Friday, September 26, 2008

Learning What it Really Means to Trust

Turn on the news. Open a newspaper. Talk to a neighbor. What is all the news about? The economy. I have heard words like, "disaster", "catastrophe", "another Great Depression" being bounced around and I have to admit that my heart starts pounding a bit faster each time I hear the experts discussing the future of our country's economy.

Three months ago I would not have been nearly as nervous. About six years ago, God gave my husband and I a huge wake-up call. We had been living a pretty self-centered, extravagant life in California. We were spending money like it "grew on trees". But, through a merciful and gracious God, we were led away from California and back to the midwest where we learned to walk with Him.

I tell everyone that once we landed a job in Wisconsin, God gave us just enough salary to pay the bills and feed the family. I know that is how so many people live their entire lives - but we were coming off a huge salary where we had a lot extra. It took a while to become used to living this way. I remember being very resentful to God, questioning why we had to be staring at a bank account with $4.12 at the end of a two week pay period, wondering how I was going to buy formula for my new baby. But, God was faithful. Not only did He always provide all that we needed (someone who was breastfeeding would happen to get a free can of formula and bring it over at just the right time), He taught us how to be content.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes, "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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 hunger, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives my strength." (Phlp. 4:11-13) I remember reading this not long after we had moved to Wisconsin and being blown away. I was living that life right then and there and I had a choice to be content! Paul didn't say, "I am working on being content" - no, he said, "I am content". Not long after that, I heard a sermon by Jill Briscoe on this same subject and she taught that we are all given a contentment teacher. There is something in each and every one of our lives that is working to teach us contentment. I cried as I looked around my house that had drafty windows, a leaky faucet, a shower that only puts out scalding hot water, a basement with horrible carpet - oh the list just went on and one. But this was my teacher! I needed to BE CONTENT no matter what my circumstances were.

I remember the moment when I decided to be content - it was as if a huge burden was lifted off my back. In that same moment I realized the sovereignty of God. He is in control. He is still sitting on His throne. He had my life in the palm of His hands! It was much easier to be content knowing that He was in control of my life.

So, we made big decisions to simply our lives. We pared down the amount of toys greatly! We looked around at the piles and piles of THINGS and decided our kids really only needed 5 or 6 toys each. Then, we went through their clothes. It was just crazy of me to think that they had "nothing to wear"! Each one of them had about 30 - 40 tops, dozens of jeans and pants, and countless numbers of sweatshirts. We cut it all down to 10 each (just in case I can't get to the laundry for a week). Then we walked through the house and chose some furniture to donate - a futon, an oversized chair, a bed frame, some tables; things that were just taking up space. I packed up the china and extra pots and pans and stored them in our basement.

At the same time we started living the Dave Ramsey way :) We got rid of all credit cards (except for Joe's work ones), and we started eating "rice and beans" in order to build up an emergency fund. We bought used cars that we could pay cash for and we eliminated all our debt. If we didn't have the cash to do something, we didn't do it. Believe me, my kids get tired of hearing me say, "We don't have the money to do that right now", but it is so liberating to not have a stack of bills arrive in the mailbox each month.

So, we have worked hard to simplify our lives and to live debt free. And we saved. We saved enough to adopt a child from Ethiopia! We were so sure that God was leading us on this path - we kept praying that God would close the doors if this was not His will. But, doors kept opening and signs were all around us (and continue to be there!).

But I can't help from panicking when I hear all the doom and gloom about the economy. What if we bring George home and Joe loses his job? How are we going to feed 5 children? How will I clothe them all for the cold Wisconsin winters? Will we have enough money to continue to educate our children? What if we lose all Joe's retirement money? We are literally emptying our savings account to do this! Is this really what God wants us to do on the brink of a collapsing economy?

It is easy for me to get swallowed up in the ocean of anxiety.

God's Word keeps ringing through, like a bell you can hear above the roar of the ocean waves. He is saying, "I have taught you how to pray in times like these. It may not be the answer YOU want to hear, but it is in my Word."

"Lord, teach us to pray."

He said to them, "When you pray say: Abba Father, Daddy. Reveal who you are. Set the world right. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil." (The Message)

So simple - keep us alive with what we need today. Give us this day our daily bread. Provide for us today. Don't worry about tomorrow because you are not even guaranteed a tomorrow!

I am so thankful for God's word because his promises flood my mind as I write this. He is faithful! And what He calls us to - He will see us through.

