Words of Death . . . And Life

The questions have arisen many times in the last few months, and twice in the past seven days, but each time it has, it hurts all the same.

“How do you know you’re not just getting scammed again? Is your adoption agency just stealing your money? How do you know the kids don’t have AIDS and they’re just not telling you? How do you know that you’re not getting robbed again?”

Reasonable questions, but painful questions. Most often, they come not from those who love us most, but from those on the periphery of our social circles who know that we were scammed by a ‘birth mother’ who wasn’t even pregnant. So perhaps they don’t understand that to us, what happened in the spring felt very much like a late-term miscarriage. An unexpected death. A loss of life and hope and trust. I know that these situations are different, but our experience feels very much like a death to us.

And if the situation is parallel to those, the questions feel like they would feel to a mother who had suffered several miscarriages, if someone had the audacity to ask, “How do you know that you’re not just going to miscarry again? Aren’t you wasting a lot of emotional energy, time, and money?” Or like asking a mother who lost a child in a car accident, “You’re going to buy a better car seat next time, aren’t you?” Heaven forbid!

Now, I know that people don’t mean it that way. But the questions still shake me to my core as if they did.

Another question I was asked in the weeks that followed the scam, when I really wasn’t even ready to talk about it was, “What lessons have you learned in all of this? What are you going to do different next time?”

Reasonable questions, but painful questions. In my heart it feels like, “You should have known better. This is your fault, and you should be more careful next time,” as if I didn’t feel that way already. We trusted the word of others and were taken advantage of, and we have paid for it dearly. And every time the questions are asked, we pay another painful toll.

But the truth is that there are few guarantees in life. Mothers who carry babies miscarry. Parents who seek to adopt have the adoptions fall through. Children die from accidents and mistakes made by others.  People with the best of intentions get taken advantage of.

One thing the police said to me, as they were politely telling me that they were not even going to launch a criminal investigation into our situation, was, “The sad thing is that what the ‘birth mother’ has done to you is destroy your ability to trust, and your desire to help other people.”

And for a while, it was true. I lost trust. But that’s not what Love is. That’s not who God is.

I Corinthians 13: 6-7 NIV says,

“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (Italics mine)

And because Love is who God is, that is what I must strive to be like.

I must trust, even when my natural self wants to protect my heart. I must have hope that God will finish His work, even when I have no earthly idea how. I must persevere as long as His hand leads me forward.

Fortunately, God has placed many people in our lives who have demonstrated the very kind of Biblical Love mentioned in I Corinthians 13. Like a healing balm, words can also soothe my heart, “I’m so sorry. My heart hurts with you,” or “If you ever want to talk or just hang out, please just do,” and, “We still believe in God’s plan for you, and can’t wait to welcome your kids home.”

And with every whisper of kindness, with every hug, with every expression of generosity: trust is reborn, hope is renewed, and perseverance is spurred on.

Because that is who Love is.

Making My Own Food Truck: Shirazi Chicken Tacos

Okay, okay. This recipe wasn’t actually inspired by a food truck, but by another trendy taco restaurant in Edgehill, our favorite Kabob restaurant, and by the produce that our neighbors brought us! A fusion of Middle Eastern and Mexican cuisine make this recipe a definite winner. We had it twice in one week!

Shirazi Chicken Tacos

For chicken:

  • Two chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 4 Tbs lemon juice
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg

Marinade chicken breasts in the above for one hour.  (Meanwhile, put together salad.) Grill or bake marinated chicken until done. Cut into bite-sized pieces.

Salad

  • 1-2 cucumbers, depending on size
  • 1-2 tomatoes, depending on size
  • 1/2 of a medium sized red onion
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves
  • 3/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 ears corn, cooked and removed from cob (Optional. We did this once with and once without. We liked it better with.)
  • 1 green pepper (Optional)
  • 2 Tbs lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper

Chop cucumbers, tomatoes, and pepper into 1/2 inch cubes. Dice red onion into 1/4 inch pieces. Toss with cilantro, feta, corn and lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate while cooking chicken.

