Sunday, September 7, 2014

6 Month Post-Placement Visit

6 months! 6 months? 6! MONTHS! It's hard to believe we met Emily almost 6 months ago. Our Gotcha Day was March 31st. At times it feels like yesterday. But more often it feels like Emily has always been with us.

China requires several post-placement reports after adoption is complete. This is when our social worker comes to our home to observe and interview us about Emily's progress. She then composes a report and sends to China with updated pictures and other documents. Our first visit was one month after Gotcha Day. Our 2nd visit is required at 6 months and took place this past Friday. We have grown to love our social worker and we look forward to her visits. Friday was no different. It was a joy to visit with her and reflect on the tremendous progress we've all made over the past 6 months.

Emily is a permanent part of our family. And it really feels that way now. We forget she was adopted. The stares and comments in public do remind us (we love the comments, by the way, because it's an opportunity to minister to others as well as demonstrate grace in front of our children). I no longer see a little girl from China. I see a Loman. She's beautiful, just like her sister. She is one of our 4 kids and I barely remember life before her.

She brings so much joy to our home. When I think about the first year and a half of her life, I often get sad that we couldn't be there for her sooner. We all missed a lot but the only evidence of that is conscious reflection. She has completely adjusted in every way. We don't see signs of grief anymore. It's clear she understands that we are hers and she is ours, forever.

Her brothers and sister adore her. It's beautiful to see how they have embraced her and accept her unconditionally as their sister. Blood is irrelevant. The bond that we share within our family is greater than blood. Emily has helped us realize that being a family has nothing to do with biology. She reminds us daily that family should be a reflection of the love of our heavenly Father. There is no greater love than that of our Father, who we are related to only through adoption (Ephesians 1:5).

Thank you, Emily Hope, for the blessing you have been in our lives. The past 6 months have been joy-filled and meaningful beyond my ability to express. I'm already looking forward to our 1 year post-placement visit in March and the thanksgiving we will be giving then!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Happy Birthday, Emily Hope

Today we celebrated Emily Hope's 2nd birthday! Needless to say, this is a very big day for us. So many reasons why.

She has never celebrated a birthday before. She was abandoned shortly after her birth and was living in an orphanage on her first birthday. I hope she got some extra kisses that day from her nannies. ;)

With so many unknowns and too many days with no family, we are now making up for lost time. Our precious 2 year old is being showered with hugs and kisses today, make no mistake about it. We decided to keep it simple and just spend the day loving on her and making up for lost time. We worshipped and prayed together, giving thanks for His beautiful creation in Emily Hope.

We don't know how her actual birth went down. No clue if it was in an apartment or a hospital, or perhaps somewhere else. We don't even know if August 5th was the exact day she was born. Medical reports show that she was likely 5 days old when a police officer found her on the ground in front of an orphanage on August 10th, 2012. I wonder if there were tears of joy or tears of pain or perhaps no tears at all. I often wonder who her birth mother is and what her story may be. We don't dwell on this painful past but it's a part of who Emily is and I expect we will one day share tears over where she may have come from. I also expect to share tears of joy with her over the fact that God so perfectly placed her with us. There can be beauty in pain when it draws us closer to one another, closer to God. I look forward to just "being there" for Emily. I know she'll have questions as she grows up. I may not be prepared to answer all of them perfectly but I do know the One to point her to, the One who does have all the answers.

Despite the unknowns, there's plenty we DO know about her. She has a family who will never take her for granted. And today, she is celebrated. We rejoice over the 2 years she has been alive. She has been through some very hard times as well as some very happy times over the past couple years. I wish we could have gotten to her earlier but the reality is that her early life has helped form who she is. Furthermore, God's plan for her life is perfect. His timing is perfect. Today, this mama cries over her baby. Tears of joy. We do know that her birth mother chose life and for that, we are forever grateful. It takes my breath away just thinking about the possibility of her not being on this earth.

This little girl is one of the most amazing human beings I've ever known. Stunningly beautiful on the outside. Even more beautiful on the inside. Courageous. Sensitive. Fierce. Affectionate. Brilliant. Funny. Determined. Made in the image of our perfect creator. I can't imagine the joy we would have missed out on had we not pursued adoption. I would be honored just to know her and her story. But to be her mother. Gracious God, I am so humbled. Fearfully and wonderfully made. Happy birthday, baby girl. We love you today... and for eternity to come.

It's my birthday, Y'all!!!



Monday, July 21, 2014

She Wants to Adopt. Her Husband Doesn't.

One of the great joys Seamus and I have been given through our adoption is being able to encourage and pray for other families. It is a privilege when someone contacts us saying they would like to discuss adoption. We pray for these opportunities to answer questions and encourage. We have seen hearts change through our own process. We've had the honor of sharing tears with people who have also been called to adopt. We praise God that He uses ordinary people like us to help carry out His great work.

I received a FB message from a sweet acquaintance last week. She wanted to chat about adoption. I called her the next day and was eager to listen. I was so excited to hear that she knows in the depth of her soul that God has convicted her to adopt an orphan in need. I got chills hearing the passion in her voice. If you've adopted, you know the passion. It's the same feeling we biological mamas have when we long to have our own newborn. I've had the privilege of knowing both desires and I know the joy and the pain this desire brings. My friend shared that her heart has been burdened for years. But.

Her husband doesn't want to adopt. He doesn't understand her desire and can't connect to the idea of bringing an adopted child in to their home. Her husband is a kind man. He loves his wife and they have cried together over this issue. He wants to support her. He wants to "fulfill her need". But his heart hasn't been softened for this ministry. "If you want another baby, why don't we just try to have another of our own?" (Sigh from sweet friend) "I could have 10 babies and still want to GO, to adopt."

I have been burdened for this family and am honored to be praying for them now. There are so many couples who are on different pages when it comes to adoption. And here's my response to them. It's okay. Sometimes our desires are not God's desires. And when God desires something for our lives, make no mistake about it. It will happen. He will change hearts. The Holy Spirit loves to convict souls to carry out God's will. God has a plan for our lives and it may or may not include adoption. We can rest knowing that God's plan for our life is perfect. It can still be painful, especially when you feel the calling to adopt IS from God. So, what can we tangibly do when our hearts burn but our spouses aren't on board?

First and foremost, pray. Pray for your spouse during your own quiet time. Surrender your desire and anxieties to Christ. Pray with your spouse. Ask God not only to soften his heart for adoption but to open your eyes to what God might be doing in your own life. Listen through prayer and scripture reading. Maybe God will answer your prayers by changing your husband's heart. Maybe he'll lead you down a totally different path that glorifies Him nonetheless. Ask God what He wants for your life together. When Seamus and I pray for God to use us however he sees fit, The Lord does crazy things. Adopting a baby from China and homeschooling our 4th grader. Y'all. Never in a million years did I think these 2 things would really happen but it was God's plan. We just listened and answered, "Yes!" (Okay, I'm still fighting Him over the homeschooling thing but that's another story) He. Will. Provide.

I'm torn over what I'm about to share. I'm not torn over my feelings, just whether or not to share them. Many Christians would like me to stop here. Pray. That's it. There's nothing wrong with relying wholly on prayer. However, I do think that God sometimes uses us to "encourage" others. Yes, I'm tip-toeing. Let me take a step back for one second...

As you know, Seamus and I weren't convicted at the same time. Most couples aren't. God began working on me years ago, around the time our 3rd child was born (he's 4 years old now). How I was convicted is another story (I'm sure it's in a post here somewhere). I never wanted to talk Seamus into adoption. I knew both of our hearts had to be in it. Adoption is obviously not a decision to be taken lightly. But I also knew that if we weren't at least having conversations, little could happen. I promised myself (and God) that I wouldn't get frustrated or impatient with my husband. So I talked. And listened. I shared some articles and stories of encounters I had. Seamus listened and believe it or not, I never pushed. Until one day, after a lot of prayer and tears, he opened up. He was not convicted because of anything I said or shared. He was convicted because the Holy Spirit convicted him. Period.

All that to say that it doesn't hurt to share some blogs and articles with your honey. ;) Just don't have any expectations. One site that I shared with my friend is a great BLOG written by a Christian man, whose family has adopted (after much reluctance). In fact, there's a link on the right side of his page, "Reluctant Husband Syndrome". Ha! He has written 16 posts there that walk through his journey of "reluctantly" adopting. His wife also writes her own BLOG. Good stuff. I also love to recommend an excellent book by Russell D. Moore, titled Adopted for Life. Considering adoption or not, please just go ahead, click on that link and order it now. Seriously amazing book, y'all. For ANYONE.   

Another great thing for a couple to consider is sponsoring an orphan in need. Emily Hope was sponsored by families before we even knew who she was. Their monthly gift provided her with food, diapers, and medicine that Harmony Outreach was able to secure for her, thanks to these sponsorships. Wouldn't it be a neat first step to sponsor a child while you pray about adoption? Or, how about a mission trip for a week to love on kids in an orphanage? Life. Changing. You will never come home the same. Only a heart of stone wouldn't be changed by one of these visits. We may not all feel called to adopt but scripture is clear that we are all commanded to care for the fatherless. Sponsoring a child or going on a mission trip would be a great way to do this, all while being in prayer over the possibility of adopting. Please let me know if you'd like more information about specific ministries where you can sponsor a child or travel to an orphanage.

Last but not least, love your spouse deeply. Thank God that He has softened your heart for adoption but lavish your husband with grace and patience. Continue to respect him as the head of your household. Praise God if he "comes around" but if he doesn't, praise God anyway! “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2Cor.2:9) His grace is enough. Be satisfied in Him (Christ), and you will in turn be satisfied with him (your husband). Love your hubby the way Christ loves His church.
Her heart is beautiful and vulnerable and God is working mightily in her. I trust that He is also working in her husband as well. They may come to a point where they agree to adopt. If this happens, it will only be the work of God in them. If God doesn't change his heart, we can't be disappointed. This couple loves The Lord and our faithful God will work in their lives however He sees fit. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD." (Isaiah 55:8) God knows what He's doing, I promise. There are days I get frustrated. I want everyone to understand how close adoption is to God's heart. But my frustration demonstrates my impatience and skepticism of the very God I preach about. Do I doubt His goodness? He. Is. Faithful. Who am I to say His plan is ever thwarted by our apathy? Maybe it is. But that's for Him to decide and convict over. Don't get me wrong... I will continue to advocate for the orphan and beg you to GO. ;) Just saying if it's His will, it'll happen.

So to my sweet friend on the other end of the phone...
Pray. Trust Him. Be patient. These are not easy things for us to do but they are the only things that bring true joy.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

There is no Tomorrow

I'm not promised tomorrow. I'm not even promised another breath. Each one is a gift from above, God's grace in it's simplest form. My response to each breath taken... Thank you. Thank you for today. Thank you for this moment. How can I honor Him with the moments he has given me? That's our purpose in life. To know Him and once we do, to honor Him. Because when you know Him, the desire to honor is inevitable. I want to spend my life thanking Him for His amazing grace.

I'm restless. I know there is a season for everything. There is a season to wait on The Lord. I wait for Him to lead me. Still, I'm restless. We've only been home with Emily for 3 months. I've also taken on the daunting task of homeschooling my oldest son next year. Add in my career as a bookkeeper. Wife. Mother of 4. I am fully aware of the responsibility God has entrusted me with. I have a firm grasp on the fact that my mission field is, first and foremost, in my home. But I have a tendency to use that as an excuse. I shouldn't hide within my walls and ignore the hurting and lost who God craves to save. Naive? Maybe. But there's a reason He puts this fire in me. I don't know where he's leading us next. But my heart aches for the orphan and I am commanded to care for them. "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27) We are all called to care for them. "Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow." (Isaiah 1:17)

I yearn to honor Him in all that I do. Then ... Reality strikes. I get in the way. My flesh, my sin, my inherent state. My fears, my doubts, my "what if"s. All of it stops me from devoting myself completely in gratitude. I must remind myself. There is no tomorrow. There is only today. Only this breath. And this one breath is only mine because He has given it. We must remind each other. If you are a lover of Christ, I implore you. Give thanks for the breath you are taking at this moment and transform that gratitude in to life-changing, God-glorifying, gospel-living.

What are we afraid of? Why aren't we sharing the good news with the lost? Why have I only adopted one child of the millions who cry themselves to sleep every night? Why can't we welcome a foster child who needs a temporary home? Why aren't we fighting for justice within our own country, against the genocide (the killing of millions of babies through abortion) that we fund with God's money? Why haven't I visited any of the prisons that are so close to my home? These souls are ripe to be picked for freedom! Why haven't I reached out, on a deeper level, to the precious widows in my own church family?

When I ask myself these questions, my answer is a resounding, "AMEN!" but I take little action. Wanna' know what I'm afraid of? Maybe I'll have to go without one of my many luxuries. I'd really miss lavish vacations or even my nap. I don't know where to start. Maybe I'll fail and everyone will say "I told you so." Maybe my family will oust me. Maybe a foster child would "mess up" my children's lives. People will think I'm a crazy "holy roller". Maybe I'll die if I go there. Here's what I have to say to each of those fears that I hold so close... So? Seriously. So what?

Laura... Friends... death to self is a privilege. "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." (John 12:25) Anything that leads to eternal life in Christ is worth sacrificing. One of my favorite pastors, Tim Keller, reminded me recently, "You. Will. Miss. Nothing." Nothing. There is nothing on this earth that's worth keeping. Nothing. Not my wealth. Not my education. Not my appearance. Not my health. Not even my family. Yes, Christ even comes before the precious souls in my home. Hands down. Everything I want on this earth will be fulfilled in heaven a million times bigger and better. I know this. So who cares about my comfort or my standing with people while I am here? I am the royal daughter of God himself and that is one fine crown I'll be wearing in glory! Radical? Nah. Not when we realize who Christ is and what He did for us.  

What if we really believed that there is no tomorrow? What would your today look like? Mine would look incredibly different than it actually does. I would get the heck outta' suburbia America. I would be on the next plane to the most horrific orphanage I could find (and they are not hard to find) and I would cradle every child in my arms at one time and I would pray. I would kiss cheeks, and rub backs, and tell the good news, and cry, and pray some more. My day would be rich. It would be meaningful. And it would please God.

This is where I say, "I'm not saying be reckless and drop everything to serve The Lord." Except I'm not gonna' say that. If you are my brother, I expect you to encourage me to "take up my cross" to follow Christ. That looks different in every one's life but nonetheless, should always look radical from the world's perspective. "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." (Colossians 3:1)

Sin. Unfathomable grace to cover that sin. Gratitude. Gratitude so deep that it leads to action. Action that honors Christ, action that tells who He is. Take action. Not for merit (you can't earn that with God), rather out of gratitude for all He has already done on your behalf. When the fear sets in, focus on the kingdom ahead. The doubts that creep in... those are lies told to us by this world and the enemy. Stay focused on truth. Love deeply. Trust Him. There is no tomorrow. What does your today look like?

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me- put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." (Phil.4:8-9)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Living Water

We had the great honor today of having Emily baptized. This precious gift from God has been marked. Set apart. Deemed worthy of the title "child of God" because of Christ's great work on the cross. Adopted. ADOPTED. "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 1:4-5)

I am overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude when I reflect on the past year and the calling God so clearly privileged us with. I'm humbled by the fact that this beautiful soul is my daughter. But today. Today is bigger. Her baptism represents the work that only the Holy Spirit can do. Into the water... Death to self. Emergence from the water... Life in Christ. Can we begin to comprehend what Christ did in order to offer us eternal life? Can we grasp how painful his seperation from the Father was, in order that He could adopt us? I try. I can't. Not this side of heaven. Humbled that she's my daughter but blown away at the reality that she is HIS daughter.

"The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:39)

God sought her out. He loved her before she was born. He kept His loving arms around her in China. He brought her home safely to our family. And He calls her His. I pray every day that she one day realizes the love of Christ for herself. May she be convicted so deeply of her inherent sin and turn to Christ for redemption that only He offers.

The work God is doing in this child, y'all. Mercy. When she first came home, she would go to anyone. She trusted anyone (well, really she trusted no one but disguised it in order to find attention). Over the past month and a half, we have seen her grow leary of strangers and reject them in order to choose mama. This took time but way less time than we expected! She is no longer hoarding food in her clothes and stuffing her mouth full. She rarely scratches and hits anymore. She is learning to communicate properly and comes to us when she is frustrated. She has gained several pounds and has become incredibly strong through her mid-section and legs. She laughs. Dances. Runs. Swims. Hugs. Kisses. Even fist bumps. ;) She throws her fists in the air when we say "Amen" after prayer. Talk about melt a mama's heart!

We are now allowing family and close friends to hold her and interact freely. We are so grateful for the doctors, experts, and adoptive parents who urged us to protect her until she developed trust. We are also thankful to all of you who supported our decisions and respected our wishes. We realize some of our choices are hard to understand. There are people who clearly disagree with how we've chosen to nurture her but we are so thankful that we stood firm. I expect she will continue to make progress but we are blown away by how far she has come already. God's grace in her life... the only thing to thank for this progress.

We are rejoicing today that Emily Hope has experienced the living water, Christ himself. His grace is so evident in her life. Today's baptism is representative of all the miracles in Emily's life and especially of God's greatest covenant... eternal life... through the Living Water.

We are grateful to God for the love He has lavished on Emily and us this day. And we are grateful for the many people who love her and came to witness this joyous occasion. We love you, Nana and Grandaddy, Grandma Joan, Pop and Grammy, Uncle Sean and Aunt Stephanie, the entire Tujague clan, and all our other dear friends who were there to support us! Oh happy day...



Friday, May 23, 2014

"How Are You?"

"How are you?" My sweet friend texted me as she does every day.

"I'm good. Very busy, very tired, very good. Inspired? ;)"

"I don't need inspiration. I just wanna' know how my friend's doing."

Oh, riiiiiiight! You just wanna' know how I'm doing. And then today an acquaintance reminded me, "Please don't stop blogging." Maybe y'all just wanna' know how we're doing! :) So, here goes...

We are great, y'all. Life moves so quickly, doesn't it? The Bible tells us we are but a vapor that vanishes quickly (James 4:14). Why am I always surprised at the way time flies? I dunno but it does. And that's okay when your life is making a difference for the Kingdom of God. But that's not what this post is about. ;)

We have been home with Emily for 6 weeks. She is seriously one transformed little lady. We are blown away by the progress she has made in such a short period of time. We are out and about with her quite a bit now and she is enjoying every moment of being part of a family. Our family. We are beginning to feel like she has always been with us. Ya' know how when you have a new baby and you say, "I can't even remember what it was like without her"? Yep, just like that.

In other news, God has been stirring in our hearts... because adopting a baby from China wasn't enough to make my head spin. We have decided that I will homeschool Brady this coming year for 4th grade. I'm still fighting with God over this one but I'm sure it's of Him. So once again, we know He will provide in all the details. I've already ordered my ankle length jean dress with the apple monogrammed on the front pocket. Good Lord, I've come a long way since my binge-drinking college days.
I am so thankful for each of you who follow my blog. I love to write. It's not only my outlet but a ministry as well. I pray that my blog encourages others to always look to Christ. I pray that it touches even just one person at a time to step out in faith. My writings obviously won't continue down the road of adoption journey news. I am in the process of praying about where God wants me to go with my writing. I may change the title and take a slightly different path. However, I plan to continue advocating for orphans. I'm just not completely sure what that looks like at this point. I am thankful to be back in a season of waiting on The Lord. I trust that He won't leave me here, in "comfortable" for very long. I don't want that ever again. If I'm not hurting over the lost and being His hands and feet for the least of these, I'm not in a good place. Y'all hold this sister accountable!

Girlfriend loves the water. Bath. Swimming pool. Sprinkler. Toilet water. All of it.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day... One Month Home

Today is Mother's Day.

Joy rises to the brim of my heart. Sadness shares this same space.

One year ago, I was mom to three precious children and daughter to a gracious and loving lady, giving thanks to God for my many blessings.  This year, this day, I give thanks for these same blessings and one extra special miracle in my life. Last year we were busy pursuing Emily Hope. This year, she is in my arms. I am her mother. She is my daughter. Forever.

Today is Mother's Day. It's also our one-month-home day. These past couple months have flown by and the whirlwind of recovery and adjustment sometimes throws my memory in to a tail spin. Thankfully, I am able to recall some special moments and major milestones when I finally sit to write.

Her laugh. Y'all. Her laugh. And oh my, her temper. The girl has a fabulous set of lungs. She has definitely learned to fight when she wants something. We never saw this personality when we Skyped with her. We just kept hearing how sweet and quiet she was. She must have been saving it all for us. We call our children "leaders". She fits right in with this motley crew. Mercy! I'm chalking her loud and opinionated voice up to brilliance. ;) A girl's gotta survive, right? She is such a sweet little soul at the same time. She gives hugs and kisses constantly to all 5 of us and regularly pats our backs when we hold her. She brings an immense amount of joy to our home.

She is making great strides. She has formed a relationship with all 5 of us. Thank you precious friends who have come to visit and been so understanding about the attachment process. Although she is making progress, and we welcome friends in her life, we do want to stay close to home as much as possible for a few more months. You are welcome to interact with her at this point but we do ask that you continue to not hold her or give her anything directly (you can give food or a toy to us and we will hand it to her). I know many of you who visit like to know where we are on her progress so I wanted to make that clear. We love that she's getting to know some new friends and are hopeful we can continue to do that while deepening her trust with Seamus and me at the same time.

I find myself staring at her, especially when she is quietly taking a bottle or rocking with me. She's so beautiful. She is "fearfully and wonderfully made". I am amazed that God so perfectly placed her with us. She is as much our child as our biological children are. I mean no difference. Seriously. I never believed that could happen. And I was okay with that. I was going to choose to love her, just like I explained HERE one year ago. We love her. The end. Except...

Except that while I'm staring at that precious little face made in the image of God, something is terribly unsettling and brings me to tears. Especially today. I expect her birthday will bring these same tears that flow so easily. So many tears of joy. So many tears of sadness. I can't help but ponder the idea that although I am 100%, God-ordained, mother to this child, she does have a birth mother who she'll never know.

Adoption is beautiful. But it comes out of something so wrong. So broken. Naturally, we grieve because abandonment is a reality. But we rejoice that Christ has offered redemption. That's where I land today. On joy. We will push through the grief that sin causes and we will praise our Lord who offers a solution to this sin. Let Emily Hope be an example of God's grace, God's goodness, His redemptive and perfect love. We will rest in that, despite the sadness that a day like today can bring. 

So today, I choose grace for Emily's birth mother. In a country where abortion is rampant, encouraged, funded, I consider it a miracle that Emily is alive. We choose to believe that this mother loved her baby girl. Emily was born premature, with a congenital heart defect and appeared to have something similar to cerebral palsy. Between the limited medical resources and the millions of people who can never afford this government run "healthcare", I can only imagine the fear that this woman faced. Emily was left at the gate of an orphanage. Perhaps she was given the best chance her mother was able to offer her.

Today, on Mother's Day, I honor Emily's birth mother. I thank her for choosing life. I offer prayers for the grief she must feel. I wish I could share the good news with her... the good news that Emily is with us but more importantly the good news that Christ offers forgiveness and redemption for her too! I will never again assume that Emily was considered a "throw-away". Although this reality exists for so many babies in China, it's not fair to assume this was the case with Emily, especially with all the circumstances surrounding her abandonment.

Happy Mother's Day. One month home with our sweet angel. Oh happy day. Gratitude. Indescribable joy.

Happy Mother's Day to Emily's birth mother. Oh how I pray she will come to know Christ so I can one day embrace her in heaven with tears only of joy.

One Month Home... Rainbow

Asleep in Momma's Arms

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Our Friends in Liberia... and our Ministry Moving Forward

I had the privilege today of listening in on a special conference call. This call was hosted by the Executive Director of Lifeline Children's Services (our adoption agency), along with Garth Thorpe, who works with Lifeline's sister organization, (un)adopted. If you were at our Orphan Awareness and Fundraising Event last year, you probably remember Garth who helped host and bring awareness to our community. Garth is currently in Liberia, west Africa for several weeks where he is partnered with a Christian community there, following God's command to "care for orphans in distress" (James 1:27). Today's call was for anyone interested to hear how God is working through their ministry in Liberia. I am so glad that God opened the eyes of my heart during this call and I would love to share a little with you.

Liberia has been ravaged by civil war. These wars ended about 11 years ago but the devastation remains. The wars killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced close to a million others. As you can imagine, the orphan crisis has escalated considerably over the past decade. This impoverished country has certainly become one of "the least of these" among us.

Garth Thorpe with Lifeline (unadopted) is currently on the ground in Liberia, working with an associate pastor named Destiny, who is a Liberian native. Destiny shared a little about his ministry on today's call. Garth shared details about (un)adopted's role in Liberia. They have set up "life skills camps", impacting children from 17 orphanages in Liberia. Children from these orphanages come to these camps for 5-10 days where they learn life skills that will help them survive. These skills include sewing, carpentry, farming, etc.

While the missionaries on the ground are training and caring for orphans, the church in Liberia is also being awakened! Everything that Lifeline and (un)adopted does is gospel centered so it would never be enough to simply teach these orphans how to survive. They are teaching trainers of trainers about the gospel and how to disciple others. Churches from the U.S. are taking mission trips here to help spread the gospel and love on the fatherless. Brook Hills Church in Birmingham, AL just made the trip and Garth was encouraged by the impact!

Garth was excited about the work God's doing through these camps. Real life success stories. Stories of children who were able to provide for themselves and for their families later in life, all while hearing about and accepting Jesus Christ!

So, how can we help? Garth shared some practical ways.

First, share the success stories in Liberia. Share this blog post. Tell others about the struggles of those in this country and the good news that God is present here, through His people!

Pray. Pray for the people of Liberia. Pray for the fatherless children who are blind to hope. Pray for Destiny and his church. Pray for the ministry and work of (un)adopted within Liberia. Pray that relationships continue to grow and form through these camps. Pray that awareness of Liberia's crisis would spread like wildfire. Pray that hands and feet would respond to the crisis. Pray specifically for Destiny and his family. His youngest son, Emmanuel, has heart disease of some sort and is currently in critical condition. Destiny's passion for God was inspiring, as he was willing to speak with us about God's work there, despite how ill his son is. If you are a prayer warrior, please include Destiny's family in your petitions to God.

Fund. Donate to (un)adopted's ministry in Liberia. Think of creative ways to give. Host a fundraiser for this cause. Organize a group at church to travel to Liberia with Garth. BE the hands and feet on a mission trip to this country.

Unfortunately, Liberia is not a country where children can be adopted. They closed international adoptions in 2009, due to corruption and numerous issues. Otherwise, I'd suggest y'all go get a kid! ;)

Hearing about Liberia today and being in prayer with these brothers in Christ prompted me to continue on my path of discernment. Discernment about where God wants me and Seamus, and in what capacity we are to continue with global orphan care. We are so thankful to have been called to adopt Emily Hope. We are convinced this is only the beginning of a lifelong call to be the hands and feet of Jesus for these helpless children around the world. At this point, we don't know if God will call us to adopt more. Perhaps my ministry will be through writing. Or what a privilege it would be if God sends us as "goers" to travel and witness to others around the world. Maybe we will be advocates for specific children who need homes. As our lives begin to look a little more "normal" (ha! as if there really was such a thing), Seamus and I are currently in prayer, asking God to lead us according to His will.

In this moment, I feel called to share the news about Liberia and the mighty work that The Lord is doing there. It's an honor to be able to share this with you and to encourage each of you to take one small step toward furthering His kingdom on earth. Remember, orphan care is God's ministry. It's his number one priority. We know this by looking at the cross, the perfect and most sacrificial example of adoption. "...God sent his son that we might receive the full rights of sons." (Galatians 4:4-5) Please pray about how you can help with (un)adopted's mission in Liberia. Consider it pure joy to sacrifice what you can for something so worthy. (James 1:2) "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." (Galatians 6:9)

When Seamus and I began the adoption process, I shared a video that touched us deeply, and continues to. It helped to sum up the answer to "why" we were pursuing adoption. The video focuses on Liberia and the discussion today reminded me of this moving video...

Thursday, April 24, 2014

2 Weeks Home... Got Oxygen?

You know the instruction the flight attendant gives when you board a plane, "In the event of an emergency and loss of oxygen, your mask will automatically drop for your use. Please put the mask on yourself before helping your child." I used to think that was so strange. Why on earth would I consume the oxygen before my child? Who could live with themselves? Parenting our first child put this into proper perspective for me. These past couple weeks have shed light on this concept on a whole new level.

We've been home almost 2 weeks now.  I'll be perfectly honest. These have been 2 very hard weeks. As you know, Emily Hope was in the ER twice during the first week with fever reaching over 105. Praise God she's better!

Then me. I have been very sick. This experience would be so different if I could just function normally. My mask... It hasn't been working properly. The oxygen isn't coming out. I feel helpless. I can't "breathe" so I certainly can't provide "oxygen" for my husband and children. We have really been in survival mode these past couple weeks. The challenges of returning from China with a new child are overwhelming in so many ways. But to throw what feels like flu on top of it, is just downright ugly. After a week and a half of this virus rearing it's mean face each day, in comes ear and sinus infection. I've been in denial because I'm already on antibiotic as a precaution but after a night like last night, something's gotta' give. Thank God my parents have our 3 big kids today. In to the ENT I go (dragging poor Emily) for an appointment this afternoon. Praying I get more resolve than just instruction to "rest". Ha! That's always funny.

I am a wife. I am a mother to 4 young children, some more needy than others. I am an employee. I am a friend to many. For some reason, God trusted me in this life to be "needed" by many people. I am grateful for this responsibility. But when my oxygen mask isn't working, isn't even dropping from above, I feel sorry for not being more. Sigh. I am forever grateful for grace. The grace that so many offer to me when I feel worthless. Being this sick and needed at the same time will certainly bring a girl to her knees. First in frustration. Then in petition. Right where we need to stay. On our knees. Humble. Thankful. In need. God's got me right where He wants me... needing Him. Mercy!

All that said, we are rejoicing over so many blessings! I am reminded that His power is made perfect in our weakness. "But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me." (2 Corinthians 12:9) God is good, even through my mess. Not EVEN through my mess, but ESPECIALLY through my mess. He provided when we were all well and happy and life was easy. And he's providing now. That promise never dissolves.

Emily Hope is making great strides. She has definitely forged a bond with me and Seamus. She trusts us. It's going to take a lot longer, however, for her to learn she can't trust just anyone. She wants to go to whoever is near when she needs something, so we try to meet her needs immediately. She is very affectionate and wants to be held a lot. After being so weak from this illness, it has been difficult for me to tend to her every whim. Praying to gain strength soon so I can be who she needs me to be . She does throw an occasional temper tantrum and will scratch and bite if she senses mama tending to others' needs. All in time.

Our first post-placement home study was Monday. I had no voice, the house was a wreck, and I didn't have any strength. More grace. Our social worker was very gracious and completely understood and will write a great report, I'm sure. You may be wondering why these visits are necessary. Yes, the adoption is official and Emily is legally our daughter. Nothing can take her away from us. However, for the adoption process to continue, China (and other countries) want to watch the progress and see successful adoptions. It's very important that we provide these reports in order for future adoptive families to have a successful journey and for international adoption relationships to stay sturdy. It's really our pleasure to report back and to know they are interested in the children's well-being.

You can imagine all the time and energy I've had to write thank you notes. Bahahaha! Please excuse this "southern belle" from sending a personal note to each and every person who has been there to catch us over the past couple weeks. Meals, errands, babysitting, cards, FB and text messages, grocery shopping, gifts, flowers, prayers and hugs. You know who you are. You are the hands and feet of Jesus. Please know that you are a part of the adoption ministry. We couldn't have pursued Emily and brought her home without you. God knew this and provided His grace for us, through you. "My grace is sufficient for you"!!! Yes, it is. Thank you, friends. Truly overwhelming.

When all this is behind us, Emily Hope will still be home. The jet lag, the illness, the mess, the grieving... it'll all be gone. But our sweet Mei Mei will always be with us. And we will always know the love of Christ. JOY! Nothing we are going through can put a wrench in that kinda joy.

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:4-7)

Emily's first bike ride!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

One Week Home

I'm diggin' deep, y'all. Past the mental and physical exhaustion. Diggin' deep for some words to flow after being home for one week.

Tell me the jet lag ends soon. Just lie to me. I think Seamus and Emily have proved to be the most resilient. Brady is a little overtired still. And me? Well, I'm just a pansy, apparently. I'm okay with that, as long as you just let me sleep. I'm sure it doesn't help that I'm sick. I've lost my voice which makes it really hard to yell at my kids. Ack! ;) I started on an antibiotic just to be safe but I'm pretty sure it's viral.

Emily is making incredible progress. She has such a long road ahead but we are incredibly thankful for the daily milestones after only being home a week. First, her health is better. Praise God! After 2 ER visits and a fever that spiked to over 105 degrees, we were ready for her little body to heal. She loves to dance when music comes on. She went for her very first bike ride today. She loves to be outside. She never got to go outside in China because the pollution was so bad. It's a whole new world to her and it's so fun watching her explore everything from a leaf to a car. She is beginning to bond with Anna and Bryce. Brady had that privilege because they were in China together for 2 weeks. Emily was not happy to learn that she shares mama with 3 other kids. She actually hugged Anna today and has been very playful with all of her siblings. There has been some biting and scratching over the past week but we are patiently seeing her through it. At least we know she had a defense when she may have needed it. Girlfriend can put down some food. My goodness. And she loves the bath. Her first bath was pretty traumatic, as I'm sure it was very new to her but now she begs to get in and splashes and laughs the entire time.

On Monday, we have our first post placement visit. China requires a social worker to come in to our home and produce a report at specific intervals (1 month after gotcha day, 3 months, 6 months, one year, 2 years, and 5 years). The social worker who is conducting these visits is the same lady who conducted our home study. We really love her and are looking forward to our time with her.

Emily and I will be driving to Birmingham the week after next and staying overnight. This is where the international adoption pediatrician is located. They will do a complete exam, including appointments with physical and occupational therapists, and a full blood panel, etc. We will also be seeing a pediatric cardiologist soon after to make sure Emily's heart is okay.

One week home and we are definitely not in any sort of routine yet. I keep hearing about this "new normal" but I've yet to discover anything that resembles "normal". As long as Emily is making progress and our other kiddos are adjusting, I can deal with feeling out of sorts for awhile. Bleh.

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. How cool that we are able to talk about all the redemption and "new life" in Emily on Easter weekend! Easter is a time to reflect on the great sacrifice Christ made for His children. On Friday, He paid the ultimate price to adopt us in to His forever family. The price was high. It was gruesome and sacrificial. It was excruciating for Christ and His Father to be separated. Friday proved that God would do anything in order to be united with us! But the story didn't end there. Nope. He went ahead and sealed the deal by coming alive (FOREVER) 3 days later. What an honor to be able to compare our adoption journey to Christ's journey for us! Sweat, tears, and even blood in order to get to our girl. Of course, our sacrifice is nothing compared to that of Christ. But we are so privileged to live out even a small example of what Christ has done for us. And now we are seeing redemption, new life, a glimpse of the joy that family brings!

Adoption is hard. I've said it before and I stand by that, still. The Easter story itself is proof. It starts with sin at its core. Then there is a great deal of suffering in order to save the lost, to pay for the sin. "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) But the sin and suffering isn't the end of the story. There is resurrection and new life, redemption and joy. If you feel convicted to adopt, please do. But don't adopt because you think it's "cute". Don't adopt thinking the challenges will be the same as those with your bio kids. There's nothing glamorous or easy about adoption. Cute, easy, and glamorous are not what Christ promised us at the beginning of our journey. What He promises is hard. A hard that leads to joy. A hard that leads to life. "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it." (Mark 8:35) Adopt. Adopt because you are moved by the gospel message. Adopt because you want others to see what Christ has done for you. Adopt because you know this is not your home and the riches you own now will soon flee. But the joy that adoption brings permeates through your soul for eternity. That's something worth chasing after.

One week home. Many hard moments. Many joyful moments. All worth it. Thank you again for the support so many have provided. We are no where near completely adjusted and the extra hands have been very much appreciated! Love y'all to China and back!

Thank you, Holly, for capturing these sweet moments from our airport homecoming...



Saturday, April 12, 2014

Home... Day One

We are truly in a fog. Being home is so wonderful yet so difficult. Our fog consists of exhaustion, joy, frustration, worry, gratitude, and confusion. Yes, one big hodge-podge of emotions. We are extremely jet-lagged and my brain is having a hard time processing anything I'm needing to process.

Emily's fever from the flight continued to rise. When she woke up this morning, it was 104 degrees. If any of my other children had this fever with few other symptoms, I'd simply delve out the routine Tylenol and Motrin until it passed. We don't know much about Emily's little body so we decided to be safe. I took her to the ER where she tested negative for flu, strep, and RSV. She also had a chest x-ray and it came back clear. Its seems her little body is fighting a virus. It's no surprise with all she's been through over the past couple weeks. She's laying in our bed next to me right now, sound asleep. I'm pretty sure Seamus fell asleep praying with the boys in their room. Ha!

Bryce had a little mishap while we were gone and had stitches on his head. And apparently, Anna Grace picked up a very hearty case of head lice from school. All things that would have happened if we were home but boy do things seem to happen at inopportune times. Mercy! We are so incredibly thankful for our best friends who took very good care of them while we were away. Oh, and the chocolate cake (she knows it's my fave) and big bottle of wine were pretty spectacular too! ;)

We sent Brady to spend the day at a friend's house. He needed to get out and just run with some friends and that gave us a little break to focus on the others. I believe Emily is attaching well so far. She gets very jealous if I hold Bryce or Anna so we are patiently dealing with that. She also screams when someone leaves a room or our house... anyone. I think that's just a natural response to the many people who have come in and out of her life. It's going to be a long road but it's so encouraging to see progress each day.

We laid down to take naps today and had to make ourselves get up after a few hours so we can reprogram our bodies. Jet lag is no laughing matter. I thought Europe was bad. Try 13 hour difference with 4 kids who all need very individualized attention.

Okay, I got it all out. Phew! I should probably share now how incredibly grateful we are to be home. We know that God can handle anything that comes our way. We have Him and each other and are safe at home. Nothing beats that. Even extreme exhaustion, head lice, temper tantrums, and high fevers can't repress my joy! God remains faithful and good. No. Matter. What.

Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for all the support so many of you have provided! The prayers, the comments, the airport welcome, the meals, the flowers and cards, the list goes on and on. Thank you. We are honored and humbled to be loved so deeply by so many. Furthermore, God has answered our prayers to be a light for Him and to change hearts through us. We are overwhelmed by the numerous people who claim to have been changed by our story. Please know that conviction you feel comes perfectly from the Holy Spirit, not from us. If you feel led to be a light for Jesus, I encourage you to step out in faith. He provides, y'all. Always, and in everything He calls us to.

One Less

One less.

I am forever grateful that of the overwhelming number of orphans in this world, literally hundreds of millions, Emily makes one less. Sometimes the large number is overwhelming and we feel like we can’t make a difference but God himself leaves his entire flock in order to save just one lost sheep. (Luke 15:3-7)  As I write this, I am on the airplane from Hong Kong to Newark, NJ, pondering our little sheep who is coming home. If you have been following our story, you are familiar with the hardship that has come with our adoption. But the joy is infinitely more powerful. Abandonment, trauma, pain… all things Emily has experienced in ways we can never imagine. But we have experienced true redemption through our journey. She is coming home to our family, and coming home to know Jesus Christ, to be a part of His unfolding Kingdom. Just as our t-shirts read, “Bringing Home Emily Hope… into our family, into His Kingdom”. Oh happy day!

We are so ready to be home. Being away from Anna and Bryce for this long has been painful at times. We are eager to get back into a routine and try to figure out what our new “normal” will look like. We have experienced jet lag in an ugly way and we’re afraid it will be even worse coming home, knowing that we actually lose 13 hours this time. I’m expecting lots of rest for everyone over the next several days. We have actually decided to keep Brady home for the rest of the school year. It’s only about 6 weeks, and I’ll be home already with Emily. The timing couldn’t be more perfect. We feel like it will be an amazing opportunity to just pour in to him, disciple him, and let him continue to forge a special bond with Emily.

Emily is doing very well on this long flight. The only tears that have been shed were in the tiny lavatory to change a diaper. She’s been sleeping for hours and now she’s just playing with her sippy cup. Scratch that. She’s sound asleep again. J She does seem to be running a fever but no fussiness from her.

