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Yes, I realize I’ve been MIA for a few months now.

Okay, like five or six.

Going from a family of five to a family of six, traveling halfway around the world (TWICE), and all the ups and downs of these last many many many weeks and months… all of that will have to wait a bit longer because, honestly, I’m still processing it all.

We are blessed.  That will have to be enough for now.

In the meantime, I have settled to our new normal just enough to crack open a book now and then.  Among my recent reads was a book written by a couple of teenage guys, intended for an audience of teens.

One might expect… well, not much.

One would be gravely mistaken.  And pleasantly surprised.  And encouraged.  And convicted.  And challenged.

In “Do Hard Things” , the Harris brothers recall the origins of the Rebelution movement they started at age sixteen, an internet phenomenon among Christian teens seeking more from their formative years, and through their experience urge their peers — and all of the rest of us, really — to throw off the false bonds of culturally created adolescence and instead use this time to throw themselves into something much bigger.

Want to see it first hand?  Check out The Rebelution online, take a look at Chapter 1, and/or watch this short video about the book.

Filled with a healthy mix of anecdotes and practical advice, “Do Hard Things” is easily readable, with a tone that both relates at the peer level and demands respect.  I cannot imagine a Christian teen reading it and NOT feeling motivated to go beyond the expected.

I was impressed with this book, and have already informed my eight-year old that it will shortly be required reading. I would encourage those of you with teens or one-day-will-be-teens to check it out and do the same.

You won’t regret it.

(I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review)

Reality Check

Adoption is hard.

HARD.

I’m not going to lie, friends.  Though I know there are different and difficult challenges to come, this (hopefully) last part of the wait is horrible.  I am a MESS.

Our daughter’s case was submitted to the U.S. Embassy on August 29.  This Monday, we received an email (cc’ing the wrong agency, BTW) from the Embassy requesting a birth family interview.  This was expected and normal, and in other recent cases has been scheduled within 24-48 hours of receipt… but of course this week Ethiopia is celebrating its new year (they follow a different calendar), so things haven’t moved beyond that request.

In the meantime, I feel like holing myself in the corner and rocking back and forth, wailing.

Does that sound like an over-reaction?

Consider how I explained my feelings to my kiddos when they witnessed said wailing:

“You know that Mommy loves you so much.  You are each a part of me.  If you were stuck somewhere I couldn’t get to you, somewhere far away, I would do ANYTHING to get to you.  ANYTHING.  Well, right now your baby sister is halfway around the world… without her Mommy, without me… and I can’t get to her to wipe her tears, to take care of her owies, to hold her when she is sad.  I can’t bring her home yet, and it’s tearing me apart inside because — just like I would do ANYTHING for you — I would do ANYTHING to bring her home with us.  Can you understand that?”

Three nodding heads.  And one sympathetic crier who proceeded to cuddle with Mommy for the next hour as I wept.  Thanks, sweet Annie.  :)

There is no getting around it.  Please bear with me… and if you’re so inclined, please pray to God to open the doors so I can fly to her as soon as humanly possible.

 

After staring at it for a few months now, this week I finally completed my application to volunteer with perhaps my most beloved NPO ever, International Justice Mission.  My hope?  To become an official IJM Justice Advocate.

NAYSAYER #1:  But you’re a Republican, aren’t you?  Don’t you Republicans hate people?

Yeah, um, NO.  Well, generally yes to the first question (leaning towards Rep/Libertarian), and a big fat NO on the second.

For those of you who think I am making this stuff up, I was honestly asked this question during law school back in 2000, when I was interning for the summer at a law firm in Nashville.  One of the senior-level associates, an extremely intelligent liberally-minded woman, could not for the life of her understand why I was a Republican.  After all, I was the president of our school’s Legal Aid Society.  I had taken hours upon hours of training classes to become a crisis counselor for pregnant women.  To her, my political affiliation seemed crazy.  Hypocritical.  To “pretend” I wanted to serve people yet vote for “evil, corporate-loving, greed-filled politicians who wanted to hurt the weakest among us” made absolutely no sense to her.

(Said the liberal lawyer working for the big bad law firm, making enormous amounts of money defending those corporations.  Yes, the irony was not lost on me.)

My answer to her 12 years ago is my same answer today.

I do want to help people.  I just don’t believe it’s the job of the government to do it for me.

The word “charity“, in its purest sense, is a reflection of the agāpe love shown by Christ to His people.  “[C]harity, as man’s love for man, [must] be based not upon the desirability of its object but upon the transformation of its subject through the power of divine agāpe.”  It was never meant to come from the impersonal; on the contrary, it is an intimately personal kind of love given from one to an undeserving other.  Government and charity don’t mix, by definition.

