We truly are a family redefined. We are husband, wife, son, daughter, step children, biological and adopted children and most importantly, Children of God.

A friend pointed out that I needed to update my blog header. After our adoption from Ethiopia, I had updated it stating how the adoption of Sara Joy completed our family. Well... the journey continues. After much prayer, we have decided to follow what we feel is God's calling for us...we went to Ghana with the intention of adopting a four year old girl, Isabella Hope. Little did we know that she would be the catalyst to bringing home not only her, but her half brother and sister. We will now be adding not only Isabella Hope to our family, but also Mary Grace (9) and Gilbert (6) who we will transition to the name Nathaniel Timothy. The shock is wearing off and the JOY and EXCITEMENT are overwhelming. Now truly, our family is complete. The great part of journeying with God, is that it's always an adventure. He knows where we are going, and for us it is all a marvelous surprise. Looking forward to sharing our family adventures as we walk daily through life and as we venture off to Ghana to bring home Mary, Nate and Isabella! It's always an adventure redefining our family!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Counting it all JOY

I'm working my way through the Beth Moore bible study "Mercy Triumphs" studying the book of James.  "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverence must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

Right off the bat, James slaps you in the face with that.... seemingly ridiculous statement.  Who in the world is going to look at their trials and "consider it pure joy"?  Not just something good for you, or acceptable - but James says to consider it pure joy.... not even just plain old joy - but PURE joy.  

I'll tell you something, that's not an easy thing to do.  Especially in the midst of your trial.  Maybe when your trial is over and you look back and see maybe how you have grown through it... but smack dab in the middle of it?  There were many times in my life when I've gone through some pretty rough stuff.  Mild by comparison to the lives of many, but tragic to my own world.  I never counted it joy.  And lately, I must be the world's most joyful person for all the trials I'm going through.... and since I'm still standing and working my way through the trial - either I'm lacking a whole bunch, or there was more work to be done in me than I had ever anticipated, because I don't plan on the trial going away anytime soon, and persevere I must - so I must have been lacking a whole bunch to start with!

JOY.  It's kind of an interesting word.  The dictionary defines it as "happiness, elation, glad-feeling".  So, in the middle of a trial, I should be happy???  What in the world?

I've thought and thought about this statement though.  The point of the trial, if handled appropriately, is to finish a work in me.  Persevere through the trial and the end result will be a better me!  I can appreciate that.  But, how can someone really be joyful during a trial?

I tried to think back on my life for a time where I was going through a trial and might have been joyful.  It was difficult to come up with an example... but after wracking my brain and initially going back nearly 13 years, I found an example.  The birth of my son (not that labor is a "trial" per se, but it's just my example).  Trust me, it was trying!  22 hours of labor, 2 1/2 hours of trying to get the kid out only to end up with a c-section because my loving son found it nice and cozy living in his mom!  It was miserable.... but I don't recall ever once being anything but full of joy at what was happening.  Why?  Because I was being transformed!  I was being transformed from just a person to a mother.  I knew the end result and it was good.  I could hold onto JOY during that trial because of what was to come... certainly not because of what I was going through at the time, but definitely for the transformation taking place and the reward at the end.

So, I started thinking more about that.  You can have JOY during the toughest trials if you separate your heart attitude from the trial at hand.  Joy can and should be independent of the circumstances you are going through.  Just like labor.  There is no joy in labor if not for the transformation taking place.  I mean really!  The pain is not all that glorious.  But... I found joy in it!  

So, what about the trials in my life now?  What about the trials in the lives of some of my friends?  My family?  Was James talking to them as well?  Well, if they are Christians, he certainly was.  What if James hadn't considered "my trial"?  Maybe he meant just small trials - like stubbing my toe or a disagreement with a friend?  Certainly some "trials" are too big to find joy in them, right?  Nope.  I believe that James knew what he was talking about... after all, God himself inspired James to write this material.  James, the half-brother of Jesus knew only too well what trials were.  And notice he said trials of many kind.  Not just one kind, but of many kinds.  So, it includes my trials.  My friend's trials and the trials of my family.

But some things that people go through are down right UGLY!  How do you find JOY in ugliness?  When a spouse has an affair?  When you lose a child?  When you lose a job?  When a friend betrays you?  When you hear the word Cancer?  A tragic accident?  A child with a special need?  Disappointment?  Passed up for a promotion?  Being treated unfairly?  Kids being bullied?

I've seen people go through some of these exact things.  I've experienced people dealing with them from a Christian perspective and a non-Christian perspective.  I've often found that the Christian has hope.  The Christian has a strength to draw from.  I find the Christian to be the more likely to have JOY.  James was only speaking to Christians, so maybe that is the only group of people who can find joy in tragedy.

There was a time in my life when I experienced my own personal tragedy... many have heard this story, but maybe not from this angle.  I had just finished college.  Six months later I was having continuous difficulty with running into things, etc.  I tried desperately to pay attention.  To  not run into people.  To not be shocked when someone walked up next to me (from the side).  I couldn't pay close enough attention though.  Out of pure frustration, I called the eye doctor.  I was either 1.  crazy or 2.  something was seriously wrong with my eyesight.

