December 27, 2011

Life in A Glass House in 2011: A Year in Review

Dear friends,

This is a year in review, a virtual Christmas letter if you will, to look back at the best of 2011 in our family's life, as recorded in this blog. I'm linking with Mama Kat this week, who provided the prompt for her Writer's Workshop.

Isabel was born in January. Her birthday always stirs in me a mixture of joy, pain, and gratitude. Perhaps because of the monumental decision her birthmother made, I felt compelled to write on a topic I would rather leave to better writers, or deeper thinkers. I prefer encouragement to discord but January saw me a little braver and able to take a stand. So in honor of my children, I wrote this.  

At Christmas I was given one of my favorite gifts of all time: my first sewing machine (or musheen, as Isabel calls them). I loved it so much I named her. Sally Maria Brother. 
Had I known the grief and frustration she would cause me as I tried to learn to sew, I would have named her Child of Satan. I wrote this in February after completing my most challenging project yet: a quick-sew-but-nothing-quick-about-it, make-in-two-hours-but-it-will-really-take-you-weeks fleece jacket for Noah. 

March brought me a crisis of discontent. We had gone through yet another infertility treatment, against our will, by doctor's orders, and, as usual, it failed. So I lost all perspective and, like a whinny child, began to complain about the things I lack. Patient as always, the Lord reminded me gently of his love and provision. This is what came out of my heart that day.  

On my birthday, in April, I experienced an overwhelming feeling of being loved, thanks to the magic of Facebook which allowed so many happy wishes from so many people in such a short time. It inspired me to think about the impact I can have in someone’s day by just taking one minute out of mine and I wrote this.  

Isabel started her first season of YMCA soccer in May. She was unsure and scared but she was blessed with the most wonderful coach we’ve ever known. This gentle man deserved his own ode here.    

In June my husband and brother in-law talked me into going camping for the first time in my life. On the beach. In a tent. But the experience began on the way there with a stubborn fly inside our van. Read about it here.  

I learned a hard lesson in July. One that I needed to learn and one that was embarrassing to admit, but one that is foundational to loving my neighbor as I’ve been commanded.  

In August we joyfully announced our new paperwork pregnancy like this. I have not updated much yet for the process is boring to tell, but when we have exciting news I will shout it to the four winds (and the blog world!).

I got my feelings hurt like a silly child in September, and, after crying and pouting, I turned to the Lord for help. Here is what I learned about his compassion.  

After eight months without a working stove, in October we finally bought a new one; only to have a frustrating and scary encounter with the Sears’ collection department. But we learned about God’s mercy for us in spite of our mistakes and because of our obedience, when He intervened here.  

Half-way through the first year of officially homeschooling my children, the constant questioning about homeschooled children’s social skills finally got under my skin enough to prompt me to write this in November. You be the judge!  

After a wonderful and full year, December brought our eleventh wedding anniversary. While this has been an amazing decade as Matt’s wife, as I looked back on it, I realized our life has not become what we thought it would be. Yet, it is so much more than we ever imagined: we embody a Proverb! This one.  

Have a happy new year and may your 2012 be filled with the love of family and friends, and many blessings. Above all, may you grow deeper in your relationship with Christ and, if you don't yet know him, may you come to know him and love him as He loves you. 

The Johnson clan.

December 20, 2011

Dear Pier One...a re-post

Last year I posted this as a response to Pier One's new slogan for Christmas: Decor that Speak to You! As we decorated our tree this year, once again I felt it speaking history to me so I thought it is still a very appropriate post for Christmas

