Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Still Grateful



Okay, so if you're feeling anything like me, you're a little weary of all the talk of thankfulness. I was starting to feel that way too, quite honestly. But then God opens my eyes to some amazing thing, and I think "Hey, I'm still thankful!"

So in the aftermath of Thanksgiving, I just have to share one more thing I'm truly grateful for today. And actually it's pretty appropriate considering my husband and I are little behind on the holidays here. Case in point: if you drove around our cul-de-sac you'd notice our neighbors have packed away their scarecrows, pumpkins and wreaths full of fall leaves. The day after Thanksgiving (for one family, the day after Halloween!) these folks strung their white Christmas lights and hung their silver and gold wreaths.

That is, except us.

So I figure it makes sense for me to hang out in Thanksgiving here, since I'm still in the spirit anyway. Surely by my next blog post, I'll have thrown away my pumpkins and stored my harvest wreath. (Hey, let's hope for the best.)

Well anyway, this morning I am feeling grateful for something I often take for granted. I'm grateful for the Body of Christ. I'm grateful that wherever we go, whatever city we relocate to, God always brings beautiful Christian people into our lives.

This Thanksgiving my family hosted a family with four daughters. Our eight kids had an absolute ball together. We experienced non-stop action the whole holiday. I'm still tired. But we so enjoyed our friends, some of our oldest friends that we met way back in our Maryland days. It was such a blessed time, leaving me with a full and grateful heart.

And last night we hosted a young couple that my husband married a couple years ago in Franklin, Tennessee. These sweet friends are adopting a precious baby girl who currently lives in Little Rock, so God has sweetly orchestrated us being a small part of their adoption journey. Spending time with them here in our home and hearing their hearts full of anticipation over meeting their daughter was such a blessing. And it gave me an extra push to continue my labor in orphan care ministry.

So today, I'm thankful for my brothers and sisters in Christ around the corner, around the country and around the world. I'm thankful for you reading this blog. At times like this I get a glimpse of heaven, when we'll spend eternity together in complete unity and peace.

Until then, I'll enjoy the beautiful glimpses that God gives me here.


With a Grateful Heart,

Carla

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Secret to a Rich Life



Today I read this quote, and I thought it would be a great way to end my series on gratefulness.
"In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich." Dietrich Bonhoeffer
It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich... Now that could preach. Especially today after a conversation I had with an old friend about SAT scores and college scholarships. While discussing a mutual friend and how well her daughter had done on the SAT, I exclaimed, "Man, those private schools. Those private school kids are so prepared when they graduate."

Needless to say, my children are in public schools. And on most days that's not a problem at all. I'm actually quite pleased with their schools and teachers. But today, I immediately began wanting what my  friend has: the financial means to send her children to fabulous private schools that work overtime to challenge their students to be excellent. Schools where average is unacceptable. Schools where children are expected to achieve.

But I'm so thankful for my other friend who firmly reminded me that life's not about your SAT scores. That it's not about what college your child attends. That it's not even about having great financial means.

Life is about Christ, and Christ alone. And whether I'm wealthy or poor or somewhere in between, it's still about Him. No matter what schools my children attend or don't attend, it's still about Him. No matter what fortune or misfortune my family experiences, it's still about Him. 

"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." Philippians 1:21

When I get that straight in my head, I can embrace this life that's truly rich for me. I have life, I have Jesus, I have the promise of eternal life with Him. What more can this world offer me that really makes a difference anyway?

It's with this attitude of heart that I leave the Thanksgiving season and enter the celebration of the birth of our Lord. I pray this is the attitude of heart that I abide in throughout the season.

Thanking God for His Riches,

Carla

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Antidote for Holiday Blues



Am I the only one that gets a little blue during the holidays? There are several reasons why I think this happens. I'll list a few, then hopefully I can leave you with a few words to encourage you (and myself, too).

I think the holidays can be discouraging because:
  • We miss the loved ones that have passed away and won't be able to celebrate the holidays with us
  • Other families around us have received horrible news right around the holiday (an old friend of mine lost her father two days ago, a family in my church has a precious little daughter that just began chemotherapy, another church member just lost a family member to possible suicide, and the list just goes on)
  • The world, with all its wars and controversies, hasn't taken a break for the holidays
To sum up each of these points, I think we get blue around the holidays because we're longing for our heavenly home. Every day here on earth falls short of perfect joy somehow. And that includes even the very best days like Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays (my birthday falls right between Thanksgiving and Christmas, by the way). I think we all, believers and unbelievers alike, carry in our hearts a desire for something else, something more than this life can possibly offer.

I believe that something more is Heaven.

