We are all overcoming something.
In Romans 8:28, Paul writes, "God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose."
The truth about us is we are fragile and broken and often riddled with regret. God takes it all and turns it into something good. We are called to persevere, to live with authenticity, to embrace our wounds with patience, and to look for His plan.
How do we live with authenticity? Maybe it begins by realizing that God isn’t looking for the cleaned up version of our lives.
This sounds basic and like something we all would agree with, but we are immersed in a culture that is consumed with perfection. The perfect soul mate who completes us (doesn’t exist and if you think he/she does I do not predict a long and happy marriage for you). The perfect job. The perfect kids. The perfect pair of shoes...well, I think I may have stumbled on a few pairs of those. But the point is, everything has a downside. And if we spend all of our time pursuing this nonexistent state of perfection that we have dreamed up we are going to be a) not fun to be around because you’re really never satisfied and b) depressed because perfect isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The truth is, it is countercultural to let our imperfections show. But that’s the place where true happiness and contentment can be found. Until we accept that our spouse, our kids, our job, our house, our yard, our shoes are flawed and love them the way they are, even embrace the stuff that drives us crazy, we will be living an inauthentic life.
The paradox is that imperfect is actually perfect.
What is perfection? Perfect is the fullness of who we are, embracing the things we like and the things we don’t like and trusting that if we had it all together there wouldn’t be any room for God to do what he does.
You’re perfect the way you are.
Psalm 139 speaks to this. "You are fearfully and wonderfully made." So starting from within, accepting that you are accepted. Believing that God put you together in an amazing way and that the party wouldn’t be complete without you.
“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you. There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.” ~Frederick Buechner
So our story of adoption taught this lesson of the perfect within the imperfect to me from the very beginning. Perfect for me as a 19 year old bride meant baby 1, baby 2, baby 3...boom. boom. boom.
Alas, it did not go as planned. A young bride, dreaming of being a young mother and then 6 months go by, no baby. A year. Medical tests. A grim diagnosis in terms of the ability to have a biological child. Weeping. Utter despair. It was hard on our marriage and it was hard on my faith and it was hard on me. How could this be part of God’s plan to do good in my life? If he really did miracles, why couldn’t he just do this one for me? And then some moments happened, and I made a choice. First, Dan and I turned to each other and I’m not sure if we said this, but I know I thought it. Stronger marriages than ours had imploded over smaller issues than what we were going through. We decided to be there for each other instead of each being alone in our own pain. We held hands and set our faces toward living the life we were given. I made a choice to accept this painful path, to walk right into the center of the storm and not see a way out but to see God. And I told him that I did not agree with Him in this plan right now, and it completely sucked from my point of view, but through gritted teeth and a clenched fist I was trusting Him to do what he said he would. To do something good. So I didn’t know then what would happen, but you all can see the rest of the story.
It’s not how I would have written it, but it’s a pretty good story (most days, anyway).
Without authenticity in imperfection God could not have done his good work. What are you looking to overcome? Could you ask God to be there with you?
Embracing the Wounds
There is a certain hand that we have all been dealt in life, like our story of infertility. There are things beyond our control, circumstances that we can do nothing about, our basic temperament, other people in our lives. The only thing that we do have power of is our response. Circumstances aren’t good or bad; they just are. The good or bad or whatever comes in how we choose to respond. So a huge part of the lessons that adoption has lived for me is this whole area of woundedness. My kids experienced a painful abandonment very early in their precious lives. At a time when they should have been completely protected and cared for and nurtured, they were left sometimes somewhere public that was on the usual route for the police in China who find abandoned babies routinely and deliver them to the local orphanage; or sometimes totally discarded, literally on the side of the road with a damaged mouth that makes feeding almost impossible, left to die. I almost can’t even let my mind go there. And, it’s not my story to tell for my kids. It’s their story. But, when we talk about these hard things with the older two, the conversation goes something like this. “How could a mom do that?” Me: “It’s really hard to understand isn’t it? China is so different than our life here. They have a law that you are only allowed to have one baby.” Her: “But still. I would break the law.” Me: “ Me too, honey, but it’s not that way for them. So the truth is we don’t really know what happens, and that is so hard for you. I wish that I could write your story so it didn’t have this really, really sad beginning. Babies shouldn’t be away from their mommies. I’m sorry that’s your beginning, but I’m also thankful because that’s how God put our family together.”
