Monday, August 29, 2011

Where we are at.....

It almost feels surreal that we are doing this....that we are committed to bringing another child (or two if that's what God has planned for us) from Uganda into our family.

I've been asked a lot recently "so, where are you at?". So, I wanted to share. We have officially started our homestudy. We were referred to a great social worker who has helped several other families in the Austin area. We were beyond blessed by a couple wonderful friends who made donations to our adoption fund and made this possible. You know who you are and you have forever blessed our hearts. We can't wait for the day to be able to pay this all forward. Right now, we are in the thick of paperwork...our biography so to speak. Background checks have been sent off and fingerprints are next up. Well, at least the easy ones are. I am NOT, I repeat NOT an organized person so this will all be a stretch for me. But thanks to my wonderful friend Julie who provided me with the most lovely lime green filing folders, I feel that I can conquer ANYTHING. :o) Ok, I know it takes more than some fancy filing folders and I feel that God has called me waaaaaaay outside my comfort zone by pursuing an "independent adoption", but I am also thankful. It stretches me. It requires me to completely lean on Him. It requires another level of trust that He will equip me (us) to complete this journey He has called us to.

I was able to meet with an adoption attorney while in Uganda and she was a wealth of information. Again, we were referred to her by another family who recently completed their adoption.

The picture was drawn by our beautiful Mandy. She drew this for her words "to help bring my brother home". My friend Kathy who I traveled to Zeway with in March is in school studying web & graphic design. She has been really helpful with coming up with a design for T-shirts and notecards.  The back of the shirt will have "To bring you home" in Mandy's handwriting.  We are so excited to get these printed up and we'll be using these to help fundraise for our adoption.

We don't have a timeline and we don't have a child identified. We are walking in blind faith right now and continuing to trust God.

Thank you for following along and walking through this journey with us.  We know we are not alone and will be coveting your prayers.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

My Samaritans purse adventure...

This has been an amazing week. I feel blessed that God would even allow me to be on this adventure. It is only by His Grace that I could be here because nothing about it makes sense. It was a jam packed week and I am going to try and detail everything here.

Our flights were perfect. Fortune was amazing. We had hardly any delays, all our baggage arrived safe and sound and we were all in good spirits. When we awoke Wednesday, we eagerly awaited the arrival of Sylvia's husband. It was such a joy filled reunion. I don't think I've ever seen Sylvia smile like she did when she saw her husband. He is such a sweet man with the most gentle spirit. He was so happy to see his son and incredibly grateful for all that Samaritans purse and everyone in Austin had done for his family. We would find out later, that behind all the joy and smiles, he was hiding something. Sadly, he had a horrible injury happen just the day before Sylvia arrived and he lost his wedding finger :o( He didn't want to worry Sylvia or take away any joy from the moment so he waited to tell her. He is in very good spirits about it though and is healing very well.

When we arrived in Kampala,we were off and running. Another child has been accepted into the program and will be traveling soon. I had the privilege of meeting his and he is a delightful boy. He is just 10 days younger than Trent so we have big plans to meet when he comes to Austin. We spent the day with him getting vaccinations, lab results & visa pictures. It was a sweet time.

On Thursday morning, I was off to Mukono to visit the Women of Destiny. As we arrived in Mukono, my heart was racing. I was so excited. When we arrived at the school, I'm pretty sure I didn't even let the driver stop the car before I jumped out and started running. It was so wonderful to see them all. I was able to deliver a beautiful bunch of clothes that Cathy had put together for Maggie, the girl who we sponsor. Maggie was so excited and promptly put on the prettiest dress in the bunch. The only thing missing was Cathy. Everyone asked about you and said they were praying for your return. They all send you their love.

