The Powerful Prayers of the Faithful

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.—James 5:16

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This week, Anah started school. For the past five years, we have kept her at home with us. At first, it was for practical reasons. Given her developmental stage, I didn’t think she was ready. I wouldn’t send my 18 month old to school; I didn’t feel right about sending her either. Though she was seven and fully eligible, she was still reeling from being taken out of her homeland and everything she ever knew, in a land where she could not understand or speak the language, with people who she didn’t know. It would have probably done her in.

Over the years, we have found that Anah’s greatest need was not for more opportunities, but connection, family, and belonging. After making multiple trips from the orphanage to a foster home and then back again multiple times, she learned to simply cope. There was no stability in her life—everything was shifting and changing. Who knows when you will find yourself with your small bag packed and headed to a new home? While this is bewildering for any child, add her limited understanding on top of it and you have the recipe for all kinds of unhelpful adaptive behaviors and survival techniques.

And so for the past five years, she has been at home with us, living, learning, and taking tiny steps of independence. And like a typical kindergartener who waits 5 years before they go to school, she is now ready to start on her own journey.

The past few months have been very busy, with many assessments, meetings and evaluations. We have been asking people to pray for Anah very specifically and frequently throughout the whole process. So when the day finally came for us to walk her into her classroom, settle her into her desk, and then leave her there, I felt like it was a victory not just for our own family but for the many faithful friends who have joined us in prayer.


Through this season, God has been teaching me not only about the power of prayer but also how much I need to invite others to pray with me. Because of pride, fear, or worry that I will burden others with my problems, I do not want to ask others to pray for me.

But is that not what families do for one another? Are we not to bear and help absorb the weight of the burdens we carry? God has asked us to bear Anah’s burdens and limitations, just as He has borne ours, so we are to bear each other’s cares. It is one way we show we belong to the family of God.

We are nowhere close to the end of our journey with Anah. This is going to be an ongoing struggle and we trust that God will, by His mercy and grace, help us to be victorious. However, I do not think it is meant to be a victory for us alone, but one for the body of Christ to share together. Thank you so much for being a part of this journey with us by reading and supporting us. You are greatly appreciated; your ministry to our family is more powerful than you can imagine.

Growing Older or Growing Up?

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ...”—Ephesians 4:15

With my legal adult!

With my legal adult!

This weekend, our family celebrated the twenty-first birthday of my oldest child, my daughter, Janna. As her graduation from college approaches at the end of this school year, we are excited about God's plans and prospects in her life.

But even as Janna (and Matthew and Jonathan as well) look forward to the future, there is one that will not grow up as they will. With each passing birthday, the gap between where Anah is and where she could be if she did not have Down Syndrome grows. When she entered our family, she was seven, but developmentally she functioned at about an 18-month-old level. Now, at age twelve, she functions at about a 2-½ year old level. She is growing older, but she is not growing up.

This then introduces many painful realities that are very heavy to bear. There are griefs that I still need to process, losses that came with the adoption that I did not anticipate. One of the things that I am struggling most with is the fact that Anah will require care for the rest of her life. As my peers are starting to enter the empty nest stage, I find myself feeling a twinge of envy. When they are free to embark on their adventures, I will still need to find babysitting for my adult daughter. It is at this point when I feel like throwing a spiritual temper tantrum. “It isn’t fair!” my soul argues. After the anger subsides, depression sets in.

This is where the Lord steps in with His gentle words and admonition, gently asking me if I too am growing older, but not growing up. Will I walk this road of self-sacrifice and death, knowing the power of His resurrection? Am I holding on to the values of the world or am I willing to count them as loss? (Phil. 3:10) Will I not only face the suffering and pain of following Jesus into hard places but count them all joy because in them lie the maturing of my faith? (James 1:2-4) Honestly? The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

I recently came across a video clip from Francis Chan about why he doesn’t need more “fellowship.” It was thought-provoking and resonated with me. (Go ahead and watch it, and then come back. It’s only about 2 minutes but explains what my thoughts are better than I ever could, Francis Chan-style.)

When I agreed to adopt, it was not because I was particularly kind-hearted or compassionate. I already knew I was in over my head homeschooling three children; I certainly did not have time or energy for more. But what did intrigue and excite me was the possibility that bringing Anah into our lives would allow the Lord to deepen the faith of my family—my nuclear family and my church family. (I shared a little about that in this post.) If the Lord wanted our family to care for her, then we will do it as an act of faith and obedience, not because we ourselves are good people. 

But the interesting part is this: This is a team effort. He uses one another to do so. I sharpen you; you sharpen me. Using our spiritual gifts, we help each other to get beyond our childishness (Eph 4:11-14) so we can stir up one another on to love and good works (Heb. 10:24).

There are still many struggles ahead for us as we navigate life for Anah. It will tax and test us in ways we cannot anticipate. Will I grow up or will I just grow old as I face them? I know this will depend on my choices, but I also know that I need to lean on the church, just as Anah needs to lean on us. As we do so, may we also mature into the likeness of Christ.

