Friday, December 12, 2014

even they

Today is the one month mark for Eric's new job. For those of you just tuning in, let's recap this crazy little ride, shall we?  After the most ridiculously unjust termination from his safe and secure job, after almost nine months of bewildering unemployment, after well over 100 job applications submitted for positions he was more than qualified and well-educated for, after countless connections boasting shoe-in opportunities in multiple states and countries disappeared into thin air, after lists of people affirming his direction and telling him he is perfect for their open position and then not hiring him, after after after... We finally started wondering if it was time to put some wheels to the dreams that keep us up at night. The things we can't shake. The things we feel deep in our bones we have been created for.

Maybe ALL THE THINGS were being held off that we might step into our own space.

And so we did.

Two total amateurs. Dreamers. Wanderers. Make-it-up-as-we-go-ers. Two what-if askers. Stepping forward. Stepping forward.

This way. Keep going. 

And then. After a lot of work putting some little training wheels on these ideas of ours and beginning the real life process of starting an NGO, Eric was finally offered a job. Not just any job. THE job! The one that makes it all better! The one that solves every problem and restores every faith in getting what we deserve! Oh wait. No. That's not the story we're writing here. We're not climbing up an imaginary ladder. We're moving forward on a winding path. Oh yes. Now I remember. Turns out it is THE job. The one that makes all this craziness start to make sense. The job that invites us to love face-to-face the very problem we want to eliminate and restores every faith in the grace none of us deserve. And although it was probably literally the last thing we would have EVER thought of, this job is the exact perfect thing we need.

Today marks one month since Eric began working at a homeless shelter. And, turns out, because of it's county-island location, this is the only shelter that accepts sex-offenders. Of course it is. Of course this is THE ONE job he would be offered. My guy whose first gift to me sixteen years ago was Grisham's The Street Lawyer, who when we first met and were both living in San Diego, used to hang out on downtown street corners with homeless guys watching football games on tiny TVs and listening to war stories, who calls every homeless man he meets "brother". Of course! We have been given this insane heart to reach beyond the victims of trafficking and into the lives of the predators, those who drive the horrific sexual abuse and slavery of women and children. The people we fear and shun and want to see wiped from the face of this earth are the very people we are being compelled to love. Breathe. Even writing that sounds nuts. But it's happening in our hearts. This is how we know God is real. Above every Bible verse we've read, above every sermon we've ever heard, this is how we know. Time and again God has taken our hearts and turned them 180 degrees setting us in motion in the exact opposite direction of our own thoughts. We know ourselves. If left to our own desires, we would sure as hell not want to waste our life showing love to men who rape children. But this is the scandal of Jesus. He really, truly, often unimaginably, loves every single one of His creations. My stomach churns at the thought while at the same time I blink back tears at the sheer beauty of it. The audacity of the bad being loved alongside the good pisses us off AND gives us absolute rest solidifying our inability to earn His love and such amazing grace. There really is nothing we can do to make God love us more and nothing we can do to make Him love us less. Even the worst among us, the ones who have crept down to the lowest filth, the Gollums among us who wretch and writhe and forget their own name (Sorry, couldn't resist. We are counting down to Hobbit 3 in this house.) even they... EVEN THEY bear remnants of His image. Even they were once someone's little boy who gasped for breath unprotected, unloved, unwanted. Truly the least among us.

Our next step is to learn to serve them.

I say "our" because Eric and I are a team. Where he goes, I go. Where I go, he goes. Sometimes physically, sometimes in spirit. God has given us both this work and I join him in it everyday when we carpool and I am not allowed to get out of the car in the parking lot at the shelter because it would violate the parole of many of the men staying there. I join him in it when he calls mid-day with story after story of the men he meets and how they are drawn to him and how they all ask him what is different about him and why an educated man like him is there. I love hearing about the looks on their faces when he tells them he is there for them and how when they shake their heads with downcast eyes and mumble, "Nah man, you don't know what I've done", he tells them it doesn't change God's love for them which invites narrow-eyed stares and questions like, "Who are you?" I join him as he passes out sack lunches to guys, calling them by name and not by bed number.  I join him in tears over a man who's childhood abuse was so bad he went off on Eric for using the nickname his mother had called him as a boy and refuses to take a shower because he is afraid of hot water. I join him in celebration as the man who asked for interview advice, whether or not he should tuck in his shirt and how to speak confidently got the job and returned filled with hope. I join him in outrage after he had to aggressively put an end to the vulgar way two men were speaking about women. I join him in strength as he opens the office door for conversations with men known for "liking their hookers".  I join him in laughter as he describes the beater van he drives to pick up donations from Costco and how the broken driver-side door required him to drive with his left arm out the window to hold it closed and how when he pulled over to drop a few guys off for the day his door flew open and he almost fell out. And I join him in heartbreak around the dinner table when he tells of fighting back tears while a teenage son waved and said, "I love you Dad" as his father got into the van Eric drives to pick-up men who stay at the shelter.

