Tag Archives: trust

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Your ways are not my ways…

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Of course, Dear Lord, Your ways are not my ways. Your thoughts are not my thoughts. Some things are left a mystery until the end. 

Sometimes I cannot see, or even begin to understand, the why of a certain situation. I could drive myself crazy trying to figure it all out.

Luckily, I don’t have to. Because I have YOU to trust in. You to hold me. You to comfort me. You to guide me.

If I would only always remember to turn to You first. So quickly I forget. Every decision first to You. How fast I am to grumble, complain and cry out!

Forgive me Lord, when I close my fists instead of opening them in thanksgiving for all you have done for me. All for good. No matter if I see it that way or not right now.

Always You are faithful. Always You work for the good of those who love You, who have been called according to Your purpose. Thank you, Father.

And when I forget, forgive me. When I forget the power of the Holy Spirit, Mighty Counselor, lives in me.

In ME?!

How can I forget? How can I not listen? He is right here, always guiding, probing, directing.

It is ME who does not listen. It is me who denies. Me who questions. Me who ignores. Forgive me.

Help me to always trust.

Always depend on.

Always follow.

Always ask.

Always listen.

Always do.

Thank you, Father, for everything. The good and the bad that are molding me into who You want me to be. Help me to turn to You at the mountaintops and in the valleys. You are always there working it all for my good.

Trust in Him

Today, I am holding tightly to Your promises, Lord. I am clinging to Your truths. Not what the world tells me. Not what my friends tell me. Not what I tell myself. But Your truths, Lord.

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When I have had a rough day. When my kids are throwing tantrums. When I have to drag seven children to the grocery store. When my teen is ignoring me. When my husband is working long hours and I am so, so exhausted, it is easy to forget how much I am loved by my Father. My father who understands, who cares, who wants to comfort me like no-one else can. My good Father, who encourages me to crawl up in His lap for awhile and find my peace in Him.

I remind myself that I am not exempt from pain just because I am a Christian. Quite the opposite, actually. (John 16:33) Jesus himself warned us that in this world we will have troubles. Not maybe. Not if you’re not following the rules. Not if you’re not a good enough person. No- everyone. You WILL have troubles. It’s pretty clear.

The catch is that we are called to respond in ways other than the world would. We are called to put our faith before our fear. We are called to bear all things. We are called to allow God control in our lives.

When we allow this, we can accept His promises. We can accept His grace, love and mercy. We can allow Him to heal, comfort and restore. He takes the broken things and lets His light shine through the cracks, so brightly, that it’s undeniably Him at work.

So as I’m going through my day and I don’t understand what God’s plan is, I trust. When I feel like my heart is being ripped from my chest, I trust. I hold tightly to His promises. I trust in Him to make all things beautiful in the end. Where it matters. Where He can see and I can’t.

Thy will be done.

 

 

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How do you do it…?

(Sharing my top-read post in two years, my very first post!)

 

“How do you do it?”

This is probably the question that is asked the most.

“How do you decide to adopt five siblings all at once?”

My only true answer is, “by the grace of God.” God is orchestrating this story, not us. We are only trying to obey in this crazy journey of love. Selfless love. Love as a verb. Agape.

How? How did I end up writing this story? When did buying bananas three bunches at a time become normal? I almost forget that just a short time ago this would have seemed absurd had someone told me that I would be doing these things today.

But as I reflect, if someone had told me 10 years ago that an unknown janitor would lead me, a die-hard atheist, back to church, and that I would come to believe with all my heart that the Lord Almighty is the creator of Heaven and Earth, and that I myself, by the grace of God, would be given the gift of the Holy Spirit driving my heart for His Kingdom, I would have thought they were crazy! When did it become possible that I would be thought worthy enough to be called a Child of God, much less a mother to nine children? How did this happen? But isn’t that how journeys are? Hindsight is always 20/20. At the start of a new journey you can’t see where the road will end. You don’t even realize the lessons you are learning until you look back.

As I look back, I see the lessons that I am learning that surround this Greek word, “agape”. Agape is defined as “selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love, the highest of the four types of love in the Bible.” As John tells us in 1 John 4:8b: God is love. It’s as simple and as hard as that. God is love. We are called to love. We are called to agape. And agape has nothing to do with emotion. It’s not the warm, fuzzy feeling you have for your loved one (although that can accompany it). It is a deliberate action. It is a choice. It is a principle we try to live our lives around. Selfless love in action.

Whatever gift you have been given, use it. Whatever talents you have, employ them. Whatever you have been blessed with, use it to bless others. Do your part. Live with purpose. Love deliberately. Take a leap of faith! Stretch yourself! TRUST GOD! Know that God is with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. -2 Timothy 1:7

BE BOLD!

Stretch yourself and give thanks in all things, ALL things, the good and the bad. It is often through suffering that we are shaped and molded into who God is calling us to be. This process is not always easy. It asks us to move beyond our comfort zone.

Is this achieved by living in our own little bubble, predictable and perfectly planned, safe, isolated and surrounded by others who think and act exactly as we do? Or are we more like Christ when we are asked to stretch ourselves and we are called to reach out to someone who is different? Someone who may have dirty hands, or torn clothes, or smells of booze? Are we more like Christ when we are asked to tuck in our own child at bed tonight, or when we are pushed beyond our comfort level to tuck in a child at night that is not ours and may not even appreciate our hug goodnight?

