No Knocks on Adoption: A Follow-up on the Duck

adoption text on brown surface
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels.com

“Listen to what I mean, not what I say.”

My husband knows those words well as they come from his external-processor wife. My best friends know how to “take and sift my words,” as the poet wrote.

To keep what is worth keeping

And with the breath of kindness

Blow the rest away.

But I don’t have that luxury, that “inexpressible comfort,” when I write.

I Failed And I’m Sorry

No writer does. Because readers can’t see writers’ hearts. You can’t hear my happy sighs or see my messy tears. You don’t know what happened last night or how he hugged me this morning. It’s up to me, the writer, to convey what I mean. And I fear I failed you, dear reader, last week. I failed to express my heart.

My last post, Don’t Force The Duck: 16 Years After Adoption Day, struck a chord. Actually it struck two very dissonant chords in readers. One group expressed gratitude for my candor with hope, the other near outrage that I would be so critical of adoption.

For each person who responded, there are dozens of you who made comments in your minds and left them there. I suspect The Duck ruffled more feathers than I know. 

What I Meant

While my goal for this blog is to build stronger, softer saints who embrace God’s uncomfortable grace, I don’t want you to be uncomfortable because of my inability to write what I mean.

So here’s what I meant when I took the twin occasions of the 16th anniversary of our A#1 son’s adoption day and National Adoption Month to share a few pages of our unfolding, unfinished story. 

I wanted to be the voice that I wish I had heard 20 years ago when I scoured the internet for adoption stories and studied all the “adoptive families” I knew. I wanted to be the voice that was neither the adoption-grim voice of our friend Jo, nor the blissful, glib voice I heard in those glossy adoption magazines. But I may not have been. So here’s take two.

What did I mean by that adoption post?

  1. I meant to say that any decision we make to love – whether it be to marry, to conceive, foster or adopt children, or to be a loyal friend— brings with it the very real risk that the results of our commitment will be harder than we thought. That is par for the course with earthly love. When the hard comes, we are not to lose heart and think we made a mistake. Rather, it probably means we are starting to love like God.
  2. I meant to say that I am not giving up. Not for a second. In fact, in the week since that post, God has softened my heart to help me better love A#1. A caramel macchiato with extra caramel delivered late to the high school is exhibit A.
  3. I meant to say that no heart change, including a decision to love a person or to love God, can be forced. God alone gives new, soft hearts (Ezekiel 36:26). I didn’t force the duck and the duck stuck is my reminder that God can soften hearts without my help. 

What I Didn’t Mean

What didn’t I mean to convey?

  1. I did not mean to disparage adoption in any way. Because in the end, adoption is the way every single Christian becomes a child of God. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves (Ephesians 1:5-6). God loves adoption. It’s how he builds his family. I’m glad we could adopt. 
  2. I did not mean to convey that the hardship in our relationship is one person’s fault. No way. I am a sinful mother—a sometimes proud and impatient, harsh and unkind mother. Jim is a sinful father, and we have two sinful sons. Our sins affect each other. We are all sufferers and sinners. I wish I’d been more clear on that.
  3. Finally, in no sense did I mean to convey that our story is over. Not a chance. While there is life there is hope. If can’t help myself, I am a prisoner of hope

Comfort Is Overrated

Maybe, if the duck post was your first, you wondered how it could possibly be written by a mother who is joyfully pressing on, by a mother who hopes against hope. Well, one of the themes of this blog is that comfort is overrated. Could I beg two minutes more to explain that?

By comfort, I mean being comfortable. Believe me, if I could find it in Scripture that God’s plan and will for his children during their time on earth was to go through unscathed, unchallenged, untested, untried, uncorrected, undisciplined—in other words, comfortable—I’d be the first to proclaim it.

But the longer I seek my Savior and Lord—and so far it’s been about 25 cycles through his Word— I can’t seem to find comfortable among God’s goals for us. I don’t see it listed as a Spirit fruit or a mark of the mature Christian. In vain I search for verses that say God’s children will be known by their comfortable lives. 

Mostly what I find is that Christians will be marked by their love.

