Hey! This is Laura and I am so excited to have our first student contributor on the blog today! I met Anna Blair in 2012 and have had the honor of watching her grow into a beautiful, Christian young lady. As a Christian, a wife and a mother, I love to hear about how the Lord is moving through the younger generation. I hope you are blessed today by Anna Blair's faith journey.
I am 14 years old and have attended church all my life. I was baptized when I was 12. As long as I can remember, I have loved Jesus, but for many of my 14 years, I never had a very good answer to the question, “How do I know God is real?” In my heart, I have always known that God is real, and I could give the “Sunday School answers” like “The Bible tells us God is the beginning and the end and created everything so He is real.” I could recite my favorite Bible verses…but I never really knew how to tell people from my life experiences that I know that God is real. My life had always been filled with the assurance that God is real in my life and that He showers me each day with His blessings.
Now, however, I have a story to tell about how God showed his realness to me time and time again! I am a dancer. I have been dancing since I was three. I love all types of dance – jazz, tap, ballet, hip-hop, lyrical, pom, kick and musical theater. While dancing is a major part of my life, the practice is rigorous. Four, sometimes five afternoons a week, are consumed with dance practice.
My story began two years ago on a regular night at dance. When I was stretching, my coach saw that something was out of line. She noticed that my right rib cage was elevated above my left one. My coach mentioned it to my dad that something might be wrong with my back. Because my dad is a Physical Therapist, when I told him what my coach had said during a routine practice, he, too, could tell that something was definitely wrong. So, the next morning I went to my doctor and had an x-ray. When I saw the image, my heart dropped. My spine was shaped like an “S.”
The x-ray was sent to another doctor for further reading, but the diagnosis was clear. I had a severe case of scoliosis. How was I going to continue to do the things that made me happy with a curved spine?
I soon found out that this was a journey that would change me forever.
As I sat in the waiting room of the orthopedic clinic, I was unsure and nervous about what was to come. My parents and I listened to our options from the doctor and concluded that bracing was the best option. A few weeks later, I was fitted with the brace that I would wear for a year. My curve seemed to decrease with the help of my brace, but it would not completely correct it. When I would take a break from wearing my brace (even though the breaks were short), my curve would increase again. Despite a long, hard year of wearing this uncomfortable, restricting brace, it was not a sufficient tool for handling my scoliosis.
Even though having a corrective surgery was my biggest fear, it was the best option for correcting my scoliosis and getting rid of my pain. My surgery was scheduled for the summer of 2017. In the meantime, I was told to have fun and not worry about this big event. However, waiting was the hardest part. I had many “what if’s” running through my mind. What if I am not able to dance again? What if I can never walk again? My nerves were comforted by surrounding myself with people who loved and supported me.
When people told me that they were praying for me, I was reassured that I am never alone and that God will take care of me always. During the days leading up to my surgery, I felt the love and prayers of so many people. Knowing that others were sharing my struggle calmed and comforted me. When I went into my surgery, I was so calm and ready for the new chapter ahead of me.
After my six-hour surgery, I felt the prayers being poured on me. In addition to the presence of my family, many of my friends came to visit me at the hospital. I am very thankful for all of those friendships and what each friend means to me. Those friends supported me and stayed with me through this whole journey and I am so blessed.
Along with the support of my friends and family, I had so many great doctors and nurses that helped me through surgery and recuperation. For me, they were the hands and feet of Jesus. They took a personal interest in me, and I have formed many good relationships with them.
As I think back on the last two years, I see the “realness” of God through the prayers and actions of so many people including the coach who first noticed the misalignment of my spine, the pediatrician who confirmed it, the orthopedic surgeon who proposed options, the family and friends who prayed for me and encouraged me, and God, who comforted me in my pain and gave me hope that I would be able to continue dancing. All of these people who ministered to me during this time gave me assurance that God is real and is present in my life and continues to lead me.
Anna Blair Jackson
Anna Blair is finishing her 8th grade year and writing has become a gifting she has discovered! She has written two poems. One that placed first in Tennessee and went on to win first place in the United States. The other placed first in Tennessee and the Southwest region. She is also an editor for her school's yearbook and has written articles for her local newspaper.
I sat in the waiting room, at moments shaking, at other moments thinking I was going to be sick at my stomach...waiting. I had to wait over an hour. I was in a room full of women, all of us waiting for the results. Silence. I read Psalm 121 over and over and over until I thought, “Ok, just memorize it.” So I began to just memorize it.
Fear. Worry. Gripped by its icy, bony fingers.
What is your deepest fear?
“Fear, you say? Christians aren’t gripped by worry or fear.” We read verses such as Isaiah 41:10 “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness,” and we march boldly into tomorrow with no worries.
Or we could be honest.
We worry about money, death, our children, fear something happening to our children, our marriage, our job security, our aging parents...or health issues as we sit in a waiting room, gripped by fear, powerless to do anything about the impending outcome.
When the inevitable worries and fears come, and our world is shaken to the core, what do we do?
Jesus calls us to an unbelievable faith. If we are a Christ follower, then we must follow the ways of Christ. I know this sounds like a statement that would get a “Well, duh!” reaction from my middle school students, but think about it. Christ calls us to a simple life: we want to complicate it.
So here goes:
● First, I must be ok with the unknown.
As a Christ follower, I must admit and live by faith in Christ. This means that some days, most days, every day, I have no idea what will happen next. I must be ok with that.
This requires lots of prayer. “Lord, I cannot do this. Help me with my unbelief (Mark 9:24). You are a Sovereign God, and your ways are not my ways. Teach me to have faith that starts childlike but will grow as you lead me and I continue to trust in you and you alone. God, when I start to lean towards my understanding of things and trust in myself and my own power, please jerk me back to you. That jerking may hurt, but help me, God. I am desperate.”
