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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas from Revelation 12

John threw up twice Saturday morning but then worked busily the rest of the day and said he felt mostly better.  I woke up feeling very nauseous this Sunday morning - the 23rd of December.  He said he was still nauseous.  I desperately wanted to go to church.  I enjoy church almost always, no matter where we are.  I had missed the last time we were here in Mississippi because Jonah was getting sick and my hair dryer broke, and we have to attend First Baptist, and nappy wet hair and a sick baby just felt like a recipe for a really awful morning. That Sunday John took the rest of the kids.  Then we were on break the next Sunday at home in Huntsville and I missed church because we did not want Jonah to get passed around to a ton of people right in the height of the flu epidemic.  Honestly, we're not being crazy over protective. The flu outbreak was all over the news, with lots of nearby schools closing early for a few days because of the flu outbreak. Also, a random person in Zaxby's had commented on how cute Jonah was then said, "But keep him bundled up, there's a bad baby fever virus going around Huntsville right now! We took our daughter to the pediatrician for it yesterday and he said there was a big problem with it this week." Scary! So, I stayed home and surfed around Bible Gateway and some Christian blogs about family, marriage, and parenting, and played with Jonah.  This was the third Sunday I was about to miss church.  I couldn't do it.  I needed to hear a good message, and I wanted to sing Christmas songs, and pray with a body of believers again.  I ate a piece of toast and developed a real "Suck it up" attitude as I got ready for church feeling queasy, and trying to decide if John or I was feverish, contagious, or food poisoned, or what.  It's not easy to get a family of 7 out the door when the two adults feel like they might have to puke at any second, but somehow, against all of satan's little pansy schemes, we made it just in time to not spread any germs by socializing before service started. (We were about 5 minutes late for church, Sunday School at this point was not even feasible.)

When our new pastor down here put up that his scripture for his Christmas message was Revelation 12, I was pretty confused.  What about the story in Luke of Jesus' birth? However, I was blown away by his wonderful message of how Christ's birth was fought in the spiritual realm.  I tend to avoid Revelation because I have very limited knowledge of what it means.  I also know lots of Christians dispute the prophesies therein, even arguing about end times and such, which I really just don't care about because I am certain that my faith in Jesus Christ will result in me getting to heaven eventually, so whether there will be a rapture of the Christians first or not, I don't mind.  Therefore, I just typically don't read it much on my own other than to have it brought up in devotions, usually referring to the luke-warm/spit you out analogy.  This sermon changed my perspective though, because the pastor explained that some of Revelation is actually historic, not prophetic. Revelation 12 is just that.
     It depicts Christ's birth from the spiritual realm's perspective.  This is my favorite part which describes just after his birth:

Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven. This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.
10 Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens,
“It has come at last—
    salvation and power
and the Kingdom of our God,
    and the authority of his Christ.[a]
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters[b]
    has been thrown down to earth—
the one who accuses them
    before our God day and night.
11 And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb
    and by their testimony.
And they did not love their lives so much
    that they were afraid to die.
12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens!
    And you who live in the heavens, rejoice!
But terror will come on the earth and the sea,
    for the devil has come down to you in great anger,
    knowing that he has little time.”

I love that "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony...He is filled with fury because he knows that his time is short. " Victory in Jesus my friends! Christmas was fought for us on a spiritual level, not just in a stable in Bethlehem here on earth, but in Heaven, and all around us. That is awesome! It reminds me of Max Lucado's book "Cosmic Christmas" which I read about 10 years ago and I haven't been able to find since. I just love imagining the glory of those Angels appearing to the shepherds, breaking the blackness of night to reveal the light of the world. How brilliant it must have been! Then "He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short."
("Filled with fury" is the NIV 1984 version for the end of verse 12). Satan is mad at us, and he is constantly trying to win the battles, although he has already lost the war. That is why we must: 

13 Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous.[a] Be strong.

