My Humanity

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It seems more of my days could be categorized as messy than not. I easily give in to stress and work and distractions. As a result, I wander from truth, and life, and peace. My time is spent on good activities, but activities which are not driven by purpose. And although I spend time with God, I give him the leftovers of my struggle against the twenty-four hours in each day.

Today, the struggle was especially grueling.

After an exhausting week of back-to-school madness, I traveled to work around eleven this morning, and faced fast-food fury. I left forty minutes after the inferred end of my shift. I hurried home, ate a late lunch, and left again, only to work (for pay) in flower beds for another two hours. I was especially fatigued due to a small sinus infection.

As I traveled from place to place, Rend Collective played in my stereo.

With a weary mind, I listened to the joyful songs. And I asked God if it was possible to be bright when I did not feel like smiling. Is it possible, God, to rise like an angel when I feel so exhausted? Is it possible to be radiant for you everyday? Although I wasn’t sure how, I had to believe He wanted to use the days in which I felt so disabled to make His light shine all the more in me. 

As I said good night at the end of this day, He met me.

I read today’s entry of Jesus Calling (which is a great devotional, by the way). And it said,

“Doing countless unnecessary activities will dissipate your energy. When you spend time with Me, I restore your sense of direction. As you look to Me for guidance, I enable you to do less, but accomplish more.

With these words, I realized God’s peace–much like His joy–lives outside the limits of circumstance. Instead, it is found in Him and in His presence alone. There is no way to attain the necessary energy–capacity to do work–outside of Him. And so as I struggle through each day, His presence is what will give me life, and strength, and purpose. This purpose will give me direction, and I will work with joy–and peace–through and in and for Christ.

My place of employment came to mind tonight.

I do not particularly like the fast food industry for many reasons, especially because it fosters a stressful environment. In order to pursue a job better suited to me, I recently handed in my two-week notice. It was made evident by a few people that I would be greatly missed.

I do not think this is insignificant.

In a place I did not want to be, God shined in me. I’m thankful that perhaps He was able to reveal something of Himself to those I worked with, not through my strength, but through His presence in me.

And so I trust Him. I trust Him to give purpose to my messy days. I trust Him to make something of me when I don’t feel like shining. I trust Him to be bigger than my humanity.

Trust in the Lord and do good.
Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you your heart’s desires.
Commit everything you do to the Lord.
Trust him, and he will help you.
He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn,
and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.
Psalm 37:3-6
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A New Song

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So. This is senior year.

This season of living is for learning more, and growing deep, and and loving wide. It’s for comparing yourself to others less and to the Savior more–because you’ll never measure up. But you will grow into His nature. As you do so, you will be renewed. The oil of joy will be poured over your head, and the peace which is bigger than understanding will fill your heart.

The tasks seem overwhelming.

Each day will bring a new challenge to the table. Each week will present new hurdles to jump. Each quarter will showcase a new skill to master. But each semester will be won through little victories in the days and weeks and quarters in which you struggled. To new heights you will climb, experiencing in each step the love that is higher, and wider, and deeper than anything of this world.

You will fail.

Don’t let yourself believe you will be able to manage everything. If this were true, you would never have the chance to grow. So allow yourself to fail. And allow yourself to be forgiven. Receive the grace offered to you each day, hour, moment. And lean close into the Savior. His arms are wide for you. And don’t forget to drag others into that embrace beside you. Like that boy who sat beside you in your favorite class last year. And the girl who’s already feeling the pressure of her schedule, weeks before school starts. Or the friend who has broken pieces that need mending. Don’t forget about them. And expand your search to find others.

Don’t be afraid of saying, “yes.”

Say “yes” to those whom God places in close proximity to you. Have compassion–the desire to “suffer with.” As you experience the unfailing love of the Master, just extend it. Because it is the only important thing in this life. We are called to first love God with everything in us, and then to love our neighbors as ourselves. Don’t forget those things. Because those are the ones that will last. So say “yes!” when God asks it of you. Remember, he said “yes” to you, even while you were His enemy.

Make this the year you died to live.

In dying to yourself and your selfish wants, you find life in Jesus Christ. “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” So make an effort to learn the art of selflessness–because underneath all the pain of the flesh, this is love. And this is life. And. This. Is. Christ.

So learn to love, little senior. And learn to sing a new song.

Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
Psalm 98:1 ESV

The Journey to 7.16.13: An Adoption Story

This is a guest post written by Leah Clevenger, my Aunt Lele. She is the wife of Patrick, and mother to three energetic boys, Samuel, Nathaniel, and Benjamin. I hope you enjoy her words, and her heart, as much as I did…

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As I sit here drinking my cup of coffee, my mind goes back to two years ago today. Benjamin Isaac Clevenger became forever ours, but with a lot of ups and downs. We fostered Benjamin for almost two years before he became a Clevenger. Never would I have guessed this would be the journey God had for the Clevenger’s, but WOW am I so THANKFUL!

I am reminded this does not happen without a biological mom and dad not doing well. I write today in the view of a mom, because that is what I am. :) Don’t get me wrong, I am so glad that Benjamin became ours forever, but my mind just keeps going back to his first mommy (this is what we call her). She had to make an important and hard decision about Benjamin. She knew she was not well and that she needed to do what was best for “B”.  I am forever grateful to her for making that decision; she gave us a precious gift.

Patrick and I were given the opportunity to meet “B’s” first mommy. As we sat across from her, my mind raced. I had so many thoughts and questions while trying to feel what she might be feeling, in making the decision to give her precious bundle of joy to people she had just met. My heart raced, cried, smiled… wow, so many emotions to even state. I remember thinking about how much I needed to learn about her because “B” would have questions. My mind quickly ran to deeper thoughts. Does she know Jesus?, I wondered. Does she know that He loves her with an everlasting LOVE, a love that is more than she could ever think or imagine? Does she realize this hurt and pain she has can only be take away by Jesus, as He fills the void inside her? I hope she understands where she has gone wrong and chooses not to walk this road again. Like I said, there were so many emotions wrapped up into one word: LOVE. Love for a little boy that I did not birth and love for his first mommy.

At that first meeting, we were able to tell her about the LOVE of Jesus, and that we want to see her get her life turned around.

Benjamin had a different name at birth. Patrick and I wanted to rename him “Benjamin” when we adopted him. but I was going back and forth with it. I did not want to disrespect her in anyway and I wondered how “B” would handle it in the future. This turned out to be just one of the ways God worked in this journey. When we were meeting with her, she brought up his name. Patrick asked her if she knew the meaning of his name. She said that she did not and so he went on to tell her what it meant, and that we would love to rename him. He explained to her that we did not want to disrespect her or her family. She looked right into my eyes and said, “Change his name. It’s okay with me.”  I remember that like it was yesterday.

One thing that stuck out to me while meeting her was her breakfast. It was around 8AM and she was eating a hamburger, dipping it into a pile of ketchup–and when I say a pile, I mean it was a huge old pile! She loved ketchup. Benjamin loves ketchup. He dips everything in ketchup. I love this because I am able to tell him, “Your first mommy loved ketchup, just like you!” I would never have known this if Patrick and I did not agree to meet her. I am so grateful for that day, so grateful that she wanted to meet us. Some people may think this is so small or crazy, but to us it is HUGE that we know his first mommy loved ketchup!

When we got up to leave, I did not know what I should do. But I decided I would not hold back from what I wanted to do, because I didn’t know if I would ever see her again. I hugged her with tears streaming down my face and told her that I would love him like my own and that we would take good care of him.

This is only a small part of the journey for the Clevenger’s. I say Clevenger’s because it is a journey for our whole family–a journey we would not change. We have learned so much and are still learning, things like what family really is, what true friendship is…  LOVE when it hurts! We are looking forward to the rest of the journey and what God has for us. Spirit lead us where our trust is without borders. Let us walk upon the waters, wherever You would call us. Take us deeper than our feet could ever wander, and our faith will be made stronger in the presence of our Savior.

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Benjamin’s first mommy is no longer with us; she passed away four months ago. All those emotions came roaring back and it’s like a piece of me is gone.

Patrick and I were able to be with her before she passed. I was able to hold her hand, not knowing if she could hear me but believing she could. I thanked her for the gift she gave us, and told her I was forever grateful to her. Patrick was able to share Jesus with her again. We never know what takes place in the heart of a person!

We are so grateful to her family, for letting us come into their lives so we could be with her and with them during this difficult time. We give thanks to Jesus for giving us the opportunity to share his story with them and show them His LOVE. Through spending time with them, we were able to hear more stories about Benjamin’s first mommy. They told us that she would talk about Benjamin and that she knew she did the right thing in giving him to us. She would say, “He fits so perfectly with them. They are so nice and will give him a great life. It’s like I had him just for them.”

Since we had Benjamin, we were only with his first mommy twice, but this does not mean she was out of our lives. We prayed for her every night, asking Jesus to watch over her, protection her and send people into her life that would share the LOVE of Jesus with her. We asked that she would surrender to His LOVE, and that we would see her in heaven one day. We don’t know if she did surrender to Him and that makes my heart hurt so bad.

During the funeral, a cousin spoke and told a story about her. She would run around, come up to you laughing the laugh that she did best, and then run away. Patrick and I looked at each other with tears running down our cheeks and said, “That’s ‘B’!” We smiled, and realized we had been given yet another little nugget to share with our Benjamin about his first mommy.

As I watch Benjamin, my mind wanders to all the things that she is missing. And yet I am grateful that I get to be in his life. I stop and wonder if he has her toes, her smile, laugh, energy…  :)  And this makes my heart smile….. Why, you might ask? Because that is his first mommy.

We are blessed beyond belief, and so thankful that we said “YES,” when we received that phone call to foster him in 2011. Not knowing what the journey would hold whether we would adopt or just foster him. Not ever dreaming that we would sit down with his 1st mommy. Not ever imaging that Patrick would be asked to do her funeral. If we were asked to do it all over again, the answer would be “YES!” a million times over.

