Monday, December 29, 2014

Sticks and Stones

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

This past Sunday I left church feeling out of sync.  We had a guest preacher and while I appreciated the basic admonition that was communicated I found myself disagreeing with the supporting declarations.  I believe the sermon’s objective was sincere:  to illustrate the disparity between the value we place on God’s Word vs. all other forms of media input (cell phones, email, Internet, books, TV, film, magazines, blogs, etc.).  However, several times during the sermon some proclamations were made that rendered me conflicted and unsettled.

One such declaration was that words do not have the power to bring life, unless it is the word of God (aka scripture).  Even the word of God disproves that thesis.  Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (NIV)

I don’t think that acknowledging the power in words diminishes the supremacy of God’s word.  His word spoke worlds into being.  But I don’t want to ever underestimate the weight of every other word.  It would be irresponsible… dangerous… toxic even… to deny its influence on the world and people around me.

I leave you with some of the best quotes I’ve found on the power of words:

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”

“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”

“The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood but the mouth of the upright delivers them.”
-Proverbs 12:6 (ESV)

“Words... They're innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they're no good any more... I don't think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you're dead.”

Jesus said, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned”

“He was intrigued by the power of words, not the literary words that filled the books in the library but the sharp, staccato words that went into the writing of news stories. Words that went for the jugular. Active verbs that danced and raced on the page.”

“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”

“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”

Sunday, May 04, 2014

We Hold These Truths To Be Self-evident

This morning as I worked on my 5k training I ran to the beat of the late 80's, early 90's. I've found these to be the most motivating rhythms when I'm tempted to quit. As memories associated with each lyric quickly surfaced, I found myself pondering the differences between what I believed to be true at 25 juxtaposed against what I now consider "lessons learned".

At 25, everything was still pretty back and white.  I clung to my beliefs in my tightly clinched fist, not providing room to change, to grow, to explore the ever present nuances that come with being human. If you were to ask me then to name five things that I knew believed to be true, I'm pretty certain most would not be on my list today.  I was, at the time, pretty confident in the following:

  • Justice-above all else
  • Somewhere out there, there must exist a "no matter what" kind of love
  • Punishment=Discipline
  • Weakness is unacceptable
  • I must be heard
Things have shifted in the last 20 years since then. Life has shown me the cracks in my armor of self-righteous pronouncements. I've watched things I held to be true prove to be worthless, even harmful, to myself and to those around me. I was thinking today how I would answer the same question now. I would say, with tremulous certainty, that I believe:

  • GRACE above all else
  • The most life-giving words that can be said to a broken person are "I believe in you."
  • My weakness forces me into dependence on God
  • Some scars will never heal (at least not in this lifetime) but they are almost always a catalyst for growth 
  • There IS a "no matter what" kind of love out there... As humans we only get a taste of what it can be
What about you?  What "truths" have changed for you?  I'm genuinely curious!  Comment below!

Friday, January 31, 2014

To Make You Feel My Love

We've been home for one week.  One week of caring for Benjamin in an environment that is completely foreign to him.  The smells.  The sounds.  The place.  The rituals.  The people.  While we are eager for him to embrace his new life and we relish those moments of excitement as he discovers what is now his, our primary focus is to surround him with love.  We make sure we hug him, kiss him, hold him, answer him, listen to him and tell him that we love him over and over.  The message we want him to grasp is that he is loved... unconditionally and forever. 

Last night I was making dinner in the kitchen and I heard some scuffling behind me.  I turned to discover Benjamin pulling the same bowls we had used for dinner the night before out of the cupboard.  He quietly took them to the dining room table and started distributing them amongst the place settings.  He then meandered back to the cupboard and pulled out 6 cups.  Returning to the table he placed one at each place.  With no regard for anyone or anything going on around him, he proceeded to find the silverware drawer and take out the exact same type of utensils we had used the night before (we had used big spoons and forks for spaghetti but given him chopsticks because he prefers them), including a set of chopsticks for himself.  I silently watched mesmerized as he then went to the refrigerator, took out the gallon of milk and poured some in each cup.  His final task involved tugging on my sleeve, so that I would help him get the napkins, and then distributing those as well.  Stepping back he finally made eye contact with me, very clearly waiting for my approval.  Feeling an odd mixture of heartache and fascination, I "ooh"-ed and "ah"-ed over his accomplishment.  His face beamed as he giggled with pleasure at receiving my praise.

This is not the first time that he has "performed" for our attention or commendation.  He has shown us how he dresses himself, folds his clothes, grooms himself and more.  I am gripped with a sinking feeling that he feels he must earn our love and concern.  He is clearly starving for our affection and concern.  Little does he realize, at least not yet, that we love him no matter what.  He doesn't have to "do" or "not do" anything to make us love him more.  Even when we've had to be firm with him we are making absolutely sure that he knows we love him still and do not withhold our affection from him because he's been "naughty".  My heart breaks with weight of this burden he carries... the compulsion to work for our approval.

