Author Archive Paul

The Waiting Place

Waiting is synonymous with adoption. Or at least it seems that way at times. It has certainly felt that way in our journey. It’s a gauntlet of waiting.

If you have ever read Dr. Seuss’s Oh The Places You’ll Go! you might remember the Waiting Place. Dr. Seuss does not care much for the Waiting Place. Nor does he assume that any of us should like the waiting place either. And i get it, trust me, i totally get it. i have always hated the Waiting Place… BUT GOD… is teaching me to love it. Because, in this place, He is showing me Himself. And as i wait, i know Him and i am known by Him.

Waiting is synonymous with adoption. Or at least it seems that way at times. It has certainly felt that way in our journey. It’s a gauntlet of waiting. The length of the waiting has varied wildly from situation to situation. But the occasions in which we find ourselves waiting have been numerous and relentless in their occurrence. Some folks wait longer and others wait for less time, but all adopting families experience the waiting. And of course, if you’re reading this, you know that waiting is not exclusive to adoption. All of us have waited.

Waited for a diagnoses. Waited for a call back. Waited for release. For an apology. For something in the mail. For a job. For your soldier to return. For forgiveness. For it to “just click”. Waited for trust to be mended. Waited for someone to say, “I love you”. Waited for the pain to go away. And waiting is an activity that i have always disdained at a very high level. All of us have waited. Some have waited more and some have waited less but few have allowed themselves more frustration as they wait than me.

…9 weeks later, we’re still waiting to be reunited with our boys. To hug their necks and kiss their cheeks and see our family of six united and whole. So much waiting.

i hate to wait and this is evidenced by my frequent sighing and my reckless driving and my short tone and my quick temper. i am so easily frustrated by waiting… so put-off by waiting. My bride can testify to what a loose cannon, what a depraved sinner, i can be when i am forced to wait.

The waiting of this adoption journey has been brutal for me. And all the more once we began our journey here in Uganda. It began right out of the gate, in Washington, DC when our flight was delayed and then in Dubai when we missed our connection to Entebbe. A twenty-four hour layover in Dubai isn’t the worst thing that could happen, but it’s still waiting. And there was more to come. We’ve waited on judges and officials and drivers and orders and paperwork and service and electricity and internet and we’ve just waited and waited again and again. Two weeks for a postponed hearing, 6 hours for a judge, two weeks for an order. Waiting to bond with a four year old. And 9 weeks later, we’re still waiting to be reunited with our boys. To hug their necks and kiss their cheeks and see our family of six united and whole. So much waiting.

Waiting that normally surfaced in frustration has manifested itself in despair. The deepest despair i have ever felt.

i have been immersed in the waiting. And it’s been a brutal grace! By week two i was already wrecked in the waiting. Gut-wrenched by the waiting. Weeping alone in the shower under the weight of all the waiting. And we had only just begun. Waiting that normally surfaced in frustration has manifested itself in despair. The deepest despair i have ever felt. BUT GOD, is rich in mercy and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. He is a patient and persistent Teacher and a Lover of my soul. And here in the waiting place, i am learning much about how to wait. How to avoid waisting the waiting. There are three things that have brought peace in the waiting and pushed back the despair.

(1) Rest the Gospel: The gospel story, God’s redemptive plan for mankind is filled with waiting. And it is filled with God’s perfect timing to bring rescue and joy and help and salvation to His people. Remember, God’s timing is perfect. God is never early and never late, but always right on time. And this is seen most vividly at the cross. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6 ESV). The gospel screams, “God’s timing is perfect!”

when you’re in the waiting place, you’re going to need reminded that God’s timing is perfect, His love is infinite, and every promise of God, belongs to His children in Christ.

And not only do we see God’s perfect timing at the cross, we also see His infinite love. God loves me more than i love myself and that means i can trust Him more than i trust myself… even in the waiting place. The gospel reminds me that all the promises of God are yes and amen for God’s children in Jesus. And when you’re in the waiting place, you’re going to need reminded that God’s timing is perfect, His love is infinite, and every promise of God, belongs to His children in Christ.

So know the gospel as you wait. Read it, pray it, sing it, speak it, meditate on it, write it, learn it, know it, love it, and ask God to give you the faith to believe the gospel. Rest in the gospel.

(2) Remain in Community: This one has certainly been huge for us. We traveled here with some very dear friends. The Wells family is part of our church family at Redemption and they are adopting from Uganda as well. God graciously worked it out that we would be on the same flight as them and live right next to them while we were here. And that most of our important events would be at similar times and we would travel together and eat together and shop together and wait together.

You see, sometimes the waiting will blur your vision and strangle your hope and break your will to carry on.

God worked it out, in His grace, that we would laugh together and cry together and curse together and worship together. Waiting is more bearable in community. And we praise God that when the Wells were forced to return home, we were blessed with a gospel centered community of Ugandan friends who we will carry in our hearts forever.

You see, sometimes the waiting will blur your vision and strangle your hope and break your will to carry on. And if you have people surrounding you who will be quick to lovingly hold your hand and hug your neck and speak the truth of the gospel to you in the midst of your struggle… if you have that kind of community, waiting is far easier to endure.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV).

There is strength in gospel centered community. So remain in community while you are in the waiting place. You won’t regret it. Find community, ask God for community, and remain in it… even in the waiting.

after all the time waiting, i find myself thanking God for the waiting place.

