Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hele on to Hawaii

This post is primarily intended for our extended family to enjoy a few glimpses from our recent trip to Oahu, Hawaii as a family.  I spent four formative years of my life growing up there.  Tony and I had had the privilege to visit a couple occasions years ago before children.  With my 40th birthday around the corner, we saved up frequent flyer miles, hotel points, and the like in order to afford the opportunity to share this place with them.  What a gift.  We are grateful.  Hope you enjoy.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Breakthrough: Dealing with Guilt and Shame

The other evening an opportunity presented itself for an uninterrupted discussion with one of my children.  What began with one objective in mind, which was to debrief a new movie they had gotten to go see with grandma who was in town, turned into a tearful conversation of their personal dealing with guilt and shame.  The Lord in his kindness gave much grace to navigate what was in many ways, a heart breaking exchange...

 
(Where does the time go? They have all grown so much since this picture was taken?!.)

A Time for Everything

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

 11He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 

~Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 11 (emphasis mine)
For the sake of my child's privacy, I'll try to paint a portrait of their story by using simple strokes of generalities.  Not everyone needs to know all the details of their life.  It's their story to tell.  However, I hope in sharing a small piece of their story we all may be encouraged when it comes to dealing with guilt and shame.

Following a special treat out with family for "Taco Tuesday," I sat down to digest outside on our deck.  When the evening starts to settle in and the temperatures begin to cool, our backyard has become a place of rest and reflection.  Tony and I often sit out on our deck and listen to the amazing sounds of God's creation.  Sometimes we sit out there and enjoy the sights and sounds of our children playing together.  This particular evening all of our children less one dispersed throughout the house for various activities.  One child joined me out of the deck in order to prepare them briefly for an upcoming counseling appointment.

As we began to talk through what that appointment might look like, establishing goals and the like, I asked them if they had any memories from early childhood that may or may not be difficult.  This precious child of ours, who has been more inclined to bury things and compartmentalize first replied, "I forget that I'm adopted."  I replied somewhat with a smile, "I often forget that you're adopted, too.  I feel like you have always been my child."

As an aside, I'd met with this counselor previously and shared that one of our desires or goals for their upcoming counseling sessions was the possibility of creating a space for our child to process their adoption.  This one particular child of ours from day one seemed as if they wanted to forget and forever file away their early beginnings in their country of birth.  As illustrated in the comment above, they, though at face value a seemingly sweet statement, simply don't want to think about or talk about their first handful of years.  While, I do not want to force them to revisit potentially painful memories, I also do not want them to hide from them.  I proceeded to share with my child an abbreviated version of their own grandmother's past.  It went something like this...

"Your grandmother had some painful memories from her childhood that she filed away for many years.  You see, it is a natural coping mechanism we have deep within us that can lead us to hide from difficult things or avoid dealing with those memories.  However, one day when your grandmother was around my age, while facing multiple stresses like raising her four daughters, she started to have nightmares.  Those bad dreams included the flooding back of memories from her childhood that she'd repressed or locked away. It was a difficult time for her.  It was also a revealed time for her to get help in processing those memories. The reality is, we cannot run and hide from things.  We need to work through them in a safe space...."

To my surprise, our child opened up about having one difficult memory, not from their earliest years, but from about four years ago.  They recalled a time when they'd gotten into trouble for inappropriate behavior and poor decisions which led their siblings down along with them.  They shared that whenever they are being corrected for poor behavior, mistreating others, moments of disobedience, or whatever the case may be, their mind immediately goes back to that place of shame and guilt from everything they had ever done, but particularly that one moment years ago.

Breakthrough...  

We talked through that occasion years ago and the circumstances surrounding it.  Part of that process entailed remembering correctly the events around it, identifying the things that were not true, and separating them out.  It will be impossible for you, the reader, to understand with such broad strokes, the significance of this moment.  There's not a lot I can do to change that.  I will just go on to say again, that the Lord granted much grace in that moment to navigate through the heartache.  He gave me peace and patience to press through with gentle questioning and processing together of everything surrounding that memory.  "I was not a Christian then, mom." As my child cried and continued confessing their humiliation, guilt, and shame from all those years ago, I could feel the Spirit's prompting, "What does the gospel say?"  

