They look SOOOOOOO tired and remorseful, don't they?!
I'm not sure if it's the constant lack of clothing, diapers that have to be taped on, the easy ability to climb in and out of their cribs at whim OR the complete LACK of any tiredness until 3:30, but I have an increasing feeling of dread that my quiet afternoons are coming to an end.
They're not even two for mercy's sake.
Monday, January 31, 2011
Posted by Amber at 11:58 AM
Friday, January 28, 2011
I can remember heading into the Lifesong event feeling fairly nervous, truthfully. I didn't want to let my emotions get in between Ryan and I. I didn't want my emotions to run ahead of God. I knew I'd be hearing about adoption, desiring to adopt, and was fearful of where that would leave my heart. I prayed so hard that I would just give it all over to God.
And so the evening went.
We saw presentations regarding each of the work going on in the individual countries Lifesong is involved. We heard the stories of children whose lives were changed through the endless ways Lifesong "looks after orphans in their distress." It was incredibly moving and inspiring . . . but I was doing ok.
Then a couple stood up and shared their adoption testimony of how God led them to adopt two infants from Ethiopia: virtual twins (adopted together but not siblings). There wasn't anything particular they said moved me. But the entire time they spoke, all I could do was look at those two babies and think of the oodles of baby stuff we had sitting around our house, the huge need for adoptive families, my heart's desire to adopt and prayed that one day, God would move Ryan and I together to act.
A little later that evening, those who were advocates for specific countries within Africa spoke. But the part that seared my heart was a video showed about Ethiopia (you can see a similiar one here ) and its utter poverty and orphan crisis. Again, I watched myself look at the total need that exists straight in the face of all we'd be given. It was painful to compare the difference.
On the way up, we'd both said out loud if we were going to adopt internationally, Ethiopia was largely the only available choice for us but we didn't feel called there at that moment. It's not that I think it has to be this big divine moment, but it's also enough of its own journey, that we both needed to be peaceful about it.
But as I watched and sat there that entire night, this time felt different. It was as if God was telling me, "Here's where I can use you." So I prayed God would give me a patient heart and the grace to sit on my emotions.
It was actually the evening's close that spoke so much to me. The husband and wife from FFH sang for us that night. And as they shared, God spoke to me. They had been through their own time of waiting and unknowns. They had learn their own journey of God's sufficiency. They had experienced their own brokenness . . .and the fruits that came as a result. In fact, I posted two of their songs here.
Every song they sang, seared me a little deeper. It was as if God was showing me my own journey of the past year and a half. He was showing me the beauty of being taught He is always more than enough. And in that night, I knew, that in the midst of my health, my dreams, and our family, if nothing else came from our journey, I would be ok because I had Him. He was my best. It wouldn't be an adoption. It wouldn't be fostering. It wouldn't be whatever "something" I wanted to do in His name. His best was Him.
Oh I still desired to adopt. Don't get me wrong. It was so painful in that moment to think God's best could be surrendering that dream. But that night, I was willing to, if that was God's best. Whether it meant moving forward or standing still, I wanted Him more. And I trusted Him with the hearts of both Ryan and I. It was painful . . . but it was peaceful.
As the night ended, it was all I could do to chit chat. Ryan had stopped and was talking with the couple who had adopted the two infants from Ethiopia and I wanted to avoid them. : ) But I stopped and talked (they were hard not to really like). In their eyes, all I could see was our baby and I just wanted to get upstairs and just be still. Yet Ryan kept talking . .. : )
We finally got upstairs and just looked at each other. I was refusing to speak because I didn't trust myself. I didn't want to corner him or pressure him. I wanted to hear what he'd thought of the night and was totally bracing myself to hear it was just one more great night to him and to be ok with that. But he kept pushing me to talk and finally I couldn't handle it and blurted out, "It's all I can do not to fly straight to Ethiopia and adopt two babies."
His mouth dropped and he just stared at me before he finally said, "me too."
Then he started talking. He said the moment God had really spoken to him was when JT Olsen, the founder of Both Hands project (something we hope to share much more about with you in the future) shared his own adoption testimony.
