Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Will You Go?

Last Sunday our family visited a new church. I met the wife of the pastor a couple years ago at a mom's group in a nearby city. We wanted to go and get a glimpse of what God is doing in their lives and in the lives of those they are serving. Fields Church. One distinctive of theirs is: simple. Simple has the ability to be utterly powerful. No fanfare, no escort of your children to another facility, no glamor. It was intensely refreshing. As I looked around, we were welcomed by smiles which represented many different ethnicities. My heart rejoiced during worship knowing this was just a small picture of what heaven would be like ... gathered with people from every tribe, tongue and nation. It's not often we get to experience that with our multi-ethnic family in very rural Illinois. Thanks, Fields Church! We were blessed!

All week this song has been in my head. It was new to me. As we sang, I couldn't help but think back a little over seven years ago when our three young sons grabbed on to God's call to care for those in need. Take a listen: I Will Go {by Starfield}.

Oh that God's people would wake up and listen, hear and go. As Americans so often we are SICK with SELF. We are so consumed with SELF that we often have nothing left for OTHERS.

The lost ... the poor .... the hungry. We can find that right in our communities. Are we looking? Are we brave enough to even open our eyes and LOOK?

"To the desperate eyes and reaching hands
To the suffering and the lean
To the ones the world has cast aside
Where you want me I will be"

Can you imagine the changes we would see if we lived out that last line? "Where you want me I will be."

"Let me not be blind with privilege
Give me eyes to see the pain
Let the blessing You've poured out on me
Not be spent on me in vain
Let this life be used for change"

Every word in this song goes against the grain of our culture today. I have to wonder what God could do in and through a generation that would have a heart like His.

It may be that lonely widow down the road that needs so badly to know everyone has not forgotten them. It may be that child waiting half a world away .... needing a family. {GO VISIT the Alexander Family - be prepared to witness something amazing}

So often in the church we focus on giving our tithe, money .... I believe God wants so much more of us than that. Every breath we take is because of His mercy and provision for life. What we need to ask ourselves is WHAT are we gonna DO with our lives?

I get so weary of hearing about "my financial security" in this generation. Yes, God calls us to good stewardship. But it is often an idol today. More on that another time.

Just a year ago I buried my earthly father. Guess what y'all ... we take NOTHING with us.

Would you join me in asking the Lord what He would have for each of us to do? It might be that He'd have you go just down the road ...... wherever it is .... will you go?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Counting the Cost and Saying YES Anyway

Adoption is often costly. And while yes, that includes finances, it can go way beyond finances. When God stirred in our hearts about adoption there were many obstacles standing in our way. Finances? Um yeah ..... like a mile high boulder right in the way. Beyond finances though were other obstacles. Ones that cut deeper to the core. Ones that were going to require us to take risks. Ones that would cause us to lay down EVERYTHING that we knew, and step forward in obedience anyway.

You see, my dad grew up surrounded with a lens of prejudice. While it wasn't something that we discussed often, the reality of it became very much at the forefront of my mind. It was hard enough telling our family that we were going to step forward and answer God's call on our lives to adopt. We didn't know if we'd receive any support at all. It was important that we be patient and realize that just because God was speaking to OUR hearts about the Fatherless, it didn't mean our family would be hearing those same messages.

My dad hardly spoke of our adoption plans throughout the process. We told our family in a letter, as we were far away and wanted them all to hear the news at the same time. I didn't know if I'd ever hear from him much again. We were already doing "crazy things" like living way off far from family as church-planting missionaries. Let's just say there wasn't a big fanfare when we shared our news. I remember one family member telling us after learning we'd be adopting an AA babe ... "well at least you don't live close-by so it's not like you'll be rubbing the grandparents noses in it". SERIOUSLY? That was the only "positive" they could think of? That we didn't live nearby?

Fast forward several months later. The email came. "African American girl. Born needing heart surgery. No family available for her." Let me tell you .... I knew the risks of saying "yes" to that baby girl. I knew that me saying 'yes' to her, might very well mean my dad saying 'no' to me. I had to come to a place that I cared more about saying 'yes' to my Heavenly Father than I did my earthly father. We'd long before counted the cost. And said YES anyway.

We didn't hear much from my dad. A few months later it was time for a trip home. My heart was torn in two when it came time to pay him a visit. I wasn't sure how he'd handle this whole thing. I remember like it was yesterday, walking out to where he was working in his shop. There I went walking {in a bit of fear and trembling} with my three pale skinned sons, my faithful husband and a light-chocolate skinned baby girl. I'll never forget his words. In his infamous southern drawl he slowly shook his head back and forth looking down into her car seat and said: "my ... my... my .... my.... my!". It was in that moment I knew things were gonna be ok. I didn't expect it to all be natural and easy in an instant. No, it would take time. But in that moment I could tell that he was opening his heart up and allowing something beautiful to begin to grow.

