Sunday, December 29, 2013


From Susan: 

The Principle

I have found in all aspects of life, be they spiritual, practical, emotional, professional, developmental, or relational, that it is the foundational principles that provide the strongest and most stable supports for any host of perplexing questions.  About two months ago during my time with the Lord I sensed His Spirit whispering to me in prayer one morning,

Change to Love  
Love to Change. 

I understood that this simple truth is a guiding principal for nurturing our children and husbands and everyone else the Lord places in our lives! This freeing principal is so inexpressibly helpful and hopeful, that I have to pass it on!!! I believe it to be TIMELESS and AGE-INDEPENDENT!  

Let me explain what I understand it to mean:
  1. My goal in any relationship is primarily to LOVE, NOT primarily to change the other person!
  2. The path to this goal of love requires a change INSIDE of me! I must change in order to love them; it is NOT my goal or job to love them in order to change them! 

The Story

I remember the feeling of being deeply worried and distraught one day, when one of our young adult daughters was living on the streets with her boyfriend. In prayer I asked the Lord, "show me how to help her." The answer came back clearly, in 4 words:  
Surprised, I asked, "Then what is my job?" 
And this answer was only 2 words:  
So I did. We talked every day or 2 for the 3 years she was on the streets, and I would pray for her, and often say, "I know who you are; you are kind, loving, compassionate, beautiful, and have a real heart for the Lord. You are not living like who you are, but I know who you are, and I believe someday you will make the choice to live like the person God made you to be. Do you want me to pray for you before we hang up?"  And the answer was almost always, "Yes, mommy."

Through a series of miraculous circumstances, this sweet daughter was indeed rescued off the streets over a year ago and is going so well. In fact, I have been on and off the phone with her all day about celebrating her 23rd birthday in several days! Here is the picture of her getting the shoes she had been longing for as a Christmas present. She was so happy about the gift that she cried when she received it! 

The Scripture

As children adopted by the Lord ourselves, we recall that Jesus Himself "changed to love." 

He changed by leaving heaven's glory. He who was rich beyond all splendor, entered earth's humble and broken realm, "all for love's sake became poor."  In that oft-quoted passage from Ephesians 1:5 His goal was to love us. "In love, He adopted us!"  Or John 3:16, "God so LOVED the world that He gave..." Or I John 4, "In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us!"

And that amazing thing I have observed, unexpectedly, is that when our primary GOAL is to pass on to our children the love we receive from our Father, and from Jesus who is Emmanuel, and from His Spirit who is our Friend and Counselor, eventually they do CHANGE! 

The Picture

So, here is our family acting out the Christmas play, as is our custom over the years. 

What I love about it is the diversity birthed by Abounding Love --a love that is learning to replace criticism with prayer, offense with forgiveness, disappointment with hope, and most of all, to replace my changing them with my loving them. 

Happy New Year to each and every one of you! And may this be a year where each of us, every day, lives out this prayer: 

Today, Lord Jesus, change me so that I may love them well, that I may love them the way You love me! To love them as if they are You! To love them the way our heavenly Father loves You! Amen and Amen and Amen!

Monday, December 16, 2013


From Beth:

It was definitely a surreal experience to be sitting in that soviet-style government office back in the fall of 2000. My husband Stephen and I had flown to St. Petersburg, Russia, to complete our first official trip in the painfully slow process to adopt our son and daughter, Pasha and Kristina. Like so many of you, we were not prepared for scope of what would be required of us to bring our children home. There was the financial and time out-put, of course. The paper work alone was a huge source of stress and effort! Anyone else out there know the tune to that song?! But there was also a considerable and unmeasurable emotional and spiritual cost as well. Joyfully given, but as I said, unforeseen. 

So, that morning sitting across the desk from the stern woman who seemed to hold the fate of our children in her rather intimidating hands, Stephen and I were already experiencing a sense of relief at being so close to the finish line of a long race. We eagerly awaited the official approval of our adoption, sure that we had dotted every proverbial "i" required of us. So, what happened next totally took us by surprise. 

This woman slammed her fist down on the desk and in a severe tone said, "You cannot adopt these children." When our translator and amazing advocate, Sasha, explained to us what she was saying, we were absolutely dumbfounded. How could this be? What else could we possibly do? We had jumped through every hoop, and some of those hoops more than once as the time passed. 

It was then that Stephen experienced one of those moments that you remember and tell about for the rest of your life. He said that as we sat there, with this dread coming down on us like her fist on the desk, that he heard the Lord's voice as clear as ever he has heard it. Our wonderful, kind Lord met with us right there in that ungodly office--He is indeed EMMANUEL! GOD WITH US. 
Stephen said out of the blue he heard God say, 
I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. (Revelation 3:8 NIV) 
I include the scripture reference here, but at the time, although he knew it was from the bible, he didn't know exactly where. After we left the office (there were lots more harsh words directed at us before we could leave) Stephen shared with me that such a peace and assurance came over him at that moment, totally in opposition to the atmosphere in the room, that he knew that whatever that woman said or did at that point would carry no weight and have no influence in the end. 

