One thing I've learned about God through the years is that He is lovingly persistent. He never gives up on anyone, and
He never "leaves well enough alone", which means He is also continually pressing us into situations where we can grow.
Often these situations are ones which call us out of ourselves, which challenge us to serve others, to be His hands and feet,
to love deeply and boldly and sacrificially. Today I've invited Katie Artz to share how God has been growing her in this way.
My name is Katie Artz. Sara and I have been friends for a few years now, and her friendship and wisdom have blessed me beyond words. I confess I wasn’t sure what to write about when Sara asked me to contribute, and I felt nervous. After thinking and praying, I just decided to write about my present struggle and God’s work in it.
As Sara said in her intro, "God is lovingly present and never gives up on anyone, and He never leaves well enough alone." This has been very true of God in my own little life. You see, three years ago, God rocked our world by calling us to adopt. It was a call that terrified me to my core. We had already been blessed with two daughters at the time, and the entire idea of adopting sounded scary and uncontrollable. Not good for a control freak like myself. After a time of putting this call on the backburner of life and telling God I was too scared to do it, my husband and I decided to trust God and go. We began the adoption process from China. In the midst of that two-year process, God surprised us with another blessing, a third biological daughter. At the end of our adoption process, God surprised us yet again by clearly showing us that our fourth daughter, Hannah, was different than what we thought she was going to be. She was older and had more involved special needs than we were originally planning on. We were scared, but decided God wanted us to trust Him. Hannah has been home for 15 months now. God is not only healing her, but also healing each one of us.
Through Hannah’s adoption process, God gently had my world of general wealth and comfort surrounded by people who were mostly like me collide with Hannah’s world of poverty, abandonment, neglect, and pain. Not only Hannah, but the hundreds of other orphans that she was with. I saw them, looked in their eyes, read about what little was known of their stories, and came face to face with a kind of pain and hardship that I was not experiencing in my own life. It had become personal now, and it broke me in a good way.
Little did I know, God was only getting started in my ”breaking down and rebuilding process.” Almost a year after Hannah arrived home, my husband took a new job in Memphis, TN. Off to Memphis we moved, in September of 2014.
Memphis is not like any other place I have lived. Memphis can feel so broken with its high poverty, crime, educational inequality, and racial issues. However, I am learning that with this hurt comes an abundant beauty when different worlds collide, which can be a daily occurrence in Memphis if you want it to be. The rich and the poor are neighbors. It seems that the rich and the poor are worlds apart but they live only blocks apart all over this city.
Adoption, and now living in Memphis, has caused me to wrestle through many questions with God. One of the main questions being: as a Christ follower, how do I respond to all the hurt I see and have seen?
I do not have the answers to all of my questions, but God gave me a start when He led me to the following verses. I am still learning exactly what these verses mean for me in my day-to-day life.
Then Jesus said to His disciples: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”
Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
And He gave me this word: ENGAGE
God has been faithful to give me opportunities to engage in my daily, ordinary “stay-at-home-mom, teacher-to-4-girls, and wife-to-awesome-husband” life. For example, as we turn into our Memphis church parking lot, we pass through a homeless community living under a viaduct. On the corner sits Isaac. The first day we met Isaac he was sitting on the corner where our car was stopped at a light holding a sign that said, “hungry.” (Now, let’s get this straight, I am pathetic at starting interactions with people who are different from me. It is sad, but oh so true. But God says, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness. I am taking God up on this promise.)
I made eye contact with Isaac. He smiled. I started to cry. I realized we had no food or water to give him. We only had money. I briefly reviewed everything I had heard about giving homeless people money.
“Don’t give them money, they will just buy alcohol with it.”
I decided I didn’t care what he did with my money because my job was to engage. Nathan rolled the window down, we said our hellos, and gave him the money. His eyes welled up with tears and his smile could have lit a room. We drove away. Our girls begged us to go back and invite him to church. So we drove back around and invited him to church with us. He said, “No, thank you.” I couldn’t blame him for not wanting to join us at church. Could I imagine walking into a church off the streets seeing others with clean clothes on, showered, and fed? I know I would feel awkward or embarrassed. I totally get that.
I got to wondering: wouldn’t it be so amazing if church wasn’t the only place to experience Jesus? Is it, though? What if Jesus came to us? But He did! He did come to us. It began to hit me: Jesus came to us. He walked into our mess. He didn’t protect Himself from it. Slowly, I am beginning to connect the dots as God gently brings me outside my box, showing me that following Him means I take up my cross in my everyday life to be used by Him in all places, not just within my church.
Jesus came to us. To engage means that through Him, I go to people. Not just people like me. I cross racial, socioeconomic, and language barriers. I cross neighborhoods, even countries. I engage with them. I love them. I feed them. I give when they have a need I can meet with no strings attached. I share my house. I intentionally form relationship with them. I welcome them. I acknowledge them. I see them. I listen to them. I do not judge. I love because that is what my Savior does for me. I serve because that is what He modeled for me.
Every Sunday we have been going to visit Isaac. We bring him a hot lunch and lots of water and sweet tea (it is the South, for pete’s sake!) We are slowly, and a bit less awkwardly now, getting to know each other. We get excited to see one another! There is waving and smiling and laughing. He has such a joyful spirit.
Our girls wanted to get Isaac a Christmas gift, as we first met him right before Christmas. We decided to get him the warmest socks we could find. Grace and Sophia, my two oldest, ages 7 and 8, wrapped his gift and addressed it. This is what the tag said:
To: Our Friend. Merry Christmas
Love, Mommy, Daddy, Grace, Sophia, Hannah and Emma
I almost cried when I saw the tag. To: Our Friend. I love that that is the name they gave Isaac. Our friend. Not the homeless man. Not the man without teeth. Our friend….because that is what Isaac is becoming. When two worlds collide, beauty awaits. God is teaching me many, many things through Hannah and through Isaac and through Memphis. One being that He is everywhere, and there is no limit to where His love will take me to be His hands and feet, and two that God’s kingdom and God’s family spans every nation, every race, every tongue, every tribe, and every socioeconomic status and that diversity is a secret gem in the beauty of the Kingdom of Heaven and bears witness to the power and miraculousness of our God to bring us together, despite our differences, as one under Him.
Engage! Be intentional about it.
These are the lessons I am learning as God teaches me ever so gently and lovingly who He is and who I am in Him and how that plays out in my day-to-day life of following Him wherever He calls.