What Is Justice

Other than the adoption, there are quite a few other things on my mind lately that are requiring some thought and preparation.  One of the biggest is leading a mission team to Nepal in March…

Sometimes I can’t even get over the blessing and the privilege I have to travel the world for missions through my job, and the opportunities they bring for building relationships with people, serving others, and developing God’s heart and perspective of His world.  Yesterday morning I made my coffee and went to work in my cube, and in a couple months I’ll be experiencing His creativity in another culture, being a [small] part of what He is doing for the sake of His kingdom globally.  Each one individually is significant.  Getting to experience both is a gift.

I’ve had this feeling, since I was first asked to lead this team, that God was very purposeful in the timing of this mission.  (Our “waiting period” actually officially begins the very week after I get back!)  Not only that, but that He is going to teach me something big through it in regards to our adoption.  That the two aren’t merely coincidental (or competing) but intrinsically linked.  How can going halfway around the world to visit the oppressed not bring about a new awareness of the plight of injustice right here in our own little corner of the world — and what He is doing right here in our own lives?

This time I’ve been blessed with an incredible, manageable medium-size team of seven, along with six “senders” trained from our sending ministry.  We are currently going through a Bible study together, among other preparations, on God’s heart for justice.

Justice.  That often-misunderstood, misrepresented word.  “Social justice” is such a hot-topic phrase, both scrutinized and glorified, done poorly and fought honorably — both defended and rejected.

I have so much to learn.  I read “When Helping Hurts,” and “Orphan Justice,” and “Toxic Charity,” and I know that the both the motivation and the method matter.  That God’s perspective — not ours — matters.  With a bent toward compassion and mercy, I also have to know that to truly care for those you serve, good intentions just aren’t always enough.

And sometimes, to be honest, I have a hard time with justice.  Because it takes a person long enough to understand that the world isn’t fair, to come to a point of reconciliation with that, to know that God cares far more about our character than our contentment… our holiness than our happiness.  And yet, simultaneously, this heart for justice?

Jesus in his very first public speech, the introduction of His mission in the world, said:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:18-19, NLT)

15,000 women and children are trafficked from Nepal into India every year.  This festering, spreading, toxic injustice of trafficking is happening not just abroad — as I’m sure you must know — but right here in our own communities, in a BIG way.  There are so many statistics that are easy to find, that I’m sure you’ve seen.  Here’s just a quick few, to remind us:

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  • Human trafficking consists of both labor trafficking and sex trafficking: modern-day slavery.
  • There are 27 million+ people in slavery in the world today — more than at any other time in history.
  • The global commercial sex trade is a $32 billion/year criminal industry, a market-based economy that exists on the principles of supply and demand.
  • A child is trafficked every 30 seconds; in the U.S. alone, there are hundreds of thousands of child victims.
  • Fifty percent of trafficking victims are minors (and 70% of these victims are children in foster care).

I’ll have the privilege of speaking to the high-school girls at our church less than a week after our team’s return from Nepal.  (I’m having a hard time deciding which one is the more incredible opportunity.)  During this overnight, all-girls event focused on human trafficking, including worship, and small-group breakout sessions, and tangible ways to take action, and be creative, and be invested in by leaders, these girls will hopefully find a safe place to process and communicate and wrestle with this issue.  As the speaker for the night (working on developing my content before we leave), I’m praying hard for insight and discernment on how to fit what I want to say to them into a 30-minute message…

To be honest, one thing that is weighing my heart most heavily is how to speak about this in an age-appropriate way.  (So you can pray for that!)  There will be 8th-graders to 12th-graders… and I know I would speak to an 18-year-old about sex trafficking a whole lot differently than I would to a 13-year-old.  I want them to know the truth, know the facts, be educated and be inspired to action.  I want someone to be talking to them about this.  These youth are both the next generation of freedom fighters AND the ones who are susceptible.  But I also don’t want them living in fear of being snatched up!  I’ve got tons of resources, tons of research, and an outline that will probably be completely changed from start to finish on the plane ride home.  So my prayer right now sounds a lot like, “God… just get me out of your way.”

It’s hard to wrap your head around all the work that’s being done — and has yet to be done.  In Nepal, we’ll be working with an organization that is fighting human trafficking from all sides:  Prayer (a huge initiative called One Girl), prevention (children’s homes; whereas in Kenya you see street children everywhere, in Nepal there are none — because, by the time they end up on the streets, they are already snatched up to be trafficked), interception (border-monitoring stations that stop trafficking as it is taking place), rescue (actually going into brothels), and post-rescue restoration (a center for empowerment).  Again, hard to wrap your head around all that’s being done — and is yet to be done…

Oppression, injustice, slavery.  Redemption, justice, freedom.

Horrors in the world; hope in Christ.

Hands and feet.

And in His miraculous physical healings Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well” — as though the healing he just performed hadn’t already happened? — yet because “wholeness” is what He means.  Saved by grace through faith.  And “healed” takes on much more meaning than just the physical…

And yet it’s both.

God’s sovereignty…

I hear the reminder in our team meeting on Sunday:  These women in Nepal who have been victim to trafficking, who have suffered this horrible plight of being forced into slavery, now through the rescue of these border workers and intercepters have had a chance, many for the very first time, to hear the Gospel.

And that’s when it rises: this correlation to our adoption.  Not a new thought, but a connection to the mission.  What God might be wanting to show me firsthand in the world before ushering it into our home.  Our baby might not be a victim of oppression in this exact same way — but there will be a tremendous loss involved, even through the incredibly courageous choice of his or her birthmother.  I would never suspect or assume that our child wouldn’t or couldn’t come to know Christ in any other way, but just perhaps — this loss, that pain, and the resulting incorporation into our family is what ultimately leads to living a life knowing Him.  Or for the birth family.  Or us, more deeply.  God’s sovereign and missional way of bringing others to Himself.

Justice.  Mercy.

