Getting Dressed In God’s Closet

I vacillate back and forth between believing fake it ‘till you make it is an appropriate motto for parenting kids from trauma backgrounds, or not. Most of the time it sounds so right. Other times it appears disingenuous. Apostle Paul has some words of wisdom.

And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience Colossians 3:12

The Greek word for put on is the verb enduo, which is the picture of getting dressed.  You pick out what you’re going to wear and you put on the clothing.  Literally, the sentence reads, “Put on, therefore, as elect ones.”  In the Greek, the action is at the beginning of the sentence, which, essentially emphases the action of getting dressed, not in the selection of what to wear.

Image result for getting dressed

Think about this. In order to put on the garments, we have to do something.  In this case, take the steps necessary to wrap yourself in these clothes.  As bible scholar Skip Moen says, (and thanks to him for giving me this great word study) “You can’t sit naked in the room waiting for God to dress you in compassion and kindness.”

By the language employed in that verse, we;re not being asked to wait until God changes our heart before we exhibit compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, or patience. That’s where the fake it ’till you make it comes in!  The power is in getting dressed, not how I feel about it. I can already exhibit those actions towards my child (or others, or myself) even if I don’t feel like it, even if it feels fake.

Compassion: I will recognize that in many cases, if my child could do better, they would do better. I can look for the deep need behind the behavior and not punish my child for those things they are not yet capable of doing. Instead, when appropriate, I can teach them the skills they are lacking or are underdeveloped.

Kindness: When my child comes home from school, I will remember that he or she has had to pull it together for so many hours already and that when they get home to their safe place, they may collapse into a puddle of emotions and feelings and misbehavior. I can do small acts of kindness for them and let them decompress in ways that are meaningful to them. Offer a favorite snack, set up a bubble bath time, allow them quiet time alone or offer special time with me.

Humility: I can model humility to my child by being honest about my own shortcomings as a person and as a parent. I can apologize when I am wrong, I can admit fault. I can be willing to change when necessary.  I can say, “honey, I don’t know the answer to that. Let’s find out together’. I can keep learning.

Gentleness: I can offer a shoulder to cry on, instead of an ‘I told you this would happen if you did xyz.” I can walk over to my child when I have something important to say to them that may be hard for them to hear, instead of shouting it across the room. I can soften my gaze when I look at them, I can get down to their eye level. I can be mindful to connect with their heart before I correct their behavior.

Patience: I can wake up each day with the intention of doing it all over again. I can answer their same question for the 10th time about when dinner is going to be ready, or whatever other incessant question they ask, with the same loving response as I would answer their deeper question, “Are you going to feed me and love me and take care of me no matter what?’ Because they is what they are really asking.  

The real key to success that Paul is trying to get us to understand is that when we put on the actions of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, or patience, and ask God to be in it with us, we will be transformed to fit the clothes. I want to get dressed in God’s closet.

Fat Portions and Open Doors

Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord.  Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10

The background to these verses is this:  In order to rid the Israelites of their idolatry, God brought them to near destruction using the Babylonians.  But now, Nehemiah has returned to rebuild Jerusalem, and the people are recognizing that they need to recover their lost heritage, which is the Torah of God. There is great weeping because the people are finally understanding the magnitude of the tragedy of the fall of their once great nation. The reason for the Babylonian captivity became clear – their idolatry was behind it all.  They wept as they they mourned their sin.

And they wept because God restored them.  God had not abandoned them, He preserved a remnant.  They can experience revival. But it took a large toll to get the message.

Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.

A bible teacher told me that only two times in all of the scriptures is this word hedvah, joy, found; here and in 1 Chronicles 16:27. This joy isn’t simhah, which is found dozens of times, associated with what we’d think of as rejoicing.  The uniqueness of hedvah is that it is directly connected to God, joy-of-the-LORD. It is His joy. 

I am fascinated by the ancient Hebrew language, and I am grateful to those who can teach me the biblical meaning of words like hedvah. Biblical scholar Skip Moen, PhD. says that the word picture behind hedvah means behold, a door in the fence. He says, “What is the joy of the LORD?  It is the gladness of providing a door in the fence – a path for coming into His presence.  What cheers our Lord?  A way in.  God rejoices that there is a door for us to come into fellowship with Him.  We are not shut out for He has provided a way back.  The joy of the LORD is that He can fellowship with us! The hedvat of the LORD exists because He made a way!  “Enter into the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:21) is connected to the joy of the LORD.”

Nehemiah tells us that a door in the fence is our strength.

