Monday, December 9, 2013

Downton Abby, for such a time as this

I rarely watch television. Occasionally restlessness or curiosity will drive me back to the idiot box. It seems like such a waste of time. (Unfortunately, it didn't take me long to find alternate activities on which to waste my time.)

In 2010, my daughters independently suggested I give Downton Abby a try. The new PBS Masterpiece series had captured their imagination and reminded them of staying up late during their high school years watching almost six consecutive hours of A&E's production of Pride and Prejudice borrowed from our public library. We always vowed to watch one episode at a sitting, but rarely could discipline ourselves to that ideal. "One more episode" was usually muttered during the closing music, usually by me, and was met by no arguments.) (Colin Firth in lace collars is not to be missed!) True, Jane Austin's period novel precedes Downton Abby by a hundred years, but there are many similarities.

As Season One progressed in the life of the Crowley family, I kept forgetting to tune in on Sunday nights. Once the season was over, it was too late to jump in. For my birthday last month, my youngest daughter sent me the boxed set of the first three seasons. She was that convinced I would approve of and enjoy the program.

My daughters know me well. I went on strike from television years ago when the programs became idiotic. Downton Abby is not an "idiotic" show. It is sophisticated and intelligent. I have been watching two episodes an evening, when possible. I just finished season two, and I am wary of googling any information for this post for fear of spoilers!  I love Downton Abby for the same reasons I love Pride and Prejudice. The the scenery is beautiful, the costumes exquisite. The music, refined. And the characters have, well, character. They are people of integrity. When they act badly, they try to make things right. Of course Thomas and Mrs. O'Brien present artful antagonists, but they are real, in a literary and human sense.  The show is a refreshing alternative to the junk shows that drove me away from TV in the first place. I would like to believe that the enormous international popularity of Downton Abby signals a turning away from crass, crude, vulgar, and silly shows.

I admire Excellence. Watching the Crawley family and friends gives me a longing to return to a time when self-respect and respect for others was a way of life, even the respect of a perceived enemy. And to a work ethic, that drives one to do one's best, no matter how lowly the job, as we might identify service jobs of maids and butlers. To think of someone else's need more than ourselves is a high form of integrity. As is keeping oneself morally and sexually pure. These are archaic ideas in this era of "Self" being elevated above all else.

Does Downton Abby idealize the Victorian Era? Maybe. But my favorite writers from that era paint a similar picture of the the gentile worldview embraced at the time. In this Discovery article, Victorian Brits Were Smarter than Us, researchers describe the Victorian era as "an explosion of innovation and genius, per capita rates of which appear to have declined subsequently." In a former post, Unpopular Christian Virtues I found this same article valuable.

When I compare the sophistication and gentile manners of Downton Abby with some of current favorite movies, TV shows, in my humble opinion, the contrast confirms the Discovery article. I recently learned of these popular games this holiday season that add sad examples of our decline: Doggy Doo. (Really? So this is what we have come to?) and Gooey Louie. (Luckily, these games do not appear on the Christmas lists of my grandchildren!)

Trash in, trash out. Literally.

Maybe the success of Downton Abby signals a swing of the pendulum from the absurd toward Integrity. Maybe it will affect raising the bar of Excellence—excellence in media programming and excellence in personal integrity. It is up to us.

It is worth remembering Paul's admonition in Philippians 4:8:
"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Free download days

Don't forget to download on Amazon for free on National Adoption Day, 11/23 through Sunday 11/24. Currently ranked number three for Inspirational books! Read it free this weekend! 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty years after C. S. Lewis

On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. His untimely death understandably overshadowed the deaths of two other famous men on that date: Aldous Huxley, author of the futuristic novel, Brave New World, and Clive Staples Lewis, Irish novelist, scholar, and reluctant Christian apologist.

C. S. Lewis, or "Jack" to his friends, revolutionized the understanding of Christian faith—starting with his own. Raised in the Church of Ireland, Lewis became an atheist at age 15, when he expressed an anger with God for not existing. The young intellectual quoted Roman Epicurean poet Lucretius, who he believed had the strongest argument for atheism, "Had God designed the world, it would not be a world so frail and faulty as we see."

But Lewis was a seeker of the Truth. It was inevitable that he would find it. And his ability to articulate that Truth would change lives. Even fifty years after his death just before his 65th birthday, his writings continue to challenge people to new and deeper faith.

There are many examples, but I will use perhaps the most prominent American scientist today. As a pioneer geneticist and present head of National Institute for Health, Francis Collins, credits Lewis with his religious enlightenment. He wrote in The Language of God, that when once asked about his faith, he confessed that he had none. That realization set him on a quest to discover if there was any rational basis for spiritual belief. He started to suspect, as Lewis wrote about his own uncomfortable suspicions, that atheism was too simple. He questioned a minister who lived down the street who handed him a book to read. That book was Mere Christianity.

Collins writes, "In the next few days, as I turned its pages, struggling to absorb the breadth and depth of the intellectual arguments laid down by this legendary Oxford scholar, I realized that all of my constructs against the plausibility of faith were those of a schoolboy . . . Lewis seemed to know all of my objections, sometimes even before I had quite formulated them. He invariably addressed them within a page of two. When I learned that Lewis had himself been an atheist, who had set out to disprove faith on the  basis of logical argument, I recognized how he could be so insightful about my path. It had been his path as well."

Mere Christianity was adapted from a series of BBC radio shows aired between 1942 and 1944, commissioned to sooth an anxious populace, much like Roosevelt's "Fireside Chats" in America. Christianity Today voted it best book of the twentieth century in 2000. Due to his skeptical approach to faith, and his dramatic conversion, he has been called "Apostle to the Skeptics." His influence and popularity has only increased in the fifty years since his death.