Thank You, first mommy, for giving us joy, chaos, smiles, tears, belly laughter, and the famous saying, “Where’s B?”!!  We love you and are forever grateful.

Benjamin Isaac Clevenger, we are so glad that you are our son. Isaac means laughter and you bring us so much laughter. We love you and could not imagine our world without you. Always remember the scripture God gave us for you:

“O Lord, You alone are my hope.  I’ve trusted You, O Lord, from childhood. Yes, You have been with me from birth from my mother’s womb You have cared for me.  No wonder I am always praising You. My life is an example to many, because You have been my strength and protection. That is why I can never stop praising You; I declare Your glory all day long.”  Psalms 71:5-8

Much LOVE,

Daddy, Mommy, Samuel & Nathaniel

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So Have Faith.

Big Idea #3: Normal embryonic development is a process that involves timing and coordination of several events that are regulated by multiple mechanisms, including genes.

I could watch YouTube videos detailing embryology for hours. Butter the popcorn. Grab a fleece blanket. Hunker down with a laptop. And watch. After fertilization of the female egg (from which I will spare you the juicy details), the single cell divides multiple times without gaining mass. In the resulting small ball of individual cells, the germ layers protrude. Eventually, these layers differentiate into specialized, life-containing units. Out of the organized layers, organogenesis ushers in cells and tissues and organs. And all these things occur under the careful direction of gene regulation by which genes containing DNA are turned on or off as needed.

I love it. All of it.

Because life is beautiful.

When I watch the embryo develop and grow, I see the Maker’s hand busy at work, weaving together his intricate design for a new life. It is precious and it is profound, mostly because there is purpose in the haphazard. And it all unfolds gently within his hand. As specified by my biology teacher’s syllabus, embryonic development involves extensive timing and coordination by the One and Only.

Recently, this changed my perspective.

Just as God defined the sequential stages in a human embryo’s young life, so also has he organized my emotional and spiritual maturity. Previously, he has coordinated the events and progression of my life which lead to complete development–and everything is heavily regulated by his hand. Each season of life he gives me is timed carefully and specifically to grow me into maturity. The rate of my development is not too fast, nor too slow; it is controlled in perfection. And each stage prepares me for the next as it gently unfolds.

This realization is significant.

Because you know what? This particular season– this particular year–in my life is for stretching. And stretching inevitably includes breaking through comfort zones–comfort zones which have hemmed me in and kept me from growth. These fences were–and are–strong and tall. And so it has taken three hundred and sixty-five days to tear them down. I’m not even finished yet.

But, I have discovered this is not a problem; rather, it is an opportunity for continual growth. Because God has everything prepared.When he planned my life, he had my proper and complete development in mind. And like each stage of embryonic development, he has directed my past, my present, and my future. Accordingly, I have nothing to fear.

And neither do you.

The progression of every life is coordinated by the Giver of Life. And we can be sure that he is fully capable. He is all knowing, all seeing, all creating. The works of his hands are perfect–and he calls them good. Although you are not perfect, as none of us are, he does have marvelous dreams for you. And he has planned them perfectly, which means he is perfectly preparing you for them.

He has this under control; so have faith.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6.

The World Wanderer

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I used to think I was something in this world.

I was the Bible scholar (due to my being the pastor’s kid, I think), the believer, the one who knew herself and what she wanted too. Now I know that I’m just a wanderer upon the face of the earth. Much like everyone else, I presume.

Sometimes the reactions of photosynthesis, of which there are many, are easier to understand than myself. And to me, this is unsettling. I become frustrated and anxious when I cannot understand who I am. Consequently, my fears begin mounting. How can I comprehend the intricacies of creation when I cannot grasp the complexities contained within? I do not need to understand the world. But I want to do so, just as I want to know who I am–who I am created to be! In addition, I want to know what my tomorrow will look like–and how I will react to it. But I allude myself as the future alludes me. I cannot be fully known, nor can I fully know what lies ahead, with any nervous system understood by man. It takes a Superhuman and his brain to understand any human. And he always knows, which is both comforting and alarming.

We are human.

We are finitely infinite; only God sees every particle of who we are. From the hairs on our physical head to the scars on our emotional heart, he knows us. The most staggering thing is not that we are completely known, but that we are unconditionally loved. Would you love yourself if you could see everything God sees, from the perspective that God sees it? I do not think that I could love myself after a bitter taste of reality like that.

My doubts about myself and fear of tomorrow have left me somewhat empty. However, over the past year, I have found that God is faithful. He makes many promises, but he is faithful to keep them all. He does say he loves unconditionally, that he always gives grace, that he continually extends forgiveness. His mercies are new every morning and he will never leave or forsake me. I really don’t need to know myself or see the future so long as I have faith.

It was said of Abraham, the Father of Israel, God’s chosen people, that “he went without knowing where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8) This statement leaves me breathless, every time I read it. It’s worth repeating: “He went without knowing where he was going.” I think Abraham went–physically stood up and moved from his home–not because he knew or was confident in himself. And obviously he did not go because he clearly saw the way. Rather, he went because he trusted God, the faithful promise keeper.

I’m trying to keep this in mind as I wander through the world.