Monday, February 2, 2015

Joyful Blessings and Painful Takings

I’ve had so many thoughts swirling through my mind the past few days, it’s about time I try to sort through some of them.

About three weeks ago I read an article entitled “WANTED: PARENTS WILLING TO GET TOO ATTACHED”  The site has been an open link on my computer ever since, because I knew I’d want to read it again. I finally read it again tonight, in lieu of some heavy circumstances occurring right now that seem very applicable to what the article was referring to.  In the article, the writer expresses the joy and love that comes to her and her husband as a result of being foster parents. But with that is also paired great sorrow and heartbreak at knowing that their foster son will not be with them forever - that the child they have loved and invested in and called their own will eventually be taken away to be adopted by someone else.

At times I wonder if we were crazy to get ourselves into this situation.
Foster care is a messy, complicated process, filled with messy, complicated emotions.
When we tell people he’s our foster son, they usually commend us then quickly add,
“I could never do foster care—I would get too attached.”
But that’s the point.
Parents willing to get “too attached” are precisely what children in foster care need.

This same concept is similarly felt by parents who have gone through the process of adoption. It is messy, complicated, difficult and emotional. People look at them and think, “I could never do that. I’m not (strong/patient/selfless/stable/etc....) enough.”  But the author points out that those sacrifices pale in comparison to all that Christ sacrificed to save us.

Opening your heart to love any child is risky and requires a loss of self.
Opening your heart and home to a foster child may seem especially risky.
But in losing ourselves, we gain. We grow in understanding how Jesus loved
us and gave himself up for us. In seeking to love sacrificially, we pray others
will see a picture of the gospel and be drawn to Christ.

So with these thoughts and challenges going through my head the past few weeks, I’ve also been witnessing this happen right in front of me in the lives of a dear friend and her family. Destiny and Patrick adopted their son, Josiah “Jojo,” nearly two years ago. Not only did they commit their lives to the joys and difficulties that are faced through the adoption process, but Jojo has special needs. (I have so much to say on the topic of adoption of children with special needs, but I’ll have to save that soap box for another blog…) They quickly learned that the typical life expectancy of individuals with the disease that was affecting Jojo (read HERE) was low. I remember talking with Destiny about this news; about the realization that her son would die from this disease. But I also was encouraged by her immediate response of claiming that Jojo belongs to Christ and that she trusts Him with Jojo’s life, whatever His plan may be.
Within the past few months and recent weeks, Jojo’s condition drastically changed and his health began deteriorating. (Read details in Destiny’s blog HERE, HERE and more HERE). Over the past few days, they’ve had to make the excruciating decision to not pursue any more medical interventions to prolong life. Jojo will pass from this life soon. And while the tears are many and the sorrow is great, never once have I heard them question God or blame God for what is happening. But rather, they’ve displayed bold and humble understanding that they entrusted Jojo to God the moment they became his parents and are now trusting God - the Creator and Sustainer of life - with the plan He has purposed for Jojo’s life.
“He gives and he takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
Destiny and Patrick will be the first to tell you that there was nothing that made them “more ready” or “better candidates” than anyone else to pursue adoption, let alone special needs adoption.  They were just trusting Christ. Their hearts were breakable then and their hearts are breaking now. But they’d do it again in a heart beat.
“Whoever finds his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39).
We need to be more willing to “give our hearts away” to the things, to the people, that God loves - acknowledging the goodness of God both in the joyful blessings and in the painful takings.

I had that privilege of spending all day Saturday with this family as I traveled with them to visit family and friends in Michigan, giving them an opportunity to say “goodbye” to Jojo. The sorrow is great but there is joy in knowing that soon Jojo will be in Heaven, healed and whole. Patrick and Destiny (who have three other biological children aside from Jojo) are brave, but they were also simply obedient to what God has called them to do.

As they face what is to come, the memorial and funeral expenses are more than this family of 6 can face alone. Please consider donating to help them through this difficult time, keep them in prayer, and share their need with others. DONATE HERE

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Living in Focus

My life has theme songs.  I am sure yours does, too.  Those songs that, when you hear them, instantly bring you back to memories of a specific place or person or time in your life. The lyrics don't even necessarily pertain to anything, it's just the song itself that is attached to the event or circumstance. And sometimes, the lyrics are the relating factor. That's the case with my current "theme song."

Since leaving Haiti and now more recently returning from Africa, I sometimes ask myself, "So, now what?" I've experienced things, learned things, seen things and met people that have affected my life. what? What am I going to do about that? How will I live my life in light of those impacts? How have I changed? Are those changes reflected in me - in what people see? In the way I speak and act? In the things I pursue? What AM I passionate about?

