Listening

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I read a book this week – a memoir from a woman who had experienced amazing things. Her story from beginning to end was filled with encounters with God. But it was strange. This woman knew her life was being turned upside down by the miraculous, but she never quite recognized the source. She never quite got it.

At one point – the point she herself recognized as the most significant – the woman received a vision. She found herself at the feet of a man. She couldn’t see his face, but he wore a robe and his feet were bare, and the man’s voice exuded intense love that rocked her world and changed her life. The woman called the vision Love, but she never gave the man a name, and I was baffled.

Often because of my role in ministry, and my role as a mom, I’m asked to give tips about parenting. What works, what doesn’t. What’s most important. And here’s what I typically say. The most important thing to teach a child is how to recognize the voice of Jesus. 

It’s the only foolproof way. Our job as parents is fleeting, no matter what season we’re in. Our influence is like the grass, here today, and gone tomorrow. And there’s only one thing we can really pass on that lasts forever.

I don’t want them to miss it. I don’t want my kids to go out in the world, immersed in a sea of voices, but clueless about the one voice that matters. The other voices are loud, I know, and there’s little we can do to shut them out. But even in a noisy crowd one familiar voice can whisper close. The voice we know and love the best stands out and all the other voices fade away. And I want my kids to know. That.

I don’t want my boys to encounter Jesus but mistake him for something else. Jesus is a person and personal. He made us. He knows us. He speaks to us uniquely. His voice sounds like beauty and music and wonder and words. He’s creative and mystery and his Spirit dances and plays. And we can know his voice. 

I am a mom, and my boys know MY voice, too. Sometimes my voice is loud, too loud. I have so much to say, and so little time to say it. I think it’s my job to tell them. But are my words more important than his? No. I must decrease, that he might increase. It’s his voice I want them to hear. I’m reminding myself.

They’re quickly becoming men. Boys in my heart, but men in reality, and life is changing fast. Too fast. The decisions they’re making will matter forever and I have to know. They’re listening. They hear it. His voice. Above mine and all the rest.

I can sleep at night knowing this. The voice leading my boys is the one voice I want them to follow.

His sheep follow him because they know his voice (John 10:4).

Gifts

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This week’s news makes our hearts happy. It’s official. We have several emails and a long printed file to prove it. The file is in Spanish, and Kyle can read just enough to be sure. We’ve been chosen to be the parents of Nelson Felipe and Jimmy Alejandro. The powers that be have found us to be suited for them, and they suited for us. The match has been approved, and we can be a family.

And we are overjoyed.

I made them Christmas stockings to celebrate. Not that they’ll be here for Christmas. They won’t. Maybe we’ll be there. Maybe. But more likely we’ll be there just after. The week after Christmas makes most sense. Airfare is cheaper and schedules are freer. It’s more practical for lots of reasons. But I’m a Mom and a dreamer, and there’s a very big part of my heart that would like to abandon practical and embrace the ridiculous and just GO. Go for Christmas. We’ll see.

But come December 1st their stockings will hang from our mantle. I’m making myself wait. Even though I started to decorate in November with the trees and the lights, I saved the most Christmassy things for when it’s truly Christmas. Soon.

Their stockings will hang on our mantle and thoughts of them will permeate everything that is Christmas this year. We’ll be a little distracted. Half here, half there. Or maybe more there than here. So I’m saying it now to our family and friends. We’ll try to be present, but this Christmas we’ll be focused on another present.

Often when I think about all that’s happened I’m overwhelmed by the gift. That God saved these two boys for us. For all these years. Through all manner of circumstance. From myriads of families looking to adopt. And us not even really looking.

But God giving. He’s giving us such a gift.

A couple of weeks ago something amazing happened. I met a woman who goes to my church. Her name is Francy. It was a miracle encounter, God orchestrated. Francy grew up in Colombia. She speaks Spanish. And she met our boys last November – translating at the Camp of Dreams. She remembers them well. Very well. Of all of the kids at the camp, she got to know our boys best, and she tells me again and again. They’re special. Your boys are very, very special.

A year ago Francy prayed for Felipe and Jimmy and for the family who would adopt them. She felt it deeply. These two boys are special. They need a special family.

And how is it that I’m the one – we’re the ones – to be the recipients of such prayers? And of two such priceless gifts.

Overdue

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Sunday at church I was talking to a pregnant mom, due in December. I said – I feel like I’m three months overdue. And it’s true. God in his wisdom planned nine months for a mom to prepare heart and home, and this mom is feeling overdone.

Someone told me adoptive moms go through typical stages of nesting and gathering, and I did. Late last winter I tore up the house cleaning, organizing, rearranging. Kyle caught the fever, too, and together we painted and we shopped. New clothes in closets and new blankets on beds. By May we were done. Ready.

