Saturday, April 30, 2016

Sonrise Baptist Church

At church last week, my husband talked about how our "measurables" are down. You know, the way we check to see if "business" is thriving. Are we getting enough money to pay the bills? Are our seats filling up with bodies? We don't want bodies for the sake of numbers. We want them because they represent individuals growing in their knowledge of Christ. We don't want the people's money because the church wants to get rick quick. We want it so that we can pay our missionaries and put on Vacation Bible School in the summertime and purchase materials for Bible studies. We would also like to be able to run the air conditioner in the summer and I, for one, really enjoy the heater in the winter.

Numbers are down and God is calling people away from this valley in droves, but we will remain faithful. We will serve Him.

I'd really like for everyone to take a half hour out of their day to watch this video. If you live somewhere else--somewhere less mission fieldy--please lift our church up in prayer. Please remember that there are many Christians faithfully serving the triune God in the middle of Utah and pray for us. If you used to worship with us but have moved away, please pray for your former church. If you have never considered church on Sunday morning, please come and join us. We are a family of believers who desperately want to share our faith and our Savior with you. If you already worship with us, consider attending more regularly, becoming a member, and/or partnering with us in ministry. We are called not just to attend church, but to serve.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Church Is Not a Number

We work in a mission field. We knew that when we took the job. It's the reason that, when originally asked where we'd consider moving, we listed all the states surrounding this one. Utah was the black hole we never considered. Mission fields are hard. Domestic mission fields get the added bonus of people forgetting it's a mission at all.

It's incredibly difficult to grow a church here. Especially difficult if you stick to the truth of the Word of God. If you don't water down your theology, if you call sin by its name, and if your church isn't located in the hippest or richest part of town, church growth is slow and challenging.

Our ministry is eight and half years old. In those years, we have watched as amazing, godly family after amazing, godly family has been called away from this mission field. Leadership. Sunday school teachers. Ministry team members. Board members. If we could round them all up from their new homes in southern Utah, northern Utah, Washington, Oregon, Texas and the like, and put them back together under our roof, our church would be thriving--numerically. They, coupled with our newer families, would create a dynamic that would be an encouragement to both our community and my heart, alike.

The concern, though, is that when families leave for employment or retirement or health issues, they need to be replaced by another family. If another family doesn't join the church in their place, the numbers decrease and this becomes a great burden over time. Refer back to how difficult it is to grow a church in Utah.

Last summer, our attendance was up. Our giving was up. I was swimming through personal grief and the encouragement I received at church was incredible. And then a few families moved. Our numbers are down. It is not about a number. I know that. But eventually, decisions have to be made. Tough choices. How to balance the budget. What ministries to do away with if you don't have the manpower to run them.

We have enough regular attenders that if they all came on the same Sunday, our church would be full--or, at least, more full. So I've started to pray that our "regular attenders" would be convicted to get out of bed. Perhaps they'll put on clothes and drive to church and come and worship with us. "Lord, let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as we see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25). Lord, bring our regular attenders and bring new faces, that we might impact this community, this valley, this mission field, for your kingdom."

This morning was the same as many Sundays since the fall. I had great joy in looking out and seeing the familiar faces that I love. But I missed those who have gone and I missed those who have not yet come. I looked out over the congregation as I sang with the worship team. A curious thing happened. If I opened my eyes, all I saw were the empty chairs. The empty chairs felt like wind and waves. I saw ministries cut and needs not being met for lack of volunteers. Panic began to rise. Anxiety gripped my chest. If I closed my eyes and focused on worship, I felt the presence of the Lord and everything else faded away.

Matthew 14:25-31
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear. 

But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."

"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."

"Come," he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"

My Lord does not need me. He does not need my husband. He graciously allows us to be used. When I am afraid that somehow God doesn't see our need, He asks me why I have such little faith. We will offer ourselves as living sacrifices. We will not be conformed. We will endeavor to prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12). We long to reach this land with the gospel of Christ. We desire filled seats because it means that more are walking in the ways of the Lord with weekly conviction. But we know that where two or three are gathered together in His name, He is there in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). We will continue to be a church that preaches the truth whether there are 500 people or 5 people.

