I’ve known a lot of love in my life.
I know the love I have for my parents. It’s a love wrapped up in safety and stability. A love that is rooted in a comfortable and consistent childhood. This love was bred through the outpouring of their generosity and selflessness that they have bestowed upon me my entire life.
I know the love I have for my siblings. A love that is built on shared experiences and a shared bloodline. This love was the first one that required something of me – an offering, of sorts. This love isn’t just given to me like the unconditional love of my parents, even though we are obviously connected. It has been built over time through constant interactions where love is both given and received.
I know the love I have for my husband. A love rooted in romantic attraction that overflowed into an unwavering, deep, and intimate love. It is sacrificial at times, but is also extremely fulfilling as we both try to love one another well.
I know the love I have for my closest friends. This type of love is perhaps the easiest love I experience. It is enjoyable and simple because it doesn’t come with many strings attached. It is a love that is planted in common interests, similar personalities, and in finding others who enjoy life the way I do. It is reciprocated on so many levels and fills up my soul in innumerable ways.
I know the love I have for my biological children. A love that was born with their conception, and continues to grow over time. This is the most selfless love I had known, one that is wrapped in a constant state of giving during the younger years and only begins to see reciprocation over time. There is obvious hope that one day the love I’ve poured out over my sons will be repaid with love and compassion in their adult years (Please, Jesus). But for now, it is exhausting and unwavering as my love cup runs dry each and every day in caring for them.
But I’ve never known this kind of love before - the love of a foster child. Why does this love feel different? Why is it harder to nourish? People call me a loving and compassionate person, but why don’t I feel that way? These questions have rolled around in my head as I’ve wondered why my heart is in such turmoil.
I am a “black thumb with a speck of green” kind of gardener. I envy those beautifully manicured yards, and want one for myself, but fail to remember that I am both inept at producing such beauty and also unwilling to pay someone to create a front yard masterpiece. And so, I have come to terms with the fact that I will never win Yard of the Month. It is my lot in life.
When we first moved to Hawaii, a good friend, Troy, showed me how to “root” a pineapple. (Confession: At this point in time I didn’t even know how pineapples grew – Was it a tree? A vine? A root?) I am clearly ignorant, so when he said all you have to do is “root” the pineapple, it was as if he was speaking a different language. The only “rooting” I knew how to do was to root on my favorite sports teams. But rooting a plant? I was clueless. I knew my own limitations in the gardening arena, but I tried my best to seem interested. Troy showed me how he simply removed the spiky ponytail (it’s a technical term) from the top of the pineapple he was fixin’ to eat, tore off a few of the bottom leaves, and placed it in a glass of water. Over several days, little roots started to form in the water, until the entire glass was filled with thin fuzzy tentacles.
His method seemed simple enough, and so I pumped myself up to attempt this gardening challenge in my own home. “COME ON, MAC!” I told myself, “YOU CAN DO THIS!” (My inner voice sounds like a cross between my father’s reprimanding tone and a British soccer coach I had as a child—and the combination of these voices is the perfect sound to move me outside my comfort zone.)
I followed Troy’s instructions meticulously, and kept my eyes on that spiky ponytail daily. I watched as the little fuzzy tentacles began to emerge under water and, over a few weeks, filled up the glass. When the time came to place that precious treasure in a pot, I picked out the perfect planting soil (recommended by a professional, obvi) and created a comfortable and dirt-y home for my pineapple pal. My eyes beamed with pride as its green arms began to grow bigger and longer, reaching out beyond the width of the pot itself. My boys were also excited to see how big this plant was getting and often tried to “shake” the green palms that were shooting out from the dirt. Consequently, my pineapple pal has some scars to show for this type of mistreatment, but even these little bumps and bruises didn’t inhibit it from growing.
After about nine months of watering (when I remembered) and attending to its pineapple needs, this little guy began to produce fruit. A small baby pineapple appeared from the center of its green tentacles and has been flourishing ever since. Even though pineapple care is relatively simple, the plants do not produce fruit overnight. It takes months, and sometimes years, to grow the thorny and delicious treat that is starring in every piña colada near you.