And when? When do we make this leap of faith? When do we accept the calling that God has for us? When we have it all together? Right after we finish having children? After the house is sold? When we graduate? As soon as we pay off our debt? Let me say – there will never be the perfect time! God’s time is the perfect time. Listen to what He is telling you. Ask Him to clue you in. He promises that if we sincerely ask, we will receive, if we seek, we shall find, if we knock, the door will be opened (Luke 11:9).

And then we have to trust and obey. We have to remember that if He brings you to it, He will bring you through it. God does not fail. I am reminded of the story of the apostles being persecuted for performing miracles and preaching about Jesus. They are brought before the Sanhedrin to explain why they continue to preach about Jesus when they have been forbidden to do so. As the Pharisees are discussing the situation amongst themselves, one Pharisee very astutely reminds them all that if the apostles actions are of men, they will eventually fail, but if they are truly from God, then they will never fail.

But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God. — Acts 5:39

I never want to fight against God. I have opened myself up to God’s perfect plans, instead of my own. I have asked God to use me in whatever way He has planned. I want to be His hands and feet in this world. I want to love as He loves. He has faithfully shown me the path to these five children. I would never have put myself here, but as I look back over all the years I see the pattern emerging. I can begin to connect the dots.

Does this mean that it’s easy? NO! Does it mean that I am always at peace with His plans for my family? Absolutely not! Does it mean we have it all figured out, nice and neat, with a ten-year plan? I wish! But I am comforted with the fact that Jesus himself pleaded with His Father at Gethsemane before His terrible suffering on the cross, “Father – if there is any other way!” (Matthew 26:39) God is big enough to handle my doubts, my questions, my fears. He tells me to cast my anxieties on Him (1 Peter 5:7). And that is what I am learning to do.

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I often find myself repeating, sometimes several times a day, “God, I am trusting You when I remember Your promise that You work all things for the good of those who love you.” So as I break up yet another fight over who gets control of the mega nerf gun I again pray this prayer, “God, make this work for the good of all these boys here. Turn this fighting into something that will benefit them all in the end. May these grumblings work to bring about an eternal knowledge of selflessness, sharing, unconditional love of others – agape.”

I remind myself that, IF WE LET HIM, He can take all things and work them for good. He doesn’t need us to be perfect. He doesn’t want us when we have it all together. He wants us now. He wants us to ask, to be willing, to participate. He wants us to start moving so that he can push us along a little more, a little further. He wants us to love as an action. As James tells us in the Bible, faith without deeds is dead. Love as a verb. Agape.

I went into this adoption with the mindset that I was rescuing these little ones for God’s kingdom, but the truth is, they are rescuing me. Rescuing me from my own selfishness, my own desires, my own pursuit of happiness and turning my heart towards His Kingdom, His desires, His righteousness.

And so to answer, “How do you do it?”

The answer would be,

“I don’t. God does.”

It is truly only through His love that has been poured into my heart, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that I am able to pour that love back into the lives of His children. (Romans 5:5).

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and he will make your paths straight. — Proverbs 3:5

Not me, but Him…

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Traditions can be tricky…

Growing up in a Catholic home, I was steeped in religious tradition. Going to mass every week meant you followed many, many traditions. Stand up. Sit down. Make the sign of the cross. Bless yourself with Holy water as you leave, etc. etc. For the longest time, I equated these traditions with God.

But God is SO MUCH MORE than these traditions!

I am not knocking the Catholic church, please don’t think that.  However, for me personally these traditions became a stumbling block to me in a way.  It was so repetitious. Repeating the same words every week and the same prayers every week made my mind numb. My mouth could speak the words of the prayer, but my mind was a million miles away.

There is nothing wrong with traditions, necessarily, so long as they don’t become a stumbling block. So long as they don’t replace the relationship piece. So long as we don’t hold them over people’s heads and believe that our tradition is the only right tradition.

Moving around a lot over the years has meant that my family has had to change churches several times. It is always a journey to find the right church in a new city. For me, it has really brought to light the immense differences that can be seen throughout churches in our country, despite all believing in the core basics of doctrine. Each church does things a little differently. Each denomination does things a little differently.

It’s funny, we went from attending a denominational church that believed in the gift of tongues to a different denominational church that forbid the use of this gift in its church. HA!  I can’t stop thinking about this irony.  I honestly have never been given this gift myself, and it was almost a stumbling block for us in that first church that believed in this. However, we did a lot of reading about it in the Bible (it’s certainly there!) and we continued to feel the presence of God moving in a powerful way in this church, and so we made it our church home.   Yet, we knew that speaking in tongues, or not speaking in tongues, really was not what the point was. JESUS was the point, and so when we found our new church that forbid this, we laughed a little at the irony and then continued to ask ourselves, “do we feel the presence of God in this church?”

Because in the end, it’s not about traditions. It is not about the man-made rules. It is all about Jesus and what He has done for us. It is all about our personal, growing relationship with the Creator of the world. It is all about LOVE.

Jesus was actually confronted and asked what was the greatest commandment to follow.  His answer was not, “say this prayer three times every day and make sure you speak in tongues (or don’t speak in tongues).”

No, his answer was SIMPLE.

