Maybe someday this post will turn into an entire book, but for now I want to briefly share with you some encouragement. I’m writing quickly as I get ready to walk out the door for a much needed movie date, so forgive me for any less than eloquent speech. But as you walk through suffering in your own life, may you consider this.


Sometimes a blow in life is so devastating that it actually feels unreal. That you will wake up the next morning and discover it was just a bad dream. That this cannot actually be your life. That when you type the words or talk about your story or speak of it out loud, it truly feels like you’re talking about someone else. That it is not actually real.

As I was having those same thoughts today, it struck me: It’s because it’s not. We treat our temporary earthly home as our permanent dwelling, thinking of Heaven only in the ethereal sweet “by-and-by.” As if Heaven is the fantasy and life here is reality. As if eternity is only to be imagined, but life here on this planet is actual. As if in Heaven we will exist in a dream-like trance, while on Earth we feel everything concretely.

Heaven

But we’re wrong. Dead wrong. This place is not our home. What we experience here (while sometimes having eternal impact or consequences) is only the precursor. The preparation. The precession.

And while we can sing about eternity, believe in Heaven, and read about our citizenship being elsewhere, we often live, act, and react as if this place is the end-all be-all. As a citizen of another kingdom, I must act accordingly, not just in my behavior, but in my approach to the temporary nature of this life. For “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20, NIV).

What does that look like, though, as far as suffering? To have our citizenship elsewhere? To live on this planet but live for eternity elsewhere?

It means simply this: That we can rise above what seems unreal, because it is. Life on Earth is not reality. It’s merely a fog. It’s but a poor precursor to reality. 

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. -1 Corinthians 13:12, NIV

What we know now and feel now and experience now is only what we can know in part. It is not the full reality. The picture isn’t clear yet. We see only in silhouette.

silhouettes

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. -2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV

As you face whatever suffering or hardships have come your way, may you keep this in mind. May you remember that this life is not the reality. That our citizenship is elsewhere. That your living nightmare that feels unreal actually is. Pain will dissolve. Betrayals will end. Forsaken ones will be received. And everything will be worth it. All of it.

Because in the end of this earthly life, real life truly begins.

Therefore, we can rise above. Even when life is a very, very bad dream. We choose to focus on what’s real.

Until then and then every day after, Jesus.

 

Like anyone who grew up singing along with the original Annie, reenacting flips into laundry baskets, climbing up ladders to escape Miss Hannigan and Rooster, and trying to make things levitate like Punjab—you all did do that, right?, I eagerly anticipated the release of the remake of Annie. Actually, scratch that, to be honest, I cringed when I first heard about the new version, because you sometimes just shouldn’t mess with a classic. (See: Karate Kid, Flubber, and Planet of the Apes. Lord bless.)

But when I first watched the preview a couple months back, saw the cast (hello, brown girl in the lead? yes, please), heard some of the music, and witnessed my own 10-year-old adopted daughter’s excitement over it all, I joined in the gleedom.

However, I held my anticipation with a bit of reserve, since (like most adoptive parents) we know that certain encounters and experiences can be painful triggers for our adopted kiddos. (Baby pictures school projects, anyone? Ugh.)

At the same time, though, these emotionally challenging experiences can sometimes serve as excellent springboards for much needed and meaningful conversations with those same kids if we frame them appropriately and prepare our children properly.

For those reasons, I decided that I would preview Annie before letting most of my adopted children see it. Last night, I took my 15-year-old daughter, Bethlehem, as well as my mom and 12-year-old biological daughter, Izzy, to a late showing. (We were the only people in the whole theater…holla!) I chose to bring Bethlehem because I knew that she would be able to offer a unique perspective from the angle of a well adjusted adoptee.

Bethlehem Annie

From a Well-Adjusted 15-year-old:

Bethlehem was only eight years old when she became our forever daughter, so she’s spent nearly half of her life as our daughter. In other words, she’s had a long time to grieve, process, adjust, and make sense of her life story. And in those areas, she’s done amazingly well. She’s a best case scenario for older child adoption. Besides that, though, Bethlehem is also extremely insightful and amazingly mature for her age. She understands the emotional depths of complex situations and circumstances. I asked her to sit down and offer her take on Annie as she experienced it. I’m including some of her review below:

The movie Annie was indeed an emotional yet uplifting movie. Yes, we all want to be loved by our parents, especially our birth parents, just like Annie did. But since I am an older adopted girl, I try to look at it (life) through another lens. To be honest, I did feel that emotion at the opening song at the beginning of the movie (during the songMaybe”). I can completely understand the feeling of abandonment that your birth parents created. At the same time, the things that seem really bad at first turn out for good. Yet again, I believe I feel this way because I’m an older adopted child and well adjusted. I can’t imagine being young, just adopted, or not well adjusted yet with your new family and watching this movie. I would probably have a mixture of many negative feelings and fantasies to fill in what’s missing.