(3) Remember Who You’re Waiting On: Lastly, remember who you are waiting on. It’s really easy to forget Who you are waiting on. It starts to feel like you’re waiting on a judge or a driver or an official. Waiting on a doctor or a friend or a spouse. It might feel like your waiting on someone or something. And that is a shaky place to stand because people fail us all the time and circumstances disappoint us all the time. But for the Christian, we do not wait for any person or a “twist of fate”. Instead, we wait on the Lord.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. (Psalm 20:7 ESV)

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2 ESV)

This entire journey in Uganda has been a constant battle for me to remember Who it is that i am waiting on. To remember that i wait for a God whose timing is always perfect. A God whose love is infinite. A God whose promises, by the bucket full, belong to me in Christ. i wait on a God who lives in community and invites me to do the same. i wait on a God who is perfect and holy and all powerful. i wait on a God whose plans cannot and will not ever be thwarted. i wait on the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. i wait on the God who raised Jesus FROM THE DEAD.

And those who wait on this God…

…they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 ESV)

So after all this time waiting, i find myself thanking God for the waiting place. And if you find yourself in the waiting place today… rest in the gospel, remain in community, and remember Who it is you are waiting on.

And take courage. You’re waiting is not in vain. Instead, even in this waiting place, you will know God’s great glory and He is accomplishing your deepest joy… just you wait.


Etsy

Transplanted Roots

Your first cries never graced my ears.
i’ll never know your gentle baby breath
and mine would have been taken captive
at the glorious sight of your first smile.
A world away from me, you walked so tall.
Those first steps over red dirt kicking dust.
Your blood is in that ground sweet child.
The portrait of your life contains that mud.
When first words rang out from your lips,
when home grown music moved your hips,
your laughter gripped all those you knew.
But you wonder where your father is,
  tonight.

Come home.
  We wait,
where broken wings are commonplace,
more prevalent than all but grace.
The ocean gales will fail to quench
this Love outlasting every other face.
And yours lights up the sky.
  Come home.

Up child, Don’t linger. Grow up taller.
They’re gone but courage roots down deep inside.
Survival is elusive and a gift.
Neglected not forgotten, you’ll still fly
through storms and tears while heaven’s fire makes gold.
Refined you’ll be and precious in His sight.
Though dearest ones can’t carry onward,
walk tall as Love makes straight the crooked path.
As long as breath is in my lungs, fear not.
A future is your own inheritance…
Tomorrow shines with complex hope, but now
familiar things are gone and you’re alone
  tonight.

Come home.
  We wait,
where broken wings are commonplace,
more prevalent than all but grace.
The ocean gales will fail to quench
this Love outlasting every other face.
And yours lights up the sky.
  Come home.

You are seen by ones you have never seen
with love measured to infinity.
They fight with me to win your greatest good,
numbered in the hundreds by my side.
Not soon enough, your dirt will be my dust,
as home grown music sways my hips with you.
Our eyes and broken wings will meet that day,
as Grace entwines your beating heart to mine.
Transplanted roots bear fruits through pain.
Complexity brings you to know my arms
Fear not! Though all is unfamiliar still,
know this. i’ll show you where your father is
  tonight.
   And all the nights yet lived.

Come home.
  We wait,
where broken wings are commonplace,
more prevalent than all but grace.
The ocean gales will fail to quench
this Love outlasting every other face.
And yours lights up the sky.
  Come home.

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PUZZLE

We’re Matched. We’re Waiting. We’re Hoping. (An Update).

We’re Matched (Recent Past)

On September 30th, in the early afternoon, i found myself rushing home from the downtown building where our church gathers corporately and those of us on staff have make shift offices. i had been working when my bride called and told me a photograph was being emailed to her. We had potentially been matched with a girl in Uganda. No way! This wasn’t supposed to happen until sometime in mid or late 2016. That’s what we had been told to expect. But i would be hard pressed to tell you a single part of this adoption journey that has gone as we expected.

When we switched from Colombia to Uganda (you can read about that here and here), we had asked how long until we would be matched and receive a referral. Based on what we had been told, we’d grown used to the idea of being matched towards the end of next summer (2016). That was about to change. My wife told me what to expect from the photograph, “The picture will not have her face in it, it will show her special need without showing her face.” If that didn’t send us running we could see the rest of the photos. I dropped everything and raced home… weeping and praying the entire way.

She has a face, she has a name, and she has a future. It’s incredibly bright in spite of much. She has been seen by us.

We’ll tell the story in detail one day, when much of the information is no longer private, but long story short, we saw the first photo and then the rest and we said yes. And that is how we got matched on September 30th.

A match is not a referral, it is more like a “soft-referral”. It is like someone asking you, “would you be interested in adopting this specific child?” And if the answer is yes, they will get you the referral as soon as possible. We were matched. It was a beautiful day… a scary day… an unforgettable day. She has a face (we can’t show online), she has a name (we can’t say online), and she has a future. It’s incredibly bright in spite of much. She has been seen by us.

We’re Waiting (Right Now)

We don’t know exactly how long our wait will be but we know the determining factors of our wait. Two primary events influence the amount of time we must wait:

  1. The official referral: We are waiting on the official referral and this is everything, but a formality. It’s not a guarantee but the odds are almost 100% that the referral will come. And it will likely come very soon… like within weeks or even days.
  2. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Approval: We have filed an Application for Advance Processing of Orphan Petition (sounds pretty official doesn’t it). USCIS normally takes 8-12 weeks to turn this around, but the process can sometimes be expedited for the extreme health concerns of an orphan. We strongly believe that the girl we have been matched with may qualify for the medical expedite.

