Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sermon: The Satisfaction of Surrender

The master story tellers at Pixar made an amazing short Christmas special this year called Toy Story That Time Forgot. In this film they illustrated one of the basic and yet hardest concepts of Christian faith so incredibly. In the film, the toys are living with Bonnie, and she has a triceratops toy named Trixie. Bonnie plays with Trixie all the time, but not as a dinosaur, sometimes she is a horse or an alien or a reindeer, but never an actual dinosaur. Trixie starts to get really frustrated by this, after all it seems like she was created to be a dinosaur, and all the other toys, even Slinky Dog and Buzz Lightyear have been pretend dinosaurs. After Christmas Bonnie takes her toys over to a friend’s house. The friend has just received a whole set of battle dinosaurs, that he hasn’t even touched because he has been preoccupied with a new video game system. Bonnie joins him playing video games and her toys start to explore the dino world and Trixie is excited to finally get to play as a dinosaur. They soon find out that these dinosaur toys have never been played with at all and don’t understand that they are toys. She thinks she will finally get to fulfill her destiny.

We often feel like there is something we are meant to be, to be happy or to be our true selves don’t we? We strive to do and get new things to make us happy and give us the life we want. Oprah even has a new tour, the Life You Want Tour.

We lose ourselves in that pursuit of comfort sometimes, in the pursuit of having the life we think we are supposed to have. Living in this country it’s easy to do, there is the idea of the American Dream that we think we have to have or deserve to have. A certain sized family, house, cars, savings account, retirement fund etc. While those things aren’t inherently bad they can at times eclipse the real purpose of our lives; who we are made to be as followers of Jesus. A woman named Jennie Allen describes it in her book, Anything. She had all those things, a house in a safe neighborhood with good schools, a full two car garage, all the little comforts, and she started to become disillusioned with it all, she felt God calling her out of it. She said this, “It’s too easy in this country for blessings to become rights, for stuff and money to become what calls the shots in our lives and before we know it, God’s gifts have replaced God himself.”

We replace our passion for God and for others with the passion for acquiring and protecting this dream. These things, these parts of our life that we do desperately want to have and want to bring us peace, can’t do that. The reality is they can all slip through our hands at any moment, really. In the last decade we have seen people that have built careers, pension accounts, equity in their houses only to have them all slip away when things crashed. None of them are as secure and as satisfying as we think they are, but like Trixie we think that is what we are supposed to have and if that is what we have we will really be happy. Jennie Allen found that she wasn’t happy. She sums it up so well in her book, Anything, “We all want joy, passion, love and peace, instead we are marked by fear insecurity, apathy and restlessness.”

In the Toy Story Special, Trixie finds this to be true as well. The Battlesaurs are just dinosaurs, not reindeer or unicorns. No one has ever played with them and infused them with imagination and wonder of something more. They are so focused though, they are missing out, and they can’t accept Bonnie’s toys. They mock them because they are owned, and have to submit to someone. The leader of the Battlesaurs is threatened by Bonnie’s toys and decides they need to be destroyed. To save them Trixie has to convince one of the Battlesaurs to put himself in the hands of a child and accept that he belongs to someone, and can be something more if he allows himself to be played with. Trixie realizes that she is more and her life is better when she submits to Bonnie. There is a pivotal scene where she is trying to convince him of this. She tells him he needs to trust his child, and she tells him all the things he can be, all those things she used to think weren’t good enough. He needs to let go, and he does. The Battlesaur says, “it’s all about surrender” and falls into the hands of a child. Surrender is a hard word for us. We don’t want to submit, or yield anything, especially our stuff, our hopes, our dreams, our will. Things are so tailored to us as individuals right now, that we have a huge problem even submitting bits of our comfort. Fights have broken out on airlines recently over little devices that prevent someone from reclining the seat in front of you. Neither person is willing to yield their personal space for the comfort of another.

