Monday, October 2, 2017

When Sparrows Fall

"Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?  And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Do not fear, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows."
~ Matthew 10:29-31 ~

Though I can’t remember the details, the still-frame image sits in my mind like it was yesterday rather than 25 years ago.  The summer sun shining down as we stood near a pine tree in the cemetery right behind my house.  We had just resurrected a little cross made of sticks to complete our little circle-of-stones grave marker.  I don’t remember if we sang, if we had a little ceremony of sorts for our little feathered friend, or what she and I said to each other in our 13-year-old lingo, but I remember the sympathy that welled in my heart over this little bird who had been injured.  Best we figured, perhaps we gave it a heart attack or something as we had tried to help it, and before we knew it, blood trickled from its beak as it lay lifeless in our hands and left our hearts a little broken too.

Living beside a cemetery frightens some, but I never minded as a kid, and that day, my quiet neighbours proved to be a blessing and a restful place to bury a little piece of heaven’s creation that had fallen.  But what remains most precious about that day is that the God of the universe showed up.  Two kids with knobby knees, dirty fingernails, and tangled hair, and He was there.  While keeping the planets spinning in their orbits and carrying world governments to their intended end that day, He was there.  Two young girls and a little sparrow with the audience of the King.  And it touches my heart that He still remembers it like it was just yesterday too.

It was years later that I’d find myself in a cemetery again, not because I knew anyone on the grave markers, not because a fresh mound of dirt bore a loved one I knew, but because I sought refuge in the peacefulness I found there.  Another one of His little sparrows had fallen, and her faith was toggling on the edge of life and death while yearning to believe that tombs could become places of resurrection, that light could come from dark.  Like the Emmaus Road disciples in Luke 24, my hope had come to shut out the notion of crosses and resurrections in His plan.  It was a season where pain was the tutor of life I never asked for in a school of heartache I had never applied to.  Somehow it didn’t compel me to want to sign up even knowing, as Charles Spurgeon says, “the school of suffering graduates exceptional scholars.”  I didn’t want to be a scholar.  Frankly, I had already graduated college twice over, and top of my class at that, and was ready to put school behind me.  But the School of Life boasts a far longer educational program.  And beyond my own ache, I hurt knowing that a groaning, broken world was aching deeply in so many ways too (Romans 8:22-23).

So in one of the hardest seasons of my life where deep grief and injustice had stalled my own heart and my wings couldn't find air to fly, I buried myself into my Father’s heart in the peacefulness of that cemetery.  And soon my vestibule of grace shifted to a gravel road at the edge of the city not too far from my house.  It boasted a mountain vista on the distant horizon while bales of hay speckled the landscape and tall grasses blew among butterflies dancing on the wind.  In lieu of the cemetery bird sing-song, I’d watch eagles soar above me instead.  I found a peaceful audience with the King for hours on end where I was reminded anew of the importance of stewarding other people's sins and where my soul could unwind prayer, in journal pages, or simple stillness.

Today, I find myself aching again for a world groaning and pulsing with need when I read of more senseless attacks on human life.  Ecclesiastes 7:1 says the day of one’s death is better than their day of birth and that it’s better to go into the house of mourning than the house of feasting, for it makes us take life to heart.  Death, funerals, and cemeteries make us think about life.  The heart of the wise is made better by sorrow, Solomon goes on to say in that chapter, because sorrow keeps our mind in heaven.  As I sat by grave plots in that cemetery, I remember imagining the tombstones now a great cloud of witnesses perhaps peering over the edges of heaven (Hebrews 12:2) cheering me on to choose joy.  I’d watch the sheer irony of some of the living choosing their plots and planning out their dying while some of the deceased were fully alive and celebrating eternal life.  While the living were embracing sorrow, the dead were embracing joy.  Sometimes death does have more to teach us than life – Solomon got it right.  In those moments in the graveyard, figuratively and literally, God would ask me to keep stitching eternity into everything and to keep choosing Him by faith, not sight, and to put on my dancing shoes and choose joy every day.  Today is no different.  Of course we all have days where we stumble all over the place trying to live and see life well.  Personally, I’m convinced it’s because I chose to wear high heels that day.  Those stilettos will kill ya'!  ;) And other days, I can pull off a few decent dance moves.  Just practicing up for the kitchen dance parties I hope to have with my daughter some socks or bare feet instead!

