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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

.Homeschool Fail.

We just entered our eighth week of homeschooling. We started early this summer, in anticipation for our upcoming move to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The kids and I did not want to jump into a new country, a new culture, and a new school year all at the same time. So we decided to school throughout the summer, and take our summer break when we move to Addis. The first five weeks went swimmingly. There were a few bumps to smooth out, we hired a nanny for Jamesy, and there were attitude adjustments to be made (the kids and mine), but overall we fell into a rhythm and it was working.

And then Habi had surgery - a complete ACL repair and in the midst of surgery the surgeon also found a meniscus tear and repaired that. We took two weeks off. It was a nice break for all of us. In the middle of the two weeks some friends offered us their home to rent, so that we could have some privacy and re-group as a family, so we moved {again}. We had our second week off here at the new place, and then we jumped back into school. This time we have no nanny for Jamesy. We also do not have access to a printer - for my lesson plans I use a free block lesson plan printable, and then print a daily checklist for each child. The printer is my life line. Without it things began to spiral down hill.


I am notoriously unorganized when it comes to physical things (like my closet or the pots and pans cupboards - pretty much if it goes behind closed doors it's almost guaranteed craziness, and I am okay with it if I do not have to see it), but I am obsessively organized on paper - with my calendar, schedules, lesson plans, day planner, etc. I am pretty careful with the homeschool books being organized as well - everything runs better this way. I am detail oriented and a planner when it comes to school. All of this may sound contradictory, and that is me in a nutshell - a juxtaposition.

Aaaah. Neat and tidy, and we all know what we are doing!

The kids just check off as they go, that way they know for sure, and I know for sure that everything that needed to get done was done. It's beautiful.

But we moved here with no printer, and I decided I was going to be care-free and go-with-the-flow - tra-la-la - everything was going to work itself out just great and homeschooling and all the things would be amazing! Becuase I am such an easy-breezy, fly-by-the seat-of-my-pants kind of mama. EXCEPT THE OPPOSITE. But for two weeks I gripped my mug of coffee and put on a happy face, I tried to be carefree and work through school with no. lesson. plans. and no. checklists. (I am jittery just typing that.) I went into these past three Mondays with a vague idea of what I needed to accomplish that given week and some random lists written on papers, but let me tell you I am freaking out without my PLANS!!

You would think that I would have put an end to this craziness the very first week of this nonsense, but no - I don't like to fail - like not at all. I am a weirdo perfectionist, that will dig my feet in and become psychotically stubborn about making something work if there is even the slightest inclination that it's not working. Make sense? No?! Welcome to my world. And we are now headed into week three with no lesson plans, no checklists (I do have notes scribbled on a paper, but it's not cutting it), and today, I will admit that I went all nutbar on my four darlings. Let me paint a picture of what we are dealing with after yet another school day where I was floundering completely lost without my plans ....better yet let me show you.

For some this chaos just leads to beautiful creativity. For me it leads to one crazy mommy. This was the result of homeschooling today with no lesson plans and no check lists. After about the gazillionth time that I had three different children asking me what was next, and Jamesy escaped out the house sans diaper, I totally and completely lost it. I may have yelled something really immature and ineffective, like I can't do this, and I don't know what is next! And why do you all keep talking to me anyway?! I may have ran out of the room, leaving four stunned children. I may have ran into my room, where I could privately sob into my cell phone to my unsuspecting husband about the tragedy of trying to do school with no plans and no printer.

Yeah, something kind of like that might have happened.

I came back, apologized, gave out hugs and kisses, wiped tears (mine) and plugged on, but alas, I can't go on (yes, my children come by their drama honestly). So, I am putting this out on the world wide web, for all of you that have this figured out way better and way faster than I do. I know in Africa I will most likely not have access to a  printer every week. And yes, I do know that right now while here in the states, I could just go to a Staples and print out oodles of blank lesson plans and check lists; I have thought of that. But that requires time, a vehicle, a Staples, money, more organization on my part, and all the things that I just cannot do right now. So I am looking for a CHEAP, lesson plan book that I can buy - either one that I can purchase multiples of, so that I can have one for each child, or one that has enough blank plans for all of my kids. I like my kids to be able to see the work they have for the week, and to be able to work autonomously whenever possible. I do not like being asked what's next fifty trillion times a day. I just don't. It makes me die a little bit every time, and I become a really crappy mother. There are things we do together, absolutely, but there are things that they do on their own, and it works for us. When it works, that is. So, please, please please, for the love, send me your links of your best, cheapest lesson plan (block, please) books, and help a girl out.

