“Will there be food there?” she had asked the DHS worker.
They told us later that most kids ask about their parents or if they can bring their teddy bear when placed in foster care. Dikaia came hugging a box of cereal to her chest.
For the first 6 months, she regressed to a baby. She would only drink liquids. She quit walking, needing to be carried or she’d crawl. She would babble and lay on her back with her feet in the air, or curl up in my arms.
Her therapist kept telling me it was OK, that she was asking us to rewrite her memories, to exchange the trauma with good.
Every day, we’d do “baby time,” in which I’d give her a bottle and pretend to change her diapers. I’d rock her and tell her about how I knew what had happened to her wasn’t OK, and that if she would have been in our home how we would’ve cared for her. Day time hours were spent working through trigger after trigger, making her feel safe, teaching her to use her words, cradling her, teaching her new foods and a schedule. She was three and a half years old.
And, every night, we did a ritual of rocking, singing the same songs, reading the same books, and repeating 10 things she should always remember.
She’d count them off on her little fingers. And I’d make her say them in her “big voice,” over and over and over because I believe faith comes by hearing:
I have a mommy and daddy who love me.
I have sisters and a brother who love me.
I have dogs who love me.
Jesus loves me.
This is a safe place.
No one will leave me alone here.
No one will ever whoop me here.
There will always be food here.
I can call on Jesus and He rescues me (she loves that song by Nicole C Mullen)
It’s going to be OK now.
Dikaia needed to know she was loved. More than that, she needed to be a loved child – not a forgotten child, not an abused child, not a scared child. Because there is a slight difference between saying “we love Dikaia” – as in, currently we are extending love to her, and “Dikaia is loved” – as in, her identity is now rooted in being loved.
And Dikaia couldn’t grow until she became loved. She refused to eat unless I cradled her in my arms, tip her face so she could see me, and talked to her about those 10 things to always remember. She wouldn’t sleep unless that identity of Loved was again pressed into her heart. She wouldn’t leave my lap until I reminded her, whispered to her that this mom wasn’t leaving. She refused to progress until her mind, soul, and heart were renewed as Beloved. A loved child.
May we more like that.
I have a Father who loves me.
He is for me.
He accepts me.
I have a family of God who loves me.
I’m safe now.
I’ll never have to work my way to good anymore.
I’ll never have to prove myself anymore.
I’ll never have to hide in shame anymore.
No one can condemn me now.
It’s going to be OK.
Friends, when we build relational bridges, we must move from doing loving things, from seeking the loving adjective – to being loved and living out of that divine security.
It’s something we accept, some One we cling to and surrender to. That’s what makes us loved, changed, secured.
Bridge-builders don’t just do loving things; they live loved.
And the people who are still shielding themselves from grace, ask, “but if you just think you’re loved then what? Then you just sit and be loved and never have to do anything?” Preposterous. The audacity, they say.
And I say, yes, yes, yes. That’s exactly right. Amen.
Dikaia couldn’t have done more to make me love her more, to make her more of a loved child.Being loved depends on the Lover, not on our merit. Click To Tweet
That’s why the world doesn’t just need more loving people – people who can do and say kind things. People who are defined by their actions or lack thereof.
The world needs more loved people – people surrendered to and tucked into the Love of Jesus. People defined by Who loves them. People whose identity as Loved will never falter because their Lover is secure and true and they’re banking on that with every breath.
Because loved people are safe people. Loved people can engage without agenda, without needing to prove themselves at the cost of other’s dignity. Loved people can extend grace without protecting their egos. Loved people can forgive without demanding penance be paid. Loved people can challenge mentalities without tearing down people’s characters. They can receive criticism. They can endure, persevere, stay the course. Loved people are secure enough to look beyond the mirror. Loved people aren’t afraid or anxious. Loved people are people of peace. Loved people sacrifice. Loved people know whatever needed to be done was already done by the One who loves them.
You see, once there was a man who knew He was loved. And it changed everything.
And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17
And that’s why bridges can be built and healing happens and the heart of the Gospel can beat steady on everyday streets.
Here is another post I wrote on Being Loved from January 2015:
I’m convinced, a legalistic heart will find its drug of choice in whatever setting, whatever the cost. It will find opportunities to use anywhere – from steeples to alleys.
The drug? It’s a hit of religion, fear, good works, and pride – all rolled up in the thin paper of public approval.
