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Saturday, January 17, 2015

.The Life I was Missing.

Four years.

It has been four years since I first set foot in this country. Four years ago today that I held my youngest child for the first time. Four years ago Monday that my oldest son completely ripped my heart from my chest, and a burning passion was lit inside of me for children who have had their childhood stolen from them. Four years since I left my blonde little babies an ocean away, and in turn radically changed the life they once knew. Four years since this country captured my heart and beckoned me here. Everything changed in those first moments. Little did I know that four years ago 31 year old me was about to have her world completely turned upside down. I didn’t know what I was getting into, and I am glad because I am mostly a coward. God knew that, so He kept me in the dark until I was too far smitten to do anything but follow the wild path He set my feet upon.

Looking back it all started rather simplistically. We wanted another baby, but my pregnancies were rough, so that led to tender hearts toward adoption. Ethiopia had what appeared to be a crisis at the time-  a crisis of orphaned children needing families. We were a family. We wanted another child. It made sense. So we said yes to adoption and to Ethiopia, and then to our special, sweet Jamesy, and then to Habtamu, and all the while our world tilted off axis and lines, that we had once drawn, blurred. And in it all I held my breath waiting for everything to right once again and return to normal. I waited for friends to return, for the American Dream to take hold again, for our family to blend back in, for life to return to the easy pleasantness that it once held, for Jesus to stop asking us to do crazy, wild things. Our yes was over, and it was time to get back to normal.

But normal never showed back up, and a new normal took its place. Sometimes in my most honest moments I grieve the loss of that normal, but mostly I embrace this adventure that my Jesus has so lovingly invited me into. I feel as if I am one of the lucky ones, as I get to look back to a specific moment in time, four years ago exactly, when everything changed.

I now live this one, wild life back in the country where it all began. There are late nights with no power and cold showers and spiders and dust everywhere. And there is laughter and life and love. I cannot walk outside the safety of our gate without being surrounded by children. Some of them are teeny tiny and some are bigger than my own big boy. Some dirty and tattered – so dirty that to touch them makes me stink with them. And some not as much. My hands are always grabbed and smiles are abundant, as are hugs and kisses. My hair is touched, my clothes yanked on, and always a silly grin is plastered across my face in a contented happiness I have never before known.  My heart is continually stretched, and I so desire to pick up the life of Jesus here – to make every person that I encounter feel as if they matter – because they do. I have been making this my goal every time I walk out my gates. It is simple and yet I believe it is exactly what Jesus did. I cannot help everyone who comes to me, there are just too many. How can I pick and choose the countless street children that I encounter? The magnitude of the needs just outside my door are surreal. The number of starving children and half grown men addicted to chat and young mamas begging on the corners overwhelms me. How do I choose who to help? Most days, unless the Spirit clearly prompts me, I can’t choose. But I can look every person in the eye and acknowledge them as another human being. I can love in big ways just by giving a dirty street child a hug and a squeeze – just by noticing them when everyone else hurries on by. I can imitate Jesus just by seeing them. I am learning this and putting it into practice every day, and it is changing everything. It is changing me.

At home my lap is constantly full, sometimes with my blonde babies, sometimes with brown-eyed babies, and even still sometimes with my teenage boy who even after two years of security still questions whether this mama can really love him. Our house is seldom quiet. Languages collide and shouts and giggles echo off the walls. Currently I answer to “Mom” from seven people, and my head swims to keep up with who needs what from me. And every day, although most would see this as mundane, I fall more and more in love with this life. For me this is what my heart has ached, longed and cried out for. Four years ago, the moment my feet hit the dust here in Addis I knew something was missing, but I couldn’t possibly understand what it was that was missing. 

But now I know. It was the African sunrises, and Habesha food, and cold showers, and grubby hands reaching for me, and grown women, who missed out on childhood, calling me mom, and a spunky little two year old who is too precocious for her own good. It is watching my belly babies love in ways I did not know they were capable of, and seeing my brown-eyed boys back in their home country and finally healing from wounds that should have never been. It is catching my husband’s eye across our crowded and crazy living room, as children twirl and dance, and adults laugh and sip buna and nibble popcorn, and in that single glance a thousand words pass between us, all  resting on the knowing that this is what we sacrificed for.  It’s roosters crowing and dogs yapping and the low growl of hyenas. It’s seeing Jesus in the dirty street children or the young man who finally realizes that life is worth living. It’s opening my home to strangers and witnessing the miracle of how quickly love crashes in making us a weird, jumbled-up family. This was all missing in my former life, and while nothing looks the same as it once did, I wouldn’t change this new normal for all the white picket fenced houses in the world.

I know that I am here because God has put me here. In some little way I know that He is using me to change the world. He is using me in simple ways, and I want to give my life away right here. There is no place else I’d rather be than right here. Four years ago I could never have known that this was the life I was missing. Now I know.




Wednesday, December 31, 2014

.On Mission.

We are entering our fourth month here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is nothing and everything that I imagined it to be. It’s hard to know what and how to share life here. I want to be authentic and transparent, yet, at times transparency looks dangerously similar to complaining. As a newbie missionary being welcomed into this beautiful foreign country, I am sensitive about complaining about a culture that I am still getting the hang of. In all honesty, we have been welcomed and embraced here better than some foreigners are welcomed into our home country of America. So, I want to be respectful, and this silly, yet profound quote keeps swimming around in my head.

When the bull is in a strange country, it does not bellow. -Old Zulu proverb

At the same time, our life is far from glamorous, and most would be surprised to peek inside it and see how closely our mundane mimics your mundane. We are just doing life, living incarnationally, looking for ways to follow Jesus practically by loving and sharing the Good News with the people He places in our path, but we happen to be doing it across the ocean from many of you. And then there is also this silly myth that swirls around regarding missionaries, especially missionaries who sugar-coat life on the field. The myth that says missionaries are singled-out, special, elite, highly-talented, spiritual giant, super Christians. Well, I am here to blow that myth out of the water, because we are anything but that. Maybe there are missionaries who do fit that description, but we are not them, and most that I have met are not them. There is nothing super about us. We have fears and doubts and anxieties. We argue and bicker and make mistakes and messes. Some days are complete washes and we yell at our kids, worry too much, grumble and complain and wish for different circumstances. We are so very normal (or as normal as we can be). We are messy people who love Jesus just like you.

It is true that not every follower of Jesus is called to move overseas to live, but don’t let Satan fool you into thinking it is only the special ones that are called to be on mission. We are all given a mission field. Having moved here has actually opened my eyes wider to the fact that we had a mission field back home, the same as we have one here. God uses us all exactly where He places us when He places us, and no follower is more special because of what field God has placed him in. Each person is intimately equipped for the very place and time God has placed her in. For some that will be Africa or Asia, and for others it will be rural and suburban USA.

In just a few hours our calendars flip to a brand new year. It’s a fresh start to embrace the mission field that we each have been called to. Some are sent into the corporate business world, some into hospitals and medical clinics, some to villages in Africa, some to rock babies and cook meals and tend homes, some to churches and schools; no matter where you go this new year, you go, not just because it is your job or the rhythm of your life, you go because you are being sent to these very specific places by Jesus. You are being sent for this exact moment in time, and you are irreplaceable. That changes everything doesn’t it? No longer do we need to classify Christians into elitist groups, but rather we are unified as we realize that truly we all have a hand in building the Kingdom exactly where we are sent. The role of a missionary has been assigned to all of us who follow Jesus. So, this year, let’s tear down the silly pedestals and let’s throw ourselves into the field that we are sent to, supporting and encouraging one another, and their unique fields, along the way.

This is the day the Lord has made for me:

 This is the place the Lord has put me in...

 These are the people the Lord has given to me...

 Let me rejoice and be glad in them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

.Confessions of a Rookie Third World Missionary.


