Monday, March 25, 2013

half a year gone by

It has officially been six months since John and I hopped on plane to begin the next chapter of the story God is writing for us. In some ways it seems like it has hardly been that long, in others it feels like they've been home for as long as I can remember.
It hardly seems like 6 months since a confused, scared, underweight 13 month old was placed in my arms, at 10:00 at night on the front steps of a convent turned hotel. Six months since I looked in his almond shaped chocolate eyes and tried to reassure him that his world hasn't just been turned upside down again even when it had.  I can remember it like it was yesterday. He was placed in my arms and just stared at me. He felt so light considering the only children I had held lately weighed far over 35 pounds and he weighed in at a mere 14. All of the 12 and 18 month clothes I brought swallowed him and I found a new use for my hair ties to keep his clothes on him.  I remember bringing him back up to our room and the only thing I had of his former life was his outfit and one bottle they said he liked. They told me he was a night owl, sometimes staying up until 11pm. And that is it. That is the history I have on him. Other than a story that is his to share, I knew very little about my own son.  We went up to the room and he snuggled scared on my chest and didn't move a muscle. For 10 minutes he laid there. I covered him in a blanket and we laughed and cried and tried to get him to respond. Shortly after we changed his diaper and as I tickled his feet we saw his first smile. Levi Moses was now ours. He smiled and laughed for the next hour until we finally decided to put him to bed. We ourselves had just finished a 30 hour journey to get here and now our life with Levi had begun. 
The next morning we woke up for breakfast and went down to the lobby to wait for his sister, our daughter. My nerves were high and my expectations were low. I knew it would not be an embrace of gratitude or a feeling of home for her to meet us. She, far more so than him, would be scared, timid, unsure. And that she was. In she walked, slowly, head down, steps behind our facilitator. We were told she had cried leaving the orphanage and was very upset to go. Unknown was all that was ahead of her, and she had braved one impossible transition already only to now go to the hands of two people who looked like none she had ever seen. She would not meet eyes with me as I crouched down to her level. She looked like a shell of a child. No smile, no emotion. Solemn and strong. The opposite of who I know her to be now (with exception of her strength). We walked her up to the room. I will never forget her orange and brown sweatshirt, despite it being 85 degrees that day, and the jean jumper 3 sizes too big tied on to her tiny frame. Her shoes were several sizes too small and the imprint took a while to fade after we slipped them off. Her feet and legs were dry and caked in dirt. I remember thinking as I wiped off her legs, how strange and scary this must be for her. Her clothes were dirty and didn't fit or smell good so I took them off. She had no underwear on and my heart sank as I saw her protruding belly and scars on her skin. This is my daughter I thought. Why God? What has she been through at such a young age. I don't know. I just had a mental picture of Jesus taking me and washing my dirt off and calling me daughter. For the next 7-8 hours she remained lifeless, emotionless. She would only respond to me if I offered her food. The only words she would say was to potty in her language. She would let me hold her but not respond to touch or affection. I remember thinking the road to healing for her would be so hard. She barely played with the toys we brought, she would not speak, smile or laugh.  Later that night I played videos Reese and Wheeler made, showing them their beds and talking to them about how excited they were. We then skyped with them shortly after, and it was like she awoke from her sleep. She was smiling, mimicking their silly faces, trying to say their names "weese!" "weela!". I was overjoyed to see her childness come out. 
Each day after was a journey of ups and down, shutting down and opening up. Learning each other was hard, for all of us. There has been a song that is rocking my world lately. Oceans by Hillsong united... 