Because I am not sure if my kids can handle mama going all nutbar on them again tomorrow. In the mean time I will be in the fetal position, rocking......errrr cleaning the above mess.

Monday, August 25, 2014

.Let's Revisit Orphan Care.

This was published as two separate posts several months ago, but all of this continues to marinate in my heart today. This weekend we brought a boy into our home. He originally came from Ethiopia and was adopted by a family in America, for reasons that are not mine to share, the family decided the adoption was not working out, and he was sent to a residential facility for troubled children. He has been there for years now, and it is all he knows. His childhood was stolen from him due to poverty in Ethiopia, and it has been years since he has been inside of a family. As I cooked meals for him and loved on him the best that I knew how, my heart broke over the injustice of this all. So much of his story could have been different. So much of it should have been different. I am NOT attacking the family that adopted this child, because I know the trenches of adoption. I have been in the dark valley, and I know how hard it all truly is. There is no way that I can point a finger, when I have seen and experienced what I have, because there have been moments, except for the grace and mercy of God, that I may have been tempted to throw in the towel. However, with as much grace as I can muster and humility, as I am not involved in this situation, I can honestly say that international adoption was not the best choice for his boy, and it should not have happened. He should not be here in America - in an institution. There could have been another way.

We, as the Church, must keep dialoguing about this hard stuff. And again, I am NOT against international adoption, it has its place, but it is not the solution for the orphan crisis. It's just not.

Part One:
Today marks three years since we brought Jamesy into our permanent care. Three years ago we landed once again on Ethiopian soil, and for the first time in months my heart slowed and beat out a new rhythm that felt like home. It was adoption that drew us to that country - that continent. God opened our eyes to orphan care, and we became obedient. But now after three years in, we realize that our eyes were just beginning to open back then. Our lives are always changing and growing - emerging as we learn and grow and do better when we finally know better. And we have learned a lot along the way. Where at one time, as we were learning and growing, you read this blog and you read passion and devotion for international adoption in my words. And some of you read dogma and pride and self-righteousness and forcefulness as well I am sure, and I apologize. Truly I am sorry. It is part of why this space has grown silent on these matters. I am a quiet girl who turns fiery when I am passionate about something. Writing is one of my only outlets and how I process what is in my head and my heart, and so this blog received the brunt of my growing pains.

Yes, I've been quiet for awhile now in my advocating for international adoption. I still love adoption. I still believe in it, value it, champion it, but I also have seen the other dark side of it, and now even question whether it is truly a top solution in orphan care. I still whole-heartedly believe that every Jesus follower is called to orphan care - nothing has changed that view. I still am very convicted by James 1:27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. I am an orphan advocate and a justice advocate, and I strongly believe that so was my Jesus. Something in my heart broke, though, when I began to understand that orphan care is way bigger and more complicated than I originally thought, and that to find the solution we really have to go so much deeper than international adoption - because the problem as a whole is just too big for that. 

I am going to be very careful here in what I write, because I have two precious children from Ethiopia who I am responsible to protect. However, after living with Jamesy for three years and with Habi for almost two, I can honestly say that in a perfect world, the world in which God originally intended us to live in, adoption was never His plan for these children. Adoption was never God's original plan. Adoption springs from great, horrifying tragedy that should never be. The suffering and overwhelming devastation that flows from all that these two children have lost was not part of God's original plan. I now firmly believe in my heart that God's original plan was for Jamesy and Habi to grow up in a loving, nurturing home with their birth parents - not with us. It is only because we live in a broken, messed up world that they are now in our family, and don't get me wrong, God can and does redeem the mess. But the mess leaves deep scars, and we experience that reality every single day in the brokenness, trauma, guilt, shame, and grief that accompanies our two boys.

