Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What I Know Best

We have spent the last week doing things around the house. Crafts were done and lots of art was painted. Games were played and books were read and things were fairly quiet. Normally words flow with ease, but it took me three days to write a one paragraph bio on Vika. The program wanted to show her bio to prospective adoptive parents. I struggled hard to find words when what I really wanted to write was instructions followed by a questionnaire. What I really wanted to write was:

 Do you promise to teach her about Jesus?

Do you promise to love her unconditionally?

Do you promise to show grace when she fails?

Do you promise to give lots of hugs?

Do you promise to advocate for her education?

But in the end, with much prayer it ended up being a bio and not a questionnaire. And I asked the Lord a million times if He was sure. Was He sure that He had this under control? Was He sure that we are doing the right thing? Was He sure that it was going to be ok? Was He sure He didn’t need my help? Didn’t need me to intervene and save the day? Surely He allowed me to have a part so I could take over and fix this mess. Right?

I confessed to Brian that I wish I was the person people think I am. I wish I was stronger. I wish that I never had doubts. I wish my identity was always rock solid in Christ and I never doubted what He says to or about me. But, it would be such a mistake for anyone to think that I "have it all together". My Bible is not a road map to my life. Its often a life vest that keeps me from drowning. Verses are underlined because I forget what God reveals 5 minutes after He teaches me. And Psalms is covered in tear stains because that is where I run when it gets hard. I run there when I need to read how even people like David struggled because I always seem to forget that no one has EVER had it all together. NOT.ONE.EVER. No one but Jesus, of course. (This is me giving us all permission to stop trying). 

I slip to the backyard to lay out for a few minutes while the little ones nap. I tell the girls I need some time in the sun, but it would be more accurate to say I need some time with the Son. And sunglasses hide tears that can’t be held back. And a lawn chair forces me to be still and look up. Praise music reminds me for the millionth time about those verses I already underlined but forget to cling to. I look at the clouds and I have to confess to Him that I see them but I have no clue how He forms them. I feel the warmth from the sun but I have no idea how He holds it there in place, causing it to rise and set at just the right time. I cry and I confess I have turned to the idol of “self reliance” (ummm....again) and I repent. I remember that I am small, and honestly it’s a huge relief.

I lay down the weight that I carried on my shoulders. I lay down responsibility for her future. I lay down the expectations of others. I lay down the desire to control and choose instead to obey.   

I was never meant to be anybody’s savior. I needed a Savior myself.

“I can’t.”
And He whispers softly.
I can.

And because I remember I am free. Free to spend my nights doing what I know best. I tell her what I do know. I know what it feels like to hurt. I know that God can redeem anything. I know that God loves her. She is known. She is NOT forgotten. There has never been a moment that He left her side. And as the tears stream down her face and mine, I tell her on and on. And sometimes I hold her and I run my hands through her hair as I tell her about how He knows her and He loves her. And I don’t know how God will redeem this mess. I know He will, though.

No, really…. I KNOW.

And the beauty of it is that Love would go that far. Love would fly her across the world just to tell her she is not invisible. She is known and she is loved. And I feel sure there’s more. But for now I can rest in that because I am not called to be the savior. I am not called to see the big picture or to make the plans. I’m called to walk. I’m called to love. So I will walk, and I will love.

And honestly, tomorrow I will probably forget. I will get overwhelmed and might even let my own thoughts beat me to death until I finally run back to that Bible. And when I turn there I will go straight for the pages with the most tear stains.  

And He will remind me of what I know best.

Futures are always best held in nail-scarred hands. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

On Our Knees

It's been an emotional couple of days around here. I have had a hard time finding the words to explain it when I am still processing it all myself. 

If you have been around me any length of time you know that the two things I talk about most are God and my family. Or it might be what God has done for my family. Or maybe what God is doing in my family. I can't help it, y'all. Its what excites me, they are what I love. So Vika has heard about Jesus' love for her since she got here. She has been told how she is precious to Him, she has been to church, she has been to VBS. She has, by her request, watched The Story of Jesus for Children again and again. And she has eaten up every word of every bit of it. 

At night we tell them its time for bed and she hugs us goodnight and goes to bed without complaint. But under her door I can always see the light is still on. One night when Brian went out to the car he saw her blinds were open and could see she was up reading. "Reading?", I had questioned, "but she doesn't have any books yet. All she has is a Bible and she doesn't seem interested and I think it is hard to read!" He shook his head, "I don't know what to tell you, Babe, she is reading." I talked to her about closing the blinds when it is dark but every night as she goes to bed the light stays on. A few nights later, the blinds were open again and same thing. She's clearly up reading. 

