Receipts: Spending your resources, spending yourself

After a full morning of errand-running and busyness, the resulting bags and boxes hauled inside from the trunk of my car, I plop my purse down on the kitchen table, push aside this morning’s cold half-cup of coffee, and ease myself down into a chair.  Taking a deep breath, I relish a much-needed reprieve from the rush. I retrieve my cell phone from my open purse, meaning to text my daughter.  Said purse, tips over, resulting in a cascade of receipts that falls to the table: artifacts of where I’ve been for the morning, what I’ve spent my resources on.  

What a lineup, these papers.  My receipts that show the path I’ve traveled, the places I’ve stopped, the usefulness of my outing. One of my receipts shows I’ve bought food for my family, one shows a trip to Target.  Maybe a few not-totally necessary purchases there.  I browse through the pile.  Hmmm.  Practical stops are more prevalent that Starbucks breaks, so that’s good. This crumpled collection of paper outlines my spending: what’s of value and what isn’t, what will benefit my home, myself, my family, vs. the frivolous things I could be spending money on.  It’s a paper trail, quite literally. 

What if life was like that?  What if each activity I did during the course of my morning, my day, my week, my life came with a receipt?  Something concrete I could look at to gauge how productive I’d been, what impact I had on my family and loved ones, how I used my words, how I reached out to people around me in Kroger.  For me, I must admit that some day’s receipts would show the life-equivalent of hours spent buying and consuming cotton candy.  Ugh.  Scrolling through social media as my default time filler, bingeing on Netflix on a day I am perfectly capable of working in the house, writing, or having coffee with a friend: fluff.  Spinning my wheels on a project, procrastinating when I should just get it done: empty.  I cringe to think of the pile of receipts that I could be amassing, and what they would show about my life. 

 Here’s the thing.  I get one shot at this life.  So do you.  And we get to choose how we spend ourselves, how we spend our time, our energy, our resources.  Yes, many of us work full time, many have young families at home, many have both.  I realize (as a gal who was in that boat not so long ago) that not all of our time is your own, but think about the time you DO have.   God has made you steward of many things in this world.  Time is a big one.  God calls us to enact wisdom as we choose how to use our time.  

 Think about the receipts that would be generated by how you spend yourself.  A tangible reminder like that would definitely make me pause and think about the more God-honoring use of my most precious resource.  

Take inventory of your hours.  Where are your spending yourself?  Your time?  Your resources?  What will be on the pile of receipts that cascade out of your purse at the end of the day?  Make sure it’s worthwhile. 

 What would my receipts show?  What would yours show?  Are we redeeming our time?  Are we using it the best way?   

So teach us to number our days, that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.  Psalm 90:12

Conduct yourself with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Colossians 4:5

“Dost thou love life?  Then to not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” -Benjamin Franklin

 

Adopted: Part 2

In last week’s blog, I opened the topic of our adoption into God’s family by sharing a bit of my own adoption story.  Please take a moment to read the post if you haven’t already.

As I continue a study of Ephesians with some friends, the Word continues to speak to me, resonating in new ways.  How I love this passage:

God saved you by his grace when you believed.  And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.  -Ephesians 2:8-9, NLT

As these words sink in I am reminded of my role, my participation, in becoming part of my family.

When I was adopted, I didn’t choose my family. They chose me.

I didn’t pay for the adoption, my parents did.

I didn’t hire the lawyer, sign the paperwork, schedule the court date, and take my three older brothers out of school for the day to be part of this milestone event in their family.  My parents did.

I couldn’t do any of these things, being a helpless newborn.  My parents chose me and wanted me, went to great lengths to make sure I was part of their family forever, always carrying the name they gave me.

I couldn’t take credit for any part of my adoption.  I didn’t earn my way into their family by being awesome, by doing everything I should do, by impressing them, but I became part of the family only because I was the daughter they chose, the daughter they took home, the daughter to whom they gave their name and shared their lives.

God went to far greater lengths to make us part of His family forever.  He chose us.  He paid for us with His precious blood, before we could grasp any part of it, before we even knew Him.  He arranged all the details when we couldn’t because we were helpless in our sin.  We don’t earn our way into His family by impressing Him, by getting it all right.

He loves us, His children, wayward, wandering, willful hearts and all, because we are His.

Let that sink in.

We are, in so many ways, addicted to achievement, thinking, perhaps subconsciously, that we can do enough, be enough, to earn our way into God’s good graces.  But it’s a gift.  He’s the Achiever, not us.  He’s made the way, scheduled the court date, signed the paperwork, and gave us His name.

Accept the gift.

Please feel free to comment below!  I am so grateful for your feedback.

