Chosen

“Being chosen is the greatest gift you can give to another human being.” Trevor Noah, Born a Crime

All of us have an innate desire to know that we are chosen, loved, wanted. We think of it often in the sense of a romantic relationship, and that certainly is an important one. But we only feel real fulfillment in any of our relationships if we don’t feel like we are a burden or we were forced upon someone, but that they chose us and want to be in our presence. My birth father never made me feel this way. I don’t ever remember having that type of relationship with him. There were times where he was filled with guilt and apologized, but it was very apparent quickly that it had more to do with easing his conscience than actually having relationship with me. My mom met my stepdad when I was in 1st grade. He and my future step brothers moved next door. By the time I was 8 they were married, and I really don’t remember my life without this man being in it.

As with most step-families, ours was complicated. I often refer to our family as the dysfunctional Brady Bunch since my mom had three girls and my dad had 2 boys, then together they had my sister. But one thing I always knew – though I was not his by birth, I was his by choice. I was never just a tag along or an addition because he loved my mom. As I sat on his lap around the time of their wedding I clearly remember the conversation about how he was my dad and I was his daughter. He was adamant about the fact that one day he would be the one to walk me down the aisle and give me away. I don’t know why that was so important to him – certainly an 8 year old wasn’t thinking in those terms. But the conversation stuck with me, and I equated it to meaning I was his to give away. Maybe an “old fashioned” notion by today’s standards, but one I was happy to live in. And he did give me away – all the while joking as we walked down the aisle that, “It’s not too late to turn around, kid!”

It wasn’t just Dad. His family welcomed us in with open hearts and arms. They are a large family with their own chaos and craziness. But there was never once a feeling of being on the outside. His nieces and nephews became my cousins and my best friends – the kind where every time you are together you plot to stay over night and be together as long as possible. I spent countless nights with all my new Aunts and Uncles, and never questioned their love for me.

I was chosen. Invited in.

I wasn’t just acknowledged, begrudgingly accepted or tolerated. I was wanted, loved, and immersed. My family tree suddenly had new roots grafted in deep and permanent.

It was healing to the soul of a little girl who didn’t feel wanted and loved by her birth father. But here’s the thing…If I had not chosen to allow myself to be loved and choose to love back, it would not have been a relationship. If I did not believe that their love for me was real, I could not have grown up with my huge group of family members and love and laughter and friendship. I had to choose back.

Despite the fact that my step father was far from perfect, and my new family and I all made mistakes, their choosing of me opened the pathway for me to think about the love of my heavenly father more. He also chose me. Before I was formed in the womb, before I existed. I was his. My name is graven on his hands. The Spirit lives inside of me. I am his masterpiece – wholly and dearly loved. He gives me good things, he knows what I need before I even ask (or I even know!). He took me out of slavery and fear and bought me with the price of his son’s life so that I could be his daughter, a co-heir with Jesus. I am adopted, wanted, desired, pursued, and loved.

My mother went to be with Jesus 12 years ago. My stepfather just died last week. Tomorrow we will celebrate his life and I will be with the family that took me in and loved me well. I am aware that in a physical sense of the word, I am an orphan. But I have family that loves me, and – even more so – a heavenly father who promises that he does not leave us orphans, but that he comes to us and makes us his. He has chosen us – we just need to choose back.

The Ram in the Thicket

I admit, I have always hated the story of Abraham taking Isaac up the mountain.  I know that it’s always taught that Abraham believed God would provide, and we know the truth is that he did!  There was a ram in thicket.

But let’s just be honest here.  I am a mom.  I have watched my kids go through some pretty hard things and wondered if I had scarred them for life.  My first thought every time I read about Isaac asking where the lamb was and Abraham saying,”The Lord will provide” is the therapy bill that would be in the future for that child!  Abraham actually binds Isaac up before God intervenes and stops him.  The whole story has always felt so manipulative to me, and most of the time I teach it or read it as fast as I can and move on so I din’t have to think about what I would call the “practical” implications of it.  Does Isaac fight back?  Is there ever a moment of doubt for Abraham?  What is the conversation like going back down the mountain?

I am doing the Ann Voskamp advent devotional “The Greatest Gift,” and when I opened for today this story was there.  My first instinct was to skip the Bible reading part – I know this story.  I don’t like it.  (And isn’t that how we are supposed to read the Bible – only the parts we like? *Note the sarcasm.)

So I started reading only the part that Ann wrote about the story.  And my heart just broke.  She writes, “It is a thing to call a place ‘The Lord Will Provide.’ It is a thing to name where you live as provision, to name the place you call home ‘The Lord Will Provide.'”

My heart.

This house, since the day we first saw it, has been God’s gift to me.  I don’t know if you ever heard my “wish list” when we were first talking about moving back to the States.  As we sat with the boys and talked about what we wanted in whatever our new home would be we made a list.  At first it was practical – enough bedrooms to host people, a dining room big enough for a table to seat many.  Then I felt the Spirit prompting us to name “extras.”  As a family we named things that we really wanted, even if they seemed silly and definitely weren’t necessities.  A front porch, a back yard, a gas stove, lots of windows, off street parking, bright colors, within walking distance of the church, an extra room where I could do art and create without having to always pick everything up midway.

This house checked every single box.  Every. Single. One.  In a place where we should never be able to have a house like this.

I almost cried when they showed it to us.  Everyone was nervous and reiterating that we could change the paint or do what we needed to make it our own home – but it felt like “me” the moment I walked in.  (I later met our landlord, a dear sister from the church, and instantly found a kindred spirit – just an extra blessing!)

I know this house is not ours – we are merely renting and using it while we can.  When the time comes that we need to move, God will provide the next right place for that time of life.  But in the moment, the now, this is HOME and I am so overwhelmed with thankfulness for it.

When I read those words that Ann wrote, I knew I had to go back and read the story of Abraham and Isaac again.  And my gratefulness started to deepen from the physical aspect of providing a home, which is temporary no matter how long we live here, to the spiritual aspect of knowing I have a home in my God, who’s name is Jehova Jireh.

The Lord Will Provide.

He is my provision.  In this advent season he is the hope, the peace. He gave himself as the ram in the thicket, and continues to be my provision as he gives me access to everything in the heavenly storehouses.  I am free because of him.  He gave this prisoner of anxiety and anger the gift of breaking those bonds and letting my heart know freedom and peace.

As I thought through these things and tears freely flowed, I was sitting and looking at my Christmas tree all lit up.  My eyes fell on the ornament with RJ’s name and the year he was born and my heart broke again for my baby.  Born with two holes in his heart, yet is strong and whole today.  I saw my “ugly Santa” ornament from Uganda and remembered the way God provided times of laughter and relief from the hardships of life in South Sudan with teammates that I loved completely.  The beautiful bulb of beads made in Bosnia that represented one of the many church families that have prayed us through the last 10 years of missions prep and work.  One after another I saw physical reminders of God’s provisions – and those were just some of the obvious ones!

This advent I encourage you to take time to notice.  Ann writes, “Worry is belief gone wrong because you don’t believe that God will get it right.  Peace is belief that exhales.  Because you believe that God’s provision is everywhere – like air.”  God always has a ram in the thicket, friends.

Now I’m off to paint a new sign for my home, as I have decided it needs to be announced that this place has a name – “The Lord Will Provide.”