What I Want You to Know about My Neighborhood

Cart and Birthday Table

I live and work in an inner city neighborhood so I could tell you from firsthand experience about drug dealers and teenage moms. About domestic abuse and whole families living inside one room without a single piece of furniture but a mattress. About people outside pulling cardboard beds from dumpsters.

Or I could tell you about birthday parties.

About how someone bought a tablecloth covered in balloons, spread it out, invited friends, and celebrated the good gift of life. I saw my neighbors around that table, laughing in the sunlight, bearing the image of God. 

I could tell you about the six foot black man who knocks on our door every couple days because he wants to show our two year old his dogs, he wants to pay back the money he borrowed, he wants to be an EMT.

I could tell you about the neighbors who feed pregnant teenagers and share their basketball hoop with the fathers. About the grandma who gives a ride to any kid who needs one and the stepdad who wants reading help for his friend’s son.

I could tell you about the family from the tutoring program I work at who fostered and adopted drug babies. About the dad who wants to help coach a fifth and sixth grade basketball team or the mom who brought me her favorite hair product to try.

I could tell you God is on the move here. That this place is full of hope and beauty. That the light is pushing back on the darkness everywhere, and we only need the eyes to see it.

God made these people and this place, and they are good. They matter to Him and they matter to us. To live and serve in this neighborhood grows our capacity for sorrow, but it also stretches our hearts for joy.

We are not sad to live and work among the poor. We are catching glimpses of Jesus here. Not only when we love our neighbors, but when they love each other.

There is much work still to be done in our community. We need a better relationship between the police and the poor. We need the education system to support, not alienate, the families it serves. We need people who can provide lifelong support systems to mothers who choose to keep unplanned pregnancies. The list could go on.

But we need to love our neighbors and help them navigate the complexity of poverty and racism and addiction in a way that affirms that the image of God in them persists.

We want more of Jesus for our neighbors. Always.

But we can’t forget that He is here.

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Advertisements

On the Making & Keeping of Promises

This past weekend I watched dear friends stand hand in hand and commit their lives to each other. My dad officiated the wedding, and he introduced the vows as he always does: “Now we come to the most important part of the ceremony.”

Without the making of promises, there would be no wedding because the ceremony, like the marriage, points to greater realities. God has made promises to us.

Lewis B. Smedes writes, “Human destiny rests on a promise freely given and reliably remembered. Besides providing a believing basis for hope, this means that whenever you and I make and keep a promise we are as close to being like God as we can ever be.”

When my friends made their vows, they bore God’s image beautifully. As they keep those promises, their imaging of God to our shared community will become lovelier by the day.

“When you make a promise,” Smede continues, “you tie yourself to other persons by the unseen fibers of loyalty. You agree to stick with people you are stuck with. When everything else tells them they can count on nothing, they count on you…A promise, then, is the human essence of freedom after the style of God—it is your freedom to be there with someone even though you cannot tell what ‘being there’ is going to be like for you.”

Kathleen Norris agrees, “The very nature of marriage means saying yes before you know what it will cost. Though you may say the, ‘I do’ of the wedding ritual in all sincerity, it is the testing of that vow over time that makes you married.”

When we make our promises, we know so little of what they will cost us. We do not know what the better or worse will be. The sickness and health are a mystery. The richer or poorer unknowns.

We may be surprised by the person we made our promises too. We will certainly be disappointed by ourselves.

Why would anyone make a promise it will take a lifetime to keep?

If our promises are grounded by our feelings or assured by our circumstances, we will be paralyzed by fear. We can never be sure of the future- not our future selves or our future spouses.

We can only be sure of God. 

Zechariah 1:11 gives us insight into God as a promise keeper. The people of Israel were people of promise. God had declared them His and promised to loyally love them. Seventy years post exile a cry goes up for mercy. God graciously reassures them, “the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.” Again. He has already comforted. He has already chosen. But He will do it again.

