In Her I am Well Pleased

I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t trying to please someone. It has been nearly four decades of strapping this burden on like a back-pack filled with cumbersome bricks, of always trying to please everyone, that I am not even sure if I understand or know who the authentic me is. I have lived for so long tormented with this desire to feel pleasure, from other people in my life, to have people approve of me, to work hard at pleasing everyone around me, to not rock the boat too much. It is an impossible task, that I continually fail at, and continually feel guilt and remorse over. When I feel someone’s displeasure of me, whether real or imagined, it strangles me in shame, guilt, and self- loathing. It can be as simple as someone disagreeing with my thoughts written on Facebook and calling me out. That alone can spiral me into fear of losing someone’s approval. Sometimes I am so afraid to have a voice, because maybe my voice does not match what people expect that it should, and I am still learning and growing and changing. The terrible truth is that I have lived a good portion of my life desperate to please God as well, and feeling as if I could never quite figure out how I was supposed to do it. I sacrificed some big things in this life. Not only did I sacrifice my authenticity, but I also did what I thought God wanted me to do. Heck, I even sold all of my earthly belongings and moved to Africa. And yet, this fear of God’s disapproval clung to every part of my soul like a life-sucking parasite.

In the tradition that I was raised in, there was no shortage of proclamations from the message that I constantly “fall short”.  I think the very first Bible verse that I memorized as a small, impressionable little three or four year old girl was Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. I have nearly always understood that I am a terrible sinner and fall short of God’s glory. That has never been in question. The wrath of God and His displeasure of me seemed to be entwined in my very DNA.  And really my desire to please people was birthed from my desire to please God. It makes for a weighty existence, one in which I am constantly failing to measure up. It has been a lifetime battle that has sucked the joy of life from me far too often. One of the very first times that we walked into our home church, I remember sitting and hearing Pastor Blake talk about God, and how He is not a God that is characterized by wrath. Then he said “I want you to know that God smiles at you.” I was furious at his words. Surely they had to be blasphemous. How does the God of the universe look down on despicable sinners and smile? This was not the dialogue that was spoken over any part of my life prior to that point, and I wrestled hard with its validity.

Over a week ago, my husband and I had the privilege of being sent to Colorado to receive a week of intense soul care. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced, and the younger me, looking to please people, would be cringing right now to even use that word ‘experienced’. One morning as we were meeting with our spiritual directors they led us through the passage from Matthew 3:16-17. We practiced Lectio Divina with this passage and really took time to try to understand the message that the author was intending to communicate.

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;  and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

When I paused long enough to ponder the timing of God’s words over His son, I was overcome with emotion. Jesus, yes although God, but let us not forget his humanity, had not done anything ministry wise up to this point. It is worth noting that He was around 30 years. Jesus had not done a single miracle, or healed a sick person, or preached a message. Yet, His Dad, His God, announced His pleasure in His Son. He said this to Jesus before Jesus had done any work – before He had performed. His pleasure came before Jesus’ performance.

I sat on a love seat tucked into the beautiful, snowy Colorado mountains with hot tears making rivers down my cheeks. My whole life has been about striving and performing in order to finally obtain God’s pleasure. But in that moment, I truly understood for the first time in my life that God’s pleasure for me is fixed. I already had it. My identity in Jesus is secure and immovable, regardless of my performance. As the adopted daughter of God, He looks down at me with that same love and pleasure, that He has for His only Son. My tears continued to stream and I cried for that little girl who could never get her math facts fast enough, for the junior high chubby girl who was no good at sports, for the high school student who was shy and awkward, for the college girl who nearly made herself sick striving for a 4.0, for the insecure new mom who thought she had to prove herself to be a good mom, for the nose-ring wearing Baptist pastor’s wife who never could fit in, for the thirty year old woman who thought selling her home, adopting kids, and moving to Africa might finally obtain pleasure from God. For the me of today who is depressed, broken and lonely with homesickness for a place that really is not my home who strives for perfection that is unattainable, and who is not sure how to fit back into a country that seems to be falling apart at the seams after having her eyes opened to a whole big world beyond the United States. I cried and I cried and I cried for her, and for the masquerade that needed to be killed off.

But a dam was broken that day, and although this is a journey and there is no quick fix to years of living into a false self, I am desperate to live into my true self – into the identity that is all mine through Jesus – I, Tiffany, am His beloved, and [regardless of my performance or lack thereof] my Daddy in heaven is well pleased, with me. I have His pleasure! May this forever be tattoed on my heart – in her, He is well pleased! May all striving cease. May I stop explaining every nook and cranny of my life to people just so they are pleased with me and my decisions for my life. His pleasure is so much more fulfilling than a few fake friends on Facebook.

And beloved, the same is true of you as well. He is well pleased.

No performance.

No perfection.

No striving.

Lean into it, live into it. It’s a game changer, actually I believe that this beautifully, breath-taking truth is a life changer.

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When I Grow Up

This past weekend I celebrated my thirty seventh birthday, although celebrate and thirty seven are hard for me to write in the same sentence. I am inching dangerously closer to forty. I try to be like those women who embrace aging, but I remember even being a teenager and feeling apprehensive about the numbers getting bigger. I think if I dig deep, the truth has more to do with how fast life is going than really how old I am getting, but the two are for sure entwined. At this age, I should know what I want to do when I grow up – my goodness I should be doing it. I love our work with Mercy Branch. I am so passionate about reunifying families. However, our work in Mercy Branch has suddenly changed, and I do not get to be daily hands-on anymore. Instead my work will now be more behind-the-scenes advocating, managing, and fund-raising. It is hard to come to grips with that, but it is the season that we find ourselves in. And I find myself wrestling with now what?

