Saturday, June 28, 2014

Celebrating His New Name

I'm lounging on the couch tonight, exhausted, legs stretched across the coffee table with a cup of hot ginger tea. I'm hoping it'll hold back the crazy indigestion I'm fighting after eating too much good food.


And strewn about in piles all around me is evidence of an evening filled with incredible, indescribable love. Congratulatory balloons and posters. Stacks of little-boy-diapers. Boy toys. (His first tractor!) A brilliantly designed name plaque for Tony's room. A stuffed dinosaur that I already know will be a favorite.

But even better than the gifts and the sentiments are the people who gave them. Who love us, who love him, and who pulled off my first ever surprise party! All to celebrate what God has done for us.



Yesterday, in a courtroom somewhere across the ocean, a judge ruled in our favor and now, one lost and lonely little boy has a new name. And I have a son. Sam, a brother.



After a hard year of fighting to bring him home, of grieving and striving, it felt good to finally celebrate. To celebrate the life of this little man whose life is so worth fighting for.

Praising God tonight for the gift of Tony to our little family. Thank you, God!



And praising Him also for the love of these amazing friends. You all are Jesus to us. Everyone should have friends like you.

Lots of love to all of you.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

All The Single Ladies (All The Single Ladies)

Put your hands up!

As a little girl playing house and making "soup" outside beneath Texas Oak Trees, eighteen sounded like the perfect age to get married. Maybe it was because my parents were married young. Or maybe because it seemed so far away at the time. For whatever reason, though, eighteen was the goal.

Oddly enough, I was never in a hurry to have kids. In fact, in my late teens and early twenties I went through a phase where I seriously questioned whether I was cut out to be a mom at all. Probably because I absolutely hated babysitting. But, I digress...

My best friend and I, at age 16, would page through bridal magazines for fun. We'd dog-ear all of the cakes and decorations we liked. I had my dream dress chosen, the page torn ever so carefully out of the magazine and the picture stashed away for safe-keeping.


As I headed off to a Christian college in the cornfields, I had little passion for obtaining a degree. Of course, I was very passionate about serving Jesus, diving headfirst into learning as much as I could about Him while I had the opportunity. But, I had a secret objective that outweighed the importance of my GPA. I had exactly four years to catch a husband in what seemed to be an endless proverbial pool of fish. Surrounded by young men training for ministry, I was optimistic that I would leave college the young wife of a godly Christian man.

Needless to say, it didn't happen.

Now, I should be clear that there truly were lots of godly young men on that campus. I should also be clear that I went on dates with plenty of them. Regardless of anything I may have said at the time, I was just not ready.

So, much to my chagrin, I began my adulthood as a single young woman in North Central California. No longer was there opportunity after opportunity to meet someone. It was hard enough to find girlfriends my age who loved the Lord, let alone mature Christian men. I wish I could say that I was content in Jesus (You know, the way Brio magazine and "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" said I should be. Ha!). But I wasn't. I spent several years looking for my husband out from the corner of my eye. And only the corner, lest anyone should think I was desperate. Had you asked me how I felt about the whole thing, I'd have happily fibbed and said I was fine. Or maybe I would have fed you some line about how I was trusting in God's perfect timing. The truth is, my life was passing me by. I needed a husband, I thought.

I wanted desperately, for many years, to go out onto the foreign mission field, but I subconsciously wanted to wait for my husband. Even though I didn't know him yet, I didn't want to move away and experience that kind of life-altering experience without the man I would spend my life with. And besides, that whole scenario made more sense in my head with a strong, godly hero right beside me.

Praise the Lord I didn't wait around forever!
I would have missed out on so much...
I wouldn't be who I am today, that's for dang sure.
And as for children...well, once I finally decided that maybe I wouldn't be the world's worst mother after all (Thank you, Kenya. You changed my heart forever.), I started thinking about adoption again, like I had when I was in pigtails, carrying around a brown-skinned baby doll. But the thought never, ever, ever occurred to me that I could parent on my own. Actually, my desire to adopt only fueled that ache in my gut to find a man who could help me do it.

(Well, okay, one time I did think about adopting on my own. Several years ago, after moving back to Nebraska, some friends of mine knew of a baby in foster care who needed a home and they *sort of* jokingly prodded me to think about it. My response was immediately defensive. "Are you serious? You want to turn me into a single mother? There's no way! I mean, you understand, right? Really though, you're not serious, are you?" I'm sure the real question on my mind was , "Will anyone ever want me if I take on that kind of responsibility?")

