Tuesday, July 30, 2013

When It Has to be God

“No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you.” (Psalm 33:16-22)

We received several big pieces of discouraging news today related to both the possibility of being matched with the two boys and to the timing of being able to complete all the necessary adoption steps if we do get matched, before our paperwork expires next month.

It’s like the time that God significantly cut the numbers of Gideon’s army. So the Israelites couldn’t boast that they saved themselves by their own strength. (Judges 7)

And the time that Elijah poured large jars of water on the altar of Mount Carmel. And then cried out to God to prove himself by setting fire to the wood. So the people would know-without-a-doubt that the Lord was God. (1 Kings 18)

Today it feels like the size of our army has been cut and several large jars of water have saturated the altar of our adoption.

But in the midst of today’s discouraging news, God has encouraged our hearts that He is still in control. He used this news to remind us that we can’t put our trust in an advocate to accomplish what needs to happen with our adoption. We can’t put our trust in Charly’s persistence or hard work to bring it about. And we can’t even put our trust in how earnestly or how many people are praying for us.

God reminded us of the simple question that Sennacherib used to challenge Hezekiah: “What are you trusting in?” (Isaiah 36)

What are we trusting in?

It has become increasingly clear to us that it 100 % has to be God to accomplish the miracle we need to complete this adoption. Our trust must be in Him alone.

“It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.” (Psalm 44:3)

May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Different Kind of Birth

Wednesday was a significant day for our family. It was Jordan’s 15th birthday, and we celebrated early in the morning with our family tradition of chocolate cake and banana ice cream for breakfast. Then Charly and I traveled an hour by bus to the orphanage. Yes. We actually got to meet the two boys we are hoping and praying will become our sons!

As we are not on the typical adoption path right now, we are so thankful that God has provided us with an advocate in Gansu who is helping us to navigate a very unique road of special approvals and exceptions to try to match us with these boys and complete their adoptions before our paperwork expires on August 22.

“Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters—a pathway no one knew was there!” (Psalm 77:19)

On the bus I thought about our three biological children. How I have known them their entire lives. Since even before their births, as I carried them in my womb. And how meeting these two boys, on Jordan’s birthday, felt like a very different kind of birth. An introduction. Not joining our family yet. Not even guaranteed that they will be joining our family. But we are hoping. We are fighting for them. And we have seen God moving the mountains that are still in the way. A birthing still in process.

I reflected on our three children’s birthdays and how we’ve celebrated them over the years. And how different it will be to have no pictures in our new boys’ albums as babies, as toddlers, as kindergarteners. Because we won’t have the privilege of getting to know these two until much later in their lives. The first birthday celebrations we’ll have for them will be in December when they turn 8 and 9. A huge chapter of their lives— full of question marks. There will be so much we will never know about these years before they become Pines.

And so. I’m thankful for the peace God gave me as I was praying about our adoption at the end of June. The time that we were beginning to consider how we would change our request if God chose not to give us the two from Gansu we were praying for. Somewhat overwhelmed with the idea of what age we would ask for, I turned to Psalm 139. In reading those verses, I knew that if we adopted an older child, I could trust that the “missing years” weren’t missing to Him.

“Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16)

I journaled on June 29 (edited here to make it plural): “Trusting that the days/years in the orphanage were ordained and part of (their) story before coming to our family, even though we would wish that (they) could have joined us earlier. Trusting in God’s greater plan and His perfect timing.”

The peace that God gave me then is something I have been able to come back to and rest in, now that we know about these two boys. I can trust that He had a reason in choosing to make them known to us at this time, and not any earlier. That their years in the orphanage, whatever they have been like, can be used by Him for good. Because those years were ordained by Him. And can be redeemed.

I love how Kristin Swick Wong expresses her trust in God for this “missing period” before adoption, in her book Carried Safely Home: “I need to believe that the first 20 months of Benjamin’s life were not all loss, that prayers have been and will be answered, that God has used this time to create something beautiful. I need to believe that even this pain of being grafted into a new family can be redeemed, clothed with glorious garments of praise. I draw hope from the Lord who takes what is broken and makes it beautiful. It may take a long time. Oak trees grow slowly. But perhaps it is from the scars of Benjamin’s broken places that a sapling is starting to grow, an oak of righteousness to display God’s splendor.” (Referencing Isaiah 61:1-3)

Since meeting the boys, I’ve been thinking more about this idea of them being grafted into our family. Romans 11:17 says, “And you, Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree were grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in God’s rich nourishment of his special olive tree.”

These new branches were not a part of the tree originally, but chosen to become part of the tree. And after they were grafted in, they were also able to receive the blessing of Abraham and to share in the rich nourishment of God. What a beautiful picture of God’s adoption of us. And how He has grafted us into His own special olive tree.

To be nourished at the King’s table every day, just like Mephibosheth.