But as I pondered those questions, I wondered if maybe I haven't really changed. Not really. I'm still Me. But perhaps I've just become more Me. More certain about what already existed - my passions, my strengths and weaknesses, my faith. Refined finer by these experiences into the person God designed me to be. So it isn’t a matter of trying to assess and define and become this person I think I should be after experiencing those things….but rather, of just continuing to be Me, and continuing to allow every experience, not just those abroad, to refine me. Because underneath every action exists one foundation and motivation - Christ. To Know Christ and Make Him Known. Pursuing all things through that vision, that identity, is what will ultimately change me, forming me into His image.

That said, the song that's become my anthem in this season of my life is "Fix My Eyes" by For King and Country. Like an answer to my “so now what?” ponderings, the song presents the reminder to keep the focus on God. Because I can travel the world and see and do lots of note-worthy things by worldly standards, but if I don’t fix my eyes on God above, then all those things, all those “changes” in me, are worthless.

...Love like I’m not scared, Give when it’s not fair
Live life for another, Take time for a brother
Fight for the weak ones, Speak out for freedom
Find faith in the battle, Stand tall but above it all
Fix my eyes on You, I fix my eyes on You

The things of Earth are dimming
In the light of Your glory and grace
I’ll set my sights upon Heaven
I’m fixing my eyes on You

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

News Coming At You Fast

Have you ever sat and watched an ant? Actually watched it without squishing it, teasing it by sticking a large object in its way or drowning the ant hill with water from your water bottle? Fine, I am guilty as charged to all those things. But I have also just sat and watched one before. It’s intriguing (I’m cheaply entertained….and easily awed) to try and figure out exactly what it is doing, where it is going, and why in the world it is carrying something 10x its size and weight. The fascinating thing is, it knows exactly where it is going and how to get there (despite being the size of….an ant) and is astoundingly capable of carrying ridiculous (and seemingly unnecessary, but apparently important to the ant) things to and fro.

Right?! I really hope this picture is real because that's just amazing.

Thinking about the past few weeks, I have felt like that ant. Running around, perhaps seemingly directionless, but with a purpose and destination. Sensing the threat of being squished, blocked or drowned at any moment. Feeling the pressure of carrying a lot on body, mind and spirit. But like the pictured ant’s excellent choice of cargo (Ritz bitz forever), I know the weight of these things are necessary, manageable, and rewarding.

All that to say…

It’s been a little hectic “up in here” and I don’t even know where to begin. So I’m just going to blurt out random things in list form. So in no particular order, my life as of late:

→ By this exact date last year, I had been in Haiti for one week. I never cease to be amazed at what occurs and what is experienced and learned over the course of a year. On a similar note, I’ve been home from Haiti now for 5 months already. How is that possible?! I think about Haiti continuously, every day.

→ New job is going well. 5 weeks of orientation down, 19 to go. There’s so much more to say on this topic than is capable in a bullet point. I think I’ll just have to make “Operating Room Stories and Life Lessons Learned” a weekly column on this blog. But for now, I’ll just leave you with this: I held intestines in my hands. It was SO cool. Enough said.

→ I moved to an apartment with my beautiful friend Ann. I’m excited for this new phase. We love our place. Borderline obsessed. Can’t wait for visitors!! And perhaps this is grounds for yet another possible blog column: “Apartment Stories and Life Lessons Learned of Becoming Domestic.” For I stopped by the apartment to drop off something quick and deliberately decided to just leave my purse (containing keys and know where this is going) in the car while I ran the things inside. Just as deliberately and habitually, I pressed the automatic lock door while I got out of the car. No dramatics yet at this point, though, because I didn’t even realize what had happened until I had returned to the car and was ready to leave. Knocked on three doors before finding someone who was home and could let me borrow their phone. Suppose that is one way of getting to know your neighbors! Thanks, Mom, for rescuing me with a spare key.

→ Did I mention that I am going to Africa?! So that’s happening. As in, my flight leaves in 2 hours.  I am meeting my sister, brother-in-law and precious nephew in Chicago and accompanying them back to Guinea.  Yes, in my last post I reflected on how it wasn’t happening.  But now it is!!  And there’s a whole lot more to say about that, but there just isn’t time. So look forward to recap of those events, as well as Africa experiences, in one month when I return!  


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Morsel of Truth

It’s been a pretty random couple o’ months. After returning from Haiti at the end of April, I spent a month in Texas, followed by a month working at a camp. When I finally made it home, I was never home for more than a few days at a time before jetting off again on another 2-5 hour road trip to go to a wedding, visit and friend, or go camping/adventuring somewhere. As I told my mom, “I have to get all my fun done before I start my job!” That’s right, I am one week in to my new job as an R.N. in the OR (Operating Room). I applied for the job on a whim back in May...but with other plans and commitments already made through the summer, I was rather indifferent about getting the job. After interviewing, shadowing and being offered the job, I was able to choose a start date that began after all my commitments were finished, as well as assure that I could have a month off right in the middle of orientation. They said, “sure!”  I said, “golden!” And here I am with a job...and much to my parent’s relief, health insurance. Of which I’ve been without since April.  Thanks, Jesus, for keeping me healthy and safe!  

It’s been strange, though, to hear myself telling people that I’ve got a new job and am therefore “sticking around for awhile.”  Maybe because it’s not what I envisioned myself doing 4 months ago when I left Haiti. Maybe because it’s hard to start over, yet again, in a new and unfamiliar job that requires training and learning. I catch myself wondering often if this is what I should be doing...if I shouldn’t have left Haiti...if I should have applied for different jobs…if I really want to be an OR nurse at all. And though I’m not necessarily convinced on any of those things emotionally, I’ve learned enough times not to lean on my emotions for guidance and assurance. Rather, on God. When I think of how each step in the hiring process fell perfectly and easily into my summer involvements, how I’ve always talked about spending time on a Mercy Ship (which focuses heavily on surgery) and how much calm and peace I’ve experienced during this decision and process, I am reminded of His perfect plan and vision for my life. Ironically, the one thing I DID plan to do when I came home from Haiti - which was to spend some time in West Africa - might not even happen as planned because of the Ebola outbreak in that part of Africa. So while I’ve been handling the disappointment of that change in plans, along with the demands and pressures of a new job, all while sorting through the emotions I described above, I’ve also had to remind myself to just...Stop. Trust. Surrender the plans and details in His hands. And just today as I was relaxing in that, I read this on my Dove chocolate wrapper:


I took some editing liberty there, but it was just the perfect little morsel of truth for the moment and what I’ve been struggling with. He is sovereign. This is in His plan for me. And I am claiming that truth.

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Pinch and a Punch!!

A fun part of getting to know someone is learning the traditions/customs/crazy habits of their family and childhood. A unique part of growing up is experiencing some of those things change. As siblings get married and move away, there are certain traditions that have been altered or adjusted in our family as they create their own families. Some traditions simply changed over time because we are older and bigger (like sitting together on mom and dad's bed on Christmas morning....doesn't quite work as well with grown adults!) However, one tradition in this household that has never ceased to exist and has been adopted by new family members, is that of our monthly "Pinch and a Punch!" game.  For the first time ever, I googled that phrase today and determined that, according to some sources, the "game" is actually of English origin! Not even entirely sure if my parents remember how/why we started playing it, but we're of English heritage, so it seems appropriate! *Edit: My mom confirmed that it was my English Grandmother, her mother, that brought this tradition to our family* 

Played on the first day of every month, it is exactly what it sounds like....we run about pinching and punching each other whilst yelling "A PINCH AND A PUNCH FOR THE FIRST OF THE MONTH AND NO RETURNS!"  Or it is done quietly, so as not to alert others of your position and therefore allowing greater opportunity for sneaking up on other unsuspecting...or very much suspecting...members of the household. 

I can recall some first days of the month being quite rambunctious. There is a feeling of suspense in the house as you approach every doorway cautiously in case there is someone waiting on the other side, pincher and puncher ready.  Screeches and squawks are heard from somewhere in the house as someone falls victim, footsteps pounding as others scatter. If the attacker can say "and no returns" fast enough, then retaliation is illegal. But it most certainly almost always happens anyway.  Other months, everyone seems to wake up oblivious, like the new month snuck up on all of us. The morning goes about as usual until suddenly someone remembers and it's a free-for-all of punching and pinching, screaming and laughing. No one is safe.

As we've grown and gone our ways, we've still managed to continue the life-long game.  If we are not home, it becomes a race to see who can text each other the phrase first.  Though clearly not as fun or aggressive, it still causes me to moan and then smile if I receive a "PINCH PUNCH" text from one of my siblings. In a strange way, it's kind of comforting as it connects us all back to home, to that tradition. It's like saying "Hey, I love you and I miss you" on the first day of every month. But even if I am not home, that doesn't stop me from spreading "PINCH PUNCH" hysteria to those around me. I've found a few blessed people along the way who also grew up playing the game, so I have to be careful if I am near any of them. My college roommate finally caught on after I faithfully (annoyingly, according to her) got her every month. She always punched back. And I always receive a scattering of texts or Facebook posts "pinching and punching" me from people who I've influenced along the way. 