This grace that levels the playing field, that levels me every time I re-learn it.  I have no more or no less.  I deserve no more or no less.  Grace abounding and abundant.  We are not rescuers.  In my very own brokenness, there is only response.

Gratefulness.

Adoration.

“Adoption is wonderful and beautiful and the greatest blessing I have ever experienced.  Adoption is also difficult and painful.  Adoption is a beautiful picture of redemption.  It is the Gospel in my living room.  And sometimes, it’s just hard… Adoption is the redemptive response to the tragedy that happens in this broken world.”  (Katie Davis)

If separation from God is the ultimate driver of evil, at its core, then maybe it’s true that the adoration of God — bringing glory to His name and worship of Him from every corner of the earth — is truly its justice…

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Stand 4 Kids! (Resources for Parents)

This post today is a completely shameless plug.  (There’s just no getting around it!)

As I browsed through and researched various missions websites with preschool materials at work this past week, I was reminded why I absolutely love Stand4Kids.

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This organization is pretty awesome for the ways it involves, inspires, and truly sees kids as part of God’s plan, and His missionary heart and purposes for the world.

If you’re a mom (or dad), homeschooling or not, a teacher, or a children’s ministry coordinator, I can’t recommend this website enough.

In particular, the “Why We Exist” is pretty powerful:  Why We Exist

Also check out the excellent resources inside “Free Stuff” or “Downloadable Resources” under the header “Resources.”  Books, teaching tools, curriculum, crafts galore!  Things like:

  • Kids’ prayer cards
  • World finger puppets
  • Children’s books and books for parents on being a mission-minded family, and how kids themselves can give, share, and care
  • 20 Non-Negotiable Principles for Evangelizing Kids
  • World fabric map activities

There’s also lots of ideas for opportunities to teach and get involved.  Red Card Kids is really cool.

Needless to say, I’m sold out for what drives these guys to do what they do: Viewing children as recipients of the Gospel, too.  Children who are blessed to be a blessing like any of the rest of us — not when they grow up, not when they have more to give, but right now.

As Julie Ferwerda said in her awesome book “One Million Arrows” (another shameless plug)…

The greatest earthly and eternal value that you and I could ever attach to our kids is to shape them into arrow for God.

Our sons and daughters are not only the hope of the future church — they are the hope of the church now.

As parents, we need to think big, dream big, and pray big for the opportunities God might prepare for our children.

She challenges me when she says:

Parenting is, really, at the heart of Jesus’ command for discipleship.

Visionary parenting [is] parenting that focuses less on what your family can do for God and more importantly on what God wants to do through your family.

If you’re interested further, be sure to check out this article in the March 2012 edition of Mission Frontiers magazine:

The Essential Role of the Family in World Evangelization

It talks about the biblical relationship between the Great Commission and the institution of the family.  (“God created TWO essential institutions to advance His kingdom: the local church and the Christian family.”)

If all that sounds really overwhelming and unattainable, I think it helps to think of just starting somewhere.  Be faithful with what God has given you, and allow Him to come in and do His work that only He can do.  For something practical, where better to start than with the word of God itself?

Interestingly, I just got an e-mail just yesterday about The Bible App for Kids, coming in late 2013!   What a cool way for kids to experience the Bible with interactive, colorful, and animated illustrations!  I can still remember watching an animated cartoon version of the story of Job on VHS (don’t laugh) when I was a little girl, and it really shaped the way I thought of those events as really happening to real people.  Now we’re moving on new avenues of technology (smartphones and tablets), but the learning potential is the same — and probably greater!  I noticed there are games and activities for helping kids remember what they learned.

I am challenged and inspired not only to care, nurture, and provide for my kids, but also not to hold them back or sell them short in the calling God has for their lives — as I foster them for Him while they’re here on earth.

I hope you’re inspired, too!

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{ Feel free to pass this along, and leave your own suggestions in the comments section! }

Where We Are

With today’s post, I just wanted to provide a few things before I leave the country for a few weeks on Wednesday…

An update on where we are with things, a few requests, an observation, and a story. :)

First, an update.  Where are we with our adoption process???  Well, we have a few pieces of paperwork left to submit.  When I return, we have a follow-up meeting with our agency on September 5th.  We have interviews next (including one between our agency and our pastor), and then a home visit from our social worker.  Once all of this is finished, and we have a completed file, we will submit our profile book and officially become a “waiting family”…

How amazing is that!

Once we are a waiting family, the timeframe is completely unknown for when we will receive The Call.  It all completely depends on when a birthmother chooses us and then how far along she is in her pregnancy.  But you can bet I’ll be keeping you posted… :)

Speaking of unknown timeframes, we have recently re-listed our condo!  You can view the listing here.  Yep; it’s a steal.  The hope is to be in a house before the baby arrives… the prayer is to trust in God’s timing, no matter what happens.  (I’ll keep you posted on this, too!)

And speaking of leaving the country for a few weeks, I did want to request if friends and family could “lift up” a few things… for those of you who know where I’m going and what I’m doing…

  • …. that all of my diabetes supplies and equipment will be successfully transported and work properly while on the ground.
  • …. for smooth travels, safety, and general health.
  • …. for Trey while I’m gone, as he is experiencing an especially busy and stressful time at work.
  • …. for the work to be done, changed lives, and to be used in great ways.

(I can’t say much more than that, but thank you in advance!)

Things have been busy around here lately, and I’m not saying that lightly.  The last week was easily the most stressful week of my entire year.  Between preparing for being gone from work for three weeks, preparing for the trip itself, coordinating a huge event at church three days just before my departure, trying to wrap up loose ends with our home study before I leave, and re-listing the condo, I felt like I was juggling a thousand balls at once — only all of them are staying “up in the air”!  It’s given all-new meaning to the concept of holding loosely to the things in our lives.  With most of these things, all I can do is surrender control — which is simultaneously frightening and freeing. :)

I hate to admit this, but amid all the craziness lately, getting those “last pieces of paperwork” ready for submission has taken a backseat.  I feel horrible saying that…  That our adoption process has fallen in the priority list.  But it’s true.  It has.  Sometimes you simply can’t be 100% devoted to it when lots of other things are going on, too.  I just have to know that every part of our lives is happening for a reason, and even though it’s our heart to do all we can on our side of things, it’s not going to come with the snap of a finger — and that there is a divinely ordained time for when it will.  It’s all part of that “active waiting” we so often must engage in as Christians.

