Lexi, ICWA, and the choice to love anyways


Raise your hand if you were traumatized by the video of Lexi being removed from her foster parent’s home.

Yeah. Me too.

I’ve read multiple articles expressing varied views, some in favor of the Choctaw Nation and seeing this as a victory for the tribe and a loss for the father, some in favor of ICWA in general, some in direct support of the Page family as they seek to get Lexi back, and perhaps most importantly the Court of Appeals Order.

I don’t really trust any of the stories I’m hearing in their entirety, but I do know the system. It is broken. But it’s also working with broken pieces. Some articles paint Lexi’s biological parents as villains, others as victims – they were probably somewhere in between. Her bio mom had already lost a battle to methamphetamine and with that had lost custody of at least six kids prior to Lexi. Bio Dad also lost custody of at least one other child, and is described as having an “extensive criminal history”. Lexi is 1/64th Indian, subjecting her to ICWA, and was described as a child who “bonded and thrived with her foster family.” The words and thrived stick in my throat. That said, the family she’s en route to, while demonized by many news outlets, first petitioned for her in 2011 and have been skyping with and visiting Lexi for years.

See, I bet some of that was new information to you. And that’s only a fraction of the details in play here.

As an Adoption Attorney and Orphan Care Advocate, I probably read some of these things with a different filter than many. ICWA isn’t new news to me – I think it’s the wrong solution to a problem. My brain does a few somersaults and sees the many conundrums and legal precedents that are butting up against each other.

As a human-being-with-a-heartbeat, I’m guessing we feel the same after we read these things. My heart twinges and breaks and aches as it seems like broken stories are only further broken. I hear so much being argued about competing rights, and a little girl named Lexi seems lost in the fray. Much like victims of frenzied stampedes in crowded places.

And I can’t help but think there could be another victim here too. More vulnerable only because it is easier to ignore, easier to overlook.

It’s the hearts of all those who stand on the edge of love. Wholehearted, fierce, unrelenting love. Especially those who stand on the verge of foster parenting and say “see, that’s why I could never do that.”

I won’t pretend I haven’t thought that as stories like this unfold.

Though to be honest, isn’t a story like this exactly why we need more and more foster families willing to risk wholehearted love? Shouldn’t every foster child “bond and thrive” with their foster families? Some of the tragic and untold stories are of foster homes where love isn’t offered at all. Science tells us that attachment is one of the most important things a child can experience at a young age. In that, the Pages offered Lexi – and whatever family she grows up with – a priceless and irreplaceable gift.

But I get it. Love is scary. Love is risky.

As a new bride, I was scared to be all-in on this love thing. Because that meant placing my heart in the most vulnerable position of all: potential utter devastation if anything ever disrupted this marriage. Like, say, a heart-attack that could take my husband’s life at age 39. About two years into our marriage, I realized I was about 99% in, holding this tiny fragment of myself as a means of self-protection, as if I could ensure I’d “be okay” if anything ever happened. I woke up one night and realized the bigger regret would be to have not loved wholly and fully and without self-preservation intact. And when that heart attack did strike on February 19, you better believe I was glad that none of my tears were ones of regret.

A lot of us try to live in the land of love and self-preservation at the same time. But they are different places with different currencies and different languages. Eventually you have to choose one.

And while we can inhale deep breaths of concern and exhale deep breaths of prayer for this situation, a lot of us are wondering if there’s anything more we can do. Well honestly, for Lexi, probably very little. For the Pages, maybe some money or some cards and meals. For the law, you can use your voice to call Congress, sign petitions, and lobby for either side you support.

But maybe the bigger thing you can do is dare to love. Fiercely and wholeheartedly. To not let a story like this kill the part of yourself that would dare to risk. That would dare to be broken. To hate the ICWA and love the Lexi in your life – in the situation that’s messy, that makes you vulnerable, and that guarantees you nothing beyond today. Maybe that’s an aging parent with dementia. Maybe that’s a spouse with a terminal illness. Maybe that’s a foster child, Indian or otherwise. Maybe it’s the drug addict that doesn’t show up for Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s the student that makes you question teaching.

Maybe it’s anyone we love. Because “[t]o love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

While the Pages may come out of this with some things they’d change, I can bet on one thing they’ll never regret: loving Lexi.



Love Looks Like …


Love does win. But I see a lot more questions than answers about what that means, what love looks like, and what loses when it wins. Most days I don’t have answers to most of the questions. But there are five days a year that I can tell you exactly what love looks like. And exactly how it wins.

It’s probably fair to say that the week I spend each year as a part of Royal Family Kids Camp is my favorite-worst-week of the year. You guys, it’s exhausting. And my body reminds me of that with each moment I awake in a camp-bunk-bed (notice I said moment, not morning, because someone did not exactly sleep soundly). It’s hot and dusty and endless hours without quiet. Oh and there’s that pesky little thing of confronting child abuse. I will tell you, there is nothing fiercer in this life than looking into the eyes of a ten year old who has been intentionally abandoned by his mother, or a six year old who awakes each night to the terror of her mother’s recent death, or the stiff upper lip of an eight year old who has learned how to live on defense as it seems the whole world plays against him. But I will also tell you that there is nothing more enchanting than seeing those eyes start to believe they are treasured, and those dreams beginning to feel safe, and faith that someone out there actually has your back.

It’s only five days. But it’s five days of knowing exactly what love looks like.

Love looks like … Preparation. Anticipation.

A hundred+ volunteers gather a day before a single camper sets foot on camp. To prepare. To anticipate. To color. To decorate. To set the stage.

One of my absolute favorite moments of all is when the counselors and staff gather on the lawns just as the camper buses are about to arrive. Signs with each campers’ name are held close in the hands of their counselor. The cheers and the hollers that go out as the bus rounds the corner chokes me up big time. Every. Time.

Because love prepares. Love anticipates. Love is so dang excited to meet you.

And so it is with Jesus. He who prepares a place for us (1 John 14:3), who prepares a table before me in thIMG_9852e presence of my enemies (Ps. 23:5). This year, I got to help set up the tea party table. Anything whimsical will do. Throughout the week, I know that each camper will don a silly dress-up costume and talk with a British accent, and we will say “when in doubt, pinkies out” more times than I can count.

Their enemies – both the ones inside and the ones that are waiting for them at “home” – don’t go away. But still I set the table. And I see my God in this. Preparing tables for me in the midst of my enemies. And moreso, preparing a Kingdom. One that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

Love looks like … Anger. Wrath.

Surprised? Me too. See, I’ve read “the love passage”. I know that it’s patient and kind and long-suffering. But it’s also angry. Not forever (Jeremiah 3:12), but I gotta say that I kind of like a love that can get angry.

Some people express their anger towards inanimate objects. I may or may not have uttered words of scorn and hatred towards my computer, slow internet connections, bad phone reception, and general technology this week, only to realize that really I wasn’t angry about any of those things, but about the unbelievably helpless feeling one has when an eight-year-old wears a diaper to bed.

Love gets angry. Thank God. Literally. Because you know what, I like a God who says his wrath is poured out against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. I know there are a lot of debates about what’s ungodly and unrighteous. But those debates expire in the face of child abuse.

I’m also grateful that wrath isn’t our destiny. Two years ago, I spent months and months wrapped up in anger. Deep, intense, bitter anger. Coming from deep, intense hurt. I was confused, fearful, and felt tossed away and discarded from a place that had felt safe. You guessed it: from a Church. You guys, I’ve never known such disorienting anger before.

Months later, I stepped foot back in that same Church. I would have said my anger had dissipated. A little, at least. The minute I crossed the threshold, I knew it hadn’t. And all I wanted was to be right about it. To be allowed to be angry. To hold my arms tight across my chest and say “nuh-uh, we aren’t going to be friends.” And I really didn’t want to hear one more Christian-ese-quote about getting better instead of bitter. See, I expected God to say what I had heard a lot of Christians say. He didn’t. Instead, He said, “Me too. I’m angry too.” He says that, you know, when one of His kids has been hurt. He gets real mad.

But then a Pastor took the stage and started talking about the Cross. How the wrath of God, while right, while righteous (yesssss, I’m listening … I know all about righteous wrath), was collected and poured out at the Cross. And you know, I feel real good about that when I’m shielded by that Cross as anger or frustration is cast at me. But when I’m doing the hurling, when the insults are on the tip of my tongue and the rotten fruit is in my grasp, it’s real hard to think of Christ’s cross shielding them.

Feeling that anger, giving space to all the feels, even the uncomfortable ones, is a big part of understanding God’s heart. Towards us, for us, and with us. A God who is fierce enough to get angry. But also gracious enough to collect all of the world’s wrath and let it break HIM instead of us.

Love looks like … Celebration.

One time we got a puppy. You can read more about that here. She’s taught me a lot about celebrating. Because, see, when you spend thousands of dollars on a dog’s knee surgery, and then months recovering not only from the surgery itself but also being “that girl” who sacrificed her credit card at the vet’s altar, when you’ve sat in the vet’s office judging all those that came in wearing matching scarves with their cat (not a joke) and carrying dogs on purple pillows (also not a joke) only to realize that the only thing separating you from them is one degree of crazy … well, when that becomes part of your story, so does celebration. Because dang it, every time this pup runs after a ball or chases me down the beach, I celebrate. I celebrate the heck out of every step she takes. I know how much they cost.

So at camp, there’s this thing we call “The Variety Show”. Think talent show, but intentionally substitute the word ‘variety’. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some real talent too, but mostly variety. Any camper can get up on stage and do any act they want. Tell a joke. Sing a song. Build a human-pyramid. Every camper is encouraged to participate. None is required to.

Our job is simple. To celebrate. And I’m talking scream-like-a-banchee-whoop-and-holler when someone hits the last note of their song no matter how off key it was. And we mean it. Because it’s not about the act. It’s about the actor. It’s about saying “You, YES YOU, are worth jumping up and down like a crazy person for.” If you’ve ever heard the song ‘Undignified’, you may have, like me, thought it rather ironic that most churches sing it in a very dignified manner, carefully enunciating each syllable of “I will be-come ev-en more un-dig-ni-fied than this.” My God, I sure hope so.

But at camp, we really do get undignified. Nothing makes your heart swell faster than watching grown men (most of whom wear business suits 51 weeks out of the year) get up and dance to the tunes of a ten-year-old “rock band.” Nothing.

I can’t help but wonder whether it’s what God means when He says He will “rejoice over you with gladness … and exult over you with loud singing.” (Zeph. 3:17)

Because love celebrates. Love celebrates because love knows what it costs. Love celebrates because it’s not about the talent, but the variety.

And Love looks like … more.

There’s always more. I mean, really, I can’t tell you how much I love the people who spend five days each year of their own vacation time and their own money to come and give it away here. It’s not just family for the kids. These volunteers are also my family. I would fight for them. And I don’t even know most of their last names.

Still, it’s just five days. And as much as I love what can be accomplished in that wee week, I leave every year with that tug that there’s more. And it looks so very different for everyone. I’ve shared before about the statistics that moved me out of my seat and broke my hard candy shell. Those still move me. I mean, really, I’d love to put this camp out of business. And really, that’s so very doable. Not easy, but doable. I think this generation could be the one to end the world’s orphan crisis. Or at least severely disarm it. The orphaned population is at the root of just about every social justice issue that haunts us.

At camp we give out pins, little “badges” for the kids to collect as they do activities like ziplining, swimming, hiking, etc. Little mementos to say “yeah, you did that.” One of the pins is a ‘good deed pin’, a way for their selfless good deeds to be acknowledged and rewarded, everything from showing kindness to a younger camper to busing the table for one of the senior volunteers. It’s unscripted, and the good deeds abound.

But this, this orphan care crisis is not about good deeds. It’s not about collecting badges and pins. For the Christian, it should forever and foremost be an outflow of God’s heartbeat, His DNA, because He describes Himself as an adoptive father. One who has cared for orphans. Us. You and me. God says He gives us the “spirit of adoption” so that we can call him Daddy. We are rescued in order to rescue. Anything else is just empty and dumb. And will last about as long as a good deed pin.

And “rescue” takes all kinds of shape and form. There’s no automatic prescription and there are great minds and hearts around the world debating the best ways to help without hurting. So I don’t know what it looks like for each one of us. But I know that love looks like more. There’s more to give. And there’s oh so much more to receive.


#tbt to that time I DIDN’T FINISH THE STORY!


Hong Kong

GAH! Remember that time I went to China and blogged about the power and the romance and the anticipation of it all and THEN TOTALLY BAILED ON FINISHING THE STORY!? Not that it’s finished, because really it’s still just beginning. But our nephew Johnathan is now home. There is one less orphan on this planet. He now knows about Aunties and Uncles and Grandmas and Grandpas and CHRISTMAS.

In fact, one of my favorite things about Christmas this year was watching our nieces and nephews play. On my husband’s side of the family, all of the kiddos are adopted. One from Russia, Johnathan from China, and our niece is “locally made”. There’s some kind of fascinating miracle taking place as God weaves this side of the family out of and through adoption.

Since they say a picture is worth a thousand words, I’m going to make up for my long silence, and just add a few words of my own about welcoming international adoption. And welcoming a nephew home from China.

First things first. It’s amazing. He’s amazing.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy by any means, nor does it run perfectly. Adoption is filled with questions, some with answers, some not so much.

It was incredible to be there for all the firsts. His first game of catch with his new big brother. His first (but certainly not last) tantrum. His first Thanksgiving and Christmas. But above all, his first giggle. Not his first giggle in this life, but in this family. See, it was clear he had been well loved by his caretakers. Thanks be to God, He had much to grieve. But grief is never something you want someone to experience. Those first few days and nights were brutal as his heart (and lungs) cried out in confusion and terror. See, his mom and dad knew him, had prayed for him, longed for him, worked hard to get to him. But to him they were just strangers that had shown up one day and taken him away from the nanny he loved. We were in the hotel room next door, taking care of his older brother, and let’s just say that the thin walls ensured that no one got too much sleep those first few nights. This is just one more parallel I see in adoption of a child and our adoption as children of God. Just because it’s “done” in one moment, in the signature on a page, doesn’t mean that the new identity is understood, or even liked, right away. Still, being part of a family is always > than being part of an institution, so it’s worth the work. On both sides.

Since we were there as part of their support team, we got a front row seat for what international adoption looks like through the eyes of an auntie. It looks like …

… Eating a lot of hotel food. You do what’s easy. But you also splurge on things like ice cream fondue. Come on America, let’s get THIS going.


… Building a lot of Legos. There’s a lot of paperwork to wait on.

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… Some exploring. Some tea-ing. We may or may not have been talked into some expensive teas. #wheninchina

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… Fake mustaches. Aka ways to make the hours pass.

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… Games of tag in front of ancient temples.


… Reminding yourself over and over that ‘sad is not bad.’ I’m a big proponent of this truth. Sad says that something matters. Still, sad is not fun.


… That priceless first giggle. Again, not his first ever. But first to our ears. A hard-earned, well-deserved giggle after days of tears and screams (sad is not bad, sad is not bad, sad is not bad). It took a few days to get a tentative smile, then a grin, and finally full out giggles as he took tiny steps into the heart of his family, and welcomed them into his own.


… Finding new and creative forms of recreation. New Zealand introduced us to Zorbing. China introduced us to Zorbing on the water. VERY sad that it was for kids only! (sad is not bad, sad is not bad, sad is not bad … it just means I have to keep exploring until I DO find this for adults :))!


… Finding yourself amongst so many other stories, all gathered in the city of Ghangzhou for the final leg of the trip to process US Embassy paperwork.


… Being home for Christmas. And soon, EASTER.

Johnathan Christmas

Happy #tbt everyone.


He doesn’t know


Today we meet Johnathan, our newest nephew whose first home was here in China. Today his forever-parents hold him for the first time. Today his six-year old brother finally gets “to pick up his baby.”

I have lots of big feelings about it.

He’s been loved for a long time. Even before his face was known (and COME ON, could there be a cuter melt-Auntie-Boo’s-heart-face!?). But he doesn’t know it.

His adoption has been in process for years, even before he was conceived. But he doesn’t know it.

We’ve been en route for several days. But he doesn’t know it.

He doesn’t know that there’s a space already reserved for him at the Thanksgiving table. Or that there’s a Christmas stocking already hung by the chimney with his name on it. He doesn’t know that he has a mom and a dad and a brother. And aunties and uncles. And a nana and a grandpa doc. He doesn’t know all that is waiting for him.

Wow, right? It’s beautiful and crazy and amazing and insane.

He also doesn’t know that the life he’s had – for better and for worse – is about to change. Forever. That he’s not just on a car ride for the day, but he has left the only place he’s known as home. That he will be leaving his culture in exchange for another. That those who will become family will first be strangers. That he might be scared, even though there’s nothing to fear.

We’ve been anticipating him. But he has no way of anticipating us.

There’s a beautiful parallel in this when you think about God calling us His adopted kids. He pursued us when we didn’t even know He was coming. He planned and prepped things we could never imagine for ourselves. I love this imagery and I think it’s a powerful part of the adoption process.

But I also find myself mindful of the grief to come. His grief. It’s inevitable. Every adoption story has it. There is inherent loss for every adopted child, no matter how great the love or family offered to him.

I don’t know his story until now. There’s much of it that we’ll never know. But he has one. And while I’m so excited to be a part of the rest of his story, to be his Auntie Boo, I can’t help but wonder whether he has other Aunties that even now are sad to say goodbye to him. I hope so. I hope that he’s been loved well his first fourteen months. I hope there’s something much to grieve.

Because there’s much to celebrate.  And he doesn’t know it – yet. It may, in fact, take quite awhile for him to know either the grief or the gain. And that’s ok – it’s why God’s placing him in a family, so he will have a safe place for both. Again, such a picture of the gospel.

So today, while it will be filled with photographs and paperwork and smiles and squeals and questions and (some) answers, and the beginning of a new family, first it’s a reflection of this ancient, timeless truth:

In this is love, not that we first loved Him, but that He first loved us. We love because He first loved us. – 1 John 4:10, 19


One more week, One less orphan


There are one hundred and fifty three million orphans on this planet.

Next week there will be one less.

He’s our newest nephew. And we are boarding a plane this morning to join his new parents and brother for the final two weeks of their adoption adventure in China.

It’s not just that we’re suckers for an international trip. I mean, really, I haven’t turned down a stamp in my passport yet. But we’re also suckers for this adoption thing. It’s powerful. It’s love in action. It’s redemption. And we’ve been lucky enough to walk alongside multiple family and friends as love welcomes another child home. This time we get a front-row seat for all the firsts.

Now, here’s the part where I confess that I always thought if I was making an adoption-trek to China, it would be to bring home MY very own babe. In fact, years ago, I was the one googling china-based adoption agencies and medical definitions (nearly all of China’s approved adoptions are for “special needs” kiddos). My arms ached to hold a child, and my attention turned towards those who were aching to be held.

And then we didn’t qualify financially. Cue a hard left turn in my heart. Or more like a brick wall. Yes, China requires a certain financial threshold that we didn’t have. There wasn’t really an explanation of why China had planted in my heart as THE PLACE – but it was. And really, it’s not that drastic of a threshhold, but for two kids who had thwarted the idea of the “American Dream”, we fell short. I was devastated. Not only had my womb failed me, but now my bank account had as well.

Many twists and turns, including a failed domestic adoption, have shaped our road since then – most of them unexpected, none of them leading us to parenthood so far, but all of them a deep part of making us the couple who’s jumping on a plane to China today.

See, when I heard that there were 153 million orphans on this planet, I knew. I had no doubt. No doubt that we were to play a part in changing that number. I didn’t know how yet, but you don’t really need to know the final step to take the first one.

I’d also heard that it would only take 7% of the world’s Christians to END the orphan crisis. 153 million orphans is a lot, until you compare it to 2.2 billion Christians. Those numbers floored me. But another number jumped out and grabbed me: 93%. If adoption is close to God’s heart (and it is). If He’s commanded His people to take care of the world’s orphans (and He has). If ending the crisis would only take 7% of His people to respond (and it would). Then what about the other 93%? What might God be calling them to do? And it’s this … to just say yes. Just say yes to whatever part God is asking you to play, and trust Him to be big enough to tell you whether that’s part of the 7% or the 93%.

As much as God’s Word talks about adoption (hint: lots), it talks about community even more. It shouldn’t surprise us that something so close to his heart would be best displayed in community.

I don’t know what it is for you. Each day I’m learning what it is for me. When we first said yes, I thought it meant we’d adopt. And maybe we still will someday. But so far our yes has looked like a lot of different things … like mentoring and tutoring and camp-counseling and teaching and reading and advocating and babysitting and listening. And googling the heck out of new words adoptive friends are using. And listening and learning more about the heartbeat of God with every step. 

And today, it’s getting on a plane so that this world will have one less orphan.

What would it look like in YOUR life to work towards one less orphan? It may not be as far fetched as you think.


When grown-ups color …


When grown-ups color, a whole new world is created.

Yesterday I sat among a room full of coloring grown-ups. It’s our fifth year at Royal Family Kids Camp, and the preparation day always – ALWAYS – leaves me more than just a little choked up. Because grown-ups … Engineers, Doctors, Lawyers, Administrators, BIG IMPORTANT GROWN-UPS WITH BIG IMPORTANT JOBS … sit down to color a sign. A welcome sign. They always know the name of who they’ll be welcoming, but they don’t always know their face. Or their favorite color. Or whether they’ll get off the bus with a frown or a smile.

But they color. And they guess. A little pink flower here, a little hand-drawn airplane there. And a name.

And then comes the welcome. With colored sign in hand, an army of grown-ups prepares to meet a flood of 6-11 year olds. As each child steps off the bus, their name is called and their counselor for the week runs forward with their hand-drawn sign, welcoming them by name. Gets me every. Dang. Time.

Because I know it’s a glimpse. A glimpse of a welcome we will receive someday when we leave this place for a new Somewhere. Be it an angel or an ancestor, someone will greet me by name, and maybe they’ll even have a sign with my name on it. Not so that they’ll recognize me, but so I’ll recognize them. And know that they’ve been prepared and waiting to celebrate the day I’d arrive.

Now today is the day I’m celebrating arriving HERE in this life. 35 years ago today I met my Mom and Dad. They were ready for me, with a name and everything (thanks to my Mom’s favorite soap-opera). It’s hard to think of a better way to spend your birthday than with a hundred little faces yelling out a “happy birthday” across the camp from a zip-line or a swimming pool, and co-counselors offering sincere hugs telling you you’re special even as they run off to the next activity. To be honest, I really like a birthday that’s not all focused on me. It’s a lot less suffocating.

Still, a little focus on me is a fun thing. And today I got it from a special source. I’ve written about her before. Amanda is the girl who came back, the girl who taught me big things, and now will be forever in my heart as my favorite-birthday-cake-preparer.

Amanda rallied our cabin full of girls to create a “birthday cake” made of apples and drizzled in caramel. They carefully carved out letters from apple slices until they had H-A-P-P-Y B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y, and then surprised me with it with a song at lunch time. Little did she know that caramel & apples are one of my favorite combinations. This girl – this feisty, fierce, and (this year) FRIENDLY – eleven-year-old has blessed my socks off. Again.

And I’m convinced it all goes back to the coloring. To the grown-ups remembering what it’s like to be a kid, and then being as kid-ly as they can, so that the kids can SHINE in all their kid-dom.

When grown-ups color, a “birthday cake” is carved out of apples and drizzled with caramel. Yum.



Surprising the Brain


White BucketThe Brain Bucket. I’m told that’s a thing. I’m told that by a guy named Jon Acuff, who makes me laugh enough to believe that everything he says is true.

So the Brain Bucket. He said our brains are wired in such a way that when we see or hear something we’ve come across before, we Bucket it. “Yep, been/seen/heard that before.” And we continue on with other distractions.

This. Is. So. Me. I used to drive professors crazy because once my brain got something, it placed it in the bucket and was done with them and their teaching. I was known for playing solitaire in the back of the room (back in the days of dinosaurs when the internet was not in every classroom and solitaire was all I had). And it really wasn’t out of disrespect, it was just because my brain wanted to move on to something else once the brain bucket was full of that topic. You can imagine how much my husband loves this feature whenever he’s sharing his heart with me.

So, says Jon, getting past the Brain-Bucket-tune-out for things like spiritual lessons and lifetime truths requires a way to “surprise the brain”. Keep things interesting. Introduce an old truth in a new way.

Backs of books? Hate ‘em. Movie trailers? No, please. I want to be surprised.

So a few Sundays ago – one of those gloriously leisurely mornings – we lounged our way through YouTube videos and MY BRAIN GOT SURPRISED.

Oh my gosh. Oh my GOSH.

Exhibit A: Holy vocal pipes.

Chills, right? I mean, I was crying. CRYING. See, everyone’s brain – including mine, and most definitely Simon Cowell’s, had Brain-Bucketed this guy. Heavy guy shows up on stage wearing sweat pants and floppy hair. Sure, go ahead and wow us. He’s shy and nervous and you can just feel yourself bracing for the mockery. The crowd is snickering already. He’s been Brain-Bucketed as someone who does not have talent. And then he puts the microphone to his mouth. And the room is literally blown away. The power. The MAJESTY of this guy’s voice. Are you kidding me!? HE just did THAT!? Everyone’s Brain got Surprised. Ah-maz-ing.

Exhibit B: Am I allowed to, umm, laugh?

A boy with cerebral palsy. And he thinks he’s a comedian. And his parents have brought him here to audition. It’s cute. And heart warming. But you can almost feel yourself cringe as you hope he might be good but you’re pretty sure he won’t be. I mean, let’s just hope that Simon isn’t too mean to the sweet handicapped boy, right? He’s been Brain-Bucketed in the sympathy bucket, but there’s no bucket for “funny handicapped kid”.

And then he comes out on stage – to a vicious audience that has just destroyed the auditioner that came before him. Rightfully so, but still brutal. The cringe-factor in your heart intensifies.

But his first joke is funny. You dare to chuckle. His next line is even funnier than the last. Hey, this kid may be onto something. By the time his audition is done, everyone – including Simon – has a general laugh in their heart because The Handicapped Kid is Really Funny. Their brains got surprised.

Exhibit 3: Shadows aren’t just for puppets.

Yes, total coincidence that this post is dedicated exclusively to Britain having Talent. This is not a sponsored post.

But the shadows. HELLO!? How are they doing that with their bodies!? I mean, I know how they’re doing that – it’s light and dark and there’s a screen, blah blah blah. But my brain has no bucket for people making a shadow picture with their bodies like this. The beauty, the drama, the ELEPHANT.

YouTube is a playground for brain surprises.

Life is a playground for brain surprises. When I don’t relegate someone – including myself – to a predesigned brain-bucket, but am ready to hear or experience something new, I can actually have fun on life’s playground.

Now don’t get me wrong – not all surprises are good. Last year I had two brain-surprises collide in on me all at once. I was sitting at a conference having just learned that my husband had been fired. From a Church. I had no Brain-Bucket for that. There was no scandal, no job performance issue or moral failing to lead this Church to fire my husband, so my Brain was trying to process this whole new idea, and I have to confess that my dominant concern was expiring health insurance benefits.

Lost in my own health insurance woes, I was vaguely aware of something being set up on stage. A microphone and a chair and a guitar. And then a guy came out on stage. With no arms. No. Arms. This fact will be important in about one sentence.

He sat down and began to play Amazing Grace. With his feet. On the guitar. Beautifully. Not a modified-for-the-feet version of Amazing Grace, but a fully strummed, gorgeous rendition of this hymn. No. Brain. Bucket.

I had no way to explain to my brain that a guy was playing the guitar with no arms.

His story was then shared – he was born in Eastern Europe, where no arms was seen as a curse. Not only on him, but on his family and anyone who touched him. The result: He was turned over to an orphanage, but received virtually no touch, no cuddling, no attention beyond the absolute basic essentials of food and water. At eight months old, his medical file had not only his date of birth, but also his anticipated date of death. He was languishing, his body too weak to survive for long. He had been Brain-Bucketed as the cursed child with no arms and no future.

But a couple here in the United States got word of his file. They applied to adopt him. They were told they were crazy, that he’d probably die before they got him home and most assuredly thereafter. Still, they surprised everyone’s brains by saying “we want him.”

At age 8, his mom saw that he loved music. So she bought him a drumset and hired a drum teacher. This is the part of the story where, as her friend, I would have lovingly reminded her that HER SON HAD NO ARMS. So drums might be, you know, not as practical as, say, a set of headphones to feed his musical interest. My Brain has no Bucket for buying drumsticks for a boy who doesn’t have fingers to hold them! Thankfully hers did.

Because he thrived. He now plays eight different instruments, all of which traditionally require oh, you know, ARMS. It kind of put my health-insurance woes in perspective. It was still a hard year to rally from a job loss and the pain of separating from your home church, but I can’t tell you how many times my mind went back to that boy on stage. Playing Amazing Grace. With his feet.

He surprised my brain. His mom surprised my brain. Life surprises my brain. 

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get really comfortable with my set of brain-buckets and everything fitting within “what I already know”, but really, really I’d far rather live a life that my brain has to catch up to.




Dancing Daddies


I sat with a Martini glass in hand, sipping a pre-dinner drink.

The piano and violin cast a spell as I watched a mother hold her toddler close and whisk her across the dance floor. I was mesmerized, caught, captured. They danced to an instrumental version of Strangers in the Night, and I felt as though I was watching myself as a stranger. The mother I’ve never been with the daughter I’ve never had.

It was beautiful. Not sad, yet haunting.

And then the father stepped out on the floor and swept up his young babe. All at once, as I sat spellbound, I was the daughter, not the dancer. I was being spun in the air and tossed in time with the music. I could feel her giggle well up in my own soul as they twirled and danced.

It was as though I was watching a dance that was of my own young years. I had a Daddy who danced with me. Not literally you understand, as my sister is the true dancer in the family and I am a better wall-flower. But he was a Daddy who played, and who told me I was beautiful every day, including – and maybe especially – through the long awkward years.

When the father on the dance floor got down on one knee, down on her level, without complaint or groan, I saw all the times my father did the same for me. And still does.

And all at once, the images changed again. Heaven whispered in my ear, reminding me that my memories as a beloved child are just a glimpse of how God sees me. That He, too, is a Daddy who twirls and delights and patiently lifts up the little girl with outstretched arms who says “Again, Daddy, please … “

I don’t know if there’s anything more powerful than being a beloved daughter.

One song. One dance. Three images that moved me to tears. Three images that stirred the depths of both loss and gain.

The bar napkin had to suffice to dab my eyes when their dance ended. Because I know mine hasn’t.

Happy Father’s Day to all the Dancing Daddies of the world – you are a great image-bearer of God Himself.

Dancing Daddy



Hard Candy Shells


Four years ago, I sat in Church with my arms fiercely crossed. My heart was as hard as the look of stone on my face. I was captive to some pain in my life, and in no mood to hear an inspirational sermon. Many days I was good at hiding it – this was not one of those days. I was, in fact, sitting there at Church merely because it was easier than fighting about not wanting to go to Church.

Pain is like a candy shell – hard on the outside, even though I was mush on the inside, and all it would take is a little tap on a chisel to open it all up.

The message was on the ordinariness of Jesus’ disciples – how plain and dull and ordinary those twelve guys were. And yet they were called to do extraordinary things. The pastor then went on to share how he and his wife felt very ordinary, yet called to something extraordinary. They were planning to adopt. Because they’d heard that if just 7% of the world’s Christians cared for an orphan, there would be no more orphans. And they felt compelled to be part of that 7%.


Tap-tap went the chisel. My arms fell to my side. Still rigid, but there was a crack in the ice. I was no stranger to statistics, but this one shocked me.

See, part of my pain and hardness that morning came from an all-too-familiar ache as I sat there and watched baby dedications before the sermon began. I sat there, just coming to grips with being infertile, and longing for nothing more extraordinary than plain old ordinariness.

I had the faintest idea of what a motherless child might feel because I was sitting there as a childless mother.

My arms were still crossed, but that hard candy shell was about to burst as that chisel chipped away. To be honest, the orphan care stats weren’t the focal point of the message – just one of the many illustrations that the pastor was using. But it was the one that penetrated my heart.

I went home and started exploring if it could possibly be true that the world’s orphan crisis really could be eradicated with just 7% of the Christian body’s efforts. My googling led me to an annual Summit put on by “Christian Alliance for Orphans”, and in May of 2010 my husband and I jumped a plane to explore this new world. Little did we know the floodgates we were opening.

The world of orphan care is as equally complicated as that of infertility – and to be clear, I think the two are all too often linked when they really are separate things, but that’s for another blog post. What I mean here is simply this: a lot of people start the road to infertility “just wanting a baby”, a simple enough concept until it gets complicated by doctors and thermometers and pee sticks. So, too, the intro point to orphan care is often a simple prick of desire – maybe to build a family, maybe to be part of this world’s greatest social crisis, maybe because of some indefinable nudging to explore. A simple enough concept until it gets complicated with attachment disorder and interracial dynamics and the all-consuming question of how to help without hurting. The more you learn, the less you know – but that becomes more and more okay, too. 

Today, I sit again at the CAFO Summit, amidst a crowd that is still full of many strangers, but no longer strange to me. It is a room filled with some of the most ordinary-extraordinaries I have ever met, living out the Gospel in all aspects of orphan care: adoption, foster care, family preservation, global and local initiatives, wrap-around support, mental health, and more. There are no easy answers in the world of orphan care. There are diversely opposing viewpoints and constant new lessons. But an aroma of surrender permeates the conversations and the praise.

And it’s not just about 7%, it’s about all of us. While it is actually true that it would take only 7% of the world’s Christians to care for all of the world’s orphans, making this the most solvable crisis on the planet, it is a call to us all – it’s a big ocean where every drop counts – the other 93% of us get to support those called to the deepest parts of that ocean.

All of us ordinaries have a place here – just you and me and all of us who have nothing more to offer than our plain ordinary selves – like twelve guys who used to follow a carpenter around. Just ordinary people called into an extraordinary story. Hard candy shells and all.


That time a little girl taught me big things


I still don’t know much of her story. But I learned more on a park bench.



Water balloons were being launched nearby, and I could hear the music of carnival games and the laughter of the bounce house. But I was on a park bench. With Amanda. The girl who had come back.

