Thursday, December 9, 2010

Love Waits, and Lets Go

I have just learned that our children's grandmother died shortly after we took them from Uganda.  I am speechless thinking of how powerful love is.  When I met this woman, I could not believe she was still alive.

She lay in a dark, tiny room in a house the size of my master bathroom.  She lay on a thin mattress on the floor surrounded by, well, nothing.  The children had been sleeping at her side on the hard ground.  As best I can tell and from all reports, she had not been off that mat in almost a year.  The widow of her grandson had cared for her for months.  There was no food in the house.

I knelt at her side and she took my hand and began a long interview which she had clearly planned.  While Agnes translated, she asked me about my family, my lineage, "did I favor my father or my mother"?  When all her questions were answered, she looked peaceful and satisfied.  I asked her for her blessing about the adoption, and she said that we have it.  I asked her to pray that we would have favor with the Ugandan courts, as we had not yet seen the judge.  She answered "Do not fear.  God has already spoken to me that the children are yours."

Then, we all gathered around her and prayed for her.  We prayed that she would have no pain, that she would have peace and be with the Lord.

About two weeks later, the day we were leaving Uganda, we went again to see her.  She was serene and did not seem emotional about the departure of the grandchildren.  In fact, she just seemed tired.  The children kissed her and we hurried to the car that was taking us to the airport.

Today I have learned that shortly after we left, she died. 

How powerful is a love that can hold off death?  Surely she should have died months ago.  I always felt she was waiting for me to come, and now I know that she was.  The transfer had been made, the exchange complete.  Her love was so powerful that she could stave off death until she knew the children were safely in the arms of another.

Surely only God can give us a love this great.  I pray she is seated at the throne of love.  I pray I can live up to a love that mighty.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

In the Strength I Have

Few people who know me now are aware that I was born with a chronic blood condition.  My family line includes a genetic abnormality of the blood that could be characterized as serious.  My bone marrow does not produce a proper blood molecule.  For the first half of my life, I struggled with this condition.  I fought fatigue daily and lived in an anemic state.  During the worst times, I would require transfusions of other's donated blood just to function normally.  Over my life, I have had many, many of these given to me by selfless donors:
I spent my life fighting this struggle, never knowing when it would be befall me.  Usually, it would strike at the time I most needed strength.  For example, during my pregnancy, I required 16 units of blood, 8 during my delivery.

So, I always adjusted to being a person who had to be "careful".  Who had to think carefully about where she went, what she did, and how much it would tax her system.

In 2002, I dedicated myself to living for God.  In 2007, I was baptized by immersion and declared it the mid-point of my life.  I told God the second half was all His. 

A few months later, I was at a church service with my friend who had been experiencing terrible pain in her feet.  The pastor said that he felt led to pray for anyone who needed healing.  I sat next to my friend and agreed with her in prayer that she would be delivered from pain.  With my arm around her, I bowed my head and prayed with my whole being that she would be healed.  I BELIEVED she would be healed.  As the pastor walked past us praying, I felt a strange sensation like electricity shoot through my body.  It felt like I had been shocked, but it was not painful.  I particularly felt it in my bones.

A few days later, my friend called to say that her feet no longer hurt.  Life went on but something was different.  After a few weeks, I noticed I was feeling really great.  Weeks turned into months, and my husband said one day "Have you noticed that you have not had any symptoms of your condition?"  That was three years ago.  I have not had one symptom, one episode since that day.

When I went in for my annual physical that year, my doctor said "where have you been?" 

When God called me to the orphan, He asked me to go lots of places and do lots of things that I would not have imagined.  One time I was afraid I did not have the strength to go, and He said "Why do you think I healed you?" I understand.

Today, I go again.  God has called us back to Africa.  This time, to adopt three precious children, and to continue several missions He has revealed to us.  I am 48 years old.  I could never have imagined that I could take on such a task.  Anyone mother reading this knows that raising a child brings its own kind of exhaustion.  Yes, I am afraid, but I know my God is with me. 