Dear Pier One,
I saw a commercial you aired a few days ago. Your new slogan for Christmas ornaments is “Décor that speaks to you.” The commercial encouraged us to buy new Christmas decorations if the ones we have no longer speak to us.
Tonight, after my husband and kids finished trimming and decorating and generally having a blast, I assessed our artificial tree and smiled at the horrified look I would get from your “experts” on what Christmas should look like.
This is our second tree. Our first one was a small, beautiful, pre-lit, used one that we set it up on the reception hall of our wedding chapel. Since we got married the week before Christmas we asked our friends to bring to the wedding one ornament to help us decorate our first tree. And they did. By the end of the night the little scrawny tree was glittering like any of the proudly displayed on your storefront. It was a joy to behold, mainly for all the love and good wishes it held in each branch in the shape of an ornament.
We still have those ornaments and have added many more over the ten years of our marriage. I don’t know about the ornaments you sell in your store. To be honest, I have never even been inside one because I can’t afford most of what you sell, but I do know that I don’t need to buy your decorations. My ornaments not only speak to me, they also touch me and tell me stories.
There is the silver disco ball we gave away as wedding favors and the snowman figures we gave our wedding party. They speak about the promise we made that day before so many witnesses to be together in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth, in the good times and in the bad times and about the people who honored us by standing next to us as we made our vows to the Lord and to each other.
There is the one we bought on our honeymoon in New Orleans the night we saw Harry Connick Sr. (the famous Junior’s dad) playing in a hole in the wall where I sipped on a virgin strawberry daiquiri that turned out not to be virgin after all. This one reminds me of the adventure that were our first years married when we could go anywhere and do anything because we were young and carefree.
There is the one for The Parents-to-Be that Matt’s parents gave us months before we knew Isabel was a reality. I remember how this one brought tears to my eyes for it spoke of hope and promise. I look at my children today and this ornament now speaks to me about a family built on initial disappointment, lots of prayer, lots of waiting, and a God who keeps his promises.
I see the many Baby’s First Christmas ornaments that were given to us. Most of them pink, because Noah’s first Christmas was a whirlwind of moving, new church, and new life. They take me back to another baby’s first Christmas more than two thousand years ago and my mother’s heart understands how Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
There is the one Isabel’s foster mom made for her when she heard Isabel had found her forever family. It is hand stitched with her name, and the year. It reminds me of how she spent two months of her life waiting for her mom and dad to find her, but how she was loved and cared for by many people even before we met her.
I spot a globe in the shape of a baseball that was given to Matt by his beloved granddaddy, his name-sake and his hero, who is no longer with us. It speaks of three generations of men who loved Jesus and chose to make their life’s work and vocation to make His name known.
There are some that mark a time when we were just two. Then there are the ones that belong to this new era of our lives like the Noah’s Ark with all the animals and Mickey Mouse ears from last year’s trip to Disney. They talk to me about the passage of time, how it flies, and how we move from one stage of our lives into another almost without notice.
And there we have the ones that speak of what Christmas truly is for us. The ones that portray the Holy Family. We have several of those for those are the ones that speak the loudest to our hearts. We have one that shows Santa Clause bowing to the Child Christ and one that shows a Christmas tree on one side and a cross on the other. We have Nativities all around the house as well. We have wooden ones, metal ones, ceramic, and plastic. We have toy ones for the kids to enjoy, fancy ones that should not be touched, gorgeous ones that stay out all year, and the one we collect a piece at the time year after year. These are the most valued decorations in our house as we try to teach our children in no uncertain terms what Christmas is all about.
Ten years of Christmas represented on one tree. It is not the same scrawny one we had when we first started. As has our family, the tree has changed and grown and last year we had to buy a new one, a fatter one to fit our larger living room, our many decorations, and our extra helpers.
Dear Pier One, if I were to change my hodge-podge of decorations for your beautiful, expensive ones, my tree will no longer speak to me. It would be a silent, large, green, glittering blob in my living room with no history, no meaning, and no purpose. I am sure it would be beautifully chic, but I think I will keep my tree as it is, and continue to let it serve its purpose as our family’s historian, reminding us year after year about the wonder that has been our family’s journey.

**As a side note, I have nothing against Pier One. Their new slogan just compelled me to defend my poor tree!**

December 16, 2011

The best laid plans...

Eleven years ago today, on the coldest day of December, I walked down the aisle dressed in white and married the best man I know. We were too young to understand a decade long marriage and we were too new to even imagine where we would be then. We knew the basics: kids, house, jobs, church, love forever.