Love God.

Love others.

It’s as easy and as hard as that.

And when we complicate the message, when we lay down rules for people to follow, when we look down on others for doing things differently then us, then we are doing a huge disservice to the world. I can hear Paul exhorting us, “People – this is NOT how it should be. One says I am a Catholic. One says I am a Lutheran. One says I am a Methodist. NO, NO, NO!  We are all ONE in Christ. We are all to follow Jesus. That’s it.”

One of my favorite books, “Accidental Pharisees” by my old Pastor Larry Osborne has some wonderful truths throughout. One particular great passage says:

“Those of us who have a bent toward a rigid and rule-based expression of our faith tend to judge and condemn those who don’t follow our rules or match up to our standards. At times we can wonder if they are genuinely saved. Meanwhile those of us who consider these rules and standards unnecessary tend to look with disgust and contempt upon those who insist on keeping them. We chalk them up as uptight and narrow-minded. According to Paul’s exhortation, both responses are dead wrong.” (Romans 14-15)

I will be the first to admit that I have stood on both sides of that fence, as the accuser on each side, as well as the condemned on each side. And none of it feels good. None of it is what Jesus desired. No, my friends. What Jesus desired is for us NOT to place stumbling blocks in our brother’s way. Jesus desired for us to keep it focused.

Love God.

Love others.

Keep it simple.

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Gifts

He is your good father. He wants to give you good gifts. He wants the best for you. He loves you always and forever and that will never change.

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I was thinking of these verses as I was wrapping presents for my children last night. A local store was going out of business and I was excited to buy some toys at a nice discount, especially those Legos that never seem to go on sale! However, as I was sorting the presents to wrap I realized that there were too many. In my excitement I had gone overboard.

I have scaled back on gift giving to our children over the last 21 years of parenting. Honestly, as I began my parenting journey I wasn’t even a believer and so Christmas, in a weird way, was all about the gifts. Slowly over time as my heart has been softened, I’ve felt a desire to reign in the true reason for the season with my family. So this brings me back to the point of too many gifts. Santa does come to our home and he brings each child three gifts, just as Jesus was given three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh when he was visited by the Wise Men.

I know that when it comes to receiving gifts my children would think, “the more the better”. I am sure their prayer to me would be, “please give me all the toys my heart desires.” And I want to! I want to shower them lavishly with everything they could ever want. It was hard for me to look at that pile of toys on the table and know that I would need to save some of those for a later date. Yet, I will. Because even though they may ask me for every toy in the store, as their loving parent I know that’s not what they need. I know that would not be beneficial or helpful for them. So I will not give them this desire, even if I could. Even though they asked for many presents,  they are just children and they don’t always understand what they need.

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And so it is with our Father in Heaven. He knows better than I what I need. His ways are higher than my ways. His thoughts are higher than my thoughts. I can’t even explain to you how the wind blows or how a child is formed in a mother’s womb, but He does all of these things and more. So I trust that He is a good father. I trust that if I ask sincerely, I will receive. At the same time though, I keep in the back of my mind that what I ask for isn’t necessarily what I might need at that time.

Because honestly, sometimes my prayers aren’t answered the way I want them to be. Sometimes I am left to wonder, “Why?”

But I still trust Him and His promises.

He promises that He loves us eternally. He promises that He has prepared a place for us in Heaven for those who hope in Him. He promises that we are adopted into His family with all the rights and honor that come with being called a Child of God. He promises to work all things for the good of those who love Him. He promises the gifts of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience,  kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He is the ultimate gift!

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I am going to cling tight to His promises this Christmas season. I am going to look forward to the promises of his gifts. He is a good father. He loves me more than anyone and He desires to give me the best gifts ever, even if I don’t understand that at the time of the gifting. He is the ultimate gift and His gifts are always for my good.

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Make sure it’s not last night’s pizza talking

About ten years ago, shortly after finding my way back to church after many years as a stubborn atheist, I remember hearing a sermon from my Pastor Larry Osborne of North Coast Church . He was talking about finding God’s will for your life. He said something that struck me as both funny and confusing at the same time.  He warned about evaluating when you are feeling the calling of God. He said something like, “make sure that what you are feeling isn’t actually just rumblings in your belly from the pizza you had last night.”

Everyone laughed, including me, but I remember thinking about that for a long time and here I am today still thinking about that 10 years later.

Back then I remember feeling like I didn’t quite understand what he was saying. Now that I look back I realize that’s because I didn’t relate to having this urging of God telling me to do something and needing to evaluate that. I honestly had never felt those urgings in my life up to that point. And to be honest, part of the reason why I never felt those urgings from God was because I believe I never sincerely asked for that.

I never sincerely asked God wholeheartedly to point me to where He wanted me to be.

It wasn’t until 10 years later when my faith had grown a whole ton that I truly began to pray those types of prayers earnestly. God use me to reach the brokenhearted. God mold me to be more like You. God I want to be your hands and feet in this world, show me where I am needed.

It can be really scary to pray those types of prayers sincerely. Where will He need me? What would He have me do? Will I be up to the task? What if I don’t want to do it?

Once I was led to the path of adopting my children I began to understand what my pastor had been teaching that day 10 years ago. He was explaining the deep discernment that takes place when you are about to make life changing decisions.