● Second, I must accept that I am part of a large master plan.
“Father, I am a glorious piece of a larger plan that is beautiful. Help my issue with pride, that makes everything about me. Nothing is about me. It’s all about you. Help me to be find contentment in that.”
● Third, I must be grateful.
That’s where my waiting room story picks back up.
Ladies came and went from the waiting room, all of us waiting for our name to be called, like some ominous lottery. And then someone spoke.
Light, casual conversation began. “I am so nervous that I can’t even speak,” I thought.
But as I was reading Psalm 121 over and over, the obvious began to kick in. “Why do I even continue to read this yet not trust in it as truth? God, help me. Free me, Lord for I am in bondage.”
“It’s not about you. Speak. Open your mouth. Are these ladies believers? Do they know the hope in Christ?”
So I began to speak. Weather, flu, schools, “I am a teacher”, and then God “lobbed me a softball”, an accurate reference to this moment as stated by my pastor Rodney Alexander.
The conversation turned to deeper matters. God allowed me opportunities to speak of His goodness, that attitude of gratitude that I am compelled to have, God’s ability to heal physically at any moment, all sorts of small tidbits of peace. I always walk away from these moments feeling that I never said enough, but remember, piece of a beautiful puzzle.
Something wonderful happened in that moment, besides the obvious golden opportunity to speak life and peace: I was no longer nervous. I realized that there was no way I could control the results that were coming any minute, but I could control what I did right now.
God is calling us to follow Him in every moment, every second. Those moments add up to a lifetime of following, blindly, obediently, trusting in a Sovereign, good God. The focus is off of me and on my King. Therein is peace.
The rest of the story: I was clear. The patient right before me was not.
I am grateful, trusting in the good and the bad to an Omnipotent God Who loves me.
“What time I am afraid, I will (by His will over mine, moment by moment, second by second) trust in thee.” Psalm 56:3
Kathy McBroom is a middle school English teacher who resides in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, ten minutes south of Louisville. Her husband Robert is the Missions’ and Assimilation Pastor at Little Flock Baptist Church. She is an author, blogger, bible teacher and has recently begun “Manic Monday” a group which can be found on Facebook. She and Robert have two daughters, Rachel and Hannah, who are also teachers. You can check out more of Kathy's great writing on her blog.
You ALL know our sweet friend today. In fact, she’s been here before. Since the By Faith She Girls have all shared our testimonies this week, we wanted our Friend Friday post to be just that. We know you will be encouraged by her own story of how the Lord not only saved her, but continues to walk with her today. Please welcome Susannah back as she shares about God’s goodness in her life.
In September 2015, I was 34-years-old and had just self-published my first book, “Ten Years Taken”. It was a joyous time because my childhood dreams were finally coming true! Since I was a little girl, I’d wanted to be a writer. And finally, after many years of writing and editing and ripping up manuscripts, everything was coming full circle. I was travelling around the state to speak at book clubs and libraries, appearing at book signings in community centers and churches, giving interviews to local newspapers and radio stations and recognized as a real author. People even stopped me in Target to talk about my novel and the characters I had invented! It was such a surreal time, and I was ecstatic when “Ten Years Taken” was listed among the Top 30 best-selling self-published books on Amazon.
My mother was truly my biggest fan. She was on the front row at every event, first in line at every book signing and she bought 18 copies of each newspaper or publication I was featured in. She constantly advertised my book and shared my blog posts on social media and continually told me how proud of me she was. She said she’d always known I’d be an author.
One cool Saturday night in September, my mama hung the next day’s church clothes on her closet door. She placed a cup of water on her nightstand next to my novel and climbed into her plush bed. And sometime during the night, while my mother slept, her soul went to be with Jesus.
I watched my young father die of a heart attack when I was eleven, and when my mother passed away, I suddenly felt like an orphan. I felt like a 34-year-old orphan. I was so utterly lost and alone and without any roots. I didn’t know how in the world I was expected to live a lifetime without my mother because she had been my rock, my friend, my spiritual mentor, my everything.
Of course, it is normal for a daughter to mourn her mother’s death, but I went beyond typical grieving. I spiraled down into a dark, deep pit of despair. I knew my mother was resting at our Savior’s feet, without the cares of this world, but I couldn’t even find joy or peace in that beautiful truth. I just so selfishly wanted her here with me. I needed her advice. I wanted to hear her laugh. I wanted to feel her fingers running through my hair. I wanted her by my side. I just wanted my mother.
As the months passed, I was still unable to get out of bed many days. I was unable to cook dinner for my family or attend my children’s ballgames. Not only was I devastated at the void in my life, but I was bitter and angry. While spending so much time in my bed sobbing and hiding from the world, I mourned my father’s death all over again. I didn’t foresee my joy ever being restored.
I’ve been saved since I was a little girl. My mother was a great Godly woman and raised me on the promises found in the Word of God. I knew all the Scriptures about hope and restoration and how Jesus was near to the brokenhearted, but still I was utterly broken.
And finally, worn and weary and heavy-laden, I could no longer bear the burden. I was exhausted physically, mentally and spiritually, and in a moment of sweet surrender, as tears fell from my eyes, I gave it all to the Lord. I told Him, “God, I cannot do this anymore. I cannot continue living in this dark pit of grief. I need you.”
When I finally let go of the rope ‒ when I finally surrendered the hurt, the ache, the void ‒ my Savior was so gracious to catch me. He came to me right where I was and gave rest to my weary soul. He gave me peace that passes all understanding. He gave me light in the darkness. He restored my joy.
