Day 7: The Black Sheep Made White

Day 7:

Today, let’s look at the black sheep of the family.  Rahab.  Did you know that God chose a prostitute to be in the lineage of Jesus?  How did she come to be a prostitute anyway?

Was it love for her family that plunged her into this hopeless lifestyle?

Did she need to provide for them?

Were they starving before she made the decision to sacrifice her purity?

Was it for love that she slid into the murky water of sin, drowning on their behalf?

We won’t know these answers this side of heaven, but my guess is based on what I have seen in others like her.  No one leads such a desperate, hopeless life unless they feel they have no other choice.  Maybe that is the only way she could think of to deal with her hardships.

But then the holy spies came.  When she saw and believed the truth, it sparked the hope that perhaps there was another way.  Perhaps deliverance could come to lift her out of the dirty water of life in which she was slowly drowning.  She had heard the stories.

She had heard how the Lord had dried up another dirty body of water, the Red Sea.

She had heard about all the other miracles as well.

She thought that if their God could do something as impossible as those miracles, maybe the favor of that God could dry up her own helpless situation, and she too could walk away on dry land.

Maybe she wouldn’t drown after all.

Maybe He could deliver her from the desperate life that held her captive.

Can you relate to her situation?  Have you ever felt trapped in a sinful existence?  Maybe there are reasons why—maybe life seems to have dealt an unfair hand to you.  Regardless of all of the reasons you are there, regardless of where you try to place the blame, the fact is you are trapped.  You are now a prisoner to a life of sin or depression or hardship, and it appears there is nothing you can possibly do about it.  But listen very carefully.  I have good news for you.

In Isaiah 61:1-3, we find this prophecy of the coming Savior.  Jesus declared in his first sermon that He was the fulfillment of the prophecy and I can testify that He has done this in my life:


            The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,

              because the LORD has anointed me

              to preach good news to the poor.

            He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

             to proclaim freedom for the captives

             and release from darkness for the prisoners,

            to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor

             and the day of vengeance of our God,

            to comfort all who mourn,

             and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

            to bestow on them a crown of beauty

             instead of ashes,

            the oil of joy

             instead of mourning,

            and a garment of praise

             instead of a spirit of despair.

            They will be called oaks of righteousness,

             a planting of the LORD

            for the display of his splendor.


What if you have already found the Deliverer, as I have?

Where does that leave you in your responsibilities to others who are still drowning and trapped?

Can you allow the Holy Spirit to use you to spark hope, even if it is only through your presence?  As Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.”  Please don’t give up on people.  Please don’t assume that you or anyone else is too far-gone.  Sometimes those who appear furthest away are really the ones closest to the cross, just a step away from accepting the love of the Savior.


Update 2014:

Since we have just returned from China a few weeks ago, I am afraid that all of my updates will evolve around what I have learned or am learning through that experience.  Today, I have my children’s birthmothers on my mind and in my heart.  I pray for them all the time.  I can only imagine the pain they endured which led to the decision to give up their children.  I don’t judge them.  I am not mad at them.  I am so, so grateful to them.  I am so grateful that they carried my children for nine months so that I could carry them in my heart forever.

I have a picture in my mind when I pray for them.  I see us in heaven.  I see us embracing our children, the two mothers together.  I so want this picture to be reality one day.  I pray for a Christian to come to them and share the gospel with them.  To share the truth that because of Christ’s finished work on the cross, they too, can be forgiven and redeemed and restored.  They are not too far-gone.

Sometimes those who appear furthest away are really the ones closest to the cross, just a step away from accepting the love of the Savior.

Update 2017:


Day 6: Your Finding Spot

Day 6:

Today, let’s move on up the family line and take a look at another woman in the lineage of Jesus.  This woman was actually adopted into the family, and her name is Ruth.  Ruth was actually a daughter in law of Naomi.  Naomi adopted Ruth as her own when both of her sons and her husband died.  Did you know that in biblical times under Jewish law, if you adopted a child, you could never disown them, unlike a biological child?  Naomi gave Ruth the chance to walk away from the family and stay with her own foreign family, but Ruth chose to go with Naomi.  She is known for her loyalty in action and in words.  She boldly said, “I will go where you go, your people will be my people, your God will be my God.”  This foreign, adopted daughter became the wife of Boaz and the great-grandmother of King David, all in the family line of the Savior of the world.  My heart is very moved by adoption stories, as it is a vital part of my own story.  We have a beautiful Asian adopted daughter named Sally, and we are in the process of adopting a precious Asian son named Charlie.