I get e-mails regularly in my inbox of orphans around the world looking for forever families and Christians being persecuted in other parts of the world.  Up until recently, I spent time each week with at-risk kids and youths in rougher areas of the city, many who have been abandoned on some level by divorce, a parent in prison, or the death of a parent.  Some may not be true orphans, but they are functional orphans, which, in my mind, is no different.  With a particular heart towards orphans, I’ve thought often of the kids around the world who call the streets home, who have learned to survive and forge their way in life, whose greatest desire is a sense of belonging, someone on a planet of 7 billion people to always come back to, who will unconditionally love them and be their "forever," their home, their place to hitch their heart to and live life with until death steals in.  My heart aches for them.

And around this time last year, as I found myself reading articles and looking through graphic images of Aleppo, a war-ravaged city in the throes of despair, I had to keep reminding myself to lift my eyes heavenward.  So many little sparrows had fallen...children made orphans who had their wings broken and their hearts arrested by fear and pain that threatened to steal the very life from their lungs and bury them, if not literally, then in grief.  And I would think of the mama and papa birds who now bled as the life of their young had been torn from them and who found pain the tutor of life in a school of heartache they never applied to either.  And too often since then and again today, I hear of more death and violence and loss, and my only real comfort is that God catches sparrows and has and will show up in death and life just as He did when I was 13 years old and the years thereafter...the God who has been making tombs places of resurrection for over 2,000 years, who is everywhere present and writing a story that, though we may not understand it, tells of better things yet to come.

These local and global heartaches remind me of a Father who tells me that not one of these little sparrows falls to the ground apart from His will, His notice, His care (Matthew 10:29) and that all is of grace, John 1:16 undeserved grace upon grace.  And every day, He asks us to choose to trust Him with a world that is groaning, that is hard to understand, and that we yet see dimly.  For that mama who just buried her 2-year-old or 32-year-old, that street orphan looking for his next meal, that twin whose sister just died in war-torn rubble, or that pastor imprisoned and tortured for months on end, they have an audience with the King.  Despite dirty fingernails, unwashed and tangled hair, trembling knees, bereft heart, and bruised grace, He  has promised to show up.  He has promised to catch them with everlasting arms (Deut 33:27) because He catches even sparrows when they fall.  The very tangled hairs of their head are numbered by Him, and they are of more value than many sparrows.  He carries the darkness of broken hearts in one hand and the light of stars in the other with barely a space between them (Psalm 147:3-4), darkness and light alike to Him (Psalm 139:12), and that is my comfort on days like today.  And, indeed, the things we learn in the dark will become our places of light.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

An Open Letter To My Baby Girl

I started this journal a while back for my little girl that I plan to give to her someday filled with precious moments and life lessons and things I wish for her heart.  As I've been waiting so long during my adoption journey to bring her home, it has been a way of bringing her a little closer and bridging the gap between hope and my waiting heart . . . a simple way to knit her into the fabric of my heart and to knit my heart into hers as the years go by.  I thought I’d share a snippet of her journal and my heart as this crazy adventure unfolds a little more . . .

An Open Letter To My Baby Girl

Baby Girl,

I have so much I want to share with your heart.  I think about it more often than I write.  But however full this journal becomes, may it always remind you that I loved you before I met you.  You were born in my heart long before you graced my life and filled my arms.  And I bled your orphanhood and abandonment on the pages of my own life and felt their hard ache long before you felt their sting.  I’ve known many of your scars before you’ve known the ways that life can wound.  As I wait to bring you home, I’m reminded that this reality called adoption is brutiful.  Someone had to lose you so that I could gain you.  She had to let you go so that I could hold on.  She had to grieve you so that I could fully love you.  She had to tear you from the fabric of her heart so that you could be woven into mine.  Her death has become my life.  And her great courage and selfless love in choosing to give birth to you despite circumstances less than ideal has inspired mine.

You will probably wonder one day what she looks like.  “Momma, is she gentle and strong?  Tall or short?  Do you think I look like her?  Do you think she loved me?”  And I will grieve that I don’t have all the answers.  And you will grieve that too.  But we will walk through it together.  And we will find that the sorrows of life stretch out greater spaces in our heart for joy, compassion, and love for others. 

