adoption

Guest Post: How the Good Gift of Adopting Displays the Goodness of Our Heavenly Father

I shared what I’ve learned about God as a Father from our adoption on the blog Beloved Prodigal today. I hope these lessons help you know how much you are loved by the God who sees every exceptional thing about you.

Five years ago, God called our family to international adoption. After years of waiting, we finally traveled to Ethiopia in March for our court date. Our brand new two-year-old has been home for four months now, and God is teaching me things about His character as a good Father through this experience of having a new son.

Here are three things I have learned about God from our adoption:

1. God sees the heart, but I can’t.

The first thing I noticed about our boy when we first met him were all the little details about his hands and feet.

Meet Hezekiah - Adoption Update

It has been months since I’ve posted anything about our adoption on my social media or blog.  I apologize for keeping quiet.  

I have some news I’d like to share with you.  We have been referred a sweet 2-year-old boy.  He is not yet ours, but we are doing everything we can to get a chance to go to court in Ethiopia and make him our son.

MEET HEZEKIAH

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HERE’S THE SHORT VERSION, THE ANSWERS TO THE QUESTIONS I GET ASKED MOST OFTEN.

We don’t know when our court date might be.  The most likely guess is sometime between December and March, but it could always be longer because we are dependent on the Ethiopian government and that is unpredictable.

We have paid all of our agency fees.  We were able to fundraise and save all $26,000 we needed to pay our agency.  There were so many people who gave generously to our adoption.  Our adoption wouldn’t be happening without those donations and the provision of our Faithful God.

We still will need to pay for our travel.  When we travel for court, that expense is completely up to us to provide.  We estimate that it will cost around $8,000.

We will be able to bring Hezekiah home when we travel for court.  Whenever we are finally able to travel, we will be bringing our son home with us when we come home.  We will need to be in Ethiopia for three weeks.

This little boy is not the same 4-year-old boy, “A”, that we were hoping to adopt at Christmastime.  You can read more about that below or in our last blog post.

Thank you to everyone who has prayed for us, shared about our adoption, let me know you were praying for us, donated to our adoption, or participated in one or more of our bazillion fundraisers.

I really am appreciative.

HERE’S THE LONG VERSION OF THE STORY, FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO LOVE MORE DETAILS.  

The weekend after Thanksgiving, we were driving home from visiting my family in Ft. Worth when I pulled up a waiting child list and saw a precious little face.  The waiting child list was on a private webpage and it included children that they had not been able to find a family for from among the families adopting through their agency.  This little boy was just the age we had hoped to adopt, and we knew we could be a home for him.  We emailed the agency (which was a completely different adoption agency that had been using and paid all of our fees to) to see if this little boy still needed a family.

A week later we had found out that this sweet little boy was still waiting for a family, and we were trying to make the difficult decision of switch agencies to try to adopt him or stay with our agency with no end in sight to our waiting.  The biggest factor was money.  We had paid our current agency about one-third of the money required for an international adoption, and we wouldn’t get any of it back if we switched agencies.  Also, we would need to pay over twice the amount we had paid thus far and pay for yet another home study for the new agency.  It was money we didn’t have, and we would have to trust God to provide it.

We took the leap.  I have the conviction that God does not view money the way we people do, and I never want to make a ministry decision based solely on money.  We switched agencies and began fundraising.

From the first week of December until the last week of February we fundraised like mad people.  We did bake sales, present wrapping, garage sales, barbecues, craft sales, and online auctions.  We downright asked for handouts.  We made a video asking everyone to give $2 and invite 10 friends to do the same.  Our Paypal account was flooded by generous people.  After a few months of constant fundraising, we were still about $7,000 short of paying all of our new agency’s fees.  Paying off those fees would allow us to sign the contract that would make sure that we would be the family that would adopt this sweet boy.  We were so sure that this was the boy God had in mind for our family.

One afternoon the last week of February, I was pulling into the craft store parking lot.  I was in the middle of making more crafts for yet another fundraiser, and my phone rang.  It was our new social worker on the phone.  She had some tough news to share about “our boy.”  My first thought was that he was sick or worse.  She shared that without their knowledge, the remote orphanage that our sweet boy was at had contacted a different agency to advocate for finding a family.  Another family had stepped up to adopt him through another agency.  They had already completed their home study and all of their paperwork.  This family had paid all their agency’s fees and signed a contract of adoption with the orphanage.  All of this had been done weeks ago without our agency’s knowledge, and the orphanage had decided to let this other family proceed with the adoption.

This news was devastating.  I mourned this loss hard.  In the middle of grief was tremendous guilt.  Wasn’t I happy that he was still healthy and still was going to be adopted into a family?  Hurt mixed with guilt is a recipe for some awful thoughts about yourself.  I felt so selfish for being so upset.

I just kept thinking, but we had worked so hard.  We had spent every free moment for months fundraising, working on our new home study, and rebuilding our adoption paperwork from scratch, every single paper had to be resigned because our old paperwork was too outdated.

I was also so confused by this news.  We had felt so sure that this boy was the reason our family had been called to adoption.

It took a few weeks before the hurt began to subside in my heart.  We could have easily walked away from the idea of adoption after this huge disappointment, but we didn’t.  Both my husband and I had seen the faces of children in the orphanages we had visited.  We had held the babies and played games with the children.  We knew we had to keep going.  We had to trust God that He still had a plan.

About two months later, we received the phone call I had been dreaming about for four years.  Our new agency called to say there was a little boy they would like to refer to our family, meaning that if we were ready to adopt him, they would help us do it.  She didn’t give us any details about the little boy, other than his age.  She said that the agency would email us his file in a few days that would have all of his pictures and information.

We were so anxious to receive that email.  Two days later, we received the email.  We were blown away at how precious this little boy was, and we were in shock that we were going to get to adopt him.  Our giddiness lasted only a few hours because by that evening we had learned that the Ethiopian government had suspended international adoptions with no reason given or timeline for the suspension to end.