One of my favorite stories of the Bible is about Gideon.  He was called to do great things, but he wanted to hide.  He was scared and did not think he could do it.  God told him "Go in the strength you have."  Before God healed me, I had taken that scripture as my verse.  Always lacking strength, it gave me the courage to press on.  Now that I live normally, I find I need that verse just as much.  Because that is all God asks of us:  to just go in the strength He has given us, however meager that might be.  And He will be with us.

"The Lord turned to him and said, "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand.  Am I not sending you?"

"But Lord", Gideon answered,  "how can I save Israel?  My clan is the weakest in Manassah, and I am the least in the family."

The Lord answered, "I will be with you...."  Judges 6:14-16

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Mother's Love

A lot has been written about a mother's love, about what a mother will do for her children.  Yesterday I heard a story of a mother's love that haunts me...because of the greatness of this mother's love, but more so because of the greatness of the scourge that could create her situation.

There are lots of adoptions happening in Uganda right now.  After six months of the process being closed earlier this year, the channels are flowing again, and family upon family from America are in Uganda joyfully bringing home their adoptive children.

I can only imagine how it feels to the learned judges of the High Court of Uganda that approve these cases.  They love their country.  They have served it well.  They overcame great odds to become attorneys and now justices.  And in the last thirty years, they have seen their country ravaged by war and AIDS and poverty, so much so that they now must preside over the process of sending its next generation to another land.  How bittersweet this must be...seeing all that promise for the future sent elsewhere.

In one case yesterday, a woman from Texas is seeking to adopt three older children living in a orphanage.  These children have a living mother.  Like many children in this country, their mother has placed them in an orphanage because she is unable to feed them.  Once widowed or abandoned, a Ugandan woman has little hope of earning enough to feed herself, much less a larger family.

For reasons only the judge understands, he approved the Texas family to adopt the two older children, but ruled that the younger girl, around age eight or nine, must remain in Uganda.  The birth mother was in the courtroom for the proceedings, and one might think that this decision would give her great joy.  One of her children was being preserved for her.  But, that is not what happened.

This birth mother got on her knees before the judge and wept.  She pleaded and begged him to let her daughter be adopted and go to America.

Last night, I could not sleep thinking about that woman.   What must it take for her to beg a judge to send her little girl away, perhaps never to be seen again?  How desperate must be her circumstances?  How much must she love her child to make this ultimate sacrifice?  And perhaps most tragically, how unjust is it that America is so full of plenty while sweet mothers around the world suffer to even feed their children?

Mothers of the World, rise up!  These women are our sisters.  God has called us to come alongside them.  Try to imagine that the tables are turned.  Try to imagine YOUR children are starving while millions of mothers just across the sea drink lattes and watch television.  What would YOU want them to do?  What would you BEG them to do?

Mother the World! 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Big Dad

Our little boy Nathan has only seen my husband in photos.  Nathan first father died when he was very young, just a toddler.  This little guy desperately wants a father.  We were told recently that after looking at pictures of Jerry, Nathan commented with pride "That is a really big Dad!" 

Oh Nathan, if you only knew.  Yes my son, God has blessed you with a really big dad. 

The biggest thing about this dad is his heart.  As a metaphor for his life, when Jerry was being delivered, the doctor in rural Louisiana told his sweet mother that he had died in the womb, and she labored all night thinking he would be still born.  It turns out, Jerry's heartbeat was so strong, the doctor mistook it for his mother's!  And so he burst forth, a big, bouncing over-ten-pounder, grinning away.  Fifty years later, his mother still had tears in her eyes telling me of that moment.

God had a big purpose for that big-hearted baby.  Over the course of his life, he has been called again and again to be a big dad.  Three prophets on two continents have spoken this scripture over my husband:

Genesis 17:3-4 Abram fell face down, and God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations."

Some years ago, the enemy tried to take Jerry out.  It broke him almost completely.  He lost everything...his marriage, his home, his job, his car.  In his darkest moment, he did the only thing he knew left to do.  He fell on his face and cried out to God to help him.  And God showed up.  Like with Abraham, God is not only blessing Jerry but giving him so much more than he could have ever dreamed of before.

In the last five years, God has added this one to Big Dad's list. 

And this one.

And a daughter-in-law and these three beautiful grandkids...

And this awesome son-in-law, who calls him...Dad.

And God led this unlikely candidate into a relationship with lots of kids that really, really need a dad...