In what was probably perfect timing, a few weeks back I stumbled upon the concept of “breath prayer”…  Maybe you’ve heard of it?  Richard Foster describes it as “picking a single word or short phrase and repeating it in conjunction with the breath.”

[Very] busy mom and blogger Emily Freeman wrote about it here: “For me, having a prayer that fits the rhythm of my breathing is a life-line during stressful times. … Brennan Manning’s prayer was Abba, I belong to you.  The seven syllables fit perfectly with the natural rhythm of breath.  Mine is a bit longer … Lord Jesus, Gather me now to be with You.  I don’t have to stop, close the door, or even leave the chaos to pray these words.  But they give me something to ground me, words to wrap my soul around.”

In her own blog, she says, “I spent time in silence to discover my own breath prayer for that time in my life. … Lord Jesus, Gather me now to be with You.  Whatever that means for this moment.  Whatever that means for my life.  Gather me now to be with You in my anxiety, in my happiness, in my fretfulness, in my vocation.”

And soon after, Ann Voskamp blogged about it as well:  here.

Weeks after reading these posts, for some reason, and without thinking about it consciously, the following prayer popped into my mind on my 30th birthday, as I was reflecting on this season of my life:  Thank you, Lord, for right where I am.  Gratitude swelled up from somewhere deep inside, and it was as if the phrase was planted in my mind from somewhere other than myself.

Thank you, Lord, for right where I am.

I believe God gave me my breath prayer on that day, on my 30th birthday, for this season of life.  There is much I can look back on and never be able to have again… and even so much MORE to look forward to and wish we could just get to already… yet I can rejoice in the here and now.  Turns out it fits that 7- to 8-syllable structure (7 if you take out the word “right”).  It might not be as poetic or lovely as Freeman’s or Voskamp’s or Manning’s… but I think it’s exactly what’s needed.

Thank you, Lord, for right where I am.

Repeating these words does several things:

  • First, I am declaring that I am not trying to escape my current reality… but rather accepting what is given to me in any given moment.
  • Second, expressing thanks for where I am means I am turning my focus to the good and the blessings within my situation… instead of only seeing what’s wrong, or lacking, or what “could be.”
  • Lastly, expressing gratitude also means recognizing a giver.  For me it’s a reminder that God has a purpose in where I am… because He is the one who put me there!  And I can trust Him.

So I’ve decided that when things are stressful, or not where I want them to be, or way too busy, or not moving nearly fast enough… no matter where I am, by the simple process of breathing and saying those words in my head, that is my prayer.  I hope you might also take time to discover your own breath prayer for this season in your life… words to “ground” you and “wrap your soul around.”  Words that are just between you and your Heavenly Father.

And finally, speaking of our amazing heavenly Father… story time!!

I just wanted to give this little testimony because God always speaks to me so strongly, every time, with what I’m about to share.  As I mentioned above, I’ll soon be traveling with my insulin pump.  It goes with me everywhere, of course — other countries included.  My carry-on is already full of supplies, back-up supplies, and plenty of food… the life of a traveling diabetic. ;)  I wear my pump all the time (except for showers and maybe on runs), because I am dependent on the insulin it delivers.  Despite living my life every day without too much worry, just like anyone else (only with a little more to think about in certain respects), my dependency on my equipment and insulin and eating routine comes into acute focus any time I travel.  It’s always what I worry about most.  While I’m away from my comfortable life in my comfortable condo (which is practically in walking distance from the hospital), I am much more aware that my life literally depends on these things in order to survive.  It’s not an option to go without or have anything break.  The few “close calls” I’ve had in my life (all of which were right here in America, by the way), are still too close for comfort for me not to have a healthy over-precaution when preparing for travel.

Just the other night, the alarm on my pump went off, letting me know my battery was dead.  Not really a big deal; I have to change it for a new AA battery each time the current one dies down.  (I mean, you do have to hate when it happens in the middle of the night, but… what can you do!  The life of being part bionic. ;) )

When I went to remove the old battery, the battery cap would not come off.  Instead of lifting up, it would just spin.  I tried again and again.  Nothing.  Dead battery, broken pump.  I do have back-up supplies, yes — but the dosages on those are pretty different, and even with my doctor’s estimate, it would take a little trial and error.  Halfway around the world would NOT be my favorite place for trial and error, especially considering that leaves a lot of room for either bottoming out or my blood sugar going too high (like it did back in January: read the story here).

Long story short, I now have a brand-new replacement pump that was overnighted to me.  Less than a week before I leave.  And the moral of the story?  It might sound weird, but God uses my pump every single day to remind me of my dependence on Him… and this happening just one week before I leave (instead of while I was there!) is a reminder to me of His faithfulness.  He’s got this.  Why do I ever doubt that??  He is always in control… and no matter how uncomfortable, vulnerable, or scary that may feel, it’s always the best place to be.  The reality of how fragile life can be hit me at an already tender point in time, as I’ve been trying so anxiously to get everything done and hold everything together.  And yet He reminds me: You can do nothing apart from me…  Take my yoke upon you…  You are a branch, but I am the vine…  How much more will I provide for you?  I think He’s preparing me for this trip already.  It doesn’t always feel good… but it’s good for me.

Really, when you think about it, bravery is just a little bit of crazy with a whole lot of faith. ;)

Well, I’ve written well over enough for one post…  Thank you, so much, for your interest and your support in our lives.  We are grateful!!

‘Til next time…

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While I’m Gone

It’s vacation time!!!