Dear friends, the call to adoption is an open door that Father God placed before us and our children. Undoubtedly many of you, like us, have had similar occasions when someone has come along, and with some authority of their own, reached out to slam that door shut. And I am not just talking about the part of adoption that is the process of getting your child into your home, all the official paperwork finally completed and officially approved. For if adoption is the transformation of an orphan into a true Son or Daughter, then to some degree many of us are still adopting. As we parent our children, loving them through their grief, trauma, attachment issues, and search for identity, you and I enter into the powerful and efficacious expression of the love of the Father that we call adoption, both for our children and for us. 

It is good for me as a mother of 7 to remember how the Lord intervened in that Russian government office all those years ago, for since then there have been many different versions of that scene played out over the years--times when the enemy has tried to stop the process of my children living in their full inheritance as a true son or daughter. That door of adoption God opened for you and me will not be shut! 

And that spot right there, in the center of that doorway, is where this mother will take her stand!

Father God, together as a community of mothers and fathers, we thank you for the open door of adoption through which your love continuously flows to us and to our children. We are in total reliance on You God, for we cannot open that door, nor can we keep it open over the years-- BUT YOU CAN AND YOU DO. May each child represented by each reader of this post enjoy every single bit of their inheritance as a True Son, a True Daughter. Amen. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013


From Susan:

This past Friday night, diving home at 5:30 PM, it was already dark in Atlanta rush-hour, when the long line of stopped traffic gave me just the time I needed to call my old friend Tina at the stop light and propose our two families do a spur of the moment meet for dinner at a little hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant that night. So we met at Main Moon, 5 O'Kelleys and 5 Hillis', including our sons Alex and Will who are now in college, best buddies since first grade! Will is married and he and his sweet wife Lara are expecting their first son! Will and I have had wonderful conversations over the years, and he looks down the table and says, "Mrs, Hillis, what I am really looking forward to about being a dad is being able to pass my heavenly Father's love for me on to my little son. When I think of how much God loves me as my Father, I always see how much I experienced this from the way my dad loved me. And I am really excited about being able to do the same--pass my heavenly Father's love on to my little son!" Will glances down the table and smiles at his dad, John, who is beaming. 

God will give you everything you want?

As we walked out of the restaurant, giving each other hugs and re-hugs, my hubby, thoughtfully, hands me the fortune-cookie I can't eat cause I am fasting, saying, "at least you will get a fortune"! Here is what I read on the little slip of paper after popping the cookie into crumbles:
God will give you everything you want! 

NO JOKE!  Here is the picture of it where I taped it to the inside of my coffee cup cabinet as a daily reminder! 

Well, you can imagine what kind of a debate THAT kicked off in the Hillis car! My husband Brian says, "THAT is NOT true!  I want a million dollars and God is not going to give me a million dollars!"  Alex says, "I think maybe it IS true. That verse from Psalms says that if we trust in the Lord He will give us the desires of our heart. It means that when we walk closely with Him, we will want everything He wants, so it IS true! He will give us everything He wants!"  
And I sat simmering on whether it is true.

What is everything you want for Christmas?

And I decided that this IS a MARVELOUS Christimas fortuneduring this season when everyone asks "what do you want for Christmas?"  C.S. Lewis comes to mind, with his penchant for reminding us in Surprised by Joy that everything we want is Jesus' and that all those other things we think we want are unsatisfying substitutes for the only One who will satisfy our souls. 
SO, let me tell you about my "everything I want."  I want and pray for more and more closeness with the One who satisfies, and for "a believer in the life of every orphan," so that each may come to know that only One who satisfies our deepest longings.  I also want God to miraculously raise all those wrecked lives and broken hearts in the Philippines and Newtown and my town and your town. And for His people to participate wholeheartedly in that plan!
Let me finish with the "everything I want" for each of our children.  As they mature and receive families of their own, we want them to be able to say what Will said--that they are EXCITED about passing on their heavenly Father's love for them, our children, on to their own children. For all of you with little kids, THIS is the kind of thing that awaits you! Not every day and not with every child. But it IS there and I say to you parents who are washing clothes and cooking and driving carpools and making crafts and training and disciplining and for some, feeling stretched by December's demands---your Father's love is flowing from you to your child. And even if they do not realize it now, someday many of them will. These daily acts of service and love through your hands ARE changing tbe world!!  And I pray YOU get surprised one night when your son is getting ready to be a daddy and glances over at you across an ordinary table and says, "What I am really looking forward to about being a dad is being able to pass my heavenly Father's love for me on to my little son." ....AAMMAAZZIINGG!!!
Let me close with a prayer for "everything I want" for each of you: 
  1.  A Vision of God's long-range view of His glorious purpose for your life -- that life-long flow of our Father's love for us, on to our children, and then through them, on to theirs! (Ezekiel 37:1f. I will put my Spirit in you and those dry bones in that valley....every one of them....will live!)
  2.   A Plan for implementing the vision;  this plan is NOT primarily mastery of parenting principles but rather, living at the 'tipping point' of the "God is my Father and I am His beloved" life; (Ezekiel 43:11 after the vision of the future hope above comes the vision of the plan: "make known to them the plan")
  3. Caring for yourself,soul, emotions, body, spirit, as the Father's beloved child. Only in this way will you receive what they need from you, for them! (Ezek 44:3 Sons and daughters of the king sit in His presence in the inner room "to eat bread [of heaven] before the Lord!" Try it--you will like it!!