I have always professed a Christian belief. But not until I experienced God's presence in my adoption journey,which is documented in my book But the Greatest of These is Love, did I begin to understand what I had NOT previously grasped. I describe the experience as "scales falling off my eyes." I couldn't understand then how many layers are still left to be pealed away. It is a process until death. Another layer sloughed off when I read Mere Christianity. Here is a passage that almost stood out in bold print as I read.

"If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

There is nothing easy about reading C.S. Lewis, especially in the 21st Century when we are more familiar with Orwellian "New Speak." It requires concentration and feeling the words in one's heart. I tried reading Mere Christianity when I was younger, and my eyes glazed over. But reading it now, with life experience, and knowing God on a richer, fuller level, yet still immature, I am finally starting to get this mystery called Christianity. I will read it again. And again.

One last quote from my favorite Oxford Don reveals the Power he recognizes behind his  words. "I never exactly made a book. It's rather like taking dictation. I was given things to say."

I humbly pray that God will give me words to say as well! 

Monday, November 18, 2013

For National Adoption Month, Chapter Two of But the Greatest of These is Love

Chapter Two

               “Do not be afraid—I will save you.
              I have called you by name—
                   you are mine.
               When you pass through deep
                   waters, I will be with you;
          your troubles will not overwhelm you.”        

                               Isaiah 43:1–2 (GNT)

I better start at the beginning, though I am not sure I can identify the exact moment of truth, or insight, or panic that signaled this turning point in my life. I could not recognize at the beginning of this journey that I had stepped out on a few safe stones in a gentle stream. Those stones would eventually become slippery and wobbly, sometimes submerging altogether to leave me stranded and crying out for help. A vague path seemed to be emerging before me, but to what destination and why? When the loose stones first shifted uncomfortably beneath my wary feet, I became alert, but I was helpless to return to the complacency of the shore. I could hear the roar of the waterfalls ahead and see the rapids covering the stones at times. The fear of being pulled down stream was terrifying. I could not walk on water, but I knew of Someone who could. 

My 2002 journey to the airport and ultimately half way around the world started in 1999. A series of seemingly unconnected events, those stepping stones, set me in a direction that appeared innocuous, even alluring, until I was so far down the path I could not retreat. Ironically, in retrospect, one tragic incident stands out as a catalyst for the many changes that were to come.

In May, 1999, a favorite high school teacher of both my daughters lost her husband unexpectedly. Mrs. Inge was one of my favorite people. My association with her at that point had been limited to my attending school conferences and chaperoning art field trips. She was one of those rare types who exude warmth and friendliness, drawing new acquaintances immediately into her circle of friendship as if she had loved them all her life. And she adored my girls. How could I not love her?

Heather, a senior, and Kellie, a freshman, were heartbroken for their beloved mentor. Although they didn’t know Ed Inge, they were desperate to soothe his wounded wife. We called her, visited her, sent flowers and a card. Even I was compelled to do more. I had an idea: I would offer to help with her classes while she took some much needed personal leave. She taught drawing and painting classes, and I had a drawing and painting degree. Instead of a random substitute teacher covering her classes, I could help for the few remaining weeks of the school year so she wouldn’t have to worry about her students’ unfinished masterpieces. The grieving teacher was touched and pleased with my idea.

I called the school to see if I could volunteer to be her substitute. The secretary in the office told me the only way I could teach her classes was to register with the county school system as a substitute teacher. I didn’t want to be a sub. I just wanted to help in a voluntary capacity; nevertheless, the high school directed me to the Frederick County Public Schools substitute coordinator said it was too late in the school year to become a substitute. The department would offer no more orientations for subs until the fall. I was instructed to contact them in August. I would not be allowed to help Anne Inge; her classes had already been assigned a substitute for the remainder of the school year. When school started in the fall of 1999, Kellie, then a tenth grader, continued to pursue the subbing idea. Anne Inge, back in her classroom, didn’t need me anymore, but substitute teachers were in short supply, especially at the high school level.

“I really think you would love it, Mom,” Kellie would coax.

I did not want to be a sub, but the option did have some benefits. Heather had just left for her freshman year at Maryland Institute, College of Art, in Baltimore. Kellie had three years left of high school. My son, Taylor, was in the fifth grade. I had not worked at a full-time job since the kids were born. I was reluctant to start again, but substitute teaching was part-time. I wouldn’t have to accept assignments every day. I could still be home when my children were home.
I have to admit I have always enjoyed teenagers in small groups. At neighborhood, school, and church events, I usually migrate away from the adults toward the teenagers to hear about the challenges and dramas that fill their lives with both angst and excitement. Their energy and optimism are magnetic; their needs unleashed the most empathetic listener in me. As I thought about my fondness for adolescents, I decided I might try it. I would apply . . . later. I spent the fall immersed in my own art—preparing my one-of-a-kind, hand sculpted Santas, elves, and angels for the Maryland Christmas Show.

My sculpting ability had not been encouraged or appreciated when I was younger. As a senior in college, I had taken sculpting as an elective in summer school. To my utter surprise and dismay, I failed the class. Failure didn’t come easily to me. I didn’t believe I deserved an F. We sculpted from live models, and I thought mine looked as much like the model as anyone else’s, and more so than most. But apparently realism was not the goal in a class where abstract expressionism was revered. I had given up my sculpting tools and any desire to create three-dimensional art. For almost twenty years, I didn’t touch a piece of clay. In 1995, I had picked up a carton of the new polymer clay and a doll magazine. After my family had retired for the evening (so there would be no witnesses if I failed again), I sculpted a face. I was thrilled when the tiny, detailed face seemed to grow out of the clay almost without my efforts. I left the shrunken head on the kitchen table for my family to discover at breakfast. I delighted in their wide-eyed astonishment.

