What to do when you can’t measure up to the Proverbs 31 woman

Proverbs 31 womanOften a writer’s job is to tell the uncomfortable truth, and my uncomfortable truth is that our oldest son ran away to live with his biological family. He has been gone since October.

I had always known I wanted to adopt, to welcome an older child into our family and make room on the couch and in our hearts. I had also always known that it wouldn’t be easy to win that child’s trust or to help him feel secure.

But what I didn’t know was the toll a relationship like that could take on my confidence.

How it could make me question my mothering.

How I could doubt my worth.

How I could cringe at the thought of the Proverbs 31 woman, the spiritual ideal.

Her children arise and call her blessed, the passage says. Her husband also, and he praises her.

Mine didn’t call me blessed. Mine didn’t even want to live with me. That’s an uncomfortable truth.

What to do when faith is inconvenient

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A few weeks ago I was chopping carrots for soup while my mind stewed over hurts, over wounds and worries.

Slice.

I wasn’t ready to forgive.

Slice.

How would this turn out for him two years from now? Twenty years from now?

Slice.

How many times must I, the one who knows what is best, reach out?

Slice.

I knew many of the answers, even before the questions were finished. Of course forgiveness matters as much for me as for the person I am angry with. Of course I need to trust God with today — and with tomorrow. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that day that real-life, practical faith was inconvenient.

I like faith better in theory and at a safe distance. I’ll pray for those in prison and those far away who suffer from drug addictions. I’ll talk all day long about the beauty of grace and God’s love for all of us, and I will tell you how I love a great redemption story.

But can I be real honest here? Faith can be inconvenient when the one who needs grace and compassion lives in your home, when the one who hurt your feelings is a person you usually hug. And, yes, I love a good redemption story, but we broken and bruised humans can make a lot of mess before the story makes its turn for the better.

There, in the mess, is when it seems easier to walk away, more convenient to hold a grudge and tally the score. That’s where I was that day chopping carrots.

I was right, and I had been wronged. I could teach him a lesson about his mistake, or I could show him how to live in grace and help him write his redemption story.

Slice.

I could be right or I could do what’s right.

Slice.

By the time I moved on to chopping the celery, I had my answer: faith — even though it was inconvenient. Because when it is most inconvenient, it is probably the most needed. For others and for me.

Can I tell you something about adoption?

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Photo courtesy of Lisa Ruth Photography

A couple of weeks ago I told the story of my son’s adoption through my column in the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle. I’ve told it here on my blog before, where it’s safer. Where there aren’t as many readers. Where I can control the comments.

But now, it’s out there. A sampling of what he went through before he came to live with us. A past that I don’t like to talk about but that he needed to share.

He’s taller now and seems less haunted. Braver. More sure of himself. Happier.

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I like that, and I’m adjusting to this new reality, the one where he releases his story and is set free himself.

I should have known it would come to this, that I would again be learning from him. It has been happening all along — for the two years we fought to adopt him and certainly the five years since. That’s why I always cringe when people tell me how lucky Jessie is, how they are glad he is with us. Because the truth? The truth is that we are the lucky ones and we’re happy we have each other.

That’s one of the things I wish people understood about adoption. You shouldn’t go into it expecting to change the world, but you should expect it to change your world.

I hope we’re helping Jessie grow into a wonderful man, but he’ll make his own choices as he grows. I can’t guarantee that he’ll have a fine life now that he’s part of our family. I can guarantee you that he has improved our family, though. We love differently. We make more of an effort to build trust, to learn about each other. We’ve stretched and adapted. We’ve patched each other up — and we’re stronger now, more secure.

And can I tell you something else about adoption?

He’s really my son. I am his real mom.

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If the newspaper ever writes about him because he has won the Nobel Prize or because he is being sent to prison, he is my son. Not my adopted son. My son.

I mean it, either way, because that’s what real family is like. And that’s what we are. A real family.

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When Jesus goes missing from the nativity…

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It started innocently enough, this idea to let the boys play with a plastic nativity set. I thought it would be a nice distraction while we read Christmas books and a chance to reinforce the story of Jesus’ birth. But before we made it through the first few pages, there was trouble.

IMG_0489I did the parental nod toward my husband and subtly shifted my eyes over to Colt, our youngest son, who had an angel hanging out of his mouth and was shaking his head from side to side. I tried to not make a big deal out of it since it was family time – a time when we generally try to stay positive. So, we kept reading until our middle son, Benjamin, swiped a donkey and a shepherd from our oldest son.

