Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Our first heartbreak...

I have purposely put off writing this blog entry.  I knew it would eventually have to be written.  When I made the commitment to blog about our adoption journey, I made the commitment to be transparent - in the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Well, that's easier said than done, I've discovered.  But, since the last few months will likely mark the rest of the journey, it's a story that I need to share.  I had hoped that by the time that I would write this, that I could tell you what it means in our life and in our adoption journey.  I had hoped it would be all tied up with a big red bow.  But, here we are.  No pretty bow.  We are still figuring it all out.  But, the time has come to share this newest phase of our journey.

On September 28th, Neal and I received our monthly e-mail from our adoption agency giving us our newest number on the waitlist.  We were #91.  As is my monthly custom, I texted a few of my closest girlfriends with the update.  One of my dearest friends (who is also in the adoption process herself) texted me back a typical, "That's awesome!  So happy for you!" response, and then, she said something like this, "There's a set of infant, twin boys in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  There is nobody who meets their criteria, but I think you guys do.  I just felt like I was supposed to tell you about them."  My first thought was a very profound, "HUH?"  Now, let me tell you, that this is one of my dearest friends.  She is wise beyond her years, and her husband was our (much beloved!) pastor for several years when we lived in Alabama.  And, when she speaks (or texts), I listen.  ;)  She is just THAT kind of friend.  So, we started a conversation back and forth about these boys.  How could WE be a match?  We have a Home Study and Dossier for 1 child, not 2.  And, they are for Ethiopia, not DRC.  However, she really did think we could be a match for them.  So, when Neal came home, I hit him with the news.  His questions were all the same as mine.  We talked about it.  We didn't understand ANY of it, but we came to the conclusion that we were open to hear more...

What followed was a weekend full of communication.  We talked to each other, we talked to my friend, we talked to the person who had the referral for the twins, we talked to others with info, and we talked all in between about what this could mean for our family.  After all the talking was done and we had as much information as we could get, and after discovering that pursuing the referral for the twins would (hear "should) only mean two minor changes in our Home Study (from 1 child to 2; and from Ethiopia to DRC), we decided to pursue them.  Now, for you who think that is weird or crazy or irrational or whatever, let me just explain something.  Adoption is a journey.  For us, it is about being obedient to follow God however He leads us.  You CANNOT enter the adoption journey thinking that your path will look a certain way, land you in a certain country, or that you will arrive at a certain time.  It is MUCH more organic than that.  It has twists and turns, ups and downs, and sometimes those death-defying spins that make you feel like you are going to throw up and possibly want to slap somebody.  True story.  We KNEW that before, but we BELIEVE it now.  The other thing that I must explain to you is that few years ago, I heard a sermon by David Platt (who is one of my favorite preachers/authors).  In that sermon, he said that any time that we are presented an opportunity or a need (be it the mission field, a mission trip, adoption, someone in need, etc.,) that our first response should never be "no." Our first response, if possible, should be to go prayerfully to God and ASK Him what we are to do about what has been presented to us.  Because, often our first response is based on feelings, insecurity, and a lack of faith.  And, I was greatly impacted by that sermon.  So, that's basically what we said from the beginning.  We will talk about it and pray about it and see where God leads us.  So, that's what we did.  We got all the info, and we felt STRONGLY that God was leading us to take the next step.

The next two weeks, for me, were some of the hardest in my life.  Neal and I pursued these twin boys as hard as we could.  I had, very ironically, lost my voice during the middle of all of this, so the burden of most of the fighting fell on Neal.  The very next day, we found out that the "simple changes" that needed to be made to our Home Study were not going to be simple.  THAT should not have come as such a shock to us, because NOTHING about our original Home Study was simple.  Our Home Study took 8 months to complete when the average is 2-4 months.  And, this is where I cannot get to deep into details, but we came up against a force that I cannot even describe.  This was a battle that was more than just between us and the bureaucracy of the adoption world.  This was a spiritual battle.  We fought hard for these boys, and we believed with everything in us that we were to be their parents, and they were to be our sons.  But, at the end of the day, bureaucracy won, and we lost the referral.  And, our hearts were BROKEN.