The next week I cautiously sculpted three more, every time fearing it was an accident, and I would not be able to create another. My sculpting teacher was wrong; I did have some talent! I lovingly built bodies for them out of wire and quilt batting, dressed them and put them into environments on boards with toys, antiques, or other props. At a local doll shop, the finished vignettes attracted quite of bit of attention. I was encouraged, though they were so labor-intensive, I knew I would never make much money from their sales. But some was better than none, and I was vindicated, as far as a twenty-year-old memory of failure in sculpture class was concerned. 

After the holidays, Kellie resumed her mission, eliciting Bruce’s help this time, in her quest to convince me to substitute teach. Even Taylor suggested that I could sub in his class at the elementary school. Now everyone in my family thought this was a great idea. With one child in college and another preparing to go, Bruce was ready for me to be employed, and he could be extremely persuasive. Having not worked for so many years, I felt that Bruce might have to pry my fingers from the door jambs to make me leave my snug and comfortable home. I did not like the pressure I felt my family putting on me. And I suddenly felt “uncalled” to teach at a public high school. I could teach art, maybe, but what about algebra, or physics, or Spanish? I had taken five years of French in high school, but French spoken with a southern accent might be an altogether different foreign language to these Yankees in Maryland!

Originally, I had just wanted to help Anne Inge. Until her husband died, the idea of being a substitute teacher had never crossed my mind. The prospect was so outside my comfort zone, I no longer wanted to consider it. My family’s persistence sent me into retreat mode. I burrowed in at home, determined not to venture into the high school realm. I might enjoy young people, one on one, but I did not like being the center of attention nor speaking in front of groups. I always declined invitations to talk at school meetings, or art clubs, or even to read scripture at church on Sunday morning. “That is not my gift,” I had grown comfortable repeating and justified in declining. I had convinced myself that my aversion to public speaking was less of a fear and more of a personality trait. I would leave the lime light for those who thrived there. I much preferred the shadows of backstage.

Reality presented another stepping stone in my path. The dwindling of Heather’s college savings after only one semester became an incentive I could not ignore. I had earned a small fraction of her tuition with my hand-sculpted dolls. People loved them at the show; my booth was like a museum—people came through and marveled, but few purchased. And my new craft was seasonal. I needed something regular.

Kellie’s gently persistent pep talks encouraged me that I might possess adequate skills to monitor a high school class. Her love inspired me because she wanted me to be at her school, among her friends. Infused with Kellie’s confidence in me, I attended the orientation for substitutes at the end of January 2000—with no obligation, I reminded myself. I was fingerprinted, completed the requisite paperwork, and ordered my transcripts. My procrastination was aided by bureaucratic bumbling. My transcripts got lost. The college sent them under my maiden name, so the board of education filed them away in the vast bureaucratic vacuum where lost papers reside. After a few weeks, the problem was solved; finally, I was registered in the Frederick County Substitute Information Management System. I waited for the phone to ring. Weeks went by, but no one seemed to need me after all.

About the time I was surrendering to the subbing suggestion, I heard that small-group Bible studies were starting at my church. The text, Experiencing God, by Henry Blackaby, had come highly recommended by two women in my Sunday school class. I expressed a slight interest. I was cautious because I never participated in Bible studies. I rarely read anymore, except an occasional magazine article, or headlines in the daily newspaper. I didn’t meet in groups that might cause me discomfort. I attended church and adult Sunday school on Sundays, every Sunday, with my family, and that was enough. I was on a few committees at church that took about as much time as I could spare. I prayed, sometimes. As survey polls suggest, like the majority of Americans, I considered myself a Christian.

Experiencing God arrangements were made, and suddenly I didn’t have time to back out. I was swept up in a Bible study. Carol and Sarah, the advocates of the book, had raved about it. It was “life changing” they had said with wide eyes. I didn’t tell them, but I didn’t want my life to change. It was perfect.

I halfheartedly read my first week’s lesson, but I was immediately intrigued by what I read in the book’s preface. The text almost leaped from the page. It said, “We do not find God’s will; it is revealed. God always takes the initiative.” Besides sounding like less work for me, this philosophy sounded fascinating, even magical. But at our first meeting, our leader directed our attention to a paragraph that read: “If I do everything He says, I will be in the center of His will when He wants to use me for a special assignment.” I turned to Teri, a woman for whom I had considerable respect, and whispered, unashamed, “I don’t want an assignment!”

“I don’t either,” she answered matter-of-factly.

Big assignments were for other people, for those who felt “called.” I had never felt “called,” didn’t want to be called. My life was just fine. More than fine; it was wonderful.

Two weeks into our Wednesday morning study, Bruce suggested I attend one of the evening study groups instead, so that when I started to get calls to sub, I would be available. Daytime meetings had been a habit for me, so I could be home in the evenings with my family. Bruce’s suggestion had merit, and having an evening out sounded exciting. The kids were older with interests and activities of their own. Seeing me involved with my own interests would be beneficial to them, especially a church activity. I wanted them to have some “religion” in their lives.

I learned two women were starting a nighttime study of Experiencing God. One was a close friend, and I looked forward to doing anything with her. Her name was also Debbie, and we had worked on several decorating jobs and stage sets around the church and community. The other woman, Gretta, was a newcomer to my Sunday school class. Both of these ladies exuded “fun.” I wanted in on that! I saw them at church on Sunday morning and asked if I might join them.

