“I miss his presence…”

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to stay a couple of nights with my grandmother while I attended a conference.  We had some wonderful chats.  I especially love hearing her recount her memories of being the second to the oldest child of 14 children, growing up on a farm in the mountains of North Georgia.  As these stories are shared, she smiles softly as she attributes so much of the joys and hardships of life being sustained only by the supreme faithfulness of God.

These past few months have proven difficult for her as she has watched my grandfather, her husband of 67 years, progress into the advance stages of Parkinson’s disease.  About a year ago, the difficult decision was made to place him in a care facility.  In recalling the travesty of these past few months, Nanny made a statement I have reflected upon much as of late.  “You know, his last few months here, he slept a lot, and there were times we really didn’t even talk much.  But most of all, I miss his presence…”

Creation was not complete until God determined that a community must exist.  It is with awe and wonder as I ponder how He fashioned humanity to hold the capacity of such loving community that undoubtedly reflects the kinship held by God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  What an awe-inspiring life we may lead in lieu of this wonder!

But I can’t help but wonder, do we really know when such a community is missing in our lives?  As the Body of Christ, do we miss His Presence when we go through the motions each time we meet together?  Are we so focused on talking in prayer that we have forgotten what is like to just be in His Presence during a designated prayer time?  Have I failed to recognize or even acknowledge “missing” His Presence?

On a personal level, I have seen firsthand what presence can do to transform a child.  Naomi was very closed when she first landed in our arms.  The next few weeks proved to be a time of adjustment and caution as she so obviously sought to figure out what a family can offer.  And then, one day, this whole idea of “presence” began to embody her persona and ours.  I think I will rephrase in the context here “presence” to love.  After all, in I John 4, God is love.  God transforms.  Love transforms.

Naomi’s shell has somehow chipped away with trust and transformative love.  The gloominess of her expressions lifted like gray clouds to reveal a radiant smile.  And there has also been the lingering.  Lingering to hear another book read, beckoning with eagerness for another kiss on the cheek, demanding in her own way yet another provocation for laughter.  Love heals.

My Iphone4s shattered over a month ago.  Besides the initial frustration of losing all of my contacts and realizing how much I depended on this phone as my “go to” for organization, I also ashamedly realized something else.  I have come to realize how much I have “missed” in  not only the presence of my children and husband, but how much I have missed being fully present.  Have you ever stopped to marvel at how this “beep” or that “ding” can somehow draw you away from whatever task you are doing?  On a humorous note, it almost reminds me of those old cartoons where the characters are drawn away to a house nearby, often levitating in the air because of the smell of a pie that just came out of the oven.

I was two months shy of an upgrade, and now I somehow question whether this will be necessary.  I don’t want to be present to a screen, but not attentive to the big blue eyes of my 6 year old showing me a bug.  All of the times I have missed the presence of the community God has given me because of the presence of a screen, I grieve.  And yet, with the simplification of my “dumb phone” (as I affectionately call it), I find my own self coming out of shell plagued by distraction.

It is truly a fight, isn’t it?  To be present.  To love.  To be loved.  But oh how precious a present love to be received and offered can be!  I think my Nanny Griffis was on to something with her simple and profound statement.  May the power of Christ’s love transform us all to be molded into His likeness.

But we all, with uncovered face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.                        II Corinthians 3:18

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Musings of a strange feeling…

This tiny little hippo has something small to say,

And if we’re really quite now, she’ll say it right away…Listen-

“BEE-BO!”

Upon first purchasing the book in 2006, the year we welcomed our firstborn, I have since memorized “The Belly Button Book” by Sandra Boynton.  It is perhaps one of our silliest children’s books in our ever-expanding library.  But it has remained a favorite, and I cannot see myself getting rid of it anytime soon.  In fact, if the Lord tarries, I plan on reading it to my grandchildren one day.

Throughout the book, a small hippo keeps saying “Bee-bo”, in the attempt to pronounce “belly button”.  I usually raise my voice to almost a squeal, then I will poke in the belly button whichever  child(ren) are listening.  This always results in lots of squealing laughter and smiles.

Today, Jaron (who just turned 4 earlier this week!) requested the epic story.  Naomi was passively listening nearby and immediately wanted to get in on the fun of the “Bee-bo”.  I complied, smiling at how the simple things causes children to filled with joy.  Upon the second time around of tickling Naomi, a thought occurred to me.

Her belly button represents something that will always be a mystery.  As much as I want to think of the “now’s” and not the “then’s”, sometimes the “then’s” show up at inopportune moments and leave a strange feeling.  “Oh?!  You don’t know who her mother was?”, I had a bystander ask recently.  “You mean, there’s no record of her parents?”, another asks.  These well-intentioned questions asked innocently leave a void in my heart.

