fear, international adoption, + learning from martyrs.

I’ve been thinking a lot about fear. Fear of letting go of comforts. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. Fear of being a hypocrite. Fear of missing out on the story God is writing. Fear of shouting too loudly. Fear of being too quiet. Fear of risking it all. Fear of losing it all. Fear of succumbing to fear.

Fear is a tricky thing.

By now, you’ve probably heard about the struggle than an American couple had/is having to finalize their adoption in Ghana. (If not, you can read about it here.) The things they’ve experienced (and probably are still experiencing) are scary, to say the least.

As soon as I found out that the family was getting detained, I shared a call for others to get on their knees + pray for everyone involved.

Fear reared its ugly head.

I heard these things about international adoption from people I love:

"It’s not even worth it."

"Don’t you know this could have happened to you?!"

"International adoption just isn’t safe!"

I can tell you right now, with tears in my eyes, that it is worth it. It could have happened to me. And yes, this life isn’t safe. But we still step forward.

The Creator, and his created, are worth every sacrifice.And from experience, when awful things happen (and they will, because we live in a broken world), it is not the end. I’m just 24, and I have so much to learn, but something that I’m learning is that despite it all, the abundant blessings + joys that come from obedience and love is just…incredible.

I recently learned about Perpetua and Felicity, young women who were martyred in Rome in the third century. Their stories are incredible, and they exemplify courage.

In the year 203, Vibia Perpetua made the decision to become a Christian, although she knew it could mean her death during Septimus’ persecution.

Her father was frantic with worry and tried to talk her out of her decision. At 22 years old, this well-educated, high-spirited woman had every reason to want to live — including a baby son who was still nursing. We know she was married, but since her husband is never mentioned, many historians assume she was a widow.

Perpetua’s answer was simple and clear. Pointing to a water jug, she asked her father, “See that pot lying there? Can you call it by any other name than what it is?”

Her father answered, “Of course not.” Perpetua responded, “Neither can I call myself by any other name than what I am — a Christian.”

This answer so upset her father that he attacked her. Perpetua reports that after that incident she was glad to be separated from him for a few days — even though that separation was the result of her arrest and imprisonment.

Perpetua was arrested with Felicity, who was her slave.

The prison was so crowded with people that the heat was suffocating. There was no light anywhere and Perpetua “had never known such darkness.” The guards were violent. Perpetua had no trouble admitting she was very afraid, but in the midst of all this horror her most excruciating pain came from being separated from her baby.

Felicity was even worse off for Felicity suffered the stifling heat, overcrowding, and rough handling while being eight months pregnant.

Two deacons who ministered to the prisoners paid the guards so that the martyrs would be put in a better part of the prison. When she received permission for her baby to stay with her "my prison suddenly became a palace for me. Once more her father came to her, begging her to give in, kissing her hands, and throwing himself at her feet. She told him, "We lie not in our own power but in the power of God."

When she and the others were taken to be examined and sentenced, her father followed, pleading with her and the judge. The judge, out of pity, also tried to get Perpetua to change her mind, but when she stood fast, she was sentenced with the others to be thrown to the wild beasts in the arena.

Felicity was also in torment. It was against the law for pregnant women to be executed. To kill a child in the womb was shedding innocent and sacred blood. Felicity was afraid that she would not give birth before the day set for their martyrdom. Her friends also didn’t want to leave such “good a comrade” behind.

Two days before the execution, Felicity went into labor. Felicity said, “Now I’m the one who is suffering, but in the arena Another will be in me suffering for me because I will be suffering for him.”

She gave birth to a healthy girl who was adopted and raised by one of the Christian women of Carthage.

The Christians and their teacher went to the arena with joy and calm. Perpetua in usual high spirits met the eyes of everyone along the way. Ancient writings say she walked with "shining steps as the true wife of Christ, the darling of God."

The women were stripped to face a rabid cow. Perpetua and Felicity were thrown back into the arena so roughly that they were bruised and hurt. Perpetua, though confused and distracted, still was thinking of others and went to help Felicity up. The two of them stood side by side as their throats were cut.

Perpetua’s last words were to her brother: “Stand fast in the faith and love one another.” 

[Story shortened from an abridged telling here. I suggest reading her journal entries yourself.]

Wow.

Actually, I think that deserves another wow.

And maybe one more for good measure.

Wow.

Puts things in perspective.

In the midst of such atrocities, in the middle of violence and agony, there is peace. We are refined by fire, and the picture of what losing your life to gain it is becoming so much more clear.

Not succumbing to fear doesn’t mean not having any, it means trusting something — someone — far greater. Not having trust in the what, where, or why, but having trust in the who. And seeing sacrificial love as an honor. A privilege.

Risking everything the world holds high isn’t logical. It doesn’t make sense. The world [and so many in the Church] asks, why? Why spend all of your money, time, emotions, status on something someone not guaranteed? Why travel somewhere unsafe? Why adopt children when you can have a baby? Why bother with racial differences? Why? Why? Why?

I love what Jesus says to his disciples in John 14 when they’re asking him so many of whys:

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. [John 14:1-27, NIV, emphasis mine]

Doesn’t Jesus address so many of our fears? God is with us. God doesn’t give as the world gives. Some people won’t understand. Don’t let our hearts be troubled. Don’t be afraid. Obey. Follow him. He is here, he is mysterious, and he is good.

