Thursday, June 4, 2015

Part II: Can I Really Make a Difference?

Three years ago, on June 2 (when this entry was written), we stepped off a plane onto African soil for the first time in our lives. Holding hands as we took it all in…the smell of berbere (a spice used in almost every Ethiopian dish) filled the mountain air, the sight (and smell) of diesel exhaust fumes hung heavily in the air, casting a haze over the mountains within our view, and a face of a friend who has been there with us every step of the way since that day greeted us with his gorgeous smile and warm hug. We had no idea what God had in store for us, how every person we met along our trip would touch our lives tremendously from that point on, especially the one who God had sent us there to meet…our daughter.




A moment ago while I was washing dishes while listening to the thunder and watching the rain pour down out of my kitchen window, reflecting over this day and the following10 days that God had planned for us..I had a flash back to one moment in particular and turned the running water off as quickly as I could.

I had been asked to be our mission team photographer on this trip and was thrilled at the opportunity.

It was the rainy season in Ethiopia during our stay there, which made for some spontaneous torrential downpours throughout the week. We were in the village of Korah, where we met Hope for the first time..3 years ago..TODAY (June 4, 2012), and our job that afternoon was spreading this red clay dirt around the compound (as much of the “road” had been washed out..this was a very needed task).

The first photo taken of me and Hope..right after she climbed up in my lap
     


However, in the midst of our team’s work, the rain came. This wasn’t just any rain..this was monsoon rain! The children who had surrounded me as I photographed that day (including our precious Hope) quickly took me into their bunks to dry off (and thankfully save my camera too!). They sat me on the bed, wrapped me in blankets, and brought me flowers. Their love and hospitality was overwhelming.


Then, they did something that still brings me to my knees when I saw it happening. They ran back out into the rain to bathe and drink. They smiled and danced as the rain drops hit their skin and they soaked up every drop there was. They scrubbed their arms and legs with the fresh crisp water and cupped their hands to catch enough to get one or two sweet sips to quench their constant thirst. I couldn’t help but think about how they were SO thankful for this gift of clean water pouring from the sky..and how we take it completely for granted. These children and families have to walk miles to the nearest water source, which does not provide them with clean water but muddy, contaminated, river water. There are a few wells within the village that drip, at best some water, but it is not near enough to sustain them and it is still water that you and I would never drink due to a lack of cleanliness. 

Washing their hands with local water
My husband and I decided that we would bring them fresh water every day while we were there. We knew that it was not a long-term solution, but it was a need we could provide for them while we were there. (Thankfully when we discussed this issue with the church leaders at the time, we were told that another mission team had plans to bring water filtering systems with them to help meet this need long term) 

The next day, we stopped on our way into the village to purchase water and our vans pulled in with cases of bottled water to share. When we began filling cups of this pure, fresh water and handed it to the kids, crowds began forming. What happened next, again, was a moment that I never expected and touched me to my core. The children began pouring the cups of water onto their hands to wash them. They were so used to not drinking water, they thought that this water was for washing too. I quickly stopped them and showed them that it was safe to drink and the look of awe and wonder in their eyes was unforgettable. 



So, today as I stood over my sink watching the rain pour down, I turned off the excess water that was filling my sink while I scrubbed my dishes. I have also made a point to turn off the water while I brush my teeth ever since this trip (I have no idea why I left it running in the first place?). My kids bathe together. And my showers are just long enough to get the job done..no lingering in the hot water for this girl. Ultimately, I know this doesn’t change much..and it doesn’t change their circumstances, but every little bit counts. And it reminds me of all of the things I have to be grateful for…clean water people! It’s a big deal!

Sometimes looking at the big picture and realizing the vast amount of need in the world can become overwhelming…and to many people, paralyzing. Have you ever had this thought, “If there is so much need/hurt/pain/poverty/evil out there, anything I do won’t make a difference anyway.” This is one of the biggest lies out there!!! I KNOW that one person CAN make a difference. 

