The fight

Being pregnant has made me think a lot about the process to bring Ephrem home. I’m  not sure why. I guess because in the moment, I didn’t appreciate all that I learned through that process. Having not gone through physical labor, I can say that the adoption was one of the hardest things I’ve done. I thought a lot about how emotionally tough the process to bring Ephrem home was, for so many reasons. Some days, you feel like every step is a fight, and sometimes you’re fighting something you didn’t expect.

Baby Shows Referral

I was fighting the (vocal) opinions of people who didn’t understand adoption as Plan A. They didn’t understand why we didn’t “try” to have our “own” kids first. They hadn’t seen what I saw in orphanages in East Africa, so this decision to adopt first without knowing whether we could have biological children was boggling to them. I mean, I understood. What we were doing wasn’t “normal.” It was a little a lot different.  But, still, their reaction discouraged me. While we were overwhelmed by support, these few challenging reactions hurt because it felt so personal.

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We had to fight through the paperwork and the legal process. Our process was extremely and unusually fast, but it’s still hard to endure. You have a mountain of paperwork to complete and collect. You have to track down every document that says you’re you. You spend a lot of time in “hurry up and wait” mode. After the dossier is complete, very little is in your control or on your timeline. Because we got Ephrem’s referral so early in the process, it felt like he was waiting on us and there was relatively little I could do to speed up the process. I just had to pray and wait. Pray and wait. Pray and wait. And because we adopted internationally, we didn’t know a lot of what was going on. I still remember the day in January (right off the plane from a visit to Africa) where I got the email that we had passed court in his country. I didn’t even know that we were at the court process!

Group photo

We had to fight through the fundraising. There are legal fees, agency fees, immigration fees (for international adoption), and (in our case) foster care costs. The overall cost of adoption sucks. It’s a huge barrier for most families (and why some families will never start an adoption). Overall, our adoption was tens of thousands of dollars to complete. We had $1,000 in savings when we started. We had to pray, hold yard sales, pray, apply for grants, pray, and depend on the generosity of our friends and families (and sometimes strangers) to make this possible. I think God redeems the cost to bring Himself glory, because, honestly, there was no way on our own we would have been able to raise the funds we needed.

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Like so many things in life, I didn’t understand the process at the time. I mean, in my head I could say it was part of making our family through adoption. But in my heart, as soon as I saw his photo, I just wanted him home. I wanted the obstacles to go away. I just wanted to hold this precious little boy and tell him that I was his mother and that I would love and protect him forever.

Family photo MCO

What I didn’t realize was that the process was making the “love and protect forever” possible. The “fight” was making this child mine – so that when I said “I will love and protect you forever” I knew what that meant because I had been living it for a year before he came home. He didn’t grow in my belly like Baby Girl Shows. As I feel her growing, I think I take for granted that this child in my womb is mine. I couldn’t take Ephrem being my son for granted. I needed to fight for him because I needed to know what a parent would do for her child. I needed to fight for him because he and I needed to know that my unconditional love started before I saw his photo, when he was just a prayer in my heart. I needed to fight for him because he was the child who grew in my heart. I don’t ever want to take for granted what it took to make him our son.

So for those of you who are in the process, fight on. It will be hard. You will have moments when you don’t feel strong enough. You will have moments when you are discouraged. You will have moments when you ask why this couldn’t be easier. But the fight makes you a family. The fight is what grows this child in your heart.

What to say?

Sorry for the silence. Aside from trying to gain my bearings as I’ve transitioned out of my full-time job, I didn’t post anything because I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep this secret if I blogged:

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Baby Shows 2 due April (I’m 12 weeks in this photo)

Yup, we are having a biological child. I’m due April 19, which feels like it’ll be here before I know it. We found out in August and it was a hard secret to keep.

