Adoption Update

When our son Russell was still only an unnamed hope in our hearts, Tim and I felt drawn to adoption. It is estimated that 153 million children worldwide are orphans. That need, combined with our sense of God’s calling and our own desire to build a family, led us down a winding road whose destination we still don’t see clearly. We began the journey more than 5 years ago by attending various local and international adoption agency informational meetings. We eventually chose Chinese Children Adoption International as the route that felt most consistent with our hearts and God’s leading. We struggled through some of the potential “ugh” realities of adopting, including the possible lack of knowledge on family medical history, the unique attachment journey some adopted kids and parents enter, the unknowns, and the long waiting periods. We sat through 24 hours of required parenting courses. We began saving our money for the associated costs of adoption. And we waited…

Last week, after a long silence, our dossier (the extensive paperwork associated with adopting) was finally filed in China.  We received the first “file” of a little girl for our consideration in adopting!

Please pray for us. We are seeking to discern if this sweet little girl is a “match” for our family and us for her. The thrill of hope inside of us around this possibility is indescribable!

My friend Jodi Landers has adopted 2 children from Sierra Leone, and she has wisely said, “A child born to another woman calls me mom. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege is not lost on me.”

Thank you for your prayers as we seek to hear God’s voice in this process!

Dear Tim

Dear Tim,

I want to acknowledge, honor and celebrate so many things about you this Father’s Day.  I am grateful for your tenderness, strength, funny ways, energy, insights and love. But maybe most of all I am grateful for your involvement in parenting. I know that sometimes our culture stereotypes dads as being uninvolved, aloof, oblivious, disconnected – but you are nothing like that. You are every bit as involved in being Russell’s dad as I am in being Russell’s mom. You are equally aware, tuned in, and committed. You prepare just as many meals, change just as many diapers, and say “no” or “maybe later” just as often as I do.  I love that Russell can follow you around in the garage, swing with you on the swing, paint on canvas with you, and cook eggs with you for breakfast. I love watching the two of you together. I love raising Russell with you. I’m so glad you are his dad.

Happy Father’s Day with love from us both,

Susie & Russell

Why I Love Child Dedication

As a Pastor, Mother’s Day makes me a little nervous every year. I am always aware that this is a painful day, a joyful day, a salt-in-the-wound day and a sacred day – depending on your experience. It is also a beautiful opportunity-day to acknowledge that anytime someone chooses to nurture & care for another human being, they are “mothering” in the best definition of that word.

Tomorrow we will celebrate with nearly 10 families who have chosen to dedicate their children to the Lord. I get misty-eyed every time we have child dedication in our worship service. I’m not sure if it has always been the case throughout the history of parenting but I know that the parents I speak with today (and myself included) regularly feel some shame in their job as parents. If you pull a busy parent aside and say, “you are doing a great job” do not be surprised if they break out into tears. Maybe it is the high expectations of our culture that no one feels they can measure up, maybe it is because every parent just has those days where they want to resign from the job and then feel guilty for wanting to, or maybe it is because little kids are just so unrelenting in their need for help, guidance and parenting.

So when parents stand up and dedicate themselves and their children to God it is a declaration of dependence, it is a cry for help in the best possible way we can cry out for help. It is a full-on, complete and total acknowledgement that we as parents cannot do this job alone. We need God, we need our friends and family, and we need our church community. There are not many places in this world where you can basically stand up and say “I need a ton of help here” and then make a celebration & ceremony out of how totally awesome that is to admit to the world.

Thank you in advance to all the families who will share heart-felt letters to your children with us in church tomorrow. Thank you for modeling dependence and your need for help. Thank you for modeling courage and strength for all of us. Thank you for being a part of our church. We know that you do not need one more person needing you right now, but the truth is: we need you too, our church needs you. We don’t need you to do anything extra, we just need you to be in our lives because what you are doing in raising children is important and when we see your sacrifice we remember why Jesus said “let the little children come to me” and we are reminded that God is found in serving the littlest and least of these.  You are doing a great job.

