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around the world to get our girl {chapter one}

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I wear a watch now, not the new kind that lets you check the weather and get texts but the “old-fashioned” kind with a second hand that ticks rather loudly and a band that cracked within days of purchase. That’s what $15 gets you in the watch department. I bought it the day before I left for Ethiopia and the day after the hardest twenty-four hours of my life.

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The days leading up to our departure for Ethiopia–our trip to meet our youngest daughter and go before an Ethiopian judge to become legally what we have been in our hearts just shy of a year, her momma and daddy–were hard, heartbreaking kind of hard. Every whisper from Ethiopia looked worse and worse, and it looked like the beautiful girl who had stolen our hearts might never come home. My head went to dark places. How will I ever take down her crib? Can I keep the number 6 in the entry way? What about her stocking in the attic? How will we ever tell the big girls? My close friends told me not to go there, but that’s easier said than done.

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Mother’s Day held swollen eyes and a broken heart. I wasn’t surprised when I came down with an awful migraine the next day. I laid in the dark in my bedroom. The migraine persisted through Tuesday, and all I could think about was how I should be packing but instead I was in the dark. Literally and metaphorically speaking. When I woke up Wednesday morning, my migraine was gone. During my Bible study time, I wrote out four verses from my reading. When the girls went to their rooms for rest time, I laid down on our couch with the four, square pieces of paper next to my heart. My shattered heart needed Life.

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I tried to sleep but couldn’t. When the girls got up from rest time, I let them watch a show while I was in my room trying to pack. My fear was getting off that long flight to Addis to find out our court date had been canceled. My heart was racing, and my mind was reeling. And that’s when I had my first anxiety attack. The rest of the night is a blur. When I called my best friend Liz, she said, “I’m three minutes away from your house.” In God’s sovereignty she was already headed to me. She sat on the bed beside me until Matt could get home. I remember whispering with my eyes closed, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.” And I remember hearing her sing, “In every high and every low, in every season, holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.” Matt came rushing home, and I remember him placing his hand on my heart, the heaviness of his hand calming me. Later my dear Jess came over and told me to get a watch with a second hand. She taught me some breathing exercises for when I started to feel anxious and told me to watch the second hand move around the clock while I breathed in and out, in and out, in and out.

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And that’s how on the day before we left the country, I found myself at Stein Mart looking for a cheap watch with a second hand. I found one and thought it ironic that the company name on the face of the watch was “Embassy” considering how much we’ve been in contact with the US Embassy in Addis over the last 6 weeks. We checked out, and I put it on immediately. I could already hear its reassuring tick, tick, tick.

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The rest of the day was packing and going to the bank and checking a hundred times that we had our passports and yellow fever cards and lunch with my momma when she got into town. And laced among all those errands was the tick, tick, tick. Breathe in and out. In and out. In and out. Never had I been so aware that my every breath was from Him. Here we were getting ready to fly 8,000 miles around the world to meet our daughter, not knowing if we would ever be able to bring her home.

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To be continued…

*All images by Robyn Smith of abideinhimphotography.com. To see more images from our trip to Ethiopia, go to @abideinhimrobyn on IG and scroll back a few. 

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An Adoption Update

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Dear friends and family,

This is a hard one to write. When I last wrote, I was upset because we needed a police report. How tiny and insignificant that seems now. On April 21st, Ethiopia issued a suspension on all inter-country adoption. Only ten days earlier, we had finally received our MOWA approval, the last hurdle or so we thought. The past few weeks have been extremely difficult filled with many tears and fears. I have had to surrender back to God this child we love so dearly and have waited for so long.

Things change daily, and information is hard to come by and when it does it’s usually discouraging. I’ve gone back through my prayer journal wondering, “Did we hear wrong? Did we take our own path? Did we disobey somewhere along this road?” But time and time again I see it in black and white on the pages of my prayer journal–His confirmations. His assurance. His direction and guidance. Certainly, we’ve walked this hard journey with much imperfection, sometimes kicking and screaming, but we’ve given Him our yes every step of the way. And that’s where we are right now–we’ve given Him our yes. He has given us a court date of next Tuesday, a chance to stand in front of an Ethiopian judge and tell him our deep desire to parent this precious girl. Could something change before next Tuesday? Yes, it could. Is a court decree a guarantee that she will come home with us? No, it isn’t. Our guarantee comes in the Holy Spirit being with us no matter what.