It was the 21st of April, and the spring and beginning of summer is a blur of setting in my backyard trying to focus on anything besides the adoption suspension.

I’d like to tell you that during that season, I completely leaned on the Lord, but many times I leaned on Dunkin Donuts frozen coffees.  Worry was so present in my mind those days that it would completely fog my brain, and the only thing that seemed to make me feel like a human was a big dose of sugar and caffeine in the form of a blended corporate concoction.  It was also clear to me that my vitamin d levels were suffering from the inside life I lived all winter.  A typical day this spring included me doing the minimum school work to finish up our home schooler’s first-grade year while taking every opportunity to refresh my email, search keywords “adoption and Ethiopia” on Twitter, and stocking all the adoption Facebook groups for any clue of what was going to happen with our adoption.

By the time James came home from his work at the church, I was a mess and we would get in the car and get our frozen coffee fix for the day.

Sure I prayed and I would tell you that God was in control, but if someone else said that God’s timing was perfect one more time I would have thrown my frozen coffee in their face.

Would God give us a picture of a beautiful boy who needed a home and then tell us our adoption journey was done?  I honestly didn’t know.

I kept telling God that this whole adoption was His idea, not mine.  Why would He give us this calling, allow our hearts to be fully devoted to the idea of bringing an Ethiopian child into our family, and then threaten to let us fall on our face?

The hard questions weren’t just directed at God.  I accused myself of not really caring about this adorable little boy but really being upset because I would look like a failure if this adoption I had so publicly pursued would end without success.

I spent a lot of time in my Bible that spring reading the words of the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah.  God’s promise of redemption through His Son was centuries away from those generations, but God was determined to give His people hope.

I needed hope more than frozen coffee.

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.
— Isaiah 30:18 ESV

I hit some real low points in my faith life during that season.  I feel shame for these low points asking ugly questions about God and doubting His sovereignty.  I also feel thankfulness for these low points.

I was completely empty.  I was completely powerless.

I had nothing but Jesus to hang onto because each of those low points let me see God better.  The answers would come with tears and the Spirit.  God was loving and sovereign.  God was present in my troubles.

As the calendar turned to July, we began to see the light at the end of our waiting tunnel.  Good news about the future of Ethiopian adoptions began to trickle in, and we were able to continue on our journey.

Our newly redone paperwork was sent to Ethiopia on August 17th, and our last immigration application was received by Homeland Security on September 7th.

The application process with immigration will take about 3-6 months.  Along with this approval from the US government, we are waiting for an approval letter from the Ethiopian government too.  There is no estimated timeline for that letter.  We are just hopeful that we will receive the letter in the same 3-6 months that the immigration approval will be approved.

There is a decent chance that this could happen, but there is also a chance that we could be waiting longer than that.

We definitely need prayer.  Continue to pray for our Hezekiah and our family.

I will update the blog as we know more, but it could be months before I have anything to post.

Thank you again!

Adoption Update - He Restores Our Soul

We have some disappointing news about our adoption.  Monday we got a call from the case worker at our new agency.  She called to let us know that because of the breakdown in communication in rural Ethiopia, something unexpected had happened.  Because little "A" that we had been working towards adopting the past 3 months was on the waiting child list for so long, the orphanage directors had reached out to other adoption agencies to advocate for him.  One of those agencies found a family wanting to adopt "A."  This family already had their dossier complete and updated, and they had all their agency fees paid and were able to sign an official referral with their agency.  It had already been two weeks before our agency knew this had happened.  Our agency told the orphanage that we were working hard to adopt "A" and very, very close to having our dossier (fancy word for official adoption paperwork) updated, but the orphanage made a judgment call.  The orphanage decided to allow this other family to proceed with adopting "A."

This isn't something that happens often in Ethiopian adoptions.  These were unusual circumstances, but after visiting orphanages the last three summers, I could see how this communication breakdown could easily happen.

We were very disappointed to hear this news Monday, and it has been a rough week dealing with all the feelings that bubbled up after hearing this news about our adoption.

We know we cannot give up, and we are not supposed to quit trying to adopt from Ethiopia.

Our friends and family have been so generous helping us raise money to pay the adoption fees to adopt "A."  We were so very close to having all of our agency fees paid.  We have raised $20,600 since the last week of December!  We were only short $7,000.  That is amazing!

Our home study should be finalized any day now, and our dossier only lacks our final home study copy and about 5 other documents.

Being so close to having everything we needed to adopt "A" made it really hard to accept that we were not going to be able to adopt him.

We are honestly happy that "A" will have a forever family.  He will have a home.  That is what we wanted for him all along.  We are just disappointed that home won't be our home.

All of the money we raised and work we have done updating our home study and dossier can be used to adopt a different child through our new agency.  Our agency has given us a time line that we can expect to be matched with a new child in the next 6 months.

We are going to continue to gather the last of the paperwork needed to complete our dossier, and we will continue waiting for the child God has to place in our home.

It has been hard finding our confidence that the Lord has a plan when we felt so sure that "A" was the boy God had chosen to add to our family.  But God has been slowly speaking into our hurting hearts this week.

On Monday, when I got the heartbreaking call from our agency, I was sitting in the Michael's parking lot about to buy paint.  The plan had been to make as many wood signs as possible this month to sell at a craft show this weekend.  I had just started a new sign.  I picked a Bible verse completely randomly.  I was looking for a Bible verse that was universally loved.  I didn't even think about what the verse or sign said on Monday when I started making it, hoping to make several to sell at the craft show.

On Tuesday, when all I wanted to do was watch mindless television and eat Captain Crunch, I realized that God had given me this verse that I would need before I even knew I needed it.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
— Psalm 23:1-4 ESV

God is restoring our soul.  God is planting dreams in our hearts and reassuring our family that He is leading us.  He has a plan.