We will watch daddies lift their little girls on their shoulders at the park, and my heart will break inside as we walk home and you ask me, “Mommy, where is my daddy?  Could I have a strong one too that’s proud of me and that carries me on his shoulders?”  And I will draw you close and hold you.  And I will tell you how much you are loved and take you to the God who carries governments on His shoulders...and little girls too.  And then we’ll let the world slow down for a little longer and throw a baseball around together.  Yes, I will long for a daddy for you, but I will trust that our gaps will build a bridge of invitation for a broken world as those gaps teach us to be that bridge.  I won’t have the answers to many things in life, Sweet One, but a little mystery keeps us humble.  And in the midst of the hard, we’ll still have kitchen dance parties, inside jokes, food fights, and tea parties, snuggles on lazy days, and adventures on crazy days.  I may have missed your first breath and first steps, but I hope to give you my last.

And I hope your story helps you defy the brokenness in this world and teaches you to fall in love with all the people whose stories mirror yours and the ones that are different too.  I hope your story points you to the beauty of redemption and relentless love in dark places where the sun has yet to kiss the horizon.  Our stories will never be perfect or free of pain, Baby Girl, but my prayer is that shame and loss will always be upstaged by hope.  You and I will never be able to go back and make the painful details of life pretty, but we can always choose to move forward and make the whole beautiful.

Some think I’m a little crazy to adopt you while flying solo.  But sometimes life asks us to take leaps of faith and build our wings on the way down.  To simply be ordinary people foolish enough to believe that the world can look a little more beautiful when we choose to go out of our way to love and to tell someone that they’re worth being fought for...and waited for.  And I’ll have you by my side, a little bird that has grown new wings and found a safe shelter in my arms, so I won’t be alone.  I sense you’ll teach me how to fly far better than I’ll ever be able to teach you.  

This long journey to find you scrawled across the past 7+ years of my life would never be what I would have chosen.  But sometimes the things we wouldn’t pick choose us to become brave and tenacious.  Sometimes we get what we need by walking through the things we never wanted.  And those things that make us fall apart sometimes become the very things that teach us how to be held together...and the things that break us become the very things that break our hearts open to something more.  Sometimes the greatest gifts and greatest wisdom come at the highest cost, Little Bird.  While we cannot always see the other side of this confusing, tangled tapestry in this journey of a thousand miles and then some, one day we just might.  Until then, I wish you courage and kindness in the adventure, Sweet Girl, not the kind that roars and makes itself loud, but the kind that humbly shows up every day to sing your melody and light up the darkness.

As I imagine watching you sleep and memorizing the curves of your face and praying over your little heartbeat, I’m already overwhelmed with my calling in your life.  I see the areas I fall so short.  I know I will fail you.  I will hurt you.  I will misunderstand you.  I will disappoint you.  I know I’ll never have all the virtues I wish not only for me but as an example for you.  But I will also teach you of grace and forgiveness and love and perseverance and trust these flowers to grow in the garden of our hearts.  I pray I can be a good momma who gives you wings to fly, who’s always ready to let you go when it’s time, who helps you be wise and shine like the stars.  I pray for you a heart that lives with greater expectancy than expectation...that doesn’t box this life but leaves it open to more than you can see.  I do not wish you to be shielded from hard things but from a hard heart.  I do not wish you to be kept from a broken heart in life but from a broken spirit.  Broken hearts keep us humble and thirsty for grace.  They teach a strength borne of gentleness, and I yearn for character to always be more important to you than ease, popularity, or reputation.  I wish for your love to not be hollow or shallow in all the places that it needs to be deep so that your words and promises will not become mere flattery or convenience but trustworthy.

We only get to live as much as we give our hearts sincerely away, Sweet One.  But it will be all too easy to look around at the big, wide world and the things you lack and compare and convince yourself that you’re too small or not enough, that you have too little to give.  But our giving is most beautiful when we simply give our best, and gratitude will always turn what we have into enough.  In humble smallness, love can write the most beautiful story.  It already has, Baby Bird.  And it points to something greater, something bigger.  I do not have all I’d like to give to you either, but you have my whole heart, and I’m trusting my little to be multiplied into much.  And despite my weaknesses, I trust you will still find your strengths.  And in both, may we never aim to perfect life but to just sincerely live it...the messy, the grace, the sorrow, the joy, the beautiful, the broken.  Bring your little piece of sunshine to this world, Baby Girl, knowing it will echo through eternity.  And in all these things, may hope grow as a beautiful flower in your heart...not a hope that erases your hard past but that purifies it.  A hope that will not only anchor what was once unsettled in the beginning months and years of your life but will give you wings to fly, that will ground you yet help you soar free.  And may you find beauty in the everyday ordinary because this broken life is mended by beauty.  The beauty we choose to see.  The beauty we choose to find. We become what we behold.

