Dear Ephrem (February 2014)

Hey Sweet Boy –

One thing that I’ve learned as a parent is how quickly the year goes by. I meant to capture all of the things you can do or love around your second birthday, and well, it flew by without me doing it! I’m so sorry, Bubs.

But you’re growing and changing so fast that I have to capture things as they happen. Otherwise, I’ll forget. And someday you’ll ask me what you liked to eat or do as a toddler and I’ll have to scrounge the back of my useless brain to try to remember.

So here’s you at 2.5 years old. You are an incredible kid. You smile almost all the time. You just started to do this fake laugh, which makes you really laugh and that makes mommy laugh with you. You love to be chased and tickled (“Mommy get you?” you say). You sing all the time – mostly Veggie Tales songs, but sometimes other songs. You love shapes – octagons and circles tend to be your favorite (and are the first to disappear from your shape puzzles). You love to pretend that your green oval is Larry the Cucumber and your wrist band is Bob the Tomato. You just started like to Thomas the Tank Engine (which mommy finds boring but endures because you do love it). You like the library, but only tolerate Story Time with Ms. Brenda. You wake up waaaaay too early some days, but you’re usually singing so it’s adorable, even before 6am. You would eat pizza or chicken “nugs” [nuggets] for every meal if we would let you. You love to run and are pretty fast! You give the best hugs and kisses a mommy could ever hope for.

Sweet Boy, you’re the kiddo I never knew I’d be lucky enough to call my son. I love you always.

Ephrem2pt5years

PS – Stop growing up so fast! Mommy doesn’t feel like she can keep up!

 

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The time Ephrem was granted citizenship

So this is a story about Ephrem gaining citizenship. It was all supposed to be straightforward and simple, but, you know, this is me and I like to make this different…

In August, we finally applied to USCIS for Ephrem’s citizenship. It’s not a hard process, I was just trying to figure out what paperwork I needed to submit, get passport photos for a two-year-old (no small feat, really), and submit the fee. Anyway, between parenthood, etc., it just took me a year to get myself together to apply. I applied in August and then the government shutdown happened at the end of September. I figured we’d probably get his certificate of citizenship (COC) by mail like everyone else I know by Christmas.

Well, then I got a letter from USCIS for an appointment on November 21 at 9am at their Orlando office. I thought it was weird, but the letter said to bring Ephrem’s Permanent Resident card and we’d get his COC. So I figured, meh, must need to do this in person.

We got up super early on Thursday to drive the 1.5+ hours to the office. Beside wanting him to be comfortable for the drive, Ephrem is still working on the potty training thing and I didn’t think that this was anything more than just an appointment to pick up papers, so I dressed him in track pants and a tshirt (easier to use the restroom) and I wore a tunic, jeans, and flipflops. You might be wondering why I would describe our attire. You’ll soon understand.

It was a miserable drive – mostly downpours until I about an hour in the drive. But by the time I got to the USCIS office, it was only overcast.

As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed that they were incredibly busy this day. Everyone getting out of their vehicles was wearing really nice clothes, like nice. I though, huh, I guess people have to dress up for immigration interviews? We went inside and the line to clear security was really long. A USCIS officer comes out and looks at our appointment letters and tells me, Well you can hold him [Ephrem] during the ceremony.

Ceremony?

Oh crap. Oh crap. Oh crap.

I looked at the letter again…nothing about a ceremony – it just said “appointment.”

We cleared security and went to get Ephrem’s COC. I signed for him on all the forms. The person congratulated us and gave me his COC and told me not to remove a sticky note that says “adopted” until I go inside for the ceremony because they have reserved seating for us. Oh crap. Oh crap. Oh crap. I apologized and said I’m not dressed for the ceremony because I didn’t know. (Again, no one that I know had done a ceremony – the COC was just mailed to them…) She smiled and said that they’re doing a ceremony because November is National Adoption Month. And then told me to go “over there.”

We went to the ceremony room and where do they sit us (again, in our incredibly inappropriately casual clothes)? Front row. Wait, not just the front row: front row and center. I was laughing by the time we sat down (mostly to keep from crying). Evan and my in-laws should have been there, but I hadn’t had a clue that this was a ceremony. Of course, as I was thinking about the people who should have come and how inappropriately dressed we are for something like us, the news crews show up. Yes, multiple news crews. Because who doesn’t like to be the person inappropriately dressed sitting in the front row for for a citizenship ceremony that will be on the local news?

Ephrem's first selfie (as we waited for the ceremony to start)

Ephrem’s first selfie (as we waited for the ceremony to start). 

