Thursday, April 28, 2016

We Are MATCHED!!!!!!!

I burst into tears when I typed those 3 words to title this blog. I can't even wrap my head or heart around it. We. are. MATCHED!!! It feels like a dream! After 4 years, 2 months, and 2 weeks of waiting for Kate, we are finally MATCHED with a beautiful little girl in Thailand!!! PRAISE THE LORD!!!!!!!

"The Lord is wonderfully good to those who wait for Him... "
~ Lamentations 3:25

Kate Jackson

Birthdate: January 19, 2013

Age: 3 years and 3 months

Height: 39 inches

Weight: 30.8 lbs

Place of Birth: Thailand

On Monday morning we saw our daughter for the very first time. I cannot put into words what that moment meant to us. To finally see the beautiful face of the little one we have been dreaming of for 50 months was absolutely surreal! I have cried an ocean full of happy tears, and Rusty and I have gone to bed each night this week with faces that hurt from smiling too much. We are overjoyed!!!

"The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with JOY!"
~ Psalm 126:3

As anxious as we were to see our Kate when we got the email - I am so glad that we took a few moments to wait and set up our camera. Thanks to our GoPro, we were able to capture the moment when we saw her for the first time, and I cry again every time I watch it. I am so glad that someday we'll be able to tell our little girl that we wanted her before she was even born, and show her that we loved her from the first second we saw her!

I wish more than anything that I could post her photo for all of you to see here and now - but we cannot share her photo* online due to regulations from Thailand. I will tell you though, that she is absolutely gorgeous! I could have never imagined that we would be lucky enough to be Mama and Daddy to such a darling child! She has the prettiest pouty lips you've ever seen, the loveliest almond shaped eyes, and sweet brown sugar skin. She is wearing pigtails, a red and white polka-dotted dress, and standing with her knee cocked "just so" in a dainty little pose! With one look - she has completely stolen our hearts!

We cannot stop staring at her photo, and have even printed and framed a copy already (that we may or may not be carrying from room to room in our house!) She is the background for both of our phones, and we are guilty of gazing again and again with a dreamy look in our eyes. I caught Rusty looking at her Monday night in utter adoration. When I asked him what he thought he sighed and said, "This is love at first sight." Friends... we. are. SMITTEN!

We've been amazed at how obvious it is that God hand-picked this little girl just for us! We have three pages of information on our daughter, and it reads as if she was our biological child. In the words of the orphanage staff, she is "chatty" and "self-willed". (Sound like anyone you know? ;) She is cheerful and smiles a lot... playful and friendly. She can play alone - but prefers to play in a group (our little extrovert!) She shares generously. She loves to listen to music and dance to the beat, and she loves accessories! (Apparently she examines all the jewelry visitors wear - especially necklaces.) She has a lovely Thai name (we will be keeping part of it as a middle name, though we haven't decided which part). One part of her name means "flower", and her Thai nickname means "rainwater". Kate is smart and a fast learner. She's also healthy - and the few minor health issues she has dealt with in the past are all, strangely enough, things that run in my family! (What are the odds?!)

About a year ago, as I was sharing some anxious thoughts with a friend about our adoption, I was given some very good advice. She told me simply, "You can't miss your child." She knew that no matter how the timing went for our home study, or matching - God had chosen a specific child for us, and us for her, and He would see to it that we were together someday. My friend was SO right. There are many other details I cannot share at this time that show His hand was in this match. We are incredibly grateful to witness the evidence of His work. This is definitely our little girl, and we already love her so much!

We know that we have had hundreds of people praying for our adoption for the past 4 years - and we can't thank you all enough for praying us through to this moment. We could not have made it this far without the love and support of our family and friends - and we need you now more than ever! Please help us pray our little girl HOME! The typical timeline for travel is 6-12 months (with some cases taking even longer). But the Lord has been speaking to my heart for a few weeks now, and I've been telling Rusty that I think we're traveling in August. (Even before we were matched, I just knew it was going to be August!) It's CRAZY I know - but something in my spirit just won't let this go. So we are believing God for a MIRACLE - that we will be going to get our baby girl sometime in August (just 3 months from now!) Will you pray in faith with us? We have already missed the first 3 years and 3 months of her little life, and we do not want to miss another moment!

