Friday, May 29, 2015

Facing Reality

As I get closer to travel, I have begun seeking advice from other families who have traveled to the same orphanage to pick up their little ones. Over the past week, I've been in touch with many people who have offered information and pictures about Samuel's orphanage. We were thrilled to get those 3 pictures of our son smiling. But the realities about his "home" are very hard to digest.

The fact is, he lives in an overcrowded institution run by a Communist government. This is not news to us. We are well aware of the reality that exists in China for the millions of children who have been left to fend for themselves. In some ways, we didn't have to face it as much with our adoption of Emily over a year ago, because she lived in a foster orphanage (Harmony House) where they truly did their best to care for her.

Here are a few things we've learned this week, none of which are surprising but all of which deeply pain my heart.

Most of the children at this orphanage have an intestinal, parasitic infection called Giardia. It's awful. Just google it. They do not test for or treat Giardia at the orphanages. Many of the children have had it for so long that their bodies become accustomed to it and are asymptomatic by the time they come home. Chances are Samuel lives with this.

His orphanage has no central heat. The winter was rough. We don't know if they have A/C in the scorching summer heat.

Children with blankets on them in the "play" room

Samuel was born without his left forearm. We are confident that with therapy and practical use, he will learn to function just fine. For now, it seems his lucky fin is simply being covered up. I doubt he is receiving any assistance in learning how to use it. I'm hopeful he will make up for lost time when he comes home, as they all do with their unique special needs.

There's no getting around the simple fact that most of these institutions are filled with hundreds of overcrowded rooms.

One baby room at Samuel's orphanage. We hope mattresses are put in the cribs before the babies are returned.
Other common ailments in the orphanages include scabies, head lice, malnutrition, even scars on ankles from being tied to their cribs. We don't see any evidence that Samuel is affected by these. We pray daily that God will protect him from disease and abuse. It's hard to consider what he may be going through but it's a reality. These realities don't scare us away. Quite the contrary. They drive us.

I'm not trying to be Debby Downer here. I write plenty of posts about the redemption we see offered to many of these children. But we have to face reality. They don't have a voice. I have to be their voice. We have to be their voice. It's all an injustice. One look at these places, one look in to the eyes that barely survive here... it's plenty to convince us that we will never stop fighting. It's too important to the kingdom of God. They are His most treasured ones.

We must go in to the hard places. The price paid for not going is just too high, y'all. And these children don't deserve to pay that price.

Yes, my heart breaks over the conditions Samuel may be experiencing. Hiding from it won't bring justice for him. We will fight every single day to get there as quickly as we can. His life is worth everything to us.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

We recently received an update from Samuel's orphanage. It included an email with a small amount of information and some precious pictures. We were given growth data and some answers to other questions. We may or may not be able to trust the validity of these answers but we were happy to hear, nonetheless. The pictures though... they were game changers.

I have to be honest. I've loved Samuel since the moment we saw him. I loved him right away because I knew God called him to be our son. But I never felt an emotional connection to his first pictures. So often, the pictures included in these kids' files look like mug shots. The children tend to look empty and stoic. It usually isn't until these children come home that an amazing transformation takes place. It's true that real love changes a person physically.

Whether or not he's receiving proper care, we'll never know. But these recent pictures show life in our boy's eyes. To see that smile, those 2 front teeth, those handsome features... melted my heart. We are one month in to our LOA wait and this new glimpse of Samuel now makes the wait harder. I am so very grateful for this new perspective that God has granted me. It may not seem like a big deal but these pictures are an amazing blessing for this family who, so desperately, wants to connect with our son. They are all we have right now.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

From Fear to Faith

Fear. What an ugly word. What a disgusting power it has over our lives. It is the devil's stronghold, his darkest lie. He loves to use it to the detriment of God's plan.

Anyone else lie awake at night, head spinning, thinking about all the things that could go wrong tomorrow? I do. And ya' know what? It's sinful. God detests my fear. It takes my focus off of Him. It says my faith is weak. Fear blinds me from truth.

I know pride is at the center of every sin but I'd like you to consider for a minute that fear always accompanies pride. Fear is powerful. Adam and Eve made a choice to be their own gods. They believed the lie that God wasn't enough. I'm certain that without fear, they would have completely trusted their God. That slimy serpent snuck into Eve's innermost, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God." (Gen.3:4-5) I can hear Eve thinking to herself after she's heard the lie. "Hmmmmm... I wonder if God's really who he says he is. I'm afraid He may not follow through. Yeah, He's always provided in the past but who knows? Plus, I really want this yummy apple. I can totally do this my way." Anyone ever share those very thoughts? (insert huge hand raise from me)

Maybe we don't say outloud that we don't trust Him. Maybe we don't conciously think we believe it. But we do. We believe the lie. Every day. We're afraid. We're afraid God isn't who he says he is. We're afraid he won't provide. We're afraid he doesn't really love us as deeply as he says he does.    

"Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew they were naked." (Gen.3:7) Believing Satan's lie always leads to shame. Always. Do we understand that this life is a war? Friends, we are literally in the midst of spiritual warfare. Satan is fighting for us to carry our shame, hold on to our fear. His battle is for our hearts. Fear and sin are still very present in our lives. We battle every day but Christ has risen to the challenge and already won the war! We need only embrace that truth to experience real freedom. Fear and shame should not hold us any longer.