I’m packing our bags, and I’m packing a pair of gold dotted baby moccasins given by my dear friend Laura. I’m packing a small shirt that says “Love makes a family” and a onesie that says “Love your tribe.” I’m packing some diapers and formula and a muslin blanket her big sister Peach used. I’m packing a book called You Are my Sunshine and another called God Found Us You. Some might think it’s foolish to pack those things, especially with the news we’re hearing today. But I’d rather believe my God can do the impossible and look a fool to the world than look a fool to God and believe He isn’t above all, in all, and surrounding all. He is fighting the battle. I am His servant extending my open hands and giving Him my yes.

We need your prayers more than ever. Please pray that God would guard our hearts and minds. Please pray for our health and safety as we travel. Please pray that He would continue to give families favor with the judge. Please pray the judge would continue to advocate on our behalf and that our court appointment would go smoothly and we would quickly receive our court decree. Please pray we would be able to receive her birth certificate and passport quickly and without any issue. Please pray that this suspension would be lifted and that all parties would be able to find solutions to the needs of orphans in Ethiopia that honor birth families and adoptive families together.

We don’t know how this next chapter of the story will look, but we know the Author, and despite the pain and fear that threatens to steal our joy, we rejoice in Him. He is always worthy. Always and forever. Thank you for walking beside us on this journey.

With all our love,

Liss and Matt

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Today didn’t go like I was hoping…

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Today didn’t go like I wanted it to. After waiting an entire week to get our court date (longer than usual because of Ethiopian courts being closed Friday and Monday for Easter), we anxiously awaited news of our court date today. Instead, we got word that court had requested a new copy of a form from our daughter’s first orphanage. So, we have to wait a little longer. I cried a lot today. I know it seems like what’s another week when you’ve been waiting for almost five and a half years. But it’s hard. I’ll just leave it at that. I have a feeling a lot of you know what it is to be on the roller coaster of waiting, no matter what your waiting is for. 

We went to IKEA tonight. We needed to get out of the house, and I didn’t want to cook. (And free kids meals. The end.) I got a little pale pink kalanchoe because I need to hold life and the promise of beauty from dirt–green grass, bluebird eggs, worms wriggling in freshly turned soil. When we got home, Matt dug up some dirt around our mailbox and the girls and I planted morning glory seeds by the last light of dusk. Halfway through I remembered we were supposed to nick the seeds before we planted them. Each seed is covered in a hard shell and nicking helps the seed germinate. There’s a gentle whisper there for me. This nicking process, this long wait, this hard struggle, is germinating something in me too. It’s painful, but I’m believing there is beauty ahead. And like the blue morning glories that will soon wrap their way around our mailbox, I’m clinging to that promise that He who began a new work will carry it on to completion (Phil 1:6). 

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We’re coming for you, E! {our big news} 

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Sweet sunshine girl,I have some news for you. We’re coming. We’re coming, baby girl. Yesterday was a crazy day. Aren’t the best of surprises that way? We were at our final week of CC for your big sis Lydia. Your daddy had brought Chick-fil-A to us for lunch. I had my phone in my back pocket the whole time but with the swirling chaos of the lunch room and making sure I didn’t lose your sisters I never felt it buzz. Your daddy went back to work, and Lydia went down with friends to the grass for recess. Lottie, Georgia and I were headed towards the elevator to get our big school wagon downstairs. I pulled out my phone to check on your Auntie Liz, and I saw a missed call from our agency just a few minutes before. Then, I saw I had a voicemail. “Lottie, wait! Don’t get on the elevator yet,” I yelled. I listened to my voice mail, “Elissa, this is Alicia. I have good news. Call me back.” I started moving to the side hallway because my phone was cutting in and out and called Alicia back. After a few seconds of hold music that felt like forever Alicia said, “Hi, Elissa. I have good news. You have MOWA approval.” 