Trey and I leave tonight to spend a week at the beach with my family.  (Yes, we do live at the beach.  But this is a vacation to a DIFFERENT beach that’s been a tradition in my family every year since before I was born.)

beachhouse

Our beach house at Ocean Isle, NC

We are so ready and excited!  Beach time for us = lots of good quality time with family (25 of us!); lots of sun, sand, and pool time (praying the weather report has a change of heart very quickly!); a big oceanfront house with a huge dinner table for sharing meals; and tons of laughter over old memories as we continue to make new ones.

It’s hard to believe that — prayerfully — we’ll be adding a new little one to the group next year…

Walking to "church on the beach" last year.

Walking to “church on the beach” last summer.

This year, rather than a much-needed recovery from what’s already been a somewhat fast-paced summer, I feel like this vacation is going to be restful preparation for what will be full-steam ahead when we get back…  As soon as we return, I am in charge of a big event at our church happening just a few short weeks later.  I’ll also be preparing to be gone on a mission for almost three weeks in August (more on that later), and we’ll be hoping to complete our adoption home study soon after our required meeting with our agency on July 12th.  Adding to that, Trey’s work is always very busy and stressful… and this current season is no different.  Lots going on!!  Thank you for your prayers on all of the above.

Not that I won’t be thinking of you, but I highly doubt I’ll be blogging from the beach this week.  So I thought I’d leave you all with some recommended reading. :)  (I played “librarian” much more frequently as a child, but here you can see: The “teacher” in me comes out!)

Due to the Internet and social media, my generation lives in a time where discretion, self-promotion, comparison, temptation, and — let’s be honest — sheer focus have been taken to all-new levels of discipline.  But it is also a glorious time in the sense of the amount of opportunity for encouragement and sharing resources.  As much as I am able to see and read in my blog reel and on “social” media daily, I have been tremendously blessed by others’ stories, ideas, articles, and perspectives…  Not to say that ANY of this is a good replacement for time spent in the Word.  It never will be.  But even this “old soul” can admit and appreciate the amazing gift that God has given those of us living in this day and age for spreading truth and love to farther reaches than ever before (done appropriately).

That being said, I leave you with a few things I have read this past week.  There would be no way to try and share everything I have liked or found challenging, and I’m not even going to try to select the best of the best (they’re all good anyway!)… just a tiny sampling of the most recent, to be fair.

•  On “waiting”:  Click here.  (A single, full-time foster mom shares what waiting means for her in this season of life.)

•  In thinking about birthmoms who choose to give their baby life through adoption, here’s the perspective of someone who made another brave and tough choice at 17 years old — to have and to keep her baby — and the response she received from Christians:  Click here.

•  On raising your children to be “world Christians”:  Click here.  (The CDG blog as well as Stand4Kids are great resources for parents and children’s ministry workers!)

•  “Because they cannot repay you”:  Click here.

•  On child sponsorship:  Click here.

•  “You are smart, competent, capable… born into poverty, perhaps, but not stuck there”:  Click here.

•  And, finally, this:

toxiccharity

Enjoy!  And have a wonderful week!!!

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I Have A Dream…

Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31: 8-9

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The past several days have been pretty quiet around our house — both with our adoption process and in general.  Trey has just returned from a weeklong mission to Guatemala, and we have both come down with nasty colds.  Mine began as a bad sore throat and cough over the weekend, which has turned into completely losing my voice all day yesterday and today.  I was sent home from work (at our church) as soon as I arrived yesterday, and I’m staying home today as well — including a trip to the doctor.

I had been so looking forward to worship yesterday morning.  I knew I felt bad, but I was really surprised when I opened my mouth in the car on the way to church, to sing a line of praise with the radio, only to find:  There were no words.  I had no voice.  For some reason, it really hit home for me to think about the “voiceless” all over the world, and how they must have to worship: in spirit, by faith, and in silence.

In my short time without a voice, I have also thought about all the children in the world who might physically be able to cry out, but in reality, they have no voice.  No say in the matter of who gets to take them and where they go and what will happen to them…

In honor of them, and the fact that, even without a voice, I (and we) do still have a voice, I’d like to share with you something that is on my heart.

In the words of MLK:  “I have a dream.”

It’s a simple declaration, really, in the middle of all these updates about our personal adoption process… but I’m learning that processing what adoption means to me is all a part of that journey, too.  So I’d like to thank you, sincerely and in advance, for allowing me to “open my mouth.”

I have this teeny tiny little, big powerful important dream…

That more fostering and adoption would be present in our community, in our church, and in our culture.

Not just in theory, of course — but really.  And not that people would stop having babies biologically.  (In that case, I would be horrified.  And sad.)  Just that MORE fostering and adoption would begin taking place….

This isn’t a dream that’s mine to claim.  Many people share this dream and have fought for it for years.  I’m just one small voice added to the battle cry — but I write this because I know that every prayer and every voice matters to make it louder.

I know you guys know this stuff.  You know the need, and you know about God’s heart for the fatherless.  You know that there are, in fact, MANY “causes” out there worthy of our support and action.  I also realize that not every one of us can be passionately on fire about every single one of them (many things, yes, but not everything).  In His sovereingty, God created each of us uniquely, purposefully giving us different gifts and passions to serve and expand His kingdom as we work together as the body of Christ.

I don’t want to be this flippant, cause-championing cheerleader just because all of a sudden I’m personally invested in something.   The thing is, there is a MUCH greater purpose involved…

It’s taken me a while to see that ALL of our individual stories are part of a much larger story in all of this.  In my own life, my personal relationship with God really began to grow simultaneously alongside a deepening interest and involvement in missions.  I started to realize God’s worldwide mission of redeeming all men back to himself, which includes the orphan, the abandoned, the unreached, the voiceless — and the privileged.  I have only just begun to see how adoption is on God’s magnificent, loving heart.  He is the father to the fatherless, and He is our adoptive Father… the one who does not “just” save and redeem us, but who actually brings us into His family!  “Not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise [who] are counted as offspring” (Romans 9:8).  The recognition of our own spiritual Adoption is inseparable from the living out of our Christian lives.  We are told that the “poor” will always be among us — but the even bigger truth to wrap our minds around is that we ourselves are among the depraved… broken and in need of a Savior.  Saved, and yet also given a Father…

Like the quote says at the bottom of this site:  “We adopt not because we are rescuers.  No, we adopt because we are rescued.”