The Lord has even revealed great purpose in my pain. I’ve been able to show the comfort that He has shown me to others, just as we are instructed to do in 2 Corinthians 1: 3-7. I’ve continually drawn closer to Him and relied on His sweet grace and mercy, and in turn, He’s called me to do things I never thought possible. He’s called me to speak His promises of life and hope to those who are grieving. He’s called me to point the hurting and the broken to Him. He’s called me to use my writing for His glory. He’s given me beauty for ashes not only concerning the deaths of my parents, but also infertility and alcohol abuse and many other trials.
Jesus was battered and beaten and bloodied. He was mocked and ridiculed, and then He hung on an old, rugged cross to die for our sins. What incredible pain and sorrow He went through! But the purpose, the beautiful purpose, was revealed three days later when that tomb proved empty.
And like Jesus’ pain, our pain has great purpose, too.
Of course, I still miss my parents every day. Lord, what I wouldn’t give to be able to pick up the phone and call my mother and ask her to make me a Mississippi Mud Cake. But if my mother was still here, I wouldn’t be commissioned to point others to the Great Comforter. I wouldn’t have experienced His agape love and been proved time and time again that He truly is near to the brokenhearted. I wouldn’t realize so fully how our Father truly works ALL things together for good.
No matter the pain or sorrow or longing we experience here in our temporary home, if it points us to Jesus, it’s worth it.
I love to read. It is my escape to adventure and relaxation. Recently, I received an audio book subscription and find it truly luxurious to let someone else read to me! What indulgence!
Don’t you find your “me time” precious and maybe a little harder to come by than you would like? I do. When I think I’m going to have time to snuggle up and read (or listen to) a good book, there’s a little dance going on inside me. I like to think about what kind of drink I will put on the coaster beside me and what fuzzy socks I will wear. Will I push back the curtain and let in a flood of sunshine to light the page, or will it be a dark and stormy night when my bed and lamp or firelight are more in order?
If it sounds to you like I fantasize about my alone-time, you could not be more right! You may not be an avid reader but what do you love to do to wind down? If you had an unexpected afternoon off to spend however you wanted to, what would you do? Spa day? Shopping? Baking Day? Run in the park?
Hey, wait… are you fantasizing about your alone time!?
Let’s face it, leisure time is not filling up most of our calendars. Those moments when we can relax and recharge are a limited commodity and therefore valuable to us. That’s why when a few years ago a sweet saint gently challenged me to change how I use that leisure time, I balked at first.
Here’s the story…
As early as my teen years, the classic “who dunnit” genre captured my fancy. I particularly enjoyed the work of the British sleuth writer, Agatha Christie. I loved her ability to bring to life the human personalities in her books. She was also the master of nailing the surprise ending where all the puzzle pieces fall into place so neatly and yet you are shocked and dismayed that you never suspected the perpetrator for a second! I had read many of her works, but always looked forward to the next book, so I asked my mother-in-law who was running a used book business to keep her eyes open for any of the titles I hadn’t read.
Ladies, I highly recommend finding a man to marry whose mother loves you like a daughter. What a blessing! My mother-in-law spent the next couple of years combing her inventory and other sources and eventually acquired for me EVERY work ever written by my favorite author. I knew that the acquisition of these sometimes rare books was a labor of love, and my heart was warmed by her effort on my behalf. One day when my collection was nearly complete she was handing me a rare copy of one of Agatha Christie’s romantic novels, and she casually remarked that she had found it enriching to start reading only Christian and “uplifting” material in her leisure time.
Read only Christian and uplifting material… In my leisure time… My “me time.”
If you have been a believer long, you may already anticipate how I was feeling. Now my precious mother-in-law had not even SUGGESTED that this was something I should do. But I was feeling uncomfortable. Why? Because my flesh did not want to submit my leisure reading to God, and I immediately knew that was the crux of the issue. I did not want to entrust what I held as my own, private, valuable, treasure to God to change it however He wanted. Ugh.
So I dithered around and made excuses mentally and basically pouted for a while. I don’t remember having a particular moment when I surrendered this fight against God, but the Holy Spirit, ever so gracious, helped me to come around.
Now, I joyfully confess that my absolutely favorite genre is Biblical Fiction, a subset of Christian Fiction in which the author takes a text of the Bible and imagines personalities and details to bring the story to life. For example, I’m currently reading a series about King Hezekiah. Passages about him can be found in the Bible in 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles and Isaiah. Lynn Austin has used a vast amount of research and inspiration to make this hero of the Bible into someone who lives and breathes in my imagination. In the current chapter, the walled city of Jerusalem is surrounded by the Assyrian Army.
The general of King Hezekiah’s army has been captured, tortured and hung on a stake to taunt King Hezekiah who stands on the city wall and weeps to see one of his dearest friends tortured. But Hezekiah refuses to surrender. Why? Because within Jerusalem’s wall is God’s Holy Temple and he chooses to die rather than let pagan soldiers defile the house of God. Things are very tense and King Hezekiah is waiting to hear back from Isaiah what the Lord says about what they should do. And let me tell you, I.AM.DYING to go to the Bible and read the end of the story!!!
Some of these authors do a wonderful job of researching historical details. I can learn so much about the context of the stories God included in His Word for us to read! The sleuthing I do nowadays is to listen to a book and then go find and read the Biblical text from which the skeleton of the plot is taken and enjoy how closely the author can weave the way she imagines those people to have been to the actual Word of God.
The best authors can also write their stories to carefully illustrate God’s truth that we should glean from His Word. I’ve noticed that as I hear these stories, I remember the Bible characters better. I rejoice when they make the right choices. I grieve when they stray from God’s will. I laugh and I cry and I praise God. Seriously, I actually caught myself starting to pray for one of the characters the other day before I realized that she lived thousands of years ago and is already home with the Father!