Recently, I was following a blog of a woman who was in China picking up her adopted son.  Two days after the Gotcha Day, they traveled to the exact spot where her son was abandoned, on a busy street in front of a convenience store.  I started to cry when I pulled up the picture, because that is similar to my own children’s story.  Discarded, abandoned, left in a random, dangerous place as newborns unable to do anything about it.  But as I continued to read the blog, I noticed that she did not call this spot his “abandonment spot”, she called it his “finding spot”.  I wept long and hard when I read that.  Think about it, that place of being abandoned was really that place of being found.  And we were all orphans before being adopted into the family of God.  I once was lost, but now I am found!  In the same way, our lost spots are really found spots, our sad spots are our spots of comfort, our weak spots are really spots of His strength being revealed.  First Peter 2:9 tells us that we are adopted by God as heirs:  We did not receive a spirit of fear but of Sonship and by that we cry Abba Father—Daddy!  We are chosen not abandoned.  How fitting for their to be an adopted foreigner in the lineage of Jesus!

As I think of my own babies, born in rough conditions, I praise God once again for the setting He chose for the birth of His Son.  A dirty stable, with only a feeding trough for a bed.  Prickly hay on which His holy head lay. Cast aside because there was no room for Him.  And yet, in those rough conditions, came the One who would make our rough places smooth.  The One that would right all our wrongs.  The One that would make all things new.

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
    along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
    and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
    I will not forsake them.  

                               Isaiah 42:16

Update 2014:

When I wrote that this time last year, we were still in the midst of the adoption process.  As you all know by now, we survived it and are home!  We, too, had the opportunity to go to Charlie’s Finding Spot.  It was a very profound moment.  I am sure I will write about it further, but for now I will give you a picture.  It is a picture of redemption.  It is a picture of reclaiming hope when the world thought you had no hope.  It is a picture of love and calling and joy and answered prayers.  This is our Finding Spot.  Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!


Update 2017:

This time last year, Last year, Sally had to dress up as a biblical character for a school program. Sally brought home her assignment and I discovered that she had chosen to be Ruth.  This fact was supposed to remain a secret to the rest of the class.  We prepared a costume and a riddle, so the other children could guess her character.   This was her riddle:

I came from a foreign land.

I have a new family.

I told my new family, “I will go where you go, your people will be my people,                               your God will be my God.”

Who am I?

As I watched her ask this riddle in front of the class, my eyes filled with tears.  Yes, my people are her people, and more importantly, even at age 7 she has already chosen my God to be her God.  I praise him each day for this indescribable gift!  Oh, and by the way, my Sally’s full name is Sara Ruth Berry.






Day 5: This Time Praise the Lord


Day 5:

Today we will look at Leah.  If you participated in the Thoroughly Equipped Bible Study, this will be a repeat for you.  I just can’t get Leah off my mind, and a review of God’s masterful design in the tapestry of her life is something that I need to meditate on over and over.  I hope that is true for you, too!

When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, He enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Genesis 29:31, NIV

We must take note of the three simple words in this verse that are filled with truth and meaning:  “the Lord saw.”  He saw the situation clearly—all the ins and outs, hurt and deceit, bitterness and pain, complicated family dynamics.  He saw it all.  And He understood it all.  He came to the rescue with great blessing and comfort, but Leah didn’t seem to recognize it.  Just like us, Leah’s obsession with what she did not have overruled her enjoyment and acknowledgment of what she did have.  We have a framed picture in our rec room which states:  Contentment is not the fulfillment of what we want, but it is the realization of what we already have. Contentment is a struggle for most of us at some time or another.  We pick up on Leah’s deep discontentment by looking at what she named her children.

Her first-born she named Reuben, which meant  “It is because the Lord has seen my misery.  Surely my husband will love me now.” (Genesis 29:32)

Her second born was named Simeon, which meant  “Because the Lord heard that I am unloved, he gave me this one, too.” (Genesis 29:33)

She named another son, Levi, saying, “At last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” (Genesis 29:34) But it was not to be.  The focus of these children was not the children, but the focus was trying to win Jacob’s love.  How sad is that?!  Then throw in a bitter sister, Rachel, who had the love that Leah so desperately wanted, but didn’t have the children that Leah had.  I suspect that both would have traded places with the other, so desperate was their longing for what they didn’t have.