2 Samuel, chapter 12, recounts the story of the death of King David's first son with Bathsheba. While the child was ill, David mourned and fasted day and night. Yet verse 20 states that when the baby died "David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate."

His servants were confused over his behavior. When the baby was alive, David mourned, but after his death, David ate and worshiped the Lord. To them, his behavior was backwards.

Check out David's response to them in verses 22 and 23. "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.' But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me."

David's faith in God and the promise of heaven gave him hope that he would one day go to his son. He believed that he would see his sweet boy again. And we have that promise too. Not only will we live in a beautiful place void of war, pain and death. We will also live in a place where we'll spend eternity with our loved ones that have gone before us. I will see my two babies again. You will see many of your loved ones as well. And even if some of our family members and friends don't know Christ yet, there is still hope that they will believe. That they too will join us there.

That promise brings me a sense of joy and anticipation during this holiday. I hope it does for you too.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Believing in His Promise,

Carla

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Difference A Preposition Makes

 

I'll let you guys in on a secret. Since I've declared myself a "writer," I've faced rejection like never before. For every compliment or encouragement I receive about my work, I encounter at least two rejections. So, I figure, why not share some of the love here?

The following devotional was rejected by a popular publisher of devotionals. It's not the best writing I've ever done, but I'd hoped to encourage people to have grateful hearts during the holidays, despite the painful experiences the year may have brought them.

I have a cousin that lost her mother a few days after Thanksgiving. With Thanksgiving approaching, how can she be thankful for losing her most faithful confidant, cheerleader and friend? What about the family that just discovered their precious little girl has a rare form of cancer? What about the rest of us with our various disappointments, challenges and unrealized dreams?

I'd like to propose that when we speak of I Thessalonians 5:18, we often misquote it. There's a little tiny word, a simple preposition even, that we change that makes all the difference in the world. Read on to see what I mean...




Giving Thanks In Everything
Read Philippians 4:4-7
“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)
            After thirteen weeks of blissful pregnancy, an ultrasound confirmed my doctor’s prognosis. My sweet baby’s heart had ceased to beat. Already a mom to a four-year-old son, I prepared my heart to send him to prekindergarten. Having lost one child to miscarriage, my first-born would now leave me home alone everyday.
            I soon discovered I was pregnant again. However, after six weeks, I lost this baby too. Devastated, I questioned God’s love for me. If He loved me, how could He allow so much suffering and loss in my life? After spending many days in prayer and in God’s Word, I clung to the promises of His love for me. I believed that His love for me was settled on the cross of Calvary over two thousand years ago.
            Yet how could I be thankful for the tragedies and disappointments of life? Did God really expect me to give thanks for these circumstances? As I searched this scripture more closely, I noticed something. I Thessalonians 5:18 encourages us to give thanks in all circumstances, not for all circumstances. Even when we face trials that we can't possibly be thankful for, we can thank God while we're in those circumstances. Thank Him for the strength to face another day. Thank Him for never leaving us. Thank Him for the promise of heaven where we will never experience disease or death again.
 
Prayer
Thank you God, for Your presence during the storms of life. May we have hearts of gratefulness in all circumstances. Amen.

Thought For The Day
During Thanksgiving, no matter what difficulties we face, we can give Him thanks.

Giving Thanks In Everything,
Carla

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I'm not angry. I'm mad!



I'll begin this post by explaining the title of this post. I'm a writer, so bear with my detailed way of doing that. :-)

Many of us over age 35 grew up on the "Cosby Show." We loved watching this sitcom every Thursday evening, grateful for the positive image of an African American couple that loved each other and trained their children well.

On one episode (which I'll have to relay from memory), Cliff Huxtable (played by Bill Cosby) corrects one of the kids for saying he was "mad." He goes on to say, "Dogs get mad. People get angry." The children then go on to list fictitious accounts of activities they've partaken in, like sneaking out of the house to go to a party across town. After each story, the kids ask their father and mother (Clair, played by Phylicia Rashad), "So Mom and Dad, are you angry?" Each time their parents state they aren't angry, but they would get serious about the offender's punishment.

At the end of the scene, their teenage daughter Denise relays a "true" story of a night that she supposedly spent with a girlfriend. She then confesses to having spent the night with a boy instead. At the end of her tale, which ends up being completely false, Denise asks Claire, "So Mom and Dad, are you angry?"

Claire, in her no-nonsense manner, states, "Oh no, I'm not angry. I'm mad."

So now you know the inspiration for the title of this post. Sometimes the word angry doesn't fully communicate the intensity of our emotions. Sometimes, we're just plain mad.