After a wonderful visit and lunch, it was back to Kampala and on to meet the wonderful men and women that create beautiful jewelry for Noonday collection. It was such a blessed time. Each beader has such a unique story and they have been truly blessed by Jessica. I spent time with Jalia and taught her some additional jewelry making skills. I also delivered several set of pliers which apparently was perfect timing because they were down to one pair. Jalia went to cut something and said "we are on our last set of pliers" and I said "I can fix that!" and dropped down about 12 pair. They were so excited. I also tried my hand at making some of the large beads from the Happy Day necklace. I think I did a pretty good job! :o)

Friday morning was fun because I got to meet Mandie Joy who lives in Jinja. She had placed a special order for some jewelry and when I found out I was coming, it worked out perfectly to deliver it to her. She came to the Samaritans purse office and we had a nice visit. Then, we were off to go shopping! In my last 3 trips to Africa, I've probably had 1 hour of shopping time combined, so I really soaked it up. After 13 months and 4 trips to Africa, I finally found my lime green purse!!

As we were waiting for our driver, Samantha asked if I would like a tour of Watoto church. As we were walking around, we heard the children singing. I was peaking in and she went in and asked the director if we could watch. He said "of course". I watched them finish a song and asked if I could take a picture. He then said "we will do a special performance for you." The tears started rolling. They were amazing. Seriously, my cheeks hurt from smiling. I will never, ever forget that moment and must have thanked God a thousand times.

After shopping we headed out to Luwero to visit Sylvia and family. She had prepared a wonderful meal for us and we had a sweet time. It was very, very hard to say goodbye to Fortune, but my heart tells me that I will see him again.

Friday evening, I was blessed to have dinner with my good friend Richard and his lovely wife Grace. He took me to a wonderful Indian restaraunt and we had a great time.

Saturday I met with an attorney to discuss our adoption. It was incredibly informative and it was nice to meet with her face to face. After that, I was blessed to be able to meet Carli Traverse from Carli's kids. She also had placed a jewelry order and was going to what until the end of November to get it when she came to the US. Again, when I found out I was going, we made arrangements to meet. She was kind enough to let me visit her home that she shares with her husband, 3 biological children and 13 children they have taken in from the streets. God bless her heart! One just arrived yesterday...ironically enough from Luweero where they have purchased land to build a childrens home and school. Also, where Sylvia lives. I've always said I don't believe in coincidences. I learned so much from our time together and the children were delightful.

Tomorrow I will attend church at Watoto with Samantha, head out to Lubowa to meet Jalia one last time and end my day visiting with Leah from Cherish. Leah & her family are from Austin and they are now living in Uganda. I'm so excited to learn about their ministry and visit with a Texan in Uganda.

I've learned a lot on this trip. It's been very educational. I really feel that God has carried me through this trip. Doing things "alone" is not my gig...but He has kept me close to His heart and I am so grateful for that. I've read much more than I normally read, haven't watched a lick of TV (no Cathy, not even those crazy soap operas that we always found ourselves watching as we were waiting to leave Lugazi...LOL) and had lots of conversations with God. It's so tremendously humbling to be able to do something like this and I believe He allows these things so that we may give Him ALL the glory. So that is just what I will do. God, you are AWESOME. You are HOLY. You are THE KING OF GLORY. Without you, I am nothing and I am forever grateful for your Presence in my life.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Adoption....the ONE thing....

Recently I was meeting a good friend of mine, Matt, for coffee to discuss our upcoming trip to Ethiopia to attend the KIDMIA Seed Adoption Conference in Addis as part of our orphan care partnership ministry. He picked a great little coffee shop close to both of us off West Anderson Lane in Austin, Tx. Before heading out, I quickly programmed my internal GPS via Mapquest and off I went. As I was driving and approaching what I thought was the correct area I kept thinking, “why would Matt pick this place, it doesn’t seem to be close to both of us at all”. Instead of stopping and calling Matt to confirm, I simply kept driving and exited off on Anderson Mill Road. I must have driven back and forth on that road trying to figure out where this coffee shop was. After about 10 minutes, I finally stopped, prayed and then realized that Matt said “West Anderson”, not “Anderson Mill”. I had gone to the wrong “Anderson” part of town! So needless to say I called Matt told him I was running late and why and drove like crazy to meet up for coffee.

