Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Update without an ending...

My baby girl has gorgeous, dark brown eyes—large on her face—and piercing to my heart. Her hair is cut close to her head and little curls form all over. She is tiny. There is a picture of her—she is sitting on the floor with a white t-shirt on that looks much too big for her, and she is looking up at the camera. That picture was my first glimpse of her and I was smitten from the moment I looked into her sweet face. Although I have never held her, she was mine. She niched a place into my heart. I have a little pile of items in my closet I picked out for her and a little pile of books on my nightstand I bought to learn more about her culture and her hair. 

As soon as we committed to adopting this gorgeous girl, we worked as quickly as we could to get our dossier to Haiti. Every evening we checked documents off the list. All mail was overnighted. Everything was done in the most efficient way possible. Three months after we saw her face, we sent our dossier to Haiti. We couldn’t have done it any quicker. We sent all that paperwork off and collectively held our breath for Haiti to give us an answer. We needed Haiti’s approval to adopt our girl. 

One week after our dossier was sent to Haiti, we got a phone call from our agency. I knew as soon as I answered that something had gone wrong. It turned out that Haiti wanted to try to match our girl with a different family. The family had been waiting for a match and they (the Haitian officials) believed this little girl would be a good fit for them. Although we truly rejoiced that our little girl would have a family, we were devastated for ourselves. Our hearts filled with the grief of loss. Although she was never officially ours, we had spent many months thinking she would be, and dreaming of the day we would bring her home. 

Sadness, doubt, confusion filled our hearts. Had we heard the Lord wrong? Was she never ours? What was the purpose of these months of preparation? 

A few weeks later, through the blessing and curse that is social media, I happened to see a post from our girl’s new family. I sat staring at it with my stomach in knots. I had many photos and updates that had come in over the months we prepared paperwork. Should I reach out and share? Would that be strange? I quickly snapped my phone off and prayed. After praying, I remembered what a blessing it was to me when total strangers sent photos of my children in China as I waited to bring them home. I was always happy for any extra information anyone had. Any old photos, or stories they had of meeting my children were a blessing to me. 

I reached out to the family and sent them all the documents and photos I had received. They were thankful, especially since what they had received had been a very sparse amount of information. Every day after that exchange, I laid on my face before the Lord and asked him to take this new family and bless them. I also prayed He would heal my grieving heart and somehow change my feelings so she no longer felt like mine…take away the grief…just let me be happy for her. Although she wasn’t to be mine, I wanted to rejoice that she was no longer an orphan. I wanted her to be loved and cared for more than I wanted her to be mine. I remembered God loved her before I did and more than I do. He had the best plan for all families involved. 

Then, two weeks after I sent the photos to the family, I received a message from them: 
“We have decided not to accept the referral of this little girl…” 
I stopped at that statement and gasped. A mixture of emotions flooded my heart. Disbelief. Hope. Sadness. Joy. Her message went on to express their concerns about her special needs and their doubt that they could provide adequately for her. 

Even now, my heart literally aches as I type, because I still don’t know the end to this story. After this family declined the referral, we immediately petitioned Haiti to allow us to adopt her. However, we didn’t get a straight answer. Our dossier is still stuck in the Haitian courts, and has not been officially registered with their central authority. Basically, we got a “wait and see”. We have hope because when the answer was “no”, they told us. Now, the answer is “wait.” So, we wait.

I find myself singing the song “Even If” almost everyday…

“I know You're able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You'd just say the word
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone
You've been faithful, You've been good
All of my days
Jesus, I will cling to You
Come what may
‘Cause I know You're able
I know You can”

I am thankful for the peace of God. I am thankful that He is near me. Every day when I pray, I feel His presence and I know He is here with me. I know He is in control and I know He loves her. He loves us. He has a perfect plan that will work out in His perfect timing. I know these things because I have walked with Him for many years and He has proven Himself faithful over and over again. I trust His plans and pray He will prepare me for whatever is ahead. I pray protection for this little girl who I still love as my own and hope some day I will scoop her up, kiss her sweet cheeks, and call her daughter. But, even if I don’t, my hope is in the Lord. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Lessons from Vacation Bible School

This week my children and I have been attending Vacation Bible School at our church. It has been a delightful week. I love seeing all the children worship and dance. They have had fun learning new songs, doing crafts, and playing games. They’ve been learning that whatever may come, Jesus is there to rescue us. He is there when we worry, when we struggle, when we are lonely. 