While driving she saw a cross on the side of the road and pointed it out to me. I forgot about it by the time we were home but she didn't. She asked, via translator, about the cross and what it meant. I explained that people put those at the scene of car accidents when someone dies. I explained it was a way of remembering a loved one. "But", I added, "If you happen to see one in a yard it means something different. Then it means that person has accepted Jesus as their Savior". She just looked at me. 

"Vika, do you know what that means? For Jesus to be your Savior?"

She shakes her head "no". 

I felt my heart literally ache. Because I remember what life was like before I knew. I remember that awful emptiness inside. I remember how much more painful everything is when you don't have that Hope. So I ask if she would like me to tell her more about it. She shook her head "yes" and I could tell by her eyes she was serious. I went to a website I am familiar with and I pulled up a simple Gospel tract that explains it in the most simple way I know how. Then I pulled it up in her own language. 

And she was engrossed. 

I watched her eyes slowly drink up the words. How we were separated from God because no one can be perfect and we have a sinful nature. And how God loved her so much that He gave His one and only Son to live a perfect life and die on a cross to pay the penalty for those sins. For her sins. And how she can have forgiveness. And eternal life. And freedom. And peace. And LOVE. It explained how He wanted to save her, help her, call her daughter. And it explains how to make this free gift her own. If only I could have climbed inside her mind and seen what she was thinking. 

Our ability to communicate is so limited. I asked her when she was done if this was new to her. She said "yes". I asked if it was interesting. She typed "I'm very interested. Thank you." We talked some and I told her I had ordered her lots of Christian books. Some were just to read for fun. Some would help her understand the Bible or explain the stories Jesus taught. She seemed happy about this. 

Later that evening we were sitting with the laptop again. Headed into a new week with no plans seemed like a relief to me and I was hoping to find some meaningful/ fun activities for us to all do together. I gave her options - have you ever baked cookies from scratch? Do you want to do some painting or crafts? She just shrugged. This doesn't help. With no ideas as to what she was thinking, I tried prompting her to think about activities she enjoyed. As I typed she shrugged, so I tried to think of more open ended questions. "What has been your favorite thing about America so far"? She grabbed the laptop- she had thought of something. She typed her answer and tilted the computer toward me. 

"That you are my mother."

I looked at her, into teary eyes and my throat instantly closed up. Luckily, she turned the computer back toward her and started typing because I was speechless. She proceeded with adulation I don't deserve. She said I was the kindest woman she has ever known, which made my heart hurt and convicted me all in one fell swoop. Then she paused and thought a while. 

"Thank you for everything". 

A few moments later it was time for bed. She always gives bedtime hugs so long and so strong that you wonder if she cracked any ribs. I don't want to correct her since she is so emotionally fragile so I just learned to position myself so that her arms are not around the lower, smaller, more fragile ribs. (Really ya'll, she is stronger than she looks!) Tonight she was less animated with her hug but she lingered long. I never pull away from her- I let her be the one to pull away because while I get an abundance of hugs everyday I am aware that she probably doesn't even get a hug everyday. She lingered so long I began to feel that pull in her chest. And you Mamas know that pull - the one when your little one is crying and trying not to make a sound. She buried her face and her chest started to pull harder until it was obvious she was bawling. I didn't know what to do, so I just held her. I ran my fingers through her hair and tried to comfort like I would my own. I just kept saying "Its ok". When she finally pulled away I wiped her tears and she went to hug Brian and went to bed. She made no attempt to talk about it and I wasn't about to make her. So she went to bed. 

But I could see under the door that the light was on. And I was GLAD. I hoped she was reading that Book- the only one that has the ability to comfort and heal and fill voids that are too big for me to put a real dent into. I don't know, ya'll. We are on week 4 of 7 and I don't know what to do next. But we will keep loving and sharing and moving forward. And I can assure you of only one thing. 

We will be going forward on our knees. 

Friday, July 20, 2012


It was sometime after the boys were born that we started using the phrase “sleepy sickness”. This is when little ones hit the point of exhaustion and the only thing that could make them act human and reasonable again is sleep.

Yesterday, Gavin had the sleep sickness.

And so did Mama.

