Born to die

I wanted to blog weekly during the month of December so I could get the content of our Nailing Christmas class into the hands of interested parents.  But I just couldn’t.  There were dark days and hard truths to face first.

My nephew Samuel was born straight into the arms of Jesus on November 26, 2018.  It wasn’t unexpected. He was diagnosed early in the pregnancy with an extremely rare, fatal birth defect.  But still the loss of him hurts deeply and raises so many unanswerable questions. Why must a baby be destined to die?

Maybe it’s a leap but that makes me think of Christmas. The notion that an infant would be born to die is terrifying and incomprehensible–but that is exactly what Jesus came to do.  Isn’t it offensive and insensitive in the face of real grief to celebrate with joy the birth of another doomed innocent? This was God’s idea? How could that be the plan?  How could that possibly be for the best?

And are we even allowed to ask these questions?

God knew it was for the best because he understood our desperation. He knew we were utterly hopeless without Him. Destined to so much misery. Destined to die. All of us. 

Apart from God, we trudge on in this world, foolishly denying our sin and ignoring the unavoidable grave… Until someone we love meets their inevitable end.  Then we startle a bit and rage at God and the world for a while and then go back to our comfortable, willful blindness and charge headlong again toward the destiny of all mankind.

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.

Ecclesiastes 7:2

I was surprised this week when I was reminded that even in the middle of our beloved Christmas scriptures we have a paragraph heading: “Slaughter of the Innocents (Matthew 2:16-18).” DEATH IS EVERYWHERE. It doesn’t discriminate: Rich or poor, young or old, it’s coming. It is our universally cruel, unquenchable, unstoppable enemy.

But there’s good news!  And it has to do with Baby Jesus, born to die–not only just like all of us–but for all of us.  The Enemy that has been swallowing up our loved ones for millennia needed to be defeated.  And only the perfect Creator of Life himself would be powerful enough to accomplish that. God–our loving Father–chose a terrible destiny for His Son in order to rescue us from ours.  Jesus overcame the grave. He conquered death for us. He is the way to life after death! He told us he was going to do it. He did it. And then he raised from the grave to prove it!  

That is something worth celebrating even in our darkest days. So Merry Christmas!

I apologize if this seems like too morbid a post for the holidays.  But I know many people find it difficult to have a holly jolly Christmas because they are deeply sad or grieving.  I hope it helped to discuss death, grief, and hope in the context of Christmas and the victory that Jesus won for us because he was willing to be born to die.  

(1) Did you know that just 100 years ago, ten percent of babies in the United States died before age one (100 per 1000 live births). In 2016 that rate had fallen to under 6 per 1000!  Thank God that this tragedy is befalling fewer and fewer families all the time.  (Source: cdc.gov).

See Him There.

new-years-day-2910931_960_720New Year, New You!

By the time of this writing, most of us have either forgotten or given up on the sincere resolutions we made for the new year.  My only resolution was to spend New Year’s Day brainstorming and planning and working up the courage to actually, eventually resolve something.  But nothing went as planned on New Year’s Day.

Our two eldest kids left at 5AM to fly to Atlanta for the 2018 Passion Conference.  They called us early in the morning to let us know they’d landed safely.  That was the end of things going smoothly for them (and me) on January 1.

Long story short, the only funds available to them was their dad’s debit card.  However, Marissa used an incorrect PIN one too many times and locked that card.  We called CapitalOne customer service to unlock the account only to discover their CREDIT services department was open on the holiday but not their DEBIT department.  The card would be useless until the next day.  What’s in YOUR wallet?

The kids were meeting friends whose flight was significantly delayed.  Not being old enough to secure a room on their own,  they planned ahead and reserved the accommodations through a 21-year-old friend.  Her flight ultimately didn’t arrive until much later in the evening, after the conference began.  They had nowhere to go. They had no way to pay for food, transportation, or lodging.

Did I mention they were 860 miles away from home?