We all know the story.  God did give Rachel children eventually, both physically and through her servant.  One of her sons, Joseph, was greatly used to fulfill the plan of God on behalf of His people.  But the struggle continued between the sisters, back and forth, child after child.  In my Sunday School knowledge of Leah, that is where I had always left her:  still in the struggle.  But if we take the time to study just a little bit, we find that Leah wasn’t so forgotten after all.  God was orchestrating a great plan and legacy for Leah.  The forgotten one, in the end, was the matriarch.  The ugly duckling may not have changed physically, but in the spiritual realm she was greatly honored even above the beautiful Rachel.

How do we know this?  Because of the generations that came through her.  It was through Leah that the Levites, the holy priests of the Lord, came.  And most importantly, it was through Leah that Jesus came.  In Genesis 29:35 we find that she had momentary peace when she gave birth to her fourth son.  She named him Judah, which means “This time I will praise the Lord.”  Period.  She basically said, “I will just praise God, without trying to change my circumstances, without trying to make things good and right, without trying to win love.  I will just praise.”  I believe this peace and praise came because deep in her spirit the Lord was whispering, “With this One, I will make all things new.” And so it was.  It was through Judah that Jesus, the Savior, was born.

Even after Judah, Leah struggled back and forth with her desire for human love.  But in the end, it was Leah that was buried next to Jacob, just as Isaac was buried with Rebekah and Abraham was buried with Sarah.  God saw.  And He did something about it.  And though it took time to see, He was working all along the way.

Where are you today?  Do you relate with Leah’s struggle?  Do you want something you can’t seem to obtain?  Do you struggle with making idols out of good, God-given things, forgetting that the true God is the giver of those things?  Do you feel unloved and misunderstood?  God sees.  He sees all the complexities of your life and He understands.  So like Leah, when she got a tiny glimpse of the Savior to come, why don’t you say, “This time, I will praise the Lord.”

Praise has great power.  Angels surround the Throne of God in constant praise saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty; Who was and is and is to come.”  Let’s praise Him like that, no matter our circumstances, trusting that He sees and has done something about it.  That is why God sent His Son.

Update 2014:

This Christmas season has been unique in that I am not really stressed.  I can’t understand it.  I haven’t even started my Christmas cards. I have not even come close to being finished with my shopping. I haven’t delivered my annual gifts to my neighbors. I haven’t gotten teacher gifts yet. I haven’t planned or bought or cooked for holiday meals.  And I know myself…that should stress me out.  But I am not stressed.  Not worried about it at all.  I will get it all done–probably–well, maybe.  But even if I don’t, it just doesn’t matter.  What has changed me?  Well, I suppose I am seeing things differently.

I am just so grateful to be home, to be with my family, to have our son home–finally.  I am grateful that he can walk–and run, and climb, and go up the stairs, and back down the stairs.  I am grateful that he smiles–all the time.  I am grateful that I hear him laugh–alot.  I am grateful that he seems so comfortable here, as if he knows deep down that he was always supposed to be here–that he belongs here.  I am grateful that he sleeps through the night–and when he wakes up he calls for “Mama!!!!”  I am grateful for my wonderful husband who is still my best friend.  I am grateful that he still makes me laugh–everyday–after 23 years of marriage.  I am grateful for my five biological kids who have been more than willing to share their parents and resources and attention with two adoptive kids.  I am grateful that they adore those two kids as much as I do.  I am grateful that Sally has a brother to grow up with.  I am grateful for my Lord, who orchestrates my life and that HIs plans are for good and not for evil–even when the days are hard.  So, I guess the only difference between this year and other stress-filled Christmas seasons is this:  I am grateful this year.  What are you grateful for?

Update 2017:

A couple of weeks ago, I was alone in the car driving to Oxford to meet my son who is a freshman in college.  We had been listening to a scripture memory CD in the car, and the music is so good, I often listen to it, even if the little kids are not in the car with me.  Such was the case on this day.  The song was word for word of Isaiah 6:1-3.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train[a] of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”[b]

These words are also referred to in Revelation, and I have always used them as a way to praise God.  And so they should be.  In prayer, repeat those words and you will feel your spirit revived.  But on this day, I began concentrating on the words so much that I missed my turn and went 30 minutes in the wrong direction!  What had captured my attention so much?  It was a simple phrase that I had never noticed before:  “And one called to another and said:  “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord…”  One called to another.  These words of praise were not only directed to the Worthy One, but they were directed to each other as a means of awe-inspired truth and encouragement.  I don’t know why that hit me so strongly, but tears poured down my cheeks as I thought about it.  Over the past two weeks, I have found myself telling this truth to my friends, saying, “Hey, Robin!  Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts!”  “Hey, Debbie, don’t forget!  Holy, holy, holy is the Lord!”  This time of year, especially, as we celebrate his birth on earth, let’s call out to each other this holy truth!  Call someone today  and remind them that He is holy, He is in control, He is God and we are not, He is Redeemer, He is Comforter, He is the Lover of our Souls!

