Steal, kill, destroy…or satisfying life

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My Mermaid

I know that some readers still come here for updates on Sofija. So, before I dive into the title story, I want to share that tomorrow (Monday March 4th), for the first time since October 2015, Sofi Bea Brave is GOING TO SCHOOL! We’re all excited. Maybe me a little more than her, but whatever. Her two behavior aids that normally work with her at home will be at school with her and the administration of the school has been extremely accommodating and supportive of her many needs. So, if you just drop by this space because you care about our baby girl, feel free to keep her and everyone that’s working with her in your prayers. Specific requests: safety for everyone, peace for her, a few hours of freedom for me (translation: I don’t get called back to the school).

As for the title of this piece, I’m giving you a fair warning that I’m about to get spiritual AND expose my crazy.

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See that handsome guy I’m leaning on? Two weeks ago we were in Jamaica celebrating our 25th anniversary. Twenty-five years is a long flipping time to spend with the same person! We calculated that we’d been married for 1300 weeks and this was the first time in our entire marriage that we’ve taken a whole week to just enjoy each other. We’ve already booked another trip for August. We agreed that our time away was the best week of entire lives and now we realize that we’ve got some making up to do! If, like us, you’ve found every excuse under the sun to not get away with your spouse, do yourself a favor and make it happen. I started scheduling people to keep the house running more than a month out. The three weeks before we left were consumed with making sure we had 2:1 care for Sofija around the clock, groceries, and transportation for Seth every day that we were away. It was A LOT of work! But it was sooooo worth it!

The week before we left, a surprise package was delivered. My hot husband had ordered us the Fierce Marriage 31-day pursuit books and the 30-day couple’s devotional. I may have swooned a little when I opened the box. Reading is not my husband’s favorite activity and suggestions of doing a study together are usually met with little enthusiasm. But things around here have been changing. At the beginning of the year we started seeing a marriage counselor. When I did a get-to-know-you call with our counselor of choice, he asked what our number one goal was in counseling. I replied, “We want to learn how to fight.”

We started a list on our 18th anniversary of things we’d learned about marriage and we’ve added to it a few times. #15 on the list is: Remember that your spouse IS NOT your enemy. Here’s the disclaimer about that little tidbit… you’re still going to fight. My Mama used to say, “If two people agree on everything, one of them isn’t necessary.” It’s true. It’s boring to spend time with someone who agrees with you on everything. The question is, “How do you deal with conflict and disagreements?” In our case, the answer has always been, “Not no nicely.” We both came from homes where our parents were divorced when we were five years old. Our earliest examples of conflict resolution were not so great. Between our parents, step-parents, grandparents, aunts & uncles, siblings, and extended families; we observed the following methods of resolving conflict:

1) Just don’t speak to the person ever again, or don’t speak to them for years and when you do act like nothing ever happened and only discuss the weather and sports.

2) Never address something painful in the moment and after bottling up wounds EXPLODE because the forks weren’t loaded right in the dishwasher and then precede to destroy each other with your words in front of everyone within earshot.

3) EXPLODE over every little thing and leave everyone around you walking on eggshells.

4) Physically fight it out.

5) NEVER speak up when you’re hurt or disagree and just talk bad about the person who’s hurt you to everyone who will listen, OR passively-aggressively get revenge.

So, for the first twenty-five years of our marriage we tried our damndest to do better, but all too often found ourselves repeating the cycles of what had been modeled for us. On January 2nd, 2019, we decided that it was time to actually do better. Once we made that decision we immediately knew that we needed a mediator to walk us through healing the damage we’d done and filling our tool chest with tools that we couldn’t seem to find ourselves.