In addition to pursuing adoption, we have also been sponsoring multiple children from this village since we left. Our sponsorship may not change the world, but it DOES change the world for the child who is sponsored. Sponsoring a child has a ripple effect and makes a difference for their families and everyone they will touch in their lifetime. It makes a HUGE impact.

One of our dear friends, Stacy, who we met on this first trip to Ethiopia is now, along with her husband, a founder of a sponsorship program called Out of the Ashes. Please take a moment to watch this video, go look at the website and get more information, and pray about sponsoring one of these children. It’s truly amazing to see how these sponsorships impact the children of Korah and we have witnessed it first hand.









Or..if you would like to help with the water crisis, go to water.org and learn about ways to help there.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Part I: Born in the USA


Over  Memorial Day weekend, we spent time with our family and had a wonderful picnic reunion with my fathers side of the family. While driving home on the interstate, we noticed up ahead on top of an overpass there was a man waving an American Flag. As we approached him, he could not be mistaken for anything else than a very happy, proud, veteran as this 70ish year old man was decorated in his uniform and medals and waving the flag with all his might with a smile you could see for miles! We honked and waved as we drove underneath him and a couple miles down the road further we encountered a friend of his at the next overpass doing the same thing...taking pride in his country and honoring those who have served and died for our freedom.
 


As I waved and Tom honked once again, I was overcome with emotions. Overcome because it wasn't until this past year that I realized what a true blessing and privilege it was to be born into this country...and I did absolutely NOTHING to deserve it. Granted, I have always been thankful as I live in a country where I have so many opportunities, I have access to wonderful medical care, I can openly express my views, opinions, and practice my faith, I can go to a store and purchase any food item I desire, I have CLEAN water at the turn of a faucet, I get a free public education, I feel safe and secure, and so much more. What's more...if I can't afford some of these things on my own, the government is there to assist me! The country we live in is truly amazing!

 I wasn't blind to the rest of the world having my eyes open through not only basic knowledge of happenings around the world (we've all seen the news) but also going with my own two feet and serving in the impoverished villages of Ethiopia...which was completely life changing. But this year, on top of the things I already know about how privileged we are as Americans in comparison to the MAJORITY of the world around us, I have been witness to just how difficult it is to even come to the USA to visit, much less to immigrate..if you are not born here. Did you know that because we are Americans, the world is our playground? We can go anywhere..and come back as we please. That is not true for the majority of the world around us. A dear friend of mine was denied a visa to visit the USA for his sisters wedding, numerous families and children wait in long lines at US embassies all over the world praying and hoping to have a chance at a visa to visit or join their families and are denied CONSTANTLY.

Last July, we experienced this first hand when we applied for a student visa for Hope. It was the first time I had been on the "other side of the tracks"...advocating for a daughter that was not born into my family but is my daughter never the less. At that time we thought adoption was no longer an option for her and we thought this was the only way we could still provide for her here in the USA and bring her home into our family. There was no reason to deny this child who had crossed all her T's and dotted all her I's showing the USA proof that she would be provided for and had the opportunity for an education she would never receive otherwise...yet, even she was denied.


Through this experience, I came across countless other families who had opened their hearts, homes, and lives to bring children into the USA for the same reason and had also been denied. My heart breaks at this injustice. Why should I...or my biological children, have all of these opportunities at our fingertips and other children do not..just because of where they were born? Why did God choose me to be born into this country? What does that mean?

So, as Memorial Day passes and the 4th of July approaches, and we wave our flags, enjoy cookouts with our friends and family, and sing the Star-Spangled Banner watching the amazing fireworks displays all over the country, I hope you truly think about where you live, what you have been given, and what you can be doing with this privilege you've been blessed with that you do not deserve more than any other human being on this planet. Think about it...


Luke 12:48 tells us "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." 