In addition to the pineapple, Hawaii has some of the prettiest foliage I’ve ever laid eyes on, and one in particular has captured my attention – the ginger plant. Not only does it have a tasty root that will cleanse your palette at a sushi restaurant, but its hot pink flowers and tall blooming stems have me completely smitten. The problem with my pineapple success story is that I began to inflate my own gardening abilities. So when Troy dropped off a rooted ginger plant that he found by a truck on a side of a road (this is normal business for Troy), I thought I was about to enjoy my very own ginger plant for years to come. Too easy, I thought to myself. The roots of the plant were intact, and all that was required was to transplant this sucker into my yard. I didn’t have any fancy dirt at the time, but thought I could just dig a hole in the middle of my “flower bed” and this ginger would put on a show for me. (I say “flower bed” loosely because it is where flowers are supposed to live, but don’t. It’s more of a “rocky soil area in front of my house”. You get the idea.)
Unfortunately, this ginger plant could see right through me. It knew I didn’t have any skills, and could also tell that I simply wanted it to perform even though I hadn’t given it much nourishment. When you live on what used to be an old airstrip, your soil is filled with hard rocks and pavement remnants and transplanting an uprooted plant into this rocky soil doesn’t yield the best results. I watered the little guy for a few days before its pink flowers wilted and its stalks broke in half – collapsing into the rocky soil where it will rest in peace forever. Amen.
It was there in the wake of the ginger fiasco that my heart got the answers I was so desperately seeking: This new love was unusual because it was founded in different soil than any of my other loves.
My established relationships are cultivated in healthy soil—soil that has been nourished over time, watered consistently, and given sunlight even through some of the darkest days. I realized that, up until now, I had only experienced the pineapple kind of love. Sure, I had a few bumps and bruises, but I have been nourished in vibrant soil for my entire life and have been able to produce healthy fruits. I have had people surrounding me, ensuring my roots were strong enough to survive harsh times. I say this not to be arrogant, but rather to show how troublesome it can be when someone who has only experienced pineapple-type love has to nourish an uprooted ginger plant.
Loving a foster child is different because it is a love rooted in brokenness. In fact, the only reason I am able to even experience this type of love is because of the pain, hurt, and trauma that tore up its roots. Our little BF has had his love roots planted, then uprooted, then transplanted, then uprooted, then transplanted again – all in the first 18 months of his life. And while I have prayed we could be the healthy soil that he needs to dig his roots down into, there is no guarantee his roots won’t be torn up again. But, dear friends, I am not the Gardener. I simply know Who is, and He is creating this masterpiece, not me. (Hallelujah.)
Little did I know that God would still be answering the simple prayer I whispered almost a year ago, “Break my heart for what breaks Yours, Lord.” I thought He was done with me when my heart was completely shattered for foster children, but I realize now, there was more to the story. The story didn’t end with my broken heart, dear readers, but rather just began. The real answer to prayer came when I realized that my heart had to be broken in order to let the light in—light that allows me to see my Father’s heart more clearly.
I always thought James was a little brazen when he made this statement: “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.” I mean, c’mon, James. I get that you’re Jesus’ brother and all, but where do you get off making such a bold statement? Jesus called us to more than that, didn’t He? He wanted us to be good stewards of our resources and be gentle in heart and treat others the way we want to be treated. Don’t get me wrong, He asks us to look after the poor and the sick, but for James to drop the bomb that THIS, this one specific thing, is what God considers pure and faultless religion? I never really bought it.
Until I had my heart broken.
Now I see.
Now I see that His love for us is also rooted in brokenness. Isn’t God’s love simply an outpouring of undeserved grace on this sinful, broken world? God did not intend for such brokenness and pain to fill His entire creation, but He loves every one of us right through the trenches, right through the sin, right through the guilt, right through the valleys.
Now I see that if my entire mission in life is to live a life worthy of the calling God has placed on me, and if my greatest prayer is that I will strive to be more like Jesus Christ each and every day, I must learn to love people through the brokenness like He does.
Now I see that if I spend my entire life only indulging in the easy, pineapple-type loves I will never fully experience the sacrifice it takes to love and nourish the uprooted ginger plants of the world.
And, oh dear friends, it is NOT easy. After all, I’ve been loved so well my entire life, that I failed to realize how comfortable I had become. My heart has been fertilized so frequently that I have forgotten what it’s like to feel stretched or uncomfortable or awkward or strained. This is undoubtedly the most difficult love I’ve ever experienced, and it does not come without incredible amounts of sacrifice. It is completely selfless and exhausting and all-consuming. The reciprocation comes in the tiniest forms – a sweet smile, a precious hug, a contented snuggle. But the long-term prize? The mortal reward? It doesn’t exist like it does in my other relationships. If the day comes when our little BF goes back to his family, my only prize will be the pictures and memories left behind.
