Thursday, August 29, 2013

Not One Man Scaling a Cliff


Since CJ left home on July 16, I’ve been putting some of his memories together. One of my projects was to transcribe his Graduation Speech from the video of his ceremony on June 8. As the audience was roughly half Chinese and half “foreign” friends in Tianjin, CJ switched back and forth during his speech between the two languages. I sent this to him at Notre Dame, where he just started classes, and he gave me permission to share the English version of his speech, with some pictures I added in...

 

Thinking about having my own graduation and designing my own graduation ceremony, it felt kind of weird if it was all about me. I didn’t think I had the right to ask you to spend an hour and a half of your time all about me. But then I realized that the whole point of my graduation is that it’s not all about me.


My graduation is not the accomplishment of an individual; it is not one man scaling a cliff, with years of preparation and a grand finale. Instead, my graduation is strong wave, a part of the ocean’s journey. With ups and downs in the past, and ups and downs in the future. Right now I’m at an up. And I’m here because the ocean around me is pushing me up. You guys are my surrounding ocean. You guys are my great cloud of witnesses.


Out of this great cloud of witnesses, the people I most want to honor and thank are my parents. To say I wouldn’t be here without them is a gross understatement. Recently I’ve been thinking, especially as I’ve filled out college applications, that a lot of the things that make my life story particularly interesting or special are because of great decisions that my parents made.

When I was four months old I didn’t say, “Hey, I want to move to China.” 


 Originally, I didn’t choose to go to Chinese public school.


And I didn’t choose to live in a remote village of Western China.


But I’m really thankful that my parents did. And I know that there’s no probably no greater blessing than to grow up in a family that loves God and really wrestles with what it means to follow Him.

I can attest to the truth of Jesus’ promise that whoever gives up family and houses for Him will gain much more. Growing up in China has entailed a certain sacrifice of not being close to my family and relatives in the States. And I’m very grateful that my Grandfather bridged that gap by traveling all the way here, which was a great surprise, and I’m really happy… 


But Jesus’ promise is true because when I look at you, you really are my family here in China. Those aren’t just empty words. When I call you my uncles and aunts I really mean it. And I think of my peers here as my brothers and sisters.


I especially want to thank all of the adults here who have taught me classes, whenever you ever taught me a class, and I’d like you to stand up so we can honor you.

 
I have been thinking of Moses’ life recently, and it’s so evident how from the beginning, the very beginning of his life, God was at work, orchestrating his life to serve His purposes. For Moses, to grow up in Pharaoh’s household gave him a position of influence and God used that. Similarly, I believe that God has placed me here for a purpose. And I want to use my upbringing here in China to serve His purposes.
 
 

As a good homeschooler, I obviously asked my parents to write this speech for me. Just kidding. I did ask for feedback and I got some mixed reviews on this part of the speech. My Grandpa said “You want to make sure you talk a little bit about your college. Because that’s what people really want to know about.” Jordan immediately said: “No, don’t talk any more about your college. I’m tired of hearing about college. It’s so boring”


I’ll still say a little. I am very excited to attend the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana this fall. Its two hours away from Chicago. So why did I choose Notre Dame? It’s a long story, but the bottom line is that I really do feel like God is calling me there. And I have a lot of peace about it. I am so thankful that since making the decision, He has given confirmation after confirmation.

One thing I’m especially excited about is to be a part of a leadership development program there, which provides a scholarship and summer activities in social justice, international travel, and internships. I’m also excited about studying Peace Studies there. It’s a major built on International Relations, with a specific focus on conflict resolution and cross-cultural understanding. I think it’s a great fit for my interests, so I’m excited about that.


As I look back over the past 18 years, I feel extremely blessed. And as I look ahead in faith I am very excited to see the things God has prepared for me in the midst of transitions. In Hebrews it says that He has prepared a better country, a heavenly one. As I remember the country I am leaving behind, I want to do it with thanksgiving and thankfulness. And as I look ahead, I want to do so in obedience to God’s calling, while claiming His promises.