I have had this little seed of a dream for over a year now. I have only whispered it to a few of my bests. It seems crazy, and the timing is not right for now, but I continually dream about when it might be right. The dream was ignited in a small conference room when an immigration lawyer and a group of law students brushed over my hours of research that I came armed with, and told me that the path I had carved out for my son’s citizenship was impossible. I knew it wasn’t. I already shared the end of the story before. It wasn’t impossible, but it did take an extensive amount of research and work to make it happen.  I began to dream and wonder. I wondered how many immigrants had been told it was impossible, and how many had been told ‘no’ by immigration lawyers who did not want to learn and research new ways and keep up with ever-changing immigration laws.

I have always loved researching. I am the type of person who when purchasing an item, for example off of Amazon, will read every single review on the product – and enjoy reading them! It is an actual fun activity for me. I carefully make my decision after literal hours of comparing and contrasting and reading reviews. I like researching; actually that is an understatement, I love researching. I spend way too much time doing just this about everything and anything one can imagine. I diagnosed Jamesy, based off of the little bit we knew in his referral medical documents, and with extensive research pouring over online medical journals, prior to him coming home, and I ended up being correct. I learned a lot about the process for immigrants to become citizens in America. I read over tedious immigration law, and I was fascinated. I ate it up. I became captivated with what I learned. I cannot imagine, a foreigner coming to our country, trying to navigate the process alone, and yet I know this happens as it can be hard to find a good immigration lawyer. Living overseas for two years made me sensitive to noticing how foreigners, being one myself, were treated in another country. I was constantly wondering how foreigners in my own country were treated. My heart has always been for people that don’t quite ‘fit in’. When I put all of this together, I landed at a big dream – some day going back to school to become a paralegal for an immigration lawyer.

To be completely transparent, I sometimes think that I want to actually be an immigration lawyer, and work entirely pro-bono. However, there are many problems with this. One we are not rich enough to do that, and I am not really smart enough to get through law school. (This is not self-deprecating, just fact.) Also, I really don’t like talking to people all that much. I think I would rather sit in a small office all day long with law books and research my days away! That is the dream that I am waiting to be unleashed. The timing is certainly not now, and may not be ever. Truthfully, a new dream may birth itself. Right now I want to raise my babies. I want to be an intentional mama. But maybe one day in the future, when I grow up, I will become a paralegal for an immigration lawyer.

“Don’t you find it odd,” she continued, “that when you’re a kid, everyone, all the world, encourages you to follow your dreams. But when you’re older, somehow they act offended if you even try.”
― Ethan Hawke

What’s the dream of your heart? I think we all have the seeds of a dream deep inside. Sometimes for us stay-at-home mamas, they are hard to realize. We are so busy fostering the dreams of our children, that I think sometimes our dreams get squandered. I think they are there, though. It is important to keep dreaming and reaching for our dreams. Our kids need to see us doing what we love and passionately pursuing what God created us to do. I think of this often as I encourage my oldest in attaining his dream of making it to the Premier League to play soccer. Sometimes I watch him work for this dream, and feel sad, because I swallow the lie that it is too late for my dreams.

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But the truth is, it is never too late. I am thirty seven years old, and I am still discovering what I want to be when I grow up. Keep dreaming, friends. Dreams really can come true.

 

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Building a Table

 

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Many of us agree that we are living through tender times and figuring out how to navigate this needs some intentionality. The climate of our country is shaky, and people are hurting and choosing sides, and it has become very polarized. One month ago today, I traveled across the ocean to a country that is bruised. I didn’t realize just how injured she was until I began to live here once again. I have been doing some deep soul searching in order to really understand how I should respond, as an image bearer of the Creator. Because I know my response and my actions do matter. Jesus was so purposeful about stepping into people’s pain. It is one of His characteristics that I find so compellingly beautiful. I think this is because it is such a rarity. This could be because it is not easy to endure pain, let alone choose to endure pain that is not your own.

The quote from Louis C.K. has been bumping around in my heart quite a bit the past few days.

When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t. Louis C.K.

I wonder what it would look like if image bearers chose to understand this quote.  Experiences shape us more then I think we give credit to, and none of us have the same exact life experiences. So to understand another human takes a kind of discipline and humility that is not easy. But what if instead of brushing off the pain and fear that so many people are telling us they feel, because we decide it is not valid, because it is not ours, because we don’t fear it, because we do not agree or see it from that perspective, because we did not have a tangible part in it – what if instead we leaned into the pain that others are crying out over? As a follower of Jesus, am I not supposed to be part of the most loving, compassionate, and empathetic human beings on this earth? Are we not supposed to be known by our love; is that not our very identity? Maybe leaning into the pain means that we stop talking, stop putting up social media posts that people tell us hurt them, and take a deep, long pause and honestly listen, and maybe we really do our best to hear another person, and to take a moment to walk in their shoes. And because we are image bearers, we do this without the demand that we get the same treatment in return; we do it completely out of a heart of love with no strings attached. We love our neighbor, yes even that neighbor who voted differently than us, and we love that neighbor as much as we love ourselves. What if we start right there?

