Monday, August 30, 2010

Re-Name the Blog

I am looking for a cool new name for my blog. Joe and I talked on the phone today and he agreed, it is time the blog became much more than an adoption story. George has truly become one or our own...annoys us and delights us just as much as the other kiddos. This story has taken a turn...

it's not so much about adoption anymore...

but about radical lives....

and right now, God is saying "no" to adoption...

and I'm OK with that.

So, we start a new journey, and so I want to change the blog (new design - but hey, I did that every few months anyway!) I think this is going to become more about Joe and I...and this crazy life God is leading us to.

We are hurting...the business is limping on, but barely alive. We don't know how we are going to make it through the winter. The world says, "Get a job" to me. And I even took steps toward that. But then Joe and I prayed....and God said, "Trust me."

At church yesterday, God told me, "I've got this in my hands."

But we are so scared. I have to talk to my children daily about not being able to get all the supplies on the list, or how hand-me-downs are really cool, or how yes, we have another repair to do on our old car. I have seen my children crack...all in their own time about how we live now. Eleanor and Harry accepted it a while ago. Isabel and George are going through it now. They are stomping around the house pouting about everything. They well, "I want more stuff!" Well, they don't say stuff - but you can insert any thing you life. No lie, George stomped around the yard today yelling, "I want Legos!" Isabel stomped up the stairs telling me, "Everyone I know gets everything they want!" Really?

Maybe Lincoln will never go through this, because this is all he has really known.

Joe is discouraged, and daily I find myself trying my best to be his encourager and supporter.

We just don't understand the path we are on. Sometimes I think God is just intentionally keeping us humble. Perfect example is Sunday...the pastor mentioned Safe Families in his sermon! I was praising God and so happy. And then, I get into my car to make the 45 minute drive home, and my gas tank is a hair away from orange. For this car, orange means running out of gas. It has happened twice now! So, the entire way home, the kids and I are praying. And then we are planning, "OK - if we make it so far, we can walk home and wait for Dad to get home to bring gas over. If we don't make it that far, we'll sit in the car and open up windows and we all have our Bibles, so we can read and wait until Dad gets home." We made it home. Humbled.

And then, I get a phone call from someone in Safe Families - she encourages me and brings hope back. Joe and I talk all afternoon about Safe Families.

And business on Monday.

It's a horrible roller-coaster we are on. How do we find that spot of being totally in-trust with God? I admit, I'm not there yet! It someone is there, please tell me how to totally trust God!

But as I write this, my daughters are asleep in their bedroom, Harry is asleep peacefully in his room, Joe is resting and falling asleep in our room, and the two little boys are snoring away as they listen to Christian music and glow in the light of a safari scene for a nightlight. Even Gunnar is sound asleep at my feet. Peace. Contentment. We prayed together. We hugged and kissed and said goodnight. So, what am I so worried about?

If you have an idea for a new blog name - please comment!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What I've Been Up To

I will never forget looking through a Christian magazine for teens when I was a teen. This magazine highlighted mission trips for teenagers every summer, and year after year, my heart would leap and my soul would stir. I wanted so badly to join the other kids that were traveling the world to help, teach and heal. Deep down in my heart, the seed of being a missionary was firmly planted.

I didn't meet too many people like me. At college, no one talked about being a missionary, and frankly, it was an easy dream to push way down out of sight. Eventually, I thought that calling wasn't real back when I was 16; that maybe God planted the seed into every child's heart? And then He waited to see if I was worthy of being a missionary. Clearly, by the way I lived my life in college, I was not worthy.

Skip ahead a dozen years, and I experienced my first Harvest Fest at Elmbrook Church! I think I cried the entire time. I couldn't stop. I had never been in a church that celebrated and encouraged missions more than this one. As the missionaries from around the world paraded through our sanctuary, waving giant flags from the country they served in, I wept. I couldn't discern if I was weeping because I was so happy for these men and women, or if I was envious because I longed for that life. Either way, I couldn't get enough. I dragged Joe there, and when he looked at me a certain way at the end of one of the night sessions, I KNEW God planted a seed in him as well!

