doesnotdefineyou
Faith, Life, Scripture

Your Past Does not Define You

In the days of the Old Testament, Numbers 3 to be exact, as the Israelites wandered around, God established a group of people whose only responsibility was related to the care of the tabernacle. They did not serve as priests, as that was a job given exclusively to the sons of Aaron, brother of Moses. But the care of the tabernacle was given to the sons of Levi, namely Gershon, Merari, and Kohath. They were essentially the “three guys and a camel” of their day, the movers of the tabernacle, and trust me, they moved a lot. (That’s why it’s called “wandering.”)

The sons of Gershon were responsible for the coverings of the tabernacle and everything related to the coverings (think curtains, ropes, etc.) The sons of Merari were responsible for the frames of the tabernacle and everything related to that. These guys were lucky, as anytime the Israelites decided to pack up and go, they got to pack up their items and move them on carts and camels. But the sons of Kohath, they didn’t have it quite as easy. As the caretakers of the sanctuary, including the table, the lamp stand, the altars and the sacramental tools, and most importantly the ark of the covenant, they had to carry their items on their shoulders, on specially ordained poles. Not only was their job difficult, it was deadly. They could not touch the items in any way as these were the holiest of items, from the holy of holies, a place only priests were allowed to go. If they touched the items, they would die. So before each move, the priests wrapped the sanctuary items in sacred cloth, and then and only then could the Kohathites put their grubby hands on anything. (I inserted the part about the grubby hands. That’s not actually from the Bible).

“Where am I going with this history lesson?” I am sure you are asking by now. Hang with me. We’ll get there.

The sons of Kohath had hard jobs. Deadly jobs. They didn’t have the benefit of carts and camels to do their work. They had to rely upon their own brute strength, and one slip up meant instant death. In the midst of all that wandering and pressure, I imagine they felt a little put out with the sons of Aaron who got to walk around being all holy, wrapping up those sacred items and then saying, “Okay mover dudes. Now you can come do the dirty work.” So as you might imagine, the Kohathites got a little full of themselves and decided they’d had enough.

Korah, the grandson of Kohath, fell in with a bad crowd (ain’t it the way it always is) and he and his fellow gangstas decided they would challenge Moses and Aaron for the rights of the priesthood. (It’s all in Numbers 16). As you can imagine, this didn’t really go over well with anyone, including God. So God told Moses to gather Korah and all the other rebels and their households and stand before the assembly. And then, what I  imagine had to be one of the most horrific events of the Old Testament to witness, happened.

“Moses said, ‘This is how you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: If these men die a natural death and suffer the fate of all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the realm of the dead, then you will know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt.’ As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions. They went down alive into the realm of the dead, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, ‘The earth is going to swallow us too!’ And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.” (Numbers 16:28–35).

Not the End

Korah, the son of Kohath, was so filled with envy over the purpose God had given to others that he was blinded to the significance of the purpose God had given him. He became jealous and discontent to his own detriment. And in the midst of that, he missed the fact that God had trusted him with something precious.

I wonder how often we do that, look so longingly at what we see others accomplishing that we cannot see the beauty of our own calling?

But this was not the end of the line of Korah, and this is my favorite part of this story. All of the sons of Korah did not die that day. But those who survived became the custodians and doorkeepers of the tabernacle, the lowest of lowly jobs among the Levites. We are talking Mike Rowe, Dirty Jobs, level low. And in the midst of that lowly job, they penned some of the most beautiful verses in the Bible.

They wrote Psalm 42:1 which reads, “As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after thee.”

And Psalm 46:1-3, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” (And if anyone knew about the earth giving way it was them.)

But my favorite of all is Psalm 84:1 where they sing, “How lovely is your dwelling place, oh Lord almighty.” They go on to say, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” And here’s why I love this Psalm so much.

I “get” Korah, and coveting what others are called to do, thinking the role I have been given is not as grand or as important or as easy (I could go on). I think many of us can relate to Korah. But the people I am most impressed with are the sons of Korah, the survivors of the great uprising. It would have been easy to live in shame of their past, but they didn’t. They didn’t let their past define them. Even when given the lowest of jobs, they sang from a heart of gratitude and humility and said, “God, there are a lot of places we could be, but better is one day here, cleaning your courts, than any other place we could imagine.”