"It says I was a sinner and dead in that sin."

"That's right.  You were, I was, and we still are sinners.  We were spiritually dead in sin.  But, what does the gospel say to you now?"

"I have been made alive in Christ."

"Yes.  Shame and guilt no longer have dominion over you.  You have been forgiven.  You are set free from the bondage of sin and shame.  It is finished.  It is done.  You need to lay that burden down and let it go.  Will we continue to sin?  Yes.  Is that who we are?  No.  Our identity is in Christ and what he has done."

Confession.  Tears.  Reminders.  Grace.  Forgiveness.  Hugs.  Release.  Relief.  Breakthrough. Gratitude.

Please continue to pray for us.  May you also be encouraged today:

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.  Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  

But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you."

Romans 8:1-11



Thursday, May 26, 2016

Thoughts from a Recent Talk (Part 3)

"You are no longer strangers and aliens, 
but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God..."
Ephesians 2:19

It is hard to believe that a little over seven years ago we became the legal parents of our four Ukrainian born children.  It is most certainly a day we will never forget!  Tony and I were questioned before the court both individually and together.  There were questions like, "Why do you want to adopt?" or "Don't you know your quiet life is about to change?" Upon the completion of the interrogation the judge exited for deliberations with his fellow court officials to his office chambers.  Meanwhile, we sat praying for favor as our nerves continued to settle.  To our great joy, the judge returned, called us to rise, and then stated in his native language something to the effect, "It is the judgement of this court that these two adults be granted parental rights to these four children and have their names changed to reflect their new status."

(Pictured below: Our family in the court room following the judgment.  The orphanage director is pictured in red.  The prosecutor is pictured in black.)
Almost two weeks later, following a mandatory ten day waiting period, as well as the acquisition of several necessitated documents, our children were released to our custody.  When we arrived at the orphanage that final day, Tony took the two youngest their clothes while I took the older two their clothes to change into.  When they left the orphanage nothing left with them.  They had to strip down every last piece of clothing and leave it for other children to recycle its usage.  Through a translator, our youngest asked her new papa, "Are we leaving forever?"  To which Tony smiled and replied, "Forever!"  The giggles commenced. One week later we made it home to the U.S.

(Pictured below: Our children dressed in their new clothes ready to depart the orphanage to travel to their new home.)
My parents, some friends, and our church family helped prepare our house for our arrival stateside.  That required getting rid of some furniture and acquiring new furniture.  What a blessing it was to come home to rooms ready to receive our four children!  One family donated their two twin bed bedroom set for James' room.  While, a Sunday School class donated funds to purchase a bunk bed with trundle along with bedding for our girls' room!  It was tremendous!  Another class purchased and stocked full a freezer in our garage.  Grace upon grace!

Months later, we headed to enjoy a family vacation with Tony's side of the family.  The kids had so much fun playing games, swimming, wrestling, and laughing together.  The adults all left with full hearts. When we returned back home and began our nightly routine of tucking our kids into bed, our oldest looking over at the empty twin bed beside him then looked up at us to speak these words of broken English, "Me want a sun screened brother." Full hearts became melted hearts as we thought to ourselves, "Us too, buddy.  Us too."

A year later we traveled to bring our youngest child home to us.  There are many more stories I could include here but will save them for later.  This August, we will celebrate being home from Ethiopia six years.

(Pictured below: That moment when our 'Eyasu - Yashua - Joshua' officially became a Merida = June 24, 2010.  Great joy!)
"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, buit on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit." 
Ephesians 2:19-22

Remember WHOSE you are


If you are in Christ, your spiritual identity has changed.  You are no longer strangers or aliens (2:19a).  You are no longer hopeless or godless (2:12b).  You are no longer dead in your sin (2:1).  You are no longer sons of disobedience (2:2).  You are no longer children of wrath (2:3). You are made alive in Christ, by grace through faith (2:4-9).  This is amazing grace!  


