Following Makes the Follower

I’ve just read another article defending school teachers. It’s the millionth  (probably zillionth) published, rapidly going viral, well deserved justification of my profession. Really, there’s so much written which credits teachers as heroes that I’m having trouble figuring out who the villains are. Exactly who is panning American educators, laying the blame squarely out our feet for the very downfall of Western Civilization? Admittedly my research on this topic is grossly limited because no one is liking and sharing the blog posts which bemoan teachers for being lazy freeloaders.

Teaching wears me out. It’s hard work. And ladies and gentlemen, I am not lazy. Here’s a little known fact that I always want to scream from a rooftop when I hear teachers criticized—the skills, people. It takes an unbelievable amount skill to deliver a lesson well. Communication, intuition, classroom  management, on your feet decision making, maintaining discipline—SKILLS. And that’s just the delivery of a lesson.  That’s not to mention the interpersonal skills it takes to develop relationships with  your students and create a welcoming atmosphere for each class, even though at times you’re met with fierce resistance.

Now, how about planning? When I first switched from teaching English to history, I sat at my desk and cried because I had no idea where to start. I’m not sure about other teachers, but I do a fair amount of research for history presentations. It’s very time consuming. Then, you have to be creative, even a little artistic at times. Technology? Heck, yeah. You better be on top of that.  Time management? Indispensable. Planning is just a fraction of what a teacher does in the mislabeled “planning period”. Teachers act as their own personal assistants. We type, copy, distribute, and file every document ourselves.  In 45 minutes, I may have a stack of papers to grade, a couple of tests to run through the copier, an assignment to type, and five or so emails to answer in addition to all the research and lesson planning. Then there’s the matter of personal business. More than once, I’ve spent the bulk of a planning period playing phone tag with my doctor’s office.

But here’s the kicker, folks. You can’t simply have nominal familiarity with each skill. To be the teacher that apparently we are all expected to be, you have to master all these skills.  What’s a perfectionist like Mrs. Beasley to do? Well, let me tell ya. I feel a lot of pressure. All the time. At least once every school year, I have something like a nervous breakdown. The kids know I’m a basket case and discuss it when I’m not around. It’s embarrassing. I thought it would get better when I left public schools for Christian education, but I have a unique gift for not letting things go.

All this pressure has given me mixed feelings about my career as a teacher. I love planning (the creative part, not all the clerical stuff) and presenting. I truly do. I enjoy my students. But my heart’s desire was always to be a stay at home mom.  As a young adult, I never envisioned my children in daycare, or in full-time pre-K classes, all so that I could put in my time teaching other people’s children during the day and have nothing left over for my own in the evenings. I thought it would get easier when my children got a little older. They’re in the first and fifth grades now, and I chase my tail now more than ever. I’d love to quit my job, run my household, be more available to my husband and children, and write.

I’m sure that sounds cynical, but I promise this post has a happy ending. I’ve returned to teaching several times because of circumstances. It took a lot of years for us to finally have a family of our own. Every year that I returned to school in August felt like a slap in the face. I simply wouldn’t be there if I hadn’t miscarried. Those years were long and bore the ever present specters of brokenhearted loss and freaking out over test scores. Public school, I don’t miss you.

For a few years after we first adopted, I quit teaching and worked part-time. This I could manage. But, Todd’s call to plant a church is my call to plant a church. It’s that one flesh thing, I think. The first time that he suggested I go back to teaching school full-time so that he work on a church plant, I lit into him. It was not my finest hour as a wife, I confess. Amazingly, the Lord went to work on me, and I’ll never regret the decision to move, go back to work, and plant Renew Church. I might choose an easier schedule, but I love my school and I love my students.

Unfortunately, my spiritual gift is wearing my feelings on my sleeve and blabbing my thoughts and opinions to anyone with ears, so it’s no secret how hard teaching full-time is for me.

Luckily, my principal and I have a good working relationship, one characterized by my frank admissions that teaching wears me out and I’m pretty much always overwhelmed. He knew the day he interviewed me that I’d hoped to move on from teaching eventually. That he still hired me is better than any trust building exercise. Over time, I’ve conveyed my deepest concerns about my employment without holding much back. I’m a better wife and mother when I am not obligated to a full-time job. It plays on my conscience to be deprived of the time and energy that I’m sure should go to my family. Recently, he waved me into his office to ask me how I’m doing. I had a miscarriage a couple of weeks before school started. It’s been a hard year.