I have no idea how this is all going to turn out - will we be in the next great depression soon? Will we find ourselves struggling each day like my grandparents did in the 30s? I just can't answer those questions - so I will chose not to worry about them.

I do know that God has called our family to bring George home. I will trust that God will provide a way for that to happen.

But......that is so hard.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Trusting Him

OK - the heart attack is over, and I lived through it. Through the prayers and advice of many people, I have realized that I just need to take my paperwork one document at a time. Today, I am going to work on our family photographs and by the end of the day, I will have one check mark on my list.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Having a dossier heart attack!

Oh My! I finally had a quiet minute to read all the directions for my dossier - that I decided I could put together myself and not pay someone to do it for me. Oh my! I can't even begin to explain all the dos and donts that must be followed to the specific letter. Every single document must be notarized - including the letters of reference that are already included in the home study.

Birth certificates (2 originals - no copies), marriage certificate (2 originals - no copies), passport photos (4 originals - no copies), employment letter, taxes for the last 3 years and on and on and on.

Please pray for me! I am thinking I need to take an entire day off school, find a babysitter and spend at least 10 - 12 hours getting everything done. I am even thinking of driving to OH to get all those certificates in person!

Pray, pray, pray! I am discouraged and almost defeated thinking about all I have to do. Oh, and yea, I still need to educated 3 children - ha!

Telling the Neighbors

I guess I have to start by saying our neighbors watch us. We have discovered over the 6 years of living here that our neighbors watch us and know more about us than we realize. Immediately surrounding us are an older couple with three grown children (none are married and none have children, so this couple looks at our kids as surrogate grandchildren), two single men sharing a duplex, an unmarried couple getting ready to walk down the isle any day now, a married couple with two dogs (you know the kind who treat their dogs as if they were children) and a very liberal, progressive artistic couple with one teenage son. I think the fact that we currently have 4 children cause all these neighbors to watch us.

They watch us sit together on the front porch talking and reading all summer long. They watch us play soccer in the yard. They watch us decorate our house for our harvest party. They watch us home school. They are always watching.

I think when Joe and I realized how much they watch us is when it dawned on us that our street was our mission field! None of these neighbors are Christians - although a few of them would say, "But we go to church on Easter and Christmas Eve!" For years I though it would be so great to fly half way around the world, land in some foreign country and begin to convert the pagans - it is too boring to stay put in the suburbs of Milwaukee! But, as many of you know, each time we tried to run to the mission field, God emphatically closed the door and said, "Start here!"

So, about 2 years ago, we started looking at our neighbors as our ministry. I don't want that to sound cold - and it really is not a case of us treating our neighbors as a job. But, we have become intentional about what we say and what we do with our neighbors. We pray for them and look for opportunities to "love on them".

While they watch, we try to be Christ.

I have one neighbor in particular who is just amazed at my life. She is an only child and has no desire or plans to be a mother. Well, she has her two dogs and they keep her busy. Anyway, every time I talk to this woman she goes on and one about how she can't believe my life. She is perplexed, confused, amazed, baffled and very, very curious. She thinks we have a "magic house" that is much, much bigger than it appears because "I don't hear you guys fighting - ever!" (I tell her she surely is not listening closely enough - because I assure you, with 4 children, there are plenty of fights to hear!). She can't believe that we unplug the TV in the summer (although she peered through our windows this August and saw us watching the Olympics and questioned me on that). She asks in almost every conversation, "Are you pregnant? You wouldn't possibly add one more child, would you?"

So, guess what she asked me yesterday, as I was lugging in some groceries! "Are you done having babies? I noticed you had a lot of baby stuff at your yard sale!" I had a choice - do I just smile and nod or do I walk across the street and tell her about our plan. I decided on the latter.

"Actually, we are done with babies. But we are adopting a boy from Ethiopia."

She was stunned and unusually quiet! So, I took my groceries into my house, leaving her with that big news. A few hours later, as I was coming home from yet another errand (the life of a mother of 4!), she was outside chatting with another neighbor. She yells over to me, "Tell her your big news!". So, again, I waltz across the street and proceed to tell my other neighbor. Then
the questions began - which is totally expected and wonderful! I talked about how in Ethiopia there are 4 million orphans. I told them about George and where he has grown up and about his mother and father. We talked about AIDS, HIV, Hepatitis, lice, intestinal parasites and malnutrition. We talked about racism and how our kids are reacting to having a brother with darker skin. Needless to say, we covered a lot of territory in our talk.

