wonderful families I know. If you begin considering adoption, it is crucial to be unified and communicative as a couple. It has been a wonderful thing to work through and talk about with Andrew! We’ve obviously only begun to scratch the surface of all that God might desire to teach us through this, but I am excited and thankful for where the discussion has taken us so far.

In the meantime, since we will not be pouring hours into getting certified, preparing our home, etc., as we had thought we would, I am finding other ways to be involved in the care of orphans and the defense of life. Stay tuned for some updates on doors God is opening in that area!

Also, if you’re looking for an inspiring, convicting, true story of sacrificial love for orphans, go watch The Dropbox!

“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)

“Sing to God, sing praises to His name; lift up a song for Him who rides through the deserts, Whose name is the LORD, and exult before Him. A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, is God in His holy habitation.” (Ps. 68:4-5)

“How blessed is he who considers the helpless; The LORD will deliver him in a day of trouble.” (Ps. 41:1)

Loving Sacrificially as Jesus Loved Us

loveOn Monday night I shared this simple little devotional at our monthly Bible study Ladies Night. Posting it was easier than writing something new…so here ya go. =) 

Tonight I want to share a few thoughts about one aspect of Biblical love. In John 13:34 Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Since Jesus commands us to love each other just as He loves us, I started thinking about what that looks like. One of the most obvious aspects of His love for us is that it is a sacrificial love.

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

Jesus loved us so much that He sacrificed more than we could ever imagine for us. He left His home in Heaven, where everything was perfect. There was no sin, no sadness, no broken relationships, no suffering, no misery, no sickness, no hunger and thirst, and no pain. He came to earth and was born into a modest family in a stable. He went from the glory of Heaven, where everyone recognized Him as the King that He is, to growing up surrounded by sinners, most of whom did not know He was God, or refused to believe. He experienced 40 days of hunger and thirst, He fought temptation, and He spent His time ministering to unlovely, sick, disgraced, and poor people. He invested years of love into a man who betrayed Him for money. And finally, He suffered unbelievable physical pain and the emotional torment of separation from His Father, ultimately giving up His very life, all so that we could be reconciled to God and have our sins forgiven. He sacrificed in all these ways so that we could be saved.

“He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” (Rom. 4:25)

In Jesus, we have an example of the kind of love we are called to show to one another.

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 Jn 3:16-18)

The world tries to tell us that love is about romance and feelings. Even worse, our culture emphasizes the importance of loving ourselves and seeking our own happiness. Relationships according to the world are about what makes us feel good.

But the kind of love that Jesus calls us to is a sacrificial love that puts others’ needs and interests above our own.

Think about one of the relationships in your life. Perhaps someone hard to love, or someone you interact with regularly like your husband, parent, sibling, roommate, or friend. Take a moment to evaluate your love toward that person. Do you show more or less love to them depending on what they can do for you or how they make you feel? Does your behavior toward them change depending on theirs? Are you characterized by willingly and joyfully making sacrifices for them with no expectation of thanks or acknowledgement in return? Are you motivated to love because of what you will receive back?

I was asking myself these questions about my marriage it hit me that often the “sacrifices” I make for Andrew are done with unspoken stipulations. For example, I will be joyful in my sacrifice provided he acknowledges what I have done. If I do not receive thanks in return, I may pout and wonder why I bothered going out of my way for him. Because my husband is a thankful guy, I do not often have a chance to practice sacrificing for him without acknowledgement, but I think often I just subconsciously expect and feel like I deserve his praise.

1 Corinthians 13:5 says that love “it does not seek its own”.

If I am sacrificing in order to enjoy the praise or thanks of another, or to get some favor in return, or because it makes me look good of feel good about myself, it is not truly sacrificing at all. It is doing something with my best in mind, not that of the other person. That is not the love with which Jesus loves us. 

John Piper writes, “The highest act of love is the giving of the best gift, and, if necessary, at the greatest cost, to the least deserving. That’s what God did. At the loss of His Son’s life to the totally undeserving, God gave the best gift – the display of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.” 

It’s so easy to go through life with an entitlement mindset. It does not come naturally to us to love others sacrificially without thought for our own well being. But this sacrificial love is what we see modeled in our Savior, and it is the kind of love we are to practice.

Ironically, when we unselfishly sacrifice for others with Jesus’ love and in His strength, we are rewarded with the pleasure that comes from obeying and serving God. The satisfaction we might find in receiving praise or acknowledgement from people is fleeting. But there is lasting joy in pleasing the Lord!

This week, meditate on the sacrificial love that Jesus has shown to you. Thank Him for loving you with no consideration of what you could give back to Him, and ask Him to enable you to show that kind of love to the people in your life.

Image taken from fortalezadoguincho.com. 