We had an honest conversation. We always do. He knows that I would like to be at home more and have time to write. He knows that I have to work to support us while we plant the church. He knows that more than anything, I wanted my baby. I assured him that, as worn out as I get, I’m all in. “I know,” he said. “You’re committed to these students.” Thank you for that, Mr. G. I’d like to think that each and every nervous breakdown has been for the greater progress of the gospel.

Then he said something that I wasn’t sure I could accept.

“You’re going to have to be OK with the fact that God called you to teach. I know it’s true because He’s using you here.”

See, this is a problem because that was a really nice thing to say, and I can see that you’re my biggest fan, but that’s not what I wanted to hear.

Also, that’s the second principal who told me that I’m called to Christian education. It’s the second time that I doubted (and resented) this assessment of God’s will. That conversation has hovered over my thoughts since that day. Honestly, it depressed me a little. And irked me a lot. I’d like to determine what God’s telling me to do, thank you very much.

A few weeks ago, I was writing a bible study lesson for my small group when God placed a startlingly simple truth under my nose. What makes a follower of Christ? It’s the following.

In order to disciple, we teach all these different facets of the Christian walk—pray, study, worship, serve. Don’t conform. Be transformed. We flesh out all those simple truths into a litany of specific obligations. Attend church—be there. Join a small group—get real.  Sing in the band—serve in the way that gives you joy. Teach Sunday school—volunteer when no one else will. Go on a mission trip—stretch yourself. Surrender to the ministry—make church your job. Plant a church—even if it’s crazy. Surrender to missions—go where no one else will.

So much stuff. Am I simply picking what works for me and my situation? Why do some women get to stay home but I have to work? And, how do I know I’m not called to something even bigger, like foreign missions? And, if I have a passion to write and it is really fulfilling to me, can that be my call?

A week or so later, I was teaching European imperialism to my 9th grade history students. The presentation includes details of the Chinese Boxer Rebellion between 1899-1901. As we discussed the massacres of foreign missionaries and Chinese Christians, I told the students that one question plagues me every time I teach this unit.

Why does God call some to all that hardship—in this case to be the victims of unthinkable atrocities– but He called me to Baptist Prep?

Funny. Those words—called me to Baptist Prep—that actually came from my mouth. OK, it’s true. If I felt that God had some other plan, that’s what I would do. Also, in comparison to martyrdom, teaching seems so easy. Even funnier, the next thing to tumble from my lips was that startlingly simple answer. What makes a Christ follower is the following. He leads. You follow. Period.

I have a friend who might have made an awesome school teacher, but she is now a missionary in Ecuador. She’s single. Her heart’s desire is to take God’s Word to women in the jungle. He led her there. She followed. It never crossed my mind that God might ask me to follow Him, as a single woman with no children in my future, into missions.

I have a another friend who would much rather be a missionary in Africa than teach school. She owns a salon, her day job, if you will. But she’s also  fundraising for African Christian Outreach for no pay at all. Someday, she’ll be in Africa full-time. She can’t wait for the day that Jesus leads her to Kenya for good. I’ve always been kind of relieved that He never led me to Kenya.

I have another friend who works in a nursing home and I can tell that those patients are richly blessed to have her there. She is amazing, so compassionate and genuine.  Me? I’d rather teach school, or go to Africa, or to a jungle, or teach school in an African jungle, than work in a nursing home. I kind of have a phobia of nursing homes. Please God, don’t lead me there!

What those women do seems so difficult to me. Yet, I’ve heard from my friends again and again, “I don’t know how you do it. I couldn’t work with kids every day.” They might be really relieved that God didn’t call them to teach writing to eighth graders (which is hard, I can tell you).

The strongest spiritual influence in my life, my mom, was a teacher for a short time. I’m sure she believed when she was in college that she would teach for a lot of years. But God led her to Bible Study Fellowship International, and she followed—first as a class member, then in leadership in the children’s program, and finally she became a teaching leader. I’ve always been astounded at the influence she had because of BSF.  When I was a kid, I just thought she gabbed on the phone with her leadership circle a lot. Years later, I realized  that it was her ministry which she conducted over the phone, in leaders’ meeting, and giving her lectures. She taught hundreds of women over the years, but also personally mentored many of her leaders. She also mentored me. Things would have turned out very differently for a lot of people if my mom had gone a different route.