We're a team. And we are getting a hell of a front row education from these men.

Every Christmas we bake a whole slew of our favorite cookies, wrap them up in cellophane and curly ribbon, brew two carafes of coffee and wheel our wagon around our town's homeless area with the kids striking up conversations and sharing sweets on Christmas Eve day. Our neighborhood lies between the downtown university area and the public library, not far from the river bottom and in the middle of the free-transit Orbit route. The homeless are just part of this area, so much so that I notice their absence when I am in more suburban parts of the valley. One year we even met a man named David who serenaded me with an Eric Clapton song on his guitar and then led us and his homeless friends in singing Christmas carols together.  Last year, though, as we drove through our city's downtown area which is known for it's steady homeless presence, it was empty. Not a homeless person in sight. It was actually really eerie. We finally met one man named Harry on a sidestreet who gave the kids a dreamcatcher he made from the desert brush where he camps as a thanks for our cookies and coffee. Harry told us how the police had cleared the streets for the holiday kicking out and arresting the homeless so that families can shop and enjoy the Christmas lights without having to see homeless people. He shared his cookies with his dog as we sat speechless.

This year our cookies are going to the guys at the shelter, complete with names on tags because names matter and everyone loves seeing a gift with their name on it. Even though our kids cannot go to the shelter and Eric cannot show their pictures or give their names, each man in the center will receive love written in a child's handwriting. From a child perhaps not to different from their own, someone they've hurt, or even someone they once were. There is power in the love of a child unafraid. A child who feels safe and believes in the strength and wisdom of their father to protect. The love that will write names on those tags is the same love born in that mangy stable so long ago. Love divine. Love daring to draw near. Love daring to lower itself to walk among the broken. We're a team, us and our kids. And as much as we would like to protect our littles from all of the world's ugliness, pretending everything is always merry and bright, there are spaces for them to engage their warrior-selves and there is no more courageous call than the call to love.

Christmas is rocking my world this year. Jesus leaving his throne of light to push back the darkness that threatens to swallow us whole, entering in as the most vulnerable - a baby, walking with us as a servant, demanding NONE of the honor He deserved and instead giving ALL the love ever known. He went first and then waves us in to follow Him, children who feel safe and believe in the strength and wisdom of their Father to protect. And into our lungs he breathes the air of that mangy stable. Not the filtered air of a 5-star resort (although, I wouldn't mind a little of that too.) but the stuffy, stinky, humble air of more lowly accomodations. Accommodations we most likely would not choose for ourselves. But when we find ourselves there, and we know He is there too, mangy becomes pretty magnificent.

Friday, December 05, 2014

HOPE & a new life anthem

Do you ever hear a song on the radio for the first time and have to pull over to just sit and listen to the lyrics because your eyes are filled with tears and you've become a hazard to the other drivers on the road? When you live in a college town where you must assume most of other drivers are either drunk, high, or worst of all texting, you've got to be on your game behind the wheel just to make it to the big box store and back safely. 

I remember driving to my first brain MRI and hearing Tenth Avenue North's Strong Enough to Save which totally became a life anthem for me and bolstered my love for Matthew 8:23-27 which then inspired my first tattoo. Well, today I added another life anthem to the list. Friends, this is the song I pulled over for. This is the song you need to download right this very second. 

And this was at 11:11am - even better!

It is my Christmas wish for you. Except I'm not paying for it. Sorry, you'll have to pick up the buck-twenty-nine on this one. If I could sing, and if I was a little baby woman, I would fold myself up inside your mailbox and burst out singing this new anthem of mine in hopes it would be your anthem too so that we could sing it together in hairbrush microphones, but that would also be really weird so how about you just download it and join me in rolling your windows down, opening your sunroof (if it's cold where you are then just blast the heater while you roll with your windows down - that's the absolute best) and belting this one out at the top of your lungs as we all swell up with HOPE this Advent season. Because Hope is coming!

 Free printable from an amazing blogger on Jennifer Rizzo's
Holiday Home Tour who's site I can't seem to get back to!
If you happen upon it let me know so I can give credit! 

I've been reading along with this Advent Devo from Naptime Diaries and this week's focus has been on HOPE. Hope is coming. The anticipation, the waiting, the preparing, the expecting ----> all the things I adore about the season of Advent and all the things I loathe in real life. I don't want to wait. I don't want to prepare. I want to get to it and do and run at full speed and when life doesn't allow for all that warp speed, and when God's timing is in slow motion compared to mine, I get super impatient and might even stomp around the house like Orlando Scandrick on the sidelines of last night's Cowboys/Bears game. 


