Thursday, July 25, 2013

Loving Orphans: Stopping for the One

I have 6 children.  Three are my biological birth children who came home with me.  One is my biological child who was birthed into the arms of Jesus and never came home with me.  One is my child who was birthed to another birth mother but who later came home with me through the miracle of adoption.  And one is a child who was birthed to another birth mother, came into my life for 5 weeks last summer, later chose not to be adopted...and is currently living on the other side of the globe. To further complicate things, the birth dates of all my children are not in order.  Child #4 was born after child #5, and child #6 was born after child #1 and before child #2.  If you're confused, that's okay.  If you're not confused, then you are probably another adoptive parent with a similar story.  :)  

This blog post is about child #6, our teenage host daughter who lives in Latvia.  We hosted her through New Horizons for Children last summer.  She loved our family and told us it was her first time to have a real family who really loved her.  When offered adoption, she chose to stay in her familiar country but wanted us to always love her.  We respected that choice, and we have tried to show her a family's love as much as is possible in a long-distance situation.  For some orphans, adoption is the answer; but for Sandija, long-distance love is what we are called to give.

Her birthday is coming up, so we collected lots of things that we know she loves...candy and Barbie and all things Hello Kitty.  And of course, pink pink pink!

Letters have to be written in English and then translated into her language.  This says "Happy Birthday, Sandija!"  Love really is in any language.  I've made it a point to put a heart around her name in every letter I send to her.  I hope it means something to her...that she knows that somewhere, there's a Mama who loves her.

Lots of items that we send are necessities...deodorant, soap (I had no idea they made Hello Kitty soap...she's going to love this stuff!), lip gloss, toothbrush, toothpaste, school supplies.  Have you every wondered what a fresh toothbrush can do for a child who may not receive one very often?  I remember how she would hug me for almost every item we bought for her...even a boring ol' toothbrush means something in an orphanage.  We chose pink, of course.

Every package we send always has two for-sure staples: 1) A package of AAA batteries for her mp3 player that we gave her (assuming that it hasn't been stolen from her...sadly, orphanage life is what it is!)...and 2) new, clean socks.  The night before she left for Latvia, she took great care to fold her socks and place them gently in her suitcase, and I asked why she hadn't worn some of the socks we had bought for her.  She said, "They are young, and I save them."  She treasured new socks and wanted them to stay "young" and unused for awhile before wearing them.  I remembered that and made a point to send new socks at Christmas and for her birthday.  This package also had a new pair of pajamas and a bright pink shirt that I know she will love.

Inside her Hello Kitty notebook, I wrote a little love note from Mama.  I imagine her being at school and opening her notebook and knowing for that split second that someone somewhere on the planet loves her.  It's what I can do...stopping for the one, even if it's not in person.

The boys in our family have matching shirts that say, "How do you help 147 million orphans?"  "ONE at a time!"  And this is how we are loving the ONE today.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Cocoon Years

Hudson Taylor, pioneer missionary into inland China, had "hidden years" where God was teaching him lessons before he was released into greater Kingdom work.  And so we have had our hidden years...hidden in the mountains of north Georgia in a house tucked neatly into the woods on a quiet street whose only traffic is mail delivery and trash pick-up.  

When we first unpacked and settled into our home, it was a place of healing and restoration for us.  Having come out of a dry desert place...both physically and spiritually...we were enveloped by the peace in our woods.  Many hours I passed on the porch swing with eyes closed, listening to all the sounds...scurrying squirrels, rustling leaves, melodies of scores of birds...and breathing in the woodsy smells.  And so my soul began it's mending in one of God's most beautiful hidden places.  Many a time, I'd simply thank Him for this place, the sounds, the quiet, the peace, this cocoon.

After a time of healing, restlessness began to settle into my spirit...absolutely craving that my life was meant for more than this comfort.  Oh, thank the good Lord that He does things on His time table and not ours...because I would have jumped out of my cocoon long before it was time!  The cocoon years have been loaded with trials and walks of faith...our stillborn son, the ups and downs of our adoption process, severed friendships, strained relationships, changes in churches, deaths in the family (3 just in the past year).  Pain and growth dominated these 7 years in the woods, all the while being nestled in the cradle of the peaceful surroundings.  God really IS so good to have supplied this beautiful environment for us to walk out these trials...always surrounding us with His peaceful woods and all they held dear to us.  Truly a gentle cocoon.

And He layered the trials lasagna-style with teachings that exponentially grew us....sermons by David Platt, Francis Chan, Eric Ludy, as well as our own pastor met us right where we were and pointed the direction...always, ALWAYS pointing the same way: Lay down your life to find it, dying to yourself.  One message from Eric Ludy we heard last summer still reverberates through my mind.  It was about being crushed as grapes to fill our King's cup with choice wine.  I still read and reread notes: "I am built strong to be poured purpose is to be poured out...crushed to give life...the cross was the wine press for Jesus and rivers of living water came out...God could then live in us...we must be crushed...I am a grape made to fill my Father's cup...."  And the scribbling notes in my notebook scream out the very utmost lesson in these hidden years: "Comfort comes though suffering...when suffering increases, so does strength and grace...we bear His dying in us in order to express His life in us...death works in us (squeezing the grape) but life works in those around us as we are squeezed...we are crushed to give His strength away to the poor, widow, orphan, those around us.  Learn to embrace the crushing...if the grape clings to the branch, it cannot fulfill its purpose...learn to be crushed well and without fear."

Learn to embrace the crushing...

And oh how the flesh wants to run from the crushing!  The tiny grave dug for a child...the sting of a friend's betrayal...the stabs in the back we weren't expecting...the death of someone after fervent prayers for healing...the falls and scrapes and knock-the-wind-out-of-you encounters.  Sometimes it's the absolute realization that we are getting the short end of the stick...being the spouse who gets hurt, being the one who has everything we've worked hard for ripped out from under us right before retirement, being the one facing a health issue we'd never have expected, being the one rejected or the one who has to suffer in a silent personal prison.  It all just blasts: NOT FAIR!!!  We do so hate the crushing, don't we?

And yet is this not my purpose?  Simply put, if I follow Jesus, is it not to live as He lived?  He was crushed and poured out.  "To live is to hold the juice of Christ be crushed is to give the juice of Him to others and to fill my King's cup with pleasure." (notes from Eric Ludy's message)

And so the 7 years in the woods have brought me to this the place of no longer fighting this crushing but of beginning to actually EMBRACE it as my purpose.  In the Bible, 7 is always the number of completion, and so we are finding that to be the case in this part of our lives too.  Our 7 hidden years are closing up, and we watch as God begins to shift the very plates of ground we stand upon...moving us on toward a new chapter, aligning situations and people in just such a way that a door begins to open into the corridor leading elsewhere.  And I trust that these hidden years, our cocoon years, have readied us for whatever it is He is moving us on toward.

Yield to the crushing.  Embrace it.  His life will flow out.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Family Fun

Last week, a friend of mine asked me what kinds of fun things I do with and for my family.  I rattled several things off the top of my head, and she suggested I put it in a blog post.  I  pasted that list at the bottom of this post.

But are some photos of one of those family fun ideas.  We call it "Favorite Night."  Every Tuesday it is someone's favorite night, and that person gets to choose the meal that I will cook that night.  Siblings make creative cards with little notes for the special person. 

The meal that was chosen for this week's Favorite Night was Walking Tacos.  And if you've never heard of those, you're in for a fun treat!  Walking Tacos are basically all the ingredients of a taco served inside of a bag of Doritos (hence, "walking tacos," as you can eat them while walking around...which we don't do!).  We very rarely eat Doritos, so this is a treat for us.  And also a treat is the fact that we don't use plates for this meal!  Huge bonus for Mama and Daddy...less to clean up!  And huge bonus for cool is it to have a meal without a plate?!  Instead, we set the table with large sheets of paper and some crayons at each person's place.  

I line up all the ingredients of Walking Tacos so that I can make them assembly-line fashion.  I open one bag of Doritos per person, and I take out 1/2 half of the chips and place them aside in a bowl (these will be used later if anyone wants a second helping).  Crush the other half of the chips inside the bag.  Then add all the ingredients of tacos or taco salad.  We typically use: browned and spiced hamburger meat, chili beans, lettuce/spinach, tomatoes, cheese, black olives, salsa, and sour cream.  

