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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Hey, Preacher . . .Leave My Joe Alone!

I love to read.  I would read all day if I could. I love fiction, biographies, Bible commentaries, mysteries and teen literature like "Twilight" and "The Hunger Games".    I recently read two books that I would consider life-changing and have discussed one of them on this blog many many posts ago. The books are "Radical" and "Radical Together" by Dr. David Platt, a young and very passionate pastor from Birmingham, Alabama.

Long before I laid eyes on these books, God led our family to do a few things that may seem a little radical. He convicted us to downsize our home and to become debt free.  These are not things we did for the sake of the "doing" but in order to free up our finances for whatever He calls us to.  My hope has always been that He would call us to foreign missions in The Philippines.  He may. He knows our hearts are open. 
In any case, because our family was already re prioritizing, some things, these books "hit the spot" and I devoured them in a day or two each.    My husband did as well.

There was one discussion in "Radical Together" that is, what I would consider a "speed bump" in my complete agreement with Dr. Platt. It's the notion of cofffee and lattes as symbols of our American misprioritization.  Yes, silly and trivial, I know.  It seems to come up periodically in blogs of the mission-minded and now, in the pages of my own favorite extra-Biblical material.  Apparently, those of us who enjoy a latte should be pierced with guilt when we buy one.  Check out this blog post by a big, beautiful, multi racial family that seems to truly be seeking to change the world for Jesus click here .  Again, a woman I'm sure I would find like-minded and passionate. Someone I could sit down over a cup of . . . er . .  .water with and talk about the ways we want the Lord to use us during this short run on Earth.  We would probably be kindreds.
It appears that impugning fellow Believers for buying $5 coffee at Starbucks is perfectly acceptable among those who are globally aware and have a heart to meet the physical needs of the lost and dying around the world.   I  am always confused and often irritated at the fact that COFFEE has become the litmus test for our spiritual priorities.   Why not toothpaste???? Why don't books and blogs scoff at those who buy the expensive "Crest Complete" rather than the 98 cent "Aim"?   Why don't we nag families who claim to love the poor and yet purchase Nike's rather than thrift store tennis shoes for their children?  How about those ipods and hand held video games?  Wouldn't THAT money be better used in Botswana?  Do you see where I'm going with this?   Do you understand why the "latte argument" is a strawman discussion?
Nobody knows the heart of another by what is in their paper coffee cup.  Nobody!     The amount of  money that we give to further the cause of the gospel is between Believers and their Savior.  If you are convicted to switch to Folgers, by all means, switch.    Could we do more? Certainly. Our family could do more, give more, use less, be MORE Radical.  But that is conviction that can only come from the Spirit of God. 
Do you want to go REALLY radical?  Ask God what He would have you sacrifice to further His kingdom and then do it - without expecting others to have the same convictions.  
I am off to have my Latte Vente without the two lumps of guilt!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Blushing Under the Bag on My Head

Soooo . . . my previous post contains what I hope to be my one-and-only, official public freak out of this whole adoption.  That. Was. Rough.    I allowed so many worries to take up residence in my heart and mind that I'm pretty sure they had children and grandchildren in my frontal lobe!   I would like to say that it was simply prayer and Bible reading that calmed my fears and put my heart back on track but, truth be told, it was a little skype time with our new son that did the trick.    What I failed to mention in  my "worry wart" post was that we had missed a couple of skypes.  I don' know how or why (we still didn't get to the bottom of what time we were each sitting at the computer but it was clearly NOT the same time - ha ha) but that started me on a worry binge that lasted waaay too long.   The Enemy capitalized on niggling fears that were already present and I practically rolled out the red carpet for him!
I actually considered going back and erasing my previous post because, well . . let's face it . . it's not exactly in line with the person I want to be . .. but I decided not to.  I decided that being real is far more important than saving face so, there you have it.   I tried SO hard to pray my way through the worry and, for brief snatches of time, it helped. Sadly, the only REAL remedy to my fear was a tangible face to face conversation.  I know there will come a day when just God's promises in His word are enough for me.  I long for that day.
I'm just not there yet . . .

