Monday, March 20, 2017
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
...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
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
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!
Thursday, September 8, 2016
Let me first start this one with some background about how God feels about orphans:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27
Here is how God sees adoption:
To redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:5-7
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:18
And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:23
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15
For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in. Psalm 27:10
He literally uses it over and over to compare our new relationship with Him when we accept His free gift of salvation. I believe abandonment is injustice and God wants us to act. My husband and I adopted Liam not because we are his rescuers but because of the love God has put in our heart. I believe Jesus wants us to go after and love the hurting, abandoned and those that the world would see as "the least of these". There are millions of orphans in this world and I believe the Church should and could be doing more. It would change the lives of these children and it shows the world what the gospel really is.
My thoughts on this started because of a Facebook post on one of my adoption pages I follow. The person posting asked what churches could do to better help adopting/fostering families because they had a family leave their church over lack of support. The responses were mixed. Some families experienced a very supportive environment from their church, but sadly many were either silent or even intentionally hurtful.
I mentioned this post on Twitter and had someone who is going to school to become a pastor asked me what churches should be doing. I'm not on staff at a church, I'm just an adoptive mom but I will throw some ideas from my perspective. So here are a list of 10 things churches could be doing to support orphan care and fostering/adopting families.
1. Educate Yourselves and Your Staff
I have been shocked by how little the average Christian knows about the orphan and foster care crisis around the world. Find out how many children are in foster care in your area and which countries are currently allowing international adoption. Find out what happens to kids that age out without ever having a family. Educate yourself about the costs of all of these options to families. I have people ask me often how much it costs to adopt from China. I always start by asking them, "How much do you think it costs?" So far nobody has come close to guessing. The average answer is half of the actual cost. To learn more I would start with the Christian Alliance for Orphans.
2. Celebrate Orphan Sunday
Orphan Sunday is one day a year where your church can highlight the cause of orphans around the world. It is in November and an amazing opportunity to share the chance to give and pray for the fatherless. Maybe your church could fund a specific project for an orphanage in a country your church already supports. Maybe you could share adoption information or highlight families in your congregation that have or are adopting. However you choose to celebrate, it is a way of focusing on God's heart for those children in need.
3. Assign a Staff Member
One of the most helpful ways to help families in adoption or fostering process is to assign a pastor to care for them. Many applications to adopt or for adoption funding grants require a letter from a pastor and with many families (like ours) attending a very large church, it can be difficult for those families to know what to do. Make it clear to the congregation that if a family is entering this process, they can see Pastor Smith. Then Pastor Smith can meet with them, pray with them and they would feel connected to someone who can write them a letter of recommendation.
4. Mission Trips
Several translations of James 1:27 actually use the phrase "visit orphans and widows in their distress". I believe that part of a church's mission plan for the year should include visiting orphans and widows. That can be done through organizations that churches are already working with or partnering with an adoption agency and providing people and resources for orphanage visit trips. Our agency goes on several trips to different countries throughout the year. These trips are so crucial because the people who go are able to get information about these children and advocate for them. It can be a wonderful blessing to the children and often the teams' lives are changed by the experience.
5. Bring Them Meals
If your church organizes bringing new moms or those recovering from illness/surgery meals, please do the same for adopting families. I've given birth to 3 biological children and the lack of sleep from jet lag and adjustment from adoption is just as intense if not more so. Those first few weeks of bringing home a new child are a huge adjustment and something as simple as a fellow church member bringing a meal can mean the world. Treat this child the way you would any other new baby brought into the church.
6. Baby Dedication/Baptism
Please remember to add adoption language when you are posting about upcoming dedication/baptism events. This can be very subtle but acknowledge that not every dedication will be of a biological newborn.
7. Connect families
You can connect families though quiet personal ways of introducing them to each other or having an adoption/foster group through your church. Either way, this can go far to help families not feel so alone and get the support through the process that they desperately need.
8. Educate Your Children's Team
A child brought into your church through foster care or adoption will probably have different needs than children coming with their biological parents. One of the best and simplest ways to ease that child's transition is to ask their parent what your team can do to help. In our case, no one knew that our son was adopted and he was snapped at by a volunteer that didn't understand that he didn't speak English. Some families are working very hard on forming attachment with their new child and would rather they be the one to feed or rock their child to sleep so they need to know during service if that needs to happen. Many of these kids will have experienced trauma or have physical special needs, so it would be great if extra volunteers or volunteers with extra training could be present to help.
9. Meet Their Needs
I understand that churches cannot say yes to every need but anything would be a blessing to those adopting and fostering. Some churches give financial grants while others allow their members to host bake sales, rummage sales, or pancake breakfasts at their facility. Some churches also support these families by promoting their fundraising events. Most families in this country do not have the $30-40,000 it takes to complete an international adoption. Most families would be strained if they had to immediately buy all they needed to take on a foster child/children (carseats, crib, etc.). Anything you can do to help these families with their practical needs is very appreciated.
This is the most important thing you can ever do. Pray for orphans. Pray for families.
If just ONE family in every THREE churches in America adopted a waiting child, there would be no waiting children in foster care. International adoption is down over 60% in the last decade. We can do better as the body of Christ to care for the fatherless.
But don't take it just from me:
Monday, August 29, 2016
Today was Liam's cardiology check up. There were no great surprises but it is always just a heavy reminder that we parent a child with a very serious heart defect. It is so easy to forget most days when he is running around the house or riding his bike that his heart has a string of diagnoses: ASD, VSD, CCTGA and a host of associated valve issues.
Our cardiologist said that she always has to pay special attention to looking at his echocardiograms because everything is backwards and I compared it to when I, as a meteorologist, have to do weather in the Southern Hemisphere. Nothing looks how you expect it to.
Not much has changed since his last appointment late last year. One of his valves has gone from having a mild issue to have a mild-moderate issue so we will keep an eye on it. Many kids with Liam's condition have already had at least one surgery and some have pacemakers. For now, we will just be thankful he's made it thus far without major intervention.
Our cardiologist did suggest getting a second opinion at Texas Children's Hospital so we will probably do that in the next year. She said that there are no easy answers with CCTGA patients because we either risk 2 complex heart surgeries with risks of complications now or we wait and most likely he will end up with a heart transplant. The advantage of waiting is that medical technology continues to improve and there may be a better option with lower risks down the road.
I'm sure we can manage to combine a hospital trip with some fun memories in Houston and Galveston so we will start planning. I'm thankful we have such great doctors and hospitals in this state.
And for now, we keep waiting and praying he stays healthy and active and remembering this:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.