When I left off last time, I was just about to write about the Date with God Session. When we walked into the room, I saw various stations set up around the room to help us connect with God in a creative way. I don't know about you, but sometimes I have a hard time just "being with God" in my day-to-day life. Maybe it is my three active and LOUD boys...maybe it is my awful addiction to Facebook and email; regardless, I find myself connecting with God in two primary ways at home: listening to Christian music and reading Christian books, especially the Bible. What I loved about the Date with God session is that I saw so many other ways to spend time with the Father that I had never previously considered including...
A teepee that could be closed for quiet/private time
Prayer Wall (map of the world)
Praise Wall (chalkboard)
Bowl containing pieces of paper with various people's names from the Bible including scripture
An open tent for journaling and/or reading
Additional comfortable places to sit and read, pray, and journal
I know I am not including all of the stations, but to be honest, the hour long session went by so quickly. I wish I could've spent 2-3 hours in that room. After the person leading the session explained each station, I quickly decided that I wanted to first take communion.
I took some bread and juice and found a quiet area of the room. I sat down and just started praying. I knew that before I did anything else, I needed to ask God for forgiveness and really think about the Cross and what Jesus endured to pay for my sins. I have made so many mistakes, so many mistakes. I have been disrespectful to Ryan, short-tempered with my children, unforgiving to others. The tears fell down my face as I confessed those wrongs to God and visualized how Jesus suffered so that I could be forgiven. It was painful to take ownership of Jesus' crucifixion, and yet, it was probably the sweetest time of communion I have ever had. A woman kneeled beside me on the floor and asked if she could pray for me. She said such a beautiful prayer, and I treasured each and every word. I later wrote in my journal...
I have been looking forward to this moment, this time, to be intentional with talking to you. I wanted to start our time together today in communion. I needed to confess my sins and lay them at your feet. I am so painfully sorry for my responsibility of the nails, the thorns, the scourging, the suffering that you experienced on the cross. My actions have brought you pain, heartache, suffering...and I beg your forgiveness. Thank you for being the sacrifice for my sins. Thank you for loving me and never leaving me and pursuing me always. Thank you for helping me become whole. I needed to say those things to you before I did anything else....
After my time of communion, I felt like I could really continue in my time with God. I looked around the room and was drawn to the String Art station. I sat down at the table, picked up some blue string, and began winding the string around the nails. I began thinking about the hurt I had been carrying in my heart for 4 months, the pain I let consume my thoughts for so long. It was a hurt that I allowed to affect the way I loved my family because when your heart is full of unforgiveness and anger and bitterness, your ability to love is diminished. I meditated on the situation as I wound the yarn around and around and around those nails. I later wrote in my journal...
...I chose string art next because, Lord, I wanted to meditate on the issues of my heart. As I began winding the string around the nails, I first thought about how difficult it is to love people who are hard to love...those who are different and those who hurt us. I was reminded of your truth that you love me unconditionally through my sin. I have to love * through his. You know the depth of the hurt, the pain in my heart. As I wound the string around the nails of my sin and his, I realized it will be work. I will go in circles over this situation until I release it to you. My forgiveness of him comes between YOU and me. I will love him because you do. It isn't my love that will pour through...it is Yours. I will choose love because You are love. You are sovereign and good and all things work for the good of those who love you. You have called me to fulfill Your purpose for my life. I desperately want to know what you have for me next. Nonprofit? Adoption? What do you want me to do next? Yet, today I realized that I don't think I get to know your desires until I move through and beyond this unforgiveness. I am keeping myself in bondage and hindering Your ability to work through me.
I don't want to be Pharaoh. I don't want to the frogs to be gone tomorrow. I am ready today. Now, I am releasing this weight, this burden, of my heart. I am not going to allow it to harm me any longer. You are a God of restoration. You can bring restoration to *, the *, and our relationship. You can restore it all.
Today, right now, I am choosing love. I am choosing grace. I choose you, Lord. I long for more of you. I am hungry for your word and want to be light in a dark world. I pray that you will show me what you have for me next. My family is wholly devoted to you. Take us. Use us. We are Yours. I want to be obedient to what you have for us. I am ready.
Thank you for your love, your mercy, your grace. Thank you for forgiveness that makes us white as snow. I love you.
