oh, how he loves…ALL of us.

RL_EQUALITY

“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

It’s a song many of us sang throughout our childhood. The words come easily, the tune, naturally. We sang it. We believed it. We believed that Jesus loved everyone. But, did we learn to love everyone? Did we practice loving everyone? Do we? Now?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have turned 84 this year. Many Americans and non-Americans remember his “I Have a Dream” speech. These words come easily. Yet, the courage and acceptance that is needed to live out his anthem, doesn’t always come naturally.

When I read his speech through more grown up eyes and ears and mind and heart, the phrases and words stand out to me in different ways, new ways, simpler ways.

This is a speech about a person’s dignity, not just about a person’s skin color.

This is a speech about a person’s well being, not just about sharing a meal together or holding hands.

This is a speech about a person’s soul, not just about fighting for equal rights.

This is a speech about having the opportunity to bring forth life…in us, in a nation.

This is a speech about what God dreams for his world.

Dr. King’s speech was profound and stunning and inspiring and dramatic in its day, but there’s something even more profound and stunning and inspiring and dramatic in his speech for us, today.

We live in a time where seemingly there is more fear and insecurity and shame and pride and anger and despair and suffering than ever. “Slavery” was supposed to have ended in 1965, right? So why do so many people today still feel enslaved, held back, unseen, dismissed, discriminated against, judged? For some, yes, their reach for freedom is thwarted by institutional power and policies, but really, when it comes down to it, aren’t these feelings perpetuated, knowingly and unknowingly, by people – their words, their jokes, their smirks, their bumper stickers, their t-shirt logos, their Facebook posts, their sermons, their handbook rules?

Our values, our beliefs, our faith…they pour out of us, sometimes without even a thought or intent. We live in a nation that is “for” freedom and justice. Yet, our actions often times send the opposite message. We want people to value what we value, believe what we believe, be what we want them to be. Life would sure feel easier if they did. But, that’s not real life. We aren’t all alike. We all step into this world from different places, stories that have shaped us and made us who we are today. There are so many categories we put people in, are put in. They keep us separate, distant, disconnected. Boxes and categories and labels don’t produce freedom. They don’t sustain justice. They don’t create together-ness. They don’t promote equality.

So, we have a choice. We have a responsibility. We have an opportunity…to love…everyone.

May we feel a sense of “urgency” in our own homes, in our own towns, in our own country, to create in our own small ways, an environment, a space where people feel welcome, seen, heard, accepted, free…free to walk with dignity and goodness.

May we “refuse to believe” that bitterness or hatred or violence is a means to a just end.

May we face the injustice and unrighteousness and wickedness with “soul force.”

May we have the “discipline” to fight for people’s well being and humanity.

May we come to believe that “…their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And…that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”

May we, “not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

May we, “…be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together knowing that we will be free one day.”

Because, “…if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.”

No matter what skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, income or weight…“all men and woman are created equal.”

Jesus loves all the children of the world.

Note: Words and phrases in quotations come directly from Dr. King’s speech.

You can read Dr. King’s speech here.

You can read 2 other racism-related posts here and here.

 

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entering advent.

advent candles

The season of Advent has arrived. I’ve listened to and read some really profound words and perspective and I wanted to share them with you and invite you into this season in a fresh and life-giving way. I love sharing my favorite voices – the voices who speak into my soul and I’m grateful that I have such good ones surrounding me, near and far.

So, have a seat in your comfy chair, kick off your shoes, and just soak in these beautiful and powerful and soul-feeding words.

“An Advent Prayer” by Brad Nelson

“Come Lord, Jesus” by Troy Hatfield “in the hopes of recapturing the everyday connection of the season”.

“A Simple Advent Book” by Jen Wise at Restoration Living

May you come to hear and see and taste and know more of Jesus as you bear witness to him this season.

entering in.

So happy to introduce to you Tona Ottinger, an adoptive mama, an adoption advocate, a woman who seeks the beauty and hope in the world around her. I met her in my ever growing circle of adoption and have grown to love her heart for Jesus and her heart for what it means to parent the heart of her children. I’m confident you will be encouraged and inspired by what she has to share about “entering in” to the brokenness and beauty of story.

