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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Our Adoption Story

We stood before you almost exactly two years ago and shared the hard times, the sifting that God had taken us through individually, as a couple and even as a family.  God had definitely broken up the ground of our lives. He reworked our marriage, our family our hearts and even our home as he moved us to China for a time.  It was at once the most terrible and the most beautiful time in our lives.
We knew God was up to something, but so much easier now to see that God was waking us up and teaching us to rely on him….he had more for us.  More for us than coasting through life on maintenance mode...he had a mission for us.  I thought we were all set.  Yes, we felt a calling to do more and were ready, so we thought…we still had our savings, our plans, our home, our family, our retirement…..all under control.  Right!
A quote by A. W. Tozer sums it up well:
" God is looking for people through whom He can do the impossible. What a pity we plan only the things we can do by ourselves."

Two  years later our savings are gone, our plans have changed, our family will never be the same, retirement…well, not likely.  We could not be more thankful!

Our pastor asked us to share our testimony about our adoption process.  As we tried to prepare our “adoption testimony” two things became abundantly clear:    
 It is impossible to separate our adoption testimony from the testimony of our walk with Christ
Finding analogies, parallels and clear callings in scripture between our salvation and caring for orphans is NOT like being served a softball pitch to hit out of the park it is like being served 1000 softball pitches all at once and deciding which one to swing at.   You just have to swing your bat and you are going to hit one.
For those of you who know us know one of the clearest passions or burdens that God placed on our hearts through our sifting process was one of pointing the lost to Christ in both word and deed, especially to those who have very little chance of hearing God’s word.  One of the very first quotes I remember reading was what John Piper frequently says: “there are three types of people;  goers, senders or the disobedient”.  We were sure two years ago and are still as sure today that we will be “goers”.  However, with all due respect, I think Piper’s quote is inadequate.  God showed us there is another action verb that should be added, “bringers”.  “Goers, senders, bringers or disobedient”. We are not yet prepared to go, but certainly God has prepared us to “bring”… the lost to us…today. 
We ultimately heard a clear calling for us to adopt from overseas.  This was our calling for today.
Please hear us when we say that we did not adopt only because we wanted to rescue someone, but it would also be untrue to say that it was not a part of it.  We also adopted because we believed there was still more room in our hearts and home.  Both are true plus dozens of other reasons that only God could explain.  It is true, however, that there are hundreds of thousands of children across this world that short of being adopted will likely NEVER hear the gospel.  Amy coined a phrase while in China that speaks to this truth: “Dead child walking”.  Harsh?  Probably.  True? Absolutely.
Amy had always wanted to adopt. As a child she had a Chinese doll that she pretended was her baby.  For decades she talked of Chinese children even  before I started traveling there or we lived there.  Although Amy told me of her desire to adopt, she rarely mentioned it and certainly never pressured me.  As far as I was concerned our quiver was full, adoption was dangerous, too expensive and certainly out my control.
One day in November 2008 the Holy Spirit moved in my heart. I told Amy before breakfast one morning that I thought we should adopt.  Amy was shocked (bruised her jaw on the floor when it dropped!) and overjoyed. Our adoption journey began for one little girl, a sister for our youngest child, Hannah.  
"God is looking for people through whom He can do the impossible. What a pity we plan only the things we can do by ourselves."  Thanks, Tozer!

We prayed as a family, talked as a family and agreed that we were on this path together.
We did not know in which country to look.
We did not know how to look at scores of photos and “choose a child.”
We did not even know how to choose an agency.
Much less did we know how to pay for the adoption
For months, Amy agonized and pleaded with God along with many ladies from her Bible studies. 
Although Amy wanted to adopt from China, there were several mountains in our path.  We ended up looking to several other countries including Ethiopia and Thailand and signed on with two different adoption agencies. 
Proverbs 16:9 – The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.
In ways that only He could do, God either MOVED those mountains, showed us a path around them, or called us to climb them.
God providentially took us back to China, with still no idea how we were going to pay for it. This was the part for which we were going to have to get our climbing boots!
After months of agonizing “how to choose”, in early June God showed us our little Mandy from Wuzhou City, China.  God brought us each to love her in due time with only a short bio and a couple of aged pictures.  We had hopes of having her home by Christmas.  Just paperwork to complete now!  (Yeah, right!)
In July another Calvary adoptive family stepped in and started praying with us and helping us figure out how to pay for this.
The next 3-4 months were times of learning to trust God and remember he was in control.  The paperwork always took longer than it should, things got delayed, and expenses started to mount faster than savings accounts and fund raisers could handle.  Even with these minor frustrations we were extremely blessed and amazed at the generosity of our friends, family, Hamilton businesses and even some local Hamilton churches. We saw God at work in His people at grocery stores, at an optometrist office, at car washes, at prayer meetings, and even blog sites.  We were greatly humbled.
It was hard enough to raise money, but soon it became necessary to just be gut level honest with people and ask for help.  This was not easy.  There was a lot of pride that had to go and it HURT. 
We soon learned to understand that God’s resources are not limited to what we see, what we think is reasonable or practical.  God uses generous people. 
“One man gives freely, yet gains even more…”  Proverbs 11:24a
We truly saw God’s hand extended in mercy and generosity. 