It was a packed house so the ceremony was delayed by an hour. By the time they USCIS director came out to start the ceremony, Ephrem was done. Done from sitting in the car for 1.5+ hours. Done from waiting in lines. Done from sitting. He made it through the Star Spangle Banner, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the swearing-in ceremony before he started “reading” his book to the keynote speaker and then stating loudly that he had to go potty. We ended up “enjoying” most of the ceremony from the hallway.

USCIS director leading the ceremony

USCIS director leading the ceremony

Citizens 14 years and older took the oath for citizenship

Citizens 14 years and older took the oath for citizenship

Keynote speaker talking on adoption for National Adoption Month.

Keynote speaker talking on adoption for National Adoption Month.

And I forgot to get a good photo of us, so this is what we have:

Our little American!

Our little American!

Apparently citizenship is exhausting for a two year-old because this happened 20 minutes after getting back in the car to drive back:

You can't see because the sunglasses, but he's sleeping.

You can’t see because the sunglasses, but he’s sleeping.

If you  have the opportunity, I highly recommend attending a citizenship ceremony. I felt incredibly proud to be an American and to see a whole room full of people who worked hard to join our country and ascribe to the values and principles of our nation. It was something I won’t forget.

So, Ephrem, Mommy is terribly sorry that we don’t have fancy photos of you in a suit with your parents by the American flag. I’m terribly sorry that Daddy, Nana, and Papa (and whomever else would have wanted to be there) weren’t there. But, this whole thing makes a much better story. Always, always remember to laugh at life. And dress as if you’re going to a citizenship ceremony at all times. Because you might not think that anyone you know watches the local news and then you’ll get a message from someone on FB that says, “I saw you and Ephrem becoming a citizen on the news!” 

Seeking Justice

This is a hard post to write. I’m going to (try to) be transparent. I’ve been home for a week from Guatemala and have had some time to reflect. I didn’t go to Guatemala with the intentions of limiting what God would do in me, but some where along the way that happened. I didn’t go with the attitude of humility or excitement of the first trip. Not that I was (intentionally) overly proud, but I think part of me “knew” what to expect in the experience. And so God had this pre-packaged version of the trip that I gave Him.

Fortunately, our God redeems. He takes what we give Him, smiles, and gives us back so much more.

Jami

I wrote about meeting Jami while we were there. I was so completely caught off guard by that moment. Honesty, that moment revealed an ugly truth about my heart: I can be nearly scientific in maintaining emotional distance and not engaging with people’s stories on a vulnerable level. I use the excuse that I’m not a “people” person, but truth be told, I don’t want to be vulnerable myself. By playing a simple game of catch and smiling through my awkward Spanish skills, God opened my heart enough to this experience to break it.

Despite being home for a week, that experience remains fresh, my heart remains broken.

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One thing that struck me on this trip is the scale and complexity of the problem of poverty. I was, in a word, overwhelmed. Our world is so very broken because of sin. Poverty and the inequality of the “system” is a symptom. What is more challenging is that by serving Jami and her family, the story of the poor wasn’t something I was reading in a magazine or on a blog, but something that personally affected me. I looked into her eyes…and I saw a person who by merely being born in Pastores, Guatemala lived in a house made out of particle board with no running water or electricity and who did not go to school. And who didn’t own a toothbrush.

That humility that I didn’t “pack,” showed up in a hurry.

Even though my human heart is overwhelmed by the scale and complexity of the problem of justice, I know that our God doesn’t turn His eyes from the poor. He actively pursues not only justice but honor for the poor.

“He raises the poor from the dust,
He lifts the needy from the ash heap
To make them sit with nobles,
And inherit a seat of honor;
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
And He set the world on them.”

1 Samuel 2:8

Jami now lives in a new house, with a locking door. Her family has a water filtration system that makes even the most polluted river water drinkable. She has a toothbrush, and toothpaste. Because God remembers her. Her name is written on His palm. He has a plan for Jami.

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The experience has circled back to this question for me: What does it mean for me to seek justice? What does seeking justice look like for me (and for our family)? While God doesn’t need me, per se, He wants me to be part of His plan and His work. So what does that look like for me?

I am completely humbled by the fact that God chose to use a little girl in Guatemala to bring me back to my knees. Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible. I am grateful that God used you in this opportunity. Thank you.

 

Elisabeth Elliot on Waiting

I might have poured my heart out on the blog the other day. As I was cleaning up a stack of books, I came across one of my favorite books, A Path through Suffering by Elisabeth Elliot. In the book was a piece of paper. I’m not sure what this is from – other than a brief title of “Waiting – Elisabeth Elliot”- but it spoke to me with where I am.

Waiting requires patience – a willingness calmly to accept what we have or have not, where we are or where we wish we were, whomever we live or work with.

