Unpacking the Trip

The last couple trips to Africa have left me disoriented when I returned home. Not only did I have to unpack a duffel bag full of laundry, but I had to unpack my experience , which took months. (Thankfully the literal unpacking only took a day…).

However, when I went to get Ephrem from Africa, I didn’t have a chance to unpack what I saw and experienced while we were there. I was doing the up-five-times-a-night thing. And the settle-into-our-new-life thing. And the you-can-do-the-employed-momma thing. I had these memories and experiences that had to be unattended while I gave emotionally to our family. There were no emotions or time to unpack the experience. And I felt okay with that. Becoming a parent through adoption was intense. (I’m sure becoming a parent period is intense…) I needed to focus 100% on our family.

But now we’re settling into a sense of “normal” and I’ve started the task of what all of this meant….or means.

One of the biggest reasons I went to Africa to bring Ephrem home was to capture any little piece of his story I could. So on Saturday after I arrived I found myself in a car, with Ephrem on my lap, traveling to the orphanage the originally cared for him. While I’ve visited a number of orphanages through my mission work so I knew what to expect on some level, I knew it was going to be a different far more personal experience because this place had a part in our son’s history. I would get to see where he slept, to meet the person who cared for him, see the children who lived there with him.

The visit was brief – just long enough for me to meet one of the orphanage workers, take a few photos for Ephrem’s life book, and meet some of the children who were there. But it was long enough to wreck me months later.

Because I am haunted by the children who were left behind that day.

I cannot stop thinking about them recently. I’m haunted by the idea that many or most of them won’t know a family. I’m haunted by the sad eyes of one little girl. I’m haunted by the poverty and vulnerability of the children, who likely only eat once a day if that. I only spent a moment with them, but they left their little fingerprints all over my heart. And I can’t seem to move on. More importantly, I don’t know that I want to.

But it’s left me with questions. Many questions.

When we ask God to break our hearts, and He does, what does that mean for everyday life? What does it look like here, when I can’t be in Africa? What does it mean for me now? How do I do what I can, where I am now, with what I have?

I’m unpacking the trip. And more than ever, I don’t see my world being the same again.

Josh Wilson “I Refuse” from Nathan Corrona on Vimeo.

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James 1:27 and the Box

Living James 1:27 out has turned my world upside-down. Even before we adopted, James 1:27 threatened my normal American life. It wasn’t convenient to give up vacation and time with my husband to spend two weeks in Africa visiting and caring for orphans. My friends and family thought I had lost my mind to voluntarily go to Africa. It wasn’t easy to see abject poverty and not be able to change the way the world works so these kids will have a chance. It wasn’t fun to know that many of these children will never have a family. It was intimidating to think about what James 1:27 (or any of the other verses about caring for the widows and orphans) could mean to my nice, clean idea of my faith.

 

But that’s when I engaged my faith in a way that I think made me really “get it.” That’s when I really saw Jesus – in the eyes of beautiful children who happen to be fatherless. That’s when I felt His heartbeat. That’s when I learned that caring for orphans and vulnerable children with a $35 check each month wasn’t enough. That’s when I learned the power of holding hands and giving hugs to children who will not get them otherwise. That’s when faith wasn’t about going to church every week and meeting my “obligations,” but really living the eternal life that Christ died for (because, yes, you don’t have to wait for that to begin when you die…).

And adoption? Adoption has taken my faith to a whole other level. I now see God as a loving Father. I now know mercy and grace in a way I never would have experienced it before. I now look in my son’s dark eyes and see a future and a hope, not fear. I hold my son and know what an amazing miracle was done in his little heart and body for him to be here with us. I believe with all my heart that he would have died without a family who prayed for him for the eight months we waited for him.

So when I hear of someone tell people of his faith tradition not to adopt, to deny what I feel is a key part of our scriptural mandate(yeah, I don’t think it’s an optional part of our faith tradition) to care for the widows and orphans up close and personal and, for some of us, to adopt them to be part of our families, I am angry that people think that this little person represents my faith. I want that person to know that I pity his small version of Jesus. I think that sort of view of Christ cuts out 99% of the Gospels I read. I pity him for not wanting families to be representative of the family of God. I am annoyed at his underlying racism. And I am sad for him because he simply doesn’t “get it.” I am sad that God’s grace is limited to what is convenient to him. His version of God is confined to a nice neat American box.