Maybe instead of building a wall, we build a table, and then we set it with our finest china, or our brightest tupperware, and we cook our best meal, or order our favorite take-out, and we light the candles, open our door, and we invite the hurt and the pain right into our living room and right up to our tables. And then we break bread together and love in such an extravagantly humble way that the pain has a place to breathe and be heard as we really press pause and listen, and maybe, just maybe even begin to heal these deep wounds around us. What if we invited someone different to our table and got to know and understand the hurts and fears of someone whose experiences have been so different from our own? What if we just tried to understand instead of brushing them off as angry?

What if love really could change things and bridge the divide? I was born a dreamer. I am foolish enough to think that loving well by listening with the intention of really understanding could change a whole lot of things. If nothing else, love, seems like a pretty good place for me to start. When I don’t know what to do, I can live a life of authentic love. Love wrapped up in kindness, compassion, and empathy toward all human life seems like a way of living that will never go to waste. When love is our natural response to every person we encounter, to every life that is different than ours, to every competing perspective and it permeates every part off our lives, then maybe just maybe we will be quick to lean in and really hear, slow to speak things that may hurt, and not easily angered. I am willing to start here at my dinner table, and I am willing to listen in order to understand. I am willing to learn. I am just a dreamer. I am praying that I am not the only one.

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When God Doesn’t Feel Good

Everything was so very good. I remember thinking this very thought as the 6 AM sun welcomely warmed my face. We had worked hard for the life we were living. It was a simple life, with little electricity, water outages, and hard work. But it was filled with pleasures that we appreciated fully, like the brand new bright yellow couch set (our first ever new set)  that we had saved tax return money for, sitting in our living room. It had taken two years for me to put my mark on our house, and we really enjoyed slowly framing photos, decorating, and making this new life homey and a memorable place for our children to grow up in. No, it did not necessarily have eternal value, but in the middle of intense Kingdom work, having this cheery sanctuary was necessary, and God was evident in the beautiful details. This September we were at the point where we felt completely at home in Ethiopia. I rolled over that morning not long ago, and whispered to Jim, I don’t think we can ever move away from this place, and I felt contentment and such joy in the season we found ourself in. For those closest to knowing my heart, they understand this is rare, as I have always struggled to live in the present (I am a sentimental nostalgic fool), but I was living right there. And it was so very good.

And then only weeks later, our world rocIMG_0705ked out of our control and everything good seems gone somehow. I admitted out loud last night (in church even) that God doesn’t feel very good right now. In the brand of Christianity that I grew up in, this is a scary thing to think, let alone voice. I was taught that we cannot question God, and to do so is shameful and even blasphemous. Questioning targeted people as weak in their faith and was a sure sign of unbelief in God. There was the unspoken code of ‘protecting’ God, as if He needs our protecting. However, when I look closely at people who interacted at a deep level with God, I find at times they, too, questioned Him. Martha in John 11:21 asked Him why He could not have been there sooner in order to save her brother’s life. Moses questioned why God would choose him to  be a leader, and why He would bring the Israelites into the desert in Exodus 5:22-23. David often questioned and wrestled with God. Psalm 42:9-11 shows David asking God why He had forgotten him.

Intellectually I know God is good. I really do, and that knowledge is unshakeable. He is good all the time. He IS a good God. He is sovereign. But to be transparent my feelings just are not matching my intellect. I am a feeler. I feel everything deeply. This is a gift, and this is a curse. For so much of my life this was shamed, and I tried to not feel. But I was created to feel, and that is one of the things about me that makes me who I am. To deny this part of who I am is to not live an authentic life. I cannot compartmentalize myself; I am a whole person and cannot be split. I know full well that God can handle my feelings and my fragility, but in my life I have discovered that sometimes God’s people cannot. The truth is these feelings of mine do nothing to take away from Who He is. He does not need me to protect Him by disregarding  my feelings and faking righteousness in a season where I don’t feel very righteous, and I desperately need HIS righteousness.

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As I grow in my journey of faith with Jesus, and as I look back over other hard seasons that have come and gone, I am beginning to think that sometimes God desires this wrestling match with me. Maybe there is something inside of me that needs this season of questions and pain. Maybe I can only really appreciate the other side after painful wrestling, and honestly that does ring true with my personality. If you are familiar with Passenger’s song Let Her Go, well that is a song that resonates with my human nature. In the story of Jacob literally wrestling with God in Genesis, the wrestling ended with an identity change for Jacob. The wrestling turned into a gift – a gift of restoration. Maybe something similar will be done in me, or maybe I am on a different journey.

So, yes, I have questions. I am wrestling with God right now. But there is something so much bigger than myself going on as I wrestle. There is more to this story, and right now it is not for me to know or understand, but I want to, and I think that desire is okay. I think God can certainly handle that and is not apprehensive about it.  I am not afraid to be honest and vulnerable with God. He knows my every thought anyway. There is something after this season that God is preparing me for, and this season of dark wrestling is part of His preparation. I know God is pursuing me. That is the beautiful thing about my God, as I struggle and doubt and question, He draws me in closer and closer in hot pursuit. He is not fearful of my questions; I dare say He welcomes them. Even when it does not feel good, I know that He will always be right here inside my anguish, my tears, my questions. He meets me right here. And I echo Jacob, I am not letting You go until you bless me. I might end up with some battle wounds from the wrestling, and I may limp into the future, but I am holding out hope that one day the sun will kiss my face again, and I will feel that everything is so very good – whether on earth or in heaven. Let it be so.

