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!  www.mothertheworld.org 

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 husband...you 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 me...one 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 done...how 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