I’ve also been encouraged by Wong’s description of God’s plan in the adoption process and how we participate in it:

“Their genes, which they did not receive from us, will mark their lives. Their early childhood traumas may affect them. The way we raise them will also shape them. We hope to recognize the genetic propensities of our adopted children and shape them for good. But there is something beyond genes or environment that makes them who they are, other elements that go in to their identity. Adopted children are ours by God’s plan, by his work and our participation in that work, by prayers and papers, by the physical and the spiritual. Through all of these, they mysteriously but surely become our children.”

We went to a mountain park to celebrate Jordan’s birthday Wednesday afternoon. (Our first family picture without CJ, as he is on his one month backpacking trip in the US.) Jordan set the camera on a rock to take this picture with the automatic timer. While Charly or I would have used more of a zoom, I actually really like all the reflection this picture shows. And the trees make me think of God’s grafting. And the birthing in process that is happening in our family right now.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

My Husband, My Hero

We witnessed God moving adoption mountains for us last week! On Monday we got the almost unbelievable news that there are two boys in Gansu province that we could adopt together. It seemed that they just appeared out of nowhere.

One of the verses that God deeply impressed on Charly’s heart in April of 2008, when we first believed that He was asking us to pray for two from Gansu, was Romans 4:17: “Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who brings into existence what didn’t exist before.” (NLT)

Amazingly, God seemed to do just that on Monday. To bring into existence what didn’t exist before.

In the 5 years of our waiting on this specific request, there have not been two children from Gansu province available for international adoption. And during the previous three weeks of Charly’s constant checking there had still been no options for us. We were at a difficult and painful crossroads. How long to keep waiting for a miracle? 

Last Friday, I felt I couldn’t wait anymore and fell into a pit of despair. I had been wanting to wait well, and doing my best to make it to Friday, when we had planned to make a decision. But Friday still didn’t bring the news we were waiting for, and the thought of going into another weekend still living in limbo simply crushed me. It seemed to me that we were just postponing the inevitable. The miracle wasn’t coming. Would we give up the opportunity to adopt altogether because our paperwork would expire before we could complete a different adoption?

But Charly did not have peace that God had clearly closed the Door of a Gansu miracle. The person doing the final check for us had not yet given a definite “no” which meant it was still possible. So we would keep waiting.

As I walked along the Yellow River and poured out my frustration and grief to God that Friday, I reached a point where my soul was quiet enough to hear His voice, “What if Charly is doing exactly what I want him to do? What if this other option you’ve been offered is not the right match for you? What if I want you to accept this delay and trust My best for you?”

There by the river, I saw a wonderful, powerful statue of a man with great strength rowing a boat and a woman behind him looking ahead and trusting in his lead. And my heart said, “Charly really is doing his best to lead our family. I do want to trust him and ultimately you, God, on this journey.”

On Monday when we got the incredible news that there were two boys in Gansu that we could adopt, I was reminded of God’s “What if” questions to me. And His answer with this Gansu miracle. He opened the door that I doubted He would open. And I knew that if it had been up to me, I wouldn’t have waited this long to see Him open it. So thankful for the steadfast faith of my husband. For God's faithfulness to our family.

And then we got heartbreaking news that we actually couldn’t adopt these boys. There were complications. It would be better to just forget about them and take another match.

But how could we take another match when God had done this miracle for us? All five of us felt strongly that we should fight for these boys. God would make a way where there seemed to be no way. He had already moved mountains for us, and He could achieve even greater glory for Himself by moving even more.

It is such a different kind of waiting for me now that I know these two boys are out there. They are no longer a vapor, a dream, a possibility. But a reality. I can wait and pray and fight for them. And not worry about our time running out. Because God has shown us that He is in control. And that we are walking in the steps He has for us. I can trust Him so much more easily in this kind of wait.

Which is why I so greatly admire the faith of my husband who was able to patiently wait on God while these boys were still unknown to us. When they were invisible. To refuse to move on to another option until God had clearly closed the door. And given him peace.

I am also in awe of Charly’s tremendous persistence this past week. He has not stopped making phone calls and writing emails. Trying different avenues. Presenting our case. Pleading for help. Fighting to bring these boys into our family.

He is a real hero.

And this is what I want to tell these two boys, who we hope will soon become our sons: “Your Dad refused to give up hope that you existed and he refused to give up fighting for you. Your Dad continued to believe that you were out there as we kept praying for a miracle. He wanted to keep waiting to find out about you until the last possible minute and God rewarded his faith. What an amazing Dad you have who has so much to teach you about the God of Abraham.”

There are still big mountains yet to move in order for our adoption of these boys to be completed by August 15. And we’d love it if you would join with us in prayer!

Another verse that encouraged us as we started to pray for two from Gansu in 2008:
But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.” (Habakkuk 2:3, NLT)

God’s timing. Not ours.
May He receive all the glory.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wanting to Wait Well

Our adoption wait of 6 plus years is coming to an end. And at this moment we are not sure of what the outcome will be. We have renewed our paperwork the maximum number of times under the old (pre-Hague) system, and for us to renew again before our paperwork expires on August 22 would require us to start all over again under the current system of forms. We have decided that we will not renew again.