Which led to the surprise package of books and our trip to Jamaica. RwWbiwFERD+E7SrwwgLSaQ

This picture was taken on Sunday February 17th, 24 years and 364 days into our marriage. My husband had posted a really sweet picture from the breakfast we’d had on our balcony that morning on Facebook and had been reading the comments to me all day. In order to make sure we weren’t distracted on our trip, we left our laptops at home and most nights I didn’t even charge my phone. That day was one of the days where my phone was dead. I took this picture while my husband was snoring on the lounger next to me. We had only been there for 24hrs and I was still struggling to just sit and be so I picked up his phone to look at Facebook. I couldn’t get the app to load so I opened his settings to shut down the apps using cellular data with the hopes of getting it to load. After shutting down a gazillion sports and news apps I see an app called “Telegram” that’s using cellular data and shut it off too. As soon as I shut it down I looked to see what folder he had it in on his phone. For those wondering, it was in a folder with tv and news apps. I made a mental note to ask him about it and went back to Facebook.

So… a little later, as we were getting ready to go to dinner, I asked in a completely accusatory tone totally loving and trusting tone, “What is that Telegram app on your phone?” He got uncomfortable and said that he didn’t know what it was or when he’d put it on his phone. By the time I asked, our room phone was ringing to announce that we needed to get to our dinner reservation. At that moment I made a decision that is completely unnatural and out of character for me, I would put my questions and crazy thoughts on a shelf and approach it later. Shelving the questions and crazy thoughts was a success! We danced in our anniversary and had the most fun that we’ve have together in ages.IMG_2249

Well, the “later” came at 3am when I woke up obsessively thinking about that stupid app. I looked it up on my phone (which I’d remembered to plug in before bed) and found that it’s a messenger app where the messages disappear like snapchat photos and has an option for secret chats that never appear on either user’s phone. And then I found myself, at three something in the morning on our twenty-fifth anniversary, crawling on the floor to his side of the bed and hoping that his cpap would drown out the sound of me taking his phone off the nightstand and sneaking it into the living room of our suite. I opened the app and found no history of messages or chats. I spent half an hour learning how to pull deleted messages and chats from the telegram cloud and felt confident that I’d find the answers to all my questions even if he wouldn’t answer them. I added the app on my phone with his account info and set it so that I would receive notifications of any messages sent or received. I then crawled back to his side of the bed, plugged his phone back in, crawled back around to my side, and climbed in bed with a million worst case scenario possibilities running through my mind.

The morning of our twenty-fifth anniversary was not pretty. My husband woke to me sobbing and I immediately told him all about my 3am exploits. He was frustrated, and I was scared and hurting. He continued to emphatically state that he had never used the app and he wasn’t sure when or why he’d put it on his phone. After talking in circles for about an hour he asked me to sit on the balcony and do our devotion. The day before we had gone over how the strength of our marriage was far more dependent on our beliefs about God than about our feelings for each other. The devotion had included Romans 12:2 Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes.

John 10:10 “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” ~ Jesus

On our anniversary, the devotion was all about oneness in marriage. Matthew 19:6 Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.” The first question that day asked if there are areas of our hearts that have hardened towards one another. The devotion led to an emotional, loving discussion that allowed me to put my 3am concerns in a little box that I knew we’d have to deal with later. I DID NOT want to be miserable on this trip! We were quickly about to identify that “the thief”, aka Satan, was CLEARLY trying to steal our joy and peace and destroy all that we’ve been working hard on in and out of counseling. We were also quickly able to see that Jesus had put the ad for Fierce Marriage in front of my husband’s eyes just in time for him to order it and have it delivered before this trip. God knew. He knew that we would be attacked and He knew what it would take for us to get back to enjoying each other.

I honestly didn’t think about the app again until we’d been home for a couple of days and I spotted it on my phone. Seeing it led me to look at the app store and see when it was downloaded. The day he downloaded it happened to be the same day that I left for England last November. Knowing that he added it on the same day that I was leaving the country did nothing for the thoughts of betrayal having a party in my head. So, after we did our devotion for the day I brought it up again. Chad quickly asked what I needed to make my doubts and insecurities go away. I replied that I needed to know the whole truth because I couldn’t think of a single harmless reason for a married man to have a disappearing messaging app hidden on his phone. He said that he understood, but he was growing concerned about how long this was going to keep us from living a “satisfying life”. I then told him that I had no peace about pulling the history of the app from the cloud because I needed to hear “the truth” from him. We’ve had a few discussions during and after counseling about the fact that offenses and betrayals are not what hurt the most. What hurts the most is learning about offenses and betrayals via channels other than looking each other in the eyes and confessing. Just be truthful. Period.

