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.

03WIW7qLSNiRPtF%ZBs96A

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

novi sad
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.

20643406_10214066693360399_7330880036108809600_o

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.

 

 

URGENT NEED!

When we adopted Sofija in 2010 , our eyes were opened to many needs in Serbia. One of those needs was the lack of life skills children had as they transitioned from orphan care to independent living. Those who spend their life in an orphanage enter adulthood with very few independent living skills. And… There are A LOT of orphans entering adulthood without finding a family.

The need for transitional care weighed heavy on me, but after a few inquiries it was made clear that Serbia isn’t a fan of privatized care of their citizens being done by outsiders. Eight years have passed and Serbia is  now a member of the Hague Convention. Joining the Hague Convention greatly improved orphan care, legalized and legitimized the adoption process, and provided an extra layer of protection between orphans and traffickers.  Even so, for the last eight years, what happens to all of those who “age out” has continued to weigh heavy on me.

Fast forward to the spring of 2017…

I had lunch in Orlando with several coordinators of Operation Christmas Child distributions throughout Serbia. I took some time getting to know everyone around the table and saved the lady to my immediate right for last. Her name is Tatjana (Tanya). When I asked her what she does she replied with, “Well, I have to tell you the back story before I tell you what I do.” I responded by bringing my hand to my chest and smiling as I said, “Oh, we’re going to be friends!”

Tanja then told me that she has four biological children and that she and her husband decided a few years ago to foster a child who was about to age out. They then learned just how many children were getting ready to age out and they desperately wanted to help more than one. Because there is a limit of five children in the home for foster families, they decided to open a transition house. From their desire to love big, HOP (pronounced “hope”) House was born. It stands for House of Opportunity. 

Before Tanja had finished telling me the story, I knew I had to partner with her. I’ve learned SO MUCH about the odds against a child who ages out and has no transitional care. It’s U.G.L.Y. We’re talking about real, precious humans who are filled with nothing but potential that mostly just disappear. Their lives are lost to suicide, drugs, trafficking… Being accepted into one of the houses is literally the difference between life and death. The kids at the HOP Houses are going to school. They are working. They are learning to cook, and budget, and care for a home, and play instruments, and make crafts and candles that they sell at various venues in an attempt to support themselves. More importantly, they are learning what it means to be safe, live in a family setting, and to be loved unconditionally. They’re not just finding hope. They’re experiencing Jesus.HOP Houses are in urgent need of support! The houses currently have enough funding to carry them through July and they will close in August without an influx of money. Below you can see the exact cost of keeping the houses operating and what their current needs are. If you would like to help, you can contact Tanja or myself and we’d be happy to tell you how to get money to them. 

I hardly know a person who hasn’t been outraged by some aspect of the situation with families being separated at the US/Mexico border. I’ve seen countless people on social media ask how they can help. Here ya go… If you want to make a difference in the lives of children who’ve been orphaned or separated from their families, this is a great opportunity.

i met a girl

Eight years ago today, after sitting through a meeting at Serbia’s Ministry of Social Welfare and listening to the heart-wrenching story of our daughter’s first five years of ife, our family drove to the little village of Velika Plana and met the girl who was about to rock our world. 

I’ve been studying Gideon and I keep marveling at the similarities between Gideon’s battle story and the story we’ve lived over the last eight years as we’ve fought for our girl’s freedom and health. Dear Hubby and I are social creatures. According to Myers & Briggs we’re both about as extroverted as humans can be. Before Sofija Bea Brave joined our family our social circle was big. Like REALLY big. We were involved in ALL THE THINGS. We hosted dinner parties and small groups every single week and when we didn’t have a crowd at our house, we were out and about surrounded by people. What we considered our “army”, was HUGE.

Judges 7:2-3MSG God said to Gideon, “You have too large an army with you. I can’t turn Midian over to them like this—they’ll take all the credit, saying, ‘I did it all myself,’ and forget about me. Make a public announcement: ‘Anyone afraid, anyone who has any qualms at all, may leave Mount Gilead now and go home.’” Twenty-two thousand soldiers headed for home. Ten thousand were left.

One of the hardest realities to face after bringing our baby girl home was that our people were quickly disappearing. Our army was shrinking. It scared me and it hurt. It REALLY hurt. But God had called us to win a war. He knew who we needed on our team and He knew how easily it would have been for pride to take over and convince us after every small victory that “I did it all myself.”