"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come... For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
2 Corinthians 5:17, 21

You identity change did not end there.  Not only are we in Christ, but we also are members of one body (2:16a). We are fellow citizens with the saints (2:19).  We are members of the household of God (19). We are members of the church.  We, like it or not, belong to each other.  We have been grafted into a purpose together as a family.  We have this glorious new reality and privilege: to know God and to make him known (3:10)! 

Our journey of growing our family through adoption has helped us in contemplating this glorious doctrine of adoption - God's adoption of us! Only the Lord would weave together a guy from Kentucky with a girl from Virginia who have children from Ukraine and Ethiopia older than they have been married into a beautiful tapestry of his grace?!.  It is a microcosm of the even more amazing picture of the household of God.  Though the romantic honeymoon period of being united together as a family may have passed, the story of how God has brought our family together is still something bigger than we could have imagined.  As we experience moments of weakness, moments of sibling rivalry, sibling fatigue, or the basic challenges of a group of selfish individuals all living together under one roof, the fact remains - we are a family.  Nothing can change that and we are glad. Together, we want to grow in the grace and knowledge of the One who has brought us together.

Friend, if you do not have the proper identity you will not have the right community.  If you are in Christ and your identity has changed, remember whose you are.  There are no solo, independent or stand alone Christians out there.  We belong to each other.  We are a family.  We need each other and have been joined together to grow "into a holy temple in the Lord" (2:21).  If you don't have a local church, go find one that preaches the Bible and join them.  Remember: there is no perfect church.   Every church is composed of broken, imperfect people who are to look to a holy, perfect, unconditionally loving God we get to call, "Abba!  Father!"

We need God's grace and indwelling Spirit to help us live this out in a manner which is worthy of this identity change.  Paul continues to instruct the saints who were in Ephesus in chapters 4 through 6 on how to live out their new identity.   

May you be encouraged today in contemplation of this glorious gift of grace!

To be continued...


Thursday, May 5, 2016

'Oh, the ebb and flow of joy and sorrow' - [A Repost]

A couple weeks ago, I was contacted by one of the editors of The Baptist Press requesting permission to publish an article I wrote last year for the Biblical Recorder.  For the record, this is not a common occurrence in my life!  I do not consider myself a writer, but the Lord has presented a few opportunities to both write and speak in which I have tried to faithfully steward.  I consider it a great privilege to share some of the things God has and continues to work into my heart.  May He have his way in my heart and mind.  Here's the link to the version of the article below here.
(Above: Scripture artwork my girls painted and gifted to one of their teachers; one of my favorite and personally experienced life verses!  What a good, good Father we have!  He is faithful, sovereign, and good.)

I've added some pictures for you below and hope it will encourage you today.  Additionally, I want to share another article my friend, Laura, wrote regarding further thoughts on Mother's Day.  She is a gifted writer and a dear friend.  I am thankful for her transparency, humility, and passion for all people created in the imago Dei (image of God).  You can read her article here.


Motherhood: ‘Oh, the ebb
and flow of joy and sorrow’
By Kimberly Merida

WAKE FOREST, N.C. -- Celebrating Mother’s Day was always a peaceful and joy-filled experience as I grew up in a loving, Christian, two-parent home. I remember working diligently on the obligatory homemade gift projects we were given as schoolchildren in order to present something to my mom that would conjure a smile, thanks and a hug. Mother’s Day served as an annual reminder to say, “Thank you.” To be honest, I never thought deeply about the annual celebration until later into my adulthood.

I have since come to discover there can be a lot of pain, heartache and grief associated with this particular holiday. Ignorance is bliss, right?

I had grown up dreaming less about being a mom and more about one day being a wife. I clung to passages of Scripture like Proverbs 3:5-6 that provided instruction to trust God in all things. I just believed that in His time I would be married with the traditional two-and-a-half children, white picket fence and a dog. Since those were the examples I saw around me, it seemed like the natural progression of life.

