I was asked to speak at a Mother/Daughter brunch today. It was such a blessing for me to be able to spend time looking back and remembering as I prepared my talk. I wanted to share the talk with you although I apologize that it is a bit long! I hope that in some way it will encourage you to look beyond the trial and see the blessings that God is showering you with as you walk through it.
Gifts From God
May 4, 2013
My husband, Kevin, and I have learned many lessons through our marriage. One lesson is that we take advantage of opportunities to share with others what God has done in our lives – that is one reason I am sharing with you today.
Jewell asked that I share my testimony, including some challenges along the way. She also told me that the theme of this banquet is Gifts from God.
When we think of a gift, we usually think of a beautifully wrapped present given to us on a special holiday or birthday. We do not know what is inside, but we know that someone who loves us took time and effort to shop for us and make a decision about what gift would both surprise and delight us. Thought was given to what we might need – or perhaps – just something that would make us happy. Jesus said this in Matthew 7:9-11about gifts:
Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
God does give good gifts. I have been given many gifts from God throughout my life. Some of those gifts everyone would recognize as a great gift! However, some of the things I see as gifts would not look that way to someone else. To be perfectly honest, at the time they were given to me I wasn’t sure I saw them as gifts either!
God gives us what He knows we need and what He gives lasts for eternity.
God gives different gifts to His children. We need to be careful not to compare how God works in our lives with how He works in others’ lives.
There is a story that our family loves to retell and laugh about. On a Christmas when our oldest kids were about 5 and 3, we gave our daughter Kelsey a bike. She needed a bike because she had outgrown the small one she had. Grant did not need a bike because his still fit him fine. He had just watched his older sister receive her new bike and he was so excited as he tore into his large package and then…disappointment. His gift was not a bike. It was a kid size basketball hoop. This was a gift that his Dad and I had spent time and effort picking out because we knew he would enjoy it. We also knew what he did NOT need – a bike. However, he kept repeating in this dejected little voice, “But I wanted a bike!”
He didn’t really want a bike. He wanted the same gift that his sister received. Do you see the lesson there? God gives you the gift that you need. Don’t look at someone else and question why you didn’t get the same thing.
God knows you individually. He knows just what you need and He is never wrong.
I have learned that God has been in control of every event of my life and has had a purpose in all of it.
How thankful I am that my Lord and Savior has given me gifts that have helped me grow in my knowledge and love for Him as well as prepared me for the next thing that He had for my life.
I was blessed to have been raised in church and at an early age came to an understanding that I was a sinner and that I desperately needed a Savior. Ephesians 2:4-10 gives a beautiful picture of the gospel:
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
I am so thankful for God’s call on my life at an early age. I am still a sinner, but now I am a sinner saved by grace. I have made a lot of questionable decisions in my life, lived very selfishly at times and even purposefully disobeyed my Lord. However, through all that His love for me has never wavered. He has been my Good Shepherd and He has guided, disciplined, provided for, and taught me all along the way. We don’t become perfect the day God saves us. We do, however, begin the process of growing in holiness as we strive with His help to put off our old self and put on the new.
God gifted me with an amazing husband. He is not perfect! However, he is perfect for me. We complement each other very well and make a great team. We have been married for almost 27 years.
God has gifted me with five children. My husband and I were thrilled beyond words when our first child, Kelsey, came into our family. I had fertility issues and so we did not take her birth for granted for one minute! She was a very precious gift from the Lord.
We were very thankful again when the Lord blessed us with another child two years later, our son Grant. Our children gave us a lot of pleasure and although there were ups and downs, we were very happy with our life.
When Grant was about a year old we decided to try to become pregnant again. I once again went on fertility medication and month after month went by and no baby. By the time Grant was five and we had still not conceived, we decided to give up. What we had done to get pregnant before was not working this time and we did not have the resources to delve into what might be wrong. I was distraught. I didn’t understand why God was not giving us another child. It was a very difficult time for me. I prayed that God would take away the intense desire I had for more children because it was so painful.
He did not choose to do that.
