Friday, August 30, 2013

The big question

A few days ago I mentioned there was one last question I needed to answer.  It's kind of the big one, the one that most people probably already know the answer to whether we've spoken the words directly or not.  It's the question of "What now?"  This is the question...

What are your plans now that Kate has returned home?

To answer this in it's entirety would take days, possibly weeks.  But here's the answer in one word.

Adoption.

God sets the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6a).

God delights to give families to the orphan.

And our sovereign God holds His foreordained plans for the course of history in the palm of His mighty hand (Revelation 5:1).

I sit here completely humbled because it was a year ago that I wrote a post that I never published, but today I am making it public.  It was my hope a year ago that this day would come.  For this day I have prayed and cried and pleaded.

Now I rejoice because God heard my cry.

Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer (Psalm 61:1).

The prayer I never published...

August 2012
Maybe it's weird that I'm writing this prayer to my God.  A love letter of sorts that potentially one day the whole world could see.  For right now, it's just between me and my Jesus.  Maybe some day I'll share it, but for now it's just me and Him. 
Oh God, You've been stirring in my heart so much lately.  I feel a restless peace, if one exists.  I reading book after book after book and Scripture as if for the first time because I can't get enough of You and reading of the ways you have worked and are working in people's lives today. Reading these stories has brought me new passion, a zealousness for You that I'm certain has not always been there.  You've used the words of these authors (both the divinely inspired and those that have written since) to draw me to You and to Your Word unlike any other time in my life.  Your Word is alive in my heart now more than ever.
While you're doing amazing things changing my heart, giving me a desire to be conformed to Your image no matter what it takes I'm also a bit fearful.  Okay, maybe a lot fearful.  First, I fear that this "feeling" (and I hate to even call it that) will go away.  That this will be another "mountaintop" experience that so many of us Christians have only to make the trek back down the mountain in time and wonder how we ever got to the top in the first place.  I don't want to lose this feeling, this knowing that You are good, that You are great!  My second fear is that in offering You anything, that You might just take me up on the offer and actually take everything from me, not just the things that I can imagine giving up to You, but also the things I'd kind of rather hold onto...like my family, my health, the roof over my head. 
But You have given me Your everything, Your Son, and so I want to give you my everything, though it pales in comparison to the everything You gave me.  I don't feel like I have much to offer, but I trust that You know me better than I know myself and that you want greater things for me than I do of myself.  I have to be honest, I kind of don't mind my comfortable safe life, but I am continually reminded that love is not safe.  There is nothing safe about giving yourself away, wholly and completely. 
And so, You are stirring my heart towards a specific something.  Something I've always admired in others, but just didn't have the passion for that I do now because You've given it to me.  This something is a love for the orphan.  I have always felt badly for the orphans of this world because naturally I believe everyone needs a mother and a father, but my heart never completely broke for any one of them.  And now it does.  I get teary just typing this because I get it now.  I was an orphan myself.  And You, in Your grace, reached down and said, "Ashley, I want you to be my daughter."  And now I have a family with a Father who has a "Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love" (Sally Lloyd-Jones' words, not mine) for ME. 
I want to love like that.  I want to love my husband, my Charlee and my Andee like that. And I feel a stirring that perhaps this family isn't complete quite yet.  I have zero desire to experience pregnancy again, at least not in the traditional sense of the term.  But what if another pregnancy for us meant one involving mountains of paper work, home studies, travel, etc.  I don't know what to do with this heart of mine, this heart that is sitting here breaking for the millions of children around the world who do not have forever families. 
What I do know is that I want to obey You.  When I stand before You, Almighty God, one day, I want desperately to hear you say, "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me."  I want to glorify You God.
I have this stirring, this ache in my heart for the least of these and I can't get the thought of adoption out of my mind.  I go about my day wondering what it would be like to bathe more than two children, to feed more than two children, to drive around town with more than two children, to travel with more than two children.  I've never thought about this before.  Not too long ago I specifically said to Adam, "I love our little family.  It's just right."  Now I'm not so sure.  Not that I'm not sure about the love, but maybe it isn't as right as I thought it was.  Maybe it's not complete. 
So God, I beg You to help me.  I want to fly to Uganda now and bring home as many motherless children as I possibly can.  Please give me discernment.  I pray that if this is what You have for our family, that Adam and I would be in complete unity about it.  I'm asking You to move in his heart, to give him this burden if this is part of our "anything."  I absolutely do not want this to be all my idea and so, just because he is such a kind, caring husband who wants nothing more than to have a happy wife, he agreeably goes along with my "plan."  This is your plan, Lord.  I just want to be a willing servant and want my heart to be open to anything and everything.
Love,
Your peace-filled, but sometimes scared, daughter