We hoped we wouldn’t travel in June. June was graduation and a family reunion, but by the first of July we were good to go. We cleared calendars and gathered bags, just in case. We were ready.

There’s a pastor at church who’s an expectant dad, baby due the week of Thanksgiving. He schedules his days carefully, avoiding commitments, making contingency plans. I talked to him yesterday and it hit me. I’ve been contingency-planning my life for five solid months.

Years ago my sister’s third baby came eight days late, and I was scheduled to be with her for the birth. Both of us had little ones at home and every day we’d make a plan. Grandmas on hand, instructions ready. Once or twice a day I’d check in. Today? Not yet. A week felt like forever. But one thing we knew for sure – the baby is bound to arrive. And she did.

Yesterday I woke up wondering if ours ever will. Arrive, that is. All day long my heart felt heavy, and I knew the truth of the proverb – hope deferred makes the heart sick… 

This morning we received a message from Colombia. The committee plans to meet tomorrow. It’s the same message we’ve heard a half dozen times in three weeks. And I’m not prone to cynicism. But really.

So maybe tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow the committee will meet. Maybe tomorrow good news will come. Papers will arrive. Progress will happen.

And maybe tomorrow we’ll finish the proverb.

… a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

Dads

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A few days ago I was with a group of women when someone made an interesting comment. She was remembering a time when she was away from home and she found out about a tragedy on the news. I think it was a school shooting. Her first response was that she needed to be the one to break the news to her kids. She couldn’t trust her husband, because he wouldn’t do it right. And all the other moms agreed. When it comes to talking to kids about big things, moms are the ones to handle it.

I was shocked. Not shocked as in judging, but shocked as in that thought has never crossed my mind. When it comes to the big and bad stuff of life, my husband is my go to guy.

Maybe it’s personality. I am by nature cautious where Kyle is confident. I think best when life is calm. Chaos comes and my thoughts scatter. But Kyle keeps his head. His practical wisdom rises to the occasion. I need that.

Of course sometimes – lots of times – Kyle’s perspective is different than mine. He says things I wouldn’t say. He does things I wouldn’t do. And he doesn’t do things I would do. Are you sure? I ask it a lot. But at the end of day I’ve learned to trust.

We’ll be married twenty-five years in December, which means I have history on my side. I can look back on a quarter of a century and see how things have turned out. So far so good. I look at boys almost grown and a dad’s influence bearing fruit. And the fruit is good. And so I trust.

I guess it’s the same with God. We risk trust and take his lead, even when it doesn’t make sense. We might even ask – Are you sure? But at the end of the day history speaks loud and fruit bears witness. So far so good. He seems to know what he’s doing.

The other day Nils came home from school with a question. He wanted to know who was the head of our house. That day in world history they’d been talking about patriarchy. Are we that? He wanted to know. I said, you’d be the best judge. Who do you think is head? He thought for a minute and said – it depends. I laughed. Exactly. It depends.

Whatever it is we are, I like it. I like being able to trust my husband. I like it that my boys can count on their dad to lead hard conversations. I’m glad it’s never crossed my mind to do it for him. And I like, very much, the fruit of these twenty-five years.

November

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I confess. It’s November tenth and all day long I’ve been decorating the house for Christmas. It’s against my better judgment and breaking my own rules, but I’ve done it nonetheless. And here’s why.

To start it’s snowing. A lot. Measuring by my deck I’d say ten inches so far and more coming. And the best way I know to make the most of snow is to make it about Christmas. Snow looks best with glitter and lights.

But truth be told this isn’t the first November with snow, yet never before have I done what I did today. So the real reason I’ve dipped early into holiday décor is I’m still holding out hope we’ll be spending December just north of the equator. All sun and no snow, and so why not. I’m enjoying it now while I can.

Last November Felipe and Jimmy were here in Minnesota and there was no snow. The Camp of Dreams kids hoped it would come, but just to be ornery the weather held out until a day or so after they left before dumping the first of our endless winter.

We have a picture of the boys at the camp, standing in front of a Christmas tree. It’s decorated with homemade crafts, and I was with Felipe when he painted a snowflake, meticulous and exquisite. A work of art. That was a year ago. The picture of the boys has been sitting in a frame on our piano ever since. We compare the faces on Skype to the ones in the frame and we mark the passing of time.

Last year our Anderson Christmas fell on December twenty-second, Felipe’s fifteenth birthday. We had a cake and candles, and all of us circled the table and we prayed for two new sons. Already another birthday approaches, and we hold out hope. Maybe we’ll celebrate sixteen together.

So today I make the most of snow in November, hoping for sun in December. I put up trees and lights (but no ornaments just yet), and I wonder if the holiday décor will welcome them home. And I pray it again like I’ve prayed before – Please, God, let us be together for Christmas.