JT shared how his wife and children had always wanted to adopt but he'd been unwilling. Then one day he was up in their attic looking for something and came across all their old baby items. As he stared at each item, he was convicted how they already had everything they needed and that he had no real reason not to adopt. He went downstairs and told his wife he was finally willing.
Ryan said as he watched the couple whose testimony had touched me, that was all he could think as well. Especially as he also watched the video of the total need the exists in Ethiopia. The total poverty that children were being orphaned in was heartbreaking; on their own, they had little to no chance. He, too, felt like God was calling us to adopt from there.
The night was powerful, there isn't any other way to say it. We talked, we cried, we prayed. And yet what was so powerful was something else.
I told Ryan, "What is the most to absorb right now is that I feel totally free to pursue this."
For a year and a half, we'd had no real obstacle to pursue fostering other than the total weight of God's hand on our shoulder. That was gone and in its place was a total peace and excitement (in us both) to move forward.
Yet we also knew a huge mountain stood in our way: my health history and diagnosis. So together we prayed that if this was really of God, He would move all obstacles and pave the way for us to move forward.
The following morning was an awesome time of worship. It was still a time of surrender, though, in so many ways. For now it was both of our hearts desiring adoption and both of us having to trust God to be bigger than my health history. We were ready to move forward and not knowing if we'd have to die to this dream all over again.
As the group together sang "I surrender all," I couldn't sing by the second verse. And yet we did. We surrendered the dream and told God we were willing to move forward even if it meant heartbreak.
We went home that weekend and filled out our preapplication with All God's Children Internations (AGCI) -an incredible christian adoption agency that has been such a blessing to us.
There's what I think is a really neat story of God moving incredible mountains to bring us where we are today. Our preapplication took 2 1/2 months - incredibly longer than most other couples. But over and over God paved a way and spoke His promises to us. At some point, I'd love to share that with you. But frankly, I'm tired of writing about us. : )
It's my prayer you'll hear God in this story and not just a long Ryan and Amber saga. I was thinking last night if I could describe the biggest lesson God's taught me about adoption it isn't about a baby needing us or us needing a baby (although I'm sure there are those who could argue we don't need a baby at all ; ) ).
Adoption is all about us desperately needing Jesus; about me desperately needing Jesus. It's about a baby who desperately needs Jesus. It's about how much we've been given and praying our family can point others to the most beautiful adoption story there is. How God wants to write their own, or dare I say, your own, adoption story in the truest sense of its meaning.
And can I confess?
We're totally excited about a baby brother or sister at our house (biggest sister especially).
Posted by Amber at 12:08 PM
Thursday, January 27, 2011
And so our summer began with a lot of hope. Not many answers but a lot of hope.
Ryan and I sat down with some friends who had adopted and shared where we were at. We had some ideas for where we felt God was taking us but they involved a definite time of waiting. I was learning I thought I could be peaceful with that.
We went pretty quiet about it all and were trying to purposely sit and pursue God.
And then I started having some more health problems. A visit to my doctor resulted in a referral. A referral found me at the cardiologist. And suddenly I had a mild but diagnosed heart condition (sounds worse than it is by the way). It was quickly treated and improved but it was there.
Anyone who is a part of the adoption world knows that adoption dreams can die fast with health problems. They can delay them. They can stop them for good.
It was yet another emotional journey. But it became even more emotional as we considered the big picture. We had just seen God move us, together, in a new direction. And before it could even begin, it seemed to be ending. And in so many ways.
God was telling us, "seek Me." And amidst our wrestling, questions and unknowns, that was our daily goal. Some days I did it more gracefully than others. Some days, it was more than I could handle. But God kept pursuing me and I was finally listening.
Throughout that summer, we saw a couple other health scares. At times it seemed like each scare happened as we tried to pursue even some direction with adoption. Every single scare not only sobered us, but seemed to mock the desire we felt God had given us to adopt. Every single time we'd fall before God and say, "Is this dream over?" and we'd hear, "Trust me. Pursue me."
God was merciful and the scares were just that: scares.
By the end of the summer, I was feeling pretty beaten down. I felt an intimacy with God I hadn't known for a long time . . .and at the same time? I was starting to doubt my ability to hear His voice and understand. The ups and downs of the summer had shaken that and all I could do was keep falling on my knees over and over and over. I can remember finally breaking down one day at Bible Study, sharing our standstill, and asking my friends to pray that we could have wisdom and discern God's voice.
In a conversation that day, as I listened to my friends talk, God convicted me again that I was still trying to control the journey. While He had taught me much, I was still making it too much about me. I was still pushing too hard for the next thing and making His "wait" about something. I wasn't pursuing the joy of serving Him. And He was asking me, once and for all, "am I enough?"
That day I went home and purposed I wasn't going to talk about it other than with God and Ryan. . .and that I was going to do everything I could do to let even Ryan lead any discussion. I purposed that Ryan was going to make this choice for our family and that I was going to sit with God and trust Him to move me alongside him. I purposed that I was going to pursue God. He had to be the one to move any and all mountains in our way. Period.
After a summer of health issues, I was finally willing to let go in a new way.
And so our fall began. There were days I bit my tongue. There were days I was frustrated and inpatient. There were days God and I talked in circles. Yet I grabbed hold of Him and held on for all I could.
I tried to avoid reading about adoption but it still drew me in. I'd always felt a huge love towards Africa; but anyone who knows anything about the country knows it's hard not to fall in love with Africa the more you know and the more you see. So over and over I took my heart to God.
Mid fall, one night while in bed, Ryan said he'd been thinking and was wondering about foster care again. I was floored and I struggled. For in this down time, my heart was sold on adopting.
Yet this was what I had prayed for - right? For Ryan to take the initiative and lead us.
Praying, I responded where my heart had been. It was a hard night. We both felt defeated. Yet I can remember looking at him and saying, "I refuse to let satan win tonight. We aren't letting him divide us with this." And together we prayed for God's wisdom and leading and I began to plead with God to change my heart for my husband.
Looking back, I believe with my whole heart God used that night to change me. For it's the first night I began pursuing the dream of someone else and not just mine. We laid it all before God and purposed to wait on anything until God moved us together.
In October, Ryan and I were able to travel to Magdalena, MX to visit some close friends at an orphanage. I remember wondering if God would move that weekend in Ryan and I to give us direction. But I purposed to be present that weekend and not miss out on the blessing there while looking for writing on the wall.
The weekend was so good. It was great to get away and be with Ryan. It was great to be with friends. It was awesome seeing the kids and seeing God at work in their lives. And can I say this? It was great to go home.
I can remember thinking on the way home, "That was so neat to see God at work in such a powerful way. But this is what it feels like to know God has not called me to this." I could support it and pray for it and love it . . .and not need to be a part of it.
A devotional I read puts it so well, "God never wants you to be disobedient to Him as you serve others' needs. No matter how great a need may be, if there is no Godly answer, we have to wait in godly obedience instead of taking an ungodly detour . . .when you understand that true love does not mean we have to meet all the needs others have, we are free to act biblically towards them."
The need of children everywhere is overwhelming. I really struggled with that. It had been hard for me to say "no" to something and not feeling like I was abandoning someone. Yet God had taught me much in the past year.
I firmly believe God can use all of us some way when it comes to orphan care (I don't mean just by actually adopting or fostering yourself). Yet adoption or foster care can be romanticised and beautiful. It is both of those. But it can also be painful, hard and gritty. It wasn't anything I wanted to enter into on my own.
I was finally learning to trust God for my part in it and trust HIM with the rest. But I wanted God to show us our place in it and not be the one asserting myself in it. I finally felt like I was beginning to understand the peace that comes with that.
I came home feeling a freedom to trust God, even if it meant rewriting my plans again. And I began to pray more fervently that God would move the hearts of Ryan and I together again as He had before . . .even if that meant I was the one to change. I still felt adoption was where God had taken my heart but I was willing to trust Him to be bigger than either of us and our emotions.
In the beginning on November I got a call from Ryan's mom.
We had received an invite to an event put on by Lifesong to help inform individuals who supported the ministry. It was a way to help them understand the different aspects of the ministry and how God was at work. I had seen the invite and initially kind of dreaded the thought (to go and come home disappointed that we weren't moving forward in some way).
I didn't want to put Ryan in a position he felt cornered into something (as we both knew my heart was still in adoption). I knew we didn't have available sitters and that's the last I remember thinking of it. I had put it on a stack of papers and forgotten all about it.
I'd also forgotten you needed to RSVP. : ) So Barb was calling to see if we were going.
I opened my mouth to say no and couldn't. Literally. I didn't know why but I could not make myself say no. So I said I'd talk to Ryan and get back to them.
Ryan and I talked that night. For some reason I felt like we were supposed to be there. I didn't know why. I had zero expectations in going. But I absolutely felt if we didn't try to make it work, we were disobeying God. So we started searching for sitters.
After trying to figure things out, the only option that seemed in front of us was to pay an overnight sitter. Nothing about this seemed practical. Nothing about it made sense, but again, the weight to make it work remained and we made arrangements.
And I began praying I wouldn't create any expectations for the weekend. : )
On a whim, the week leading up to the weekend we decided to fill out an assessment form with Loving Shepherd ministries. It helps line you up with your best adoption match in countries (and is free : ) ). It looks at your family demographics, finances, your health and age alongside your adoption interests (age, gender, etc). You're then provided with all the information of possible country programs to consider. I printed it off and didn't really look at it further.
On the way up to Chicago, Ryan and I thought it'd be kind of fun to look at the information we had. We hadn't made any decisions about our family and were both just feeling open and wanting God's best.
I read out loud and we talked about it. It quickly became pretty clear that if we adopted now, Ethiopia was one of the few countries we could consider (due to our family dynamics, aspects of my health and our ages). We didn't really talk about it more but it just felt like good information to know.
So with that all behind us, we walked into the event with very little expectations and having no idea what God had in store.
To be continued (and finished : ) ) tomorrow.
Posted by Amber at 7:09 PM
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
I've had several people tell me they want to hear the details of what brought us to adopting. So in order to save myself writing more than a few emails, I thought I'd share an attempted version of how God brought our family to pursue adoption and promise to try and abbreviate it some. : )
Ryan and I have always had a heart for anything orphan care related. I can remember first falling in love with adoption in early high school. For the first time, I had the privilege to see adoption first hand through family friends (it's also where I first fell in love with the name Ava) and I can still remember the moment I saw that baby girl for the first time and knew God was whispering something to my heart. Her story was miraculous and beautiful.
In college, both Ryan and I got to know and appreciate a family that had answered the call to foster care. We both got to know the children, see them grow, see their lives be changed by a family who knew Jesus, and again, both our hearts were touched.
From the time Ryan and I were an "us," we talked about orphan care being a part of our family. I was fairly open to where ever God would take us while Ryan felt strongly that Christian families were needed domestically (and they are!). I was totally content with the thought of that and foster care became our family's "plan."
Then we were blessed with our girls. Ava came along and foster care was still in the plans. We actively prayed about how God wanted to use us and felt we would have 3 kids and start our foster care journey. Ahh, don't you love clear cut plans?! : )
We became pregnant again and we still had these dreams. And then we found out it was twins. :
While this isn't something I've shared to many, one of the hardest aspects of learning we were having twins for me was that it meant one less pregnancy. I have loved babies as long as I can remember. I'm someone who loves being pregnant - discomforts and all (although having twins diminshed that a little ; )). I actually struggled with the idea of feeling like I'd "lost" one of those experiences. Especially if I considered the fact that if we stuck with our "plan" of 3 kids, I wouldn't have that chance to carry and have a newborn again.
Over the course of several years, we had the blessing of walking alongside several friends adopting. The more I read, the more I saw, and the more exposed I was to the need for orphan care around us (everywhere), the more certain both Ryan and I were that God were calling us to be used. And we kept thinking foster care was our call.
When the twins were about 6 months old, I started really struggling with contentment just day to day. Granted my life was all about little girls, but I felt God whispering something more to my heart. I longed to doing something "big" for Him. I wanted to change the world for Him. I wanted to do. Please notice the "I."
For several months, God and I really struggled. I kept telling Him my plans. I kept telling Him my wants. I kept telling Him my timeline.
I struggled seeing others move forward with their plans in life and was trying to control and figure out our own family's future. Ryan and I had talked about our plans (often at my pressing) and when the twins were almost 1, we decided we'd go ahead and pursue moving forward with foster care. After all, the need was huge, we were able and what could be wrong with that?
That winter, we started telling a few friends of our plans to move forward. There wasn't any big reason not to. Yet I can still distinctly remember the moment it first came out of my lips and feeling puzzled why I didn't feel excited. In fact, I felt heavy. It didn't make sense. We'd talked about and planned to foster care for as long as I could remember.
I can remember a night with several women from church where some really good conversations were had. I was still struggling with contentment overall and I can remember one of the mentoring moms sharing an opportunity God had brought to her recently and how thankful she was for the timing of it. She mentioned, "If God would have given this to me when I was younger, I would have made it all about me. But today, I'm so humbled, it can only be because of Him and about Him."
I went home so convicted that night and talked to Ryan about it. But again, the pulling I felt, had to be for us to pursue this. I could concede I was pushing some, but the need was huge. God was moving others to foster. There was more support and more information than ever. God "needed us" and we needed to respond.
In my total pride, we moved forward. I called a local agency and requested paperwork to begin the process.
The paperwork arrived and after a brief look through it all, it sat on our counter and mocked me for weeks. For with every new day, I was convicted more and more that I was taking us somewhere very dangerous: ahead of God.
The opportunity in front of us was becoming a huge burden on my heart. I was miserable. With my whole heart I wanted to be the one God had called to this, but every time we tried to pursue it, I felt the weight of God's hand on my shoulder saying, "Wait for me. Pursue me like this."
Then, I started having some migraine headaches occasionally. They came largely out of nowhere (I had experienced a few in high school/college) and began increasing. It got to a point I would have 1 - 3 a week. Suddenly, no matter how much I wanted to, our family wasn't moving forward with anything.
God had my full attention. As we tried to figure out the cause of my migraines, I had to stop and sit. God whittled away at my totally sinful and prideful heart. It was painful and emotional, but I finally began to see the joy of pursuing my God more than that "something." While "wait" still seemed hard, I wanted His "wait," more than my way.
I realized the beauty of embracing my girls in the present instead of chasing what was next. I began to learn the fullness that comes from really breathly my Savior in deeply. And I started to learn I wanted God's dreams even if it meant giving up every one of mine. But oh that was scary for me to fathom.
After seeing some doctors, we figured out the main cause of my migraines. We ran tests and were thankful to have anything overly concerning eliminated. I was able to find solutions to my migraines and they began to lessen and spread out. Yet God's "no and wait" didn't change.
God had most definitely used this time to change me. But that doesn't mean it was easy. I still wrestled to learn what simply resting in Him looked like. I struggled letting Him be enough. Some days were easier. But other days I felt like Jacob: wrestling an angel for God's blessing. I was willing to accept "wait," but I wanted God's promise of "someday."
Late spring of 2010, I happened to see a small conference being put on at a church an hour away that intrigued me. It was advertised as being a foster care and adoption conference but emphasized the foster care process (in fact, almost entirely). I thought, "Perfect! Here's something we can do while we wait" and Ryan and I planned to attend.
At this point in our journey, I had largely been leading the way. It wasn't ever that Ryan wasn't willing. He totally was. But the more I sought God, instead of just wanting "my way," I became convicted that I needed to step aside and let my husband take the reigns for the remainder of our journey where he belonged. I had long told Ryan I didn't mind gently pushing him to the cliff, but I refused to ever make him jump. I had toed that line more than once and it was time for me to step back.
Now anyone who knows Ryan and I, knows Ryan would never be described as the "emotional" of us two. I carry that pretty well on my own. : ) But as I began praying that God would move Ryan to start directing our family's steps, I also began praying that God would give Ryan a passion and excitement for our next step; not just a willingness. After having pushed for so long, I didn't want that for any part of our future.
And so I prayed and prayed. . . . and wrestled.
As we drove to the conference that night, out of nowhere, Ryan glanced over at me and said, "I need to tell you that I really have lost all desire to foster care." I can still remember the look on his face as he looked over at me and braced for my disappointment.
Yet disappointment never came.
Instead, I answered immediately, "I feel like I should feel disappointment, but all I feel is relief." We had a great conversation the rest of the way as we realized we didn't have a single idea where God was going to take us but we were finally willing to let go of all our preconceived plans and just listen. We decided we had nothing to lose by staying at the conference and went on in.