So. My dear mother-in-law was right. Submitting my leisure time to God has been enriching. If anything, it is even more precious to me than it was before, because it brings me real joy by drawing my heart closer to His. Isn’t that just God’s way? He will ask you for things, beloved. Things that you may not want to hand over. His way is always better. More joyful. Deeper.
If you want to get your feet wet in Biblical fiction, may I recommend One of Janette Oke’s more recent works, which she co-wrote with T.Davis Bunn? These books bring to vivid life stories of the early church just after the life of Christ.
Acts of Faith series
· The Centurion's Wife, 2009
· The Hidden Flame, January 2010
· The Damascus Way, 2011
Some of my favorite Christian Fiction Authors are:
Jamie Langston Turner for modern day stories of everyday (but inspiring) faith.
Jan Karon for stories that will make you laugh and cry in a peaceful small-town setting.
Francine Rivers for gripping stories (Biblical or straight fiction) that illustrate God’s truth.
Some of my favorite Biblical Fiction Authors are:
Lynn Austin who does a broad cross section of Biblical, Historical and straight fiction that all speak to God’s faithfulness.
Jannette Oke who does both Biblical and Christian fiction with a flair for holy romance.
T.Davis Bunn who is a prolific writer of all kinds of works from the Christian worldview.
I believe on Saturday our blog hosts will reveal some of their favorite Christian authors. I can’t wait to see their list!
Andrea Harper grew up in Longview, Texas and earned degrees from Southern Nazarene University and University of Texas Health Science Center before she was transplanted to Tennessee as she pursued a medical career in Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is a partner at the Woman’s Clinic, PA in Jackson, TN. With her husband Scott and daughter Darcy, she attends Cornerstone Community Church in Jackson. In her free time, when not reading, she likes to cook with her daughter, do paper piece quilting, and travel.
Love and Loss Through Adoption - Part Two
Our pile of ashes nearly smothered us in the months after losing our four month old adopted daughter, Quinn. The month of July seems like a hazy memory as we muddled through our new normal. In early August, we were presented with another adoption opportunity that met all of our criteria so we walked through the open door still bruised. Unbelievably, this door, like so many others, slammed shut. We are so accustomed to loss and pain, that our reaction was one of acute numbness. After dinner that night, I told my husband, Josiah, “I quit. I do not want to continue this journey. It’s over for us so please can we just stop this madness.” Josiah, though with sympathy, lovingly said, “No.”
Frustrated with his answer, I pressed him and told him that I was fresh out of perseverance. He then reminded me of how far, and how invested we’ve become. He challenged me to think about what quitting would look like and feel like. I knew he was right despite my weariness. I didn’t love the idea of pressing on, and all of the scriptures instructing me to press on with joy, seemed unattainable. In early August, we pursued another adoption with an older child and thought we had finally arrived. We heard from God so clearly, and again, everything aligned with what we were praying in light of scripture. Again, God closed the door through an unexpected series of events. We were left wondering, “God, where in the world are you?” We had just chosen to press on in faith; yet, you allowed more difficulty. We were left puzzled, but burdened to keep going despite all human logic.
As my birthday approached in mid-August, we decided to go to the mountains for a long weekend. While we went to celebrate and take time for ourselves, we also went to specifically pray Psalm 4:1, which says, “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” As we prayed and focused on having fun and relaxing, I kept repeating this verse over and over in my mind. In the mountains, I told God how weak, how tired and how desperate I felt. I remember having an odd peace while we were there. It was as if my mind, body and heart took a big breath of fresh air. I felt light and easy. Just 24 hours into our adoption reprieve, my sister-in-law called with a different sound in her voice. Then, we heard an unbelievable story that involved many people being in the right place at the right time.
Let me preface the story by saying that when you’ve endured the amount of trauma we’ve endured, you’re skeptical about everything. In this case, however, when Josiah and I hung up the phone while sitting in a parking lot, we said, “Well, this is random, and I wonder what God is telling us.” In true Josiah form, he went over the pros and cons, while I marveled at how God had seemingly responded to our mountain prayers. We tried to discern the Holy Spirit, and we were both concerned that our bleeding hearts couldn’t endure another path of brokenness. Time was not on our side, and decisions had to be made quickly.
Unbeknownst to us, God had been working behind the scenes as we cried out to Him in the mountains. God used several people to weave a story so completely from His hand that we’re all left saying, “Surely this is our God Isaiah 25:9.” In this story, there are hospital workers, an artist, unknowingly mutual friends, an attorney, and the Holy Spirit who wove Himself into the fabric of all of these lives on our behalf and in response to our cries. For us to reach our son, countless things had to fall perfectly into place. Only God could orchestrate and align events and people in such a way to bring beauty from ashes and joy from mourning. The Church, as you will later read, have navigated our sails in recent days. If I told you every single detail, every twist and turn of this story, you would get lost in its coincidental complexity, but ultimately, it comes down to this: “Every good and perfect gift comes from above James 1:17.” As a proud West Tennessean who has traveled across the county countless times pursuing adoption, God floored me when a healthy baby boy was born on August 23 in West Tennessee. I remember walking in the parking lot of this West Tennessee hospital laughing to myself at the sheer irony of being home in West Tennessee instead of far away. God was present in the details.
God had us right where He wanted us. He wanted us broken, bleeding, weak, and depleted. We began our journey on September 15, 2015, and have since endured six failed adoptions, including the devastating and legally unprecedented loss of Quinn, countless times of being not chosen, enormous adoption financial losses, emotional distress, physical exhaustion, and spiritual warfare. We had a choice to make. We had to decide whether to walk through this door that had opened so randomly or to let fear and the pain of the past dictate our future. Needless to say, we walked through the open door wondering what in world God was doing.