The Gospel Gap

For the past few years, my husband and I have been attending the CCEF (Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation) conference in the fall. I have also been taking classes through CCEF as well each summer, mainly because I would like to be equipped to disciple others. Of course, God uses these training opportunities to actually work on my own heart, even as I prepare to serve others. Through my studies and through the conference, God has shown me two vital truths: 1) I am not God, and 2) He is.

As long as I think I am in control or know better than Him, there is no need for the Gospel. To the extent I fail to see my sins as He does, to that same extent I will fail to appreciate the great lengths He has made to save me. Instead of marveling at His grace, I adopt an attitude of entitlement instead.

This helped me to better understand why it has been so hard for me these past five years with Anah. First of all, I failed to see His sovereign rule in my life and thought that I had things under control. I arrogantly thought that I could get what I wanted simply by working hard. When Anah entered our lives, I thought I could fix her and that would be that. If I hit an obstacle with her, I would simply change tactics and try again.

While I was rather optimistic the first year, it became quite evident that I was failing more than I was succeeding. What?!? That didn’t work? Again? Over the years, I became depressed. Why bother? It didn’t seem to matter what I tried anyway.

Looking back now, I am learning to reinterpret these failures as God’s gracious way of teaching me that I am not, nor ever will be, God. It is the oldest temptation in the book, with echoes of the serpent’s lie laced through it—“you will be like God…” (Gen 3:5). While our culture today applauds self-made individualism, it is absolutely offensive to our heavenly Father. Step one of growing in grace: seeing my absolute depravity.

But God’s goal is not merely to humiliate me, but to help me to grow in truth. When I realized the true nature of my heart, He then turned me to focus on His. The darker my sin, the brighter His grace becomes. It is only when I see the true nature of my heart that I can appreciate the glory of what He has done for me.

At the conference, I was reminded that until I grasp the amazing grace of God, all my “good works” will be but poor imitations of what He intended for me. Yes, adoption is a beautiful thing, but if done in my own strength and power, with gritted teeth and self-reliance, it is a sham.

The theme of the conference was on the topic of family, and I came away from it with a new and renewed vision for what God has done for me through Christ—and the opportunity our family has to reflect the reality of the Gospel as we seek to love, care, and yes, sacrifice ourselves to the point of death for Anah. I can only do this when I recognize my complete inability to love her and instead cling to the One who first loved me.

I thought that God brought Anah into our family so that we can help her, but as time goes on, I see how God actually brought her for me—to rescue me from my own small-heartedness, pride, and self-reliance. “To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations!” (Eph 3:21b)

A New Vision

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.—Isaiah 43:18, 19
 

This is one of my favorite photos of Anah: it shows her real beauty, joy, and potential. It is not the face I see on most days, but it captures a glimpse of what God might do in her and through her. 

This is one of my favorite photos of Anah: it shows her real beauty, joy, and potential. It is not the face I see on most days, but it captures a glimpse of what God might do in her and through her. 

To be honest, I’m not sure why I agreed to enter into this adoption journey. People have come up to me, telling me how noble we were, how kind and compassionate. Frankly, none of that was the motivation. Maybe that’s true for my husband, but definitely not for me. I, on the other hand, am quite selfish. All I could think about was all the extra work a special needs child would mean for me at home.

So why did I agree to this? I realized that it had nothing to do with Anah at all. It was not about rescuing a child from her plight. It was not about making life better for another person in need.

I agreed to adopt Anah because of what I believed God would do through her in the church. I believed God wanted to wake us up out of our lethargy and challenge the church to live up to its true calling. I believed that Anah had something to teach us here that she couldn’t teach us if she was left in an orphanage in China.

Starting with me.

But over the past five years, I've lost sight of that and have been mired down in all the mundane, endless, and unending work of caring for Anah. God has been stretching my family, stretching me, beyond what I ever thought. And now, lest I go crazy from despair, I have had to revisit and recast a new vision. Now that I know what I have gotten myself into, I need God to show me a fresh new path to travel so that I do not keep spiraling downward into self-pity, anger, and bitterness. 

Trust me, I have already gone down that road many times in the past five years and it ain’t pretty. I've had enough of that; I need something new to focus on. The God who thinks higher thoughts, who does new things, must intervene. And I believe He has.

We serve a God who created families. He deemed it best that children grow up in a stable home with a father and mother who are committed to one another. He wanted this to be the place where faith will be passed on.

As I reconsider what we are doing with Anah as we welcome her into our home, I am realizing that we are called not merely to take care of her physical needs. We are called to be that home and family for her that she never had. We are called to love her sacrificially and unreservedly. We are called to be the hands and feet of God, pointing her to Christ, even as she challenges and purifies and matures us as God's children.

And not just our family. This is an invitation for you too.

