Friday, July 30, 2010

Are you praying about ketchup stains too?

Did you know that it is possible to begin a conversation with a digression? Because that is what I am about to do.

When I was younger, I told a fellow PK (pastor's kid) friend three things I would never do:
1. I would never go to seminary
2. I would never go into ministry as a profession
3. I would never marry pastor

I have learned since to not make statements that begin with "I would never." They are dangerous.

Technically, ministry is not my "profession," but having invested ourselves in years of theological education, I can't promise it will never be in our future. Besides, mommy-hood is quite the ministry. My mom used to call the four of us her sheep.

And technically, I am not married to a "pastor," but I am married to a preacher. And I love being married to this preacher. For one thing, he gives great illustrations.

End of digression.

In my previous post, I recycled Hans' ketchup stain illustration. Originally, he used it to explain the scenario in Matthew 9:1-8. Seeing the faith of his friends, Jesus healed the paralyzed man -- by forgiving his sins.

What's that? The guy can't um... move? In Jesus' eyes, apparently, that was secondary. Jesus' main concern was the sickness of his heart. He declares, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matt 9:2). In the following narrative, while "sitting with tax collectors and sinners," Jesus identified himself as the physician to those who were sick.

Too often, my prayers must sound pretty silly. They go something like this: "Dear Lord, please remove the ketchup stain from my hospital gown, and please remove the mustard stain from so and so."

Yes, Jesus was able to cure the man of his paralysis, and he did. But the concerns of this body and this life are like ketchup stains. Temporary. Superficial. To God, the sin of the heart is our true death, incurable except by his mercy and forgiveness.

Years ago, when I was teaching inner-city youth, delinquent girls in the juvenile justice facilities and schools for pregnant teens, I was feeling pretty useless toward the end of the year. They were dead and dying before my eyes, and I was teaching them futile things like "your need to love yourself," "feel good about the way you look," "please, don't get into abusive relationships." Ketchup stains!

Lord, teach us to pray.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ketchup Stains

A man is dying. The doctor comes into a patient's room with the cure to his disease. Upon entering the room, he notices a ketchup stain on the patient's hospital gown. With great efforts, he proceeds to get rid of the ketchup stain, and neglects to administer the medication.

Hans gave this illustration to make a point in his sermon yesterday. Here, I am recycling it for a somewhat different purpose.

Most of the day, I am busy cleaning ketchup stains, disinfecting hands, and making sure he eats his vegetables. Now, there is nothing wrong with cleaning ketchup stains, but too often I forget that my children have an infinitely greater need -- they are little souls in need of grace and the Gospel.

It's Monday, and here is to a new beginning.

Resolved, to demonstrate grace, in hopes that when the time comes for us to explain the Gospel to them, they may understand what it means to be forgiven and to be loved in ways that we do not deserve.

1. I need to remind myself to look at my sons the way the Lord looks upon me.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:14-15)
In his mercy, the Lord remembers we are made of dust.
I need to remember Emeth is two years old,
and Yohanan is one month old.
They are "new here" and have a lot to learn.
I need to have more patience and compassion.

2. Forgive and forget, immediately.

3. I need to pray with them and pray with them often -- in joy and in want. Especially when I feel like I am losing patience, we need to beseech our Lord together for strength and grace.

4. Throughout the day, I need to fill them with words of praise and assurance, with reading and drawing, holding and kissing. Instead of reacting to bad behavior or responding to whines, I need to initiate love and anticipate needs. Even when they are non-cute looking (unthinkable, I know), I need to be kind and gracious towards them, as the Lord has been kind and gracious to me.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

On Being Sons

Many have kindly asked us how we are doing since Yohanan was born. With sympathetic eyes they would ask whether the baby is sleeping well at night, and whether we are getting enough sleep. Laughing, I would answer "no" to both these questions, but continue to let them know how much we are loving this time, and that it is really ok that we are not getting enough sleep.

The other day, I came across the article "Abba Changes Everything" by Russell Moore (dean of Southern Seminary and author of Adopted for Life) in Christianity Today. This is the second time I came across the story in the opening paragraphs since I became a mom. It sums up very well for me the joy of being parents.

The creepiest sound I have ever heard was nothing at all. My wife, Maria, and I stood in the hallway of an orphanage somewhere in the former Soviet Union, on the first of two trips required for our petition to adopt. Orphanage staff led us down a hallway to greet the two 1-year-olds we hoped would become our sons. The horror wasn't the squalor and the stench, although we at times stifled the urge to vomit and weep. The horror was the quiet of it all. The place was more silent than a funeral home by night.

I stopped and pulled on Maria's elbow. "Why is it so quiet? The place is filled with babies." Both of us compared the stillness with the buzz and punctuated squeals that came from our church nursery back home. Here, if we listened carefully enough, we could hear babies rocking themselves back and forth, the crib slats gently bumping against the walls. These children did not cry, because infants eventually learn to stop crying if no one ever responds to their calls for food, for comfort, for love. No one ever responded to these children. So they stopped.

The silence continued as we entered the boys' room. Little Sergei (now Timothy) smiled at us, dancing up and down while holding the side of his crib. Little Maxim (now Benjamin) stood straight at attention, regal and czar-like. But neither boy made a sound. We read them books filled with words they couldn't understand, about saying goodnight to the moon and cows jumping over the same. But there were no cries, no squeals, no groans. Every day we left at the appointed time in the same way we had entered: in silence.

On the last day of the trip, Maria and I arrived at the moment we had dreaded since the minute we received our adoption referral. We had to tell the boys goodbye, as by law we had to return to the United States and wait for the legal paperwork to be completed before returning to pick them up for good. After hugging and kissing them, we walked out into the quiet hallway as Maria shook with tears.

And that's when we heard the scream.

Little Maxim fell back in his crib and let out a guttural yell. It seemed he knew, maybe for the first time, that he would be heard. On some primal level, he knew he had a father and mother now.
Yohanan cries. Emeth cries. Because they know they would be heard. Because they know they are not orphans, they are sons. They have a daddy and a mommy who would come when they call.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday School

For four years now, Hans and I serve in a small English ministry of a Chinese immigrant church here in the suburbs of Chicago.

This morning, we officially launched a new Sunday School class and I was their appointed teacher. As usual, I was up last night preparing the materials for my class. As Hans was teaching the high school and college students (my former class), I was next door having a blast.

I had two students. One was extremely involved, responsive, attentive--best student ever, really. And the other slept through my entire lesson.

We read stories from Genesis. We colored. The picture of Adam and Eve had a butterfly, two giraffes, a rabbit, some trees, and a mouse. We sang. We learned a Bible verse. We ate snacks. It was fabulous.

This is the Sunday School class for ages two and under. I am Mommy, your Sunday School teacher.