God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him! (J. Piper)
Merry Christmas - and May God give you everything you want for Christmas!  And then, may you pass it on! In your home, in your city, in your world! 

Monday, December 9, 2013


We want to introduce you to Jordan Barr and her wonderful family. Jordan is a senior in high school and is in the midst of the college selection process. She hopes to major in Nursing and eventually either become a Nurse Practitioner or a Physician's Assistant. Her story of adoption will inform and inspire you! 
Jordan (2nd on the left) with her newly expanded family.

I was born into an old-fashioned upper middle class family: two parents, two kids, and a comfortable suburban neighborhood.  When I was seven, however, my family made a decision that changed my life forever.  I still remember my parents sitting me down with my little brother and explaining that we were going to add a new member to our family by adopting a child from Ukraine.  My brother and I were excited to have a new playmate.  My only stipulation was that the child be younger than I, thus preserving my position as oldest child.  We spent months preparing for the arrival by teaching ourselves Russian, getting bedrooms ready, and imagining what the child would be like.  By the time my parents finally left for Ukraine, we thought we had become used to the idea of adopting. We were wrong.

While looking through books with information about available Ukrainian kids, my parents fell in love with a brother and sister. They hesitated because the sister was a couple years older than I was, but they decided to visit the kids nevertheless.  Then they encountered an unexpected hitch. The kids had an unregistered older sister who was twelve years old, and my parents were not allowed to adopt her two siblings without also adopting her. Thus, my parents were faced with adopting three kids instead of one, and the oldest was almost a teenager. They called home to ask what I thought, and I immediately said, “No.” In my mind, twelve was much too old, and that was the end of it.  Of course, a seven year old can change her mind.  After spending a few hours thinking about how much I enjoyed spending time with my babysitter, who had been adopted from Russia, I reconsidered.  Thankfully, I got word to my parents before they had made their final decision and they were able to adopt the kids after all. If my parents had listened to my initial reaction, my life would be completely different.  Life might have been easier.  But now I have three siblings that are a crucial part of my family and I can not imagine life without them.
Jordan and Elena
Every time I tell this story people ask me how it felt to have three new Ukrainian siblings overnight. This question always seems odd to me because they did not gradually learn how to become Barrs. Even though the five of us were born into completely different worlds, we are a family. We love each other despite the differences in age, language, culture, background, and even sibling rivalry that could have come between us.  This adventure has also opened my mind to rejecting society's view of the “perfect” and “successful” life. I have recently participated in mission trips in urban Chicago and rural Guatemala, two very different places with radically different cultures. In serving the various people I met on these trips, I have seen further evidence that, when we overcome differences in culture and background, it opens up a whole new realm of possibilities. I am pursuing a career in nursing to continue to learn how to serve people in better ways, and I am excited to start making a difference in the lives of others.

Serving on a mission trip
A family is a sacred and special unit, and in any family the decision to have another child is monumental. Yet it happens all the time.  However, adjusting to one infant is a very different task than accepting three already grown children at one time. I can’t say much about adjusting to a new infant in the house. As for “older” siblings, there are little changes that need to be dealt with, like buying more chairs for the kitchen table and finding room for three more people to sleep. Those types of things came easily for us. 

And then there are changes that take more adjustment. The best advice I can probably give to other biological kids is to get ready for the adjustments that you’ve never considered, and see how God uses them for His glory. For example, you now get 1/3 of the attention that you are used to getting from your parents, sometimes even less. When you go out in public, the size of your family causes everyone to stare. Family vacations must be planned around seven people instead of four, which is a very difficult task when you realize how strong willed and opinionated we Barrs can be. These are some of the consequences of the adoption that I still deal with today, and I'm sure other biological children with adopted siblings have experienced to some degree.  
The Barr children today.
Although some of those consequences may appear to be bad things, I don't see them that way. Sure, having a large family can be annoying sometimes. But every family can be annoying. Because of the adoption my family is so much more dynamic and complicated than it was before, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I doubt you could find seven more different people if you tried, and that is a big part of what makes our family so special. The fact that we are not blood related has never mattered in the slightest. Every one of my siblings is very different from each other and each has a special role in my life. One brother is always there when I need to talk, the other is always up to join me on adventures. My sister is always ready to teach me how to do practical tasks like cooking dinner and I can always turn to my other sister when I want to explore my imagination and very limited artistic side. I honestly don't know what I would do without them all, and these past 10 years with them have been an incredible gift from God. 

