Thursday, November 26, 2015

Two Empty Seats at My Table

It is early here at the Graham house.  I am the only one awake this early on Thanksgiving Day.  Even our dog, Finley, my constant companion, has chosen sleep over being awake this early.  The turkey is stuffed and I am just beginning to smell the aroma as it begins cooking.  All of the pies are baked and side dishes are prepped.  Everything is ready for our celebration.  Well, almost everything.

It seems my heart is not quite ready for the day.  Traditionally, this day is all about celebrating all the blessings that we have, and being thankful for all that the past year has brought us.  And, that is where the problem comes in for me.  I am finding it difficult to be thankful for the past year.  When I look back at the past year, what I feel the most is not gratefulness at what we have harvested from this year, but rather a deep sadness at what we have lost.  Today as we go about our celebrations, there will be two empty chairs at my table.  Two chairs that should be filled with giggling boys and spilled drinks; filled with silly jokes, shared memories, and way too many sweets.  Instead, what I will feel is their absence, and no matter how hard I try, I just cannot be thankful for that.

Oh, I know I am not the only one with empty chairs at my table.  I guess that is what prompted me to write this blog.  Many of us have suffered the loss of a loved one since last Thanksgiving.  Maybe not in the same way as my family, but loss is loss.   So as I wrestle with these emotions, I am not alone.

You probably know the history of this holiday but let's take a peek back and see if we can learn anything new.  Thanksgiving was first celebrated back in 1621.  The Pilgrims had just harvested their first successful crop of corn and their leader, William Bradford, was pumped!  He sends out a group of hunters so that they can add some meat to their party, and he even extends an invite to the Wampanoag Indians.  They had so much to be thankful for that their feast lasted 3 whole days.

Three days...I am struggling to keep it together for just one day. But that is different,  they had A LOT to be thankful for so it was easier for them, right?  Well- not exactly.  You see, the Pilgrims had come to the New World with great hopes and dreams.  Hopes for a new life free of religious persecution.  Dreams of settling in and making a name for themselves with all the unknown possibilities just waiting to be claimed.  What they got instead was a whole lot of hardship.  The passage over was rougher than they had expected, lives were lost and hopes were fading.  Once they reached the new land the flames of their dreams began to burn again, but the smoke of sadness still hung over them.  By the time they harvested their first crops of corn and were making preparations for their Thanksgiving, less than half of the newcomers were still alive to celebrate.  There were a few empty seats at their table.

For three days they feasted and took time to count their blessings.  God had provided them with a cornucopia (I have always wanted to use this word!) of  things to be thankful for. And they were thankful ~DESPITE~ the losses they had suffered.  Yes, their hearts were heavy as they thought of all of those empty chairs.  Life had not turned out the way they had hoped and dreamed it would.  However, those that celebrated were alive, they had food to eat and a place to sleep.  These might seem like small things but these are the things they were not taking for granted.

Perhaps this is what I am missing as I face this day, a peace in remembering all that I do have to be thankful for.  I have a very full table this Thanksgiving, there will be giggling and spilled drinks, silly jokes, shared memories, and way too many sweets.  Yes, there will be some sadness as well but I think the biggest thing I must remember is what the Pilgrims surely knew.  Words of wisdom from my favorite author...

 Everything?  Yes, in everything the Pilgrims gave thanks.  In the things that had been lost, in the things that had been found, in the new and for the old, they gave thanks.  So, I will take notes from my Pilgrim friends and set my heart on counting my blessings rather than my burdens today.  Will you join me?

Friday, October 23, 2015

I'm No Quitter

Tomorrow marks the 300th day that the boys have been gone.

300 days of not getting to tuck them in.

300 days without hugging them.

300 days of no snuggling deep into the covers to read our favorite books and sing our silly Graham songs.

300 days of the tear stained faces of each of my kids.

300 broken days and not one of those days have passed without waves of sadness washing over our wounded hearts.

I have to be honest with you (I try to make that a habit :).  This has nearly taken everything from me.  I have never felt a sadness like the one that has wrapped its cold, icy fingers around my heart so tightly that, at times. even breathing has become a chore.  It has been a toe to toe, minute by minute battle these last 300 days.

There have been times I was not sure that I would make it even one more day, but now I find myself sitting here on the edge of 300 days.

300 days of this new normal.

300 days of surviving.

300 days of struggling to trust God.

300 days of fighting.

Fighting....fighting what?