Turning the Car Around

We had to turn the car around on our way to Frisco the other day because we forgot “White Bear,” one of Russell’s favorite stuffed animal friends. Most child psychologists believe that “lovies” are a very good thing for children developmentally. A treasured “lovie” can provide:

*comfort during sad times
*security in scary situations
*a someone/something that is with you at all times

As adults, we have our own socially accepted version of “White Bear.” We use words like “comfort food” and “financial security,” and we have things like our cell phones that most of us will absolutely turn the car around and go back for, rather than face the day without them.

I think we instinctively know that these “white bears” in our lives aren’t the real deal, but we sometimes still give them a lot of power. We forget, or fail to trust, our first and true love. Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

May we turn to Christ today for rest, for comfort, and for security-and to abide in the One who is with us always.

Practicing What I Preach

Our message series for Advent this past December was called “Be Present to the Unexpected.”  For four weeks leading up to our Christmas Eve services, I spoke about how unexpected it was for God to bring his son into the world as a baby. I taught that part of being present at Christmas time was being present to the unexpected things in our own lives. On Christmas Eve, I had a chance to practice what I preached.

Since Christmas Eve is the 2nd largest event of the church year, I always impose on myself some pressure for the services/message. All December long, I battle voices in my head that say things like, “Don’t mess up this message because there will be lots of visitors that day.” And then I remind myself it’s about God and not about me…, and then I basically repeat this debate 100x over in my head throughout the month.

The week before this Christmas, our nanny Gabby returned to China to visit her family after 2 years here in the U.S. We were so happy and excited for her, but her travel disrupted what had become our normal routines with our 2 ½ year old son Russell.

Our dear friend Charlie heard we needed help and volunteered to watch Russell for us on Christmas Eve morning. At about noon, while in my office putting final touches on the talk for that afternoon, I got a call from Charlie saying, “Russell is sick.” Concerned, I zipped home, a conveniently short commute since we live next door to the church. Russell did not look good. By 2 p.m. my concern had not waned, so I called the nurse hotline to get some advice, and she said, “You need to bring him in right away.” The only appt was at 3 p.m., and our first service was at 3:30 p.m. I was thinking: T minus 90 minutes until the service starts… No pressure here, Susie… 2nd biggest event of the year… and your baby needs to go to the doctor!

I hung up the phone and started crying uncontrollably. Something about that mix of pressure of a big day plus my-baby-needs-me and a little bit of the mother-guilt over having a babysitter on Christmas Eve and the fear of what might be wrong with Russell  added up to my feeling so raw, vulnerable, and all alone. So I cried big tears that seemed even to me in the moment a bit disproportionate for the situation, but I couldn’t help it.

Here is how God showed up in that moment and how I got to practice what I had preached: “Be present to the unexpected.” The unexpected sick kid, the unexpected tears, the unexpected timing of it all. God showed up for me in the unexpected presence of Rob and Carol (our medical expert friends & church elder) who came to our home, assessed & treated Russell, and reassured me. The blessedness of their gift of love to me in that moment cannot be overstated. They were hands-down the best Christmas gift I received, and they gave it just by being there and being Jesus-with-skin-on for me that day.

God also showed up for me in the unexpected presence of Curtis, our professional musician friend who canceled his Christmas Eve plans to stay with our son, skipping out on the candlelight service himself.  He was away from his family for the first time ever on Christmas, and he chose to be family to us by sitting with our sick toddler. When I walked in our back door after the services were done, weary and grateful that God had gotten us through, Russell was curled up and sleeping on Curtis’ lap on the couch. That image, even to this day, makes me weep.

Of all the plans we made that year for Christmas (the special music, holiday foods, carefully crafted décor, and nostalgic candlelight) God chose to come closest to me in the unexpectedness of that night, which I will not soon forget.

