Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Every day brave

My dear friend Rachel recently published a book whose themes are family, connection and courage. Knowing her as I do, I know that she writes from personal experience and about values to which she herself holds true. These are themes that are every bit as important to me too: what does it mean to show courage, not only in the extraordinary experiences of life, but also in the very ordinary moments?

(This is a fun photo from a wonderful holiday we shared with Rachel and her family in Morocco.)

Rachel and her crew recently relocated from Budapest to the United States, their passport nation. As anyone who has faced the challenge of 're-entry' knows, this sort of transition requires its own sort of bravery. Rachel kindly agreed to be a guest writer on the blog and here she shares her own experience of what it means to show up to your life with courage.

Today I am choosing to be every day brave. 

What is every day brave, you ask? In essence, it means standing courageously in the face of great challenge. Believing that on the other side of fear lies something better, something greater. It means living with grit and determination and a steadfast hope ... every single day. 

This past year has held tremendous changes for our family. With the addition of our daughter, we went from a family of three to four. We moved from Europe back to the US. I changed careers from a missionary to a novelist. 

In a funny way, my life up to this year looked far more courageous than it does now. While living for 7 years in Europe, I gained over 35 new stamps in my passport. I lost my first pregnancy on the mission field and then birthed 2 children there. I hopped trains and buses and planes every couple of weeks. I made Budapest my home. It was a wild, wonderful, stressful, grace-filled life. 

But this year has required a new level of bravery. This is the year God called us to move back to Seattle, to a city and country that felt more foreign to us than anywhere we had lived in Europe. We had grown comfortable with our expat lifestyle. The unknown felt more familiar than our own culture. 

A 2 book contract opened the door for me to pursue my dream career as a women’s fiction writer. My husband’s parents developed serious health issues. These changes cemented our move. We went home – to a place we barely recognized, to a new career path full of challenges and a steep learning curve, to doing the hard work of building a new community and life. We were obedient but it was so very tough. 

For the first month we held hands in the grocery store, overwhelmed by the choice of 20 kinds of tortillas, 12 varieties of apples stacked in gleaming pyramids. We didn’t know how to cope with the abundance, the excess. And I quickly found that I’d forgotten basic Seattle social cues, the cadence of conversation, what to share and what not to say. Too often I found myself sharing too much too soon only to be met with an uncomfortable smile and a stiff silence, even from good friends. I had to relearn the cultural rules of my home city, slowly, sometimes painfully. Every day required a choice. I gritted my teeth and smiled and chose perseverance and a steadfast hope over and over again. Some days I cried ... more than once. 

In this past year of transition I have experienced so many marvelous open doors, acts of grace, and sheer miracles as we integrate once more into our home culture. I’ve also had my fair share of significant disappointments, challenges, and grief. But God has been faithful, and He has given me the chance to be faithful too. 

With each challenge and disappointment, with each new day, I am given a choice. Will I buckle in the face of struggle and opposition and the tough stuff of life? Or will I do the good, hard work of being obedient, being courageous, being strong? As this life transition continues day by day, I choose to be every day brave. 

What challenges are you facing right now in life? What does being every day brave mean to you? 


You can find Rachel on Facebook. Do check out her most recent book, Becoming the Talbot Sisters, as well as her first novel, Ascension of Larks.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

What I'm learning about Adoption

Ten years ago today, on a wet and wintry day in Cape Town, we brought home a little fuzzy-haired bundle who was to bring us even more joy than we expected or hoped. In that slightly surreal and deeply spiritual moment of receiving our daughter, we stepped into an experience of adoption that has changed, enlarged and taught us so much.

As a family, we decided to name 12 June, Manu’s adoption day, as Sisters’ Day. It is the day our two girls became sisters, the day that beautiful little bundle became the answer to Keziah’s prayers to have a sister. It is the day our family morphed into the four we are today. It is the day we said ‘yes’ to a deepening born of surrender, a willingness to be enlarged into a new understanding of what adoption, inclusion and belonging might look like.

In all the months leading up to that day, I had a vague sense that this was about something special. But it was a sense that was just out of sight; like when you become aware, before you can see them, that someone you love has entered the room. All I knew was that it felt weighty, it felt full of promise, it felt pregnant with meaning and profoundly godly.

Since that time, already a decade ago, I have moments when I stop to wonder at this miracle we are part of. I am a little leery of people who say, too easily it seems, that adoption is a way of expressing God in the world. It makes it somewhat 2-dimensional for me, as though we are like God and Manu is like crumpled humanity, rescued and redeemed by our benevolence. I would never put it that way. Together with her and her sister, we have all stepped into an experience of something that is other-worldly. No, it’s not that we live an extra-ordinary life - free of tantrums, messy bedrooms and overdue homework - rather that we live out something supernatural in the middle of our very ordinary lives.

What’s it all about, then?