Friends, we have been given "much", we have been entrusted with "much" so much more is demanded and asked of us as followers of Jesus. My prayer for you is to not just be thankful for the much you have been entrusted with, but that you will find a way to use it to further the Kingdom. Nothing that we have is ours anyway, so let's use it for the Glory of the One who truly deserves it all!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Bittersweet Mother's Day

Today has been a day filled with so much joy and so much love. Tom and my two precious girls have gone above and beyond to make me feel special, filling the day with lots of love…



special surprises of sweet treats…


pure joy & laughter…


and family fun and games…


My heart is overflowing with love for these two children God blessed me with when he made me their Mommy.

But…

Today is also a day where my heart feels..a bit empty. My oldest daughter, the one I have dreamed about bringing home for close to three years now since her little hand first held mine is sitting in Africa, waiting for her Mommy to hold her once again. My heart breaks when I think about her being across the ocean, unable to join in the family fun with us today...and it just doesn't feel complete without her. 



I find joy and SO much gratitude knowing that we are closer than ever to bringing her home. In fact, last week on May 5, we received official notification from U.S. Immigration saying we had been approved (again) to adopt internationally. Now we wait on the PAIR process, which is where U.S. Immigration (in the U.S.) and U.S. Embassy (in Ethiopia) review all of HER documents and give us approval to adopt her specifically. This can take anywhere between 2-5 months. So, although I am grateful and happy that we are as far as we are in this process, I still find myself longing for the daughter I do not have here with me today with a sense of urgency to get her home like never before.

The emptiness I feel today also comes from a loss that stings a bit more today than it has on other days. Today is the first Mother’s Day that I have experienced since we lost a precious life that was growing inside me this past September. I know the baby I never met is in the arms of our Creator right now in Heaven and I completely trust God’s plan, but I can’t help but feel the raw emotion of knowing I’ll never get to experience being a Mommy to that precious baby or the joy it would have brought to my life. And today..it hurts.

I know many of you reading this have been through or are going through similar situations. Some of you reading this whom I’ve never met and some of you being near and dear to my heart, are currently in the midst of a struggle with infertility, some of you are feeling the pain from a loss of an unborn baby or a baby who only got to breathe a few sweet breaths of life before going into the arms of Jesus, some of you are in the midst of waiting on an adoption to happen..wondering if it ever will, some of you are feeling alone and abandoned as you care for your babies by yourself, and some of you are clinging tightly to your little ones realizing not every Mama can celebrate today.

Let me share something with you. In whatever season you are in, whatever pain or loss or grief you feel…know you are not alone. Even if you feel like no one could ever understand what you’re going through, I promise, there is One who does. I have found joy through the darkness in allowing the love of Jesus that never runs dry to fill me more abundantly during this season than ever in my life before. I want to encourage you with this today friend, find your strength in Him. In the One who will never leave you, will never let you down, and whose plan for your life is greater and higher than you could ever imagine. Trust Him. And know you are NOT alone.


“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

Saturday, April 11, 2015

What to Expect When You're "Expecting"

It has been 2 full weeks since we announced that we are now officially “expecting” another daughter (via the news of our referral for our adoption).  We want to first take a moment to give God the glory for the amazing outpouring of love and support we have received. He has truly been moving hearts in ways we never would have imagined and we have heard story after story about how our journey has inspired, brought hope, and given the opportunity for so many of you to step out in faith. Thank you for sharing those stories with us…they help us to remember that God is doing SO many amazing things through our adoption journey, not only in what we are experiencing first hand, but also in how He is impacting the lives of so many others too.

It is amazing.

As of today, we have received over $12,600 in donations to help us bring ‘Hope’ home. Friends, that is over half way to being fully funded. In just 14 days.

14 days, 70 donations, over $12,000.

God is moving.

It is amazing.

YOU are part of this miracle.

Thank you.



So..since we are now “expecting” and so many of you have joined us in this journey, we wanted to take a moment to answer some of your questions we have received over the last two weeks as well.

What does “official referral” mean?

