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Saturday, February 25, 2012

.Chapter Two - When Stories Collide.

To read the intro. click here.
To read Chapter One click here.

Throw a stone and

watch the ripples grow.

David Gray

Her story began so much differently than mine. As a girl, she would carefully cut out pictures of children from across the globe that lived in a world so different from her own. She hung them on her bedroom wall and would daydream about mommying them. She imagined being the mommy to dark eyed, dark skinned children from India and Africa. I on the other hand, never gave thought to children around the world. I dreamed of mommying blue eyed, blond haired children and possibly some brown-eyed sweeties as well, that I would carry in my womb for 9 months. Although I always knew I wanted to be a mommy, my eyes didn't see as far as hers did....yet.

She and her husband always knew they would adopt, but were just uncertain of God's timing as to when and where they would adopt. However, Jim and I had never even talked about adopting or even orphans or orphan care in general, we never thought about it. Adoption wasn't anywhere on our radar. Orphan care was unheard of and not ever talked about in our circles of friends or even from the pulpit in our church.

Jim and I were living out a watered down version of Christianity. We were caught up in the trappings of materialism. We had the house with a mortgage, the car with a loan attached, one daughter, one son – perfect in the eyes of our country, more clothes than we could ever dream to wear, credit cards that purchased gadgets and gizmos that cluttered our home and made empty promises of easing our too busy life - and at every turn we were scrambling for more. We were on the hamster wheel of the American dream – headed nowhere fast. Until God ripped the carpet out from under us. We found ourselves walking away from a secure ministry – Jim was out of a job, and I was a homemaker earning no income of my own. Suddenly the material goods that we had been breathlessly chasing after seemed to not sparkle as brightly as they once had. For the first time we were breathing easy, and it was strange because to those looking in from the outside we probably appeared crazy. Humanly speaking it was crazy that we were feeling this peace in the midst of what seemed to be chaos. Jim nor I had jobs, and there were weeks where we could not be sure exactly where our next meal would come from. We had already eaten what was in our pantry, fridge and freezer. I remember the evening Jim came home from the grocery store with a grin spread wide across his face and eyes sparkling. He looked as if he had won the lottery – only it was better! He had found a large package of hotdogs that were 50% off and a loaf of bread clearanced as well. We ate like kings that night. Hot dogs had never tasted so good, and we were filled with so much joy as we watched God meet the needs of our little family. We were finally in a place where our hearts could be still and quiet, they were not being muffled out by material possessions. God had begun to prep us for the amazing story He was about to write over our lives.

There were many loosely connected ties between my life and Joanna’s. I knew who she was. Jim had worked closely with one of her sisters during the first months of our marriage, and we attended church with that sister during that time as well. Another one of her sisters was in Jim's class in college. I grew up with her cousins, went to school and church with them, and I even attended the same church as her grandparents when I was a child. Her aunt and uncle were my youth leaders for a bit during my teen years, and I went on a mission’s trip to Quebec with them.

I knew all this when I first found her blog, but that is not what kept me coming back for more. It was the photographs and the heart words that accompanied them. It was the art, and the baring of her soul that captivated me. I wanted to know her. I cannot put my finger on exactly what it was that drew me to her, but I believe it was the Holy Spirit drawing our hearts together. It was magnetic. It was as if my heart knew that one day we would be on a beautiful journey together. I can see that with hindsight now.

She was the reason I first picked up a Nikon camera and became fascinated with photography. Her photos were the reason I opted to buy a Nikon over a Canon when I purchased my first dslr. Her photos appealed to me on so many levels. It was more than just the technical stuff – although that was perfectly executed – it was the story, the artistry. Every single photograph told a story, and I felt as if I was getting to know JO through her photographs. She was kind enough, prior to my dslr days, to look over my attempts at photography and give me pointers. Turn off your flash. That was to this date, the best ever advice I have ever received regarding photography, and it came from her. She put a piece of herself into every single photograph, and I was drawn in. She emulated Jesus in her words, and she made me want to seek harder after Him. All this from reading a blog.

One day I became more than just a casual acquaintance and an avid reader of her blog. God did the remarkable when he allowed our stories to collide. He was overlapping the stories of our lives without us even realizing it was happening. One January, she wrote a post on her blog that struck a chord so deeply inside of me that it changed the course of my life forever. It also changed the course of a sweet one month year old baby boy living an ocean away in Ethiopia, forever. And the ripple effect still hasn’t come to a stop. That moment, gentle as the flapping wings of a butterfly has yet to showcase its full effect.