Bringing these boys to America and into our family didn't automatically heal them or {flinch} fix them. It doesn't tackle the core. My heart is broken and bruised realizing the tragedy that is the fact that my sons cannot grow up inside their birth families. As much as it hurts to write this, because of how fiercely I love my boys and now see them as my 100% sons, if I could give them anything in this world, I would give them their birth families - whole, healthy, and thriving. But I can't give them that. So, we all do the best that we can with the grace of God pouring down over us. It was not God's first choice for these boys to grow up in our family. Please read carefully, this does not negate the beauty that has occurred inside our family because of adoption, the way the gospel has taken on life to us, or the amazing way in which God redeems, restores, and renews our boys. It doesn't take away from the amazing work that God did inside of my husband and I because of adoption. But knowing what we now know, without going into personal details, we have come to the conclusion that orphan care has to be less about international adoption - it should never start there - it should never be the first plan of action in tackling this need.

So God has been opening our eyes to family preservation. This is huge and hard and not as romantic or as flashy looking as adoption. I now think that when it comes to orphan care, and when we feel the call (as I believe all Jesus followers will), this should be our first priority - keeping families together, discipling them, nurturing them, sharing Jesus and the gospel with them, extending mercy wherever and whenever needed, helping them sustain a living and giving them the life-skills to pass on a hope and a future to the generations behind them. I believe that our number one priority in orphan care should be keeping families together - not advocating for international adoption. I have heard it said before, and now I get it and believe it, international adoption is just a bandaid slapped over a bleeding, oozing, gaping wound. 

We've got to do better. This is too big, too deep, too mammoth of a problem for a quick patch-job, and we've got to get to the core of the tragedy that ultimately places children in situations where they are orphaned, abandoned, living in institutions and waiting for international adoption. The core begins with family - birth families. So, let us start delving into orphan care right there - we have to.

Let me stop here and shout that I do not think that international adoptions should end, and I do not believe that they are wrong. So if you are reading this post and are inside an international adoption, please, please hear my heart - I am not anti-international adoption. Remember that I call two Ethiopian boys my sons. Don't hear me say anything like that. I just firmly believe that it is not and cannot be the the answer to orphan care - it is one small teeny-tiny bandaid fix - a necessary one at times, yes, but we must, must, must look beyond that and move deeper inside the root of the problem to find a real solution. Adoption is a teeny part of the solution, but it should not be the main or only focus. The core tragedy will never see justice, healing, or a sustainable solution if we only focus on that one minuscule piece. Yes, we need Jesus followers to respond to the tragedy that has forced children into the need for international adoption - absolutely these children need to grow up in loving families, BUT at the exact same time we need to be tackling the core and fighting for family preservation.

This is where God has opened our eyes and is drawing our hearts with Mercy Branch Inc. We know better now than we did four years ago, so we are begging God to help us to do better. We are obeying God's call to extend the mercy of Jesus to street kids - kids that are not viable for international adoption but still very much fall under the umbrella of orphan care. And we are learning more and more about the importance of working toward birth family reunification with these kids - because many of them do still have families. Yes. they have been abandoned by their families for so many devastating reasons (reasons that I whole-heartedly believe have solutions and can be stopped as the Church would step up and out), and most live as orphans. But stop for a moment and think what God could do if someone would step in and disciple these children and their families into beautiful, redemptive reunification. What would happen if someone even stepped into a family's life and helped prevent that family from feeling as if their only choice was to abandon their child to the street? How might a generation in Ethiopia be changed by this? And for those kids who have no remaining family or where reunification is impossible and international adoption is just not viable, what then? What if godly, whole Ethiopian families stepped in and brought these children in as their own sons or daughters in domestic adoption? What if these children, who undergo the tragedy of losing their birth family, could still remain inside their continent, country, city, culture? Would the trauma scars not run quite so deep if they were not removed from every single thing that they know?

We don't have all of the answers. We do not want to pretend to be an authority on this. We are just beginning this journey of asking God how He wants us to attack the core. We are just beginning to see how much bigger the solution is than international adoption. We will probably make mistakes along the way, but we have to try to tackle this from the inside out. We need to be part of the fore-runners in fighting the core tragedy that causes the need for international adoption. We hope that our ministry with Mercy Branch Inc. will be a small part in that. We are determined to pour our lives into helping birth families stay together and giving them tools to raise their children well, and when that doesn't work fostering domestic adoption, so these children can stay where they are. Ethiopia needs them - its future depends on a generation of godly men and women that are also involved in tackling the core tragedy.