I spent the entire day trying to help.   I was eventually able to successfully wire some money to a check-into-cash type place in what the kids would call a “sketchy” part of town.  The knowledge that Jake was walking alone in the dark from sketchy neighborhood to his hotel with a couple hundred bucks in his pocket was disconcerting, to say the least.  Do you see how even the solution was causing me anxiety?

I didn’t enjoy my holiday.  But do you know what?  The kids did. This was an adventure. They were far away from home and finding their way.   To quote Marianne Williamson,

“Children are happy because they don’t have a file in their minds called “All the Things That Could Go Wrong.”

During their downtime, they played cards. Once Jake got the money I wired, the hotel clerk INEXPLICABLY allowed him to check in and–pay with cash.  They later walked to Philips Arena, sang their heart out with Crowder and Passion Band.  Levi Lusko encouraged them to worry less about the things of this world and instead focus on the world to come.  🙄

Then they crashed at their hotel after an exciting and inspiring night with thousands of other college kids.

But when I laid my head on my pillow that night I thought of how I had wanted to start the year off “right.”  New Year, new me.  Instead, I just felt like same old, same old.  Same old life of stress and worry. Same old reluctant acquiescence that I’m not in control of anything. Same old responding with fear instead of faith.  That sense that It Will Never Change.  and I Will Never Change.  I’m tempted to despair.  Oh, mercy.

In mercy, God brought words to my mind. Old words. Lyrics.

“When Satan tempts me to despair…”  Then what?

Oh, had I been tempted to despair!  Tempted so well I dove right in.  Headfirst (because it starts with my thoughts) and swimming in it, submerging my heart! In years past, I’ve been known to stay in that pit and wallow.  I don’t want to wallow in 2018.

“When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within; upward I look and see Him there who made an end of all my sin.”           (Charitie Lees Smith)

What should I do when tempted to despair under the weight of an entire day worrying about my kids’ “helplessness”?  Look upward. See Him there.  See Him where? There on the throne.  Sovereign as He’s always been.  See Him where? Walking on the water, defying fear and gravity.  See Him with the mourners, the broken, the sinners, the anxious.  Bringing the dead back to life.  Saying, “Fear not.”  See Him working all things out for good.

See Him in a hotel worker’s willingness to give the kids a room.  See Him in their joyful hearts, whiling away the hours playing cards in a hotel lobby.  See Him in their safe flight.  See Him in the hearts of my kids whose highlight of the entire year is attending a conference of Jesus-loving and Bible-believing young adults.

If I don’t see Him and I look simply at the initial circumstances of New Year’s Day, 2018 got off to a pretty abysmal start. I spent the day fretting instead of trusting.  Not my finest hour. But I can’t let Satan tempt me to despair.  Tomorrow is another day…His mercies are new every morning.  See Him there.  Where?  See Him in the sunrise.  As always.

Happy New Year.

2018-01-01 at 07-09-40-2

Sunrise, January 1, 2018.

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Lending to the Lord

As we anticipate the adventure of bringing two orphan boys from Eastern Europe to our home for the holidays, I am learning many things.  Maybe the biggest is gratitude.

I could go on and on about how freshly-aware and grateful I am for the big things: My savior, my family, my freedom in America. And I could go on and on about how grateful I’m becoming for the little things that many in O. and V.’s situation don’t have: dozens of sappy Hallmark channel movies, more amazing books than I can ever find time to read, and a fireplace beside which to enjoy it all.

But today I’m considering the generosity of God who shares all these things with us.  It all belongs to him.  God announces:

“Everything under heaven belongs to me.”  Job 41:11.

and Paul asks this rhetorical question:

“Who has ever given to God that God should repay him? For from him, and through him, and to him are all things.”  Romans 11:35-36.

But I’m grateful not only for the generosity of God, but of so many wonderful people who have partnered financially with us on this journey.  Donations have poured in to our fundraising website, by check to our home, and in the very useful and equally generous boxes and bags of clothing we’ve received.

