"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)

Monday, November 26, 2012

An adoption story

Today is our daughter Katie's golden birthday...26 years old on November 26! Happy birthday, Katie Marie!

God, in His wisdom, chose our family to be blessed through adoption. Shortly after our oldest daughter, Stephanie, was born, Steve and I found out we would not be able to have any more children. We were incredibly saddened by that thought, and discovered the pain, loss, and grief that secondary infertility (infertility after already having a child) brings. The death of any dream leaves an aching void. But as God so often does, He provided another way for our dreams to be fulfilled...His way. For us, this was through adoption.

We began the adoption process shortly after Stephanie turned two. During this time I read the advice to begin praying for the child who would become our own…and to pray for that child’s birthmother. So that’s what I did. I would often pray for “our child’s birthmother”—especially for that heart-wrenching decision she would eventually be faced with. At that time we had no idea when we would receive a child. Adoptive parents weren’t told in advance that a birthmother was contemplating placing her child with them. I had no name or face or idea about who I was praying for. But the woman who was nameless to me, was known intimately by God.

On December 23, 1986 (at 4:00 in the afternoon!), we received a phone call from the social worker at Bethany Christian Services that our baby daughter was available for adoption and could we come to the office at 9:00 the next morning? YES! Oh, the phone calls that went out that night! We called family and friends and joyfully told them the wonderful news. We were getting a BABY GIRL for Christmas! We scrambled to get some baby clothes together, stocked up on diapers, purchased formula, and who knows what else. It’s all kind of a blur. We didn’t get much sleep that night!

Finally, after 17 hours of “labor” (from the phone call at 4:00 the previous afternoon), Steve, Stephanie, and I went to the Bethany offices and soon brought home our baby girl. Right from the start Katie was bright-eyed and full of spunk. A joyous addition to our family…and an incredible start to the Christmas holiday! How fun to walk into church on Christmas morning with our TWO little girls. I even had a sweet older lady comment to me that she didn’t realize we were expecting. Joy, hope, peace, love. Dreams fulfilled. The message of Christmas.

Yet I was always aware of another mom who was intensely grieving that Christmas. A mom who left behind a precious infant daughter—and a very large part of her heart. My prayers continued for this other mom, whose daughter now became mine. It’s still hard for me to put into words our gratitude for her unselfish act of love. I believe that the only One who can truly comprehend the magnitude of releasing a child for adoption is our Heavenly Father. He gave His son, Jesus, as the ultimate sacrifice. So as I prayed for Michelle (Katie’s birthmom), I knew that God fully understood her heart. 

Fast-forward 26 years…and as is typical in most families, we’ve had our ups and downs. But we went through these years knowing and trusting the One who was holding our family together. I’ve always found deep assurance in knowing that God put our family together. From the beginning of time He purposed that Katie (and later Kyle) would join our family by adoption, just as He purposed for Steph to be born to us. He chose two brave, strong women to do what most would find an impossible act of love and trust.

A passage in Scripture that became especially meaningful to me during our children’s growing-up years is Acts 17:26. “From one man He (God) made every nation of men that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” 

There’s no happenstance, coincidence, or “luck of the draw” in God’s kingdom. We are placed on this earth at this time and in this exact place because God has determined it. What a joy to know He took such great care in putting our family together!

Katie’s world enlarged greatly a few years ago when she was able to get acquainted with her birth family. In addition to her birthmother, she discovered another sister, brother, set of grandparents, and a host of uncles, aunts, and cousins! How fun for all of us to be able to meet them and get to know them. God is so big, so wise, so amazing.

So Katie, happy birthday dear daughter! And Michelle, my daughter’s first mother, thank you from the bottom of my heart.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

When God says, "Halt!"

The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. Then Jesus said, "Let's go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile." He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn't even have time to eat. So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone."  Mark 6:30-32 

I recently read through the memoirs of my Grandpa Gritters. My grandpa was an active minister for over 50 years. In 1982, at the age of 76, he wrote his memoirs— apparently excerpted from the many diaries he kept throughout the years. My dad asked if I would be willing to retype these memoirs since the ink of the old typewriter Grandpa used was starting to fade. I’ve so enjoyed reading Grandpa’s words.  He was a born story-teller! As I read his long-ago penned words, wonderful memories flooded my mind. I could just picture the coziness of sitting on the couch with Grandpa and my brothers and sisters, listening to Grandpa weave a crazy tale, complete with the scent of pipe tobacco and peppermints!

