Thank you, Ann Voskamp, for this reminder. To read the full post, go here.

Your sin can’t separate you (or your child) from Christ.

Your Father is bigger than your failures, your flesh and your faults.

And your strengths can’t save you (or your child) in Christ.

Your ego, your excellence and your efforts won’t ever be big enough to be a Savior.

Your sins aren’t enough to keep your child from God and your strengths aren’t enough to get your child to God.

Your sins aren’t enough to keep you from God and your strengths aren’t enough to get you to God.

Your sins aren’t enough to destroy your life and your strengths aren’t enough to determine your life.

Your sins aren’t enough to separate you – and your strengths aren’t enough to save you.

That’s the bottom line: Your sins aren’t enough and your strengths aren’t enough. You are not enough — for this parenting gig, this marriage relationship, this homeschooling year, this work project.

Write it on the wall, ink it on some skin, because Christ wrote it with His blood:

Grace is the only thing that is ever enough.

Because the thing is – every sin and every strength always falls short. Every sin and every strength is always both in need of exactly the same thing: the grace of God.

Grace is the only thing that ever makes a way.

You find yourself praying it at the sink, at the desk, at the door:

Life 101 is Parenting 101: You can’t control outcomes — you can only model how to become.

Because Life isn’t about controlling things – but about letting God control you. Parenting isn’t about controlling kids – but about letting God control you. Parenting isn’t as much about raising the kids — but about laying yourself right down.

You only parent as well as you know your Father.

You only live as well as Christ lives in you.

You can find a beautiful collection of chalk verses here.

Seventeen months ago, my oldest daughter had surgery to repair subluxated  tendons in her right ankle. Yesterday morning she had surgery to repair subluxated tendons in her right ankle. It's really not an activity she put on her bucket list twice, but the first doctor didn't do such a good job, leaving her with more pain and less mobility.

Wouldn't it be nice to rewind time, in this case returning to December 2011 and choosing a different path, a different doctor, a different outcome?   When I survey the situation from my little plastic throne, there's no doubt I would.  In a heartbeat, I would sanitize her story, removing any and all problems. But with the next heartbeat, I realize that I would be removing those parts of her story that give it suspense and color, those parts that require her to live beyond herself, by faith in her God who is for her--and faithful. By messing with her story, I would take away months of waiting upon Him, trusting Him when the answers weren't obvious.

When I'm thinking correctly, I slip from my flimsy throne to my knees, bowing before the One who is on His eternal, immovable throne, the Author of every word of her story. He has crafted its beginning, middle, and end, the timing of every plot twist, and the resolution to each cliffhanger.

I am thankful He keeps the pen out of my hands and writes the story He wants for her. He invites me to sit back to read and enjoy it, learning from chapter to chapter to trust Him who writes the very best stories.   

I pray that the next chapter includes running and dancing on a healthy ankle. I'll see what happens when I turn the page.                                                                                      
We are inundated with news everyday that is discouraging, even downright depressing. As Christians we believe in our heads that God is Sovereign, that "light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5), that the gospel of Jesus redeems and transforms lives. But when the news continues to bombard us, we sometimes forget. Testimonies of God at work encourage our hearts and fuel our hope. This, the story of a family at my church, is the first of many I hope to share of the gospel on display. It is written by Mercy's dad.

I’d like to tell you the story of a little girl.  For reasons we may never know, this little girl’s family wasn’t able to provide for all of her needs.  And in January of last year she was placed in an orphanage in northern China.  On that exact same day, half a world away, a family whose hearts had been stirred by God to bring another child into their family was officially accepted into China’s adoption program.  Though the child and family knew nothing about each other, God’s perfect plan was already unfolding.  Almost a year later, the first day that child’s name appeared on China’s shared adoption list was also the first time our family was eligible to be matched from that list – and the Lord’s sovereign hand connected our paths for good.  Though there was a huge distance between us, and she still had no idea we existed, we loved her and were willing to take on all of the obstacles in the way to bring her into our family.

For those who don’t know our story – this is Mercy, and yes she is Chinese, but she has a condition known as albinism.  Her body does not produce normal levels of pigment, so she has very pale skin and white hair.  As a father (and mother), we look at her picture and feel a love in our hearts for her that is unexplainable, save that we are made in the image and likeness of God.  And this process has given us such fresh insight into the heart of God for His children.  Mercy’s story is also my story (and your story.)  My earthly family was not capable of providing for all of my needs, but there was a heavenly father that could.  And though there was a huge gap between us, and I still had no idea He existed, He loved me (and He loved you.)  And He was willing to take on all of the obstacles in the way to bring us into His family.  While we were still rejecting Him or ignoring Him or just otherwise oblivious to Him, He paid a heavy price in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross to open the door for us to be adopted into His glorious kingdom.

Though it was nothing like His sacrifice, we also had to pay a heavy price in time and resources to allow our daughter to come home (which we are now on the brink of accomplishing).  But we have been blessed by tremendous help from our family (and that’s all of you!)  From the start of this process we have been shown overwhelming support, and we wanted to take this time to deeply thank you all.  Our spaghetti dinner (believe it or not) was a year ago yesterday.  And it humbles me to this day to remember the willingness and eagerness that so many of you showed to give of your time and energy as well as financially.  So much food and so many auction items donated; so many hands volunteered to do the work of setting up and cooking and serving and cleaning up; such a blessing to our souls to feel the unconditional support of our church family!  And that was just the beginning.  In the weeks and months that have passed since then we are constantly asked “How are things going?”, “What can I do to help?”, “Here’s something I thought you could use?”, and “What specifically can I pray about for you?”