Everything in me wanted to believe that he had no idea why he had the app. But, all the voices of women in my life who’ve been played for fools were running through my mind. You know what was NOT running through my mind? God’s voice. Or the Holy Spirit’s voice. There was zero God-truth transformation happening in what I was thinking.

The same night that the app came back to the forefront of our conversation, our Serbian princess awoke at 3am. After battling her for nearly an hour to get back to sleep I started praying. First I prayed over her, and then I prayed over our marriage, and then I prayed over my mind. I asked Holy Spirit for the same thing I asked on the day that we received divine confirmation that we were supposed to adopt Sofija. “God, please change my heart and give me wisdom.” Almost immediately I heard, “Check email from the day the app was downloaded.” I scrolled down to that date in November and the first thing I opened was from a streaming service that we use. I returned from that trip last fall to find that we had finally cut the cord with cable. On the day that I left, my hot husband started watching tutorials and downloading streaming apps to all tv’s in the house. The first email I opened from that day gave instructions on how to get help with a particular streaming app. It said this, “Our support desk ONLY works with the Telegram app. Please download the app and add us as a contact if you have any questions.” There it was. A completely harmless and absolutely clear explanation for the app. I humbly ate crow apologized. He a little self-righteously lovingly gave grace.

“The thief came to steal, kill, and destroy.” It makes me sad when I think how close he came to destroying the best week of our lives. “But I have come to give them a rich and satisfying life.” Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Jesus!

Ephesians 6:12 Your hand-to-hand combat is not with human beings, but with the highest principalities and authorities operating in rebellion under the heavenly realms. For they are a powerful class of demon-gods and evil spirits that hold this dark world in bondage.

Additions to the marriage rules list…

  1. Go to counseling if you need to learn to fight.
  2. Remember that your battle is NOT against flesh and blood. If you’re in a battle, there’s something spiritual going on.
  3. Look for all the ways God wants to equip you for the spiritual war we’re fighting.
  4. Go to Jamaica with your spouse.
  5. Share your crazy. Somebody out there (like me) needs to know they’re not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

Being Saved…

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I am a Christian. I believe that I am saved and that after this life I will live eternally in Heaven. I keep finding myself in discussions about what “salvation” means and this morning I woke up with this post circling around in my head.

I’ll be honest. I’ve had more than one existential crisis in my life. The most recent was only seven or eight years ago. We were in a church with unhealthy leadership, I was grieving the many losses in a very short period of time, my husband was under federal investigation for something he did not do, and I was dealing with the reality of parenting a very broken and destructive little girl that I had been certain God wanted us to adopt. I was angry with God. I was disappointed. I was scared. I had no hope. And I began to question everything I had ever believed about my faith. If you’re in the middle of your own existential crisis, let me offer you some hope. You’re in the right place!

When I found myself at the lowest, scariest, most desperate time of my life, I made a conscious decision to start seeking truth from the Bible instead of looking for answers from books or sermons. I spent some time cutting out the middle-man. I won’t lie and tell you that it was easy. I had to come to the realization that much of what I’d come to not only believe, but practice and cheer for, simply wasn’t found anywhere in God’s Word. Probably my biggest revelation was concerning exactly what it means to “be saved”.

Romans 3:10 And the Scriptures agree, for it is written:

There is no one who always does what is right, no, not even one!

Romans 3:23 for we all have sinned and are in need of the glory of God.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Salvation is a gift that cannot be earned. We are ALL sinners and deserve death, but God offers eternal life. But what if you’re a good person? We are ALL sinners.

James 4:17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.

Yeah. Did you eat well and care for you body today? Did you help the old lady at the grocery store that was struggling to load things in her car? Did you let the Mom in her minivan with three carseats have that perfect parking space you’d been waiting for? When your spouse said something that offended you did you respond with love and grace? Sin is sin is sin. It doesn’t matter if you committed adultery last night, or if you gossiped about your neighbor, or failed to pick up the phone and call your depressed friend when they crossed your mind. You’re a sinner.