So Joe and I prayed to God, "Send us! We are willing to go wherever!"

We talked to the missions pastor. He asked, "Is there an area of the world where God is leading you?"

"Uuhhhh - no."

"Go home and pray over a map of the world. God will tell you where He wants you to go."

That was about 6 years ago. And we didn't get any clear sign from God! When we were called to adopt, that was incredibly clear - adopt from Ethiopia, adopt an older child, adopt a boy.

So then I thought, "Oh! God wants me to adopt dozens of kids from orphanages in Ethiopia! OK - God! I'll do that!"

"No, Traci. That was just a part of the plan. Remember when you said you would go anywhere?"

"Yea - Ethiopia would be so cool! I love it there! We could really live there!"

"No, it's not going to be Ethiopia."

Joe and Harry went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. They loved it. Joe came home declaring, "We can live there! We can be missionaries there!"

"No, guys. It's not going to be the DR."

"Seriously God! You have two people here who are spontaneous, adventurous, and who love you so much they are willing to go anywhere in the world!"

"Then I am sending you into Milwaukee."


"And you will not adopt...not now...and maybe never again. But you will help children and their parents be healed from the oppression of poverty. You will work hard to see that mommas are able to keep their children. And you will love the children and then give them back, freely and with joy."

And then, He showed me Safe Families.

Joe and I said, "OK - we'll become a Safe Family."

But God said, "Oh, you crack me up! I have something else in mind for you two!"

So now, Joe and I find ourselves working with a ministry that we feel is so right, so true, so worthy that we just can't stop thinking about it! This is the first time in our married lives that we are totally on the same page when it comes to working together in ministry. That alone, was a huge sign to us that this was God's plan for us. Doors opened - and continue to open. I am amazed at what God has accomplished in the past 6 weeks since Joe and I said God.

Our pastor at church is now calling us "missionaries to Milwaukee". He is a prayer partner and is working side by side with us to get this movement up and running. He just talked to us about MAYBE being a part of Harvest Fest this year. Joe and I almost cried - humbled to the core. All we are doing is saying yes to God. We are not comfortable with the label "missionary". But, maybe God has been planning this all along.

There are so many details - too many that they would bore you. But know this, God is moving in Milwaukee. And I can't believe that He has granted us the privilege of doing this work with Him. I am afraid my blog is going to become more now about our missionary journey - and no longer the adoption story. God has blessed us with a happy ending to our adoption. No, it is not perfect yet, but it IS happy - and I know, know, know that we WIIL have a happy ending.

God has just moved us onto Phase Two.

Great New Video by SCC/Veggie Tales - About Adoption

Steven Curtis Chapman - "Meant to Be" Music Video from David Watson on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Countdown Has Begun

We are counting down the days until school starts. Not because I am one of those moms who desperately wants her kids out of the house, but because I know my children are truly happy at school. If I thought they were unhappy, I would bring them back home in an instant. But, they are all excited and are happy to be in school.

George is especially happy! I think how amazing it is that one year ago, he barely understood what school was. I made several visits to his school during August last year. I talked to the principal, I talked to his teacher, I met his ESL teachers. I told them all what to expect, what to not expect and then came home and got on my knees to pray. I didn't believe he would do well. He was struggling so much at home, I couldn't imagine how he would ever get comfortable at school.

But...he did! God blessed him with a teacher who was like a grandmother to him - loving, nurturing, patient. She would send me little notes during the year telling me how much George meant to her. We were warned by our neighbors that our school was the "bad" school in our city. It was the school where all the poor kids go - the school where all the kids who don't speak English go. I had the choice to send only George there, and put the other two into a much "nicer" school. I opted to keep the family together.