And let me tell you we have felt those prayers all along the journey.  God has provided consistently, “exceedingly abundantly more than we can ask or imagine”.  Making sure we had all of the funds we needed exactly when we needed them.  Connecting us with complete strangers who had kids with similar conditions as Mercy to encourage us when our spirits were low.  Having a couple of seats open up on the “fully booked” flight we wanted appear just as we called to make a reservation.  But most of all – providing a supernatural sense of peace about bringing Mercy into our home – even in the face of doubts and fears.  I don’t want to paint an unfair picture – those doubts and fears still do come.  Like countless others before us, no matter how many times God provides, we still question “But what about this?”, “Can I really trust you to provide that?”  But God has been faithful to bring us peace in our hearts when we remember to focus on Him.  And thanks to so many of you who have helped us to get our focus back on Him when we needed it most.

Adoption is not easy (and we’re just getting started!)  There are so many of you here that have gone before us, and have so much more to tell than we do.  And we have benefited greatly from your friendship and experience and wise council – thank you so much for your time and patience, sharing your journey with us and illuminating God’s work in the lives of your families.  We look forward to being able to do the same someday, and share our stories of God’s grace to those who take this journey next.  Let me encourage those who may be hearing the call of James “to care for orphans” in your lives, but are filled with fear or feelings of inadequacy – we have those feelings too, but we are not in this alone!  When I first thought about putting Mercy’s picture up on the screen – the thought struck me that I don’t even need to!  Because most of you already look at her picture every day.  She’s hanging on refrigerators and bulletin boards, in picture frames and on computer desktops all around this region.  The world looks at her and sees a poor little orphan girl without a family – but the reality is she has a huge family!  A family that is anxiously waiting with open arms to gather her in.  Eagerly anticipating her arrival to shower unconditional love upon her.  And at the front of the line is Jesus Christ himself who longs for her to know Him, and trust Him, and love Him as He loves her.

Our ultimate prayer is not that Mercy will have a better life, or have her medical needs met more effectively, or bring joy to our home – though we do hope for all those things.  Our deepest prayer is that she would know Jesus and receive His salvation from sin.  And we are so glad to have all of you, as her extended family to help her to find Him.

Isaiah 43 

1 But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.

2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.

3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in exchange for you.

4 Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
peoples in exchange for your life.

5 Fear not, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you.

6 I will say to the north, Give up,
and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,

7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

We leave for China this Friday.  If all goes according to plan, Mercy will be in our arms on Mother’s Day – what a gift, right? 

Thanks for being such good stewards of God’s grace.  Thanks for supporting us, encouraging us, and lifting us up in prayer.  Thanks for opening your hearts to our Mercy, just as you have to Michaela, Matthew, and Mason and for sharing your walks of faith with them.  We couldn’t do this without you.

Thank you!

Flashback post from March 2008

 It started with a math lesson today. Janessa and I read about binary numbers in a book by Theoni Pappas. We made sense of the explanation, and Janessa was able to respond to questions such as, "If 1011 is a base two number, how is it written in base 10?" No problem. Pappas claimed that any number can be represented with these 0's and 1's in the binary system. Since I've had almost no exposure to the binary number system, I was skeptical. I extended the lesson by suggesting a number which we needed to represent with 0's and 1's. Enter the problem.

I knew what I was asking of Janessa was within her reach. I also knew the process would require her to struggle. She wasn't interested in a struggle; she desired ease. At that point, she would have much preferred to mindlessly fill in a page of simple multiplication and addition problems. When I said I wanted her to struggle, she thought I had cursed her, and began to cry.

Fast forward to this afternoon. A local store is offering a savings of 50% on all of their games this week. The girls and I browsed the store, hoping for nothing more than a new deck of Dutch Blitz cards. With the cards in hand, I continued to look. I spotted Settlers of Catan, a game my friend recommended years ago. I hadn't purchased it for two reasons: it's expensive, and it looks daunting. The sale removed the first reason. But the second reason remained. This appeared to be a game which would require a lot of study prior to playing. Frankly, I wasn't interested in the struggle; I wanted ease. I showed it to the girls, though, and they were up for the challenge. Within an hour of opening it, we became the game's newest fans.

How do binary numbers and Settlers of Catan relate? In our little world, they both represented struggle. Both required effort. Both wrinkled our brains. At first. Once we pressed through, however, we experienced gain. Janessa's gain was unlocking the secret binary code and accomplishing something she thought impossible. Our group gain was learning a game we anticipate giving us many hours of fun family time.

It didn't take more than a moment of reflection to discover spiritual application as well. How I prefer ease in my life! I want a happy (tidy) family, a healthy savings account, a husband who leads flawlessly, friends who adore get the idea. It is when I have all these things, however, that I see very little growth in my relationship with the Lord. When trials come, even small ones like a child crying over her math, I am tested, refined, disciplined, humbled--all for God's good purpose of producing righteousness and steadfastness, a genuine faith and maturity in me. When life is easy, I forget my Lord and unwittingly place myself on His throne. Trials knock me down and impel me to seek my Savior.

In dependence upon my mighty Savior is where I want to be. It's where I need to be. Therefore, I welcome the struggle, knowing gain will be right around the corner.

See Hebrews 12:11; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7.