But what if I’m a REALLY GOOD person?

Ephesians 2:8-9 For it was only through this wonderful grace that we believed in him. Nothing we did could ever earn this salvation, for it was the gracious gift from God that brought us to Christ! So no one will ever be able to boast, for salvation is never a reward for good works or human striving.

There is nothing you can do to earn salvation, except to choose it.

John 3:16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Dear friends, let me give you clearly the heart of the gospel that I’ve preached to you—the good news that you have heartily received and on which you stand. For it is through the revelation of the gospel that you are being saved, if you fasten your life firmly to the message I’ve taught you, unless you have believed in vain. For I have shared with you what I have received and what is of utmost importance:

The Messiah died for our sins,
    fulfilling the prophecies of the Scriptures.
He was buried in a tomb
    and was raised from the dead after three days,
    as foretold in the Scriptures.

 

To be saved means to wholeheartedly believe that John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 are true.

This is where what I believed about salvation got a little messy. Chances are good that if you’ve been in any church in America (and many other countries), at the end of a service you’ve heard someone ask those in attendance to pray a prayer if they wanted to be saved and then raise their hand if they’d “prayed that prayer”. While hands are raised the person who has led the prayer most likely counted.

Romans 10:9-10 If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.

My guess is that the “sinner’s prayer” (as the prayer is often referred to) is derived from the requirement of “openly declaring”. But guess what? There is no “sinner’s prayer” in scripture. I struggle with a visceral response to anyone that measures the success of a church on the number of people who “prayed that prayer” on a Sunday morning.

If you’re struggling with believing that you ARE saved, let me offer you some freedom. If you believe and you openly tell others that you believe, you ARE saved. It’s really that simple.

But it’s not simple.

Once you believe, you have responsibilities.

1 Peter 2:1-3 So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

2 Timothy 2:22-26 Run as fast as you can from all the ambitions and lusts of youth; and chase after all that is pure. Whatever builds up your faith and deepens your love must become your holy pursuit. And live in peace with all those who worship our Lord Jesus with pure hearts. Stay away from all the foolish arguments of the immature, for these disputes will only generate more conflict. For a true servant of our Lord Jesus will not be argumentative but gentle toward all and skilled in helping others see the truth, having great patience toward the immature. Then with meekness you’ll be able to carefully enlighten those who argue with you so they can see God’s gracious gift of repentance and be brought to the truth. This will cause them to rediscover themselves and escape from the snare of Satan who caught them in his trap so that they would carry out his purposes.

Matthew 16:24-26 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.  And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”

If you read those three passages and thought, “Holy crap!” How on earth will I ever perfect being a Christian?” Well, you won’t. If we could perfect it, we wouldn’t need a savior. But we DO need a savior. And I’ll let you in on something…

2 Corinthians 5:14-17 Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! THIS MEANS THAT ANYONE WHO BELONGS TO CHRIST IS A NEW PERSON. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

When you wholeheartedly believe, you are changed. I once heard a sermon on salvation where the pastor posted a picture similar to this… screen shot 2019-01-04 at 9.47.12 pm

It is a great representation of what it feels like to believe and know Jesus. Sin is not the only thing we need to be rescued from. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t felt like they were drowning in some bad situation, or emotions, or illness, or addiction, or pain; at some point in time. Salvation is God reaching down and pulling you out of that thing you are drowning in, or at least holding your hand so that the thing doesn’t kill you. It’s a new and changed way of living.

Christianity offers so much more than eternal life. It makes it possible to endure human life.

It offers grace…

1 John 1:9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

It offers healing in relationships.

James 5:16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

It offers hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a HOPE.

It offers physical healing, and emotional healing, and freedom from all things that hold us in bondage, and peace, and favor, and all the good things we can never seem to find through our own efforts.

If you’ve read this far… wow! I’m impressed.