Jesus led my husband to plant a church. Todd followed—and brought his family along! Jesus led me back to teaching. I followed. I’m going to trust Him that our choice to make our lives here will turn out for the greater progress of the gospel—that a lot of lives would turn out differently if we weren’t following where He leads.

In His authority, God carries out His plan. Maybe where He leads you is where you will have the most influence—where your presence will turn out for the greater progress of the gospel. And guess what? That’s hard work, no matter what it is. Going to China or the jungle, teaching or a nursing home—if you’re there to proclaim the gospel, it will never be easy. What is it that Jesus said to do before you follow? Oh, yeah. Deny yourself. Take up your cross.

 

 

 

 

 

Before a launch, you gotta yield . . .

Tomorrow we will open Renew Church’s doors for our first ever Sunday morning worship service. Actually Renew Church’s doors are really the doors of the Boys and Girls Club of Saline County, AR. After 18 months of bible study in a living room, it’s time to launch.

Church plant!

Church plant!

The vision for this ministry prompted us to leave comfort and security in Texas and trust God to provide all our needs in coming to Arkansas—when Todd told the church staff in Texas that he was resigning, neither of us had jobs. When we rolled up to our rent house for the first time in Benton, Arkansas, we had one part-time job between us. I can’t claim that I had faith through all of this; I was simply too afraid to not take that leap.

God began working in Todd years ago, first with this little whisper plant a church, plant a church, plant a church which gradually increased in volume and intensity. Then finally in 2012, we catapulted into this wild free fall of faith—if God is saying go, I’m afraid to say no.

So, here we are.

It is glaringly obvious that the Lord went ahead of us and put each piece in place. In the beginning, I was concerned about basic needs and where the money would come from so that we could survive. Looking back, what is most impressive to me is not really about money, but more about comfort and sustenance. It’s about how he drew us into relationships with godly friends who also have visions for ministry that seem impossible. But God builds the ministry and nothing is impossible for Him.

With all this awe and gratitude bubbling over in my heart, I am especially aware of the years God has spent preparing me for this.

Me. The one who said rather pointedly, “I will not go back to teaching school so that you can plant a church.”

Me. The one who scoffed at the idea of leaving Texas for Arkansas. Plant a church? In Arkansas? Psssh. Try that one on your second wife.

Evidence of changes that would come are found in the notes I jotted down in my bible over the years. There are many, many references to God’s authority scribbled in the margins. Even this morning as I read about Jesus’ baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit, I wrote, “Jesus—God and sent by God—demonstrates submission to God’s authority. Does this demonstration of submission and willingness open the door for the power of the Holy Spirit?” Looking back, I see that pattern played out in me. At each milestone as I yielded more to God’s authority, I experienced His power to change me.

This morning I also ran across an old note on the first page of I Thessalonians. Sometime in the last few years I wrote this–

            Faith–>Work

Love–>Labor

Hope–>Endurance

Serve the living God and wait for His Son.

Then on the opposite page, I added later—

            Share the gospel and your life. The fruit of the ministry is your joy and crown.

Faith compels us to work. Love for the Savior inspires us to labor for His purpose. Hope of seeing Him face to face creates an indomitable endurance. And all this happens by the power of His Spirit as we yield to His authority.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that I’m teaching school in Arkansas to provide for our family so Todd can co-pastor a church plant.

The woman who wrote all that down is so drastically different from the 26 year old who naively vowed to be joined for life to a minister. Want to know something funny? For the first few years I toyed with the temptation to walk away from this marriage. What a dumb kid! I would have missed out on all this JOY.

A healthy fear—or reverence, if you prefer–of God’s authority has made all the difference. It prevented us from ending our marriage. It guided us through miscarriages to adoption. It prompted us in the very decision that brought us to Arkansas. It instigated all the changes that make us want to fulfill our purpose. I’ve seen something good born out of every instance where we yielded to His authority.

Church, we must stop dodging God’s authority and looking for loopholes in the things He expects from us. It is a gigantic obstacle to fulfilling our purpose in this world. Don’t hesitate to yield. By the power of His Spirit, good things will come.