It was my fault. After a long, action packed week I decided that even though it was our last night of VBS I could “squeeze in” a movie and lunch with friends that day and still have time to give the boys a nap. But these things never go as planned. By nap time my patience was wearing thin so I gave Vika clear instructions that it was quiet time and she had to find something quiet to do so she did not disturb the boys. She said “ok” and promptly went off to do as I asked. But not much later when the house was silent and Gavin was finally asleep, she flies out of her room yelling for me. This isn’t the first time it has happened and I find myself annoyed. I type into my phone and translate “it is quiet time right now. Is this urgent?” She shakes her head “yes”.  I find the laptop and I sit as she types out a request. When I read it, my frustration bubbles up and it’s a struggle to keep it hidden. She is asking a question about later. It is nothing that needs to be answered now. I take a deep breath and type into the translator. "Vika, this isn’t urgent. Please do not disturb quiet time. I need to finish ironing these clothes so Papa can wear them to work tomorrow. I haven’t had time and I won’t have time tonight." She quickly says “oh ok” and heads back to her room. But I hear the bathroom door close behind us. Gavin is awake 30 minutes into his nap. And folks, we all know 30 minutes isn’t long enough to cure the sleepy sickness.

Vika has never been mothered and it shows. Even though I feel like she should be able to wait an hour to ask for something simple, she has experienced years of uncertainty whether an adult would hear her request or attend to it. And to expect her to feel that security now, after only 3 weeks, is unfair. Sure, there is a balance somewhere and I pray we will find it. Soon. Every 5 seconds I am interrupted for a new request and it wears a Mama down. But what feels like constant demands to me is really a little girl who has someone to mother her for the first time. And more than she wants another sheet of paper, or a question answered, or another activity, I think she wants to be mothered. And 3 weeks of constant attention doesn’t fill a 13 year void.

Vika loved VBS. Especially music and crafts.

And its hard. Its hard for all of us. I drove to VBS last night and I was exhausted and empty. I prayed silently that God would change my heart and my attitude. I knew the Truth, I just didn’t feel it. 

And that is the hardest truth about loving someone. Even the people we love the most- our children, our spouses, anyone. Some days we aren’t going to feel it. But what defines us is not how we feel moment to moment. Not unless we let emotions rule our lives. My best friend is my husband and today I look at him with butterflies and adoration. But can I just tell you - there were days during the last 12 years when I didn't. And what if I had quit when I didn't feel it? I would have missed these days.

The very best days.  

Yes, real love is steady when the feelings wash back and forth like the waves. Yes, real love is much harder than that temporary feeling the world calls "love". So in those moments when we are tired or things are hard, what do we cling to? Where do we find the strength to press on?

Joshua 1:9  "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."

Last night God answered my desperate requests while I watched the kids perform their VBS songs. I had given Vika the option to sit out if she didn’t want to get on stage but she really wanted to get up there. I had to wonder if it was because she is outgoing or because, for the first time, she had someone sitting in the audience watching her. This night, there was someone there watching her and taking pictures of her. For this one night, she had a Mama and a Papa in the audience.

And she was glowing. 

And I watched her pour her heart into those moves to songs though she probably didn’t understand 90% of them. And I longed for her to know. And on one particular song the words shot straight to the core of me, penetrating my heart and my soul. I was grateful to be in the front row because my tears threatened to break free and I knew that this night that would mean a flood. A flood of emotion, of weariness, and of gratitude.  

They sang:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
Who died and rose again
Worthy to receive all power
Worthy to receive all praise
Jesus is worthy.”

And in that moment I remembered. This is why we press on and press in. When marriage is hard, or your children are requiring everything you have, if a circumstance or even a person demands too much- or maybe you are like us, and you have wounded children in your house and you feel like you will never make a difference in the face of overwhelming needs. We must keep pressing in, we must keep asking God to do what we can’t, and by all means we must love no matter the cost. Because that is how He loves us. We love even when we are tired. We love because love is a verb; not a noun. It is an action and not a feeling. And most importantly, Love is a Person.

And may He be what defines us. 

Because He is worthy.  The music and the Truth echoes in my ears and in my heart today. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.”

Folks, Jesus is worthy. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

One of Many

The blog has been quiet the last few days but I assure you, life has not! 

I could tell you so many stories. So many examples of His faithfulness swirl around in my head, but I will share one of many. A few days ago Isabella had officially grown tired of sharing her bike. She had been such an amazing sport! But one night, like every other Vika started pleading for us to let them go out on bikes again. Isabella's face fell, knowing that Vika would be taking her bike. Brian said "Ok, enough of this... I am going to run to goodwill and find a used bike". I told him I had been keeping an eye out since long before Vika got here. Since our girls are on them every night I had anticipated her wanting one. "They never have them there" I had said. 