AND THEN God decided there was more…. The Friday before Thanksgiving, Amy received an e-mail.  Amy prayed and prayed before I got home for direction on what was presented to her.  When I got home she did not yet sense a clear direction, but shared with me what she was presented and that was that there was another little girl just outside of Kunming, China who would turn 14 on Jan. 20th and as a result become “unadoptable”, she would age out of the system.  We had until Monday to decide if we would be the ones to try and adopt her.  With only 8-9weeks until her “age out date” it was a long shot to even try.  Our own adoption agency said it could not be done, apparently they did not know our God.
We prayed all weekend.  By Saturday Amy already knew, but did nothing to pressure me.  After a long night of wrestling with God, by Sunday I knew that I could not say no.  My flesh, my logic, my selfishness screamed “NO WAY”, but how could I???  How could I possibly let finances, bedrooms, college tuitions, weddings, savings, or retirement stand in the way of giving a little girl a family. 
We stepped out in faith the first time to get a daughter we wanted for our family. We stepped out with our other foot in faith to get a daughter GOD wanted for our family.
The race was on!!!
Amy started praying and Amy starting pushing (a dangerous duo). 
Literally hundreds if not thousands of people praying for us and Hope from adoption blog sites across the nation.
An unnamed angel put up a $5,000  matching grant. 
The grant was matched, mainly from other adoptive families we have never met face to face.
The US and China moved paperwork (or, should I say, God did).
Against our agency’s best advise we bought airline tickets over Christmas for January to arrive in Kunming two days before Hope’s birthday.  Technically, we were traveling illegally as the documentation to allow us to adopt, which doubles as our reason for getting a visa to China, would have to meet us there.  There was no time to wait.
We hugged Hope on Jan. 18th at about 9:45 am, less than 1 day and 7 hours before she would be without a forever family forever. 
Approximately 28 hours later we were in Nanning hugging Amanda for the very first time. 
To compare this with how God first loved us, before we even knew he existed, or how we resisted Him even when He got our attention seems so obvious.  We loved these girls before we ever held them. We were never going to let them go.  To lose them in the process would have been kindred to a miscarriage, as we know all too well.  To expect the girls to feel the same would be naïve, and they certainly did not.  Pastor Paul could preach a couple dozen sermons on the spiritual salvation parallelisms that started then and continue until today. Trust, love, & transparency all take time and are things that they know little of.  Sometimes all we can do is hug them, even when they resist. Especially when they resist!
Isaiah 43:5-7
Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west.
Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth – everyone who is called by my name whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.
Our earnest prayer is that both will be sharing their own testimonies in the coming years like their “sister”, Minnie.  Their understanding of our faith to date is ironically off to a perfect start.  Hope shared with us that in China she was taught that only the weak believe in God. May we always be weak so He can be STRONG!
All our best,
Dave (writing for Amy)
PS. Minnie was baptized this past weekend! She made a public confession of faith before she took “the plunge”.  We are so thankful and honored that God blessed us with the opportunity to walk this path with Minnie! Hope and Amanda don’t quite understand what went on. They think it was cool that Minnie was able to go swimming in church! I pray that we will soon be a family of “swimmers”!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Anticipation and Apprehension

Today our middle school has a job shadowing day for the kids in seventh grade. Andrew is going to work with his dad, as did his brother four years ago. Hope didn’t know about this until yesterday when everyone at school was talking about it. She was confused as to why she wasn’t going with Dad too. I tried to explain to her that she wouldn’t know much of what was being said. I didn’t explain (but know full well) that her lack of social tact (yelling “Dadeee”, interrupting while adults are talking, etc) would be a problem for Dave. I told her that she would have a special time with Dad next year and she is already counting down the days! She also is counting the months until she can to drivers ed. Unfortunately, Hailey told her soon after her arrival here that she would be old enough to learn to drive this September and Hope hasn’t forgotten (why couldn’t that be something she didn’t understand?!?). We are continually telling her that she needs to be in high school before she learns to drive (house rules!) so now she wants to go to high school next year.  For a girl that was afraid to try new things when she first arrived, she certainly has had a boost to her confidence and is ambitious about new experiences!