Here’s a small excerpt from my grandpa’s memoirs:

"Halt," said the Lord. "HALT!" A strange thing happened. My study was suddenly moved from our house to the hospital in Pipestone. Who ever heard of such a thing? I had long been bothered by something, a sort of stomach trouble which just did not go away. Various doctors in various places had diagnosed it as one thing or another, but nothing brought relief. In Pipestone the doctors said that it was pancreatitis (big word, but it meant trouble with the pancreas). But it was not that. Anyway, I was in the hospital for five days in mid-December of 1961. During this time I felt quite well, and I didn't have to lie prone abed...I could get up. At this time I was barely acquainted with my church. I got into thinking: "How can I best be a blessing to this people?" Mom, who visited me three time every day, brought me a notebook and pencil. And I wrote down what goals ought to be achieved and how I would best reach them. What work must be emphasized, and how to get at that work. Then I would fall asleep again. Had some food...talked with visitors...and then back to this business of goals again until the nurse ordered "lights out." In that sense, room 105 in the hospital became my study." (Rev. Martin Gritters, 1961)

Grandpa wrote these words shortly after beginning his pastorate in Pipestone, MN. He and Grandma moved there in October of 1961, and apparently Grandpa became ill in December. As I was typing these precious words of my grandpa (“Halt,” said the Lord, “HALT…”) I had to chuckle to myself. This was just vintage Grandpa! Then it brought to mind one of the lessons God has been teaching me in my personal study of Jonah. 

A spiritual discipline God has been calling me to explore and practice is that of solitude and silence. Ruth Haley Barton’s book, Sacred Rhythms, speaks to this important discipline. She defines solitude as "a place in time that is set apart for God and God alone, a time when we unplug and withdraw from the noise of interpersonal interactions...” Barton goes on to say, “Silence deepens our experience of solitude, because in silence we choose to unplug not only from the constant stimulation of life in the company of others but also from our own addiction to noise, words and activity.” (Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms, p.32). In silence and solitude we are given space to notice God’s presence and to respond to it. The distractions of life are left behind and we can focus completely on God. In the quiet stillness, “God can come in and do what only God can do.” (p.41)  (To learn more about the spiritual discipline of solitude and silence, I would encourage you read Sacred Rhythms as well as An Invitation to Solitude and Silence, both by Ruth Haley Barton.)

As Jonah sat in the belly of the fish, I’m sure he not only spoke to God (we read his words in Jonah 2), but that God spoke to him. In the muffled quiet of the deep, God had Jonah’s undivided attention. Spending time alone with God in silence and solitude is so important to God that sometimes He resorts to some pretty interesting methods to get our attention. When Jonah was running away from the job God asked him to do, God provided a very unique way for Jonah to be still and listen. When my grandpa was busy, busy, busy with his ministry, God gave him no choice but to ‘halt.' Before moving to Pipestone, Grandpa had been struggling for years with some deeply divisive church/ denominational issues and I can’t help but wonder if he was simply exhausted physically, emotionally, and perhaps even spiritually. As Grandpa spent several days in “hospital room 105,” I have a hunch God not only used that time for Grandpa to develop ministry goals, but also gave him some much needed rest for his exhausted body and soul. 

God invites us to a quiet place, too, away from the noise and commotion of life. As we enter the holiday season, and all the busyness and commotion that comes with it, how important it is to accept God’s invitation to sit quietly with Him. In the quiet, we can feel His presence and hear His voice whisper to our weary (and very busy) hearts. Shhhhhh. Be still and know that I am God.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

He's got this one!

  • "Is anything too hard for the LORD?” Genesis 18:14
  • “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.”  Jeremiah 32:17
  • “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?”  Jeremiah 32:27

I almost have to smile when I read the bookend verses that surround Jonah’s time in the belly of the fish.  After the sailors threw Jonah into the sea, we read this fun verse, “Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah.  And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1:17).  After Jonah spent three days and nights entombed in this huge fish (praising and thanking God for rescuing him), God decided it was time to let him go.  “Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.” (Jonah 2:10).

I just spent time on my knees praying and interceding for some people I dearly love.  Many of them are dealing with issues I couldn’t imagine dealing with.  Many others have not yet surrendered their lives to the Lord.  I’ve been pleading and praying for years for some of these loved ones, but haven’t seen the answers fulfilled yet.  Then I read verses like this and I’m struck by the fact that nothing, absolutely nothing is too hard for the Lord!  If He can arrange for a fish to swallow Jonah (without actually eating and digesting him!), I do believe He can arrange to bring a spiritually lost child home, or provide a perfect solution to an impossible situation.  Nothing is too hard for the Lord.  He can and will use whatever means He deems necessary to fulfill His perfect will.

