The Journey To Bethlehem

The Christmas Story

His beloved had just lain down to rest and he had walked a few feet away looking into the skies as the darkness overwhelmed them. Joseph pounded the air and shouted into the night, frustration and anger overwhelming his being. Where was God when he needed Him? Had He forgotten that they were doing this as a favor to Him? Had He turned His back on them?  He had obeyed God hadn’t he? But the heavens stayed silent as they suffered day and night. And yet, he was afraid for even having questioned God, for who was he before God! Mary heard her beloved’s frustration and sorrow in the silent night, and she wept deeply. There had been so many times over the past nine months when she had felt like she could not go on…..why her? It was such an excruciatingly hard journey and she often felt like she didn’t have the faith to take another step. Weren’t there many other more religious women in Israel who already understood motherhood who would’ve done better than her in bringing forth the promised Messiah? Her heart cried that God didn’t seem to be very wise; yet, who was she to question Him? Her anguished soul felt like it was shattering into a million pieces. Darkness prevailed and their screams and sobs soon became a part of the harshness of the night. God held them through the darkness in the silence of the night! 

The long, hard journey on a donkey, food and water sparse along the way, pregnant and exhausted, on the verge of giving birth. They had had to travel for days to take the census in the city of David because of the unreasonable Roman government’s decree. Joseph and Mary had been asked, no, told by God that they would be caring for a very special child, His Son! And, did God do anything the normal way? No! She, the virgin girl Mary, had miraculously conceived a child by the Holy Spirit and he, her betrothed Joseph, had been called to trust God against the scandal that broke and quickly marry her. They became the laughing stock of the town with people whispering and sneering at them all the time, everywhere. Their families were furious at the shame that enveloped them after the scandal. They no longer fit into the good, moral, religious box that had been created by Jewish society in accordance with Scripture which was considered pleasing to God. Both Mary and Joseph had tried really hard their entire lives to be that way but somehow, the angel’s words had turned their worlds upside down and they found themselves as spiritual and moral outcasts. The past nine months had been nothing but a test of faith for someone so young. Society had laughed at them any time they tried to tell their story or explain their situation. People had already formed their opinions – Joseph and Mary had sinned! Nothing could possibly change these people’s minds, not an explanation, not even pointing out Scripture seemed to make a dent of a difference to the religious ones around them!

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Joseph knew this was not his child for he did not know (as in having sex with) Mary even today for he had been told by God to wait until she had given birth to make her his wife. He could easily have cast Mary aside and built a new, care-free life for himself, avoiding the shame and scandal she had caused. This was well within his rights as a Jewish man. He could even have had her stoned to death. But instead, he had made a choice to surrender and implicitly obey God, stepping into the most foolish of situations by the world’s standards and boy, had this rocked his world. He wished their friends and family could at least try and understand and support their life choices (or rather God’s choices for them for they really didn’t have a choice did they?). They knew in their hearts they were not sinners, yet who around them cared? God had pushed them into this, and they were trying really hard to trust and obey Him in faith. But the gossiping, the back stabbing, the judgments, the loneliness and the isolation were sometimes more than they could handle. There had been days when they had just wept in the privacy of their little home when people rejected them or hurt them wondering what their son’s future would be if they stayed on here in Nazareth. Everyone knew everyone, and gossip would follow them all their life. Jesus wasn’t going to be like other “good” children and would be rejected. So far, God seemed to be doing a pretty bad job of providing for their needs of love and acceptance while they seemed to be obediently served Him at a high cost!

Mary, was sad and afraid as her fully pregnant body moved to and fro in abject discomfort on the little beast. What should have been one of the most beautiful times of her life, birthing her firstborn was fast turning into a nightmare. As they plodded along in the darkness, her thoughts were running a mile a minute. Her muffled sobs and dirty, tear streaked face said it all. Already she had lost the privilege of the beautiful wedding she had planned and dreamed of…..she could even now hear the giggles of her girlfriends as they whispered over the impending first night….no, she wasn’t going to let her thoughts go there and get even more discouraged. She needed to be strong in her faith for the baby for this was a mission from the very heart of God! Yet, doubts assailed her tired mind. She was just a child herself, yet God had seen fit to choose her to do something even grown women would struggle with. Why her? Why now? It had cost her her reputation, her family and friends, her wedding, and almost cost her her beloved husband too. The sneering looks or pitiful faces flashed before her eyes and she could even now hear their harsh words of judgement and condemnation which ultimately turned to cold shoulders and rejection. Tears poured down again. She had done nothing wrong and God knew that, then why? Why did they have to treat her this way? She took comfort in the fact that Joseph was a good, godly man who implicitly obeyed God. But, as she travelled on towards Bethlehem, she overwhelmingly felt the need for her mother and the comfort of home…..but sadness filled her heart for her parents had not been supportive either, they were just glad to get her off their hands when Joseph married her. And now, here she was, so far from home, with very meager resources, afraid of giving birth alone in a strange place, afraid of the pain of childbirth….and her tears continued to pour down in the darkness as she felt small, weak and alone in this big, huge world. “Lord help me” her heart cried, “help me in my unbelief, help me to trust, give me fresh faith to trust Your promises for my heart desperately fails me. I can do this only in Your supernatural power and strength but You seem far and distant from me.” Yet, she knew in her heart that she was plumb in the center of God’s will. And, God held her.

They slowly and heavily they traveled on with just a mustard seed of faith. That’s all they seemed to have, trusting God, assuming that tomorrow would be a better day and that He would miraculously come through to provide a way to take care of His Son. Humanly, they were scared and struggling beyond imagination with just words from an angel to spur them on. In that bleak mid-winter, none of what they were going through was befitting a king, leave alone the Son of God! Joseph had been crying out to God for help all through this journey. He recited many a psalm begging God for help. Psalm 23, Psalm 46, Psalm 91… But his prayers seemed to be going unanswered, God seemed ever so silent, so far away on that particular dark night. Was he doing something wrong? He quickly recited Psalm 51 as maybe God would see his heartfelt repentance and relent. But except for their footsteps in the night, he only heard silence. Was God angry at him? He was called by God to be the provider of his family and he was failing. He knew, for he had heard Mary’s sobs each night and there was nothing he could do to ease her pain. He felt like a failure. He looked like a failure. His thoughts were those of a failure and sadly, he knew that Mary was there right beside him. Despair overtook him.

When they finally reached Bethlehem, they needed practical help. They needed a place to stay. But looking at the crowds and at their meager savings, his broken spirit over ruled and he wondered if anyone would help them at all? He knocked on every door in the town, begging and pleading, but every single one of them had the same answer, “Sorry, no room!” Fear and worry assailed Joseph. Mary was going into labor. Her water had just broken and she could give birth any time. What was he to do? What did he know of these things? Less than a year ago, he had been a care-free young man dreaming and planning his future and now, because of his chosen obedience to God, he felt like he was drowning. Really God?

Panic was setting in. His knocking took on a new urgency as he saw Mary groan and cringe in pain. Hurling one last desperate prayer heavenward, he summoned the courage to knock one last time. “Please,” he begged, “please give us a room. We have traveled for many days and my wife is in labor. We need a midwife and we need a place to stay. “ This inn keeper gave him the same negative answer, “but wait”, he said, “there is a barn where the animals lived, maybe that could serve as a temporary shelter for the night?” A glimmer of hope in a desperate situation, but Joseph had no time to think. He rushed Mary to the shelter, set her down and hurriedly went about cleaning it and preparing it to give her small comfort as she labored to bring forth the Son of God into the world. Her cries were increasing, he had to hurry. The inn keeper told him that there were no midwives available at this unearthly hour but that he would give them a few blankets and some hot water. That had to do for now. He, Joseph, the impoverished, uneducated, young carpenter from Nazareth was single-handedly, going to deliver the very Son of God tonight. He laid Mary down and sent up another prayer, a cry of help. He could see the fear on her face, she was afraid and in pain, and she needed the reassurance even more than he did in her physically weakened state right now. He knelt beside his beloved wife, held her hand and prayed. A tender, worshipful moment in the trenches of despair. God was wanted, He was desperately needed and they were calling out to Him to help. And  as God always does, He held on to them in the midst of their weakness and pain!

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A few hours later, the Son of God was born. He came into the world on a dark night, to exhausted parents, in a stinky stable filled with animals. No fanfare, no pomp, no circumstance – just darkness, loneliness and stench. Yet, once Jesus was born, as Mary and Joseph gazed into His precious little face in the light of that little lantern, they felt inexplicable peace and joy. They named Him “Emmanuel” which means “God with us” in obedience to His Heavenly Father’s will, for He had come, giving up the glory of heaven, to enter the sin stained darkness of this world for our sake. God in that precious moment, gently reminded Joseph of the angel’s visit, ”an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the One conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you shall give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:…” Matthew 1:20-22  God was reminding them that there was far more to the story than just meets the eye. Jesus had a special reason to be on earth and the suffering surrounding His birth was just a small reflection of that lifelong mission.

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Jesus was born to die! His goal in this life was never comfort, beauty, ease or happiness but it was sacrificial love, forgiveness and grace. Life was not easy for Jesus on earth. A prophet, hundreds of years earlier had predicted that He would be “a man of sorrows, aquanted with grief”. He was born in discomfort and hardship, lived as an ordinary, poor carpenter’s son. He had rumors and snide remarks follow Him all the days of His life, casting aspersions on His reputation (see John 9:34). He didn’t have a place to call home when He started teaching. And, at one point, even His mother Mary and his brothers thought He was crazy. He was despised, shamed, hated and rejected, and then ultimately put to death in the most horrific Roman way – crucifixion on a cross. At the time of His death, there was no tangible proof of His life having been worth living at all. Everyone turned on Him, and his best friends deserted Him. He did not leave any monument of His life behind. There was nothing beautiful or attractive about His reputation or life.

Yet, history shows that in three short years He had begun turning the world upside down. After His resurrection and ascension, His church began and grew in leaps and bounds under much suffering and persecution. And 2000 years later, His beloved church still stands strong and He is still quietly redeeming and transforming lives one person at a time. He has always promised many tribulations and trials in this life for that is the only way to know Him but He has also promised peace and joy when we choose to gaze into the beauty of His face in the darkness.

So, though we may be screaming into the darkness when God seems silent despite our obedience or we may be sobbing on our pillows shattered into a million pieces this Christmas, but God reminds us that Mary and Joseph’s story of obedience and surrender was not pretty or beautiful like the ornamental nativity sets we like to display in our homes or cute like the kids’ nativity plays in our churches instead it was a road marked with unbelievable suffering and sorrow. But, it was also a road which ended in unbelievable joy and peace and most of all the glory of heaven as they gazed into the Son of God’s face. We too can follow in His footsteps, persevering in our faith and enduring the sufferings of this life because of the glory that He promises that is to come! 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

The beauty of the Christian faith is that we don’t need to deify any other human being even if they were specially chosen by God. As we have seen time and time again in the Bible, there are absolutely no human heroes – just one heroic Lord and Savior and innumerable, sinners redeemed by His grace. Every Christian will sin and fall until their last breath. That’s why every one of us desperately needs a Savior – just as Mary and Joseph did. They were human beings assaulted by every human emotion and overwhelmed by trials – but they were held! Jesus saved them and He alone can save you and me from our sins including our refusal to obey His call, our pride and failure to trust Him, our grumbling and complaining, our judging and condemning others, our spiritual pride, our selfishness, and our unbelief. We desperately need our newborn Savior! 

May Jesus, the greatest gift ever given to mankind, be the only reason to celebrate with great joy this holiday season! He was born to die! Good News for all mankind! Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

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Being Exactly Where We Are Meant to Be!

November is Adoption Awareness Month. on November 12th this year, many churches across the globe celebrate Orphan Sunday and think about adoption and God’s care for the orphaned and vulnerable children. Saturday November 18th is National Adoption Day. For these reasons, this is a good time for me to share a truth from Scripture that is very precious to our family.

This is about what I call an “anchor verse” for our family. What do I mean by this? Well, since the Bible is the Word of God, it is an eternal spring of spiritual nourishment for our souls. However, there are some verses that we find ourselves repeatedly going back to. They are very effective weapons against Satan, and help in anchoring our faith in the midst of storms of doubt. There are several such verses that have become very effective weapons in our spiritual arsenal. Today, I want to share the tremendous implications of this particular one:

And [God] made .. every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. (Acts 17:26-28)

I do not want to pretend to fully understand this passage, or to have answers to all the questions that arise from it. However, it makes a tremendous assertion – one that is re-affirmed in other parts of Scripture (e.g. Psalm 139:16, Eph 2:10). God has determined in advance every single day of our lives starting with the moment of our births, and ending with the exact instance of our deaths. He has also determined the places that we will spend each day of our lives!

This passage packs an extra punch because it applies to every single human being who has ever lived on the face of this earth, including you and me, and including each member of our families. And the reason God has done this, is in order that we may seek God, and perhaps find Him!

There are many valuable insights we can glean from this. Here are some of the powerful implications of this truth.

God has Put Our Family Together

Vanita and I were born in India, as were our two adopted children, Sandeep and Ruth Sneha. Our youngest daughter Sarah Rachna was born to us many years later. Our family of five lasted for twelve years, and then God brought our daughter-in-love Shirley into our family as Sandeep’s wife. Yes, yes, strictly speaking Sandeep and Shirley have now launched off to start their own family together. But our family has not shrunk from this union, but rather grown! And we can bask in the wonder of the knowledge that God knitted our entire family together and has a purpose for our family!

How do we know that Vanita and I were meant to be married? Acts 17:26! How do we know that Sandeep and Ruth Sneha were meant by God to be adopted into our family? Acts 17:26! How do we know that Sarah Rachna was meant to be born to us 6 years later? Acts 17:26! How do we know that Sandeep’s meeting and subsequent marriage to Shirley was not an accident but part of God’s eternal plan? Acts 17:26!

While it is not the case for our family, we have heard horror stories of unscrupulous organizations offering families money to send their children to a better life and education, and then having whisking their children away, masquerading them as orphans to unsuspecting adoptive parents overseas. Imaging the shock when the parents of these children discover that they had been deceived! The adoptive parents are also devastated when they later come to know the truth, and the adopted children themselves are also shattered when they learn that their birth parents are still alive. How can all of these deeply wounded people deal with this horrible exploitation and injustice? The issues are complex and need to be taken on a case-by-base basis. However, this truth from Scripture can help those who put their trust in God, as they process the truth of their situations, and deal with its implications. And He will be faithful to see them through!

We are Living Exactly Where We were Meant to Live

Another very significant truth is that we are living exactly where we were meant to live.

I was born in Bangalore, India. Then I moved to Pune and then Mumbai, to continue my education. This is when Vanita and I got married and she joined me.

Vanita’s family had moved from Bangalore to California, then to St. Louis, MO. Vanita went back to Bangalore to complete her Bachelor’s degree. Vanita then completed her Master’s in Rolla, MO, before moving back to Mumbai, India to live with me after our marriage.

A year later, Vanita and I both moved from Mumbai to Long Island, NY for my post-doctoral fellowship! From Long Island, we moved to New Jersey, and then later to Bellevue, and then Redmond, WA. We will remain here until (or unless?) God wants us to move again!

With all of this relocation, our anchor verse tells us that we are living exactly where we were meant to live! For example, we could never have adopted Sandeep and Ruth Sneha, if we had not been living in the United States. But what if we had made wrong decisions along the way? What if some of our moves were mistakes? How would this verse work then? That is a more complex question, and  I will briefly address it later.

The One Over-Arching Reason is to Know God

So we have now seen that God has placed us where we are. In His gracious provision, God is the One who has given us the jobs we have. But the reason God has taken all of this effort on our behalf is not to make our lives easy or comfortable. In the context of adoption, this anchor verse tells us that the primary reason God has brought our children into our homes, is in order “that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:28).

This is the ultimate reason why God called us to adopt! God wants us to be His instruments in introducing our adopted children to our Savior Jesus Christ. Thus when we teach and train our children about Jesus, we can have full confidence that this is exactly what He wants us to do! Are the results guaranteed? No, there are no assurances! Notice the word “perhaps” that God has included in His inspired Word. He neither promises that our children will get to know Jesus, nor does He even reveal to us what the outcome of our witness will be. But it is nevertheless our responsibility to faithfully point them to Jesus, falling on our knees before our Father on their behalf. And then we must leave the results in His hands!

God’s Plan is Bigger Than Our Mistakes, Failures and Sins

One of the reasons this verse has such power to dispel doubt is because it releases us from the tyranny of the past. Yes, looking back over my life, I know that I have made countless mistakes, and sinned against God countless times. Yes, there are many times I have made choices and decisions without seriously seeking God’s will, and yes, many of these decisions have been wrong.