But then there are moments like this morning when the Lord ever so graciously pulls back the edge of the curtain and gives my soul a glimpse of His work and it quiets me. Hush child. Just like that. He reassures me that He alone is the Giver of Good Gifts in their time and reminds me, like today's NTD Advent reading declared, 

"Isn't it wonderful to know that 
God brings forth that which He names. 
He delivers upon the things He promises... 
He has good things waiting 
with names attached to them - for you."
-Rebecca Smith for Naptime Diaries

Names attached to them. Like gift tags.

Just last night I was telling the kids about how my parents would put gifts under the tree gradually as the month of December went on toward Christmas and how us kids would DIE with curiosity over who had a new gift under the tree and what could possible be inside. We would shake them and rattle them, sizing up each package trying to figure out the excitement awaiting each unwrapping. My brothers and I would discuss at length the dimensions of each gift and offer our best hypothesis based upon comparing measurements to the pictures of our wish lists we had circled in the 3in thick catalog from the hall closet. Naturally corners of the wrapped gifts would "accidentally" get torn and box labels would "accidentally" be seen. There was also the year I faked sick, stayed home from school and meticulously unwrapped every single present of mine with an exacto-blade and precise re-taping skills.  I thought I was pretty darn clever. Until Christmas morning came along and I was totally bummed out because there was zero surprise factor. The intended moment of revealing, when the gift-giver gets to see the look on the gift-getter's face, and I had to fake it. I employed my best theatrics, but it wasn't cool. I had ruined the whole thing even if I was the only one who knew it.

The last part of the story was how my mom finally resorted to writing our names in shorthand on the gift tags in order to throw us off, which worked until we decoded her secret language enough to recognize our name and memorize it for future use. Man were we relentless.  Like kids at Christmas.

But as adults, don't we sometimes feel like maybe there won't be a gift with our name on it? Maybe we've experienced Christmases where gifts just weren't in the budget, or maybe we've just known hurt or disappointment so frequently or so severely we begin to believe everyone else will receive a gift but us. Every name will be called out but ours.

But it's not true.

Hope is coming.

And it's got your name on it.

Mine too.

And I'm not going to open it a moment too soon. 

Monday, November 03, 2014

what now: an adoption update - part 3 of far

Children belong in families, not in orphanages and not in brothels.

This is what we've come to.

It's simple really. Our two passions collided within our own adoption story and in the wreckage we found our philosophy about adoption mirroring our philosophy about trafficking: we can rescue victims of trafficking all day long, AND WE MUST, but unless we address the roots of the demand for sex with children there will always be a steady stream of victims in need of rescue. In the same way, we can find families for orphans all day long, AND WE MUST, but unless we address the roots of poverty, there will always be a steady stream of orphans in need of adoption.

And in the aftermath, our two passions have expanded.

Adoption is beautiful and redemptive and we cannot possibly overstate the impact of family. We see the magnitude of adoption played out in the lives of so many of our friends' families and we hope adoption will still be a part of our family's story whether through an international connection or local foster care. However, God has expanded our perspectives beyond the boundaries of our own family and calling us to the cause of the orphan AND the widow, the single mother, the victim of domestic violence in places void of support.  We believe when a desperate mother in a developing country who loves her child and wants to keep them shows up on the doorstep of an orphanage, arms extended, holding out her baby in hopes her sacrifice will ensure the little one's survival, or even just the survival of the other children waiting at home, taking her baby without question is not the best we can do. Watching her walk away empty handed and placing that baby with a family in another country is not the best we can do. If we agree children belong in families, then digging in to the root-level issues of poverty, the systemic oppression of women, and lack of education and access to healthcare in countries without functioning government systems of aid must become a part of our approach to orphan care. We also believe, more often than not, a parent does not want to hand their child over to a trafficker or a brothel owner to satisfy a debt or to have one less mouth to feed and that if they thought they had another choice they might make another choice. A mother or father who loves their child and wants to keep their child can be empowered holistically to do just that. We are seeing it happen.

The Abide Family Center in Jinja, Uganda is a growing model of family preservation that we are so excited to be supporting. Abide partners with local orphanages and government sectors who refer caregivers to their program as an alternative to surrendering children to orphanages. Instead of taking in the child, Abide takes in the family offering services like small business development, parenting skills instruction, a child development center, emergency housing and pastoral care.

Services like these are made possible through family sponsorships. For $50/month our family sponsors Joan's family, a brave mama on her own with two little ones, so that not only are her children loved and fed and taught and kept safe, but so they get a front row seat to watch the courage required for their warrior mama to believe in herself again. I am convinced there is no greater lesson than for a child to see their parent being brave. Children are thriving, relationships are mending, businesses are growing and hope is swelling. Families graduate from Abide's relational programs staffed by nationals with the goal of reintegrating back into their communities as beautiful beacons of hope for cultural change.

We want to fan these flames in any way we possibly can.