I barely had time to lecture Benjamin on the need to share before I saw him knocking over the wise men and heading for the baby Jesus to get the other bad guys.

“Let’s not use Jesus for violence,” I said. “That’s not the kind of thing he teaches.”

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A few more pages and the book ended. We pulled out the words to The Friendly Beasts, an old Christmas carol that talks about the gifts the animals brought to baby Jesus, and we took out wooden figures that the boys could use to act out the song. Somewhere between the cow offering her manger and the sheep bringing wool for a blanket, I noticed blue swaddling clothes hanging out of Colt’s mouth. I did the infamous finger sweep.

IMG_0520“You can’t chew on Jesus,” I told him while I checked for teeth marks in the wood. Thankfully there were none, so I wiped off Jesus and put him back in the manger.  He was only there for a few seconds before he went missing.

“Great,” I said, less than thrilled. “Where is Jesus?”

Then, I saw him. There, in the middle of the scattered Fisher Price nativity set and the jumbled wooden figures, was our Jesus in blue swaddling clothes.

Right there in the chaos of my little family. Unfazed and solid as ever.

“Can we play again tomorrow?” Benjamin asked.

“Absolutely,” I said. “Absolutely.”

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Are we salt — or sugar?

In my tiny Baptist church all the women contributed to potluck dinners and brought baked treats for Vacation Bible School, so I really don’t remember who was responsible for the famous salt cookies.

I was young, probably under 10, and the cookies were set out on the refreshment table with the sugar cookies from other moms. It was just the luck of the draw that I happened to pick up one of the cookies sprinkled with salt and dip it in my red Kool-Aid. It was awful. Even worse than the time my cousin made me eat dirt.

The poor woman who made the cookies just grabbed the wrong canister. Salt and sugar, they look a lot alike but their purpose is very different. I tend to like my iced tea sweet, my strawberries syrupy and my religion nice and polite. Sugar makes things like medicine and injustice and poverty a little less bitter, a little easier to swallow. It hides the bite. Covers the distasteful problem.

And if left alone, sugar invites decay and disease.

I suspect that’s why scripture says people of faith are to be salt and light. Salt brings out the individual flavor of everything it touches. It preserves and, even though it stings, it heals.

I’ve been dipping out of the sugar canister too often, worrying more about how it looks when my teenager rolls his eyes than about bringing healing to his hurts. I’d never pour sugar on his scraped leg, but I’ve scooped it in his hurting heart. Platitudes and syrupy religion rarely help, only salt. Only loving the unique qualities, strengthening them and preserving them.

I’ve read about human trafficking, child abuse and the need for more wells. Still, I take my sweetener and fill my children’s pool twice a week with more clean water than some Africans see in a month.

I talk about getting my finances more in line with my beliefs, about finding more time to volunteer and more ways to speak up for others. But like a short-lived sugar high, I soon crash. I settle for complacency because it’s more comfortable than being the woman who brings salt cookies when everyone expects sugar.

 

 

When it’s the parent who needs the prayer

A few weekends ago, I had a rough night of prayer – the kind that has you awake at 3 a.m. straightening rooms and hanging up laundry just because you’re too unsettled to sit still.

For about a week I’d been having dreams where I was arguing with my 13-year-old son. In my dreams, Jessie was angry and challenging me and I was grasping for control. I was lecturing and clamping down on every wrong thing he did. I was all truth and very little mercy.

And I was driving him away. His precious heart was hardening.

Even when I was awake, I wrestled with those dreams and the truth that they might hold. Finally, those thoughts came to a peak one Saturday night. I don’t know what triggered it, but I found myself in tears, crying out to God for help.

Instead of praying for Jessie to have wisdom; for Jessie’s heart to heal from being separated from his biological parents; for Jessie to have courage and strength and joy… I prayed for myself to become the mother that Jessie needs.

That night, everything was on the table with God. If I needed to lay-off on the nagging, I’d do it. If I needed to give Jessie a little more space to make his own mistakes, I’d do it. Whatever it took for Jessie to know – really know – that he was loved unconditionally, I’d do it.

In the next few days, I started noticing more chances to reach out to Jessie, to snag a little fun time together. Things I wanted to teach him began to come up naturally in conversation. No lectures needed. And I was reminded that prayer does change things, especially me.

I love how author and pastor Bill Hybels puts it in his introduction to “Too Busy Not to Pray” ($15, InterVarsity Press). If we all prayed regularly, he writes:

“I believe hearts would soften. Habits would shift. Faith would expand. Love for the poor would increase. Positive, purposeful legacies would be built. And a ravenous hunger would rumble through us all to get usable….”