The new millennium had brought changes to my world—I was no longer a stay-at-home mom where my entire existence had revolved around raising three children and being available for my family. I was about to launch a new job and an evening out, even if it was disguised as a Bible study. Neither the job nor the lesson reading appeared to be too taxing; I still maintained a measure of control. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Chapter One, But the Greatest of These is Love

In honor of National Adoption Month. 


 Chapter One   

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”                                                   Psalm 19:1 (NIV)     

April 22, 2002: I sat in a speechless daze on an idling plane on a remote runway at Washington Dulles International Airport. The enormous jets were lined up single file waiting their turn to depart. Out my window, a small American flag waved briskly from a pile of rusty, abandoned airport machinery. Just seven months earlier, terrorists had transformed a typical September morning into 9/11, a date that will forever symbolize ultimate hate. The flag was a sudden reminder of all that is noble in America. Since then, I, like many Americans, have been a little more passionate about our homeland and our flag. Overcome by an unexpected wave of love, patriotism, and fear, my eyes filled with tears. The lump was there in my throat, the proverbial physical clutch that embodied my emotional and spiritual panic. But my emotions were on overload for reasons beyond nostalgia; my entire life was about to change in a dramatic and permanent way.  

I glanced at my watch again, 6:32 p.m., two minutes behind our scheduled departure. My impatience reflected my anxieties, and there were many. Might there still be time to run from the plane? But the hulking Aeroflot jet lurched forward voiding the impulse. I looked out my window, wondering if I would ever see this land again or if life would ever return to normal. With the roar of those massive engines firing, the speed increased, and the forward thrust seemed to glue me to my seat. There was a terrifying and exhilarating realization that my fate was in someone else’s hands. Then with a gentle lift, we were off. 

No turning back now.  

As the ground fell away beneath us, I began to have second thoughts about what had led me to this point. I had stubbornly given my husband no choice but to leave our three children at home with neighbors so we could travel half way around the world for what suddenly seemed like a crazy idea. What had I been thinking?  

Was it just this morning that I had kissed my half-grown children goodbye before they left for school? Mechanically, I had rushed around all morning tending to final errands, remembering insurance information and noting instructions for sports and school activities. I drove to our small bank branch, regretting waiting until the last minute in case they didn't have the five thousand dollars in new, crisp one-hundred-dollar bills we were required to carry. The teller counted out the very last of the C-notes from her drawer. Another cryptic confirmation from God?  

I delivered the latest copy of our will to my close friend and neighbor, not daring to think of the implications of that errand. Somewhere along the way, someone had advised us to fly on separate planes, as insurance against the unthinkable, a precaution for the biological children left at home during our journey to rescue the one God would not let me forget. In the chaos of the preparations, and with the unsettling fear of flying alone for twelve hours, my harried mind had rejected the suggestion. My husband, Bruce, and I would make this journey side by side, for better or for worse.  

With the cash in my purse, more cash than I had carried in all my forty-six years, I had come skidding back into the house at one o’clock, just as my in-laws arrived take us to the airport. Our home in suburban Maryland was an hour from the airport, longer if there were traffic complications. We were instructed to arrive at the airport three hours before our scheduled departure to accommodate the new, heightened security procedures. I was more than willing to be scrutinized along with the other passengers. After mad men had steered plane-missiles into the Pentagon, and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and wrestled with American heroes on a fourth lost plane, I welcomed the precautions.  

For the past few months, I had been in a hypnotic daze, simply putting one foot in front of the other. Even so, those months had been peaceful and hopeful compared to the anxious turbulence of the prior year and a half, when I had bucked and resisted every hint from God about this assignment. My fear had often sent me into familiar, recurring tailspins of self-doubt, self-pity, and sometimes deep despair. Bruce had been stable during these last months, reassuring and supportive, even though he, by accepting this mission, had potentially more to lose than I did.  

My husband had been well aware of my brittle emotional state before this recent calm settled over me. Since January I had successfully ignored the terror that loomed just below the surface in my subconscious. Bruce was not aware that a hidden spark of fear continued to smolder; nor did he realize how close to the surface that danger lurked. Suddenly, my uncertainties began to flare again, as I was reminded that our lives were in jeopardy, as well as the peace of our family, our marriage, my life as I knew it. And it had been a wonderful life—too wonderful to disrupt.  

That indescribable sadness and fear which I had come to expect gripped me again. I looked out the window at the gray scenery and turned my face away from Bruce. He would not guess I was wavering yet again, too late this time. I took several deep breaths and wiped away the tears that blurred the scenery.  

It was an overcast evening in our nation’s capital. Watching the landscape shrink abruptly below us, I felt like a giant looking down on a world I did not recognize, that I did not belong to. I thought of my mother. Twenty-five years had whizzed by, separating me from the carefree existence of my youth in North Carolina. Life had once been simple. How did I get to this place?  

Far below, thousands of toy cars lined up on ribbon roads during rush hour, squirming home to families. Where was my family? Were they, too, suddenly feeling this sobering sense of the inevitable reality and permanence of our mission? The heaviness in my throat and chest made me wish that I could collapse into the self-absorbed wailing of a sobbing session. More deep breaths. If we were on the right path, why did I feel so lost? Had I imagined this calling, this persistent urging that would not be ignored?  