As for our battle cries against sex trafficking, it's time for us to move beyond just awareness. As necessary as education efforts continue to be, and as much as we will continue to be a part of them, our capacity has been expanded toward demanding and end to the demand for sex with children. Demand is about men. Pornography, rape culture, sexual abuse, addiction, power and entitlement all play into the industry built for the consumption of sex which never fully satisfies. It's never enough. The girls and boys get younger and younger and younger while the price placed on their innocence gets higher and higher and higher. Businessmen, professional athletes, college students, pediatricians, fathers driving minivans and pastors of our churches; men of all walks are perpetuating sex slavery here at home and abroad and they must be stopped.

God expanded our hearts for the enslaved showing us how victims are not the only ones in bondage and how He actually loves the sex offender, the pimp and the john, the madam, the sex tourist. What?!?!  Sounds jacked, I know. As parents, these are the people who's mere existence keeps us awake at night, and we're finding ourselves caring about them? Eric and I began talking about prisons and brothels and trafficking rings believing prosecution can be a form of love-based intervention. LOVE?!?! Why the hell are we talking about loving sex offenders?!?!  Well, turns out we are actually crazy enough to believe being loved by God changes everything.

One of the wisest men we have ever had the privilege of knowing was our dear friend Joel. He was a New York Jew who met Jesus while hitch hiking high on LSD in southern California during his time living in a hippie commune. He was the love of my mentor's life, the father of some of our oldest and favorite friends and the grandfather of one of our top picks for Garrett's future wife. Joel was the very definition of strength under control and his love for people came straight from understanding God's relentless love for him. I remember him teaching us in conversation, the way wise ones always do, about God's wrath and God's mercy. Joel said, "Often, when something bad happens to us as a result of something we've done wrong, we feel we are being punished by God. But that's actually not true. Because of God's love for us, it is His mercy that intervenes, stopping us in our sin. It is His mercy that says 'no more' to his kids and stops us from our downward spiral. That is the scandalous nature of grace. His wrath is when He stands back and allows us to continue in our pain spinning out of control. His wrath is when He gives us over to ourselves and lets us self-destruct."

Eric and I believe rescuing victims and prosecuting their predators is not only just and right, but merciful. And somehow, in some way we will never fully understand, God has turned our hearts to want to come face to face with the darkest evil we can imagine believing even the smallest spark can push back the darkness.

The Exodus Road is a seriously badass covert search and rescue effort we are amped to support. They insist "justice is in the hands of the ordinary". That's you and me. For $35/month Eric and I are funding an Exodus Road undercover investigator in SE Asia who goes into brothels looking for children being held as sex slaves, gathers intelligence using covert surveillance equipment, and supplies local law enforcement with necessary information to build a legal case against the brothel owner.

If left to our natural selves we would want to kill these men with our bare hands. We would want them to get what's coming to them in prison. We would want them to rot in hell. We feel it, all the rage for every violation, every innocence stolen. We feel all the fear. But we're not left to ourselves. Instead we have this wild revolutionary in Jesus who says the blind will see and the deaf will hear and people who are sick won't be sick anymore and maybe just maybe men who pay to rape children will stop paying to rape children. He's known for loving the unlovable and He has given us the craziest desire to join Him.

It's time for these philosophies of ours to get to work. It's time for us to put our feet on the ground in these trenches. We've been hard at work during this recent season of unemployment drawing up all sorts of answers to our favorite "If you could do anything..." questions and guess what happened? We decided to start doing these things. Oddly enough, we didn't get hired for ANY of the bazillion jobs we applied for which just kept pointing us back to the work right in front of our faces. These words kept following us around hanging in the air over our every conversation:


So while we kept looking for jobs, you know, because we like to pay our bills and stuff, we also started drafting the beginnings of a plan. The plan became a proposal and then the proposal became a little fledgling NGO in-process allowing us to raise money to accomplish the tasks ahead. Within our dichotomy of sex-trafficking and family preservation, we will be headed abroad to SE Asia, Eastern Africa and hopefully back to Fiji to learn from those already in the field where we are exploring micro-finance and partnership opportunities. Stateside, we will be headed into prisons and shelters to spend time with sex offenders and build a image-bearer oriented diversionary/detox program to operate in conjunction with state sentencing.

Today, Eric began work with a local non-profit at a men's homeless shelter strategically located to be able to house sex offenders, a perfect next step toward this outcast population and understanding how to create change. Last week I had a Skype call with a rep for a hospital in eastern Congo, an amazing first conversation about the needs of women who have been brutalized by rape as a weapon of war and the children they bear as a result. We are simply taking next steps, one after another, learning from every interaction along the way because we don't have to have it all figured out in order to begin. In fact, I'm starting to think there is no such thing as having it all figured out. So, in light of that little nugget, what are we waiting for?!?!

As details take shape we will be sharing more and more. It is a fine balance between working hard and allowing the work to take up it's own space. We are on the edge of our seat with anticipation at every next step, every "what if". We will keep stepping forward shining our little lights into dark spaces not knowing exactly what to expect but trusting the One who does. Hope you'll come along for the ride!