And so we wait. The future in still very uncertain, but we know her face (i dreamed about her the other night). This makes the wait easier and harder… both at the same time. We’re striving to rest in God’s perfect timing. He is faithful and good. His timing is always perfect. We wait with hope.

We’re Hoping (The Future)

If we receive this referral, there are three possible scenarios moving forward.

Scenario One: USCIS does not expedite the processing of our paperwork and we are not approved until December or later. The Ugandan government closes down from December 15 – January 15 and therefore, without expedited approval we would not travel until late January or early February. We would travel once for anywhere from 3-8 weeks. And we would bring her home.

Scenario Two: USCIS expedites the paperwork and we travel in November for our court date. At this court date we will hopefully be granted legal custody of our daughter. And we would wait for Ugandan officials to provide her passport and clear her for exit. The Holiday season (December 15 – January 15) would most likely stall this process for no less than a month. In this scenario we would then leave Uganda and our daughter behind while we wait. We would then return after the Holiday when the processing of her exit requirements was completed. Then we would bring our daughter home.

…it is not even in the realm of possibility in all reality… but this would not be the first time God had pulled off something impossible.

Scenario Three: This final scenario is the most impossible of them all and for that reason, i am praying towards this end. Again, the likelihood of this scenario is almost zero. The scenario goes like this… We get USCIS approval and our referral ASAP… like early November. We get a court date in Uganda and we board the plane towards African soil. We receive custody of our daughter without any hesitations and because of her medical needs, the Ugandan officials in charge of processing her exit requirements push everything through before the Holiday and we bring her home before Christmas! Pray that this happens. Again, it is not even in the realm of possibility in all reality… but this would not be the first time God had pulled off something impossible.

We’re Inviting You to Join Us (Our Story is Your Story)

So many of you have already joined us in this journey and we are so deeply thankful. It’s been an honor and a joy to have so many of you walk with us. Our need has grown slightly from $41,000 to $46,000 because of some extra fees during the switch from Colombia to Uganda and because of extended travel requirements. Currently we are about $11,000 away from this goal. We expect to receive several grants that will hopefully cover a chunk of this, but we still have lots of ground to cover financially. Add to this the crazy details of this journey and the twists and turns that it has taken and just to be frank, the team of people fighting for this girl cannot possibly grow too large. She already has armies of people fighting for her and we’re inviting even more to join us. Here are some ways you can join us in this adoption journey.

ETSY: We have an ETSY shop full of original and re-purposed art. We made some and our friends made some and people we barely know have made some. You can shop that store by clicking here and every single penny of the profit will go to fund our adoption journey. You can also get in contact with us about donating art to the shop, if you are so inclined.

Puzzle Pieces: You can read all about the puzzle fundrasier here, but basically we are putting a puzzle map of the world together for our daughter’s room and on the back of each puzzle piece will be tons of names… names of people who helped bring her home. The puzzle pieces are $20 each and if you purchase one (in our ETSY shop or in person) we’ll put your name on the back of that piece and she will know that you were a part of this story.

Email List: You can sign up for our email list by clicking here and as we get closer to traveling it might just become a more frequently used method of communication for our journey.

Pray: Every day it becomes more and more clear that we are being and will be stretched beyond anything we are capable of in this journey. Pray that God’s strength will be made perfect in our weakness and His glory will be made known to all who see. And please join us in praying specifically for Scenario Three listed above.

Share: Help us out on social media by sharing our posts and linking to our stuff. This has been the number one way for us to connect to new people in this adoption journey. Please share and share again.

Get Creative: If you have any other ideas for how you can join this story of love and adoption…. please contact us and let us know. We’re open for any suggestions and would welcome your ideas with deep gratitude.

Let’s get this little lady home!
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GiveSidebar


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Video by McComas Video Productions | Facebook and Website

This Is Africa. (TIA).

This is a story about dashed expectations and changing plans. A story of transitions. This is a story about fear, pain, Love, doubt, and Hope. It’s a story about Africa. It’s a story about me and about you. A story about a girl. i didn’t write this story, i never could have written it and even if i could, i never would have written it. It was written by Someone else. i’m just going to tell it to you, as best i know how.

That Time We Said No To Africa. (Fear).

i was never a fan of spending a long time in Africa. i’ve always wanted to travel to Africa… Just a quick trip with some photographs to show the family and friends back at home so they know how adventurous i am and how i am globally minded and compassionate. An African Facebook profile pic would be worth a week or so in Africa.

But as we began praying about the country we would pursue adoption through, Africa didn’t make the cut. Adoption had been in the plans since as long as marriage had been in the plans but where from… We didn’t know. Africa had always been in the “plans”, too. The “we should go to Africa sometime” kind of plans.

After all, “we should go to Africa sometime” right?!

So, come late 2014 and into early 2015 we started praying about adoption (as a right now kind of thing). We started consulting friends and family about what it would look like for us to peruse this adoption journey NOW. We started researching adoption agencies, programs, and available countries. And when we looked at countries, we started in Africa… After all, “we should go to Africa sometime” right?!

Nope. Not going. Ain’t happening.

Every adoption program comes with a list of stats and expectations. It’s kinda like the back of a baseball card merged with a cookbook. And one of those things on the expectations list is always: expected time in country. We looked at Africa first and not only were there very few programs in Africa, but the expected time in country wasn’t listed in days. It was listed in weeks. But even that was misleading. They could just as easily used the word months.

