Friday, April 11, 2014

The Meeting

Last week I posted asking you to pray for the meetings that were to take place in Ethiopia over the weekend. Both meetings did take place, and the overall outcome was positive. Thank you so much for praying with us and for us. Here is the news.

-Adoptions are going to continue to move forward in Ethiopia. This comes as such a relief. If you have been reading here for a while, you might remember the big scare we had right at Christmas when it looked like adoptions from Ethiopia were going to halt altogether. We were terrified. And it seemed to be true, as NO paperwork was processed for SIX months. But the Minister of MOWA has completed her investigation and come to the conclusion that international adoption is still a necessary last resort for orphaned children in Ethiopia.

-Things are not going to get moving as quickly as we thought. At first, it looked like things would start right away and that we would see movement (for the first time in six months) by the end of April. However, that is not going to be the case. The Minister has decided that an extra step should be added to the process wherein orphaned children in Ethiopia are put up for domestic adoption for a period of two months prior to being made eligible for international adoption. The goal is to exhaust all avenues for keeping children in their country of birth before allowing them to be adopted by families from other countries. I see the value here; I really do. What I am struggling with now is that these children who have been paperwork ready for the six months during which nothing was happening now have to wait an additional two months before they can be adopted. I just do not understand the reasoning behind that part of this decision. And then, selfishly, we are devastated that this means two more months with no referrals, no children being matched with their families. We got the news on Monday, and I will be transparent here and tell you that I completely broke down before I could get out of my school building. In fact, two of my students walked in on me sobbing at my desk. Marvelous. I cried the entire rest of the day. So much of this seems so unfair. These kids (and their families) have already been waiting. These kids need parents, homes. And under the new system, we will not see any of these kids matched with their families until mid June. We already love our children so much, and it breaks our hearts to know that even more time will pass before we get to see their beautiful faces.

So that is where we are now. The result of these meetings will ultimately be good, but right now it is one more mountain for us to climb on exhausted legs.

I would humbly ask that you continue to pray for us, especially for our hearts; they are raw. We are hurting. It seems as though this process continues to stretch out in front of us, far beyond the horizon. Pray that we would turn to God during this time and not let this be something that hardens our hearts. Please pray for our children; they are the innocents caught up in this mess. We long so desperately to meet them and tell them how much we have loved them for so long.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Please Pray with Us

I mentioned in yesterday's April 2014 Update post that there are two very important meetings coming up soon in Ethiopia.

Friday, April 4: There is a meeting between the Minister of the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs (MOWA) and orphanages on the ground in Ethiopia.

Sunday, April 6: There is a meeting between the Minister of MOWA and adoption agency staff on the ground in Ethiopia.

Our agency seems very hopeful that these meetings will be a turning point and bring an end to the standstill that has been Ethiopian adoption over the last six months. We have seen evidence that things are moving in a good direction: families being issued travel approval and court dates and the recent release by the U.S. Department of State. These things point to good news on the horizon.

Here is what we are asking.

Will you please join us in prayer tonight at 9 P.M. CST (5 A.M. on Friday in Ethiopia) and again on Saturday night at 9 P.M. CST (5 A.M. on Sunday in Ethiopia)?

Here is what we are praying.

-That the hearts of all those involved with international adoption in Ethiopia would be softened and that all involved would think first of the children who are having to live in orphanages while they wait for their families.

-That the Minister of MOWA would see that adoption can be a beautiful solution to a the problem of fatherlessness and that adoptive children can thrive in their families while still maintaining strong cultural ties to their birth country.

-That these meetings bring the turning point we have been longing for, that differences are resolved and that referrals begin to go out quickly to match these children with their families.

If you are willing to commit to praying with us, please leave a comment below, email me or Facebook me. We would love to know who you are.

 "Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, 
so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 
If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it."
John 14:13-14


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wait List Update: April 2014 and BIG Happenings in Ethiopia


We are still waiting for things to be resolved over in Ethiopia, and that means that another month has passed and we still have not moved up on the waiting list.

I will say that this is the first time I have gotten that news and not cried, so that, I think, was a good thing.

A big part of why I think I am not feeling so terribly down this month is that our agency has said that it looks like things are about to be resolved in Ethiopia. The U.S. Department of State has issued an official statement that things are being resolved and that referrals will soon begin to be given out at the previously normal rate. And now there are two HUGE meetings scheduled over the next few days. Here's the deal:

1. There is a meeting scheduled for this Friday, April 4, between orphanages in Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Minister in charge of the branch of government that deals with international adoptions.

