Being Saved…

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I am a Christian. I believe that I am saved and that after this life I will live eternally in Heaven. I keep finding myself in discussions about what “salvation” means and this morning I woke up with this post circling around in my head.

I’ll be honest. I’ve had more than one existential crisis in my life. The most recent was only seven or eight years ago. We were in a church with unhealthy leadership, I was grieving the many losses in a very short period of time, my husband was under federal investigation for something he did not do, and I was dealing with the reality of parenting a very broken and destructive little girl that I had been certain God wanted us to adopt. I was angry with God. I was disappointed. I was scared. I had no hope. And I began to question everything I had ever believed about my faith. If you’re in the middle of your own existential crisis, let me offer you some hope. You’re in the right place!

When I found myself at the lowest, scariest, most desperate time of my life, I made a conscious decision to start seeking truth from the Bible instead of looking for answers from books or sermons. I spent some time cutting out the middle-man. I won’t lie and tell you that it was easy. I had to come to the realization that much of what I’d come to not only believe, but practice and cheer for, simply wasn’t found anywhere in God’s Word. Probably my biggest revelation was concerning exactly what it means to “be saved”.

Romans 3:10 And the Scriptures agree, for it is written:

There is no one who always does what is right, no, not even one!

Romans 3:23 for we all have sinned and are in need of the glory of God.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Salvation is a gift that cannot be earned. We are ALL sinners and deserve death, but God offers eternal life. But what if you’re a good person? We are ALL sinners.

James 4:17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.

Yeah. Did you eat well and care for you body today? Did you help the old lady at the grocery store that was struggling to load things in her car? Did you let the Mom in her minivan with three carseats have that perfect parking space you’d been waiting for? When your spouse said something that offended you did you respond with love and grace? Sin is sin is sin. It doesn’t matter if you committed adultery last night, or if you gossiped about your neighbor, or failed to pick up the phone and call your depressed friend when they crossed your mind. You’re a sinner.

But what if I’m a REALLY GOOD person?

Ephesians 2:8-9 For it was only through this wonderful grace that we believed in him. Nothing we did could ever earn this salvation, for it was the gracious gift from God that brought us to Christ! So no one will ever be able to boast, for salvation is never a reward for good works or human striving.

There is nothing you can do to earn salvation, except to choose it.

John 3:16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Dear friends, let me give you clearly the heart of the gospel that I’ve preached to you—the good news that you have heartily received and on which you stand. For it is through the revelation of the gospel that you are being saved, if you fasten your life firmly to the message I’ve taught you, unless you have believed in vain. For I have shared with you what I have received and what is of utmost importance:

The Messiah died for our sins,
    fulfilling the prophecies of the Scriptures.
He was buried in a tomb
    and was raised from the dead after three days,
    as foretold in the Scriptures.

 

To be saved means to wholeheartedly believe that John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 are true.

This is where what I believed about salvation got a little messy. Chances are good that if you’ve been in any church in America (and many other countries), at the end of a service you’ve heard someone ask those in attendance to pray a prayer if they wanted to be saved and then raise their hand if they’d “prayed that prayer”. While hands are raised the person who has led the prayer most likely counted.

Romans 10:9-10 If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.

My guess is that the “sinner’s prayer” (as the prayer is often referred to) is derived from the requirement of “openly declaring”. But guess what? There is no “sinner’s prayer” in scripture. I struggle with a visceral response to anyone that measures the success of a church on the number of people who “prayed that prayer” on a Sunday morning.

If you’re struggling with believing that you ARE saved, let me offer you some freedom. If you believe and you openly tell others that you believe, you ARE saved. It’s really that simple.

But it’s not simple.

Once you believe, you have responsibilities.

1 Peter 2:1-3 So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

2 Timothy 2:22-26 Run as fast as you can from all the ambitions and lusts of youth; and chase after all that is pure. Whatever builds up your faith and deepens your love must become your holy pursuit. And live in peace with all those who worship our Lord Jesus with pure hearts. Stay away from all the foolish arguments of the immature, for these disputes will only generate more conflict. For a true servant of our Lord Jesus will not be argumentative but gentle toward all and skilled in helping others see the truth, having great patience toward the immature. Then with meekness you’ll be able to carefully enlighten those who argue with you so they can see God’s gracious gift of repentance and be brought to the truth. This will cause them to rediscover themselves and escape from the snare of Satan who caught them in his trap so that they would carry out his purposes.