For 8+ years we have fought a broken foster care and judicial system.  We have fought injustice, birth parents, and dishonesty. We have fought against judgmental people, unkind and unwanted advice, and even against our sinful natures.  Shamefully, we have even fought against God.  This has been a long, hard journey. 

Ultimately though, Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that we have actually been fighting against satan himself.  "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."    

I am battle weary. Two weeks ago I would still have told you that I wasn't sure that I could take one more step, one more minute, or one more day.  Satan was about to claim a victory over my shaken faith.  Then something changed.  I wish I could tell you it was my circumstances, but it wasn't that.  I am not really sure what trigger it.  Maybe it is the fighter in me?  More likely, it was God shaking me out of my broken hearted slumber and reminding me that He isn't quite finished with me.  I have been reminded that I am not done fighting.  I am lacing up my boxing gloves and I am ready to go a few more rounds with the "powers of this dark world."  

There is a new song that is popular in pop music.  It is sung by Rachel Platten and entitled, "Fight Song,"  I have decided I love it and have taken the liberty to rewrite the lyrics to tailor them to my battle cry. I am sure Ms. Platten won't mind!  

I wonder if any of you can relate?  Maybe life has thrown you a curve ball, or two and  you feel like you are sinking?   If so, and you need someone to cheer you on from the side lines, please don't hesitate to send me an email.  But first, print out my edited lyrics and click on the link above. Then look satan square in his enemy eyes and sing with me at the top of your lungs, "THIS IS MY FIGHT SONG..."

(My changes are in italics)

Like a small boat
On the ocean
Sending big waves
Into motion
Like how God's word
Can make a heart open
I might only have one match
But I can make an explosion
And all those things I didn't say
Wrecking balls inside my brain
I will scream them loud tonight
Can you hear my voice this time
This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I'm alright song
God's  power's turned on
(Starting right now) I'll be strong
I'll play my fight song
And I don't really care if nobody else believes
'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me
Losing friends and I'm chasing sleep
Everybody's worried about me
In too deep
Say I'm in too deep (I'm in too deep)
And it's been 300 days
They miss my home
But there's a fire burning in my bones
And I still believe
Yeah I still believe
And all those things I didn't say
Wrecking balls inside my brain
I will scream them loud tonight
Can you hear my voice this time

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Weepy Worship

I am a runner.  Now if you know me at all you are shaking your head in unbelief, because I do not have the body of a runner.  That is because I am not THAT kind of runner.  Running is how I cope with life when it gets too hard.  I stay busy, I clean, I mow, I cook, I do anything but slow down.  Down time means thinking and I would rather not.  Today marks 150 days of this new normal that we are walking....well maybe crawling is a better word, through.  150 days and still my heart is so broken.  I am going through the motions of the day to day, meeting all of the requirements that are expected of me, and staying busy.

The problem with this practiced approach is that while I am "running" I often time miss God.  The Bible is clear is Psalm 46 verse 10 that we are to, "Be still and know that I am God."  Well, I know He is God but the be still part...I am not so good at that and when I have dared to slow down enough to feel the hurt, I have been overwhelmed with emotions and pain.  So I start running again.

You know what I love about God?  Well, there are countless things I love about God but in particular He does not allow us to stay stuck.  For awhile, God has allowed me to stay busy.  He has nudged me a few times with gentle reminders to stop and dwell in His presence, but I have continued full speed ahead with my busyness. So He stepped up his nudges!  A few weeks ago I was in church when the praise team struck up the first few chords of one of my favorite song.  Not only my favorite song but a song that echos what I hope my life will reflect at the end of my days.  Before a single word was sung, I knew I was in trouble.  I seriously thought about bolting for the door but 1- It would look a bit odd for the pastor's wife to make a run for the exit and 2- as said pastor's wife, I was sitting in the very front of the church.  So tears began to stream down my face (at least I was in the front so I could hide my face) and God got my attention. I spent the next 10 minutes trying to maintain my composure and God and I began to work through some of my heartache. (We are still working on this but I allowed God to get my attention!)

Maybe you are also walking through, "The valley of the shadow of death" (Psalm 23) and you've tried to outrun your emotions or even God himself.  Let's be honest, life is hard sometimes...maybe even more than sometimes, maybe often...but there is still hope.  The God who loved us enough to send His son to die on the cross for you and me still sits on the throne.  He is patiently waiting to walk you through this battle.  He still has a plan for us, and in the end He still wins and despite my heavy heart, that makes me feel like singing that song I mentioned.  Will you sing with me? 

