Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Into the Chaos

In my mind, Christmas should be this idyllic time of tradition, joy, merry-ness, time around with the kids in the evening discussing the joy and expectation of Advent-Christ coming into the world. But if I am honest, I am limping toward Christmas, tired, exhausted, confused, and feeling like I am in the midst of chaos. I feel so overwhelmed myself, that the idyllic picture is far from reality and then I feel more guilt and disappointment that I am not at a place to provide that for the kids. A toilet overflowed that ended up costing us thousands and weeks to fix, I have been sick for over a week, I have a child whose adoption trauma is highlighted around the holidays with food issues and grieving, the school has called twice for behavior issues and a concussion, we had an unforeseen financial thing happen that was not our fault but we were financially responsible,  I had to wait 2 weeks for a potential medical diagnosis that would have changed my life tremendously, the boy that I begged God to heal died, and then my plans for what I thought our future was looking like are being challenged,  and even today noticing a passport is expiring so close to such a special international trip that sent me all over the city getting documents and paying additional fees to rush the process. All that to say, life is chaotic right now. I am tired. I am disappointed. Things aren't playing out like I thought they should in certain areas. But that is where God shows up. That is advent.
My thoughts went to Mary this morning, at the end of her pregnancy with who was to be the Savior of the world, and just as she was getting close to delivery, they have to take an unforeseen trip that pulls her out of her plans and into chaos. Riding on a donkey for days and days, ending up with no where to stay. I can't imagine her thoughts as the innkeeper said there was no room. If I were her, I would think, "Seriously God? A stable? I thought you told me I was having your precious Son who would be the light of the world and rescue and redeem us? Something must be wrong here. This can't be the plan." But that is how God works. Out of the chaos he brings order. Out of the disappointment and brokenness, He brings his presence, Emmanuel, God WITH us. This precious savior was born in the nastiest of places, to parents dealing with shame and poverty, in a climate of political upheaval and danger. And his name was called God WITH us. He didn't come as the triumphant king everyone thought he would be. He didn't come with what looked like a happy ending wrapped in a bow. He came to a dirty stable and lived heading towards death on a cross.

That is the message God apparently has for me this advent. God doesn't owe me a life that works out the way I think it should. I think the happy ending is what I am promised, but it is not. My plans are not working out with a pretty bow wrapped around them. Things are messy and chaotic. But there He is, in the midst of it all, reminding me not to idealize the happy endings and perfect plans, but to find him in the chaos as he comes to bring order and peace and deep abiding joy beyond circumstance. It is what he has been doing since before creation, bringing life out of nothingness, bringing order out of chaos, resurrecting places that are dead and broken with beauty, giving us his presence in the midst of suffering. He is the reward. Not the negative medical diagnosis or the child with no pain. Emmanuel, Christ WITH us is enough.
"The Angel had said of Mary, "Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her" And this blessing isn't always what we think- the happy ending we wanted and the desires of our hearts fulfilled. Blessed is she who believes His promises. The blessing is different from blessing as the world sees it. It isn't an easy life or one of success. Blessing is, that as we find ourselves in a place that God has yet to explain, may never explain, a place or a life that doesn't line up with what we had in mind, He gives us a promise...It is the promise of Emmanuel, God with us. He will be here with us, our great reward" Katie Davis Majors, Daring to Hope. 
So maybe this Christmas isn't so Merry for you right now either. That is ok. Instead of being merry, I am simply looking for him. He is good even when life doesn't look it. When the package isn't tied up with the pretty bow, there he is. Reminding me He is for me, with me, working it all for my good. He reminds me to wait, to trust, to be expectant. The message of advent.
"And he shall be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

5 years together... A letter to Maran and Levi

Maran and Levi-
I cannot believe its been 5 years since we met your sweet faces in Congo. Those days are forever etched into my memory. Levi, all 11 pounds of you in your blue outfit and Maran, shy and quiet with that denim jumper 3 sizes too big tied around your small frame over a brown and orange sweatshirt in the 80 degree heat. It wasn't a magical moment by any standards for anyone to witness. There was no "mama!" shouted or running into my arms. It was a quiet and somber moment that none of us understood the magnitude of what we were entering into, and for you two especially a moment of fear and uncertainty.
So many people call you both "lucky". You are not lucky. You have walked through trauma no one should ever experience. Maran, you became a mother figure to your baby brother at 3 1/2. You carried him, cared for him, fed him, fought for him. Levi, at such a crucial time, you had the bond broken with the woman you knew as your nurturer and protector. This is tragic and if I could somehow heap your pain onto myself and remove it from your heart I would... or maybe I wouldn't. Maybe instead I will pray that this pain propels you into dependence on a perfect Father who would never leave or abandon you, the Savior who always provides, never lets you go hungry, always cares, always listens, always comforts. Maybe this pain and trauma is the very mess that becomes your greatest strength and greatest reminder of the rescue God has done in your life. Not through me, no, I am not your rescuer. He is. He reached down into the pain of loss and abandonment and called you His. 
I am no Savior, us adopting you has not given you a now pain free life. We  pray we can create an environment for you to grow, to heal, to get to know the real rescuer.