I then think of Naomi’s birth mother and I wonder how often her womb and arms feel the void?  I wonder if the bond the umbilical cord made physically still has shape and form for her emotionally.  I wonder what it would be like for her to hear laughter ringing out of her beautiful daughter’s mouth.

“What do I do with this strange feeling?”, I asked myself.  I marvel at how a Sandra Boynton book can create theological musings.  How do I create a emotional, mental and spiritual bond that can be a direct line of nourishment, growth and bonding?  How do I incorporate the “then’s” with the “now’s” and the “going to be’s”?

I suppose the first part of that question will be eliminating the “I”.  I really cannot do anything in and of myself.  Is my self challenged?  Absolutely.  Am I learning as I go?  Of course.  I must make and maintain weathered knees to even attempt approaching the God-inspired act of an “umbilical cord redo”.

Consideration is given to the Apostle Paul.  He was celibate and physically fatherless.  However, he says something so very profound in I Thessalonians 2:7 when he compares his love for the people as being as gentle “as a nursing mother”.   As a mom who can relate to this four times over, I am thankful to use this as reference in my relationship with my new daughter Naomi.

Perhaps Paul uses this analogy because there is something that happens in this aspect of a mother/child relationship that goes beyond a child receiving nourishment.  As the child takes in nourishment, the mother gives.  But the mother is also taking in something very precious.  She is taking in the full dependence of the child and she is taking in a demand to be gentle.  If a mom doesn’t relax, the child senses this, and this can lead to lots of frustration for both mom and child. She has to take in the dependence of the child initially to later give wings of independence.

But what about in the case of adoption where the child is past the physical age of the sucking reflex?  What if they have already “moved on” from being dependent?  (Naomi is sometime fiercely independent). Paul was addressing adults.  Is it possible to be  gentle “like a nursing mother” in any relationship?  My gut says yes!  I’m not saying I have it figured out.  But I do feel it is worth further study and exploration in understanding how to create a new bond.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 may hold the key, as well as understanding more fully the relationship with the Trinity.  “A cord of three strands is not easily broken”. If I bring a cord of love and dependence on Christ alone and wrap this around Naomi with whatever “cord” is she holds of the”now” or “then”, and this is followed by the all-encompassing divine love and grace of the Trinity, perhaps then there will be a manifestation of a stable, unrelenting and unbroken “cord” in Naomi’s life.

The relationship held by the Trinity will never be fully understood on this side of heaven.  But I do believe, as we all have been invited by Christ to know the fullness of Godhead more personally, we begin to understand how there is joy in submission and servitude to His will.  There is even a greater “God-confidence” that manifests itself as I understand my full dependence on Him. Russian painter Andrei Rublev captured this beautifully in 1425 with his depiction of the Trinity.  They are lovingly submitting to one another and seem to be so in sync with one another that the strong bond and relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is fully evident.

Oh to reflect this glory in daily living!  I want to experience this Trinitarian love and devotion in everything I do!  I often miss this, leaving the table He has set for me full of “every good and perfect gift”, and I sometimes opt for “cheaper fare” like impatience or giving into distractions.  But perhaps prayer can lead us to recognize the wonderment of His power to create a binding love and even a divine dance (perichoresis is a Greek word that describes the divine dance/relationship the Trinity holds) to our daily steps.  I’m thanking God today for using a silly book to remind me and challenge me to bring all “strange feelings” to Him on this journey.

On a practical note/update, we had family pictures made recently, so I hope to be updating soon with those as soon as they become available.  Naomi is doing absolutely amazing.  We are both dumbfounded with how much English she understands and is starting to speak.  Her smile can truly chase away a cloudy day.  She has jumped right in to be part of the “zoo” around here!  She’s made some steps toward bonding, and some of these have exceeded my expectations.  As with most all things in life, this journey must be perceived and treated with patience as a marathon and not a sprint.  Overall, we have thankful hearts.

Thank you  for taking the time to read.

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Redeeming the time…

“…redeeming the time for the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16)” reveals to us something exclusive throughout time and space- the ability of time to be redeemed.  Money cannot be redeemed.  Power, popularity or prestige often blows away like dust in the wind.  However, there is great hope found in knowing that time can be redeemed.

It is at this juncture that my heart swells with much hope.  I have grieved Naomi’s past.  I have grieved over considering the moment she was abandoned as a 2-week old, in need of immediate surgery for a life-threatening condition.  I have grieved to consider her first year of life, saturated with three surgeries, and hospitalization days totaling close to three months.