We rose into the thick clouds and everything below suddenly vanished. We were enclosed in suffocating whiteness. The turbulence reminded me of the physical danger we were in, as well as my emotional anguish. Then we broke through the clouds and entered the bright sunshine and blue sky of a spring evening in the heavens. The clouds below us were a dense carpet of enormous white fluff in all directions. Now, instead of feeling like a giant, I felt small and insignificant.  

As I looked out my window to the east, there on a distant cumulus cloud was a perfect shadow of our plane. Framing it was a complete circular rainbow. I held my breath as I studied the fragile mirage. I would have grabbed my camera, but I could not look away, fearing the scene would vanish.  

“Look Bruce—!” I said without taking my eyes from the window. My voice was hopeful, canceling my momentary panic.  

“Yes, Deb?” he answered, gently squeezing my hand.  

I pointed out my window. “Look. It’s like a shield around the plane.” I held my breath, hoping he saw it too, that it wasn't my imagination.  

“Uh huh.” He was unimpressed as he leaned toward my window and squinted to see. “It’s probably something in the glass,” he said, thinking I needed an explanation.  

My dear husband of twenty-four years is a scientist, and this spectacle, like everything else he had ever seen in his life, had a logical explanation. I had hidden from him how close to a meltdown I’d been since we’d boarded the plane. He couldn't guess how desperately I needed a sign.  

But he had seen it. And that was important to me. I had a witness when I would tell about that rainbow when we returned, and I would tell about it. To me the scene was nothing short of a miracle, like so many I had experienced since this whole journey had begun two years earlier. I felt God whispering, “Everything will be okay.” I grabbed on to that promise.  

God had not always whispered to me. There had been many moments, in fact, hours, days, and sleepless nights of doubt and seeming silence from God. When He did speak, I had turned my face away, afraid to listen, terrified to obey. But always, often when I least expected, He would shine an ever brighter light in the direction He had mapped out for me. I simply needed to stay alert, and be brave enough to take the small steps, one at a time, to follow the path God had prepared.  

My mood changed to elation, though, from recent experience, I feared it would, too soon, change again. But for the moment, I smiled and settled back to enjoy the flight. My cup running over with unreasonable joy, I was mesmerized by the vision. The shadow and its rainbow gradually disappeared as we traveled in the opposite direction of the sun, and into the night. 

During the next nine days of our journey, when my darkest doubts crept back to the surface, and the anxiety of uncertainty threatened once again to consume me, I would remember the view from my plane window. I would hold on to that nod from God reminding me that we were in His circle of care. The memory comforted me and upheld me. Like the tattered flag waving goodbye on the runway, the rainbow round our plane would be a familiar symbol to cling to in a foreign and foreboding land. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

In honor of National Adoption Month, Introduction

In honor of National Adoption Month, my blog will feature the first few chapters of my book during the month of November. 


When I started writing this manuscript ten years ago, I didn't know it would grow into a real book. I began recording the events of this story to preserve them from the black hole of my middle-aged memory. Before I knew how it happened, I was typing like one obsessed, sometimes being yanked out of bed at night with new insights, new perspectives of the story I was living. Seemingly unrelated ideas merged together in a stream of enlightened connectedness. At times it seemed as if I were simply typing dictation, as if I were the ghostwriter conveying the story God was telling me—no pressure there!

Years ago, Mother Teresa said, “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.” Maybe God wants each of us to hold our little pencils and write love letters. This book is not really my story, nor is it Roma’s story. It is one example of God’s many love letters. I hope I have done this one justice.Most people have read or heard the “Love” passage found in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. It is often read at weddings, as it was at my own, but the lovely verses cannot truly change our lives until they are put into practice. The love-in-action part is hard.

“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.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  (NIV)
Someone once suggested that we start at the “Love is patient” part and substitute our names for “love.” I tried it: “Debbie is patient, Debbie is kind, Debbie does not envy, nor boast, nor is proud.” I couldn't say any of it with a straight face—not about this Debbie!

I can more easily identify with the beginning of the passage: I have often been a clanging cymbal. I can speak out for the disadvantaged people of the world—as long as they remain on the other side of the world, or at least outside my personal realm. I can give to the poor—as long as the poor do not move into my house.

Love is altogether different. Love has the potential to break my heart. Love leaves me vulnerable and exposed. Love is total surrender. God wants total surrender. God wants my eyes on Him following Him into places I cannot go by myself. Only when we totally surrender can He produce in us something so beyond what is humanly possible.
I can relate to Saint Peter who, like me, had experiences of unfathomable faith followed by paralyzing panic. “Get out of the boat and follow me,” Jesus coaxed while walking on water. Peter stepped out onto the water and walked! But he immediately took his eyes off Jesus and sank, flailing faithlessly. He was an eye witness to Jesus’ miraculous works, but how quickly he forgot what Jesus could do. Surely Peter should have been able to trust Jesus’ power. Surely Peter more so than I.

I have also walked in the footsteps of doubting Thomas. In fact, the Bible is full of people with checkered spiritual pasts like my own. Jonah whined because he didn't want to help God save the Ninevites; Moses whined because he wanted God to send someone else to rescue the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. And I whine because obedience is sometimes too hard. If God was able to use these reluctant members of the Saints Hall of Fame who vacillated in their faith, then maybe he can use me too.

God has taught me lessons about love during this adventure. Love is indeed costly. Yet, love brings unparalleled joy, and love is the only thing that can heal a broken heart and mend a shattered life.

As you read, I hope you will imagine yourself walking in my shoes. My journey into faith, hope, and love certainly has had its peaks and valleys, but according to the Bible, I am in excellent company. Read Chapter ibe

                              *     *     *     *     *     *

“Never be frightened at your own faint-heartedness in attaining love . . . for love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in the sight of all. But active love is labor and fortitude . . . just when you see with horror that in spite of all your efforts you are getting farther from your goal instead of nearer to it—at that very moment I predict that you will reach it and behold clearly the miraculous power of the Lord who has been all the time loving and mysteriously guiding you.”