The first African country our hearts sprang to was Uganda. Not only would it be “nice to travel to Africa someday”, but some of the favorite and most hip and white social justice heroes of my high school and early childhood days had started their work on Uganda. Invisible Children had captured my attention during my late teens and early twenties in their work to bring awareness to the child soldiering and night traveling plights of the young people in northern Uganda. Noonday was cranking out fair trade jewelry in Kampala. And on and on the list could go. Uganda was the place to go if you wanted to save the world.

So, my finger landed on Uganda and slid down to time expected in country… 6-8 weeks.

Nope. Not happening. Forget about it.

You see, i’m already a father of three, and they’re not traveling to Uganda with us, and i’m not leaving them here for 6-8 weeks while we’re in Africa. Uganda is fairly safe today, but 6-8 weeks in Uganda is like two years in a “normal country”. A lot can happen in Africa in 6-8 weeks.

i didn’t write this story, i never could have written it and even if i could, i never would have written it. It was written by Someone else. i’m just going to tell it to you, as best i know how.

i mean haven’t you ever heard of Al-Shabaab? Or of the LRA? i wouldn’t want to be in Africa long enough to meet Joseph Kony in a back alley (6 years ago i would have, but being a father has brought back the fear). i mean haven’t you ever seen the movie Hotel Rwanda? Political landscapes can flip at the drop of a hat. Ever heard of Burundi? Neither had i until a short while back when they had a government shift and the Department of State issued a shelter in place for all Americans there until airports could reopen. Stop it. I could throw a rock into Burundi from Uganda. And i sure as heck don’t want to be caught in the crossfire when Leonardo DiCaprio is trying to smuggle blood diamonds out of the country. My father-in-law lived in Africa for a while and he had to carry a big stick when he went to town and watch for pickpockets in the reflections of store front windows. Several of my friends spent much of their childhood in Africa. Where one of their dads planted a church. The kind of church where pastoral visits sometimes require a car trunk full of weapons. We’re not talking machine gun preacher, i promise. It didn’t go down like that. But while we’re on that topic… Have you ever seen the movie Machine Gun Preacher? It’s pretty intense in South Sudan and i could throw a rock into South Sudan from Uganda. You see, when they make movies about Africa they don’t have to write a script of political upheaval and extreme violence and turmoil and sickness. History already wrote the script. And what about all the sickness?! i wouldn’t want to be in Africa long enough to get AIDS or Ebola. And thank God for malaria shots. What if i am killed by a hippo?! Those guys are fierce. Have you ever read a travel advisory for Uganda? Not very comforting, to say the least.

So, the answer was no. Move on. We aren’t going to Uganda. I’m not going to orphan three to give a forever family to one. Forget about it. And so we did. We forgot about it…. Until August 6th 2015

When Dreams Die in a Swimming Pool. (Pain).

It was the day before my birthday, and we were on vacation in Myrtle Beach, SC. i was in the pool with my boys, and they were jumping fearlessly from the deck into my arms. They weren’t thinking about the water that was taller than their heads or the fact that the distance between me and them was the actual limit of their jumping abilities. They were thinking about the joy that came with saying “risk be damned,” and they were just jumping. They were thinking about the strength and consistency of their loving father’s arms, and they were just jumping. They were thinking about their joy and my joy, and they were just jumping. i should have known that as i was basking in the presence of such amazing child-like faith and joy… That God was about to test my faith and make war for my joy… But i never saw it coming.

IMG_4744 (1)

“We have to talk”, Sarah Beth had just returned to the pool area, and, in hindsight, you could read it on her face. She got into the pool and walked over and then she spoke, “the agency called.” My first thought: “we have a referral!”. Her first words, “They’re shutting down the in country hosting program in Colombia.” Wham! My first response was frustration (didn’t they know we were on vacation?!). And then everything just blanked.

As Ezra crashed into the side of my head, and i barely managed to catch him and keep him from sinking into the water, i didn’t even look at him. i just stared into the sky above the fence on the west side of the pool area and felt my stomach turn to mush. The pilot program we were a part of in Colombia was the only thing that made adoption from Colombia work for our family’s current situation, and the end of the program would mean the end of Colombia. And i didn’t even have to talk it through (we did anyway), because i knew Colombia was being erased from our future, and i couldn’t find any words. i remember half-heartedly hugging my bride and telling her everything was going to be okay. But she wasn’t falling for it, and i wasn’t either. And when i said the next words, “God has a plan that’s better than our plan…”. It might have sounded like i was comfortable with that, but my soul was laced with bitterness and frustration and confusion. “Can we talk about this later?! Let’s just enjoy the children that we already do have, and we can talk about this later.” And then i went about pretending like i was enjoying myself, but all i could do was stare at the sky above the west side fence of that pool area. i felt like i had just been kicked in the stomach.

They were thinking about their joy and my joy, and they were just jumping.

Little did i know that as i was staring west into that barely cloudy blue sky in confusion and frustration, i was looking in the exact direction of our agency’s African Program Director. You can’t make stuff like this up. She lives less than one mile up the street that was directly across the road from where we were swimming. It would be a few days before we learned that, but it’s been a multitude of similar things along this journey that have reminded us of the glorious sovereignty of God. Little whispers from God saying, “I’ve got this! I wrote this story before you were even born. I love you. Trust me.”

The Smoke Clears. (Love).

When we were informed that the specific Colombian program we were a part of was being shut down, the agency told us they were putting us in contact with the Haitian/African Program Director. This was white noise to me for about 48 hours. i was reeling and frustrated and in a complete fog. i felt like we had lost our daughter. We’d yet to get a referral so there was not a real life little lady to match that unquenchable belief that we had a daughter in Colombia, but it had felt so real to me. Now the pain of loss felt real, too. i felt like she was dead. She wasn’t. But the expectations were shattered. We had been so confident. We believed we had a daughter in Colombia. We didn’t. And we likely never would. Just. Like. That.

We ate at Bonefish Grill that night. It was date night, and we tried about five really nice local restaurants first, but i refused to wait in line at any of them and 1.5 hours later we ended up at the stupid Bonefish Grill (actually a really nice restaurant, but it is a chain, and i wasn’t in the mood). It was depressing. It was surreal. It was like the twilight zone. i was angry. i was mean. Sarah Beth was hurting already. i hurt her even more. i said, “It’s MY birthday tomorrow…” as if that made it alright for me to be a self-centered piece of crap.  i apologized. She wept. Right there in the Bonefish Grill. The waiter was awkward. The cloth napkin was streaked with mascara. i ate a steak. i was grateful for delicious food and a patient wife, but i’ve never felt so weird eating food. To be in a nice restaurant with romantic lighting, just going through the motions because, “Hey! No retreat! Always advance!” i was determined to enjoy this vacation, but i was fooling myself. My heart was broken. i cried when i was alone, and i pushed the vacation forward when i wasn’t. i’ll always wonder if i should have pushed so hard to salvage that day instead of just absorbing the blow full force, but it’s in the past now. And i can tell you this, i’m not eating at Bonefish Grill ever again until our daughter is with us, and you can take that to the bank. i’ll eat a steak again and this time i won’t weep in private. i won’t care who sees my tears.

It was painful. The wound was deep, but it was healing faster than i thought it would.

And it wouldn’t take long for the smoke to begin clearing. We were mourning expectations and not an actual person, and so we moved through the stages of grief a little faster. It was painful. The wound was deep, but it was healing faster than i thought it would.

By the last days of our vacation we were seriously thinking a lot about Africa. As i previously mentioned, when the Colombian Program Director had given us the heartbreaking news about the closing program, she had mentioned the African/Haiti Program Director would be contacting us. This was of little comfort to us on August 6th, but after about 48-72 hours it was starting to get into our heads. Into our hearts. After all, “we should go to Africa someday.” This was the first place our hearts had flown to at the start our adoption journey, but it just didn’t seem like it fit. Now we were asking all the same questions about if it fits now.

I’ll be honest, the questions seemed even harder this time. Maybe it was how comfortable we had become with the idea of Colombia, but all the questions we had asked about Africa in the beginning, seemed even heavier now than ever. Everything that had led us to say “no” to Africa in the first place, was still true. And i was still scared of the idea. More. Than. Ever.

Even when i would rather walk in the “less than”, He is good to lead me to walk in the “better than”.

My initial response was the same as before, “No way. Not going to happen.” But God has a loving history of turning my staunch and confident “no” into a humble and reliant “yes”. i’ve said “no” before only to later hear God so kindly say, “we’ll see about that.” He makes known to me the pathway of life. Even when i would rather walk in the “less than”, He is good to lead me to walk in the “better than”.

We’re going to Africa. (Transition).

As we were wrestling with these questions, fears, and hesitations about Africa, we learned that the lady from our agency, answering so many of our questions about Africa, was directly across the street from where we were staying (remember the day in the pool).  God whispered, “I’ve got this.” We talked about Africa all the way home on the long drive back from the beach. The other African programs didn’t fit like Uganda, so if we switched to Africa, it would most likely be Uganda. But could this really be where our daughter is? We were getting close to sure by the time we got home, but i wanted to talk to some friends and family. Some folks who i trust to love me honestly and authentically.

To be away from my boys for that long, in a place like Uganda… it seamed foolish. Risky. Stupid. Was it worth it?

When we got home we learned that some dear friends from our church family, who were adopting from Haiti, had been switched to Uganda and already matched. Viola. That’s her name. She is 6 years old. A few days later they would be offered the joy of bringing her sister home, too. They said “yes.” They’ll be bringing two little ladies home from Uganda very soon. To our home state. Our city. Our church family. They have kids already that play with our kids sometimes. Are you kidding me?! God whispered, “Trust me, kids. I’ve written this already. All is well.”

i was beginning to believe Him. i talked more with Sarah Beth. We prayed. We talked about pros and cons and fears and excitements. We prayed. i talked to my dearest trusted people. They prayed. We prayed. i was still scared. To be away from my boys for that long, in a place like Uganda… it seamed foolish. Risky. Stupid. Was it worth it? i just couldn’t bring myself to believe that it was.

Then one morning it all caved in, my fears and hesitations that is. Thinking about the potential of weeks spent in country (this was my biggest hold up), i kept asking myself if it was worth it. And then i had a thought, “i wonder if there is an Acts 29 church in Uganda?” i pastor at a church that is part of the Acts 29 Network, and the network has gone global over the last few years, so i logged onto the Acts 29 website and pulled up the map. Africa is huge! There was a little dot there in East Africa. i started zooming in. The dot looked like it was right on top of Lake Victoria. My heart skipped a beat. i love the church. i love church planting. i kept zooming. That Acts 29 church is right smack in the middle of Kampala, Uganda. Stop it. That is exactly where we will be required to stay while in Uganda. Kampala. And right there in the heart of it is Sojourn Church! God whispered, “trust me, son.”

God took His blowtorch of grace out and started melting my heart at the speed of light.

There are about 5 things in this life that grip me to the core of my soul. The gospel, my bride, my boys, adoption, and the church/church planting. When Jesus builds His church through church planting, it makes my heart go crazy with joy. So, i pulled up the website for Sojourn Church Uganda and started reading and watching. And God took His blowtorch of grace out and started melting my heart at the speed of light. The pastor was from the states, and he packed up his entire family, even his kids, and planted a church in a slum in Kampala. God had me by both sides of my face now, “I NEVER abandon my kids, son! Nothing! Nothing can separate you from my love. Risk is right. Fear not my child!” i wept!!! The world shrank. Uganda seamed like it was only about two miles away… like i could walk there. i saw the faces. i saw my brothers and sisters. i saw Ugandans and Americans and Ukrainians. i saw the church. i saw God saving people and loving His kids. All in the heart of Kampala. i finally saw what my friends who have visited Uganda had been saying all along. This is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. So much love. And for the briefest second… i saw my daughter in Uganda. My heart saw her. i wept. And i wept. It was the epitome of ugly crying. My heart was a puddle. As soft as it has ever been. Fear was dead. Hope was alive. We’re going to Africa. We’re going to Uganda. That’s where she is. And we’re going to bring her home. Risk be damned. Fear meet love. Enter joy.

Are we doing the right thing? (Doubt).

But wait. It can’t just flip on a switch like that, can it?! As the clouds of fear were breaking up another storm was forming on the horizon. The storm of doubt.

What about unethical adoption?! Is that even a thing? Oh, it most certainly is and Uganda (and other African countries) has some stories to tell about it. Is it frequent? Not necessarily. Does it happen enough to draw the attention of many? Yes. And then doubt hit our hearts like a two-ton truck. An article here. A blog post there. This family thought their daughter was coming back from the states when she turned 18, but they were lied to. That family had to leave the village for medical attention, and while they were gone the folks they trusted with their son ditched him at the orphanage. And what about the plethora of orphans who could be cared for by their own parents if it was not for severe poverty. What do we do with that?! Ever heard terms like double orphan or evangelical trafficking? These are terms that make you think. These are ideas that make your head hurt. Some of what you read and see has just enough reality in it to make all the other crap they’re feeding you sound true and some of it is just undeniably true.

Children come into adoption through painful and sometimes very complicated situations. Each situation is unique and beautiful and brutal.

There is so much more to write about this and one day we will, but for now be aware of this: adoption is born in varying levels of tragedy, but no adoption is ever born without tragedy. Children come into adoption through painful and sometimes very complicated situations. Each situation is unique and beautiful and brutal. But SOMEtimes adoption is riddled with lies and theft and is nothing short of trafficking and profiteering. Adoptive families must take responsibility for these things and pursue ethical adoption to the furthest degree possible. But still the thought of an unethical adoption resulting in the growth of your own family is incredibly hard to process. International adoption is full of difficult thoughts that lead to doubt.

In many countries, international adoption has been shut down because of these previously mentioned reasons, and there has been very small pockets of chatter in Uganda about the same. It’s not likely, but still, what if we get 8 months into this thing and Uganda shuts it all down? Then what? International adoption is full of uncertainty that leads to doubt.

We’d considered these things throughout the entire process of this adoption, but with the proposed switch to Uganda, Pandora’s box had been opened once again. For days and days we wrestled with these thoughts and doubts and questions and ideas and realities. Are we doing the right thing? Your brain short-circuits a little bit at times like these. And doubt and fear have a way of  making the heart feel numb to even the most exciting things.

We talked to our agency, we googled, we read, we prayed, we watched, we talked to friends, we prayed, we talked to each other, we read the Psalms, and we prayed some more.

Are we doing the right thing? Your brain short-circuits a little bit at times like these. And doubt and fear have a way of  making the heart feel numb to even the most exciting things.

And it comes down to this, One, there are orphans in Uganda. Orphans for whom international adoption is their only practical, authentic, and realistic hope. These orphans need forever families. Two, there are orphans in Uganda who wouldn’t be orphans if someone could come alongside their parent(s) and help them find or develop a sustainable source of provision for their family. Three, our agency goes above and beyond what is required of them by Ugandan law to insure the absolute ethical nature of the adoptions they facilitate and that these orphans are in need of forever families. Four, and superseding all other reasons, God is all powerful and completely sovereign. We trust Him. We long to trust Him more. And we can move forward through doubt and fear, knowing His love never fails, and His plans are always best.

Destination Uganda. (Hope).

And so that’s where we find ourselves. We’re heading to Uganda. We’re moving through the fear and the doubt. We believe we have a daughter in Uganda. Even more importantly, we believe that God has already written this story that we are living in real time. His love is infinite. His plans are better. His joy is full. And His heart is for the orphan.

So, fear still fights, but its end is sure. And doubt still lingers, but it will meet its demise. We’re setting sail for Uganda, but our course has already been charted. Through still waters and dark waters and wild waters we will go. And our God continues to remind us that because He is good, risk can be right. This is still our story. This is still her story. This is still your story. And this is still His story. This is Africa (TIA).

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PUZZLE

I Am Literally Afraid.

I’m scared. I am literally afraid.

Fear and anxiety are not brand new feelings for me, but they are overwhelming me more than ever before. The chair in my study will soon be stained from all the tears I cry with my face buried in its lime green upholstery. I’ve been scared before but I’ve never been this scared and certainly not with this much frequency.

Life has never been this busy. It has never been this tiring. The stakes have never been this high. And I look in the mirror at a desperate man.

Ten years ago when people described to me what it meant to feel anxiety and debilitating fear, I just nodded my head as if I understood. They would speak of shortness of breath and increased heartbeat and knots in the stomach. They would speak of feeling paralyzed or exhausted or hopeless. People would explain to me how fear and anxiety can grip the very depths of your soul and literally impact your body and I just didn’t get it. I had sympathy and no problem believing it was real, but I couldn’t grasp it.

Then I started my own photography business, married the love of my life, and soon after we were pregnant with our first boy. This all happened in a span of less than 4 years.

Suddenly I knew what it meant to feel anxiety. If you’ve ever looked at a fledgling photography business’s profit & loss statement, you might begin to understand. Now imagine looking at the profit & loss statement at the end of a 70 hour work week, knowing that your pregnant wife is waiting for you in the downstairs of your gracious mother-in-law’s house, which is your own temporary home. And no matter how you crunch the numbers, they don’t add up to comfortable or anything within shouting distance of that place.

That’s when I felt it for the first time. That’s when I curled up in a ball in the middle of my photography studio in Barboursville and wept and shook with anxiousness I had never known. My heart was racing. I couldn’t breath. My stomach was in knots and my prayers were desperate!

And we made it through. God was faithful even when I wasn’t. He slapped me around a little bit in His mercy. My wife was patient, strong, gracious, and forgiving. We moved into our own home. Isaiah was born. The business accelerated. We made it through. But for a season I battled fear and anxiety on a daily basis.

And it scares me, because I know I don’t have what it takes.

It has struck again several times over the years. As I grow older I am faced more frequently with my inadequacies as a man, as a husband, as a father, as a pastor, as a bread-winner, as a photographer, as a friend, as a strawberry grower, as a golfer, as a pancake flipper… and now as an adoptive parent-to-be. And it scares me, because I know I don’t have what it takes.

And when you fast forward to now: loving bride, three wonderful little men in the house, a steady and healthy (not huge but healthy) income with a little over a hair’s width of padding, a nicer-than-needed home, job security, food on the table, etc. And now we’ve started the adoption process. Fundraising is going gangbusters, people are pouring out unimaginable amounts of help and encouragement, and everything seems to be falling into place with a fair amount of ease and perfection. You would look at the circumstances and situations surrounding me and think that fear and anxiety would be the last emotions threatening to steal my joy.

And I have never been so scared in my entire life.

Weekly… at least, and often times, several times a week, I find myself struggling to breath… heart racing, face hot, stomach churning… Scared. Out . Of. My. Mind!

Life has never been this busy. It has never been this tiring. The stakes have never been this high. And I look in the mirror at a desperate man.

You would look at the circumstances and situations surrounding me and think that fear and anxiety would be the last emotions threatening to steal my joy.

Listen, all the things I thought would calm my fears and squelch my anxiety feel like sand slipping through my fingers. It all feels so fragile and temporary (it is). And everything about the “man that I have become” that I thought would destroy fright and vanquish doubt isn’t enough. I have nothing left to give. This is all of me. And all of me adds up to inadequate. Grossly inadequate. And that lime green chair in my study is getting a workout and a saline bath on the regular. The tears are hot and the prayers are desperate.

And so I run to Him. I believe that the stories are true. I believe that barren women conceive and that water comes out of rocks and sea’s can be parted. I literally and as a combined result of logic, reason, and faith (all God’s gracious gift), believe that the sun can stand still and dead people can come back to life and people named Saul can have their name changed to Paul and find themselves ready to die for the same message they once sought to kill.

I trust Him more than I trust myself. And He loves me more than I love myself. And so when I bury my face in the battlefield of that lime green chair, I cry out for eyes to see the promises and for peace to calm my troubled heart.

He has already won the battle for my joy. For our family’s joy. He already wrote our story. Our daughter’s story. The final chapter is infinite joy. Adoption was His idea to begin with. We’re in good hands.

And when I bury my face in that green chair later this week, I’ll be desperate to remember that.

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do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 4:6-7 ESV)

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PUZZLE

You’ll call her “mom”.

You’ll call her “mom”. Maybe “mamma” at first. Maybe “mommy” or like your oldest brother, maybe you will call her “mom-mom”. And i can promise you this, she’ll hear you. She already does.

She’ll wake from sleep and hold you in her arms. She’ll stop to watch you spin across the living room. She’ll defend you from enemies. She’ll engage all your fears. She’ll share all your joys. She’ll read you one more page. She’ll meet your needs. She’ll take special note of your wants. She’ll find you. Pursue you. Embrace you. Educate you. Kiss you. Chase you. Wait for you. Cry with you. Help you. Feed you. Clothe you. Inspire you. Admire you. Miss you. Want you. Laugh with you. Trust you. Pray for you. Work for you. Fight for you. Live for you. If need be die for you… She will love you… She already loves you!

Happy Mother’s Day to a woman that does not share your DNA, but loves you more than life or blood or biology could ever explain.

You don’t know it yet, but your mother has a place in her heart for you that is bigger than you can grasp. A hope that is indestructible. A love that defies logic.

You’re going to love her. She’s more loving than words can say. She’s creative. She sees beauty everywhere. She inspires a sense of wonder in life. She’s beautiful. Her eyes are peace. Her smile is flight. Her laugh is made of pure sugar. She’s smart. She’s side-splittingly funny. She’s courageous. She’s tender. She’s forgiving. She’s witty. She’s intoxicating. She’s gracious. She’s steady. She’s surprising. She’s more than words. She’s going to blow your mind and steal your heart. She’s your’s. She’s waiting. She loves you.

Today I will wish her a Happy Mother’s Day on your behalf. And on a Mother’s Day in the not so distant future you will wish a Happy Mother’s Day to her yourself. Happy Mother’s Day to a woman that does not share your DNA, but loves you more than life or blood or biology could ever explain.

You’ll be in good hands, my sweet lady. Mama knows how to love like the sun knows how to shine and the rain brings life to the spring. So come home soon… not to any set of walls… but to your mamma’s open arms.

Her heart beats for you.

PUZZLE

Love. Acting a Little Bit Stupid.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
(Matthew 13:44 ESV)

I was having a phone conversation with a dear friend a few days after we applied to adopt through our agency. He asked how we were doing and I had a really long answer to that question. Lots of words and lots of heart. I told him of the application process. I told him our daughter would be from Colombia and how much it would cost from start to finish. I told him our estimated timeline and the potential of multiple trips to Colombia (one of them quite long). I told him everything I was so happy and nervous about. And he listened. He’s good at that. I should take notes.

And he knows how many kids we already have and how old they are, and he knows what I do for a living, and he knows how expensive kids can be week-to-week (he has four beauties of his own), and he just knows who we are and where we’re at, etc. He gets it.

“I love it”, he said, “because it is so stupid.”…

When I finally finished emotionally vomiting in his ear, when I finished explaining where we were and where we were headed he finally got a chance to talk. He spoke to me bluntly like someone can only when you are assured of his love and care for you. And a good friend’s bluntness is almost always good for the soul even if you find yourself taken back by it at first.

I’m paraphrasing a tad (but only in the simple fact that this isn’t verbatim. But it’s close).

“I love it”, he said, “because it is so stupid.” He meant only blessing and encouragement in his words and I knew this as he continued, “It doesn’t make any sense financially. It doesn’t make any sense for where your family is right now. It doesn’t make any sense from a standpoint of comfort or safety or practicality. And I love it because in light of what many people value in this culture… It’s pretty stupid.”

You start tossing around terms like “transracial-adoption”, “adoption out of birth order”, “Reactive Attachment Disorder”, “open to special needs”, ETC, and ETC… and it rapidly becomes apparent, that we are biting off way more than we can chew.

He’s right. Beautifully right. We don’t have the time to do this or the money to do this or the parental expertise to do this. Are we ready? Probably not. Are our current children ready? They say they are (the ones who can actually talk). They’re not ready. But quite frankly… I wasn’t ready to be a husband on October 17th 2008, but I became on the very next day. I wasn’t ready to be a father to one. Or a father of two. I certainly wasn’t ready for three. We’re not qualified. We’re not at the right season in our life. We’re not rolling in benjamins. We’re not clicking on all cylinders. We’re certainly not on the verge of writing any books titled, “How To Successfully Parent Three Boys”. But yet, we’re about to add a fourth child to our family, drain our “savings”, and invest time in amounts we don’t have budgeted… yea… that’s only scratching the surface of how stupid this is. You start tossing around terms like “transracial-adoption”, “adoption out of birth order”, “Reactive Attachment Disorder”, “open to special needs” ETC, and ETC… and it rapidly becomes apparent, that we are biting off way more than we can chew.

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It’s going to be expensive and uncomfortable and time consuming and difficult. It will hurt at times. There will be times it will wound my wife and my children. It’s going upset our apple cart and stretch our budget and break our rhythms and require more than we have the capacity to give. It’s going to push us past the very limits of who we are as individuals and as a family. It’s going to be brutal… And it’s going to be beautiful.

It already is.

Imagine the deep sacrifices or risks people have taken in your life for your welfare. Stop and think about how illogical many of their actions were. And then you try to tell me, with a straight face, that love always takes root primarily in logic… I don’t think so. My parents scraped the bottom financially on countless occasions so I could have things I would never be able to pay them back for. My big sister used to stand up for me at risk to her own reputation (and once or twice her own health) against people bigger than the both of us put together. My mentors have given away time to me by the bucket loads even when it looked like I would never amount to anything. My wife has given me forgiveness even when it looked like I would never stop hurting her. My friends have given me friendship even when I was not offering it in return. Professors and teachers and pastors and strangers have given to me even if it meant loosing a little bit and sometimes a lot in the process. And Jesus at unimaginable cost purchased my adoption as a child of God.

Love can be a little illogical sometimes. A little risky sometimes. A little countercultural. A little expensive. A little painful. Uncomfortable. Time Consuming. Brutal. And yes, sometimes love might even be a little bit stupid.

Love can be a little illogical sometimes. A little risky sometimes. A little countercultural. A little expensive. A little painful. Uncomfortable. Time Consuming. Brutal. And yes, sometimes love might even be a little bit stupid. At least to those who cannot see the unfathomable worth of the reward and unimaginable depth of the joy.

And that’s what makes it beautiful.

We love somebody we have never met and have never seen. And that love making us act a little bit stupid.

And we want you to do some stupid things with us… Because wouldn’t that be beautiful!

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PUZZLE

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