If you’ve read this far and want to share with someone that you believe, feel free to contact me. I filter my comments so you can leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

If you’re going through your own existential crisis, or you’re drowning in church wounds, or you prayed a prayer and raised your hand and nothing changed in your life, or this is all completely new information to you… I’d be happy to answer your questions, but I’m NOT the authority on Christianity. If you reach out to me I’d be happy to pray for you, but the very best thing you can do in any of the above situations is to READ THE BIBLE! If you don’t own a physical Bible I highly recommend that you get one (I’m a big fan of the NLT and ESV translations). If you don’t own a physical Bible and you’re not interested in getting one, you can download the YouVersion app on your phone or you can read it online at Bible Gateway.

Philippians 1:6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

 

 

 

Grace

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Almost every year I claim a word for the year. Some years I choose a word that I desperately need or want to be the underlying theme for the new year and some years the word finds me. For 2019, the latter happened. Back in October I started hearing and seeing the word “grace” EVERYWHERE. By the end of November I was actually praying for God to give me a different word because, well, the thought of giving grace in every situation for an entire year kind of scares the crap out of me.

Several years ago I did one of those spiritual gifts inventory tests and guess what I learned… I have NO mercy gift. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE forgiveness. Heck, I’ve written and taught about the subject. I forgive quickly and let go of things quickly. I forgive because I’ve been forgiven and because I know that unforgiveness is toxic. But… forgiveness and grace and mercy are not the same.

The choice to forgive is simply the act of letting go. It doesn’t mean that you grant favor or honor. It just means that you let go of an offense. Forgiveness can often look more like being paroled for a crime. With forgiveness there are often still expected consequences and the person you’re forgiving often still carries the label of whatever they’ve done to offend you.

But grace… sweet, amazing grace… it’s a pardon. No labels to wear. Unmerited favor. Honor granted. Freedom.

grace – noun

Theology .

  1. the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God.
  2. the influence or spirit of God operating in humans to regenerate or strengthen them.
  3. virtue or excellence of divine origin:

So… why does the word scare me? Because I know that having it as the underlying theme for the coming year means that I’m going to have to give and receive it. It means that I’m going to have to approach every situation I face this coming year with the same favor and love that God has given me. And I’m human. Giving the kind of love and favor that God has given (and continues to give) me isn’t so easy.

2 Corinthians 12:9TPT  But he answered me, “My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.” So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me.”

Here’s to a year of grace… God, please help me not to need it or need to give it too much.

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So much more than I ever imagined…

“Never doubt God’s mighty power to work in you and accomplish all this. He will achieve infinitely more than your greatest request, your most unbelievable dream, and exceed your wildest imagination! He will outdo them all, for his miraculous power constantly energizes you.”

‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭3:20‬ ‭TPT‬‬

Fourteen years ago a developmental pediatrician confirmed what I already knew to be true. My baby boy had autism. He then looked me in the eyes as he said, ”You need to accept that he may never speak, be toilet trained, or be able to participate in a mainstream classroom.

I took this picture tonight after shedding many tears watching him be the star of the show.

I recorded the entire play, but here’s the final act…

I have a couple of big things that I’m believing God for right now. My guess is that anyone reading this has some unanswered prayers of your own.

Guess what? Our God can do SO MUCH MORE than you can even imagine.

Minding the Gap

mind the gap

mind

verb (used with object)

  1. to pay attention to
  2. to apply oneself or attend to
  3. to look after; take care of; tend
  4. to feel concern at; care about.

gap

noun
  1. break or opening, as in a fence, wall, or military line; breach
  2. an empty space or interval; interruption in continuity; hiatus
  3. wide divergence or difference; disparity

A few weeks ago I was searching for a deal on flights to Serbia and the best fares all required at least one lengthy layover. One option was an eight-hour layover in London. I have a dear friend in England that has gotten married and become a father since the last time I saw him so I checked to see how much it would be to stay overnight. When I found that it was $400 cheaper, I sent him a text to see if they’d be in town, booked the flight, and began packing. My overnight stay with his precious family turned out to be a great decision. Besides falling in love with his sweet wife and the best-natured baby boy I’ve met, I realized exactly what I was traveling to Serbia for.