As I sat this morning reflecting over his behavior I couldn't help but relate to his desperate ploys for love.  My whole life has been a long crusade to prove I am lovable and worthy of attention and affection.  Despite my head-knowledge of scripture and the nature of Christ, I still feel the need to earn it from both those around me and my God.  I am just like Benjamin... trying to perform for my heavenly father... not grasping the fact that he loves me no matter what.  I could not earn it, deserve it, lose it or change it.    This is the truth of family in the context of the gospel.  This is the power of grace.

Monday, January 20, 2014

My Song

Many women who were unexpectedly blessed by a child (ie Hannah, Mary) often respond with a song or prayer of praise. This is my song. 

Dear God
I am sitting under a canopy of trees on a bench of stone. The wind is blowing softly and the loudest sound around me is the rustling of the leaves. 
I want to use this first completely quiet, peaceful moment to thank you. Thank you for placing Benjamin in our family
...for naming him into existence before the stars began.  For binding our souls together in the covenant of family conquering thousands of miles, across very different cultures and providing the ransom to bring him home. 
I am in awe of your grace in our lives... to be given the gift of our son... to be entrusted with this little life and to be a part of your greater story.  You alone could make this happen. You alone could preserve his life and mend his broken heart...sustaining him through cold, sickness, hunger and time until you made it clear to us that he was our son. I will forever praise you for your goodness, your faithfulness, your mercy. To think that you could use someone such as me, so ill equipped and flawed, to play this part in the amazing journey that is Benjamin's life... I will never... never... find the words to express my overwhelming gratitude... there simply are not the words. We are witness to a miracle. I am fascinated by this chapter in our lives... sometimes fearful...sometimes joyous...sometimes confused...but always fascinated. 

Monday, January 06, 2014

Special Letter to Family and Friends (re-post)

Very soon we’ll be bringing Benjamin Lilu home and starting the process of becoming a new and larger family.  This is an exciting and scary time for us – and will probably be especially frightening for Benjamin.  In his short life, he’s gone through more changes and life-altering experiences than most adults could handle.  He’s experienced the loss of a birth mother, experienced the loss of his second “home” in the midst of a health crisis, and will soon experience the loss of familiar caretakers, and the sights, sounds, smells, and language of his birth country.  His entire world will be turned upside down; he will be disoriented and confused.  He will have no reason to trust us – no way to know that we are safe, that he is secure in our care, and that we will meet his needs.

This process of learning to trust us, to bond and attach with our family, may take weeks, months, or years.  We expect it to get easier over time, but things are going to be a little strange at first and we ask that you please understand and support our attachment plan.  It is not our intention to shut anyone out of our lives or offend any friends in this process.  But Benjamin will need us to have certain boundaries in place to develop a strong and healthy attachment to us.

It will help immensely if adults limit what is typically considered normal physical contact with our son.  For awhile, this includes things like holding, excessive hugging, and kissing.  Children from orphanages are prone to “attach” to anyone and everyone – which disrupts his ability to attach to us.  Waving, blowing kisses, or high fives are perfectly appropriate and welcome!  We want Benjamin to know our family and friends – and interact with them!

Benjamin had a mother care for him for several months, and then relied on a stream of different adults for almost 6 years to meet his needs.  He’s learned to compete for the attention of every adult for basic things like food, clothing, comfort…  Charming any available adult becomes a survival technique.  While it works in an orphanage, it’s dangerous in our world.  It’s not safe for Benjamin to ask random strangers for a hug; in order to learn healthy, appropriate boundaries, he needs to begin by learning that we are the two people responsible for meeting his needs.  For a time, we will be the only ones to give him food, water, comfort him, take him to the restroom and so on.  If he asks you for something – please ask us.  For awhile it may look like we’re spoiling him – but he needs to understand what role we play in his life and he needs to know we are dependable and constant.

Also understand that our very busy, very active family – will be dramatically limiting our activities and events for awhile.  Local friends – you probably won’t see us at every field trip, every club meeting, every birthday party – at least for a little bit.  Large or small gatherings, parties, events will not be a priority in the beginning – but it’s not permanent, and it’s not personal.  At this point, we don’t know entirely what degree of medical treatment and therapy we may be facing with him, too.  We will be tired, busy tending to him and learning about him, forming emotional bonds, and getting through our days one day at a time.  We are eager to introduce him to everybody – but it may not be for a little while.  With one exception!  If you would like to be part of our welcoming committee at the airport, we would LOVE to see you!

The lives of each member of our family will be topsy-turvy for awhile, and we ask for your understanding as we navigate this new world.  We are obviously far from experts in this, but doing what we believe to be best for Benjamin.  We look forward to introducing him in person to so many of our friends and family, and hope you understand why some of our parenting decisions will look as they do with him.

Here’s an interesting analogy of what adoption looks like to an internationally adopted child:

And another great illustration of what adopted children go through: