We Become What We Love the Most

Holy Week- the week and its events that lead up to the death and resurrection of Jesus. As we began our Easter tree readings with the kids last night I began to think of what the catapult is for such a world changing week is... is it power? a spiritual agenda? a way to get people to live rightly? Absolutely not. This week can be made into almost anything- the magnitude of this week and this coming weekend is sometimes reduced to a mere "Jesus died for my sins and rose again." Or it might get lumped into spring celebrations with Easter bunnies and Easter baskets, and a whole lot of chocolate. Or, it can even get discussed in a works oriented framework where we are told things like, "Look what Jesus did for you, so what should you do for him?"

But you see... it doesn't work like that. It's none of those things. It was a completely radical, universe altering weekend and it's catapult is love. Simply put, the driving force behind this entire rescue plan is Love. There are some Christians who will get caught up in the words and the arguing and say the catapult is God's glory and His glory alone. I see what they mean. But underlying everything is a kind of love this world is desperate for. No one willingly walks the road to the most gruesome death that existed, having no fault of his own, and gives his own life without love. So as I was thinking about this week, and how my children are 4 and 6 and able to grasp even more truths about Jesus, what do I want them to grasp this year, what do I want them to walk away with a greater understanding? It's love. Because love...it changes EVERYTHING. Because it was love that enabled Jesus to obey. His love intersected God's justice and mercy at the cross. It's what made this entire rescue plan work.

The love of Jesus. We've heard about it our whole lives. We've sang about it as children we've heard it thrown around in cliche after Christian cliche. But how do we understand it anew, for what it really is, for what it really does? That's where we need our hearts to be. The "love of Jesus" can become so commonplace in our language that we forget its magnitude, its power. It is a love that is so great, and so deep that our minds cannot even fathom it. 

Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die...I want that love to be the theme of my song, the theme of our family, the theme of my children’ song. Why? Why start there and not with "the law"- simply hammering a list of morality themes, Christian characteristics, and big lists of do's and don't's, and hammering again and again "obedience, obedience, obedience?" Why? Because in and of themselves, those things change nothing, and they certainly aren't the place to even begin. They don't reach the heart. They don't truly transform. It's the LOVE of Jesus- in its incomprehensible, but yet deeply simple way, that is the catapult for everything. It's where everything begins...

When you know someone loves you, when you know they are FOR you, you want to love them in return, you want to be like them. This is the message of Jesus' love that I want my children to understand. I don’t want them to see God and the Bible as merely a way to live life, but as a person, the God, to follow and to love. It starts with Jesus' love, not the law.

God, I need grace, wisdom, and help to show my children this radical love You have for them...it's the love that will enable them to see that they are fall sinners, broken, rebellious and wanting their own way. Just as I am. Your love leads them to the recognition that they need your loving rescue. That more than anything in this life, they needed this weekend. 

It's Your incredible, amazing love that draws them in, pulls them close… that screams that You welcome them. That not only do you welcome them as they are, but that your love begins to transform them. That they will choose obedience and a life of servanthood to Jesus because your love is transforming them. It all starts with Love. Help me to show them Lord, that receiving the love of Jesus means they will become more like Jesus. That they can’t receive the love of Jesus and not start loving what Jesus loves. That's how we live the Christian life. Help them to see, know, and understand that You love them so much that You don’t just tolerate us in our broken, rebellious state, but that you transform us. Help me to understand more fully, and help my children to understand more fully, that we want to become like those we love the most, and if Jesus has loved us the most and we love him the most, we want to become like him. 

So we start there. With the love of Jesus. The incredible, undeniable love of Jesus. Because THAT is what transforms hearts. Not law. Not rules. Not morality. Not more obedience. What changes sinners is love...we become like that which we love the most.


Easter & Holy Week Advent

I like to re-post our Easter and Holy Week advent every year so I can find it easily and if anyone else is interested in the reading plans.

We make an Easter tree to use with a set of the Resurrection Eggs for our Holy Week Advent. I revamped some of the Resurrection Eggs content to fit our devotions as they were too detailed for the ages of my kids. I also put together reading plans from our favorite children's story Bibles instead of what comes with the Resurrection Eggs. You don't need all three of these Bibles to do the readings. 
Our Easter tree.
Nothing fancy. Just branches from outside stuck together.  

You can make your own, or buy them online or at most Christian bookstores. I bought ours at our local Christian bookstore. I found it easier to buy as the little trinkets might be hard to find. (This link is on amazon prime and is $12.99)

Holy Week
Family Devotions Tip: When we do family devotions, we do them during dinnertime. In our current stage of life, we find this to be the easiest time to have us all together and our young kids have their hands occupied by eating and aren't squirming around too much! It works really well for us right now.

Each day has a reading from a story Bible, an Easter egg to open with a trinket that goes along with the story, and a picture ornament that goes along with the story. Both the trinket and picture will be hung on the Easter tree, much like our Jesse Tree from Christmas that hung ornaments from the Bible stories leading up to the birth of Jesus. You can right click the Easter pics below and "save image as" and then print.

Day 1- The Triumphant Entry (Sunday, March 29th)
  •  Read The Gospel Story Bible pg. 216-217
  •  Egg- dark blue- little donkey hang on Easter tree
  • Picture of triumphant entry- hang on Easter tree

Day 2- Jesus Cleanses the Temple (Monday, March 30th)
  • Read The Big Picture Story Bible pg. 288-305
  • Egg- light pink- coins, hang coin picture on Easter tree
  • Picture of Jesus cleansing the temple- hang on Easter tree

Day 3- Jesus Washes the Apostles Feet (Tuesday, March 31st)
  • Read The Jesus Storybook Bible pg. 286-288 (or The Gospel Story Bible pg. 220-221)
  • Egg- green- cloth, hang on Easter tree
  • Picture of Jesus washing the apostles feet- hang on Easter tree

Day 4- The Last Supper (Wednesday, April 1st)
  • Read The Jesus Storybook Bible pg. 290-292 (or The Gospel Story Bible pg. 222-225)
  • Egg- light purple- wine cup, hang on Easter tree
  • Picture of the Last Supper- hang on Easter tree

Day 5- The Garden of Gethsemane (Thursday, April 2nd)
  • Read The Jesus Storybook Bible pg. 294-301 (or The Gospel Story Bible pg. 226-229, or The Big Picture Story Bible pg. 359-363))
  • Egg- orange- praying hands, hang on Easter tree
  • Picture of the Garden of Gethsemane- hang on Easter tree

Day 6- The Crucifixion of Jesus (Friday, April 3rd)
  •  Read The Jesus Storybook Bible pg. 302-306 (or The Gospel Story Bible pg. 230-233, or The Big Picture Story Bible pg. 364-373)
  • Egg- yellow- cross, hang on Easter tree
  • Picture of the crucifixion- hang on Easter tree

Day 7- The Burial of Jesus and Darkness Covers the Land (Saturday, April 4th)
  • Read The Jesus Storybook Bible pg. 308 and The Big Picture Story Bible pg. 376-380
  • Egg- pink- stone, hang picture of a stone on Easter tree
  • Picture of the burial of Jesus- hang on Easter tree

Day 8- The Resurrection (Sunday, April 5th)
  • Read The Jesus Storybook Bible pg. 310-317 or shorter The Big Picture Story Bible pg. 385-395 (or The Gospel Story Bible pg. 235-237)
  • Egg- white- empty! Nothing to hang on the Easter tree (or you can make a smiley face ornament to hang for Joy that Jesus has risen)
  • Picture of the risen Jesus- hang on Easter tree
  • Easter Night story time- Read The Big Picture Story Bible pg. 398-411. Great overview of why Jesus came, why He had to die, and the Promises of Scripture. 

If you have any special Easter traditions, or specific crafts you like, let me know! I'd love to see what else people are doing!


"Why Not Adopt a Kid from the U.S.?"

This has been a question that others have asked us multiple times over the last 7 years ever since we began the adoption process for Mekonen.... so why adopt from another country? Why not adopt from here? And this time around, when we announced we are adopting from Africa again, we got the question several times. For our second adoption, the choice of where to adopt from holds an entirely new set of things to take into consideration given our current family make-up.

We have asked ourselves this question too. Why not adopt from here?

