Sunday, October 5, 2014

Lavish Love

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! I John 3:1

My life has changed so much over the last 18 months.

In December 2012 we moved into a low-income, primarily black neighborhood. There are people in our neighborhood who live without power, even during the winter, because they can't afford it. Many children will not receive Christmas presents because their families simply don't have the extra money.

In March 2013 we had a miscarriage. The pregnancy was planned, I was five weeks along and though I had only known about that tiny life for one week, he was already a part of our family. Losing him tore a hole in my heart.

Then, in July of that same year we had a second miscarriage. The pregnancy was also planned and she made it to seven weeks gestation. During the three weeks we knew about her we prayed, feared, hoped, and waited. After we lost her my heart temporarily lost its ability to hope in the goodness of God.

In October 2013 James was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and in March of 2014, 12 months after our first miscarriage and the day before our second lost baby's due date, Liam was diagnosed with autism as well.

I entered into 2014 wholly broken. My trust in The Lord had been shattered. I showed up to church with a smile on my face and a heart that was hard as stone. And I realized that something needed to change. I decided to take a break from church in order to work on my relationship with The Lord. My incredibly supportive husband, Nathan, continued to attend church and since he brought the boys with him, I was given a consistent weekly time to talk to (rail at) The Lord.

When I have shared about my intentional break from church in the past, some people respond by commending me for being deliberate, like taking that time is a testament to some innate goodness or spirituality in me. But that's just not the case. I chose to allow the space to get things right with The Lord for two reasons: 1) I'm a big chicken. I've always been in the church and being a Christian is a core part of my sense of identity. Leaving The Lord or the church would force me to re-define myself and that scares the mess out of me. 2) My husband is in ministry. This is his career and I know that The Lord and church will always be a part of our family rhythm and for him to succeed in his career means that I need to get straight with Lord. These are admittedly selfish reasons. I was in a pretty self-focused phase. It is a testament to the goodness of The Lord that he was willing to work with my self-centeredness to bring me back to him.

Over the course of around four months during the beginning of 2014 The Lord MET ME. He pursued me, he answered the questions that I screamed at him, and he loved me. And he invited me to trust him again. He asked me a question: "Am I enough for you? If I am all you have... if your kids die or your husband leaves you, if you have another miscarriage, or if you don't and that baby also has autism, will I be enough for you?" When I got to the point, in the midst of kicking, screaming, crying, and praying, that I could say "yes" to that question, we decided to try again for a baby.

I have shared much of this information in previous posts. But I share it again because those experiences have heavily influenced my perception of the Lord's blessings. If material blessings are from The Lord, does that mean The Lord doesn't care about the people in my neighborhood who don't have material blessings? Where was he when our children were dying? And so I've pushed, hard, against that mindset. But refusing to see some earthly blessings as being from The Lord can be equally as damaging, and we might miss the heart of the father for us.

Recently, some of my family contacted me and offered to fly Nathan and I to Colorado for a vacation. We've never had a real vacation and they wanted to bless us in that way. Upon our arrival in Boulder, we were taken to a house whose owners are out of town for the weekend. We were greeted with food to prepare for dinner, food for breakfast the next morning, a movie night basket, and personal letters from some close friends and family who wrote to encourage and love on us. We have been overwhelmed by the generosity and thoughtfulness of our hosts, whose desire is to love on us with the love of our Heavenly Father.

Their desire is to share the heart of the Father with us. And I find my heart softening toward him once again. Maybe material blessings can be a glimpse of the Father's heart for us but since our world is not fully redeemed we can also be sure that we will face hardship and suffering. The two are not mutually exclusive. Yes, we live in a broken world and death is a reality that no one can escape forever. But sometimes when we receive gifts we can begin to recognize that the same father who welcomed the prodigal son home with his robe, ring, and a feast welcomes and cares for us. Sometimes those gifts remind us that we have been adopted as sons and we have a father who loves us more deeply and truly than we could ever imagine.

Just days after we found out that I was pregnant with the baby I'm still carrying, I purchased a maternity sweater on clearance at Target. It was a scary purchase. "What if I never get the chance to wear this sweater? What if it stares me in the face as a reminder of a lost pregnancy?" But I made a choice to hope. For me a choice to hope wasn't the same as a belief that everything would be ok, but it was simply hoping they would. And believing that if they weren't The Lord would still be with me.

This weekend, in the cool Colorado mountains, I had my first chance to wear that sweater. As this baby grows, kicks, and moves inside of me and we are gifted beyond what we could have imagined, the truth of the Father's lavish love for me sinks deep in. And the ultimate truth of his lavish love is not found in our vacation or this healthy baby girl, but that we are considered his sons and daughters. These gifts are just glimpses into that amazing reality.

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