To the amazing and godly men and women who were called out of this valley and into other ministries, we miss you more than we can adequately express. To the regular attenders and members of our church, we love you and your faithful service. Thank you for your partnership with us.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Take a Look. It's in a Book!

Awhile back, I bought a book for Garrett. It's over 400 pages long but it seemed like something he'd enjoy. He's always been at least a year above reading grade level and I was getting tired of his reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid over and over and over. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem at all with him reading the wimpy kid series, it's just that I'd like him to branch out and read something else instead of reading the same book 72 times. I'm a hypocrite. I've read The Awakening and To Kill a Mockingbird more than once twice I can count.

He read the first page and put it away.

Months later he read the first page again and put it away.

Last week I informed him that I wanted him to read it. I knew it wasn't too hard. I really thought he'd like it. If he read fifty pages and hated it, he didn't have to finish it. But I didn't tell him that.

He read page one. And two and three and on and on and on.

He reads 30 minutes a day for school. Usually he asks me after 10 or 11 or 12 minutes just how long it's been. Then again at the 17 minute mark. Again at 26 minutes. He's a good reader and he loves being read to. He just never really much liked independent reading. Unless, like I said, it was a book about Greg Heffley and his wimpy antics. One day last week, he asked if he could keep reading after I told him his 30 minutes were up.

Monday he had a 102.8 temperature when he woke up and he had to stay home from school. I was working so his dad stayed with him and worked from home. When I got back in the afternoon, I discovered that he'd been reading for a major portion of the day.

Last night, at 9:52 (well past bedtime), I went into the boys' room. I'm obsessive compulsive about checking on my kids to make sure they're breathing. This started when they were two minutes old and hasn't stopped. It's a problem because, well, when they go off to college or get their own place or get married, I am not going to have nightly access to their breathing habits. I don't know what I'll do. I'm looking in to a support group.

I bent down to check Matthew. He sighed loudly. Then I reached up to the top bunk. Garrett was heaped up under his blanket and I couldn't figure out where his head even was. Assuming he was asleep and buried under his blanket, I hoisted myself onto Matthew's bed so that I could better investigate whether Garrett was, indeed, still alive. I lifted it and discovered my nine year old, that book, and a flashlight.

"Garrett! It's 10:00 at night. You are not supposed to be reading. You're supposed to be sleeping!"

He looked at me like I was a moron. "But, Mom, I want to read. They just got sucked into a storybook! Please can I keep reading?"

"No. You may not. It's time to sleep."

I went down and told my husband that our boy's late night reading disobedience was maybe our greatest parenting win. I made him put the book away for the night but I couldn't be more proud of the fact that I found him ignoring his bed time.

He's reading the first book in the series. There are more. And I'm a happy mama. Bonus: he was still breathing.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Adoption Related Grief

I wanted a second child. I wanted more kids and, as a result of having both a good childhood friend and a cousin who were adopted, I had very positive experiences with adoption. Troy and I had talked about adopting before we were ever married. It was always something we thought we'd do. That said, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

We needed a home study. Check. We needed to choose an agency or a facilitator. Check. They gave us a list of things to do. Check. Then we waited. Check. We found out a month before Matthew was born that we'd been chosen. It was hardly enough time to learn all there is to know about adoption and adoption related issues. He was placed with us at birth so I naively assumed that we wouldn't struggle with some of the things we've encountered.

I've chosen not to share much about Matthew's family on the Internet because I want to be sensitive to them and, of course, to him. I've chosen not to share most of the adoption related issues that we deal with because I want to protect my son's privacy. But I do want to share what happened last night for two reasons. The first is because I want you to know that, while we have it really good, the struggle is real. The second is because parents approach adoption in a myriad of ways. What works for my family might not work for yours and that's okay. We need to be free to parent the way we feel is best. That being said, I firmly believe that there's only one wrong way to do this thing and that way is to silence your child's voice and to squash his feelings.

