Monday, March 29, 2010

Looking Differently At Valleys

By Angel Richard

“How are you?” The age-old introductory question came my way at a track meet this week.

I impulsively thought, “Which part of “you” shall I answer from?”

Given who stood before me I said, “I’m well but you know me, I could just as easily sit down to weep over a number of situations, my story always commingles.”

Commingle – to mix or mingle together. It’s becoming my favorite word to capture the stuff of life. Valleys & hilltops, dreams & disappointments, joys & sorrows commingle in my story. They run alongside one another like railroad tracks. Both exist simultaneously on holy ground that I find myself asking the Father, “How’s a daughter to live in this place?”

You see I formed my thinking around the idea that Disneyland was the ultimate landing spot for life. It’s where dreams come true. Funny how all fairy tales give the impression that the girl was in a ‘valley’ the prince rescues her and her life never goes back to the ‘valley’ again. We all live ‘happily ever after.’ No commingling.

My story has plot lines that commingle hourly. Leadership challenges with organizational successes. Mentoring homeruns with parental strikeouts. Family highs mix with family disasters. Commingling, commingling, commingling… makes me wonder if I missed the prince’s rescue.

Life doesn’t feel like I’m making my way through the valleys to the hilltops but rather I’m doing a cosmic split between the two. Like the early years of gymnastics where I had one foot on the ground and one up on the balance beam.

My experience births questions like these, “Did Jesus experience commingling or am I missing something as a Christian? Does the Gospel story embody commingling? Is the rhythm of life only valleys then hilltops?”

Two ideas marinate in my mind today.

First, to hear the Gospel is to hear the greatest and worst news all at once. The King coming to fix the brokenness of the world commingles alongside the truth that my individual brokenness or sin is so serious that it will take the death of Jesus. I’m a loved enemy, a pursued outsider. It smells like commingling.

Second, I’m considering how Christ’s experience on the Cross is an image of commingling. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” commingles with “For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross…” Grief & joy, loss & gain, wrath & love are embodied in His death. Breathtaking!

It’s the story I can take into the deepest parts of myself when I say, “Father I don’t know how to live here doing the cosmic split.” He says to me, “I see you. I know exactly what’s going on and My Son lived the cosmic commingling so you can be alive to Me and to others when you live in the commingling valleys & hilltops of life.”

So here’s to commingling! I seem to be following in My Brother’s footsteps.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Adoption - Waiting - Valleys

By Jennifer Grant
A Note from Elisa: Some Valleys take us through professional upheaval, others are more personal. Jen's story below touches on the latter...a very personal journey into an undeniable leadership realm: motherhood.

It all began with paperwork.

Well, actually it began more mystically than that. Sitting in a church pew, in a moment of silence, I knew I'd have another child. But this one, unlike her three older siblings, would join our family by adoption.

I knew it, the way you know by looking at a flower that is in bloom.

But after that, and after my husband received a similar spiritual text message, there was paperwork. Mountains of it. If you're an adoptive parent, you probably feel weary - and maybe a little sick to your stomach - just reading words such as "dossier," "I-600 form," and "home study."

I threw myself into the paper chase and finished in record time. To paraphrase lines from the film "Raising Arizona," there was a lot of love and beauty in our family and every day that our daughter wasn't with us was a day she might later regret having missed.

Home study completed, we received a referral. Our soon-to-be daughter was a stunning six month-old baby who was in foster care in rural Guatemala. She has been a "waiting child." A "waiting child?" My girl would wait no more! It was late summer and I expected that she would be home by Thanksgiving - Christmas latest. Wouldn't God shoot our case through the Guatemalan courts? After all, God was the one who tapped us on the shoulder to say we should adopt in the first place.

But then, months began to pass. My sunny, expectant mood began to fade. I talked with other women online who were waiting for the Guatemalan courts to finalize adoptions. Some told stories that frightened me. They knew of babies who were ill from drinking unclean water; one even died. And then reports of sexual abuse began to surface.

Almost obsessively, I prayed: "God, please take care of her until I can take care of her myself."

But no reassuring wave of peace followed these prayers. Just the ticking of the mantle clock, the turning of the calendar pages. Some months, we received updated pictures. When they came, I saw how quickly she was growing up. Would she bond with me if she came home as an older child?

"Please, please, please God. Take care of her until I can."

And then, one day, a thought settled itself into my mind. I realized that even after my daughter came home, I couldn't protect her from every harm, just as I couldn't ensure that my other children would always be safe. Whether she was in my arms or far away in a Central American village I couldn't even picture, her life was in God's hands.

And God knew her already and loved her even more than I did.

I was able to wait out the last weeks of the process with more grace.