I nearly wept when my son’s good friend gave a gift of $50.  That’s a lot of money for a high school senior!!!  The lady who came to our home to officially interview us and assess that our home is a safe place for a host child to stay brought a practically new winter coat for us to give to one of the boys.

I could go on and on. Everyone’s gift is equally valuable to us because every gift came from a heart willing to give to the poor.  Not that we are poor.  But the boys we are hosting are literally penniless.

And this is where the mystery of God comes in.  Remember how he owns it all.  How no one can ever give to God and expect repayment.  I think God makes one exception.

“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for what he has done.” Proverbs 19:17

God has a special place in his heart for the poor, downtrodden, forgotten, and friendless in our world. And he has a special place in his heart for those who offer kindness to help even one of this world’s “losers.”

I want to thank every single person who has given with generous hearts to help O. and V.  come to our home.  We are in your debt.  And miraculously, so is God.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”  Matthew 25:37-40.

Room at Our Inn

photocred: dreamstime.com

At dinner one night in October, my husband announced that he wanted our family to do something radically generous this Christmas.  “That’s interesting,” I said, “I just got an email today that said the deadline for orphan hosting this winter is in a few days.”  Jeremy barely missed a beat, “Let’s do it.”

During Thanksgiving 2012, we first learned about a non-profit organization called New Horizons For Children.  NHFC arranges short-term hosting of orphans in American homes.  We’ve known for two years about the incredible blessing it is for these orphans to visit America and we’ve imagined what it would be like to participate in that kind of blessing. This year, we decided to go for it!

A bit about New Horizons according to their website:

  • NHFC is the largest, faith-based host program, facilitating orphan hosting nationwide. Since 2002, more than 3,500 orphans have been hosted through our ministry.

  • Without intervention, upon leaving the orphanage, 60% of girls will end up in prostitution, 70% of boys will be on the streets or in jail, and 15% will commit suicide within the first two years on their own.

The intervention New Horizons offers these orphans is at least three-fold:

  • Exposure to English is a great advantage for future educational and financial opportunity.
  • Observation of healthy family life to give the kids a framework for a better future family than the one they’ve known.
  • Possible introduction to a “forever family.”  Most host children are adoptable. Maybe by coming to America, they will meet a family who is ready to love them forever.

Any of these experiences are confidence-building and potentially life-changing for a child whose entire life exists within the confines of an orphanage.

There are several countries with whom New Horizons has a partnership to bring orphans to American host homes.  We chose a country in Eastern Europe.  It was heartbreaking to look through the photo listing and see so many in need of a loving home.  We finally decided on two brothers.

V. and O.

V. and O.

So, on December 17, 2014, we will welcome V. and O. to our home for four weeks.*

We are praying to be a blessing to these boys.  We are definitely expecting to be blessed by them.  We look forward to the joy that comes from sharing the love of Christ.  We are confident in receiving that joy because of Jesus’ own words as he describes the cyclical nature of joy and love:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:9-14) 

Want joy?  Then love.  What kind of love?  The sacrificial, “I don’t really feel like doing this for you right now” kind of love.  The making lunches, doing laundry, comforting when sick kind of love.  The give up the last chocolate chip cookie in the jar kind of love. Simply the lay down your life for a friend love.  V. and O. don’t know they are our friends, yet. But I already love them like crazy, pray for them daily, and can not wait to lay eyes on them and wrap my arms around them.

If you feel inclined, please pray for our family on this journey.  We want to truly be the hands and feet of Christ in these young men’s lives.  We want to impact them so that they do not become a statistic.

And ask yourself, “Could I use some radical joy this Christmas season?”  If so, I challenge you to find some tangible way to sacrificially love someone.  It might be a stranger, it might be your spouse. Be creative. Be a blessing.

Glad tidings of comfort and joy to you and yours!

~Loretta

 

*The agency rules require that we do not publicly post the children’s names, ages, or country of origin.