The Community of Amen
God sets the lonely in families. — Psalm 68:6
I was driving down I-71, enjoying the sunshine and the quietness of my car. We had just moved back to the States after more than a dozen years away, and I was heading to a furniture outlet.
The phone rang, and from the caller ID, I recognized it as an international call.
“Buenas tardes, Beth. Soy Perla.”
During the call, I was asked to act as a liaison between Mexican child services and US adoption agencies, helping to find families for legally defined “difficult to place” children. I arranged travel to Mexico to help create dossiers and eventually found myself spending a day meeting wonderful children with medical conditions and traumatic backgrounds.
As the day was winding down, I looked at the last name on the list: a boy, eleven years old. He will be the hardest to place.
I wasn’t prepared for who walked in: this stunning young man with plenty of hair gel and swagger. As we made eye contact, the Spirit leapt inside me. Who is this? I wondered.
“Beth has come to interview you,” started Lily, his psychologist, “but I think it would be best if we started with you interviewing her.”
I was listening to both the boy and the Holy Spirit, curious about the reaction I was having to him. I cocked my head, wondering what kind of divine appointment I had just walked into.
He gazed at me just as curiously and fired off questions about whether boys play soccer in the United States, when it snows, and if pets really have their own beds.
“I think these are good questions, but I bet you have more on your mind,” Lily prompted after a bit.
We sat a good while in silence. “I guess I was really wondering…” He hesitated, blinking hard.
“I have never seen a happy adoptive family. My questions is, have you?”
“Oh, buddy.” My voice lowered, and my defenses followed. I reached for my phone. We had just attended a wedding the weekend before, and I had captured many photos of our family together. “Look here at my adoptive family. I have kids from Mexico, and my brother has some from Ethiopia…”
He took my phone and scrolled through the pictures. There were images of cousins in three colors, playing games and dancing, making faces and hanging all over each other.
“Last names don’t make a family. Bloodlines don’t make a family.” I forced eye contact.
“Love is what makes a family.”
His answer was swift. “Then find me a family like that.”
I think I just did.
By the time I had flown home the next day, I had talked myself out of it. Ridiculous. I can hardly handle what I am already managing. I will find him a great family. I spent the next two months actively trying to talk others into adopting him. I found it hard to pray about him. Looking back, I can’t believe how much I silenced God’s voice on this subject. I stubbornly stayed in disobedience, making it look pretty with words like margin and balance.
Then one morning when Todd was running, the Lord nudged him. He came in the door and said, “Beth, I can’t stop thinking about that boy. He’s sitting in an orphanage while we are here, with all of this.” He motioned around the house.
I burst into tears. They had been dammed up for a while. As I had been talking to potential families I would suppress them, but in that moment, I didn’t hold back. “I know! I know, I know, I know. I am afraid. But I know. Yes.”
A lot can happen when we say yes. Later we pulled our kids into the room, walked them through this story, and asked if they, too, heard the calling.
“It’s different with an older child,” I said to them. “If we started out while he was young, I would have time to teach, model, encourage, train, but at this point, I am going to need a full-court press from all of you. You’ll need to set good examples and love on him and join in on this journey as co-laborers. I don’t even know if that’s fair, but I do think it’s critical.”
Months and months passed as we gathered our blood types and bank balance, friends’ reference letters, and every other piece of documentation you can imagine to comply with arduous adoption requirements. Then finally, six months later, it was time to let this boy, later named Tyler, know we had found him a family. I flew to Mexico and arranged with the government facility where he was living for him to stay home from school.
He saw me immediately as he turned the corner.
“Do you remember who I am?” I started, feeling the emotion rising in my throat.
He nodded slowly. “Do you remember what I said I was going to do?”
“Find me a family,” he answered, not breaking eye contact, challenging.
“Well, I did. I found you a family. It’s me! Me! I am going to be your mama.” I don’t know what I imagined would happen. Maybe a hug or a shout. Instead, he doubled over, going into shock. Head between his knees, he began to have trouble breathing.