And that, I believe, is why Anah is here. She is here to teach us our weakness, our helplessness, our lostness without God. She is here to help us see our small and self-centered hearts. And she is here to challenge us to step out of our comfort zones and to place ourselves in the hands of our heavenly Father who desires to reshape our souls and bring us back to where we are meant to be. 

Crippled But Not Broken

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.—Isaiah 55:8-11

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Before Anah’s adoption, I was on my way towards developing a speaking and writing ministry. I was rather amazed because those speaking opportunities led to more invitations and the articles led to publication…and a paycheck. It was a stretch for me, but okay—if God is asking me to speak up on His behalf, I will do it.

So when the adoption opportunity was announced at church, I struggled with the idea. When my husband and kids started talking about it during dinner, I was thinking to myself, “No way. I’ve got three kids already and can barely keep up with them. I don’t really have time to add another kid—much less a child with special needs—into my already full life. I think God has something else for me.”

Or did He? I was confused. Did I hear Him wrong about the speaking and the writing? Do I hold on to my plans or will I surrender and submit to Him? The past five years has been a spiritual battle for Lordship. I have fought Him and stubbornly insisted on my own way—and lost every time. Sometimes I wonder if this is what Jacob experienced when he wrestled with God—and ended up with a crippled hip for his pains.

If you’ve read Paul Miller’s A Loving Life you’ll know about the “J-curve”—that downward path of dying to self that we must take if we desire to experience resurrection glory. I wanted the glory yesterday! Let’s take the easy road and skip this dying part.

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But no, that is not the way of our God. These past five years with Anah has been the beginning of the breaking of my stronghold of pride that if left unattended, would be the undoing of all the good things He could do in me. He is using Anah to deal with this area in my heart that He saw—and knew would get in the way of any future ministry. However, I am learning that when He cripples me, it is not so that I will be broken, but so that I will be better. Out of the ashes, He will raise up something even greater than I could ever imagine.

And so, I am in a period of waiting--waiting until He determines it is time to move forward again. The writing and speaking dreams are still there but right now, they are put on hold. I am learning to trust His wisdom and surrender to His timing, instead of fighting Him, which leads me nowhere. As Isaiah says, it will not return to Him empty.

In His time.

Too Big and Too Small

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.—Ephesians 3:20-21

When we agreed to adopt Anah, we thought that our experience as homeschooling parents of three kids would be sufficient to get us through. (Why are you laughing?) Little did we know that we were walking into something that was way beyond our capabilities and experience.

So on Sept. 17, 2012, when we heard that first knock on the door of our hotel signaling Anah’s arrival, all the preparation in the world could never have equipped me for what would step into my life.

In marched a little girl with an odd haircut, ill-fitting, mismatched clothing, partially hunched over. She had an odd, stiff gait and a blank look in her eyes. My heart sank. This was not the little girl in the picture. Who was this creature? There must be a mistake. I realized then that through the awkwardly translated English progress reports, I had imagined a girl that was not real. This was the real girl. And the reality was a hard blow. 

Finally asleep...I had to physically hold her down to keep her from thrashing and agitating herself even further. It was not the first time I felt completely helpless in this journey.

Finally asleep...I had to physically hold her down to keep her from thrashing and agitating herself even further. It was not the first time I felt completely helpless in this journey.

Throughout that first morning, as I watched Anah drool, repeatedly comb her hair (and everyone else’s), scribble with a crayon, unintentionally disgust me while eating, and scream when we put her on the toilet, my heart sank more and more. I remember thinking This is not what I signed up for. What have I gotten myself into?  I went to bed feeling very sorry for myself. It was not the first time I regretted adopting her. This is too big for me.

Instead of turning to God, as most faithful, trusting believers would do, I turned my heart against Him. How could He do this to me? Why didn't He tell me the truth about her? Why didn't He stop this from going through? My conclusion was that He was some sadistic deity that was punishing me. I also was very angry at myself and my husband. Why didn’t I listen to my gut instinct that warned me not to do this? 

This blurry image means a lot to me: not only was it the first time that the three of them traveled alone on an airplane, this was the longest trip Anah had taken apart from us. I would never have imagined that she (or we!) could handle a trip like this. To God be the glory!

This blurry image means a lot to me: not only was it the first time that the three of them traveled alone on an airplane, this was the longest trip Anah had taken apart from us. I would never have imagined that she (or we!) could handle a trip like this. To God be the glory!

But despite my unfaithfulness, God is faithful—not because I turned a corner or made a change. What I am realizing now is that while Anah’s needs are great, He is greater still. He has plans and purposes—not only for Anah or for us as a family, but for the church and for those around us—that go beyond our comprehension. This is not too big—I am actually finding that I am not thinking big enough. My understanding of God is actually too small. His plans far exceed mine at so many levels (Isaiah 55:8-11).

1 Cor. 2:9 reminds me that we cannot imagine what God has in store for those who love Him. He is breaking down the barriers I have erected in my mind of who He is and how He works—and all through an utterly dependent, petite, delicate little girl. He is awesome indeed.

