Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Good gifts

We have a lot of birthdays around here.  I mean duh-lots of people live here, therefore lots of people were born.  Anyway, recently, one of my boys received a gift that he's wanted for at least a year.  A gift that last year I said was way too expensive.  He's shopped it, screen shotted and sent it to his dad, talked to his brothers about it.  Over and over.  I didn't really feel mean about not getting it.  It's expensive and wasn't practical.  But finally for this birthday, with coupons and discounts, we bought what he wanted.  And not just the bottom line but the best.  It wasn't like second mortgage $ or anything but it was significant to our family.  
You would have thought we bought this kid a car!  In fact, his response was better than any car we've given!  He hugged me so hard he about knocked me down.  And after his one thousandth thank you to his dad, he said "Best. birthday. ever".  Stop right there-- I'll sell everything in my closet for a response like that!  
Doesn't that kind of response make you just want to give again!  What about the alternative?  Have you ever had a kid say "That's not the one I wanted...".  Better yet, ever been that kid?  Yay for me, my parents have a dreadful VHS copy of a Christmas where I received a boom box.  Yeah, ages me a tad.  And there it is: lifelong proof of what an incredibly bratty 11-12 year old I was when it was clear in living color that wasn't the one...the brand...that I wanted.  Yikes!  Horrifying to watch.  And makes me want to apologize to my parents weekly now that I have kids.  Now that I've felt that same punch in the gut.
Earlier this year, I had a realization about that punch in the gut feeling.   About what it must feel like to God when we aren't content.  Since I'm a chic, I was thinking about my girly insecurities and how it must make God feel when I wish I had a different nose, or laugh, or body.  It's as if he handed us a large, lavishly wrapped gift box, full of our outward appearance, our gifts and talents, our personality, our accomplishments and then waits with excitement as we open it.  When I complain or want to trade with someone else, does it feel how we as parents feel when our kids aren't appreciative?  Or when they're disappointed in our choice for them that we were so excited about?
Matthew 7 says if we give good gifts, just think of the great gifts the Father gives!  And I'm not talking prosperity gospel at all!  I don't think Scripture supports that. 
So what kinds of gifts does he give?  He gives us the Spirit--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control.  He gives us Presence.  He doesn't leave.  He is near.  He provides.  Forgiveness.  Not seeing us the way the world sees us.  Peace.  Healing.  Salvation
How much better are these things than money!  Possessions.  The world gives chaos.  Distrust.  Doubt.  Insecurity.  
"I do not give as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. " Matthew 14:27
They go hand in hand.  How the Father gives combats troubled hearts.  It's the opposite.  
Since my realization, I've had to try to consciously be grateful for things.  Things I never realized were something God would be proud of giving and I'm snotty about.  I've tried to think of God as a Father.  And how much I love my kids--how much more He loves me!  Get swallowed up in that today!

Monday, June 1, 2015

He Never Squelches Me

I'm loud.  I'm independent. I've always been opinionated.  When he met me, I put my foot in my mouth even more often than I do now.  When we got married, I worked about 50 hours a week and was passionate about my job.  I could hardly speak on Friday nights because I was coming off of a work hangover and usually had to step out on Friday night dates to fire a couple people.  On the phone.  I was business and Type A and driven.
Scott never asked me to work less.  He visited me at my office.  He fixed dinner on nights I couldn't hang out until late.  He watched the NFL while I studied for my Master's.  He never asked me for more of my time.  He was getting all that I had.  He never even acted like I was distracted or overly wired.  He didn't try to change me.

We added a baby to the teenager in our first couple of years.  I worked until the day I went in to be induced.  And I was taking work calls and working on the computer while my newborn slept.  Work was in my blood.  Scott never dreamed I would say I wanted to work less.  I ran an office 5 days a week but was able to be home some of them.  Over time, I worked more from home.  He never complained that I used to make better money.  He never even acted like I had changed.  And didn't try to change me.

When I told him I was reading a book that was wrecking me and I wanted to go to Guatemala...he helped me buy tickets and let me go.  We talked every day I was gone about the massacre God was doing on my heart.  I came home different.  And started talking about these 5 Peruvians we had heard about.  I kept talking about it.  He didn't laugh at me.  He didn't kill it.

