Thursday, June 28, 2012

Breaking Out of the Ordinary



This week I watched "Dead Poets Society." A lover of quotes, this movie was made for nerds like me. I've been quoting lines from the movie ever since.

I offer you one here, delivered by John Keating (played by Robin Williams), an English teacher at a prestigious prep school for boys:

"Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, 'Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.' Don't be resigned to that. Break out!"

Do you strive to find your own voice in the world?

Have you ever felt that "quiet desperation"?

Have you known the urge to "break out" of the mold of your life?

I believe there are two facets to this need, this desire, this desperation.

1. We are called to something bigger than ourselves

As far back as I can remember, when I was but a little pigtailed girl in Baltimore, Maryland, I've believed that there was something more, something big that I would accomplish one day. Now if you'd have asked me back then, I would have probably boasted about a future career as a dancer twirling around the stages of the world. On another day, I might have spoken of my plans to become a doctor. And yet another day, I would have eagerly shared my dreams of becoming a teacher.

Yet throughout my entire childhood, I could have pulled out a portfolio of poems and short stories that I kept tucked underneath my bed. And my family could recount multiple plays that I had directed and co-written, along with my cousins. And my elementary and middle school teachers would tell of the little girl that led class programs and won student government elections.

But I also recall a time when I lost my "mojo." It happened during eighth grade, I think. I suddenly found myself surrounded with hundreds of super-bright, super-talented kids. I no longer felt special or extraordinary. And I kind of lost my way.

And yet within me, that voice constantly proclaimed, "Carla, you're destined to do great things. You are special. You are amazing."

Funny thing is, the less I listened to that voice, the quieter it became. And for many, many years, the voice was almost silenced.

Almost.

2. That "bigger than us" plan was designed by God

That voiced was almost silenced, until I came to know the Lord one day during the beginning of my college career. He reminded me that He had created me for a purpose, for His purpose. And He told me that I was special to Him. That I was amazing because He made me so.

Now years later I am still discovering His purpose for my life. There's the obvious: I'm called to support and love my husband. I'm called to raise my children with love and godly influence. I'm called to tell others about Him. I'm called to uplift, encourage and pray for my friends, family and church family.

Then there's the specific: I'm called to raise awareness about the needs of fatherless children around the corner and around the world. I'm called to provide a home to children I did not physically birth, but love just the same.

And I'm called to write, write, and write some more.

As the mystery of my life unfolds, I realize I may have more unknowns in life than "knowns."  But this one thing's for sure: I hope to never allow the silencing of His voice again. I will strain to hear His heartbeat. I will strain to see what He is doing in the world. And I will pursue His purposes for me, seeking to align them with His activity in the world.

I'll leave you with one more quote from Mr. Keating:

"To quote from Whitman, 'O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?' Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?"

So what of it? What will your verse be?

Love,

Carla



Thursday, June 21, 2012

It Starts With Me: Race in the U.S.

This week my mind returned to the issue of race in our country. I've recently written about race as I revisited the  20th Anniversary of the Rodney King riots. (Coincidentally, this same Rodney King was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool on June 17. Rest in peace, Mr. King)

Our Sons Are Trayvon examined the balance of justice and mercy in the racially-charged murder trial of George Zimmerman. I've also written about results of the 2010 US Census and what those results predict about the changing face - literally - of our country. And of course I had to write about that book that had us all talking about the history of race in the South, The Help.

Recently two occurrences got me thinking about race once again: one being the election of the first African American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the second being my husband's participation in a local panel examining and discussing race relations in our community.

Let's take a look at the first.



On Tuesday, the largest Protestant denomination elected Reverend Fred Luter Jr. of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans as president. This marks a huge step in the right direction for a Christian organization that has historically gotten it wrong in the area of race. Prior to the Civil War, the SBC supported slavery in the U.S., and much of the last century witnessed the organization's support of racial segregation.

It seems this time they've gotten it right.

Rev. Luter does not consider himself a token in the denomination either. "If we stop appointing African Americans, Asians, Hispanics to leadership positions after this, we've failed," he said. "... I promise you, I'm going to do all that I can to make sure this is not just a one-and-done deal."

Blessings to you, Reverend Luter and the Southern Baptist Convention.

Now, on to the second.

This past Saturday, my husband moderated a panel discussion on racial relations in our current city of Conway, Arkansas. A small, quaint city, Conway sits just north of Little Rock, the capital of Arkansas. Honestly it's pretty quiet here,void of the hustle and bustle of a big city. I wouldn't say things are moving and shaking a whole lot around here.

But on Saturday, as I sat on the old wooden pews of a small African American baptist church here, I could sense a fierce energy in the room -- a room full of local pastors, politicians, educators and businesspeople. There's just something about discussing race amongst Southern folks that gets things brewing.