At first, it was easy to bask in the mindset of, “Wow, God answered our prayer!” But, as our entire journey has shown, God wanted more from us. How could God possibly want more from us? We had nothing left. Had we not endured enough? Why couldn’t He just allow us to enjoy the answered prayer with finality? Due to circumstances beyond our control, this placement involved multiple delays so we had to agree to take home our potential son in the interim. The thought of this made us both uneasy. While we had so much love and attention to give, we were nervous about letting him into our heart without having security. We lived this for over two months when Quinn’s uncertainty began so a few days didn’t seem too much to ask. But, it was too much to ask. We very quickly realized that within our own strength, we couldn’t travel this familiar road again. Luckily, when we are weak, His strength is made perfect 2 Corinthians 12:9. When we came home, it became clear just how raw we still were from Quinn’s loss because we had such little time to grieve. Attachment began quickly with our son, so with each delay, Satan had his way with fear. We learned that just because Satan had a doorway to our vulnerability, didn’t mean God’s people couldn’t push their fellow brother and sister in Christ through the fearful fight.
Josiah and I have been surrounded by about fifteen Kingdom Warriors, both friends and family alike, who have pushed us through the days of doubt. Only these faithful few knew about our son because we were trying to maintain privacy to ensure we would have a successful placement. We have been covered in prayer since August 23 when our son was played in our arms the morning he was born. There have been Kingdom Warriors who have prayed and fasted faithfully on our behalf. We have literally seen the Church function as a moving Body. We made it to this point because these Warriors prayed us through it, loved us through it, and encouraged us that victory was near. When our prayers were but a whisper, theirs were shouts.
Though it has been a whirlwind since August 23, I am so glad God wanted more from us even when we didn’t think we had more to give. We questioned why He wasn’t allowing it to be easy after having endured so much, but we can both say we’re thankful that God wanted more. I was reminded of a quote by Corrie Ten Boom I have in one of my journals that says, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.” Though we’ve spent two years in a pit, His love has been deeper still. We’re grateful that God is a jealous God that wants no one and nothing, including a tumultuous journey, to pull us away from His arms. He loves us just that much. He wants all of you. He wants all of me. He doesn’t want one inch of us to not be wholly His. When you allow yourself to be wholly His, He will transform your life allowing you to have joy unspeakable in the midst of inevitable suffering. When you are wholly His, you realize that He wants to be wholly yours.
At this point, we feel like the survivors from the front line of war duty. We have opened wounds, bandages, scars, holes and bruises. This journey has been frustrating, maddening, ridiculous, unfair, grief-filled, devastating, and emotional…but God. But God promises to restore us. He promises to bring beauty from our ashes. His Word says that “weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning Psalms 30:5.” Our weeping has lasted two long years, and I am sure there will be more weeping ahead since all Christ followers will walk through suffering, but we’re glad that we are made like Him in our suffering. Though weeping lies ahead, we need not be afraid. He’s already there. I remember thinking awhile back that if this road ever ended that there would be no way I could still love and trust God like I have tried to in the past. I felt that there had been too much hurt for me to still have Him as the love of my life. I had seen so many unanswered prayers and moments when His protection seemed nonexistent that loving Him like I always had seemed unlikely. I proved to be right, but not in the way I expected. I love Him more now than I ever have. He has broken my heart, but His heart has broken too as He has watched our suffering. “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him Job 13:15.”
We would like to introduce you to our forever son, Paladin Shepherd Britton. Paladin is a name from the fifteenth century meaning, “someone who fights for a cause.” We feel like our journey to Paladin has been nothing but a fight. As his parents, we vow to turn that fight into a fight of ensuring He knows and understands the transformative power of the Gospel. The kind of Gospel that brought us hope and healing when all seemed lost. We have committed ourselves to being Godly parents to Paladin, while still believing that God will use Quinn’s life for His glory and His good. We believe that Paladin will learn a lot about prayer through learning to pray for his heart sister. We look forward to what God will do by joining our family to Paladin’s birth family. Praying with his birth family at the hospital will forever be one of my most cherished moments in this life. You can never convince me that the Holy Spirit doesn’t dwell among us. He not only dwells, He engulfs and consumes. When that hospital prayer was uttered, every bone in my body felt His presence. We know that God never breaks our heart to bring us back the same.
Part 1 - "A Broken Hallelujah"
Love and Loss Through Adoption - Part One
If you aren’t prepared for a raw and vulnerable look at brokenness, do not proceed. If you aren’t ready to navigate your faith within the mess of life, do not proceed. Leaving church on a warm September Sunday morning in 2015, my husband, Josiah, and I knew the message of having radical faith was just for us. After many years of battling infertility, we were eager to begin the adoption process. As many of you know, from 2015 to 2017, brought immense difficulty. During those years, we experienced three failed adoptions. Two of those adoptions were after time was spent in the hospital holding our miracle. The third, though no less important, ended before we boarded a plane. These three adoptions were costly to us emotionally, financially, mentally, and spiritually. Then, in February of 2017, on one last leap of faith, we flew across the country to get our fourth miracle. Surely, this one would be forever. Now, four months later, our arms are empty, our hearts are bleeding, and our home is stricken with the pain of silence.
Here is where you need to stop reading if you cannot refrain from shaking your fist at God. I already know what you are thinking. Stop, take a moment, and choose to find Him in this story. We met our beloved Quinn in the wee morning hours of February 18, 2017 when she was just two days old. On February 20, she was signed into our custody and three days later we returned home to the warmest and most loving welcome that any child could possibly have.
