It was the night before Everett’s eighth birthday and everyone was excited for the festivities to come. I was sitting at the table with all my kids and took a breath for my "Preparing for Big Events and Let Downs" speech. One of my children struggles with differentiating between good and bad big feelings (all big feelings cause meltdowns; including happy excitement) and it has made me intentional about preparing for big feelings.
“Alright guys. Tomorrow is Everett’s birthday and it’s going to be awesome. We are going to have a great time. However–“
“We already know what you’re going to say,” Darla interjected.
I raised my eyebrows and she continued, “You’re going to say that there are going to be good moments but also bad moments. It won’t be perfect but we can still enjoy the good even when there is bad. Right?” She flashed an I’m-too-smart-for-my-own-good smile at me and I laughed.
“Pretty much verbatim, Darla. Big happy feelings can quickly swing hard to big sad feelings.”
I remind my kids regularly that we live in this weird paradox; the world is a fallen, dark, sinful place, yet God leaves His handprints on everything and uses even sinful, dark things to demonstrate His glory. When His light shines into the dark, the contrast awes us. We tend to think of our mountains and valleys separate but that has not been my experience. Often the sweetest comes in the hardest. Many of my spiritual victories have come on the heels of personal defeats.
I used to have this idea that writing a book involved an idea, creating a rough draft, editing, submitting a final draft, and getting it published. Then, of course, comes marketing, book signings, and Today show appearances. Pretty straightforward, right?
Of all the things I’ve written and projects I’ve worked on, none has had so unconventional a life as the devotional formerly known as A;life. A;life started out of a need, a decade ago. Sean and I were leading middle and high school students who were committing their lives to Christ but had no idea where to start in studying the Bible. There were topical devotionals but none that explained the story of the Bible, the character of God, and basics of spiritual disciplines. I couldn’t find a good devotional to meet the need so I wrote one.
A;life was a 29 day devotional geared toward teens. Each day had a little bit of explanation, Scripture to read, questions to answer, and a model prayer. At one point it had a DVD with it and a leader insert so it could be used in a small group setting.
We started realizing the need didn’t stop at our own youth ministry and gave copies of A;life to other youth ministries lacking resources. It circled around for years. At some point we dropped the DVD as it was outdated, and I’m not sure where most of the leader inserts went.
A year and a half ago I decided to rewrite A;life. I extended it to a 40 day devotional and took out teen specific references so it could easily apply to any age. I talked to connections with two publishing companies and was hopeful something would come of it.
For various reasons, I began to doubt publishing would happen. After a series of ups and downs, I was thinking I’d shelve the idea. My writing mentor, ghostwriter Jeanne Halsey (who is the one who pushes me when I think I’ve already pushed enough), taught me about self-publishing and convinced me to give it a try. Between her urging, Lisa Oliver’s exceptional design work, and Marti Eide’s editing, we self-published the devotional, now called Brand New; A Field Guide to Life in Christ.
The beautiful irony is as I’ve received proof copies (first printed wrong… second printed wrong…third time’s a charm!) I also received a contract from a publishing company. It’s a throw-up-your-hands-and-shake-your-head moment when you’ve spent years bouncing around a project and then everything happens at once.
The next turn in the journey will be meeting with an editing and marketing team to see what direction this project may go. I’m slightly giddy not only about publishing this devotional, but the learning curve with it. I’m learning plenty about what not to do next time and trusting that God will still lead and have His hand in this project as I bumble through it.
I’m suspending purchases of the self-published version so that we can officially move forward to improve and publish A;life/Brand New/Whatever we decide to call this devotional! Now for a word from the publisher:
The Lexham Press team is thrilled to have this opportunity to work with Shilo and Sean in such an important area of ministry in the life of the church. Shilo’s book addresses a real need for solid and accessible resources aimed at brand-new Christians who need to learn (and delight in!) the story of their new identity in Jesus. I’m looking forward to seeing what the Lord continues to accomplish through their ministry, and excited for the part we get to play in bringing this fruit of their labors to publication.
Brannon Ellis, Associate Publisher, Lexham Press (lexhampress.com)
It could be said that I’ve been busy this winter. My house is full of fantastic distractions, activity, and conversation. There are currently seven of us. We're juggling jobs, schedules, laundry, life decisions, and emotional needs. And that's just the adults.
Photo cred: Evan and Lisa Oliver
The kids have school, sports, even more laundry, and constant questions. Perhaps I should include our eight chickens, one rabbit, and high maintenance lab puppy. The animals require their own care, attention, and “did you seriously rip up my door mat again!?!” redirection. If I never left my property (as is often tempting), I would still never run out of things to do.
