Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Grace Bothers Me

John is back in touch with us. After some time in jail and alcohol treatment, he has stumbled upon a job that has some promise for him. It involves convincing people to get new roofs after storms and it has some potential. In addition, he has a boss who is willing to take care of transportation and housing for him in the meantime so it's working out well. Ironically the office for this company is a mile from our house and the apartment he is talking about renting for John is about that close as well. So we are seeing him daily. And I'm not going to even ask any more questions about the job. He's got a pay advance and a place to live and he seems sober so it's all good.

Isaac and Courtney came up this weekend to see him/us and it isn't easy for them to get along. John hasn't been around Isaac for a long time and Courtney is used to doing things herself. John is trying to establish position as "Dad" and wanting Courtney to be quick to forgive while he is easily frustated with her. Others in our family are wondering why we are so quick to forgive him.... even though they have been eager to accept our forgiveness in the past for the things they have done to us.

As I was trying to explain all this yesterday, I was thinking about how much our kids have taught us about forgiveness. We have learned with clarity what Matthew West sings in his song "Forgiveness,"
It'll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what it's power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you

I explained to the kids that forgiveness may not have much of an effect on those we forgive, but it transforms us as we learn to offer grace. Our kids give us so many opportunities to learn that as they live out their anger towards others in our presence and direct it towards us. After years and years of it, we have learned the beauty of forgiveness.

So night before last Bart and I were reading in James chapter 2 where James is pointing out that if you screw up in one little way, you break the whole law. In other words, no sin is worse than the other and so we need to be careful to view others with mercey because we need it so desperately ourselves. The passage concludes with the words, "mercy triumphs over justice."

Then yesterday morning I was riding to work and heard Matt Redman's song, "Your Grace Finds Me." Except that I misunderstood the words (British accent maybe? :-) and I thought that he kept singing, "Your Grace Bothers Me." And I realized I agreed.

It bothers me when God extends His grace to other people who don't deserve it! Even though that is the point of grace-- that we don't deserve it -- it annoys me when people who are REALLY bad get offered grace. Just like my kids who are annoyed when we offer forgiveness to their siblings, even when they need it so desperately for themselves, I do the same thing.

When I was a teen I remember how frustrated I was when I realized the grace offered to the thief on the cross. Here I was committing myself to serving God for my WHOLE life and I was still going to get the same reward as a criminal who had only five minutes of life left? That BOTHERED me. But that's grace.

When dealing with kids who come from hard places, mercy and grace and forgiveness are daily concepts that both haunt us and save us. There is no other way to counteract the pain. And no matter how much it bothers those around us who don't understand, we have to offer grace. God's grace isn't fair.... that's not what it's about... because mercy triumphs over judgment.

Those words have been running through my mind again and again the last 24 hours. Your Grace Bothers Me. Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment.

They challenge me. They explain things to me. They motivate me. They give me peace about the way our lives are "turning out." I don't like them... my personality is one that can be harsh and judgmental and critical and black and white and my first thoughts have often been ones of punishment and justice and fairness and people getting what they deserve... and yet that's not what I'm called to do.

I heard it explained years ago that Grace is getting what you don't deserve, and Mercy is not getting what you do deserve. Makes a lot of sense to me.

So, at the risk of being repetitive and redundant, let me challenge us to let our first thoughts and our first words every time to be love... to be forgiveness..mercy...grace.

Because in the end, Mercy Triumphs Over Judgement. Mercy and Grace Win. Every time.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Too Much To Report.... or maybe not

I think that the challenge with blogging so sporadically is that the idea of telling you how and where everyone is is so daunting that I don't want to begin. It's the same when people ask me how I am... I can answer that -- but then they ask me, "And how are the kids?" and I suddenly get tired. It takes a long time to answer how twelve kids and everyone connected to them are doing.

So maybe I'll summarize to say this: The kids we have living with us are fine. But even answering the question, "How many kids do you have at home now" is challenging because it changes so often. I can tell you who is living with us at this moment, assuming things didn't change last night (I am in a hotel room in SW Minnesota right now, so it may have changed).

Jimmy is home from Job Corp having been kicked out weeks before his completion date. He is a dishwasher at a local restaurant where he has been working for about 3 weeks. I know that he is a hard worker and he is getting almost full time hours so that is a blessing.