Review of Falling Free by Shannan Martin

Shannan Martin has the kind of personality that makes you feel like a friend instead of a reader.  

Just look at this photo she posted on Instagram this morning, the day her book Falling Free: Rescued From the Life I Always Wanted released.  She doesn’t have a pretentious bone in her body.  She’s going to set you down with a cup of tea and an fun, interesting conversation.

By reading Shannan’s blog and following her on social media, especially her dreamy Instagram feed, I keep finding these random things about her that make me say, “ME TOO!”

Number one is her infatuation with making salsa and late-night salsa binging.  Me too!  Number two is her love of vintage: dresses from decades past, the sweetly aged items that decorate her home.  Me too!  Number three is her addiction to gingham.  Gingham makes my heart feel warm.  Number four is her heart for adoption and her Jesus-fueled love for people.  Me too!  I could go on, but I don’t want to encourage a restraining order.

There is one important thing that I should mention that I feel I have in common with Shannan.  That is our life not lead.

Shannon begins her book with this phrase,

I’m suppose to be a farm girl. Right now I should be wearing a prairie skirt, traipsing barefoot to my gardens, staking my delphinium with vintage ribbon, catching raspberries in the bowl of my apron. That’s how I always saw myself. It was my secret dream, and I knew if I ever got there, I would have made it.
— Shannan Martin, Falling Free

It makes sense that the sub-tile of her book is “Rescued From the Life I Always Wanted.

That sub-tile has weight in my soul.  I feel it.  In high school I only dreamed of a big career.  I wanted a job that had a big paycheck.  I even dreamed of stressful deadlines, and knew that they would fill me with a sense of importance that nothing else could.  I watched shows set in offices and big cities and thought of all the professional clothing I would wear, lady suits and flowing blouses.  I picked the college major of accounting and set my sights on a big six firm.

As I was beginning school, God was writing another story.  My sophomore year of college, boyfriend’s dad, who would become my father-in-law, had a life-saving   liver transplant.  He had been a pastor for 25 years, and after coming so close to losing his life, he didn’t want to go back to usual ministry or normal church.  He moved into an old building in downtown Amarillo and started Citychurch, an inner-city ministry to children.

By the time I earned my accounting degree, God had changed my heart and called me to that ministry.  I never got to see what that life I thought I wanted looked like.

Shannan did.

SHANNAN MARTIN HAD THE PERFECT LIFE: A CUTE FARMHOUSE ON SIX RAMBLING ACRES, A LOVING HUSBAND, THREE ADORABLE KIDS, MONEY, FRIENDS, A CLOSE-KNIT CHURCH—A SAFE, HAPPY EXISTENCE.
But when the bottom dropped out through a series of shocking changes and ordinary inconveniences, the Martins followed God’s call to something radically different: a small house on the other side of the urban tracks, a shoestring income, a challenged public school, and the harshness of a county jail (where her husband is now chaplain). And yet the family’s plunge from “safety” was the best thing that could have happened to them.
— Nelson Books

Since I had already be rescued from the life I thought I wanted, I supposed that I had already learned all the lesson Shannan would share in her book.  As I read through the table of contents, I saw “Get Risky,” “Have Less,” “Unplan,” “Live Small,” ”Open the Door,” and other topics definitely related to.

I was wrong.  I may have lived through risky and small, learning heart-changing lessons as I transitioned from an ambitious college kid to a home school mom in urban children’s ministry, but Shannon had new insights.  She made me rethink things I had already wrestled through.

Shannan's stories draw me even closer to that every pressing goal of thinking, talking, acting, and living more Christlike. She shows the grey, the not easy, in the pressing on and pressing in. All of this idea-wrestling is done with lovely, kind, poetic, beautiful words. Her book is a friend that isn't afraid of the hard days.

Shannan's writing is relatable, kind, interesting, inspiring, and down-right challenging.  I know you will love it.

I have a sneaking suspicion that we all have lives that we thought we wanted that don’t line up with the better life that God has graciously planned for us.  God has a deeper, richer, more fulfilling life planned for you, and all you have to do is fall free.

God offers a better way: have less and do more. He inverts our plans, extending the option of total surrender like a May bouquet of decadent, gutsy, full-bloom peonies. It’s not some dreary prison sentence, meant for the poor souls commissioned to overseas ministry, or monks or nuns. It’s a hold-on-to-your-hat promise that life is actually far too long to risk squandering it on the wrong things. We’re offered the gift of becoming laser-focused on doing more for his kingdom.
— Shannan Martin, Falling Free

I’m recommending this book to you today, and I can’t imagine a day when this book will not be on my top 5 list of recommended books.  So either click this link to order it it or get in your car and head to the bookstore.  If you don’t, you’ll never hear the end of it.

My Third Visit to Ethiopia

My trip to Ethiopia this July with Storytellers Missions was such a good trip.  I want to tell you about it. 

When I got home from Ethiopia mid-July, all I wanted to do was sit by the pool, watch my kids swim, and read.  Now that the kids are back in school, it seems ridiculous that I haven’t written and posted this yet.  I’ve been home for over a month, but I still want to let you in on God’s goodness that I witnessed on this trip.  I especially want those of you that prayed for me and my daughter Lucy and/or supported our trip to know how God was glorified.

This is my third summer in a row to visit Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with AWAA Storyteller Missions.  The last two years, I have written very thoroughly about my week, including highlights of each day of the trip.  I believe doing that in this blog post would just be redundant.  There are things about my trip that don’t vary greatly from the last two years, traveling, from Amarillo to Addis was largely a similar experience.  I don’t have anything interesting to add.  Instead of giving my report in daily reflections, I’m just going to give you the most interesting observations.

 

1. Encouraging Reports of Domestic Adoption

 

This is something I observed last year, but I continued to see positive improvements in this area.  Socially, adoption has not been accepted by Ethiopian people.  That opinion is beginning to change.  America World Adoption has taken a proactive role in changing that social norm, even though it doesn’t benefit them financially at all.  In fact, one of the nannies employed by America World’s transition home was proud to share with us that she was pursuing adoption of a beautiful orphaned girl in her care as a nanny.  This sweet nanny has no children of her own, and a very modest income.  The fact that she was willing to sacrifice financially and personally to add a child to her family through adoption was really beautiful.  The ripple effects of her adoption is helping change the social norm of her country.  Please pray that adoption becomes more accepted in Ethiopia.  If children can be cared for and loved by a family in Ethiopia, that is so, so much better than a life in an orphanage.

(Photo by Traci Judd)

 

2.  Traveling With Adoptees

 

I had the great privilege of traveling with the Heckart family.  Ryan and Karmyn Heckart adopted two brothers through AWAA’s Ethiopia program two years ago.  The boys they adopted are named Jackson and James.  This was their first time traveling back to their birth country since their adoption, and getting to see their reactions to Ethiopia was worth billions to me.  Our first day at the guesthouse, they served us a very typical lunch, penne pasta with veggies (carrots, cabbage, zucchini), oil, and basil.  It was quite good, but watching James devour it was hilarious.  At one point he said, “I’ve had dreams of this pasta.”  It was adorable.  Karmyn was able to arrange visitation with the boys’ birth family.  Our fourth day there, Karmyn, the boys, and Karmyn’s other two children went to the boys’ aunt’s home.  About 15 members of their birth family came to visit, including their sister and a living grandfather.  By all reports, it was a very lovely visit that had some heart-wrenchingly touching moments as they bonded over the love that everyone had for the two boys.  Honestly, thinking of ever visiting a birth family of the child we will hopefully be allowed to adopt seems pretty scary to me.  It is not any kind of social situation I have ever been involved with, and the feelings all sound very, very big.  Hearing Karmyn talk about that meeting made me wish that I had been there.  It didn’t sound scary; it sounded precious.  We were able to take the boys’ aunt and sister out to dinner with us during the week and also have them visit our guesthouse one night.  Jackson was able to remember all of the language.  He was able to converse in Amharic with his family, the nannies at the orphanage the boys lived in, and the driver we had all week.  In fact, he made great friends with the driver, as they bonded over “the raps music” (as our diver called it.)  James, who is two years younger, could recognize some Amharic, remembered a lot of words, but he couldn’t converse at all.  He was however an excellent dancer.  Ethiopian traditional dances all include some amazing shoulder movements, and everyone was impressed with his moves.

 

3. The Kids Presented the Gospel

 

Since we had mainly children on our team, we empowered them to share the gospel on our trip.  Karmyn found a great idea of sharing major points from the creation to Jesus.  Two of the adults held a clothes line, and the 7 kids (my daughter Lucy being the oldest and 8 year old Dawson being the youngest) hung a picture on the clothes line as they shared their piece of the story.  The kids were able to share that presentation at each of the orphanages we visited, as well as the ministries Hope for Korah and Make Your Mark.  Oftentimes children are underestimated by adults.  They are not often given opportunities to share their faith or participate in ministry to others.  Since we were doing the presentation to children, I believe letting children share with children was the most powerful presentation of Jesus we could have offered.  The children were really listening as those seven children, two of which were Ethiopian, share about the story of the Bible.  Karmyn did something else really smart.  She made mini-coloring books with the pictures the kids had placed on the clothes lines.  She also added Bible verses in Amharic.  We were able to hand out hundreds of these to the children we shared with.  I am so proud of the kids.  So many adults will never have the opportunity to stand on foreign soil and proclaim Jesus to a crowd of people while having a translator share their words in a foreign language.  These kids have already done that at their age of 8 to 17.  God used them mightily.

(Photo by Traci Judd)

(Photo by Traci Judd)

 

4. Communion

 

I had the joy of taking communion at one of the churches we attended in Addis.  It was such a special moment, sharing that with believers in Ethiopia.  I will cherish that memory.

 

5. Small Improvements

 

My favorite thing about going back to the same mission field three years in a row is seeing the small improvements in the children’s lives each year.  The smallest thing can give me so much hope that the Church is making a difference for orphans and marginalized families.  The biggest improvement I saw in the large baby orphanage we visit each year was that they had new playground equipment.  That is something the kids hadn’t had before.  Honestly, the soccer ball is still their favorite form of entertainment, but it was getting a lot of use from the handful of kids who had physical disabilities.

There were also big improvements in one of my favorite ministries in Addis, Hope for Korah.  Their ministry has grown year after year, and it is obvious God is blessing their efforts.  They had a new program for families to join that included classes in money management and a group savings account to be used for business start-ups within the group.  Hope for Korah and the groups rally around each other’s entrepreneurial ideas and help make those dreams into a solid business plan.  Since jobs are so hard to come by in their tough economy, starting a business can be life-changing for a family in extreme poverty. 

The children’s ministry in Hope for Korah had grown as well.  They had Bible studies in the evening for the older children, and they had begun renting a soccer field once a week for soccer clinics that included Bible teaching.  If you don’t follow Hope for Korah on Facebook, I would encourage you to do so.  It is a very worthy cause if you are looking for a ministry in Ethiopia to support. 

 

6. Testimony

 

One of the team members from Karmyn’s church in Perryton was Justin Thompson.  Justin was able to share with about 20 older boys after our team helped with a soccer clinic at Hope for Korah.  He shared his testimony of losing his brother-in-law to suicide, his life before meeting Jesus, and how God had changed his life.  Sitting in that little room in Korah, the economically poorest community in Addis, was on of the most spiritually deep experiences I have ever had on mission.  It was clear to me that his testimony was sinking into the hearts of those boys in a deep and profound way.  The air was thick with the Holy Spirit’s movement.  I know the pain of losing a loved one to suicide, and I knew in my heart that most of the boys in that room had suffered some type of deep loss in their short lives.  Hearing hope come from such pain and despair was an unbelievable experience.  Justin was not planning on coming on our trip to Ethiopia until unexpected circumstances caused him to join our team at the last minute.  I know God had Justin go to share that night, and I know his testimony was used to further the Kingdom.