(photo credit: Wallace Photography)

I woke up this morning and assessed our life together and I had to laugh out loud as my soul whispered to my heart: You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail (Proverbs 19:21)

My life has become a living proverb.

When I beamed at my soon-to-be husband as I approached the altar all those years ago, visions of our future were blurry at best. But never, in my wildest dreams, would I have imagined what the reality would be.

That we would have three kids was a given. 

That two would be adopted, African-American, eighteen months apart I would never have believed. That we would be praying and waiting for a child we are yet to meet, whose name, gender or age we don’t know, who lives in one of the poorest nations in the world, whom we already love, would have made me laugh.

That we would have jobs was obvious. 

That I would work part time in front of a computer so I can be a stay-at-home mom would have made me call you a liar.

That I would be a teacher was the plan. 

That I would teach my two children myself would have sent me screaming from the room.

That we would own a house was undoubtedly true. 

That we would live in a small town in the deep South, in an old house that has more bathrooms than bedrooms would have been hysterical to hear.

That we would be together forever was the idea. 

That we would have had a year when we thought we had reached the end of the line was never a thought for us.

Life has not turned out as we planned. At all. 

Nothing has gone as we thought, really. This decade has not been easy and without pain. Marriage is painful, infertility is painful, adoption is painful, sacrifices of wishes and things we thought we needed are painful. We have not had a stress-free, problem-free, tragedy-free life.

And yet…

We have never been happier; our marriage stronger; our hearts fuller; our needs more provided for; our cups overflowing further. 

Commit your work to the Lord, and then your plans will succeed (Proverbs 16:3)

Your plans...your....plans. We had plans and we had hopes but above all we had surrender and in surrendering we gained infinitely more than we seemingly lost. We let our plans become His plans and the Dreamer, who dreams bigger than we can, fulfilled our dreams. Those we longed for and those we didn’t even know we had.  

A young bride thinks she knows what a successful life should look like. A decade later, a seasoned follower of the One who said: I know the plans I have for you, knows only to plan to obey. 

December 8, 2011

A Snow Memory

I have not linked with Mama Kat's Weekly Writing Workshop in a while, but I could not resist this week's prompt: A poem about a snow memory. The first time I saw snow is engraved vividly in my mind, so please bear with my rhyming and poor stanzas. I have never written a poem in English before... 

It does not snow in my homeland
At least never in my city;
It does in the snow-capped mountains
That fill the Andes with their beauty.

So for a girl of sixteen
Who had never seen a snow fall,
The anticipation and excitement
Could barely be contained at all.    
It was very cold that first winter
We spent in this, our new territory,
But snow was taking its time,
Hiding its white, fluffy glory.

Finally on a week day morning,
While solving equations in math class,
Someone shouted, “Hey there, Gaby!
Look outside that window’s glass!”

They were soft, gentle and quiet,
They were dancing, swirling, and twirling,
The little snow flurry crystals
Were teasing and were enticing.

Pleadingly I looked at my teacher,
For I was sitting clear across the room
And the snow beckoned me to touch it,
To feel it, to taste it, and soon.

I must have looked very desperate
And I didn’t want to miss a flurry,
For the teacher smiled and motioned
And I was at the window in a hurry.

I stuck my hand out the opening
And marveled at the sensations on my fingers;
I stuck my head, my tongue, both arms,
And laughed at how snow in dark hair lingers.

It is a happy memory during a bitter-sweet time
Of leaving, struggling, changing,
Of growing up away from familiar,
Of expanding, of growing, and learning.

That first year in our new country
Was both exciting and painful.
For the new life I’m delighted
For the snow-memory, I’m thankful. 

December 5, 2011

A Christmas prayer for our children

Our sweet babies,

This Christmas we wanted to write down our wishes for you so you would know how we have, are, and will continue to pray for you since you came into our lives. More than any material present we can give you, it is this prayer that will be our gift to you day after day as you grow up.  

