I woke up one Thursday morning with these thoughts running through my head. I couldn't focus on anything else until I wrote them all down. The last day of our ladies Bible Study, I shared them as a devotional.
One of the first chapter books I ever read was "The Biography of Betsy Ross." Ever since then I've had a fondness for reading the back stories of people I've read about in history or heard about in the news. Another one of my loves is music, and one of my favorite artists (since 7th grade) is Steven Curtis Chapman. SCC is from the U.S. and is considered a contemporary Christian artist. Many of you are probably familiar with him and his music. Unfortunately, he received even more media attention when tragedy struck his family a few years ago. In addition to their three "natural born" children, Steven and his wife Mary Beth adopted 3 beautiful girls from China. On one random afternoon, Maria, one of their adopted daughters, was killed when she accidently and inconspicuously got in the way of the family's large SUV, driven by the Chapman's older son, as it was coming into their driveway. When home for repat. This past December, I discovered that Mary Beth Chapman, at the encouragement of her husband and good friend Beth Moore, recently published a book about the ordeal. I had to buy it. Once I started reading it, I found that it was about so much more than the tragedy of losing their daughter. It was about her longtime relationship with Christ, her struggle with throwing away her guilt and understanding God's love for her, her continual feelings of failure in her spiritual walk – it was about her quest to understand and live life as a follower of Christ. From the first page of the book, I felt like I was reading a biography of myself.
I said the "sinner's prayer"," accepted Jesus into my heart," and was Baptized at the age of 8 and I've been an active member of a Southern Baptist Church ever since. So, I know the "right answers" to the questions and I've done the "right" things. I was in Youth Group and went on all the Youth Mission Tours and Church Camps, I volunteered at Children's Choir and Vacation Bible School, I memorized Scripture and made it to the finals of Bible Drills, I even served as church accompanist when needed.
What I don't "know," or what I don't fully understand, or maybe what I'm really unwilling to truly believe, is the absolute, unconditional, undeserved, and unearned love the Father has for me. And this is where God is working on me now. He's been working on me through conversations with my husband, with my friends, and even with people I wouldn't necessarily consider friends. He's been working on me through looking at the life of Paul while studying 1 and 2 Corinthians. He's been working on me through the movies I've watched and the books I've read – those written by Christian authors and those written by people who do not proclaim to be Christians. He really got my attention when I came across this passage of Mary Beth Chapman's book.
The Chapman's had just arrived at their hotel in China and were preparing to meet their new daughter. Even at this time, Mary Beth was still doubtful that she would be able to love this adopted child as much as her first 3 children, but she had justified to herself that even she, as a bad mother, would be better for this child than no mother at all.
As we checked into our hotel, the staff was very professional. They were used to hosting American families, who stayed in this hotel all the time to do the very thing we were getting ready to do.
We had not more than entered our room when the phone rang and a voice informed us in broken English that the people were there with our baby and they wanted to bring her up to us right then, if that was alright. I didn't have formula unpacked; nothing was settled or nested in our room. I was frantic.
My stomach was turning cartwheels, my hands were clammy, and my heart was racing. There was no backing out now. What had I been thinking? I didn't even know this little person from China, and now she was being carried up the elevator, down the hall, straight toward my arms . . . and I didn't feel prepared in the least!
"God," I prayed, "please, I don't even know what to say, but, HELP!"
Steven was looking at me, worried. I could see him thinking, "She's gonna completely flip out, and when she does . . . What do I do?"
Meanwhile, David Trask (a family friend) was in the hall with the video camera pointed toward the elevator, his finger ready to push the little red "record" button.
I was like a caged animal, pacing, frantic. If I could've jumped out the window and lived, I would have. Jet lag, anxiety, and the Enemy's lies were skewing my brain. It was like Satan was whispering in my ear that I couldn't be a good mom, I couldn't do this, I couldn't love this little girl the way she needed to be loved.
I grabbed Emily, Caleb, and Will and lined them up at the end of the bed. "Kids!" I struggled to say. "This is going to change our family forever! Whatever happens in the next twenty-four hours, just remember, I love you!" They stared at me, all in a row, their eyes big and their jaws wide open.
I heard in the distance the "ding" of the elevator. I heard our facilitator's voice calling from the hall in Chinese/broken English, "They here! They here!"
Terrified, I walked slowly toward the door. Everything went into slow motion. I looked back over my shoulder one last time at my three little towheaded kids sitting in a row: the way things were. It was a kind of death to the familiar life I'd known. I took a deep breath, told God that I trusted Him, and walked through the door.
I saw a Chinese woman carrying a bundled baby. She was wrapped in a million layers, but the outside one was a pink, polka-dotted flannel blanket that I had made and sent from home.
I couldn't get to her fast enough. I opened my arms, flew toward the woman, and took the baby. Tears poured down my face. I couldn't believe that this was my child. I stared down at her, crying over and over, "This is my baby!" I wept and clutched her tightly as the nanny handed me everything I had ever sent her: a stuffed pig, a plastic photo album of her family.
Steven had stepped back. He could see that something miraculous was unfolding. It was like I had walked out into the hall as one person, and now I was holding this baby as a new person altogether.
In that moment, time stopped. It was like God was speaking to me directly. "Mary Beth, you thickheaded woman, do you not understand now that this is the very way I see you? You are this orphan! I adopted you and you are Mine! I bought you for a price! Do you see how you love this baby? That's just a faint reflection of how much I love you! You didn't have a name, and I gave you a name. You did nothing to deserve my love, and I love you anyway. You had no hope, no future, and now you are the daughter of the King!"
I saw it. The second she was placed in my arms, I would have fought to the death to protect her. I loved her with everything inside of me.
"Do you get it now?" God was saying to me. Under the blanket, this baby was wrapped in rags. She was poor. She didn't smell good. She was hungry. There was nothing about her that had "earned" my love. But I loved her powerfully, deeply, absolutely. Period.
I got it.
The scripture says, "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;" (Isaiah 64:6). No wonder, I continually feel like a failure in my spiritual walk. My righteousness doesn't come from me, it's not supposed to. It comes from God. Any value that I have or good that comes from my works is solely from God.
Peter and John understood this love and it bubbled up from inside them – in Acts 4
18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, "Which is right in God's eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."
Paul understood this love – Ephesians 2
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
Even though I've been familiar with these Scriptures and I've known about the unconditional love God has for me since I was 8 years old, I still continue to jump on the never-ending, never-fruitful hamster wheel of earning God's approval and obtaining my own righteousness. I'm at the point in my walk with Christ now that I'm tired of the Status Quo-of "knowing" all the "right" church answers. Our righteousness doesn't come from doing all the "right" things – it doesn't come from being in church or being on time for church, it doesn't come from simply memorizing scripture, it doesn't come from our volunteer work, it doesn't come from our judgment of others, it doesn't come from following church tradition or protocols, it doesn't come from listening to sermons or singing hymns of praise, it doesn't come from doing the "right" things – It is GOD who sanctifies us!
One of my daughter's favorite songs, she asks for us to sing it every night, is "I've Got Peace Like a River." The last verse of the song says, "I've got joy like a fountain." My question to myself and to you is, "Is the joy of knowing Christ bubbling out of us like a fountain? Is the understanding of his unconditional love filling us to the point that we cannot hold it in? Is our walk with Christ a mere religion consisting of rules that we can either follow or break? Or is it a dynamic relationship with a living God who loves us so powerfully and unconditionally even as we are – poor, dirty, helpless, stinky, and unwanted orphans?"