And then the tears. The tears. The sobbing. The heart racing. Your sister Lottie was crouched down in eager anticipation and when I told her we had approval she started cheering. We called Daddy to tell him. We made it down the elevator and out to the grass. Lottie bolted yelling, “Lulu! Lulu! You’re going to Ethiopia! E’s coming home!” 

The rest is a swirl. Phone calls, texts, emails, tears, so many tears. But I found myself out in the backyard on the pew we just put out there. I had my prayer journal in my lap open to your page staring at these verses I’ve prayed thousands and thousands of times. And all I could say was Jehovah Shammah. Over and over. The Lord is There. Jehovah Shammah. The Lord is There. 

Alicia told me we should find out our court date early next week, but based on what they have been seeing she thinks we’ll travel to Ethiopia mid to late May. That’s next month, sweet sunshine! Next month!!! 

Baby girl, we are coming. But you know who’s always been there? Your Jehovah Shammah. 
You came, I knew that You would come

You sang, My heart it woke up

I’m not afraid, I see Your face, I am alive

You came, I knew that You would come

by Jonathan David and Melissa Helser 

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Nesting

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My phone started ringing. It was on the desk in our bedroom. As I rounded the bedroom door, I could see that it wasn’t a recognized number. My heart started racing. As I got nearer though, I saw the area code was 901. My heart sank. I answered and got an automated voice telling me my prescription was ready at Walgreen’s. I’m grateful my daughter has access to the medicine she needs for her asthma, but it wasn’t the call I was hoping for.

This is what it’s like as we await the call--the call from someone at our agency letting us know we have received our MOWA approval, that the time has come to go get our girl. Every weekday, I wake up in the wee hours of the morning praying until eventually I fall back to sleep. I ball her quilt up beside me wishing I was holding her instead. I keep my phone close by because I don’t want to miss it. I add eight hours to the clock all day long wondering what she’s doing. Has she taken her first steps? Is someone holding her? Does she look at the picture book we sent her?

The bluebirds we’ve been watching every day built a nest in our box, and today we found the first egg. A quick search on Google tells me the mother will lay one egg every day until her clutch is complete, and then the incubation period will start. The girls and I were jumping up and down when we found our first egg today. It felt like a gift for this waiting mom, a beautiful, fragile reminder that I’m not forgotten. El Roi, God who sees.

So, we wait. And pray. And nest. And we sing. We sing loudly and dance like crazy people. We are preparing our hearts and our home with praise.

“Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house ever singing your praise! Selah” (Psalm 84:3-4). 

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Stuck.

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Processed with VSCO with hb1 presetYou know when it’s fun to share something? When you’re on the other side. When you’ve walked through it or trudged through it or even stumbled through it, but somehow you’re on the other side. Do you know when it’s NOT fun to share something? When you’re right in the thick of it. When your feet are muddy, your knees are bloody, and your cheeks are stained with tears. When you feel stuck. But that’s where I am.

If you find yourself, like me, stuck in the middle—of toddler antics or taking care of an aging parent or battling cancer or navigating infertility or still waiting for one piece of paper to bring your long-awaited child home or any of the myriad of journeys our stories take—I hope my brokenness and the hard, messy things I’m learning encourage you.

The reading plan I’ve followed for the last couple years has me in the psalms for much of the year, and there’s a recurring theme throughout the psalms. There’s this ebb and flow between, “Lord, help me everything is falling apart” and “God, you are great and you are good and your steadfast love endures forever.” My own prayers look very similar. Maybe yours do too. Our prayers reflect the way humans feel.

Psalm 5 “Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God for to you do I pray … But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy.”

Psalm 10 “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? … O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed.”

Psalm 22 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel, In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.”

Psalm 78 “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them …so that they should set their hope in God … they forgot his works, and the wonders that he had shown them.”