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Shattered Dreams

Even a month ago, I would never have dreamed that I would be sitting at my parents’ kitchen table and sleeping in my old high school bedroom. But here I am. One decision and one long plane ride robbed it all away from me. The first time I visited Ethiopia I knew our family would one day live there. The past two years have been a dream come true. It was the very best time of my life, and it was the life that I had never known that I had always wanted. It wasn’t glamorous, and there were hardships unspeakable, but it was everything that our family needed, and it was filled with immense joy, contentment, and such abundant living.

Now, here I sit, in my childhood home 7000 miles away from that life, looking out the window at the trees that line the back yard. The leaves on the trees that were so vibrant just a short moment ago have now dulled and are falling to their death. And I can relate. Satan is right here whispering insults and slick lies that speak of failure and a wasted two years and ‘what will people think?’ and children that will grow bitter and a mama that may never recover from this heart ache. Perhaps I have a flair for the melodramatic, but the truth is that I feel everything so, so deeply, and this I am feeling to my core. We certainly did not sell our home and everything that we owned three years ago with the thought of living in Ethiopia for such an extremely short amount of time. We definitely did not prepare for martial law, or situations that jeopardized the safety of our children, or for such life-changing decisions to make. Our dreams were long-term and wide, and they did not encompass a sudden move back to the states. While the ministry continues, and I firmly believe will flourish, and our tiny seed of a dream will come to fruition, it is not going to happen the way we wanted it to happen. And that is awful. It hurts.

But I am proud of the team we left behind in Ethiopia, local men and women who have the same dream and passion as we have, and who work to accomplish that dream. I know this was never really about us. I know, despite Satan’s whisperings, that this is one thing that we did right. I am thankful for that.

“He [the missionary] can live his live amongst his people and deal with them as though he would have no successor. He should remember that he is the least permanent element in the [ministry].He may fall sick and go home, or he may die, or he may be called elsewhere. He disappears,the [ministry] remains.The native Christians are the permanent element.” Roland Allen

I am trying to lean into God and His plans. I am trying to get on board. I find momentary delight in things like finding a home, only to feel sudden guilt for being excited about a fireplace and large back yard and dreams of decorating a house. Should I feel excited? Is it okay? If I get excited will God just take it all away again? I am in this soul-searching wrestling match with God and honestly questioning Him and His plan for us. That doesn’t sound very spiritual or missionary-ish. But it is the raw truth. Every time I wrestle, I notice that God doesn’t push me away, He draws me closer and embraces my flailing, my wailing, and my angry questions. He is big enough to handle my hurt and to let me wrestle. It doesn’t phase Him or threaten Who He is. To leave the mission field and go back to America, is hands-down the hardest thing God has ever asked me to do. In so many ways this feel more foreign and uncertain, and maybe this is exactly the way it is supposed to feel to remind me of where my real home is. Home is everywhere and nowhere at all, because home can never really be here. Maybe this weird and wacky America is our new mission field. Maybe just maybe there is a purpose in this mess, and the shattered dreams will be rearranged into something new.

Deep breath. Here am I God; send me. This new mission field is terribly frightening.

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The view out my kitchen window in Ethiopia. I am going to miss this.

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The {sometimes frightening} business of unboxing

I have drawn boxes all of my life. Neat and tidy boxes with perfect right angles, and no room for error. I would meet a person and instantly, almost without much thought, choose a box and fold them into it. I had boxed myself in so long ago, and it was all that I knew. There was comfort inside that box, and things were so beautifully black and white – so pristine, so easy to categorize. Until it wasn’t. I was cramped and suffocating and dieing, and I didn’t even know it. I guess perhaps it was a gradual process, but it sure felt sudden. One day I could no longer fold myself into that box a moment longer, and so my unboxing began.

With my unboxing, God burst out of the box I had long ago squeezed Him into. He was and always had been so much bigger than my boxes. He could never really be contained. He had been dieing for me to let Him out of that box. No, no, the truth is,

He had died to let me out of that box.

I have learned that I was never made to fit into a box (and neither were you), especially the box that I have tried to fold myself into for all of my life. As a recovering Baptist, rule-following, self-titled ‘good girl’, that un-boxing has at times frightened me. It has been uncomfortable and even painful on occasion. It feels a little too free; truthfully, I think that I miss the security that came with those right angles pressing in on me. I like things that fit neatly into boxes. I actually like being told what to do. I like order and to know what to expect.

But, I am so very human, so flawed, and I am absolutely filled with contradictions, and those cannot be contained in a box.

If we are honest with ourselves and with each other, humans cannot fit inside of boxes.

I am learning that I am a walking contradiction, and I am learning that is okay. For this whole journey of life I will be emerging and unboxing into who I was created to be. Sometimes that will mean that I change my mind and learn and grow in areas that I once was so certain in. That also means that I still have many areas of life that I need to learn and grow in.

And that’s okay. It’s okay to not know, and to wrestle and question. The funny thing about unboxing and all of the questions that it has exposed is that my faith is more real than ever before, and it is smashing the walls of that old box down layer by layer.