All that to say, I am challenged by their story. I am challenged to be grateful, to be humble, and to live out the calling God has placed on my life with a sense of joy and purpose, even when it is difficult and life feels overwhelming. I am also challenged to remember that my past, including my own failures, don’t define me. I am defined by the way I love God and the way He loves me, and ultimately by the way I show that love to others.

 

Family Photo
Adoption, Faith, Life, Parenting

The Talk

From the moment our daughters began to notice that our skin color was different than theirs, we have talked about skin color much as we would about eye color or any other physical differences people have. Our conversations have always been about the beauty of our diversity and the incredible way God has knit our family together. But I am not so naïve as to think I could shelter our daughters from the reality of the world they live in, nor the complexities and atrocities of race relations that have been a part of our nation’s history and are part of our nation today.

I remember one day a few years back, Catherine brought home a picture book called, “The ABC’s of American History.” In the book, “M” was for MLK and “S” was for slavery. But because she was only three, I saw no need to explain those words to her and instead just glossed right over them.

Recently, I watched an episode of Parenthood entitled, “The Talk,” where Crosby and Jasmine Braverman, an interracial couple, talked to their bi-racial child about racism. As I watched, I knew that someday, I, too, would have to have that conversation with my daughters. That day was today.

The girls watched a video about Martin Luther King, Jr. and why we have a holiday to honor him. It was a frightening video, especially to Nikki. She did not understand why policemen were spraying water on people, or why grown-ups were yelling at little children at school, or why dogs were biting people. She did not understand why someone would shoot Martin Luther King, Jr., and she wanted answers to all of her questions.

I started the conversation by talking about the difference in our skin color, much like we have always talked about it. As they ate their breakfast, I did my best to explain. “Sometimes people dislike other people for silly reasons, including just because their skin is a different color.” At this point, Catherine reached over and put her arm next to mine, comparing our skin color. I paused for a moment, unsure I could go on. “You know how my skin is really light and even though it’s more pink, people say I am white?” Both girls nodded. “And you know how your skin is darker than mine? Well some people call that black skin.” Catherine looked at me confused and said, “I’m not really black. I’m Mexican colored, like Miss Laura (our neighbor).” I have to confess, it made me laugh a little.

 

I continued.

“A long, long time ago, there were rules that made sure people with white skin like mine and dark skin like yours had to do completely different things. For example, white children went to different schools than black children. And black people had to drink from different water fountains than white people.” Once again, Catherine reached over and put her arm next to mine. Then she slipped her hand into mine without uttering a word.

I was so choked up I could hardly speak. I could tell she was just trying to comprehend what in the world would make people hate someone just because their skin was a different color. And I’m not certain, but I think she needed some kind of reassurance from me, and that’s why she put her hand in mine.

I smiled at her, my eyes filling with tears (I couldn’t help it), and said, “Believe it or not, there were even rules about where people could sit on a bus!” (Keep in mind, I was trying to keep this way on their level and not too far above their heads.) Catherine said, “If I was on a bus and someone told me to move to the back, I would just tell them, ‘I’m not going anywhere!’” That led into a discussion about Rosa Parks and how she had done that very same thing. Catherine seemed very pleased about Rosa sticking up for others. I said, “It’s important to speak up when something isn’t right, isn’t it?” Nikki said, “Yeah. That’s not the same as tattling though, right Mom?”  I assured her it was not the same.

 

And then we started talking about Dr. King.

 

I said, “Martin Luther King, Jr. was a pastor, like Pastor Jeff at our church. He and a lot of other people, people with black skin and white skin, started saying that having rules that separated people just because they had different skin color was wrong and really stupid.” They both sucked in their breath at my use of the word stupid.

I said, “Remember how I told you some people didn’t want the rules to change, and  some of those people were very hateful about wanting to keep the rules the same? Well sometimes those people were very mean.” Catherine said, “The white people were mean to the black people?” I really did not want to answer that question, but I looked her in the eyes and said, “Yes.”

I continued. “But Dr. King said there was a better way. And he had a big special talk about a dream he had.”

Nikki said, “Was it a bad dream? Was he afraid of those dogs biting him too?”