If you believe that they're never thinking about what they've lost, you're wrong. If you disallow them to share their feelings about their grief, you're wrong.

We fought for Matthew. It was a drawn out legal battle that pitted his father's wishes against his mother's. In the end, all four parents agreed that our home was the place for him. Looking back, that custody battle was the easy part. The hard part is navigating Matthew's grief. It comes in waves--as grief does. It's inconsistent and we go months at a time without mention of his sorrow. But when he's communicating his sadness, it breaks every heart in our home. And it should.

The reason Matthew shares his grief is because we've worked very hard to create an environment where he feels like he's allowed to. He knows we won't judge him. We won't get mad at him. He won't wound my mama heart by saying that he wishes he could be with them. He knows that sharing is safe.

It was easy when he was little. We told him his story and he knew he was adopted and that was that. We shared pictures with him. We told him what we knew about his first family. We talked about how so many people love him and that makes him very special. As he's gotten older, we've encouraged him to share his feelings with us, in his timing, when he wants to. No feeling is off limits. No question is off limits.

I believe that all adoptees grieve. It may never be overt. It may be relatively unknown. We all grieve and process things in different ways and I don't believe that adoption is any different. But I firmly believe that, in some way, what is lost is mourned*. For Matthew, at this stage of his life, his grief has manifested in a very precise way.

Matthew's grief is currently camped out in a place of desperately wanting both worlds and knowing that, for now, he cannot exist in them simultaneously. His dream come true would be for all four of his parents and all of his siblings to live together under one roof. As an adult, he is absolutely free to share as much of his birth family's world as he wants to. But, for now, we live in three different states. His idea of a shared home where we all live happily ever after is never going to happen.

Last night, he and I drove home from our church. He began telling me about a creature that he wanted God to make. As we talked, it became obvious that this "creature" was pretty much just a human baby. I pointed this out and he began to tell me that he really wants to be a big brother. He is a big brother because his birth mom has a little girl who is younger than him. He began talking about her. One thing led to another and soon we were smack in the middle of big grief.

I listened. I let him say what he wanted to say. "I know if I lived with them I wouldn't be able to live with you and that's what I hate!" he cried. When we got home, I let him punch a pillow and I held him tightly while he sobbed. Then I asked him if there was anything else I could do to help him. "I want Garrett!" he wailed. It was barely intelligible.

"What?" I asked.

"He wants his brother," Troy said.

"I want Garrett! I want Garrett!" he cried over and over. Garrett was in the shower. He begged us to let him sleep in Garrett's bed. Now, Garrett is a great big brother but he absolutely hates to share his bed with Matthew. This is because Matthew has historically been a tosser, turner, kicker. Troy went into the bathroom and explained to Garrett that Matthew was dealing with sadness. The big brother acquiesced to the little brother's request. Matthew immediately calmed down and, minutes later, fell asleep next to his brother--his non-biological brother--the only one who could make it better.

Why? I don't know. I don't know why Matthew needed Garrett last night. Apparently, the one who longs to be a big brother so badly, needed his. This is where he is sometimes. Grieving over the parents and siblings he doesn't get to live with, knowing he would grieve over us if the situation was anything else.

So I share this to say that I might not always care if my child is a genius or a sports star or the President of the United States. I might not even care if he pulls straight E's on his report card. These are the real issues we sometimes deal with and it breaks our hearts. We want to make it better and we can't fix it. Because adoption related issues are real. And understand me when I reiterate that WE HAVE IT EASY.

I also share it because I've seen more than one parent silence their child when it comes to adoption issues. I've seen more than one parent quiet the grief**. I want to know my child. I want to know what he's feeling even if it's sadness. I want to hold a pillow and give him permission to punch it. I want him to know that he's safe here, in this space, to feel it all. And I want other adoptive parents to give their children the same right.

*Please feel free to correct me IF you are an adoptee and this is not your experience.

** And, given the nature of Matthew's grief, I'd wager that every child in a divorced family feels the same way. We need to stop making kids feel like they have to choose a side.