By age 27, I met my best friend, Tony, and began the journey of marriage. During those first couple of years, we weren’t necessarily trying to get pregnant, but we weren’t avoiding it. Meanwhile, it seemed like everyone around us started getting pregnant.

The awkwardness of being married with no children began to creep in. Well-meaning people would summon a smile and say, “We are praying for you” or comment at a baby shower, “You’re next!”

I knew God was sovereign over the womb, but I wondered what was going on. Was there something wrong with me?

When God began to open our eyes to the fatherless, it was our theology, not our biology, that led us toward international adoption. Seeing in the Scripture that God describes Himself as the Father of the fatherless and calls His people to care for orphans compelled us to ask what we could do for the fatherless.

Two years after initial wrestling with that idea, we found ourselves in a cold, smelly orphanage in the middle of Ukraine.

Our four Ukrainian-born children shuffled into the small office hand-in-hand, cautious and curious. I sometimes try to imagine what must have been going through their minds. Who were these two watery-eyed people smiling at them and asking to become their new mommy and daddy? All I can say is that it was both bizarre and beautiful.

God was working fiercely in my heart. How can a little person made in the image of God, yet not of your flesh and blood, become your son or daughter? This scenario was not what I had in my mind earlier in life. His ways are not our ways; His thoughts are higher.



Six weeks later we came home as a family. Fifteen months after that, we brought our youngest child home from Ethiopia.



“Welcome to the club of motherhood!” others said.

While I appreciated the sentiment, I sensed a prompting in my spirit to caution against assuming a new identity. The reality was, my identity changed at age 12 when, by God’s saving grace, my eyes were opened to the incredible collision of justice and mercy at the cross of Christ. It was then that I was no longer a child of wrath and I became a child of God -- an adopted daughter. So, this new status of motherhood was simply a new role to steward, albeit a weighty one.

“He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord!” Psalm 113:9 (ESV) states.

Parenting children from broken pasts can have moments of great joy as well as moments of great heartache. Watching fits of rage dwindle over time and transition to healthier coping behaviors is amazing. The kicking, screaming and clawing slowly transformed into the ability to, through their tears, talk through the issue at hand.

I witnessed giggles and awed faces at the beach as they dipped their toes in the water and watched waves crash for the first time. I heard exclamations like, “This is the best day of my life,” as we fought crowds at Disney World. These moments have filled my heart with incredible joy.



But there are times of great setbacks, challenges and questionings. It breaks my heart to hear these same children say, “What kind of mom just gives her child away!” or “It bothers me when people keep asking if I’m adopted. Why do they want to know?”

Amid defiant, disrespectful and dishonoring behavior, hearing my child scream, “You have no idea what it is like to grow up in an orphanage!” or “You are not my real mother!” has wounded me deeply. It’s tempting to build up walls of protection around my heart.

Sometimes moments of grief come out of nowhere; sometimes my heart feels as if it will burst under the weight of it all. It is a regular fight to reign in my emotions.

Sometimes I even forget we became a family through adoption because I often feel our children were always ours -- but they weren't. They all came from broken pasts filled with abuse, neglect, death and abandonment.

Oh, the ebb and flow of joy and sorrow.

It is God’s grace that has enabled me to say with great joy and peace that He kept me from being able to have babies so that I could be mom to each of my children. I am so thankful. I would not trade that for the world.

Yet, I praise the Lord that my identity is not found in being a mother, but in being a daughter of the King. That truth gives me hope in the midst of heartache, courage in the midst of trial and thankfulness for the good gifts that come from His hand.

This Mother’s Day, may we remember those who grieve -- those moms in the midst of difficult adoptions, those who battle infertility, stepmoms, and those who have lost a child or mother. May we think of them, pray for them and encourage them to find joy in the Lord.