There is only one door, but many door keepers. The Israelites’ captivity caused them to forget the door. They needed Nehemiah to show them the way.  Who can you be a Nehemiah to today? Who can you show the door to for connection and attachment to God? Nehemiah was tasked with building back the waste places, the ruins of lives that had forgotten God’s promises. Du know someone who needs to know that the joy of the Lord is their strength? Do you need a Nehemiah in your life?

The Sound of Thin Silence

Kol demama daka is a Hebrew phrase we have translated ‘still, small voice’ and it’s from 1 Kings 19: 9-14. The sound of thin silence.

The still small voice was given to Elijah after he complains to God (and I don’t blame him at all) that all of God’s prophets have been killed by Jezebel and he alone survives. Have you ever been there, thinking you are the lone survivor and you aren’t sure how much longer you can hold on alone? Clearly, those of us parenting children from trauma backgrounds have been in a similar feeling situation many times over. Without a solid tribe of people to share our burdens with, we very much can believe we are the only ones facing an insurmountable task or life or something that no one else has to deal with.

For Elijah, God sent a mighty wind, an earthquake, and a fire, to teach Elijah that His voice was in none of them. After all of those really big expressions of nature, (which of course Elijah and you and I would expect to hear God within those events) God spoke to Elijah in the sound of thin silence. Kol demama daka. I wonder how long Elijah sat within that thin silence. If I was expecting to hear God in the big things, I’d be a little disappointed when He didn’t come through.

I am imagining Elijah’s time alone, after expecting God to show up in wind, earthquake, or fire. And I am already getting antsy. I’m an introvert, so I do like to spend time alone, to recharge, but I also orchestrate many activities to ‘record’ over the sound of thin silence. I overlay the sounds of busyness, taking care of family, dealing with the cares of the world, writing, and even ‘good deeds’ done in God’s Name. Thin silence makes me nervous for some reason.

Thin silence is where I can hear the condemning thoughts in my own head, thoughts of unworthiness, of missing out on what others have or do, of fears for the future of my now-adult children. Thin silence is a wilderness where I most feel alone.

I think I want the voice at Sinai instead. The giving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai was a unique moment in the religious history of mankind. Instead of one lone witness to the voice of a ‘god’ who then tells others what he heard, we have an entire nation witnessing The Voice.

The power and majesty of God at Sinai was unmistakable. No matter what the people were doing, when the Voice sounded, it was so significant to their senses that they stopped in their tracks and experienced it. It didn’t matter what distractions they had come up with to cover the thin silence that nobody thinks they want, His Voice came through loud and clear. At Sinai, He broke though their distractions and competing idols, and defense mechanisms that they had in place while they continued to think of themselves as slaves to Egypt. Through no effort on their part, they heard His Words loud and clear. They didn’t have to lay down the distractions, so mighty was His voice. That’s what I want. I want all of my distractions to keep me company until God speaks. And then I want the utter magnitude of His Voice to overpower those other things in my life that I hold dear, so that I get the best of both worlds. My way until God speaks, and then I can easily hear Him. Or so I think I want this.

We’re told of the account on Mt. Sinai there was thunder and lightning, “and the people are afraid…“and they tremble”…“and they stand a long way away”. And they say to Moses, ” You go and speak to God; if we continue to hear His voice we will die.” His Voice is that powerful. At the sound of His voice, they were so terrified of closeness to Him that they begged for a mediator instead of direct experience.

Do I really want that after all? Or would I rather have His closeness? What do I have to give up for that closeness? I think maybe I have to brave the sound of thin silence.

Elijah, in his time of need, his time of feeling quite alone, gets a voice he can hear only if he is truly listening. He must venture into the thin silence where his alone-ness might be deafening. But that is where God was for him.

Laying down the distractions to hear the sounds of thin silence takes concentrated effort on your and my part. But maybe you have been conditioned to believe that active efforts to draw close to God are akin to ‘dead works’ and heaven forbid you or I substitute works for grace. And so we feel justified to keep our distractions intact and we wait for God to shout when He wants our attention. We wait for wind, earthquake, and fire. But what we get is kol demama daka.

So now what? What actions do we need to do to draw close to God when He is not in the wind, an earthquake, or a fire? We’re going to have to lay down our distractions and get quiet enough and still enough to hear God in kol demama daka. Laying them down is not a passive action! Do you know what I have found is a powerful weapon against distractions? Gratitude to God for the things He has done for me and my loved ones. Gratitude is a powerful force that drowns out the angst of the day and allows me the courage to enter the thin silence. Being reminded that Elijah has been here too helps me for some reason, even though he lived so long ago.