As Bethlehem shared, the movie is probably perfectly wonderful and uplifting for well adjusted adopted children. But for foster kids without permanent families, adopted children who have not adjusted well (or at all), those kids who have attachment issues, and anyone with very real painful memories of being in an orphanage, difficult foster home, or group home, the movie might include too many triggers that make it not worth it, despite the amazing soundtrack and likable cast. But keep reading…

From a Healing 10-year-old, our very own “Annie”

After having viewed the movie myself, I took my most recently adopted daughter, Simona, who joined our family in July 2012, to see Annie. (Yep, I’ve already seen it twice! Lucky me!) She’s been listening to the soundtrack for weeks, but had never seen the original (a movie only a couple of our adopted kids have been allowed to watch). She had no prior reference for the movie, but I knew that it included numerous possible triggers for her emotionally. You see, she is our Annie. So much of the storyline mimics her own rough road to get to our family, her own hard-knock life. I knew it could be painful for her (and me) to watch and remember.

Simona Annie

Aside from a couple of tears during the first song (but who DIDN’T cry in that one?), she absolutely loved the entire movie. She was beaming. For kids who have been there done that, the movie is far more real but also far more meaningful. While another child might simply enjoy the singing and dancing and hilarious moments, an adopted child with her own history of pain and redemption will actually understand it. And because they can understand it, they might actually appreciate it all the more when Annie’s “tomorrow” finally comes true.

After the closing credits, I talked with Simona about the film and her feelings throughout it. I was surprised that nothing triggered painful memories in her. Rather, she described how she was sad for the kids in the foster home, since they didn’t have families, and not for herself anymore. She explained how it made her tear up when Miss Hannigan was so mean to the girls, because “kids in orphanages have already had enough sad in them.” Well said.

Simona continued on, “I think that people should take their kids to see this movie, because they can see how it was in the orphanage when they (their kids) were there” and also because “the kids can see how they are free now to do so much more stuff.” It’s interesting that Simona saw this movie much more as a learning lesson for adoptive parents, and not just for kids like herself. Adopted kids, like any kids, just want to be understood, to be heard. Simona feels that Annie can be a vehicle to help adoptive parents toward that end. And I would have to wholeheartedly agree. And I would add, for those kiddos who, like Simona, sometimes have a hard time trusting their adopted parents’ love, this movie can give them a visual to help them see that it’s real, it’s genuine, it’s tangible, and it’s not going anywhere. I am particularly thankful for that aspect of Annie.

And as for me…

From the getgo, I was struck by how emotionally heavy the movie was for me as the adoptive mom. Having adopted only older children (between the ages of 3 to 13 upon joining our family), I know all too well the very real pain my children experienced longing for a family to come for them (and believing, like the character Pepper does, that they probably never will—”I’m almost 13. No one wants to adopt a teenager.”) I have heard my oldest son recount how he prayed day and night for parents to come for him. I have listened as Bethlehem shares how she followed visitors around the orphanage, dreaming of them taking her home as their daughter. I have sat and wiped the tears of my kids as they have talked about how sad and lonely and scary it was to not know what your future would hold, if you would ever have a mom or dad again. I wept throughout the first full song (“Maybe”) as Annie and her foster sisters sang longingly about their wishes for parents:

So maybe now it’s time,
And maybe when I wake
They’ll be there calling me “Baby”
Maybe.

I met our first children (our first adopted sibling set of three) in an orphanage before we ever knew they would become ours. I witnessed for myself their very real desperation for a family, the very real “maybe” that they expressed with their eyes, wondering if just maybe you would say yes to them. Just maybe. So this opening song, while gorgeous, well arranged, and beautifully and creatively sung, invoked streams of tears that I could not stop. It was poignant. Kids without parents actually do dream of parents, actually do yearn for them, actually do imagine them coming for them one day. And that little bit of maybe is a whole lot of hope that gives them just enough breath to make it through another day. The tragedy is when those maybes turn into probably nevers. Because maybe no one really cares anyway. Maybe.