At then end of our time together, one of my neighbors said, "Well, you are really living out your faith."

I was floored!!! I learned a huge lesson in that one comment about mission work. It has taken me 6 years to develop relationships with these women and it is through relationships where I can start to "be" Christ to them. People are not looking for the door to door pamphlets, the posters telling them they are doomed to go to hell. People don't want judgments or cold shoulders or snubs - they want relationships! And when we become friends, we can love them the way Christ loves them.

I am thankful that God put us on this street and that he surrounded us with unbelievers. I think I can officially add "missionary" to my list of occupations. And here is the good news - so can YOU!!!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

What Some Ethiopian Kids Think About Life in USA

Imagine that the only thing you know about the USA is what you have seen on TV or in movies. That is what the children in the orphanages in Ethiopia think! Many orphanages have TVs, and many Ethiopians are enthralled with American television and movies. The older children, who have lots of time on their hands, can spend hours upon hours sitting in front of the TV with images from America being splashed on the little screen.

Imagine the sheer joy and excitement when a child hears, "You are being adopted by an American family!" Instantly, all those images from TV and movies flood that child's head - mansions, fast cars, gourmet kitchens, walk in closets bigger than their house, Disney! Homes where the kids "rule" and they are never told "No". Adults drink and party all day long, and according to a new TV show, swap husbands! Then, we are off to professional sporting games where we act like fools by drinking (again) and painting our bodies with crazy colors.

Now imagine the confusion when the airplane lands and the child is led to a 5 year old mini-van that has juice stains on the seats, crushed Goldfish sitting precariously on the floor mat, and melted, crushed M&Ms permanently stuck to the arm rest. Not quite a Hummer, huh? Then, he is driven to a modest mid-western house where he is told he will be sharing a room. Not quite the homes on Cribs! He wonders where is Disneyworld and when will we be going? And he is surprised when these new parents say "no".

Thankfully, this confusing does not last long and the child from Ethiopia quickly learns that life on TV is not the same as real life. They realize that life in the USA is a good life, with plenty to eat, shelter and clean water whenever you wish for it, and a sense of gratitude settles in.

So, yet again, another reason why we should all throw our TV sets out the window!!!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Home Study

This morning was our big day with our local social worker, Deb. Yesterday, I worked feverishly around the house making it sparkling clean and smelling fresh. Joe came home from work and said, "Are we putting the house up for sale?"

Deb arrived this morning to a greeting crew of 4 kids sitting on our front porch - they just love when someone comes for a visit, they don't care if it is someone to analyze them or not! Deb started the day talking with our 3 older children and asking them what they thought about our adoption. I have never seen my kids so quiet in my life! They gave just enough information to answer the questions, but nothing more. Needless to say, that part of the home study went by very quickly and the kids were off to a friend's house (thank you, Amy!!).

Then, Deb wanted to know everything about Joe and I! She started with questions about our family of origin - what values were passed down to us? What good things have we incorporated into our family? What bad things have we not passed down to our kids? What is our relationship like with siblings? We needed to describe our parents' work ethic, values, beliefs and then answer if we were close to them today.

The second set of questions had to do with our education - public or private? What kind of grades we got? Were we active in sports, music or other activities? Did we go to college? Where? Grades? Social life?

Next came a year by year account of what we did after college - until we got married.

Then came the questions about how we met and what we found attractive in each other. What was good about our marriage? What difficulties have we overcome? What are our strengths? Weaknesses?

Finally, the questions about our parenting styles and what it means to be a parent.

Honestly, all the answers came very easily and honestly for both of us. The only preparation we did was to read God's word this morning and pray - a pretty good way to go into this! We were able to talk with Deb freely about our faith and how much that has played a role in our marriage, our parenting and our decision to adopt.

Then came the good news!!! Several couples began this process (the home study) months before we have. This would typically mean that their home studies would be written first. The good news is that we are the only couple to have all our paper work in, and so Deb is writing our home study first - starting on Thursday!!! Yea! If all goes well, I will be compiling my dossier mid-October and sending it off to Ethiopia by the end of October!

Praise God for His timing.

Now for the bad news. Yesterday, I got word from our adoption agency that our international fee has been nearly doubled. What we thought we could pay for, is now out of our reach. We have vowed not to ask for assistance, but we may need to apply for a grant or a low-interest loan. I am not sure what God is teaching us through this hurdle - maybe we need to slow down? Maybe we need to simplify our life even more and find a way to increase our savings? I am not sure, but we are just going to have to trust even more that He will make a way.