The abundant life was never meant to be lived inside of a box. There is nothing abundant about a box.

That is why I am here and no longer writing in the same place that I did for so many years. That’s why this space may feel very different from the other one. Maybe my words seem a little more shakey and less sure. It’s the first time that they have been given permission to live outside the box. I needed a new space, and the truth is I could no longer write over there, because there was no margin for error and therefore no room to grow. I was becoming mute inside that box, and no words would come out. I was stuck. I needed to move away from who I once was, because I am no longer her. I needed to capture words and release them into a safer place, where they could fly and not suffocate. So, here I am in a brand new space, a Jesus – following, home schooling, mistake-making, coffee-loving, mascara – wearing, small-town, wanna-be-writer, quiet listener, home-cooker, music-loving, ordinary mom, unexpectedly living in the capital city of Ethiopia, passionate about people, spreading kindness, fighting for justice, and becoming a safe place for those who just need someone to stop and listen and let them unbox.

Welcome to my unboxing, feel free to unfold out of yours. I am glad you are here. Sip some coffee and stay awhile; you and your words matter to me.

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A Child Will Lead Them

It felt as if the walls of the small conference room were closing in on us. I tried to breathe through the panic that was causing my heart to race and the roaring rush of blood that pounded in my ears. His words hung in the air among us, and they felt horrifying.

If you take him out of this country and back to Ethiopia, he will never, ever get another visa to come back here, and he will never become a citizen.

These words were not at all what we expected to hear just two days prior to moving our family from America to Ethiopia. It hadn’t yet even been a month since our oldest son’s adoption was finalized. The miracle of that day was still fresh on all of us, as fresh our three tender tattoos that commemorated the truth that we really were irrevocably family – the very first request our son ever asked of us, and the one he begged us to make come true for years. “I just want a family. I want you to be my family”, he would say over and over again. It seems like such a basic need. It IS such a basic need. And yet it was the most grueling, complicated process to meet that first request, that one basic need. So the weight of what had finally happened was still heavy on us, and we were still in blissful shock. With his adoption came family that he had requested, but not citizenship to America. It was the one thing that still needed to be worked out. We had managed to complicate things even further, by making the life-changing decision to pursue missions in Ethiopia. We would be taking our newly adopted, non-citizen child back to his home country, voiding his current visa, and pursuing American citizenship from across the ocean. The normal procedure would have been for him to stay on his visa in the US and finish out high school, at the private school, then apply for a green card, live on the green card until he reached the time where he could apply for citizenship on his own in adulthood. But the only way to do this was from America, and we knew that was not where we were supposed to be anymore.

We knew this, but we also believed that there had to be another way that would allow us to live in Ethiopia. So I did what I love to do – I researched. I literally devoured legalese and every single immigration law article/document piece of information that I could. I spent hours researching through different ways – only to come up with dead ends and one reason or another that it could not work for Habi’s case. I became fluent in jargon that I had no prior knowledge of, and in the midst of the laborious researching process I finally found one complicated, risky way that could work. I learned everything there was to learn about the process. I knew it could work. I knew it would be risky, but I knew that with the help of our immigration lawyer, that this really could work. My husband spoke with our lawyer on the phone and explained our plans, explained the process, and we were invited to a meeting to set the course in motion, just two days before we moved.

So, there we were in the small conference room. Habi, my husband Jim, and myself, along with our immigration lawyer and three law students who were invited to sit in on the unique case. I was armed with a huge stack of paperwork backing my research, and explaining the process, and I was excited that we had found a way. And then the lawyer dropped the bomb that shattered everything. He had never heard of the process, and despite phone calls to him that my husband had made, had not researched it or had anyone on his team research it. It became clear that he had no intention of researching it. It wasn’t common, he had never done it, and therefore we were made to look like foolish, irresponsible parents for deciding to leave the country. We walked out of that room devastated.

Little was said during the hour plus drive back to where all of our luggage was packed for the move and our three little children waited for us. Scenarios bounced around my head, and my heart beat wildly with fear. Why would God orchestrate this this way? Why after so many hurdles would He give us this child and then not finish giving him the security he needed to know that we would and could always be together as a family? Because essentially that was exactly what citizenship meant – security, permanency.

I was angry and confused. I remember Jim praying with me when we got out of the van, and I was just so angry. We then decided that we had to have a really honest and open conversation with Habi, and lay everything on the table very plainly for him. This meant telling him that if we were to go through with these plans to move to Ethiopia then we would have to fire our lawyer, and he would have to trust me to try to complete citizenship on my own, without the expertise of a lawyer. It also meant that his current visa would be voided, and that we could not make a promise that he would ever return back with us to America – not for a visit and not to live. It was our hardest parenting conversation to date. We told him that if he was too scared to make this move, if it seemed too risky, that we would take some time to pray together about staying in America, because he was and is that important to our family.

It has been said that a child will lead them, and I will never forget what he said, “I trust you. God has asked us to go work with street kids. We cannot ignore that. We need to follow Jesus. I may never come back here, but I trust you and I trust God, and this is what He is asking us to do.If I never come back here, then it is God’s plan, but we have to move.” Up until he said this, I had been thinking that this was my Abraham and Isaac story, and that God was asking me for my son back. It felt like the worst kind of surrender. But after Habi spoke those words, I realized how much MORE of a risk this was for my child, and how much authentic, active faith he had in being able to risk everything for this move. It wasn’t about me at all. This story was about Habi.

