When We Say “I’m Not Called to That”

You know when you think you’ve got it all figured out? Like I have this exact idea of how I should live and should treat people and what I should do with my dang life. And I feel very confident in it. Even though I know some people are just very extreme, a little radical, which is so awesome and I LOVE that for them… that’s not really MY thing. I don’t need to live like that because I wasn’t CALLED to that. Living like that, like how they are a little bit crazy and a lot intense and TOTALLY different than “normal” people, THAT is a specific, individual calling. I was not called to that. I was “called” to live exactly as I am …. just normally. Like normal people do.

I like to do normal things. I am very comfortable with my family of 5, being a normal mom, going to the park and to church, living simply, smiling at people and stuff. I like the normalcy of our routine, with our bible studies and our playdates. I love that I’m a lot like most people I meet — it helps us “connect.” We have so many things to discuss, because we are SO SIMILAR in our normalness. Normal is predictable. I like that.

So I was having a discussion with someone the other day. I was wondering aloud, “Now, I know you don’t have to put your family in unsafe territories to tell people about Jesus. But what if the opportunity presented itself? Do I choose to trust that God will protect us? Would I move my family into an unsafe place if I was asked to? Is that choosing faith over fear? Or is that just being irresponsible?” This brought up the whole idea of “callings” and how some people are “called” to that and some people are not.

Called. That’s a very tricky word right there. Here’s what I think about that word. Sometimes, I think we use that word as an excuse to not do scary things.

First off, let’s get this out of the way. God gave each of us different gifts. That is not only biblical but visibly clear just by walking into a school building — each child is different, each requires different things, each is talented in his or her own way. We are to use these gifts to bring people to Jesus. Some people are gifted speakers, others (oh hey, me) say really weird things when they pick up a microphone. Some people are gifted teachers of young children (Hi, mom!), others would rather swim in a pool of sour milk with their eyes open than go inside a room full of 5-year-olds.

We are like a puzzle, each our own intricate piece, each essential, each unique. If we use our gifts wisely, if we work together in our individuality, we can create something breathtaking, show God to the whole world. But God does not expect a corner piece to jam itself into the middle of the puzzle. That corner piece belongs in the corner. It does GREAT THINGS in the corner. We could not complete the puzzle without it, we don’t expect it to change its shape so that it will fit there.

But, just because we are all unique, that doesn’t mean we don’t all have one common goal: complete the puzzle. Reveal the image of God. Show the world His Face.

We all have gifts that are completely individual to us and we can turn those into callings that are completely individual to us. But we also have callings that are not specific to our talents. These callings were placed upon all of us, EVERY SINGLE ONE, whether or not we asked for them or felt confident in them, the exact moment we chose to follow Christ.

Like feeding the hungry.

Like taking in orphans.

Like watching after widows.

Like loving the unloveable.

Like giving money and time and FACE to the destitute.

Like telling people about Jesus and helping them see how life is better with him in it.

 

Most of these things feel weird when you are living normally, because they are probably not part of your regular routine. Like, I totally take care of hungry people when there is an event for hungry people. I would totally sign up for that. And old people are the sweetest. If my church is going to the nursing home, count me in!

But what if our calling isn’t to do add that into our normal lives. Like on the side. I’ll have a serving of normal with a little dash of extraordinary on the side. What if our “calling” was for THAT to be our MAIN DISH? What if our everyday consisted of these things? What if it wasn’t out of the ordinary? Wouldn’t that create the most beautiful picture?

 

Normal is exactly where Satan would have me be. There is nothing threatening about normal. Normal is VERY SAFE. Normal is so comfortable. I can tie normal up with a nice, tidy bow and kiss it on the forehead because it’s JUST. SO. SWEET.

But miraculous things just don’t happen if I surround myself with normal, comfortable, safe things. Miraculous things do not happen unless I am willing to RISK. Unless I’m willing to sacrifice my comfort. My normal.

I don’t know what my specific calling is. I do know this though: we are all called to be RADICAL, extreme, CRAZY. We are NOT “called” to be normal.