When I’m struggling to love our little BF through his brokenness, I am in awe of our Savior who does it so gracefully, so perfectly. He pours His love out over all human kind and it is often unreciprocated. We shun Him, turn our backs to Him, deny His existence, walk completely different paths than the one He has set before us, and His response is ALWAYS the same: He LOVES us.
My pineapple plant taught me that the only way we can Love like Jesus, is if we move beyond our cozy little planter and go attend to the broken, tattered, and suffering hearts around us - even when, or especially when, it requires digging into rocky soil and lavishly pouring out nourishment until our water can is empty.
So let us not confine our love to the easy-to-love people in our lives. Let us find the uprooted, transplanted, deeply broken ginger plants on the side of a road or hidden all over our communities. Let us make the choice to love them the way God loves us. Let us be the soil that can nourish those broken lives for years to come so that even in their brokenness they will see the beauty and hope that is rooted in the sacrificial love of Jesus. Let us be known by our love, dear friends. Let us be known by our love.
This is a repost of a piece I published last Easter on my old blog site. However, with just 10 days left until Resurrection Day, I hope it will help us to refocus our attention to the true Star of the show...
I am a bad church mom.
As my first witness, I call to the stand Sunday December 15, 2013. On this particular Sunday morning, Britton (who was two at the time) and I were in a good ole' fashioned Church Clothes Showdown. It was the age-old story of a stubborn two-year-old boy who refused to wear anything other than his pajamas to church, and concurrently insisted that a comb not make an appearance within a foot of his head. It was a battle that I had successfully won every other Sunday of his life, but on this particular Sabbath, I. JUST. COULDN'T. I don't know if it was my sleep-deprived state of simultaneously caring for a newborn, or if there was a part of me that deliriously thought his grey sweatpants and orange cotton long-sleeve shirt didn't necessarily look like pajamas, but either way, I was defeated. Despite my failure, I found peace in knowing that A) we were now running late, so most people would already be in the sanctuary and B) if I walked in the back door of the church, only the nursery workers would see my inappropriately dressed child. Those two facts provided the silver lining that I needed in order to forego a complete and total breakdown before arriving in the church parking lot.
As we snuck in the back door, I hurried Britton toward the nursery in order to evade any judgmental glances, only to find this sign taped to the nursery door: "No nursery today! Your little star will be participating in the Christmas pageant this morning!" My heart stopped. I prayed for the rapture. Oh, sweet heavens. I am the worst. How could I have forgotten that today was the day my precious boy was going to make his debut as a sheep, and was specifically instructed to wear dark pants and a white shirt. I can convince the jury that gray pants are considered dark, but an orange shirt considered white? I plead insanity.
We walked into the sanctuary (late) to find our sweet Children's director ready and waiting for Britton. We hurried up to the front row where I was trying my best to salvage our tardy and unfashionable entrance. As we fumbled to get on his sheep ears and wool vest, I found myself laughing inside. A sheep with an orange shirt? Jesus wouldn't think twice. A boy that's a few months past due on his haircut? Jesus wouldn't bat an eye. The show went on, as it always does, and no one was injured and no one died (except for my pride). Why, then, have I come to believe that my ability to worship God with authenticity (and to have my children do the same) is wrapped up in superficial details like the clothes my kids are wearing to church?
And now, let me call to the stand, my second witness.
Holy Week 2015. On Tuesday of this week, I had a play date with a group of God-fearing mamas that I ADORE. As would be prudent during Holy Week, we began to discuss our plans for Easter. I heard all about the Easter meals being planned, the families that were coming in, and about the flowers and decorations that were being purchased. I heard that Target had great deals on Easter outfits and that the Easter Bunny still had a lot of shopping to do in order to fill those baskets and hide those eggs. I was sitting in a room surrounded by well-intentioned Christian mamas and my head felt like it was going to internally combust. Of all the things that these mamas were doing to prepare for Easter Sunday, I had literally thought about ZERO of them. Easter brunch? Do sandwiches count? Family in town? Not for this transient military family. Flowers and Decorations? Ummm....I still have my Christmas wreath on my door. (Christmas wreath, you can be my 3rd witness.) Easter outfits? We are just going for NOT pajamas, OK? Easter bunny baskets? AHHHH!! I quit. I CAN'T EVEN.