 

7. Sponsor Family Reunion

 

America World Adoptions has a sponsorship program that allows about 100 families who are in danger of losing their children be supported through sponsorship.  Sponsor children are given a better chance to stay with their family as they face the difficulties of poverty.  This year we met five mothers who’s children are sponsored through this program, and we heard their stories.  Their stories were extremely hard.  All of them had lost their husbands, one because of war and the others because their husband had chosen to abandon their families.  Two of the children we met were products of rape.  They were loved and their mothers expressed that they were thankful to God to have that child.  That was a humbling story, and it was a little shocking to hear it more than once.  It was beautifully redeeming to see how much these children were loved by their mothers.  

 

This was the third time to get to meet sponsor families, and one of the women, "M," was a family I had visited on my first trip to Ethiopia with my friends Barry and Shelly.  We had visited her modest home two years ago and met her lovely son "S."  "S" had grown a few feet since we met him two years ago.  "M" remembered having us to visit her home, and was glad to see me.  When our visit was over, she gave me such a long, hard hug.  It was such a dear moment for me.  Pray for "M" and "S" with me.  Their small family of two has faced such hardship, but they love Jesus and they love each other.  Pray God keeps them healthy and encouraged in their faith.

(If you want to read more about first meeting "M" & "S", scroll down to "Day 8" on this link: http://www.jenniferllane.com/heswithus/2014/09/my-week-in-ethiopia.html)

This year.

This year.

2 years ago.

2 years ago.

 

8. State of Adoptions

 

It was clear during my trip that less and less international adoptions are being processed from Ethiopia to any other country, including the US.  This is the first time that I did not see any adoptive families at the airport in Ethiopia.  Our agency’s transition home has downsized their property, and had very few children.  Adoptions have not stopped, but they are on a very slow trickle.  The large orphanage we have visited year after year still is busting at the seams with children, but the government has no interest in allowing a large quantity of adoptions to continue.  Ethiopia is broken into nine regions (kind of like states.)  Many of those regions have closed adoptions completely.  God keeps giving me a hope that doesn’t seem logical that we will still adopt a son, even in these dire prospects.  The logical part of my brain wants to point out the facts, but there is still a flicker of hope in my heart.  God is not finished with our adoption story.

(Photo by Traci   Judd)

(Photo by Traci Judd)

If you'd like to read about my other visits to Ethiopia, here are links to the blog posts.

 

My first trip to Ethiopia.

My second trip to Ethiopia.

 

 

With my blog posts, I always like to share a song.  This song really speaks to my "try-hard, good-girl" heart.  I especially love the lyric, "I'm realizing that all my striving is just chasing wind.  But you freed me so I can just be.  Nothing to prove.  Nothing to loose."  That is a lesson I had to learn the hard way this year, and laying in my bed each night in Africa, I'm not ashamed to admit that I listened to this song on repeat.

Broken Bond, a book review of Love Embraced

One of the joys of finding community online with other Christian writers, is that you form such unlikely, precious friendships.  One such friendship is with the tenderhearted and kind Anna Smit, who makes a home with her family of four in the Netherlands.  Anna is actually not Dutch, but a transplanted, self-proclaimed “kiwi,” hailing from the beautiful country of New Zealand.

Our online friendship began as we both attempted our first blogging challenge, Write 31 Days, this last October.  Anna agreed to read my compilation of the challenge turned book.  Her encouragement was paramount to me as I turned my month of writing into a full-fledged book.

When Anna decided to compile a book herself, I knew I wanted to read her words and encourage her in her writing in way possible.

I finished reading her new book Love Embraced back in March.  I had set out to encourage Anna, but instead, her writing encouraged me.

My favorite idea from the book is an idea that is closely related to our adoption.  We have been waiting to adopt from Ethiopia for almost three years now.  During our waiting, I have read books and listened to seminars about attachment, trauma, and other adoption parenting topics.

Anna shared in her book, Love Embraced, about her adopted brother who was added to their missionary family at 15-months-old from an orphanage in Romania.

When I read this portion of Anna’s story, I was deeply moved.

Only He truly understood the hurt, the broken shards that pushed this little soul to rebel, to repel the arms that sought to love him. My little brother, suffering from the severed bond with his birth mother, fought against those closest to him, just like all of us who are traumatized by our severed bond with God through sin do. But His Saving Grace has the power, through transformational love of restoring and healing us through a reunion with Him. And so, only our Heavenly Father could have taught my parents to see beyond the rebellion to find the little soul crying out for love, perfect love: a love that is patient, kind, not dishonoring, not self-seeking, that doesn’t keep track of wrongs, doesn’t rejoice in evil but in the truth, always protects, always hopes, always trusts, never gives up, never fails (1 Corinthians 13: 4- 8).
— Anna Louise Smit, Love Embraced, chapter 17

The idea that we have trauma separating us with our bond with God is something I have never considered.

This is a beautiful example of the universal human experience.  We are suffering from a trauma that we try to deny, because we have been torn apart by sin from our Loving Father.

Anna shares so genuinely about her family, but also her experience with loss, rejection, suffering, PTSD, and grief.

She takes these hard places and shows us how God has faithfully replaced her peace, given her comfort, filled her with hope, and deeply embraced her with love.

