Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Beauty From Brokenness

That is how I would describe my feelings as I enter the blogging world for the very first time.  Out of all my siblings, I am the poorest writer.  Out of everyone in my household I am the most technically challenged.  So sitting down to begin something that requires creative writing skills and knowledge of the computer like...well...trying to swallow the ocean.  I've been thinking about starting a blog for a couple months now.  I know I'm called to share the story of God's glorious unfolding in our lives.  So because I want to chronicle His amazing Goodness I am embarking on a task I'm not well qualified for.
How would one go about swallowing the ocean?

One swallow at a time.  So that's what I'll do.

Now...where to start...
Maybe it would help to introduce you to my beautiful family!
I have been married to my handsome, prince charming for 23 years!!  We have 4 fabulous children!
Ellie - 18  full of grace, sweetness, beauty
Ashley - 16 beautiful, creative, strong leader
Daniel - 14 intelligent, sensitive, thoughtful
Josiah - 10  joyful, giving, considerate
Jim and I have been incredibly blessed by each of our kids and the gifts and unique personalities God has given them.
For the last 19 years we have called Cary, NC home.  We love it here!  Mild winters (except for this week!), Lots of Sunshine, wonderful friends and neighbors, an awesome church, family nearby...We are so blessed!  Jim owns his own medical practice and I get to do what I always dreamed of a wife and mom and raise a family!
So, ok...that's enough of the background information...What would motivate a non-writer, technically challenged, super busy mom, who doesn't sit still for more than 15 minutes at a time to sit in front of a computer for hours on end and type??  God!  And the desire to share our adoption story.  So to do that I need to go back in time a few years.   When I sit here and reflect on what God used to move our heart for the orphan there are many things that come to mind.  A family mission trip to China in 2008 where we ministered in orphanages.  Mission trips to El Salvador and Guatemala that broke our heart for the poor and destitute.  Watching so many friends obediently and sacrificially open their hearts and homes to adopt a child.  But perhaps the most significant experience that brought us face to face with the question of adoption was participating in an orphan hosting program called  New Horizons For Children.  New Horizons is a program that brings orphans between the ages of 8 and 15 from the countries of Latvia, Ukraine, China, and the Philippines to America to spend 4-5 weeks with a Christian family.  The goals of the program are to share the love of Christ with an orphaned child, provide needed medical care, allow them to experience the unconditional love of a family, and for some of the children...connect them to a family who will adopt them.  In November 2011 we were introduced to NHFC for the first time.  The story of how God led me by a display for NHFC on a Monday... to bringing us to sign up to host a boy for Christmas 2 days later is too long to share here.  But the significant thing to know about that process is that God used MANY ways to confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were supposed to host that boy.
So, on December 11, 2011 Reno entered our lives.  Little did we know on the day we met this shy, scared 13-year-old, the joy, the brokenness, the life-altering experience we had just embarked on.