On January 18, 2010, our stories collided. It only happened because JO decided to bare her soul and lay her story out for others to read. She was transparent and vulnerable and yielded to the Spirit. My eyes still sting with tears knowing the gift she gave me. God used her to begin opening my blind eyes. Many months later we would chat on the phone, and I would learn how close she had come to not sharing her story, to keeping it hidden from her blog. I know my God is sovereign, and that would not have happened, because it was God's plan for our stories to collide. But my human mind quickly goes to the what-ifs. I can barely wrap my mind around the fact that I could still be living my life completely blinded to the plight of the orphan, completely unaffected by adoption, and Jamesy....we would never have known him. Never have been blessed with the privilege to cry for him, to love him, to grieve for all he has lost. Never been a part of God's plan to tie our heart to an orphan boy across the world and be a part of the amazing, supernatural way that God imbeds into our hearts love for a child we did not birth.

I saw the title of Joanna’s newest blog post – We are expecting!. I was so excited for her to be having another baby and adding to her beautiful family, and I quickly clicked into her blog to read what she had written. As my eyes scanned the screen I learned that this family was expecting their fourth baby by way of adoption via Ethiopia. That struck me as so odd. Immediately I began to wonder if they had fertility problems, although her post was not reading that way. It was as if they were choosing adoption. Strange indeed. I thought adoption was a plan B for families who could not have children of their “own”. But Joanna and her husband already had three children, and it seemed as if they were doing this because they wanted a child through adoption and out of obedience. My stomach flip-flopped. Maybe there was more to adoption than what I had always thought.

My eyes continued to soak in the words in front of me. As I read her post I felt a stirring in my soul. My heart actually began to race and thump hard inside of my chest. The Spirit was definitely trying to impress something upon my stubborn, hard self. Some of her words still are embedded like a knife plunged deep into my heart.

We discussed the many thousands of dollars it costs to adopt and then we joked, 'Or, we could forget it all and just get a Mustang.' That has become almost a code word for us now. The distinct contrast between pursuing the 'American dream' or risking it all for the glory of God.

I read and reread those words. Risking it all for the glory of God. Weren’t we doing just that? I almost wanted to smile smugly and pat myself on the back. We were in the middle of what I felt like was a HUGE risk. Jim had resigned at camp, and we had no promise of a ministry ahead. Our hearts were very soft during this time, as we waited for His leading. Weren’t we risking all that we could risk? I was growing almost proud of all we were doing – we had even started Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, although Jim had no job or any money making income at the time. What more could we risk? But the more I read JO’s words, the more uncomfortable I became in my self-righteousness, her words were being used to convict me, and something or Someone kept nagging me.

Jim was home as I read her words, so I called him into the kitchen, and I read the post out loud to him. I just couldn’t keep it to myself. We were risking a lot, but were we really risking it all? Would God really ask more than this from us?

Halfway down the page Joanna had posted a video and encouraged her readers to watch it. I had never seen anything like it. The video was a “Gotcha Video” of a mom meeting her adopted daughter in Ethiopia for the first time. It was remarkably beautiful. The music was inspiring and fit the events perfectly. The video opened with photos of Ethiopia and statistics. Statistics that I felt as if I was seeing for the first time – perhaps I was or perhaps it was just that I was now seeing them with new eyes - kingdom eyes. Something was happening to me as the images, the statistics and the music swirled around me.

The Holy Spirit was stirring my heart.

Part of James 1:27 flashed across the screen Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this; to look after orphans and widows in their distress. I was sure that I had read that before, but why had it never sunk in? Why did I feel as if I was being punched in the gut? Is that really what God said pure religion was? What had I ever done for orphans or widows? Nothing. I had done absolutely nothing. What did that say about me and about my thirty years of life and twenty five years as a follower of Jesus Christ? What did that say about my religion? I loved Jesus, who gave everything up for me, I wanted to obey him in return, but was I?

Jim and I both watched the video. Silently. He in his thoughts and I in mine. At one point the damn in my soul broke wide open and the sobs began to shake my body. I believe it was in that moment I understood exactly what the Spirit was calling us to do. I glanced sideways at Jim and was amazed to see his shoulders shaking with sobs as well. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was under the Holy Spirit’s deep conviction, and I wondered if my husband was as well. After the video closed I dried my eyes and turned towards Jim.

“Have you ever considered adoption?” I quietly asked not quite making eye contact.

