I’m sitting by the Santa Ana River in the midst of a forest of Ash Trees. It is shady and about 70 degrees and ever so peaceful. The hum of the water rushing down the river is the melody I hear and the gentle wind blowing through the autumn leaves is the harmony. The only other instruments in this symphony are an occasional duck or birdcall and every once-in-a-while the hum of a car going up or down the highway. I’m sitting at the table in our tent trailer down at the Seven Oaks campground. I am satisfied, as I enjoy sweet solitude today. I spent the morning thinking, praying, walking, listening, and reading. Now after lunch and a nice nap, I am writing. I spent some time reading through some Scriptures on thanks and thanksgiving before my nap, hoping to doze in and out of sleep with these thoughts going through my mind. I am responsible to plan the entire service on the Sunday before Thanksgiving and I want to get an idea of where God is focusing my heart as I prepare to lead my people. So far, while I’m convinced that thanksgiving is a central worship response to God, no specific Scripture or context is coming to mind for this service. So I will begin by reflecting on where I am at this Thanksgiving season.
Perhaps I am most thankful for God’s grace as I come to Thanksgiving this year. Although on a smoother road now, I came through a pretty rough journey beginning in March that only recently has yielded fruit in my life – fruit of righteousness, humility, joy, peace and yes, thanksgiving. What brought me to a low point in July of grief, confusion, failure, and anger is resulting in the beauty of grace – God’s grace demonstrated in him revealing his perfect will through it all. My previous Thanksgiving journal says it all. A year ago I wrote that I was most thankful for the work that God has called me to do. A huge part of that work was the call he has placed on my life to care for orphans mainly through foster care and adoption. My heart was so full of joy over what God has done in our lives as we have taken in Maria and become her family. Truly that journey has changed Julie and me like nothing else has before. A year ago we were eagerly waiting and praying for the next child that God would bring. The process of God bringing two precious children to us was not easy and ultimately ended in us choosing to ask God to bring another family for them, releasing us from the responsibility. And he did in a most gracious way – I see it now and it is beautiful, but at the time it stung with failure and caused our marriage relationship to go through it’s biggest trial yet.
Julie and I were out with friends the other night and were talking about this situation. Going through their own similar struggles, they totally understand the difficulty of foster care ministry and asked, “Do you feel like a failure?” The answer I came up with is that I feel like I failed, but I do not feel like a failure. That is because I see God’s hand of mercy and grace all over this situation. He took my failure and worked out his perfect will through it in two wonderful ways. The past week it was as if a spotlight shattered the mystery of the darkness. Julie and I just had the privilege of having these two kids for a weeklong visit. My heart is yet so full of love toward them, but God has released me from the desire for them to be adopted into our family. That is because I see how he has taken such good care of them in their current placement, and that is the first way I see his grace. They are thriving in their new family. As an added bonus we are a part of their extended family that will love them for the rest of their lives. It was also great to see healing in their relationship with Billy. Their invasion into his secure 6 year-old world caused great frustration that he couldn’t even understand let alone overcome. But this last week I observed friendship, mutual enjoyment, love and even tenderness between them – sweet grace. Without our family as a bridge to their next family, they wouldn’t be where they are today. That’s God’s grace demonstrated through his perfect will even in light of our failure. Julie and I just returned from a marriage retreat and both agree that we are deeper in love as a result of the trials of the past few months. A strong marriage based on an unwavering and proven commitment to one another is the non-negotiable foundation on which we proceed with the ministry of raising our family and awaiting the right timing for our next fos-adopt kids. That is the second way that I saw God’s grace this past week.
This Thanksgiving I find myself at a very different place than last year. It is a place of humility. It is a good place – a very good place and I feel that more than anything else. Once again it draws me to God in prayer, toward a greater dependence on my Heavenly Father. I am further acquainted with grief, gaining a softer heart toward those in similar circumstances. The testing of my faith is producing perseverance, character and hope and, best of all, greater faith. I am learning to obey the command to “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:18) And so I end this with a heartfelt, thank you, to God!