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Thursday, December 5, 2013


Many of you know Jenni Means from her ministry to your children at H@HKids! She is a wonderful encourager to us parents in helping our children engage with Father God. This list of her favorite books is a truly important resource for us all! 

Who doesn’t love a good book! As someone who has been a reading teacher and is a reading lover AND a lover of children, I love it when I find great reads for adults or for children. And what could beat a great book about children!!

Here are a few of my favorites that would be on a MUST READ list for those with a heart for connecting children with our loving Father. After you check out these, won’t you send me a list of your favorites?!
Illustration by Baiba Baiba for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center.

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name (Sally Lloyd-Jones)

The tagline from the title says it all: Every Story Whispers His Name. A great lens for presenting the Old Testament to children of ALL ages!

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Okay, anything and everything by Sally Lloyd Jones!

Eyes That See and Ears that Hear  (Jennifer Toledo)

This is THE book that I wish I had written! Jennifer Toledo reviews some of the many ways that God speaks to us, even from a very young age. This is a manual for parents to help guide their children in discerning the voice of God.

Children and the Supernatural: True Accounts of Kids Unlocking the Power of God Through Visions, Healing, and Miracles (Jennifer Toledo)

A must read for anyone in children’s ministry and for parents who want their paradigm to change regarding how God is using children of all ages in ministry today.

The Inside Story for Girls ages 7-11, from Because of Jesus Ministries

Love this devotional style book for young girls. Filled with stories and activities/puzzles this would make for a great mother/daughter time or personal quiet time for girls.

Here Comes Heaven: A Kids Guide to God’s Supernatural Power (Mike & Marilyn Seth and Bill Johnson)

This is a book FOR kids about kids in a similar vein as Children and the Supernatural, which is for adults about kids. Genuine experiences and wisdom from beloved forerunners in children’s ministry, Mike & Marilyn Seth

Castaway Kid (R.B. Mitchell)

One of the few books that I read in one sitting.  Picked it up and couldn’t put it down.  The true story of an orphaned boy who eventually ages out of one of America’s last children’s homes. A young man’s journey from orphan to his identity as beloved son of God. I have used this book with pre-teen and teenage adopted kids to help generate discussion and healing.

Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch (Eileen Spinelli)

A top favorite children’s book! Although a Valentines story, I use this book all year round in many circles and age groups. It basically is a story of a man completely transformed just by the knowledge that Somebody loves him. LOVE IT!

Just a few ideas to add to your Christmas list or your shopping list to put some life-changing reading under your Christmas tree!!
So, now it is your turn--what books do you recommend? Share your favorites in the comments!

Monday, December 2, 2013


We so love hearing from our friend Tana Carder. The sixth of sixteen children, thirteen of whom are adopted, Tana is very familiar with adoption, needless to say! 

Many years ago, I gave my three or four year old nephew a multi-tool. It was not a real multi-tool, but a toy replica that cost me about two dollars at Big Lots. I was a financially poor (but rich in family) college student so it was what I could afford, but it was still a very small amount. I figured my gift would get lost or broken or tossed aside like many of the small toys of early childhood, and that was okay. It did get broken, but we fixed it. More than once. Because even though it was just a cheap toy, my nephew loved it. He carried it for years, fixing things, fighting off imaginary bad guys, or having it his pocket ‘just in case’ like men do. I think he may have eventually passed it on to a younger cousin. At any rate, that tiny gift that cost me very little lasted a lot longer than I expected it to.

I was thinking about that toy a few days ago because in December, I think a lot about gifts and giving. We give a lot of gifts to our children, as our Father gives to us. They’ll likely remember the big ones- loving parents, siblings, shelter, being introduced to Jesus as Savior. They may even remember some of the occasional gifts that really stood out- the dress your daughter really loved, the watch handed down from father to son for generations, etc. But what about the tiny gifts that cost you almost nothing? Five extra minutes to snuggle at bedtime. A cheerful greeting in the morning, even though you haven’t yet had any coffee. I know, sometimes these gifts can cost you a lot emotionally, a kind tone when you feel like giving a sharp response can be difficult. But most of the time they take very little effort or energy, and we parents don’t know the impact one of these little, honoring gifts is having. 

I sometimes greet my children in the morning by saying, “Good morning! I’m happy to see you!” It sounds cheesy, especially since I am not a morning person, but I mean it. Maybe it doesn’t resonate with them at all, just like I expected that toy to have little lasting value. Or maybe it’s sitting quietly in their hearts, “I make Mama happy just by showing up in the morning,” and speaking into their spirits that they are worthwhile people. It’s possible that the occasional extra five minutes to snuggle or talk at bedtime is just my little boy procrastinating, and maybe he won’t remember that sometimes I stayed when we both knew I had other things to do. Or maybe he’ll do the same thing for my grandchildren one day, whispering into their hearts, “You are loved. You are worth my time. You are more important than the tasks waiting for me.” Maybe these things are tools to carry around ‘just in case’ this world manages sometime to make them feel worthless. I hope so.