Adopted: Part 1

 

God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.  This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. -Ephesians 1:5 NLT

I’m walking through the book of Ephesians in a Bible study with some friends, and I came across this passage a few days ago.  Paul’s sweet words washed over me like a waterfall.  

What a life-altering thought.  My God chose me, decided in advance.  And He adopted me, brought me fully into his family.  Incredible.

I was not just invited in as a dinner guest, not just an acquaintance to say hi to, not even just a good friend to have coffee with, but enfolded as his daughter.  Closely and authentically connected to a generous and ready-to-help Father, who wants nothing but love for me, wants only the best for me. In accordance with His pleasure. What a beautiful picture.

As one who was adopted into my earthly family, this resonates to my core. Maybe my story will shed some new light on this topic.

I am the youngest of four in my family: the only daughter, the only one adopted. The judge had some wise words for my family at the final hearing for my adoption: “She’s all yours and you’re all hers. Now and when she’s about 13.”  Gazing hopefully into my 7-month-old face, these optimistic people had no way of knowing what lay ahead for them (both good and bad), but they knew they wanted me enough to give me their family name.

When I was a toddler, launching into truly monumental tantrums, my parents didn’t revoke my name.  They lovingly disciplined me, taught me, let me know I wasn’t the center of the universe, and helped me grow. 

When I was an all-out rebellious teenager, my folks didn’t take my name and tell me I was no longer theirs. They loved me, prayed for me, didn’t freak out when I shaved half my head, reminded me again that I wasn’t the center of the universe, and trusted I would come out the other side as they had, a bit older and wiser and (slightly) more fit to live with. 

When I was in my early 20’s, struggling to figure out my path, making choices mom and dad might not have made for me, they didn’t disinherit me, cut me off, and decide they didn’t love me anymore.  I was still their girl, still carrying the name they had given me.  And they loved me through it. 

Never once, no matter how hard things were or how rebellious I was, did my parents un-adopt me.  Let that sink in for a minute. 

I have now walked the path of the parent, loving my own two incredible and very normal kids through their challenging times. Even in the times that crushed my heart and wrung tears from my eyes, I never imagined, not for a second, that I would walk away and love them no more.  It’s not in a parent’s heart.  

 And if we- imperfect parent that I am, that you are, that my imperfect-but-wonderful parents who adopted me into their family are- could still love, still hope for our children, and still call our kids by the names we have given them, how is it possible that a perfect and perfectly-loving father would turn away from his wayward child?  Simple answer.  It’s not.  He doesn’t un-adopt us.

He still calls me by the name He gave me, calls me His daughter, even when I mess up. Because I am His.  Not because I’m doing everything right, not because I have it all together (because I SO don’t), but I’m His child.  What amazing love. 

Hold fast to this today, my friends.  We will stumble, but He is there to love us through it.  We will choose rebellion, but He will choose grace.  He will not un-adopt us.  We carry His name.

Next week I want to unpack another related passage in Ephesians, so please check out next week’s post!  \

Please comment below; I do read them and respond as soon as I can.  How does this resonate with you?  Do you ever feel insecure in your adoption into God’s family?

Sloppy Painting: Seeing the Big Picture in the Midst of the Mess

My sweet friend and neighbor, Donna, is a wonderful decorative painter.  She’s passionate about her craft and eager to share it with others; she even got me to (try to) paint!  Donna shared a recent experience and I couldn’t wait to commit it to words and share with you. 

She was admiring an art exhibit that hung in a local gallery, and one piece stood out from the rest, beckoning her in for a better look.  Up close the painting looked like a total mess.  She, a very accomplished painter, was baffled with creating this way.  Donna’s work reflects her love of clean lines, direction, and order.  But the painting that so intrigued her was chaotic, very free-form in its style; it looked like a sloppy, disorganized disaster at close range.  From a distance, however, it was a beautiful piece- a stately lion rather than a tangle of splotches and smears of paint placed with no apparent rhyme or reason. 

She was mystified how an artist could do that: stand a few inches away from a canvas, creating a beautiful mess, somehow knowing the beauty that will emerge when the painting is complete.  How does this messy, chaotic creativity work?  It clearly makes sense to the artist and the final product works out to be what they intended all along: beautiful. 

In life, we like to think we are the artists creating our own paintings, when we aren’t in control.  We can’t choose the canvas, colors, or the direction of the strokes. We have the urge to suggest a color, give helpful advice, perhaps weigh in on the size and shape of the canvas.  But we are NOT the artist.  We are beautiful messes, works in progress, every one of us.  I see my own chaos, my own mistakes, my own missteps, my own glaring faults, a sloppy, disorganized disaster close-up.  But they’re part of the texture and melange of brush strokes that God is using to create something unlike any other piece he’s painted in the past.  His masterpiece of me. 