Alright, there you have it.  I prayed.  God answered.  Simple, right?

Sometimes simple is life changing.

So, we've committed...committed to drawing near to the heart of God through adoption.  We've officially been in the process of adoption since June.  We pray that it will be Kate that we bring home but we are also well aware that we have very little control over the "who" of the child we adopt from this country as it is a blind referral country.

So, for now, we ask for prayer.  And we hope...we wait...with eager expectation.

And hope does not disappoint.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A little voice, a big gift

We are pretty much blessed beyond belief that while Kate has grown up in an orphanage, she could quite possibly be under the best care possible outside of an actual family.

This morning we got to talk to our girl for the first time since she arrived home.

Crazy, right?

Again...we are blessed our Kate is in this orphanage where the director actually loves the kids.  That doesn't seem like a lot to ask, but unfortunately the reality is that this is unusual.

So, we called our beloved translator and then added the call to the orphanage and within minutes Kate was on the line with us.

I don't think shocked quite captures her reaction, but it's the closest word I can think to describe what I'm imagining she looked like on the other end of the line.

We said, "Hi Kate.  It's Mommy and Daddy."

And these were the first words out of her mouth once she stopped laughing at the idea that we were really calling her...

"I miss you guys so much."

My heart might have skipped a beat or two.  For her to say that without being prompted, asked, provoked...  Melt my heart.

We talked of a variety of things including the fact that she's already chewed all the gum we sent her home with.  In reality, this probably means she gave most of it away.  Our generous girl.

She talked of how she had to sleep during the day when she got home to get over the jet lag from traveling.

She laughed when I said, "Mommy, can you help me please?"  Her favorite and most spoken English phrase.  For whatever reason, she finds this question most humorous.

She informed us we should call at a time when "Charlee isn't headed off to school and Daddy doesn't have to go to work so we can talk for at least an hour."  Have I mentioned the girl loves to chat?  And then chat some more?

She was thrilled to hear Charlee and Andee's voices, too, telling her they love her and miss her so much.  A little girl so genuinely excited to talk to us.

Praising God for this little voice, this big gift.

If there was one thing I knew during the course of the conversation it was that she wasn't going to let us off the phone until she knew when to expect another phone call!

Did we really just talk with a 9 year old little girl living halfway around the world as if it were kind of not a big deal at all???  I may never be able to wrap my mind around how this is possible.

Beautiful.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

On hosting

How did you hear of the orphan hosting program?  What does it meant to host an orphan?  How did you choose the child you wanted to host?  What fears did you have prior hosting?  How did you communicate with your child?  How has hosting changed you and your family?  How are you feeling now that Kate is gone?  What are your plans now that Kate has returned home?

The above are all questions, or variations of questions, we received both prior to, in the midst of and after hosting.  I thought I would take some time to give some insight into what hosting an orphan is all about by answering some of the questions we were most commonly asked.

How did you find out about the orphan hosting program?
I was told about the program by my dear sister-in-law.  She's pretty much amazing, by the way...just in case you didn't already know that.  Anyway, this is the text I received from her back in April.