May you always seek to know God and be known by Him in all the aspects of your lives. May you understand early and deeply the importance of reading the Word and spending time building a relationship with your Creator and Savior. May nothing in this world be of higher importance to you both and may you never be ashamed of it, even if you are mocked, criticized, or rejected.

May you take the education we are giving you and seek to find God’s plan for your future career so you will always be fulfilled. May you allow no outside influences to direct you in this journey, neither money, nor renown, nor any other frills this world might offer you. Let Christ’s calling be the light that guides the path to your future and we will support you no matter what He asks you to do.

May you discover how faithful God is in providing for your every need if your career pays little and if your job pays much, may you understand the joy of sacrificial generosity to others who have less than you. Remember you have been blessed only to bless others and all you have is really His. May you remember the world in need begins in your backyard and extends around the earth.   

No matter what God leads you to do for a living, lawyer or missionary, doctor or teacher, policeman or pastor, may you never be a slave to money and may you always remember where your daily bread truly comes from. May you never forget that He who loves you more than He loves the sparrows and the flowers in the fields will always be faithful to provide for you and yours.  

If you choose to marry, may you find mates who love Christ more than they love you; who will put God at the center of your relationship and consider you as more important than themselves. May you look beyond their social status, physical appearance, and other trappings of the world and find a true mate of the soul who understands the values you have been taught and shares your love and passion for Jesus.

When, and if, you have children may you choose to raise them in the Word as you were raised. Whether you choose to have one or ten, may you always know that children are a blessing from God and that we will love all your children as we have loved you.
May your heart always be generous and your hand always be open, not only to those you love but to anyone you encounter in need. May you seek to serve, to love, and to respect those around you. May you find in fruit of the Holy Spirit all that you need to live well: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. May these be the characteristics that describe you.

May you always remember that our pride and joy in you comes not from what you do, how much money you make, how well-known you are, what degree you hold, but from who you are and how closely you follow the path of the One who made you. This is what you will take with you and be remembered for by your children and grandchildren when you are gone.

Make us proud by being known as a godly person who walked closely with Christ and you will have fulfilled all our desires for you.

We love you unconditionally.

Mami and Daddy.

November 23, 2011

Lessons on thanksgiving from a pile of laundry

At the end of the day I was exhausted. I spent the morning teaching my two kids. I spent the afternoon grading papers and answering e-mails and phone calls for my online job. In the evening I made dinner for company, did the dishes afterwards and started some laundry. It had been a full day and later that night, as I was lugging a load of laundry to the den to start folding, my internal dialogue began to unravel.

The kids are loud and messy. The house cannot stay clean. The laundry is never-ending. The dog sheds all year long. The husband can be inconsiderate. I have to work part time to stay home full-time. And after I teach the kids all morning, work at my job all afternoon, make and clean up dinner, I still have laundry to fold. The day is long and full of fires to squelch and by the time I get to bed each night I am exhausted.

Grumbling and complaining under my breath I began to fold the freshly washed clothing,  taking each piece out roughly. As I folded a little skirt my mind went back to the pain of infertility and the emptiness in my heart when I first learned we would not be able to conceive naturally. The little flowery dress reminded me of the wonder of a Friday five years ago when a tiny girl was placed in my arms by the social worker. A small pirate shirt brings me back to the night, a year and a half later, when the phone rang and we were told we had a son.

And as I folded these tiny items I began to smile.

I got to the big button down, collared shirts that I never iron and the polo shirts of every available color he owns and I remembered the coldest day of that December when I vowed to love him forever before many of our friends. I pondered how there is no such thing as a prince charming and that I don’t believe in soul mates, but how often I think if there ever was one absolutely perfect for me it would be him.

And I folded more gently.

I went back over the day I had just had. I remembered Isabel’s excitement at the new book she was able to read and Noah’s smile when I handed him his very first school book. I thought about the paycheck I get for such a stress-free job that keeps us from having to worry month to month. And I remembered the delicious dinner, the good conversation with a dear friend, and the gentle man who spent the evening bathing and putting the kids to bed so I could have a few moments of quiet in the kitchen, even if washing dishes.

