Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Will it Make Any Difference?

Here we are approaching Christmas.  Its been a year since we received our new children into our home.  And what a year its been!  I would have thought that Karen, the wonderful mother of 5, former preschool teacher and the queen of motherly instincts and myself, a clinical psychologist of 31 years, father and instructor would have been ready for their arrival and participation in our family.  While the year is not lost, it has not been without turbulence and surprise!

A good friend of ours, Sandy Jones, wrote us recently a humorous story about her family experience as a young girl in upstate Michigan.  Here's an excerpt from her email:

"[I] have this memory of going out into the woods in the snow to cut down our Christmas tree and my mom had hot cocoa and homemade cookies for us in the car. It seemed so magical. I thought this was a tradition for us for a few years. However, when I asked my mom about it she said we only did it once and it was awful. They had a terrible time cutting the tree down and getting it back to the car, it was freezing cold, and the car got stuck in the snow. Funny how a child and a parent can remember the same event so completely differently!"

Karen & I can only hope and pray that our children remember this first year as Sandy remembers that infamous family moment retrieving their Christmas tree because right now, we remember vividly how difficult it was to drag the tree out of the woods, freezing our caboose off and being stuck in the snow, i.e, assimilate these children into our home and lives!

Otherwise, as we end this first year, we reflect on it with mixed emotions.  On the one hand, it often feels as though little progress has been made while on the other, we rejoice in God's hand and how He has blessed our hearts and home.  In our worst moments we have tried to find His voice and guiding hand.  It has actually been out of this desire to find Him that tremendous revelation has occurred.  I recently spoke in Raleigh, NC at Rolesville Community Church where my good friend Steve LeRoux pastors a congregation.  He had asked me to speak about our adoption experience and with great reluctance and hesitation, I did so (You can see a video of that message in its entirety at our website ; The remainder of this post is a summary of what Karen and I have learned the past year that without adopting, we may have never understood.  There is an old saying "the devil is in the details" but we say that it is God that is in the details and that if we press in just a bit we begin to understand and appreciate the magnitude of who He is and just how crazy in love He is with His prize and me!

Lessons Learned from Adoption.  It is always true that there are two separate but interrelated processes going on at all times.    Equally as true is the fact that events in one domain often mirror or run parallel to those in the other.  Group therapists and leaders often refer to this phenomenon as "parallel process".   It is like when one member is struggling with communications at work and now the group members themselves, finds themselves struggling to talk to each:  two separate processes that are interrelated and mirror one another.  This is often an extremely useful and powerful process to bring about change and usually positive changes in one domain effect the other in a positive manner.  Futhermore, if you resolve conflicts in one domain you will resolve the conflict in the other.

Life itself operates on this "parallel process" principle.  On one hand, we have the physical, while on the other hand the spiritual.  The two are separate entities but very much intertwined.  One might say that the entire prophetic movement, both ancient and modern is built on this principle.  In the Bible prophets shaved their heads, tied themselves up, ate donkey dung and shook all over while they ate and drank in order to demonstrate something in the natural and is going on in the spiritual:  parallel processes that demonstrate one truth and changes in one trigger changes in the other.  Jesus spoke of the same process when asked about the end times and His second return to earth.  In Luke 21 he said to look at the trees and when they bud understand that the same thing is happening in heaven and its just about time for my return...2 different domains, one reflecting what is going on in the other.

Adoption as a parallel process of God's grace.  I wish that I had a nickel for every time that Karen and I have looked at each other and said something to the effect that "when they [the children] do that, its just like when God says..." and then we complete the sentence.  In other words, what we see in the natural, raw behavior of our children, mirrors something about what is truth in the spiritual domain.  To understand this process has been a revelation to us: a revelation particularly of God's love, grace, and mercy to us all.  We'd like to share a couple of those lessons that we have learned through our adopted children over this past year.