Photo cred: Evan and Lisa Oliver
Sean and Megan had six jobs between them this year. Between pastoring, d.j.ing, camps, coffee, salon, and catering, the kids and I regularly ask, "Which job today?" as they head out the door. I've worked hard to keep strict boundaries for myself, knowing there will be other seasons I can stretch myself outside the home. For now I'm needed to keep the home front covered. Yet...I couldn't resist a tiny job of my own when the kids' school asked me to be on the substitute list. I love being at the school a few days a month but am determined to make being home first priority as it's Haley Kate's last year before kindergarten.
After Rits and Pearl returned to the United States their lives filled with more children, more ministry, and a constant stream of people in and out of their home to care for. Their experience in Africa and with Moses caused them to live with open doors and open hearts, instead of closing down in fear and disappointment. They ultimately adopted two little boys from Korea after the Korean War, adding them to their six biological children. (Ah, but those are miraculous stories for another day.)
The Tademas always had room for one more around the kitchen table, if everyone would scoot over a little bit. Pearl could add another cup of broth to the soup and set another cup of dark coffee out without feeling a smidge inconvenienced. Their attitudes were passed along to their children who blessed them with forty-five grandchildren. Twenty-three of those grandchildren were adopted with miraculous stories of their own. (Like I said...stories for another day.)
In 2003 Rits and Pearl’s daughter Laura called with an announcement. “Mom, I’m lonesome for Moses. I am praying that we can find him and get in contact with him.” Laura had been young when her family left Africa, but she couldn’t shake the memory she had of carrying around the little boy she called brother.
Pearl was surprised by her daughter’s determined idea. Her response was realistic but as usual, acknowledged God’s ability to work miracles. “Wow, Laura. I don’t even know if he is still called Moses or if he is alive. If he is alive, where would he be living?” Pearl’s mind processed the possibility as she spoke, “For forty-five years we have had no contact with him…" Then Pearl’s voice took on her familiar faith filled laugh, “But, I guess God is a mighty magnet and can find any needle in however old a haystack.”
Having Moses as part of the Tadema family hit an unforeseen glitch early on.
Moses was from the Ion tribe and Rits and Pearl were living with the Tiv tribe. The Tiv and Ion tribes had a history of strife and conflict. The tribes did not mix and tensions ran high between them. Rits and Pearl were hopeful that including an Ion baby would be an example to the Tiv people. It was not a smooth start. The Tiv people, who were learning about the love of Jesus, struggled as they watched a starving Ion baby join the loved missionary family. They were learning of an unconditional love that knew no barriers and stretched far, to all who sinned and fell short. They had heard the words of the missionaries that this Jesus was for all sinners and some had even accepted Jesus and chose to follow Him. Yet they couldn’t wrap their minds around the idea that the same Jesus could be for a Tiv person and an Ion person.
Rits and Pearl’s hired housekeeper was a Tiv boy named Akaa. He had recently declared his belief in Jesus and was seeking to follow Him. He drew the line with Moses. After watching the scene play out in front of him, he announced to Pearl that he would not be washing Moses’ diapers. He told her with great disdain, “His ancestors were cannibals and ate my ancestors. It is not right for me to wash his diapers. I quit!”
November is a month used to highlight adoption–the need, the stories, the celebration. I'm often asked where my passion for adoption, fostering, and helping kids in trauma stems from. There are many things that shaped it, the first being the legacy of adoption in my family. I've compiled some of the stories within our family and hope to have the vision and focus to turn it into a book at some point. Since it's not taking book form at this time, I'm posting one here that shares how my grandparents became adoptive parents.
I figured after tragic, heartbreaking world news this week we could use a bedtime story that reminds us of God's faithfulness. Here it is. Part 1 of the Moses Story:
Pearl DeJong was a strong Dutch farm girl from Washington State. She was bright, practical yet filled with dreams, and ambitiously ready to serve Jesus. She milked cows while dreaming of far off countries. She devoured books about missionaries, specifically White Queen of the Cannibals about Mary Slessor telling natives in Africa about Jesus, and Johanna Veenstra, Pioneer Missionary to Africa which was about a woman from Pearl’s own Christian denomination going to Africa alone. After completing high school in three years, driven by a goal to become a medical missionary in Africa, she began school at Calvin College. Her dreams and future fueled her determination to work hard in college and stay focused.
Pearl’s idea of how her life would play out began changing when she wasn’t accepted into medical school. The schools were inundated with GIs applying during the 1940s and there was no room for her in the program. The news came and derailed the future she imagined. She had been so certain that it was God’s call she was answering and working towards. Deflated, she was at a loss. Her already deep faith required that she trust God’s hand was still at work and yet she didn’t have a back up plan. Her goal as medical missionary was the plan she had thrown all her efforts into.
Life took another unexpected turn when she was swept off her feet by a Dutch immigrant who had moved to the U.S. to attend Calvin College. Rits Tadema was passionate about theology and working hard to get a handle on the English language. He quickly noticed Pearl and wooed her by inviting her to a Reformation service (quite the setting for a first date). She was intrigued and accepted. He brought a pocketful of peppermints for them to share through the service. She hid a smile when she realized they were Tums, not peppermints. She spared his pride, respectfully ate them and her intrigue in him grew. They were equally smitten. Shy glances and anti-acid treats grew into a courtship.
We were discussing 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,” when my prayer group friends gave me a new perspective: “It doesn’t say caring for orphans will immediately fix their distress. It doesn’t say ‘bring them to your clean life and they will live a clean life, too’. It says to care for them in their distress. I suppose that means we are bringing trauma and distress into our homes when we welcome those in distress.”
God commands us to care for orphans and widows. His love pours out of His people, making them able and even passionate to care for children that have been overlooked or uncared for.
There are many Scriptures that describe how God adopts us–giving us His blessings, His legacy, and His inheritance. Earthly adoption is often compared to God’s adoption of us. “We want to adopt because God adopted us.” While this is true and a beautiful example that points to God’s ability to redeem and call us His own, it is also flawed.
I had just pulled Haley Kate out of the bath and perched her on the counter while I brushed her thick dark hair. She was the inquisitive age of three. She was chatting up a storm and playing with her belly button when her curious eyes met mine.
“This bellybutton had food?”
I could see she was recalling a conversation I had with the older kids about food traveling through an umbilical cord to nourish an unborn baby.
“Yes, there was a cord with food going straight into…” I playfully poked her tummy, “there!”
“Me and Everett were in your tummy? Then we were just-born-babies? Both of us babies?” She cradled her arms like she does with her dolls.
I hesitated, realizing quite suddenly that the direction of the conversation required a truthful but gentle response.
“Yes, Everett grew in my tummy. Haley honey, do you remember that God gave you a different mommy’s tummy to grow in? You grew in another mommy’s tummy–“
Her eyes widened. Indignantly she protested, “No! I not WANT that Mommy’s tummy! I only want YOU!” As though by voicing her objection, she could change her history.
It’s not that I was bad about saying, “I’m sorry”. It’s simply that I worked hard to never have a reason to say it. I made the “right” decisions and got along with as many people as possible. If I happened to mess up I would immediately rationalize and spin it, making myself look better than I was. (Or convince myself what I did wasn’t as bad as the other person. You don’t have to apologize if the other person hurt you worse, right?) If it was a true mistake (notice I said, “mistake” instead of “sin” or “offense”? See what I did there?), then I would muster the ability to overcome and not do the same thing twice.
As the oldest child, it worked to distract my siblings with bossiness and determination. When you’re high and mighty you can convince your subordinates that you’re above repentance. Even coming into adulthood I frequently used the art of smoothing things over, thinking I could replace reconciliation with friendliness and compliments. If all else failed, humor bridged the gap. Somewhere in me I believed compensating and doing “better” went further than being broken and repentant anyway.
Sean and I have been married fifteen years today. I’m going to give you a shred of honesty here. It’s been hard. I know you’ve heard people say, “we’ve gone through a lot together but I wouldn’t change a thing and we’re better for it.” Eh, that’s not the kind of hard I’m talking about. I’m talking about the kind of hard that says I’d change plenty if I could. It’s less the kind of hard that “we face hardship together and get through it” and more the “our battle wounds are largely from each other and we’ll see if we get out of this alive". It’s not pretty to admit, but there it is.
When things begin unraveling in marriage (or parenthood, work, and hundreds of other things for that matter) it’s easy to proclaim, “This is NOT what I signed up for!” and frantically work to change it, control it, or bail on it. It isn’t easy to resolve, “Yes, this might not be what I thought I signed up for but indeed, I signed. I may not be able to change it, control it, or bail but if I believe God can give peace and purpose even in the difficult, why should this be any different?”
Photo cred: Evan Oliver
Just throwing myself out there a bit...