Maybe you would like to try the practice of gratitude as a way to enter kol demama daka to hear God? Just start recounting His great deeds. Start with your own life, then the lives of your loved one. Recount His deeds from the pages of scripture. Say it silently, or out loud. Say it to Him. And before you know it, you are so filled with wonder and awe at what He has done and Who He is, that you stop thinking about your worries. Then be silent. And just be in that thin silence. You are not alone there after all. He is there with you. You’ll hear Him. He has a lot He wants to say to you.

Do you have another practice to get quiet with Him? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.


Grannie’s Cornbread and the Sovereignty of God

You prepare a table for me before my enemiesPsalm 23:5

My mother-in-law would have been 101 years old this last September had she lived that long. Her legacy still stands strong with those who knew and loved her. She was, hands down, the maker of the best Southern cornbread ever. I always felt honored that she allowed me into her tiny country kitchen. It was made cramped by a table big enough for six, that would barely hold all the food she prepared for Sunday supper. There we’d be, with her four feet something little self and me with my five feet ten inch frame. Graciously, she’d let me do this or that odd job to ‘help’ but I suspect it was mainly to keep me out of her way while she made The Cornbread. I can’t prove this, though. The kitchen was her domain and making hearty meals was her love offering to the large extended family I’d recently joined. So she’d allow my company, with one rule: I could help with anything but the cornbread.

I think I talked about it too much, pestering asking her for her recipe after the first time I tasted her version of cornbread. My husband, his brother, and a couple of other males in the family had this practice of cutting around and eating the crunchy outer edge of the round cake, slathered with thick butter. They’d descend like locusts and in one quick motion leave again with nothing left but the middle for those too shy to line up first or too naive to understand where the best pieces came from. I was both. I never got the outer edge, but the middle was heaven on a plate. “Hey, Lorna (Grannie to everyone else), I can help you with the cornbread,” was pretty much how I greeted her on the occasions we could visit. “No thank you”.

Oh, sure, she did tell me the ingredients. And I know enough about baking that I can guess in what order they are mixed in. I still chuckle now, thinking back on it , how she always managed to have her back turned to me when she was making the batter. To this day, I still believe she added something extra, some special ingredient no one knows about, when she knew I couldn’t see. My husband says it’s love, but I’m not buying that. There was something else, too, I just know it! But it wasn’t mine to know. And the sooner I accepted that, the better I’d be.

You prepare a table for me before my enemiesPsalm 23:5

I wonder if that’s also how it is with God, as He prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. Does He hold something back, out of our eyesight, because we don’t really need to know everything He has planned? When God prepares, He does not share the full recipe with us, does He? He prepares our future His way, in His timing.  He’s under no ‘obligation’ to tell us what goes into His preparations, either. And yet, the prophet Amos tells us: Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7) So what really is going on here?

You prepare a table for me before my enemiesPsalm 23:5

Image result for ancient israel hospitality

The Hebrew verb for prepare is ‘arak.  It describes arranging, ordering and preparing.  Biblical scholar Skip Moen, PhD. says ” When we seek God and His ways, He engineers our lives so that they display the order He wishes, even in the presence of those who stand against us.  Wisdom calls us to “forsake folly and live.”  God invites us to the same table.  Let Him do the organizing, and the meal you will be served will bring you life.”

Preparing a table in ancient Israel was a sign of hospitality and also part of legal and political agreements between friends and allies, never between enemies.  The the meal that God prepares is not for the enemies.  It’s for the one who is in relationship with the Great Host, God Himself.  He’s signifying that even amidst enemy threats, there remains a covenant commitment between Himself and the guest at the table. Because of Who the host is, the guest is guaranteed safety.

The Hebrew word for enemies is tsarar, a root word that means “to show hostility toward.”  In some forms it takes on the nuanced meaning of being bound, distressed, hemmed in, confined and troubled.  We live this experience, don’t we? I sure do! I know there are enemies from without and enemies from within. Even in the absence of outside enemies I am not free if I have a distressed and bound heart.  Same for those in my family.

I think of all the nourishing meals I fed my Russian-born sons, from the time we brought them to our family until when they moved to their own places. Yes, they had regular meals; they could eat to their body’s satisfaction. My table is anything that I desired to give them – a sense of permanency, love, belonging, family, as well as actual food on the table. But a heart that is distressed and bound up in memories of lack leaves the table unsatisfied. My table in the presence of their enemies (the trauma, abuse, and neglect they suffered) is sparse.  