Because of our past experiences, we, of course, had fears that would persist. When fears arose, Josiah and I would remind each other of God’s promises. Even to the unbeliever, Quinn’s story seemed to make perfect sense. On April 12, we were notified that Quinn’s birth father had decided to parent. He began doing all of the necessary legal steps in spite of his previous poor choices. Our agency and the agency’s attorney had proof that her birth father knew of Quinn’s birth and chose to do nothing.
For the remainder of April until June 20, we had to continue to parent Quinn with a heavy cloud looming above. When we think of those months of parenting with the looming cloud overhead, we can take no credit. We’d always known that God gives grace, but only until recently have we really understood just how extensive His grace is. By His grace, we were able to parent her while knowing she could easily be taken. In those months, we never thought she’d be taken so we loved harder, prayed harder, and held her a little longer. After all, she was God’s fulfilled promise to us. We felt confident so we only shared the legal battle with my brother and sister-in-law who have always been mentors to Josiah and I.
When things became more legally unsettling, we took the advice of our attorney and agency and flew across the country for the fifth time, which includes previous adoptions, to stand before a judge and plead our case. On June 20, we walked into a crowded waiting room at a courthouse far from home. In a last attempt to reach an agreement before standing in front of a judge, we sat down and talked with the birth father and his family along with our attorney and agency. Pleasantries were exchanged, and then the tough talk began. We saw a young man with three of his relatives, including his own mother. As much as we communicated, shared, poured our hearts out, the birth father wanted more. As I looked up and saw Quinn’s birth grandmother cry into tissues, I knew this was something bigger than Josiah and I. When it became clear the birth family was firm, the court session began.
As we waited in a small, stuffy room for what seemed like eternity, Josiah and I said nothing to each other. I closed my eyes and prayed claiming every promise in God’s Word that was applicable to the situation we were in. Later, our agency worker and attorney returned to the room looking ashen pale. The judge had ruled that Quinn be returned to her birth family immediately. It seemed like you could knock our attorney over with a feather. In his twenty-some years of practice, he had never witnessed a judge make such a hasty decision especially given all the evidence that was reviewed. Through tears, our agency worker, whom we’ve grown to love, explained to us again what this verdict meant. In denial, I asked, “Ok, so how long will Quinn be gone?” Both she and the attorney replied, “indefinitely.” At this moment, I was confident that death would surely be soon for me. It was too much to endure.
As the agency worker began making preparations for someone to fly Quinn back to her birth state, the heat outside weighed heavy just like our grief. Once confirmation was given that an agency worker would fly to Nashville to pick up Quinn the next day, we asked the agency to contact the birth mother to have a meeting. Legally, the birth mother had to be notified of what had occurred. Josiah and I drove away from the courthouse feeling like death. Driving down a busy freeway, I buried my face in my hands, while screaming that I didn’t know how to give my baby back. Josiah, my rock of wisdom and strength, said through his own tears, “Sarah Beth, at least we can know that we’ve tried everything, at least we can know that we’ve been faithful, that we’ve glorified God in the process. I want to lay my head down at night knowing we did everything.”
Calling my brother and sister-in-law who had been keeping Quinn during our trip was nearly impossible. They were given the impossible task of explaining to their own two children that Quinn would be going away. They were also given the impossible task of bringing Quinn to the airport. My brother, mustering all the strength he had, told his two children, who adored Quinn, and prepared for the airport the next day. After that phone call, Josiah and I met Quinn’s birth mother for the first time and met her birth grandmother for the second time. Upon seeing Quinn’s birth mom, I opened my arms and we embraced. I saw a confused and torn young person. This meeting included the agency workers and the attorney. Much was discussed, questions were asked, and information was dissected. It was quickly apparent that although the birth mother and grandmother loved us, they were sympathetic of the birth father.
The attorney discussed heavy issues concerning how things would proceed with the birth father. At the heaviest moment, I asked everyone to stop talking and give me the floor. With Josiah beside me, I explained the prayers Josiah and I had prayed all these months, I explained just how certain he and I were that all this, no matter the mess of it, was supposed to happen. Ultimately, I explained that our hope is in something greater and that the pain this situation was going to cause would be impossible to endure without our faith. After some silence, the meeting essentially ended with our attorney speaking to us privately about the little chance of fighting this successfully we had. This was especially true after hearing both sides of the birth family.
Little sleep came to Josiah and I that night as we prepared to say goodbye to Quinn the next day at the Nashville airport. What are you supposed to say to each other on a long flight home knowing your life is about to be turned upside down…again. We really said nothing other than an occasional, “Are you ok?” With the answer already known, we just stared straight ahead preparing to say goodbye to that sweet face we’d loved from the day she was born. Upon landing, we notified the agency worker where to meet us at the airport for the hand-off. When we approached my brother and sister-in-law sitting with Quinn in the waiting area, we could barely breathe. As tears hit like bullets, Josiah took Quinn from my sister-in-law’s arms and we took her into a private family bathroom and locked the door. We kissed Quinn, told her how much we loved her, and how much we would pray for her. Josiah lifted her up to play “airplane” one more time. Laughing and grinning, Quinn looked at us both. In that bathroom, agony, grief and pain were palpable. Josiah handed her to me, and I embraced her and placed her close to my chest where she laid for so many months. I wanted her to feel my heartbeat one more time.
Walking back to where we would hand her off to the agency worker was torture. I was unable to speak so my sister-in-law explained Quinn’s schedule to her, gave her enough supplies to make the trip, and packed her up. After one last kiss, we walked away. As my sister-in-law pushed an empty stroller beside me, we walked away in silence in the midst of sickening grief.