I smiled at her and said, “No baby. It wasn’t the kind of dream you have when you are asleep, but more the kind of dream that is something you hope will someday come true. And because his speech was so great, and his dream was so big, other people started hoping for the same thing.”

 

Nikki said, “But Mama, why those people with the water hoses was so mad and why them dogs bited people? (She had a nightmare last night about what she’d seen in the video at school.) “Well baby,” I said, “People started marching to show they wanted things to change. They didn’t think it was fair for people to be separated or treated badly just because their skin color was different. And, during the marches, people got really mad at each other.”

Catherine said, “At a march? Like a parade?”

I laughed a little at her innocence and said, “No, a march is when you walk as a group to show that you want something to change for the better.”

From there we went on to talk about the civil rights marches and the fact that some people just didn’t want things to change, and that eventually, a very hate-filled person shot Dr. King because he didn’t want him to talk about his dream any more.

Nikki said, “I don’t understand why someone would shoot him though.” And Catherine added, “I bet that hurt. I’m sorry that happened to him.” I said, “Me too, baby. Me too.”

 

We ended the conversation by talking about how Dr. King’s dream did come true in many ways. I closed by saying, “He died trying to make our world a better place. We honor him by having a special day to remember his dream.”

I asked the girls if they had any questions. They were both silent. I’m sure they will have more questions in time, but for this morning, that was enough. I hate that their little hearts and minds had to be opened to the existence of such hate in this world. But I know it was inevitable.

 

All that to say, I have no idea if I did a good job explaining such a very complex subject. I know we will have many more of these conversations in their lifetime. I’m grateful God made us a family, and I’m grateful for people like Dr. King who opened such doors.

LoveNeverFails
Faith, Life, Parenting, Scripture

How Do We Teach Our Children to Love?

Some weeks ago, near the end of the school year, a little boy in my daughters’ class told them they were in his “enemy book” and he could not play with them. When one of them asked him why, he said, “Because you’re black.” You should also know that just a few days before that, he pointed at a child on the playground and laughed and said in a sing-song voice, “You’re fat. You’re fat.” He followed those words with a pronouncement that the child he was making fun of was in his enemy book for being fat. To this day Nikki has nightmares about being fat, though she has no idea what fat even means.

I spoke with the principal about the boy’s words and my concern that a five-year-old  would be acting in such a way. I wondered aloud with her as to what that child might be like if left unchecked throughout his lifetime (or even throughout his elementary years). She shook her head and said simply, “Hate is taught.” To which I replied, “Yes, and so is love. And the only way I know to combat such ignorance and hate is with love.”

So how does one teach someone else to love?

I believe first and foremost it is to model love.

We have the most beautiful description of love in the Bible. I have read it more times than I can count. I have memorized it, prayed it, and taught the words to my children. But none of those things matter if I do not live them out; and I will confess to you, at times, I am terrible at living these out.

 

Love is patient.

Love is kind.

It does not envy.

It does not boast.

It is not proud.

Love does not dishonor others.

It is not self-seeking.

It keeps no record of wrong doing.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with truth.

It always protects,

Always trusts,

Always hopes,

Always perseveres.

Love never fails.

I think at times we confuse our godly intent, our gifts, and our great actions with love. But “if I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” I Corinthians 13:1-3  

I believe love takes place in our hearts and minds and overflows into our actions. It is best measured by our response to our daily encounters

  • when we get cut off in traffic
  • when our family members frustrate us
  • when people in our life are unkind or hurtful
  • when good things happen to others
  • when we feel slighted
  • when we didn’t get enough sleep, or we feel bad, or we just want to be left alone for one freaking minute of the day
  • when people live lives that are counter to what we think is right, or dare I say it, what we believe is godly

All that to say, if we are to combat the hate and ignorance that exists in this world, we must learn to genuinely love. And we must teach our children to do the same.

ThereisaRiver
Faith, Life, Scripture

Out of Control

Psalm 46: 1-5 says,
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in times of trouble.
Therefore, we will not fear
though the earth should change
And though the mountains fall
into the heart of the sea;
Though its waters roar and foam
Though the mountains quake
at its swelling pride.