In this passage of Matthew 16:24-28, Peter is restless, like Jennie Allen described. God has just told him he will be the rock on which Jesus will build the church, he should be excited, satisfied to be given this position. As Jesus begins to describe how Jesus himself will have to suffer and die before being resurrected, Peter freaks out. This is too much, this is too uncomfortable, this cannot be how things will be done. Peter doesn’t want to suffer, or have Jesus suffer, he doesn’t want to sacrifice, but Jesus tells him, we read it earlier, but here it is from the message. “Self help is no help at all, Self sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want and lose your soul? “ (Message version of verse 24).

Jesus himself sacrificed and suffered for us. He gave up his comfort, his place, his perfection. That is what he calls us to as well. He calls us to lose our lives for him. But he promises that in this we will find our trues selves. Over and over again in scripture Jesus warns us that we will have to give up our personal comfort, stuff, family, our ideas of what is right, our ideas of other people and more for him, but in return we will have life in abundance, our true heart’s desire, salvation, love, grace, purpose, the ability to be a part of something so amazing.

The Toy Story storytellers nailed this. Trixie thought her life would be fulfilled if she could finally be a dinosaur, because that is what she was supposed to be right? But she learned that it was in surrendering that to Bonnie, and playing at whatever Bonnie decided to make her that she was truly happy. It’s in the surrender, as she taught her friend.

Are we willing to do that though, are we willing to fly that white flag, and say, not my will but yours be done, as Jesus said in the garden the night before he was crucified? Are we willing to pray to God, Anything, take anything, as Jennie Allen and her husband did one day? Are we willing to spend our days pursuing what God would have us do instead of what we are worried about and what we want, even if it means we might not be comfortable? Are we willing to take that risk?

I have been thinking a lot about surrender lately as we have been on this journey toward surrogacy. I promise I won’t talk about it in every sermon for the next nine months, but it’s so raw and so fresh right now, and such a part of a big journey God has us on. This couple has surrendered their embryos to a laboratory, and now to us. They have to give up that baby, and allow us to care for it. They have to sit back right now and let us take over. I can’t imagine. It was hard enough to surrender our kids to daycare and babysitters, let alone, let them live with someone else for nine months, trusting their decisions. It’s not comfortable, yet if they don’t do this, they have no chance of bringing this life into the world, they would miss out on a child and a sibling for their son.

What adventures do we miss out on, because we are holding on too tightly or too worried about things that don’t matter, when we should be focusing on what matters most to God? Are we so worried about achieving comfort and security that we won’t take any risk with God?

When I first started telling people about my plans to be a gestational surrogate, people brought up every fear that had been nagging at my brain. A lot of them had to do with my vanity. What would happen to my body, what if I gained a lot of weight and couldn’t lose it because I was older. That was a huge fear for me. Then there were questions of the emotional toll, bonding with a baby and then giving the baby to its parents. Then there were questions about enduring the sickness and the fatigue. The more people asked though, the more my fear dissolved, because when I heard it from their mouths instead of my own thoughts, it sounded more ridiculous. It really did. I thought, seriously, I would let these things stand in the way of helping someone bring a kid into the world? I would let these stop me from loving my neighbor? They seemed so selfish, and so inconsequential. Jesus gave his life; I could give my vanity, my comfort and some emotional sacrifice.

It’s been uncomfortable. It’s hard to tell people you are doing this, it was hard to tell all of you. I am sure people are judging me, and thinking this is silly, especially when I tell them it’s my way of trying to follow Jesus and obey him. It’s hard as someone that hates medicines and putting stuff in my body to suddenly be taking handfuls of things and injections everyday. It’s been emotional already, and we just transferred the embryo on Thursday. There is huge risk still, this is not a healthy, viable pregnancy yet and it’s far from over, but we have already found so much reward, so much adventure. We have great new friends in the intended parents. We have learned a lot about our own family and how we communicate, we are connecting better and talking more. We are more grateful for the things and people we have in our life. I am starting to get less worried about the small stuff. I am relying more fully on God to get me through everyday. Instead of waking up and praying through my worries, I am waking up and asking God to give me strength to serve him better, and show me how to love those around me. I am a work in progress, but at least I am making progress. I feel tired, but I feel so alive and infused with purpose and presence. I feel inspired and invigorated in new ways.