Saturday, November 01, 2014

questions: an adoption update - part 2 of 3

Turns out we're not okay with that.

The suspension on exit visas was eventually lifted but we just couldn't move forward. Eric and I were both reeling from the significance of what we were learning about and  shocked we had never come across this in any of our research. We felt zero peace in resuming our adoption process even though our belief in adoption stood unwavering and our hearts broke in understanding there are children genuinely desperate for families. We get that we'd never fully know our child's medical history, the extent of abuse, the depth of trauma. But we couldn't wrap our minds around not knowing if they had been sold. There was something more to this space. For us. It was so difficult not to envy other families resuming their journeys as we chose to pull out of the strong current, especially when we did not have a clear explanation for not moving forward. We did not dare underestimate our place at this crossroads.  Foggy and thick with consequence, we wandered around in the haze for a long while searching for meaning and asking questions.

Two scenes kept playing on loop in my mind:

{scene 1}
A Congolese mama stands in the middle of a street
just on the other side of a hotel compound wall,
a baby on her hip
and a hunger in her belly mirroring the hunger in her eyes.
She is strong and stares boldly right into me.
Eric and I,
a young
and rich
(by the world's standards)
American couple,
have spent tens of thousands of dollars,
flown half way across the planet,
and are hiding behind hotel compound walls
(our agency's way of keeping us safe in a
country notorious for violence against women)
where we sign papers and jump through hoops
anxiously waiting to get back home.
We will leave with one child
insisting we care about the Congolese people.
I wonder, does she believe us?
Mama to mama - does she believe me?
Would I believe me?
Her stare dares me,
not to question the need for adoption,
but to question our role in the story.


 {scene 2}
Two mountains.
To my left is Mount Moriah.
Abraham and Issac.
Genesis 22.
God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son.
The son He promised him.
The son He provided him.
Issac was the embodiment of God promise to Abraham and Sarah.
Issac was the real life answer to their wildest dreams,
the dream God himself had placed in their hearts.
And God wanted Abraham to kill him?
He's right there, right in front of them,
the son God promised, the son God delivered,
ridiculously unlikely in their old age, on the heels of their unbelief.
And they're climbing the hill voluntarily?
Building an altar alongside each other with no animal to offer up?
He was Issac's dad. He could've said no.
But God asks Abraham to trust him.

To my right is Calvary.
God the Father and God the Son.
Matthew 27.
Jesus sacrifices himself, the Son of God.
The messiah God promised.
The christ God provided.
Jesus was the fulfillment of every promise God ever made.
Jesus was the real life answer to every law and every prophecy,
every hope God had ever placed in the hearts of men.
And God was going to let him die?
He's right there, walking among the people,
the King God promised, the Savior God delivered,
ridiculously unlikely in status and the subject of much unbelief.
And He climbed the hill voluntarily?
Carrying the wood with which He would be offered up?
He is God in flesh. He could've said no.
But He trusted his Father.

I stand between the two mounts at a stone altar of my own.
I can continue in the direction I am headed,
building the version of the dream I have kept in mind all these years.
The dream I am certain has been built into the fiber of my soul
by the one who knows the hairs on my head,
and placed the stars in the sky calling them by name,
the one the wind and the waves obey.
But He asks me to trust him.
He asks me to offer up my dream,
the one he gave me,
to release my grip and to allow Him to shape it.
He asks me to place my dream of adoption on the altar
knowing full well He may not stay my hand.
He asks me to be willing to slay my little dream of one
for the love of many.


These two scenes began to cultivate new questions in the conversations Eric and I were having about our desire to adopt. What if we can prevent children from becoming orphans as a result of poverty? What if we can advocate for the child who still has family wanting to care for them and the parent who still desperately wants to care for their child? What if we can protect vulnerable children from being preyed upon by traffickers? What if we can help families in crisis keep their kids instead of surrendering them to orphanages and brothels? What if instead of taking babies from the arms of  desperate mothers we could scaffold them as they grow in caring for their children? What if we can empower parents toward health and opportunity? What if the children being placed in orphanages were actually the ones needing to be adopted? What if there were fewer children needing to be adopted?

What if we can make it harder for families like ours to adopt because we made it possible for families like theirs to survive?

Oh shit.

Our questions seemed to be working in the opposite direction of our dream to adopt. Every
"what if" served as a stone in our altar threatening the idea of family we'd been assuming since our inception. And yet we were strangely okay with releasing our plan  because it was never about us.

Around the same time we noticed a handful of other voices, some softer and some bolder, asking similar questions and starting the same kinds of conversations. We aren't the only ones. In fact, we were so bolstered to find that some dear friends of ours were finding their hearts asking the same questions about their own adoption process at the same time and we have been able to link arms for the wandering work ahead.  Distant voices of old friends rose with first hand perspectives and far away voices of friends-in-the-making grew louder and louder with their hands and feet doing the work in the trenches, figuring out the answers as they go, willing to get involved in the actual lives of the actual families championing international adoption when it is necessary and preserving the family when at all possible.