Unfortunately because of our distance, we didn't get to see him much. A couple times of year is about all we had. As our little girl grew and started showing us she has spunk the size of Texas, so did dad's heart. About the same time as we were going through all of this my brother and his wife became very involved in the CASA program (Court Appointed Special Advocates). They would share about the needs of the kids they were serving in US Foster Care and dad would listen. He'd ask questions. He began to realize that so many people out there had not be blessed to have the upbringing we'd had. A mother and a father to nurture us and teach us how to work hard. It was like a whole new world was opening up to him.

A couple years passed and the Lord asked us again to count the cost and say YES anyway. This time it would mean traveling across the world to a foreign land and bringing home a 14 month old little girl. By now our family was used to the idea that we were plain 'ole radical and they might as well make the best of it. This time the sting came in a different way. People outside of our family. Some that had supported our ministry. As missionaries we were supported by both churches and individuals. I'll never forget receiving word that people were questioning our mental IQ. Ok, so they probably didn't word it like that, but the message was clear. Thankfully God had placed a few people in our lives that did what they could to be a voice to help others understand God's heart in this. That was truly a comfort. It still hurt when yet another private supporter stopped our support because they couldn't support what we were doing with their money. Another wrote a letter of why they were strongly convicted that supporting ministries and children oversees is wrong. We should only focus on the needs here in America.

I share all of this, because I know some of you are having to count the cost. You wonder if there is ANY way over the financial boulders. Your heart aches as you think of crossing ethnic lines when there is racism in your own family line. The cries of the Fatherless keep you up at night, but you feel weak and just aren't sure if you're up for the journey ahead. None of us can possibly know the outcome. What we must focus on is listening to our Heavenly Father and obeying Him no matter what He asks us to do .... even if earthly voices that we love are loud and even at times unkind.

When our girls were turning 4 and 2 God brought us back to our home town area. The visits with family grew more frequent and have been greatly treasured. My heart bursts with joy remembering times of my dad stopping by just to see us and he'd sit up at the counter with my baby girls and color with them. Laughing at their antics ... trying to woo them in. He was a big guy, I tell ya! All 6 ft 4 in of him would just melt and it was beautiful.

A year ago today, my dad left this earthly life. He passed on suddenly far from home after suffering a heart attack. I miss him. The eighteen months we had here together were the best I ever knew. I remember back when he traveled all the way out to ND to move a bunch of our things ... and he saw our sweet Maleah toddling around. After a few quiet moments deep in thought he looked up at me and said ... "Can you imagine how many things have changed in her life and how hard it must be?". There was MY dad .... having eyes and a heart for the Fatherless. I treasure that moment.

There's no guarantee what the outcome might be for you. It might be that some won't ever accept your obedience. What I CAN tell you is that your Heavenly Father's voice is more important than all the rest. After all, His son came to earth and counted the cost for YOU and for ME and said YES anyway.

Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Giving Back

Just a few miles down the road, in a tiny town, by the bank of the Spoon River is a place where something amazing happens. Some know it as a place where the Spoon River Rascals perform in an old Opera House. They’ve been at this about eight years now. Both the “little” Rascals and the “big” Rascals bring forth some fabulous shows. The woman behind all of this has quite a reputation. Let’s just say that during the process children learn some good old fashioned lessons that go far beyond music and acting. Respect, working together, keeping one’s mouth shut & listening are just a few. Before I ever knew “Paula, the leader of the Rascals” though, I knew her in a much different way. She was simply my neighbor during part of my growing up years.

Back then she was going to college for her music degree and was the momma of two of the most amazingly precious little baby boys. It happened to be summer time. They were in need of someone to care for those sweet babies and I had little else occupying my summer. I’ll never forget that special summer. Those babies and their cloth diapers and I had quite a few bonding moments. Never mind that I was only 10 yrs old {crazy, I know!, my mom was just down the road a tiny bit if I needed anything}, I’d cart those boys one on each hip. Into the double stroller they’d go and round and around the circle drive I’d trot.

That family’s home and hearts were a haven to me. More than once I found solace in people that cared enough about what was going on in my life to simply sit awhile and listen. I became part of the family. It makes me chuckle to remember sitting squished in the back seat of their tiny auto between two car seats. No doubt those early child-caring experiences molded me into the momma I am today. I can still remember the proud smiles of both sets of grand parents as we’d go to their homes for visits.

Later, Paula would be my private music teacher. She was a teacher through and through. And while she could be a little rough around the edges, she’s always been known to bring out talent in youngins’ that no one else knew was there.

You can imagine what a delight it was when we moved back to the area to think that some of my children would get to study under the same woman who taught me much about piano and voice. She’d been inspired by other teachers she had and has always been one to give back.

More than teaching just vocal and acting skills, she models and provides opportunities to give back. As the children grow older they become part of the back stage and lighting/sound crew. Why do teenagers give night after night to a show that other children are gonna be stars of? Because when one has received, they also give back.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we should live as Christians. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Not just to receive, but to go out and give back. We are to be LIGHT no matter where God places us. Be it a teacher in a Sunday School classroom, a doctor, a store clerk. We shouldn’t just be focused on serving inside the walls of the church. We are to go out to all parts of the world. We are to invest in things eternal …. people’s lives.