Jesus Draw Me Nearer

Jesus draw me ever nearer
As I labour through the storm.
You have called me to this passage,
and I'll follow, though I'm worn.

May this journey bring a blessing,
May I rise on wings of faith;
And at the end of my heart's testing,
With Your likeness let me wake.

Jesus guide me through the tempest;
Keep my spirit staid and sure.
When the midnight meets the morning,
Let me love You even more.

Let the treasures of the trial                                 
Form within me as I go -
And at the end of this long passage,
Let me leave them at Your throne.

Music by Keith Getty; Words by Margaret Becker
Copyright © 2002 Thankyou Music

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Content in ALL Circumstances

My sweet baby D's birthday was this past week.  It was an incredibly difficult day for all of us here as we didn't get to celebrate it with him.  There was no cake and ice cream for breakfast.  No balloons, no streamers, no pictures.

It has been 77 days since we have seen his sweet face.  Most days it still seems as if we will never get out of this dark valley we are walking through.  Every once in awhile I see a little glimmer of light on the horizon but it quickly fades as reality once again sets in.  This is a hard place to be.

It would be an easy jump to leap into a giant pity party. Or to grow angry.  Angry with the foster care system, angry with the judge, angry with dishonest caseworkers, angry with God.  It is something I must choose to fight against, sometimes minute by minute.  In fact the new catch phrase at the Graham house has become, "Focus on your blessings rather than your burdens," as we work to encourage each other through this new normal. 

As I was thinking about all of this yesterday, it made me remember a conversation I had recently with my 7 year old.  It was Easter time and we attended the community Easter egg hunt.  As we arrived, children were divided according to their age group and given a specific area to hunt.  Within each area were 3 prize eggs: 1 golden egg, 1 egg marked with an "X" for a boy and one egg marked with an "X" for a girl.  As we set off on our hunt, my girl was quite lucky.  Among her treasures, were both the "X" egg and the golden egg.  As we headed to turn in our treasures I decided this would be a great teachable moment.  I pulled Skyler aside and asked her to think about others in her age group.  There were a lot of other kids and I wanted her to share one of her prize eggs.  We talked about how it would be kind to give one of the two eggs to someone else so they could have a special prize too.  I told her that it wasn't really fair for her to have 2 prizes when others had none and asked her to give the girl egg to someone else because the golden egg was probably the grand prize.  With much encouragement, Skyler kept the golden egg and gave the "X" egg to another girl in her age group.

As it turns out, the big prize was for the egg with the "X."  The little girl Skyler gave this to received a huge Easter egg basket filled with toys and candy. When Skyler turned in her golden egg she got a chocolate bunny.  To say she was mad is an understatement.  All the way home she complained and grumped about not getting the big prize because I made her give it away.  I listened to her whine for a bit but after about 10 minutes, I had had enough.  I sat her down and talked with her about the situation.  I reminded her that when she went up to the egg hunt, she went with nothing but an empty basket and now she was coming home with not only a bunch of eggs, but also a chocolate bunny.  I tried to help her see that she came home with more than she went with.  I would love to say that my pep talk worked and she skipped off merrily into the sunset counting her eggs (and blessings), but not all endings are storybook endings.  I am pretty sure that if you ask Skyler about it now, a month later, she will still be mad.  She may never forgive me for this moment! 

At least not until she is older and wiser like me.  I mean I would never react like that. 

Or would I?  Maybe a better question is, am I?  If I am honest, and I always try to be, I would have to shamefully admit that I am behaving the same way.  I wanted the grand prize...I wanted the boys to stay here with us. If they are here I know they are safe, well cared for, and loved.  I don't want to be satisfied with the chocolate bunny of the 2 and 3 years we had them here.  I want the whole basket.  I have come home from the party sulky and mad.  I did not get what I wanted, and it is not fair. 

I can imagine Jesus pulling me to the side and reminding me..."Marla, you came to the party with nothing, and you went home with a full basket."  I wonder if He is as weary of my whining as I was of Skyler's?  My home is still overflowing with blessings.  I have a husband who serves the Lord with all he has and who loves me.  I have a houseful of children and we have been celebrating things like marriage and graduation these last few years.  My children are all walking with the Lord, I have a nice home and a warm bed. The list could go on and on.  But still I whine. 

I imagine the Apostle Paul may have had a similar struggle before coming to the place where he was able to pen these words: (red words mine!)

Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV)
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned [am learning] to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned [am learning] the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

 Thank you for your prayers and encouragement as we walk this road and I hope you will be encouraged to learn with us to be content in ALL things.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Unshakable Faith

I have been silent for awhile.  I have been suffering with a broken heart.  There are days when the greatest victory I achieve is simply rising from bed. 

Some days it is a struggle to just breath normally.  The memories of what was...the fear of what might be...these are crippling at times. 

It is maddening to me that the rest of the world continues to move on, as if my whole world has not been shaken to its very foundation.  But, that is how it must be.

I am still required to go to work, fix meals for my family, clean my house, pay my bills.  The ordinary everyday continues to demand that I move forward, even though I am so incredibly broken.

For those of you who may not know, my family and I are foster parents to my niece and 3 of my nephews...well we were.  For 7 years now we have been knee deep in the uncaring bureaucracy of child protective services.  But, on March 8th two of those children (age 3 and 22 months) were returned to the home of their birth mother. 

You may be thinking, well what did you expect?  You are just the foster mom, isn't this what you signed up for?  And of course this was the ultimate goal, what was to be expected, at least originally.  Oh, but three years of loving someone makes it incredibly difficult to just walk away, even under ideal circumstances.  Knowing it was a possibility doesn't stop me from feeling like I have suffered a great loss.  We literally lost 2 babies overnight.  I still do not know how you say goodbye forever....and I am shaken.

And so I have been silent.

Silent when it was time to say goodbye to babies who were clinging to me, begging to stay.
Silent as I hold the sobbing shoulders of my "other" kids. 
Silent as I watch my husband's heart break along with mine.
Silent as my 7 year old asks me who will keep the boys safe now. 
Silent as my 4 year old asks when his brothers are coming back.
Silent as I look into the sad eyes of my children.
Silent from my weekly radio program, Growing Stronger Together.
Silent from here, from this blog where I try to encourage people to SHINE.

How can I encourage others when I am struggling so deeply myself? 

Maybe people are wondering if I have lost my faith in God and that is why I am writing today. 

As I stated above, I am broken and shaken to my very core, but my humanness does not change who God is.  Hebrews 13:8 reminds us that, "Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever."  My circumstances may have changed, but my God has not, and there is comfort in that.  The truth of 2 Timothy 1:12 has become my heart's cry, "because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day."

I admit, the days have been dark, but God....
But God has been faithful,

"But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness."       ~Psalm 86:15

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you, He will never leave you nor forsake you."        ~Deuteronomy 31:6

I love that, even in my humanness, maybe even despite my humanness, God remains faithful to me. 
The truth is, I do not know what tomorrow holds.  I do not know if there will be more heartache and pain, or if there will be some victory.  I do not know, BUT God knows.  I would be lying to say that I can rest easy in knowing that God has this all in his hands.  My heart aches, my mind constantly worries, but when I look to the cross, I can find peace.  I do not like what is happening, this part of God's plan for me.  But, I don't have to like it, I only have to trust that God has a plan.

"For I know the plans I have for you...plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."   ~Jeremiah 29:11

"All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and who are called according to His purpose."   ~Romans 8:28

So, have I lost my faith?  No way!  The only thing getting me through the day to day is my faith!  Yes, I am broken and I am shaken....but He is not!

"Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see."
 ~Hebrews 11:1

If you are walking through a dark valley and are struggling to find hope, please, please, please seek His face, immerse yourself in God's word and God's promises, He will not disappoint you.  As always if you have questions or comments please send me an email at 
With Unshakeable Faith,




Saturday, March 7, 2015


There are no words to express how I am feeling.  In less than 48 hours we will be saying, "Goodbye" to our 3 year old and our 21 month old forever and a part of my heart is dying.  There are so many things I need to do in this short time:pack their things (how do you pack 3 years of a life into a box?), pour all the love I can into them, make memories that may or may not last a lifetime, and break the news to them.

I feel like a bomb has been set up, the timer is ticking.  It is ticking off the seconds and my head and heart register every click.  Destruction is inevitable.  People are going to get hurt.  I want to call in the bomb squad, but there is NO ONE to call. NO ONE can stop this.  Believe me we've tried.  We've talked to more caseworkers than I care to remember, DCFS, lawyers, prayer warriors, the inspector one seems able to disarm this constantly ticking, life threatening device.