Now, that’s the power of prayer.

 

Families built on faith and fun

Laurie Moulton knows that life is fleeting – and she knows that she wants her two sons to have a storehouse of family memories. When her oldest son was 18 months old, cancer took her sister-in-law and left four children without the chance to grow up with their mother.

“Now I’m intentional about making great memories,” says Moulton, who lives in Webster, NY, and recently published Let the Adventure Begin! Theme Nights for Families with Young Children:Fun & Easy Family Night Activities ($14.99, Family Theme Night Books). She has released a companion book, Memory Making Meals: Fun & Easy Family Dinners ($12.99).

The Moulton family aims for one family theme night a week, where they might build a pyramid out of toilet paper rolls, walk the plank on pirate night or pretend that Mom and Dad’s bed is the whale that swallows Jonah, a biblical prophet. But usually it’s more like every other week.

“You have to keep it easy or you’re not going to do it,” says Moulton, who included a chapter on faith-themed nights.

Experiences that are out of the ordinary, like eating dinner under the table on backwards night, are more likely to stick with us because the brain stores those situations more permanently than the day-to-day experiences, says Daniel DeMarle, an education specialist who works with families touched by behavioral or developmental challenges.

The making of a spider bread bowl for our "Man vs. Wild" theme night.

Of course, leaving a memorable legacy might not be the real goal, DeMarle adds. What most people, like Moulton, want is a meaningful legacy.

Vacations and theme nights aren’t enough on their own, he says. Loved ones need traditional, or routine, experiences like eating dinner together, too. Sprinkle in some chances to build confidence, like a long hike or building a tree house, and before you know it you’ve got yourself a stockpile of meaningful memories.

"Worms" made of hot dogs and barbecue sauce to go along with our theme of living off the land. (That's a gummy worm in the sippy cup.)

“When my children are grown and look back on their childhood, I don’t want them to only remember that mom was always busy cleaning and doing the dishes,” Moulton writes in Let the Adventure Begin. “I want them to have fond memories of fun times we had together as a family.”

Something tells me she’ll succeed. I hope we all do.

Mmmm... Crumbled up cookies and chocolate pudding look like dirt but taste great!

A gracious Q&A with Ann Voskamp

For those who missed the chance to chat with Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts, I’ve copied (and slightly adapted) the conversation we had on the Simply Faithful Facebook page and provided it for you here. Ann is truly a gift. May you enjoy getting to know her better and may you cherish her wisdom…

  • Simply Faithful Welcome Ann! We are so excited that you are here with us. If it’s OK, we’ll let you say a few words and then we’ll dive in to the questions.

Ann Voskamp Thank you for grace and the warm welcome!

  • Linda Gordon How did you come to know the many references you used in your book? I was totally amazed at how many different sources you knew and quoted.

Ann Voskamp Ahh… the wonder of listening to all the authors and words that have come before! I read a lot… and I think when you begin to answer God’s call — He also providentially has you cross paths with all the words and thoughts you need for the work?

And I remember writing that bibliography — many hours!

Linda Gordon so did you find the quotes as you were writing the book or were there ones you knew and wanted to be sure to include?

Ann Voskamp Yes, Linda — some I found as I read, during the writing process — only God moments. And others had been tucked in a file — as they resonated with the life God was leading me into…. Good questions!

Amy Kushnir Ann – I just stumbled upon this thread riding home from spring break in Texas – that answer about how God has you cross paths with all the work and thoughts you need for the work – profound! Just hit me like a ton of bricks! thank you!

Ann Voskamp Hi Tanya! Warm wave! Yes, the style …

The book is written in its own idiosyncratic language—prose meeting poetry, a strange kind of language.

Throughout Scripture, when a person came into the presence of God, the only language they had to stammer out anything was a different language than their vernacular. The only way to communicate their encounter with God was often through lyrical language.

I didn’t think a book written in that “prosetical” God-encounter language would ever find a real home out in the world.

But God had other plans —

And maybe that is exactly what we’re all hungry for—a powerful, personal encounter with God in a language all of its own?

Simply Faithful How did your editors respond? Were they supportive?

Tanya Shaw Herrold I agree. That connection to our perfect Maker is needed among us today just as in earlier times!

Ann Voskamp Well, Zondervan and Waterbrook both bid for the book, based on the first three chapters, so they knew what the style and voice was at the outset. Zondervan wanted something fresh and “outside of the box” — and were very encouraging to do exactly what God called. They told me to write just vertically, for an audience of One. And I did.