Meanwhile, as I'm assembling the Walking Tacos, little hands are kept very busy and happy coloring on the large sheets of paper on the table.  These sheets will become their placemats and "plates" to catch any food that falls from their Doritos bags. 

When the Walking Tacos are ready, they look something like this...

Each person takes a fork and stirs up the goodies in their bag, mixing everything together.  This is big fun for the kiddos!  

And then eat it right out of the bag!  We use plastic forks for this meal, because metal forks tend to flip the bag over when you let go of it.

And for the younger ones who cannot manipulate the chips bag well...or for our little guys with sensory issues who may come unglued if their hand accidentally touches the squishy mixture on the insides of the bag of Doritos...we just dump everything into a bowl.  Everyone is happy!

During the meal, we go around the table and tell the Favorite Night person one or two things we love about them.  And they open up the cards and notes that siblings have made for them.  This is always a very special time, as we get to build up one person with encouraging words of love.  It's good to learn to give and receive, and this is always a special night for everyone involved.

We do a lot of laughing, and this one is our contagious giggler.  These are the memories I always want them to recall when they think of family meal time.

The following is the list that I sent to my friend when she asked about what fun things we do.

* Hot chocolate during bath time in the winter (or lemonade in the summer)
*  Packing a lunch and blanket for them to take into the woods for a picnic lunch (not in tick season!!)  :)
* "Favorite Night" on Tuesday person gets to choose the meal (or dessert, depending on what we plan), and we go around the table and tell one thing we love about that person. 
* Surprising them with setting up a board game in the middle of the table and playing a game during lunch (no greasy foods...learned that the hard way when grease got all over cards...better plan for sandwich days!).  :)
* OH...this one if a favorite....ROAD TRIPS are super big fun for us!  It's so much fun to explore a new place, eat at a local restaurant, buy a local book (usually a guide to whatever we visited), etc.  
* Friday night movie night!  This is a big one that they look forward to every Friday...eating pizza and watching a movie together.  This is the night we get to drink Coke too (soda, pop, whatever you may call it…I grew up in Texas, and we call all sodas Coke). One child is in charge of doing drinks for every  meal, and he loves to surprise everyone with a cherry in their drink every once in awhile.
* Leaving little notes somewhere where they will discover them during the day
* Surprising them with watermelon or popsicles while they are playing in the sprinklers
* Bringing them donuts every other Saturday...surprising them with what kinds I picked out (or letting one sibling choose what donuts they think each person would enjoy most...and we have a rule that the receiver of the donut must be thankful and not complain about whatever they get)  :)
* Having a surprise planned (like going somewhere fun) and then springing it on the children right before we do it.
* Lunch in a restaurant after church on Sundays.  Sometimes we'll follow it with a Sunday drive, where we choose a street we've never gone down and just follow it wherever it goes.  Sundays are also the day Daddy does something alone with them while I nap with my kitty (some breathing time for Mama to get refreshed for the next week).
* Going to Sonic and letting them choose their own combination of drinks(one child is the king of crazy drinks like chocolate Sprite or watermelon Dr. Pepper!)  :)
* Surprising them on a regular plain day by saying, "I was ice cream cone at the ice cream parlor sounds really good, doesn't it?!"  They squeal, go grab shoes and off we go to!
* Asking them if they'd like to surprise Daddy with hot fudge cake (or whatever) for dessert 
* Surprising them with root beer floats
* Letting one child choose what music we will play during dinner
* Letting the child who sets the table choose some cloth napkins instead of paper ones
* Making "walking tacos" with Doritos bags as our "bowl"...on walking taco nights, I put a big blank coloring page at each person's place at the table and let them color while we eat our interesting meal
* A fun family vacation every couple of years, where we budget the money and then have fun exploring a new city and going to museums or other fun places.  We let each child choose one thing they most want to do in that city, and we do those things.  Usually, we have fairly modest meals but then we will splurge on a special dinner (on our last vacation, we had a seafood dinner near the Potomac River!)...something that is a real treat.  Super fun family memories!  
* And lots of fun things are free---picnics, drives through Civil War  Battlefields, a walk along a river, a quiet fishing spot, play days with friends, rambling drives through new areas, hikes, audio books together as a family, etc.