I left that play date feeling the same sense of defeat that I did on the day of the Christmas pageant. I wondered what had happened to me that caused me to fail on my Easter Mama duties, since after all, my own Easter Bunny (my parents) nailed it every year with matching outfits, overflowing baskets and egg hunts that rivaled The Amazing Race. Had I not learned from the best? Why was I so incapable of delivering an Easter experience to be remembered?
And so, while grocery shopping on Thursday, I remembered the conversations about "Easter Brunch." I guiltily thought, "Welllllll, since I'm already here, I guess I'll get a little something special to cook for an Easter meal. It'll make for a special treat! Besides, all of the good moms I know are doing it."
And then, on Friday, Britton and I were out shopping for a friend's birthday present, and the nagging Easter voice snuck in again and said, "You know, Britton doesn't have a legitimate Easter outfit." Ugh. Of course. How did I forget? Fifteen dollars later I felt like I was one step closer to an authentic Easter experience.
And then came Sunday. Today. Resurrection Day. The day that we remember the most significant event in all of human history. We loaded into our car and I realized that I had only fulfilled 1/20th of my Easter Mama responsibilities. The "1 part" being Britton's new outfit. I was wearing the EXACT same dress I wore last year (still not sure if I washed it after last year...oops), Beckett was wearing a hand-me-down Easter outfit (sorry second child, it is your lot in life) and there were precisely zero pieces of evidence that the Easter Bunny had visited our home. (Later today, I might fulfill another part of my responsibilities if I actually cook the ingredients for the meal I bought...TBD).
The four of us walked into our church home with eyes aglow. It is a safe place for us, a place we love, a place we feel loved and a place we experience God's love. It is full of some of the most faithful servants of God I know, people who study scripture and learn from each other. I say all of this to ensure you know that these are good, good well-intentioned people. On this beautiful Easter Sunday, many people from our church came to greet us (as they do, because they are GOOD PEOPLE) and a total of seven of them turned to Britton and asked this question, "Did the Easter Bunny come visit you?"
When Britton received this question the first time, my mama guilt started to bubble up inside of me. Another Mom fail. Throughout the day, I got better at intercepting the question before Britton even had time to answer and threw out excuse after excuse: "Ah, I didn't want to spend the money" or "It's totally wasted on a 3 year-old" or "I just didn't have time this year" (as if I had been a successful Easter Bunny in years past. Ha!) Britton wasn't even phased by the questioning and I said a quiet prayer of thanksgiving that his world was not ending due to the fact that the Easter Bunny had forgotten his house.
I am by no means "Anti-Easter Bunny". I think the Easter Bunny is fun and entertaining, but he just wasn't on my mind this week. Instead, I tried to listen to the little voice in my head that said, Don't worry about the Easter shenanigans, McKinley, just teach your kids about Jesus. And so, while the Easter Bunnies were shopping I was reading the book Lily's Easter Party and playing with Britton's homemade Resurrection Eggs. We were making Resurrection Rolls and talking about the Easter story. I was trying so hard to teach my child about one of the most gruesome, gory, and painful stories, Jesus' Death, in order to show Britton the love, forgiveness and redemption that comes with His resurrection. Y'all. That is really hard to do when your child is THREE. Consequently, it didn't allow me much time for other Easter Mama responsibilities.
Even though I walked into church feeling like a "Good Church Mom," I walked out feeling somewhat defeated. I was excited for Britton to go share what he remembered about the Easter story. His favorite parts being that "Jesus rode a donkey and donkey's say 'hee-haw'" and "Jesus moved that big stone to go to heaven" (Sure, we'll go with that). I imagined our church friends would say things like, "He is risen!", to which we had taught Britton to say, "He is Risen Indeed!" But apart from Children's Church, Britton left church without a single congregant asking him anything about the Easter story.
I came home and cried today for our church. Not just my little church, God's Church. During this entire Holy Week, I heard more about the Easter "things" and less about the Easter "message" from my closest Christian friends. And to be fair, I was right there beside my fellow believers, trying my best to focus on the cross, but finding my eyes turning to the Easter "things" of this world. I left church clinging to our preacher's words as he challenged us in the same way the angel challenged the Marys, "Go, tell the disciples that He is risen." If we, as Christians, can walk into an Easter service and leave unchanged, unmoved, uncompelled to GO AND TELL, then we are missing the biggest part of the Resurrection. If we leave church on Easter Sunday and are only compelled to go eat brunch with our family and take afternoon naps, then we are simply MISSING THE POINT. It is not enough to put on our nicest outfits, and cook delicious meals for our families, and spend hours eating our weight in chocolate bunnies. My sweet friends, we must GO and we must TELL.
