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Every year seems to pass more quickly than the last…a by-product of aging.  Reading the posts and texts wishing Happy New Year to family, close friends, Facebook friends, and such, I started thinking about the different events we’ve all experienced over the course of a year and yet all that we have in common as we close out 2013 and ring in 2014.

Lessons learned is a common theme.  Whether good or bad has occurred, we’ve all learned something about ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, our actions, reactions and behaviors, the people in our lives and our relationships with them.  We’ve learned what we can and can’t live with, what we will and won’t tolerate, what we choose and deny, and how it affects both us and others.  Be the lessons hard or filled with pleasant surprise, we’ve grown closer to knowing who we really are and how that knowledge can help us become who we want to be.  Our faith may have been tested, honed, and strengthened through trials we didn’t expect and we may still be in murky waters but somehow able to push through, moment by moment relying on God.

Hope for something better is another commonality.  The numbers that change the year whisper in our ears, “maybe this is the year…”  Hope renews and rises as we think through the possible paths and goals, the milestones we want to accomplish even if that means walking through a minefield.  Our dreams are suddenly more reachable than they were a few short hours ago and we’re energized to keep on moving forward, knowing it’s three steps backwards for every half step forward.  Alive with hope, we press on into the new year as if against a strong wind…determined, focused, our eyes squinted purposefully on the prize.

Renewed commitment to the Lord Jesus is another common theme for Christians.  We know that with God nothing is impossible and with Him we can do all things. I love these promises and believe them with my whole heart.  If it weren’t for my faith in Jesus, well, I just can’t imagine the whats and wheres and ifs.  This life is hard enough as it is…can’t imagine going through it without knowing God.

Wishing all who read this a 2014 filled with reliance on God’s promises…and if you are one who doesn’t know a relationship with the Lord as opposed to religion made up of rules and regulations and criticisms and judgments, I pray you find that this year and feel the freedoms that come with knowing Jesus as a your Father, Friend, Savior, Provider and Comforter.  This could be your best year yet.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”  Matthew 19:26  

I can do all this through him who gives me strength.  Philippians 4:13

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I watched a demonstration of putting this safety wire through bolts to keep them from slipping or loosening during vibration.  It was really cool to see the funky pliers that I’m sure have an actual name do their work of twisting this thick wire together to strengthen its purpose.  These bolts go on airplanes and that’s not something we want to come loose a thousand feet up in the air.  Falling parts just don’t work for me.  I was fascinated by how hard it was to try to twist the thick wire by hand yet this tool did the trick in no time.  The students who were learning the art of this safety wiring were practicing again and again, cutting and puncturing their fingers again and again.  They were critiquing their work and coaching one another, cutting out what was bad and starting over from scratch.  There was a method that had to be followed to do it properly and they memorized it.  Their persistence to get it right and tight was dogged; there wasn’t another option.  It was either right and tight or wrong. No kinks and no extra wire.  No missing a step of the method.  They knew what they did made a future difference – safe or not safe.  Life or maybe not life.

As I watched I thought about the times in life that I wish I had been that dogged and persistent.  Times I wished I had realized that to keep on twisting a kinked wire weakened it. Times that I skipped a step and hoped it didn’t matter.  I didn’t make sure the bolts were tight and in the vibrations of life, they loosened.  A thousand feet up and out they came…and parts started falling.

As I thought of these things I also thought about how even though I hadn’t done my bit as well as I should, God did His.  He stretched out His arms and opened His hands to catch those falling parts, loose bolts, wires and all.

Safety.

Amazing to me how people can go through this life with all the bangs and falls and not turn to the Lord.  He’s there, patient, waiting, ready…with outstretched arms and open hands.  Nail scarred hands.  Hands that did no wrong but took the fall for us all.  That’s a wow in my book.  And because that’s such a huge wow, it makes me sad to think of those who reject His gift.  And it makes me wonder why, why is it so hard for some to give their hearts to God?

I think the why is because we don’t want to accept that someone is sovereign over our lives,  that there is someone greater that we cannot control, that we can’t shape and mold to our own way of thinking, that we can’t influence and we can’t charm to get our own way.  God comes with boundaries and clear lines drawn in the sand and I think we feel that when we accept God we will feel compelled to bend and change our thoughts and actions, that we lose who we are, that we lose control over our own lives.  Flash – we don’t have it anyway.  We can make decisions and choices and try to control our own destiny but when it comes right down to it, we are at the mercy of things outside our scope of influence all the time.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean perfection or rose-strewn paths; there is hardship in our lives and pain and grief and sorrow and mistakes and mess ups.  We’re human. Being a Christian isn’t about rituals and rules, either; it’s about a relationship between God and the believer, a relationship based on faith, a relationship based on trust and love.  And it means when we haven’t tied the wire right, when we’ve let the bolts fly off, that His Word grounds us, His voice whispers words of forgiveness and hope, His peace fills our heart, His strength holds us up, His comfort never leaves us, and His hands catch us again and again when we fall.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33

One of our pastors told us he had done a character study about Hannah recently and came away with a renewed admiration for this woman whose story is found in 1 Samuel chapters 1 and 2 in the Bible. My daughter was named Hannah which means “grace of God” in Hebrew because of the Biblical Hannah, a woman who struggled with infertility.  I identified with Hannah because I, too, struggled for years with infertility.  There was a time when doctors said we would never be able to have children.  A sympathetic friend said “no little girl grows up thinking she won’t be able to have children.”  How true for most of us who want desperately to be mothers.  We don’t just want to have children; we want to be moms with all that comes with that most important role.