                             Fyodor Dostoevsky,                                                         The Brothers Karamazov

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Free kindle downloads of adoption books

In honor of National Adoption Awareness month, several authors sharing their experiences and expertise are offering their books for free downloads this month.

Check out these featured books and take advantage of this opportunity!

November 1-2    From Pain to Parenthood, by Deanna Kahler

November 8-10   7-Steps to Domestic Infant Adoption by Tim Elder

November 15-17   The Eye of Adoption by Jody Cantrell Dyer

November 22-24   But the Greatest of These is Love by Debbie Barrow Michael

November 25-26   March Into My Heart by Patty Lazarus

Also, mark your calendars for an Adoption Tweet Chat, November 23, 2012 at 8-9 p.m. Eastern Time, 7-8 p.m. Central Time.  Chat will feature above authors. Joins us with your questions and comments!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Powerful Literature

I am fascinated with Quantum Change stories. Read my blog post for an explanation.

In last week's post, Our Resourceful God I mention two Russian literary powerhouses, Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Though they never met, they lived and wrote during the same period in the 19th century. Both men had interesting religious conversion experiences, which empowered them to affect spiritual awakening in a dark period into the future, during the Communist Soviet era.

I like the dramatic story of Dostoevsky (1821-1881), whose writings continue to show up on the lists of "top 100" novels of all time. Philip Yancey, best-selling American Christian author calls The Brothers Karamazov the greatest novel ever written. Anyone who has ever attempted, and succeeded, in slogging through the dense material (paragraphs can run on for many pages!) and heavy themes, (and keeping up with all those Russian names and nicknames!) is rewarded by an insight that is potentially life-changing.

What makes Dostoevsky's plot and characters so relevant, more than 130 years after his death?
His literary works delve into the troubled human condition of 19th-century Russia which is not so different from the troubled human condition of any era.

The young intellectual Fyodor was sentenced to eight years of hard labor for attending secret Utopian society meetings which the Czar Nicholas I believed were subversive. A few years into his Siberian imprisonment, he learned that his sentence, along with many other prisoners, had been changed to execution by firing squad. While Dostoevsky waited his turn, three prisoners, clothed in white burial cloaks, were matched in front of the armed men, kissed a cross offered by a priest, tied to a stake, caps pulled down over their eyes, and waited for the guns leveled at them to fire. The prisoners waited in cruel, exaggerated suspense. Then the guns were lowered and the caps removed. It had been a malicious hoax.

Dostoevsky immediately wrote his brother about how the experience had changed him:

"When I look back on my life and think how much time I wasted on nothing, how much time has been lost in futilities, errors, laziness, incapacity to live; how little I appreciated it, how many times I sinned against my heart and soul—then my heart bleeds. Life is a gift . . . I will be reborn for the better."

While still in prison, Dostoevsky was the recipient of a peasant's unwavering friendship. One day the peasant looked at Dostoevsky with overwhelming brotherly love, and another layer of Dostoevsky's soul was peeled away:

"When I got off the plank bed and gazed around, I suddenly felt that I could look on these unfortunates with quite different eyes, and suddenly, as if by a miracle, all hatred and rancor had vanished from my heart."

Dostoevsky went on to write some of the most powerful literature in the history of Russia, awakening a spiritual  yearning in future Russian intellectual heavyweights in the 1970s like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn was exiled to the United States in 1974 because his writings raised global awareness of injustices in the USSR, for which he had earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.

A great paradox. Out of suffering often comes life-changing insights and victory. One of Jesus' most repeated themes in the Gospels it that one most lose his life to save it, not physical death, but death of "Self," followed by rebirth in the Truth of God.

The most compelling "proof" of God? A changed life.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Our Resourceful God

I have been off my writing schedule lately, and on a speaking one. I will be honest. I much prefer writing, where I can pour out thoughts, edit, cut, paste, save, revise, save, and sleep on it before I hit publish. People listening to me practicing being a speaker probably think I am still following those steps!

One group I had the pleasure and honor of speaking with was a group consisting mostly of young mothers. They had recently finished reading But the Greatest of These is Love as their Bible study book. (The very idea is humbling!) As we sat around a table sharing questions and comments, some expressed their fear in ever studying a book like Henry Blackaby's Experiencing God. I wrote of the power of that study to open my eyes in 2000 and expand my faith exponentially. My new faith came with a high cost—obedience to do the unthinkable—to adopt a Russian orphan in 2002.

My new mom friends found this surrender to God's will as challenging as I had. Small wonder! No one wants a comfortable life disrupted, least of all me, but I cannot deny that the changes were all positive, and the consequences continue to this day. Has it been easy? Never! But it has been life-transforming in surprising and life-affirming ways!

We know that God's plan for us is the best, but we are fearful just how destructive that plan will be to our comfortable lives.

I quelled the fears of the guarded young moms, or maybe not, when I said that if God had not used Blackaby's book, He would have used another. I believe God could have used any means to reveal Himself to me at my time of seeking.

I think back to class assignments from college days, when youth and fear of falling behind in assigned reading prevented me from absorbing the message of two 19th Century Russia novelists. Tolstoy's and Dostoevsky's writing kept popping up on this English major's syllabuses. (Maybe that is why I eventually became an Art major!) As a slow reader, I will admit to using Cliff Notes to slog through the dense material, otherwise, I truly couldn't keep up. I wouldn't learn until decades later how influential these writers were, especially in their own country when it would become the godless Soviet Union.

