Monday, September 25, 2017

Bobcats and Coffee Mugs

There are few things more important to me than being transparent and honest. Here's the truth about me: as much as I believe God is real, I still have doubts. Most days they are fleeting but sometimes I wonder if He's really there and really hears me. I'm so grateful that He's an amazing father and uses those moments to grow my faith.

I remember the first time I went to China and met Liam, I wondered if I could find Him there. I was in a country that had basically made Him illegal and working in an orphanage full of fatherlessness. I wondered if we were ready to adopt and if we could manage a 6 year old boy. One night after getting settled in to Xi'an, we went to a local Wal-Mart type store looking for some supplies. I saw a large table display of coffee mugs piled high. All of them were plain or had some basic design but no words. After looking through them, I realized one had writing and it was a Bible verse. 



Early this Spring, I attended our church's women's conference for the first time. I remembered that they give our little cards to all the women who attend that are supposed to be a specific word for just that woman. I was excited to see what my card said but that nagging doubt in my brain said, 'It's just a random piece of paper'. When I was handed my card, I figured it was just a nice word of encouragement and wouldn't mean anything special to me. Then I turned it over.


Last month, I was flying to St. Louis in uniform and an older man behind me started talking to me about what I do and about his service. We finished talking and he took the seat behind me. I again, had this nagging doubt come over me about whether God was listening. A few minutes later, the man slipped a plastic version of this coin between the seats to me.
After all these little messengers, I feel like Joshua 1 is how He lets me know He's there. And I need to remember the powerful words He's saying in that chapter. He's really with me wherever I go no matter if that is into adoption, into a new season of ministry or to work.

This morning, I was out running in a local park and telling God that as much as I don't miss running in the Arabian desert every night, I kinda missed the desert foxes. Many nights last year, when I was out running, a little sandy colored fox would cross in front of me. Some nights it would have a mouse in its mouth, other times it would have a little trail of kits trotting along behind. They took me by surprise at first but they didn't seem to mind us there and I began to enjoy seeing them. A few minutes after I thought about them, a large bobcat crossed in front of me on the trail the same way those foxes did. He glanced at me and kept moving back into the woods. I felt my Father say, "I hear you". That might have been a scary moment to some, but to me, it was just a kiss on the head from my dad. 

I believe that He speaks to us corporately and personally. I believe He knows what will reach each of us if we listen. Some days we desperately need a word of wisdom but some days we just need a coin or a mug or a bobcat telling us that He's here, He's real, and He's listening.



Monday, March 27, 2017

Obedience

I got my feelings hurt on Saturday. I threw a little pity party in my head to go along with it. I was mad because I was envious of a situation and realized that obeying what God has called me to is what led to not getting what I wanted. It took me about 24 hours before I looked up to heaven and said with all sincerity, "I want you more than what I'm throwing a fit over. I don't want to miss what you are doing and I'm not going to chase my own desires even if it hurts."

A couple of hours later I was in church and the first worship song started. I was thinking about obedience and how I was trying to obey Him more quickly.  I heard a whisper say, "What happens when your kids obey?"

Well, I can take them anywhere! I can take them to nice restaurants and not worry about them embarrassing me. I can take them on airplanes and on trips and we enjoy life when they obey.

Yes...what else..what about when your husband's boss came over?

I felt like my kids that night showed off my husband well. You know God, it showed that he was a good loving dad but when they acted so mature, it showed that he disciplined them well. I think it revealed some of my husband's character to others.

What about the other night when Susannah fell asleep on your shoulder?

Well, since she is such a good kid, it creates an environment of intimacy for us. We can spend time just being friends because I don't have to get after her about her attitude. We can watch movies and just be together without worrying about obedience because it is just a given. And I want to spend more time with her and vice versa because of that.
Wait...so you are saying that if I obey you
You can take me anywhere
I represent your character to the world
I help create an environment of intimacy where I can know you deeper?

I felt Him smile. He's not finished with me yet.

You are my friends if you do what I command. John 15:14

Monday, March 20, 2017

Unqualified




I heard several people say or post the following phrase after they had exhausted all their efforts recently: "I guess all we can do is pray".