Today I read an article about finding your life's passions. While reading, a light bulb lit up in my head. The article didn't mention this, but passions in life are often birthed out of something we're good and mad about. And I don't mean the kind of mad we feel when someone cuts you off in traffic. Or when someone -- usually one of your children -- eats the leftovers that your mouth was watering for. Or when the neighbor's dog barks incessantly at 6:30 on a Saturday morning. (Okay, so can you tell what makes me mad?)

No, I'm thinking of those things that the Bible calls righteous indignation. I'm envisioning anger over multitudes of people without healthcare, or housing or money to purchase three square meals each day. Or anger over political corruption. Or anger over people around the world that die of preventable and treatable diseases like malaria. That's the kind of anger I'm talking about.

Most of you know one issue I'm mad about. I'm mad about the 150 million orphans around the world that have no parents to tuck them in at night. The millions of children that have no permanent home. The millions of children that would give anything to have the food my children picked over last night and threw away. My stomach churns just writing that.

And I'm also mad at how slowly the church is getting this thing right. I'm mad that there are churches all over the country that don't have a single adoptive family. I'm mad after perusing the website yesterday for "The Justice Conference," being held in February in Portland, Oregon. While intrigued by the amazing list of speakers that will speak for justice, aiding the poor and standing up for the forgotten, I couldn't find a single speaker devoted to defending the 150 million orphans around the world. Not one.

So, if you follow what I'm mad about, you can quickly identify one of my passions. So, now I ask you: what are you mad about? What makes you downright furious? Is it that there are people groups in the world that have yet to be reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Is it the worldliness of our culture in this reality television-crazed generation? Ponder it for a while. I guarantee your anger will lead to a personal passion.

Now... What are you going to do about it? Will you keep it to yourself? Or will you go out and do something? We all have a responsibility to pursue our passions, especially the passions that meet a need for someone else. And if you can't come up with anything, ask God to give you a passion. Ask Him to make you mad about something. I bet He can hardly wait for you to ask.

If all God's children got really mad about all kinds of injustices, who knows what we can do? We might even change the world.

I'll leave you with a song by worship artist Israel Houghton, "The Power of One." One person is never too little to make a change. Together we can change the world!

Living for Justice and Mercy,

Carla

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Some of the Coolest People: Famous Adult Adoptees

Recently I've tackled a huge undertaking: writing my first nonfiction book. It's been exhilarating and fun, and I've stood amazed at how God is writing through me. I'll share much more about that in another blog post in the near future. For now, I'd like to continue with my adoption/orphan care series during this month, Adoption Awareness Month.

When Steve Jobs passed away, I couldn't wait to blog about his fascinating life. You can read more about him in my earlier post Steve Jobs: Lessons from His Legacy. I thought I knew a lot about him, but my research led me to some interesting facts I didn't already know. Perhaps the coolest thing I discovered was the fact that he was adopted in infancy. In that post, I mentioned that "some of the coolest people are adopted," thus the inspiration for this post's title. Examining the life of Steve made me think about how adoption can completely change the trajectory of a person's life. It certainly did for Steve.

So, I thought it would be fun to do a little research and find out what famous and influential people in our country's history were adopted. I'm excited to share a few with you here.


Audrey Faith Perry, or Faith Hill as we know her, was adopted when only a few days old by Ted and Edna Perry. Raised in Star, Mississippi, her hometown has become prophetic of her super-stardom as a country music recording artist. Faith grew up as the only adopted child in a loving family, and grew up fully aware of her adoption. She refers to her childhood as "amazing." Later in life, she met her biological mother and has formed a good relationship with her as well.


Actor/comedian/recording artist Jamie Foxx was born Eric Bishop in 1967 to parents who separated shortly after his birth. At that point his mother felt ill-equipped as a single mother, so his maternal grandparents adopted him at the young age of seven months. During his 2004 Academy Award acceptance speech for Ray, he thanked his grandmother for her hard work and unconditional love. Grateful to his grandparents and the blessing of adoption, Jamie has hosted adoption-themed holiday specials and often praises adoption in interviews.


Many adoption-minded people are aware of Dave Thomas' tireless efforts in adoption and foster care prior to his death in 2002. However, we sometimes forget, or are unaware, that he was adopted as well. The founder of fast food restaurant Wendy's, was adopted at birth. Unfortunately his adoptive mother passed away when he was just five, and he dropped out of high school in tenth grade to work full time at a restaurant, a foreshadowing of things to come. After serving in the U.S. Army, Thomas moved to Columbus, Ohio and opened his first Wendy's in 1969. And the rest is history. Later he founded the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption to promote adoption law simplification and reduce adoption costs in the United States.