We got a devastating phone call today. I knew as soon as she said hello that something was wrong. And then bad news. And questions…unanswered questions that leave us with sadness and an undetermined amount of waiting ahead. 

I hung up the phone with an empty feeling in my heart and one big question in my head: “Did I hear you wrong, Lord?” All week long, this very piece of my life had been pressing on my mind and heart and I had stopped many times to pray for the Lord to move. And now…I wonder…is this His “no”, or “wait”? Either way it is not the resounding ‘yes’ my heart desired. 

I sat quietly with my questions and the words of the children’s VBS song echoed in my mind…”Through every storm of life, I know you’re by my side. And I am holding on to your promises. You are the God who holds my future and my dreams…” Then a gentle whisper said, “Do you really believe all that you are teaching these children?”

Do I? Do I believe He is the God who holds my future and my dreams? That He never lets go? That He is here to rescue me in the middle of heartbreak? 

I do. I recount all the times He has been faithful and know He will always be so. I look back at all the times His way was the best way and know that His way will continue to be so. Even in the middle of grief, He is here with me. 

Tomorrow the children and I will sing again. And the words will ring intimately true as my tender heart continues to grieve. I am thankful for His Word that is timeless. As I teach children, He teaches me. As I pray for their sweet hearts to know Him, He pulls me closer and shows me that I, too, can learn to know and trust him even more.  

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Affirmation and Another Yes

Sometimes saying "yes" to God doesn't lead to a huge, visible affirmation. Sometimes, the affirmation is just the peace in our heart that comes with obedience. Sometimes, the affirmation is a husband and wife finally coming together and working toward the same goal. Sometimes, the affirmation is only felt in the our hearts.

When we first said, "yes" to adoption in January of 2013, we did not get a huge, visible sign that we were doing the right thing. In fact, that adoption process for Laura took many years and involved many redirections and life changes until we finally saw her face in July of 2015 and then finalized the adoption in October of the same year. Although it was a long process and sometimes a very hard process, we did continue to receive affirmation. Affirmations of peace. Affirmation of unity. Affirmation of confidence that the Lord was in control and eventually He would see it through to an end that He had been planning all along. And, through those years He changed us and prepared us for what He had to come.

The Lord nudged us, whispered to us, pursued us to say "yes" to a Haitian adoption for several months. We resisted because the process of a Haitian adoption is significantly longer, harder, and less predictable than what we felt comfortable walking through. But, sometimes the right thing is not the easy thing. And, as we continued on our knees, pressing in and asking how He would have us move, He continued to say the same thing, over and over, to both of us: "Haiti."

We finally said an official "Yes!" on March 2nd, when we applied to our agency's Haiti program and started the paper chase. Immediately, all those intangible affirmations flooded our hearts. Although we expected a long wait until we knew who would be coming to our home, and an even longer wait until she was here, we had peace. Peace in the process. Peace in the wait. Peace that eventually we would see His plan unfold for our family.

Then, the unexpected happened: a visible affirmation. On March 7th, just five days after we had applied to our agency, we saw our daughter's sweet face. She is two years old and was being advocated for by our agency because of her special needs. Because of her needs, there were not any families coming forward to be her family. We received her file and medical information two days later and prayed over her. Could this really be her? Already? Selfishly, we looked ahead at the paper chase, the waiting for government agencies, and knew it would feel like an even longer wait with this sweet face in our minds and hearts. Robert said many times, "Amy, I'm afraid you are going to be so sad."But, as we prayed over the next few days, she became our daughter and there was nothing to say but "Yes!"

We worked as quickly as we could to put together our home study and dossier. Many evenings after the children were asleep were spent on the small mountain of paperwork required to adopt our girl. We are now finished with everything we can do and are awaiting our approval from the United States Immigration Department (which should be coming in a few weeks.) After that, our dossier will be sent to Haiti.

There is still a very long process of waiting for Haiti ahead of us. But, we move forward with the assurance that God has been in this since before we were involved and has continued to put His hands all over the process to move mountains and answer prayers. He has shown us our daughter and we know He is in control and is bigger than all the problems and road blocks that are sure to be ahead. We continue to pray for expediency because the sooner she is home, the better. But, we know even as we wait, He loves her more than we do. And He has all of this in His control. Praise be to the Lord that we have the peace that comes with that knowledge...He is mighty and gracious and we are so humbled to be used in His plans.

Thank you for your prayers!