Here the Israelites who once crossed the Red Sea singing and weeping and playing their tambourines have forgotten His works. They weren’t feeling it anymore.

“My feelings are important for many things. They are essential and valuable. They keep me aware of much that is true and real. But they tell me next to nothing about God or my relation to God. My security comes from who God is, not from how I feel. Discipleship is a decision to live by what I know about God, not by what I feel about him or myself or my neighbors.”

Eugene Peterson in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

I can tell you I’ve been in just this spot many times over the last 63 months and especially the last few weeks. There have been many days I’ve forgotten His works and wonders. Many days I’ve groaned and asked why He stands so far away? But my feelings tell me next to nothing about God. My feelings are a roller-coaster up one moment and down the next. But our God—He is steadfast, everlasting, our Rock, our Firm Foundation, and He never ever changes.

This is what I love about the psalms. While the fluctuating feelings of humans are honestly displayed, the Steadfast nature of our God is always the end. His Love, His Victory, His Justice, His Righteousness, His Sovereignty is steadfast.

“That he sticks with us is the reason Christians can look back over a long life crisscrossed with cruelties, unannounced tragedies, unexpected setbacks, sufferings, disappointments, depressions—look back across all that and see it as a road of blessing, and make a sound out of what we see…Perseverance is not the result of our determination, it is the result of God’s faithfulness. We survive in the way of faith not because we have extraordinary stamina but because God is righteous, because God sticks with us. Christian discipleship is a process of paying more and more attention to God’s righteousness and less and less attention to our own; finding the meaning of our lives not be probing our moods and motives and morals but by believing in God’s will and purposes; making a map of the faithfulness of God.”

Eugene Peterson in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

How do we stick with God?

We make a MAP of His faithfulness.

Write down every single way God has been faithful. Do this often. Write down every need you have, every prayer request you can think of, write down every way He has provided, every bit of encouragement He has sent you.

A couple weeks ago I found a square card I started back in June when we finally got matched with our daughter. On it, I had written a couple dozen specific needs related to our adoption, some small and others huge. When I found the card a couple weeks ago, I took out a pen and put a check next to every need God had provided for or given clarity about. So many little check marks over that small card. I was reminded how often I forget what He has done.

We are a forgetful people, and if we don’t write it down we will forget. Remember Psalm 78? “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them…so that they should set their hope in God.” We must remember and teach the next generation all that He has done.

We carry each other’s MATS.

Even as a child, you probably heard the story about the friends carrying their friend to Jesus. When the door was crowded, they went to the roof and lowered him down on a mat. They would stop at nothing to get their brother to Christ. As sisters in Christ, we must carry each other’s mats. Sometimes this looks like a kind word of encouragement, a hug, fresh flowers to remind us of life. And sometimes it looks like calling out the enemy’s work and helping our friend say no to the enemy’s lies.

In Gloria Furman’s book Alive in Him, she says this about the community God created us to live in, “Solid doctrine is our building material, love is our disposition, and maturity in Christ is our aim.” And later she says, “Truthing solid doctrine with each other wars against our flesh while it strengthens our souls.”

This very thing happened to me recently. I was out of town for spring break and late in the day I saw on our agency’s FB group that the director who has to sign the one piece of paper we are waiting on in Ethiopian court was going to be out of town for 20 days. Earlier that morning my best friend had texted me a verse Psalm 86, verse 17, “Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.” She said she was praying God would give me a sign of His goodness that day to encourage me. When I heard the news of the director’s being out of town, I wasn’t feeling encouraged. I was discouraged. When I texted her the next morning to let her know about the director being out for 20 days and how I was discouraged, she immediately called me and said, “No. We are not letting the enemy have that. We are believing that God is at work even if it doesn’t make sense right now. We will praise Him right now.” Through tears, I said okay. We would find out a few days later that the director left another person in charge and that person has granted approval to 11 families from our agency over the last two weeks. While our family has not received approval yet, and that’s been very hard, God is certainly moving to bring these children to their forever families.