And then, a year and a half into being a family of six, Dear Hubby’s investigation began.  The fire got REALLY hot and our army shrunk again.

Judges 7:4-6MSG God said to Gideon: “There are still too many. Take them down to the stream and I’ll make a final cut. When I say, ‘This one goes with you,’ he’ll go. When I say, ‘This one doesn’t go,’ he won’t go.” So Gideon took the troops down to the stream. God said to Gideon: “Everyone who laps with his tongue, the way a dog laps, set on one side. And everyone who kneels to drink, drinking with his face to the water, set to the other side.” Three hundred lapped with their tongues from their cupped hands. All the rest knelt to drink. God said to Gideon: “I’ll use the three hundred men who lapped at the stream to save you and give Midian into your hands. All the rest may go home.”

I always thought that it was weird that God told Gideon to keep the ones who cupped the water in their hands to drink it. But let me tell you something. As our army shrank from huge numbers to a handful, I learned very quickly to appreciate those people who not only took things into their own hands but who held God’s Word in their hands and drank from it themselves. Let me tell you something else. When you’re fighting for your family and the lives of those you love, you do NOT want people advising you that aren’t passing along advice that they receive directly from God. I appreciate a good sermon as much as anyone else, but when it comes down to matters of life or death, I don’t want to hear the words, “I heard this great sermon the other day and thought of you.” Nope. I want to hear, “I was on my knees the other day and God said…” or “I was reading the Bible this morning and God showed me something for you.”  When it comes to survival and winning the war, I’ll take an army like Gideon’s victorious three hundred over the thirty-two thousand of distracted, misdirected, and fearful soldiers he had in the beginning of the story, any day.

I won’t lie. The girl I met eight years ago scared me. The thought of parenting her seemed like the most daunting task I’d ever faced. It has proven to be just that. More days than not I have had moments when I cry out to God that I just can’t do it any more. And then, He reminds me that He NEVER said that He would not give us more than we can handle. What He will do is ALWAYS be there where we meet the end of ourselves. Gideon faced an Army of at least one hundred and thirty-five thousand Midianites with only the three hundred warriors God left Him with. God made it very clear that the Midianites could not be defeated through the strength of Gideon and his army. But where their strength ended, God got to show off.

Over and over and over again, in these last eight years, God has had opportunities to show off. Piece by piece my girl is being healed. In the process, God is replacing each of my own broken and weak pieces with huge chunks of His strength. My daily prayer and anthem have become… Less of me. More of Him. That’s how wars are won.

The feral five-year old we met in April of 2010 has turned into a mostly domesticated thirteen-year old princess. She holds my heart and has her Tata wrapped around her little finger. Although there have been many times when I’ve wondered what the hell I got myself into, I can’t imagine my life without her.

Eight years ago I met a girl. She rocked my world. 

 

Mission: Safe Sofija (adoption is a horse)

I started a post more than a year ago titled “Cutting the Horn off the Unicorn”.  That post turned into a personal vent session so I decided not to share it. This post is its replacement. I’m about to cut the horn off a unicorn…

Adoption is hard.

REALLY hard.

In order for one Mother to adopt a child, another Mother must lose a child. In order for an adopted child to attach to her/his adoptive family, that child must let go of their biological family. Adoption ALWAYS involves a lifetime war of nature vs. nurture. Sometimes nurture wins. Sometimes it doesn’t.

When you choose to have a child with someone, you usually take into account what that person will contribute to your child. Will they make pretty babies? Do they come from a long line of smart people? Do compassion and entrepreneurship run in their family? Are they athletic?

or…

Will your children be ugly, clumsy, dumb, lazy, and cold-hearted? Do heart disease, diabetes, and cancer run in both of your families? Does your potential Baby’s Daddy have a physical or learning disability?

At the end of the account taking you usually end up saying, “Hey, he meets half my desires for a Baby Daddy and I love him so let’s get busy.”

Adoption works nothing like the above scenario.

Before I go any further I want to say that I LOVE ADOPTION! I don’t want this post to leave anyone believing otherwise.

But I’m sick and tired of reading all the blogs and news articles that paint adoption as nothing but rainbows and unicorns.

In biological parenting you weigh all the knowns, and you accept the risks. In adoption you weigh all the UNknowns, and you accept the risks. I’m a risk-taker. I was made for adoption. And still… adoption has broken me, taken me to the end of myself, and shown me day after day that the only way through this life is 100% dependence on God.