"With man this is impossible, 
but with God all things are possible."
~ Matthew 19:26

"You are the God who performs miracles; 
you display your power among the peoples." 
~ Psalm 77:14

"If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."
~ Matthew 21:22

"Now faith is confidence in what we hope for 
and assurance about what we do not see."
~ Hebrews 11:1


*If you see me or Rusty out and about, or any of our immediate family members - feel free to ask to see Kate's picture! We'll be glad to show her off and tell you more about our darling little girl! 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Faith or Foolishness?

This week a package came in the mail for Kate. I don't let myself buy things for her often, because we have no idea how old or how big she will be when she comes home... but when I saw this little bunny dress I made an exception. (If you know me then you know I have a thing for bunnies! It's actually my nickname from my husband.) The dress was already on sale, and I knew it probably wouldn't be around once she came home. I asked Rusty if it was silly to buy it, and he said "if it will make you happy, then do it." So I did. And then I forgot about it...

Until the package came this week, right before Easter.

I opened it up, pulled it out, and sighed. As if he could read my mind Rusty said, "This is depressing." Holding tiny little dresses for a little girl we haven't even seen yet (after 4+ years of waiting) is pretty sad and depressing. "Maybe I shouldn't have ordered it", I replied. "What was I thinking?!" and before I could stop myself I went on... "I mean... is this FAITH, or foolishness? It feels pretty foolish..."

I've asked that question again and again in my heart the last few days. "Is this faith, or foolishness?" We have been been pursing this adoption for more than 4 years. We're getting very close to the 50 month mark. Our agency has taken away all timelines and are telling us to "just be patient". We are still not matched with a child. We don't even know who our daughter is. I've never known any other adoptive family who waited this long under these circumstances, or who faced the specific challenges and delays we have faced.

We are to the point now where most people don't ask for updates anymore. Many friends and some family members have asked if this is a scam? And if it's time to change agencies? Some have come right out and asked the hard question - "Do you really think this is going to work out? Do you really think this is going to happen? Or are they just going to keep stringing you along forever?!" Others have sent us information on waiting children from other countries, or the file for a domestic child. Our own agency even asked if we wanted to change to the Korea program!

I understand. This seems impossible. I know that we must seem absolutely pitiful as we wait, and wait, and wait helplessly. For the first few years I felt determined and SO full of faith. We would press on, do paperwork, buy things for her room, and our hope was high. But as time drags on and all we do is wait... well, it all starts to feel a little foolish. Trusting our agency is hard. Buying things for a child we STILL aren't matched with feels naive. Continuing to believe against ALL odds for this long feels foolish.

Because it is.

Is this FAITH or FOOLISHNESS? The answer is both.

You see, what is FAITH in God's eyes seems foolish to the world. What is the definition of faith anyway? It's belief in things unknown and unseen. "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1) If you really think about that, believing in something you've never seen before seems completely crazy! 

Abraham waited for 25 years for the birth of Isaac. He was 75 years old when God first made him a promise - to make him "into a great nation" and to give specific land to his offspring (Genesis 12). Can you imagine being told you would have a child at that age?! In Genesis 15 we see that Abraham thought maybe he'd misunderstood - and that one of his servants would be an heir. But God confirmed a second time that it would be a son of his own flesh and blood. 11 years passed and still Abraham did not have a son. He and Sarah got tired of waiting... so she took matters into her own hands. She refused to believe God would fulfill His promise through her, and had Abraham sleep with a servant (Genesis 16). Abraham did have a son with Hagar - but that wasn't the fulfillment of the promise God had made Him. In Genesis 17 we read that God confirms - one more time (for this stubborn couple) that He will give him a son by his wife, Sarah. Sarah thought it sounded so impossible - so foolish - that she actually laughed out loud at God ! (Genesis 18) But we see in Genesis 21 that 25 years after God first spoke this promise to Abraham, Isaac was born! Sarah was 90 years old when she gave birth to her first child, and Abraham was 100. That's a long time to wait for a promise to be fulfilled. 

