Reset

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About this time last year, I redesigned my blog. I am always hunting for fresh beginnings.

September was the last time I wrote. First it was unintentional, then it was purposeful – earlier I felt as though I had nothing to say, then I felt as if I had no right to speak. I was learning, growing, tripping, falling, and making a great big fool out of myself. December was a month of long, tear-filled discussions and broken, faltering reconciliations. It’s been a hard stretch.

Yet God is faithful. 

Last month I stood in the pouring rain, mouth wide open gasping for air, for something fresh, for a new start. The air was thick with petrichor – the warm, musty smell when the rain first hits the dust. It’s a smell with a thousand variations, that one moment overpowering, mixing with a heap of burning trash just down the road and rolling in smokey, green undertones that leave an earthy aftertaste. Swollen red dirt, smoldering garbage, lush palms and pines, while over everything, streaming in rivulets down my hair, my neck and shoulders, water – clean water, making all things new. I threw my head back and laughed into the sky as the richness of His promise hit me – He is making all things new. Even me.

“And he will be like a tree, planted besides streams of living water, bearing fruit in each season, their leaves never wither. “

That promise is faithful.

Tonight I’m sit here tired, defeated, and feeling utterly helpless, but it’s pounding rain outside… With Paul, I pray for myself me and for you “that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance”.

So here I am again. Plugging away. Much more aware of God’s mercy and my sin. More grateful and content than I’ve ever felt. I did some coast hopping, then some continent hopping, and now some settling… Still illustrating, reading obsessively, and drinking ridiculous amounts of tea. For all of you praying, I’m still pursuing Asia, one step at a time.

 

Hello again. It’s good to be back.

 

I am a stranger in a strangers land

Blessed by an awkward sleight of hand 

Papa told him he’d done wrong

And I’ve wandered too and fro…

Your daughter coming home, is home

To a city not her own.

I’ll rest my head in Egypt

Tanzania, Taipei too.

Mi casa es su casa

If it’s all the same to you 

I pitch my tent in the waning light 

Of a day I never knew.

Jacob, Esau, Cain and Abel, 

Joseph’s sons, Isaac, Ishmael

Absolom, O Absolom, Solomon has come to reign

The harlot girl is coming home

And I am blessed the same

I’ll rest my head in Egypt

Wander D.C., L.A. through

Mi casa es su casa

If it’s all the same to you. 

I’ll pitch my tent in the waning light 

Of a day I never knew.

So I’ve left home, yet 

Am home

And will be there forever.

In this place that’s yours but not yours 

I your second child, daughter

The one you blessed by sleight of hand 

And drew up from the water

I’ll meet you in the promised land

My once and future father.

 

Connect

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Friday morning I found myself in the middle of 800 other people, shuffling through a wide church auditorium for an empty chair. The eager fellowship was palpable–people who’d never met before vigorously shaking hands, hugging and swapping stories. I slipped in alone, and was sitting quietly twiddling a pen, but even in my own wide-eyed silence, I’d rarely ever felt so enveloped by a community. Hearing flashes of conversations, stories, greetings–the whole room crying out in one voice, “Thank God, I’m not alone.”

This wasn’t a normal adoption conference. It was not a pep talk for starry-eyed couples looking to add an adorable multicultural baby to their picture-perfect family. This was a room full of very broken, very desperate people who were looking for answers. People who had stared into their child’s frightened eyes with nothing to offer them, and no power to heal. People who sat slumped in hallways while their child screamed for hours…and hours… and hours. Beautiful men and women who had reached the end of their rope, tied a knot and hung on, begging God for mercy with blistered, bleeding hands.

We needed help. I needed help. I’m not a parent; I’m not even living with my siblings anymore, but I desperately needed a grid through which to understand the past, present and future of the children most precious in all the world to me.

There was no easy answer. No 5 step plan. No quick trick to a peaceful home, an easy life, and a postcard family. Just one word: connect.

Connect with a child.

How do you connect with a child whose entire being, down to the very synapses in their brain, has been molded, wired and formed to build mile high walls? To survive. To protect. To fight fiercely, wildly to keep themselves safe no matter what the cost. How do you cup a three-year old’s face gently in your hands and tell them they are safe–that everything, everything, they’ve done to stay alive needs to be left behind now–that you will care for them, and that you will move Heaven and earth to meet their needs? How do you show them?

How do you show them that you love them at their absolute worst?

How do you show them that you will lay down everything to meet their true needs?

How do you live Christ, every moment of every day?

How do you lose your life–so overcome in the rich power of a greater being that from HIS wealth you can pour, and pour, and pour?

Oh Father, help me for I am so very weak.

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There was a lot to learn.

I wish I could post it all here–make some coherent sense of the sixteen pages of bold, highlighted and underlined notes.

Here’s my best attempt at the highlights. Two days of speaking, one book and countless DVD’s into the few things that smacked me across the face. I hope you find them helpful.

All of them, the deeply practical and mundane to the euphorically spiritual, boiled down to one thing–live like Christ. 

Wow Marli. Much revelation. Such deepness. I know.

But it’s true. I was rocked, really rocked when confronted by the cold reality of how much growth is ahead. How much patience and perseverance this path will require. How much grace and forgiveness.

Good thing I’ve got a much stronger man carrying the burden for me. I love Him. And I really want to be more like Him.

And there’s an awful lot of practical ways to do that ahead.

Good thing Jesus was all about practical. I’m grateful to serve a God who jumped at the opportunity to wash a lineup of smelly feet.

So when I rub lotion up and down their dry, wiry legs, massage between their fingers, and play with their hair I can whisper over and over again His sweet words “You don’t realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

That love comes day-in and day-out… That he has “set you an example that you should do as I have done for you”

But what does that look like?

How do you take a child built by chaos, pain and danger, and teach them love? Let them understand themselves through the Lord’s eyes…

Because God the Father has provided eternal safety. He has given them a voice. He understands that their life was formed with purpose, and He so loved them, that he gave the blood of His Son to pay for their redemption. That is radical preciousness. 

And because I love organization, check boxes and flow sheets, we’re gonna break it down:

1. They need to feel safe.

2. They need to have a voice.

3. They needed to feel like their life has meaning.

4. They need to feel precious

Behind these breezy, pleasant words, how do you do this? In the middle of scheduling, and meltdowns, and tantrums and manipulation?

You pray. Long and hard. And you research. Long and hard. And you work to understand how you can best glorify the Lord with your child.

Good luck. I’m sharing what I can, and what was passed on to me. I’m not even a parent yet. Feel free to laugh at the impracticality of my idealized statements. I know just enough to laugh callously with you. But I’m going to keep trying, and I’m going to keep learning…

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1. Make Them Feel Safe

Remember, these kids have often been without nourishing food and water for long periods of time. Trauma–difficult pregnancy, drugs and alcohol en utero, difficult birth, early hospitalization, physical, emotional, sexual abuse–all makes it physically harder for their bodies to metabolize food and water. What many experts recommend is that children with a history of trauma have access to food and water every two hours. That they are given food, easily accessible upon request, in a structured, safe environment, taking the need to control it out of their hands. They are taught that their needs WILL be provided for.

And not just their physical needs. They need hugging, snuggling, massaging, connecting, giggling, all the random little flourishes we take for granted, they have missed. They need for Serotonin and Melatonin. Use touch intentionally and lavishly.

2. Give Them a Voice 

When a baby cries, it’s mother picks it up. She hears it’s voice. Many of these children lay in a soiled diaper, staring cross-eyed at a ceiling, crying and crying and crying, while no one came. No one asked if they were fed, or cleaned or loved. No one asked whether they wanted to be taken out of the home. No one asked what foster home they wanted to go in to. No one asked if they wanted to be separated from their siblings. They had no voice.

In anger, some scream and thrash and punch, frantically reaching to be heard. In pain, some of them curl up and clam silent, forcing those around them to dig for their thoughts and words as they desperately bid for control.

Teach them how to express their needs. Look past their frantic attempts to control the situation, take the control out of their hands, and show them they can use their words to express their fears. Work in the good moments. Teach them how to identify emotions in a calm moment, and how to verbalize it, so that when the storm strikes, you can head for the shelter. Create a concrete game plan for expressing feelings, and run it through with them.

3. Make Them Feel Like Their Life Has Meaning

Shame runs miles deep. If many of us as healthy, loved individuals can spend months masticating on one awkward mistake, how long do you think a child with little sense of self-worth will think on theirs? They have felt worthless, unloved and abandoned – even at the most subconscious psychological levels.

Show them they are not. Give them structure, schedule and routine to help them understand that they can accomplish something. Engage with them in building and creating, conquering. Help them see and understand their progress – even if “progress” means something as simple as letting a piece of food drop to the floor and *gasp* stay there.

4. Make Them Feel Precious

Turn those tables… Engage with them. Give them your full attention. Memorize their moods, their needs, their fears, their triggers, and their loves. Show them they are meaningful, because they are loved by Christ. Show them that they are not worthless. Value eye contact and for every ounce of structure, add an ounce of nurture. Show them they are worth it, and they contribute.

Tell them the story of how one beautiful, powerful, almighty God descended from the heights of Heaven to give their soul purpose – to rescue them from the one who rules in the kingdom of darkness and bring them into the kingdom of His dear Son.

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There’s so much more here… So much more I want to say, but it’s 12:41am, and I’m quickly running out of steam.

Maybe another time.

Remember their story. Remember that you have been loved in all your darkness, and love them as they run towards the light…

“I honor that these behaviors kept you alive, but in this home, these are not going to work. What can I do to meet your need?” – Dr. Karyn Purvis

Help!

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(I know I have some younger readers, so if you are under 13, please get your parent’s permission before reading the rest of this!)

Hi there!

I need help! I’ve entered a design in the Covenant Eyes infographic contest. It’s chosen by popular vote – 160 contestants narrowed down to 10, then another round of voting for first place. The first round of voting closes on September 10th.

The grand prize is $3,000. If I win, the money would go towards working with Serving in Missions in central Asia, as I am currently in the middle of their application process.

My entry is #83 (click the drop-down menu at the top). Please, please repost on FB, tweet, email to friends etc.

Internet pornography is an extremely important topic, and families need to be aware of the very real danger it presents. You can watch a short message from my brother Thaddeus here, to understand why I am so passionate about this topic.

Thanks in advance for helping me get the word out!

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Exactly, Today….

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I fiddle through blogs, and membership ads, and correspondences for the first half of the morning, brightly responding to emails, and printing the same sheet wrong three times…

My mind swirls with new ideas, which generally steamroll with a productive spurt – creativity seems to fold upon itself and compound, and explode, so here I am frantically grabbing sticky notes and emailing myself to-do reminders. Banners, and reading and blogging and mailing lists, and a multitude of prayers…

Then I see photos of someone working at an orphanage in China, and another glowing, disciplined raw-food mama, and whisper to myself that I too am doing important work for the kingdom.

But it’s a very small whisper, because I don’t really feel it.

There’s a succulent on my desk, and a Van Gogh print on the wall above it, and a sparkly watch on my wrist. I live the Pinterest dream, but discontent gnaws my inside’s empty because I want to be hugging a child, wearing no make-up and a t-shirt with dirty hands, and a cup of Pu-Er tea, and this, and that, and something always, always just out of reach.

I have lived in so many worlds.

….In the desperate, darkly beautiful, life-or-death world of orphaned children, malaria, trafficking, homelessness, shrine idols and dirt, sweat, tears and soul-wrenching prayer.

…In the world of scrawled letters, coloring sheets and crayons, the rapture of soft cheeks and sweaty forehead kisses, diaper changes, and he-wet-the-bed-again laundry loads, and so, so many text conversations: “I’m sorry, I won’t be able to grab coffee – I’m watching the kids”.

…In the hipster Shangri-La of art, typography and blessed singleness with so much black coffee. 2am poetry binges and long walks down dappled old lanes, museum shenanigans, and a perfectly planned outfit for every occasion.

And I was, in each world. Just was. Both happy, and sad.

And I was serving the Lord.

There is a beautiful fluidity somewhere in there, a gracious freedom to be exactly who God made me to be, in exactly this moment, if only I will stop grasping and just be.

Simply being in the next phase won’t make me more like Christ.

It won’t make me a better servant for the Kingdom. We are all surrounded by images murmuring, rushing and roaring that we just need to be one more thing, or just need to do one more thing to be happy, and I have downed the kool-aid like a desert wanderer.

Can I be who Christ made me to be, today? For tomorrow has enough worries of its own. And Christ is perfect.

“But you are the same God, whose property is always to have mercy… Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.”

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Timothy’s Heart

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Marli Renee:

This is a cause worth investing in… Please read and leave some encouragement with them :)

Originally posted on Loving Dangerously:

Timothy was always getting sick, coming down with one infection or another. I couldn’t figure it out- did he have additional respiratory complications? Was it the low-weight issue? Or maybe, just maybe, he had a heart defect. In fact, there was a good chance that Timothy had heart disease; children with Down Syndrome have about a 50% chance of also having congenital heart defects. It was a very distinct possibility, and because his color was dusty it seemed like a good likelihood.

In February an echocardiogram confirmed that Timothy did indeed have a few problems with his little heart. If he grew strong and healthy and plump, the defects could possibly resolve on their own. But if Timothy continued to do poorly, and his heart remained the same or got worse, he would need open-heart surgery.

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The months went by after Timothy joined our Room of Hope, and he…

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Flouting the Rules: Why I Date (and Court)

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Confession: When someone asks whether I date or court, I usually answer them based on my best guess about their religious, educational and social background.

Are they a starry-eyed homeschooling teen craving advice? I’m courting. A disillusioned, angsty millennial wondering if I’m a sheltered Quaker? I’m definitely dating.

For the record, I’m trying to wean myself off the habit… and in my head, I do prefer to call it courting. I’ve rationalized the verbal discrepancy this way – when it comes to relationships, I engage in a unique blend of practices, models, and applications based on how I believe the principles of Scripture best apply to my current situation. And that blend is a “method” whose exact match I haven’t found anywhere else. Not in a book, not in a seminar, not in a sermon. Not in a movement, not in a trend, and not on a blog.

But how can I put that casually? Here’s how the discussion usually goes:

[insert well-intended, generally awkward question about method of relationships]

[marli does quick mental tally of situation]

“Dating”/or/”Courting”

Then, I always try to follow-up with the exact same sentence:

“But I get discouraged by the baggage that often comes with that term.  So, the simplest way to explain it might be that I am in a very intentional relationship – I wouldn’t start seeing someone unless I wanted to explore the idea of marriage with them, and unless we were both spiritually, financially and emotionally equipped for marriage. It doesn’t mean if I start seeing someone, I’m engaged. It just means I’m interested in them, and want to see if we would serve God better as a couple than we could serve Him separately.  Does that make sense?”

I’ve been in relationships with two absolutely wonderful, godly young men. One preferred to call it courting, the other dating. I ran with either term, and my approach to the relationship stayed exactly the same.

And guess what? Regardless of what we called it, both times, the goal of the relationship was achieved. I enjoyed getting to know both young men. I grew because of them. I was pushed closer to Christ. And when we realized God wasn’t pointing us toward marriage, we parted respectfully and with genuine concern for the other’s wellbeing. And yes – it hurt like crazy, both times. It was emotional. It was very, very hard. And I am so grateful for the radiant Christ-likeness both of those men modeled.

Phoebe put it so very well here:

God’s will is not for us to find our identity in a relationship with any human. I believe that God’s desire for His children in any relationship is to honor Him. The purpose of marriage is for a man and a woman to seek and obey God together. And I believe He wants the same for our relationships before marriage, whether we call it “dating” or “courtship.”

In either situation, we will be tempted.

In either situation, emotional heartbreak can occur.