For those of us who believe the lie daily (throat clear), there is also grace daily. And this grace is way more powerful than anything Satan thinks he can kill us with. You see, the cross of Jesus Christ eliminated our shame, it covered our sin, it forgives our doubt and fear. We are made new every day. The cross, His blood, covers all. Moreover, the resurrection proves that Satan has been defeated. We live in victory! We can live in peace, y'all. With no fear. With no worry. The cross and the resurrection are proof that He is in control and that our lives belong to Him. If you belong to Christ, you are a child of the light and darkness shall not overtake us! (John 1:5)

What are you afraid of? What keeps you up at night? Why is your answer to God's plan for you today "no"? The landscape of God's call on our lives is vast and various. We operate as one body, each with a different part and purpose. He calls us to different ministries, each for the same cause of course... to bring Him glory, to make Him known. God has made it clear to our family that the ministry of adoption is where He wants us, so this is my heart here (You can apply these same questions to whatever area God has ordained for you).

Wanna know what I'm afraid of? I have no qualms about sharing the weakness of my flesh because God's power is made perfect in weakness. I'm afraid we won't raise the money we need for this adoption. I'm afraid to hear the comments from people who don't really understand what we're doing. I'm afraid we can't afford a 5th child. I'm afraid Samuel will have a cognitive disability. I'm afraid he will be ostracized because of his missing arm. I'm afraid I won't know how to love him through that. What if I don't have an immediate connection the way I did with my others? I'm afraid my husband and I will have even less time together. I fear how my 4 children could be affected by this adoption. I'm afraid of what could happen to me while I'm in China.

These fears can be paralyzing. And ya' know what? Fear blinds us from truth. We literally can't see reality when we are afraid. I hear Satan in those fears I've confessed to you. "Hang on to your wordly possessions and passions. You will surely not die from these things. They will bring you great comfort and control." My fears are many and the lies ring loud in my head. But. My faith prevails. Seamus and I are taking the leap, day by day, trusting that God's will for our lives is bigger than our limited understanding, bigger than our carnal desires. We have decided that He knows best. He loves us too much to let us fall. "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs on your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows." (Matt.10:29-31)

When I remove the blinder of fear (which can only happen by reminding myself of His work on the cross) I realize what's true. The worst consequence of my fears has no eternal effect on my soul. When I ask myself, "What if Samuel is sicker than we think he is? What if we can't afford to send our kids to college? What if I die in China?" my answer is... So what? No, seriously. So what?! Even my life is worth saving just one lost soul. Radical? Maybe. Consider it. What price is too high to be God's hands and feet in saving souls? The answer is simple. There is no price too great. Our fears are what complicate the answer. They are what stands in the way of us being God's vehicle to His precious world.

One step back for a second... I'm not saying we shouldn't use wisdom in discerning where He wants us. It's important to pray about what it should look like for our faith to be put in to action. I'm betting God wants me in my children's lives for many years and that I probably play an important role in their upbringing. ;) But I can't let fear control me. If God has called me to China (which he clearly has), then I trust He will provide in my safety. And if I do die, then God has ordained that too and I am sure He would continue to provide in giving Seamus every support needed to raise them on his own. Hard? Of course. Again, the cost is often great but never too high for His glory to be made known. The point is that we trust His plan and follow His lead, never doubting His goodness and promise to provide. Y'all, it is freeing to not feel like we have to be in control of every detail of our lives.

I sound brave, right? Ha! I continue to fear but His mercies are new every day and I am constantly reminded to let my faith win the battle over fear. Seamus and I are far from perfect in our faith but grateful for the daily renewal of our souls. Our faith, the faith that is a gift from our merciful God, overcomes all fear. God is love and there is no fear in love. No. Fear. In. Love. "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." (1John4:18) The only fear God calls us to is a deep understanding of who He is, an awe over His holiness. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight." (Proverbs 9:10)

Let go, Laura. Let go, y'all!! Rise up! Live a life of freedom. A life that honors Him. A life that has no regrets, no boundaries. Not out of obligation or guilt. Not a life of charity but of gratitude, deep gratitude for all Christ has already done for us. I don't know about you but I sure can't wait to see the face of God one day as he tells me, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done."

Friends, this life is but a vapor. It is seriously done and over with in the blink of an eye. There is no sacrifice on earth  that's not worth receiving the untouchable joy that God brings to us when we follow Him. There's no border scary enough to keep us from living for Christ. To trust and not fear is hard. Very, very hard. Life doesn't get easier when you pick up your cross and hand all your idols over to The Lord. But the freedom that comes. The joy. It's irreplaceable. And it brings everlasting life. I'm hanging on to that promise, not the false lies of this world. I'm moving from fear to faith. Who's in?!

The words to this song are so poignant. I love it...
"I've counted up the cost, and you are worth it... I don't need safety as much as I need you. You're dangerous but Lord you're beautiful... I'll carry my cross because real love is not afraid to bleed..."