I've changed a lot in 7 years.  I know people change over years of marriage but I think for the first seven, I've changed more than the average chic.  And while some of the changes are good, I hope, it's still a lot of change.  He laughs about how different I am.  And he argues when people say I've lost my edge.  He almost acts like he's proud of me.

We've gotten mildly obsessed with a series of messages by Neil McClendon at Grand Parkway Baptist Church in Houston.  We know Neil and listen to him some but this series, Broken Together, is fantastic.  I've even listened to some of the messages more than once.  It's not just for married folks so don't discount it.  And it's not all ooey gooey relationship advice either.  It's really mostly about living the gospel.  It applies to any relationship really.  In one of the messages he's talking about roles and responsibilities in marriage and he used a quote from Jon Stott about headship that's been bouncing around my mind like pinball. It's specifically about the role of the man as an "authority".  Before you click the x, read on...

"If headship means power-then it's power to care, not to crush, power to serve, not to dominate, power to facilitate self fulfillment, not to frustrate or destroy it--and in all this the standard is the cross of Christ".

Take a minute and let that settle.  We all have power.  Power to say no.  Power to hold back.  Power to love or not.  Power to crush or build.  Power to be vulnerable or to put up walls.  Power to give people room--to thrive and to screw up.
Scott uses his power to let me be Lauren.  All Lauren.  Even though year 7 Lauren hardly resembles year 1.  It is Scott living the gospel for me.   It dawned on me recently that I have to think it's how God loves me.

I know it's different--He created me and all.  But in my pursuit of Him, He wants me to be who He made me to be within the freedoms that are best for me.  Granted, if I wasn't pursuing Him and got off in the weeds, He would guide or direct me back. But when I'm pursuing Him, there's great freedom in being who He asks.  It's liberating.  Empowering.  Humbling.  He doesn't try to change me, like "I'll love you more if you could just get this perfection thing down".  He loves me as is, today.  And died for me knowing the ugliest, worst parts.  But then this crazy thing happens --- I want to change.  I want to get better.  I want to know Him better and be the best version of myself that He's allowing me to be.

I want to love with such power.  I want Scott to feel like the best version of himself in part because of the way I love.  I want my kids to feel like they can be and do anything because I've not crushed or dominated.  I want the way I've loved to make them more in love with Jesus.  My life should inspire them to want to know God that way.   And should demonstrate Christ's love to them like a living picture.  God loves with an incredible love.  It inspires change.  Not because you're never good enough.  But because He knows all that He created you to be and loving Him inspires us to pursue being just that.

Yesterday you might have failed.  You might feel like you've let someone down in your actions or your words.  Maybe you haven't even believed that God wanted best for you today.  But today is a new day.   The Lord takes delight in His people and we get to wake up and ask "What do you want from me today?  Teach me to love like you do."  And then watch what happens as we change!

Friday, May 8, 2015

My 2 Cents About Planning a Wedding

(engagement pic 2008)

My brother recently proposed to his lady friend....she said yes and we like her!  All is well!  The recent festivity planning has me thinkin'.  If someone were to be reliant on my advice for wedding and/or marriage planning, what would I say?  3 'simple' things are floating around in my brain:

1.  Spend more time on marriage planning than wedding planning.
The wedding is one day.  One Day.  Like a few hours, sometimes less than 30 minutes.  You can spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on 30 minutes.  The marriage is every day.  For better or for worse.  Marriage can be hard.  It requires a lot of self sacrifice.  Figuring out how to do every day life together can be tricky.  Spend the "planning time"  talking about expectations.  What do you think every day looks like when we come home from work?  What would you like for life to look like?  Having expectations that are never talked about but still, well, expected are a recipe for disastrous fights and heartbreak.  'I thought you were going to write me a love note every day and put flower petals on my pillow every night'.  Then when he doesn't, uh oh.  Talk about this stuff.  And maybe change goofy expectations like that. :)  Talk about why you want to do life together.  A lot.  Talk about the discernment process and how God made clear that they were the one.  So that when the hard days come, you have those commitments and reminders to stand on.

