Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My burden is heavy

Tonight I find myself alone with my thoughts and prayers. It is difficult to breathe and like a weight is resting on my chest.  Tonight I think of a country thousands of miles and an ocean away.  A country that has lost more people than the Hollocaust to a war of genocide, rape, and violence that we cannot imagine.
My burden is heavy for the child that takes care of their infant siblings, who lost their parents to AIDS or disease.
My burden is heavy for the child whose parents sell her body to men in the community to pay for food or alcohol.
My burden is heavy for the children who are raped because if it believed if a man has sex with a virgin his AIDS will be cured.
My burden is heavy for the 5 million children who are orphaned: who sit on street corners with their hands out, who chase down people trying to sell trash they've collected, who curl up and wait for death to take them.
My burden is heavy for the 5 year old boy who is forced to hold a gun or machete and kill his own parents or die.
My burden is heavy for the people who live in fear of rebels coming into their village, stealing their children and livelihood.
My burden is heavy for my son, whose hair has greyed from the lack of food and nutrition in his body.
My burden is heavy for my daughter, who is alone and confused, trying to deal with a life of trauma in a 3 year olds understanding.

15% of children in the DRCongo do not make it to their 5th birthday. That is my child. That is your child. That is God's child.
I know this is a downer of a post and it sounds so cliche, like some African commercial to send in your 30$ a month. But I think we just forget that it is real. We think, God, take care of the poor and all that mess in Africa, and around the world, and God looks at us and thinks "you call yourself my friend, my child, then do something!"
I posted the video "Depraved indifference" a while back. I'm not sure if you took the minutes to view it or not, but please, if this moves you at all, then at least view it. Research a ministry you can get involved in. Pray about adopting. Support a ministry that prevents orphans in the first place.  Contact a missionary family and see how you can help. Pray for the orphans of the DRC, for the sex trafficked and the children as young as 2 being raped. Pray about getting your hands in this, and living out the call God designed us for.
Isaiah 58:3-11
'Why have we fasted' they say, 'and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?'
"Yet on the day of fasting you do as you please, exploit your workers, your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chose, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
"Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the enslaved,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor outcasted wanderer with shelter-
when you see the naked to clothe them, and to not turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you and the Glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help and he will say: Here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

Until then,
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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Happy 1st Birthday Levi!

Happy Birthday my sweet one year old boy. I have no words to express my sadness, aching for you, joy, and love I have for you! I hurt to not be with you on this day, but I know we will be together soon! This will be the last birthday I miss.
Jen Hatmaker says it best:
"You realize God can put a vicious fight in you for a kid without your blood coursing through his veins.  Those early doubts about loving a child without the helpful instincts of biology are put to rest.  Of course you don't know this kid yet, but you love him in your heart, in your bones.  You'll fight like hell to get to him.  You can't think of anything else.  You are obsessed. You dream about him like you did when you were pregnant.  You realize that when God said 'He sets the lonely in families', he meant it, and he doesn't just transform the "lonely" but also the "families".  He changes us for one another.  God can create a family across countries, beyond genetics, through impossible circumstances, and past reason".
Yes my treasure, my love for you is so deep though I have only laid eyes on pictures of you, you are mine and I would break through a concrete wall to get to you!
I do not know all your first year of life has held.  I do not know where your mother birthed you, how she held you close and nursed you and gave you life, I do not know if you ever laid eyes on your father.  I do not know how many days you went without food, or if no one came to you when you cried out, I do not know the circumstances that led you to me, but I know they were pieces of God's symphony he used to bring us together.  I know a decade of prayer and unexplained desire led me to you. God would not let me get away from you because he knew you were mine. We needed you and you needed us, and the world may just see a clearer picture of Jesus through you.  A gospel that puts on skin and comes to the lowliest of places to redeem the messy parts of our life.  A God who loves to restore a foundation where there was once only dirt.  A God who loves to put broken things back together.  A God who puts himself best on display when we are cracked and broken.
You are an instrument of God, Levi Moses White.  God has big plans for you my son. I am honored to sit and watch what He will do to you, through you, and because of you.

"Ask and I'll give the nations to you" Psalm 2:8.

"Don't be afraid for I am with you, I will gather you and your children from east and west". Isaiah 43:5.

