Yesterday was February 23, a day that I never knew was in fact a very important day in the early church. My children and I are going through a book called, Prayers that Changed History, by Tricia Goyer. Yesterday, we read chapter one about Polycarp. Polycarp was a bishop in Smyrna (modern day Turkey) and one of the last Christians who was taught directly from one of the Apostles, Apostle John. His love and devotion to Christ was so strong that when he was charged with treason because he was a Christian, he chose death over worshiping the emperor. At this time in history, Christians were being murdered for refusing to proclaim Caesar as lord and offering a sacrifice to him. They were brought into an arena and immediately burned at the stake if they refused to give worship to the emperor. This was the final fate of Polycarp.
As Polycarp was tied to a stake and preparing to face his death, he lifted his eyes to Heaven and prayed, “Lord God Almighty, Father of Your blessed and beloved child Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of You, God of angels and hosts and all creation, and of the whole race of the upright who live in Your presence: I bless You that You have thought me worthy of this day and hour, to be numbered among the martyrs and share in the cup of Christ, for resurrection to eternal life, for soul and body in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. Among them may I be accepted before You today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, just as You, the faithful and true God, have prepared and foreshown and brought about. For this reason and for all things I praise You, I bless You, I glorify You, through the eternal Heavenly High Priest Jesus Christ, You beloved child, through whom be glory to You, with Him and the Holy Spirit, now and for the ages to come. Amen.”
Wow. We read this … and it stopped me in my tracks. Another Christian who was witness to Polycarp’s death wrote down the words of his final prayer and the exchange before his sentencing and compiled them in a letter sent out to many churches. The early church then honored Polycarp on February 23 every year after. It was a bit striking that we were reading this on February 23, without realizing the significance. God is too cool and so perfect with His timing! Tricia Goyer, in Prayers that Changed History, then reminds the reader of Stephen, the first recorded martyr in Scripture. I grew up knowing about Stephen, but only in recent years did I actually study that portion of Scripture and learn of the exchange that Stephen had with his accusers and the incredibly bold and faithful witness that Stephen was at his death. In Acts 6:1-7, we learn of Stephen, who was chosen to care for the widows so the church leaders could focus on spreading the Gospel. In the very next passage, Acts 6:8-15, we see that Stephen “was a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.” Because of this, Scripture tells us that “opposition arose” and Stephen was brought with false accusations before the Sanhedrin (supreme council of the Jews).
Now, I would be trying to save my behind! I am helping widows, people, widows!!! But Stephen took this opportunity to give the Gospel in a very thorough speech to the Sanhedrin. You have to take time to read this portion of Scripture – it is amazing – read Acts chapter 6 and 7. Finally, Stephen would be dragged out of town and stoned to death. With his final breath Stephen would cry out to Jesus.
So what does all of this have to do with adoption? One of our dearest friends in this adoption journey was told yesterday that their one and a half year journey in their adoption would be indefinitely delayed yet again. Our own journey was delay this week when we learned of a step that we had missed in our process. This was a week to sit down, lick our wounds and be frustrated, quite frankly. I even wrote my friend and told her to make sure she takes time to be mad. *long pause* Then last night as I was driving home, a song came on the radio by Meredith Andrews, Deeper.
“I have kicked up the dust and the dirt on the narrow road
I have had to let go of some hurt to hold on to hope
I’ve watched the sunset before the promise came
I have waded through waters wide and walked through the flame
And I can say
Every valley made me lift my eyes up
Every burden only made me stronger
Every sorrow only made Your joy go
Deeper and deeper, deeper, and deeper
I will run like I’m out to win, and finish the race
For every battle that’s sure to come I will be brave
I’ve got my heart set on every word You say
And no matter what lies ahead You’ll make a way
And I will say
Every mountain is making me a climber
Every giant is calling out a fighter
Every heartache only makes Your love go
Deeper and deeper, deeper, and deeper
Thrown down but not defeated
I’m worn out but not giving up
I’ve hit ground but even at rock bottom
I’m just getting started, yea, I’m just getting started”
In this moment, the testimonies of Polycarp and Stephen crashed against the struggles of this adoption and I was flooded by the testimony of this song. God has always – always – been faithful. I have endured some doozies of struggles in my life, and while in the moment it may feel like all is lost, everything I have endured has only served to make me a better follower of Christ, a better wife, a better mother – better. Being a victim of childhood sexual abuse has made me super vigilant in the protection of my children and very compassionate in counseling others who have endured childhood sexual abuse. It has led to me to pursue my degree in counseling to better help others who have been victims and bring the healing and freedom I have found. My brokenness did not break me, but my brokenness has helped me put together the pieces for others. Enduring a miscarriage was one of the most heart breaking things I have gone through – in the moment I thought for sure God had left us – but looking back, I feel His own tears fall against my own. He never left us in that moment – His grace and peace kept us from being utterly destroyed. This, my greatest of losses, made me far more compassionate to the losses of others – and quick to cry and mourn with those who are going through the same. Our deployments – oh help me, Jesus – were sure to end me – but we survived. They were ugly moments of our life and marriage – but God saw us through *dragged us through*. Now … well, those seasons taught me more than I could have ever learned without the experiences. No longer could I judge a broken wife for walking away – not that I condone divorce – but you can never understand the extreme weight a military spouse carries till you have walked this path. Now I can grasp my amazing husband’s hand and know that we were brought to the brink and came back more in love than I knew was possible – by the grace of God. Because of our struggles we can come alongside other struggling husbands and wives and feel their brokenness, but also extend a hand of hope.
The testimonies, this song, and the current weight of the struggles of our adoption all came crashing through a barricade in my heart and I had an awakening. It was a pivotal moment in my journey as a Christian. If Polycarp and Stephen can face the extreme struggle of violent martyrdom with nothing but a witness and worship of Christ on their tongue – I can face the everyday struggles with nothing but witness and worship in my heart and on my lips. I am so quick to assume God has abandoned us, so quick to be afraid and defeated. How ridiculous can I be? God – not some flannel graph form on a board in a children’s Sunday school class or story in a book – God is active and alive in my own life. He has seen me through seasons of great peril and seasons of great victory – and through it all He has been active and near … every. time. He is worthy and has earned my worship and witness regardless of what obstacle or pain finds its way into my path. He has earned my trust.
So I now determine to stand in the face of any and all circumstances I may face with a voice of testimony and praise, because if my God is worthy of my eternity, worthy of my death – He is certainly worthy of my everyday life. We will go forward in this adoption journey with worship and witness – forsaking all doubt and depression – embracing the joy, peace and victory that is ours in Christ Jesus. Remembering that every battle and loss always comes with a lesson and growth, always comes with a deeper understanding of the goodness and nearness of our God. I praise His name for He is good, and worthy of my life and my trust.