It sounded like it was being said out of giving up as if they had done all the hard work and failed and now it was in God's hands. It didn't sound like faith but frustration. I posted on Facebook that prayer is the greatest and first thing we can ever do not a last ditch effort when all else fails. It is the greatest work in the kingdom and changes everything.

A couple of months later God, in a quiet voice in my spirit, asked me, "Did you mean that?" And here is the conversation that developed.

Me: Of course I mean it! You are the only one who can make the impossible become possible! Prayer is what moves mountains, changes the hearts of kings, and brings the dead to life.

God: What if I asked you to not worry about adopting in this season. No trips to visit orphans. What if I called you to pray?

Me: Well, that is different. You know I'm a 'faith without works is dead' kinda girl. I'm no prayer warrior. You created me to be a scientist and do things that can be measured and quantified. You might want to look elsewhere because I'm not qualified for this.

And then there were months of silence. China closed its doors for now for trips. We feel strongly that we aren't called to adopt again this year because of what God is doing in our careers. I saw families struggling every day with fundraising or their child's special need and I felt helpless.

Two weeks ago, in my Bible study group, we were supposed to quiet ourselves and just ask Him what He wanted from us. I didn't want to ask because I knew what He would say and I was readying myself again with all the excuses.

God: Are you ready to say yes? 

Me: What if I can't do this? What if I see no fruit from this? 

God: Just say yes

In that moment, I remembered what Bill Johnson had said at our church a few months before. I had written it in my Bible. "When you agree to do what you aren't qualified to do, that is what qualifies you." I saw a picture in my mind of all the fishermen who didn't lay down their nets, all the missionaries who never left their home, all the well-intentioned people who thought about adopting but never filled out a form. The only thing that would have qualified them was saying yes. I felt (and was!) completely unqualified to adopt a boy who had lived a life in an institution with a life threatening condition but He authored and completed every step. Because ultimately, it isn't about me at all.

I don't know yet what will come of this, how long He has called me to this, or where it is going. I know that He is changing my heart every day I get up, open my Bible, and say yes to praying for these children and families.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Ringing in the New Year



I've seen some Christian parents who want to keep the cultural significance of Chinese New Year in their child's life but have concern with the emphasis on spirits and luck.  I started reading all of the traditions that come with Chinese/Lunar New Year and I saw Jesus all over it. Christians have taken other cultures' traditions and holidays and used them as a way to celebrate God throughout history. I believe there is a way to remember the Chinese stories behind this holiday while modifying them for a Christian home.

The preparations for Chinese New Year begin with cleaning out your home and just having a fresh start. This is a great opportunity for all of us to do some early Spring cleaning and talk about the new life we all get with Christ. He washes away our sins and gives all of us new life. This could also be a great time to donate items that we don't need to those in our community who do.


See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19


People put up "god images" and/or Chinese phrases on their doors. Maybe this would be a good time to put up a new scripture in your home. This could be a word that God has laid on your heart for this year or this season. I believe we should be surrounded by His word.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9


Having a meal with friends and family on Chinese New Year is one of the central parts of celebrating. This is such an easy, fun way to bring Chinese New Year into your community. Invite people over and make or buy your favorite Chinese dishes. Fellowship and share stories of what God has done this last year.


They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. Acts 2:46



Another very big part of Chinese New Year is the color red and the giving of money in red envelopes. Instantly, I think about the precious blood of Jesus and the incredible gift He gave us all by dying for us. My kids earn money each week through doing their chores but I think it would be a beautiful way to celebrate if I gave them red envelopes in addition to their weekly "commission". We could talk about how Jesus gave himself for us, not because we earned it but because of His great love.

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 1 Peter 1:18-19

There are various ways people honor their ancestors during Chinese New Year but I think it is beautiful to stop and remember those we all have lost in our lives. Instead of having a shrine or sweeping tombs, a Christian family can talk about what we loved about those people who we have lost and the glorious hope we have of seeing them again. 

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13


The lantern festival is the end of the whole New Year celebration and an opportunity to talk about being a light in our community with Christ shining through us.


You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:14


So this is how our family will celebrate Chinese New Year. We will also talk about the Chinese origins and hopefully attend some local events by cultural groups in our area.