I don’t think God lives in that box, Mr. Robertson.

(Thanks to my friend Kelly for sharing this video with me!)

Homecoming Video!

For those of you who weren’t able to join us at the airport, here’s a slideshow of Ephrem’s homecoming. (My brother-in-law is working on the video video – which will be much better than my amatuer slideshow, I’m sure! – but I wanted my family to be able to see his homecoming story, even in just photos.) It’s been an amazing journey and I’m so grateful to have Little Man home. (If you’re new, you can read about our adoption story here.)

Seeing these photos reminded me about God’s redemption. Ephrem never smiled in his update photos. I was concerned. Then I held him for the very first time, and he smile at me. God takes the lonely and sets them in families. This is the God that we serve.

We are so blessed.

Thanks to Lauren, Robin, and John for the photos.

 

Hunger

Like many Americans, I really thought I knew what hunger felt like. I thought I understood that sort of uncomfortable belly and grouchy feeling that you get when you’ve waited too long to eat. I’ve fasted or had to go without eating for a day…or so. I thought I knew it well enough.

That was until I heard my son’s hungry cry for the first time. I know what a hungry baby sounds like. This cry…this cry was so much more intense than that. And this is where words fail me. It was the sort of cry that makes you wish that no one ever has to be hungry ever. I can imagine that the time my son spent in an orphanage was a time when food wasn’t guaranteed or predictable. Formula is expensive in Africa. And orphanages are rarely adequately funded…if funded at all. Although I knew he had access to all the formula he needed, he did not. It was a horrible feeling, as a mother, to hear my son cry so loudly and know that his experiences taught him that food is not always available when he needed. (I did learn to make bottles in record time with a cry like that to motivate me!)

Nearly two months home and Ephrem is doing much better about food. He can now sign when he’s hungry (or at least sign back that he’s hungry :-)) and his cry has gotten to a more annoyed-that-this-is-taken-so-long cry rather than the will-I-ever-eat-again cry. He eats very regularly to comfort him that food is predictable and available.

This is why we believe and support Brighton Their World. If you’ve never heard of this small non-profit based out of Atlanta, you need to read their story here and learn what they’re doing here. They understand that nutrition starts at infancy and that no child should be hungry. Ever. They aren’t looking to solve child hunger, but they are making a big impact where God has led them. God is using them to create beauty from ashes.

But that’s not why I’m writing this post or sharing this part of our story, today.

Today, I’m writing to ask you for $7. I’m asking you for $7 to make a difference for one child.

Brighton Their World launched a campaign to provide meals for 500 kids in three orphanages in Ethiopia for the Ethiopia New Year. These kids get to eat three nutritious meals a year (New Year, Christmas and Easter). Yup, you read that right, A YEAR. Brighton Their World is looking to partner with these three orphanages to ensure that they can feed the kids for one of those meals. The cost to feed these kiddos an awesome, nutritious meal? $7 per child. Yup, you could skip a fancy Starbucks drink and have most of the money it will cost to feed just one child.

It’s not going to solve hunger. It’s not going to change the way the world works.

But it’s going to make sure these 500 kids in Ethiopia eat at least one nutritious meal in September.

We think this is something to be a part of and want to invite you to be a part, too.

http://www.brightontheirworld.org/FeedEm/

He’s here!

Sorry for the silence. It’s been a little busy around here.

You know, with a trip to Africa and all.

Oh, and this guy:

The first photo I took of our son! May 29, 2012

Ladies and gentlemen, there is one less orphan out there! Ephrem Pierce Mapendo Shows is home!

 

Playing in the Guest House Day 2

 

Smiles for momma!

 

Our super star Aunt Robin!

 

Mom & E at the Congo River! (He’s actually quite happy despite the face in this photo…)

 

In the SUV and ready to brave Kinshasa traffic (with a very tired little boy)!

We flew two 8-hour flights and then a “short” 2.5 hour flight. With the layovers, it was nearly 30 total travel hours. He was a CHAMP. He slept during most of the first flight to Europe and then charmed the fellow passengers on the flight to the U.S. Then he slept for the third flight (because it was past his bedtime Africa-time).