Needy, But Needed

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.—Gal. 6:1-3

Mother's Day 2013

Mother's Day 2013

Adopting Anah has shown me something I did not want to face in myself: my neediness. Though we are training Anah to care for herself, she is still very needy. Unlike the rest of us, her mental handicaps either do not allow her to see what seems obvious to the rest of us or she simply cannot bridge the gaps and connect the dots with reason. If she does, the conclusions she draws, the things she does, are nonsensical or unhelpful.

If she sees a car coming towards her, she does not have the fear that will help her to move out of the way. If we tell her to wipe her runny nose, she’ll do it, but doesn’t know when to stop. I have found her five minutes later, still wiping her nose till its red and raw. Though we are teaching her how to brush her teeth and take a bath—and she is physically capable of carrying out the task—interrupting her in the middle of the routine will leave her completely bewildered as what to do next.

Many times I feel like I’m managing a robot, not a person. Not only do I have to program her, I need to always be pressing the start and stop buttons. Though she likes routine, she also gets bored with it and what was once novel and new is no longer fun, so even when she knows how to do it, we have to keep her moving.

With that said, I am going to be honest here. I really have a hard time with her neediness. It’s not only physically draining but it also repulses me at some deep level. Through these emotions, God has shown me that I am really neither compassionate nor humble. He has highlighted my prideful heart instead.

But once again, God has had to show me that I really am not that different than Anah. I am no less helpless before Him. I am completely needy; I cannot save myself, I cannot do anything to gain eternal life. The only difference is that I can fool myself into thinking that I have it all together.

Mother's Day 2017

Mother's Day 2017

If for nothing else, I believe I do need Anah in my life to remind me of the true state of my soul. She might be needy, but in her neediness, I need her as well. I need her to slow me down. I need her to remind me that I have limits. I need her to help protect my heart from self-sufficiency and self-importance. Yes, I need her even as she needs me.

Not only that, I need the body of Christ. Each of us, even the most competent and mature among us, is needy. But at the same time, we each offer something to each other that the other person needs. May we learn to both give and receive from one another, that we may spur one another on to reflect Christ more fully.

Out With the Old, In With the New

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.—Galatians 6:9

When Anah arrived, she didn’t have much—just a small bag with some of the clothes we sent her (we have no idea where the others went), a tambourine, a Kleenex, and the clothes she was wearing. What we didn’t see was the baggage she didn’t carry.

This is our lovingly packed suitcase full of things for Anah when we met her. She arrived with even less. Now, we would pack different things: sturdy shoes (she struggles with balance so cute flip flops are out) and clothes in a much smaller size! Thankfully, God knows what we need and will do a far better job of packing than we did!

This is our lovingly packed suitcase full of things for Anah when we met her. She arrived with even less. Now, we would pack different things: sturdy shoes (she struggles with balance so cute flip flops are out) and clothes in a much smaller size! Thankfully, God knows what we need and will do a far better job of packing than we did!

From the time she was found on a roadside crossing in China to the day we met her, Anah had been in and out of foster homes and orphanages. She was and still is a tiny little thing. Her processing time is very slow. (Think of the sloths in the movie Zootopia. That is the speed she functions. That scene was too realistic for us to be funny.) She has little concept of cause and effect and is limited in her reasoning abilities.

But she is smart. She found a way to get out of doing a lot of things—don’t ask me how but from reports we heard, she was the little princess. People either didn’t expect her to do much or found her too slow to bother with, so she didn’t come with many self-help skills. It’s not that she wasn’t capable. It’s just that it wasn’t expected. That works in an orphanage, but not in a family—at least not in ours, where we expected all our kids to pitch in and help, even if it was simply taking care of themselves.

And so the past five years has been a lot of undoing of the old patterns of helplessness that Anah has learned in her seven years of life. There are still times now when she looks shocked that we would actually expect her to do it herself! She may have grown in a lot of ways, but these ordinary, daily self-care tasks of life, are what we struggle with the most. It’s not about her learning abilities.

We rail and complain about these things, but God is teaching me something about myself and that is this: I am no different. When He adopted me, I came with a lot of baggage as well. I had trained patterns of sin, self-centeredness, and survival tactics that worked well in my old life but have no place in the new.

Anah, Oct. 2012: One of the bad habits we had to undo was her habit of sitting at the dinner table with her leg propped up. That took us awhile. Along the way, we've also had to teach her how to wipe her mouth while she's eating--a skill we're still needing to remind her about today!

Anah, Oct. 2012: One of the bad habits we had to undo was her habit of sitting at the dinner table with her leg propped up. That took us awhile. Along the way, we've also had to teach her how to wipe her mouth while she's eating--a skill we're still needing to remind her about today!

But now, in His family, my heavenly Father must also teach me a new way of living, loving, and thinking that is completely unlike—even opposite—of my natural tendencies. Unlike me, however, He is infinitely patient, even though He must work with me over and over on the same things.