So often we fret, worry, and shed oceans of tears about those in our lives who are wandering.  We pray, we struggle with their path, wondering at the splotches and smears in their life, things seemingly without rhyme or reason.  But in the midst of that, God whispers, “Listen.  Back up.   It’s an unfinished mess of a painting when you look close up, but I’m not done.  They’re mine and I’m still working on them.  You’ve been trying to direct the Artist, choose the color, hold the paint brush.  Step back so you can see more than the mess in this person’s life.  Can’t you see the beauty I’m creating? This life, my masterpiece, isn’t finished yet.” 

Trust the Master Artist as He paints your canvas and the canvases of those you love.  He sees the big picture. He has the plan.  He knows the end result.  He gives perspective.  Seek His will for your life, His design, His pattern.  Trust that His process is creating beauty in the midst of the mess.

For we are God’s masterpiece.  He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.  Ephesians 2:10, NLT

 

 

7 Basic Ways to Focus on What’s Right in Front of You

We often gaze far into the distance when wondering about God’s direction for us, seeking what the big-picture future will hold.  I do this.  So much.  But if you read last week’s post, you know God has been redirecting my gaze and refocusing my path.  If you haven’t read it yet, take a few minutes to settle in there before you continue here.

When living a life of “what’s right in front of you,” focus rather than near-sightedness is the key.  It’s not that I ignore the bigger picture, but I am learning to trust what that big picture looks like to God and focus on making the next brush stroke, then the next.  Let’s spend a few minutes unpacking the “what’s right in front of you” message by looking at some practical applications you can set in motion TODAY.

  • Do what’s in front of you
    •      As God places opportunities in your path, look at them with a heart of “yes.”  Have an open heart and build some open space in your schedule that allows for divine appointments and assignments.  Please hear me: not every opportunity is from God and not every request is your assignment.  This takes some discernment, but YOUR opportunities will be clear to you as you listen more to what God wants and less to the expectations of the world.  Listen to those promptings and whispers that bless another, not just say yes to every person who asks you to do something.  This really isn’t easy.  I’ve struggled with this for years, but as I walk further down the path God has for me, it becomes clearer to me which are His assignments for me and which are just another thing to do. In all practicality, I’m learning to use the direction of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:7-8: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Ask God if an opportunity is for you.  Seek His direction and timing.  Knock on that door and see if it opens.  But don’t try to bust through a locked door.  Never works out well.

 

  • Use what’s right in front of you
    •      Look around your home.  I’m guessing, like mine, it’s full of stuff.  Full of books, clothes, home decorations, food.  Things I still go to the store to purchase more of.  Use what you have.  Figure out creative ways to restyle an outfit with things you already have or a room with decorative accessories from another place in your home.  Use the food in the freezer and pantry- again get creative!   Read all those books already on the shelf (or on your Kindle) before you buy more.  We are blessed beyond belief in this country.  We don’t necessarily need more stuff, we just need to use and enjoy what we have more.
    •      Use the resources, the connections, the gifts and talents that are right in front of you.  Not just the stuff.  You were uniquely gifted and you have a sphere of influence that NO ONE ELSE has in this world.  Make good use of it.

 

  • Write what’s in front of you
    •      For me that means I need to listen to what God is impressing on my heart, what He is teaching me through my studies, my prayer time, my small groups, messages at church on Sundays, and my life experiences.  Then I need to write what He’s showing me rather than worrying about writing what will sell.  Life is full of rich material.  It just takes time to put it all down in words.  Take the time.  Even if you’re not a writer.  Share your stories and live out loud.  You never know what God will use to make all the difference for someone else.

 

  • Love what’s in front of you
    •      This calls me first and foremost to love my family well, those who live with me and those who don’t.  I alone can fill the spot in their lives God has blessed me with.  I need to be diligent in that role before I spend myself anywhere else. I need to love the people God has put in my life in my new Texas hometown, listening for how to know them better and serve them better.  I continue to love the dear ones we love in California by reaching out to them and letting them know I am still here, still praying, still cheering them on from afar. I am called to love the people on social media with whom I regularly interact by praying for them and encouraging them.  I am called to love the person in line with me at Starbucks, or the person sitting by the roadside asking for help, or the person packing my groceries at Kroger.  Love the ones right in front of you.  God put them there for a reason, and He put you there for a reason.
    •      Love the circumstances, home, and blessing that are right in front of you.  Be grateful.  Appreciate the good.  Be aware of blessings and look for ways to share them.  This can be challenging if you’re in the middle of circumstances or places that are hard, painful, and possibly in no way of your own making or choosing.  But you can find blessings in all of these hard things.  I’ve struggled oh-so-much here as I’ve learned to walk with chronic illness, move far from all those I knew, and lose a career.  You find what you look for; seek with eyes that long to find the good.