When I feel foolish, I need to remind myself that this wasn't my idea. I forget that sometimes... because we are so excited to adopt, and we already love Kate so much! But we didn't just randomly choose the most difficult country to adopt from for the fun of it! And this certainly wasn't the timing we would've picked. God chose this path for us. He began speaking to our hearts... then confirmed this calling very specifically again, and again, and again. I need to remember that more often - because if He called us to this, I know He will bring us through it!

I look back at the story of Abraham and Sarah's waiting (and Sarah taking matters into her own hands) and I'm reminded not to waver. I know that we could go a different direction. We could try to get pregnant and have biological children... we could adopt domestically... we could choose a different (easier, faster) international program. But that's not what God asked us to do. He didn't just say "have a child". He said, "you have a daughter waiting in Thailand... and I want you to go find her." Before we ever thought we were ready, He sent us on this journey... and I don't want to take a short cut and miss His blessing just because I'm tired of waiting. 

I think it's meaningful that God gave me this revelation to share on this day.  It's the Saturday before Easter. 2000 years ago, on this very weekend, a lot of people thought Jesus and His followers were pretty foolish... and crazy... and pitiful. Jesus was dead. Everyone saw him crucified... they saw the sword pierce his side... they saw him buried. It would be foolish for those who loved Him to do anything but mourn His death.

But that wasn't the end of the story. Jesus rose from the dead! Can you even wrap your mind around that?! Our Lord and Savior conquered DEATH. No one believed it was possible, but it happened. And now, it seems a little foolish that people didn't believe Jesus when He said He would do that very thing, doesn't it? 

The Saturday before Jesus rose from the dead must've been a dark, hopeless day. I told my husband that I feel like that's where we are right now. When it comes to our adoption, we are stuck on Saturday. We know there is a promise to be fulfilled... but it's hard to have faith that something so seemingly impossible could still happen!

Today I'm reminding myself that our Sunday is coming. Our miracle is on the way! The same God who was faithful to Abraham and Sarah will be faithful to us. The same God who conquered DEATH can surely handle completing our adoption. If He can bring Himself back from the grave... then I know He can bring our little girl home!

Monday, January 25, 2016

ALL things for good...

A few months ago I asked God a very specific question, and He gave me a very detailed answer.

Now before I tell you what the question was, you should probably know a little bit about the timing of our adoption. In case you missed this blog, I shared that God started speaking to us specifically about starting adoption now on October 17, 2011. At the time adoption was a "someday" dream. Our plan was not to start a family until we'd been married for 3 - 5 years... and then to start our family with a biological child or two before adopting. So imagine our surprise when God started telling us to adopt first, and adopt now, only 2 and 1/2 years into our marriage!

The Lord asked me some very specific questions that night. Questions like "Is 'I'm not ready to be a mom yet' a good enough excuse to wait? Do you think any child is ready to be an orphan?" and the one that really got me... "What if there is a little girl or little boy out there - right now - waiting for a mommy and you aren't coming?!" His prompting did a lot to put the orphan crisis in perspective for us... and we began actively pursuing our adoption from Thailand less than 4 months later.

I really thought it would be a quick process. I just knew that if God had called us to start the process NOW instead of later - then there had to be a reason. I expected to find out that maybe that night, October 17, 2011 - was the night our daughter was born! Or maybe it was when she was placed in an orphanage? There had to be a reason God was speaking to our hearts so urgently!

And then... 4 years passed... and we still weren't (aren't!) even matched with a child.

It seems confusing, right?

And considering we're approved for a child 3 years old or younger - that means that our daughter wasn't born when God started pushing us toward adoption. As a matter of fact, she wasn't even conceived!

A few months ago I started thinking about this timeline, and how confusing it has been for us. As I mulled it all over in my mind I blurted out...

"Why God? Why did you start speaking to us then?! Kate wasn't even born yet... and she couldn't have even been conceived! Her birth parents might not have even met yet when you started prompting us to pursue her. So why? Why start our process then... especially if you knew how long and hard it was going to be?! Why not just speak to us about adoption 2 years later, and then make our process go smoothly? (Instead of the rocky road we've been traveling for 4 years!) I don't understand God! WHY?" 

What happened next was unbelievable.

Have you ever watched a movie scene where the character sees their whole life flash before their eyes? Well, that's similar to what happened to me. In an instant, God had flashed the answer - the lengthy, detailed answer with lots and lots of specific examples - before my eyes. (Ask and you shall receive, right?) What He revealed was incredible.

God showed me ONE relationship. Just one out of the many that I've made since we started this adoption. And He showed me just how far-reaching the effects of that relationship have been - like hundreds of ripples from one tiny stone dropped into a large pond. 

.       .       .

Her name is Heather. We went to college together, and while I'm sure our paths crossed and we may have even met at some point - we weren't friends. We weren't even Facebook friends! But our adoption changed that.

Heather (far left), two of my dearest neighbor friends (Natalie & Kate), and I 
at an early brunch the day before she left to meet her baby girl in the Bahamas!
(Ladies, we really need to take more pictures together!) 

She found my blog through a comment on another adoption blog - clicked through and read our difficult story. We were just in the beginning stages of our adoption... struggling to find an agency to work with. They were too - as they were adopting from a very uncommon country (The Bahamas - her husband's birth country). She offered to answer any questions I might have, and thought that maybe sharing our stories could help each other. I suggested meeting for lunch, and she accepted.

I think that first lunch lasted about 3 hours. I was completely smitten with her little boy Mason, and it was SO good to share about our difficult situations and try to figure out next steps. That first lunch quickly turned into a second, and a third, and before I knew it a real friendship had formed!

After Rusty and I found an agency and (officially) started our adoption, we began house hunting. As soon as I told Heather we were looking (during one of our lunches, of course) she insisted we consider her neighborhood, Crestwood. (A neighborhood that was not even on our radar!) I tried to dismiss her suggestion, but she would not be deterred! She calmed my fears about the location and school systems, and pushed again and again that we consider looking there.

As hesitant as we were initially.... it turns out that Crestwood was exactly where we were supposed to be! We met some of our closest neighbor-friends (one who happens to be an adoptive mom named Kate!) in Heather's front yard. She sent us the photo and phone number for our sweet little "For Sale By Owner" house. She was the witness who signed our purchase agreement when we decided it was "the one". And this lovely little neighborhood that she insisted we consider has now been the biggest source of life, love, and encouragement for us. We love our neighbors like family. The 13 children on our street are some of the most precious little ones you'll meet! We are experiencing a sense of community we've never had any where else. We feel known. We feel inspired creatively! It's been good for us emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally.

Rusty's little side venture (RJackson Media), which helps us make a little bit of extra income, never would've been started if we hadn't moved to this neighborhood. Some of his first clients were our neighbors! And for some strange reason, the property value in this neighborhood has shot up drastically (compared to other areas of Birmingham). So we're in a better position financially too!

But that's not all. Heather wasn't just our "realtor" (haha) and "adoption encourager", she is also now a Board Member for our nonprofit The Sound of Hope. I never could have pulled off our big event last May without her! She's also singularly responsible for introducing us to Project for Awesome - a video competition that awarded us $15,000 in 2015 and helped provide education for the 209 children in our care!

Heather, Mason, Jeremy, & Karis the day they came home from the Bahamas!

And of course, best of all, Heather and her husband Jeremy are such sweet friends. She is so talented, creative, thoughtful, kind, encouraging, and REAL. I can't imagine my life without her, Rusty has loved getting to know Jeremy, and we both adore their two beautiful, snuggly babies Mason and Karis (who was adopted from the Bahamas in 2013!)

And as I stepped back and surveyed all those little ripples, wide-eyed from what God has done in my life through that ONE relationship, he said gently...

"See? It's not always what you expect, but I am always working. I knew this was the timeline you needed, for reasons you couldn't see. It wasn't just about Kate. It wasn't just about preparing her for you, or you for her. It's always been about so. much. more.
I work ALL things together for the good of those who love me dear. ALL THINGS. I've been working these past 4 years for your good and Rusty's good. I put you in a neighborhood where you would be blessed with the best community. I made sure you would grow mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I've surrounded you with special relationships. I've made sure you were cared for financially. I've spurred your creativity on, and put you somewhere you would be encouraged to try new things. These are all ways that I am preparing the way for Kate too... preparing a loving home and community for her when the time is right.
But I'm also working in other ways too! I work ALL things together for the good of those who love me. It's not just you dear.... my plan is bigger than that. I've also been working on behalf of the 209 children you have in your care around the world! Because I care for orphans, and I'm always working behind the scenes to make sure those children are provided for too.
I'm at work in ALL THINGS."

I told Heather about all this, and she too was amazed. She told me, "Ericka - if you hadn't been pursuing your adoption right then, we probably never would've met! If you'd waited 2 years, I would've already been home with Karis! I stopped reading adoption blogs once she was placed with us and focused on her. We might never have become friends!"

.       .       .

It is humbling for me to realize how much bigger God's plan is than mine. It is overwhelming to think that this is just one example taken from one relationship He has added to my life through this adoption. I have become friends with some of the most precious women because of our adoption. If this is the affect just one relationship has had on the past 4 years... if this is how becoming friends with just one new person has changed the course of my life - I can't imagine what I would see if I could view the past 4 years through God's eyes! I'm so grateful that He was gracious enough to give me this little glimpse into what He's been up to!

I am comforted by the truth that He is never idle. He wastes nothing. He is always at work... redeeming, renewing, and enriching our lives. 

So whatever your struggle is right now dear one, remember that there is so much truth in Romans 8:28. He is working ALL things together for your good! You may not be able to see it right now, but you can trust that you are in His hand, and He is ultimately in control, unfolding what is best for you in ways that only He can. And maybe, just maybe, if you ask Him... He will give you a little glimpse into His goodness.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Sometimes your arms get tired.

November was difficult for me.

Those of you who follow this blog and our story, know that we've had an unbelievably long adoption journey. We've spent the better part of 4 years working and waiting to adopt a little girl, without any timeline for matching or travel.

In April our agency told us they felt confident we'd be matched with a child by or before the end of the year. In November, they took that estimate back. For months we thought we could see the light at the end of the tunnel getting brighter and closer... only to suddenly have it grow dim and indiscernible again. It didn't kill my faith... but it sure did bruise and batter it. I found it harder and harder to be hopeful. I still believed God had called us to adopt, and I still believed He was working on our behalf... but I was just... tired.

And then we took a trip to Thailand. Our first stop was to visit The Refuge, our Children's Home for refugee kids from Burma. The kids met us with flower crowns, handmade gifts, letters, and signs. They hugged us and celebrated us, and brought out dinner and treats. The House Parents are dear friends (we actually share an anniversary and were a part of their wedding ceremony in 2011), and they too greeted us warmly. And in the midst of our welcome... the House Mom, SerNeGay, pulled me aside. "I want to show you something", she said. She took my hand, led me into the kitchen, and opened up the refrigerator. Waiting inside was this beautiful cake she'd baked and decorated just for us.

See you soon baby Kate Jackson. 

I couldn't hold back the tears. Later, she told me they pray for Kate, by name, every night.

Seeing that cake did something to me. I know we have a lot of people praying for us... I do. And I truly believe those prayers are at work on our behalf... sustaining us, protecting our daughter, and preparing the way for us to bring her home! But there was something about seeing that message in icing that renewed my hope. It was a sugary declaration... a lovingly crafted statement of faith.

