Thursday, April 12, 2012

When Life Spins Out of Control


In 2007, my husband John and his parents traveled to China, to bring our adopted daughter home. May 14th was "Gotcha Day"—the day when John finally met our eighteen month old daughter Anna, and she officially became a member of our family. I had a beautiful picture of Gotcha Day painted in my head. It involved rainbows, sunshine, a deliriously happy child, and angels singing the Hallelujiah Chorus. Alas, John's description of Gotcha Day didn't match my lofty expectations. Here's how he described it:

"Eleven sets of adoptive parents from our travel group were marched into a conference room. Our children were handed to us simultaneously, and then all hell broke loose. Many of the kids started freaking out, because we were complete strangers to them. The sound of children crying was deafening! When Anna was placed in my arms (picture at left), she began twisting and flipping around like a fish out of water, shrieking as she desperately lunged for a woman I later discovered was her foster mother. Then she wet herself, threw up, and began crying hysterically. For the next several days, Anna cried quite a bit, and
she kept running to the hotel door,
screaming for her foster mother: 'Ma-mai! Ma-mai!' (picture at right). Every time we went out in public, you could see her eyes scanning up and down the street, anxiously searching for her foster mother. It was very sad. I don't think I'll ever forget it." 

Anna was too young to understand that the world she so desperately clung to offered bleak prospects for her future, due to her status as a female orphan. She also had no way of knowing that John had the best of intentions toward her, and was actually taking her away to a far better life—a life filled with love, a huge extended family, political and religious freedom, expanded education and career opportunities, and new status as a beloved daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, and cousin. Instead, from Anna's limited perspective, life had spun out of control in a terrifying way. According to John:

"All she knew was that a huge bearded stranger walked into the room and took her away from everything and everyone she knew. And she wasn't happy about any of it."

Anna after a few days with
John and his parents. 
I'm a lot like my daughter. Many years ago, I gave a stranger (God) permission to enter my life, and he arrived with nothing but the best of intentions toward me. In fact, he had a better life planned for me than I could possibly imagine. But just as Anna threw fits when John steered her toward a new, better life, I tend to behave in the exact same way toward God. Here's why: my version of a better life often doesn't match God's version of a better life

My version of a better life involves staying in my comfort zone, and doing everything I can to make it more comfortable. This includes accumulating possessions that increase my physical comfort, and clinging to familiar people, places, situations, and activities that increase my emotional comfort, even if they're not good for me in the long run. 

God's version of a better life is far different. It involves helping me develop emotional and spiritual wholeness, as well as an understanding of who God created me to be, which points toward what he created me to do with my life. Growing in these ways is beneficial for my well-being and my relationships in the long run, and it also helps me minister to others out of right motivations. However, I'm generally not very motivated to seek deep emotional, spiritual, or vocational growth when I'm comfortable. As a result, God often needs to pull me out of my comfort zone, in order to stimulate this growth.

1996, just before I quit my full-time job
For example, fifteen years ago, God made it very clear that he wanted me to be a stay-at-home mom. It's too long a story to get into, so you'll just have to trust that I knew I was supposed to make this change in my life. But leaving my comfortable job, my affirming co-workers, my job title, and my salary caused a great deal of emotional pain that left me kicking, screaming, and depressed.

However, many years down the road, I discovered that God did have my long-term good in mind. In addition to fostering the development of deep relationships with my children, having no career also prompted me to ask a very hard question: "Who am I, really, without a career?" I was unable to answer this question, because at the time, my entire sense of identity was unhealthily wrapped up in my job title, my salary, my achievements, and what other people said about me. Without these things, I felt worthless, with no redeeming value as a human being. Pathetic, but true.

Amid the crucible of early parenthood, God put wonderful people and resources into my life. They helped me understand that my value as a human being has nothing to do with my job title, salary, possessions, appearance, achievements, or others' opinions of me. Instead, my value lies solely in my status as a beloved daughter of God. During this time period, I also identified my God-given skills and giftings, and I gained an understanding of what God created me to do with my life. These were wonderful, lifelong gifts that freed me up to simply be who God created me to be, rather than constantly striving to be who everyone else wants me to be. I'm actually amused at the irony in this—the fact that God put me through so much discomfort, to help me learn to be comfortable in my own skin, content with who he created me to be. This is God's version of the better life!

I'm glad I went through the above experience, because I'm dealing with another challenging situation today, one that has again pulled me kicking and screaming out of my comfort zone. The problem in a nutshell: after many years of being financially responsible and building up a nest egg by living frugally, buying nothing on credit, and paying cash for everything, we have nevertheless financially crashed and burned in a spectacular way, for job-related reasons largely out of my control. 

As I survey the wreckage, I keep asking myself, "Should I have done something differently?" I lapse into fits of anger and sadness as I wistfully recall my former comfort zone, and I find myself ranting at God, demanding to know why he can't just get on the plan—my master plan—so my life can finally be comfortable and problem free?

In those moments, the pictures from Gotcha Day keep popping into my head. And I'm reminded that just as John hugged Anna tightly in China and reassured her that everything would be okay, God repeatedly does the same to me. He reaches down from heaven and reminds me that no matter how crummy the short-term picture looks, the long-term picture is different and somehow related to his version of a better life. He reminds me of his faithfulness in the past, and he nudges friends who call and send perfectly timed e-mails that encourage me to keep standing in this storm, which feels like an F5 tornado at times. Amid the shrieking madness of this storm, I know that God is with me and my family, and he is telling us:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
And when you pass through the rivers,
They will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
You will not be burned; 
The flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
(Isaiah 43:1-3)

John and I are still standing. Just barely on some days, but we are. Not only that, we're going to stay standing, and we're going to weather this storm together, because God is in it, and we're holding tightly onto him. He's BIGGER than this storm, and he has our best intentions in mind. Just as he did with Anna.


Family, freedom, and opportunity—
God's better life for Anna!
Anna is in the pink shirt, sitting on John's lap.







6 comments:

  1. What a great picture! I have to say that the phrase, "Gotcha Day!" is perfect for those times when God reveals that He, not us are in control. It is a "Gotcha! Your life is going to totally change" AND "Gotcha! I will never let anything or anyone snatch you out of my hand." all in one.

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  2. I love this post! Well written, spiritually insightful and encouraging! Thank you!

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  3. Great application!
    Cling to those verses. They are some of my favorite, too.
    God has good things in store for your family and to do through you and your family.
    Blessings & love,
    Julia

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  4. Beautiful family photo, Marlene. And your post is a beautiful picture of that irony of God's comfort trade-offs. Between the old comfort and the new comfort, however, stands a time of ambiguity. Your determination to cling to God during this time is courageous. Bless you, my friend.

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  5. A lovely family, Marlene! It was so good to meet you at FFW. I didn't realize your family was formed partly through adoption...love hearing these real, beautiful adoption stories.

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  6. You are an inspirational writer, Marlene, and I look forward to reading more from you. I'm also a homeschooling mom, and there are days when I want to send my girls to school for friendships reason. Your socialization article brings me back to the realities that the friendships they will make in school are probably not one I want them to foster. It is not impossible, but I think it will be hard for them to find friends who value them for being an individual and a child of God.

    I'm looking forward to read lots more from your blog!

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