We realize, even this, is a drop in the bucket, and we are praying to keep our hearts open and sensitive to the Spirit's leading. But this is the direction our hearts are beating. Here is a small taste of that heart beat.

Part Two:

I have received several messages regarding yesterdays post, which I was prepared to receive. I responded to each, but I think there were enough questions to warrant a small follow up post for those of you who have the same questions.

I tried to tackle this subject delicately, because it is polarizing. I do not want this space to be a place for conflict, inflammatory statements or judgment, however, I do want it to be a safe place to dialogue with the ability to be open and transparent. I may have been too delicate in my approach yesterday, and it appears that it left some people questioning whether or not I am even for international adoption at all any more.

For the record - I am.

Yesterday, I wrote about tackling the core tragedy in orphan care by focusing on family preservation. This is so important. But please hear me say this - there really are children who need familes to step up and adopt because it is too late for family preservation for them - for whatever reason. The answer is not for these children to grow up and languish in an institution, and that is where adopting families step into the orphan care paradigm. What I was trying to explain yesterday, though, is that international adoption is not enough to solve the orphan crisis. It is too big for that. The orphan crisis is just going to perpetuate for generations, unless people simultaneously adopt the children who are already past the point of family preservation, while at the same time tackle the core tragedy of why children are being orphaned in the first place.

I think orphan care is as much about orphan prevention as anything else, and that all goes back to family preservation, as I talked about yesterday. When we step up and take care of families, we are taking care of these at-risk children, who without intervention, could potentially end up orphaned in the future. I am very passionate about this need of tackling the core tragedy - not just the ramifications of the core tragedy.

Not too long ago, I believed that international adoption was possibly the best solution for the orphan crisis, but now I understand that is most likely not true. I understand it because I have lived it with my two Ethiopian sons. I have held their grief racked bodies as they sobbed and raged. I have listened to heart breaking questions with no answers. I have witnessed the depth of the loss that they have encountered, and I see the way it impacts so much of their lives. It is a deep pain that I have never witnessed or experienced before this. International adoption is a good solution for a lot of children who no longer have the option of family preservation. However, there is so, so much loss that occurs for these children when they are stripped of everything that they have ever known - including country and culture. It is much more complicated and muddied then I first naively thought when we began the adoption process four years ago. I still think it is viable and necessary for some children, but now I see just how much of a loss there really is for them. So, I yearn for more children to be able to stay inside their birth country, through domestic adoption, in order to ease the loss for them a little more. I am also adamantly not saying that the loss is too devastating for internationally adopted children that God cannot redeem it. He can and does. I have also witnessed huge healing and redemption in my boys.

You see, all of this is complicated. We live in a complicated and broken world. Nothing is as it was intended, so we will continue to flounder and fight for solutions only to find better solutions that we first missed. I don't think the messiness of this should scare us away, though. There is a time and a place for us in building His Kingdom, and it is now. Our generation is needed and has been specially hand picked by God to be right here, right now for a great purpose. So let us have open, honest dialogue about this. Let us be united for these children - for these families. I honestly believe there is a beautiful hope for the future of orphan care, and I want to be part of it.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

.The Importance of a Calling.

I am not a theologian, so I won't pretend to be one. I am simply a Jesus follower, who has the same Holy Spirit living inside of me that a theologian has. That's my only qualification for writing this post; that and my own life experience. As we get closer and closer to our move to Ethiopia, I have been reflecting a lot on our calling. When I say calling, just so that we are all on the same page, as the term tends to be interchangeable and muddy, I am referring to God's intimate, individual invitation to a person, to partner with God in His Kingdom work here on earth, by carrying out a specific task. I don't want to spiritualize the definition or get too churchy, so let's agree on this definition for the sake of this post.