Clearly, I had never heard of an orphan hosting program.  So I knew research had to be done!  I was directed to the website of God's Waiting Children where I read a bit about what it means to host an orphan.  I also visited their Facebook page, sent an immediate email to Laurel to find out if the fact that we lived in AZ eliminated us from the possibility of hosting with her organization which is based in CA.  When she responded with, "No, not at all as long as you are willing to travel to come pick your child up when he/she arrives in CA."  That wasn't a problem for me so my next question to her was, "We are planning a family vacation to San Diego during the month of the hosting program.  Can our host child travel with us?"  To this she responded, "As long as you don't take the child out of the United States you can go wherever you would like."  I remember thinking, "Could it really be this easy?  How in the world does a group of young orphans get on a plane and fly halfway across the country to live with random families in the United States?"  Honestly, the concept was something I was having a hard time wrapping my mind around.

Then I ventured over to the God's Waiting Children Facebook page where I discovered the photolisting of all the kids who were part of the group traveling to the United States for the summer hosting program.  After seeing her face, I don't remember reading much else...

Beauty

I didn't need to see any other faces once my eyes met with this one.  I was done.  Done as in "Where do we sign up because we need this girl to come live with us."

Only problem at this point was that it was more like, "Where do I sign up?"  So that needed to be changed to a "Where do we sign up?"  Enter multiple conversations and prayer over the next several days until one night while sitting in bed, Adam said "Let's do it!"  I think I might have emailed Laurel that very evening asking for whatever paperwork we needed to complete.

Over the next couple of days it became a done deal.  A precious 9 year old little girl, and a complete stranger, would come live with us in July.  Not exactly the norm around here, but it was another Yes moment...a done deal.

Countdown

What does it mean to host an orphan?
It was explained to us that in some countries orphanages shut down for a portion of the summer and during this time the children are sent away to "camps."  But not exactly of the same caliber of summer camps here in the United States.  An option for some of these children is to come to the United States for a "vacation" of sorts.  This would provide, for many children, their first and only opportunity to be part of a family in the way God intends.

When you agree to host, you agree to welcome the child into your home and essentially treat them as your own for a period of about five weeks.  You are responsible for providing for their basic needs such as food, shelter, some clothing, and an abundance of love.  The greatest of these is love.


Loved

Love: a gift that is freely offered to us and is free to give away to another.

We love because He first loved us.
1 John 4:19

What fears did you have prior to hosting?
Honestly, my fears were very minimal before hosting.  I had no idea what to expect, but strangely I felt okay with that which is completely not the nature of my "like to be in control with clear expectations" personality.  I knew God would handle the details of the things I didn't know and since there was so much I didn't know it was a lot easier to let Him take care of it all!  It became for me a lesson in trusting God with the consequences of obedience.  If I say "Yes", then I have to also trust Him with His plan and let Him lead each step of the way.

Freedom

How did you communicate with your child?
Charades.  Ever heard of it?  I passionately dislike that game, but sometimes you've just got to do what works.  And really, it does.  Amazing what you can communicate via strange sounds, gestures, hand motions and pointing of fingers.  Second to Charades was Google Translate.  Love that app.  Especially when you learn from someone who speaks her native language that each time you've told your child you're going to "Grandma and Grandpa's house" you've actually been telling her that you're going to "Grandma and Grandpa's building."  Lovely.  Don't even want to know what else was translated incorrectly.  Perhaps that's the explanation for some of the very puzzled looks we received from Kate as she read from our phones.

Finally, when Charades and Google were inadequate we relied on our amazing team of translators.  We were blessed with a list of folks we could call day or night to communicate things to our girl that we just couldn't with an iPhone app.  Late really developed a friendship with one of our translators over time and she would call her just to chat on occasion.  She would tell her every little detail of her day, including why Grandpa didn't order anything to eat when we were out to dinner one night.  Amazing what you come to understand after eavesdropping into conversations day after day.  I am extremely grateful to Kate's favorite translator, Yana. who served us by providing the one thing we can't yet give to Kate...the ability to speak the same language verbally.  A voice.  That is a powerful thing for a 9 year old girl who loves to talk...a lot.

Portrait of a typical phone call with our beloved Yana sharing their daily adventures.