Not only is charity not the government’s rightful role, but it does a horrid job of providing charity.  Yes, it can throw money at whatever problems it deems worthy (a.k.a. increases polling numbers) at the moment, but history has shown us that money alone cannot heal. In fact, in most cases it makes the problems worse in the long term because government handouts alone tend create a culture of dependency.  Such has been the case in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in the American welfare system.

In the words of former President Ronald Reagan, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ ”

(And yes, I understand this is perhaps an oversimplification… but just go with it.  I’m not writing a thesis here.)

Charity, in its truest sense, must instead be the role of the church and the compassionate individual… because people need REAL hands to pick them up, to free them from those who oppress and enslave them.  Which leads me to:

NAYSAYER #2:  But the church sucks.  It is full of hypocrites like you.  The church only cares about its niche causes, like fighting against g*y marriage and being pro-birth.  It doesn’t really love people.

Sadly, in many cases that is true.  Throughout history, the church has totally dropped the ball when it comes to genuinely loving people.  Loving sinners.  Getting into the ditch with the broken and being the hands and feet of Jesus to them.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s one of the main reasons the politicians were able to swoop in.

They didn’t swoop in to help out of compassion, mind you… but to create dependent voters.  Surely we’re not that naive.

But that’s another post.  (perhaps another thesis)

I am, however, grateful to say that we can see in the American church at large a radical shift toward charity:  feeding and housing the poor, providing medicine and much-needed care for the sick.  These efforts have almost always been present on the small scale, but today we’re seeing them explode across the country and across denominations.

In general, though, the church still does suck at seeking justice:  freeing the oppressed from their captors, persecuting perpetrators, providing healing and assistance for those who so desperately need it most.  Only a few organizations — some within the church, some without — have made any inroads at all in this endeavor.

IJM is one of them.

And this week, I did not fill out that application with a light heart.  A joyful one, yes.  An extraordinary humbled one, absolutely.

But I have no naivete about the battle I am about to enter.

You see, I am a sinner unrighteous in the sight of God, relying completely on my Savior Jesus Christ for my justification and sanctification, I recognize that any human effort made on His behalf to rescue His people is merely a gift He gives, to allow us to participate even in some small way in His redemptive work in the world.  But it is a war, my friends… a battle against pure, unadulterated evil.  Even speaking out from the comfort of our American perch will not shield us from the heat of that battle, from the arrows that may come our way.

But over the past 13 years of praying for the work of IJM, I also have come to believe wholeheartedly that God has mightily blessed this work, and I am honored and humbled to be considered to play a part in it.  Even if, and perhaps because, it’s hard.  Why?  Because I am confident in a God who hears the cries of the afflicted:

“O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.”  -Psalm 10:17-18

(friendly) NAYSAYER #3:  Um, girlfriend?  Don’t you have kind of a full plate?  You know, homeschooling multiple children, going to Ethiopia and bringing a new daughter home and all?  Why now? 

You’ve hit the nail on the head, friend.  I have used this very excuse to stop myself from moving forward on this for (literally) YEARS.  But no longer.  If I really believe He is a God who hears the oppressed, who works tirelessly in battle against injustice, then — though my work in the home is essentially important — my effort on His behalf must take me, must take our family, beyond these walls.  We must engage our friends, our neighbors, our church, our community to get past the superficial Christian life, to never again refuse to acknowledge the reality of injustice next door and halfway around the world.

If I can play even some small role in bringing about awareness, change, and action in opposition to injustice in these circles, then I consider it a great blessing.

I am excited to begin, working at least initially with my church to motivate those who heard and responded with passion to a message given by IJM to the congregation a few weeks ago, as well as helping with a Justice Club recently formed at a local high school.  My prayer is that this will be just the first such club of many in the area.  I cannot wait to see how God grows awareness among the children and young adults in our midst, weaving the work of justice into the pattern of their lives so they too can move beyond the superficial into the amazing work He has set before us all.

So yes, I’m a conservative.  And yes, I am passionate about the work of justice.

And I’m not alone.

(more to come…)

The Next Step

Over the past two nights, I have barely slept… waking repeatedly to the demands of my heart, of my God’s heart, to pray.

While I lay awake, our sweet D’s grandfather traveled many miles to appear in a courtroom in Addis Ababa.  This morning (around midnight our time), he was there… and in the words of our agency’s attorney, he “did well giving his consent.”

Consent.

To strangers halfway around the world.

Whenever I awoke these past nights, I hardly knew what to pray.  How to pray.  I found myself going back and forth…

… first praying for D’s peace, for her grandfather’s peace, that all would go smoothly and we would be able to move forward with her adoption.

… then finding myself asking God to reconcile what was broken, to make a way for D to be raised with her birth family.

… and ultimately, giving it over to Him and begging — crying out, at this point — for His will to be done in the lives of this man and his beautiful granddaughter.

This morning, while I watched our boys at karate, I got the email confirming his appearance from our coordinator.  Its title:  “All Good”.