Unfortunately for me, the later was true.  I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition that robs you of your peripheral vision, night vision, color vision depth perception..... and finally moving into your central vision.  This was a devastating blow to someone who had just finished getting a degree in Chemistry.  I certainly needed my eyesight.  

I went into an almost immediate depression.  I was scared.  I was angry.  I was envious.  I hated people - people who seemingly had no issues (although, I've learned that we all have them, some are just more well hidden than others).  I was determined to overcome - but only because I refused to accept what I was told.  It HAD to be wrong - and I would MAKE IT WRONG.

I have to say that at the time I was not a Christian.  It was not until 8 years later that I became a Christian.  I went through life trying to prove to myself and others that nothing was wrong.  I ignored everything.  I cried silently to myself at night and put on a brave face every day.  I continued in my job and only accepted those things that I could definitely not change.  I lost my ability to drive five years after I was diagnosed.  That was the first major life changing event.  The hatred grew.  My anger grew.  I certainly had good things in my life as well, but my anger at the world for what I was going through was all-consuming.

Fast forward to 2003.  2003 was the year I became a Christian. By that point in time, my anger had consumed me.  My friends saw it.  Normally, everything was fine, but if there was something that upset my "plans" (you have to be very planned when you can not drive and have two kids and you are relying on everyone), I broke down.  I had started to go to church with some of my friends and at some point I realized, not only was I mad at pretty much the world and myself, but I was mad at God. It was then that I realized that if I was mad at Him, I had to acknowledge Him.  I wanted to understand Him.  I wanted to know what He was about.  I went to a bible study and found out.  I accepted Christ.

The transformation in my life was not immediate.  It was not instant, but it did happen over time.  This situation, which was getting worse and worse, was something I could not control.  I turned it over to God.  The daily struggles - how I managed to get to work, the kids to daycare, grocery shopping - just going places.... I put it all in God's hands.  It was a weight lifted off of my shoulders.  I begged God to deal with it.  To provide for me what I needed.  I wasn't asking for more than I needed, and certainly not less, but just "enough".  And God answered.  

Slowly my friends saw the transformation.  My anger eased.  I figured if I couldn't go somewhere, there was a good reason God didn't provide me a way.  I wasn't always happy, but I was pretty much content.  My children were always cared for.  I was always at work and my family got what they needed (I was still single at the time, raising Cameron and Anna on my own).

If you've been around my blog long, you know I've struggled with the loss of my sight.  It's not easy.  I would give anything to have my sight back.  The one thing I would not give up though, is my salvation.  This condition brought me to my lowest point, and that low point brought me to my salvation.  Would I go back - turn back the hands of time and retain my sight if it meant I would sacrifice my salvation?  Absolutely not.  I can find JOY in my trail because my trial transformed me.  It is still transforming me.  I honestly believe my relationship with Jesus is stronger because I NEED him!  This condition keeps me at his feet.  Without it..... maybe I'd start depending on myself all over again.... who knows.  

I've come to the conclusion though, that God finds some benefit in this situation for me.  I have to trust Him.  I must persevere, and perseverance will finish its work in me, until I'm complete, lacking nothing.  Only then will my sight be restored.  I wish I could get there quickly - but until that time, I can find joy, because I'm not forgotten.  In my trial, I am not forgotten.  God is using it to mold me and shape me, to strengthen my faith, to seal my reliance on Him.  I can count that as joy.

See, the situation is not joyful.  The daily struggles are hard.  I ACHE to be "normal" - but JOY can be found.  JOY is in me.

Studying the book of James is difficult.  So far I have seen that I need to confront many aspects of my life and evaluate what God wants from me.  Each sentence in the book has something new, something to ponder, something to make me grow.  

What trials are in your life?  Can you look deep and find JOY in them?  The job loss?  The broken marriage?  The unruly children?  The family member with cancer?  The failed adoption?  The financial hardship......the list goes on and on.....

God gives us the strength to "consider it pure joy" - He has to or else He wouldn't ask us to do it.  I don't think He expects instant "joyfulness" when a we face a trial - but to find Joy over time, in what He is doing in and through our lives in the time of trial.....

In Christ,

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Listening and worry

God and I have had some long talks the past few days.  I used to think that my conversations with God were a "one-way" discussion.  Me just venting my frustrations or my "wish list" with God and not really hearing anything in return.  Sometimes it felt... I don't know... void of a "listener".  Not only void of a listener, but God didn't seem to really say much back to me.

Today, I imaged that God used to sit up in Heaven and think to himself the exact same thing - "I sit up here, and talk to Charity giving her my "wish list" for her life and it seems as though she is not listening... and not only that... when I really speak to her, she doesn't say much back".  