Back then, before I was a mother, I had to read Hannah’s story several times before things starting jumping out at me.  One of the first things that hit me was her vulnerability to ridicule from Peninnah, her husband Elkanah’s other wife who had birthed sons and daughters.  I remember the feeling that something was wrong with me when someone would say they were pregnant and though I was happy for them, I felt as if I were deformed or lacking because I wasn’t pregnant and couldn’t seem to get pregnant.  It hurt terribly when people made comments that included words like, “you’re not a mother, …”, “when you have children of your own…”, or those who misused God’s own words by saying something about Him withholding this blessing because of sin in my life.  I cried buckets asking God to reveal to me what I was doing wrong.  One wonderful pastor’s wife, however, would tell me “when nothing makes sense, trust Him anyway.”  (Thank you, Jan!)   Because Hannah hurt in her infertility and God showed that hurt to me in her story, I felt better through my own pain.  Somebody did know what I felt, and that somebody was mentioned in the Bible. I was so thankful that her story, my story, was there and that God felt it was important enough, that the pain of being different from other women in that so very important way, was acknowledged.  I didn’t feel so alone in my hurt.    

I was then struck by Hannah’s absolute assurance that her prayer would be answered.  When Eli mistook her for a drunken woman because he saw her lips moving as she was silently praying in the temple and she then told him she was praying, he said, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”  What’s amazing to me is that Hannah did!  She went in peace…stopped fasting, stopped looking sad…because she believed with her whole heart that God would answer her prayer.  She didn’t know how or when or even if his answer was going to be exactly as she imagined it would be in her prayer, but she believed it would be answered and that was enough for her, immediately.  I remember thinking how in the world did you let go of something like your desire to have a child in an instant.  And then I looked deeper and realized that she, like I, needed that reminder…the reminder that God is powerful.  Why else would she pray to God if she did not believe he wanted to hear her prayer? And if she believed he wanted to hear her prayer, she had to believe he was willing to answer it.  And if she believed he was willing to answer it, she had to believe he was able to answer it.  And the only way he would be able to do that is if he is powerful to do anything, including opening the womb of a barren woman so that she could bear a child.  I started thinking big then.  I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, God had a plan for me to be a mother.  As much as I wanted to be pregnant and go through the feelings and physical experience of growing a child inside me and giving birth, I accepted that may not be his plan; I would be grateful to be an adoptive mom.

The third thing about Hannah’s story was the scariest.  As she prayed for God to give her a son, she said, “I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life” and then when he was weaned, probably about the age of four or five, she took him to Eli and left him to be raised for God by the priest.  Now wait a minute here, I thought.  How does a mother do that?  Not the give to the Lord or be raised for God part, but the physically separating yourself from your child and only seeing him one time a year the rest of his growing up years?  Would I be able to keep that promise?   Wouldn’t I say I didn’t really mean that part, God?  Wouldn’t I want to hold my baby every chance I could get until he was a man and I knew with all my heart I had given him everything I could for eighteen years to prepare him to be a man?  How could I kiss a four or five-year old goodbye and go home, knowing I wouldn’t see him for a year?  How could I let my little one go live with someone else?  How would I be able to explain that to him as he cried when I left, or how would I be able to live with myself as I lay in my own bed and cried thinking of him missing his mama?  Lord, I prayed, I don’t understand this. 

A couple at church lost their three-year old daughter in a drowning accident at about that time.  As the mother spoke during the funeral she said something that made it clearer than clear to me.  She said something like “God gave us our baby girl and she was always his.  I’m thankful for the time we had her with us.”

And also at about that time, we were looking into adopting and I was reading the stories of birth mothers who selflessly chose to place their children with others because they cared more about the life of their child being better than what they could offer than their own desires to keep that child in hardship circumstances. 

And I realized that Hannah not only kept her word to God, but she believed in his sovereignty.  She believed with every fiber of her being that the God who had given her this son was the Almighty.  How can you not trust the Almighty to take better care of your child than even you can?  She trusted him to do just that.  That more than amazed me…I coveted that trust.

As a Christian, I believe God breathes life into every child from the moment of conception because that’s the very start of that child’s life.  Human life doesn’t begin any other way and it doesn’t start before then and though the first breath is taken after birth, the growth and development, the changes, the miracle that makes that first breath possible starts at that point.  God says every child is a gift from him and the wonderful thing about a gift is that it is from a giver.  God is the giver of our children through birth or adoption, he is powerfully able to fulfill his purpose, and his sovereignty can be trusted because he is God.    

As each child came into my life, one by adoption, two by birth, I thanked God for the gift of their little lives.  I also acknowledged that they were his and have lived knowing that they are his, only mine for the season he determines.  In all stages in their lives, from infants to now as Hannah is driving herself around town, as Sam is in the midst of war overseas, and as Aaron is living with  risk and danger, I try to trust God with my children as Hannah did.  I pray for my babies, grown up as they are, and I thank God for the privilege of adopting, the privilege of experiencing pregnancy, the privilege of giving birth, the privilege of their very being.  And daily I give thanks for the marvelous privilege of God answering my prayers and making me their mother.

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