 

Chinese Baby + Advent

Last year I woke up in the middle of the night with a strong sense that a woman in China was having a baby. This would be an unusual dream during most times of my life, but on this occasion, Tim and I were in the midst of a season of adoption exploration. We were taking 24 hours of required parenting courses in hopes of some day bringing home a child from China.

I may never know this side of eternity whether a woman in China was really giving birth at that moment, but the dream nonetheless created an emotional connection for me with our future adopted child.

Connectedness is what we celebrate during Advent…

God has a spiritual connection with each of us. The Scriptures say in Psalm 139 that God knew us before we were formed in our mothers’ wombs, He knows when we sit and when we lie down, He knows our words before we speak them, and He hears our thoughts.

When God sent Jesus, he added a physical bond with humanity-one that began in Mary’s womb, where vulnerability, waiting, and eventually pain attended his coming. Like all babies, Jesus bonded with Mary in utero – hearing her voice and feeling the beat of her heart. His connection with her was established even before she first held him close to her-skin to skin-, before his small hands wrapped around her or Joseph’s grown up fingers, and before they ever heard his coos and cries.

Jesus bonded with Mary & Joseph but also with all the people of Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee, etc. where he walked, taught, ate meals, slept, fished, healed, and loved. Advent is a time for us to remember how great God’s love for us is-that he crossed into humanity for our sake.

But Advent is also a time for us to hope for reconnection with God in a spiritual and physical way. Through Jesus’ physical death, we are able to spiritually commune with God without our guilt and shame hindering the bond. And we await with great anticipation the day when Jesus will return and we will see him face to face. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now we know in part; then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

The connection I have with our adopted child is spiritual right now, but God willing, it will some day also be physical. I know that when I meet that little girl, I am going to do everything in my power to bond with her, and I can’t wait for that day.

Even today, in the vulnerable places, in the waiting and in the pain of our lives, our bonds with this Child King can be strengthened.

May your bond with the Christ child deepen this Advent season, as together we make room for Him.

Russell Likes My Meatloaf

I have a good friend who has pretty much dropped out of church. She has her reasons, and I don’t judge her for them. During a recent conversation with her, she told me, “The thing I miss most about being in church is communion.”

I have never been much of a day-in-day-out cook. For the first ten years of Tim’s and my marriage, I usually cooked for company (which, granted, is a regular event in our house), and Tim usually cooked the rest of the meals. Since Russell, we haven’t found an actual family cooking rhythm yet, but I made meatloaf the other night, and Russell chowed it down like he hadn’t eaten in weeks! I feel like my heart could burst with happiness when I watch him eat my home cooked meals. I have been surprised by how much joy and satisfaction I derive from cooking a meal that Russell enjoys. It makes me feel like I am giving him nourishment that he needs to grow healthy and strong. It feels like a tangible way I can show him my love.

God invites us to share a meal with Him each week, a meal that He has provided for our nourishment and strength. I imagine it brings God’s heart great joy and satisfaction to be the source of our nourishment. Of course we can go many different places other than God for nourishment, but it is only ultimately in Him that we find satisfaction and strength. When we come to the table together, when we allow God to provide for us, it must bring his Father-heart such great delight.

May we never forget in the regularity and routine of worship, the beauty and power contained in sharing the Eucharist meal together.

All Mine

Russell’s new favorite word is “mine.” We didn’t teach him to hold the bowl of berries to his chest and say, “mine” when his friends come over for lunch. We did not show him how to grab the toy and say “mine” during play dates in our backyard. We did not directly teach him to view it as “mine.” But he has figured out a new word, and he sure likes to use it!

Even though I don’t run around saying “mine” like a toddler, I sure can act like my stuff is all mine in my heart, attitudes and behavior. Every time I hear Russell say “mine” I am reminded that this stuff – all this stuff – is really not mine. I am reminded that God has entrusted me with this one and only life, with this one and only season, and with these one and only opportunities to serve Him. It is not my business I’m running, it is not my staff that I am leading, it is not my church, or my house, or my car, or even my child. Everything belongs to God. The whole earth is His.