Yes, Anah may have a new name, a new family, a new home, but there are many times I want to give up because that process of transformation takes so long. I pray that I may be able to stick with her though, as God sticks with me, and continue to do what is right and good to her and for her. The harvest is yet to come.

Dear friend, if you likewise struggle with stubborn "orphan" habits that you just cannot shake, take comfort. The process of transforming us into His children will take a lifetime. Keep making those little turns, making those little choices to do good. Even if it is at a snail's pace (or a sloth's!), our patient and loving Father rejoices in our progress too.  

Five Years, Five Thoughts

In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.--Ephesians 1:5, 6

This is the photo that started us on our journey back in 2011. 

This is the photo that started us on our journey back in 2011. 

Five years ago, on September 17, 2012, our family took a step that has changed our lives forever. A seven-year-old little girl knocked on our hotel room door, marched in, and settled herself down in our lives. No recognition of us as her new family. No expressions of gratitude for the sacrifices made. She was more mesmerized by the comb we had lying on the bed for her. She just combed her hair, with drool leaking out of her mouth.

And that, my friends, is how our life with Cen Fu-Guo, began. Over the past five years, she has slowly become the Anah Christian you may know today. An unwanted infant girl who was found at a road crossing in China is now our daughter. For seven years she was in and out of the orphanage and foster homes. The last five years has been a painstaking piecing together of that story, as best we can. Many times, that sweet little face that captured our hearts is nowhere to be seen.

Anah was diagnosed early on with Down Syndrome. However, what we have realized over the past five years is that the bigger issues stem from being an orphan—not having a home, not having the consistency of parents, routines, and stability. We learned that despite her petite and delicate frame, Anah is tough, and she learned how to adapt and survive in her conditions. But with her limited understanding not all of it has been good.

Adoption is a beautiful picture of the Gospel, of the outcast orphan now becoming a part of a family. [Cue sweeping string ensemble.] But what we often forget is that adoption is also costly—before and after. Yes, adoption is expensive. It costs less to have an abortion than to adopt. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

Adoption is also messy. I naively believed that doing something good would mean that God would take care of every problem we encountered and fix it—quickly. But five years later, we are finding that the hardships we face may never go away. Rather than a broken arm that will eventually heal with time, this adoption is more like learning how to live a new life after your arm has been amputated. It is not the same again.

While we have paid all the bills for the adoption, we are still paying for our choice. It is not the happy fairy-tale ending we wish for. We are still in the midst of the story God is writing, with lots of plot twists and drama. Things are still raw, unresolved, and difficult. I wish it were otherwise.

Anah: five years later.

Anah: five years later.

But the God who adopted us goes before us. He understands how costly adoption is because He has paid the ultimate price for our adoption through the blood of His Son. This will be a lifelong lesson for me; by no means have I fully appreciated it because it is so painful. Some of you may be shocked at how negative I am at points. But I also know that God is up to something good. It just doesn't feel like it most of the time. I invite you to join me this week as I reflect, remember and recount this story of God's goodness.

Update: Here are the posts in this series for your convenience

1. Out With the Old, In With the New

2. Needy, But Needed

3. Too Big and Too Small

4. Crippled But Not Broken

5. A New Vision

Unearthing My Idols

I like to feel productive. Do you? But as commendable as that might sound, I know it can also become idolatrous--at least for me. Maybe some of you can relate. For me, most of my idols aren't apparent until I experience some kind of loss. When things are going well, I don't recognize them. But when some type of loss, pain, or tragedy enters my life, they stand out in stark relief.

Through these past 18 months, I have been going through my own journey of grief, even as we have welcomed Anah into our family. Because we were obeying the Lord and doing something good, it never crossed my mind that I would have to suffer grief. I thought that we could just incorporate her into our lives without too much difficulty. After all, she is older and not a newborn, right?

Wrong.

I won't go into all the details of the things I have lost. Suffice it to say that I have felt the loss of some dreams that are near and dear to my heart, much of which is related to this website. And these ideas were ones that I believe came from God.

The problem was not that they came from God, but that I looked to them and not God for my worth, identity and purpose. I had come to believe that what I did gave me purpose in life. However, when Anah came, all those dreams had to be set aside, if not permanently abandoned. I found myself mired down by all her many needs that drained all my physical, emotional and spiritual resources, so much so that I had little time for anything else, including my marriage, friendships and myself. Survival was and has been the goal in my life now. That and making sure the other kids had as smooth a transition as possible.

Instead of enjoying this season of my life, I found myself resenting it. Instead of bonding with Anah, I found myself feeling bitter towards her. I felt like God had short-changed me. Instead of enjoying the challenges of learning new things, writing my (of course) profound insights, and interacting with others, I found myself repeating the same thing over and over, cleaning up toileting accidents, and looking into blank eyes. How could He do this to me when I had served Him (I thought) so faithfully? It was cruel.