 Malcolm Muggeridge, British World War II soldier, spy, and journalist, was an early Communist sympathizer. But by the time I was in college in the 1970s he was an outspoken anti-communist. Yet, he was surprised to learn that many Soviet intellectuals, writers, artists, and musicians in the early 1970s were experiencing a spiritual awakening. Muggeridge interviewed Anatoli Kuznetsov, Russian writer and defector to England, asking how this was possible, given the "anti-religious brainwashing job" done on the citizens of the U.S.S.R., and the banning and removal of all Christian literature, including the Bible and the Gospels. Kuztensov's response was memorable—the authorities had failed to remove the works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, which he called "the most perfect expositions of the Christian faith of modern times."

God could use any means to reveal Himself.

Tolstoy and Dostoevsky both had interesting conversion stories, or Quantum Changes, described in a former post. Their stories deserve a post all their own. One day!

The Power lies not in the words of the authors, no matter how great, but in God Himself! This gives me hope. Grim statistics about the secularization of American paint a dismal picture, as in this article, Atheism to Defeat Religion by 2038. But, as the former, godless Soviet Union can attest, according to  this article, Russia emerges as Europe's most God-believing nation, God cannot be blotted from existence, simply by denying Him.

Our resourceful God is in the business of spiritual awakening.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Science versus Religion?

Since I published But the Greatest of These is Love last fall, started this blog, and began the tedious task of book promotion, I have become acquainted with social networks. I have recently joined a few "religious" forums to share what I have learned along my journey, and learn from others.

I am getting quite an education. I believe I have discovered what "Free Thinkers," (atheists) discuss at their meetings. Suggestions must include: "Join religious forums and redicule believers." I am dismayed by some of the "discussions" on "Religion" forums that go something like this: "God is real." "Is not." "Is too." "Is not." No kidding. Sure, the language is sometimes a little more sophisticated, but the sentiment is the same. When the "conversation" becomes demeaning, disrespectful, and antagonistic, I am tempted to take my ball (or computer) and go home. One atheist responded recently to one of my comments about faith by saying that I pray to the "baboon in the sky." Very mature. It sounded like the equivalent of "your god wears army boots."

God certainly doesn't need me to defend Him. But believers who haven't been on the journey long might be knocked off course for a while by insulting insinuations of ignorance, and worse. Apparently, atheists come at their "beliefs" on the basis of "Science," and the accusation of "no proof" of God. I am learning that organized atheists often resemble any other belief systems, proselytizing to the masses, fighting for converts,  intolerant of differing opinions. Interesting that "intolerance" is the sin they will not tolerate in religious types!

So, I had to ask myself, are most scientists atheists? Certainly not the scientists I know. (Granted, this artist/writer's eyes are tempted to glaze over at the mention of science, but this post and the accompanying material is even simple enough for me to understand, so please stay with me.)  

According to a Science Daily article, a study by Rice University suggests that only 15%, of scientists at major research universities see religion and science as incompatible. So the large majority, 85% consider both religion and science as "valid avenues of knowledge that can bring broader understanding to important ideas."

Works for me.

Many scientists have followed the evidence where it led them, to a belief in a Higher Power.  Francis Collins, current director of the National Institutes of Health, was an atheist evolving to agnosticism, searching for answers about God when his life was transformed 35 years ago by reading C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. (Lewis was, coincidentally, an atheist once too, until debating the absurdity of Christian beliefs with his close friend, J. R. R. Tolkien, a believer, when the proverbial Light bulb went on.) Collins wrote The Language of Goddescribing his work with human DNA, a code, a language, that, in his educated opinion, required an author—God. 

Michael Behe, a PhD biochemist, is an  "Intelligent Design" advocate. Despite much progress by science in understanding the complexity of biochemical systems, Behe feels that the progress has been insufficient in explaining  how such complex systems could evolve in a slow, gradual Darwinian fashion, instead of all at once. This short video illustrates Behe's point using flagella as his example. He is a scientist. I am not a scientist. While I can't quite wrap my head around flagella, I have always been curious about birds, with their wings evolving slowing and gradually over millions of years. How did they evolve into birds and not become extinct, as in prey, as they flopped around unable to fly. 

What I am discovering about science and scientists is not news to me. If atheists are hanging their hats on science to be their savior from God, they are not looking past the blinders on their hat brims. 

"A scientific discovery is also a religious discovery. There is no conflict between science and religion. Our knowledge of God is made larger with every discovery we make about the world."  Joseph H. Taylor, Jr. Taylor is an American astrophysicist and Nobel Prize in Physics laureate (1993), for his co-discovery of a new type of pulsar. (I am not sure what a pulsar is, but I trust it is important, if its discovery merits a Nobel Prize.)

The easiest to understand science quote for me is from Sir Francis Bacon, " A little science estranges a man from God, a lot of science brings him back."

Monday, August 26, 2013

I have a dream

 I am saddened that, in 2013, we are still having a conversation about racism. Fifty years have passed since Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his speech that has come to be know as the "I have a dream" speech. What was King's dream? That we should not be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character. We should all strive to make that dream a reality!

In the years that followed the speech, racism seemed to quell for a time. Now, again, we are experiencing racially motivated hatred, on all fronts. Why do we find it so hard to love our fellow man? Why can't we at least be nice to one another?  How is our character defining us? What is keeping this foul pot of racism stirred?

Lots of unanswered questions.