I’m pretty excited to see what’s next.

ADVENTures Day 5: The exceeding great reward to those who believe . . .

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,
    your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”  He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Day 5! I’m enjoying this so much. It has not been at all convenient to write these last couple of days, but I’m so eager to do it anyway. One thing that I like about Advent scriptures is that they bring so many concepts together, and yet it all relates to Christmas. My sweet momma taught me that everything in scripture points to Jesus and, more specifically, to His work at the Cross. We tend to study all the different components of God’s story separately, but Advent is feeling a little like a crash course in how it all meshes.

Every time I read today’s scripture, I wonder why God opens with, “Do not be afraid.” Is Abram scared? After reviewing the back story a little, I wonder if Abram was just feeling a little disillusioned. God had already told him that He was going to make Abram a great nation, that his descendants would be like the dust of the ground. Though Abram had become quite wealthy, he was still vulnerable. He had come, at God’s calling, to a land that had long belonged to others. He was a foreigner. In chapter 14 we have the story of Lot’s capture, and Abram fighting four allied kings to set his nephew free. It may be that he was feeling uneasy about his situation. I wonder if he was just lying awake in his tent one night, toying with doubts that had quietly taken root in his heart. Did he give life to those doubts–so that they sprang to life and taunted him, “What if God brought you all the way out here to abandon you?”

God doesn’t stop with never fear, He reveals Himself, “I am your shield, your very great reward.”

And then–I love this–Abram doesn’t waste any time, “Right, God. About that reward. Exactly how does that work?”

I absolutely love how God reassures Abram. He walks him out of the tent to show him the night sky. I imagine God’s arm sweeping from one horizon to the other. “See that? You can’t even count it, right? So shall your offspring be.”

stars in the sky 2

On the two other occasions when God promised Abram that he would have many descendants, Abram’s reactions are recorded as “So Abram left . . .” (Genesis 12:4) and “So Abram moved . . .” (13:18). He heard what God had to say and did something, but other than that, there’s no indication of how much confidence he had in God to deliver the promise. But this third time, we are told, “Abram believed the Lord.” He just . . . believed.

Click.

Did anyone else just have a light go on? No? Just me? Holy smokes, that all just came together in my head as I was typing.  I can think of scores of times I acted in response to God’s Word, but faith had so little to do with it. In fact, I ached for a baby for a lot of years, all the while exhausting myself being “obedient”, or so I thought. If I had spoken honestly with God, in a tone that truly reflected my pain and disillusionment, it would have sounded something like this: “Listen up, God. I’m working myself to tatters down here! I am doing my stuff–YOUR STUFF. Where’s the payoff? When do I get something out of this?”

Abram had packed his life, left home, and had no clue where he would end up. I’ll bet he did wonder, “I’m doing my stuff–YOUR STUFF. Now where’s that thing You promised?”

But God’s Word says that this time, Abram “believed the Lord, [who] credited it to him as righteousness.” Do you know what that means? God considered him righteous–that is, in a right relationship with Him.

Do I see something pointing to Jesus in this? Certainly I do. Besides that fact that Abram became the nation which would give the world its Savior, I see John 1:11-12:

He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who received Him, TO THOSE WHO BELIEVED IN HIS NAME, he gave the right to become children of God.”

I hope you are having a joyous December in anticipation of Christmas Day. I also hope that you have time to reflect on how great a gift we have–that we can receive Him and believe in His name, and be made righteous.

More tomorrow, friends. Sweet dreams.

ADVENTures Day 4–Competition or Contentment?

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:8-15 (NIV)

I had kind of a rotten day today. It began when my clock was mysteriously set an hour ahead. I had been up and making the kids’ lunches, going about the business of getting myself out the door on time, when I realized it was 4:45 AM. I’d gone to sleep after midnight to begin with. The day went steadily downhill from there.

My eyes are crossing, but I want to write!!!

It wasn’t too long ago when I noticed something about Satan and Eve. He tempted her with the same thing that got him into trouble with God—he wanted God’s status. Poor Eve. She and Adam had all they could ever want or need from God—He even walks out to them in the garden, for crying out loud. Life for them wanted absolutely nothing. But all the devil had to do was imply that God was holding out—that there was something desirable that He was jealously guarding—His knowledge.