Of course we know that God can-But for some reason outside of my understanding, He is not.  It is not because we haven't asked.  Trust me, we have been camped at the foot of His throne for weeks...years even.  "His ways are not our ways..." believe me I can see that clearly. (Isaiah 55:8) And, "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still," is echoing in my head and heart.  Right next to the constant ticking of this bomb.


I do not know how to "be still."  There is too much pain in being still- pain I have been running from for far too long to allow it to catch up with me now.


Is this how Joseph felt as his brothers sold him off into slavery? Or Moses as he shipped off to the palace?  Moses was 3 when he left his family to go live in the palace.  He had to say goodbye to the people who loved and nurtured him every day for 3 years.  And yet...he remembered the teachings he had learned from his mom.  (Have I done a good enough job instilling God's word into these boys?  Will they remember that God loves them?  Will they remember that we love them?)  So many questions.  Will these boys know that God has a plan for them?

How can this be part of God's plan?  Tick-Tick-Tick

What about my other kids?  Will they stop believing in fighting for what is right? Will they think it is too hard, too painful?  Will their broken hearts mend?


How do I help them? How do I teach them that regardless of the outcome, we always do what is right?  How do I walk them through this pain when I am drowning in it myself?


What do I say to a 7 year old who has emotional and physical scars from this "mom" her siblings are going to be living with?  What do I say to her questions, "Who is going to check them and make sure no one is hurting them?  Who will keep them safe?"  And these questions  were just for overnight visits.  What will I say to her when she finds out this will be forever?


How do we even do this new forever?
I search God's word for comfort, and as always, it is there.  Verses like Ps 21:13-14, "I would have despaired had I not known that I would see the hand of the Lord in the land of the living, wait for the Lord, take heart and wait for the Lord."  or Proverbs 3:5-6 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths."  The list goes on and on but for some reason I cannot hold on to the peace these verses bring.  It is fleeting.


Music, music has always been a balm to my wary, hurting heart.  Hymns like Reach Out to Jesus and Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus or more contemporary songs like  Perfect Peace by Laura's Story. However, I can find no lasting peace here either.  Everything keeps slipping through my fingers, just as these boys are slipping away from our home.


I've been in hard places before- this is not new to me.  God has proven Himself faithful so many times that I should have no doubts now.  So why can't I rest in that?  Am I flawed somehow?  Is my faith not genuine?  Can I live with unanswered questions from God? Can, "Because I said so," be enough of an answer for me? The bomb keeps ticking and with it my peace is fleeting.


"You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are stayed on You." (Isaiah 26:3  Maybe this is the problem. I cannot keep my mind and heart stayed on Him.  The ticking is too loud, the heartache too real.


And yet...
Somewhere in the back of my mind, somewhere in the depths of my breaking heart, I know God has not forsaken us.  I may feel like Lazarus being wrapped in burial cloth- or like his sisters as they watched these events unfold- but I still believe in God.  I still believe in a God who can resurrect life, even after all earthly hope is gone.  Though the light of hope is extremely dim, and the ticking of the bomb is extremely loud, STILL I will trust Him.

Indeed His ways are not my ways, but I choose, despite the struggle against my humanity, to walk by faith and not by sight.


Humble and broken~Marla

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Legalized Kidnapping

Maybe this is a bit extreme but I feel like I have ring side seats for a horror film entitled, Legal Kidnapping.   As I sit here watching the plot unfold in this latest chapter of our lives I can only watch feeling incredibly helpless.  The film is rolling and no matter how loud I scream, it just keeps moving forward. 

I do agree that at first glance it may seem that I am overstating things.  When we think of someone being kidnapped, there is usually the idea of a ransom of sorts, masks, and snatch and grabs.  Just to make sure I wasn't crazy, I looked up the definition of the word and according to the legal definition, "Under federal and state law, kidnapping is commonly defined as the taking of a person from one place to another against his or her will...."

Well, I assure you that if that is the definition then this situation applies. Week after week, I have to prepare two sweet babies to go on an extended visit.  They both scream and my heart shatters again.  The 3 year old, begs...BEGS me not to make him go.  There is weeping and more heart breaking.  It is the hardest thing I have ever had to do.

My husband and I fight them to get their coats and shoes on, all the while they continue to ask not to go.  "Why can't I stay here with you Mommy?"  I have no answers.  For 3 years this has been his home, we have been his parents.  Our 20 month old expresses the same one understands.