Psalm 145:13
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The LORD is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

It's All You Can Do

I have an uneasiness in my spirit lately.  I don't know exactly why or where it came from but I have been walking around  with that feeling that is hard to explain.  It's kind of like the feeling you get when you know you've put your foot in your mouth but you can't talk to the person you've offended to make it right.  Does that make sense? It also feels like the feeling I had as a child when I knew I told a lie and it was just a matter of time before the truth came out. It's that pit-of-your-stomach ache. It  has been dogging me the last couple of days.     I know it's in relation to our upcoming adoption because when I think about it, it gets worse. ( No, we're not having "cold feet". Not even close.)  
I'm a Believer in Christ but I don't know much about spiritual warfare however, I do believe there is some of that going on in my mind. The Enemy has been whispering doubts in my ear (not audibly, don't worry - ha ha) that go something like this:
"He doesn't want to be a part of your family. You're second best.There's somewhere else he'd rather go."
"He's going to be very disappointed once he gets here and finds out how things are."
"Your lives are too boring - homeschooling, church, family events - nothing like the constant activity at the orphanage. He'll go stir crazy in your family."
and even worse . . .
"You're being used."

In my quiet time, I've been reading through Samuel. I could not WAIT to get into God's word this morning and pray through these terrible doubts and fears. In Samuel,  God wanted a closeness with His chosen people that would be impossible when they were ruled by an earthly king.  Even today, God is asking the same of me, imploring me not to trust my feelings or the lies of the enemy but to go straight to Him with my heart's concerns.  He alone can make this path straight. He alone can silence the enemy and restore peace.  I don't need to turn to friends for counsel or to supplemental books for explanations about His will. I just need to trust and obey - keep walking in what I know to be true and leave everything up to Him.

I came away from my quiet time with peace - peace that whatever happens with this adoption, with my family, my health, my children, I know that it is all under the authority of a loving and sovereign God.

I am feeling like I may need to take some practical steps to keep this peace in the forefront of my heart and mind.  First, I feel like I need to step away from the computer a lot more.  I have decided to log on only once in the morning and once at night, and only for a short time.   I have been "googling" things that I am fearful of and the results of my searches induce fear rather than peace.
Second, I realized that worries have colored my relationship with these wonderful children God has given me so I decided to take them out for a day at the movies just relaxing and having fun together.  It was medicine for my soul!  We saw "Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2" (because we really enjoyed #1) and I have to say that before, during and directly after the movie, I did not think about the things that are bothering me even once.
I have never struggled with much anxiety or persistent worry and I'm telling you, even this tiny peek into how it feels makes me  so sad for people who do.  It's all consuming.   The up side? I've lost a little weight (vanity, thy name is "Nikki" - ha ha). 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Good news abounds in our home related to our upcoming adoption of Francis!  We have the date for his Visa Interview (mid-June) and a projected travel date (June 22nd)!  I am in awe that we have made it to this point.
It seems just yesterday I was looking at his photo and file, wishing we could adopt him but knowing that it would take a miracle.  Our miracle has come! God moved mountains and now all that stands between us and our new son are some squares on the calendar . . . oh . .. and a 24 hour plane ride (ha ha).  
I can not think back over this adoption without counting the blessings one by one so, bear with me as I thank God for:
1. ICAB giving us permission to adopt just five months after bringing Ezekiel home (the rules say we have to wait two years before applying but due to Francis' age, the board made an exception).
2. Providing every cent needed for this endeavor through generous friends, family members, one fund raiser and our own hard work.  We  have paid for more than half of this adoption IN CASH with NO DEBT thanks to Dave Ramsey and Financial Peace University.
3. The wonders of technology!  We have recently been granted permission to skype with Francis and
HE IS PRECIOUS.   I could fill 20 blog posts with sweet, funny, serious and even tense things that we have discussed in our skypes but for now, I'm going to be like Mary and just ponder them in my heart.  It somehow doesn't feel right to say too much about this subject except that skyping with Francis confirmed what we already knew - he's a great kid and he's going to fit perfectly into this family.
4. An adoption agency that stands behind us, goes to bat for us and trusts our instincts.  Thank you, Christian Adoption Services, for bringing us to the final stages of a fourth Philippine adoption!  There's no agency I'd rather have representing our family than CAS.
5. Teenage children with open hearts who are EXCITED about their new brother - nobody is whining about losing their place in the birth order. Nobody is griping about sharing their room or even their PARENTS with Francis.  All of our kids are just as thrilled as we are that God has given us this opportunity.