Please pray for our finances - we are really trying to account for every single dollar these days and put as much into our savings as possible. We have two "biggies" coming up - the first is when I submit my dossier. That is when we have to pay the international fee (which was nearly doubled!) and the agency fee (a lot, as well). Then, we will need to pay for our trip -which averages about $1600 a ticket, not including hotel and food costs. Then we need to pay for George's ticket home. When we start to look at the numbers, it gets overwhelming. Please pray that we would continue to trust God, first and foremost and then that God would continue to provide like He has.

Thank you!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Will You Pray With Us?

A good friend made a great suggestion - listing our prayer requests so you can join us in this adventure. We know that only with prayer, we can get this done. So, here we go ....
Pray for peace in Ethiopia. Recently, the Ethiopian people have become very
hostile to the idea of westerners taking "their children". The Ethiopians have
threatened parents with their adopted children, and they are threatening the hotels in which most Americans stay (calling them "Baby Hotels"). We are being instructed to keep a low profile once we fly to Addis Ababa, going as far to say that we can't leave the hotel with George at all! Many orphanages are now undertaking a massive education campaign to teach the Ethiopian people
that Americans are not taking the children and causing harm, but rather loving the children. Pray that this small group of protesters will not shut down the open door policy currently in place.

Pray for our home study. On Tuesday, Sept. 16th, early in the morning, a
social worker will be coming to our house to evaluate us. She will be
interviewing each of the children before excusing them. Then, she will tour
our house and then proceed to interview Joe and I in depth.

Pray for the home study to be written within 2 weeks. Our social worker says it takes her 4 weeks to write a home study. We asked her to cut that time in half considering we have a son waiting. She has agreed to give it a try, so let us pray that she can find a way to get it done.

Pray for me, as I compile the dossier. Pray that I can get all the paperwork
done correctly and in a timely manner.

Pray for a timely court date. Once the dossier is submitted, it is sent to
Ethiopia where it is translated and then a court date is set. After that court
date, we go to Addis Ababa in 5 weeks to get our son.

Pray for George's mother. At that court date, George's mother needs to
travel to Addis Ababa to officially relinquish all rights. I can only imagine
how heart breaking that day will be for her. Pray that God would comfort her
and give her peace about this sacrificial decision.

Pray for George. We have heard horrible stories about life in an orphanage.
Pray that George has a shield of protection around him and that he is in no
way perpetrated or violated. CWA has assured us that they have not had
major problems in their orphanages, but have conceded that once George is
moved to Addis Ababa, he will be in a foster home that has 70 children, and
there is no way to watch all the kids at all times.

Pray for me as I take an online course on adoption. I have one more major
piece in the education puzzle and that is to take a 10 hour course and then
pass the exams.

Pray for our daily bread. Pray that God would continue to give us just what
we need, when we need it. Pray that we don't get anxious wondering where
the money will come from.

Your prayers and genuinely appreciated! "The prayer of the righteous man is powerful and effective." James 5:16b

The Education of Adoption

This part is horrible! At first, I was so excited to get all the books I could get my hands on to read every tid bit about adoption. But, what I have quickly realized is that they are just like parenting books - which I also loathe!

Not only do these books paint the worst case scenario each and every time, they also rely on worldly wisdom when it comes to parenting. Just the other day, after I had completed a mandatory exam on a huge book, I threw all my books onto the bookshelf and said, "Enough!"

I felt like God was saying, "I have given you all you need to know about parenting - whether it is your biological child, or an adopted child. It's in that manual I gave you - called The Bible."

I quickly called some women whom I have met through this process, all of whom have an Ethiopian child at home and asked, "Is this normal? Did you go through this as a Christian who is adopting?" They all answered 'Yes!"

I still have an on-line course I need to complete, and I am happy I have all those books on the bookshelf as reference if/when I need them, but for now I am letting God's word fill me, teach me and guide me. That is the greatest education on adoption I could ever get.

Let the Papework Commence!

The amount of paperwork that needs to be done is crazy! We have decided to get all the things that we can control done as quickly as possible. So far, that has meant getting dozens of pages signed, notarized, filled out and copied. It has also meant getting friends to write letters of recommendation, Joe and I sitting down and writing autobiographies, getting our children's health records, Joe and I going to the doctor and getting blood work and x-rays, and everything from police records (which we have none!) to DMV records (which we have quite a few).