I am so grateful I did. Our school is not the "bad" school - and shame on the Watertown residence who told me it was. Yes, many of the kids come from poor families - but hey, I now live at the poverty level, so you would say we are one of those poor families. Yes, probably 1/2 the children are bi-lingual and many parents don't speak English - but we are a bilingual family - in a sense. We have adopted some Amharic words and now eat Ethiopian food on a regular basis - so we are now one of those families, too!

This was the perfect place for my family. No one judges George there. No one looks at my children wearing hand-me-downs as being any less than anyone else. And the teachers really care about their students.

So, we are all excited to be starting again. Joe and I set out on a prayer walk last Saturday, giving God, yet again, our children and the school year. I trust God is putting them exactly where they need to be, and I am also trusting when He convicts me to add a supplemental lesson here and there.

Just a couple more days and we'll be waiting at the end of the driveway for the country bus. All of are excited!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Questions! Questions! Aaaagh!

I wish I had a tape recorder to remember all the questions George is asking these days..but no, I probably would want to destroy it. George is driving us all crazy with the constant barrage of questions. One after another...each answer soliciting another questions!

It finally dawned on me! He is like a three year old - you know when they just ask questions - not the same one over and over again - but billions of questions in one day.

"What is that?"

"When is tomorrow?"

"What does later mean?"

"Is Dad at work?"

"Is it going to storm today? Tomorrow? Later?"

"Why is Gunnar a dog?"

"Why is Lincoln's hair crazy?"

"What grade is Harry going into?"

"Can I buy a car when I am 16?"

"Can I get a computer when I am 14?"

"How old will I be when I am 18?"

"Is my birthday the same day as Christmas?"

"Does anyone have a birthday on Christmas?"

"Why is your birthday near Christmas?"

"Are we going to ignore your birthday this year?"

"What's for dinner tomorrow night?"

"Why is Grandma in Ohio?"

And those were the questions in the past hour!

His curiosity is hitting a peak! It really is like a child, a young child, who needs to figure everything out. The first year home, George concentrated on just learning vocabulary, learning that the round ceramic thing on the table is called a plate. Now, he wants to know what it is made of, why we use them, when I bought them, and what I plan on doing with them in 4 months. Most of my answers do nothing more than bring up more questions.

I have to be honest and say I get tired of this. Why is it cute when a three year old asks tons of questions, but not so cute when it is George? Although, maybe if I really remembered correctly, there were probably times I met Joe at the door at 6:00pm and yelled, "If that Ellie asks one more question today, I think I am going to scream!"

But just now, as I am writing this, George came over to tell me a cute story about today. He looks out the window and gasps.

"Momma, look at that!"

It is an amazing sun-set.

He puts his arm around me and says, "It's orange and blue and yellow. So cool."

Yes, George, it IS so cool - but I'm not talking about the sun-set, I'm talking about YOU!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ethiopian Music

I don't know why I didn't think of this earlier....George loves music. In fact, in Ethiopia, the only noise he made (besides screaming and crying) was to sing a cute song over and over again. I remembered that in his medical records, the doctor noted that he was singing during his exam.

These days, George can often be found in the garage with his bike and the radio on, tuned into Christian music. He loves it. He sings along to all the songs, even though he still doesn't quite get the words all the time. I like to think that God hears these praise songs and doesn't care that the words are not quite right. I tell George that and he smiles.

The other day I was reading a post on a web-board about older Ethiopian children who have been adopted. One thing a mom wrote was how her girls love to watch videos of Ethiopian artists. Really? Youtube has everything!

Saturday night, the kids were all settling down and George asked if he could see some pictures of a good friend - who is being picked up in Addis today, I might add!! - and that sparked the memory of trying to find some videos. We searched "traditional Ethiopian music" and presto - thousands of videos!

We spent quite a bit of time going over the videos. We eventually honed in on gospel music and George would cry out, "I know this one!"