One of the first decisions that we made almost as soon as we received the referral information for the twins was that we would not look at their pictures until we knew they were going to be ours.  We also did not want to tell our biological kids (and they still don't know).  Both were good decisions.  However, God used the decision not to look at their pictures to teach me a very important lesson.  For the entire time that we have been in this adoption process, I have wondered how I would ever love an adopted child they way that I love the three biological children that He gave us.  I have heard people I trust, who know from experience, say that I will.  And, I have believed them.  But, at the same time, I have still just wondered and not understood how that would even be possible.  However, in those two weeks, God showed me the answer.  I will love whatever child or children He brings into our family through adoption exactly the same as I love the three He has already given us.  I know, because over the course of those two weeks of fighting for the twins, Neal and I fell in love with them. 

Up until this point in our marriage, we have not experienced any significant losses.  Not to say that our life has been easy or without hardship.  It has not.  However, we have not lost a parent, a sibling, a child, or had a miscarriage.  This was our first real heartbreak.  And, for those of you who have experienced one of the other losses, I am not saying they are the same.  And, I cannot even explain to you, in a way that makes any sense, the loss that we have felt over losing two little boys we have never met.  But, I can tell you it is REAL.  And, we aren't over it.  I really, really wish we were.  But, some days, I am just not sure we ever will be. 

I heard it said one time that God "entrusts us" with sorrow.  I don't know why He entrusted this to us.  But, I have NO doubt that He will one day use it for His glory.  I pray and hope that He will.  It has altered us forever.  I have no doubt that in twenty years, that I will still have tears in my eyes on some days when I think about those sweet little boys.  We are still neither one great at talking about it.  I can still get tears in my eyes just driving down the road, if I hear a certain song or something reminds me of them.  But, one thing that God has proven in our lives is that He is Jehovah Rophe - The God who heals.  And, He has already started the process of healing in our hearts.  It is not going as fast as I would like it to go, but I am convinced that these boys were meant to be part of our adoption story.  Please pray for us as we continue to move forward.  It's very tough to keep going when you know that your first loss might not be your last.  There may be more pain ahead for us.  There could be another dream that falls through.  Please pray for us that we would continue to be faithful no matter what lies ahead.

Not only has this experience impacted our hearts, it has impacted our adoption journey.  Through these two little boys, we started a process of learning about a country called The Democratic Republic of the Congo.  I went from not being able to find it on a map of Africa to having my heart broken for what is one of the saddest places on the planet and the 4th poorest country in the world.  The DRC has seen an unbelievable loss of life in recent years, and the Second Congo War was the deadliest war in the history of the world, second only to WWII.  The DRC is an extremely dangerous place for women, boys, and girls, and has earned the unlovely title of "The Rape Capitol of the World."  And, currently, the eastern DRC has been overtaken by a rebel force called M23 that is again reaking havoc on a very poor and unstable government and its innocent people, and it once again is very dangerous place to be.

All these things should make us want to run away from this country.  But, in a way I cannot explain, we are still very drawn to the DRC.  However, we are currently STILL in the process to adopt from Ethiopia.  Both countries have great need.  Both countries have 5 million orphans EACH in need of homes.  We are talking through some big decisions in our house right now.  We cannot talk too much about the details just yet, but I at least wanted you to understand where we are.  So, for the few friends of mine who have been brave enough to ask, "How's the adoption going?" I'm sorry for the barage of info that has been jumbled and fractured and confusing.  That's just where we are right now.  It honestly feels a little bit like a mess.  But, we definitely still feel like God is in it and He has a plan.  Pray for us as we figure out what that is. 

