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

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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.

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… 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.

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… 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.

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… 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.

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… 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 :))!

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… 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.

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… Being home for Christmas. And soon, EASTER.

Johnathan Christmas

Happy #tbt everyone.

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He doesn’t know

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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

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One more week, One less orphan

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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.

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Hard Candy Shells

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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%.

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.

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Heroes among us

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I’ve written about heroes before. They are among us. Often in disguise. They could live right down your street, and you may never know it. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s no age-limit.

So how would you know if you’ve ever met one? Well, if you’ve ever shaken the hand of a foster or adoptive parent, you’ve met a hero.  And don’t get me wrong – all heroes have kryptonite of some kind, none of them are perfect.  And no one should go into foster or adoptive care with hero-aspirations.

But the thing about heroes is this: most of the time the hero doesn’t even realize they are one until they’re needed most.

Heroes are most needed when the going gets tough, and there’s a hero in all of us, whether we know it or not. And the thing with adoptive and foster care parents is just this: they go into it knowing that the going will get tough – it’s an inevitable part of redemption – but what they may not know is what kind of hero they will find inside.

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One of my best friends is this kind of hero. She brought her baby boy home from Africa a few years ago.  He is beautiful and lovely.  He is vibrant and curious and full of life.  He is also wounded. He carries some emotional scars from his first year of life that is not uncommon within the world of an adoptee. Most of his first year of life is in shadow – they know pieces, but they may never know the full story, except that he was in need of a mom and a dad.  And my friends stood up and volunteered for the job.  But that isn’t what made them heroes.

What makes my friend a hero is the days and hours and minutes that she holds her son’s hand when he screams in terror at some unknown enemy in his young memory.  What makes my friend a hero is when she knows she’s not enough, and prays to the One who is. What makes my friend a hero is when she wants to run away, but she stays.  What makes my friend a hero is when she is brave enough to say “I need help.”

So when a hero like that calls, it’s amazing to be able to say “Help exists – let’s rally.  Together.”

I got to tell her about Finally Home Foundation, an organization that exists to “equip communities to rally around the heroes who are foster and adoptive families.”  Starting next month, I’ll be serving as the Southern California Regional Director for this great organization.

Equipping.  Rallying.  In community.

I mean, seriously, could there be a better job description?

To learn more or get involved, please visit www.finallyhomefoundation.net or email me at brooke@finallyhomefoundation.net

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