My family and I have now lived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a little over a month. It has been everything and nothing like what we have expected, but slowly, surely it is becoming home. Here are a few things that I have experienced, learned, and observed along the way.
  • ·      The weather is absolutely perfect. I have always been one to embrace season changes, and I become as excited as my children over snow days. However, to have this consistent, warm weather every day, to see the sun shining warmly in my bedroom window every morning at 6 AM is amazing. We are experiencing Ethiopia’s summer – their dry season. There has not been a hint of rain since we arrived. Of course I will miss the snow days and the magic they bring to the holidays (Elvis Presley Christmas music playing in my kitchen is helping some), but to be tanned and warm at the end of November is pretty lovely.
  • ·        Nothing is easy here. I prepared for this and expected it, but honestly there is no real preparation for living it. Every menial task takes at least three times as long. Sometimes that is due to power outages or water outages, sometimes it is due to lack of convenience products, appliances, and sometimes I just have no explanation for why everything takes so long and is is so hard. It just is. Traveling is hard. Shopping is hard. Cooking is hard. Cleaning is hard. Communicating is hard. Life really is harder, BUT, even though we are probably still in the honeymoon period, I dare say it really is sweeter. Accomplishing any task is so fulfilling and rewarding. I fall into bed so happy when I know that I have washed, dried, folded and put away a basket of laundry AND cooked a good, safe meal for my family. I am sleeping better than I have in years, because I am so exhausted. Life here is difficult. It is hard. It is rewarding. It is worth it.
  • ·        Now I say nothing is easy here, but to be completely honest, I make things harder on myself (big, fat surprise to those of you who know me – snark, snark). The majority of Americans that we know (missionaries included) have hired domestic staff. There are so many reasons for this; one is respect for the culture and to give back to the culture and economy by hiring Ethiopians. Another reason is because, as I mentioned, everything takes three times as long, and in order for most people to come and do what they are called to do or hired to do, they have to have help with the day-to-day tasks, or else there is just literally not enough hours in the day. But my first priority mission field is my husband, my children, and my home, so right now that is where I pour all of myself into. Because of this. we have not hired a full domestic staff, however, we have hired a part time housekeeper that will help me with some of the cleaning, and we plan to hire a nanny for Jamesy. Once I start homeschooling again (we are still on our summer break) we may have to reevaluate and hire additional staff – specifically a cook. This is hard for me to let go of, though, and I am really praying through what God is asking of me as we live here. And so, right now I do a lot of the stuff that staff would typically do for foreigners living here.
  • ·        The city has really been built up since we were here two years ago.  There are stoplights and traffic signs and things are becoming more modern. Police (or “traffic” as most people here refer to them as) are everywhere. They seem to be quick to {try to} pull people over, but I am learning that most people just duck their head, avoid eye-contact and drive on! It is pretty wild to see. Driving in general is wild and crazy. I am really proud of my husband for getting his license and driving all over the city. I, on the other hand, have no plans {ever} to get my license {shudder}.
  • ·        Produce here is plentiful and cheap. We load up on produce every week and really love the availability of so many fresh fruits and veggies. Being from upstate NY, there are only a few months of the year that we were able to have access to fresh produce. Most of the time, it was shipped in from other climates and sub-par. Most of the produce (save watermelons, but perhaps we got a bad one) taste better here, too. The oranges are actually not orange, but greenish, yellow and they are so sweet and juicy! It is time-consuming, but for our safety, all of our produce has to be very carefully sanitized before consuming or really even handling too much. With the amount of produce we purchase, this is an all-afternoon task for me, but once done, we really enjoy grabbing fruits to snack on, and I love the abundance of veggies to cook with.
  • ·        Hyenas are very, very loud. I never knew the noise that hyenas made, but every night around midnight they travel to our neighborhood and howl and yelp for about an hour. It is quite an experience to hear, and because we live in the mountains, the echoes are eerie. One of these nights, we are going to take a spot light, go onto one of our balconies and try to shine it on the pack of hyenas to see them.
  • ·        Spiders are everywhere. Every. Where. Every night I check my bed for them. They are huge and gross. I have bites all over my body, and I am trying to just pretend they are normal mosquito bites. And I found a HUGE mouse (maybe rat) on my stove burner. Enough said.
  • ·        My children are awesome. I already knew this, but seeing the way they have acclimated to a new culture and to so much change is amazing. They are resilient and strong and encourage me every single day. They are doing so great and loving so big. I am so proud of all of them.
  • ·        We could not just land in Ethiopia and immediately begin our mission work. This has probably been one of the toughest things. However, the government is really cracking down, and we must follow all of the laws, so that we do not ever have to fear being permanently banished from this country. So we plug along, working towards our NGO status, then work and residency permits. Thankfully, we found out today, we are here on the right visas to do this and should not have to leave the country for two years as originally planned. This whole process goes back to what I said about everything takes T-I-M-E. But in the in-between God is already giving us opportunities to build relationships and love big on people – we don’t need a work permit to do that, and I believe that even during this space and time God has plans for our family .So we forge ahead learning how to just live life here and sharing the love and mercy of Jesus with whomever it is that God places in our path on a given day. We are living life on mission, and I could not love that more – every day is truly an adventure!
  • ·        God is here in this city. He is working and moving and His Kingdom is being built. He didn’t need us to move here to accomplish His work, yet He invited us in. I am truly thankful and excited to see what is ahead!