Is this truly God’s will, or is this just last night’s pizza talking to me?

Honestly for our adoption journey, it took a lot of sincere prayer, thought, and time to discern God’s will. It was not something we immediately felt we knew the answer to for sure.

As I described in my post the battle, it was honestly a heart wrenching decision for me in the end. This was so confusing to me because I felt so strongly convicted in the beginning. But journeys weave us through many mountains and valleys. I went from a high mountain into a deep valley and it was only through serious prayer that I was finally 100% sure that God wanted me to continue on this adoption path. He did not want me to fear. He wanted me to be brave.

So what is that 10 step plan to ensure that it is God’s will and not the pizza talking? I wish it were that easy! The only thing I can say is that He wants us to ask Him. He desires our communication with Him. He loves when we pour our heart out to Him like a child to a Father.  He tells us if we sincerely ask, He will answer. If we knock, the door will open. (Matthew 7:7-8, Luke 11:9-10).

He is just a prayer away, my friend!

 

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The Battle

 

2 My child, when you come to serve the Lord,
prepare yourself for testing.—  Ecclesiasticus 2:1

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This past year has been full of fiery trials for our family in many ways. Our adoption process, which had been flying by at lightning speeds, had slowed to a snail’s pace as we learned that the kids were on different timelines and the youngest boy’s father’s rights were not terminated with his siblings and would take much longer to process. We had a move to a new city, which entailed buying and selling homes, moving furniture, and sooooo many boxes. Unexpectedly, we suffered four unrelated deaths within our extended family.

In the midst of all this, we got the call we had been waiting for — ALL the children were free for adoption!!!  Except that it came with a “but”…but, the oldest (now 14)  was unsure he wanted to be adopted (after writing on paper during hosting #1 “I no go back”). He said he loved our family and wanted to continue to visit, but the teenager he had grown into wasn’t sure he wanted to leave his friends and new girlfriend behind.

Imagine proposing to someone you really love and think will be really excited to marry you, and then they say “no”. 

I think it felt similar to that.

As we processed through that, my knee locked up on me and I was sent off to undergo an unplanned knee scope. Normally this would be no big deal for most, but for my already bad knee – well – let’s just say I’m still not back to pre-surgery state. Following this, my own mother began suffering with some serious health issues. Then days before we had to finalize our decision and process many adoption fees someone hacked into our online bank accounts, made money transfers, and stole thousands of dollars.

THE BATTLE IS REAL!

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I feel like I started the year off strong. Despite the changes and difficulties, I was able to keep God in focus. Yet, with each new circumstance that occurred, I felt myself weakening, slowing and tiring. It was honestly EXHAUSTING.

It seems when I am physically tired, I am often spiritually tired as well.

I am sure that I was an easy target for the devil.  Those mornings when it is SO hard to pull myself out of bed, he is whispering in my ear, “you can’t even keep up with the laundry you have, you will never be able to do it with more!”

And when you’re tired, or lonely, or grieving, or stressed out, it is SO easy to believe those lies. 

Satan is the father of lies. He wants to replace your FAITH with FEAR.

And fear is a LIAR!

Interestingly, I just read in my devotional the other day,

“Fear is dangerous to your hope and means your trust in God has failed.”

As soon as I read it I called my husband over to read it as well. That is EXACTLY what happened!!!  THAT was it!  I saw it coming a year ago. I wrote my last post to that effect. I felt the fear coming. I KNEW what we were supposed to do. I KNEW the right answers. I KNEW we were to trust in the Lord and make our FAITH bigger than our fear.

Yet, I let tiredness, sadness, doubt, and mistrust creep inside instead.

And it was ugly.

It contracted. It pulled in. It withdrew. It withered my heart, my love, and robbed me of my  joy.  I went through the motions, but I wasn’t ME.

While we were stalled with our adoption we started to hear rumors about our hosting program and agency worker. We started to doubt all the money we had spent on hosting and adoption thus far, especially as the decision to host FIVE kiddos again this summer (which meant insane hosting fees for the fifth time and no closer to adoption)  was looming over head because we still didn’t have a referral. We wondered if the kids were never adopted, was this the best use of our resources in caring for orphans. We started to listen to what the world was telling us and not what God had been telling us from the beginning.

Maybe this WAS a dumb idea.

Maybe we SHOULDN’T be spending so much money on this. 

Life would be SO MUCH EASIER if we just kept the status quo.

Thankfully, I have some wonderful, faithful friends who talked me through my thoughts. Friends who got down on their knees and prayed for us.  Friends who sent Bible verses and songs in perfect timing. Friends who gave us wise advice.

My friend, Michelle, gave me the best piece of advice that really changed the way I thought about everything. She said,

“It is OK to have righteous anger towards people or processes that are unethical, but it is NOT OKAY TO FEAR.”

My own words back to me.  Fear is a liar.

We are not to fear.

And that was EXACTLY what was happening.  The fear was eating me up. I let it consume me. It WAS dangerous to my hope. The fear consumed my hope and my loss of hope meant my trust in God had failed. And if I was honest with myself, my trust in God had failed.

Our official referral for the kiddos FINALLY came on Friday the 13th of May, nonetheless. We were forced to make a final decision within two weeks.  Of course, satan would use those two weeks to wage an all-out war on our family.  He would separate us by distance, as I had to travel with my mom to medical appointments six hours away. He would attack our finances with identity theft. However, God ALWAYS wins. He is ALWAYS victorious.