What now? Yes, we can fight this legal issue. However, we are not fighting it for two primary reasons. First, the judge reviewed most of our evidence in court on June 20. The judge was certainly unmoved by any of it. Secondly and most importantly, when Quinn grew older and began asking questions like any healthy adopted child would, we would have to explain to her that her birth father wanted her and came for her, but we wanted her too so we fought and took her away from him. As parents, Josiah and I could not do that and did not think it would be healthy for Quinn. This reason is similar to the story of King Solomon in the book of 1 Kings chapter 3 where he threatens to cut the baby in half to settle a dispute between two women arguing who the real mother was. The real mother wanted no harm to the baby. We want Quinn’s best interest to prevail.
At this point, you may have burning questions as to why the legal system did this or that, or why we did not do this or that, or why the agency did or did not do something. But, the more important burning questions to ask are those of what God is doing. All of us will experience suffering in our life. For us, it feels like suffering is unbalanced. We see others become parents so easily. We see adoptions unfold perfectly. We see others advance, gain, or receive, while we’re left picking up our shattered pieces. It is so easy to want to look up, shake your fist at heaven and question the goodness of God. We must guard our grief. We’re able to guard our grief when we remember that we have a High Priest who makes intercession for us, who sympathizes with our weaknesses, who has been through more than we’ve been through, and who can format mercy to fit our needs. Hebrews 4: 14-16 The day after losing Quinn my devotional said, “It is impossible to thank Him and curse Him at the same time.” Although difficult, we choose to thank Him.
Why this? Every night before putting Quinn to sleep, Josiah and I would lay her down on our bed as we kneeled with our hands on her and asked God to intervene on our behalf. We claimed His promises, we quoted scripture, and we refused to doubt or to fear. In fact, before walking into court on June 20, Josiah and I prayed asking the Holy Spirit to dwell among us and to intervene. Each time I kissed Quinn goodnight in her sweet slumber and uttered, “In Jesus name, allow us to parent this child,” God heard me. But, he didn’t allow us to parent her forever. We prayed all things in Jesus’ name knowing His Word tells us that if we do so, He’ll grant our request. But, He didn’t grant our request. He didn’t give us the outcome we wanted. The notebook of scriptures I read that morning out loud to the both of us in the hotel room didn’t work the way we thought they would or should. Why? Why has God removed Quinn from a home whose primary goal was to raise her to know the transformative power of the Gospel? She will have her needs met in her new home, and she will be loved. However, we don’t know if she will be exposed to the Gospel. Why has God allowed us to go through the absolutely painful period of suffering that we’ve endured since 2015 on our journey to adopt? Why did he allow years of infertility prior to 2015? Why has He allowed our financial resources for adoption to be totally depleted?
Where from? All believers know their help comes from the Lord. It is basic doctrinal knowledge. Until you are in the midst of pain and suffering, it doesn’t register completely. There is absolutely no way we could have journeyed this far without a supernatural strength from above. Although we do have a High Priest who knows our plight, we are still faced with the task to endure. All believers know God gives grace. Again, it is basic doctrinal knowledge. It is only by God’s magnificent grace that we were able to parent in such uncertainty. It was grace that allowed us to handle a courtroom. It was grace that allowed us to scoop up our child and tell her goodbye in a bathroom just to walk away and see strangers scolding or carrying a child they have no idea how fortunate they are to have. We loved Quinn with all we had. She was the joy, light and love of our lives. Walking that airport hallway to give her away was just an ounce of the pain that God experienced when His son, innocent and holy, walked up the hill of Golgotha to be crucified for you and me. Jesus lived 33 years, and Quinn lived with us for exactly four months.
Though my pain is incredibly incomparable to His, we have a new appreciation of what God did for us by giving us His son. When we arrived home, we felt a pain that I wish on no one. I went straight to her nursery and grabbed her favorite pacifier. Then, I grabbed the pajamas she had just been wearing and inhaled her sweet smell. She is gone. We are broken and shattered, but not without hope and grace. It’s grace that helped us walk into our home full of Quinn’s things. Her nursery, her clothes in the laundry room, her pictures on the wall. Though our home is empty, our hearts are not.
I know you’re thinking why would a good, loving God do this to people? God didn’t want this to happen, but we live in a fallen, broken world. He didn’t take joy in watching us walk away from our baby in an airport. He doesn’t take joy in the tears flowing as I type this. He did allow it, but we can rest assured that what He does is always for our good and for His glory. Quinn’s story is horribly painful, but her story will reach many lives. As my brother told me, “Quinn’s story will point others to the Gospel.” My human side is tired of losing so others can learn. However, it is not my place to know why or to understand. It’s just our job to trust. God doesn’t break our hearts to bring them back the same. Josiah and I are far from perfect. We’re a mess each day, but I can tell you this experience has changed our hearts, and we hope our hearts look more like His.
What we need?
First, use our story to evaluate your own life. Do you have enough grasp on God and His Word to weather the storm you will inevitably face? Let our story motivate you to be ever ready to praise Him, thank Him, and worship Him when you really want to shake your fist at heaven.
Secondly, don’t interact with us as if Quinn never existed. She isn’t a taboo topic. She has part of our heart forever and ever.
Third, share our story to whomever, whenever, or however. This is your permission to do so. We’ve vowed to speak out on all God has and will continue to do through this journey.
Fourth, please filter your questions and assumptions. Please try not to assume that a person or an agency dropped the ball. Though we’ll always speak of Quinn with love and fondness, please don’t ask questions that you really do not have to know the answer to. Some of you might think that this is the exact reason we shouldn’t have posted pictures of Quinn on social media. We disagree. We felt that by not doing so we were limiting God. We embraced her as ours for forever from moment one. We trusted Him to bring her to us, and we trusted Him to keep her with us.