How has hosting and loving an orphan changed you and your family?
God has brought to life the picture of adoption that He paints for us in His Word.  It wasn't until I began to love this little girl without knowing if that love would be returned that I began to understand, on some very small level, the love that God has for His children.  God pursues and pursues and pursues again His wayward and selfish children.  So, too, I learned that I have to be able to love without expecting that love to be returned...to selflessly love with abandon.  I didn't do it perfectly and know I never will, but I have a new appreciation and deep awe for the God who chose to pursue me despite me being so unlovable.  Pouring out love like that is true freedom.  Being reminded that any rejection I may feel is only a fraction of the rejection that K has known since birth.  I don't know rejection like she does and this alone gives me great reason to pour into her grace and mercy and unfailing love.

Cherished

There's one more question I still need to answer, but I need to save that one for another day.

What are your plans now that Kate has returned home?
to be continued...

God sets the lonely in families.
Psalm 68:6a

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I always liked even numbers...

I have a few quirks.  Okay, maybe a lot of quirks.  A few things bother me involving numbers.

I feel an inner twinge when the volume of the television or radio is changed from an even number to an odd number, unless, of course, it's an increment of five.  I panic a little when the air conditioning is set on an odd number, again with the exception of increments of five.  I even prefer to eat things in even numbers like for example, peanut M&Ms, my favorite.

So, carrying on the theme of number disturbances I always loved our family of four.  A nice, round number, and even my favorite.  I always thought if our family grew it would need to be from two to four because three children just wouldn't work for me.

But God...


He gave me a glimpse into what 3 is like...and I loved it and would do anything to have it back right now.

3 is outside my box, perhaps it's just because of the way odd is defined.

Odd: different from what is usual or expected, strange.

I like usual.  I like expected.  I'm not much for strange.  These things give me the feeling of control.

Why do I gravitate towards the mirage of control?  Because I think I want predictable, routine.  But when I risk and I realize it's okay, better even, to be "odd", that's when I see Him.  Because He is found in the letting go, in the unevenness of life, the laying down idols.

So as the future unfolds according to the Master Planner, I will be seeking more odd, more different, more unusual and more unexpected.  Jesus did.  Love does.



One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13-14

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Hard

"So, how have things been going?"

I heard this question a lot this past month.

And I struggled with my answer each and every time.  An honest answer would have been, "Hard."

But I found myself shying away from being completely open and honest in my answer.  Instead I would say such things as, "It's been great.",  "I've learned so much.",  "She's taught us so much."

In my mind was a battle.  A battle between the raw, honest, raw truth and the safe, more socially acceptable response that I actually offered.  In my mind was this dialogue:
If I tell you things have been hard you'll look at me like I'm a crazy person (which you may already think that I am) and say, "Well, then why are you doing this?" or "You don't have to continue hosting her" or "Are you still planning on pursuing her in adoption?" or "Maybe she's not the right fit for your family" or "Maybe this is God's way of showing you you're not called to adopt."
Quite frankly, I didn't want to hear those comments or questions so I painted a prettier picture, was a little more vague, offered up fewer details.

Was I too concerned with the judgment of others in my response to their questions?  Perhaps.

More than that though my response was driven by the fact that as a culture, particularly here in the confines of safe suburban America, we look in the face of "hard" and say "No thank you."  We turn our backs from hard.  We walk away from hard. We associate hard with bad.

If this month taught me nothing else (which isn't true, because it did) it's that we need more hard.  We need to embrace hard as Jesus did.  Hard is the only way to get to amazing...to joy...to abundance.  I know because amazing, joy and abundance characterized our month of hard.

Hard is what happens when you welcome a child into your home and treat her as your own with so much love to give without knowing if that love will be desired, let alone returned.  But you keep loving...keep pouring out.

Hard is what happens when you kiss the face of a child you've just met and tell her you love her because you really do even when you have no idea if she even knows what love is.

Hard is holding tight and rocking a 9 year old girl as if she were a baby because you don't know if she was every held or rocked when she should have been.

Hard is staring in the face the lies that you are not a good enough parent to your biological children so how could you be one to another child whose history you may never know.

Hard is trusting God when others question your motivation for hosting, your desire for an older child, your passion and love for a little girl you've never met.

Hard is letting go...of control, of comfort, of routine, of your girl.

BUT GOD...