Obviously, everything feels different this time around. Instead of looking at a photo of child who is growing halfway around the world, I see my ever-growing stomach expanding. Instead of the paper chase and madly fundraising, I see doctors and can rely on health insurance. Instead of a child growing in my heart, I have a sonogram of the child being knitted in my womb. Instead of airplanes and travel to the most amazing continent, we will be driving to a hospital and meeting our new person.

The processes are different, but my prayer is still the same: That this child would grow in grace, love, and faith and know that God loves him/her very much and that I would be equipped to mother both of these children in the way that brings out the best that God has for them.

While the processes are different, both paths have been uniquely beautiful.

However, I can say that I love that God called us to adoption first. I grew significantly in my faith during that process. I learned so much about God’s faithfulness to us. Although the learning curve on parenting a child who has already experienced so much has been high, I am grateful for the opportunity to be Ephrem’s mommy. From the moment I saw his first photo, I saw my son and was determined to do anything to protect him. It made me realize beyond a shadow of a doubt that love makes a family, not DNA. 

Ephrem & Mommy

That’s a lesson that I don’t take for granted. I remember when we first came home and Ephrem was so scared, so insecure. And we were clueless. We have had to learn to be a family. He has learned to trust us. We have learned how to parent in a way that best suits him. We learned to love first and laugh deeply. We learned that love is an action, more than it is that warm fuzzy feeling in our hearts or words from our mouths.

So this next child may not come home on an airplane, but this child will enter the world into a family that has learned to love well.

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.

 

The Step off of the Platform

I went zip lining last week. For someone who has a fear of heights when I’m not comfortably contained in some sort of vehicle, zip lining was a good idea back when I thought about it with both feet on the ground. As we drove up the mountain in a former Dutch army truck that teetered on the edge of said mountain? Less of a good idea.

Actually, it was a terrifying idea.

I went anyway because everyone else went. Yes, while it didn’t involve a bridge, I “jumped” because my friends “jumped.” Also, there weren’t any refunds. So. There.

The zip line team put harnesses and safety equipment on our team and hooked us to the safety line before the first line. I saw my friends all step off the platform like it was nothing while I felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest in 20 degree weather. I couldn’t decide whether to cry or embarrass myself by vomiting. Honest to goodness.

Then it was my turn.

Marisol hooked both carabiners to the cable and then I had to step off the platform, which should have been easier, but both of my feet refused to leave the platform.

Although in my head I knew I was wearing a helmet, a harness with redundant carabiners, hooked to a cable that would hold up to 6000 lbs, and I had seen a good portion of my team do the first line, as my friend Heather pointed out, you don’t feel the tension of the equipment working until you are pushed take a step off the platform.

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Don’t be fooled by my smile – I was terrified!

Much like like my life.

God puts these crazy steps in front of me. And I do everything I can to keep both feet where I feel safe. I make alternative plans. I offer other ideas to God, as if I could remotely control the events of my life. Even when I know I can’t move forward, that I can’t get off the mountain until I let go of the platform, I will try to make another way.

But platforms aren’t meant to be permanent living spaces. They are places for jumping off.

It’s been one of those themes that I’ve seen in my life over the past three and a half years: the audacity, the recklessness of faith. It challenges our commitment to this God who calls us to live a fuller, bigger life…if we’re willing to let go of our feeling of control. I remember the prayer that day walking my dog – Lord, what more can I do for You? What more can I give You? Apparently, it is my wholehearted acceptance of His will, even when it feels reckless or audacious.

We are in a transition season because we have another opportunity to trust the tension in the rope after we step off the platform. I have run out of justifications, excuses, and alternatives for God. I wrote the email that finally closed the door on my way.

There’s no going back if we want to enjoy the ride, if we want to move forward. We have to step off of the platform and trust…

I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, then you grow wings. – William Sloan Coffin

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The view of Agua (Antigua, Guatemala, 2013)

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)

The Stone and the Snake

Someone once told me that God typically gives three answers to requests – 1) Yes, 2) No, and 3) Not yet. There’s something that I have requested from Him for years. Like Hannah, I have laid my heart before God in this one thing. And then, recently, I heard His response.