  •  Ann Beaudoin Meyer Hi Ann. I can imagine that sharing your personal life experiences through this book was a challenge. Even greater difficulty must be speaking to large crowds and the medias about such a personal, intimate topic. How do you think you have grown as your book continues to impact so many people?

Ann Voskamp Ah, Ann… such a thoughtful question. I think the Lord has asked me to live the truth/message of the book again now, in deeper ways. Can I trust Him? Is all grace? Will I turn blessings into burdens?

I think the journey has kept me very small and quiet and hushed under His wing. He’s used it to draw me closer to Him — relying only on Him.

When I am weak — He is strong.

Simply Faithful I loved your blog post about wearing rainbow socks and standing on his promises. I may borrow that idea!

Ann Voskamp Highly recommended, Marketta.

Ann Beaudoin Meyer I think that is the key, really appreciating those blessings. We turn them into burdens all too often!

  • Linda Gordon How long ago did you write the book? How did you meet your farmer?

Ann Voskamp Linda, it took me about 13 months to write the book? And I met the Farmer in his mama’s Good News Bible Club!

Linda Gordon That is good news! Was it love at first sight or a work in progress?

Ann Voskamp Ah, we were young… 14. We had our first date at 16. And were married when I was 20. Grace upon grace… Christ braiding us together in Him.

  •  Simply Faithful How did you get involved with Compassion International and what draws you to that organization?

Ann Voskamp We’ve always been child sponsors, since we were married…. and had several children sponsored through Compassion for many years. I became an advocate for Compassion about 3 years ago? And then Compassion invited me to live blog a trip to Guatemala in Sept. 2009 and Ecuador November, 2011, and see firsthand their work. That sealed it! My heart is forever with His children in need! The proceeds from One Thousand Gifts now has returned to the Guatemala City Dump to build an educational center — thanks be to God alone.

Ann Beaudoin Meyer Do you have plans to return to Guatemala?

Simply Faithful Lida Merrill will want to hear more about that! She has done a lot of missionary work in Guatemala with people who have disabilities.

Courtney Joseph Oh I love this!

  •  Lida Merrill Hi Ann, Thank you for your time this evening. Have your older children read your book?

Ann Voskamp Good evening, Lida…. My oldest, yes, he has — he’s nearly 17.

Lida Merrill What impression did it have on him?

Simply Faithful Is he the one who threw toast?

Ann Voskamp Before the manuscript was submitted, the children whose stories were told, graciously gave their permission, so he had read some of the chapters before. And Caleb was very generously positive. He came to me last week and said I really need to begin another book… Humbling grace.

Ann Voskamp Ah yes — the toast scene. Yes.

Linda Gordon How did keeping a gratitude journal work for him?

Ann Voskamp We have a family gratitude journal that together we work on and we keep sharing each day at the table our thanks — it’s become part of who we are… our new default!

Ann Voskamp Warm wave, Lucinda!

I’m not sure I even now think of it in terms of a gift for words?

I think I just wait over a keyboard and He gives the gift?

Lucinda Mellinger Anderson Your descriptions paint the picture so well i feel like I’m right there with you!

Ann Voskamp Thank you for grace, Lucinda… So kind.

  •  Lida Merrill Are you planning a return trip to Guatemala?

Ann Voskamp Yes! Us as a whole family! We will all return to Guatemala, Lord willing, next January? To celebrate what God has done with the Educational Center!  http://www.aholyexperience.com/?p=8753

Ann Beaudoin Meyer How exciting! What part of Guatemala?

Ann Voskamp ‎(The above link is about Guatemala and how it came to be that One Thousand Gifts is going back there, to BE the gift! I am blessed, I can bless — this is happiness!

Ann Voskamp We will return, Lord willing, to Guatemala City….

Ann Beaudoin Meyer thanks for the link.

Lida Merrill Yes, thank you.

Ann Voskamp I preach out loud to myself.  I count blessings out loud. I memorize Scripture and meditate on Truth. We read Scripture together after every meal, 3 times a day.Here is a bit of where we are memorizing — wonderful resource!

http://scripturetyper.com/Group/View/5d4f33dc33/

Simply Faithful Who selects the scriptures? I love all of your ideas but I know they take preparation, too…

Ann Voskamp Last year, our little country chapel, our faith community were memorizing Colossians together — so we invited blog readers to join us.