However, in some wonderful way that I do not understand, God takes all of this sin and failure and presumption, and channels them to be His agents in drawing us closer to Jesus, and giving us the grace to press on (see Romans 8:28). I used to think that the Christian life was a single decision  we make to accept Jesus into our lives, and then for the best of our lives we were to try our best to do what is right and strive to please Him. However, that is a sorry caricature of the real truth, because it misses describing the infinite resources that God has made available to us in our journey. The full truth of the matter is that the Christian life is a life of faith starting from the day we put our trust in Jesus, and ending on the day of our deaths. Each day, He equips us with the strength to make choices out of our trust in Him that we would not otherwise do. God empowers us through the indwelling Holy Spirit to follow-through on our choices. When we are obedient, we sometimes experience the exhilaration of seeing God show up, and that further strengthens our faith. However, we do fail making the right choices very frequently – either because our faith is too weak, or because we are too distracted by the things of this world, and value something or someone above the value we place for God in our lives (the Bible calls this “idolatry”). However, each and every time we fail, God gives us the grace to return to Him in repentance, and each and every time He faithfully restores us (see 1 John 1:9). Then He gives us the strength to press on without a word of condemnation (see Romans 8:1), because Jesus has already born the punishment for our faithlessness and sin (see 1 John 2:1)! In the light of the relationship we have with this amazing God, this anchor verse renders powerless, all of the “what if”s and the “if only”s that Satan wants to haunt us with, leaving us with just the hopeful expectation of tomorrow.

These are the reasons why this verse is so precious to our family. I have written this with a prayer for each of you, dear readers. May God encourage you through the power of His written Word, and may He liberate you in your walk with our King. God bless you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles Mully – A Life Well Lived

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I am flabbergasted tonight after watching the life of Charles Mully of Kenya! From orphaned, unwanted and utterly hopeless to the Midas like businessman and millionaire leading to a Paul like encounter with God from which sprung a life of sacrifice and surrender resulting in the care of over 12,000 orphans and eternal treasure! Wow! I am so moved and awed by this movie, I almost feel paralyzed. You can watch the trailer of the movie Mully here.

Why did this movie particularly impact me? Because it is the biography of a man who is a hero. As my husband, Peter said, “It’s a true life fairytale, worth far more than the cost of the tickets!” There are almost no words to describe what this man has done in his lifetime – puts the rest of us to shame. His life plays out like a modern day Moses story. He is possibly one of the most amazing men living on the face of the earth being used by God in a powerful way to fulfill His command in James 1:27, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans…in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” (NLT)

Impact #1: God Chooses the Weak of the World: “For consider your calling, brothers [sisters]: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-29

This passage describes Mully! He came from a very impoverished family which boasted an alcoholic, abusive father who could not find a job and provide for them. They lived in a mud hut out in the village. From there, his family abandoned him and left him to his own devices which led him to utter hopelessness and despair. He begged and stole to make a living. He had no chance of an education nor a job. Yet, today, it is Mully and his wife Esther who have impacted the lives of thousands of orphans in Kenya giving them a future and a hope here, in this life, and in eternity while the rest of us who had that comfort and stability, family, home, education and job sit back doing very little in comparison to impact God’s kingdom. The Bible does say that to whom much is given, much is expected. Let’s rethink our lives.

Impact #2: Dying to Live:“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:24-25.

Mully had a God encounter when he was at the peak of his business success with a transportation empire, real estate business as well as becoming the oil baron in large parts of Kenya. He was a millionaire who was respected and worshipped, living in huge houses with servants to tend to his family’s needs. While on that peak, he had an encounter with God where he wrestled for hours with Him and surrendered, choosing to stop all his business dealings and instead remembered his own life struggles and went out to take orphaned children off the streets to help them have home and family. This required his entire family, including his six children to make major changes. His was a family that had grown up in the lap of luxury, living the high life of comfort, wealth and travels, with servants at their beck and call. Dad was now acting like a crazy man, not bringing in any more money and expecting all of them to change with him. They now had to give up all that luxury, roll up their sleeves and help in care of the filthy, angry, hurting, lice-infested orphaned children from the streets of Kenya. They started out hating the kids and even had to be sent away to boarding school. But as funds ran low, they could not even afford the school and were forced to return home to live and study and care for the orphaned kids. They soon saw the power of God at work in their parents’ lives and the effects of their love and care on the orphaned children’s lives. Today, all of Mully’s biological children serve in the Mully’s Children’s Family Ministry. Each of them had to die to self to gain eternal joy. The entire family exemplifies John 12:24-25.

Impact #3: Equality in Christ: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” Colossians 3:9-11

Two of Mully’s adult children married rescued children. This may not seem like a big deal in a western culture like we have in the US but in most developing nations, bloodlines, family, education, success, and morality play a HUGE role in how people are treated. This is true in most Christian communities too. So, for a son or daughter of the organization’s head to marry a rescued, street child and former orphan speaks volumes. It means that they went counter culture and ensured that every person’s value and identity was seen through the eyes of Scripture and not through the world’s lenses. It implied that all the children whether biological or rescued were rightfully treated with the value and dignity endowed on them by their Creator! What a gift Mully has given his family!

Impact #4: Welcoming the Orphaned & Vulnerable Children: “So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” Luke 12:22-23

 

Mully exemplified this truth. Most of his friends did not understand his mission and watched from the sidelines. But, he was clear that as a former rescued street child, his mission was to rescue the most vulnerable, orphaned children. He welcomed them in droves into His home. Starting from three kids, he went on to invite over 12,000 children to become a part of his family and a part of God’s family. He was “Daddy Mully” to all the children. They were loved and cared for as his own in obedience to God.