My prayer for you, dear parents, is that this Christmas, as you’re focusing on the big gifts--Jesus’ birth, time with family, special traditions kept, and memories made--you are mindful of the little gifts, and the riches our generous heavenly Father can turn them into for our children.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


From Susan: 

We do not see who we are raising. Those little feet pitter pattering around the house.  The giggling jokes.  The challenging moods.  The surprising fits. We cannot wee and we do not know! But God knows and we give Him THANKS for Who He is Raising in our Homes--including US!

I am becoming increasingly thankful as I am seeing increasingly the treasures our children are becoming as they enter young adulthood. For years I devoured every Amy Carmichael book I could get my hands on. I was delighted when Elizabeth Elliott wrote her biography, A Chance to Die.  Yet I had one nagging question, "How did all those children Amy loved during her years in India as a missionary turn out?" I felt the same way when I would read all those George Mueller biographies. I wondered, "What happened in the lives of the kids he loved so well on those dreary London streets?'' It is a question that we see answered in David Wilkinson's The Cross and the Switchblade, as we know the answer to what happened in the life of Nikki Cruz, one of the notorious New York City gang leaders who was transformed by the love of God. We also know some of the answer to our similar question on a much more superficial level, when we read Cheaper by the Dozen, that non-fiction account (YES, it IS non-fiction!) of a family with 12 kids. The epilogue to one of the editions of the book actually explains how each of the 12 turned out!

So today I want to give you a thanksgiving-glimpse into how one of our kids, our oldest daughter Cristi, "turned out." Just yesterday I received an email from a dear believer who I met in Thailand a month ago, asking me, "Didn't you worry that your biologic kids would not have enough of your love when you adopted all those other kids?"  It is an honest and good question.  What we see is that God is an expert in multiplication--in multiplying love. In His mathematical models it becomes clear that love does not have to be divided nor subtracted. What we see is that, yes, each of our children had to learn to share and extend love as God brought more kids into our home and hearts. But I think one of the wonderful blessings for me, now, is to see how the call of God upon our family into this adoption life ultimately was a transformational gift for each of us.

We learned sacrifice. 
We learned simplicity. 
We learned meaning. 
We learned to love. 
We received reward. 
We learned and relearned and are still learning forgiveness and acceptance.  
We learned thanks-giving. 

In fact, so much so that every night after supper we always shared one thing we were thankful for about the day. And we still do!

So...back to my story. Last night our daughter Cristi posted this little animation she did about her work on her facebook page. Who would have known that little girl we were raising would grow up to have a job as a young adult that allows her to help thousands of children receive loving families in their own countries? Watch this. Then ask the Lord to give you great joy and thanksgiving in anticipating who you may be raising. 

And realize, your best help in this wonderful and challenging parenting road right now, as you cannot see the final destination for you or for them, is to live in intimacy with your own heavenly Father. As Paul writes in Ephesians 5:1,8
Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for you, a fragrant offering [like perfume!].....LET THERE BE THANKSGIVING! ARE light in the Lord. 
Thank you Lord that today, now, we are light in You, in our homes, before our husbands and children. We thank you for the privilege of raising these treasures. We just want to be children who walk, copying You.Thank you that in Your Word we come to see and know you as you are. Make us like You.  Thank you that You fill us with Your love. Thank-Full. We are thankful. Amen.

Monday, November 25, 2013


It's Marriage Monday again here at Hope at Home. We get to hear from Scott Means today, and that is always a treat! You can read more from Scott at his popular marriage blog, Journey To Surrender.

Intimacy is Choosing Relationship Over Rules

It’s a timely question for the upcoming Advent season. Do you know why God sent Jesus to the earth? Go ahead, think of your answer. 

If you said, “To provide the way to forgive us for our sins,” you’d be partly right. But only partly. 

What was the real reason for Jesus? Intimacy.

I see that questioning look on your face, so let me explain. 

The truth is that God, whose very nature is Love, sent Jesus to claim for Himself an eternal bride. He was and is after intimacy with us, both now and for always. Sure, the sin had to be dealt with because it was in the way of intimacy. But intimacy with you and me was the goal.
auremar /

It’s Not About The Rules

There are those who might also have answered my question about why Jesus came to earth this way, “To get us to live right according to God’s laws.”

Surely not, you say? Well, a 2009 Barna study found that 81% of believers think that Christianity is mostly about following the rules. I bet that breaks God’s heart, because what He really wants is our hearts, not our conformance to a set of rules (many of which we have created for ourselves).