I'll end the list here but it could go on and on.   I'll share a photo I snapped during a recent skype session and ask a rhetorical question:  "Doesn't he look like an E****vel?"   One of mine, no doubt!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

He's BA-AAAACK (You Know, the Poltergheist Deal)

Friday was the BIG day. Lemuel rejoined our family full time!  I drove up to the facility along with my two youngest children to bring him home for good.  Withdrawal from the school and discharge from the facility were  seamless. I had to sign a couple of forms and take the yellow copy for my records and we were back on the road for the two hour drive home.   Although Lemuel has had many home visits during his time in treatment,  I have to admit it's good to have him back home permanently.  There's a different spirit among our whole family when we know a visit is just a visit.
Prior to heading up to the treatment center, we had a family devotion. We talked, we prayed and we asked the Lord to give us a new start with Lemuel.  We talked about our part in the strained relationship and how we could start anew.  It was a wonderful time where each member of our family prayed aloud and shared from the heart.
I have to say in complete honesty, it is great to have him home!  I missed him. WE missed him.
We went out to dinner as a family to celebrate his return and made sure the conversation focused on him and his
"adventures"  while he was away from us.  He's a good kid and he really wants to start fresh. I know there will be setbacks because nobody's perfect but my heart's desire is that the setbacks just remind us of how far he's come.   We need to be slow to anger, slow to speak and quick to listen.  We need to focus on extending grace and forgiving even as we train and disciple.  
Our adoption agency happened to be having a family picnic yesterday and the timing was great! There are several families with children from The Philippines and we have begun to form a tightly-knit group. Unfortunately, several of those families had to cancel their plans to attend the picnic last minute but one of my VERY FAVORITE families was in attendance. This family has 9 children, seven of them adopted from The Philippines.  One of my friend's sons is super athletic, just like Lemuel.  The two of them played basketball, soccer, fished and just hung out.  What a blessing!

The picture above was taken yesterday at the picnic. Lemuel is on the far left in the black t-shirt followed by three of my friends teenagers. My sweet Kyle is in front in the orange shirt while our oldest son holds Ezekiel right behind him. Two of that same friend's children follow and then our only daughter in the tank top. Finally, my friend's youngest son, a real fireball and so adorable, is on the far right.  As my husband was grouping these kids up to take their photo, my friend and I had a laugh over the fact that all of these children come from just two families (and she is missing 3 of her kids while we are missing Francis, who hasn't come home yet).  The picture at next year's picnic should really be a beautiful sight!   We stood silently for just a second as we realized simultaneously just how blessed we are.
Everything is just the way it's supposed to be.  God ordained.  He has brought each person to our table at the time He chose with needs that were fully known to Him.   And HE IS GOOD.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sabotage It Is, Then!

This morning I am awakened bright and early by a phone call from the cottage where Lemuel resides for just three more days before coming home for good.  The staff member is gentle with me as she shares that there has been "an incident" this morning.  Apparently, a stash of candy bars went missing from the cottage. Each client was interviewed separately and each one, including Lemuel, vehemently denied taking the candy.  Less than ten minutes after the denial, a staff member walks by Lemuel's room and notices him vigorously stuffing items into small bag and then stuffing the small bag into a larger bag . . . yeah . . . do I even need to type the end of this story?  No. But for my eternally optimistic friends, I will acquiesce.  The staff member empties the bags and finds said candy. Uneaten. The staff member instructs Lemuel to empty his pockets and finds empty wrappers. Lemuel hangs his head and through chocolatey teeth says "please don't call my mom. She won't want to bring me home."   SIGH . . .
The most fascinating part of this little story is that Lemuel doesn't even LIKE candy.  Here at home, his Halloween or Easter candy can sit for months untouched.  He might eat a little piece now and then but he is NOT a big fan of sugar.
I have read more than once that children with attachment issues often sabotage  any good thing that comes their way.  I have to believe that this completely out of character act is, in truth, an attempt to do just that. I am worried about what he may do between now and Friday.  I am worried that if it isn't an act of sabotage  I now have a thief on my hands - a new side of him to be sure.   Not something that would be easy to contend with in a home where keys, loose change, cell phones and snack foods are in no short supply (have I just issued a collective invitation for every marauder in a 50 mile radius to come a-calling?).
Much of the flowery, fluffy, Spirit-driven resolve I have been feeling the last few days evaporated with that phone call. What came flashing back in to my mind was the way our family has been poured out on this kid for years and the return on that investment?  Not so good.
Does this act of dishonesty change anything?  Not yet.  We still do not feel released to go in any other direction so we stay the course.   It is with a little less wind in our sails but we press on.
To smile, hug and welcome him home with open arms and cheer is going to take an act of God.
It's a good thing HE lives here, too.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