Yesterday, January 10, 2015, I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a parent. My husband and I admitted our nine-year old daughter to the psychiatric unit at Children’s National Medical Center. I have prayed for wisdom in sharing details leading up to this decision while protecting our daughter. The decision to admit her was ultimately made because we no longer felt that we were keeping her safe at home. She will be hospitalized anywhere from one to three weeks and in that time we will meet several times with a team of doctors and develop a plan for keeping her safe at home from this point forward.

When we began the process of adopting Sofija we knew that she had autism. We were told little else about her or her biological family and everything we WERE told was untrue. When we arrived in Serbia and met her and heard the truth of her history and experienced exactly what we were getting ourselves into, I wanted to walk away. Judge me. Think badly of me. I really don’t care. I wanted to walk away. No matter what your thoughts are, I encourage you to click that last link and read the post I wrote in Serbia while God was working on my heart. As hard as it was to move forward and as hard as every day has been for the last 57 months, we were walking in God’s will. And there’s really no place I’d rather be.

The things I feel comfortable sharing about the last few months are:

-Sofija has repeatedly run away and has spent every second of every day trying to find a way out of the house so she can get to 7eleven.

-She has hurt herself. Repeatedly, and in horrible ways.

-She has hurt us. Repeatedly, and in horrible ways.

-She refuses to stay in her seat in a car and she frequently attacks (jumps on, slaps, throws objects at, pulls hair) everyone in the car, to include the driver.

-She has hurt other students at school and on her bus.

Last, but certainly not least, she has stopped sleeping. She didn’t fall asleep AT ALL between January 2nd and January 6th and since the 6th she has slept no more than 2-4 hours per night. When she wakes up she tries to get out of the house which means that we don’t sleep. The only rest Chad and I have had for the last couple of months has been when she’s at school. We’re not living. We’re surviving. We try to keep her and us safe when she’s home and we sleep while she’s at school. That’s our life. Our life is exhausting. We are spent.

Adoption is hard.

Really hard.

But… James 1:27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means CARING FOR ORPHANS and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

Does that mean every person who calls themselves a “Christian” needs to adopt? Absolutely, positively, NO. But it does mean that The Church has a responsibility to care for orphans. What does that look like? For me, today, it means sitting in a room that looks like a prison cell (with a sweet view of The Capital and the Washington Monument) with my daughter and believing that her (and our) quality of life will be a thousand times better when she is released. It means that I get to spend the rest of my life fighting the nature vs. nurture war with high hopes that nurture will win.

What does “caring for orphans” look like for you? Well, it’s honestly a question that you have to answer for yourself. I can tell you that our family is not the only adoptive family hurting. Maybe not to the same degree as us, but there are adoptive families all over the place just trying to survive.

-LOVE THEM! We’re lonely! We’re tired! We need YOU!! For quite some time we have basically been shut-ins. Because Sofija hates leaving home and her favorite way of taking control in the car is to jump on the person driving, leaving our house as a family has literally required risking our lives. She’s almost 5’1″, weighs 87lbs, runs like a cheetah, and she’s strong as an ox. We NEED people to come to us.

-Stop judging us!!! We need love and grace and compassion and there just isn’t any room in our lives for judgment. And while I’m on the subject: Adoptive Moms, please stop judging other adoptive Moms. Some families choose disruption and if that is what they choose, respect that choice. I can absolutely guarantee you that the decision to disrupt is not made with any less thought than the decision to adopt. We’re all just trying to survive and care for orphans and sometimes caring for an orphan means allowing that child to become part of a new family.

-We also need people to love on our other children. They’re lonely too. They’ve made HUGE sacrifices in order for us to add a child to our family and (in our case) they have been traumatized by the addition to the family. They need some peace and normalcy and they just don’t get it at home.

-Find an adoptive family in your church and get to know them. Go to their home and try not to be freaked out by the chaos. Our church does an AMAZING job of loving on us! We have a small group of people from our church that meet at our house weekly so that we have a chance to love on others.

-Don’t be afraid to go to the homes of people with adopted children. You just might be blessed! We’ve learned more about grace, faith, hope and provision, than most people will in a lifetime. Ask us questions. Most of us miss face-to-face conversations.

-If you can financially support adoption, contribute to someone who’s in the process. Adoption is expensive (average cost is $30k-$60k) and just because someone is a risk taker with the strength and grace to parent a child from a hard place doesn’t mean that person has the financial resources to bring home a child that needs a family.