Music

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Luke wrote a song, and it’s really, really good. He sat in the living room last weekend singing and playing his guitar. I noticed how cool his guitar playing was. I thought, he must be practicing at school. So I said it out loud. I like that song. He said, thanks. It’s the one I wrote.

You wrote a song? I assumed he’d been playing something he picked up at the concert the boys attended the night before. Professional stuff. But this was homemade?

I had him play it again so I could pay attention. I stood in the kitchen pealing apples for apple crisp and I listened in awe. It was perfect. He said it wasn’t, quite. It still needed tweaking. And I know I have mom ears, but I’ve heard quite a lot of songs and this one was really, really good.

The song told stories about journeys and life and not being there yet. And there was something about finding shalom. I wish Luke was here right now so I could get it all down just the way he sang it. The lyrics kept going on and on and I wondered how a kid so young could think such thoughts. But it shouldn’t surprise me. This kid is a thinker.

Music is God’s gift to my boys and my boys’ gift to me. Every day I’m amazed. Grant sits downstairs for hours at a time recording his loops for leading worship and Sunday comes and the music flows seamless and sweet. Since he started leading four years ago he’s gone from boy to man. A man after God’s own heart. And boy, can he sing.

Nils sings, too, which surprises me most, since he’s always been my quieter kid. He’s only sixteen but already he’s taken the lead for chapel at school, and he’s getting a reputation at church, too. The big guys call when they’re in a bind and need someone good to back them up. Hey, Nils. Are you up for electric this week? Even Grant says how good he is, and how Nils is his first choice for his worship band.

My favorite is when they all play together. Last Sunday morning it was Nils on electric and Luke on drums and Grant playing his loops and his acoustic, and they sounded great. Even better was when they came back home and played downstairs, a jam session while I made lunch. I hoped it would never end.

I remember a dream I had when I was a girl. I thought someday I’d like to direct a choir of boys. No kidding. I’m not even sure why I thought it. But the dream stayed tucked away until one day I remembered and smiled. Is it true, God gives us the desires of our hearts?

This is better than my dream in a million ways. More than I could have ever asked or imagined. And I am very, very grateful.

(Too Much) Thinking

I experienced an ah-ha this week. It was just what I needed at just the right time. Just the way God works. It came at church during our weekly staff devo and it’s been confirmed a dozen times since.

It’s this. Faith that is all academic is really no faith at all.

Our pastor showed us a map of the world and how faith in Jesus multiplies today, a few converts here, less there, and in some places where you might not expect – the numbers of faithful exploding. Jesus is alive.

But here, where we live, we see it less. So we ask the question – why?

And maybe it’s this. We think too much and believe too little. Yes?

Alongside the map we read some thoughts from a wise pastor who talked about miracles around the world. He said the Spirit is alive in places where souls are coming to life, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise. But here we tend to rationalize, thinking instead of believing. And when we think we can figure out the Spirit we tend to miss the miracles.

I can relate. A few years ago I experienced my own miracle. It was a miracle of faith and being made alive, and for a very long season I rode on the wind of the Spirit. I expected to hear his voice. I followed his lead. I dreamed his dreams. And it was amazing.

But then something changed. Some things didn’t make sense. The movement of the Spirit and the movement of my life didn’t quite line up, and I was confused. So I tried to figure it out. I read books. I asked questions. I changed the way I prayed. And I got stuck.

It’s no wonder. My very wiring works against me. I’m wired for thinking. Intellection, Learner, Discipline. My strengths are my weaknesses.

Back in those days of following the Spirit he gave me a vision to pray for a school. The Christian school where my children attend, and here’s what I heard from the Spirit. Wake up the sleeping church. 

I prayed without ceasing for three or four years, believing and expecting for miracles. But what I expected and what I saw were different somehow, and I made it my mission to figure it out. I prayed less and thought more, and somehow lost sight of the vision.

The irony is this. The very obstacle keeping me from prayer will keep the kids at the school asleep. Too much thinking by me and too much thinking by them, and not enough Spirit for any of us. I’m convinced it’s true. This academic faith is killing the faith in all of us.

Yesterday I had a sweet experience. I was at the salon getting my hair done by a new young woman I’d never met. While she worked on my hair we exchanged small talk, until she found out I work at a church. And then she had questions. Her questions took courage, I could see in her eyes. Vulnerable and pain-filled. She grew up in a small church with a small school, and both were hard places bent on rules. Thou shalt not – and no love. And she lost her way. But a handful of times in the past few years she’s ventured to churches outside her sect, and whenever she goes she cries. And she wonders why.

Ah. It’s the Spirit. Alive.