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Impact #5: God’s Kingdom vs Man’s Kingdom: “And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” Luke 12:24

Kenya is a predominantly Christian country. Yet, when Mully, the street kid who had lived years begging on the streets and had travelled by foot for hours to reach the big city of Nairobi, went from person to person and house to house begging for help to find a job, nobody wanted to help him. If they did look, it was only to tell him to stop being lazy by begging but instead to go find work! The only person who willingly gave Mully a hand up was an Indian woman living in Kenya who welcomed him into her home and gave him the job of a maid! That gesture of acceptance made a world of difference for Mully. It was the first time in his life that he had a place to stay and food to eat. He worked extremely hard and in just six months they promoted to a Manager of 70 people in that family’s business. It was in their business employ, in the fields that Mully met and married his beautiful wife. He was now well on his way to hard work and success!

In contrast, when Mully rescued children from the streets, many of whom had serious problems, the church that Mully attended decided that the children didn’t fit into their societal norms and he was told to not return with “those children” or he will be kicked out of the church! What a tragic picture of Christianity. How often do we feel the same way in our churches too? Are we welcoming of the differently-abled, the hurting, the angry, the abused, the messy people of this world or do we turn our backs on them because they don’t fit into our pretty, neat, moral Christian ideological box? Do we remember Jesus’ words when He began His ministry? “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Luke 4:18 Is our ministry and welcome in our churches and homes in line with Jesus’ vision and mission?

Mully went on to create a mini paradise in the desert with the help of all the children he rescued. Today, his family joyfully partners with him in serving the Lord so beautifully caring for over 12,000 children. This is a jaw dropping movie which can only be explained as the hand of God moving to raise up a modern day Moses! Wow!

Impact #6: The Gospel in Action: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.” Ephesians 1:3-10

Mully is a type of Christ. He laid everything down – his wealth, status, power, control, family, friends, and life itself for the sake of unknown children who could very well retaliate in anger, even kill him. He was paying the price to rescue them and make them a part of his family. Mully chose to lay it all down, knowing he could lose his very life on the streets at night to give them temporal and eternal hope. So too, God chose to send His beloved Son into the world (John 3:16), knowing that we would hate Him, reject and persecute Him and finally torture and take His very life. But, He willingly paid the price for us orphans so that we could become Sons and Daughters of God Most High! We just have to accept His invitation and His love to gain eternal peace, joy and rest as His beloved children. Don’t delay – accept His free gift today! He paid the price, its free for us!

Impact #8: Gratitude and Fruit: “We love each other because he loved us first. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” 1 John 4:30-21  And. “And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”” Luke 10:27

Finally, this movie should drive each of our hearts to be moved into action. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few! Let’s pray that the Lord of the harvest will nudge many of us to step out of our comfort zones into the suffering world to  care for the least of these. In so doing, we could give eternal hope to a child and bring Jesus much glory. Friends, there are over 450,000 children in the US foster system and over 17 million (17,000,000) orphans in India alone. Each child has been created by God for a purpose and like Mully has the potential to impact many lives if we step down and walk with them.

Would you please prayerfully ask God to open your eyes to His truths – it might look like you are losing here on earth if you stepped down but you gain eternally like Mully and his family are gaining! I want to encourage everyone to see the movie Mully (https://mcfus.org). It is worth every dollar you pay.

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Silver Anniversary Thoughts

Twenty five years have come and gone……we were young and so in love! Today, looking back we see that by God’s grace alone do we stand…….Jesus walks before us leading the way. Blind and foolish we have wavered and faltered…….but with God’s bright light, our path was illumined and bettered. We’ve hurt each other through our manifold messes……..thankfully, He has patiently taught us to love and forgive through His death and resurrection. God handpicked and unusually grew our family from two to five…….more grace was needed and was poured out from on high! Parenting tested our strength and endurance…….and the Good Shepherd smiled for we were learning His loving patience. Our children came with trauma and suffering……..our castle often crumbled and we fell down crying. Lovingly Jesus whispered, child, I am here…….holding and loving you, as you do your precious children!

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Lord, we look back in awe and sadness……awe, for by grace we have withstood this race, sadness for the many messes we have made. This day is a day of rejoicing and new beginnings…….for Father, Your love takes us forward and onward. For frail we are and our only hope is to fall before Your throne of mercy and grace…….may we always look upwards to the beauty of Your face! We need You each day that is left of our lives……may You alone be the treasure that our hearts doeth drive. Thank you for carrying us through each year together……it’s Your love that holds us and gives us hope and a forever! Thank you for dear ones who have journeyed with us in love and grace……please bless them with more of Your beautiful face! 

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“What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find Him. Yet He is actually not far from each one of us, for…….“‘In Him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by A Man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him (Jesus) from the dead.” Acts 17:24-31

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This was the God who brought Peter​ and me together 25 years ago on our wedding day, He is the God who has carried us throughout our lives, ups and downs and all and He is the same God who has assured us that He will be with us for all eternally in heaven when we die! What a comfort!

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Movie: Change of Plans

 

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Watching Change of Plans on YouTube brought on a myriad of emotions in me. The movie is about a DINKs (dual income, no kids) couple who are well set in their life and careers suddenly being confronted with the reality of caring for their friend’s four kids on her death, three of whom had already been adopted once by the friend. Overnight, they had to stepp into this arena, with absolutely no parenting skills and with no real understanding of trauma or appreciation for the need for stability or permanency for the children. They were forced to step into this parenting journey only because there was a sudden need but with the condition that it was an interim temporary arrangement. Not to give away too much, I’ll admit that it was a heartwarming, Hallmark-ish movie with a happily ever after ending. A rare, clean, family movie, definitely worth the watch.