I have shared so many times here about how God drew our family into this specific calling, so I don't want to rehash too many of the details. However, it never gets old for me to look back and see how God has slowly, graciously, and beautifully been whispering His invitation to me as far back as I can remember. When, as a little girl, I sat in AWANA mesmerized by those missionary stories read to me, He was whispering. When a little later I felt my heart race as I listened to missionaries who shared their experiences. Or how on every single spiritual gift assessment test that I have taken in my lifetime, my gift always comes up as "mercy", and how I was born loving the broken, underdogs, and rejected people in this world. More whispers. So many whispers, from being drawn to Africa in college and considering teaching in the Ivory Coast, to finally landing on Ethiopian soil for the first time and feeling a peace in my soul that I had never, ever felt before. In realizing when being in Ethiopia those first ten days, that although I was experiencing the worst pain that I had ever imagined, as my eyes were opened to incredible needs and I entered people's stories, that I was also the most content that I had ever been in my life. And the whisperings continued. There were moments, when I knew that I knew that God was moving us to Ethiopia, and I would have an amazing peace, only to have it quickly snatched away by fear and doubt. This happened over and over for three years after landing in Ethiopia. For three years we found very good, logical reasons to say "no" to God's calling - his invitation to join the work He was doing in Ethiopia with street kids.

Even when we witnessed the miracle of redemption in our home with our son, who was a former street child, and understood that we had discovered a great purpose in discipling him and sharing the love and mercy of Jesus, and what it means to live in a family with him, and how God had uniquely skilled us for that task - even when we let ourselves think about how we might use those very same skills for other children in Ethiopia we said "no". Even though, this very "work" of joining God in the transformation of a street child felt so good and right (even in the hard moments), and without a doubt I now know, this is what we were meant to do; we still said "no". Even though we felt the most purpose in abundant family life, and discipling others to find that same joy was the beat of our heart; we still said "no". I am so thankful for a God Who is so patient with us, and just waited and continued to quietly invite us to say "yes", and I am thankful for the people in our lives who saw the invitation long before we did and upon hearing the news exclaimed, "what took you so long?" Such sweet confirmation. God's calling started years ago, it wasn't something that we suddenly woke up and discovered, it was just something that we finally had eyes to see and recognize.

Some may wonder why a call is so important in the first place. Why does it matter if you know you are called, as long as it is something you have the desire to do? And although desire does have a place in the call, desire will not be what sustains us. It is with certainty that I can write that there will be hard, excruciatingly painful, taxing days, weeks, months to come for our family in Addis Ababa. God doesn't invite people to comfortable; He invites them to share in His suffering. There is nothing easy or comfortable about moving a family to a third world country, and this is not me being a martyr or looking for a pat on the back - this is just plain reality. We are walking in, having counted the cost, with the full understanding that what we were invited into will be hard. However, I have great hope, that on those discouraging days, when we are homesick, when we make mistakes, when we lose a supporter, when nothing is going the way we planned, the certainty of this call on our life will sustain us, and the very One Who called us will walk the hard with us.

Adversity is sure to come, because the adversary does not like Kingdom work. The adversary is a pro at planting seeds of doubt, but remaining confident in the truth that we have been invited into this work will keep us grounded. I love that a call always invites us into what God is already doing. His Kingdom advancement is not dependent on us, yet He invites us and carves out a place where the talents He has gifted us with can be used. One thing that God keeps bringing to mind, through various resources, is that there are people that have gone before us in Addis and will come after us, we have no superman complex, we are simply linking arms with what God is already doing. It is an exciting thing to know that we are being invited into this!

I am really thankful for the peace and confidence that this calling brings to my life. To learn more, click here. The creativity and intimacy that He pours into His calls are inspiring. I love hearing the many, many different ways that He is using all of us to advance His Kingdom. Please feel free to share your calling in the comments below. It's part of your story, and part of the Great story He is weaving together. I can't wait to hear yours.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

.Waving my White Flag on the Mommy War.

Before becoming a mommy, I dreamed about what it would be like. I envisioned how I would protect my children and their hearts, and I anticipated having to fight for my children at times. But what I didn't anticipate was who it was that I would often fight against.

Other mommies.

 Yup, that's right, I excitedly became a member of the Mommy Club and then soon fell into the Mommy War.