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

These words are my story. God had called me into the deepest of waters, where I was in over my head and all I could see in the future was storms and uncertainty. This was a huge opportunity for me to fail. Failure was certain on my own. And that is where he wanted me, in the deepest waters where only grace abounds. We were led to a dangerous place, where comfort and self had to be abandoned. He has called me to this hard place because that is where I can find him most easily. 
I could not have scripted the transformation that has taken place over the last six months.  That shy scared little boy that was so small he could not even put weight on his legs now runs, jumps and rides his little scooter down the hall, squealing the whole way. He now says Mama, daddy, ball, up, more, doggie, baby, out, bye bye, eyes, ears, belly, shoe, woof woof. He still would rather be snuggled on my chest than anywhere else, so that much hasn't changed! But he is a joy.
Maran is no longer that quiet, emotionless shell of a girl. She is so full of life, gratitude, excitement, and sillyness. All she wants to do is exactly what her older siblings do. And she longs for affection and asks for it frequently, "hug time mama?" and purses those big beautiful lips at me. She loves "ticklish" as she calls it and loves being outside. There are some remnants of her life of survival. She can tie, zip, carry Levi, button, dress and wash herself better than her older siblings can. She speaks in 10-15 word sentences as she rambles on about lots of things. She desires to go back and visit africa. She tells me she wants to show me where she lived (although we will never know that) but then come back home to 'Merica and live with mommy and daddy. She talks about Jesus and God and has lots of questions about how she was made and is so surprised every time I tell her she is made perfect and beautiful, just how they wanted her. "Me pwetty mama? But you so pwetty mama." She says. She makes friends quickly and warms up quickly to others. She desires relationships. She loves to have attention and affection from others. She loves it most of all from her daddy. "Swing please? Ticklish please daddy?" She can get hurt fairly badly and not shed a tear. Her strength surprises me. She wants to please. She wants to help. She wants to pitch in around the house. I see these things and think about her mother. I can tell her birth mother did her best. Sacrificed, and loved her the best she could. I know nothing of her circumstance and only bits and pieces from a vague story. But I can see her story in her present. There are glimpses of it in the memories she shares. 
I am so so grateful she does not hate Congo for what she has been through. We talk about it a lot. And what a beautiful place it is, despite the hard things that go on there. Me 'dopted mommy? Yes sweet girl. You are adopted. I want her to be proud of her past, proud of her country, proud of the story that makes her the girl she is today. There will be hard discussions, identity crises, confusing questions, but we will make it through the deepest waters as his grace abounds on us all. 
Six months. 

Six months since their identity change. Their transplant. Their trauma. The new chapter unfolding. It is not beautiful. It is not whole. It is a work in progress. Imperfect perfection. But it is our story. I am so grateful to a God that commands us to care for the least of these, to take in the orphan, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked. And when you do it, it is not a chore, or a task, or an obligatory burden. No, even the hardest of days it is a privilege for me. It is my rescue. It is where I find him the easiest, in the deepest oceans, where my feet may fail.

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

5 years in a blink

Oh my sweet Wheeler Jackson. I can not believe it's been 5 years.
I remember in your first year, when you would cry day in and day out. Ear infection after ear infection, surgery after surgery, more ear infections... all while I was trying to keep up with your mischevious, spunky, into everything sister. Many older moms would tell me, "just wait, it will be gone before you know it". I used to laugh and think in my head, no way, this day feels so long, much less the years! Sure enough, wisdom trumps my ignorance. It is gone. I can't believe we now sit with a 5 year old boy. I remember when we found out you were a boy, your name was set. To carry on the legacy of 4 previous generations. Wheeler. I began to pray differently for you after finding out you were a boy. The two traits that kept surfacing in my prayers were gentleness and compassion. While I wanted very much you to grow into the design God had given you in your manhood, a warrior for him, I did not want you to do that at the expense of these two things.  Without these two things, the least of these are overlooked, people are hurt in your wake, and your impact is lessened. So I prayed fervently  for your heart to be gentle and compassionate to others, but yet also to be a leader.
Rather ironically, God has given me the gift on your birthday. Those two traits, personified, in you. You needed a big stage to really let them shine, and what better in a place that means so much to our family. The second your feet hit Kenyan soil, your dad said you were a different boy. Caring for others, helping them up, sharing your food and toys, passing out bubbles and lollipops with such joy in your heart, worried if anyone were missed. John said at one point a crowd of kids had surrounded you, checking out your light up shoes or sunglasses, and in the distance a boy fell down into the dirt like you had done shortly before. He said you made your way through the crowd and helped the boy off, dusted  his back, and asked if he were ok. This, my son, is my gift the Lord has given me. Gentleness, and compassion. I am only sad I did not get to watch how the story unfolded over there and I cannot wait until you get back and can share stories, pictures, and videos. One day, we will look back on this birthday and I will share with you about the bold and specific prayers I prayed for this trip and what it would do in your heart. And I will tell you about how my faithful God answered each one. But I sat in church today, tears streaming down my face, thinking of the gift God has given me in you.
As the years have gone by I have seen God develop your heart in different ways, always serving, most always sharing, and always glad to help out with your two-syllable joyful "su-re mommy!" What a blessing to have watched you learn to crawl, walk, talk, run, throw a ball, pump your swing, swing a bat, and break dance like no ones business :)
You are truly my inheritance from the Lord. 
Happy Birthday Wheeler, I hate I can't be with you today. Yet I am so thankful the man God is molding and shaping you into. 