2. There is a meeting scheduled for Sunday, April 6, with this same Minister and adoption agencies on the ground in Ethiopia.

We, along with our agency, are very hopeful that this meeting will bring the end of this six month standstill. I would love for you to pray along with us that this will be the case and that the countless children who have been stuck during this time will finally be matched with their forever families.

Please pray that God's favor would be all over this situation, and that international adoption would move forward in a  positive way in Ethiopia.

Thank you so much for coming alongside us during this difficult time. Hopefully and prayerfully, the tides are about to turn and we will see a GUSH of referrals during the month of April. Please pray with us!


Monday, March 31, 2014

If You Had Kids: A "Say What?" Post

It has been a while since I broached the "Say What?" category on my blog. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe I am worried about coming across the wrong way, being perceived as snarky and rude. Please know that is never my intention. My goal is to simply bring awareness that some of the things we say (even without intentional malice) bring a lot of pain to those around us.

So today I wanted to address something that is said to me with decent regularity, and usually by people I do not personally know. There are a few forms this phrase usually comes in, and here they are:

"Well, you would understand if you had kids."

"I mean if you had kids, you would know."

"You must not have kids."

And the one that hurts the most:

"You'll understand when you have a family."

So often, these things are said with a laughing and conspiratorial tone, as if we are all in on an inside joke together. And I know that those who have said this (or some other variation) have done so without malicious intentions.

I want to take a minute to talk with you, candidly, about what I hear when people say these things to me.

"Well, you would understand if you had kids." 
"I mean, if you had kids, you would know." 

I hear that, because we do not have kids, I don't count. I don't know how hard life is. I couldn't possibly relate to you. Because I am childless. My heart drops every time someone says this to me. I don't know how to respond. Because, they are right. I don't understand what it is like to have kids. But I want to. I want to give up sleeping through the night, to change diapers, to rock my kids to sleep, to make meals that end up mostly on the table and placemats, to do endless cycles of laundry, to baby talk and miss adult conversation. I want to understand. And when I am reminded that I don't, I feel like somehow I just don't measure up. Like I am not a real woman because I don't understand what it's like to have kids.

"You must not have kids." 

I hear that there is something about me (maybe a brand on my forehead; ha!) that shouts, "Hey! I don't have children!" This has been said to me several times, but one instance stands out the most. This was said to me once by another teacher. Not someone I even work with, but someone who was looking over my shoulder at a professional development meeting while I was organizing some papers I had been editing for my students. She asked to see them and when she saw my commentary on them, "You must not have kids" was her very loud response. I totally froze. I had no idea what to say. I don't think she meant anything by it, but it felt like she did. I MUST not have kids? Must not? I just offered up a weak smile and shook my head, acknowledging the lack of pitter patter of little feet on my floors. Wearing that truth like a badge of shame. 

"You'll understand when you have a family." 

I hear that Adam doesn't count as my family because he is "just" my husband. I hear that I won't really have a family until we have children. This hurts more deeply than I can explain. My heart wants to shout, "But I DO have a family! I have the most wonderful husband. And I have parents and a sister and a dog that I love too much. They count!" I know what people mean when they say this. But that is not what I hear. This is one of the reasons I never call trying to have kids "starting a family." I know some people will think that I am picking over semantics, but these are real feelings, real implications. 

This is one of those posts for which I really wish you could hear my voice. I am not ranting and raving. I am not angry. My goal is to come from a place of love and gently encourage all of us (myself definitely included) to consider how our words might sound in the ears of those who hear them. Let us all resist the urge to say the first thing that comes to our minds, especially if it is exclusionary in nature. Instead, let's include and encourage those who need it. Let's reach out to those who are hurting.  

To those of you, and there are too many to count, who have gone out of your way to be sensitive to us during this difficult season of waiting to be matched with our little Ethiopian babe(s), I have to thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have not gone unnoticed. 


Sunday, March 30, 2014

USCIS Extension Approval

In the spirit of keeping the world updated with the goings on of our adoption, I am writing today to let you know that we have been cleared again by USCIS to bring our little one(s) into the United States. When you adopt internationally, you must file with the U.S. government in order to able to bring your little darling(s) onto American soil. Essentially, you send in your home study documents and a forms requesting approval. It is usually the last step before your paperwork gets sent overseas. Your clearance is good for about 18 months.