I am ashamed to admit how much I have participated in this. I would love to say that it was naivety in being a new mom that drove me to engage, but truth be told, I just wanted to do this mommy thing right. And when so much is at stake - the very life and development of another human being - we get pretty defensive about what we have decided is right. The defensiveness quickly escalates to criticisms and judgments and then all out war - just to protect that rightness - and to make sure that we feel good about our choices and look good, too. It's a really ugly manifestation of insecurity in our own decisions. I am kind of exhausted of it, though.

Just shy of ten years of being inside this Mommy Club, I have finally come to the place where I understand that what is right for one family, for one child, is not universally right for every family, for every child. It's just not. There's no cookie-cutter method of parenting. 

I am overwhelmed over the lack of grace we women  - mommies - give each other. It's yucky. It's like a grown-up version of junior high, and that gives me the shivers. There is not a topic that is safe, everything is subject to her disapproval.

To breastfeed or bottle feed
To use breast milk or formula
To work or stay home
To eat natural or not
To cloth diaper or disposable diaper
To home school, private school, or public school
To do Santa Claus, Halloween, the Easter bunny or not
To allow screen time or not and how much
To be a helicopter parent or raise free-range children
To spank or not to spank....

The list could go on for days. The battles are endless. The lines are constantly drawn, and engagement in the war is seen everywhere - on TV, on social media, at the park, at church - everywhere - no place is safe.

Why do we feel so entitled to challenge other mommies on the choices her family has made? I dare say that this superiority (for deep down when we look at the ugly underbelly of the war - superiority is at the root - superiority entwined with insecurity) is destroying the beautiful village feel that somewhere inside the heart of all moms, we need and crave. How can we be a village with other women, when we are constantly defending our choices, and in the defending, criticizing hers? To me, having a village of lifetime friendships with other women, regardless of our parenting styles and choices, sounds so much better then feeling right about my choices, and therefore living in isolation, because our parenting choices will never ever perfectly match her parenting choices.

In the past, I have waxed eloquently (errr maybe just waxed) about some of my own decisions in parenting. I specifically remember the topic of home schooling, and how strongly I once felt about that topic. Don't get me wrong, I do love home schooling, and after taking a year off, have once again chosen that as the method of education for my children. But it is not the best choice for every family. It's really, really not. It was not our best choice this past year. So, we didn't do it. We took a much needed break. We chose private school, and we chose it simply because that is where our oldest son had to attend on his student visa, and in an effort to streamline our chaotic life a bit, we sent our oldest daughter to the same private school. But I don't need to defend that choice. It was the best decision for our family for that time. And if public school had been the best decision, we would not have hesitated to choose that. In that moment, of that decision, I found peace, clarity, and grace. I stopped worrying if, because she was still home schooling her children, and I wasn't, she was a better mommy than I was - I stopped wondering if she was enough while I never would be. Because there is really no such thing. None of us are enough, and that's why we need to show our children that Jesus is enough. Honestly, that will probably look quite different for all of us.

So, I am waving my white flag in this Mommy War. Instead of comparing myself to how she mommies, I will, with God's direction, do what is right - right now - for my family. I will choose to stop defending my choices and criticizing hers. The criticism is just insecurity anyway, and my security doesn't need to come from another mom's approval of how I parent. I want to instead be a beautiful member of that Mommy Club, and notice our unique differences, strengths, goals, dreams, passions, etc. I want to take the time to notice the truth that most mommies are doing what is best for their family right now. It's true, all of us moms have short-comings. We will all make mistakes in this journey of parenting, there is no such thing as a perfect mommy, but most likely, we don't need our mistakes pointed out. We will get there and grow in our parenting. And in between all of the gaps and mess-ups, Jesus fills them in, and He can use us to help fill them in, too, when we wave our white flag and offer grace to one another.

I think that we can  really play a part in trying to end these silly Mommy Wars, and link arms and spread grace inside of the Mommy Club. Let's be a different generation. Let's not divide ourselves - the world does a good enough job at that already. Let's be a safe, beautiful place for each of us to be the mommy God created us to be. I don't want to be offended by her, or judge her, or size myself up by her. I just want to be part of a sisterhood that encourages and champions her wherever she is in her journey. We are in this together - we all answer to the same name, Mommy. We are all her.
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