Because we now have Anah, not only have I lost much of what I enjoyed, our lives have had to slow down tremendously. With her, everything is extremely slow: dressing, bathing, toileting, eating, learning, and even moving. There is a lot of waiting involved whenever she is around. I cannot do what I want to do when I want to do it. Her slowness impinges on my agenda, chopping my time into tiny bits so that I do not have the long stretches of time to tackle a project, write a post, or study productively--or any of the life-giving things I once enjoyed doing.

So what has this got to do with idolatry? As I sat thinking about it this morning, I realized that because I was not able to have the time to do these big things, I felt unproductive. And when I felt unproductive, I felt like I was worthless. I had made my work, my productivity, my pride in being able to see my accomplishments my god instead of the Lord.

It is at this point then, that God has had to rebuke me by showing me the truth of what I was believing. Even though I know that my works cannot save me, I am still relying on my works to give me a sense of worth and value. I have replaced Him with something, while good, is lesser.

Ironically, since God has been revealing these unflattering truths about myself, I have found myself writing more, mostly in an effort to process and internalize them more deeply. (Sorry to have to drag you into this.) This is my third post this week (you can find the first one here and the second one here), which after a period of drought is pretty amazing. Even if no one but myself benefits from these ramblings, I know that God is preparing my heart so that one day, if He wills, I will have something worth reading and speaking about.

But first, He needs me to face the junk that is blocking the way, hardening my heart, and blinding my eyes. When I am willing to face the truth about my idols, confess my sin, and by His strength, get rid of them, then He will be able to minister to my soul, speak to my heart, and use me effectively to bless others. God is inviting me to take a fresh look at this new season I am in, to see the invisible benefits that are hidden in it. They are there, if I am willing to let go of my agenda, slow down, and let Him lead me on His own timeline.

And maybe that's the very first thing He wants to teach me. It isn't so much about what I can do for Anah. It may be more what she, as an agent of God's mercy, is doing in me.

Wait For It

It has been a long time since I have posted, hasn't it? After finishing our study in Journeys of Faithfulness with my daughter and her friends, life went back to normal. Since then, Janna has finished high school, my husband and I have had more difficult discussions over future decisions, and Anah has gone forward (and backward) with her neurodevelopmental program. It has been full indeed.

In fact, I don't know if "full" is even the best word, as it has a positive connotation. Instead, I think the word "burdened," "heavy," and "painfully slow" seem to be better descriptions of my life now. It has been this way for the past 18 months, since Anah's arrival. I chafe at this when I want to sit down and write but just don't have the time or the energy to do so.

As I look back over the timeline of the past four years or so, I often come up confused. Back in 2010, I believed God had me on a trajectory, that though was not my plan, I was willing to trust Him to work through me. I took steps of faith to begin speaking to groups of moms and even submit articles for publication. In both venues, I sensed the Lord was giving me the green light to keep moving forward, which was why I took the next step of starting a blog. Little by little, He was developing a vision to use the resources He has given me to further His Kingdom through speaking and writing. It certainly was a step out of my comfort zone.

Then it hit. In 2011, just as I was starting to get things up and running, came the invitation to consider adoption. Before I knew it, we were filling out forms, getting fingerprinted, and meeting with social workers. The next year, our house was remodeled to accommodate Anah and soon after, we were on an international flight with all our kids. In the back of my mind, I kept wondering, "What has this got to do with speaking and writing?"

I have been wrestling with this over the past 18 months, because honestly, I have not had the time to sit and write something meaningful on a consistent basis. And for those of you who still faithfully check this blog on occasion, I thank you for putting up with my less-than-stellar performance. In fact, for all I know, I might be writing to no one but myself at this point.

My rebellious side has tried to resist what God wants to do through Anah in my life. I think, "Doggone it, God has been preparing me to teach and write, so I'm going to do it!" So I try this idea for the blog and I try that one, but the reality of life keeps me from following through. I often feel like I am hitting a wall. In fact, as I look back on my posts, they are more apologies for not writing than for anything else.

However, this week, I think God is slowly revealing a glimpse of the "backside" of the tapestry He is weaving in my life. Yes, He may have been preparing me for a future ministry of writing and speaking, but it is clearly not that season right now. In fact, I don't know when that will ever be, and sometimes I waffle between wondering if I heard right in the first place and despairing that I will never get there because it feels like I will never move out of this stage of life.

But as I began reading Alan Fadling's An Unhurried Life this week, I realized that perhaps, that the temptation Jesus faced in the wilderness before his earthly ministry may in some cases be mine too. And that may be where the similarities end.  Alan then writes, "It strikes me that the essence of these temptations was to provoke Jesus to hurry to get for himself what the Father had promised to provide, but in his good timing." Bingo. And the light went on. I have been trying to get for myself what He is preparing for me on my own timetable, not His. No wonder there is friction!