Do you see this knot in the picture above? After I had wrapped the blue yarn around all of the nails, I had just a very small piece left to tie the final knot. I pulled it so tightly and struggled and fought to make this knot. The yarn was shredding and falling apart. Then, I smiled to myself because it was just like where I was in my journey to forgiveness. At that moment, I was having to fight and stretch myself to let go of my hurt. It was like God was asking, "Are you sure you are ready? Are you really ready to forgive and have closure?" Finally, I tied that knot. I was ready to forgive, and I was finally free.
Just as I finished, I looked up and saw a woman sit down across from me. I asked if she was the woman who had prayed for me after I took communion. She said that she was and introduced herself as Kathy Lee. I shared with her how wonderful that string art station had been and how God used it. I explained the parallels between winding those strings and my journey to forgiveness. I told her about the person and situation that had brought so much heartache to my family. She listened intently and then shared that she and her husband had experienced the same kind of pain by the same type of person in her life. I knew then that it was no coincidence that she was the one who prayed for me and that she again was sitting across from me. Kathy shared some of her story and how her family moved forward. Kathy and her husband made the choice to love the person who hurt them. Love truly does conquer all.
After talking with Kathy, I went to the open tent area and laid down on the cushions to begin journaling. I wrote the letter to God that I have shared here in my blog. I had chills all over as I wrote those words and just felt SO STRONGLY in the presence of God. It was such a special time in my life that I never want to forget. Once the letter was complete, I opened my Bible to see how God would speak to me. I opened to 1 John 3:1 which reads, "We are children of God because we have His love within us. Beloved, we are God's children now...." I then saw 1 John 4:7 which reads, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God." I had just discovered the connection that love gives birth to forgiveness, and wouldn't you know it, when I walked back by the string art station later, the word formed with nails was BELOVED. Incredible. There are no coincidences.
Next I walked by the Praise Station where people wrote various thoughts praising God for His goodness. I wrote...
Throughout the past couple of months before the retreat, I could not figure out why forgiving this person had been so difficult. I hadn't struggled with unforgiveness since I was 18 years old. When I discovered that LOVE was the answer, it made me realize that I actually had stopped loving the person who hurt us. Hate had filled my heart, and by choosing love and feeling the love that God has for this person, I was able to forgive.
Just to the left of the Praise station, the Prayer Wall had been set up with a map of the world. I immediately noticed this post-it note below that was created by one of my 3:20 sisters.
Amy, Jennifer, Whitney, Kelley, Laura, Lauren, and I received our Log In Date last year on March 20, 2013, which meant that China had reviewed our dossiers and accepted us as adoptive parents. We became 3:20 sisters, and a chandelier is how we've envisioned ourselves. When one of our lights grows dim or even seems to burn out, the other lights will shine brightly around us. I stared at that note on the wall, touching each child's sweet name.
Olivia...Tucker...Lucy Lu...Lucy Love...Regis...Esther...and Lizzie.
One year ago, these beautiful, seven children were orphans in China. Collectively, we prayed for God to move mountains to bring them home. We prayed for travel before government closures. We prayed for discernment when one family was told their child was too sick to bring home (They disagreed and brought that sweet miracle baby home anyway!). We have prayed for God to heal broken bones, heart conditions, and lungs. We have prayed for God to allow one daughter to hear for the first time in her life. We pray for God to heal the emotional scars from their lives in orphanages. We have supported one another through at least 8 surgeries and have celebrated incredible milestones that our little ones have achieved so far.
Once again, I had the sweetest time of prayer for these children, thanking God for bringing them all home to us. No longer orphans but LOVED AND SPOKEN FOR! My prayers lingered on Brighton Mae, Regis' sister, who will hopefully come home in a couple months. Soon, she will be with her family who will love her and celebrate her life forever.
So many times we have prayed like the one in Mark 14:36, "Abba, Father...everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."
Such a difficult prayer to say yet filled with such courage. Going through the journey of adoption helps you see that there is real beauty in suffering because it produces perseverance, character, and hope (Romans 5:4). When you believe that God is ONLY GOOD and that He loves you unconditionally, you are able to see that even the most difficult circumstances in life are purposeful and born from love.
I am starting to see now how God used our painful situation for good. I think sometimes we continue down a path because it is comfortable. I really believe God allowed us to endure something painful because He knew that it would be the only way that we would move into the next chapter of our lives. Pain can be a very motivating tool, and in our case, it has given us the courage to move forward in a new direction. I still miss what was comfortable, and yet, I am beginning to see the treasure in where God is taking us next.