Monday, April 9, 2018

1 Year Home, Part 2: Changing Together

I have said it before, and I will say it again. The hardest part of traveling to China alone, was coming home alone. While I was in China finalizing our adoption of Laura, the trip itself was fun at times, exhausting at others, full of adventure, and life changing. While I was there, I felt the prayers of my family and friends at home. The Lord sustained me in times of fatigue and gave me a brave heart that was able to enjoy the sweet time with my newest daughter and fall in love with her country.

We came home to our family and I was so happy to see them all and be together again. But...something inside me had changed and I couldn't...nor did I want to...go back to the "before." It wasn't a flashy change or something that any stranger would notice. But, my husband noticed and called me "post China Amy", sometimes in a more endearing way than others. I struggled internally to integrate back into American society. Truth be told, I had no desire to be back in American society. If Robert had been on board, I would have sold everything and moved overseas to serve the orphans in some way...any way. It was difficult to process all these feelings alone. It was difficult to have this life changing event without my husband there with me.

When travel approval came for Howie, we were thrilled that it worked out so that we could go together this time. We had several people in our life willing and able to care for our children and several people in our life who kept telling us it was important for Robert to be there this time (and we agreed.) I packed and prepared with excitement. I couldn't wait to hold our son. I couldn't wait to get back to China. I couldn't wait for noodles. I couldn't wait to hug several guides who I loved and I couldn't wait to share everything I loved with the man I love. Part of me did worry he wouldn't love it...and then what? "Please don't ruin China." is what I said as we headed to the airport that dark morning in April.

Then, we traveled for a long time. We climbed the Great Wall and met families with shared desires to grow their families through the blessing of adoption.  We met our son on a day that Robert would later describe as "one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen". We visited the orphanage and saw the hundreds of beds.  We walked the streets of Zhengzhou and Guangzhou together and fell in love with China together. And then came home together, and had each other to process through all the change and feelings and aches.

Although Robert still is not on board with selling everything and moving overseas, we do share an ache for the children we left behind and a love for adoption. We flinch at the "easy button" that so many desire to push, and laugh at the all the interesting conversations our little family creates. We love our children with our whole hearts and know we have room for more. Room in our hearts, room in our home. Because adoption and China changed us forever. And we thank God for that. Our lives are blessed beyond measure by the six precious hearts the Lord has placed in our family. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be their parents.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

One Year Home, Part 1: Howard Derek

It is hard to believe a whole year has passed since we met Howie for the first time. In many ways, it feels like yesterday that we stood waiting for him arrive, watching other families from our group be united with their children. But, since then, our family has packed up and moved to a new state and settled in to a new home and routine. The year has been busy and good for all of us.

In many ways, Howie's adoption and integration into our family has been a "best case scenario." When we adopted both he and Laura, we went into the adoptions hoping for all the best case scenarios but knowing full well, and trying to prepare for, less than best cases. Medically, Howie is a healthy boy. He was diagnosed in China with hydrocephalus and has a strange scar on the side of his head. (The neurologist here called it a "witch doctor scar.") We will never know what happened in his life before us, but we do know he does not have hydrocephalus. He has a larger than average head, but a healthy brain, and that is what really matters.

Howie adjusted quickly to our family and our home and is a delight to us. He is funny and brave. He is rough and tumble and "all boy". He loves to jump off of everything (which has resulted in more than one injury...all minor, thankfully!). He builds with blocks and legos. He loves trains and asks to dump out the tracks daily. He was afraid of water and swimming when he first got home, but he loves it now. He enjoys the beach and the pool. He loves to ride his tricycle and scooter outside and play in the dirt in the backyard. He is everything a four year old boy should be. He loves his siblings and plays well with all of them (most of the time!)

We talked as a family about what we will always remember about Howie's first year with us and here are our top five: (Most are comical because that is who Howie is!) :)

1. Howie used to yell at us in mandarin. He learned English very quickly (he was saying words and short phrases before we left China), but when he was angry, his words were still in mandarin. We tried to use Google Translate to figure out what he was saying, but I guess his language was a 3 year old's version of mandarin and that didn't compute, because we rarely could figure out what he was saying. Robert used to say "I think when we can understand him, he may be in trouble." He would also sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" in mandarin in the car. I do wish we could have preserved that language for him in some way.

2. Jumping, jumping, jumping. Howie jumps off of stairs and curbs...any time a jump is possible, he prefers that to stepping every time. The day before his medical appointment in China, he jumped off of a little bridge at the hotel park and hit his head. We went to the medical appointment with an egg shaped knot on his forehead. He has had similar injuries throughout the year, but he still loves to jump!

3. He has the best little giggle and smile! He is one of those kids that smiles with his whole face and it is darling. And his sweet cheeks...I could kiss them all day.