And soon, very soon, he will officially become Big Dad to three more. 

But, these days of rebuilding have not been easy.  To be a better father and husband, Jerry made a career change from the corporate world into an industry, real estate, that is in a depression.  He has struggled and fought and held on to this second career because for him it is his ministry and calling.  Over and over, God has used him to help people at their time of need, when they are making big decisions.  Unsure single women, hopeful young couples, seniors who need to reorganize.  But finances have been so, so challenging. 

Many times, he has been tempted to quit.  But I know, deep in my bones, that he is right where God wants him to be.  And so despite the challenges of this seaon, Jerry STANDS.  And if you know Jerry, you know that once he stands, he is not easily moved, physically or otherwise!

And so my dear, amazing STAND.  You STAND on the promises of God for your life.  You STAND on what you know to be true.  You STAND even when others doubt you or say you are crazy.  You STAND when setbacks come again and again.  You STAND when the enemy tries to discourage you about provision.  You STAND when the way looks impossible.  You stand my hero, and I will be standing right there beside you.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Miracle Named Grace

Two of the biggest miracles in my life are named GRACE. 

A year and a half ago, on a very hot North Carolina afternoon, I was on the highway bringing our massive dossier of documents to our adoption agency.  If you know anything about international adoption, you know it is often called a "paperwork pregnancy."

As I drove, I prayed over the dossier.  "God, show me the way to our children."  Suddenly, the Holy Spirit FELL in my car.  Time suspended, "Jesus took the wheel", and instead of the interstate before me, I was seeing a VIVID VISION.  But, it was not of my children.  Instead, God showed me a little African girl running in my friend's yard. She looked about 8 or 9.  She was wearing an old fashioned pink dress, the kind that little girls wore a few decades ago.  Laughing and playing, she was enjoying the home, hugging my friend, and being loved by my friend's elderly mother.

Now this may not sound that unusual, except that this friend of mine is single and has no children.  She spends her time in an awesome career and caring for her mother.  And in all the years we have known each other, we have NEVER discussed anything related to her and adoption.  

This vision of the child in the pink dress was so vivid, every time I thought of it, I wept.  My amazing friend and her sweet Mom and this beautiful little girl... 

But, I said nothing.

Months later, as I was packing to leave for Uganda to meet our kids, I had all but forgotten that vision, and suddenly, it was back.  Along with this:  God said to me "Her name is Grace, as a reminder of my Grace for her mother's life."  My friend has had a very hard life, and has overcome many terrible trials, but she has found her way to the Lord.  God has poured out so much Grace on her life.  Grace.  "That is her name", He said.

Still, I said nothing to my friend.

I arrive at the orphanage in Uganda and am caught in a whirlwind of meeting my beautiful children.   They live in a sea of blue.  Their 600 friends each own one blue uniform issued by orphanage, and some "sleeping clothes."

One evening, I was talking with the director, Jalia, an amazing woman.  Here she is issuing these very blue uniforms. 

And I suddenly felt compelled to ask her about a girl named Grace.  "Jalia, please don't think I'm crazy" I begin.  I tell the story quickly, leaving out the detail about the pink dress.  "Jalia, is there possibly a child here named Grace?" Jalia smiles lovingly and says "Yes, there are two.  I will bring them at bedtime."

Later that night, I am summoned to the kitchen to meet the girls named Grace.  The first girl strides boldly thru the door in her blue uniform, shakes my hand, and says "Hello Ma'am, I am Grace."    She looks like every other adorable African child.  I think to myself  "What am I doing...I must be out of my mind!"  Suddenly, the other Grace creeps into the room.  She is terrified and ashen to be forced to meet me.  I take one look at her and my knees buckle and I fall to the ground.  I am speechless and tears pour down my cheeks.  SHE IS WEARING THE PINK DRESS.  The SAME pink dress. 

How in the world did this child get this dress? When I collect myself enough to tell Jalia why I am overcome, she looks at me in awe-struck wonder and says matter-of-factly, "It's a miracle."

Needless to say, when I returned home from Uganda, I had an important story to tell my friend.  And here is what my blond, blue-eyed friend confessed to me with tears in her eyes:  "All my life, I have had a vision of a daughter with brown eyes.  I have never told anyone except my mother."