Go, CJ!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Lifted

Not only are we thankful that CJ was Not Overlooked after his recent hiking accident,  we are also thankful and simply amazed by this video that the Coast Guard posted on youtube, showing CJ and Clay's helicopter rescue (newspaper article):

Lifted by helicopter and carried by God.

Some friends commented to us how special it was that the Coast Guard chose CJ and Clay’s rescue to post on youtube. Such an unexpected gift. Really. Who would have guessed that we could watch from the helicopter CJ and then Clay, lifted up from the ravine by rope? To actually hear the Coast Guard talking to each other. “Got him, man.” It gives me chills every time. Another glimpse Behind the Scenes that God graciously chose to reveal to us.

This was such different experience than when Joshua broke his arm in 2002 and our friends in Tianjin took such good care of our family. With CJ’s accident, we were half the world away, hearing about how God was taking care of CJ through people we didn’t even know. Too far away to do anything ourselves, all we could do was give thanks to God. He had it under control, and was meeting each and every need.

CJ had been in the middle of nowhere, in a crisis, but God knew exactly where he was. And just as God lifted and carried him out of that very remote area, He was lifting and carrying us too. Through the prayers of friends around the world: for our adoption, for CJ, and for our hearts that were quite stretched with wanting to be in two places at one time.

Many miles away from CJ, we simply bowed our heads and thanked God for his special blessings:

A ranger at the hospital buying CJ a hamburger.

A woman from NOLS headquarters driving 4 hours to pick him up from the hospital and check him into a hotel that night. So thoughtful of her to bring him a fresh change of clothes to put on after he was able to take his first real shower in three weeks. Because he had emerged from the wilderness with nothing but the dirty and blood-stained clothes he was wearing.

A first-class plane ticket purchased for him, by Notre Dame’s Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars Program, to fly to Kansas City a week earlier than planned.

And before he flew to Missouri (to get a bonus week with our family there), he was blessed to spend the weekend with some very special friends. I was really touched by what his friend posted on facebook afterward:

“It was so cool that CJ could come down and stay with us over the weekend despite his circumstances of breaking his wrist and having to end his wild man hike early. God was so gracious to him, and actually saved his life. So glad we got to hang with him even just for 48 hours. This just comes to show how crazy awesome God is. Not only watching over us, but He does some pretty crazy things, like what seems like to us randomly seeing CJ when he was supposed to be hiking. I don't even know when we were expecting to see each other next, that's some pretty crazy stuff right there. Just a testiment of God's goodness in everyones lives, even in the seemingly small ways :D”


I really love the way he expressed it. How crazy awesome God is
He is, isn’t He?
He’s the God of Big things and of small things. Big things like saving CJ’s life. And small things like the unexpected gift of getting to connect with good friends.

“Just a testament of God’s goodness in everyone’s lives.
Even in the seemingly small ways.”

Because nothing is too big for God.
And nothing is too small for Him either.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Behind the Scenes



Earlier this week, Charly took a trip to the orphanage to collect some of the boys’ paperwork for his USCIS appointment in Guangzhou this morning. To give us an extra three months past our August 22 deadline.

While he was there, God gave him the opportunity to meet the woman who has played a very critical role “behind the scenes” in our adoption. Now we know who pulled our boys’ files out of the stack and suggested that we could adopt them together.

One month ago, when Charly asked the woman helping us in Beijing to make a final check for two children in Gansu, this woman at the orphanage received a phone call. “Are there any files not yet complete for international adoption? Knowing that you don’t have any siblings there, do you have two unrelated children that this American family could adopt together?” And she chose our two boys for us, who were “like brothers.”

With our limited understanding of how much work still needed to be done to complete their files and with the quicker time estimates we heard, the process this past month has seemed quite long and drawn out. Especially as we had hoped to fly back to the US by today in order to send CJ off to college. But we came to a new appreciation of what has been going on behind the scenes after Charly met this woman at the orphanage.