When Your Family is Your Idol

Are we giving our kids any opportunity to actually SEE GOD WORK? In all of our protecting and in all of our keeping them separate what if we are not only protecting them from all the bad but we are preventing them from ever seeing God DO ANYTHING GOOD. They never experience any moments that make them say, “HOLY CRAP. Did you just see that? This God is AMAZING. Heck yes I believe!”

A couple of years ago, I was driving to my parents’ house down a neighborhood street. Charlee and Hattie were in the backseat, whining I’m sure. As we approached my parents’ street, I noticed a dark-skinned elderly woman, probably in her 80’s, walking down the street the same direction as us. In each arm, she toted a grocery bag, presumably from the convenient store a couple of blocks back. She was noticeably exhausted, walking with a limp, pausing ever few feet to catch her breath.

Since we were going pretty slow, I had a good 30 seconds to make a decision. She clearly needed a ride. Buuut I had my 3-year-old and 1-year-old in the car with me. What if she’s dangerous? What if that’s not really milk in her bag but a bomb? What if she’s pretending to walk with a limp but she’s actually a 25-year-old man in disguise? I have kids in the car. My kids’ safety always come first.

And I passed her. You guys. I passed an 80-year-old woman with a limp carrying two bags of groceries. Because of my kids.

Thankfully, God grabbed me by the neck and screamed, “ARE YOU SERIOUS??? Turn around, woman. She is 80 years old. Turn. This. Car. A. Round.”

I ashamedly swung a U and invited her into the passenger seat. She was so grateful and so precious. I took her about a half-mile down the road to a little shack, couldn’t have been much bigger than my living room, the grass taller than my kids. She gushed her thank-yous and crept to the door.

That was the first time I realized I loved my kids more than I loved Jesus. More than I loved bringing his Kingdom down to this Earth.

That was the first (but not last) time I realized my family was my idol.

 

 

Isn’t the gospel the story of a man who lived in the middle of an affluent neighborhood and hung out with mostly Jews? I mean, he was still pretty nice to the Gentiles, but wouldn’t have pursued a deep relationship with them. Isn’t it about how he REALLY loved all the religious people who went to church all the time? They were his faves. And I’m pretty sure he tried not to associate with too many people who would “ruin his witness”?

Or is it about a man who that calls for us to SELL OUT. Sell everything. Leave our family. To LOVE HIM MORE than our mother, father, sister, brother. More than our FAMILIES. To not let anything get in the way of spreading this incredibly GOOD news. To make fishers of all men, not just our own men.

What does it mean to raise children, to grow a family, in light of THAT kind of gospel?  When my instincts scream, “COME HERE LITTLE FAMILY! EVERYONE JUST HUDDLE TOGETHER SO THAT WE CAN BE SAFE FROM ALL THE BAD, SCARY THINGS!!” and I just want to tuck them under my wing and protect them from the whole world.

 

Should I protect them from all the outsiders, the no-gooders, the “least of these”? Should I shield them from the destitute, the addicted, the desperate? Should I just surround them with “Christian” people who listen to “Christian” music and send them to “Christian” camps?

Raising children can be terrifying, not only because this world is scary and the responsibility is HUGE but because at some point in the last couple of decades, Christian parents got the formula wrong. Kids aren’t buying it anymore. Why are young adults leaving the church in droves? What did we miss?

Maybe, they realized they couldn’t believe in something they’ve never seen. And maybe, just maybe, they’ve never seen God. Sure, they’ve seen church. They’ve seen praise bands. They’ve seen Bible Bowls. They’ve seen preachers. But they’ve never actually seen God. How could they? They’ve been tucked under our wing the whole time.

Are we giving our kids any opportunity to actually SEE GOD WORK? In all of our protecting and in all of our keeping them separate what if we are not only protecting them from all the bad but we are preventing them from ever seeing God DO ANYTHING GOOD. They never experience any moments that make them say, “HOLY CRAP. Did you just see that? This God is AMAZING. Heck yes I believe in Him!”

 

On our way to my parents’ house that day, Charlee rattled off question after question about that sweet old woman. Who was she? Why did we pick her up? What was wrong with her? Why didn’t she have a car?