I wept.  Big, ugly tears.  So many emotions that had been bottled up, anticipating the news, now pouring out in tears.

Because I struggle with that description… that somehow what transpired in a small courtroom in Africa while the western world slept is “all good.”

Yet, ultimately, it’s appropriate.

It comes down to faith in the sovereignty of God.  How He bends circumstances, beautifies them, for His glory.  He takes what is broken and creates it again WHOLE.  This is my God, who uses the picture of adoption to represent His relationship with all those who follow Him.

And He loves us fiercely, my friends.

I already have what I can only describe as a fervent, growing love for this little one.  It surprises me, honestly.  I haven’t yet met her, and have to date only witnessed brief two-dimensional moments captured by the cameras of other parents who have traveled to the care center during these past two months.  But my heart longs for her… to shower her with love, to sing her to sleep, to look in her eyes and kiss her forehead and promise her that we’ll never ever let go.

He is already creating in me a momma’s love for this child.

One week from today, we will board a plane and fly halfway around the world to meet sweet D for the first time.  To stand before a judge in Ethiopia and officially adopt her.

To swear to love her always, to redeem what was broken.

Please pray with us for our little D.  Pray for her heart, for God to prepare her for the love of the family to which He has delivered her.  Pray for our kiddos at home, who have never been without at least one of their parents for more than two days, that they would thrive.

We travel with a heavy yet joyous burden… knowing what a responsibility and privilege our God has given us, to be the parents of these four beautiful children.

To Him be the glory: the Mender of the broken, the Creator of all things new.

I honestly don’t even know how to best write this.

There are so many things I want to express, yet so little I understand.  How God works, how He chooses… so many things.

What I do know is this:  today, my friends, we REJOICE.

We have waited for what often seemed like forever.  Too long, it has felt.  More than two years have passed since we first stepped out in faith and applied to adopt a little girl from Ethiopia.  We have been on the wait list since August 2010.

There were times we nearly lost faith, when we questioned God’s plan and His power.  When we thought we knew who our daughter was, only to have God say “not yet”.  When we wallowed in self-pity and lashed out in anger at the plight of one whose face we could not see… for her birth family, for all the little ones like her stuck in orphanages while impersonal politics loomed large and hope — for her, for them — seemed naive at best.

Then on Friday morning at 11:15am (MST), my phone rang.  I heard the first few notes of the song I had programmed to play ONLY if our adoption agency called from a particular number with our referral.  I tell you, the first stanza didn’t finish before I dropped the laundry in my hands and whipped that phone out of my back pocket.  Our coordinator had me on speaker phone; all the other office folks were in her office with her to listen in (we live just across the street from our agency, so they all know me quite well!).

I heard:  “This is Allison!  Did I call you from the right number?”

Me:  “If you’re calling with a REFERRAL you did!!!!!!”

Allison:  “I am!!”

And then I collapsed onto the stairs, freaked out a little, and started shaking uncontrollably.  Normal reaction, right?

Long story short, a few minutes later my husband rushed home from work and we drove across the street to the agency, where we stood at Allison’s desk and first saw the picture of an absolutely gorgeous little eight-month old brown-eyed girl with super-long eyelashes and the cutest lips EVER puckering up and blowing a kiss to the camera.

She has some spunk, that one.  ;)

(we can’t show you her “smoochy” face until we pass court, but just look at that adorable bald head!)

We then learned that our sweet baby girl’s name means “the second one” in Amharic, which has significance I’m sure to her birth family (I hope we’ll find out as we go through the process) but also to us… it was as if God directly spoke to us when we read those words, telling us that THIS one, the “second one”, was ours.  That all the waiting was necessary, because she hadn’t yet been born when we thought we were about to be matched back in March 2011.  That His timing was perfect.  That THIS child would need OUR family.  That we would need her just as much, right now.

That He was worthy of our trust and our praise.   Always had been… always would be.

Adoption is rife with a strange mix of joy and pain, of beauty alongside ashes, of both broken and fulfilled dreams.  We already have felt some of the sobriety of this day and of the past months, both for our family and for another family halfway around the world.  More to come on that.  For now… as we move forward, we ask that you join us in prayer for little Miss D, for her birth family, and for all of us as we enter yet another stage of the wait.

Both my newly-minted five-year old and three-year old decided what they wanted most for their birthdays was to ride a horse.

(as a life-long horse lover, I can honestly say this momma was purty durn proud)

So yesterday, we took a drive about 20 minutes south to Kids and Horses, an organization our neighbors and friends have used for years for riding lessons, where Annie and Bode (and Jonah, even though it wasn’t his birthday!) had the opportunity to ride a bit.

Annie was first, and she had absolutely no fear.  She was in her element from the beginning, smiling from ear to ear and loving every minute.  Even Darla, the lovely woman in charge, noted how naturally she sat in the saddle… like she was born to be there.

