Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Ram in the Thicket

Several months ago as we pondered how to spend our Spring Break, we felt an urge for grand adventure—something outside the norm. We explored several options on our travel bucket list and did not find peace. After hours of inconclusive research, we opened up our Young Life magazine and saw an advertisement for a trip to the Holy Land scheduled during the exact week of our Spring Break. 

We had been contemplating a rite of passage for our almost-13-year-olds and this trip seemed divinely appointed. It departed 12 days after Kate, Ryland & Parker’s church confirmation and included a chance to be baptized in the Jordan River. 

Our family of five joined a group of 25 alumni and friends of Young Life, led by a Spirit-filled Palestinian Christian for a remarkable nine-day journey through the Holy Land. I’m not generally a fan of group travel, but this crew was divinely knit together and formed a remarkable sense of community in a short time. In addition to the dozens of historical and holy sites on our journey, we were exposed to 'living stones' throughout the Middle East as we had encounters with the real people behind the scary headlines--Messianic Jews, Muslims, devout Jews, Palestinian Christians, nomadic Bedouins...

I hope to detail many of our experiences later. (I documented many of the locations on my Instagram account if you want to see daily pictures and recaps.) 

The most immediately life changing experience for me, however, occurred while praying in a private section of the Garden of Gethsemane last Tuesday. I was overwhelmed by the reality of how completely Jesus surrendered His life there--and what His heart must have felt as He spoke to His Father about the assignment He'd been given. We sang a few songs as a group, then split up to pray. I could not shake a portion of “Mighty to Save” and journaled its words as my prayer: “Take me as you find me. All my fears and failures. Fill my life again. I give my life to follow everything I believe in. Lord, I surrender. I surrender.”

Under these lyrics I scratched out a verse that came to mind...“The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” 

Later that day I got an email from a strong but struggling, single Mama I have known for a couple of years. She asked me to pray for a court hearing Wednesday regarding her ability to regain custody of her children who have been staying with a family member for a few months. I asked my family and a few others on our trip to join me in praying. 

When I texted her to see how it went, she replied the family member was unable to continue caring for the boys and they were being placed in foster care. This is particularly upsetting because in our town the shortage of foster families means 80% of kids in care get sent to other parts of the state, severing their community attachments, starting new schools and pulling them farther away from their families and case workers (which complicates reunification.)

A few weeks ago, Ryland & I mutually felt our time of sabbatical and recuperation from our last long term foster placement was coming to a close. We were feeling a call to open our home back up. After conversations with our kids, discussing what we had learned from previous placements, we agreed to some parameters as a family—only one child, out of diapers but younger than 10. (And, preferably, a boy ;-).  A couple of days before we left for the Middle East I called our case worker to let her know we were "turning on the vacancy light" when we returned. 

Upon hearing the news of my friend’s children, Ryland and I both had a sense that we should make ourselves available. As is so often true in life, this was NOT what we planned, it didn't meet our reasonable and well-thought through parameters, but the sense that God had put this woman and her children in our lives “for such a time as this” was undeniable. 

Because we were 7 hours ahead, we had some time to ponder. Our day’s agenda started with Communion in the Garden Tomb, a location many believe to be the site of Jesus Crucifixion and Resurrection. As we observed this holy sacrament in this sacred place, our need to be willingly broken became clear. If we believe what we say we do, our lives are not meant for ourselves, but to be shared. With bated breath and peaceful resignation, we sent an e-mail to offer ourselves as a placement option for the boys. We explained that we were out of the country for a few more days, but could be available upon return if needed. 

It was 3am EST so we waited and prayed—wondering if God really wanted us to take this on. We discussed Abraham being called to take Isaac up to Moriah for sacrifice--and it felt in many ways this was what God was calling us to do--to be willing to offer our comfortable family life to Him. We did not know His ultimate plan, but knew in our core we needed to respond in obedience with hearts that trusted Him. The fact that we were IN Jerusalem (built on Mt Moriah) as all this was unfolding was truly unbelievable. It was in God's hands.

As dawn approached at home, it was afternoon in Israel. We arrived at the Dead Sea, 1,338 feet below sea level, literally the lowest place on Earth. We pondered the beauty and symbolism of this being the place on Earth He chose to come. As we met that night to process what we were learning, looking out over the very salty Dead Sea, God drew me to Matthew 5 in The Message.

