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


Monday, March 3, 2014

Wait List Update: March 2014

I feel like I should maybe stop calling these posts "updates," as nothing has changed in the last five months. For the fifth consecutive month, our number has not changed. I am really at a loss. I'm trying to hang on to God's sovereignty, but it is hard.

It is SO hard.

And so I'm sitting here tonight, after lots of tears, trying to wrap my brain around the fact that this is our life. That we are almost two years into this and there is no real end in sight. Things aren't moving slowly. They just aren't moving. We have stalled out completely.

So, if you would pray for us. If you would please pray, maybe tonight or tomorrow, that God would comfort us and provide for us in this middle of this unbelievably deep valley that we are walking. If you would do that, I would appreciate it more than I can say. If you would please, please pray that March would be the month that changes. We need something different. Something good.

Overwhelmed + the Giveaway Winner

Before I announce the winner of my Blog Train giveaway, I have to pause and tell you ladies how much you have overwhelmed my heart and filled my cup over the last few days. You have shared your stories and been honest about what God is doing in your life, even when it hurts and doesn't make too much sense to you. You have brought joy to my heart as I have read your stories. You have encouraged me and reminded me that God is with us in the storm.

So, I have to say, "Thank you."

Thank you for sharing a little bit of yourself with me. To most of you, I am a complete and total stranger, but you gave me your story any way. And I am grateful for each of you.

And so now, it is time to announce the winner of the Athena Cuff!

The winner is…..

Danielle M.! 

Congratulations, Danielle! You are the winner of a FREE Athena Cuff from Noonday Collection!

I will be contacting you shortly to get shipping information so that you can rock that cuff ASAP!

A HUGE thank you to everyone who participated!


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Disconnect to Reconnect

We moved into our new house last Saturday! More on that later. But as with any change in home, we have had to set up all the new stuff. Power, gas, water…INTERNET. We have been without internet for a week, and I am kind of ashamed to admit to you how much I have felt the hole being disconnected from the interwebs has left in my life. But in a lot of ways, it has been a very good thing.

For one, I have gotten an insane amount of unpacking done. Sure, it looks somewhat impressive, but, to be fair, I have had literally NOTHING ELSE TO DO. So I unpack boxes, hang clothes and put away dishes. And, one week in, I am thankful for the lack of distraction.

More importantly, I have not been able to waste away my time on Pinterest, obsessing over other adoption blogs or mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. Don’t get me wrong, I am so very glad that the AT&T man is here right now installing our internet as I type this post into a Word document to be later pasted onto my blog. I miss feeling “connected,” but there has been something kind of nice about being able to say, “No, I didn’t know about that; we don’t have internet at our house yet.”

And then MOST importantly, the lack of connectivity provided me with an opportunity to sit down with my Bible and a mug of coffee this morning, which led to God speaking directly to my heart through the prophet Hosea. You see, I know myself, and I know how incredibly tired I am from all of this moving and unpacking and scrambling around (all of which is done AFTER a full day of teaching 8th graders!). So I know that it would have been my inclination this morning to get online and do some pinning or some reading or some Facebook stalking.

But instead, I poured a cup of coffee and sat down with my Bible. (Side note: This is not a “Hooray for me and my holiness! Look at me go!” Rather, it is quite humbling to me that God had to orchestrate this set of circumstances to get my attention this morning.)

I opened—unintentionally—to the book of Hosea. I have read it before, and I am familiar with the story of Hosea and his wife, Gomer. God commands Hosea to marry an adulterous woman, and that is exactly what Gomer is. She bears him three children and then leaves and he has to go buy her back out of prostitution. And as I was reading, I realized how much I am like Gomer. Not the adulterous wife part, but the leaving God part. The whole story of Hosea and Gomer is a parallel for God and Israel. God loves His people, and yet His people leave Him over and over again. God gets angry and pours out wrath, but He ultimately forgives Israel and brings her back. Just like Hosea did for Gomer. So many times, especially as this adoption journey has become more and more difficult, I have found myself trying to run away from God, casting Him aside. There have been days when things have been so hard that I cannot even bear the thought of getting up and being around people for a whole day. And I have been embittered by this. There have been moments when I have resented the life God has given me. And I have turned away. I have chosen to live in my own selfishness instead of trusting in God’s goodness. I have been like Gomer, and I have run away.

But God did not let me go. Not for one moment. He came after me. He pursued me, loved me enough to fight for my heart even when I thought I knew better.

He did this:

“Therefore, I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
And will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will sing, as in the days of her youth,
As in the day she came up out of Egypt.”
Hosea 2:14-16

I am so humbled and grateful to serve a God who does not abandon us when we give up on Him. He fights for us. He never leaves us.

So this morning, God was showing me that I have been Gomer and He has been Hosea. I have turned to other things in this difficult season, and He has come after me time and again. He was showing me, reminding me that He is always here, and that I do not HAVE to look elsewhere, because He is the only One who can bring me through this.

What about you? Have you been like Gomer, like me? Have you tried turning to other things? If you have, He is still fighting for you. He is coming after you, desiring your return to Him.

“Let us acknowledge the Lord;
Let us press on to acknowledge Him.
As surely as the sun rises, He will appear;
He will come to us like the winter rains,
Like the spring rains that water the earth.”
Hosea 6:3

He is always here.



P.S. This is blog post number 200. Crazy! 
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