Matthew 16:24-26 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.  And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”

If you read those three passages and thought, “Holy crap!” How on earth will I ever perfect being a Christian?” Well, you won’t. If we could perfect it, we wouldn’t need a savior. But we DO need a savior. And I’ll let you in on something…

2 Corinthians 5:14-17 Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! THIS MEANS THAT ANYONE WHO BELONGS TO CHRIST IS A NEW PERSON. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

When you wholeheartedly believe, you are changed. I once heard a sermon on salvation where the pastor posted a picture similar to this… screen shot 2019-01-04 at 9.47.12 pm

It is a great representation of what it feels like to believe and know Jesus. Sin is not the only thing we need to be rescued from. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t felt like they were drowning in some bad situation, or emotions, or illness, or addiction, or pain; at some point in time. Salvation is God reaching down and pulling you out of that thing you are drowning in, or at least holding your hand so that the thing doesn’t kill you. It’s a new and changed way of living.

Christianity offers so much more than eternal life. It makes it possible to endure human life.

It offers grace…

1 John 1:9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

It offers healing in relationships.

James 5:16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

It offers hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a HOPE.

It offers physical healing, and emotional healing, and freedom from all things that hold us in bondage, and peace, and favor, and all the good things we can never seem to find through our own efforts.

If you’ve read this far… wow! I’m impressed.

If you’ve read this far and want to share with someone that you believe, feel free to contact me. I filter my comments so you can leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

If you’re going through your own existential crisis, or you’re drowning in church wounds, or you prayed a prayer and raised your hand and nothing changed in your life, or this is all completely new information to you… I’d be happy to answer your questions, but I’m NOT the authority on Christianity. If you reach out to me I’d be happy to pray for you, but the very best thing you can do in any of the above situations is to READ THE BIBLE! If you don’t own a physical Bible I highly recommend that you get one (I’m a big fan of the NLT and ESV translations). If you don’t own a physical Bible and you’re not interested in getting one, you can download the YouVersion app on your phone or you can read it online at Bible Gateway.

Philippians 1:6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

 

 

 

the show…

If you’ve been anywhere in my personal bubble in the last five months, you’ve likely been introduced to the movie The Greatest Showman. If you haven’t seen it yet, please stop reading and watch it NOW. It’s packed full of life lessons, memorable quotes, and inspiring music. One of the more memorable quotes comes from the opera singer Jenny Lind in the scene above. I don’t want to ruin the movie for anyone so I won’t give the context of it, but she says, “When you’re careless with other people, Mr. Barnum, you bring ruin upon yourself.”

Six years ago, on Mother’s Day 2012, our family walked away from the church community that we had poured ourselves into for the previous four years. It had been less than a month since I buried my grandmother, six years since I had buried my Mom, and we were five months into the investigation that nearly destroyed us. If I had been outside of the situation looking in, I probably would’ve advised myself to just stay put until the rest of my life was a little less painful. But I wasn’t on the outside.

When our family moved to the DC area in the summer of 2008 we quickly began looking for a church. After visiting a couple that didn’t feel like home, my sister called. She had been to a church in Baton Rouge, LA that morning and heard a pastor from Jacksonville, FL talk about a new church in Alexandria, VA. DC Metro Church was planted by a couple from Louisiana. I’m a Louisiana girl. They went to LSU. I went to LSU. The church was less than a year old and met at a movie theater. Cool. I found their website, sent a message, and the next morning received a phone call that led to another phone call, and then another, and by that afternoon dear hubby and I were walking to a small group at a neighbor’s house. The people we met that night are the people who walked with our family through cancer, a deployment, and adopting our daughter. They are the people who God used to teach me how to have healthy relationships with women, how to be bold about my faith, how to chase my dreams, and how to live in community. Many of the people we met that night will forever be considered family.

Because of several circumstances, it was nearly two months before we met and heard a sermon from the lead pastor of DC Metro. By that point we were deeply planted in our little church community. I really didn’t care about the meat of the messages and I didn’t bother to ask questions about oversight and accountability. The people we were living life with on a daily basis were doing a phenomenal job of pastoring our family. Because of them, I have no regrets about any of the time, energy, or resources we poured into DCMC in the years that followed. I could never put a price on the relationships, growth, freedom, healing, and purpose that we found there. But… there were countless red flags about the church leadership. They were our friends. We got to know them pretty well and I can still say with sincerity that I love them. Because of my love for them, I prayed. Like on my face, on the floor, snotty crying prayers. I prayed for health. I prayed for humility. I prayed for freedom. I prayed for open eyes. As I witnessed carelessness in dealing with person after person after person, I began to pray for God to intervene. Eventually the carelessness came around to hurting my family. It turned out that adopting a little girl with disabilities didn’t fit the desired image of the church. Neither did a woman who repeatedly asked for leadership decisions to be explained Biblically. For many months we felt like we didn’t belong. Outside of the building, our community of people was still ours, but every time we stepped foot in the building we felt like square pegs in a round hole. On countless Sundays I cried for the entire drive home. I didn’t want to lose our people.