We had been learning so much from all of them. Inspiration was building and the fog was clearing when the remnants of what was our plan crashed and burned. Our international adoption agency closed its doors. All of a sudden. Done. And all we got was an email. Our Congo program vanished. Not long after, we found out they declared bankruptcy. This highly recommended, reputable agency who defined themselves by their commitment to in-country community involvement and family preservation offered no explanations and no paper trails, just devastated families left in the wake of a broken system.

Even though our plans had disintegrated right before our very eyes, something else was being built in its place. Something broader and more holistic. Our adoption efforts were not a mistake, not a waste of time, not a lost cause. We just might have a different part to play than we originally thought.

Friday, October 31, 2014

collision: an adoption update - part 1 of 3

This Sunday is Orphan Sunday, a concentrated effort among many churches to bring attention to, raise awareness about, and sound the battle call for action on the issues of orphan care, foster care and adoption both domestically and internationally. 


These complex topics NEED our attention. We MUST become aware of the unimaginable masses of children who are desperate for families. And the call for action DEMANDS a response. 

Each of us. Me. You.

What will our response be?   

About a week ago, leaning on my cart between the bananas and the squash in the middle of the Trader Joe's produce section, I told the story of our adoption journey and how our dreams are taking shape. I had run into a friend we haven't seen in awhile, a guy who, a year and a half ago, sat on our Saltillo tile floor getting high on Sharpies with his wife and a room full of our friends helping us make killer adoption yard sale signs and staking them on every neighborhood corner in the area. He asked about our adoption and then he did this really amazing thing...

He listened. Like, really listened. 

It's truly amazing the power wielded in allowing space for a story to be told. In the middle of Trader Joe's. Just along the way. What began as a story about waiting became a story about what is currently happening, and as we exchanged well wishes for each other's spouses and I headed off toward the frozen aisle, I realized it is time to update you all in this little pocket of the universe as well.  

Hi there. 

It's been awhile, hasn't it? It's been awhile since we've sat here in this space with steaming mugs or frosty pints, depending on the time of day, talking about children without families and true religion and what Jesus says about it all. Waiting is so hard and we've been doing a lot of that around these parts so it's been awhile since I've shared about our hopes for our little family and how it might grow. A lot has happened in our process, in our paradigm. But we've pressed in. Refusing to walk away, but refusing to step forward without clarity. This is too important. We have to get this right. You and me. How we view the orphan, the widow, the single mother, the family on the verge of collapse - it matters. So we've been waiting and dreaming and learning and working and as a result, our capacity has been expanded. We don't have all the answers and we don't assume to have thought of all the questions, but we will continue to engage this conversation over and over again. 

Today, tomorrow and Sunday I will be posting here about our roller coaster of a journey, what we are learning and where we are headed. I hope you'll join me as the dialogue about orphan care is not just for adoptive families and church-goers but for any person who believes that children belong in families. 

In case you don't already know our story, here's the quickie Cliffsnotes version. Eric and I have been talking about adoption since we were first married 15 years ago. We started out on the same page and the expectation that we would have an inter-racial and multi-ethnic family at some point was always part of the plan. Five years later our daughter was born, three years after that our son was born, and another three years passed before we began wondering if the time to adopt was at hand. Conversations, prayers and dreams all culminated by candlelight over dinner one night when Eric and I had the "Do you think...are we ready it time...did we just decide to..." green light moment. We were officially beginning the adoption process.

International adoption is just how our hearts have been built and Africa has always been part of that love so we got busy. We began pursuing adoption in Uganda and hosted a killer beer tasting fundraiser in our backyard together with our good friends who were beginning their journey in domestic adoption. Along with about 100 of our closest friends and family, we raised our glasses and raised EXACTLY enough money for both our families' home studies. 

Our homestudy, the state certification process, was well underway when we were informed the Uganda opportunity would no longer be an option for us and, miraculously, an opportunity in the DRC, the only other country we felt as strongly about, opened up. We jumped on it. 

During the spring of last year, Eric and I, again thanks to the help of so many friends and family members and the gobs of people who donated their junk, pulled off a massive yard sale to benefit our adoption fund raising EXACTLY enough money for our next big payment to our agency. We felt such confirmation. Such affirmation of our direction. We were cruising along dreaming of the possibility of having another son or daughter by Christmas. 

And then everything came to a screeching halt. 

Days before we were due to send our next big payment to our agency, all exit visas in Congo had been suspended due to investigations. That's adoption-speak for somebody broke the rules and everything must stop. Could take weeks. Could take months. No one can ever be sure. Our international program agency assured us that "this kind of thing just happens when new programs open up" because "corruption follows money" and we all know, right or wrong, there is a lot of money involved in adoption. 