What in the world do I have to complain about?

I stopped for a moment and considered this question. All the things I think I have a right to complain about are the very things the Lord has given me to be thankful for. I had forgotten what it would mean not to have those small, seemingly annoying daily frustrations: being alone, single, childless, jobless, friendless. Because relationships are messy and to have the rewards you also have to deal with the irritations and extra work they can bring.

But mostly what I forgot is that they are reciprocal. 

I can be difficult, unlovable, prone to temper. Beyond being thankful for the people God has placed in my life, I want to remember to be thankful that they want me in theirs, for I know many a day I have given them plenty of reasons to grumble.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear blog-friends!

November 21, 2011

On leaving the church

Every once in a while, when they find out I’m a pastor’s wife, new acquaintances ask me church-related questions. My favorite one is: how do I find a good church to attend? I like this question because it’s an easy one to answer. My philosophy is simple and it comes from almost a decade of observation as a pastor’s wife who is also a member of the congregation. Here is what I say:
You pray for God’s wisdom and guidance as you search for a church home. Then, when you find one where the Bible is preached and taught, that meets your family’s specific needs (children’s ministry, youth group, whatever your circumstances), where the people are loving and you feel God’s presence you stay and you stick to it.
It’s just not that complicated.
You stay and you work for the good of those people. You stay and you find out your role in that Body of Christ. You stay and you build relationships, open your heart to God’s teachings, and serve your brothers and sisters.
You stay and become a member of the family.
And you don’t leave.
You don’t leave because someone hurts your feelings because someone sometime will. You don’t leave because you didn’t like this event or that sermon because you won’t always. You don’t leave because there is better music or more dynamic preaching down the road because there will always be. You don’t leave because things are not being done your way because this is not about you alone.
And you don’t leave because people in your church are not afraid to lovingly and biblically point you in the right direction when you are headed down the wrong path. That’s what people who love you do: they care enough about your soul to risk your anger and point your sin out to you so that you can right your relationship with God.
That’s a church that is worth going to.
There is no such thing as a perfect church. Churches are made out of people with imperfect leaders and imperfect ideas. Looking for a perfect church will leave you wandering like the Israelites for forty years, never settling anywhere, never putting roots down. And you will wonder why you are as dry as the desert. We were never meant to do this alone. And church-hopping and church-shopping will only leave you lonely.  
So when you find a home you don’t leave lightly.
You leave if God calls you to help start a ministry somewhere else where there is a need. You leave if the Bible is no longer being upheld in word and action. You leave if your family’s needs change and that church can no longer accommodate them and you cannot help them start the ministries that would. You leave prayerfully and carefully for when you are gone that church is never the same without you. They have lost a valued, cherished, and important piece of their family. The Body hurts and grieves.
And if you choose to leave, you show respect to your pastor by letting him or her know. This is a person whose job is to worry about your spiritual and emotional well-being. And the good ones spend many hours thinking about you, praying for you, worrying about you, writing you an e-mail, taking you out to lunch, investing their lives on you.
Leaving without an explanation it is one of the most painful things you can do to your pastor.
He or she will wonder if there was a problem. He or she will worry that you simply quit going to church altogether. He or she will be heartbroken that the Body is no longer complete. You are not simply a face in the crowd to your pastor. He or she loves you. It is his or her calling to do so.
Leaving a church is not like changing grocery stores without telling the manager. If you respect your pastor as a person, as a friend, as a human being, take the time to let him or her know you are leaving, even if the conversation is difficult, even if you are leaving angry, even if it is uncomfortable for you. He or she will appreciate this simple act of closure, honor, and compassion.
It is the right thing to do.
I hope with my answer not only to help them understand the process of finding a Christ-community but also to give some insight on how painful loss is to a church as a congregation. Finding a church is important, but staying in one is even more critical to both a person’s spiritual growth and to the community in which they have chosen to enter.
On a side note the pastoral family feels the loss in a very personal way. That it is inevitable and part of ministry in a church, does not make it less painful. Some we had known were coming and we understood, some we had sensed were coming but still saddened us, some blindsided us, some baffled us. Some we felt we were sending out with our blessing to be lights in other communities and some we felt were in the best interest of all. Nonetheless, no matter the situation, we have never shrugged our shoulders and just let it go. We have always grieved and prayed for God’s grace in all situations.