Go on. Take it. You surely will not die. God just knows it will make you divine, that’s all.

We could become all judge-y about Eve’s response to this temptation. Certainly we would never give in so easily to FRUIT. She sets a pattern, though, which we all—every last blessed one of us—have followed. She chose competition over contentment.

We may not consciously think that we can compete with God, but we do have our prideful hang-ups, right? This morning, as my day unraveled, I was awash with a familiar sense of failure. It is the plague of perfectionism. I screw up—then I’m an emotional pile for a few hours at best. At its worst? Sometimes it takes me a week or two to rebound. Repeatedly God convicts me that this is an area of my life which competes with my devotion to Him. Feeling driven to have things my way and accomplished in my strength is an addiction to bringing glory to me. And, believe me, every single time I crash and burn, I miss the contentment of looking to God for strength and being “called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). It feels good, first of all, to be in such close fellowship with Him that I’m a part of what He’s doing rather than setting my own agenda. Even better, it takes the pressure off. There’s a reason that He’s God and I’m not.

Today’s scripture shows how God allowed Eve to play a small part in His plan for Satan. The Savior will be born from Eve’s offspring. The act that redeems us from evil defeats evil. Jesus will crush the devil with the Cross. Check out this scene from The Passion of the Christ:

I’m tired, but I’m loving this Advent thing. More tomorrow.

 

 

 

ADVENTures Day 3–He carries us close to His heart . . .

Go up on a high mountain, O herald Zion!
Shout out loudly, O herald Jerusalem!
Shout, don’t be afraid!
Say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
Look, the sovereign Lord comes as a victorious warrior;
his military power establishes his rule.
Look, his reward is with him;
his prize goes before him.
Like a shepherd he tends his flock;
he gathers up the lambs with his arm;
he carries them close to his heart;
he leads the ewes along.   Isaiah 40:9-11

Maybe I didn’t know what I was getting myself into—posting each day. If I were capable of just writing a little blurb about the scripture—600 words or less—this wouldn’t be a problem. But once I start breaking a scripture down, I’m sucked in! Call me a nerd, but I love this stuff. I like to research and study. I love history and God’s word. So, the two together? It’s a feast, I tell ya. I’ll have my bible and eight websites open at once. That’s really not practical for a post a day!

Isaiah fascinates me because his prophecies easily speak to today’s church. He describes judgment and exile for Israel, which had continued in religious activity but was still not righteous. They marked the sacrifices and feasts prescribed in the law of Moses, but they also sprinkled in practices from pagan nations (2:6), including the sacrifice of children at Gehenna. Isaiah refers to Jerusalem, once “the faithful city”, now as a “harlot” (1:21). Among Isaiah’s charges against Judah is social injustice, neglecting the “oppressed . . . the fatherless . . . the widow.”

It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? That the people chosen of God and the recipients of His favor should fall so far—even to the point of continuing in their sacrifices to the LORD while also giving themselves over to idols. But, is the American church so different? Have we not seen blessing upon blessing of God’s favor? Yet, churches will spend millions upon millions on themselves—buildings and programs and fluff—and neglect the needy right outside their doors. In doing so, who is our idol? We are. Alright, now what about child sacrifice? Did you know that the views on abortion within the church mirror secular views on abortion? I just gave a cursory glance to a web article defending a “Christian” view in favor of abortion. It’s okay if your theology allows for it. Wait– what??? Does God’s feelings about sin–murder, even–fluctuate because of the theological views we choose to adopt? That’s absurd! Again, look no further than yourself to determine which idol you worship if you can be convinced that God accommodates this sin. To that writer, I say, read Isaiah’s laundry list of horrors in store for Israel and then get back to me.

Where I see the most obvious parallel between Isaiah’s prophecies and the modern church is what we’re willing to call worship. Too often, church membership and attendance is flashed around like some kind of Jesus talisman. I attend. I sing a few songs—but only if they are the songs I prefer performed only by certain instruments. I hear a little lightweight preaching and call it good for the week. What is neglected is devotion—a devotion that can only come about in a heart that knows it has been rescued.

Which brings me to our scripture.