He will ALWAYS find a way to speak to our heart, mind and soul if we let Him.

God began to speak to me through friends, songs,  Bible verses, and perfectly timed sermons. One of the most convicting sermons was given to us just two days after we got our referral. Pastor Luis Martinez came from Impacto Ministry and the majority of his sermon was describing their mission in Guatemala.  The last 15 minutes or so he spent in a short sermon he called Stepping out of the Boat.

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His four point sermon was this:

  1. Faith takes us to the point where we need to make decisions that involve BIG RISK.
  2. Faith takes us to the starting point of long journeys.
  3. Faith takes us to the point of waiting for the impossible.
  4. Faith takes us to the point of giving everything you have.

WOW. That should have been enough, but it wasn’t. Thankfully, God continued to convict.

Right before leaving for my mom’s medical appointments, my mom and I were blessed to be able to attend a women’s retreat together, which helped revive my faith. Phillip Yancy spoke about the seasons of our faith life. Yes- I had been in one LONG winter season. The good news though?  I was about to spring forth anew!  At the retreat, I prayed with a wonderful woman in the prayer room who quickly did the “Spiritual War” scene with me on scrap paper. As she was going though it, I thought “yes, I know this already, but my question is should we adopt the children or not? ” DUH- I may have understood what she was writing, but I didn’t even realize then that was the battle going on in my own heart!

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That night, because I had spoke in the prayer room about my blog and knowing I wasn’t supposed to fear, I was convicted to go back and read through my blog. It had been set to private about a year ago and I hadn’t touched it since. As I read through those posts I thought to myself, “who is that girl?” It was just as if God knew I would need to read those words again. It was as if He had me write to myself for this specific moment in time. God is so creative!

Once I had read those words, I had to ask myself, do I believe them? Do I believe what I wrote a year ago? I trusted him wholeheartedly when I had written those posts…did I still trust Him?Do-I-trust-God
And in those moments that I first asked that question of myself, the honest answer was, I don’t know. It took time, honest prayer and reflection.

My husband actually caught me off guard by giving me his “yes” the night before I was leaving for my mom’s doctor appointments. I certainly felt like I was leaning more towards “yes” and that he was leaning more towards “no”.  I was in bed early that night as I wasn’t feeling well, and he came in and when I woke a little, he said, “honey, tell our agency yes.” It should have been a wonderfully joyous time, but instead I was struck with fear. Why was I fearing?

God finally convicted me undeniably in the middle of a Cracker Barrel store. It took driving hours in a silent car with my parents who love to read, praying continually the entire time, to finally hear in my heart loud and clear, DO NOT FEAR — I AM WITH YOU!

My parents and I were getting hungry after driving several hours in our silent car together, so we decided to pull over to get something to eat. As I was walking into the Cracker Barrel, still praying “God lead us”, which is essentially what I had been praying continually for the past 2 1/2 hours, the first thing my eyes focused on was a large bag that said

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It caught me off guard as I looked around and was encouraged by all the inspirational, Christian items everywhere. My eyes were drawn to a nautical display (my blog uses “God as  our anchor” and we were just encouraged by the stepping out of the boat sermon). There was a sign that lit up that said

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Where was my HOPE?

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At that very moment, my dear friend Jen texted me some verses she had told me earlier in the day she would find for me. Of course God would have her use that moment in time to text me back, crying in the middle of the Cracker Barrel store, to continue to convict me.

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I admitted to her that I WAS SO AFRAID!  That is what it was!  That fear of the unknown! I looked down and saw a nautical themed devotional. I had a little conversation with God. I said, “God, if you REALLY and TRULY want me to ‘just be brave’ and to ‘hope’ again, then I am going to open this devotional to today’s date, and it will absolutely, without question make complete sense. If you do not want us to move forward, if you want us to stop, then this entry will be completely off topic” I furiously flipped to May 26th and as I read the title, the tears free flowed.

Courage to Change

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Yes. Did I have the courage to change? I was so very fearful of change! Yet – we had always said, we have the ability to take in these children and change their lives for the better. Now the question really was:

Did we have the courage to step out of the boat?

I knew after reading that devotional that my answer was YES. As I was walking to pay before leaving, just to make sure that I indeed got it, God set my eyes on the following cup:

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When we first step out of the boat we have to overcome our initial fear. Peter did it – he stepped out of the boat onto water. But that doesn’t mean that we will never fall into the water!

From Matthew 14:29-30

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

I got out of the boat. Then the wind came and I was frozen with fear. I began to sink, but I forgot to earnestly cry out to the Lord to save me. Yet, He is relentless. He kept on pursuing me. And as soon as I cried out to Him with all of my heart, mind and soul, “Lord, help me!” He reached out His hand and caught me and reminded me to have

Faith

Hope

and Love.

 

I feel like myself again.

Thank you, Jesus. When I step out onto the waters, when I trust in You, when I let my heart beat for You, then I am able to laugh without fear of the future.   May we always trust in You Lord, in good times and bad.

 

 

 

 

 

a broken best

This partial post was written by my friend, Nicole A Webb.  Her selfless love hosting a child with cancer, on a medical mission from Africa, will inspire you to give your best as well, even when it’s broken.