She said, “We have never processed anyone’s files as quickly as we have processed these boys’ files!

Two Fridays ago, we were praying for some major breakthroughs—for the boys’ files to not only make it to Beijing but to actually receive special approval from two directors in order for us to get matched (the Shortest Way Possible). We discovered at the end of the day that Friday that the files didn’t even make it to Beijing. So, it was disappointingly clear that there was no way we would be able to complete our adoption in time to make it back for CJ’s orientation. But God graciously gave us His peace about that decision and provided my parents as willing substitutes for us, to be there for CJ.

What had seemed like “nothing really happened” that day was all a matter of perspective. Charly learned that this woman stayed up until 10 pm that Friday night working on the boys’ files so they would be ready to send in to Beijing the next Monday.

Our perspective is so limited. What has seemed agonizingly slow to us this month has actually been incredibly expedited compared to the normal process. We are amazed by this glimpse God has given us behind the scenes, to appreciate more of the Big Picture. And to learn how He has worked (and is continuing to work) through people like this wonderful woman, to bring our adoption to completion. In His way and in His time.

“My thoughts are completely different from yours,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Not the Shortest Way



When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them on the road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that way was the shortest way from Egypt to the Promised Land…God led them along a route through the wilderness…”
(Exodus 13:17-18a)

We have been praying for God to open the door called The Shortest Way Possible for our adoption to be completed. Joined by many who have been faithfully praying with us on this journey, we asked Him specifically last week to give us favor in the eyes of those in authority, so they would grant us special approval. And God said “no.”

His way for us was not the shortest way.

So we praised Him with our mouths—for providing a previously unheard of way for our US adoption paperwork to be extended for another 3 months. AND for changing the hearts of those in authority so that they are now willing to help us secure matches for both boys next month when their files go online, though the “normal” adoption route for special needs children.

But in our hearts we grumbled.

“God, you could have done it. And saved us a lot of time and added hassle. How can we make it through another intense 2-3 months like this past month has been? Why not The Shortest Way Possible?”

But it clearly wasn’t God’s way.

Charly led our family in a time of confession on Sunday, and together we asked for God’s forgiveness toward our underlying attitude of discontentment with His plan.

We trust and believe that this is the perfect path God has chosen and laid out before us. Let us walk in total acceptance, in step with Him, free from complaining, filled with genuine joy and thanksgiving. For the great I AM has moved mighty mountains for us. And He has more to teach us on this longer-than-we-were-hoping-for route through the wilderness. Maybe more for the boys in the orphanage too before they join our family.


One of my favorite allegories is Hinds' Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. I reread part of it yesterday and was especially struck with the following passage, as I reflected on our extended adoption journey—which has taken us through the desert— these past 6 years. It has obviously not been The Shortest Way, but it has been God’s Best.

The Shepherd in the story promises to take Much-Afraid up to the High Places where he will turn her crippled feet into hinds' feet. But the journey is an incredibly difficult one and leads her into places where she would rather not go:

“Oh, no,” she cried. “You can’t mean it. You said if I would trust you, you would bring me to the High Places, and that path leads right away from them. It contradicts all that you promised.”

“No,” said the Shepherd, “it is not contradiction, only postponement for the best to become possible.”

Much-Afraid felt as though he had stabbed her to the heart. “You mean,” she said incredulously, “you really mean that I am to follow that path down and down into that wilderness and then over that desert, away from the mountains indefinitely? Why” (and there was a sob of anguish in her voice) “it may be months, even years, before that path leads back to the mountains again. O Shepherd, do you mean it is indefinite postponement?”

He bowed his head silently, and Much-Afraid sank on her knees at his feet, almost overwhelmed. He was leading her away from her heart’s desire altogether and gave no promise at all as to when he would bring her back. As she looked out over what seemed an endless desert, the only path she could see led farther and farther away from the High Places, and it was all desert.

Then he answered very quietly, “Much-Afraid, do you love me enough to accept the postponement and the apparent contradiction of the promise, and to go down there with me into the desert?”