Tears streamed down my face as I sat in the dark watching it as it hit so near home. My husband and I had great careers with only upward potential when we were suddenly confronted with the need for a family for a traumatized six year old child who had tragically lost his mother in Bangalore, India. We were living in NJ and working in NYC, the hub of power and success. Most of our siblings, relatives and friends had great jobs and careers and comfortable lives. Strong STEM education had led to high success jobs for most of them and it was easy to see that living the American dream was the goal all around us. If we were to do this, we would literally become the odd ones out giving up an amazing future in exchange for an unknown, broken child’s life. We had to prayerfully make the decision in one day – a decision which would literally turn the entire course of our lives upside down! One that would force us to lose the American dream and more importantly, one that would also force us to depend on God alone to provide for our every need. Even our son’s own biological relatives were unwilling to make that choice – it should have been the extended family’s  moral obligation to provide the love and safety of home and family for the newly orphaned kids.

The American Dream versus Orphan Care – a very tough choice to make! It was a decision that would throw us into a form of isolation as we now would be in a separate socio-economic strata of society too. We wouldn’t have money to go on vacations like the rest of our peers, we wouldn’t be able to send our kids with ease to private schools or for many extracurricular classes growing up, we couldn’t easily afford the cars or the lifestyle that we saw all around us. All this was a consequence of our choices! Soon after our adoption, we found our non-English speaking, traumatized son reeling. I was confronted with making the choice of giving up my budding career as a Senior Business Analyst at a large pharmaceutical company to stay home with our  son. A few years down the road, my husband had to make the choice literally overnight to throw away a blossoming career in Executive Management in the tech sector in NYC to move three thousand miles across the country to a job at Microsoft way below his level, not even in his area of expertise at less than half the salary, just so he could be more available to help our struggling kids, particularly our son who had PTSD and RAD which was devastating him and our family. My husband’s career never recovered from then on as the corporate world is always suspicious of such changes – for who would deliberately choose this downward path when climbing the ladder of success is the goal of life? It isn’t easy even today when men’s conversations automatically gravitate towards ambition, achievement, career success, as well as financial ease and comfort for their families as they move towards retirement knowing that those dreams cannot be ours.

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So, it was heartwarming to see the couple in the movie making the deliberate choice to give up significant career opportunities to joyfully care for the sibling group of orphaned kids, considering the kids’ lives worth more than their own booming careers! Yes, such major life choices can impact lives eternally! It might be a rare phenomenon in Hollywood but it can be a more common choice for a Christian family. This calling is not just for a select few but for all who are called by God’s name. James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to care for widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Yet most often, by default we turn away from this and other such sacrificial, yet impactful life callings and gravitate instead towards the comfort and temporary steadiness of the American Dream!

Just like the couple in the movie, my husband and I also had absolutely no parenting skills but we had willing hearts. We had no external resources to guide us nor did we have family nearby who could teach us and support us on this incredibly difficult journey. I would often look at friends who appeared to be such amazing parents and wished we could be like them. Within a span of six months, we ended up being parents to two kids, a six year old son and a ten month old daughter. Additionally, our son was so traumatized and angry that he was constantly passive aggressive, especially with me, as he was living with PTSD and RAD. You can only imagine our parenting chaos! Our daughter was affected living with her own life losses as well as living under his trauma for years. Following in their shadows, the only life our youngest, biological daughter grew up with was trauma related living under the brokenness of her two older siblings. We struggled deeply as we often did not have the faintest idea on how to parent these kids God had entrusted us with. Again, we felt like fools for years because despite wanting to be good parents and despite sacrificing so much for these kids, even probably putting in far more effort than most of our parent peers, we were constantly failing. The first parental validation we received was fourteen years into our journey at the first Refresh Conference for Foster and Adopted Parents that we attended five years ago. We have since learned that adoption is a journey of deep loss make no it an excruciatingly hard journey with no happily ever after. Yet, our calling was to continue faithfully parenting in love, absorbing their pain and suffering on ourselves, just as God does for us. Here’s an encouraging video for parents who have chosen to be on this hard journey – You Are Not Alone! 

Change of Plans showed some of the resistance and real life struggles with the kids’ adjustment, but overall it came across as a fictional feel good movie with all problems sorted out in an hour, ending with smiles and happily ever afters. But life isn’t scripted in Hollywood. In real life, since adoption is built on real trauma and loss, it is often fueled by loss of control, anger, rage, lying, hoarding, even violence. The kids often have huge physical, spiritual, emotional and intellectual needs which require a sacrificial investment of time, energy, resources, money, etc by the parents to just keep them going. We’ve also learned that more than the best, most loving parental efforts, the life losses and suffering faced by adopted kids are so deep that only Jesus can truly fill the void in their hearts to heal and make them whole! The same holds true for adoptive parents who’ve had to lay it all down and often have to go through life without the desired parenting results – only Jesus can give us hope!

So unlike in the movie, life may not turn out Hallmark style with the happily ever after…….but God tells us that it’s still worth it to sacrificially follow in Jesus’ footsteps! Our guarantee of a happily ever after is in heaven!

The verses in 2 Corinthians 4:7-17

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies…….. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…..

Every person who has experienced adoption by their Heavenly Father can joyfully make such painful, sacrificial choices daily because they have a guarantee of eternity with all the glory and riches of life with God to look forward to for all eternity!

 

The Joy and Sorrow of Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a day that has been set aside to honor mothers around the world. It’s a wonderful thought as mothers are the hard working backbones of family and society. Yes, it’s a precious way for children to show appreciation and gratitude for the many sacrifices their mothers have made. It’s a good time to slow down and show Mom that she means something to us. I applaud the reasoning behind this effort, though my Grandpa (Thatha) would say that it’s a day created by Hallmark to boost the economy!

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I approach the day with mixed feelings wrought by fire through my own tumultuous life experiences as well as those of orher dear friends. I would like to give you various facets of this celebration. I see it as a day that we need to remind ourselves that we stand only by the grace of God, giving Him ALL the glory instead of accepting praise and priding ourselves on our parental accomplishments. I see it also as a day to sensitively care for those who may not have this particular grace instead of just reveling in our own happiness.