But when God prepares a table, it satisfies, even in the presence of those things that would prevent my receiving of His bounty.  I can’t make God’s cornbread because I am bound, confined and constrained.  He’s not even going to ask me because He knows I can’t help; I am tied up with my enemies within.  So God invites me to watch Him work, then I feast at the King’s own table, prepared by His own hand, for me. Those at His table feast with Him, even while “enemies” look on. Clearly, love is His special ingredient.

What enemies do your children from hard places face, which makes it difficult for them to be satisfied with your table? What enemies are you facing, making it difficult at God’s table? Will you stop trying to season God’s bounty with your own preferences, will you take your hand off the spoon in the cornbread bowl and just let God prepare His table? I’m going to try, too.

Here’s where I’m struggling, who can relate, and who wants to talk about it together?

I’ve been blogging again. Those of you who have signed up for updates in your email in-box, or who frequent the Facebook Page and can read when a new one is published, already know this. I’ve been posing every Wednesday and restraining myself from daily posts. I know mine is not the only one you read. Oh, but there is so much to say.

So, it’s not that I have suddenly found new time to say that things I want to say, or a stronger voice to say them. It’s that I now think I have something worth while to say.

I’ve been much more inclined to share things along the lines of ‘hey fellow adoptive or foster parent: let me tell you about the standard we should aspire to’. But when I read that kind of information from others, it leaves me wanting more. Only having information in the theoretical, rather than lived experience doesn’t seem to be enough of a motivator for me to change, when I realize I need to change in some area. Lately, I’m drawn to hearing about the real experiences of people just like me; people who blow it, but God redeems it. And I’m compelled to be one of those who are willing to share my own struggles from a more vulnerable position. Here’s where I’m struggling, who can relate and who wants to talk about it together?

This shift started subtly during the process of writing my book The God Who Adopts: Grafting, belonging and the journey toward attachment. Still yet to be finished. I thought I had said all there was to be said in that book several months ago and had literally sent it off to the self-publisher. They were doing final line edits on it and designing the cover when I realized that it needed to be more than what I was making it. And I think I’ve added 10,000 more words to it sprouting from my own personal experiences, rather than detached information.

Want to read a excerpt from the introduction?

God’s lessons to me came through the heartache of being a mother to sons struggling to attach to their new family. In sometimes horrifying and yet always liberating precision, God cut through the walls and barriers I’d build up over the years that prevented me from experiencing the abundant life that a daughter of God should have with her heavenly, adopted Father. It was easy to see the difficulties that my boys had in accepting their new positions as sons in our earthly family. Their behaviors spoke volumes. With their actions I knew they still thought of themselves as orphans, unattached.  What had not been so clear, until God pealed back the deception, was that my own fleshly push-back against my place in His family echoed my sons’. My own actions betrayed the secret, kept even from myself, of my own precarious attachment to God.  Oh, sure, intellectually I agreed to the truth that as God’s child I am being made new (2 Corinthians 5:17) and no longer outside the Covenant of God (Ephesians 2:12) in His family.

Mentally agreeing to truth like this is what I used to think was all that is necessary. Just believe in Jesus and receive eternal life (John 3:36) is what the preacher man on TV told me all those years ago. But behaviorally I didn’t always act like I really believed it down to the core of my being. So, did the verbal profession and mental agreement not ‘take’? We’ll talk about this more later, but God’s idea of believe means to act on that belief, not just mentally agree. It’s not enough for the orphan to read the new birth certificate which legalizes the parent-child relationship according to the laws of the land. It’s not enough to believe the legal paper grants inclusion to family. No, the mental truth of belonging (adoption) is held in storage as only potential energy until it is unlocked by action. The orphan must act on the truth of their new status. You can’t fake attachment. You can’t fake having a sense of belonging. At least not for long. Not when the trials come that really test the bond of trust. The child asks, “Do I really trust my new parents to be there for me, or do I need to hang on to some old survivals behaviors, just in case?” That is the unspoken question being asked underneath a lot of ‘bad behavior’. Just in case has no place in attachment. It has no place in the life of the son or daughter of God. But there I was, seeing the just in case behaviors of my sons and living my own just in case with my God.

***

I think, from time to time, I’ll post most excerpts from the book. And I would love to hear your comments. Here’s where I’m struggling, who can relate, and who wants to talk about it together?