Friday, July 19, 2013

Here I go!

Sometimes things happen in ways you never expected.

Let me explain.  Last year in Bible Quizzing, I studied, worked hard, and competed as well as I could.  I tried so hard to place into the top five so I could go to the Internationals meet.

When they announced the results, I was sixth. By a difference of 0.64.  When your score is in the 70s, that is a tiny amount.  Yet, through an amazing set of circumstances, God allowed me to go, and with one of my best friends.  It was a wonderful experience.

But that doesn't mean it was easy.  I was so excited to make the team that I studied for hours and as my friend said, I "put my life on hold" until the competition was over.

For reasons I still don't understand, the competition did not go as I had planned.  Okay, that is quite an understatement.  I did not get one question at the meet.  For you non-Bible-quizzers, that essentially means that I was not able to help my team.  I still don't know what held me back.

At that time, I experienced a large amount of self-doubt and guilt.  I questioned the abilities I thought I had and I felt guilty for taking a spot on the team and not being able to contribute on the competition side.  I felt guilty that my parents and I spent a large amount of money to send me to a competition and have me fail.  I asked God why, and I wondered if I had misread his guidance.  Maybe it had not been his will for me to go at all.

As hard as it was for me, that time taught me trust in God.  I learned to look past my insecurities and feelings of failure and realize that his plan is great and he is bigger than any of my little problems.

Anyway, after Internationals was over, I thought that the impact of it had left me. I thought I could go on as I had before.  But the insecurities still haunted me.  While I didn't realize it at the time, part of the reason I wanted to lead my own team at a lower level was because, deep down, I didn't believe I could compete at a top level anymore.  All year, I said that I wasn't going to try for Internationals again.  I convinced myself and others that I would be too busy, wouldn't have time to study, and wouldn't do as well.

I decided to try to go to the invitational meet, Great West, because I enjoyed spending time with my friends.  During the meet, I said things like:

"I'm not going to Internationals this year.  Maybe next year"

"I can't imagine quoting the whole material."

"I've heard stories about the camp; I definitely don't want to go."

I think God must have been looking down and laughing at my ideas about what were going to happen. It seems like every time I think I know what is going to happen or I think I have it all together, God flips me around and shows me a bigger plan.

Two weeks after the above statements, I was quoting the whole material.  One week after that, I placed third onto the internationals team.

I am so thankful that God took me on this path.  I have seen so many of my friendships grow during practices and our various emails micro-managing every minute of this event.

There's another side to this too. At the event, I will be playing five piano pieces; I will be accompanying my team, in front of a lot of people.  Although it may seem silly, I have always been really nervous when I play piano in front of people.  I will be facing my fear, and hopefully my team will sing really loud in case I mess up :)

I know that God brought me to Internationals last year for a reason.  And I know that this year he will have great plans for me as well.  As I go, I know that he is with me as I face my stage fright and the memory of my "failure" last year.

Yet, now I don't consider last year to be a failure at all.  When we are in God's plan, nothing can truly be a failure.  When we make mistakes, He forgives us.  When things are hard, He grows us.  And when things go wrong, He sustains us.

How great is our God.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Five Truths About Adoption

Okay, I think it's time I talked about the elephant in the room. 

Three and a half years ago, my family adopted two kiddos from Ethiopia in Eastern Africa. As a big sister, I have seen in many ways what adoption is really like.  Since I'm not even the parent of an adopted child, I don't claim to have all the answers. There are some things I've learned along the way, though, some misconceptions I've noticed, that I want to share with you. 

1. Adoption is not simply a decision; it is a calling. 

One thing I've read about adoption over and over is that adopting a child can't be about you.  It can't be about how it would be good for your kids to have a playmate or how it would be good to finally have a child. It has to be foremost for the Lord, in obeying his call on your life, and it also has to be for the child you are adopting.  Now, I want you to understand, I don't claim to be perfect.  My family did have hopes and dreams about how these kids would fit into our family, but that wasn't the most important part.  God called us to do this, so no matter what happens, we will see it through. 

2. If you don't want to know about the pain and suffering in the world, don't adopt. 

Sorry, I had to be blunt with this one.  Hearing what my little siblings have gone through and seeing the effect of it in their lives has shown me what is really out there.  These kids have seen more trouble and pain than some people do in their entire lives.  Before adopting, I was your typical naive somewhat-self-centered American Christian teenager.  After bringing them home, and while we're still in the middle of this adoption journey, I can see myself changing.  When I realize what they have gone through, it puts my petty frustrations in the right perspective.