Joining with Michelle:

And Jen:

November 15, 2011

What makes a mother?

Today I have the privilege of being a guest at Christy's place. She is One Fun Mom and she is doing a series called Baby Days with stories, advice, and encouragement for new moms. She asked me to write about my experience as a mom and I chose to highlight how we are all the same even as we are different...

I had a very short pregnancy with my first child. In fact, it was a three day pregnancy.
We received a phone call from the adoption agency on Tuesday and we brought Isabel home on Friday. A few weeks before that, when the last signature was placed, and the last document submitted, we were told the wait would be at least several months.
“We have time,” we thought.
But my wise sister-in-law gave us a car seat and said: “you just never know.
So a car seat is all we had that Tuesday night the social worker called and said, “there is a baby…”
Please click here to read the rest and visit Christy's place. 

November 9, 2011

But...what about their social skills?

Here is how this conversation usually goes:

-So, what year is Isabel in school now?

-She is in kindergarten. Isn’t that crazy?

-Oh, yes, they grow up so fast, don’t they? Is she liking school? Do you have her in a private Christian school?

-No, actually, I homeschool.

-Oh (said with a sad look). My sister/friend/neighbor/aunt/obscure relative homeschooled. My, those poor children had NO social skills!

Screeeeeech. Arrrrghhhh. Hiiiiiisssss. Sigh.

We went to a party not long ago where Isabel did not know many of the children. She knows just what to do, this social butterfly. She quickly approached a little girl and said: “Would you like to play with me? I’m Isabel.” The little girl looked at her, said nothing, and ran away. Isabel tried this a few more times with other little girls, with similar results, before finding a kindred spirit. I watched and thought: My child, the homeschooled one with NO social skills, knows how to approach a stranger and start a friendship.

Later that day there was a situation where a child accidentally pushed Isabel causing her to fall hard on the ground. The child who did the pushing walked away without apologizing or helping Isabel to get up. My tender-hearted child asked me why the little girl did not apologize. In our home this would not be tolerated behavior and she knew it. I tried to explain that in different homes different rules apply. A few minutes later I overheard her go up to the little girl who had pushed her and say: “You didn’t say you were sorry when you pushed me, but I forgive you.” A hug followed and I thought: My child, the homeschooled one with NO social skills, knows that not apologizing is not right and that we forgive nonetheless.

To say that a child has poor social skills BECAUSE they are homeschooled is a misconception. I taught public high school for many years and I met plenty of children who had been in regular schools all their lives and yet lacked the proper social skills to interact with peers and adults. As a former public school teacher and current homeschooling mom I have come to believe that the choice of schooling has no impact in the proper or improper socialization of children.

Honestly, I think that parental example and guidance are much more influential in how children learn to interact with other children and adults. Matt and I work hard not only at teaching Isabel how to develop and foster friendships but also at providing her with plenty of opportunities to be with other children and put her learning to work. School is not the only place where children can meet with other children. A traditional classroom is not the only place where they can be exposed to other adults as authority figures. It does take work and planning but having lots of friends with little children helps. My kids are sociable because I am sociable.   

The thing is, I’ve been thinking about what properly socialized means. I bet if I sent her to public school I will stop hearing stories about “lack of social skills” any time I have the schooling conversation. But will that mean she will then be properly socialized? Is a child properly socialized simply because they attend public school even if they don't know how to respond to a polite greeting or how to apologize to a friend they’ve hurt? Does properly socialized mean my daughter will blend in well with other five year olds having the same mannerisms, dress, and behavior both positive and negative?

I read an article not long ago in which a coach was asked about homeschooled children who want to join the public school teams. Here is what he had to say:

“Those kids are nothing but problems. They’re not socialized. We had one boy who wanted to go out for football because that’s something you really can’t do at home, and when he got to the locker room, the other kids found out he didn’t even know how to snap a towel or give a wedgie. That’s the problem with homeschooling.”