When Your "Yes" is "Yes" (Lemuel's Story Part 2)

Many of you read and commented on my blog post related to our son, Lemuel, who came to us through two disrupted adoptions (see post here ).  Much has gone on in Lemuel's life since I posted that heartfelt account. Some good. Some not so good.  Lemuel is currently in a residential treatment facility. He has been there for months. He calls every night and keeps the conversation as "surface" as he possibly can. He's an expert.
Right now, we stand at a crossroads.  The facility has offered to help us take the steps necessary to place him into therapeutic foster care.  For weeks, my husband I prayed about and agonized over this decision. We reached out to Godly friends and family members for prayer. We shared the situation with our two oldest children.  This decision is what drew me to write my previous post about feeling like I don't know the Lord as well as I ought.   This should be a "no brainer" in terms of decision-making, right? God gave us a child and we should keep and raise him to the best of our ability, right?  Maybe. Maybe not.
You see, Lemuel comes home for monthly visits. During his March home visit, he fidgeted and squirmed for the first hour of the car ride home. It was just him and  me.  I asked him why he was acting so nervous and he replied "I have something to tell you but I don't want to hurt your feelings."
"Oh, great", I thought "he's done something inappropriate and here comes the confession .  . ."
 but instead I said "Lemuel, you can tell me anything. Don't worry about hurting my feelings. I'm a big girl."
"Okay", he said taking a deep breath "I just wanted to tell you that I don't love you. Or dad. Or anyone."
"I know that", I said matter of factly "but even if you don't love me, I still love you. I think you WILL love us someday but a lot of people have hurt you and it's hard for you to trust."
At this point, Lemuel began to cry.  Just quietly, and look for a fast food napkin in the glove box.
"I WANT to", he said in a quivering voice "but I just don't know how."
"Fair enough," I replied "how do you KNOW you don't love us?".
He responded "because I hurt you guys. I lie. I cheat. I'm mean. Because I don't feel any love in my heart. You don't hurt people if  you love them."
"Sometimes you do" I offered "but usually it's an accident and usually you feel very sorry afterward. Most of the time you apologize and try to make it right."
"I never do those things" he said "or if I do, I don't mean it."
We talked about God's never ending supply of love and forgiveness. We talked about trusting Him to heal us and that sometimes healing takes time. It was an unusually lucid conversation for this particular child.
Lemuel then proceeded to turn on the radio in the van, find a rap station and start to dance in his seat.
Conversation over. I got it.
Fast forward a few weeks. Lemuel went back to his placement and our little town was swarmed with tornadoes.  We lost power for 24 hours.  From Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, we were "in the dark."  At exactly 7pm, after power was restored, the phone rang.  It was phone time at the treatment facility so I thought it might be Lemuel.  I answered and he burst into tears.   He was beside himself. Hysterical.
"What's going ON?"  I asked.
"I heard about the tornadoes on the news and I called and called but you never answered! I'm just so happy to hear your voice"  he wailed.
"Oh, so you DO love me?" I teased.   He started to laugh and answered "I know. I do."
Time went by. Placement continued and our phone calls and visits were fine. Sometimes he would call to report he had broken a rule and received discipline, other times he had interpersonal problems with staff or other clients and some calls were just a run down of his daily activities.  
This brings us up to today and "THE DECISION".  Foster care or coming home? The staff left the decision up to us.  It was NOT the cut-and-dried, simple answer type decision. It was a spiritual battle for many days. Lemuel's presence in our home can make things more difficult. He isn't altogether trustworthy. The other kids in the family tend to avoid interaction with him. He doesn't play fair. He is silly and immature. His comments often don't make sense and he speaks like an authority on things he knows nothing about. Exhausting!
We discussed the possibility that God was releasing us from the burden of parenting him. We talked about how nice a fresh start might be for him. We said that maybe we are only supposed to be PART of Lemuel's journey and that God may have another family out there who will think he's the best thing that's ever happened to them. We recalled the time he said he didn't love us. Maybe he would be GLAD if we offered him a way out. We talked and talked until we had let ourselves off the hook completely. . . even had some peace about it.
But then, there was Ariel, Lemuel's oldest biological sibling still living in a shelter in The Philippines. We promised Ariel we would take good care of Lemuel. He's counting on us to do for Lem what nobody ever did for him as a child- to be "forever".  Then there were all those promises we made to Lemuel since he was eight years old. We were going to be just another set of big, fat liars if we let him go. He would expect it and grow even harder of heart.Then there was the notion of what our other adopted children would think. Would they worry that they, too, were just one lie away from being put out of our home? How awful!
More than all those considerations, was one defining factor. God called and we answered.  We said "here we are, use us" and He did. He is.  It is a messy affair and painful beyond anything I have ever experienced. We want to do what honors our Savior and makes His name great among those who know our situation.  That's all that really matters in this life.
So, with that goal as our aim, I called Lemuel last night and told him that in one week, he was coming home for good.  He was so happy!  He said "should I start packing tonight?".   I laughed and told him I would let him know when to pack.
I know this isn't going to be easy but so often, what is right is hard.  What is right is painful but the real peace that comes from taking the hard road is the reward.
Any/all prayers are coveted for our family.  Lemuel IS getting his "fresh start", just not in a foster home!
Praise be to our Heavenly Father who takes us places we never thought we'd go but holds us tightly  all the way!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Do I Know You?