I was raised in a conservative, Anabaptist congregation with strong German roots. In more common terms, it was in the same vein as Amish and Mennonite communities. The opportunities to use my drug abounded there, and my heart was always looking and craving. But, the do-good work addiction didn’t beat me there; I was in control. I knew the ropes there, knew how to live in that culture, knew the rights and wrongs and how to blend in to the crowd. The drug enhanced me and my appearance, gave me the sense of control and approval.
But, then we left the community there, and Grace wrecked my legalistic heart. It yanked the rugs out from under me and cracked my prized measuring stick in two. Suddenly, I wasn’t in control anymore. It seemed, the Grace I longed for would be my undoing, leaving me vulnerable to a wrath-filled God; for, I no longer knew how to stand before Him without a stockpile of goodness to hide behind. I knew how to do; I didn’t know how to be.
I understood the job description of a Christian, but I could not fathom the undeserved, inherited, blood-soaked place in God’s family that was offered to me – freely.
So, looking back, I think I did what many addicts do – I switched marijuana for cigarettes. Not literally, but I left behind the keeping of religious rules on dress codes and entertainment, and I jumped fully into a world of missions and good works; although not overpowering, that desire to work in order to maintain His favor still lingered.
Because it’s far different to work hard in order to earn His love – rather than responding joyfully to Love already given by walking obediently in the good works He’s already ordained.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
So, am I still using? Am I still craving? By God’s grace, not on a regular basis.
But, Jesus isn’t satisfied with “not on a regular basis.” I know this, and recently, He spoke something crazy and unexpected to my legalism-laced heart.
He said, “You are going through withdrawal. This is your withdrawal period.”
My withdrawal. Yes, it made sense. See, the ministry and the mission my family and I have been living out for the past five years has changed drastically in recent months. We’ve been prompted into a season of waiting on the Lord – waiting for direction, purpose, vision. We only know the ministry will not continue to look like it has in the past, but we are not yet convinced on what our next steps will be. So, we wait.
I wait, without that stockpile of goodness to hide behind. I wait, craving something to chase after and to achieve for Him. I’m still jumpy to run to earning His favor, securing His love. But, He says it’s my withdrawal. That means it won’t last for ever, I tell myself, and Redemption will win.
And, Grace keeps calling for me, inviting me to come out from behind that stockpile and to face Him – just me, no do-good mask on and no badges of God-glorifying victories on my chest. Just me.
It’s vulnerable here. It’s raw and shaky. But, praise God, the call of Grace is relentless.
So, I’m stepping out now, awkward and fumbling. But, I’m clinging to Grace. I’m smearing this life-giving blood on my arms, my face, my head – because I want to believe with my whole being, down into this legalistic heart, that His blood proclaims the work is all done. And, I can be loved without earning or maintaining His favor – because of His work on that cross, not mine on this earth.
Acceptance has been won, and a divine chair has been pulled out at His family table. It’s for me.
Grace Alone has set this family table and Blood Divine has secured my invitation. I am His daughter, and I can never, ever earn this place in His presence.
And, it’s for you – you who labor to keep it all looking right and to earn His favor with your faithfulness. Let His work be enough. Let your heart trust His way, that it’s about Him, not you. It’s always been about Him. May you answer that relentless call of Grace.
And, Friend, may you too surrender your serving platter and lay aside your servant’s apron.
It’s for you. Grace Alone has set this family table and Blood Divine has secured your invitation. You are His beloved child, and you can never, ever earn this place in His presence.
And, here we sit, with our names on the place cards, and our chairs dipped red in sacrifice. But it’s not our blood, it’s His – the One seated at the Father’s right hand.
The One who can be heard whispering, “It is finished” should our restless fingers ever start reaching for the water pitcher, the platter, the apron.
The work has been done, and He’s paid the high price of gathering us work-addicted souls to His family table. Redemption has won. Now, it’s just time to taste and see. He’s good.
I didn’t want to decide between which post to pull from my archive on this topic. So, if you are interested in another on Being Loved, here is one from January 2015 (click the picture):
This month’s series is on being a bridge-builder. In short, it’s about how to be like certain individuals who let God show up in their words and deeds and forever changed our little family. But, it’s not a series about our story; it’s as series about how Redemption made our story useful, even valuable, in a greater story.
If Jay and I know anything about being a bridge-builder, it’s because we were the ones stuck on an island. If we understand anything about the power of meeting people where they are and standing in the gap, it’s because that’s how we were rescued – by God, through average people.