And then, in May of 2012, through very clear channels, God released us from DCMC. I won’t lie. Leaving was one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. I grieved. Our entire family grieved. My kids were angry and it was really hard to help them direct their anger. I kept telling myself and everyone I talked to that no matter what church we attended, we were all one family. We ARE one family. Nevertheless, we lost people. The loss hurt.

I’ve joked about writing a book on how to leave a church because I honestly believe we did it as well as it could be done. Once we knew we were leaving, my dear hubby scheduled a meeting with the pastor and told him. Me being me, I wrote a letter and mailed it to their home. In the meeting, dear hubby promised that we would not be divisive, but he also said that we would not lie if anyone asked why we left. We upheld that promise. Many people who were very close to us still have no clue about all of the decisions that were made that negatively impacted our family or how uncomfortable we were for the months leading up to our departure. They didn’t ask, and we didn’t tell. People were told to stay away from our family and people were told outright lies about why we left. It was a big huge yucky mess and each time something got back to us, we were just grateful that we were no longer under that leadership.

Fast forward to the spring of 2017. I awoke to a text message early one Sunday morning telling me that I might want to watch the DCMC livestream. I’m pretty sure I sat with my mouth hanging open and tears running down my face as I watched the Stines step down from leading the church.

“When you’re careless with other people, Mr. Barnum, you bring ruin upon yourself.”

I would like to add to Jenny Lind’s quote. You can’t step out of your own ruin until you at least attempt to reconcile the damage done by your carelessness. You have to make amends. You have to apologize. You have to humble yourself and accept responsibility for your actions or you will continue to live in ruins.

It was brought to my attention this week that the Stines are launching a new social media based ministry. Again, I’m pretty sure I sat with my mouth hanging open and at least a few tears in my eyes. Because our people have remained our people, I am certain that no reconciliation has taken place. No amends have been made.

My dear friend Julie wrote a piece Thursday in response to the news of the new ministry. It’s a powerful open letter. You can read it here. Before she published it she gave me the honor of a first look and had a discussion with me about her “why”. That discussion gave me great conviction. She explained that she feels a responsibility akin to those who are sexually assaulted and live in silence while the assailant goes on to assault others. Her “why” was the hope that by speaking out on a public platform she may cause someone take pause. This post is written with that same hope.

The six years between our leaving and the news this week of the new ministry gives me a unique viewpoint. Although I cannot count the number of people who I care about that were treated carelessly in the years after we left, my family was in a very safe church environment with healthy leadership for those years. We had the time to heal and to actually dig into the Bible and figure out what God says His Church is supposed to look like. However, around the time that the Stines stepped down I had a realization. As much as I thought I had healed, I had become a cynic about all things related to church.

cynical 

adjective

1. distrusting or disparaging the motives of others; like or characteristic of a cynic.

2. showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty or morality by one’s actions, 

especially by actions that exploit the scruples of others.
3. bitterly or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic.
Here’s the thing about cynicism. It drives me crazy! It’s one of the least attractive attributes I see in other people. I love sarcasm. I hate cynicism. Cynicism is ugly.
To quote Bob Goff, one of my favorite authors, “I’ve never met a courageous cynic.” It’s true. You can’t be brave and be cynical. The two just cannot coexist. Cynicism is just a scared coverup for unhealed wounds. So when I find myself being cynical about anything to do with church, I have to start looking for what bitterness I’m harboring and what wounds I haven’t dealt with. I just have to. Or I’ll live out my life as a scared, bitter person. Nobody wants to be around a scared, bitter old lady.
Which leads me to my second hope for this essay… if you’ve been hurt and you’re struggling with unforgiveness, bitterness, anger, pain, or fear… please deal with it. God wants SO MUCH more for us than to live out our lives miserable because we’ve been hurt by the people who hand out crap in His name. If you find yourself being cynical, spend some time with Him. Write down what hurts, ask God to heal it, and then LET IT GO. Life’s too short and there is way too much work to do for you and me to hide at home in fear, or go out in public with anger.
Also, don’t be careless with others. Just don’t.
One more thing, for those like me, who had a moment of fear or panic this week over the thought of the new ministry and more people being hurt in God’s name, remember this…
Revelation 3:7 “…what He opens no one can close and what He closes no one can open.”
Trust me. I’ve tried to force doors back open after God closed them. It’s never pretty.

merci beaucoup

So many of you have been praying for our family and specifically for Sofija. Thank you! Gracias! Dankie! Hvala! Muito obrigado! Molte grazie!