For the Love of God

I read of a God who loved so much that he spared not his own Son, but freely gave him up for us all. I see a maligned and misunderstood Jesus who, in the span of one chapter of Matthew, is called a blasphemer and prince of demons. Then I hear the crowds laugh at him when he announced he’d raise a daughter back to life. Later, in the Upper Room, he would tell his disciples, if they hated me they will hate you, and in this world you will have trouble.

Now I hear old Simeon tell mother Mary that a sword would pierce her heart. I read that two of his three closest friends, Peter and James, were murdered. I see his servant Paul stoned, whipped, and left for dead. But I don’t find smooth and easy lives mentioned as evidence of God’s love.

Rather, from Genesis to Revelation, I meet a God who suffers with us, who calls us to come to him and share his yoke. I see the One by whom all things were made and in whom was life, indignant and weeping at the grave of his beloved friend Lazarus. I see Jesus who loved Mary and her sister Martha wait four days when he heard Lazarus was sick. He didn’t rush in to make them comfortable. He shows his love by giving us what we need most—a view of his glory. Suffering can give us that view. It can show us His glory. The stars are brightest in the darkest nights.

Adoption does that that for me. It shows me God’s glory.

Adoption, Parenting, Loving: All Uncomfortable Grace

This sometimes uncomfortable grace and lavish love of God is manifest in adoption every single day. Every single day. After all, He adopted me.

As I end, please know that your comments are most welcome. I love hearing from my readers. Whether your comment is critical or thankful or something in between, I am grateful to you for investing your precious time reading my words.

I pray that they will equip us to embrace God’s uncomfortable grace, and to grow more strong and meek—like Jesus.

Even as sometimes we groan.

And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

Romans 8:23

Till Sin Be Bitter: A 1-Sentence Prayer For Rebels We Love

Steak tastes sweet

“Till sin be bitter; Christ will not be sweet.” Thomas Watson, the Puritan, said that. I agree.

Make sin taste bitter and repentance taste sweet.

I texted that to girlfriends who love rebellious teens with me. We don’t always know how to pray. But that one sentence I pray often.

Because I know from experience that joy comes when we repent. God gives it with forgiveness when we confess. Repent, therefore, that times of refreshing may come.

Make sin taste bitter and repentance taste sweet.

I pray that simple prayer so real joy will come to the rebels I love. And if I revert to rebel ways, I hope my loved ones pray it for me. Because it is not healthy or right to think lightly of sin.

Listen to British preacher C.H. Spurgeon,

Too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Savior. He who has stood before his God, convicted and condemned, with the rope about his neck, is the man to weep for joy when he is pardoned, to hate evil which has been forgiven him, and to live to the honour of the Redeemer by whose blood he has been cleansed.

Make sin taste bitter and repentance taste sweet.

Remember J.I. Packer’s definition of repentance?

Repentance is turning from as much as you know of your sin, to give as much as you know of yourself to as much as you know of God.

So why don’t we all just repent? And confess and repent? And confess and repent?

But the Prodigal didn’t repent, he didn’t return, until his sin tasted bitter. Until he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

Make sin taste bitter and repentance taste sweet.

In Luke 15:17-18 we read,

But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.

We know how what happened then. A father runs and kisses and hugs. Servants prepare marbled steaks to celebrate.

But before the son ate the savory steak, the pig scraps tasted bitter.

Dear Heavenly Father, Make sin taste bitter and repentance taste sweet. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

Psalm 32:5

Luther Nailed It: How Repentance Keeps Re-forming Me

Girl with sad face repenting

“Be ashamed when you sin,
don’t be ashamed when you repent –
Sin is the wound, repentance is the medicine.
Sin is followed by shame;
repentance is followed by boldness
Satan has overturned this order
and given boldness to sin and shame to repentance.”

St. John Chrystostom, AD 357-407

Raise your hand if you like to apologize and say sorry. Both hands if you enjoy confessing and repenting.

Thought so. I didn’t raise my hands either. But I’m reforming. Slowly, and I mean decades slow, I’m changing. I’m starting to see repentance as refreshing and freeing (Acts 3:19) and, in Chrystostom’s words, the medicine my proud self needs.

We ought not be ashamed of our repenting. But for some reason many of us still are.

Why Don’t We All Just Repent?