Oh ye of little faith. 

Brian ran to the closest goodwill and Isabella went with him. Sure enough they found a bike, and although it was a boy's bike Brian decided it would do since we only need it for a month. BUT, while standing in line Isabella was sitting on it, and a complete stranger walked up to Brian and said "were you looking for a girl's bike?". Brian told him he actually was, and the man said "I have one at home you can have if you want it." And so, an hour later Brian was home with a girl's bike in just the size we needed (for free). It is obviously older but it suits our needs perfectly. 

Folks, He cares. 

He delights in her. And He delights in all of us

Yes, God has opened my eyes to a million examples of how He is intimately involved in the details of each day. 

Lots of smiles lately

His love for her is fiercely protective and in passionate pursuit of her heart. 
And He never gets overwhelmed or says there are bigger needs out there so she will have to wait. He gives ALL of Himself to each of us. 

And usually I am "ye of little faith". But my faith is starting to grow as I realize that I haven't been given a slice of God's power or His grace (although I have to think even a slice would be more than I could imagine). He promises all. Somehow. And so it doesn't matter that I am just one and the needs seem overwhelming to me. 

Because He is all-powerful. 

I'm learning more than my heart can pour into a blog. And loving like this- it can be hard. But folks, I think this feels like really living. I think this is what He meant by "abundant life". There is a closeness in the hard that I have never been able to manufacture during the "easy". Loving a stranger. Living for something bigger than myself and my usual vain pursuits- yielding my plans and my days for His purposes. My investment is so, so small but ours is a God who multiples (remember that whole fish and bread and feeding the multitudes thing He did? Yeah, that). 

And this time I don't have to quit out of frustration or be overwhelmed by the need. Because I'm not doing it anyway- HE is. 

Ephesians 2:10 says "we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." He doesn't need me to figure it out. He's got this. The plan, the needs, the Victory. 

Yes, He's got this. I'm bringing nothing to the table here other than willingness. But His power is made perfect in weakness and so I am able to accomplish what He has prepared for me for the day. So needs are met, and love is invested. Not because of me, but because of Him.

So today I won't be frustrated by the needs all over the world, but instead I will choose to trust and pray for those needs believing He hears and He acts when I pray. Because I want to see God move mountains for these invisible children- and for all those who don't know how He loves them. I want to see lives completely transformed by a Love we can't comprehend. I want to see a flood of the Holy Spirit here like I've only read about in books. 

I want REVIVAL. 

And somehow, deep down I believe I'm not just one. 

I believe I'm one of many. 

"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."  - Matthew 16:18  (Emphasis mine. That's red letter, folks) 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Love and Laughter

Yesterday we went swimming. I'm so thankful for a sweet friend who offered up her pool (and her ear, her laughter, and her crew of kids) to make the day great. Vika LOVED the pool. She had told me she could not swim but it turned out she did know how. And I am using the word "swim" loosely here- as there was lots of flailing arms and splashing at first. But hey- no one had to jump in after her so I call it swimming!! 

She LOVED the diving board and despite the fact that every single attempt at diving ended up a belly flop - she kept trying. We just learned to laugh as her head popped up smiling and she insisted it didn't hurt and went back to try again. Despite lots of instruction- even by my friend's son who speaks Russian-  she just couldn't seem to bend at the waist! But she was smiling the whole time and said it was her favorite of all the things she has done so far. 

Her new favorite

And with that.... her "bucket list" is complete. Looks like its time to dream some new dreams, Vika!!!

And for those of you who think the updates aren't enough and want to be a fly in the wall while we are hosting, I have to share these videos. Vika has loved "Dance Now" on the Wii and would play it 24/7 if we would let her. Aiden has watched her so much that he wants to join in and dance, but he watches carefully the whole time to make sure Mom isn't pulling out her camera. If he even thinks I might be taking a picture or filming he scurries away back to privacy. So I usually get lots of video like this..... 

But on one rare occasion he forgot to keep one eye on Mom and I collected this rare footage of what happens when Aiden stops being shy and lets the real rock star shine through. Do NOT mention this to him because he will NOT be happy with Mom - but when you are 6 years old there is no real legal recourse, so......

The end is the best. Wait for it.... wait for it...... 

Happy Wednesday!