After two 8-hour flights, we finally landed in the US! (Yes, I’m as tired as I look…But ecstatic to be in the US with our son!)

Kisses from Momma as we waited for our final flight to Florida!

We were met at the airport by Daddy and some of our close friends and family. It was a beautiful moment.

First family photo – all on one continent!

Since we’ve gotten home, it’s been all about E and attachment and bonding. We’re learning each other and he’s a sweetheart.

Morning 1 at home…after this photo, we learned that he does not, in fact, like to be spoon fed anymore thankyouverymuch.

 

E and Pippin are learning to hang out. Pippin has been around the “little humans” before and knows that they drop food often (and sometimes let him lick their fingers when mom isn’t looking). E has learned that Pippin has a fluffy tail that is fun to pull (not fun for Pippin…).

I’m sure we will have a ton more photos to post. We’ve been blowing up the Facebook feed with new photos like obnoxiously proud parents. We’re not even apologetic.

To everyone who helped us to bring our son home – friends, family, acquaintances, strangers, granting organizations, and everyone that I can’t remember – THANK YOU. For so long “Baby Shows” was this idea, this photo, this little person whom we hadn’t met living on another continent. Now he’s our son. Now he’s home. Now we’re a family together at last. Thank you for being a part of our story. Thank you for helping us become a forever family.

We are so incredibly blessed.

Impact Zambia

Every now and then I get the chance to share about something exciting that’s happening with Lifesong for Orphans. Check out the post below for an AMAZING opportunity to impact Zambia. There are only a few days left to join  – Check it out!

 Join us to IMPACT lives in Zambia...   

“Hi.  My name is Richard.  I am in grade 7.  I stay with my sister, Josephine.  I have three brothers and two sisters.  My other sister attends Lifesong and is in grade 5.  Her name is Emelia.  My mother stays in a village far away.  My father died in 2006.  Thank you for supporting me and may God bless you and add more days to your life.  My favorite subject is art.”

Richard is just ONE of the 253 students that we are blessed to serve at Lifesong Zambia.  He is also one of the students that will be moving on to grade 8 this fall.

Without the construction of new classrooms, Richard may join the 95% of Zambian children that are not able to attend High School.

Will you join us in impacting the lives of children like Richard?

To add to the excitement–thanks to a generous donor, all donations will be matched up to $225,000!!

To join the Impact Zambia 100 team, email info@lifesongfororphans.org!

Just Feed One

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.”

(Mother Theresa)

Photo courtesy of L. Miles, 2012

This quote haunts me. In all reality, you (as one individual) can’t fix the orphan crisis. Or hunger in the world. You can’t solve global poverty for everyone. Or provide a family for every child. So often we use this logic to excuse ourselves from doing anything. As if an inability to solve problems that have plagued the world since sin destroyed Eden means that we should refrain from trying to do something at all. But we can make a difference for at least one person.

We can hug one child who feels like they have been forgotten.

We can visit, come home, and advocate for the vulnerable.

You can sponsor a child to make sure they have access to food, education, and health care.

You can provide formula to an infant, who may otherwise become malnourished in a developing country.

You can adopt one (or two, or three, or more) children to be part of your family.

We do not have an excuse to do nothing because we cannot do everything.

 

So, what are you doing to “feed one”?

 

Like a Lion…

I’ve been doing a lot of driving recently, which means a lot of time in my car. This also means a lot of music. And I’ve been obsessed with a few songs, one of which is “Like a Lion” by David Crowder*Band. (If you see me driving around and I’m having a little dance party, I’m probably listening to this song.) I think it’s the chorus that really gets me…

My God is not dead
He’s surely alive
He’s living on the inside
Roaring like a lion

Listening to this for the first time, I remember thinking, Of course God isn’t dead. But then I thought, does my life really reflect that? Do I really live like I serve the one true, living God? What would change if my life really reflected a living God?

I’ve been mulling this thought over and over and over (see previous comment about driving a lot). My God is alive. And, yet, sometimes I act as if I’m already defeated. Like two weeks ago. I just sat in my office reading the email about the adoption and thinking…there’s no way that this adoption will ever be completed. There’s simply no way.