Please pray for us as we make some decisions in the coming weeks.  We are in the middle of our Home Study update with a NEW Home Study agency.  That is a blessing.  :)  Again, I can't go into specifics, but God blessed us with a new start for this new Home Study, and we are tremendously thankful for the chance at a do-over. 

More details to come soon as we figure out where this thing is headed.  As I told a friend the other day, the only thing that I am certain of right now is that ONLY God knows how this will all play out.  But, I am certain He knows.  And, I am certain He is still in it. 

Bless you for caring enough to follow our journey.  So many of you have encouraged our steps on days when we needed it most.  We are doing our best to follow His leading one day at a time.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Isaiah 1:17 and our 2012 T-Shirt Fundraiser

Isaiah 1:17 - "Learn to do right!  Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow."

A verse that has had a HUGE impact on my life over the last few years is absolutely the verse that I felt God would have us to use as the theme of our adoption t-shirts this year.  I am SO excited to share this with you. A super-talented friend of ours has shared her God-given gift with us and designed a t-shirt for our adoption t-shirt fundraiser this year.  And, I just LOVE it!  I wish you knew how little I actually gave her to work with.  Neal and I were THRILLED with the first picture she sent us of this shirt!  You will see why in just a second!  And, this is not the first time that she has used her creative gift to bless our family!  We are so thankful for you, Kelly Berg!

Even more exciting is that this year, we are blessed to be selling this shirt alongside two other families who are friends of ours and also in the adoption process.  We are SO excited to be in this process with both the Jones and McNitt families, and so doing this fundraiser together just seemed like the natural thing to do.  All profit from the sale of these shirts will be split evenly among all three of our families.  So, this year, when you purchase a shirt, you will not only be helping ONE family, but THREE, to bring orphans to their forever families who are waiting for them.

Again this year, our hope is to have these back to you in time for you to proudly wear them on Orphan Sunday. We would be honored if you would! This year, Orphan Sunday falls on Sunday, November 4th.  Our hope is that you would wear your shirt on that day to spread awareness for the estimated 163 million orphans in the world. 

This year, the cost of our shirts is as follows:

$20 for adults (sizes S, M, L, XL, 2XL, 3XL)
$12 for kids shirts (sizes XS, S, M, L, XL)

We will be selling these shirts ONLY for the next 3 weeks!  In order to have them back to you by Orphan Sunday, we will only be taking orders until October 21st!  So, get your order in now!!! 

To order, you may click on the yellow "Donate" button on the top left of this page, and it will take you directly to a secure PayPal link.  Once you are there, please leave the sizes that you number of shirts and sizes you would like in the Notes/Comment section. 

And, remember, every time you wear this shirt, YOU are a part of defending the cause of the fatherless!  What a blessing to be able to speak up on their behalf!

Thank you all for walking with us on this journey!

P.S. - Don't you just LOVE the shirt???? 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Greatest Commandments

Once again, more time has passed than I intended since I last wrote.  I don't know if it is the fact that I am in my thirties, that I have three children, that I have a husband who works a ton in the summer, or the fact that I apparently have writer's ADD that makes it impossible for me to be a consistent writer.  Maybe it is all of the above.  The one thing that I cannot blame it on is that it is definitely NOT due to the fact that God has not been speaking to me or refining me.  He has been at work SO much lately, and I cannot blame Him for there is MUCH work to do!

That said, it was He who first led me to this idea of sharing, through a series of blog posts, how this transformation began to take place in our lives.  Over the course of a few months, God began to really shape our hearts through His word, and He used a series of verses to do it.  The first is this...

Mark 12:28-30. 
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating.  Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"  "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."  