Other ingredients:

Hummus (I buy refrigerated because I haven’t tried making my own. Yet.)

Flour taco shells

Layer taco shells with hummus, chicken, and salad. Delicious, and surprisingly low-fat for how GREAT it tastes! The cilantro and feta are very flavorful, and complement the produce nicely. The hummus is the smooth texture that holds it all together. This has become our new favorite!

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Solving the Dinnertime Dilemma

My summer semester is finally winding down to an end . . . just in time for fall semester to begin. In a strange twist of scheduling, my fall responsibilities begin before my summer semester responsibilities end. Summer is by far my busiest semester, nearly doubling the load of other semesters, and it always seems to fly by without much time for anything else except for a few stolen minutes blogging, a few hours for a Saturday outing, and going to church.

Ken has done a great job adjusting to my summer schedule, and does the vast majority of housework. The only thing I really try very hard to still do is cook. I’m not especially great about it in the summer, but the rest of the year, I do much better.

I don’t know about you, but for me, one of the worst feelings is driving home after a long day at work, not knowing what I’m going to make for dinner. Mentally searching through my freezer and my pantry, trying to think of creative combinations– or most often just quick combinations– is stressful! Too often, it’s a bowl of cereal or a frozen skillet meal that makes it to the table, or even worse: eating out. That’s a budget-buster for sure.

Fortunately, solving the dinnertime dilemma has become much easier. A few years ago, I discovered a menu-planning service called e-mealz. It creates weekly menus, complete with recipes and a grocery shopping list organized by store sections. The recipes are easy and delicious, but also nutritious. The best part is that there are lots of menu options available. You can choose a menu based on diet (portion control, low-fat, gluten-free, vegetarian) or based on a particular store (Publix, Kroger, Aldi, etc.) and what they have on sale that week. (Almost everything on the grocery list is on sale, and they’ve done the hard work of creating a menu around it!)  You can even choose options for 1-2 people or for a family of 4-6 people. Because the recipes tend to be a bit better in the larger plan, Ken and I have opted for the family meal plan, and we either cut the recipes down, or freeze the leftovers in meal-size portions to eat for lunches.

Emealz menus have a variety of types of food and meal-prep times. For instance, there is typically a Mexican-inspired dish and/or an Italian style dish, but you’ll never have four Mexican dishes in one week. It will never be all chicken dishes, or all pork dishes, etc. There are also a variety of prep times as well. Each week usually includes one or two crock pot meals, and an easy-prep meal that takes just minutes. The recipes rarely repeat, and when they do, it’s because they’re very popular. The recipes are written by moms, so they’re all kid-friendly, which will be important for us in the next year!

If there’s a meal we don’t like, we can easily cross that meal off the list, and cross out the corresponding ingredients. Or if we know we’re going to be going out to eat someplace — like Chick Fil A on a Wednesday night– we can eliminate meals from the list as well.

But what about couponing? As most of you know, I’m a pretty enthusiastic couponer. Typically, I continue to use coupons to stockpile ingredients that we commonly use in emealz recipes, and I shop my stockpile in my basement pantry storage before going to the store. In the end, I typically end up only buying produce, dairy, a few odd ingredients for the emealz plan. Then I also buy what is on fabulous sale that I have a coupon for (saving at least 50%).  If that makes your head spin because it’s complicated, skip stockpiling!

Overall, we’ve loved using emealz most of the last three and a half years. It’s definitely solved the dinnertime dilemma, and encouraged us to try new recipes and cooking styles that we wouldn’t ordinarily try. It’s very rare that we don’t like a recipe, and more often than not we LOVE their recipes. The recipes I’m most known for are pretty much all e-mealz recipes. (Shhhh. Don’t tell.) Best of all, it has improved the nutrition of our meals, and has significantly reduced our grocery bill! Not only are we purchasing on-sale items almost exclusively, we’re no longer as tempted to eat out when we know we have an easy-to-make and delicious food waiting at home.