In a thrilling, hold-my-breath, edge-of-my-seat game, the New England Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks in the Superbowl tonight. I have to confess, I’m not a fan of either team. I do however feel like my team won the Superbowl.

You see… My team was able to ride together in a car to and from church today. No hair pulling. No slapping. No hands in our faces. No objects being thrown. We all stayed in our seatbelts and kept our hands to ourselves.

And then… my baby girl stayed in kids’ church BY HERSELF for the ENTIRE service. Do you know what that means? It means my dear hubby and I were able to sit next to each other for an entire church service. Guys!! Girls!! That’s almost a date!

As if all the church and car goodness weren’t enough… I  made a pretty-long grocery list and as I was walking out the door to go shopping, Sofija asked to go with me. Without a second thought I said, “Okay.” Dear Hubby looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. Guys & Girls, me and my baby girl went to Wal-Mart, on a Sunday afternoon, along with half the residents of Alexandria, VA, and got all but one thing on that pretty-long grocery list. Baby Girl was A-MA-ZING! She made jokes and stayed by my side and helped me find the things I was looking for and a few things I wasn’t. And then, as if church and the car and surviving Wal-Mart weren’t enough, she clapped and squealed, “I’m SO EXCITED!” when I told her that we needed to stop at Safeway to find rye crackers. As we walked through the doors she exclaimed, “I love Safeway, Mama! They have Starbucks. Can we get Starbucks?” People, please read that again. We had a NORMAL conversation. And… she loves Safeway for the exact same reason that I love Safeway! She’s my girl. 😀

This day. This amazingly wonderful, peaceful, fun, stress-free day. You own a part of it. We are reaping a harvest of the prayers that you’ve sown. You’re a part of a team that lost most of the games this season but showed up in the playoffs and won the flippin’ Superbowl.

Thank you. Bringing up Sofija is a team effort and we’re incredibly grateful to have you on our team.

1 Corinthians 1:4 “I give thanks to my God always for you…”

Also… I made this kick-butt reuben dip for the Superbowl… Recipe herereubendip

Mission: Safe Sofija (adoption is a horse)

I started a post more than a year ago titled “Cutting the Horn off the Unicorn”.  That post turned into a personal vent session so I decided not to share it. This post is its replacement. I’m about to cut the horn off a unicorn…

Adoption is hard.

REALLY hard.

In order for one Mother to adopt a child, another Mother must lose a child. In order for an adopted child to attach to her/his adoptive family, that child must let go of their biological family. Adoption ALWAYS involves a lifetime war of nature vs. nurture. Sometimes nurture wins. Sometimes it doesn’t.

When you choose to have a child with someone, you usually take into account what that person will contribute to your child. Will they make pretty babies? Do they come from a long line of smart people? Do compassion and entrepreneurship run in their family? Are they athletic?

or…

Will your children be ugly, clumsy, dumb, lazy, and cold-hearted? Do heart disease, diabetes, and cancer run in both of your families? Does your potential Baby’s Daddy have a physical or learning disability?

At the end of the account taking you usually end up saying, “Hey, he meets half my desires for a Baby Daddy and I love him so let’s get busy.”

Adoption works nothing like the above scenario.

Before I go any further I want to say that I LOVE ADOPTION! I don’t want this post to leave anyone believing otherwise.

But I’m sick and tired of reading all the blogs and news articles that paint adoption as nothing but rainbows and unicorns.

In biological parenting you weigh all the knowns, and you accept the risks. In adoption you weigh all the UNknowns, and you accept the risks. I’m a risk-taker. I was made for adoption. And still… adoption has broken me, taken me to the end of myself, and shown me day after day that the only way through this life is 100% dependence on God.

Yesterday, January 10, 2015, I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a parent. My husband and I admitted our nine-year old daughter to the psychiatric unit at Children’s National Medical Center. I have prayed for wisdom in sharing details leading up to this decision while protecting our daughter. The decision to admit her was ultimately made because we no longer felt that we were keeping her safe at home. She will be hospitalized anywhere from one to three weeks and in that time we will meet several times with a team of doctors and develop a plan for keeping her safe at home from this point forward.

When we began the process of adopting Sofija we knew that she had autism. We were told little else about her or her biological family and everything we WERE told was untrue. When we arrived in Serbia and met her and heard the truth of her history and experienced exactly what we were getting ourselves into, I wanted to walk away. Judge me. Think badly of me. I really don’t care. I wanted to walk away. No matter what your thoughts are, I encourage you to click that last link and read the post I wrote in Serbia while God was working on my heart. As hard as it was to move forward and as hard as every day has been for the last 57 months, we were walking in God’s will. And there’s really no place I’d rather be.