He would smile and clap along. Joe and I loved watching the Ethiopian men and women praise God.

Then, a single tear fell down George's face.

We hugged him and asked him if he was OK. He replied, "I miss Ethiopia."

We have come full circle. When we first brought George home and I encouraged him to look at books, puzzles and other things from Ethiopia, he would throw them across the room and scream, "NO!" If we would talk about Ethiopia, he would cover his ears and walk away. After a few months, he began to talk about his home land, and it was always bad stuff - there is no food in Ethiopia, there are no shoes in Ethiopia, people die in Ethiopia.

As adoptive parents, we were not sure how to handle this. We didn't want George to lose his heritage, after all, we fell in love with Ethiopia while we were there. But, we just didn't feel it was right to push it on him. With great relief, I can see George turning back around and seeing the beauty of his home land and his people.

This brings up a larger issue that I naively didn't spend much time thinking about before the adoption; how do we encourage a love for Ethiopia while also making George feel he belongs here? It is a tight-rope walk, I am starting to believe. He remembers so much about Ethiopia - when he sees these videos he shouts out that he recognizes the land, or that person looks like his mom. This is not a child who will have to be taught what Ethiopia is like; he lived it for many years. Naturally, those memories will fade and it is our job to keep him in touch with those.

While we were watching the video George asked us, "Can we bring a baby girl home? There are baby girls who need a momma and a family."

Oh, how our hearts long to do this...I just don't see how.


Friday, August 20, 2010

The Body

Yesterday, I experienced the body of Christ.

Am I part of the body? This has been a big question in my mind over the summer, and I have admittedly struggled with church, religion, and denomination lately. As I have changed so much over the past year, so have my thoughts about things I once held fast. My view of the body has changed.

I thought the body was my close knit group of friends. We did so much together - we truly shared life. But, I have now come to think that we were all just a bunch of elbows...all of us. So much alike, doing the same sort of things, leading the same sort of life. Just a bunch of pointy elbows hanging out together.

But, that's not what the body is supposed to look like. Right?

Yesterday, I experienced the body. Next to me was a tongue - for sure! Next to her, a pair of eyes. Over in the corner, I saw hands. And behind me, a heart. Gathered in one room were about thirty people...most of us didn't know each other, but I would say that all of us knew at least one person. And in most cases, that person was quite different. In this one room, there assembled an inner-city black pastor, an Hispanic father, an elderly woman who needed assistance walking, a teenage girl who was all legs, a middle aged Packer fan, and a white suburban get the picture.

We gathered for one single purpose; to invite Jesus to reign at one of the toughest inner city schools in Milwaukee. This school is known for a few things - gang violence and high failure rates. There is never any good news coming out of this school.

Until last year. A brother became the principal. He started his first staff meeting in prayer. He said, "The spiritual health of the school needs to be attended to first! If you don't like it, you may step out during the prayer, but I will start every staff meeting this way."

The first day of school last year, this principal started the school year the same way! He gathered the entire student body into the gym and said, "The spiritual health of this school needs to be attended to first. We will start this year in prayer. If you don't like it, you may step out during the prayer." Not one student stepped out!

Progress was made, but not enough. Violence still broke out. Students were hurt. The gangs in the neighborhood shot bullets into the school building. Kids were afraid to go to school.

This year, the principal said, "Enough. We are going to invite Jesus to reign in this building!"

He invited a group of people. I have been here before - back in February to encourage the teachers. Since then, I have wanted to go back. I am not afraid. I walk with the One who has more power than the one who rules this earth. So, I went back.

And we prayed! We got into small groups and prayed over a specific list of requests. The sweet sound of 20 people broken into small groups all praying together was wonderful. Men were shouting; women were crying; all were pleading with God.

We then walked the halls. Touching each locker, the holy spirit told me, "Pray for healing! These children are so broken." So, as I touched each locker, I begged God to pour down His healing power on this student. Then this one. Then that one.