And so, in those moments I feel His Peace being stolen from me, He has the Power to restore it to me. All He asks is that I lean into Him, that I believe Him at His Word. And even then, He tells me that where I struggle to trust, He will not abandon me, yet patiently teach me because “saving” me is all His idea and He will bring it to completion (John 6: 35-40). And in teaching me He is, ever so patiently, yet also firmly, reminding me of the Hope I have in Him that can never be shaken. A Hope overflowing into an abundant peace.
— Anna Lousie Smit, Love Embraced, chapter 38

Love Embraced will be released on Mother's Day, May 8th, as a dedication to Anna's mother.  You will be able to find it on Amazon and CreateSpace for purchase.  I hope you will add it to your "to read" list, and let it be an encouragement to you this Mother's Day.

More about Love Embraced:  A Journey In and Through Suffering -

Not one of us is immune to suffering. So many of us have experienced loss, rejection, trauma and/or deep hurt. But often we decide to keep working, to keep going and to keep numbing that which we are terribly scared will break us into tiny little pieces. Love Embraced records the author’s own journey through such suffering, in: caring for her mother dying of cancer, grieving her mother’s death, her diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and working through repressed childhood memories. 

But, it also reveals how in starting to face that which she was too frightened to face, she began to embrace and be embraced by a mighty God into:  freedom, hope, comfort, peace, strength and deep joy.

More about Anna Lousie Smit -

Anna Smit is a Kiwi-Dutch Mum currently living in the Netherlands with her Dutch husband and two girls. Since losing her mother to cancer in April, 2014, Anna has used her gift of writing to lean into God’s Great Love through grief, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, recovering perfectionism and repressed childhood memories. She shares her journey of faith with others to encourage, embolden and inspire them in Christ.

Just be one

Last weekend was the third annual IF:Gathering.  For the third year, I participated in an IF:Local.  I helped lead IF:Amarillo, inviting women from all over the panhandle to come together in unity.

Since I was leading, I was privy to information.  I knew about the domino ending.  I could guess what was coming.  I had already begun brainstorming about what my response could be.  (Why not be prepared.  I didn’t want to get caught off guard and not have anything to offer.  How “try hard” of me.)  We had dominos and sharpies.  I knew we would be expected to write a response on that domino.  I had a list of 3 or 4 things I could have written.

When it came to that moment in the program, I decided I really should try to approach it fresh, forget my preconceived ideas.  I bowed my head and prayed, and I asked God what He wanted me to write on that domino.

I was surprised by the Holy Spirit’s response:  “Quit trying to be a whole bag of dominos.  Just be one domino.  I love you.  Just be you.  Just be one domino.”

It was true.  I’m a busy, doer.  God knows that about me.  Absolutely He knows that.  He made me.  I don’t think He is worried about whether or not I am going to do anything for His Kingdom.

What God knows is that I will run my wheels off, work myself to exhaustion for His Kingdom.  I had done it in preparation for IF:Amarillo.  I would do it again at the drop of a hat.

I believe God wasn’t telling me to slow down, but He was reminding me that He loved me, not the work I was doing for Him.  He loved me, every ugly part and every good part.  His Kingdom will come without me lifting a finger.  That has been finished.  I won’t stop working wherever He gives me a chance, but I know I’m important to Him.  He loves me.

I will be my domino.  I will fall for His Kingdom, and other dominos will fall for His Kingdom.  It’s a beautiful thing.  We can make disciples and change the world.  We can do it, not because we are something special, but because we Love the Lord and we are willing to abide in Him and bear fruit.

What did this domino response mean for me going forward?  I didn’t want to presume anything about what the Holy Spirit had just told me:  Just be one domino.

In the next days, I decided to make a list of everything I am doing for the church and for Him, everything I’m doing in the ministry, big and small.

I took that list and prayed over each item.  Something Jennie Allen had pointed out during IF had sunk in: I don’t want to be working for God, I want to be working with God.  

As I prayed about each one, I heard a still small “yes” to each item.  Well, there was one that was unclear in my spirit.  I texted my husband, and I asked him to pray about that one.

He did, and he said he knew it was something I was suppose to be doing.

It all felt good.  I felt energized and ready to keep working for His Kingdom, alongside Him, knowing how much God loved me.

And then it felt like the dominos all fell down, in a bad way.

I got a series of emails that jumbled it all again.

I got an email from our adoption agency.  Ethiopian adoptions were in danger of big changes, changes that might make it impossible for our family to continue our adoption.

I got an email from the writing conference I had plans to attend, they are taking a year off this year.  No conference.

I got a letter in the mail letting me know my paperwork sent to the US government for our adoption was denied and would need to be resubmitted.  That probably meant $900 would need to paid again.

I was angry.  I was distraught.  I went through a roller coaster of emotions.

The devil did something tricky.  He’s good at that.  He twisted the Holy Spirit’s words to me.  That isn’t a new trick.  It is exactly what he did with Eve.

The devil stated telling me that “Just Be One Domino” really meant, “No thank you, Jennifer.  I don’t need your gifts.  I don’t need you to work alongside me.”

Two big things on my list were our adoption and writing.  Other things on my list were related to those two things.

I believed the lie.  Not for a long time, but long enough.  Long enough to bawl my eyes out, want to quit everything including church, ministry, and anything spiritual.

I don’t know why I realized it was a lie, but I did.  I began to think of Job.  He lost everything.  He didn’t just get an email threatening to take a few things away, but he actually lost everything.  I would be a horrible Job.  I would be a pretty good Job’s wife.  I would be right there with her, “Let’s just curse God and die.”

I don’t want that to be true about me.  I want to be a good Job.  The ugly truth is that I’m weak.  Emotionally, I’m ready to give up easily when things look uncertain.

Thankfully I have an amazing husband that talks sense into me.  Thankfully I have an amazing church family that is praying with me and for me about our adoption.

And writing?  I’m writing this, aren’t I?

Things are uncertain right now, but what the Holy Spirit told me in the quiet response time at IF is not uncertain.  He loves me.  He loves me, not what I can do for Him.  He loves the ugly, stubborn, “work until I hit a wall,” doer, independent, try-hard me.  