From the first scene, I felt very intensely that old, familiar tug on my heartstrings as I recalled with freshness what compelled us to adopt in the first place. I began to yearn to open my home to more kids, as I can’t ignore the real cries of kids who are singing their own silent Maybe. I was reminded how it’s so easy to simply feel pity for orphans and foster kids without actually realizing that you hold the hope to their despair. It’s too easy to just ignore the reality that millions of kids desperately crave families without opening your heart to the truth that you might be that family. Annie triggered fresh feelings in me about my family, the path we’ve walked, and why we initially set out to do what we do. And it compelled me to consider that maybe we’re just not done. Maybe.

So in that regard, I found Annie to be extremely pro-adoption, very motivating, and very inspiring as a real course of action for millions of parents who I hope will consider the call and say YES. Like Annie says, “I think when people say no, they’re really afraid of saying yes.” Perhaps this movie will discourage that fear and encourage that YES.

Annie reminds us that adoption isn’t just impacting to the child adopted; adoption changes US as the parents. It molds us into someone we never knew we could be. And it shows us what we never knew we were missing.

Besides the possible triggers from Miss Hannigan’s treatment of Annie, my greatest hesitation with letting my adopted children see Annie was that it would intensify and even encourage any birth parent fantasies to which they still hold. I have held a certain daughter during full-on rages while she screams from her depths from the primal wound of abandonment by her birth mother, believing that her birth mom made an enormous and fateful mistake by relinquishing her. (“Their one mistake was giving up me,” as Annie sings in “Maybe.”) I have read between the lines with another daughter to see that she still holds onto an impossible idea that her birth mom can just come and live with us. This birth parent fantasy doesn’t affect all adopted children, but for those it does, this movie might be a trigger. And this is a legitimate concern.

BUT Annie is such a pro-adoptive family movie, that I personally believe any birth parent fantasies will be diminished by seeing the love and completeness of family when William Stacks (the Daddy Warbucks figure) and Annie come together at last. Their portrayal of the love between the adoptive parents and child was spot on. Though I (of all people) realize that adoption isn’t so cleancut and simple, it is still beautiful, and the closing scene perfectly expressed that. “Together forever” is what parentless children long for.

I share sentiments with Bethlehem and Simona, who both said that even though the movie has sad parts, there is such a happy ending it makes the sad parts okay. Adoption, even despite its difficult moments, seasons, or years, is a happy ending (and beginning) for millions of children. I personally found this movie to be refreshing in its positive portrayal of older child adoption, a reality thousands joyfully experience every year.

I particularly appreciated that this movie normalizes our adopted kiddos instead of making them out to be some kind of freaks who will never fit in with friends and family. They just want what all kids want, and Annie very appropriately demonstrates that truth without an excess of exaggeration, sap, or sobbing. I felt proud to be an adoptive mom and very thankful that we chose this road, even with its difficulties and heartaches. Family is a beautiful thing, and I’m thankful for these kids that God chose to end up in mine.

Yada Yada Yada, Just shoot me straight.

All in all, it’s well worth the splurge to take your family, adoptive or not. It truly is a feel good movie and super fun to watch. The choreography is fantastic. You’ll want to get up and dance throughout. (Don’t worry; I saved that for the closing credits.) In addition, I personally think they did a splendid job blending together elements of the old with a touch of modernity to create something new without straying too far from the classic.

The majority of adopted kids will find it to be a positive experience, while some will simply need to briefly reconcile their thoughts afterward in a conversation with their parents. A very few should avoid it altogether, but I trust that adoptive parents know their own well enough to make that determination themselves.

A+, Annie, and to the writers, director, producers, songwriters, musicians, choreographers, and cast. Thanks for the reminder that the sun does indeed come out tomorrow, for us and our adopted kiddos. I will definitely be taking some of my other children to see it again, and I hope and pray it spurs others to consider saying YES to all of the precious “Annies” out there just waiting for tomorrow. Now what are you waiting for? Let’s go to the movies!

 

A silent night. All is calm. No crying he makes. The festive carols, living nativities, and pristine paintings on Christmas cards of a halo-ed Mary kneeling calmly by a sweetly sleeping babe on a rather neatly arranged bed of hay while everyone within a ten-foot radius dons a well-lit halo and solemn smile. Christmas as we imagine it. Christmas as we have been told. Serene. Pristine. Religious. And perfectly, improperly sanitized. Because Jesus didn’t come that way. Jesus didn’t tip-toe in with an other-worldly tranquility. No, Jesus came enshrouded in afterbirth. Evidence of pain survived, but proof of promises kept. God Himself. In a screaming, bloody mess.

Of course, such a notion sounds sacrilegious at first reading. “That’s my LORD and SAVIOR Jesus Christ you’re talking about here! Why, He’s the King of Kings! The spotless Lamb of God!” Yes. And yet He left Heaven and all things safe and sanctified, demolishing for a moment all limitations of Time and Space, to enter our time and our space with all of its limitations. Abandoning eternity for a sure-bet, painful rendezvous with humanity. Its hardships. Its hazards. Its hell. The whole of it.