Well as you all know by now, Dawn and I are moving forward and proceeding with our adoption from Uganda. The funny thing is, for Dawn, she has known for some time that we would be adopting, for me…not so much and as you will see, I had to pull over and clarify my destination with the Lord before coming to that realization.

Last year, prior to Dawn and I heading off on our first mission trip to Africa, I had been humbled and broken to tears when I heard Richard from Uganda pray at the close of service at church. I had never cried so hard in my entire life and I currently understand why I was so broken. Dawn asked me what was going on but I honestly had no answer, I didn’t know. All I did know was that the Lord told me to go to Africa with Dawn and that I had broken down listening to a man from Uganda pray. Nothing made sense. A few days later, I came across a mysterious Kindred Spirit magazine in my house. Kindred Spirit is a publication from Dallas Theological Seminary. On the label was my name and address, but I had never contacted DTS nor had I ever given them any information on me. I asked Dawn about it and she had no clue to how it arrived. Obviously I was intrigued, especially after my experience at church, so I decided to read through it in hopes of making some sense of everything. As I opened up the magazine I was drawn to an article on Howard Hendricks, a professor at DTS that was retiring. I have never met Howard Hendricks and had only heard of him recently from a pastor friend at church. So I read the article and came across a “professorism”, a quote that he was famous for. It read, “You can do many things, but be sure to do the ONE thing that you MUST do.” Well that got my attention, so much so that I began weeping again and called out to God, “what is the ONE thing I MUST do?” As I prayed I opened the magazine up again and this time I came across a picture of African boys. So what? Well, this edition of Kindred Spirit had nothing to do with Africa. It was about immigration and the one article on Howard Hendricks. Nothing in the entire magazine was about African boys or orphans. So using the logic of Wiley Coyote, I calculated that Africa + Uganda + Orphans + DTS = go to DTS for seminary in cross-cultural studies. Ok, that must be the ONE thing I MUST do, that was what God was asking me to do and it was so far removed from what I would have studied, He must have been using these bizarre events to get my attention. So I applied and was accepted to DTS and off I went following the Lord, or so I thought.

Just prior to starting DTS, I was thrown a curve ball. My church called me up and wanted to interview me for a pastoral position. My dream of ministry had come true, but wait a minute, I had just committed to going to seminary. In addition, this program required that I complete 50% of the classes in Dallas, 3 hours north. Why would the Lord ask me to go to seminary, have that be the ONE thing I MUST do and then open the door to being a pastor that would require 100% of my time and was in Austin. Something was off and I began to question everything.

So I placed seminary on hold for a year and began my work in ministry. When Dawn came back from Uganda and told me about her amazing time and about meeting an adoption attorney by chance, I began to wonder if adoption was something to consider and if so, why was I so convinced that I had to go to seminary. So I decided to retrace my steps and returned to that Kindred Spirit magazine. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.

I reread Howard Hendricks’ quote, “You can do many things; but be sure to do the ONE thing you MUST do.” Ok, Lord, I thought seminary was the ONE thing, what’s up? Then I turned to the page that had the African boys but this time something appeared larger that life that I had completely missed the first time, a scripture verse was above the picture. How did I miss that? How on earth did I miss a scripture verse when trying to sense God’s direction? Especially this scripture verse… Mark 9:37, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me.” That’s when I first had the thought, what if adoption was the ONE thing I MUST do?”

I’d love to say that at that moment I was fully committed to adoption, but I wasn’t, I was willing to begin praying and opening my mind for that possibility. Truth be told, I was mourning the loss of a dream. What dream you ask? You see, I had fallen in love with Africa and missions. It’s crazy, I know, but I felt so strongly that we were going to be involved in missions with Africa that in some small crazy way, staying in American and simply adopting seemed like a cop out. Crazy, I know.