We received our first immigration clearance in September of 2012.

Eighteen months have passed. And now we have reapplied.

The great news is that we got our approval back super fast. We sent everything the second week of March and just got our approval in the mail this week. That is a QUICK turnaround. For that, I am beyond thankful. Yay!

The not as great news is that we have been on the waiting list long enough to need to file for an extension. Boo.

Adam and I were talking on the way home from church today about how much this whole trial process has affected our lives. Both in good ways and bad. We are such different people than we were two years ago.

On the one hand, our life is SUCH a far cry from what either of us thought it would be. And that is really hard for us. We have been married for seven years and together for ten. That is a long time. And we are ready to grow our family (don't tell Daisy). By this point, I thought we would have two kids and be talking about number three. But we are childless. That is a hard word to assign to yourself. But the reality is, we are. And it is really hard to live in that reality, to know that this part of you and your life that you never doubted would come to be, suddenly isn't. And to then come to terms with the fact that it might not ever. Facing that truth does a number on your faith. I have found myself questioning things I have always believed with rock solid confidence.

Is God good?

Is God just?

Is God there?

Does God love me?

Those are tough questions. And especially tough when you have lived your whole life in the church and cannot remember a time when you did not know God. Still, I found myself wrestling with these questions, trying to get my brain and my heart around the fact that I believe wholeheartedly in a holy, just, good, loving, all powerful, upright God. And that this God sees how much I am hurting and allows it to continue. That will scramble your brain.

I am happy to be able to tell you that the answer to each one of those questions is a resounding, "Yes." I do want to be transparent here, and tell you that it does not always FEEL like the answer is, "Yes." But I know it is. I know that because I can see so many good things that have come from this.

I have learned that I must be wholly and completely reliant on God. (This is something I still struggle with way too frequently.)

I have learned that God's Word is life-sustaining.

I have learned that it is more important for my prayers to be honest than pretty.

I have learned that my struggles can point others to Christ if I stay focused on Him.

I have learned that God stays near to the broken hearted, of which I am most certainly one.

So there have been a LOT of parts about our current situation that have been harder than I can explain to you. But on the other hand, I believe that God gives us trials to sharpen us and prepare us, to strengthen us and grow our faith. And for that part of this life I am now living, I am grateful. I am also quite curious to see what is coming next if this current phase is just the preparation.

So for now, we are cleared to bring our babies home for another 18 months. Please, Jesus, please do not let us get to the place where we have to renew again.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Jehovah Shammah: God is There

I wrote a quick post last week about my weekend at Created for Care with my mom. Since then, I have been swirling around the sea of work/new house/Noonday/sorting through everything I learned at Created for Care. So my brain and my body have both been moving in overdrive. That is why I am just now getting to write to you about one of the most extraordinary parts of last weekend up in the wilderness of Georgia.

One of the things you have the opportunity to do at Created for Care is sign up for a Date with God session. Now, I will be the first in line to admit that I was a bit skeptic last year. Maybe I was nervous. Maybe it seemed too foreign. Maybe the idea made me a little bit uncomfortable. I don't know. Whatever the source of my anxiety, I decided to pony up and go. And I am so glad that I did.

During your session, you go into a room with several different stations that all have different ways for you to experience time with God. Some are familiar: Bible reading, praying, communion. Others are less so: painting, drawing.

I actually never wrote about my experience at Date with God last year. I think it hit too close to home for me to write about at the time. Maybe I will have the chance to get into it tomorrow. I hope so, because it is a really cool story.

So back to this year.

If you have been following our story here for any length of time, you know that things have been incredibly difficult for us lately. No movement in almost six months. No end in sight. And so, many of my prayers have been, "God, where are you?" And that is kind of where I was when we arrived at C4C on Friday afternoon. Wondering where in the name of all things God has been. Because I certainly have not felt like He has been anywhere near me. So going into the weekend, I was most hoping to hear from God and to have my spirit restored, renewed, refreshed.

OK. So it is Saturday afternoon at 5 PM, and I am waiting outside the Date with God room with several other adoptive moms, ready to go inside and hear what God has to say. A retreat volunteer comes out and is giving us some instruction on what to expect when we go in. She runs us through what the different stations will be this year and tells us to just enjoy God's presence. The ONLY instruction she gives is to stop at the table just inside the door and pick up a card. Each card has one of the names of God used in the Bible printed on it along with come Scripture references for that name. Those are the only directions.