As we pressed further asking about the cause of the investigations we were told about poverty-stricken families on the verge of collapse being coerced into surrendering their child/ren to orphanages with the promise of them receiving food, medicine and education. And then, the devastation experienced when the family member shows up at the orphanage to see the child and he or she is gone - adopted out to an American family. 

What. The. Fuck.

You mean to tell me that 
adoptive families like ours 
could be unknowingly 
the trafficking of children 
through adoption?!?!

Everything went silent except for the loud crash ringing in my ears as the two causes Eric and I care most deeply about - trafficking and orphan care - COLLIDED leaving me spinning, pulse racing, my body paralyzed and my mind filled with shattered glass shards of everything we thought we knew. 

The voice on the other end of the line spoke in a way that patted me on the head condescendingly, "Oh, I remember when I first heard about things like this. It's the nature of adoption. Corruption follows money. Whether your child is here in the States or in another country, you're never going to know their full history. You just have to ask yourself whether or not you are okay with that."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

collecting scars

I collect scars. 

There is the one on my temple where I had a cyst removed when I was in  grade school.  A boy tried to make fun of my cyst by pinching the skin on his own temple and laughing at me, but his attempt failed when I laughed back at him for foolishly assuming I cared what he thought. My doctor instructed me to keep the scar covered with a bandaid. I didn't. He told me not to get it sunburned. I did.

My knees have always been covered in the scars of growing up with brothers. BMX bikes, skateboards, climbing trees and camping trips provided endless opportunities for open wounds.

Then therere is the really long scar tracing my right clavicle where a mole I'd had since childhood morphed into melanoma when I was 19 and gave us all quite a scare. All those sunburns added up. Then there is all the hole punch scars from all the moles they've removed since. Just in case. That's how it goes when you've had skin cancer.

I can hardly even see the scar on my shin Eric tried to clean off the night of our first date. I had convinced him to play in a big fountain that night and when the security guard chased us off I slipped on the wet brick, in my cute dress, and scraped my leg. I must've done something to my foot (shocker, I know) because it swelled up and wouldn't fit back in my cute strappy sandal. We sat in the parking lot of the sketchiest Circle K as he cleaned up my leg using first aid supplies and baby wipes he bought inside. Eric scrubbed the huge scar on my shin thinking it was dirt that wouldn't come off, so when I told him not to bother and explained the story of the scar, my total wipeout road rash crash on rollerblades while being pulled by my Rottweiler, as he is cleaning me up from that evening's graceful slip/fall combo, I must've seemed like quite the coordinated catch.

Little did we know I would banana-peel slip/fall the next night on our second date hike earning me the beginnings of a klutzy reputation. My cute boat shoes were no match for loose gravel. No scar from that one. Just a dent in the ol' ego. I've fallen countless times since and am currently nursing a broken pinkie to from slipping into a hot tub. Apparently it's what I do.

Scars tell stories. 

One of my favorite scar collectors was my brother Jeremy. Today would have been his 36th birthday. He was the ultimate risk-taker and never met a challenge he couldn't conquer, which translates to: he was no stranger to Urgent Care. 

There was the time as a child he bit his tongue nearly in half while pole vaulting with PVC pipe in our backyard, the broken hand after punching a guy who was doing something he shouldn't have been doing, the  dislocated shoulder after trying crazy wakeboarding flips at the lake, and the concussion after pulling methods and a black diamond run his first time on a snowboard, just to name a few. Lucky for him a random person on the slope found him wandering down the mountain disoriented and bleeding from his head and called ski patrol to take him to the infirmary where he flirted with the nurse and got her number for later. You know after he was no longer concussed.

Jeremy and Carsyn (2yrs) 2007

Jeremy's brain surgery scar topped them all though. I loved it when he shaved his head rather than wait for his treatment to make his hair fall out. That scar upped the ante on BRAVE and his bald head was like WHAT. Risk was no longer simply for the rush of feeling fully alive. Risk became about simply staying alive.  Those scars on his scalp beat odds and defied statistics, faced fear and mortality, dared to love and to lose. All the risks he had ever taken didn't hold a candle to the courage required to hope. Jeremy was always ALL IN. Always. He fought hard. He loved hard. He broke a lot of rules and pissed a few people off along the way. We were polar opposites when we were young, close friends as adults, and I find myself wanting to be more and more like him when I grow up. 

So I collect scars and their stories. Whether they fade over time as we are constantly regenerating or go so deep they will always be visible, each one marks a space of courage, either in the acquiring or the surviving, and a thirst for life that can only be earned by trying, risking, jumping in. 


Thursday, October 23, 2014

WRITE:Doe Bay2

As an extrovert, the shared accommodations at Write:Doe Bay were something I looked forward to. Memories of summer camps and mission trips had me giddy for all the super-amped social stimulus that keeps me buzzing on my drug of choice: people. I have learned a thing or two about myself over the years, however, so I know better than to binge on the social sugar and not make space for the crash.