God’s people are the choice He keeps making. 

God keeps His promises to us day in and day out. His choice of us, His love for us, could not be more secure because He makes that choice over and over.

Last Saturday, I watched promises being made in a wedding ceremony.

Last Friday, I made promises of my own. My husband and I went before the court to legally complete the adoption of our son and daughter. We raised our right hands, and we said yes to these two children forever.

We are not strangers to the sorrow that runs through their stories, but we have watched with joy as God has begun making all things new. Even still, we cannot know everything this yes will mean. We don’t have to.

The promise will keep us. 

We love our children fiercely. Nothing has made us happier than being their parents. But as Smede writes, “A family is created and kept together, not because parenting is so much fun, but because two people dared to make and dared to keep their promise.”

So we will keep this promise. Night after night, we will pull our children close, comfort them to sleep, and remind them- you are a son, you are a daughter. Morning after morning, we will wake up into the responsibilities each new day brings and we will choose to be their parents again and again. For better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. 

So from ceremonies to courthouses, let us be people unafraid of covenant. We are most like our Maker when we commit ourselves to lifetimes of love. We can make our promises fearlessly and keep them faithfully. We can choose our spouses and our children and our churches again and again. God will keep choosing us. And He will keep all of His promises.

Adopting Zion, Part 1

A year ago today, Nate and I woke up without children for the last time. October 16th, 2012 was the day Zion was transferred from the orphanage into our care.

Just a couple months earlier, I was working at getAHEAD when Nate pulled me into the church nursery to tell me the news we had waited so long to hear. There was a four year old boy who needed a family. “They want to know if were interested.”

“Absolutely, let’s do this.”

“Good,” Nate said, “because I already told them yes.”

A couple hours later we opened an email and saw his picture for the first time.

A few weeks after that we got a phone call in the middle of Secret Church. The referral was official.

We drove five hours to meet John and Emily for lunch and give them the news at a park in Bethany, Missouri. They cried and laughed, and our joy was all the greater for sharing it with them.

IMG_0005

We told my family at my dad’s 52nd birthday party. He unwrapped a picture of his grandson, and we were surrounded by tears, congratulations, questions, and so much joy.

IMG_0074

IMG_0072

We received a handful of pictures during August and September. I kept them in my Bible, on my desk, next to my bed. I was unproductive for weeks because I had to memorize his face and his chubby little toes.

IMG_0095

We scrambled to raise the remaining funds and stood in awe as friends and family slipped twenty dollar bills and thousand dollar checks into our hands.

IMG_0114

We took the bedroom that had housed Tyquan, Nemaurie, Carrie, Lydia, Abigail, and Amy and prepared it for our son. We hung picture frames, arranged pillows, and dreamed dreams for him.

IMG_0159

IMG_0164

Jillian and Carrie came over one night to help us finish the room and brought Converse, track suits, and penguin pajamas.

IMG_0163IMG_0162

IMG_0155

The Supicas sent us this box.

IMG_0108

IMG_0104

The night before we left so many of the people we love came to say goodbye and to rejoice with us.

IMG_0187

IMG_0183

We got on a plane, and I kept thinking about something Elyse Fitzpatrick said about Jesus. When He made the choice to take on a body, He was making a choice to be like us forever. Love meant nothing was ever the same again. He is still in that body and the scars of His sacrifice are even now on His hands.

Following Jesus down the path of love leaves no room for looking back.

We had a layover in England and spent two glorious days in Oxford. Nate had visited me during my time there in college, and we had walked those streets dreaming about our lives together. Five years later, we walked them again, dreaming about our son.

IMG_0327

IMG_0202

We saw this sign on Cornmarket Street and wandered in to pray about everything that suddenly felt so close, so wanted, and yet so overwhelming.

DSC_2618

IMG_0259

DSC_2620

New friends opened their home to us for dinner. They prayed with us and over us, and we left them reminded that we are part of a family connected by blood spilled not shared.