I'm reminded of the story in Exodus, Chapter 17, of Joshua and the Israelites battling the Amalekites, while Moses looked on from a hill. He had already used his staff (referred to at this point as the "staff of God") to do some incredible things. God was moving through it in powerful ways! It helped him perform signs and wonders before Pharaoh, that ultimately pushed the ruler to let the Israelites go. It parted the Red Sea so that the Israelites could walk through on dry land. It even brought water forth from a rock when the Israelites complained they were thirsty. When Moses was obedient and faith-full, God used his staff to perform miracles. And He was about to do it again.

The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua,“Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” 
So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.  
- Exodus 17: 8-13

Did you catch that? Moses' hands grew tired.  Moses. The guy who talked to a burning bush. The guy who faced down Pharaoh. The guy whose staff parted the Red Sea. He got tired. He didn't lose faith... he didn't lose hope... he just got tired. He couldn't keep his arms up. Because he was human.

He knew God was working on his behalf. The Amalekites had attacked the Israelites unprovoked. Moses knew God would protect and provide for his people. He had seen miracle after miracle. As a matter of fact - a miracle was unfolding right in front of him at that very moment! God was helping Joshua win the battle! That is, until Moses' arms got tired and dropped beside him. That's when two of his friends - Aaron and Hur - stepped up to help. They too believed in God's power. They too had seen these miracles, and they were witnessing a miracle again. They knew if Moses just continued to be obedient (and kept his staff raised, as God instructed him to do) that this victory would come to fruition. So when Moses got too tired to hold up his own hands, they held them up for him.

My arms have been tired lately. I know, without a doubt, that God has called us to adopt a little girl from Thailand. He confirmed that to us in some truly miraculous ways. I know that her name is Kate, and that name has God's hand on it too. I believe that He is working on our behalf behind the scenes, even if we can't see it. And I believe, I truly do, that one day she will be home and in our arms.

But sometimes my arms get tired. Sometimes it's hard to hold this staff of HOPE up above my head for the world to see. Sometimes my legs get tired too. Some days it's hard to keep putting one foot in front of the other on this long, difficult adoption road. And on those days, I desperately need prayers... but I also need action. I need someone to help hold up my hands. I need someone to put my arm over their shoulder, and let me lean on them as I walk. It helps when people step out in faith and show me that they believe in our miracle too.

So when Connie sent Kate a bunny from Cambodia, and Stefanie bought her a cross for her room... when Meredith made her a custom print, and Lynn sent glitter letters... when Katie bought her a special book, and SerNeGay baked and decorated the sweetest little heart-shaped cake...  those tangible things showed me that my friends really do believe Kate is coming home. Those were the moments my precious sisters held up my hands.

Sometimes it feels silly to hope, and tiresome to have faith. After all... I'm only human. And unlike Moses - I can't physically see the miracle unfolding before me (even though I do believe it's happening!) But when so many people are praying... when friends say again and again "she WILL come home"... when they say too, with longing in their voices, "we can't wait for Kate to be here!"... it doesn't seem so lonely or so difficult to keep hope alive.

Adoption is never easy. It requires hope, faith, and a lot of strength and determination too. If you have a friend who is adopting right now, ask yourself what you can do to help "hold up their arms". Try to find a tangible way to show that you're believing alongside them! And if it's you going through a difficult adoption and you're arms are feeling tired - give yourself some grace! You're only human. (If Moses got tired, you're allowed to be tired sometimes too.)

SerNeGay gave me such a gift when she made that cake, and so many of you have given me similar gifts again and again over the past 47 months. So thank you, dear friends, for helping me hold up my HOPE when my arms get tired. Together, I know, we will watch our miracle unfold!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

A New Year with New Hope

It's January again. 2015 has come and gone, and here we are... celebrating a new year. Our friends have all gone home from the festivities. Only a couple of "Happy New Year" hats remain to remind me of countdowns and confetti. The house is quiet. I should be taking down the Christmas tree, but I wanted to enjoy it one more day.