There have been times when I have doubted all that God had been developing over the past ten years. When I look at this season of my life with Anah, I don't see any correlation. Often, it feels like He has taken me on a backroad that is way off the course that I thought He was taking me on.

But through this illustration, the Lord is reminding me that I cannot base my understanding on my own human perspective, for "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways." As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways and thoughts higher than mine. (Isaiah 55:8, 9)

So His lesson for me right now is this: Slow down. Don't rush. Enter fully into this season of life that I find myself in, trusting that He will get me there in His good time. And even if I never see what I think He is doing, I know that there must be an even better reason behind it.

I just need to wait for it.

Getting to Know You

Note: This post is addressed to our Evergreen Baptist SGV Church family in particular, but I hope that it gives some insights to anyone who knows us. Who knows? We might end up visiting YOU someday soon!
Note #2: I revised this post after reading some comments from other readers. It's basically the same but I did add a point #5. If you haven't read it, I hope you'll do so.

It was rather weird walking through our church campus last Sunday. I don't know how to explain it, but it was. There seemed to be the kind of shyness that comes when you're meeting someone new. I wrote this post to hopefully help us navigate through this new season. If this looks too long for you, read point #5. That is my most important thought.

Even if you will never meet us, I hope this will give you some insight when it comes to walking alongside new adoptive parents or parents with special needs. These thoughts are mine, so I want to say I'm not speaking for everyone in general. The best thing you can do is to courageously ask what is the best way to help or interact with their child. It's better than avoiding the topic, or worse yet, avoiding the child.

Here are my thoughts for Anah:

  1. Don't be afraid to talk to us. Some thoughtful friends have told us that they have kept back because they don't want to overwhelm us. I can see that. But I'm sure that it won't be like that forever. Once the newness wears off, I hope that if you don't get a chance to introduce yourselves in the first few weeks, that you'll do so when the "lines" are shorter!
  2. Don't be afraid to talk to Anah. She doesn't bite. We are teaching her to wave and say "hi!" Just get down to her level and say "hi!" I can't guarantee she will respond, but we are teaching her how to greet others. Feel free to talk to her like you would any other kid. Don't let the fact that she doesn't understand English keep you from talking with her. You don't need to speak Mandarin! Tone of voice counts more than your words. There are guarantees on how she'd respond, and blank looks are common, even with us. (But you'd look that way too if some stranger came up to you and started speaking a different language!) However, our goal is to help her to learn the conventions of language. You can help in the process. In time, she will understand. In the meantime, just talk naturally.
  3. Be forewarned that if she takes a liking to you, she may want you to pick her up. You can tell this because she holds her arms up to you, like a toddler does when he wants to be picked up. This is her way of letting you know that she is comfortable with you and likes you. She may stick her face close to yours or hold your head by the sides. We think she needs glasses and cannot see very well, so she needs everything up close. However, if you feel uncomfortable, don't feel bad about putting her down. It won't hurt her feelings. Instead, I hope you take her interest in you as a compliment. (And don't feel bad if she doesn't. It's not a sign that she doesn't like you!)
  4. If you'd like your children to meet Anah, you may want to talk to them in advance. If they want to introduce themselves, you can share with them what I shared in point 2 above. You may wish to warn them that she may not respond, but to not let that discourage them. My prayer is that our children will learn to see beyond the physical to the commonalities they share. I hope and dream of seeing Anah and the kids at our church playing together without any hesitation or fear. She is a child. She may not act her age, but she is a little girl who loves to play Ring Around the Rosy, blow bubbles, and laugh. With all my heart, I pray that the kids in our church family will learn to see her and not her disability.
  5. Repeat points #1-4 regularly. Make it a habit to greet her. Keep at this, over and over and over. Once is not enough. This point is mainly for you, my brothers and sisters in Christ. If we truly are going to do this as a church family, then we need to spend the time getting to know her. How are we going to help her grow if she is marginalized and forgotten? Of all these points, I hope you hear the pleading in my voice for this one. Once the newness wears off, will it be business as usual? Or will you be willing to let her into your heart and life?

If you feel uncomfortable, I hope you will not let that stop you. Take a step of faith. You may be pleasantly surprised. I know I was and still am. To be honest, this is the first day since we received Anah almost 4 weeks ago that I have felt like she was my daughter and not a visitor or guest. It takes time, but if you are willing to take the step and reach out, I am confident that you will be blessed. I know we are.

October's Mini Elephants

Well, we are back home, safe and sound. We arrived at LAX on Friday afternoon to a loud cheer of welcome. Only in God's kingdom is an orphan girl greeted like a celebrity. Even though it took us 2 hours to get home, it was worth it. My sisters had prepared dinner and stocked our refrigerator with good food to eat, including homemade wonton just for Anah. Never mind that she slept through the whole reception and homecoming. I don't blame her.