Yesterday Dave taught Hannah and Amanda to drive our go-kart. Hannah really wanted to learn but was deathly afraid of going too fast. She did a stop-go-stop-go circle around the front yard and was satisfied. Amanda wanted to try just because Hannah did it.  Dave showed her the gas and brake pedals and they practiced stomping on the brake several times when he yelled “stop”. THANKFULLY God prompted Dave to put his hands on the roll bars just in time b/c Amanda punched the gas and froze. She would have ended in the trees or upside down or something…instead the kart popped up almost vertically until Dave got her to brake.  She continued to do her circle in the front yard but this is why Mandy’s photo has Dave’s hands on the roll bars.

Thank you God for keeping your hand on ME even when I think I can do it all by myself. Thank you also for not giving me everything I ask for when I want it. Your timing is perfect!

All my best,

Monday, April 19, 2010

New Life =New Experiences!

Add these to the lists of firsts:
Ice skating
Roller skating
Shooting guns (22 rifle, 410 shotgun, 9mm pistol, & 357 pistol—which was WAY too big for the girls!)
Shingled a roof
Painting a shed
Hit a piñata at a birthday party (Mandy)
Witnessed a yelling match between a brother and sister when mom and dad were out and experienced the discussion/consequences when parents came home…
Ear piercing!!!!
Running through the sprinklers!

Some were exciting, some hurt, some were scary, but they all ended as a wonderful bonding experience for EVERYONE! 
All my best,

P.S. New photos are added to the link to the right!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mercy and Grace

Who would have thought that the promise of a homemade smoothie would have had such tragic ramifications?!? While I was still cleaning up after dinner, Mandy and Hannah were cutting loose in the family room, excited about the prospect of the yummy dessert. Hannah turned upside-down on the couch and kicked her feet in the air. Unfortunately, Mandy did the same but did it next to the half wall and her flailing feet sent a vase to its demise. I saw it about to happen but even though I yelled for her to stop, it was too late. Typical Mandy…she stood up and said “I don’t know!”, trying to side-step the blame. I had both her and Hannah clean up the mess and then go outside. I was upset that she did it; this wasn’t the first thing she had broken and I knew it wouldn’t be the last. I didn’t yell, but put them outside so I could reign in the emotion before it damaged anyone. Before I knew it Mandy was back inside, moping around in the kitchen, not making eye contact but not seeking forgiveness either. Every part of my selfish, fleshly heart wanted her to stew in it for a while, but upon God’s prompting (and Dave’s encouraging) I knelt down in front of her, explained through a mixture of Chinese and English that I knew it was a mistake and that I forgave her. She melted into my arms, tears dropping down my back. Mercy reached down and lifted her up.
Later, Dave told Hope to get off the computer. Hope was ticked and stormed upstairs in a huff. Not finding this response acceptable, Dave went upstairs after her. Hope was barricaded in her room, refused to look at or acknowledge Dave speaking to her. Dave redirected her face to look at him gently with his hands while still speaking to her, but Hope lashed out and struck Dave. I knew from the floor below that SOMETHING bad happened, as Dave’s voice was booming from above. He told me what she did upon his decent so I went upstairs to address it and to show a unified front between her parents. I told her “We don’t hit in our family! You don’t hit baba, you don’t hit mama, you don’t hit sisters and you don’t hit brothers. Do you understand?” I also told her to tell me with her voice “yes or no” so I wouldn’t mistake a head nod for agreement when it wasn’t meant to be. Also, since we didn’t have a past of bending her will as she bent over our knee, I wanted to make her submit in a way that I knew it was her will. Although tears ran freely from her eyes, she was not going to agree with me verbally. Both Dave and I repeated the phrase: “We don’t hit in our family…” at least four dozen times, acknowledging that she started nodding after three dozen but insisting that she spoke her agreement. FINALLY, she said yes and tried to pull away to cry it out. I reached out to her drew her into a big hug, and told her that this was the time we were going to surround her with love. This teenage girl full of independence let herself go into our arms and cried silently (and not so silently). After about 10 minutes I asked her if she wanted us to stay or go, thinking she might like some privacy to compose herself. Much to my surprise, she said stay, and she just stayed in our arms for a while longer. Finally she sat up, took my previous suggestion to heart about seeking forgiveness and said “I’m sorry Dad”, adding “I’m sorry Mom”, totally unprompted. The waterworks started again, this time by Dave and me, as we hugged her and kissed her and told her we forgave her and loved her. Grace abounded.
How can such an emotionally charged, difficult day be so good?
All my best,

