The Intertwined Kingdoms of Heaven and Hell

Yesterday, my foster daughter pointed at a woman in a magazine and said, “Is this you?” Earlier that day she approvingly told me I was skinny. She didn’t know I had been dieting. My heart melted.

But her warmth turned real cold, real quick.

“Why are you touching me?” she asked as I tried rubbing her back, even though she chose to lean on me in a room full of people.

If you were to graph the ebb and flow of compassion and correction between me, a foster mom, and her, my foster daughter, it’d look as jagged as a barbed wire fence. Bursts of correction follow every burst of negative behavior; in between are random moments of empathy, compassion, and reception.

Gospel love is jagged, ugly, and messy more than it is dignified and smooth. But, I think I’m finally understanding why.

The kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of heaven are enmeshed on this earth. They are two trees whose roots and branches have entangled with each other even as they are at war.

The work of the gospel is delicately separating the kingdom of darkness from the kingdom of heaven within ourselves and within the world. The demon within me has never been so clear as when I’m fighting the demons around me. So often in this world, when we approach one kingdom, we approach them both.

In the thin places of this world, where earth and heaven are closest, there also permeates a heavy sense that the forces of darkness lay in wait as well. The jagged, ugly ways I learn to trust God always have me on the brink of a precipice, one step away from entering either kingdom:

  • The immature, child-like cries and temper tantrums I threw on my bed in Hidalgo, Mexico, when our monthly missionary support check was smaller than expected
  • The constant difficulty of breastfeeding a colicky son: the screams, the tears, the desire to give up
  • The real struggle it was to accept my position as a stay-at-home mom, the eye-rolling I gave when others relished in it
  • The flare-ups of angst now as a working mom with a side hustle of writing
  • The selfishness that comes out when I parent: my introverted desires for silence when my children have stories to tell
  • The anger aroused in me when my foster child refuses to do what I’ve asked

The justice I seek is hidden beneath the injustices I impose on others. The kingdom of God is a mirror reflecting the kingdom of darkness within me. I cannot enter the looking glass without first recognizing who I really am. The Gospel is both terrible and terrific, for I am the worst of sinners and a daughter of the Good King simultaneously.

There’s no knowing for sure what’s going to happen with my foster daughter. Will she leave our house forever one day? Will she stay? I don’t know. Before I was where I am right now, I thought I’d never want her to leave. I thought that’d be the hardest thing about this process. Mostly I feel conflicted. Her biological family loves her. I know they do, they show it in all the ways they best know how. I want her to be with them, sometimes selfishly and sometimes selflessly. I am a sinner and saint.

People like to tell my husband and I we’re saints for becoming foster parents, saints for having been missionaries. I try to tell them that’s not the whole truth. I want them to recognize the other half of me as well.

Fostering has brought me much confusion, but one absolute:  I see my sin more clearly than I ever have, but I see the kingdom of God more clearly, too.

Gena Thomas

Gena Thomas

Gena Thomas is a lifelong writer who was a missionary in northern Mexico alongside her husband, Andrew, for more than four years. They now live in North Carolina with their children, Cademon and Juniper. Gena holds a master's in International Development from Eastern University, and wrote A Smoldering Wick: Igniting Missions Work with Sustainable Practices. She hosts a monthly twitter chat on justice and missions, #JustMissions.
Gena Thomas

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