We visited "hot spots" - the areas where fights break out every day. The area where no security cameras are posted. We held hands and prayed that there would be no more spirit of rage, no more spirit of violence, no more spirit of hatred. Instead, a spirit of forgiveness, a spirit of peace and a spirit of love would take it's place.

I prayed with people who spoke in tongues. I prayed with people who sobbed as they prayed. I prayed with people who passionately shouted to God and had all of us on our feet cheering.

We broke out into praise songs:
I love you Lord
And I lift my voice
To worship you,
Oh my soul, rejoice.

Take joy my king
In what you hear.
May it be a sweet, sweet sound
In your ear.

We sang The Blessing Song over the principal.

We shared lunch and went on our way.

I don't know if I will ever see those saints again on this earth. But I know, someday in heaven, I will see each and every one and we will reminisce about our day at that high school.

On my way home, my car broke down...yup, in that horrible, gang-filled neighborhood (well, close by). And I was safe. I had been with Jesus.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

My Parent's 50th Wedding Anniversary

I decided to share what I said at my parent's 50th wedding anniversary. I hope you enjoy it.

I have the privilege of being the youngest of Bob and Judy's four children. I say this is a privilege because I have been given the opportunity to watch their marriage grow during my life. I always thought we would be here, celebrating 50 years of a blessed marriage, as there were never any see, my parents have a covenant marriage. John Piper says, "The world cannot know what marriage is without learning it from God." And I am confident that the reason my parents are celebrating 50 years is because they have been good students of God's lessons on marriage.

I posted a Facebook question a week ago, asking my friends what makes a marriage last 50 years? I got some answers one would expect: "Don't got to bed angry", "tell your spouse you love them every day", and "learn to enjoy the hobbies of your spouse". But then, there was my favorite: "No Plan B".

I call that a covenant marriage. A covenant marriage is more than a vow or an oath shared in front of a church filled with family and friends. A covenant is the ultimate promise - and a covenant marriage is not simply a promise between man and wife, it is that ultimate promise to and with God. As I reflect on my mom and dad's marriage, there is no doubt they are in a covenant relationship with God.

My parent's covenant marriage is based on grace. A definition of grace is treating someone better than they deserve. I saw grace lived out time and time again in our family on long car rides to South Carolina, as we played volleyball in the backyard, and we we simply learned how to love each other well. There were times that my dad deserved one thing, but my mom offered grace. There were times that my mom mom messed up (remember those awful sweet potato rocks), but my dad offered grace (he tried to eat them!).

Grace empowers husbands and wives to keep their covenant by means of forgiveness and forbearance. Covenant marriage says, "I am imperfect, but I have no fear of disapproval by my spouse." This is a picture of my mom and dad. Their marriage brought together two imperfect people who said no matter what, we are in this forever. With no Plan B, Mom and Dad poured grace onto each other's imperfections. There was no judgement, no doubt...only grace.

Because of this grace-filled marriage, my parents are not the same married couple they were when I was a child. Grace has caused them to change for the glory of God and the joy of each other. I think the most beautiful part of celebrating 50 years of marriage keeps getting better and better. I see so much love now, almost like newly-weds; holding hands on walks, cuddling up on the couch, and sweet stolen kisses in the kitchen when they think no one's watching.

My mom's grace has made my dad a better man; and my dad's grace has made my mom a better woman.

When I think of how my parent's have loved each other well over the past 50 years, some things stick out in my memory: I remember my dad's strength for my mom in times when she was sad, my mom's fierce defense of my dad, and I remember the sound of my parent's kiss every morning as my dad left for work. I remember KNOWING my parents loved each other. Mom and Dad's marriage gives great glory to God - the author of covenants and the giver of grace. I am blessed to have their example ever before me.