“No.” He said shrugging his shoulders and looking away.

I hadn’t either. Why would I ever consider it? We had two beautiful children, and if we wanted more, we could easily have more of our own - without spending thousands of dollars. Adoption was not an option that we had ever filtered through our thoughts – until that moment.

We talked about how possibly God had this in His plans for our future - very distant future I remember thinking. After all, here we were with no job, no ministry, no promise of income, trying to live off of Dave Ramsey's "Total Money Makeover", trying to pay down debt, and committed to never accruing debt again. Adoption didn't fit into this. It didn't fit at all. It wasn’t a logical choice. None of our friends had chosen adoption over birth children. We had no children in our church that came by way of international adoption. We lived in a small, white town. People did not do things like this here – especially normal people like us. Especially people like me – I liked to blend in and not draw any attention to myself. This seemed so LOUD.

We didn't talk of it again that day. A few days later, I came across another blog highlighting adoption, and then two more. What was going on? Why had I never given thought to this? I briefly brought it up to Jim again, and then I just tried to shove these thoughts that were threatening to consume me out of my mind. Soon after reading JO’s post, Jim and I started once again talking about adding to our family. This had been an ongoing dialogue since the moment Scotty, our youngest, was born. We had planned on trying to conceive the past fall, and then the past winter, but we kept pushing it off. It never felt right.

I finally admitted to Jim what I had known in my heart for a long while - that I just did not have a peace about getting pregnant. He admitted to the same. However, I had this overwhelming desire to mommy another baby. We came to the conclusion that perhaps it was more of a selfish desire, and it wasn't a child that I wanted but rather one more experience with a baby. Perhaps God just wanted us to pour our everything into the two children we had been given. I remember discussing this with my best friend even back that summer while sitting on her porch under the warm setting sun. Even as I said the words about God maybe directing us to stop at two and raise them with everything inside of us I knew something in my heart was off. I just couldn’t put my finger on it or see the seed that the Holy Spirit was planting in my heart even back then – months before I would read Joanna’s story. I thought after that discussion with Jim that was it. We would raise our two children to love God fully. We would pour our lives into the daughter and son God had blessed us with. That was our decision. I just hoped my heart could catch up with what we had concluded. I prayed about it, but I still felt an unsettled longing in my heart that made no sense, and I could not get a peace. The inner turmoil became something I would constantly stuff down as I tried to go on with my days at home with my two beautiful children. I was constantly in tears and angst, but I couldn’t pinpoint why or what the Spirit was prompting me about. Now it is so plain to see, but then it was confusing and painful.

We got through the month of February with no paychecks. God provided for our every need and knit Jim and my heart together tighter than ever before. Our hearts were growing increasingly softer to the leading of the Holy Spirit. He brought us to the point where we were ready and willing to go anywhere that He asked us to. This was a big step for me to be willing to leave the town I grew up in and our support system of family and friends. I had finally surrendered this area of my life, and we sat back and waited for God to send us somewhere. However, after the Spirit brought me to a point of surrendering to go anywhere, God worked in supernatural ways and against all human odds, and Jim was voted into our home church as an associate pastor and started March 1st. We did not have to move or leave our family and friends. We were staying right here and ministering in our own church. God had come through for us in a very big way and very quickly. Jim was now in a ministry position that before he had only dreamed of. God brought us through some hard weeks and refined our marriage and our relationship with Him. Yet I could not get the idea of growing our family off of my mind. It was an ever present nagging that would not go away.

I started to realize that something was missing in our home - somebody was missing from our family. Honestly, I had never really intended to stop growing our family at two children, but that prior conversation with Jim had seemed to cement that plan. I was really confused because I knew almost certainly that God was not leading us to another pregnancy, but I still longed for another child. I begged God to show us His desire for our family, and I wrestled with not feeling any peace.

How thick-headed I was being! God could not have been any clearer. He had practically dropped His plan for us into our laps, and still I wandered through my days baffled, emotional, confused, and unsettled. Finally the fog in my brain parted and once again the Holy Spirit brought to mind adoption and even Ethiopia, and I became consumed with thoughts and prayers in that direction. An excerpt from my journal during this time describes some of what I was wrestling with.

I think God is calling our family to the ministry of adoption. That is crazy! I don’t know anyone who has adopted a child when they could just get pregnant, and yet I have absolutely no peace about God wanting me to get pregnant again. I just get this unmistakable feeling that our family is not complete, though. There is someone missing. I feel it when we are sitting at the dining room table. I look at my family, and I get a fluttering in my heart that someone is not here.