According to that coach properly socialized means learning to be as crude and as mean as the other children in that team. No, thanks. Properly socialized is about respect for others, self-confidence, social graces, and for those of us who call Christ our foundation, it is also about all that Do Unto Others and Love Your Neighbor encompasses. 

So, this momma will keep schooling her children at home, not only on math and language arts, but also on becoming the type of person who makes the world a little better, even if I have to hear a thousand more stories of children with NO social skills

October 31, 2011

Of Late Fees and Beatitudes

We bought a stove after eight months of cooking with two burners and having no oven. It was a good deal: half price, discounted, discontinued, last one in stock. We could not have done better! And then the clerk offered us an even steeper discount if we signed up for the credit card. We are fiscally conservative and owe no credit card debt. So we did it. And promptly paid the balance when the payment came due.

And then came the perfect storm.

The payment, while made on time, was just late enough in the day that it went through the following business day, accruing a slight penalty, which we did not know we had because we had mistakenly signed up for paperless billing.  But we paid in full. No bill, no worries, right?

Except for the automated phone calls. “Sorry we missed you. Please call us about your Sears card” every time I picked up the phone. You didn’t miss me! Here I am! Talk to me! Since nobody would talk, I assumed it was another offer. More credit. Lower rates. We didn’t need either. I didn’t call.

No e-mails either. I pay the bills in our house and everything goes to my e-mail account. No e-mails, no worries, right?

Except when Matt finally called to please ask that we no longer receive the annoying daily phone calls we found out the slight penalty had snowballed three months worth of interest. Frustrated, he used his “ma’am” voice to explain clearly and without a doubt that we had NO idea of the penalty, that we had NO idea what the phone calls were about and that we would have paid the bill right away IF we had known about it. They waved the fee and gave us the benefit of the doubt. 

Problem solved, right?

Except it was still the perfect storm.

A month later we found out our bank would start charging $5 a month for the use of the debit card unless you had multiple types of accounts with them. We’d been wanting to re-finance so it was the right time to switch mortgages and avoid silly monthly fees.

So Matt went to the bank confident in our great credit and little debt to be told we had a small blemish that kept us from the best possible rates. No guesses here: the Sears card small late fee on a very expensive stove.

We called Sears, we raged and ranted, we reminded them of what we’d bought, that this was ludicrous over such a small amount, that we did not know about the fee, and on and on. They politely explained they would send it to their referral department and let us know.  “By the way,” they said, “it probably won’t get changed because it is not the bank’s error. But you can try…” Hopes dashed. This blemish would stay on our credit for seven years. So much for good rates for a while…

So what do Christians do when in trouble? We asked our church to pray. And they did. But I didn’t hold much hope because, after all, we had made a mistake and well, when you don’t pay your bill you get stuck with the bill collectors. Is God able to take care of such silliness? Sure, but He would take care of our needs either way, so why not let life take its course? Anyway, that’s theology for another day.

In any case, I happened to mention to Matt while we waited for the dreaded results that Sears should have at least sent us an e-mail reminder that we had a paperless bill. Every other company does and…that’s when he said: “Maybe they did…” Oh. No. Please. No. They did. To his e-mail. Not mine. Because he set up the account. Not me, as usually happens. 

This, of course, ensued a fight. “Why would you give them your e-mail?” “Why would not you NOT open messages from Sears?” “Why…why…why…” I walked away angry and in my room the Lord spoke to me: Are you perfect? Do you not make mistakes? Has he not forgiven you much?

Convicted I came back and hugged him: “We’ll get through this. We’ll figure it out. I’m sorry I acted like that.” We talked, we forgave each other, and we discussed the next step on our plan without the re-financing. No need. Sears called on Friday: blemish cleared against all odds! Praise Jesus for his faithfulness.