 

  • Serve what’s in front of you
    •      Keep your eyes open for opportunities to serve, even in a small way, the people who surround you.  This lines up closely with loving what’s in front of you, but takes it to the next level.  You may not be able to serve someone in poverty or illness on the other side of the world, but you aren’t accountable for them.  You’re accountable for the person God has placed right in front of you.

 

  • Walk the path that’s right in front of you
    •      Okay, this one is hard.  For years I thought my career in education was the path for me.  And it was for a season.  Then I thought my career path in a major finance corporation was the path for me.  And it was for a season.  It’s been a challenge for me to accept this very different, very hard path of chronic illness, but there are a million blessings on this path, just as there were on the others.  I trust the One constructing the road.  Find contentment in your path even if you seem to be off-roading for a while.

 

  • Take the next step that’s right in front of you
    •      Just take the next step.  Then the next one.  And the next one.  I spend a lot of time worrying about where the path is taking me, but I need to spend a lot MORE time trusting God’s path and being obedient to His timing His purpose, and His plan.  No need to rush ahead of Him.  One step at a time is enough.

Choose to be present.  Choose to keep focus on the God-given sphere of influence and life you have at your elbow every day.  Choose to trust God and focus on what’s right in front of you.  Choose to live alert and see what’s there, what you can do, how you can make a difference.  And then choose to act.

last week’s blog post

FOMO and God’s direction

 

I have a tendency to live in a state of FOMO:  fear of missing out.  Missing whatever everyone else is enjoying so very much and I’m not part of it.  Fear of missing the call, missing the opportunity, longing for something other than what I have in this time, this moment, this season of life.
This fear has collided with my generally optimistic view of life again and again.  And I suspect I’m not alone in this.  Social media doesn’t help.  Here’s a typical scenario, maybe it will sound familiar:  Scrolling through your feed (Facebook, Instagram, whatever), you stumble across a post of your friends out having a lovely time. Without you.  You WERE perfectly happy reading in your back yard and enjoying an iced tea, or curled up by the fireplace with coffee and Netflix. In that moment, what you’re missing rips the focus off the blessing you already have, snatching away your contentment.  You question why you aren’t part of something else.  Why you are in the place and time where you find yourself.  And you wilt away from your happy place that was so lovely moments before.   *sigh*
But.  In the midst of that scenario, I miss the blessing.  I miss my assignment.  I miss the joy of here and now because I’m longing for there and then.   This is true not just in social situations, missing out on a fun time with friends, but when you see others making an impact for God that you aren’t part of, or achieving things you can’t do, or seeing success you haven’t yet seen.
I have struggled over the past months with God’s path and timing for what He is calling me to do.  Since chronic illness pulled me from my job almost 2 years ago, I’ve wrestled with my identity, my purpose, and what I need to be spending myself on.  At times the path God calls me to has been very clear to me: as I served my family, as I ministered to my elderly mom, as I prepared to move from California to Texas.  Despite those places of clarity,  I’ve still been pulled all over the place in the fun-house inside my head with the question of whether I’m reaching enough people with my writing, with not currently speaking anywhere, with my Facebook author page, etc.  Ugh.
I’ve prayed about this and tried to listen to God since the beginning of the year, and here’s what He has told me unequivocally:
Do what’s right in front of you.
Be grateful and joyous in the who, what, and where that God has placed right in front of you.  Be present.
Instead of worrying about having the farthest reach possible in this world, instead of worrying that everyone else has a more meaningful (or more fun) life than you have, know that God has placed you where you are, surrounded by certain people and certain circumstances, because He wants you to look at what’s right in front of you to make a a difference RIGHT THERE.
As I begin to wrap my head around this, a weight seems to lift from me.  I don’t have to take it ALL on (as we women tend to attempt and then fail gloriously on a routine basis), I just need to do what’s right in front of me.
Does “right in front of me” mean there isn’t a larger mission?  Bigger opportunities?  More places to stretch?  No, but it does mean I need to focus on the next step even as I dream big about the seed God has planted in my heart.
This absolutely doesn’t mean running blindly ahead, blundering hard without a plan in place and just seeing where the day takes you in every aspect of life.   Having a general plan and structure in how you work life is pretty vital to me, she who loves to make lists.  And she who adds things she’s already done to said lists that weren’t originally ON the list, just so she can cross them off.  Ahem.  Focusing on what’s right in front of me means walking through life with eyes wide open and intentionally looking for what God places before you, your assignments for the minute, hour, day, week.
A couple of examples:  If you have a heart to feed people across the world, start feeding the person that is right in front of you (in your home, in your community, on the street corner by Target).  God put them there for a reason.  If you have a heart to write a book or speak, start writing about what God is putting right in front of you.  God put it there for a reason, and the people who are in your sphere of influence need to hear it or read it.
What’s right in front of you is the BEGINNING of the path.  NOT the end.  Small seeds grow in to huge trees.  But they don’t grow at all if they’re not planted.
This whole concept may sound way too simple, but I am working through this and unpacking it a bit as I listen and pray.  In next week’s blog, I will outline a few areas of “what’s in front of you” that God is shining a light on in this season.
I would love to hear how this resonates with you!  Please comment below!  God’s blessing until next week!