Dear Jesus,
 I have come to the realization that I don't know You very well. I thought I did.  I have been a follower of yours since I was eight years old. I have been in church and even had fairly consistent quiet times since high school. I've LED Bible studies, women's groups, children and homeschool families. I have lost count of the number of praise songs and solos I have belted out and I believed I  meant each word.
I have been a speaker on topics from adoption to salvation and yet, You and I are still getting acquainted.   You are nothing like the fair-haired, blue eyed, gentle soul in the toddler Bible I read to my children. You ask hard things of me.  You don't deliver me from pain the moment I ask.  Sometimes You seem silent when I need You most.  Often your word tastes bland when I am my hungriest.  The desires of my heart have been put on hold by You while You refine an aspect of my character I thought was insignificant.   I have so many questions about why you have allowed certain people and situations into my life.  I have been crying "uncle" but  my arm is still being held and twisted.     I have often prayed that You would take my life and use it but when You take me up on that offer, it's not in the way I meant.   I meant you could have SOME of my time, SOME of my money, SOME of my effort but not THIS much.  Not my family!  Not the secret dark places where I like to hide and have some "me time".    But YOU have the right. You bought me with Your precious life blood. You own me. You made me and chose me for no other reason but that it pleased You to do so.  So I buck and kick and scream in rebellion against the Only Wise God.   I come to the place You were taking me all along, a little more battered and bruised.  A little more humbled. A little more scuffed than I would have been had I just submitted to Your will right away.  
I just wanted to write You this simple "Thank You" note for being patient with me. Thank you for NOT giving me what I truly deserve.  Thank You for protecting me from my own ignorance. Thank You for continuing to be faithful when I am faithless.   Thank You for these trials and hard times. It seems in these moments, I know You best.  I see You most clearly.   More of You,  less of me.
Yours Forever,
Nikki

Monday, May 9, 2011

Finishing Well

Before I share an update on our adoption, I have to say, the Pacquiao fight was pretty good but could have been better. It only got exciting in the last two rounds (12 round fight) when, after being pushed to the ground by his opponent but being accused of being KNOCKED DOWN, Manny decided to stop being so nice and start seriously swinging!!   Enough of my guilty pleasure and on to more important matters . . . our adoption!