Fifth, use our story to encourage you to take risks. Be willing to take risks and to be hurt. If you want great things in your life, you have to be willing to get hurt.
Lastly, pray for us as we try to determine what is next for us. We know that God has called us to be parents, but at this point, we are depleted of all resources to make adoption possible. It is uncomfortable to discuss how much we’ve lost since 2015, but just know it is enormous. Pray that God will make a way. He is good and faithful.
Thank you all in advance for your thoughts and prayers. The prayers of those who have known this story before now have given us so much strength. God’s presence has been so evident and the prayers of His people have been so palpable in our lives. They have carried us, and will continue to carry us. Though Quinn isn’t near, she is part of us. Because we are children of the most high King, He is near to us in this hour of darkness and for all eternity.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Part 2 - Beauty From Ashes
Hebrews 11:1 reminds us, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” So much of our lives as Christians involves the things that are unseen; the feeling of God moving through a worship service, the silent prayer you whisper over a friend or family member in need, or the emotion you feel when a sermon truly speaks straight to your heart. However, my prayer for you in this writing is to speak openly and honestly about a way that you can display your faith that is seen; your money.
Did your heart just sink a little? If so, I totally understand your hesitation! Can’t we just focus our hearts and minds on God and worship in a way that isn’t as tangible as reaching into our wallets? As a worship pastor’s wife, I love to witness the beautiful demonstration of our faith when we offer up our worship to God through song. But as an economics professor, I also feel an awesome responsibility to apply biblical wisdom to the study of my favorite subject, and it is clear to me that offerings of money are also beautiful acts of worship.
There are many worthy ways of giving our money to God’s kingdom. For example, you can donate to a family in need, you can sponsor a child in Africa, you can pledge to support the building fund at your local church, or you can drop a twenty in the plate during the offering. However, I believe that God calls us to much more than random acts of giving; we can worship through consistent, intentional, and proportional tithes and offerings.
I’ve always known that giving money was an important part of the worship experience. Growing up in a tiny Southern Baptist church, I was the designated “penny march” leader each Sunday as I walked up and down the aisles collecting spare change from the congregation to donate to the local children’s home. (I was awarded this distinction as one of the two children who attended the church.) When I was ten years old, I competed in Bible drills at my church, diligently memorizing the following verses from Malachi 3 which address tithing: “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings….Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”
As a teenager, I heard testimonies of church members who tithed faithfully, and I witnessed my own parents write checks to the church even during months where money was not as plentiful. However, only when I got married did I fully begin to appreciate the profound responsibility and blessing that comes from giving and tithing.
Tithing refers to giving a portion (often one-tenth) of one’s income or property. Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizidek (see Genesis 14) and Jacob promised God, “of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee” (see Genesis 28). A tithe of one-tenth of crops and animals was required according to Mosaic law.
We now live under the New Covenant. Even though tithing is not specifically commanded in the New Testament, Christ serves as a model of giving that we should seek to emulate: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). In addition to the sacrificial giving of Christ, the New Testament is actually filled with financial wisdom regarding giving. Jesus alludes to the principle of giving in proportion to what one has when he says, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48) In Luke 11, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for tithing to the letter of the law (even right down to their kitchen spices!) while ignoring compassion and mercy. Mark 12 tells the story of the widow who gave generously despite her poverty. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 reminds us that “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
From these verses, I am compelled to believe that we should give generously and joyfully back to God. Rather than seeing tithing as a rule to be followed, we should approach it as a way of furthering God’s kingdom and as a way of acknowledging that God is the giver of every good and perfect gift. Psalm 24:1 says “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” This verse tells us that God owns everything, including our money. Giving to His church and His kingdom is the least we can do to thank Him for His provision. Sadly, many Christian families are missing out on the blessing that is tithing. According to Christianity Today, only 10-25% of the average congregation tithes. Tithing helps to support our churches and mission work around the world, but it is also a way God involves us in His plan of redemption.
What should a tithe look like in your life? I urge you to consider tithing consistently, intentionally, and proportionally. Consistent giving implies that a portion of each paycheck is given to the church. Giving intentionally means that you give to God first, before considering other needs, rather than giving God what is left at the end of the month. You should also question whether your giving is proportional to your income. In this way, “he who has been given much” gives more.
So, am I advising that you give one-tenth of your income to the church? The amount should ultimately be determined by listening to God as He speaks to you in your unique situation. Ten percent may be too little!
If you need some practical advice on how to begin tithing, you might use a strategy that I suggest to my students. Begin your monthly budget by writing down your monthly income. Below this, write down every way that you need/choose to spend that money. The very first line of spending that you list, however, should be the amount you have chosen to give to God. If you do this, the black and white contrast of what God has given you and what you are giving to Him may cause you to adjust your giving habits.
As Malachi 3 suggests, tithing is one way that I have been able to see God richly pour out a blessing over my life. It has strengthened my marriage and given me a healthier perspective on spending than I otherwise would have. I hope you will consider worshipping God not just in the unseen places of your heart and mind, but also through tithes and offerings of your money.
Colene Trent, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Economics in the McAfee School of Business at Union University. At Union, she teaches classes in microeconomics, international economics, managerial economics, managerial finance, and personal financial management. She enjoys ministering to students through economics, and she loves encouraging them as they prepare for their future careers. Colene serves on the worship team of her church alongside her husband, David, who is the worship pastor and a singer-songwriter. Colene serves as the director of the Miss Tennessee Iris Princess Program, a mentoring program for young girls, so she loves all things that sparkle. When she isn’t teaching, you will likely find her completing a Pinterest-inspired DIY project.