2.  Pick some non-negotiables (things that absolutely have to matter to you) and ditch caring about the rest.
For me, I wanted to love my dress and have some great pictures.  I picked my dress and a photographer early.  And then literally didn't care about anything else.  I honest to goodness don't know what my invitations looked like.  My mom would call me at work with questions and at one point I said "Mom, I don't care.  If I'm married at the end of the day, mission accomplished." My poor mom.  Anyway, somehow invites got sent.  And there were some cute things on tables at our reception I think.  And I know I picked a cake out and blah blah blah.  But I never got tangled up in those details.  I realize I was abnormally low maintenance.  (And I had an almost wedding experience that gave me a unique perspective.  Different post someday. ) But most girls will tell you they hardly remember their wedding day because it's such a blur.  So why develop an ulcer during an engagement for a day you can't even recall.  Care about a few, lasting things.  And let some type A crazies in your life deal with the rest.

3. Ask yourself: "Am I at peace?"
I don't mean happy and starry eyed every moment.  I mean peace--like knowing that God's hand is on this relationship and at the end of busy days, you have confidence and rest at the core.  If you find yourself in quiet moments - not wedding planning or in a whirlwind of busyness - and incapable of enjoying the person you're about to spend life with, this is not a good sign.  Married life is full of regular stuff like Wal-mart trips and meal planning and family balancing and eye boogers and bad breath.  And then changed plans and unmet expectations. And repeat.  It isn't glamorous.  But it's fabulous.  It's one of my favorite things.  And honestly not the hardest thing I've ever done.  Yet, anyway.  But that has a lot to do with 2 people who fight to sacrifice self for the better of the two.  And I choose to rejoice in the mundane, every day, things.  When I haven't seen him since dark in the morning and he walks in the door at dark when the kids are in bed, I'm so grateful we live in the same house.  And that I get to sleep in the same place with that guy.  That when he is too stressed for complete sentences, that I get to hold his hand every day.
Part of it is my third non-negotiable for my wedding day was a peace that I knew I wanted to get down the aisle to 'that guy'!  And on my wedding day, I stood in the room with my dress on with my dad and we both knew I was completely at peace.  Completely unsure of what was to come, sure.  But  so at peace with choosing him.
At the end of the day, marriage is great.  I mean it, I think I have the greatest guy on the planet.  But it isn't really for selfish fulfillment.  It's another way to shape us to look more like God.  And it's a painful, creative way to do so at times.  To show us sacrificial love.   To sacrifice and be sacrificed for.  To put a mirror in our face to show us how truly selfish we can be.   To draw a picture of how hard it really is to love someone more than ourself.  Let alone give up His son for us!  To glorify Himself through the two becoming one when we're doing it well.  To glorify Him anyway and point people back to Him when we're not doing it so well.  Or don't feel like it.  It's not really about us at all.  It's about Him.  And if you can lock arms and decide to take on this crazy project together for Him, then you're steps ahead of most!  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Choosing to love

When Scott and I were just friends, there were parts of that friendship that were inconsistent to say the least.  (Our love story is another blog or book or something :)  One day I knew where I stood, I knew we were friends and thought he cared about me and that was fine.  But the next day, it was as if I was invisible or annoying and certainly not anyone he seemed to get real excited about seeing.  The back and forth drove me crazy.  After years of friendship, I figured out it wasn't me.  I remember the day standing in his kitchen when I told him I had had it!  "Pick a mood", I said!  "Your inconsistency is driving me to drink!  Pick a mood and land and I'll let you know if I want to be friends with that guy!"

Fortunately, "that guy" handled my honesty well that day.  He understood what I was trying to tell him and for the most part, years of friendship and now years of marriage later, he tries to pick consistency.  He's still not really a cartwheel kind of guy but I know where he stands.  Especially on how he feels about me.

I've always been a believer in your ability to choose your mood.  And maybe not totally choosing your feelings as your circumstance may just be plain sad or angering or crappy.  But I can choose the mood I wear in those feelings and how I act in that state.

