Only Love Can Break Your Heart

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“We’ll never do foster care. Never.”  

That’s what my husband, Adam, and I said about the emotionally risky role of fostering before we were married. We were just starting to dream up our life together and there were many conversations about adoption. It was on both our minds and hearts and had always been in our individual life plans. There was one conversation in particular when we let each other know that we could never do foster care — adoption, yes, but never fostering. The temporary nature of it would be too much for our hearts to handle. We needed the guarantee of adoption. 

Fast-forward nine years and many different conversations, and we found ourselves sitting in classes to become foster parents. By then we had decided we would only take foster-to-adopt children. This criteria comes with an “almost guarantee” that the child will be free for adoption and thus, belong to us forever. We continued to keep the safety of our own hearts a priority.

We filled out the paperwork with criteria of the ideal children that would compliment how our family was currently operating. We said we were open, but when our hearts were checked, there was fear. The reality of life changing and our hearts being on the line was really scary. We waited for a few weeks in our “safety box,” but we felt Jesus asking us to trust him in a bigger way. So, Adam and I made an agreement to say yes. To trust that any phone call we received to place a child with us would be an invitation to trust Jesus and his plan for our lives. To trust Him with the unknowns of our family. To trust Him with the safety of our boys (ages 1 and 5). To trust Him with our hearts...with our boys' hearts.  

“…EVERY CHILD COMES INTO FOSTER CARE IS COMING FROM A PLACE OF LOSS, AND WE WERE NOW A PART OF THAT STORY.”

The phone rang. We said yes and they said yes. We went to the hospital to meet our little guy. We took turns feeding him there through the night to learn his special needs, and we instantly fell in love. And it was a whirlwind. There was too much to do and too much excitement to feel the weight at first. But we knew the sadness would come. Every child comes into foster care comes from a place of loss, and we were now a part of that story. 

Then we saw his parent’s faces in pictures from the NICU, and their suffering became a reality. The moments we were cherishing with this baby were moments of agony and loss for them. We cried…a lot. And we weren’t expecting it. We were expecting to rescue hurting children, not hurting parents. Our mission changed, and our hearts changed. And, somehow, we loved them too.

Almost a month later and the first visit with his parents had come. And it turns out, a month is long enough to bond with a child and to waver on the thoughts you had before they were tied to any emotions. My prayers started to contradict each other. I prayed he would be ours forever and I prayed that his parents would be freed from their bondage to sin through Jesus. I didn't know how they could both exist, but I prayed God would work it out. 

As I sat in the lobby of Children's Services with knots in my stomach, they walked in. I saw his mom and she saw me. Both of our eyes filled with tears. I could see instantly that she loved him. And in that moment I saw the innocence in her face even though I knew her story on paper. I saw a young mom who longed for her baby, who didn't quite know how to be a loving mom because no one had been one to her. And Jesus took me out of the picture. He let me see her the way He sees her. I forgot I wanted him to be ours. And as I handed our sweet boy to her, the words just came out of my mouth, "Here's your mommy!" As she walked away, I wept tears of joy. That moment, where God allowed me to forget about me, was the most alive I've ever felt. 

“WE HAVE FOUND THAT FOLLOWING JESUS INTO THE MOST PAINFUL, MESSY PARTS OF THIS WORLD IS THE SAFEST PLACE TO BE.” 

So, here we are, coming up on six months of loving this baby boy like our own, and loving his parents. And it never looks like we think it will or even should. But we feel like we are getting glimpses into Jesus’s heart like we’ve never seen before. Our hearts are literally hurting and weeping for sins that were so far from our lives just months ago.

If there’s anything worth risking my heart for — this child, these children, these broken parents with broken childhoods of their own — they are worth my heart breaking. They were worth Jesus’s life! They are certainly worth the sacrifice of our comfort. 

So from here on out, we live in this place that is so uncertain, with our hearts wide open to brokenness in order to experience the fullness of God’s plans. And though the hurt already hurts more than we imagined, and the breaking of our hearts is so real, we wouldn’t be anywhere else. We have found that following Jesus into the most painful, messy parts of this world is the safest place to be. 

From There to Here

My junior year of high school sparked a season of change in my life. This season of change brought about a diagnosis of depression. As my depression continued, my search for something more began. I knew Jesus. I had a relationship with Him. I was attending a church. But I was stuck. Before my relationship could really grow, something had to change. I found that change in a surprising place: a new church. 

One day I was invited by a mentor of mine to check out a new church with him. He was planning on doing an internship at Grace Fellowship, so he was starting to attend as well. As soon as I entered the worship service, I fell in love with the atmosphere. The setting was appealing. It was in the movie-theater-type auditorium of a local high school. Lights were going, the music was my taste, the graphics were cool, and the preaching was engaging. After I attended the first time, I knew I wanted to go back. I started attending pretty regularly. Those services were where God really started to use the local church in my battle with depression. God worked through three major avenues to help me in my battle againstdepression.

MUSIC

I had grown up in the church, so I knew what the stereotypes were for men singing in the church. I was supposed to stand there and sing with zero passion and only somewhat sing. Things were different here. Not only did they create a good atmosphere via lighting and noise level, but the band sounded amazing. And other people in service truly “got into worship.” It was an amazing experience of worship where I could truly lose myself, abandon my shame, and experience the joy of singing to my savior.