I haven’t had a ton of time to study up for this post, but if I can believe the notes in my NIV Study Bible, I’ll assume that chapter 40 is written for the time when “the Babylonian exile is almost over.” God’s people endured years of suffering, which He intended as a purging of the evil they had absorbed into their community. But even as far back as chapter 1, Isaiah gave the people God’s assurance that despite the prevalence of their evil acts, their “scarlet” sins would be made “white as snow” (1:18). What I love about chapter 40 is the softer tone of the language. “Comfort, comfort,” it says in verse 1, and in verse 2, “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem . . . her hard service has been completed.”

Looking specifically at our verses for today, 9-11, I love the contrast between God’s power (v.10) and His care (v.11). The good news for the people in exile is that God in all His power will come to lead them back home. In love, He will not only lead as a shepherd, but “carry them close to His heart.”

What does this say to us? God will have His kingdom, made up of a people who are righteous— that is, in a right relationship with Him. This can only come about because of Christ, because He rescues us from evil. I believe God will purify His church of the drivel—the teaching that accommodates sin, the ho-hum worship of a people who barely realize what was done on their behalf, the preaching that amounts to little more than life coaching rather than conviction. He purged the people of Israel to make them righteous. He wants to purge us of our sin–of the way we’ve let the world’s theology creep into our worship. That kind of purging is painful.

If you claim faith in Christ, it doesn’t hurt to evaluate your worship. If it accommodates you, your preferences—or worse, your sin—then make this Christmas a time to re-devote yourself to Him. There’s no reason to adopt a theology that accommodates sin—the Lamb shed His blood to make those scarlet sins white as snow. He came for you, to gather you up like a little lamb and lead you home, cancelling your debt in the process. Does your worship reflect a gratitude for your rescue?

Maybe you don’t know God. Maybe you feel conviction over the things I’ve listed above. Abortion, maybe? Know that He also came for you. He simply doesn’t accommodate your sins—but He pays the price for them with the blood of His Son. Our sin would separate us from God forever except for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Here’s some really amazing news—no sin (that’s right, not even abortion) is so great that you can’t be redeemed by God. You see, the worth of Jesus Christ is incalculable—His blood’s power to rescue cannot be exhausted by the number or depth of your sins. He will scoop you up like a little lamb and carry you close to His heart.

lamb chop

We celebrate the birth of a little baby on Christmas Day. Now, imagine. That little baby came with power to rescue you. It is the “good news of great joy that will be for all people”. Receive the Lord Jesus and be at peace.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God . . . [your] sin has been paid for . . .” Isaiah 40:1-2 (NIV)

ADVENTures Day 2–It’s the bad news that makes the good news . . .

How delightful it is to see approaching over the mountains
the feet of a messenger who announces peace,
a messenger who brings good news, who announces deliverance,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Listen, your watchmen shout;
in unison they shout for joy,
for they see with their very own eyes
the Lord’s return to Zion.
In unison give a joyful shout,
O ruins of Jerusalem!
For the Lord consoles his people;
he protects Jerusalem.
 The Lord reveals his royal power
in the sight of all the nations;
the entire earth sees
our God deliver.       Isaiah 52:7-1

Day 2. I’ve been in the car all day, driving home from Thanksgiving at the farm. As tired as I am, there’s no way I’m skipping the second day of Adventures in Advent! Especially since God has made this scripture real to me.

Tomorrow is the last day of National Adoption Month. For weeks I’ve wanted to get some thoughts on my blog about our adoption experience, but time is at a premium and other topics were easier to tackle. As I looked over the second Advent scripture, I saw my experiences with adoption peeking out from behind the words. I know what good news is!

Possibly, I know good news so well because the bad news was such a piercing to my heart.

I was ten weeks pregnant when I went to my first OB appointment. Todd went with me, and we were so excited. Todd had spent months looking for a church job after graduating from seminary. The appointment was on a Monday morning, but the day before Todd preached at a church in Tulsa in view of a call to a staff position. The whole weekend had been one long interview, and we felt sure that this job was the one we had prayed for. Now we were off to see the first images of our first baby. Everything was coming together. A new job, a new home, and now the beginnings of our little family. I was going to quit teaching and be a stay at home mom. We had the world by the tail.

The doctor was all smiles, offered an extra VHS tape since we hadn’t known to bring one, and I was all set up for the ultrasound and the first recording of our sweet little one.

Maybe the reason I’ve held off on writing about these experiences for so long is that words just fail me when I try to describe that pain. I remember every excruciating detail, but to write it is to relive it, and maybe deep down, I don’t want to go back there.