Many of us remember when Scott Hamilton took world figure skating by storm. (And then again, some of you weren't even born!) When just six weeks old, Scott was adopted by Dorothy and Ernest Hamilton in 1958. He won an Olympic gold medal in men's figure skating, making him the first American male to win a medal in the sport since 1960. Today, he produces Stars on Ice, a professional ice show that tours around the world.


Born in 1955 to unwed college graduates, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was adopted as an infant by Paul and Clara Jobs in California's Bay Area. Having recently passed away in October of this year, I hardly think I need to discuss the man with the mastermind behind the iPod, iPad, iPhone and the animated film production company Pixar. His genius will be sorely missed.

I think it's extremely cool to discover prominent people that just happen to be adopted. But then, I don't necessarily believe in coincidence. I think God handpicks every child for his or her family, whether they be adopted or biological children.

Rejoicing in my Spiritual Adoption,

Carla

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

For the Least of These


This past Sunday, churches around the U.S. joined together with one voice for one purpose. Known as "Orphan Sunday," the first Sunday in November serves to bring awareness of the almost 150 million orphans around the world. These orphans should be a major priority of the Church. We Christians must make them a priority. Surely these orphans are part of the group Jesus had in mind when He said...
"Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." Matthew 25:40
So what will you do for the least of these?

At Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, we celebrated Orphan Sunday with great intentionality and purpose. Mosaic's "Hand in Hand: Loving the Fatherless" Missional small group began planning some time ago for this special service. The testimonies of adoptive parents, an Orphan Sunday video presentation and a challenging sermon from my hubby Anthony all challenged the congregation to discover their calling to minister to orphans.

And we weren't alone on Sunday morning. Churches everywhere challenged their members to consider how they are personally called to "defend the cause of the fatherless" (Isaiah 1:17).

Now some of you might be scratching your head wondering, what is this adoption/foster care zealot saying? Is every Christian called by God to adopt or foster? Am I out of God's will if I never adopt or foster a child?

I'm so glad you asked. No, I do not believe we're all called to adopt or foster a child. However, I do believe that we are all called to take care of orphans. You see, I take James 1:27 quite literally:
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
Now obviously, looking after orphans is not the only requirement if we want to be pure and faultless before our heavenly Father. Yet it is a very integral part of our calling; one that most Christians ignore their entire lifetimes.

Will you ignore the calling to look after orphans during your lifetime?

I believe the responsibility of every adult Christian is three-fold:
  1. Sincerely ask God if He would have you consider adoption or foster care. 
  2. If you truly believe His answer is no, seek ways to minister to families that are adopting/fostering or preparing to do so. There are many ways to minister to these families: giving financial assistance for their adoption fees, offering babysitting so adoptive/foster parents can plan a date night, providing physical needs (children's clothing, meals, etc.), and of course, praying much for them.
  3. Actively pursue ministries and organizations that will put you face-to-face with the needs of orphans. There are countless organizations (local and international) that minister primarily to orphans. These ministries/organizations always need volunteers and financial gifts.
The bottom line of what I'm saying? None of us is off the hook when it comes to ministering to orphans. We are all called to do something. Will you ask God what your "something" is?

I'll leave you with a song that speaks of the Christian's adoption into the family of God. It is also a song that communicates God's heart for the almost 150 million precious orphans around the world. There are no orphans of God. Hallelujah!




Speaking the Truth in Love,

Carla

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The CALL that's Awakening a Sleeping Giant

"The Awakening" Statue in Washington D.C.

There's a sleeping giant that's awakening in our midst.

That giant is the Church. The issues that it's waking up over is caring for orphans. The signs are all around. I think we are starting to get it.

Anyone who knows me knows my heart for adoption and orphan care. You know that my husband Anthony and I adopted two of our four children. You know that I talk about adoption as long as anyone will listen.

So needless to say, I love when Adoption Awareness Month rolls around. During the month of November I have the perfect excuse to talk a lot about... well, adoption.

For the past few months I have been a part of an organization called The CALL, or Children of Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime. The CALL was founded by Mary Carol Pederson, an Arkansas resident with a big heart for children, and especially children in foster care. Mary Carol knows it's impossible to alleviate the need for foster care, but her vision for the The CALL is "to have no waiting children in Arkansas foster care, but instead to have waiting, Christian families ready to take them in."

Having recently joined the statewide board for The CALL, I have bought into this vision one hundred percent. Not only do we want foster children placed in healthy, loving homes. We want them in spiritually healthy, Christ-loving homes.

This past Tuesday the CALL hosted its second annual fundraising dinner. I loved the words of foster/adoptive father Michael Delon, "The Church has been great about being pro-life, but the Church has been horrible about being pro-adoption."