She was still crouching at his feet, sobbing as if her heart would break, but now she looked up through her tears, caught his hand in hers, and said, trembling, “I do love you. Oh, forgive me because I can’t help my tears. I will go down with you into the wilderness, right away from the promise, if you really wish it. Even if you cannot tell me why it has to be, I will go with you, for you know I do love you, and you have the right to choose for me anything that you please.”

Complete surrender.

I believe that when God says, “no” to the Shortest Way, He invites us to trust that His “postponement is for the best to become possible.”

And His best is always worth the wait.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Not Overlooked


This morning these words from Exodus really resonated with my heart: “He looked down on the Israelites and felt deep concern for their welfare.” (2:25)

Four hundred years had passed since Joseph and his brothers were the first of the fledgling Israelite nation to settle in Egypt. The exact time God had allotted for them to be aliens and slaves. (Genesis 15:13-16) The time had now come for Him to take action.

When Moses the shepherd was living as a refugee in Midian, God got his attention from a burning bush and declared: “You can be sure I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of deliverance from their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come to rescue them from the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own good and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey…” (3:7-8)

Moses needed some convincing that God really believed he was the right person for the unfathomable job of leading all of His people out of Egypt. To the Promised Land. Their own home. Could it be true? Then Moses met his brother Aaron, whom God appointed as spokesman, and together they went to share this news with the Israelite leaders. When the leaders “realized that the Lord had seen their misery and was deeply concerned for them, they all bowed their heads and worshiped.” (4:31b)

Worship. What a fitting way to respond to God’s deep and personal concern. How humbling to realize that God had not overlooked them. He had seen every act of injustice. He had heard each cry for deliverance. And He cared. Deeply.

Even when they couldn’t see it or feel it. He was there. And He felt their pain. There was not one moment during those 400 years of slavery that God had forgotten about them. He was waiting for just the right time. Because He had a perfect plan to rescue His people. A plan that would bring Him great glory throughout the whole earth.


We got a call last Thursday that CJ was in a hiking accident on his wilderness adventure in the Pacific NW. His wrist was broken, but he was in the hospital and doing fine. As subsequent phone calls revealed more pieces of the story, we discovered that CJ and Clay, in their small group of 5, had both fallen down a ravine about 9:00 Tuesday night.

Clay had fallen farther and harder and was in worse shape. The Coast Guard was reached via satellite the next morning from their remote location and arrived about 1:00 by helicopter to evacuate Clay. Almost as an afterthought, one of the Coast Guard noticed that CJ couldn’t help lift Clay’s stretcher, and decided to check out his swollen wrist. He quickly made CJ a splint and decided that he should also be evacuated in order to get x-rayed at the hospital.

Hearing this news was sobering for us realize how easy it would have been for the rescue helicopter to have left without CJ. For his swollen wrist to have gone unnoticed. He could so easily still be out there in the wilderness, toughing it out with a broken wrist, thinking it was just a sprain. But, thanks be to God, CJ was not overlooked. God brought needed attention to his wrist at just the right time. And he was rescued in a Coast Guard helicopter. An experience he will never forget.

While we were thousands of miles away and oblivious to what was going on, God was watching. For us to hear the details of what happened and to know how much worse it could have been, we know that God was clearly with that group of 5 in the remote wilderness. Protecting and preserving life. Providing rescue for both of the boys. And we are so thankful. Bowing our heads in worship to our sovereign and merciful God who never sleeps and who numbers the hairs on our heads.

We don’t know who chose our two boys in the orphanage—out of the many orphans there— to start processing their files to be available for international adoption. Because not many in that orphanage get adopted. When Charly and I went there to meet the boys, we learned that most of the children stay at the orphanage until they can start working at about age 16. They never become part of a family.

Why them and why now? We believe that God mysteriously intervened somehow. Our two boys were not overlooked. We believe that just as He did for the Israelites, God looked down and was deeply concerned for their welfare. He is continuing to move mountains and part the seas to provide a way for them to join our family. A family made by God, just for them.