Our striving to “shine up” for God, our struggle to do all the right “God stuff” is actually an inhibitor to the one thing God wants from us more than anything else: intimacy with Him. When we view our acceptability to Him as being based on our performance or our adherence to the rules, we can’t approach our Father due to our feelings of shame and inadequacy.

The truth is that Jesus has given us His righteousness, and nothing we can do can make God love us more, or love us less.  We have every right, and God has every desire for us to draw near to him in intimate fellowship. 

God always chooses relationship over rules.

Rules, Intimacy and Marriage

I’m sure you’re thinking, “Isn’t this supposed to be a marriage post?” 

Well, it is. It very much is. You see, everything I just described about intimacy with God applies to intimacy in marriage. That shouldn’t surprise you, because God designed marriage to be a direct reflection of his love and desire for us, His bride. 

What blocks intimacy more than anything else? Rules. Marriage rules. 

Now the rules of marriage aren’t the same as the rules we attribute to God, but the effect is the same. When we focus more on our spouse’s performance, behaviors and adherence to our expectations, it puts a ceiling on the level of intimacy we can enjoy.

Here are a few examples of the marriage rules, the kinds of things that cause us to judge our spouses:
  • A wife expects her husband to help out more around the house
  • A couple tries to divide everything 50-50, and both of them are thinking it's 70-30 in their spouse's favor
  • A husband expects his wife to want sex as much as he does.
  • A wife is critical of her husband's lack of handyman skills, and compares him unfavorably to her father.
  • A husband doesn't think his wife keeps things tidy enough for his liking
  • A wife thinks her husband should learn to be more romantic
  • A husband gets offended every time his wife criticizes his driving
God has hard-wired the human soul with a desire for intimacy. Yet, we are so quick to think and act in ways that inhibit a true intimate connection. We are so drawn to the rules.

Grace – An Invitation to Intimacy

Grace is the antidote to our rules oriented thinking. It’s true with God. It’s true in your marriage. Grace is actually an invitation to intimacy. 

So when you choose to focus on the good things in your spouse, when you let go of your rules and expectations and measures of performance, you are inviting your husband or wife to come closer, to draw near. And isn’t that what we all want? 

Instead of focusing on rules, choose to serve each other without the expectation of getting something in return. Love unconditionally. Seek intimacy over perfection. Trust in your spouse's heart. These are the ways God pursues intimacy with us. It works in marriage too.

So are there some rules you need to let go of in your marriage, some expectations, some measuring sticks, or some performance assessments? Are there some areas where you need to let grace win out, to let grace serve as an invitation to intimacy?

Thursday, November 21, 2013


From Beth

I am a huge fan of the "do over." As a matter of fact I think a key to parenting, especially parenting children who have experienced trauma, is to weave the second (and third and fourth....) chance into the way we train and disciple our children. Stephen and I have learned over the years how important it is for our children to always, always, always know that we see a way forward and that we are committed to discover that path with them. How many times have we said to our children, "Let's try this again," or "Our goal is to get you back to being able to enjoy that freedom." 

Here are 10 Things I Love About The Do-Over:
  1. It communicates HOPE. It says, "There is nothing you can do that will ever make me give up on you. I have a faith in what God is doing in you and in me that propels us forward, into your destiny."
  2. It says, "You can do this. You have what it takes. I can see it, even if you can't."
  3. It is a display of unconditional love--"No matter what you say or do, I am here for you. My love is not affected by your behavior (although my feelings often are!), for it is my choice to love you in good times and bad."
  4. It speaks of enduring love. It says, "I love you and am committed to walk alongside you no matter how long it takes to see you live in the abundant life that is your inheritance."
  5. It sends me on a treasure hunt, seeking the precious treasure of my child's true identity as a beloved son or daughter. It reminds me again to call forth the treasure and to speak life into my child. "You are my son/daughter and I love you. I know who you are; I see the gifts of God in your life (sometimes seeing "in the Spirit" is the only way to do this, for what we see in the flesh may not be helpful!)" 
  6. It demands that we always Parent Forward into our child's true Identity and Destiny, rather parenting into the past of their trauma or the present manifestation of it. 
  7. It speaks of partnership. "We are in this together. I am not going to distance myself from you because of what you have done; I will not punish you by withholding my love. Rather, I will draw in close with a plan for you to move forward. You and I will do this together. You are not alone in your pain/fear/anger."
  8. It is a beautiful expression of Grace--undeserved favor. It says, "Because you are my son/daughter, you are favored. You and I don't get what we deserve. How good is that?!" It is extravagant and sometimes even offensive (to our own sense of justice and to others who do not understand.)
  9. It is an opportunity to share with our child our own testimonies of how God has never given up on us, of how He has always given us a way forward when we have slammed shut doors to our future. 
  10. It is, pure and simple, Good News! It is the Gospel lived out in the nitty gritty reality of our mommy/daddy lives. It is all about Jesus, real and effective and just plain GOOD!