It's a little weird, yes, maybe even barbaric if you really think about it.  But it's fun. And consistent. And just brings a little joy to the day. I know telling you all this may make me victim to more pinches and punches each month. But maybe it will also just make you think about the random, crazy and whimsical things you do with your kids or with your family and encourage you to keep doing them.

My family.
Don't worry, we don't pinch and punch the babies....yet.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Adopted and Free

The following post is from the COTP Blog and was written by a recent volunteer to Children of the Promise. These are some thoughts and reflections of his time spent in Haiti. Read what he has to say about adoption and our relationship to it:

Adopted and Free: Reflections from Haiti

Alone. Enslaved. Unworthy. That is what we were.
Adopted. Free. Beloved. That is what we are. 
“In love, he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” – Ephesians 1:4b-6
Since the dawn of creation, God has planned to reach out his hand, in love, and adopt us as his children; and this adoption was not without cost. Jesus Christ shed his own blood and died, that we may be free children belonging to the Father.
This boggles my mind.
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1
The greek word for see is “horaĆ³” meaning to “look upon, experience or perceive” with the mind, this great and abounding love. The inclusion of the phrase “And that is what we are!” reiterates the astonishing nature of this love. John is driving home the point, asking us to experience, perceive and dwell on this love, because he understands how unbelievable and incomprehensible it is.
“My sin I should be burned with, I’m guilty, filthy, and stained, but He became a curse, drank my cup and took my pain.” – Lecrae, Lucky Ones
While we were full of sin, living in rebellion, and unable to save ourselves, Jesus took the cup of wrath we deserved, that we may be adopted as a coheir with Him.
In the book Follow Me, David Platt touches on this astonishing love by comparing the adoption of his son Caleb, from an orphanage in Kazakhstan, to the way God adopts us into his family. He tells this story:
“One day when I yelled ‘I love Caleb’…he stopped, looked at me, and said, “You love me?
I said “Yeah buddy I do.”
And then he asked what seems to be his favorite question: “Why?”Because you’re my son,” I said.
So he asked the question again: “Why?”
This time I thought to myself, Now that’s a good question…I teared up and said to him, “You’re my son because we wanted you. And we came to get you so that you might have a mommy and a daddy.
Platt finishes the story with this analogy: “Doesn’t it take your breath away for a moment to hear God say, “I love you.” To which we, in our sinfulness, must certainly respond “Why?” To then hear Him answer, “Because you’re my child.” To which we must ask the obvious question, “Why would I, a hopeless sinner, now be called your precious child?” Only to hear him say, “Because I wanted you; and I came to get you so that you might know me as your Father.”
This beautifully depicts the appropriate response to God’s adoption of us; seeing, perceiving and dwelling upon (horaĆ³) the Lord’s love for us, and in response, showing that love to others.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:16-18
We are loved that we might love others. And what does this sacrificial love look like? James 1:27 says “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
But there is a heart-breaking disconnect that we so often face; these people- these children- in our minds, they don’t affect us. We wake up every day and live our lives as if they didn’t exist.
“What can I do?”
“I’m too busy right now.”
“That’s not my problem.”
The list of our excuses is as long as my arm.
I beg you to dwell upon what our lives would be like if God was as unsympathetic to saving and caring for us as we often are to saving and caring for the orphaned.
We would still be alone, unloved, dead in our sin, without  purpose, joy or hope.
But we aren’t. We are adopted. We are free. We are beloved.
And these children can be too.
In his book Radical, David Platt declares “We learned that orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes.”
I saw this truth become manifested in my own life exactly three years ago, in a small village in Tamale, Ghana. Since that day, God has continued to open my eyes and my heart to the fatherless and the least of these (not because I am a great person, but because I am the child of a great God). This summer, I was blessed to continue my journey with Christ by spending some time at Children of the Promise, an orphanage and multi-faceted ministry in Lagosette, Haiti.
The kingdom work, I witnessed at COTP (Children of the Promise) absolutely blew my mind. From the Haitian nannies, cooks and social workers, to the American families and young people serving day in and day out, God’s love is being made SO beautiful there.
COTP is currently the home to about 40 children, while simultaneously providing school sponsorships, special fortified food for malnourished children, prenatal help and immunizations, jobs, electricity, and clean water for the community. Through rehabilitative care, COTP seeks to help babies who are extremely sick and malnourished by admitting them for three months or more, while their family gets back on their feet; after this time, the baby is reunited with their biological family.
For children who have been orphaned or abandoned, COTP cares for them during their adoption process through foster care. These babies live in a family setting in one of the children homes at COTP, with international parents, insuring they learn a concept absolutely vital to the rest of their lives: healthy attachments.
Children desperately need healthy attachments.
Abandoned children often seek to attach to absolutely anyone or anything that might come their way. Without a caretaker, a baby is hopelessly left to cry and lay in their own mess, desperate for love.
They need to be provided for. They need to be fed. They need to be burped. They need to be wiped. They need to be changed. They need to be rocked. They need to be sung to, and disciplined and played with and loved on. They need a mommy, and they need a daddy. And they are desperate for it.
And we are just the same.
Without him, we seek to attach to anyone or anything that may- even for a fleeting moment- make us feel loved. We look to the next new thing- the next paycheck, the next buzz, the next high, the next relationship- to find purpose.
When he is not at the center of our life, we are just the same – hopelessly left to cry and lay in our own mess, desperate for love.
But we have hope.
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:14-15
God is our provider. He gives us our daily bread. His blood has wiped away our sin. His grace has changed us, and made us new. He is our rock. We hear his voice, feel his discipline, bask in his joy and live by his love. He is our daddy- our Abba.
In ancient Rome, those who were adopted were given a new life. They were fully and legally co-heirs with their brothers and sisters. And they were given a new name. When my brother was adopted, he too was given a new name: Jonathan, meaning “a gift from God.” His story is a beautiful depiction of our spiritual adoption, shown in Galatians 4:6-7:“Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” 
We were slaves, and now we are his children.
In John 14:18, Jesus promises “I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you.” And He did. He adopted us.
And we are called to do the same for these precious children.
James 1:27 is not an option; it is a command.
Jesus demands that we care for the orphaned.
In Matthew 25:40 Christ declares, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Brothers and sisters, may we seek the Lord in prayer.
May we ask him to forgive us for our apathy, thank him for His sacrificial love, and boldly ask for a spirit that does the same.
May we join together in this good and eternally significant fight.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:8
Here we are, Lord.
Send us.
-Jake Nagy, COTP volunteer (June 23-July 9)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Update Time