What a blessing it was to hear her pray with the children before each performance …. thanking God for all the talents He has given and for the opportunity to use them for His glory to touch other’s lives. THAT is something I want my children to know about and live.

Gotta admit I felt a little sentimental when I caught a glimpse of this special woman getting my girl ready for the big show. I wasn’t sure how they would get along, to be honest. My spunky Texan girl has a heck of a time keeping her mouth shut when it’s time for quiet. Her impulsivity makes this momma pretty nervous at times. And while she really wanted to be part of the Lullaby League and wear a tutu …. she also got the experience of learning the amazing gift of doing the MOST with the part you have. OH were there times I thought she was doin’ a little MUCH, but I was assured to let her be.

My youngest son was back stage this show. He’s been out front in others. No matter where you are, there is much to be learned. And it goes way beyond vocal and acting skills. Performance isn’t just done for performance sake and to be the star of the show. It’s about giving back.

Last year about this time crisis struck our family. My dad died of a sudden heart attack. The question came of who would do music. It took about half a second for me to know who to call. My heart sunk a little when she said she had travel plans … then she said she’d change them. What a comfort her familiar sound on the piano was to my soul that day. She didn’t have to change her plans, but she chose to. I guess it’s about giving back.

It seems so long ago when I was that 10 yr old girl with a twin baby on each hip. Those babies are grown now with families of their own. They too are giving back.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sometimes Surgery Gives Life

It was 7 years ago. I got up early one morning and checked myself into a hospital not knowing how I would will myself to sign the papers. I wanted so badly for someone else to sign them for me ... it just seemed impossible. While waiting in the tiny room behind a curtain, it felt like seconds passed as hours. For some reason I had the curse good fortune of the nastiest anesthesiologist that day. He was crude, made horrible jokes and obviously had no idea what a tragic day I was experiencing. There was nothing in me to address the situation. I just sat there numb, hoping I would somehow wake from a bad dream.

You see a few months prior I had gone in for a routine exam at my GYN office. I was overdue for my exam by a few years, due to lack of insurance. Can you say: Needed Healthcare Reform? We had three boys that were growing up into wonderful little young men who were such a joy to our lives. There was a deep desire to have another child. At this time in our lives God was also stirring in our hearts about the needs of the Fatherless. We weren't sure all that God had for our future, but we were just doing all we could to follow Him and trust Him. My exam was pretty routine. The doctor gave me some medication to regulate my hormones. Because of some side effects from the meds, I called in a few days later to get a different prescription. I wasn't prepared at all for what I was about to hear.

"Mrs Roberts . . . I'm looking at your test results . . . ma'am it doesn't look good . . . you could be dealing with full-blown cancer."

Full-blown CANCER? That was NOT part of our plans. At all. It wasn't even on the radar. I was healthy (or so we thought) and just entering my 30's. Surely this couldn't be.

After several unsuccessful procedures we really had no choice. It was time for major surgery. Surgery that would leave me infertile. I hated the "I" word. I'd been there before, more than once. I knew it's pain. I knew it's emptiness. Now I would know it's permanence.

I wish I could say I fully surrendered right away to the Lord and trusted Him. I did not. Instead, I wrestled with Him. He felt a million miles away from me. I knew if I ever wanted to experience that intimate fellowship with Him again, I had to surrender. Everything. I wasn't ready. I was ready to embrace more of Psalm 127:3!

"Children are a heritage from the LORD,
offspring a reward from him."
Psalm 127:3

Instead I would have to come to experience barrenness. I would need to surrender OUR dreams, OUR plans, OUR expectations. Those of you who have experienced secondary infertility know that kind of turmoil.

After a couple of weeks I set out on a walk, asking the Lord to help me. I couldn't even SURRENDER on my own. I needed His mercy to HELP me. He was so faithful. As I walked up that incline, just before the railroad tracks, I laid it all down. My marriage ... my sweet sons ... my dreams ... my ministry ... everything. By this point in time we were well into the adoption process. Even that had to be laid down, as we had to pull our name until we could show verification I was indeed healthy. God gave me Isaiah 41:10 during that time in my life.

"So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."

Later I would read sweet notes from my children. They were aware of the seriousness of this health crisis. One of my sons wrote: "I hope that you do not die, Mommy. I love you!" Precious thing ...

Surgery went well. God blessed me with an incredible doctor who always treated me with dignity and grace. Unfortunately I didn't heal well from surgery and would go on to endure six months of excruciating treatments of my incision site. I'll spare you the gory details. Let's just say it didn't help my emotional condition that year. At all. Even though one dream had to die, we were full of gratefulness that my surgery gave me life. I don't take these years for granted. I'll always be thankful that the Lord gave us such a strong desire for another child which would spur us on to get that check-up done. With or without insurance.

After a couple of months we were able to put our adoption paperwork back in active status. Little did we know that it wouldn't be too much longer and we'd receive that amazing email about our daughter. She too would be undergoing life-giving surgery of a different kind. You can read a bit about her story here. Later God would grow our family yet again! Her story is all documented here. We are so incredibly BLESSED.

Ladies ... get your yearly check ups. Husbands, insist that your precious wives get their yearly check ups.