Week after week this continues.  We share the struggle with our caseworker, with our CASA, with any one who will listen.

"This is hard for everyone."

"Transitions are hard."

"No one is interested in _(insert child's name here)_ opinion, Mrs. Graham."

These are the answers we are given.

It is mind boggling.  It is gut wrenching. It is not fair.  But, there is NOTHING we can do except watch the same film play out week after week after week.

And that is just when we are dealing with the two transitioning.  We drop them off and come home to a house turned upside down.  The other two siblings are frightened, they remember what this place, these people did to them.  They worry and fret.  Nightmares govern the sleeping hours at our home.

The older kids each wrestle with this news in various ways.  Sadness, anger, fear...these are what replay on their movie screens.

All of us question.  We question a system that is suppose to help kids but is inflicting this much pain.  We question caseworkers, judges, lawyers... all of humanity.  And hardest of all, we question God.

Where are You in all of this?  Do you see this down here?  I know You could stop this so WHY WHY WHY aren't You?

As with most of life, there are more questions than answers.  We try to focus on God's promises:

"The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still." Exodus 14:14

"For I know the plans I have for you (all of you), plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you a hope and a future." 
 Jeremiah 29:11

"Those who hope (or wait)in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:31

Oh but we are weary...very, very weary.  We continue to seek God's face and we remind ourselves in this darkness that God is still on the throne.  We remember that Hebrews 11 says FAITH is the evidence of things unseen, and we continue on through this role we have been cast in.

I know that we are not the only ones walking a hard road, and that is why I share this post.  I think there is strength in numbers, in knowing that we are not alone.  Maybe your horror movie is different than ours.  Maybe you are going through an unwanted divorce.  Maybe someone that means everything to you is fighting a terminal illness.  Maybe you are losing your job, your way of life.  The heartaches are all different, but the questions are the same:

Where are You in all of this?  Do you see this down here?  I know You could stop this so WHY WHY WHY aren't You?

The answers are the same also.  God is still on the throne and He does have a plan, He is fighting for us, and He will renew our strength!  I am here waiting too, and if you need, I will sit next to you.  We can put our movies on one of those fancy double screens and pray for each other as the events roll out before us.

Email me, call me, message me...I will pray!

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  Ecclesiastes 4:12

If you are interested in helping us pay for legal counsel, please check out our story at Go Fund MeWe appreciate your prayers!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

You Mad Bro?

The answer to this question is a loud, resounding YES! I am mad.  We are smack dab in the middle of some really stinky stuff and if you want me to be honest, I AM MAD!

I know, I know.  Some of you are thinking, "What kind of pastor's wife is she?"  Or maybe, "Doesn't she trust God?" To be honest with you, I am shaking my head at myself.

You see, I KNOW that God is in control, I KNOW he has all of this in His hands.  I KNOW all of the Scriptures (Your ways our not my ways oh Lord...I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you...Trust in the Lord with all your heart...) I have shared them with others countless times.  But in this moment, in the darkness that is creeping toward me, I cannot seem to get past the mad long enough to rest in these promises.

Each time I feel like I am closer to being okay, we are hit by another blow.  It is something that is hard to explain unless you've walked in the valley of the shadow of death. We have been foster parents now for 7 years...7.  Those 7 years have challenged us, broken us, strengthened us, broken us some more, unified us, renewed our faith, and so many more things.

7 years is a long time.  7 years and 4 additions to our family. It changes you.  And when it is time to send kids back to the same broken place they came from, it is hard and heart breaking, and you are left with more questions than you have answers for.

Every time I look into these sweet boys unknowing eyes I am mad.

Every time there are empty spaces at my dinner table, I am mad.

Bedtime prayers at empty beds, cause my anger to rise again.

Every time I dry the tears of my 4 year old, or calm the fears of my 7 year old, I am mad.

Every time I see the fear or worry in my older daughters' eyes, or watch them pull away from others, I am mad.

Cries and pleas of, "Please no, I stay here," rip out every ounce of self control I have managed to maintain, and I am mad.

Every time I hear the anger in my son's voice, I am mad.

Every time I get a hug or snuggle from these boys we are losing, I am mad.

A half empty church pew that use to overflow robs me of my joy, and I am mad.

Every family activity we do without them, I am mad.

Every time I hear, "The system is so broken," I am mad.  

You know what's worse than grieving?  Watching each and everyone of those around you grieving and being absolutely helpless.  I feel like I am walking around with a gaping hole in my chest and with each beat of my heart, something more breaks.