In many cultures,women are often under-appreciated despite sacrificial hard work. This particularly happens in many developing countries like India where the “Amma” (or “Mummy” or “Mom”) is often treated like a doormat. She is expected to care for the needs of her husband and children, with little to no consideration or respect given to her. Many of these women do not have the means or the time to self-care and enjoy spas or movie nights with their girl friends, sipping wine and eating chocolate to wash away their cares. Many struggle to make ends meet and, might never have had even one small vacation their entire lives. They often do full day jobs, sometimes heavy manual labor, along with caring for their families, yet they go through life with absolutely no appreciation at all from anyone. So, yes, it is a wonderful idea to help husband’s and children learn to appreciate such women, setting aside a special day, to thank them with flowers, cards and gifts. However, it is far more important to weave dignity, freedom, equality and gratitude into the daily mundanes of life, continuously thanking these important women through respect, words, actions and kindness!

Broken situations

How do we deal with such a day if we had bad mothers who have harmed us spiritually, physically or emotionally while growing up or even as adults? What about the selfish ones who cared more for their own lives, careers, friends, hobbies, ministries or (p)interests instead of their kids? What about the mothers who abandoned their children as babies or even as grown ups? What about if we are orphans, foster or adopted children who lost our birth mothers – someone whom we may not even know and either long for or are angry at? What about those of us who feel disconnected and angry at our adoptive, foster or step moms? Maybe they do treat us unfairly especially when compared to their biological children. What about the proverbial mothers-in-law who are known to ill treat their daughters in law? The sinful world we live in constantly dumps pain on us and we may be deeply wounded, even angry by our circumstances or by people.

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When Mother’s Day Hurts……

In these situations, God asks us to surrender all this pain to Jesus who bore all our suffering, sins, injustices and pain on Himself as He was nailed to the cross two thousand years ago. We need to learn to forgive daily as He chose to forgive us. It’s not an easy process but as the Matthew West’s song Forgiveness goes:

Forgiveness will clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what its power can do
So let it go and be amazed by what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you

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I would also say this is true for moms who have prodigal children who have deeply wounded them in their rebellion. It’s also for foster or adoptive moms in the trenches caring for children who appear to hate them. It’s for the step-moms who have been given a raw deal by being depicted as evil witches in most fairy-tales and being treated accordingly in real life. It’s also for moms whose children have moved far away and who struggle with loneliness and abandonment.

God gently nudges those of us facing any such painful life situation to choose to forgive and to chose to love like He did. We can ask Him to make this a joyful, Jesus focused day, resting in the truth that whether it’s a hurtful mother or a prodigal child, they are in the hands of the Almighty God who is the only one who can convict them of their sins and pour love into their hearts. So forgiveness is the best gift to give ourselves and them this Mother’s Day.

The grief of empty arms

For those among us whose arms are painfully empty and whose hearts are broken because of singleness, divorce, age, miscarriage, infertility, due to inability to foster or adopt, or due to death of a child – this day is often excruciatingly painful as we watch the rest of the women around us being celebrated and honored. Facebook or Instagram can really throw daggers into our hearts as we see picture perfect coordinated families with serene, smiling moms who sit oblivious to our deep, deep loneliness and pain! We might feel left out of life, having a black hole of hollowness in our hearts, perhaps even feeling like failures and rejects of society (as second class women) ,which can make us curl up into a ball of tears with sorrowful, shattered hearts. It could even make us bitter against God.

My heart goes out to each dear one in the midst of this kind of struggle, and I am praying for you right now. I have been there and I understand the pain. I pray that God would pour His love, comfort and grace on you in a special way, and fill your hearts with His peace and joy. The world does not know about this, but there is a kind of peace and joy that can only come from knowing and resting in Jesus (John 14:27)! Can I encourage you dear ones to continue praying and trusting Jesus to do the very best for your life? He loves you more than you can imagine, and can fill you in ways that will surprise you. May I encourage you to trust that God can redeem your unfulfilled longings and suffering. Your pain and grief can be a beautiful display of Jesus to others? Would you consider today becoming a mentor to someone? Your wisdom and grace through your suffering might be the very magnet to draw a young person towards Jesus! You are loved and needed! God has promised that He will never leave you nor forsake you – can I encourage you to trust in His promises today? I’d also encourage you to step into orphan care – the pain of your losses can help you empathize and really help orphaned and vulnerable children. You can be the very one who can comfort them with the comfort that you have received (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

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Those separated by distance or physical ailments

And, for those of us who are separated by distance from their mothers or their children, those whose children have gone to serve their country in extremely harsh circumstances, those whose moms or children are serving as missionaries in far away lands, those whose mothers or children are sick, etc. In all these varied situations, you dear one are called to live by faith, entrusting your loved one to the Lord who provides for all their needs. I encourage you to pray for them and release them into His hands knowing His peace and joy can give you rest. Can I encourage you to step out and care for other lonely or sick kids or parents during this season – in giving you will receive? We are blessed as we bear one another’s burdens.

So, this year, let us remember that we may want to give or receive many types of gifts. However, the very best gift that far surpasses all else is a gift that is available to ALL women, of ALL nationalities, with ALL types of socio-economic or family backgrounds, with ALL types of life situations, and for ALL ages and stages of life – the gift of JESUS!  God exalted Him to the highest place, and gave Him the name above all names, one day, at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11).