To be honest, there are FAR more educated, inspiring, well-spoken, and well-researched people out there who can build this case much more effectively than I could ever attempt.  You guys are smart, too.  The statistics are abundantly available if you want to know the where’s and what’s.  The Bible is FULL — cover to cover — with the why’s.  And, Lord knows, there are bookoos* of foster and adoptive moms in the blogosphere who are plethoras of knowledge and experience when it comes to the how-to’s.

So, here’s what I’m NOT going to say:

“Could you find room in your heart to foster or adopt?”

Or any other similarly stated proposition.  (I have to say, I really dislike those kind of questions!)

For one, because I’m not going to question the amount of love in your heart.  I know plenty of people who have plenty enough room for love in their hearts to foster or adopt a child they did not conceive.  (Maybe they just haven’t thought about it before, or maybe they didn’t know they could create a family outside of the “norm.”  Or maybe they are called simply to love the family they already have.)  And, two, because it’s not — and can’t ever be — about GUILT.  It’s not about “should.”  (It’s not even fully about compassion.)

My charge, instead, would be for you to seek God and ask Him to search your heart… to reveal what He might be calling you to.  To point out those “rooms” in your heart reserved for scary questions and possibilities and what continuing to live out the Gospel in your own life might mean.  (These aren’t cookie-cutter rooms that look the same for everyone, by the way.  And they definitely aren’t Pinterest.)  I believe in the power of suggestion, whole-heartedly, but I believe even so much more in the power of the Holy Spirit.  So, if you’re still reading and feel moved to accept: I challenge you to pray intentionally about fostering and adoption.  I’m praying for you, too.  I’m praying for my church, and I’m praying for THE Church.

I know I don’t know everything (or, truth be told, nearly enough).  I’m still learning all the time…  But here’s the [over-simplified] unavoidable truth:  There are many, MANY children out there who desperately, genuinely need a forever home.

Can you imagine the gospel-casting culture that would be created if this was no longer “out of the ordinary”??  If more and more people came to understand both the theological aspect and the missional aspect of adoption?  That fostering and adoption aren’t just for those other people who are “into” that sort of thing?  But that “adoption is about an entire culture within our churches… the church, an entity that transcends both blood kinship and legal fictions” (Russell Moore, Adopted For Life)?  The church as the “justice-loving, gospel-proclaiming community she was called to be” (Micah Jelinek)?  This makes me so excited!!!

No, not everyone is going to be called to adopt.  On the other hand, YES, you might be.  And it’s easier said than done.  But while we here have innumerable freedoms and opportunities, I also believe that many times we are operating with limited vision.  (Too often.)  We don’t even conceive that God MIGHT be calling us to something we’ve never even thought about‚ and, in fact, we’ve never asked Him.  Our affinity to remain incubated in our comfort zones, perhaps our unintentional stereotypes, our fears, get in the way…

I think it might be possible that one common misconception about adoption is that adoption is only for certain “types” of families.  Like couples who already have biological children.  Or couples who have suffered (tremendously) with infertility.  I personally believe that any way God orchestrates adoption is absolutely beautiful.  To me, either way is equally valuable and significant.  But I mention this simply because it might not often be considered that adoption is also for couples who choose to adopt “first” and then might still decide to have biological kids one day… (like us).

And single ladies: There is a huge place — and need! — for you here as well!  We learned in our foster-parenting classes that oftentimes (due to particular situations of abuse, etc.), single women are the most wanted and ideal situation for a foster baby or child.  Because, sometimes, it simply isn’t wise for there to be a male presence in the household at all.  Just check out the blog of this amazing, single, full-time foster parent in her mid-20s, who inspires me to no end (and even let me write a guest post here on her blog back in March!) – Seeing Joy.  And for a single woman who desires a child and chooses to adopt — is the love she provides not far greater than the situation from which the child might come?  Is it above God to create a family in that way?

So the misconceptions do exist, but sometimes all it takes is simply becoming more informed to start turning the ship around.  And even then, no amount of facts or figures can truly represent the stories of real people who have accepted this call.  There are REAL families who are filled to capacity with the love God has blessed them with through fostering and adoption… And REAL families who have traveled a long, hard road — and yet still rejoice.  I am incredibly humbled by their devotion to Christ.  By their pursuit of Him above their pursuit of adoption…

There are a LOT of complicated (and quite sensitive) issues swirling throughout this topic.  There’s a lot of opinions even without voicing a dream!  But instead of avoiding it altogether, I have an even greater fear:

If this doesn’t become a part of our conversations, there isn’t much hope for it becoming part of our culture.

It all starts with vision.  It starts long before the how’s and what if’s, before the words “can’t” and “not (for) me.”  It starts with the knowledge of what’s yet to be set right and the courage, by faith, to consider your own unique role in God’s redemptive plans — whatever that might be.

The Bible presents a dream for all believers, too: that one day “He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.”  Until that becomes a reality (and I believe that it will), what do we do with the grace of our identity and inheritance in Christ here on earth?  I have to ask myself that, too.

Good intentions are never enough, and there is a lot left to learn… a lot left to be done.

But I have a dream… and you’re in it. :)

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* {I literally had to look up how to spell “bookoos“; turns out, it’s a Southern thing (I knew it!)… from the French word “beaucoup.”  Ha!  Fun fact for the day.}

Guatemala

Trey leaves for Guatemala today!