So, the next time your child speaks disrespectfully to you or disobeys or lashes out in anger, look for ways to parent him/her forward. Sometimes it is as easy as saying, "Sweetie, that was not ok. Let's try that again." 

And sometimes it is not that easy, that is for sure! As a matter of fact I have a few children for whom that sweet scenario is quite rare. Sometimes you will have to offer that do over again and again and again, holding your ground. We have some children who would go for days before they would yield to the offer of hope and forward movement. 

Take the cell phone for example, or substitute some other situation common to your child. We had very clear limits set for cell phone use when our children were younger. We also had more than one (as in lots and lots!) of occasions to "try again." As tempting as it is to threaten the end of all cell phone use forever, that is not really helpful! 
We would say something like, "It looks like I'll have to hold on to your phone now. You know, I want you to be able to have that cell phone, (or play with that toy, or have a friend over) as much as you do. You and I want the same thing! I want to help you get back to enjoying that freedom. What is a good path back from where we are? Let's see what we can do to get you what you want."
Be sure to set a finite time when your child can "try again." As I said, sometimes it can be right away, but with our children who tend to emotional escalation, it is more common for the do-over to take some time. It is always helpful to keep it as short a time as possible. We want to communicate our hope and confidence in their ability to make good choices through letting them know we are prepared to give them another chance from the beginning.  

Monday, November 18, 2013


From Susan:

It was one of those sleepless nights....every hour or so I opened my eyes to peek at the clock.1:37...then 2:22...then 3:35. Between peeks, I saw in my mind's eye, very clearly, a book that was being written. The hardback simple grey cover had the title clearly shown: 


Underneath the grey hard cover lay a stack of rumpled pages loosely gathered, about an inch and a half thick. These pages held the story that was in process, not yet complete. But it was a work the Author intended to complete. I understood the story to be my story and your story and their story. It is the story being written about God's love for each of His children.  

That was about two weeks ago, and I cannot escape the lure of meditating on these three words, of searching the Scriptures for this principle. It goes beyond the "nothing is impossible" idea; it includes "nothing is difficult for God."  Impossible things ARE difficult. But for our Lord, nothing is difficult. The truth is there interwoven in countless places, from creation when each day God simply says, "let there be" and the object of God's affection suddenly enters time and space of creation. He speaks, and the world is transformed.  Or in Jeremiah 37:27, 
Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?
Or take Jesus in the gospel account of the centurion who understood Jesus could simply "say the word" and his servant, standing before death's door, would be immediatly and fully healed (Matt 7:8). Or more generally, in the gospels we see Jesus' power over death, disease, demons and nature. We read in the epistles that He does "immeasurably more" than we can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20). As one of my friends says, "it is natural for God to be supernatural."  He is the only One for whom, NOTHING IS DIFFICULT!


Today in the early morning I read one of the verses I have come to love, Psalm 119:24 
Your testimonies are my delight; they have become my counselors!  
I invite you to reflect on your own testimonies of times when the Lord has intervened supernaturally in the life of your family. I have lived long enough to have a pretty amazing list.   And my friend Beth has her own list that is equally convincing.  One of my personal favorites is the time I was sitting in a hospital room with our twenty year old daughter Anya, who was in a very dangerous relationship that she needed to walk away from. She urgently needed counseling help that we were not equipped to give. I could not even think of anything to pray other than this one word, "Help!" 

As I sat there, my cell phone rang--it was an acquaintance of mine who apologized, "Oh, Susan, I meant to call Sara, but I must have accidentally called you instead." It only took a few moments for us to realize that her wrong number had been God's right one. She is a social worker and her husband, a youth pastor who was working with Bethany Christian Services! She and her husband drove to the hospital right then and there, and our sweet daughter who was in deep need of intensive counseling moved in with them the next day! After several months of in-home encouragement and counseling, the entire course of her dear life was redirected out of danger. Today she is married to a dear husband who adores her and who faithfully cares for and provides for her!!!

This sweet daughter Anya is here in this picture, taken today after she and her husband joined us for church and then lunch! This precious treasure was telling me, just this morning, "Mommy, I have been remembering that triangle you always told us about--that God is at the top, my husband at one point, and me at the other. And how you used to tell us that the closer each of us got to the Lord, the closer each of us would get to each other! Mommy, that is really true!"  What was both difficult and impossible for me was neither difficult nor impossible for God. 