Well, God had different ideas that night. Would you believe that the entire evening was spent on adoption? And largely international adoption?
I was so disappointed at first. While Ryan and I had talked on the way there that we'd consider adoption, we still felt strongly it should be domestic adoption.
Add to that? It was all fairly elementary information that I thought I pretty well knew. But after a while, I stopped talked to God (detect a theme in my life yet?!) and just absorbed it all.
Towards of the end of the night, a couple stood up who had done it all. They had adopted domestically. They had adopted internationally. They had fostered. They had adopted from foster care. They had seen adoptions fall through. As the husband shared a little, he finally ended with these words,
"If there is one thing I have learned through all our experiences, it is that this is a journey you do not push. Be willing to sit back and trust God."
I knew if for no other reason than hearing those words, God had put me in that room at that time. But He had other purposes that night too.
God lit a spark that night.
I realized how much my heart was in adoption. Period. I didn't know what that looked like for us but for the first time in over a year, I felt an excitement for what God could have in store. I didn't feel a need to push or rush. I felt like we were sitting exactly where God wanted us to be and felt the total weight of trying to make foster care work, gently lifted off my shoulders.
That night on the way home, God continue to move. I sat back in awe as I watch an answered prayer in Ryan. He had a heart for adoption. Granted, he'd always had an heart for adoption. But this time, it was for us. He had dreams about it, plans and ideas for us. And remember how elementary I thought the information on adoption was?
Well, sometimes we forget guys don't talk like girls do. Sometimes we forget that they don't get the chance to read adoption stories and learn about the process on blogs during nap time. : ) For the first time, Ryan was able to really understand the in's and out's of the process and feel God pull his heart to adopt.
We didn't know the how and we didn't know the where but we knew God was in it and were willing to wait for Him to show us.
to be continued . . .
Posted by Amber at 12:15 PM
Monday, January 24, 2011
Kate's thrilled - can't you tell?!
Mommy and Daddy truly are.
We hope to bring home our new addition/s from Ethiopia in the next 1 1/2 - 2 years, most likely, although we wouldn't argue with sooner. : ) At this point, we aren't specifying beyond 0 - 12 month infant.
It's been a roller-coaster of a ride that I may share in more detail at some point . . .but seeing God so clearly walk through every detail of this journey with us thus far has brought an overwhelming peace and anticipation for the even longer journey still ahead.
His best is so much more than we could have ever imagined and for that we give Him thanks.
"For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love." Lamentations 3:32
Posted by Amber at 5:48 PM
Friday, January 21, 2011
Last week we had another great snowfall. At dinner, Ava asked to go out and we figured, "why not!?" So Daddy was an awesome sport and took all 3 of the girls out with him. I actually think I had the better end of the deal just getting to watch them have their fun (while I worked on a clean house : ) ). I wish I could have recorded their giggles.
What a fun dad!
Posted by Amber at 2:21 PM
Thursday, January 20, 2011
I mentioned my girls are really growing up? They are. And one of the biggest differences I see if in their relationship I see developing with each other. There's more and more playing together and alongside each other. Don't get me wrong, I still break up many an argument. But they're really discovering the fun of their relationship and it's so special to watch.
I can't wait to watch these girls continue to grow up.
Posted by Amber at 2:10 PM
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Ava is obsessed with playing Mary and Joseph lately and I often get asked to play (after all, Mary does need a Joseph). Although it made me chuckle to myself the first time we played as I started to talk and Ava said, "NOOO mom, you have a girl voice." : ) I think she makes a pretty adorable Mary.
Posted by Amber at 2:04 PM
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Over New Year's we headed up to my parents to celebrate and be with them. My sister, Amy, and her family ended up joining us last minute. It was so fun to be up there, relax, and see the kids have such a ball together.
Daddy and Olivia first time down
At one point I couldn't find Olivia. Then I looked inside the toy closet and found her just hiding out. I totally understood. Sometimes we all just need a little piece and quiet. : )
And with that, our Christmases were finally done. Back to real life. : )
Posted by Amber at 1:04 PM
Monday, January 17, 2011
Christmas afternoon we head to Ryan's Grandpa's for the evening. It's a whirlwind day but always good to be with him. Here's a few shots I did get.
Posted by Amber at 1:00 PM