There is so much more that I could write, but for now this will do.


Wifi is pretty sketchy, but I am hoping to get this to publish. Thank you for your continued support, prayer, and encouragement – we feel it!

Monday, September 29, 2014

.God Writes THE BEST Stories.

I wasn't going to write, because I have already been gushing all over facebook all day long. I am obnoxious like that. But I couldn't stay away from here either. The place where so much of this story has tumbled out of my heart. The space where I shared my hopes, dreams, and prayers with you all. I feel like shouting to the world this story, and what God did. This morning in a little courtroom in NY state, with some of the people who love us best, our family made history, and God did what we were told over and over and over could never happen. He did what we had been told for three years was impossible. He did what has never been done before in the United States. He pulled out all of the stops, and showed His power in a way that will leave me breathless for the rest of my life. Today Habi became our legal, official son through the miracle (and it truly was that) of adoption.

There are so many details that we have hidden away to protect our Habi. While what we have shared of this story is miraculous enough, all of the other little details added in, the huge hurdles that God had to break down to get us to this point, the number of doors He had to crash open that had been tightly shut, it is all more than I can even comprehend. I know that for the past three years we have stood inside of a move of God, and it was HUGE, supernatural, and mind-boggling. As I sit here in the quiet, my mind flipping through all of the events that have taken place to get here, it doesn't seem real. Everything that had to happen was so perfectly timed out and orchestrated by a loving, creative, Author. There is no way that we could have scripted this. I told Jim that it feels as if we are in a movie. And it does, because this just does not happen in real life. BUT it did happen!

The most powerful lesson that I have learned in all of this, and what I hope people see when they hear of this is that God writes the best stories. Shortly before we decided to adopt from Ethiopia, God began to work in our hearts and lives in a brand new way. A more real way, but a way in which I had to intentionally surrender the pen to Him, and allow Him to write my story. It wasn't easy for me to give up the sense of control that comforted me. None of it has been easy - not one paragraph, one page, one chapter. I haven't always done it right. I have faltered along the way, and I have questioned the story so many times. Sometimes I have not appreciated His plot line, and I have thought that I could have written it better. But God in His mercy allowed me just enough strength to not yank the pen back, and God kept scratching out this story over my life. While I do believe that if I had held on to the pen, my story would have been easier, I also know that it would not have been nearly as beautiful. I would have under-written my story. The beauty needed to be sharpened by the pain that can only come with surrender. He is strong in our weakness, and that is why I believe he chose my family for this story, because we are weak and ordinary.

Today is a huge 'ta da' life-changing moment in our story. A chapter closed with a big reveal - a movie-style ending. But what you need to know is that there has been a lot of middle to this story, and that today is not the whole story. What I want you to know is that God wants to write your story, too. Perhaps you have not yet handed Him the pen, and I want to encourage you to give it a try. Or perhaps you have, but you are inside the middle, and it is hard and lonely and painful, and it feels like it must be the end. But friend, it's not the end. He is still writing your story. He hasn't left you and closed the manuscript. The pen is still hovered over you, and He is still writing. The hard times, the moments when God is silent, the painful pages that seem to suck the life from you, they all have a purpose in your story. Don't read my ending of this chapter of my story and be discouraged thinking that God only writes stories like this for some people. The story God has for you is unique and beautiful and YOURS. Sometimes God is just writing further into the story than you have read. Be patient, wait with hope and expectation, because God writes the best stories. Trust the Author of your story. What He is writing is better than you can ever imagine.

Today this chapter in my story came to a beautiful close, but tomorrow a new chapter looms before me blank and white and ready for His pen. I am ready for the story to continue.




Here we are just after the judge declared the adoption to be final. This is our son Habtamu (his given name in Ethiopia which means "rich") Theo (which comes from the Greek word theophany which means "in the image of God" - my name Tiffany is also from this same Greek word) Byron (a family name that has been passed down through generations - all of our sons have this name).
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