I was just talking with a friend—a friend who Thursday received a(nother) apology text from me—about this very question. We agreed. So many of us are either too ashamed or too proud or too blind to repent. At least those are a big three, three I too often see in me.

No sugarcoating: Coming clean is painful to do—to confess and to repent are death to the flesh. But, oh is it refreshing to have done! I write this post to help in hope that you too will see that repentance is about the most refreshing thing a soul can ever do.

Note 4/19/21: This post is a revision of the original posted on 10/31/2017 on the 500th anniversary of the day Luther nailed his 95 Theses to that Wittenberg church door. With that stroke, he set off the Protestant Reformation and his reforms are still re-forming sinful saints like me.

Luther’s First Thesis: A Life Of Repentance

Like the other epic hero Reformers, Luther was  a flawed man. His “Jewish Problem” was wicked. This post won’t whitewash a saint and sinner named Martin Luther. In fact, it always has been flawed ones that God uses to build- and reform-his Son’s Bride. 

Whether you like him or not, there’s a lot we can all learn from Luther—starting with his concept of Christian repentance, which just so happens to be the very first of the 95 theses.

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. That’s it. His first thesis.
 
 
Biblically defined repentance is changing one’s mind, so that one lives differently (see Thesis #3). It means turning from sin to Christ. Repentance is the path to forgiveness of sins and favor with God. We repent and believe and are saved (Matt. 4:17, Mark 6:12, Acts 2:38, Acts 26:20).
 
 

Repentance is a Lifelong Process


But repentance  doesn’t end when we receive Christ Jesus as Lord. It’s a life-long process.

It’s not, as Luther wrote (Thesis #2), a sacrament of penance administered by the clergy.

These days the issue is more the notions is that repentance is one and done. Check. It. Off. As if real Christians, strong Christians, are the one who never have to turn from sin, who never have to repent. The ones who might say, Oh, no. I’ve never changed my stance. I’ve always lived this way.

 
 

As if. Because it seems to me that that never having to confess or to repent means you’re either God-like and divine or deceived and blind.

Because, truth be told, we just don’t see all of our sin at once. Our sins are layered, like onions. We peel a layer off and- lo! and behold- there’s another.

In mercy, we don’t see all our sin at once. That would leave us all undone.

From as much as you know of your sin…

Which is why I like J.I. Packer’s definition of repentance so much. He explains,

Repentance is turning from as much as you know of your sin, to give as much as you know of yourself to as much as you know of God. 

This definition, like Luther’s first thesis, helps me see repentance as a lifelong pursuit, a way of living. Not one and done. We confess as we see more of our sin.

Because Christians are not comfortable with our sin. We regret it and don’t settle with it. We repent that times of refreshing might come from the presence of the Lord. In fact, I’ve told our sons, Repenting is a really big thing to do, because it shows Christ is at work in you.

We must live like continual confession and onion layers of repentance are A-okay.  Because God does.

Repenting is a really big thing to do,

because it shows Christ is at work in you.

Which means we forgive 70 x7 and gladly receive confessions of others, as we gladly receive God’s cleansing and forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Our lives are in continual mid-point correction. My Christian walk is like my swimming: dominant right arm always pulls my front crawl that way. My strong arm of saving face—AKA: my pride— steers me.

We must constantly reorient our strokes, our walks, our lives to align with as much as we know of our Lord.

Not a man who never goes wrong.

You might say we’re in constant reforming mode. By grace alone, through Christ alone, we’re constantly, “making good.” My Reformation Study Bible explains repentance is the ongoing turning from sin in the life of a Christian. Ordinary Christian life will include times of profound sorrow for remaining sin. So good grief, and the repentance that follows, is part and parcel of ordinary Christian life.

Repentance is turning from our sin to our compassionate Savior who is Himself in us. Repenting, then, is a revelation of the mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

As C.S. Lewis so aptly explained,

A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble—because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out.  (Mere Christianity 1952; Harper Collins: 2001. 62-63).

Christians stumble. Now or then, we all go wrong. But we see our sin and get up and repent.  We run on and stumble and see more of our sin and repent.
 
 
 
So, with Christ in us, repairing us all the time, as we see our sin, we repent. But try as we might, we’ll never see it all.
 
 

When We Don’t See Our Sin

Don’t despair. Our Maker knows our frame.