 

A Wife’s Secret to Happiness: don’t miss this!

     A wife’s secret to happiness.  What is this elusive thing, happiness, that we all seek after, we all hang our worth upon?
     We want so much to be happy, to feel that deep down satisfaction and peace in life, and possibly more than any other area, in our marriages, the most foundational of all relationships.  The adage “Happy wife, happy life” comes to mind, seeming to urge husbands to keep that girl of theirs in a good place so they can reap the benefits in their lifetimes together.  While that’s all well and good, and rather smart advice, our husband’s efforts aren’t our true source of happiness as wives.  We  want this most intimate relationship to be a happy one, but it is a grave and most basic error to think your husband can truly be our source of happiness.
     I have an amazing husband.  Ah-mazing.  We have been very happily married for almost 27 years. (Yes, we were infants when we got married, thank you for noticing how very youthful we are).  But as exceptional as my husband is, he cannot be my sole source of happiness.  He’s human.  A very good-looking and hilarious human who knows me better than anyone and treats we incredibly well, but human nonetheless.  And, like me, he makes mistakes. And has bad days. And doesn’t always say the exact right thing.  And what’s a girl to do when confronted with imperfect?  When human bumps into her happiness?  Well, that depends on the foundation holding up that girl’s happiness.
     I recently read A Wife’s Secret to Happiness by Jen Weaver.  This book articulates so much of what I’ve learned through my marriage, and so much I wish I’d understood as a younger wife, earlier in my walk with my husband.  Jen cuts to the bedrock here, the foundation in God that holds our happiness.  This book is filled with gut-honest and authentic struggles and joy, hands-on practical ways to apply God’s word to your marriage right now, and great downloadable bonus content to encourage and help you on your way. This is a great read, perfect for today’s young wives.  And some of us who are, um, less young.
     The secret of a wife’s happiness is truly seeing herself, her marriage, and her husband through the lens of her loving Savior.  To see how this team fits together, whose role is what, and looking to God for joy and fulfillment.  When I, a human and flawed wife, am in harmony with God, soaked in His grace, I am far more able to give grace to my awesome but also human husband, look to his best interest, and seek God’s plan for what our home and family should look like.
     When I was a younger wife, earlier in the journey of our marriage, less experienced and less in tune with what God was calling me to in my family, I thought this wife’s secret to happiness would be having this hot husband and getting my way about how things ran. Having a certain house, having a certain lifestyle, having our kids at a certain time, having my husband read my mind and do things because he wanted to.  I thought the secret to my happiness was, essentially, all about me.  Not about we.  But I, and I suspect many other wives who may see these words, had it so backwards.  We is the operative.  In A Wife’s Secret to Happiness, Jen emphasizes the importance of fighting alongside your husband in this great battle of life instead of against him.
     A wife’s secret to happiness, as Jen Weaver outlines it in her book, is the same in so many ways as a human’s secret to happiness.  Love God first, seek other’s best interests. When we let God provide and let our husbands love us rather than us seeking our own self promotion or demanding our own way, life is better. So. Much. Better.
     Will frustrations come?  Of course they will.  Again, human people involved in this situation.  But if you need to vent, to complain, give it to God.  Don’t be that contentious woman that drives your man to live on the corner of your rooftop instead of sharing your bed (Proverbs 25:24).  Fight for the we over the me.  This WILL make you a happy wife with a happy life.
     If you’d like to win a free copy of Jen Weaver’s excellent book, A Wife’s Secret to Happiness, please comment on this blog post AND be sure you’ve liked my author Facebook page, Kathleen Tysinger, before April 5.  I will draw a winning name and announce it in a live video on my Facebook page on April 6

A Prodigal Perspective: Hug BEFORE the speech.

