Category Archives: birthday

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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Celebrating 50 Years of Grace!

It’s just near midnight at the end of my fiftieth birthday and the house is quiet. The big 50! It was a day of great rejoicing for me – not because of huge birthday celebrations and parties, nor because of outlandishly expensive gifts, and definitely not because we got to get away on a vacation to celebrate this special day! None of that happened, yet, it was out of this world amazing to me!

I am extremely grateful to my loving Heavenly Father who has poured His love on me over the past five decades of my life. These verses summarize why I am overwhelmed!

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. In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory. Ephesians 1:3-14

I started the day with an extra special treat – going to the Jon Ric spa to get a facial and massage with all three of my beautiful daughters. This is extremely unusual for me as I almost never go to a spa – I’ve probably gone twice in my entire life and only in Bangalore, not once in the US! It was a surprise gift to me from the “No Way” Refresh Conference fairies and it arrived right around my birthday! It touched my heart because the lovely folks at this newly opened spa had donated their time and effort to encourage foster and adoptive moms like me. My daughters were obviously thrilled and sharing this experience with them was such fun! I left feeling so refreshed! Just grateful!

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Soon after that, I got to go and join other friends in helping a dear family setup their home for their son’s First Holy Communion celebration! This group of friends from our Grow Group have become treasured brothers and sisters over the past 2 1/2 years. Each one bends over backwards to help and care for the others. We saw them pour out their love on us at our son’s wedding and today we all got a chance to do the same for this family. The place was transformed into a beautiful party house. The planning, the chatter, the prayers, the laughter, the fun, and the joy of being with these servants of God brought much gratitude to my heart. We are praying much for their son who steps into this important step of faith tomorrow and we rejoice with them!

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And then, the clincher of my day was a surprise family birthday party executed with so much joy and enthusiasm by my precious children and parents. It was amazing to see the joy and excitement on all their faces as they told my husband me how they had planned and prepped for the event all week, yet managed to keep it a secret! They are all gifted in a different ways and we could see that each one wanted to out do the other in good works for the benefit of all. Birthdays have always been extremely painful for our family as I had mentioned in this post. I am so humbled by the love of both generations we are sandwiched by. They worked in such unity of spirit as they shopped and decorated, cooked and cleaned, bought gifts and got beautiful cards – all this to celebrate my husband’s and my life (his birthday is four days before mine – but he is older and wiser!). They truly made it a memorable day for me and for us all! Each one shared how they were grateful and wanted to give back in love! My heart was so touched by their sacrifices and love! It’s a rare gift in an adoptive family! Their loving acts of service brought overflowing gratitude to God in my heart for without Him, this would not be possible!

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Seeing my parents enjoy their grandchildren brought many smiles to my heart. All four children here in WA, love their grandparents and willingly serve them. Thatha and Pattima will do anything for the grand kids. There were smiles all around as we prayed and played a quiz they had made up on my life! It brought back memories of the joys of yester years with my own beloved grandparents. I know what a gift of grace it is to be able to celebrate with three generations together. Such gratitude in my heart!

I am also so very grateful to every person who sent me wishes, encouraging notes, prayers, and calls from around the world. It is so overwhelming to see the world connected this way. Most of them didn’t have to but they chose to, out of love – a good gift from a loving Father! He has allowed me to live in an age of such global connectivity – mind blowing but amazing!

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As I sit on my bed tonight, tears of gratitude pour down as my heart overflows with praise at the awesomeness of God! We have had so many years of brokenness, pain, sorrow and suffering – days when I have cried out unable to even articulate the pain and loneliness of the journey, days when I have felt abandoned by everyone, even God. Yet today, God gifted me a day of thanksgiving and joy! Thank you Lord for doing Your work of grace in my life and in the lives of my family and friends around me. May You alone be praised! I give You thanks, I give You glory!

Bless the Lord, O my soul and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.  Psalm 103:1-5

Lord, bless each person who has made a difference in my life over the past 50 years. Please, give them the greatest blessing of all – knowing You and becoming Your very own Son or Daughter just as You have blessed me!

Adoption Destroyed Birthdays For Me

Realization hit me recently that I have rarely been able to celebrate birthdays in our family. It was not so when I was growing up – I used to love birthdays and my brother and I usually had a combined party each year with school or neighborhood friends, and we had family celebrations with my grandparents and extended family in Bangalore. But surreptitiously, life had taken me in a different direction. And now, yeas later, I was sitting on my bed on my son’s 25th birthday, filled with a deep sense of sadness and grief instead of overwhelming joy. This got me thinking and looking back on our journey as a family. I wondered why I, who loved doing big celebrations, had so rarely organized birthday parties for my kids? I have had huge dedication, baptism, graduation and wedding parties – yet we’ve had very few birthday celebrations. Our children are now aged 25, 19 and 12 – that would add up to 50 birthday celebrations (discounting the first 6 years of our son’s birthdays that we missed)! Yet, we can count the birthday parties we hosted with our fingers. In fact, we celebrated just two out of the twelve birthdays even for our youngest biological daughter.  Why?

It all started unraveling when I recently heard a friend wish her daughter on her birthday, telling her she was thinking of the time when she was giving birth to her. In that moment, my heart broke within me – it felt like the damn broke and years of my pain was being unleashed. It wasn’t her fault – she was doing what every normal mother would do – reminiscing at the beauty of the time when her precious baby was born. But to me, that day, her words were a stark reminder of the loss my children and I have faced daily – the loss of not being together from the start and the unusual way in which our family was built layered with pain, trauma and suffering. We never experienced the joy of our two older kids’ births or the tenderness of the early years, and instead, were hit full force with the consequences of their trauma and loss when we adopted them.

Over the past 19 years, their birthday months were triggers, causing them to subconsciously fight the loss of their birth families. They were days when their anger peaked and their frustrations were leveled against me. That was understandable, for I had replaced their beloved birth mothers who had cradled them when they were born, but it hurt nevertheless. Both of my adopted children came with deep wounds. My son came home broken and traumatized at age 6, after the mother he had loved deeply and had bonded with, took her life. My daughter came home to us as a 10-month old baby, having had the privilege of being carried and nursed by her birth mother for her first few months at the orphanage. Both these women had made profound impacts on my children’s hearts, and losing them had caused deep grief and brokenness that I cannot even imagine. Consequently, my children were filled with anger, rage and frustration against me – their birth parent’s replacement. 

Looking back, we know without a shadow of doubt that God brought these children to our family. But unfortunately, due to deep-set cultural prejudices and biases, as well as a lack of teaching on the beauty of adoption, many Indians have not fully embraced our children’s’ adoption. For example, to this day despite our pleas, my older daughter’s birthday seems to be invisible to my husband’s family. These differences hurt deeply and these hurts get reopened every year, and it makes me dread birthdays because I have to find ways to balance these added pains in my children’s hearts. 

So what is the solution to this dilemma? I am in pain during every birthday in my family, I am grieving the losses of not being the one who birthed my children and loved them from the start. I am angry that people discriminate against my kids. I have struggled to be in the shadow of “ghosts” who loom large in their lives. But, I am their “Amma” , “Mom”, “Maiee”! That will never change. God opened my eyes to His mission of orphan care when I was still a child and there was no turning back (that is a story for another post)! I have chosen to step into this role and have borne much of my children’s grief and anger at their losses, ever since we adopted them in 1998. The warrior princess in me comes out, as I fight to love and protect my hurting family!

These are vulnerable children who were wounded due to no fault of their own. But, God chose my husband and me to love them, and in the process just as our parents did, we get to redirect the trajectory of their lives towards Him! In other words, the children we had adopted had totally different backgrounds and DNA from us, and we had the privilege of loving them and making them our very own beloved son and daughter. Then we got to give them the privilege of being co-heirs with our biological child, and far more importantly, to introduce all three of them to Jesus through whom they could all become God’s adopted children, co-inheriting all God’s riches for all eternity with Jesus should they choose to do so! Mind blowing truth! Worth celebrating! 

So, yes birthdays are still excruciatingly hard, and yes, my family may never have normalcy and beauty around those days – but the path we have chosen to take with our children is worth it. As Jason Johnson has said, “Adoption isn’t swooping in to save a hurting child with a cape on our backs but it is crawling in the mud alongside their brokenness, with a cross on our backs”! Beauty and brokenness are intertwined in every aspect of our lives. This is the gospel in action! We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). Similarly we can say that we adopt because God first adopted us! Adoption was not an afterthought for God, but His Plan A! God chose not to stop at just saving us, but to adopt us as His sons and daughters before the foundation of the world! So, though we lose out on birthday celebrations, and in our human-ness we struggle and feel deep sorrow and grief, we also look ahead to the eternal glory that is awaiting us, when every tear will be wiped away, and there will be joy everlasting and we will be celebrating Jesus all the time forever! 

So practically, how do we celebrate birthdays in our family? We do small family celebrations with my parents, where we cut a cake and a have special meal. They always lovingly give our kids a gift and Pattima (grandma) usually prays over them. On my end, I may not be able to celebrate that day in a big way for them or with them, but I hope that all my countless acts of love throughout the year show them that I love them deeply. That we are blessed despite what life throws at us! My husband created a small family tradition called the “birthday stool” where he makes the birthday child sit on a special stool while the rest of us stand around that person. We lay hands on them and each of us prays a blessing over him or her. This is our way of asking God to bless them in the midst of all our brokenness and mess. A huge blessing to us is when others, friends or family, call and wish them on their birthday, or step out and give them a special gift, or take them for a meal or cut a cake to celebrate their special day.  It means so much to this tired mama’s heart! It is a gift from the hand of God, compensating for my inability to celebrate their birthdays. My gratitude to God overflows.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans in their distress (James 1:27).

And as far as my guilt goes, yes, mommy guilt prevails in my heart and yes, I grieve that my children have missed so much but God is slowly teaching me to focus on what He thinks is important – that we can find joy in the journey in Him and through Him. And, we look forward to unending celebrations in eternity with Him!

For another look at this, see: https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/7630205-parenting-kiddos-who-sabotage-big-days