When I was a teenager, freedom was a rising anthem in my heart. The songs screaming from my stereo were dripping with analogies of running away from control and toward happiness. Freedom was a gift earned by days spent on the planet. It was the ultimate sign of maturity.
Something happened on my quest for freedom, though. I met someone. The day I gave my life away to Jesus is the day my thoughts on freedom began to slowly shift. Galatians 5:13 would have been a helpful spoiler alert, but I couldn’t understand it until I spent time learning from my Bible and the teachers I sat with. “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
God’s brand of freedom looked a lot different than the freedom I thought I was looking for. The years that followed were filled with difficult lessons on dying to myself in order to live for Christ. God’s economy was so completely different than what I had known; the lessons did not come easily for me. Marriage held growing pains, and parenting four boys shaped me. Freedom became a game of “how long can I hide in the bathroom before they find me or burn down the house.”
Strangely, the life I was slowly letting go of became the life I had always hoped for. God’s goodness held my marriage together during the moments we would look at each other with anger and hurt. On the nights when I would sneak in to watch my children sleep and apologize for not being a better mom, God would gently hold my heart and whisper words of encouragement. “We’ve got this!” my spirit would hear. In the moments my humanness would break through and show, I learned to lean in to God’s strength and purpose.
Called to Adopt
When God began pulling my husband and I toward adoption, it wasn’t an equal calling. I felt an urgency to adopt for years before the Spirit moved my husband’s heart. In efforts even the FBI couldn’t rival, I placed adoption literature, songs, books, podcasts and movies in front of my husband on a daily basis. Interestingly and somewhat disappointingly, my efforts seemed in vain. I spoke for years; the Spirit spoke eight words, and we were knee deep in a home study. “It’s time to go redeem one of mine” — those were the words that jarred my husband’s heart and started our adoption story.
On Aug. 20, 2012, we were led to a narrow room filled with Chinese flags as a frightened orphan was escorted into our waiting arms. When her tiny trembling hand connected with my face, in a clear message that trauma was our new language, it admittedly did not feel like we had arrived. For two years, we built a home of safety, security and love around this small human. These were the years that God switched out the spiritual fruit in my basket.
When my daughter would scratch my skin in a fit of rage, He taught me how to trade anger for gentleness. When the words, “I don’t want you, I want my real mom,” filled the air, He taught me how to trade bitterness for kindness. It was so obvious that all of my natural reactions were based out of my sinful flesh. He is the one that taught me to respond with love, and love changed everything.
My entire walk with Jesus, to this point, has been about learning to love. Each person with whom God has blessed my life has been instrumental in revealing my flesh and showing me how to walk with the spirit instead. The Bible instructs us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 19:19 and 22:39, Mark 12:31–33, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8).
We can’t truly love others until we put our selfish ambitions to rest, and the only way to put our selfish ambitions to rest is to let Jesus teach us how to love. We think we have to better our walk before we can humbly serve others and love our neighbor. What if the opposite is true? What if loving our neighbor is how we better our walk? What if the freedom we are all looking for is found by loving others? What if freedom from ourselves is the truest freedom that exists?
No. 2 Mom?
One day I was leaving the house as my husband and daughter were playing in the front yard. As my car pulled out of the driveway, my daughter yelled out, “You are my Number 2 mom!” There is a reason mugs with this expression are not on the shelves of your favorite store. Who wants to be the Number 2 mom?
The flesh side of me would have reacted with a healthy dose of jealousy and perhaps some bitterness. I am the mom who has comforted her through the night, held her when she was sick, and met all of her physical needs.
But the Spirit in me allowed me to handle the situation in a very different way. I pulled the car back into the driveway, walked up to my tiny child, bent down, held her face in my hands and said, “Thank you! Your China mommy gave you life. She chose for you to have a future. I will always be so honored to stand behind her as your Number 2 mommy.”
That, my friends, is what walking with the Spirit will do. It allows us to love each other better, react with kindness and gentleness, and it speaks life into the people we love. Before Jesus, my quest for freedom was centered on me. Now, freedom is about the other person.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
Jesus is freedom. Freedom is love.
Jill Winslow and her husband, Rodney, are raising five unique and wonderful kids. She is a Greenville University alumna, a social media and communications director, a blogger at lovemakesspace.com and an adoption advocate who humbly owes Jesus everything.3