When it became apparent that I would have trouble conceiving before my first pregnancy Kevin and I had looked into adoption. Kevin has an adopted sister and so was familiar with that way of growing a family. I wanted to be a mom and I didn’t really care how it happened. When we did conceive twice, the idea of adoption sort of drifted into the background. We got involved in life – home schooling kept me very busy and then we moved from southern Oregon to the Portland area when Kelsey and Grant were 9 and 7.
Grant struggled with some learning disabilities that took a lot of my time and attention and Kelsey was very involved in gymnastics. Kevin and I talked about it, but decided we were in a place where we were content with our family and where God had us.
Years went by and we had conquered the learning issues and everyone was doing well. Kelsey was in high school and Grant was just about to start high school. I was starting to think that I would have some free time to do some things that I really wanted to do.
Sometimes there are events in our lives that just hit us out of nowhere and stun us into reevaluating everything. That happened to our family in the summer of 2006. Our son, Grant, died suddenly in an accident. He was fourteen years old.
Now most of you would not think that we could ever see the death of our son as a gift. And, to tell you the truth we don’t see it that way either.
It isn’t the trial that is the gift; the gift is what God works in our lives as a result.
We do believe that ALL things that happen are under the control of our heavenly Father and not even a sparrow falls from the sky apart from Him. The loss of our son shook us to our very core and caused us to question pretty much everything we had ever known or believed about God. However, God promises in Romans 8:28-29:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Let me just say that it took awhile before my heart caught up to my head in regards to the truth in those verses. How in the world was God bringing “good” to me through the death of my son? But you see God’s idea of good for us is different than we may think of good. Often, our idea of good is a happy carefree life with no problems. That isn’t life – that is heaven! In verse 29 it explains what God sees as good –
that we would be conformed to the image of his Son.
God uses all kinds of circumstances in our lives to make our lives look more like Christ. Why would he want to do that? Well, one reason is that he loves us. He also wants to prepare us – eventually for eternity spent serving and worshiping Him – but He prepares us for big things he wants us to do for him on earth. He also wants us to reflect Who Christ is to the world.
In the death of our son, God showered many gifts on us. They were actually gifts that we already had, but in that difficult circumstance we realized their value and were so very thankful for them.
Isaiah 45:3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
God had guided us to our church several years before Grant died. It is called Emmanuel Community Church and is a fairly small family of believers that had become both comfortable and challenging to us. Because our church is small, under 100 people, we really are like a family. The fellowship of believers and their willingness to minister to us at a very difficult time was priceless to us.
The other gift God had provided was good friends. Not just friends. Friends who are family. Friends who were willing to sit with us, cry with us, and pray with us.
One of those friends is here with me today – still supporting and encouraging me as she always has. Without this family and their sacrificial friendship, our journey through the valley of the shadow of death would have been very lonely. God used them in our lives in a very special way.
I want to encourage all of you if you are friends with someone going through a difficult time not to be afraid to be there for them. Our friends would often say to us, “We have no idea what to do or say that would be helpful. But we are here and we love you.” That meant EVERYTHING to us.
The biggest gift that God gave us through our journey of dealing with our grief was Himself. Kevin and I have had people ask us when they are struggling with a trial – did God ever show you why He might have allowed Grant’s death? Our answer is no. We do not know. We haven’t seen anything happen that we could point to and say – That’s why!
What we can say is that we know our Father God more intimately now than we ever have. We have had glimpses into the character of the Lord and the roots of our faith have grown deeper and stronger.
That is not the end of my story. God had more gifts in store for me. Less than six months after Grant died I approached Kevin about an idea that had been growing in my heart. Adoption. I asked if he would seek the Lord in prayer with me and ask His will for us regarding adoption. Kevin agreed to pray. Remember my painful longing for more children? It turns out that that too was a gift from God. He gave me that desire, but brought about the culmination of it in His time, and His way, not mine.