Friday, December 30, 2016

One Little Word



A couple of years ago, the church we attended urged us to prayerfully consider a word for the year. I felt that my word for 2015 was going to be "savor". I didn't know what that meant in the midst of our adoption process but after feeling confirmation, I went with it.

That year God took me through savoring the lessons He was teaching me in humility through fundraising our adoption. I learned to savor our little family of 3 girls while we waiting for our little emperor. I savored our time in China even though it wasn't easy. I savored the six months I had with our new family of 6 while I waiting for my deployment to start. All year long, I savored the sweetness of God as He walked us down difficult paths I didn't expect.

As 2016, was about to start, I again asked Him for my word and got the word, "peace". I wrestled with Him over it as I was literally days from leaving my family to go to war. How could "peace" be my word? As the year went on though, I saw His peace surpassing all my understanding as I left my family and served my 6 month commitment on the other side of the world. I felt His peace when things didn't make sense, when I worshiped, and when I asked questions and didn't always like the answer.

Now we are on the edge of 2017 and I've asked again and He's again given me a word I never would have expected.

Abandon.

As an adoptive mom, that's not a word I love. He quickly took me to the definitions as both a noun and a verb and I am already seeing His will in this little word.

Abandon: to give up control of, complete surrender, yield oneself

Already, I feel him calling me to:

...abandon constantly checking my phone and be more present with my family
...abandon my plans for the year
...abandon my expectations of my friends and family and embrace what I do have

and also
...worship Him with complete abandon

I hope that members of our family will be going to China this year to visit orphans. I'm planning on a busy year for our family and our business. But I'm learning to abandon those expectations and make Him Lord of my calendar.

What's your one little word?

Monday, December 12, 2016

Silent Night



To all you moms and dads out there who are waiting for a referral, a letter of acceptance, or any step closer to holding your child.

May God bless you this Christmas. I've been there and I remember the pain. It feels like every step, every day is so long. The waiting is so hard. The nights seem far from peaceful or joyful like the carols we sing.

I remember pouring my heart out to God about missing a little boy I barely knew and hearing Him whisper how glad He was that someone else was loving him too. He had been singing over him all of his life. Now, we sang together.

It is hard to enjoy the holidays when all you want is your little one home. I remember wondering what Christmas morning was like for him and now he has enough language to tell me there was no Christmas in China. There were no presents. It was just another day. I'm so glad those days are over and there will always be Christmas now. He didn't know what he was missing, now he can't wait to count down each day.

He loves candlelight services, seeing baby Jesus in the live Nativity, and buying gifts for his family at the school store. He loves peanut clusters and spreading chocolate on homemade toffee. He loves seeing Santa and singing Jingle Bells. My heart is so full.

My heart still hurts though for all those kids waiting. It hurts for all those mamas and babas waiting. But He is not silent. He is working. He will be setting the lonely in families in 2017.  Hold on to Him and His perfect timing.

If you haven't adopted and your heart is open to hearing more, please just ask. I would love to point you in a direction that leads you closer to a child that waits.

Liam update: He is doing well in school and loving the holiday season. We are getting a second opinion on his heart next month and we are starting to explain to him what that means. Thank you for all of your love and support.

Monday, September 26, 2016

China Tech


I see many families about to travel to China struggle with how to navigate the technology challenges and thought I would try to help from some things I've learned. Thankfully, I have built in tech support with my amazing IT husband.  I've learned a lot from him and hopefully this will keep you in touch with everyone back home.

First of all, we should discuss why technology is an issue. China does not have the freedom to use the internet the same way we do in America. Many sites are blocked and that list seems to grow each year. Google, Facebook, Blogspot, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube jump to mind but many email systems (including Gmail because it is part of Google) are also not accessible.

The way around this is to use a VPN. VPNs are Virtual Private Networks and basically tunnel underneath a firewall and make it seem like you are using the internet by wherever you connect to. China obviously knows about these loopholes and has blocked many of these so check with people who have recently traveled to see which VPNs are currently working. You also must have these installed before you leave. You can usually pay a monthly fee to use this service and then cancel it as soon as you come home (I post a date on my calendar to remind myself). VPNs are also important because of security. I would not connect to the internet at all without one. I know of someone who logged on to the hotel's WiFi in China without a VPN and had their PayPal account hacked. This is definitely not something you want to deal with while adopting.