Immanuel. God with us. Electing to enter our earthly existence in a most unexpected and completely illogical manner. Because it doesn’t make sense at all. God, the Creator of the Universe, the Orderer of every subatomic speck, the very source of all reason and science and logic and the original cause for every effect, shouldn’t stoop to such depths. But He did. Even though it is goes against all reason.

But it’s Who He Is. He shows up where there’s a mess. He comes on the scene when nothing makes sense. He arrives in chaos. He turns up when all is upside-down. And He comes in lowly conditions that defy the logical expectation that the King of All Kings should enter the scene as anything but a celebrated, respected regal figure with all the world at his feet. He comes.

Jesus comes in a mess. He comes through the virgin canal of a fragile, teenage girl whose reputation was as tattered as her threadbare clothes. He comes amidst the groans of a laboring young woman enduring contraction after hard-as-hell contraction. He comes hearing the screams of a mother in agony as his little, round head batters her tiny frame. He wriggles and writhes into our troposphere, enshrouded in afterbirth and squinting in the light. A bloody mess. Skin purpling. Gasping for air. He comes. God with us.

Jesus comes Dominic birth

He comes, defying the seemingly impossible, forcing us to ask how in the finite world could a Limitless God ever reduce Himself to the body of an infant, binding His Eternal Self in sweat-prone skin and fragile flesh? And why? But “Nothing is impossible with God” wasn’t just a reassuring promise to a frightened fifteen-year-old who at least momentarily struggled to believe that God could bring new life from her untouched womb. Ironically but triumphantly, Nothing is Impossible for God offers the only logical explanation for Him entering our space, our time, our messes. For what seems impossible and nonsensical to us, is exactly Who He Is for us.

He comes. Not clothed with dignity or the regalia of a King, but naked and vulnerable and dependent. Like us. For even as that moments-old newborn gasped for air in a makeshift, messy shelter, we gasp just the same in our broken, fragile states. Waiting for Jesus to show up. To breathe life. To inhale our air and exhale His hope. And just as He inhaled His first breath as a bloody mess, He exhaled His last enshrouded the same. A bloody mess. He comes. In a mess. In our mess. For our mess. He comes.

Yet how we confuse the reality. We look for Him in the pristine chapels, the put-together people, the prosperous, the popular, the pretty, the poetic. We convince ourselves that His favor rests exclusively on the wealthy and well-to-do. That the successful have His certain, special touch. That the serene is where we should find Him. We fight against our present, pain-filled circumstances, yearning for Him to be found where we actually don’t even need Him.

And it’s funny that we are uncomfortable with pain, when our Savior entered through it. We look down upon those in unseemly circumstances, when His very mother delivered Him through them. And we weep in the midst of our loneliness, when Jesus was promised to reveal Himself amidst it.

But if Christmas teaches us nothing else at all, it’s that Jesus comes in the season of the broken spirit. He shows up when life is chaotic. He is there when nothing makes sense. He enters our lives even as the whole world exits. He chooses our presence when we need His the most. We feel Him in our heartache. We see Him in our darkness. And we encounter Him on the loneliest of roads in the scariest of places on the worst of the worst of our days.

He comes in our mess. He comes in yours. He comes in mine. And just as He did in that otherwise insignificant village of Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago, He chooses to enter our world in the seemingly unlikely in the middle of stress and pain and mess.

Jesus. God with us. Enshrouded in the blood of humanity. Coming in the basest of ways. Arriving in the most tenuous of times.

So, my fellow Reluctantly Messy Friends enshrouded in our own messy realities, may we take this most miraculous story we’ve been told our entire lives, the true tale of a Virgin birth that has been repeated countless times, and let us strip it of its sanitized serenity that was never meant to be infused in the first place. Let us stop singing about the First Noel with an air of sterility when the Savior of the World was born where cows lie and all the foulness that implies.

May we stop pining for a more fitting day to encounter Him, convincing ourselves that Jesus is waiting for us there when we will (supposedly) have it all together while failing to realize that HE.IS.ALREADY.HERE when we absolutely don’t.

May we yearn for Him in the here and now where He most assuredly already is. May we understand that our pain is His invitation.

Are you looking for Jesus in the worst of ways? Begging Him to come when it doesn’t seem possible? Dying for Him to show up? Yearning for Him to JUST. BE. NEAR? Me too.

But He is.

For Jesus comes. Joy. To our world. In our bloody, screaming mess.