Anyway, rather than dive right in, I took several months to contemplate everything and simply pray. Prayed about seminary, prayed about church, prayed about Africa, missions and most of all adoption. Then I finally heard that quote, but this time it was personally addressed to me. I heard in an inaudible voice, more of a whispering thought, “John, you are able to do many things. I have equipped you to be a Stephen Minister, a Peacemaker, a Sunday school teacher, a hospitality leader, a marriage mentor, a missionary and a pastor. Not only are you able to do many things but I can and will send you many places. However, John, I have one thing for you that you MUST do. You know what that ONE thing is; and now that you know, you will be blessed if you do it.”

It was then that I fully believed and confessed to Dawn that I was fully in. So here I am, arms open and heart pounding walking in faith with my wife and children in the journey of adoption. Thank you all for your prayers, they are coveted and appreciated.

Friday, August 5, 2011

How we got here....

John and I have some very exciting news.  We have officially begun the process for an adoption from Uganda!  We are so excited and our heads are spinning....all at the same time.

Although some of you may be thinking...."I'm not the least bit surprised", you may be wondering how we got here.  I'd like to take the time to share that.

I've had a heart for Africa for some time.  If you ask my Mom, she would say that God has been preparing me for this since I was a child.  I honestly never expected to "GO" to Africa though.  As I grew into an adult, and began having my own children, I could hear a voice of a child that wasn't my own.  This child would say "mama", but it wasn't with an American was different.  I never gave it too much thought though.

Towards the end of 2007, a couple brought their newly adopted son to church.  He was from Ethiopia and one of the most beautiful babies I had ever seen.  My youngest was just 7 months old at the time but I remember saying to my husband on the drive home "there was just something about that boy".  Again, I didn't give it too much thought and safely tucked it away.

In May 2009, our church was going on a mission trip to Zeway, Ethiopia to help orphans.  My heart was stirring but it wasn't "GO to Africa", rather, it was a "make jewelry".  I prayed to God and asked him if there was anything I could do with my hands to help these orphans.  By His grace, He led to the creation of the Tesfa jewelry collection.

As 2010 was approaching, I knew in my head, heart & gut that I was supposed to go on the next trip to Zeway.  Several times people would ask me "are you going to adopt from Ethiopia?" or would say "you are going to bring a child home, aren't you".  I would always respond with something like "maybe someday, but I don't think it will be Ethiopia.

Then March of 2010 came.  A gentleman came to our church to share his testimony.  He was from San Diego and he brought two of his associates with him.  One from Jamaica, one from Uganda.  We were having an event for the Zeway partnership and we were all wearing our Zeway shirts and I was wearing jewelry from our Tesfa jewelry collection.  The one gentleman, Robert (from Jamaica) inquired about our shirts and specifically asked about my jewelry.  I told him about Ethiopia and explained the jewelry and paper beads.  He told me he knew about the paper beads and that they had a ministry in Uganda with women making them.  Of course, my intrigue grew.

After John (from San Diego) shared his testimony, he asked Richard to come up and pray.  When I heard him pray, I fell apart.  That was it.  That was the voice.  I knew the voice I'd been hearing say "mama" was the same accent.

After the prayer, my husband got up immediately and left; which in itself was nothing new as he was leading our church's hospitality ministry and had responsibilities to attend to. After the service, I began frantically looking for my husband and found him in the kitchen.....weeping.  He couldn't even talk.  Neither one of us knew what was going on.  More on that later.... :o)

Richard & I exchanged emails and we'd email often regarding beads & the Women of Destiny.  One day he sent me an email and it went something like this "WHEN, you visit Uganda, I want you to know that you have been invited to stay at my parents home."  When I visit Uganda?  Thanks for the offer, but I'm knee deep in jewelry for Ethiopia, I don't think I'm going to Uganda.

"See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared"  Exodus 23:20

I was wrong.  And boy am I glad I was wrong.  In January 2011, I found myself in Uganda with my good friend Cathy.  We were blessed beyond words and I fell in love with Uganda.  On our last night there, we had car trouble so Richard called his good friend, Benon, to come and drive us into Kampala.  We were asking Richard all kinds of questions and I began asking about adoption.  Richard responded "Oh, you should ask Benon those questions...he is an adoption attorney".  I had to bite my tongue to fight back the tears.  I knew God was up to something.