No method will ever fix these problems, unless God is the main focus in our lives. And even then, we will still be hurt. Our response through relationship struggles should be to turn to God for healing and love.

In the words of Jesus, the greatest commandment is to…

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” (Matthew 22:37).

No matter your method, you won’t have a happy relationship until you achieve that first.

I have been challenged and freed by the Botkin family’s webinar, Marrying Well: Practical Wisdom on Courtship. While they have chosen to call their route courtship, they enthusiastically acknowledge that it doesn’t gel with many traditional ideas about courting, and that it has played out differently in each of their children’s lives. None of the routes they chose are meant to serve as models, or as direct applications. Because you are unique. You serve God in a unique way. You are meant to display His glory in a totally different, never before seen, brilliant blend of culture, talents, history, ability and calling.

And why would you confine that radical combination to one relationship model?

Search the Scriptures. Run fiercely after the Lord.

His Word is a light to your path. Don’t hang out with fools, or mockers, or scoffers but delight in the law of the Lord, and on it meditate both day and night. If you’re doing that – really, truly doing that – I’m sure whether you go to the right, or to the left, your eyes will see your Teacher, and you will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way. Walk in it.

[Psalm 1/Isaiah 30]

10 Random Poems, For No Particular Reason

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IMG_6493Sunday evening, a friend tossed a copy of Gerard Manley Hopkin’s, “I Wake and Feel The Fell of Dark, Not Day” across the coffee table to me (Warning: read at your own risk. It’s a ennui sucker-punch.) I’d read Hopkins, but forgot how deeply I loved him. Now I’m reading anything I can get my hands on.

This poetry spiral (a habit for me. I find a poet and breathe their work for a week or two) reminded me that I’ve not shared my passion for metered-verse here. So this is a rapidly compiled list of ten poems – not necessarily my absolute favorites, just the random selection that sprang to mind.

Click on one you don’t recognize – maybe it’ll open up a new world :)

10 Random Poems, For No Particular Reason

John of the Cross – The Living Flame of Love

John Donne – Batter My Heart, Three-Person’d God 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge – Kubla Kahn  This one filled C.S. Lewis with “inconsolable longing”.

Gerard Manley Hopkins – God’s Grandeur 

Paul Laurence Dunbar – We Wear the Mask

Walt Whitman – Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking

T.S. Eliot – Ash Wednesday

William Carlos Williams – This is Just To Say  Probably the most adorable refrigerator sticky note, ever. 

Pablo Neruda – Come With Me

Javier Sicilia – The Track in the Wilderness

Win an iPad… (or, the ParentalRights.org Membership Contest)

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EliteEmailBannerSome exciting things have been brewing behind this computer screen, and I’m so grateful I can finally share them with you!

Last month, I started working part-time for ParentalRights.org – a valuable organization that is working to pass a parental rights amendment to the Constitution, and to protect parental rights within the states. Yesterday, they launched their new membership program, which is full of fantastic resources and materials… Though I am a little biased, since I helped put it together ;)

But, don’t judge the shameless self-promotion too quickly please! I compiled it by talking with many of the parents I know and asking them questions… What did they want to see? What kinds of materials would be helpful to them? What kinds of things would they appreciate learning more about? Then, I followed up on their suggestions with some truly educated and experienced leaders in those fields.

So I’m really serious when I say it’s some fantastic resources :)

But, here’s the fun part. To help spread the word about the new program, ParentalRights.org is launching a membership contest. In it, you’ve got the chance to earn an iPod, iPad Mini, or $1000 in cash.

Yes. You should check it out.

Do it for me will you, so that I can win something vicariously? It’s kind of lame to get excited about contest prizes only to realize you’re not allowed to enter… because… you helped create the contest. It’s a downer. But you could still win!

Even if you’re too busy to enter, help me share it on the web please? FB, Twitter, Instagram… you name it. I would appreciate it so much!

Hope you all have a beautiful day!

P.S. And for those of you whom I love and keep asking – yes, I am still doing art :) I have no intention of giving that up anytime soon…