As I sit on the couch, with a fire in the fireplace and lights twinkling, I look at our ornaments. All our ornaments have a special story tied to them, and they mean a great deal to me. I love looking back at a tree full of memories. But this year, one ornament has stuck out from all the rest. This beautiful silver one my cousin gave me several years ago.

HOPE. It's what I've needed the most this Christmas. It's what I've needed the last 36 months of our adoption journey, and it's what I need to get me through the months to come as we continue to wait for our little girl.

We didn't get our Christmas miracle - though I know so many of you prayed with us. We are still not matched with a child. And yes, on Christmas night, I am not ashamed to admit that I snuggled up in Rusty's arms on the couch... turned off the lights.... stared at our tree... and cried until my hair and his shirt were wet with tears. Oh how I long for my little girl to be home!

But honestly, for the most part - I've had peace this Christmas. That was not the case last year. I was miserable (and miserable to be around) last Christmas. But most days were good days this year. I truly believe it's because so many of you were praying for me... for us. Your prayers sustained me. And as I've finally gotten to slow down a little, God has been revealing some incredible things to me about our adoption (and I can't wait to share them here!)

For 2 and 1/2 years we worked constantly to find an agency, and complete the mounds and mounds of paperwork required of us to pursue this adoption. It filled every spare minute of our time. And then suddenly, it was over - and that paperwork went to Thailand. For the last 18 months it's been sitting on someone's desk - and we've had nothing to do but wait. So to cope, I've kept myself busy.

We have traveled constantly. There have been very few days that our suitcases were actually unpacked and put away since July 2014. We've been to India, Burma, Africa, Switzerland, and twice to Thailand for work. We've visited family and friends, and had speaking engagements all over the South. We organized our very first major event for The Sound of Hope. We worked to finish our office space. We started a side business using Rusty's video/photography skills. And we've had very little time to slow down, to rest, to reflect.

I'll admit that it's been easier that way... because if I don't slow down, the grief doesn't find me. If I just stay busy, then I don't have time to sit and cry about my daughter not being home. If my head is full of things to do, then my heart doesn't ache so much. But the truth is, it hasn't been healthy.

I've been sick more often the past 18 months than I have been in years. Bronchitis, fever viruses, colds, and the crud. We've felt the strain physically, emotionally, mentally, and in our marriage - because when you never rest, stress runs rampant. I have run myself ragged and I know I can't do it anymore.

I've talked to a few trusted friends about this, and gotten some great advice from them. One stressed how much I need a weekly Sabbath. The other forced me to order this book. (I'm lucky to have them both in my life! They were right!) I haven't even finished it, and yet this book has been changing my life in the BEST way. (If you haven't read it, you really should!) I've finally started to let myself slow down and rest, and I've heard God's voice in new ways.

I'm looking forward to sharing with you what God's been speaking to me through this blog. I haven't blogged or journaled enough the past 2 years and I know those things give me life! We've had some incredible experiences in all our travels, and I'm sad I haven't taken the time to document or share them. (Look out for some back-dated blogs coming soon from our travels this Fall!)

So as I focus on a New Year, I resolve to rest more and to write more... to get healthier physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. I resolve to spend less time checking off endless "to do" lists and more time having hearts to hearts with friends. I challenge myself to not be afraid to slow down and reflect (even when it breaks my heart)... to take time to be creative and not just productive. I commit to working toward a project that I believe is a "God idea" (I'd appreciate your prayers as it's quite daunting! I can't share any details now - but I promise I will when I can!) And most of all... I resolve to keep the HOPE in my heart alive as we continue waiting on Kate to come home.

What are you hoping for in 2016?

Friday, December 25, 2015

Emmanuel (God With Us)

It's past midnight on Christmas Eve and I'm sitting on the couch in my pajamas staring at the lights on our tree. I'd like for you to think that today (and the days leading up to it) have been full of reflection and meditation on Christ and His birth... but it has sadly been busy-ness as usual again this year. *sigh.