     I want to be the one who hugs before the speech.  Odd thing to say, I know, but bear with me.
      I have recently taken some time reflecting on the parable of the prodigal son.  Take a look at Luke 15:11-24 (NIV):
     11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
     17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
     21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
     22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
     Such a beautiful picture.  That father wasn’t just glancing out the window by chance.  He walked to edge of his property. Every. Single. Day.  Waiting for his son.  Wanting his child home. Looking with expectation and hope.  He had be greatly disrespected and wronged by this son he loved, who he had given all to.  But what the father wanted most was not a big explanation, not the restoration of the riches this kid had squandered, but the safe return of the son he loved.  So he waited and he watched and he hoped.
     Meanwhile, this wayward son, broken and alone, long-abandoned by the friends attracted to money and a good time, came to the place of realizing just how much he and lost (not just the money) and how deeply he had hurt his father.  He had the whole talk prepared, rehearsed in his head every step of the long journey home:  the apology that poured from a hard-born place of humility, the request to be considered a servant to the household where he was once a son and heir.
     Remember, his father was waiting and watching, hoping every day just to have his son. Not an apology, not groveling, not a “you were right and I was so wrong, how could I be such a jerk” speech.  But his son.  Home. Safe. Present.
     This father, wealthy and respected, ran- not walked, not stood and waited until his son got to him- full tilt and swept that beloved, filthy, smelly young man who had broken his heart into a full embrace before the kid could get those well-rehearsed words out.  He hugged before the speech.  Because that boy was his.  And his boy came home.
     I tear up as I type this.  My loving Heavenly Father hugs me before the speech, because He already knows just how thoroughly I’ve blown it with my arrogance, my thoughtlessness, my willful plans.  Yet He runs to me, sweeps me- smelly, filthy mistakes and all- up in His arms.  He doesn’t wait until I have it all together, because, let’s face it, that won’t ever be the case.  He Loves me where I am when I just turn to Him.  Because I’m His.  And His girl turned back home.
     This heart of my Father, it makes me want to forgive like He does.  I want to hug before the speech.  I want to love like He loves.  I want to be open to the people around me and not make them work so hard for my forgiveness because it’s been so freely given to me.
     Our God rejoices over restored relationships, with Him and His children, and between His children here on earth.  Don’t you want to be hugged before the speech?  And doesn’t that make you want to be the one distributing pre-speech hugs yourself?  Ask yourself where God seeks restoration in your relationships and where you can give that hug this week.

Spring Pruning for the Soul

     I have always loved springtime in a garden, warmer days, fresh air after being inside, promise of good times outdoors with friends and family in the coming months.  But I don’t always love the work of springtime in the garden.
     It’s our first spring in our Texas home, and I had an uncharacteristic burst of energy last week, propelling my chronic-illness-self outside to attack some of the to-do list screaming in the back of my head.  A freeze in December had decimated the tropical plants along/in the koi pond and the wreckage had stared at me, brown, crunchy, droopy, and overall ugly, for some weeks now, demanding attention.  Something had to be done.   I set forth to do battle in my backyard, armed with clippers and gardening gloves at the ready, prepared to attack the old dead plant growth around my koi pond and along my back fence.  I won’t tell you how lovely and warm it was here in Fort Worth in the last week of February, lest I cause some of my non-Texan readers to think decidedly un-Christlike thoughts toward us Texans.  Ahem.  I digress.
     As I set forth on clearing the dead growth, I was amazed at how much was there.  I kept clipping and cutting, and there were still more stalks that had to be pulled back and trimmed, more tendrils to hack off near the root, and more leaves to be scooped out of the pond.  The koi were appreciative.  Or at least I like to think they were.
     As I worked, however, I was delighted to find that, under all the dead things I cleared away, there were beautiful brilliant-green sprouts of new growth, just ready to catch the springtime sunlight, just ready to spring forth and grow like crazy, into the lush and beautiful plants that will make my backyard beautiful again very soon.  But if that dead growth hadn’t been removed, the new sprouts couldn’t get the light they needed, impeding their growth, and they’d remain invisible, covered by dead things from seasons past.  Now that all the dead plants have been removed, I can clearly see the sunlight-bathed new sprouts from the seat by my desk at the window.
     There are seasons, so many seasons, in life that require me to cut back the dead, unused, past-season things in my heart that choke off the light I so desperately need to grow.  These things could have been good and healthy in the season they were meant for, but now are dead, wilting, taking up important space, and no longer what is best for me.  And so I prune.  It’s not easy, and sometimes it’s excruciatingly slow.  The more I cut back, the  more I can see what still needs to be removed.  And then I find weeds that were never meant to be there: things, habits, people that are decidedly unhealthy for me, things that really choke out my growth.  And I cut some more.
     In John 15:1-2, Jesus is talking to His disciples right before his betrayal, on a stroll through a vineyard.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
     Oh yes.  It’s not always me who does the pruning in my heart to make way for the sprouts of new life to cautiously peek through.  God has had to do some serious bushwhacking in my life, sometimes forcibly removing the things that are too big for me to uproot on my own, things would choke out the healthy and keep me from His best, things that keep me from being fruitful.
     It’s hard, and it’s draining, much like working in my backyard (did I mention I was on the couch the day after my pruning-fest?), but the reward of a clean slate and a peek at new growth is worthwhile.  So worthwhile.
God has new seasons for each of us, but to flourish in those new seasons we have to be willing to prune back last season’s dead things.  Get our your pruning shears, my friends, and allow God to use His.  You won’t regret it.  The struggle may take a while, but overall it’s short term, and the growth that will take place is truly a thing of beauty.