This blog post will only barely touch the surface of all that could be said on the subject, so please here our words for what they are and realize that there is a whole lot more to this than what is written here. I'm being completely serious when I say that I have read thousands upon thousands of real, legitimate adoption research and trust me when I say, adoptive families do not take their choices in the adoption process lightly, and that includes which process to go with- domestic or international. 

1. Kids are kids. When it comes down to it, kids are kids, whether here in the U.S. or in another country. At some point it can't be a country versus country thing, and instead there needs to be simply a recognition that kids belong in families- that includes "U.S." kids and kids from other countries. Personally, God has given Jon and I a heart for the global orphan crisis, not just the local orphan crisis. And, when it comes down to it, it's kids needing a mom and a dad. That's it. Kids in families. That's what matters!

2. Different process. Different circumstances. The adoption process for domestic adoption and the process for international adoption varies drastically. If someone is not well versed in the adoption world, they might not realize this. There are so many things families have to work through and consider when choosing which adoption avenue to pursue, especially a second time around when there are already children in the home, and even more so when any of those current children are also adopted. Things like birth order, gender order, family dynamics, personalities, age of the child when adopted, life situation of the family, adoption history, etc. that families must discuss and must decide on. Some of the above circumstances don't fit well with domestic adoption and some of the above circumstances don't fit well with international adoption. I could provide illustration after illustration, but it would take far too long for this post! 

3. Current Family Dynamics. This goes along with number 2 above. Many, no not all, but many domestic adoptions have some form of openness to them; and many, no not all, international adoptions have more of a closed way about them. This needs to be taken into consideration if there is already an adopted child in the home. If you had two children in your home, both of which were adopted, and both had drastically different adoptive upbringings regarding their birth families, this could cause issues. For every family? No. For every child? No. But we know our children, and we do know the kinds of situations they would handle well. As open as we are about adoption, we don't share everything publicly, so you just gotta trust that we know our kids and know what they need. 

4. Desire. Among many things in adoption, desire is huge. The motivation to adopt should never be to "save" or "rescue" a child. A child deserves, needs, and longs to be WANTED. To be desired. To be pursued with everything you have. They are to be desired simply because they are who they are. With that, also comes desire, or interest in, where your child comes from. God has given some people the burning desire to care for kids needing families here in our backyard in the United States, and God has given some people the burning desire to care for kids needing families that reside in other countries. There is nothing wrong with either of these. Again, kids are kids. And ALL kids deserve a family. For us, we both grew up with a global mindset, with families and churches who had their eyes on the world outside their backyard. For as long as I can remember, my heart has been drawn to people and circumstances outside the U.S. Although there are many similarities, the circumstances that bring international children to adoption and the circumstances that bring U.S. children to adoption are very different. Our hearts are burdened for the very specific circumstances in the developing world that bring children to a place of needing adoption. 

5. Need. Although the similarity of kids needing families exists in domestic adoption and international adoption, there is also the very real truth that not all children in other countries even get a shot at a family, unless it's through international adoption. This is due to the very hard truth that many of these children are coming from places where domestic adoption does not even exist, or it exists in such small numbers that it's not even really practiced, or there are places where the orphan is the most looked down upon member of society and socially they are outcasted, even among their own culture. Is that something that needs to change internationally? Absolutely!!! And we are right now, beginning to connect ourselves to people and organizations who are attempting this very thing, because long-term, those are the kinds of issues we want to be part of and want to help change. But changing the way society views orphans and adoption is a very slow and painful process. And in the meantime, there are children growing up undercared for, unprotected, and unloved. We simply cannot ignore them until "someone changes their country's views on domestic adoption and orphans." Trust me. I've read the research. I've read the stories of the agencies and organizations trying to do this very thing, and it is incredibly difficult. And on top of that, is the fact that not all places have vast numbers of people financially able to care for more children. 

And, may I kindly sandwich another point in here? Although most of the time when people ask the question, "Why not adopt a kid from the U.S.?" they are asking to truly hear our hearts and our story and how we ventured into the world of international adoption; there have been several who have asked this in such a negative, critical tone. But what I find most "interesting" is that almost every single time, the person criticizing our location choice of adoption and saying we should care about "U.S. kids" first has not adopted domestically themselves, and is currently not involved in ANYTHING having to do with the local orphan crisis. The strategy of "where, when, and how," can and should be discussed. But it always comes back to simply doing something. And if you aren't doing something beside criticizing, it's best to just not say anything at all. 