In all the hard, God reveals Himself to be bigger, to be better, to be sovereign, to be the One to whom we cling.

And in that clinging comes joy, love and peace in abundance because He himself is joy, love and peace.

We get to joy by way of hard and if that's the only way to get there I want more hard.  Hard isn't always fun, but it is necessary.  It is what grows and changes us deep down to the core of who we are. Hard breaks us even when we don't think any more brokeness is possible.

And then joy replaces hard.

Joy is the face of awe you witness when she walks inside your home for the first time and sees a picture of herself framed with the rest of the family.


Joy is when your little girl looks you in the eyes and says, "I love you" with her sweet accent.


Joy is the feeling you get when she wraps her bony little arms around you with full abandon and won't let go because she has what she knows deep down she has always wanted...a mommy and daddy.


Joy is watching your biological children love her like their own sister even when she's not...yet.


Joy is the expression on her face when she realizes the framed picture you have sitting on the counter with Mommy, Daddy, Charlee, Andee...and her...says family and that it includes her.


Joy is when you give her a photo album of her time with your family, the first family she's ever known, and she pours over it with your daughter into the very late hours of the evening over and over again because she can't get enough of it and then wants to show it to everyone she sees.


Joy is knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that she'd rather be with you when she crosses the line through to security bawling in a way you never expected as she leaves with a promise that you will come to bring her home.


And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 
1 Corinthians 13:3

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

School Girl #2

This is what a picture with my Andee looks like on her first day of preschool.  Bet this doesn't give you a hint into her personality in the least.

This girl should have her name included in the definition to the word spunk.  Or tool.

Okay, this is a little better...but who invited Jim Carrey? Haha.

Anyway, today was our littlest girl's first day of preschool.  I'm not sure how Andee got to be old enough to do anything on her own, let alone go to school.  Pretty sure I might be happy about another adult being involved in teaching this little spunk of a girl though.

How did all this girly happen to me?  I always wanted boys...but God has a sense of humor...

Busy at work and happy until the goodbye.  Yep, she pretty much lost it...there was much clinging, crying, and a bit of flailing happening just after this picture.  Good times.  I tell myself that's just because she'd rather be with me.  It makes me feel better...okay, not really.

And while the little spunky girl was away Charlee, K and I prepared a little treat to celebrate Andee's first day.

I think this is what approval of said treat looks like.

Little Andee Noelle, you really aren't all that little anymore.  But this mama couldn't be more proud of you and the sweet girl you've become.  You may not always like people to know that you're sweet, but it's in there...quite often just beneath the layer of spunk.  I love you, sweet girl.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Making the best use of the time...

"Look carefully then how you walk,
not as unwise but as wise,
making the best use of the time,
because the days are evil."
(Ephesians 5:15-16)

What strikes me is how Paul writes "the best use of the time", not "the best use of your time."  This is the part that gets me every time.  So often I catch myself thinking and even speaking in terms of "my time".  Until the gracious Holy Spirit convicts me that this concept of "my time" is nothing short of a lie, one fed daily to us by the media, the culture, this fallen world in which we live.  It is ALL His time and it will ALWAYS be ALL His time.  And for that reason I am compelled to make the best use of it because it is a gift.  These children I have, they are gifts.  God has placed them in my care for His sovereign purpose and so I pray that I would never become possessive of the time He has granted.

And today was another gentle reminder to me that the time is His as my firstborn baby girl started kindergarten.  How in the world have I become blessed to be the mother of a school-aged child?  I cannot comprehend, but it's very much real.

Charlee, you are an amazing little girl and I couldn't be more proud to be gifted the title of "Mommy" by you nearly 6 years ago.  Thank you for blessing my life, for allowing God to use you to teach me so much about life, about this world, about unconditional love.






All confident, all smiles until the reality of everything set in.  Then, tears...and lots of them.
Starting here...


But here's the proof that all was well when the smile returned by the end of the first day.


Thank you, Lord, for being with and watching over my little girl.

The verse of the day for both me and my Charlee girl:
"For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love and sound judgment."
2 Timothy 1:7
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