Today, when I heard her scream with the type of scream only a grieving child can give as she saw her nanny caregiver from the orphanage leave, I grieved again.  Her grief was intense.  In many respects, it was her second abandonment.  All she has ever known, touched, smelled and held was taken from her in a brief moment.  We look different, talk different, and despite our lollipop we brought, along with toys and other snacks, nothing would console the grief of her heart.  So, in those moments, I cried right along with her, knowing that I too have a High Priest who is familiar with all of our grief and sorrow. I had an awareness that Patrick and I were for her, in those intense moments grief, an Incarnational presence, as our Emmanuel loved her through us.

After she cried herself into exhaustion and sleep, I watched those long, black eyelashes close as her head rested and slept against the heart of her new father.  Redeeming the time.  Time is being redeemed in a tangible way.  For every moment she cried as a baby, and no one was available to console her, time is now being redeemed.  Undoubtedly, in the days and weeks ahead when she makes requests, and they are answered, time is being redeemed.

And for me as a new mother, time is also being redeemed on this “Gotcha Day” because I have a more intimate awareness of my awesome God breaking into reality.  Reality may be dirty.  Reality may have a tear-stained past.  Reality may include a disregard for sacred life.  Reality may lack compassion.  But Christ has proven to me once again, that He is the ultimate reality that breaks into whatever may be obvious.  With the same voice that spoke the stars into existent, Who Himself was present before the foundation of the world, He speaks a redemptive note into any reality that may exist, and He calls the common, holy.  He took a common, dirty manger and graced it with the Most High.  Today, He took part of my heart and spoke belonging. And, at the same time I looked at my daughter for the first time and spoke with my eyes and heart to her- belonging.  God has and will continue to redeem the time.

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Why?

We leave next Wednesday to journey toward what I believe will be a greater understanding Abba Father’s love.  In the midst of looking at three different packing lists, ordering needed items on Amazon’s handy, 2-day shipping with Prime, and making needed phone calls, I found myself stepping aside from it all one day and asking myself the simple question, “Why?”.

All emotion aside, I took a hard, logical look, perhaps from the world’s perspective to introspectively ask, “Why would you adopt a child with a medical need from another country?”  In many respects, this does not make sense.  It does not make sense to consider the potential for multiple doctor’s appointments and possible therapy appointments.  It doesn’t make “logical” sense to willingly welcome a child who had a traumatic first year of life, tapered with many stays in and out of the hospital.  What about the fact that this child will have only understood Chinese, seen Chinese faces, and been hugged by the only “momma(s)” she has ever known in the nannies at the Chinese orphanage?

As I asked these reasonable, logical questions, I then prayed.  Grant it, I wasn’t second guessing the decision to do this.  No.  It was settled in my heart and spirit almost two years ago, and I have not looked back.  But, it was a moment of pondering that deserved a Divine response.  Gently, the Holy Spirit placed on my heart-  “Because that is what I did to you”.

Immediately, I was reminded of the intimate response God gives Israel in Ezekiel 16.  He found Israel, “lying in their own blood”.  They needed to be rescued, clothed, nurtured and loved back into life.  That is an accurate picture of us spiritually before Christ is welcomed into our hearts.  In reality, as believers, we are all adopted.  It didn’t make “logical” sense to be welcomed as strangers into the eternal fold of God’s family (Romans 5:8).  Yet, He loves us.  He calls us His very own.  Even when we don’t understand the language of His love, He gives us holy opportunities to trust.

The moment I take my daughter into my arms on June 8, it will not be like the times the nurse in the hospital, four times over, placed my precious babies into my arms.  Yet, my soul will undoubtedly give a rupture of bliss in like manner.  I just have a feeling that the reality of her being uniquely placed in our arms by Abba Father will be encapsulated with enough of His power to get us through any “Why’s” that she will ask in years to come.  Somehow, John 3:16 already seems to take on a fresh, new meaning.  He gave…and He still does. Zhao Dong Ping 4.17.2015

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Our adoption story: “A Pleasant Pearl”

It is with great joy and delight to finally be able to begin a blog!  For many years, I have contemplated and desired to chronicle my journey in words.  I am thankful for the current road we are on, because it is “forcing me” to develop a blog for the very practical means of updating folks on this exciting venture of adoption.  But, in my heart of hearts, I see this as a beginning of sharing with others the theological ponderings of my own heart.  It is to this end that I invite you to sit and journey with me, and just perhaps, you will find aspects of your own footprints.  Ultimately, we can all give glory to the One Who fills our lives with a portion of epic love and venture.

It appeared to start out as an ordinary spring.  Forty days until Easter Sunday in 2013.  However, this year, I knew in my heart, I had a steadfast desire to see this “ordinary” spring, be transformed into something “extraordinary” in my heart through a season of fasting and prayer.  I developed a list of prayer points in my heart, including one inspired my daughter.