I KNOW this is not a good place to be.  I KNOW it is not somewhere I can stay, and each time these angry feeling start rising up inside me I am wracked with guilt because I know it isn't how I ought to respond.

Or is it?

In his book, Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, C.S. Lewis wrote, "We must lay before him what is in us and not what ought to be in us."   When I read that it got me to thinking.  The truth is God knows what we are really thinking and feeling, right?  So who are we fooling if we pretend we are at peace with all that wars around us?  Isn't that pretending to be something we aren't, and isn't that what the Pharisees did?

Instead I started thinking about how some of the Bible heroes reacted when their circumstances weren't what they had hoped.

Probably the man most famous for suffering that we can read about in the Bible is Job.  I have often joked and even blogged before on how Job has nothing on me.  If you are familiar with the story you know that Job literally lost everything in a short amount of time.  He lost his children, his wealth, and even his health.  The kicker for me is that it was God himself who chose Job to be tested by satan.  It is a humbling reminder that nothing comes our way without God's approval.

What I most want to point out though, is Job's reaction to his suffering. 

Job is broken, he shaves his head, tears his clothes and begins mourning.  Well meaning friends come to encourage him, they hardly recognize him when they arrive.  They remain silent until Job speaks and pours out his heart, even wishing he had never been born.  His friends are disappointed with his response - they even blame him for all that is happening. In fact by chapter 19 Job says to his friends, “Then Job replied:
“How long will you torment me
    and crush me with words?
Ten times now you have reproached me;
    shamelessly you attack me”

But by chapter 38 the Lord speaks and validates Job’s feelings and struggles.  He also reminds Job that HE is God, but the story ends with these words:
12 The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. (42:12)  So we see that Job was angry and broken for a season.

And then there is David.  You don't have to read too many Psalms before you see that the man God himself refers to as, "A man after my own heart," is often broken and crying out.  If you asked David, "Are you mad, bro?"  I think he would have often answered with a loud, resounding, "YES!"

Psalm 22 verses 1-5 are a perfect example of this:

1 "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
    you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
    they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame."

I feel like I could have penned these verses, I cry out by day but you do not answer...God are you listening to me?  Our ancestors put their trust in you and You showed up....God where are you now?

These are just two of several examples through out Scripture of Godly men and women having a season of anger to work through.  The key, I suggest, is not getting stuck there.

If you continue to read through Psalm 22 David begins to remind himself of who watches over him.  He says things like, "But you, Lord, do not be far from me.You are my strength; come quickly to help me." (vs 19).   

And I can agree with David by saying, "Lord I know we can get through this, You and me, but it might have to be mostly You."

Next he reminds himself what he needs to do, "I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you." (vs 22) 

And I cry out, "Lord I know You are who You say You are, and You are good. I will praise you in this storm, but I am wet and cold.  I am battered from these fierce winds, so I need your help."

Then David reminds God of His promises: "For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help."(vs 26)

And I cry out, "Lord nothing grieves your heart more than when your children are hurting.  When you walked this earth you welcomed the little ones into your presence.  Your word says it is better for a millstone to be placed around someone's neck andthey be thrown into a lake than to hurt a child (Matthew 18:6).  I know it is not Your desire that these babies be put in harm's way."

David wraps up his heart felt cry with these simple words, "He has done it!" (vs 31)

And I cry out, "Lord please do it!"

I think it is okay to have conversations with God that are real, and gut-wrenchingly honest.  It is okay to cry out and question when things around you don't make sense.  I think it is okay to remind him of his promises. 

I think it is okay to hurt, to be broken, and to cry out in anguish.  Even Christ himself cried out, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)

We just cannot stay there.  I do not know how much time passed between verse 1 of David's Psalm and verse 31.  I imagine that time frame is different for each of us.  I think I am still very near the first portion of these verses, so if you see me out and about, please know that I have not given up on my faith.  I know that God is in control and that in the end I will be able to say like Joseph, "What you intended for evil the Lord has used for good."  (Gen 50:20)  But, I am not there yet, at least not in my heart.  My head is there, the truth is solid but my heart is still mending.

As I wrap up this lengthy piece, I want to leave you with one truth I have discovered on this journey.  Peace is not the absence of fighting, here on earth we will never fully have that.  Peace is a rest in knowing that despite all that is raging around us, God is in control and we are in His hands.  I am working on sewing that into my heart, but until then will you pray for us?