Reno is a very active, mischievous, loving, stubborn, giving, hardworking, child.  Full of life.  His English was surprisingly good for a Latvian boy so we were able to communicate well with him.  He fit right into the middle of our children and he became like one of our own.  I immediately fell in love with this child and believed we were called to adopt him.  My children fell in love with Reno and wanted him to be their brother.  Jim loved Reno.  He absolutely did.  But he did not feel called to adopt him.  So when we put him on the plane to fly back to Latvia, one month after his arrival I experienced a desperate, numbing, sense of grief and loss.  I felt very strongly that God was calling us to adopt this child and I began to pray fervently and desperately that God would change Jim's heart.  I began to search the scriptures for what God says about the orphan and fatherless.  I listened to podcasts about adoption, I read books about adoption.  I knew that orphan care was close to the heart of God.  James 1:27 says, "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this:  to visit orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself unstained by the world."  I studied the doctrine of adoption in the Bible.  I was in awe that God planned our adoption before the foundation of the world!  He reached out to this destitute, wretched child and adopted me into His family.  I was enthralled with the beautiful story of our adoption and I wanted to participate in this wondrous story in a tangible way.  This became a silent, desperate prayer of mine continuously, day and night.  "God, you can do anything!  You say if we ask in faith, you will move mountains!  Move this Mountain, God!  Look at all the glory you could receive from this!  Do it for your glory!"  But the mountain wasn't moving.   Jim wasn't any closer to having a desire to adopt Reno, I was slipping into depression, and our marriage was going through the wringer.  So we decided we needed to seek counseling.  We went to see one of the pastors at our church and that day was a turning point for me.  If I am honest, I have to admit that I entered the pastor's office that day with hopes that he would show Jim all the scripture references that point to adoption and care for the orphan and convince him that he needed to be obedient to God's calling here.  But that's not what happened.  What happened is the pastor reminded both of us of our calling as husband and wife.  Jim is called to be the head of the home, to lead, to love his wife unconditionally.  I am called to submit, respect and honor my husband.  Even if Jim was wrong in this decision, I was called to submit to his leading.  So I left the church that day with an attitude of surrender.  I took this dream of mine and I held it up to God and I said, "Here. Take it.  I'm giving it to you.  If you give this to me someday, I'll love you.  If you never give this to me, I'll still love you."  I'm not saying that from that point on my life was hunky dory, rainbows and roses.  No, this was still a DAILY surrender I had to make to love God more than this dream.  To surrender to His plan, WHATEVER that might be.  And then, about a month later, we received an email that stopped my breath.  Reno had not been chosen by a family for the summer hosting and NHFC wanted to know if we would be interested in re-hosting him.  Uh?!  Yes!!!!  Jim and I prayed about it together and decided to go ahead and re-host.  Oh, how my heart soared!!  My Latvian son was coming back!  I was convinced that this time Jim would bond more with Reno and be moved to adopt him.  Why else would God bring him back to us?
Well, Jim did bond with Reno this time.  We had a spectacular, fun-filled 5 weeks together that summer.

And when Reno left this time, Jim was grieving too.  God began slowly (ever so slowly) moving Jim's heart toward adopting Reno.  We contacted an adoption agency and filled out the 47 page application.  Jim began talking to organizations about possible ways to raise money for adoption.  He found a 5k that raised money for adoption and told me to run in it.  We were taking small steps in the direction of adopting Reno, yet still Jim was hesitant to commit 100% to this.  He still had lots of questions and doubts.  He still had a sense of uneasiness.  He talked to numerous men who had adopted to get their input.  Would you believe, that not one of the men that Jim spoke to told him he should adopt Reno.  In fact, several said the opposite.  One local pastor who has adopted told Jim that he believed God had called our family to adoption, but not this boy.  When I heard that, my heart filled with anger, and I declared emphatically...."I will NEVER, adopt any other child but Reno!"  Remember that statement.  It will be significant later.  
Then, one day, in October of 2012, God gave Jim an answer.  And it wasn't the answer I had been praying and hoping for.  Jim sat our family down and told us that it wasn't right for him to keep stringing all of us along when he had no peace about moving forward with this adoption.  He knew he needed to end this.  The answer had to be "no."  He felt that he had been trying to make a decision for adoption more out of wanting to fulfill my dream than out of a firm conviction that God had called him to it.  So....there I was that day...feeling like I had just been kicked in the gut and all the wind was completely knocked out of me.  I was angry, confused, shocked, and so very sad.  This wasn't what I was expecting!  This wasn't what I was praying for!  And this felt so wrong!  I felt like I had poured my dreams into this beautiful glass vase...

And offered them up to God and He had taken the bottle and CRUSHED all my dreams.  And now all I was left with were shattered, broken pieces that could never be put back together again and would never be something beautiful.

And yet, even in that very dark place I could feel God loving me.  I heard a song on the radio the next day that I had never heard before...A song by Meredith Andrews called "Not for a Moment."  The truths that God spoke to my heart through the song were that He is Constant.  He is Good.  He is Sovereign.  And He had not forsaken me, not even for a moment.  As I turned to God's word, He began to speak other truths to my heart.  This post is already way too long so I won't share them all here, but one of those truths came from Romans 8:28-29.

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren."