--30--
Kimberly Merida is a Christian, wife, mother of five adopted children, musician and justice advocate. She writes at shownmercy.blogspot.com. This article first appeared at the Biblical Recorder (www.brnow.org), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

(Above: Scripture art my girls painted for one of their teachers; another one of my favorites!)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Turn Your Eyes

Every once in awhile, I wipe the literal dust off of my guitar and attempt to play a little.  Today was one of those days.  I pulled an old hymnal out and played a simple arrangement I had made a couple months ago. Here's the rough recording.  Hope you enjoy.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Thoughts from a Recent Talk continued... (Part 2)

As I shared in my last post, identity matters.  Identity is foundational to understanding purpose. Every day we should remind ourselves of who we are.  Every day we should preach the gospel to ourselves.  Every day we should ask for God's help to remember our identity.

A year or so ago, I decided to stamp a daily reminder of this reality on my wrist in the form of a tattoo.  Confession: getting a tattoo was never on my bucket list.  Perhaps midlife crisis has played a role?  Regardless, I thought to myself that if you're going to get a tattoo, it should be purposeful.  Therefore, in addition to the Micah 6:8 passage written on my foot, I added a Hebrew word on my arm to match the one Tony has on his.  The word: gaal.  One of the meanings of the Hebrew word gaal is redeemed as seen when God promised his people deliverance from bondage under the Egyptians, 
"I will redeem you with an outstretched arm" (Exodus 6:6)...


Recall Paul's letter to the church in Ephesus in Ephesians 2:1-10.  Paul reminds the church (and us) of their former identity.
You were:
     - dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked (1)
     - sons of disobedience (2)
     - children of wrath (3)
But God... (4)
     - made us alive together with Christ (5)
     - raised us up
     - seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ (6)

Let's pause there for a moment.  Let that fall on us anew.  Let us reflect on the mercy, love, and grace the Father has worked through Jesus Christ, his son, for our good and for his glory...

If we are to pursue holiness, we need to remember who we are and what Christ has done.  Every day.

"In Him we have redemption through his blood, 
the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace..."
Ephesians 1:7

Continuing on in Ephesians 2:13-18...

Remember WHAT Christ has done
Paul reminded the church of what Christ accomplished on our behalf through the work of the cross.  In Christ, we are no longer far off but have been brought near (2:13).  In Christ, we have peace with God.  There is no longer a dividing wall of hostility (14).  In Christ, we are reconciled to God (15).  In Christ, we have access to the triune God (18).  This is good news!  This is the gospel!  We must remind ourselves of this every day. 

Several years ago, I was wrestling with a bout of depression.  My heart was heavy under the burden of the far reaching ramifications of sin.  No one sins in isolation.  Our sin affects others.  In this particular instance, the realization of another's sin was weighing heavy upon me to the point of great grief.  I remember trying to push through it with the Word in front of me while sitting at the piano.  It was the cry of the psalmist in chapter 42 that began to beckon me toward remembrance.


"Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God." (v. 5)

Looking back a verse, I discovered the psalmist's strategy - 
"These things I remember, as I pour out my soul..." (v. 4)

In the midst of pain, sorrow, depression, and questioning, the psalmist remembered who God was, is, and is to come.  God was faithful yesterday.  He is faithful today.  He will be faithful.  It is his character to be so.  He cannot be otherwise.  This act of remembering is a practice of reflecting and proclaiming truth to oneself.  This side of the cross of Christ, we have been set free from sin and death!  We must listen less to ourselves and preach more to ourselves this glorious gospel of grace.  Sitting at my piano that day, these lyrics were formed as my soul cried out in thirst for the living God:

I will remember your faithfulness in the desert places
How you delivered me from the enemy's stronghold
I will remember Jesus
He's the one who conquered
He has set me free to live in victory

Whether the waves of depression threaten to overwhelm you or the joys of this life tempt you toward self-reliance, remember what Christ has done.  God sent his Son to live the life we couldn’t live, die the death we should have died, and has defeated our biggest enemies – sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:56-57; 2 Corinthians 5:21).  Remember what Christ has done!