The first time I heard a sermon preached on Grace I was 35 years old.  I had lived 35 years and did not know anything about God's Grace.  I didn't know I was forgiven.  I didn't know I was loved.  I didn't know there was nothing I could do to earn or destroy His love for me.  That sermon changed my life...that day was my first miracle of Grace.

But He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

Next month I will return to Uganda, and I will see Grace in the pink dress.  My friend has been praying about her, praying about whether she can adopt.  And I pray too...that one day, Grace will be running in her yard-- home, happy and enjoying God's grace.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My Secret Garden

The other day, someone asked me how many children I have, and I answered "seven".  Seven beautiful people that are my children by marriage, birth and adoption.  I had to have a private chuckle with God because only He and I know that the early years of my adult life were spent under the mantle of infertility.  It's such a terrible word to put on a woman.  Everything about our female nature is made to be lush, fertile, productive, life-giving.  But my early years were BARREN.

I was in a barren marriage, spiritually, emotionally and physically.  Doctors told me that due to a variety of circumstances both mine and my first husband's, I would never be a mother.  But there is a funny little thing about of my most annoying personality traits is my tenacity.  And so in this instance, I wouldn't give up.  I spent the next three years of my life doing mostly two things.  Spending hours and hours and thousands of dollars in this place:

And growing my secret backyard garden.

I planted and watered and planted and watered, because my soul just had to find a way to GROW SOMETHING.  I knew God had abandoned me.  I was sure He did not love me, because every month I would sit in the public hospital clinic, waiting for my "procedure", surrounded by unhappy, unwed, unfunded miserably pregnant women.

As time went on, my hope faded.  My body started to give out.  I could not endure the endless assault of needles and invasion and stirrups (shudder).  And then, at the very end of my strength, the very month I knew I would quit, the most extraordinary thing happened.


At the time, I thought this was God's reward for ME.  I knew it was a miracle, but I thought is was just my miracle.  I did not know it was a miracle of a much bigger kind. 

What I now know, 18 years later, is that God was waiting for the perfect time.  For the perfect set of genetic circumstances to bring forth the exact, specific person that He intended.  Because it turns out, that person is and always has been HIS.  Completely.  From the time she was a tiny girl, she has loved the Lord and wanted to serve Him. 

She has more faith, vision, compassion and mercy than most people on this planet.  Already God has taken her to places I could not have imagined, to do things for Him I could have never seen.  And now as her life unfolds before me, I have no doubt that He will use her to change history. 

And so I try to remember those years now, because if they taught me one thing, it is that GOD ALWAYS HAS A PLAN.  Yes, I know it is a cliche.  And when you are in the barren desert, it's the last thing you want to hear.  But it is true.  No matter how bad things seem, GOD ALWAYS HAS A PLAN.  Without that season of barrenness, I would not now have my amazing, Godly husband Jerry, and those seven incredible people I am blessed to call my children.

I am reminded of the words of a great leader.  "Never, ever, ever, ever give up".  So, I won't give up Lord.  I won't quit serving you.  I won't quit trying.  I won't be defeated.  I will keep marching forward, no matter what obstacles come my way.  Because my ways are not Your ways, and my plans are not Your plans.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future".  Jeremiah 29:11

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Book of Ruth

Boaz replied, "I've been told all about what you have you left your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.  May the Lord repay you for what you have done.  May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge." 
Ruth 2:11-12

It has been hard to stop thinking about what Agnes said of her sister, my daughter, Ruth.  "Ruth has a sad heart." 

Ruth is a deep well.  Unlike Agnes and Nathan, she is a mystery that will need to be unfolded.  Her sister and brother opened themselves to me like eager daisies on a sunny morning.  But Ruth was reserved, shy and afraid. 

Here are the only things I know to be true about Ruth:

She was born 12 and a half years ago.
When she was 5, she was run over, leaving her with a damaged foot.
When she was 7, her father died.
When she was 9, she was brought to the orphanage and left by her mother.
She is passionate in her prayer for others.
She is always cold.
She has never tasted chocolate.

When I met Ruth for the first time, she walked to me from the back of her classroom with her head held low. 