There is a river  whose streams make glad the City of God
the holy dwelling places of the most high.
God is in the midst of her,
she will not be moved;
God will help her when the morning dawns.

I love this Psalm. It paints in my mind’s eye a very vivid picture of God’s strength in the midst of chaos.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble.

His presence is familiar. It’s always there. It’s very present. When I feel like the world is spinning out of control (my control, if I’m honest), I look for Him, and He’s always there.

Therefore, we will not fear though the earth should change and though the mountains fall into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.

Think about this picture. A mountain slipping down into the sea. I can picture the turmoil, the swell, the white foamy water. I imagine the sound of it is deafening and demands to be heard. It is not a peaceful picture at all. It feels frightening and overwhelming.

Therefore, we will not fear . . .

no matter what things look like around us. Regardless of what is being destroyed or falling apart or changing. We will not fear . . . I will not fear.

And then there is the next beautiful line of this Psalm. And every time I read this line . . .

every.
single.
time.

I catch my breath in awe.

There is a River whose streams make glad the City of God.

I’m not a theologian, and I can’t tell you with certainty what this means, but I can tell you what it speaks to my heart.

In the midst of destruction and chaos and uncertainty, there is a river, the depth of which cannot be imagined. It is unfathomable. It provides life. It provides protection. It has a determined course. It is a force to be reckoned with. It is the Lord God Almighty.

And I’m pretty sure THAT is why the thought of it takes my breath away.

When I read this one line, “There is a River whose streams make glad the City of God,”  I feel instantly at peace. I can still sense the chaos, see the destruction, and hear the deafening sound around me, but my spirit feels peace. I am covered by the warmth of grace. And simultaneously, I feel bolstered. I want to raise my fist and shout, “YEAH, THAT’S RIGHT! THERE’S A RIVER!”

The holy dwelling places of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.

All that to say, I don’t know what feels out of control in your world today. I have no idea what sense of despair or fear of great change you may be experiencing. But I do know this; there is a river, and in the raging, scary depths of it there is the Lord. He is in the midst of it now, and will be there when morning dawns. Therefore, we will not fear . . .

ThisIs54
Faith, Life, My Not So Empty Nest

So This is 54

I turned 54 yesterday, which in and of itself was a shock, because for some reason I have been thinking I was 52 and about to turn 53. So instead of waking up a year older, I woke up TWO years older. That was a lot to take in people . . . a lot to take in.

I woke up early, for no apparent reason other than my biological clock has now turned against me (in so many ways) and has fooled my body into thinking it should awaken at the crack of dawn. I walked into the kitchen, praying I had remembered to make coffee the night before, and found, much to my dismay, I had not. Ticked, and somewhat frustrated that the universe had not yet realized it was my birthday and should thereby bestow upon me countless blessings (including miraculously brewed coffee), I headed back to my bathroom to grab a quick shower before the day’s madness officially started.

I looked in the mirror and said to myself, “So this is 54. Fifty-Four. You, Carol Jones, are a 54 year-old woman.” I looked critically at myself in the mirror, noticing the muffin top and very curvy hips I have somehow managed to reacquire (despite my best efforts in the gym) and the crinkles surrounding my eyes and mouth and said again, “So this is 54.” And with a not-so-impressed shrug of the shoulders, I stepped into the already steaming shower.

As I stood in the shower enjoying what would likely be the most peaceful part of my day, I reflected about the life of the 54-year-old woman I have become. In my lifetime

  • I have been married to the same man for almost 34 years. (And trust me, this is no small feat on either of our parts!)
  • I have given birth to four children, two of whom lived through childbirth (and also their teenage years) and two of whom never took a breath in this world.
  • I have failed at so many things in so many ways, hoping with each failure that I have been sifted and refined and made more beautiful because of the struggle.
  • I have been blessed with some of the most incredible friendships with people in a wide span of generations.
  • I have been given the great privilege of pouring into the lives of many young women, a privilege I hope I have stewarded well. And lastly,
  • I have seen my nest be emptied and now  refilled with two sweet daughters, children I never pictured (or could have even imagined) would be a part of my life.

As I got dressed and took one last look in the mirror before I went to awaken the Twinderellas, I said to myself, “So this is 54.” I smiled, fluffed my fantastic head of hair, slapped my butt, gave myself an air kiss in the mirror and said, “Girl, you make 54 look good. OW!”