And we bow our heads in worship in response to God’s deep and personal concern.

For the Israelites. For CJ and Clay. For our boys at the orphanage.

As they stood at the edge of the Red Sea, Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand where you are and watch the Lord rescue you…” (Exodus 14:13)

Friday, August 9, 2013

Your Love Never Fails


Our kids learned this song at camp this summer and it has become our family’s theme song this past month (with the ups and downs of our adoption journey, with CJ’s leaving for the US on his own for a month-long backpacking trip, with the difficult decision for the rest of us not to fly back to the States to take him to college because of our inability to complete our adoption in time, with CJ’s breaking his wrist two days ago—resulting in his not being able to finish the last week of his trip, with the promising news yesterday that we should be able to get matched with the two boys and hopefully obtain a 3 month extension on our paperwork—because the route we are now taking might take that long, and with all the uncertainties of our plans for the future.) This one thing remains.

Jordan painted the words to put up in her room when she got back from camp:


You can listen to the song here:




One Thing Remains
(lyrics by Kristian Stanfill)

 “Your love never fails, it never gives up, never runs out on me.
Your love never fails, it never gives up, never runs out on me.
Your love never fails, it never gives up, never runs out on me.
Your love. Your love. Never gives up on me.

And it’s higher than the mountains that I face.
And it’s stronger than the power of the grave.
And it’s constant in the trial and the change.
This one thing remains.

And on and on and on and on it goes.
Yes, it overwhelms and satisfies my soul.
And I’ll never, ever have to be afraid
‘Cause this one thing remains
This one thing remains.

In death, in life, I’m confident and covered
By the power of your great love.
My debt is paid.
There’s nothing that can separate
My heart from your great love.

It’s your love, your love.”

Jordan chose this, as her favorite song, to be the topic of her writing assignment last week. She wrote:

“The reason this song is so dynamic is because of its words. Although the music does greatly enhance the words’ power, the effect the song gives, comes from the words themselves.

Why do the words have such an effect? One of the reasons why this song is so comforting is because it really has nothing to do with ourselves. It’s all based on God’s great love! No matter how we change or how our circumstances change (as the first verse says) His love will stay the same.

The words of this song are so soothing, reassuring, heartening, cheering, uplifting, and thrilling because they so accurately portray the unlimited, boundless, great and powerful love God has for us.

After listening to this song, we can better realize the truthfulness and importance of David’s words:

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens; your faithfulness to the skies…How priceless is your unfailing love! (Psalm 36:5,7)”

With the help of a dictionary and thesaurus just over a week ago, Charly captured the following list of all that Abba, and His love, will NEVER be:

fail: to be lacking or insufficient; fall short / to lose power or strength; weaken; die away / to stop operating or working / to be deficient or negligent in an obligation, duty, or expectation / to be unsuccessful in obtaining a desired end; be unable to do or become / to be useless or not helpful to; be inadequate for; disappoint / to leave; abandon

        missing, absent, not there, inattentive, forgetful, uninvolved, indifferent, ineffective, fruitless, powerless, hopeless, futile, incompetent, not up to it, vain, doomed to failure, let down, walk out on, disown, give up

And it’s higher than the mountains that I face.
And it’s stronger than the power of the grave.
And it’s constant in the trial and the change.

This one thing remains.
It’s your love, your love.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Peaches


Our family loves peach season. Almost as much as we love pineapple season. Fresh fruit is such a treat. Especially in the summertime. 


On my walk home from the grocery store this afternoon, I passed a young woman wearing a shirt that joyfully announced to the world: “It’s Boyfriend Season!” And I thought about how amusing random T-shirts in China can be. Whoever could have come up with a “season for boyfriends” and put that idea on a T-shirt?