The air conditioning was on full blast, but the temperature rose several times during the discussion.

One man in the audience expressed intense dissatisfaction over the city's police officers' handling of African American males. Another mentioned that the panelists and audience members had skirted around the major issue in his mind, which is pure racism.

One panelist, who happened to be African American, stated that he doesn't care if people like him. He simply wanted equal economic opportunities and employment. Others argued that when people don't like you because of the color of your skin, they're not going to hire you for those equal jobs.

A young Caucasian pastor proclaimed the root of racism was sin, and the entire room hushed.

Which brings me to my take on the whole issue, for whatever it's worth.

I believe our problem with racial relations in Conway, in Arkansas, in the South, in the United States can be solved through relationship. Yes, I think it's just that simple. Relationship with God. Relationship with one another.

If my relationship with God is one that's evolving, growing and exposing me to more of His truth, then I should reflect His heart for people -- people of all shapes, sizes and colors. He loved the Samaritan woman at the well. He loved Jews and Gentiles alike. He loved us when our hearts were turned completely against Him.

And as my relationship with Him matures, I, like a lush tree with roots deeply planted in the warm, dark soil, should produce beautiful, sweet and fragrant fruit that smells like Him. One variety of fruit that my life will produce: intimate, life-changing relationships with others.

And that's all kinds of others. Others that look like me. Others that don't. Others that come from my kind of neighborhood. Others that don't. Others that already know Him personally. Others that don't.

It's just that simple y'all. For real.


Carla


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Heart for Orphans


Happy Siblings: Jada, Christian and Joelle


When I share my heart on the topic of adoption, I usually don’t know where to begin. My compassionate heart for orphans – around the corner and around the world, as I say – was truly birthed out of my heart for God.

When I view God’s heart in the scriptures, I see a loving, merciful God Who continually looks out for the underdog. The poor, the alien, the widow – and yes, the orphan – may oftentimes go overlooked by the world. But the poor, the alien, the widow and the orphan are much like Hagar, mistreated by her master Abraham’s wife, Sarai. In Genesis 16:7 we find Hagar alone in the desert, having fled her tormentor’s home.

She is hungry. She is thirsty. She is completely alone in the world.

Or so she thinks.

While she withers under the desert sun, the angel of the Lord visits Hagar and speaks life to her. He tells her she is expecting Abraham’s son and that her descendents would one day be too numerous to count.

She would not die in the desert. She would live.

And Hagar “gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me... I have seen the One who sees me.’” (Genesis 16:13)

Like Hagar, God sees the poor. He sees the alien. He sees the widow. And yes, He sees the orphan.

And we should too.

For many years now, God has given me eyes to see the orphans of the world. He has gifted me with an overwhelming compassion for them. And He has moved me to do something about that compassion.

How has He specifically moved me?

I. Adoption

First of all, God moved my husband Anthony and me to adopt children into our family. In 2003, we adopted a little cherub-faced 2-year-old boy into our family from Russia. Christian – Sergei when we met him – is our resilient, athletic and compassionate 11-year-old son who just happened to be living in a Russian orphanage when we first met him. With part African heritage, he is a rare find in Russia. And we praise God we found him.

Joelle, our spunky, giggly 7-year-old “girly-girl” joined our family in 2005 at only 5 months old. We didn’t travel very far to bring her home – only Pennsylvania. Yet raising this fun-loving, diva-licious girl has been an adventure for sure. And I can’t imagine our family without her.

II. Encourage Prospective Adoptive Families

As soon as my husband and I adopted, we were like people that had been on the vacation of a lifetime. We wanted to share the joy we’d found in adoption with everyone we knew. We were living out James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress...” And we wanted other Christians to do the same.

Today, my husband and I continue to be a “go-to” couple for adoption. When a couple, or single person, begins praying about adoption, they often call us with questions and concerns. We love being used by God to encourage others to adopt, and we love walking with others as they answer the call to adopt.

II. Adoption Advocacy

I have devoted a good portion of my life to advocating for orphans. My husband and I sponsor needy children overseas. I began a ministry at our previous church that constantly communicated the need for the Church to “look after orphans” and partnered with other orphan advocacy ministries. I have also joined a missions team to an orphanage in Brasil, where I fell in love with every single child there – from age 3 to 17.

But today, my efforts are primarily stateside. I currently serve on the Statewide Board of The CALL (Children of Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime), lending my social media, communications and organizational skills to this awesome ministry. The CALL’s (www.thecallinarkansas.org) mission is “To educate, equip and encourage the Christian community to provide a future and a hope for the children in foster care.”

Providing that future and hope begins with providing our hearts and our homes. And that’s what I hope to do for the rest of my life.

Will you consider doing the same? Will you pray in faith for God's will

Carla