The next day, we went to our dear friends' wedding. At the dinner reception, she turned her nose up at the chicken nuggets and french fries, but loved the dancing afterwards. At least she stayed up a little longer than she did the day before and people could see what she's like awake!

Thanks to a busy weekend and friends keeping us company, we have been able to stay awake in the afternoons and keep from taking those long naps that really make the jet lag recovery time so difficult. We've been doing okay, though I am not used to getting up so late!

So, last month, my goals were to:

  1. Continue reading about Chinese history in Story of the World.
    We read through about 3/4 of it. Better than nothing! 
  2. Write out my course of study for each of my kids before we leave. I have a mental idea but not written out.
    Sort of completed. I only did Matthew's.
  3. Learn how to use my new laptop so I can blog on our trip!
  4. Prepare a few freezer meals so I don't have to cook when I get back home.
    Didn't get to this but I have not had to worry about meals, thanks to wonderful friends!
  5. Enjoy our time together as a family as we travel.
    We had a great time together. I'll have to do a summary post on highlights.
  6. Get to know Anah!
    This will be a continual process, but we have learned:
    she really does love to sing and dance.
    she is incredibly stubborn about brushing her teeth and getting her nails trimmed
    likes to imitate (which can be both good and bad)
    finds a way to let us know what she needs. 
    she is really a very happy and cheerful girl.
     
  7. Read Crazy Love by Francis Chan.
    This was an awesome read. So glad I was finally able to read it.

This month, my goals are:

  1. Get the family back on track timewise.
  2. Work out a new family routine, chore chart and system for our home.
  3. Work on review products for our school time. Other than that, we're keeping it light.
  4. Help Janna with her PSAT coming up mid month.
  5. Spend quality time with Jonathan each day through this transition time, 30 minutes a day just for him.
  6. Ditto for Matthew.
  7. Go out on at least two dates this month.
  8. Get started on medical visits and care for Anah.
  9. Plan an evaluation time for Anah's education.
  10. Work our way out of the pull-ups. We're getting used to the toilet but are missing her cues.
  11. Read Men and Women by Larry Crabb.
Lord, this is going to a month of many transitions and changes. Please guide us as we integrate Anah into our home. We cannot do this alone and need your wisdom, love, and guidance. Thank you. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Our Adoption Journey

Last Sunday, my husband and I made the big announcement to our church family that we were in the process of adopting a little six-year-old girl with Down Syndrome from China. We decided to name her Anah (Ah-nah) Joy. Anah means "God has answered" and "she who sings." I'll be sharing more about her in the posts this week. Our church had been supporting this orphanage (Mother's Love) for many years. Little by little, the government began to close it down---first the infant portion of the ministry, and now the special needs section. The director of the orphanage sent a plea to our pastor, asking our church family if there would be six families who would be willing to step up and take six children into their homes and lives, so that they would not be sent to the state orphanage. From what we learned, children who were over 14 years old were no longer deemed adoptable by China's standards. These six were still under that age and though each of them had a special need of some type, were still open for adoption.

That was in April. I must confess that when the call first came out, I was very curious. That night, after the announcement came out, we had a family discussion at dinner about it. I was surprised to see that all of the others were very interested in seriously pursuing it. My husband then started communications with the staff about our interest. A week or so later, we called a day of fasting and prayer, to ask the Lord where He wanted us to go.

I will have to admit that of all my family, I was the squeaky wheel. I felt like I wasn't keeping up with what I already had to do, much less add another person into our home...and one that needed special care! I kept asking, "What about me?" When they are gone at work, who's going to be holding down the fort at home? When the kids have grown up and moved out, who's still going to have to take care of her? Will I ever have time alone again? Will there ever be space for me to pursue my dreams of getting a Master's degree? Open a retreat home? Write? Will I never be able to travel? See the world? Will my husband and I never have an empty nest?

These were the very real questions I had. All I could see was what I would lose. And because all I could see in my future was loss, I could not move ahead with the adoption. And so it came to a screeching halt because of me.

But oh, how gracious God is! How can I outgive Him? "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all---how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Rom 8:32) It finally dawned on me that when I focus on the things that I lose, I will miss out on the things that God wants to give.

In God's economy, the greatest gifts come with the greatest sacrifices. Just think of all that Jesus had to do so that we might be saved. He had to lay down His life. He had to sacrifice His comforts. He had to give up trying to retaliate or prove Himself. And He did it so that you and I might have forgiveness of sin, a new nature, the privilege of an heir, hope, eternal life...and so much more.

What I need to give up is a sacrifice. I still feel sad at times. There still is mourning. But when God leads, He is able to take our mourning and turn it into dancing (Psalm 30:11). And I am sure there will be a lot of that in this house when Anah finally comes home.

First in a series: Adoption Journey

PS If you want to hear my husband's message, go to http://www.evergreensgv.org/sermons/ and click on the Aug. 27, 2011 message, "The Heart of Adoption." Somehow at the end it gets cut off and our pastor ends up giving an altar call from another message. Sorry about that!