until then,  
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Friday, March 22, 2013

Perfecting imperfection

Lately God has just been showing up with his grace and pouring love on me just when I need it.  The last 6 months have been really hard at times. It has exposed my ugliness and failure as a mom each day. I have been bone tired, worn out, from sleepless nights and full days.  As I tell John, they are not necessarily all bad days, just long and full ones. I think adding on the factor of adoption in our family, Satan has whispered lies to me even more so that I need to be the perfect mom.  That I need to make up with love and affection where they have missed out. That I need to provide these fun experiences and great memories to offset the trauma they have encountered.  That my parenting has to be 100% on target, packed with Biblical truths, grace, wisdom and compassion.  Every day I am far from that. 
However, it has made my prayers and dependency increase. It has made me stop relying on me and lean hard into Him. I ask God a lot what to do in situations and confess a LOT when I fall short hour by hour. But that is where God has been showering me with grace and his pleasure far more than in the easier chapters of my parenting. He has really shown me he cannot use a "perfect mom".  There is much more use in his kingdom for the broken vessel, the harlot, and the failure. Because that is where he shows up. 
I've realized over the last six months, even the last weeks in particular, that I do my kids an injustice to be, or appear to be, the perfect mom. You usually can't learn from a perfect person (aside from Jesus himself). It is at best frustrating at what you won't attain.  Good thing is that I am far from perfect.  So I need to acknowledge daily the brokenness of my vessel and point to the treasure I hold.  I need to live comfortably in my weakness and point my kids to how I tap into the surpassing power of Jesus in my failures.  This may be my greatest lesson I can teach them.  Confessing daily in front of them when I miss it, mess up, and fail epically.  It takes a great deal of self-awareness, vulnerability and intentionality in front of them to go back after a situation and apologize for getting frustrated. To pray in front of them asking God to forgive me and fill me with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.  In doing this in front of them, I can teach them how to fail and fall into the arms of Jesus. I fail every day, several times a day. I will never be the perfect mom. I will not create the perfect children.  But I know that when God looks at me he sees the perfection of Jesus. My record is perfect. My past is covered in righteousness. Not because of my worth or success as a woman, wife or mom, but because Jesus became sin for me and took my place. 
It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. Psalm 18:32
This has especially played out lately for my perfectionist first born.  I was with a friend one night and she was telling me about how we need to communicate to our kids that they are perfect in the eyes of God even in the midst of their failure because they are covered by His righteousness. This has made a big difference in my discussions with Reese. Especially being a single mother of three the last 8 days while John and Wheeler are in Kenya, there have been times we have both wronged each other. It has been such a great teaching moment to say, even when we mess up we don't have to sit in it for hours and days. We have the perfection and righteousness of Christ. So even if we don't get all checks on our math work, or even if you don't get that sticker for good behavior today at school, in Christ you did. You did receive those checks, that 100, those stickers, that pat on the back for perfect behavior. This isn't to encourage laziness and contentment with failure, but instead to let the pressure off for perfection because it has already been achieved and we don't have to. There is much more obedience in freedom instead of under pressure. Obedience comes more freely and with actual joy instead of with obligation and duty when we can grasp the grace of God. 
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10
I do not have this all down or have it all together. But I guess I am perfecting my imperfection...I am moving towards being content at the way I was created and not always doubting his handiwork and comparing myself to someone else doing it "better". 
1 Peter 4:13- But  rejoice in as much as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
When it comes down to it, our kids, adopted or not, don't need perfection. They don't need all smiles and perfect cheerful memories and unrealistic visions of what life looks likes. Because there has been suffering for them and it will only come more and more. It is how we respond and teach them to respond in that suffering that will bring a reaction of joy. 

This translates as well to our marriage. There will never be a perfect husband or perfect wife. It is loving each other in our failures is what Christ has set the example for. Christ will not leave us because we continually mess up. He will not give up on us when it gets hard. We cannot expect perfection out of someone who is not Christ, and we cannot expect to be perfect in a relationship here on earth.  We will mess up. They will mess up. Daily. But isn't that the beauty of the freedom in love that comes from Christ? We are here to show the tangible love of God to our spouse despite their failures. Such is the picture of Christ and the church.
So I know it comes as a shock to none that I am not the perfect mom or the perfect wife, none of us are. But thankfully there is beauty in ashes and strength in brokenness.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bringing Faith to Life

I grew up in a family that took us to church, prayed at meals, prayed at bedtime, read the Bible stories, and were involved in church.  I grew up knowing who God is and the right things to do, but my "faith" and life were often separated.  I did the good things for often the wrong reasons. My faith and life began to collide my freshman year of highschool. College brought on another deeper understand of how interwoven my trust in Jesus and my daily life should be. Now married, and a parent, it brings on a whole new dimension and a whole new sense of urgency to live this out and teach this to my kids.
I ran into a series of books in 2011 that radically shifted living my faith out. I read a perfect storm of A million miles and a thousand years, Kisses from Katie, Radical, Interrupted and 7: an experimental mutiny against excess.