So what does this teacher do? Do I follow directions? No. I blow right by the table and decide that I am going to go sit and pray and ask God to show up.

I walked into the room and found a quiet corner to sit in. And for a really long time I just sat there and kind of stared. I wanted so much to hear from God, but I have just been so hurt by everything He is allowing to happen in our lives that I have unwittingly built up this wall around my heart in a vain attempt to protect myself from further suffering. Sitting on the floor in that room, I felt at a complete and total loss; it was like I did not even know what to say.

After what felt like a loooong time of sitting and staring, I opened my Bible to 2 Corinthians 1. I had heard some ladies talking about it earlier in the weekend, and I thought it would be a good place to start. Here is what I found:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 
who comforts us in all our troubles, 
so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 
For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, 
so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 
If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; 
if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, 
which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 
And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, 
so also you share in our comfort.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7

I read these words, and I cried out to God. Ugly, heaving cries. So much so that one of the retreat volunteers brought me a prayer shawl so that I could cover my head and weep in private. My initial reaction was to be angry. Because I don't FEEL like the God of all comfort has been comforting me. I don't SEE the God of compassion working in my life. I feel alone. I feel lost. I feel forgotten. 

And I finally summoned up the courage to tell God that. I was HONEST with God. It;s not like He hasn't known all along how I have felt, but I finally TRUSTED Him enough to tell Him the truth. After weeks, months, YEARS of trying to say the right thing and be the right way, I caved. I told Him the truth. 

And for the first time in a pretty long time, I felt like He heard me. 

I want to be clear here. God has been hearing me and listening to me all long. He has not changed. I have. Sitting on the floor in that room, I FELT like God was sitting right there. And I cannot tell you what that did for my heart. Peace washed over me in that moment in a way I have not experienced (honestly) in years. And I saw that the God of all comfort had been there the whole time; I had just stayed hidden behind my impenetrable walls, refusing to let God in, believing that, somehow, choosing to do so was protecting myself from more hurt. But when the walls cracked, God used that moment to collapse them to the ground, and then He reached in and reminded that He is right there. 

He has always been there. I think I have always known that in my head, but it has been so hard for me to feel it in my heart and soul. That is why this moment came as such a sweet relief for me. I finally FELT what I have KNOWN to be true all along.

When I finished praying, I got up and walked over to the map that was hanging on the wall and prayed for our children and for the other families represented at the retreat.

I was about to pick up my purse and head out, feeling lighter than I had in years, when I passed a table with a bowl on it. Remember those directions I ignored? The bowl was full of cards, each with a different name of God and its meaning printed on it. Without really looking, I reached into the bowl and pulled out a card.

Jehovah Shammah
God is There
Ezekiel 48:35
Philippians 3:7-8
2 Corinthians 4:11, 16-18


The VERY thing I had been struggling with--feeling like God has just not been THERE for me--is the precise card I pull out of a bowl I ignored when I first walked into the room? 

Now, I grew up going to a Christian school, and I have heard a LOT of names for God over the years, but I have never heard Jehovah Shammah. So I made a beeline back to my corner, sat down and flipped open my Bible to Ezekiel 48:35. This happens to be the very last verse in the book of Ezekiel. God is instructing Israel on how to rebuild Jerusalem, and He tells them that the city is to be called Jehovah Shammah: God is There. The city itself is to serve as a reminder that God is always there. What a beautiful concept, this idea that God presence is always there, wherever we are. And I found myself clinging to it. He is there. He is there. 

But that is not all. 

The verse below is Philippians 3:7-8. 

Now, I am not super familiar with verse 7, but verse 8 has been my life verse since I was about 15 years old. It is the verse I hung onto in college and the one I shared in my baptism testimony almost four years ago. Here it is: 

"What is more, I consider everything a loss 
when compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, 
for whose sake I have lost all things. 
I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ." 
Philippians 3:8

I have owned that verse for over a decade, considered getting it tattooed somewhere on myself. And in that moment, I felt God asking me a difficult question: 

"Do you mean it? 
Is everything else really a loss compared to me? 
Would you forsake everything else for me?"