To want what we don’t have is impatience, for one thing, and it is to mistrust God. Is He not in complete control of all circumstances, events, and conditions? If some are beyond His control, He is not God.

A spirit of resistance cannot wait on God. I believe it is this spirit which is the reason for some of our greatest sufferings. Opposing the workings of the Lord in and through our “problems” only exacerbates them. It is here and now that we must win our victories or suffer defeats. Spiritual victories are won in the quiet acceptance of ordinary events, which are God’s “bright servants,” standing all around us.

Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy. Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on Him who has all things safely in His hands. “Peace I leave with you; I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27, NEB). What sort of peace has He to give us? A peace which was constant in the midst of ceaseless work (with few visible results), frequent interruptions, impatient demands, few physical comforts; a peace which was not destroyed by the arguments, the faithlessness, and hatred of the people. Jesus had perfect confidence in His Father, whose will He had come to accomplish. Nothing touched Him without His Father’s permission. Nothing touches me without my Father’s permission. Can I not then wait patiently? He will show the way.

If I am willing to be still in my Master’s hand, can I not then be still in everything? He’s got the whole world in His hands! Never mind whether things come from God Himself or from people — everything comes by His ordination or permission. If I mean to be obedient and submissive to the Lord because He is my Lord, I must not forget whatever He allows to happen becomes, for me, HI swill at that moment. Perhaps it is someone else’s sinful action, but if God allows it to affect me, He wills it for my learning. The need to wait is, for me, a form of chastening. God has to calm me down, make me shut up and look to Him for the outcome.

His message to me every day
Is wait, be still, trust, and obey.

“This, then, is of faith, that everything, the very least, or what seems to us great, every change of the seasons, everything which touches us in mind, body, or estate, whether brought about through this outward senseless nature, or by the will of man, good or bad, is overruled to each of us by the all-holy and all-loving will of God. Whatever befalls us, however it befalls us, we must receive as the will of God. If it befalls us through man’s negligence, or ill-will, or anger, still it is, in even the least circumstance, to us the will of God. For if the least thing could happen to us without God’s permission, it would be something out of God’s control. God’s providence or His love would not be what they are. Almighty God Himself would not be the same God; not the God whom we believe, adore, and love” (E.B. Pusey, 1800-19982)

A quick update on E

Sorry for the previous sappy post. Let’s talk about what you all come here for: Ephrem. Here, in no particular order, is our update on our Little Man.

Since Evan started his job in October, Ephrem has been attending an amazing school in our town. (side note – I prefer to call it “school” rather than daycare because it alleviates my mommy guilt. And speaking of mommy guilt, I need to do a post on that…) When your child ends up spending more of his day with his teachers than with you, you want to find a good place. We are so blessed that we found an amazing school. We have been so happy with how much his teachers are invested in him and love him. He is learning so much and making all sorts of connections.

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Also, we get photos of E playing or doing activities throughout the day. Seriously, it makes it much easier to get through the day at work.

He’s been promoted from sleeping in a crib (child containment unit) to sleeping on his mat at school. How cute is this?

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In January, we made a quick trip to Savannah to visit a dear friend from Texas who happened to be in town.

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Chelsey was on my first trip to Africa and helped me combat missing my husband terribly and has a huge heart for Africa and orphans. She was a big, big supporter during our adoption and it was an honor for us to introduce Ephrem to her. (Unfortunately we failed to get any photos of her with him because he was sleeping when it was picture time.)

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She also gave E this shirt – how cute is this? I think I might need to stock up on sizes 3t-5t at the rate Ephrem is growing.

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I tried to get him to ride his bike the other day but he really wasn’t interested. He does look cute in this photo though…

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Speaking of bikes, I finally got Ephrem a helmet so we could ride the bike trail with him. This is the result. (He was wearing the helmet on the trail — PROMISE!)

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We have been working on fine motor skills. We were just working with spoons when I thought he should also have some forks. (excuse the poor quality of this photo. He moves fast and sometimes you just have to capture the moment. )

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I’m training him to be a world traveler. Nana V got him his own rolling suitcase to help. Now, just for the time and money to go somewhere fun. (Anyone up for some chipati?)

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Ok that’s enough randomness for one post! I’m hoping to be able to post more frequently. Balancing work, family, and everything else is a super challenge.

Pure Religion

I had been doing well being home until yesterday. Yesterday, it hit me. I miss Africa. I miss little hands, hugs, little accents. I miss the sun. I miss the smiling faces. I miss the singing. I miss the stories. I miss it all in the worst possible way.