From the time of our courtship, RevMD and I had aspired to have four children.  God graciously gave us those four children, all born within 5.5 years of one another.  Yet, a lingering thought that had been a whisper was elevated to a speaking voice, when my little girl, age 4 at the time, showed me her “prayer log”.  A simple, stump in the yard had become a place where she would go to pray.  When asked about what she specifically prayed for, her reply came as a “shout” to my heart, “A little sister.”

I will not sugar-coat this.  I had struggled with postpartum issues after my last pregnancy.  It was real.  It was dark.   Yet, the womb of my heart felt a longing that only a momma wanting a baby can feel upon hearing my daughter’s words.

In my upbringing in church, it would often be said, based on the hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” to “take it Lord in prayer”.  And, this is exactly what this conversation with my daughter drove me to do for the next forty days.

During this time, I ran into a variety of people.  When you begin to look at the world through the lens of the Holy Spirit and prayer, you not only find that you pray, but you become “prayer-full”.  I saw a mom at Wal-Mart.  With both of us having preschoolers in tow, we had a conversation about children and God, all the while deciding on the flavor of coffee creamer for the week.  Then, there was the almost shocking conversation with a fellow believer whose opinions on adoption saddened me.  Needless to say, this negatively charged conversation actually served as one of the first seeds of something beautiful God was beginning to plant in my heart.

Not long after this, a lady from church spoke of the great need in our county for foster parents.  The womb of my heart was having a deeper awareness of the forgotten and orphaned.  I now knew that I needed to pray for direction and what my response should be.

After the fasting ended, the breakthrough came at dinner one evening.  The best description I can come up with is how the Holy Spirit spoke the following into my heart:  “If you adopt a child, one of your children will understand with greater clarity the message of Christian salvation.”  I began to weep.  According to the Scripture, the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth (John 16:13), I knew that this could not be outside of His will at this point.

A journey then began of learning the specifics behind this call.  Local?  National?  International?

In researching various options, I kept coming back to China.  Knowing that there were two more “hurdles” toward a final decision.  One, I wanted to know for sure that China was the exact location we were to pursue the adoption, and secondly, I knew that RevMD needed to be completely on board with this.  I began to pray that God would confirm the location and the call in my husband’s heart.

Not long after this, I was rummaging in the garage through some old books and stumbled across an old journal from 2010.  There, upon the pages, was a dream I had written down.   If a dream lingers in my mind and heart for a few days and seems rather unusual, I usually write it down.  In this particular dream, I was walking on a muddy road during a storm.  In the climax of the dream, I saw a little Asian girl, face down in the mud in front of me.  I reached down, and I picked her up.  She was rescued.

This was confirmation that China was the place! Within a week of this, my husband was spending time in prayer.  You see, all around the same time, we had received word that we were going to be receiving a good tax return.  Because of all that was emerging in my heart, I felt we should use it to put the downpayments down to an agency to begin a homestudy and start the process of China adoption.  But I also knew this was a trust journey of God speaking the same thing to my husband.  RevMD came and looked at me that day with tears in his eyes.  The Lord had spoken, “Do you want to be the rich, young ruler?” (Matthew 19:16-22).  God was calling us to lay down earthly treasures.  He was calling us to adopt a girl from China.

Admittedly, the cost associated with international adoption can be a deterrent for many, and almost was for me on many days.  Somehow, the story of the widow in Elisha’s time (II Kings 4:1-7) who kept going to pour oil and found oil every time spoke to me as I considered that if God were authoring this story, He would graciously have the “oil” show up every time.  From knitting scarves, to mistakes made by employers that resulted in a “big fat check”, God has shown Himself faithful time and again to carry out His provision to get Naomi to her forever family.  I share that to encourage you in your own journey.  Wherever you may find yourself today, know that God’s ways and methods of moving are always higher.  God sees the pearl way before all we see is the “sandy irritant”.

Two months later, we were driving home from a meeting with our agency.  We had just “signed on”.  The Lord spoke again, this time to my husband.  Because our daughter would be a stranger from a foreign land, but would experience a redemption through the humble experience of us being used as a “kinsman redeemer”  of sorts, we were to name her “Naomi”, which means pleasant.  Furthermore, we would experience the joy of financial sacrifice and the literal laying down of earthly dreams and pursuits to pursue this call and others.  We were being called to search out the “pearl of great price” both in pursing this little girl, and we were realizing the spiritual depth and joy of eternal treasure.  “Zhen-Zhu” is Chinese for pearl.  “Naomi Zhen-Zhu”.  A “pleasant pearl” has entered our hearts, and she will soon enter her forever home in June 2015.

 

 

 

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