Your pain is real and it is something I have never experienced. I hope in my parenting I never minimize the weightiness of the grief that you experience. I realize I put so much pressure on myself to try and "heal your wounds" and as my wise counselor reminds me, I cannot hold your healing in my hands. I cannot parent you perfectly in a way that your grief melts away. I cannot make everything alright again. But, I will give my ALL to fight for you, to work with you, to grieve with you, to comfort you when you are sad or scared.  I am so far from perfect. I am sure some of the flawed ways I try to love you will actually hurt you. And I pray God covers that with his love and grace and uses those moments to show you HE is the only one who never fails or disappoints. 
I am so honored to be your mom. I share that title with another woman and I hope I can help you love and honor her too. I am beyond grateful for the love and life she gave you as she could. 

Levi, the other day at school, someone told you that you were just an orphan and that your real parents were probably dead and that you don't have a real family. My heart broke for you of those triggering words of hurt someone spoke over you. I did my best to comfort and remind you that you had two families who loved and did their best for you. Your identity is not an orphan, it is our precious son, it is a boy who God loves and calls his child. I know at age 1 you don't really have memories of Congo, of the orphanage, of your first family. I hope I can help you love your country, be proud of your history, and tell you about all the beauty and tragedy that exists in the place you were born. 
Maran, what a journey we have been on. Trust has been an ever changing, ever growing bond between us that takes work and effort and sacrifice and love. I remember those first days, where you would run from me, where we would wake up in the night and find you eating dry baby formula with your fingers because you didn't know if a meal was guaranteed the next day. You were a fighter from the beginning. It broke my heart to watch your skills of survival. It was a process over months and years to earn your trust to let go of your role as "mom" to Levi and trust me to be his caregiver. It was such a joy to watch you re-learn how to be a kid again, to play without worry. The hardest thing as a mom is to watch you grieve, I wish I could ease your burden. But I am so proud of the way you are relying on God through the pain and it is becoming your strength. Your joy and excitement for life challenges me to slow down and enjoy the small things. You are a servant hearted girl and I can't wait to see where God will take you in life, whether it is back to Congo to serve and love the country you came from, or working in a school, or fighting for justice as a lawyer (because you can argue with a fencepost and I am pretty sure that will take you far when harnessed for good ;), or being a mama to your own children. You will be a force for good, I just know it.
I am privileged to be called Mom to you both and it is a title I don't take lightly. I promise to hold your lives with open hands and trust your Creator to do the work he promises to do in your life. I love you with a fierce love and I can't wait to see the world changers you become. 
Happy 5 year forever family anniversary my loves,

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Pay it forward Moms!

One of the most painful, heart wrenching things I have ever done, is look in the face of a birth mother and weep with her that she had to make the impossible choice of giving up her children for preventable reasons. Reasons like poverty and treatable disease. Mothers chose life for their children when death was imminent.
Because of this experience, I will fight and I will give sacrificially toward family unification and orphan prevention. Can you imagine being a mother and walking your children to an orphanage because you were on death's door step? Or telling your children "Maybe we will have food tomorrow, I am sorry you are so hungry, I am too sick or unskilled to work"? This is reality for many mothers in East Africa. I don't know why I was born to privilege and live in a way with all my material needs met and other moms fight and suffer and make gut wrenching decisions to give their kids up or find another home for them, but this is my heart beat. There are over 163 Million orphans in the world right now, 11 million AIDS orphans. If 163 million families stepped up to the plate of adoption, in another generation there would be another tens of tens or hundred million more. Adoption is a worthy calling and one near and dear to my heart, yet it has to be coupled with orphan prevention to put a dent in the orphan crisis. I hate that two of my children know the pain of losing their first family. I hate to see them doubt our love and question their trust in the permanence of our family because they know abandonment and loss all to closely.
My 33rd birthday and Mother's day are the same day this year. I will be celebrated with hand made cards and gifts from our kids, while a mother on the other side of the world feels the sting of loss and brokenness. My kids will celebrate two mothers, the one who gave them life and the one who continues to journey with them.  God can take the most wretched of tragedy and weave it for beauty.
Please join me, as we approach Mother's Day, and my 33rd birthday, to sponsor a family in the CARE for AIDS program for 33$. It costs 300$ to take a family through the 9 month program. That is also the average cost of a Kenyan Funeral. Life or death. I want mothers to be able to stay alive, thrive, and fulfill their purpose of raising the next generation of world changers, not filling orphanages.