She was sullen today – a thing I’d come to expect since meeting her last summer at camp, though this year her scowl had been notably less prevalent. In fact, I’d seen such change in her that without her floppy curly hair it would be tempting to think it was a different child at camp this year. I saw her dance during the silly songs. I saw her play with other kids. I saw her control her temper. I saw her literally bite her tongue on mean and nasty words, swallow them, and extend a hand of friendship to another girl.

All week long, Amanda had shocked me. Amazed me. She’d been … nice.

But today, across the park bench from me, her shoulders slumped and her face was hard. She didn’t want to talk, which I had learned to be okay with. I heard her softly humming the Royal Family Kids Camp song under her breath, and I quietly sung along to the tune. Like a quiet tribute to another year of camp coming to an end. She would come back – we both knew that now – but there would be 51 weeks of non-camp in between.

Oh how I wondered what those 51 weeks would look like, though I’d learned enough to not ask. Camp is about taking a break from home-life, not being pelted with questions about it.

So we sat. And hummed.

With her head still bowed low, she puffed out a deep breath to blow her bangs away from her eyes, and mumbled a question about why she doesn’t have any friends and no one likes her. Oh Amanda, you have friends. I’m your friend, and I’ve watched you make so many amazing choices this week to be a good friend to the other kids.

She then told me how much she wanted to be a good friend, but found it so hard. Because she’d get angry. And hit. Because she’d get frustrated. And cuss.

I know, I’ve seen you do all of that. But I’ve also seen you choose not to.

She told me about the adults in her life who would sentence her to various forms of punishment when she’d lash out, making her feel more stuck and more angry. I can’t blame them, but I also have a hard time blaming her. Ten year olds aren’t supposed to know that kind of violence or language.

As we talked, I noticed something. A repeated motion. A nervous move. A thumbnail repeatedly pushed into her cuticle on the opposite hand.

Why are you doing that with your hands, Amanda?

Because I cut when I’m nervous.

Like you’re doing now, with your nails? (Asked in a breathy, hopeful, please-God-let-her-not-know-what-“real”-cutting-even-means tone)

No, usually with a knife.

My insides crumbled. Dear Jesus, she’s ten. And she cuts herself. With knives. I learned later that she had brought a knife to Camp, but on the very first day she had voluntarily turned it over to her counselor with the words “I don’t need this here.”

I don’t need this here. Not here where I’m safe. Not here where I’m not nervous. Not here where I can be my absolute worst and still be loved. Not here where I am seeing glimpses of my best. Not here where I have friends and super-heroes. But today, on the last day of this week in this safe place, I’m getting nervous. I’m returning to old habits.

Having zero training in psychology, I took a risk. I decided to give her some very direct, grown-up information, knowing that she can call an adult’s BS like no one’s business, so sugar coating wasn’t going to work.

Do you know that when you cut yourself, it’s because your body wants something called serotonin?

A shy glance my way. What’s that?

It’s a chemical that your body makes. It makes you feel better. It makes you feel safe and happy for a little while. And when you cut yourself, your body makes a little bit of serotonin.

Silence. I plunge ahead.

But there’s actually another way you can get serotonin without cutting yourself.

Still dubious, but I have her full attention now. Her eyes are full of defiance, warning me not to offer her any stupid fluffy information or one more lie in her life.

I promise I’m telling you the truth, Amanda – you can ask your therapist or any of the other Counselors here.

You can get serotonin through hugs.

Head bowed, I think I’ve lost her for now. Dang, I went too far, used too many big, technical words and made her feel like a patient instead of a kid. But then, as quiet as a whisper, with head still bowed low …

I like hugs.

Gulp. Jesus.

Can I give you a hug right now?

A tiny head nod, and I stood. This fierce, strong ten year old, whose “hugs” had previously consisted of squeezing competitions, stood in my embrace for what seemed like hours, though it was really only minutes.

Amanda, any time that you want to cut, I want you to find a safe person for a safe hug instead.

Safe hugs from safe people. Words you learn to use when you spend a week among children who have been exposed to the opposite.

While there’s a lot more to the psychology of Amanda’s cutting – and healing – than hugs, I saw this knowledge empower her. Over the remaining twenty-four hours of Camp, I saw Amanda reach out for many a safe hug. Quick, short little bursts of “I need a hug!”, a quick side squeeze from one of the safe adults at Camp, and each time I saw one, my heart squeezed a little more.

Amanda lives in a world that we can’t enter throughout the year. The adult who is responsible for her doesn’t want to allow the Christian-Camp-people to influence her upbringing all 52 weeks of the year. But for some reason, we get that one. That one week of Camp that she comes back for every year.

Camp isn’t the only healthy part of Amanda’s life – she has counselors and others who are diligently working to improve her mental and emotional health.   And sometimes, it’s easy to wonder how much good can truly be done in just one week a year. It’s easy to feel like it’s not enough.

But then there are moments on a park bench, when you know that you wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else. When you can see the power of a week. When you get a front row seat to a life changing before your eyes. And when you get to play the ittiest bittiest of parts.

I’ll never again question the value of one short week or one simple hug. It can change a life – it’s certainly changed mine.

Applications to the Royal Family Kids Camp we work at each summer can be found here.

Or find a camp near YOU.