"All of a sudden I saw my exact reflection in Peter: devoted but selfish, committed but misguided. And that is not going to be enough. It won't suffice to claim good intentions. Saying "I meant well" is not going to cut it.  Not with God screaming, begging, pleading, urging us to love mercy and justice, to feed the poor and the orphaned, to care for the last and the least in nearly every book of the Bible. It will not be enough one day to stand before Jesus and say, "Oh? Were you serious about all that?"
-Jen Hatmaker, Interrupted

These books along with what the Holy spirit had been leading me to and preparing me for years for all collided and I took a harsh look at the ugliness that I called my faith lived out. When it really boiled down, it was about my comfort sprinkled with morality, kindness, and a little compassion.  My prayers really boiled down to my own safety, comfort and desires.  This was not the wild, reckless, life giving, self-losing faith Jesus came to give me.
No. I had overcomsumption but not abundance, I had happiness but conditional joy, I had faith that would come in waves of books I was reading or experiences I had. I believed, yes. But my faith and life had not collided in such a way that I had "lost my life" for Jesus. No, that was too costly.
But after all that the Holy spirit did in my life those few months there was no turning back. He uprooted strongholds, He made me look my sin straight in the face, He showed me how the deceiver had twisted me into living a life I thought was for God but was really rooted in self with good and God intentions. God led me to Isaiah 58 and called me to radically live out my faith in a way he had been calling me to all along.
Our adoption journey was a huge step in the collision of my life and faith. It is/was not an end in and of itself. We started to understand that life matters. Living it well is not just an empty aim. Living it abundantly is our design. We began to see the forgotten and abandoned differently. Not as a check written each month that made us feel better about our spending vs tithing. Not as a good idea because I have what they need. No, they are a life, created by God, loved just as much by him as me. These are His children that he would break down walls to provide for. And that is where our story intersected with Maran and Levi. Not just as an obligatory obedience, but the calling of joy I was made for. Just as exciting as the day I birthed my first child. It was a head on encounter of faith and life that I did not plan for. It was a beautiful mess.
In Africa, I have never met my own dependence, depravity, and desperation so closely.  My faith was taken to the ropes. My life was wrecked. Not in a horrible way, but in a wow God, was this what I thought life was all about? Is this who I am when I try and do it without you?

Faith and Life are meant to be so intimately intertwined that you cannot separate the two. James often confuses us in 2:17 when it says Faith without works is dead, we think, but God, isn't grace enough? Aren't we free from the law and the works-based mentality?
Free. Absolutely.
But when you encounter Jesus in such a way where you begin to understand glimmers of his heartbeat.
For the lost. For the unreached. For the broken. For the orphan. For the widow. For the torn apart marriage. For the prodigal.
Then your faith cannot be a stagnant sideline item on your calendar. When you understand the depths He went to crush these things, you cannot help but act.

Imagine a marriage that after the "I do" one spouse totally disengaged. Dishes? No thanks. Sex? I'll pass. Helping around the house? Not my thing. Date nights? Been there done that.
But wait, didn't we say I do? Well sure we did, so now we can coast on auto pilot right? I don't need actions to show that I love you, that was what our wedding was for... Right?
In a relationship we know that doesnt work. Our love compels us to act. Even when we don't feel loving feelings, that is where our will and choice steps in. It is a discipline to act under the banner of love. Sometimes it comes easily, some days not. But our relationship requires and demands action. And this earthly relationship is such a dim picture of the perfect relationship with our Father.
Faith requires action. Faith requires communication with the Father.

Listen, my dear brothers, Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor...
What good is it my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and food. If one of you says to him "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed" but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?
James 2

And from the depths of heaven, this is what I heard: "you do feed souls, but twenty-four thousand of my sheep will die today because no one fed their bellies; eighteen thousand of them are my youngest lambs, starving today in a world with plenty of food to go around. If you truly love me, you will feed my lambs. My people are crumbling and dying and starving, and you're blessing blessed people and dreaming about your next house"
Jen Hatmaker, Interrupted.