*******************************

Fast forward to today.

It still hasn't happened. I'm single.

I'm also literally weeks away from completing my second assisted prison break adoption. What in the world happened to me?

Update! I should get a court date this week. Hold on, son. I'm coming!

Did I snap? All of a sudden go crazy?

Was I desperate? (You know, the whole eggs drying up thing...except, well, the adoption version.)

Did I lose all hope of finding the love and protection of a godly husband?

No! Really and truly, no to all of the above.

Do you want to know what really happened?

I realized, all at once as I was backpacking in the Colorado mountains with my family, that I didn't need to put my life on hold. God was calling me. He had been gently whispering to me for a long time, but I couldn't hear Him above the nagging voice in my own head warning me not to upset the order of things.

Don't we all subconsciously know how things are supposed to play out in our culture? Especially for good Christian girls. (Or boys. Or whatever that even means.) The goal is that one season will fade into the next, and into the next, and so on, in the following order.

  1. The School/Adventure-taking Season. This is your time to live it up. Want to travel the world? These are your 4 years to do it. Or if you so choose, add on a second major and buy yourself another year of fun and freedom.
  2. The Career/ Marriage Season. These two are interchangeable and may occupy the same space. Or at least until that glorious day when you no longer need to work. (See Phase 3) (Also insert optional continued education, which may also coincide with Phase 3.)
  3. The Childbearing Season. There is an ideal window in which this phase should happen. And that window is obviously when the vast majority of your peers are also procreating.

Now, there's nothing wrong with this picture, if it's how your life played out. It's a good life. It works for a lot of people. But what if it doesn't work out for you. What if any number of things throws you off track and keeps you from working your way through the sequence? What then?

The traditional response, from my observations and experience, is that we end up in a holding pattern. We wait it out with hopes that once we graduate seasons 1, 2, or 3, our life will begin. We'll be happy. We'll be able to do the things we know with all our hearts God is calling us to do. But this line of thinking can only tide a person over for so long before sadness, anger or bitterness take root. There has to be more to life than this. 

And that's, I think, what I'm learning as I follow the Lord as a single woman. I can serve the Lord as I am. I can answer Him when He calls. I can follow Him to the ends of the earth. Right now. No waiting required. 

That's at least what I'm trying to do. 

Do I sometimes still feel others eyes on me? Does it get old being the weirdo going against the grain? I dunno. Maybe, sometimes. I've had my share of comments. "You know this means you'll never get married, right?" "Are you sure these kids are going to be better off? They won't have a father!" (Don't get me started on that one...) But for the most part it just feels awesome. I feel free. And empowered. And like I'm right smack in the center of God's will. 

Could God still set a godly husband and father in our little family? Absolutely, He could. He very well may, and I will rejoice on that day. 

But I can rejoice in this day as well. This is the day the Lord has made for me. Today He is calling me to serve Him as a missionary, as a mom, as a friend, and in a thousand other small but significant ways. My life has purpose, with or without a man. 

And not only does it have purpose, but I actually love my life. You should know that I didn't give up all of my dreams to serve the Lord in misery and solitude. No, quite the opposite is true. God is growing and changing me constantly, and in doing so, He's giving me new dreams and desires for my life. And He's teaching me that He is enough. 

Can I tell you something, friends? Your life has purpose, too. No matter where you're at on the map. No matter which seasons of life you've been able to check off the list, or which seasons you'll ever see in your lifetime. He's calling you. 

Is it the desire of your heart to be married and you're not? Despite your best efforts and fervent prayers, do you remain alone? He's calling you.

Have you always dreamt of being a mom to a houseful of little ones? Is your heart broken because, like a barren woman, your arms remain empty? He's calling you.

Are you biding your time in a job you don't love, and going home to house that's quiet or lonely? He's calling you.

He may not be calling you to adopt. Or maybe He is. But without a doubt He is calling you. Are you listening? Are you able to hear Him above the noise of our culture's expectations or even above your own longings? He's calling you higher. Maybe even to embrace a new dream for the season you're in right now. And He's calling you to freedom from waiting. Because you know what? Any husband worth having is going to love your new dreams. He's going to be proud of the way you're following the Lord. He will admire your bravery and your heart. He's going to see the real you, right off the bat. Shining, and flourishing, and loving life. Not desperate. Not miserable. Not waiting around. But living. 