I noticed her limp, and could tell that to her it was a great embarrassment.  She looked like she was thinking "This woman will never want me once she sees me."  Then, with some encouragement from the orphanage director, she raised her head to look at me.  And I saw this:

An angel.

But, this smile does not last long.  And there is a sadness beneath it.  Even when she clowns, which is frequently.

Will I ever know all the things that have happended to this child in her short, precious life?  Is there one in particular that makes her so sad, or is it the sum total of all the loss and poverty and bad turns you can squeeze into 12 years?

How will I ever help her to stop being sad?  Can I?  Should I?  I asked the orphanage director, Jalia, how I could help Ruth.  Her response was "When her environment changes, I believe she will gain."  Indeed.

So, all I can do is love her.  A lot.  I am sharing all of this about my Ruth not to violate her privacy in any way, but to ask those of you who are reading this to pray for her.  Pray that the combined love of all our prayers creates a healing balm for her "sad heart".  Pray that one day all her tears will be gone, and she will know love and safety and joy.

"But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you.  Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.  Your people will be my people and your God will be my God."  Ruth 1:16

You will always be ours, precious Ruth.  We will never leave you.

Friday, September 3, 2010

My Three Agneses

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Bojaxhiu in 1910.  All my life, she has been the person I have most admired.  I have read many books and seen many movies about her.  And no matter how much I learn, I never cease to be amazed.

At the age of 18 she left her tiny village and traveled to Ireland to become a nun, never to see her family again.  She arrived in Calcutta in 1929 at the ripe old age of 19, to become the most famous missionary ever known.  And she did all that on one simple premise:  love.  She loved the people that nobody wanted, the dying, the orphan, the beggar.  When AIDS emerged, her order was the first anywhere to open a home for persons with AIDS.

Perhaps what is most extraordinary is that she ultimately became the CEO of a worldwide corporation.  At the time of her death, she ran 600 homes in 136 countries...with no debt.  And despite her celebrity of later years, she refused even the most modest of materialism.  I heard once that her entire estate consisted of two of the white habits she always wore, and a small cross.  She did not even own a Bible.  The Catholic Church, in an effort to collect "relics" to venerate her impending canonization, has been reduced to preserving the tin bowl from which she ate her breakfast.  I have looked at hundreds pictures of her face, and they are all quite beautiful.

A few years back, God blessed me with another Agnes.  By a series of circumstances that could only be the Lord, I was hired by the most influential public relations agency in my state.  Totally unqualified.  But God gave me a boss, a Godly boss, a loving boss that protected me and mentored me and sheltered me from the worst of the "machine" that ate people up in that place.  This Agnes was more of a Margaret Thatcher than a Mother Teresa.  She didn't swear, she didn't cave, and she carried her dignity like a banner.  Margaret Thatcher once said, "If you have to tell people to treat you like a lady, than you are not one".  This Agnes is always a lady.  And, she is also beautiful to me.

Loving these two Agneses, it was surely no surprise to learn that God had picked me a daughter named Agnes.  I felt called to learn the origin of this name...and stunned to find that it describes each Agnes perfectly.

The girl's name Agnes  is derived from Greek ‘αγνος (hagnos) meaning "pure, holy".

Despite the severity of her circumstances, my daughter Agnes has a sweetness that is pure as new snow.  Yesterday, I received this note from the woman I have never met who has opened her home to my Agnes, as she has "aged out" of the orphanage.

Yesterday evening Agnes and I had a good long talk about how she's doing and feeling. She's missing her grandmother and says she knows she will die soon. She told me about her sister Ruth and how she has a sad heart and how much Ruth adores your daughter, and she told me all about Nathan and how playful he is. She is an incredibly observant and compassionate young lady.

The first day I met this third Agnes, we slept side by side in little cots.  With all I had heard about "bonding" issues with adopted children, I wondered if this 13-year-old head-of-household would have any regard for me.  As we lay in the dark, she took my hands, and looked deep into my eyes, and asked "What is your dream?"