When we step out and surrender to God, we are more dependent on him. We have to pray more frequently, we have to rely more on him then ourselves, we see him out in his word more, and we get to see him at work. We get to see him up close, and that is awesome.

There are so many stories in the Bible of people who were asked to risk it all with God. Abraham was asked to sacrifice his child, but God himself came and stopped it. Noah had to build a floating zoo and saw God’s creation close up and personal, but also saw God provide and act in big ways. Mary risked her life, to bring Jesus into the world and treasured it all in her heart. The disciples left their fishing and Pharisee careers behind and were a part of miracles. They all were mocked, they all were frustrated, they all suffered, but they all experienced the presence and power of God.

One of the people that really inspired Jennie Allen to pray and offer everything and tell God he could have anything was Katie Davis. Sylvia has talked about Katie and we had her books, Kisses for Katie for sale at the gifts fair. Katie was a Tennessee teenager that had it all. She lived in a big house in a fancy neighborhood, had a convertible, was homecoming queen, had a boyfriend. She could afford to, and would be accepted at any college she wanted to go to. She was all prepared to get herself a piece of the American Dream as an adult. Katie went on a mission trip to Uganda during Christmas Break of her senior year though, and those ideas of what she should be were shattered. Her heart broke for the poor and the orphans of Uganda, and she decided to take a break and not attend college right away and spend a year serving there instead. That year has turned into a lifetime calling now. Katie tried to go back, she tried to go to college and get her piece of that “good life” but her heart took her back to Uganda. Now at 23 she is the mother to fourteen girls and runs Amazima ministries, which feeds and provides education to thousands of kids in Uganda. She found happiness unmatched by anything she had in America, by surrendering to what God wanted for her life and allowing him to use her as he saw fit. She is the Mother Theresa for a new generation and she has grown to know God in such deep and intimate ways.

We need to start seeing our lives as less about our comfort and our success, what we think would be good, and more about what God sees, how we can bring his kingdom here to earth. John talked last week about Proverbs 3:5-6 and trusting God, putting our future in his hands. We need to put today in his hands, we need to offer up everything and see what he can do with it.

Who knows where he will take us, what he will do. Not everyone will get called to Africa, but you might get called to new people, new adventures, new opportunities that you never dreamed of. It requires obedience. It requires surrender. These things may be mocked by our society, obedience and surrender. We value individuality and fame and fortune above all else. We have to die to ourselves everyday, and in the most mundane ways sometimes to allow God to really work in our lives. We have to serve the people in our house well, before we can hope to serve others. It might be in the everyday things, that you are called to serve. Can you use your home to host your neighbors, or your car to help someone out? Your daily interactions with your kids to help them understand the love of Jesus and share that with others? At school, maybe you need to branch out and try new groups of friends or new classes, where God has a whole new opportunity. Maybe you need to spend less time on social media and more time hanging out with people, talking to them face to face. Oh the horror of small talk!! Maybe it’s a more basic car, so you can free up some money to give to something that builds God’s kingdom, or maybe it’s learning to just be content with what you already have. Maybe it’s sacrificing the comfort of a night or weekend off and volunteering somewhere. Maybe somewhere you would never have gone before, maybe youth group at the Open Door or a homeless ministry, or a hospital ministry, a prison ministry. What are you willing to risk, what are you willing to surrender?

We have to be willing to die to our own selfishness everyday. Challenge your insecurities, look at what you worry about the most or hold the most dear and see how those places, those things, those people can be given over to God. If you take them out of God’s hands and put it in God’s what is the worst that can happen? God promises you and abundant life, he promises you love, and grace, mercy, and that things will go well with you. Maybe not your definition of well, but his, and he has way bigger, way better ideas than you. After all he is the guy that created sunsets, and the platypus. And if you want to see something mind blowing I can show you a picture of a six day old, microscopic embryo that hopefully in nine months will become a seven-pound baby.