I got to explain to her that this is what people do when they follow Jesus. Sure, we’d read bible stories about it. We had talked about taking care of people who needed help. But that was the first time she got it. That was the first time it meant something to her.

And I’d almost let it pass me by. For her. Because I’d rather her be safe than saved.

Orphan Sunday

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

Yesterday was Orphan Sunday which is one of those Sundays you hope doesn’t come around while you’re uber-hormonal. I’m sure I had those around me wondering if I’d been orphaned based on the emotional outpouring I displayed. Not an orphan. Just pregnant. I left with a headache from clenching my jaw to hold in the sobs.

Orphan Sunday is also one of those uncomfortable Sundays that makes you squirm a little in your seat or tempt you to crawl under the pew and hide, for fear that the preacher is going to suddenly make eye contact and shout, “YOU! Have you run out of excuses yet?” Because really, hardly any of us have a very good excuse.

There are so many ways to look after orphans other than adopting or fostering. But when it comes to fostering a child, there seems to be one common, acceptable excuse: “I could never do that. I wouldn’t be able to give them back. It would be too hard. I couldn’t handle it.”

I used to think this same way. But if we can be honest for a second, can we admit that this is just an excuse for our own fear and selfishness?

Let me tell you about Katy and Jonathan.

Katy and Jonathan decided a couple of years ago to begin the process of fostering-to-adopt. When they received their first phone call, their own boys were 4 and 2. They had signed up to take one child, preferably 0-12 months. The social worker on the other end of the line was asking that they take two children, 2 (2 months younger than their youngest) and 15 months. 0 for 2 on that one. Committed to keeping the siblings together and feeling God’s urging, they said yes. A few months later, the mom had another baby. To make a long story short, a year later, after an attempted and failed reunion with mom, Katy and Jonathan now have five kids 5-years and under in their three-bedroom house.

And it’s been hard. Having five small children, three of whom are not your own and need you in a different and exhausting capacity is backbreaking, soul-searching, cry-out-to-God kind of day-to-day work. And there’s a chance they might go away again. And that will also be hard, just as it was the first time and the second time. The chaos will be replaced by a heart wrenching, questioning, haunting kind of stillness. The absence will soon be filled up with new faces that will require fresh, uncalloused love.

Now, don’t tell me that Katy thinks this is easy. Don’t tell me that she doesn’t question God both in the mayhem of five and the unsettling quiet of two. To say that we can’t do it because it would be too hard for us, that our hearts are just too soft, that we would love those children just too much, discounts every tear she has cried in the name of those babies. If it’s not too hard for her, it’s not too hard for us. We are no better or more feeling or more loving than she is. So let’s stop telling ourselves WE are not able.

Katy would be the first to tell you that she, alone, on her own two-feet is not able. She isn’t capable of making it through every day of every tantrum, of every phone call, of every parent meeting, of every drop-in visit, of every load of laundry (can you imagine?). She decided a long time ago that her flesh was worthless. But she believes God called her and her husband to this and promised them that they would not have to do this alone.

Valid reasons do exist. I am not saying we are all supposed to do exactly what Katy and Jonathan have done. But I am saying that if “I would love those children too much to let them go” is your reason not to, maybe that’s not a good enough one.

Don’t we want someone willing to invest their whole heart in these children? Don’t we want THAT kind of person to take on such a harrowing responsibility? Wouldn’t we want those raising them up to be so captivated by them that they were devastated upon separation? The kind that would love them like they were their own? That would share with them the love of Christ so that at least in one way, they would no longer be orphans?

As a fellow non foster or adoptive parent, allow me to step off my soap box and hypocritically ask that you stop making excuses, pray earnestly, and listen with an unbiased heart.

Loving too much, having a bleeding heart for these kids, these are reasons to DO something. Not excuses not to.

So please. Take a note from Katy. Love them too much. Cry when they leave. Your heart will surely break. But more importantly, that child’s heart will be filled by those tears. By the realization that he is wanted, known, cared for. That finally, she is loved.