This is a choice you can be a part of. Sponsor a mother on the other side of the ocean, for the gift of life and keeping her family together. You can donate here.  Join me in sponsoring a family. It is the best 33$ investment you will ever make! 26,000 orphans prevented and counting!
You can also sponsor a family through the 9 month program for $300, or any amount donated helps!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Raising kids in a Suffering-Avoidant Culture

Raise your hand if you have ever had a problem in your life. All of us. No one escapes problems. Not if you have a masters degree, live in a gated neighborhood, live in the slums of Africa, have a great family, etc, problems and suffering are unavoidable. Yet, culture points us to avoid it at all cost and keep it at arms length from ever touching our children.
As I have journeyed through parenting, even when we just had 2 young toddlers several years back, I thought, we have it all wrong. You look at your wide-eyed baby and toddlers and think "I want to protect you from ever being hurt". Yes, that is the goodness in our nature as parents, but we go about it all wrong sometimes. We coddle our kids, we cushion their lives from pain, we fight their battles, we handle the issues with friends, parents or teachers or coaches, we make sure everyone gets a trophy, we pull them out of environments that get too hard on them. Some of these are helpful and appropriate at times, but so often, this mentality protects our children so much so from suffering that when they experience it as adults it breaks them and they have no idea how to endure. 

Entering into adoption, that very first day in Congo meeting our kids, I knew we were welcoming suffering into the forefront our family. Those long days in Congo, holding a raging child, reminding a child they didn't have to steal food from my bag, rubbing a back every 20 minutes all night long from night terrors, it was suffering, for us and for the kids. A family, an adoption, love even, doesn't magically make that go away. Love and time do heal some but it doesn't leave you with the absence of suffering. 

This is why, early on in parenting, we decided we would go overseas to "hard places" with our kids. We wouldn't shield them from poverty, we would immerse them in it. We wouldn't hide their face from a bedridden mother, we would encourage her to go in and hold her hand. We wouldn't avert their gaze from the naked child on the side of the road digging through the trash, we would tell them to go to them and offer a hug and a snack. Africa, every time, changes our kids, deep in their being, to run to the hurting, pray for the outcast, and sacrifice what we have for the sick and people impoverished by hard circumstances. 

As we walk our kids through hard situations, grieving, trauma, and tough situations at school, my aim has changed from protecting them at all costs, to teaching them how to endure well. Suffering comes and it cannot be avoided. The more I act like it can, I do so at the expense of my children. So I don't let everyone get the trophy, I talk the disappointed child through what it feels like to lose but how to lose well, how to encourage the one who won when you want to get angry and storm off. I don't go in and talk to the teacher about a problem with my kid and their friend right away, I coach the child into how to handle the problem with the friend first and then how to approach the teacher about it and follow through and forgive and draw healthy boundaries with the friend. I don't look at my grieving child and say "it'll be ok, no need to cry, lets go play", I tell her being sad is an appropriate response to her story, and life is hard and sad sometimes, but look for God in it, trust he is working your pain for your good and his glory, keep fighting for truth when lies feel like they're flooding your thoughts. 

I listened to a powerful message from Jay and Katherine Wolf the other day and it has left me sitting in so many thoughts. I scribbled down these notes as fast as I could...
Do you want the gifts or the giver? Do you want deliverance from suffering and discomfort or do you want the deliverer himself? We believe the lie that if you follow and obey God into discomfort and out of what is "safe" then there will be blessings and reward for you and things will go well...but instead you've entered into discomfort and you're finding its your new normal. How do suffering and joy coexist? In suffering there is a death to life resurrection we get to witness. A picture of new life. In the suffering we anchor ourselves in the assurance of hope and joy in Jesus not in our circumstances. In American Christianity we have bought into the lie that if it is goo then it cannot be hard. That goodness must exclude suffering. This is not true. In Jesus' upside down gospel good and hard totally coexist and weave together for our goodness and his glory. The message we need to tell our kids is God enables to do hard things, don't protect them from the hard things. Teach them to endure well and to depend fully.