For all the introvert/extrovert talk swirling around online again as of late, I recognize the ways I inhabit both ends of the spectrum. Making new friends is pretty much my favorite thing ever and I definitely get my energy from being around others. AND I need space, quiet and a freaking moment to myself to form a complete thought every once in awhile so I reserved a shoreline yurt on the bay for my last night's stay. I had a sneaking suspicion the Write weekend would be filled full of deep conversations and intense lessons which would require some serious downtime for reflection prior to returning home. The biggest mistake I could make would be to gather up all of the goodness and then immediately whisk myself back into real life without any proper time to unpack all of my treasure. Before the welcome home hugs and kisses, before the storytelling and camera roll scrolling - I would need a moment.

The yurt was the perfect plan. The last night. All by myself. No electricity. No running water. Just the tide and the moon and a little extra adventure for the road. I tasked myself with one thing: presence.


waves lapping
branches hanging
leaves falling
seabirds calling
pebbles crunching
seaweed gathering
moss wrapping
wind rustling
pines reaching
clouds veiling

canvas encircling
latice framing
windows revealing
raindrops tapping
headlamp glowing
skylight peaking
lowtide rising
darkness thickening
solitude risking
courage mounting

silence settling
thoughts spinning
sisterhood collecting
gratitude swelling
vision expanding
limitations vanishing
differences uniting
kindred empowering
momentum building
art-work launching

RHYTHM is the word that emerged from my night in the yurt. The northwest is replete with natural rhythm and her people fall into her dance steps almost effortlessly. There is something highly spiritual about a place at land's end where things really grow, where human nature and mother nature are of the same createdness, and when they operate instinctually, rhythmically, they produce a natural magnetism that cannot be resisted. On this tiny rock patch of trees in the northern Pacific, conservation is not a trend reserved for old hippies or well-educated young hipsters. Conservation is simple humanity. Culture centers around the localized experience of the earth. And it's not just a tourism campaign.

I could feel it, the rhythm, the pulse of seasons and patterns swirling as I walked the garden rows which boasted more vegetables I'd never heard of than ones I had and was absolutely overwhelmed with the majesty of growing things. I watched the doe munching on the same apples I buy from Trader Joe's while standing under the single massive tree littered with fruit growing there in the green grass meadow all by itself as if it is doing exactly what it was made to do. Hens in a coop content with a layer of dew and fresh scraps and clippings from harvest. The rhythm echoed in the tide rising and falling, lapping a song set to the moon's pull. Rhythm poured from prose and piano alike inside a cozy room with a view. Laughter and tears. Knives on cutting boards and clinking of dishes filled full. Rustling leaves tossed by breezes and foghorns blasting in the distance. 

The audacity of nature to flaunt herself so boldly!

And then, as if that wasn't enough, our cohort was treated to three selections from the Orcas Island Film Festival. Each piece showcasing the love affair between the artist and the land. Attention to detail, texture, color, seasons, sound, all the senses, simplicity, storytelling, cycles, honest practices, cultivation, respect, honor, the artistry of hard work. My eyes filled salty witnessing the majesty of loving where you live.   

All weekend long, whenever someone would ask me where I was from I would respond that I live in Arizona. I was born and raised there, but have lived elsewhere. I am not from the desert. Leave it to writers to play semantics games, but words matter to me. They shape how I think and feel and I do not feel like I am from the desert. Regardless of the fact that I have lived here more years than not, I am a foreigner practicing beauty while merely stopping through.  

What I found that night in the yurt is that I CRAVE that natural rhythm. In my daily life I am often in such conflict with my environment. The heat. How it makes my body feel. How difficult it is to get things to actually grow. The juxtaposition between flourishing and surviving illustrates itself geographically as well as psychologically within me and when I find the rhythm, when I am given the gift of breathing in sync with the planet, I have to stop and take note. Sometimes very literally.

Rhythm is the magic in the fog and the horn sounding blind. It's in the jewel-toned teal water of the bay. It's in the poetic flow of creativity inspired. It's in my water taxi captain who keeps time by the tides and waves. The rhythm is in the dormant mountain perched high above the cityscape, the technicolor produce reaped locally and with stewardship. Rhythm is that there are actually doe at Doe Bay.

The next morning as my water taxi pulled up to the shore outside my yurt and dropped it's bow to let me board, I waved to my sisters who had come down to see me off and gave one last glance toward my little yurt before setting off into the sunrise for the perfect final scene knowing that for all the coordinates I collect and all the geographies I give my heart to, I am making sense of what I seek. The rhythm of the breath that hovered over the waters runs through my veins. The rhythm is where I am from, which is why, no matter where I find it, it is the rhythm that will always feel like home.