3. Whether you like it or not, adoption will change you. 

Simply put, adoption is hard.  But more than that, it is a great teacher.  Adoption has taught me so much about unconditional love.  Real love, not just warm-fuzzies, but an active love that continues even when the other person fights against it. 

 I have learned about patience, both being patient with behavior and being patient while waiting on the Lord to see him move.  

I have learned about faith, about praying and trusting that even when we can't see it, the Lord is working here.  

I have learned what family really means—not just living together, but struggling, working, and praying together. I have learned about grace, mercy, and love that covers over a multitude of sins

4.  Adoptive children will have a different mindset than birth children.

When I and the next three of my siblings were born, my parents were teaching us from day one.  We learned that lying was bad and obeying was good and that doing what Mommy and Daddy said made God smile.  We learned that Mom and Dad can be trusted, that home is a safe place, and that our parents will always love and protect us.  

But our two littlest ones did not have this from birth.  Many times, they were left to figure it out for themselves.  When a child is left to their own devices, and when their world is turned upside down, their inclination is to take care of themselves.  

And who wouldn't feel this way?  For a child who was not having their needs meet, making sure that they got the essentials of life became a priority.  Along with this need to take care of yourself came a need to feel in control.  We all feel this way sometimes.  When everything is falling apart, we ask God "why?" All we want is to have that job again, to see that person be healed and be able to fix the situation.  

So once we understood this difference in mindset, we had to start working on it.  How can you teach a child who has struggled to care for themselves that caring for others is more important?  How do you teach a child that parents can be trusted when the adults in their life have only let them down?  

I think this is one of the biggest struggles.  When a child starts exhibiting the right behavior, we automatically assume that their mindset must be in the right place as well.  This is not always the case. 
Behavior is sometimes easier to change than a frame of thinking. 

5. Adoption is full-time ministry.

When I was 10 or 11 years old, I remember my mom asking me why I wanted us to adopt.  I replied that I thought it would be a great ministry for our family.  My mom told me that it could be a ministry at first, but then they would just be part of our family. 

But the truth of it is, adoption is full-time ministry.  It is going out into all the world, by bringing the world into your home.  It is serving the least of these, by bringing the least of these into your home. It is caring for the widows and orphans, by bringing the orphans into your home.  

I know for some families, the adopted child has a fairly easy transition, but for us and for many others, this was not the case.  When you enter into the ministry of adoption, you are signing up to love, to care for, to help this child, for as long as it takes.  It means listening to their stories and realizing where they are, and then helping them to move past that place.  Adoption is serving the Lord in a very tangible way— by caring for his children.  

Thursday, July 4, 2013

For His Glory

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
{1 Corinthians 10:13}

I can't remember exactly where, but a little while ago, I read a blog post from a girl who was struggling with the idea that she wasn't doing enough for God. She spoke about feeling that the things she was doing, however important, didn't have enough "God activities."

Do you know what I mean?  When I see my friends going on mission trips and entering into spiritual ministry, I wonder if my efforts are enough for God.  Am I doing the right things?  Should I be giving up my job, schoolwork, and career plans to enter into a field of ministry? 

But when I step back and take a look at my life, I realize the flaw in my thinking: 

I don't have to do 'enough,' because Jesus already did it all.  I don't have to worry if I'm doing enough to satisfy God, because He looks at Jesus's perfection and covers over my sin. *Big sigh of relief*

This blog post I read went on to share how the girl had found contentment and peace in her life by simply striving to do what the verse above says, to do everything for the glory of God.  Anything can be turned into an opportunity to serve God and others when we enter into it with the right mindset.

When I think about it this way, parts of my life that perhaps seemed frivolous or not about God can become an opportunity to show his love. 

Working on homework can becomes a way I can further my education in order to serve others later as an American Sign Language interpreter.

Teaching swim lessons is not just a job or a way to make money, but a way to invest in the lives of children and teach them useful skills.

Going to Bible Quizzing events becomes a way to review the Bible knowledge I have and a way to invest in the friendships I have there.

Playing dolls with my sister is not just a means of entertainment, but also a way to show her that I love her and care about her by spending time with her. 

And because I am trying to do everything for the glory of God, I will try my hardest to be kind, calm, and not paranoid about the fireworks today, even though they scare me terribly.  

Happy Fourth of July Everybody! 

And when you hand that four-year-old a sparkler (more commonly known as a "stick of fire"), please keep an eye on them so they don't set their sister's jacket on fire (personal experience :).