Well, for starters, if you didn’t think God could truly do ANYTHING, think again! This is proof. It’s a miracle. It means that ‘Hope’ has been officially matched with our family for the purpose of adoption. It means that she will not go to a different family or spend any nights in the orphanage without a family waiting for her…officially. She has a family, and it is US!

What’s next?

Paper, paper, paper.

Wait, wait, wait.

Pray, pray, pray.

Our next step is to submit our case to the “PAIR” process, which is new since we began this journey almost three years ago. Our agency will submit our home study along with all of ‘Hope’s’ documents to US Immigration to review it all and hopefully approve our case. Once it is approved there, it will go to the US Embassy in Ethiopia where they will have to review and approve it as well. Once this is completed, we will receive a letter that is then sent to our agency and we can be submitted to  court. This PAIR process has been known to take 2-5 months depending on how quickly it is approved or if any other documents are needed once they review it. PLEASE PRAY OURS IS APPROVED PROMPTLY WITHOUT ADDITIONAL DOCUMENTS REQUESTED!!! (We have still not been submitted to PAIR as there is one document in limbo…we should be submitted next week.)

When will she come home?

Once we pass the PAIR process, we will receive our court date (could take 2 or so months to get) where Tom will travel to Ethiopia and we will officially become ‘Hope’s’ parents. After court there will be more paperwork to process in order to get her the documents necessary to come home (new birth certificate, passport, medical/physical exam etc). Then there will be a final appointment with the US Embassy (2-4 weeks after the court date) to approve her US Visa, and she will come home as our daughter!!

Is there anything that could slow the process?

YES!

The tricky part is that the courts close for the summer months due to the rainy season, so if we do not pass the PAIR process and get a court date before they close in June, that pushes things back 2 to 3 more months. So, we are asking for fervent prayers over the timeline and approvals so that she doesn’t have to wait longer than necessary. And as I said, approvals of all these steps are key….without approvals of each of these steps, we can’t move forward.

When do you “expect” her to be home?

Time and time again, we have learned that we cannot put a timeline on this adoption. In one of my first journal entries I was looking back on, I wrote that I thought she would be home in 4 months. I laugh at myself now for thinking that, as we have learned that we cannot put a timeline on this adoption as things can change at a moments notice. BUT, we feel right now that the “best case” is that she would be home in the next 6-8 months.

Is there anything I can do to help?

PRAY: Prayer has brought us this far and will get her home in the end!! Please specifically pray that approvals are met in a timely manner and that there are no more delays. Pray for her heart as she transitions to new environments. Pray that God will continue to provide for us as we move forward in faith. And ultimately, pray that His perfect will be done.

SHARE: Share our story with your friends and family…you never know who needs encouragement and this is a PERFECT example of God’s faithfulness…both in the good parts and in the hard parts of this journey. He remains the same and has NEVER left us, will NEVER leave us, and LOVES us (and ‘Hope’ & YOU) more than we can ever imagine!

CONSIDER DONATING: Unfortunately when adopting internationally there are significant financial requirements. Because of so many generous donations received over the last 2 weeks, we have been able to pay a significant portion of our agency fees. However, there will be more fees as well as we move forward and eventually travel (twice) to Ethiopia. In our previous blog Relentless Love Returns (click here to read it) there is a breakdown of all the fees we will need to complete the adoption. If you would like to make an online donation, you can donate in the right column of this blog via Paypal or GoFundMe (you must view the full website to see these options if you are on a mobile device). We have also been receiving donations in the mail. If you would like to donate that way to assure we get 100% of your donation, please contact us and we will give you the information needed.

We also still have some Relentless Love t-shirts, hand made beaded necklaces from the village where we first met ‘Hope’, and Ethiopian coffee for sale. Please let us know via comments on the blog or facebook message if you are interested in purchasing something.


Thank you for joining us in our journey to bring our daughter home. 


"What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?"  Romans 8:31