So this post is for posterity, mostly. I have things--thoughts, occurrences--that I need to record before they are long gone (with my sanity).
Almost a year ago, the Lord answered a big, broad, long-standing prayer of mine: send me on mission. As a teen, I was sure I would be a foreign missionary; it just made sense. So I eagerly prepared my heart to GO. My freshman year in college, I fell in love. Hard. With a man who was just coming into his faith. With time, Jarrad began to seek ministry of his own. But my [now] husband's idea of "mission" has been much less narrow than mine. And so we stayed. I have never felt such an internal paradox than the years when I felt we were embracing comfort and convenience at the expense of REAL mission. Of course, my head knew all along that, as a follower of Christ, I am on mission wherever He places me, and that there are people who need Him everywhere I turn. But it just felt easy, and comfortable. And that made me ill-at-ease, and uncomfortable.
Still, when I mentioned making a dramatic move of some sort, Jarrad never felt that the Lord was leading our family in that direction. I prayed God would change his mind.
So I worked at a normal job. And then I had a baby, so I quit my job in the school system to stay home. And those were some years of feeling aimless. Sure, I maintained relationships with people for whom the Lord gave me intense love--a little boy with lots of special needs and his family, neighbors with a VERY different cultural background than my own. But yet, I felt aimless. And fruitless. And even though people were constantly saying that my children are my ministry, it just didn't feel complete.
Finally, a couple months after my third child turned one, a supernatural thing happened. I had been thinking through the ministry of adoption. Adoption is another God-thing that I've wanted to do since I was a teenager. And again, Jarrad and I never seem to be on the same page. As friends around us began to submit their dossiers, and as I read of families welcoming new members by way of adoption, and as my envy for all of them rose, I began processing the scripture that speaks to adoption. I was feeling like we, as Christians, have taken a huge interest in the orphan, but have ignored the widow. I began to ask questions: Who is the orphan? Who is the widow? Many dictionaries define "orphan" as a child who is without one or both parents. The "fatherless" child would be considered an "orphan," especially in Biblical times, as the child of a widow had no provision unless the Church stepped in. And so, we might consider that, all around us, we have functional widows--women who are single moms--and their functional orphans--fatherless children. What would it look like to really care for these functional widows and orphans--the ones who live next door and shop at our same grocery store? Would it be merely offering financial assistance to bail them out of the current month's expenses? Would it be looking at them with scorn and offering advice on how to "fix" their "situation."
It is difficult, as a human, to accept the thought of purely caring for the needs of another person--someone who may not do the things they "ought" to do, or who makes one dumb decision after another. It's hard to watch, and even harder to partner with that person. But maybe that's what the Lord wants us to do, in our modern society, with our modern widows. After all, we cannot truly care for these fatherless children without benefiting their single parent. And if we refuse to do that, because we see it as "enabling" or just plain annoying, then we must not be surprised when the cycle repeats itself. Over, and over.
So anyway, the Lord gave me all of about three weeks to process this predicament. And then we found out that a family we knew was being evicted from their apartment. Again. It was a mom and her two daughters--6th grade and 9th grade. And even though I'm a sucker for helping the helpless, I did NOT want to help. We knew this family well enough to know that the mom was a perpetual victim and completely self-absorbed, and that they would be homeless as a direct result of her irresponsible decisions. This would be the second round of being homeless in just a few months. The first time was during summer vacation, and they just kind of hopped from one friend to another or slept in their car, and the younger girl stayed out of town with her father most of the time (a man who never bothers to contact her, though she was extremely excited about the time she got to spend with him). But this time, school was in session. And I felt burdened for the lack of stability in the girls' lives.
Driving home from church after a few days of thinking through the situation, and as the date of their eviction grew closer, I finally worked up the nerve to say something to my sweet husband, being sure he would say, "Over my dead body."
"Soooo..." I began, "I've been thinking we should ask [the family] to come stay with us." Jarrad slowly replied, "I had the same thought." Wait. You did?? Oh, no. This is going to be a lot of work.