We need friends who can see when we need truth spoken into us and over us. Liz did this for me. And she said it with such conviction that I immediately realized she was right. We must carry each other’s mats. We must speak truth in love to each other. We must build each other up with the Word and call out the enemy’s work with a gentle and loving firmness.

We go to His Word for daily MANNA.

Our God does not show us the entire road before we start down it. Thank goodness. If he did, I’m afraid I would never say yes. Our time in His Word every day is manna, it is our sustenance, our strength to carry on.

He weaves His Word together in such a way that it will leave us speechless if we are faithful to keep coming back to His Word. We need ALL of His Word just like a body needs all of its parts to function. And how He brings together different parts of His Word to give us the manna we need that specific day—y’all, it blows me away. Last week in my reading, one of my passages was Nehemiah 9:20-21.

“You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.”

There I was exhausted because my best friend had had surgery the day before to remove melanoma cancer. Exhausted because another week had gone by with no approval for our adoption. And this passage. I want to grumble and complain but the truth is that He has sustained me. For 63 months, He has fed me manna from His Word every day. He has clothed me in His armor and kept my feet moving step by step forward. He has given me water, deep and soul-quenching water. Has it been hard? Yes, so crazy hard. But He has and He will sustain me. And He will sustain you. I decided to look up the word sustain in the concordance on my phone. It is the Hebrew word “kuwl” and in its description it says, “to sustain, maintain, contain, nourish, support, endure.”

After doing that little word search, I finished the last of my passages for that day and opened my prayer journal. I stumbled upon a little verse at the top of my page to pray for my husband and, of course, it was from Psalms, “Cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved” (55:22). When I saw the word “sustain” again, I had to check my concordance to see if it was the same Hebrew word. It is. The concordance said this Hebrew word “kuwl” can also be used for our word measure or provide. Here I am obsessed with measuring another day with no approval, counting up the days we’ve been waiting instead of counting up the days He has SUSTAINED me.

We humans can be a fickle bunch, especially the human writing these words. I am so grateful that perseverance is not the result of my determination but the result of God’s faithfulness. I love the words of old hymns, and during morning basket time each day, my girls and I will sing one together. One of my favorites is “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” I especially love this part because it is so true of my life.


Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”  Ephesians 1:13

This is what the Psalms and His Word at large remind us of over and over again. Though prone to wander, we have been sealed. Though prone to leave the God we love, we are chosen. We are rescued. We are redeemed. We can persevere.

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If your household is too small…

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I stumbled upon a little something this morning. Right there in the middle of the Passover directions in Exodus 12, God told Moses and Aaron to tell His people to take a lamb for their household. But then He said this, “And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb.” 

All throughout the Bible we see how God knits together his people, how he created us with a need for community, to be poured into and to pour ourselves into others. This is just my own wondering, but it seems like right here in the Passover directions, we get another hint of that community He craves for His children. If the household was too small–maybe because of loss or infertility, maybe because of sickness or poverty, maybe because of waiting and more waiting–God guided Moses and Aaron to have that household reach out to its nearest neighbor and band together with them for their Passover lamb. It seems He didn’t want waste because later God gives directions that they are to let none of the lamb remain until morning.

There’s this quote I keep seeing around. “When you have more than you need, build a longer table not a higher fence.” There’s something there, don’t you think? And, if we’re being honest, who of us doesn’t have more than we need?

It’s only taken me eleven years to start looking at my neighbors as I think God sees them. Instead of being exasperated when their yard needs its weeds whacked (because, hello, who are we to talk?!?) or hurrying in to close the garage so I don’t have to let them see the fact that I basically wore pajama pants to take my child to gym class, I can see the person. I can smile. I can leave a happy on the door or plant bulbs they’ll get to look over and enjoy. And maybe I can even get up the courage to spread my Mamaw and Papaw’s table out far and wide with all its extra leaves and have them over to eat, to share, to break bread together.

No matter where we are–country or city, suburbs or downtown condominium–we can seek out our nearest neighbor, and perhaps during this Lent season we can share the Lamb.