I also know that having my own little baby boy this year is making the magnificence of Jesus coming as a baby boy very real for me.  I am so thankful that God came to earth as a baby to be my Redeemer, my Savior. 

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Learning to Say "I Love You"

    I frequently find myself in the mindless act of parking-lot driving to keep the babies asleep while John runs in a store to get something that he expects will take about 20 minutes or less (hopefully).  I know this wastes gas and is not good for the environment.  However, two sleepy babies who need sleep take priority right now.  If you put the car into park and turn it off, then one or both of them always wakes up within 2-3 minutes.  These babies are on a pretty good schedule, and we try not to interrupt it, but sometimes the older kids and life events, and church disrupts that schedule, resulting in their nap time happening somewhere other than home.  I try to keep their naps as long as possible because it rewards us with happy, healthy babies. Back to my story, sometimes I am the only other person in the car with the sleeping babies because the kids are at school, but sometimes one or more of the older kids is with me.  I found myself in this situation a few nights ago.

     I sat with one of our girls in the car driving around the sleeping babies, while John ran into Wal-Mart with the boys.  I have to initiate conversation, and she answers shortly at first, then relaxes and opens up more and we have a good time of talking and sharing about Christmas.  I asked if she remembered learning that Santa wasn't real.  I shared the way I learned when a friend told me and I was in disbelief.  I asked if she had a favorite Christmas memory (sadly, she didn't).  I shared how my grandparents surprised us by showing up one day on Christmas morning when I was 16, and it was because they came to see my reaction first-hand when my parents give me my first car. We were both laughing and having a good time, driving so slowly in the dark, around the parking lot.  I felt God saying, "Tell her you love her." My flesh is not so obedient all the time, and I tried to ignore this at first, and just continue the conversation. "Tell me about what Christmas was like at your house." A few minutes later, I felt it again, "Tell her you love her."  I try to do the next best thing, and pay her a really good complement on her responsible and hard-working character and tell her I appreciate her.  She smiles and conversation continues.  It wasn't good enough (disobedience never is).  I am feeling very strongly that God is asking me to do this, and it's the third time within 15 minutes, and finally our conversation has a pause.  I did it. "I love you." I was surprised to hear back, a little quieter than her conversation tone, "I love you too." I had to blink back tears.  Then God said in my heart, the way he so wonderfully does, "I love you too." *Break through on obedience!* Thank goodness John and the boys were done, and they loaded back up right then, and the quiet moment was over, or I would have had to get some kleenex.

     I think I am very good at expressing love to my immediate family.  I do not struggle to tell John that I love him frequently.  It would be difficult to actually not croon it softly to Jonah all the time.  I tell my parents a lot, partly because it was the way I was raised.  Love was frequently spoken in our house.  I can at any time, stop and hear my parents' voices in my head saying, "I love you and I'm very proud of you."   As a foster parent to small children, it was easy to tell those little kids.  We actually started telling them, "I love you, and Jesus loves you too!" Until the 2 year old could say, "I love you," and we'd say, "I love you too.  Who else loves you?" and she'd say in her sweet little voice, "Cheezz-usss luff me."  However, as a House Parent now with older kids, I have felt God teaching me/coaxing me to tell them "I love you" too.  I do love them, so it shouldn't be hard.  However, they are much older, and they understand what it means, and I don't want them to think I am joking or being flippant, or even patronizing them.  It doesn't just roll off my tongue so easily in conversation or during transitions in the day.  I have been really praying about this, and trying to do better with it.  So far I have noticed that the younger the kids are, the easier it is for me to tell them I love you.  I also notice that I sometimes use it not so lovingly as a precursor to semi-bad news (i.e. "I love you, but you have GOT to stop humming that annoying song!"), and that is not how God wants me to say it either.  He wants the Romans 12 sincerity.  Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

     I'm not sure when exactly I felt I needed to say it more.  I think it revolved around suddenly intensely feeling God tell me, "I love you," the more I engaged in mindful constant prayer.  I connect parenting with trying to show and share God's love.  So, if God is always telling me (us), his child(ren) that He loves me (us), I came to the realization that as a parent it is my responsibility to share my love with my kids just like God shares His love with me (us).  I strongly feel I am to share the words "I love you" not just with Jonah, but any kid who I am "parenting" in any sense of the word.