So I texted the mom. And since she's not in the habit of turning down an offer like that, they moved in the following week, right before Thanksgiving. They stayed with us for six weeks, while the mom started [another] new job and saved up some money. She found a landlord willing to cut her a LOT of slack to rent to them, and they moved out shortly after the girls started their second semester of school.
During those weeks, I thought MANY times that I had never ever worked so hard in my life. Every single day ended in exhaustion. James was at that laborious age when I had to watch him like a hawk, I was trying to figure out how to homeschool my own 5-year-old, I was cooking every night for eight people, I was helping the older girls with homework and trying to encourage them academically, and I was trying to speak into their mom's life as much as she would allow. I could barely keep my head above water, but, at the same time, it was a most fulfilling sort of exhaustion.
Once they moved out, the girls continued to ride the bus to my house. At first, it was just two or three times a week, but it quickly became the daily routine. They were with us almost nightly until their mom got off work, which was sometimes at 10 o'clock. We all got used to each other and the dynamics, and the girls seemed to thrive with the consistency our home provided. By the end of the school year, though, I was feeling pushed on many levels, the most superficial of which included the 6th grade girl challenging my authority on several occasions.
Summer rolled around, and I was determined to be intentional with the girls. I encouraged them to continue coming over (rather than being left alone at home while their mom worked). We registered them each for a week of camp. We worked out a system through which they could earn money--by reading books, doing manual labor, working through a math curriculum, etc. We set parameters on how much internet they could use each day, how much snacking is allowed, who would be responsible for kitchen clean up after dinner, etc. There were weeks during the summer when we saw the girls a lot, and there were other weeks when we saw them none (whether we were traveling, or I was sick in my first trimester of pregnancy, they were with friends, or just for whatever reason). I was looking forward to school starting--to having a routine. I was also determined to see the girls achieve academically. They hadn't really been encouraged academically, and it felt like an uphill battle. But this time, we'd be starting at the very beginning. I intended to get all the information up front so I wouldn't be working blindly. And that's what I did. We took both girls to their school's orientation nights the week before school started. I met their teachers and got on their email lists. I wrote down websites and memorized their schedules. I bought remaining supplies they needed and made suggestions on ways to organize, especially for the now-10th grader. In the interest of establishing routine, I planned to start our own homeschooling on the same day they started school, but I had much more anxiety about their start than ours.
But once school started, it became quickly apparent that, even though it seemed like the obvious and easiest route for me to take, academics is not their focus. And now I'm figuring that's not exactly my calling here. Duh.
So what is? All last school year, I was so worn out, that I just kept telling God that I trusted that the little bit I felt I was giving them would be exactly what God wanted them to have. Now that I'm used to feeding so many mouths and juggling all of it ALL the time, I feel like I can give more. Last night, I heard a testimony of a young guy we know, who spoke fondly of his upbringing and of his parents. They were leaders in their church, and he loved church and youth group. But, he said, his parents don't really talk a lot about Christ in their home. And he earnestly seemed hurt by that.
I get it. These girls are at a critical stage of life. I should be able to pour the Word into them. It should be ready conversation. But somehow, I feel paralyzed. I don't know how to bring it up, or what to say. Which is dumb, because I actually do know what to say. I am completely faithless in sharing Truth with them on a daily basis. I do my best to impart "values" without actually talking to them about the Gospel. How weak.
So what do I do? I continue to trust that exactly what I have to offer right now is exactly what the Lord desires for them and for our own little family. At the same time, I have to become more diligent in my own prayer life and study of the Word, so that I have something substantial to share with them. After all, how can I share Truth, when it feels like old news to me? It sounds terrible to say, but it's the ugliness of my heart right now. I have spent months feeling like I'm drowning, and I'm starting to come up for air. The truth is, I never needed to drown in the first place. But in the Lord's timing, that's where I've been. I can't stay, though. Lord, please don't let me stay.
[Friend, if you are reading this, and it is about you, please forgive me. This is the honest out-pouring of my heart. It isn't always pretty, but it's real. I would love to talk it through, face-to-face. I want better for you. I want the best for you and for your family. I don't always feel free to share honestly with you, but if you would welcome that, I would want that, too. I love all three of you dearly.]