But that’s not the truth.

In fact, that’s not the truth at all.

Because my God’s not dead. He’s definitely alive. And He’s engaged in our story.

Romans 8 puts it this way (emphasis added),

31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36Just as it is written,

“FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG;
WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.”

37But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Reading that description, I see a God who is ALIVE, who INTERCEDES for us, who will not let ANYTHING separate us from Him, and who makes us overwhelmingly conquerors. I love that phrase “overwhelmingly conquer” because it means that we don’t just get around whatever we face, we defeat it until we are incontestable winners. We serve a God who is actively, undeniably involved and engaged in our story. He is on our side.

This adoption hasn’t been easy in the sense that God has made our path smooth. It’s been easy in the sense that He has held our hands through every step, through every challenge, through every seemingly impassable obstacle.

And here’s my testimony to that.

As we got our amazing news about Baby Shows, I thought, there’s no way that we can make this happen in such a short amount of time. How are we going to bring Baby Shows home with this giant financial obstacle in our way? And I doubted my living God.

But then, over the last two weeks, we’ve had more than $2,500 come in for our adoption between individual donations and a grant from the Fatherless Foundation. That’s right. We cannot believe our God’s faithfulness to us.

Because our God makes us more than conquerors. He knows that there’s a child over in Africa with the last name of Shows. And He’s making a way where there is no way.

He is alive.

The Great African Zebra Giveaway!

We got some AMAZING news last week. I mean, it’s good. We can’t post it here, but rest assured, it’s some good news.

(Don’t ya hate when someone tells you that they have good news but don’t share it???)

Anyway! We so appreciate the support we’ve received that we’re doing a GIVEAWAY!

This giveaway includes almost $300 worth of items from Africa (Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda) and the folks at Dancing Zebras (hence the name “The African Zebra Giveaway”), with TWO Starbucks gift cards to boot! So how does it work?  From January 30 until February 13, all you have to do is make a donation toward our African Adoption*. For every $5, we put your name on the list. So, $10 puts your name on the list twice…$15 puts your name on the list three times….yeah, you get the picture. So let’s check out the goodies…

Handmade Plaque of Africa

African Plaque (Fr: Uganda)

Africa Plaque (fr: Uganda)

This beautiful plaque of the African continent was handmade in Kimpala, Uganda. The plaques were a very popular item and our team scooped up all the shop had. This piece would be a beautiful addition for any family/individual who has a heart for Africa.

Handmade Elephant Salad Tongs

Elephant salad tongs (fr: Kenya)

I picked these up from a large shop overlooking the Great Rift Valley. These beautiful, handmade salad tongs have elephants carved at the top.

Handmade Rwandan Earrings

Braided fabric earrings (Fr: Rwanda)

Magazine bead earrings (fr. Rwanda)

I brought back these two pairs of earrings from my first trip to Africa. They will give any outfit an international flair!

Dancing Zebras Owl Art!

Dancing Zebras - Knob owl wall art

Dancing Zebras - Embroidered Owl wall art

Add a little quirky fun in your home with these cute owl wall art items!

Dancing Zebras Fashion Items

Dancing Zebras decorative hair clip for adults (or dress up for little girls)

Dancing Zebras fabric earrings

Who doesn’t like pretty things? This hair clip and the earrings will make any outfit complete!

Dancing Zebras Gift Tags

Dancing Zebras gift tags

Make a gift a little more festive with these super cute gift tags!

Korah Basket

Handmade basket (Fr: Korah, Ethiopia)

Handmade basket (photo 2)

This beautiful handmade basket is from Korah, Ethiopia and will make a lovely addition to a living room, kitchen, dining room…basically ANYWHERE!

Magazine Necklace & Coin Purse

Magazine bead necklace

Magazine bead purse

Look fashionable with the magazine necklace and cute coin purse! I love my magazine necklaces and wear them all the time!

Handmade Giraffe (fr: Uganda)

Check out the cute handmade giraffe from Uganda! Although he could be mistaken for a zebra in this giveaway!

Ethiopian coffee

Coffee from the country who made it a culture? Need I say more?

$50 Starbucks Gift Card + $25 Starbucks Gift Card!