Now, if you are wondering, if I had actually read these verses before.  It wasn't new to me.  And, I actually had them memorized.  But, they had honestly never penetrated my heart or my life.  That's the truth.  And, when I did an honest evaluation, I found that I truly LOVED Jesus.  (Or, I thought I did.)  But, what I found is that I was NOWHERE close to loving people as much as I loved myself.  Now, hear me out.  I loved my friends, I loved my family, I loved my church family, I loved the people in my life group, but h-o-n-e-s-t-l-y that is about where it stopped.  I loved people that were convenient for me to love.  I loved people who were like me.  I loved people who believed and acted like me.  I loved people who were middle class Americans.  If you had asked me, prior to this, if I loved others (as in the ones not in these categories), I would probably have said yes.  But it would have been a lie.  Because so many other verses in the Bible started to really speak to me as well...

Mark 10:21 - "Jesus looked at him and loved him.  'One thing you lack,' he said. 'Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come follow me.'"

John 14:21 - "He who has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me."

I Corinthians 13:13 - "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love."

Galatians 5:14 - "The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'

But, it honestly never occurred to me that I was to actively, physically, emotionally pour myself out for those who didn't fall into those categories. 

Then, we (Neal and I) started to take an honest evaluation of where we were (and were not) pouring ourselves out - our time, money, and resources - and, we found out that they we were living mostly for we, us and ourselves.  We tithed, and we gave offerings when we felt moved to do so, but that was about where it ended.  So, we started really examining the way we were living our lives and asked God what He would have us do differently.  By the way, don't pray that prayer and ask Him that question unless you want Him to answer you.  Because He will, and He did.  I will not bore you with all the details of our selfish life or all the changes that we began to make, but I will tell you the one obvious thing that came out of us praying that prayer was a very clear call to adoption.  It would be several months before we were sure that was where He was leading and would start the process, but He begin laying it on our hearts very soon after praying that prayer.  But, that's another post for another day.  :)

But, more than adoption, God showed us that we truly were not really living a life of love.  And, we really started asking some hard questions.  Like "What does it mean to love my neighbor as myself?"  Does that mean that we are literally to spend as much time, energy, and money on others as we do ourselves - as in a 50/50 split?  And, before you say "no, that's impossible" remember that God doesn't often call us to do things that are possible.  In fact, quite the opposite.  He calls us to do things that will allow His glory to be seen.  So...What if He meant for us to take that verse literally?  What if we are meant to give away half of our money, time and resources?  These are the questions that began to invade our normal, middle-class, American thoughts.  And, as we started taking stock of our lives, we realized we were failing miserably.  So, we decided to make some changes.  One thing at a time.  One choice at a time.  But, we decided, most of all, we would pray and ask Him if He would show us how to love.  And, this is where it all started to change. 

Honestly, this is an area where I still fail.  Every. Single. Day.  When the Pharisees tried to trip Jesus up in that moment and make him choose a commandment that was the most important, I think they were stunned by his response.  I think, it was because they were rule-followers.  They were legalists.  They were strict followers of the law, but they were short on love.  And, honestly, I think they were a lot like me at times.  Like us.  Give us a list of rules to follow, and we are golden.  Tell us what not to do, who to boycott, how we can do more for ourselves, give more to those who already have too much, serve without going into scary areas or getting our hands too dirty, and we are happy. As David Platt says in his bestseller, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream, "When we gather at the building, we learn to be good.  Being good is defined by what we avoid in the world.  We are holy because of what we don't participate in (and at this point we may be the only organization in the world defining success by what we don't do)." 

But, start talking about pouring our lives and savings accounts out for those who openly sin, taking a stand for those who can't, giving to those who are so poor they can never repay us, sacrifice our time or our family's time, or alter the "plan" we had for our life, and suddenly, we start getting uncomfortable.  We start spitting out words like "radical" and "Jesus freak" and accusing people of taking the words of Jesus "too literally."  Because, then, when we are truly loving it ceases to be about us.  In our self-obsessed culture, it is often hard to even do these things and not have ourselves get in the way.  We only want to give, if we can be sure the money will be spent well.  We only want to share our time, if we can be sure it will be worth it.  We can't even go on a mission trip unless we know what is in it for us.  It's sad.  It's a VERY difficult mindset to change.  But, Jesus knew all that.  You see, He was speaking to the religious elite.  The church crowd.  Those who knew the Scriptures.  They probably had perfect attendance.  Because, remember, they liked to follow the rules.  And, he was telling them what was most important was what they had not yet gotten.  Loving people is messy, it can be dangerous, it can be heart-wrenching, it can be disappointing, it can cause us physical and emotional pain, and it is just plain HARD. But, Jesus said loving God and loving people were the most important things. 