I had two hours of train (or “tube”) rides to get from Gatwick Airport to where they live in Essex and along my journey I quickly noticed that before each stop there was a recording warning those departing to “Mind the gap.” When I exited each train I turned and found signs on each car and tiles on the ground spelling out the same warning. I’ve done a little research on why the warning is given. The phrase was coined in 1968 to remind passengers to pay attention to the space between the train and the platform. Some of the platforms are curved and the train cars are straight. So, in some places the space between the platform and the train is quite wide and creates a hazard for passengers if they aren’t “minding the gap”.

After my quick visit with the Brits and a brief layover in Poland on the 100th anniversary of their freedom, I arrived in Serbia to be greeted by my brother Samuil. Samuil and I are cut from the same cloth. We are both gifted networkers, love Jesus, and we both attempt to squeeze every minute of purpose out of every day. So I knew from the moment I climbed in his car at Tesla Airport that the days that followed would be filled with adventure.

Twelve hours of sleeping off my jet lag led to me awaking on Monday morning ready to do whatever God had planned for me. As I prepared for the day I pulled the hoodie pictured above out of my luggage. I walked past it at Heathrow just before boarding my plane to Warsaw and impulsively went back to purchase it. As I lifted it from my luggage the words stuck in my head. They would replay in my mind throughout each day that I spent in Serbia. “Mind the gap, Kaci.”

On Tuesday my friend Pam and I spent the day with government officials, social workers, and several foster parents. The day began with an unexpected newspaper interview (If you paste the link into Google translate it will translate the entire article) in the same paper that has covered parts of our story in the past. We were there to discuss the way foster care and orphan care are done in the US and ways to better prepare orphans for independent living. The day was humbling and enlightening. The truth is that we fail in SO MANY ways to care for orphans in America and we aren’t doing any better than Serbia is when it comes to preparing the next generation for independent living. I quickly realized that everyone in the room had things to learn from one another. The day turned into more of a think tank on ways to “mind the gap”.

Tuesday night we had dinner at a transition house in Belgrade. Pam asked the youth living there if they could have dinner with anyone in the world, alive or dead, who would it be. One girl said that she would want to have dinner with the Aleksander Vucic, the Serbian President. She happened to be sitting right next to me and spoke English so I turned and asked her what she would ask him. Her response, “Does he care about the youth of Serbia and if he does what is he doing to keep us here?” This precious nineteen year old girl, that is stuck between a very hard childhood (her platform) and living out her potential is desperately looking for someone with power to “mind the gap”.

Wednesday we taught foster parents, social workers, and leaders of several NGOs on trauma informed care and fundraising. At the end of our teaching we had a Q&A time and once again it turned into a think tank on ways to “mind the gap”.

Wednesday night I had a drink with a friend that is a Colonel in the Serbian Army. On our walk back to where I was staying we briefly discussed his experiences with war. I quickly realized that little is done to care for veterans in a nation where military members have experienced more combat than this military wife can fathom. Noone is “minding the gap”.

On Thursday I climbed in the EUS (Samuil’s organization-Evangelical Student Organization) van and drove to Novi Sad for a conference on human trafficking that was organized by my friend Marco. The conference was amazing! SOO many people showed up to learn and lend their voices and I could not be prouder of what has been done in Serbia to “mind the gap” for victims of trafficking since my last visit in 2011.

Friday morning I overslept and awoke to my friend Mila at the door (with breakfast-because she’s a hero). She made me coffee while I threw my clothes and face on and after a much-too-short catch up on all that she has been doing to “mind the gap” by opening a crisis pregnancy center and helping women who’ve experienced abortion find healing; my friends Bojan, Rachel, and Marijana arrived to drive me to meet Sofija’s biological brothers.

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Y’all, my time with these men who share my daughter’s blood was priceless. They were kind, welcoming, and honest. They are good men (both in their thirties), and they want to know Sofija. Their Mother’s story is one for another day and there are two more siblings I have yet to meet, but sitting in their home and seeing my daughter’s eyes, and smile, and ears, and hands was one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given. I also met Sofija’s sister-in-law and niece (both incredibly beautiful). These people are Sofija’s family which makes them OUR family.

Friday afternoon was spent shopping with my friend Tatjana that started the transition homes that brought me back to Serbia and then attending Samuil’s birthday celebration. On Saturday I flew home.