Now I also know that He loves the me that wants to give up and listens to the devil’s lies.  He loves me anyway.

Guess what?

He loves you too.

 

 


Day 12: Adoption

31 STORIES OF FAITH ADVENTURES

DAY 12:  ADOPTION - MY ONGOING ADVENTURE

It was Sunday morning, and my husband James had just returned the night before from his 3rd short term mission trip to Africa, his first trip to South Sudan.

My brother-in-law and pastor of Citychurch, Donnie Lane, had gone on the trip as well, and he was sharing a mission report about the trip.  Somewhere around the time he was finishing his report, the Holy Spirit stirred my heart, and I heard the command God had for me, the calling.  It was completely clear to me that God wanted me and my husband to adopt a little boy from Africa.  I was so excited about this new assignment, I wanted to rush up to the pulpit and tell the church.  Reason ruled over my excitement, and I thought maybe I should discuss adding to our family with my husband before I announced it to the whole congregation.

That Sunday was in January of 2013.  Over the next couple months, God led us through a series of small steps of faith and little nudges in the correct direction.  God never laid out a big map or gave us a big picture.  God doesn’t work that way.  When I think of God leading and providing, the best example we have is the Israelites in the desert.  They were given their nourishment in daily portions of manna.  They were lead by a pillar of fire during the night and a pillar of smoke during the day.  This mode of leading and following requires absolute faith and complete dependance.  This may sound like a weak and vulnerable spot to be in, but it is actually the safest and securest place to be.  Being right where God wants me sounds just right.

It has been 32 months since I heard the call to adopt, 30 months since we applied to the international adoption program, and 21 months since our dossier (all of our adoption paperwork) was sent to Ethiopia.

We are still waiting.  We are still on a path without a map.

I know without a shadow of doubt that God had our little boy in mind from before we even ever considered adoption.  (Not that him joining our family is the best plan.)  The best thing would be that he would be happy and healthy in his birth family.  But God knew the path of his little life, and through circumstances of this world, he would be in a place where he would not be able to be cared for by his family.  God would need a willing family to place him in.

No matter how many years we have to wait, we know that God’s timing will be right.  We will have the privilege of allowing God to place a little boy in need of a family into our family.

This is an idealistic explanation of what will happen when we finally are matched with a child, go to court, and adopt that little boy into our family.  The hard truth is that a lot of loss and hurt will be a huge part of my son’s story.  And I hate it.  I want it to be different.  I lament that it won’t be different.

Adoption isn’t the bad guy taking children out of birth families, but adoption isn’t the hero either.  Adoption is necessary.  It is good.  It is complicated.  It is hard.

Adoption has changed my life, my thoughts, and I haven’t even met my son yet.

As I write this today, I am filled with joy because yesterday I heard the news that some adoption friends of ours were boarding a plane with their three new sons.  These three boys were orphans, and now they have a family, two loving parents and two sweet big brothers.  For almost two years, these boys have been stuck.  I’ve prayed and friends have prayed that these boys would be able to leave their country and join their new parents in their new home, and now God has answered that prayer.  This family is on their way home as I type.

God is faithful.  God was faithful to this family, and He will be faithful to my family.  He will be faithful to you too.

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,
— Deuteronomy 7:6-9 ESV

 

 

If you are interested in reading more of our adoption journey, here is the link to my first post on that blog.  You can find the second post by clicking the link at the bottom of that webpage.

 

 

I love music.  Here's a song for you.  Our adoption agency has a FaceBook group with other families in our program.  It's been an encouragement to me.  Someone posted this song in our group this week.

Praying for change

Prayer.  It’s the word, the idea, I can’t get away from this week.

God has put it on my mind and on my heart.  I pick up a book I’ve owned since March.  It’s been waiting it’s turn in line on my shelf to be read.  It’s a book about a woman’s journey to learn how to pray, and I can’t put it down.

I turn on a sermon podcast in the car.  It’s the next one in line to be listened to.  Someone must have mislabeled it because the sermon tiled “Trinity” was so much about prayer, that it has to be tiled wrong.  And boy was it what I needed to hear.

My last blog post mentioned a desire I had to pray more for the hurting, and God heard me peaking my head up, and He said, “You there, raising your hand saying your willing to pray, here you go.  I’m giving you instructions and I’m daring you to do it.”  (Maybe that’s not really how God talks, but I kind of picture a coach with a whistle putting me into the prayer game.  That’s how it feels anyway.)

These lessons on prayer I’m hearing, in my book, from that sermon, from the Holy Spirit guiding my heart, they are not new.  I dove into the pool of learning to pray once before with such fervency that those lessons are deeply etched into my heart.  As a young woman I learn what prayer was and how to pray.  I wanted my prayers to be effective and to avail the way James 5:16 describes.

The summer of 1998 I was 7 months pregnant with my first baby, and my mom was having surgery.  She was having a hysterectomy.  So I went to Ft. Worth to be a loved one sitting in the hospital room.  I was young and didn’t know what I was suppose to do, but I knew good daughters waited in hospital rooms.  I went to be a good daughter.  So as I was baking a brand new daughter in my belly, my mom had her baby baking equipment removed.

Turns out hospitals, when they aren’t the setting for nightmares or miracles, can be quiet, boring places.  I regretted not bringing a book to read, so I grabbed one of my mother’s, a book about prayer.

It was a game changer.  I soaked in every specific lesson I could about talking to God.

I don’t know why the book on prayer jumped out at me.  I’m guessing it was because I knew I was on my way to becoming a mother.  “Praying” and “mother” are two words that go together out of sheer necessity.  How can you ever plan on mothering a child without the opportunity to beg God for help in such an impossibly big job.

So I sat and read about prayer in a room with three generations of women of our family in three very different places in life.  My mom in a pain medicine induced sleep trying to recover from surgery, me contemplating how to talk to the God who created me and how to be a praying mother, and my baby girl Lucy safely resting in my quiet belly, warm, cozy, and loved.