In 8 hours, our airplane will touch down on US soil and Emily Hope will be an American Citizen. The Lomans will be hootin’ and hollerin’ up in the New Jersey airport, in true Louisiana fashion. Whooooot!  ;)

Redemption. This is the happy ending. Redemption is God’s story. God's redemptive story has changed my life and He has now graciously covered Emily’s tragic circumstances with His redemption. There are no words to describe how thankful we are for God’s grace in this beautiful child’s life and in ALL the lives of His elect.

We’re coming home friends!!

One less. (Sigh)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Chinese Folk Art

I'm so happy to have gotten a picture of all the Lifeline families who are here with us! This picture was taken when we met downstairs this morning to go sightseeing together. These precious friends are the hands and feet of Jesus. Love every single one of them.

After we took this picture, we loaded up on our bus for some morning sightseeing and shopping. We visited the Chen Family Temple, aka the Guangdong Folk Art Museum. The Chen family was and is a huge, prominent family in China, whose temple was eventually bought out from the government. It has beautiful gardens and amazing hand-carved architecture. Within the temple, there are some amazing art forms.

All hand-carved architecture
There is an entire room full of ivory that has been hand-carved in to sculptures. The detail was just incredible.

There was a man hand-painting beautiful pictures of Chinese landmarks. He was using black ink and only his hands, fingers, and fingernails. Here's a picture of a quick demonstration he did for us. We bought a more elaborate one of The Great Wall that we plan to hang in our home. Amazing and ancient form of artwork.

We also bought "chops" for each of our 4 children. Chops are wooden, hand-carved stamps. Each of their names are carved in Chinese and in English and we are given stamp ink to go with them. Part of the carving is an animal that represents each of the years they were born. For example, Brady is the year of the rooster so his chop has a rooster carved on the top. Emily was born in the year of the dragon. It's very unique and common in China. Another beautiful piece of Chinese culture.

Another unique Chinese art form that we got to experience is the scrolls of calligraphy. These are beautifully painted scrolls and the artist writes your name or whatever you want on it in Chinese. We purchased one scroll for Emily's room with her Chinese name (Gao Yu) written on it. Her chop actually says Emily Hope in Chinese and English.

We returned to the hotel and walked a short distance to eat Chinese for lunch. Emily is taking a nap right now and the boys are downstairs in the swimming pool. Tomorrow morning we go to the Guangzhou zoo. It should be interesting as Emily has never seen any of these animals. She is enthralled by the coy fish at our hotel. I am particularly excited to see the panda bears. :)

Our consulate appointment, with the US Embassy, is scheduled for Wednesday, the 9th. We will get Emily's visa at this appointment so that she is able to enter the U.S. This is the last step before we are able to come home! We do have to wait a day before we can leave, just in case any paperwork gets messed up and we need to be available. On Thursday evening we are taking a train to Hong Kong where we will stay in the airport hotel there. Friday we wake up to begin our return home!!!

Many people have asked about possibly greeting us at the airport upon our return. We want everyone to know that you are completely welcome to greet us when we arrive. We do not expect anyone to drive to New Orleans to see us for 5 minutes but for those who have asked, you are certainly welcome. I know my parents will be there as well as a couple other friends for sure. If you are interested, please contact my friend who has our return flight home (I don't want to post that information publicly). Her email address is It is fine to greet Emily and speak to her. We simply ask that no one try to hold her or give her anything when you see her. Thanks for your love and support, friends! We can't wait to come home once and for all... or at least until God convicts our hearts again! Ha!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Worship and Shopping

Worship and shopping... I know. We hate to combine the 2 on the Sabbath but we have to adjust a little while we're here. ;)

Today we took advantage of an amazing opportunity. We worshipped with a body of believers right in the heart of Guangzhou. This church meets in a hotel every Sunday, several miles from our hotel. We had no idea what to expect. I didn't feel like going. I wanted to stay in my pajamas, drink coffee and let Seamus lead us in worship in our hotel room but Seamus really wanted us to go. So we did. And I am so thankful that he made that decision for our family, despite my stubborn will.

There were hundreds of people there, from all different countries. Americans, Indians, Africans, Europeans. Because it is the first Sunday of the month, we had the honor of sharing communion with these fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. So many of our Lifeline friends made the comment that this is what heaven will be like. Yes! It was amazing to be united with these people... our family. The sermon was on 2Timothy 2:8-13. It was so perfect to be there for that passage. The service was an hour and a half long. I thought about how most Americans would be yawning and checking their watches. These people were hungry. It was beautiful.

Before we went to worship, we were reminded to bring our passports. I didn't understand why at first. Turns out the government does not allow Chinese nationals to worship here. The hundreds of people here were foreigners. The Chinese are not allowed to freely hear the good news like we did today. May I please be bold and urge you to go to church?! Not out of obligation or a false notion that church attendance wins you favor with God. Go because you can. Go because we have the freedom to worship with a body of believers and that is an awesome privilege. We take it for granted, the same way we do our right to vote (but that's a blog post for another day. ;). So sad to think of the Chinese people not having this opportunity to worship with us. Yet so humbling and grace-filled for God to bring these believers together to share the Lord's supper! Thankful for this experience.

Taxi ride to worship
Oragami cross that Brady made in Sunday school.

We met our Lifeline group downstairs at 2:30 and we took the bus down to a really neat market in Guangzhou. Rows and rows of jewelry stands and shops. There's a ton of Jade and as much as I wanted a Jade bracelet, I went straight for the pearls. We bought a strand of pearls and pearl earrings for both of our girls. Our plan is to give these to them for their weddings. We had our guide with us to educate us on the classes of jade and pearl, the vendors who were honest, and negotiating. We spent less than $200 for the strands and earrings. In the states, these would have been several hundred, maybe even thousands. I can't wait to share these with Emily and Anna one day!

Searching for the perfect pearls

We will be doing some sightseeing tomorrow, with our group. We miss our babies back home but are excited to be experiencing all this. 5 days until we fly home! Oh how we long to be a family of 6, all together.