Friday, August 13, 2010

George in Ohio

I was a bit worried about what a big trip to Ohio would do to George. As we are approaching more and more "seconds" in his life (2nd trip to Ohio, 2nd back-to-school shopping, 2nd school orientation, 2nd summer at the pool, etc.), we are settling into a nice routine. Language is there; behavior is slowly molding into an "acceptable", American norm; love is growing every day. But, we are also keenly aware about how one little blip can send George reeling - sending us all, actually, two or three steps back. I worried about a big party where George was not getting any gifts or attention, I worried about lots of people wanting to meet George, and I worried about spending the night in a hotel for several nights. Trust me...all these things a year ago would have been a recipe for disaster!

Joe and I decided to prepare George as much as possible.

"There are going to be a lot of people who want to meet you and talk to you. Please try to smile, be polite and tell people hello."

"Grandma and Grandad are going to be celebrated. They may get gifts. There will be no gifts for you. This trip is about them."

"We are going to Kings Island. There are a lot of big, big rides. Americans think it is fun to ride a scary ride." He didn't quite get this one.

The result? George did wonderfully in Ohio! He absolutely loved meeting all his cousins, and he is still talking about his oldest one. While he enjoyed Kings Island, the big scary rides still confused him. "Momma, why you want to be scared? You might die on that ride! Look at that big hill! Georgie does not want to go on ride with big hills anymore!" Best of all, George was kind and polite to most everyone who wanted to meet him.

This was a sign to me how far we have come.

It has been a life-changing year; and God is continuing to mold me, re-make me, and challenge me. I feel a bit fact, I think I need to start writing about it or I am going to explode. Things with George are going great, but it is now other challenges that God has led us to. I want to scream, "Enough! Can I please have a break of this character training?" But I know there is a purpose.

Well, that is for tomorrow. For now, I am enjoying looking at our pictures of a great week and thinking of how our family is....well...a family...finally.

A Few Pictures From Ohio

Monday, August 2, 2010

Clean Water

Clean water. We take it for granted in our country. We challenged our kids a few weeks ago to go without water for a day. And if they wanted a drink, they could walk down to the river, get a bucket of water, boil it and then drink it. Yes, we have the luxury of living right next to a river...a river filled with carp, a river with lily pads and a bit of scum on the top. Going to the river entailed fighting through swarms of misquitos, stepping in mud and scaling a bit of a hill. The hill wasnt' so hard with the empty bucket, but they sure complained with their full bucket. By the time they got home, 1/2 the water was gone. Lesson learned as they angrily asked for some "real" water.

Millions of people die due to lack of clean water. Yet, in America, we spend millions to have water parks and pools in every community. Hey, I am totally guilty of taken for granted the clean water of our aquatic center...we swim there almost every day! And I am the first mom to warn my children, "Don't drink that water! You'll get sick!"

I can't remember if I wrote much about Georgie's first trip to the pool last summer. He was in shock. He asked me one word, "Crocodile?"

"No, sweetie. No crocodiles in there, just clean water to play in."

Play in water? The weight of that statement just hit me. We PLAY in something that is vital to human life while areas of the world find children literally dying for a drink of clean water. How selfish have we become?

I am not advocating we destroy all water parks and pools, but I am saying we should be paying more attention to this issue. There are wonderful, reputable organizations that focus on bringing clean water to villages where there is none. They build wells. Or they bring in water filtration systems. They teach people how to boil their water. Do some research and find one.

So, as I sit here with my washing machine churning away, my dishwasher cleaning the dirty dishes with hot water, my daughter singing in the shower, I am convicted. Water.

Forgive me Lord, for overlooking how much water I use so nonchalantly. Forgive me for not being aware daily of your children who don't have access to clean water. Forgive me for not teaching my children to be more aware of this issue.

I read someone's blog who said, "Next time you are at the pool and the break whistle blows, scoop up some pool water in a cup and offer that to your children to drink. And remember that drinking that pool water that we warn our children NOT to drink is better for them than most of the poverty stricken world's water is."