I like happy endings and packages wrapped in pretty bows. I like predictability and I grapple for control. I avoid pain whenever possible, trying instead to look on the bright side and think the best of everyone and all situations.

But that is not life. That is not relationships and it is certainly not reality. It is not living in the moment. When I choose to live in the moment, my heart is pushed to be honest. I am faced with a fallen and broken world, with shattered hopes and hurting people. I am forced to see the fractured pieces of lives affected by sin, evil, and suffering, including my own. The present is where my feelings are and where I should live. It is also where I hear the voice of the Lord and experience His presence and His peace that truly does surpass all understanding. He speaks, reveals, heals, and redeems in the present moment.

When we live in the moment, we are open and vulnerable to both pain and healing, to both fear and peace, to both sadness and joy, and to both loss and hope. When I focus too much on the past I get stuck. When I long too much for the future I am either paralyzed with fear of the unknown or lost in fairytale day dreaming about all the possible “what ifs.” But, I am not living with the joy and freedom of being present.

As a mom of four precious children through the gift of adoption, I have come to see that my children live in the present. Yes, they are affected greatly by the reality of their past and the loss, pain, and fear that weaves its hand through their stories. They are often very fearful of the future, but the healing they so desperately need happens moment by moment as we walk throughout our days. They are living and healing inthe moment.

They are longing for someone to cling to. Someone to trust. Someone to put their hope in and someone who will love them unconditionally, ultimately as Christ loves us. This is a tall order for a weak and fallen human to fulfill. I fail often. I make mistakes, and I am far from perfect. So I cling to His lavish grace. I need the same things they need from Him. So we are on a journey together. But that journey is lived taking one step as a time in the present moment. Where we all need grace, healing, trust, and compassion from our heavenly Father.

As their mom, I must be willing to enter into their pain and watch God heal and work. As much as I want to control, protect and rescue them, that is not what God has called me to do. That is His job. Please do not misunderstand me; I take very seriously the role that God has ordained for me and my husband within our children’s stories. We have the divine privilege of walking with them on their healing journey. God created the human heart and mind to operate inrelationship. That is where healing and hope reside. But, I cannot force this process and I must cling to Him as I wait.

Henry Nouwen says this about compassion:

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”

We are all broken and in that brokenness is the place where God’s redemptive hand creates great beauty. There can only be healing where there was pain. Peace can rush into the place that fear once took residence.

As God knits our families together through adoption, we are given a divine invitation to enter into our children’s lives with compassion and hope.

The human heart is sacred ground. There is power in sharing our stories and lives with one another. God created us as beings that are to live in community, with one another. We are, after all, made in Hisimage; the image of a triune God – One God in three persons. Relationship, community, family, life on life; this is how God created us to function. Together.

As an adoptive family we stand amazed that God in his infinite sovereignty searched the globe over and chose the 6 of us to live life together. None of us are related by birth or blood. None of us share an ounce of DNA, but we are a family.

We are a picture of his creative hand.

We are living life together.

We are loving deeply.

We are hoping in Him.

A song that speaks to Tona’s heart: Beautiful Things by Gungor

mo-tona1 ottingerkids

Tona Ottinger has been married to Mark for 15 years and they live in Tennessee, where Mark serves as the Pastor to Families at Fellowship Memphis. They have four blessings through adoption. Camden(12yrs) – came home from South Korea at 10 months old. Mia (11yrs) – was adopted domestically at birth. Mallie (9yrs) – was adopted from Hong Kong at the age of 3yrs. Dax (8yrs) – was adopted domestically at 4 months old. They are passionate about special needs adoptions as well as compassionately walking with their children through their stories. Together they head up a city-wide ministry that resources and supports adoptive and foster families, as well as several projects that support the local foster care system. The Ottingers are parent trainers for Empowered to Connect. Tona is passionate about living a hope-filled life of abiding in Christ and being fully known and loved by Him. You can follow Tona on her blog.