Not your average Family Reunion (Originally posted 3/6/11)

I wrote this post 6 years ago, and much has changed in my life. But this is a mile marker that bears revisiting.  Many people who know me know don’t know this particular story of God’s faithfulness, so I wanted to share.  Please feel free to comment below.

 

How I have struggled with putting this to paper. I’ve talked about this, thought about this, blogged in my head, but have stopped short of writing. Which baffles me a bit. Possibly because it’s too big and too emotional. I hesitated because of a fear of being misunderstood, seeming ungrateful, hurting those I love, or exposing myself a bit too much. I’ve struggled with how I’m even supposed to feel about this and how much I should share with others. There isn’t really a guide book. I never sought this out, at least not as an adult, but it found me nonetheless. Today I will come to the end of a long journey and the beginning of another. Today I will see this brave, selfless woman who chose. At age 19 she chose to give me life when it wasn’t convenient or easy, when it reminded her daily of a choice she regretted, when it was an overt label of her misstep in 1966-1967 when such things weren’t the norm.

How did I get here? Long story. I’ve known my whole life, due to the truly wonderful parents I received, that I was adopted, that I was chosen by God to be part of their family, and I was always wanted. Mom always said I wasn’t born to them but I was born for them. And I fully embrace that. I was a bit restless in my early college years and wanted to know more about my birth mother, but my very wise mom encouraged me to wait until I finished college, wait until I was settled, wait until I was a little more comfortable with myself and then make the decision about whether or not to seek further. Good choice. I waited, graduated, married the man of my dreams, and found truly who I was (and am) in the Lord. I didn’t have a hole to fill, didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything, blessed as I was. No desire to look further. This, again, is nothing I sought.

But try to understand, when you look around a family reunion and everyone looks alike, looks like they belong, you can point out every family trait, where the traits came from and who has them, there is a bit of hollowness. A bit of a question mark. I never lacked in love and I adore my wonderful family, every single one of them. But inside there were quiet back-of-my-mind questions: why do I look this way? Who do I look like? Do I share any of the same abilities? What am I passing on to my own kids biologically? These never dominated my thought or my life, but have been present most of my life. Hard to understand if you’ve never been there, if you can see your own eyes in the face of a parent, a sibling, a cousin. If you can look at family pictures from generations past and see who you resemble the most. People who aren’t adopted MUST feel this curiosity to an extent, though, because pretty much everyone I know likes to know their family history, even looking into distant ancestry, to know where they came from and who they are. Again, I was (and am) very content, not looking to fill in where anything is missing in my family life or identity. And then there is this.

Last spring when I became sick with what was first diagnosed as TIA (mini-strokes), then changed (praise God) to Migraine Aura, we found we needed more genetic background. So we had to ask Mom to make some phone calls. You see, my adoption was private. We were friends of family members of my birth mother, though that branch of the family was distant from our friends. So Mom, wonderful, concerned about my health Mom, made those difficult phone calls to some of my birth mom’s cousins, found out there was no medical history that related to my condition or would help with my diagnosis, and that was the end of it. Except my birth mother was concerned, got my parent’s phone number, and called them. Over last summer they spoke several times, Mom updating her on my condition and letting her know I was doing better. I didn’t know any part of this at the time.

Last fall my parents let me know they’d been in contact with her and that she was living in Carson City, 3 hours from my home. She’d been there my whole life. She had a son from a marriage after I was born (not my biological father) and had adopted a daughter of her own, was now a grandmother. I was kind of floored, and tried to understand that they hadn’t said anything sooner because they were working through some of their own feelings about this contact. Where exactly was this going? I could only see one end to this path, and, admittedly, it kinda freaked me out. I had just started back to work at school and had no emotional energy for thinking this through or taking any action, so I let it sit for a while. A couple of months later, more contact had been made and it was becoming clear what the end of this path might look like. She let my parents know she would be open to talking to me. Then I got her phone numbers. On a slip of my mom’s floral stationary. It hung on my fridge for over a month, I’d glance at as I went by and think to myself that I should call, but not take the time to do so. I was experiencing a full range of emotions about this whole experience, not knowing how this phone call would go and if I wanted to take another step. How does one even begin that phone conversation? Curiosity finally outweighed apprehension, and I made the call. We talked for more than an hour, and I was surprised by the ease and instant connection in the conversation. The first thing she told me was that she had loved me every day of my life. Wow.