"I believe there is a direct correlation between love and laughter." 
                                                                      - Yakov Smirnoff  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Most Radical Kind of Obedience

Yesterday I met with a friend who happens to be Russian and for the first time I was able to really communicate with Vika. It gave me a lot of insight and it was helpful in the most unexpected ways, too. It really confirmed what I felt like God was asking of us- and what He wasn’t. Brian and I are crystal clear and on the same page about it and for that I am thankful. But we should have know that- He already said "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21). Remind me never to doubt Him. 

We have learned so much more in the past 9 days than we usually learn over several months time. And it’s not at all what we thought we would be learning. It’s a very different thing to love and invest in a teenager- especially one who has years of living as an orphan behind her. It often doesn’t come naturally and it takes lots of understanding and effort to see things through her eyes. Just for one example, she doesn’t recognize that we are a family unit. As Brian said, she just sees us as people who all live in a house. She is very vocal about the fact that she loves Mama, Papa, Kayla, and Gavin. Because when you have not known what “family” really means everyone is an individual. For the most part Aiden is oblivious to the fact that she merely tolerates him because he is young and doesn’t know any better. Isabella, on the other hand, feels every bit of it and wears it on her face. So Sunday after church everyone ate lunch and then Isabella and I went out for some much needed “Mommy-daughter” time. We bought groceries – because lets be real- Mama doesn’t actually have any free time- but first we talked over ice cream. I reassured her of her oh-so-secure place in this family and we got to talk about why we wanted Vika to come in the first place and what it means to love like Christ loves. She is my most sensitive child and yet so eager to try and love like Christ in the face of rejection. And I think she is doing a pretty fantastic job of it to only be 10. Actually, I think she is doing a pretty fantastic job- period.

Vika is a sweet, precious girl but there is so much she still has to learn about love and family. God has put her in our home for seven weeks and that means we have been given some big challenges and also an awesome opportunity. I don’t believe God ever does anything without some eternal value, and I think we are beyond blessed to get a part in that.

The thing that has helped most has been seeing other people come to stand beside us and help. God has been faithful every step of the way. 


And the majority of the time that happens through other people. A couple of friends gave us clothes their girls’ had outgrown- which fit just right and relieved what would have been a big financial burden on us if we had to purchase all those things. We had purchased a few things already and just a few things adds up fast. Of course, we should have already known He would take care of that, too because in Matthew 6 He said “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:28-33). Yeah- that is me- the "you of little faith" part. Remind me to trust Him. 

Another friend sat down to translate so we could communicate, helped us get tons of Christian music in her language, and even the Bible on audio so she can understand it. She let us borrow good movies and helped us find a place to get good books (that I never would have found by myself). Another friend offered up her place if we want to take Vika away for a couple of days to experience her first ever “family vacation” while she is here. Saturday my mom brought crafts to keep all the kids entertained while we sat and talked and stuffed our faces with chips. Others have prayed and sent notes of encouragement at JUST the right moment. This weekend I had an hour to sit with sweet “sisters” and pray together and talk about joys and struggles—and that my friends, is priceless. Sometimes even to be able to listen to someone else’s honesty about their own struggles reminds us it’s ok if it’s hard sometimes.

And the most amazing thing is- that with each of these people it appears as if they are really convinced these are small things. It is as if they don’t know that is just what we needed that day to be reminded that we are not in this alone. To remind us what we are doing here and to remind us that we are just one part of the body of Christ- because let’s be honest- we couldn’t handle the responsibility of being more than one small part. There are things we want to invest that we simply couldn’t do by ourselves. And there are days we feel our own frailty and shortcomings. When the demands start before the coffee does- a little encouragement goes a long way.

And the lesson is this: that we are ALL called. And “called” doesn’t mean what you think. Some of you will be called to go to foreign lands and share Christ with those who have never heard the Gospel. Most of you probably won’t. But you are still called. If you belong to Christ He has a purpose for you in every day. Only He knows what that looks like. Learn to cling tight and listen for His instructions. But don’t miss them because they sound insignificant or don’t make sense to you. 

Somewhere along the way we bought into the lie that we only serve God when it looks “big”- when it involves great sacrifice. And yes, Jesus may very well ask us to sell everything and give it to the poor- that’s Biblical, folks. Sorry! 

But He could just as easily ask you to send a friend a note of encouragement. Or He may tell you who needs those clothes you just cleaned out of your kid’s closet. It may be feeding your friend a fruit smoothy and giving her an hour to talk – or even- to NOT talk. It could be a meal, a note, a call, an invitation. It could be taking cookies to that neighbor you wouldn’t recognize if they were standing next to you in the grocery store line. I mean, seriously- our neighbors- they have souls.