In closing, let me just say that our family of 12 has faced many joys and many difficulties! But not one of them, no, not one, is difficult for God to redeem and transform. My prayer is that in reading this, you will be encouraged to renew your hope in the One who always is able to redeem you and your children's deepest hurts and struggles. And to crown them and us, in His time, with joy and lovingkindness.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


For many of us loving children who have experienced trauma, the approach of the holiday season seems more like a looming threat than a joyous prospect. We wonder if we will experience the meltdowns, opposition, and anxiety that so often accompanies the changes in schedule, people, place and food of the holidays. 
One of the benefits of having parented our adopted children for so long (they came home at ages 5 and 10, and 7 and10. They are now 18, 19, 21 and 23), is that we have had lots of time to learn, and the years have given us some helpful perspectives. So, here are a few thoughts to help us prepare for the season ahead. I'd love for you to add some of your own in the comments so that we can learn from each other and be encouraged along the way. With 34 people coming for Thanksgiving dinner this year, you can be sure I will be planning ahead and would love to read your ideas and thoughts!
Traditions and Unity
I am a big fan of traditions I have to say. In their place and for the right purpose traditions are a gift in any family. You may find like we have that the creation of traditions serve as an effective tool in building family unity and creating an anchor for your adopted children. Certainly it has been true for us that adoption does not lend itself to unity; family unity is something we parents must intentionally pursue. The very nature of adoption is to introduce someone from the outside into the life and heart of your family. I love the definition of unity though--check this out! Unity is "oneness, especially of what is varied and diverse in its element or part." An adoptive family is nothing if not diverse! We have found that creating family traditions has significantly helped us to be ONE family in the midst of much diversity. There is something about family traditions that fosters a sense of unity, connection, fun, and belonging. Embracing traditions in the next two months can create some much needed pockets of peace for your child.

Creating Traditions

Unlike routines, which are merely every day activities that require no special behavior and usually do not produce good feelings, traditions are "practices that create positive feelings and are repeated at regular intervals."  We think of traditions as being handed down from one generation to another, but you can create your own traditions to meet the needs of your adoptive family. For many of us these wonderful activities will be new, but traditions have to start somewhere! The first few Christmases after our adoptions we attended a Russian Christmas celebration, filled with Russian music, dance and food. It was an effort on our part to make our children feel valued and to give them something familiar and comforting. It ended up not becoming a tradition for us because it didn't seem to mean much to our children, but I do encourage you to think outside your family traditions to find activities that will be congruent with your family. I'll share one other Christmas idea with you. Because we have seven children and we were
trying to avoid having 42 presents under the tree (representing only the ones each child would buy for his/her 6 siblings!) it has become a tradition with us that each child give all the money he or she would have spent on gifts for their siblings to buy a gift(s) for someone in need. Over the years we have given anonymously to families struggling at our church, to homeless children at a ministry in our city, and to unwed mothers. I know that sounds very impressive so I feel I must tell you that we still have plenty of presents under our tree, and most of them are store bought! And not only that, but not everyone participates with great selfless enthusiasm--true confessions of a Christian mom! But we have found that this tradition of giving to someone in need is a wonderful way for our family to live out who we are as worshipers of Jesus. 

The Gift of Heritage

Along with creating new traditions, I encourage you to embrace ones that you grew up with and value. It is a wonderful gift to your children, especially your adopted children, to be warmly gathered into the heritage of your family, the traditions you grew up with. It creates in them a sense of belonging and history. It is a sad reality for our precious adopted children, to one extent or another, to have missing or fragmented histories. When we maintain traditions it fills in the sometimes gaping emotional holes that their missing stories have left. Take the time to tell your stories of growing up, of the things you used to do each year, and then do it again with your children! Both Stephen and I grew up in a liturgical church and we continue to enjoy observing Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas) with our children. It has been an effective way for us to celebrate Jesus in December. Our best family devotionals have been during these nightly readings, lighting the candles in our advent wreath, and sharing the amazing story of redemption.   

We have been surprised over the years at how protective our children are over our traditions. Sometimes we go to make a change, not actually realizing that something like the exact side dishes we have at Thanksgiving has become a tradition, and find out we are practically flirting with the unpardonable sin to add or subtract from the menu! Just two years ago I tried to place the Christmas tree in a different corner of the room and I wish you could have heard the uproar. Fascinatingly, it is our adopted children who often feel the most passionate about our traditions. They have an amazing memory about whose turn it is to put the star on top of our tree each year! I have come to realize that by giving them the gift of traditions we are creating a sense of security and belonging that goes beyond the counting of its value.

But don't expect your child to say, "Mom, Dad, I just want to tell you how much I appreciate our traditions. These are very important to me and they are meeting a deep need I have to feel connected." And don't be surprised if he/she complains or acts out in some way when it is time to set the table for Thanksgiving dinner with the name tags you use every year. Our traditions did not mean that our children did not have a tough time with all the busyness--some of them did. Even to this day I see the strain on a couple of our children when the house if full of people and noise, and the daily routine is nowhere to be seen. So, most likely you still will have to love your child through meltdowns or some other difficult response. But keep the long haul view my friends. It has been a great joy of mine to watch as our children have identified themselves with our family traditions over the years, and have found a strong sense of place and  belonging and connection. Now that right there is the spirit of adoption at work! 

I love what Bill Johnson says--having a history gives a person the momentum for success. Let's include our adopted children into our family histories and into our spiritual histories, and watch how God uses it to launch them into their destiny in Him!

What are some ways your family has made the most of the holiday season?