Beautiful Mess by Jen Shaw

The Your Stories blogs are a place where women can bravely and authentically tell their story as it really is. We invite women to collide with Jesus and share how He is meeting them, transforming them and redeeming them. We hope this “your story” meets you in yours…

My mom might tell you otherwise, but as long as I recall I’ve liked things neat, tidy, organized and labeled. Throughout elementary and middle school, I often spent the night at my best friend’s house. Besides memories of Atari and sneaking out to walk around the block in middle school, what I remember most was helping clean her room. Again and again and AGAIN. She was a creative “Messy” and I loved clean. Not just clutter free, but squeaky clean and shiny. (Although we never got that far…) My mom had to school me on the concept of things being disinfected, after I cleaned an entire bathroom with Windex. She still to this day, loves to remind me of my “shiny germs”.

Not a big shocker that this love  of clean became one of the “ladders” I later climbed.  The same was true with my spiritual life: everything packed up neat and tidy. I would take out my “Promises of Jesus” box, so to speak. Oh, how I loved spending time thumbing through that box. Jeremiah 29:11… “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future.” Psalm 46:11… “Be still and know that I am God.”

But there was another “box” way back in the closet, unlabeled, collecting dust. It held verses I didn’t quite know what to do with.  Like, Matthew 16:24: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.”  Or, Luke 9:62 where Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

What do you even do with that?

So when I came to the point of my spiritual journey where I dared pray for God to ‘break my heart for the things that broke His’, and asked God the question, “What can I do?” -things got messy. In that moment God dumped that forgotten box in front of me and I had to decide what to do about it. Verses calling us to ‘serve the least of these’ were everywhere I turned. I woke at night distraught about children in desperate need of stable loving families. I was almost certain God was calling us to adopt and assumed it would be internationally.  

My husband hated every time I said it, but I repeatedly told him, “I’ve seriously got to stop reading my Bible!” It felt like my orderly little world became messier with every verse.  The tiny book of James, alone, was ruining my life and it only took one chapter.

James 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves- do what it says.” Ouch.  Verse 27 says “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” BAM.

The problem is, looking after orphans and widows can’t fit neatly in a box. And distress is no fun and definitely NOT shiny.

As we kept walking it, our path didn’t lead to international adoption. Instead, we arrived in our own back yard- Foster Care: the land of a thousand misconceptions and almost no guarantees. I began to realize my love for organization was really all about appearances and control.  “But Lord… ” I started to respond.

Bring out the Excuse Box… Dumped.

He dumped my excuses meticulously labeled: “Responsibility.”

-“God entrusted me with my biological children; I need to shelter and protect them.”

-“What if the bio parents are dangerous or the child is out of control?”

-“We should keep praying and wait for God to make His plan really clear.”

“What if we fall in love with a child, they go back to their family and we’re all devastated?”

My husband had a box too, which included time, energy, finances, protection. All very reasonable, valid concerns.  However, I’m a firm believer in God’s timing.  I had been passionately “agreeing” with these biblical principles for quite some time.  So, ironically, when it was “GO time,” God totally called me out. I agreed with His heart on the matter, but actually DOing it, was another story.  I’d gotten comfortable with life and my control over it, so frankly I was terrified.  But God continued to show me that we were the adults and that these children needed us to stand in the gap for them. We were being CALLED to love them for TODAY, not worry about tomorrow and trust that God would show up and take care of the rest.

Was it going to be hard? Probably.

“I’m not really asking you, I’m telling you…” I felt like God was saying to me.

Then the kicker:

“Do you trust Me?”

Foster care can be super messy. And I had spent my life trying to box things up, and have the beautiful house and “perfect” family I didn’t always have growing up.

Once I dared share all my concerns with Jesus, did he let me off the hook? Nope. I am completely certain His response was: “I died for messy…”

All throughout scripture Jesus kept ditching those who thought they had it all together and made a beeline toward messy. It was smack dab in the middle of a big fat disastrous mess where Jesus showed up and did some of His very best work.  Lucky for us, Jesus is still in the business of redeeming lives. Whether we created it single handedly, or were dropped in the middle through no fault of our own- no mess is too great for Jesus. Not mine, not the kids’, and not the bio parents’. Jesus loves a good mess. And when I realized that – Everything. Changed.

God convicted me that there will never be a good time to welcome trauma into our home, but there are kids from hard places that need families like ours to welcome them in. Even when it’s hard. Even when the future is uncertain. My biological kids sacrifice a lot, but as a result, have a greater understanding of the world in which we live and so much more compassion.  They absolutely LOVE our littles.  God may be using our family in changing the lives of these kids, but they are changing US.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  James 1:2-4   

Pride. Selfishness. Fear. Shiny germs.

I thought I had these all cleaned up, but I didn’t.  We’ve had to come face to face with these again and again. You see, foster care, as a system, brings many unique challenges when working with the state, courts, families, etc.  There’s a lot involved.  Our experience has been quite good, but definitely not free of challenges.  As a result, my husband and I have felt God working through this, calling us deeper and deeper in our love and grace for everyone involved.  We are all in this together, and there is a lot of learning going on. Especially with the bio parents. I definitely do not agree with all the choices they’ve made, yet recognize their lives haven’t been easy. I haven’t walked in their shoes, nor faced the challenges they’ve faced. I can’t relate. Period.  And instead of judgement, I feel gratitude for my circumstances and compassion for theirs.  Not that it’s always easy, but ultimately, with God’s help, I choose grace. I choose love. Within boundaries, I choose to extend relationship.

We have seen walls crumble as we seeked to find common ground, and as we extended ourselves to serve people who know judgement and shame far too well.  I have offered a child into the arms of a mother who had rocked and comforted her child far fewer days than I had.  I have had a mother, who was a complete stranger to her child, cry in my arms.  

In these moments I collided with Jesus.  And I pray- maybe she did too.  But either way, I am forever changed because I dared to say yes, before I truly knew the answer to His question.  

I honestly LOVE this crazy life.

Granted, our house is a disaster most of the time.  I assure myself it will be back in order one day. But for now, because of continual rearranging, almost nothing is any longer boxed or labeled, let alone organized. However, we get a front row seat to some of the miraculous redemptive work God is doing in our lives, the lives of these kids and the lives of their families.  And we have the honor and privilege of providing a bridge in the gap.  

As for my “Messy” friend? Her home has been one of my favorite places since I was 7, and probably always will.  She and her husband bought the house she grew up in, had two kids and now her whole house is messy.  We can bring our entire crazy crew, are warmly welcomed in, and loved unconditionally despite our mess.  It’s pretty ironic that all those years I thought I was helping clean up her mess, and God was actually using her to make something of mine.  She and her family took a risk on me- apparently they never had a need for boxes.

I’m thankful God finally helped me dump mine.  Our house may be a total mess, in more ways than one… but I affectionately refer to it as a beautiful mess.

Because if you look, you’ll find JESUS smack dab in the middle of it.

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2 thoughts on “Beautiful Mess by Jen Shaw

  1. Marianne Brudwick

    Beautifully written! I love your box analogy and know I have been guilty of the same. Thank you for sharing yourself and how your love for Jesus and children collide!

    Reply
  2. Teresa

    This made me CRY! Tears of joy because I can completely relate in ways I didn’t know possible!! Thank you for the reminder of why we do what we do and how OK and beautiful messy is.

    Reply

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