To add salt in the wound, I scrolled through my Facebook News Feed after church only to see overflowing Easter baskets, questions about appropriate Easter attire, beautifully dressed children, and picture-perfect families. These are precious, beloved snapshots, and they should be cherished. However, they must not be the end of the story. Christ's resurrection was not the end of the story, it was the beginning - the fulfillment of the Old Testament, the start of the Christian church. Our family Easter picture should serve as a launching pad each and every year. It should remind us to take that precious family into the world to serve those in need, pray for the lost and give of ourselves until it hurts. The preparations for Easter must not end with the resurrection, they must instead create the path for our family to go out in the world and be His disciples.
Maybe next year you'll look at your family pic from Easter 2015 and say, that was the year we made a commitment to volunteer at the soup kitchen each month as a family. You'll look at your Easter 2016 picture and say, that was the year we started to tithe consistently. And in 2017 say, that was the year we decided to take our family on a mission trip together. Let your Easter picture be the catalyst. Let it remind you of how truly blessed you are and simultaneously remind you of God's call to go love and serve His people.
Which is why today, I thought about Jen Hatmaker's church who spends every Easter outside of the church walls serving the homeless community in Austin. They know that the Easter story isn't only meant for those who are already blessed, it is meant to bless those who have yet to find God's redemptive healing in their lives. I left church today feeling changed and compelled to Go and Tell, not because of the perfection I found in church, but because of the brokenness.
As I recount my "church mom fails" I am blatantly reminded that authenticity in a church has as much to do with the clothes on our backs as it has to do with the color of the sky. It is irrelevant. God's church is for E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E and does not concern itself with Easter outfits and brunches and bunnies. It's only concern on Easter is to restore broken hearts by leading people to the cross, which can only happen, sweet friends, if we as His disciples put down the baskets, and take our families outside our church walls to Go and Tell.
This is quite possibly my most exciting blog post yet! I get to talk about several of my favorite things all at once: shopping, adoption, and helping others!
For those of you that are new to my site, WELCOME! This little corner of the internet is where I talk about the messy world of parenting littles, the uncertainty that comes with life as a military family, the unpredictability of foster care, and how I search for God's grace in the ashes of my life.
But this particular post isn't really about any of those things, it's about a group of people that have been placed on my heart in recent weeks: Families pursuing adoption.
As a foster mom, I share many of the same emotions and struggles that adoptive families face, but one part of the private adoption journey seems overwhelming to me: the financial piece. I am often dumbfounded by the way these families unwaveringly and meticulously save for private adoptions over months (and even years!) to bring a baby home, and I want to help - will you join me?
* * * * * * * * *
A couple months ago, I totally stalked a woman in the grocery store. I remembered her from a vendor fair, and I knew there was a 1000% chance she would NOT remember me. Being the extremely socially awkward person that I am, I stopped her right in front of some canned soups and said, "Hi! Aren't you a Noonday Ambassador?"
Good news: She didn't run away from me. Better news: She was able to help my hubby acquire some gorgeous Christmas gifts for Yours Truly! Best News: We are now working together to bless a family that is actively pursuing adoption.
First off, have you heard of the Noonday Collection? If not, click HERE immediately and check out ALL THE THINGS! Don't you want every single piece? The best part of Noonday, however, is not the gorgeous jewelry and accessories, but rather their mission as a company. According to their website, "We partner with talented artisan entrepreneurs to make a difference in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities. By developing artisan businesses through fair trade, we empower them to grow sustainably and to create dignified jobs for people who need them. Together we’re building a flourishing world where children are cherished, women are empowered, people have jobs and we are connected."
*Noonday drops the mic"
Cherish the babes? Empower the women? Give people jobs? Yes, ma'am, I'm in!
Noonday was essentially founded as an adoption fundraiser, and they still support private adoptions by donating 10% of all Adoption Trunk Show sales to subsidize the financial burden. As Jill (My Noonday Ambassador friend) and I were chatting about ways we could work together, I had a ridiculous idea: What if I give away an Adoption Fundraiser on my blog? Seemed crazy, but after much prayer and discussion, we've decided we are going to give it a shot. So here's how it's gonna go down:
So what can you do to help?
If you have any questions about the giveaway, feel free to email me!
Thanks for joining forces to help a precious family bring their baby home!
I am a lover of people, a child of God, and a laugher at jokes. I write words, cry tears and smile at strangers.