{Reading Report} Choosing to SEE

Choosing to SEEA month or two ago, I finished Choosing to SEE by Mary Beth Chapman. Many of you are familiar with the story of the (Steven Curtis) Chapman family’s young daughter, Maria, who was killed in a fluke accident. (Her brother accidentally hit her when pulling into their driveway.) In this raw account, Mary Beth (Maria’s mom) conveys her long, hard journey of unthinkable grief and inexpiable hope.

Time and again, God’s faithful presence was made known through small things only He could have orchestrated, from a coloring Maria left behind, to a stranger encountered at Disneyland.

I’ll be honest, I hoped for a little more straightforward gospel message in this book. There’s undeniably plenty of emphasis on God and His sovereignty, love, and care. I would have appreciated a more specific look at the cross and the Person of Jesus Christ in the midst of this trial.

That said, Choosing to SEE gave me an excruciating window into grieving the loss of a child. Christian or not, there are no words for a tragedy like this. I could feel the pain and begin to visualize the anguish through Mary Beth’s candid descriptions. It made the challenges I face pale in comparison, and, I trust, better prepared me to be as empathetic as possible with people I encounter who have experienced similar loss. For that reason alone, I’m glad to have read it.  It’s a well-written, honest look at the gaping hole left in the wake of a child’s death.

Here’s a taste of the book, via part of a letter that Mary Beth wrote to Steven and included in Choosing to SEE:

I know this is a difficult process for you, but please trust me when I say that the world will SEE and hear and many will put their trust in the Lord. Not because of you or your abilities, but because you have been a willing, broken vessel into which you’ve allowed God to pour Himself. You have set an example for your family on how to allow God to leak out of the broken pieces of our lives.

Again, I don’t like it one bit. I would be just fine with a perfectly unbroken vase, especially one that wasn’t broken over the loss of a child. But I’m trusting that God saw fit to entrust us to steward this catastrophic loss well. May He be honored with all us Chapmans as we do our best to let the world SEE that He alone is the Author of our salvation, the Mender of our hearts, the Healer of souls.

{Hebrews} I Have a High Priest

DSC_0319

Just a quick tidbit from last week’s Hebrews study to close off this good weekend…

After defining the term “priest”, my homework posed the question, “Do you think believers today need a priest? Explain your answer.”

“Yes we do, but we have One! We cannot come before God without someone to intercede on our behalf. Since we have sinned, someone must make a sacrifice for those sins so that we can come to God. God provided a High Priest in Jesus, Who paid the sacrifice for our sins once for all.”

Not profound in articulation, nor a complete explanation of the Great Exchange by any means, but I’m glad I had to write a simple answer to a simple question, because it struck me for the hundredth time how incredible it is that Jesus was qualified to make ONE atoning sacrifice that forever covers me…and that He did so!

“For God the just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me.”

No compromising of justice, no ignoring of evil…but I have a High Priest who took care of my sin…all of it…permanently. Praise the Lord!

Gut Wrenching and Beautiful

There’s a beautiful baby (Selah) who belonged to the sister of one of my new friends and fellow sem wives. Selah’s family lives in Africa. Selah was born August 30, healthy and beautiful. In the wee hours of this past Friday morning, after about a week of battling an unexpected infection and cardiac issues in the ICU, she passed away while her parents watched doctors perform CPR on her.

Just hours after, her mom wrote this:

Isa. 50:10 Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.

This morning we entered the thick darkness. Around 6am Selah relapsed into cardiac failure and we stood at her side until her little life slipped away (6:49 am). Darkness. She fought so well.

Oh sweet Selah, goodbye. We love you. Daddy and Mommy now run to the arms that are you holding you in heaven. We walk wounded today – but will limp straight into the darkness to meet Him there.

Dear friends – thank you for your countless prayers and intercession – thank you for your encouragements – thank you for representing heaven to us here in a world still broken. We love you. I can barely read what I am writing through the tears – but there is joy even here.

Grace and Peace

Selah

Every update they have written throughout this painful journey has been permeated with praise to God and trust in His plan. What’s incredible is to watch an understanding of God’s sovereignty really play itself out practically in a heartbreaking tragedy like this. In the midst of seemingly unbearable pain, this family is not questioning God’s goodness, and is even using this tremendous trial to further His gospel. It’s gut wrenching and beautiful to observe. I pray that God is building that kind of faith and love for Him into my heart, so that one day should I face the unthinkable, I will run to Him and trust Him completely even while my heart is breaking.

Please be in prayer for this family as they begin the long, difficult grieving process. Pray that they would be comforted and that God would continue to pour out His grace to them as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Pray for my friend, Christa, her as she grieves with her sister, who’s a continent away. Pray for Selah’s older siblings. Thanks, friends!

* If you are interested in giving financially to help with the family’s medical costs, let me know and I can get you the information.