Charly and I talked about these major adoption decisions over the phone, as he had returned earlier to Gansu and I was still in Tianjin. It was much easier to talk face to face after I got back to Lanzhou last week, and even better when our kids joined us when they returned from TCK camp a few days later. And while we don’t all have the same perspective, we have listened to each other’s hearts and feel more united as a family. Together we have looked both backward and forward, to the unknowns and the mystery of our adoption journey, and accepted that there are no easy answers.

Last Friday CCAA told us they would check again on the current situation in Gansu to see if there might be some way of fulfilling our specific request of two orphans from this province. We are now waiting to hear back from them, and are prepared to change our request to a single child if the answer we receive is no.

Our time frame is tight, and even though CCAA told us they could match us quickly if we change our request to a child who is available right now, we know it won’t be easy to get everything done to complete our adoption before we leave for the US. We don’t have our plane tickets yet, but we are hoping to get to Kansas City a few days before we meet CJ there on August 17, after his one month wilderness program, and drive him to Notre Dame for orientation.

I am thankful for the words a friend shared with me back in Tianjin after listening to my update on our adoption situation. She said that when I talked about our tight time frame and how long we would choose to wait for God to fulfill our specific request of the past 5 ½ years before we would change our request, my tone of voice made her think of the story of Saul who got anxious and didn’t wait for Samuel to arrive before offering the sacrifice. (1 Samuel 13)

The past few days I have reminded myself of her gentle rebuke when I have been tempted to get anxious that our time is going to run out and we won’t end up adopting after all. God is in control. And He is good. And even if our adoption doesn’t get completed, His plans for us are still good.

Some friends and I had an overnight retreat together during my last week in Tianjin to finish our year-long discussion of Larry Crabb’s Finding God. I was especially challenged by this quote from the end of his book:

“You cannot control your life. You are therefore free. You are not trapped by the need to arrange things as you want. Trust me more fully than you ever have before. Do what I am leading you to do, even though the risks from your perspective are enormous. I am thoroughly good, and I am good enough to trust thoroughly.”

Am I trusting God thoroughly in our adoption? Even with what I don’t understand? When I want so much to take action and “arrange things as I want,” Lord, help me to wait well.

Kristin Swick Wong’s book Carried Safely Home, about what God taught her through the challenges and delays of her two adoptions (Benjamin and Josiah) from Vietnam, has been hugely encouraging to me this past week. I really appreciate her honesty in sharing her struggle with prayer, as I have faced similar questions of how to hope and how to pray in faith when I feel clueless about what God is doing and what His ultimate plans are for our adoption.

“What should I hope for? Is preparing for the worst when praying for the best doubting God? I still earnestly hope that Benjamin will be able to join our family. With so many indicators that it might not happen, conventional wisdom says to prepare for other outcomes. But can I prepare for another ending and still pray with faith for him to come home? If we end our prayers with “Your will be done,” is it a mark of faith or a hedging of bets, in case what we’ve just prayed for doesn’t happen?”

She writes about her inspiration from Simeon and Anna, as they waited in hopeful anticipation of seeing the Messiah. (Luke 2)

“Simeon and Anna show us faithful waiting, a waiting that does not know the time or means of fulfillment, that worships the Lord while it waits, ever alert for his appearing.”

“Our opportunity for waiting well is now; when Jesus arrives, it will be over. He tells us to think about how we wait, alert for his coming while we worship and work for him. Perhaps we can take trials as gifts, exercises that teach us to keep oil in our lamps, so that we do well for the wait that matters most.”

I can relate to Wong’s reflections on her lessons of being stretched during her waiting.

“I know that this difficult time has given me opportunity to grow nearer to the Lord in new ways. I wonder if I learned everything I could. Did I cherish this discipline and not despise it? Will there be lasting effects from this chapter of my life as I move into the next?”

I don’t really know all that God has done in my life the past 6 years of our adoption journey. And I feel doubtful that I learned everything I could. Sometimes I feel so lacking in faith and trust. Has God truly changed me and shaped me more into His image?

Wong says, “All who choose to enter an adoption choose to open themselves to pain. We can choose to embrace the grief inherent on the journey, letting it mold us to be more like Jesus. We need not deny pain. We need not oversimplify complex questions. We need not fear when something in God’s word or world is difficult to understand or embrace. These heart-struggles can push us to new ground in our relationship with God. May we be given grace to accept such struggles when they come, and not shrink back from where the Lord wants to bring us. In both joy and grief, may we recognize the gifts he offers us. Though it may be hard to sing in the thick of distress, at the end we will certainly look back and declare “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

I am thankful for Wong’s reminder, that even when I have been faith-less on this journey, God has never stopped being faithful. I want to echo her words:

“I am thankful for the trials and tears of the adoptions and for the tumult that may still come. They reveal my poverty of faith, leading me limping into the arms of my Heavenly Father. God gives special treasures in times of weakness and pain. I would not bypass those difficult times if I were given the choice now because of the riches that have come with them.”

“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:13-14)


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