Salinda and Gabby live with us about 1/2 the time. Salinda is now an assistant manager at a DQ in the Cities -- so it's great that she is finally back to full time work. The challenge is day care and Gabby's daddy wanting to spend time with her and them living an hour away, but Salinda handles it better than I would. They go back and forth -- and it's nice to see them when we can. Sometimes Gabby's dad's sister spends the night with us as well -- usually about 3 times a week as she has a job but no apt in the Cities as well.

Sadie is living at home and working as a Nanny for two different places. She really loves the work even though she complains that it is exhausting (one of the jobs she has 3 girls under three, including one that is about 6 weeks old). She has a boyfriend who is renting a room from us and is starting college in October. He is a really nice kid who respects us and our rules and letting him move it was a much better alternative to what they had planned.

Leon is going to repeat his senior year and should be done with school in December. He works part time as a PCA and continues to be the most cooperative and supportive son ever. He is especially good with helping out with my mom and picking up Jimmy at midnight. When he goes back to school life is going to be more challenging in that regard.

Dominyk is starting 11th grade at a charter school that is an excellent fit for him. He has big dreams to join the army but needs to lose about 90 pounds first.

Wilson will be in 8th grade in the fall and is almost as tall as Leon. He seems to have come out of his 13-14 year old emotional cave this summer and is back to being somewhat engaging. He and Dominyk and Leon went on a missions trip in July and had a great time.

So, where's Tony you ask? He is "with the fair" as he put it and living with his birthdad who he met this summer. We don't hear much from him but I think that this was something he needed to do. If he were our oldest this would probably be freaking us out, but after all we've been through we are OK with it.

well, now I'm on a roll so I might as well finish up. Kyle and Christy are doing great -- Baby Silas is almost 2 months old and a very very active baby -- sometimes even fussy. He is constantly in motion, something different than the other three. Kyle and Christy both teach full time in the same school district.

Rand is moving in with some buddies in Mankato from YOung Life soon. He still works at Lowe's and we still help him manage his money, but he is doing well. He has reconnected with birthdad and his family and someday I'm going to write a blog entry about all that. We've met them and it's been so cool.

The son who does not want to be named here I won't tell you much about because whatever I write makes him angry.

John is done with jail and alcohol treatment and is, as of last night, working for a roofing company. We may get to see him as his first assignment is in Minneapolis, but he has been living with his sponsors in Mankato.

Ricardo is living with Mike at least until the end of this month. We have invited him to move home but he refuses.

We see Isaac about once a month -- Courtney brings him up and he is the most fun and engaging little guy. Aiden and his mom are moving to the twin cities in September and so we will be seeing more of him.

Wow. That's a lot. See why I get tired when people ask me how everyone is?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

It's Not the Critic That Counts

Working for a large adoption agency isn't easy. I am one person -- but I represent 1200. And I work in a messy, messy world. Nothing about adoption is as cut and dried and easy as the general public thinks it is. It is just sometimes, for lack of a better word, icky.

And there is no way to please everyone. Each person in the Adoption Kinship Network (the new phrase replacing the triad and attempting to include other significant people in a child's life) has their own needs, their own perspective. And often if we a take a stand for one of those members, the rest misunderstand.

Add to the messiness of the adoption world the messiness of the Church -- this huge diverse group full of people attempting to follow Christ in an imperfect world with all of it's differences between denominations and perspectives.

The organization I work with is deeply entrenched in both of those worlds and for anyone who thinks it's easy to navigate all that, you haven't done it yet!

I read an email on Thursday night after a great first day at the Willow Creek Association's Global Leadership Summit. I learned a LOT that day and was fired up -- similar to the feelings of youth camp as a 13 year old. And then I read this email and it was as though all the air had been removed from my balloon suddenly and I was deflated and defeated. The email was about a public post online that basically bashed me personally and the agency I work for in general. It was written by someone who doesn't know me personally, but still that, and the comments by strangers that followed it, were hurtful, insulting, and some of them quite false.

Because, you see, nothing is quite as easy as it appears.

And because my agency has to respond to things according to policy, I was forced to do absolutely nothing... besides shrivel up and whine internally.

Until the next morning, when I heard a speech by Dr. Brene Brown, who is quite a profound communicator. She said that courage and comfort are mutually exclusive -- that if you are going to be courageous there are times you will be uncomfortable ... you will face adversity and criticism, and you will often deal with opposition.

And then she quoted Theodore Roosevelt, and when you read it, you will not need further explanation as to how that was a day changer for me and how it inspired me to keep on keeping on.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”