Adoption is about inclusion
You know, I think somewhere deep inside each one of us we have the idea that we are alone. It might just be me, but I’ve interacted with enough people to guess that it’s most likely universal! For some people this manifests as a negative thing, like rejection or isolation, and for some as an apparently positive thing, like self-reliance or independence. It seems to me that this is a fundamental ‘bent-ness’ at the core of who we are.

The Spirit of God - the Spirit of Adoption - meets us in our aloneness and invites us into a place of inclusion. United with God - Father, Son and Spirit - we find ourselves no longer alone but included in a place of relationship, mutuality and love. In this place we find who we were meant to be, not alone but intimately and radically connected into the relational being that is God.

As I watch our adopted child live her life from a place of absolute assurance of her inclusion, it never fails to invite me to enter more deeply into the inclusion that is mine - ours - within the Godhead. We never go out without including her, we never eat without including her, we never celebrate without including her, we never calculate our finances without including her. Everything we have is hers, and all that she is has become part of us - whether she is healthy or sick, well-behaved or disobedient, happy or sad. We are only we because she is part of us.

And when the day comes when she faces the inevitable sadness that is part of adoption, the sorrow of what came before she became part of us, will that change the truth of her inclusion? No. She may feel alone, she may feel rejected, she may feel different, separate, apart; all that is a normal part of grieving for what could have been. And always, no matter how she feels, the truth of her life - a truth she will come to experience more fully after grappling with it - is that she is included, she is part of us.

What does that say about our place in God?

Adoption is about belonging.
I’ll never forget the day we sat in the courthouse in Simon’s Town, in front of the vast desk and the equally vast paunch of the presiding judge, as he told us, “It is as if she had been born to you.” This phrase is written onto Manu’s birth certificate and tattooed on my heart. She belongs to us, not in the sense of ownership but in the sense that we are her place in the world, we are inseparable, her place of primary attachment is with us.

When a person knows where they belong, they can be at rest. Here we are, a British couple raising two third-culture kids, both of whom were born in Cape Town and one of whom is adopted. We live in Spain, they both speak Spanish, as well as English with a British accent. What gives them the confidence to navigate their world, to be themselves in different cultures, to keep a sense of who they are and where they come from? It is because they know where they belong. 

Manu, my beautiful South African with a British passport who speaks Spanish like a native. She belongs where we are - where there are homemade rusks to dunk in her morning tea, with the BBC news playing in the background; where the books are of African folklore and Spanish tales; where her favourite South African singer features in the CD collection and where her dad reads Lord of the Rings aloud. She is not defined by the colour of her skin, or by the colour of ours. She is more than any place she has lived and any language she has spoken; she belongs.

And all of us were made for a place that whispers belonging to us in those sleepless night hours. In those moments of silence, standing in the wind on top of a hill, or bending over a newborn to watch her breathe. We were made for a place of wholeness and celebration, a place of abundance and fulfilment. It is our adoption as children of God that guarantees a place of belonging for us, it reminds us that our primary attachment is there.

The truth spoken over each one of us is this, ‘It is as if you had been born to God.’

Adoption is about being made of the same stuff.
Manu makes me laugh when she talks about inherited traits. Her knowledge of genetics is blissfully limited at this stage, leaving her free to talk about the way she shares such-and-such a personality trait with me, or such-and-such physical attribute with her dad. She talks about the ways she is similar to this cousin or that, and the way she and her sister both sleep with their arms lifted up over their heads as though they were waving.

Of course, I get that Manu doesn’t share my genes. But in other very real ways we are made of the same stuff. There’s a facial expression she has when she’s been asked to smile for a photo and she doesn’t want to; I swear it’s like looking in a mirror when I see her do that. There’s a turn of phrase that sounds way too grown up for her age, and I could easily imagine I were talking to her dad. There are stories she tells of memories she shares with her sister, and they both start laughing at the exact same point in the story because they know what is coming next.

When I am driving Manu to school, I reach my hand back to where she is sitting behind me and she connects her fingers with mine for a minute. It’s our way of saying, ‘I love you, I hope you have a good day.’ When she’s with Tim the two of them have entire conversations I barely understand, citing characters from Harry Potter or scenes from the latest football match they followed. 

We are who we are because of one another. Our lives are impossible to disentangle, our shared experiences like a mesh woven between us and holding us together. We imitate one another, we tell stories for which we all already know the ending because we were there. In so many ways, we are made of the same stuff.

In the same way, we are shot through with the stuff of God. We are in His story, we are becoming His truth, we are filled with His Spirit. When you reach out to that hurting person and enfold him in your arms, you look just like your Father. When you tell that story and get passionate about that particular point, I hear Him somehow. We are one, together with Him, and we are who we are because we are inter-permeated with who He is. But here’s the kicker: what if our being who we are affects Him too? He is who He is in some unfathomable way because of humanity. Jesus took on flesh, lived life as a blood-and-bones human, is seated at the right hand of the Father in His resurrected body, and the Godhead is forever changed by this reality.

I have a feeling that we’re not the only ones celebrating Sisters’ Day. Can you hear the angels singing?