While we are busy packing and getting a few things in order here at our house, I did want to take the time to ask for prayer and keep you guys in the loop.  Trey is leading another mission team to Chichicastenango, Guatemala.  It will be his fifth time participating in this work.  The focus of the week will be building homes for widows, installing stoves in existing homes, and serving in feeding centers for orphans, as well as any other projects as needed.

(Psst- Learn more here.)

Can you tell why he loves it…? :)

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Oh for the LOVE, people.

(Oh for the LOVE, people.)

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Guatemala is a beautiful country with a beautiful culture.  It’s hard to comprehend… looking from the outside in… just how many widows and orphans are living among its vibrant countryside.  It’s also hard to comprehend the reason why: a 36-year civil war that devastated the country in the latter years of this past century.  It is estimated that somewhere around 200,000 people lost their lives (or disappeared), leaving behind a tremendous amount of abandoned children, orphans, and widows.  (You might have even seen in current world news about the ongoing Guatemala Genocide Trial against the nation’s former dictator, now 86 years old.)

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(my “artsy” photo from 2010)

Even worse than the physical poverty is the rampant spiritual poverty here, a blend of Catholicism and traditional Mayan beliefs that confuses, distorts, and leaves no room for Truth or the knowledge of the one true Hope that any of us have…  But God’s heart is close here, to these people, and greater things are still to come.

Guatemala is a special place for us, one that we have grown to love through relationships we have built there, as well as the many opportunities God has given us to serve there.  (One of these years we will go at the same time!)

To link this mission with our adoption process, one cool connection that has happened within the past year is that our adoption agency (Bethany Christian Services) has actually developed a partnership with this same organization in Guatemala that our church sends teams to (Pray America).  So it’s been really neat for us to see these two organizations working together.  While they also support social-service initiatives, such as foster care and in-country adoption programs, a big part of what Bethany is doing here involves a sponsorship program that exists “to provide nutrition, clean water, safe housing, education, literacy programs, and spiritual formation for children and families in rural Guatemala.”

Alongside their adoption programs, this is one of the things I greatly appreciate about Bethany: their efforts in family preservation.  The focus here is not to adopt children out (Guatemala is not currently an “open” country for adoption anyway) but rather to preserve and empower the family unit that exists.  Obviously adoption is a huge need around the world, and it’s absolutely what’s “best” in tons of cases — but not always.  Much like the rehabilitation center in Kenya that our church has a partnership with, the point is not to remove the children from their country.  (Making it different from an orphanage.)  The goal, instead, is to rehabilitate and develop these children to become Godly, productive members of their own communities.  Similarly, with the partnership between Pray America and Bethany, they want to help educate and develop these families, in a relational way, that will put them on a path toward self-sustainability and becoming more physically, financially, emotionally, and spiritually “whole.”

(To quickly clarify: When I say that adoption is not always what’s best, I’m not talking about adoption ethics, corruption, and best practices… at least not yet.  I see a TON of this being talked about all over the place right now, particularly in international adoption circles, but it’s definitely not something I’m going to tackle today!)

Getting back to Trey’s mission, I do think it would be a neat opportunity if Trey were to encounter any Bethany staff while he’s in Guatemala this week (even though we are adopting from the U.S., through their domestic program), just to see them in action and hear more from their perspective on the work being done in this part of the world.  But of course it’s not his primary reason for going, so that’s not where his focus will be.  The mission at hand is always a privilege to be part of, and it never fails to leave people changed…  It is SUCH an honor to be part of this ongoing work with Pray America in Chichicastenango: to share the love of Christ with His people there, to love on some beautiful children, to build a foundation for a relationship with God as the physical foundation of these homes are laid, to plant and water seeds of those who have gone before and those still to come…

This particular team is REALLY great, y’all, and I couldn’t be more excited for them. :)  It blesses me to no end to be a part of sending these teams out, to hear stories when they return, and especially to see Trey shine in ways that God has uniquely created him: relationally, in leadership, being intentional, utilizing his servant’s heart, and all while getting to be part of global missions.

As for me…  While I’m definitely going to miss him (and, YES, I wish I were going back!), I am thrilled to share Trey with this team and these precious people for a week, so that he can be a blessing to many others for God’s greater purposes.

In just a little while, I’ll be following him up to church to see the team off as they make their way to Raleigh for the night to fly out tomorrow… and then my little corner of the world gets very still.  The ebb and flow of our lives.  I will be grateful for the seasons of rest as they are given.

Please keep Trey and his team in your prayers as they travel and are on the field.  Pray for physical safety, protection, and provision (especially healing in Trey’s injured elbow).  Pray for their spiritual development, and for encouragement and discipleship to be present among them.  Pray for the great ways God is going to work in and through this team.  And pray for the people they are going to serve: that they will be prepared to receive them; that God’s love would be displayed and communicated; for their relationships being built with the missionaries serving there year-round, long-term; and that one day they would know Christ as Lord…

Grateful,

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{By the way….. here is an update on the “wild goose chase” of finding an infant care class (see previous post), in case you were wondering!  When DSS e-mailed me back, they let me know their classes are more geared toward parents and children taking the classes together.  But they did recommend a place in town called Smart Start… through which I found out a different nonprofit organization called “Women in the Center” offers quarterly infant care classes!  We won’t be able to make the May class, so we’d be looking at waiting until July 23rd…  Meanwhile, the lady at CAPP got back to me, and she let me know of a registered nurse who offers monthly classes, who works for Wilmington Health… Wilmington Health, as in the place where I go see my endocrinologist!  I can’t believe I didn’t think to check with them!!  Her next class is in mid-June.  So it appears the answer we’ve been looking for has been right under my nose this whole time!!!  HA!}

The Journey to Here (An Honest Account)

I can remember the first time I ever had what felt like an “adoptive love” for anyone.

