Now that I'm pulling myself out of the post-conference coma, I thought I'd give a few words of reflection on this past weekend's "Adopting for Life" conference.
If I had to give a theme to the weekend, the theme would be "freedom," a concept that is increasingly important to me. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, the Apostle Paul tells us, there is freedom (1 Cor. 3), and there was a sense of gospel freedom everywhere here, and in all sorts of ways.
Here's what stood out to me from the weekend (in no particular order):
1.) Being with people I love, co-laborers in the orphan care movement, and listening to what God is doing. We'd sit at tables, all of us with children we've adopted, and talk about some of the peculiar challenges that come to adopting families. Then we'd listen to one another about what we're seeing as needed work in the area.
At one point, I sat at the table and looked at Dan Cruver and Justin Taylor and Jason Kovacs and Maridel Sandberg and Tera Melber and Timothy Jones and so forth and so on, I thought about how much I love each one of these people and their ministries. It is evident in all these faces that God is doing something remarkable for the sake of the children of the world.
The unity of the Spirit was very evident. Many of us are quite different, different personalities, different churches, different theological nuances. The mission of Christ for the least of these, though, brought us together. That was glorious.
2.) Praying for one another, and for orphans and families and churches. On Friday night, the chapel floor here was filled with people on their knees, seeking the face of God, with brothers and sisters laying hands on them and praying. People hugged one another, encouraged one another, and (to that point) total strangers cried as they prayed for new friends.
I was able to pray with people who are infertile and grieving, with people who are thinking about whether God is calling them to adopt, with people who are discouraged about the prospects of starting orphan ministries. One man sought prayer in repentance for being an orphan maker, having abandoned his wife and children years earlier through divorce.
There was a freedom in prayer. It wasn't "habbity-habbity-habbity, in Jesus name, Amen." Broken people and hopeful people were crying out "Abba."
3.) Andrew Peterson. Andrew Peterson is my second-favorite Christian musician, right after Michael Card. He still is, despite the fact that he made fun of country music right to my face, on Johnny Cash's 78th birthday. He made up for it by wearing the "CASH" T-shirt I gave him the second day of the conference. I cannot overestimate how much I resonate with Andrew's emphasis on Christ-shaped imagination, a theme that pours through his music. His rendition of "The Good Confession (I Believe)" always leaves me in tears, reflecting on how the gospel got from the white rocks of Caesarea Phillip to the blue carpet of Woolmarket Baptist Church, for me and in time.
4.) Lizette Beard. Lizette works for Ed Stetzer at LifeWay Research. She was in my first class I ever taught at Southern Seminary. She was adopted when she was a baby, and gave her testimony. Trust me; when the audio comes out, you will want to hear this. Lizette is one of the most gifted communicators I've ever heard. Everyone loved her presentation, especially adoptive families (and I'm including Maria and me) who were encouraged not to try to be "perfect." Many people asked me after if she has "video series" and other such resources. LifeWay, you are missing an opportunity if you don't unleash this gift! She's got a lot to say, and she says it really, really well.
5.) Spending time with David and Heather Platt. Maria and I love the Platts, are grateful for what God is doing with them at Brook Hills, and thoroughly enjoyed talking about the joys and challenges of raising ex-Soviets in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. David's sermon (on Ruth and Naomi) was jaw-rattling powerful. His and Heather's humility and "normality" even more so.
6.) Working with my colleagues Dan Dumas, Jeff Dalrymple, and Robbie Sagers. Without any of these guys the conference never could have happened. And I'll admit, I was a doubter. I said from the very beginning, "This is the first year, we'll have twenty people. Let's just meet in my office this time." I was amazed to see the chapel packed with people singing and laughing and praying together. The conference was organized as expertly as any I've ever seen, with the events planning team pulling it off with excellence and Christlikeness. And Dan Dumas is a phenomenal crowd-motivator. We had a memorable time serving together, like nothing I've experienced in years.
7.) Secret conversations. One of my favorite things about the conference were all the "Nicodemus stage" folks I'd talk to. These are people who just aren't sure about adoption or foster care or orphan ministry. They're intrigued but not yet there. Some of them have one spouse who is there, and another who is not. For many of these folks, AFL2010 was a "safe place" where they could talk to people they may never see again and just "check it out" and pray. I think God is going to bless that.
I am thankful for brothers and sisters I love who worked so hard with me on this conference. And I'm thankful for all the men and women and children I now know and love as a result of this past weekend. I came home, and cried with thanksgiving that God is good enough to me to let me participate in this.