May you live loved, Baby Girl, because you are!  And may you never be afraid to be the one who loves the most in life.  Fly, little bird, fly!

All my love,

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Beginning

It was always the little girl that captivated her – the one reaching towards the endless sunlit sky and racing through a field of tall grass and wildflowers, chasing dandelion dust and butterflies on the breeze.  Her hair twisting and flying.  Her legs barely able to keep up.  Racing a boundless horizon.  The summer dress.  The cloudless sky.  Embracing sunshine.  Freedom.  Joy.  Grace.  Holy abandon.  Heaven smiling down on her in fullest delight.  It was the place her mind ran to when she wanted to step away from the world for a while.  When she needed “pilgrim” to be redefined and “wanderer” to be a thing of beauty because being both sometimes called her to the outer edges of her faith.  

Life in a broken world has a way of teaching us sometimes that it isn't safe to trust or to dream for ourselves or for others -- that it isn't safe to chase dandelions -- that if we allow our heart to breath out hopes, like a wind-kissed dandelion, they will scatter instead in a million directions and be forever lost.  White picket fences become things of fairytales but not real life.  Redemption becomes heaven’s playground but certainly not earth’s footstool.  Things gained come shrouded with some kind of loss...the great trade-off of the universe.  So holding joy comes to mean holding fear, yet the heart cannot hold both together.  Can the God who clothes lilies with beauty while the heart lies bare really be trusted, we reason?  Can His goodness ever bridge the gaps and demands of life when those very gaps and demands elude goodness?  How does one chase dandelions when His whispers seem too quiet to hear and the shouts of this world too loud to ignore...when the lies of everyday reality seem easier to believe than His truths that challenge them...when the transparent beauty of the gospel for real life seems to get veiled by real life itself?

So He asks us to simply run, limping with wrenched Jacob-hips and all (Genesis 32).  Unhindered...with the joy of heaven set before us (Hebrews 12:2).  While life may offer up only leftover crumbs after everyone else is satisfied (Matthew 15:24-28), He offers up a heavenly feast and delights in taking the "Mephibosheth hearts," lame and crippled in spirit, to be His sons and daughters and invites them to eat continually at His table (2 Samuel 9:11,13).  Yes, He asks us to open fields of beauty where the God of Hope comes and reminds us to breathe out hope in Him, and to let it scatter in a thousand directions and plant seeds under heaven’s canopy.  Eyes of Grace will watch where each seed falls – He will catch them in His heart before they hit the ground, never allowing one to be lost from His gaze, that word of love, that little gift, that sacrifice, that right choice, and, yes, even that dream.  And He'll catch life's betrayals, rejections, wounds, and heartaches too with the tenderness of a healer.  He'll keep gently whispering along the way that hope brings joy and that joy is never for holding but only for giving.  A heart that is trusting is secure in not only what it has but in what it gives away.  Lessons for life, learned and relearned in the dust at the foot of the cross on our paralympic journey to the finish line.

You know, they say white picket fences and giants are for fairytales.  Perhaps they are.  With fences of pure grace hedging us behind and before (Job 3:23, Psalm 139:5), He confines our hearts to His as the King who makes princes and princesses out of paupers (Ezekiel 16:4-14).   Giants in so many forms set across our path till we learn to become brave Goliath slayers.  Until we learn and re-learn the simplicity of five little stones, prayer, the kingdom within, and Things Unseen.

And they say little girls running through fields of dandelions and a thousand little violet flowers are storybook endings.  Maybe they are.  Our story wrapped up in Jesus' story written across timeless pages where, as the last page of life is turned, we see instead, in His indelible script, the words "The Beginning."
This blog....
Chasing dandelions.
Chasing grace.