In March, John and I began SERIOUSLY praying about adoption.  I returned to Zeway in March and came home fairly confident that we weren't supposed to do anything...yet.  Again, we both have been open to adoption but we were never both in the same place at the same time.  Ethiopia, Uganda, now, later, before Seminary, during Seminary, after Seminary, before we move, after we move?  We also had to make a decision that was best for our family.  We couldn't decide to do this for social justice or because it's what everyone else was doing.  It had to be right for us and more importantly what GOD wanted us to do.

John was asked to return to Zeway in May for an Adoption conference for Ethiopian church leaders & pastors.  He came home very confident that we were not adopting from Ethiopia.

I wait for you, O LORD...Psalm 38:15

Then an opportunity came from Samaritans Purse to help host a mama and her sweet 9 month old baby from Uganda.  The baby was having life saving open heart surgery.  They also came with a Samaritans Purse  employee from Uganda.  What a joy it has been walking through this experience with them.  Ok, is anybody else sense a theme with Uganda?  :o)

During this time, after our morning prayers, John looked up at me and said...."no more excuses, I'm ready".  My heart jumped.  Ready as in, ready, ready for us to take the adoption plunge?  Yes, He was ready and so was I.  I looked at him and said "Ethiopia or Uganda" and he said "it's Uganda....that is where our son is". There was a conviction and confidence about John's decision that he hadn't had until this time. More on that when John writes his side next...

"And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me."  Matthew 18:5 

We immediately began praying for the Lord to confirm our decision while at the same time the brainstorming process much jewelry do I have to make and sell to get back to Uganda to be able to start the inquiry process.

One week later, I got a phone call that took my breath away.  I feel like it was God's way of confirming everything.  It was from Samaritans Purse.  They asked me if I would be willing to take our Ugandan guests home.  My response "to UGANDA? are asking me if I want to go back to 18 days....are YOU KIDDING ME?"  Yes, they were asking me to travel back to Uganda, fully paid! Originally, they asked if I would be willing to stay "in country" for 3 days. John and I both saw this as a confirmation from God and that He was sending me to Uganda to begin the inquiry process. As I learned of the Samaritans Purse itinerary for myself and shared it with John, he kept mentioning, make sure to take time to investigate the adoption. We were a little concerned that there wasn't going to be any time left for that, so we prayed. It always amazes me to see how the Lord works to accomplish His will. Samaritans Purse called me back and explained that the cost of airfare was more $4,000 more expense if I stayed for a standard period of time and they asked me to consider staying an additional three days.  Confirmation request confirmed, and confirmed again.  And wouldn't you know it, the adoption attorney asked to meet me on Saturday.  Saturday.  If the original itinerary would have played out, I would have been on my way back home on Saturday. 

After that happened, I told John that we needed to let our family & closest friends know our plans.  I knew I needed to begin doing some research and would be wanting to ask questions to adoptive parents via Facebook.  So, we sent out a letter.  We were so encouraged by the support and outpouring of love we received....more confirmation from God that we were, indeed, following Him.

Ok, this is real now.  How in the world are we going to afford this?  How much jewelry do I need to make and sell to pay for our homestudy?

Then my phone rang.  One hour after the email was sent, once again, my world was rocked.  A wonderful friend told me to open a Paypal adoption account because she wanted to make a donation.  I was not prepared for what happened next.  We now had the funds for our home study.  I cried.  All day long.  I will never have enough words to thank her.

I was reminded of Malachi 3:10 "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  Test me in this." says the LORD Almighty. "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

So, here we are.  Excited, anxious, nervous, name it....but trusting God.  I had a conversation with a friend about this.  I said "I don't deserve this, any of this" and she replied "it's not about you".  She was absolutely right.  It's not about me.  It's about God and glorifying HIM.  He is providing and paving the way.  He is the ONLY reason we are here today, able to share this story.  I give HIM praise and I am humbled by His love and more importantly His GRACE.

Let them give glory to the LORD and proclaim his praise.....Isaiah 42:12

And our journey begins......