In James 1:27 we are told that,

27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Let’s be honest for a moment. Religion in the U.S. is insanely complicated. We have thousands of separate churches, hundreds of denominations. We are kept more separate that we hope to be together. And then we create all these rules on how to live our faith. Show up on Sundays and Wednesdays and get your “pass” for the week. Don’t do “this”. Do “that”. We are more likely to live like the Pharisees or Sadducees than Jesus Himself. How far do we need to go to “get by”? And we definitely don’t take James 1:27 seriously. Honestly, I hadn’t even paid attention to that verse until two years ago.

But it wasn’t like that in Africa. It wasn’t like that with those children. All of a sudden it was just about God and loving those kids. It was about showing the great love of our God and talking about what He did for all of us. It was about caring for their needs and making sure they knew that the One God of all loves them completely. That’s it.

No agendas.

No expectations.

No fancy services with impressive music or trained “communicators.”

No stages. No band.

No pretty buildings.

Just love.

It’s amazing to experience something that simple, that…well, pure. Our team of 26 very different individuals came together, no talk about “flavors” of Christianity or whatever. We came as one team, to love and visit orphans and care for them in their distress. If “religion” looked like that in the U.S., we wouldn’t have difficulty in telling people about it. People would come just to see it. Pure religion is this.

I have a friend who is seeking right now. I wish he had been with me in Africa because you can’t deny our God as you look into the eyes of the fatherless. You see Him in the way that their basic needs are met, even when the rest of the world has forsaken them. You feel Him so much more tangibly among those children. Pure religion is this.

One of the orphanages we stayed at started the day – every day – with worship. As a community (family, really), they came together, sang hymns, did a brief devotion and prayed. That’s how they started their day. I had never truly listened to the words of the hymns until I heard them with little Kenyan accents, sang with more conviction than the biggest, most impressive choir in the U.S. Pure religion is this.

So the purpose of my trip was definitely simple. I know that many don’t “get it”, that we would go halfway around the world to love children. That this would be something that God would favor. But it was. It was pure religion.

And I suppose that’s why I miss so much.

Walk on the Water

I am fascinated by the story of Peter walking on the water with Jesus, as evidenced by this post and this post (and possibly one other post that I can’t see to find and I’ve now blogged so much that I don’t feel like going through all my posts to track it down… so a prize to anyone who can find it! And by prize I mean crazy blogging points).

Anyway, as I’ve continued to really seek God about what He’s possibly/maybe/potentially/probably calling me (us) to (again, I submit Evidence A), I can’t help but make the comparison to the moment before Peter steps out of the boat. Now, from the accounts described in the four gospels and Acts, I can imagine Peter is a much bolder person than I am, but still looking at the physically impossible must have intimidated him nonetheless. I might have a much smaller personality and voice, but I’m not so sure that Peter expected Christ to take him up on the “if it’s really you comment.” Heh. I guess we all make that “mistake.”

It’s that first step that is really scary. The first step is the one that is really impossible. It’s always the one that is hold us back. It keeps us from the bigger things that God wants for us: the opportunity to experience the Sovereign, the impossible. So we step out of our boat, our safe known place. Trembling or confidence. In tears or with joy. We step out.

Because, scary as it is, that first step is met with the hand of our God.

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7

Circumstantial Faith

Per usual I can’t share the specifics of anything in this post. (Sorry – it stinks, I know!) Suffice it to say that I got a call today that wasn’t intended to be discouraging, but somehow left me discouraged nonetheless. I hung up and immediately those thoughts trickled in. “What if…what if…what if…” Plagued by doubt, I started to question everything. Even after my lifetime of faith in Christ, I still reach for fear and doubt as my first reaction when something looks remotely challenging to a bump-free existence.

When will I move beyond a faith that is circumstantial?

Situations often sway how I feel about my faith and God. But this isn’t the way it’s meant to be. Because the very definition of faith, as found in Hebrews, is

the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Faith is having full confidence (assurance) in what we are hoping for. It is the firmly held belief in something that is unseen.

Faith is being in those moments where doubt is our first reaction and still choosing to believe. It’s looking at the circumstances and choosing not be swayed. Faith is having the opportunity and reason to run around like a chicken with your head cut-off and choosing to stay calm and believe. Faith is a choice. And it’s often not the first thing we wish to choose.

But if our God is even half of Who He says He is, then He deserves my faith and trust. If He is even a tad bit faithful as evidenced in the Bible and throughout history, then I want to move forward in belief.

Faith comes with a blessing. That first step of faith may be terrifying, but after that faith become self-sustaining. Belief in God continues belief in Him. It sustains us through the circumstances that would otherwise call us to doubt.

7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD
And whose trust is the LORD.
8 “For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8