It was with a young man named James, who lives in Kenya.  He was the first sponsor child that Trey and I have had the privilege to sponsor at Mama Hellen’s Rehabilitation Center in Nakuru, Kenya.  I remember the very first time I ever went to Kenya and got to meet James in person.  I can remember saying the words out loud to a team member that I had this “crazy adoptive love” for him.  (Her prompt response: “Have you told him that?”  Wise words.)  The feeling was not expected — it took me by surprise, and it was not something I had ever felt before.  But I knew somehow it was rooted in the fact that he was ours, and we were his…

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I also remember the first time I ever knew for a FACT that I could love a child just as much who was not biologically my own.  This one was another James: my nephew.  He is my only sister’s first child.  I could not even believe how much I loved James when he was born.  Of course I love my second nephew, Elijah, just as much.  But when James came first… at that time, I never knew before that I could possibly love someone that much that I didn’t even know yet…

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And, since we’re on firsts, the photo below was NOT the first time I ever felt like I wanted to bring a child home from a mission trip… but it was probably the first time I really almost didn’t let go…

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White Mountain Apache Reservation, Arizona

Through family, different missions all over the world, and other life experiences, I have fallen in love with many children — and God has shown me that He loves them ALL.  All children have limitless potential and are love-worthy, despite incredibly varying circumstances, because all of them were created by God, in His image.

At this point, I have to tell you:

I’ve come a LONG way since 18 years old… valuing my independence and not even sure I ever wanted kids.

At that time, it seemed perfectly OK to me if maybe I never had kids.  I didn’t have much experience with them.  I didn’t even think I was “good with” them.  Kids were NOT “my thing.”  Maybe children should just be for people who are more inclined to them.  And even when all of that changed, when somewhere along the way my heart changed forever, it still took me a long time (or maybe just from the world’s point of view) to know I was “ready.”  I’m not talking about the worry and fear of not knowing if you’re ready to be a parent, which I know all first-time parents go through… Of course you still have doubts, even after you know you’re ready.  I’m talking about the knowing deep inside that you’re just not ready for kids yet versus when that changes.  (Kind of like the time at which you are ready to leave home for the first time and how that’s different for everyone — I didn’t have a problem there, by the way.  Ha!)

Some girls have wanted to be moms their whole lives.  And they’re just waiting for the timing in life to be right.  That was never the case for me.  It was my dream deferred.

I can remember having many, many conversations with God — a few in particular over long runs out in His creation — just asking Him that if I don’t feel ready to have kids soon, to please just give me that feeling (…or, sometimes, even just the desire…).  I was in my late 20s, with everything aligned (married, owned a home), and by this point I had, for a LONG time, really loved children… yet still I was waiting, personally, for God to give me a “go.”

Although my affection for children has completely flourished in a 180-degree way, I admit I still don’t feel like I’m necessarily “the best” with them.  My introverted personality lends itself better to conversations and teachable moments and encouragement/ development, rather than all-out crazy extroverted playtime (which, don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of, too).  And I think that’s OK.  And I can tell you that, in spite of that, there are many faces I can picture in my mind right now — ones that blossomed out of my bloodlines, ones that are dark as the night sky — and they fill my heart up to combustion when I think of them…

I don’t think my developing a love for children happened because all along I was drawn to them or thought they were cute.  I truly believe it came out of a deepening love for God — and because children are so heavily on His heart, He grew them in mine… in a big way.

In bare-walled classroom building in Kenya, during Sunday School on a dusty August day, God planted a seed in my heart for generational discipleship… beginning with a love for teaching children about Jesus… that has since developed into a fascination with the biblical relationship between the Great Commission and the institution of the family.  The fact that God created two institutions for advancing His kingdom: the local church and the Christian family.  (If this is resonating with you, check out this great article.)

Of course all the rest of it comes with that, too: Are you kidding me, I think they are immensely adorable, and I enjoy spending time with them very much!!!  But His purposes are even greater than that.  This can be through fostering, adoption, OR biological parenting.  And if, after reading that article, you are thinking I’m not technically a parent… well, I guess I’m not.  Yes, I am currently pursuing it, but that still doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed for me.  So whether or not you have your “own” kids, grown kids, or no kids, I think the question also becomes:

Who are all the children who have been placed in our lives for a reason — to spiritually parent?

In her book One Million Arrows, Julie Ferwerda says, “Spiritual parenting can be just as meaningful and impacting as traditional parenting in matters of eternity and can take on many forms.  You can invest time, talents, prayer, money, possessions, and skills into shaping kids locally, nationally, and even internationally.”

God has given me the great gift of mentoring an 11-year-old girl over this past year, and I can tell you that “mentoring” her blesses ME in more ways than I can count.  Although I did pray specifically for opportunities to mentor (particularly to pre-teens or teens with Type 1 diabetes, like me and like her), this relationship is one that God ordained — altogether different than what I originally sought after and one million times better than I ever imagined.  (Isn’t that just like Him?)  Truly, it was a gift from God that He had in mind, and it’s a relationship in my life that I absolutely cherish.

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I do realize that mentoring and parenting are going to look a lot different… but it’s all about investing in the next generation for God’s kingdom.  It’s helping ignite an excitement in them about who God is and a love for Him in their hearts that’s going to carry out Psalm 78: 4-8… right alongside the Great Commission.  Not to mention, in my case, she’s a super awesome kid, and I absolutely LOVE hanging out with her!! :)

So… that’s part of my story.

Then there’s a whole other part about deciding to adopt “first,” about parenting children not biologically ours — which is a different tale in itself.  And maybe it’s one for a later day (at least the parts that God has told me so far).  But I can tell you that He was weaving that story in and out of both of our lives and hearts before we even knew it, and He’s been gracious to allow me to see fractions of those threads in looking back on my life.

At this point in the story, I know I feel ready… and it goes without saying that I am super excited to be a mom (it can’t happen soon enough!).  Of course there are the normal “am I really ready for this” fears.  Those are a different kind of “ready.”  I’m not worried about those.  I don’t doubt God’s timing or sovereignty or faithfulness, because I can look back to see the ways He has been faithfully sovereign and perfect and good.  I think that He has designed me in a unique way to be a mother, and His process for me was different than any other mother’s process.  Not better, not worse — just different.  And, now, we’re just positioned to meet the one He’s chosen for us…  The “especially special” one we get to call our own. :)

Be blessed.  Stay tuned.