Sunday I was sitting in church listening to my sweet husband preach on the text of the week: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Matthew 5: 7) and a light went on in my soul. God will not be manipulated by us. Nothing we do will change his mind if his mind is made. But like any loving father, He is true to his word.

There was no earthly chance of us getting that mark off of our credit. Sears did everything right and we did everything wrong, however innocently. It was divine intervention, of that I’m sure, because even the manager said it would never happen. And most often than not, God does not explain himself to me. I don’t know why at times He intervenes and why at times He does not.

But He explained this one:

We were shown mercy. Pure, simple mercy. And I understood exactly why.

We made the choice to stand together as a team against this problem rather than let it divide us, we quit fighting and forgave each other’s part of the blame.

We showed mercy to each other that afternoon.

We didn’t know at the time that the way we approached this hurdle would define its outcome, and had we known, it would have defiled the purity of the intentions, but I am convinced that had we reacted in a way less pleasing to the Lord we would still be stuck with the blemish. For seven more years.

Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. Those are not empty words but one of the many promises He has made to us that we can trust and live by. 

October 20, 2011

Does DNA make a family?

Friends, here is the latest post for Adoptive Families Circle. It is very similar to one I posted here a while back (in fact, it was the foundation for it!) but if you are fairly new you may not have read it before. You won't be able to leave comments at AFC unless you are a member, so would you kindly come back here and leave your thoughts? I would love to read them!

How much did she cost?" "Why can’t you have biological children?" "Why did her birthmom not want her?" "Aren’t you afraid of how he will turn out?" "Do you know who her REAL parents are?"

When we walk around the block, or through the grocery store, or just about anywhere else, there's no hiding the fact that we're a family formed by adoption. Not that I would want to hide it -- ever. But I do sometimes cringe at those intrusive, tactless, ignorant questions that would never arise in any other context.

October 14, 2011

Learning To Love

Standing in the middle of the room I wondered what he was up to. We had been dating but a few weeks the day he turned with a mysterious flair towards the stereo and pressed the play button. The vibrant notes of jazz piano filled the room as he took me in his arms and, with a boyish smile, began to sway me to the music of a song I had never heard.

After the initial surprised at being twirled around the floor by a man I knew simply does not dance, and the giggles ensued by the flirty silliness of the moment, I began to listen to the words that floated above our heads from the smooth, seductive voice of Harry Connick Jr, his all-time favorite.

I could learn to love you.
I could get used to this.
I could learn to love you.
And the shelter of your kiss.

He never sang the words to me. He didn’t say: this song is for you. He didn’t have to. We stopped giggling and simply danced, my head to his chest, listening to the unspoken meaning behind the song choice, behind the moment in which we were caught up, enjoying the genesis of a feeling that was budding and growing with each spin.

Our song.

Lovers are dreamers and I've been walking in my sleep
When I awake I'll never take a chance that I can't keep
A thousand first times never add up to last
And I've been told a heart of gold melts away too fast.

This was more than a good song to dance to; this was a confession. He had had several very short relationships and was not much of a risk-taker when it came to them. I was the first one he pursued, the first one he took home, the first one he danced with.

He had made the choice to take a chance.

The choice to risk going after the one that made his heart stop. The choice to make of this a lasting relationship. And ultimately the choice to fall in love and to make it last a lifetime.

I could learn to love you…

He decided to decide and he decided on me. He knew love is not meant to be the butterflies and fuzzy feelings alone but also the conscious determination of the will to grow in love and to make love grow.

I could get used to this…

He didn’t say he loved me for several months after that. But I knew the day the feeling was born. We’ve spent ten years choosing to nurture it every day. There have been seasons when we have let it nearly starve and there have been season when it has been as strong as a bamboo shoot. But the choice has always been ours to make.

We choose to love each other every day, even when it’s hard to like each other. We choose to stay together when it is difficult and when we would rather run. We choose to forgive, to let go, and to make “you” more important than “me”.

We learn to love over and over again.

Several years after the dancing episode I finally asked him if he had meant to choose that song, if he had done it on purpose for me to hear what he could not yet express. Of course, he had.