Driving in my car yesterday, memories of those days in that hospital room from the summer of ’98 came flooding back to me.  I began to ask why was prayer so important to me again.  I didn’t land on a good answer.

Then this morning I realized it.  I’m paper pregnant.  I’ve been paper pregnant waiting for our Ethiopia adoption to turn into a new child to mother now for 1 year, 5 months, and 9 days.

God surely knows that this child, who is not safely baking in my tummy, needs prayer.

I’m trusting the Spirit to guide my prayers for my little boy.  I want them to be specific to his circumstances.  Even though I have no idea where he is and what he needs, our God knows.

I bet you are wondering why I’m not praying every day for this child that will be my child.  If you’re not wondering it, I am.  Time can be daunting.  Fervency and excitement wears off.  Waiting becomes something I try not to think about.

And I need prayer because waiting is hard.

In the line at the grocery store yesterday, we run into friends.  The subject of how long our adoption from Ethiopia is taking comes up.  I tell them we could be 1 and 1/2 years into a possible 4 year wait.  Those numbers get the reaction you are probably having.  I don’t like those numbers.

But God said to do this.  So we are doing it, and right now that means waiting.

I want something to happen.  I don’t like waiting.  So yeah, I need prayer too.  I’m in my safe house with a well fed stomach and a family who loves me.  But I need Him.

The fact that we can talk to this magnificent God who made us and loves us is a gift.  The fact that we can ask for intercession for people who we barely know or even don’t know is humbling.  The fact that we can ask God to help us be more like Him, bear the fruits of His Spirit: LOVE, joy, peace, PATIENCE, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, that is life changing.

Here is what Patricia Raybon says in her book I Told the Mountain to Move:

Prayer as Richard Foster said, ‘is the deepest and highest work of the human spirit.’ In real prayer, Foster added, we think God’s thoughts. We desire the things that God desire. We love the things that God loves. We will the things that God wills. But there is more, I learned. Isn’t there always? In real prayer, we go places we don’t want to go. We learn lessons we don’t want to learn. We tell secrets we don’t want to tell. We walk bridges we don’t want to cross. We face battles we don’t want to fight. Then we change the world. We stand at the door to heaven and then we rush in. But as we go, we change ourselves. ‘To pray is to change,’ wrote Foster and with those few words he pulled together the deep essence of it all.
— Patricia Raybon
Shauna Niequist mentioned Guster on Twitter this week, and I've been revisiting some songs I love.

Intentionality and our adoption

God called us to adoption from Africa in 2013.  It wasn’t immediately that I realized that I what having a child with black skin would mean or everything I would have to think through.  I don’t think figuring out how race will affect my child’s life will ever end for me.  It is a complicated, heartfelt issue that is constantly evolving in our culture and in my brain.

Our adoption agency helped us to begin thinking through a few interracial adoption issues by requiring us to read books on the subject and asking thought provoking questions on our home study paperwork.  Here are a few of those questions.

What cultures do you feel you have knowledge about?

What are some events you could participate in as a transracial family?

How diverse is your neighborhood, church, family, and friends?

How will you answer questions about adopting a child from another race? What about questions from your child?

Since first answering these questions 2 years ago, I begin to think about how to make our life circumstances fit better answers to these questions.  Our church is diverse.  Our family is somewhat diverse.  Family doesn’t change often.  

I realized I have control over three things: my knowledge about cultures, how diverse my friends are, and how diverse my neighborhood is.

I have always been naturally interested in learning about foreign cultures.  I didn’t know God put that desire in me because some day it would be important to my family.  Now I know, and I have soaked in cultural information with a new purpose.

I have also been intentional about making friends.  Just like when I decided to home school our children and was intentional about making home school friends for my children’s benefit, I have been intentional about making friends who have adopted internationally and friends who have transracial families.  I know it is a beautiful thing to have a more diverse group of friends, and I take joy in it.

We also were intentional about where we lived.  When I filled out that survey 2 years ago, we lived in CityView (a brand new housing development.)  We had moved to a newly constructed house when we had a newborn baby, because we wanted to never fix anything on a house again because it was taking away from precious sleep time.  Sleep was what I wanted to be intentional about.  Can I get an amen from a momma with a baby?

Looking at our neighbors, there wasn’t very much diversity at all.  I wanted that to change.  When we found our house, I loved that their was diversity among our neighbors.

I was also happy when I realized that our house was only a few blocks from the most diverse high school in our city.  I knew God was leading us to have our daughter attend that high school.  We are now very close to having her first year of public high school complete, and I know it has been the right decision.

This blog post has been difficult to write, not because I don’t want to share, but because, gosh, I’m afraid I say something wrong or offensive.  It is easy to do when race is the issue.

I have not meet my child yet, but my heart is full of love for my son with a beautiful Ethiopian culture.  I want the best for him, just like I want the best for all my children.  If living intentionally makes his life slightly easier or slightly better, I’ll do it.

The truth is God has blessed me with every choice.  I love my house.  I love my neighborhood.  I love my daughter’s school situation.  I love my friends, new and old.  I love learning about Ethiopia and traveling to Ethiopia.  I love being more tuned into race issues.  I love being involved in orphan ministry.  I love being more dependent on God.  And I love that my faith has grown because of this adoption.

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” That’s code for want what God wants, and you will get what you want.  In my life, I have found that to be true.

Not everyone who is reading this is called to international adoption.  You may never be asked any of those interracial questions.  I wonder, is there something you have to face intentionally in your life?  Please comment, and let me know.

Everyone loves new.  I love how nostalgic this song sounds while it's talking about being new.  Sounds like it maybe could have been written by Buddy Holly or Bill Withers.  I have to say though, his girlfriend isn't that pretty.  I guess everyone wants to live where the buffalos roam.