Oh, it was a tough question to answer. Because I knew what the answer SHOULD be. But then I looked at my life and saw that I was holding far too tightly to the things I wanted. If I wanted my answer to that question to be a true, "Yes," then I knew I would have to let go and trust Him.

So I am praying anew that God would help me let go. I know myself too well to think that I could ever do this on my own.

But I serve Jehovah Shammah,the God who is there. And I know that He will get me through to the other side.

So when I wrote about Created for Care last week, I told you that the weekend focused more on the condition of my heart than anything else. Hopefully now you can see why. God did what I asked of Him. He spoke to me, and He did it in an incredible way, right?

So I want you to know this same truth. Maybe you are like me and you are going through the hardest thing you have ever endured. Maybe you feel lost and alone, like God hears and responds to everyone but you. Maybe your life not only feels that way, but it looks that way, too. If that is you, I hear you, sister. I feel you. I get you. And you are NOT alone. It might feel that way and look that way. But you're not. Jehovah Shammah is right by your side, and He loves you with a deep and limitless love. I know it is so hard, but press in and seek His face. Listen for His voice. Try to make just a crack in those walls you have put up, and you will see that He is right where He has been all along. Standing beside you, hurting along with you and longing for you to turn to Him.


Monday, March 10, 2014

He's Not Who I Though He Was

This past weekend, my mom and I drove up in to the beauty of northern Georgia to attend Created for Care. We went together for the first time last year, and I have been looking forward to this year's retreat since registering in August. When I wrote about last year's retreat, I told you that it was very much like drinking from a fire hose. This year was the same.

But my experience was so much different.

Last year, I walked into Created for Care with naive adoption eyes, thinking that everything would go smoothly (because, at that point, it had!) and that we would be home with our children in just a few months. So I focused on what life would be like once we got them home.

This year, Created for Care was about my own heart and all that has been going on with it over the last three years. God used this weekend to show me that I had to work on my heart before I would be able to help heal the hearts of our children. And it is my hope that this past weekend was a starting point for that. So I want to spend the next few posts trying to dissect some of what I learned, saw, heard and experienced up in Georgia.

On Saturday night, our main session speaker, Beth Guckenberger, said something that really resonated with me. She had been going through a difficult time in her life several years ago when her father fell ill. Like any daughter, she prayed and begged for God to heal him, but God didn't, and her dad passed away. She told us that in reaction to that, she "broke up with Jesus."

That just hit me right in the chest. Because, if I am totally honest, I have tried to break up with Jesus over the last few months, maybe even the least year. I have tried to walk away, because I just feel like I am so far beyond done.

So I found her after the session and did something that was very difficult for me. I admittedly my flaws and put my vulnerability out there. I asked her what she did to overcome breaking up with Jesus. I asked her what brought her back to Him.

Her response?

"Honestly, I missed Him."

Oh, I can SO relate to that. I miss FEELING Jesus in my life. I know He has been here all along, but I have not felt His presence in such a long time. And I MISS Him.

I pressed her farther. "So what did you do?"

And she told me that she realized that God was not who she thought He was and so she had to go back to Scripture to figure out who He really is. She told me that that was where her love of Scripture came from.

I have been clinging to that idea since the words left her mouth. Because that is what I want. I want to know who God really is, because is not who I thought He was. For so many years, I have believed (maybe without even really realizing it) that I expected God to give me good things simply because I made good life choices growing up. I've thought that God owed me good things. And He just wasn't keeping up His end of the bargain. I thought that if I behaved, I would be rewarded in the way that I wanted to be rewarded. And that just isn't what happens.

My wants are so short-sighted. God sees the whole thing. I only see today. He is bigger than me. His plans are bigger than what I want in my life right now. And so I am having to trust that God who sees the whole picture.

He isn't who I thought He was. He is more. And now I have go back and learn just how much more.

So I am hoping that this is a turning point for me. That God will use my experiences this weekend to jumpstart my reunion with Him. That I will be able to take my eyes off the storm raging around me, put them on Him and step out of the boat. I am hoping that all of this will lead me to a place where I KNOW Him, the real Him. Not just the one I molded and shaped in my mind. I want the real thing, the one true God. The One who helps us walk on water.

"'Lord, if it is you,' Peter replied, 'tell me to come out to you on the water.'
'Come,' He said.
Then Peter got out of the boat, walked on water and came toward Jesus."
Matthew 14:28-29

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