-Offer to babysit. You might get slapped or have your hair pulled or have things thrown at you; but you also just might save a marriage that’s been pushed to its limits. Did you read that? Getting uncomfortable for a few hours may just save a marriage. And a saved marriage means less trauma and loss for a child who’s lost more than anyone ever should.

-Most importantly: PRAY! Pray for our family and when you’re done, pray for other adoptive families. God answers prayers. God heals. God provides. Get on your knees or in your shower or pause before climbing out of bed and PRAY!

In adoption there are indeed rainbows; those bright, beautiful, colorful moments that fill you with hope and promise and paint a smile on your face. But like real rainbows, they fade away too soon and leave you expectantly searching for the next one to appear.

Although the rainbow moments exists, there are no unicorns. Adoption is not magical and mythical. It is hard. Really hard. But you know what? When you cut the horn off a unicorn you still have a beautiful, strong, stubborn, magnificent being. Adoption is a horse. And I like horses.

Believing that our hospital snuggles quickly become SAFE at-home snuggles. 10653833_10205720021978831_9099978568237184432_n

 

 

another April 30th in the books…

April 30, 2010 – God (and a friend on Capitol Hill) worked a miracle and got our family out of Serbia. https://bringinganahome.wordpress.com/2010/05/01/angels/

April 30, 2011 – God displayed his sense of humor by sending me back to Serbia on the exact date I begged Him to get me out of there the year before. https://bringinganahome.wordpress.com/2011/06/08/one-year-journey/

April 30, 2012 – I spent my day longing for Serbia.  After many hours of melancholy, I walked into a shoe store with my oldest two children and overheard a conversation that made me as warm inside as the smell of pot roast on a Sunday afternoon.  The words floating around seemed to pass between a Serbian mother and her young child.  I hid behind a tall shoe display and soaked the music in for a while before approaching the mother/daughter duo.  They were indeed from Serbia.  And… they were ending their year-long stay in my area and planned to return to Belgrade only a few days after our encounter.  I thanked them for giving my a little taste of the place I longed to be and then I thanked God for putting them in that store at the exact moment that I needed them to be there.  He’s just good like that.

April 30, 2013 – After Bible study with ladies in my neighborhood and Seth’s IEP (his team still rocks!), I walked in the door just in time to receive a phone call from Sofija’s principal saying that she was being suspended… For the second time in just a few short months.  The teacher she kicked in the temple last time, was kicked in the jaw today.  Happy. Happy. Joy. Joy.  There’s my Serbia for the day.  But I’m not going to focus on it.  Sofija is going to be okay.  We’re all going to be okay.  God promised it.  Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.  And besides… I’m leaving tomorrow for Summit9!!

If you’re praying for our family.  Well, Chad probably needs the most knee-time.  He’s alone with the kids for the next few days and he’s going to have LOTS of Tata/Sofija time.  For me, please pray that I give and receive all that God intends for me to give and receive during the conference.

Hooray for May!

what does favor look like?

Psalm 90:17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands; yes, establish the work of our hands!

The dictionary defines favor as:

-a gift bestowed as a token of goodwill, kind regard, love, etc., as formerly upon a knight by his lady.
excessive kindness or unfair partiality; preferential treatment
Disclaimer: This post is NOT about autism.
We’re almost to the end of Autism Awareness/Acceptance Month and I have yet to write a single post about autism.  Yes, I do have two children on the autism spectrum.  And yes, I do have a passion for the world to be more aware/accepting of the stimmers amongst us.  Truth is: my life has changed and my character has been refined in more ways that I could possibly put in writing, just because two precious stimmers call me, “Mama”.
When Seth was diagnosed with autism I struggled with all the typical feelings a Mom experiences when coming to terms with the fact that her child’s future might not look exactly like what she’s envisioned.  Grief, guilt, anger, fear, and eventually acceptance.  That last one being key to all that was to come…
Between 2004 and 2009 our family learned to embrace autism.  Sometimes we embraced it gently and lovingly.  And sometimes we squeezed the crap out of it like we were juicing an orange, just hoping that something sweet and palatable was coming next.  Somewhere along that journey, autism became ours.  Like a birthmark, or quick wit, or chocolatey brown eyes, autism is just another descriptor of our family.  It is not a handicap or limitation or anything exceptional.  It just is.
I believe that our acceptance that autism “just is” prepared us for the day we were called to adopt Sofija.  September 13, 2009 we were driving home from church and Steven Curtis Chapman was on the radio.  There was a rare moment of silence in our car as we listened to SCC describe his family’s call to adopt terminally ill children.  I began to weep and told my husband that I don’t think I could ever do that.  Silent pause. He replied, “No, but we could adopt a child with autism.”  Four days later we learned that our daughter (who just happens to have autism) was waiting for us in a place called Serbia that we actually had to find a world map.
Following that one little tug at our hearts to add a little girl to our family through adoption has led me down a path that I never could have scripted or predicted.  That one not so simple act of obedience exposed me to favor.  That favor is a like a drug.  There is absolutely no greater satisfaction than walking in the favor of God.
That verse and definition at the beginning of this post is my heart’s cry.  I want to see every single thing that I put my hands to as a privilege.  I don’t know about you, but I enjoy preferential treatment.  I like having doors opened for me and I love it when someone else picks up the check.  I’m sharing this because I haven’t taken the time to document what favor has looked like in my life over the last several months.  It needs to be documented.
Adopting Sofija led me down a path to a round table discussion on human trafficking in Dallas, Texas in January of 2011.  You can read all about that experience here.  Being obedient to the simple command God gave me at that event led to my mission trip to Serbia in April of that same year.  That entire trip was filled with doors being opened and God picking up the check.
Between April of 2011 and December of 2012, I was tired.  I experienced more loss than I could process in those twenty months and (to be honest) I had a hard time seeing open doors or favor through the pool of grief I was swimming in.  And then….
In the first week of 2013 I learned that one of my Facebook friends is working for one of my favorite authors.  I then learned that this author has a mentoring program.  Before I even really knew what the program was about, I heard the words, “Just apply, Kaci.”  So I did.  And… I was accepted.  To make the acceptance a little sweeter, I received the message while standing in line at a grocery store.  I’ve always hated grocery stores.  One of my most traumatic childhood experiences happened in a grocery store when I was five years old.  For the last thirty-six years, I’ve equated shopping for groceries with trauma.
Two weeks after getting that acceptance message I returned to the grocery store.  Guess what?  For the first time in my life, I was at peace shopping for groceries.  I walked up and down each aisle and laughed out loud occasionally at the realization that God not only opened the door for me to be mentored by someone who I have the utmost respect for, but He healed a very old wound and redeemed another piece of my life in the process.  He’s just good like that.
The very same day that I enjoyed grocery shopping I was offered the opportunity to attend Summit9.  Summit is the biggest event in the US focused on caring for orphans.  They have speakers and workshops that cover everything from starting an orphan ministry in your church to caring for traumatized children to working with foreign governments to bring about change.  I have dreamed of attending for several years, but there has always been a schedule conflict or a lack of resources.  Several people have asked me if I was going to attend this year.  Each time I was asked, my heart would leap for a moment and then settle back into its place of disappointment as I replied with a simple, “No.”  And then…
I get a text message that says, “Sooo is money the only thing keeping you from Summit?”  And then a few seconds later, “Because I am being sponsored… There is enough left that I could cover your registration and airfare.  And Ch***** has Hilton points so you’d have access to a free hotel room.”  My absolutely amazing super-hero of a husband said, “Sounds like God wants you to go.”  So yeah, I’m going.  If I had designed a dream curriculum of workshops that address all of the issues we’ve faced with Sofija and throughout our adoption journey, it would consist of the exact workshops I will be attending.  F-A-V-O-R!  Oh, one more thing about Summit… I’m going to the bloggers’ breakfast on Friday May 3rd.  Blogger friends, talk to me if you’re there.
I really thought the mentoring gig and the Summit opportunity were about as much favor as this old girl could handle.  But, no.
Isaiah 55:8-9 “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. 
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,so my ways are higher than your waysand my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