I pray you do not miss the life he has called us to. The life abundant. Not the life obligatory or the life mundane. The life where your joy and his will collide in a beautiful portrayal of Gospel love. Do I get it? No. Do I miss this nearly every day and settle for the to do list? Yes. It is not easy, but it is worth it. It is not mandatory, but it is what you were created for. Where his heart and your pleasure combine in a life complete.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

As you step out into your adventure

A letter to my son as he leaves for his first trip to Africa... Please be in prayer for John and Wheeler as they go serve an Aids community outside of Nairobi. (


I can hardly contain my excitement for you as you and dad will soon board a plane for Kenya.  Your adventure is about to begin. This is how your life actually started.  I was preparing for my trip to Kenya, raising the funds, getting the shots, when I found out I was pregnant. I didn't understand, I thought I was supposed to go on this trip. I was excited and nervous and scared all at the same time, for the adventure God was taking me on with you. Now here you are, 5 years later, taking the trip I was going to take.
I promised as a parent that safety of my kids was not my main focus.  My main focus is teaching you the extravagant love of Jesus and giving you opportunities to live it out, wildly, recklessly if you will.

Psalm 127: 3-5 (msg) says "Don't you see that children are God's best gift? The fruit of the womb his generous legacy? Like a warrior's fistful of arrows are the children of a vigorous youth. Oh, how blessed are you parents with your quivers full of children! Your enemies don't stand a chance against you; you'll sweep them right off your doorstep"

You are my gift. The greatest gift. Given to me by my Father who delights to see me delight in you. You are not mine, you are His. I cannot clench my fingers around you as if you were mine to hide and shelter under my wings of safety. This is not how you were intended or designed.  You were designed to be an arrow of the Lord. To pierce darkness, to fly wildly into danger bringing Light and life that Jesus offers. I would be withholding you from God's purpose for you if safety is my main goal for your life. I refuse to fall into the trap of comfort for you. I have fought it my whole life and I will intentionally choose to put you in situations that are uncomfortable for you.

It will be hard. The flight will be long. The people will be different. The smells will be new.  The food will be strange.  The days will be long. There will be things that will be hard for you to understand or fathom of the suffering that exists in this world. You may even question God. Your body will fail. You may get sick. You will be uncomfortable.

But this is the adventure God has called us to. A wild adventure, where discomfort and joy collide, where safety goes out the window and dependence is required in a way you have never known.  A land where you can learn more about the heart of Jesus than the safety of our home. You will see beauty like never before. You will see faith where there is no material things. You will see Jesus in a way you cannot experience in safety or comfort. You will be stretched to trust and believe in a new way.

Today as we left the doctor after getting your shots, you asked me why we needed those and how bad they hurt. I told you about the disease that is there and how it takes lives of children and families. You said this to me "Then why doesn't God give them enough money to get these shots so they don't have to die?"
Your heart is being primed. You will have questions like these, that I cannot answer. That all we can do is look at Jesus and say I don't know, I don't understand this, but I will trust you. I know that you are good.  I will go when you ask me to go. And I will spill out your love where you call me to.

You will need courage and His strength for the journey. A verse I have said to you since you were 2 years old is this, and I will say it again. You will need this verse as your daily bread.
Deuteronomy 31:6
Be strong. Take courage. Don't be intimidated. Don't give it a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He is right there with you. He won't let you down; he won't leave you"

Africa is a place where my heart is at home. Some people find purpose in their jobs, they find meaning in their things. They find comfort in the safety of their homes. Not me. My heart is most delighted when I am in the red dirt of Africa. When I am surrounded by the ebony faces who have such stories to tell. I pray you find such delight there. I pray God opens your heart to the Bigness of his. I pray you can see these people beyond their disease, beyond the poverty. I pray you see them with His eyes, the beauty of ashes. I pray it challenges your faith. I pray you come back changed.

So this is your first time, we will shoot you, our little arrow into the heart of the enemy. Satan wants none of this. You will be met with opposition from him in many forms. But this is what you were made for. God created you to be a warrior. Not a spectator. You were designed for this. So live big, love big, give extravagantly. You were not made for life in a nice house around children who look like you and have as much as you have. There is another world out there. I want you to have eyes for it. To have a heart for it.

I love you and you are such an amazing boy. My inheritance from the Lord.
So step out into your adventure. Leave this "safe place" and step out into the wild unknown. It is the best gift I can give you,

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