I missed church on my first Sunday home because.. jet lag. And I missed this last Sunday because our family caught a nasty cold over Thanksgivin. While sniffling and fighting a fever I sat and watched a sermon via Facebook live from the International Christian Fellowship in Belgrade. It was their tenth anniversary and it only seemed appropriate that I watch the ten-year celebratory service of the community of believers that gave me all of the friends I was able to connect with on my trip. Jonathon Lamb was the guest speaker for the service. He is an author and minister from Oxford, UK.

In the middle of his message, Jonathon quoted 1 John 2:6 “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” It is one of my favorite life verses. In fact, I believe that all of 1 John 2 is one of the most powerful passages in the Bible and I highly encourage you to click the link, read it, write it down, read it some more, and make it your daily challenge. Trust me! Trying to live it out WILL be a challenge. But if each of us who calls ourselves “Christian” would actually make it a daily challenge to live our lives as Jesus did, we would never have to question whether or not we’re “paying attention”, “applying ourselves”, “taking care of”, or “feeling concern for”; the “breaks or openings”, “empty spaces and interruptions in continuity”, or “wide divergence or disparities” of this world.

Mind the gap.

 

Adoption = Loss and Gain

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Beautiful Novi Sad showing off her fall colors for me.

I have been asked often in the last nine years, “Why Serbia?” Sometimes people are just curious and sometimes the question is asked with judgment and usually followed up with, “But there are so many kids in America who need families.” My reply is almost always, “God.” That response is the truth. God chose our family for a little girl who happened to be born in a nation more than 5,000 miles away from America. When we learned about her we weren’t even looking to adopt and we didn’t know where she lived. And when we did find out that she lived in Serbia we had to look on a globe to see where exactly Serbia is. But, in all honesty, there was a reason we never even discussed adopting domestically in the many discussions we had about adoption in all the years before we found her. I knew too many people who adopted domestically that had messy situations with their child’s biological family. I did not want “messy”. I always thought that IF we adopted I wanted it to be with no strings attached. If only it worked like that…

April 2010, at Sofija’s adoption ceremony, a social worker handed me a genogram of her family. I was stunned and had no clue how to process all of the information on that piece of paper. I had the names, birthdates, and last known location of her three brothers, her sister, their fathers, all six of her aunts and uncles, and her grandparents. I tucked the paper away in our dossier folder and waited a long time to pull it out. As the months passed after bringing her home I quickly learned that the information I was given was a rarity. I don’t know any other Serbian adoptive family that has received so many details about their child’s biological family.

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One day I was sitting on the floor with my baby girl and playing with her cute toes (yes, she painted them herself in that picture) and all I could think was, “I wonder if they look like her first Mom’s?” And then I started wondering if her brothers and sister were tall and athletic like her. So… I pulled out that piece of paper and opened my laptop and began searching Facebook. Within minutes I was fairly certain I had found her siblings. For the next two years I would just randomly stalk their profiles and look through their photos for some connection. Someday I should probably thank them for not having all of their photos and information private. 😉

During one of my photo stalking escapades, I came across a picture of her oldest brother with his feet propped up. They looked EXACTLY like Sofija’s. I laughed and then I cried and then before I could think it through I typed out a few sentences that had been running through my head for a while. I sent them in a message, and then copied and pasted them into messages to the other three siblings. And then…. crickets. For THREE YEARS. I stopped stalking and let it go. I didn’t want “messy” and I wanted to respect their rights to not be in contact.

And then, in July of 2015, I woke one Sunday morning to messages from all of them. One of them had found my message in his “other messages” folder, contacted his siblings, and they all had a million questions. They did not know she existed, much less that she had been adopted and was living in another country. I soon received friend requests from aunts and cousins spread out all over Europe.

For the last three years we have been in contact and tomorrow I will meet her oldest brother and his wife and baby. Tonight, I am a bit emotional and if you’re reading this you are welcome to start praying that I am able to contain my emotions so we can make the most of the time we have together.