That's how I want to be found. Not just by a man, but by (capital "H") Him. 

By God's grace, may we forge ahead in the freedom that is ours in Christ. 

Living my new dream, and sending lots of love to all of you.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ups and Downs (But Mostly Up)

Talk about a strange mix of emotions.

Laughing. Crying. Grieving. Rejoicing. Looking ahead with great anticipation.

Mr. Tony and I have had a beautiful few days together. 

It hasn't been all roses and butterflies, but I've been learning a lot about caring for him and we've been getting to know one another. We're already getting quite attached. Oh, Friday...

It's funny how, upon arriving here, I really thought I had already grieved this place and the damage done to my kids. I know the ugly history in more detail than any human can handle in one sitting and didn't figure it could get much worse.

But looking into the face of a 40 pound 14 year old, whose rotten teeth are the only indication that he is not, in fact, five. And smelling the stench of decay every time he sweetly sings, and every time he spits…out of frustration, or sometimes for fun (and even smelling it as I lay down to nap this afternoon and realizing the smell is on my face, right under my nose, from interacting with him). For these things, and so many more, I know now I will continue to grieve.

It didn't have to be this way.

But this is the way it is. 

Though so much has been stolen from him, there is still much to recover. His life has value.

And he has so much potential to grow.

He is surprising me constantly.

Yesterday I got to observe a staff person feeding him lunch, and then I got take a turn feeding him as well. Tony was an absolute gentleman sitting in his tiny blue chair waiting for his food. He LOVES his food, so I suspected he might get a little worked up when they brought in his tray. But he was patient and polite.

And get this! He helped to hold his spoon, AND he drank out of an open cup with help. I was very impressed.

Today the teacher from Tony's class came in and and showed me some of the things he has been working on. You would not believe how focused he is and how hard he works. I love his teacher because she clearly loves him and knows him well. She sang some of his favorite songs and helped him  to do the actions. Tony was able to identify his foot when the song talked about feet.

And, perhaps the most amazing thing he did was to stack a set of rings (you know, like the fisher price rings we all have in our house). He knew just how to do it. And if ever he would accidentally put one out of order, he would take the stack apart and make it right. 

After the teacher left, he and I did some dancing and singing of our own. We must have sung Father Abraham about forty times. He loved it! He would rock back and forth, adding a little flourish as he would tilt his head to the right and to the left along with his body. The boy's got rhythm! He especially seemed to like the part where we put out our "right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot." I will definitely tuck that song away as one of his favorites.

This morning, at the end of our visit, Tony was getting tired. He was sitting in front of me and we were facing one another. He laid his head in my lap, and I combed my fingers through his hair. To my happy surprise, he loved that and any time I stopped, he would pick up my hands and put them back on his head requesting more. He is such a little love!

At the end of our afternoon visit today, Tony was sitting in my lap, facing me, and I was singing to him the song I've sung to Sam every day since I've met her, He Knows My Name.

Tony melted into a puddle of pure sweetness, making perfect eye contact and trying his very best to sing along, so softly, in his best voice, "ooh ahh ba ba".

When it was time to say goodbye, he leaned in to the caretaker who was about to take him away, and started in again, singing softly, "ooh ahh ba ba", to which she replied, "I'm sorry, Tony. Only mama knows that song."

He walked backwards to the elevator, holding onto only one hand, watching his mommy all the way.

I say it over and over every day, so I might as well say it here, too. He is such a good boy. I am blessed to love him.

Lots of love to all of you.

"Row, row, row your boat…"



"…we all fall down!


"Kiss me, Mom!"


"A little to the left…"

Beautiful teacher. Perfect student.

Are you kidding me? This is actually blowing my mind.
Laughing and singing a song.

"Are you proud of me, Mom?"

"So proud!"

"So, let's all praise the Lord. Right arm..."

"...turn around…"



Monday, February 24, 2014

Son Of My Heart: More Pictures, Day 1

I think he looks like me. What do you think?

















Little Man Of My Dreams

I've been imagining him since April.

"How big is he?" I'd wonder.

What does his voice sound like? Will he fit well in our family? He's 14 years old…how will he handle change? Will he attach? Will he and Samantha like each other?