After praying for about a month we had decided that adoption was something God wanted for us and we began the journey. It was our intention to adopt siblings because there would be a pretty big age gap between Kelsey and the children so we didn’t want just one child. We didn’t have a preference in regards to gender of the children. We only knew that we wanted older kids, not babies. We wanted to adopt kids that they have a harder time finding families for.
Since we had no idea what direction God wanted us to take in adoption – domestic or international, if international what country – we prayed that He would just drop something right in front of us. He did.
A friend of mine who has adopted children and was doing some part time work for an adoption agency in town called me and told me that the agency she worked for was looking for families for some children and asked if we would be interested in considering a sibling group in India. She knew we were interested in adoption because we had talked to her and her husband and asked questions about their adoption experience.
There were two sibling groups, two sisters who were five and nine years old and another sibling group of six kids from ages 4 to 12. That was an easy choice! Kevin said he didn’t think the kids should outnumber us!
The agency sent us photos of the girls and we said we would pray. I think I knew the moment I saw their sweet faces that they would be my daughters. It was a long and complicated process, but in about a year and a half we were traveling to India to meet and bring home our daughters Kalindi and Kira. These cute and spunky girls – who spoke about five words of English – were ours!
Our first night with the girls in our hotel room in New Delhi I said to Kevin, “I don’t think we can do this!” He said, “Yes we can.” It was overwhelming!
Our Indian daughters have been such a wonderful gift from God. When we are struggling, when a task is difficult and we don’t see any way that we are equipped or able to do the job, we are really good at staying in touch with our Heavenly Father, aren’t we? There were difficult times as our family adjusted to bringing our daughters home and yet the Lord has blessed our lives in so many ways through it.
God did such a beautiful work of grace in our lives through the adoption of the girls that it gave us the ability to say yes to another child a couple of years later. I was on an email list for our adoption agency and this list came with waiting children and their information and some photos. I saw Levi’s smile and just knew. Once again I asked my husband to pray with me and seek the Lord’s will in adopting another child.
I mentioned before that God uses the trials (or gifts) in our lives to prepare and equip us for some future assignment. Well, we certainly saw that God had prepared us for issues we faced with the girls and as it happens, he was using the lessons we learned with the girls to prepare us for an even more difficult gift – our son Levi.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:1-5
Isn’t that a beautiful progression? We rejoice in our sufferings not for the pain or the event that is difficult. But, we rejoice in the outcome – how God will use them in our lives. In these verses He promises that the suffering will produce endurance – the ability to stand up under pressure. Our endurance produces character – Christ like character. That character produces hope – a sure knowledge that God’s promises are true and He will accomplish them. Hope in the Lord is sure and solid. Verse 5 says “hope does not put us to shame” or as it says in another version “hope does not disappoint” because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us”! How can we not rejoice in that hope?
Our newest child, Levi, is eight years old. He spent the first six and a half years of his life in an orphanage. Levi has learned through that experience that he needs to watch out for himself because someone else may not do it. It is hard to unlearn that. Levi has been with our family for two years and we continue to struggle with his adjustment and attachment.
Although there is daily frustration and struggle, we are confident that this is the plan and purpose that God has for our lives. Our struggles with Levi are a gift.
We look back and see how the Lord has orchestrated lessons – gifts – and opportunities to grow in our faith – gifts – and placing in us a heart that longs for eternity – a big gift!
I want to talk to you about one more thing. It is much easier to look back and see the good that God has worked in our lives through a trial than to see and appreciate it while we are in the midst of difficulty. If you are in the middle of a hard time you may feel you are on the verge of losing hope. You may feel like you have been abandoned by God. You might be finding it very hard to trust that God is in control and that He loves you. I have felt all those things. Sometimes, it is very hard to hold onto the promises in scripture.
Know that God understands. He can take your grief and pain. Just keep talking to Him. Keep reminding yourself of what you know to be true. Stay in the Word. I remember so many times when I would say I believe this in my head, but my heart is just not there. It is okay. You will not stay there forever.
A portion of scripture that has become precious to us since our son died is 1 Peter 1:3-9. I leave you with these truths to rejoice in:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.