Many of us can quote Romans 8:28 by heart, but most of us forget the important truth of verse 29.  Yes, God does work all things together for the good of those who love God...But that GOOD is so that they will be conformed to the image of His Son and so that HE will receive all the GLORY!   The Bible doesn't teach a prosperity gospel.  If I'm good and obey God, I'm not promised that all my dreams will come true.  God's design for my life is to work all things out for His GLORY and my GOOD.  He uses suffering to mold us into His image so that more of Him radiates from our lives.  

God gave me a beautiful picture of this truth about a week later.  He brought to my mind the picture of a stained glass window.  A stained glass window is made up of many broken pieces of glass.  When those seemingly worthless shards are put together, they make a beautiful image.
God wants to use our brokenness to shine forth His beauty.  

Sometimes we are crushed.  Sometimes God brings trials into our life that we can't understand.  Sometimes the pain is so great we are paralyzed by it.  But God promises that through all the pain and brokenness He is working to reflect more of His beauty through our lives.  

And so throughout the year following Jim's decision, God would continue to refine my faith.  He continued to teach me to trust His promises.  To believe that He was sovereign in all things.  He reminded me to choose joy and choose thankfulness on those dark days when I was once again questioning His purpose in all of this.  

In April of 2013, Ashley and I had the opportunity to serve together on a mother/daughter mission trip to Village of Hope in Guatemala. 

 It was during that trip, as we interacted with the other moms and daughters, many of whom had adopted, that God opened my heart to the possibility of being willing to adopt a different child.  This was huge coming from the woman who emphatically declared she would "never adopt any other child but Reno."  The day after Ashley and I shared together that God was revealing to both of us that He may be calling our family to adoption, I received news that another family was being given the opportunity to move forward in adopting Reno.   When we returned home, Jim and I began to pray about God's will for our family regarding adoption.   And life moved on.  We got busy with Ellie's high school graduation, sending her off to Liberty University, beginning another school year, marching band season for Ashley and Daniel....Life was full, very busy, and I had come to peace with where God had me right now.  I knew that He had taught me so much about faith through that whole trial with Reno.  He had shown me in a thousand ways how much He loved me.  And if that was all that God had in mind when he brought Reno into our lives, that would have been enough.  But then, on another October day, my husband once again made a statement that rocked my world.
He had been seeing pictures of some of the children who were available for Christmas hosting with NHFC.  He told me that he wanted to host another boy and this time he wanted to adopt that child.  
I was literally stunned, speechless!  I felt like crying and laughing at the same time.  My heart was overwhelmed and full of questions.  Was this actually genuine?  Or was this going to be another hard test of my faith?  But in the days ahead I could see that God had resolutely moved Jim's heart toward adoption.  He was leading our family boldly into the adventure this time.  He was the one who spent hours looking over the photos on the NHFC website to choose a boy for our family.  He was the one who talked to our regional coordinator to discuss this boy.  He was the one who called the previous host family to find out more background on the child he had chosen.  He was the one with the quiet, certain confidence, and this time I was the one with fear and trepidation in my heart.  Could I trust God with my heart again?  Was I willing to give it to him to possibly break into pieces again?  Could I love another child in the same way I loved Reno?  These were the questions running through my mind in the days after Jim told me of his desire.  As I prayed and asked God for wisdom and direction He gave me peace that He was definitely leading our family in this direction.  I had learned how to trust Him to work out His will for His glory and my good in the last two years and I could trust Him now.  My heart began to overflow with joy and awe as I considered how deeply God loved me.  I had completely let go of this dream of adoption.  When I thought God said "no" to this dream, he had actually said, "Yes.  But not now...and not this one."  
Right after we had hosted Reno the second time and I was in a holding pattern...waiting for Jim's answer on adopting Reno, God had clearly led me to a verse in the Bible one morning that left me stunned.  I was looking up a verse that was quoted in a devotional so that I could read the verse in context.  I turned to Isaiah 43 that morning and read the whole chapter.  As I got to v. 5, my heart stopped and I fell to my knees on the floor asking, "God, did you really just whisper a promise to my heart??  Or am I just reading what I want to in this passage?"  Isaiah 43:5-6 say, "Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and gather you from the west.  I will say to the north, 'Give them up!'  And to the south, 'Do not hold them back.'  I wrote next to those verses "8/17/12 Reno?"  I believed that day that God was telling me he was going to bring a child into our family from the east and gather us from the west to go get that child.  At the time I firmly believed that was Reno.  When everything fell apart I questioned God, wondering why it had seemed so clear that morning that He was speaking to my heart about adoption.  So a year later when Jim was moved to begin the adoption process with a little boy from the Ukraine, he reminded me of that promise God had made to me and told me that God was fulfilling His promises to me.  
So by the end of October 2013 we were signed up to host Igor for a month at Christmas, and on December 17th we met this sweet 12-year-old boy for the first time and began another glorious adventure of God's grace unfolding in our lives.  
We fell in love with Igor, actually, everyone who met him fell in love with him because he is an affectionate, friendly child who immediately works his way into the heart of every person he meets.  We had a wonderful month with him.  A month full of joy, but also many challenges.  Igor is a 12-year-old who looks like he's 8 and acts like he's 3.  And for those of you who have toddlers, you know just how exhausting the toddler stage can be.  It was hard not to compare Igor to Reno.  The boys are very different from each other.  I realized that I would always love Reno and always feel a pain and ache over the separation from him.  Our daughter, Ellie, described this feeling so well in her blog, which you can view here.
I hope you will take a few minutes to read her post.  She describes perfectly the conflict in our hearts as we went through the hosting process with a different child.  She described it as being a "joyful amputee"...Here's a quote from her blog:

Because of that, I am a joyful amputee (hence the title). I’ve heard it said that learning to live without a loved one is like learning to live without an arm or a leg—you do learn, but your life is never the same. So it is with Reno—we have learned to live without him, but our lives have never been the same. Though I am an amputee, I have joy because I can clearly see the blessings God has showered on my family, even in the midst of pain. Thank you, Jesus.

Igor went back to the Ukraine on January 16th and took part of our hearts with him.  We are well into the adoption process now, having completed our home study we are awaiting approval from the USCIS.  Once we receive that we can send our dossier to the Ukraine and wait once again to receive approval.  We have no guarantee that we will be granted permission to adopt Igor.  All we know right now is that God has clearly called us to this journey.  Our hearts and lives belong to Him and if He decides to break our hearts once again through this process we will still trust Him and give Him all the glory.  
We have designed a tshirt to boldly declare God's story of adoption in our family's hearts.  The sales of these tshirts will help raise some of the funds needed to bring Igor home.  We hope that you will consider purchasing a tshirt and proudly wear it and share this story with others.  You can click HERE to go to the website.  The website also explains the design we chose.

There is a beautiful song by Steven Curtis Chapman called "Glorious Unfolding."  Because the truths of this song resonated so loudly in my heart I wanted to title our family blog by this name.  I hope you will click on the title and listen to the song.  One of my dear friends declared this truth to me over and over again throughout the painful journey with Reno..."This story is not over yet.  God's got something big planned.  Don't despair.  The story is not over."

Lay your head down tonight
Take a rest from the fight
Don’t try to figure it out
Just listen to what I’m whispering to your heart
‘Cause I know this is not
Anything like you thought
The story of your life was gonna be
And it feels like the end has started closing in on you
But it’s just not true
There’s so much of the story that’s still yet to unfold

And this is going to be a glorious unfolding
Just you wait and see and you will be amazed
You’ve just got to believe the story is so far from over
So hold on to every promise God has made to us
And watch this glorious unfolding

God’s plan from the start
For this world and your heart
Has been to show His glory and His grace
Forever revealing the depth and the beauty of
His unfailing Love
And the story has only begun

And this is going to be a glorious unfolding
Just you wait and see and you will be amazed
We’ve just got to believe the story is so far from over
So hold on to every promise God has made to us
And watch this glorious unfolding

We were made to run through fields of forever
Singing songs to our Savior and King
So let us remember this life we’re living
Is just the beginning of the beginning

Of this glorious unfolding
We will watch and see and we will be amazed
If we just keep on believing the story is so far from over
And hold on to every promise God has made to us
We’ll see the glorious unfolding