We have no control over what what sex we are born, or in what country we were born. Nor do we get to chose our personality type, our intellect, color skin, or the color of our eyes.  We can work hard and set our mind on a goal, but there are some things, regardless of what common trends in education and parenting teach us, we will just not be able to achieve. I can practice for years, but I will never be able to sing. (Well, I sing, but it doesn't sound like music!)

I was raised in the south, notorious for racism, yet I felt that racism was on the wane in the early 1970's when I was in high school. We had friends who were black. ("Black"was the proper name to call an African American then.)There was smart Roslyn, lovely Geraldine and Cynthia, "hot" Troy, very tall Jeff.  We were coming out of a very dark period in American history. We were trying, and making progress.  We were proud to have one of the first black football coaches in a newly integrated school, (think Remember the Titans after the students' enlightenment and transformation) who was the subject of a book, Black Coach. Everyone loved Coach Jerome Evans. It was "cool" to be tolerant and loving.

The more we practiced, the more it became real. 

Reminiscent of "The Help," I had a black . . . maid? . . . nanny? . . family member? I am not sure what to call Christine. She watched us three children while Mama, a single mother, worked. We were not wealthy, by any standard except happiness, so there was no "social class" differences between Christine's family and ours. Christine called us on our birthdays long after we required her care. She and my mother still go to lunch occasionally, when one of the children help them with their walkers. I still send Christine Christmas cards. We loved, and still love, Christine. (Update, both Christine and my mother died in 2014.)

Now fast forward more years than I can believe, we are again dealing with ugly discrimination. It isn't one sided. Where does such hatred come from? As a kid, I knew an old man who was an unashamed racist. His hatred made him ugly and terrifying.

The following video is rather long, but very captivating. It is from my era. Maybe it was training like this that made us more accepting, less judgmental. Let's try it again.

And let me be perfectly clear, I love you all, even those of you with blue eyes!

Learn something from the video!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Quantum Change

It isn't likely that many readers will identify with Ebeneezer Scrooge. He was a hardhearted, miserable miser until, in the course of one night, he made a 180 degree turnaround, transforming into a giddy, compassionate, altruist.  Does this kind of change happen in real life?

For most of us, change happens so gradually it goes unnoticed until we look back and everything is different. For some of us, change is more startling.

William R. Miller and Janet D'de Baca, PhD clinical psychologists and teachers of traditional approaches to self-improvement, became intrigued by stories of clients' experiences of sudden, dramatic change. Miller and D'de Baca placed an ad in a local newspaper for people to share their stories of unexpected, personal transformations. They were shocked by the deluge and content of responses .

They were struck by the diversity of the responses, and also by the common thread that ran through them. The personal testimonies included "bolt-from-the-blue" and "seeing-the-light" types of mystical encounters to  life-changing insights and "powerful, sudden moments of consciousness." (I describe my own transformation experience in But the Greatest of These is Love as "the scales falling off my eyes.)

To document their data, Miller and D'de  Baca published  Quantum Change, When Epiphanies and Sudden Insights Transform Ordinary Lives (2001). They define Quantum Change as being marked my four elements: vivid, surprising, benevolent, and enduring. It is vivid in that it is an identifiable, distinctive, and memorable moment when the transformation occurred, or at least began. The person is aware that something extraordinary has happened, providing the element of surprise, or awe. Even though the experience is often unsettling, there is a benevolent quality to the event, an overwhelming quality of "loving kindness" surrounding it. The change is enduring. Even decades after the event, the transformation is still intact.

These transformations are mostly dismissed by the Western world  as delusions (Science) or presumption (Religion). But the "evidence" exists in a changed life. Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx would have likely scoffed at the idea of Quantum Change, yet, William James, their contemporary, often referred to as the father of American psychology, wrote about the same phenomena in The Varieties of Religious Experience (originally published in 1902 and still available today). Stories of Quantum Change are common among spiritual giants like St. Paul, St. Augustine, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mother Teresa. In fact, most spiritual giants have a Quantum Change story.  The experience has shaped the lives of great thinkers and writers like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and C. S. Lewis, who said he got on a bus an atheist, and got off, a believer. Quantum Change has been the impetus of many social reformers like Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale, and Bill Wilson.

After my spiritual metamorphosis in 2000, a friend who was aware of my experience, shared an article from Christianity Today which led me to this book, which I immediately ordered, ravenously read, and wrote Dr. Miller. He wrote me back, stating that Quantum Change isn't as rare as one might think. People hesitate to talk about their experience because of the inadequacy of words to describe their experience,  and they "feel odd." I understood this awkward difficulty. Still, it gave me hope. Miller described himself in the letter, not in the book, as a "devote Christian" and described these as "born again" experiences. Yes, me too!

In the surveys of respondents, Changers reported their priorities reversed. Characteristics that seemed important before the change, like wealth, pleasure, attractiveness, abruptly diminished in importance. The biggest single gain was in the priority given to spirituality, which previously had been at the bottom or close. Many reported that Quantum Change was a process, a series of changes, like a "primary earthquake, followed by a series of aftershocks." Many Changers felt moved to acts of compassion and service to others. My experience paved the way for my adoption of an older Russian boy.

The final chapter, "Message to Humankind," sums up that Changers acknowledge there is a Truth in the experience, "sensing a great Whole of which all humans are a part" (Italics mine). A common theme in the aftermath of Quantum Change is humility, and a feeling of unworthiness of the experience. And immense gratitude. I must be a textbook example—I related to all "symptoms."

 Read the book, (and mine!) Consider your own spiritual journey. If you have experienced a Quantum Change, be it an epiphany or a sudden insight that sparked change, please leave me a message. Share your testimony. You are in excellent company!