Most people probably do not know the strength, courage and faith that it took for a fourteen year old boy to board a plane back to his home country. They may not have realized the risk he was taking to follow Jesus. When he hugged and kissed relatives in America ‘goodbye’ the possibility of that being his last time with them on American soil was all too real, and he knew that. And yet he braved it all, and in the process taught me so much about what faith really looks like. We landed in Ethiopia, and nothing was easy for him. Right away people questioned the legitimacy of him in our family. I don’t know if it was because he did not have American citizenship or because his adoption process was abnormal, or simply because satan is good at this kind of thing. Maybe all of the above. The one thing he had asked us for was constantly being picked at from so many angles – family. But he persevered and he continued to live bravely, and in the process the researching continued, paperwork was filled out, prayers were said, and the story finally culminated with his citizenship to the United States of America, nineteen months after that fateful meeting in the small conference room. None of it came easy. His lawyer was right, and Habi was dangerously close to being denied a visa. He should have been denied, but God placed a very special man in the embassy that day. The only man in the entire building that understood the process we were using for his citizenship. It took a legitimate miracle that day, and is a story all its own, as is the story of his actual oath day to become a citizen. Satan was hot on our heels every step of the way. But he didn’t and couldn’t win, because when God is for you, really, really, who can be against you?

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I have hesitated to share more of this story because it’s not really mine, but Habi told me to share, and he has shared himself a few times while public speaking recently. So, this is my take on his story, please understand that. It is shared tenderly with permission. This is the story of how a child led our family.

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Finding Home

It still fit. Well, kind of fit. The fit was like an old sock, that was familiar and worn, but stretched out and frayed thin in weird places. Or maybe like an old pair of jeans that did not quite slide up over the hips and button at the waist the easy way that they used to. That is a little how America felt on our latest trip. It was our first time back as a family since moving overseas to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2014. And it was all so familiar, but the fit, while still workable, was not quite the same. For months we had dreamed together of what it would be like to re-enter our passport country, so much nostalgia and memories – what we would do, who we would see, what we would eat, how much easier things would be. And it was what we had imagined. And it wasn’t. Something was missing. It didn’t quite feel like home, and I didn’t quite belong. I was out-of-step, and couldn’t quite figure out how to get the steps right again.

It’s a strange feeling to no longer belong to a place you have belonged to for the majority of your memories. I think it took this trip to realize that we really do have a new home. I think for a very long time we have been wandering and searching and waiting to find this very place. I enjoyed our time in the states and seeing loved ones was exactly what our souls needed, and I am thankful for the break from daily life in Ethiopia, but the truth is that my heart wasn’t at peace until we walked back into our house, and I knew that I had finally come HOME. Jim and I both remarked at how much this place felt just like that – home, and I think we breathed a collective sigh of peace and relief to be back in a place that fits us and this moment in our lives. Driving from the airport we were bombarded with the typical erratic vehicles mingled with cattle, colliding with people, and chaos – a chaos that somehow oddly made sense and overwhelmed me with a sense of belonging. This is home I realized, as our van was jostled over the pot-hole ridden roads and my eyes were heavy with sleepless travel.

When our van parked in front of our gate we were greeted with squeals of excitement and hugs and kisses. Walking through our iron gate, into our little compound, up our marble stairs and over the threshold of our home made me realize how right it is that I am exactly where I am right now. It fit. I belonged. It is where we are supposed to be. I walked from room to room, touching our beds, looking out our windows at the breathtaking view of the mountains, breathing in the scent of home, and thankful to be back.

Home, where the sun sets and rises at the exact same time everyday, Home, where going to the grocery store is a wild adventure. Where water is never guaranteed, and power is out as much as it is on. Home, where the language dances over me in that familiar unfamiliar way. Where the aroma of roasting coffee beans mingles with frankincense and spicy berbere. Where the music is loud and beaty, and the laughter is louder. Where we cannot brush our teeth with tap water. Where my cheeks are kissed, and touch is a language all its own. Where my house is wild and loud and filled with life – it is perfectly us. Home, where a soccer ball is dribbled inside on rainy days, and a bicycle speeds in and out of rooms, and both are so okay. Home is where memories and people matter more than the things I have accumulated. Where people are free to be who they are and to disagree and to argue and cry, and to forgive and wrap arms around each other. Home is where bread bakes, and coffee brews, and the fridge is small, and laundry takes an entire day to finish. Home, where intentionality is found in every little thing, because without it, one cannot carve out a life here. Where relationships matter more than any other place I have ever visited, and where there is always, always time for them to blossom. Where produce is soaked in bleach. Where every meal is made from scratch and takes effort and creativity. Where clothes hang all around our house to dry. Where afternoon rest and tea and conversation is expected, and meals are a real thing at the table three times every single day. Home is where family time is enormous, and we have truly learned to know each other. Home is where there are no short-cuts or easy way outs. Where life is slower and more basic and where life is also chaotic and always an adventure. Where no two days are exactly the same. Home is where I fall into bed every night knowing that this life I was given matters, and I have so much purpose here.

If home is where the heart is, than my heart is completely present right here. Maybe this is true for the first time ever. I have always wrestled with ‘living in the moment’, and not being present in the here and now. Or maybe this is what I have been waiting for for my whole life, and I am just finding home, in the most unexpected place, for the first time. Some say Africa is the cradle of humanity – where we all belong. Maybe that is it. Maybe not. But this continent, this country in this continent has given me a haven – a place where I really belong. This fits. This is home. And there’s really, truly, no place like home.