I had tears pouring down my face in the carpool line at school as I listened to this message and the Lord poured affirmation and truth over me. Our family has been in a season of suffering and grieving with one of our kids. It has been hard. It has been hours of exhausting conversation, heart level work, holding them while they grieve. Life is not roses and our kids know it. But in the midst of this tough place we are trying to affirm that life is hard not discount it because it is an uncomfortable conversation to sit in. We are trying to teach all of our kids how to depend on God more fully in the midst of hardship. We are trying to teach our kids how to fight lies with truth. How to comfort each other when someone is grieving. How to be sensitive that each of us have a story and maybe when we hurt each other it is because we are hurting inside too. 

I say all this as I am about to leave to pick up a child and take them to the children's hospital to receive a potential diagnosis of a problem we have seen 6 doctors for over the last 4 years. As I think on it today, I know it is more about how I think about my circumstance rather than what it is. How I frame it affects my own emotions as well as my kids. I could think that this diagnosis will be a toll on our family, our budget, and so difficult for a child to manage. Yet, I am choosing to put this in God's hands not my own or the doctors. I am choosing to trust God will not be surprised or challenged by whatever we hear from this doctor. I am choosing to believe, even if it is the worst case scenario, that God will use it to refine us and bring him glory. He will use it to put us around people we wouldn't have had the opportunity to cheer on or comfort if not for this. So with that in mind, I walk thankfully into that hospital knowing I trust the God who is before all things, in all things, and holds all things together. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017


Yesterday, Levi came home with a whistle from the kindergarten prize box, bless kindergarten teachers. He was so excited to blow that whistle wherever he was, including the car, kitchen and right next to my ear. I told him whistles are only for outside, so he happily went out on the back deck and blew that whistle for 15 minutes straight which cut right through the kitchen windows. As I stood there cooking dinner, annoyed by the continuous screeching, my mind went to Congo. 
A few years ago I heard the story of child soldiers from eastern Congo, too small, young and weak to carry the heavy guns the rebel army gives them. So instead, they put the smallest boys, even toddler and kindergarten aged, on the front lines, armed only with a whistle. Their only job is to blow their whistles loud when they see the enemy approaching, you can imagine the small boys fates unarmed on the front lines. Their only job is to be a whistleblower. Congolese boys, taken from their home, or removed from orphan life on the streets and recruited to be soldiers when they should be playing outside. I looked outside the window again and what was previously an annoyance turned into a wave of gratitude. Rebel groups pray on the weak, the street boys, the abandoned ones, and here was my sweet little Congolese boy, who lived out most of his first year of life in an orphanage, happily blowing his whistle as he marched around the back yard. The contrast stopped me in my tracks and made me thank God for protecting Levi from what could have easily been his alternative. I prayed for the boys and teens trapped in servitude to rebel groups all over Sub Saharan Africa, forced to kill their families first to show their allegiance.
A whistleblower. In this context it is used for complete evil. But yet, we should be whistleblowers for truth. When we see oppression or injustice, that is where we should raise our voice loudly for those who cannot. I think of the faces of orphans I have looked at across Congo, Uganda and Kenya. Children who have no voice, and a dim future, by no fault of their own, so many stuck in orphanages where there may be one meal a day. Orphanages where the strongest survive until they age out and take their survival skills to the streets. Such brokenness. That is why I will blow my whistle and say that is what the enemy intended for evil, this should not be, I will raise my voice until I can no longer that we have to step in. I want to step in and break the cycle before they even get to that place, without their family, abandoned or orphaned. I want to support organizations who are supporting parents and holistically helping them keep their families together, find a trade, and keep their children from the orphanage doors. There has been no greater joy in my life as to watching our CARE for AIDS centers graduate 80 families after 80 families after another group of 80 every 9 months that will not send their children to the orphanage. Children who now have someone to protect them, speak truth over them, and help them find their God given purpose. Over the last 3 years of supporting these life-giving centers, over 1000 potential orphans have been prevented. And I will keep blowing my whistle. 

If you want to join us in being a whistleblower for the vulnerable, you can join us here.