We paid a big deal of money to CWA and so all of a sudden, our decision seemed very real. We are trying to do this without fundraising or asking anyone for help, so as we watching our savings account dwindle, it is a reality of what we are doing. Joe recently came to me saying that he was convicted reading the Lord's Prayer by one line, "give us this day, our daily bread..". Joe said, "God wants me to pray this regarding the adoption. Give what we need today. Don't worry about what costs are to come months down the road, but trust that God will give us what we need that day."

And the cool thing, people, is that He has done just that!!! We have our big home study on Tuesday and we need to make a big payment that day. And guess what - Monday we get paid and by Tuesday, after paying our bills, we will have exactly the amount we need to pay our social worker! God also provided just a few extra hundred dollars for the passports that we need. We keep coming back to the bigger life lesson here, TRUST! God is really asking us to trust Him - not only with our lives and our family, but also with our wallet, which I believe is sometimes the last thing we Christians give over to God.

After our home study is written, I will work feverishly to put it all together into a dossier. That is where we are right now in the process - and praying that the Holy Spirit will help me get it all done!

A Big Decision - Part 2

In August 2008, our family set out on vacation to the New Jersey shore. I had no idea that God would prompt me to ask Joe, "So, are we ever going to talk about adoption again?" as we sat on the beach watching our kids playing. I almost laughed as the words came out of my mouth, because I had NOT planned on saying that at all! But, that one question started an intense process of making a decision - were we ever going to talk about it again?

Talk about - we did indeed! In fact, we also walked the shore of the Atlantic Ocean and talked about nothing but. We would stop, arm in arm, and pray as the vacationers around us wondered what in the world was this couple doing! We talked about it every chance we got, we prayed about it separately and together. By the end of the week, the thought of adopting a boy from Ethiopia was secure in our minds and in the car, traveling through the tunnels of Pennsylvania, Joe took my hand and said, "Let's do this as soon as we get home."

So, I contacted CWA again and told them that we were finally ready to move forward. Our contact person remembered us and was thrilled to send us the photolist of waiting children. This is a little different than what you may think of adoption simply because we knew we wanted a boy between the ages of 4 - 8. We did not have to wait for a baby, instead, we looked at pictures of children living in the orphanage waiting for us!

CWA sent us 9 pages of waiting children. But, on page 1, the 3rd child was a little boy who immediately caught our attention. While the whole process is a bit odd (it kind of feels like shopping for a child), we both knew right away that this little boy was to be in our family. Joe and I both prayed right away, "Lord, if this is the boy you want to bring into our family, make the process go smoothly." And, He has!

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Big Decision is Made - Part 1

I have decided to create this blog to keep all our family and friends updated about our decision to adopt from Ethiopia. I will try to back track, and start at the beginning.

You could probably put the blame for our decision on Elmbrook Church! Once a year, they host a Harvest Festival where they highlight missions throughout the world. Over the course of 5 years of attending Harvest Fest, we have seen spotlights on Russia, China, Africa and Milwaukee, along with many, many others. Joe and I had our eyes and our hearts opened to what God is doing in the world, and frankly, how much he truly loves the world.

It is almost embarrassing to admit that I was incredibly ego-centric regarding God's love. I knew He loved me, but what I failed to embrace was His love for EVERYONE in the entire world - and that He loves them just as passionately as He loves me. When I saw in the pew watching pictures of beautiful faces that were so different from mine, listened to passionate missionaries cry about the people of the world, and worshiped God with an African worship team, my heart broke into a million pieces. At first, I needed to confess how little I thought of the world. Then, God placed a little idea into my heart and said, "Someday, one of these children of the world, will be yours."

Joe and I always talked about both devoting our lives to missions and adopting during and soon after each Harvest Fest. For years we thought God was preparing us for a life of missions. Within the last few years, we realized that God has placed us in a huge mission field - Milwaukee, WI!!! We are surrounded by unbelieving neighbors, and we truly believe that the enemy has a stronghold around the city of Milwaukee. We finally embraced the fact that God had led us to our street in the near-suburb of Milwaukee for a reason - to start telling our neighbors about His love and His grace.

So, that left adoption. The thought was always in the back of our minds. Even once, last summer, the thought came to the forefront and we signed on with an adoption agency, CWA, and looked at waiting children. It came down to timing. It simple was not the right time.

Now I know why God asked us to wait. Our son was not yet in the orphanage!