The doctor went from buoyant to business in a fraction of a second. Quiet and grim faced, he simply tapped my knee, saying to get dressed and come to his office. We, of course, were seized with fear. I remember my limbs going limp and clumsily going through the motions—tumbling into my pants, getting lost in my shirt sleeves, gripping my equally shocked husband, numbly making my way to a seat in another room.

The doctor delivered the news factually but compassionately. He seemed particularly concerned that I not blame myself. Todd stuttered his way through a few questions—I couldn’t find my breath. It felt like I’d been body slammed. Then I was given a choice: I could schedule a D&C or wait until I miscarried naturally. At that moment, I was suspended somewhere between denial and complete despair. I just wanted out of there, to find a place where I could cry or collapse or scream or throw things or any other socially unacceptable behavior I chose.

There is so much more to this story. I could fill a book. But for the purposes of this post, I’ll stick with what is relevant to our Advent passage. We went through this pain several more times—being told by a doctor that our baby had not survived beyond the seventh week. Those three miscarriages were particularly traumatic—the first two I ended up in the ER. But I believe that there were a number of very short pregnancies in between where I miscarried before I knew I was pregnant.

So what does this have to do with Advent?  For about five years, all we got was bad news. I wish I could tell you that these were years that were fruitful in my walk, years I spent pressing in, studying His Word and allowing Him to reveal His character during my times of suffering. Ha! Not even close. I was unbelievably angry with God. If He loves me, why doesn’t He heal this? It’s like my situation didn’t reflect what I thought was true of God, so I just held Him at arm’s length for a long time. I did not see any new revelation of God’s character because I wasn’t really looking. What I wanted was an answer to my prayer in the only way that I could see where the healing of my heart could take place. He simply had to give me a baby.

Then one day, after four years of miscarriages and heartache, I started praying the right prayer. Instead of praying that God would give me a biological child, I prayed that He would heal me in whatever manner He chose. I just didn’t want to be angry anymore, and I wanted my relationship with Him to be what it had been before all this mess. I wanted Him to restore the joy of my salvation.

One thing led to another that led to an adoption agency in Houston, Texas, called Alternatives in Motion. We waited a long year for the phone call. You know the one I mean? THE phone call!

The phone rang on a Sunday night when we were least expecting it. We were a few minutes into the conversation before I realized what was happening. I remember saying, “Wait, are you saying that this baby is available for adoption?”

On the other end of the line was the agency director, Jan Deets. She laughed a little. “Katie, I’m saying this is your baby!” I’m not even sure what happened for the next few minutes of the conversation. Todd was on the phone in the bedroom, asking a few questions and getting all the details. I was too busy dancing! Finally!

Jan with Emma Kate

That’s Jan on the day we met our second daughter, Emma Kate. I’ve always loved this picture.

 

Within a few weeks of having our sweet Eden home, I realized what God had done. He had revealed Himself through the adoption of our daughter. Even though I was a believer for a lot of years before, I now saw salvation in a different light—that God deeply, deeply loves me and made all the arrangements so that I could be His child. I had doubted for so long that God could work all this pain together for good. I had felt for so long that God was punishing me by not allowing me to carry a baby to term. I had grown accustomed to thinking of God as angry, and cold, and distant. But here He was showing Himself. He does good things! I pined for that baby for so long; finally I was able to bring her home, call her mine, and lavish her with love I’d been carrying for years since my first pregnancy.

Eden day 1

The good Rev with sweet Eden on day 1. This picture is another one of my all-time favorites.

 

Isn’t that a beautiful picture of salvation as well? He pines for us, for our repentance, so that we can be forever in His love—never to be snatched from His hand. Todd and I went through a whole rigmarole in order to adopt—paperwork, interviews, workshops, and payments. But God made His payment for my adoption in blood—the blood of His own Son. And if I, being so imperfect, could so love this little baby girl who was only mine because of a legal document and the say-so of a judge, how much more could a perfect God love those for whom He paid so immeasurable a price?