I stared at the form in front of me searching for a box labeled “imposter”.  I was not her “parent” or her “legal guardian”. I felt I had no right to sign for her medical care, though there was a single piece of paper on file stating otherwise.  I made a hasty in the “other” box, then walked away avoiding eye contact with the receptionist.  With each step to the waiting area, my weight doubled under the knowledge that I just gave permission for a child who is not my own to be poisoned.

Ma had been with our family just two weeks before her first chemotherapy treatment.  She came to the States from Cote d’Ivoire, Africa, through a medical missions organization.  Doctors in Africa originally thought she had glaucoma, and that she would return to her family after surgery and a 2-month stay.  Doctors here determined she instead had retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer.  One eye couldn’t be saved.  A lengthy treatment plan was put into motion to save her life, then to save her eyesight.

“Ma Sylla,” the nasally voice of the in-take nurse roamed across the waiting room and scratched my ears like sandpaper.

“It’s Ma, like the month of May,” I said, attempting politeness.

“I’ll make a note of that on her chart,” the nurse mumbled.  They never said it wrong again.

I felt an immediate pang of guilt for my abruptness.  I don’t know how her name is actually pronounced, or what her family calls her.  Ma, like the month of May, is just the name we imposed on her.  She had only been on this earth a sickly single year, so she was unable to otherwise correct us.

After taking her weight, height, blood pressure and temperature, which terrified her, we made our way to an infusion chair.  We were given a blanket and pillow and told to make ourselves comfortable.  As if.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

Ma had buried her head into my chest during her vitals and only now, several minutes after the nurse had vacated our presence, did she dare to take a peek.  She gazed up at me with her one remaining dark chocolate brown eye.

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Please click here to read the ending to this inspiring post and learn more about Nicole and her family.

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Questions…

Wouldn’t it be better to adopt children from the United States?”

“Isn’t it mean to take a child from their culture?”

“How can you adopt children who speak another language?”

“Isn’t it cheaper to adopt through foster care?”

“Don’t you already have four children?”

We have asked these same questions of ourselves…

Why, yes, it might be easier to adopt five children from the United States.

It is unfortunate that these children are leaving their country.

It would be more convenient if the children had English as their native tongue.

It would be cheaper to adopt five children through foster care in the U.S.

I do have four biological children.

But really, what is important here?  What really matters in the end? That we “take care of our own here in the US” or that we take care of God’s children?

Adoptees Worth it!

The fact of the matter is, these children have almost zero chance of being adopted in their own country, either singly (which would be devastating to these siblings who are intimately bonded to each other) or most certainly as a group of five.  As the Orphan Court Director said when told that a family wanted to adopt all five siblings, “no one here will do that.” In fact, it is rare for sibling groups this large to stay intact, here or abroad.

Adoptable vs unadoptable

The three oldest are boys, and there are some developmental delays, further decreasing their chances of being adopted.  Worldwide adoption statistics show over and over that girls are preferred over boys, younger children are preferred over older children, and children without developmental delays are preferred over children with special needs. The facts are that these children have the odds stacked HUGELY against them! They have been held in an orphanage for three years already.  They have now been split apart and the statistics support the conclusion that the boys would probably stay there until they age out of the system. The entire sibling group would never be reunited in a family together.

AdoptionStats2013

And to answer the question, “why would anyone adopt from an orphanage versus the foster system, especially when adopting from the foster system here in the US would cost so much less money?” Well, I can only speak for myself, but I feel strongly that children were never, ever, meant to be raised in an institution. We are fortunate to live in a country that no longer has orphanages. As broken as our own foster care system may be, I feel that it is still better than living in an institution. However, there are more than 8 million children currently living in orphanages.  Georgette Mulheir, the Executive Officer of Lumos, gives these startling statistics about children who are raised in institutions:

“…children raised in orphanages are 10 times more likely to be involved in prostitution, 40 times more likely to have a criminal record and — shockingly — 500 times more likely to commit suicide.”

There are vast differences between institutions, some much, much better than others. However, in the end, they all lack what a child needs most – a family.

So for those who ask if it is it cruel to remove a child from his or her country, I would ask is it cruel to leave them in an institution or separated from their siblings when we have the ability and desire to reunite them as a family?

To those who ask if it is hard that they don’t speak English as their native language,  I would say that it is not nearly as hard as worrying about your siblings who haven been taken away from you after already losing your parents.

In response to the question, “Is it expensive to adopt five children internationally?”  I would say reuniting siblings into a forever home of love is priceless.

In a perfect world there would be no need for orphanages, foster care, or adoption.  In a perfect world all children would have all of their needs met all of the time. Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world. I am inspired by the awareness of these problems and of organizations such as Lumos who are working towards changing the circumstances that lead to children being orphans in the first place, such as poverty and disabilities.  In her TED talk, Mulheir calls for “radical resource redistribution” that would channel the monies that are currently being used to fund orphanages into programs that would support birth parents and foster families, both financially and otherwise.  The only problem for my kiddos, is that change takes time.