As I pondered her shirt message, I reached the bridge across from our apartment where a man was selling peaches. I was surprised that his price was about 1/3 the going rate at the nearby market. Wow. That’s really cheap. I wonder if they’re any good? I set my grocery bags down on the ground and started picking out peaches one-by-one as the man held open a plastic bag for me. I put several back that had bad spots on them and wondered. What if God picked over people the way I’m picking over these peaches? What if He turned me over in His hand for a closer evaluation and declared, “This one’s really bruised. Better put it back. I’m only looking for the perfect ones.”

But He doesn’t. Because “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (Isaiah 42:3)

God isn’t on the lookout for perfect peaches to bring into His family. The truth is that He really knows us and He really loves us. Just as we are. Bruised. With bad spots. Even worm-infested sometimes. And He says, “I have called you by name. You are mine.”

Because God’s evaluation of us is not based on our appearance or our performance. He simply declares, “You are precious and honored in my sight and… I love you.” (Isaiah 43:4)

I remembered the special day two weeks ago when Charly and I got to visit the boys we are praying will soon become our sons. How we hoped that they wouldn’t think we had come to the orphanage to look them over and decide if we wanted them or not. Because when we asked them questions, I felt that they really wanted to give us the right answer.

When they were coloring I hoped they didn’t feel that they had to “perform” for us. To try to be acceptable. I hoped they could see sincere love and acceptance in our smiles and in our eyes. Because the truth is— we weren’t there to evaluate them to see if we wanted them or not. We knew that we wanted them as soon as we heard about them because we believe they were hand-selected by God for us.

We really have no idea what was going through their minds and what they thought our meeting them was all about. I hope that one day we will get to talk with them about their impressions of us that day and how they honestly felt when they met us for the first time. How I hope that we can really know them one day. Laugh together. Be real. Be a family where they can live free from pressure to try to be who they think we want them to be.

I’ve been reading Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning recently, and I really like his thoughts about our real and false identities. When we feel ashamed of our real selves, we can easily and even unknowingly hide behind a false appearance. And work hard to try to make ourselves more acceptable to people and to God.

He says: “God calls us to stop hiding and come openly to Him. God is the father who ran to His prodigal son when he came limping home. God weeps over us when shame and self-hatred immobilize us. Yet as soon as we lose our nerve about ourselves, we take cover. Adam and Eve hid, and we all, in one way or another, have used them as role models. Why? Because we do not like what we see. It is uncomfortable—intolerable—to confront our true selves. Simon Tugwell, in his book The Beatitudes, explains:

‘And so, like runaway slaves, we either flee our own reality or manufacture a false self which is mostly admirable, mildly prepossessing, and superficially happy. We hide what we know or feel ourselves to be (which we assume to be unacceptable and unlovable) behind some kind of appearance which we hope will be more pleasing. We hide behind pretty faces which we put on for the benefit of our public. And in time we may even come to forget that we are hiding, and think that our assumed pretty face is what we really look like.’

But God loves us for who we really are—whether we like it or not. God calls us, as He did Adam, to come out of hiding. No amount of spiritual makeup can render us more presentable to Him…“Come to me now,” Jesus says. “Acknowledge and accept who I want to be for you: a Savior of boundless compassion, infinite patience, unbearable forgiveness, and love that keeps no score of wrongs. Quit projecting onto Me your own feelings about yourself. At this moment your life is a bruised reed and I will not crush it, a smoldering wick and I will not quench it. You are in a safe place.”

I love that. When I read those words, my heart says, “God, let us be a safe place to those two boys. Those bruised reeds who are so precious to you. You will not crush them. And you will not pick over them like I picked through peaches today.”

Acceptable. Just as they are.
Acceptable. Just as we are.

God is our safe place. Where we can be our real selves. And simply delight in His unlimited, unconditional love for us. Amazing.

Would any of us be selected by God as being a perfect peach? Only Jesus was Perfect, the Spotless Lamb of God. The One who took our sin upon Himself and received God’s full wrath. So that we can be completely and eternally acceptable to God our Father.

Our true identity, in Jesus, is Abba’s child.

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