Speaking of coffee….We’re about to enter the coldest part of the year – make sure you keep warm and have great company with $75 worth of gift cards to Starbucks! Whether you are a fan of a caramel macchiato or a soy chai (my personal fave), this gift card is sure to brighten your day! And the day after that…And the day after that!

Fun, right? If you are interested, donate here:

 If you wish to make a donation by check, you can email me at showscarla [at] gmail [dot] com.

Okay, so this giveaway will be for two (2) weeks, starting January 30 and running through February 13, 11:59pm. I will draw one lucky donor’s name and announce it on the blog on February 14th – Valentine’s Day! Once I hear back from the winner, I’ll ship out the box with all their fun stuff!

Help us get our baby home and score some fun stuff! Even if you don’t win, you’re helping us make one less orphan out there!

After you donate…post something about this on Twitter, Facebook , and/or your blog and we’ll add your name again to the list.  Just be sure to leave a comment with the link to your post about it.

*If you want to be entered, but don’t want to make a donation, just email me at showscarla [at] gmail [dot] com.

Thanks again to Dancing Zebras for their awesome donations! Check them out on Etsy or Facebook! Thanks also to my dear friend Chelsey for adding to the giveaway!

A memorial stone for faith

It’s almost been one year since we started really pursuing our adoption. It’s crazy to think where we were last year. We had so little money to put toward this adoption. We weren’t really in a place where expanding our family was logical. But the calling was clear. Pursue it this year.

So we started on the path of adoption.

And we had doors we thought we were supposed to go through that closed.

Then we had to seek God again – “We did hear You, right? This is the path You called us to walk…right?”

When I think about the particular moment – the moment when Ethiopia didn’t work out for us – my heart still breaks. I was so certain that Baby Shows was in Ethiopia. I was prepared for the long wait (it was more logical for us anyway). It didn’t make sense to me. And I wanted to be a momma so desperately.

But if we had tried to force our idea of what God wanted for us, we would have missed Baby Shows. Because Baby Shows was in an entirely different African nation. One that we weren’t expecting, honestly. And I can’t tell you (yet) all the things that happened since we submitted our application, but I can tell you October was the reason we were supposed to walk the path that He placed us on. October 4 will remain one of those days that we will never forget. His plan was there all along. Hidden from us until that moment.

Now we are in 2012. God has amazing things for us this year. This is the year we hope to become a family of three.

Yet a mountain stands between us and that point. Last Friday, I was defeated. I couldn’t see how it was possible. I wavered in my faith.

What does it look like to have faith?

Although my husband is someone of great faith, I am not. I tend to timidity and fear (and a lot of “What ifs?!”). So this whole journey has been a long exercise of faith. And what I’ve learned is this.

Faith is a choice. It’s not a feeling.

There have been many moments where I don’t feel like I should believe. There have been many moments that when I look at the evidence, I shouldn’t believe. Because it is impossible by all earthly means.

But faith is a choice. It’s a choice to see what’s there and believe what isn’t. It’s a choice to believe despite all evidence to the contrary. The adoption is the first time in my entire life I have truly lived Hebrews 11:1 (The Amplified Version):

NOW FAITH is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].

Faith is something that only grows when challenged. Like a muscle, faith develops from a weight that tears the fibers apart so they can heal and become stronger. “Our faith grows the strongest on the sides of steep slopes where there’s less to cling to.”

 tree on the edge(Photo courtesy of craigcloutier on Flickr)

 

We ended up on a completely different timeline, one that has been incredibly quick. Even in this, God has been faithful in every step. Every single step. He has taught me what is meant by our “daily bread.” It seems that every need has been bigger than the funds we have personally. But we haven’t had a cost go unpaid. The funds we need are there exactly when we need them. Our friends have given sacrificially to help us bring Baby Shows home.

I cannot adequately express my gratitude that so many people have been faithful in the love of our heavenly Father, whose heart is for the Fatherless. And all of you have a beautiful part in our child’s story. We are so blessed by you.

So, to 2011 was a year of learning to have faith. It was my year to exercise belief.

I’m not sure what 2012 holds, what little gems God has prepared for me. But I know that if God is preparing our steps, whatever 2012 has, it will be ultimately good.