Natalie Joy - May 25
Tristan William - May 11

I could begin anew with this blog and just call it "The Auntie Chronicles."  I just love their faces! It's such a fabulous experience every moment I get to spend with my niece and nephew. Equally exciting is watching my sisters being moms!  So crazy to think, yet so natural.

Things have been moving right along since I departed from Haiti in April. I spent a month in Texas helping my sis and bro-in-law out while they completed graduate school and had a baby in the midst of papers and tests and all things crazy. So thankful for that intentional time with them, as well as the blessing of spending my initial weeks of transition out of Haiti there  (for many reasons, but one being that Texas was a heck-of-ah lot warmer than Wisconsin). Also, I got to live in a camper, which was phenomenal.  I lived with a girl named Lauren. She's beautiful. I also lived with two (uninvited) rats who were evicted shortly-thereafter and a bird who had it in his mind to fly into our window continuously for days on end.  Lauren and I kinda felt like we were living in Snow White's cottage with all that wildlife, but we weren't whistling until we were emptying out the rat traps.

I had frequent mouse/rat encounters while in Haiti, but none this large!!

Lauren and me with the camper

Shortly before leaving Texas, I was contacted by a camp (shout out! Forest Springs!) that I've literally spent a large percentage of my life at, either camping or working. It's beautiful. They were short a nurse for the summer + I had no immediate plans post-Texas = operation camp nurse! It was a huge blessing to be back at camp for those four weeks: great spiritual fellowship, new friendships, and more nurse adventures. I will say, when campers came in with itchy mosquito bites, it was nice to not have to be thinking about the possibility of Malaria, Dengue Fever or Chikungunya virus while smearing on hydrocortizone cream. (Chicken what?? Click here to read more about this virus that hit Haiti hard shortly after I left).

Also, this happened... well as many other things. But this is definitely notable. It was proudly displayed in the nurses station. The campers were a little too excited about it when they started bringing us ticks wrapped in tissue during meal times, asking for it to be taped to the wall-of-fame. Had to put the kibosh on that because ticks were escaping! Only ticks removed in the nurse's station could be added to the wall...

My co-nurse, Angela

Now I've been back home for a week, settling in and finally fully unpacked (aside from three weeks in November, this is the first time I've been home for more than a week since I left for Haiti in September). That is, physically unpacked...still unpacking some things in my head and heart.

Whoever loves his life loses it and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternity. 
If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.
 If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. -John 12:25-26

"If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, 
the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world."  -C.S. Lewis

Children of the Promise has given explicit permission for the posting of photos on this site.  Photos taken of children in the care of Children of the Promise are not to be posted publicly without explicit permission given by Children of the Promise.