I like to think it’s human nature, but who knows?  Maybe it’s just me.  I’m referring to my tendency to put God in a box.  I get a little glimpse of a plan He has for me and then I tap into my weak, inadequate imagination to fill in all the details.  I assume that I know exactly what the big picture looks like and that I have the wisdom to map out the path to accomplish the plan.  I forget that His ways are far beyond anything I could imagine and that His thoughts are
NOTHING like my thoughts.
I need to give a little background before going into the “far beyond anything you could imagine” details of the last few days.  Over a year ago I wrote a piece on abortion and my belief that The Church needs to offer love and grace and healing to women who’ve had abortions.  While I was still in the midst of loss and grief I received an invitation to attend a conference in Serbia May 24-25 of this year on abortion healing.  I was also asked to speak at a conference on human trafficking in Serbia around the same time and then asked to meet with a group who are interested in opening an autism center in Belgrade.  Seriously?!  Having an opportunity to address three of my biggest passions, in the same week, in my second favorite nation…  I didn’t see how my purpose this year could get much better.  But something strange happened as I began to plan for my trip.  I didn’t have peace.  I should have been bouncing off the walls with excitement.  Instead I found it hard to even look up airfare.  Something just didn’t feel right.
On the day before my joyful grocery shopping and Summit gift, I sent a message to the young man putting together the conference on human trafficking.  He quickly responded that they had lost their funding for the conference in May, but were offered sponsorship to put on a larger conference in October.  I immediately knew that I was to attend the October event.  After talking with my husband I decided to shorten the trip in May so that I can still attend the SaveOne conference.  I will return in October and walk through whatever doors God opens while I’m there.  Knowing that I would only be gone for a few days at the end of the month, made it a little more palatable for my dear hubby when I talked to him about going away for Summit at the beginning of the month…. God knew.
One week ago, as I was booking a rental car for Summit, my friend Marci asked if I would attend a discussion on “Human Trafficking in America” at the National Press Club.  That event was last night (April 22nd) at 6pm.  She also asked me to forward the invite to anyone I thought may be interested in attending.  I immediately thought of two people and just before I hit send on the forwarded invite, I prayed.  “God, is there anyone else I should invite?”  My first thought was of the lady I met in Dallas in January of 2011.  I added her name, sent the invite, and sat with my mouth open for a while when I got her response a few minutes later.  It contained a separate invitation to a round table discussion on human trafficking at the Ukrainian embassy… that just happened to be yesterday (April 22nd) at 3:30pm.  Marci and I were able to attend both events.  F-A-V-O-R!  Divine connections were made and man-power and resources were promised to support the human trafficking conference in Serbia this October.  I’m still processing it all.
At both events there were two questions everyone asked as they shook your hand, “Who (what organization) are you with?”  “Do you have a card?”  Being asked these questions by government officials and company presidents and foreign dignitaries could have pointed out just how unqualified and inadequate I am to do anything great for God.  But that was not the case.  Something interesting happened.  When people asked who I was with, I simply said that God brought me.  Everyone was able to take my name, number, and email address on their notepad or add it to their contact list in their phone.  The fact that my affiliation was the Big Man himself, did not stop a single person from wanting to come alongside me.
One verse has been in my face for the last few weeks…
Galatians 6:4  Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else.
Part of my tendency to put God in a box involves looking around at people who’ve accomplished things I hope to accomplish and assume that my journey should look like theirs.  Immediately after walking into the Ukrainian embassy yesterday I panicked.  Although no one in that room is doing or has done the things that God has allowed me to do, I assumed that there was no purpose in me being there because I had no title to offer and no stack of business cards to hand out.
I am simply a woman who has witnessed women and children living in slavery across three continents.  In 1999 I, along with a small team of other military wives, rescued a young pregnant girl who was trafficked from the Philippines to South Korea.  In 2000, our family vacationed in Thailand. We spent our first week on the island Koh Samui.  A 50ish year old man was staying in our hotel with the two young girls he had purchased for his stay.  Neither of the girls was older than fourteen.  We traveled from the island to the capital city where I walked the streets of Bangkok and had children no older than six or seven hand me flyers listing what sexual services they could provide and at what cost.  I returned to our apartment in South Korea and lied awake night after night listening to the cries of the dozen or so Russian girls who were enslaved in the apartment above us.  In 2010, we adopted a little girl from Serbia.  The first question we were asked by her foster family was if we planned to prostitute her.  I now live in northern Virginia (just outside of Washington, DC).  Last year a local man was arrested and later convicted for trafficking girls from the high school that my children attend.  I am simply a woman who has seen too much of the ugly in the world.  I am completely surrendered to God’s plan to use me to do something about all that ugly.  And… while I do think it’s time for me to launch a non-profit ministry,  I always want my answer to the question, “Who are you with?” to be… “God!”
Psalm 90:17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands; yes, establish the work of our hands!