E-MEALZ EASY AND DELICIOUS DINNER RECIPES

If dinnertime planning and grocery budgeting could use some help in your home, I highly recommend e-mealz! A three-month subscription is $15, making it only $1.25 per week. You’ll save MUCH more than that by eating out less, and by buying on-sale ingredients. And if you order by clicking on our link, a portion of your order will be go to support our adoption! It’s a win-win for your family, and for ours!

Dancing in the Desert

Nashville has been hot and dry this summer. Our lawn is getting crispy, our landscaping is dying, and our garden has become a dried-up housing opportunity for all manner of insects. While we’ve not had the drought that other regions have had, Nashville has had one of the hottest summers on record, almost as if Nashville has turned into a desert.

Have you ever been called to the desert? Not the Mojave desert type, or the Nashville type, but a time of spiritual dryness: a time when God seems to remain distant and withhold directions, while sending frustrating circumstances all the same.

That is where Ken and I have been numerous times in the past, and even in the last year: searching without finding answers, sensing a call but having significant obstacles to overcome, and finding ourselves trudging along, wandering.

Wandering.

Wandering.

The desert has not just been hot and dry, but there have been stinging sandstorms along the way. Not only the losses of the children we have tried to adopt, but betrayal by those we had trusted, and hurtful comments from others that have come along the way. This year has been hard.

At times there have been oases, moments of refreshment and enjoyment: vacationing at the beach at Christmas, celebrating at Chick Fil A, finding food trucks to enjoy, the enjoyment of spending time with friends and family.  But lingering at an oasis would be a mistake. God did not intend for us to find our fulfillment at a pond and palm trees in the middle of the desert. He is calling us through the desert. Though we have no idea how long the journey will actually be, we pack up and move on, continuing to search for the way out.

At times the oases have just been mirages:  completing stages of paperwork, promises of children, pictures and names of little ones who were supposed to be ours. But when we finally crested the last dune, we realize that there is only more desert to come. And we muster the strength to wander some more.

I have never resented the God of the desert. Though difficult, I can accept the desert. I will walk where He has called me to walk. After all, He is God, and I am not. He is allowed to set me loose in a directionless desert if that is what He desires for me. I can accept that this is where God has called me to for this season of my life.

I know that God can give meaning to my time of wandering in the sun swept landscapes of barrenness, if He so chooses. Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest says, “If we are in fellowship and oneness with God and recognize that He is taking us into His purposes, then we will no longer strive to find out what His purposes are. As we grow in the Christian life, it becomes simpler to us, because we are less inclined to say, “I wonder why God allowed this or that?” And we begin to see that the compelling purpose of God lies behind everything in life, and that God is divinely shaping us into oneness with that purpose.” It has become less important to me to figure out why God has called us here, because I trust that He is shaping me into who He wants me to become. So I clench my jaw and set my forehead to the wind, and plod along.

The Psalmist David had his own times of wandering in the desert spiritually.

Psalm 63:1-3 NIV says,
“O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.

I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.

Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.”

David’s glorification of God during times in the desert is admirable. And I can echo those sentiments; I can yearn for God and seek Him in the desert. After all, He is my way out! I can even praise Him for being my way out. But glorifying God in the desert still doesn’t seem like all He has called me to.

I can endure the desert, I can be obedient in the desert, and I can yearn for Him in the desert, but can I find delight in the one who led me there?

That’s not so easy.

Finding my treasure in the One who leads me staggering through these dry and weary times? To look to Him through clouds of swirling sand and shout for joy over the roar of the dust devils that surround me? The words seem to be choked by the sand in my throat.