No.

Honestly, it hurt deeply. What I wanted wasn’t bad. It something that many people want. It’s something that is a good thing. But it isn’t what’s best for me at this point in my life…and may never be.

It’s hard to reconcile when our desires, what we imagine to be good for our lives, isn’t what God says is the best for us. While God will allow us to make our choice and I could choose to fulfill my heart’s desire, I don’t want to live in His permissive will. There’s too much room for mediocrity there. I long for His perfect will because I know, in that, I will grow and find life.

Still, it can be painful to leave our heart’s desires on the alter. And I struggled terribly to walk away from that request fully.

Today I was reminded of a point I heard in a message once. There’s this passage in Matthew where Jesus is talking about prayer –

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!

(Matthew 7:7-11)

We typically focus on the fact that the Good Father gives good gifts. If we ask Him for a loaf, He will not give us a stone. If human fathers are can do it, just imagine how much our Heavenly Father will take care of us. And that’s very true. When we ask for what we need and it is what is best for us, God is faithful to provide that in His time and manner.

But what if we ask for the stone?

What if we ask for the snake?

What then? Does a good father give his children the thing they ask for, even when it may hurt or kill them? When it will not be the thing they need?

Our sovereign Father will not give us something that will ultimately hurt us any more than an earthly father would let his children play in bleach or give them poison ivy as a salad.

I am learning that our walk with God is all about learning that He is God, that He is holy, that He is loving – beyond my comprehension. I am continuing to learn that this God who calls me His own expects holiness from me and that holiness requires brokenness in me – it requires refining in me. This Abba Father accepts me as I was, as I am, but calls me beyond that.

Sometimes that means no to what I deeply want.

When I ask for the stone, the answer is clearly no. When I ask for the snake, the answer is no. When I want to live beyond God’s perfect will, the answer is no. Our good Father only gives good gifts meant to help me become more like Christ. I may think that my heart’s desire is good for me, but God knows that it isn’t what I need in my life, that He has another purpose.

My challenge now is to walk away, to leave that desire on the alter, and to rely on God to do this with a cheerful heart. My challenge is to remember to call Him good and faithful even when I don’t feel it. My challenge is to remember that God is I AM and I am not.

A new year

For the past two years, I have entered the New Year on this continent:

Photo courtesy of Austin Taylor

Photo courtesy of Austin T.

But this year, I’m here:

Photo Courtesy of Lauren Grow

Photo Courtesy of Lauren G.

It’s a little disorienting not to be traveling this time of year, to be honest. But, while I miss Africa, I miss the children that I get to meet, I miss serving the fatherless, I miss the food, and I look forward to going back at some point in the next few years, I am grateful for my reason for staying home this year: My beautiful family is on one continent this year. And I don’t want to be away from my husband or my toddler for two weeks.

2012 was a great year for us. When I got home from Africa last year, in addition to adorable photos of our Little Man, I got an email that the Congolese government had recognized our adoption. There was one less orphan in the world who was yet to be home. With a miracle of funding (through the generosity of many of you), Ephrem came home six months later. We have grown into our family. Attachment is a process, one that has felt overwhelming at times and is indescribably beautiful overall. When I consider what God has done in all three of us over the past six months, I am speechless. We have a son who calls us Mama and Dad. We have a son who is opinionated and loves spicy food. We have a son who adores Elmo. We has a son who sleeps. (Seriously, that last one is HUGE!) We have a son who seeks us when he needs to be comforted.

We have a son.

As we go into 2013, we are a family.

My heart is open and eager to see what awaits our family in 2013.

I am confident that God has big things in store.

May you be blessed as 2012 ends and 2013 begins.

The Lord bless you, and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance on you,
And give you peace.’

Numbers 6:24-26

Who He Is

“Let be and be still, and know (recognize and understand) that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations! I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our Refuge (our High Tower and Stronghold). Selah [pause, and calmly think of that]!”

Psalm 46:10-11, Amplified