But, you know what?  Even though making changes to what used to be "normal" for us was difficult in the beginning, we have tried our best to be obedient to the things that God has asked from us.  As I told a friend a while back, we just started looking for opportunities to say "yes" to God.  And, they just keep coming.  It is still a struggle some days.  We live in a culture that says we should serve ourselves first and give our leftovers away.  But, s-l-o-w-l-y, we have started to loose our grip on the things of this world and started to grasp on to the things of God.  And you know what?  It has gotten much, much easier.  And, it has been the most freeing thing.  And, we have started to comprehend what Jesus meant when he said this...

 John 15:11-13 - "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

He told us, so that our JOY may be COMPLETE.  How much do you love that?

Love God. Love people.  That's it, folks.  It was meant to be a very simple life, really.

"Do you know that nothing you do in this life will matter, unless it is about loving God and loving the people he has made?" - Francis Chan, Crazy Love

Monday, April 16, 2012


Wow!  It is has been 4 months since my last blog!  And, boy, what a ride those 4 months have been!  This past week was HUGE for us.  We F-I-N-A-L-L-Y were able to go to our USCIS fingerprint appointment which was the LAST item on our list before we could submit our dossier.  We went to our appointment and then mailed in our dossier the same day.  On Friday, our dossier arrived in Portland at our adoption agency, and when they called to confirm that it had arrived, we were SO surprised to hear them say that it looked "perfect!" Nothing about our process has gone that smoothly or quickly.  NOTHING. Then came the surprise I wasn't expecting.  Our caseworker said that they were going ahead and putting us on the wait list, which I thought would take WEEKS!  So, with that said, here is our first wait list number...

That's right!  We are officially #124 for an Ethiopian baby boy!  Our estimated wait time is 18-24 months from now to get a referral.  And, we are going to trust God that the day will not come a day to soon or a day too late.  Feel free to remind me of this in the days ahead.  :)

For me, Friday was a high.  The road blocks we hit at the end of 2011 truly had us wondering a few times if we would ever make it this far.  Without getting into specifics, we underwent some pretty intense spiritual warfare and our adoption process took the brunt of the attack.  A normal Home Study should only take 3-4 months to complete, and, when all was said and done, ours took NINE.  It was rough.  But, God is faithful, and He is victorious.  And, He proved that through the process of our Home Study.  And, through it all, we remained convinced that we started the journey of adoption not because it was something WE sought, but rather, it was something that God called us to do.  And, where God calls, He equips and provides.  And, that is what He did.  The timing has not been ours, and still is not ours.  But, we are resting in the fact that HE is in control. Today is only day 3 of what will likely be a LONG wait, but once again, we are trusting in Him. 

From the beginning of this blog, my deepest desire was to share our journey with whomever might be interested.  My deepest desires have been to be real, to be transparent, for God to speak through me in some small way, and for Him to be glorified.  So, because of those things, I want to share with you what God has done in my heart over this last year and a half.  It's kind of the "back story" to our adoption.  It's been something that I have felt like for a while that God has wanted me to share, but, honestly, it's a long story.  It's something that I have tried to share with people in shorter conversations, and I usually just walk away feeling like I didn't do it or God justice. 