John Piper in What Jesus Demands from the World says,

“He did not die to make this life easy for us or prosperous. He died to remove every obstacle to our everlasting joy in making much of him. And he calls us to follow him in his sufferings because this life of joyful suffering for Jesus’ sake (Matt. 5:12) shows that he is more valuable than all the earthly rewards that the world lives for. If you follow Jesus only because he makes life easy now, it will look to the world as though you really love what they love, and Jesus just happens to provide it for you. But if you suffer with Jesus in the pathway of love because he is your supreme treasure, then it will be apparent to the world that your heart is set on a different fortune than theirs. This is why Jesus demands that we deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him.”

Can I have everlasting joy in the One who lets me wander in the midst of the dry and dusty wilderness?

Yes.

I don’t want to love God in spite of the fact that He has led me into the desert. I want to love Him because He has led me into the desert. Love that is by force of will isn’t really love. John Piper again wrote, “Willpower religion usually fails, and even when it succeeds, it gets glory for the will, not for God. It produces legalists, not lovers.” If I merely endure the desert, I miss the opportunity to bask in the pleasure of knowing him now. I do not want to overlook the enjoyment of God today while waiting for the mirage in the distance to become real.

I want to desire Him more than the fruitful land on the other side of this desolate terrain.

So let the sand take off a few layers of skin. Let the dust devils howl, the sun beat down, and the mirages come and go. My life does not have to be easy, comfortable, or on even the other side of this desert for me to find my supreme treasure in Him.

I am learning to dance in the desert.

It’s Official!

Last night, we made it official. While we had unofficially accepted our referral at the beginning of August, the adoption could not move forward without payment. We sent off our notarized referral form along with a pile of checks to cover the first half of our referral fee, and the first month’s payment for the children’s care in the orphanage, which totals $6900.

Altogether, nearly $14,000 of the $28,000 total has been spent on our adoption in just over two months. Our process is moving more quickly than we ever could have imagined!

So many of you have helped make this step possible. Some of you have hosted us in your home for a fundraising party. Some of you have quietly sent checks in the mail, or laid one on my seat in church. Some of you have told stories of God’s goodness, and wanting to pass that goodness along. Some of you heard God whisper to you before you even knew we had an urgent need. Some of you have eaten chicken for dinner, brought friends, and come back later for dessert. Others did all of that, and slipped a check into our hands as well. Someone even dressed up like a cow to remind others to go to Chick Fil A.  Someone else gave up haircuts until our children come home, and donated the money she would have spent on haircuts to our kids. Some of you have shared produce and meals to help keep our grocery budget low. Some of you have had no financial resources to give, but have interceded fervently on our behalf.

For everyone who has read, written, prayed, grown food, cooked meals, skipped out on other plans, dressed up, grown your hair out, eaten chicken, and listened to God, thank you. We are humbled by your generosity, and excited that God is not only moving our hearts, but yours as well.

We’ve got a long way to go before we reach our goal, but we’re well on our way. But we’re especially thankful for those of you who have joined us on our journey!

Wearing My Heart On My Shirt

Last week, our friend, Jessica, sent Ken and me shirts in honor of our adoption. (She is preparing to sell the shirts to support famine relief in Africa, so make sure to check out her blog!) As a pre-adoptive mother herself, she understands what it’s like to have a piece of her heart halfway around the world.

I feel the exact same way.

I feel like a piece of my heart is in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In an orphanage in Kinshasa. With two preschoolers who have no idea that we exist.

My heart has been in a lot of places in the last year. With a 14 year old girl. With a 13 year old boy. With an 8 year old girl. With infant twins. With a 3 year old and 6 year old in Kinshasa.

And now with two other children in the Congo, whose official referral we’ve just received. A 3 and 4 year old sibling pair.

To be honest, my heart is weary from travelling.  We’ve hoped, dreamed, and prayed for many specific children over the last year. We’ve prayed for God’s leading, been obedient to His call, and yet we have known deep and dark disappointment. We’ve opened our hearts so many times, only to see those whom we loved slip between our fingers. We’ve loved and lost too many times.