I've seen many people debate how many and which devices to bring with them when they adopt their child. That depends on each family and how much they plan on using them. We took 2 laptops, an iPad and 2 phones. The iPad was mostly for our new child to play on and I pre-installed some games that I thought he would enjoy. He was 7 at adoption and really liked PBS Kids and a game called Grandpa's Workshop. My husband took his laptop to work on the days we had some down time. I took my laptop so we could upload pictures and blog our journey. Many people would be fine with just taking a phone and either a tablet or laptop. Just make sure you have a VPN on each device loaded before you head to China or you will not be able to access the sites I mention above.

The only tech purchase I recommend is a portable/travel router.  We chose the HooToo Nano from Amazon because of price and reviews. These devices are great because the hotels we stayed at had both wired and wireless internet. The WiFi was very weak depending on where your room was within the hotel. Using a travel router allows you to plug in to the hotel's wired internet and have a stronger signal. It makes a little WiFi hotspot with the hotel's internet in your room so you can connect all of your devices to that with a more reliable signal. I believe that we were also able to run the VPN through the HooToo so that we could connect as many devices as we wanted. Usually, VPNs limit the number of connections depending on the provider.

There are a variety of options you can choose with your phone. I kept my phone in airplane mode the entire time we were in China and only used it on WiFi at the hotel. This does limit your ability to communicate so check with your phone provider on their international plan options. Most of them will allow you to buy a temporary international plan with a certain number of minutes, internet data and texts. There is also the option of getting a Panda phone where you rent a Chinese cell phone. You can have it shipped to your home or delivered to your hotel in China.

To call or text on WiFi, you also have a host of options. WeChat is China's instant messaging app that isn't blocked by their firewall. You can set up a WeChat app profile and be able to text anyone in the US or China with an account without connecting first through the VPN. You can usually also use FaceTime without a VPN. I like to use my VPN and text or call through either Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp (another WiFi based texting app). It appears that with Android's recent update, you now have the ability to call or video chat on WiFi like Apple's Facetime.

Another debate I've seen is about how large or expensive of a camera to take. As photographers, this was a debate we also had because we didn't want to lose a large, expensive camera we need for weddings due to breakage, etc. Thankfully, we kept it with us the whole time and had no major issues. I'm glad we had a quality camera with us because of the importance of the trip but you can definitely make it with a smartphone with a decent camera if you are worried about it.

In regards to plugging devices in, there seems to be a great variation of power sources depending on the hotel. Some have American style outlets and even USB ports but I wouldn't count on that.  I would plan on taking some converters/adapters. This website does a great job of explaining why you need one. I really only needed one for my flat iron but since that was very important to me, I'm definitely glad we had it.

Finally, the laws about flying with external battery chargers in China can be tricky. I had one in my carry on the first time and had it confiscated. I tried to keep it in my checked bag the second time and it set off an alarm and they told me to keep it in my carry on. My advice is to only take a cheap one you can afford to lose. I took one from Five Below (discount store) the first time and I didn't cry over losing a $5 item. The second time we took some we got as a giveaway at a baseball game so no big loss if we had it taken. I do like having one in case I'm out all day and my phone is drained.

Let's talk streaming. Netflix has blocked VPNs so I was in the Middle East this Spring and could not use a VPN to get into my Netflix account. Amazon Prime worked great with my VPN. The reality is though that many hotels will not have strong enough signals for streaming but it may be worth a shot depending on your hotel. Most airlines with WiFi (which will cost you) will tell you up front that they cannot stream but you can surf the web. They may have certain movies though that you can watch from their site or on your seatback. I would not count on being able to stream a lot during your flights or while you are in China. It looks like China is easing up on their in-flight rules about using electronic devices finally so you should be able to use a tablet or phone for the entire flight. Just listen to the instructions and always remember you are a guest in their country and be respectful of their rules.

Hopefully, this helps you be prepared for the technology challenges in China and stay connected. We took one resealable bag with all of our chargers, routers, adapters, etc in it and stayed very organized. Happy travels!