Bode was up next, and was surprisingly the most cautious of the three… but he warmed up pretty quickly.  He is still convinced that he first needs to learn how to be a mutton buster before he can work at becoming a horseman.  :)

Jonah was last.  Normally quite reserved and hesitant in new situations, he didn’t react at all the way we thought he would.  He LOVED it:  the feel of being on the horse, the “bumpy” ride, the dirt, the sweat, the wind… all of it.  At the end of his ride, he wasn’t the only one smiling… Mommy was grinning big.

If anyone local is looking for riding lessons, I would highly recommend Darla and her group.  She was absolutely fabulous with the kids, taught them even in the short time we were there about the parts of the saddle and a few horsecare tips, and her horses are lovers.  Given how much our kiddos loved it — and the fact they’ve been talking about it nonstop ever since — we will definitely be back!

It has been a rough week.

A few days ago, an altercation occurred between a teenager and a neighborhood watch volunteer.  The teen was black; the volunteer Hispanic.  One died, the victim of a gunshot wound to the chest.  Many call it a hate crime.  Others claim the shooter had cause.  The story has been front page news across the nation for days.

Last weekend, a blockbuster based on an extremely popular young adult book series smashed box office records all over the world.  Yet a disturbing trend of disparaging tweets about the race of a pivotal character made headlines.  Some of these tweets expressed disappointment that an African-American actress was cast for the role; others said the character’s death “wasn’t as sad” as they thought it would be “because she was black.”

Apparently we’re not so enlightened as a society to believe the days of racism — either assumed or actual — are behind us.

Just look at the aftermath of the week’s events:  Death has been politicized, or minimized according to color.  Those with lighter skin are hunted in Chicago by gangs with hoodies seeking some warped form of vigilante justice.  A celebrity with an axe to grind carelessly shares the wrong address of the shooter, instead condemning an elderly couple to night after terror-filled night, fearing for their lives.  Technology is used to degrade a young girl because of her skin color, despite the author’s obvious intent for the character.

Ignorance is revealed.  Latent anger, even hatred, is uncovered.

I intentionally used the passive voice there… because that’s how we tend to process tragedy.  We separate ourselves, believing “we” are somehow above the fray.  “We” would, of course, never do such things.  “We” are more empathetic, more enlightened, more tolerant, more politically correct.   After all, “we” elected an African American to the presidency (insert sarcasm here).

“We” are different than “they” are.  Surely.

But are we?

The truth, deep down, is that we’re not so different as we’d like to believe.  Every single one of us tends to believe one side over the other based on our own biases, our own experiences, our own set of beliefs.  And some of those biases, my friends, are ugly.  They are deliberately ignorant.  They generalize, they stereotype, they degrade and humiliate.

They reveal our hearts.

Our youngest daughter will have darker skin than we do.  Unlike our esteemed President, I don’t have to speculate as to whether this biologically unrelated child will look like me… I know for a fact she won’t.

I’m not going to stand here on my soapbox telling you how we “don’t see” color… that it won’t matter in her life.  Because whether it matters in our own little circle or not (it won’t), the events of this past week make abundantly clear that such things still DO matter in this world.  That ignorance and hatred exists, no matter how much we want to wish it away or sweep it under the rug.

Will you recognize the ugliness in your own heart today?  What, then, will you decide to do about it?

May I humbly suggest something?

Don’t “stand with Trayv*n”… but don’t assume the worst of him, either.   Don’t dismiss racist tweets about a beautiful child as immature banter, or as a sign that the world is about to collapse under an onslaught of hatred (although you all should be dismayed at the apparent and total lack of reading comprehension in our populace… Rue was, after all, clearly described in the book as having dark skin).

Instead, I would encourage you to be sad.  Saddened that our children are hateful.  That our elders harbor generational prejudice.

I would also encourage you to be reflective. What does this reveal about the world in which we live?  And, more importantly — lest we are tempted to pass blame and judgment elsewhere — what does this reveal about me?  About you?

Deep down, am I really any different?  Are you?  Are you just better at holding your tongue than those who are condemned for their words?  Does that really make you a better person?

What are my own prejudices?  To whose “side” am I likely to jump, if given only an instant to take sides?

Be honest with yourself… and then…

Be personally proactive.

Do everything in your power to ensure racism, whatever remains of it through generational prejudice, experience, or whatever, is eradicated in yourself.  In your own children.  In your circle of friends.  Teach your kids.  Take every opportunity to live by example.  Pray to God to remove the vestiges of sin in your life, and in the lives of those around you.

Yes, our daughter will have dark skin.  She is coming into a world where she will likely be looked down upon by someone simply because her skin is brown.  Make the decision today that you and yours will not be that someone.  That your heart will be changed.

That’s where we start.

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