If this was our plan, I don’t think we could continue.

But it’s not our plan. It’s God’s plan.

It’s a plan that God whispered to me when I was a little girl.

It’s the plan that I prayed over for nearly three years before God answered.

It’s the plan that He was in the midst of when I felt like my world was falling apart.

It’s a plan that God confirmed when two young ladies handed me a “Bag of Grace.”

It’s a plan that God reconfirmed when the rain began to fall. And yes, we still need more rain.

And so my heart is in Africa, not for my sake, but for His. The Word speaks repeatedly about caring for widows and the fatherless, and I cannot help but surmise that His heart is captured by their needs. I believe that God’s heart breaks for every hungry belly, and over every orphan who will fall asleep tonight without a mother’s kiss or a father’s embrace.   His heart breaks for every child who has cried in desperation to not be abandoned alone, with only their name and their fear to call their own. And the two children whose faces are on our referral form? Yes, His heart breaks for them too.

If I truly desire to be like Christ, and if the suffering people and places of the world break His heart, should I not desire to share in that very brokenness? Bob Pierce, founder of Samaritan’s Purse, once said simply, “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”

As much as I want to shy away from further grief, if a broken heart is what will carry me closer to His plan, then that is precisely the condition in which my heart should be.  And though my heart is tired, He promises renewal in Ezekiel 36:26 NIV when God tells His people, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” And that new fleshy heart may need to be broken all over again.

So a piece of my heart is in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In an orphanage in Kinshasa. With two preschoolers who have no idea that we exist. And that’s exactly where I want it to be.

Sticky Fingers

I love waffles, but I hate sticky fingers. Sticky fingers lead to sticky pants and sticky faces. So yesterday when I was handed a bottle with syrup running down the side I was horrified. A mom at our church said, “Better get used to that”.

She was right. There are a lot of changes coming.

And we welcome all of them.

Instead of action adventure or romantic comedies, our television set will be dominated by educational programming and cartoons.

Gone are the quiet romantic dinners. They will be replaced by fast food chains will play places.

Sleeping in late: out. One more bedtime story: in.

Business casual will be replaced by what fights stains best.

“Don’t cry over spilled milk,” will soon be more than a cliché.

A goodnights rest will be ousted by all-out-searches for monsters in the closet or under the bed.

An interesting read will be ignored as a last minute science fair project is hastily pulled together. Perhaps the subject will be “the prolonged effects of sleep deprivation”.

Instead of the latest flat screen TV, we will be getting braces.

Forgive me if I sound like I am complaining. That’s not my intention. Perhaps I am just coming to grips with all the sacrifices and lifestyle changes that come with parenthood. And like I said, “we welcome all of them”.

Soon our refrigerator will be adorned with all sorts of misshaped finger painting portraits. Bring ‘em on!

In a few months, we will begin construction on massive Lincoln log skyscrapers and leaning towers of Lego. I can’t wait to be the foreman or the bricklayer.

Our TV room will be under siege with fortifications of cushions and blankets that will be erected.

There are Halloween costumes in our forecast.

Lines for Christmas productions will need to be memorized.

Loose teeth will need to be pulled.

Skinned knees and tears soon will be here.

And we can’t wait for with these things will come:

Laughter.

Giggles.

Hugs and kisses.

Hide and seek.

“I love you’s.”

So bring on the sticky fingers and the glitter and the piano recitals.

We just can’t wait.

 

A guest post by Ken.

I am Being Grafted In to “We Are Grafted In”

A place I’ve found to reflect, connect with, and learn from other adoptive parents is We Are Grafted In, and today one of my posts is being featured there! Make sure to check out their website, especially if you or someone you love is in the adoptive process.