The psychologist was called in, and she asked him to identify how he felt. “Don’t try and say much. Just with one word, how are you feeling?”
Tyler looked right at me. “Alegría.”
“Total joy? Me too! That’s great. We can work with alegría.”
Saying amen means entering in and raising my hand.
It’s reminding myself on the days when his chaos rubs up against my barely held together peace that God started this story on top of alegría. If I let Him, it’s a gift He’ll keep giving. There is a reason this boy and I are family, and I need my community to remind me of that. If the next years are great with him, I will be thrilled God thought enough of me to write great into my story. If the next years with Tyler are terrible, it’s still all okay. God will stretch my muscles, He will grow my faith, He will convict me of sin, and He will teach me about trust and faith.
So be it. I say yes.
As we’ve walked through the so-be-it lifestyle, our study of amen has revealed its varied usage throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, we’ve seen it as the acceptance of a curse. It’s also been the congregational response of affirmation or agreement in both Hebrew and Greek gatherings, the expression of praise to the Lord (think of the Psalms) or the characteristic of who he is (as “The God of Amen”). Finally, we’ve seen it throughout the early church as the confirmation of a blessing as in Galatians 6:18:
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.
When someone embraces this word and uses it with the solemnity it deserves, there is a sense of settle that follows. I accept. I affirm. I praise. I bless. It testifies in two syllables to the conviction that God’s way is best. We might not always understand His ways, and certainly we might not always like them, but we can always be confident of them.
During the year we were waiting on Tyler’s adoption to be finalized, we would Skype with him every few days. Toward the end, it was getting harder for him to have hope the finish line would eventually appear. News of setbacks and delays would regularly discourage. I taught him that when I don’t like what’s happening around me, I remind myself of what is true. In our story, there were three things I knew for sure to be true: he was our son, we were coming for him, and God had a plan. We might not always understand it or even like it, but we can trust it. We would hang up our calls repeating this tune until his smile was the last thing I saw.
The time came for us to appear before the judge, and because Tyler was twelve years old, he had to speak before the court, explaining why he was certain this adoption was in his best interest. The stakes were high, and he was very nervous. He had been disappointed so many times before and had fear written all over his face.
“Why do you think this family is right for you?” the court official asked.
Tyler blinked repeatedly and struggled to find his voice. Silence hung in the air. He looked over at me, and I tried to smile in a reassuring way.
As Todd placed his hand on his back, Tyler found the courage to say slowly, “Because I am their hijo. And they came for me. God has a plan, and we will trust it.” When it mattered most, he had an answer.
Truth brings peace, and peace brings confidence. This is good. I need community around to remind me of these truths in critical moments when lies are simpler to grasp. On any given day, I might listen to the lie singing its song in my head: “I can’t do this.” Or “It’s never going to get better.” Or “I am not enough.” This is when your people can gather around and say, “Nothing is too difficult for God.” Or “In Him, all things are possible.” Or “We are more than conquerors…” These simple truths pierce through the lies like double-edged swords and recalibrate my thinking and thus my living.
Whenever God expands my borders, there is a stretching period when capacity adjusts and boundaries reestablish. When I tackle it in the flesh, it can mean overworking and fatigue (Does God think I can really handle this?), but when I submit to His plans and to the rhythm that comes from abiding in Him, it feels more like surrender (Where you go, I go):
Whether we like it or not, we’ll do it. We’ll obey whatever our God tells us. Yes, count on us. We’ll do it. — Jeremiah 42:6 The Message
This verse conjures up images of hands in the air — “Pick me!” — and a sense that whatever God calls me to, whomever he calls me to love, “I’ll do it!” I’ll learn new methods, meet new neighbors, read more books, whatever, whenever, however He asks. I’ll do it.
Excerpted with permission from Start with Amen by Beth Guckenberger, copyright Beth Guckenberger.
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Is your hand raised “Pick me! Pick me!” Pray today that the Holy Spirit would lead you to what He has for you! And, come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you!