All that to say, here’s to being 54. I won’t even begin to guess what this year will bring because if I have learned anything at all in this life, it’s that we have no idea what tomorrow will bring. But here’s to a year of tomorrows, one day at a time.

 

family
Adoption, Faith, Life

My Not So Empty Nest

It was a beautiful spring night in Houston, uncharacteristically cool and breezy, lacking the brutal humidity we often felt that time of year. I was out to dinner with a group of friends when we ran into a friend of ours from church. She was headed off to the hospital to pick up twin, nineteen-month-old girls and joked that Mike and I would be a perfect family for them. I laughed and said to her, “Girl, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and it is not a train. It’s freedom.” Mike and I were counting the days until our nest would be empty, and we most certainly had no plans to refill it.

 

We had no plans.

But God did.

 

That night, Mike and I talked about the little girls who were being rescued from a life of hell, and we prayed for the people who would someday be their forever family. Ten days later our home and our hearts were invaded by two precious, but very broken baby girls.

 

And oh how we loved them. We loved them fiercely and unconditionally. And some days, we thought we might not survive. We braved their brutal meltdowns. We lost sleep with them through their torturous nightmares. We saw one pediatric specialist after another to try to overcome their health and mental distress. And it took all of us, Mike and I, and Jacob, and Zack and Christina, to make that happen. Christina kept the girls during the day while we worked, then the boys and Mike and I tag teamed the rest. We loved those babies with everything we had to give them, all the while knowing they would someday leave us to live with their forever family. And that was as it should be. Our nest was empty, and we had no plans to change that.

 

We had no plans.

But God did.

 

On Fathers’ Day 2010, we relinquished custody of our sweet little Baby S and Baby N to their forever family. We spent the day with them, trying to forever imprint our family into their hearts. We feared they would forget us, or worse yet they would think we, too, had abandoned them. Even now as I think about that day, and write these words, I struggle with feelings of guilt over leaving them. Not because we didn’t love and trust the family they were going to, but because those girls loved and trusted us, and we left them.

It was so much harder than I ever expected it to be, but as difficult as it was on me, it was inexplicably harder on Mike. He cried himself to sleep for so many nights in a row. I had only ever heard him cry like that one other time in our life, and that was when his dad died. I cannot adequately express to you just how broken his heart was.

Though we’d had no plans to refill our nest, once it was empty, really empty . . . I truly have no words to express the depths of the sorrow we felt.

 

We had no plans.

But God did.

 

As the Lord would have it, the girls ended up back in the home of their biological mom, and on September 15, 2010, she called me in the middle of the night during a domestic dispute and yelled at me to come and get them.

We have had them ever since that day.

Though the months and years that followed were tumultuous, even torturous at times, and though we lived in constant fear they would someday leave our home again, we held fast to a faith that told us God had a plan for our lives and the lives of Baby S. and Baby N., and His plans would not be undone.

On June 15, 2012, WE became their forever family and they became forever ours.

family

PS – my kids hate this picture! But I love it!

 

 

Like I said, We had no plans to change the course of our life.  But God did.

All that to say, my not-so-empty nest was never designed to be empty. From the very beginning of our lives and theirs, He created us to be a family. I have made a million plans in my life, including how I would spend my empty nest years, and trust me, the plans I made look nothing like the ones God mapped out for me. Sometimes I think we look so hard for our purpose, and we get so busy making plans to live out what we believe our purpose is, that we overlook the fact that our purpose is not what really matters.  Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. – Proverbs 19:21

 

 

 

Adoption, Life, Parenting

A Forever Date With Dad

Christina called to tell me she was going to be alone on Valentine’s Day and wondered if I’d like to be her date. Since Mike and I don’t normally go out on Valentine’s Day, I told her that sounded like fun. To make the deal a little sweeter (get it . . . Valentine’s Day . . . sweeter . . .) she said she’d watch the girls so Mike and I could go on a date on Friday!

I convinced Mike that this would be so perfect for all of us (I have my ways, you just don’t worry about how I did the convincing, alright?), and Christina and I started planning our date.  Continue Reading