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Living my ‘best is yet to be’ while they wait for theirs

I am one of those super sentimental nostalgic moms. I tear up when I am separated from my children for an overnight. True story. My throat thickens with a lump when I watch them do something that I know they were born to do. When talk of college or one day moving out occurs among our kids, I immediately start ugly crying, just ask them as now it has become a running family joke, and they giggle about it. The truth is that I love, love, love this phase of life, and I want it to last a bit longer. I love motherhood. I love watching Jim being a dad. I love family life. I love us being all together as our little family of six. I do anything that I can to foster a lot of together-ness, and actually living in Ethiopia makes this a bit easier. Our family is not pulled in quite so many directions as we were when we lived in the states. The other day while reflecting on all of this, I realized that the best is yet to be phrase that we always talk about is actually what I am right now living. These family years, these have been what I have been waiting for, these are my very best. I am living smack-dab in the middle of the best, and I don’t want to miss a thing. I don’t want to be too busy or too tired or too stretched to miss a moment of this best.

But in the same thought, I was sucker-punched with the fact, that while we are carving out lifetimes memories and traditions, and are shaping the futures of these kids, this is most likely not their best, and that their ‘best is yet to be’ is still coming for them. In understanding that I also have to acknowledge the reality that I will not be in the daily part of their best, and that is really, really hard for me. These are my babies. This is all going so fast, and I love my four kids so stinkin’ much, and they are one day soon going to have their best days outside the walls of our family home. How do we only have three more years of our family of six being in tact before our oldest graduates high school and our family dynamic wildly shifts from the us that we have come to love? How is that even in sight already? It just hit me out of nowhere, and I was not prepared for the burning stab of truth. How did we get here? As these unsolicited thoughts spilled out of me, so did the tears. I am a deep feeler. So thoughts like this can be spiral me down into such deep sadness, which I am sure is foreign to some people, but it is my reality. This is not healthy and can be emotionally dangerous for me and put unfair expectations on my kids. Being under the same roof as my babies is a once-in-a-lifetime privilege, one that I want to steward well, and let go of well when it is time.

The truth is these days are numbered, and my children are all growing up, and that is a gift that some parents only wish could be their reality. Growing up and shedding childhood is a privilege that is not afforded to all. I need to understand this, even on the days when I feel like my best years are flying by and every day I am living something precious that I can never again get back.

When we bring children into our lives, I guess the truth is that we will encounter the greatest joy imaginable and tangled with it, the greatest heartache. It is life, in order to truly experience joy, we have to experience the flip-side of the coin. I am one of those moms who still picks up my almost eight year old boy every morning to give him his hug and worry will this be the last day that I am able to pick him up? I am conscious of moments. Maybe without the ticking of the clock, the passing of days, these moments would not be so precious. Maybe that is the juxtaposition of family life – of my best is yet to be, in the holding on, in the living of these family moments, is learning how to really be ready to let them go and live their own best is yet to be.

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The Heartbeat of a Moment – How Will We Respond to #blacklivesmatter ?

This is not the post that I wanted to write to launch me into this new space. It really isn’t; I had much better, much gentler and well-received ideas for my first post. My blog isn’t even ready to publish a post, let alone this one. It is not my desire to use this platform for inflammatory posts that divide and bite. I have been there and done that, and I don’t want that to be a reflection of me any longer. However, there are times when I know that the Spirit is pressing into me to use my voice. For a long time I have danced around this topic, just dipping my toes in once in awhile on Facebook, but then quickly retreating. The truth is that I don’t really feel qualified to write this, because I am white. It is a big part of what holds me back every time. But yesterday, after a day where I cautiously posted on Facebook and involved my voice, and then felt so saddened by comments all over Facebook, I felt like a full blog post was needed, and maybe a white mama with black boys does have a place in this. I am diving into the conversation, at least for a moment. My desire is to do this with grace. May we please have this conversation? This cannot be a conversation that is marked as taboo, simply because it makes us uncomfortable. We have to be able to freely dialogue, because the truth is, if we cannot have this conversation, if you scroll on by and remain quiet, then we cannot truly understand it, and if we cannot understand it, then how can we ever find solutions to change it? Let me preface this and say that in writing this post I am not against law enforcement, so many of them do such a brilliant and heroic job of keeping us safe. It is not right that they suffer, and that their families fear for their lives. Many risks their lives every single day, and just last night a whole new horror took place where police officers again lost their lives. This is devastating and outrageous, and I am so heart broken for their loved ones. It reiterates the fact that their unjust loss of lives is so, so wrong and opposite of how this world should be. So is the loss of our black brothers and sisters. We should be righteously outraged for all of this and moved to compassion.  And just as it is not okay to make a blanket statement saying that police officers are corrupt, neither is it okay to say that black men are –fill-in-the-blank–. It doesn’t work that way. There are many sides to every story, and many unique people involved in those stories. Let’s understand that, but let’s talk and question this together.

How should a Jesus follower respond to the outcry and injustices in our country by so many people of color?