I bought a beautiful devotional that has touched my heart... the handful of days I've found the time to read it. And I have looked forward to being home for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, but after traveling 6 hours today I've had little time to enjoy it. Right now, in the wee hours of Christmas morning, I've found the first few minutes to truly slow down and set my heart on Christmas. And once again this year, I realize just how much we need Jesus to come.

I turn on the TV and hear about bombings in Paris and shootings in California and I realize, we need Jesus.

I scan my Facebook newsfeed and it only takes a few minutes to be overwhelmed by posts full of anger, hatred and fear. We need Jesus.

I read tragedy after tragedy of mommies and daddies taken away from babies much too soon and my heart cries out for Jesus.

I feel the frustration well up when I hear my friend Kayla (who is battling cancer herself) share about another little boy who lost his fight and I know... we need Jesus.

I weep with a group of fellow mothers who ache for their adopted children to be home in their arms, and I think about how much we need Jesus.

I look into the face of poverty and injustice again and again and as much as I try to help - so many days I feel helpless. It's much too big for me... I need Jesus.

If there is one resounding line in my heart this Christmas it is this...

O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

It's true the world desperately needed Jesus to come as a baby on that blessed night 2000 years ago... but the truth is, we desperately need him to come too. Today, and every day... we need Him to come in our hearts.

We don't just need a Teacher, a Savior, or a King. We need Emmanuel. GOD WITH US.

We need a God who is WITH US through cancer. A God who heals and a God who sustains... and a God who leads us to a cure.

We need a God who is WITH US through infertility and adoption... a God who holds our aching hearts and gives us the strength to HOPE.

We need a God who is WITH US as we grieve the loss of those taken too soon, and try to put our broken lives back together.

We need a God who is WITH US, because He is the only one big enough to truly end poverty and injustice in our broken world.

We need a God who is WITH US,  to drive out anger and hatred, and to teach our fearful hearts how to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

And THAT is who He is. He is not just a lowly babe born in a manger. He is more than our Savior King. He is EMMANUEL - which means "God with us". And He is with us, if we will only let Him be.

He willingly came down to our broken world not just to make an appearance, but to truly enter our mess. And then to stay. And stay. And stay no matter how messy it gets. Because He promised to never leave us or forsake us. He promised to stay WITH US.

And more than another sweet story, or sentimental tradition this Christmas, I need to know that God is here, WITH ME, in the midst of my mess. And that He is never going to leave.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel! We beg you! Come Jesus. Come and be with us. We need you.

(I love the lyrics to the original hymn, but these updated lyrics really touched my heart this Christmas.)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Your VOTE could change a child's life!

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while probably know that I'm the Executive Director of a children's charity called The Sound of Hope. My husband and I founded this non-profit in 2010, and it is extremely close to our heart. We work around the clock to provide rescue, protection, and holistic care for more than 200 children in 4 countries. This weekend our organization is in a competition for THOUSANDS of dollars in funding, and we need your vote!
For those who may have missed it last year – "Project for Awesome" is a video competition started by an AWESOME community on YouTube. On this weekend each year, people take over YouTube with awesome videos about awesome charities – and ours just happens to be one of them!
Last year was our first year participating, but we have the BEST supporters. So many of you voted and shared our video, and at the end of the weekend we were in 20th place out of 960 videos! WOW! Because we placed in the Top 20, we won more than $15,000 of education funding for the children in our care. Isn’t that AWESOME?
Want to know how we spent that 15K? Then watch our video BY CLICKING HERE and please VOTE for us right now! Our kids need to go to school again in 2016, and your vote could help us win the funding they need! It only takes a second to vote - no registry or email required! It's simple!
Please help us give some very deserving children the gift of education! Just 3 clicks could change a child's life! 1 click to watch, 1 click to vote, and 1 click to share the link with your friends! We need people posting this on FacebookTwitterInstagram, G+ – you name it! The contest ends Sunday at 11am, so email your friends right now, call your co-workers, and tell everyone to VOTE! Education IS hope for these children. So watch, vote, and help us get the word out – and you’ll be changing the lives of some really awesome kids.