So, why them? I don’t know why. Ask God.  He led us down this path. He whispered in our ears that these were the children we were to call our own.  He has convicted us countless times, in many ways, that this is indeed the path we are supposed to be walking.    We trust that He has a plan. He knows.  Maybe someday we will look back and understand why and maybe we will never know this side of Heaven. I honestly don’t know. But I do know that we have been called to these specific children.  I trust Him.

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the paperchase

When I started this process I had NO IDEA what I was really getting myself into with regards to the paperwork. In fact, I didn’t even KNOW some of the terms that were being thrown around!

Dossier

Apostille

“Say what?  Are you speaking English?  I don’t know what you’re talking about?”

Thankfully, I have had the most loving, compassionate people take me by the hand and walk me through the very arduous process. It has truly been nothing less than a paper chase.

Let’s start with the in-country paperwork that is required.  The homestudy is done here in the US, and I remember being advised to find someone you like and trust to do the homestudy because when it’s all said and done, that social worker would know more about our family than anyone else.  That was a little intimidating! Since we live in a small town and are required to use a Hague Convention accredited agency, it left one choice.  Thankfully, our homestudy caseworker was amazingly wonderful and immediately put me at ease.

She quickly sent a stack of papers to complete to *begin* the process.  There were initial applications, medical clearance forms for us and our children and personal reference forms for employers, friends, family, and our pastor. She needed a complete listing of every address for both Joel and I, from the age of 18 years and on (that was a hard one!) so background checks could be processed in each location. She really wanted to know EVERYTHING!  There were PAGES of questions, very detailed, intimate questions.  We had to write a 3-4 paged, typed, autobiography of each of our lives. Financial statements, employment forms, and insurance verifications all were submitted.  And then there were assessments, online and on paper.

Once the homestudy paperwork was completed, our lovely caseworker came to visit.  She told me that her first visit would just be an “introduction”. I thought it would be short and sweet. HA!  It lasted three hours and entailed a complete tour of the home, which I was completely UNPREPARED for!  Of course I had picked up the common areas and the house was pretty clean, but….my bedroom?! You know, the last room of the house to ever be cleaned because no one goes in there but you?  And that day, of all days, it was the worst it had been in years! SERIOUSLY! The bed was unmade.  There was dirty laundry on the floor, clean laundry thrown on the bed, as well as the vacuum cleaner and Halloween bins that had been hastily shoved in there to get them out of the way. There were children’s books and blocks strewn across the floor and the bathroom vanity was littered with papers, books, and miscellaneous stuff (why do Legos , cars and marbles always find their way into my bathroom?) I was SO EMBARRASSED!  I quickly said, “Oh, I didn’t realize you were going to be touring today, ha ha ha!”  Then as we walked toward the bedroom, I apologized profusely for the messiness.  I thought, “well, here it is, this is how we really live!”  She was quite graceful and told us how she is more concerned when she goes into a house that has everything perfectly in its place – thank goodness! She came for a few more, quite long visits, to ask endless questions of me, my husband, and our children, and then she began her own long process of writing our 15 page homestudy.

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The dossier, which I came to learn is just a fancy word that basically means “a collection of documents”, is a HUGE collection of documents that the other country requires to adopt.  It includes our homestudy as well as a ton of other papers such as the adoption petition, doctor’s reports (which of course, were not the same reports that were required by the homestudy), police clearance reports, autobiographies (again, these needed to be of a different length and address some different things than required for the homestudy), marriage certificates, passport copies, requests to bring the children back with us after the first visit, and several powers of attorney.  Most of these documents needed to be created ourselves, following very strict guidelines.  Here is the “Dossier Guidelines” packet we received to walk us through the process, as well as the “Quick Reference Guide” to make sure we had everything.  Daunting?  A little. (Ohhh – and I forgot to mention that each and every single document that was created for the dossier needed to be an original copy, with original signatures, IN TRIPLICATE!)

dossier guide dossier quick guide

And THEN, after allllllll of that paper collecting, I had a stack of papers that looked like this.

dossierb4

You would think that I would be done, right?  Wrong!  Now every single original document, in triplicate, needed to be notarized and then apostilled. I learned another new word!  Basically, this is a way for Hague Convention countries to “easily” certify official documents and have them accepted in other convention countries.  We were very fortunate that our Secretary of State allows us to walk in and apostille documents on the spot, for only $1 per document (which is MUCH easier and cheaper than many other places). Thank goodness, because we had 65 documents that needed to be apostilled!  The Secretary of State verifies the notary’s signature on the documents and then “seals” them by adding a cover page with the appropriate information, a fancy gold seal on the bottom as well as another gold seal folded over the top of the paper(s).

WHEW!  So once THAT was finally finished, I had an immense stack of papers (I just added 65 more pages to the stack with the cover sheets from the Secretary of State).

dossierphotoCan I just say, that is the most beautiful stack of papers I have ever laid eyes on?!  I could have cried.  Okay, I did cry. I can’t even explain the feeling I had as that last seal was placed on those papers. Such a relief. Such a release. Such anticipation for being one step closer to bringing our children home forever. THANK YOU GOD!

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How do you do it?

“How do you do it?”

This is probably the question that is asked the most.

“How do you decide to adopt five siblings all at once?”

My only true answer is, “by the grace of God.” God is orchestrating this story, not us, we are only trying to obey in this crazy journey of love. Selfless love. Love as a verb. Agape.