When we finally got the call and went to pick her up in Guatemala City almost six years ago, our daughter was a happy and healthy girl of 16 months. The 10 months of waiting had seemed like a decade. But she'd been in God's hands all along.

And I had, too.

Psalm 27:14

Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Series of Transitions

By Teresa Spurlock

I am not high-strung. I consider myself “flexible”. But lately, I’ve had snippets of recurring anxiety. I stopped to be still and reflect. Transition. That’s what it is. I have been in a series of transitions for some time, but hadn’t stopped to think about it. Now it was rolling over the top of me…

This past year was a roller coaster of change. We sold our home in Iowa; packed and moved back to Colorado. Stored our belongings and lived in a friend’s apartment for 6 months. Took in our pregnant daughter and stood beside her through another birth. Lamented when she turned and went back to her unhealthy relationship. Attended a wedding of a dear friend (a widower whose late wife had been my mentor). Joined my church’s team to Uganda (a last minute addition). Finalized paperwork and got approved for a non-profit. Took in our daughter again. Moved to a new house and neighborhood. Bonded with our small grandsons. Grieved when my husband lost his job. Pondered as my church’s pews emptied after another series of events. Mourned when our grandsons and daughter left again. Listened as others shared their own version of tremendous trials. Yes, this past year has been a series of transitions.

My phases of transition: excitement/anxiety….darkness….shaky ambiguity…new season…repeat!

I often visualize the scene in the movie Apollo 13. Everyone was excited for lift-off; but no one anticipated the words, “Houston we have a problem.” Meanwhile the seasoned astronauts rotated to the dark side of the moon and all was silent…

Silence. Darkness. Why do we equate that with bad things? Fear of the unknown I guess. We try so hard to find a flashlight of friends with advice to break the silence and validate our dilemmas. It is not enough. Perhaps it is supposed to be silent and dark…

”the silences of Jesus are as eloquent as His words and may be a sign not of His disapproval but of His approval and His way of providing a deeper blessing for you.” Streams in the Desert

In the movie, the onlookers hold their breath. Meanwhile the travelers learned, adjusted and applied what they could, before bracing for re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. I get that part. Often my transitions feel like intense moments of shuddering and shaking until I see the light and find my footing in a new season.

I am just coming out of the quiet, the dark. I am feeling the shaking. It is humbling. It reminds me that I am not in control. From quiet to not so quiet. From still to shaking. From now to next. The pattern of transitions. Oh that I might learn to recognize and then even welcome it and all it brings…

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Irrationally Incapable

By Suanne Camfield

I can’t stop staring at my laundry.

Every day begins the same: two kids whining over empty drawers and dirty socks followed by a husband’s heavy sigh—a reflection of both his waning compassion and growing annoyance with my emotionally paralyzed state—as he hastily grabs a pair of boxers he hasn’t seen since college.

I need to do some laundry. God knows I need to do some laundry. But valleys, I’m learning, have this way of robbing us of the life-capacity at which we normally function. A relatively easy step becomes an impossible task and we find ourselves irrationally incapable. And so each time I crack open the laundry room door, I freeze. I stare at what I’m sure is an insurmountable mess, and with a sigh of my own, am convinced: My children will never have clean socks again.

I know what you’re thinking. Before I knew what it felt like to sit with the ugly troll who lives under the bridge, I’d had thought it too: Come on woman, pull yourself together and throw a few shirts in the freaking laundry machine! Rationally, it sounds so simple. Yet there’s nothing rational or simple about a valley. In a valley, the disconnect between what we know to be true and what we feel is so vast that the faith we’ve unwaveringly declared on high ground becomes a distant echo of a voice we no longer recognize.

I’ve appreciated reading my colleagues’ (sisters?) growth experiences over the past couple of weeks as a result of the valleys in which they’ve walked. Honestly, from a girl who feels like she’s sloshing in the belly of a whale (and thinks it pretty much sucks), my visceral reaction is apathetic to growth. Christ-like character, dependence, humility? I’d swap my soul’s transformation in a heartbeat if it meant the pain would just go away.

Ah, but even as I type, I know I am wrong. Even in the darkest muck of the valley, I can’t snuff out the faint rays of hope upon which my faith is built. Somewhere deep down, I know I feel incapable of clawing my way out of the valley, because I actually am. Capable, that is. And so are you.

My laundry, however, now that’s another story.

A ray of hope from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young:

“I AM WITH YOU. These four words are like a safety net, protecting you from falling into despair. Because you are human, you will always have ups and downs in your life experience. But the promise of My Presence limits how far down you can go. Sometimes you may feel as if you are in a free fall, when people or things you had counted on let you down…You recall that that not only am I with you, I am holding you by your right hand. I guide you with My counsel, and afterward I will take you into Glory…”