"I was traveling by train to Darjeeling when I heard the voice of God.  I was sure it was God's voice.  I was certain it was a message for me.  The message was clear.  I must leave the convent to help the poor by living among them.  This was a command, something to be done, something definite.  The call was something between God and me.  What matters is that God calls each of us in a different way.  In those difficult, dramatic days I was certain that this was God's doing and not mine and I am still certain.  And it was the work of God.  I knew that the world would benefit from it." --Mother Teresa

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Bad Mood

I have been in a bad for mood for...well...the last year. If you think that is an exaggeration, just ask my husband. Joyce Meyer often mentions how much she appreciates the early years of her marriage when her husband kept them together through his patience and faithfulness. I know how she feels.

In April of 2009, Jerry and I made the decision to adopt three precious kids from Uganda.  In July of 2009, I went to Uganda to meet them, and to finalize the paperwork for their adoption. My lawyer told me to plan to return in September for a court date to bring them home. And so, I told my precious, awesome kids, that their Mom and Dad would be coming back in September for them. That was September of 2009.

Then, the world showed up.

The Fall disappeared somehow due to administrative problems. Next thing I knew, it was November and the Ugandan courts ground to a halt for the holidays.

January 1st, 2010, I jumped from the bed knowing I would soon be going to Uganda to get my children.

January 16th, an earthquake rocked Haiti and something told me that I was meant to go there to organize an orphan rescue effort. I cried and bargained with God. I did not want to go. I made a deal with Him..."If I go do this for the children of Haiti, will you bring my kids home?".

When I returned from Haiti in mid-February, the process for Ugandan adoptions had essentially been shut down.  Once again, God had a project for me. Could I help fix this situation? I could and did...with the help of some very influential friends. I spent the next six months getting 18 families home from Uganda. God said: "You can go when all these are home."

One mother still remains, stuck over there with her two Ugandan daughters. She has been there since April. That is when my first court date was supposed to be...April 16, 2010. But it never happened and here we are: STILL WAITING.

Waiting puts me in a bad mood. I hate to wait. I am impatient. I want everything NOW. I am busy and important and I don't have time to WAIT.

I think about all the people who wait. People in prison. Children in orphanages. People with cancer. All the people who wait with GRACE and DIGNITY and PURPOSE. I am ashamed to say I have not been one of those people. Waiting for my children has made me nothing but CRANKY. After a while, the crankiness turned to ANGER. Why God must I wait? Why must my children wait?

This year has been hard on my children.  Their circumstances have deteriorated.  Their grandmother, once their support and caretaker, is approaching death and has been unable to help them.  She also waits.  For the Lord to take her home.

And they wait.  For her to die.  For me to come.  For the orphanage where they live to get more water, or more pencils or some toys.

And the 600 kids with whom they live at this orphanage...they wait too.  For someone to come for them.  For parents.  For hope.

Dear Jesus.  My prayer today is for all of those who wait.  Forgive me for my selfishness.  Comfort and encourage those who wait...those for whom victory will not come in this lifetime.  For all the children everywhere who WAIT.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My Broken Heart

Most of us get our heart broken at one time or another by love or sin or some combination of both.  And, with God's grace, most of us get over those seasons and God heals our heart.

My broken heart is a little different.  Some of you know what I am talking about.  I have the kind of broken heart meant to never get healed.

In 2008, my husband and I took my precious sister on a trip to Uganda.  She was turning 40 and this was her big adventure and ours.  We went to visit many friends we had made the year before through our work with the African Children's Choir and their U.S. home, Mirembe House (more about that later).

And, of course, while on this trip we went on the obligatory safari.  Just Uganda itself is a safari of the most amazing kind, but we took in the usual tourist package to a game park and saw many of God's awesome creatures. 

The last day of this trek, we were stopped by the side of the road to view some wild chimps living in the trees.  Anywhere one stops in Uganda in a motor vehicle, children will surely find you.  Remember, this is a country where 50% of the residents are children.  A country the size of Oregon that has 10% of all the orphans IN THE WORLD.

So, naturally, when we returned to our parked car from the forest trail, a small group of children were waiting to see us.

By this point in the trip, I had learned a few things about the children in this place.  Children who are in school, which means they have food and care, look like this.

Even though their uniforms might be tattered, someone is caring for those children.  Even if it is an orphanage.  They are enrolled in school.  They are getting at least one meal per day.