Ann Voskamp This year, our faith community is memorizing Sermon on the Mount together — so we made up the resources to share online also. Our son, Joshua, (14) makes up all the downloadable resources from the blog… the monthly Joy Dare, the free printables, the Sermon on the Mount booklet… We love working together! A wonderful way to bond!

Simply Faithful He does fantastic work. They are all gorgeous. A true gift! (Will you thank him for us?)

Ann Voskamp I will thank him for you all. Imagine a 14 year old smiling shyly.

Courtney Joseph I love how your son is able to serve along side of you!

  •  Cathy Spellman Roberts Do you use journaling as a technique as you teach your kids in other areas as well?

Ann Voskamp Yes! Just today I handed out new journals. One of the boys (9) wrote a new title on his journal: “My Life.” Perfect!

  • Cathy Spellman Roberts How do you continually try to keep the negative thoughts out. I know I try to start my day when I’m driving by concentrating on my gifts and listening to what God has in store for me for the day, and I try in the middle of the day at work or with my kids to clear the clutter, but I have a hard time keeping it out.

Ann Voskamp I understand, Cathy… You are not alone. I am with you. Singing hymns for me helps. As does quietly preaching Scripture back to myself — a way to take captive every thought.

Ann Voskamp http://www.aholyexperience.com/?p=9031

Cathy Spellman Roberts Thanks. Music is very healing — and soothing — indeed.

  • Ann Beaudoin Meyer I appreciated your honesty in the book, as well as your blog, about your struggles with parenting. I know I have this vision to be the “perfect” mom. After I yell at one of my kids it hits me in the gut. Good reminder to have a little grace with ourselves!

Simply Faithful I like that you sometimes have dirty dishes in your sink.

Ann Voskamp I do! And dirty laundry in front of the washing machine.  And some parenting days leave me in tears and hanging my head in deep grief over my own sinfulness. My mama said that grace is like a boomerang — if you offer grace to a boomerang to others — you receive the grace. You give yourself the grace on the bad days — knowing Christ’s love covers our sins. Right there with you, beautiful women….

Linda Gordon The part about the glass jar and cutting was so hard. Were you suicidal or trying to cut out the bad parts of your life?

Lida Merrill Your line about “hurry empties souls” struck a deep cord with me in regards to parenting. I think the hurrying I did when my children were little emptied their souls. Thank you God for always refilling them, but it is something I am very aware of with my grandchildren.

Ann Voskamp Beautiful, Lida — I preach it to myself out loud often “There are no emergencies. God is in control… no emergencies. Abandon the fears and abide in the Father.”

Ann Voskamp Yes, Linda, so hard. No, not suicidal… just looking in all the wrong places to relieve pain… escape from my own skin? Hard to think I was there once — but I really, really was. Only God.

  •  Lucinda Mellinger Anderson Ann, Thanks for your idea of singing hymns,etc as I struggle writing.. any suggestions on how to journal?

Ann Voskamp Well — I leave a gratitude journal out permanently on my counter. That helps. And I have journals all through the house  … for specific helps, if you search the journal category at the blog, I wrote a multi-week series a few years ago on how to journal in various, creative ways and readers sent in their ideas and photos of their journals and it was very inspiring!

Ann Voskamp If you scroll back through these, there are so many ideas from so many wonderful women!

http://www.aholyexperience.com/category/journaling/

Lucinda Mellinger Anderson Thanks, I’ll check it out.

  • Lucinda Mellinger Anderson Ann, We are visiting our grandchildren,5 of them in Chicago and the job of getting ready for bed with a special movie after causes me to be grateful for all the noise, fun and hugs we get all to infrequent!! Thanks for sharing.

Ann Voskamp I am smiling, Lucinda! How wonderful! Much joy in Him to you all so beautifully there in Chicago! Blessed evening, Lucinda! It was a privilege…

  •  Simply Faithful Ann, we are so thankful for your time and for your many gifts.

Ann Voskamp Truly, it’s been a humbling grace. Thank you for yours.

Thank you for looking for Christ in the pages.

God go with you…

Eucharisteo, friends!

Ann Voskamp You’ve all radiated and exuded His joy tonight. Thank you!

Simply Faithful Blessings, Ann!

Lida Merrill Thank you for blessing us with your words.

Cathy Spellman Roberts Thank you Ann for your kind words and your time.

Ann Beaudoin Meyer Thank you for your time. I am sure that God will continue to bless use and use your words for the rest of us.

Courtney Joseph Oh bummer I’m late! So glad it’s all saved here to read!