     When we first got married, John and I read "The Five Love Languages" (at the strong urging of my grandmother actually, who bought us the book), and we discovered that I am almost completely Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch oriented to feeling loved. To me the words "I love you" are so powerful.  I realize they may not be to everyone.  We are now on break (hence the time to write and read more blogs), but when we get back, I plan to give the kids the children's love languages quiz to find out how they most feel loved, and then make a plan of action to implement it.   I already try to cook and prepare foods they like.  We take them places they enjoy as often as possible when time and money permit us.  Whether or not they list Words of Affirmation as important, I know God is leading me to tell them more often.  Please pray for me on this one.  I know they desperately need to hear these valuable words from me more, and I'm not sure why I am having a difficult time genuinely saying them, but I want to be obedient, and I want to share love.  Please feel free to share ideas/thoughts on ways to make this easier/better!

(I am almost finished with the promised post about our set of 4 foster kids - I couldn't find the right pictures).

Monday, December 17, 2012

Before I Forget Them...

     I have been so busy lately with our "new" kids living at the Children's Village, that I had forgotten to stop and remember thank God, pray for, and blog about our "old" (very young, not age-old, but life's timeline old) kids.  I am going to write a few memory blogs before I get too bogged down with the last year of our lives and forget sweet moments from our time in Memphis as foster parents.  I am also still struggling with the horrific events of the CT Kindergarten massacre and I feel that paying honor to the children in my life will help to honor all children.  This was our first baby:
Miss Adorable

     My friend Hannah and I were starting a girls' Bible study for the summer, and this was actually our kick-off first meeting in June.  I had been cleaning and preparing our apartment in Seminary housing all day for the Middle and High School girls who began arriving right on time.  About 30 minutes before they were arriving, our social worker began calling and asking if we could take a baby, right now, they had no idea how long yet.  We said yes, didn't even have time to begin our Bible study, and then she arrived! I was so happy and excited and had no idea what to do with her.  I stood in front of between 15-20 girls holding this little 6 month old Hispanic baby girl in my arms, wondering what I should do.  Baby girl looked just as confused as I, but was sweetly not crying.  She had the cutest big brown eyes and fuzzy hair and dimples.  My personal Baby-child-health-related-question philosophy is: 'When in doubt, call your mother,' (she's a mommy of 3 and a nurse) so I did just that.  She recommended I try to give her a bottle and then just see how it goes.  We did and I just kept right on talking to those girls.  John ended up taking her over to a friend's house and playing with her there so I could finish the Bible study. 
Calling my mom
     We fell in love with her so fast! She slept through the night, easily fell into a schedule with her bottles, and ate up some baby food.  It was strange to suddenly have this little person we cared about so much. We loved every minute of her visit!
Deciding He Liked to Be a Daddy
     That same friend Hannah offered to take these great pictures of us together that Sunday after church:

     She was only with us for 6 days before going on to her forever family.  We cried the night before court, but then got there and met some nice people who obviously loved her and deserved to keep her.  They were able to adopt her and she is now part of their family. The social worker explained that her mother had left her with them to babysit her and then never come back when she was about a month old.  They had had her the last 5 months but couldn't get her social security number and have custody and get her medical treatment and things like that until they went through DCS (Department of Children's Services).  While DCS was investigating them and checking their home and making sure she would be safe, well fed, etc, she came and stayed with us.  They were so happy to get her back. You could tell she recognized them and played with them sweetly while she had looked mostly confused at us. We left court happy for her future.  It was our first baby good-bye, and it was not bad. My prayer for her now is that she be raised to know Jesus as her Lord and Savior, that she be kept safe, well-fed, and learning and growing to her full potential.