If you are joining Where In the World Are Our Kids from We Are Grafted In, welcome! My husband and I are still in the adoptive process, and have recently received a referral for two preschoolers who are in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Our story is best detailed in the first twelve posts of this blog, starting here, and updated in the “About” section and in the timeline on the right.

But no matter why you’re here today, we thank you for joining with us on our journey!

Making My Own Food Truck

**I borrowed the idea for this week’s foodtruckalike meal when I saw the ingredients and immediately started salivating. I love the combination of sweet and savory, especially when a grill is involved. And just about anything topped with melted cheese has to be a winner.

Here are the ingredients that I used for a . . .

Sweet Buzzin’ Bacon Melt!

  • Ethio bread. (A thick fluffy break purchased at our International Market. A focaccia bread or other favorite hearty bread would work well too.)
  • Honey
  • Bacon (We prefer Smithfield. When I have coupons and it’s on sale, I stock up and freeze it for occasions like this!)
  • Ripe peaches
  • Brie cheese (We used brie, but thought other mild cheeses would work just as well — and be more cost-efficient)

Fry or oven bake the bacon until cooked but soft. Drain on paper towels. Meanwhile, cut peaches in half, remove pit, and grill flesh side down approximately 7 minutes, flip, then grill skin side down another 7 minutes until peaches are soft and carmelized. Remove from grill and slice into 1/3 inch slices.

Brush bread with honey. Layer one side of the sandwich with bacon, then peaches. Layer the other side of bread with peaches, then slices of brie.

Bake in oven at 375 for 5-10 minutes, or until cheese begins to melt. Finish with 1-2 minutes under broiler to make cheese bubbly. Stack halves together.

Eat in silence with a napkin and a heart of thankfulness for the goodness of God and this sandwich!

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**While saving for adoption, we’re bringing our love of food trucks home, and making our versions of our food truck favorites!

We’ve Got Spirit

A guest post by Ken

I don’t like birthday parties for me. It’s not that I mind getting older. A little grey around the edges is no big deal. It is more that I don’t know what to do with myself. The attention is somewhat unsettling.

So when the idea of doing a Chick-fil-A “spirit night” was presented to us (in which money is raised for our adoption) I was somewhat unnerved. I really liked the fund-raising portion, but being the center of attention makes me nervous. This may seem odd to those of you who know me. You may even say to yourself, “But you’re a pastor. You should be a people person.” This is true. I am (some what). However, in those ministry situations my role is always, “Let me tell you about Jesus.” My job is to take the attention off myself and to focus it heavenward.

This past Wednesday night we had our first “spirit night” at Chick-fil-A. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The first ten minutes were slow and I thought to myself, “The only thing scarier than a birthday party is a birthday party in which no one shows up.”

But those fears quickly went away as people started coming. And coming. And coming. At one point there literally wasn’t an empty table. Some even had to get their meal to go. I started to worry that they might run out of chicken. Thankfully they did not.

I was grateful for the money that was raised: $288.34 from food sales, and $70 in direct donations, in one night. However, there was a far greater benefit. The Chick-fil-A “spirit night” was an incredible outpouring of love and support from our friends. Sure we made 20% of every nugget, waffle fry and milkshake that was purcashed, yet the message that we received loud and clear was “WE ARE BEHIND YOU 100%!” Chick-fil-A provided a venue for people to come out and show their support for our adoption. And there were a lot of people who did just that – all at once.

It was a night of laughs, hugs, pats on the back… and chicken. But I also felt like there was a lot of encouragment that didn’t need words. A lot of questions were being answered that hadn’t even been verbalized.

I felt like our friends were saying to us:

We believe in you.

We know you will be great parents.

We can’t wait to welcome home the rest of your family.

Your children are going to be so loved and spoiled.

So yes, I am very grateful for the funds that were raised, but perhaps I am even more appreciative for everyone for being willing to stand with us. Or sit down and “EAT MOR CHIKIN” if that’s what it takes to help our adoption effort.