IMG_0350

IMG_0326

Those two days in Oxford were such a gift. There’s nothing like a cup of tea to steady the nerves before an adventure.

IMG_0179

We boarded a plane bound for Uganda.

IMG_0193

And landed to the most beautiful of African sunrises.

IMG_0374

IMG_0379

We dropped our bags at our guesthouse, took a quick nap, and headed to meet our son.

Nothing would ever be the same.

But love is okay with that.

1 Month Home..

A month ago today, we boarded the plane that would take us on the last leg of our journey from Uganda to Tulsa.

Zion and I were tired but so, so excited to be almost home.

IMG_2289

And in my arms was a daughter. Our Selah.

DSC_0148

There is so much of her story still to tell. So much still to process.

Last June, Nate and I weren’t sure if we would ever adopt from Uganda. We were looking at waiting kids in every country we could think of and researching special needs. A year later, we have a five year old son and a one year old daughter. We are making school decisions and doing our first night time feedings. We are tending to two broken hearts and uncovering the ugliness in our own.

We have tried to live like the promises of God are true. We believe that they are. The path of faith has lead us here- to this longed for son and this dearest of daughters.

IMG_2295

Selah’s adoption was very different from Zion’s. His took over three years. About five months in to the process the second time around, Selah was in our arms.

DSC_0187

We gained two children in less than seven months. That’s fast by any standards. We are still finding our way, trying to listen for the voice of God, to press in towards loving His people, and to apply the truths we know in this new place He has for us.

The Gospel has been sweeter than ever before. And, oh, how we love our daughter.

DSC_0347

In just a month she has started to walk and learned to snap, give high fives, and blow kisses. She has stolen her Daddy’s heart and made us all laugh a thousand times. She loves music, jewelry, getting dressed, playing with balls, laughing with Zion, doing somersaults  with Daddy, and singing “God Makes Messy Things Beautiful.” She knows the answer to the first catechism question, and she can say all of our names.

IMG_2330

IMG_2326IMG_2310

IMG_2300

IMG_2327

There will be many more things to say as we try to record Selah’s story, reflect on adoption and families, and remember the things God is doing in our hearts. For now though, I just wanted to acknowledge this milestone.

There were many moments in her short adoption when it seemed like we might never bring home a daughter. As I write, she is sleeping in my bed next to her brother.

And if she cries, I will pick her up, and I will hold her, and I will whisper truth to her again.

You are not alone. Mommy is here. I’m not leaving you. You’re staying with me. 

IMG_2341

And the Gospel triumphs again and again in the face of brokenness, as my heart learns to love and the fatherless are gathered in to families.

I will never leave You or forsake You, He says. And we learn how to walk through adoption in our family as we live life together in His.

Zion’s first pets…

The Sunday before Spring Break we decided to take Zion to purchase some pets…IMG_0578Baby ducks!! He was nervous at first…IMG_0586But he loved them…He named them Suubi & Bridgetti…Suubi was the name of the place we stayed in in Uganda. Bridgetti is the name of a friend we made while we were there. She was three at the time and there was an incident in the store where she found herself dripping her diaper contents and then trotting through them in her flip flops. Zion thought it was the funniest thing he had ever seen. When we first got the ducks one of them pooped in the box and then proceeded to walk through the poop. He made the connection to that day in the supermarket in Uganda and named the duck Bridgetti. Love that kid.
IMG_0588
Talitha loved the ducks as well…IMG_0728
Although she was a little distracted by Malachi, Demarkus, & Zion doing handstands in the living room…
IMG_0723
She actually grabbed a duck by the head and then sort of threw it…
IMG_0726
Due to an unrelated incident, the ducks are no longer with us. They made it three days. What can I say? We’re not the best pet people. It was short and sweet.

There was a touching burial in the backyard the next day. Not sure how soon we’ll try the pet thing again.