Day 4: My Redeemer Lives

Day 4:

One thing that is consistent in the holidays for most of us is family.  I see more family members during December than any other month.  We have a tradition in our family that we all show up in my hometown on the night of the Christmas parade.  Cousins come from Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and even Virginia or California.  It is great fun.  Some of these family members I know very well, some I barely know.  However, we are family.  Some of these family members look like me, act like me and think like me.  Some do not.  The holidays often have underlying joy and tension in dealing with family.  I am sure some of you can relate.

Jesus Himself had quite an interesting family.

Today I want to take a peek at some of the unique individuals who made up the family tree of the Savior of the world.  You would think that His family would be perfect.  You would think that His family would be problem-free.  You would think that His family would all get along and love each other and help each other and enjoy each other.

But the family line of Jesus was not unlike our own family lines and I want to take a look at a few of the individuals to see to whom we can relate.

Look at just a few of the Characters in the Sometimes-Dysfunctional-Family-Life of Jesus.

Tamar:  had a child by her father-in-law

Rahab: was a Canaanite prostitute

Ruth: a Moabite foreigner who came to Boaz in the cover of night

Bathsheba: the wife of Uriah who engaged in adultery with David

Mary: conceived a child while only engaged to Joseph

The family history of Jesus was not clean, scandal-free, or uncomplicated.  The people that God chose to bring about the reality of the Son of God, the Perfect Savior of the World, were not perfect themselves.  The lineage that brought about the Redeemer, needed to be Redeemed.  Somehow that is a comfort to my soul.  Imperfection does not disqualify us from being used of God.  Nothing in our past, no secret sin, no public scandal can keep us from the Redeeming Hand of the Lover of our Souls.  But we must surrender to Him.  We must believe that He IS able to keep us from falling.  He IS able to make straight the crooked mess of our lives.  The little baby born in a humble stable came to save us from ourselves.

For the next couple of days, we will take a closer look at some of the people who made up the family lineage of Jesus.  But today, I want you to praise God for your family, not matter how complicated and complex they are.  Today, know that our Redeemer lives.

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth.           Job 19:25


Update 2014:

When we were in China, I had a dear friend text me this verse:  “God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.”  Psalm 68:6.  Though I had read this verse many times, it was so moving to read again as I held my newly adopted son.  I could only smile as I thought of what awaited him when we returned to the States.  What a fun, crazy, loud experience he was about to have.  A big, imperfect family who loved him with all of their hearts.  The orphanage, the loneliness, the neglect–all prisons of sorts–were behind him now.  God had set him free.  God had placed him in our family.  And I was filled with joy.  We can reach out to others and offer ourselves as family to them.  We don’t have to be perfect.  We just have to point them to the One who is.

Update 2017:

You may have heard me tell this story before, but I remember it every Christmas.

I was 8 ½ years old when my brother, Martin, was born.  I felt like he was my baby.  I bathed, dressed, and fed him.  I have always adored him.

I vividly remember that one Christmas, my dad wanted to give him a very, special present.  He wanted to build him a tree house.  He worked on it every night for weeks.  He would go outside after Martin had gone to bed and begin the difficult work of measuring, sawing, nailing, and sanding.  He very much wanted to keep the end result as a surprise, so each night he would tear down what he had built.

It was as if he were creating a giant puzzle.  He would create the pieces, make sure they all fit together, then take it apart until the next day when he would create more pieces, make sure they all fit together, and then take it apart again.  Over and over, night after night.

On Christmas Eve, he put all of the puzzle pieces in place, and then he put them together securely, one last time.  And then he added one more thing:  a very long string that tied to the tree house, traveled through the backyard, into the house, through the den, and attached on the other end to a wrapped gift.  This gift was set aside from the others, waiting for the perfect time to reveal its surprise.

On Christmas morning, we all enjoyed the chaos of opening presents, oohing and aahing over what we had received.  Finally, the time for the big reveal had come.  This was the last present to be opened, and though it was not for me, it is the only one I remember from that Christmas.