Personally, we have knocked on more doors than anyone in our life knows of and will continue to do so. In fact, some of you might drop dead at the things we've considered, so let's just say, be glad the upstairs of our schoolhouse is still not finished! So please remember, there is always more going on behind the scenes of people's lives, and behind the choices people are making for their families than you see in public and through social media. 

We see our home like a revolving door for various avenues of orphan care when the time is right - US adoption, foster care, Safe Families, international adoption, non-US domestic adoption advocacy, non-adoption oriented countries child development. The issues are many and vast - here or there.
We are currently adopting from another African country for reasons specific to our family situation now and long-term. Considerations like birth order, gender, development stage, personalities, adoption history, special needs, etc all play a part. Some of those things we will gladly share with you, and some of those things will stay within the walls of our home. 

The tension between what is and what should be is constant and difficult, especially regarding children. But what we must come back to again and again is that KIDS are what matter, whether here, or there. God dwells with and weeps over the child here and the child in China without a home. What we must always come back to is simply doing something.


Navigating Transracial Adoption

Life the last several months has been PACKED FULL and my brain is about to explode with all the things I want to write, should have written, and need to still write! Writing is my outlet. It's the way I process, the way I grow, the way I heal, the way I learn. To know we've started the adoption process again and that I haven't blogged about it shows just how time crunched life is right now! Ahhh!!! How have I not been able to write!!!!! Well, here I am. Writing. And really, I should be writing my thesis. But I can't move on with that until I get this out of my head, because here I sit, in a cubicle in the library, crying, as I read about transracial adoption and the heavy weight I feel as the parent of a transracially adopted son, and soon to be another son! Good thing this will only take a few minutes. When I'm passionate, I write like a crazy person, and I type 97 words per minute. I'm giving myself fifteen minutes. Ready, go.

So the short of it- We have begun the adoption process for another boy, this time, from Burundi, Africa! Burundi is an east African country that actually isn't too far from Ethiopia. This time around we are adopting an "older child," a boy between Mekonen and Evie, which at this points lands us with a 5 year old. We are so excited we just might bust. Especially Mekonen! He is super stoked to have a brother that "matches him" as he calls it.

I'm here at the library today for several hours working on my graduate thesis. I will finish this thing if it kills me. (Finish it- as I sit here blogging. But if you know me well, you will fully understand how if something is heavy on my heart I must write before I can put my mind to writing work in another realm). My thesis is on adopting across racial lines which therefore has me reading hundreds and hundreds of pages on adoption, race, racial awareness, racial identity, and the list goes on. It's fascinating. If I have to get stuck writing a 200 page paper it might as well be about something I'm passionate about right? But academic journals and professionals can sometimes panic me as I read all these things about transracially adopted children and their identity, I start to panic and fear I'm screwing up my children for life.

There are so many "hurdles" adopted children need to jump over at various points in their life and I often panic that I'm not going to get it right, that I won't prepare them well, that I'm going to fail miserably in parenting our sons to be confident in their past, their stories, their adoption, themselves, who they are, etc. There's much to be said about the research and the various talks I've heard from adult transracial adoptees. I would say, overall, I agree with them wholeheartedly about providing your children with positive role models that look like them, providing them with friends and social settings where there are people that look like them, and giving them a strong "education" in their birth country and heritage, helping them learn to navigate race, and being careful not to place them in constant settings where they are the ONLY one who looks different. We continue to evaluate these areas and try our best to navigate them well with the things we choose for our family. This is another reason why we chose another African country for our second adoption. So that Mekonen can walk life with a brother who looks like him.
In the adoption world, it's all about identity. Who your children are, where they came from, who they are now, and who they will be as they process growing up with a family that does not look like them. It's all about "forming their identity" and helping them become confident and strong about where they came from and who they are now. Although this is true, as Christians we look at it from a completely different perspective, and although I sit here alone in a room at the library with tears streaming down my face reading countless articles on racial identity, I hear the Holy Spirit speak quietly to my heart.