But children by the side of the road, without shoes, with dirty ill-fitting clothes, most likely are totally on their own.  These type of children may not have eaten in days.  They sleep in makeshift shelters and try to survive.

I think the expression on the boys' faces tells the story.  So here we were, rich Americans in our safari car with our expensive cameras, paying hundreds of dollars to spot a wild chimp.  And here they were.

It was too hard to just drive away, so we tried to entertain them for even a moment.  These kids didn't speak English, but if you've never seen a photo of yourself, it's pretty amazing the first time.

I was desperate to give them something, but it was the end of the day and we had no food left in our truck.  We were heading back into town to have a nice, big post-safari dinner at our fine hotel.  So I dug around in my legendarily enormous travel sachel hoping to find something, anything.  All I had was one sorry mint.  You know this's the one at the bottom of your purse, with some foil on it, that has been down there for ages gathering lint.

With one mint and four children, I did all I knew to do.  I gave it to the smallest one, the little girl.  AND THAT IS WHEN IT HAPPENED.  The moment that changed my life forever.  She bowed.

In the Ugandan culture, children are taught to show adults the utmost respect.  One of the ways they show that honor and respect is to kneel, with the head bowed, when receiving a gift -- as a gesture of appreciation.  This tiny girl, not more than four of five, had the manners of a royal princess.  She was dirty, hungry and tattered, and her parents were likely gone.  There had been little in life that they could give her, but they had given her the gift of manners.  And so, when presented with a piece of candy from a stranger, she bowed.

I felt my heart shatter.  All the iniquities, all the unfairness, all the disparity of her life and mine were crystalized in that moment.  She got on her knees in the dusty road in exchange for a stale mint, as if I had given her a great prize. 

We got in the car and drove away.  We went to our hotel and had that feast.  But my heart, my whole being, was changed forever by that moment. 

Kay Warren, wife of Pastor Rick Warren, is often quoted as saying her experiences in Rwanda left her "seriously disturbed" for the orphan.  So, although I have not yet met Kay, I know she and I are in a unique club of people.  Those that God has given broken hearts for the orphan.  I know many of you reading this have your own moment, the one you can't take back, the one that permanently broke your heart.  I pray God's peace and conviction over you.  He broke our hearts for His purposes, just as Christ was broken for us.  Let us walk together with our permanently broken hearts and receive His plans. 

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.  Psalm 34:18

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Greatest Gift

Olivia is sick today.  It's been a long time since she has been sick, and it reminds me of all we have been through together.  In the middle of last night, when I was hooking her up to her breathing apparatus ("nebulizer"), I said "Olivia, do you realize how long it's been since we've had to do this?  Do you remember how many times we used to do this?"  To which she said "A jillion".

If you've never had someone put a newborn baby in your arms and said "here, have my child", there is no way you can understand what that feels like.  Every other gift I have ever received in my life all put together can't come close to that moment.  Even if that baby is very tiny, here too soon, and going to be really sick for the next two years of your life.  And often sick for the next ten years of your life.  But rarely sick now thanks to the healing power of our mighty God and an army of doctors and specialists.

The first time I saw Olivia, I was scrubbed, gowned, sanitized and walking into a dimly lit room containing six tiny creatures in little plastic boxes clinging to life.  She was due on October 31st but came September 12th without lungs that were ready for air, among other problems.  I had driven all night because the woman who birthed her had said at midnight "Come now...she is your baby, not mine."  A tiny, red alien with tubes and tape and beeping machines. I thought she was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. 

Kiel Tweitmeyer, father of 13 kids (with only three from his seed) recently said "I thought adoption was a gift you give someone else, but I have learned it's a gift you give yourself." 

Back then when Olivia came home, people often said things to me like "You are such a good person to be doing this".  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  I am not much of a "good person" on my best days, and I was even less of one back then.  "SOMEBODY GAVE ME A WHOLE, GORGEOUS HUMAN BEING!!!" is what I wanted to respond. "What have you been given lately?"

I feel sorry for people who don't get to experience the gift of adoption.  It trumps every other joy in life...