I can still clearly see in my mind’s eye, Martin’s face as he began following the string.   He was still in footie pajamas, and my mother had insisted that he add his big puffy coat on top.  We all followed behind as he followed the string to the tree house.  It was a little boy’s dream-come-true.

Sometimes there are seasons in our lives when we feel that we are being torn down over and over again.  It is a long, painful process.  But if we understand that God is our Everlasting Father, we will realize that each time we are torn down, He is using that as a puzzle piece in a great creation.  We must trust Him as the Perfect Father, knowing that He will never allow anything to happen to us that can’t be worked for our good.  He is creating a masterpiece out of the pieces of our lives.  We must trust the love of our Everlasting Father.

Day 3: Light of the World

Day 3:

A man sat in a room with many others, working diligently on his assigned job.  Hour after hour he sat, working and thinking.   He thought of his family far away from him.  He thought of his friends and all the memories they had made together.  He thought of his small, secret congregation and hoped that they would be protected from the punishment that he endured in this prison.

As he sat working and thinking, the irony of his job suddenly became clear.  He was in this place at this time because he dared to preach the truth.  In his country, the truth of Jesus was told in secrecy.  The government did not want the light of Christ to shine on the oppressed people.  But here he sat in prison, forced to work on exports that the government assigned him.

What was his particular job?  Making Christmas lights, which would be shipped all other the world, especially to countries that experienced freedom of religion, unlike he and his congregation.  He smiled as he realized that in his suffering he could actually send light to the world.  He could help others remember the birth of his Savior, he could help others celebrate the “good news of great joy” that the angel had announced to the shepherds so many years ago.

He sat in a room with many others, working diligently and thanking his Savior for the privilege of serving.

This is a true story, which I heard while visiting a spiritually oppressed country in Asia.  I heard it from the man himself, now released from prison, still preaching as before.  As he spoke, I saw joy.

When I returned to the States, I wasn’t sure I would be able to put up Christmas lights.  It made me sick to think that oppressed Christians may have assembled my own Christmas lights.  But then, I thought of the joy I saw on the man’s face.  And I decided that I would put up my lights and lots of them.  And I would use those lights as a reminder to pray for the oppressed Christians of the world and as a reminder of my First Love, the Light of the World.

Update 2014:

As many of you know, we just returned from China with our new son, Charlie.  He is 2 and 1/2 and full of joy and energy.  He could not be cuter.  And he is our Miracle Boy, too, in so many ways.  Last week, we took our two youngest, both adopted from China, to see the Christmas lights.  This will be Sally’s third Christmas with us, and though the lights were familiar to her, the excitement was still over the top.  Charlie, on the other hand, has never seen anything like it.  As Sally squealed and clapped, Charlie looked out the window with his tiny mouth hanging open, literally.  He barely moved.  He kept staring, with his mouth open and his eyes wide, as the lights twinkled in time to programmed music.  The owner of the house was adjusting a section that was not working properly and I could imagine the frustration he was feeling.  However, we rolled down the window to say thank you and to explain the joy that he had brought to my children.  I hope he realized that even if my two were the only ones to see his display, it was worth the effort, so great was their joy.  Make today count, my friends, even if it only affects a few.  Blessings!

Update 2017:

This week, as I hung the Christmas lights, I once again thought about the man  I met in China.  I always picture him in that dark, damp prison, working on those tiny lights.  I have had a particularly hard time this year with my lights.  Namely, them not working properly.  Several times I have had to deal with part of the string of lights not working, while the other part still does.  So, there have been several ways to fix that:

  1. Just hide the part that is not working.  I have tucked them deep in the tree and tried to cover them up with ribbon or ornaments.
  2. Jiggle it at just the right angle and sometimes they will miraculously come back on.
  3. Realize that it is time to pivot. Start fresh with a new set of lights.

As I tried these three strategies, I realized that we do the same sometimes with the Light inside of us.  We hide the parts that are dim; we cover that part up, hoping no one will notice.  Or we need a jiggle to get our Light to shine more brightly.  For me, that comes in the form of much-need time alone with the Lord.  Or sometimes He will use an aptly appointed sermon or word from a friend or even a worship song that revives my spirit and fans into a brighter flame the Light inside of me.  Or, sometimes I need to start fresh. I need to rid myself of the things that have snuffed out my Light…stress, people-pleasing, lack of rest, overt and covert sin…  In those times, I remember that He, the Light of the World. the Light that causes me to shine…He makes all things new.  Praise Him!