Like so many other life-altering experiences (marriage, divorce, disease, accidents, birth, death) international adoption addresses fear head-on.

When Jonny and I reflect on our experience with international/transracial adoption, so many intense emotions, memories, and fears are drudged up from that deep place inside of ourselves that rarely sees the light of day in polite conversation.

And through all of the tears, the fights, the past, present and future fears, I look at my son, toddling out of his bedroom, still in a nap-induced haze, with big eyes and a smile as he runs toward me with open arms.

Yes, he is worth it.

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.

When down-and-outers get a break, cheer! And when the arrogant rich are brought down to size, cheer! Prosperity is as short-lived as a wildflower, so don’t ever count on it. You know that as soon as the sun rises, pouring down its scorching heat, the flower withers. Its petals wilt and, before you know it, that beautiful face is a barren stem. Well, that’s a picture of the “prosperous life.” At the very moment everyone is looking on in admiration, it fades away to nothing.

Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.

Don’t let anyone under pressure to give in to evil say, “God is trying to trip me up.” God is impervious to evil, and puts evil in no one’s way. The temptation to give in to evil comes from us and only us. We have no one to blame but the leering, seducing flare-up of our own lust. Lust gets pregnant, and has a baby: sin! Sin grows up to adulthood, and becomes a real killer.

So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures. [james 1:1-18, the message, emphasis mine]

matters of the heart.

I woke up this morning to big brown eyes staring at me. A round little body in dinosaur footie pajamas sprawled on my pillow. Soft, chubby fingers gently touching my face. I spent this cold February morning under warm blankets, cuddling with an astonishingly cute and incredibly curious 18-month-old.

I changed a couple of dreadfully dirty diapers. Used thousands of tissues to wipe his runny nose. Exhausted every trick convincing him to drink his apple juice.

I started this Valentine’s Day the same way I start every day. By being Joseph’s mom.

To say my heart is full is an understatement.

It’s mind-bending to remember how much my heart ached for my little boy just one year ago. 

This Valentine’s Day, as I cuddle with my son, I’m reminded that this life — and all the dull, thrilling, trying and encouraging moments that come along with it — is a profound blessing.

I’m reminded that there’s nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name.

I’m reminded that the fullness that’s in my heart + of the Spirit is an unfathomable gift consistently and quietly waiting to be received.

May I never forget this simple mystery of love.

This gentle brilliance of joy.

This loud whisper of peace.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

[print featured above can be purchased here.]

8-15

Today, a little boy startled from a bad dream, placed his head on my chest and whimpered until I sang him back to sleep.

Today, I woke up for the 46th morning with an ocean separating me from home. Today, I will find out when I can bring Joseph home.

Today is 8-15.

Today is my son’s first birthday.

"For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.’”

[Romans 8:15]

Last night, as I stared at the ceiling waiting to fall asleep, I played the audio version of ‘Forgotten God,’ a book by Francis Chan. As Joseph fell asleep, and as I contemplated, listened and prayed for God to bring us home soon, this came from the speakers:

"The promised Spirit is not a small promise. Jesus suffered a grueling death so that I could have the amazing gift of the Holy Spirit. How dare I take this for granted? Because of Jesus, I have received the promise. This spirit is not a remote force. He takes up residence in our lives, in our very body, and by doing so brings with him a deep level of security. Again and again in the scriptures, we read about being God’s children, being led by his spirit and how we received the spirit of adoption.

Kristen has been a friend of the family for the past ten years. I’ll never forget being with her at her mother’s memorial service. As I watched her grieve, there was no doubt that she was loved by this woman who had adopted her from Korea. She was Kristen’s mothernot just some lady who looked after her and paid for her food. It has been years since her death, yet Kristen still has a hard time talking about her without getting emotional. She misses Mom.

This is the type of adoption God speaks of in Scripture. It’s not about having an impersonal guardian who looks over you. It’s about having a parent. The best parent there ever was or ever will be. We have been chosen, grafted, adopted into the family of God. And now that we are a part of the family, the Spirit causes us to call out, “Abba Father!” Remember that Abba is the most intimate form for referring to a father. It is like saying “daddy.” It connotes a deep level of familiarity and intimacy.

As God’s Spirit speaks to our hearts, we can call out to god as Abba. We will begin to experience this intimate relationship more deeply than we ever thought possible. So much so that we will begin to wonder, does everyone feel this loved by God?”

Exactly what I needed to hear.

I am thankful for a living God who loves me enough to dwell in me, even when I am angry and doubting and at my ugliest.

I am thankful for a Spirit who encourages me and comforts me when my hope has been beaten, bruised and buried.

I am thankful.

The Message puts it this way: This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!

It’s easy to doubt or feel numb to the glory of God’s fatherly love. But when I look into Joseph’s eyes, the unbounded love I have for this little child reminds me that I only love because my father in heaven loved me first. And while I have an imperfect love, God is unflawed, unconditional love. He who is holy loves me. I am his daughter. My Father’s love is a beautiful, unexplainable mystery.

So, Joseph, happy birthday.

My deepest prayer is that you will come home this week, but beyond that, may you always feel our heavenly father’s all-consuming love, and know and believe that you, too, are a beloved son of the most highest.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.