How? How did I end up writing this story? When did buying bananas three bunches at a time become normal? I almost forget that just a short time ago this would have seemed absurd had someone told me that I would be doing these things today.

But as I reflect, if someone had told me 10 years ago that an unknown janitor would lead me, a die-hard atheist, back to church, and that I would come to believe with all my heart, mind, and soul that the Lord Almighty is the creator of Heaven and Earth, and that I myself, by the grace of God, would be given the gift of the Holy Spirit driving my heart for His Kingdom, I would have thought they were crazy! When did it become possible that I would be thought worthy enough to be called a child of God, much less a mother to nine children? How did this happen? But isn’t that how journeys are? Hindsight is always 20/20. At the start of a new journey you can’t see where the road will end. You don’t even realize the lessons you are learning until you look back.

As I look back, I see the lessons that I am learning that surround this Greek word, “agape”. Agape is defined as “selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love, the highest of the four types of love in the Bible.” As John tells us in 1 John 4:8b: God is love. It’s as simple and as hard as that. God is love. We are called to love. We are called to agape. And agape has nothing to do with emotion. It’s not the warm, fuzzy feeling you have for your loved one (although that can accompany it). It is a deliberate action. It is a choice. It is a principle we try to live our lives around. Selfless love in action.

Whatever gift you have been given, use it. Whatever talents you have, employ them. Whatever you have been blessed with, use it to bless others. Do your part. Live with purpose. Love deliberately.  Take a leap of faith! Stretch yourself! TRUST GOD! Know that God is with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.     -2 Timothy 1:7

BE BOLD!

Stretch yourself and give thanks in all things, ALL things, the good and the bad. It is often through suffering that we are shaped and molded into who God is calling us to be. This process is not always easy. It asks us to move beyond our comfort zone.

Is this achieved by living in our own little bubble, predictable and perfectly planned, safe, isolated and surrounded by others who think and act exactly as we do? Or are we more like Christ when we are asked to stretch ourselves and we are called to reach out to someone who is different? Someone who may have dirty hands, or torn clothes, or smells of booze? Are we more like Christ when we are asked to tuck in our own child at bed tonight, or when we are pushed beyond our comfort level to tuck in a child at night that is not ours and may not even appreciate our hug goodnight?

And when? When do we make this leap of faith? When do we accept the calling that God has for us? When we have it all together? Right after we finish having children? After the house is sold? When we graduate? As soon as we pay off our debt? Let me say – there will never be the perfect time! God’s time is the perfect time. Listen to what He is telling you. Ask Him to clue you in.  He promises that if we sincerely ask, we will receive, if we seek, we shall find, if we knock, the door will be opened (Luke 11:9).

And then we have to trust and obey. We have to remember that if He brings you to it, He will bring you through it. God does not fail. I am reminded of the story of the apostles being persecuted for performing miracles and preaching about Jesus. They are brought before the Sanhedrin to explain why they continue to preach about Jesus when they have been forbidden to do so. As the Pharisees are discussing the situation amongst themselves, one Pharisee very astutely reminds them all that if the apostles actions are of men, they will eventually fail, but if they are truly from God, then they will never fail.

But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God. — Acts 5:39

I never want to fight against God. I have opened myself up to God’s perfect plans, instead of my own. I have asked God to use me in whatever way He has planned. I want to be His hands and feet in this world. I want to love as He loves. He has faithfully shown me the path to these five children. I would never have put myself here, but as I look back over all the years I see the pattern emerging. I can begin to connect the dots.

Does this mean that it’s easy? NO! Does it mean that I am always at peace with His plans for my family? Absolutely not! Does it mean we have it all figured out, nice and neat, with a ten-year plan? I wish! But I am comforted with the fact that Jesus himself pleaded with His Father at Gethsemane before His terrible suffering on the cross, “Father – if there is any other way!” (Matthew 26:39) God is big enough to handle my doubts, my questions, my fears. He tells me to cast my anxieties on Him (1 Peter 5:7). And that is what I am learning to do.

Romans8-28

I often find myself repeating, sometimes several times a day, “God, I am trusting You when I remember Your promise that You work all things for the good of those who love you.” So as I break up yet another fight over who gets control of the mega nerf gun I again pray this prayer, “God, make this work for the good of all these boys here. Turn this fighting into something that will benefit them all in the end. May these grumblings work to bring about an eternal knowledge of selflessness, sharing, unconditional love of others – agape.”

I remind myself that, IF WE LET HIM, He can take all things and work them for good. He doesn’t need us to be perfect. He doesn’t want us when we have it all together. He wants us now. He wants us to ask, to be willing, to participate. He wants us to start moving so that he can push us along a little more, a little further. He wants us to love as an action. As James tells us in the Bible, faith without deeds is dead. Love as a verb. Agape.

I went into this adoption with the mindset that I was rescuing these little ones for God’s kingdom, but the truth is, they are rescuing me. Rescuing me from my own selfishness, my own desires, my own pursuit of happiness and turning my heart towards His Kingdom, His desires, His righteousness.

And so to answer, “How do you do it?”

The answer would be,

I don’t. God does.”

It is truly only through His love that has been poured into my heart, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that I am able to pour that love back into the lives of His children. (Romans 5:5).

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and he will make your paths straight. — Proverbs 3:5

Not me, but Him…