And then there are the orphans. And we are suppose to care for them. I have seen estimates that there are anywhere from 143 million to 160 million orphans in the world. No one will serve them all. But we can all serve. Some will adopt, some will host or foster, some will donate money or time. Others will pick up the phone and call a friend who is doing one of those things and ask “do you need anything”?

Because here is the thing- it all matters. And if you want to love there is a good chance that the person standing right in front of you needs it. God has given you exactly what you need to fulfill your call. It won’t be comfortable but it won’t be impossible. And it WILL be rewarding.

So what is it He is prompting you to do today? We will never know unless we take the time to sit and listen- and the answer might just surprise us.

Because it all matters. And the most radical kind of obedience is not the “biggest” or most showy.

 It’s the kind that shows up everyday. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

People are messy

Yesterday was hard. HARD. 

I wanted to cry.  Let's be honest. I cried. In the privacy of my closet I had a moment. In that moment I wanted to quit. There.... I said it. 

Today has officially been a week since Vika got here so it is probably normal for everyone to be tired. Before she came, I thought that things were always a bit “chaotic” with four children running around. Now I realize that there is a rhythm between us all whether I realized it or not. At times it is almost like a finely tuned orchestra. My children know me. They know my looks and they know when its intended for them. With only the lift of an eyebrow I can remind Isabella to use her “inside voice”. My children know my habits, routines, and pet peeves. They know me so well that when Kayla sits next to me in the passenger seat she automatically reaches into my purse and pulls out my sunglasses before I ask if she can hand them to me. 

Finely tuned orchestra.

And then.

Then someone completely new comes into the picture and its like adding a drummer with completely different sheet music. Suddenly, mainly because of a language barrier- there is a shift and much of the energy of the house revolves around her. Much of my energy revolves around her. And she is 13, but she rarely really IS 13. She is so needy in some ways- like in the area of affection or reassurance- that at times she makes the 6 year old look independent. And five minutes later she is mimicking me and trying to be the Mama- and she is clearly not- and her attempts to be Mama aren’t appreciated by anyone including me. There are cultural differences so vast that I can’t jump the hurdles without explanation and I find it hard to explain via unpredictable translators.

We went swimsuit shopping yesterday which should have been my first clue it was going to be a hard day! I mean, really? Swimsuit shopping with an American teenager - my teenager - made for a stressful day that day! We found a swimsuit and tried to get out of the store but she didn’t understand why I wouldn’t buy her the other things she asked for. She has no concept of money much less how to manage it. America certainly is not the land of moderation- and its hard to communicate the reasons for "no" when everything she knows and sees here screams “the land of excess”.

So it was impossible to know if what appeared to be a bad mood was really pouting or sadness or a sign that she was weary after an entire week of not even being able to speak because no one would understand you if you did. I mean, I'd probably fall out and die if I had to go a whole week. Y'all know me- I'm a wordy girl. 

The thing is… people are messy. And there are reasons behind their behavior whether we see it or not. For six days she has picked Gavin up constantly, kissing all over him and tickling him and getting chaos started. While I spend my time trying to get him to settle down- she spends all her time getting him riled up and making him squeal and run around the house. I try to nicely correct her and tell her when its too much and really time to quit - navigating the land mines of a fragile, delicate child that easily misunderstands correction for rejection. I just decide to overlook the fact that though I don’t allow him to have gum he has been through a pack of hers since she has been here because I need to pick my battles and the other things bother me more. And then finally, when I am frustrated beyond belief- she reveals that though there are small children in her orphanage- she is not allowed to play with them. She can see them- but is not allowed to interact. And suddenly it starts to make sense. To be able to reach out and interact with a small child- its a luxury and a joy she has never known. Its not just a joy to be loved- its an unfamiliar luxury to be able to love. 

Yes, people are messy. In general they are messy. People behave the way they do for a reason. And we unknowingly make decisions all day about which ones will receive our kindness and our grace based on their behavior. We base it on behavior that is usually driven by hurt and brokenness. I do it all day everyday

And she has challenged me.

I made the extra effort with her only because though I cannot see the brokenness that drives her behavior, I know it is there. And this gives me the ability- through MUCH begging and pleading with God for help- to love her anyway. But a million times a day everyday I make snap judgements about the lady in front of me at Walmart or the cashier at the grocery store and decide they are just rude. I don’t care about their brokenness because my world revolves around me and my time, my convenience, and my agenda. But His agenda is for a broken world and for broken, messy people to know Him.

And this morning, I see for the first time the vast distances between His agenda and mine. 