God is amazing, and he can make every part of your life so much more amazing if you just surrender to him. It may not be the life you thought you wanted or needed, but it will be the life you were meant truly meant to have with God.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Hitchhiker Adventures #1: that crazy click clack point of the roller coaster

It is beyond weird to think that next Thursday I could be pregnant. I am going to walk into a medical office and let them put a baby in me. I can't even tell you how exciting/anxiety producing/freaky that is. I wanted to give you the details though, and I have struggled about how much to post with the surrogacy stuff. Not because I am embarrassed by it, or don't want to share the details, but because I don't want people to think I am showing off in anyway or trying to draw attention to myself. This isn't about me, it's about doing the right thing. In my case that looks like following Jesus call to love others, and put my selfishness to the side. It isn't heroic, it's just doing what you are called to do to help someone out. It's putting back into the world the love that has been shown to me. I want to post not so you will look at me and go, man she is awesome ( I will list for you the 1000s of ways I am not if you say that) but I post because 1) If you were doing this, I would want to know all about it, this stuff fascinates me, and I know it fascinates some of you too! 2) Awareness leads to greater acceptance-fertility issues are hard, and a struggle that a lot of people feel they have to suffer through in silence, and there are many ways to go about solving those issues, the more we talk about them, the less stigma involved, 3) we have friends all over the place that might care and I want to keep them involved, 4) Maybe there is something you are good at, capable of doing for others that you might not have thought of before to do and our journey might just inspire you too.

So basically for those interested, I will update, I call the baby the Hitchhiker (affectionately) because he is going on a ride with us and we are just picking him up for a while to get him to his next point (or her). I won't include details about the family, but I will give you details about the process.

Right now the process is at that scary point of the roller coaster where you are slowly moving up the hill and it's clicking and clacking and counting down to your crazy decent and the start of the fast, whip your head around, maybe make you sick part of the ride. We are just days away from the FET- frozen, embryo, transfer. That is when they take the little ball of frozen human (understand that this too is affectionate and I am in no way demeaning his little cryogenically preserved life), and they thaw him out, and use a catheter to put his little microscopic self into my uterus. This week the two of us have quite the preparations to undergo. He has to thaw, get examined, washed, and chosen to be strong and worthy for transfer. I have already been chosen, but I have to kick my body into high gear with handfuls of meds, and shots. I go in next week not pregnant, after deciding we were done with having our kids, Valentine had a vasectomy we were that done, and I walk out hopefully pregnant with a baby that isn't and will never be ours, but part of our extended family of friends.

Tonight I take the meds to the next level. Now instead of one little insulin needle everyday, and a bigger needle twice a week, I have one big needle a day, and two additional big needles twice a week. The shot process becomes a little more involved, requiring more care, effort, and bigger risk of mood swings. I also go back on the antibiotics that wreaked havoc on my digestive system earlier in the process, and start a steroid to help avoid inflammation that would cause the Hitchhiker or myself to reject the other. So far, the meds have not been that bad with the exception of the antibiotic. The biggest symptom has been sleepiness. I am not the night owl I once was. I have a feeling in the next week it will get a little more intense.

I have learned so far that I am the lucky one. I was able to have two healthy kids without enduring any of this. When I go in for blood draws and exams, I sit in a waiting room full of couples that are desperate of the outcome I have had twice, with a way more fun method. I take the injection and swallow the pills knowing my body is already capable of doing what it needs to do. I don't have the pressure to perform. I am just enduring the side effects, not the roller coaster of emotions that those couples have to live through. So honestly, it has not been that bad for me, being on this side of it. It's more weird than bad.

The pressure is really on the embryo. The Hitchhiker has to be healthy, hatch and hitch on. Next week I will be on bedrest for two days after transfer to try and allow him to do just that, although there is no real scientific evidence that what I do, effects his ability to implant.

So for the next week especially, and a few weeks after, I would appreciate prayer, good thoughts etc. for the Hitchhiker, myself and our families. We won't know for a few weeks if it worked, and we will still have to make it through the first trimester to make sure he is healthy. I will continue on shots and other forms of hormone doses for the rest of the month, so pray especially for Valentine as he is confronted by a wife on waves of high dose hormones. There is still risk of miscarriage if he does hitch on. There can still be loss for our families. It's not a done deal yet.
the first time I was pregnant
I am sure there is a roller coaster of emotions ahead of us all  I will keep you posted on the ride.