I wholeheartedly agree. Just think about this: how many times have you heard someone say they vote "pro-life" in political races? I've heard it too many times to count. As a matter of fact, just yesterday I spotted a bumper sticker on a car that read, "I vote pro-life."

Now, while I certainly don't disagree with supporting candidates with a pro-life stance, I tend to support candidates that support life from the "womb to the tomb." We need to fight for unborn children. They deserve a chance at life like we've had. However, we've got to fight as adamantly for children that aren't aborted, but enter life in dismal circumstances. Many of these children find their way into the foster care system at no fault of their own.

We must fight for them too.

Mary Carol, alongside "Team CALL," which includes executive director Lauri Currier, other staff members and hundreds of volunteers and donors, fights for these often-forgotten children daily. But we need the entire Body of Christ to join us in this fight.

"We're all called to care for the orphan," said Mary Carol. "We all have a part to play in this. The Church has stepped back too long. It's time for us to step in and help."

I'll end with the words of Dennis Rainey, founder of Family Life Ministries. If you get a chance, check out Coffee with Dennis Rainey, where I shared about Dennis' entire speech at The CALL's Pastors Summit.

"God is pro-life and pro-orphan," Dennis said with great conviction. And I wholeheartedly agree.

I see signs that we're waking up, Brothers and Sisters. Let's keep it moving, y'all. We're called to be pro-life and pro-orphan, just like our Heavenly Father.

Fighting for Orphans Everywhere,

Carla

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Giving Thanks


Some days I know exactly what I want to blog about. On those days I begin blogging like a racehorse running through the starting gate. Other times, I don't have a clue. By faith, I sit down at my keyboard and start writing. Those times are amazing, because I can testify to God writing those blog posts. Then other times, like today, I've got my mind totally set on my topic and I'm ready to write. Then God completely flips the script.

Today is one of those days.

For weeks now I've been planning to spend the entire month of November discussing adoption, foster care and the Church's call to care for the needs of orphans. With November being Adoption Awareness Month, I will certainly be sharing my heart for orphan care throughout the month. So stay tuned and pass my blog site on to any family, friends and church members of yours that have a heart for orphans as well.

But a theme just keeps stirring up in my spirit that I know I'm supposed to commit some time to this month. And that is, quite simply -- gratefulness.

Before I share a little about gratefulness, let me give you a quick testimony. Gratefulness has been a personal struggle for me my whole Christian life. While I'm married to an eternal optimist, (Gets on my last nerves sometimes... Just saying!) I like to call myself a realist. My husband Anthony, on the other hand, describes me as that horrible "p" word that ends like optimist. (I'm refusing to claim the title to the point where I won't even write the word.)

Well anyway, whatever you want to call me, I've never been one to skip through fields of daisies wearing rose colored glasses. In my head, I see things as they are. I'm the kind of person that calls out truth. I tell it like it is. I keep it real. And whatever else you want to call it.

But recently God's been challenging me about my take on truth. He lovingly reminded me that while I may have a gift of discernment, allowing me to see truth in people and circumstances, only He sees the whole truth in a situation. God, Who sees all, can see not only the truth of my present circumstances, but He can see the truth of my future as well. A future that I don't have eyes to see.

And guess what? He sees the truth of your life too.

Let me drop a little wisdom by way of Kelly Minter, author of the Bible study I'm currently studying, No Other Gods.
Deception is very, well...deceiving. Michael Wells of Abiding Life Ministries says... "Satan will tell us what's true, but he never tells us the truth." Let that sink in for a moment. If you're currently struggling with your finances, you might think something along these lines... 'I don't have enough money to pay my bills this month; I'm going to lose everything.' It might be true that you don't have enough money to pay your bills, but the truth is that God will take care of your every need (see Matt. 6:25-30).
See, what God showed me is this: I can see what's true about my situation, but I can't always see the whole truth. Only He can see that. I may not know how a situation will work out, but I know the God Who makes "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28) I may not know what tomorrow will bring, but I know the a Savior Who is "the same yesterday and today and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)

So if I would only place my trust in the sovereign God Who knows all and sees all, I can have joy in and through any circumstances, no matter how dismal things appear. Even when the truth of my life is difficult or even frightening, I can know that God's got it and He's got me. So while I'm living in the truth of my reality, I should be joyful. I should be content. I should be grateful.

I'll leave you with the scripture from my Bible study today that drove home the need for gratefulness in my life and for my life:
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17)
So let's keep it real while trusting Him and His goodness in our lives. He really is that good.

Walking in Gratefulness,

Carla