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{ In April of 2014, I wrote the follow-up to this account: “Part 2.”  It is about our decision to adopt and for adoption to be our “Plan A.”  You can read that post here. }

Along For The Ride

Look what just came in the mail!  Our required reading is here!!!

The nerd in me comes out.

(The nerd in me comes out.)

Yay!  My plan/hope is to read just as much on “parenting” as parenting with an adoption focus.  (I might be super naive, and I do realize this is extremely over-simplifying, but at the end of the day, we’re just two people raising a baby.)

So far, for now, my personal reading includes…

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Then while ordering said required book on Amazon, somehow a couple other items found themselves on my “Wish List”…

A children's devotional, made by the creators of the Jesus Storybook Bible.

A children’s devotional, made by the creators of the Jesus Storybook Bible.

(which — let’s think about this — would sit on the shelf for a couple years at least)

and

(a little something for me.)

(a little something for me.)

Here’s the thing.

It’s kind of hard not to get ahead of yourself when you have my kind of personality.  Now I’m not “Type A” by any means (in fact, in many ways, I’m far from it!!!).  But when my heart is in it, I’m all for it…

This isn’t  bad, but it becomes a problem when our thoughts go unattended and start running wild.  That’s when it gets ugly.  The illusion of control.  Things feeling forced.  If I’m being REALLY transparent, sometimes my subconscious thoughts can begin to look like this:

If we can get this done by this time, then this can happen.

In MY perfect world, in my own predetermined plan, I’d really like for the end picture to look like ______.

All else aside, I want to be as honest as I can on this blog.  To show you that the adoption fairy doesn’t simply wave her magic wand, and suddenly you have this beautiful, perfect, multi-cultural family.  It’s beautiful all right.  And God’s will is perfect.  But since the road from here to there involves us humans, there is going to be frustration and lack of clarity and tension along the way (just read our FAQ’s!).  The challenges are all part of the journey… and if this is where we document the journey, this is where you get the grit.

We are so far from having it all together…

It’s a strange place to be, in a way, to have “announced” we’re adopting and suddenly receive all kinds of encouraging feedback.  It’s wonderful, actually.  We REALLY appreciate all your love and support and positive words… more than you know!!!  And there is SO MUCH to look forward to.  Yet, somehow for me right now, a tiny tension exists within all the excitement.  So for the past few weeks, I’ve been praying fervently for these two things:

  • a humble heart
  • and a submissive, patient spirit.

I’m asking for the humility to trust in God’s plan (not our own) — and for all the glory to be His.  I’m praying to be submitted to God’s sovereignty — to know that we are not guaranteed anything, and for His will to be done.  And I’m praying for patience.  For as long as I can remember, it seems like I have all the patience in the world with people… but when it comes to taking action in life, to “doing” things my heart feels called to, I can be very enthusiastic OK, impulsive.  So I’m praying to simply remain surrendered — that my “doing” will be nothing more than what God has asked of us today.  That our actions will be positioning ourselves for Him to move.

That’s hard.  I can feel those inner gears wanting to upshift, while God might just be saying, “We’re going to be on cruise-control for a while.  And that’s ok.”  He is so gracious, and He is ALL goodness.  A friend and dear soul recently said:

“It has taken a few years for me to really rest in the knowledge that God is all we need and all that we search for.  Children are a beautiful addition to His love story with us.”

How easy we forget when we’re caught up in the logistics of life… in making our own plans.

2 Timothy 2:13 says: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”

So I’m learning to know how to be along for the ride.  Not that I don’t have things to do from where I’m sitting — BELIEVE me.  (One of these days I really should post our Adoption Checklist… I just don’t want to scare anyone away who’s thinking about it!!)  But there will come a day when He’s going to require all I’ve got… and I need to save my fuel ’til then.  And enjoy the scenery.  To remember that the rearview is filled with His faithfulness, that the passenger seats are overflowing with people who love us, and that I am not the one whose Voice is inside the GPS.  To know that the road is plenty wide and plenty long…

And it is SO beautiful.

{By the way, I’m all about sharing resources, so I thought this would be a good place to include this great article on surrender (to the adoption process AND with parenting in general)… thanks, Gina!}

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Who’s With Me?!

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Thursday afternoon.

Boy, am I pumped after watching the Summit 9 live web stream this past week!!!  I am so grateful for such amazing conferences as this — and for the technology that allows you to be a part of them.  Although the breakout sessions were only for attendees, the main sessions were streamed live online (and, yes, this photo is me catching one at work… but alongside adoption and foster care, the conference is also about global initiatives and orphan care — absolutely related!!).

I watched several sessions online between Thursday and Friday, and I stalked I mean followed the #summit9 hashtag on Twitter and Instagram.  But as much I loved being able to keep up with what was happening and being shared at Summit 9, what I want to know is…

Who wants to go next year?!?!  Let’s make this happen!!!  (OK, so I probably need to run it by Trey first. :)  But how awesome would that be?!)

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Thursday night.

I’m going to make this a short post (so you can browse the Summit website and check your schedules, of course… hehe).  But first I have to share with you the story of a family who was interviewed during the Thursday evening general sessions.  This incredible family has a beautiful life and perspective that you will NOT want to miss.  Please check out the short video series (or at least the “Chapter One”/intro video) of the Wagner Family…  Just don’t watch it if you don’t want to adopt. ;)

“By the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” ~Hosea 12:6

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Friday morning.

{I also have to say that I LOVED hearing Bishop Martin from Possum Trot, Texas, speak on Friday a.m.!!!  He was awesome!  If the main sessions are being archived online after they have been streamed live, and I can find the link for that, I will be sure to share it.  In the meantime, there was a book written about this amazing small town that you can find on Amazon, and here’s a news article to check out, too.  Incredible story!!!}