Get a Cue

Yesterday at church I got to hug a pregnant mom who is about to have her first baby. She told me that she is physically ready to have the baby but that she has emotionally been very sad about the season of life called “married with no children” coming to an end.

I can relate. Tim and I were married for 10 years before Russell was born. I remember being 8 months pregnant and so positively eager to meet our little sprout but simultaneously being so unmistakably sad to say goodbye to that decade of just Tim and me. I was grieving the end of an era that would never come again. I was mourning the loss of a stage of life that only comes once. I was saying goodbye to a part of my life that had been full of sweetness and difficulty and change and growth. Saying goodbye felt so very sad.

Now we are in this new stage called “raising young children,” and I’m sure when Russell goes to kindergarten, I will grieve the loss of this stage too. Then, all too soon, I’m told, Russell will graduate from high school and go off into the world, which is both a loss and a joy I cannot even imagine right now.

Talking with my pregnant friend got me thinking about how completely not in-the-moment I tend to live. I’m almost always thinking about what is gone or what is next, imagining the future, thinking about tonight, or tomorrow, or next week ,or next year, or in the case of Russell’s graduation, 16 years from now!

Recently, Tim’s mom came and stayed with us for 2 weeks, and she kept singing a song to Russell, called “Jesus’ love is sweet.” We’ve kept singing it since she left, and I’ve been making it my practice to use that little jingle as a cue to myself to pause and be in the moment. I am using that little song, which we sing countless times each day, to slow myself, to center myself, to breathe in deeply the presence and love of God and the sweetness of this season, even if there are fish crackers all over the car and smushed bananas on my new couch.

My cue goes like this, “Jesus’ love is sweet and wonderful, O,O, wonderful love. Higher then the mountains, deeper than the ocean, wider then the universe, O, O, wonderful love.” Maybe you can find a cue that’s helpful to you when you find yourself pulled into the past or catapulted into the future. Whatever life stage you find yourself in, whether good or bad, heartbreaking or exhilarating, you can be sure that it will not last. So, be present to it, knowing that our Lord holds our past, present, and future securely, and His love endures forever. O, O wonderful love!

New Baby

Matt and Monika had their baby this week, and they brought him to church when he was just a few days old. When I saw baby Rockwell, I marveled at those little fingers and his tiniest button of a nose. Part of me wanted to freeze time for Matt and Monika, to somehow bottle up this newborn season and never let him grow up because he is so very sweet, little, and perfectly beautiful.

Tim’s and my son Russell turns two years old this week, and he is becoming such a big boy! During these two years, we have eagerly awaited and embraced each of the “nexts” he has grown into. We were so excited when he could roll over, sit up, stand, walk on his knees (for a year), then walk on his tippy toes, and now run. A lot has changed in two years! So, when I saw baby Rockwell, I wanted to freeze time, not just for him but also for Russell. Please, sweet baby love, stay small for a little longer because life goes so fast. Let your mama and daddy hold you and love you and snuggle you forever.

But we all know that my wish isn’t possible. There will soon be no stopping Rockwell from rolling and crawling and running. And even if Matt and Monika could slow Rockwell’s growth and hold him close to home for his whole life, would they do that? Probably not. They understand that a parent’s role is not to keep our children small. The goal of parenting is to provide an environment of nurture and love so that a child can grow up well. Our responsibility is to point the way and provide the space so that our children can spread their wings, fly, and eventually soar. We get to show, to tell, to model, and to teach (even in failures) what life with God looks like.

So Matt and Monika and baby Rockwell and big boy Russell, may you never stop growing into his love and goodness for you. May we as your church family provide the love and nurture and space that you need to become all God has designed you to be.