I've learned lately that a discussion with God is a two way street only if you allow it to be.  In order to make it "two way" though, you have to listen.  Imagine talking to a friend and they tell you over and over how they bake a cake and it burns every single time.  They get all upset because they can't make a cake that is edible.  They want a good cake and they never have one.  So you, being the good friend that you are, you give them the recipe for a good cake.  You tell them that if they follow the directions, it will turn out fine.  Don't take any short cuts, don't try to modify it to "make it in a way that you think will be better", just follow the recipe.  Time and time again though, they come to you and say how nasty their cake is and how they want something so much different as their end result.  They are sick and tired of having burnt, bad tasting cake.  You ask them if they followed the recipe - no... they made a slight change because they thought more sugar would be better.  They didn't want to take the time to bake the cake so they upped the baking temperature in hopes of making it  bake faster.  You remind them again to follow the recipe.  Follow the recipe and it will be right!

I've done it myself a million times.  Not with cake (I'm great with following a recipe!  I'm a chemist!  Chemists make great cooks!) but with something much more important - my life.  

There are times when I look at my life and think "I really wish this was different".  I find myself speaking to God out of my frustration, asking "WHY"?  Why do things have to be this way. I want things to be different.  God has given me the recipe.  He has told me to follow it - and I will find peace and a joy will live inside of me.  I won't have a perfect life, but I will find contentment in the life God has given me.  What do I do though?  I take short cuts.  I change up God's recipe.  I tweak it to make it "sweeter".  I become impatient and I try to speed up life.... the whole time creating my own self-destruction.  I don't listen.  I need to listen.  I need to follow the recipe.  He does not hide it from me.... He willingly gave me the recipe for my life.  I just need to follow it.  I need to listen!

Today I learned a lesson about worry.  It's very easy to tell someone not to worry about something.... when it's not your problem.  It's easy to say that worrying won't do you any good... when the consequences of something are not yours.  I've been anticipating something happening today.  I got up this morning and it didn't happen as I expected  (it's nothing major, believe me - nothing exciting - just something I needed to have taken care of, and it was to be taken care of today).  It was only taken care of partially.  I called Tim and told him.  His response - don't worry..... it will be taken care of.  Just make a few phone calls and find out what is going on.  It will be fine.  

That is one area where Tim and I are very different.  Tim has patience to allow time for things to fall into place... to see things through.  I on the other hand have to ACT immediately.  Well, it was 6:00 this morning when I was ready to ACT, and there was nothing I could do.  I could not call anyone because no one was open yet.  I was also attending a class today and had to leave the house by 7:15.  The earliest I could call anyone was 7:00 and that would not give me enough time to discuss the issue with anyone.  So Tim said - Just call them when you get back from the gym.  Oh. My. Goodness!  Seriously?  I will say that the consequence of this not taking place as I expected would have some major impact in my mind...it was important to me.  So, I was in a bad mood... but there was nothing I could do about it.  I let the situation take over me and my attitude.  When I got out from the gym, I immediately called Tim and got the number for where I needed to call.  I was short with him... even when he gave me the number, he said it's an 888 number... and he started to give me the number "888-"  I interrupted abruptly... Yes!  I know that part.  I just need the last numbers!  I had worried about this issue on my two and a half mile walk.  I worried about it all during the class.  And I worried about it on my two and a half mile walk home.  None of that worry did me an ounce of good though.  Not. One. Bit.  The only thing it did was ruin my attitude.

When I got home, I made a few more phone calls and by the end of the day today, everything was taken care of.   Everything fell into place.  My worry didn't make that happen though.

I've had to put my faith in God A LOT over the past six months. Having to leave my job because of my diminishing eyesight was a huge struggle for me.  When I went to get Chara, certain I would not get a dog as well suited for me as Pearl was.  I placed it in God's hands though, because I couldn't do anything with it in my own hands.  I told God directly - I know you have a plan.  I know it will work for my good.  I know your desire is not to harm me.  I had to say that over and over and over again for months.  But I learned that it was true.  

Today was one last step in the struggle I've had over the past six months.  Today was really the start of a new chapter.  Moving on.  Moving forward.  Accepting.  Instead of worrying, it would have been much better for me to acknowledge the fact that God has taken care of all of the details up to this point.  Every last one of them, in truly God fashion.  Today was no different.  I KNEW God had this, but still I worried.  What a waste!

When you give something to God to manage - rather than trying to force something of your own will, the end result is exponentially  better than having managed it on your own.  My work situation and all that needed to take place as a result of my having to leave work... it was just short of a miracle how it all fell into place.  Chara - well, let's just say she is as uniquely qualified to assist me as Pearl was.  We fit together like a glove. The current situation... while I worried, I did leave it in God's hands.  He placed people in places to assist me and got everything taken care of.

Worry is not part of the recipe that God has for my life.  It does me no good.  It changes nothing - except what is going on inside of me.  It clouds my heart and it doesn't allow me to see the joy in God taking care of the details.  I try to imagine the kind of day I would have had, had I just left it in God's hands, taken action when I could - and skipped the worry.  I'm sure I wouldn't have snapped at my husband and I would have enjoyed my walk and my class much more!

I think sometimes we all have to learn lessons the hard way.  Thankfully God is full of the patience that I seem to lack and He teaches me through my trials.  

In Christ,