It’s simplistic, I know. And it doesn’t take the hurt away. But it’s the truth. God takes really hard things and turns them into things of beauty. Listen to these words from Ecclesiastes 3:11.
"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."
And then along comes Levi. This little boy who literally wears his wound. I wrote this about how he is teaching me.
I wonder if one of the ways God is working in us through Levi’s story is in the wearing of the wound. His is on the outside. He doesn’t have a choice about that. I wear my wounds on the inside. Sometimes I imagine that I build a guard around these scars, covering over them with jokes or sarcasm or irritability. We all need surgery to be whole. We all need the Great Physician to come in and clean out the bad stuff and build up the good stuff and make it all into something beautiful. He’s really good at that.
So continuing that thread of authenticity being the beginning point for true transformation, and then in that very real space, being honest about the wounds in our own lives. We all have them and some are much more serious than others.
Whatever that means for each one of us, the sweetness of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus, is that God sent his son to live and dwell and make his home among us. He chose the path of suffering, he chose the cross, and in that moment he purified--made it clean-- and sanctified--set it apart-- our suffering.
I look at Levi’s little scar above his lip and I see the countenance of Christ. And we can invite Him into our own pain, making room for his healing. With that choice, the wounds become a part of ALL things working together for good. Do you have an identified wound, hiding on the inside? What if that very place is the place where the seed of transformation is formed?
Can you see that this isn’t a quick fix Gospel? Can you see how the virtue of patience is absolutely essential in living an authentic, beautifully healed and redeemed life? Our culture works against us here too. We live in a world where speed is literally measured by nanoseconds of difference in internet search abilities. Right? I can totally illustrate this because my tech-devoted to all things Mac husband bought me an ipad mini as a belated Christmas gift (and also because I have a creaky old dinosaur laptop that we are trying not to replace!). And that little baby is soooooo much faster than our super old ipad2. Do you hear how crazy that is? We’ve been raised on sit coms where problems are solved neatly in 30 minutes (unless it’s the season finale). Patience is just not a valued commodity in American life today. But it is absolutely essential for the spiritual life.
It's an art, too. Finding that sweet spot in the journey and then pushing through. Our adoption story lives out patience. I wanted to be *done* with birthing our 3-4 kids by age 30. Instead, here we are, 42 ++ with a sweet little boy who took 6 years to make his way to us! Patience.
As we live out authentic lives, being present to our woundedness rather than running away, we cultivate patience to wait on God's plan to work ALL things for GOOD.
Look for God’s Plan
Our culture lifts up self-reliance as the ultimate virtue.
Parker Palmer defines functional atheism as the myth that we have absolute control over our lives and therefore no real need for God.
And it may be that
even in especially in churches there is a good bit of functional atheism. In many ways, that is easier than waiting on God's plan for us. Why would one bother to pursue Christ if
we can get to God on our own with clean living and good behavior and a round of
“Jesus loves me” for good measure?
And yet, this is the opportunity, to invite God into the mess, He lives and breathes and makes his home and straightens things out, but not the way I might do it, to His liking.
Nic V. doesn't have limbs. I would argue he is happier and more successful and full of joy than most people who do. Dan and I didn't plan to adopt. But the joy that it has brought to our lives is full and complete.
So where in your life might there be a wound--something you view as a shortcoming--and how might God be using that very place, that very situation, to plant a seed so that the flaw becomes a flourishing victory.
Psalm 27:13-14 "I remain confident of this. I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord."