Sunday, January 27, 2008

Trials, Scandals and the Grace of God

We are so sorry that it has taken so long to post a new blog, but after this entry I’m sure you’ll understand why things have been a bit hectic on our end!

First off I just want to say that I love my God. He is eternally faithful and He has always been there for us. I am daily in awe that He would look upon me with desire and love in spite of my continual blunders!

So here is another one for the books…Two weeks ago Jess, Sunda and I went into town to do some grocery shopping for our outreach to one of the villages on the farm. We parked at one of the busiest spots in Livingstone, the post office, and jumped out to go to a couple shops. Twenty minutes went by and I had enough bags in hand to need to return and dump them off with our Land Rover. Upon returning, I found that one of our windows had been forced open in the back of the vehicle. Well, you know how you get that sick feeling in your stomach when you know you’re about to hear/see some really bad news…let’s just say my heart was beating out of my chest. I unlocked the back door and to my astonishment found that someone had gotten into our vehicle, gone through our things and stolen our laptop. Immediately I jumped out and began questioning all of the venders who are set up RIGHT IN FRONT of our vehicle. Of course, their response was “I saw nothing…” At this point I realize that I’m going to lose control on someone (the great missionary that I am) and so I return to the vehicle and wait for Jessi. She returns and I give her the story and we sit down for a minute speechless. Now I understand that some of you are thinking…it’s just a laptop…but when that small machine operates as our database for ministry, music, and entertainment in the bush it had become a whole lot more central to us than ever before. Our first discussion revolved around notifying the police, which here is quite frankly useless (a day full of questions and paperwork in a Zambian police station would have only escalated my frustration). We decided to spread the word to some of our Zambian friends in town and let God bring it back to us if it was His will.
We went on to have an excellent, but difficult week out in Peter’s village. Excellent because we had some great times fishing, eating together and studying the word of God. Difficult because living in the bush brings on a whole new dimension of living. It is a “slower chaos” as Jessi puts it. It’s like putting all of your effort in a day just to…survive. Cooking takes a lot more time when you are doing everything over a fire and sharing that fire with other families. The chickens, dogs and cats constantly trying to steal whatever they can get also poses as a constant nuisance. Zambia has also declared a national emergency due to more rain than people have ever seen here so simply keeping out tent clean from mud was a chore (especially with a silly, excited 2 year old!) We returned from our outreach very excited and very worn out all at once, but we managed without a laptop and we knew that things would work out.
A few days after arriving home I arranged a trip to Lusaka in order to try and get our adoption further along. I arrived and after a long conversation with our social worker I had to accept that Zambia has simply put a temporary hold on adoptions. We are legally fostering Sunda right now, but the adoption will have to finish once the ban is lifted (please pray hard for this!) After that meeting I went to Lusaka’s nice shopping area and visited the internet parlor. I had spoken with a missionary friend who told me he had done lots of purchases off of eBay and that I should check there for a laptop. I had been doing some research and decided that Jessi and I were going to switch to an apple laptop because of several reasons. I knew the prices of most of the apple set-ups and so I began searching through eBay to find a deal. After just ten minutes of looking around I came upon a fully loaded, brand new apple laptop that was been sold a nearly a fourth of the price. The ad said the seller wanted to be contacted through e-mail in order to discuss things with the buyer. I contacted the seller and asked why it was so cheap and all of the details with the purchase. We agreed that we would only make the purchase through eBay, but the seller from Romania asked me if I could please pay using Western Union because of the difficulty with drawing money using Paypal (which we understand the difficulty drawing money thing). I agreed and received a confirmation email from eBay indicating the item had been sold to me and all of the directions for payment (all verified by eBay). The item was purchased at $1200 (a laptop at $4400 value!) and I sent the first $1000 through Western Union immediately. I returned to the farm that night by bus and the next morning I told Jeff, our director, all about my great purchase. I believe his first words were, “you didn’t send the money did you!?!” You know that sick feeling I talked about earlier…well it returned. “Of course,” was my answer. He went on to tell me about how anyone requesting to use Western Union on eBay is usually a scam. I assured him that eBay sent me a verification that it was all done through them and I was protected. He told me to check it all out. I went into town in order to check e-mail and I looked over the verification e-mail from eBay and was convinced that all was ok. I got onto my eBay user name and it said that I had made 0 purchases on the account. This was puzzling. eBay had sent me verification to my e-mail and yet my account said I hadn’t purchased or won any items. I began to open a bunch of the “common questions” on eBay to find that people are able to send “fake” eBay verifications to your personal e-mail and that you are only supposed to go through your eBay message board. As I continued I came to find that if you use Western Union then eBay has no ability to get your money back if you are swindled. So there I was, laptopless and now swindled of $1,000. I thought I was going to bust. GOD…WHERE WERE YOU ON THAT ONE…was one of my first thoughts. WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME! Was probably a close second.
I went home angry and sad and confused all at once. But I also had another thought in the back of my head. It seems that every time these kind of catastrophes happen in life, we have a chance to learn something incredible from God who is never closer than at these times. I just spoke a message concerning the grace of God and how it is actually the grace of God in our lives at times when bad things happen to us. Well, this was one of those times.
I was preparing for a bible study the next day and totally clueless as to how I could teach anything with the way I was feeling. And then I had one of those moments. You know. The kind of moment where God reveals himself to you and “sobers you up” from that woe is me garbage. He simply asked me the question, “What really matters?” I was stunned and excited. I knew it was a rhetorical question that my Father was eager to show me. I sat there in silence and that inner voice began to remind me of a verse that has carried me through so many times in the last several years.

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” -Phil. 3:7-8

To know Him. To be invited to gaze upon and know the One Who has no end. Paul had it all. Popularity, prestige, wealth, power. And what does he say? It is ALL rubbish compared to knowing Jesus. If everything I own is taken from me tomorrow, I can stand without offense in my heart because no one can take my knowledge of God. No one can separate me from my King. He even says in Bible, “No one can snatch them (his children) out of my hand.” God set me free in that moment. I have every ability to fall more and more in love with Him every day and I don’t need money or a laptop. I don’t even have to know the right words to say or pray. I don’t need to have a perfect theology. I just have to have a desire to know Him and follow Him. He leads me from there. He reveals Himself to the one who cries out to Him. I get to wake up every day and journey into the never-ending depths of God. Love Incarnate. Mercy, Justice, Truth. He is the essence of reality. And He has chosen to reveal Himself to me. To us! And this is my life: consumed with one thing, namely, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord (Psalm 27:4). I will gladly lose everything that I may gain Him.

We had a great bible study. I was able to thank God for the mishaps because they brought that fresh, new perspective into my life. You can’t take Him from me. Hah! I win! God wins!
So with that long blog I invite you just as Jesus invites you:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I wil give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
If you can relate. If you are tired and overloaded. Cry out to Him. Just say God I want to know you! He is closer than you think!

With all of my love,


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Crazy Life...Abundant Blessings...

Sometimes, God asks us to do crazy things. No, not crazy things like that of the delirious religious fanatics that come into my mom’s ER on a full moon claiming to be the Messiah. Rather, things that seem against the normal flow of society. Things that are not typically socially, politically, or economically acceptable. Things that seem like you don’t really have it all together. I guess God sometimes asks us to do these things because, I imagine if I only had to do things that made it seem like I had it all together, I would be able to give a lot of glory to myself. And that is exactly opposite the point of our existence, isn’t it? The Bible says that we exist to give glory to God. That, even the trees and all of creation cry out His Praises! So, we have to get over the thing of wanting to be and look and act “normal.” We’re not really.

I wonder how many people read those sentences and think, “No, it’s people like that, people that think that they hear from God, that form the base of all the religious crazies and fanatics in the world.” Well, then count me in. I’d rather you think I was crazy than act like I don’t have a personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe. How about that for fanatic?

So, all that said, sometimes, God asks us to do crazy things. For me, God asked me to do a crazy thing last year when Jacob said, “I think we’re supposed to adopt this little girl.” My heart was full of love for her. It told me that I didn’t really want to live my life without her. But adopt? In our early twenties? Our first child? On our salary? Living in a third world country? Not having a home to live in in the U.S.? What about the social stigma? What if we did move back to West Virginia? As my dad put it, “Who will she date in Brooke County?” To me, it was crazy that God would put such a thing in our path. And I knew it had to be Him, because at that point in my life, I wouldn’t have thought of it myself.

In case you’re wondering, when Sunda is old enough for us to talk about all of this, I will make sure to make this part of the adoption process something that she knows about. How our love for her overcame all of the things that people might think and say. How it overcame my worry of our families and friends accepting it. How it overcame any prejudices that might exist now or in the future. How, sometimes, things that are absolutely NOT apart of our 5 year plan become the biggest blessing that we’ve known in our lives so far.

Before Jacob and I left to come back to Africa, I was terrified. Terrified that I wouldn’t be a good mother. An organized mother. A patient mother. An unconditionally loving mother. A mother who was able to rise cheerfully at 5 and have clean hair and French toast on the table by 6. I was certain that because adoption wasn’t in the original plan, I would be unprepared and that everyone would suffer for it. It was as if, in my own head, 25 marked the magic age for my readiness to be a mother. Anytime before that, and surely my childish immaturities would overcome me and I would neglect my child and scar her for life.

HA! Funny the things that we think. Don’t send me emails about being too hard on myself. If you don’t ever think these things, then just chalk it up to me being Obsessive Compulsive and we’ll call it a day.