Over this past year or so, God has been doing some major work in my heart.  MAJOR.  And, much of the time, it has not been pretty.  I don't even know how to put into words what God has done in my heart over the past year and a half.  Going through the process of adoption has been the most refining thing I have ever done in my life.  Nothing has ever required as much faith or as much trusting as this has.  Nothing has required this much transparency or surrender.  I can't even describe it.  It has been deeply emotional, gut-wrenching, and just really, really HARD.  It's also been one of the most joyful, most fulfilling, most satisfying things I have ever done.  I have had more peace and felt more freedom in my spiritual life than at any other point so far.  And, as one of my friends who walked this road ahead of me shared with me early on, I have SEEN God like never before.  He has been SO real to me through every step of the process.  I am beyond grateful that God called us to walk this path. 

I want to share with you my story.  Not because I have anything spectacular to say.  I have said it before, but blogging is a little (lot) out of my comfort zone.  I truly do it because I want to share what God has done.  I hope that comes across to anyone who cares to read my blog.  I want to share with you my heart and what God has done throughout our adoption process and what He continues to do.  However, I am going to warn you, it is going to take me several posts.

This period of our lives, this journey, has been what I can only call a "undoing" of sorts in my Christian faith.  I decided to follow Jesus early in my life, but, I have to honestly say that I took the "saving" and "grace" part of my faith much more seriously than I did the "following" and "obedience" until God really grabbed my attention sometime in the summer of 2010.  If you have been around me for more than five minutes since that time, you probably already know that God used the book Crazy Love to start this undoing.  Through that book, He began to awaken me to some biblical truths that I honestly had never seriously considered or contemplated before, despite being in church my entire life.  But, more than that, Crazy Love caused me to dive into the Bible like never before, to try to understand what it really means to be a follower of Jesus.  What was wild to me, is that much of what I was reading and coming to understand about what God really cares about was NEW to me.  Not that I hadn't read these passages before, but somehow, even after years of outstanding church attendance, daily quiet times, and Bible reading plans, I had never understood that as followers of Christ, we are actually supposed to DO something with His words, and not just the ones that we like. 

So, what I would like to do over the course of several blog posts is to share my heart.  You can follow along with me or not.  As I said, I started this blog not because I have great things to say, but because I wanted to share with you my journey.  I wanted to be transparent.  And, I wanted to share with you what God is really doing in our lives.  And, I would love to hear what He is doing in yours.  I love to hear a testimony about what Jesus is doing to transform a life.  I have come to realize that I have spent the majority of my walk with God not living a life of transformation.  There have been transforming moments, but not daily transformation.  Somewhere along the way, I started to think that going to church, reading my Bible, and occasionally sharing my faith with someone was enough.  What I have learned is that God desires for our faith to continually transform us.  I had become very stagnant, and honestly, I was pretty happy sitting in my stagnation.  If that sounds gross, it should.  I now think my stagnant faith was pretty disgusting.  And, while I do not pretend for a second to have this all figured out, I do know that Jesus is daily transforming me, and He has been slowly stripping away the things that do not matter (a lot of them) and building back my faith with the things that do matter.  It's the process of sanctification walked out.  Of making me holy.  And, people, it's a lot of work.  I have so far to go.  The process has been been uncomfortable, it has been frustrating, but it has been absolutely the most liberating thing I have ever experienced.

The way that I want to share with you my journey is to share the scriptures that were my absolute undoing.  These are the ones that changed my life.  And, they all still affect me on almost a daily basis.  I hope they are still changing me to be more like Jesus.  He has changed my heart.  And, it didn't happen with a one-time prayer.  It is still happening.  And, I hope that if it isn't clear yet, that one day it will be evident by my actions and by the way that I love.  I'm a work in progress, folks.  There's still so much work for Him to do.
So, I guess, this is a "stay tuned" kind of post.  I hope you will come back for the next one.  I'd love to hear what you have to say about the first passage.  It's from the book of Mark, and, in what I have to assume was God's perfect timing, it hit me like a ton of bricks, and it was the start of my coming undone. 
Thanks for sharing the journey!  I'm so blessed to have you along for the ride!