13a “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth...

14, 16“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world... If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives..."

That night as we were preparing for bed, we received a call from our agency caseworker informing us the placement had been accepted and we would be receiving these two little boys Monday.

My mind immediately scrambled to the practical needs. I sent out an email to friends asking for help locating all the gear a 22-month-old would require: car seat, high chair, stroller, sippy cups, crib... We were returning changed from our trip--and to a changed life. 

After 24 hours of travel, we returned home Sunday afternoon to a porch full of gear. We disassembled a bed, moved in and assembled a crib, baby proofed our tween-friendly home, made multiple trips to Wal-Mart, installed car seats, stocked up on toddler-friendly food and got accustomed to the idea of two new little ones joining our family. Despite the busyness a peace that surpassed my understanding pervaded, as we KNEW in our core God was driving this situation.   

Monday morning, jetlag had me up before 5am completing our task list, unpacking bags and preparing to receive. We did not know what time the boys would come, so we stayed close to home all day. Around 4pm I received word that the case was being re-evaluated. Finally, at 5:15pm we got a call. In a complete plot twist, it had been decided that the boys were staying with the family member after all. Resources had been identified to enable the current relative to keep them--a blessing for the boys' sense of security. And, honestly, once I got over the 'wasted' time of preparation I exhaled a sigh of relief. Oh, the emotional whiplash of foster care!

And then, I remembered the image of a ram in a thicket. Just like the Genesis 22 story...God wanted obedience and trust to trump our plans. This time, it wasn't about the actual placement, it was about the posture of our hearts. The preparation time had not been wasted at all--it had simply been for a different purpose than I assumed.

Today, as I ponder it all I realize what a powerful and life-changing lesson God was teaching us. I am reminded of the ease with which we could fix our eyes on Him when we were in the Holy Land--free of distractions and in the presence of so much evidence to support our faith. I am exceedingly grateful for this object lesson God gave us to walk through with our children. 

I spent this morning returning borrowed items, but the crib is still in the room just in case. Our vacancy light is back on should a child (preferably not in diapers ;-) need a soft place to land--and I pray the lessons learned from this scenario are ingrained in our hearts. 

Our Sovereign God is on the throne, He is always up to more than one thing and He is worthy of our faith and trust. And the verse hanging on our guest room wall remains as true as ever: 

"For I KNOW the plans I have for you..." Jeremiah 29:11


Love Being A Nonny said...

I don't even have words for what this means to so many. May my OWN heart be receptive to the whispering of the Holy Spirit and his leadings. (Just preferably not a child. ) :)

Sara said...

Wow. What a powerful story. Thank you for sharing it with us, and encouraging us in our walk.

Gail said...

Powerful post!

Jacquie Reed said...

I always look forward to what you write. This one - wow - you laid your hearts open in complete obedience - and what a place to process and contemplate what God was presenting. Thank you for sharing your story.

Denise Ross said...

Thank you fir sharing your story. I read recently too about Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane and how he still prayed to the Father, not my will but yours be done. He was open to the Fathers will no matter how hard it would be for him, and as you so rightly pointed out and the book on prayer I'm reading now, I too must be open to God, his will, not mine be done. We are here for God not ourselves. Thank you for a heart examining post. God Bless you always

Kathryn said...

God can use us when we are obedient and willing, and sometimes He will...but it's truly about the posture of our heart.
Thank you for the reminder.

Sarah said...

Beautiful and powerful! I just heard about www.togetherwerise.org and their "Sweet Cases" for foster kids...if you haven't heard of it, you will love it! I volunteer for our local CASA, and have seen the garbage bags as suitcases ;(
Together We Rise is doing awesome things!

LeighAnn said...

OMGoodness...He is using you for so much more than you can imagine. I look forward to your posts because there is always a message from Him for me in your writing. God bless you and your family. Please...please don't stop posting.

Susie said...

AMAZING Jennifer! Truly AMAZING! Thank you for allowing the Lord to use you in so many lives including my own and Jamie and Don's as well!
Meeting you and your family was one of the sweetest gifts of our trip! Please keep these posts coming! They bring such beautiful encouragement! Much love to all the Scotts!