I have lost a parent to cancer, faced a difficult diagnosis for a child, and have lived a decade and a half in a foreign country. Within those storylines, there have been plenty of opportunities to demonstrate courage (or not). But nothing has required more courage than loving a wayward child. Courage is not the opposite of fear. Courage is the byproduct of faith. It’s surrender and forward motion. It’s a release of control and a holy confidence in a plan bigger than the page you are on. It announces to those paying attention, you are a citizen of another place.
I met Carolina and her sister when they were three and one. They were living in an orphanage in Mexico, where my husband and I were serving. We tried to adopt them back then, but never could get the process completed. The girls were taken out of the orphanage and moved to another one (against our wishes). We lost track of them for years and that season was difficult, not knowing if they were safe and where they were sleeping. Eventually, we reconnected, finding them at another orphanage in our city. Elated, I was sure God was orchestrating events so we could finally be a family.
However, governments, a difficult aunt and factors I couldn’t ever put my finger on derailed my plan again, and next steps were being written by Someone other than me.
The girls eventually came to my home full-time almost ten years after I had originally hoped. Their journey under my roof has been an adventurous one, with high highs and low lows. It has asked of me more than I am capable of giving on my own. I ran out of patience year one. Forward motion and the Holy Spirit blended together into something akin to courage. I had about one tenth of the wisdom needed to raise two young women from hurt backgrounds. A listening spirit and a step forward kept us another day in the story.
For me, courage started to look like a dip into a holy cup; an answer to my sometimes well-timed-quiet-time, or a response to a desperate hail-Mary-prayer. It was a filling-in-where-I-was-lacking and then a faith that I hoped would be there when I needed it most.
Finally, a few years ago, these young women prayed to receive Christ. I was sure the rapture was imminent (it is finished!). In the summer after that decision, a man came to visit me. He was the adult son of a woman named Barbara Shaw. He asked me if I knew her. I hadn’t ever met her, but knew by reputation, she was an intercessor, the kind of woman people shared their prayer requests with. He was sharing that she had passed away that spring and right before she died, had asked him if he would pick up praying for two children whose names she didn’t know, but whose faces were depicted in a painting someone had gifted her.
A young, talented artist had asked me for pictures of children from our ministry and then had translated them onto canvas. I sent her a stack and knew they had been auctioned off to raise money for Back2Back Ministries, but never got to see the final products.
This man shared he had been struggling since her death with his prayers, feeling like he didn’t share his mother’s gifts and had taken a photo of the painting to show me, hoping I could shed light on some specific needs he could pray for.
I looked around at my kids. After church service, conversations can be trying on them, but all nine were hanging on. I called them over to look at the picture, hoping they could help me identify the children. (I silently asked God if I could make something up if no one recognized the children from the paintings … tell him some “representative needs,” but God doesn’t ever green light deception, so I looked pleadingly at my kids … help me figure out who the children are!)
As soon as Mark handed us the photo, we all looked at each other and gasped, then my 15- and 17-year-old foster daughters and I all started talking at once. We recognized it as a picture of them! “Well, first of all, I have a whole list of things you can pray for,” I started. “Do you realize that your mama, whom I never met, and whom never set foot on foreign soil, co-labored with me in the salvation of these lost sheep?”
We went on that afternoon to discuss the timing of her prayers and its correspondence to my most difficult seasons. God knew my courage had worn out. He knew my prayers were weak. He knew I needed what Barbara Shaw had in spades … faith. So, for a season, he used hers to build mine. What an amazing gift she gave my family.
It takes a special kind of focus to let go of our own agenda, and fear can easily set in when we perceive our own loss of control, when we can’t manage our expectations.
But, Lord, I thought it was going to look like this … I thought you were going to allow that … Those conversations left to run rampant in my thought-life can snuff out the courage that wants to say, “I don’t know how or when or where, or really, I don’t know any answer to any question, but still I will step forward. I believe the sea will split, I believe the lion won’t bite, I believe the water will hold me, I believe … I will believe with a reckless kind of faith that the limb I am metaphorically crawling out on won’t break, because it’s attached to a tree that has never fallen.”
My girls’ story on earth continues to be messy. I still struggle through all the natural questions parents have when earthly dreams shatter, but I am a citizen of another place. I have courage today’s page isn’t the end of the story. I take a supernatural hit from the Source of love, patience, kindness, goodness, etc. Recently, I took the oldest shopping for her birthday. I whispered into her ear as we hugged afterwards, “If the seven billion people on this planet lined up in order of how much they loved you, I would be the line leader.” Courage makes love come easy.
And so I hold on, and I trust. Then listen and step. Then cry and run out of what I need, and ask for more filling. Then I feel Him respond, and give me what I need (often more than I need), and I know again I am not alone in this pursuit-of-lost-lambs.
Somehow all of that connecting between my Creator and I translates into a relationship with a holy God who meets me when I need it most. It’s a beautiful invitation into a wildly chaotic world on the arm of the Prince of Peace. There, in that posture, I feel courage well up in me for this adventure and a thousand more.
It is a gift that never ceases.
Photo courtesy of Russ Beckner