** To follow Katy and Jonathan’s journey and read some raw, genuine thoughts on faith and fostering, visit themitchellmob.blogspot.com. **

My Utopian Marriage

Clark and I, like most engaged couples with responsible parents, were encouraged to go to pre-marital counseling before our big day. I remember taking that test that diagnoses problem areas within the relationship — a way to pinpoint what needs to be discussed during each session. We had one problem area: that we had no problem areas.

Our counselor told us that we had something of a utopian complex, a “rose-colored glasses” syndrome. He feared we might naively skip into our marriage thinking it would be a lot easier than it actually would be. We assured him that we were prepared, that we knew this was going to be very hard, that just because we got along really well right now didn’t mean we always would. We weren’t unrealistic about the difficulty of marriage. We understood. Seriously. We were good.

But it ended up actually being perfect. We never had any problems.

Wait…. no.

“Stop. Just stop. Shut the H up. No you don’t.” Surely that would have been the appropriate thing for the counselor to say to us in that moment. Surely that’s what he wanted to say. Why didn’t he say that?

Because it wouldn’t have mattered. It is impossible to understand marriage before you are married. It is impossible to watch funny YouTube parodies on what couples fight about, to experience the ebbs and flow of your parents’ relationship, to walk through divorce with friends or family members, to see the tears of desperation from an unhappy spouse, and understand. Because no matter what, “We are different.” Or so you think.

I remember when we were dating, thinking, “Oh my gosh. We are SO similar. It’s crazy how alike we are.”

Then we got married, and I was like, “Um. He tricked me.”

Here’s the truth. When you get married, you are entering a battlefield. But you are up against an adversary much greater than your spouse.

Satan hates marriage. If he can destroy a healthy marriage, all the collateral damage is his to watch and smirk at. The effects of a failed marriage are much more far-reaching than just the spouses, or even the children. Its crumbled ruins tumble onto communities and schools and friends and faiths. From its ashes rise the lesser known Fruits of the Serpent: resentment, discontentment, anger, bitterness. It destroys faith in people, faith in marriage, faith in healthy relationships, and most importantly, faith in God.

This marriage deal sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? That’s the kicker. It totally is. All The Hard — the not-getting-your-own-way, the “intense discussions,” the crying, the pit in your stomach — it’s worth it. Because The Hard ends up being the heartbeat of your marriage. It’s the part that restores your faith in changed hearts and transformed people — and I’m not talking about my spouse, I’m talking about me. God turns The Hard into grace, compassion, patience, understanding. He turns “This is impossible” into “I am so thankful for him.”

So it’s hard. Don’t do it if you aren’t determined to make it work from the beginning. Because, did I mention it’s hard? But there are ways to help it function a little better. These are a few principles I wish I’d realized a long time ago.

You have to care more about your spouse (and your spouse’s needs) than you do about yourself (and your own needs). Deny yourself. Deny yourself. Deny yourself. This works really well when you both put this into practice.

Your spouse is not your enemy. So stick it to the real enemy by not giving up on your spouse.

If you keep complaining about what he/she is or is not doing, check yo self before you wreck yo self. Maybe you could change a few habits or do a few nice things first.

He wants respect. She wants to be taken care of. If there’s a vicious cycle of not offering respect because he won’t show affection (or vice versa) … find a way out. Quickly.

Prioritize. Your relationship with your spouse should be numero dos, only behind that with your heavenly father. Not your kids, not your parents, not your friends. Did I mention, not your kids? Your honey always, always comes first.

Pray like your marriage is ending, even before it is. Like, right now.

Marriage counseling is not a last-ditch effort. There is no marriage that is too healthy or too dysfunctional for a third-party. Best thing we ever did.

I hesitate to even post this because it might lead you to believe that I know a lot (or THINK I know a lot) about this topic. Trust me, I know I don’t. I’m still a rookie.

Obviously, we haven’t been married for 50 years, and we probably haven’t hit the biggest bumps in our road.  The only think I know is that the warfare against marriage is unrelenting. BUT, “…BUT thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 15:57-58.