So when we were waiting for what felt like a decade to get our Peruvian kids, it gave people loads of time to ask questions.  Some were okay but many left me with a raised eyebrow, not exactly sure what to say.  Like do you really think you can love kids you didn't birth like you love your own? Well.... you're talking to a step-mom (I never use that term unless I absolutely need to draw our family tree for someone) who married into a kid I didn't birth at the age of 25.  I sure hope I can love a kid I didn't birth! 

And isn't that what marriage is...don't we choose to love someone when we stand in a frilly dress and say I do?  Someone that, let's be honest, we don't know all that much about living with and doing happily ever after with.  Even later, don't we choose to love on hard days or when real life is happening and you just didn't even have time to be all sappy and starry eyed?  If you're going to say you wake up every day feeling like you're married to Matthew McConaughey and you gallop through tall grass and lilies like a scene out of Twilight together, you're either lying or you've been married for 30 seconds. Some days, the feelings just aren't there.  

Of course I could do that with kids.  In order to choose Scott, I also chose Logan.  So then when God said go get these 5 siblings, I think I loved them immediately.  Because God began to build something incredible in me that I can't explain.  Being real though, was it as if someone handed me an infant straight from my body and wrapped their naked self up and handed them to me?  Maybe not.  And I didn't connect with each of the 5 kids exactly the same way on the same time line.  I would say 2 years later there are still ebbs and flows to the connection with all 8 of my kids.  Biological or not.  It's part of my humanness trying to learn to love like God.

I think if more moms were honest and felt safe, adoptive or not, I think they might say so too. I've had friends say that they didn't feel all warm and fuzzy when their newborn was handed to them and they thought there must be something wrong with them!  I thought I was supposed to feel a bond like I've never felt before and be able to read my baby's soul!  Adoptive moms often struggle with connecting differently with their first adoption because being a mom after waiting is filled with "romance' and wonderment!  But sometimes the next adoption creates a resentment that they didn't expect and can seem scary.

Why don't more moms talk about that though?  Why don't we circle around each other and say hey, you're normal.  Or hey, I think you're really struggling, let's talk.  Part of it is I think we have a unrealistic, glorified version of love.  Like the way movies do with sex...I think instagram and facebook do that with motherhood sometimes.  Everyone else seems so happy and they're floating around on clouds like June Cleaver.  

Love isn't a feeling that falls on you and never leaves.  It's actions that require attention daily.  It's steps towards knowing someone and showing them value, sometimes in ways that are completely foreign to us.  It's learning sports we never cared a lick about.  It's allowing haircuts and clothing styles that are not our preference.  Even bigger, it's showing love and value, even when we don't feel like it!  When we're tired.  Or hurt by that particular kid.  Or when the feelings for that child may not have ever been there...trusting that if we act in patience and kindness and gentleness...that the feelings will follow.  

I used to think that was the least romantic thing I'd ever heard of.  I didn't want someone to have to think so hard to love me.  I wanted them to be so overcome by my amazingness that they couldn't help but fall into the deep pit of Lauren-love.  Ha.  It makes me laugh now!  But that was the movie-esque romance in my mind.  Over time, I learned that one of the most powerful things was for someone to choose to love me.  For someone to know me and still love me.  Whoa.   Was that possible?  So when Scott said to me "You're my pick" and got on a knee with a ring, that was romantic and surreal.  But ultimately, that's only a tiny glimpse of the gravity of how God loves me. The God of the Universe that knows my intricacies, my insecurities, my inadequacies, my sins and flaws loves me.  Holy moly, the power in that!  And that power lives in me!  

God didn't call us to the warm and fuzzy club.  Thank Him for that because I would be kicked out!  But He said He is love.  And that love was demonstrated when He laid His life down for us.  Laid His life down.  Action.  Putting yourself out there and loving when it isn't reciprocated.  Actively living out selflessness.  I think as we take steps to choose love, (which is like choosing God), he takes step towards us and changes us.  That's how the feelings change.  Even better, that's how deep seated ugly things about me change.  

Monday, March 9, 2015

What's the Struggle?