I will not lie, I went through our entire adoption process with completely selfish intentions. I wanted this little girl that I knew was supposed to be my daughter to be mine alone. I did not want any other family in the world to have any claim to her. But that’s not how it works.

My daughter lost everything when we adopted her. No matter how badly I wanted to believe that she gained the world by becoming a part of our family the truth is that she lost every single thing she ever knew and was taken away by complete strangers. The truth is that when she was left at the hospital after birth and then transferred to an orphanage at ten days old, she lost a mother, father, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and dozens of extended family members.

But…the minute I opened that first message and a connection was made, I gained family. Sofija may have my blood type and my eye color, but she shares their blood. For several weeks the chalkboard in my house said, “You will never look someone in the eyes that God does not love.” I put it there in an attempt to break the political tensions in our house and remind each of us that political views do not define a person. Only God gets to do that. We are all His creations. We are all family. But God’s creations that I get to meet tomorrow have blood running through their veins that ties them to the little girl that calls me, “Mama”. And that’s kind of a big deal.

 

 

Lessons from a Squirrel & FINALLY back in Serbia

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After a lifetime of lessons being learned through Old Testament like experiences, I have found that asking God to show me what I need to know through simple observations is MUCH LESS painful and exhausting. And because He is truly good and kind, He has obliged my request.

See that squirrel up there running along my porch rail? Throughout September and October I watched that squirrel, day and night, busily working to build and fill her nest. She would pull twigs and dates from the trees on one side of my porch, run to her nest in a tree on the other side of the porch, deposit her findings, and run back to collect more. For a week or so I sat and watched her thinking that she had lost her mind. You see… we live in south Florida. While the temperatures may drop a little in the winter, there is still rarely a day that isn’t warm enough for shorts and flip-flops. The palm dates that the squirrel was gathering will continue to be produced throughout the coming months. Nevertheless, she diligently did what she was created to do.

After I realized that the environment the squirrel happens to live in had no impact on her motivation to fulfill her purpose, I became fascinated with her. I spent weeks sitting on my porch watching her work. She would sometimes pause to look at me, but would never stop for more than a few seconds and she always continued on with what she was doing. And then Hurricane Michael formed in the Gulf of Mexico. As the weather deteriorated on October 9th and 10th, I watched her through my kitchen window. She would brace herself on the porch rail during the gusts of wind, but as soon as the wind slowed, she was back to work. And when the winds grew steadily strong, she climbed in her nest and waited for the storm to pass. The morning after the storm I went to check on her. Her little nest was badly damaged, but by the end of the day she had made great progress in rebuilding it. She just continued diligently doing what she was created to do.

Which led me to here and now.

Remember my post back in June about the transition houses in Serbia? Well, when I first learned about them in April of 2017 I connected the founder Tatjana with my internet friend Pam that founded Connections Homes in Atlanta. Because God’s networking is a little mind-boggling, He sent someone from Orphan’s Promise to visit the house in Belgrade and that someone contacted Pam and asked her to visit and long story short, we are both in Belgrade this week. Today we met with government officials, social workers, and foster parents. We discussed how to care for children who age out of orphan care and how to best prepare them for independence. We also did a news interview. Tomorrow we will be training on trauma-informed care, fundraising, and how to recruit families to become mentoring families for life to those who age out.

HOP House dinnerBut tonight… we were invited to one of the transition houses for dinner. The young people prepared a beautiful meal for us and spent some time allowing us to get to know them. Y’all, they’re amazing! And filled to the brim with potential. But also… the needs to support them as HOP is preparing them to live independently are huge.

I am brainstorming ways to best support them and asking YOU to please pray! Pray for wisdom and God-given guidance tomorrow in every word that we speak. Pray for no time wasted in pursuing the wrong avenues of support. Pray for the young people and those who are working with them as they navigate the process of becoming independent adults in a society where there is little hope for dreams coming true. And also pray for Tatjana. Just before I boarded my plane last Friday I received a message that her Father had died unexpectedly. Her plate is full and her heart is heavy.

This is who you’re praying for… HOP2

Thank you for being on THEIR team and for being the team of people who remind me to diligently do what I was made for!

I can’t wait to share more…