"Later, when the boy was older, his mother brought him back to Pharoah's daughter, who adopted him as her own son. The princess named him Moses, for she explained, "I lifted him out of the water". Exodus 2:10

I love you Levi Moses.  Happy 1st birthday my beautiful son.

Until I am with you soon,
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Without vision, the people perish

If people can't see what God is doing,
   they stumble all over themselves;
But when they attend to what he reveals,
   they are most blessed.
Proverbs 29:18 (msg)

It is easy to live a “good life” as a family.  I mean, we are busy enough just keeping schedules, doing homework, playing games as a family, dinner nights together, bedtime stories, reading our Bible, disciplining, refereeing arguments, limiting screen time, etc.

But is this a great story?

I was challenged when reading a Donald Miller Book, A million miles in a thousand years. One chapter is all about our story. This chapter is a discussion between Don and friend whose daughter has gotten mixed up in a bad relationship and made bad choices. Don tells him his daughter is living a bad story. The good elements of a story involve a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.  It involves trials, risk, and adventure.

“He thought about the story his daughter was living and the role she was playing inside that story.  He realized he hadn’t provided a better role for his daughter.  He hadn’t mapped out a story for his family.  And so his daughter had chosen another story, a story in which she was wanted, even if she was only being used.  In the absence of a family story, she’d chosen a story in which there was risk and adventure, rebellion and independence.  “She’s not a bad girl”, my friend said.  “She was just choosing the best story available to her.”

This chapter shook me.  There is more than just teaching Bible stories, praying, disciplining with Biblical truths and loving my children well. I have to invite my children into the better story; a story that has risk, danger, excitement and may even be a little uncomfortable at times.  After all, look at Jesus’ life, there was nothing safe about it.  My children have to feel needed in our family’s story, they have to have a vital role to play.  I have to be vulnerable to show them where I mess up and fall short.  I can’t be the director who has it all together.  I have to be a flawed character on the wild ride too.

We began to think about what story our family was living and how we were even communicating to our kids what is important or unique about our family.  We realized beyond reading the Bible together and praying, we weren’t being very intentional about the legacy we were leaving our kids.  There were things important to us that we were sharing lessons, but it wasn’t clearly communicated in such a way that they could see there are certain flags in the sand for our family when it comes to who we are and how we live. 

It was almost 2 years ago now, that we were challenged to define our values and vision for our family.   These needed to be concrete and over-communicated.  Our kids need to know who we are and why, and what the Lord has called our little family to be uniquely in his story. 

As we started this process and gave our kids more of a say so in our family decisions (even at the ages of 3 and 5), we began to see real change in them.  We started sharing with them the hard things going on in the world.  We would pray at night for the 26,000 people that would die that day because they had nothing to eat, we would talk about the people who could be hurt or killed if they follow Jesus.  Our kids’ eyes opened around a passion and vision we had for our family but did not communicate very well to them.

John and I took some time and separately came up with a list of 5 values that were core to us.  This list ended up being more like 9 each because it is hard to get them down. We realized when we came together we had 5 in common.  We began the process of discussing why it was important, how that is fleshed out in a family, how these will influence our story, our giving, our parenting.  We wrote them out, defined each value, and posted them.

Proverbs 29:18 says “Without vision, the people perish.” We had to cast vision over our family.  We now had a list of values that we could communicate daily to our kids, when we ate dinner, when we had an argument, when we messed up, in the midst of discipline.  It became a reminder of who we are and whose we are.  These became the thread of our story.  We began a family-giving -project that implemented several of our values and passions.  The kids had a huge part and they were thrilled to be involved.  

After examining what was really important to us and how God has uniquely designed our family, we came up with these values and descriptions in no particular order:

Stewardship/Generosity: We will give generously of what God has entrusted to us.
Gratitude: We will have an attitude of thankfulness knowing we deserve nothing.
Humility: We will remember who we are in Christ and therefore see extreme value
                  in others.
Faith: We will put our trust in Christ and the word of God and live it out in action.
Relationships: We will put high worth on healthy communication, forgiveness, and
                        respect for each other.