So, let us pray for all the women in our lives today and encourage them in their walk with Him! He created them fearfully and wonderfully, and He holds them in the palm of His hands. He wants each of them to be His very own precious, adopted daughter. He wants to wipe away their every tear, and give them the riches and glory of heaven beyond imagination. So, isn’t that the very best gift we can give our biological mothers, adoptive mothers, foster mothers, step mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, godmothers, spiritual mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters, friends, acquaintances, bosses, and coworkers?  And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3). And, pray for them that this will be their own heartfelt, lifelong prayer: More than that, I count all things as loss compared to the surpassing excellence of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God (Philippians 3:8-9).

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I pray that this year we can all look at Mother’s Day a little differently. May we (like our Savior) not make it a day that is all about us and our happiness, but about caring for others who might be struggling around us. Also, may God give us the wisdom and grace to throw out the temporary weights which often burden us in this life and fix our eyes on Jesus and the eternal weight of glory, rejoicing always in all our circumstances! God be with you! Instead, I choose to wish you something eternally worth celebrating, Joyous Child of God Day!

P.S. This video that I just found exemplifies what I have written – watch it and cry with me: The Beautiful Mess of Mother’s Day

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Anne of Green Gables

I devoured the Anne of Green Gables book series when I was a mere fourth grader in Sophia Girls High School in Bangalore, India! I could not put them down, even going after school between library days to get the next book in the series. I was after all following in my Mom’s footsteps as she had recounted to me how amazing the story was. Lucy Maud Montgomery writes a vivid, beautiful, heartfelt tale of a little orphan girl’s life as she blossoms into womanhood with love, intelligence, character and wit! I absolutely loved it and re-read it many times over!

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In the mid 90s, after immigrating to the US, I had the opportunity to get the video series from our local library in Paramus, New Jersey and was absolutely fascinated. It was awe-inspiring to see the vivid descriptions come to life as Anne lived her exciting life out with full drama on the exquisitely beautiful Prince Edward Island. Megan Follows acted wonderfully bringing to life the character of the little orphan girl who grew up before our very eyes on screen. She displayed the charm, wit and intelligence that Ms. Montgomery had woven into Anne’s character, giving many a young girl the dream of living life to the fullest, just like her. Even more was the desire to bring up a daughter just like her! I definitely fell in love with Anne Shirley as a kid and dreamed of the day I could visit her home on Prince Edward Island in Canada. It intrigued me even more for my middle name is Anne too and I always imagined (with the flattery of Anne) that my Mom had named me after reading this amazing story! Yes, I am an ANN with an E!

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Even as a young girl, visiting Shishu Bhavan (Mother Theresa’s orphanage in Bangalore) always touched a cord deep in my soul – I just knew I wanted to help those precious children. But, orphan care was even more etched into my brain and heart after I read and then saw the beauty of family enfold in this precious little girl’s life. I saw the impact that even a very unlikely family like Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, an older brother and sister duo, could have on a vulnerable little girl’s life. I watched as she longed and waited for a feeling of permanency even if it meant just working hard to serve a family as an unpaid maid – the setting of the book clearly showed how little she was valued as a person in society, she was just another unworthy orphan girl! I saw the fear and sadness in little Anne as she faced the uncertainty of a future with the Cuthberts – something I have taken for granted with the expected permanency of my family. I saw Anne willing to do anything so she could just stay with them – yet failing miserably repeatedly as her angst at being looked down on as a “red head” caused her to blow up many a time! It was real and funny, yet taught us many important life lessons. She was modest and boisterous, sufficiently aloof to be desired yet bold enough to face the world on her own. Anne through her stay with the Cuthberts had the opportunity and the tools to hold life by the horns and face it with grace and dignity coming through as a winner! She chose not to mope about her past misfortune but to focus on her future hope! Anne took on the young men of her generation and pummeled forward making a mark on her world as well as on the hearts of many of her readers and viewers. Anne Shirley was an incredible role model for young girls for generations to come!

Anne of Green Gables was one more piece of the puzzle of my desire to adopt one day. The series gave me a glimpse of the beauty of adoption (though technically, Anne was permanently fostered by the Cuthberts). At that stage, I hadn’t even comprehended the eternal and awesome beauty of God adopting me into His family through Jesus with a promise of living with Him in His heavenly home as His precious and beloved adopted daughter forever. That truth eventually did seal the deal for me, leading my husband and me to adopt an older child! And God in His Grace brought the adoption of our son to fruition for His glory too! As I look back on Anne’s story and my son’s story, I see gratitude being the basis for living life well – gratitude to God first and then gratitude to parents. I also saw the reality of the privilege of teaching a child about the God who loves and cares for her when she came not knowing about Him at all. I saw the beauty and the privilege of changing the course of a hope-less orphan child’s life when she was given the status of foster daughter! Anne lived a full life of joy and grace bouncing off that true heartfelt gratitude! Well done Lucy M. Montgomery!

Of course this is yet another fictional, happily ever after story – those are the ones that catch our attention and fill us with awe and wonder. But, life doesn’t always follow art; the reality of caring for orphaned and vulnerable children has shown us that gratitude is hard fought for. That kids who were orphaned often struggle with loss, brokenness, trauma and lack of control which turns their worlds upside down. It takes an act of God through Jesus’ death to redeem them, and then fill them with a His value, joy, forgiveness and purposes which then takes them into the fullness of life! In fact, every one of us can relate for we are all spiritual orphans who need redemption from our Heavenly Father and only through that hope we can live purposefully for His glory! Just like Anne longed to live on Prince Edward Island, we too long for the beauty of Heaven – her adoption by the Cuthberts allowed that to happen just like ours will happen through Jesus!

I have introduced this book series and TV series to my children because it’s a beautiful story of redemption and hope! In fact, much to my delight, my family bought me the DVD set just this past Christmas! I love it! If you haven’t ventured into Anne’s world, it’s never too late!

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Here are a few opinions to add voices to mine: Eight writers on how Anne shaped a generation of young women.

By His Grace, For His Glory!