The things I feel comfortable sharing about the last few months are:

-Sofija has repeatedly run away and has spent every second of every day trying to find a way out of the house so she can get to 7eleven.

-She has hurt herself. Repeatedly, and in horrible ways.

-She has hurt us. Repeatedly, and in horrible ways.

-She refuses to stay in her seat in a car and she frequently attacks (jumps on, slaps, throws objects at, pulls hair) everyone in the car, to include the driver.

-She has hurt other students at school and on her bus.

Last, but certainly not least, she has stopped sleeping. She didn’t fall asleep AT ALL between January 2nd and January 6th and since the 6th she has slept no more than 2-4 hours per night. When she wakes up she tries to get out of the house which means that we don’t sleep. The only rest Chad and I have had for the last couple of months has been when she’s at school. We’re not living. We’re surviving. We try to keep her and us safe when she’s home and we sleep while she’s at school. That’s our life. Our life is exhausting. We are spent.

Adoption is hard.

Really hard.

But… James 1:27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means CARING FOR ORPHANS and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

Does that mean every person who calls themselves a “Christian” needs to adopt? Absolutely, positively, NO. But it does mean that The Church has a responsibility to care for orphans. What does that look like? For me, today, it means sitting in a room that looks like a prison cell (with a sweet view of The Capital and the Washington Monument) with my daughter and believing that her (and our) quality of life will be a thousand times better when she is released. It means that I get to spend the rest of my life fighting the nature vs. nurture war with high hopes that nurture will win.

What does “caring for orphans” look like for you? Well, it’s honestly a question that you have to answer for yourself. I can tell you that our family is not the only adoptive family hurting. Maybe not to the same degree as us, but there are adoptive families all over the place just trying to survive.

-LOVE THEM! We’re lonely! We’re tired! We need YOU!! For quite some time we have basically been shut-ins. Because Sofija hates leaving home and her favorite way of taking control in the car is to jump on the person driving, leaving our house as a family has literally required risking our lives. She’s almost 5’1″, weighs 87lbs, runs like a cheetah, and she’s strong as an ox. We NEED people to come to us.

-Stop judging us!!! We need love and grace and compassion and there just isn’t any room in our lives for judgment. And while I’m on the subject: Adoptive Moms, please stop judging other adoptive Moms. Some families choose disruption and if that is what they choose, respect that choice. I can absolutely guarantee you that the decision to disrupt is not made with any less thought than the decision to adopt. We’re all just trying to survive and care for orphans and sometimes caring for an orphan means allowing that child to become part of a new family.

-We also need people to love on our other children. They’re lonely too. They’ve made HUGE sacrifices in order for us to add a child to our family and (in our case) they have been traumatized by the addition to the family. They need some peace and normalcy and they just don’t get it at home.

-Find an adoptive family in your church and get to know them. Go to their home and try not to be freaked out by the chaos. Our church does an AMAZING job of loving on us! We have a small group of people from our church that meet at our house weekly so that we have a chance to love on others.

-Don’t be afraid to go to the homes of people with adopted children. You just might be blessed! We’ve learned more about grace, faith, hope and provision, than most people will in a lifetime. Ask us questions. Most of us miss face-to-face conversations.

-If you can financially support adoption, contribute to someone who’s in the process. Adoption is expensive (average cost is $30k-$60k) and just because someone is a risk taker with the strength and grace to parent a child from a hard place doesn’t mean that person has the financial resources to bring home a child that needs a family.

-Offer to babysit. You might get slapped or have your hair pulled or have things thrown at you; but you also just might save a marriage that’s been pushed to its limits. Did you read that? Getting uncomfortable for a few hours may just save a marriage. And a saved marriage means less trauma and loss for a child who’s lost more than anyone ever should.

-Most importantly: PRAY! Pray for our family and when you’re done, pray for other adoptive families. God answers prayers. God heals. God provides. Get on your knees or in your shower or pause before climbing out of bed and PRAY!

In adoption there are indeed rainbows; those bright, beautiful, colorful moments that fill you with hope and promise and paint a smile on your face. But like real rainbows, they fade away too soon and leave you expectantly searching for the next one to appear.

Although the rainbow moments exists, there are no unicorns. Adoption is not magical and mythical. It is hard. Really hard. But you know what? When you cut the horn off a unicorn you still have a beautiful, strong, stubborn, magnificent being. Adoption is a horse. And I like horses.

Believing that our hospital snuggles quickly become SAFE at-home snuggles. 10653833_10205720021978831_9099978568237184432_n