I am asking myself this question, because I think that a response is necessary. The world is waiting and watching for our reaction, because it matters so, so much. We claim to follow Jesus in life and practice, so with held breath the world turns to us to see if we really do what we proclaim to do. Maybe this is our chance to be known by our love. I am the mama of two Ethiopian boys, with beautiful dark skin. At one time in my life I thought that skin color did not matter at all. I am deeply grieved by my prior ignorance. Ignorance is not bliss when it hurts other people. I was proud of being ‘color-blind’, but failed to realize that I was unconsciously implying to my boys that there was something shameful about the way that God had created them. I thought racism was a thing of our American past, and that the chapter of atrocities for that was closed. I thought our country had moved on. I grew up in a very small, very white town. I had no friends of color. None. I remember hearing adults in my life speaking of black men and how so many of them have a chip on their shoulder because of slavery, and act as if the world owes them because of something that did not even happen to themand I did not even realize that what I was hearing was racism.

The truth is, we do live in a culture that is still raging with racism, as much as I wish it were not true, it is. I see so many white people on Facebook saying ‘stop making this all about race’, and oh, how I wish it was just that easy. Because it is not, and because racism is alive and well here in America, my husband and I do have to teach our two Ethiopian sons to present themselves in a certain way in public, and we have to teach them ways to be safe, on top of teaching them the typical things like honesty, respect, love, obedience to authority, etc. that most parents teach their children. But this added stuff; it is different. If this is not your reality, could you step into mine for a moment? It is a heartbreaking conversation to look my teenage son in the eyes and tell him that he has to be careful, that because of his skin color, when he is in the ‘land of the free’, he needs to be extra respectful and compliant, that he has to act differently than his white brother, than his white friends, or else his life could one day be in danger. This is a reality. To say otherwise is to ignore the truth that my son could be killed just for walking down the street wearing a hoodie on his head and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is not drama or overreaction. This is not indoctrinating my children with fear, this is preparing them with wisdom. This is not the equality that our country declares to gift to everyone. Devastatingly, it does happen, people of color really are dieing unjust deaths, and instead of mourning and weeping with those who mourn and weep, we throw around phrases like ‘gang-related’ and ‘thug’, and ‘criminal record’, and we fail to see the problem is actually with sanctity of life. I read post after post yesterday from black men (from all walks of life) sharing their actual experiences, not fears of what could be – unjust experiences that my husband, that my dad, that my brother have never ever had to face. Many of these men are from affluent or middle class areas; because the truth is this really can occur anywhere. It could occur here in a safe white neighborhood. It could occur there in a dangerous crime-ridden neighborhood. But regardless of where this is happening, the loss of human life should move us and bother us, and for some reason many black people feel like the deaths of their loved ones largely do not matter to us. And that is just not okay with me.

Devastatingly, it does happen, people of color are dieing unjust deaths, and instead of mourning and weeping with those who mourn and weep, we throw around phrases like ‘gang-related’ and ‘thug’, and  ‘criminal record’, and  we fail to see the problem is actually with sanctity of life.

Followers of Jesus are vocal about abortion, but when our brothers and sisters of color are crying out in fear for their very lives, and for the lives of those they love, shouldn’t we be listening? Are not their feelings valid? Shouldn’t there also be an outcry from us for them? Doesn’t sanctity of life matter for them as much as it matters for the unborn child, for the white teenage girl, for the police officer, for the muslim man?  Are they not all lovingly made in the image of God? I can NEVER understand what a person of color faces while living in this country. I know what it is to try to raise one, but to actually live as one, I have no idea. I have never known, and I will never know, because I am white, and I can never live another way. I cannot change that. But I do want to exercise great compassion. I do want to listen and to learn, because if a large group of people (not all – I am reminding myself to stay away from blanket statements, because they only stereo-type and promote racism) are saying that they are living in fear for their lives and the lives of those they love, then who am I to tell them that they are wrong to feel that way, or should not feel that way? Who am I to tell them that if they would just ‘be respectful’ and stay away from dangerous neighborhoods, and teach their children the same then they will have nothing to fear? I cannot tell someone how to feel any more than I can tell them that their experiences are invalid, just because I don’t and can’t experience what they experience.

We are image bearers and as such, should we not be bearing His image, and inviting one another into the gospel life? All I am asking is that if a group of people are saying that they are scared and hurting, shouldn’t we be pressing in as the Church and at the very least listening to find out why? When we hashtag black lives matter, please understand that we are not saying that white lives don’t matter or police officers don’t matter, essentially what we are saying is that all other lives do not matter more than black lives. As a Jesus follower I am compelled to compassion, to lament, and yes even publicly, with those who mourn, to listen to the outcry of humans who are hurting, because we know that Jesus is close to the broken hearted. Where Jesus is, I want to be. To be a Jesus follower is to love justice and mercy, and that means to have an active part in restoring what is wrong in our society; it is to seek hard after “on earth as it is on heaven’.

When we hashtag black lives matter, please understand that we are not saying that white lives don’t matter or police officers don’t matter, essentially what we are saying is that all other lives do not matter more than black lives.

I believe we are standing in a pivotal point in history in the heartbeat of a moment, where we have a choice. We must take a side. I know it is not comfortable. I know it is not popular. But we must. I want to side with life. I want to stand with human dignity. I want to ere on the side of compassion and loving people well.

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”  Elie Wiesel

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I will weep with those who weep, because I could only hope for the same if it were one of mine. And, the truth is, it could be.