But I also remember how much He loves me.

Even though I’m messy. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Mirror, Mirror

I ask repeatedly, “is there something new you want to try” or “is there something else you would like to experience?” and she doesn’t even know what to ask for. Brian recounts the times he told people in Iraq that here we have paved roads everywhere, and big houses, and more than one car – only have them shake their heads and reply “yeah, right.” Her mind can’t wrap around my world anymore than I can wrap my mind around hers. I could give her so much more. Her dreams, though important to me, seem so extremely small in comparison to what I have to offer. And I hear God whispering about how familiar this looks.

You have not because you ask not.

She studies my face and it must be scrunched up in disapproval- probably because of the noise level coming from the 3 and 6 year olds squealing when they know to use "inside voices" in the house. But my look of disapproval is immediately interpreted as meant for her and she frantically looks around for what is making me upset or what she needs to be doing. After dinner she wipes the table clean in an obvious attempt to try and earn favor or be seen as having value. Silly girl. We wiped out our savings account- and put some dreams on hold and in God’s hands for one single goal- to show you that you do have worth; to show you that you are so much more valuable that you know. It breaks my heart when you try to earn my love or prove you have value. We already know that. It’s YOU that needs to believe it. Again He whispers softly.

Silly girl. Do you not remember that I already came for you? My one and only Son… and His blood spilled all over a cross to buy you back from the darkness?

Yes, in so many ways she is a mirror. But I wish she would stop trying so hard and just enjoy what we are trying to give her. I wish she could get to know us and then she might realize how much she could really ask for and receive. Lord, why can’t she just see that?

Why can’t you?

And its true, ya know. A little over 10 years ago something remarkable happened. I realized I needed a relationship with God. And I believed what I heard- that even though I could never be good enough and could never be perfect- that He had made a way for me to live forever in heaven with Him anyway. To be a daughter. He had made a great sacrifice and sent His only Son, His spotless, perfect, Holy Son. And He didn’t just die. He drank down every ounce of God’s wrath- the wrath that I deserved- the wrath evoked by every lie I ever told, every sin I ever committed…. Jesus drank that cup of wrath and turned it over empty. None left for me. None

There is no wrath left for those of us who believe. Then He gave His very life. For me. And for you. And if we would just believe then we are adopted as sons and daughters- with access to more than we could ever imagine or know to ask for.

And yet....

Sometimes I find myself working for the wrong reasons. You know- just in case He changes His mind about me. (I mean, I would if I were Him). But His promises say He never will. And it’s unfitting- a daughter behaving so much like an orphan.

But something magical is happening here. The more I realize how little I have to offer God- the more free I feel to walk in His grace. The more I want to worship. The more I want to dance and sing with joy. The more I want to tell others.

I certainly want to tell her.

And I have this crazy thought. Maybe, just maybe, this is why God designed us to function “in the body of Christ”. Maybe we were not suppose to slave away wasting precious energy hiding our weaknesses. Maybe the whole point is to walk openly and be so aware of His grace that it easily flows to others. Her weaknesses draw out my compassion and grace. And they mirror for me my own weaknesses so I can be more aware of His.

Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who’s the purest of them all?

 Jesus. No one but Jesus.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. - Romans 5:8 

“to the One who remembered us in our low estate
His love endures forever.
and freed us from our enemies, 
His love endures forever.
and who gives food to every creature.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven. 
His love endures forever.”   Psalm 136:23-26

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Day 5 - America

Yesterday was a great day. Equipped with a good night's sleep I woke up ready for whatever the day would bring and as it turned out, it was pretty laid back anyway. We hung around the house all day and finally that afternoon I had to run the grocery store. Vika wanted to go so she and Kayla piled in the van with me and we headed to Publix. I just didn't think I wanted to introduce Vika to Walmart in Phenix City on the 4th of July. (Its still a little overwhelming for me, folks.) 

She was very excited to go and really wanted to push the cart. We walked through the store and she was rather quiet except for the few times she saw something she recognized. The she would say "Mama! Sausage!" as if to show off her English. I decided to get some soda, which is a treat at our house since I don't want the kids drinking it in a regular basis. I picked it up and showed her and said "soda" and she smiled and said "Coca-cola". Yes, coca cola is another one of those universal things! She didn't ask for anything while we were there so I pulled out my handy dandy Google translator to ask if there was something special she would like to try. She smiled and shrugged. She didn't even know what to ask for. I already had a few treats planned over the next week so we headed out and she finally asked for a pack of gum at the register. This girl loves her gum. 