I don't want my sons' identities to be in the fact that one son is Ethiopian and one Burundian, Ethiopian-American, Burundian-American or even the fact that they are well-rounded children with feet in both worlds of their birth country, African Americans and White folk. Wow. That's a lot. As has been our prayer since all of our children joined our family, biological and adopted, we have prayed that our children will grow to understand and accept Jesus' forgiveness of their sins through the cross and resurrection, and make Jesus the Lord of their lives. This dear friends, is the identity we long for our children to have. This dear ones, is the identity we pray for both of our sons- Mekonen, and the son whose name we don't know yet. When I begin to feel overwhelmed about "doing it all right" I need to remind myself that the Gospel will do more for the hearts of our sons in a way that nothing else can.
The pain of adoption that all adoptees feel at various points in their life (whether adopted as infants or older children), is best healed by the Gospel. As a parent, it's hard not to fear those moments my son experiences grief over the loss he's experienced and the difficulties of his story. And it's hard not to fear the moments of grief we will walk through with our second son. No one wants to anticipate those moments. We've had some of them and they are gut wrenching, wrack you to the core like nothing you ever imagined could. But as our son is 6 years old now, words of the Gospel, of Jesus, become a regular occurrence in our adoption talks. No, we do not simply forget about real, truthful, factual research about racial identity, and helping transracially adopted children navigate life in a healthy way; but we don't forget the Gospel. We cannot forget the Gospel, because it does more for the heart than setting up the perfectly balanced life for our boys.

It is the life-long parenting process of pouring into the lives of our sons the fact that if Jesus is King of their hearts and Lord of their lives, THAT is their identity. Not their birth family, not the circumstances that brought them to be placed for adoption, not their adoptive family, not their birth heritage, and not their American upbringing. If they have accepted the forgiveness only Jesus provides, then they are Christians and now they have a new identity worth far more than any other identity on this earth... that is the identity that is eternal. It's the ONLY one that matters. It is the thing I want most for my children.
Galatians 2:20 says- I have been crucified with Christ. It is not longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

Once I became a Christian, I received all the benefits and blessings that Jesus has (Ephesians 1). I am forever attached to his identity, his status. As Philip Ryken said in his book on Galatians, "The reason union with Christ is such a magnificent doctrine is that once we get into Christ by faith, then everything Christ has ever done becomes something we have done. It's as if we had lived his perfect life and died his painful death. It's as if we were buried in his tomb and then raised to glorious heaven. God attaches to us the events of Christ's life so that they become part of our lives. His story- the story of the cross and empty tomb- becomes our story."

This is the greatest identity to have. In our crazy me-centered world it's easy to live looking for our identity within ourselves. That's what everything around us is telling us to do. And for the transracially adopted child that is an even bigger deal. But that's not where true and lasting joy and hope are found. With an identity in Christ, we need not base who we are and what we are worth on things that have anything to do with us. Instead, if we are Christians, we need to base our identity on Jesus.
And that's where it hits me again and again. I need to use the Gospel- which is the means to our identity being in Christ- as the healing agent in the pains of adoption that my sons will encounter. Yes, there is still a need to do the best we can in the areas of exposing them to positive influences of people who look like them, and reading and researching on how best to help our boys grow up secure and confident in their heritage. And yes, it is still educating ourselves about race, our boys about race, and doing everything we can to help them live and thrive in a world that is still very gripped by the pains of racism. Absolutely. But it is the Gospel that will free them. The Gospel will bring meaning to this life. The Gospel will bring identity and purpose.

On the days where the questions are asked and the answers are hard to hear, and we realize that as White parents we fall so very short of truly understanding the world our sons will navigate with brown skin, I pray that the Holy Spirit gives us the words to say to not only educate our boys but to minister the Gospel to their hearts. That we tell them again and again, who they really are, and who their identity will be in if they trust in Jesus. This is what I want for my sons. I want them to be able to say, "My confidence, my identity is not found in anything having to do with me or my story. It's found in Jesus." That is the prayer of my heart, and that is where true healing and life begins.