I don't have answers to all of my questions yet, but I am very happy to report that I have peace in my heart and a strong confidence that he belongs with us.

He fits.

He fits in my arms, and he most definitely fits in my heart. As I've been hoping and praying for, there is room for him. There is love enough for he and Sam and I can see now how we all fit together.

Little man of my dreams is now real. Living, breathing, precious, perfect little man.

Truly, he is perfect.


These pictures were taken just minutes after first meeting.

video

He came in walking, holding on to just one hand. He came to me without hesitation, hugged me with his arms and legs (smile) and held on tight. His sweet little head laid down gently on my shoulder, and we rocked. Perfectly content. A gentle spirit.


video

Can you believe this tiny little guys is 14 years old? I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around that.



I had been told prior to our visit that he loves music and dancing, and that has proven true. I brought along a stuffed animal that sings and lights up and he loves it, leaning in close to listen, sitting contentedly in my lap for song after song after song.

video



And oh does he crave touch and affection. He let me cradle him like a baby, and laid still in my arms, relaxed, soaking it all in.

video

So far his vocabulary includes "day day day", "mamamama", "babababa", and "guhguhguh". I am impressed!

One of his nannies showed me how when she says "Where's Tony?", he hits his chest. He also found his ear and neck on command. So smart!

I kissed him on the cheek and he thought that was pretty much the best thing ever, so he occasionally would offer his cheek to me as if to say, "Feel free to do that again, Mom!" So, of course I did.

His breath is…bad. And his teeth are rotten. The dentist will most definitely need to be one of our first stops after coming home. He also has a sore on his forehead from hitting himself. I imagine he does that for stimulation as well as when he's anxious or frustrated.

video

But overall, for all he's been through, I'd say this kid is remarkably strong, brave, well adjusted, even happy. Only time will tell how he will adapt to being in a family, but my gut is telling me he will do quite well. He is longing desperately to be loved, and once he realizes that he truly belongs with us, I suspect he will flourish.

Thank you all so very much for your prayers. Keep praying! Please pray for the continued success of my visits with Tony (I'll be going back for visit number two in a couple of hours) and for Samantha. She's is doing well so far and is in great hands, but I miss her and of course worry about her.

God's blessings and lots of love to all of you.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Pushback Time

Several years ago, as a young twenty-something, I was doing youth ministry out in California.

I remember a period in time when it seemed all the young people in our church were struggling. Like really struggling. And I knew I needed to call on people to pray.

So, first things first, I met with my buddy, Rosalie, a favorite prayer warrior and friend and we prayed. And then I send out a publication (I called it Saturate) and sent it out, far and wide. It didn't ask for specific prayers about our student's personal business. The goal was simply to awaken the church to pray for her young people.

People prayed. Or I assume they did, because I could feel the pushback. The oppression. It hit in ways that were personal to me at the time, and it hurt. I became depressed. I knew right away that there was a connection between the prayers going up and my discomfort, so do you know what I did then?

I stopped asking people to pray.

True story.

I didn't have the maturity or strength of faith at the time to press in and push back. So I called it quits.

It's funny that I remember that time in my life in such detail because I have a pretty terrible memory. Friends and family will often recall things we've done together, things I've said, even gifts I've given them…and I won't remember.

But I remember this. And I'm certain there's a reason God brought it to mind this morning.

As I type this, I can still feel a stiffness beneath my eyes, where tears were welling only minutes ago.

The devil is putting up a big fuss about this boy I'm on my way to meet, and he's not shy about letting me know how he feels. Now, I know we may not all be on the same page about how this whole spiritual warfare thing works…and that's ok. But let me tell you, I've experienced it firsthand many times, and I'm experiencing it now.

I'm not a rookie anymore, so as much as his fighting gets under my skin, hurts my feelings, hurts my flesh, hurts the people I love the most, threatens my confidence and wastes my time…

he will not win!!!!!!!!!

It is NOT time to shrivel up, back down, throw in the towel.

It IS time to press in.

To push back.

Stand up straighter.

Narrow my focus.

Capture my thoughts.

Trust God for safety for my family, Anna's family (who's traveling with me) and everyone we come in contact with.

Recall a lifetime filled with kept promises. My God is faithful. Always.

Will you all pray with me? And call on others to pray?

God is greater. GOD IS GREATER!!

And it's go time.

T-minus 26 hours to takeoff.

This boy has a mama. And she's on her way.