It often seems like God is too slow to act, but as we grow in our faith we come to realize that God’s timing is perfect. “Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah.”  As Jonah was sinking into the heart of the sea—with seaweed wrapping around his head and his life slipping away (see 2:3-7), the Lord arranged for a great fish to swallow him.  I’m sure Jonah thought his life was gone.  If you read Jonah chapter two, you clearly hear his overwhelming thoughts as he sank down “to the very roots of the mountains.”  I’m sure being swallowed—and saved—by a fish was NOT the ending Jonah envisioned as the waters engulfed him.  He thought he was dead.  And indeed, he was close to death.  But God was not through with him yet.  He still had a plan and purpose for Jonah’s life.  So at the perfect time, God rescued him in a bizarre, but very effective way.  Now God definitely had his attention.  God wanted Jonah to go to Ninevah and after the fish spit Jonah out onto the beach, Jonah went!

What are you struggling with today?  Do you desperately love someone who is angry at God and is running the other way?  Are you angry at God and disillusioned with the way your life is unfolding?  Are you feeling overwhelmed by a situation that seems hopeless and out of control?  If you are sinking in a sea of despair, I would encourage you to call out to God as Jonah did.  He promises that “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” (Is. 43:2). Dare to dump your burdens on Him—He’s big enough to handle them.  He’s got this one.  Then keep your eyes open for His answers.  Just remember that His timing is often very different from our own, and that sometimes His answers come in totally unexpected ways. God's character is predictable, but His methods are not!

Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear. Isaiah 59:1

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Another life lesson from Jonah...

Jonah’s abhorrence for going to Ninevah was so strong he thumbed his nose at God and ran the other way.  And, just like Jonah, we often want to run the other way when we’re called by God to go someplace that makes us uncomfortable.  I think this is especially true when God invites us to step into the suffering life of a friend or acquaintance.

Why do we want to hide our heads in the sand when someone close to us is going through a time of intense suffering?  Why do we avert our eyes and look (run) the other way?  Are we afraid their pain will rub off on us?  Maybe we’re uneasy with such strong emotions—not only of our suffering friend, but also of our own emotions and allowing others to see them.  Or maybe we’re simply afraid of saying the wrong thing and adding to their sorrow.

As much as we would like, we can’t simply take ourselves out of the world and cloister ourselves in utopia (as if there were such a place).  We live in a broken world; one marked by sin and disease and mental illness and devastating storms and sexual abuse and the misuse and abuse of power… the list can go on and on.

So how do we love, and live, and work in the midst of such life?  What is our response to be, as Christ-followers?
Ephesians 6:10-20 focuses on the armor of God.  You’re probably familiar with this armor—the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit, and for shoes…the gospel of peace.

It is only after we buckle the gospel of peace to our feet that we are prepared to enter the world of suffering and chaos.   Then, as we step into our world, we bring with us the Good News, ready to share the hope and love of Christ to a broken and sinful world.  We bring His peace by loving and listening and encouraging and praying for those who are broken and shattered.

I saw this played out the other night.  A couple of my friends were made aware of a young lady who had threatened to commit suicide.  They immediately went to the hospital and offered hope and encouragement to her friend in the waiting room.  They were equipped with “the peace that comes from the Good News” and they were “fully prepared” to offer hope in the best possible way. 

Every day we splash around in the muck of this world.  Some days are better than others, and we don’t encounter anything too stinky.  But other days, we know we’ve stepped into something rotten.  The phone rings and your friend on the other end is sobbing and in shock because her precious dad suddenly died.  Or you listen to a friend recount horrific details of a sexual assault that took place years ago.  Or someone close to you accuses you of something of which you are innocent.  Or your family member who struggles with mental health issues comes unglued over an insignificant matter.  Or you simply read the paper or turn on the news and hear about famines, and storms, and starving children, and genocide, and human trafficking…atrocities of every color and stripe…the stinky muck of this sinful world.  In our human nature we want to avoid it at all costs.

But God calls us out.  He tells us that even though we are not “of this world,” we do live in this world, and it is our responsibility and privilege to show others the goodness of God.

“You are chosen…royal…holy.  You are God’s very own possession.  As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for He called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light.”  I Peter 2:9