After talking to her I was preoccupied for several days. I thought through the details of our conversation, the ease with which we conversed, and the stories of how she loved me. Did I expect any different, having carried two children of my own, loving them from the moment I knew I was pregnant? I was (and am) sure one of the reasons for our contact is so she could truly know that I never once (again, due to my awesome parents) felt that she abandoned me, but had grown up knowing she sacrificed for me to have a life she couldn’t give me herself. Since that first phone call we have exchanged many e-mails, found many similarities in our taste, talents, and personalities, and I feel as though I’m getting a glimpse of who she is. She loves Jesus. She’s a musician. She was an English major in college and hoped to be an English teacher. She is intelligent, well-read, and witty. We decided we should meet. After all these years I had a face and a name to whom I could attach my wonderings and my gratitude. As my 44th birthday neared, I reflected on all the years I had wondered, especially around my birthday, and thought of who this woman was. I wondered so much about whether she was loved and supported during her pregnancy, what she was feeling as it came time to deliver, and how hard it was on her to walk away from the hospital after I was picked up. You see, she never had a moment’s doubt that giving me to my family was the right thing to do. She never saw me once, but her cousin, who was with her during the labor and delivery, told her I was a girl and I had red hair. My bracelet at the hospital read “Baby Girl Pickett.” My first fashion accessory and it took me nearly 44 years to know what it said. But that’s okay.

So the date was set. March 6, 2011. This was on the horizon. I was excited, but have for the past several weeks, deliberately distanced myself from this emotionally. The enormity of God’s plan in this was overwhelming, and I could really only think about it in small pieces. He put all of this in motion long before I was born, and I feel I am, not so much getting “another mom,” because nothing and no one can replace the amazing parents who raised me and the years of love and understanding they have given me, but I am gaining a piece to my puzzle, a friend, a connection to who I am I didn’t really know was missing. He has a purpose and a plan for this, and has had this meeting in His day planner since before I was born.

Nearly three months after our initial phone conversation, we are in South Lake Tahoe. The hotel room is beautiful, we have enjoyed the snow, a lot of fun family time and laughter, and some wonderful meals, and I’ve continued my emotional distance. Except last night some cracks began to form in my wall and all the feeling started to come through. Before we went to sleep James asked me how I was feeling about today. I expressed to him some of what I have written here (all of which I have written since we arrived in Tahoe Friday night), and I can honestly say I expect nothing but good things from this morning. But I know my emotional distance from the situation is wearing down to nothing. As I tearfully asked James last night, how do I even begin to thank a person who gave me life?

So I’m up early this morning, hours before our meeting, knowing she is a short distance away, and wondering what this will be like. Wondering if I’ll be a sobbing mess in the corner of a Starbuck’s in South Lake Tahoe. Actually, counting on it. James will drive me over to the Starbuck’s in a couple of hours and then, a couple of hours later, come back with the kids so they can meet her, too. I will hug this relative stranger and look into the eyes, for the first time, this woman who carried me for 9 months and prayed for me all these years.

It is now hours later, I am home in my kitchen with rain pouring down outside. Words are a cheap to medium to express everything. It was such an enormous blessing for us both, and eventually James and the kids as well. We hugged and cried at first sight, talked (and cried intermittently) for a couple of hours, then James and the kids came to meet us for lunch. I saw pictures of her as a 20 year old and as a child, pictures of my biological half-brother (her son) who has red hair and blue eyes, and pictures of my biological father, whom I resemble more than I resemble her. She is exactly my height and a wonderful, kind person. She talked of her life, her triumphs, her pain, how blessed she is, and how she wanted the same for me. I heard of her parents (she was also adopted at birth and has a unique understanding of how I feel), how they loved and supported her through her pregnancy, and how they all thought of my as God’s child. Such joy. It was over too soon, we wanted to get out of the area before the snow started, and we talked of meeting again later in the spring. She hugged us all good-bye and my heart is so full.
What a gift that God gives us, that we never come to our end of the capacity to love more people, and there’s no such thing as having too many people who love us. Does it detract from those we love already, to love someone else? Certainly not. There is always room in our hearts for another. This is, as I said at the start of my writing, the end of a long journey and the beginning of another