At a recent function with other adoptive/foster parents, I got a question...."What has been your biggest struggle?"  Sounds loaded.  Like today?  Last year?  From the beginning of our adoption journey?  In some ways, I think which one?  But on the other hand, I think, are there any worth mentioning? Things are good and status quo most of the time.

We of course have some normal struggles with having a lot of kids.  Is everyone getting enough attention?  Are we missing any major needs?  Whoops, I took a kid to a soccer game he didn't even have!  
And even bigger, more stereotypical things, like lying, and hiding food under the pillow.  And those are noteworthy of course.  But they make logical sense when a child has lived in an institution of any kind and built habits and doubts (like will I get to eat again soon?) that my brain can wrap itself around.
And my kids have had struggles.  Learning a language in a hurry so they can be successful at school.  One kid literally had to re-learn to walk.  Another got thrown into college a little sooner than he was comfortable with.  And the adjustment of my kids who were already living here can't be discounted either.  I could write legitimate posts on these things.  And maybe should so that we paint a very raw, real picture of this life.

But for me personally, not speaking for my kids which I can't adequately do anyway...for me the biggest struggle has been a huge surprise.  It's as if as while God was writing this incredible story for us, for me, that I could never have imagined, Satan was getting equally incredible ideas on how to kick me in the pants. 
And not that the enemy left me alone before.  I've felt warfare and temptation like others.  But I have always been so grateful that overall, I listened to God more than I listened to the lies.  I have always felt fortunate and humbled that God would choose to lower Himself to speak to me and hear me.  And even love me.  
But these new ways Satan was trying to wreck me were hard for me to recognize.  They came in waves of self doubt and feelings of failure that were so sly and wrapped in a way that I thought they must be truth.  They crept in the most unguarded moments and deceived themselves as advice that I needed to heed.  Failures that needed to be on my grade card and signed off by those that loved me.  I believed them. 
I believed that I was the wrong mom for this job.  I believed that I was failing.  I believed that I had been arrogant to think that I could handle this story.  And the pressure was too great.  I was ruining these little people God had entrusted to me.
I actually wrote an honest post over a year ago that was so sore I never posted it.  It's been sitting as a draft for that long.  I'm not sure why now.  Because fortunately, I muddled through that season.  And chose to kick the enemy off my front porch.  I chose to remember what God had said over the years of adoption process.  And even before. 

But this last weekend when the question was posed, I couldn't help but think....this has still been one of the biggest struggles to date.   Today,  I might call it the biggest fight instead.  The thing that I have to protect against.  The thing that I have to have armor for.  Not just because it knocks me down and makes me unproductive for God.  Because that's important.  But it also makes me a completely different mom than I want to be.  It makes me insecure in a way that misrepresents how I feel about my kids.   Because these feelings about myself get masked in impatience, grouchiness, tiredness and a lack of joy.  It's really a misrepresentation of how I feel about me but it comes across as an attack on them.  So I have to guard against the take down and fight instead for joy and truth and celebration of all that God has done and is doing.

Recently, I got the incredible privilege of God using something I spoke to students, to begin to change something inside one of my own kids.  It humbled me to tears to think that God could use anyone but he used me.  That couldn't have happened if I was wallowing in my self doubt and pitiful self.  I wouldn't have heard from God and been confident enough to say exactly what He told me to say if I was worrying about whether or not God really spoke to me or if anyone cared to hear it.  I wouldn't have fought off the warfare I faced even that day!  What a gift we would have missed!  I'll have to tell that whole story when I get permission some day to put it in writing. 
For now, know this, women and moms.  You're right, you're not enough.  You're not perfect and you will never be.  But God is.  And He knew exactly what He was doing when He put the lives in your home that He did.  He knows you.  Like nobody knows you.  And picked you out to be that woman and that wife and that mom.  And he picks well!  Cut yourself some slack.  Breathe.  Laugh at your mistakes.   Sing some Justin Bieber, Never Say Never loud in the car with the windows down.  Be silly.  Choose joy.  Because your God is enough and is writing a beautiful story for you and through you.

Deuteronomy 30:19
...I have set before you, life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live, and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him..

Hold fast.  Hang on.  But only let Him whisper while you ride.