We came home and I made dinner before we headed to the 4th of July celebration downtown. We joined up with some friends and watched some people performing before the fireworks show. It amazes me the little things that bring such awe for Vika. Of course she was extremely excited to see the crowds, the vendors, and all of the excitement. But she showed genuine awe and excitement when people would lose their balloons and they flew up in the sky. I mean the girl still expresses awe over ice cubes. Yes, ice cubes. She puts them in her cup and pushes them down a few times to watch them float back up. 

Sorry about the picture quality- I was taking them with my phone!
So, we had been looking forward to her experiencing the fireworks. And she was excited as we had predicted. It is such a rewarding thing. When Brian and I had all the kids in bed last night he compared it to all those special moments you get to experience as your child grows up- and you witness all their firsts and the wonder and excitement that comes along with it. When you host a child who comes from hard places where they have nothing, you get the honor of witnessing all those firsts wrapped up in one week. He commented, "Its a strange thing to be able to check off someone's entire bucket list in a week". I agree. It's an odd feeling. 

I don't recommend taking firework pictures with a phone. But whatev. 


I spent 11 years as a military wife so I suppose I will always feel pride when I hear the national anthem and always get a little teary when they raise a flag. I have had a glimpse of the sacrifice behind that flag. But to watch these celebrations with someone who knows nothing of our abundant blessings.... makes me more aware than ever how much we have. Brian spent three years in Iraq and has witnessed so much that gives him some frame of reference to understand what it might be like for her to have nothing and come here and suddenly have everything. I have never known anything but American abundance so it's hard to wrap my mind around. 

It is overwhelming because as great as it is it begs the question... what then? Are we making a long term impact? We felt called to live out Isaiah 1:17 and bring justice to the orphan but I keep praying "Lord, what does justice for Vika look like"? But I know I tend to rush ahead. So I remind myself that it is only Day 5. And I remember how excited she was and how tight she squeezed me before bed. And I have to be thankful for that and rest in something I heard in a song yesterday at that celebration. 

"No one knows what tomorrow holds except the One who holds tomorrow." 
                        - Jonathan and Lisa Moore

God bless America. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Day 4 - A Promise Is A Promise

Today started out a little rough. I woke up exhausted and there were plenty of demands waiting for me before I even poured my coffee. At noon I finally got a shower. At 3:00 I finally ate lunch. But I brought back mandatory naptime- for the boys at least- and told the girls they had to find something quiet to do. Vika was happy to draw quietly with Isabella while the boys slept and Mama sat on the couch listening to the quiet and getting reacquainted with her sanity.

After naptime it was getting late but I had promised her that I would take her to buy yarn today. So, off we went to Hobby Lobby. Vika got to pick a color for the blanket Kayla planned to make her. Then I let her pick yarn for herself to knit something. Of course, she only picked one skein of yarn and I don’t know of a project that doesn’t take at least two. So I had to encourage her to get two and told her if she needed more we could come back. I bought her some knitting needles and she seemed to know what kind she needed so I am curious to see if “enjoys” knitting is the same as "being good at knitting”. Either way, if it entertains her and makes her happy it’s a win I guess.

Speaking of promises, Papa showed her “how to make the hamburger”.  :)  She was really excited to get to help. We all had dinner and she seemed to enjoy eating together and even helping. 

She asked to wipe down the table and wanted to help me dry the dishes. I wonder at times if she wants to help or just feels the need to impress us. I wish I could see into her thoughts to know the difference. But for now I encourage her helping so she sees the “real” parts of being a family- working as a team. I hope it makes her feel less “out of place".

Four days in she still hasn’t asked any questions about us despite me asking repeatedly if there is anything she would like to know. I think I would feel better if she was curious, but maybe the new hasn’t worn off yet. All in all, today was a pretty good day.

To cap off the night I had one last promise to keep. Gavin was the only one who hadn’t gotten to run an errand with Mama today and I think he senses the most that there is less of Mama to go around. So we went down to the store together- just Gavin and Mama- and I let him pick out whatever candy his heart desired just as I had promised. He went for some little $ .25 candy and got all excited. “Mama, can I get one to share with the others”? I smiled at his request. “You can get five; one for everyone”.

His face lit up. “One for everybody? YEAH!” and he counted them out and proudly carried them to the counter. Then he brought home his bag and marched around the house handing them out one by one. Once everyone else had theirs he sat to open his own.

One for the others. 

Yes, Gavin, I do believe we are starting to get it. Be excited about the little things but never, ever forget about “the others”.