 

living wide. awake.

children know how to live awake The annoying beep, the “Wake Up Boo!” song, the iPhone trill, the crying baby…whatever it is your sleeping ears hear in the morning, you know it’s time to wake up, get moving, begin your day. For me, someone who loves her sleep and who is not the least bit a morning person, I dread that time – that time when you don’t choose to wake up, but rather feel forcedto wake up. I long to roll over, keep my eyes shut, curl up my legs, and shut the world out. It feels better that way.

Summertime…getting up is so much easier when the sun is shining, the schedules are more flexible, the obligations are minimal. But, as routines and agendas and deadlines roll around, like they do as the autumn air sweeps in, it can be a bit more challenging, feel a bit more daunting. School has started, homework’s gotten assigned, sports clamor for our attention, music lessons have begun, volunteer projects are calling, and work…the ever demanding daily necessity that brings home the bacon.

Autumn…a time when we’re in full swing; the hustle and bustle that requires organization and order and cooperation by all.

So, how can we step into this season, this autumn, with a sense of groundedness, connectedness (to ourselves and others), and sanity? How can we prevent the million things swirling around us from tempting us to get knocked off our feet and away from those we find most important, most valuable? How can we remain open to finding God, in both the seen and hidden places, where he wants to surprise us with more of himself?

Well, here are some places, some spaces, we could start from:

First, maybe you need to ask yourself, “How much do I want it?” We have to have something alive in us that wants the BEST – for ourselves, for our children, for our partners, for our teammates, for our colleagues, for our friends. I find that many people have lost the belief that living out of their best self is worth pursuing, worth doing. Sometimes, crazy schedules can keep us from having to address what’s inside of us, within our families, between our marriages. It’s kinda like this secret, yet publically acceptable, narcotic that can allow us to keep functioning, yet all the while, numbs us out. And then, we miss out. And, maybe even worse, the world misses out on us. The world needs you. The people around you need you. We don’t want the distracted, exhausted you, we want the alive and vibrant and true you. So, do you want your best self? Do you want othersto experience your best self? Maybe the first step before stepping into your schedule is finding you.

We gotta lay out the calendar. Our world has a lot of good experiences to offer and we have to make choices – choices that will bring out the best in us, in the people around us. Choices that bring value and life to our souls. We have a calendar on our fridge. It helps us visually organize our lives. We start with the most important and non-optional obligations…family time, date nights, guy/girl nights, daddy/mommy time, fun time, and then we fill in the optional options. Our over-arching themes are consistency, fluidity and flexibility – a rhythm that can sustain and complement the family that we are, in this season. As “really good” invitations arrive, like sports and classes and playdates and fun stuff – the extra stuff – we look at our week and month and make an effort to discern which additions would potentially disrupt our rhythm, and which additions are doable because it could enhance our short-term and long-term well being. We have to (get to) make choices of what to step into, commit to, based on our needs and abilities.

Have you ever thought about asking God what he wants to do in you each season, each semester, each year? I deeply believe that he longs for our spirit to be at rest. He didn’t create us to be machines, the energizer bunny, or people who jump through hoops trying to make everyone happy. He designed us with strengths and gifts to offer the world his love, through us, not to run ourselves ragged in an attempt to be the “good” Christian, the perfect parent, the over-achiever. He wants us to lean into our lives in ways that we can know more of him and in ways that allow us to be known byhim. Living stressed and over-committed and anxious will only move us away from our original design.

So, step back, get perspective, and take some time to evaluate you, your schedule, your ability. For some, living God’s best may mean stepping away from some really good and fun and stimulating opportunities. For others, it may mean stepping intoopportunities that will engage you in what’s good and fun and stimulating. Whichever way you choose to move, may it be in a way that allows you to live your life fully awake, so when your alarm goes off in the morning, you can trust that what you’ve committed to or signed up for is worth doing, and worth doing well.

Life…it’s not something we have to do, but get to experience.

“I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit. When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run. ”  (Henry David Thoreau)

A little reminder from Pure Michigan