About a week ago, we received our letter from the National Visa Center letting us know that the cable has been sent to the US Embassy in Manila alerting them of our approval.  I, of course, called the US Embassy as soon as possible and was told by the officer that our paperwork has been sent on the ICAB for processing.  As of today, I believe that is where the paperwork sits.  ICAB (Inter Country Adoption Board) has to fill out some portion of the paperwork, send it back the Embassy and schedule Francis' visa interview appointment. 
We are most definitely in the home stretch but this is also an unpredictable time. If the Embassy is fairly booked, he may not get an interview appointment for several weeks. If the ICAB is back logged, they may not get his paperwork filled out for several weeks.  I know all of these things will come to pass but I just can't say when.
Realistically, I think we are looking at an end-of-June to first-week-of-July travel date.   Francis will be with us about a month and a half before his sixteenth birthday.  It's what I prayed for. I wanted the Lord to let him turn sixteen here, with us. 

I ask for continued prayer for the last of this process.  I have complete faith that God will allow everything to come to completion.   He began this good thing and He is faithful to see it through!  Praise His holy, matchless, perfect name!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Because I Said So!

My family does a GREAT job of honoring me on Mother's Day.  I am not a big "gift" person - it's just not my love language - but I DO love a sappy card, hugs and kisses and having my family be extra considerate as ways of expressing their appreciation.  This year, however, I asked for a gift.  I asked for my husband to purchase the Manny Pacquiao fight on pay-per-view.  This isn't the cheapest gift on Earth. We have to pay about $60 to watch what may prove to be a VERY short program. It doesn't matter to me.  I truly love watching boxing and especially Pac-Man.  He has done amazing things to improve the lives of many Filipinos.  He is generous and giving.  Although he is a terror in the ring, during the post-match interviews, he is one humble dude.   
ANYTIME I ask for ANYTHING that costs money, I always struggle with whether or not I am being selfish. I know that the Bible says that God gave us "all good things to enjoy"  (I Tim. 6:17) but I am a person who truly doesn't NEED anything! I'm not trying to be all hyper spiritual. I haven't taken a vow of poverty.  I KNOW I can't scrape my children's uneaten food into a box and mail it to China . . . I never impose that kind of thinking on my kids because guilt, although a powerful tool in the short term has terrible long-lasting consequences.  I do not struggle with  spending money on myself because of guilt. I struggle because of my convictions regarding stewardship.  God has blessed our family in crazy ways.  I just want to be sure that everything we spend honors Him.   On the other hand, it's SO easy to over spiritualize your daily life in such a way that you're just NO FUN anymore.  Do you know those kinds of people? The kind of person who responds to a comment like "ugh . . . it's raining AGAIN"  with "praise the Lord for the rain that feeds the Earth in the same way His spirit quenches our deepest thirst".    Yeah . . . a barrel of laughs, a party favorite, a real riot . . .    
So, I  am off to make some rockin' good sausage dip and watch the fight with my family.  Why? Because it's almost Mother's Day and I SAID SO!~

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bravo!

I'm going to take a short walk down a bunny trail and share a little obnoxious Mama pride!  Two of my teens were in the Phantom of the Opera this previous weekend and I was SO SO PROUD of them!  This particular version of Phantom is one written specifically for Christian actors. The focus of this Phantom is sharing the gospel with the audience through theater.  My children were in the chorus, dance numbers and a "fight scene". They, and the entire cast, blessed me to no end.  The music, costumes, sets and talent just blew me away but the
message of Christ's  undaunted pursuit of our hearts and our holiness truly moved me.
Christian Youth Theater . . . . YOU ROCK!!!!!
                                        The Whole Cast (Above) / Phantom and Madame Giry (Below)
                                              My daughter cutting a throat (Below)
                                                My oldest son at the masquerade (below)
                                                My oldest on in a fight scene (below/far right)
                                        My oldest son and his "wife"
                                              My oldest son and his "wife" again (far left)
                                            My daughter at the masquerade
My Daughter (left) and her BFF