And He knew his servant Martin Luther’s flawed frame too. He saw the sin that Luther himself couldn’t see in himself and, therefore, could not repent of and confess. But seeing Luther’s spiritual blindness, takes us straight back to one of the most precious Reformation truths.

Now I borrow from Trevin Wax to close. 

Luther’s anti-Semitism, egregious as it is, does not lead me to abandon his rediscovery of justification; it leads me to lean harder into it. Here’s the glorious truth: the reality Luther saw so clearly provides the answer to the sin he didn’t.

In other words, Luther discerned the reality of justification by faith alone better than he discerned the sinfulness in his own heart and life. And it’s that reality of justification by faith alone that levels us all and drives us to our knees–thankful for the clear example of horrendously flawed theologians articulating the only doctrine that gives hope to all of us who are horrendously flawed. It’s only in the security of being wrapped up in the righteousness of Christ that we can say, “Challenge me, Lord. Change me, Lord. Expose my wickedness.”

In the end, when death came for Luther’s mortal body, and the last of his parasitical sinfulness was destroyed, his final words contained no more vile epithets toward the Jews, but only a deathbed confession of his Jewish Messiah: “We are beggars; this is true.”

This is true. 

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…

Acts 3: 19

How Bitter Turned Sweet & Good Friday Turned Great

Cross Good Friday

Good Friday turned great just before midnight. That’s when my pride died.

Again. This side of heaven, it won’t stay dead.

I can’t tell you the details. It would not be right. But I can tell you that it happened after a good friend confronted me about my wounding words.

Before Pride Died

But before pride died. I want you to know that the words I write do rattle around in my head. By them, I will be justified, or condemned. If I know the truth and ignore it, I’m worse than hot air. I’m a hypocrite.

So I tried to look for the kernel of truth in criticism that mostly seemed off- Assume you are guilty when a fellow believer confronts you about your life. And I tried to apply the cure for passive-aggressivetrust that God means good, leave him your hurt, and do good. By grace, I try to take my advice.

Maybe especially last night, because Good Friday is so good.

Why Good Friday Is Good

Good Friday is good because “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3), and because, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). And it’s good because “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him” (Isaiah 53:5-6).

Good Friday is good because by Christ’s death, we are freed from the penalty of sin and the guilt of sin. Because he bore our sins.

That is why Good Friday is good.

Marahs Made Sweet

I read and re-read my friend’s words. They stung. But I knew there was a kernel of truth in them, because I know there is sin in me. So I confessed, not was she accused, but what I knew was true.

That layer removed, I thought of other sins of which my friend had no clue. And just before midnight, I went to bed and paged to the prayer called “The Grace of the Cross.”

O My Saviour,

I thank thee from the depths of my being

    for thy wondrous grace and love

  in bearing my sin in thine own body on the tree.

May thy cross be to me

  as the tree that sweetens my bitter Marahs…

I got that far before the bitter tears began to flow. Bitter, in Hebrew, is marah. The Israelites found water too bitter to drink and called the place Marah (Exodus 15:22-27). Then the Lord showed Moses “a piece of wood.” He threw it in the water and the water turned sweet.

Wood turned bitter water sweet. I remember when I taught the story to my Sunday school class. Millie and Michaela and Audrie got it. They saw the cross of Christ.

They understood it was wood that makes our bitter water sweet.

How Good Friday Turned Great

Last night I tasted both. Bitterness first- It was my sin that held him there.

But then sobbing like a hot mess in bed, the bitterness became sweet. I knew I was forgiven by my crucified King.

Christ died for this.

Feeling that was how Good Friday turned great. The cross makes our confessed sins, even our most embarrassing and ugly and bitter sins, sweet. Because, Who confesses and forsakes finds mercy (Prov. 28:13).

That is when bitter turns sweet, and good becomes great. We stand forgiven at the cross. We remember and we celebrate:

Christ died for this.

I saw my sin loud and clear last night. But I also saw the cross and confessed and found mercy and grace.

And that is how Marah became sweet and Good Friday turned great.

In confession we break through to the true fellowship of the Cross of Jesus Christ, in confession we affirm and accept our cross…

The old man dies, but it is God who has conquered him. Now we share in the resurrection of Christ and eternal life. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together