Out of these values we can develop our purpose and mission. We also spent some time praying through our 3 shared passions (the unreached, the orphan, and marriage) in the kingdom and that, along with our values, developed our family mission statement. These guide our decision-making, organization of priorities, and giving as a filter to what is important.

Then, post your values around the house, use them in discussion, in prayer, praise your kids when they did something that showed a value, talk about it in discipline as a reminder of who we are and are called to be. This is our legacy at stake. This is our vehicle to point people to Christ.

Our values will all look different from each other, as will our stories.  Let’s not get wrapped up in any comparison game.  Yours will look different than ours.  Let’s pray through what God has put on our hearts to pass on to our children.  Let’s instill an excitement for living the WILD story God has called us to.  If your story is boring, it may just be you aren’t hearing exactly what the Lord is calling you to! Spend some time in prayer as a couple in this. Get away for a weekend as a couple without the kids and set goals for your family, develop a mission or vision statement, narrow down to your 5 core values, discuss your shared kingdom passions. 

This is not just a good thing to do, this is crucial.  Lets set the stage for an exciting story to unfold as we follow Christ as a family. 

::If you would like to do this exercise as a family, here is how John and I did it... We took this list of 200+ values and spent some time thinking what we felt like the top 10 values are we would want to teach our children, be known by, pass down, or live by. We did this separately and then came together with our list of 10. Then we discussed why we felt like ours were important and saw which ones lined up. The list is not comprehensive. We made up a few of our own. And then we prayed about it and nailed down our 5 values we wanted to guide our teaching, discipline, dinnertime discussions, and way of life as our family.::
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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Adoption Update: CONA, i600, birth certificates Oh my!

Woo Hoo!!! The kids are legally ours! We have officially passed court and received our Act of Adoption, what is also called a CONA (certificate of non-appeal) declaring our adoption finalized and irrevocable. It was a joyous day when Levi was finally ours as well and yet I also couldn't escape a heavyness on my heart for that whole week.
The joy was partnered with extreme sadness. Joy for me, but sadness for the mother and father that now were a distant memory. Sadness for the mother that no longer had parental rights to the two children she birthed.  I grieved for the birthparents especially this week. What a sacrifice, what a gift, what a tragedy.
But God is in the business of redemption and restoration.
Beauty from ashes.

Isaiah 61:1-3
The spirit of the sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion-
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

I am so beyond thankful to call these two treasures ours. They have been engrafted into our family. Adopted for Life.
Now we are waiting for their birth certificates to be created since their ages were unknown. We actually got to choose their birthdays! Levi was estimated to be 10 months in June so we made his birthday August 24. Maran was guessed to be over 3 1/2 so we made hers September 17. This is a very special day. It was my very dear friend Drew's birthday who passed away a few years ago from Cystic Fibrosis. You can read more about him here.  He embodied selflessness, Christ-likeness, and always challenged me to live for God and not what the world had to offer. I could go on and on about him but that will be for another day.
(here is an updated picture of them looking at our photo book we sent! They are on the page with their new grandparents!)

We should receive the birth certificates this week and then we can apply for US immigration approval (I-600). This can take 4-8 weeks. I am praying big prayers it moves through in a miraculous pace! Please join me in praying for the officer that will receive it and for everything to go smoothly.
While we await US approval we will be working on the kids passports and medicals for the embassy appointments. Then we can make appointments at the Us Embassy in DRC and then once we have that done we can do the kids visas and ours and then travel! I am still praying late october but trying to rest in the Lord's timing, all the while praying it is soon!
Levi is now in the care of our facilitator due to some issues in the orphanage of his food being stolen and being targeted by an older child with violence. Please be in prayer as the kids are separated and that Levi can get back on pace eating wise and developmentally. Please pray for Maran as she is separated from her brother. Pray for her care at the orphanage and growth. Pray for her as she deals with the trauma she has experienced and for God to heal her heart, comfort her, and give her his joy. Please also continue to pray Satan stays far away from the fight to bring these treasures home!
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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My 6 year old sweetie