First, the degree of separation and detachment that they demonstrated was surprising.  We were immediately taken back by the degree to which our adopted children lacked attachment, not to us (we expected that), but to each other.  We assumed that their common history of hardship and just life together would have bound them together in a way that was not only satisfying, but also protective.  What we found was 4 children who were not only detached from all others, but from each other as well.  They had virtually no regard for each other and would consistently sell each other out in order to gain some type of advantage, i.e., food, attention, staying up later, etc.  It was literally "every man for himself".

Likewise, Peter described all of us in a similar fashion (I Peter 2:10) when he said that we were "once not a people, but now we are a people".  We were once going through life with no identity, no place, no relationship to others.  We were simply on our own, doing our own thing, looking after our own interests.  But then Peter goes on to say that we found something:  mercy.  Mercy is God's unmerited favor and it makes us aware of others' needs and tolerant, maybe even compassionate, towards their shortcomings.  The experience of God's mercy in our lives allows us to connect with others using the same technique that God used in ours:  the giving up of one's own personal rights in order to love and connect with others in spite of their unworthiness for us to do so.  Two separate domains and if you resolve conflict in one domain you will resolve conflict in the other.  If we can understand how God demonstrated mercy to us, connected with us, perhaps we can do that with our disconnected children and they can in turn, do it with others.

There are many other lessons learned through this parallel process that have demonstrated the power, love and grace of Jesus in our hearts.  I talked about some of them in that message Sunday morning and for the sake of length in this blog will not reiterate them at this time other than the last one.  It is the principle of covenant participation in the kingdom.  As we approached finalization of the adoption process we asked the lawyer who was handling all the legal paperwork what exactly was the legal standing of our children after the adoption was finalized.  His answer was terse and pointed:  they have all the same rights and privileges as your other children.  There is no difference between our adopted children and our biological children.  In other words, our adopted children have full, complete access to our "kingdom".  Everything!  They are now heirs and joint-heirs to all that is in our estate and kingdom.

That's the good news.  Now here's the sad: they haven't got the slightest clue what that means!  Our adopted children don't understand anything about our kingdom and fail to recognize that if they are playing by our rules and handling the inheritance well, they will have full run of the kingdom.  Now look at parallel process.  How many times have we missed out on blessings and provisions that our Father would like to send our way because we weren't following the rules or mishandling those things that he has given us?  Remember the words of Jesus "if you are faithful in the small things and you'll get the larger (Luke 16)" and the fact that when we restrict our giving what comes back to us is in restricted form (Malachi 3; Luke 6:37-38)?

The idea of covenant participation in the kingdom recently brought to mind the struggles of Jesus in the garden.  One of our biggest struggles this past year, particularly as it has approached the year mark, is the idea that we are in our middle age and is what we are doing going to make any difference.  It is an agonizing thought when we have these moments of doubt that says we could very well give up this 15-20 years of good health, relative stability of days, and a low keyed home life for this current time of chaos, loud, animated and time consuming parenting...and for what?  What if the outcome is that they gravitate toward the lifestyle from 
whence they came?  What if they return to the life where disarray rules the day?  

It is often presented that Jesus' struggle that produced the sweat of blood was the result of his cruel, barbaric death that would happen the next day.  We always thought the struggle was coming to grips with dying.  However, we now have a different understanding of the agony of the garden.  What if Jesus, for just a minute, saw me in my worst moment...that moment when I was disconnected, self-serving, rebellious, defiant and unwilling to listen and He asked Himself a simple question...what if I do all this and it doesn't make any difference?  What if I take the stripes on my back for his healing and he doesn't accept it?  What if I am scourged for their deliverance and they don't receive it?  What if I die unjustly for every single sin, just so they can walk, talk and even laugh with My Father in Heaven and they won't believe it?  Is what I'm doing going to make any difference at all?!  We believe that was an agonizing thought.  So much so that it generated a conflict inside of Jesus so great that He began to sweat the drops of blood.  But here's the great part:  He did it anyway!  It was a demonstration of love that blows our mind and it parallels our calling as parents...we have resolved the issue in one domain (our spiritual adoption) and are applying to the other (our natural adoption)!

Until we talk again...

Russell & Karen Thomas