PREACHING 

Attend a service at Grace Fellowship and you find, no matter your worldview, solid, engaging preaching that challenges you where you are. Something I lacked was a challenge to my thought processes at the time. Messages at Grace helped me to do just that. I was confronted with challenging messages that were rooted in Scripture and the Gospel.

To this day, I never leave Grace without feeling comforted, convicted, and challenged. The best part is, no matter the topic, it is relatable. Hearing the Gospel preached with such passion was huge in overcoming my depression. I still remember when Pastor Keith gave a message on mental health. There was an overwhelming comfort in knowing I was broken but also that I was being healed, all the while being loved by the God of the universe. That feeling is something I will never forget.

COMMUNITY 

If you have ever done any real study of the church, then you know that a church is about people, not a building. For my first eight months at Grace, we were still meeting in a high school, so this reality was even more prevalent. 

One of the biggest struggles of depression for me was feeling alone. I was scared when I started attending Grace alone. I knew one person, and he worked there, so that meant I was going in solo. I have never seen a church, especially of this size, be so welcoming and accepting. Eventually, I worked up the courage to join a Grace Group. You know how teenagers can be — I was terrified. Thankfully a new friend pushed me to come. I instantly felt at home. In that group, I gained valuable friendships, learned a ton, and laughed a lot. 

And now, every time I attend, I seem to meet someone new. The feeling of being surrounded by all these people I know and love creates an amazing community. There is nothing I love more now than gathering as the body of Christ with my best friends at Grace.

Those are just three, broad aspects of Grace Fellowship that are valuable to me. I look back to my first Sunday, and know with certainty that my sovereign God brought me from there to here. As the leaders so often say from the stage, no one is at Grace by accident. God has been and continues to be at work in my attendance and involvement here. I can say for sure that depression is a much lighter burden to carry with Grace Fellowship in my life. 

A Radical Opportunity in Haiti

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You don't accidentally fall in love with a third-world country where it is hot, dusty and completely impoverished. Most people don't decide to go a place like that on a whim, the way you might choose a last-minute vacation destination. The thought to serve and love others in a foreign land while leaving everything you know and everything comfortable is not a thought of your own; it is a radical act and nudge from God.  

"THE GOD IN AMERICA IS THE SAME GOD HERE IN HAITI.”

We had only been at the CPR-3 mission house in Bercy, Haiti, for a few hours when my friend Katie made the comment ,"The God in America is the same God here in Haiti." I had never thought of it that way. I never had to. As a newer Christian, I had not experienced my relationship with God outside of the United States. Yes, I had been tested; yes, I had doubts at times. But when she said those words, I began to realize just how much my Jesus would support me in that week ahead. I knew I would need Him to help me process the new sights, smells and sounds I was experiencing. I looked out over the high compound walls at the neighbors' homes and wondered “where is God?” How could He allow so much suffering in such a beautiful place? The neighborhood children played soccer in bare feet on a dirt field with no lines or goals and a ratty ball. Everything around me was inspiring and heart-breaking at the same time. I was looking for God and yet He was right in front of me. From the moment we landed in Port-au-Prince, God was stretching me and opening my eyes to new perspectives.  

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“A MISSION TEAM…THAT DIDN’T SOUND LIKE MY NORMAL WEEK AT THE BEACH.”

I tend toward leadership naturally. I like to be in control. I like to plan ahead. So when I applied to serve on a mission team traveling to Haiti where I would need to be flexible and rely on and lean into Jesus for a week like never before...that didn’t sound like my normal week at the beach. But I had been praying for God to move in a big way in my life, to allow me the radical opportunity to continue to use my story for His glory. I was blessed to spend six days in Haiti at the end of June 2014. They were the hottest days of the summer to date. And in between the layers of sweat, bug spray and sunscreen, I saw God like I never had before. It was powerful and life changing.  

“HE’S CHALLENGED ME TO CONTINUE TO GROW MY RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM AND OTHERS IN AN INTENTIONAL WAY IN MY OWN ZIP CODE.”

God pushed me to fall in love with Haiti. With His people. With His beauty that is evident as your eyes scan from the mountains to the sea. It didn't take much convincing. He showed me how to love deeply, pray boldly and spend myself daily while serving others – all for His glory. 

My six days in Haiti were full of connections, relationships, hope, spirit-filled moments, giving it my all and investing in God's movement through new opportunities. I was part of a team of 17 brothers and sisters on mission to share His love and light with everyone we met. I came to know God in a way like never before. I didn't even realize how much I relied on Him that week in Haiti until I was in the comfort of my own home days and weeks later. 

Many of my teammates told me after our trip that they were worried I wouldn't deal well with the heat or remain flexible as plans changed from moment to moment. They were pleasantly surprised with how well I adapted and how I encouraged everyone else. They told me they saw Jesus through me.

God has shown me that it's easier to lean into Him without all of the “stuff' that clutters my everyday life at home. He's challenged me to continue to grow my relationship with Him and others in an intentional way in my own ZIP code. When my teammates shared what they saw in me after our trip, it was then I knew that God had moved in a big way in my life.

Sure, it doesn't always take traveling to a third-world country to serve as His hands and feet and show His love for others. But that mission trip started me on a new journey, a new path, to furthering my commitment to live a Jesus-centered life.