Happy Birthday to my sweet Reese McNeil.
6 years, I cannot believe it! I can remember like it was yesterday, feeling my first contraction (9 days late) and finishing my game of cards with John, showering, doing my hair, and heading to the hospital. 8 short hours later my beautiful 9 pound baby was there!!
You have developed so much into the woman I have prayed for.  I prayed these specific things over you in my journal back in January of 05:
A sensitivity to the Holy Spirits leading, a teachable, moldable, obedient heart, a reckless abandon to Truth and out of that an outpouring of love for others, generosity abounding, and a fun and magnetic personality.
You have all of the above! It has been such a neat journey to watch God answer these prayers as he shapes your heart and develops your personality.
Here are a few of the many things I love about you:

  • how you always want to be tickled, yet you set parameters before I start (you say "no pitters or feet!)
  • how you can color and write for hours a day
  • your love for any animals
  • how you get so excited when I sit down to play with you
  • what a great swimmer you are!
  • your love for gymnastics, flipping, and sharing it with others.
  • what a great "teacher" you are, to Wheeler, to your friends and to me!
  • your questions you have about God. A few of my favorites from this year: 
    • Why can't we just pray for Satan to believe in Jesus and he can get baptized and then have a kind heart not bad?
    • Why can't I hear God talk to me like you do? Why can't he just grow some arms and hug on me sometimes?
    • Why doesn't everyone adopt then no one will have to live in orphanages anymore?
  • when you say "i have a few questions for you mom" then proceed to ask me tough questions about having babies, getting married, or how our bodies work.
  • how you have a cheerful heart (most times) to help out.
  • when you wake up early some times you get breakfast for you and Wheeler and tell him to be quiet so we can finish sleeping.
  • Your big prayers you pray to God that challenge me to think bigger.
  • Your silly laugh and funny faces and funky dancing.
  • when you sing when no one knows and make up songs, praise music or sing to songs we know.
You are such a joy to be around and your personality and humor is infectious. It has been an honor being your mom and I look forward to the next six! I can't believe how fast it's gone!

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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Attitude check

This has been the theme of our last month of summer....
T: Is it true?
H: Is it helpful?
I:  Is it inspiring?
N: Is is necessary?
K: Is is kind??
(cheesy but so true)
If not, try it again with kindness.

I don't know why we have hit a wall of attitude.  My pediatrician says you have behavior flare ups at every 6 month marks and birthday. Since our kids are 18 months apart, these always collide with true catastrophic fashion. Summer always high hopes for all these wonderful memory making days, but some days are just plain hard.  I feel like I am getting down on my knees every morning, then 20 times a day as I look into these two sets of little eyes as we work through issue after issue, disrespect after disobedience, unkind comment after argument. Somedays it is just exhausting. But I know it is worth it. I want our kids to know how to make good choices and that bad choices come with consequences. I want them to know God set boundaries for our lives not to squelch the fun out of life, but to protect our hearts from hurt and pain. I want them to truly see the value God sees in their siblings, friends, and people so very different from them.  Our home is the training ground for them to go into battle.
Our pastor mentioned to us Psalm 127:3-5
Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from Him.  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.  They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.

Children aren't meant to stay in the quiver.  They are held there for a time, then they are launched right into the heart of the enemy.

I only have a short time to prepare them for the battles they will face.  I cannot always protect them from the world. But we can work at how to be a light that pierces darkness. We can show with our lives how to live on a light stand for Jesus and point others to him by the surprising way we love each other and others outside our family.
So, boot camp is never easy, but it is worth it. He is worth it.
Jesus give me wisdom and strength!!
(side note: i have no pictures of them acting badly, so just use your imagination;)
What are some practical ways you handle attitude/arguing/unkindness in your house?
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My girl....

I guess you'd say... what can make me feel this way? My girl!
Praise Jesus in heaven our 30 day wait is over and that makes sweet Maran Grace officially and legally ours! What a wonderful day coming at the end of an emotionally exhausting few weeks!
We legally have a second daughter! Now on to get the US Immigration office to recognize it and we will really be on our way!  Levi's 30 day waiting period ends Thursday, August 9 and after we receive our paperwork we can file for I600 approval with US Immigration. Another step closer to bringing our sweet ones home.
Please pray for the CONA paperwork and birth certificates to come soon! We can't apply without them and who knows how long it will take the court to create a birth certificate for the kids, then on to more waiting for US immigration approval! Thanks for journeying with us! We are so excited!

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