4. Funniest/grossest story of the year: Shortly after we moved into our house in North Carolina, I was unpacking downstairs and the 3 year olds were playing in the girls' room upstairs. It got quiet. I got nervous and went upstairs. I walked into the bathroom and Howie was wet all over. His head was wet. His shirt was wet. His arms were dripping. Strangely, his feet and legs were dry. I looked around...the bath was dry...why was he wet? I asked him and he just stared at me. I asked Rachel and she paused before saying: "Howie stuck his head in the potty." Ummm....what???? "WHY???" was my response. "To save our toys." Rachel replied. Yep. They had flushed toys. Some were still floating. Some were stuck in the pipes. Some were stuck in the bend of the toilet. A plumber, new toilet, and long shower later, it is funny. It is really funny, actually. Pretty gross at the moment though. So...Howie is the kid that will stick his arms (and head) in the toilet in effort to save his sisters' dolls.

5. Howie fell in love with Paw Patrol as soon as we got home. He loves it. Christmas and his birthday were all about Paw Patrol and he currently has a fleet of Paw Patrol trucks in his room. It goes nicely with Jacob's garbage truck and firetruck fleets. They are a good pair.

It has been a lovely year with our Hao Hao! We are thankful we got the opportunity to be his family and thankful that we said yes to one more! It sounded crazy at the time...but it has been fun so far and we look forward to many more years of fun together. This crew keeps us smiling!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Monday, January 22, 2018

A Season of Rest

“Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” –Matthew 11:28

Sometimes our days are so busy, it is not until we finally lay our heads down at night that we finally feel our fatigue.  We all have those days…when the flurry of activity does not subside until heads are on pillows.  We all have days when the only time we sit is to drive our children to an event, weeks of full calendars and constant movement, months of endless activity. And then, when it is over, sleep overcomes us, and we long for a few days, weeks or months of rest and peace.  

We recently came out of a season of business: several years that felt like constant change and movement and very little rest.  A few years of the Lord’s seemingly constant calls to “Go”, “Move”, “Go”, “Do”, “Yes!” His blessings were numerous as He called us to constant change. Other than the tangible blessings of added children, one of the most precious blessings for us was one of endurance and faithfulness, as from 2014 to 2017 we gave birth to our daughter, moved across the country, went to China and adopted our daughter, went to China again and adopted our son, and then moved across the country again.  All the while, we also tried our very best to nurture and care for our children as we walked through and rejoiced in these busy years.  

Peace came after we finally landed here in North Carolina.  As we settled in and started our home school routine, it was now just the children and me.  No adoption paperwork.  No moving boxes.  No looming commitments.  Just us. Day in and day out: teaching, learning, building with blocks, playing kitchen, riding bikes, reading books, making meals, exploring new museums, snuggling in front of movies, playing at the park, enjoying each other.  As the weeks passed, I noticed in this peace, we were becoming even more closely knit than before.  

In this period of peace and slower days, the Lord is teaching me that He is here in the everyday too.  As we worked through two adoptions and two moves, it was easy to feel my need for the Lord’s strength and easy to see Him moving in big ways.  Although adopting and moving were both hard, it was also—dare I say it?—fun to step far outside our normal to do work He was calling us to.  In those years of turmoil and busy activity, I leaned heavily on the Lord for guidance, endurance, hope, and courage.  Now, I knew He was calling us to a quieter season and I felt some anxiety about my relationship with Him.  Would He still whisper truths to me as I moved through weeks that ran together in seemingly identical days?  Would my Spirit still ache for time with him without the pressing need of huge life events? 

I have been humbled and delighted at just how often He still speaks to me in this time of stillness and quiet.  It’s not the big events that cause me to hear His voice, but the condition of my heart.  I am reminded of Psalm 51: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it, you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart.”  Although He may call us to do, go, and be, it is not the act He desires most: but the willing, obedient heart and spirit.  

I do hear His whispers still.  And I see Him move.  He teaches me now of contentment in sameness.  My joy overflows as I get to be at home, experiencing school and life with my children.  He whispers truths about caring for their hearts, teaching them, protecting them, advocating for them, and praying over them.

There is joy in the peace and stillness.  There is joy because He is still here.  He has given us this sweet season of rest, and we are soaking up every moment.  Even as we enjoy this season, we hear Him say “There is more work ahead…” and we know He has more for us to “do”, “go”, and “move”. The vision is becoming clear but it is not for now…for now, we enjoy His presence and His directive to just “Be still.”