The statistics that I am reading about Ethiopia have cut to the quick of my heart. Why would I want to get pregnant again when there are literally thousands of children in Ethiopia (and other countries) dying of preventable diseases every day? And all they need is for Christians to step up and say yes, I want you. I want you to be my son, my daughter and become family. I keep reading Scripture searching for the word orphan. Why have I never seen what God so clearly demands from me in regard to orphans? Why have I never sat under a sermon prompting me to step out in obedience and care for the orphans? It seems pretty plain now that I am seeing with these new eyes. I think God really might want us to adopt. What?! Adopt?!

What will people think? What will they say? Would a black child be accepted into our faith family, by our friends, or our community at large? God, I am just a shy stay-at-home mom. I like predictability. I don’t even like going grocery shopping on my own! God, I am scared to drive on the highway, let alone travel to Ethiopia. I have never even been out of the country! It’s scary there, isn’t it? I don’t really even know where Ethiopia is. What are you doing God? I just want to blend in. I just want people to like me. I just want to be normal and like everyone else.

No, I want to glorify You. I want to obey You. I’m just scared.

We just left camp. Jim just got the position at our church. He is a new pastor, and I am stumbling in my new role as a pastor’s wife – eek a PASTOR’S WIFE! We are new to the journey to financial freedom through Dave Ramsey. How does adoption fit into Dave Ramsey’s plan? It clearly doesn’t. This is crazy.

Are you really asking this of us?

How do I deny what I now know? How do we not do this? I am more scared of living my life in disobedience. Please make this clear. Please hold my hand. You know that I am not brave enough for something like this.

After days of silently battling things out with God, it finally hit me. Adoption doesn't fit into Dave Ramsey’s plan. It fits into God's plan. God had just taken us through a huge trial financially. He showed us how He would and could provide for our financial needs during the trying month in February. That was fresh in my mind. It was definitely not too much for God to provide the thousands of dollars for us to adopt – was it?

Yes, it was a risk. It was a risk that I was certain would look absolutely foolish to some people. But I knew in my heart that it would be more risky NOT to take that risk. To disobey what God is asking us would be a risk I was not willing to take. I wasn't sure how Jim felt about all of this, though. I knew that in the past I had been manipulative with certain things that I have wanted for our life, and that this time he had to come to this decision without me getting in the way. So I prayed, begging God to convict Jim, as I truly felt this was God's desire for us. But Jim needed to be completely sold out to an adoption as well, or I would not step forward.

One Saturday night in late March, Jim brought home the movie The Blindside for us to watch. The movie chronicled a white family adopting a teenage black boy. I could hardly watch the movie, because I was being so convicted. It’s funny the things that the Holy Spirit can use to prick our hearts and open our eyes. At the end of the movie I felt prompted to just casually mention adoption to Jim again. I proceeded prayerfully and submissively this time, unlike so many times in our early years of marriage. He was quiet about it, but that night as he held me and prayed before falling asleep he mentioned adoption, and my heart soared!

It’s hard to put down in words what transpired next. Sometimes the working of the Holy Spirit is so intricate that it is difficult to see all of the details. But He was definitely at work, because ultimately Jim on his own did also come to the solid decision that God was calling us to the ministry of adoption. We discussed the timing, and how it seemed strange and crazy. However, we could no longer deny that not only was God calling us to do this, but to do this now. God was calling us to adopt from Ethiopia. Why Ethiopia? It was the country that God first opened our eyes to. I think we both lost our hearts the moment we truly understood the need there. At the time it was also the country with the greatest need for her orphans.

I have questioned why we couldn't wait a few years and try to save up money while we waited. But I think that it had to be an immediate act of obedience, because our hearts were so freshly sensitive to His provision, having just walked through it. In a few years, we may forget, we may not trust Him like we were willing to right then. Plus, maybe God just wanted to use our story for His glory - to show what could happen when two very average people stepped out in obedience. Actually I am certain of that.

He is a master story teller who weaves intricate stories seamlessly together. I am eternally grateful that God collided my story with the story of my, now, dear friend, Joanna, and that she chose to tell her story. Only God knows who He plans to have our story collide with, but it will collide. For we are all part of one grand story, the sacred story that He is writing - a story with the ultimate, victorious ending.

They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom, and talk of Your power, to make known to the sons of men His mighty acts, and the glorious majesty of His kingdom. (Psalm 145:11-12)


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