      We then spent two weeks with no kids, deciding we should definitely accept a sibling group of two next time since one kid was much easier than we expected.  We had previously planned to go to summer camp with our youth group at church, and John and I were both to drive a 15 passenger van and be the adult chaperones in a room with 6-8 teenagers each at Student Life Camp at the beach. We had to leave for camp on a Thursday.  The Wednesday before camp, the social worker called and asked us if we could accept a sibling group of 3 kids, and it really broke my heart to have to turn her down because we were about to be gone for a week.

     I resentfully went on that trip, but fell more deeply in love with God than ever before.  They had David Platt as the speaker, and he shared about his adoption experiences and was in the process of adopting his daughter while we were at camp.  He preached a phenomenal message on praying the Lord's Prayer to fit your life - as in "Hallowed Be Thy Name" (praises, glory to God for his goodness/greatness) becomes "Make Your Name Hallowed in My Life" (show the goodness, glory, greatness of God with our lives, ask God to use our lives to show His Name is Great to others).  I had always enjoyed praying the Lord's prayer, and this really taught me how to use it more specifically. The worship was also excellent, and John and I spent some good time in prayer letting the Lord know that we were ready and willing to do whatever he asked of us as a couple.
At camp with some great girls!

Trying the beach hair look at camp

     Camp is rather exhausting though, staying up super late with cool teenagers, spending a lot of time at the beach, shopping, and at the conference listening to the speaker and worshiping twice a day.  It's a ton of fun, and worth every second, but exhausting by the end.  We were half-way home on the 6-7 hour drive, and I felt like I was falling asleep and asked if another one of our adult chaperones could drive.  I was a sleepy passenger for about 30 minutes before John called me from his van and gave me this news,

J: "So, the social worker just called and asked if we could take a sibling group of 4."
K: "We're only approved for 3 kids though."
J:  "She said it was fine because we have that other room with a bed."
K:  "How old are they?"
J:  "1,2,3, and 5, the three little ones are girls, the oldest is a boy."
K: "Three little girls and boy. Hmmm. What do you think?
 J: "I don't know babe, four kids is a lot."
K:   "You just told God we will do whatever he asks of us, and you've always said you wanted a girl.  He's offering us THREE of them!"
J: "So does that mean you want me to tell her yes?"
K:  "Do you want to?"
J:  "Do you want to?"
K: "What do you think God wants us to do?"
J: "I don't know.  I told her to try to find someone else, but we don't want them to break them up, so if they can't find anyone else to take all 4, we'll take them if you say it's OK."
K: "OK then.  If she calls back, let's do it!"
J: "Alrighty then."

  So much for being sleepy.  I woke right up and felt my heart racing as I wondered if she'd call back needing us and trying to remember what stages of development a 1, 2, 3, and 5 year old would be in.  She called back, and asked if she could bring them over right away. We were still 2 hours away from home, and told her that we'd call her when we got there. I got so excited talking about and imagining these little kids all the way home.

     We unloaded our stuff, helped to unload the church trailer, called the social worker and told her we should be there within thirty minutes, then raced home only to find that John had left our house keys AT THE BEACH!  So here we are outside our apartment with two huge bags each from being gone all week, and we are locked out of our house.  John began to get so frustrated, and I knew it was just the devil trying to discourage us from taking these kids.  He had to knock on several doors to find which one was the housing person who had an extra key.  At last we walked in the door, put our bags in our room, quickly tidied up, and they arrived, cuter than I could have imagined.  I'll tell you about them next time. :)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Let's PRAY for the people in CT

I have been sobbing off and on all day about this tragedy.  As a first grade teacher for 3 years, and a parent, I cannot image the shock, horror, and pain this community is going through. Please join me in praying what God is laying on my heart for them:

Dear Heavenly Father,

     We pray for the parents of the children killed.  God, you love us enough to send your son to die for us, but none of those parents sent their children to school to die today.  Be with those parents as they cry out to you for help.  Be there with those parents when they scream in anger at the pain of their child's life being stolen. Please be with them as they struggle with grief, shock, and unimaginable pain at suddenly losing their precious children to a senseless act of violence.  God, be their Daddy and help them to come to you for comfort, and find it. Lord, if they have other children, help them to be strong for them.  Help these parents to comfort their living children as they mourn together.  If these parents are married I pray you strengthen their marriage bond through this instead of allowing the human pain to weaken it.  I pray that husbands and wives would comfort and strengthen each other instead of casting blame or displacing their anger and sadness.  I pray you give these parents peace in knowing their children are with you in Heaven, rejoicing, playing, in no pain, completely whole, perfect, and happy.

     We pray for siblings of the children killed.  Kids form a special bond to each other, and now one bond is broken, but not lost.  Comfort those siblings with the knowledge that their brothers and sisters will live on in Heaven, in their memories, in their pictures.  Lord Jesus, please reach out to these children who may have been arguing last night about a toy, but are sobbing today about never having to share it again.  Help them to grieve in a healthy way and not to blame themselves or wish they had been killed too.  Jesus, be their friend right now and comfort them.

     We pray for the families of the adults killed in this act of terror. Lord, spouses, parents, siblings, friends, never expected to lose their loved ones like this. Please help them to grieve with support. Use these people to create a support network for each other, for the parents of the victims, to all come together and talk and grieve and remember their loved ones together.  Please reveal your love and goodness to them when all they feel is hate.

     We pray for the survivor students in the building.  God, the murderer began firing during morning announcements, so the whole school began their day hearing gun fire, and then living in frantic fear and confusion for the next several hours. Please help them to grieve for their little Kindergarten friends and understand that this was isolated, the bad man is dead, and they should not fear their school.  Lord, help them as their safe haven for learning today was turned into a crime scene of horror.  God, as they replay the sounds, the sights, please comfort them, help to ease their pain and these scary memories. God, I can't imagine the nightmares and sadness that will ensue for these children who heard the sound of the first murders.  I can only ask that you be their Prince of Peace and give them restful sleep to escape the tragedy, and then a fresh appreciation for their own lives when they wake up in the morning.  Please help them as they battle sadness, anger, and confusion about this tragedy.  Show them whenever school starts back, that their lives are so precious, and you love them and desire for them to continue to learn and grow up, and NOT feel guilty about living.

     We pray for the survivor teachers in that building.  Lord, help them to not fear their job.  God give them the wisdom to know what to say to their precious students when they return. Give them strength as they try to piece back together their lesson plans and their classrooms and their lives. Lord help them to grieve in a healthy way and not blame themselves for any part of this evil act or not being able to prevent it. Help them to continue to love on their students and communicate with parents that their kids are in a safe place, and these teachers will be the peaceful, helpful tone in the classroom the kids need to return to a sense of normalcy.  Please Jesus, remind these teachers to call on you to help them to know what to say, to know what to do when their students struggle with this.

      We pray for the people who will come in to this school to be counselors for the students and teachers.  God, they are going to hear over and over the horror that the students experienced and the pain they suffer in the aftermath.  Be with those counselors as they help the students and teachers to heal.  Please show them what to say, what to do to help the school.  Help them to help the adults and children alike.

     God, we also pray for the family of the murderer.  He killed his parents also, so this has certainly got to hurt the rest of their family.  Lord, if any of the grandparents are alive, if he had siblings, whomever is alive to carry the burden that their cousin/grandson/brother/nephew did this, please help them.  Help that family member who is also grieving.

     Lord, please help all students and teachers across this nation.  I remember going back to school after the Columbine shooting several years ago and the fear then.  Please be with students and teachers and administrators as they plan and review their safety and disaster preparedness.  Help them to not fear, to remain hopeful.

    Please be with this nation as we try to wrap our arms around this school, this state.  Help us to heal.  In Jesus' great name I pray,