As for our scripture, Isaiah spent many pages describing judgment and exile, using words like fire and wrath. These people got bad news, over and over, unlike anything that we can comprehend. God’s people would not only hear the bad news in prophecy, they would live out its horrors. They must have doubted His goodness at times. They must have wondered if they had been forever cut off from His love. Imagine the joy, the expectancy, of a people who so suffered to hear their salvation proclaimed! Not only that, how they must have treasured the assurance that they belong to the God who reigns over all—and that every nation everywhere would witness their redemption.

Guess what? If you are in Christ, these words are for you as well. Sometimes, the good news is best understood in light of all the bad that has gone before. None of what you have suffered has been wasted. Your God reigns, and He will return and comfort His people. Every nation everywhere will see what our God has done to redeem us.

If you don’t know Christ, then know this–He wants to adopt you. You’ve been separated from Him because of your sin, but He’s pining for you. All the work is done, signed in the blood of the perfect Christ, who will buy you back from your sin. We celebrate His birth at Christmas, but it’s His death and resurrection that are the true tidings of comfort and joy!

 

 

Pray boldly–even when it doesn’t make sense.

Though Zechariah and Elizabeth were well along in years, the angel says his prayer had been heard. No doubt the couple prayed for a son when it made sense to pray for one—but all those years later?

A few years ago I prayed for a son. I’m not sure that it made sense praying to that end—I was 41. Emma Kate, the younger of our girls, was about 2 at the time, and I believed that we were “done.” We put in five hard years of miscarriages and indecision before God led us to adopt. Our family was indeed complete.

But I was not.

Still, I was in part unaware of my feelings about having a biological child until the doctor tossed out the word hysterectomy. He only meant to inform me of my options—I might endure endometriosis until I completed the change, but if not, I could always go under the knife and have my womanhood removed. No big deal.

I was not prepared to hear those words. At all. He left the room and I burst into tears. Where was this coming from?

I’d always held out the possibility of getting pregnant again. I just did my best to pretend it was something I didn’t need to do. The results of our genetic testing a few years before had shown that biological children were certainly possible; in fact, according to the genetics counselor, we should only miscarry one pregnancy in five.

So we prayed. Maybe we were praying when it no longer made sense to do so. I was labeled advanced maternal age, high risk, and I’d already lost six or seven babies at this point.

I prayed very specifically, very boldly, for a healthy son who would not carry the chromosome translocation that increased our chances of miscarriage.

But it didn’t make sense. It was unlikely that God would give me the answer I wanted.

Was this Zechariah’s prayer? Was he hoping that God would act on their behalf and take away his wife’s disgrace? If so, how strange that he doubts the angel’s news! Zechariah’s reaction to Gabriel begins a pattern that is repeated throughout the gospels. People will see something supernatural right before their very eyes but will not receive its message nor recognize the identity of the Christ. Ritual religion does not help you detect the movement of God. Looking eagerly for Him helps you recognize Him.

Prayers have been heard

The answer to Zechariah’s prayer is unified with God’s purpose.

He will be a joy and delight to you . . . Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God.” Luke 1:14, 17

That purpose is always to engage in meaningful relationships with people—not just in ritual religion–to turn them from their sin, to discover the value of eternal life in Christ Jesus.

And—for Zechariah—did this begin with a prayer that he never expected the Lord to answer?

When I prayed for a son, I miscarried, but that doesn’t mean the prayer wasn’t answered. Maybe, if I peel back the layers of the last few years, I’ll see clearly the Lord’s purpose. Maybe it was to engage in a more meaningful—less ritualistic—relationship with me. Maybe it was part of the greater work of preparing the Beasleys to be on mission–leaving what is comfortable and leaping into situations where we have to depend on HIm. Maybe it was simply to prompt me to pray more and more unlikely prayers—and ask boldly—so that I might better see that His purpose is for my good and His glory.

Always pray boldly, even the prayers we think He is unlikely to answer. His answers–the ones we hope for and the ones we don’t–are unified with His  purpose.

When He speaks, it is so often not the words I want to hear, but I can always be sure that that they bear His purpose. He always draws me closer so that I am engaged more deeply in my relationship with Him. As He answers each prayer, He prompts me all the more to turn from my sin, to submit to His authority, and in doing those things I discover the value of the life I’ve found in Christ. He brings the supernatural right to my doorstep, and I look all the more eagerly for Him–not just for the answers to my prayers.

Because of God’s tender mercy,
    the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,

to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    and to guide us to the path of peace. Luke 1:78-79