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Shift Has Occurred

When we first came home from China, Hope would talk about her foster mother and refer to her as “Mom”. I referred to “the other woman” as Hope’s “China Mom” several times but then gave in and just called her Hope’s “Mom”. I didn’t like to share the title, but I didn’t want to push the issue. She was Hope’s only Mom for 12 years! Hope was calling me “Mom” as well, so I let it ride.
Just recently Hope started calling her foster Mom “China Mom”. The first time she did it I thought she just made a mistake and I continued to refer to her as Hope’s “Mom”, but within the past two days we both have made the switch: the foster mother is now “China Mom” and I alone hold the coveted position of “Mom”!!!
I am a happy Mom!!!
All my best,

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Learning to Love and Trust

I find it to be very interesting…almost always on the heels of a “good” day we experience a bad one. One day Hope agrees to start wearing deodorant; the next she is pouting b/c I am not spending enough time with her. One day Mandy is enjoying her bicycle, jumping on the trampoline, and jumping rope; the next day she has a crying fit b/c I make her go outside to play. Mandy lost her privilege of going on the family swim night last week due to the fact that she had a crying temper tantrum during dinner. It was uncomfortable and ugly, but Hope was able to see that we didn’t allow Mandy to slam her door when she retreated to her room.  Mandy was able to see that Hope missed ice cream for dessert b/c she was pouting in her room from being asked to get off the computer. Both Amanda and Hope saw us discipline Austin and Hailey as they acted improperly against each other. Both Amanda and Hope have experienced special 1:1 time with mom and dad as well as seen us carve out time to spend with the other children. All of our kids have learned more about sacrificial love, pursuing others for their good, and walking outside their comfort zones. Adoption is a beautiful thing for EVERYONE involved!!!

Hope and Amanda are excited about Nai-nai coming on Wednesday. Both the girls are crazy about family, immediate and extended. Since they found out about it yesterday I have heard about Nai nai’s impending arrival about 63 times…it is so good to see them wanting to be a part of the family!

Hope has had the experience of helping Dave dig up our septic tank to have it pumped, blowing the driveway clean, and build a storage shed behind the barn. Mandy has discovered that sharing is better than having everything all by herself, power outages won’t be the death of her at night, and that Easter baskets hold a LOT of yummy treats! Hope has found that even though she has never played “Spot” with a bunch of kids she barely knows, she can have a lot of fun and hold her own while being “it”. AND, both girls are learning to walk in the love of a forever family…that when they make mistakes, either intentionally or unintentionally, by omission or commission, they can seek forgiveness and have it granted. That we will protect them when scary things happen. And that love is always waiting to be lavished upon them when they are willing to accept it.

During the Good Friday service our exchange student and honorary member of our family, Minnie, accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior!!! The new girls didn’t know what to make of it, especially with the mixture of tears and laughter from us as well as MANY people of our church. I continue to hope and pray for our new girls that they will also join our spiritual family soon. Mandy hears me pray every night that she will love Jesus with her whOOOOOOOle (spelled as I say it) heart; Hope asks for Dave to pray over her at night. We pray that we are helping to break up their fallow ground, for it IS the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon them. (Hosea 10:12)

I still am amazed that God has entrusted these two children to us. They are not blank slates—they have come with past problems and nuances, some of which are larger than others to overcome. As I sit with my 4 bio children around me I also realize they did not come to us as blank slates…they each have their own issues and inclinations that make them distinctly themselves. We are discovering more about each child as they are discovering more about themselves. God is responsible for their hearts…we are responsible to love them and build them up according to their needs. This looks differently for each child, which makes the whole job of parenting more challenging and interesting than if they were all just the same. It also makes me draw nearer to HIM, which is also part of His plan. Praise His Name!

All my best,