Right now, a tiny boy thousands of miles away waits for me.  I really can't believe he still feels like more of a gift than I could ever be worth.  Jalia, the orphanage director, told me yesterday "Nathan still asks every day when you are coming...I tell him to pray".  How can a small boy from another world still wait for me after 417 days?  417 days of believing that some white lady he met only once will come back to be his Mommy.  How much can a child yearn for a parent when you are just one in a sea of 600 children at the top of a mountain with not enough arms to hug you at night?  How can he know that I will come back enough to still believe?  What does he say to God and how much must God love him for his faithfulness?  What could ever be bigger than that love?

The last time I saw this boy, there were tears making tracks in the dust on his face.  As my taxi pulled away, he sat at the top of the road that carried me gone down the mountain.  He did not run after the car or wave.  He just sat silently with tears dropping off his chin.   His last words to me in his new English were "Mum, I want to come with you."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Today is the Day

For months now, actually years, my friends have been encouraging me to write down my stories of what God is doing through me. The last five years have been quite a journey on God's chariot, and today I finally felt the Holy Spirit direct me that it was TIME to speak.

It all began in my closet. Well, really, it started long, long before that...but, let's start in the closet.

Two and a half years ago, I was alone at home putting away laundry. A couple months earlier, I had quit my executive job...for the second time. For 20 years I had worked in senior positions, making good incomes, earning bonuses, meeting with important clients, making myself into "somebody". But, along the way on that journey, God broke my heart for the orphan. Permanently. And as a result, I will never be the same. I am not the same woman Jerry married, I am not the same mother that Mackenzie and Olivia once had, I am not the same friend many of you once knew. I have a permanently broken heart. And, with that new heart, I couldn't seem to do my job, any job, that did not involve rescuing the orphan. So, there I was, at home, trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.

This brings us back to the closet.

After a couple of months of me at home doing NO housework, my dear husband casually mentioned one day "Honey, now that you are a housewife, do you think you might do some housework? I could really use some clean clothes." God bless him, he is a saint. But, that is a whole other blog.

I set out in earnest the next morning to be a housewife. About four loads into six loads of laundry, I was standing in the closet putting up my husband's shirts, but I was thinking to myself: "How can I get Ray Barnett, founder of the African Children's Choir (whom I knew), together with Tom Davis, CEO of Children's HopeChest (whom I had just met), because somebody needs to figure out how to rescue ALL the orphans". And that is when it happened...God said, loudly and clearly, "IT'S YOU".

It embarrasses me even to write that down, but God says I should tell my story, so I am telling it just like I know it. "IT'S YOU", He said. I fell down on the bedroom floor. I could not breath. I don't know what it means to be "slain in the Spirit", but if it means that you are so overcome by the call of God that you can't move and you just lie there with tears pouring into your ears for a time that seems like forever, then I was slain. "No way God, don't put that on me. That can't be right. You are mistaken. I don't know what I am doing. I have no expertise, I am not trained. I have no experience. There are EXPERTS...I am NOT one. It can't be's too big, it's too overwhelming, I don't want it...NOT ME!!!!." But there I was, stuck on the bedroom floor, and I knew it was meant for me.

For the next few days I had a fight with God in my mind. I didn't tell anyone, not even Jerry. Anyone would think I am insane. "God, I don't know how to do it" I pleaded with Him over and over. And every time, the same answer: "You already know everything you need to know". What the heck!!! I had no idea what He was talking about. Every time I asked, the same "You already know everything you need to know". This went on for days. Then, I was on the elliptical at the gym one morning, and I was thinking about a massive food shipment for orphans that was being sent by a prominent, expert organization working in Ethiopia, and I knew from a past, unrelated job of mine that it wasn't being sent the best possible way. I thought about my friend Sharron from that season, a logistics expert, and how she would know the correct way to solve that problem. And God said "See, I told you, you already know everything and everybody that you need to know". BAM. There it was. I got off the machine and stumbled into the locker room. I sat there just taking it all in...

All my life, every season, every relationship, every career move, held some gem, some lesson that had prepared me to rescue orphans. I could suddenly see, with crystal clarity, how the seemingly serendipitous path of my life and career had actually been God's carefully crafted curriculum to prepare me to one day rescue orphans around the world in lands I have never seen.

I already knew everything I needed to know. I just had to have the courage and the will to start. God would show me the rest when I needed it.

And that is when my journey really began.