The funny thing is that from the day that we got the paper stating that Sunda was in our custody, my life transformed. I’ve even thought, “Wow, this makes living in my own head so much easier, I wish we would’ve done it sooner.” Not only is having Sunda a joy and a blessing, it carries a weight that hasn’t been matched in my life so far. You hear this from all new moms, but I experienced it in a different way, because I wasn’t prepared for it by 9 months of pregnancy and 12 hours of labor. All of a sudden, my life wasn’t about me. It was about her. My bad mood doesn’t matter, because it’s not her fault, and she still wants to play. The fact that I’m tired and have a cold doesn’t matter, because she’s awake and needs to be fed. Even if there’s no electricity, or the gas has run out of my gas stove, or the hot water heater has stopped working, or there’s no water at all because the tank has run dry. It doesn’t matter. I no longer have the luxury of throwing my own personal fit and tossing in the towel. Believe it or not, to me, this makes life a lot easier. Like this:

It’s 5:45 am. Sunda has woken up and is singing from her bed, “Mama, walk. (as in, “Let’s go for a walk.”) Mama, walk. Mama, poop. I poop.”

It’s early. I don’t want to get up. But this isn’t college anymore. I don’t get to lay in bed and skip a class just because I don’t want to. I have to get up because someone else in the world is depending on me to start my day so that she can start hers. And, inevitably, 15 minutes after I’ve dragged myself out of bed, we are laughing and playing, and I think, “Would I really have wanted to miss this?” Suddenly, it’s a little easier to make choices because I can ask myself what’s best for her, instead of analyzing and replaying what’s best for me.

So, there are many chains that come with parenthood. You’ve heard them all before. No more sleeping in, no more spontaneity, no more late nights. Whatever. But, there are so many freedoms too. The freedom of not listening to yourself and your needs, because there are other needs to attend to. The freedom of going to bed at night and knowing that, even if you did nothing else of worth that day, there is a child who went to bed feeling secure and loved because of you. The freedom of making decisions, not upon your own best interest or profit, but your whole family’s best interest. And, especially for me, the freedom of not worrying anymore about my own inadequacies or inefficiencies. Because, I’m essentially in the middle of everything I ever worried about. So, if I want to change things, I can change them. And if not, there’s not really a whole lot to worry about. Mostly because there’s a not a whole lot of time to worry when I’m trying to keep a VERY active two year old entertained, fed, at least partly clean, and out of anything that could hurt her or make a huge mess.

Again, sometimes God asks us to do crazy things. And sometimes, these things end up being the least crazy decisions we’ve ever made. That’s why He makes them. He knows we’d never do it on our own. In that respect, I mentioned that I will someday tell Sunda that our love for her and God’s love for her overcame everything else that stood in the way. Right now, we need that love to overcome some pretty big things that stand in the way. The adoption process is not moving exactly as we’d hoped and we came home from a week in Lusaka tired, discouraged, and poor. Don’t spend time worrying for us. If God can overcome my will (all of our wills) then He can surely overcome the Zambian adoption process. Please pray that our adoption will be granted and that we would be light in the dark places that exist in this chaos. That’s all.

After all of that expose on parenting, I would feel completely remiss not to mention Jacob’s role in all of this. Typically, I am embarrassed by my friend’s sentimental blogs singing their husband’s praises. In fact, I’m a little embarrassed by such sentimentality unless it is for Jacob’s ears alone. However, I would feel like I left out a lot if I acted like I handle the bulk of the parenting, or get up every early morning, or change even most of the poopie diapers. I don’t. “Facts is facts.” Aside from being my best friend, a wonderful caretaker, and a kind and loving husband, Jacob is the best example of a father that I have ever seen…in my life. He has taught me any wisdom that I’ve gained from this experience. And I’ve learned about being a good parent mostly from his example. I don’t know where he learned to do the things that he does. I don’t know how he keeps from being overwhelmed. I don’t know how he always has time to stop and pay attention to whatever Sunda is doing. And I don’t know how he manages to love me so much at the same time. But he does. Our marriage was strong, joyful, and loving before. But being in this situation has completely changed my view of him. If I respected him before, I am awed now. I always knew that we would have a wonderful family…but now I am moved to tears to think of the blessing that our children will have in their father. I am a blessed woman. Those are the facts.

If you thought that we were just doing a good deed or furthering our mission with this adoption, you were wrong. God put this child in our lives, not only because she needed a home, but because we needed the lessons and the love that being parents brings. Even if it’s crazy, this crazy girl is standing in awe of the fact that God sees so perfectly into exactly what we need and exactly how He will be glorified through it.

Well, if you never got the depths of my heart, you have it now. I have been agonizing about posting a blog because I knew that if I started writing I just might share a little more than I wanted to. But, here you are, more than you wanted to know.